Chapter 45 : In Capable Hands
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Mad-Eye had swept her into his cubicle when Scrimgeour was done with her and explained everything – mainly that Sirius was downstairs in the holding cells and Greyback had been taken directly to Azkaban – before passing her a letter that had come for Tock.
She’d had to meet Lucius in the Ministry Atrium for a bit and she’d then headed back to the D.M.L.E. to wait for Remus; she was tired and the Greyback fiasco was done, but Remus was still needed here to help with Harry and Sirius and she thought she should stay for his sake. If nothing else, she wanted to make sure he was all right, because he’d looked terrible when he’d taken off looking for Robards.
It wasn’t Remus that found her first, however. It was Florence, who’d come in with a upset looking Finch, a sad, grim Kingsley and a stunned Ben. Florence launched herself at Tonks the moment she spotted her. Tonks rubbed her back; Florence was shaking and sobbing uncontrollably, and that scared Tonks because - like Remus - Florence had always been fairly unflappable. Seeing Florence cry would be like seeing McKinnon cry; it just didn’t happen.
But it was happening. Finch nodded at Tonks from over Florence’s shoulder and hurried away, rubbing at her face. Kingsley said something to Ben and went after Finch. Ben shuffled over and wrapped his long arms around both Tonks and Florence.
“Melvin?” Tonks whispered, but she thought she knew; tears were already building in her eyes in anticipation. Florence let out a loud, gasping sob and clutched Tonks tighter. Ben’s arms trembled.
Then, in the tiniest voice Tonks had ever heard her use, Florence let out a choked, “Dead.”
“How?” she asked, but it went unanswered. Perhaps that was how Sirius had been caught last night... perhaps he’d killed another person. Tonks squeezed Florence with one arm and found Ben’s hand with her other and the three of them huddled there, sobbing, until footsteps made them look up. It wasn’t Remus, and that made Tonks miserable all over again because she just wanted him there – was that too much to ask right now? It was McKinnon, who had puffy, unfocused eyes and was standing with her shoulders hunched and a trembling bottom lip. Robards was beside her, with a hand on her shoulder. The world was officially backwards.
Florence disentangled herself from Tonks and Ben and threw her arms around McKinnon, who looked stunned until her eyes focused and she hugged Florence back.
“Prewett?” McKinnon asked, looking at Robards with panicked eyes.
“Did you-” Florence choked on a sob.
“Did I what?” McKinnon asked hoarsely, fearfully. They were several yards apart and McKinnon had Florence covering most of her front, but Tonks could see that she was dangerously close to hyperventilating. “Did I what, Prewett?” McKinnon asked, her voice shaking. “What did you hear?” Robards’ hand was white knuckled on her shoulder and Tonks wondered what had happened.
“Did you hear?” Florence choked. “M-Melvin’s dead. Greyback killed- h-him-”
“Greyback?” Tonks said in a strangled whisper. “No.”
“He followed me,” Florence cried. “He must have-”
He must have seen her at the Ministry and followed her to Melvin – she shouted his address into the Floo... And he was only at the Ministry because he was following-
“Me,” she said. It was her fault. Greyback must have used Melvin to find Marlene’s house and then tracked her and Remus from there.
It’s my fault. I killed- Greyback killed Melvin, but it was because of me. Guilt and anger and too many other emotions for her to name came crashing down all at once. I killed someone – I killed my friend.
She could still hear Florence sobbing and she could still feel Ben’s warm hand around hers, but beyond that, she had no idea what was going on. She thought she heard McKinnon say Remus’ name and that made her look up, but he wasn’t there.
Less than a minute later, though, he was. She knew how much he hated crying – she’d noticed how awkward he got when she cried, though she’d never called him out on it – but he was there anyway, letting her hug him so tightly she was probably leaving bruises, and rubbing her back.
He didn’t say anything, but Tonks didn’t want him to. The shock of learning it was Greyback was already wearing off, as was the instant desire to blame herself. Some of it was her fault – she and Remus had made the silver ring that had started all of this – and that hurt, like a Bludger to the stomach – but if Greyback hadn’t been such a monster and attacked Matt in the first place, he never would have known it was Tonks’ jumper.
And, ultimately, Greyback was the one who’d tracked Melvin down, and he’d gone out of his way to do so, because Melvin hadn’t been at the Ministry last night. She might have been the reason Greyback went looking for Melvin, but she wasn’t the reason Greyback had killed him.
