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Chapter 27 : The Minister of Magic
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Disclaimer: The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.
The Minister of Magic
March rolled in with a very loud boom of thunder, and many cracks of lightning to go along with it. It was made all the more spectacular, or all the more terrifying, by the glowing green designs in the sky. They highlighted the thunderclouds with an eerie yellowish glow, and many people thought that this must be what it was like to live in a nightmare. They, the Muggles, couldn’t understand the skulls in the sky. Thousands of theories were gossiped about all across Britain, from pranksters to gangsters, aliens and signs from God.
The Dark Marks were so numerous every night by now that the Ministry could no longer keep them a secret. Muggles could no longer have the memories purged; there were just too many seeing the Marks now. And even if they could purge every memory, half the population would just see the Marks again the next night.
There was little choice but to let the theories fly. The Muggle Prime Minister knew the truth, and he was furious that the Ministry wasn’t doing it’s job in keeping the magical world a secret. He couldn’t understand that the situation was beyond their control.
The only good thing in all of it was that the thought of there being a secret, magical world amongst the Muggle one was so ridiculous, nobody took that theory seriously, not even when a group of mischievous young wizards started the rumour. Most people chose to believe that this was Armageddon, and the world was ending as they knew it. Too many terrible things had happened lately. The Underground catastrophe, the deaths, the mysterious marks in the sky. The rioting, the terrible weather and horrible feelings (caused by Dementors, but Muggles didn’t know that).
News anchors began to report on the catastrophes with a tone of sadness and impending doom, as if simply waiting for it all to end. Churches quickly filled as people lined up to give their confessions or simply kneel in prayer.
It was when the British figured out that no other country was having the same difficulties that they really began to get frightened. Perhaps Armageddon only took one country at a time, or perhaps there was something more terrible than they could ever understand happening.
Lily Evans was in Heaven. Her new life was intense with happiness, she felt lost in a whirlwind of love and blissfulness; life was beyond good. It was sometimes hard for her to even remember there was a war going on, that it was storming outside, that people were dying and many were afraid. It was hard to remember the Minister of Magic was missing, the giants were coming, her parents were dead.
Life with James was something she couldn’t even describe. Seeing him when he snuck out at night had been child’s play. Seeing him during Order meetings had been a distracted get-together. Seeing him fighting in the battles they’d already survived had been terrifying. And being with him after somebody died had been a comfort.
Being with him all day, all night, seven days a week was entirely different. Experiencing James full time with nothing holding her back was almost exhausting. He was alive, so much more alive than anyone she had ever known before. He lit up the room with his smile, lit up her very soul with the light in his eyes. She came to understand that he laughed first and laughed loudest, and so many other things that she never knew or noticed or understood until she really, truly had him all to herself.
Up until now, it had seemed like puppy love. School crushes, and they had been a good match who’d managed to last even beyond their exit from Hogwarts. He had been as much of a friend as a lover, and though she had fantasized about marrying him and having a family with him, she had kept level in the back of her mind the fact that they were young, it probably wouldn’t last just because it was good for now, that there were many other boys that she had never experienced. She had only had one other boyfriend, and that had been in fifth year, and she hadn’t liked him, and they hadn’t done anything more than hold hands awkwardly at Quidditch games, or walk to class together. It had lasted two months.
But James was so much more than that, than even what they had before. She woke to his chipper attitude; James would roll out of bed every morning and into the shower. He never looked back, never lingered; he moved in one direction only, and that direction was forward.
She came to recognise him as the light at the end of the tunnel. The one thing shining in a world of darkness. She understood now why the other three followed him. She understood why Peter idolised him, and why Sirius would follow him to the ends of the earth. She understood why Remus, even as a Prefect, had always let the rotten things James did slide. They were all blinded by him. This was why so many students at Hogwarts yearned to be around him. Nobody was as alive as James was.
She could see the anxiousness on Sirius’s face now at everything James did. She knew now why he killed the vampire. She understood it all. Sirius was determined to protect James. She understood now what a tragedy it would be if James’s light was ever put out. Life itself would lose it’s biggest fan; they would all be lost without him. Nothing could describe the emptiness that would remain if he ever left.
