Disclaimer – Just having fun with my buddies, but they all belong to JKR.'
Severus strolled through the Ministry Atrium, trying to look nonchalant for the curious onlookers. He felt better with Amelia Bones at his side although he didn't really fear that he was going to be arrested. He did suspect he was going get a bit of a reprimand. The ministry had leaked Severus' little adventure and the press had hopped onto the tale with relief.
The reporters had been getting a little desperate for happy news, or at least better news than the increasingly suspicious attacks and disappearances that had been hogging the headlines lately. Most of the assaults were occurring in the muggle world, but were obviously magical, and it was equally obvious it was the work of Dark wizards.
Severus hadn't made the headlines, but he was just below them and definitely above the fold. The still-large very bold print announced that Professor Severus Snape had managed to get discovered by muggles in his animagus form and had the muggles believing that they had sighted the 'Beast of Exmoor'.
Severus was quite sure that the Ministry was rather smugly getting a little payback for their humiliation with the whole Rufus / Azkaban episode. Still, Severus was willing to let them have a little go at him if it put the rest of the ministry at ease with Snape family once again. The ministry as a whole was tiring of having their collective noses rubbed in their mistakes. This would, perhaps, allow them to save just a bit of face.
Severus soon had a small mob attempting to trail him discreetly. As if a group of thirty gawkers could be inconspicuous. Amelia stifled a grin as Severus registered his animagus form while the gaggle of ministry lackeys watched. When he turned into the black leopard there was the sound of files dropping and wands hitting the floor. The registrar's gum fell out of her mouth and hit the desk.
Severus changed back and eyed the gum with disapproval. The gum was banished by Amelia while the flustered girl signed off the paperwork and handed Severus the card with the picture of his form on it.
Amelia led Severus down the hallway with the growing group of onlookers whispering loudly and following Severus and Amelia to the courtroom where the Wizengamot awaited him. Some of the members of the Wizengamot had shown up specifically for this hearing. Many were pretending to be reading the various papers that had pictures of Severus in his animagus form on the front. One picture was grainy and not easy to make out as it was a muggle picture that had survived Amelia's subtle curse that had been cast at the various muggle cameras. The other one was the picture Harry had taken and had gleefully provided to the newspapers. Harry was quite proud of his dad's animagus form.
Griselda Marchbanks and others that shared her sense of humor loudly rattled their newspapers as they folded them up and put them away and then smiled at Severus rather smugly. There were some with more malicious looks in their eyes, and a few that had hostility or outright hatred.
Cornelius, Albus and Hugo had all sat back and let Griselda Marchbanks preside, as the majority of the Wizengamot that had shown up felt the three of them had supervised enough court cases regarding the residents of Dragonsrest and no one believed them to be unbiased. This was not really a serious charge. At worst there would be a fine, so the three of them sat back and let Griselda have her fun.
Severus looked around; it was not a day where serious crimes were tried, so barely half the Wizengamot was in attendance. He knew that likely the only reason even that many were there was because he was the one in front of them. Still, he knew that 'submitting' to this slap on the wrist would tell the rest of the wizarding world that he once again trusted that the ministry.
Severus smirked a little, seeing Lucius and Sirius hovering nervously in the back of the audience.
He and Lucius knew that it was in their best interest for Fudge to stay in office, at least for the present. Since Cornelius was being supportive of the faction now surrounding Harry, and it was a case of 'better the devil you know'. Showing confidence in Fudge's 'cleaned up' law enforcement was necessary they felt, to keep Fudge firmly in the Minister's seat.
Madame Marchbanks started the proceedings with a small smile that edged toward a smirk. She'd been in Albus and Hugo's corner regarding Snape and Malfoy. She believed they should have been dragged before the Wizengamot for questioning and then the truth would have been out immediately and none of the months of madness would have occurred. Still, it was good to have a bit of a misstep on Snape's part that would allow them to show the world that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was now being run the way it should be.