A knot of guilt untied itself and morphed into anger.
I hope he rots in Azkaban, she thought, burying her face in Remus’ shoulder. And I’m sorry, Melvin. I’m so, so sorry.
Tonks was still on that same bench two hours later, though she’d stopped crying and Remus wasn’t next to her, though he wasn’t far away; he and McKinnon were taking quietly a short distance down the corridor. McKinnon was crying, and Remus was pale, but looked relieved and he had a hand on her shoulder.
Ben and Florence were huddled next to Tonks and both of them were still crying on and off; she felt awful about Melvin but Florence and Ben had actually shared mentors with him – since Shacklebolt and Finch did almost everything together – and had known him a lot better than Tonks and McKinnon had. She could only imagine what they were going through. She squeezed their hands. Remus hugged McKinnon - who left, looking slightly better - and made his way over. He gave Tonks a small, sad smile which she shakily returned.
“Will you be all right if I go to sit with Harry for a bit?” he asked, watching her carefully. She nodded and he left. She watched him go and was tired enough that her eyes stayed fixed on the corner he’d gone around even when he was well out of sight. Only about a minute after, however, Remus was back, looking torn between amused and weary.
“What?” she asked.
“Your friend Charlie...” he said and Tonks took a moment to take that in, given how random it was. “His last name was Weasley, wasn’t it?”
“What?” she said again, blinking up at him. “Yes...” All she could think was, Not Charlie too... Oh, please not Charlie. She didn’t think she’d be able to cope if Charlie’d been eaten by a dragon or something. Her eyes were filling with tears again and Remus looked taken aback. “Is he okay?” she asked.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Remus said, looking so genuinely bewildered that she relaxed and even laughed weakly. “I need your help with something – two somethings, actually – that are related, though.”
His warm hand gently tugged her own hands away from Florence and Ben but he didn’t let go after that, as she’d expected. She gave him another shaky, half-hearted smile and he returned it as he helped her up and led her down the corridor to Bones’ office. He twisted the doorknob and pushed the door open. Three heads snapped up as they entered – Tonks tripped through the doorway - and closed the door again.
“Tonks!” Ginny - who’d been stretched out on the carpet, drawing something on a scrap of parchment - looked up, shrieked, and charged at Tonks. Tonks gave her a one-armed hug because she didn’t want to let go of Remus.
“Wotcher,” she said reflexively and then, more faintly, “What are you doing here?”
“We came to work with Dad today-” Ginny had a smear of ink on her cheek, was missing an eyebrow and her hair was singed and lopsided but she was grinning widely. “and heard Harry-” She blushed at his name. “-was here, so we thought we’d come to keep him company.”
“Shouldn’t the room have been warded?” she asked, looking at Remus.
“It’s charmed to go off if magic’s used to unlock the door,” he said, smiling faintly.
“We used a hairpin,” Ginny said, blushing again.
“Sorry,” Ron said and then abruptly, “Have you been crying?”
“Er... no,” Tonks said. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”
“Oh.” Ron, looked sheepish in his large desk chair. Ron had always been embarrassed around Tonks; on Tonks’ second visit to the Burrow, Fred and George had told her that he fancied her. Tonks didn’t know whether it was true or not – knowing Fred and George, it had probably been a lie to stir up their little brother - but Ron had been mortified either way, the poor thing. Like Ginny, his hair was blackened in places and he had a smudge of soot on his nose.
The third person in the room was none other than Harry Potter, who was sitting on the edge of the desk, opposite Ron. He had a sooty face too, but his hair was too dark for her to tell if it was singed. He was watching Tonks curiously, and then his eyes flicked to her and Remus’ hands. Remus’ fingers spasmed as if he might let go, but Tonks squeezed gently and he squeezed back. A mischievous grin flickered over Harry’s face and then it was gone, replaced by a worried frown. Then that went too, and he smiled again and slid off the desk to offer Tonks his hand.
“I’m Harry,” he said, as if she didn’t already know that.
“Tonks,” she said, bemused; he’d offered his left hand so that she could shake it without letting go of Remus’ hand and she wondered if he’d done it on purpose, or if it was purely a coincidence. She shook herself, glanced at Ron and Ginny again and then turned to Remus. “I take it I’m here to take them back to Mr Weasley?”