He always had something to give, and it came as no surprise to her when he announced to her that he was throwing a party for Remus. In fact, she readily agreed to it. She needed something to celebrate, some other happy distraction to give her a break from being so drunk on James all the time. And, she was certain, the other Marauders would appreciate the distraction from the real world.
James interrupted her thoughts as he tried to choose a workable date. Lily paused in her rummaging of a cupboard to listen.
“The full moon is on the thirteenth,” James stressed. “But his birthday is the tenth. I don’t know if he’ll be up for it.” James chewed his lip worriedly and stared at the calendar.
She joined him, wrapped her arms around him as she peered over his shoulder at the calendar. “How about the seventeenth? Seven days after his birthday, ten days before yours. And it’s a Saturday. We could make it a joint thing.”
At that, James turned his head to glare at her from the corner of his eye, and from her close view behind him, she admired his profile and long eyelashes - they nearly swept against his glasses. “A joint thing? No, no. I don’t care about a party for myself, Lily, but I want to do something for Remus. This is his first birthday without his father and all. Maybe we should have his mum over?”
He chewed the tip of his thumb thoughtfully as he stared back at the calendar. “Oh, look. The seventeenth is St. Patrick’s day, too.”
“It always is,” said Lily, repressing a giggle and releasing her arms from him. She turned to distract herself with making tea instead, having finally found her teabags shoved in the very back of the cupboard.
“So you want to cram two birthdays and a holiday all into one day. That’ll make it real special.”
He made no attempt to hide his sarcasm, and Lily could only roll her eyes as she summoned a sugar cube. “Well, why don’t we just take them all out for a nice dinner on his birthday, then? That shouldn’t be too exhausting for Remus. No wild party. And no mess for me to clean up afterwards.”
James looked highly disappointed. “But I wanted to have them over to the new house,” he admitted finally, turning to lean against the counter and study her. He looked like a very sad child, and Lily’s resolve over keeping a clean house faltered.
She sighed, because she couldn’t say no to him. “Fine, have the lot of them over for a sleepover then. You utter child.”
He laughed, kissed her cheek, and then hurried off to contact his friends by Floo.
Remus’s birthday was nice. It was laid back and quiet and comfortable. The birthday boy was silent for the most part, and they could all tell he was fairly unwell. Dark circles pooled beneath his eyes and his skin looked pale and drawn. The light had dimmed in his brown eyes, and his hair looked rather limp.
Mostly, Remus sat in an armchair, leaned his head back tiredly and swallowed the nauseating excess of saliva in his mouth. He didn’t mind being there at James and Lily’s new cottage when he was sick. It was hardly different from being back at the flat instead, or in the dormitory where he’d gone through this every month for seven years. He was still surrounded by the same people, and the only thing missing was his bed.
But the armchair was rather comfortable, and his friends kept their voices quiet, and a fire crackled in James’s new hearth. Lily had baked him a birthday cake, and she had burnt it terribly, to where the Muggle fire alarm had loudly protested. Tears pooled in her eyes, and James had tried not to smile, and Peter had silenced the alarm with his wand (possibly permanently, for his spellcasting was nothing to boast of; it wasn't as if they needed the Muggle device, anyway, he'd reasoned aloud), and Sirius had transfigured the cake back to normal, and Remus, for his part, had assured her that it was the thought that counted and, look, Sirius fixed it to where it looked quite lovely and probably tasted perfect (much too good for the likes of him, anyway).
And afterwards, as they sat around enjoying it (though Remus’s piece was very tiny, because he felt too ill to eat anything very sweet), Lily laughed, her disappointment gone.
“I wish they would have taught cooking classes at Hogwarts. When you’re away from home for seven years with only small holidays in between, you don’t get much time to learn about real life things.”
“Well they figure most people would probably use magic to get done what needed to be done,” said Peter knowingly, waving his fork at her.
