Sorry about the short chapter, but I feel like crap and just don't have the energy to spare.

There is a poll up on my profile for what story you, my wonderful readers, would like me to work on when this is over. Considering that almost 5,000 of you have this story favorited, let alone all of you who follow it or read it off the filtered list, I expect to have several hundred new votes soon.

Disclaimer: Were Shacklebolt and Tonks able to hide their dual allegiance from their coworkers, all of whom were professional investigators? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whoever else she sold the rights to.

Chapter 42
Facing the Fox

"Do you think we tripped a silent alarm?" Hermione questioned.

"Could be that, could be Voldemort's making his play earlier than last time." Thinking quickly, he pointed to the thin forest flanking them and ordered, "Disillusion yourselves and get behind some trees. If this is an enemy and you have a clean shot, take it."

The girls nodded and disappeared into the shadows. Summoning a rock to his hand and quickly charming it, Harry waited to greet their unexpected guests.

Amelia appeared with a soft crack in the middle of the cobblestone road, and the sound echoed around her as the rest of her retinue arrived. She glanced up and sighed at the sight of the emerald skull and snake glittering evilly in the night sky. "I was hoping they just panicked," she whispered to herself.

Not five minutes earlier, the next shift of Azkaban guards had barged into her office, gibbering in terror about the Dark Mark floating above the prison. Though she had finally managed to calm them down somewhat, she was not looking forward to her new duty. This was the second time in less than six months that Voldemort's Mark had been sighted, and the previous instance had been bad enough.

Diagon Alley in the dead of night was one thing. Azkaban, where the worst of the worst were housed… That was quite another.

"Should we call in the rest of the Department, ma'am?" Shacklebolt asked, his deep voice soft at the implication of the Mark appearing here.

She shook her head sadly. "I doubt it would make any difference; whoever cast this is probably long gone. Tonks, Dawlish, take point. Let's get to the island and get the casualty figures."

"You heard the boss, Johnny boy," the metamorph chirped, grabbing the older wizard's shoulder and shoving him ahead of her. "Meat shields go in front."

"Take your hands off me! I've been doing this job since before you even had a wand!"

"True," Tonks allowed, her wide grin gleaming in the light from their collective wands. "But I'm not the one who cursed his own bollocks off. Get walking, Junior Auror."

Dawlish grumbled bitterly but did as his new superior commanded, and despite the current circumstances Amelia was hard-pressed not to smirk. She had not been pleased with the man the previous summer; he had served on Fudge's security team for the past few years and apparently forgot just whose orders he was supposed to obey. The Minister could not assign tasks to his bodyguards outside of those directly related to his protection, and attacking an underage wizard as Dawlish had young Harry Potter most certainly did not qualify.

Unfortunately, she did not have the manpower to justify firing the man as she wanted to, so she instead had to get a bit… creative with her punishment. John Dawlish had been a Senior Auror with almost twenty years of experience in the department; as a result of his incredible lapse in judgement, all recognition of his service in that time period had been stricken from his records. Officially he was the same as any new recruit, and to further tweak his nose, she had been placing him under Tonks's authority when possible. She was well aware of how he had treated the peppy witch during her final year of training and even her first year as a official Auror, so if the metamorph abused her new power just a little, Amelia was willing to look the other way.

No, his stunt that summer had not impressed her one little bit.

Everard Proudfoot, the fourth and final member of her entourage, frowned and lifted his lit wand higher. "Who's that?"

Amelia peered into the gloom and, now that she was actively searching, noticed the still figure standing farther down the road. "I don't know," she muttered. In a louder voice, she announced, "This is the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Identify yourself."

"That would defeat the purpose of wearing a mask, wouldn't it?" came the response. She could not help but shiver slightly; this person's words were flat with a metallic ring to them, nothing like what a human should sound like. "You can come closer. Don't worry, I'm not going to bite."

The five Aurors approached, their Lumos charms turning to illuminate the unexpected individual. He or she was covered in some black material, but unlike a proper robe, this outfit was wrapped tightly around the person's body. A hood covered the head, and from under that hood protruded something that gleamed red, as if it had been dipped in fresh blood. Another few steps showed it to be the snout of a wicked-looking fox mask, black lips pulled back in a strange combination of a smirk and a sneer.

It was a very recognizable guise.

We finally have the chance to meet face-to-face, she thought with no little satisfaction. This was the man they had been pursuing for months now, the same wizard who had been breaking into the homes of Death Eaters and their sympathizers and walking out with basically everything of value contained within. "Mr. Fox."

The fox mask tilted slightly before the master thief nodded. "That is as good a name to call me as any, I suppose. Don't worry about telling me who you are; the illustrious Amelia Bones, head of the DMLE, needs no introduction."

