Amelia swore loudly as the newest report came to her desk. It seemed that the fiasco of Hyacinth Potter's party hadn't dampened Voldemort's appetite for destruction any.
First it was a giant attack in the West Country, of which the aurors only managed to catch one of the three, and only then because he refused to stop when the other, smarter two giants left. Then, it was the bus-full of tourists that had been set upon by werewolves, no doubt the work of Greyback and his bloodthirsty pack of savages. Those who'd survived the attack would wish they hadn't in a few days. And this was on top of the raids his current and seemingly new recruits continued to carry out at random.
Now, the last straw had fallen. The Death Eaters, no longer content to sow their brand of terror and chaos solely on their magical peers, had decided to take out a bridge in the middle of a heavily populated city - in broad fucking daylight. The first two she might have been able to contain along with their normal level of malevolence, but the third was too far. This had finally crossed the line, and the Prime Minister needed to be informed. She quickly scribbled out a note, copied it twice and sent it to the relevant people. The notes folded themselves into little planes and flew out the door, so she got back to trying once again to write the letter to Shepard, asking for help.
It was a hard thing, to ask an enemy for help, and that's exactly what Shepard and the goblins represented to her now, a potential enemy. For the moment, they were as against Voldemort as she and the Ministry were, but she had a harder time believing in the altruism of spies and soldiers. Both tended to take orders, and until she knew who was giving them orders, she would never truly be comfortable accommodating them in any way. She managed to once again write Shepard's name at the top, but couldn't find the words she needed to write her request for help. She once again scrunched up the parchment and set fire to it.
She was stirred from her annoyance at herself as Augusta Longbottom and Rufus Scrimgeour entered her office.
"You called, Minister?" Rufus said formally.
"Director, Madame Longbottom, thank you for coming at such short notice. I assume you heard about the incident this afternoon in Leeds?" Amelia asked.
"I had to spit to stop myself cursing my desk," Augusta said angrily. "Those animals needs to be put down, the sooner the better." Amelia smiled internally, perhaps Albus' choice of replacement for the Chief Warlock position would work after all. She could politic later, for now there was real business to attend to.
"You'll find no argument from me on that score, but right now, Voldemort has crossed a line, and so must we," Amelia said as she stood up. "We are going to pay a visit to the Prime Minister to inform him of certain things." Rufus just nodded, but Augusta looked concerned.
"Are you sure we should?" Augusta asked. "It's not like they can defend themselves from a magical attack."
"But they can, and will if provoked, begin a witch-hunt that will make the Salem trials look like a child's game of hide and go seek," Amelia replied. "Fudge may have wanted to keep his head in the sand about it, but I've kept an eye of the non-magical world, and they have a capacity to search and destroy people that we will never match. They have demonstrated a capacity to be disciplined, dangerous, and outnumber us by at least a hundred to one. If we ever really got on their bad side, there would be nowhere we could truly hide. So we are going to go to the Prime Minister and inform him of the civil war we are engaged in, and hope that he doesn't lump us in with them."
With no arguments forthcoming from either of her visitors, Amelia sent through the official messenger portrait warning. She received confirmation a moment later, before the three of them stepped through the green flames and into No. 10 Downing Street.
"I thought you might be coming," the PM said as he sat behind his desk. "I've seen some impressive things in my time on this earth, but this bridge collapse was something else."
"Yes, that incident is precisely why we came to see you," Amelia said seriously as she sat down. "We haven't had time for a proper introduction yet, so I'm Amelia Bones, the newest Minister of Magic. Next to me are Rufus Scrimgeour, the Director of Magical Law Enforcement and Augusta Longbottom, the Chief Warlock. It is a shame we come to you in such trying times with only bad news to relate."
"Minister?" the PM asked Amelia. "What happened to Fudge?"
"That insufferable toady was voted out to allow someone competent to actually do his job," Augusta said acidly.
"While I might have used a slightly more diplomatic tone, Madame Longbottom has the right of it," Rufus added.
"I got the impression from the man myself," the PM replied.
"While I inherited many undesirable things from my predecessor, the most pressing one was his inability to see reason if it meant doing something that would make him unpopular," Amelia said again, trying to steer the conversation once more. "Which is why we find ourselves in our current predicament."
"In the seventies, we were waging a civil war that threatened to spill over into your world. Up until 1981, we were losing to the terrorists. For reasons even we can't explain, their leader appeared to have died, so the war essentially ended overnight. Unfortunately, there has been increasing evidence over the last five years that the leader of these terrorists, the self-styled Lord Voldemort, was not in fact dead and was planning a return, evidence Fudge ignored and sometimes ran completely counter to. Now, Voldemort is back and his small army is on the rampage. Not only were they responsible for the Leeds bridge today, but the devastation in the West Country and the bus attack in Scotland."
"I can understand the political hubris and baggage, but I don't understand what this has to do with anything," the PM said after a few moments of contemplation.
"We came here to explain things to you, since I know you'll be getting questions," Amelia replied. "Voldemort crossed a serious line when he ordered those attacks; laws that we've held dear for nearly four centuries, and sentiments behind them going back millennia. You would be well within your rights to order a search of any and all magical citizens in Britain, but doing so would only end in resistance and bloodshed on both sides."
"Well, you haven't exactly convinced me you can handle the threat," the PM countered warningly.
"If I may sir," Rufus interjected. "We have been stretched thin by fifteen years of systemic defunding of law enforcement, so we don't have the numbers to counter them effectively. A problem we are already on the way to solving with secondments from European and American law enforcement agencies. Plus, we'll be introducing new policies to reduce their infiltration into our society and government. Part of the reason they are so effective is that they are able to hide among us, we don't truly know who our foes are. By the end of the month though, they won't be able to hide from us."
"So, you're asking a lot of me, but I don't see what you're offering in exchange for me turning a blind eye to a civil war in my own country," the PM said seriously.
"How's you're new assistant doing, Mr Shacklebolt?" Rufus asked with a grin.
"I wish I had a dozen of him, honestly," the PM said without really thinking. Then he saw the look on Rufus' face. "He's one of you, isn't he?"
"Kingsley Shacklebolt is one of my department's finest," Rufus said proudly. "He's also been assigned to you for your protection, should Voldemort decide you or your family are valid targets."
"We aren't a solution to your own problems, Prime Minister, just as you cannot be the solution to ours," Bones said solemnly. "That being said, we will attempt to ensure this is the last time we need to meet like this during your tenure. All we're asking is a little faith."
"Not like I have a lot of choice, do I?"
"You always have a choice, but sometimes, all you have are bad options," Bones said sympathetically.
"Fine, I'll pull some strings and get this off the front page. But I better hear of fewer of these in the future, or I'm calling in the troops," the PM said finally. "Now, if you don't mind, get out of my office." Amelia, Rufus and Augusta stood and nodded, before heading out the way they came in.
"I like him, a shame he's a Muggle," Augusta said as she walked out of Amelia's office. The Minister just shook her head, realising that even though Augusta was all talk, she had in one sentence managed to sum up the real danger of what the Death Eaters represented. Their hatred of muggles and the supposed dangers they posed to magical culture and heritage via muggleborns was only few steps removed from Augusta's unthinking bigotry. It all began with making divisions rather than inclusions, but it wasn't something she could deal with right now. Deal with Riddle tomorrow, fix the world next week, no sweat. While you're at it, there's a unicorn I'd like to sell you.
Though the one good thing that did come out of that meeting, at least for Amelia, was she finally found the words she needed to talk to Shepard. She did have a choice, but between not talking to Shepard or allowing the opportunity she represented to slip away, she didn't have any good options she could see. With sharp, angry movements, she pulled down a sheet of parchment, scrawled her message on the page and tore it off, rolling it roughly and sealing the edge before sending it via one of the owls assigned to her office.
In her study, Shepard was with Canin studying the new Hogwarts hologram. Albus had indeed known about all three intruders, but had only caught the first one himself. He had sent two other professors in a test of his own, McGonagall and Flitwick, one because she was his deputy, and the other because of his shared heritage and familiarity with goblin methods. Both had eventually caught their quarry, though after long hours of pursuit, during which the goblins managed to scan much of the castle exterior and grounds. As it turned out, the one Albus had caught was the only one to get any scans of the castle interior, and one of the less secure potential entry points. She ended up awarding that particular goblin second place, with Canin's chosen being the leader for his detailed scans of the Forbidden Forest and its boundaries as he led Flitwick on a merry chase.
The two of them were studying the new map and noting the areas that needed more scanning when an owl came through the open window. Shepard eyed the bird suspiciously, but Athena made no reaction to it. She carefully remove the parchment from the owl and unrolled it, reading the thin, tight penmanship with a matching expression. When she finished, she looked up at Canin with concern, before handing him the note to read.
Shepard, we need to meet. Bring your little green friend. Bones.
"Well, that's interesting," Canin said thoughtfully. "Especially if she's talking about Yoda and not me."
"Troubling too. Her attitude towards me is less than stellar, this could be an attempt to assassinate either of us. Or it could be a trap set by someone else," Shepard countered.
"Only one way to find out, and do you really want to pass up the opportunity if it's genuine?" the goblin asked.
"No, I can't... we can't afford to ignore it if this is an olive branch," Shepard answered. "It'll have to be tomorrow if she wants it in London, after that I'm heading up to Scotland to check out Hogwarts for myself. A shame I'll miss Ginny's party, but it can't be helped."
"I think I know just the place," Canin said with a thoughtful expression.
"I've got to hand it to you Canin, this was a good idea," Shepard said as they waited for Minister Bones to arrive. The two of them were currently sipping tea outside a craft services marquee, surrounded by Batman stunt doubles, a Pierce Brosnan lookalike and someone dressed as a xenomorph. Pinewood Studios, situated just outside London, was one of the better places for a meeting like this, as Canin's inhuman features barely warranted a second glance, and neither did Shepard's omni-tool. The two of them had of course arrived early, in order to see if Amelia or anyone from the DMLE had thought to do the same. It was only prudent, of course.
As it happened, between the two of them they had spotted a planted wizard. He was easy to spot, given the mix of morbid curiosity and mild terror almost pouring from him. Shepard almost laughed, because he was one of the most dangerous people here, yet he was terrified by props and makeup. Just before the designated time Shepard had requested, the poor sod was relieved as Minister Bones appeared on the scene. She looked around first, even after spotting her intended meeting, checking for enemy plants and exits. Unfortunately for her, this setting was far too variable to tell the enemies from the bystanders, so she would have to take this on faith.
Bones kept her eyes moving as she approached Shepard and the goblin accompanying her, eventually reaching the table laden with pastries and a hot water urn.
"Interesting choice of meeting location," Amelia said neutrally.
"Its perfect camouflage for someone like me," Canin replied. "People assume I'm just another extra. Besides, its in the open with plenty of civilians, just to make you feel better."
"I'd feel better if I could tell friend from foe," Amelia said tightly.
"You can't do that in Diagon Alley or the Ministry, and you know that, which is why you agreed to meet here," Shepard pointed out. Amelia didn't like the fact the blonde was right, so said nothing. "Anyway, we're starting off on entirely the wrong note. Get some, admittedly horrible, tea; grab a danish and let's get down to business."
Amelia slowly got herself the proffered items, subtly checking them for poisons and curses, before joining the odd couple as they walked down an alley straight out of Tim Burton's Gotham. The three of them set up at a small table outside a fake cafe, and Amelia set up some privacy and misdirection charms for security.
"So Minister, you called this meeting, what exactly are you asking for?" Shepard asked. Amelia sipped her tea, too hot as it turned out, and grimaced as she set it down to cool. There was no easy way to say this, so best to do it quickly, like a wax strip.
"I need your help," Amelia said, not looking at either of them because it would make it harder. Her focus on her tea, she quickly elaborated.
"We've been running investigations into the financial dealings of several interesting parties, but we keep getting blocked by Gringotts. The goblin liaison office is quite frankly impeding any progress rather than assisting, and you're the only person in Britain who seems to have any relationship with the goblins that isn't actively hostile. We need this information to figure out just who is responsible for financing the Death Eaters."
"I assume you have a list of names," Shepard prodded.
"Yes, of those we know or highly suspect to have dealing with Death Eaters," Amelia replied. At the woman's gesture, she produced a piece of parchment with a list of twenty names. Shepard looked over the list, then handed it to Canin who did likewise.
"Say we help you, what exactly are you offering?" Shepard asked as Canin began to write some notes next to the names.
"I can probably make some reasonable concessions, given my position," Amelia admitted. "Anything too big I can't promise, especially if it involves the Wizengamot." Shepard looked over to her comrade, who had finished marking the parchment. Shepard looked it over to see he had listed the names of account managers, some of them quite senior, next to the names Amelia had supplied.
"I can't speak for all of Gringotts, obviously," Canin began, "but I suspect you'd get more cooperation if you had a different person working in your goblin liaison office. Perhaps an actual goblin, or someone who speaks our language at the very least."
"Are you seriously asking me to hire a goblin?" Amelia asked incredulously.
"Is it really such a burdensome request?" Canin asked with a deadpan expression. "You complained not five minutes ago that Cresswell was not getting you anywhere. Did you perhaps consider that as an ambassador, he represents the worst of wizarding culture, and only reinforces our poor view of humans? If the office was staffed by someone who actually tried to communicate with us instead of demanding we bow to their every whim, you'd find that Gringotts would be a lot more cooperative."
"I can't just hire a goblin though, I'd be voted out by the close of business," Amelia replied.
"Then change the department policies to allow Gringotts to supply its own liaison in addition to your appointed representative," Canin countered. "If it really is too much to ask for a goblin to be employed by the department that supposedly governs relations with my entire species, the Panel of Auditors might be generous enough to appoint one of our human employees. Now, is that really too much to ask in exchange for what you've said is vital information?" Canin asked finally.
Amelia worked the idea over in her mind for a few silent moments, before admitting it wasn't the worst thing she could think of. She might even manage to keep her job. She turned her gaze to Shepard and wondered what the spy might leverage this time.
"What about you Shepard?" Bones asked. "I can only assume you have a demand of your own."
"I only ask that you stop fighting me," Shepard replied. She had of course seen the investigators tailing her recently, and hadn't appreciated it. "What could I have done that scares you so much?"
"Its not what you've done Shepard, its what you could do," Amelia replied tightly. "I know you're a spy, and until I know who you're working for, I'm not going to trust you to do anything except betray this country for yours and your employer's gain."
"You really are stubborn," Shepard grumbled. "You want to know who I'm working for, is that it? As impossible as it might sound, the only person I'm working for is me. Though I suppose it could be argued I'm working for Dumbledore, or Miss Potter, or hell, the entirety of Britain! I'm here because I want Voldemort gone as much as the next right-thinking person. It shouldn't matter where I came from."
"But it does, Shepard," Bones rejoined, a tinge of anger in her tone. "It matters to me because when he's gone, I have to deal with you. For all I know, you could be dealing with Voldemort so you can weaken the country for a hostile takeover! No-one I talk to knows anything about you!"
"Because there's nothing to know! You can't possibly understand my origins, so I'm asking you to trust that once Voldemort goes, hopefully so will I!"
Amelia said nothing for a moment after Shepard's outburst, thinking about the possible implications of her statement. After an awkward silence, she uttered the conclusion she had come to.
"You don't plan to live through this, do you?" Bones whispered.
"Yes, I do plan to live, but I'm not going to discount the possibility of death. Goddess knows I've done it more than once," Shepard spat back. "So what's it going to be Amelia? Are you going to stop this pettiness you're sending my way and get some cooperation, or do we leave here as enemies?"
"Alright, you win," Amelia conceded. "I'll change the department to allow Gringotts to appoint its own representative in addition to the Ministry appointee. And I'll stop trying to treat you like an enemy Shepard, but this doesn't mean I'm going to stop investigating you."
