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Chapter 49 : The Scar And The Schemer
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Harry said it was about his perceived safety and to try to encourage him to speak out against Sirius. Harry hadn’t – otherwise he’d have been moved out of the cell at once – but he’d been distant for the last few days, and Sirius wasn’t sure why; he might be acting on Umbridge’s orders - or maybe against them – he could be struggling with the cell-lifestyle, or it could be an after-effect of the Dementor attack. Sirius privately thought it was the latter, but had no idea what to do about it because Harry still wouldn’t talk to him about it. Or anything much, really.
Lunch came at twelve-thirty and the Auror guard changed at two. Rattler would always come down with the next set of guards and he would play cards with Harry and whoever else wanted to join in. Rattler would also throw at least one game every time they played, as an excuse to reward Harry with a chocolate frog – Rattler’s way of continually trying to make up for the Dementors, Sirius thought, and genuinely appreciated it.
Someone always visited at about four. Usually it was Remus or Dumbledore – sometimes they came together – and yesterday Snape had come too. He and Sirius had glowered at each other, and Snape had made loud, rather pointed comments about Remus and the impending full moon. Sirius had been annoyed at that – and a little curious, because Snape had been giving Sirius pointed looks all the while – and had come to Remus’ defence on more than one occasion. That, thankfully, gave Remus an excuse to be a little kinder to Sirius. It was nice to be able to speak civilly to each other again, even if they did have to throw in an offhand insult every now and then.
Visitors were sent out when dinner arrived at seven, and after that, bedtime was whenever they felt like it, though the guard changed at eleven and the Aurors hadn’t yet managed to pull that off quietly. Sleep wasn’t exactly easy after eleven either; Aurors on nightshift were required to make hourly reports to Scrimgeour, which often woke Sirius, and even if that hadn’t, Harry would have.
He spent the nights muttering and flailing around in the bed beside Sirius’. Sirius woke him up – Harry would be disoriented and not remember much at all before dropping back into uneasy sleep – several times a night, but between one and five, sleep was generally undisturbed.
Sirius was waiting excitedly for it to get to one, so that he could sleep; Harry’s watch, which lay beside his glasses on the floor, said it was just after twelve.
“No,” Klenner muttered, from her chair by the door. “No- stop it.” Sirius saw Hemsley prod her; she snorted and her head lolled onto her shoulder, and thankfully she fell silent. Harry was embarrassed in the mornings – he always apologised to the Aurors on nightshift – but Sirius didn’t think he needed to be; most of them talked in their sleep just as much as he did.
“Lucky us, huh?” Sirius said dryly, from his corner.
“Yeah,” Hemsley said, glumly. He’d been told to take time off to deal with losing – well, she wasn’t dead, but she might as well be – McDuff, who’d been his partner in every sense of the word; lots had changed since Sirius himself was an Auror, but that hadn’t. Hemsley’d taken two days off and then come back to work a nightshift. Sirius had heard him shouting at Scrimgeour that afternoon, and obviously he’d managed to talk his way out of any more time off. Sirius didn’t blame him; it was best to keep living.
“I’m sorry,” Sirius said quietly.
“What do you care if she’s dead?” Hemsley asked, looking over with tired, red-rimmed eyes. “You didn’t- you never got along with her.”
“No,” Sirius agreed. It was true; he and James had never seen eye to eye with McDuff and Hemsley – the four of them had gone through Auror training together – and they’d been enemies in the Auror exam. Both of them were still Aurors now – or had been, in McDuff’s case - so obviously they’d turned out all right. “Doesn’t mean she deserved to die,” Sirius said, unable to find a better word. Hemsley grunted and went back to staring at the roof.
“It’s a clue,” Klenner said, breaking the silence. Then she muttered something about a dragon and let out another snore. Hemsley sighed and nudged her again. Sirius looked at the watch and grinned; there wasn’t long now.
Then, as if on cue, Harry rolled over and started to mutter incoherently into his pillow.
* * *
“I’m just going to lock up.”
“I’ll see you soon.” Moving. Harry was moving. He couldn’t see anything – maybe his eyes were closed, or maybe he just didn’t remember. Maybe his eyesight had been bad, even then. It was all too easy to imagine the cottage though, and the hallway. He’d been there now, after all. A thump. Running footsteps.
“Lily, take Harry and go! It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off!”
Laughter, high and cold.
“Avada Kedavra.”A thump.
Strangled breathing, and her steady, almost silent, “No. No, James, no, no, no, no, no...” A choked sob. A door slamming. Scraping noises. Harry’d seen enough of his nursery to guess she was barricading the door. Pressure – a bit like Apparating, but warmer. “James?! James! James!” Then nothing. Silence. A step creaking as someone came upstairs. A bang and a scraping sound. And no more warmth, no more pressure. Just something spongy beneath his feet. “Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!”
“Stand aside, you silly girl... stand aside now!”
“Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead-”
“This is my last warning-”
“Not Harry! Please... have mercy... have mercy... Not Harry! Not Harry! Please- I’ll do anything-”
“Stand aside. Stand aside, girl!” Silence. Almost ten seconds of it. Then a spoken spell and a flash of blinding, sickly green light. Another thump, this one muffed by carpet, and then darkness again. Soft footsteps.
“Avada Kedavra.” Green light again, and then screaming. He wasn’t sure whose.
* * *
Harry gasped and clapped a hand to his scar seconds before his eyes flew open. The air tingled and then Sirius heard the shower shatter again.
“Kiddo,” Sirius said, watching the expression on Harry’s face change from scared to angry to confused in the space of a few seconds. “Harry?” Sirius caught Hemsley’s eye – he looked ready to come over – and nodded to say Harry was all right. Hemsley leaned back into his chair, and fixed the shower with a flick of his wand before Harry could notice it and feel guilty.
“Padfoot?” Harry said, frowning a bit.
“You all right?” Sirius asked.
“Dream,” Harry said, shrugging.
Hadn’t noticed, Sirius thought, rolling his eyes, but he couldn’t help the fond smile that crept onto his face. “A bad one?”
Harry just shrugged again – Sirius didn’t miss the evasive gesture - and said, “Sorry for waking you up-”
“I wasn’t asleep,” Sirius said, wondering what sort of good dream could leave Harry looking angry and scared. He glanced at Harry’s watch – it was quarter-to, so hopefully this would be it for the night – or for a few hours at least. “Do you want to talk about it?” Sirius asked. Harry was still yet to explain why he didn’t want to be Obliviated. Sirius was counting on him to blurt the reason out at some point, but he’d been tight-lipped about it so far.
“What’s to say?” Harry asked, his eyelids starting to droop again.
“What it was?” Sirius suggested – Harry wouldn’t remember this conversation, he didn’t think.
“Don’t think about it,” Harry muttered. “Don’t think about it.”
“Nothing,” Harry sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Am I bleeding?”
“No,” Sirius said, a little alarmed. “Why?”
“Hurts,” was all Harry managed before his eyes closed completely.
His scar hurts...? Sirius didn’t know all that much about the scar. He intended to corner Dumbledore for a chat as soon as his trial was over – if Sirius ever got his trial, and with the way everyone was avoiding the matter, he was beginning to doubt that he would – and hear the Headmaster’s theories on the scar. Sirius hesitated before shaking Harry awake again. Harry blinked and squinted up at him.
“It hurts?” Sirius said.
“What does?” Harry asked, and Sirius chuckled.
“Your scar,” Sirius said. Harry’s eyes widened a little more and he reached up to touch it.
“How’d you know that?” Harry asked, looking dumbfounded. Sirius chuckled again.
“You told me.” Harry looked even more bewildered. “Why does it hurt?” Sirius pressed.
“You tell me,” Harry muttered. “You know more than I do, apparently.”
When’s a good dream scary? Sirius wondered. “Did you knock it?”
“Dunno,” Harry said, but he was obviously lying. “I- yeah, I must have.” Sirius snorted. In Sirius’ limited experience, the scar didn’t bother Harry at all – except when people stared at it, Harry had told him – but Sirius remembered it itched around the locket.
Voldemort, maybe? Sirius wondered, squinting at Harry, who shifted and wouldn’t meet his eyes. Sirius knew, with a strange, chilling conviction, that he was right – or partly right. It wasn’t a nice feeling. He’s not around now, though, is he? Sirius wondered, gazing into the corners of the cell. Hemsley’s dim wandlight reached all the way around – white was an easy colour to illuminate – and it was empty. We’re safe in the Ministry, though. He can’t be here. Sirius was uncomfortably aware that Dementors had made it down – ten of them – and that no one had found them for hours. Not that safe, really. Sirius stood up and Hemsley looked over.
“Black?” Sirius padded over to the cell door and Hemsley followed his progress with his wand, obviously disconcerted. Sirius peered out through the bars of the door at the dark chamber. He could just see Mad-Eye, asleep in a chair, and Dora struggling to stay awake, her wand barely lit in her lap. Otherwise, it was empty, and the lift doors were shut. “Black?” Hemsley whispered.
“Bring that over here,” Sirius said, waving the Auror over. “I need light.” It was best to be sure. Hemsley muttered something under his breath but he got up and came over and in the dim light, Sirius could see that yes, aside from Mad-Eye and Dora, it was empty. “All good,” he whispered, when Dora looked up, worried. “Thanks,” he said to Hemsley, and climbed back into bed. Harry was still awake, the lack of light making his face seem paler and his eyes darker.
Maybe it was the dream that had hurt Harry. Maybe... maybe he’d dreamed of Voldemort? Sirius frowned, not liking that thought much more than he had liked the idea of Voldemort being there in person. But Harry hadn’t said it was a bad dream and Sirius couldn’t imagine Voldemort being present in a good dream. He glanced at Harry out of the corner of his eye. He was lying down again, head on his pillow, but his eyes were still open, and tired in a way that had nothing to do with lack of sleep.