“Well, yes, perhaps,” Lily responded. “But my mum used to make me the most wonderful birthday cakes, and it was like you could taste the love she put into it.” Her eyes appeared to get slightly misty suddenly, and she looked down and fiercely stabbed at another bite of her creation.
“I can taste it,” said James quickly, grabbing her hand and squeezing it gently.
Lily smiled at him. “Tuney used to want the fancy cakes. She would have all her friends over, and she’d insist on one of the big, impressive cakes they make professionally. Everyone gushed over them. But not me. I always wanted my mum’s messy, sticky, chocolate fudge cakes.”
“What kind of cake from the store?” Peter inquired, licking his fork clean.
“It was always plain white,” sighed Lily, staring vaguely as she remembered. “Vanilla cake, white frosting. Perfect white frosting that had too much sugar and always tasted a little hardened...”
Sirius sniffed and said, “I think I'd rather have the messy fudge cakes, too.”
Later, when it was dark outside and the fire had crackled down to little more than a few small flames desperately licking at the logs, and Remus was dozing, Sirius was chewing his fingernails thoughtfully. Lily stared into the fireplace, and James idly rubbed his thumb across the back of her hand. Peter glanced between them all, and back to the fire again from time to time. It was so quiet in the room, the steady ticking of a clock could be heard with ease.
At last, Sirius sighed and cleared his throat. Those who were awake looked at him, and Sirius appeared suddenly put upon the spot. He fidgeted uncomfortably, all too aware of how they would react to what he was about to tell them.
“Did you want to say something, Pads?” said James softly, not wanting to speak too loudly, not wanting to disrupt the comfortable silence in the room, or wake Remus.
Sirius reluctantly forced a small smile that didn’t last long. “Dumbledore,” he started, and he had to swallow the sickening lump in his throat. “He wants me to spy on my family,” he said hoarsely.
James, Peter and Lily all looked at him quite suddenly, not expecting to hear such a thing, and finding the request ludicrous given Sirius’s background with the Blacks.
“Why?” demanded Peter, and he looked terribly horrified and dismayed. James frowned at Sirius, waiting for the answer. He looked rather horrified, himself.
Sirius sighed and glanced at the three of them in turn. “He thinks that if Voldemort ordered the Minister kidnapped, he’d have him held hostage somewhere. I doubt he’d want to baby-sit the prisoner himself… Dumbledore doesn’t think he’d hide such an important catch anywhere but with his most trusted followers. And the most trusted would be, much to the honour of my family, Bellatrix.”
“And what did you say to that,” said James flatly.
Sirius shrugged. “I told him I’d think about it.”
“And have you?”
At that question, Sirius hesitated. “I have.”
“And… Well, bollocks, Prongs, I don’t suppose I could tell Dumbledore no...”
“Yes, you can!” objected James heatedly. “Dumbledore doesn’t know everything, you know, Pads…”
“But he’s probably right,” Sirius interrupted quickly. “The Order has been searching high and low. The Ministry Aurors have, too. They even checked Azkaban prison, Prongs, because we know the Dementors are working for Voldemort. Nobody can find him. Nobody can even find a trace of him, if he’s even still alive.
All we know is that he was kidnapped from his office. The escape was made through the Floo network, which was directly connected to his fireplace at home. The Aurors have been in and out of that house searching for fingerprints or footprints. They’ve even resorted to Muggle type investigations, and nobody can find a damn thing.
We’re never going to find him based off of evidence. But this, this actually makes sense. Where else could he be but kept hidden in the home of a Death Eater? I lived in a home like that, remember, James? I know about secret passages and hidden dungeons. I know.” He jabbed his finger into his own chest as he tried to make his point.
James glared at him, but could do little more than shake his head in disgust. “You’re barmy,” he said under his breath. He pursed his lips and looked away, and Sirius could tell that he was brooding.
“Am not,” said Sirius defensively. “You heard Longbottom. You heard all the horrible things that will probably happen if the Minister isn’t found. We can’t let the Ministry fall. I’m probably the only one who can do this,” he added at the end. And in his mind, he could only hear Moody’s voice.
You’re the only one who can stop him, Black, do it! Do it now!