"Near enough," Shepard answered with a sigh. Canin nodded and pushed then parchment back to Amelia.
"Next to each of your names I've noted the manager of the account. Next to each of those I've noted whether they are likely to cooperate with an investigation, or who to go through to get the information you're after. Unlike what most humans assume, Gringotts is not a unified institution. It's a hive of alliances, truces, grudges, feuds and backstabbing. Though few humans ever learn it, the goblin nation is far more unstable than sometimes even we know."
"And these are the people we trust with our finances," Amelia wondered aloud.
"Well, we're better than some of your other options, that's for sure," Canin replied. "Have fun trying to navigate this labyrinth. If I were you, I'd start with your own account manager."
"A question, if I may?" Amelia asked as Shepard and Canin moved to leave. They didn't stop standing, though they didn't leave. "You're the only person I know who has managed to get the goblins above ground in anything except a hostile way," she stated to Shepard. "How?"
"You wouldn't believe the long answer if I forced down a gallon of truth serum," Shepard answered. "Short answer, I learned the language, learned their customs, then applied them. You'd be surprised what you can get when you stop treating them like bankers and start treating them like people." With that Shepard and Canin left the table, as they had other places to be.
Amelia just looked at the list before her, understanding what she had, but not quite ready to accept that it could be so simple. As they went to Shepard's car, Canin pulled out some parchment from a pocket and once they were safely inside and driving away, began to write.
"Anything important?" Shepard asked as they drove.
"Informing people about Amelia's upcoming change to the department. It'll cause a lot of arguments, and that's just with the Auditors."
"Nothing like the possibility of promotion to get things moving and shaking," Shepard agreed.
While Shepard and Canin drove northwards, Luna and Bloodaxe made their way to Grimmauld Place in order to join up with Harri, Sirius and Remus as they went to Ginny's birthday party. Unfortunately, particularly for Luna, Hermione wasn't coming today, her parents having taken some time off to spend some quality time with her. Tonks was also unavailable, having drawn duty for this week. So it was just Luna and Bloodaxe, disguised under a glamour as they walked through midmorning London.
"Is that comfortable?" Luna asked. She was fast growing fond of the goblin who was almost always at Shepard's. She enjoyed talking with him about Fudge and her father's theory he ate goblin pies. Bloodaxe had made sure the room was secure before informing her that he in fact did, though not the way some thought. It was true that he liked pies from a particular bakery, what wasn't well known was that Gringotts had acquired the property after the owner passed away still owing debts. When they learned that Fudge ordered from there regularly, they would substitute the order for 'special' pies, often laced with laxatives or the like. It was apparently a source of much amusement underground, and Luna rolled off her bed and onto the floor in hysterics when she was told.
"It's not uncomfortable, but it does get sweaty if I leave it on for more than an hour at a time," Bloodaxe admitted. Goblin magics, focused as they were through hammer, anvil and blades rather than wands, worked differently to wand magic. The glamour he wore, instead of being a mere illusion, was more like wearing a physical costume for the goblin, which while more effective was also more cumbersome at times.
"Maybe I should try one some time, see what it's like to wear a different face," Luna said in her unique way.
Bloodaxe had to admit the girl was odd, but she was pleasant and uninhibited and so open-minded he wondered how it stayed inside her head sometimes. In the beginning, he had been assigned a single shift as her guard, but she had been such a different experience that he volunteered for a second shift. He couldn't pinpoint exactly when it had happened, but he had taken on Luna as his personal task as part of Shepard's command. The older blonde had said nothing about the arrangement, except to approve the request when it came to her.
As they arrived at Grimmauld Place, they were greeted at the door by Dobby.
"Hello Dobby, are we here on time?" Luna asked.
"Yes, Mistress Potter is waiting for you in the main sitting room," Dobby said with a little sniff of joy. His vocabulary had certainly improved since joining the House of Black, but from time to time he still teared up about his kind treatment. At least Harri had managed to stop him bawling and shouting when he had those episodes. The little elf led them through to where Harri was waiting to get going, with a nervous expression on her face.
Luna would be the first person to admit she wasn't completely in tune with normal human emotional expression, but this seemed odd for the normally-confident Harri Potter.
"Is something muddling your thoughts, Harri?" Luna asked, drawing the brunette's attention. Another benefit of her new friendship with Bloodaxe was that she was beginning to come out of her shell. She referenced bizarre and possibly nonexistent creatures less often at least, and was beginning to just talk to people.
"Oh, hello Luna, Bloodaxe," Harri said as she noticed them enter. She stood up to give Luna a quick hug and Bloodaxe a firm handshake, as she had learned was an appropriate greeting.
"And though I'm quite sure this house has many unsavoury things still hiding somewhere, I haven't yet encountered anything that would muddle my thoughts so much today. No, that is entirely the fault of that over-wrapped box over there," Harri said, pointing at the present intended for Ginny.
"Does it have some kind of enchantment?" Luna asked merrily.
"No, just a new set of quidditch gear," Harri replied.
"Then why is it so confusing?" Luna asked, genuinely puzzled. Bloodaxe, who had spent more time with Luna and thus was a little more attuned to the teenage female mind, had a theory, especially given their intended destination.
"Perhaps its not the gift that troubles her, but the girl," he suggested. Luna looked over at Bloodaxe with a confused puppy tilt of her head.
"That's silly, that kind of thought-muddling related to a present… would mean that Harri has a crush on Ginny," Luna said slowly as her brain caught up with her mouth. The blonde looked back up at her friend, only to see a blush blooming on her cheeks. "Oh... Oh!" Luna exclaimed as she pout two and two together.
"You can't tell her Luna!" Harri said quickly.
"Whyever not, if not telling is making you upset?"
"Because I would rather live with a fantasy than be crushed by the reality," the ravenette choked out. Luna said nothing, but her normally-serene expression turned sad. She understood all too well the attractiveness of such a choice, but also its destructive potential.
"Alright, I won't tell her, but you should," Luna announced, her voice tinged with sadness. "It isn't healthy to live in dreams." Harri looked thoughtfully at her friend, and the advice that unconsciously mirrored the words from Dumbledore when she had found the Mirror of Erised.
Neither girl had time to stay in the funk that had descended on the room as Sirius and Remus finally joined them.
"Ah, Luna and Bloodaxe right?" Sirius asked, getting a nod from the goblin in question. "Excellent, glad we all know our names. Hopefully, we'll all be sober enough to answer to them by the time we need to go home. Now, let's go have us a party!"
"The only person drinking is going to be you," Remus chided his friend, "and I will cut you off if you start trying to 'mark' anything of the Weasley's, are we clear?"
"But Remus..." Sirius whined, only to be met by stony-faced determination. "Fine, I'll be good."
One floo trip later found them sprawled in a laughing heap in the Burrow's living room, as once again Harri's grace and poise was balanced by her inability to not trip over her own feet. They were greeted by a young man with the signature Weasley hair, but one some of them hadn't met.
"Mum, were we expecting a goblin?" he called out uncertainly in the direction of the kitchen.
"What are you talking about Charlie?" Molly asked as she came in to see what was going on. She looked in with a smile at the jumble of bodies that was still untangling itself on her living room floor, spotting her daughter's friends and smiling. She also saw the source of her son's confusion as Bloodaxe helped Luna to her feet. She recognized him, but couldn't for the life of her remember his name.
"Oh hello everyone," she said kindly. "Oh stop looking so worried Charlie, we're all friends here. For those of you who don't recognize him, this is Charlie. Charlie, this is Luna, and I'm afraid I've forgotten the name of your friend," she asked leadingly.
"Private Bloodaxe," the goblin said by way of introduction.
"Excellent, now that we all know each other, there are still things left to do. Charlie, please go outside and attempt to keep my tables intact from the Twins. Everyone else, feel free to do what you like. Lunch will be in an hour or so, depending on when Arthur and Ginny get back, oh and presents can go on that table," Molly instructed, pointing to a table piled with gifts as she returned to the kitchen to finish making another of her culinary masterworks.
"She reminds me of some captains I know," Bloodaxe said as the matriarch left them.
"Like Oliver Wood when he was on the pitch," Harri agreed.
"Hey, Oliver was pretty good," Ron said as he came in from outside.
"He was much better on the pitch then at his 'training' sessions," Harri replied, adding air quotes and shivering at the memories.
"He kinda was," Ron added. "Good thing I wasn't on the team when he was captain."
"Prat," Harri said with a friendly swat.
"Well, come on then, its all happening outside," Ron prompted, waving them to join him. Harri added her gift to the pile and walked out with Luna and Bloodaxe, who took a moment as he stepped out into the sunlight to drink in the moment. Sirius and Remus stayed inside, heading to the kitchen.
"Molly, is Bill around?" Sirius asked.
"I'm sure he'll be around sometime, but he hasn't arrived yet," Molly answered, not turning her back from her baking. "I'm sure she means well, and it's been nice getting to know the girl who has his heart, but Fleur would just get in my way this morning."
"Well knowing your son, fine upstanding gentleman that he is, I'm sure he's found a way to console her," Remus said diplomatically.
"If he's comforting her upstanding, it's only because she's light as a bird, no pun intended," Molly said with a chuckle. Sirius and Remus exchanged a look that said they couldn't quite believe what they had just heard. "Though they're both young and in love, I'm sure they enjoy quite a number of enthusiastic and flexible positions to comfort each other," Molly added to their continued bewilderment. She turned around to set something on the table and laughed at their gobsmacked expression. "I've had seven children, I have a fair good idea of what my son, a fairly handsome man, and his girlfriend, an equally beautiful young woman, might do in their leisure time. Here's a hint, they won't be playing cards."
Remus and Sirius just did their best goldfish impressions, before the werewolf turned to his friend.
"I take it back Sirius, I could use that drink," he said weakly.
"Way ahead of you," Sirius replied with a similar tone, pulling a pair of flasks from a pocket and handing one over. The last marauders tapped flasks, took a swig and uttered in unison, "mischief managed".
"Alright, out of my kitchen, shoo. Shoo!" Molly said, hustling them out to finish her daughter's cake.
She had a good view at her guests as she continued to work. Sirius and Remus went outside, thankfully concealing the flasks, and were immediately set upon by the Twins, no doubt to talk about that joke shop of theirs. Luna and Bloodaxe seemed to be content in making grass angels while Charlie and Ron convinced Harri to join them in a broom race. Her gaze lingered on Harri a little longer, the girl who was the subject of her daughter's crush. It had come as a bit of a surprise really, she had expected to hear such a declaration from Ron, given the adventures they had been through. Though given his current teenage imperative to be distracted by anything female, perhaps it wasn't surprising he hasn't found a girlfriend yet. Still, she had done a little digging and found out some interesting things. As the last Potter, Harri was the Lord rather than the Lady. Though this meant a few strange things, it did mean that should the two of them have mutual feelings, they could at least get married legally. Children might be a more interesting issue, but that would be something to worry about in the future. It might not happen at all.
The hour passed quickly enough, and finally Arthur returned from their father-daughter shopping trip that was their birthday present to Ginny. Now that Arthur had finally been promoted to a position befitting his seniority, he had a little extra he could spend on nice things for their children. Judging by the bag he was holding, he had made the mistake of most men giving women license to shop and ended up clothes shopping. Though the brand on the bag wasn't one she recognized, but judging by the smile on her husband's face, it was likely somewhere in the Muggle world.
"That smells good dear," Arthur said as he came into the kitchen.
"Have fun?" Molly asked as she received a kiss.
"Ginny wanted to go to this place in London. At first I thought she meant Diagon Alley, but she ended up taking me to this most peculiar place in a building I can't say I recall the name of, but it had the most fascinating collection of electrical devices. I was on my best behaviour of course and didn't ask anyone questions," he quickly added at Molly's stern expression. He knew how she disapproved of how 'enthusiastic' he could get about his hobby. It was probably the reason the Granger's never replied to his letter.
"Where's the birthday girl?" Molly asked.
"Just getting changed into a shirt she bought," Arthur replied.
"Alright then, you can put that with the rest of the gifts then go out and collect our guests. I'm sure your sons will be glad to see you." She received another kiss before he left to get everyone back to the tables for lunch. She was just putting the finishing touches on the cake when Ginny came in.
"Oh wow mum, that's got to be your best one yet!" Ginny said on seeing the cake, after giving her mother a hug of course.
"Thank you darling," Molly replied. "So, while its just you, me and the cake, what were you buying while you had your father distracted?" Molly asked with a knowing look. Ginny smiled sheepishly, before quietly admitting her purchase had been lingerie, at least in part. She was also wearing her new shirt, a nice, form-fitting tee with a pattern of purple flowers.
"Alright, so now that you've discovered my shopping secret, why don't we get those lazybones siblings of yours to do some work?" Molly said conspiratorially to her daughter's agreeing nod.
"Boys, quit playing around and set the table!" Molly shouted out the window. It was a testament of the conditioning she'd been able to instill that not only did her sons line up to move cutlery, plates and food, but Arthur, Sirius and Remus joined them. Mother and daughter shared a knowing look, before Ginny's smile fell a little.
"Percy didn't come, did he?" she asked her mother quietly.
"No, not today," came the whispered answer. The Weasley matriarch followed the procession out with a hint of sadness on her face.
She and Arthur had tried to reach out to their third son in the last few months, but they soon learned that he had inherited Molly's stubbornness and pettiness. He refused to see that Fudge had done anything wrong, and that by supporting him he had done anything wrong either, even to Harri. Pride could be a powerful thing though, and it wasn't something either parent could really do anything about. Minister Bones had at least shown herself to be better than many who had held her position previously in not immediately firing or demoting Percy, but he was no longer on the inside track he thought he had been on. That blow was perhaps the cruellest to the upwardly-seeking Weasley boy.
Molly pushed it out of her mind as she sat down, directing where to place food, drink and flatware until the table groaned under the weight and everyone anticipated the coming feast. Ginny, being the birthday girl, sat at the head of the table in front of the cake, the candles burning merrily.
"Make a wish," Luna said eagerly, enjoying the tradition from Harri's birthday recently. Though why anyone magical would need to make a wish was a mystery, but it was fun all the same. Ginny looked around at her friends and family, at least the ones that came, and smiled. Her gaze may have lingered on Harri, those intense green eyes and soft-looking lips, perhaps longer than she should have. To cover her cheeks which she knew must be blushing, she inhaled deeply then blew out the candles.
Only to have them reignite a second later. Molly threw a disapproving look at her twin sons, but everyone else just laughed. Ginny carefully took the candles off the cake and sprayed them with a quick jet of water from her wand. Cutting the cake into enough slices for everyone was a little tricky, but she managed it, then everyone settled in for a Weasley feast. An hour later, fed and watered to their fill, the younger generation played a game of quidditch while the adults looked on in envy of their youthful energy. Even Luna and Bloodaxe joined in, though the goblin with considerably more reluctance. Ginny insisted Harri play on the opposite team to her as a chaser, since they didn't have a snitch. The redhead felt more confident on a broom interacting with Harri, secretly enjoying jostling for the ball and being able to get in close to the black-haired object of her affections.
As night began to fall, the game was finally abandoned in favour of indoor retreats. The presents were finally opened after a much more subdued dinner, since most of them were still recovering from lunch. Ginny ended up with a new set of quidditch gear from Harri, some invisible ink and a set of glasses to see it from the twins, a dragon leather wallet from Charlie, a trinket from one of Bill's digs and a lovely dress from Fleur. Ginny didn't get what she really wanted though, which was some alone time with Harri to try and tell the girl how she felt about her. As the guests returned to their homes, Ginny thanked them all, but resigned herself to the fact that talking to Harri might have to wait until school started in a few weeks.
