3SM129

Disclaimer – I do not own any of the Harry Potter Universe.

Chapter 129

Heather Black watched the dragons take off to rescue Lucius and Severus, Percy and Jennifer standing next to her. Jennifer was pouting that she had been unable, in the short time available, to talk a dragon into letting her ride into battle with them. Percy was quietly relieved, not that he thought that Jennifer couldn't hold her own, but he was already finding grey hairs on his head from watching Jennifer at her Quidditch games … he didn't need her riding off on dragons as well no matter how proficient she was.

Heather fretted for a few minutes, watching Rigel and his 'bodyguards' leave for the ministry. "We need to let Petunia and Rosmerta know what is happening as well as Sirius." Heather looked around. "Get my mother and help prepare for Lucius and Severus to return. Who knows what shape they will be in?"

Jennifer nodded and went with Percy to collect Ruth. Heather ran to the gates to apparate. It took a few apparitions to get to Grimmauld Place. Remus answered the door and Heather explained the events at the Dragon Reserve. Remus was stunned. Somehow they had never considered that Rufus would have the nerve to do that … not after the Head of the Wizengamot Albus Dumbledore had made it so clear in the past that simply relegating a Death Eater to Azkaban without a trial was no longer acceptable, even with the 'loophole' law still on the books.

Heather offered to watch Beth and Tori while Remus found the trio of rabble – rousers organizing the day's harassment of the Ministry, Aurors and the members of the Wizengamot. Remus left in a rush and Heather sat with the girls and called for Kreacher to bring out tea and scones.

Having the "Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black" visiting on a regular basis had cheered the old house-elf considerably. Her endorsement of 'the horrible and disappointing son' Sirius Black coupled with the removal of the portrait of Walburga Black had turned his thoughts around regarding Sirius. House-elves tended to be influenced by whoever was 'head of the household'. Until Sirius had returned it had been the old portrait. Now, between Heather and Sirius he was leaning more toward welcoming whoever they approved of. Now, with wizarding children in the house, he was nearly cheerful.

Beth beamed at Kreacher, she and Tori had talked the old elf into wearing new pillowcases. The one he had on was pink and covered in plump ponies, cantering across the fabric. Heather eyed the grinning elf doubtfully. But, if he wanted to be the house-elves' answer to Albus Dumbledore with his garish outfits, she wouldn't stop him. Maybe she should get Kreacher a tin of lemon drops as well.

Kreacher was muttering under his breath, though not in insulting tones. He was reminiscing about the last child he'd cared for. "Poor master Regulus… nice, respectful wizard child … took good care of old Kreacher …" Beth and Tori nodded while he muttered. They were used to him rambling about things. "Poor Regulus, Kreacher tried to do as he asked … but old Kreacher couldn't destroy the evil, bad locket no matter what he did …"

Heather's senses went on alert. Although she'd not been given all the specifics about the object Lucius, Severus and Tom had been searching Grimmauld Place for, she had been told – finally - that it was a locket of some sort. Heather didn't want any more details than that, not when she sensed that the truth was something very dark.

Now her instincts told her that Kreacher held the information they needed. It took some coaxing, but soon Heather had the whole sorry tale of Regulus' break with Voldemort and his death … and the task Kreacher had been given that he could not complete.

The last part, though, made her burn with fury. Kreacher had safeguarded the locket as best he could – in his small nest of rags in the kitchen. None the less, it had been stolen … by that thieving blackguard, Mundungus.

Kreacher wept and banged his head, though he stopped when Beth and Tori told him to stop. He would never make the girls unhappy.

Heather's brooding was interrupted by Rosmerta's entrance.

"Did Remus find you so quickly?" Heather asked in surprise.

"Remus? No, Hedwig found me … Andromeda and I were at a Quidditch match stirring up unrest and instigating a few more rallies." Rosmerta answered. "Harry said that Severus and Lucius were in Azkaban?" She could barely believe it.

"Yes, Harry and Tom took off with a crowd of dragons and riders to rescue them." Heather responded unhappily.

"Damn them!" Rosmerta snapped in fury at Rufus' treachery, making the girls giggle a little at Rosmerta's language. "Can you keep the girls here, safely until it's all sorted out?" Heather nodded and Rosmerta flooed back to the Ministry to intercept Sirius and Petunia.