They were luckier than they knew to not only have been able to stay this long, but to have not been found yet; if they’d been found by anyone but Remus, they’d have been in serious trouble and Mr Weasley probably would have been investigated. Still, if a ten year old boy and his eight year old sister were able to get to with a hairpin, it probably didn’t say much good about how well protected Harry was... although, most people trying to get to him would have used a wand.
“I assume you know where to find him,” Remus said, smiling.
“Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office,” Tonks said. She released Remus and jerked her head at the door. “Come on, you two.” Ginny looked put out but she mustered a smile and a goodbye for Harry and blushed furiously the whole time.
“I s’pose I’ll see you at school?” Ron said, looking uncertain.
“Definitely,” Harry said, grinning and Ron smiled back. “Maybe sooner if things go well here.”
“I hope they do,” Ron said.
“Thanks.” Harry’s eyes drifted out of focus for a moment. “So do I.”
“I mean, if something happened...” Ron began and Tonks winced; she knew Ron wasn’t exactly tactful and hoped he wasn’t about to destroy the friendship he and Harry seemed to have formed. “... well,” Ron said, grinning, “there are few enough Cannons supporters as it is and need everyone we can get.”
Harry and Ginny laughed and even Remus made a noise that might have been a smothered laugh. Obviously, Tonks was missing something. He joined Ginny over by the door and Tonks pulled it open. Remus went to sit in the chair Ron had vacated.
“Hey,” Harry said, sounding shy all of a sudden. Tonks and both Weasleys looked up. “Thanks for... everything. Coming to see me, I mean. It was...I- thanks.” Tonks was taken aback and touched by his sincerity and so, it seemed, were Ginny and Ron; Ginny beamed and went a brighter shade of red and Ron’s ears matched his sister’s face. His smile wasn’t quite as wide, but it was just as pleased. “It was nice to meet you, Tonks!” Harry added as she ushered the other two out of the office.
She smiled over her shoulder at him and closed the door. No one paid her, Ginny or Ron much attention, thankfully, and they didn’t attempt to run away or hide from her. She hadn’t expected them to, but she was glad anyway.
“I told you it was a good idea,” Ginny said, beaming at Ron.
“Yeah,” he said, grinning.
“Good idea or not,” Tonks said, amused, “it’d probably be a good idea to keep this to yourselves.” Both nodded solemnly, but still looked exceptionally pleased with themselves.
* * *
“You ready, Dumbledore?” Alastor asked.
“No,” Albus sighed. “I daresay I’m not.” Alastor laughed bleakly and peered through the window in the door. Apparently he deemed it safe, because he stepped back, tapped it with his wand and then gestured for Albus to follow him in. Alastor didn’t spare a glance for the man on the small bed in the corner; he occupied himself with locking the door and checking the room for any traps.
Albus, however, looked at Sirius, who’d rolled over when they’d entered. His eyes had brightened at the sight of them – both of them, if he wasn’t mistaken – but he quickly schooled his expression into an unreadable one. He didn’t look the way Albus had expected. Albus had been expecting a thin man with sunken eyes, waxy skin, an unshaved, possibly bearded face, and long, matted hair. That was the way he’d looked in the photographs in the Prophet and the way he’d been described.
He looked... normal. Like an older version of the handsome, friendly boy who Albus had watched grow into an Order member.. and then a traitor. Sirius was maybe a touch thinner than he should have been, but the broadness in his shoulders was still there, and he was by no means emaciated. His skin was... well, skin. He had a smattering of stubble, but he’d been in this cell for nearly a day now and his hair was black, shaggy and shoulder-length, the way it had been when he was in the Order. What threw Albus most was his eyes, however.
They weren’t shadowed, or sunken, as was symptomatic of spending any extended time in Azkaban; Mundungus Fletcher – a once-valued Order member turned petty criminal – had served several – admittedly short - sentences there and his eyes still bore the shadows. Sirius’, though were clear grey, alert. If Albus didn’t know better, he wouldn’t have believed the man before him had ever seen Azkaban, much less spent a quarter of his life there.
It wasn’t fair – wasn’t right. He should have suffered for what he’d done - for the way he’d betrayed them - in Azkaban and taken his demons with him when he left! As far as Albus could tell, said demons had been tossed into the North Sea when Sirius left the prison, and he hadn’t seen or heard from them since.
He glanced at Alastor, wondering what he was making – or had made, if he’d already been to see Sirius – of it. Alastor wasn’t looking at Sirius’ face, however. He was frowning at his side. Sirius followed his eyes and swore.
