Chapter One: The Boy Who Died
The prosecution had made their case, and a strong one at that, thought Jonathan Grimsby. He stared down at his tightly clasped hands, only faintly listening to the opposition’s final summation. Grimsby, the Advocate for the Defence, would have his turn to speak momentarily, but he found himself in something of a quandary.
For the most part, he agreed with what he was arguing. After all, he was widely thought of as one of the Ministry of Magic’s more progressive voices. On this occasion, however, with the way he was feeling, Grimsby found himself questioning whether he was worthy to count himself among that small group.
He reminded himself that every case deserved an Advocate’s best effort, in spite of any personal views they may harbour. On top of that, his case record could really do with a point in the win column. Even so, he wasn’t sure his heart was really in this one.
He knew that his only chance was to appeal to the panel’s better nature. Unfortunately, the Head Magistrate, like most on the bench, was a relic of the past. One who had lived through the dark times and whose rulings, Grimsby suspected, were often based on fear rather than any real desire to uphold law or tradition.
Grimsby absent-mindedly noticed the opposition take his seat. He rose from his own with purpose and a confidence that masked his true feelings. His colleagues might think of him as “young”, “naïve”, or even a “bleeding heart”, but he was still good at his job. In addition, unlike his opponent, he was also a handsome man and wasn’t above using that to his benefit.
The demands of his heavy workload and a new baby at home had aged Jonathan Grimsby beyond his years, but the slight greying at the sides of his wavy, golden hair was barely noticeable, and his pale-blue eyes shone brightly beyond the dark circles underneath. He swept his golden locks from his face and began his speech, making sure to make eye contact with each of the Magistrates—the women for a little longer.
His monologue touched on magical law, history, and ethics, and even included comparisons from the non-magical world of the Muggles. Grimsby made some strong points and observed a softening of the brow from some of the panel members. Sadly, when he noticed that the Head Magistrate, an older witch with a bouffant hairdo and far too much make-up, appeared unmoved by neither his words nor his charms, he couldn’t help feeling he was fighting a losing battle.
Grimsby drew breath and delivered his final point, ‘In closing ladies and gentlemen, we judge others based on their actions, but it is only with awareness of those actions that we can hold them truly accountable. This incident was tragic but proceeding with the proposed sentencing is not only unjust, it is an archaic practice that defies nature itself. I plead with you all, let us find another way.’
He took his seat with a final nod to the panel and a steely glare toward his opponent, whose large, white moustache barely concealed a smirk. The Head Magistrate rose and announced in a surprisingly squeaky voice, ‘Thank you, Advocates. The panel will now convene and render a verdict within the hour.’
Grimsby left the courtroom side by side with his opponent, quite the achievement given Alfred Gentry was something of a portly man.
Gentry was also rather short, so Grimsby had to bend down to hear his whispers as they made their way from the chamber, ‘Come now, Grimsby, my boy,’ he said. ‘Between us, where do you really stand on this issue?’
Grimsby was surprised to sense sincerity in the older gentleman’s voice. He took a moment before replying, ‘Honestly? I’m not sure. I know the Ministry has to take some action, especially given the publicity of the incident, but denying a child their birthright when they have already lost so much? I don’t know how to reconcile that.’
Gentry jerked his head in a way that seemed to indicate some understanding and replied, ‘And if he were left unchecked only to journey down a dark path?’
Grimsby didn’t need to consider his response to this question, it was very the crux of the matter, ‘That’s just it, Gentry. We all have that potential, don’t we? I was always taught that it’s our choices in life that define who we are, and we’re arguing about whether to take away someone’s choices. I worry about the precedent that sets.’
As they reached the end of the hall and started up the stairs to level nine, Gentry said, ‘Yes, that is a concern I share. Alas, my boy, it’s out of our hands now.’
They made for the golden-grilled lifts and headed back up to the Department for Magical Law Enforcement on level two. Gentry nodded him farewell and took the corridor to the right while Grimsby headed left.
As he arrived at his office, Grimsby realised a couple of inter-departmental memos had followed him from the lift. He watched as the self-flying paper aeroplanes landed and unfolded themselves on top of his already overflowing inbox. It had surely doubled in size since he’d left for court that morning.
He took his seat, leaned back, and closed his eyes to ponder the case and how it had reached this point. It had been only four days since he was assigned to it. He had been summoned to what turned out to be a task force headed up by the Department for Magical Accidents and Catastrophes.
Aurors, Obliviators, Healers and more had all been gathered to respond to a high-risk incident. A ground team had already been dispatched, but there was plenty to do behind the scenes, not only to control the incident but also to ensure that the Muggle world did not catch wind of what had transpired.
It was designated Class Four (a magical accident where there was a high probability of Muggle witnesses and one where deaths had occurred). Luckily it fell short of a Class Five (a catastrophic event), but it had been a while since anything above a Class Three was reported.
Grimsby had arrived at the response room, where he was surprised by the level of activity. It was a very large semi-sphere-shaped room with manned stations all around, and concave glass panels adorning the walls above. He had only been there once before. However, this time almost all of the panels were active and displaying visual records of events, presumably from the incident, judging from the chaotic scenes on display.
