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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 47 : Harry's New Home
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8

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“Anything?” Rufus barked, and Amelia shook her head. Beside her, Thomas looked ill.

“It's all legal, sir,” Podmore said, looking up from a massive volume on wizarding law. Rufus growled. Of course it was all legal; Black had Auror training and was unhelpfully knowledgeable when it came to the law. He was also bold enough to point it out.

“Damn it!” he huffed, stalking into the next office, where Dumbledore and Snape were questioning Mrs Dursley. The contents of her handbag were spread out on the table again, but hadn't changed. She still had a copy of the forms she'd given to Umbridge earlier, and while Rufus thought the pile of forms looked smaller - as if she'd disposed of a few sheets of paper - it was only speculation, because neither he or Dumbledore had checked the damn things to make sure they were what they'd assumed.

Zabini was beside Dumbledore - Rufus and the rest of the Ministry hated the woman, but she was good at what she did and desperate times called for desperate measures - rereading the forms that secured Mrs Dursley's custody of the boy. If they could find anything wrong with those, then the second set of forms would be nullified.

“Zabini?” he asked and the woman looked up from under long eyelashes.

“It's all in order,” she said, shrugging. “These weren't created with or altered by magic and they've been filled out correctly. Mrs Dursley's custody of the boy is unquestionable.” And that meant she was able to pass him over to anyone she liked. Which she'd done. Rufus tore the door open and stalked out into the corridor.

“You!” he said, startling Hemsley's trainee. “Get me someone from Muggle Relations!” He'd need to get in contact with the solicitor who'd witnesses the signing of the second set of forms and see if they could prove Black or Mrs Dursley had obtained his help illegally. The trainee scurried off and Rufus walked into Amelia's office, where young Potter was still being housed.

Umbridge and another witch from the Department of Management and Control of Magical Children were with him, but if the expression on their faces was anything to go by, they hadn't managed to find anything condemning about Black's guardianship abilities. Oh, there was plenty of speculation and plenty of crimes the man was accused of, but as Black had pointed out a few hours earlier, he hadn't been found guilty of anything because he hadn't had a trial.

“What can you tell me about the night you were taken from your relatives?” Scoote asked, peering at the boy from over her clipboard.

Potter tore his eyes away from Rufus, who he'd been watching from the moment he set foot in the office. No one had told him what was happening, but he'd have to be thick not to realise that something was afoot.

“Do you know Polkiss?” Rufus asked, before the boy answered Scoote. Potter's face closed over completely and Rufus wondered what the name meant to the boy. “Potter?”

“Yeah, I know him,” Potter said warily. “Why?”

“How do you know him?”

“He's a friend of my cousin's,” Potter said reluctantly. “Piers.” He didn't seem to think much of this Piers, if his wrinkled nose was any indication. “We went to the same school.”

“Did you know Piers' father?” Rufus said.

“A bit,” Potter said, shrugging. “He gave Dudley a ball and a pen once, from his work, I think.” Potter thought for a moment. “He's an accountant... No, a solicitor.”

“We know that,” Umbridge snapped, and Rufus gave her a reprimanding look.

“I’m just answering the question,” Potter told her, frowning. Then he paused. “Wait,” he said, glancing at Umbridge. “How do you know Mr Polkiss is a solicitor?” The colour drained from Umbridge’s flabby face and Rufus smothered a groan.

“Auror Scrimgeour just said-”

“I know what he said,” Potter told her, still frowning. “But he didn’t say anything about Mr Polkiss until now, and he didn’t mention that he’s a solicitor.”

“And?” Umbridge asked, trying to cover up her blunder with bravado.

“And you’ve been in here with me and that Healer and Mrs Scoote-”

“Wendy’s fine, dear,” Scoote said, sitting very still.

“-for hours... which means you knew before Mr Scrimgeour came in here.” He turned his frown on Rufus. “What’s going on?”