“What’ve you done to yourself, Black?”
“Done, Alastor?” Albus said quietly.
“Broken rib,” Alastor replied, still frowning at Sirius.
“Just the one?” Sirius asked, looking relieved. His voice wasn’t quite as hoarse this time. Albus found that disappointing. “Well that’s something at least. I thought it was two.” Albus stared at the younger wizard, waiting. Sirius hesitated and then said, “It was the Dementors.”
“Dementors don’t leave physical-”
“I fainted, all right?” Sirius snapped, looking embarrassed. “I was over by the table and next thing I knew, I was on the ground and...” He gestured to his side.
Albus didn’t know whether to believe him. He thought Sirius was lying – Sirius had never been a good liar as a boy, which was why James or Remus had been the ones to deal with the teachers when the four got in trouble – but then, Albus hadn’t managed to pick up on Sirius’ traitorous lies in the months leading to Halloween. He obviously didn’t know Sirius as well as he’d thought.
“Does it hurt?” Alastor asked. Sirius’ betrayal had hit Alastor as hard as it had hit the rest of them, though it was easy to forget that; Alastor had trained Sirius to be an Auror, spent hours teaching him to stay alive, to fight. Alastor had loved him like a son – or grandson, perhaps – along with James, who he’d also trained - and he’d been devastated when he’d heard the news.
“A bit,” Sirius said, shrugging.
Sirius laughed and Albus and Alastor exchanged uneasy looks. Sirius hobbled over to the chair facing the door and gestured for them to sit. Albus did, and after checking the chair for traps, so did Alastor.
“I know you like tea, Headmaster,” Sirius said, “but I don’t have any to offer, I’m afraid.”
“Aren’t you going to not offer me something too, Black?” Alastor asked gruffly, folding his arms.
Sirius raised an eyebrow and said, “Even when you trusted me you didn’t accept drinks from me.”
“Hmph!” Alastor said.
“Why, Sirius?” Albus asked, before he could stop himself.
“Because he’s a twitchy old codger,” Sirius said fondly. His grin faded. “That’s not what you meant, is it?” Albus shook his head, and Sirius sighed. “I could ask you the same.”
“Pardon?” Albus asked.
“You’re asking me why I betrayed Lily and James,” Sirius said, looking pained. “I’m asking you why you think I would.”
“You were the Secret Keeper,” Albus said. He kept his temper in check – it wouldn’t do to shout – but he did let some of his fury seep into his tone.
“No, I wasn’t,” Sirius said. Alastor rolled his eyes – both of them.
“James told me-”
“James lied,” Sirius said wearily. “We thought we were so clever, swapping, thought we’d bluff our way through-”
“If you weren’t the Secret Keeper, who was?” Alastor growled.
“If you want the answer to that, you’ll have to come to my trial,” Sirius said, sighing again.
“You don’t trust us, Sirius?”
“Not as much as I used to, sir,” Sirius said sadly. “You- you’ve made some mistakes I haven’t forgiven you for yet, I’m afraid.” Albus gave him an inquiring look. “You didn’t ask for a trial for me the first time-,” There was a muted, bitter twist to his voice. A long buried twinge of guilt surfaced and Albus shoved it back down again; Sirius had deserved what he’d got. “-and the Dursleys...? You’re a brilliant wizard, sir, but that wasn’t your finest moment.”
“It was for the boy’s own safety,” Albus said, but he couldn’t push down the guilt associated with that, not when Sirius’ comment was so uncannily similar to Albus’ own thoughts.
“Sure it was,” Sirius said. Albus knew Sirius believed him, but his tone condemned Albus all the same.
“What made you take him?” Alastor asked quietly.
“What?” Sirius said, glancing at his old mentor.
“The boy, Black.” Alastor tapped his wooden leg on the floor of the cell impatiently.
“I promised Lily and James that I’d take care of him if they ever-” Sirius cleared his throat and stared at his hands for a moment and Albus wondered – with no small curiosity - what he was thinking about. Sirius looked up, his jaw setting. “I wanted him and they didn’t.”
“Did you ever think of what Harry wanted, Sirius?” Albus asked coolly.
“Didn’t have to. He told me – practically begged me not to leave without him, in fact,” Sirius said rather dryly.
“And you took him? Just like that?” Albus asked, trying and failing – for the thousandth time – to make sense of the strange man that was Sirius Black.
“Just like that,” Sirius agreed, smiling. “And do you know what?”
