Chapter 1 : The Trial
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Strong and brave courageous, our tiger faces
~ Jungles, Stepdad
Author's note: All canon characters/locations/plots belong to J.K. Rowling, I don't own them. Everything else is just the insane ramblings of my mind.
This is my first fanfic here so please be nice, but of course constructive criticism is always welcome!
The man coughed. The sound echoed around the cylindrical walls of the room. It bounced off the tiled walls and off the tiled floor. It hit Arabella square in the face. And then, silence. Not a sound could be heard in the room.
The man smiled. His first objective had been completed. But this was the easy part. The hard part of his job was, as per usual, everything that came afterwards. The outcome of today’s court hearing depended entirely on how he controlled the group staring up at him. And control them he would. After all, he was Cornelius Fudge. Correction: Minister Cornelius Fudge. A man as tall as he was rotund, who – he hoped – sent shivers of fear racing down the spines of all who even heard his name uttered under someone’s breath.
Arabella rolled her eyes. Unfortunately for him, she was not scared. She would have further demonstrated her lack of interest by perhaps, say, blowing on her nails – as she had seen so many of her Muggle “friends” do in the face of their “elders and betters” as an act of rebellion – if it were not for the tight shackles around each of her wrists, holding her in place. She glared down at them, causing Minister Fudge to smile once more. Almost instinctively feeling his glance, she looked away from her aching wrists, and up at the man. She wondered who had chosen to position him like that; him up high in what appeared to be a throne, his fellow Ministry members gathered in a half-circle around him, a few audience members – here to watch the show, perhaps – seated behind her. And she, herself, stuck in the middle. With no chance of escape. She supposed it had been his choice.
She wriggled around on the cold, hard, wooden chair. Everybody else was also perched on wood, but they all appeared much more comfortable than she. Perhaps they could no longer feel the cold? After all, from the looks many of them were giving her, she didn’t believe they had a single warm-blooded heart between them. They could be no less than fifty people sat in front of her, each more snooty and self-obsessed in appearance than the last. Each one older, too. She wondered if these two things were merely coincidental, or whether one led to the other.
At least, many of them followed this pattern. Until she reached the other side of The Almighty Minister. On his left, sat another cluster of elders. However, these ones appeared not only more casual in their seating arrangement – many sat in small groups, or not on chairs at all; preferring simply to perch on the arm of someone else’s seat – but also in their expressions towards Arabella. Though they, too, seemed old – when compared with Arabella, at least – they also demonstrated the few kind emotions Arabella had ever had the honour of viewing: compassion, happiness, caring, hopefulness and, of course, sympathy. Not quite empathy – after all, who on earth could understand and share the exact same muddle of emotions that Arabella was experiencing? – but as close as any may deserve.
Arabella yawned. The Minister coughed. ‘Time to begin, I think.’ His voice was loud enough to slice through the last few remaining dribbles of conversation, cutting off all those who had dared to speak after his almighty cough. He indicated, raising on large, flat-palmed hand, and stretching out a single, chubby forefinger, to the group on his right. Arabella stared into space; somewhere not quite level with the base of the Minister’s throne, but not directly ahead of her either. Wherever she was looking, she made sure she wasn’t looking straight at the crest of the Ministry. There was something about it that had always sent chills down her spine, and afraid wasn’t quite the image of herself she was trying to convey.
A tall, thin woman stood up. Her cheek bones rested high in her face, her nose stuck out so far and was so pointed that Arabella was surprised it didn’t reach her, many metres away. And there, planted right on the end of the woman’s nose, was a bright pink wart, with a single hair growing out of it. It took all the willpower she had to prevent Arabella from laughing; the woman was the exact picture of all the stereotypical witches her parents had read to her about when she was a child, and the fact that this woman was, indeed, a witch was just the perfect cherry on top of the icing on top of the delicious fairy cake.
‘Arabella Hyra Riddle. Charged with the murder of her parents, Thomas Augustus Riddle and Lillian Elladora Riddle, nee Black. Under the current Wizarding law of 1823, any young person under the age of 18 is not, legally, responsible for their own actions. Any breach of laws or other illegal actions must be taken as the fault of the parent or guardian of the young person at the time. Unfortunately, no such person is present, or, indeed, ever will be.’ Arabella wasn’t quite sure if she was supposed to show some kind of emotion – sorrow, perhaps? – for her parents’ somewhat sudden death, but she simply couldn’t and therefore didn’t. The woman looked to the Minister, as if questioning how they should proceed.
