Apologies for tardiness in posting the next chapter. Things are a little tricky, what with all these threads to try to tie up satisfactorily at the same time. And so I've slipped back into far more reading than writing; it's the easy option! Hope this is okay. Not long to go now.
Dumbledore arrived into the portkey store as Romulus was battling three Ministry men. He quelled them with a word and a hand outstretched.
'Remus?' he said to Romulus, who understood that he was not being mistaken for his twin but instead asked where he might be.
'Portkeyed out with Jane.' He indicated the space where the beer can had stood, shards of glass carpeting the shelf and floor below.
Dumbledore nodded and glanced at the portkey coordinates.
'I will take Mr Lupin downstairs to the Department. In the meantime, I ask you please to all stand guard outside this room. No one, short of the Minister of Magic or myself, is to come in.'
The men looked at each other uncertainly before agreeing. They had all attended Hogwarts after all, and obedience to old school teachers is hard to shake off. As they turned to leave, Dumbledore raised his eyebrows at the co-ordinates and they twisted like snakes and reformed to a new pattern. Romulus shot him a tremulous smile and he returned it, kindly but distracted.
'You did well, my boy.'
Romulus blushed less at the praise than with shame for the past and Dumbledore laid a surprisingly comforting hand on his shoulder.
'We have all made mistakes,' he murmured, 'but we do not all get the chance to repair them. You have, and you will.'
'Thank you sir,' Romulus replied softly.
They went together down to where most of the members of the Department for the Control of Magical Creatures and Half-Breeds were still gathered.
'Remus Lupin has left the Ministry,' he announced to the throng, directing his words to Alhage who stood surrounded by minions, a sour look upon his face. 'He has been found innocent of malicious wrong-doing by the Wizengamot but we have not yet discussed what more should be done, if anything. Until such time, he will not be pursued. Sirius Black and Professor Snape will remain in St Mungo's, under guard if you wish, but they will not be moved without the agreement of the Wizen.'
'What have you been up to then, Lupin? Been helping your twin escape?' demanded a man of Romulus, who hesitated.
'He has been with me,' said Dumbledore firmly. 'Now, Ophiuchus, perhaps you and I should first pay a visit to St Mungo's to check on Sirius and Severus and then return to the convention.'
Alhage obeyed without any conspicuous grace and they walked into a lift, the Department's head radiating hostility from every muscle and the Hogwarts headmaster entirely and icily calm.
Jane stroked Remus's back as he retched emptily. She didn't blame him; taking a portkey was, she thought, rather like rapidly looping-the-loop over and over again. Luckily she had always like rollercoasters.
He finally seemed to settle and, hiccupping and with tears in her eyes, turned to her.
'Sorry,' he said, and sniffed acid that made him cough.
'Oh sweetheart,' said Jane and enfolded him in a gentle hug, smoothing his hair and then kissing his clammy cheek. 'I'm sorry. This wasn't exactly what we had planned.'
She let go and rummaged in the extraordinarily capacious bag she had brought with her before finally coming up with a bottle of water.
'Here you go,' she said, and as Remus sipped gingerly at it she looked around.
They were in the countryside and all alone, which was good. It was green and the sun was shining, which was also good. However, the craggy hills looked unfamiliar, dotted with bushes and the odd tree but no other cover, which was distinctly bad.
There was a nearby stream gurgling down a rocky bed, and what looked like a couple of standing stones on top of a nearby hill, but otherwise no recognisable landmarks, no signs of habitation, no roads or lanes or even sheep.
'Where the fuck are we?' Jane sighed, and spent a moment feeling lost and helpless before she fought it down and plunged her hand once more into the bag. She finally squawked in triumph and pulled out a heavy sack that took great effort to drag it out onto the grass.
'What's that?' Remus asked. He looked a bit better, a little more orientated, his face slightly less grey and his eyes beginning to regain their sparkle.
'It's a tent,' panted Jane. 'If we're going to sleep on the hills of god-knows-where, we can at least be under canvas.'