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Pius Thicknesse took his seat in the Wizengamot with satisfaction. Voldemort had been very pleased with his report. The Dark Lord was still keeping his activity as anonymous as possible. There were killings and disappearances, of course, but they were not casting the Morsmordre over their kills. There were whispers of a Dark Lord gathering followers and a few believed Harry and his supporters that it was Voldemort that had returned. Many people, though, were still too terrified of the very idea and preferred to listen to Rufus, that it was some other dark wizard, anyone else but Voldemort.

Voldemort had laughed in glee when Lucius and Severus had been taken by Rufus. He had no idea of what was being done to them, but he was hoping it was something painful but not fatal. Voldemort was making plans for very torturous deaths for that pair and he didn't want Rufus taking that particular pleasure from him.

Voldemort had been satisfied with everything except Pius' assessment that Rufus was likely playing for time to break the pair or finish them off. Voldemort wanted them alive … for now.

Pius was painfully aware that he had best ensure the Slytherin pair was released today, and in reasonably good shape or he would pay the price.

The Wizengamot entered, in small groups, whispering fiercely to one another. Pious hoped they were all arguing in favor of releasing the pair right away. At last everyone was there, Dumbledore sitting with a grim look, flanked by Hugo Savage and Minister Fudge.

Rufus sat far away from them, and noted that all others were trying to distance themselves from him, though there were very few extra chairs, so it was difficult. He knew the tide was against him, but he was hoping to put off releasing Snape and Malfoy for another day, dragging his feet as long as possible with signing affidavits and release 'paperwork' or other excuses.

It was still possible, he felt, to release them with the general public not knowing where they had been. If they were completely barmy when they were fetched from Azkaban he could claim anything and they wouldn't contradict him. If they were too unbroken he would arrange an 'escape' by them and maybe they would get badly cursed when they were caught. The game wasn't quite over yet, he felt.

Head of the Wizengamot Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore stood, causing immediate silence. Albus abandoned his usual 'kindly old wizard' facade and looked every bit the powerful Warlock that had defeated Grindelwald.

Albus, Hugo and Fudge had spent all of last evening visiting members of the Wizengamot. They had divided them up; depending on who they thought would have the best chance with that particular witch or wizard, and had done their best to sway them all to their side. Most had agreed that, at the least, Snape and Malfoy were to be released. Persuading some to think about overturning the law had been trickier, but most had agreed to 'think it over'.

Albus looked at Rufus, who was clearly on his own now and decided to go for his throat. "I move that Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape be released immediately …. All in favor?"

Wands burst into the air like a cheerful patch of daisies in spring. Even die-hard Malfoy haters like Smith were waving their wands frantically. Everyone was sick of the barrage of protestors, howlers and criticism in the newspapers. They'd have freed Grindelwald and Voldemort at this point.

Hugo looked around in glee and Cornelius looked very gratified to have the backing of the entire Wizengamot in this. Only Rufus' wand was unraised.

"The motion is carried … let the records show that Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape are to be released immediately." Minister Fudge said with relieved satisfaction.

"I will see to the paperwork and final debriefings … they should be released to you by tomorrow morning." Rufus stated in as calm a tone as he could. He'd thought they would wrangle over the law they wanted overturned, making holding the pair another night easier. Instead they had jumped straight to demanding the pair's release.

The chill silence that ensued told Rufus how little the entire group thought of his answer. It was likely the first time in a millennium that the entire Wizengamot was in agreement on an issue … not including Rufus, of course.

"No." Hugo hissed, not needing to shout in the utter stillness of the chamber. "You will bring them here immediately."

Rufus and Hugo locked eyes while Albus looked on with amusement … no one who had ever served under Auror Hugo Savage as a trainee or as an Auror could stand up to him for long. The instinct to obey him was so ingrained. Hugo had been the best of the best for decades, there was no one in the ranks that didn't look on him as somewhat superhuman and to be followed without question. Rufus was already sweating, trying to keep up his end of the stare – down while every single member of the Wizengamot held their breath, watching.

Before anyone managed to pass out from lack of air, there was a loud pounding on the closed doors accompanied by some shouting. A very flustered court intern came through the doors, propelled by a pair of grim looking dragonriders. Rigel Blackpool was on their heels. He might be an assistant Healer on the Dragon Reserve, but he was a Slytherin so acting very important came easily to him … even in front of the Wizengamot.

The intern was stuttering apologies and waving at the fearsome trio as if they explained it all. Albus and Hugo mused that it probably did.

