Chapter 5: Restraint? What Restraint?

"-. .-"

Godric's Hollow wasn't a purely magical settlement. The village of Hogsmeade was the only settlement with that distinction. That meant that, while the number of witches and wizards who came to attend the funeral of James and Lily Potter was ludicrously high, there were some normal men and women there as well.

Magic, thus, had to be kept to a minimum, which meant no water-repelling charms. The downpour seemed very appropriate, but Regulus wasn't exactly certain he would have felt annoyed if he didn't have an umbrella. He definitely wasn't amused by the strange looks die-hard purebloods were sending him and the "other muggles" because of their strange toys.

He didn't really feel too heartbroken either. Mostly, he was upset over the loss Sirius had suffered, but even that was a secondary concern. The real reason he'd come to attend, under yet another polyjuice disguise, was his hope to find Remus Lupin. The only other so-called "marauder" and the person most likely to have the information he needed. Having him as an ally in his efforts to get the charges against his brother overturned would help, he was sure. Lupin could act as a visitor and source of information in the Wizarding World if nothing else. Regulus couldn't exactly go to the ministry holding cells himself.

Well, he could. But it was too risky.

Unfortunately, he didn't spot the man. Anywhere. The young Black scion waited and waited, doing his best to look inconspicuously conspicuous as the crown thinned. Normals retreated to their homes while magicals discretely made their way to out-of-sight areas where they could apparate or portkey from. There were just a handful of people now, and still the werewolf hadn't come. Regulus didn't know how to feel about that. Was the man on a mission somewhere? With Voldemort gone, hadn't he been recalled? There was no way the news hadn't reached him, wherever he was.

A tap on his shoulder made him turn around. He was surprised to see Ted there, his face covered in the hood of his trench coat, so that only those near could tell his face. He was looking particularly somber. Regulus wasn't surprised he knew who he was. He, Andromeda, Marius and Leona were gathered together at the latter couple's home when he took the polyjuice before leaving.

The Tonks had actually attended the funeral, but they were supposed to have left earlier. That Ted had come back meant something had come up. "You need to come home right away," he said.

Narrowing his eyes, but knowing better than to discuss things in the open, the younger wizard discretely cast a human presence revealing charm. As he expected, no one was in the cemetery anymore besides the two of them. At least not in the vicinity his spell was able to cover. It looked like someone would actually have to look for or ask about Lupin. Probably Andromeda. "Right."

A short walk later, they were in a secluded spot and apparated straight into the hallway of Marius Black's house. "Come on. Everyone's in the sitting room." Ted was trying not to look it, but he was uncomfortable.

The other wizard nullified the apparition trails and followed him with a growing sense of trepidation. In short order, the five of them were all gathered, but no one was sitting down anywhere. Andromeda was just a short distance from the door, while Marius and his own wife were quietly talking to each other on the other side of the tea table. They stopped as soon as Regulus and Ted came in, giving them worried looks but not saying anything.

"Right!" Ted said, forcing himself to sound calm and unconcerned. "I just got a call from MI6. In light of... recent developments..." he gave his wife an uneasy look. "They've decided to make the search for Rookwood a high priority. One of their top agents will be assigned to whatever lead they get as soon as possible."

No one said anything.

"Well, that's the good news..." Ted said, shuffling uneasily. The pleading looks he sent Marius were not lost on anyone.

"And the bad news?" Regulus asked pointedly, dropping into sarcasm right after. "Does Her Majesty's Government require more of a tithe on my part?"

"Oh Regulus!" Andromeda basically lunched herself into his arms, embracing him and bursting into tears. It shocked him enough that he almost fell along with her. His cousin was as tall as he was, a formidable, beautiful woman whose composure and elegance were never tarnished, and yet she was sobbing into his increasingly wet shoulder.

The younger man mouthed something but even he didn't know what to say. He numbly rubbed the disconsolate woman on her back.

"Regulus, it's... oh it's horrible!"

That finally got his brain to reboot. "What, what happened?" Reluctantly, he disentangled himself and held her by the shoulders, looking right at her. "Did those bastards threaten you?"

She shook her head. "No, no... Regulus, it's Sirius, he-..."

Whatever daze was still on his mind instantly dissipated. "What? What about him?"

"He..." Andromeda covered her nose with a paper napkin. Then some anger forced itself into her red-rimmed eyes. "Those morons at the Ministry have alread-... Oh, just read this!" Hastily, she moved away and picked up a Daily Prophet from the table. The paper was immediately handed over. Not knowing what to expect, the young man read the headline and blanched.

Long-time friend of the Potters turns out to be You-Know-Who's right hand man!

Sirius Black Sentenced to Life in Azkaban Prison for betraying the family of the Boy-Who-Lived and murdering their friend Peter Pettigrew, along with 12 muggles!

The headline made his legs grow weak at the knees and stagger. He didn't even register backing up against the wall and sliding down against it, until he had no room to go lower.

"-. .-"

Being in Her Majesty's Secret Service wasn't always as exciting as former MI6 agent Ian Flemming made it seem in his "fictional" novels. Sure, there was the periodic mission to thwart a supervillain, crime lord, drug lord, extremist or whatever else, but a lot of time was actually spent in training and debriefings. Simulations took the edge off the boredom, but there was nothing like a real mission to get the blood pumping. Q's toys were always great to play with, and then there were the ladies...

The taxi he was in turned right at an intersection. The driver, really an undercover MI6 envoy, told him they would arrive at the restaurant in five minutes. Normally the agent would be looking forward to arriving there. This was the usual set-up for the obligatory "date" that he always went on while on assignment. Unfortunately, he would not be meeting a woman this time. Knowing how much disdain M had for him and his promiscuous ways, he was tempted to think she had specifically set things up so that minimum contact with the opposite sex would occur.

It was a bit foolish really. Seduction was a mandatory part of special agent training, so M really shouldn't be complaining.

But he knew M wasn't thinking of that when she assigned him this mission, though she did say that maybe it would puncture that ego of his and deflate his big head. He didn't think much of it at the time, but then he read the file and realized that yes, the rumor going around Headquarters (Century House, 100 Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth) about a man winning a verbal spar with M over a phone call was true. It was a good thing all agents were briefed on the so-called magical world, because he might not have prepared himself in a timely manner otherwise.

And haste was important. The past week had been an exercise in frustration for MI6, as well as the Interpol and the police departments of a dozen countries. A rare thing to pull off with the Cold War going on. They'd checked all the leads provided by that magician, or whatever he was, and they'd used all available resources and even instructed their counterparts abroad to work with the man and give him whatever information he wanted, because otherwise he would use his own means to get it, causing Diplomatic Incidents.

