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Chapter Three

A rumour took wing over the North Sea and made its way Southward. Escaped, it said. Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban. Aurors were pulled from their beds. Escaped, people whispered to each other in the street, and hurried home to lock their doors. Sirius Black. Security at the Ministry was doubled. A check was made of every cell in the wizarding prison, and every cell which should have been occupied was. Save one. Loose, said the rumour. He's on the loose. Flourish & Blott'shad to order a restock of Wards, Traps, and Alarms by Nico Cognito, the famed Italian Auror who, it was believed, had trained the legendary Alastor Moody. Lock your doors. Even the Muggles were notified. A mass murderer escaped from a high-security prison today. His whereabouts are unknown. Local police believe him to be armed and highly dangerous. Do not attempt a confrontation under any circumstances. The picture of a man with long black hair and madness in his eyes flashed from thousands of television sets, from millions of newspapers. Sirius Black has escaped...

"... From Azkaban, Severus." The man was positively purring, Snape decided as he watched the speaker pace across the deserted moor. "Nobody has ever achieved such a thing. It is meant to be impossible."

"I am well aware of that, Lucius. Every witch and wizard over the age of six is aware of that. Is there a reason for your interrupting my supper and summoning me here on such short notice, or did you merely wish to state the obvious?"

Lucius Malfoy swished to a halt, face inches from Snape's. "Where is he?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Don't be dense, Severus. I know perfectly well that you were at Hogwarts with Black. Where would he have gone?"

Snape raised an eyebrow. "If you will recall, Lucius, Black and I were hardly friends. I'm surprised you don't recall the indignities he inflicted on everyone in Slytherin House. But then, I suppose you were too wrapped up in showing off your wealth to his cousin to notice much else, weren't you? Rather pathetic, really."

"You should have made a bit more of an effort, Severus. The heir to the House of Black would have made a powerful ally. That was not my question. Who was Black close to? Where would he run?"

Snape allowed the barest hint of a smirk to hide at the edge of his lips. "He was an extremely good friend to James Potter, as I recall, and to Peter Pettigrew. Shame how that worked out."

"They're all dead." Malfoy's tone was one of genteelly restrained impatience.

"Not all. Remus Lupin is still alive. He and Black were close at Hogwarts, and Lupin has a dark side. I wouldn't be surprised if the two of them are still allies." Snape cursed inwardly. He'd divulged too much information. Should have stopped after naming Lupin. No information at all would have made Malfoy suspicious, but Snape should have stopped at the minimum, regardless of personal feelings.

The veil over the impatience was thinner now. "And where, may I ask, is Lupin?"

Snape shrugged slightly. "I haven't a clue. The man's been missing for nearly twelve years, now. I thought you had an extensive network of... friends. Perhaps one of them might be able to help you. I've told you everything I know. Am I dismissed? There's roast beef waiting for me. Cold, now, naturally." He was rewarded with a sniff and a glare, and the welcome sound of Lucius Malfoy Apparating away. Immediately he Apparated himself, to the cow pasture behind his modest cottage, landing in front of a cow who gave him a puzzled look and lumbered off in search of a place to sleep that was free of sudden people.

.Snape peered at the rising moon and swore - it was full. Lupin would be weakened and vulnerable over the next couple of days, unless he had access to a proper healing facility, which Snape doubted.

Muttering the word which would allow him past his wards, he strode quickly - Severus Snape never hurried - through the door and into the kitchen, past the roast beef covered in congealing gravy, and knelt in front of the fireplace, grabbing a handful of Floo powder from the box hidden in the coal scuttle.

"Albus Dumbledore's office, Hogwarts," he snapped, and plunged his head and shoulders into the flames as soon as the colour changed. "Dumbledore! Albus! Where are you?"

The Headmaster's armchair was empty, and the desk was suspiciously tidy. "Dumbledore!"

One of the portraits on the wall cracked an eyelid and answered crankily. "He's gone on holiday. Go away."

Snape gritted his teeth. "Very well. Tell me, is the Deputy Headmistress available at all, or shall I ask to speak to the Head House Elf?"

"She's on holiday, too."

"What? Together? Where are they?"

"Well, it's Hogwarts business, isn't it? They got an Owl this afternoon from the man they wanted to teach Defense this year, saying no. What was his name? Loony? Lunenburg? Lu-something."

"Lupin," chimed in a witch with a very large ruff and matching hat.

"Right, thanks, Lupin, and Dumbledore looked a bit unhappy, and McGonagall folded up the letter in that snippy way she has, with sharp creases and all, and tucked it in her pocket, and Dumbledore mentioned that they couldn't talk to this Lumpy - "

"Lupin," said the witch.

" - Lupin fellow for two or three days anyway, and it had been a while since he'd seen Paris, and he packed up a few things into a carpet bag and they left."

"I see. If either of them should return, would you be so kind as to mention that I need to speak with them on an urgent matter?."

"Yes, yes. Now go away. Just because we're dead doesn't mean we don't need to sleep, you know."

Snape fumed. He would now have to stay in and around his cottage until Dumbledore contacted him. To do otherwise would be sheer irresponsibility. He could track down the Headmaster in Paris, in theory, but he had a niggling suspicion that his own whereabouts were being monitored, and to go haring off to France so soon after his conversation with Malfoy might tip his hand.

He might as well finish his supper. He drew his wand and trained it on the roast beef. A quick "Calefacto!" was enough to reheat it, though the gravy remained congealed and lumpy. He started to eat it anyway, and felt a bit foolish when he realised he was keeping an eye on the fireplace, as if Dumbledore's floating head was going to appear in it soon. Muttering, he took his plate into the sitting room and finished his supper there instead, out of view of the fireplace.

"Bloody werewolf."