"Potions Master Severus Snape, I'm quite surprised to see you once again gracing this courtroom…" Griselda smiled a bit wider. "… as well as the front pages."
There were a few half – hearted titters from the audience, and Severus tried for a smile, but it looked more like a grimace.
"We have all read Madame Bones' report regarding your transformation into a …" Griselda picked up a paper and pretended to peruse the picture carefully. "… a black leopard, and I'm sure this is all mostly a formality. None the less, we'll need to hear from you exactly what happened that day." Griselda waved at Severus, inviting him to speak.
Severus nodded to Madame Marchbanks. "A group of us traveled to a pony farm to acquire a suitable mount for Lucius' daughter. After my daughter, umm, obtained one, she wanted to try pony riding as well."
"Yes, we've heard rumors about how your daughter obtained a pony." Zebulon Smith broke in rather aggressively. He was still rather miffed that Rufus' debacle had ended up throwing so much egg on all their faces. He felt that a few weeks in Azkaban for anyone with a Dark Mark was perfectly alright. Of course that was no longer a popular thing to say, so he'd pretended to be horrified at 'everything the poor little Death Eaters had endured.'
Now Snape's daughter was showing signs of early, rather powerful magic. It was likely due to some dark rituals or some such. The little chit was muggleborn from what they'd heard; she shouldn't be so strong at such a young age. The ministry should be looking into that. Some of these muggleborns must be getting added power from somewhere.
Severus' face froze into a look of outrage. He knew the story of 'the book turning into a pony' had circulated a lot further than they had expected. He hadn't expected it to create this sort of problem, at least not yet. There was a certain faction of purebloods – both light and dark, who did not care about muggleborns being around, unless, of course, they had the impertinence to far outstrip their own children in power.
"One must be careful regarding rumors." Severus' voice dripped in ice. "That is how so many of the recent mistakes made by the Ministry got started." Severus' cold, pitiless stare stabbed into Zebulon's now uncertainly fearful eyes.
Griselda banged a small gavel twice and glared at Zebulon. "We're here regarding a simple animagus transformation, Smith, we will not be dragging anything else into it. Miss Elizabeth's adventures are none of our concern." Griselda quelled what was left of Zebulon's rebellion easily.
Pius huffed under his breath. He'd hoped to hear more about the girl's magic. Even small bits of information about the Snapes or Malfoys got him smiles of approval from Voldemort.
Severus nodded to Griselda again and continued. "There were more ponies at that farm than I even knew existed." The Wizengamot and audience chuckled in relief to have things back on track and traveling down a happier path. "Lucius, Harry, Dudley, Sirius Black and I very quickly tired of looking them all over and decided to go for a little hike. We were perhaps unwise to decide to practice the exercises for transforming, but we thought we were quite far from any muggles and the mist was quite thick."
Severus eyed the audience, wondering whether to play up the danger he'd been in or brush it off. The newspapers had been rather hysterical in their reprinting numerous accounts of past animagus' that had been shot and even killed by muggles, who seemed to blaze away at everything. Even the new gun laws didn't seem to diminish the danger all that much; there were plenty of other ways for muggles to kill animals and animagus'.
"I was really rather surprised to change, and I got rather carried away trying out the new form." Severus cleared his throat, and took a breath. "Then a few bullets from muggle guns nearly hit me."
There were some gasps from the audience. The newspapers had explained guns to the readers, many of whom did not really know what firearms were. Some weren't sure if they should believe such weapons existed. To hear Professor Snape say guns had been used against him and then to have the Wizengamot nodding in acknowledgement that the guns did exist was a bit of a bombshell to some of them.
The rest of the adventure was told and the audience of reporters, Aurors and other miscreants waiting their turn to explain their misdeeds to the Wizengamot even gave him a round of applause at the end.