There was a bit of a stunned silence. Rufus was merely glad that the disturbance had ended the stare down that he had been losing.

Albus stood and nodded to the Aurors that had started massing in front of the Wizengamot with drawn wands. Auror Moody stood in the doorway, a frown on his face. The Aurors backed up into a line, the three wizards from the Reserve facing the Wizengamot and their guards.

"I take it you have news from the Welsh Reserve?" Albus addressed Rigel. He remembered the wizard from Hogwarts. One of the Slytherins that Severus had taken under his wing, giving him extra tutoring that got him a prized job on the Dragon Reserve.

Rigel gave the room a smug smile that all Slytherins seem to learn. "Yes, it has come to the attention of we at the Welsh Reserve that Severus Snape … a resident of the Reserve, and his relative Lucius Malfoy were being held in Azkaban, not the holding cells here in the Ministry."

The relation was very vague, but there. Lucius was Dudley's stepfather. Dudley was Harry's cousin and Severus was his adoptive father. Tenuous, but it was there.

The immediate shouting match and the stunned looks on Albus, Hugo and Rufus' faces was all Rigel could have hoped for. Rufus went from stunned to defensive to angry very quickly.

Albus finally waved his wand, causing a thundering boom and silence reigned once more. Albus and every person in the room had their eyes fixed on Rufus. He loudly protested that they were lying, that they were in the holding cells as he said. He hoped he could bring the pair over very, very quickly. Then he could protest his innocence – at least in that. It would be their word against his, and if the pair was a barmy as he hoped they would not be able to give very convincing testimony even under veritaserum.

Rigel blew that hope out of the water immediately.

"The Reserve immediately sent a rescue team." Rigel watched Rufus pale, Albus twinkled at bit and Hugo looked impressed. Cornelius had been gaping in astonishment from the beginning and the codfish look was not a flattering one for him. "We sent dragonriders …" Rigel paused for effect. "… and, of course, dragons …"

Rufus was now wearing the same 'codfish' look that Cornelius had and another stunned silence reigned … just long enough for marching and shouting to be heard approaching the doors.

Sirius and Petunia had been found by Rosmerta rather quickly and been told the news. Sirius had been propelled into an unexpected show of leadership, though with the last week's events putting him center stage in the demonstrations, perhaps he felt he had to lead.

He shouted the news to the group he was with that was picketing the ministry run menagerie in Devon. They had a breeding program there for endangered magical creatures and some that were essential for many potions. It was a popular summer destination for wizarding families and made for a high – profile demonstration – there were several reporters there. Sirius had soon spread the news to other groups picketing around the country and they converged on the ministry along with a mob of gleeful reporters.

They soon had overwhelmed the atrium guards by sheer numbers and made their way slowly toward the Wizengamot.

Sirius started up a chant that the others took up, "No Prison Without Trial!" was soon booming down the corridors. Some conjured posters with the saying. T-shirted girls from around the world chanted and bounced. The guards had firm orders to simply arrest and not under any circumstances to harm the demonstrators … the reporters were just waiting for that to happen to make anyone injured into martyrs. They could only imagine the repercussions if some of the young females from France or Italy were wounded.

As word spread more and more wizards and witches poured in, even those that normally would not have dreamed of storming the Ministry in a fit of outrage. The Ministry soon was overwhelmed with angry citizens, demanding justice … even for a disliked teacher and a supposedly exonerated Death Eater.

The Wizengamot could now clearly hear the chanting and Rigel looked at the doors speculatively and then turned back to Albus with a lifted eyebrow.

Albus thought quickly and stood. "Well, we have one chance to convince the public that we can generate change on our own … before they actually charge in here and lynch us." The Wizengamot looked around at each other quickly, and a consensus was silently reached. "All in favor of rescinding the law allowing those with the dark mark to be kept in Azkaban even before trial?" A forest of wands arouse, just as before.

Rufus' protests were drowned out by the noise from the hallway. Albus, flanked by Hugo and Cornelius once again left and made the announcement that the "the voice of the citizens of the wizarding world was being heeded". Cornelius stayed and waxed lyrical as he made his way through the crowd, assuring them that "the wishes of the people would always be heard by him".

Much of the crowd cheered and congratulated each other and went home. Others, though – led by Sirius, Petunia and Rosmerta, decided they had to go to the Reserve to help welcome the pair home.

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While Hugo attempted to restore some order to the Ministry, Albus made his way to a floo in chambers behind the court they had convened in. He was waylaid by Moody, who looked rather grave.