The air was crisp as dawn broke over the mountains that shielded Hogwarts. Though the sun rose early at this time of year, the mountains ensured that the castle stayed shadowed just a little longer, painting it a warm gold as Shepard drove up to the castle gates. She could feel the ancient charms trying to affect her, given her low magical powers, alternately seeing the normal castle and the decrepit ruin the illusion and misdirection charms were trying to force on her mind. She just focused her not-inconsiderable willpower and stepped confidently forward until she was inside the envelope of the magical defences. Canin seemed as mesmerized by the sight of the castle, before he stepped forward to her side.
They stood there at the closed gates for a few minutes, their waiting underlined by a silence of professionals evaluating the lay of the land. They mentally noted the towers either side of the iron bar gate, the fact the gate itself was the lowest point of the wall, and other little details that spoke volumes to both of them that at one point, this gate had been designed to hold off an army. They didn't have long to wait as they were joined by Dumbledore and McGonagall, as the representatives of the school.
"Headmaster, Professor" Shepard greeted cordially. She hasn't actually met McGonagall except for a few brief interaction's at Harri's party, which was a completely different setting to this formal working introduction. "Commander Mimir Shepard, and my companion here is Captain Canin of the Green Wolves."
"Well met Commander. I believe you know my Deputy, Professor McGonagall?" Albus said with a questioning lilt.
"We've been introduced, but that's all," Shepard admitted.
Minerva looked between Shepard and Canin with a glare she usually reserved for recalcitrant teenagers. She had of course been informed by Albus that there would be a Master at Arms this year, as it was key in enrolling several students, or in reassuring several other families to let their children remain. She had not been informed that it was the strange Commander Shepard she had met at the party in London and spied at some Order meetings. Nor that she would be bringing more goblins. Not that she objected to either, but it was the lack of information that rankled, and she was trying to put an intimidating show on for them.
"She must be the dragon-lady that the other scout talked about," Canin muttered in the goblin tongue, before chuckling. The sound brought Minerva's attention, which only increased her scowl.
"What was that?" she asked acidly, in the same tone she would question a gossiping student.
"It was a compliment, I assure you," Shepard said with a chuckle of her own. Her grandmother used to talk about Minerva McGonagall, but it was something else to see the fierce woman in front of her now. She could imagine her on the bridge of an Everest-class dreadnaught, firing off orders. "When the scout you caught returned, his report included a sizable and detailed description of 'a woman with the lineage of a dragon, who for the first time since his junior accounting and swordsmanship class, made him fear something more than Maglubyet himself'. High praise from a goblin." Shepard's comment was met only with a Highland harumph, one which managed to fit into a single syllable that the speaker was marginally satisfied, but that situation could change at a moment's notice.
"Anyway, shall we get on with the business of the day?" Albus suggested.
"An excellent suggestion. If you don't mind, I'd like to get a castle tour, see my office and the like," Shepard said politely.
"Will you be accompanying us Captain?" Albus asked.
"Yes, though I may separate at a later point," Canin answered.
"If you need to, I will escort you," Minerva offered, though tightly. Her distrust of the short warrior was an obvious microcosm of the resistance they would meet this year, so it would be best to see how it played out.
The four of them went along the road to the Entry Hall, Shepard and Canin noting several important landmarks including the Whomping Willow as it smacked down an errant pigeon. As they enetered the castle proper, Shepard felt the air thicken momentarily, before Albus flicked his wand at the ancient stones and the resistance faded.
"Forgive me, I hadn't added you or the Captain to the ward allowances. You only made it this far because the students are home for the holidays, and you obviously had no ill intent."
"I do have a question about that, the wards I mean," Shepard began. Albus, ever the educator, was only too happy to launch into an explanation, using an section of the castle's wall to demonstrate some of the more difficult arithmancy and examples of the runes inlaid into the living stone.
After what turned out to be nearly half an hour of explaining, of which Shepard followed none but had listened attentively, she turned to Canin who had a concerned look.
"Something the matter?" she asked.
"I can see why the wards are so fabled, but nothing is impenetrable. I'd like a warding team to have a look at this," he muttered in reply.
"Well, that was certainly impressive," Shepard said to her human hosts. "But if you'll permit, I'd like a third party to see if there isn't anything that could be added to ensure the student's safety."
"Are you suggesting Hogwarts is unsafe?" Minerva asked dangerously.
"Far from it, from what I have observed so far this castle is one of the best defensible locations in Britain," Shepard replied placatingly. "However, I take my responsibility seriously, and I'm not too proud to ask for independent confirmation." Minerva held Shepard's gaze for an inconcerting moment, before she gave another harumph. Shepard gave a nod to Canin, who subtly pulled out one of the devices she had supplied to the scouts, before asking the tour to continue. Albus obliged, leading the group of four into the Great Hall to begin. Shepard looked over at the hourglasses filled with gems and asked the question on her mind.
"How does the point system work in relation to my position?" Shepard asked.
"At some point today I will ask you to step into my office," Albus replied. "There is a device there made by a headmaster several centuries ago that is connected to some of the castle wards and those hourglasses. A simple voice sample is all that is usually required."
"What about review of points?" Shepard asked, aware of the potential for abuse.
"We usually let teachers police themselves," Minerva answered. "However, any reward or deduction of twenty points or more is flagged for review by myself or the Headmaster before being implemented."
"I see," Shepard responded shrewdly. This would require some thought.
The tour took most of the day, Shepard in the front with Albus and Minerva, with Canin following closely behind, scanning the castle as they went. As the sun began to set, Shepard looked over the castle from the ground, once more golden except from the other side now.
"Headmaster, Professor, thank you for your hospitality. It has been an education," Shepard said warmly.
"Its been a pleasure to walk the halls again, though it seems to lack something without the students here to give the place a life of its own," Albus admitted.
"I hate to ruin the feeling, but I have a few policy changes I'm thinking of implementing that probably aren't going to be popular this year," Shepard announced.
"Such as?" Minervsa asked, her glare back at full force.
"To start with, I can't possibly defend and police this entire castle by myself, which is part of the reason Canin joined this tour today," Shepard explained. "I will be joined by at least one company of goblin warriors, possibly several. They will mostly patrol the grounds and boundaries, but there will be some areas of overlap."
"The Board of Governors will never agree to that," Minerva said flatly.
"Unfortunately for them, their disagreement will amount to nothing substantial," Shepard said with a smirk. "I doubt many of them have carefully read the Charter the school was founded on, but the Master at Arms can, and I most certainly will, overrule them in any matters related to the security if the castle and its ground. The position was founded in the Dark Ages; the Board is a relatively recent addition to the governance structure. So they can take their objections to whoever will listen, but my authority is pretty much beyond them."
There was a moment of silence as the two professors contemplated this development. They had of course read the Charter, but it was obvious that Shepard had done her homework in preparation.
"Well, it will certainly shake things up, if nothing else," Albus said neutrally.
"I'm also going to be changing the night patrol policy, for teachers and prefects," Shepard added. "I realize that the additional duties are meant to be a test of leadership and responsibility, but it is also a distraction from study and prone to neglect and abuse. That's why, at least in the beginning, each prefect patrol will be joined by some goblins. If they can't work together with another sentient species, then I will probably revoke patrols for the prefects in question."
"That's going too far," Minerva declared. "Its been a part of Hogwarts tradition for centuries to have the prefects patrolling the halls at night."
"I'm all for tradition right until it gets in the way of doing my job, which in ensuring the student's safety," Shepard responded flatly. "I don't care if they hate me, or their parents try to make my life miserable, plenty of people have tried to their frustration in the past. But as long as they are alive to do so, then they should consider themselves grateful." There was another moment of silence as they considered the sobering statement, especially in the context of Voldemort's return.
"I will take my leave now, but you can be assured that this isn't the end of it," Shepard said with forced calm. "I will be sending more goblins here soon, I'll send the details via owl. Good bye," Shepard said, not waiting for a reply. As they walked back to the car, Canin began to talk.
"You seemed particularly passionate about the inclusion of goblins, whenever it came up," he said neutrally.
"Its just so..." Shepard began with a huff. "This world is so similar to mine in so many ways; I have to remind myself it's not the same. But then I get the separatist attitudes, not just about goblins but all sentient races, and it just grates on me. I know I can't, or at least shouldn't, try and force my own values on a time that isn't ready for it, but I can't help it! The culture here is just so far behind mine." Canin said nothing for a while as they approached the gates.
"You rarely talk about your origins," Canin observed as they finally reached the walls. "Silverfang told me of course, and it was part of the reason why I was interested in your offer."
"I don't like to talk about it," Shepard began, "because this world isn't ready for what I know."
"Why not?" Canin asked. "Why not give us an example to strive for?" Shepard looked at him, deep in thought for a long time, before she responded.
"You know what, what could it hurt," she said. She waited until they were in the car and driving away, safe from all but the most determined eavesdropper, before she gave him one.
"In my world, there isn't any hiding magic," she said, letting her body drive automatically as she reminisced. "There also aren't any divides between sentients species. Goblins, humans, centaurs, everything intelligent, they all live openly. There isn't any hiding; they all contribute to society in their own way. Hell, they all came with us when we left Earth to travel the stars. One of my favorite instructors at the academy is the doppelganger of Private Bloodaxe, as he may be in 150 years or so. This world is so divided; it's just shocking to me."
"Indeed," Canin said, neutral once again. He had no frame of reference for Shepard's comments, and he knew she wasn't mentioning its own detractions due to internal bias, but the world she painted seemed a lot better than this one.
"Maybe you can make some changes, nudge this world in the right direction?" he suggested.
"Maybe I already am," Shepard said with a smirk.
Shepard had just gotten back from an early morning training exercise, this time with Canin's Green Wolves joined by Steelfoot's Iron Delta Company and Longtusk's Under Corps. It had been difficult at times corrdinating the normally-competing goblins, but in the end she had managed to get them working together, even if it had been to lay an imaginary seige. As she finished her shower, she noticed that Athena had been joined on her perch by a snowy owl, whose gaze locked on hers. Shepard noted the envelope held in the black beak and realized this must be Hedwig.
"I assume that's for me," she said, taking off the towel and wrapping it around her forearm. The white owl took this as permission and flitted over, landing lightly on the offered limb and making Shepard glad for the towel as the talons stabilised her landing. Tink walked a little awkwardly to the kitchen to grab a treat for the visiting owl, who swapped the tasteless parchment for juicy ham. Tink left her arm up, no stranger to odd physical poses, and laid the letter flat on the bench to read. Only to have Athena step on the letter insistently until Tink gave her a ham cube as well. When she finally got to read it, it turned out to be a short note from Harri asking to come over. The tone of the letter sounded a little desperate actually, so Tink wrote back an affirmative reply for Hedwig to return with.
Less than an hour later, Tink picked up the phone and gave the front desk the authorization to send Harri up unescorted. When the teen came out of the elevator, her face was set in an unpleasant scowl.
"What's up?" Tink asked. On seeing Tink, the teen's expression cleared, though she was clearly still upset.
"Rita Skeeter," Harri said acidly. "Apparently, since Sirius' debut, he's been rejecting marriage proposals, not just for him but me as well. Apparently, some of our suitors didn't take kindly to this, so they sent a letter to Rita about it. Ever one to ruin people's lives, she requested an interview which Sirius agreed to, and then the bitch brought those two with her!"
Tink said nothing, having had similar experiences with Khalisah bint Sinan al Jilani. It must just be a constant of the multiverse: the speed of light, gravity, annoying journalists. She just took the teen into the kitchen and poured them some tea while Harri continued to rant.
"So of course, the rules of hospitality required us to sit through an hour of the most painful and insulting conversation I've had in my life. That bitch, the other one, not Rita, could not have been a more obvious gold-digger. I actually think she reminded me of someone, can't remember right now. And that absolute bastard, well, he was old enough to be my grandfather, but the leer he was giving me made me want to puke or curse him, probably both."
"Sadly Harri, being rich or famous attracts crazy people looking to take advantage of your situation," Tink commiserated. "Being both, like you are, just makes it worse. The best thing you can have is some real friends who don't care about any of that."
"You're right," Harri said with a ghost of a smile.
"Alright, this conversation needs a reboot. So, how was the party?" Tink asked.
"It was really good actually. Charlie even made an appearance."
"Was there cake?" Tink asked, her tone hinting at mischief.
"It was a birthday at the Weasleys. The world would have to be very strange for there not to be cake at a Weasley birthday while Molly draws breath."
"Did she blow out the candles, or hit the bottom when she cut it?" Now Harri was getting suspicious of the Cheshire cat grin threatening to break away from Tink's face.
"Yes?" Harri replied suspiciously.
"Did she get your birthday wish as you tackled her to the ground and kissed her silly!?" Tink gave up trying to hold it in and burst out laughing.
Harri just blushed the shade of her crush's hair and hit Tink on the shoulder, causing the laughing blonde to fall to the floor.
"No fair Tink, I can't tease you back!" Harri said, though she was smiling as well. It took a few minutes for Tink to finally regain her composure and stand up again. In that time, Harri had been thinking about one moment in particular, where she and Ginny had locked gaze just before the redhead had blown out her candles. There had been something in the younger girl's look, something Harri thought she recognized.
"Tink, where's Luna?" Harri asked. The older blonde's laughter had hardly been quiet, and even Luna would have come in, if only to join in the laughter.
"She's over at a friend's house," Tink replied. She wasn't lying either. In the two weeks she had been staying over, Luna and Bloodaxe had become fast friends. She was currently on a tour of the underground city with Bloodaxe as her guide/bodyguard.
"Which friend?" Harri asked.
"Bloodaxe," Tink answered. It showed Harri's good hearted nature that her only response to learning one of her friends was friends with a goblin was:
"Neat. I hope she takes pictures."
The conversation turned and went down random paths until Harri's eye caught the look of the repaired dining room from her birthday.
"Tink, do you know if the people you got to repair this place do interiors?" Harri asked. Tink had been expecting this for a while now, she hadn't missed the way Sirius had looked at Angelique, nor Harri's less-than-subtle scheming glances.
"I honestly don't know, but we can ask. But before we do, tell me why."
"Because I'm sick of all the snakes and mold," Harri tried.
"Close, but try again," Tink said with her smirk returning.
"Because I want to spend some of my money on my future?" Harri ventured, her blush beginning once more.
"Ah ah ah," Tink answered, wagging a finger.
"Fine, I want Sirius to spend some time with Angelique. He obviously likes her, why not try and give it a chance to work?"
"So rare to see a true romantic in this age of jaded, cynical teenagers," Tink said teasingly, poking her tongue out as the activated her omni-tool. A few rings later, and the phone was answered by a pleasant French voice.
"Ducard's Architecture, how may I assist you?"
"Construction and repair, Eton if he's available," Tink answered. A moment later she heard the man himself answer the call.
"Hello Eton, Shepard here. I've got a question for you."
"If it is if we give discounts to repeat customers, then I must sadly disappoint you, and then question why you seem to be such a target."
"As unbelievable as it sounds Eton, this call isn't about my residence," Shepard explained. "I have a friend who is looking to remodel inside and probably outside as well, and willing to pay handsomely for it. Especially if Angelique is available to work this particular job."
"You're right, it does sound unbelievable," Eton jibed good-naturedly. "Would this friend of your perhaps be that Sirius fellow?"
"No, but she is living with him."
"Ah, Miss Potter is perceptive then, more so than most her age."
"Eton, a blind man could see the infatuation pouring off that man," Shepard said with a chuckle. "So, are you available?"
"Sadly, I am a little too busy to work such a project myself. However, Angelique has been expressing a desire to do more independent work; perhaps this would be a good test to see if she actually likes it. We'll have to schedule an appointment for sometime next week for a quote, but I see no reason this cannot work out for everybody," he finished with a knowing tone. Were he in the room, Tink would expect nothing less than a conspiratorial wink.
"Excellent, I shall send you the details of the address. Au revior."
"So, you'll need to give me the address to send to him, but it looks like you, and maybe that overgrown teenager you live with, might be in luck," Shepard said with a smirk. Harri forwent verbal thanks in favour of tackle-hug.