‘Proceed as usual,’ he responded, ‘And, when the jury come to a conclusion, we shall then decide what her punishment should be. After all,’ he leant over his desk, his enormous stomach bulging over the ancient, oak table, as if attempting to speak his following words to Arabella and Arabella alone, ‘Murder is a very serious crime. One for which many would spend at least an eternity in Azkaban for.’ Arabella didn’t even blink. Seemingly somewhat disappointed by this, the Minister settled back into his seat, spending the next few minutes rearranging his large body into the chair that surrounded him. The wood creaked under his weight, and he frowned down at it, muttering to himself – either that, or he was actually talking to the chair, as though he believed it could hear him. Suddenly realising that everyone around him – and, indeed, everyone in the entire courtroom – was staring at him, he gestured once more at the woman with the long nose, indicating for her to continue.
She did. 'Arabella Hyra Riddle, where were you on the night of the twenty third of June, nineteen ninety five?' She pronounced every number individually, emphasising each one slightly more than the last. Her lips stretched to compensate her large teeth, which bulged out of her mouth, shuddering with every syllable – almost violently, as if she would more than willingly consume Arabella whole. Her lips themselves protruded rather far out from the rest of her face, as if struggling to hold her teeth inside, even when her mouth was closed and she wasn't speaking – which, unfortunately, wasn't very often.
Arabella hated the fact that this woman insisted on using her full name. To demonstrate this, she refused to answer the question. Instead opting to simply stare down the woman standing so high and mighty in the stalls before her. The woman frowned. Not exactly as though she was irritated or in the least bit frustrated by Arabella's unexpected – or so Arabella had originally hoped – response to the question. The Minister simply sighed. 'Arabella, answer the question. We don't all have ridiculous amounts of time to waste.' His gaze turned to towards the papers lined, in perfect order, on the desk in front of him. He continued speaking, though in a quieter voice – as if he wasn't expecting anyone else to be listening to him, clearly not clocking that the rest of the room was completely silent, and therefore the only sound was likely to attract an audience. 'Unlike you, apparently.'
Arabella averted her gaze from the woman, towards the Minister instead. He looked up. Glaring at him, directly into his dull grey eyes, she said, 'I was at home,' she looked at the woman once more, 'With my parents.'
The woman pursed her lips, making them appear even thinned and protrude even more from her face. 'Thank you, Miss Riddle. And, would you like to recount to us the events which took place on that fateful night?'
'Not really, no,' Arabella was quick to retort. Then, seeing the look of pure anger and momentary hatred on the woman's face, uttered, 'My parents died.'
'Well, I can see this is going to be like pulling teeth,' she muttered in response, 'And how, exactly, did that occur?' She continued, louder now, 'In your own words please, Miss Riddle, if you will?'
Who else's words would I use? Arabella thought to herself, without saying anything – somehow she, too, could no longer be bothered with the aggravation. 'Well,' she began, 'In my own words, I arrived home from boarding school. My parents were there, greeting me with open, loving arms, as per usual. I was tired so I went downstairs to my bedroom. I was just settling into bed when I heard a commotion coming from the hallway. When I got upstairs, my parents were both lying, presumably dead, on the floor, and a strange, dark person was crawling out of the window.'
The “jury” assessed this, muttering in small groups between themselves. A few made short notes onto lined paper pads in front of them. Only the woman remained staring at Arabella. She didn't look down once. Instead, she scrunched up her eyes and frowned at Arabella, as if mentally scrutinising her and the brief description she had just provided for them. Arabella responded with raised eyebrows, as if questioning the woman's next action. 'Why were you wearing your day clothes, then, when our inspectors found you, if you were just settling down to bed?'
Arabella smiled. 'Congratulations. It seems as if at least one of you truly does have more than three brain cells.'
The woman rolled her eyes at Arabella. 'Now for the truth, perhaps?'
Arabella smiled, once more. 'Certainly. I killed my own parents.' Fifty heads shot up, all looking a mixture of shocked, confused and worried at this “new” information. 'I mean, that's what you were hoping to hear, isn't it?' The woman rolled her eyes again – presumably inwardly sighing at the atrocity of teenagers these days. 'I mean, I'm guessing that's why I'm here. It's not as if you need me for your inquiry, or to make a decision about what to do with me; my punishment for my supposed actions. You've already made your decision about whether or not I'm guilty, based on what you saw or what you were told to pretend you saw. In reality, all that there was for you to truly see was an innocent teenage girl, mourning the sudden death of both of her parents. But you don't want to hear that, of course. So, go ahead. You have all you wanted from me. Make your decision.'
