Harry Potter belongs to J K Rowling, the wonderful lady who has inspired so many people to try their hand at writing too. Warhammer 40k belongs to Games Workshop who have a very scary legal team. Please don't sue me, I'm not very well off and could only pay you in pictures. I only mean to pay homage to the wonderful, funny, baroque, gruesomeness that is WH40k.
I should also say a big thank-you to my very patient Beta Jacobus-Minoris who has read and reread my writing, pointed out my grammatical mistakes, questioned the suitability of some of my wilder ideas as well as putting up with my long winded rants about plot ideas.
Well this is the last chapter of this instalment of Carrow's adventures. I hope you all enjoy it, for it has been a real pleasure to write. Thank-you, all of you, for all your support and all your wonderful reviews, your encouragement and questions, the pointing out of grammatical errors that I missed; I appreciated it all.
I've already started plotting out the sequel so expect future adventures of our favourite Inquisitor :-D
For the guest reviewer who enquired about Carrow's status as an Astartes I have put an explanation on my profile page. I hope this clarifies a few things for you.
Enjoy this, the last chapter of Inquisitor Carrow and the Bureaucracy of Failure.
It really was shaping up to be one of those days, Timothy thought, gently massaging his temples in the vain hope that he could stave off the gradually building headache. Some mornings it just wasn't worth getting out of bed, even when encouraged by thirty kilograms of bouncing tiger.
He'd woken that morning with a sore throat and ears still ringing from the nasty run-in he'd had with a nest of banshees the previous day, to the usual bed trampolining of Artemis, and an unusually cheerful Carrow. The large man had actually smiled at him, which had Timothy increasingly worried as to what he'd done now; but as Carrow was typically evasive, all he could do was cautiously watch Carrow all through the three torturous hours of their morning training session.
Now he had to deal with a furious House Keeper. Mrs Thorpe had arrived that morning at seven o'clock sharp, to find half a deer on the Breakfast Room floor in all its stinking bloody glory. Had Artemis managed to slip out in the night for a little extra curricular hunting? Or had Carrow allowed her to bring home her gory prize from their morning run? Rather like a tiger take-away now he came to think about it. Carrow, of course, had feigned surprise at the mess and promptly disappeared, but Timothy didn't believe him for two seconds.
Just to add the cherry on top, Felix, in a way only a ten year old could, had refused to get dressed, declaring that he was perfectly comfortable in his pyjamas, thank-you very much, and that wasn't it a waste of time changing clothes when you only had to change back again at the end of the day, and it would save all the hard work of washing them too which meant he was thinking of others as well...Timothy had left Carrow to it.
So instead he was stuck with soothing the enraged Mrs Thorpe on his own, who had already given him a lengthy lecture on the difficulties of getting deer gore out of antique carpets. Apparently, it stained horribly. Foolishly, he mentioned the cleaning prowess of the house-elves, realising his mistake as soon as the words had left his lips. The guerrilla war between the house-elves and Mrs Thorpe and her army of cleaning ladies had become something similar to the Cold War, but all it needed was a prod in the right place to set it off again. Timothy called himself several kinds of idiot, as he weathered the storm of Mrs Thorpe's militant arguments against magical cleaning. When the irate woman had finally wound down and stormed off, probably to find some poor innocent dust to take her temper out on, Timothy's ears were ringing worse than ever. Could the day get any worse, he thought as he sorted through the post, carefully disposing of the leaflets for Pizza deliveries and Chinese take-aways. There was no point confusing Carrow.
The sound of voices drew Timothy's attention to the stairs. To his relief, Felix came bouncing down, properly dressed in jeans and a polo-shirt, Carrow at his side. The laces of one of his trainers were already trailing, as he chattered about spaceships to his large guardian who answered his myriad questions about life support systems and space walks with an indulgent smile.
"Mrs Thorpe just informed me that breakfast will be served in the Panelled Dining Room this morning," Timothy said as the odd pair descended to the Hall, "on account of Artemis's...little gift."
Carrow grinned slightly. Timothy fumed behind his stony mask; so the blasted man had known all along.
It felt rather odd having breakfast in a different room. The dark and sombre Panelled Dining Room was about as different as it was possible to get from the exuberance of the Breakfast Room. Located in the newer Tudor part of the Lodge, the wooden panelling of the walls was original to the time of its construction. It had probably been painted originally, but that had long been stripped away by an over-eager Victorian Potter who wanted to restore the room to its "original" look. Coupled with the equally dark and heavy furniture and the room's north facing aspect, it had resulted in a gloomy twilight that could be called cosy if you were feeling kind. To compensate the ceiling had been painted white. It really didn't help much. Carrow had done surprisingly little in here, other than having all the wood polished to a silken sheen and the addition of a dozen Dutch genre paintings. It was the sort of room best appreciated by fire-light on a dark and chilly winter's afternoon.
Timothy listlessly picked at his toast, idly listening in on Felix's chatter. The young man had come surprisingly far in a short space of time. He'd been unnaturally quiet and pliant at first; it had been rather worrying, but as he'd come to trust them, he'd slowly opened up, though it had not been plain sailing. Felix desperately needed the companionship of other children and also some proper tuition...Timothy did what he could, giving the young lad a couple of hours of his time every day, encouraging him to ask questions and to read everything he could get his hands on. Felix seemed to be enjoying it, but still, he really needed something more formal. He'd tried broaching the subject with Carrow, but his only response was on the lines of "leave it to me" which wasn't very reassuring.
He flinched as Felix let out a particularly piercing shriek of laughter as Carrow told him a funny story involving a toilet on a mining station he'd had the misfortune to visit once.
Timothy shuddered slightly. The sound was close enough to remind him strongly of the little nest of Banshees he'd had to deal with only yesterday...alone.
He'd initially assumed Carrow would deal with this personally when the call came in from Madam Bones, but no, apparently he'd now reached some special level competency in Carrow's twisted mind, and so was sent off to deal with this threat to Wizarding Britain on his own.
An hour later had found him at the edge of a mixed Magical-Muggle village in a very damp and miserable Cornwall, carefully easing his way towards a small abandoned cottage. A small family of Banshees had taken up residence and were running what amounted to a protection racket among the local Wizarding population on the lines of pay us to go away and we won't wail outside your door. There had already been a couple of suspicious deaths before the Aurors were called in.
The Aurors had politely asked the Banshees to come quietly. The Banshees had refused. The Aurors had gone in wand blazing. The Banshees had defended their patch with extreme prejudice, both magically and physically, managing to injure one Auror rather badly with a machete, and put several others in St Mungo's with various injuries. The Aurors had made a tactical retreat to lick their wounds...and call in the big guns.
Which was why Timothy was now crouching in a bush, water dripping rhythmically on the dpm basha that he'd been experimenting with. He'd been trying to make the fabric change to reflect its environment, but so far he'd ended up with something that behaved more like a khaki coloured lava lamp. It was a start of sorts.
Looking through his rune enhanced goggles he could see the crude but effective wards the Banshee trio had thrown up around the walls and roof of their bolt-hole. They had paid particular attention to the doors and windows, but typically of Magicals they'd forgotten the obvious. The chimney was untouched. Maybe they'd assumed that a nice roaring fire would deter entry. A quick first year level aguamenti would disabuse them of that, followed by...he bared his teeth in a parody of a smile as he checked his equipment over one last time. Tucked away in one of his belt pouches, he had a teargas grenade he had especially brought with him just in case, his theory being that the irritant aspects of the muggle anti-personnel device would be sufficient to severely curtail the banshee's inherent abilities. One of these dropped down the chimney...
