Sunday 15th November 1994
a. The Woman Who Tried Her Best
Angelica Hallendale tossed and turned uneasily on the small, uncomfortable bed in one of the outer holding cells of Azkaban Prison. She still didn't know if the actions that had put her there had actually helped her son. The young woman Cassius worked with had been sure they could still pin the crimes on him, and she could be telling the truth. Even Aurors did sometimes. She attempted to comfort herself with the thought that the Dementors would have less to work with if he couldn't recall what had happened to him, but that was little consolation. She could still recall it.
The last few days had been ... well, a nightmare. No other word for it. She remembered clearly the shock of abruptly coming to her senses, and finding herself in a small room with the two Aurors looking at her in a very unfriendly manner, one that made it clear that their previous acquaintance wouldn't help her one bit.
She'd had many a run-in with various wizarding authorities in her time, of course. When she'd been assisting Hank in his, ah, slightly disreputable line of business that had been only to be expected, after all. But he'd always kept her well away from anything that could land her in the clutches of the Aurors, or their Caribbean equivalents. Fines were one thing. Even the few nights, or weeks, that she'd spent alone while Hank was in the cells of some tiny wizarding prison in Martinique or Aruba or St Lucia hadn't been too bad. But now here she was, arrested on charges that could leave her stuck here for years.
She'd known people who'd been sent to the Rock for a long stretch – Hank's friends, Clark's contacts – and she'd seen them when they got back. Well, at least they looked like the people she'd known, on the outside. They didn't behave like the people they were when they went in.
She slept fitfully. In her dreams – rather, in her nightmares – there flickered scenes of dark rumour and terrified imagination, scenes she'd never witnessed; Hank falling lifeless as figures in masks and cloaks surrounded him, Clark trapped and shouting a desperate curse, herself helpless to prevent the flashes of green light as she lay screaming.
b. The Departmental Retiree
Cassius breathed a quiet sigh of relief as he dipped his quill into the inkpot for the last time, added the final few sentences to his letter of resignation, and signed his name. He'd asked for a little favour from his superiors, but realistically, he had little expectation that his request would come to anything. But that was no reason not to try.
He tied the letter to the leg of his post owl, and opened the window to let it fly away. He realised, on reflection, that he should probably have stayed at the Ministry to finish it; but it was far too late to worry about that now. At least it would arrive on Rufus' desk early next morning. And then – well, his great-nephew by marriage was aware of the practicalities of politics. He might take Cassius' hint that it would be embarrassing for him if his relative hung around the Department, finishing a case – and that a quick trial and lenient punishment for Angelica Hallendale would be a reasonable price to pay to avoid that.
He looked around the study sadly. It wasn't that there was anything obvious in the room itself to be saddened by – but practically everything in it reminded him of his wife, and his Auror career; the things that had once been all of his life. But maybe, just maybe, the letter that had arrived yesterday morning from Bill Redderton contained the solution he needed.
Cassius smiled as he picked it up to read through one more time. He'd met Bill the first time he'd encountered Liquor of Jacmel, over twenty years before, when there had been an alarming rumour from the Caribbean that it might be offered to the Death Eaters as a weapon for use in the nascent British wizarding war. The Auror and the Magical Investigation Bureau agent had teamed up, tracked down the main suppliers, helped the ineffectual local authorities put them out of business, and along the way had become friends for life.
The case had been one of the highlights of his career. In a way, it seemed appropriate that his last case as an Auror would involve the same elements.
Bill's letter announced that he too had decided to retire, after what Cassius knew to have been a long and eventful career (he felt sure he wasn't actually supposed to have been told some of Bill's stranger and less credible war stories, but he wasn't going to tell anyone else about them). Apparently Bill now planned to start his own freelance investigative agency in order to stave off boredom. Somehow, he'd managed to read between the lines of Cassius' last letter and deduce that matters had become uncomfortable for his old friend; he'd added a postscript that contained a delicately phrased offer to reconstitute their old partnership if Cassius ever felt like taking on a new challenge.