“Thank you very much for that, Umbridge,” Rufus said irritably, and Umbridge shrank into her chair; the woman had high career aspirations and she certainly wasn’t going to reach them if she kept upsetting Rufus. “Look, Potter-”

“Scrimgeour!” Moody barked, and the door flung open. Rufus’ wand was up in an instant, and he saw Potter’s hand jump to his pocket, even though his wand had been confiscated days ago. “Scared you, did I?” Moody growled, looking curiously at Potter. “Constant vigilance!” Rufus knew it was coming, but it startled the other three. After he’d recovered, though, Potter laughed to himself. “He’s getting impatient,” Moody said, glancing at the boy with one eye. As Moody had been down in the cells with Robards and Black for the last few hours, it wasn’t hard to guess who ‘he’ was.

“And?” Rufus asked irritably, stuffing his wand into his robes.

“And I bloody hope you’ve found something, because time’s up,” Moody said grimly.

“What time?” Potter asked, looking between them.

“Nothing,” Rufus replied stiffly, answering both Moody and Potter’s questions. Moody’s face fell.

“Guess there’s no choice then,” he growled, and limped out. Rufus could hear him shouting at every available Auror on the floor. “Right! Sort out a roster, you lot and quickly because they’re not to be left alone! We’re going to need three people in there, armed and alert at all times and if you even think-”

“What time’s up?” Potter asked again as the door clicked shut and muffled Moody’s voice.

“Yours,” Rufus said. “You’ve got a new home, Mr Potter.”

*                    *                     *

“Through you go, lad,” Moody said.

“But-” Harry stopped walking and looked up at Dumbledore, who was walking just behind him – the corridor was too narrow for them to walk side-by-side. “-but, sir, there’s a wall there.”

“It’s not a wall, dear boy,” Dumbledore said kindly. “Here.” With some difficulty, the older man squeezed past Harry, Scrimgeour, Moody and a blond, eyepatched Auror called McDuff. Then, before Harry’s eyes, Dumbledore strode through and vanished. Harry jumped back, alarmed. Then, Dumbledore’s head popped back through, startling him again. “It’s quite safe,” he said. Harry walked forward and he was going to hit it, going to walk face first into- nothing. Just cold air. Harry glanced around. They were in a small chamber – they, being him, Dumbledore and Moody, who’d just come through – with a lift at one end. The lift was guarded by two cloaked men.

“It’s cold down here,” Harry offered, shoving his hands into his pockets. He felt the drawing Ginny had left behind – a dragon breathing fire on the Chudley Cannons crest - scrunch and hastily pulled his hands out again. He didn’t want to damage it.

Bet I would, too, he thought. I’m always ruining things – blowing up the training room at home. I bet Padfoot really is angry about that, but he just didn’t want to say anything. He didn’t want to hurt my feelings and now he’s probably back in Azkaban. He’d have been better off without me-

“Dementors,” Moody grunted, waving at the cloaked men.

“Dementors?” Harry asked, stiffening; he’d never seen one before, but he’d certainly heard about them. He didn’t move away, much as he wanted to, but he didn’t take a step forward either. McDuff almost trampled him as she stepped through the fake wall.

If there are Dementors around, though, then maybe Padfoot’s nearby. Maybe... maybe they’re taking me to see Padfoot? It didn’t make any sense to Harry, but he couldn’t think of anything better. Maybe they want to tell Padfoot that I have a new home, rub it in a bit... I bet I’ll absolutely hate it there. I bet I’ll be stuck with someone like Mr Malfoy. And then Padfoot will hate me too. He’ll get his trial and won’t want me bac- he won’t even get a trial, they’ll just give him to the Dementors...

Harry was struck by the sudden horrible thought that Padfoot – if he was indeed here – had been surrounded by Dementors for two days now. Padfoot was good at dealing with them – he’d survived Azkaban hadn’t he? - but what if this time tipped him over the edge? What if he’s mad? What if he’s sad, or hurt? What if he’s dea-

“Harry?” Harry yelped when he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up, gasping, at Dumbledore. “Are you all right, dear boy?”

“Fine,” he panted, looking at the Dementors. I bet it’s them. They’re making me think bad things. “I’m fine, sorry.”

Scrimgeour appeared through the wall behind him and didn’t break his stride; he walked straight past the Dementors and got into the lift. Everyone followed, including Harry, who didn’t want to be left alone down here. Someone screamed as he passed them.