The jury scrutinised her; Arabella felt fifty-odd pairs of eyes scanning her from head to two. She wondered what they were seeing, and how they interpreted it in their distorted minds. The scuffed trainers were, perhaps, a Muggle symbol – their bedraggled appearance supposedly representing her own, inner scruffiness. The messy hair clearly wasn't a sign that she had had a bad night's sleep – rather more a cry for attention. Likewise, the bold coloured t-shirt and logo-coated hoodie? Simply her non-verbal way of demonstrating that she wasn't quite right in the head. The dark-haired, green-eyed girl was, quite clearly, in the minds' of the jury, just another typical Muggle teenager. Who wasn't actually a Muggle. And wasn't very typical, either – after all, how many other teenagers can honestly admit to murdering their own parents? But was, most definitely, a teenager.
Arabella raised her eyebrows and twiddled her thumbs, awaiting her verdict; awaiting their decision upon her fate. She didn’t have long to wait. At least, not until they realised she was still there and spoke directly to her once more. She was commanded to wait outside as they conversed, and did so without making a sound.
She sat on a cold, marble bench in a cold, marble corridor, underneath the hustle and bustle of central London. She focused on a spot directly ahead of her and stared at it while she waited. The spot she had chosen was contained within a painting of an old, Victorian-style woman. The woman was holding a wand in her left hand and, with her right foot, stood on top of a man, kneeling in the mud that coated the ground. The man was staring into the mud and was wearing clothes that were so heavily coated in such a thick layer of the stuff, that it seemed to Arabella as though the man were almost a part of the mud himself; raised only to give this woman the higher level that her great status so deigned. The woman was ignoring the man; focusing instead on a spot out, somewhere in the distance. In fact, if Arabella wasn’t quite mistaken, it appeared as though the woman was staring directly at her. She could have sworn that she recognised a faint glimmer of smile – or, rather, a smirk – settling on the woman’s lips. Though it could simply have been a trick of the large, looming chandeliers that hung from the high ceiling, every few metres or so; despite the fact that any single one could have illuminated the entirety of the corridor. Regardless, she smiled back.
A man stepped out of a door a few metres to Arabella’s right. The door was large and made of some ancient yet glossy mahogany wood. Its enormous size made the man appear minute in comparison, though his voice was by far loud enough to make up for it. He looked the wrong way down the corridor at first before, not noticing a teenage girl sitting on that side, turning the other way.
Spotting Arabella, he smiled and said, in a monotone voice, ‘Follow me, child,’ directing her back inside the giant courtroom. She obediently followed behind him, sitting back in her spot in the middle of the room once instructed.
A man sitting just to the left of the Minister grinned down at Arabella. She let a faint smile rest on her lips, before forcing it to fade away. Despite the man’s willingness to let just anybody notice his expression, Arabella wasn’t quite so naïve. Turning away from the man, she locked eyes with the Minister himself who, despite Arabella’s attempted secrecy, had clearly noticed the pair’s fleeting exchange of grins. He pursed his lips, shuffled his papers, and stood.
‘Arabella Hyra Riddle.’ She practically flinched at every syllable of each of her names. ‘The high crown court of the British Ministry of Magic has concluded that you, being underage and therefore exempt from usual rulings, did, indeed, murder both Thomas and Lillian Riddle.’ Arabella waited for that fateful “but”. She didn’t have long to wait; smiling gleefully at its incredible life-changing characteristics, despite its short stature – this time, she didn’t even both to hide her true emotions. The Minister, however, didn’t look so thrilled at the words pouring from his own mouth. He sighed at the teen’s happiness. ‘But, the court has decided that, due to your age, you will, indeed, be exempt from the usual punishments administered in such a situation. Instead, however, you will be placed under the jurisdiction of a member of the highest Wizard order, who will, no doubt, guide your away from your past and onto the right path. You will also be sent to a young Wizards’ education and disciplinary institution of the highest standard: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy.’ Arabella frowned. She hadn’t chosen to attend the “prestigious” school when her parents had given her the choice, aged ten. Why should it be different now? ‘You will have no say in the matter,’ the Minister finished, seeming rather more cheerful at this statement than any other.