Cassius turned to look at the framed photograph on the corner of the desk. He had never tired of looking at it in the thirty years since it had been taken. It showed himself and Emily in their back garden, holding hands, smiling at each other. Their photographic versions looked up at him with sympathy.
It had been more than two years since she died, after nearly sixty years of marriage. He'd been forced to get used to sleeping alone again, but as he'd thrown himself into work once more it had eventually become easier.
So maybe a new challenge would be good for him, would help him move on, would give the lie to Rufus' snide inquiry as to whether his detective ability had deserted him. It hadn't so far.
c. The Stray Dog
Mopsy arrived back at her home at about half past eleven that night, glad to return to her little darlings. She could hear the barking start as soon as they heard the sound of the gate creaking, as it always did.
As she raised her wand to the lock, a movement at the bottom of the garden caught her eye, but when she turned it was only that big black stray, gazing at her from the end of the path. She looked at it quizzically. It seemed like a perfectly friendly, playful, likeable sort of dog, not the sort of savage hound that might have been turned out by its owners.
"Here, boy!" she called, clicking her fingers at it, slightly concerned nonetheless. It seemed to have had a square meal or two recently, but still looked painfully thin. "Are you coming to say hello to old Mopsy, then?" The dog looked at her with a curious expression – it might almost have been sadness – whined in an oddly gentle way, and quietly slunk away into the night.
Around the corner he stopped at the beginning of a small pathway and sat back tiredly on his haunches for a moment, then shook himself and began the long climb up the mountainside. The cave he'd spotted there was a comfortable enough place as any to spend his nights. But before he could curl up there for a well-earned rest, there was just one more thing he had to do.
As he slipped into the cave a pair of large orange eyes met his gaze. Sirius turned back into his human form and bowed deeply to the hippogriff, who looked pleased to see him – or at least, as pleased as a hippogriff ever looked. He glanced up to see Dumbledore's owl perched on a ledge near the roof of the cave, looking equally pleased to see him (it was casting nervous glances at the hippogriff), and waiting patiently for a reply.
Sirius looked around morosely at his surroundings. He would have been much more comfortable staying in the village with the batty old lady and her pack of ill-assorted strays that he felt an odd kinship for. But the risk of discovery was too great for even Sirius to contemplate. He had never fully mastered the art of behaving like a dog, certainly not well enough to fool the real thing. Not to mention that even batty old ladies who took in strays were unlikely to take kindly to one who brought a hippogriff along for the ride.
He couldn't afford to be caught and turned over to the Dementors, of course – but neither could he risk taking residence anywhere where Fawkes could not appear privately to fetch him to his godson's side at a moment's notice, if the Triwizard Tournament went as badly as Dumbledore feared.
He and Harry were the only true family either of them had, after all.
Well no, maybe that wasn't true in his case.
The potential dangers of the Tournament were a chilling thought, and one he preferred not to dwell on, so he took quill in hand to report on his little trip down south. Even if Dumbledore hadn't known about it, the man surely couldn't argue with success. Because although he hadn't mastered dog behaviour, he'd certainly got the hang of using his dog senses when in his Animagus form.
When he'd found an Auror at Moony's house, he'd been prepared for a fight – but the scent of her hand had registered in some canine-influenced part of his brain as 'old friend'. And since neither he nor Moony had any idea where he might have met an Auror called Julia Marshall before – he'd been almost sure she wasn't one of his youthful conquests – it had raised a strong suspicion that she wasn't who she claimed to be.
It had taken him more than a week of racking his brains while transformed to remember why the scent was so familiar – he'd smelt it mere months before, when he'd passed by his cousin Annie's house for old times' sake on the way out of the country. And with that realisation, the pieces had suddenly fallen into place: little Dora, who had been able to look like anyone she wanted – but evidently no longer little, as he suddenly recalled that on that July evening his cousin and her husband had been talking about their daughter's new job as an Auror. He'd been so overjoyed to make the connection that he'd forgotten to transform back until Buckbeak had started to scratch the ground nervously at Padfoot's joyful barking.