"You're amazing, you know that?" Harri exclaimed.
"I am pretty awesome," Tink admitted with over-the-top pretention.
"Prat," Harri replied with a swat on the arm.
"Are you sure you're up to this Harri?" Sirius asked. The two of them were in one of the studies off the main Library inside Grimmauld Place, the Potter Will laid out on the desk. Sitting in front of the document was Harri.
"No, but I have to, or it'll haunt me until I do," Harri said with a slight quiver in her voice. She steeled herself as she unfurled the parchment once more, Sirius on hand to transcribe what Harri read aloud. Harri went past the first several paragraphs, as most of them were clearly either the pro forma used by BFH, or her father's hand. It was when she reached the first blurred section, that belonging to her mother, that she went back and read the preceeding text.
"Alright, looks like this first section is about mum's assest's separate to dad's," Harri said, squinting to try and clear up the obscured text. "Looks like she left a few specific bequests, then instructed anything remaining to be combined and held in trust."
"Alright, let's have the bequests, some of them may no longer be relevant," Sirius said grimly. Harri just nodded and read out each bequest as best she could, trusting Sirius to clear it up later with her. Once that was done, she skipped ahead to the next section, which caused her throat to seize up.
"What's wrong Harri?" Sirius asked.
"Its about who was supposed to care for me if they died," Harri said with a sob. "I was placed with the Dursley's because dad wrote it at the bottom!"
"I understand Harri, but you have to realize he was probably only thinking of a worst case scenario. To him, to a lot of magical folk, family is everything. He could never have imagined the treatment you got from them." Harri just pulled Sirius into a hug for a moment, before she looked back on the document.
"We can skip this section, if you'd like," Sirius suggested.
"Yeah, that sounds good," Harri agreed. "No point thinking about what might have been instead of focusing on what we have now."
"That sounded very wise Harri," Sirius said approvingly.
"Well, hanging out with Shepard has to have a few perks," Harri said with a smirk. She deftly slipped out of his attempt to ruffle her hair and read down the rest of the will.
"It doesn't look like there's anything else official," Harri said. "This part at the end seems... personal."
"Alright cub, I'll let you read it in peace then," Sirius said, giving his goddaughter one more hug before he left to figure out if there was any point in fulfilling Lily's bequests. Some of the names Harri had read out he knew had died, but maybe their relatives could still benefit from her innate kindness. Meanwhile, Harri read slowly the final passage of the will, which was a message from her mother to her.
Tears fell to the page as the teenager read her mother's words, phrases of love and warmth. In it the young Lily apologized to her baby girl for not being there as she grew up into the beautiful young woman she knew Hyacinth would become. She asked forgiveness for giving birth in a time of darkness, but stressed that Harri was their light in that darkness. She also explained, at least in part, some of the magics she had performed, or planned to, should Voldemort ever find them. She loved Harri so much she was willing to die in order that her child may live. She only hoped that her daughter had a better life than she did.
Harri carefully rolled up the parchment and left it on the desk as she went to her room to cry. All the tears she had for a mother she never knew, and this only brief connection she had with her. She cried for the life she could have had, one with parents and maybe even siblings. But most of all she cried because for the one of only a handful of times she could remember, Harri felt loved as a child from a parent.
Shepard waited in the cloakroom as the clock struck nine in the morning, and was rewarded with the twin cracks of apparition. Eton and Angelique looked a little wet, it must have been a rainy day across the channel.
"Excellent, right on time. Would you like to freshen up, or do you want to go straight to the property?" Shepard asked.
"A coffee would be lovely, though I doubt the coffee here will be up to my usual standards," Eton bemoaned in jest.
"You might be surprised at what they can offer here," Shepard replied, taking them to the elevator.
After bustling them into the restaurant for tea and coffee, the Frenchman was reluctantly impressed at the quality of the beverage, while Angelique quietly smirked as she sipped her chosen French Earl Grey. It wasn't often that Eton had his ego pricked about his disdain for the English, so it made it all the more satisfying to see it happen. After finishing their refreshments, Shepard escorted them through the hustle and noise that was London in the morning until they reached the appropriate street.
Shepard walked up to the door while the two foreigners waited outside to avoid triggering any wards. The door was answered by Dobby, who enthusiastically let them in once Shepard explained what they were here for. He loved working for Sirius and by extension Harri, but the house could definitely be better. Eton and Angelique smiled at seeing the happy little elf run away to fetch the masters of the house while they joined Shepard in the entryway. A few minutes later there were reintroductions as Sirius and Harri came down.
"You came!" Harri almost shouted happily.
"I didn't realize we were expecting company," Sirius said after shaking his head to regroup. He had initially been stuck on seeing Angelique once more.
"Well, I never turn down the opportunity to make money," Eton replied with a smirk. "And looking around, I can see why you called Shepard. This is definitely a job for professionals."
"Hey, this is my home your talking about!" Sirius said, smarting out of instinct more than anything. No one hated this house more than him, but it was the only Black property that was livable.
"This house feels old, and angry," Angelique said, pressing a hand to the wall.
"Yes, well, that was where until recently, my mother's portrait hung," Sirius added. "She was not a pleasant person."
"Well, all these dark colors, and the dreadful snake patterns everywhere, I can understand why!" Eton said brightly. "So, as the owner, why don't you give me a tour of the place so we can get a quote happening?" Eton asked. Sirius seemed a little reluctant to leave any room Angelique was in, but he was eventually bullied out by the force of Eton's personality.
Angelique looked at the wall a little more closely, noting the amateur magic applied to make the wall look uniform. Only Shepard also noticed that she was looking at the wall because Harri was in the room and the older woman was studiously avoiding looking at her, probably out of embarrassment from the first time they'd met.
"What happened here?" she eventually asked after prodding the wall with her wand.
"The painting took a little bit of forceful persuasion to remove," Shepard supplied cryptically. Angelique had a rare ability to feel residual magics. While it was true that most of this house felt downright sickening, there was a thinner layer of positive energy on top. But on this wall particular, she could once again feel the strange, almost anti-magic she had felt when repairing Shepard's penthouse.
Angelique just looked askance at her, before she finally found the courage to turn to her young heroine.
"So, I understand you were the one you organized this," she said to Harri, trying not to blush. "Any particular reason you called us?"
"I've seen what you did at Tink's," Harri replied, trying not to smile to widely and give away the game. "Shepard's," she elaborated at the older woman's look of confusion.
"Yes, well I'm glad you did, this place is not anywhere I'd like to live." Angelique said, taking another opportunity to look around.
"Alright, I think I'll just take those packages I came for, then leave you to it," Shepard said brightly, mildly enjoying the discomfort on display.
"What packages?" Harri asked.
"Those items you wanted me to hold on to for a while while the renovations are done," Shepard said again, looking once to the ceiling and once to the floor behind Angelique's back.
"Oh, those packages," Harri answered, eyes widening in understanding as she realized Shepard had thought to remove the Horcruxes while the house was being worked on. "Stay here, I'll go get them."
As Harri left, the two women caught a glimpse of Sirius leading Eton around, or perhaps it was the reverse. Either way, the black-haired man didn't lose an opportunity to look their way, meeting Angelique's eyes for a second before he was out of sight.
"It's going to be very awkward, this job," Angelique muttered in French.
"Maybe, or it could be great, just like any other job," Shepard replied.
"I've seen the way he looks at me, I know what he wants. Just what my last husband wanted, until someone younger caught his eye."
"Don't be so quick to dismiss him," Shepard replied. "He went to jail for what he believed in, then broke out again for the same reason. Ask any of his friends, what few he has after prison admittedly, and they'll all tell you he's the most loyal person they know. He's just like a dog in that respect," she added with a smirk.
"I don't know if I'm ready for that yet," Angelique admitted, one woman to another.
"Then just hit him over the nose if he gets too close. Establish boundaries, because he's going to push them regardless. But don't just dismiss him. He's been lonely for a long time, and that has probably made him scared as well. See where it might lead."
"Alright, but I'm going to charge extra if he gets annoying," Angelique said with a smirk.
"Perfect," Shepard replied.
Harri came back to the entryway carrying what looked like two wrought-iron boxes, which she gladly handed over to Tink. Knowing what was inside them made her feel dirty just touching the box. Just as she was accepting delivery, Sirius and Eton returned.
"Well, its got some lovely parts, make no mistake, but I'm afraid most of it simply must go," Eton said with disdain.
"The sooner the better," Sirius said.
"Well, that's up to Angelique, she'll be working the project alone. I'm just here to provide a quote, speaking of which," he pulled out a parchment from from a pocket, scribbled on it for a moment then handed it back. "I'll see you back at the office Angelique. Good day everyone," Eton said jauntily as he left.
"Have fun," Shepard added as she left the three of them feeling very awkward in the entryway.
Sirius wasn't a fan of the early starts that his reintroduction to polite society had forced upon him, but it was a necessary evil. This morning however, it wasn't about trying to stave off marriage offers and gala invitations, it was about helping Harri. Specifically, his careful negotiations with Slughorn had gotten him to agree to meet with Hogwarts' new Master at Arms in return for his cooperation. Sirius hadn't specified what he'd be cooperating with, as Shepard assured him that she would get it out of him. She'd also asked to be informed as soon as possible when the old man had agreed to their terms, hence the early morning visit to 450 on Royal.
Shepard was already up, of course, and greeted him at the door, her now constant goblin contingent could be found inside, some working over a hologram of the castle and grounds, some cleaning weapons and armour, one of them throwing and being thrown around by Luna in turn. The blonde teen seemed to be enjoying it, at least it appeared so from the smile on her face. The older blonde escorted him into the kitchen as she poured tea for both of them.
"So, when and where?" Shepard asked after Sirius told her the reason for his visit.
"Tonight, at one of the less known Black properties. Here's the address," he added, handing over a piece of parchment. Shepard looked at it and handed it to a goblin in exchange for a larger piece. She looked over the new piece and frowned.
"Something the matter?" Sirius asked.
"A few issues identified after my stay at the castle. Looks like the wards, while comparatively strong, are not foolproof. The reason they are so strong is because its made of so many layers, and reinforced by all the magic cast by the students and teachers. However, this does leave it vulnerable to a clever person being able to find a weak spot and finesse their way through. I'll leave this to the goblins, because its not something I can deal with." Shepard took a sip of her tea while Sirius considered someone telling him Hogwarts had a weakness.
After a few minutes, Shepard got a look in her eye as she stared at Sirius.
"I heard a rumour once that a bunch of students once created a map that showed everyone in Hogwarts, including secret passages in and out of the grounds."
"Well, we were a bright lot," Sirius admitted.
"Any chance you could make another one?" Shepard asked intently.
"Well, I'm not sure," Sirius answered, rubbing his neck nervously. "We made it nearly twenty years ago, and there were five of us then. Now its just Moony and I, I'm not sure we remember enough to make a new one."
"Even if you had the original to work from?" Shepard asked.
"Well, maybe. I'll have to get Moony and take a look."
"That's all I ask," Shepard replied with a satisfied smirk.
"You're sure about this, Lord Black?" Slughorn said nervously as the two of them apparated into the empty cabin. Perched on the edge of a forest, this hunting cabin had been neglected for decades, a fact attested to by the thick layer of dust on everything.
"We'll be safe here, the Master at Arms has had the place watched all day," Sirius said reassuringly. "Now, I won't be here for the meeting itself, that'll be between the two of you. Be warned, you haven't paid anything yet, but you will."
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this," Slughorn said nervously.
"That's unfortunate, I was under the impression that you liked meeting wealthy, influential people, the more private the better," came a voice from behind them.
Slughorn, old though he was, proved he was still surprisingly spry when the situation warranted, his wand in hand as he jumped around to face the speaker. Shepard, impressed at his reaction time and nothing else, was sitting in the only chair in the room, the view behind her covered in the heads of various animals hunted by Blacks past. Slughorn looked around, expecting some kind of trap, but after several minutes with no ambush, finally put away his wand. Besides, she had said the magic words, at least as far as he was concerned.
"Can I assume you're the person I asked to meet?" he ventured.
"You assume correctly," Shepard said, making no move to shake his hand or indeed get out of her chair. "Lord Black, you may leave. The professor here may see you on his way home, or he may not, but our business here is done."
Sirius nodded and left without a word. It was something the two of them had worked out for Slughorn, making it seem like there was far less of a relationship between them then truly existed. After that, Shepard just stared at the man until he got the hint and conjured a chair for himself. He squirmed a little until he was comfortable, there was just something unsettling about this woman, partly because he didn't recognize her, partly because he didn't even know her name.
"Are you just going to sit there, or are we going to get down to business Professor?" Shepard asked after the silence had become distinctly uncomfortable.
"Well, ah, yes," Slughorn stammered. This wasn't at all how this kind of meeting usually went for him. "I suppose we could start with your name, since you seem to have me at a disadvantage."
"You may call me Shepard, Commander if you feel like being formal," she replied crisply.
"Commander, not a common thing to see a witch join the armed forces," he tried jovially. "I do happen to know a few lads in the Navy and RAF though, any former COs we might have as a common acquaintance?"
"I very much doubt it," Shepard replied neutrally. Slughorn was finding it very hard to get a read on this woman, she wasn't responding very well to his friendly approach, and his infamous network had failed him for the first time as he had gotten nothing on her before this meeting.
"If its not too much to ask, might I know how you came into this position?" Slughorn tried. A tactic that often got people talking is to let them talk about themselves, after all.
"Its not too much to ask, though I won't answer," Shepard replied, once again shutting him down. "Suffice it to say that I have satisfied the Headmaster of my credentials and my motivations."
"Yes, he did mention the incident between Minister Bones and Lord Voldemort," Slughorn said with a slight hesitation.
"How fortuitous you should mention him," Shepard said with a predatory grin as she leaned forward.
"I'm not sure what you expected in requesting this meeting Professor, perhaps you wanted me to introduce you to Minister Bones, since we are obviously at least acquainted." Shepard's eyes never left his as a hopeful expression briefly surfaced. "The only thing I can guarantee is that an introduction from me is the absolute last thing that will find favour with Madame Minister." She barked out some harsh laughter as the hopeful expression quickly soured.
"One might think that a shared experience would create a positive bond," Slughorn ventured.
"Usually it would, but not this time. We saved each other, doesn't mean we have to like it." Shepard leaned back in her chair, steepling her fingers.
"This position I'm in really is about one person, Voldemort. The problem is that very few people know him. Know his family, know his past, hell most of them don't even know his name. But we do." She was up in a flash, her hand clamping the wrist that was bringing his wand to bear, pointing it safely away from her.
"No, no!" Horace shouted.
"You want to be safe from him Horace, but its not going to be free this time," Shepard hissed. "I know you told him something, long ago when he still went by Tom and had a disarming smile and likeable mannerisms. I need to know what you told him!"
"You can't..." he uttered softly, pleadingly.
"Can't what?" Shepard asked roughly. "Can't understand what its like to kill? We both know that's a lie, if your network is anything like rumour. I killed more Death Eaters in the last month then the DMLE managed in the whole of 1980. Can't understand what he's done perhaps?" Shepard tried, finally pausing for breath.
"He's not the handsome young man you spoke too much with Slughorn. He took what you told him, he killed for the pleasure and the pain, and with those deaths he found himself a way to cheat mortality itself. He's broken laws that go beyond humanity, he's broken the fundamental makeup of reality. We live, then we die, that's the way the world works. But so long ago you try to forget, you told him that it could be different. I know Dumbledore likes to play nice, and in doing so you played him and probably gave him something that made you look good." She finally let go of his wrist and stepped back, turning her back on him as she retreated.
Slughorn saw his opportunity and let fly with the memory charm, hoping to erase this meeting from her mind. As the white spell flew he allowed himself the beginning of a smile, until it turned to open-mouthed horror at the purple fire that was now consuming her body. Had he done something wrong, cast a different spell without thinking? So many thoughts rushed through his head that he didn't notice that Shepard was turning to face him now, and the fire wasn't burning her at all.
