Chapter 12 : An Embarrassment for the Ministry.
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I apologise if there are events missing from this chapter or if they are connected badly. It was a difficult chapter to write, as I had to reassemble the events into the order in which Fudge sees them.
It was that apparent normality that unnerved Fudge more than anything else. It wasn’t, well normal. Nobody remained sane for long in Azkaban and the fact the Black had seemed to imply that he had some fearsome kind of Dark magic unknown to decent witches and wizards.
Having seen that, it wasn’t all that surprising that he should manage other, apparently impossible things, such as breaking out of Azkaban or slipping into Hogwarts unnoticed, Cornelius tried to convince himself. It was unthinkable that there should be any truth in Dumbledore’s suspicion that one or more of the Dementors should have turned traitor. They were firmly under the control of the Ministry and that was that.
Nonetheless, Cornelius couldn’t help but be frustrated by their lack of success as regards finding Sirius Black. It was ridiculous really. With the number of Dementors, Aurors, members of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad and Ministry employees searching for him, in addition to having the entire magical and Muggle communities on the lookout, Black should have been apprehended months ago! And as time wore on, the situation became more and more of an embarrassment to the Ministry.
As it became more obvious that he was targeting Hogwarts and the area immediately surrounding it, the investigation began to centre on that area. Fudge made a number of return visits to the school, hoping that Dumbledore or somebody would have something to report, but there appeared to be nothing but disappointing news.
By June, almost a year had passed since Black’s escape and there still appeared to be little chance of him being recaptured anytime soon. If anything, the likelihood of his capture seemed even more distant now as the panic in the wizarding world was beginning to relax and the Muggle community appeared to have lost interest altogether. Apart from a couple of appearances at Hogwarts, Black had not attracted any attention to himself; had not been accused of any additional crimes and therefore, it appeared to many that the immediate danger had passed. Naturally, those who had children attending Hogwarts were not among this number, particularly if their children had been anywhere close to either of the attacks.
Arthur Weasley was particularly concerned about Black’s continuing freedom. After all, it had been one of his children who had awoken to find Black with a knife at his bedside. And it was also obvious that the man had become quite fond of Harry and considered him, if not quite an honorary son, then at least an honorary nephew.
Therefore, Cornelius stopped to let him know of his intended visit to Hogwarts.
“Hopefully, somebody will have something helpful to report this time, Arthur,” he commented.
“I really hope so,” Arthur replied. “Molly is nearly having hysterics. What with the danger Harry is in and five of our own gang at the school. And you know what teenagers are like. If Harry’s in danger, then Ron is in danger and probably Ginny too. They travel in packs. Not that I’m not glad to know that Harry will have company, but all the same…”
Cornelius knew what he meant. If it had been a friend of Jovian or Romilda in such danger, he would have done his best to ensure they spent as little time as possible with that friend. He would not have considered anybody else’s safety worth endangering that of his own children for.
He tried to ensure Arthur that the situation was firmly under control, despite his own lack of conviction that any such thing was true, then turned to continue about his own business, whereupon he was stopped by Helene Velasquez, of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures.
“Sorry to bother you, Minister,” she began nervously. “But did I just hear you mention that you intended to make a visit to Hogwarts in the near future.”
“I certainly do,” Cornelius replied, a little pompously. “It’s my duty, you know, when there’s a dangerous lunatic like Sirius Black on the loose.”
“Of course, of course. But, well, what I was thinking was that, well, we have to attend an appeal on the 6th with regard to a Hippogriff there. Attacked a student, I believe. Well, of course there isn’t a hope that the appeal will be won. Not when there’s a child involved. And I believe that the child’s father has quite a lot of influence. So it’s just a formality really. The animal will have to be put down. Unfortunately, we can’t legally do that without a witness.”
“And you want me to act as witness.” Cornelius decided it was time to get to the point.
“Well, of course, we shouldn’t dream of bothering you over something so insignificant, but I just thought that if you were going to be there anyway…Well, you’d be a neutral presence.”
“I’ll do it,” Fudge replied in resignation.
This meant that his visit to Hogwarts would have to take place on the 6th. Well, that was no problem.
Unfortunately, there appeared to be a problem with regard to the execution itself.
The trial passed off without incident. It was apparent that the entire committee was in agreement. The hippogriff was definitely guilty. Cornelius couldn’t help feeling a certain amount of sympathy for Hagrid; it was obvious that the man was very attached to the beast. Not natural of course, to be so attached to dangerous monsters; it was what had led to suspicion of him the previous year. But then who could say what was natural for his kind? And it was hard on him to have the creature executed.
