The door swung open and a dark-haired, sallow woman with heavy eyebrows stepped out of the confessional, crossing herself. She glanced over at her son, a rail-thin boy of about seven kneeling in the adjacent pew, and jerked her head back towards the little alcove she had just exited. He stood, fidgeting anxiously with a dark wooden rosary, and promptly tripped over the kneeler, the sound echoing loudly throughout the church. His mother huffed and pursed one side of her mouth in exasperation. With a soft tsk, she held out a hand to help him disentangle himself and held the door open as he entered the confessional.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession."
"What a beautiful opportunity to encounter the Lord's grace, my son. Preparing for your first Communion, are you? Excellent, excellent. Begin by telling me all your sins. When you're in here, you speak to the Lord, and I, as the priest, can never, ever bring up the things you tell me in here. If you're unsure of where to start, go through the Ten Commandments, and think if you've broken any of them - it's often a good way to jog your memory."
"Right. Erm.…. I used the name of the Lord in vain…. I'm not sure how many times. Maybe a million. I... I'm really sorry!" The boy's voice squeaked with nerves.
"Calm down, son, is there anything else? Focus on remembering all you've done wrong - there will be plenty of time for sorries at the end."
"....sorry. I, erm, promised Mums I'd weed the allotment, but I snuck into the cinema to see 'The Fighting Prince of Donegal'. …..er, how sorry do I have to be when I make a Confession?"
"At the very least, sorry enough to honestly try not to do it again," came the dry response. "Anything else?"
"I haven't honoured me Dads, either. And I...I tried to break the fifth commandment."
"Thou shalt not kill? That's a big commandment for such a young lad to try to break. What happened?"
There was silence for a moment and then the boy's words tumbled out in a rush.
"I didn't make it all the way out to the lav, and I wet meself by the kitchen door, and Dads had come in for another beer, and he saw and he started thrashing me, and Mums heard me crying and she ran in and tried to get him to stop, and then he, he HIT her, right hard, and I think he did something to her nose, because there was all this blood, and I just WISHED for him to stop, anything for him to stop, and the big iron pan with the sausages for dinner just flew across the room and crashed into his head."
The boy broke off with a snivel, and after a moment, asked furtively, "Is it really true that even though you look like Father Hughes, when we're in here, I'm really talking to the Lord, and you can't tell anyone ever at all what I say?"
"Anything you say in Confession is held secret under the Seal. If I were to tell anyone, I wouldn't be able to be a priest anymore and I'd go to hell."
"Right." The boy drew himself together. "Mums said I couldn't tell anyone, but since I'm telling the Lord, that's not really telling. Not really. " He took a breath. "She fixed everything. She's a witch, and she got her wand and fixed her nose and the cuts from the belt and then she fixed me Da's head and made him forget about the whole evening. Everything. She said I couldn't tell because she promised Dads that she wouldn't do magic anymore when I was born. But she said I'm a wizard and I can do magic too, and that I could go off to school for it when I'm older. There's ghosts and broomsticks that fly and dragons and everything. She told me all about it." The kneeling boy sat back on his heels, and, cocking his head to one side, peered through the grate at the priest, almost daring him to respond.
The priest raised an eyebrow. "And might the name of this school be Hogwarts?"
The boy gasped. "You know!"
"Of course - I went to school with your mum, though she was a Slytherin, of course. Hufflepuff, myself, class of '48. I entered the seminary directly after. My House ghost was a Franciscan, and talking with him helped me discern my vocation to the priesthood."
"Whoa." The little boy breathed, obviously impressed.
"So, now that you know that I know, let's talk about what happened with that pan." The priest paused as the boy gave a shaky exhale. "Did you want to kill your father? Or did you just want him to stop hurting you and your mum?"
"I...I just wanted him to stop."
"How did you feel when you saw what your pan did to him? Before your mum fixed everything?"
The boy paused. In a small voice: "Awful. Scared."
An even smaller voice, barely a whisper: "Wicked. Dirty."
The priest poked a corner of a handkerchief through one of the larger holes in the screen. "Here you go, lad, it's clean. Wipe your face, that’s right. Now, in order for sin to be a truly grave, mortal sin, you have to do it deliberately, knowing it is a sin. Now, from what you've told me, you didn't deliberately throw that pan at your father on purpose - from what you said, it was chaos, you were scared, and it just sort of happened. Do I have the right of it?"
The boy gave a sniffle of affirmation.
“So, given that it didn’t happen deliberately, I think we can rule out a mortal sin. And you are certainly remorseful, there’s no doubt of that, poor lad. However, and this is important, it is still wrong to hurt people.”
“But Dads hit me and Mums first!” the boy broke in, hotly.
“Yes, but this isn’t his confession - it’s yours. What he did to you and Eileen was, in my opinion, a much graver wrong, but that is for him to bring to the Lord on his own, and the Lord will judge him. What we’re discussing in this room are your actions, and yours alone. Your magic is a great gift, but with any gift, be it size or speed or strength, it’s wrong to use it to hurt or bully. It is, however, a good and noble thing to protect those weaker than you.” The priest paused. “You are, if you will pardon me, very young. It is not, and should not be your place to fight battles in place of adults around you. Authority is also a sacred gift, but those given it often abuse it. Sometimes there are no easy answers - it is not right for you and your mother to be treated thus, and I believe you know that, but it is not your job, as a seven year old child, to have to fix the situation you find yourself in. Much as you may dream it, you’re not Red Hugh, nor a man grown. It is not wrong to stand up for yourself or your mother when you find yourself in peril, but it is wrong to allow yourself to be swept away by hatred and anger and appoint yourself an executioner. I know that that’s not at all what happened this last time - you were afraid and something happened beyond your control. But going forward, I urge you to try and pay attention to what you’re feeling. When you permit those feelings of anger and rage and hatred to take root within yourself, there may be little difference between you and the bullies you stand against. And those feelings can be stealthy - they can carry you away before you even realize what is happening. Will you try?”
The boy nodded, his face clouded. “I will try.”
“Good lad. Now, if you remember, I can’t mention anything you tell me inside the Confessional. However, were you to mention it to me outside, I might be able to stop by your house and set some warding spells so that the coppers just happen to be patrolling your street the next time your da gets angry in his cups.” The priest laid a finger aside his nose and gave a significant nod to the boy. “Now, back to your confession. Was there anything else you needed to mention?”
The boy scrubbed his face with the handkerchief one last time, and said, “I’ve done a fair bit of coveting. Not -- not wives, but there’s a girl at the play park with a model Aston Martin.”
“A treasure indeed. Now, if that’s all (and thanks be to God for a good and humble Confession!), here's your penance. Can you say two Rosaries for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and a prayer of St. Michael for your father's soul? Good lad. Are you ready to make your Act of Contrition? You must be truly sorry, and willing to try your best not to sin anymore. Whether you succeed or not, whether you remember your penance or not, it’s your honest intention now that matters.”
“I, I am sorry. And I will try. O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.”
“Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi, merita Beatae Mariae Virginis et omnium sanctorum, quidquid boni feceris vel mali sustinueris sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gratiae et praemium vitae aeternae. Amen.”