The Sugar Quill
Author: Doctor Cornelius (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter, Prisoner of Azkaban  Chapter: Chapter Two: The Courtroom
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

 

A/N: I'm back from the England trip! J Not bad for a business trip-- see the Parseltongue board for my travelogue. Oh, yeah, except that I forgot to mention the time the rest of the group almost left me behind at the airport. But never mind thatů

By the way, due to my ongoing experiment with partial-chapter publication (in order to keep up the weekly schedule), it is probably better if you do NOT post a review this week. (When's the last time you read that on ff.net?) If you do, you won't be able to post another one until I start in on chapter 3. But if you've got something that just has to be said, feel free to e-mail me at pmcovert@sprynet.com.

Standard disclaimer applies (not-for-profit, based on works of JKR, etc.).

 

Chapter Two: The Courtroom

Harry woke up on a floor of hard, cold concrete. He must have fallen on his left side-- his left wrist seemed to be sprained, his knee on that side hurt pretty badly also, and it felt like the left side of his face was scraped all the way up to his forehead. Just raising his arm to feel his face hurt. How had he gotten himself in here? He didn't remember-- oh, yes, that was it. The Death Eater from the Ministry, Avery. He arrested me. They got my letter to Sirius. They said I killed Cedric. A surge of righteous indignation welled up with in Harry, and was then cut off as he remembered the other charge against him. Oh, yeah, and the attack on Malfoy and his buddies. We really did do that.

The feeling of indignation was replaced by one of frustration. But they don't arrest people for that, it's just kid stuff. We've attacked each other at school before, and all that's happened is we've gotten detention and lost house points and stuff. How was I supposed to know they'd arrest us? And I was provoked too. Malfoy was insulting Ron and Hermione-- and Cedric. At the thought of Cedric, the wave of tormented guilt within him swelled up and overwhelmed his mind's ability to frame his thoughts in words. It was all so unfair; and yet he still felt guilty about it too.

Then the realization hit him that he hadn't been the only one to attack Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. What about Ron and Hermione? Have they been arrested too? Wouldn't put it past Malfoy to have his dad get all three of us. And maybe Fred and George too? But no-- maybe they've just gone after me. I'm the one Voldemort wants. This is all just a trick to get me someplace where Voldemort can attack me and finish me off.

Hey, wait a minute. How did they get the letter? THEY DIDN'T GET SIRIUS, DID THEY?!? This thought burned Harry's insides even worse than the thought of Cedric. If Sirius was caught, he would be given the Dementor's Kiss, and left to exist as an empty body without a soul. The thought of his godfather suffering such a fate was more than Harry felt he could handle. His eyes stung, and his throat choked up so that he could hardly breathe.

He wondered how they could have gotten to Sirius. Did they follow Hedwig? He remembered now that last year Sirius had asked him not to send Hedwig to him, as a white owl always returning to the same place would attract too much attention. I shouldn't have sent Hedwig to Sirius. And I shouldn't have attacked Malfoy, and I shouldn't... shouldn't... shouldn't have told Cedric to take the Cup with me. Guilty misery overwhelmed him again to the point where he couldn't think coherently. For a couple minutes he stared at the hard concrete floor, trying to collect his thoughts.

Hey, wait a minute... where am I? Harry wiped the still-stinging tears out of his eyes as he looked up at the wall opposite him. Grey concrete. He looked up at the ceiling. More grey concrete. Apparently he was in sort of prison cell. Am I in Azkaban? But no; if this were Azkaban, he would have felt the Dementors' presence by now. Perhaps he was somewhere at the Ministry of Magic in London.

He looked to his left-- and realized that he was not alone in the cell. Standing there, as if waiting for him to speak, was a tall, aged wizard with long white hair and a beard. His blue eyes were not twinkling.

"Well, Harry, it seems that we have some things to discuss," said Albus Dumbledore.

* * *

Unnerved by the sight of his headmaster in his cell with him, Harry blurted out the first thing that came to his mind. "Professor! You're not-- you're not a prisoner here too, are you?!"

The faintest hint of amusement crossed Dumbledore's face. "No, Harry, I'm not." He paused a moment. "I am here to advise you concerning your legal defense. I was able to persuade Minister Fudge to grant you a trial. The situation is very troublesome, I'm afraid. Two weeks ago Lucius Malfoy was appointed Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. He very nearly arranged for you to be shipped directly to Azkaban, but Cornelius decided that sending you there without a trial would harm the Ministry's reputation even more than has already been the case. You will undergo trial in two days' time."

