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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 48 : A Long Night In Hell
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4


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“It’s cold down here,” Ben said, trying to make conversation. He missed Melvin like mad but he’d never been one that was able to stay sad for long. He just got on with things. Tonks was the same, as far as he could tell, and so was Shacklebolt. Florence still cried lots and was unnervingly quiet when she wasn’t crying. None of them had seen much of McKinnon for a few days, so he didn’t even know how she was.

You leave, mate, Ben thought glumly, and everything falls apart.

He looked over at Finch, who had puffy eyes and a downturned mouth. Finch was usually so cheerful, but he hadn’t seen her smile all week.

“Are you cold?” Ben asked, and Finch looked over at him. He wondered if she’d even heard and considered repeating himself.

“A bit,” she said thickly. “Why? Are you?” Ben pulled his robes tighter and shivered.

“I-” He stared at his breath, misty white in the clear air. Then he glanced at Finch, who was frowning. The lift doors opened and a swarm of black drifted out. Ben counted five Dementors. They didn’t come forward, though. They just hovered on the other side of the chamber. “What are they doing down here?” he asked Finch, whose eyes were blank. “Finch? Lyra?”

“I’m sorry, Melvin,” she whispered.

“I’m not Melvin,” Ben said, shaking her shoulder. “I’m Ben.”

“I’m so sorry,” Finch whispered, covering her face with her hands. She sat down and began to sob. One of the Dementors turned its head in Ben’s direction. Ben didn’t like Dementors, but he’d also had a fairly sheltered life; of his friends, he’d always fared the best when their duties as trainees brought them into contact with Dementors. He’d never lost anyone until Melvin, never seen anything horrific, and his biggest regret was his prejudice against Slytherins, which he’d more or less overcome.

“Lyra?” Ben said, shaking her shoulder again.

“Sorry,” she whispered, and he’d have bet his job that she was remembering the morning she’d found Melvin. As an Auror, she’d seen some pretty terrible things, but he thought it was probably worse because she’d known Melvin personally. He hadn’t just been a nameless stranger. “I should have answered, shouldn’t have just let it burn-” The lift opened and another five Dementors swept out.

“Hey!” Ben called over his shoulder. He pulled his wand out, knowing it wouldn’t do much; he’d never learned to cast a Patronus. “Hey! McDuff! Louisson! Yaxley! Hey! Help!”

“Wellingt-” McDuff’s head appeared through the bars on Black’s cell door. “Oh my. Yaxley, wake Louisson. Quickly, girl!”

“Stay back!” Ben warned, but the Dementors were creeping forward. “Depulso. Ventus.” Neither spell was overly effective.

“-Dementors,” he heard McDuff say.

“I told you I could feel them,” an unfamiliar male voice said, but he sounded worried. “I thought Scrimgeour’d told them to stay away.”

“He did,” Louisson replied. “Hold tight, Black. We’ll be back in a bit.” The door opened and McDuff, Louisson and Yaxley filed out, wands up. Louisson went straight to Finch, while McDuff stomped up to the Dementors. Yaxley came to stand beside Ben, looking nervous.

“You’ve been dismissed from guard duty down here,” McDuff said, waving her wand warningly. “I don’t know who’s sent you, but I know you’re trouble and you’re not staying down here until I’ve got a message signed by Scrimgeour himself that gives you permission.” Louisson had moved the now-limp Finch to the side of the chamber and joined McDuff.

“Back you go,” he said. “Go on.” When none of them back away, Louisson’s jaw tightened. “McDuff, if you’d be so kind-”

“Sorry,” Lyra babbled. “Sorry, Melvin-”

Expecto-” McDuff began, but a Dementor seized her chin with its skeletal, scabby hand.

Relashio!” Louisson and Ben cried in synchronisation. There was a flash and McDuff fell backwards. Two Dementors separated from the group and came to grip Ben’s arms. Two had done the same to Louisson. “Unhand me you-” Louisson began, trying to shake them off. All he managed to do was drop his wand, however. Ben struggled and kicked, but there were no feet to sweep away.

Expecto Patron- NO! McDuff shrieked as a Dementor gripped her chin again. Ben tried to aim his wand, but the Dementors holding his arms were firm. He couldn’t even see her properly.

“Do something!” he shouted at Yaxley, but she was shivering, her back pressed up against the wall, her wand resting uselessly on the ground beside her. Ice raced up the walls and McDuff’s screams cut off.

“No!” Louisson bellowed. Ben managed to get a good look and saw McDuff, lying on the floor with a blank, almost dreamy look on her face. Her mouth hung open. “No! How dare you-” Louisson cut off with a whimper.

Someone swore over near Yaxley, but the voice was too deep to belong to her. Ben saw a pale face peering through the bars of the window in the cell’s door. Black. Black swore again and looked at Ben.

