'And you very kindly did not press charges on that occasion, accepting, I
presume, that even the best wizards cannot always control their emotions,' said
Dumbledore calmly, as Fudge attempted to scrub the ink off his notes.
'And I haven't even started on what he gets up to at school.'
'But, as the Ministry has no authority to punish Hogwarts students for misdemeanours
at school, Harry's behaviour there is not relevant to this hearing,' said Dumbledore,
as politely as ever, but now with a suggestion of coolness behind his words.
'Oho!' said Fudge. 'Not our business what he does at school, eh? You think
The Ministry does not have the power to expel Hogwarts students, Cornelius,
as I reminded you on the night of the second of August,' said Dumbledore. 'Nor
does it have the right to confiscate wands until charges have been successfully
proven; again, as
I reminded you on the night of the second of August. In your admirable haste
to ensure that the law is upheld, you appear, inadvertently I am sure, to have
overlooked a few laws yourself.'
'Laws can be changed,' said Fudge savagely.
'Of course they can,' said Dumbledore, inclining his head. 'And you certainly
seem to be making many changes, Cornelius. Why, in the few short weeks since
I was asked to leave the Wizengamot, it has already become the practice to hold
a full criminal trial to deal with a simple matter of underage magic!'
A few of the wizards above them shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Fudge
turned a slightly deeper shade of puce. The toadlike witch on his right, however,
merely gazed at Dumbledore, her face quite expressionless.
'As far as I am aware,' Dumbledore continued, 'there is no law yet in place
that says this court's job is to punish Harry for every bit of magic he has
ever performed. He has been charged with a specific offence and he has presented
his defence. All he and I can do now is to await your verdict.'
Dumbledore put his fingertips together again and said no more. Fudge glared
at him, evidently incensed. Harry glanced sideways at Dumbledore, seeking reassurance;
he was not at all sure that Dumbledore was right in telling the Wizengamot,
in effect, that it was about time they made a decision. Again, however, Dumbledore
seemed oblivious to Harry's attempt to catch his eye. He continued to look up
at the benches where the entire Wizengamot had fallen into urgent, whispered
Harry looked at his feet. His heart, which seemed to have swollen to an unnatural
size, was thumping loudly under his ribs. He had expected the hearing to last
longer than this. He was not at all sure that he had made a good impression.
He had not really said very much. He ought to have explained more fully about
the Dementors, about how he had fallen over, about how both he and Dudley had
nearly been kissed:
Twice he looked up at Fudge and opened his mouth to speak, but his swollen
heart was now constricting his air passages and both times he merely took a
deep breath and looked back down at his shoes.
Then the whispering stopped. Harry wanted to look up at the judges, but found
that it was really much, much easier to keep examining his laces.
Those in favour of clearing the witness of all charges?' said Madam Bones's
Harry's head jerked upwards. There were hands in the air, many of them: more
than half! Breathing very fast, he tried to count, but before he could finish,
Madam Bones had said, 'And those in favour of conviction?'
Fudge raised his hand; so did half a dozen others, including the witch on
his right and the heavily-moustached wizard and the frizzy-haired witch in the
Fudge glanced around at them all, looking as though there was something large
stuck in his throat, then lowered his own hand. He took two deep breaths and
said, in a voice distorted by suppressed rage, 'Very well, very well: cleared
of all charges.'
'Excellent,' said Dumbledore briskly, springing to his feet, pulling out
his wand and causing the two chintz armchairs to vanish. 'Well, I must be getting
along. Good-day to you all.'
And without looking once at Harry, he swept from the dungeon.
- CHAPTER NINE
The Woes of Mrs Weasley
Dumbledore's abrupt departure took Harry completely by surprise. He remained
sitting where he was in the chained chair, struggling with his feelings of shock
and relief. The Wizengamot were all getting to their feet, talking, gathering
up their papers and packing them away. Harry stood up. Nobody seemed to be paying
him the slightest bit of attention, except the toadlike witch on Fudge's right,
who was now gazing down at him instead of at Dumbledore. Ignoring her, he tried
to catch Fudge's eye, or Madam Bones's, wanting to ask whether he was free to
go, but Fudge seemed quite determined not to notice Harry, and Madam Bones was
busy with her briefcase, so he took a few tentative steps towards the exit and,
when nobody called him back, broke into a very fast walk.