“Was it a memory?” Sirius asked softly, and Harry, surprisingly, just nodded. He didn’t look at Sirius, but Sirius felt like the barrier between them had come down, or thinned. It was a bittersweet feeling, given the cause, because abruptly, Sirius understood. Harry had never seen Voldemort – they’d all been so careful with him, and with little Neville Longbottom too – never, until that night. And so, any memory Harry had of Voldemort could only come from one time. Pieces of the puzzle that had confused Sirius for days, fell into place, one by one.
Of course it couldn’t be a happy memory, not when Voldemort had forced his way into the house and murdered Lily and James, but how could it be a bad memory, when it was – as far as Sirius knew - the only memory Harry had of his parents? He’d treasure it for that alone, and hate it for the rest, and Sirius understood that only too well, because it was uncannily close to the way he felt whenever Peter popped up in one of his own memories.
Sirius wondered how much detail Harry had seen it in – probably a lot, given how long the Dementors had stuck around for – and wondered if he’d ever know for sure. It wasn’t the sort of thing he could see Harry sharing.
But he could have at least explained what the memory was, Sirius thought. If anyone’s got any hope of understanding... Sirius had even seen James and Lily die – once as a Boggart (only James, though), and millions of times in his dreams in Azkaban – and he’d seen their real bodies, when he arrived at the cottage too late. Harry knew about the latter – the former wasn’t something that Sirius had ever felt comfortable sharing, or thought Harry would want to hear.
Maybe Harry thought he wouldn’t understand... or perhaps he was trying to spare Sirius from the horrors of that night. It would be a very Harry-ish thing to do. Or maybe it was the opposite. Maybe, he was scared that Sirius would ask questions. Sirius glanced over and Harry looked away at once, almost fearfully and Sirius decided it was a combination of all three – and maybe more things he hadn’t even thought of.
I wouldn’t ask him what happened, though, would I? Sirius was ashamed to admit he didn’t know the answer to that. He’d managed to build a reasonable guess of Halloween’s sequence of events; he’d seen the state of the cottage, James in the hallway, his wand on the couch in the next room and Lily’s in the kitchen, while Lily herself had been upstairs in the ruined nursery. He’d accepted that – as well informed as he was, and as logical as his guesses were – he’d never know exactly what had happened. No one would. But now, someone did.
And it meant Sirius could have answers, not only to the order of events, but to other things that had been bothering him for years. Had Voldemort killed them straight away or had he toyed with them first? What had their last words been? Had they even tried to defend themselves, or had they given up the moment Voldmort arrived? Had they been scared? Had they been angry? Had they blamed Sirius for trusting Peter, who’d betrayed them? Sirius would give his left hand to know, but he’d give up his wand hand before he ever asked Harry for those answers.
It was well after one, but Sirius didn’t think he’d be sleeping tonight after all. He looked at Harry again, and this time, Harry just looked back. Sirius didn’t know what his face looked like, but somehow it reassured Harry; his young face relaxed and Sirius felt the last of the barrier between them disintegrate.
Harry slid out of his bed and came to curl up next to Sirius. Sirius was reasonably sure he was crying, but it was hard to know for certain, because Harry promptly buried his face in Sirius’ robes, the way he had when they’d visited Godric’s Hollow on Halloween. Sirius wrapped an arm around his godson’s shaking shoulders and used his other hand to tuck the blankets around him. Harry settled surprisingly quickly, and was soon muttering nonsense – real nonsense, not nightmare nonsense – into the quiet cell again.
But, despite the fact that Harry wasn’t having another bad dream, that Sirius was reasonably comfortable – though perhaps in danger of falling off the narrow bed – and very tired, sleep didn’t come for Sirius that night.
* * *
“It's nice of you to join us, Madam Umbridge,” Lucius said politely, as Umbridge closed the office door. It was an office that was only used when senior members of the Wizengamot wanted to confer before, after – and occasionally during – a trial. He’d used it as a meeting place during his Death Eater days, and since the Dark Lord fell, he’d used it when he needed to meet privately in the Ministry. It served its purpose well, since no one ever came this deep, and those that did generally only passed through.
“Mr Malfoy,” she said sweetly. “Cornelius.” She didn't greet Dawlish, and Lucius could tell how much that irked the Auror.
“Dolores,” Fudge said nervously. “Have a seat, my dear.”
“Thank you,” she said primly, pulling up the seat beside Lucius. She looked a little apprehensive; Lucius had been breathing down the back of her neck for a week, trying to get her to discredit Black because he - Lucius - wanted Potter under his control. Hogwarts was only a year and a half away and Lucius suspected they'd need as much time as they could get to change Potter, and also to change Draco back. Umbridge was a practical woman, though and knew that Lucius was the one who made things happen - not her beloved Fudge.
“Thank you for coming,” Fudge said. His hat sat on the dusty desk now, and he was wringing a handkerchief instead. “I suppose you all want to know why I've asked you here?” Dawlish perked up and Lucius managed to stop his snort just in time; the man lived for praise.