But what could you do? You couldn’t have innocent children in danger just because one man was fond of a dangerous animal. No, it was obvious that the decision made was the correct one.
At the same time, witnessing an execution was not a pleasant task, even if it was only the execution of a dangerous creature.
Reluctantly, he followed Dumbledore, Hagrid and the executioner to Hagrid’s pumpkin patch, where the hippogriff was tethered. Or should be tethered. There was nothing there.
MacNair, the executioner was raging. Somebody had freed him, he insisted. They should search the grounds, the Forest, everywhere.
Dumbledore sounded as though he were about to laugh. There was little chance of finding the hippogriff he pointed out, without sounding the least bit disappointed. After all, the likelihood was that it had flown away.
Cornelius wasn’t too concerned. It was only a hippogriff, after all. And it hadn’t attacked anybody until it had been used in a class. Now that it had escaped, the chances of people coming into close contact with it were greatly reduced. More importantly, the execution of a hippogriff was hardly major news.
Ok, it was a little embarrassing to have the creature escape from under the eyes of the Ministry, but it was unlikely that anybody who wasn’t closely connected to Hogwarts would hear anything about. It was hardly worth worrying about.
And at any rate, the events that happened afterwards were so dramatic that they almost put all thoughts of hippogriffs out of his mind altogether.
He was in Dumbledore’s office, conferring with him and Minerva McGonagall, when outside the castle windows, the Dementors began to congregate around a small group of people.
It was Dumbledore who first noticed what was going on.
“What is happening down there?” he asked in annoyance. “I hope we are not going to see any more trouble from those creatures.”
He paused for a few moments; then when the excitement showed no signs of abating, declared “I’m going down there. I’m sorry about this, Cornelius, but I need to know what is going on.”
Cornelius was well aware of Dumbledore’s distrust of the Dementors, of course. The older man had made it perfectly clear to him on a number of occasions. Despite his respect for Dumbledore, he was convinced that the man was a little prejudiced in that regard.
Still, he followed Dumbledore into the grounds, concerned for very different reasons than Dumbledore’s. In his view the congregation of Dementors implied that something had happened. A sighting of Black, perhaps or an indication as to somebody who had been helping him. Something, anyway.
Nonetheless, he was shocked to encounter not only Black, but Severus Snape, Harry and two of Harry’s little friends. It occurred vaguely to him that one of them might be Arthur Weasley’s son, but he had little time to concern himself about that now.
He was far more interested in finding out exactly what had happened. It was a good thing Severus was there. After all, you could hardly grant much credence to the words of three children.
Severus, on the other hand, made a clear and dependable witness. As soon as Sirius Black was safely imprisoned in an office on the seventh floor and the children were taken to the hospital wing, he recounted how he had found Black in the Shrieking Shack, along with the three children and Remus Lupin, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. In Severus’ view, there was good reason to suspect that Lupin had been in league with Black all along and that he had been the one who’d helped Black to access the castle.
This however, would be difficult to prove, Cornelius pointed out. “Unless we can get Black himself to give evidence admitting it. Naturally, we will question him on the point.”
Here, Dumbledore interrupted. “I have the utmost faith in Remus Lupin,” he stated calmly. “Naturally, I am aware that he was a friend of Sirius Black while they were at school, but he was also a close friend of both James Potter and Peter Pettigrew. I know for a fact that he was devastated by the betrayal committed by their mutual friend, and I am fairly certain that he has had no contact with Black since his imprisonment.”
“We shall see,” Cornelius muttered vaguely. He wasn’t quite sure what to believe with regard to Remus Lupin and it seemed unlikely that they would ever get evidence against him, even if he had been helping Black.
Still, he was willing to accept that. They had captured Black. That was the important thing. Naturally, it would be a bonus if they could prove conclusively how he had entered the castle and arrest Lupin or anybody else who was implicated, but if they couldn’t, Cornelius would be satisfied knowing that the kiss had been preformed on Black and that he was no longer a threat to anybody.
Quickly moving the conversation away from the possibility of Lupin’s involvement, Cornelius congratulated Severus Snape on his bravery in protecting the children. He would arrange for him to receive the Order of Merlin, he assured him; First class if he could arrange it
He then made some vague reference to a cut Snape had received, presumably from Black, but Snape cut him off, informing him brusquely that is was Harry, Ron and Hermione who had attacked him.