Moody was right. Sometimes it felt like everything inside of him was unfolded, unfolding for all to see, like nothing else mattered so long as people recognised him for who he was and not where he came from. He wouldn’t let his family get away with something else just because he still clung to his silly dreams that they might give a damn about him after all. He fell into a broody silence and chewed on his thumbnail in thought.
“I am ready,” he finally said, slowly, with deliberation. He glared at James, almost challengingly, daring his friend to try to stop him. That was what he'd been prepared for; he'd expected a fight from James.
Instead, James glared at him and then got up and stalked off to his bedroom. Sirius, after watching him go, looked sheepishly at Lily. Lily's lips thinned to a grim, apologetic smile.
“I’ve ruined Moony’s birthday,” he finally said. His tone was gruff, and he stared at his lap.
“No!” Lily objected sympathetically. “Not at all, Sirius. James is just… He… He loves you.” She bit her lip awkwardly and reached over to pat his knee.
Sirius’s face melted into an expression of pain, desperation and confusion as he glared at her for a moment, but it was very brief, and then he leaned his head back against the couch and shut his eyes.
Sirius was armed with three things as he stood in the dark. One was James’s invisibility cloak. One was his wand. And the last was his two-way mirror. If anything happened, he could call for help. He hoped nothing would happen. Of course, if he were caught, he would attempt to fall back on Dumbledore’s suggestion of pretending he had a change of heart. He could pretend he wanted to be a part of the family again, even though the thought made him want to vomit.
He prayed he could find out something, anything, without ever being caught. That would be ideal. If he were caught and had to pretend, he wondered what sort of horrific task Bellatrix would have him do to prove his loyalty. He wondered what would happen to him if he refused the task. That was why he’d brought the mirror.
Standing behind the thick bushes in the landscaped garden, Sirius shivered. He wondered why it was so cold. March was a time for the winter to subside and for spring to make itself known. It shouldn’t be quite as cold as this, and he scanned the skies for signs of Dementors.
And then he sighed. He was stalling. It really didn’t matter that it was cold outside. Move your arse, he willed himself. Just get it over with.
He tightened the cloak around his shoulders and glanced down to be certain it was covering his feet. He didn’t want to be seen. And then, with a deep breath and his sweaty hand clutching his wand tightly, he strode towards the three story house.
It was the Malfoy house. He had been in the house only once, back when Narcissa had gotten married. Back when he was still a part of the family. He had been in his fourth year at Hogwarts. Though he was there only once, he thought he remembered the house well. That was the thing about not getting along with one’s family - one tended to wander off on his own just to get away from them.
He could still remember walking the halls, looking at the portraits and tapestries as he did so, and thinking with disgust that it was just like his own home. He could still remember peeking into bedrooms and daring Regulus to steal a pair of Lucius’s mum’s knickers.
(Regulus had, and when caught, had immediately declared in a loud voice that Sirius had dared him to. And though Sirius tried to look innocent and shocked, nobody had doubted Regulus for even a moment, and Sirius had been made to sit down in the kitchens with the house elf until hours later, when the family finally left.)
Before he’d been punished, however, in his day of exploring, he had discovered a door within one of the many rooms. It was a door that could be hidden very well, but on that day it was cracked open the tiniest inch. Sirius’s keen eye for mischief had spotted it with ease, and he could remember approaching it and peering inside.
Beyond that door, it was cold and dark. There was a set of stone steps leading forever downward, or at least it had seemed that way. He didn’t like it. He hadn’t gone in, hadn’t fully explored. It had frightened him; it had given him a feeling of dread. He had quickly backed out again.
He had almost dared Regulus to go down those stairs, but changed his mind. Perhaps that would be too cruel a joke. But he remembered it now, the dark mysterious staircase leading down to some sort of dungeon. The house he grew up in was huge, and even his house didn’t have such a place. He’d found it curious.
It was the reason he had chosen this house first. He could spy on Regulus and his parents and have a much easier time of it, but he didn’t think they would have the Minister there. They didn’t have a secret room like this house did.
