Chapter 15 : Missing Persons
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Anybody would have thought, Cornelius decided a few months later that after the pressure of trying to host an international event like the World Cup and the stress caused by the dreadful events which took place at it, the Ministry would have been due a few peaceful months. No such luck.
Having lambasted the Ministry for their supposed lack of security during the World Cup and started ridiculous rumours about bodies being removed from the woods after the so-called Death Eaters little escapade, Rita Skeeter now turned her attention to what she termed “the disappearance of Bartemius Crouch.”
The article about him was just as sensational and exaggerated as her previous efforts. Anybody who read it could be forgiven for believing the man was at death’s door, at best or involved in some dreadful calamity which the Ministry was intent on covering up. It was ridiculous.
Nonetheless, Cornelius decided that he really ought to speak to that young assistant of Crouch’s. Young Weasley. Cornelius had no idea what the boy’s first name was and indeed wouldn’t even have known his surname if he hadn’t seen him with Arthur at the World Cup and figured out that he was one of his sons.
Percy was torn between nervousness and pride at being summoned to the Minister of Magic’s private office.
“Sit down, Mr. Weasley,” Cornelius began, opting to avoid letting the boy realise that he didn’t know his first name. “Now there’s nothing to worry about. I simply want to know what you can tell me about Barty’s condition at the moment.”
“Well, sir,” Percy Weasley began pompously, “as I’m sure you realise, Mr. Crouch isn’t a young man.”
He’s less than ten years older than I am, Cornelius thought in surprise, before realising that to this boy 70 was old. His father probably wasn’t that age.
However, Cornelius didn’t find old age a reasonable explanation for Barty’s disappearance. After all, 70 was barely middle-aged for a wizard. He invited the boy to continue and Percy needed no second urging.
“He hasn’t been well in some time. Well, of course, the World Cup was quite a difficult time for all of us.”
“It was indeed,” Cornelius replied feelingly. It was unusual for him to allow his inferiors to decipher his feelings, but the World Cup had been so obviously a disaster that it was pointless to pretend otherwise.
“And of course, it was particularly difficult for Mr. Crouch, what with the behaviour of his house-elf and all.”
“His house-elf?” Cornelius asked. Now that Percy mentioned it, he did remember some mention of a house-elf, but hadn’t paid much attention to it at the time. In those circumstances, the Ministry had far more important issues to concern itself with than the behaviour of house-elves.
“His elf was found holding the wand which conjured the Dark Mark,” Percy reminded him. “Not of course that anybody believed that she had anything to do with it. Mr. Crouch would never allow any elf in his employ to behave in that kind of manner, but nevertheless, it was embarrassing for him to have any connection, however slight, with such an event.”
“I can understand that,” Cornelius replied officially. However before he could ask his next question, Percy continued with his explanation.
“And of course, our department took a good deal of the responsibility for organising the World Cup. I don’t want to cast aspersions at any other department, of course. But I do think that Mr. Crouch had to do more than his fair share of the organisation. And now, of course, there is the Triwizard Tournament. Not that I object in any way to the Tournament. It is a marvellous idea, but it is a lot of pressure for a man of Mr. Crouch’s age. As I’m sure you are aware, I have been representing him at both the Yule Ball and the Second Task. I am, of course, trying to take as many responsibilities as possible..”
Cornelius decided to cut in.
“Yes, I am aware that you have been representing him. And I am sure that you have done so adequately. But what I want to know now is what contact you have had with him. I assume that he has not simply left you to make your own decisions with regard to what is necessary.”
“Mr. Crouch places a great deal of trust in me,” Percy declared self-importantly. “But, naturally a man as dedicated as he is to his duty would not neglect his responsibilities no matter how ill he might be. He has been sending in regular owls detailing what he wishes me to do in his absence.”
“Owls? So you haven’t spoken to him in person?”
“Well, not exactly, but I can assure you that I am capable of recognising my superior’s handwriting.”
“I am not questioning that. It is simply that the Daily Prophet is starting to ask questions, and I want us to have an absolutely flawless story to tell them. If there is any loophole whatsoever in our explanations, you can be sure that that Skeeter woman will read all sorts of imaginary conclusions into them. So I need you to let me know of all the evidence you have that Barty Crouch is still in reasonable health.”
“I do understand. The Daily Prophet has been questioning me about his absences too, and I have assured them that I do recognise his handwriting and that he is merely suffering from stress.”
“Very good,” Cornelius commented. “If you are asked any more questions, I want you to continue with that story. I also want you to keep the next letter he sends to you. I will find you a copy of something he has written prior to the World Cup, and if you are asked for evidence, you can show both examples of his handwriting. If you are asked, remember. Otherwise, it is possible that they will imply that we are getting defensive.”
“I understand, sir. I’ll be careful.”