He took the last few steps at a run, wrenched open the door and almost collided
with Mr Weasley, who was standing right outside, looking pale and apprehensive.
'Dumbledore didn't say -'
'Cleared,' Harry said, pulling the door closed behind him, 'of all charges!'
Beaming, Mr Weasley seized Harry by the shoulders.
'Harry, that's wonderful! Well, of course, they couldn't have found you guilty,
not on the evidence, but even so, I can't pretend I wasn't -'
But Mr Weasley broke off, because the courtroom door had just opened again.
The Wizengamot were filing out.
'Merlin's beard!' exclaimed Mr Weasley wonderingly, pulling Harry aside to
let them all pass. 'You were tried by the full court?'
'I think so,' said Harry quietly.
One or two of the wizards nodded to Harry as they passed and a few, including
Madam Bones, said, 'Morning, Arthur,' to Mr Weasley, but most averted their
eyes. Cornelius Fudge and the toadlike witch were almost the last to leave the
dungeon. Fudge acted as though Mr Weasley and Harry were part of the wall, but
again, the witch looked almost appraisingly at Harry as she passed. Last of
all to pass was Percy. Like Fudge, he completely ignored his father and Harry;
he marched past clutching a large roll of parchment and a handful of spare quills,
his back rigid and his nose in the air. The lines around Mr Weasleys mouth tightened
slightly, but other than this he gave no sign that he had seen his third son.
'I'm going to take you straight back so you can tell the others the good
news,' he said, beckoning Harry forwards as Percy's heels disappeared up the
steps to Level Nine. I'll drop you off on the way to that toilet in Bethnal
Green. Come on:"
'So, what will you have to do about the toilet?' Harry asked, grinning. Everything
suddenly seemed five times funnier than usual. It was starting to sink in: he
was cleared, he was going back to Hogwarts.
'Oh, its a simple enough anti-jinx,' said Mr Weasley as they mounted the
stairs, 'but it's not so much having to repair the damage, its more the attitude
behind the vandalism, Harry. Muggle-baiting might strike some wizards as funny,
but it's an expression of something much deeper and nastier, and I for one -'
Mr Weasley broke off in mid-sentence. They had just reached the ninth-level
corridor and Cornelius Fudge was standing a few feet away from them, talking
quietly to a tall man with sleek blond hair and a pointed, pale face.
The second man turned at the sound of their footsteps. He, too, broke off
in mid-conversation, his cold grey eyes narrowed and fixed upon Harry's face.
'Well, well, well: Patronus Potter,' said Lucius Malfoy coolly.
Harry felt winded, as though he had just walked into something solid. He
had last seen those cold grey eyes through slits in a Death Eaters hood, and
last heard that man's voice jeering in a dark graveyard while Lord Voldemort
tortured him. Harry could not believe that Lucius Malfoy dared look him in the
face; he could not believe that he was here, in the Ministry of Magic, or that
Cornelius Fudge was talking to him, when Harry had told Fudge mere weeks ago
that Malfoy was a Death Eater.
The Minister was just telling me about your lucky escape, Potter,' drawled
Mr Malfoy. 'Quite astonishing, the way you continue to wriggle out of very tight
holes: snakelike, in fact.'
Mr Weasley gripped Harry's shoulder in warning.
'Yeah,' said Harry, 'yeah, I'm good at escaping.'
Lucius Malfoy raised his eyes to Mr Weasley's face.
'And Arthur Weasley too! What are you doing here, Arthur?'
'I work here,' said Mr Weasley curtly.
'Not here, surely?' said Mr Malfoy, raising his eyebrows and glancing towards
the door over Mr Weasley's shoulder. 'I thought you were up on the second floor:
don't you do something that involves sneaking Muggle artefacts home and bewitching
'No,' Mr Weasley snapped, his fingers now biting into Harry's shoulder.
