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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 77 : Trapped In The Training Room
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6

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Sirius pulled his wand out at once, and Dora was quick to do the same; she shut the Sneakoscope in its box again, before it could give away where they were with its ringing, and tucked it into her robes.

They stood back to back, scanning the Atrium with wary eyes.

“Anything?” Sirius breathed; he couldn’t see or hear anyone but himself, and there were too many scents in the Floo area for Sirius’ nose to be of much help.

“No,” Dora whispered. Her hair was short, frizzy and mottled green in colour now, and her face was no longer white, but it was pale. “You?”

“No.” Sirius waited for a moment; the Sneakoscope had fallen silent and he still couldn’t hear anyone. “Come on, while it’s safe...” He started toward the lifts, keeping his wand out in front of him, and his eyes roaming for any signs of danger.

Level Two was just as quiet, and Sirius didn't like that. It was an official training day, and while quite a few mentors had probably managed to get time off, there should have been someone around. Robards, or Mad-Eye, or Scrimgeour, or... well, someone. The Sneakoscope made a single, odd noise, and then fell silent again.

"I'll stick with you, at least until I know what I'm supposed to be doing today," Sirius told Dora, who nodded, and smelled comforted by his support.

“Downstairs,” she whispered, and took the lead, headed for the broom cupboard entrance. They were stopped by footsteps. Sirius cast a Shield Charm over his shoulder and then spun. Dora, too, had her wand pointed at the pair that had just arrived. It was only Yaxley, though, standing at the top of the staircase with Wellington. Both of them looked edgy too.

"Bloody quiet, isn't it?" Wellington said, giving Sirius’ wand a wary look. "Bit jumpy are we, Black?"

"A bit," Sirius replied, lowering his wand. He didn’t, however, put it away. "You two took the stairs?"

"Lifts weren't working."

“We just came out of one,” Dora said, glancing back the way she and Sirius had come. “You don’t think-”

“I think we need to be careful,” Sirius said quietly. More footsteps caught Sirius’ attention, coming from around the corner. He moved behind a cubicle wall, gesturing for the others to do something similar; Yaxley stepped behind Wellington, who held his wand up but stayed directly in sight, and Dora crouched down behind a desk.

"Who's there?" Hemsley peered around the corner, wand out. Sirius moved slightly, to get a better look, though was careful to keep his wand out in front, and Dora straightened to look over her hiding place. Wellington and Yaxley had, of course, already been seen.

"Easy," Wellington said, though he didn't lower his own wand.

Hemsley watched him, his face set and then asked, "What are you lot doing up here?" Sirius thought he looked scared, and couldn’t blame him; Hemsley was yet to find himself a new partner after McDuff, so he was operating alone. Lone Aurors didn’t tend to last very long, even when they had trainees to assist them. And, they tended to be viewed as disposable, which was probably why he’d been sent up to investigate the noise Sirius and the rest were making.

"We were just about to head down to training," Sirius said evenly.

"Why?” Wellington asked. “Is something wrong?"  Hemsley eyed Wellington, looking troubled.

"I don't know."

"Fantastic," Sirius heard Dora mutter. She stepped out from behind the desk and then, more loudly she asked, "What don't you know?"

"Scrimgeour's supposed to have been here an hour ago. He was going to help us set up for training." Hemsley tucked his wand away and picked a piece of imaginary fluff off his robes. Hemsley lowered his too, and Sirius followed their lead.

"And, what?" Sirius asked. "He never showed up?" Hemsley's grim expression was answer enough.

"Have you tried his Sidek-"

"We've tried to reach him by Sidekick, and also by owl and Floo. We've even tried tracking his Sidekick, but it's not with him."

"Where is it?" Wellington asked, rubbing Yaxley's back.

"On his desk."

"But, why-"

"We don't know," Hemsley said. "We've contacted Rattler but he's with Bones for at least another hour; he's getting her discharged and settling her in at home. And Moody and Robards are supposed to be arriving any time from- Let's just go downstairs. The rest of them are going to want to know all this, and there's no point repeating it thirty times."

