The Ministry, and so much more...
Disclaimer: I own nothing of the Harry Potter Universe and I make no money from writing about J. K. Rowling's characters. Pity, that...
/ Parseltongue /
Thoughts & Mindspeech
AN: Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed this story. Your thoughts and interest are very important to me. Thanks again!
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
- Friedrich Nietzsche
/July 13th, Ministry of Magic/
Strolling into the reception area for the Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Albus Dumbledore popped a sherbet lemon into his mouth and waited at the desk for the young woman to notice him.
"Hello, Headmaster Dumbledore! What can I do for you today?"
Smiling at Amelia's assistant, twinkle at its grandfatherly best, Albus nodded in reply to her greeting.
"Hello, my dear. I'm here to see Director Bones. Is she available?"
"I'll check for you."
"Excellent." Taking the time to reinforce his Occulemency shields as was his wont before any meeting, he moved over to the side and conjured his favourite poufy chair rather than sit in one of the ones that was available. "Take your time, my dear. There's no hurry."
Amelia looked up from scanning an anonymous note for hexes, tracking charms and portkeys when she heard a quiet knock on her doorjamb.
"Headmaster Dumbledore is here to see you, Madame Bones. Do you have time for a meeting?"
Sighing to herself, Amelia smiled and nodded even though she wanted nothing more than to find out what was in the note she held. It looked as if it would have to wait for a little while longer.
"I have a little time before my meeting with the Senior Aurors. Please send the Headmaster in." She frowned. "Angela?"
"Yes, Madame Bones?"
"Do you happen to recall who dropped this note off? Has anyone in particular been into the office today?"
"A lot of Aurors have been in and out as usual, ma'am. I don't recall seeing anyone different or unexpected other than the Headmaster."
Amelia nodded and forced her contemplative look to mould itself into a slight smile.
"Alright, then. Go ahead and send my meeting back to me, Angela."
"Director Bones will see you now, Headmaster. It was good to see you again."
"It was a pleasure to see you again, as well, Ms. McKinnon. Have a pleasant day."
Wandering back to Amelia's office, Albus walked in with a cheerful smile.
"Hello, Amelia, how are you today?"
"I'm well, Headmaster Dumbledore. What brings you down to the DMLE?"
"I just finished dismissing the Wizengamot session and thought it might be nice to visit with a few friends while I was here at the Ministry." Keeping his twinkle going despite her less than enthusiastic reception, Albus sought an opening to bring her in under his influence.
"Has the Minister allowed for increased Auror recruiting yet? Now that Voldemort's return in as acknowledged fact, I'd think he would understand your need and the need of the people."
"I am currently negotiating with Minister Fudge on that very issue, Headmaster. You needn't go out of your way to speak to him."
"I would be happy to speak to him for you on the off chance that my advice might be heard more clearly. Merlin knows we need every wand focused on defence that we can get these days."
"I don't think that will be necessary, Headmaster, but thank you for the offer. I have everything well in hand." Amelia wondered what the manipulative old man was up to. Between the vague sense of unease she always felt in his presence and the information she remembered from her time under Alastor Moody's tutelage at the Auror Academy, she didn't need to be reminded that Albus Dumbledore was a man to be cautious of both on the battle field and in the political forum.
"Is there anything else you wanted to discuss with me, Headmaster? I have my Senior Aurors coming in for a meeting now."
"No, I do believe that will be all, Amelia. Have a good meeting and let me know if I can be of any assistance. There are many who would answer my call, after all." Smiling congenially after issuing his vaguely combined threat and offer of information, Albus stood and left the stubborn witch's presence.
Why won't she relax her stance? It shouldn't require any effort at all to at least ensure that she would relax enough to use my first name, but the damnable woman has always resisted my wiles in a most stubborn manner. Albus grumbled to himself and wondered if Kingsley Shacklebolt might not make a more malleable Director for the DMLE.
Perhaps she is as accomplished an Occulemens as Severus has intimated. If so, I will have to work a little harder to break through her defences the next time we speak. If everything is to go according to plan, I must have the cooperation of the DMLE in the coming months.
Albus continued his wonderings and kept on his way to find out what information Arthur Weasley had managed to cull from his fellow low level ministry employees.
Cornelius is in a position that wields considerable more power and prestige than any other official, yet he is the most malleable of the upper level politicians. Perhaps Amelia thinks she is immune to the ups and downs of politics in her position as Director of the DMLE. Maybe it's time to make her reconsider her thoughts on the matter. I will have her cooperation or I will replace her with someone who will give me what I want.
Motioning her Aurors in, Amelia waited while they conjured seating and settled before opening with an unexpected inquiry.
"Who knows anything about Dumbledore's real involvement in this war against You Know Who?"
Surprised and a little nervous when faced with such a direct query regarding Dumbledore's involvement in the war effort, Kingsley twitched almost unnoticeably and spoke up to laude the elderly wizard's character.
"Albus is a great symbol for the Light, Director. He leads by example. After all, he did kill the last Dark Lord."
"Actually, Kingsley, technically, Mr. Potter managed that feat. You Know Who may be back now, but in my book, anything that spends over a decade without a body to call its own is a spirit of some kind and can only be classified as dead. Unfortunately for us, You Know Who didn't have the decency to lie down and stay that way." Amelia smiled a little.
"So, what else do we know of the Headmaster's actual role, intended or otherwise, in this war?"
Conversation bantered back and forth for several minutes with no real information changing hands, by which point Amelia had heard and seen enough.
"Alright, on to our next important consideration. Are we seeing an increase in Death Eater activities, or is everything holding steady? Should we expect and plan for an attack on Azkaban in the near future? Does anyone have any ideas about what You Know Who might actually be up to?"
"With a large number of his Inner Circle in Azkaban, we have to assume that You Know Who will make an attempt on the prison before moving forward with any major recruitment campaigns. He'll need his most experienced people to train the newbies that are being brought into the fold," Auror Robards commented.
"It's just a matter of time and we all know it. The signs of more focused raiding activity are increasing day by day. We had three small raids just last night alone, and yes, the Dark Mark was present over the homes. There were signs of fighting, but no bodies. They seem to be taking prisoners right now, and I'd rather I didn't have a good idea of why, but those of us who were around for the last war are thinking it's for a Revel or a group of Initiations. I don't want to think about it too hard, but we don't have much choice."
"Does anyone else have anything to offer?" Amelia asked and let out a frustrated sigh when everyone else seemed to bow to Robards' logic - they had very little useful intelligence information at this point and most of what they did have came from past experience, not current events. "Very well, then. I want you to get your people out there and try to find out what these damn Death Eaters are up to! I refuse to force our people sit on their hands and wait for things to get as bad as they did during the last war before we do something about it!"
Studying each of her Senior Aurors in turn, she made no attempt to soften her regard or her tone.
"I want this problem curbed as much as we are able with our current manpower. I'm working on getting you more aurors. Yes, I know that many trainees take time to get into their groove, but if I can set each of our existing aurors with a new trainee, that will double our force and greatly improve our chances of getting through this war with minimal casualties. Get out there and get to work, people!"
Sitting back in her chair as her office cleared, Amelia shook her head and wondered what she was getting herself into. She had started out her day by cold shouldering Albus Dumbledore - a potentially fatal political move - and finished it off so far by all but promising something she couldn't follow through on unless she could intimidate Fudge enough to make him give her the okay to start hiring and training new Aurors immediately.
"Dammit!" She snapped at the air and let out a breath abruptly, the sudden exhalation moving the note she had been trying to find the time to read for over an hour now. Focused by the subtle movement, she had the note in her hands and opened before she could second guess herself about it again.
Due to a Magical Oath I swore to the source of part of this information, I am not at liberty to reveal myself at this time. Should I receive permission to freely discuss what I know, I will gladly come to you and share everything I have learned so far.
The first item of business I feel I must bring to your attention is a splinter group in the fight against You Know Who called The Order of the Phoenix. They mean well, and I am currently still a member of this group, but my belief in their goals and effectiveness is waning rapidly. The following individuals are know to me as members and are also in the Ministry's employ.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore - Chief Mugwump of the Wizengamot and Founder of the Order
Alastor Moody - Retired Senior Auror
Arthur Weasley - Department of Muggle Artefacts
Kingsley Shacklebolt - Senior Auror
Nymphadora Tonks - Auror
There are many, many other members, but these are the ones that I knew would interest you the most. Please understand that we all joined the Order thinking we were standing with the greatest force against You Know Who. I have recently learned that my trust may have been unfounded and I think that you could discover many interesting things about Headmaster Dumbledore if you just take a closer look at his extra-curricular activities.