M always did have nasty reactions to hearing the words "diplomatic" and "incident" in the same sentence. The international tensions only made it all worse.

The agent skimmed through the file of the so-called wizard one last time. For someone who'd only been under the eye of the government for two years, and who was only 20 years of age, his list of accomplishments was considerable, though it had mostly been compiled from third-hand reports. He didn't read the part about him as a person and motivation, or psych profile. He'd have enough time for that on the plane, and he wanted to have a real first meeting. There was also the fake identity MI6 had made for him at the behest of their wizard healer (he'd only this week learned of what had been restoring him after every mission) but nothing about his real one. Since the restaurant they were going to would definitely be bugged and packed with cameras, all this suggested that M was particularly interested in this so-called first meeting.

Or maybe she just wanted a good show to help her unwind.

The cab pulled over. The agent put the file back in his briefcase and stepped out, smoothing his suit. M had insisted he wear a bow tie, and he insisted on not doing it, and she wasn't here to complain about it. Smiling charmingly at the hostess as he walked in (being blond and blue-eyed was ever so convenient), he allowed himself to be led to a private booth. The wizard was already there.

So this was the one that covered a whole third of the leads on his own. Sure, agents, policemen and whoever else made sure to look into them after he moved on (he cheated with whatever magic allowed him to pop from one side of the planet to another, the smug bastard), but they could only confirm his findings (or complete lack of findings).

At least it was they that finally narrowed things down enough to make a pretty good guess of where this Augustus Algernon Rookwood was. It was a good thing the man was a wanted criminal in the magical society after being ratted out by one of his fellow terrorists (and, thus, was not hiding there).

The agent smoothly took his seat and looked right at the young man for a while. If he wasn't infamous for his boyish charm and reputation with women he might have felt a bit threatened by the elegant, aristocratic good looks that this Regulus Arcturus Black possessed. His black leather attire was a bit unexpected for the restaurant's setting, but somehow fit his black hair and blue-grey eyes perfectly. A smooth, just as black coat was on the soft seat next to him.

Aware that he was being analyzed in the same manner, the special agent produced a deck of cards from his chest pocket. "How about a game of poker while our waiter arrives?" His fingers deftly ran the deck through the shuffling motions. "I assume you at least know how to play?"

The young man didn't react to his deliberately skeptical tone, but gestured at him to go ahead as if just to indulge him.

With a sardonic eyebrow raised, he distributed the cards. He won the first hand. After mixing the cards again, he won the second game to a forfeit. "So, are we going to get introduced at some point?"

"I am sure you already have a large file on me, for all the good it will do." It was the first time he heard him speak. It was the voice of a highborn. It had that tint that only those with a claim to nobility bothered to cultivate. "But since I seem to have been raised in a different society I suppose I shouldn't expect you to adhere to the same rules of conduct as myself." He discarded two of his cards. "Which is to say, I won't take offense to you not introducing yourself before asking for someone's name, in this case Arcturus Black."

"Arcturus," the agent smirked. He knew that was the fake name they settled on, but he also knew it was his real middle name. "I wonder who gave your parents help with that. Was it a wicked sibling? Some other relative?" There was no reaction on his face, but the game did end with "Arcturus" showing a royal flush. The agent blinked. He was sure he'd just discarded that queen of spades, but the other man had kept his hands on the table the whole time so he can't have switched the cards.

"Now since we're using aliases, I'll call you..." The wizard began to mix the cads and then absently squeezed the deck, sending the cards flying over his head and settling in his other hand perfectly on top of one another. "Agent..."

"The name is Bond. James Bond."

"You don't say..."

A cute waitress came with some good wine and to take their orders, so James made sure to flirt with her to the best of his ability. Arcturus shook his head minutely as he cut the cards again.

"Are my actions offending your sensibilities, mister Black?" He asked with deliberately fake consternation.

"Oh, it's not that," the dark-haired man swirled the wine in his glass. "I just thought I'd see something new for a change, but alas we don't always get what we want." Winning another hand, he started shuffling the cards again. This time he started tossing them through the air, one by one, and they all flew perfectly to form a sort of fan in his left hand.

After an unlikely tie, the waitress brought their food and they ate mostly in silence. Bond noted that the one across the table from him had ordered a very small quantity of nourishment. He supposed he might be nervous or just didn't have an appetite for some other reason. Or maybe he was disgruntled at being forced to work with a lowly mortal. Well, tough break for him. A collaboration on this case was the condition MI6 had imposed. Black could definitely go on with his search alone, but it would have taken more than the single week since the day when Rookwood's file became a high priority.

Once the waitress took their plates away, and Bond flirted with her yet again, Black spoke. "Perhaps we should get down to business? I have more important things on my mind than outdated wooing tactics."

"We've narrowed down the search." He may as well give up some token information. "We tracked banking activities and we found one that turned out to belong to one of the three files you provided, one without the ID. We managed to get a photograph of him that way." He slid over a small photo, like the sort used on passports. It was of a middle-aged man with greying hair and black eyes.

"And I assume you tried to apprehend him yourselves but you couldn't find him? Let me guess, your agents and other people have been remembering something important they had to do when they got to wherever you think he's holed up? Or did they just walk past without noticing?"

Bond leaned back in his seat. "After a bunch of people all said similar things, it was clear enough what was happening."

"I'm sure."

The agent raised an eyebrow. "Why do I detect an undercurrent of sarcasm in your voice?"

"Because you are very good at reading people," Black drawled. "So good that you obviously believe you have me all figured out after this one dinner, so let us hear it. What are you surmising right now, mister Bond?"

"About you, mister Black?" He took a moment to look for anything resembling anticipation, but found none. "By your demeanor, I'd say you come from an old and wealthy family. Normally your quip about my flirting being nothing new would make me think you are well versed in charming the opposite sex, but the complete lack of advances on your part despite the beauty of our waitress makes me think you speak more like a... witness... than anything else."

Black blinked. "Something that is true about a great many people and can be explained in many ways like, say, going out to eat often and witnessing similar things."

"True. But you got annoyed enough to somehow magic your hand to win the poker game right after I made that quip about a wicked sibling. Now you could say you were offended on his behalf for my so-called insult, but I think it's more likely you were raised in his shadow, and witnessing his exploits with women is just one reason you grew up feeling inadequate, like you could never live up to whatever expectations everyone else, your parents most likely included, had of you.

