Oh, the hell with it. If we're going to keep going, let's keep going! Here's a lovely long chapter to kick off Book 3 and Volume III of 'Great Deeds'!
26 July 1993
"Welcome, Minister," Minerva said, as Cornelius Fudge appeared outside the castle gates, flanked by a team of three Aurors—two wizards and a witch. Minerva stepped forward and unlocked the gates immediately.
"Minerva m'dear, thank you," said Fudge, greeting her in his too-warm way that still set her teeth on edge. She said nothing as he gave her a slightly awkward embrace in greeting, as though they were old friends.
"The headmaster is waiting," she said, when he'd released her. "If you'll all follow me…"
She led the way to Dumbledore's study. The Aurors were all conspicuously silent—which did not help Minerva place their identities, though they were certainly all young enough to have been her students at one time or another.
Fudge, on the other hand, was babbling in the way he always did when he was nervous, twirling his lime-green bowler hat in his hands as they climbed the stairs.
"You wouldn't believe it, Minerva, the things we've been dealing with, the dementors are in an uproar… He just vanished in the dead of night, we've no idea how… I hope Dumbledore will be prepared to accept some extra hands with security…"
"Well, we shall be very open to recommendations, I'm sure, but the castle is quite safe, I can assure you," Minerva said, with just a hint of dry sarcasm in her tone. She held open the office door, and one of the Aurors—a tall, broad-shouldered black wizard with a bald head and a gold earring—caught her eye, looking amused. Then his expression became stoic again as she shut the door.
"Dumbledore, thank you for seeing us," said Fudge, shaking Albus's hand as he stood behind his desk.
"Of course, Cornelius," Albus replied graciously. "Won't you have a seat? Please—" he picked up his wand, and three additional chairs appeared for the three Aurors.
"Ah, yes—Dumbledore, this is the team Rufus Scrimgeour has assigned to capture Black," said Fudge. "Kingsley Shacklebolt, the lead Auror in the investigation—"
The black wizard stepped forward and shook Albus's hand.
"This is Elspeth Ermitage, and you remember John Dawlish, of course," Fudge went on.
"I remember you all quite well from your school days," said Albus. "I am sure each of you is more than equal to the task before you."
"If I may, Professor Dumbledore," said Kingsley Shacklebolt in a deep, calm voice that Minerva immediately remembered: he had been a Ravenclaw, a few years younger than Sirius Black and the Potters. "I would like to examine the castle's points of entry, including all of the known secret passages, as well as Gryffindor Tower—I understand that is Harry Potter's dormitory?"
"It is," Minerva said. "Does that mean that—Black really is after Potter?"
There was a heavy silence for several seconds.
"I'm afraid he is," said Fudge. "But he won't get far. We're hoping to have Black in hand before any of the extra security is needed here at the castle. This is all precautionary, of course. We will also be placing protection around Potter's Muggle family—"
"That is inadvisable," said Albus, firmly but calmly. "Harry is protected in that house by deeper magic than can be provided by a Ministry presence, and does not require anything beyond that."
The female Auror stepped forward. "Surely someone ought to visit them, explain the situation? They might be grateful for a little extra protection."
Minerva could have laughed. "They are not the sort of Muggles who would appreciate a visit of any kind from wizards," she told her. "Potter has been very safe there for the last twelve years, but that family will not take kindly to any interference in their routine. Albus is right; putting reinforcements in a Muggle suburb is not necessary."
She didn't mention that Albus also still received information from Arabella Figg regarding Potter's safety and wellbeing; the Ministry did not set much store in the skills of Squibs, however valuable their knowledge of the magical and Muggle worlds might be.
Kingsley Shacklebolt was eyeing Dumbledore closely, as though he were deciding something important. "Very well. Then we can conserve our resources," he said to Fudge, who looked troubled, but then seemed to relent in the face of economy.
"All right, then, Shacklebolt, if you think so…"
A knock came at the door, and Minerva opened it. Argus Filch, summoned pre-emptively by Dumbledore when Minerva had gone to the front gates, stood on the threshold, glowering at Fudge and the Aurors.
"Ah, very good. Mr. Filch, would you please show our guests to Gryffindor Tower?" asked Albus, gesturing at the Aurors. "They will also need your guidance to the secret passages, to conduct an examination."
There came a loud meow, and Minerva saw Mrs. Norris curled around Filch's ankles. Involuntarily, she wrinkled her nose.