"Yes, sir," Harry intoned blankly without meeting Dumbledore's eyes. "By the way, where are we?"

"We are in one of the Magical Law Enforcement department's holding cells. You may recall the courtroom scenes that you observed in my office before the Third Task. The courtroom that you saw is in this building. You will be tried in it. I believe that you have been duly informed of the crimes of which you are accused."

"Yes, sir."

"The foremost charge is that of Cedric's murder." A brief spark of anger flared up in Dumbledore's voice. "It is the murder charge that will give them authority to send you to Azkaban. And you see the difficulty that is upon us there. Who murdered Cedric, Harry?"

"Voldemort. Well, really, Wormtail, on Voldemort's orders."

"And therefore your entire defense, Harry, rests on the existence of two men, both presumed dead, or as good as dead, for thirteen years, both of whom the Ministry is unwilling to admit may still be alive."

Harry nodded.

"The second charge is that of aiding and abetting a convicted murderer, Sirius Black. Of this--" (and here Dumbledore's speech betrayed the faintest hint of mirth, although it disappeared quickly) "of this I suppose that I am is guilty as you are. Sirius is not a murderer, but he is a convicted murderer, and that is all that matters to the Ministry. Fudge will consider no other possibility, and Lucius Malfoy, who of course does know the truth, will see to it that Fudge continues to consider no other possibility.

"And so you can imagine what a delight it was for Lucius and the other Death Eaters when one of their number intercepted your owl. No, they didn't catch Sirius himself," (Harry breathed a sigh of relief) "but they did catch your owl on her way to Sirius. My best guess is that a high-powered broom and an invisibility cloak were involved. Arthur Weasley was able to retrieve your owl, and since Hagrid is out of the country on a special assignment, his predecessor, Professor Kettleburn, has been nursing her back to health. He is doing an excellent job with her."

Harry nodded. He still was not meeting Dumbledore's eyes. He knew what was coming next.

"But the third charge is somewhat different. Mr. Ronald Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger have also been arrested" (Harry's stomach sank to the bottom of his insides) "and the three of you stand accused of attacking young Draco Malfoy and his friends."

There was a deadly pause.

"Tell me, Harry, did you do this?"

Harry nodded. More silence.

"Tell me, Harry. Why did you do this?"

Harry paused to collect his thoughts. At the moment he couldn't actually remember why he had done it, only that it had seemed like a good idea at the time. Finally the memory came back.

"He was bragging about Voldemort being back. He told me I had chosen the wrong friends, that they'd be the first to go. Then he said, 'No, second-- Diggory was the first.' " Harry paused. "And then I guess we all just kind of lost it." He was careful not to mention Fred and George's involvement in the attack, as they had apparently managed to escape detection.

Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully. Harry still was not meeting his eyes.

"Certainly I share your sentiments, Harry." Dumbledore thought for a moment. "But we are in a war, and in a war right feelings are not enough. Right actions are necessary as well. And I hope that you have realized that by your actions you have allowed the enemies of the truth-- both those who are willful liars and those who are willfully ignorant-- the opportunity to score their greatest triumph since Lord Voldemort's return to his body."

Harry nodded glumly, staring at the floor. There was another long silence.

"And now, Harry, we must plan our response to these charges."

Harry's gaze remained fixed downward. He didn't feel particularly interested in responding to anyone's charges. It all seemed too much of a lost cause for him to care.

"Harry?"

Harry continued staring at the floor.

"Harry," said Dumbledore. "Before we take this discussion any further, there is someone whom I think you should meet." He reached into his cloak, and from somewhere-- it didn't seem like there was enough room for it-- he produced an owl cage. Slumped at the bottom of it was a morose-looking lump of white feathers.

"Hedwig!" said Harry, rushing over to her. But Hedwig looked at him from under her wing and then resolutely looked away.

"Hedwig, what happened?" pleaded Harry. Hedwig gave no response. Harry tried prodding her for a while, but without result.

"Harry, why do you think your owl won't look at you?" asked Dumbledore.

"I guess because she's embarrassed that she got caught."

"And do you think that she is making herself any happier by not responding to you?"

Harry thought for a moment. Then he realized Dumbledore's point. Slowly, painfully, he turned to look into the piercing gaze of Dumbledore's ice-blue eyes.

