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Chapter 24 : Ministry Protocol
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‘Dad…’ the eleven-year-old stammered, as Harry squatted down beside the swivel chair.
‘Al,’ Harry reached out, taking hold of his son’s hand. ‘What is it, little man?’
Albus took a halting breath. ‘Did you hear what happened to Nathan?’ He looked, pleadingly, across to his father, only to quickly realise that the man was none the wiser. ‘He got attacked,’ his voice dropped, ‘him and one of his old friends… it was someone with a mask…’ Albus looked away, staring down at his feet as they hung in mid-air between the end of the chair and the ground below.
‘You’re sure…?’ Harry checked.
‘Yes!’ Albus snapped back, instantly. ‘Of course I’m sure! Professor Bennett saw it, and they’re in St. Mungo’s now! Why wouldn’t I be sure?’
Harry swallowed. ‘Sorry, Al,’ he tightened his grip on his son’s hand. ‘I know what it feels like to see one of your friends lying in a hospital bed…’ he sighed, ‘but they’re both alright, aren’t they? And there are Aurors on the case, right? I’m sure they’ll work out who’s responsible.’
‘They’ve got the person who did it,’ Albus’ voice had turned quiet again, ‘but that’s not it,’ he swallowed, ‘that’s not the problem.’ He felt his eyes beginning to burn. ‘There’s more,’ he gulped for air. ‘You know the Oxford bombings, and the attack at the Dorset Derby, they’re connected to this too! It can’t just be this one man who did it all…’
‘Al,’ Harry cautioned. ‘I think you’ve been reading too much of the Daily Prophet…’
‘I HAVE NOT!’ The eleven-year-old’s composure shattered. ‘The Prophet’s full of lies, I know that! I know it’s connected because Nathan’s friend was there in Oxford, when the bombs went off, and he saw a van saying “Just Like Magic” on the side! Then he saw the same van again in Ascot, and he took a photo of it before the driver came back and Obliviated the other boy he was with… and then we got a letter at Hogwarts telling us that they were going to get him next time, and it had “Just Like Magic” all on the back! I’m not making this up, Dad, I swear it!’
A serious expression crossed Harry’s face, his eyes narrowing into sharp focus as he listened to his son’s claims. ‘How many people have you told about all this, Al?’
‘No-one,’ the boy’s reply was choked. ‘I think Professor Bennett knows some of it, cause Dan told him this morning before they went to Ascot and found Nathan and Charlie, but… but…’ his sentence petered out as his eyes began to water.
‘It’s okay, Al,’ Harry reassured his son. ‘Thanks for telling me,’ he managed a thin smile. ‘Merlin knows, I wouldn’t have when I was your age. Where are they all now?’
‘St. Mungo’s,’ Albus sniffed. ‘Borstal Ward or something…’
Harry snorted. ‘I think you meant the Borthwick Ward,’ he surmised, ignoring Albus’ disinterested shrug. ‘Come on,’ he beckoned the boy to his feet. ‘We’d better get going.’
‘You mean,’ the boy coughed, ‘we’re not going to get into trouble?’
Harry grimaced. ‘The most important thing right now is that no one else gets hurt.’
It took Harry less than half an hour to transform the private cubicle opposite the Borthwick Ward into a makeshift office, with two rows of basic chairs facing a narrow desk. It was into this room that the Head Auror called together the three conscious first-years, their teacher and three other Aurors – the two young men who had accompanied Daniel and Greg to Oxford earlier that day, and a single older man.
‘Alright, then,’ Harry brought the meeting to order, children and teacher on one side and Ministry staff on the other. ‘It is Sunday, December 17, at 2:40pm. We are dealing with what is evidently a breach in the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, potentially over an extended period of time and leading to life-threatening circumstances to both magical and non-magical individuals. The purpose of this meeting is to establish the known facts. Civilians present are Albus Severus Potter, 11, of Islington, Daniel Jackson Hamilton, 11, of Oxford, Louis Guillaume Weasley, 11, of Tinworth, and Gregory Joseph Bennett, 23, of Richmond.’