"Ar, this way," said Filch, gesturing for the Aurors to follow him back down the stairs.
Kingsley Shacklebolt stopped at the door and said, "Thank you very much, headmaster."
Albus smiled and inclined his head. The door shut, and then Minerva, Albus, and Cornelius Fudge were alone. Albus vanished the extra chairs with a wave of his wand, and Minerva sat down beside Fudge, who perched his bowler hat on his knee, looking suddenly much more nervous without his team of Aurors. He gave an awkward smile.
"Well," he said. "How are your summers going?"
Minerva stared at him, and he laughed quickly, as though he'd intended the remark as a joke, and then he took a deep breath.
"There's another matter I'd like to discuss with you both, regarding your need for another new Defense Against the Dark Arts' instructor. I understand that I may not have any experience in the academic world—but I would be more than happy to offer a Ministry employee, perhaps one selected by Scrimgeour, given the subject in question, so as to minimize any threats to the school's security—"
Minerva's eyes narrowed. He wanted to place a Ministry worker at the school? This was an unexpectedly bold side of Fudge she had never seen before. She looked at Albus, whose expression was cool.
"Thank you very much, Cornelius," he said, when Fudge had stammered into silence, "but we have the matter handled, at this time. We will be employing Remus Lupin to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. He agreed only this morning, and we are pleased to be welcoming him to the staff."
"Remus—Lupin?" Fudge asked. Minerva, though she had been quite as blindsided as Fudge himself when she'd received this news upon her arrival this morning, saw the familiar pieces drop into place in his brain. "Isn't he a—a werewolf?"
"And a fully qualified graduate of this school," said Minerva, bristling at once with indignation.
Fudge looked uneasy. "Is that wise, Dumbledore?" he asked, ignoring Minerva, who felt her lips tighten over a retort.
"I understand your reticence, of course," said Albus, smiling slightly, "but I have hired teachers with less experience teaching in their chosen field, Minerva among them." She threw him a look, and though he was not meeting her eyes, he smiled more widely.
Fudge seemed ready to press the point, but he closed his mouth again. "Well, ah—in that case…well, that will be…fine," he finished lamely. He cleared his throat. "There was one other thing, Dumbledore…"
Albus inclined his head, politely curious.
"Scrimgeour and a number of others," Fudge began, looking uncomfortable, "myself included, have suggested that if Black isn't caught by the time the students return, then perhaps a small number of Azkaban guards could be placed on the grounds as protection—"
"What?" Minerva burst out. "I beg your pardon?"
"I am afraid that will not be possible, Cornelius," said Albus, and his voice was like ice. It stilled both Minerva and Fudge in their seats. "I will not permit the presence of dementors in this castle."
Fudge looked momentarily dumbstruck. Then he sat forward. "No, now—on the grounds, you know, they won't have access to the castle—"
"All the same," Albus interrupted evenly, "a dementor requires a human population from which to feed, and it does not care what the nature of that population is—prisoner, student, innocent, guilty—it simply feeds. I have given my opinion on the use of dementors as jailers many times in my capacity on the Wizengamot, and while I accept that I cannot sway public opinion on my own, I will not allow them near my pupils."
Surprisingly, Fudge was not looking cowed, but his own expression had become flinty. "There are parents of young children who would be horrified to hear you say that."
"There are others who would be horrified to hear him say the opposite," Minerva said, and Fudge frowned at her. She had a cold, sick feeling in the pit of her stomach at the mere thought of a dementor, and she was sure it showed in her face.
"They'll be in Hogsmeade," said Fudge, his tone becoming brisk and snappish. "They'll already be patrolling close by. It only makes sense." He suddenly stopped spinning the hat in his lap. "No, I'm afraid I can't let you have it your way this time, Dumbledore. It's my decision, as Minister for Magic, though I hoped to get your support. They'll keep watch on the border of the grounds, and be under strict orders to come no closer."
"Then… I accept that it is your decision," said Albus simply, his features impassive, but Minerva was sure she could see something change in Fudge's demeanor. "But I expect the dementors to be removed at the very moment Sirius Black is apprehended—or if they pose a threat to any student of this school."
Fudge waved a hand impatiently, as though this was a negligible risk. "Of course, of course."
The office door opened suddenly, and the Aurors reappeared, Filch in tow.
"Done, Shacklebolt? Good," said Fudge, rising immediately. "I've just finished explaining the dementors' orders. If that's all…?" He looked from Shacklebolt to Dumbledore, who shook his head slowly.