Remus seemed to accept that and, as Jane wrestled with the poles and pegs of an ancient ridge tent he curled up on the ground like a child and fell asleep. She looked over at him, retrieved a blanket from the bag and covered him up. He did not stir and she returned reluctantly to the tent.
Sirius was pacing the ward agitatedly when Dumbledore and Alhage arrived.
'Remus?' he asked immediately.
'Gone, portkeyed with Jane,' Dumbledore told him, and Sirius turned away briefly, his shoulders tense and his head hanging. When he turned back his eyes were suspiciously bright and he gave a watery smile.
'We have orders not to pursue the wolf,' Alhage said sourly, and Sirius glowered at him.
'How is Severus?' asked Dumbledore.
Sirius turned to him and his grey eyes were full of fear.
'I don't know,' he said. 'He's still unconscious. The magimedics did their best but - he got hit by a load of curses all at once, apparently. They - they're using his own potions, the ones that he makes for the people here.'
'He chose to do what he did, and I feel sure he would choose it again,' Dumbledore said, and Sirius nodded.
Dumbledore walked over to the bed where Snape was lying, still and white. He took one of his hands, with its long clever potion-stained fingers, and dropped a kiss on his cold forehead.
'Remus is safe,' he said in a low voice and only imagined that he saw some tension leave the unconscious man's face.
'We must go,' he said to Sirius when he had straightened his aching back once more. 'The Wizengamot will still be in session. Be safe my boy.'
He enfolded Sirius into an unexpected hug and pretended not to notice how his body trembled.
The two, Dumbledore and Alhage, took the direct floo to the Ministry and made their way once more to the great hall where the Wizengamot were sitting. They took their places quietly and listened to what was being said.
'…and so, the werewolf Remus Lupin was found by you to have acted justifiably,' said Mistress Birch. 'However the situation has become more complex. It would appear that three of Lupin's friends, Professor Severus Snape, potions master of Hogwarts, Sirius Black of the Blacks of Grimmaud Place and one muggle female, a Jane Tomkins, have taken matters into their own hands. Black and Snape are currently in St Mungo's and Tomkins has escaped with Lupin. Their whereabouts are currently unknown.
'It seems that these three were in great fear for Lupin's life. After all, prior to the Chief Mugwump drawing this matter to our attention, Lupin was held in secret captivity. Madam Chatterjee has told us that they were informed that Lupin was in ongoing and increasing danger, regardless of the outcome of this convention of the Wizengamot.
'I believe, and I urge you to dissent if you disagree, that the crux of this new matter rests on whether they were correct; whether the Department headed by Master Alhage who were holding Lupin prisoner did in fact have plans to transfer or further punish Lupin even if we found him innocent. Were they planning to disobey the findings of the Wizengamot?'
'I therefore invite you to discuss an uncommon and unconventional proposal. I propose that we question Master Alhage under influence of Veritaserum.'
Shami turned to Dumbledore, ignoring the hubbub, and said, 'What's that, and why's everyone so exercised?'
'Veritaserum is a potion, complicated to brew and restricted in its use, that compels whoever takes it to only speak the truth. Its use in our legal system is very rare for reasons which have been mostly forgotten.'
'So you've got something that stops people lying? Why on earth don't you just use that instead of going through all this rigmarole?'
'I'm sure you will hear some of the objections against its use,' Dumbledore told her. He glanced at Alhage, who looked even more inscrutable than ever.
'I'd love to get my hands on some of that,' Shami muttered. Then, 'How are Sirius and Professor Snape?'
'Sirius is fine, up and about and anxious. Severus… no one is sure of his prognosis. He is still unconscious.'
'Shit,' Shami said, shaking her head, then laying an uncertain hand on Dumbledore's sleeve. 'He'll be okay. And if he's not - I think he would - well - if it all ends alright for Remus, I think that would be…'
Dumbledore nodded and patted her hand absent-mindedly as they returned their attention to the ongoing debate.
'How can we trust the brewer of the potion?' bellowed an immensely fat wizard.
'And besides, should we not be able to rely upon the integrity of magical peoples?' a witch near him piped up.