Cornelius nodded and dismissed the younger man. He seemed to have some grasp of how media relations worked anyway, unlike certain other employees of the Ministry, Cornelius thought when Ludo Bagman came to his office later that week to inform him of the disappearance of a woman called Bertha Jorkins.
The reason for Cornelius irritation was that it was clear from what Ludo said that the woman had been missing for some time.
“Ever since she went to Albania on her summer holidays,” Ludo reluctantly admitted, when Cornelius pressed him. “But I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about really. You don’t know Bertha. She’s entirely unreliable. The likelihood is that she’s managed to lose her way somewhere and ended up in…, I don’t know; anywhere is a possibility. I’m only letting you know because I believe the Daily Prophet have somehow managed to get hold of the story; not because I believe there’s really anything to worry about.”
Cornelius sighed. So this was what Barty Crouch had been hinting at. He had been implying that there was something Ludo wasn’t telling his superior-something to do with one of the employees of the Department of Magical Games and Sports.
But Cornelius hadn’t paid any attention to him. Like everybody at the Ministry, he was aware that Barty had very little respect for Ludo.
Being Minister, he was also aware of the reasons why. Some years previously, Ludo had been accused of involvement with the Death Eaters. Nothing in it, of course. Augustus Rookwood, a spy working in the Department of Mysteries, had asked him for information. He had no reason to suspect that the information was for anybody else.
But Barty Crouch, having the unnaturally suspicious mind that he did, was convinced that Ludo had known exactly what he was doing. Had Ludo been less well-known than he was, Cornelius supposed that Barty would simply have sentenced him to Azkaban without a trial. But that wasn’t possible in Ludo’s case. He had too many supporters.
And in a court of law, there was no way that the man would be convicted. The evidence was flimsy at best and Ludo was a well liked personality. Even Cornelius couldn’t help liking him, despite the difficulties he created sometimes, by not taking proper care with his work.
That was one of the reasons why Cornelius had been so unwilling to listen to what Crouch had to say. To tell the truth, he quite simply liked Ludo a lot better than Barty and given the choice, preferred not to believe whatever Barty had to say about the other man.
Now, however, he almost regretted that he hadn’t investigated the matter more deeply. What the Daily Prophet would have to say about the matter, he dreaded to think. One Ministry employee who appeared to have disappeared into thin air, albeit in Albania, and another who was out sick and hadn’t been seen publicly since November.
He could imagine Rita Skeeter drawing thoroughly imaginary conclusions from that information. She would probably decide that both people had been abducted by foreign enemies or Death Eaters or something and that the Ministry was conspiring to cover the entire thing up, for some entirely unknown reasons. That was what she seemed to be implying with regard to the activities of the “Death Eaters” at the World Cup.
What nonsense! As if he, Cornelius Fudge, would ever advocate covering up any activities of an illegal nature.
Now, however, he was going to have to make some kind of a gesture in order to quell any rumour to that effect that might arise.
The obvious solution, although not the most convenient one, was for him to take a personal interest in the case. If he declared that he intended to take personal responsibility for determining the safety of this Bertha Jorkins, then surely theDaily Prophet would not be able to imply that there was any possibility of a cover up.
He wasn’t sure whether or not that had been such a good idea when he saw the headline Ministry Witch Still Missing- Minister for Magic Now Personally Involved. It certainly meant that they couldn’t make any accusations about cover-ups, but on the other hand, they appeared to be trying to imply that his involvement indicated that there was some mystery about the situation, rather than that he was merely taking an interest in the welfare of the Ministry employees.
It was as if this woman was determined to make the Ministry look bad no matter what they did. It was really annoying, particularly coming from the Daily Prophet, which Fudge could usually prevail upon to report more or less what he wished them to. Rita Skeeter appeared to be a different proposition from their usual reporters and one who Cornelius found a lot less welcome.
Even Jovian was concerned by the report, and asked him if they had any more information about what had happened to the woman.
“No,” he replied shortly.
“But aren’t you concerned?” Jovian asked. “If anybody working at the hospital disappeared, I would be really worried. Even if I didn’t know them personally. It makes it more real, somehow, when it’s somebody you’ve worked with.”
“The papers are exaggerating,” Cornelius explained. “There’s really no great mystery about the situation. At least I don’t think there is. Ludo is the head of her department and he’s told me that disappearing is exactly the kind of thing she would do. He reckons that she has simply managed to get lost somewhere or forgotten when she was due back at work or something.”
“But it’s been months, Dad. That explanation might make sense if she’d been due back a couple of days or even weeks ago, but by the sound of things, she’s been missing since before the World Cup.”
“Well, maybe she’s met some man and gone off with him,” Cornelius replied irritably. The last thing he wanted was Jovian believing all kinds of ridiculous possibilities. “Look, she didn’t come back to work after her holidays. That’s hardly a reason to believe that she’s been abducted or murdered or whatever it is that Rita Skeeter is trying to imply.”
