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As it turned out, Dawlish was wrong about how long the Wizengamot would deliberate. They deliberated straight through Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday, leaving all of wizarding Britain on the edges of their seats, unable to think of anything but the impending decision. Between the uncertainty of the outcome of the trial, Matt’s breakdown, and Professor Burke’s sudden decline, Albus and his friends couldn’t concentrate on homework at all. Even Rose stared at the same page in her Transfiguration book until John pointed out that she hadn’t turned the page in twenty minutes as the group studied in the Marauders’ Den Sunday afternoon.

Albus had been trying to write his Herbology essay for the past hour, but only had four sentences written down. He, John, and Rose were seated around the table, none of them getting any work done. Amanda was laying on the couch, her Defense book open in her stomach, but her eyes were focused on the ceiling. Kaden had been in Professor Burke’s brewing room since breakfast and no one had seen him since.

“Albus, did you ever talk to Lily after Thursday?” Rose asked suddenly.

“No. Why?”

“When Matt had his first panic attack that day, Lily came and got me. I assume she was in the common room?” Rose said.

Albus had forgotten about that. “Right. Yeah, she wandered down. Bloody good thing she did, too. Not sure how I would’ve gotten you otherwise.”

Rose sighed. “Well, she saw Matt in the throes of his worst panic attack ever. You better make sure she didn’t tell anyone what she saw. What was she doing in the common room at six in the morning anyway?”

Albus shrugged. “No idea. I’ll go find her.” Albus wasn’t worried about Lily saying anything. If Albus told her not to, she wouldn’t. Lily was far too absorbed in her own life to think much about what Matt was going through. Albus doubted she even remembered it.

It took Albus half an hour to track Lily down, but he eventually found her on the grounds by the lake, despite the fact that it was cold, windy, and snowy outside. She also was not alone. She was sitting with a boy Albus vaguely recognized and judging from his black and yellow scarf, he was a Hufflepuff. The two were sitting very close together.

“Lily?” Albus asked as he approached them from behind.

Lily jumped, causing the boy to tumble off the log they were sitting on. He stood up quickly and put his arm around Lily’s back.

“Albus!” Lily shouted. “Why would you do that?!”

“How else was I supposed to get your attention? Can I talk to you…alone?”

Lily sighed and turned to the boy. “Pat, I’ll meet you back in the castle, okay? Wait for me in the Entrance Hall.”

Pat nodded, gave Lily a quick kiss on her cheek, and took off. Lily sat back down on the log and Albus sat next to her.

“This isn’t another brother lecture, is it?” Lily asked. “Because if it is, you and James can shove-“

“It isn’t that,” Albus interrupted. “I didn’t even know you and….”

“Pat Harnett,” Lily supplied.

“…Pat Harnett were a couple,” Albus finished. “Do you remember Thursday? When you were up at six in the morning and Matt and I were in the common room?”

Lily blushed. “Al! You said it wasn’t about Pat!”

“It isn’t,” Albus said flatly. “Why? What does Pat have to do with Thursday?”

Lily’s cheeks turned even redder. “Nothing. Continue.”

Albus decided to just let the Pat thing go. “It’s about Matt.”

“He looked really ill,” Lily said, furrowing her brow. “Was he?”

“In a sense,” Albus said.

“Is he going to be okay?”

“Yeah. He’s at home for a few days until he gets better. But Lily? Have you told anyone that you saw him like that?”

Lily shook her head. “The health of your friends doesn’t really have anything to do with me. It hasn’t come up.”

Classic Lily. Albus couldn’t help but smile. “Good. Don’t tell anyone.”

Lily shrugged. “Okay. Is that all?”

“That’s all. Now about you and Pat-“

“Albus!” Lily shrieked.

Albus laughed. “Kidding, Lily. Just kidding.”

“You’re as bad as James sometimes,” Lily huffed. She stood up and stalked off toward the castle, leaving Albus laughing on the log.

Sometimes, Albus was really grateful for Lily’s self-centeredness. Standing up, he gazed out at the lake. It wasn’t frozen yet, but it was nearly there. A thin layer of snow sat on top of it and the Giant Squid poked a tentacle through, then let it fall back into the lake.

“Potter!”

