'You stop that!' said Ormesby in cold fury. 'I'm warning you ...'
Lupin looked up blearily, but Ormesby wasn't talking to him.
Ormesby had his wand out and was pointing it at the right Dementor, a cloud of silver gas hovering around its end. The Dementor moved back a pace and the coldness and despondency that Lupin was feeling diminished somewhat. He forced himself upright in the chair. It was the effect of the Dementors, making him frightened and superstitious. He had to fight it -- he needed all his wits about him.
Ormesby gave the Dementors a final glare, took a deep breath and turned to Lupin.
'You were teaching at Hogwarts when Sirius Black was in the area,' he said, more a statement than a question.
'Yes, I was,' said Lupin.
'I fail to see what Sirius Black has to do with any of this,' said Fudge testily.
Lupin regarded the Minister with some surprise. Given that Fudge refused to believe that Voldemort had returned, it seemed Sirius Black would be his most likely suspect. This was an extremely worrying thought, and one that had only just occurred to Lupin -- yet Fudge didn't appear to consider it a possibility.
Ormesby's gaze flicked to Fudge and then back to Lupin. Lupin thought he could detect a trace of resentment in the short wizard's eyes.
Nonetheless, Ormesby chose not to pursue the subject. 'Why did you leave the Dark Arts job?' he said.
'I -- I wasn't able to -- take sufficient care in controlling my symptoms,' said Lupin. 'I -- didn't feel it safe I remained at Hogwarts, around children.'
'And what have you been doing since then?'
'Jobbing Dark creature exterminations, mainly,' Lupin said.
He wasn't going to admit to selling potion ingredients unless he had to. It might lead to potentially awkward questions about his customer base.
'Set a monster to catch a monster,' snorted Fudge.
This was by no means the first time Lupin had heard such sentiments expressed. Still, there were few wizards willing to hire a known werewolf even for that purpose, especially as the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures provided similar services free of charge.
Some of Lupin's clients mistrusted the government; others simply wished to avoid the long waits and reams of paperwork that dealing with the Pest Sub-Division would entail. A fair number, however, had good cause not to want the Ministry poking its nose in their affairs. Usually they were up to something illegal but mostly harmless, yet on occasion Lupin was able to tip Dumbledore off to some serious Dark Magic. Because of this, Lupin's rates for exterminations were eminently reasonable.
Ormesby plainly found as little to interest him in Lupin's answer as he did in Fudge's attempt at humour.
'What is your connection with Harry Potter?' he asked Lupin.
'I taught him Defence Against the Dark Arts in his third year at Hogwarts,' Lupin replied. 'His father and I were friends.'
'Disastrously bad judgement in choosing his companions,' Fudge muttered to Ormesby. 'Son turning out just like him, unfortunately.'
Lupin winced. There was too much truth in Fudge's words. All of James Potter's friends had played their part in bringing about his tragic and untimely death: Peter by betraying him to Voldemort, Sirius by giving Peter his opportunity and Lupin by not being around to put a stop to Sirius' ill-advised plan. If he'd kept in closer touch with his friends ... if he hadn't let himself drift away ...
But it had been difficult, after Hogwarts. James had had Lily and his interesting Transfiguration research to occupy him. Sirius was doing something new and exciting every week, and with a different girlfriend, too. Even Peter seemed to be muddling along. Lupin had become increasingly reluctant to spoil their happiness by telling them he'd been sacked from yet another job when his condition was discovered, and rather concerned that they might try and help him.
The Potters were a wealthy and influential family and the Blacks were even more so. Sirius in particular would have been only too happy to find some hapless witch or wizard whose business depended on the Black family's patronage and bully them into taking Lupin on. Lupin could think of few things less pleasant than having to spend his days working amongst people who hated him but didn't dare get rid of him.
Then Dumbledore had pointed out to him that an unemployed, down-on-his-luck werewolf was uniquely well positioned to keep tabs on the rising Dark Order. As Lupin grew more deeply embroiled in spying and surveillance, he'd thought it best to allow his contacts with respectable persons to lapse altogether.
So Sirius had come to believed Lupin was in league with Voldemort and hadn't told him that Peter was to take Sirius' place as James and Lily's Secret-Keeper. Lupin would never have permitted them to go through with it had he known, not because he'd suspected Peter, but out of fear for his safety.
Well, perhaps in the back of his mind Lupin would have worried Peter might give James and Lily away in a moment of panic -- he'd realised that Peter was weak. He hadn't dreamed that Peter was evil ... that he'd deliberately become the Potters' Secret-Keeper intending to sell them to Voldemort, then cold-bloodedly murder twelve Muggles to send Sirius to Azkaban for his own crimes.
If Lupin had harboured any doubts as to Wormtail's true nature, however, his recent activities had more than laid them to rest. Thanks to Wormtail, Voldemort had been restored to his body and Harry was almost certainly dead. Another catastrophe for which Lupin shared the blame -- he should never have let Harry talk him and Sirius out of giving Wormtail his just deserts.
The two Dementors sucked at the air with an ugly double rattle. Lupin was once again engulfed by numbing white fog. This time he could hear Dumbledore's voice --
'James and Lily are dead ... their Secret-Keeper betrayed them ... Sirius ... Peter ... he murdered them ... the house was completely destroyed ... Harry ... we can't find him anywhere ... Sirius ... Sirius has been handed over to the Dementors ...'