(He didn't have to remind himself, in disgust, that it was likely his own family's home had already been searched by suspecting Aurors. That their reputation might preceed them, and that, clearly, nothing had been found.)
Sirius prowled around the perimeter of the house, fearing his heart was beating so loudly he would be heard. He gently pressed his wand to each window he passed, in the hopes of finding one vulnerable. His whispered Alohomora did nothing, however, and he sighed. He should have known that a house such as this one would have extensive security spells on it.
He wondered, then, how he was even able to be on the property without setting an alarm of some sort off. He was an intruder, after all. Perhaps the spells didn’t alert for anyone with Black or Malfoy blood running through their veins. Or perhaps the Malfoys had already been alerted of his presence, he thought with dread, and were only waiting for him to walk into a trap.
But nothing happened and, eventually, he found that he had come full circle. There was no way in, nothing had been left unlocked. For a moment he felt hopeless, and then he reluctantly pulled the mirror out of his pocket, planning to contact James and ask for any ideas. That was when his fingers brushed something else, something that he always carried with him but never thought about.
It was a pocket knife, one that James had given him for his birthday a few years ago. One that he’d used to pick the lock on his bedroom and sneak down for food whenever he was being punished at Grimmauld Place. One that James had once borrowed to pick a lock on Lily Evans’s charmed trunk to snoop around.
As he ran his fingers idly over the smooth handle of the knife in his pocket, it occurred to him that, perhaps, this pureblood magical family might find themselves so far above Muggles that they would never even think to protect themselves against such a small threat. Perhaps, though his magic couldn’t let him in, they would never suspect that somebody might try to pick their locks the Muggle way.
Sirius excitedly pulled the knife out and flicked it open. He peered through a window beside the door to be certain nobody was inside to hear his fidgeting in the lock, and when he was certain that the coast was clear, jammed one of the knife’s many small pieces into the hole.
It really was too easy, he thought smugly. It only took a few seconds before he heard the successful click and pulled the knife out again. It really wasn’t fair at all; he stepped lightly into the foyer and carefully shut the heavy door behind him. Perhaps Muggles were a threat to wizards after all, or whatever silly propaganda the Dark side was trying to spew.
Nobody was as graceful as Sirius was. He had always been lithe and agile, something James had often declared in an accusatory tone as he demanded to know why Sirius wouldn’t join his Quidditch team. At the moment, his nimble frame helped him slip easily through the house without making a sound, and he did it so effortlessly that he almost felt he wasn’t doing a good enough job of trying to stay hidden.
Nevertheless, his heart pounded terribly in his throat, so strongly that it was almost painful. He was terrified to be in the house, at the thought of being caught. He still remembered it from years before, and it made him uncomfortable, as if his mother might stroll around the corner and catch him and Regulus with Lucius’s mum’s knickers at any moment. Dumbledore’s idea that he might be able to pretend a change of heart and get away with being caught in the house seemed stupid now; Sirius didn’t think there was any way anyone in his family would fall for that.
These people were killers, intelligent and crafty. They were Slytherins. All of them. It was all Sirius could think about now as he lurked past old portraits of Lucius dressed in green and silver attire.
They were Death Eaters.
Sirius inched past the drawing room. He knew he was getting closer - the room with the door leading down the dark stairs had been just off the drawing room, just off where everyone had gathered in celebration of the Black-Malfoy union. As he passed the closed double doors of the drawing room, however, he heard voices.
And, being a Marauder, he couldn’t help but swallow his fears, ignore the frantic beating of his heart, and listen in.
He recognized the voices, or at least most of them. Voldemort had many followers, but only a select few seemed to be so esteemed as to be in his presence, as to be protected from much of the dirty work the other Death Eaters had to do. Sirius had yet to encounter any of his relatives in battle except for Regulus; they were above those things, and instead stood majestically at their master's side. They were used only for the most important of deeds, and, though Sirius never saw her, he was fairly certain that it had been Bellatrix who'd personally kidnapped the Minister. That task would be too important to trust to anyone else.
