Chapter 21 – The Bug Crusher
"It's a bit creepy, isn't it?" Ron asked Hermione, as Harry called out to the snakes in Parseltongue.
"It's beautiful," Hermione replied, her tone reverent and jealous in equal measures. "I wish I could understand what he says."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Watch it, Granger, or you'll be in love with him before you're fifteen."
Before Ron could comment, Harry waved at them, and the two teenagers ran to their friend.
"Sven says there was a suspicious looking insect in Dumbledore's office which was crawling towards me, but he drove it away." Harry took a deep breath. "He doesn't know what exactly ticked him off, but he says there was something wrong, something unnatural about the bug. He isn't sure where it went, but he thinks it might have left with one of the governors or the minister."
"What kind of an insect?" Hermione asked.
Another bout of hissing ensued.
"From his description, it sounds like a beetle," Harry said finally.
"Why does he think it was unnatural?" Hermione pressed.
"He keeps calling it a not-bug bug, if that makes sense to you," Harry replied.
"Does he mean that it looked like a bug but was not a bug?" Ron asked, a shrewd look in his eye.
Harry spoke to the snake again and nodded.
Ron and Hermione exchanged a look.
"Animagus," they intoned together.
Harry's mouth hung open for a minute. "But – but – some of the most powerful wizards of the magical world were in the chamber, how could no one have noticed?"
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth," Hermione told him.
Ron shook his head and said, "Whatever she says, mate."
Hermione smirked. "We have to find a teacher."
"A formidable bunch of magical children, indeed," Lucius Malfoy said sagely, concluding his speech. "Harry Potter and his friends have unmasked yet another mystery that has baffled the adults for decades."
"I didn't do anything illegal! It's my job to publish news!" Rita Skeeter screeched.
"Shut up, woman," Cornelius Fudge snapped irritably. "You are an unregistered animagus."
"For which I am ready to pay the prescribed fine," Skeeter said sweetly. "But you can't prosecute me doing my job."
Hermione stood up. "If I may, Professor?" She looked at Dumbledore for permission. He nodded.
"Ms Skeeter," Hermione began, her voice calm and steady. "Let me make your position very clear to you. Firstly, as you have kindly noted yourself, you have committed a punishable offence. Secondly, you have employed illegitimate means to obtain confidential, sensitive and private information, which is breach of privacy. Thirdly, you released your ill-gotten information publicly, knowing fully well that it would crucially endanger the Boy-Who-Lived, which is not only breach of confidentiality, but also mala fide and indirect assault. Fourthly, you misrepresented the information, peppering the truth with lies and omitting relevant data, thus deliberately creating a false picture. Lastly, you have caused mental trauma to not only Harry Potter and several important members of Hogwarts faculty and board, but also to members of the Ministry of Magic." She smiled grimly. "I understand that criminal activities, as some of these definitely are, result in incarceration at Azkaban."
All adults in the room stared at her in awe.
"Just fourteen, you say?" a wizened member of the Wizengamot asked Dumbledore.
Dumbledore shook his head. "Thirteen at the moment, but she will be fourteen this month."
"Cor," another senior member said.
"Muggleborn, you say?" a notorious supporter of pureblood pride asked Malfoy.
Lucius nodded sanctimoniously. "My Draco is friends with her and Harry Potter. It is rumoured that she is cleverer than Dumbledore himself, and that Hogwarts has not seen such genius since Rowena Ravenclaw."
"But the Dark Lord…" another ex-Death Eater began.
"Sod the Dark Lord," Avery muttered. "Look at her. Look at Potter. Children, just children – and not even purebloods, and they have already beaten the Dark Lord."
"Exactly," Lucius murmured. "Draco, fortunately, identified Potter's powers right away and cultivated a close friendship."
"Or maybe Potter recognised the Malfoy heir and cultivated a friendship with him instead," another ex-Death Eater remarked snidely.
"Harry Potter is the heir of not only the Potter family, but also the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black," came Sirius' voice, deceptively calm.
"And he is the current heir of Slytherin," Lucius jumped in eagerly.
All Death Eaters looked surprised except the Malfoys.
"Really, Black?" Nott asked. "But you are young, you can have blood heirs."
Sirius smirked. "Who says he's not?" he said in a stage whisper and swanned off to the Order crowd.
The Death Eater crowd turned to Lucius. "Blood magic?"
Lucius shrugged. Narcissa smiled. "Well, he's hardly likely to admit to it, least of all here, and no one can prove it, can they? The Potter and Black lines are not too far apart, and Sirius does love the boy with all his heart."
"This changes things," the first Death Eater said. "We must convene soon to make a decision. For now, let us see how the Skeeter cow is sentenced."
Rita Skeeter was banned from journalism for twenty years, fined for being an illegal Animagus and sentenced to six months in Azkaban.
"Isn't that a bit too harsh?" Harry asked Hermione quietly. "She wasn't that bad."
Hermione squeezed his hand in reassurance. "No, Harry. If she is not stopped at this stage, this would go on and on and on, and escalate madly."
"Hermione is right," Draco said. "Don't fret. This is not only for Skeeter, but also others like her. We can't let you be abused by the press."
"It is strategically important that we disclose information at the right time," Ron said. "You don't broadcast your chess moves, do you? Why should someone be allowed to read your mind and announce your moves to your opponent?"
"For Merlin's sake, Harry, do attempt to reserve your kindness for those who deserve it and not those who seek to harm you and your friends!" Draco snapped.
Harry fell silent. "You're right," he said finally, in a small voice. "I'm sorry."
"You have nothing to be sorry for," Hermione told him, glaring at Draco. "We know you are a good person, Harry, and we love you for it. All Draco means is that some problems need to be nipped in the bud."
"And we are here to do the nipping for you," Draco said, clapping Harry's back. "Don't worry, Potter, and never apologise for being you."
"Aren't we forgetting something, guys?" Ron asked.
The other three turned to him enquiringly.
"Hermione was so cool out there! It was bloody amazing! Scary, but brilliant!" Ron said.
"Absolutely," Draco agreed. "Did you see the look on everyone's faces? I bet half the adults in the room are cooking up plans to recruit you, Hermione."
Hermione blushed, pleased.
Harry hugged her. "Thank you," he whispered in her ear.