A/N: Love to reviewers and Countess Black
For those who have just found this, be aware it's a sequel to a dense, very long story called 'Strange and Invisible History'. Please read that before you read this, or at least refrain from sending feedbacks complaining that it makes no sense if you don't.
For the rest of you, thank you for all the wonderful reviews. It brightens my day to hear from everyone.
Also: At one point, being fat was desirable, especially in infants and children. When people call baby Edric fat, they mean he looks healthy and sturdy.
The title is a reference to George Eliot again. Major girl-crush action there.
Finally, my deepest thanks to CB, who as always makes what I do possible via a combination of gentle encouragement and blackmail. Thanks a million, darlin'.
Getting on with it now,
Scabior rose early on that day of days and dressed in his soberist clothing. Kissing his wife goodbye, he donned his boots and set out, out of their little flat and out the doors of the Ministry entirely.
He reflected, hands in his pockets, on the odd ways his life had latterly changed. He had not, especially, wanted to marry Alise so young, but it had seemed foolish to wait another year when the law here permitted such a thing, and anyhow, the girl herself had been more than willing.
He slipped down the twisted, complex allies of Sofia, making sure he was not being followed. It was only just starting to be dawn, and the city was still mostly asleep, which suited his purposes precisely.
Pulling the cowl of his cloak up, he silently counted doorways until he found just the right one. It had been unlocked for him. He slipped inside, making sure to muffle his footprints.
Outside the door, he slipped on a pair of moleskin gloves and then eased the door open. The fellow was sitting at a desk, and Scabior crept up behind him. The man seemed to sense it coming and turned a fraction too late, wand raised.
Scabior's spell immobilised him, and he fell rigid to the floor. Scabior leant over him, and slowly withdrew the knife from his waistcoat. 'Rodolphus Lestrange sends is regards, you son of a bitch.' And then he went to work, and the world was red and hot and smelt of copper.
An hour later, he was sliding back into bed. Alise rolled, turning over and mumbling. Scabior bent closer. 'No, shhh. 'S' a dream, pet, backs t sleep.' She sighed agreement and rolled on her belly. Scabior smoothed a hand down her back gently and closed his own eyes, preparing to sleep the sleep of the just.
It has been said by some that no man might serve two masters. Scabior would have disputed that easily, and with a look of faint annoyance, as though someone had proclaimed the moon to be made of green cheese. He knew it to be possible, because he, Lemuel Scabior, served three.
Firstly, he was sworn to the service of the Lord Protector, and to Flower. No matter how old she got or grand she was, to Scabior, she'd always be the feisty, smart, good-hearted little girl he'd once dragged back to her father for a smacking.
In that interest, he swept the rooms the lord and lady frequented, employed a shifting schedule of wolves as tasters to rule out poisons, made sure security was tight (woe betide the bastard Scabior caught sleeping or drunk on duty!), and generally made sure the family was as safe as he could make them, assisted by the redoubtable Arco and Paavo Kask, who'd proven to have a streak of hard, pragmatic cunning that Scabior liked more with each passing day.
Secondly, he served Britain. As Snape explained it, he could best serve his country by making sure the lad's hands stayed cleaned, and so that's what he did. He took his orders from Lestrange, or Penko Krum, or Snape himself. Flower's Bulgarian never had to know, and Scabior himself made a thousand in gold for every one of them he did. It was, he though, the perfect blend of commerce, patriotism and personal enjoyment.
Thirdly, he served his own wife and the fledgling family he'd started. It would be just the two of them for some time, as Snape had threatened to castrate him with a butter knife should Alise fall pregnant the second before she was eighteen. A funny bloke, Snape, when he kidded.
And he liked having a family. Alise set out his clothes for him, listened to his thoughts and made sure he had what he needed for the day ahead. He wished she were not so quiet-a fellow wanted to know what his wife was thinking.