He jumped again and glanced around, but no one else seemed to have heard anything, so he pretended he hadn’t either. He thought he could still hear the voice screaming as the lift shuddered and dropped, but he ignored it. It was probably the Dementors again.

There were more Dementors downstairs, but there was also a door – many doors, actually – through which Harry could see Padfoot. His heart leapt and he must have made a noise because Dumbledore looked down at him. Harry grinned back.

Padfoot backed away from the little window in the door as soon as he spotted them and Harry was seized by momentary panic; what if Padfoot didn’t want to see him? Most of it was the Dementors, but some of it was Harry’s own worries.

Scrimgeour and Moody muttered something to each other and peered through the window, before opening the door. They both filed in and then Dumbledore put a firm hand on Harry’s shoulder and they strode into the cell.

It was smallish – Harry thought he could walk from one side to the other in ten steps, and from front to back in fifteen – with two small beds in one corner, a curtained off area in another, and a table with five chairs (one on the far side, four on the door-side) in the middle of the room. Everything in the room was white.

Except for the Black.

Padfoot was grinning ear to ear at Harry and seemed to be struggling to stay seated on the bed – Moody’s glare seemed to promise trouble if he didn’t – so Harry solved that problem for him.

He shrugged Dumbledore’s hand off – Dumbledore made a noise of protest - and launched himself across the room. Moody and McDuff tried to intercept him but he dodged them both – McDuff was easy, because her depth perception was a bit off - and flung himself onto Padfoot, who was knocked onto his back by the force of impact. Padfoot was shaking as he hugged Harry back and Harry felt something wet land on his face.

“Are you crying?” Harry asked, feeling as though he might cry himself.

“Yep,” Padfoot choked, releasing Harry a little bit. “I’ve got a broken rib which you’ve just landed on.” Harry scrambled off and was immediately grabbed by Moody, who put himself between Harry and Padfoot. “Oh please. If anyone down here needs protecting it’s me. Did you see him attack me just then?” He chuckled at his joke, but he was still clutching his side and the skin around his eyes was tight.

“Sorry,” Harry said stricken, from behind Moody.

“You didn’t know,” Padfoot said dismissively and laughed again. “Bloody hell, that hurt.” He didn’t sound angry, though.

Or is he hiding it? I bet I really hurt him. What if I made it worse? What if-

“Not Harry!”

“What?” Harry asked, looking up at McDuff. She was a tall woman, but she looked taller than before. Actually, everyone did. It took Harry another moment to realise that he was on the ground. And he was freezing. McDuff looked confused.

“I didn’t say-”

“I’m not going to hurt him,” Padfoot said angrily. “Your bloody Dementors are doing that well enough, I think.”

“-Harry! Please – I’ll do anything-!”

“What?” Harry asked again, focusing on McDuff again.

“Move if you know what’s good for you,” Padfoot snapped, shoving past Moody. “And someone cast a Patronus! Or better yet, send those damn guards away.” Padfoot knelt down and waved his hand in front of Harry’s face. Harry saw something silver streak out of Dumbledore’s wand and land by the door. “You with me, kiddo?” Harry looked at McDuff with wide eyes; she looked calm for a woman who he was sure had been screaming just a moment ago. Reluctantly, he nodded.

“Get rid of them,” Padfoot said, turning back to Scrimgeour.

“I intend to,” Scrimgeour said. “I just want you to understand that I’m not doing it because you’ve told me to.”

“I don’t care why you do it as long as it’s done!” Padfoot snapped. He helped Harry up and over to one of the beds and sat down beside him, while Scrimgeour and the McDuff slipped out of the cell.

“I’m fine,” Harry said, which was mostly true; he was still a bit shaky, but he was warm again. Dumbledore approached, wand still in hand, controlling the large silvery blue bird over by the door. He gave Padfoot a warning look and knelt down beside Harry.

“Here,” he said, producing a chocolate frog from somewhere in his robes.

“Thanks,” Harry said, taking it.