'That's all very well but Alhage's always been a fishy fellow and you can't trust him an inch!' she was scolded by another witch.
'But - there's no free will involved - is it really ethical?' queried a very old man with tiny round spectacles in a querulous voice.
'Bugger ethics!' the same witch told him. 'Alhage'd torture his dear old mum if he thought he could get away with it!'
'Wouldn't we be setting a dangerous precedent?'
'Dangerous my great-aunt Hecate. We don't have to let it be a precedent.'
'And - how else will we sort this mess out?'
'That poor werewolf's got friends who are willing to go to prison for him - shouldn't we at least find out if they had a point instead of just packing them off to Azkaban?'
'Nobody's said anything about Azkaban!'
'Yes, but can you really imagine them ending up anywhere else? Breaking into the ministry, rescuing a werewolf under investigation - if their reasons aren't confirmed then you know they'll be there for years.'
As always, the noise eventually died away, and Mistress Birch called for yet another vote, this time on the legality of force-feeding the head of the Department for the Control of Magical Creatures and Half-Breeds truth potion.
Jane had, with great difficulty, constructed a fire that continued to burn. In the middle of it was a kettle and she was waiting eagerly for it to boil.
'Do you want a cup of tea?' she asked Remus, who was stirring.
'Oooh, love one,' Remus told her, sitting up immediately.
'Afraid we haven't got any milk.'
'That doesn't matter… a cup of tea!'
She smiled at his eager face and set to making it.
'Have you seen anyone or anything while I've been asleep?'
'Nope. We are officially stranded in the middle of nowhere. But at least no-one's come looking for us yet.'
'And any idea of what's - of course not. You know, I keep forgetting that you're not actually a witch.'
'I wish I could forget that! If I was, we could have got out of there much quicker, and with Sirius and Severus as well. I wish I could tell you what's happened to them. I wish I knew myself.'
She handed him a steaming enamel mug of tea and took one for herself.
'I can't thank you enough, Jane,' said Remus was he blew on the surface of his drink, purposely not looking up.
'Re my darling, how long have we been friends? I couldn't possibly have let all this happen without doing something.'
'Yes but what about your -'
'Enough! D'you honestly think I'd've sat at home while the others tried to sort this out?'
'I pity the poor woman who ends up marrying you,' muttered Remus with a grin a few moments after her statement.
'Enough of that, you cheeky bloody whelp. Do you think you'll manage some magic soon?'
'I reckon so… I wouldn't want to apparate us when I'm still a bit of a mess, don't want us to end up splinched - that's when a bit of you goes and a bit of you stays. Nasty - but yes I could manage some easy stuff.'
'Well if you can't take us anywhere, I reckon he might as well stay here. If you could manage some sort of radiator charm that would probably be appreciated tonight, but other than that we've got everything we need to survive for a bit.'
'That sounds sensible. I just - I wish we could find out what's going on.'
'So do I, Remy-boy, but unless you can dig up a cunning plan from that brain of yours, we're stuck here for now in blissful ignorance…'
'So then, we are agreed,' Mistress Birch said, looking around the auditorium at the wrinkled faces of the wisest witches and wizards of magical Britain. 'Master Alhage will be questioned under the influence of Veritaserum.'
Alhage's face was set in its usual supercilious disdain but Shami had noticed the blood draining from his face when the Wizengamot had come to their decision and wondered exactly what might come out during the interrogation. Several grim-faced people in navy robes came over and sat surrounding him, guaranteeing he did not swallow anything or attempt to flee.
The clerk had been sent with a chit signed by Birch to retrieve a dose of the potion from the Ministry's stores. He was accompanied by three of the Wizen; their role to ensure no possibility of tampering during the potion's collection prior to its consumption. The remainder had seemed to relax somewhat, summoning cups of coffee and food from tables which had appeared at the side of the room.
Shami had watched, impressed, as the refreshments zoomed across the vast space, not a single drop or crumb falling to the floor. She had stood up to get herself something in the muggle way before Dumbledore put a hand to her sleeve and asked what she would like. She sat down again, grateful not to be even more of a spectacle than she already was. Many of the Wizen's eyes were still upon her, politeness being overcome by the fascination of a muggle on their midst.