They made their way downstairs, where their appearance - and Hemsley's reappearance - was met with relief from the other trainees, and from Blackburn and Klenner, the only other two qualified Aurors in sight. Most of the trainees were sitting down, in circles on the floor, or huddled together, talking in low voices, and everyone looked up when they walked in. Sirius caught Marlene's eyes from across the room.

“Happy Christmas,” she mouthed, with an odd, not-quite-smile.

“You too,” he mouthed back.

Sirius saw Prewett gesture to Wellington, who murmured something to Yaxley and then slipped off. Sirius watched as Prewett's face changed from confused to wary, or even afraid.

Blackburn called everyone's attention and repeated what Hemsley had told Sirius and the others when they were upstairs, about Scrimgeour being delayed for unknown reasons, and that they had the next most senior Aurors - Robards and Mad-Eye - on the way.

"You don't think it could be the Serpent Sworn, do you?" Sirius heard Edwards whisper to Brown. It was clearly not a comment she'd intended to reach the rest of the group, but it was so silent that it did. Brown gave her a look that clearly said he'd been wondering about that too, and many of the other trainees looked troubled by the thought. Sirius certainly was.

"We don't have enough information to eliminate that as a possibility," Hemsley said, and he sounded tired. "But I bloody hope not."

Beside Sirius, Dora made a noise that he didn't know how to interpret. He was sure - if he'd been there, and not at home with Harry and Kreacher - that Remus would have known what it meant.

"I'll second that," Yaxley muttered, and Sirius nodded, grimacing.

It was not to be.

Less than a minute after Yaxley'd spoken, there was a booming sound from upstairs, and shouting. Nothing was decipherable, but everyone was on their feet in seconds, wands out, eyeing the stairs.

"Help!" someone shouted. "I need help!"

"That's Mad-Eye," Sirius said, recognising the voice. No one paid him much attention; they were all busy listening to the commotion above them. "We've got to-" He never got the chance to finish his sentence, though; Mad-Eye arrived, limping very quickly down the stairs, wand in one hand (which he was using to slam and magically lock every door behind him) and his other arm around Robards, who was covered in blood, hardly conscious and very, very pale.

Sirius was running toward them before he had time to process the thought, and Mad-Eye's spell hit him in the chest at full force. Someone screamed. He collapsed to the ground, gasping. His head hit the ground with a crack that made his ears ring and eyes water, and he could hear people shouting, but couldn't understand them. A moment later, Dora also went down - possibly of her own accord, but it was more likely at Mad-Eye's hand - and a few feet away, Marlene grunted as she too hit the floor. Sirius tried to move, but it felt like he was being held down. It was a sensation he'd experienced once before, during the war, when James had secured him so that Lily could fix his injured legs. It was not a sensation he'd enjoyed.

Someone was shouting at him.

"...idiots, running at me like that! Me!" There was a snort and then the pressure ended and a rough hand yanked Sirius into a sitting position. "You're lucky I didn't kill you!" Next to him, Sirius saw Dora pulled up - more gently than he had been - and then Marlene. She crawled over to Robards immediately, ignoring the rest of Mad-Eye's reprimand.

"You don't kill," Sirius rasped. Mad-Eye opened his mouth but had no rebuttal.

“Sirius..?" He glanced over at Marlene, who looked scared. Hemsley, Blackburn and Klenner had all run for the stairs, obviously intending to catch whoever it was that had attacked Robards. A few trainees went with them, but most stayed put, obviously waiting for instructions. Prewett and a boy whose name Sirius didn’t know, were gathered around Robards, healing some of his smaller wounds, but hadn’t touched any of the worse ones. He was well and truly unconscious now. "Can you... is there anything-"

"Dittany," he said, giving Mad-Eye a wary look, but Mad-Eye let him pass. Sirius eyed the cut on Robards' temple, and then the one across his ribs, which wasn't as deep, but still looked painful, and was responsible for quite a bit of blood loss. Sirius also suspected at least one of those ribs was broken. He flicked his wand, casting a quick diagnostic to make sure that there was no internal damage, but other than the three ribs, it was mostly external.