“Chocolate is-”

“Good after Dementors,” Harry said, tearing open the packaging. “I know.” Dumbledore watched him through his half-moon spectacles for a long moment and then his blue eyes flicked to Padfoot.

“I suppose you would,” he said finally. Harry broke off one of the frog’s legs and offered it to Padfoot, who wrinkled his nose and shook his head.

“It wasn’t offered to me,” he said.

“I’m-” Harry began, but Padfoot shook his head again and offered him a small smile. Then, he tapped his temple, and Harry realised Padfoot must be using Occlumency again. Harry took bite and then stuffed the rest of the frog in when he realised how good it tasted. Padfoot chuckled and ruffled his hair, and Harry couldn’t believe how much he’d missed the gesture. Dumbledore continued to watch Padfoot with a rather hostile expression, which became helpless when his gaze returned to Harry.

“You will have a guard,” Dumbledore said finally.

“Ridiculous,” Padfoot said, nodding. “But I expected it.”

“I’m sure you did,” Moody muttered, rolling his mismatched eyes. Padfoot winked at him and the old Auror seemed disgruntled by that.

“They will be with you at all hours. If they think there’s even the slightest possibility that you’re going to hurt the boy, he will be removed.” Padfoot nodded. “Harry, if you feel at all threatened, all you need do is alert the Aurors on guard and you will be escorted to safety.” Dumbledore looked nervous.

“I get to stay here?” Harry asked. “With you?” Padfoot pulled a small stack of stapled paper out of his robes, unfolded it and passed it to Harry. Harry didn’t know exactly what all of the long-winded writing said but he got the gist; Padfoot was his guardian now, formally. Aunt Petunia had signed this and given Padfoot full custody of Harry. “Is this blood?” he asked, looking at Padfoot’s signature.

“It’s an old tradition,” Padfoot said, shrugging. “Supposedly it makes everything more official. I explained this to you when we left your aunt’s last year.”

“Oh,” Harry said, “Yeah. Right.”

“And yes, as your guardian-” His emphasis had Moody scowling. “-it’s appropriate for me to have you staying with me, as long as they can’t prove I’m a danger to you. I know the holding cells aren’t exactly comfortable, but I thought-” Harry hugged him again, but was gentler this time. Padfoot smiled and ruffled his hair again. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s what I thought.”

*                     *                     *

“Lupin!” Remus hurriedly cleared his expression and spun around. Snape was marching toward him, scowling.

“Snape,” he replied, trying to sound dejected.

“Interesting that you sought refuge here, of all places,” Snape remarked, looking at the sign on the office behind Remus.

“Can I help you?” Remus asked, refusing to rise to the bait.

“In two ways,” Snape said, stopping a few feet from him. “The Tonks girl is looking for you. She seems concerned for your wellbeing.”

“Oh,” Remus said; he’d run off when Sirius held up the guardianship forms. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but the alternative had been to burst out laughing. Better that everyone assumed he was horrendously upset, than conspiring with Sirius. “Right. I’ll find her-”

“See to it that you do. If I have to see her absurdly colourful head once more this afternoon, I might just hex it off.” Remus arched an eyebrow. “‘Professor, have you seen Remus? He’s gone missing!’” Snape leered at Remus, who frowned. “I assured her someone would read your collar and return you to her, but she’s growing... impatient.” His dark eyes glittered.

“Right,” Remus said. “I’ll just-”

“When’s the full moon, Lupin?” Snape asked, as Remus made to leave.

“A week exactly,” Remus said carefully. “Why?”

“I have need of the information,” Snape said, “and I’d look it up, but I know how intimately familiar you are with that particular-”

“Right,” Remus said for the third time. “Was that all you needed, or did you want to rub it in some more?”

“That was all,” Snape said, his sneer slipping off; his sallow face looked rather pale.

“Is everything all right?” Remus heard himself ask.

“Not exactly,” Snape said, and for a moment he looked troubled, before he schooled his expression again.

“Can I help?” Remus asked.

“I doubt it; I assume you’ll be likewise... indisposed.” Snape’s eyes were glittering again, in that rather malicious way Remus knew well. “Unless a cure’s been developed since I last checked...?” Remus frowned at him. “I didn’t think so,” Snape sneered, and swept off.