"Your sarcastic way of speaking, if I were to guess, is only a recent development, a way to make up for all the years of, what did you call it? Adhering to rules of conduct? I suppose it is a good enough way to convince yourself you've freed yourself from your past, but that doesn't hold up in the face of everything else you do. You always stay hidden unless you have no recourse, conceal your appearance whenever you go out on one of your so-called interventions, and soundlessly move around as if fearing discovery. I presume you rationalize it by contemplating the benefits of stealth and misdirection, but what if it's really just the continued manifestation of a deep desire to prevent the world from figuring out who you are, because you yourself don't know who you are... and want to figure it out first?"

Black looked at him for a long time before leaning back and starting to lightly rap his fingers on the table. "Alright. By the cut of your suit, you went to Oxford or wherever. Naturally you think human beings dress like that. But you wear it with such disdain, and going by how you started your analysis by speaking of wealth, my guess is that you didn't come from money, and your school friends never let you forget it. Which means that you were at that school by the grace of someone else's charity... hence that chip on your shoulder. And since you were so eager to delve into how horrible it is to have older siblings and parents with high hopes for you, I'm thinking you're an orphan... and part of what you just told me is along the same lines of what you used to tell yourself before going to sleep at night as a child, to make the loneliness seem just a little bit less unbearable. Maybe your parents or possible brothers were or would have been horrible, abusive ones. Maybe it was better that you were all alone."

The agent smiled but said nothing, though inside he was swearing. The ones in the security van outside, listening and recording the conversation, were going to be infuriating now that they had this information.

"Oh you are! Then again, it does make sense. MI6 looks for maladjusted young men, who give little thought to sacrificing others in order to protect queen and country. You know... former SAS types with easy smiles and expensive watches." Black glanced down at his wrist. "Omega?"

"Yes. I'm surprised you didn't say Rolex."

"A beautiful piece," "Arcturus" shifted in his seat. "Now, having just met you, I can't really go as far as calling you a cold-hearted bastard..."

"No, of course not."

"But it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine. At least not at first glance. By all appearances, you think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits. But knowing what I know and the way that woman spoke to me on the phone, I'm guessing your promiscuity is actually a way for you to prove to yourself that you can and deserve the approval of the opposite sex. Ironic really, since the woman whose approval you really crave for will never give it to you precisely because of this way of life you've resorted to. I'd call it an Oedipus complex if I actually believed you had that sort of affection for her, but I think we both know better."

The agent's blase expression almost faltered as that nerve was struck. He'd never consciously looked at things from that perspective. Banishing those thoughts, he wondered if M realized just how much of her character she revealed during that conversation. He really had to hack the mainframe and listen to the recording sometime.

On second thought, M was probably listening to this conversation herself. Damn.

"Oh," Black's eyebrows raised. "So that woman that talked to me really is M. I wasn't completely certain. Does she act the aloof matriarch to orphan agents? Now obviously I can't assume anything about her just like I can't say you're a cold-hearted bastard, but I'm pretty sure I'd act like that if I were a cast-iron heartless bitch. It would be easy enough: always being just out of reach, compelling you 'children' to do your best in the hopes that maybe, maybe this time I'll say 'Good work' instead of implying you were barely passable by 'grudgingly' giving you another assignment." The wizard elegantly set his glass on the table and gazed at him as though wondering whether to go that last mile. "Is she enjoying the Cold War?"

The agent couldn't help raising his eyebrows. "I'm afraid you'll have to ask her yourself."

"What, you mean she isn't listening in? I know there is at least one hidden microphone here, and the security cameras aren't exactly subtle, though I commend you for not wearing anything of the sort yourself."

"Oh, you've noticed?" The double-0 was starting to realize why M might have thought this assignment would teach him a thing or two. He didn't think she'd actually end up as a topic of discussion though, especially not such an uncomfortable one. Fortunately, Black didn't press. Now Bond just had to think of a way to appease M for not jumping in her defense. Maybe he could say Black was probably just on edge and was speaking hypothetically anyway, and she'd pretend to buy it just so she could keep up her aloof mother persona.

In any case, the agent was thinking it might have been a mistake to postpone reading Black's personal profile. All he knew was that he had a personal score to settle with Rookwood for some reason, and all this time delaying him from that goal was probably fueling his antagonism.

Eventually, they both finished their last drinks. "How was your lamb?" Black asked.

"Skewered," he grinned, though it did not reach his eyes. "One sympathizes. And your venison?"

"Hacked." The man leaned forward after the waitress brought the check. The agent tensed as Black gestured with something and a sort of bubble shimmered around them before fading. "Now, maybe we should do what we really came here for."

"-. .-"

James Bond was long past the point where he wanted to start swearing. He'd been cussing enough to make sailors blush for the past ten minutes. He'd ended up in the marketplace, thankfully deserted, since it was late at night. "Where are they now?"

Mobile phones weren't expected to debut on the widespread market for another two years, but the MI6, naturally, already used them, even though they were half the size of his head and basically screamed "suspicious." It was a good thing this was an internationally sanctioned operation. "Two blocks ahead of you." Oh, the wonders of spy satellites. "No, three blocks. No, turn around! They're behind you!" Almost tripping over a dog, the harried special agent turned around in time to see their mark running down the street and throwing those spell lights over his shoulder.

Black flashed into being on the wall of the tallest house on that lane and sent a red blast after him, then teleported to the top of a street light, accurately predicting his first strike would miss. "Fulmen!" A bolt of electricity was barely avoided by their target, but cobblestones were blasted apart.

"Fyrag-OH! " Rookwood's spell was disrupted when he was shot in the forearm.

But he shrugged it off as though it had only been a dummy bullet. The agent swore. He didn't believe it when he was told that wizards had a whole tailoring industry based around dragonhide, but that bastard's robe couldn't be made from anything else. That material was better than kevlar! If he didn't have orders to take him alive, and thus had no armor-piercing bullets with him (not that he was totally certain they'd get through), he'd have shot him in the head by now. Maybe he should just do it- no, nevermind, they were gone again. "Buggering shite. Where to now, Q?"

"Continue where you left off." He took off down the street, leaving behind a bunch of gobsmacked dogs. "Take a right." He was running down a tight passageway between ramshackle but nonetheless tall homesteads that were probably built between the two world wars. "Go forward until you reach the next road."

He skidded to a halt on the sidewalk of an ordinary-looking street. Or, well, another one. All of them looked the same. "To your right." The agent turned in the indicated direction. "See the big metal garage door? Now see the so-called power box next to it? Press that foldable mirror I gave you against it."

He did so."Oh, so you weren't just insinuating things when you gave me this make-up kit." The door lifted open, revealing a beautiful, convertible Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. "I love you Q."

"You sure about what you just said about the mirror?"