Albus turned and groaned inwardly when he saw Scorpius Malfoy waltzing toward him. With everything else on his mind, the last thing Albus wanted was a conversation with Malfoy.

“What are you doing out here, Malfoy?” Albus asked. “It’s freezing.”

“Fancied a walk,” Malfoy said. “I could ask the same about you.”

“What do you want?” Albus asked shortly. He was not in the mood for this.

Malfoy smirked. “My father told me your mate, Eckerton, put on quite the show at the Boone trial the other day.”

Albus’s heart plummeted into his stomach. “How did your dad know about that?”

“My dad’s on the Wizengamot,” Malfoy said haughtily. Albus could’ve sworn he puffed his chest out as he said it.

“I thought your dad was a Death Eater,” Albus said flatly. Albus’s own father had been offered a seat on the Wizengamot, but he turned it down.

Malfoy’s smirk turned into a scowl. “He was cleared of those charges. With the help of your father, I might add. I wonder what Boone’s attorney was thinking, putting Eckerton on the stand. He runs out of class all shaky at least once a week. Yet the professors never seem to care. I suppose the attorney thought it would help having another werewolf there. Too bad it only made things worse.”

“Oh shut up,” Albus snapped. “Matt leaving class is none of your business. And you’ve got no idea what the Wizengamot is going to decide. They’ve been sequestered since Friday.”

Malfoy shrugged, the smirk back on his face. “I know what the Minister would want, and I know she’s got pull with the Wizengamot.”

“The Wizengamot is impartial.”

“The Wizengamot is supposed to be impartial. Clearly you’ve got no future in politics.”

“I’m not losing any sleep over that,” Albus muttered. “I have no plans to get into politics.”

Malfoy laughed. “Hopefully Eckerton doesn’t either. Probably couldn’t get through a speech without cracking up. Mental, that one.”

Albus plunged his arm into his robes and drew out his wand. He sent a bat-bogey hex at Malfoy before he even had the chance to draw his own wand from his robes. Albus was shaking with anger as he sent another hex at Malfoy. Malfoy retaliated, sending Albus backward into the log.

“Oi!”

Albus and Malfoy froze, both of their wands in midair. A large shape appeared from the swirls of snow and soon materialized into Hagrid.

“Put yer wands away,” Hagrid growled. “Up to the castle. Now.”

***


Albus sat in Professor Kendrick’s study beside Malfoy, the warmth of the fire melting the snow and ice off their robes. Hagrid stood behind them, explaining to Professor Kendrick what he saw. Hagrid hadn’t spoken a word to Albus since he found them, and Albus could feel the disappointment radiating off of him. After Hagrid finished, he excused himself to continue preparing the twelve Hogwarts Christmas trees.

“Very disappointing,” Kendrick said quietly.

“He started it,” Malfoy muttered.

“He called Matt ‘mental!’” Albus shouted.

“Enough!” Kendrick bellowed. “Detention. Both of you. Every night this week. And twenty points from both Gryffindor and Slytherin. You two are sixth years, and both on your house dueling teams. And Potter, you’re a prefect. I expect better from both of you. I’m contacting your parents. Now.”

Malfoy puffed out his chest again. “Sir, my father is on the Wizengamot. You won’t be able to reach him.”

“Lucky for us the Wizengamot reached their decision half an hour ago. Your father is free.”

Albus’s heart sped up. “They did? Please, sir, what was the decision?”

Professor Kendrick sighed. “They found Boone guilty.”

“No!” Albus exclaimed.

“Told you,” Malfoy said.

Professor Kendrick shook his head sadly and strolled to the fire. He threw in a handful of Floo powder and stuck his head in the flames.

“When my father arrives I’ll tell him what an injustice this is,” Malfoy said. “I shouldn’t get detention because you hexed me.”

“I wouldn’t have hexed you if you hadn’t been insulting Matt,” Albus pointed out.

“It’s not an insult when it’s true. He is mental. He mutters under his breath to himself. He’s always twitchy and he’s always leaving class looking like he’s about to cry-“

“Shut it already!” Albus yelled. “Stop talking about things you know nothing about!”

“Quiet!” Kendrick shouted. He pulled his head out of the Floo, but the flames remained green.