Griselda banged the gavel a couple times, though not angrily. This had been a grand story, well told, to entertain the wizarding world and give a salutary warning to animagus', she felt. She wished that all the hearings scheduled for that day were to be this entertaining and useful. She eyed the other wizards who were twitching nervously while in ministry custody.
"Well, the standard fine for transforming where a muggle can see you is 10 galleons and I think that is fair …" She looked around as all the other members of the Wizengamot nodded in agreement.
"However, ..." She continued, just as Severus had relaxed. "You are, or were, a Professor who Hogwarts students have looked up to in the past and may attempt to emulate in your 'animagus adventure'." Griselda had initially been resistant to Albus' 'little suggestion', but now felt perhaps he was right. "I think a bit of public service is in order. I believe having you assist Professor McGonagall in her Animagus workshops would be of use to the students you should still be providing an example to?"
Griselda smiled archly at the now fuming wizard. Severus wasn't fuming over the workshops he'd just been volunteered for, and he did know who to thank for that and it wasn't Griselda. He only had to slide his eyes over to the beaming Headmaster to know Albus was meddling again.
No, he just resented being told he had to set a good example when he was no longer a Professor. Merlin knew he'd not been that good an example even while a Professor. If anyone called him a 'good example' or 'a pillar of the community' he'd likely gag in revulsion.
However, being called a bad example for romping around as an animagus and getting caught at it by muggles made him feel like he'd perhaps been acting too much like Sirius Black. Perhaps he'd been channeling James Potter's spirit or something. Merlin knew he should have been Slytherin enough to not get caught by a pack of hounds and muggles.
Yes, this was mostly Sirius' fault, Severus decided. Severus glared at Sirius briefly, confusing him, and then turned back to Griselda with a resigned smile. "Of course if that is the Wizengamot's wish, it will be done." Severus bowed slightly and vowed to make Albus wish he'd not made his little 'suggestion'. He'd be picking Black's brain for pranks to 'suggest' to the twins and every disreputable Gryffindor he could find during the workshops, not to mention the things he'd be sending to Harry and Draco.
Severus left the courtroom and waved the puzzled Black over and hissed his request to the now beaming marauder.
Harry frowned and rubbed at his scar, glancing up through his lashes at Umbridge. She'd gotten progressively more irritating with each 'lesson'. The Defense book was not the best, and Dolores had steadily moved away from any practical exercises.
She'd been quite sneaky, passing out the books and doing a lengthy lecture on the importance of 'a strong basis in theory' and assigned a complicated essay to thoroughly describe an obscure 'tri-volong' shield and its uses. She'd wanted it compared to other shields along with an in depth analysis of the wand movements and the theory behind the charm's development and why the shield repelled the curses it was used against.
The next lesson she let them practice the new shield charm. Unfortunately no one, not even Hermione could get the shield right. They were then treated to a very long critique on how bad their basic training had been.
Of course she was partly right. There had been new teachers every year and many of them had been less than competent, as Umbridge was pointing out.
"We need to review the basics, and get a very good grounding in theory." She said with a beaming smile, which Harry had thought rather suspicious. "Wands away and we will start with impedimenta." They were now reviewing first year spells in excruciating detail, and it would likely take all month to get through them. Then, she had promised, they would start on second year spells.
She did let them demonstrate the first year spells, but that was deadly dull. Except when Seamus cast some of them he did manage to set a few things on fire. To their delight one of those things was Dolores' bright pink cardigan. Unfortunately she was not in it at the time.
Hermione was flummoxed. She was always disposed to think the best of Professors, though with Umbridge's past attempts to snatch Harry away from Snape she was less sure of Dolores. Hermione could not deny that their Defense teachers had been less than adequate most of the time and knowing basic theory was very important. Still, how was this going to get them through their OWLs?
Now in their third week they were in the library with Draco reading a letter from his father with an increasingly annoyed look.