"I'm sorry, sir."

"Very well then, Harry, we can continue. And I'm sure your owl will come around soon enough." And with that, the twinkle returned to Professor Dumbledore's eyes, and Harry began to feel that perhaps there was hope after all.

* * *

"Harry, we must be careful. I must not stay here long. Let me explain how your trial will function. As you may recall from your visit to my Pensieve a couple of months ago, there are no defense attorneys in wizarding courts. I will be present in the audience and will speak up if necessary, but I will have no official capacity and the court will not be compelled to recognize me. You will have the opportunity to speak in your own defense. But you must be very cautious, as Lucius Malfoy can easily turn an ill-chosen word against you.

"Mr. Malfoy will be prosecuting attorney on behalf of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. I believe that he is attempting to stack the jury with his allies. Even Barty Crouch, aggressive though he was in his prosecutions, never stooped to that level; there was too much weight of wizarding law against it for him to consider the possibility. But Lucius, I'm afraid, has no such scruples.

"You will be facing testimony from several witnesses. I am sorry to say that young Draco Malfoy will be testifying as to your attack on him on the train. He is also likely to testify as to your alleged instability, as we saw in the Rita Skeeter article before the Third Task. Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle will join him in this testimony. Your letter to Sirius will be presented to the court. I do not know whom they will have giving evidence as to your alleged murder of Cedric. It may be Minister Fudge himself."

This was too much. "But Professor," Harry interrupted, "Mr. Fudge doesn't really believe I murdered Cedric, does he?"

Dumbledore looked thoughtful. "The word believe can mean many things. I do not, and indeed cannot, know what the Minister believes, deep down in his soul. At the time of the Third Task, he seemed to agree that young Crouch had been responsible, even if he refused to acknowledge that Voldemort had indeed returned. But Lucius has been playing on the Minister's weakness. The fact is that young Crouch, in the form of Alastor Moody, was seen on the grounds at Hogwarts at the time of Cedric's murder, and you of course were not. Lucius has forced the Minister into a position where he must believe either that you murdered Cedric or that Voldemort has been restored; and he knows as well as you and I that the Minister will choose to believe anything rather than that Voldemort has returned."

This took Harry's breath away. Kindly, bumbling old Minister Fudge would actually consider him a murderer? The thought was preposterous. But then again, maybe it wasn't so strange after all. He remembered that Fudge already considered him mentally unstable. From there it was only a short step to considering him capable of murder. Harry looked at Dumbledore in horror, saying nothing.

"But let us return to the subject. Time is short," Dumbledore continued. "It is my suspicion that there will also be several witnesses against your character. I have given permission for Professor Snape to testify against you."

"What...? Why...?" Harry didn't understand. What was going on here?

"It is necessary that he do so," Dumbledore explained, "because the failure to do so would jeopardize his position with Voldemort, and would cut off our side from our best source of information in this war. Some things, Harry, are more important than any of our individual lives. I do not believe anything he says will turn the tide against you. Indeed, I do not believe that he could if he chose to; remember, Harry, Professor Snape is under life-debt to the memory of your father. But I say this to warn you, and to prepare you to deal with the feelings you will no doubt experience during his testimony.

"Based on information from Professor Snape, as well as from Lucius Malfoy's conduct of the case thus far, it is my expectation that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement will seek to have you sent to Azkaban. I do not know for how long; that will depend on the timing of when Voldemort plans to release the Dementors. A mere few weeks may well be enough for his purposes.

"If you are sent there, we will make every effort to protect you there. But I cannot guarantee your safety, and regardless of what happens, this is a significant setback for our side.

"And now I must leave soon. Do you have any questions, Harry?"

"Professor... What about Ron and Hermione? Will they be sent to Azkaban too?"

"I do not know. It is less likely, since they are charged only with assault and not murder. My guess is that Lucius is allowing his son a bit of vengeance in their case, but I do not know how far it will be taken."

"And, Professor... What about the Fidelius Charm that was supposed to protect me?"

"Unfortunately, Harry, it will be three more weeks before the Fidelius Potion is ready. Until then, you are in a position of extreme vulnerability."

Suddenly their conversation was disturbed by the noise of a key turning in the lock of Harry's cell. An unpleasant-looking dwarf opened the door leered at Harry as he brought in a hunk of dry bread and a stone jug of water. Harry turned to his left in fright-- but Dumbledore was nowhere to be seen. "A bit jumpy, now, are we?" laughed the Ministry dwarf, and left.