It still meant he was going to have to enter via the flue. Merlin, the things he got himself into. He was also going to have to get onto the roof without alerting the occupants to his presence.
Sighing softly, he crept closer.
He eased himself onto the roof, gritting his teeth. That had not been the hardest climb of his life, but it had definitely been the most fraught. The stones that made up the exterior of the chimney were slick with moisture and often loose due to the general poor maintenance of the building. Only the liberal use of sticking charms had saved Timothy from a rather embarrassing tumble and certain injury. Now crouched next to the chimney, he was shocked to find that not only was there no fire of any kind, but that they hadn't put any kind of protection in place at all. His Carrow honed paranoia kicked in; was this deliberate? Were they attempting to funnel him into a tight space, where they would then proceed to put him out of their agony? Or were they really that stupid?
Gas mask firmly in place, he pulled the pin from the grenade; he was too far into his plan to back out now so full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes as his father liked to say. He dropped the grenade down the flue, the canister clattering when it hit the grate and bounced out in to the room beyond. Timothy followed it carefully, swearing, coughing and choking drifting up to him as he climbed down.
Soot smeared from head to foot, he entered the main room of the cottage, the banshees choking and gasping, tears pouring down their cheeks as they scrambled around blindly in shock, trying to get as far from the source of the discomfort as they could.
"Aurors! Drop your wands and lie face down on the floor!" he bellowed at the suffering trio, his voice slightly muffled by the gas-mask. Too incapacitated to do anything else, they readily complied.
Well, that had been comparatively simple, he thought, breathing a small sigh of relief as he gathered up the discarded wands. Opening the door, he had signalled to the Auror team.
Looking back, it had been too simple. Timothy listlessly tore his toast into pieces, Felix loudly discussing Moon settlements in the background. Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised at what happened next.
The Aurors, forewarned, had entered the cottage, bubble-head charms in place, the teargas beginning to clear once the canister was vanished. Seeing an opportunity in the distraction of the law enforcer, one of the banshees seized his chance. Rising from his prone position, pulling a knife from under his robes he lunged towards Timothy, screaming. The teargas had done its work; the banshee's scream was a shadow of its usual self, non-lethal but still potentially incapacitating as several of the Aurors found, blood trickling from their ears.
The first strike of the knife skittered off Timothy's bracer as he instinctually put his arm up to protect his face. Kicking his attacker away, he drew his pistol. "Drop the knife and put your hands up, or I shoot," he snarled at his attacker, but the banshee was beyond reasoning.
"You filthy bone-stealing butcher," he screamed, lunging forward again, stabbing with his knife, "murderer!"
The crack of the Browning sounded enormous in the confined space of the cottage. The banshee stared at him in sudden confused surprise, as a red hole appeared in the middle of his forehead, before slumping to the floor, a puddle of blood expanding around the ruin of his head.
The remaining banshees stared at him with hate and fear. "Bone-butcher," the female hissed, "going to take his head, are you?"
Timothy stared at her, his face a freezing stone mask, hands clenched.
The Senior Auror cleared her throat. "Was that strictly necessary?" she asked, her expression unreadable.
Timothy took in the watchful gazes of the law enforcement team as they eyed up the outsider their wands ready. "I will wait outside," he finally muttered and quickly made his exit through the door with as much dignity as he could muster, dpm basha swirling around his legs.
Why had it upset him so much? The reactions of the banshees he could take, but the Aurors...their watchful silence...he used to have a professional but friendly rapport with many of them, sympathy even. So what had changed?
"Timothy," Carrow's deep growl broke through his introspection, "I have an appointment for the calendar. If you would, please."
Timothy looked up startled, his heart racing, "I'm sorry sir, I was...caught up in my thoughts," he said, eyeing the letter Carrow held. Beside his plate lay an even fuller letter enclosed by a pink envelope.
"I have an appointment for the calendar, Timothy," Carrow repeated, "there is a summer school as part of this course that I am undertaking. They have sent a list of dates and locations..." he checked the form again, "...I believe the closest one is being held in...August."
"What about Artemis?" Timothy asked his mind whirling with the horrible possibilities that a week of Carrow alone with complete and unsuspecting strangers could entail. On the other hand, a week with no Carrow...
"Oh, I'll take her with me of course," Carrow gave him what he obviously thought was a reassuring smile.
Mentally groaning, Timothy resisted the temptation to scream, instead settling for grinding his teeth in frustration. "I doubt there will be provisions for pets, sir, I..."
A quiet knock came at the door, and Mrs Thorpe sidled into the room. "Mr Faulks, you have a visitor from that magazine," she murmured.
Timothy leapt to his feet, leaving behind the tattered remains of his breakfast. "Excellent," he said, "if you would excuse me." He inclined his head to Felix and Carrow, who opened his mouth to protest. Fortunately, Felix chose that moment to loudly ask what a space marine was. Good lad, Timothy thought, as he closed the door on Carrow's enthusiastic explanation and followed Mrs Thorpe to the entrance hall.
The lady from the "World of Interiors" was standing in the centre of the entrance hall, gazing admiringly upwards at the Tudor oak stairs with its strap work, bunches of grapes and little winged putti. It was certainly one of the most exuberant examples Timothy had ever seen.
Tall and elegant, she was dressed in a tailored tweedy jacket she had teamed with fitted jeans and tan leather boots with chunky heels, a silk tie dyed scarf and arty silver jewellery, her hair messily pulled up at the back in a style that probably took several hours to achieve, but looked stylishly dishevelled.
Timothy suddenly found himself very aware of the fact that his hair was brushing the back of his collar; he just hadn't had the time to get it cut recently, so he'd resorted to slicking it back roughly and just trimming the sideburns himself. Smart it wasn't. Coupled with his scars, those awful gold teeth and his general battered and exhausted appearance he had a feeling he looked rather disreputable. At least his clothes were clean and new, uncomfortably so, except dolmans and sashes weren't anyone's idea of normal; at least it wasn't the gold encrusted horror. He slammed his stony mask in place, his back ramrod straight; there were more important things than his personal discomfort.
"Timothy Faulks," he introduced himself, politely shaking the young lady's hand, "I am Mr Carrow's personal secretary, and as to your question, yes, the staircase is original to the house."
The young lady eyed him carefully with a small smile. "Freya Phillips-Worthington, Editorial Assistant." She gazed around, practically vibrating with excitement. "The photos you sent us really didn't do this justice, you know." She gestured at the entrance hall. "Well...I'm here to access the potential...and so on, of the Lodge for a possible article." She gave him a smile, looking him up and down.
Timothy swallowed nervously, his posture becoming even stiffer and upright.
"Of course," he nodded. "Mrs Thorpe, may I have tea for two served in the Green Drawing Room, please?"
Mrs Thorpe gave him a small smile, before bustling away her usual efficient self; at least she seemed to have forgiven him for the unlooked for venison and the house-elves.
Timothy offered his arm to Ms Phillips-Worthington. "We can discuss the Lodge in greater detail over tea, and then I'll give you a tour round. I'm afraid the Green Drawing room is one of the more...eccentric rooms in the house."