"That stupid b – um witch. She thought we wouldn't look further into that first spell she assigned - the 'tri-volong'. I asked dad about it and he'd only ever heard the name, never heard the spell actually be used by anyone but couldn't remember if he knew why." Draco sneered and then continued.
"Hugo told dad that it was developed for the Auror department and if you do manage to cast it, it works for any fire curse except fiendfyre and most blasting curses, which should have made it one of the most valuable shields ever created. Problem is, it is almost impossible to cast. The wand movement is intricate and you can't be off on any of the moves by so much as a millimeter. So it is useless in a fight where you can't necessarily be exact even if you manage to master the spell in the first place." Draco scowled even more, as did the others. They had worked hard to try to do that spell and it had hit their pride hard that they hadn't managed even a weak form of the shield.
"Dad asked Uncle Sev about the spell. He said that they finally abandoned it, though spellcrafters look it over quite often to see if it can be simplified or modified." Draco slammed the letter down on the table and crossed his arms with a pout.
Harry was simmering with anger as well. He found he was angry a lot since coming back to school. He thought it was because his dad was not here this year and the pink toad, Umbridge was. At least his anger always flared up when she was around. His eyes narrowed and his lips twisted in a sneer. Speak of the devil … she was coming down the library aisle, smiling with that artificial sweetness.
He rubbed at his scar absently and twisted his neck and shoulders to pop them. He seemed to have a lot of tension there these days. Dudley always frowned and told him to stop, that the move looked weird and if things were that bad, to take a calming draught. Harry had taken to snapping 'sod off' at Dudley and his cousin was now avoiding him.
Harry scowled at Umbridge, yes this was her fault. He wanted to apologize to Dudley, but why should he when it was the toad's fault?
Sirius bounced into the owl post office with an arm load of packages, followed by a faintly horrified Remus who was carrying even more packages.
Sirius felt that Severus was completely brilliant with this idea for getting back at Albus by sending off jokes for the students and ideas for pranks, Sirius thought. Remus had been press-ganged into helping as Sirius couldn't possibly carry all the boxes, and they would need dozens of owls to send them all, so off to the owl post office they went.
Remus sighed. He'd moved back to the Were-houses with a sense of relief weeks ago. He'd missed his quiet apartment and not even Lockhart's constant requests for help in editing the final draft of his new book on life with werewolves bothered him. It was certainly a bit unreal to have Severus encouraging pranking, though it gave Sirius something else to do, as tracking down Mundungus was not going well.
Speaking of Mundungus … "Sirius, do you recall Twillton?" Remus asked.
"Yeah, the little sneak is a fence. We asked him about Mundungus, remember?" Sirius answered while attaching a shrunk-down box to a tawny owl going to Mafalda Prewett and her brother.
"He's over there sending off some things at the far table." Remus whispered.
"So?" Sirius returned impatiently, picking up a thick scroll to send to the twins. It was full of the best pranks they'd ever used on Severus and his old Slytherin buddies.
"I can smell a trace of Mundungus on him. I'm sure he saw him recently." Sirius swung around and fixed Twillton with a glare. Dung's ability to avoid detection had irritated Sirius and won a bit of reluctant admiration from Sirius for his skill in dodging his pursuers.
They sent off the rest of the parcels quickly, while keeping an eye on Twillton and then followed him at a distance. Twillton finally went down an alley and into a dingy townhouse off Knockturn Alley.
"You're lucky the full moon is tomorrow or my nose would not have been sensitive enough to pick out the scents." Remus muttered while they shot scans over the townhouse.
Twillton wasn't alone, but there were only two others. Those were excellent odds as far as Sirius was concerned. He grinned and nodded, shouting a bombarda at the door. They moved quickly into the house, and found the three at the kitchen table hovering over a pile of noxious looking plant parts. They were definitely parts of a highly illegal Cayman Mandrake.
