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Chapter 74 : Year 8: The Minister
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They stepped inside and found themselves in the middle of a circular room with twelve identical doors, which began spinning as the one they had entered through shut behind them. They eventually stopped, and everything became still; it seemed that even the blue flames of the candles along the walls had frozen.
“So which door do we take?” asked Ron, who was slightly out of breath, and walked up to one to touch its golden handle. “We don’t want to end up in the Brain Room again.” He shivered at the memory of the last time he had set foot in the Department of Mysteries, back when they had still been at Hogwarts.
“Or the Death Chamber,” said Hermione quietly next to him.
Ron glanced at her and had only just noticed how pale she was looking when Kingsley took a couple of steps forwards and reached out to open the nearest door. Hermione was relieved that Ron didn’t get a chance to ask what she was thinking—they had more important things to worry about, though she struggled to push the thought all the way to the back of her head. She had only just realized that only one door, albeit she didn’t know which one, was separating her from the veil. Harry, she remembered, had heard voices coming from behind it when he had been there, while it had been completely silent to her ears. She had the strangest feeling that if she were to walk up to it now, she would be hearing voices to. Her mother’s. Maybe she would even hear her son.
Hermione took a deep breath and was just about to follow Kingsley through the door when he stepped back out and grabbed the handle to shut it again. The door, however, did not seem quite ready to close. Its threads began shrieking, the doorknob started spinning and Kingsley had to pull his hand back to keep from burning his fingertips on it. Hermione rushed forwards to start pushing on the door, and Ron joined in only seconds after her.
All three of them were panting heavily as they stepped back a few moment later, sighing in relief as the door closed with a clicking sound that echoed in the otherwise quiet room.
“We just have to keep guessing,” Kingsley mumbled to himself. “I don’t want to involve any of the Unspeakables just yet. Not until we know more…”
The fourth time would turn out to be the charm. Each time Kingsley opened a door, Hermione held her breath. She prepared to run forwards and wondered how far in she would make it before Ron or Kingsley would stop her, should see spot the stone archway and the black veil fluttering in a breeze that wasn’t really there.
By the time Kingsley opened the fourth door, Hermione’s pulse was racing away. And then, as he shouted, “Ha!” her heart nearly stopped completely for just a few moments.
“This is it,” Ron mumbled as Kingsley gave the door a push, which made it open all the way and reveal the inside. “The Magic Chamber.”
It was smaller than all the other chambers in the departmet that Hermione had set fot in; smaller, and almost completely empty, save for a narrow table, or perhaps it was a rock-hard stretcher, standing in its very center. Next to it, a thick, leatherbound book was soaring in the air.
Hermione was the first to step into the room and walk over to get a closer look on the book. It was very old; probably the oldest-looking object she had ever seen in her life. She opened it very slowly, noticing that the pages looked ready to crumble into pieces any second. They were full of runes, so tiny that she had to squint to even realise that was what they were, and handwritten notes in the margins that had faded and become unreadable.
She flipped the pages until the very first one and leaned closer, so close in fact that her eyelashes were almost brushing the parchment each time that she blinked.
“What does it say?” said Ron, who had turned up behind her after walking around the room, touching the stone walls with his hands as if expecting to find a secret passageway or something, because there had to be more than just a book and an old table…
“I think it’s a story,” Hermione mumbled, and then she began reading.
“It began with the old Norse Gods, and with Woden, the father of all kings. He had four godly sons by the names of Thor, Baldr, Vidar and Vàli. But it was long before they existed that Woden fell in love with a human girl and fathered a daughter. Shamed of the bastard, who had no godly strength or powers, Woden vowed to keep her a secret, and he cast a curse that forbade anyone from speaking of the girl’s origins. Those who tried would soon be silenced, for their tongues curled into a round ball in their mouths and pushed down their throats until they choked to death.
Woden’s daughter would soon learn that she wasn’t like all human girls. She could do things no one with a human father could—she could perform magic. She went on to marry and have children just like her. Woden was the father of all kings and his daughter the mother of all witches and wizards.”
Kingsley watched Hermione’s face for a few moments after she had stopped reading, and then he nodded. “Yes, of course, it all makes sense…”
And Hermione closed the book, and just then, something strange happened. The wall on the other side of the stretcher began to move, to push backwards and make the room larger, longer. The next time Hermione blinked, it had doubled in size, and there was a desk and a bookshelf stretching from the floor to the ceiling. And next to it…
“Are those cages?” said Ron loudly, stepping forwards. “I don’t understand…”
And none of it did make sense, not until they had gone through the books and parchments and found the photographs and the Unspeakables’ notes. What they did know by the time they left the department long after midnight was that Unspeakables had tried to trace the origins of magic on earth for as long as the Ministry of Magic had existed. They had extracted genes from house-elves, goblins, even unicorns. There were old photos where the ten cages lined up along the wall had been filled with different magical creatures, and then, finally, humans. It was only recently that they had started to inject Muggles with the gene they had created. Ron recognized his parents’ neighbour in one photo. Someone had written in untidy handwriting below the picture: unsuccessful. She had died.