Where is Dumbledore? wondered Harry. His question was answered as a parchment slid under the door. It read:

Goodbye, Harry. --A.D.

* * *

Hey, wait a minute, thought Harry. What was that about? The Ministry knew Dumbledore was here, didn't they?

But wait-- maybe they didn't. Would Dumbledore have come to talk with him without Ministry permission? Yeah, Harry realized, maybe he would have. What was that he said to Fudge after Voldemort came back? "I shall act as I see fit?" If Fudge and the Ministry didn't want him to see me, that probably wouldn't stop him.

It was only at this point that Harry realized that he didn't really understand how Dumbledore felt about breaking rules. He remembered in his first year how it had seemed like Dumbledore had made sure that he, Ron, and Hermione had had just enough information to stop Voldemort from stealing the Philosopher's Stone, even though this involved breaking several school rules in the process. Then the next year, when Harry and Ron had illegally flown to school in Ron's father's flying car, Dumbledore had threatened to expel them if they continued to break rules-only to eat his words when they had broken every rule in the book to save Ginny from Voldemort in the Chamber of Secrets. Likewise the year after that, Dumbledore had very deliberately provided Harry and Hermione with a plan to save Sirius Black, even though this involved breaking one of the most serious laws known to wizardkind-- and yet he had done this without actually telling them to do so.

It seems like Dumbledore believes it's okay to break rules, or even laws, when it's for a good purpose; it's just not okay to get caught. Or is that right? Somehow this almost seemed to capture Dumbledore's views on the subject, but not quite. Harry didn't quite think that it was "getting caught" that made the difference, even if it was for a good cause; but he wasn't sure what it was. In any case, Dumbledore seemed to have thought it was all right to come and talk to Harry without Ministry permission; but he wasn't about to let the Ministry find out about it. The rest of it Harry would have to figure out some other time. He wished he could ask Dumbledore about this, but he suspected that this would be yet another of those questions to which the Headmaster would be unwilling to give a straight answer.

* * *

The rest of the day passed slowly. Harry wanted to try to figure out what to say at the trial the next day. But he couldn't seem to make his mind focus. His thoughts kept drifting aimlessly. He wondered where Ron and Hermione were being held, and what they were thinking. Hermione, he supposed, was probably in a bit of a panic. She had always made a point of doing things "right," following all the rules and staying out of trouble. She would be desperate for a wizarding law book (the heftier the better) to tell her how to get out of trouble; but nobody was likely to have brought her one, and unless she had memorized A Thousand And One Important Precedents in Wizarding Law without him and Ron knowing about it, she'd be pretty much helpless. Meanwhile, Ron seemed likely to be muttering angrily under his breath about the situation, but wouldn't take it quite as hard and seriously as Hermione would. Or would he? Nothing like this had happened to them before; you couldn't really tell how somebody would react to it until it happened.

Eventually the grey concrete of his cell walls faded to black. Harry wasn't quite sure how this work; he suspected that the cell must have been charmed to maintain the same level of light as the outside world, kind of like a cheap imitation of the Great Hall at Hogwarts. In any case, Harry supposed that it was time to sleep now. The concrete floor was cold and hard, and his troubled mind wasn't helping either; but finally he managed to drop off to sleep.

The next day dawned slowly. Harry still couldn't think coherently about his trial. Dumbledore's information had been helpful-- at least now he had some idea of what was coming-- but he was still having trouble making his mind settle down and plan how he was going to defend himself.

Okay, I've got to figure this out, he finally made himself think around mid-morning (or so he guessed it to be). What am I going to have to do to stay out of Azkaban? I'm going to have to prove I didn't kill Cedric. How can I prove that?

And this was the immovable obstacle in Harry's path. Try as he might, he could think of no argument for his innocence that didn't involve convincing the Ministry that Voldemort had indeed come back. And there was nothing that he could say that would make Fudge willing to believe that. Perhaps Voldemort might have started killing Muggles again? But no-- Voldemort wasn't that stupid. Voldemort knew that it was in his best interests to keep Fudge and the Ministry thinking that Dumbledore and Harry were just trying to start a mindless panic. He wouldn't start giving people reasons to believe that he had actually returned, not for a while anyway.