He would never, of course, have insulted her by investing the money she'd brought to their marriage in a brothel. So that's where his takings from this little enterprise went, and already, he'd nearly doubled the amount of gold in their vault in less than a year. He was not, strictly speaking, a pimp-he simply collected the earnings at the end of every month.
Lemuel Scabior was, in short, a man of the world these days. He had a wife he liked, a huge sum squirreled away against a rainy day, a job he enjoyed, and the company of people he respected. And so, smiling a childlike smile of contentment, he rolled over, snuggling into his wife, and let himself fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.
In England, the source of that morning's order was trimming his beard. The elf finished the last bit and he rose, stroking gently at his face. He'd had a beard since he was old enough to grow one, and it pleased him to look his best.
Rodolphus slid his feet into his slippers and donned his dressing gown. He padded down the corridor, searching his wife's favourite haunts. Finally a noise drew him onto the terrace. Bellatrix was standing in her nightdress, wand flashing as she aimed and then fired at statues on the lawn.
The statues ducked, shouting protests. Rodolphus, used to his wife's peccadilloes, crossed his arms and sighed. 'Bellatrix, really. Again?'
'What?' She spun, glaring petulantly. He had to smile-for all Trixie's bluster, she could be disarmingly childlike sometimes. He stepped closer, giving the statues a chance to scatter, or freeze and hope she didn't notice them.
'I know you don't like being cooped up better than anyone else does, but must the statues suffer your displeasure?'
'They're hideous anyhow.'
'I never said they weren't, but that isn't the point.'
'Don't you take that tone with me! I am not being unreasonable!' She crossed her arms and glowered. Rodolphus snorted, biting his tongue to keep from laughing. He half wanted to rile her more just to see her cheeks flush and her eyes flash.
'Now, darling, don't take on. Is everything all right?'
'No.' Bellatrix looked over the green expanse of lawn and drew in on herself. Rodolphus edged closer and slowly extended a hand to brush her arm. She permitted it, but only just.
'Darling, it's a good thing.'
'Isn't. It's suspicious. Six months he won't permit us to so much as write her without His leave, and now He's invited them here?' She was ignoring the fact it was a planned visit, or had misremembered, but Rodolphus admitted the point stood.
'They do have that snake. I'm sure He wants it very much.'
'I still don't like it. Suppose it's a trap of some kind?'
Rodolphus had had that thought himself. He swallowed and nodded. 'We've been lucky so far, haven't we? I suppose we simply hope for the best.'
She was looking at a dove, which had alighted on a branch near them. She toyed with her wand but made no move to attack the creature, who lifted pure white wings and preened a bit.
'They'll be much different, do you think?'
'I should doubt it. It's as though they were away at school, Trixie, nothing more.'
'Is it?' She wrapped her arms about herself, shivering in the damp, slightly chill air. It had been a very cold, foggy Spring. Somewhere Dementors were spawning. Rodolphus felt a cold finger tickle his spine.
'No. I suppose...no.'
She whirled, nightgown flapping, and strode into the house. 'Nothing for it, is there?'
He didn't answer, but followed his wife into their house and hoped for the best. He did that a lot these days.
Seven hours later, dressed in robes and masks, they waited beside Barty for the carriage to touch down. Cunegarde, in a towering wig of hectic and rather terrifying fuchsia, was on the madman's other side, and Rabastan, also robed and masked, was nearby, watching his wife and son intently.
The aurors that were the honour guard to the Lord Protector's carriage came into view, and then the sky was quite dense with them, half Bulgarian and half Britons. The band struck up a welcoming air, and the crowd, which actually was spontaneous this time, started to cheer.
Rodolphus could see, from the corner of his left eye, the Malfoys straightening a little, their haughty bearing disguising what he could sense was a deep eagerness to see their son.
The carriage touched down, and the first out was Anu Tamm, taller now, sun glinting off his well oiled eye patch. He hopped down and after a suitable gesture on Anu's part to the canopy where the dignitaries were standing, he leant up and offered his arm to Hermione.