It was a frightening thought that the same blood ran through him as what ran through Voldemort’s most loyal supporters. Goose bumps erupted along his arms as he sagged his shoulders in disgust at what he was.
Bellatrix’s voice was the first he picked up on in the conversation, breaking into his dreary thoughts. It was sultry, breathy, sensuous. She sounded as if she could seduce with every word, and indeed, thought Sirius, she could. The very sound of her made his heart beat faster, long forgotten memories suddenly dredged up again. He hadn't heard that terrible voice in nearly four years.
They were discussing their big victory and how long it could be before they made their next move.
In response, Lucius’s voice was low and firm. “The Ministry is getting desperate,” he informed the group. “If the Minister isn’t recovered within the next few days, they will be forced to appoint somebody else.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. Lucius would know, of course. He was quickly gaining a reputation with the Ministry of Magic through various donations and favours. He was dangerous. Few people suspected him yet of being involved in the Dark side; most of the public viewed the Malfoy family as nothing more than harmless aristocrats; any cruelness evident in their expressions or behaviour had always been written off as haughtiness.
Lucius slipped in and out of the Ministry with ease, somebody who was always welcome to take somebody of importance out for lunch on pretence of a possible donation. Many people were happy to stand in the atrium and have a friendly chat with the handsome man.
(Malfoy Manor, Sirius knew, would never have been raided by Aurors in the search for the missing Minister.)
Any other civilian would never know of the Ministry’s dire situation. It was only the Aurors who were searching for the Minister, and those who held the highest positions of power that were aware of the need to appoint somebody new.
Lucius Malfoy shouldn’t know that. But, with friends in high places, he knew a lot more than most, and that was very bad news, indeed.
Bellatrix let out a throaty laugh, and Sirius could almost see her in his mind, diamonds dangling from her ears, neck and wrists, draped in fancy robes and jewellery, sipping wine in front of the fire. “The Dark Lord will be most pleased,” she mused contentedly. “Well done, Lucius. I knew Cissy made the right choice in you.”
“Thank you, Bellatrix,” said Lucius quietly, sounding rather humbled at such a compliment from one of Voldemort’s most loyal and important Death Eaters.
Sirius was disgusted, and was just about to move on when he heard Bellatrix speak again. He paused, listening carefully.
“Will you be able to perform the Imperius Charm?”
Lucius’s tone betrayed the confidence he tried so obviously to show. “I have been practicing,” he said hesitantly.
“And have you been successful in your practices?” purred Bellatrix.
“Lucius has practiced on the prisoner every day,” Narcissa’s brisk voice interrupted; she sounded almost defensive of her husband. “He seems to be doing a fine job so far. He is certainly picking it up quicker than some…”
Bellatrix sounded amused. “Yes,” she agreed disdainfully. “Poor Regulus does seem to be having a lot of difficulty, doesn’t he?”
Sirius took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly through his nose. He ignored any talk of Regulus and made himself focus on something else that had been said instead: there was a prisoner. He forced himself to step away from the door and do what he’d come to do. Especially now that a prisoner’s presence had been confirmed. It could be anyone. But then, why hold anyone prisoner unless they were important? Most lives were worthless enough to be killed and not burdened with trying to keep a prisoner quiet and yet still alive. It was somebody important, of that Sirius was certain. Whether it was the Minister or not, it would be somebody important.
He heard one last thing out of Bellatrix as he quickly slipped away.
“Lucius, who do you suppose would be the best bet to be appointed as the next Minister? And more importantly, is this person somebody who would be willing to have lunch with you in the next couple of days?”
As expected, the prisoner in question was, in fact, the Minister.
Sirius had slipped down the dark stairs without a single sound. He had been so silent, in fact, that when he reached the bottom of the cavern, pulled the Invisibility cloak off and lit his wand, he found the Minister of Magic staring back at him in stunned surprise.
Feeling rather shocked himself, Sirius took a moment to stare back in wide-eyed wonder. Here he was, in the flesh. It had seemed so logical that he would be here, so logical that he almost didn't think it could be possible. Here was the man missing for weeks that everyone was searching for. Here he was, right in front of Sirius.