A thin, humorless smile formed on her lips. He knew who she was, could see that he was outnumbered, but his body language was the epitome of relaxed. He was supremely self-confident, but she already knew that. Not just anyone would raid the Death Eaters. Still, to find him here, of all places, and under these circumstance? "Do I have you to thank for the fireworks?"

"Perhaps. Perhaps not."

Shacklebolt rumbled, "I thought you were working against the Death Eaters."

"Well, I'm certainly not working with them."

"Yet you use their Mark."

"Only for tonight," Mr. Fox replied with a metallic chuckle. "A message to their master, you could say. If he's going to call his followers 'Death Eaters', he has only himself to blame should they take that name literally. Quite a few monsters ate death this night."

"You believe Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter, then?" Tonks questioned. "You think they're telling the truth about You-Know-Who returning?"

"I do," he answered. "They placed their reputations and credibility on the line when they made that claim, and what reason would they have to lie? There is little to gain and much to lose should their words prove to be anything but the truth."

Amelia pushed that opinion to the back of her mind where she could examine it in closer detail at her leisure and asked, nearly demanded, "And the guards? Did you murder them, too?"

The fox head shook in the negative, granting her more comfort than she would ever let him know. "Your men are all safe and sound, simply stunned in the warden's office. And I do not care for you accusing me of murder; what I have done is more properly termed 'execution'. That is a very important distinction."

"Like with MacNair?"

"Like with MacNair," he agreed. "There is naught to do with rabid dogs but to put them down, the quicker the better for everyone involved. That way they can't hurt anyone else."

Can't argue with that. MacNair certainly deserved what this wizard gave him. Still, there was one major topic that needed to be addressed. "But how can you be so sure that the dog is rabid? Not everything is exactly as it appears; if you put down every dog you think is sick, you risk killing one that was merely abused."

He was silent for several moments at that, and Amelia mentally crossed her fingers in hope. She was in complete support of his overall goal; making sure the wicked were brought to justice was the purpose of her own job, and while she had issues with the way he went about it, the fact remained that his intentions were laudable. If she could get him to realize that they were on the same side, that working together and sharing information was in both their best interests…

"You would ask me to trust the Wizengamot to make sure they pay, then?" he asked softly. "The same body that many of these people, or members of their Houses, serve on and that they have friends in? You tried that once before, and look where we are now. Rapists and murderers control the government, directly or indirectly, and your laws are seemingly powerless to hold them accountable for their actions." Mr. Fox snorted disparagingly. "Fourteen years, I watched and waited. You. Did. Nothing.

"My actions, on the other hand, have yielded actual results. In six months I have ripped away the financial support of a full half of the 'Imperiused' Death Eaters and their sympathizers. Corrupt nobles are reduced to paupers; no longer do they have the means to push forward their agenda of oppression or to fund more direct means of changing magical society into their vision of a Pureblood utopia. Why give up a method I know to work for one that clearly does not?"

"Because your way doesn't prove anything," she shot back. "That's the problem. I know you think you're doing the right thing, but your actions are also painting a target on your back. If you act outside the law, it can't protect you when something bad happens. We, on the other hand, can go after these people in a way they can't as easily defend themselves against. All I need is to know who these people are and how you found out that they are guilty. Give me some time to verify your findings, and I'd have my Aurors bringing them down. Merlin, I'd be leading the charge myself, but I can't do that unless you help me."

He paused to deliberate for nearly half a minute before sighing and shaking his head. "I'm afraid I can't tell you any of that."

Of course you can't, Amelia mentally groaned. How could I forget? He might be an honorable thief, one who cares more about his revenge than the gold, but he's still a thief nonetheless. She offered, "I'd think a manor where the inhabitants had been arrested just that day would be far easier to strip to the foundation than one where you have to break down the defenses and worry about the owners coming home early. It isn't like I need to leave anyone to guard an empty house."

"It's not about the money!" Mr. Fox snapped, shocking her more with his vehemence than the words themselves. "I can't tell you how I know. My sources only agreed to talk to me on the condition that no one else found out their identities, and trust me, they will know if I violate the terms of our agreement."

So he's working at someone else's behest? Or did he wait till now because he had the tools but didn't know where to use them? "So you can't tell me, but I can't let you go on doing this unless you tell me." She sighed. "I guess we're at an impasse, then, aren't we?"

"Unfortunately, it looks like we are."

The four Aurors behind her began drifting to the sides, and the thief pulled his right arm from behind his back to reveal a drawn wand, tip already glowing with the dull grey light of a bone-exploding curse. Amelia whipped out her own wand and got ready to move; that spell was not exactly dark, but it was definitely borderline, and it also had the nasty trait of bypassing most shield charms. Aggressive magic with the sheer strength breaking down series of wards on his lonesome required was a bad combination, even with him being outnumbered. Did his skills extend to dueling as well as thievery?