Arabella sighed and rolled her eyes, before a thought occurred to her. ‘And who, exactly, will be the one to “guide me along my path to enlightenment”, or however you phrased it?’
The Ministry exchanged glances among themselves. The Minister looked flustered. Clearly, Arabella thought, they hadn’t quite got this far.
However, before the Minister was even able to assemble some sort of time-wasting drivel, or the letters “um” or “er” had even reached his large, greasy, evidently food-loving lips, a man stood up behind Arabella. She hadn’t noticed him before – perhaps due to her back permanently being to the audience box, where he sat – but now she turned around to look. He had long, whiter than white hair and a bony face. His cheek bones and jaw were heavily set, though he looked as though his thin appearance was more of a fashion choice than a consequence of fate’s own, dismal choices. He had startling grey eyes that did not deign to look down at Arabella once. Noting this, she turned back around, firmly placing her back between herself and this man.
‘Lucius?’ The Minister gestured for the man to speak.
‘As you well know, Minister, I own a rather large property, in which there is far too much space for the people it houses. I would be more than delighted to take on this girl and bring her up as my own. I believe she is around the same age as my son, so the two could attend Hogwarts together.’ Arabella pulled a face. ‘It would be an honour to help out the Ministry.’
The members of the Ministry turned among themselves, and made faces to each other – seemingly expressing their opinions on the new situation, mostly appearing not bothered either way. Eventually, they all turned to look at the Minister, who shrugged at them. A few nodded in response, and the Minister did the same back, making a quick note on a singly piece of paper before him. It was as if a silent conversation had taken place, quickly, right before the eyes of the audience – many of whom were, evidently, none the wiser of any decision the Ministry had made.
‘Certainly, Lucius. You will be a great example for this disobedient, unknowledgeable child and I am sure that she, as we have already seen evidenced in your son, will grow up to be a great and noble example of our future generation.’ Arabella sighed. The man with whom she had previously shared her own silent conversation shrugged down at her. She pulled a face and he frowned, forcing her to shrug back in response.
The Ministry stood up and, shuffling their papers together, walked out of doors around the back of the courtroom that Arabella hadn't even seen before. They were so small, so simple and so well-blended into the oak wall in which they were cut that Arabella had failed to notice them previously. As the Ministry left, Arabella thought about how quick and simple it had been. It was as though they didn't bother to stop for even a moment to contemplate what they had just done; how they had just completely turned Arabella's life upside down. As the doors shut behind the jury who had just confirmed Arabella's fate, she finally looked straight ahead of herself, directly at the Ministry crest. The large, looming singular letter M seemed to be angled against Arabella, looking down at her in just the same way as all the others in the room just had. The sun beams exploding onto the letter appeared to fade under her eye; reminding her of how her own future seemed to be fading, too. And quickly; with every second that passed, she knew that she was a second closer to entering the home of this strange man who seemingly knew nothing about her. At that moment, the man's mysterious son was the least of her worries.
Looking up from the crest, she caught the eye of the Minister himself. He smiled at her. 'Hurry along now, child. You've got a new home and a new family to be getting to, haven't you? I'm sure they'll keep you out of our hair.'
'For now, at least.' Arabella was quick to retort.
'Still got a bite in you, I see. Don't worry, the Malfoys will soon slice that out of you.'
'Not if I sink my teeth into them first.'
This last remark appeared to have more of an effect on the old man than all the rest; he pulled a face, turned around, and left through yet another secret door, this time right behind his own chair.
Arabella was alone. At least, she thought she was. She heard footsteps coming down the stairs behind her. She hardly even had a chance to turn around, before she felt a heavy hand on her right shoulder, manually turning her. She finally had a chance to look directly into the eyes of whom she supposed was, technically, her new father. She raised a single eyebrow. He smiled. ‘I think you’ll fit in just fine,’ he said, before beginning to walk away from her. Realising she wasn’t following after him, he turned around and beckoned her over. ‘Come along now, Arabella.’
They walked in silence along cold, empty corridor after cold, empty corridor. There were more portraits in each corridor, but none in the least bit similar to the one Arabella had seen just half an hour or so earlier. Somewhere, in a small, dark crevice of her mind, she wondered whether she had imagined the whole thing. They were nearly out of the Ministry, and Lucius planted his left hand onto the large glass doors leading from the courtroom corridors into the main Ministry reception. He turned back around for a moment and, facing Arabella, asked, ‘Your name: Riddle. Any relation to you-know-who?’
Arabella simply smiled.