“I had wondered,” Lucius said, adopting a curious expression. It was painfully obvious that Fudge was struggling with the burdens of being Minister - for the millionth time in his year-long reign - and needed help. He'd probably already written to Dumbledore - a bad habit that both Lucius and Umbridge were trying to wean him off of - and had now called in those he considered loyal to help him puzzle it out.
“I need help,” Fudge admitted. Both Umbridge and Dawlish looked as if they'd expected it, and the three of them shared a long-suffering look that was missed by the preoccupied Minister.
“It's a wonder you've made it this long,” Lucius said, mustering his smarmiest look. “A lesser man wouldn't have lasted an hour under the pressure you've been carrying.” Fudge puffed his chest out, looking cheered. Lucius hid a grimace; he didn't think Fudge's astounding composure was anything to admire. He thought it was that Fudge genuinely hadn't realised how much of a mess he'd made of an already difficult situation. The man had an ability to delude himself into believing things were perfectly fine.
It was useful - Lucius wouldn't have anywhere near as much control over him if he wasn't so oblivious – but it was also irritating, because it required a lot more work on Lucius’ part. Frankly, if Lucius had wanted to be the Minister, he already would be.
“Well said, Mr Malfoy,” Dawlish said, nodding. Umbridge shot Lucius a dirty look – perhaps upset that she hadn’t been the one to comfort Fudge – and then clasped her hands in her lap, waiting. Lucius imagined her expression was similar to a toad’s might be when it was waiting for a fly, though he couldn’t be sure; he refused to let the Manor’s pond be home to any of the creatures.
“It’s Black,” Fudge said, looking miserable again. Lucius’ lip curled, Umbridge made a noise – a croak? Lucius wondered, smirking – and Dawlish growled.
“Bloody Black,” Dawlish said, suddenly furious. “He’s won Scrimgeour over now, the menace! He didn’t die when the Dementors came to see him, and now all of a sudden he’s respected and trusted. I’d like to hex the moron responsible for that little stunt – send them right off to Azkaban with Black, I say!” Umbridge’s face soured at that, which Lucius thought was interesting. He tucked his suspicions away for later use.
“Bones and Rattler too – I still think you made a mistake giving up your job thirteen years ago when you went to play Auror,” Umbridge said irately, her bulging eyes fixed on Dawlish. So did Lucius – Dawlish, at least, had been corruptible. His successors Crouch – who’d held the position until two years ago – and now Bones and Rattler, were entirely too professional, which was good for the Ministry, but bad for Lucius.
Dawlish flushed and said, “I don’t play! And I’m well on track to replace Scrimgeour when he messes up-”
“Scrimgeour’s been Head of the Auror Department since Charlus Potter died.” Lucius had been so relieved at the time, but Scrimgeour, unfortunately, had proven himself every bit as capable as Potter had ever been. “He’s had thirteen years to ‘mess up’, Dawlish, and it’s yet to happen. I’d hope for his retirement, personally.” Dawlish flushed again; he was the same age as Scrimgeour and doubtless didn’t like the reminder. “Or perhaps not...” Lucius added slyly.
“Very capable, Scrimgeour, yes,” Fudge said distractedly. He had his hat again. “But if he keeps supporting Black... might have to step in...doesn’t look good, doesn’t look good at all.” Dawlish was positively grinning; there was no question that he’d be promoted to Head Auror if Scrimgeour was forced aside. The Auror Department would doubtless want to promote someone like Robards or that lunatic Moody, but Fudge would have the final say, and Fudge would do what Lucius told him to, and appoint Dawlish.
“So, Black?” Umbridge prompted.
“It’s been a week and we can’t keep him down there forever.”
“It would be nice, though,” Lucius muttered. Fudge chuckled, but he looked worried.
“I don’t know what to do; I’d send him right back to Azkaban if I could, but he’s got Potter and we can’t take Potter from him without a trial. Even if we could, those vultures at the Prophet would be all over it, calling us cowards and Scrimgeour and Bones wouldn’t let me just-”
“You’re the Minister for Magic!” Umbridge said indignantly. “You should be allowed to do whatever you like!”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Fudge said, wringing his hat – Lucius imagined it was going to look rather out-of-shape by the time they were finished here. “I can’t- people-” Fudge offered no more explanation than that, but expected them all to understand.
“I say send Black back to Azkaban on the next available Portkey,” Umbridge said. “You’re the Minister. Everyone else will accept your decision.”
“Scrimgeour wouldn’t let that happen,” Dawlish said, shaking his head.
“Cornelius is the Minister-”
“And Scrimgeour is Head Auror,” Lucius said, exasperated. “Yes,” he said, cutting Umbridge off, “his ultimate loyalty is to the Ministry and to yourself, Minister, but at present, Black is in Auror custody and I doubt Scrimgeour will take it well if you start meddling in his Department.”
“Scrimgeour needs to be reminded of who’s in control, then,” Fudge muttered.
“Undoubtedly,” Lucius agreed. “But not right now, when so much rests on Black and his fate.”