"Albus … I need to have a thing or two explained." Moody held up a hand at Albus' objection that he was in a hurry. "I had a nice long time in Barty's trunk to think and mull a few things over and I remembered something. I recall hearing you and McGonagall talking about the Dark Lord a few years ago … only Minerva called him Tom … Tom Riddle, said she'd been in school with him." Alastor gave Albus' horrified look a grim smirk. "Odd that the lad that's Harry Potter's brother now has the same name …"

Albus had wondered if someone from that time would remember the name the Dark Lord had while he'd been in school. There were few, as Voldemort had left within two years of graduation for Albania. When he'd returned and started his campaign he'd already changed his name. Old school chums had known his old name, but no one had the nerve to use it except Dumbledore. These days, it was a very obscure piece of information.

Trust old Moody to have learned of it anyway and blindside Albus with the information. "He's Voldemort's son, isn't he?" Moody snapped. He'd had months in the trunk to work it all out when Barty kept throwing romance novels at him to read. He'd had nothing better to do.

Albus sighed and gave Alastor the story Severus and Lucius had told him. At the end Alastor's eyes were on the floor and a frown on his face.

"The boy shouldn't be penalized for his father's misdeeds. He's proven his loyalty … saved Harry's life time after time …" Albus pleaded.

Moody took a deep breath and looked at Albus. "Yes, you are right, of course. He seems to be on our side and I'll keep my silence about him." Moody shook a finger at him, though. "But you must still be vigilant … Constant Vigilance. I'll still have my eyes on the lad." He gave a short nod at Albus and limped off.

Albus sighed in relief and flooed to Tutshill – in Wales, so he could apparate to the Reserve's entrance. He suspected the Reserve would have some stiff warding up.

This left the one witch who had overheard the exchange to drop into a nearby chair and take some deep breathes, hoping she wouldn't faint.

Dora's mind was in a whirl. Her beloved fiancé was the Dark Lord's son.

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Rufus ran, with a boost from a speed charm, to the holding cell area of the ministry. He'd been very lucky that the Wizengamot had been too busy saving their own skins to have him arrested. He suspected that at some point they would decide he needed to be thrown under the Night Bus to appease the masses.

His own faction of Aurors that were loyal to him were awaiting him. A pair of them had been listening in on the hearing and had run the others with the news.

"A bunch of us went to Azkaban to see if it was true – the place is in an uproar and they had to stay to help stabilize the place or there'll be more than the one escape." Claudius Smith told him.

"We need to go to the Reserve immediately. If we can grab the pair of escapees back … and Harry Potter as well, then we'll have some bargaining room with the Wizengamot. Take any of the others you can – the wives, Rosmerta or Petunia or the other boys, Dudley or Draco … and that Tom Riddle. They seem pretty fond of him as well." Rufus ordered. They flooed to a nearby point … the ministry had strategically placed floos here and there throughout the country to make apparating to places easier.

They arrived at the gates to the Reserve, the borders now so heavily warded they could be seen shimmering in the summer's daylight. They were met by one of Yuan's assistants - a young dragonrider named Samara Vane, flanked by the visiting Chinese dragonrider Lin DaWei and a nervous Percy Weasley. Jennifer was at his side, clutching her wand in one hand and a beater's bat in the other, still hoping for action.

Bolstered by Lin's calm confidence and Jennifer's eagerness for battle Samara faced the group with as much boldness as she could muster, her dragon urging courage in the back of her mind.

"No one is allowed entrance at this time, Auror Scrimgeour." Samara stated, hoping he and his twenty Aurors would just leave.

No such luck.

"I demand that Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy be handed over the moment they arrive." Rufus blustered, hoping to intimidate his way in.

"No." Samara said flatly, too nervous to make a long speech justifying their refusal.

Percy summoned some deeply buried Gryffindor bravado and attacked. "We've got 3 or 4 very angry dragons for every one of your Aurors … and those are just the ones that the Director authorized to guard the Reserve. No one is getting in unless they want to be dragon bait." Percy said aggressively.

He was rewarded by Jennifer's pleased hum and her pressing up a little closer to him.

Rufus showed his gritted teeth in an angry growl. "We have the right …"

Lin DaWei broke in, her rather calm voice vibrating with magical power. "You have no right … Not here, not on any Dragon Reserve, although you may feel free to voice your concerns and demands to the International Confederation of Wizards, who oversee and administer all Dragon Reserves."