“Can you do a Patronus?” he asked in the same, no-nonsense tone he’d come to expect from all Aurors. Ben shook his head and tugged uselessly at the Dementors holding him. “You? Yaxley, was it?” Yaxley shivered and shook her head. “Let me help you,” he said.

“What?” Yaxley asked.

“We don’t need your help, Black,” Louisson said. “We’re doing just fine, thank you-”

“Fine?” Black asked loudly. “McDuff’s been Kissed, you idiot!” He turned back to Yaxley. “Give me a wand – I promise I’ll only cast a Patronus and then I’ll give it straight back-”

“Rubbish! We can’t trust him!” Louisson shouted. “Salacia, don’t you dare!” Yaxley looked up at Black and then at Louisson, who was being dragged over to where Finch and McDuff sat, huddled against the wall. “No!”

“I can help you,” Black said, his eyes wide and earnest from the other side of the bars. Ben believed him. He tried to throw his wand in Black’s direction but the Dementors were holding him too firmly. His wand landed with a clatter and rolled out of reach.

“We can’t- He’s a prisoner! He can’t be trust- ah!” The Dementors released Louisson who let out a squeak and curled up.

“Yaxley!” Black said urgently. “Let me help, please!”

“Louisson,” Yaxley whispered, sounding scared, “what do I-”

“Give him the wand!” Ben snapped. With a massive heave, he managed to pull an arm free but it was caught again a moment later and a third Dementor came to hover before him, hand outstretched. Ben shrank back, head turned away.

“Please,” Black said.

“No!” Louisson shrieked.

“Give him the damn wand!” Ben bellowed. Yaxley let out a sob and flung her wand away – it rolled over toward Finch and Ben’s heart sank. “The door, Black! The door’s unlocked! Black-”

Whatever hope Ben had harboured that Black might save them faded quickly; Black shoved the door open, but a Dementor was there to intercept him. Black shut the door again and Ben caught a glimpse of his face through the bars. Then the Dementor moved to block it from view, its hand lifting to remove its hood. It took a rattling breath and Ben prayed Black had the sense to move.

Thankfully, he heard footsteps and a whisper; Black saying something to Potter, or perhaps it was the other way around. The Dementor dropped its hand to the door and pulled it open. Yaxley gasped as it passed her.

“Padfoot...” Ben heard Potter said, and something in Ben broke. He started struggling again and his shoulder popped but the Dementors holding him refused to let go. Black was a grown man – quite possibly a murderous one – but Potter... Potter was just a kid. An innocent.

They dragged Ben over to where Louisson, Finch and McDuff were – about three yards from Black’s cell and another three yards from the lift - and then released. He rubbed his shoulder as Yaxley scrambled over to join them. Ben wondered if it was fear that made her move, or if it was her Slytherin-born survival instincts. He decided it didn’t matter much. He could feel her trembling.

“Give me Potter!” Ben said desperately, yanking on the cloak of the nearest Dementor while another one joined the first in the doorway of the cell. “Please! He’s just a kid, just-”

“Please,” he heard Black say. A third Dementor joined the other two, but this one moved past them. Ben heard hasty footsteps, and the sound that was quickly becoming his greatest fear; the rattle of a Dementor’s breathing.

Ben eyed Louisson’s fallen wand and the Dementors; the seven surrounding him, Finch, McDuff, Louisson and Yaxley were all focused on the cell. It was obvious that no one else could or – in Yaxley’s case – would be any help. Been steeled himself and dove for it. His fingertips brushed wood and then cold pressed in on him from all sides and the rattling was deafening. He couldn’t move, couldn’t see. Everything was dark. Something clammy touched his sore shoulder and he was guided - rather forcefully - back to the others.

Louisson was hunched over his hands, muttering and the other three were slumped against the wall, though at least Yaxley’s eyes were in focus.

Am I the only sane one left? Ben wondered, coughing; the freezing air was burning his lungs.

“No!” Louisson said, clutching his hands to his chest. “No, let me- I’m your superior! Don’t come near me-” Ben was shoved aside, into Yaxley, while two Dementors closed in on Louisson.

“Stop!” Ben yelled, prising a scabbed hand off of Louisson’s face. “Let him go- stop it!” Bony fingers pressed into Ben’s shoulder. His shoulder stiffened. It felt like it was freezing. He struggled through the pain, but the hand holding him was firm.

“Let me go!” Ben knew what was coming but was powerless to stop it. He squeezed his eyes shut and turned away, stomach churning. Tears ran down his cheeks and his nose was stuffy. He heard Louisson’s breath catch, his protests die, heard the horrible rattling inhale, felt the temperature plummet. He heard something land with a ringing sound.

“Oh my Merlin,” Yaxley sobbed through her hands. “He’s- they just-”

Ben crawled over to the thing that had rolled out of Louisson’s limp hand, and the Dementors let him. It was a Sidekick, slightly ajar. Ben picked it up, hoping, praying that maybe the Dementors hadn’t noticed what he was holding. They had, though. The hand was back on his shoulder, not restraining him, just... there. Maybe it was a warning, or maybe he was next.