Loyal to the Light
Shocked, Amelia read the letter several more times before fully appreciating what this anonymous individual had just offered her. Two of her current Aurors and one of the most respected, albeit eccentric, retired Aurors appeared to be under Dumbledore's thumb unless it was one of them had delivered the information to her. Planning to meet individually with each person on this short list with the exception of Albus Dumbledore, she smiled genuinely for the first time in weeks. The news wasn't specifically good, but it also wasn't all that bad; on the contrary, this could easily work to her advantage in the near future.
/July 14th, The Burrow/
"I've been thinking about a few things for a little while now, guys. Maybe you can help me finish working it out," Ron commented once he was settled under Ginny's oak tree with his sister and Hermione.
Hermione nodded encouragingly. "Just tell us what's on your mind, and we'll go from there."
Ron looked to Ginny, then back to Hermione and nodded resolutely. Gathering his thoughts, he sighed and stared off into the distance. He abruptly focused on Hermione.
"This may mean nothing or everything, but here goes. Um, when we went after the Philosopher's Stone, we started out as a group. I got knocked out at the chess set. Did you make it all the way to the end with Harry?"
"No, there was only enough flame freezing potion for one of us to get through the fire trap on the door that led forward. Harry went on alone and I used the potion that let me go back so I could get help for you and alert the other Professors to the situation."
"So only one person could have gone forward, no matter what?"
"Yes, Ron. Only one." Hermione sat forward, curiosity shining brightly in her eyes. "Where are you going with this?"
"Bear with me and let me finish before you ask a lot of questions, okay. There are a lot more pieces to put into place first. I think you'll see the big picture a lot faster this way than you would if I just told you what I'm seeing," the red head stated.
"Now we move on to year two and the Chamber of Secrets. I doubt we ever would've figured out what the monster was without your help, y'know, Hermione." He smiled when his friend blushed at the praise. "You were petrified and couldn't go with us that time. A cave in kept me and Lockhart from advancing on into the Chamber with Harry. Yet again, he faces the monster alone."
Frowning, Ginny began to get an inkling of where her brother might be headed with his thoughts, but she remained quiet. She wanted to hear what else he had to say. He was much more thoughtful since his experience in the Brain Room at the Ministry, and this was but one example of how much time he spent thinking things out now.
"Third year was a bit of a fluke, I think. We were actually able to be with him through everything."
"He had to face the Dementors alone," Hermione whispered. "I could barely think with all of them so close...I could barely watch, let alone actually try to help him...that was all Harry." She flushed with embarrassment.
"Okay, so year three wasn't entirely a fluke," Ron muttered and sat back to rethink his idea with the new information Hermione had provided. "Year four, the tournament, he was alone for every task when it came down to it. This past year, he was at least alone with Bellatrix and You Know Who for a little while. We'll have to talk to him to find out exactly what happened."
"Did you ever wonder why Professor Snape showed up at the Shrieking Shack when he did?" Hermione arched an eyebrow at Ron and nodded. "I see where you're going with this, Ron. He didn't have to be alone all those other times. Someone made sure he was alone. The same someone who knows almost everything that goes on at Hogwarts, maybe?"
"You prove yet again why everyone says that you are the smartest witch of your age," Ron complimented with a grin. "Just when Harry is about to find out something important, Snape shows up and tries to mess everything up. I don't think anyone counted on the three of us attacking a teacher..." He growled under his breath and shook his head.
"What I don't understand is why. We had Wormtail, so clearing Sirius' name would have been a snap. Harry could've gone to live with Snuffles and Remus and he'd have been happy. He'd have been stronger than ever. Why keep him away from the people who care about him the most? Hell, Mum would take him in before you could finish saying the words to ask if it was okay for him to move in at the Burrow. Why leave him with those muggles?"
"Chess." Ginny looked at both of them with wide, sad eyes. "Think about it like moves for a game of chess. Sirius' love and support or the love and support he'd have gotten living here, would have changed Harry from a pawn to a King."
Horrified by the implications of that statement, the other two teens just stared at her and tried to process that sinister thought.
/July 15th, St. Mungo's, Office of Master Mind healer Octavius Monroe/
"I've never been more frightened in my life," Neville stated, gaze on the wall behind Healer Monroe. The experience of living his memories again with the Healer present had put many things into perspective and he finally felt comfortable talking about some of the things that had happened.
"It amazes me how bloody stubborn and stupid Harry can be sometimes. I don't know what would have happened if he had done as Hermione and I asked and left the prophecy on the shelf, but it's a moot point now, I guess."
"Yeah, that was one of his less inspired moments," Ginny commented with a giggle.
"Oh, leave off it," Ron grumbled. "Harry doesn't think strategically. He acts on instinct...impulse...whatever you want to call it. Yeah, it might have been a bad decision. It might also be the only decision that could have led to all of us being here, alive and whole."
"Uh, that sounds an awful lot like divination talking there, Ron. I thought you didn't buy into that sort of stuff," Hermione ventured cautiously.
"Ronald has gained much from his experience with the brains," Luna mused dreamily. "Unfortunately, it was at great personal cost. He isn't speaking from the point of view of a Seer, Hermione. He is speaking as a Master of strategy who sees the moves he will make further ahead than the rest of us can really comprehend."
Slowly settling back in his seat, Healer Monroe did his best to remain unobtrusive; listening carefully to everything the teens had to say, he kept mental notes for later review. Perhaps Ron would open up about his attack now that he was in a different environment.
As a group, the young people refocused on Neville and sat forward eagerly. Ginny patted the nervous young mans knee and smiled encouragingly.
"What else is on your mind, Nev?"
"We relied on each other and we took care of each other just like we were supposed to do. When we thought we had lost part of the group, all we could think about was making sure we got everyone out," Neville murmured. "It felt good to be part of something even though I really messed up a couple of times. I still can't believe I disarmed Harry the same time I did it to the Death Eater. I was horrified..."
"We all botched things up at different times that night, Nev. The important thing is what we're doing now - we're here, alive and talking about it." Ginny declared her thoughts proudly, brown eyes full of fire. "The only other thing that matters is that we learn from it and don't make the same mistakes next time. You all know there will be a next time."
"I know," Neville agreed. "Believe me, I do understand that now. It really helped to see the memories from a different perspective. I think I'll get a Pensive eventually." He sighed.
"The biggest thing that sticks out for me is how I feel now when I remember the point when Dumbledore and the others showed up. At the time, I felt like we had been saved by this great and wonderful man...now, all I can do is wonder why it took them so long to get to us and why Dumbledore didn't do more to help."
"I think we're all starting to wonder about that," Ron mused quietly. He looked at his sister and his friends and fidgeted uncomfortably. He couldn't seem to block out the memory of that night right now. It felt like it was clawing its way to the surface no matter how hard he tried to bury it deeper in the back of his head.
"I remember the first time we saw the brains at the Department of Mysteries," Ron muttered, gaze distant as he lost himself in the memories of that unforgettably horrifying night. He could see them as clearly now as he did that night.
/In the very middle of the room, an enormous glass tank of deep green liquid, big enough for all of them to swim in; a number of pearly-white objects were drifting around lazily in it... Glimmering eerily, they drifted in and out of sight in the depths of the green liquid, looking something like slimy cauliflowers.../
"Aquavirius Maggots, Luna called them...said something about the Ministry breeding the things..." Ron shuddered visibly. "They are breeding them, those brain things. You were right about that part, Luna."
Healer Monroe forced himself to be still and remain in the background as Ron finally began to speak of his own trauma. Relaxing bit by bit, he nodded encouragingly when Hermione caught his gaze and smiled tremulously. They didn't need him right now and that fact didn't bother him at all. This was the most effective method of healing for this closely knit group of friends.
"They were awful to see," Hermione agreed quietly and hugged herself, the fingers of one hand absently rubbing at the place on her chest where the scar Dolohov had given her began. "We were all so badly hurt by then...by the time you got hurt. What exactly happened?"
"One of the Death Eaters hit him with a powerful Confundus charm," Ginny replied. "Between being hurt and Confunded, well, he was already half out of his mind. Then he accioed that thing..."