"Did a spell break his ribs?" he asked Mad-Eye. Mad-Eye nodded and Sirius swore under his breath. James had always been good with spell-broken bones, but Sirius only had experience healing physical breaks. "Lots of Dittany, and Skelegro, and a Blood Replenisher. Something for the pain, too!"

Marlene was already moving, heading for the cabinets in the training rooms, which were equipped with such things for practice. It was a good thing she'd listened (not that he'd expected any different, after her involvement in the Order) because no one else had. Dora looked worried and was talking to Mad-Eye in an urgent voice, and the other trainees looked stunned by what had happened.

"Rennervate," Sirius said, tapping Robards' side. "Come on, you prat, Rennervate!"

Robards spluttered back to consciousness and tried to sit up. Sirius forced him back down - making him wince and gasp and clutch his bloody side.

"Stay still," Sirius murmured. "Can you do that for me?"

"I'm injured, Black, not stupid," he grunted, his face contorting.

"Then don't move," Sirius repeated, and then traced his wand across Robards' temple. He could hear Robards' teeth grinding together, and noticed his knuckles were white. “Sorry,” Sirius said, but wasn’t really; healing hurt, but Robards would be better off healed than he would be if they just left him injured.

"Here," Marlene said, dropping back down beside Sirius her arms laden with bottles.

"Thanks," he said. He grabbed the Dittany, and started spreading it over the wounds he’d healed; it soothed them a bit, and also tended to stop scarring. "Give him that,” Sirius said, while he worked. “Two lids ought to do it. And it tastes like rubbish, so he'll try to spit it out, but stop him from doing that, if you can."

He finished with the Dittany, left Robards with Marlene and went to speak with Mad-Eye.

“Good work,” he grunted, nodding at Robards. Sirius nodded to acknowledge the compliment – they were rare, coming from his old mentor – and then got right to the point.

“We’ve got to get moving,” Sirius said. Mad-Eye cocked an eyebrow, and beside him, Dora looked worried. “That,” he said, jabbing a finger at the stairs that led to the broom cupboard, “is the only entrance. And if they get down here, and ward it against Apparition, we’ll be in a world of trouble.”

“Already have,” Mad-Eye said grimly, tapping his magical eye. It had the sort of sight Harry and Sirius had to use an incantation to get, though he’d never, to Sirius’ knowledge, thought of using gaps in wards to Apparate.

Ostendere me omnia, Sirius thought, and his eyes widened; the wards woven over the training room were at least as thick as those that the Aurors had put up that day in Knockturn Alley. Damn. Finite. Dora was staring between them, obviously wondering what it was they were looking at.

“So what do we do?” he hissed.

“There’s the back way,” Mad-Eye said. Sirius stared at him. “You don’t really think that when Potter, Scrimgeour and I created this training facility, we only gave it one exit, do you, lad?” He actually looked disappointed. “Didn’t I teach you anything? Co-”

“-stant vigilance,” Sirius said quickly. Dora almost smiled. “I know. So where is it?” Mad-Eye glanced at Dora and gestured for her to stay where she was. Then, he limped a few yards away, and turned to Sirius. “Examination room.” Sirius’ eyebrows shot up; he’d only been into the examination room once; into the arena, for the Auror exam. It was a strange place. “The platform above it has a ladder that leads to a passage that comes up in a fireplace in the Atrium.”

“The one that never works?” Sirius asked.