And the very last photo was of little Topher Fernsby. A Squib turned wizard. The first one to survive the injection. Hermione cried when she saw the photo of him strapped to the stretcher she was standing next to just then, looking terrified for his life.
“I can’t believe his own mother would do this to him.”
“He doesn’t seem to have been hurt though, right?” said Ron.
“I don’t know who would have authorized experiements on children,” said Kingsley, shaking his head again and again. “He may not be hurt, but it’s so risky…”
“It must have been before you were Minister. Perhaps Thicknesse.”
When they left after midnight, they knew all of this. Their steps echoed in the empty corridors of the Ministry as they hurried up to the fireplaces. No one spoke. The last thing they had found before they left the Magic Chamber was a signature from almost a year ago. The Unspeakable who performed the very first injection on a Muggle. The name seemed to had etched itself onto Hermione’s eyelids, because she saw it again everytime she blinked. H. Burke.
It was the coldest beginning of winter they had had in years. James had just discovered how much he enjoyed playing in the snow, and Harry and Ginny took turns taking him outside while the other watched little Albus. They had grown accostumed to life as a family of four quicker than they had expected. James did like to sneak up and pinch Albus’ toes whenever they weren’t paying attention, but all in all, things had gone smoothly.
Harry’s only regret was that he had missed so much of his second son’s first months. After Ron and Hermione’s discovery in the Department of Mysteries, he had immediately withdrawn his support for Burke as Minister. Hamish Burke responded with a speech to the nation, in which he claimed that the only way to equality was to make everyone the same; to extinct Muggles not by murder, but by turning them into wizards and witches too.
“Does Harry Potter believe that only some deserve the privilege that the magical gene is?” Burke had said. “If he truly wants to end pureblood supremacy, then he will support this cause.”
“Burke’s cause is pureblood supremacy in its purest form!” Harry had responded. “He thinks he will make the lesser people greater. But it’s our differences and diversity that makes us great. I don’t believe in changing everyone, and especially not innocent children.”
Meanwhile, Topher Fernsby’s mother spent all of her time teaching her son spells and wand techniques. She had written Professor McGonagall to ask if Topher could start Hogwarts right away, even though the school year had already begun. McGonagall, however, had been unsure, and Mrs Fernsby was determined to teach the boy herself until a decision was made.
While Mr Fernsby was still hesitant to the whole thing, Topher himself was over the moon. He had devoured his sister’s old textbooks in the past weeks, and when his mother had taken him to get his very own wand, he had been so excited he had accidentally set old Ollivander’s curtains on fire.
Everything was exactly how he had imagined it when he was younger, back when he had still hoped that he was just a late bloomer. That he wasn’t a Squib, no matter how much his sister Cynthia teased him about it. He was going to show her when Professor McGonagall finally let him start Hogwarts; he was determined to beat Cynthia’s mark in every single class he took.
Then there was his mother. Topher knew he had always been a disappointment to her, that she had always grieved his big defiency. She had never looked at him the way she did now. Each time he performed a spell successfully, or flicked his wand just the right way or finally pronounced an incantation right, there was a glow in her eyes that she had used to save only for Cynthia. Now, he was finally enough for her too.
And then it happened. Afterwards, Topher couldn’t explain to anyone what had started it. He remembered deciding to try out the new spell he was working on before his mother got home; he couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when he lit up the tip of his wand all on his own! He remembered mumbling the word to himself over and over before even touching his wand: Lumos. And then, the opposite of what should have happened; everything had gone black.
Mrs Fernsby found him on the kitchen floor when she came back home from the post office. She hardly noticed the state of the room—the shattered windows, the flowerpots on the floor, or the smoke rising from the carpet—she just sank to her knees in front of her son, grabbed his shoulders and started shaking him.
The Healers were as baffled as Topher’s mother when she brought him to the hospiral. They examined him for hours, performed every test there was, but when he finally woke up the next morning, they had no answers, and neither did he.
It was Mrs Fernsby who came to Ron after Topher had had another episode only a few nights later. Hamish Burke had visited her that morning, asking her to keep quit about the complications. Naturally, she had written to the Daily Prophet immediately.
“I want to take it back,” she told Ron. She was shaking visibly as she reached over to grab his arm. “Please. I can’t stand it if I’ve done this to my boy and can’t take it back.”