He made his way toward the Head of the Department, Madam Valerie Oswald, recognisable immediately by her floating flower-patterned armchair, which zoomed around the room as she monitored the different screens and consulted with the desk operators below.
With a point of her wand, the bespectacled, black-haired witch’s chair flew her over toward Grimsby and other arrivals, to brief them on the situation. In a clear and controlled voice, she informed them, ‘At approximately eleven AM today, a sizeable magical explosion occurred outside a busy Muggle shopping centre. Reports are still coming in, but we understand that this may have been the result of a kidnapping attempt.’
The crowd listened with rapt attention as Madam Oswald used images on the glass screens as visual aids, ’An unknown wizard is among the dead and believed to be the kidnapper, but not, however, the perpetrator. Aurors have been dispatched to seal the area, and the Investigation Department are already on the case.
‘So far it looks like an isolated incident, but there are many victims with varying levels of injury, including six confirmed deaths, and—I’m afraid to say—evidence of dark magic. This means the incident will be highly scrutinised, not only by the wizarding world but by the Muggles as well. As such, there is a lot of work ahead of us all.’
The witch began assigning individual tasks to the group. One by one they went on their way until only Grimsby remained, at which point Madam Oswald had finally said, ‘Follow me, please, Grimsby.’
He complied as her chair hovered away to an adjacent room, which turned out to be her private office. Inside, the armchair rose and then plopped itself down with a thud behind a large desk, and she gestured for Grimsby to take the seat opposite.
She poured the two of them a cup of tea from a silver serving tray and drew a long breath before taking a sip. ‘So,’ she said, ‘why have I brought you here?’
‘Well, if there was a kidnapping involved, there may have been just cause for a magical response, obviously not one that would result in a Class Four, but I expect I’ve been summoned to represent the perpetrator’s interests?’ Grimsby deduced. ‘Has the witch or wizard responsible been located?’
’Well, you’re correct. However, there are exceptional circumstances that can’t be repeated outside of this room. The wizard in question was a minor.′
Grimsby couldn’t help adopting a look of perplexion before asking, ‘You’re saying an underage wizard performed dark magic responsible for a Class Four incident? Was it a Hogwarts student?’
Madam Oswald took another sip from her cup, peered down at him over her spectacles and answered in a grave tone, ‘The wizard in question is not a student. He is an infant. 10 months and 12 days old to be exact.’
Grimsby shuddered. ‘An infant?’ he exclaimed. It wasn’t uncommon for young witches and wizards to perform accidental acts of magic during times of stress or high emotion, but an infant using magic on this scale and without a wand? Dark magic at that? It was positively unheard of.
He knew immediately that this revelation could have serious implications for the wizarding world, and the baby boy. ‘What happens next?’ he asked the solemn-looking witch.
‘The investigation is ongoing, but I’ve been instructed by Minister Shacklebolt to keep this piece of information secret, at least until we know more. As such, I will be recommending that a panel be convened to address your question. You will Advocate for the boy. I’m sure you would agree that an open trial would risk word spreading, even with gag orders in place.’
Grimsby didn’t relish the idea of being involved in a Ministry cover-up. That said, he understood the reasons for it. In the Muggle World, the incident would be remembered as a tragic accident; a gas explosion would likely be the story. In the wizarding world, though, it would be remembered as a threat to the fragile peace that had been enjoyed over the last decade.
Grimsby was startled out of his reverie by another memo landing on his desk. He straightened up in his chair to see that this message was marked “urgent”. The verdict was in. He hurriedly made his way back down to the courtroom, his mind plagued once again with thoughts of whether he had done enough, whether he had done his best for the boy.
He arrived at the chamber to see that Gentry and the panel had already taken their seats. He drew up his robes, sat down and clasped his hands in front of him again, perhaps a bit too tightly as he could see the colour drain from his fingers.
The chamber was sealed, and the Head Magistrate arose. She cleared her throat and began to speak in her oddly high-pitched voice, ’This panel was convened to determine appropriate action following an unprecedented and tragic Class Four incident.
‘The severe lack of information available to this panel after four days of investigation is worrying. We know little about how this incident transpired and even less about why. Next to nothing is known about the identity of the kidnapper, or for that matter, the child he was after.’
The Magistrate did not look happy as she continued, ‘However, a decision has to be made. One might speculate that this case will be judged on the presence of dark magic at the crime scene, and what that could mean for our community. That kind of assumption would be mistaken. This panel’s judgment has been based simply on whether there is a clear and present danger to the child and those around him, as well as a high exposure risk.’
Grimsby felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
‘After careful consideration, we have concluded that there is. As such, we have decided that the proposed sentence will proceed without deviation,’ the Head Magistrate stated. ’Seeing that his mother was one of the victims and the only living relative that has been identified, the child will be listed among the deceased in all records.
‘Following sentencing, he will become a ward of the Ministry until a suitable placement can be arranged. Mr Grimsby will remain the Advocate of record and oversee the arrangements. This decision is final.’