“Always were a smart lad,” Mad-Eye said. “Let’s keep it that way, at least until this is all-” The entire room shook. “And that’s your sign to leave,” Mad-Eye growled. There were voices up the top, and light flashed under the broom cupboard door. Marlene, who was supporting Gawain, came over to join them. Gawain’s eyes were bleary, but Marlene’s were sharp. “Everyone, through there!” He was of course, smart enough not to shout where they’d be going. The trainees moved quickly, obviously relieved to have an instruction they could follow.

“Mad-Eye-” Dora began, looking uncertain. Sirius could hear her Sneakoscope; it was ringing again. The shouts outside the door grew louder, and more light flashed under the door. “W-”

“Robards,” Mad-Eye barked, and Robards tried to straighten, winced and then slumped against Marlene, who caught him, grimacing; Skele-gro wasn’t an instant solution, nor was it a comfortable one. He’d be sore and limited by his ribs for at least a few more hours.

“Moody,” Robards said in a weak voice, and nodded. He clenched his teeth and used Marlene to push himself upright. Then, unsteadily, he let go. Marlene stepped forward, ready to catch him again, but it wasn’t necessary. “Follow me, you lot,” he said, sounding tired.

“Sir?” Marlene said, sharing a worried look with Sirius and Dora, as Gawain gingerly headed for the examination room. Marlene started after him. “Sir, what-”

“We’re getting out of this trap of a room,” Sirius heard him say.

“Go with him,” Mad-Eye told Dora. His eyes – either of them – never left the door. His wand hadn’t left his hand the whole time he’d been down there, but now, it was held in front of him.

“And what, leave you?” she snapped, drawing her wand. Her hair was a nervous sort of green colour, but her face was set. “You really are mad.”

“Now, Nymphadora,” he snapped back. She looked startled by his tone; Mad-Eye’d always been gentler with her than he had with Sirius or James. She glared at him. “That is an order!” he growled, giving her a push.

“No!” she said. “No, I won’t just-”

“Now!” he roared. Dora actually looked frightened, and Sirius thought she might cry. Her Sneakoscope continued to whistle, and Sirius couldn’t help but wonder if Remus had known. Dora rubbed at her eyes – they were looking wet – and glanced at the door, then at Mad-Eye, then at Sirius.

“But he’s staying,” she said in a hurt voice. “It’s not fair if he gets to-”

“Damn Hufflepuffs!” Mad-Eye snarled. “Do as you’re told!” She locked eyes with Sirius, perhaps expecting him to protest on her behalf.

“Go on,” Sirius said quietly, feeling like a traitor. It wasn’t unreasonable, though; Dora, good as she was, was only a trainee. She’d probably have to fight someone at some point if things were as bad as her Sneakoscope seemed to think, but there was no need for her to go looking for a fight. She’d definitely get one if she stayed with Mad-Eye and Sirius.

So you’re looking for a fight? his sensible side asked. Sirius wondered when it had stopped sounding like Remus, and more like a quieter version of himself.

No, I’m staying because Mad-Eye’s got a better chance if I do.

And what chance does Harry have if you get yourself killed?

I’m not dying, Sirius thought, gritting his teeth.

“Dora,” he said. Dora’s hair turned a furious red and she opened her mouth, closed it, and then backed away from them, and turned and jogged after Marlene and Gawain, who had just reached the door.

“And you,” Mad-Eye said quietly, sparing a quick look for Sirius.

“Don’t bother,” Sirius said, rolling his wand between his fingers. “I’m staying.” He wasn’t sure why Mad-Eye hadn’t left with the rest. It was odd... but Mad-Eye was one of the most cautious people he knew, and Sirius also trusted his judgement. He’d learned that much in the Order.

“Good,” Mad-Eye said, with an odd smile. He took a sip from his hipflask, and then looked worried. Sirius ignored that, and glanced back at the door. “Makes this easier.” Sirius glanced at his old mentor, and jumped back, wand up, in shock; Mad-Eye’s face was changing. His hair was darkening and shrinking into his skull, his skin appeared to have undergone some sort of instant tan, and his magical eye popped out, as a new eye grew – or re-grew – in its place. He lifted a hand to his face and his eyes – hazel eyes – widened. “Exscin-” he began in a panicked voice, but Sirius was quicker.

