Kingsley Shacklebolt learnt that he was a wizard at nine.
It happened at a soccer game on a hot summer day. At nine, Kingsley was taller than most twelve-year-olds, playing goalkeeper. Today, however, he wasn’t very good, and the other team had already made two goals because of him. The boys from the other team had been teasing him, calling him a stupid blackie. He was so frustrated that he wanted to cry. He really wanted his team to win. So when the ball shot towards the upper left corner mercilessly yet again, Kingsley jumped into a perfect parry, flying higher, and higher, while the ball froze in midair so he could pick it like a plum. Gently, he set down on the goal line.
There was deafening silence on the pitch. All assembled parents and players were staring at him. His mother sobbed once, then dragged him off the pitch. As soon as they were home, she called Kingsley’s father, talking to him in upset staccato until he agreed to come home. For two long hours, Kingsley worried about what he could have done wrong. Then, his parents called him to the living room and explained to him that his father was a wizard, and that he, too, would learn how to do charm work at the magic school of Hogwarts within just two years’ time.
For Kingsley, all this was very confusing if also quite cool, no matter he was sad that he wasn’t allowed to play soccer anymore (in Hogwarts, however, he’d learn about Quidditch. The grief would grow old and die). Instead, he soon found himself skimming through charms books and Wizarding encyclopedias, and his father gave him a children’s wand.
“Dad,” he asked his father one day after dinner, “How come you never told me that I’m a wizard?”
His father had sighed, looking older than he usually did. “The Wizarding world isn’t as safe a place as your world, lad,” he’d said, “We’re at war against a man who doesn’t like Muggles like your mother, and children of Muggles like yourself. You wouldn’t be able to defend yourselves there.”
So when Kingsley went to Hogwarts, joining the huge, exciting magic world, he sat down in the first row in class with boyish gravity to learn how to defend himself. It made a lot of sense to do so in his opinion; ever since he’d gotten his letter, his mother had been afraid for him. He was a Hufflepuff now, winning points for his house by being a dedicated pupil in class and a fair Beater on the pitch. And the war ended when he started his sixth year, anyway.
However, Kingsley had already reached two conclusions at this point: First of all, he wanted to be an Auror, like his father working at the Law Enforcement Squad, except better. Second of all, he had all kinds of reasons to watch out in the Wizarding world, because he wasn’t just a Half-blood. He was also gay.
It was a summer morning in 1993 when Kingsley came to work and was greeted by chaos. Memos were thrashing about nervously, Aurors were arguing in the hallways, while the door to Scrimgeour’s office stayed firmly shut. When Kingsley asked about the cause of all this, somebody just handed him the newspaper. It had made the headlines while he was asleep: Sirius Black had escaped from Azkaban.
Later, Kingsley would remember how he’d looked down at the photograph for a moment, at the escapee’s vampire face, as motionless as gaunt. It would sometimes lift its eyes to stare at its audience without blinking. Kingsley blinked, though, remembering, against his will, Quidditch in Hogwarts. Black had long finished school when Kingsley made the team, but he remembered the pliant Gryffindor Beater from his first year. He’d stared into the sky in wonder while that exuberant boy made Quidditch look like just another kind of magic. The murderer on the photograph might as well have been a different man.
But then Scrimgeour’s door opened, and the Commander of the Aurors limped out to drag Kingsley into his office. Amelia Bones was waiting there, eyeing Kingsley from top to bottom, when she wouldn’t ever have noticed him before even if he’d done a striptease in the middle of the DMLE.
“Kingsley Shacklebolt,” Scrimgeour had said as if exhibiting a valued piece of furniture. “Our best investigator since Moody retired. You give him a strand of hair, and he’ll tell you not just where it’s from, but also what the owner ate last. He’s an excellent duelist. His bat-bogey hex blows even you off your feet, ma’am. And he is perfectly neutral. Half-blood. No connections to the pureblood families whatsoever.”
Amelia Bones was still eyeing him suspiciously through her monocle. “When did you start your training, young man?”
“In 1983, ma’am,” Kingsley said. “I was part of post-war recruitment.” There hadn’t been that many Aurors left after the war, rows upon rows of empty desks waiting for new dragon fodder in the main office. Those who hadn’t died had quit as soon as they could do so in good conscience, running from bad memories and ghosts of lost comrades as far as they could. People had just wanted to forget.
“Excellent,” Miss Bones said, giving Scrimgeour a sharp nod.
It was the first and only time in Kingsley’s life that his Half-blood status had advanced his career.
A month later, Kingsley had found every photograph ever taken of Black, every letter he’d written that people hadn’t burned in fury, every status report Black had ever signed as an Auror. The wall of his cubicle was hung with shots of the best man dance at the Potter’s wedding; the supreme smirk of a victorious seventh year brandishing the Quidditch cup; the blank features of the proper pureblood on the family portrait; press photographs of the young Auror who’d been famous by virtue of not dying.
The veterans amongst the DMLE had started avoiding Kingsley’s desk.
Kingsley knew everything there was to know about this man but didn’t have the slightest clue where he was hiding. He went to speak to old friends of Black’s who slammed the door in his face, claiming they hadn’t known Black that well after all. He went to Azkaban to talk to the Lestranges, but they just laughed at him - if Black had ever even been close to any Death Eaters at all, they were either dead or bonkers now. His colleagues were quick to point out that Black had been assigned to Frank Longbottom’s team, and Lydia Corday’s before that - the lost and the dead. He might have been a failure of the Aurors, but he wasn’t mine.