It had been a simple matter to confirm his deduction two nights ago, although unexpectedly hard to see their little family group – Annie and Ted still together and happy, little Dora all grown up with a boyfriend of her own, a painful reminder of things long past and things never known. He had actually been on the verge of revealing his identity to them on impulse; it had been sheer good fortune, and the presence of the boyfriend, that brought him to his senses at the last moment.
But if it had been Dora who visited Moony that morning – then that surely meant she thought he might be innocent, and was willing to go beyond her authority to confirm it. And that meant she wasn't following the official Ministry line, which in turn meant that she might be a useful ally for the Order if Dumbledore was right about the possibility of Voldemort's imminent return.
Sirius smiled as his quill flew across the parchment, outlining this reasoning for the Headmaster's benefit. Here, at least, was something he could do for the cause. He hadn't had any opportunities to help in a very long time.
d. The Faithful Husband
Benjamin Farley made a valiant attempt to stay interested in the rubbishy folk band Finley McAllister had hired for the evening. But at the moment, he had far too many other things on his mind to give a toss whether the hero and heroine in some old song would ever sort themselves out.
For one thing, there was his wife, who still hadn't properly forgiven him for what had happened back in June. Not that that was exactly going to knock the foundation out from under his world, but the fallout from that night meant he might have to testify at a trial, always a nerve-racking experience for someone in his line of business even when he wasn't the one handcuffed to the chair. And then … there was the little blonde honey that his mate Mick swore had had her eye on him all night. He might be right. She'd drifted by several times now and flirted with him quite outrageously.
He preened slightly as she approached him again, feeling very glad that he'd spruced himself up for the occasion.
"Are you the man who helped catch a Dark Wizard and Witch?" she asked in a husky voice. Taken aback for a moment, he caught sight of Mick giving him a wink and a thumbs-up as he went to the bar, and suddenly understood what he'd done.
"Yeah, that's me, girl …" He found himself talking about his recent adventures – how he'd been trapped into helping the murderer through no fault of his own, how he'd fought the Dark Magic long enough to stop him actually killing the poor sod they were after, how those useless Auror morons had been baffled until he'd set them on the right track – and if he was improving the story slightly, and would never normally have boasted about helping Aurors, well, as long as this honey was hanging on his words that was nobody else's business, was it?
"How about another drink?" she asked, picking up his empty glass. He blanched at the sudden horrible flashback.
"Er, had enough, I think. How about you?"
She smiled. "Me too. Well, no need for us to stay in this pub then, is there?"
"No –" he couldn't miss the message "– let's go then, er …" Farley suddenly felt a wave of panic, throat tightening, heart racing, cold washing over him. "No, hang on …"
Her look of surprise could have been funny, in another time and place. "Sorry?"
He swallowed. "Er …" He took a step or two towards her, but he could feel his nerve failing as soon as he did so. "Look – think I'll just stop here a bit? Band's pretty good. You'd better go if you want." Her mouth fell open in shock, then closed into a tight line, and he watched helplessly as she did exactly what he suggested, turning on her heel and striding out of the door. He'd reached for his glass and raised it to his lips before he remembered it was empty.
"What's the matter with you?" It was Mick, looking at him as if he'd just grown an extra head. "Your old lady's not here tonight, is she?"
"And you turned her down? She was fit!"
Farley shuddered. "Don't care if she's got all the best bits from a Veela, Zara Gabon and Helen of bleeding Troy, mate. I'm not going there again. Too bloody risky …"
He decided to go and get another double – no, better make that triple – Firewhisky. He wasn't sure if he'd be well received Apparating back home to the wife up north tonight. But if not, he'd be much better off sleeping alone.
e. The Experienced Auror
Nymphadora Tonks glanced at the clock on her bedroom wall, which was registering a few minutes to midnight. She was mildly surprised to realise that over the past six months she'd become used to turning in by now ready for an early start at her job, but tonight she had a letter she wanted to check through – just one more time.