Well then, Harry decided, I guess all I can do is tell the truth, and whatever happens, happens. That's what Dumbledore would want me to do. Somehow encouraged by this thought in spite of the hopelessness of the situation, Harry allowed himself to crack a slight grin. And it was in this mood that the bread-and-water dwarf found Harry when he came to deliver his "lunch" and summon him to the courtroom for his trial.

 

* * *

As he entered the courtroom, Harry recognized as the same one that he had seen in the Pensieve. But somehow it felt different. Then he realized why: as he looked around the crowd, he found that it was full of familiar faces. Dumbledore and his friend Mad-Eye Moody were in their usual place, and Professors McGonagall and Flitwick were seated near them. With them was a slightly crazy-looking old man next to Moody whom Harry didn't recognize, and an older woman next to Dumbledore whom Harry was sure he had seen before but somehow couldn't place. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were seated not far away; Ron's father looked the angriest Harry had seen him since the time he and Lucius Malfoy had gotten into a fistfight in the Flourish and Blotts bookstore, and Mrs. Weasley looked like she had been crying. Several of Ron's siblings were also there. Bill grinned encouragingly at Harry and Charlie gave him a thumbs-up sign, but Fred and George looked serious and almost scared, probably for the first time in their lives, and Ginny had her hands pressed to her face and didn't meet Harry's eyes. Percy, however, was nowhere to be seen.

Harry's eyes only briefly took in a large number of others who seemed friendly: Cedric's parents, who had already told Harry that they believed in his innocence, and Professor Sprout with them; Cho Chang, in the row behind them, with an older couple who were presumably her parents (Harry didn't have time to notice that his heart no longer skipped a beat at the sight of Cho); Seamus Finnigan with his mother, and his friend Dean Thomas; Neville Longbottom with his rather intimidating grandmother in her usual flowery hat; and a host of others whom Harry's mind didn't register. Another part of the crowd, however, seemed full of unfriendly-looking people, including several Slytherins. Harry looked away before he could recognize any of these besides Draco Malfoy and his mother, Narcissa.

Harry had now arrived at the chair in the center of the courtroom, where he was directed to sit. As he did so, he felt comforted by the fact that its chains did not wrap themselves around his arms, as had happened to some of the chair's occupants. In one of the scenes from the Pensieve, the chair had left Ludo Bagman alone, and Bagman had turned out to be innocent of the charges against him.

"I can't believe this", said a familiar voice at his right elbow, cutting in on his thoughts. Harry turned and nodded hello to Ron Weasley. "Blimey, all we did was hit Malfoy with a few hexes. Not like he didn't do the same to Hermione's teeth last year. They can't send us to Azkaban for that, can they?"

"That's not all they've got me for", Harry replied to Ron's apparent puzzlement. "Cedric", Harry explained. Ron's eyes widened in horror, and Harry added in a low voice, "And they caught Hedwig on her way to Sirius too." At this Ron said something sufficiently vile to make Harry glad that Hermione wasn't there to raise a stink about Ron's unpleasant taste in vocabulary.

A few seconds later Hermione did appear, however, and was seated at Harry's left side. "That foul-- that evil--" she burst out indignantly.

"What?" chorused Harry and Ron.

"Rita Skeeter", Hermione stormed. "I saw her on my way in here. And do you know what she said? She's registered now, and says I can't do anything to her now. And if I tell anyone about what she did before, she'll accuse me of falsely imprisoning her-- 'and I don't think you need any more troubles with the law right now', she said. And do you know what else? She says, 'Don't get any big ideas, my dear. Remember, freedom of the press is limited to those who happen to own one.' And then she waggled that vile quill of hers at me. Ooh, it makes me so sick-- if I could just-- I don't know what I'd do." Hermione collapsed into silence. It had taken her about ten seconds to say all of this.

"Rita Skeeter?!" said Ron incredulously. Harry looked around, and Rita was indeed there, seated in her usual press reporter's seat, wearing bright orange robes which clashed violently with her new purple Quick-Quotes Quill. She gave Harry and his friends a toothy, malevolent smile as she brandished her Quill at them. Harry sighed. All they needed now was for a giant Acromantula spider to come and haul Ron off to prison, and all their worst nightmares would have come true.

And then, with a sinking feeling, Harry watched Lucius Malfoy, looking as sleek as ever, ascent to the podium. The trial was about to begin.

 

* * *

Continued in Chapter Three...

//
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