"Parts of it, I remember perfectly," Ron commented, his tone flat and lifeless. "I don't think I've ever felt so much pain in my life. Once it latched onto me, all I could do was scream and try to tear it off of my chest." Ignorant of the tears that were running down his face, Ron panted softly and lost himself in the memory of having his mind invaded by the Brain creature for the first time since it had happened.
/A brain burst from the green liquid like a leaping fish; for a moment it seemed to hang suspended in midair, then it soared towards him, and what looked like ribbons of moving images flew from it, unravelling like rolls of film...the moment they made contact with his skin, the tentacles began wrapping themselves around his arms like ropes, thin ribbons spinning around his chest now; he tugged and tore at them as the brain was pulled tight against him like an octopus's body. Pain exploded through his mind as the creature's awareness impacted his own and the sheer volume of possibilities that stretched out before him was too much to comprehend. /
"It was dying by the time I caught it...being out of whatever stuff they live in for more than a second or two is more than they can take...it pushed its...thoughts into me...made me see like they see...so many possibilities going on and on into infinite nothingness..."
/The infinite spread of possibilities shrank suddenly as the creature died and all he could see were his own possibilities...the results of his own choices and actions.../
Ron whimpered softly, the flow of alien thought still an uncomfortable, unwelcome pressure in his mind. Arms held him tightly against a warm, sweet smelling body and he gave in to the raw pain the memories awoke in him.
Unwilling to disturb Ron's cathartic tears, Healer Monroe gestured Neville over so as not to interrupt the others in their support of the red head's healing. Speaking quietly, he explained his summons.
"Would you like to see what I can repair from the Obliviate or would you prefer to wait until next visit? I know this has been an eventful and emotionally overwrought day already."
Neville considered the option carefully and frowned. He wasn't sure what would be dredged up if the Mind Healer was able to repair even part of the damage done to him by the old Obliviate spell, but he figured he was already dealing with a lot of old issues - what was one more? With that in mind, he sighed expressively.
"Let's go ahead and see what you can do today. At this point, I'm a fan of getting things done."
Octavius just smiled and nodded his approval of the young man's attitude.
"Excellent. Just relax and let me work, Mr. Longbottom. This may feel a little strange, but do not hesitate to tell me if you feel discomfort or anything beyond an ache or tugging sensation. Do you understand?"
"Then let's begin." Healer Monroe entered the young wizard's mind through the unique brand of Occulemency used by Mind Healers and homed in on the damage and residue left behind by an uncalled for Obliviate spell. Carefully unravelling threads of the spell's fabric, he exposed memories and areas of mental process that were critical keys to fully controlling magical ability. Shaking after nearly an hour of intensely focused work, Octavius slowly pulled his consciousness out of Neville's mind and steadied the boy.
"I have managed to unravel part of it, and more of it may release with careful work, but I am tiring and I won't chance a mistake. Take the next few days to get used to what this session has done and let me know when you're ready to continue." He squeezed the younger wizard's shoulder companionably and chuckled when he realized the other four teens were watching them with open fascination. "How are all of you feeling?"
"It gets easier every day," Hermione responded.
"And every one of these sessions makes us better at handling everything," Ron murmured. "Thanks, Healer Monroe."
"You are all welcome. I am just glad to be able to help."
/July 15th, #4 Privet Drive/
"Dursley, what the bloody hell has been going on in this house?" Moody focused both eyes on the shaken but angry muggle. "You people act as if Potter has done something to scare you out of your wits."
"He had his wand out doing freakish things with it," Vernon declared. Seeing a possible opportunity to get the little bastard in trouble with the rest of the freaks, he pressed on. "I thought you bloody people were supposed to expel him for that! He threatened to harm my wife and me when we kindly asked him to do chores..."
Moody snorted at that. He didn't doubt that Potter might have threatened the big fat muggle, but he didn't think the boy would follow through on it.
"Has a wand, you say? And he performed magic without receiving any owls?"
"That's what I said. Can't you hear or something?" Vernon backed off a step at a nasty glare from the old and grizzled auror.
"Interesting," Moody muttered with a smirk, then turned to bellow at the ceiling. "Potter, come down here now!"
Harry froze when he heard Moody yell for him from the living room. Did he see my wand? Did Vernon tell him? Damn it to hell! He trotted downstairs, pushing his glasses up as he went.
"Yeah, Moody? What's up?"
"Let me see your wand, Potter." Moody held out his hand and gestured demandingly.
Harry bowed up a little, his tone sharpened by the anger he still felt over the theft of his original wand.
"I don't have my wand. It was taken from me."
"Dursley here tells me you have a wand. Don't play games with me, Potter. I'm not going to take it away from you. Bloody fool thing to take your wand to begin with," Moody growled, magical eye spinning as he looked for any sign of a wand besides his own. Finding none, he arched an eyebrow at Harry. "Well? Go get it, lad. I don't have all day."
Glaring daggers at Vernon, Harry nodded and reluctantly went back upstairs to his room. Opening his trunks, he ignored the call of his new wand and selected one of the other wands that felt close to his old phoenix wand in compatibility to carry down. Closing everything back up, he returned to the retired auror's side with the same visible reluctance in his stride.
"You won't take this one away from me, too?"
"No, Potter, you have my word I won't leave you without a wand. Now hand the bloody thing over." Taking the wand, Moody cast Priori Incantatem and arched an eyebrow when the last spell cast registered as the cruciatus. Eyeing Harry curiously, he muttered a couple more spells that caused the wand to glow blue, then a reddish orange before returning to normal. He handed it back.
"I don't know how you got that or where you got it from and I definitely don't know you have it," he declared with a mischievous smirk. "But, if someone were to press you about how you got another wand, you got it from me. Understand?"
"Yes, thank you." Harry relaxed visibly and nodded his understanding. "What did you do to it that you didn't do?"
"Sharp lad," Moody approved. "I erased the priori record and removed the Ministry tracking charms, so be the responsible lad that I know you are, Potter. Don't make me regret doing this."
"You won't regret it." Harry grinned crookedly.
"Keep working on your wandless casting all the same," Moody stated gruffly and tipped his bowler hat to Harry, then walked out to continue his shift on guard duty.
"I told you I wouldn't get in trouble for using magic," Harry stated, then spun on his heel and returned to his room, leaving a fuming and furious Vernon behind. The fact that he now had two mostly untraceable wands was not lost on him and he grinned as he tucked the wand he'd shown to Moody in his back pocket.
/July 15th, Gringotts/
Deep below the lobby of the Goblin run bank of Wizarding London, two letters vanished from a desk in a vault that was clearly the property of an old and wealthy family. The letters reappeared in Griphook's In Box and he immediately snatched them up, only to pause when he realized they were not from Harry. Looking at them a little more closely, his eyes widened with surprise. Hurrying to the owl roost to mail the letters, he went to the first two of the larger owls and attached each letter to its own imposing Eagle owl. The Goblin stepped back and the owls took flight.
Watching the owls disappear into the distance, Griphook smiled a toothy smile of gleeful anticipation. The events those two letters might set into motion would interact with everything that was going on around young Harry Potter and the potential for chaos was greater than anything the tribes had seen in almost a century.
/July 16th, French Ministry of Magic/
A tall, well dressed man with greying light brown hair strode purposefully through the halls of the French Ministry of Magic. Eyes followed his progress and many smiled as they recognized his familiar presence. Stepping onto one of the lifts, his soft, hoarse sounding voice requested the Le Service du Magique Ãªtre and he disappeared when it shuddered into motion.
Stepping out of the lift, Remus walked up to the receptionist's desk and smiled warmly, his amber eyes filling with a mischievous light when the young woman looked him over and blushed.
"I'm here to see Madame Laroche."
Taking in the very well dressed, handsome wizard who stood before her, the younger witch smiled back in what she hoped was a charming manner. Picking up a small square of enchanted paper, she arched an eyebrow at him.
"Your name, Monsieur?"
Jotting down the message that she had a visitor and the man's name, she tapped the paper with her wand, causing it to fold itself and vanish.
"Please have a seat, Mr. Lupin. I'll let you know when Madame Laroche is available to meet with you."
"Thank you, Mademoiselle." Remus seated himself and smoothed his lightweight, elegant blue robes. Aware of the receptionist's gaze, he smiled to himself and picked up a copy of the Paris magical newspaper. Sirius would have already gotten her name, address and a date for this evening, he mused wistfully. He always was a sly, smooth dog when it came to women. Sighing unhappily, he forced himself to focus on the paper. One article caught his eye and suddenly his attention was no longer forced.