Bond did the mature thing and shut the call in his face, as if satellite-based conversations were a commodity instead of a job privilege. Quickly getting in the car, he almost slapped himself when he realized he didn't ask were the keys were... which was when the bottom cover of his foldable mirror, still in his left hand, fell and the keys followed. "Charming."

"Just get out of there before the mob mobilizes. I'm pretty sure they have magicals in their ranks, and with the Second Mafia War going on you don't want the Corleonesi on your tail. Getting the car there without them knowing was hard enough."

With his suspicions confirmed that the car would have a satellite phone link already established, Bond was quick to comply. The car purred under his ministrations, even as it swerved dangerously around narrow corners. A small radar showed the location of his 'partner' as a green blinking dot. They were actually surprised the locator worked for so long. It would probably fail soon, with all that magic being done, but at least they had this advantage for now.

He wasn't driving the car quite as insanely as he did on "normal" missions, when he was chasing or being chased by another vehicle, but it was close. The difference allowed a part of his mind to rethink what had led to this mess.

In hindsight, he supposed he should have expected something to happen. Something usually went wrong on all his assignments. M routinely blamed it on him getting "distracted" by women. Hah! Now he could earnestly say women have nothing to do with it. Things go wrong just because.

The evening of the dinner, Black raised what he called a "privacy bubble," which MI6 learned, the hard way, that it cut off not just the ones inside from everyone else outside, but electronic communications too, both wired and wireless. The security cameras only saw them having a normal discussion. His wand was never spotted even there. It was under an illusion. That much the wizard had shared with them, assuring them that most wizards didn't have his caution because they had no idea of cameras like that and most didn't even know what "ekeltricity" was.

He'd put his foot down and didn't take no for an answer when he said he would portkey them both to wherever the mission was going to take place. He didn't have the patience to wait and sit on a plane for hours. So a portkey was how they landed in Sicily just minutes after leaving the restaurant. Their lead took them to the 4-star hotel Castello di San Marco, near the shore of the Mediterranean. Black said it was a good place for Rookwood because the castle looked old fashioned enough but had no magical side, so he could hide in relative peace. That it was luxurious was a bonus.

After one day of surveillance, during which he finally read Black's file and saw just how he was so involved in this (and thought that maybe he shouldn't have made that quip about his brother), Bond went ahead to check on the room, but passed it by four times out of four while walking down and up the corridor. Black had to teleport in and point the door out to him. Blasted notice-me-not wards. They would have gone in, but there were some nasty alarm and retaliation spells on the door, Black said. He couldn't see inside, even from the window, and he would have blind apparated there anyway if he didn't have high fears that every inch of the floor was warded, maybe even the walls and ceiling. And without knowing where he was going, he couldn't appear on the ceiling or wall anyway.

They also needed to catch him in a secluded spot, because Rookwood had already shown he was more than willing to kill bystanders to suit his needs. So they kept an eye on the area, and they eventually spotted him, under his new appearance. Glamour spells, Black had called them. It turned out that the man was wearing his best equipment, even a coat-like dragonhide cloak. Paranoid, just like Black was.

They did, on the fourth day of staking the place out, follow him, undetected, when he apparated to the settlement of Calatabiano, to an empty street, late at night. Black even managed to draw an anti-teleportation ward, or whatever he called it, but their mark felt it going down and surprised them by attacking them both rather viciously. Apparently, while confronting the Black Phantom wasn't preferable to running away, especially when injured, fighting "poor, weak little Regulus" was. Rookwood seemed to have taken it as an insult that he'd had to flee the first time.

Bond had almost been caught by some orange lights a few times, and by the way they liquefied the brick wall behind him, he was glad he hadn't gotten hit. After shooting the bastard in the back and legs a few times, probably only causing big bruises due to the blasted dragonhide, Rookwood seemed to realize he wasn't a "useless muggle" and tried to kill him. So, naturally, Regulus proceeded to overpower him because of the distraction. Unfortunately, he managed to reach the edge of the ward and teleport away, just as people were starting to turn on the lights in their houses.

That had been 25 minutes ago. They'd been "chasing" each other all over the place since then. Bond knew Black was waiting until they both ended up somewhere with no bystanders, at which point he'd activate that special cube he had on him. He'd have done it from the start, but it only had a few minutes' worth of energy left. Black had admitted that he hadn't examined it fully and didn't know how to restore its energy, if it was even possible, so he needed Rookwood tired first.

"Drive forward from there," Q's voice came from near the rear-view mirror. "They've stopped teleporting. They're on the roof of the two story house at the end of this block."

He was out of the car almost before it came to a stop. The top was lowered, so he just jumped out. A running leap let him push himself high enough to grab onto the balcony on the first floor and hoist himself up. Once he was there, it was even easier to reach the eaves. Hanging from the ledge, he pulled himself high enough peer over it. The two were locked in some sort of spell dominance deadlock. They were rather dramatically leaning back on one leg, the other one stretched forward. They were pushing jagged streams of white and dark orange light at each other, wands held above their heads. Their cloaks fluttered at every aftershock and the sound was like a brewing storm.

Black's illusory shroud and hood concealed his face, but he was probably frustrated. This was obviously a ploy for time.

So the agent pulled a coin-size, miniature concussive grenade (another special toy that Q somehow knew he would need), and tossed it at the feet of the bad guy.

Bond almost fell off the roof when the blast went off, but he pulled himself up in time to see Rookwood crawling on one side, and Black pushing himself back to stand. His hood had been blown back. Either he'd been caught in the blast or lost his balance when he suddenly won the duel.

Rookwood's wand flew from the rooftop to "Arcturus's" waiting hand, but the Unspeakable showed just how devious and determined to deny them their goal he was. He quickly pulled out a spare wand and turned it on himself, twisting it one and snarling vindictively. "Obliviate."

"Expelliarmus!" The memory charm was interrupted as the wand was wrenched from the older wizard, but it only left Rookwood dazed and sputtering. "What did you do?" Black descended on him and shook him by the front of his robes. "What did you erase you bastard?" No answer was given. "What do you know about Peter Pettigrew? Tell me you trash!" But there was only a confused expression.

With a hiss of rage, Bond's so-called temporary "partner" pushed the older wizard back down "Stupefy!" and spun on his heel, tracing patterns through the air. Blue symbols became visible for one second before fading from sight, leaving room for more. A minute later, at which point the older and unconscious wizard was being held at gunpoint, Black was done, but he made a sweeping motion with his wand, blanketing the whole rooftop into some other sort of ward. Then he swept it like a brush again "Protego Totalum." Then he turned on Rookwood so fast he may as well have flown. "Ennervate!" In a moment he was on one knee, one hand holding the older man by the jaw, forcing him to make eye contact. His other hand raised his wand, pointing right in Rookwood's face. "Legilimens!"