I’ve been dreaming of you last night, Black had written in a letter addressed to Remus Lupin at fifteen on the summer vacation. It provided a sharp contrast to his usual short, edgy letters, written in an impatient boy’s hand. You were the wolf and it was a full moon but your fur was red and gold, and you were calm, and allowed me to pet you. James looked it up in his textbook. He says it means we’ll win the Quidditch cup next year but I think it means you can stop worrying when you’re with us in Hogwarts. But I still worry when you aren’t in Hogwarts, I remember your shag. How are you holding up?
On Halloween of all days, Black broke into Hogwarts unseen, ravaging the portrait of the Fat Lady, but Kingsley knew as little about how he had managed to do so as he could find out how Black had managed to escape from Azkaban in the first place. He suspected that Lupin was holding back vital information, but if the teacher was lying, he was lying like a Slytherin.
Later that year, Black invaded the Gryffindor dormitory to threaten one of Harry Potter’s friends with a knife. Again Kingsley couldn’t figure out how he had done so, no matter why he had. Scrimgeour had to resort to vicious threats to protect Kingsley from the wrath of the Wizengamot; people were scared. Kingsley took it in his stride when Cadet Tonks was assigned to him to do his research, a clear message that he wasn’t doing well enough. He refused to comment on Albus Dumbledore’s words of concern and preferred to wonder why Black still hadn’t bothered stealing a wand. Either he was more insane than Kingsley believed, or he was a lot more powerful. Naturally, it was a common assumption that this man was as mad as a hatter, but Kingsley wasn’t so sure. You needed a sharp mind to escape from Azkaban. It was his job to assume the worst. Black had already proven to be dizzyingly sharp, and a sane Death Eater posed much more of a danger than a cackling one.
Left home for good, staying at James’, a messy note had informed Peter Pettigrew in 1976, a stain of what looked like tomato sauce splashed over it. Mr. Potter is helping me find a place to live. Then, doubly underlined: I hope I’ll live just long enough to bury them.
During the Lupin affair at the end of the year, Kingsley managed to piss off Severus Snape with his questions, to be criticized by the Wizengamot even more, and to bond over shared misery with newly graduated Auror Tonks. He didn’t have a personal life left, which was why his boyfriend left him - a Muggle who hadn’t liked being kept secret in the first place. While the rest of Headquarters traveled the country in preparation of first the world cup, then the Triwizard Tournament, Kingsley spoke to his witnesses again, thinking hard about unsolved riddles. He reached a conclusion that shook him to his core.
He reached this conclusion because Albus Dumbledore had stopped addressing the Black issue in the Wizengamot altogether; Remus Lupin didn’t just talk to him these days but also was convinced, now that he’d thought about it for a year, that Black had always wanted to holiday in Chile. It was a horrible conclusion, a conclusion too unbelievable to even be considered. But Kingsley didn’t give up on a hypothesis just because he didn’t like it. Also, thinking of Mike moving out from the apartment they’d shared, it wasn’t exactly the first shocking conclusion in his life.
Kingsley tried talking to Tonks about it, but Tonks had just recently drawn her own conclusions about the nature of their relationship with each other. Since Kingsley had had to decline the offer without much of an explanation, Tonks was only talking to him when she absolutely had to.
So he went to see Scrimgeour, who threw his hands up in horror. He’d have to send Kingsley to St. Mungo for a check-up, he said, and find a replacement, if the case was getting to him like that.
But then that tragedy at the Tournament killed poor Cedric Diggory, and Kingsley finally accepted that much was going on in the Wizarding world that he hadn’t any knowledge of at all.
Two days after the end of term, he went to Hogwarts to see Albus Dumbledore.
“Deny it all you want,” Kingsley said. “I know Black has to be innocent, and you know it as well. The only difference is that you know why.”
Albus Dumbledore gave him a long, serious look.
“Mr. Shacklebolt,” he said evenly, folding his hands, “Have you ever heard of an organization called the Order of the Phoenix?”
Sirius Black made the impression of a panther behind cage bars, crouched to attack, muscles flexing under shining fur and watching its spectators with dangerous vigilant eyes. Everything about him looked darker than it should be, drawing eyes as if there was something even more powerful to him than magic. Though all he did was get up from behind the kitchen table of 12 Grimmauld Place and shake Kingsley’s hand.
His palm felt hard and calloused, and Kingsley thought of twelve years of Azkaban, of two years of flight. He knew everything there was to know about this man except all the important things.
“I’m in charge of the investigation against you,” he said. “It’s an honor.”
“I’m sure it is,” Black said with a sardonic smirk. “It’s not exactly a pleasure to learn that you’ve been wasting two years of your time. Working for a corrupt government, no less. I hope it didn’t destroy all your illusions just yet.”
Sirius Black was a strange mix of the charming young bloke on the photographs, except not charming, and the motionless murderer on the search warrants, except not motionless. It was a mix that couldn’t be more different from the reckless enemy, the martyr hero he’d become in Kingsley’s head.
It was downright disappointing.