Ben quickly weighed his options; Finch couldn’t help them, and even if he could get Yaxley to help, it would still be two against seven. They were bad odds, particularly when Ben was part of the two.

Please don’t let this be an enormous mistake, Ben thought, and snapped the Sidekick shut. He rolled it away and it landed near Yaxley’s wand. The hand on his shoulder vanished and Ben’s eyes filled with scared, relieved tears. Yaxley was crying too; she shifted, pressing herself up against the wall beside him.

“No Sidekicks,” he whispered. “Okay?” Ben reached for Finch, who immediately latched onto his side. “We’ll get through this.” They sat, hardly moving, and the Dementors made no move to hurt the rest of them. Ben thought they might be okay.

“Black?” Ben said in a voice that was half whisper. All three Dementors were in the cell now and the door was open, but Ben couldn’t see any of them – Black, Potter, or the Dementors. “Black? Are you- can you hear me?” Yaxley let out another sob. “Potter?” There was no response from him either. “Black?”

*                     *                     *

“Black?”

Sirius bit his lip but didn’t dare turn his head to look for the source of the sound. Padfoot stood in front of him, ears back, hackles raised, glowing a blue-grey. Padfoot’s nose was inches from the rusted bars of Sirius’ cell and on the other side of those were three Dementors, waiting.

“Black?” The voice echoed down from the grey Azkaban sky, but it sounded like it was coming through water, not air. The kid sounded scared, but there was nothing Sirius could do for him, much as he’d have liked to.

Something knocked the back of Sirius’ knee and he glanced down instinctively, even though there was nothing there. Harry was in the real world, with Sirius’ body, not in his head with his mental self. Sirius wished he could have brought Harry here; Harry would have been safe here, with Padfoot to protect him.

Harry wasn’t safe where he was, though. He was freezing, trapped in a world of his very worst nightmares. And Sirius could do nothing except keep the Dementors from Kissing them. He’d never felt so helpless. He knew keeping the Dementors at bay without a wand was impressive, but it didn’t feel it, not when he wasn’t able to do anything else.

So, while he sat, mostly safe - the edges of his mental reality had started to blur and Padfoot wasn’t as bright as he had been - and unaffected in the confines of his mind, Harry was suffering, and the Aurors and trainees were suffering.

If Sirius returned to bodily consciousness, though, he’d be overwhelmed – his mind was safe, but Kisses were physical. All it would take was one Dementor to get a grip on him and it would all be over. Right now, all that stood between the Dementors and his soul was using Padfoot to force the Dementors to keep their distance.

No, Sirius thought, retreating; his lapse of concentration had allowed the Dementors to get into the cell. He backed away, Padfoot guarding his front and bolstered his Patronus with more happy memories. It was too late, though; the Dementors were inside. Sirius pressed himself against the wall covered in outdated tally marks.

“Black?”

If he’s screaming, he’s still got his soul, Sirius thought, but he drew little comfort from that. He wished he could say something - anything - that might comfort the kid but it wasn’t worth the risk of returning to his body. He’ll be all right. We’ll all be all right. He found a memory – James, Remus and Peter studying in the Gryffindor common room, eating food he and James had stolen from the kitchens – and passed it over to Padfoot. Padfoot glowed a little brighter and the Dementors in his head retreated an inch. Hopefully the real Dementors had retreated a bit too.

“Black?” the trainee’s voice echoed around the cell again.

Focus, he told himself, and started digging for other happy memories; he’d need another one in a few seconds. One of the Dementors moved around, trying to take him from the side. Sirius funnelled more into Padfoot and wedged himself into a corner, with Padfoot in front of him.

The Dementor drifted back into line with its comrades, and the three of them resumed their patient watch. It was a battle of wills, one Sirius knew he’d win; how many times had Remus complained he was too stubborn for his own good? Will wouldn’t be enough, though. He couldn’t maintain Padfoot forever - not at this strength - and that’s what was going to matter. He’d get tired, run out of happy memories. And as soon as Padfoot weakened, he’d be swept aside and Sirius would be exposed.

No, he couldn’t outlast them. He could only hope that the next lot of Aurors made it down before his strength gave out. As if the Dementors had heard the thought, the rattling grew louder and ice raced over the walls of the cell. Even Sirius felt cold for a moment, before he forced another memory into Padfoot and the Patronus glowed a little brighter and chased away the cold. The effort had the edges of Sirius’ reality trembling again.

Focus, he thought again, firmly and gathered his resolve. Said resolve almost shattered when a new sound pierced his world. It wasn’t the trainee, and it wasn’t the Dementors’ breathing. Harry had whimpered.