A few seconds later Draco Malfoy stepped out of the fireplace, looking livid. He walked over to his son, his jaw twitching.

“Father-“ Scorpius began.

“Save it, Scorpius,” Draco interrupted. “I just spent three days shut in a room with every member of the Wizengamot, arguing the same points over and over again. Do you know what I wanted when it was finally over? A nice, hot meal cooked by your mother, and a long nap. But instead, I get a Floo call from the headmaster, telling me you have been bullying another student? That you have been making fun of his problems? Problems you know nothing about? I don’t even have words, Scorpius.”

“But, Father, Potter-“

“I do not care what Potter did. That is up to Potter’s parents to deal with. Scorpius, you know what my own Hogwarts days were like. You know that I was the bully. And you know that I have regretted it every day since then. You know that I made it my mission to ensure my son never, ever makes the same mistakes I did. So do you know how disappointed I was when I found out that you have been engaging in the same bullying behavior that I did? I am devastated, Scorpius. Devastated. That you would bully anyone over anything. But over something like this. Especially something like this!

“Do you know what that boy you’ve been making fun of has gone through in his life? Do you know his past?”

“No,” Scorpius muttered. “Do you?”

“No. That is exactly my point. It is none of our business. None. Everyone in this world has problems and it is not our place to cast judgement or make fun.”

Scorpius’s face was bright red. He wouldn’t meet his father’s gaze.

“If I ever hear of you making fun of someone over mental illness again, I will free our house elf and have you do all the cleaning while you are home. Professor Kendrick, whatever detention you’ve assigned him, double it.”

“But-“ Scorpius began.

“I do not want to hear it,” Draco said. “I will see you over Christmas.”

With a nod to Professor Kendrick, Draco Malfoy swept to the fire and was gone within seconds.

Albus didn’t even know how to react. He’d assumed Scorpius’s father would take his side, and he didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone so angry in his life. Draco Malfoy almost seemed to take his son’s insults personally, despite the fact that they’d been directed at Matt.

“You’re dismissed, Mr. Malfoy,” Kendrick said. “Report to the Great Hall at seven tomorrow evening for your detention.”

Malfoy left and slammed the door behind him. Albus turned back to Kendrick.

“Mr. Potter, I know it is tempting to fight when someone insults your friends, but you must resist. I Flooed your father, and he wishes to see you. You’re dismissed.”

Albus left. Once at the bottom of the staircase, he ran down the hall, ignoring the stares of the two ghosts he passed. At the end of the hall, breathing hard, he leaned his forehead against the wall and closed his eyes. Boone was found guilty of a crime he could not have physically done. The government and the justice system were broken. His best friend had a mental breakdown. His Potions professor, his cousin’s mentor, was dying. And there was nothing, nothing Albus could do about any of it.

***


After a night of restless sleep, Albus stumbled down to the Great Hall for breakfast and found Rose with her head in the morning Prophet. Without looking up, she handed Albus another copy and he sat down to read it, not bothering to serve himself anything to eat.

The front page article was, of course, about the verdict in the Boone case. It featured a picture of Boone being escorted by Watkins through a crowd in the corridor outside the courtroom. He looked terrible. Albus wondered if he would even survive Azkaban.

BOONE FOUND GUILTY

After two and a half days of deliberation, the Wizengamot
returned a guilty verdict in the case of Stuart Boone vs. the
United Kingdom. Head of the Wizengamot, Nathaniel
MacMillan, declined comment. The verdict was reached
almost a week after the trial began. Four days of testimony,
from both sides, took place prior to deliberation.

‘I’m satisfied with the outcome,’ prosecutor Jackson Santiago
told Daily Prophet reporters after the announcement was
made. ‘The evidence was there, and the Wizengamot saw that.’

Defense attorney, Elroy Watkins, was not as pleased.
‘It’s outrageous,’ he said to reporters. ‘My client could not
physically have murdered Michael Sheldon. We will be
appealing the decision.’

Watkins’s third witness was sixteen-year-old Matthew
Eckerton, one of the Hogwarts students who found
Stuart Boone squatting in the Shrieking Shack last
spring. Upon taking the stand, Eckerton appeared to
take ill, and was unable to answer any questions.