Stupefy!” Sirius said, and not-Mad-Eye dropped to the floor with a thump. Sirius picked up the wand – which he recognised as the wand belonging to the real Mad-Eye – and pocketed it. He also reached into the imposter’s coat for Mad-Eye’s Sidekick, which was, thankfully, there. Then, he bound the imposter’s unconscious form and used his wand to sweep him into the corner.

The door rattled upstairs.

Sirius shoved his own wand into his pocket, and bowed into Padfoot. Then he took off toward the examination room, his heart hammering and mind racing; firstly, if Mad-Eye had been a fake, then it was likely that Robards was too, and that meant that Dora, Marlene and the rest were in danger. Secondly, the fake Mad-Eye was the one who’d given the rest of the trainees instructions. Not only was his information worryingly detailed – only those who’d been in the Auror exam knew what was in the exam room – but it was also very likely to lead them all right into a trap.

*                    *                    *

“Can you see anything down there?” Marlene whispered, peering over the edge of the suspended platform they were on. Her wand was lit but the light didn’t reach far enough down. Tonks nodded, and turned her head; Marlene saw her eyes – reflective, and slitted like a cat’s – flash. Her hair was glowing too, a bright yellow colour, that lit up the otherwise pitch black walkway. Robards walked gingerly ahead of them, using Marlene’s wandlight to see in the dark, and using the rail on the side of the platform to support himself.

“I think... it looks like trees,” Tonks muttered, looking puzzled in the glow of her hair. “And... I think that’s a castle. Can you see that?”

“I can’t see a thing that’s not a yard in front of me,” Marlene muttered. Dale laughed nervously behind her, and Patel and Wright exchanged worried looks. “How much further?” Marlene called to Robards.

“Not long now,” he said, pressing a hand to his side. Someone screamed – not loudly, but the horrible sort of gasp-yelp people tended to make when they were truly scared – and everyone whipped around, wands out and ready. Gawain shoved everyone aside, but whoever had startled the others was still moving. Marlene saw the flash of an eye as the figure – invisible, even in the wandlight - dodged a spell.

Next thing she knew, Gawain was on the ground, moving with alarming speed away from the rest of the group. Marlene aimed, trying to find whoever was dragging him, but couldn’t see. The platform swayed as people moved and tried to see what was happening.

“Sirius?” Tonks asked. “What the hell are you-”

Lumos Maxima!” Marlene said, no longer caring about discretion. Her wandlight flared, and she saw an enormous black dog release Gawain’s coat and place himself between Gawain and the rest of them. “Sirius?” she asked, echoing Tonks. He stood up, reassuming his normal form, and put his hands up. “What are you doing?

“Mad-Eye was a fake,” he puffed. “Polyjuice Potion.” Gasps went through the group, and Tonks made a small, squeaking noise. “I wasn’t sure if-”

Gawain snarled and grabbed Sirius’ leg.

Several spells flew in the air toward the pair; Sirius dodged two and was knocked onto his back by a third. Another spell hit him a moment later, and he stirred. Gawain – who wasn’t actually Gawain, by the looks of things – rolled out of the way of someone else’s spell, and grabbed Sirius again.

Relashio!” Marlene snapped.

Not-Gawain wrenched his hand back, as if he’d been burned, and then sat up and snatched up his wand before anyone thought to stop him. Sirius rolled out of the way, and into a dog as he moved. Not-Gawain, though, gave Marlene a hard smile – it was uncannily like Gawain’s smile – and rolled off the platform. Marlene took an automatic step forward; she wasn’t sure if it was instinct because the man that had just plummeted Merlin-knew-how-far looked like her mentor, or if it was because she wanted answers and couldn’t get them without the man. Wellington caught her arm before she reached the rail.