Rufus was infuriated, but the exchange had gone on long enough for his ward – breakers to get a crack in the spells of the warding. While the gate had been open, they had been able to wedge a spell of their own into the gate … always the weak point of any ward. Rufus gestured and they charged into the gates.

The dragons and riders were ready, though and spells soon flew, hurling them back. It might have all ended with the Aurors evicted with no injuries to anything but Rufus' pride … however groups of protestors, T-shirted girls and other well-wishers for Snape and Malfoy arrived, appearing outside the gates willy – nilly. They charged through the gates as well, not seeming to notice the battle in progress until they were in the middle of it.

ICOW Peacekeepers started arriving from Lyonesse and they entered the fray, hoping to cool things down. Rosmerta and Petunia flooed into Dragonsrest along with Sirius and Andromeda. The women, wisely decided to simply watch since discerning friend from foe was nearly impossible at this point. Sirius, of course, felt that rioting was a great way to burn off steam and charged straight in.

The rescuers and escapees landed close to Dragonsrest and watched the madness for a moment. The dragons, so far, had contained it all into a fairly small space near the gates and had refrained from roasting anyone … mostly because they would have hit friends as well as foe. Luckily the female Horntail had not been in on it, since she might not have cared.

Finally enough Peacekeepers entered the melee to defuse the situation. Rufus realized when the Peacekeepers arrived, that there was nothing more they could do. An international incident wouldn't help he and his cause. But he was still needing leverage to keep out of Azkaban and to keep a position in the ministry. He hoped. He would simply make his move later.

Rufus made some token protests and demands regarding the now ex-prisoners and was firmly ejected by the Peacekeepers.

The well-wishers and protesters cheered wildly as the Aurors left, reporters and photographers were scribbling madly and taking picture after picture.

The noise soon died down and they took note of Lucius and Severus' appearance. Petunia had gone to Lucius immediately, and he walked slowly to Dragonsrest, determined to not lean on anyone to get there. His haggard look spoke volumes as to his treatment.

Lucius' appearance was shocking, but Severus' rather broken look made the T-shirted girls burst into tears and the crowd that had been cheering was now very silent. Rosmerta took one side and Harry the other, and they guided Severus into his home. Tom lingered by Yuan for a moment and thanked the crowd for their help.

Dumbledore had arrived just after Rufus left, and helped shoo the crowd away. He was stunned to hear of Rufus' attempted raid. The Auror had clearly lost his mind.

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Dora followed Albus through the gates and intercepted Tom just before he got to Dragonsrest. She was happy he could see again, but she clearly had something urgent going on, so Tom let her lead him around the house to a quiet corner.

"I'm sorry to interrupt their homecoming … I am very glad they've been rescued." Dora pleaded, "But I have to know if it's true … I can't blame you for keeping it from me if it is …"

Tom frowned, what was the problem? "You're going to have to explain, Is what true?"

"I overheard the Headmaster … Moody was confronting him about you being V –v-voldemort's son." Dora watched him pale and knew it was no mistake and tried to reassure him. "I agree with them … you should not have to bear your father's sins … he isn't you."

Tom looked at her in surprise and happiness. Dora really was a treasure. But could he do this? She was giving him a ready – made, perfect lie … he just had to agree and all would be well. But could he base their relationship on that lie? It was true … he wasn't Voldemort and never would be. But he wasn't his son, either.

Severus and Lucius would clout him for not taking the story she was accepting and running with it. If he loved her a little less he would have done it, too. He would never feel right about it, though and it would eventually make him crazy and eventually poisen what they had together.

Tom picked up her hand gently, rubbing a finger over the engagement ring and told her everything. At the end she looked as shattered as he was beginning to feel, seeing the look of disbelief and betrayal in her eyes.

Dora took back her hand and stepped back a pace. Her mind simply wasn't able to wrap around this.

"I need to work through this in my head a bit." Dora whispered. She hoped she could get to the gate before collapsing. Somehow she got to the gates and stumbled through them, and then apparated to her apartment without getting splinched. The rooms seemed echoingly empty and she walked slowly to her bedroom and curled up with a pillow. That was a mistake … she could smell Tom's favorite cologne on the pillow and she was soon sobbing in grief.

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A/N – the muse took and long vacation and when she got back, refused to do any real work until I bludgeoned her with my keyboard for days at a time. Seriously, It was a hard chapter to write.