Freya's lips twitched slightly as she took his arm. "Would it be all right if I took more photos, just so we can get an idea of the more interesting parts of the house and what could be put into a possible article?"
"Of course," Timothy murmured, leading the way.
Freya happily chatted to him on the way, discussing her journey and asking general questions about the Lodge, so he was rather concerned when she fell silent as they entered the Green Drawing Room.
"Is everything all right Ms..." he began.
"Is that an Yves Tanguy?" she asked, sounding slightly breathless. "It's not one I've seen before."
Timothy sidled over and eyed the gloomy painting a moment. "As far as I know, it's genuine. I believe Mr Carrow's grandfather, Charlus Potter, bought it from Mr Tanguy himself...or that's certainly what the household accounts suggest."
"Charlus Potter?" Freya asked, sounding almost predatory. Timothy nodded, his discomfort carefully hidden, his face utterly rigid.
"Charlus Potter, the eccentric art collector," she repeated, sidling closer, much to Timothy's horror, an intense and predatory gleam in her eye.
"I believe s..." he began.
"Is his collection still intact?" she demanded, her voice squeaking with excitement causing Timothy to flinch. She turned and stared around the room, racing over to the, in Timothy's opinion, ugly occasional table. "Meret Oppenheim?" she asked practically bouncing like a small child. "Oh, and an actual Dali Lobster telephone!"
She caught herself, and blushed scarlet. "I'm terribly sorry, you must think me so very rude. It's just...I'm really very interested in twentieth century European art. Charlus Potter is a name that pops up frequently as a friend and collector of many artists...but he's so elusive. Nobody seems to know anything about him, except he had the most amazing collection spanning everything from the Vortacists to...Psychedelia and Op art...and then in the late seventies, he just...disappeared. Nobody seems to know what happened," she trailed off, "I've been trying to find out more...to write a book about him. It's just been so frustrating," she sighed.
Timothy eyed the portrait of Charlus and Dorea Potter that hung over the fireplace. Fortunately Freya had her back to it, so wasn't able to observe the increasing excitement of the old man, or the way his long suffering wife had buried her face in her hands in despair. Timothy could sympathise; this was going to be a very long day, he thought, as his headache spiked above his left eye.
"The portrait behind you," Freya spun round, causing the portraits to snap to attention, "is of Charlus Potter, and his wife Dorea Potter, nee Black. I believe Madam Potter wasn't quite as keen on modern art as he was," Timothy said, studiously ignoring the painting of Dorea, who was attempting to give him as much of a glare as she could without alerting the muggle.
It was mid-morning by the time Artemis found them. Timothy was almost relieved for the distraction; Freya was a whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm pouncing on everything interesting with delight and her camera, snowing him under with questions. All he'd been after was a nice simple article that would make the Lodge, and by extension Carrow, look respectable, but from Freya's excited muttering, things were beginning to get out of hand. Timothy had a feeling he had unwittingly unleashed a monster, feeling a keen desire to escape to the refreshing calm of the duelling pit and his sword, even if it meant putting up with Carrow making him fight dire-wolves with a butter knife. All he'd have to do, since they were in the kitchens, would be to turn sharp left on the way out and nip through the old wine cellar.
He sighed heavily to himself. He'd brought this on himself and so he would see it through. Freya gave him a concerned look, before going back to admiring the original wheel driven spit. From the size of the tread-wheel, Timothy suspected a terrier was used, possibly with a sausage lure. The disapproving Cook glared at them from the more modern solid fuel range, where she was currently doing mysterious things that might be preparations for dinner.
"I've only read descriptions of these...it's so complete," Freya gushed.
Timothy smiled tightly in reply, his headache pulsing away in time to his heartbeat. Freya's enthusiasm was...understandable; the Lodge was an extraordinary building, after all...but it was so exhausting. He almost wished that he was back with the Banshees from yesterday...and she kept giving him strange looks, sly smiles when she thought he wasn't looking...and trying to include him in photographs to "give a sense of scale". It was all very uncomfortable and nerve wracking.
"Out!" bellowed Cook behind them. "You're not allowed in here and you know it!"
Timothy whirled round, instinctively reaching for weapons that weren't there, only to find the furious, wooden spoon brandishing Cook advancing on Artemis, who sat in the doorway, a picture of utter innocence, delicately sniffing the door frame.
"Oh," Freya exclaimed in wary surprise, "I, erm...she's beautiful," she breathed nervously.
"I think we should finish here now," Timothy said, advancing on the furious Cook and Artemis, who was doing her best to look sweet and harmless.
"We'll take Artemis with us," he murmured to Cook as he walked past. Cook gave him a grateful smile.
Once out of the kitchen area, Artemis became shy and coy, and hid round the corner, peering out at the stranger with her big blue eyes.
"Honestly," Timothy muttered with a small smile. "Artemis," he called to the large feline, "this is Freya. She's visiting for the day. Freya, this is Artemis, Mr Carrow's...pet and companion. We think she's a Siberian tiger, considering her size, but she must have some Bengal in her," he explained, Freya looking politely puzzled. "Bengals are the only Tiger species that carry the gene for the white coat. I did some research after Mr Carrow found her...she was...orphaned, and her siblings did not survive. Mr Carrow is also an orphan...I think he felt for her plight."
Freya looked at him suspiciously.
"We don't know what happened to Artemis's mother at all," Timothy reassured her, "Mr Carrow discovered her and her dead siblings locked in a cage in...terrible circumstances," he finished his expression grim.
Freya seemed almost relieved. "So not big-game hunting then..."
"Oh no," Timothy replied, "Though if given the opportunity, Mr Carrow would probably enjoy wrestling an elephant with his bare hands."
Artemis followed them round after that, always at a distance, her innate curiosity never letting her leave. She would allow Freya to take photographs, but never got within distance, always getting up and sidling away if they came too close.
After awhile, Timothy began to suspect that Carrow was also following lurking invisibly in the shadows in a way only he could. The thought of Freya coming into close contact with Carrow was not...appealing. Timothy grimaced to himself as he took Freya into the monstrosity that was the Breakfast Room, now free of unlooked for venison and deer gore, thanks to the efforts of Mrs Thorpe and the house elves.
Freya stopped so suddenly he nearly walked into her. "Oh goodness," she breathed, slowly turning on the spot, "are these the original wall paintings? They are, aren't they? Do you know just how rare this is? And in this condition too?" she whispered in awe.
"They are indeed the original wall paintings," an inhumanly deep voice rumbled.
Freya startled so badly she knocked into Timothy, causing him to have to put his arms around her so they didn't both go tumbling to the floor, not that she seemed to mind much. Carrow eyed them with thinly veiled amusement from his normal chair, absentmindedly stroking Artemis when she tugged at his robes for attention.
"Freya, may I introduce you to Allesandor Carrow," Timothy said gently propping the reluctant Freya back on her feet, "Mr Carrow, this is Freya Phillips-Worthington. She's going to be writing an article about the Lodge." Timothy prodded Freya gently forward so she could shake Carrow's hand.
"I'm so sorry, that was terribly rude of me," she finally said shaking Carrow's hand, or rather the part she could grasp, "you rather startled me."
Carrow looked at her, his glacial green eyes alive with curiosity. He blinked slowly. "You were interested in the wall paintings," he rumbled.