“Good timing,” Tonks told Sirius, as he straightened into himself again. She put a hand on his arm and then stepped past him to squint into the darkness. “He’s gone,” she said. Marlene struggled to hear her over everyone else; someone was sobbing, and quite a few others were asking questions.

“Shut up!” Marlene snapped, and they did.

“Running that way, into the trees,” Tonks said. Sirius was frowning, as if he was trying to remember something.

“Where’s the castle?” he asked, and Tonks gave him an odd look, but pointed. Sirius tapped his fingers against the railing and then nodded. “All right, you lot, this way!” He started back the way they’d come.

“But Moody said-” someone – Marlene couldn’t be sure in the dim light, but thought it might have been Wright that had spoken.

“Moody didn’t say anything,” Sirius said tiredly. “The bloke pretending to be him did, though-”

“So it’s probably a trap,” Brown said; his voice, Marlene could recognise easily, because he spoke so often.

“Ten points to whatever House you were in,” Sirius said, and Brown made a smug noise. Marlene didn’t think anyone but herself and perhaps Tonks know Sirius well enough to hear the sarcasm behind the comment.

“Are you hurt?” Marlene asked, moving to Sirius’ side.

“Nah,” Sirius said, and gave her a troubled smile. Then he twitched and fired a silent spell at something up ahead. Marlene went still at once, and her eyes widened when she saw the spell splash over a Shield Charm a few yards in front of them. A man’s silhouette was briefly illuminated. Marlene, and most of the others trained their wands there immediately.

“Who’s that?” the man called.

“You first,” Sirius replied. There was a sigh.

“Auror Hemsley,” he said, sounding a little worried. Wright, Patel and Brown made relieved noises and started forward, but were caught by other trainees; Marlene herself caught Patel, while Dale caught Wright and Brown shrugged off Edwards and then Gaspar in quick succession until Sirius grabbed his shoulder.

“The night you were on guard in the holding cells,” Sirius said to Hemsley, gritting his teeth as Brown tried to push past, “what did I ask you for?” Hemsley – if it was really him – shifted. Marlene released Patel – who thankfully stayed still – and tightened her hold on her wand.

“Light?” he said hesitantly. “I think. You went and looked out the door, and-”

“Thank Merlin,” Sirius said, and let go of Brown, who went straight to his mentor. They exchanged a few, brief words, and then Hemsley lit his wand, and approached, scanning their faces as he did so. “Is anyone else with you? Blackburn? Klenner?”

“Blackburn’s dead,” Hemsley said, and stunned, scared noises ran through the group. Marlene’s insides twisted very unpleasantly. Blackburn was a good Auror, and very involved in the Program. He’d be missed. “Last I saw, Klenner was running for the lifts.” Hemsley looked around. “Where are Moody and Robards?”

“Fakes,” Sirius said shortly. “Did you get a good look at any of the attackers?”

“Cloaks were in the way,” Hemsley said, shaking his head. “But I’d guess there’s a pretty even mix of men and women. And, they’re good. They’re not just your usual, bad-intentioned gits. They’ve got a plan. And they’re Serpent Sworn; they had the signs on their cloaks.”

“So what do we do?” Patel asked, looking frightened. Edwards put a comforting arm around her. Marlene almost rolled her eyes, and then remembered this was the first time these trainees had been so out of their depth. She herself hadn’t been nearly as calm on her first Order mission.

“Sir?” Wright asked, and several other voices joined hers.

“We go up to the Atrium,” Hemsley said. “On the way, you lot can try to get through to your mentors. If they’re not here yet, we can tell them not to come. They’ve probably set up an ambush.”

Everyone pulled out their Sidekicks at once, and whispered passwords filled the area. Marlene didn’t bother with hers, she just shared a grim, sad look with Tonks, and then frowned as Sirius stepped up to Hemsley and pulled him aside.

*                     *                      *

“Black,” Hemsley said.

“Hemsley,” Sirius said evenly. “The Atrium?”