When asked whether he thought the outcome would have
differed if his third witness had been able to testify, Watkins
said, ‘No. The outcome of this trial was decided long before
it even began. It was decided by the deep seated prejudice
held by the majority of the Wizengamot. This outcome is
proof we need significant changes in our government.’

Boone will be sentenced early tomorrow morning.
Minister Laurentis and Head Auror Johnson were both
unavailable for comment.


Albus set the paper down. “Was it really necessary for them to drag Matt into that? Now the whole country will know he couldn’t testify.”

“At least they said he’d taken ill,” Rose muttered. “They could’ve done a lot worse. Would have if they knew about his lycanthropy.”

“Watkins certainly put his opinions out there,” Albus said. “I think I like him a little more now.”

Rose smirked. “Keep reading, Al. You haven’t gotten to the really good part.”

“But I finished the article,” Albus said as he picked up the paper.

“Below it.”

Albus flipped to the bottom of the paper and gasped.

FIVE MEMBERS OF THE WIZENGAMOT RESIGN

In the wake of the guilty verdict in the Boone case,
five members of the Wizengamot have resigned.
Bertrand Quigley, Alexia Abbott, Lucille Waters,
Kieran O’Neill, and Verity Jones tendered their
resignations to Minister Laurentis late in the day on
Sunday, effective immediately.

‘We no longer wish to be associated with a group
that finds an innocent man guilty, despite overwhelming
doubt in the evidence,’ Jones said, speaking for all
five former members. ‘We hope to send a message
both to the Minister and to the general public that
what is going on here is wrong.’


“Has that ever happened before?” Albus asked.

“Five people quitting at once? I don’t think so,” Rose said.

“Will they replace them?”

“Possibly. Their numbers have varied as people die,” Rose pointed out. “But the Wizengamot has always at least tried to appear neutral on political issues. Well, excluding Dumbledore. They rarely take a stand like this. If people haven’t realized how corrupt the Ministry is, they will now.”

“This is insane,” Albus said as an owl dropped a letter onto his empty plate and then flew off.

“Who’s that from?” Rose asked.

“Hang on,” Albus said as he opened it. He scanned it quickly, as it was only a few sentences long. “It’s from Matt’s dad. He said I can visit tonight if I’d like. Told me I should find him at the Ministry after my internship and I can go over for dinner.”

“Good,” Rose said. “You can let us all know how Matt is doing. I hope he doesn’t read that article.”

“I’m sure his mum won’t let him,” Albus pointed out. “She’s worse than Nana Molly.”

“He’s lucky,” Rose said quietly. “If it weren’t for his parents, he could be in Boone’s situation when he leaves Hogwarts.”

Albus let his mind wander during all of his classes. He had to ask Rose if they had Defense homework and even got called out by Hagrid for not paying attention during Care of Magical Creatures. At lunch, he got chewed out by James for earning detention every night that week, meaning he’d miss three Quidditch practices. Transfiguration dragged so slowly Albus could’ve sworn the clock stopped working.

His time at the Auror Headquarters didn’t go any faster, either. Neither Johnson or Dawlish were there and Albus spent his time filing papers for Uncle Ron again. As soon as the clock hit five, he left without saying goodbye to anyone and rushed up to Mr. Eckerton’s study.

Since Matt’s house wasn’t hooked up to the Floo Network, they had to Apparate to the forest just outside the property line and walk.

“He’s doing better than he was on Thursday,” Mr. Eckerton said as they walked through the garden. “But he’s still feeling the effects of it. The slightest thing can and will set him off again. He knows Boone was found guilty, but he hasn’t read the Prophet. Please don’t mention that he was in it this morning.”

Albus nodded. “I won’t.”

Matt’s house smelled of a wood-burning stove and fresh cookies. Classical music played softly in the background. The combination of the two caused Albus to immediately relax.

“Hello, Albus,” Mrs. Eckerton said as they walked in. “Matt’s upstairs. I’ll call you both for dinner in a little while.”

Albus hurried upstairs, where he found Matt in the library. He was curled up in a large armchair and staring off into space. Albus knocked softly on the door before entering.

“Matt?” Albus said.

Matt startled and sat up straighter. “Oh, hey, Al.”

“Sorry,” Albus said as he walked in and sat down on the couch. “How are you?”