Just a bit longer, Sirius thought, scrunching his hands into fists, as he heard something explode. The Aurors could be here at any moment. Just a bit longer.

*                     *                     *

Rufus glanced at Hemsley, Shacklebolt, Dale and Brown. Dale and Brown seemed oblivious, but Hemsley and Shacklebolt had been Aurors long enough to know when something wasn’t right. And something wasn’t right.

The lift plummeted deeper and it got colder and colder and Rufus’ sense of unease grew. Without a word, he drew his wand and the others did the same – even the trainees were looking wary now.

Rufus thought of his sister and her family and sent his fox Patronus through the opening lift doors. Shacklebolt’s lynx prowled out after it. Dale gasped and shrank back into Brown allowing Rufus to see into the chamber. Finely tuned skills allowed him to make a quick assessment.

All five Aurors who’d been on guard duty overnight were propped up against left-side wall, and in front of them were seven Dementors. There was no blood, and all of them were breathing. They were all alive. Good. A Sidekick and four wands were scattered over the floor of the room and Black’s cell door was open. The Dementors had turned to face the lynx and fox.

“Black!” Wellington said, and Yaxley - whose head had been resting on his shoulder – jerked, saw Rufus and the others, and promptly burst into tears. One of the Dementors moved forward, reaching for Wellington. Rufus sent his fox bounding forward, but Shacklebolt’s lynx beat it there, coming to the rescue of its master’s trainee.

The Dementor moved away at once – barely escaping a swipe from the lynx – and within seconds, Shacklebolt had all seven Dementors on the opposite side of the room, guarded by his Patronus. Shacklebolt hurried over to see to the others.

“Yvonne?” Hemsley asked, frowning. McDuff stirred but didn’t respond.

“Brown, help Shacklebolt,” Rufus barked, and the trainee hurried over. “Dale, since you don’t seem inclined to leave the lift, take it to the top and bring backup. Hemsley, you’re with me.” Hemsley tore his eyes off McDuff and followed Rufus across the room. Rufus sent his fox into Black’s cell first, just in case, and then stepped after it, afraid of what sight might greet him.

It looked like a warzone; the beds were overturned and the feathers from the pillows covered the white floor like snow. There were scorch marks on the walls and the curtain around the toilet, shower and sink had fallen down. The glass around the shower was cracked and the sink was spraying water all over the place.

It seemed empty, and Rufus’ first thought was that Black and Potter had set the Dementors on the Aurors and escaped. At that moment, though, a Dementor’s rattle caught his attention. Three of them were gathered in the very corner of the cell and Rufus didn’t hesitate before sending his Patronus streaking over to scatter them. It chased them out of the cell and Rufus heard Hemsley lock the cell door, though it was painfully obvious Black was in no condition to be attempting to escape.

Black’s eyes, which had been as empty and grey as the sky above Azkaban, focused on Rufus with alarming intensity and he steadied himself on the wall.

“Black?” Rufus said, stepping forward. Black opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, but his eyes rolled back into his head and he dropped like a stone, landing heavily on his side before Rufus could even think to cast a Cushioning Charm.

Black’s fall revealed Potter, who was curled up in the very corner of the cell and had apparently been sheltered behind Black. His face was as white as the cell walls and he had tear tracks on his cheeks. His eyes – which had been empty like Black’s – became wild and locked onto Black. Rufus and Hemsley jumped as one of the beds in the other corner burst into flames and the glass in the shower exploded and rained down on them all.

When everything settled, Rufus crouched down and edged a little closer to Potter, who was still watching his godfather.

“Potter,” he said softly, and Potter jerked and slowly raised his eyes. Rufus found he couldn’t meet them for long. There was terrible knowledge there and a haunted look that didn’t belong in a boy’s eyes – anyone’s eyes. He still looked a little wild.

“Sir!” Brown pushed the door open, his face as white as Potter’s. Wellington was beside him, looking unsteady but determined. “Wow,” Brown said, staring around at the destruction, which Rufus would have bet his job was Potter’s work – accidental, of course. “What happen-”

“Did you want something?” Rufus asked tersely, and Brown looked stricken.

“Oh. Yes, sir,” he said, his face paling again immediately. “It’s McDuff and Louisson, sir-”

“What about them?” Rufus asked.

“They’ve been... The Demento- Kissed, sir.” Brown looked at Hemsley as he said it, though his words were directed at Rufus; Hemsley’s face drained of colour and he ran out, shoving past Wellington, who swayed where he stood. Rufus glanced at Potter, who didn’t look like he’d be moving far any time soon – neither did Black for that matter – and Rufus’ healing skills weren’t good enough to give them what they needed; broken limbs and nasty curses he could handle, but fainting – from a cause other than poison - and mental trauma... not so much.

He followed Brown out of the cell and saw Hemsley shaking McDuff, and Shacklebolt waving his wand over Louisson while Yaxley talked to him in a low, shaky voice. Brown dropped down beside McDuff and put his hand on Hemsley’s shoulder.