"How?" he asked dumbstruck.
"We all have our secrets Professor, this is mine," Shepard replied. "Now, I'm going to ask nicely one more time. What did you tell Tom Riddle, and the truth if you please."
"I didn't tell him anything!" Horace shouted, the lie he told himself so often he almost believed it sometimes. He threw another spell at her, finally noticing that the spell was consumed by the fire instead of stunning her.
Shepard didn't bother saying anything, she just activated a single whip, whirling it around to gain momentum before bring it crashing to the ground next to him, letting him see just how deep the purple light had gouged the stone floor. She repeated the trick on his other side before she deactivated it and stepped forward leaning down until they were nose to nose.
"What did you tell him?" she asked deceptively calmly, the same way a crocodile is still in the water just before it strikes.
"I told him about Horcruxes, but he brought them up first!" Horace said, sinking to his knees in defeat.
"I know," Shepard replied. "What I don't know is how many."
"What do you mean?" Horace asked in bewilderment.
"I mean that some point after the conversation you keep denying, he went and made more than one. You're the only person on the planet, aside from him, who has an inkling of the number, and since I can't ask him, I'm asking you. How. Many?" Shepard asked in a tone that suggested her patience was at its outer limit.
Horace just looked out the window at the rising moon as he recalled a conversation from over fifty years ago, a conversation he wished had never happened. Tom Riddle was always one of his best students; cunning and ambitious like a proper Slytherin, but intelligent to back it up. And his charm worked on teachers just as much as it did on his fellow student. He seemed like a shoe-in to be the youngest Minister of Magic ever, but in his final year he began to show signs. Little cracks that seemed harmless, but years later would turn out to be the root of the creature Voldemort would become. One such crack had been when he had stayed behind after class one day early in his final year, fingering a locket absentmindedly.
He'd seems so harmless, asking about Horcruxes, claiming it was an extra-curricular research project for bonus NEWT credits. Then he asked about making more than one. Horace, even then, had known curse-breakers who'd worked the tombs of some of the most notorious Dark wizards and witches in history, and none of them had made more than one. Someone asking about more seemed suspicious, even for Tom Riddle, Golden Boy. But the two of them had a conversation about it, all theoretical of course, that if you had to make more than one, then seven would probably be the ideal number to have, the original soul and six fragments. There was a reason most rituals had six points arranged around a central focus after all. The number seven was powerfully magical, and occurred frequently in nature for that reason.
As he finally came back to the present, he looked Shepard in the eyes. He'd seen a lot of eyes in his time, but never someone like Shepard. Here was someone who had stared down madmen, who had stared down entire armies, and should he have known about it, stared down the closest thing to a god there has been in the galaxy, and she had beaten them all. He now understood Albus' choice, and for the first time since hearing Voldemort had returned to life, felt a glimmer of redemption.
"Seven," he said quietly. "Six pieces to surround the original. Ritual candles," he added, as if talking to someone only he could see.
Shepard wasn't sure what to make of the candles comment, but at least this information was consistent with this world's evidence thus far.
"Very well then, thank you for your time. For what its worth, I don't know how to get on Bones' good side, so if you find out, do let me know. Otherwise, we'll see each other on the 1st of September." With that, Shepard walked out of the door, leaving Slughorn to slump onto his not-inconsiderable rump. After a few minutes of collecting his thoughts, he picked up his wand from where it had fallen without him noticing into one of the grooves burnt into the stone by Shepard. Resolving not to get on her bad side if he could avoid it in the future, he took a calming breath before he felt comfortable enough to Apparate back to his current domicile.
He bustled around for a while, going through the motions before he decided he had one more stop he needed to make, maybe two. He threw a handful of powder into the fire, calling out for the Black residence. He had no trouble exiting, being met once again by an eccentric elf who brought him right to Sirius, who was consulting with Remus Lupin over a piece of parchment. At his arrival the parchment was hidden away, and Sirius welcomed his guest.
"You look like a man in need of a drink Professor," Sirius said, trying to gain the man's attention away from he and Moony trying to replicate the Marauder's Map.
"A glass of mead wouldn't go astray, I'll say that much," Horace admitted, letting the Lord Black lead him to a sitting room. On the way they passed a room that was obviously undergoing refurbishment, as one side of the room still had the depressing green theme shared by most of the house and the other half was a cheery blue color.
Sirius sat down next to him, and a moment later Winky arrived with two glasses and a bottle. Sirius took a look at the dusty label, shrugged indifferently, then poured a finger in each glass. He raised his own carefully, his nose picking up the strong scent of alcohol before he sipped. Horace just took his glass and stared at it for long, silent minutes, as if it held the answer to all his questions. When it turned out it didn't, he turned to the one person in this room who might have them.
"Who is she, Commander Shepard?" Horace asked quietly.
"Mostly? A mystery, like any good woman should be," Sirius replied with a bit of a laugh. "Truthfully though, I don't think there's a person on this world who really knows her."
"She must have a past though, friends and family or the like," Slughorn pressed.
"I'm sure she does, and I'm sure you have the same problem that anyone else looking into her past is having. Whoever she was before she came here, it doesn't matter. I don't know, Dumbledore doesn't know or if he does he certainly isn't telling. Hell the person she's talked to the most since her appearance is Hyacinth, and I doubt she even has an inkling of who Shepard truly is. What anyone who spends more than five minutes with her does know is that she wants Voldemort gone, badly, and she has the power to back that conviction."
"Yes, I did get a bit of that particular demonstration," Slughorn admitted.
"Then you're luckier than you realize," Sirius interjected. "Most people who see her true power are either her allies, or dead." Slughorn gulped loudly at that particular revelation. He had no doubt, after looking into her eyes, that if he tried to move against her she wouldn't bother with the niceties, she'd come straight for him.
"My advice, you be reasonable with her and she'll give you the same," Sirius suggested. "But don't try and schmooze her like you do everyone else, she won't go for it."
"I learned that as well," Slughorn admitted, before finally imbibing the glass he'd been holding. "Thank you for the drink Lord Black, and the conversation. Both have been very helpful." Slughorn stood and nodded, which Sirius did as well, before he left the way he'd arrived.
"I hope you know what you're doing," he said to the night air. Whether he was talking to Dumbledore, to Shepard, or maybe just himself, was a question beyond him at the moment.
Angelique looked at the finished room with satisfaction. The old sitting room had been a horrible green colour, putting anyone alighting there in a dark and dreary mood. It had taken a few days, and many showers, until she had reached down deep enough to feel that the old, foul magic that seemed to linger over the whole house had finally been removed. After finally stripping away the layers of history and grime, she had finally been able to begin applying the new foundations of the room, starting with high-quality materials for the walls and building up, replacing the horrible green with much warmer earth tones. After the walls were done she removed the moulding and cornices, sick of the snake theme everywhere and replaced them with more conventional geometric shapes and Greek-inspired columns as appropriate. The floors themselves were old oak panels, but over the years had been steeped in dark magic and blood, so much so that she unfortunately had to get rid of them to remove their lingering influence. The new panels were still English oak, oiled to a dark red and varnished thickly to prevent damage. The furniture had all been thrown out of course, and new decor would come later, Sirius had assured her.
The first day, after Shepard had left, Angelique asked for her own tour of the house, to try and decide where the best place to start would be. Sirius of course eagerly offered his arm to escort her, but she didn't take it. He looked a little hurt and confused, but covered quickly as he gestured for her to follow him. He gave her the tour, from the top to the bottom, and every room in that saddening green, and all the silver snakes entwined throughout the decor, just made her feel queasy. The added residual layers of decades, if not centuries, of dark magic just added to the sense of gloom this house seemed to exude.
After that, they had a short discussion and suggested they start with one of the sitting rooms on the ground floor, as a test. Angelique surveyed the room more carefully, but Sirius was there the whole time, asking questions and offering assistance which really was more of a hindrance. She could admire his tenacity, but at the present time he was just getting in her way.
"As much as I appreciate your enthusiasm for this project Mr Black," she said, stressing his name. That got his attention, because he had stressed earlier that she should call him Sirius. "I would appreciate it more if you stopped pestering me and let me work. I will let you know if I require assistance, so please feel free to do whatever else you prefer, somewhere else."
"Oh, alright then," he'd replied, the mix of confusion and hurt in his expression and voice.
After the first day, she realized that the house itself had been influencing her, causing her to be more on edge than normal. She apologized to him and said that if he could not be as annoying as he had yesterday, she would appreciate assistance in stripping down the walls and ceiling. It amazed her that after living so long in a place that to her literally exuded negative emotions, he managed to be so carefree and perpetually happy. As the two of them worked, her mind wandered to Shepard's off-handed comment about his dog-like nature and she chuckled. He looked up, eager to share in the laughter as soon as he understood it, and she couldn't help but see his resemblance to a dog once more, making her laugh a little harder.
After a few days of working together, she finally let down some of her barriers and let him get her lunch instead of bringing it herself. Harri joined them, and the three of them had a genuinely engaging conversation, allowing Angelique a glimpse at the man he could be instead of the love-sick puppy he seemed to turn into around her. His sense of humour may have been a little immature at times, but he laughed easily, and she even laughed with him a few times. As she worked on the sitting room, and finally got the last of the negative magical residue lifted, she felt someone else looking at her.
"Yes?" she asked, turning to see an older man with a slightly careworn face looking carefully at her.
"Just checking your work. I must say, its a welcome departure from the rest of the house. Remus Lupin," he added as an introduction, extending a hand. Angelique shook it, looking into his eyes and seeing a man who had lived through bad times, but could still smile in the good times, much like Sirius.
"Angelique la Croix," she introduced herself, "and thank you. This house needed this a long time ago, but better late than never."
"Truer words never spoken," Remus agreed. "I was never unfortunate enough to set foot in here while his parents were still among the living, but I can't imagine what it must have been like to grow up here."
"It seems impossible to have produced a man like Sirius, if you stretch the term to include that adult-sized child," she said with a joking smirk.
"He is one more for the slapstick than cerebral humour," Remus replied with a smirk of his own.
"I have a feeling that you and I will be good friends," Remus said, before he was turned around by a pink-haired younger woman.
"Come on Wolfy, you promised me dinner out," she said with a kiss on his cheek.
"Alright, I'm coming. Nice to meet you," he said in parting as Tonks dragged him down the hall. Angelique just shook her head at the odd couple.
As she returned to her work, she thought about the real reasons she was here. The job itself of course was a major factor, but she wasn't born yesterday. She could see the way Sirius looked at her, like a hopeful little puppy. As she'd spent some time here she could also see the looks Harri gave the two of them. She couldn't blame the teenager, after all she'd grown up without her parents, so it must be part of the reason she was so eager to set Sirius up with someone. She's been unfortunate enough to see one of the many ladies who'd tried to catch his eye by turning up at his door, and instantly knew a gold digger when she saw one. As she got back to work applying the ceiling, she thought about her own reasons for taking this job.
She'd recently been divorced after discovering her husband with a younger woman in the bed they'd shared for years. Her family helped her relocate to Normandy, where Eton as an old friend had offered her a position. Having few other options, she accepted. Then came Shepard's repair job, and a chance to get out of France for a while. Going back after that job, even though then sun shone more brightly on French soil, it seemed to her that the colours there were more faded. She almost jumped at the offer to do more work in London, even if it was more dangerous at the moment. Each day she came back just seemed to reinforce it, England felt better than France for her.
Maybe she would do one of the guest bedrooms next.
"Are you sure about this?" Tonks asked one last time. Remus, secured in the iron cage that would hold him should this not work, just squeezed Tonks' hand.
"Its a little late to back out now," he said with a light chuckle. "Besides, if it works, I'll finally be free."
"I know, I do, but it just seems so risky," Tonks rejoined, her nervousness showing for her lover.
"Life isn't worth living without it," Remus answered.
Further conversation stopped as Shepard came forward as she finished her work. It had taken a few more weeks for Dan to source the sensitive components, but now that she had everything it had just been a matter of waiting for the next full moon.
"Any last coherent statement you'd like to make?" Shepard asked as she readied the hi-tech syringe that would deliver her lycanthropic cure.
"Boobs would make this situation easier to deal with," Remus said with a grin. Tink and Tonks shared the looks of long-suffering females everywhere, before he was jabbed harder than strictly necessary.
He held still as the fluid was injected, and only once Tink removed the device from his arm did he allow himself to react.
"You did that on purpose, didn't you?" he asked with a hurt voice.
"If she didn't, I would have," Tonks said warningly. "You know my rules, my boobs are just for you, not for company."
"I just did it because I could," Tink replied with a smirk, carefully placing herself out of Tonks field of view as she gave the caged man a quick flash of her breasts.
Remus, never one to miss a well-played prank, laughed for a few seconds until the moon finally rose over the forest, its pale light hitting his chest and head. Shepard pulled Tonks back just in case as the laughter turned to grunts of pain. As the moonlight hit him, his body went through several painful-looking changes. At first, it went through its usual transformation, but just before it reached full beast, the changes began to revert. His limbs returned to a more human size and shape, though the fingers and toes retained their elongated claws and distinct pads. The hair that once covered his werewolf form retreated from his now-exposed chest, remaining only on his lower arm and legs, and his face. The face itself still retained wolf-like features, including a slightly pronounced muzzle with black nose, defined whiskers, pointed ears and golden, reflective eyes. However, instead of the wolf-cunning those eyes normally held during the full moon, this time they still retained the look of human intelligence.
His body changed back and forth several times as the cure helped his body fight off the disease, the beast banging against the cage while Remus tried to stay away from the bars. Finally, with a howl of defeat the wolf lost the battle of control and Remus in his new body collapsed into a ball, breathing heavily.
"Remus?" Tonks called out nervously. The ball shifted a little until Remus could turn his head towards them. His eyes were mostly closed, as was expected due to the exhausting fight he'd just been involved in.
"I'm free," came a deep, grumbling reply. It was a far cry from his usual soft-spoken tenor, but to Tonks it was the most wonderful sound in the world. "I'm free!" he repeated, louder this time in jubilation. Tonks unlocked the cage and ran inside, hugging her lover tightly. Remus did his best to hug her back, but this new body was both exhausted and unfamiliar, so the best he managed was flopping his arms until they were touching the woman trying to smother him.
"Congratulations Remus, you're cured," Shepard said as she came into the cage. "Obviously, you'll still look like this on the full moon, but you'll be you now, instead of the wolf." Remus thought about the impacts and ramifications of his new situation for a while, before he fixed his eyes on Shepard's once again.
"Can you make more of this?" Remus asked.
"Maybe, the limiting factors are the components Dan had to get. If I can get access to a steady source, then I could make more doses. Though each case will be on its own, and there are no guarantees it will work as well as it did for you," Shepard explained. "Actually, if you don't mind, I'd like a third party to examine you," Shepard added, almost as an afterthought.
"It would have to be Poppy Pomfrey, anyone connected to St Mungo's isn't ready for this," Remus said sadly. "Believe me, my parents asked every medical professional in Britain, and most of them haven't changed, so they'd recognize my case. Then they'd either reject it because they don't want a cure, especially one not devised by them or a fellow wizard, or they'd try and publish it immediately. Either way, its not helpful to me right now."
"Alright Tonks, can you either message or travel to Hogwarts and ask Madame Pomfrey to come down here?" Shepard asked the Aurors. Tonks gave a nod, an awkward kiss to Remus' muzzle, then disappeared from the moor they had chosen for their experiment.
While the metamorph was gone retrieving the nominated Healer, Remus regained some energy and control, enough to send a sly look Tink's direction.
"So, am I going to have to pay for the free show earlier?" he asked cautiously.
"Not to me, though I don't fancy your chances if you tell Tonks, she seems the possessive type," Tink replied with a smirk.