The man took a deep breath. ‘As I understand it, you have been in communication with two muggle children, Charles Sebastian Laurence Riley and Connor William Norris, throughout the term. Is this true?’
‘Yes,’ Albus glanced left and right to his friends, before answering on their behalf. ‘We wrote to them, and they wrote back.’
‘What did you tell them?’ the oldest of the three assigned Aurors, a man with a grizzled face and untidy grey stubble, narrowed his eyes, staring maliciously at the boy. ‘How to get into the Leaky Cauldron, perhaps?’
‘No!’ Daniel retorted, ‘we never told them anything about magic! They were – they are – our friends! We couldn’t forget about them just because we’d become magic!’
The Auror glared back, but Harry interrupted before he could ask another question. ‘So there was nothing in the content of these letters that could have placed the safety and security of anything, or anyone, into jeopardy?’
‘No,’ Daniel insisted.
‘Well…’ Albus contradicted his friend, ‘we did send one of them by owl, by Kjeld, because we had to tell Charlie as soon as possible…’
‘That’s clear enough,’ the old Auror stood up, ‘an obvious breach of the Statute.’
‘No,’ Greg countered, ‘it’s not! Everyone in this room knows there is a clear allowance in the Statute for life-threatening circumstances. These boys believed their friend was in danger – and they were right! Look what happened this morning!’ The teacher slammed his fist down on the table in front of him. ‘Isn’t that what we should be worrying about right now?’
‘The assailant was detained at the site this morning,’ the wizened man drawled. ‘He was acting alone. No accomplices.’
‘What if he was Imperiused?’ Louis put in. ‘What if there was memory charms? We got a letter threatening to get Charlie, and then he got attacked two days later!’
The man snorted. ‘Are you an Auror? Don’t you think we didn’t check for that?’ He rolled his eyes, theatrically, ‘and besides, when did we start taking evidence from half-breeds?’
‘Stirling…’ Harry began to protest, only for his own son’s shout to overwhelm his father’s voice.
‘Shut up!’ Albus yelled. ‘How dare you say that about my friend! I bet you don’t bloody care about the boys that got attacked, because they’re only muggles!’ he stood up, abruptly. ‘Well, I do, and I know there’s something going on. It’s obvious, if you could only be bothered to look at what’s in front of you, and stop pretending it’s just a coincidence that Connor and Charlie kept seeing that van every time anything weird happened…’ The eleven-year-old paused, taking a deep, rasping breath, before staring at his father. ‘I’m not listening to this any more, Harry Potter. I’m going to go back to my friends, people who believe me!’ He turned his back on his father without a second glance, and strode towards the doorway, his two housemates following in his wake.
Harry Potter swallowed. ‘Meeting closed,’ he announced, slowly getting to his feet. ‘Stirling, Pendle, Killeen – dismissed. Nothing spoken of in this room is to be discussed with anybody else, whatsoever. Clause 33 applies.’ The Head Auror watched his colleagues file out of the room, before collapsing back onto his own seat. ‘Professor Bennett,’ he offered, weakly.
‘Yes, sir?’ Greg stood up.
‘Please call me Harry.’
‘The boys are right, aren’t they?’ The Auror reached for a glass of water. ‘I’ve never seen Albus like that before, even when James was at his throat…’ He downed the contents of the glass. ‘I’ve looked through all the evidence, and everything they’ve said fits together.’
‘They’re telling the truth, Harry,’ Greg backed his pupils. ‘I know that’s not worth much, coming from their Head of House, but I believe every word they’ve said. Three of their friends are in the Borthwick, for Merlin’s sake… and they’re petrified that it’s going to be them next.’
Harry nodded. ‘I know, Professor.’
‘Call me Greg.’
The Auror smiled, thinly.
