Many thanks to Ara Kane for beta-proofing both this chapter and the preceding one.
Chapter Two: Opportunity of a Lifetime
The air ripped with screams of pain and shock. Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Junior Minister in the Department of Magical Catastrophes, nearly slipped on the wet pavement of a Muggle street. As with his ears, his eyes were over-stimulated with the sights around him. Bodies broken and bloody. A huge crater in the street, from which a geyser of filthy sewer water sprayed everywhere. A small pile of sodden clothing with a shabby brown cloak, lying near what looked like a...finger. Sirius Black, stumbling slightly, with his wand still thrust forward in his hand. And the worst was the laughter. It continued to peal from Black's open mouth, in some kind of macabre memorial.
Crack! A tall, thin, worried wizard appeared out of thin air a short distance away. "Fudge! Talk to those witnesses before you Obliviate them!"
Waddie Smith, the Department Minister, looked more distracted than Cornelius had ever seen him. The Junior Minister obediently hurried towards the group of Muggles, and put his best effort towards regaining his composure amidst this disaster site.
And as he did so, he realized this could be it, his chance for advancement. He had been one of the first on the scene; it was he who would derive the witness descriptions, and his very words might be quoted in the Daily Prophet. The entire Ministry of Magic was so busy with the fallout from You-Know-Who's disappearance, the death of James and Lily Potter and miraculous survival of their baby, that this might be his chance to own the spotlight. He had to make this count. He had been ready since his schooldays of garnering recognition.
After all, there could only be a single explanation for the events that had occurred here. Sirius Black had murdered little Peter Pettigrew and ten...eleven...no, twelve Muggles in cold blood.
As Cornelius began to organize the Muggles into categories of useful versus hysterical, he noticed one fellow who appeared quite different than the rest. Although he was dressed in Muggle clothing, the collected expression on his face seemed out of place. His gaze went right through Cornelius.
But there was no time to wonder about the strange bloke in the brown-checkered jacket. The information came in torrents as Muggles pushed forward to excitedly tell Fudge what they had seen:
"That wild-haired brute pointed his stick, and blew the little feller away! It happened right after the little feller yelled something about the other betraying 'Lily and James.'"
"How horrible. The whole street exploded. People were thrown into the air, almost as if they were exploding from the inside, it was just...horrible! And afterwards, he just laughed...and he hasn't stopped!"
"The short guy had a stick too, but he didn't even want to fight, even brought it behind his back. Poor little chum, he looked a little like my cousin Nigel...never did like Nigel."
"The last thing I saw before the explosion was that the small man's stick just seemed to explode - looked like a celebration, it did. All kinds of sparks and streams of light just came shooting out. Some kind of fireworks, I gather."
And with more questioning, the observations continued to be consistent about one fact.
"Yeah, never saw the killer do anything with his stick, but he must have swung it, though, right? He is one cruel looking bugger, ain't he? Looked like his head was going to come off...veins were just bulging as he stared at the little one."
"The shorter man did bring his arms back just like he was trying to gentle the other down - like a wild horse. But it's no good talking sense with a crazy man like that." The Muggle, eyes wide with the relived horror, nodded emphatically at Black. "And just before everyone was killed it looked like some sparks came right out of the short feller's stick, greenish brown they were, with little red flickers."
Now Cornelius was quite worried at this consistently told inconsistency. Although it just couldn't be, it almost sounded like Pettigrew may have been both his own victim and the cause of the deaths of the Muggles. Could his wand have exploded accidentally? Had a curse gone astray?
That was impossible. If that were the case, then this would be just another sad chapter in Ministry's long history of looking incompetent against You-Know-Who, a crime with no criminal to punish, no clear story and no adequate explanation. The wizarding world would be unhappy and frustrated with the Ministry's inability to assign blame. And there would be no thanks for Cornelius, no glorious attention, and worst of all, no advancement towards the pinnacle of his dream.
One of the Muggles collapsed partially into the gutter and lay there like a fish, his mouth opening and closing in shock. Another one whined to his wife that he was really quite cold and wet. These Muggles, of course they had to be protected and all of that, but how far could their testimony really be trusted? Could they have really seen what they said they did? Or were they all lemmings, merely repeating each other's words, as they jostled in the crowd like spawning salmon?
They had to have been wrong. For Merlin's sake, they had no idea what wands even were! In the midst of their own small blinkered lives, were they really able to report objectively? It just didn't make any sense that Pettigrew had used his own wand, while the maniacal Black had not. Impossible. It just could not be true.
Cornelius stared sharply at the Muggle in the checkered jacket. He had just noticed that this man, after edging slightly closer to him in the crowd, now wore a look of smug superiority. The Muggle's cold brown eyes bored into his own. Cornelius stared hard back at him, and then jerked his attention back to the collective crowd in front of him.
The Junior Minister waved his wand. A shower of dreamy beige light fell upon the Muggle crowd and their expressions lost all anxiety and fear. Each gradually turned away, disoriented for a moment, and then set off down the street. A few sent questioning glances at the chaos on the street, but then they, too, set off. The jacketed Muggle with the piercing gaze followed suit, turning away before Cornelius could see his face.
The Daily Prophet
November 3rd, 1981
Sirius Black was arrested yesterday, shortly after he murdered wizard Peter Pettigrew and twelve Muggles in cold blood. Black confessed his guilt at the scene and it is believed that his imprisonment at Azkaban will begin in only a matter of hours. His trial may be waived based on the horrendous nature of the crime and his freely given confession.
Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Junior Minister of the Department of Magical Catastrophes, was one of the first on the scene and his first-hand account of events and meticulous gathering of bystander testimony clearly confirmed the murderer's guilt. He has been awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class, for his part in bringing Black to justice. Mr. Fudge's account of the tragic death scene, as told to Raymund Brown, Daily Prophet news reporter, follows...