*scream face emoji*
(also, I have a question. What do we all think about the possibility of a Vol. III? I had an idea about making *this* the breakoff chapter, because this is sort of the point where things get darker in the series as a whole... give me your brain thinks on the matter, please. :) )
25 July 1993
"It's been nice having you here, these last few weeks," said Rob unexpectedly. He and Minerva were sitting in wooden chairs on the back lawn of the cottage, enjoying the last heat of the day as the sun went down over the valley.
"It's been nice to be away for a while," Minerva replied honestly, lifting her head and smiling at him.
"You know, the farm next to us is for sale," he told her. He was twirling his wand absently between his fingers, and now pointed it in the direction of a nearby ridge. "I'll bet you've got a Galleon or two tucked away somewhere."
Minerva laughed. "What would I do with a farm?"
"Retire," Rob suggested, and she laughed again. Then she saw the expression on his face.
"You're serious," she said, her tone shifting.
"Rob, I'm not even sixty," she told him, with a slightly incredulous laugh.
"Nor am I," he replied. "But Meg and I are already semi-retired…"
Minerva sighed, removing her glasses and pressing her fingers to her eyes.
"You look like Dad when you do that, you know."
"Listen to me," said Minerva calmly, trying to force diplomacy into her tone, "I know you all must think I'm living the life of a poor old widow, all alone in a drafty castle, but that's just not the case."
"I didn't say you were old," he said unhelpfully, though he did look slightly abashed. Then he grew serious, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "I just meant…well, y'know. We don't see much of you. And Isobel has the baby coming…"
"Do not use my niece against me, Robert," Minerva warned him, and he relented.
"It just seems like it's been an eventful couple of years for you," he told her, holding up his hands defensively. "And like it or not, you're my big sister, and I notice when you're upset, or—ill, or what have you."
"I'm not upset or ill," Minerva told him, though her tone was gentle. "And I don't believe I've ever had an uneventful year at Hogwarts." She put out a hand and rested it on her brother's, giving him a smile.
"Well, I like seeing that," he said, nodding at her smile. He stood up. "All right, if you want me to, I'll drop it. But someone's got to be looking out for you when you lose a stone and a half—" He grabbed Minerva's upper arm and jostled her teasingly, "—because some maniac's got a basilisk running past your office door…"
"Snakes don't run," Minerva said, with a laugh, rising as well.
From inside the house, where Meg was setting the table for the dinner that Malcolm and Kate were bringing over, there came the sound of excited conversation.
"I think we're going to be summoned," said Minerva, starting for the back door.
Sure enough, the warmly lit kitchen was full of people and the smell of hot food—but as soon as Minerva entered, she perceived something other than enthusiastic greeting in the tone of the conversation.
Meg, who stood near the sink, was just tugging her glasses down from her hair so that she might read a rumpled edition of the Daily Prophet. Malcolm and Kate looked on, both wearing grim expressions where they stood at the kitchen table.
"Why have they waited so long to tell anyone?" Kate said, with a toss of her head. "That's what I want to know."
"They probably thought he'd drowned. I've never heard of anybody swimming that far in that sea, wizard or not, and he didn't have a wand, did he?" Malcolm told her. "That's how the article makes it sound—"
"Merlin's beard," Meg gasped, clapping a hand over her mouth and looking up at Robert and Minerva. She held the paper out, and Minerva saw it was an Evening Prophet—a special edition.
"What's happened?" she asked ominously, even as she accepted the paper, too many years of similar memories suddenly bubbling to the surface of her mind.
"Something that's never happened before," said Malcolm disbelievingly, running a hand over his thinning hair.
Robert pressed closer to Minerva's shoulder and they read together:
ESCAPE FROM AZKABAN
SIRIUS BLACK, KNOWN DEATH EATER, AT LARGE IN BRITAIN
Minerva's knees almost gave out, and she grabbed the back of the nearest chair.
"'Mass murderer and known supporter of He Who Must Not Be Named has escaped from Azkaban prison, in a historically unprecedented feat that took place early in the hours of the morning on 22 July. Though Black's escape went unnoticed by the dementors of Azkaban until after dawn, Black was spotted by Ministry officials on the mainland south of Norwich later that same day, confirming that he is, in fact, at large once more,'" read Robert, sounding horrified. "And then there's a load about that mass murder he did… and You-Know-Who…"
"Minerva?" asked Kate timidly.
Minerva sank into the chair, her fingertips pressed hard against her closed eyes. "I don't believe this," she murmured. "After all this time…"
Within her own head, Minerva had long since put Sirius Black to rest, far from the place in her heart where she had held the Potters, perhaps, or any of the Order whom they had lost all those years ago—but he was long buried, even if he hadn't died. Azkaban was a fate worse than death, and a deserved one, in his case, and the most Minerva could ever have hoped to do was put Black's betrayal deep in the past, forgotten, where it belonged. For several minutes, however, she couldn't place the feeling that was welling up inside of her chest like bubbling tar; then she realized that it was something very like rage, mingled with a protective kind of fear. She opened her eyes, moving her hands to cover her mouth.
"Harry Potter," she murmured, and she was met by four quizzical expressions. "Harry Potter…this has something to do with Harry… I'm sure of it…"
And, as if on cue, a flash of fire filled the kitchen; Meg yelped, but Minerva reached automatically toward the tongue of flame, from which a strip of parchment appeared and fluttered into her palm. It bore only three words in looping green ink.
Fudge arriving tomorrow.
Minerva sighed, and looked up regretfully at her family, who were already wearing expressions she recognized too well: Meg and Kate, worried but supportive; Malcolm and Rob, dubious, but understanding. "I'm sorry, you four," she said earnestly. "I had thought…well…it's been a lovely summer. I'll try to come back as soon as I can…"
She rose, and for a minute, they all faced each other. Then Meg came forward and put two bracing arms on Minerva's shoulders. "You go and pack your things. We'll feed you well tonight, and put this aside for now," she said, as Kate summoned the paper with a flick of her wand and dropped it in the bin. "And then you'll go and do what you have to do. I hope you're wrong, and that boy is safe…"
But she bit her lip, and Minerva could only nod. It was highly unlikely that a servant of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would break out of Azkaban and not seek out the one responsible for Voldemort's loss of power.
"Write to me when the baby comes," Minerva said, blinking quickly. "I'll try to make it for a visit."
"Of course we will," said Meg, smiling at her. "Now, go get packed, will you?"