Cornelius was shocked. How could it have happened that those three children would have attacked the man who had arrived just in time to save their lives probably. Everybody knew that Black was planning to kill young Potter and it was well-known that he had few qualms about killing anybody else who might get in the way.
“Black had bewitched them,” the teacher explained. “I saw it immediately. A Confounds Charm, to judge by their behaviour. "
The teacher appeared quite understanding. It was obvious that he didn't blame the children for what they had done and that he accepted that they believed Black to be innocent. A Conounds Charm made sense. Nobody in their senses could believe Black innocent, not even children.
This interpretation of events appeared to be confirmed, as soon as they entered the ward where Harry and Hermione were recovering from their ordeal. Immediately, both youngsters began to defend Sirius Black, ensuring the Minister that he was innocent and should not be arrested.
Luckily Dumbledore took charge of the situation, asking to speak to Harry and Hermione alone. Snape seemed annoyed by this, taking it as indicative that Dumbledore attached some importance to their version of events.
Cornelius, however, had more respect for Dumbledore’s judgement than to worry about that. Dumbledore, of course, had many years of experience dealing with children and was probably going to reassure them; perhaps allow them to believe that credence would be given to their version of events. By the time they knew differently, they would surely have recovered and be relieved that they had not been believed.
Snape, however, would not be reassured of Dumbledore’s judgement.
“I only hope Dumbledore’s not going to make difficulties,” he commented worriedly, before asking if the kiss would be preformed immediately.
On this point, Cornelius was able to reassure him, ensuring him that they were only waiting for the Dementors to return to the castle. Then, if they had the chance, they would ask Black to explain how he had managed to enter the castle and if he had had any help. Once, those questions had been answered, the kiss would be preformed.
They headed up to the seventh floor, only to find that Black had completely disappeared. Cornelius was shocked. The escape of the hippogriff had been embarrassing enough, but the escape of a high security prisoner. Worse, the second escape of that high security prisoner.
Why hadn’t they left somebody to guard him? He must have disapparated, in which case he could be absolutely anywhere.
“HE DIDN’T DISAPPARATE”, Severus Snape interrupted angrily. “YOU CAN’T APPERATE OR DISAPPARATE INSIDE THIS CASTLE. THIS – HAS – SOMETHING – TO – DO – WITH – POTTER!”
Cornelius was almost as stunned by Severus’ unreasonable behaviour as he was by Black’s escape. How could Harry have anything to do with this? He was locked in the hospital wing, for one thing. And anyway, how could a thirteen year old wizard engineer an escape like this? Particularly, when the man who had escaped would, almost certainly have killed him, had he seen him on his own. It was ridiculous.
It shocked him even more when Snape burst into the hospital wing and began shouting at Harry, trying to force him to admit his involvement. Eventually, with the assurances of both Dumbledore and Madame Pomfrey that Harry could not possibly have been involved, Severus stormed from the room.
What was going on with this school at all? Cornelius wondered. The Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher was rumoured to be a werewolf and this man seemed completely insane.
“Fellow seems quite unbalanced,” he remarked. “I’d watch out for him if I were you, Dumbledore.”
The headmaster tried to defend him, by pointing out that he had been disappointed. Disappointed!!! They were all disappointed. And at least, it hadn’t been Snape’s responsibility.
“The Daily Prophet’s going to have a field day,” he realised. “We had Black cornered and he slipped through our fingers yet again! All it needs now is for the story of the Hippogriff’s escape to get out and I’ll be a laughing stock.”
Dumbledore didn’t seem too concerned about this great tragedy. His concern was that the Ministry should remove the Dementors from Hogwarts. Cornelius hadn’t thought of that. In all the excitement, he had overlooked it, but of course Dumbledore was right. They were evidently a danger to the pupils. Dumbledore had been right all along. Perhaps not about the possibility of them helping Black, but about their presence being dangerous.
He also appeared to be right about Remus Lupin, Cornelius though, as he listened to Dumbledore’s assurances that he, like Severus, had been trying to save the children. Anyway, having heard Snape’s ridiculous accusations of Harry, it seemed likely that his accusation of Lupin was equally unfounded.
It didn’t look as if anybody was helping Black, which was something, he supposed. Other than that, however, the whole situation was a complete disaster.
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