Tight tremors and gasps rocked the enemy wizard, as thought he was in some sort of agony but could do nothing but stare ahead and wait for more of it to come upon him. One minute passed and none of them blinked. By the second minute, Rookwood was clearly in mental pain, but Black was stone-faced. The silence of it all belied the distress being inflicted. The special agent felt shivers go down his spine, realizing he was witnessing someone's mind being torn through. Suddenly this mission had lost all appeal.

But it was apparently nothing compared to what Black must have been feeling. With a snarl, he broke the spell and hurled Rookwood to the ground again. He was shaking with rage. "Confundo!" Rookwood's pained expression slackened. "Legilimens!" And promptly tightened again.

Agent Bond was starting to think that maybe he should intervene.

"Son of a bitch!" The spell was torn apart again, and Rookwood reeled from the shock. "Incarcerous!" Tight ropes sprung from Black's wand and bound the Unspeakable. "I'll get what I want whether you like it or not, old man." James couldn't fully suppress a gape when Black pulled out a vial of very clear liquid. He'd been briefed on that too. "Open your mouth, Rookwood." Regulus pinched the older wizard's nose shut, forcing him to open his mouth to inhale. When he did, three drops of the truth serum fell down his throat. In seconds, his expression turned into a dull, blank one.

"What is your full name?"

"August Algernon Rookwood."

"What is your profession?"

"I'm an Unspeakable with the British Ministry of Magic, Department of Mysteries."

"Are you a Death Eater?"


"What do you know about Peter Pettigrew?"


Black's hands twitched as though he wanted to strangle someone. "Did you ever hear the name Peter Pettigrew?"


Black jumped to his feet with an inarticulate snarl of rage. He started pacing and the air seemed to shiver around him. "Do you remember obliviating yourself at any point during the past hour?"


"Sodding worthless... Bah!" Black was clearly shaking now, as if fighting an internal war. He lost. "Tacitus Claustrum!" His wand arm made an enveloping motion, and a circle of yellow light flashed around the three of them, covering nearly the whole rooftop, before disappearing. "Crucio!"

James jumped.

Bond thought he'd seen hate, but this was something else. Rookwood wasn't supposed to be able to show any emotion while Veritaserum was in effect, but the Cruciatus cleaved right through that idea. Even with the tight bonds, the man started writhing on the ground, screaming hoarsely as knives that didn't exist stabbed through every inch of his body.

After fifteen seconds, Regulus let his hand fall. The old man only had one moment to catch his breath. "Crucio!" Twenty seconds. "Congratulations! You made me cast my first unforgivable! Well done! Crucio!"


"Scream all you want, scum!" He didn't interrupt the curse anymore, even while speaking. "You thought you were clever, denying me the information! Well you're useless now and guess what! Azkaban is too good for you!"

There was a limit to everything though. Bond steeled himself, closed the distance and grabbed him by the wrist, pulling it away and forcefully breaking his hold on the spell. "That's enough!"

"Let go of me."


Black wrenched his arm away and blasted him away. It was an unfocused spell, and only knocked Bond on his back, but the wizard was still too single-minded to pay it any thought. "Traumata!"

Bond didn't even look at the purple spell. He didn't watch and see the illusion of nightmares and terror engulf the captive wizard. He just knew that Black had dared attack him and he was going to learn what a mistake it was to assault an agent of her Majesty's Government. "You asked for this, kid." With a leap, he was on his so-called partner. His left hand closed around his wrist, holding it in place just enough for a knee strike to numb his forearm. A second hit sent the wand clattering to the floor, and before Black was able to regain his bearings, Bond sucker punched him straight in the jaw.

It was enough to send the lad flying a meter and a half through the air, and he fell on his side with a pained grunt.

Knowing that wizards didn't focus on physical self-defense skills, Bond quickly followed, grabbed him by the scruff of his cloak and pulled, driving another fist forward, straight at his nose.

Or at least that was the plan.

Black moved his head out of the way, narrowly dodging, and did much the same as Bond did earlier: grabbed him by the wrist and pulled. One knee to the ribs knocked his breath away. Then Regulus stepped back once, raised his foot, and delivered a perfect side kick right into his face. "Stay out of this!"

"Like hell!" Bond could feel his nose bleeding.

"Exactly hell!" Black teleported right in front of him and socked him right in the chest. "This trash's testimony was all that could help me get my brother out of that hellhole, and he ruined it just to spite me!" A second punch was blocked, but he did the same to the counter. "Well good for him, he pissed me off!"

James head butted him in the nose, then kicked him in the gut and sent him staggering. He had to grudgingly respect the fact that he didn't fall off his feet. So Black could fight reasonably well too. Still, reasonably wasn't spectacular. He was spectacular. "Oh, bo-hoo!" A front spinning kick disoriented the wizard, then a back spinning kick hurled him through the air again. Black spun twice before collapsing in a heap. Bond allowed himself a moment of smugness when the groans came.

But then he realized his mistake: he'd hurled Black right in the direction of where his wand had rolled, near the edge of the roof. Internally cursing, he launched himself forward. One running leap, two, three. Now he was close enough. Black was pushing himself up. All he had to do was tackle him and-

Black vanished.

Bond almost threw himself forward anyway, but stumbled to a halt just in time. A scream was behind him. "Haaaaah!" He only had enough time to turn half the way. The air exploded five times in quick succession, each time closer than the last, and Black flickered just as many times, and the last deposited him inches away, fist coked back. "You were right!" And he smashed it right in the agent's cheek. "I was raised in his shadow! And he's ten times the man I am." He spun on his heel, jumping, doing a sweeping kick, but disappeared just as Bond was about to block and reappeared in the air on his right, and hit true.

James fell to the ground, evening the score. "There's no way he'd snap so easily and start casting unforgivables like I just did! And yet those morons hauled him without a trial to a prison manned by demons! Demons that eat your good memories, drain you of your positive emotions, leaving you only with torment. Inmates go insane, each day just a little more, and this bastard erased part of his own memory just to stop me from getting him out! Well if he doesn't care about his mind, then I'll torture him insane! Then I'll torture him some more!"

Bond brought both palms under his chest and kicked out with both legs.

Black was struck in the face. "Umph!" His nose was dripping blood, giving his words a slurry quality. "You asshole."

Now on his feet, the agent did as he wanted to do before. He threw himself forward, landing on top of him as both hit the ground.

Black struggled and growled.

A crack of displaced air left an unconscious and twitching Rookwood alone on the warded rooftop.