Freya nodded slowly.
"I know where there are more," Carrow growled, giving her a boyish grin.
Freya smiled back timidly, looking suspiciously pink Timothy thought, another victim of Carrow's charm which only really seemed to work on women. Even Mrs Thorpe, normally dour and grim, wasn't immune. Timothy wasn't quite sure how Carrow managed it, but he suspected pheromones; it was the only thing that made sense.
Carrow led them along corridors and across a courtyard, his black leather robes swirling around his legs, and into the main part of the original Norman keep, Artemis trailing after him. Though the upper floors were now mainly bedrooms the original Great Hall itself had become more of a storeroom, probably out of necessity, considering the hoarding habits of the Potter family. Though the space was filled with random furniture, dust sheet veiled shapes, and carefully wrapped objects, the actual fabric of the hall was little changed, its most recent addition being the new-fangled leaded windows. The minstrel gallery and the dais were all still there, hidden under centuries of junk, as were the painted walls. Just visible behind the shrouded shapes of unfashionable furniture were vividly painted depictions of hunting scenes and local legends, surrounded by borders of strange creatures and wild foliage, the pillars that marched down the room decorated with vivid geometric designs.
Artemis prowled away, delicately sniffing items, sneezing every so often. Carrow followed after her, carefully stepping around delicate objects and peering under dust sheets.
Timothy shook his head in exasperation, his headache worse than ever. "Well, we seem to have lost Mr Carrow. He'll be in here for hours now."
Having no response, Timothy turned to his companion, only to find her walking towards one of the walls, her expression slightly dazed.
"Ms Phillips-Worthington, are you feeling quite all right?" he asked with increasing concern.
She nodded distractedly, carefully shifting aside a couple of wrapped paintings that stood in front of an empty bookcase.
"Help me move this a moment," she said, not really waiting for his response.
The removal of the bookcase revealed a stag running across a meadow, trees in the background and a stylised ribbon of a stream winding decoratively across the foreground. Timothy eyed it critically; it was rather jolly if you liked that sort of thing. He reached forward to brush a bit of dust from the surface.
"Don't do that!" Freya shrieked. Timothy jerked his hand back in surprise his ears ringing. "You could damage the surface. This must be so...old and...fragile," she explained, her voice rather shaken.
Timothy frowned in concern; the lady did look rather pale. "If you need to sit down a moment, I'm sure I can find you a chair." He looked round the nearby dust-sheet draped furniture. Spying something likely, he carefully pulled the heavy fabric away, revealing an elegant oak chair of a type normally only seen in medieval illuminated manuscripts. A quick test of the seat proved it to be nice and solid. Ignoring the protests of the now wide-eyed Freya, he led her over, insisting she sit. She did so with great reluctance, trembling slightly as if she were committing some terrible sin. "You do realise that this is most likely a museum piece," she hissed, glaring at him as he found what looked like the matching footstool and seated himself on it with a relieved sigh.
In the background, they could hear Carrow and Artemis quietly moving around, the occasional rumbling mutter as Carrow considered some interesting prize, accompanied occasionally by the odd tigery sneeze.
Freya looked up from her careful examination of some ebony and ivory inlay. "You've got no idea what you've got here, do you?" she said.
Timothy looked up in puzzlement. "An old house, a nice old house, or it would be if he," he jerked his head towards the source of the growling mutters, "didn't keep doing strange things to the rooms. Oh yes, and it's had a long history of housing obsessive hoarders."
Freya shook her head in amused exasperation. "Two bachelors living together, I'm not surprised. What listing have English Heritage given this place?" she asked. "I'm expecting grade I, I'll be very surprised if it's not."
"I erm..." Timothy fidgeted nervously, "I don't think the Lodge is listed at all, certainly Mr Carrow has never mentioned it, and I've never had to deal with anything related to such..."
Freya stared at him blankly, and shook her head, sighing heavily. "I think you're both in for a shock. You do realise that they can legally insist on examining the Lodge without Mr Carrow's permission, or even compulsory purchase it if they feel that it's being mistreated in some way?"
Timothy stared at her horrified. "I err..." he lapsed into terrified silence, his mind overwhelmed with horrifying images of Carrow going up against English Heritage; the unexplained deaths, the assassinations... and then there was what Carrow would get up to. He rubbed at his face, forcing his rabid imagination under control. He knew he looked tired and haggard, but frankly, he was beyond caring. "Anyway, do you think you'll have enough...material to produce an article?" he asked tentatively.
She looked at him strangely, before bursting into slightly hysterical laughter.
Freya was still chuckling to herself when she left an hour later. Timothy watched her car go from the main courtyard, feeling exhausted and utterly drained, a slightly bewildered Carrow standing by his side.
Timothy reached into his jacket and pulled a slim cigarette case from an inside pocket. Pulling out a Black Russian, he lit it with a snap of his fingers; it was the only piece of wandless magic he could do so far, but so useful. Ignoring the way his fingers trembled, he took the first drag, the tension in his shoulders dissipating slightly. He gave Carrow a sideways look, only to find him gazing down at him, an eyebrow raised questioningly.
Timothy rubbed at his forehead, trying to relieve the tension. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," he muttered, looking up at Carrow, his emotions carefully masked as he took his second drag of the cigarette. Carrow tilted his head slightly gazing down at his secretary through his personal haze of blue smoke.
"I know that you wish to introduce yourself to non-magical culture as a respectable individual. The "World of Interiors" is a well-respected magazine for people of refined taste that...they would do the work for you. The Lodge would speak for you, an old house...old money..." Timothy shrugged. "I wanted to...surprise you with it, I suppose."
Carrow turned back to look at the Lodge, gravel crunching slightly under his feet. "An old house?" he said in puzzlement. "It's barely a thousand years old," he frowned, "quite new...modern really."
He turned back to Timothy, looking down at him shrewdly. "But that's not really what is on your mind. I am one of the few people you should be completely honest with...so...tell me, what has you so concerned?"
Timothy looked around the gravel courtyard, the flanking wings of the house, the Norman keep with its later enlarged windows towering up behind, the crunch of gravel as Artemis took off after a pigeon that had been stupid enough to land on the ground nearby. How could he even begin to explain?
"All right," he finally said. "It was easier, and less stressful dealing with the Banshee nest yesterday than it was showing Ms Phillips-Worthington round today," he sighed heavily, taking another drag of the cigarette. "I've spent the entire morning in a state of...I don't know...wondering when she was going to attempt to do something life threatening to me." He waved a hand expressively. "Was she just there to see the Lodge? What were her motives? Why was she sent? Why did she take photographs of what she did? Why did she only get excited about certain things? What were her motives? And I'm certain that I'm being completely paranoid, that the young lady is just an average human being, merely doing her job...but it's there, that niggling feeling telling me what if she's not?"
Timothy turned to eye Carrow, trying to determine the man's possible response. He was rather worried when Carrow gave a small approving smile, "you have nothing to worry about Timothy. You are merely beginning to think like an Inquisitor, " he clapped Timothy gently on the shoulder with his best reassuring smile, "you'll find it comes more naturally as you progress, certainly nothing to worry yourself needlessly over. Yes..." he said nodding approvingly, "yes, you are progressing well. It will become quite normal to see yourself apart from the rest of Humanity. A necessary evil I'm afraid if you are to do the Emperor's work."