“What?” Alastor asked warily.
“Other than choosing James’ compartment on the Hogwarts Express in my first year, it’s the best damn thing I’ve ever done.”
* * *
After returning Ron and Ginny to Mr Weasley, Tonks had retreated to Mad-Eye’s office for some peace and quiet. Like Bones, Rattler, Scrimgeour and several other high ranking Aurors and D.M.L.E. staff, Mad-Eye had an office with four walls and a door, and not just a standard cubicle in the Auror Department. Mad-Eye hadn’t been there, but she didn’t think he’d mind if she stayed for a bit.
She’d curled up on the couch and thought about things – about Melvin, mostly, though Sirius’s capture also featured in her thoughts; she supposed her job as Tock was over now – Lucius had certainly suggested as much when they spoke that morning – and she wondered what she was going to do with all of her spare time. She grinned, imagining the possibilities; maybe she could go and visit Tom and Charlie – she’d only received two letters from them in nearly four months – or maybe she could start going into the station with Dad, like she had when she was younger.
Mum worked normal hours and so Tonks saw lots of her at home, but like Tonks, Dad worked strange hours and she hadn’t seen him properly for weeks. Or maybe...
“Wassgoinon?” she asked, as someone shook her awake. It was Mad-Eye and he looked tired.
“Constant vigilance,” he said half-heartedly.
“You all right?” she asked, rubbing her eyes. “You look... off.”
“Black,” he said, and limped over to collapse in his desk chair. He ran his hands through his grizzled hair and then folded his hands on his desk and looked up. “So that explains me, but what are you still doing here?” he asked her.
“I’m an Auror,” she said, yawning. He didn’t correct her and say she was only a trainee.
“So am I, and if I had it my way, I’d be curled up in my bed at home.” Tonks laughed and stifled another yawn; she’d slept for at least six hours – the clock on Mad-Eye’s desk said it was almost seven – and she still felt like she hadn’t slept at all. Mad-Eye’s tense look softened. “Go home.”
“I’m all right,” she said, waving off his suggestion.
“Never said you weren’t,” he said, raising the eyebrow above his blue eye. “But there’s no training until tomorrow morning – tonight’s session’s been cancelled.”
“Why?” she asked, though she’d completely forgotten. Something as normal as Auror training didn’t seem possible right now.
“Finch was supposed to be taking it but she’s...”
“Melvin.” Mad-Eye nodded, his mouth setting into a grim line. Tonks swallowed the lump in her throat and stared at her hands until she was sure she wouldn’t start crying again.
“You heard, then?”
“I heard,” she said, and had to dab at her stinging eyes anyway.
“Go home, Nymphadora. Get a good night’s sleep and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
“Don’t call me Nymphadora,” she said irritably as she stood up and collected her rucksack from the corner. She looked at her mentor again and for all his experience and the fact that he was a formidable opponent, right now, all she could see was a tired, sad, old man. Her irritation faded. “I suppose it must be hard seeing him again,” she said tentatively. Mad-Eye nodded. “I suppose he’s changed a lot. That’s got to be-”
“Hasn’t changed at all,” Mad-Eye grunted. “Grown up a bit, maybe, but otherwise he’s just the same. Exactly the same.” The unhappy slant of his mouth became more pronounced and he didn’t offer anything else, so Tonks let it drop.
“I’ll go,” she said, and stumbled over her own feet on the way to the door. “Make sure you get a good night’s sleep too, all right?”
“Good night, Nymphadora,” Mad-Eye said, looking amused.
“Good night, sir,” she said and saw him scowl as she closed the door behind her.
Remus and Dumbledore were talking in the corridor outside but she didn’t see either of them until she – quite literally - walked into her old Headmaster.
“Miss Tonks,” he said, steadying her, while Remus gave her a tired smile. He looked absolutely dead on his feet. Dumbledore, on the other hand, looked like his usual, cheerful self, though his eyes weren’t twinkling and his smile was a little distracted. “On your way home, my dear?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Sorry for-”
“It’s quite all right,” he said, smiling kindly.
“Are you here to see Sirius?” she asked, watching his face carefully. Dumbledore was harder to read than most people. His smile slipped though, and he didn’t attempt to hide it. In fact he sighed, but Remus beat him to answering.
“We’ve just been.”
“I thought you were with Harry,” she said, looking at him.
“Rattler took me down,” Remus said.
“How was it?” she asked hesitantly.