/UNPROVOKED ATTACKS BAFFLE AURORS/
/In recent days, there have been several unexplained killings in Le Magique Centre Commercial. All of the victims have been half blood or muggle born witches and wizards who were travelling alone or had, perhaps, been lured away from their companions. None of the victims appear to be connected to each other in any other way, and this reporter is most concerned about what the Aurors and our Magique Agence du Maintien de L'ordre are doing to find the culprits of these crimes. /
/All Wizards and Witches are strongly encouraged to travel in groups and to never go out without your wand. This precaution is especially important to those of half blood or muggle born descent. Please be prepared to defend yourselves and report any suspicious activities that you see while going about your daily business. /
/More on Pg. 05/
On a desk further back in the department, a note appeared out of thin air next to a slender, finely boned hand. Margaux Laroche arched an eyebrow at the unexpected note and tapped it with her wand to open it. Upon reading its contents, she smiled her delight.
"Remus! It's about time you got back!," she declared and scrawled a quick response to the receptionist.
Pursing her lips in a brief moue of disappointment, the receptionist discarded Margaux's reply and called to Remus quietly to get his attention.
"Madame Laroche will see you now, Monsieur Lupin. She said you would be able to find the location of her office without mishap, but if you wish it, I could walk you back..."
"That won't be necessary, my dear, but I do appreciate your offer," Remus replied and rose gracefully, mind spinning with the thoughts one small newspaper article had spawned. "I am here on a very regular basis."
"Well, if you're certain, then have a good meeting."
Wandering through a veritable maze of cubicles and offices, Remus followed his friend's scent until he found her in her newest office - a perfect spot in the corner with a large window. Having paused to speak to several other people he knew well, the news of her promotion was merely confirmed by the sight of her current locale.
"Hello, Madame Assistant Director Margaux Laroche."
"Remus! It's been months since you stopped in! How are you doing, hmm, you old Loup?" Smoothing the tall werewolf's dark blue robes, Margaux urged him to have a seat. "Bring me up to date on what kept you away for so long."
"I was in Ireland for a Council Meeting and I recently stopped through the Russian and German Ministries," Remus replied, tone hardening as he thought about what he had learned. "I've either seen signs or have heard reliable accounts of Death Eater activity as far east as Romania and it's almost all about recruitment. From the looks of your own newspaper, however, it's about sowing fear and dissent as well."
"I read that article, the one about the deaths in the shopping district," Margaux murmured. "The Aurors are still trying to confirm the exact cause of death. They believe it might have been the death curse, but there is some question. The Beauvais twins wanted me to ask you to go see them once you showed your face again, so I can only assume they have need of your knowledge of this Dark Lord and his minions."
"I was planning on paying them a visit anyway," Remus murmured. "What have you heard about the situation in Britain?"
"I try to keep up with what is going on, but lately I just don't know what to think, Remus. These new laws for unregistered werewolves and magical creatures in general are poorly thought out and the very fact that they were voted into active enforcement worries me even more." She sighed unhappily.
"I and my fellow department heads are expecting a possible secondary revolt on top of the already unstable environment caused by You Know Who and we wouldn't be surprised by a major influx of immigrants from most walks of the magical community of the British Isles. They may not all come to us here in France, but they will certainly be fleeing to the continent. Our laws are less restrictive and there are more opportunities for them to prosper."
"I know what you mean. If I didn't have reason to go back, I would stay here in Paris," Remus admitted reluctantly, then snorted gracelessly. "Albus Dumbledore made a lot of promises, but none of them have come through and I have begun to seriously doubt his integrity. Most of the Werewolf Tribes have agreed to not join forces with Voldemort, but some are going to because they see it as an opportunity for revenge on the Ministry."
"Albus Dumbledore has not been fighting these laws? Are you certain of that?" Margaux couldn't hide her shock at the idea that Albus Dumbledore would shirk his duty so blatantly.
"I haven't had a chance to view his voting history, but I plan to do so as soon as I return to London. I know he could have done more if he had tried to stop some of the laws, and so far I see no evidence of him trying to stop them."
"Oh, that is not good, Remus...that is not good at all. Please be careful, VÃ©tÃ©ran Loup. Everything I am hearing points to open war soon...a war like you experienced those years ago. We are all very wary of this Dark Lord. If he is victorious on British soil, he may turn his gaze to the continent and no one here wants that. Doux Ã‰merillon, non. Do me a favour and survive this one, too, okay."
Smiling fondly at the older witch, Remus nodded solemnly. Standing, he hugged her firmly and sighed into her hair. Part of him wanted to stay here where people accepted him so easily, but the rest of him knew he had to return to London - he had a duty to fulfil to his people and to his Cub.
"I will do my best, Mon ami."
After talking for a while longer and catching up on all that his friend had been up to for the past few months, Remus left Margaux's office in the Department of Magical Creatures (Le Service du Magique Ãªtre) and headed for The Department of Magical Transportation (Le Service du Magique Transportation). He spotted the person he wanted to talk to the moment he stepped into the reception area.
"Bonjour, OcÃ©ane! How are you, Mon Ami?" Remus greeted the elegantly distinguished woman with a fierce hug and a kiss on each cheek. "How do you like it over here in the Monitoring office?"
"It is very new and quite fascinating," OcÃ©ane replied with an affectionate smile. "Come, join me for a cafÃ© in my office and we will catch up on what MÃ´n Grand Mauvais Loup has been up to. You look like you have at least been eating properly of late," she commented motheringly. "I am worried about you, Remus. Things are becoming quite untenable on the Isles."
"I know it's bad, but I have to go back. My Cub is there."
"You always speak of this Cub, Remus. Get him out of there, too! Bring him to Paris with you. Surely he would have a better life here than he has in London right now."
"You Know Who is after him, OcÃ©ane. Harry would never let me take him away and endanger more people." Remus stated. "That much I know for certain."
"Why would You Know Who be after a child? He is but a boy, non?"
"He'll be sixteen soon," Remus replied. "That's a long ways from being a mere boy when you're Harry Potter."
"Oh! I did not know that he was the one you spoke of! Did he truly survive the Death curse like the stories say he did?"
"Yes, he did."
"That poor, dear child. Well, at least he has a good man like you to look after him." OcÃ©ane sighed and shook her head despairingly. "Did Margaux tell you that the Beauvais twins have been asking after you?"
"Yeah, she told me. It must be serious if they have you passing on the message, too."
"I have been working with them on a project in the Magique Agence du Maintien de L'ordre. We do not just monitor Portkey and apparition travellers. We are tracking them and mapping where they come from and go to."
Intrigued by the possible applications for that kind of information, Remus sat forward eagerly.
"What have you been able to find out so far?"
"We have had a busy time so far this month," the older witch mused. "It has mostly been unregistered portkeys that are tripping the monitoring spells we have in place. The people know to not make them, but does that stop them? Non, of course not." She frowned a little and shook her head. "The twins will be able to show you where the majority of the offenders are coming from, but I want to say it is from your area."
"Do you track apparition as strictly?"
"We only bother with border crossings that do not go to an acknowledged check point. Those are the only ones who may get up to something without our knowledge." Pulling a small stack of reports out of her bottom desk drawer, she quietly murmured the spell to make copies and then handed the copies to Remus. Meeting his gaze, she smiled a sly little smile. "You know people who can use the Intel properly. Please use it to end this war as quickly as possible."
"I will. Thank you..."
An uneasy feeling of impending disaster settled into Remus' stomach after his visit with OcÃ©ane. Ever the fastidious ruleminder, the motherly witch had bent a few rules for him in the past, but this time she had done something bordering on illegal by giving him the files he now carried shrunken in his pocket. The rest of her information had been just as disturbing as that one action.
Walking faster than usual, he pushed aside the pressing need to return home and made his way to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. This visit might turn into a true trial if the twins had serious information for him.
"Senior Aurors Beauvais? You have a visitor," a younger Auror announced after knocking quietly on their doorjamb. "He says his name is Remus Lupin."
"Send him back, then! We've got a lot to discuss with the old man," stated Remi Beauvais, the elder and darkest of the fraternal twins.
Etienne snorted gracelessly at his sibling and brushed his own blonde hair out of his face, ice blue eyes meeting Remi's darkest, sapphire blue.