Carrow turned back to the house in a crunch of gravel. "We stand apart, Timothy, protectors of spiritual and moral purity. Do not fight it, let it transmute you into something else, something harder...purer...a weapon against the enemies of Humanity."
Timothy stared at his back in annoyance. That really wasn't reassuring, the idea that he should actually skirt the borders of paranoia and possible mental illness and embrace it. All so he could play a role he'd never signed up for in the first place. He buried his face in his hands, growling to himself in frustration. "And where is Felix?" he asked, his misgivings about Carrow's parenting skills colouring his voice.
"I let him have some time to himself in the garden after his morning class. He was riding his bicycle round the paths when I left him, quite content." Carrow turned to him as they re-entered the house. "He does need to learn to entertain himself safely."
"Well of course," Timothy agreed, "but what are the odds that he's now covered in mud?"
The sounds of Widow Weber's favourite soap opera drifted up from below loud and clear, punctuated by the occasional braying laugh, but he ignored it. He had far more important fish to fry, as it were.
The God-Emperor of Mankind sat back with an excited grin. Sitting before him on the carpet was his first working prototype for an artificial gravity device. He theorised that when turned on he should, if all went well, experience greater than Earth standard gravity. He was even looking forward to it.
Very carefully, he charged the activation rune, warily eyeing the thing in case it decided to explode. Slowly, the blue fire spread across the surface of the device, running from rune seal to rune seal. Slowly, it rose a few inches above the carpet and began to spin slightly, as the mechanical parts whirred and clicked. He smiled in satisfaction; so far, so good, everything was proceeding as his calculations predicted; any moment now, he should start feeling the effects of the increased gravity.
...and then it plunged down, punching a hole through the floor, straight into Widow Weber's flat below, to be greeted by a shriek of surprise.
The God-Emperor stared at the hole with a sad sigh; well, that had been rather unexpected, he thought, as Widow Weber's furious shouting drifted up to him.
"Time to face the music," he muttered to himself, as he ducked out of his flat.
Knocking on Widow Weber's door, he looked round the empty corridor, feeling rather furtive. After a few minutes, there was a click, and the door eased open enough to reveal a few inches of Widow Weber's suspicious expression. Seeing who her visitor was, the beady eye narrowed in anger.
"Ah, sorry to bother you, Mrs Weber...I, ah...could I have my experiment back, please?" He rubbed the back of his head, grinning in embarrassment. "It had a little accident and went through your ceiling. I'm really sorry about that."
Widow Weber harrumphed at him, and jerked the door open a little further. "In the middle of my favourite program too, you thoughtless lump. The youth of today!" She thrust the saucer sized device into his hands. "Be sure I'll be sending you the repair bill, Mr Schmidt." She harrumphed a final time, and slammed the door in his face.
The God-Emperor sighed heavily; that could have gone better. At least he'd got his prototype back. Now he just needed to fix the hole while the lovely Widow Weber wasn't looking.
Petunia Dursley looked around the room nervously. It seemed like any cooperate conference room she had ever seen, neutral coloured walls and carpet in the beige spectrum, tubular steel furniture, a suitably oversized seat obviously for Allesandor's use, a couple of tasteful abstract paintings hung strategically on the walls. Except for the fact that this incredibly normal seeming space was buried deep within the Ministry of Magic in London, and that she knew once she left the warren of offices, that Allesandor seemed to need for his role within the Ministry (though he was never entirely clear what that role was), that she would be plunged back into the terrifying strangeness and unpredictability of the Magical World, and there was nothing she could do about it, but wait for the rest of Allesandor's people to arrive.
If only that blasted dog...man...whatever he was, would stop bouncing around like a loon. Ms Skeeter seemed capable of ignoring the irritating man..dog...completely as she sat nearby busily dictating in a whisper to a acid green quill, which scratched and danced its way across a piece of carefully pinned down parchment. Frankly, she couldn't understand why the dog...man...was behaving in such an undignified manner, or what he had to do with her darling nephew. She scowled even more, as he bounced past, barking hysterically, changing back into a man half way through his leap, and throwing himself at the rather dowdy man who had just entered the room.
Petunia huffed in annoyance as the dog-man grabbed the other, and led him in an impromptu waltz around the room, all the time shouting "Remus! I'm free, I'm free!" at his laughing friend, who brought the ridiculous display to a halt by giving the excited dog-man a hug.
"I'm so happy Sirius," he laughed the smile taking at least ten years off his prematurely aged face, "I must admit I was a little worried at first, but once the Veritaserum took effect ...well..." He grinned at Sirius the dog-man. "I'm just so happy for you. Let's sit down. Mr Carrow should be through in a moment."
A lump came to Petunia's throat at the mention of her nephew. To finally get some real solid answers about Lily's untimely demise...it was so cathartic. She wasn't sure about Sirius's role in the whole thing, but to see the devious little rat, literally, who had been so spineless to join the other side out of fear for his own hide. It had set loose a bubbling pit of righteous fury she hadn't realised she'd been carrying all these years. How could Lily have been so foolish to trust her family's safety to such an obviously weak and slimy character? The temptation to storm down to the "chair of the accused", and give him a piece of her mind, and a good whack with her handbag, had been almost overwhelming. Instead she had clung to her damp hankie, and refrained from making a scene.
But the very worst part had been when Allesandor himself had then given witness of the events of that dreadful night. Petunia had been extremely surprised to see her nephew rise and take the Witness's seat (suitably enlarged), since he'd been fifteen months at the time. How could he possibly remember anything of that night?
He had sat there, and explained that, because of what he was, what he had become, and because of the harrowing and lengthy training he had undergone, his memory of that night was rather clear, that he had always remembered that night to a degree, in fact, as a small child it had given him terrifying nightmares.
Petunia felt the guilt welling up inside her again, clutching at her throat. All those nights when he had woken them with his crying, and she had gone down and screamed at him through the cupboard door to shut up his cry babying or she would thrash him into next week. If only she had known...but she'd been so angry at Lily back then, had taken it out on her nephew in mean and petty ways, the little boy who bore her sister's eyes. Petunia wasn't so sure it wouldn't have made things worse...but the guilt, the terrible guilt...she clutched at the shredded remains of her hankie even tighter, her lips thinner than ever, oblivious to the looks of concern she was garnering from the room's other occupants.
Allesandor had carried on with his recounting, oblivious to the horrified expressions, the whispers that spread amongst his audience as he spoke.
"I remember banging, being picked up by my...mother and a man's voice, desperate and...angry, even, saying "take him and get out Lily, I'll try and hold him off as long as I can," then I think they argued a little. There were banging sounds in the background. Then..."it's him Lily. Take Harry and go!
"My mother...Lily ran up a flight of stairs with me in her arms, into a room...my nursery...closed the door and put me in my cot. All the time, there was shouting and screams from downstairs...and then suddenly there was silence.
"My mother paused in what she was doing, I'm not sure what...but I remember her expression..."
He paused, momentarily closing his eyes against the memory.
"There were heavy footsteps on the stairs, slow and unfamiliar...a pause at the top of stairs, and then the door blew in. I remember being terrified and bewildered at what was happening. I didn't understand it at all. To a degree I still do not.
"My mother...Lily stood, arms spread, between me and the...man, intruder. They seemed to size one another up for a moment. And then the man demanded she stand aside. My mother refused. "Not my Harry," she pleaded, "kill me instead."