‘Harry?’ Greg continued. ‘If you believe them, then why… why did you put them through all that?’ The teacher shook his head.
Harry’s smile faded. ‘I had no choice,’ he explained. ‘Ministry protocol. The law is very clear about what must be done in the case of suspected breaches of the Statute of Secrecy.’
Greg shuddered. ‘Well, then,’ he asserted, ‘as Charles Dickens would have it, the law is an ass.’
‘I can’t argue with that.’ Harry muttered his agreement, before changing the subject. ‘I never thought Albus had that in him, mind you,’ he shook his head.
‘Didn’t you?’ Greg managed an amused grin. ‘I guess he didn’t tell you about the double detention he got, standing up for Scorpius Malfoy.’
The glass that Harry was holding dropped to the tabletop with a shattering crash. ‘M… Malfoy?’
‘No?’ Greg couldn’t prevent himself from smirking. ‘Some son you’ve raised there, Harry.’
The Auror cleared the smashed glass with a single wave of his wand. ‘I’d never have imagined it,’ he reflected. ‘Not before he left for Hogwarts… I guess you’ve taught him well.’
‘I wish I could take the credit,’ Greg brushed off the praise. ‘I can’t pretend I’ve done anything more than nudge him in the right direction once or twice.’
Harry smiled, wryly. ‘You’re too modest, Greg. He’s done more growing-up in four months than the last eleven years put together. Now,’ the Auror sighed, ‘how long do you think it will be until he trusts me again?’
Albus was still in a furious, but now silent, rage as he threw himself onto the stool between Connor and Charlie’s beds at the end of the Borthwick Ward.
‘Bad meeting?’ Lucas Brand, the Healer, ventured as Louis slipped onto the vacant seat next to Nathan’s still-motionless body.
‘You could say that,’ Daniel answered for his friend. ‘One of the Aurors called Louis a half-breed.’
Lucas shuddered. ‘What?’ he asked, appalled. ‘That’s a disgrace!’
‘Tell me about it,’ the muggle-born boy agreed, turning away to sit beside Connor’s bed.
‘Don’t you go paying any attention to that, kid,’ Lucas reached an arm around the eleven-year-old’s shoulders. ‘Don’t you listen to that prejudice for a second.’
‘It’s right, though…’ Louis coughed, trying and failing to hold back a stream of tears that ran down his face and splashed onto Nathan’s cold hands. ‘Look at me, I’m a fu... I’m a freak! Nobody else has ever been like this before, and nobody knows why I’m like it now…’ He buried his head in his hands, slumping against Nathan’s blankets and ignoring Lucas’ efforts to raise his spirits.
‘Louis…’ the Healer protested, helplessly, but the redhead ignored him, his head sinking deeper into the bed in front of him, only for a sudden movement beneath the duvet to stir the eleven-year-old.
‘Nathan?’ Louis lifted his head warily.
The blond-haired boy grunted, slowly forcing his eyes open. ‘Lou,’ he noticed his friend’s tear-streaked face. ‘What did I tell you about saying that crap about yourself?’ Nathan pushed himself upwards against the bed’s wooden headboard, before feeling his right arm give way underneath him. ‘Ouch!’ he exclaimed, as Lucas reached forward to support the boy.
‘Take it easy, now,’ the Healer reasoned.
Nathan shut his eyes again, bracing himself before blinking them back open. ‘Where am I…?’
Louis rubbed his eyes. ‘St. Mungo’s Hospital,’ he answered, quietly. ‘You… How much do you remember?’
Nathan grimaced. ‘Not as much as I should do, I bet.’ He shook his head, wincing again and holding a palm to his forehead as he did so. ‘What happened?’
‘You got attacked,’ the redhead shivered. ‘You and Nathan. I don’t really know much more, it was Dan that found you…’
‘It was Professor Bennett,’ Daniel corrected his friend. ‘You and Charlie were in a park in Ascot, and someone wearing a mask was trying to curse and hex you, but you cast a shield charm and it nearly held him off,’ the eleven-year-old paused, his voice growing quieter. ‘It wasn’t enough, though, you passed out just as Professor Bennett and his friend got there, and the man managed to hit Charlie before they could stop him…’
‘What happened to Charlie?’