Git, Remus thought, rolling his eyes. He picked himself up off the bench and headed for the lift; Dora would be somewhere on Level Two, with the rest of the Aurors and trainees.

The lift opened and the cool announcer’s voice said, “Level Four, Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.”

“Excuse me.” An elderly woman with a hissing Kneazle under her arm stepped off and Remus got in and pressed the button for Level Two.

*                      *                     *

Harry was mumbling something, but was fast asleep, apparently not bothered even slightly by the faint light coming from Marlene’s wand; she’d been forbidden to put it out, in case Sirius crept over and attacked them. Sirius rolled over and his blankets rustled.

“Would you please be quiet?” Marlene growled. Sirius didn’t answer her, and he did, amazingly, stop moving. She’d have thought he’d move around more, just to annoy her. “Thank you,” she said, and he kept ignoring her. She didn’t like it.

She’d been on guard duty – with Gawain and Proudfoot, who were slumped, asleep in the chairs on either side of her – for the past nine hours. Sirius was yet to speak to her. There’d been no cheerful greeting, no witty remarks, no... nothing. Not to her. Gawain and Proudfoot had chatted to him for quite a bit, and Sirius had chattered to Harry when he hadn’t been talking to them. And she’d been ignored.

Sirius hadn’t ignored her before, ever.

“Sirius,” she said, holding her wand up. She saw his eyes gleam in the light, but then they closed. “I know you’re not sleeping,” she said. Still nothing. “Sirius.”

“What?” he snapped, sounding exasperated. He rolled over and propped himself up on one elbow. “Did you want something, McKinnon?”

“I-” She snapped her mouth shut and looked away, unable to deal with him looking at her like that – like he didn’t even know her. “Why are you calling me that?” she asked, finally, forcing herself to look at him again. His expression hadn’t changed.

“Calling you what?” he asked. “Your name?”

“My name’s Marlene,” she said, before she could stop herself.

“I know what your name is, McKinnon,” he said, and she jerked away as if he’d slapped her. He yawned, his hard expression giving way to a tired one. “Was there something you wanted, or can I go back to trying to sleep?”

She didn’t know how to word what she wanted – she’d sound stupid if she tried to ask him to stop treating her strangely – so she muttered, “Yeah, sleep.”

“Robards is asleep now, isn’t he?”

“I think so,” she said, peering at her mentor; he’d pretended to sleep – obviously he didn’t trust her alone with Sirius – but she thought he’d actually dozed off about an hour ago.

“Hmm,” Sirius said. He pulled Harry’s blanket up – Harry had been kicking in his sleep earlier and pushed it down – and then ruffled the boy’s hair before sinking into his own bed and rolling over to face the wall.

“What does ‘hmm’ mean?” she asked, squinting at his dim form. Sirius ignored her again and Marlene felt confused tears sting her eyes. “Sirius?” She heard him take a deep breath in and then let it out in a sigh. She blinked to make sure she wasn’t going to cry. “Sirius.

Marlene got to her feet and crossed the room; she knew Sirius had heard her coming – his back stiffened – but he didn’t turn around. She skirted Harry’s bed and then yanked Sirius over by his shoulder. He didn’t resist, but his hands darted to his side, as if to brace it.

He didn’t say anything either, just watched her, and shifted slightly, still holding his side. It was maddening. She could have understood it if he’d been afraid of her – she’d almost expected it – or if he’d hated her. She’d hoped for that. No, instead, he looked at her as if she was nothing to him. There was no spark of mischief in his grey eyes, no warmth, no humour. Just calm... curiosity was too strong a word... awareness, that she was there, that she existed.

“Yes?” he asked. She released his shoulder and let her hand fall to her side. It felt cold, empty.

Don’t be stupid, she told herself. You hate him, remember?

But she didn’t right now. She should have; he’d managed to gain legal custody of Harry, she’d failed to kill him two days ago and now she’d had to give up her night to guard him. It was hard, though, to hate him when he looked at her so... dispassionately. Like he didn’t care what she thought, that she was even there. Like she wasn’t worth his time. Like she’d betrayed him, only there was no anger in his eyes.