"Old man? How do you figure that? He's four years our junior." He looked over his shoulder at the Junior Auror. "Well, Facete? Go fetch our guest already!"
"Oh, sorry, sirs!" The Auror vanished on his errand.
"I see you two are still terrorizing the newer Aurors," Remus teased. "How have you two been? Did you ever find a couple birds that were willing to put up with the pair of you?"
"Like that's going to ever happen," Remi grumbled. "Besides, it isn't like we've had time to worry about it much, old friend. The climate is so hot in your neck of the woods that we’re feeling the heat here."
"Madam Molyneux's reporting on illegal Portkey and out of bounds apparition has kept us more than a bit on edge as well," Etienne added. "Too much of the activity originates on or near the Isles to leave us feeling secure. We know in our guts that at least a good portion of it is linked to this Dark Lord, but we have no direct proof to take to our superiors."
"They move fast." Remi took over. "They're in and out in no more than a few hours, and it's usually much less time than that; we don't have the manpower to respond to every ping." He grinned wickedly. "So, we asked Margaux and OcÃ©ane to send you over once you crawled back out from under whatever rock you've been hiding under. Come with us. We have something really special to show you."
"Okay...lead on," Remus murmured and followed the light and dark twins further into the DMLE offices. "I hope you two aren't going to get into trouble over showing me this stuff."
"It is no trouble for us," the blonde Auror stated. "We will just say you are a consultant from Britain like we do every time we bring you back here to talk shop."
"Besides, it's your second time fighting in a war against this same Dark Lord. I think that qualifies you as a consultant," the brunette Auror observed. "Here we are. Visitors first," he declared and urged the werewolf forward into the room with a playful shove.
"Hey, now!" Remus protested, then froze and stared around the room. Two walls were covered by large maps, and the third wall to his right held four smaller maps. He could see the constant changes going on within the borders of each map and the sight fascinated him. Moving towards the one directly in front of him, he frowned as dark red, green, blue and black dots appeared and then faded to a shadowed circle containing tiny coordinates.
"What is this? Are these portkey and apparition coordinates?"
"Very good, Mon ami! Yes, that is exactly what you are looking at. Red is Portkey, blue is apparition and black is unknown." Grinning broadly at the look of disbelief on Remus' face, Etienne patted the werewolf on the shoulder and ignored his glare. "Seriously, Remus. Black really does mean unknown."
"How else would someone travel magically if not by Portkey or apparition?" Remus mused to himself more than anything, amber eyes bright with the fires of curiosity and determination. "What are these green dots that leave no coordinates behind?"
Remi chortled at that question, and grinned at his sulking twin with mischief in his eyes.
"That one took us ages to figure out and we all felt a bit like idiots once we finally did get it nailed down. What creature is mostly ignored unless something doesn't get done, that also needs to travel without giving away the secret of its comings and goings?"
Watching the intermittent green activity and the way it tended to cluster in small, tight locations on the map, Remus frowned and considered the clue his friend had given him. So it doesn't give away secrets, Remus mused and grinned wolfishly as comprehension filled his amber eyes.
"Damn, you're quick! Great," Etienne complimented. "And that leaves us with the unknown forms of magical travel. Some of them leave coordinates and some of them don't. There are a few types and Margaux has been a great help with the set up of this mapping system. It shows current activity in the region. One of the smaller maps is a tally for incoming apparition, one for incoming Portkey, one each for outgoing of the same nature. The other wall size map is the full historical tracking of travel since we started this project six months ago."
"Are you tracking your 'visitors' by their own magical signature or by the signature of the portkey? Can you tell if they used a different Portkey to return or if the one they had was created as a round trip?"
"Damn, Remus. You're on a roll today, aren't you, Loup?" Remi laughed good naturedly. "We track apparition by the magical signature, so we know if the same person leaves a distance away from their original arrival point. We track the actual Portkey itself since that is where the coordinates are stored. We can tell if a Portkey was roundtrip by the way the coordinates read on the map."
"That's good information to have, at least," Remus mused quietly and drifted over to the historical tracking map.
"Great Britain," he murmured and the map shifted to show only the requested country. "Brilliant!" Studying it intently, he continued to close the view down until he was looking at each map quadrant individually.
Remi nudged Etienne and grinned wickedly. He arched an eyebrow when his brother shrugged and returned the grin.
"I knew he would be able to figure something out if we let him loose on this thing."
"Of course he will; this is personal for him," Etienne murmured. "This bastard killed his best friends." He sighed softly. "It is not fair that he should have to go through this same nightmare again. At least we only have to worry about it in a serious way if the Brits drop the ball."
"Don't be so sure of that, Mes Amis," Remus commented and pulled up two sections of the British map in particular, followed by the quadrants surrounding the perimeter of Paris' magical district. "There is a high degree of activity coming in and out of the London area and a heavy concentration coming into and out of Little Hangleton. From what little I have learned from my contacts during my travels, Little Hangleton is where You Know Who was reborn a little over a year ago. This may be the proof you need that he is already a problem for you. Little Hangleton is mostly Muggle, I believe. Who else would be using it as a magical base camp?"
"So we do have pinpointed Death Eater activity here in Paris," Etienne growled. "Thanks, Remus. Maybe now we can start heavier patrols on those areas."
"It does pinpoint the fact that there is activity, but it doesn't show if they're coming and going individually or as groups, or if one Death Eater comes in and portkeys out with a group of recruits...are you able to track that information through these spells you've got set up?"
"You're brilliant, Remus! We'll talk to Margaux and find out if we can get that kind of information out of the spell residue." Etienne kissed Remus soundly on both cheeks and beamed at him before laughing at the gobsmacked look on the younger man's face. "You Brits are so uptight! Live a little, Remus. Remi and I, we'll take you out and show you how the French party so we know you'll go home smiling."
Remi added his own quiet laughter to the mix and patted Remus on the shoulder.
"Don't mind my mad man of a brother. I promise we won't keep you out past your bedtime."
"Prats. I can drink you both under the table and you know it," Remus grumbled good naturedly.
"Yes, but we'll make sure you have fun while you're doing it," Etienne clarified. "So, any more observations on our wonderful tracking system?"
"Um, yes, actually. Once you brought up house elves, I started thinking of other groups that might use alternative forms of magical travel." Remus grinned. "Being a Defence Against the Dark Arts professor does have a few uses. In this case, check with the vampires if there are any willing to talk to you. They use a form of magic tied to the blood in their own bodies, I believe. It's different from normal blood magic, so their travel spells may be one of your unknowns."
"Wonderful. Any other ideas?"
"Not immediately, but I'll owl you if anything comes to me while I'm away. This system is simply amazing, you two. Where did you get the idea? I've never seen anything like it."
"Sure you have," Remi stated. "You got us started when you told us how to make a map like the one you and your friends made in school. We just took the idea to our Research department and this is the end result."
"So all of those questions you kept owling me with weren't for personal mischief at all? You were picking my brain to build a security system?" Remus couldn't resist he pleased grin that felt like it would split his face.
"Oh, we got into our fair share of personal mischief with the information you gave us, but most of it did go into this project," Etienne admitted reluctantly. "Are you proud of us?" he asked jokingly.
"Oh, Merlin, yes. This is brilliant!" The werewolf just shook his head. "So, where are we going on this night on the town?"
/July 17th, St. Mungo's, Office of Master Mind Healer Octavius Monroe/
"I, uh, don't exactly know how to ask this." Ginny sighed expressively.
"Just say what's on your mind, Miss Weasley. There is no wrong way to phrase something." Healer Monroe grinned and qualified his statement. "Not while you're in this office, at least."
Smiling at his comment, Ginny nodded and smacked Hermione on the back of the head even as the older witch coughed to keep from laughing out loud.
"That helps a lot, actually, thanks. Hush, Hermione," she teased. "Um, why isn't all of this bothering me more? Everything I went through with Tom, it was just awful. He used me to hurt my friends...people I care about."
Considering what he knew from having shared memories with all five teens during their last several sessions, Healer Monroe gathered his thoughts before answering.
"To a degree, this answer may apply to all of you, but if you have specific questions, please ask," he began. "The memories were always present, but unavailable to your conscious mind, for the last several years. I believe your subconscious has been dealing with the trauma in subtle, quiet ways for the most part. Your nightmares were definitely not subtle, Ginny, but they were a lot more subtle than reliving everything the way we have been for the last week or so."
Healer Monroe looked each of the five teens in the eye and nodded encouragingly.