A grinding noise made Rufus look up at the lift which opened; Moody limped out, followed by Robards, Taure, Klenner, Savage and Dumbledore – Rufus marvelled at his ability to be wherever things were happening – and with a look at the confined Dementors, stepped forward to share what he knew.

*                         *                        *

The doorbell chimed, startling Marlene. She stood up – her chair scraped on the wooden floor – and made her way upstairs, still nursing her cup of tea.

She unlocked the door – the muggle way, because she’d left her wand downstairs – and pulled it open.

“Sir?” she said, blinking. Gawain looked equally startled to see her - that was odd, given that it was her house – and for the second time that week, raised his wand in her direction and Disarmed her. Her teacup flew out of her hand and shattered on the hallway floor. Hot tea soaked Marlene’s dressing gown and dripped down the white walls. Gawain stepped inside and closed the door. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” she asked, steadying herself on the wall.

“Sorry,” he said tersely, and Vanished the mess. “Where’s your wand?”

“Next to the kettle,” she said, rather wishing she had it with her now. She folded her arms and drew herself up to her full height – a whole two inches taller than Gawain. “Have I done something wrong?” His eyes bored into hers and she stared back, confused, but resolute.

“You tell me.” She’d never heard Gawain sound so cold.

“I don’t know-”

“Tell me!” he snapped. Marlene’s eyes filled with tears. It didn’t take much to set her off at the moment. “Why are you crying?” he asked in a hard voice.

“Get out,” she told him. She stalked past him and pulled the door open.

“Excuse m-”

“I said get out!” she snapped. “I haven’t slept properly for days and I’m tired enough and confused-” Her voice broke on the word. “- enough without you adding to it!” Gawain opened his mouth but she cut him off. “Say whatever you came to say, or get out.” She pushed her hair – which she hadn’t brushed since yesterday morning – out of her face and gestured to her front doorstep. Gawain didn’t leave, however.

“You haven’t been sleeping?” he asked.

That’s what you got out of what I just said?” she asked, laughing once without humour. She closed the door again and headed off down the hallway.

“McKinnon, where are you going?”

“To get another cup of tea,” she said, without looking back at her mentor. She poured herself another cup when she reached the kitchen and settled herself at the table. Gawain – who’d followed her down - glanced at the kettle and then at Marlene, who waved a hand. He poured himself a cup and sat down opposite her.

“Thank you,” he said, and she just watched him over the brim of her cup. He sipped at his drink and then cleared his throat and set the cup down. “There was an attack at the Ministry overnight,” he said. Marlene didn’t say anything. “We lost McDuff and Louisson.”

“They’re dead?”

“Kissed.” Marlene’s stomach twisted; McDuff and Louisson had been on guard duty last night; it was supposed to have been her and Gawain but Marlene had pulled out, unable to face Sirius again. Louisson and Yaxley had taken their places. She didn’t know whether to feel relived or guilty.

“There were Dementors in the holding cells?” Marlene asked. Then, both dreading and hoping for Sirius’ name she said, “Was it only McDuff and Louisson, or-”

“No one else was Kissed,” Gawain said, and Marlene couldn’t imagine what her face must look like. She didn’t know how she felt.

“What were they doing down there? Scrimgeour sent them away-”

“Someone sent them back,” Gawain said, his eyes searching her face. Not liking the scrutiny, Marlene got up to refill her mug. “Ten Dementors were down in those cells for eight hours last night, seven with our lot, three in with Black and Potter.” Marlene’s insides twisted again, this time out of worry for Harry. “We don’t know who the target was, but Wellington thinks it was Black or Potter because if it had been one of them, the Dementors wouldn’t have bothered entering the cell. Scrimgeour agrees - Black and Potter were in a corner, completely surrounded, while our lot were just being watched - but it’s all speculation. McDuff and Louisson were the ones that were Kissed... maybe they were the targets.”

“You don’t think so?”

“Wellington and Yaxley both said McDuff was attacked while she tried to cast a Patronus, and that Louisson was trying to use his Sidekick.” Gawain shook his head. “And both were Kissed early on, but the Dementors were still there, hours later.”

“And if Wellington, Finch and Yaxley weren’t attacked, then it’s unlikely they were the targets,” Marlene muttered. “I think Wellington’s right.”

“So do I. Unfortunately, it makes things harder – Potter’s a good kid, but he’s the Boy-Who-Lived. He’s not without enemies, much as we’d like to pretend otherwise. And Merlin knows Black’s not a popular man. There’d be a shorter list of people that want him alive that those that want him dead.”

“Or Kissed.”

“Or Kissed,” Gawain agreed.

“Do we have any suspects?”

“It’s being looked into. So far I’ve got one.”