"He demanded she move again. "Move aside you silly girl. I'm here for the boy not you." Again my mother refused, "no, not my Harry. Spare my son, I beg of you."
"Again he demanded she move aside, and again she refused.
"And then there was a flash of vivid green light, and my mother was gone. I do not recall if the man-thing spoke to me, for next came another flash of that bright green light, excruciating pain, and a high-pitched shriek, all of which have continued to haunt my dreams to this day."
Petunia shook with suppressed emotion, biting back the sob that threatened to overwhelm her. Around her, others were not quite so successful. To her surprise, she caught sight of a familiar face sitting next to the blonde man who'd introduced himself as Wulfric. But of course Slimy Snape would be here, she thought heavily. He'd been utterly obsessed with Lily when they were children, and looking at the tears streaking down his face, some things just never changed. But one thing was for certain; she owed poor Allesandor the largest apology of her life. The cruelty she had done him...all because of her anger and jealously...she hiccupped a sob, feeling a tear beginning to slide its way down her cheek. A furtive dab with her hankie revealed its ruined state, and so she began to search in her handbag for the emergency tissues, oblivious to those around her.
So preoccupied was she in her hunt, that when someone sat next to her, putting a box of tissues on the table in front of her, she startled rather badly.
"Oh my poor heart," Petunia moaned softly clutching at her chest.
"I, ah...sorry about that. I really didn't mean to startle you," Rita Skeeter looked faintly embarrassed. "Is it all right if I ask you some questions about Lily Potter, and maybe even Mr Carrow? I'm writing a book about the War and I'm trying to get it as accurate as possibly, and...well you've got a unique perspective on some of the people responsible for its end."
Petunia stared at the strange lady journalist with her brutal blonde crew cut and severe looking glasses, her eyes dull and flat looking, thought she seemed otherwise sincere.
"I'm not sure what I could offer you," she said slowly, "I mean, after Lily started attending...Hogwarts, we drifted apart rather...only seeing her two months a year, and only the odd letter otherwise...it was difficult to keep in touch...plus...I admit it, I was rather...jealous of her ability to do magic," Petunia finished softly, twisting and scrunching a tissue in her hands.
Beside her Skeeter drew in a breath. "You know, nobody had ever done a proper biography of you sister. She's just seen as...James Potter's wife. Some books have occasionally made the odd comment about her school career, but that's it really. From Mr Carrow's evidence, Lily was absolutely instrumental in defeating You-know-who. I want to show her in a more complete light, show what she was really like, warts and all."
Petunia eyes the other woman thoughtfully, "I...I've got a box of photographs at home from when we were small. I...I'd be prepared to go through them with you...if you'd like."
Skeeter gave her a beaming smile. "That would be perfect," she smiled.
"I don't have any of Allesandor, I'm afraid," Petunia said quietly dapping delicately at her nose, "I...he looked so like his parents as a child. He still does really...but I didn't cope with it very well...I really wasn't very nice to him," Petunia trailed off staring into the distance, guilt knowing at her gut.
Some of the others began to drift into the Conference Room. Petunia watched them. The nice secretary, Timothy, she thought his name was, who had changed her borrowed dress robe so it matched her smartest hat which she was wearing for the occasion, Albus Dumbledore, her sister's old Headmaster, a spry old man with shrewd eyes who was looking around the room with a considering gaze, Severus Snape, just as dark and gloomy as she remembered him but considerably better dressed. Something about the cut of his garments suggested money, so obviously he'd managed to do rather well for himself. The wonderfully normal office lady, who was probably just making sure everyone was comfortable, and of course at the rear her adorable nephew Allesandor, trailed by Artemis of course. The large feline was carrying a football sized toy which appeared to be made out of knotted sisal rope. Probably very good for her teeth, Petunia thought with approval, but Allesandor was always thoughtful like that.
Petunia leant towards Skeeter. "You know, if you want to learn more about my sister, you should really ask Severus Snape. They were best friends through most of their schooling."
Skeeter gave her a surprised smile, and turned to eye Snape speculatively. "Thank you Mrs Dursley."
"Petunia, my dear," Petunia said with a small smile.
"Petunia," Skeeter gave her a small grin.
"Well, isn't this wonderful," Albus Dumbledore exclaimed smiling happily around the room, "congratulations, Sirius I'm so happy for you," he beamed at the dog-man, who enthusiastically shook his hands. In a fit of over enthusiasm, Sirius pulled Dumbledore into a bear-hug, causing the older man to chuckle delightedly and pat him on the shoulder.
As those present milled around, chatting with one another and congratulating the dog-man on his freedom, Petunia noticed even the taciturn Snape approached to shake his hand, though he did tell the shabby friend to keep an eye on the dog-man, and stop him from doing anything equally stupid in future. The shabby man actually laughed at this, and stated how glad he was to have the opportunity to do so, completely ignoring Snape's rather loud comment rather you than me.
Petunia sank slightly in her chair, letting the happy chatter wash over her. So it was marvellous that a terrible travesty of justice had been discovered and put right, but it wouldn't bring Lily back...ever.
It was a stray comment that jerked her attention back to the conversation, "...never have talked James to switching to the rat..."
"What?" Petunia snapped.
Sirius looked at her startled, "I...ah...what?"
"You should never have talked James into what?" Petunia asked, her eyes narrowed dangerously.
Sirius slumped slightly, "I talked James into using Pettigrew, the rat," he said venomously, "instead of me for the secret keeper...it seemed like a good idea at the time," he trailed off.
"You stupid idiot," Petunia hissed dangerously, rising slowly from her seat, handbag grasped tightly in one hand. "I'd never seen the repulsive little man before today, but I could tell straight away that he was a snivelling spineless coward who hid behind whoever he felt was strongest." She stalked towards the dog-man.
Sirius backed away, utterly bewildered by the fury of this muggle woman. She might be Lily's sister, but what did she think she could do? The first swing of the handbag caught him completely by surprise, catching him smartly on his left ear, leaving him completely open to the backswing, which caught even harder across his right cheek. Yelping, he leaped back trying to get out of range, but Petunia bore down on him, a furious vision of sisterlyness, her handbag catching him heavily around the head and shoulders, despite his best efforts to fend off the blows with his hands and arms.
In desperation, he transformed into a dog and hid under the table, cuddling up to Remus's leg as much as he was able.
"Come back here, you coward," Petunia screamed in frustrated rage.
Skeeter put an arm gently round her. "I think you've proved your point to him you know," she said kindly. Petunia's shoulders shook with sobs as Skeeter led her back to her seat. She was crying in earnest now, everyone watching her in surprise, but she was too far gone to really care at that moment.
A hand with long, clever fingers placed a glass of water and a small vial of something onto the table in front of her. Puzzled, Petunia looked up, tears streaming down her cheeks. To her utter surprise, Severus Snape had sat next to her, was looking at her with...it was almost respect...and a small genuine smile.
"A calming draft," he quietly said, "given the circumstances, I recommend it."
The contents of the vial tasted utterly dreadful, thought the glass of water quickly washed its lingering effects away. Feeling much more herself, she turned to her sister's old friend. "Thank you," she said, giving him a watery smile.
Snape gave a curt nod making as if to rise, before settling back. "It's hard, isn't it," he said softly, "I have such regrets...I was such a young fool and I'll never be able to tell her how much I regret it, how truly sorry I am."