'What are you doing here, anyway?' Harry asked Lucius Malfoy.
'I don't think private matters between myself and the Minister are any concern
of yours, Potter,' said Malfoy, smoothing the front of his robes. Harry distinctly
heard the gentle clinking of what sounded like a full pocket of gold. 'Really,
just because you are Dumbledore's favourite boy, you must not expect the same
indulgence from the rest of us: shall we go up to your office, then, Minister?'
'Certainly' said Fudge, turning his back on Harry and Mr Weasley. This way,
They strode off together, talking in low voices. Mr Weasley did not let go
of Harry's shoulder until they had disappeared into the lift.
'Why wasn't he waiting outside Fudge's office if they've got business to
do together?' Harry burst out furiously. 'What was he doing down here?'
'Trying to sneak down to the courtroom, if you ask me,' said Mr Weasley,
looking extremely agitated and glancing over his shoulder as though making sure
they could not be overheard. Trying to find out whether you'd been expelled
or not. I'll leave a note for Dumbledore when I drop you off, he ought to know
Malfoys been talking to Fudge again.'
'What private business have they got together, anyway?'
'Gold, I expect,' said Mr Weasley angrily. 'Malfoy's been giving generously
to all sorts of things for years: gets him in with the right people: then he
can ask favours: delay laws he doesn't want passed: oh, he's very well-connected,
The lift arrived; it was empty except for a flock of memos that flapped around
Mr Weasley's head as he pressed the button for the Atrium and the doors clanged
shut. He waved them away irritably.
'Mr Weasley' said Harry slowly, 'if Fudge is meeting Death Eaters like Malfoy,
if he's seeing them alone, how do we know they haven't put the Imperius Curse
'Don't think it hasn't occurred to us, Harry' said Mr Weasley quietly. 'But
Dumbledore thinks Fudge is acting of his own accord at the moment - which, as
Dumbledore says, is not a lot of comfort. Best not talk about it any more just
The doors slid open and they stepped out into the now almost-deserted Atrium.
Eric the watchwizard was hidden behind his Daily Prophet again. They had walked
straight past the golden fountain before Harry remembered.
'Wait:' he told Mr Weasley, and, pulling his moneybag from his pocket, he
turned back to the fountain.
He looked up into the handsome wizard's face, but close-to Harry thought
he looked rather weak and foolish. The witch was wearing a vapid smile like
a beauty contestant, and from what Harry knew of goblins and centaurs, they
were most unlikely to be caught staring so soppily at humans of any description.
Only the house-elf's attitude of creeping servility looked convincing. With
a grin at the thought of what Hermione would say if she could see the statue
of the elf, Harry turned his moneybag upside-down and emptied not just ten Galleons,
but the whole contents into the pool.
* * *
'I knew it!' yelled Ron, punching the air. 'You always get away with stuff!'
They were bound to clear you,' said Hermione, who had looked positively faint
with anxiety when Harry had entered the kitchen and was now holding a shaking
hand over her eyes, 'there was no case against you, none at all.'
'Everyone seems quite relieved, though, considering you all knew I'd get
off,' said Harry, smiling.
Mrs Weasley was wiping her face on her apron, and Fred, George and Ginny
were doing a kind of war dance to a chant that went: 'He got off, he got off,
he got off:"
That's enough! Settle down!' shouted Mr Weasley, though he too was smiling.
'Listen, Sirius, Lucius Malfoy was at the Ministry -'
'What?' said Sirius sharply.
'He got off, he got off, he got off:"
'Be quiet, you three! Yes, we saw him talking to Fudge on Level Nine, then
they went up to Fudge's office together. Dumbledore ought to know.'
'Absolutely,' said Sirius. 'We'll tell him, don't worry.'
'Well, I'd better get going, there's a vomiting toilet waiting for me in
Bethnal Green. Molly, I'll be late, I'm covering for Tonks, but Kingsley might
be dropping in for dinner -'
'He got off, he got off, he got off:"
That's enough - Fred - George - Ginny!' said Mrs Weasley, as Mr Weasley left
the kitchen. 'Harry, dear, come and sit down, have some lunch, you hardly ate