She had changed, her father saw. Dressed in cream coloured robes of silk, hair styled modishly, she might have passed for any young, prosperous British witch had it not been for the huge sapphire that hung in the hollow of her throat, set with diamonds that matched the ones in her hairnet, or else the sash she wore, heavy with orders that shone and winked in the sun.
Next to her, Draco looked very tall now, his uncle noticed; he was almost exactly the same height as Viktor, and bore himself like a man. The real surprise was Viktor, and it to him Rodolphus found himself returning.
His son in law would never be a handsome man in the way Draco was, or Rodolphus himself, but he had grown into his face a bit more, and his Roman nose and fierce eyebrows lent him a look of intensity. He stood very straight, his chain of office odd indeed over English style robes. The last time he had arrived here, he had been fifteen and afraid, a child. Now, at seventeen, he was a man, and Rodolphus saw no fear in him. He was proclaiming himself the Dark Lord's equal by his attitude, and Rodolphus was afraid for him, for them, almost as afraid as he was proud.
The Dark Lor d had borrowed Walden Mcnair, and swept forward, bald head shining in the sun. 'Our dear young friends, what a delight it is to see you again.'
The Lord Protector and Vicereine moved forward to meet him. 'My lord, ve surely feel the same.'
Watching Hermione was like going back in time. Her father felt as though he were watching a young Bellatrix, moving with liquid ease, eyes deep and dark and yes, perhaps a bit dangerous as well.
There were others, too. His own mother in the purse of a mouth, Druella Black in the cock of a head, Cygnus or Achilles in a thousand other ways. And some of it was just Hermione, his girl who tried so hard and was so confoundingly, gratifyingly, frighteningly good.
A handful of men from the Department of Magical Creatures were unloading the snake. It was well fed and logy, but still dangerous. Sleek, sinuous, covered in scales of deep green and purple, the thing was ten metres long, with a head as large as a dog. The eyes blinked, filled with a sort of instinctive intelligence, a knowledge of how to maim.
'Our gift to your lordship' said Hermione, startling the group out of the reverie induced by the huge snake. 'A sign of the friendship between our countries.'
'Of course. She is most beautiful. Has she a name?'
'Nagini, your lordship. Legend has it these snakes are the last decedents of that race.'
The Dark Lord moved fearlessly until he was next to the monstrous head. He bent, hissing, Mcnair's face twisting.
The snake raised her head, swaying it lightly as she listened, sometimes hissing back. The Dark Lord extended a hand and the tongue, black as pitch and as long as a man's arm, darted out, passing the flesh of his hand to learn his taste.
'Release her. She will not harm anyone.' The workers did it, and the snake slithered behind the Dark Lord as docile as a lapdog. The Dark Lord walked toward the Lord Protector and Vicereine.
'Perhaps you should like to meet Our new pet?'
Hermione smiled. 'Your lordship, I should like nothing better.' Viktor looked a little pale at the thought, but Hermione stepped forward without apparent reservation, and extended a hand that seemed very, very small next to the snake's maw.
The snake's wet black tongue flicked over her palms, explored her fingers and seemed to make a decision. The head darted closer and the tongue danced across Hermione's cheeks, lightly brushed her hair, and then retracted.
'Nagini likes you, Vicereine. She says you have courage.'
'Thank you, my lord.' She lifted her eyes and looked directly into the Dark Lord's. Rodolphus controlled a flinch; the Dark Lord could hurt her mind, could...do nothing. He wasn't strong enough yet. But that day was getting closer, and it made Rodolphus realise how little time they really had.
Bellatrix apparently felt the same, because, to the amusement of the group, she wasted no time in showing Hermione precisely how she felt about her encounter with Nagini once they were in private.
Which is to say, Bellatrix cornered her daughter, spun her about and swatted her a half dozen times, shrieking the whole while about snakes and what she'd do if Hermione ever did such a dangerous thing again.
'Mother! Ow! Mother!'