"I bet your nightmares and dreams make a lot more sense now than they used to."
"I used to have the weirdest dreams," Neville murmured. "Now I know I was dreaming about the night the Lestranges attacked my parents. Things are clearer." He frowned pensively. "I'd like to see if there is any more of the Obliviate that you can remove, Healer Monroe. It really seems to be helping my memory, if nothing else."
"I will do everything I can, Mr. Longbottom. Once we finish this discussion, I will give it another try if that suits everyone?" Receiving no negative responses, he nodded. "How about the rest of you? Miss Granger? Mr. Weasley? Miss Lovegood?"
"I just want to know how the Death Eaters were able to get into the Department of Mysteries and how we got in so easily," Hermione declared. "That has been bothering me since we walked into the atrium that night. Where was the security checkpoint guard? Where were the Aurors?"
"I have posted an inquiry into that very matter, Miss Granger. Our...the security of the Ministry must have been compromised from within. No other explanation makes any sense without completely defying logic." Healer Monroe hoped his almost mistake was overlooked by the inquisitive teens - there was no way he was going to get out of explaining what he had been about to say if Hermione pushed it.
"I'm just trying to get used to having this weird roadmap in my head," Ron murmured. "I never really understood consequences...cause and effect...before that Brain latched onto me. It's...it's so difficult to explain, but I have to explain it now because it will do more harm than good if I don't...you'll think I don't trust any of you when I do. I trust you all with my life, so I have to trust you with my thoughts, or part of them at least."
"We just want you to heal, Ron," Neville stated. "That's all any of us wants right now - to heal and be whole for the first time in longer than I care to think about."
"This other way of thinking is mostly blended in with my own now," Ron mused and nodded to acknowledge Neville's statement. "I see so many more moves ahead than I used to and it's a little scary to know even the slightest bit of what might happen if you do something major. It isn't always right up front. Most of the time, I can ignore it, but when a major event is coming up, my head hurts from all of the options, sometimes. Does that make any sense at all?"
"Given how Chess teaches you to think, yes, it does make a bit of sense," Hermione commented. "One thing it means is our chances of beating you at the game are shot worse than before." She laughed quietly and then sobered. "It sounds like a gift that could very easily be seen as a curse. I bet you can't decide which it is sometimes."
"Most of the time, you mean," Ron quipped half heartedly.
/July 17th, Romanian Longhorn Dragon Reservation/
"It's about bloody time you were here for a visit," Charlie declared and smiled warmly at the potions master. "What have you been up to so far this summer besides rejoicing in the lack of children under your care?"
"I've been gathering potions ingredients for several delicate projects," Severus replied with a slight grimace. "I knew I would need a horn from one of your great beasts, so I made this my last stop."
"Ah, now the ulterior motive is brought to light," Charlie drawled in a direct imitation of his snarky companion. "I see how it is. So, how long can you stay? You look tired."
"I have a day or two at the most before I must return to my home and begin work," Severus replied, his lips twitching up into a brief smile over Charlie's antics. "There is also a meeting of the Order in less than a week and I'd like to be rested before having to deal with those imbeciles as well."
"Now, Severus, they're not all imbeciles," the Dragon Keeper pointed out with a grin. "If they were, they'd already be out of your hair courtesy of a Death Eater raid."
Nodding his grudging acceptance of his friend's observation, the Head of Slytherin grinned a little more.
"Don't you get enough danger here? Are you considering doing missions for the Order, too?"
Laughing outright at that, Charlie stopped walking and shook his head at the slightly older wizard.
"This danger I understand. I can predict what most of my dragons will do in any given situation. Now you, you go toe to toe with a far more dangerous breed, one I couldn't even begin to predict if I tried. How can you stand that kind of constant uncertainty?"
"I suppose that, like you, I know my dragons very well. They are both powerful and experienced, wily and temperamental. One day I may miscalculate a reaction and get stepped on or eaten, but until then, my expertise is desperately needed."
Silenced by that matter of fact explanation, Charlie sighed his exasperation and let the subject drop. It wouldn't serve any purpose to start a fight and the stubborn man wasn't going to stop spying because of something he said to him, anyway.
"What all did you have to collect for this 'delicate' project?"
"Fluxweed, fresh Re'em blood, a rare type of Black Hellebore and a horn from a Romanian Long Horn Dragon," Severus replied with a satisfied smile. "I arrived here late last night after leaving the eastern coast of America. I believe it was North Carolina, but I could be mistaken." Severus mused about his travels for a moment before shrugging. "Lovely place, really. Fluxweed grows wild there, and given the fact that I needed it picked during the dark moon, I chose to collect it personally. The cost to order it would have been outrageous."
"I thought Fluxweed needed to be collected at the Full moon, not the dark moon," Charlie observed. "I know you need it for Polyjuice potion."
"For temporary transformation potions, you are correct in thinking it would need to be collected during the full moon," Severus replied, his tone full of pride for his friend's memory of potions ingredients. "However, I needed this Fluxweed to have a quality of permanence, thus the requirement that it be gathered at the dark of the moon."
Smiling under Severus' approving gaze, Charlie nodded his understanding.
"I didn't know that, but I'll remember in case it ever comes up again. I guess you went to get it yourself because you didn't want to chance that a black market supplier would send you the wrong kind just because they didn't feel like collecting it properly," he ventured.
"Exactly correct." Taking in the sight of several new dragon enclosures, Severus arched an eyebrow. "How many new dragons have you added since I was here last?"
"Well, we got Norbert, a Norwegian Ridgeback, from Hagrid a few years ago and this is his new pen. He's grown immensely since we got him as a hatchling. We've also gotten a dozen more dragons including a mated pair of Chinese Fireballs and a mature Hungarian Horntail bull."
"You have been busy, I see. That explains the newer burn scars," the Head of Slytherin mused. "Busy indeed. And you have the cheek to tease me about my dragons." He shook his head, obsidian eyes full of amusement.
"Right, right. So? Where else did you go gallivanting off to?"
Recounting his trip to Greece for the Hellebore and his visit to mainland China for the Re'em blood, the spy fell into a far more relaxed and animated mode of interaction with his younger friend. Eyes bright with the passion he felt for his craft, he laughed at one point in his tale.
"An old acquaintance of mine lives in China and he owled me a while back about a business venture he was taking a chance on. Apparently most countries have Re'em blood and parts on their restricted lists, making it quite difficult for potions makers and masters to obtain the ingredients they need to make a lot of the rarer potions. He sells directly to those he is acquainted with irregardless of what country you live in."
"And this is funny because...?" Charlie arched an eyebrow at Severus, his confusion clearly evident on his face.
"He invited me to stay for a day or two and I accepted. He spent every waking moment sending one or the other of his daughters my way with the intent that they should make me feel welcome..." Ears darkening under Charlie's now laughing gaze, Severus grumbled before continuing his story. He smirked. "I didn't have the heart to tell him that there was nothing appealing to me about a pair of 16 year old, barely pubescent girl children, let alone the fact that I have never found a woman to be attractive...If I had told him, he might have sent his son." He shuddered visibly. "Thank Merlin he didn't catch on."
Charlie blinked at his friend for several long moments. He had often wondered if the snarky wizard was gay since he never seemed to show any interest in women, but he hadn't been curious enough to ask outright. With that question answered, the sight of the snarky Potions Master with such a disgusted expression on his face cracked him up yet again.
"What was wrong with his son?" he finally managed to ask.
"Nothing that I could see beyond the fact that he was a fourteen year old prepubescent boy-child. Do you see the trend here, Charlie? The very thought of someone sending a child the age of my students to my bed..." Severus shuddered again. "Thank you, but no. I much prefer the company of adults."
"Poor Severus Snape, almost got married off to some little girl or boy in China. What would the world come to if you did tie the knot?" the red head shook his head and chuckled at Severus' sour look.
"I would be permanently scarred by the shock if anyone were to actually take notice of the event," Severus drawled caustically and decided it was high time he changed the subject. "Have you seen signs of any Death Eater activity? I know this area is home to several werewolf packs of note and the Dark Lord has been hoping to recruit as many werewolves as possible."
"There hasn't been much, really. The Shadow Spires told us to go ahead and send any suspicious people their way," Charlie mused. "We did have a small group of six or eight wizards come through. It was a month or so back, I think. They were asking about the Shadow Spires, so we directed them on down to the village and they vanished."
"Hmm, funny thing, that. Do you think the werewolves killed them?"