“Well, I’d be worried,” Jovian repeated, before heading out to meet Carla.
Even Alyssa was critical of his handling of the situation. It wasn’t concern for Bertha that caused her censure, but concern for her husband’s profile. In her view, he should have dealt with the “disappearance” more promptly.
“But I didn’t know,” he defended himself. He was sick and tired of defending his every action. Even his own family were criticising him. It was quite disheartening.
“Ludo didn’t tell me,” he continued. “You know how he is about things like that. Fantastic when it comes to organising events like the World Cup, but totally disinteresting in Media relations or anti-Muggle security or anything like that.”
At least Alyssa was willing to accept that, satisfied to blame anybody other than her husband for the Ministry’s failures. Jovian was more difficult to convince. He appeared to believe that his father should be doing something more to find the woman. For Merlin’s sake, what was it that everyone expected him to do?
If everybody was looking for a mysterious disappearance, they got one shortly afterwards. Bertha’s disappearance could be anything, but when Barty Crouch disappeared in Hogwarts grounds some weeks later, there seemed to be far greater cause for concern.
At least Dumbledore appeared worried. His description of events stated that two young boys; Harry Potter and Viktor Krum from Drumstrang, had found Barty Crouch in Hogwarts grounds. According to their account, Barty had been behaving most unusually. He hadn’t seemed quite disoriented; unaware of where he was or who was with him.
Cornelius was half-inclined to question this testimony. He was beginning to think it quite strange how Harry Potter appeared to be around for every strange event that happened in or around Hogwarts. He could just imagine Dolores’ reaction. She was constantly warning him not to take the boy’s words at face value. “He’s only a child after all,” was her usual comment.
Nonetheless, in this particular instance, both he and the other boy had told the same story, and Dumbledore appeared to believe that they were telling the truth, so Cornelius decided to accept their story.
According to Dumbledore, Harry had gone to get help, while Viktor had remained with Barty. When Dumbledore and the others had gone to investigate, Viktor had been found injured and Barty hadn’t been found at all.
That was a worrying situation, but he couldn’t see any need for Dumbledore to connect it with the so-called disappearance of Bertha Jorkins. Cornelius himself was inclined to believe that Barty had simply lost his mind. He had always been inclined to overreact, after all. Not exactly an indication of a stable mind. And, if Dumbledore was so sure of the evidence of the two young witnesses, why didn’t he grant more credence to their description of the man’s mania.
He put that suggestion to Dumbledore, during the meeting which took place in the latter’s office to discuss the events which had taken place. If, however, he had expected this to put an end to Dumbledore’s theories, he was fully mistaken.
Rather than agreeing with what Cornelius considered a perfectly reasonable theory, Dumbledore pointed out that if the man had wandered off, he had done so very quickly.
Hastily, he groped around for an alternative explanation.
Suddenly an idea came to him. Madame Maxime!! She was half-giant after all, and everybody knew what giants were. Why shouldn’t she have inherited the violent nature of her predecessors and decided to randomly attack a mentally disturbed man and a boy. Being half-giant, she would certainly have the strength.
Unsurprisingly, Dumbledore didn’t seem too impressed with that theory either. It was just typical of him. Brilliant as the man undoubtedly was, he was always too willing to support those who anybody with any sense would have realised could not be trusted-Snape who was suspected of being a Death Eater and who had seemed completely unhinged when Cornelius had met him the previous year; Lupin, a werewolf and of course, Hagrid, who was not only a half-giant, but who had also been suspected, incorrectly in this instance, of opening the Chamber of Secrets.
Of course, Dumbledore’s friendship with him would influence him to believe the best of half-giants. He attempted to point this out to him.
“Don’t you think you might be prejudiced in her favour because of Hagrid? They don’t all turn out harmless – if, indeed, you can call Hagrid harmless, with that monster fixation he’s got –“
“I no more suspect Madame Maxime than Hagrid,” said Dumbledore, just as calmly. “I think it is possible that it is you who is prejudiced, Cornelius.”
What? Him, prejudiced? Cornelius could hardly believe what he was hearing. Just because he was willing to accept that not all creatures were trustworthy and innocent. If Moody hadn’t interrupted at this point to let the headmaster know that Harry wanted to speak to the headmaster, Cornelius might just have told Dumbledore what he thought of that suggestion.
Author's Note: Just for fun, can anybody see a connection between Percy in this chapter and anything else in this story. (Probably easier if you've just read the whole thing in one go). Just something I put in for my enjoyment.
I am not sure when, or even if, this story will be completed. Sorry about this, but it takes a lot of work to look up ever reference to Fudge in each book and this story is not one that I am particularly impressed with anyway.