'DON'T YOU "MOTHER" ME, GIRL! THAT SNAKE MIGHT HAVE BITTEN OFF YOUR HEAD! AND FURTHERMORE, HOW DARE YOU WORRY YOUR FATHER AND I? AND YOUR AUNT! NARCISSA IS VERY FRAGILE!'
Hermione finally squirmed away and threw her arms about her mother. 'Mother, it's all right! Look, I'm perfectly well. And the snake was very gentle with me, I promise.'
'Gentle? It's a vicious, man eating snake! Boy, tell your wife I'm correct!'
'Herm-on-nee-knee, Mother is vright. It is dangerous to let snake lick your face.'
'I could hardly stop her. And it all turned out well.'
Bellatrix hurrumphed pointedly and subsided a bit, glowering. Rodolphus grinned at her, raising an eyebrow and getting a hissed death threat in return. Hermione, flustered, smoothed her hair. 'Well, what shall we do before dinner?' The whole thing seemed so normal, so blessedly usual that Rodolphus felt his muscles relax for the first time six months. Perhaps, just perhaps, things were finally looking up a bit.
Severus Snape wasn't quite so sure, but he was disturbed by how glad he was to see them. The girl made a beeline for him and he permitted a hug from her. She stepped back, frowning sternly.
'Professor, you're awfully thin. Haven't you been eating?'
'I assure you, madam, I have done my utmost to keep my constitution up.'
She was still looking at him with a sharp, knowing gaze that reminded him of Minerva McGonagall. He glowered straight back and the girl laughed.
'Oh, I've missed you all so much!' And then, gallingly, she hugged him again. He hugged back, feeling that she herself was taller and a bit heavier. Her face had changed subtly. She was nearly grown.
'Your leg is better, isn't it?'
'Healed completely. That salve you sent was most helpful.'
Sose had taught the girl a salve that had, truthfully, helped with the residual aches and pains quite a bit. It relied on several herbs and mosses unknown to Britain, more was the pity, as Snape might have liked to have made some himself. It would, perhaps, have stopped the dog's whinging about his shoulder once he came back to Spinner's End.
'And you've still got our friend at the Ministry?'
The girl's jaw tightened. 'Oh, yes. I spent two hours last night arguing with that idiot of an ambassador.'
The boy overheard and came closer. 'Herm-on-nee-knee put a flea in his ear, Professor. Is that the vright expression?'
'It is.' All three looked round, signalling there would more discussion about Pavel later. The fellow was still a reluctant guest in Bulgaria, though he enjoyed every comfort, including his own set of rooms and access to books in Romanian. Novels only, but a person can't ask for everything.
'I am pleased to hear it. I always encouraged my lady to express herself.'
'That's true.' The girl was still smiling at him with disquieting fondness, and then took the boy's hand for a second. They smiled at one another, finally, and Snape slipped away, leaving them to their private moment.
Not far enough away, as Barty danced up to him. 'Sev! It's like the old days, isn't it, all of us here? And a giant snake as well! Do you suppose His Lordship will let me pet her?'
'No doubt he'd be delighted, Barty.' Barty beamed and moved off, clearly excited by the light and noise of the meeting. Snape sighed, resolving to monitor his mad friend to be sure there was not going to be an incident.
Dinner was to be at ten, so the group went to Grimmauld Place to rest and relax until then. Black was there already, having carefully and thoroughly swept every place possible for devices the Dark Lord could use to spy.
Kreacher had joined in as well, and sent no fewer than three trainee aurors scrambling when he'd caught them trying to insert some sort of experimental listening wire on the rafters. The house was, as best as anyone could tell, clean, and so the group settled in.
Snape had to hand it to Black, the arse never flinched. He went to the landing and had Kreacher pull the dust cloth that from the picture. It had been placed there two years earlier and because no one had thought to send word for him to move it, Kreacher hadn't. Madam Black opened her eyes and fastened her gaze on her son directly.