“Who?” Marlene asked. Gawain gave her a flat look. “M-me?” she stuttered, her eyes widening. “But-”

“You tried to kill him four days ago,” Gawain reminded her, as if she’d somehow forgotten. As if she could ever forget. “I’d be an idiot not to suspect you.”

“So you think I- that it was me?” she asked hoarsely, wondering what that meant for her now; she hadn’t done it, but how was she supposed to prove that?

“Was it?” Gawain asked.

“No! No, I’d never- Harry was there!” Marlene took a sip of tea to fortify herself. “Gawain, I wouldn’t- didn’t-”

“I thought that was the case,” he said, and drained his cup, “but I also doubted you’d be able to use an Unforgivable.” Marlene said nothing; she’d used her first Unforgivable at nineteen, to save Lily from a Death Eater. Gawain didn’t know about that, and he never would if she had it her way. “I’ve been wrong about you before.”

“You believe me though, don’t you?” Marlene asked desperately.

“You’re not the type to send others to attack people for you.” Again, Marlene said nothing, sure they were both thinking of her failed attempt on Sirius’ life four days ago. “Yes,” Gawain said finally. “I believe you.” Marlene’s eyes filled with tears again.

“Is Harry okay?” She asked the question out of genuine concern, but Gawain had also opened his mouth to say something – probably something comforting - and she didn’t think she could bear to listen to him.

“A few scratches from when he blew up the shower but otherwise he’s physically fine. Mentally, though...” Gawain shook his head and Marlene felt something inside her crumble. A few tears spilled over. “The Healers thought it might be best to Obliviate him, but they need his guardian’s  approval and Black hasn’t woken up yet.”

“Sirius is hurt?” Marlene heard herself ask.

“Broken ribs, but the rest is mental. The Healer who looked at him said he’s shut down. They were bringing in a Legillimens-” Gawain checked his Sidekick. “-about now, actually, to assess the internal damage.”

“Sirius survived Azkaban,” Marlene said, tracing the side of her mug with a shaking finger. “He’ll survive this.” She wasn’t sure if she was heartened by that thought, or disappointed. Gawain didn’t say anything, but he was frowning at his teacup. “Won’t he?”

“I don’t know,” Gawain said.

*                   *                     *

“-charms wear off eventually,” Moony agreed, and Harry might have thought it was nice that this, at least, could be discussed without Moony pretending to hate Padfoot, if it hadn’t been Harry they were discussing.

“Exactly,” Padfoot said, and Harry heard his chair scrape on the floor of the cell.

“So you want to let the boy suffer?” the Healer – who’d told Harry his name but Harry’d forgotten what it was – asked.

“I’d much rather not have him in this situation at all,” Padfoot said, and Harry twitched; his voice was closer than Harry’d expected. “But what he was thinking saw – whatever bad thoughts were forced on him while the Dementors were in here – will come back the next time he’s near a Dementor, and we’ll be in this same position.” Panic crept up on Harry and he pushed it down.

Listen. Just listen, don’t think, he told himself. And don’t sleep. Harry wondered if he’d ever sleep again.

“Are you anticipating more encounters with Dementors, Mr Black?” the Healer asked snidely. The Aurors on the far side of the room fell silent, obviously keen to hear Padfoot’s response.

“I wasn’t expecting this encounter,” Padfoot growled. His voice was right over Harry now, and then Harry felt a hand brush his hair.

Harry was careful to keep breathing deeply and not give himself away, although he badly wanted to speak to Padfoot; he’d been pretending to sleep to avoid questions about the night before and Padfoot had been unconscious until about an hour ago. Harry’d heard about forty minutes of healing and Padfoot swallowing potions and Legillimency talk – apparently the Legillimens had found a destroyed Azkaban in Padfoot’s head, and there’d been debate about what that meant - and Harry had almost ‘woken up’, when the conversation turned to Memory Charms. Padfoot sighed nearby and then Harry heard Padfoot’s chair scrape again.

“Whether you believe me or not, Leatherby, I do have Harry’s best interests at heart. I’m not happy – at all – that he had to go through what he went through-” Someone snorted – one of the Aurors, Harry thought, judging from the direction it had come from.

“Think that’s funny, Dawlish?” Scrimgeour asked in a rather dangerous voice. Scrimgeour hadn’t left all day; he seemed to have taken the Dementors’ presence as a personal insult and was determined to guard Harry and Padfoot and his Aurors himself. Harry hadn’t had much to do with Scrimgeour – and he hadn’t particularly liked him when he had been around – but he certainly admired the man’s determination.

“It’s Black,” Dawlish said, as if that explained everything. Harry’s hands tightened around his blanket. “He didn’t care about the Potters when he sold them to You-Know-Who-”

There was a scrape and a thump and then someone said, “Oof!” Harry, meanwhile, was trying to control his breathing; memories from last night hovered just out of reach, threatening to resurface.