The plant was useful for nothing but poisons and was one of the most highly regulated plants around. They had been wiped out in the wild to prevent them from causing mass madness in the muggle population. There had been a few private collections that had a specimen and had either hidden them or insisted they had already disposed of them when the various ministries started outlawing private holding of the plant. None the less pieces of the plants showed up to cause chaos in the potions world now and then.
Spellfire and shouting ensued, though Twillton scrambled for the back door quickly. Remus raced after him while Sirius dueled with the others. Sirius took a few curses but the two wizards were not very talented and were more intent on leaving with the goods. Greed made them careless and Sirius had them tied up and wandless soon enough. The fireplace was on the floo and he called for Aurors. The Cayman Mandrake parts being there on the table explained the situation and all Sirius had to do was say his friend the werewolf had smelled the plant instead of mentioning their true prey, who had been Twillton.
Sirius left and popped into his Grim form, following Remus and Twillton by scent, feeling it would be quicker than asking the unhelpful inhabitants of Knockturn which way they had gone.
He found Twillton cornered by Remus, who had disarmed the wizard and was growling rather convincingly at him.
"Well, well, well." Sirius beamed happily at Twillton. "I am so very glad we happened into each other, we've wanted to catch up on things with a mutual friend of ours. You do remember Mundungus Fletcher, don't you?"
"I told ya' when you asked me before. I 'aven't seen 'im." Twillton sputtered nervously.
Remus snarled again. "A lie? And not even a good one." His eyes burned an angry yellow. "I smell him all over you."
Twillton withered on the spot and told them Mundungus was hiding out in an old, abandoned tunnel that had a part of the underground rail system.
Remus and Sirius dragged Twillton with them, back to Knockturn Alley and he was turned over to the Aurors. The pair then went to find Mundungus. Remus had no difficulty 'sniffing out' his lair, and they waited rather impatiently for him to return.
Mundungus finally showed up, a bit inebriated and attempting to sing a Celestina Warbeck song. He was fumbling around trying to remember the second verse of 'My Hot Howling Hufflepuff' when he caught sight of Sirius and Remus. They had him disarmed and wrapped in magical ropes before he could decide whether to run or apparate.
Sirius dragged him into Grimmauld Place and smirked at his prisoner a bit darkly, attempting to mimic Snape's best look of intimidation. Remus indulged in a bit more growling, as Mooney seemed to enjoy it.
Kreacher, though, did the best job. He begged and pleaded, "Please kind master, indulge poor faithful Kreacher and let him question the traitorous thief with all my old Mistresses favorite methods, Kreacher promises he remembers the best ones …"
Mundungus paled and Remus noticed a damp spot on the front of the thief's trousers. He begged to be given the chance to restore anything he'd taken.
"You took a necklace, a locket, which Kreacher was guarding. I want it back." Sirius said, watching Mundungus carefully. He'd been told that the necklace had been used in a dark ritual by Voldemort. He wasn't sure why it was so very important. Albus was emphatic that it be recovered though Sirius was not feeling all that charitable toward his old Headmaster. More importantly, Snape and Malfoy were clearly desperate to get their hands on it.
Even a rather dense Gryffindor like Sirius knew leverage when he saw it. Remus already had an invite to Dragonsrest for Christmas. Sirius planned to spend a large chunk of Christmas vacation with Harry and Beth (and therefore, Tori, Draco and Dudley), whether Snape and Malfoy like it or not.
Mundungus tried to make sense of the request. The locket had been an old one, all heavy gold with poorly cut emeralds. Still, Black wanted it back. But that was going to be difficult, as that ministry witch now had it. Why was Black so insistent that he get it back? He looked at Black shrewdly.
Sirius caught the look and hoped to head off questions he had no answers for. "The necklace belonged to Regulus …" Sirius barked at the thief, leaning in aggressively, acting every inch an angry brother wanting his late sibling's belongings returned.