Thankfully, they had silenced the corridor and given the relevant parties (Tamm and Barty) sleeping draughts , because an instant later, she opened her mouth and screamed shrilly.
'BLOOD TRAITOR! WICKED, THANKLESS SON!'
'KREACHER! EJECT THIS MAN AT ONCE!'
Kreacher bowed low. 'Mistress, Kreacher is thinking Master Sirius is having important things to say.'
'I HAVE LEARNT NOTHING IMPORTANT FROM BLOOD TRAITORS BEFORE THIS, AND I SHAN'T START NOW!'
'How have you been, Mother?'
'SERPENT! LYING CUCKOO IN THE NEST! YOU'RE NO SON OF MINE!'
It them an hour, but once Walburga had screeched herself hoarse (no wondering where darling Bellatrix got it from, was there?), she'd listened to the combined force of Kreacher and Narcissa.
'Hmmph' sniffed the woman finally, leaning back in her frame 'I suppose, if that's true-IF, Sirius Orion, I might be persuaded to forgive you.'
'You are too kind, Mother, really.'
'And to my detriment, might I add. Now, where are my great nephews and niece? I wish to see them.'
After the introductions were finished, the dog tried again. 'Mother?'
'Sirius, have Kreacher cut your hair. It's altogether too shaggy. Lucius has long hair, and do you see how nice he looks?'
'He hasn't got this curly mat on his head, Mother.'
'He puts forth proper effort. And has a valet. Why haven't you got a valet? People will talk.'
'No one knows I'm alive aside from the family, Mother.'
'That is hardly the point.'
'Mother, when did you last hear from Reg?'
'Regulus is dead, Sirius.'
'I know. We're trying to figure out what happened.'
'There is nothing to figure out. He is dead, and so am I. Leave the dead to their sleep. Everyone will be happier that way.' Her face was stark with grief, and Snape felt almost sorry for her. Even dead, this was obviously painful for her.
'Regulus deserved better, Mother, and so did Father and yourself. Let me finish this.'
'Mistress' said Kreacher before the woman could say anything else 'Master Sirius is promising to marry when everything is done. Babies for Mistress and Kreacher.'
Walburga snorted. 'Hmm, just like that? And whom, pray tell, will you marry?'
'I'm sure Snape would-'
'SNAPE? SEVERUS SNAPE?'
Snape stepped forward and bowed. 'Madam Black, I hope you'll forgive my-'
'I WILL NOT! SIRIUS COULD DO FAR BETTER THAN A HALFBLOOD!'
Snape fell silent in consternation, and Black, obviously trying not to laugh said 'Mother, it's not like that.'
'IT HAD BEST NOT BE! YOUR COUSIN FOUND A ROSIER! SURELY YOU COULD AT LEAST SEEK OUT A WARRINGTON OR A WILKES! EVEN A JUGSON!'
'Mother, I like women, and so does Snape. He's the one who coordinates things, is all.'
'Oh. Very well, then. You'll find him someone suitable, I hope.'
'Madam, I will find Black the sort of woman he deserves, to be sure.'
She nodded haughtily. 'See you do, then, Halfblood. Sirius, when are you moving back home?'
'Home is Bulgaria now, Mother. I'm needed there.'
'You're needed here! I have been awfully lonely with just Kreacher for company.'
'I'll stop and visit you.'
'And raise your children here.'
'We'll discuss it later, Mother.'
'We'll discuss it right now! And furthermore, why are dressed like that? Where are your robes?'
'They make it harder for me to transform, Mother.'
'Transform into what?'
Black turned into Salazar, and Walburga, sour faced, said nothing as he transformed back.
'A pretty trick, I give you that, but what sort of wizard spends his time as a dog? Your late father, rest his shade, was an accomplished amateur charms-maker by your age.'
'I'm a spy, Mother. I haven't the time.'
'You've loads of time for thinking up excuses, haven't you? Kreacher, burn that jumper. Those bears are positively cavorting on it.'