When the strange squeezing sensation stopped, the first thing Bond was aware of was the wind howling in his hears. Then there was yet another punch in the face, and the sensation of fall.

And another hit, but it was weak. The fourth hit he managed to catch, and he finally realized he was still clutching at Black's robe, and they were both wrestling for dominance while plummeting through the air. The ocean was far below them both, probably a thousand feet. A thousand feet that were rapidly shortening.

"Are you crazy?" He shouted, socking the wizard in the temple.

Black shook his head to clear it. "Are you crazy? You trying to knock out your only shot of living through this?"

"I've lived through worse!" Well, maybe. There was that one time when he jumped off a plane without a parachute. But Miss Ima Goodlady reached him and they used hers. Why oh why didn't Q provide him with a miniature jet pack or rocket boots or something?

They traded glancing blows for a short while, but despite Black's attempts to get him off, Bond held fast, causing the wizard to mutter. "Why you... you..." They disapparated again.

Then they were just one foot above the sea surface.

The two smashed through the water with an impressive splash. Whatever haze had been descending on them because of the pain and blood loss was immediately dispelled by the shock of the cold water and the abrupt disappearance of air. Black's struggles to free himself of him grew more intense, so Bond forced himself to ignore the impulse to breathe in. He let go of the robe with one hand, and grabbed onto the wizard's hair instead.

Let him try to force his hold off that.

He didn't know how deep they'd gotten. The lack of light made it impossible to distinguish where the surface was. He could tell they were rapidly getting deeper though. The water pressure on his lungs was steadily growing, and he could see the air escaping Black's mouth, just like it was coming out of his own.

Finally, Black reached his limit and did the only thing he could, teleporting them both away, along with all the water in a two-foot radius. The two men ended up splayed on top of each other, with Black on top. Bond weakly shoved him off, rolling a couple of times away himself for good measure. He took some gasping breaths of the sweet night air and coughed out sea water.

He was vaguely aware of Black doing the same a couple of meters away.

When he was well enough to inspect his surroundings, Bond noticed they were back on that good old rooftop. Rookwood was still out of it, a little on his right. The only difference was the pool of water that was now thinning, draining through the pipes on the edges of the homestead.

After a few minutes of rest, during which the nosebleed had time to reassert itself, James painstakingly sat up. Black had pushed himself into a similar position and was breathing heavily, staring blankly at their captured quarry. "Are you done?" Bond asked.

For a moment, he was worried his deadpan would just get him started again, but Black snorted. "Yeah." With a small gesture, he called his wand to his hand. When he finally had it, he swiped it over his face. "Episkey." The bruises faded and his broken nose mended perfectly. A small flick cleaned the blood, then another dried him up.

Bond stood when Black did. The wizard casually strolled over and healed his own broken nose, but conveniently "forgot" to clean his face or dry his clothes. Bastard.

"Enervate." Rookwood gasped awake. "I see the Veritaserum is still holding. What is your name."

"A-a-august-tus Algernon R-Rookwood." He was suffering cruciatus after-effects. he was shivering and stuttering.

"What did you do for Voldemort?"

"I s-spied on the DOM. I was also t-tasked with locating and bringing the d-dark lord a p-p-prophecy."

That stopped them both short. "Prophecies?" Bond asked. "You mean those things exist?"


"According to some..." Regulus rubbed his chin, anger set aside in favor of this newest piece of information. "What prophecy is that?"

"I don't know."

"What does it say? What is it about?"

"I don't know."

"Who made it?"

"I don't know."

"How did Voldemort learn of it?"

"I don't know."

Black scoffed. "What's your best guess, genius?"

"I think Severus Snape told him of it."


"The dark lord gave me the prophecy search task soon after Snape requested a private audience with the Dark Lord."

"When was this?"

Rookwood seemed to think. The serum must have been wearing off. "Last summer."

"When last summer."

"I don't remember."

"So," Black said. "He probably obliviated that part too. He was probably going to erase everything about the prophecy but I stopped him in time. Too bad he didn't just block the memories. I might have been able to recover something..." His shoulders slumped and the wizard was looking tired all of a sudden. "Dammit. This is all... everything is just going wrong..."

Bond really felt like an ass now for making that quip about Black being brought up in his brother's shadow. That'll teach him to procrastinate when it comes to reading mission files. "Look, for what it's worth I'm sorry."

"It's not worth much," Black said absently. "But thanks I suppose." The Veritaserum finally wore off and Rookwood did the only thing he could. He glared and got ready to open his mouth.

"Stupefy." Whatever he was going to say, Black wasn't interested. "Well, I suppose that's it then. Let's just take him back to his hotel and raid his room."

The next day, they interrogated him again, properly, then Black obliviated him of his memory of the past two weeks and portkeyed him to the Atrium of the British Ministry of Magic. Then he took himself and Bond back to Britain and vanished as soon as they were back on their own soil. No by your leave, no nothing.

"-. .-"

One would say it would be appropriate to return from such a harrowing outing at some point during the night, but by the time Regulus made it home, it was just before noon. Not that he registered it. Hs mind barely worked at that point, so numb he felt. It was all he could do to cling to his composure. He doubted he'd even manage that much if he didn't have that one, last, small hope. The only recourse he could think of at that stage.

His gaze was vacant. Not that he would have noticed anything if it wasn't. He was looking down as he walked, so he didn't notice that Leona was in the kitchen when he passed by. He only returned to himself when she already had her arms around him.

Merlin, but his state of mind was deplorable.

Was she shaking?

But he didn't hug her back. He felt unusually... passive about everything.

At some point, Marius appeared in the doorway across the hall.

Regulus didn't even bother trying to ease the conversation in. "I'm leaving."

Leona abruptly stilled, but it was Marius who spoke."What did you say?"

"I'm turning myself in."

"What? What for?"

"Illegal portkeys? Breaking and entering? Casting the Cruciatus curse? Take your pick."

"But... but why?"

"Without hard-solid evidence, it's the only way I'll get them to listen to me." It was hilarious how breezy his voice was. It was like talking about a particularly temperamental scoop of ice cream. Maybe he should just give in to hysterics and be done with it. "I'll cut a deal with the DMLE. They act on my word and get Sirius out of that hellhole and I'll let them prosecute me. Who knows, maybe it'll turn out for the best..." Right, fat chance of that happening. It was amazing that the sarcastic part of his brain was proving the most resilient, even now.

Leona had finally moved away from him. "You can't be serious! They'll never... This is crazy, Regulus. You can't honestly expect it to work. Crouch won't... you know what he's like, and after the last week's euphoria, no one will want to dig anything up."