"Not directly, no. The Pack Leader said they'd send the really persistent sorts like Death Eaters up the Spire to see the Count, the local vampire elder." Charlie shrugged gaelically. "The wolf packs and the vampires don't bother us Dragon Keepers, so I don't worry too much about anyone fool enough to climb that mountain looking for trouble."
Severus just arched one eyebrow expressively and nodded. He could all too easily appreciate the value of his friend's unexpected point of view.
"So, what else have you been doing out here in the wilds of Romania?"
/July17th, Ministry of Magic/
Seated before a Pensive, Octavius Monroe methodically selected memories and drew them from his mind before placing the silvery strands in the magical bowl. An enchanted quill was poised in midair above a stack of parchment awaiting his command.
"Begin, he murmured and immersed himself in the memories he had recently shared with five young people during their counselling sessions. Recording is observations memory by memory, he notated some comments as being for the hospital's record only and some that would only be added to the files kept by the Unspeakables.
How did Rookwood manage to hang on for so long in the Unspeakables wearing that bastard's mark on his arm? We do random checks for that kind of thing...that's one more thing for me to look in to.
Making note to double check current procedures, he continued with his viewing while the quill at his side scratched out his notes rapidly. Exiting the Pensive over three hours later, he sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, hands rising to scrub at his face. Since beginning his sessions with the five teens that had followed Harry Potter into the Department of Mysteries, he had learned more about them than he would have normally expected to. What surprised him was how little they all seemed to say about The Boy Who Lived.
"What's the matter, Octavius? I haven't seen you burning this much midnight oil in years," Mina teased gently. "I'm going to run out of tea at the rate you're going." She cocked her head to one side and arched one fine, delicately arched brow. "It's those children again, isn't it."
Amused by the lack of question in the woman's last comment, Octavius chuckled and started to deny that there was a problem, but he knew her better than that; Mina would persist until he left in a huff or he broke down and told her what the problem was.
"N-Alright, yes, this whole situation smells bad and it's driving me crazy that all I seem to be able to do with this case is sit back and gather evidence for the eventuality that we actually get to nail someone for what they did to these teens." Octavius groaned and shook his head.
"There's a lot missing and Potter seems to be the key, but they don't talk about him beyond the occasional mention that he was the one who did this or that. Ronald Weasley passed on the information that Mr. Potter would come in once he was able, but I have no idea what that will be or why he can't just show up whenever he wants to."
"Now, Octavius, you will find out what you are supposed to know in due time," Mina stated, effectively derailing his rant. "Mr. Potter will show up when he is ready to do so and not a single moment sooner."
"I know you're right, but the longer this drags out, the greater the chance that they'll all be Obliviated before I can manage to help them!"
Smiling affectionately, Mina shook her head at the Mind Healer's fervour. As an Unspeakable and as a Mind Healer, he had always been dedicated and passionate about his work, but this case, this unique situation, had inspired him far beyond his usual involvement.
"You don't really believe that will happen or you would have been pushing harder. Relax, Octavius. Let this mystery unravel itself for just a little while longer."
Sighing heavily, Octavius nodded; she was correct and he knew it, but that didn't mean he had to be happy about it.
/July 17th, HÃ´tel Luxembourg, Paris, France/
Waking slowly, Remus frowned at the annoyingly insistent tapping sound that grated on his nerves and aggravated his mild hangover. Who would be knocking now? He wondered. It was a great party. I'd be half dead if I wasn't a werewolf...I KNOW those two insane Aurors are out like rocks. He'd gone out with a few French Ministry employees the previous night to properly celebrate his return home. Oh, how he loved visiting France...The tapping became - if possible - even more insistent and he finally realized what was making the infernal racket.
"Ruddy owl," he growled and padded over to the window to let the huge black bird into his room and took the letter it offered with an imperious thrust of its leg. Remus shook his head and growled softly, his amber eyes flaring with a primal spark of pleasure when the imposing owl hopped back a bit and flared up defensively. The Wolf huffed its amusement.
"Thanks. Sorry to keep you waiting."
If it were possible for an owl to snort, then this one did. It also screeched at him in a tone that made the slightly hung over werewolf moan softly and look around for something to feed the thing. Gaze lighting on his dinner plate from the night before, he offered it a chunk of steak and a tea cup of water.
"Water?" Remus sighed his relief when the meat vanished like magic and, after a little bit of the water, the large, dangerous looking bird flew out the window from whence it came.
"Thank bloody Merlin. Damnable owls!"
Shaking his head, Remus was finally able to focus on the letter the owl had just delivered. The Potter Seal was facing him from the back of the letter; just seeing that familiar seal pressed into wax - such a simple yet formal sight - and knowing that it had been done so many years ago broke his heart all over again. Flipping it over, he recognized her handwriting and drew in a shuddery breath. He obeyed the powerful compulsion to open the letter and her scent rushed up in an almost overwhelming wave.
"Lily..." he whispered, tears already tracking down his face as that one word declared the pain of his loss to an empty room. Unable to stand any longer, he sank down onto the side of the bed and started to read.
If you are reading this, then the worst has come to pass and James and I are dead. I am so sorry, Remus. If it could have happened any other way, then I would have had it be so. It is time for you to remember your vows, brother of my heart. Please forgive me for the pain I have caused you and for what I had to do to protect my son.
Finishing the first paragraph unleashed the magic inside the letter and Remus' head felt like it had exploded. Whimpering his pain, he slid from the bed to lie bonelessly on the floor as memories bombarded his mind and the darkness of oblivion rushed up to meet him.
Remus groaned softly and reluctantly opened his eyes to mere slits so he could look around his hotel room. The brightness told him it was still fairly early in the day, but hours after he had originally awakened and the hard surface beneath him let him know he had fallen to the floor at some point. The light stabbed at his eyes and he blinked rapidly, this pain a minor consideration compared to the gaping wounds he felt in his mind and heart.
"My Cub," he whispered brokenly and slowly turned his head, only to flinch when his gaze fell on the letter that lay open beside him. It served as a blunt and unforgiving reminder of how he had been used by Dumbledore for over a decade, but worse still, it reminded him of the vow he had been kept from fulfilling.
Freed of layer upon layer of trust and loyalty compulsions, he felt equal parts lighter and heavier as his Wolf's rage flared in tandem with his own intense need to avenge the wrongs done to himself and his pack. Throwing his head back, he howled mournfully as grief washed away the rage for the time being.
Returning to his more rational, human senses after an unknown period of time, the werewolf finally took note of his surroundings and the letter that lay at his side. Picking it up with shaking hands, he shifted around into a more comfortable position.
"All your leashes are gone now, you manipulative old bastard." He snarled silently and focused on the graceful handwriting of the long dead woman he had called Sister.
What we feared must have come to pass. Dumbledore convinced Sirius that he was too obvious a choice for Secret Keeper and honestly, he was, but Peter shy, meek Peter...he betrayed us. I often wondered if Albus didn't manoeuvre him into place like all the rest of his 'pawns'. Very little would surprise me now.
You are my son's Guardian Wolf, bound first by your intense devotion to his safety and then by the blood you shed to ensure that safety. He's your Cub now, Remus. Go to him and keep him as safe as you can without smothering him. Make sure he has a good life. Merlin knows his life couldn't have been easy if Albus got involved.
I don't know who else will still be alive by the time my boy turns sixteen, but seek out whoever of us has carried on. Find whoever is left and live.
Lily Marie Evans Potter
Shaking with grief once more, Remus cast several more privacy charms before collapsing into a foetal ball on the floor. Breathing in the scent that still lingered on Lily's letter, the once distant sense of loss lay open and bloody - all but two of his pack were dead and he finally gave way to it as wracking sobs shook his lean body.
/July 18th, #4 Privet Drive/
Moody observed Harry for the first part of his shift until the young wizard left the house for the back yard. He decided that now might be a good time to test out the boy's reflexes while he was busy doing something that would keep his mind occupied. He moved around the house to the back yard once the boy was situated and focused on his gardening.
Escaping to the back yard for some much needed sunshine and fresh air, Harry stripped off his over sized T-shirt and fetched the garden tools out of the shed. Losing himself in the simple pleasures of working his hands into the cool soil, pulling weeds and planting flowers, he smiled to himself.