‘He’s over there,’ Daniel pointed across the ward. ‘In that bed, unconscious.’
Nathan collapsed back down onto his mattress. ‘It’s my fault,’ he murmured, feeling his eyes starting to water, and his breathing grow shallow. ‘If only I could have held my stupid shield for ten more seconds…’
‘No, it’s not!’ Louis disagreed, vehemently. ‘How many first-years do you think could hold a shield charm against an adult, even for ten seconds? You saved his life!’
Nathan fell silent, but for the rasp of his hurried breathing.
‘It’s true, Nath,’ the redhead insisted.
‘Thanks, Louis,’ Nathan forced the outline of a smile onto his tired face. ‘Now, what are we going to do about it?’
Lucas smiled, kindly. ‘The first thing you’re going to do about anything is rest, young man.’ He adjusted the blankets on the boy’s bed. ‘You can do your plotting tomorrow.’
‘Fine,’ Nathan admitted defeat, before turning to face his schoolfriends. ‘See you tomorrow.’
‘Supper’s in the oven, mate,’ Theo didn’t look up as he heard the unmistakeable crackling of his fireplace, several hours later.
‘Cheers,’ Greg replied, simply. ‘Have you done some for Dan, as well?’
Theo shut his eyes. ‘Oh, shit…’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ the eleven-year-old mumbled. ‘I’m not hungry.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Daniel,’ the teacher chastised him, ‘after the day you’ve had…’ He shook his head, opening the oven door and – with the help of an oven glove – carrying the still-warm plate to the kitchen table. ‘Eat,’ Greg instructed. ‘I’ll put some something in the microwave...’
‘I’m sorry, mate,’ Theo offered. ‘I didn’t think Dan would be with you.’
Greg swung himself over the back of a black leather sofa, planting himself beside his friend as the microwave whirred into life. ‘It’s fine,’ he insisted.
Theo shifted in his seat. ‘Anything happen worth knowing about?’
‘Nathan’s awake,’ the teacher answered, ‘the boy who cast the shield charm… but Charlie’s still out. It feels like we spent the whole day being interrogated…’
‘The boys as well?’ Theo blinked, glancing towards Daniel as the eleven-year-old devoured his meal.
Daniel grunted his agreement through a mouthful of pasta.
Greg snorted. ‘Thought you weren’t hungry?’ he laughed. ‘Yeah, the boys have had it too, non-stop… but no sign of any idea what they’re going to do about it, though.’
‘What about the guy we caught in the park this morning?’ Theo countered.
‘Acting alone,’ sarcasm drenched his voice, ‘if you buy his testimony, and you don’t think that someone trying to kill innocent children is above an Imperius or two.’
Theo nodded, slowly. ‘Take it they’re not filling you with confidence, then?’
‘You could say that,’ Greg shook his head. ‘You should see the amount of paperwork, the amount of forms that they need to fill in for every single interview, every single bit of evidence! Ministry protocol,’ he sneered. ‘There’s no bloody wonder they haven’t worked anything out; they haven’t had a chance…’
Theo waited, making sure his housemate’s complaints had run their course, before asking his next question. ‘Any plans for tomorrow?’
Greg winced. ‘Back to St. Mungo’s,’ he answered, simply. ‘There’s two muggle boys in there… guess who gets to do the explaining to their parents.’
‘That’s before we start to wonder why on earth Charlie Riley’s got a magical signature all of a sudden,’ the teacher groaned. ‘Can’t remember the last time I was looking forward to going to bed.’
Theo paused, thoughtfully. ‘What about when you met that girl in Croatia last summer…?’