Matt shrugged. “I’m okay. Did you go to the rest of the trial on Thursday? After…you know.”

“Yeah. It wasn’t too exciting. You didn’t miss much.”

“Listen, Al…thanks for you know, trying to help…on Thursday. But there wasn’t anything you could’ve done. It got to the point where I literally could not calm down on my own. It was that bad.”

“Your dad said it wasn’t just the trial,” Albus said.

Matt nodded. “It’s been getting worse for weeks. The occlumency…it made everything worse. But I thought if I stuck with it it would eventually start working. I have to stop doing the lessons.”

“Do you know when you’re coming back?” Albus asked.

“Probably Saturday,” Matt said. “That way I can have the weekend to settle back in. But my parents are making me drop out of one of my classes. They only want me to do four.”

“Which one are you going to drop?” Albus asked.

“Probably Transfiguration,” Matt said. “It’s got the most homework out of everything I’m taking.”

“Do you think that will help?”

“I hope so,” Matt said quietly. “It’s going to give me a lot more free time, which is both good and bad. I have to meet with Healer Norlam three times a week now, so that’ll take the place of Transfiguration.”

“Three times?”

Matt nodded as he fiddled with the fringe on the blanket on his lap. “My…my parents thought about making me leave all together.”

Albus’s jaw fell open. “Leave Hogwarts?”

“Yeah, they mentioned it after I had another panic attack on Friday. For the rest of term, anyway. But Healer Norlam convinced them to go back to their original plan of just a week off. Good thing, too, because I’m already bored. And both of them are walking on eggshells around me. It’s driving me mad. Well, more mad than I already am.”

“Your dad did tell me you’re more on edge now,” Albus confessed. “He told me even little things will give you a panic attack.”

Matt sighed. “He isn’t wrong, but it’s still annoying. That’s the other thing…when I do go back to school I’ll probably leave class more often. For a few weeks anyway. Healer Norlam said it’s normal to have setbacks like this, but I hate it.”

Albus thought back to what Malfoy said on the grounds. He didn’t want to tell Matt about that altercation, but felt he should know just in case Malfoy decided to confront him when he got back. “I have to tell you something, and your dad would probably be pissed if he knew I was going to say it. But I think you have to know. It’s better to be prepared, right?”

Matt sat up straighter and his hands started shaking slightly. “Um…I don’t know, Al-“

“I swear, you won’t want to be caught off guard.”

“Okay,” Matt whispered. “What is it?”

“It’s Malfoy. He’s seen you leave class and thinks you’re going mad. His dad is on the Wizengamot and told him about what happened at the trial. I sort of got into a duel with him over it on Sunday-“

“H-he knows?” Matt asked. His hands were shaking hard now.

“No!” Albus said hurriedly. “Take a few slow breaths. In and out. In and out.”

Matt did so and his shaking subsided.

“He’s got no idea, but he and I both got detention. And his dad came and yelled at him. Really yelled. Almost as if he took it personally that Malfoy was making fun of your mental state. It was kind of weird. Malfoy’s been really subdued since, too.”

Matt wrapped the blanket tighter around himself. “Malfoy’s dad was a Death Eater, right?”

Albus nodded. “My dad said he got sucked into it by his own father, Scorpius’s grandfather.”

“He’s probably got PTSD himself,” Matt pointed out. “My dad said the majority of the people involved in the war, on both sides, do. Your dad’s got it.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. I wonder if Scorpius knows,” Albus said.

Matt shrugged. “Who knows? There’s still such a stigma attached to mental illness, and it’s probably worse in old, pureblood families. The stigma, that is.”

“Which is stupid,” Albus muttered. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Matt nodded. “Me, too. But this won’t be the last time it gets worse. Healer Norlam said it’ll be a constant string of ups and downs. It’ll get better for a while and then it might get worse and then better and so on. He’ll just have to keep adjusting the amount of potion I take and I’ll be okay.”

“Good.”

“Come on,” Matt said as he got up. “Let’s play a round of Exploding Snap before dinner. I bet you a Galleon I’ll still kick your arse despite my mental state.”

Albus laughed. “You’re on.”


A/N: Thanks for all the lovely reviews! And big thanks to !badwolf at TDA for the stunning banner!

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