'It helps me blend into muggle areas, Mother. And they aren't cavorting, they're dancing.'
'It's hideous! And what are you doing in muggle areas, anyhow?'
'Hmmph.' She made a face and then settled back, drawing her fan so she could wave it for emphasis.
'Well, at least you look well. You've been taking care of yourself? Eating properly? You always eat so poorly, Sirius. How many sweets have you had today?'
'Err, two, Mother.'
'You see? Kreacher, make sure my son isn't gorging on sweets. It's all he'd eat if he had his way. And you, Halfblood, have you got a decent cook?'
'I do, madam, thank you.'
She peered at him from his half moon glasses. 'I don't believe it. Kreacher, is the Halfblood lying?'
'Well, make sure they both eat whilst they're here. I won't have anyone saying we set a poor table. And send my nieces to me, I would talk to them.'
That evidentially ended things, and Black seemed quite well pleased as he led them into the kitchen and let Mippy pour the coffee. Snape finally couldn't contain himself.
'That is your mother?'
'According to the family tree, she was.'
'She is quite a...forceful...lady.'
'She could chew the back leg off a dragon and you know it. Still, it went well. She liked you.'
'Liked me?''Very much. Otherwise she would've started shrieking again. And Snape?'
'If you marry me to some vile old bag, I will find a way to sic Kreacher on you full time.'
Snape made one of his weird, grimacing smiles. 'Alecto is single.'
'You are evil.'
He shook his head. 'Not at all. I assume you should like to put off marrying as long as you may?'
'Forever, if possible. I've no urge to marry.'
'Nor I, but no one will shed a tear when the Snape name dies.'
'Oh, I don't know. If I fathered a son and you did the same, they could continue our spats.'
'Yes, because so many women are lined up to wed me, Black. Have you never looked at my face?'
'Not directly, but women like power. And your voice might help.'
'And what, wear a mask?'
'You tried that once and it didn't work so well.'
Snape tried to counter that but found he couldn't, so he threw his napkin at the cur and called it a day.
The house was coming to life all round them. The Snatchers were camped in every corridor, the family was spreading out to unpack and subtly check for obvious bugs and potential issues.
Sirius had given Viktor and Hermione the house, more or less, and everything in it, so Viktor and his wife were exploring the master bedroom, where they had spent a single night two years before.
It had changed not a bit, and so Hermione had asked the elves to turn back the cover and then started to rummage, reminding her husband endearingly of a little magpie.
'Look at this!' She would exclaim excitedly, holding up some trifle, and resolve to ask Aunt Walburga about it. Viktor himself was quite curious, and used the various papers and things as a chance to test his English. Nothing personal, of course-much though Viktor and his wife liked to poke about, they had an unspoken agreement about the privacy of the former occupants.
'Aunt Cunegarde look vell. Very thin, though. Ve are sending for some cheese and milk?'
Viktor had a firm belief that wholesome food, especially milk, could fix most ailments, and a further belief that 'wholesome' specifically meant things grown on the family lands.
Hermione shook her head. 'I've asked Aunt Narcissa, and she says Aunt Cunegarde is really' she switched into Bulgarian 'worrying about all this.'
'I don't blame her. Then ve send for roses?'
'That might help. Aunt does like flowers.'
'Edric is very fat now, yes?'
The baby was big and rosy, giggling constantly. His time away from Aunt Eugenia and Uncle Rab seemed not to have effected him much, but Viktor could see in the way his parents, and Barty, held him that it had effected them deeply.
'He looks very healthy, I thought. Big, now. I'm glad Aunt Sose showed me how to make those little shoes for him. He needs them.'
They had agreed that, since Anu was going to marry Yana, it was inappropriate to call Madam Tamm by her given name.
'Valking soon, Grandmama says.'
Elisaveta seemed happy enough in England, and Edric, he suspected, was most of it. She and Cunegarde had bonded over having an infant to care for, and Viktor sometimes thought that both women would have given up if not for the baby.