Its tone and content hadn't been easy to judge, especially as the addressee had always left her feeling a little overawed. She'd actually wondered if he'd remember who she was, until it dawned on her that Metamorphmagi were so rare that a student with that power would be unusual and memorable to even a man of his vast experience. Eventually, she decided that the best she could do was play to her strengths, try to sound open and upbeat and informal, and hope that he didn't interpret it as silliness.
Dear Professor Dumbledore,
First of all, if the following letter seems presumptuous, I must apologise and hope you'll forgive me. Likewise, as I know you're an extremely busy man, I won't be at all offended if you have too many calls on your time to grant what I admit is probably an unusual request from one of your old students.
With any luck, you may remember me as the last person to be accepted by the Auror Office – although I admit you might remember me best as the Metamorphmagus who didn't always behave herself at Hogwarts! However, I'm also, as I'm sure you know, a cousin of the escaped convict Sirius Black. I was only a young girl in 1981, of course, but it was still an utterly horrible feeling when I heard what had happened – it felt like a personal betrayal, and I always wondered how he could have done such a thing.
I've researched the Auror files thoroughly in the hope of learning exactly what happened that night, but it seems he never chose to tell anyone from the Auror Office why he did what he did. However, I couldn't help but notice a report that you yourself attempted to talk to him on the night of June the sixth. Unfortunately, there was no record of this conversation in the files, but I would dearly love to know if he told you anything, however small, that might show what his motivations were? I have even heard strange rumours that suggest he claimed to be innocent!
I hasten to add that this is a personal plea only – I haven't been ordered to approach you by my bosses or anything, and in fact I would appreciate it if you could see your way clear to keeping this between us for the moment, because I don't want to give the impression of being obsessed! So I'm not asking this as an Auror, but as your former student and as a relative of the man concerned – and truly hope that I'm not out of line in doing so.
She read through the letter carefully, hesitating after every sentence; it had the potential to get her into hot water if it came to the notice of her superiors. A less specific message merely asking for a meeting would be safer. Then again, the Dumbledore she remembered from school didn't seem like the kind of man who would insist on following official rules to the point of ignoring such a request for confidentiality – especially as it was the same kind of request that he himself had made when writing to Kingsley. And a more detailed, heartfelt letter probably stood a better chance of catching his interest …
Tonks shrugged. Stuff this, it's about as good at it's going to get. After all, even if the letter fell into Ministry hands, it didn't actually say she believed Sirius was innocent – merely that she wanted to know more, something she could easily explain away. She had, after all, checked the official case files with Gogol back in September, just as the letter said. And she'd definitely heard Departmental rumours of her cousin's innocence – she knew that Kingsley had made sure to spread them as cover for expressing his own doubts.
Nymphadora Tonks picked up her wand and tapped the letter to wrap it up, cast a security charm around the seal for good measure, and fastened it to the leg of her owl, who seemed happy to have a late-night delivery for once. As he flew off into the night she felt a sudden jolt in her stomach at the thought that she had just taken an irrevocable step. She hastily closed the window and added a silencing charm to stop herself being distracted by the traffic noise outside. With that, her nerves settled down.
She was really looking forward to what the next few months might bring. She was sure that it was going to be the start of something big.
Author's Note: Well, I hope that's a good place to finish, with Tonks having solved her case and now taking steps that will bring her to the attention of the Order of the Phoenix. I'm probably forgetting a number of things I should mention in the rush, but I should say that Rhiannon's 'serial killer' case is left unresolved because it was meant to be setup for a sequel (yes, I do know who did it) – I have a some rough outlines for that, so again if DH doesn't spike this whole 'NTLJ-verse' too badly, I may write it ... And if you got this far, thank you very much for reading!