They sat in companionable silence united in mutual understanding.
Lupin and Sirius watched in bemusement in the pale morning light as the members of the Defence Club ran past, muddy water splashing up their legs, faces grim, but determined. It was a motley selection of students, eleven of them all together, with all houses and most year groups represented. Ms. Granger kept pace at the front of the main group, closely followed by Mr. Goyle and a green-faced Mr. Weasley. Behind them were Ms. Bulstrode and Mr. Longbottom, with various students trailing along behind them in red-faced struggling groups.
"What did they call this again?" Sirius asked, as he absentmindedly twirled the rainbow patterned umbrella, under which he was sheltering from the heavy, but persistent, drizzle.
"Yomping," Lupin replied, his voice exasperated. "Apparently, the idea is to increase stamina, by running long distances, while carrying a heavy backpack."
The two men watched a grey-faced Colin Creevey stumble past, sounding remarkably like the Hogwarts Express.
"Absolutely mental," Sirius muttered, "at least I've got an excuse." The heavily laden students ground to a halt, dumping their bulging rucksacks in a pile, and then dropping to the ground, as they began the first of many sets of press-ups, the less fit flopping on their stomachs in the mud, Creevy standing to one side, vomiting frothy bile into the bushes.
"It's just for the last month now," Lupin muttered to Sirius through gritted teeth, "hopefully it'll be enough to get this...craziness out of their systems, and next year...if they carry on the club, maybe they'll actually listen to reason." He sighed heavily at the students, who were now doing burpees, leaping into the air, before crouching down and kicking their legs out behind them. It looked sadistic.
"Sure," Sirius muttered back, as the students began to squat up and down, "and nifflers might fly. Does this actually have an impact on their wand-work?" he idly inquired, as he watched in fascination at the row of students as they completed sets of star jumps.
"Well," Lupin watched his charges thoughtfully, "they do seem to be able to go for longer during practise duels, tend to rely more on dodging than static shield charms; a bit like comparing Aurors to the ordinary magical on the street, I suppose," he finished with a small smile.
"Neville, that's cheating," a shout drew their attention to a furious Ms. Granger who was glaring, hands on hips, at a young grizzly bear who was looking back at her with an air of puzzled innocence.
Sirius snorted with laughter. "Chip off the old block, that one."
Lupin smiled sadly. "I can just imagine Frank howling with laughter...and being immensely proud, too."
"Oh yes," Sirius said sadly, "animagus at thirteen, who wouldn't be...beat us by several years."
The two men lapsed into silence as they watched the students pair up, and begin practising basic blocks and punches.
"You know," Lupin winced as he watched a student go flying into a puddle with a yelp, "when I was initially asked about supervising a Defence Club I imagined showing eager, excited students nice little jinxes and hexes, basic shield charms and giving them tips on wand care..." He grimaced. "I never imagined rivers of mud...or being a glorified baby sitter."
Sirius snorted with laughter as Ms Granger's shout of "right, tomorrow we're going to..." rang out.
"Oh finally," Lupin smiled brightly as Ms Granger finally finished lecturing the other students, "we can go back in the warm and dry now."
An hour later, dry and clean, Lupin and Sirius drifted into the Great Hall, both looking forward to a cooked breakfast and plenty of hot strong tea. As they passed through the doors, there was a fizzle of magic that had both men drawing their wands, ready for danger or at least a prank...and then the wall of stench of hit them, causing both men to retch before they were able to cast bubble-head charms.
Inside, there was chaos, as students scrambled to get away from the source of the foul smell, putting hands over noses, conjuring face masks and the odd bubble-head charm. In the middle of the widening space stood Fred and George Weasley, both looking rather put-upon.
"I like a good prank as much as the next chap," one of the red-heads said.
"Too true, brother mine," the other added.
"But this is getting ridiculous!" they chorused.
A fuming Professor McGonagall glared at them. "If you know the perpetrator, you will tell me, right now!" she growled. "We've had far too much of this nonsense this year, and I want an end to it. No longer will we turn a blind eye to such activities!"
The Twins held up their hands placatingly. "We're on our best behaviour Professor," they said.
"Have been since Professor Carrow told us off," said one mournfully.
The other nodded his agreement. "We've been knuckling down and concentrating on our studies, we have."
"Should end up with pretty respectable OWL's, I reckon, George," Fred glanced at his twin.
"Too right, Fred," his twin replied, "trying to make Mum proud...and Professor Carrow happy...if we can," he sighed, shifting nervously, Fred mirroring his behaviour.
McGonagall rubbed her forehead, trying to relieve the tension headache that was busily forming. "Did you notice anything unusual this morning?" she asked, lips thinned in annoyance. "Anything new you might have come into contact with? Or did you notice anyone cast spells towards you...no matter how trivial seeming?"
Lupin sidled over to Snape, who was looking distinctly peculiar under a glowing layer of green...something. Snape smirked at his stare. "Specialist protective charm for delicate potions brewing," he explained sounding rather muffled, "it protects against corrosive vapours and the like. Unfortunately, it also disrupts one's sense of smell...what did those two think they were doing with Essence of Skunk?"
Lupin winced; that stuff was just downright nasty.
"Which means of course there's only a few ways they could have come into contact with it," Snape continued. "Mr Weasley and Mr Weasley," he called, "what fluids have you recently come into contact with...unless, that is, you are in the habit of bathing in Essence of Skunk?"
The twins paled in horror, while the surrounding students and staff grimaced in disgust. It could be weeks before the stench disappeared.
"Liquids, sir?" one of the twins asked nervously, looking rather sickly.
"Liquids, boy," Snape glared, "or things that dissolve...soap, shampoo, aftershave...has anyone pranked you with water balloons recently? Have you...washed recently?"
The Twins spluttered, red-faced. "Of course we have, sir," they exclaimed, "just this morning in fact," one added, the other nodding furiously.
Snape didn't believe them for a second.
Surreptitiously gazing around the gathered students, he found the usual likely suspects...only to find Ronald and Hermione looking just as puzzled and disgusted as the other students. So a new prankster then, just what they needed. He narrowed his eyes suspiciously, ignoring Minerva's ranting at the Twin Terrors. Who would want to prank them that badly...silly question, since it encompassed most of the school...so who wanted revenge more than normal?
His eyes roved over the gathered crowd...not his Slytherins, there was just something too...blatant and Gryffindor about this incident...there...Percy Weasley...Snape had to stop himself from staring in shock. The stiff, rule obsessed Head-boy was shifting nervously, his ears practically glowing red in a way that only the Weasleys seemed capable of...radiating guilt...obviously, some things just bred true.
"Is there something that the Head-boy would like to tell us?" he asked, smirking evilly at the squirming youth. Minerva gave him an outraged look, before glaring at the older Weasley.
"I, ermm...er...that is..." Percy Weasley stuttered, obviously uncomfortable at the considerable scrutiny he was now under, the disbelieving mutters, the stares, and the outright shock from his brothers.
With an effort of will, he pulled himself together. "Its NEWT year, and... and it's really important, because I want to have a career within the Ministry...and they...they've always been so disruptive, so I decided to give them a taste of their own medicine...and see how they like it." He glared at his younger brothers in outraged dignity, his ears even redder than before, if that was possible.