“I don’t like it,” Hemsley admitted, “but we can’t go back to the training room, and we can’t just stand around-”

“There are two ways in and out of the Ministry,” Sirius said. “The Floo connections, and the telephone box, both of which are in the Atrium. The Atrium is also where the rest of the Aurors are going to be, and where, if these Serpent Sworn are as smart as you say they are, will be waiting.”

“It’s possible,” Hemsley said. “What’s your point?”

“My point,” Sirius said, “is that if we go up there, we’ll be walking right into a trap; the bloke pretending to be Mad-Eye said to come this way, and so it stands to reason that we should be doing the opposite of what he said, doesn’t it?”

“Sir,” Brown said, approaching.

“Wait, kid,” Sirius said impatiently.

“I’m an Auror trainee,” Brown said, his eyes flashing in the wandlight. “You’re a civilian, Black, so a bit of respect would be nice.”

“Michael,” Hemsley said warningly. Brown clenched his jaw.

“Klenner and Taure are the only ones we’ve heard from,” Brown said. “They’re together, somewhere on the third level, but Taure’s hurt.”

“We’ve got Shacklebolt!” someone called, and Sirius relaxed slightly, as Yaxley pushed through everyone to report to Hemsley. “He says Finch was an imposter, and that she broke his arm, but he’s safe for the moment.” Hemsley nodded.

“So?” he said to Sirius. “What do you suggest, if not the Atrium?”

“We go back through the training room,” Sirius said. “By now, they’ve probably seen that it’s empty and left, to wait for us to appear where we were ‘instructed’ to go. There might be a guard or two there, but we can handle that, and get supplies... disguises, healing potions – we know we’ve already got injuries, and I reckon there’ll be a few more before-”

“Stop,” Hemsley said tiredly. “The training room? Are you mad?”

“You’re mad if you think the Atrium’s going to be any better,” Sirius said. “I really don’t think-”

“I really don’t think you’re in a position to argue,” Hemsley said. “I appreciate your suggestion, but I’m the superior authority in this situation, and the final decision falls to me. And I’m not going back to that training room.” He turned, and Brown gave Sirius a cocky look before he followed after his mentor. “Let’s go,” Hemsley called to the trainees. “Stay quiet, and move quickly. And as soon as we come up in the Atrium, be prepared to fight.”

Sirius let out a deep breath. He really was certain that the Atrium was a trap, and if Hemsley didn’t think the same, Sirius couldn’t force him to. And, if the trainees were happy to follow Hemsley without question, Sirius couldn’t force them to stay behind, or listen to him instead. But Sirius wasn’t about to follow blindly.

“Black?” Hemsley called, as Sirius turned away. “Black, get back here! I’m in charge, and you’ll do-”

“I’ll do what I want,” Sirius said. “I’m not an Auror – not anymore – and I’m not a trainee. I don’t have to do anything. I think the Atrium’s a trap-” He caught Dora’s eyes at that point, and she bit her lip, looked at Hemsley and looked down. Sirius sighed. She put too much trust in the Aurors. “-and so I’m going to try to get back to Level Two through the training room-”

“It’s not safe that way-”

“The Ministry’s under attack,” Sirius called back. “It’s not safe anywhere, Hemsley.”

“Should he be allowed to go alone?” someone whispered. “He’s just a civilian-”

“Black’s made his choice,” Hemsley said. “Let’s go.” The group continued along the platform, their footsteps growing gradually fainter, and the light from their wands growing dimmer. Sirius didn’t bother with his wand; he could see vague shapes, and he could also smell the trail they’d made coming this way in the first place.

One set of light footsteps came in his direction, though. Sirius squinted over his shoulder, and after a moment, a tall form caught up with him.

“Really?” He tried to hide his surprise, but he suspected his voice gave him away.

“When has anything good ever come from letting you go off on your own?” Marlene asked. There was the barest hint of humour in her voice, and the slightest flash of teeth that Sirius thought might mean she was smiling.

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