As she drank her coffee, the clerk returned with a small black box and the guards who had departed with him. They continued to stand close by as from the box he withdrew a tiny colourless object that Shami was too far from to see clearly.
'It's so small,' she breathed to herself.
'But so powerful,' Dumbledore murmured. 'And made by Severus, I should imagine. He would be - he will be pleased to know the role he has played. Only a few drops are needed, and then someone's secrets are open for anyone to plunder.'
At a word from one of the wizards in blue, Alhage slowly rose to his feet and made his way down the many stairs until he stood in the centre of the circular tier of seats. The same wizard then waved his wand and a chair appeared. Alhage sat down as the clerk approached, still accompanied. As he walked, Shami could see the potion was in a crystal vial, an insignificant-looking clear fluid like water. He stood before Alhage, removed the stopper, and Alhage haughtily tipped his head back a little and opened his mouth. The room was quiet as the clerk upended the bottle over his mouth and the potion ran in.
The clerk replaced the stopper, then put the bottle back carefully in the box which he closed and carried away. The three who had surrounded him returned to their seats, and once they sat the hall was completely silent as they all watched the man, still white but composed and still as marble, staring into the distance.
A few minutes passed before Mistress Birch stood and walked over to him. She cast the spell, first on him and then herself, that would make their voices carry and then conjured her own chair and sat opposite him.
'Master Alhage, you have been given Veritaserum so that we may ask you questions about the werewolf Remus Lupin. Do you understand?'
'Yes,' he replied tonelessly, and Shami felt a shiver run down her spine.
'Please state your full name.'
'Ophiuchus Cassius Alhage.'
'Your position within the Ministry?'
'Head of the Department for the Control of Magical Creatures and Half-Breeds.'
'And your date of birth?'
'March the first, 1956.'
'Good. Now tell me how this began. How did you first become aware that there was a problem with Remus Lupin?'
'Werewolf XZ3289735 came to my attention in November of this year. It wrote a letter to the Department regarding potential employment it would be allowed to take up. It was informed of its responsibility to request specific permission for each job it was offered. It did this for several days before we heard nothing further.'
'How did you find out Lupin had taken a job despite your department denying permission?'
'We received a letter from Severus Snape, potions master at Hogwarts School, who makes the wolfsbane for the werewolf every month. He informed us that it was working illegally.'
'And what happened then?'
'Members of the department went to its place of abode and brought it to the Ministry to be held within the Department for questioning.'
'During his time with you, how was Lupin treated?'
'As a beast should be.'
'Please elaborate, Master Alhage.' Birch's voice was hard.
'It was fed. It was kept captive. It was questioned.'
'How did you persuade him to answer your questions?'
'Cruciatus. Muggle-type techniques. No success until we used the beast's twin.'
'Romulus Lupin? How was he, ah, used?'
'He was placed in a room with the wolf minutes prior to the rise of the full moon to encourage the beast to talk.'
From where she sat, Shami could see Mistress Birch's lips tighten.
'And was that successful?'
'It told us it was planning to infect muggle customers of its workplace.'
'Did he stick to this story the following day?'
'No. The wolf denied it. Claimed it had fabricated the story to allow the brother to leave before its transformation.'
'And what did you do?'
'Continued interrogating using the previous methods.'
'With any results?'
'So, you tortured Lupin but except for when you threatened his brother, he refused to admit anything.'
'The wolf admitted working illegally. That was all.'
'I see. And was anyone informed of his imprisonment?'
'What did you plan to do with Lupin?'
'Continue questioning until it confessed.'
'And if he would not confess?'
'Send him to Azkaban.'
'And once his case had come to the attention of the Wizengamot? Did you intend to be guided by our decision?'
'We had planned to summon a Dementor as soon as possible.'
'Despite the ongoing investigation into Lupin's case?'
'Why would you summon a Dementor?'
'To give the wolf the Kiss.'