“What do you suggest then, Mr Malfoy?” Umbridge asked, and Lucius smiled, satisfied; they were hanging off his every word.
“That we give Black his trial.” Three incredulous pairs of eyes latched onto his face, and Lucius basked in the attention.
“I’d be a laughing stock- Prophet fodder!” Fudge stammered, aghast.
“You don’t honestly think there’s any chance of Black being proven innocent?” Lucius asked, disbelievingly. “Even if he had Dumbledore on his side, all the facts point to Black being responsible for the Potters’ murders.”
“Doesn’t have a Mark,” Fudge said, making Lucius awkwardly aware of his own, though the room’s other occupants seemed to have forgotten, thankfully.
“True,” Lucius admitted, “but we know Black must have been the Secret Keeper. He was James Potter’s best friend – Harry Potter’s godfather! Even if Black says he wasn’t the Secret Keeper, who is there that can support his claim? The Potters? He killed them!” Pettigrew certainly wasn’t going to show up and even if he did, somehow, grow a conscience, Lucius would forcibly stop him from going. Pettigrew knew too much. “Black can’t get off without evidence, even if he manages to invent a plausible explanation for his actions.” And Black’s only evidence was Pettigrew.
“So Black’s convicted-” Dawlish began thoughtfully.
“-and sent right back to Azkaban,” Lucius said. “The Ministry will look good for giving that criminal the chance to have his say – it’ll shut Black up, because once he’s had his trial, he can’t very well ask for another one – and the wizarding public will feel safer.”
“And if he escapes again?” Dawlish asked, and Fudge looked like he might faint. “Then what?”
“He’ll be questioned, of course. Once he’s convicted, the Ministry has every right to use whatever means they deem necessary to extract answers, be that by Veritaserum, Legillimency, or by any other method of interrogation. Once we have the answers, measures can be taken to prevent his escape.” Dawlish was nodding, and Lucius swooped in to deal the final blow. “Of course, if we play this properly, we can take Scrimgeour down with him.”
“How?” Dawlish and Fudge asked together.
“Simple,” Lucius said, smirking. “Speak to one of the Prophet’s reporters tomorrow, once the date’s been set for the trial. Express your... concerns that Scrimgeour’s grown close to the case, and rather friendly with Black, and that you hope the trial will be a fair one, in spite of that. The reporters will do the rest.” Dawlish was nodding again, and Fudge looked impressed. “When Black’s convicted, you, Minister, will then have every right to demote Scrimgeour for his unprofessional approach.”
“I like it,” Dawlish announced, and Fudge nodded.
Of course you do, Lucius thought smugly. “A guilty ruling for Black is enough to nullify his guardianship of the Potter boy-”
“He’ll still be in the hands of his aunt, then,” Umbridge said. “She filled out the forms before Black-”
“The muggle will lose all credibility when Black’s convicted. No doubt Dumbledore will try to play that card, but Potter clearly won’t be safe in the hands of a woman who was prepared to pass him to Black. Find him a good home, Dolores, and people will quickly forget that you let him be given to Black in the first place.” Umbridge looked determined to save her reputation, just as Lucius had expected. She’d be willing to participate in this.
“I can only see one problem with this,” Dawlish said.
“Oh?” Lucius asked.
“Well,” Dawlish said, “once the plans for the trial are announced, Black, by law, needs to be kept in isolation.” That was to ensure he wasn’t able to corrupt his guards, or enchant them, Lucius knew. Dementors were used.
“We’ll sort something out,” Fudge said, looking flustered.
“We’ll have to,” Dawlish muttered. “Black should have been kept in isolation from the very beginning.”
“He was,” Fudge said pitifully. “But then he got Potter and we had to take Black out of isolation to keep Potter safe-”
“Arrangements still should have been made,” Dawlish said curtly. “Isolation’s necessary before a trial-”
“He wasn’t going to get a trial!” Fudge bellowed, his face a horrible purplish colour. He looked extremely embarrassed. “That’s the problem here! We haven’t been following Ministry procedure because we needed people in there to protect Potter, and to try to find some sort of evidence that Black should go right back to Azkaban.”
“And how’s that working out?” Dawlish muttered, obviously embarrassed that Fudge had shouted at him.
“Poorly, because now he’s getting a trial and he’ll be difficult – of that I have no doubts whatsoever!”
“It’s not too late to repair the damage,” Lucius said smoothly. “We just need to take the appropriate steps.”
“We need incorruptible guards, not Scrimgeour and his lot!” Umbridge agreed. “Especially, once the trial’s announced and Black needs to be isolated. The Dementors-”
“Dementors are out of the question with Potter down there,” Lucius said, shaking his head.
“Yes, but meanwhile, Black’s gathering supporters!” Fudge said, looking alarmed by the idea. “We can’t very well take away the Aurors and leave Potter alone with Black-”
“Scrimgeour’d tell you otherwise,” Dawlish muttered.