Lupin was drowning in cold and guilt and despair ... then someone slapped his face, hard.
'Snap out of it!' barked Ormesby.
If not for the chains binding him to the chair, Lupin would have collapsed to the floor. He felt horribly sick and shaken. Not even in the days prior to his mastering the Patronus Charm had he experienced Dementors feeding on him like this ...
'Can we not send those things away, Minister?' said Ormesby with ill-concealed exasperation. 'He's chained down, and we aren't going to get much sense out of him otherwise.'
'The Dementors stay,' said Fudge flatly. 'Now get on with your questioning.'
Ormesby stalked back to the table and glowered from one Dementor to the other.
'If you lot interfere with this investigation one more time, I'll have you up in front of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures,' he bit off. 'We have the wherewithal to execute rogue Dementors, and don't forget it.'
Ormesby sat down and turned his scowl on Lupin.
'What is your connection with Bartemius Crouch?' he demanded.
Lupin, his brain still half frozen, stared at Ormesby blankly.
'I -- I once gave evidence before the Council of Magical Law when Crouch was Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,' he finally said, 'during the trials after the fall of Voldemort ...'
Fudge flinched when Lupin said the name, then sat up very straight and glared at him. Ormesby merely raised an eyebrow.
'I meant Bartemius Crouch Jr,' he said.
'Ah,' said Lupin. 'No connection. It was not his trial that I was involved in.'
'He's lying, Ormesby!' said Fudge immediately. 'They were at Hogwarts together!'
'Oh ... so we would have been,' said Lupin, 'but years apart, in different houses -- we weren't acquainted with one another.'
Ormesby eyed Lupin calculatingly.
'What is your connection with Sirius Black?' he said.
Before Lupin could reply, Fudge exploded. 'Sirius Black has fled the country! There have been no sightings of him in over a year! He is utterly irrelevant to this enquiry!' In a more reasonable tone, Fudge went on, 'If it wasn't the werewolf, it must have been the giant. A giant could eat four people, no trouble. They consider human bones a delicacy --'
'-- when ground into meal and baked into bread, yes,' said Ormesby. 'They can't actually chew them up with their teeth. And a giant would no more eat clothing than you'd eat a cloth table napkin. Some remains should have been left behind -- even a full giant isn't large enough to swallow a grown man whole.'
'He could have carried them off with him,' said Fudge stubbornly.
'Well, something must have carried them off,' said Ormesby. 'Carried them off alive -- there's no indication anyone was killed on site. But there's also nothing to suggest it was a giant. That house wasn't smashed with a club! The Improper Use of Magic Office registered a very powerful Reductor Curse and a very powerful unknown charm -- presumably the spell used to conjure the Dark Mark --'
'That was not a Dark Mark, that was not a Dark Mark!' said Fudge furiously. 'The Dark Mark's made of lights in the sky, not burnt grass on the ground!'
'Regardless of the nature of the -- marking -- it took a skilled wizard to make it,' said Ormesby. 'Destroying an entire garden with one curse -- not to mention breaching the protections Dumbledore put on the family --'
'The protections Dumbledore said he put on the family,' said Fudge darkly. 'I'm not certain we can rely on anything Dumbledore says any more. Getting a bit past it, in my opinion. Mind's starting to go ...'
'Even so, all the evidence we have indicates that this attack was the work of a Dark wizard, not a monster,' said Ormesby.
'So you think it's Snape, then,' said Fudge. 'I always said the fellow was mad ...'
'Snape is undoubtedly a dangerous man, with an unhealthy fixation on the Potter boy,' said Ormesby, 'but he's had nearly fourteen years to act on it, and none of this trouble started until Sirius Black escaped.'
'That will be enough about Sirius Black!' roared Fudge. 'Black is continents away by now, and I won't have you causing a public panic by suggesting otherwise!'
Ormesby didn't look convinced, but was clearly unwilling to press the matter.
Fudge sat breathing hard for a few seconds, then said, 'Have you made any progress in discovering the giant's whereabouts? I find his disappearance highly suspicious. He needn't have eaten them himself, you know. Perhaps he brought one of his creatures with him and it got out of control ...'
'Do you mean Rubeus Hagrid?' said Lupin.
Ormesby and Fudge turned to stare at him, Ormesby with narrowed eyes, Fudge as astonished as he would have been had Snuffles just spoken up to offer him advice.
'Only Dumbledore told me he'd gone on holiday abroad,' Lupin continued, 'with a woman he met last year, apparently. Dumbledore didn't say where, but I'm sure he knows. Have you tried asking him?'
Lupin gave Ormesby and Fudge the most cheerful smile he could muster.
There was a brief silence. Then Ormesby said abruptly, 'Right, that's all the questions I had. Is there anything else you wished to ask, Minister?'
Fudge shook his head, looking disgruntled.
'That will be all, then, Mr Lupin,' said Ormesby. 'For now, that is. We may be calling you back in future. Don't you plan on going on holiday abroad this summer.'
Ormesby waved his wand and Lupin's chains vanished.
'Go and tell Mr Snape we're ready for him,' he said.
Disclaimer: All characters and concepts from the Harry Potter series copyright J K Rowling.
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