"Seriously, no repercussions for seeing your boobs?" Remus asked again, not quite believing what he was hearing.
"Look, I was fully aware of what might happen to you, and it wasn't much to ask, so a quick topless moment hardly seems like a big deal. Besides, I think they're pretty awesome, so getting some appreciation never hurts a girl's ego."
"I'm not going to deny, they are pretty good," Remus replied. "But then, I'm male, all boobs are awesome."
"Now that's a sentiment I can definitely agree with," Tink said with a chuckle.
A moment later they were joined by Tonks and the Hogwarts Healer as they appeared on the moor. She approached the cage cautiously, not trusting Tink casually leaning against the bars on the outside with Remus leaning next to her on the inside.
"So, now that I'm here, do you mind telling me what the big emergency is?" Poppy asked crossly, looking between Tink and Tonks.
"You didn't tell her?" Tink asked the Auror.
"I figured I'd let her have the full surprise," Tonks replied with a smile. One that vanished almost instantly on seeing Poppy's expression as she turned to face the Auror, wand in hand.
"This better not be a prank of some kind," the elder woman threatened. "You're no longer a student, so I don't have to restrain myself like I did with the Weasley Twins."
"I swear Madame Pomfrey, its only a good surprise," Tonks replied, her address reverting to student form out of sheer terror.
"Well, out with it then!"
"We'd like you to examine this patient," Shepard said, trying to get this back on track. Poppy looked over at the partially-transfigured man leaning on the inside of the cage, then back to Shepard.
"Why the need for a cage, is he some kind of criminal?" Poppy asked as she approached cautiously.
"No, it was just a precaution. You'll understand why shortly I expect," Shepard replied. Poppy came closer while Remus just stood silently, though with somewhat of a grin. The Healer brandished her wand at the unfamiliar man, a simple diagnostic. The results were puzzling to say the least, so she went through the standard set of diagnosis charms and spells.
After several minutes, she couldn't quite understand what was going on. The man was obviously the victim of some kind of transfiguration accident or the like, yet her spell work had detected no sign or trace of wand-based transfiguration, charms, curses or potions in his system that could cause something like this. She turned to Shepard and Tonks, trying to get more information.
"Well, this is certainly an interesting case, so what happened to him?" Poppy asked.
"Well, he did sprain his ankle recently," Tonks prompted. She didn't feel the need to supply the details of how he had done it. Suffice to say, shower sex sounds a lot easier than it is in practice, especially when the soap hits the floor.
"Yes, I saw that and its healing quite nicely. Now, what aren't you telling me?" Poppy asked again.
"Oh, he does have a chronic disease, or at least he did," Shepard answered. Poppy narrowed her eyes at Shepard, before turning back to the patient.
Poppy chided herself for not thinking about diseases as she began rechecking the patient. She'd let the fact that it was Tonks who had come for her influence her thinking, automatically assuming some kind of magical damage and not something more passive. She did the checks for common ailments, and on finding nothing, she went for the more obscure. Each one gave her a negative result until she almost negligently thought of testing for lycanthropy, because nothing else came to mind. In all of recorded history the spell to reveal the presence of a werewolf had only shown two results, red for human and white for infected. So the blue shine now was confusing her.
She cancelled the spell, thinking she may have done it sloppily or even incorrectly, and reapplied it more diligently. When once again the spell came back with a blue glow, she was puzzled.
"There's something you're not telling me, isn't there?" she asked the two younger women.
"There's probably a lot they aren't telling you," came the deep-voiced reply. Poppy turned to the source of her current confusion, as this had been the first time he had spoken. "Chief among them is the fact that, though you probably don't recognize me like this, you know me. Have done for more than twenty years, give or take." Poppy stayed silent as she considered this new information. After a while, she came to only one conclusion, given the available facts. Her eyes were wide as she turned back to the caged man.
"Remus!?" she asked in a whisper.
"The one and only," he replied with a cheeky grin. "Especially now."
"But how?" Poppy cried out, louder this time. Shepard came forward and cleared her that, the Healer wheeling around to find the blonde holding out a small vial.
"I think you'll find that this should give you the answer you're looking for," Shepard explained.
"You cured lycanthropy? Just like that?" Poppy almost shouted.
"No, not just like that, and its not my work, its someone else's," Shepard began. "I knew of this treatment, experimental mind you, and Remus volunteered. As you can see, its not 100% effective, but he has his own mind, and is no longer infectious. But no self-respecting Healer in Britain would believe this could ever work, so we did it without them. We didn't even tell you before you looked at him, because you would have done the same thing. And even worse, it relies on non-magical science to work, so no self-respecting wizard would ever stoop low enough to consider investigating it even if we could prove it worked. So we brought in you. You've seen the results on a well-documented case, so you can't argue the results. Now, if I gave you this, could you investigate it, or get someone you trust to?"
"Its a lot to ask," Poppy said after a few minutes of thought.
"I know, but its the right thing," Tonks replied.
"Alright, I'll look into it," Poppy said uncertainly. She took the small vial and disapparated back to Hogsmead, intent on getting back to the hospital wing of Hogwarts. In the moor, Shepard yawned as the late hour began to catch up with her.
"Alright lovebirds, I still recommend that Remus spend the night in that cage, just in case. Once morning comes, you two can do whatever you like. I'm going to the hotel to get what little sleep I can," Shepard said as the walked to the bench, packed up the equipment, then got in her car and left.
Poppy wasted no time, taking a Pepper Up to keep her awake as she reached her office. She set the vial down and siphoned off a small portion in order to run her tests on it. While other Healers in Britain might have looked down on her methods, Poppy had done at least part of her training in Canada, where they were a little more forward-thinking in their teaching and methods, particularly in forensic toxicology. She cast a series of spells at her small sample, recording each change of colour, each nuance she could see. A lot if it she didn't understand, or at least the spells she was using couldn't correctly interpret. She looked back down at the sample as she finished writing her notes, before making a copy of her memory of Remus' exam. She would have to perform another outside of the full moon to confirm it, but this could change everything the medical profession knew, or thought they knew, about lycanthropy.
She needed a second opinion, so she threw some powder into the fireplace, stepping through into the visiting staff lounge at St Mungo's. All Healers not attached to the hospital itself were given access to this place, making it possible to access medical libraries and stores without the potential of contracting anything contagious from the public foyer. She walked over to the on-call board, looking for a particular name. After a few minutes of looking, she finally allowed herself to relax. Felix Corbin, another Healer she had met during her Canadian studies, had moved to Britain ten years ago. If there was anyone she could talk to about what she had seen, it was him. She noted the area he was rostered on and headed for the ward.
After a few minutes if walking, she arrived in the 'Unusual Insertions' Ward, privately called the 'Masturbation Accidents Hall of Fame' due to the large percentage of patients admitted for that reason. She found him sitting down at the roster desk, sipping a cup of tea.
"Poppy, I didn't know you were visiting," he said as he stood to shake her hand. The aroma of maple drifted to her nostrils from the teacup, and she forced down the impulse to berate him for his choice of sweetener.
"I'm not here for work Felix, I came to see you."
"Well, let it not be said I turned down a woman in the small hours of the morning," he replied, conjuring a quick chair and cup to share the tea with. Poppy accepted both with a nod, before she pulled her wand and erected a few privacy charms.
"Something confidential?" Felix asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Not as such, just something I'd prefer to keep to ourselves for the moment," Poppy replied, taking a sip of her tea and finding it to be acceptable. At least he brewed a good cup, for all that he contaminated it with tree sap. "I know you keep your finger on the research pulse, has there been anything new on lycanthropy?"
"Not that I've seen recently. Wolfsbane was the last solid advance in decades, for all the good it does." Poppy didn't miss the note of bitterness in his voice, so chose her next words very carefully.
"How is your sister?" Poppy asked, as conversationally as she could manage.
"She has her good times and bad, like anyone else. The Wolfsbane helps, but it still kills me every full moon." He took a sip of his tea before he looked at her very strangely. "You know something, don't you? What is it, a new bill restricting the rights of relatives now?"
"No, nothing like that Felix," she said quickly. "As you know, attitudes here in Britain can get a little... old-fashioned," she managed diplomatically. "As such, there isn't a lot of impetus to actually treat the disease, and they only approved Wolfsbane on sufferance, but I saw something tonight that could change everything, but only if the right people see it."
"What is it?" Felix asked intensely.
"Not here Felix," Poppy stressed. "I don't trust anyone here not to quash it, forcefully. I need you to come to my office at Hogwarts, unofficially. You have contacts I don't, and we'll need them."
"This isn't like you Poppy, all this cloak and dagger. What's going on?" He was concerned now, he'd never seen her like this before.
"I'll be alright Felix, I'm just excited, and frustrated, a lot of things really, but I'm not in danger, just being realistic. Come to Hogwarts and you'll understand." Felix considered for a moment, before setting down his cup.
"I can call in early, I've got enough time up my sleeve. Give me thirty minutes and I'll come over."
Eighty minutes later, after experiencing Poppy's memory and seeing the rest of her evidence, including the vial from Shepard and Poppy's test sample, he was just as floored as his fellow Healer.
"Does she even realize what this could mean?"
"I think she does, but she's the only one who knows how it works. I did the full suite of diagnostics on the sample she gave me, but I barely understand a third of it. There are ingredients in there I've never even heard of, and the process is beyond my ability to work out from this end. I'd probably be hard-pressed to follow it if she gave me a demonstration."
"I see," Felix replied, his enthusiasm dampened somewhat. "Would you say she's amenable to negotiation?"
"Probably, but I don't know what she wants. She only asked me there I suspect as a courtesy to the patient. The sample might be an olive branch, or it might be an insult, suspecting or perhaps knowing that we'd be unable to replicate it."
"For all we know Poppy, there is so much we don't know. Perhaps if I spoke with her, some light might be shed in the situation," Felix suggested.
"Be my guest," Poppy replied. "She's coming to Hogwarts at then start of term, otherwise the Auror office seems to have quite a bit of contact with her, according to the rumors."
"Very well, I shall leave you to your rest," Felix said as way of goodbye, seeing the fatigue in her face.
It was late, and Susan would probably complain about her not being home for dinner again, but this was important. Two executive orders she had been working on for weeks were about to come into force, and she needed them to go off without a hitch. She stood in the Atrium feeling like an intruder of the peaceful quiet. Rufus stood with her, he had been helping her as much and as quietly as he could, so that this could go off without a leak. The two of them exchanged glances now and then as they waited for midnight, just a few minutes away.
The minutes seemed to extend as midnight approached, but finally the ancient device at the other end of the hall struck the hour, twelve chimes on its deep, reverberating bell sounding through the empty space. As the last echoes of the sound faded away, there was a quiet explosion of colour and then Amelia and Rufus were not alone. Arrayed in front of them were over one hundred law enforcement officers from Canada, Spain and Australia, each being personally led by a senior officer approaching Amelia.
"Peter, Alejandro, Bruce, thank you for coming. You don't know how much I appreciate this."
"I'd heard the rumours, but when I actually heard the news? Minister Bones, eh?" Peter said with a saucy wink.
"Strewth, its gonna take a few days to adjust to the time I reckon," Bruce said, rubbing his eyes. It might be midnight here, but he's just come from the middle of a bright sunny day.
"I must admit I'm glad for the request," Alejandro said quietly. "I have some unfinished business with these criminal scum."
"Steady on mate," Bruce said jovially.
"Now, not that I mind the change of scenery, but last I heard you can't exactly go around bringing in what amounts to a foreign army. Unless this is an attempted coup to restablish the British Empire, to which I must inform you to get fucked mate," Bruce said with a smirk.
"I wish I was," Rufus replied, causing a round of chuckles. "Officially, this is a cross-jurisdictional seminar and training conference."
"Unofficially, I'm enforcing an executive order to bring you in as seconded officers during a state of emergency," Amelia added solemnly. "I asked you all here tonight because I need your help in setting up new security measures. I need every entrance sealed and manned, I need apparition and portkey redirection wards in place to funnel everyone through the new checkpoints."
"Why all the secrecy?" Peter asked.
"Death Eater infiltration," Alejandro answered bitterly. "You don't know who they are, or who is one; not until its far too late."
"Alejandro has the right of it," Rufus added. "That's part of the reason we asked you to come and bring us reinforcements. We don't have the manpower to pull something like this on our own, even if we could ensure all of us were clean."
"However, that's all going to change after tomorrow," Amelia said, regaining control of the conversation.
"Each checkpoint will be given a list of Ministry personnel and a procedure to go through for each one of them," she continued, handing out three sets of documents. "They will be asked to roll up both their sleeves to show there isn't a Dark Mark, which is near the top of the page. Then they will be checked for the following: potions, transfigurations or other methods of physical disguise, glamours and similar illusions, mind-altering potions or spells, and finally they will have their wands checked for illegal spells. Anyone who resists will be arrested and held pending charges. Any questions?"
"Should we start with you?" Bruce asked cheekily.
"An excellent suggestion, thanks for volunteering Bruce," Rufus said, to more chuckling.
The Australian contingent laughed at seeing the expression of discomfort on their boss' face, but it was well deserved. All the officers watched carefully as the senior Australian officer went through the procedure Bones had given, taking about five minutes to perform the whole routine. Once it was done, Peter performed the same on Rufus, to his satisfaction.
"Yesterday was the last day the Death Eaters held this government in fear," Amelia announced. "Tomorrow dawns a brand new day."
It had been a slow day for government work. What with everyone having to go through a security checkpoint at the beginning of the day. Most people viewed it as a mere inconvenience, since it meant they took longer to get to their desks. Some noted the fact that the people searching them weren't British, but thought little of it since they all spoke English, if you called their accented mangling the same language. Some people witnessed people being taken away by the enforcement officials. Some of them eventually turned up at their desks a little twitchy and haggard-looking, but fine. Some of them never returned, and a disturbing number of them were senior figures.
Amelia was kept informed of the progress of rooting out the bad apples in the Ministry, and a grim picture was forming. For every known or suspected Death Eater who made the mistake of returning to the Ministry building this morning, at least one unknown one had turned up. Add to that a significant number of people who were under some kind of mind-control, being impersonated or had performed illegal spells, whether in connection to Death Eater activity or just because they thought they could get away with it and nearly a quarter of the bureaucracy had spent time in a cell today.
She tried to push that negative from her mind as she entered the Wizengamot chambers. Obviously, she had called a session for today, but it was obvious here that many of its members had been caught up in her swoop. As she sat down in the seat reserved for her as Minister, Chief Warlock Longbottom called the meeting to order.
"Point of order, Madam Chair?" one member called out.
"You may speak," Augusta said wearily.
"If I may ask, why are so many of our members not present, and who authorized those new... 'security' measures?"
"I authorized them as of a minute past midnight today," Amelia said as she stood. "As for the reason your fellows have not joined us is that they have forfeited the right to the rule of law by breaking so many of them!"
"Surely that is a matter for a trial to decide," another member tried to argue.
"Each of you went through the security checkpoints, what exactly do you think we were looking for?" Amelia asked. At this, many members with objections suddenly had a quiet moment of thought. "The only people not here are those who we now have evidence on that they have performed illegal activities, most of them carrying mandatory sentences. More disturbingly, several of your fellows appear to be missing entirely, given only impostors turned up in our searches. The Death Eaters and Voldemort won't play nice, and I'm tired of a government that will."
"It didn't escape my notice that none of the searches were being done by British Ministry employees," a third member mentioned.
"That's because until today, I had no idea which ones I could trust. Now I do," Amelia said sternly.
"The issue of how these foreigners will be paid comes to mind," the same member replied.
"Mostly out of your salary," Amelia replied as if it was a matter of little importance.
"Ah, looks like you didn't do your required reading at the last meeting," Amelia said with a smirk. She fished out the minutes of the last meeting, enlarged the page and highlighted one particular passage.