“I might have shouted at him,” Remus said, looking miserable. Dumbledore put a hand on his shoulder.
“What did you say?” she asked.
“A lot of things,” Remus said, and then his temper flared. “I asked how he could be so bloody calm when he’s sitting in a cell surrounded by Dementors, being interrogated – you should have seen him, it’s like he didn’t even know that they were there! And do you know what he said? He said, ‘I’ll be all right, Moony, don’t worry about me’- That git!” Tonks and Dumbledore exchanged a worried look; Remus looked perilously close to tears, but also helpless and frustrated.
“And so,” he continued, “I asked why the hell I’d care what happened to him and do you know what? He looked hurt. Hurt. Like I’d offended him! And then he asked about Harry and I told him he’s doing absolutely fine without Sirius around and Sirius just nodded and said thanks, and that no one had told him anything. He said thanks! And then as we were leaving-”
“No!” Remus shouted, and Dumbledore closed his mouth. “As we were leaving he said, ‘It was nice to see you, Moony’. After everything – after changing sides and stealing Harry, and after I didn’t ever visit him in Azkaban, you’d have thought my opinion of him was pretty clear, but no! It’s nice to see me!” Remus stopped talking. His chest was heaving, his eyes were bright and he looked acutely embarrassed. Tonks reached out and squeezed his hand. Remus looked at her and the anger drained out of his expression. He just looked sad and helpless now.
“Dumbledore, are you done yet?” Scrimgeour asked irritably, sticking his head out of his office at the end of the corridor.
“One moment, Rufus,” Dumbledore said mildly. Scrimgeour huffed and stalked back inside. “I think I’m leaving you in capable hands,” Dumbledore said, patting Remus’ shoulder once again. Remus’s shoulders hunched. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Remus, and I daresay you too if you’re around, Miss Tonks.”
“Good night, Professor,” Remus said, sounding tired.
“Good night,” Tonks echoed and Dumbledore swept away, his yellow and purple spotted robes trailing behind him.
“I should let you get home,” Remus sighed, glancing at Tonks.
“Where are you off to?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Matt’s, probably,” he said. “I need to tell him about Greyback – I don’t know if-”
“That can wait,” Tonks said firmly. Remus stared at her, not seeming to understand. “You’re a wreck, Remus. You haven’t slept, we spent last night being stalked by a madman and spent the morning catching him and sitting through interviews, Sirius has finally been caught, you’ve been trying to help out with Harry, you helped me when I heard about Melv-” Tonks took a deep breath. “Have you eaten?”
“I-” Remus frowned. “Er... well, Harry shared his biscuits-” Tonks sighed and tugged Remus toward the lift. “Where are we going?” he asked, but he followed willingly enough.
“Home,” she said. She – and Remus – were both in need of some serious mothering.
* * *
Narcissa knocked on Severus’ office door and stepped back to wait. A moment later, the door creaked and opened and a dark eye peered out.
“Severus,” she said, smiling slightly. “Were you expecting someone else?”
“As a matter of fact I was,” he said irritably, stepping aside to let her into the dark office. “I’d feared you were the Headmaster.” Narcissa arched an eyebrow. “He’s been... demanding of late.” Severus offered no more explanation than that as he led her through a doorway off to one side. It certainly hadn’t been there the last time she’d visited, and it occurred to her that it must usually be concealed.
Severus’ quarters were simpler than she’d expected them to be. The walls were grey stone, like the rest of the dungeons, though like Severus’ office, these were almost completely covered with shelves of books and potions ingredients. A small, crackling fire was the only sources of light, and allowed Narcissa to see a small bed in the corner of the room, a desk and cabinet in another corner, and that a Slytherin banner was the only decoration. Narcissa could count two doors – three including the one they’d just come through – but all were closed.
Severus swept over to sit at his desk and Narcissa conjured herself a chair. She sat and folded her hands while Severus waved his wand at the torches on the walls. They lit up and brightened the room considerably.
“Now,” Severus said, turning back to her. Then, he paused and cocked his head, as if seeing her for the first time. “Are you wearing red?” he spluttered.
“Yes,” she said.
Severus blinked, and she wondered if he’d expected a defensive response; Lucius certainly had – she’d argued with him for five minutes about it, until he’d said that at least her robes weren’t gold and stalked off to brood in his study. Hydrus had come downstairs and told her she mustn’t go out looking like that, because what would people think?