"At the moment, we might not be allies, but we aren't enemies, either. I'd like to keep it that way if at all possible."

Thank Merlin for small mercies. She lowered her wand. "Stand down, all of you."

"But Madam Bones—"

"That's an order, Dawlish."

Her four subordinates moved in front of her but shifted their aims to the sky, and Mr. Fox in turn moved his own focus back out of sight. "Thank you." She started with surprise, so he elaborated, "Despite this little bit of tension, I am well aware that we – ultimately – have the same general goal. There is no good reason for us to waste our time fighting each other."

"Yet you refuse to help us."

He nodded with another sigh. "If it were up to me, Madam Bones, I would happily tell you everything I know, but it simply isn't."

"Can't you ask your sources to reconsider?" she asked somewhat desperately. If he could give them this information, they could finally clean up the last stains of the War.

"Can't you go through your records and dose all the supposed Imperius victims with Veritaserum?"

"Administering that potion requires Wizengamot approval, and as you yourself pointed out, there's just a tiny conflict of interest there," she growled.

"Ah," the thief muttered to himself. "I can see how that would cause difficulties." He paused another moment. "Yes, I will ask, but I doubt they'll change their mind. They're… stubborn like that."

Amelia pinched the bridge of her nose and nodded in understanding. Of all the issues that could come with handling a criminal with a sense of ethics, this was probably the most troublesome, and to make things even more difficult, she could not really blame him for it. She had been an Auror herself years ago and had had to do her fair share of investigations; it was much, much harder to find people willing to talk if they did not trust her to protect their identities.

"This is all fine and dandy," Proudfoot spoke into the resulting silence, "but some things just don't add up. You mind answering a couple questions for us, son?"

Mr. Fox's metallic chuckle sounded again. "Well, that depends on the question in question, doesn't it?"

"Aye, I guess it would." Amelia had to smile at that; Proudfoot had a talent for coaxing secrets from the unwitting, and while she knew the mystery wizard would be on guard, she was curious how he would handle the Scotsman's gentle interrogation. "How about telling me how you cast the Dark Mark up there? I doubt many people know that spell."

The thief hesitated, causing her to worry that he would pass on this extremely important question, but finally he spoke again. "There are some incantations that have a way of burning themselves into your mind. Crucio." The Aurors barely held back from attacking out of pure reflex at that word, but Mr. Fox did not even seem to notice as he continued, almost to himself, "Imperio. Avada Kedavra. Morsmordre. You hear those words, and you don't forget. You can never forget. Trust me, I know."

Even as her sympathy went out to the man at his soft voice, her grin sharpened. Thank you very much, Mr. Fox. You brought us one step closer to finding out just who it is under that mask. "How many are dead inside Azkaban?"

"The ten worst Death Eaters you had in your 'care'," he answered glibly. "If Sirius Black could escape, who's to say the others couldn't do the same, especially if their master truly is out and about? Besides, explain to me how that bunch didn't deserve to die."

She had no answer to that, and she knew he knew it. Shrugging his shoulders, he nonchalantly asked, "Anything else you desperately need to know, or am I free to take my leave?"

"You really think you're just going to leave?" Dawlish scoffed. "You're outnumbered five to one, and just because we're playing nice right now doesn't mean you can get away after confessing to ten murders."

Mr. Fox looked Dawlish up and down, possibly sizing him up, before turning back to her. "I hope most of your force is more like the other three than this guy. He's not exactly a mental giant."

"You little—"

"Dawlish!" The angry wizard glared at her. "If you aim your wand at him, I'm going to let him do what he wants to you in retaliation. Within reason," she added at the thief's strange laugh.

"Take all the fun out of it, why don't you?" asked the fox-masked man, nearly setting Dawlish off again.

I remember now why I put him on Minister duty in the first place. It was so he would stop causing so much trouble, she thought. "Is there any way we can get in touch with you should we need to set up another little meeting like this? Perhaps we can help each other even if your sources don't agree to sharing their information with us."

"Nice try, Madam Bones, but I wasn't born yesterday. If I need to speak with you, I'll let you know." The thief shook his head amusedly and brought his left hand into view this time, showing them all a small rock he was rolling around in his palm. "Adieu."

Light as bright as the sun flashed from the stone, forcing them all to avert their eyes lest they go blind, and the air rang with the bellows of a hundred angry dragons. After a second or two, the light and noise vanished as quickly as they had come, and Amelia turned a watery gaze to where the wizard had been standing but was no longer. "Damn it!"

"Ow. What in the name of Merlin's soggy socks was that?" Tonks demanded, rubbing her eyes.

"I don't know, but it was extremely effective." A quick human-detecting charm found the clearing to be empty except for the four of them. Swiftly making a decision, she ordered, "Dawlish, you're under Proudfoot for the foreseeable future; both of you continue to Azkaban and double-check that he was telling us the truth. Shacklebolt, Tonks, on me."