‘Hey!’ Greg picked up a cushion, hitting his flatmate on the forearm. ‘Children present!’ He glanced to his left, watching Daniel trying – and failing – to control a burst of laughter. The teacher rolled his eyes. ‘It’s your bedtime, too!’
EXCLUSIVE: MINISTRY COVER-UP EXPOSED
With confidence in the Ministry of Magic’s handling of recent terrorist attacks already at an alarmingly low level, the Daily Prophet has learned of further mishandling of the ongoing affair, following an incident in the muggle town of Ascot, Berkshire, that left the Statue of Secrecy in tatters.
The Prophet understands that two eleven-year-old boys, one a muggle-born wizard and the other a muggle, were attacked by an unidentified individual. Whilst the assailant has since been apprehended by Aurors, it appears that standard protocol for muggle exposure to magic has not been followed, and reports suggest that the muggle boy is currently being treated at St. Mungo’s Hospital.
Of course, the Ministry is no stranger to playing fast and loose with the truth, but when the security of the nation – and the Statute itself – is under threat, what gives the government the right to be a law unto itself? How has a first-year boy been allowed to breach wizarding law so blatantly?
No Ministry officials have been prepared to make a public statement on the events so far, but Prophet sources believe that the muggle-born boy involved is Nathan Llewellyn, a Slytherin…
Daniel held up an already-creased copy of the morning newspaper as Louis and Albus reached the top of the fourth-floor staircase outside the Borthwick Ward the following day. ‘The adults are in there,’ he nodded towards a closed door. ‘Guess what they’re talking about?’
‘I wonder,’ Albus sighed, ‘but who could it have been? Nobody else knew apart from us, and the Aurors… it couldn’t have been them…’
‘What about Rose?’ Louis interrupted his cousin. ‘What if she heard you telling me about Nathan when we were at the Burrow, and told Miranda?’
‘Shit,’ Albus exhaled. ‘I bet you’re right. Stupid bitch!’ he exclaimed. ‘I bet she still thinks she’s right about everything, you know how stubborn she is…’
Louis shook his head. ‘I guess we’d better make sure we never say anything else where there’s any chance she can hear us,’ he observed.
‘Yeah,’ Daniel agreed, ‘but never mind that… should we tell the others?’
‘We’ve got to, haven’t we?’ Albus asked, rhetorically. ‘I mean, it’s not good, is it, but what if they find out off someone else?’
Daniel nodded. ‘Yeah, I guess,’ he conceded.
‘Come on, then,’ Louis motioned towards the ward doors. ‘You know what these meetings are like, they go on forever!’
Lucas Brand greeted the three eleven-year-olds as they made their way to the end of the Borthwick Ward, before gently rousing the blond boy in the bed next to him. ‘Nathan,’ he whispered, ‘your friends are here.’
The blond boy stirred, slowly. ‘Hi, guys…’ he yawned, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. ‘Alright?’
Louis glanced nervously behind him. ‘Not really,’ he answered, holding out an arm to take the morning’s newspaper from Daniel. ‘Somehow the Prophet found out.’ He held the front page in front of his friend, whose eyes glazed over as he scanned the story, finding his own name within the print.
‘Shit,’ Nathan let his hands drop, before flinging the newspaper to his side and off the bed, ‘but who cares what they write? We know it’s all lies!’ he snarled. ‘I’m just surprised they didn’t talk about you being a Veela again!’
‘They did,’ Daniel interrupted, his voice quiet. ‘On the next page.’
Nathan rolled his eyes. ‘How predictable do they want to get?’
‘Aren’t you mad?’ Albus raised his voice.
The blond boy shrugged. ‘Not really,’ he answered. ‘I mean, it’s not that much of a surprise, is it… and what difference does it make, anyway, if it’s me they’re having a go at and not just Louis? It’s not like we’re going to pay any attention. I can’t wait to see what they print when it turns out we’re right!’
Lucas let out a long breath. ‘I take it Slytherins still Stick Together, then?’
Nathan nodded, firmly. ‘Always.’
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