“Sit down, Sirius,” Moony snapped, and Harry guessed Padfoot had lunged at Dawlish and Moony had stopped him. There were more footsteps, the sound of a chair being picked up roughly and then a muffled thump – presumably Padfoot sitting down again. “Honestly, you talk about being a changed man,” Moony said coolly, “and then you go and do something stupid like that. Do you think we’re all thick?”

“Not all of you,” Padfoot replied, and Harry wondered who his godfather had singled out with a look. Probably Dawlish. “And I never said I was a changed man. This whole time I’ve been trying to prove I haven’t changed.”

“You’re doing an awful job of it,” Moony said after a pause; Harry wondered why no one had beat him to it.

“Really?” Padfoot asked. “Why? I’ve always been quick to defend Lily and James.”

“Except when you passed them over to-”

“He didn’t insult the Potters,” Scrimgeour interjected and Harry thought it was good timing, but the mention of his parents had him starting to panic again.

Listen. Just listen. Don’t think, he told himself.

“He did,” Padfoot shot back, sounding irritated. “He said I ‘didn’t care’ about the Potters.” His voice dropped to a mutter. “James and Lily weren’t the sort of people you can’t care about.”

“Clearly you-”

“Get out,” Scrimgeour said. Harry assumed Dawlish must have looked at him, because then Scrimgeour said, “Yes, Dawlish. You. Out. Send a replacement down.”

“I’m an Auror, not a messenger,” Dawlish said stiffly.

“Then perhaps while you’re up there, you can do some investigating and find out what’s taking Rattler so long.” The door opened and slammed shut.

“Nicely handled,” Padfoot said, and Moony snorted. Harry suspected it was actually a concealed laugh.

“I’d have sent you out too if I’d been able to manage it,” Scrimgeour said irritably. Someone – the Healer, Harry thought, since the only other people in the cell were him, Padfoot, Moony and Scrimgeour - laughed. Harry’d forgotten his name again.

“No, you wouldn’t have,” Padfoot said. “You’re too smart to send us out together – we’d keep fighting, and that would defeat the purpose.”

“Dear Merlin, you’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you?” the Healer asked. Harry wasn’t sure if he sounded awed or exasperated.

“Do you really want to hear the answer to that?” Padfoot asked. Harry could hear him grinning. Moony sighed.

“So it’s a no to the Memory Charm?” the Healer asked, to clarify. Harry stiffened and Padfoot came over again, this time to sit on the bed, beside Harry’s knees.

“Is he all right?” Moony asked, sounding worried. He’d even forgotten to address Padfoot angrily.

“See!” the Healer exclaimed. “Nightmares! We can protect him from this-”

“We could,” Padfoot agreed, and Harry could feel those grey eyes on his face; he suspected Padfoot knew he was awake and that made him feel rather sheepish. Padfoot laughed quietly and it occurred to Harry too late that Padfoot – and Moony – could probably smell that. “But frankly, Leatherby-”

Leatherby, Harry thought, determined to remember the Healer’s name this time.

“- I don’t think kids should be covered in Cushioning Charms and read The Toadstool Tales. Call me irresponsible-”

“No need,” Moony said viciously, as if to make up for his lapse. “Everyone knows anyway.”

“You said you agreed with me about this, so shut up,” Padfoot said in the same tone, and Moony fell silent. “No Memory Charms,” Padfoot continued, sounding tired. He nudged Harry’s knee with his hand and Harry – gently – pushed back.

“Sir?” Leatherby said, obviously addressing Scrimgeour. “Can you talk some sense into Black?”

“Good luck,” Moony muttered.

“The boy should be spared!”

“It’s too late to spare him,” Scrimgeour said. Harry heard the door open and Rattler murmur greetings. “We cannot undo last night – his memory of it, yes, but that night will still have happened, even if he no longer remembers it.”

“Sort of makes you wish the Unspeakables would hurry up with their time-travelling device, doesn’t it?” Rattler said, and Padfoot made a small noise of assent.

“You’re sure?” Leatherby asked. Harry nudged Padfoot.

“I’m sure,” Padfoot said. Harry heard Leatherby leave. Then, Padfoot shook Harry’s shoulder and Harry knew his pretend-sleep was over. He didn’t want to wake up. Waking up meant talking about last night. “Kiddo,” Padfoot said – for effect, obviously, because Harry’d already opened one eye. Padfoot passed Harry his glasses.

“Hi,” Harry said reluctantly. Padfoot was watching him with a sad expression.

“Would you lot mind-” Padfoot began, and Moony looked torn – obviously he wanted to stay, but there was no way he’d be able to without rousing suspicion – but stood. He met Harry’s eyes for a moment, smiled sadly, and then left. Scrimgeour and Rattler stood too – Rattler smiled at Harry – and they followed Moony out.