“Perhaps, then, we need to take Potter out,” Lucius said, pleased they’d reached this, the final and most important part of his plan. “It seems to me that the problem in all of this is Potter; the Aurors won’t be allowed down there once Black’s in isolation, but Potter can’t be left unguarded, and neither can he be left down there with Dementors.”
“Black won’t let Potter out of his sight,” Umbridge said, rolling her eyes.
“He might if it means he gets his trial,” Lucius said. “Black was an Auror – he’ll understand the isolation law. Besides, it’ll only be temporary, as far as Black’s concerned. He’ll get Potter back once he’s proven his innocence.”
“Which’ll never happen,” Umbridge said. “But what do you suggest we do with Potter in the meantime?”
“There’s always Bones’ office again,” Dawlish said, but that idea was discarded immediately. Everyone lapsed into thought, but it didn’t escape Lucius’ notice that all eyes were on him, waiting for another good idea. Lucius pretended to think – he’d had the solution to this before arriving at the Ministry that morning, but he didn’t want it to look that way – and then frowned thoughtfully.
“The Potter boy will stay with me, of course.”
* * *
“Severus,” Dumbledore said jovially, as Severus was let into the cell by an Auror whose name he didn’t know. Potter looked up – he and Rattler were throwing a ball back and forward, while the Headmaster shuffled Exploding Snap cards. Potter mumbled a hello and then snapped his hand up, just in time to catch the ball.
“Wonderful,” Black groused, from over on the beds. “Twice in two days – aren’t we lucky.”
“I was going to say the same,” Severus said, taking in Black’s appearance. He was pale and the shadows under his eyes were more pronounced than they had been the day before.
“You came to us,” Black said irritably. And a short temper. Any doubts Severus had harboured - about whether Black had told him the truth about being a monster like Lupin - vanished. And it seemed, since Black was still in here, that everyone else was oblivious.
“Are you feeling quite well, Black?” Severus asked, hoping Black would just admit to his condition. That way, the Aurors could take the steps they needed to, and ensure Potter’s safety, as well as their own. Black’s irritation gave way to confusion.
“What do you care, Sniv-” Potter cleared his throat and Black pulled a face in the boy’s direction. “-Snape?” Obviously, if Black and Potter were back to their face-pulling familiarity, they’d mended whatever problem had been affecting them lately.
“Lupin’s ill at the moment too, as I understand it,” Severus said, and Black seemed to think for a moment before grimacing. “I was wondering if that’s mere coincidence, or if it’s the same ailment, perhaps?” Potter had paused to listen; the ball hit his shoulder and bounced off. Rattler retrieved it, while Black’s eyes followed it across the floor before lifting to meet Severus’. “We wouldn’t want Potter to contract anything in Ministry custody, would we?”
“I don’t think not sleeping is contagious,” Black said, and Severus stared at him, somewhat disappointed.
“The cause might be,” he sneered, and then jumped as the cards Dumbledore was shuffling exploded. “Honestly,” he said, extinguishing the Headmaster’s beard with a wave of his wand.
“Are you concerned for the boy, Severus?” Dumbledore asked, collecting his cards.
Yes! Severus wanted to shout. In a few short hours, Black’s going to be a physical monster – as if his brutish mental side wasn’t enough – and Potter’s going to be stuck in here with him! If his promises – to himself, to Dumbledore, and to Lily’s grave weren’t enough incentive to keep the boy safe, then the thought of a furious Narcissa Malfoy was more than enough. A dead Potter would ruin her plans.
The ball slipped out of Rattler’s hands and rolled toward Black, who promptly pounced on it. It was disturbingly canine, and Severus’ worry increased.
“Er... Padfoot?” Potter said, looking torn between shock and laughter. Black tossed the ball at Rattler and sat down again, looking sheepish.
“Might I have a word with Potter?” Severus heard himself ask. “Alone?”
“Severus-?” Dumbledore began, as Black glanced at Potter. Potter shrugged, but his eyes were wide, almost fearful.
“I’ll be brief,” Severus said, gesturing for the brat to follow.
“You can’t take the boy,” Scrimgeour said. Both he and the other Auror were frowning.
“I have no desire to keep him,” Severus sneered.
“Talk in here,” Scrimgeour insisted. “We’ll leave-”
“And take Black with you, I suppose?” Severus said. They all exchanged uncomfortable looks. “I thought as much. You may be content to spend time alone with him, but I am not and I refuse to have him present while I speak with Potter.”
“Harry can go,” Black said slowly. “I’m a prisoner but that doesn’t mean Harry can’t leave.” Scrimgeour looked ready to protest. “I’m his guardian,” Black said, arching an eyebrow. “You’d better be quick, though,” he warned, and Snape nodded. “And if you do anything to upset him, I swear to Merlin I’ll-”
“Cause me bodily harm, I’m sure,” Severus said, rolling his eyes. “Come, Potter.”
“Severus, just what-” Knowing he’d regret it later, Severus held the door open for Potter and they both left before Dumbledore could finish articulating his question.