He breathed heavily in the expectant silence. "When...when I found out about the soap, it seemed the perfect opportunity to...to ermm..." he trailed off in strained embarrassment.
"What about the soap?" Professor McGonagall said, her tone severe.
"I, erm...the soap...they've had the same bar of soap since before Christmas...between them." Percy grimaced in disgust. "Why they haven't stunk the entire Castle out, I have no idea."
Snorts of laughter broke out, with the odd exclamation of revulsion.
Snape grimaced himself. "Typical teenage boys, minimal washing, and then dousing themselves in aftershave...I take it, Mr Weasley," he addressed Percy, "that you applied an odour suppressing charm to the target."
Percy nodded, "I...yes, it's the one Mother uses on the cheese store. It's very effective, but it has to be renewed every few days."
Minerva shook her head in disgust. "How did your dorm mates not notice this?" she asked the twins, already half-knowing the answer.
"Nothing unusual at all, Professor," a fifth year Gryffindor piped up, shaking his head, "they're completely normal," he shrugged.
Lee Jordan nodded his head in support. "Yep, Professor, a regular pair of guys."
Snape and Minerva exchanged looks. "Well, there's only one answer to this, isn't there?" Snape said with the faintest of smirks.
Minerva turned back to her fifth year male students. "All of you," she told the recalcitrant boys, "are going to have a hygiene lecture from Madam Pomfrey, and then you're going to wash properly, to her satisfaction." She glared at her students. "Am I clear?"
The Twins, deaf to their Head of House's threat and their horrified dorm mates, stared at their older brother in shock and growing admiration. Ignoring everyone around them, they rushed forward, throwing their arms around the horrified Head Boy.
"Oh Percy," one gushed.
"You pranked us all year!" the other replied.
"We're so proud of you!" they gushed in unison.
Percy's complexion went from red to an alarming shade of purple, partly from embarrassment, but mainly as he tried not to breathe near the malodorous pair.
The woman in the bed lay so still she could almost be dead, her sunken eyes staring unseeingly at the ceiling, her sunken cheeks and slack face corpse like, her hair a ratty brown halo on the crisp white pillow. Only the faint movement of her chest indicated that she still breathed; such was the fate of Lucretia Mipps.
Carrow stood at the end of her bed, a silent sentinel in this quiet corner of the Long-term Care Ward at St Mungo's; the occasional murmur of the Healers as they went about their work, the sound of soft footsteps, and the quiet swish of robes the only distractions.
"Mr Carrow, sir," a concerned Healer asked, watching him warily, "are you all right there?"
Carrow turned slightly, gauging the man who stood beside him nervously. "I am merely visiting," he replied. The Healer nodded politely, before hurrying away, his lime green robes swishing around his legs though Carrow noticed the wary looks continued. He almost smirked; they were learning. He was after all a physical embodiment of the righteous anger of the God-Emperor, bringing justice and punishment to those who would destroy humanity through greed and ignorance, a duty with no end. He had always derived a certain satisfaction from it, and so the last two years had been rather...frustrating, but things had been improving rather nicely just recently, his gathering of financial resources, Aquila Industries, his infiltration of both magical and non-magical societies, even their governments. The family seat had been a fantastic toe-hold, but now with the Senior-Undersecretary title, the things he would be able to do...he closed his eyes as he recalled his investiture with an intensity only one of his kind could...every member of the Wizengamot who could attend was present, the visitor's gallery full. The mood seemed to be of strained excitement, as people wanted to know who would be taking the late Madame Umbridge's position, and when Fudge had stood up to make his announcement, those gathered had fallen silent.
Carrow smirked slightly; his nipping at Cornelius's heels seemed to be doing the man so much good, he was a much healthier weight now.
Fudge had announced his choice, his voice stammering slightly and all eyes turned on him, Allesandor Darius Carrow, as he had stood to accept. As he walked the floor to his new seat, Artemis at his heels, Timothy and Wulfric following behind, forming his retinue as was only proper for a man of his station, the silence was overwhelming as all eyes turned to follow him. He was a little surprised that they understood the Charnel Guard tradition of silence as a mark of respect; it was certainly a much more positive reaction than he'd been expecting.
He opened his eyes slowly to the sight of Ms Mipps staring sightlessly at the ceiling, the slight movement of her chest the only indication she hadn't passed away in the intervening moment. There was nothing he could do here, he thought, as he looked at the young woman's twig like wrists and crabbed hands as they lay against the institutional green blanket. He'd freed her, proved her innocence, had won; but sometimes the victory rang hollow.
Of the "Azkaban Eight", as Ms Skeeter so delightfully called them, only his God-Father was in any way coherent and rational. The others varied from emotional wrecks, who stared into the distance and placidly accepted whatever was done to them, to the completely unreachable, silent, unmoving, unresponsive. The only reason, according to the Healers, that Mr Black was apparently so well was due to his unnatural shape-shifting abilities, his animagus form. Carrow fumed inwardly; that such an immorality as deliberately corrupting the human form, no matter how noble the reason, should have saved Black's sanity. It left him with a distinctly bitter taste.
But wasn't that one of the travails of duty? That sometimes no matter how hard you fought, no matter how cleverly you planned, no matter how overwhelming your victory...you still lost. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
Still, he'd experienced far worse outcomes than this rather minor affair, so why did this one feel so much more...personal?
He folded his hands on chest, making the sign of the Aquila, and said a small prayer. He made a silent vow to guide and protect humanity from all her enemies, even herself. No matter what it took, he would do his duty, even to death.
Barty Crouch pushed the front door open with a sigh of relief. The last month at the Ministry had been an absolute nightmare, what with one thing and another. The fallout from Crabbe's trial, and his messy and very dead reappearance, Black's trial, and the election, which still made him grind his teeth in frustration. Somehow Fudge had managed to find a new wealthy backer. And, of course, there was Carrow's instalment as Senior Undersecretary...so obviously Fudge had paid a heavy price for his re-election campaign. Carrow as undersecretary...the thought alone made his blood run cold.
With a heavy heart, he placed his briefcase on the side table, flicking his wand at the fairy globes. As the light levels increased, he noticed a slight coating of dust on the table. Not much, he thought, dragging a finger through it, but definitely more than Winky would ever allow.
"Winky," he called, frowning in annoyance. Nothing, just the soft tick, tick, of Grandmother Aeolia's clock in the main parlour.
"Winky," he snapped. What was that blasted elf up to?
He stormed up the stairs two at a time, heading with brisk strides towards his son's room. As he made his way down the landing, he saw the door was standing slightly ajar. What was going on? Winky had been given express orders that the door was to stay closed at all times.
Slowly, wand in hand, he pushed the door further open. A strange musty odour drifted out to greet him, the light from the landing revealing the crumpled, almost mummified remains of a dead house elf.
"Winky?" he murmured, panic beginning to set in. Flicking his wand, he cried out "Hominem Revelio!", not bothering who heard.
"No, no, no," he snarled in frightened fury. The boy couldn't have thrown the Imperius off that easily, so he couldn't have got that far...
A thorough search of the house revealed what he had known all along. He was completely alone. He sank down onto the sofa, head in his hands. If this got out, his life was over. Barty had already ruined his career with his terrible choice in friends...if only he hadn't been so busy, so distracted with work, he would have been able to keep the Imperio fresh...Merlin, what was he going to do?