"So I'll talk to a decent auror first." Leona didn't understand. Not really. He had to do everything in his power for Sirius. He had to or he wouldn't be able to live with himself. "That's right, Frank Longbottom! He's a good guy. He'll listen to me."

You could hear a pin drop. That alone wasn't so strange. Both elder Black's were being awfully quiet. It was Leona's anguished expression that awake alarms in his mind. "Regulus... Frank Longbottom... won't be any help..."

"What? Why not?"

Marius bit his lip. "You missed it because you were out of the country. Frank and Alice Longbottom were attacked by the Lestranges, including your cousin. They were tortured with the Cruciatus... Their minds shattered. They're in the long-term ward at St. Mungo's now."

Regulus felt or heard something crashing. He was dimly aware of further words being spoken, but he was completely overcome by disbelief. More things had gone wrong in the short time after Voldemort's destruction than during the last two years of his reign of terror.

His sight was spinning. Blood rushed to his head and his breath hitched. He distantly heard Leona gasp. He almost didn't feel Marius catching him, holding him tight, urging him to breathe. "Breathe, Regulus!" and rubbing soothing circles in his back. "It's going to be fine." But it was clear he didn't dare believe it. "It's going to be fine, son, and if it isn't, we'll make it fine somehow, do you hear me? Breathe!"

He heard him, but he didn't process the words. Then his last stray thoughts left him, and there was nothing left.

"-. .-"

Waking up happened without fanfare. There was just the obligatory bout of disorientation, and then he was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. After another few seconds, he remembered what had happened last. He'd had a panic attack, hyperventilated and then passed out. How very dramatic. MI6 was going to have a field day with that. He'd have to remember to cast the electricity revealing spell again. It did a great job of exposing every little thing that ran on it, down to the smallest bugs.

Sitting up on the side of the bed, he laid his eyes on the end table and debated whether to first pick up the wand or the glass of water. In an unusually careless move, he chose the latter, though he didn't drink. He stood up and looked at it for a long time.

Then his lips curled into a vicious snarl, his eyes shut in rage and he hurled it at the opposite farthest across the room from him.

He waited, head bowed, for the loud crash, but it didn't come, so he looked up. The glass was suspended, motionless, water half-spilled and just as inert, a couple of feet away from the potted plant in the corner. Headed towards the photo of him and Sirius as 8 and 9 year-olds. It was something Kreacher had somehow found and timidly offered as a gift on Regulus' last birthday.

"If I didn't have a broader perspective on things, I would feel astonished at the ability of this planet's denizens to wallow in guilt."

A wave of... something washed over Regulus. This meeting was essential. Special. Somehow more relevant than all the others he'd had with him. A junction. He didn't know how he knew, but it was.

Raphael pushed himself from where he was leaning against the wall next to the window. "When we first met, you said you didn't deserve Sirius' forgiveness. What do you feel now?"

"... I don't know." There was no point in lying. It never really helped, not with Him.

"Which is to say you feel a lot of things at once." The man's head tilted to the side. "Your brother brought Azkaban on himself."

Regulus flinched so hard, it was like a bucket of water dumped on him from above. "Wh... what?"

"In the end, the universe conspires to achieve the best balance between what we truly want and what we deserve. The only reason your brother landed in Azkaban was because he felt convinced the Potters' deaths were his fault. He kept saying 'I killed them' when the magical damage reversal squad came to the scene where Pettigrew staged his death. In a way, he feels he deserves it."

"That's not the point!" Regulus shouted hotly. "He was in shock! In hysterics! He wasn't thinking straight."

"Like you weren't when you Crucioed Rookwood?"

His mouth clamped shut.

"Technically, you would go to Azkaban also if the MOM had its way."

"You think I don't know that?"

"Well how is it different from what came of Sirius?"

"I cast the unforgivable! But He didn't do what he's being accused of! None of it!"

"Except that he put a lot of effort in convincing James Potter that it was a better idea to use Peter Pettigrew as secret keeper." Well, that was new. "Except that he was enough of a hypocrite to suspect Remus Lupin of being the spy because he was a werewolf, despite having proclaimed all his life that his condition didn't matter at all. No matter what you may think, none of us are ever truly blameless in what happens to us."

"So what? You're saying it's right for him to be there despite being innocent?"

"No. What I am saying is that you are being astoundingly self-centered and hypocritical about this yourself."

Regulus sputtered, unable to understand.

"Look at you, shouting yourself hoarse about how incredibly unfair it is for Sirius to be confined in there, even though you want to inflict the exact same thing on yourself. 'Oh, I'm turning myself in, let's trade!' Nevermind that you would only be exchanging one innocent prisoner of Azkaban for another. How exactly is that better? Why exactly is Sirius worth more than you? And for that matter why should your opinion on the matter be worth more than his?"

The young wizard wanted to yell, to tear apart that reasoning, but he knew he couldn't. This wasn't a random person he was arguing with. This wasn't someone to whom psychology applied, and even if he were, he'd still be right.

"You keep vowing you would do anything and everything in your power to get him out of there." Raphael never did seem to lose his train of thought. "Can you honestly say you haven't already done that? Or do you think yourself so great that there is nothing you can fail at if you try your best?"

"I..." Sweeping his fingers through his hair, he grit his teeth. "Why does it have to be this? Why should I fail at this?"

"Would you have rather failed to save the Prewetts." Regulus flinched again. "Would you have rather failed the McKinnons?" It was always the same. He was so completely brutal in his honesty, each and every time. "Would you rather that little 6 year-old girl had died if it meant you would succeed at this?" Raphael's eyes narrowed and his tone was like a cleaver. "The number of people who died and suffered in this guerilla war since you defected is half of what it would have been if you had perished in that cave. Would you trade that?"

Regulus sat on the bed. His legs had grown too weak to keep him up.

"Turning yourself in for whatever reason is basically you saying you don't think any of that is worth anything. Even if you did have the guarantee that Sirius would be released, which you do not, it would be a big injustice. You always claim not to be rash, but then what would this idea qualify as?"

"But what am I supposed to do?" He was desperate for an answer. Any answer.

"Wait. Scout. Keep an eye out for potential information. Keep an eye on the DMLE for someone that may be sympathetic to your cause, and willing to see justice done. Approach them, but only when they have a high and solid enough position in the DMLE for your overtures to bear fruit."

Regulus sunk his face in his hands. "But with Longbottom out and James Potter Dead, there's no one. And if Moody went along with the incarceration, despite his paranoia, means he is convinced Sirius did it. And he never trusted me. He'll probably think I was in cahoots with my brother. I even have the Dark Mark. He'll never trust me because of that. No one will." It was why he didn't think anything short of turning himself in would get enough attention and leverage. "That leaves no one."