The Head Magistrate jabbed the air with her wand and a loud bang concluded the trial. As the panel made their way from their seats to the rear exit of the chamber, Mr Gentry walked over to Grimsby and while offering him a handshake, he said, ‘Well argued my boy. Perhaps for the best, though, eh?’
Grimsby returned the gesture, and replied with a forced smile, ‘Perhaps.’
Back in his office, a dejected Grimsby filled his afternoon with busy work like sorting through his inbox and replying to mail. Eventually, the court clerk’s office sent up the paperwork required to start the necessary arrangements. Grimsby begrudgingly completed the forms and sent them for processing before finally heading home.
It had been a while since he had worked a Saturday. The Ministry was always so much quieter and emptier on those occasions and the food vendors were usually closed. Grimsby wasn’t sure if that was the reason, or if it was because he had been so distracted, but he hadn’t eaten a thing all day and was suddenly ravenous.
The good thing about Saturdays was that there wouldn’t be any queuing for the Floo Network that would magically transport him home by fire. As Grimsby arrived at the Ministry’s atrium and its many gilded fireplaces, he waved good night to the guard and paused to observe the Fountain of Magical Brethren.
Its golden, water-spouting figures seemed quite different than they had years ago, despite the many restoration attempts. Somehow, Grimsby thought, the witch, the centaur, the goblin, and the elf just didn’t look as happy as they once had while staring up at the wizard above.
After a minute or so, he dropped the change from his pockets into the water, knowing the proceeds would go to St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, his first destination come Monday morning.
Grimsby walked to the closest dormant fireplace, stepped in, and took a handful of the complimentary Floo powder from the wall bracket. He threw it down, and announced clearly, ‘Number 15, Redwing Close.’ The fireplace burst to life. He was engulfed in emerald flames and felt his insides pulled and pushed, as he whizzed through a series of twists and turns until he felt the ground beneath his feet once more.
When he stepped out of the mahogany fireplace of his contemporary living room, his hunger peaked with his first inhale. The smell of his wife’s cooking wafted from the kitchen, luring him toward it like a siren’s call.
Mrs Grimsby was sat at the kitchen table reading a folded newspaper with one hand, while the other casually pointed a wand in the direction of two saucepans on the stove, which were stirring themselves in sync.
Mr Grimsby made his presence known with a wry smile, ‘What’s cooking, good looking?’
Mrs Grimsby visibly jumped, then, immediately giggled at her husband’s silly joke. She got up and gave him a kiss while keeping her wand arm on the pans. ‘It’s a surprise,’ she said. ‘I’m trying something new.’
‘Uh oh!’ he jested, making his wife swat his arm gently. Samantha Grimsby was very attractive. Warm brown eyes peeked out from beneath a neat fringe of strawberry blonde hair. Her clothes, on the other hand, were a little worse for wear.
Grimsby sat down at the kitchen table and placed his jacket and briefcase on the empty chair beside him. ‘Is the baby still up, Sam?’ he asked his wife.
‘Sorry no, he’s been down for a while now. These stains have even had time to dry!’ she answered, pointing to several multi-coloured patches on her shirt. She checked the oven briefly before broaching the subject, ‘So, how did things go today, Jon?’
Grimsby had enjoyed the distraction from the case but knew it would be short-lived. He and his wife had been discussing it every night since the incident, after all. Mrs Grimsby was currently on maternity leave from an independent firm specialising in magical patent law, but she had also worked at the Ministry of Magic in the past. They often discussed cases and Mr Grimsby appreciated her perspective on this one in particular, even if the details were supposed to be confidential.
‘Bad news, I’m afraid,’ he revealed, noting the disappointment yet lack of surprise in her expression. ‘I’ve got to be at St Mungo’s on Monday.’
‘That poor boy. It’s barbaric!’ said Samantha Grimsby, while shaking her head in disbelief. With a sigh, she added, ‘Dinner won’t be long if you want to poke your head in upstairs?’
Grimsby visited the baby’s room, careful not to let the light from the ajar door flood in too far as he entered. He sat in the chair next to the cot and looked down at his sleeping son in amazement. He watched the baby like that for ten minutes or so, before softly re-tucking the blankets and heading down to dinner, a little more relaxed than before.
A repeated tapping at his bedroom window woke Jonathan Grimsby the following morning. He peered through one eye to find a screech owl pecking against the glass pane. In its talons was a rolled copy of the Sunday Prophet, the wizarding newspaper he subscribed to.
Grimsby retrieved the paper and unfurled it to scan the day’s headlines. As expected, the full details of the incident had finally been released. There were a few omissions, of course, but it was far more accurate an account than any that had or would appear in the Muggle press.
The Prophet had reported the incident as the work of an as-yet unidentified dark wizard, who had died at the scene by his own hand after a botched abduction attempt. Grimsby read on and saw that the full list of victims of the incident had also been revealed, including he noted, a young woman, Ms Gwendoline Drake and her infant son, Gideon Drake.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the air of mystery in this first chapter. Chapter Two should answer any questions you might have and will set up the rest of the story.