“I’m nothing to you,” she whispered, not sure if the was telling him that, or asking him.

“No,” he said stiffly. “You’re not.”

Marlene tucked her hair behind her ear and backed away to the chair she’d been sitting in before. Sirius had rolled over again, and there was no chance of him seeing the way her lip had startled to tremble. She took a few steadying breaths and sniffed, trying not to cry.

“Would you please be quiet,” he said, in the exact same tone she’d used with him before. Marlene swallowed and shook Proudfoot awake; she didn’t want Gawain to see her like this, because he’d want to know what had upset her and she didn’t want to have that conversation. Ever.

“McKinnon?” Proudfoot said blearily.

“I’ve got to go,” she said, and her voice sounded strained even to her own ears. She could only imagine what Proudfoot must think. “I’ll send someone else down.”

“Are you all right?” he called.

“No,” she said thickly. “Not really.” She flicked her wand at the door and ran out of it, not caring what Sirius or Proudfoot thought. She made sure it was locked again and then went to declare herself to Mad-Eye, who was standing by his chair, guarding the outside – Scrimgeour had apparently thought it was too dangerous to leave the Dementors guarding the cell while Harry was in it.

“McKinnon,” he said, and Savage – who was sleeping in a chair on the other side of the corridor - jerked and mumbled something. “What’s-”

“I can’t be in there,” she said, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand. “I- he-”

“It’s not easy, is it?” he asked grimly. “We’ll swap,” he said, taking a sip from his hipflask. “Just wake Sava-”

“Let him sleep,” she said, shaking her head. “I won’t.” Mad-Eye patted her shoulder and limped into the cell. Marlene sank into his chair, pulled her knees up to her chest, and began to cry quietly.

*                     *                     *

“I knew you’d come,” Fenrir said, smiling at his visitor. There were tear track on her cheeks, her nose was red and her eyes were far away.

“Did you?” she asked flatly.

“Yes,” Fenrir said eagerly, crawling toward the bars. She watched him, impassive. “You’ve come to rescue me.”

“You’re mad already,” she said, disgusted, pulling her robes out of his reach. His hand fell to the grey, stony ground. There was silence, and the wind whipped her hair around her face. “I haven’t come to help you.”

“Why are you here then?” he asked, confused.

“Because I want to know what happened,” she said, staring down at him. Her dark eyes were cold, disapproving.

“I’ve made you strong,” he said, beaming. A Dementor passed behind her and they both shivered.

“No,” she said. “I did that.”

“I Gifted you.” Her lip curled.

“You ruined me – my old life’s gone, thanks to you. I had to drop my old friends, my family. My parents look at me and they’re terrified.”

“So they should be. You’re more powerful than they could even imagine-”

“My father-”

“I am your father,” he said, pressing himself against the bars to get closer to her. He took a deep breath, inhaling her sweet, sweet, scent, the scent that had evaded him for nearly a year and a half.

“You’re a monster,” she said firmly. “We both are.”

“Is that why you’ve done it, then?” he asked, reaching for her hand. “Is that why you’ve joined them?” His hand closed around her smaller one. She stared at it in shock, but there was a look of yearning on her face too. “Feels good, doesn’t it? Warm. I bet no one’s held your hand since-” She yanked her hand out of his and took a step back, still staring at her fingers. Fenrir held his hand to his nose and breathed in.

“I asked you a question,” she said.

“You want to know what happened?” Fenrir asked. She nodded, her eyes bright and wary. “Free me.” A Dementor swooped in from behind her and Fenrir howled and crawled to the back of his cell. He was cold, so cold, and it was dark, even with his eyesight.

He lost track of time, but when he sat up, she was still there, still watching him. Her shoulders were shaking and there were fresh tears on her cheeks but she was there.

“I did make you strong,” he said, dragging himself forward.

“What happened?” she asked, folding her arms.

“Free me.”

“I hope you rot,” she spat. “Answer the question.”

“Manners, Daughter.”

“Answers, Father,” she said in a brittle voice.