“Potter!?” the Auror on guard outside the cell exclaimed. “Mr Snape-”
“It is Professor Snape, Miss Dale,” Severus snapped; he’d taught the girl for seven years and she still couldn’t get his title right.
“Are you allowed to take the boy?” the Auror in charge of Dale asked, standing. His hand hovered over his pocket, where his wand undoubtedly rested.
“By all means check,” Severus snapped, and once the other trainee – Hill was his name – had confirmed it with Scrimgeour, Dale and the other Auror stepped aside to let them through.
“So,” Potter said, as they entered the lift. “What’s this about, sir?” Severus said nothing until they were past the third set of Aurors – who also wanted to question them – and upstairs, on Level Ten. Severus couldn’t hear anyone, but he knew from experience that that didn’t always mean they were alone. He cast a silent charm to detect the nearest person and it was triggered by a group of four down the corridor, but they were far enough away that he wouldn’t need to worry about them. “Sir?” Potter said.
“Potter,” Severus said irritably. “As I have brought you up here to talk to you, do you really expect that I will not do so?”
“Er... no?” Potter said, looking confused.
“Then kindly wait for me to start the conversation in my own time.” Potter watched him with an odd expression and then started off down the corridor. “Where are you going?”
“I’m just stretching my legs,” Potter said over his shoulder. “I won’t go far, I promise.”
“So you say,” Severus said, just loud enough for Potter to hear.
Potter put his hands in his pockets – Severus heard something, like parchment in one of them – and then fixed those green eyes on Severus. They had an uncanny, Dumbledore-like sparkle in them. “Since I came up here to listen to you, do you really think I’m not going to?”
Why you insolent, little- Severus closed his eyes and retreated a few steps into his mind to inhale the fumes of a Calming Drought he had brewing in his head – it was a mental relaxation technique he’d developed recently, to help him deal with the Weasley twins. He let out a deep breath and opened his eyes. Potter was waiting patiently, eyes still gleaming. Severus’ lip curled.
“I won’t tolerate your cheek,” Severus told him. Potter pushed his glasses up, waiting, and Severus gave in. “I wanted to speak to you about Black’s condition.”
“What condition?” Potter asked blankly. Severus was losing patience very quickly.
“His lycanthropy,” Severus hissed, throwing his hands up in the air.
“His- oh,” Potter said, his mouth quirking up. “That.” Severus closed his eyes and mentally drank a cup of the Calming Drought. He counted to ten and then opened his eyes.
“Yes,” he said stiffly. “That. What do you intend to do about it?”
“Not much,” Potter said, shrugging. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Not a- idiot boy! Black is enough of a monster when he’s in his right mind!” Potter’s face darkened. “He will be unable to control himself once the moon rises and the fact that Black’s your godfather will not keep you safe!”
“It’ll be fine,” Potter said, obviously still annoyed by the monster comment. “And if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to go back to-”
“Your father was the same,” Severus spat, his control snapping. “He trusted Black – thought Black could do no wrong, that he’d never hurt anyone – but Black was the one who picked Pettigrew, remember, Potter? Black is capable of murder-” Severus knew that only too well. “-more so tonight than any other night-”
“He’s not going to hurt me!” Potter said angrily, but his face was grey. Severus felt a twinge of guilt. Potter was just a boy- Potter’s boy, though. The guilt faded. “I’m going back downstairs,” Potter told him.
Why doesn’t he understand that I’m trying to protect him!?
“Downstairs to get yourself killed!” Severus strode forward and grabbed Potter’s wrist. Potter seemed too startled to do anything about it. Severus would keep the boy overnight – it was the only option. He’d tell them all that Potter confessed his fear of Black during their talk and Severus took him away to protect him. It wasn’t all that far from the truth. “Let’s go.” He tugged on Potter’s arm and Potter stumbled after him.
“What- but the- the lift’s that way-”
“We’re not going back. Not tonight,” Severus snapped.
“Padfoot won’t hurt me,” Potter protested, trying to pull Severus’ hand off.
I hope you appreciate this, Lily, Severus thought, gritting his teeth. “This is not up for discussion.” Potter said a word that he must have learned from Black. “Say that in my hearing again, and I’ll Scourgify your tongue,” he said.
“Sirius isn’t a werewolf!” Potter yelled, digging in his heels. Severus stopped and released Potter.
“I beg your pardon?” Severus asked, his lip curling. Potter glared up at him, red-faced, and rubbed his wrist.
“Harry?!” Severus turned to see Fudge, Lucius and Umbridge striding toward them. Another person had disappeared around the corner at the end of the corridor.
“Hi, Minister,” Potter said, sounding resigned. “Madam Umbridge, Mr Malfoy.”
“This is most unusual,” Lucius said, arching an eyebrow at Severus.
“The boy’s aunt wanted me to give him a message,” Severus said. It was the first thing that came to mind and he was a good enough liar that they believed him.
“What message?” Umbridge asked nosily.
“If it was for you to hear, I’d tell you,” Severus said, curling his lip. Umbridge’s face turned the same nasty pink as the rest of her.