Narcissa had smiled at him, her sweet, oh so Slytherin son, and assured him it was only because she needed to make an impression – she didn’t tell him that she needed to make the impression on his brother. She’d expected Draco to be horrified that she was wearing Gryffindor colours, or perhaps ask why she was dressed the way she was. All he’d said, however, was that she looked nice in red.
“I see,” Severus said. He shook his head and his expression became serious once more. “I take it this has something to do with Potter.”
“Doesn’t it always?” she sighed.
“It does,” he agreed. “Beyond Potter, however, I have no idea.”
“None?” she asked, smirking.
“I have guesses,” he admitted. “But I prefer not to waste time so if you’d get to the purpose of your visit...”
“You’ll have heard of his capture,” she said carefully. Severus’ face didn’t change. “I thought as much. Then you’ll also know that the Department of Management and Control of Magical Children are pushing to have Harry Potter placed into a new, stable home as soon as possible.”
“Tomorrow night, I’d heard,” Severus said stiffly.
“Dumbledore told you,” she said.
“Amongst other things,” he said irritably. She ignored his attitude.
“Then you’re probably aware that there’s something of a gathering tomorrow, where the Ministry can meet the boy’s... prospective guardians.” Severus groaned.
“I suppose I can guess what Lucius will be doing tomorrow,” Severus said, and Narcissa smiled ruefully.
“Indeed.” She waited for Severus to say something, but he was silent. “You see why I’ve come,” Narcissa prompted.
“Indeed,” he echoed, leaning back in his chair. His black eyes bored into her blue ones and she held his gaze with an effort. She didn’t know what he was looking for, but she wasn’t about to look away, lest he think her weak. “Where do you stand on the matter?” he asked finally.
“By my husband, of course,” she said haughtily.
“If that was true, you wouldn’t be here,” he drawled.
“I know.” Narcissa had always been a woman with her own agenda, but that agenda had usually matched Lucius’. She found herself wondering when that had stopped.
Probably around the time he told you your son would be a Gryffindor, she thought grimly.
“Well?” Severus asked.
“I don’t want him,” she whispered.
“The boy, Severus,” she said impatiently.
“I can hardly blame you,” he sneered. “The boy’s a reincarnation of his idiot father and Merlin only knows what nonsense Black’s filled his head with-”
Narcissa let him rant. Her reasons for not wanting Potter weren’t based on his personality or heritage. She did wonder if Lucius had forgotten the boy’s mother was a mudb- muggleborn. It was the sort of thing Lucius would overlook in a situation like this, only to remember later and be horrified. Her reasons weren’t even based on emotions, though she did fear that if she adopted the boy as Lucius wanted to, that she’d become attached to him and that that attachment would complicate things further. No, Narcissa’s reasons had more to do with the welfare of her family.
“- say what they want about Lily’s lineage,” Severus continued angrily, “but no one can deny she was a decent human being. Potter, though-”
Plain and simply, she wasn’t sure that she wanted the Dark Lord back. Lucius and Bellatrix always spoke about how wonderful it had been when he was in power during the war, how exulted they’d felt, and how respected they’d been amongst their comrades. That wasn’t the way Narcissa remembered it, though. She remembered Lucius and Bella never being home because they were away serving their Lord and she remembered worrying that they’d end up in Azkaban. Or, that they’d fail at a task and be killed by the Dark Lord himself. She remembered being scared, for their lives, for her own, and for Hydrus’ and Draco’s once they came along.
“-never mattered to Dumbledore, but then, he’s about as senile as he is brilliant and leaning more toward the former with every day that passes-”
Keeping the Potter boy and the Dark Lord on different sides was in her family’s best interest, even if she was the only one who realised it. Lucius could return to the Dark Lord’s service – and Hydrus and Draco could be initiated if need be – if the Dark Lord took over again. If Potter defeated the Dark Lord again, then having Draco in Gryffindor would help them fit in on the ‘good’, and the skills he was learning from Severus would help more. For Narcissa, it was all about keeping one finger on the metaphorical Porktey. Taking Potter would mean putting her entire hand on the Portkey and it was too early by far to do something that drastic.
“-will you do?” Severus asked, and Narcissa tried to look as if she’d been listening the entire time.
“If I knew, I wouldn’t be here,” she said, and Severus groaned again.
“For years,” he said almost reflectively, “I expected that either Dumbledore or the Dark Lord would be the death of me. It was a premature evaluation and now, I daresay it will be you.”
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