“What-”

“They trust me with you, now, I think,” Padfoot said, watching the door close. “Scrimgeour in particular. He was the one who-”

“Yeah,” Harry said. Had that really only been a few hours ago? “How’d you know I wasn’t sleeping?” Padfoot raised an eyebrow.

“You talk,” Padfoot said, amused. “It’s funny, actually. Half the time you’re awake, we can’t get a word out of you, but when you’re asleep, you don’t shut up.” He grinned. Harry didn’t feel up to returning it, and Padfoot’s amusement faded. “Kiddo, I- You didn’t want to be Obliviated, did-”

“No,” Harry said, but he wasn’t sure if that was the truth or not. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it. Padfoot nodded. “Are you feeling all right?”

“My head’s a bit of a mess,” Padfoot admitted, pulling a face. “Back to the way it used to be, before I built Azkaban, so it’s not like there’s been any real damage done, but it feels... odd.”

“Will you rebuild it?” Harry asked.

“Probably,” Padfoot said, after a pause. They were only speaking quietly, but his voice dropped again and he cast a glance at the door. “I don’t know that I could cast a Patronus with things the way they are at the moment, and it’s... I think it’s a good idea to make sure that’s a possibility, just in case.” Padfoot blew at a feather on the ground – most of the glass and feathers and water had been cleaned up, but some remained – and it fluttered over to the table where Moony had been sitting. Harry kept watching it, even when Padfoot’s attention returned to him. “Have the thoughts stopped?”

“For the moment,” Harry said. Padfoot didn’t seem to know what to say; he was obviously trying to be delicate about the situation – which Padfoot wasn’t all that good at. Harry might have found it funny to watch under different circumstances.

“I'm glad I took you,” Padfoot said quietly. “I'm sorry that it means you're stuck down here, and that last night... happened...”

“It's not your fault,” Harry told him.

“No,” Padfoot agreed. “But I am sorry I couldn't do more to help you.” Harry shrugged. Padfoot slung an arm over Harry's shoulders and squeezed. Harry leaned into Padfoot's side - Leatherby had healed his ribs, so Harry wasn't afraid of hurting him. “Really, really sorry.”

“It's fine,” Harry said.

“Really, really, really-” That coaxed a reluctant laugh out of Harry.

“I heard you the first time,” he said, knocking into Padfoot's side. Padfoot chuckled. “Do you- I mean, are you-” Harry almost said 'serious' and then thought better of it. “You're glad you took me?”

“I am,” Padfoot said, and didn't joke about it - perhaps he sensed that Harry needed to hear it. Harry smiled tentatively, as some of last night's fear vanished. It was stupid that he still worried if Padfoot wanted him - Padfoot had made it abundantly clear on many occasions that he did - but Harry supposed it was a Dursley-born doubt that he'd retained. “That's what you saw, then?” Padfoot asked hesitantly. “Me saying I didn't want you?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, shrugging. Amidst other things.

“And that's all?” Padfoot pressed, in a very careful tone.

“I- no. There was- were other... things,” Harry muttered, not looking at Padfoot.

“Just thoughts?” Padfoot asked, using a voice Harry'd only heard once; that day, over a year ago, when they'd sat down on the landing at home and Padfoot had asked about the Dursleys. Trust. That's what he was asking for. After hearing Snape again, whispering about what a monster Padfoot was, it wasn't as easy as it should have been, to trust him. But Snape was wrong, and Harry did trust Padfoot.

“Memories,” he whispered, and Padfoot went very still beside him.

“Memories?” He looked at Harry, but Harry stared at the floor. “I didn't realise- I thought it was just thoughts- hallucinations-” Harry rubbed his eyes - they were starting to sting - and shook his head. “Oh, kiddo,” Padfoot said, pulling him into a tight hug. Harry returned it, distracted. “Maybe- if you want Leatherby to come back-”

“No,” Harry said firmly. “It's- just no.”

“The cave?” Padfoot guessed, and Harry nodded.

“And after it... With Kreacher-”

“And not me,” Padfoot said, nodding, but he was frowning. “I thought you'd got over that.”

“I guess not,” Harry said, and then felt bad for snapping; Padfoot was trying to help. “I haven't dreamed about it in months. I think it was just last night that-”

“Brought it back?” Padfoot suggested, and Harry nodded. “I seem to figure prominently in all of your bad thoughts and memories.”

Because he's a monster, Snape muttered, somewhere in Harry's head.

Shut up, Harry told it. “I guess,” Harry said aloud, hoping Padfoot would sense he didn't want to talk any more, and end the conversation. He wasn't so lucky.

“Are you sure you don't want Leatherby-”

“I'm sure,” Harry insisted.

“Why?” Padfoot asked gently. “Kiddo?”

“Because,” Harry said, shrugging Padfoot's arm off.

“That's a rubbish answer.”

“I don't want-” Padfoot raised an eyebrow, inviting Harry to continue. Harry scowled. “Just leave it.” Padfoot, looking thoughtful, did.


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