"Did no one think to more closely inspect the wording of what you were signing last time?" Amelia asked faux-innocently. Several of the members faces turned red at being caught in an embarrassing situation such as this. "Well, in case any of you didn't, this particular clause gives the Minister, which just so happens to be me, extraordinary powers to redirect budgetary funds for security and defence in a state of emergency. Which wouldn't you know, I just seem to recall I declared a few weeks ago. So, in accordance with these powers, I have decided that the inaction of this body to effectively police itself, let alone this country, means you are getting paid entirely too much. So, until I say otherwise, you are all going to enjoy a 90% pay cut to fund extraordinary security measures. I'm sure the citizens of Britain will thank you for your selfless dedication to ensuring their safety."
Several members looked like they wanted to protest, but between the stern glare from Minister Bones, and the equally stern one coming from Madame Longbottom, they didn't hold out much hope of arguing against it. Several of the cannier members could already see the headline on the next day's Daily Prophet.
"Excellent. Now for today's business, I propose to have this body ratify the executive orders I have enacted, as well as proceed with the trial of those members of this body which cannot follow the law." There were a few dissenting grumbles, but the majority of the remaining members saw the way Minister Bones was taking the country, and they were more than happy to assist her.
"Hello?" Tonks called out as she apparated into Shepard's cloakroom.
"Yes Auror?" came the response from the goblin on duty.
"Oh, hi there. Is Shepard around?" Tonks asked.
"Wait here," the goblin said, pressing a gold pin on his chest and muttering in his own language. A moment later she heard a faint reply emanating from the same pin, and the goblin nodded. "The Commander is in, and will see you."
Tonks moved into the house, looking at how much the place had changed. Mere weeks ago, the house looked barely lived in, now every room she walked past seemed to have goblins inside working on one task or another. If they weren't pouring over maps, they were training with reach other. She even saw Luna in one of the rooms, her face tight in concentration as she aimed a throwing knife at a target. Tonks tried to ignore the fact that the target had several forks, spoons, and what looked like a sharpened radish sticking in it. Eventually she found Shepard in the kitchen, having a snack.
"What an interesting place you have now," Tonks said as an unusual greeting.
"I've served in the military most of my life, I'm more comfortable among soldiers. Besides, they keep the place clean. Anyway, what can I do for you today?"
"I'm just the messenger, again," Tonks bemoaned. "Whatever you did to Remus has given him a new lease on life, particularly our sex life. Not that it really needed it, but I'm okay with it. Anyway, whatever you did to him, Poppy gave it to someone else to look at. Apparently, he wants to meet you."
"Did you get this from Poppy herself?" Shepard asked.
"Yeah, she sent me an owl this morning. Don't know why, she could have just asked you directly."
"I don't think she likes me much," Shepard admitted with a smirk.
"I can't possibly imagine why," Tonks replied sarcastically. "Anyway, that's all I wanted. Now I've got to go home and rest a little before Casanova Lupin comes home and ravishes me again. In swear, one of these times I'm going to forget to use protection."
Shepard said nothing has Tonks left, her mind drifting idly to the sad fate of Tonks, Remus and their son in her universe. She instead summoned Athena, the wise owl landing on her shoulder with a light grip. Shepard just walked over to the nearest table, grab a pen and some paper and wrote out a note explaining her availability until the start of term. After giving Athena an owl treat as enticement for going out so early in the day, the long-eared owl soared out of the penthouse. As Shepard began another round of the house, she noticed Luna engaging in some hand-to-hand drills with Bloodaxe. While he meant well, the teenage girl was already a good 30cm taller than him, and the techniques he was teaching her wouldn't be appropriate most of the time, so she decided to step in.
"Stop that, you're going to hurt yourself," Shepard insisted.
"She did ask," Bloodaxe said from where he was currently demonstrating a technique that involved pinning the blonde to the floor via her elbows.
"Judging by the smile, I have no doubt that's likely," Shepard replied as Luna got back to her feet. "That being said, what you're teaching her isn't useful for someone as tall as she is. Now Luna, why don't you try what he was doing on him, then on me and see how it goes."
The blonde teenager happily complied, first trying it on Bloodaxe only to find her arms were too long and trying to twist the limbs like he had to her hurt her more than it immobilized him. She tried again on Shepard, who was being very compliant to the move, but couldn't even get her on the ground without hurting herself.
"See what I mean?" Shepard asked as Luna massaged some feeling back into her forearms.
"Will you teach me then?" Luna asked. Shepard looked around at what the teen's room had become. Scattered around the place were the normal accoutrements you'd expect from a girl, but interspersed throughout were targets in various stages of disintegration, borrowed (and more terrifyingly improvised) weapons like the sharpened radishes. Shepard had no problems with the teen wanting to learn how to effectively defend herself, but teaching the girl herself would violate something she had been trying to avoid all summer.
Ever since coming to this world, she had come across a lot of people she had heard of only in stories, and some of them were different than she'd come to imagine them like from her grandmother's tales. Harri Potter being the most significant character, but the group of friends she had was also a major part of those stories. But it was one thing to come up against the character of the story. It was quite another to come up against the story teller.
For the entire summer, even though she had taken her in, Shepard had been avoiding Luna Lovegood. Because every time she looked at the teenager with the wide eyes and the expression of perpetual wonder, she couldn't help but see the wise old woman Luna Lovegood-Potter, her grandmother. She didn't want to blur the lines between the two of them any more than she had to, but as she was coming to accept, maybe they were different enough people that it wouldn't matter?
"Alright, I'll teach you a few things," Shepard said, stranding in front of the teenager. What followed was an hour of bodies hitting the padded floor, grunting and sweat. At the end of it the two blondes were sitting on the mat, breathing heavily as they recovered after the last set of techniques.
"You're doing it again," Luna said between breaths.
"Doing what?" Shepard asked.
"Looking at me weirdly. Like you know me or something." Shepard chided herself internally for being caught again, but this time didn't bother dodging the question.
"Like I've said before, you remind me of someone. She was my grandmother, more or less," Shepard explained.
"Oh?" Luna asked.
"Well, there was a little bit of oddness about it, since she and my grandfather were well over a hundred when they got together. My dad was born via a surrogate, so technically I suppose I have an extra grandparent, but I never knew her. Anyway, Granny was always my favourite, and you remind me of her in a few ways."
"I see," Luna said, her gaze piercing. She didn't push for more information this time; because her time with Bloodaxe had shown that sometimes getting information a piece at a time from a comfortable opponent was better in the long run than pressuring to get it all from a hostile one.
The conversation was halted for a moment as Athena returned, dropping a letter on the floor next to Shepard before flying over to her perch for a well-deserved rest. Shepard picked up the note and read it, frowning a little but nodding nonetheless.
"Well, looks like I've got a dinner date tonight," Shepard muttered. "You interested in joining? We'll be talking about medical stuff," Shepard said enticingly to Luna.
"Will it be about sex?" Luna asked.
"Probably not," Shepard admitted.
"Then I think I'll pass. Maybe I'll raid your room for the pornography you insist isn't there, make an adventure out of it."
"Have fun then," Shepard said with a laugh.
It had become a little joke between them, ever since the younger blonde had caught the elder masturbating. Luna knew that her father had a stash somewhere, as did several of her friends such as Hermione, so she assumed everyone did. Shepard did of course, but it was all digital and stored on her omni-tool, so there was no physical stash. That didn't stop her from leaving sex toys, and other oddly-shaped things, semi-hidden in her room to see which ones Luna took an interest in. Right now though, Shepard needed to shower, change, prepare another dose of her lycanthrope treatment and get ready to head out into London.
As she arrived at the nominated time and place, a nice little pub just outside London proper, she was met by both Poppy and a man she hadn't met before.
"Shepard, thank you for meeting us," Poppy said as she is escorted the blonde inside. The three of them nodded at the barkeep as they went up to one of the private rooms upstairs that had been setup specifically for this dinner meeting. Shepard sat down opposite the man who had requested this meeting. He was middle-aged, late forties or early fifties to Shepard's eyes, given the hints of grey in his light brown hair. His face was worn from care lines, and his facial hair restricted to a thin moustache. His eyes though were piercing grey, intelligent and discerning.
"Alright Shepard, this is my colleague Felix Corban. Felix, this is Mimir Shepard," Poppy introduced them properly. Shepard shook his hand, taking in the firm grip and shake of a determined man, not merely an honest one. The two of them looked at each other as a chess master looks over their opponent. The tensions were lifted as the pre-ordered food was delivered. As the meal was eaten, the three of them managed a bit of small talk, but it did not feel particularly comfortable. Only once the table was cleared again did the tensions return.
"How should we begin?" Shepard asked.
"Well, why don't you tell me about this treatment you've developed?" Felix asked, more forcefully than strictly polite. Shepard learned a lot just from that sentence, like the fact he had a personal investment in it. Probably a relative who had been bitten.
"Well, the first thing I should clear up is that I didn't develop it. I'm working from someone else's research," Shepard replied. "Before you ask, no, you can't reach the original author," Shepard preempted Felix's question. "I have the list of components and the preparation method, and of course the trial case of Remus Lupin. But I gather you've seen Poppy's notes on the Lupin case, and probably the vial I gave her."
"Something like that," Felix admitted. He was a little deflated that he wasn't able to talk to the researcher, but Shepard was the best he would get, so he would pursue it.
"Do you mind answering some of my questions on its development and method of action?" Felix asked after a moment's thought.
"I wouldn't mind some of that information myself," Poppy added, leaning forward with interest.
"I'll give you what I can," Shepard replied, pulling out a small booklet which was the printout of the original paper, plus a simplified version of the component list and method to create the treatment. The name of the author had been redacted of course.
"Essentially, the treatment works by treating the lycanthropy disease on a genetic level. Instead of treating the symptoms, it actually treats the root cause, which is a magically-enhanced retro-virus. The treatment rewrites the section of the genome corrupted by the lycanthropy virus, usually deleting the virus entirely but not always. The success rate for complete cure is about 60%, with an additional 30% showing only partial cure, as with the Lupin case. And as you can see here, no magic is used at all." She handed both of them a printout, the two of them looking curiously at the paper instead of parchment. They flipped through the pages, reading in silence before they looked back up at Shepard to ask their questions. If they had any questions about the terms Shepard had used, they kept them to themselves for the moment.
"How did you come by this?" Felix asked after he finished skimming the document.
"I'm afraid I can't say," Shepard replied. "And there is nothing you can say, do or entice me with to convince me otherwise. Either you accept this as it is, or don't, that's your prerogative."
"Forgive me, I did not mean to insinuate anything, merely curious," Felix said diplomatically. "Just that few people seem to be investing any time or money into research on lycanthropy. It would be nice to speak to a like-minded individual, is all."
"I understand, but that's sadly not an option in this case," Shepard countered.
"You say there is a failure rate, what factors influence it?" Poppy asked.
"Genetics was not my best subject as school, so I don't know," Shepard replied honestly. "All I can tell you is that like any other genetic therapy, there are just some individuals who simply reject treatment."
"You mentioned genetic treatments and therapies, but I don't know of Healer institute that deals with cells, let alone DNA. In fact, most Muggle journals are only just beginning to study genetics, and are by best estimates decades away from any kind of simplistic genetic therapy, let alone advanced magical diseases. Your source seems to be remarkably forward thinking," Felix summarized.
"I didn't come here to be badgered Mister Corban, I came here because you wanted to talk lycanthropy. I've given you all I'm willing to give, including another full dose," Shespard said, pulling out the vial and placing it carefully on the table.
Felix carefully took the glass tube and looked at it in wonder.
"All this time, and it ends up being so simple," he said softly. "I'm sorry if I seem overly passionate about this," he added for Shepard's benefit.
"Let me guess, family member?" Shepard asked.
"My younger sister," he confirmed. "I've spent twenty years looking for a cure, commisioning research when I could afford it, doing it myself when I couldn't. Its almost an anticlimax to have someone just come from nowhere and hand you a cure everyone assumes is impossible."
"Impossible is my specialty," Shepard said with smirk. "Look, whatever you do with this, I could care less. I don't need money and I don't want fame. Sell it, make it free, destroy it after you save your sister, the choice is yours. Just leave me out of it. Now if you don't mind, I need to go home and unlike you, I need to drive."
As Bill and Fleur sat down at the kitchen table, they shared a look between them of the evidence of work being done on the home's interior. Sirius was finally spending some of that money to remodel, and it couldn't happen to a better place. Would that the two of them had better news to deliver to this meeting. Once again, Sirius and Harri had invited everyone to Grimmauld Place, and Albus and Shepard had come as well.
"Before we get too far in case Bill has made any progress, the remodeling work you no doubt saw on the way in has necessitated some changes," Shepard stated as an unofficial opening to this unofficial meeting. "The two items that were previously stored here have been moved to more secure locations thanks to the Green Wolves and with the assistance of Gringotts. Bill, should you need to access them for anything, send a message either to myself at Hogwarts or to the Green Wolves via Gringotts and we'll provide you with the access you need."
"Speaking of progress, sadly I have none to report," Bill said with disappointment. Fleur laid a hand on his shoulder in support as he began telling the group about the research block they had come up against. "Unfortunately, while the Black library had some disturbingly accurate texts regarding the rituals and requirements for creating a single horcrux, I'm afraid that I've exhausted all known texts on them and found nothing, not even a theory in the ramblings of the most depraved wizards and witches of history, about creating a second horcrux. Voldemort must have made the rituals and done a lot of Arithmancy himself in this."
"For all his many faults, he was an exemplary student once," Albus recalled. "Hungry for knowledge, but always pushing the boundaries."
"Yes while in many fields that is all well and good, it doesn't help us much here," Sirius rejoined. "So does this mean you've hit a dead end?" he asked Bill.
"No, it just means that any easy solutions that might have existed have been exhausted. There is still plenty I can and will do, just that it will take much longer to exhaust every possibility," Bill explained.
"Would your research be helped if you knew how many horcruxes we are looking for?" Shepard asked.
"It would certainly help us eliminate a few extreme cases," Bill replied. "Why do you ask?"
Albus just sent a look Shepard's way, and she replied with a small nod.
"According to information received, Tom Riddle may have made as many as six horcruxes in addition to what's left of his original soul," Shepard said with disgust. She liked over at Harri, at the scar mostly hidden by her long fringe, and remembered one of the less-savoury details from Granny Luna's tales. "Though after the conversation that this source had with young Tom, it is entirely possible that he may have disregarded that advice and made more."
"When it comes to that monster, I think I'll believe just about anything," Fleur said with a shudder. "That said, it will be easier knowing his original intentions, as horrible as they are."
"Agreed," Albus said warily.
"On somewhat better topics, I think you'll all be pleased to know that the wards around Hogwarts are now some of the best in the world," Albus said more cheerily. "Thanks to the goblin expertise and cooperation in recent weeks, several flaws have been found and corrected to help ensure the safety of the students," he added, looking gratefully to Shepard.
"That is good to know. I'll have to get the briefing from you and the warders on the first," Shepard answered.
"Ah yes, that reminds me. Your office had been made up to your specification," Albus added.
"Excellent. Sirius, did you and Remus have any success?" Shepard asked their host.
"It was a bit touch and go for a day or two, but I think we managed it," Sirius replied, handing over a sheaf of parchment. "There may be a few inaccuracies, if you find them let one of us know and we might be able to correct it."
Shepard looked over the parchment before looking over at Harri.
"Would you do the honours?" Shepard asked. Harri pulled out her wand, pressed it to the center of the parchment and spoke the words of the Marauders.
"I solemnly swear I am up to no good," Harri said with a smirk. The parchment then began to ink itself with the Hogwarts crest, but a new intro had been charmed into the very paper.
'Messers Padfoot and Moony, in memory of Messer Prongs and Mistress White Flower, and in spite of the nameless, rat-faced traitor, present the new and improved Marauder's Map.'
