"I have long held that the greatest tragedy, among countless misfortunes that recur in the long and agonizing human story, is not when evil triumphs over good, or when oppression overcomes freedom, or even the wretched loss of ten billion potential might-have-beens. No, the most devastating defect in our character - a trait that held us down ever since the caves - is the very same twist in our natures that makes us such fine storytellers. I am talking about our incredible penchant for - and creativity at - self-delusion and rationalization. The lengths that we all go to, in order to convince ourselves that we are the smart ones, virtuous and right... often in complete denial of blatant evidence to the contrary."
~ by David Brin
Chapter One: Hufflepuff Advice
This is the first of a series of short chapters revolving around our favorite ex-Minister.
It was done...finished.
One of his last acts as ex-Minister of Magic had been completed. The Prime Minister of Muggles had been introduced to Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister Rufus Scrimgeour.
Stepping heavily out of the green flames, Cornelius Fudge watched the rapidly departing back of the current Minister as he loped down the hall. Obviously, there was not even enough time for a polite farewell. The Ministry of Magic's Muggle Relations Department seemed very quiet tonight. No magistrate ghosts came by to share a joke. The few employees remaining did not even meet his gaze. It was as though he was already invisible.
The portly wizard walked through the halls and down to the closet that was his new office. He inhaled to shrink his paunch enough to slide between the wall and a teetering crate.
How had it come to this? How had all of this happened?
As he sank onto a pile of cushions, sent from the Sultan of Arabia just a few years before, a gilded button popped off his taut waistcoat and ricocheted off the adjacent wall. His lime-green bowler gently slid off his head and into a puddle of brown glutinous material leaking from the ceiling.
And with that, it seemed, all self-respect fled. Cornelius Oswald Fudge, ex-Minister of Magic, ex-Currency Overseer, ex-Wizengamot magistrate, brought his pudgy hands to his face and sobbed.
What did I do to deserve this? When did it all start to go wrong?
"Well, well...you're looking quite the cream-fed cat today, young Fudge!" Professor Cynthia Bones leaned back heavily in her chair, causing its wooden joints to creak loudly. She subconsciously rubbed her right thumb and forefinger together, feeling the calluses from decades of wand use. As she assessed the freckled redhead perched in front of her desk, her eyes narrowed with realization. The fifteen-year old was busily balancing a mountain of parchment scrolls on her desk, and he placed a shiny box of her favorite Honeydukes sweets on her desktop with an ingratiating grin.
The professor sighed as she concluded this would not be the quick Career Advice appointment she had envisioned. Not with young master Fudge here.
Professor Bones had hoped to join her family at a congratulatory luncheon this afternoon. Her oldest child, Amelia, had just become a junior associate in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the tender age of twenty-one. Unfortunately, now it looked as though she might arrive quite late.
She loved the challenge of teaching but had begun to realize she was missing so much of her family life, especially now that strange whispers were emerging of a new threat on the horizon of the wizarding world, a new Dark Lord as terrible as Grindelwald. The Head of Hufflepuff House wrenched her mind back into the present, realizing that she was indulging in a bit of uncharacteristic dawdling.
She cleared her throat with a sharp bark. "Now then, Mr. Fudge." She leaned forward to scan his current grades. Fairly mediocre...one "Outstanding" in Muggle Studies, two "Exceeds Expectations" in Potions and Magical History, and the rest were "Acceptable."
"And what do we have here?" she asked, as a few scrolls overbalanced to cascade towards her. "Honorary Boatswain across the Black Lake? Certificate of Recognition for Studious Composure?" The blonde witch sighed as she noted Madam Pince's spiky signature on the last one. "Student Chairman of Lawn Beautification Project? Substitute Flobberworm Feeder?" The word 'Substitute' had been scratched out and 'Associate' penned over it.
She impatiently jabbed the air with her creamy-toned beechwood wand, and the scroll in her hands and its many brothers flew from her desktop to a nearby basket. She leveled her most intimidating stare at the pink-cheeked wizard in front of her.
The answer came forth in a nervous patter. "I thought...I thought you would like to see all of the recognition I've gotten here at Hogwarts. I thought this might help you, I mean help us, to decide where my talents lie...to see what I'm good at."
Creeeaak! Professor Bones placed her capable hands on each armrest. "And what do you think you're good at?" Despite her effort to maintain her stern expression, a twinkle bloomed in her grey eyes.
Cornelius' eyes shone with reflected future glories, and his tone echoed with the gravity of a sixty year-old's speech. "I want to do something really important, I want to work for the Ministry, the Ministry of Magic."
"Fudge, your grades are passable, just passable. You'll need to bring them up quite a bit for the Ministry."
"But I told you, Professor, I was ill, I had to fight off that Confundus Charm, and I really don't think Professor Hargrave cares for Hufflepuffs...he's always going on about..."
Her teeth set momentarily in irritation at the whine in the boy's voice. This response of excuses and blame was really quite too much. She interrupted his explanation with an impatient wave of her hand and remembered the owl that had come from his parents earlier in the year.
The letter had been written on terribly stiff and expensive parchment and was covered in elaborate handwriting:
Professor Cynthia Bones
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Dear Professor Bones,
My husband and I are writing in regards to our dear son, Cornelius Oswald. We were most surprised (and slightly alarmed) to find that he was not made a prefect for his fifth year at Hogwarts. His uncle, Septimus Ferris Fudge, who is Chairman of the Pest Advisory Bureau at the Ministry of Magic and holds a most coveted position on the Hogwarts Board of Governors (and is, I might add, an intimate friend of Albus Dumbledore's), was most displeased to receive this news. We assured him it had to be a tiny misunderstanding and that he certainly should not inquire on our behalf.
As you know, Cornelius's little heart is set upon the greatest of futures -- well, perhaps one of the greatest futures; wizarding society holds academics such as yourself in the highest regard -- that within our own Ministry of Magic. We are certain that you will do everything in your power to see that our darling is treated fairly.
The Honorable Mr. and Mrs. Alistair Wallace Fudge
As she looked again at Cornelius, she noted that he was waiting attentively for her response. Perhaps it was not too late; perhaps he would listen to her. She had watched earlier this year as he flattered a rather stolid Ravenclaw into doing most of his Potions classwork, but then devastated the poor girl last week by ignoring her repeatedly. Filius Flitwick had mentioned that she had needed a Cheering Charm from the new matron, Madam Pomfrey, just to get out of bed.
Professor Bones spoke in a crisp yet kindly tone. "Cornelius, I'd like you to concentrate on your studies. I know you are part of Professor Slughorn's circle, and indeed contacts are valuable, but I ask you to take a good look at your priorities. All these certificates are fine, but can not compare to the skill required for a single Crabgrass Repellent Charm. Your integrity, how you develop your talents and make your choices, are what will define your future and your contentment. Only by achieving a goal through one's own merit, can one reap the true reward."
To her dismay, Cornelius acted as though he had heard nothing of what she had said. She had noticed this worrying trait in him before. It was almost as if he was living in his own world.
"I'll be doing much better in the future, Professor Bones. I wouldn't want to do anything but work for the Ministry. Thanks very much for your time."
"Professor, may I go now?" His eyes seemed focused over her shoulder and a million miles away.
"Yes, Mr. Fudge."
She sighed inwardly as she watched the young wizard turn away from her desk, burdened with his briefcase and scrolls. A strong sense of loss settled over her. She had failed to reach this boy. Much better to have missed her daughter's luncheon, and had his Career Advice session go on all afternoon rather than have it end like this.