“Oh no,” the man uttered, fear in his eyes. His voice was weak and hoarse, and he sounded half-hearted, like he really didn’t have much fight left. “Oh no, please, not again,” he said, his voice wavering.
“Shh,” said Sirius impatiently. “They’ll hear you,” he whispered. He could still hear their muffled voices drifting through the ceiling.
“Don’t hurt me,” begged the man, backing as far from Sirius as the chains that restricted him would allow. They rattled across the floor loudly, and there came a loud thumping sound from the ceiling as Lucius impatiently stomped his foot, warning the prisoner to be quiet.
“Shh!” hissed Sirius again with urgency. His voice was barely a whisper, and he spoke very slowly. “I’m here to get you out.”
The Minister’s mouth fell open and his eyes grew wide as he stared at Sirius in disbelief. The man was filthy. Soot smeared his face, dried blood covered his mouth and chin, having clearly dribbled down from his nose, which looked to have been broken at some point over the past couple of weeks.
His clothing hung limply off of his sagging frame. And Sirius had to hold his breath against the stench of somebody who clearly hadn’t been allowed to bathe for quite some time.
The Minister didn’t speak again for several long moments. He only watched in silence as Sirius pulled out the knife again and began to pick the locks on the chains, hardly daring to believe that this was happening.
“Please,” said the Minister as Sirius worked, although this time he had obliged by lowering his voice to a whisper. “Please don’t play games with me,” he begged. “If this is a trick, please…”
Sirius pursed his lips impatiently at the man. “Do you want me to get you out of here or not?” he demanded, looking up from his lock picking.
The Minister clamped his mouth shut, seeming satisfied and delighted that this really was happening.
It was frustrating work, and terrifying. It seemed to take forever, and with every noise that sounded above as somebody paced across the room, Sirius halted, ready to yank the Invisibility Cloak over himself once more. He was paranoid and frightened, he felt sick with the smell of the dungeon and with nerves, and he didn’t want to risk using magic in case it was traced or detected.
In the end, as the locks were tiny, they took much longer to pick than the front door had, but at last Sirius did it. As he sat back on his heels, his neck and back aching from being hunched over for so long, the Minister rubbed his raw wrists in relief.
“Be very quiet,” whispered Sirius slowly, standing up and stretching his muscles carefully. “Don’t make a sound,” he warned. He grabbed the Invisibility Cloak and flung it over his shoulders, holding it open and motioning for the Minister to join him.
It was almost unbearable, the sudden closeness, and Sirius had to hold his breath against the smell. The Minister was rather larger than he or James or Remus was. Even larger than the mildly round Peter, although that didn't much matter, for nowadays Peter took on the form of his rat to fit comfortably.
The Minister was only slightly podgy, but with wide shoulders. No matter how hard he tried, Sirius couldn’t get the cloak to hide their feet. But he could still hear the Death Eaters talking above, and decided it would be okay to risk sneaking past anyway.
After all, there was no other choice.
After all, it wasn't as if the house of a Death Eater was well-lit.
He could hardly believe it when they were once again outside in the cool night. The fresh air was a relief, and Sirius felt suddenly exhausted as he realised that they had escaped. The seriousness of the situation didn’t fully dawn on him until just then. He had rescued the missing Minister of Magic. He had done it right underneath their noses, and it wasn’t even that difficult, all because they underestimated the Muggle way of breaking into a house.
A crazed giggle escaped him then, and the Minister, who was sagging in exhaustion, cast him a curious look. Sirius quickly lifted his wand, his Patronus bursting out of it to inform Dumbledore. The smile lingered on his face. After all the anguish he had suffered in making the decision to risk coming here, it had been ridiculously easy. Nobody could find the Minister, and he was here all along.
In the middle of the alley, surrounded by the high, delicately pruned bushes of the Malfoys’ carefully manicured property, Sirius gripped the Minister’s arm tightly, turned, and disappeared with a loud crack.
Yes, that was the same pocketknife that Sirius gave to Harry.
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