She pulled her Ministry badge from her pocket and tapped it. "Portus. Grab hold."

The three spiraled through the air for several moments before landing on their feet in her office. Well, she and Shacklebolt did; Tonks was thrown onto the desk and rolled off that to fall to the tiled floor. "…I hate portkeys."

"I do believe they hate you more. Shack," the African wizard stood at attention, "I need you to go to all the magical schools and get a complete list of students who attended between 1970 and 1985. Focus more on the more recent years; I think our Mr. Fox might be younger than we first thought."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, giving her a salute.

"Oh, and Shack?" she asked sweetly when he was about to exit her office. "Regardless of your membership in Dumbledore's little Order, not a word of this is going to reach his ears, or you'll be wishing you were in Dawlish's place when I get through with you. Understood?"

He slowly turned around to stare warily at her. "You… know about that?"

"I wasn't born yesterday," she echoed with a sharp smile. "I didn't made an issue of it because there haven't been any incidents where your little 'hobby' would interfere with your job, but this stays between the three of us. If you're asked why you need that list, you say that it's on my orders and nothing more."

The second's hesitation that followed nearly cost him everything, but to his good fortune he nodded. "I understand."

"Good." The door closed behind him, and she looked at the remaining Auror. "Much as I'm sure you're going to miss messing around with Dawlish, I need you to go through the Obliviators' records that cover the War. Look for any case where there was a Death Eater raid and the survivors included children aged five to ten years old. Like Shacklebolt, it's probably nearer the end of that time period."

"…I'm not sure I follow," Tonks said slowly. "Why would those records be important?"

Amelia settled herself in her chair and pulled out a quill and the requisition forms the younger witch would need. "How did Mr. Fox say he knew the spell for the Dark Mark? It was 'burned into his head', so strong that he could 'never forget'. That's the biggest clue he gave us. If he's a Muggleborn whose family was murdered in front of him, the Obliviators on site would have tried to erase his memory, thinking he was a regular Muggle. Combine a strong will, a traumatic scenario, and accidental magic…"

"And he could have resisted the spell," the metamorph whispered, her eyes wide in horrified comprehension.

"Exactly. There's also the hint he gave us about waiting and watching for fourteen years. He was probably introduced to the magical world in the last years of the War or just after it, and he would have good reason to keep an eye on just what we were doing in regards to his family's killers. And he's right, we did nothing. Then, when Dumbledore and Potter – who he would understandably consider a hero – claimed that You-Know-Who was back, he decided to take matters into his own hands." Giving the completed forms to Tonks, she added, "Even though this was technically Shacklebolt's case as senior Auror, I'm putting you in charge from here on out. This guy is about your age, so you're more likely to be able to figure out what his next move will be, not to mention you'll have a better chance of making inroads with him the next time we cross paths."

The younger Auror's eyes narrowed as she divined Amelia's true purpose. "You don't want us to catch this guy at all, do you? You want to recruit him."

"Can you blame me? With the ward-breaking skill and the raw power he has at his disposal, along with his sense of justice, he could be doing a lot more for himself and for Britain than breaking into people's houses. We lost most of our ward experts during the War," she added in a quieter voice, "and if he's right about Dumbledore and Potter, we're going to need all the help we can get."

"I'll get right on it, then," Tonks said, flashing her a salute with the hand containing the forms. She then winced. "Ah, one thing, though… In the interest of full disclosure, you should probably know that I'm also a member of the Order of the Phoenix."

"With Moody as your mentor and Shacklebolt as your partner, I'd be surprised if you weren't."

"Oh." The woman waited for a few moments before prompting, "And you're not giving me the same warning as Shack…?"

"I didn't think I needed to, especially since we both remember that you didn't actually pass Stealth and Tracking." Amelia shot her a quick glance before returning her eyes to the parchmentwork in front of her. "I didn't want to throw away your talent then, and I doubt you want to do so yourself now."

"No, ma'am! I'll get right on the search!"

"You do that." The door slammed shut, and Amelia allowed herself a small grin. "Some days, it's great to be the boss."

I know it was a long time ago, but if you go back to chapter 4, Lilith commanded Harry to keep the faeries' involvement a secret. Unfortunately, with that restriction, there's no way he can bring in the DMLE, no matter how tempting their offer is.

Sakura Lisel: Confessing to Hermione was Ron's plan for that summer; he thought there was no way she could say no to such a "heroic" figure as him. That wouldn't have worked anyway, but with Hermione coming from ten years in the future and in a stable relationship with Harry? Yeah, his plan fell apart before it had a chance to begin. Unfortunately, he still thinks he'd be a better boyfriend than Harry…

Silently Watches out.