Mundungus shrunk back down. So Black wanted for sentimental reasons, not because of real value, then. "The necklace? Well, see this lady from the ministry decided she wanted it and took it. Couldn't very well say no to her, you know?"
"Who?" Remus snapped, getting a good snarl into his voice.
Mundungus hunched down further. "That wretch that always wears pink … the one that helped out Rufus, and now she works for Pius Thicknesse." He answered sullenly, hoping it would be enough.
Sirius and Remus caught each other's gaze. Umbridge? She was at Hogwarts, tormenting students at the moment.
Severus relaxed back into his favorite chair. Soft and comfortable, it was one that less than a decade ago he would have shunned as being too self-indulgent. At that time he would have felt he did not deserve such comfort, he mused.
He glanced at the fireplace across the room. It now had three pictures above it. There was a beautiful enlargement of the picture Harry had taken of the black leopard, moving in the mist through the flowering bushes. It was now in the center, directly above the fireplace.
Severus had hesitated to move Harry's picture as the Osprey, but he and Tom had insisted they wanted their pictures to flank his. Tom's picture was of him in his Hebredian Black form, lounging rather casually with Beth, Rosmerta and Dora sitting on one of his forelegs.
The Potions Master sighed and glanced at the letters in his hand. Letters from Minerva, Albus, Dudley and Draco over the last few weeks all carried uneasy messages about Harry's increasingly hair-trigger temper. Harry had always had a temper, but it had not been easily provoked unless someone or something he cared about was in danger.
Now, he seemed on edge much of the time and his angry responses to any provocation were becoming more aggressive. Dudley and Draco know there was a problem, but not what, of course. Minerva knew nothing about the Horcrux and was alarmed at this sudden problem with Harry.
Albus, of course, spent most of his letter sending broad hints regarding the need to either rid Harry of the Horcrux or prepare for Harry's inevitable death.
The only thing he was grateful for with these letters was that they sparked a renewed vigor in his Potions research. Lin DaWei and Andromeda assisted him in his research on the potion from China. Now that they had the Flaming Chinese Lantern plant they could start work. They had been translating the formula from Chinese to English while waiting for the plant to arrive, but the centuries between its last use and now made translating the formula difficult for even Lin.
Severus was now especially glad he had the time he needed to ensure the potion was one that would work.
The floo flared, interrupting his thoughts. He sighed, it was Black. He smothered his immediate feeling of annoyance. Both Black and Lupin had proven themselves to be serious allies that could be trusted, if only because they wanted Harry to be happy, so keeping all the inhabitants of Dragonsrest alive and well was in their best interest.
He let Black in, followed closely by Remus. Black was bouncing in eager excitement and Remus had a rather smug look of triumph on his face.
"We did it, Severus." Sirius thumped the Potions Master on the arm companionably, completely missing Severus' look of outrage. Sirius pranced over to the sideboard and helped himself to a frosty bottle of butterbeer.
Severus quickly forgot about Sirius' overly familiar actions when Remus continued. "We tracked down a friend of Mundungus, and then Mundungus himself."
"You have the locket?" Severus breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Black shot down that notion. "No, but we know where it is." Black grimaced in distaste. "That flamingo colored frog that Thicknesse foisted off on Dumbledore. Umbridge, she confiscated the locket from Fletcher and now she's at Hogwarts. She likely has it with her."
Severus froze and his mind began making connects that horrified him. Umbridge had the locket; she's at Hogwarts, Harry's increasingly uncertain temper. These were likely all connected and he did not like it. He couldn't just rush over and cause a ruckus. Albus was already wary of Harry's obvious difficulties and Albus might decide to take the locket and destroy it himself.
No, he would have to be subtle. He eyes Remus and Sirius. Willing henchmen they might be but Sirius at least could not even spell subtle let alone behave in a restrained manner.
Remus, though, might be of use. Severus gifted Lupin with an almost warm smile, making the werewolf blanch in dread. This could not possibly be good.
A/N – still working hard on this.