'Father says Lestrange babies are always ahead of their peers. Healthy and smart, he says.'
'I believe that.'
He grinned and bent to steal a kiss. Rinky popped in, bowing, and handed over Crookshanks, who blatted indignantly and laid down on his new feather pillow, kneading it into an appropriate shape.
'Bad cat Crookshanks was in kitchen! Eating crust from pie for supper!'
'Crookshanks! Bad cat!'
Crooks rolled impenitently over on his back and squawked for a belly rub.
Kreacher, too, appeared to rant about the 'bad wicked cat' so Viktor, sensing this was something he didn't want to be part of, slipped out. He wandered a bit, until he came on Sirius-Salazar, who was roaming the corridors.
The dog nudged him with his head, and Viktor followed until the two came on Tamm, who was in what was presumably Sirius's old room. There were pictures of nearly nude women on the walls, and Anu was looking at them with wide eyed wonder.
'*V-Viktor! Hello, I mean.*' Anu coloured guiltily, dipping his head a bit. Viktor chuckled and gave him a knowing look. Anu's colour deepened.
'*Are you enjoying England thus far?*'
Anu's voice dropped. He swished a quick Muffiliato and said, very seriously '*Professor says that discretion is the best part of valour.*'
'*He's quite right.*'
'*I'm glad Nene stayed home. That snake makes me nervous.*'
Viktor wondered what Sirius wanted to tell him. He hoped the meeting with the portrait hadn't been too painful for the man. It would, he thought, be an awful thing to have to tell one's mother, that one's brother was long dead, even if it was only a portrait and not the real woman.
'*Anu, are you hungry?*'
Anu nodded promptly. '*Always.*'
'*Go and ask Kreacher to give you something. Dinner's not for a long time.*'
'*Would you like something?*'
'*Not right now. And see if the aunts and uncles need anything, would you?*'
'*I will. Your mother in law is very fierce, isn't she?*'
'*Extremely.*' Anu chuckled at the answer and cheerfully headed for the door to do his assigned tasks, humming to himself.
Sirius changed back. He swept a hand through his hair and grinned lopsidedly at Viktor. 'Well, how are you doing? Have you had a bellyful of politics yet?'
'More than that. You?'
'Not me. All I do is sneak about and roll when Barty asks me.'
Viktor shook his head. 'No. You help us by finding things.'
'And bothering Snape.'
'Is good for him. Not healthy, to be alone all the time.'
'Make sure and tell him that when I'm doing something obnoxious to him.'
'Cousin, are you vell vith this? Being here?' Viktor found the direct approach to be best in these circumstances. He suspected Sirius would as well, and hoped he hadn't offended him somehow.
'No. I hate it here. But it is what it is, and it could be worse. What about you?'
'Me? I am fine. Tired.'
'I would think it was hard to be in this place.'
'Sometimes. She is very close here. My mother, I mean.'
He could feel Zhivka, thought sometimes he heard her footsteps or smelt her perfume. She was almost a physical presence, as though the rooms had trapped her inside themselves, held the last hours of her life within the walls like some sort of grotesque picture show.
'This house has its share of ghosts. Not that I mean...'
'Do you want...dogs are very good listeners, you know.' He indicated the bed and Viktor sat as Sirius transformed and hopped up as well. Viktor wasn't sure his English was up to the task, but he was willing to try.
'My father has not come.'
There, it was said. The dog edged closer and gently poked him with his nose. The warm, comforting weight of a doggy head on his leg, and Viktor closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
'I don't vant to see him, anyvay.'
He kept scratching. 'Vhy has he not come?'
The dog bided, eyes gentle and utterly without judgement. Viktor dropped his head into the dog's ruff and held on for dear life. When he stood, he was the Lord Protector again.
'Thank you. I need that.'
Salazar's tail thumped once, and Sirius-Salazar slipped out, leaving him to his thoughts.