"That's all for me, Minister," said Shacklebolt. He gave a slight bow of his head to Dumbledore and Minerva in turn. "Headmaster…Professor McGonagall. You can contact us at any time with concerns."
Minerva and Albus rose too, and said their farewells to Fudge and the three Aurors. When they'd gone and it was just the two of them, Minerva rounded on Albus.
"Inexperienced, eh?" she asked.
Albus smiled slightly. "It was rather a compliment of your remarkable adaptability and skill."
"And were you going to tell Fudge that your newest member of staff was also once Sirius Black's best friend?" Minerva asked, crossing her arms.
Albus chuckled, and her frown deepened. "You sound like Severus."
"Severus knows?" Minerva demanded, her eyebrows shooting upward.
"It was an eventful evening," said Albus cryptically. Then he explained, "Severus brought me the news, and saw me write to Remus last night." He looked at Minerva carefully. "You don't really believe him to be a risk?"
"Of course not," Minerva told him, as she sat down again. "I…well, I know that you've been monitoring his situation…helping him out. So, no. I don't believe he would ever betray you."
"Nor do I," said Albus. "All the same, Severus is very unhappy about the matter."
"We'll be keeping his secret again, won't we?" Minerva asked. She glanced to the door. "Fudge will, too? How did he even know? He can't possibly have memorized the Werewolf Registry…"
"We will," said Albus. "When Severus has calmed down, I will ask him to consent to making a regular Wolfsbane Potion for Remus. It's a most effective drug, he assures me, and will prevent his need for the measures we took during his time as a student. I believe that Cornelius knows of Remus's condition because of an assistant of his, who is currently pushing a piece of legislation through the Wizengamot restricting the availability of jobs to werewolves and other partial-humans. It was a mistake to reveal to me that he knows Remus's name, and he has undoubtedly realized that by now—it means he has helped Madam Umbridge draft her suggested law, which he knows I have vehemently opposed. She is drawing from a partial registry of 'suspicious' werewolves that the Ministry developed during the height of Voldemort's power. He won't say anything more."
Minerva massaged her temples. "All right. Well…then…that's our teaching roster filled, isn't it? Septima Vector accepted the Arithmancy post, I saw her letter on my desk…" She sighed. "I can send out booklists, and—oh, Merlin's pants."
Albus looked amused, but Minerva pressed on. "Potter is a third year. He can get permission to go to Hogsmeade on the weekends."
Albus shook his head. "An occasional day trip will not put him in any grave peril," he said.
"But—but Albus, if Black is looking for him—" Minerva stammered, "how can we just let him wander about?"
Albus gave a slight sigh. "I hesitate to make Harry any more alarmed than he already might be… extra restrictions might only engender that…curiosity…of his."
"And that's another thing," Minerva said, "who's going to tell Potter about Black?"
"No one, for now," said Albus calmly. "I would like very much to explain it to him…all of it, not simply pieces. And I will, when it becomes necessary. For now…I think Harry would be best served by beginning his third year in relative peace. Don't you?"
Minerva frowned. Honestly, she felt that this was Dumbledore's blind spot for Potter showing itself again…but she also couldn't imagine trying to explain the complexities surrounding Sirius Black and Potter's parents. How could she—or anyone, really—be expected to satisfactorily explain to Harry that not only was he being hunted by a madman, that same madman was responsible for the murders of his parents? Hadn't he coped with enough?
The cold nausea was returning to Minerva's stomach, and she swallowed. "I'll hope that Black is caught early, and returned to Azkaban, where he belongs."
It was a deflection, and they both knew it, but Minerva meant every word. If Harry never had to know one of the worst parts of his parents' deaths, then she would be eternally grateful.
"I…have a thought," she said, breaking the silence. "I'm sure Remus wouldn't mind…"
"Mind?" Albus asked politely.
"If Black isn't caught by then, I think Remus ought to ride the Hogwarts Express on the first. I know teachers don't usually use it, but it might stop Fudge from putting a dementor on the train," she said. "He can just be an extra presence onboard—the trolley witch is very capable, of course, and so is the conductor, but, just in case."
"A very good suggestion," said Albus, smiling.
"I shall write to him, then," she replied. "I'll have to get his textbook ordered into Flourish and Blotts, anyhow… we can't keep going on those wretched Lockhart rags."