Observing the young wizard for some time, the retired auror nodded his approval. It would seem that their warning to the Dursleys had born some fruit, at least. The boy had put on some weight and visible muscle just in the last few weeks and still seemed to move with the loose grace so typical of young athletes. Slowly stalking the young wizard, Mad-Eye moved closer, wand at the ready and a stupefy on his lips just waiting to be uttered.
Busily planting several packs of new flowers, hands nearly black from the damp soil, Harry raised a hand to wipe the sweat from his brow. He inhaled deeply and smelled the freshly turned earth, the water...and magic that was not his own.
Not questioning how he knew this, he simply let the subtle rustle of a cloak tell him where his target was standing before instinct had his arm drawn back. A sharp motion later and he heard the trowel 'thunk' into the wooden fence and the quiet cursing of a voice he knew only too well. A glance up showed the still vibrating garden tool to be quite solidly stuck in the fence.
"Hello, Moody. So sorry, thought you might have been a Death Eater."
"What's the meaning of all this ruckus out here, Boy? You better not have any of those freakish friends of yours out here with you!" Vernon blustered, face purple.
Harry looked over his shoulder at the much larger man and smiled coldly.
"If I do, you'll do nothing," Harry stated calmly. "Or do I need to remind you of why you'll do as I say and go back inside the house?"
Vernon paled noticeably and shook his head, eyes darting as he retreated back into the house without another word.
"Thank Merlin," the teen growled. "I'm glad you dodged that, by the way. That would have hurt if it had hit you, but it's like I always hear you say - Constant Vigilance and all that mess." Harry walked over and wrenched the trowel loose from the fence board. "Were you here to do something besides hex me?"
"You're quick as a bloody snake, just like Kingsley said," Mad-Eye muttered; the flare of something not very nice in the boy's eyes did not go unnoticed. "How did you know I was here?"
"I just knew you were there," he answered honestly enough. He wasn't quite sure of the mechanics of how he had known right this moment himself. "I'm used to people attacking me. After a while, you can feel when someone is nearby, you can feel the intent to attack."
"I can't argue with that, boy, but who's been attacking you often enough to develop the kind of combat sense you have?"
"Dudley and his gang, Tom and his gang, Draco and his gang, my Aunt and Uncle at times, other students, Dementors, teachers...Need I go on?"
"Nooo, I think that about does it," Mad-Eye stated. "What did you do to the big fat muggle to make him shake in his shoes like that?"
Green eyes full of amusement, Harry stared at the space where the invisible auror was most likely standing and sneered in a frighteningly good imitation of Severus Snape.
"I haven't done anything to the Dursleys, Mad-Eye."
The only thing about that statement that bothered the retired auror was the dangling, unspoken 'yet'.
"See to it that you keep it that way, eh, Potter?"
/July 18th, Romanian Longhorn Dragon Preserve/
Settling in to enjoy dinner with Charlie Weasley and the rest of the dragon handlers, Severus smirked at the younger man who had just made a jab about his resemblance to a large bat.
"My resemblance to a large, overgrown bat not withstanding, I certainly never have any trouble keeping my students in line, so it must have some benefit."
Chuckling merrily, Charlie shook his head at the snarky potions professor. Though sarcastic, caustic and often outright vicious, then man was intensely loyal and Charlie never doubted his ability to count on him in a pinch.
"Too true, though their terror of you might have something to do with it. Don't you think scaring little Firsties half to death is a bit in the way of overkill?" He nudged the older wizard playfully and sobered.
"You're brewing something important. It has to be, what with everything you've collected."
"It is very important," Severus murmured for Charlie's ears only. "So much so that getting it wrong could mean my death and getting it right could give us a window of opportunity against the Dark Lord."
Charlie whistled softly, brown eyes worried.
"Nothing much riding on your shoulders, is there?" he sighed explosively. "Nothing much at all..."
Severus' reply was interrupted by the arrival of a large Gringotts owl. His eyes followed the bird as it swooped in and landed on the table in front of him and offered its leg. He quickly untied the letter and went perfectly still when he saw the crest that was pressed into the sealing wax. Making no protest when the bird ate from his plate and drank from his goblet, he struggled to breathe through the indescribably powerful urge to tear the letter open and read it.
"Severus? What's wrong?" Charlie didn't like the ghostly paleness this unopened letter had reduced the older man to. "Isn't that the Potter Crest?"
Severus jerked back to alertness at the sound of Charlie's question, his black eyes a bit wild.
"Yes, it's the Potter Crest," he whispered. "I have to go...to my room...I'll...I need to be alone..."
Following Severus out of the common room with his gaze, Charlie vowed to go check on him in an hour or two.
"That can't have been good news."
Locking his door behind him, Severus cast the first privacy charm he could think of before sitting down on the bed that was the Spartan room's main feature. Seeing how badly his hands were shaking, he took several deep breaths and slowly calmed himself to the point where he could open the letter with steady hands.
If you are reading this, then James and I are dead and I can honestly assure you that you had no hand in the betrayal that took our lives. The bonds that we all shared would not allow it. It is time for you to remember the vows you spoke and sealed in blood, brother of my soul. Please forgive me for any pain I may have caused you to endure and for what I had to do to protect my son.
Darkness swallowed Severus' consciousness the moment he read the word 'son'. The magic that had obscured his memories of a ritual performed almost fifteen years prior was undone by the charm that Lily Potter wove into the very parchment of her letter and with her charm came a number of spells that had been laid on top of it over the years. Swept clean by the power of blood magic, his mind began the process of emotional assimilation.
Severus woke to the painful racket of someone pounding on his door and calling out to him with audible concern. Recognizing Charlie's voice and knowing the persistent Dragon handler would not leave until he knew Severus was unharmed, he unlocked the door with a gesture and slowly sat up, head cradled in both hands.
"Please DO be quiet, Charlie. A herd of mad Hippogriffs has just trampled through my skull," he half hissed, half whispered.
"I heard you scream, Severus. What happened?" Charlie conjured a simple chair and sat down, gaze on the obviously miserable Potions Master. "It was a bad letter?"
"No, it isn't that it was a bad letter," Severus murmured quietly. "It simply reminded me of old vows and a duty I swore myself to fifteen years ago."
Swallowing nervously, Charlie ventured a cautious question.
"Is it for You Know Who?"
"No, it's not about the Dark Lord, not directly and it's definitely not for him." Severus scrubbed his face with both hands and met the unflinching gaze of one of his few friends.
"Lily Potter asked something of me those many years ago and I will do everything in my power to see it through."
"I thought you were on bad terms with the Potters."
"Don't believe everything you have been taught or told about that time, Charlie. Lily was like a sister to me. Now, I intend to rail at the gods for a while, so if you would be so kind as to leave me to it, I would be very grateful."
Charlie nodded with a small grin. That sounded more like the Severus Snape that he had known for years.
"Alright, I'll leave you to it, but if you need to talk, you know where I am, old friend. Do try not to hurt yourself, okay."
"I'm already hurt enough," Severus whispered, all the memories of how he had treated Harry so hatefully for the last five years tearing at him. Snarling soundlessly, he cast several more spells so he could throw his tantrum in peace, then let loose with a string of self-depreciating curses.
Calmer now, for the moment at least, the Potions Master sat back down on his bed and picked up Lily's letter.
What we feared the most must have come to pass - we made Peter our Secret Keeper and he betrayed us. Whether he did so as a salve to his own weakness or at the outside urging of a manipulative old man, well, I'm sure I know the truth in death.
You are Harry's Left Hand, his Mentor, bound first by the love I know you feel for him no matter how often you scoffed about it and then by the blood you shed to protect him. Go to him, Severus. Help him learn how to survive in the world our follies have created. Help him learn to live. If Albus was involved in his life...his life has most surely been very harsh.
Seek out those of our number that remain. You'll need all the help you can get. After all, he is MY son.
Lily Marie Evans Potter
Collapsing onto the yielding surface of his narrow bed, Severus clutched the letter to his chest and cried out his loss, his grief and his pain. His anger would return later - for now, there was only the memory of the friends, the family, he had lost.
Oc Dager - Goblin for Young Warrior
Sheklac - Goblin for Chieftain
Mon Grand Mauvais Loup - My big bad wolf
VÃ©tÃ©ran Loup - Old Wolf
Doux Ã‰merillon - Sweet Merlin
Magique Agence du Maintien de L'ordre - Magical Law Enforcement Agency
Le Service du Magique Ãªtre - Department of Magical Creatures
Le Service du Magique Transportation - Department of Magical Transportation