Two weeks later found a large group gathered around the radio in Ron and Hermione’s kitchen. There was Harry, Ginny and their boys—Harry was trying very hard to keep James still by feeding him crackers every other minute or so, and baby Albus was sleeping quietly in Ron’s arm. Next to him, Hermione was watching the radio intensely, her hands resting on her now very visible baby bump. They had told everyone who hadn’t already guessed it in the last week that she was pregnant. Her father had cried and hugged her so tightly it hurt, and the next day he had driven all the way up to their house to deliver a present.
Hermione had cried too when he had opened the trunk to his Audi to reveal a small, white cradle that she recognized from her own baby pictures. “I built this,” her father said, “while your mother was expecting you. She was annoyed that I spent so much time on it, but I’ll always remember the look on her face when it was finally finished and we set it up by the foot of our bed. I think she would really like for her grandchild to sleep in it too. But only if you like it,” he had added quickly, and that had been when Hermione hugged him as tightly as she could, closing her eyes and crying against his chest, because when she had imagined this moment, she had always thought that her mum would be there for it.
Now, the cradle was standing by the foot of Ron and Hermione’s bed, and they were all in the kitchen, waiting for the broadcast to begin. Outside the window, it was snowing heavily; so heavily, in fact, that they could barely make out the shape of the hill behind the house that no longer had a large maple tree on its top. James had wanted to play outside all day, but his parents had been too busy pacing the floor and worrying to take him out, and there he was now, casting longing glances outside the window between chewing on his crackers.
“Dada,” he said every now and then, “me play?”
“We’ll play in a minute, buddy,” Harry said, not turning his eyes away from the silver grey radio on the table in front of them.
“He’s not going to win,” said Hermione, leaning forwards to rest her elbows on the tabletop and her chin in her hands. “Not after everything that’s been revealed in the past week. Not after that feature in the Prophet about Topher’s condition. People are too smart to vote for him.”
“Miney,” James said. “Me play?”
Just then, the radio made a crackling sound. Everyone froze—everyone but James, who leaned forwards and slipped down his father’s legs to grab the toy he had dropped on the floor. It was the rubber duck his granddad Arthur had given him for his first birthday, almost one entire year ago. Despite having it with him wherever he went, even in bed some nights, James had not grown sick of it yet. Now, as a voice he didn’t began speaking on the radio above him, James crawled in under the table and laid down on his tummy in the middle of all the feet resting on the pale blue rug. He squeezed his rubber duck and giggled to himself as it squeaked.
The solid wood tabletop separated James from what was going on above him, in the adult world. He was blissfully unaware of the fact that his father had dropped the remaining crackers on his own lap and was brushing crumbs off his trousers as if it was the most important thing in the world. James didn’t know that his mother had frozen in her position, or that his uncle Ron was staring at the radio, expecting someone to interrupt the new minister’s victory speech any second to say it was all a joke. James was too busy chatting incomprehensibly to his little toy duck to know that his aunt Hermione was shaking her head, or that she was nearly crying. It was for them to worry about, after all. James worried instead about whether or not he would get to play in the snow. He crawled out from underneath the table and stood up on his tiptoes to be able to see the winder wonderland through the windows. Then, as he turned around towards the adults around the table, he didn’t worry about the way Mama was looking at Dada as if something horrible had happened, but about the fact that his little brother was looking a little too comfortable in Uncle Ron’s arms, and shouldn’t James be the one to sit on his lap? And he walked over to pinch Albus while all of the grown-ups were distracted, and Albus cried loudly, and Harry stood up to tell James off… And he was only one year and nine months old and couldn’t feel it, but something was growing in the room. Something big and dark that nobody had felt in years, that seemed even more present at the thought of that white cradle up in the bedroom, or as someone looked at James over by the window or at Albus on Ron’s lap. And the radio crackled again as the minister finished his speech.
“The people of this country knows better than to listen to a privileged elite. This day will go down in history as the day when the witches and wizards in England chose equality above all else. I always believed you would choose wisely, and you didn’t disappoint. Thank you.”
And miles and miles away from Maple Crest, at the Ministry of Magic in London, Hamish Burke was stepping away from the microphone with a big smile on his face, and everyone at the press conference was clapping their hands and shouting and cameras were flashing. And they all believed they had chosen wisely too.
A/N: This is probably the longest I've gone without updating since I started writing this story, and I could tell you all of my excuses (like I actually wrote the entire chapter and didn't press save and ended up losing it all, and felt so discouraged after that I put it off for almost another month, and I do so much writing at uni I have no energy left when I get home in the evenings) BUT I think the most important thing to talk about here is YOU. I am amazed that there are people still reading, still checking in, still leaving reviews asking when there will be a new chapter. You are the very reason I will never ever give up on this story.
And YOU have nominated this story and voted for it and it won TWO Dobby Awards. I literally cried when I found out. I honestly cannot tell you how happy that made me. Thank you so, so much.
Oh, and it's almost summer, which means lots more time for writing! Thank you so much for not giving up on this story. Lots of love to all of you! Xxxx
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