Shepard looked on approvingly as the map filled itself out, including several passages that lead out from the castle. She would have to have Canin look at this, as well as have the companies under her command add the details from their scouting the perimeter and grounds. She would also have to re-jig her hologram projector to incorporate this if she could using what precious little eezo she had left.
"Excellent, I'll take this and add it to my preparations. I assume everything is ready for me to step into my position on the first, including the train?" Shepard asked Dumbledore. There had been a meeting of the Hogwarts Board of Governors recently, the first since her position had been announced, which was unusual in itself. But given the recent changes in Ministry security procedure, quite a few of the Governors had been placed under arrest, causing some logistical issues. The new board, many of them fresh faces on this particular council, had questioned her necessity and proposals.
"I can report that several of the Governors, old and new, found themselves once more back in school, literally and figuratively. I trust you can imagine the arguments this caused when they leaned that while the Headmaster can appoint someone to your position, the Board has no say in these matters."
"I can see it now," Shepard said with a smirk. "I trust you gave them my counter-proposal?" Shepard asked politely.
"I may have paraphrased slightly to lessen some of the language," Dumbledore said with a chuckle. "Indeed, several of them were seemingky quite keen to accept a duel. However once I revealed your recent achievements, those who had seemed eager suddenly found their courage lacking."
"I can't possibly imagine why, its not like anyone else has faced Voldemort and lived recently," Shepard said with her best faux innocence. Her statement caused a chorus of laughs from the assembled guests as they could all readily imagine the old men and women paling and quivering as they learned the truth.
"Yes, well as that seems to be all we have for tonight, might I suggest we adjourn?" Sirius said. "I don't know about the rest of you, but between Bones actually making the Wizengamot work for once in a century, fending off more marriage proposals and supervising the remodeling, I need a good night's sleep."
"I think you must have mispronounced 'remodeler'," Harri said in a stage whisper. Sirius, paragon of maturity that he was, just stuck out his tongue to renewed laughter. He laughed too, appreciating a good joke even if it was on him.
She knew she was cutting it fine, and perhaps she was even too late, but this needed to be done. She had been waiting for an opportunity that she would not be missed, and it had finally come. She could only hope now that she wouldn't be followed, and that she would be allowed to plead her case before anything else. She gathered her cloak around her and remembered the old house and its almost labyrinthine passages, but try as she might she would not move there. She should have expected it, but it still hurt as she fell down, thankfully in one piece. She would have to do this the hard way then, and quickly, the sound of her failed apparition was bound to have garnered attention.
She remembered the streets that led to her destination, and this time had no trouble stepping from where she was to be there. She stumbled a little in her haste, her cloak catching on a low fence as she moved quickly. As she turned the corner, she heard the distinctive sound of another apparition behind her, lending more speed to her legs. She needed to move quickly, she doubted any who came after her would be kind or gentle.
"Wait!" came the shout from her pursuer. The voice was female, which the first figure couldn't decide if that was better or worse than a male one. She relied on her memory of coming as a child to this place, turning down streets and almost running, even as her pursuer gained.
As the hunter and hunted finally met, an arm was grabbed tightly, but not enough to hurt.
"Stop this Narcissa," the hunter said in a harsh whisper. "Return with me now and we can pretend this never happened."
"You can pretend all you like Bella, but I will not stand by idly while he does this to my only son!" The first figure, Narcissa, pulled her wand from inside her robes and held it to the other's face.
"Your own sister?" Bella challenged. Narcissa held her gaze for a moment, faltering for a moment before steeling herself. She cast a spell right into her sister's face, causing the grip to loosen and she broke free and ran down the final street.
Bella quickly righted herself and ran after, her better-toned body easily making up the distance. Unfortunately, she did not catch her prey until she had crossed the threshold of the property. In her haste to retrieve the last of her family, she had neglected to stay outside the lines, and now both of them were caught by the wards. They were both frozen in place as ethereal lights bathed them, unnoticed by the non-magical neighbors. There were only able to move their eyes, Bella glaring angrily, while Narcissa stoicly ignored her in favour of the door.
After a moment, the door was opened by a house elf.
"You is trespassing," the elf said simply. "You is allowed one word, by the Code of the house. Speak," she said, snapping a finger to activate this part of the wards.
"Sanctuary," Narcissa said instantly. Bella's glare at her sister intensified for putting her in this position. Had she caught her at any point before the wards, she could have taken her back quietly, with no-one the wiser. Now she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If she tried to stay and convince Narcissa to return before they were noticed, they ran the risk of the Aurors detecting their presence, or even being handed over by the Head. However if they didn't return soon, the Death Eaters would come after one, or even both of them. With a final glare at her sister, she made her choice.
"Leave," Bella said harshly. The elf nodded, acknowledging their choice. She was about to allow one inside and eject the other when a male voice stopped her. The sisters looked up, but the man was obscured and in silhouette, so couldn't see his expression.
"You wants something done to them Master?" The elf asked.
"Bring them both inside. I have business with them."
"Yes Master," the elf said. She snapped her fingers again, releasing Narcissa from the wards. Bella remained restrained, and the elf applied several of its own kind of charms to move her inside.
The sisters were led into a sitting room, one Narcissa remembered as the one for people the host didn't like, but hospitality demanded be accommodated. Bella was placed frozen into a chair, and Narcissa alighted on another. After a few moments of preparation, the elf gave Narcissa a cup of tea. She had just taken her first sip when the master of the house appeared.
"Narcissa, Bellatrix, what an unexpected... appearance," he said unhappily. Not only had he been woken from a very pleasant dream, it was by some of the people he liked least.
"I know I'm probably not very welcome here, but I had nowhere else to turn," Narcissa said, a tear making its way down her cheek. "Please Sirius, just hear me out."
Sirius Black was in somewhat of a bind. His first instinct was just to summon the DMLE and let them sort it out, but then Narcissa had claimed sanctuary. That meant, by the Code of the Blacks, that he had to hear her out and then release her. Bellatrix he could have let go, but there was something he needed to do, in person. Unfortunately, she was covered by the same sanctuary as her sister, so he couldn't curse her for trying to kill him a few months ago.
"By the claim of Sanctuary, as you are a Black by birth I am forced to hear you. So start talking."
"Thank you," Narcissa said with a small sob. "I come here not for myself, but for my son." Sirius said nothing, but Bella's eyes grew wide.
"Go on," Sirius prompted.
"I know you don't approve of my husband, but he was a good man once," Narcissa began. "Voldemort seemed like such a charismatic leader, like he had all the answers to society's ills. Its not until you're too far in that you realize that under the charm is a monster. Lucius was too easily seduced by him, the lure of power and riches he promised, when he delivered only pain in the end. And now, since he was arrested, the Dark Lord has taken residence in our home. And he's... he's forcing my son do perform a task that will end up with him dead, one way or another."
"You dare!" Bellatrix managed to croak out, her eyes furious. Sirius was partly impressed at the conviction Bella obviously held to even momentarily overpower the wards, but was not interested in her contributions, so he stunned her.
"And I should care because?" Sirius asked. "I've been busy these last few months Narcissa, and do you want to know what I've learned?" Her expression spoke volumes on what she feared he now knew.
"I've learned that Lucius made a suspiciously large number of 'donations' to Fudge. Now, I can't possibly speculate as to the reason for each, but I can imagine at least some of them were to try to get that fat little bootlicker to pressure the Wizengamot into naming your little son as my heir, against the family rules of succession. Rules only you would have known about, being born a Black. So why should I care about a man and his son who tried to steal what was not theirs?"
"For all his faults, he is my son," Narcissa said as calmly as she could managed through the occasional sob. "You don't know the heartache I went through Sirius. Five miscarriages and two more stillborn and then Draco; our perfect, healthy son. Yes, I wanted the best for him, I won't deny that. But he is my only child Sirius, and I could not bear it to have him taken from me as well." She gave up calm now in favour of tears, ones she had cried every day since learning of what the Dark Lord was forcing him to do. Sirius never could stand to watch a crying woman without doing something.
"What would you have me do Narcissa?" he asked loud enough to he hear through her sobs.
"Bring him under the protection of House Black, please," Narcissa begged. "He's lost, he needs guidance. As his lord, you could order him removed from Hogwarts to be homeschooled or sent away. Britain is not safe for him anymore."
"No," Sirius said firmly.
"But why?" Narcissa wailed.
"I will not stomach that little viper in my House. He is a Malfoy, and so far has only displayed the worst of that family. He has not the attitude nor the bearing I will accept as Black."
"What if he changed?" Narcissa asked swiftly. "Swore an oath, renounced his father's name? I will do anything you ask, just please, save my son!"
Narcissa collapsed from her chair and crawled forward to him, hugging his shins as she cried on his robes.
"Get up," Sirius said, trying not to kick her as he attempted to extricate his legs. "Oh get up!" he shouted, finally getting her attention. She rose sheepishly and returned to her seat, gazing pleadingly at him.
"You can want all you like Narcissa, but I will not lift a finger to save a Malfoy," he said to fresh wails. "However, I am duty bound to aid a Black. If your son feels as you do, he will do the following. He will renounce his father's name and all claim to the Malfoy family holdings. He will apologize, publicly, to Hyacinth Potter for attempting to steal her birthright. And he will present himself to me and prove that he is not only genuine in his desire to join my family, but that he does not bear the foul mark of the false Lord Voldemort. Only once he has done this will I admit him into my protection."
"Thank you Sirius," Narcissa said with a sad smile.
"What about you Narcissa?" Sirius asked. "I can't imagine you'll be safe, especially given the way I found you." He glanced over at Bellatrix to emphasize his point.
"You're right, but it was more than I could hope for," Narcissa answered.
"The same conditions apply to you. We are family after all. Though I would have to dissolve your marriage, since as you and I have established, I won't help a Malfoy."
The blonde woman paused before she answered. While Sirius' offer was tempting, it was a sudden thing to have that part of her life taken away from her. It was true, Lucius had been a good man once, before Voldemort. After his fall, he had changed, tried to distance himself from those who had revelled in being a Death Eater, but once he called a year ago, everything they had built disappeared in an instant.
"I'll... I'll do it," she said after a few moments of quiet contemplation.
"Very well," Sirius replied. He quickly called Winky to watch over Bellatrix, then asked Dobby to fetch the filed copy of the Black-Malfoy contract. The little elf glared at Narcissa, who was surprised to see him again, but the two of them said no words as she was taken into another drawing room, this one for invited guests.
"First things first Narcissa, your arm," Sirius said as they sat down. Narcissa looked at him blankly for a moment, before she remembered the conditions. She dutifully rolled up the sleeves of her robes, showing him both forearms. While there was no mark on either arm, there were bruises, burns and abrasions aplenty. She could not look him in the eye after he had seen them, she could not bear his pity. He let her roll the sleeves back down to cover the recent abuse, just in time for Dobby to bring the contract. The little elf still said nothing as he handed over the parchment roll, but Sirius had one more task for him.
"Dobby, if she isn't already awake, could you ask Harri to come down here? There's someone who wants to say something to her." Dobby glared at his old mistress once more before he left to retrieve his new one, while Sirius poured over the document, looking for the correct clause. On finding it, he grabbed his wand, gave the appropriate incantation and cast it on the parchment. He pressed his signet ring, which he'd only found a week ago, into the newly formed wax ball, and that was that. Narcissa was now no longer a Malfoy, but once again a Black.
"What's going on?" Harri asked from the doorway, her wand up and ready. She had been awake already, and had heard the voices, but assumed Sirius could handle it. Then Dobby had come to collect her, but would not come in the room. On seeing Draco's mother, the teenager could understand.
"Ah, just in time. Do you know each other?" Sirius asked.
"We haven't been properly introduced," Narcissa said. Harri took a better look at the woman, and it was obvious she'd been crying, a lot, and it gave her a second's pause.
"Well then, Hyacinth, this is Narcissa Black, a relative of ours."
"You mean Malfoy," Harri corrected, almost spitting the name.
"No, I'm me," Sirius said with a chuckle. The two women shared a moment of solidarity when they groaned in unison, which made them both uncomfortable.
"All joking aside Harri, it turns out Narcissa here wants out of the Death Eaters, but I only help family," Sirius explained. "So I have just annulled the marriage, and she is once again a Black, pending one final condition." He looked pointedly at Narcissa, who swallowed both literally and metaphorically before she turned to Harri.
"Hyacinth Potter, I beg your forgiveness. Through my actions, my husband and son sought to steal what should have been yours by birthright."
Hyacinth didn't answer right away, instead turning her head to Sirius,
"What about Draco?" she asked.
"Draco will have to prove his own contrition," Sirius answered. "If he doesn't, then that's his problem."
"Fat chance of that," Harri muttered to Narcissa's sob. "Fine, apology accepted, but don't expect me to like you," she added to the older woman. Narcissa accepted this with as dignified a nod as she could manage.
"Alright, now that that's out of the way, Winky, could you please escort Narcissa to one of the guest rooms for the night until I figure out what to do with her."
Winky appeared and led Narcissa up into the house, while Sirius adopted a clouded expression.
"There's something else, isn't there?" Harri asked on seeing his expression.
"There is, Narcissa apparently didn't escape as quietly as she had planned," Sirius replied, standing and holding his wand ready. Harri followed him into the sitting room she had learned was for enemies and found Bellatrix Lestrange slumped unconscious in a chair, being watched carefully by Dobby. Her first instinct was to curse the witch, but Sirius stopped her.
"She tried to kill us!" Harri argued.
"I haven't forgotten Harri, but there are rules we must abide by. She is here, however unwitting or unwilling, under the same sanctuary as Narcissa. I can't harm her, or let you do it, nor can I simply call the DMLE, much though I would like to. This is something you need to learn Harri, there are some things that we call traditions that are in fact parts of the magics we have partially forgotten. Sanctuary is one of them."
"Then what are we going to do?" Harri asked.
"We aren't going to do anything to her, per se," Sirius explained. "However, we are going to seriously inconvenience her. Wake her up please." Harri looked at her godfather dubiously, but enervated the witch, who was still held by the wards.
"Bellatrix, I'm glad you came," Sirius said with a sadistic smile. "I can't say its for the pleasure of your company, but because it affords me an opportunity that I've been dreaming about for years," he said with relish.
"Bellatrix, since you have allied yourself with the enemies of House Black, going so far as to attack your Head of House, I hear by cast you from my House," he said strongly, brandishing his wand wildly. Strands of light passed between him and Bella, before being severed.
"As soon as you leave this place, you will find no respite under my authority," Sirius intoned. "Go back to your false lord and worthless husband, both who will meet their ends soon enough." He smiled a little as he leaned closer. "I wasn't kidding about worthless husband bit. Seems the goblins found you keeping something you shouldn't have. Go tell your master, if you dare."
With that, he turned his back on her, before he had second thoughts. He reached into her robes until he found her wand.
"Since you are unworthy of the name Black, you are certainly unworthy of its heirlooms." Straightening up, he turned to the house elf, who was looking a little more bold than usual. "Dobby, see to it she is uncomfortably ejected. Hopefully, that will be the last interruption for tonight."
The little elf jumped to his task with glee, his bat-wing ears flapping with mirth as he hovered Bellatrix out of the chair and along the hall to the back exit, taking special care to carelessly bump her against the walls, floor and any protruding architecture. Once he reached the door, he pushed the witch to the threshold before giving her as powerful a kick as he could deliver.
"And stays out!" he shouted to the night air.
A/N: So, this chapter survived the death of not just my last computer, but also my tablet and my previous phone which I variously used to edit this behemoth. That's why it has taken so long.
On a more positive note, I will be switching between this story and my other current story, Wednesday Shepard (nee Addams) Part 3: In the Balance. Maybe one day ill even finish them, so I can move onto other works. That is what I find my problem to be, too many prompts, not enough juice to write them all before more prompts!