"Looks like it."

A heavy silence fell.

"You already know what will happen," Regulus whispered brokenly.

"Sirius will be in prison for seven years."

Black's head shot up. He met those white-green eyes. Raphael was smiling. It was a warm smile, a tender thing. "You will wait until then, doing other things of your choice, resigned but also reassured by my assurance that his mind will stay whole. He knows he is innocent, but it isn't a happy thought, so he will grab it and never let go. Then the House of Black will welcome a new lord, and you will be called by him, and you will help in your brother's release. And the Magical World will then proceed to experience a series of shocks never before seen."

The wizard stared. Raphael had never spoken so plainly about the future before, or in such specific, straightforward terms. For whatever reason, he usually chose to be vague. Regulus couldn't help but wonder why now was different.

"I'm the one that made sure you lived to affect the world." The white one walked around the bed and stopped in front of him. "Which means I'm responsible for you. Your lapse with the cruciatus will balance itself eventually, but you did well in everything else. Do you understand what I'm saying? You are more than you were. The world is a brighter place because of you. You deserve better than the sort of suffering you were planning for yourself."

Regulus didn't really know what to feel. It was a common enough conclusion to their talks, but for once he wanted their meeting to end on a less frustrating note. "This is it, isn't it?"

Raphael was amused."It?"

"The moment when you ask me if I'm okay with you retroactively interfering with my life and not taking into account any of my previous opinions on the matter of your involvement, regardless of how heavy-handed."

"Yes. So, do I have your permission."

Black ducked his head and sighed. "Sure."

"Marvelous!"Raphael beamed and tapped him on the head with something hard. Wooden.

Looking up again, Regulus accepted the photo frame. The frame with him and his sibling. The one that was supposed to be on the wall.

Then Raphael was gone and the glass of water shattered against the wallpaper above the potted plant with a resounding smash. Somehow, he didn't jerk in fright.

"Well, so you do have human reactions."

Regulus looked up from his inspection of the moving photo, just as Sirius was poking his younger self in the ear. He'd expected Leona or Marius, Maybe even Ted or Andromeda, not him. "What do you want?" he set the photo next to him on the duvet, face-down.

"Nice to see you too," James Bond said dryly, walking into the room and taking it all in a single glance. "Nice place. Very... quaint." Regulus didn't speak. He was very good at that when he wanted to be. Sometimes it was easiest to get people to leave by just shutting up. It made it abundantly clear their presence was unwanted. Unless they were particularly dim, which Bond wasn't. Unfortunately.

Or fortunately, depending on one's view. "Here." He tossed a folder over, and it landed next to the wizard, on the bed. "Similar situation as Rookwood's. MI6 will pay you for every collaboration. If nothing else, it will be a good way to pass the time. Who knows, maybe one of these runaway magicals will have something that will help you."

It was a good sales pitch, even though MI6 obviously just wanted to bag one of those wizards for themselves, not having gotten Rookwood. Regulus had portkeyed him to the ministry, with a nice calling card (a temporary black ghost tattoo on his face, where no one would miss it).

"Right..." Bond said, off balance because of the wizard's continued silence. "And you can use this," he opened his briefcase using the chair next to the end tablet and pulled out one of those huge cellular telephones. "To contact us. The first button sets up a line automatically."

After a moment's thought, Regulus accepted it. He immediately decided there was no way he would carry that dead weight with him everywhere. Not in that state anyway. Summoning his wand, he waved it over the thing, shrinking it despite Bond's protests. Then he enlarged it and shrunk it again, then did that another couple of times before returning it to normal size and pressing the fast-dial button.

Lo and behold, it still worked!

Regulus shrunk it to the size of a dime again and closed his fist around it.

Then, standing up, he ignored Bond, who was about to say something else, and disapparated.

He appeared in the sky, a hundred feet above the back yard of a certain house, already casting a featherweight and disillusionment charm on himself. Maybe it was insane to do this, but he needed more confirmation. Most of his sense of self-worth was fake, stemming from his parents trying to overcompensate for chasing Sirius away. He wanted to believe Raphael, but he sure as hell wasn't a well-adjusted person. He needed more, and what better way to confirm if you should be allowed to go on living than a blood ward?

A mother's love. A sacrifice out of love.

Regulus sunk through the border of the magical protection.

The change in sensation was immediate. He could feel himself being examined, judged. Something searched through him, lingering for a long moment on the dark mark on his left arm, but eventually passing...

And Regulus Arcturus Black safely touched down in the middle of the back lawn of Number 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. For a moment he felt relief, and a grudging acknowledgment for Dumbledore. At least the old man cast the spell properly, even if Lily Potter really did all the work.

Returning the cellular phone to normal size, the wizard allowed himself to gaze on it. It looked bulky, and it was obviously shielded against electromagnetic waves. For all the good it did. He pulled out the antenna, all five inches of it, and pressed the speed-dial button. The standard ringtone could be heard in the emitter, and soon enough someone answered.

And proceeded to fail to make themselves understood.

Regulus moved the phone away from his ear and glared at it. "Engorgio." And just like that, the antenna was three meters long. Maybe if its tip was far enough from him, it would work better-ah yes. M was on a roll there. "-ld at least have the grace to at least greet the person you're calling-"

"I want a penthouse."

That shut her up.

"Not in London though, too much pollution. Somewhere nice, a good-sized city but with clean night skies. It'll have to be large enough for me, my equipment and research labs. You can dock the pay from my so-called collaboration fees over the next seven years, and I might even share some of my inventions if I happen to feel annoyed enough with Wizarding Britain to not care about the Statute of Secrecy. I'll even let you install a helipad if you want, but I want something in exchange."

"Naturally, it's not as though providing you with such accommodations could possibly be considered a favor by us instead of for us."

Regulus smirked. Despite the sarcasm, she hadn't outright come out and said no. "Of course."

"Well? What has that mind of yours cooked up now? What do you think we will agree to do this time?"

"Set up a permanent watch. With undercover plants and everything else in the whole set."

A pause on the other line. When M spoke again, she was serious. "On whom? And where?"

"A person of interest to Her Majesty's Government. I could say he is the heir to the true line of the Duke of Norfolk," -he ignored the gasp of whoever was in the same room as M- "But I won't emphasize that since the Queen won't care much about someone that may or may not supplant en entire existing Peerage, even if it is of the Earl Marshall. So instead I'll just say it's the baby that offed that dark wizard two weeks ago."

He waited, until M realized he wasn't going to give the location unless she agreed. "I suppose a Penthouse paid from your own money wouldn't be too much of a difficulty in exchange for the address."

"I'm glad we understand each other so well."