“I waited until he was alone,” he whispered, encouraged; she’d called him father! “Then I knocked on the door and asked to come in. He was so polite, so friendly.” He heard her teeth grind together. “Scared, once I pulled out my wand, but I like them that way. He fought, but I overpowered him. He tried to lie.” Fenrir wheezed a laugh. “I smelled it right away, of course. Little fool.” He laughed again and bared his teeth. “I don’t like it when people lie.” She was drinking in every word, but he could smell her horror, her fury.

“I got my answers eventually. I won’t tell you how.” He smiled up at his daughter. Her face was white in the light of the almost-full moon above them. “He would have lived though. I took his wand and I was leaving, when I heard him say something. I don’t know what he said, but he was talking into a golden pocket watch. He was trying to warn someone.” Fenrir snorted. “I could have left him alive, but-”

“But you didn’t,” she said, her face hardening.

“He chose his own fate,” he said, shrugging. “I just helped him along. I suppose he was a little lion? So brave and self-sacrificing...”

“Actually,” she said. “He was a snake.” She knelt down, bringing them to the same height for the first time. “And snakes are poisonous.” Fenrir’s smile widened and he decided to play along.

“But I wasn’t bitten.” She raised an eyebrow and stood up. He shifted closer to the bars.

“Really?” she asked, and smiled once, cruelly. “What’s Azkaban if it’s not a poison?”

She turned on her heel and strode away as the Dementors closed in.

*                      *                      *

It wasn’t supposed to have happened this way. Humiliation after humiliation was all that Sirius Black had brought the Ministry; first he’d been an Auror, and then he’d betrayed them all, then he’d escaped the inescapable prison, then he’d kidnapped a boy, a boy not even the Ministry had known where to find. Then, Black had evaded them for months before losing Potter and stealing him back from right under everyone’s noses a week later. Then he’d evaded them for another few months before surrendering in the middle of Diagon Alley.

Then he’d deflected their questions, forbidden them from questioning the Potter boy and then managed to steal the Potter boy back yet again all without breaking a single law, and all without moving from his tiny cell at the bottom of the Ministry. He and Potter had lived there for three days now, quite comfortably.

It was maddening. Britain was sure to become a laughing stock because of one stupid, stubborn man.

“Ten of you, I think,” she said with a smile.

It would be better this way; if she failed, she had nothing to lose. No one could whisper her name in the wrong ear, and no one would give her away. Absolute loyalty was part of the contract. Loyalty to the Ministry. And she was the Ministry. If she succeeded, she’d be a hero. Minister in a year, probably sooner. She’d be sorry to see Cornelius lose his job but really, he was too soft-hearted to do what needed to be done, and he had no aspirations for the future of the wizarding world. Perhaps he could be her Under-Secretary. Advice was always welcome, and she did like Cornelius.

“Seven are to deal with the Aurors. Don’t hurt them if you can help it,” she warned. “Just don’t let them interfere until the job is done.”

But Sirius Black had to go. No one would miss him. The man was a lunatic, a criminal. Perhaps Potter would be sad but he was young. He’d move on, forget. Lucius Malfoy would give the boy a good home, and give her a good reward. It was all for the best, all for the good of the Ministry.

Perhaps she’d even get an Order of Merlin. She deserved one, surely; she’d been in the same position for fifteen years, doing the same boring things with the same boring people, training up the same boring trainees – Albert or something was the one she had currently and she’d be glad to see the back of him. She didn’t even like children. Yes, an Order of Merlin, First Class, for her patience.

“Three of you can deal with Black and Potter. Don’t hurt the boy, but don’t let him interfere either.”

Lucius would blame her if harm came to him, and Lucius was the sort of man who could give her the world, or take it away. She didn’t like it when things were taken from her. Even as a girl, she’d hated it when her sister Alegria borrowed her things. Her mother had always encouraged her to share, but her mother was a fool who spent her time with her head floating around like those silly cupids she kept in her teashop. Her mother had good decorative sense, but not much else; sharing was for the weak.

“And a Kiss should do for Black.”

The strong took what they wanted and the weak shared what was left. She wasn’t a weak woman. She was capable of doing what needed to be done.

“See to it that it happens.”

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