“We were just on our way back to the cell,” Potter added, his eyes daring Snape to disagree with him.
“We’ll take him,” Lucius said, bestowing Potter with a wide smile. Potter smiled back distractedly. “We’re headed down there right now.”
“Sounds good,” Potter said, glowering at Snape again.
“I’m not quite done-” Snape began.
“I am,” Potter said flatly. “Tell my aunt that I’m happy and safe with P- Sirius and thanks again for bringing the forms.”
“Come along then, Harry,” Fudge said, patting the boy on the shoulder. The four walked back toward the lift, leaving Severus standing there. Potter glanced back and raised an eyebrow as if to say, ‘I win’.
Severus thought he might need to take a bath in the Calming Drought to recover completely, but he settled for another goblet-full. He took another deep breath. If Potter was telling the truth, and not just trying to make me let go... Severus couldn’t decide if he’d be more relieved, or more infuriated that he’d been lied to in the first place. If Potter had been lying... No one can say I didn’t try, he thought grimly. Potter’s death will be because of his own stubborn, misguided trust, and I refuse to have that on my conscience.
* * *
“You came back,” Fenrir breathed, dragging himself along the floor of his cell to the barred wall. She was there again, and looked more composed than she had last time, though a little ill; the moon was set to rise in a mere few hours.
“Apparently,” she said, brushing a patch of dirt off the front of her robes. Her voice was a little hoarse.
“You’ve come to free me, haven’t you?” Fenrir asked, almost bursting with excitement at the thought. He’d never admit it, but he was afraid of what would happen when the moon rose tonight; the Dementors would steal any control he had, and in the confines of his tiny cell without his pack to keep him company... it was the first time the moon had ever brought him fear and not just savage delight.
“I told you before that I want you to rot,” she said coolly, and it took him a moment to process that.
“But you’ve changed your mind, haven’t you? You’ve come to save your father. Such a good daughter... such a good-”
“Shut up,” she said, edging away from the cell. She looked disgusted, and it sent dagger through him. “I still want you to rot.”
“So... so you’re going to leave me here?” he asked. “With them – with the Dementors?”
“No,” she said. “I’ve been thinking.”
“About me?” he asked, reaching out to her through the bars. His fingernail brushed the bottom of her robes before she kicked his hand away.
“About you,” she agreed, nodding. He withdrew his hand and she came closer. He could touch her if he reached out, but didn’t dare. It took him a moment to realise he was afraid of her. That made her laugh, and it wasn’t a nice sound. He wondered if she’d smelled it. “Evanesco,” she said, vanishing the small bed and his bedding.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Argentum,” she said, flicking her wand at the toilet, partly concealed by a waist-level wall - in the corner. It began to shine and Fenrir felt another prickle of fear.
“What are you doing?” he asked again, and this time, he edged away from her.
“Argentum,” she said again, and this time, it was the bars between them that began to shine. Fenrir positioned himself right in the middle of the cell, and watched her warily. The next spell she said was much longer and he didn’t catch all of it. The walls and floor of the cell shimmered and for a moment, Fenrir felt like he was in a bubble. Then the feeling faded. He was unharmed, he realised, with a surge of relief.
“What was that?”
“A spell,” she said. “One I created.” She tucked her wand away and met his gaze. Her eyes were sad, but dry. “You’re going to die, Father. But before you do, you’re going to know what it feels like to be hunted, like I was, and like all of my siblings were. You’re going to be scared, and you’re going to hurt, and you’re going be caught. And then you’re going to know what it feels like to lose everything.”
“You’re going to kill me?” he asked, not understanding. He was her father, her creator. They were family.
“Yes. But I’m going to make you hate everything you are first. You love your wolf, don’t you?” Fenrir nodded, and one side of her mouth twisted up into a bitter smile. “I’m going to take your weakness and use it to destroy you.” Another gleam caught Fenrir’s eye, and he saw one of the bricks on the floor of his cell coat itself in silver.
“What- why’d it do that?” he demanded.
“Because I charmed it to,” she told him. “And every minute, another one will change.” Fenrir looked at the floor and did a rough count of the bricks. Every minute... he had a few hours until the entire floor was covered. He looked up at her and saw her watching him – something told him that she knew the conclusions he’d reached. “Once the floor’s done, it’ll start on the walls and the roof,” she said matter-of-factly.
“But-” Fenrir paused as another brick changed. “Someone’ll notice.”
“Do you really think so?” she asked, sadly. He didn’t – the Dementors were blind, and the human guards would be keeping well away from his cell tonight because of the full moon.
“I thought you were supposed to be good,” he said desperately. “You’re one of them.”
“I am,” she said quietly. “But I was a monster first, thanks to you.”
“Please,” he said, edging forward a bit. If she came close enough, he’d grab her wand. Subdue her. He was stronger than she was, even after a week and a half in Azkaban.
“I’ll see you in hell, Father,” she whispered. A fourth brick turned silver as she turned and walked away.
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