Sirius was on his feet before he even realised it.
"What?" he croaked. Dora just looked grim. "When? Wher- How? Why?"
"Two nights ago. She was in her flat, just- I dunno, doing whatever it is Bones does when she's alone. Someone broke in, apparently. And then Rattler went to see her when she didn't show up to work yesterday. I don't know what she was like when he found her, but obviously she wasn't in any state to get help, or move herself."
Unconscious, Sirius' mind whispered, as long-forgotten skills tentatively made their way back into his head, or she'd have cast a Patronus.
"She's been moved to St Mungo's, and she's stable, but no one's allowed to see her." She hesitated, and then she scrunched up her face. "Mad-Eye's not coping. No one is."
"So they want my help?" Sirius asked, a little doubtfully. Dora bit her lip, and Sirius frowned, staring at the files on the table, and at his second cousin. "Dora?"
"I want your help," she said, finally. Sirius stared at her.
"I copied the files," she admitted in a rush. "Like I said, no one's coping – Mad-Eye's just sitting in his office, looking at old photographs, for Merlin's sake, and Scrimgeour..."
"What about Scrimgeour-?"
"Well," she said, glancing around as if she was afraid to be overheard, "don't you think that there might be a reason that Scrimgeour's Head of the Auror Department, and not Head of the D.M.L.E.?"
"Obviously. Amelia's made for the job – she and Rattler both are, really – but Scrimgeour'd be all right," Sirius said. "He could be Minister one day, if he keeps going this way-"
"If he lives that long," Dora muttered, looking worried. "Look, Scrimgeour's great and all, but he's made to take orders, not give them-"
"He gives plenty of orders," Sirius said; he'd experienced most of those orders firsthand.
"Yes, but- I mean as far as organising goes. He's an act first, think later, make a plan as he goes sort of bloke, where Bones is very organised, and very-"
"Careful," Sirius suggested. Dora nodded.
"And there's nothing wrong with that, it's just the way things are, but there's a reason that Bones gives orders to Scrimgeour and he follows them, despite the age difference, despite the experience difference, despite-" She paused, and took a moment to collect herself; Sirius was under the distinct impression that she'd given this a lot of thought, and was quite impressed; for an eighteen year old, she had a very good understanding of inter-departmental politics and power-distribution. "We're off topic. Point is, that Scrimgeour's hesitating now – trying to work out what Bones would want him to do-"
"He should just ask Rattler-"
"Rattler's not faring too well either," she said. "There's a reason there are – were - two of them running the department, and not just one. It's a two person job."
"And he doesn't have an office background; he was a Hit Wizard," Sirius said, thinking aloud. Dora nodded grimly. Rattler had experience with threats like the one they were facing now, but he, like Scrimgeour, was the type to attack first, ask questions later. He and Amelia were very different people in that regard. It had worked before because they balanced each other out, but with no Amelia, there was nothing to balance. Sirius swore and Dora added her own, rather impressive words too. Then she looked around, a little sheepishly, as if expecting Kreacher to appear and berate her.
"The whole department's shutting down," she said. "It's- Maybe they're in shock, or- I don't know. Point is, we can't sit around and wait for them to snap out of it. We have to investigate this, have to work out who their next target is, and why, and how to stop them-"
"Were there signs before this attack?" Sirius asked. "Was Amelia acting oddly? Had she been threatened?"
"She's the only one that could tell you that," Dora said, "but no, not as far as I could tell." She paused again, and then looked hard at Sirius, who felt the urge to fidget. "Does this mean you'll help?"
"Do you really have to ask?" Sirius asked, pulling the files closer.
"Lupin." Remus tensed and turned around.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, as the man approached him. Remus recognised him at once, of course, but amongst the crowds in the Leaky Cauldron – which were rather large, with Christmas only a few weeks away - he doubted anyone else would give the man as much as a second glance.
"I know I'm the leader of a group of highly talented, very dangerous dark wizards and witches-" Remus rolled his eyes. "-and thatdoes keep me very busy, but even I have time to get out and about sometimes." The man offered him a sly smile and sat down in the seat opposite Remus, who was now regretting having not eaten at the bar. "Particularly when I have an agenda t-"
"Did you follow me here?" Remus asked.
Either oblivious to, or choosing to ignore Remus' frosty tone, the man replied, "Please, Lupin, the world doesn't revolve around you."
"See you later, then," Remus said. He caught Tom's eye and put a galleon down on the table to pay for his burger and butterbeer, and then stood and walked away. He wasn't at all surprised when the other man called his name again, and very reluctantly went and sat down again. "Interesting," he said aloud. The other man cocked an eyebrow. "It would seem," Remus said, in an airy tone, "that the world – or at least your world – does revolve around me, at least for the moment."
"Oh, for Merlin's-" The other man looked frustrated, but didn't finish his complaint. "I need your he-"
"No," Remus said, before he'd even heard what the other man wanted.
"Not to tell Sirius everything I knew," Remus said, cutting him off. "That's as much cooperation as you're going to get from me." Months of frustration seeped into his voice, which he managed to keep low, and even; shouting wouldn't help anyone. "Do you know how frustrating it is, to watch your best friends skipping nights of sleep and meals, and staying late at work to try to figure out what your next move's going to be? They're tired and stressed and confused, and Dora still blames herself for what happened to Amelia last week, and both of them are wondering why the hell I'm not trying to help-"
"You're not?" The other man looked genuinely surprised at that.
"Of course not," Remus snapped. "If I'm obtuse about it, or deliberately feed them the wrong clues, one of them's bound to notice. I'm not telling them everything, but I'm not about to start lying to them. I respect them both more than that. And I'm not going to genuinely help them, because I have specific instructions not to." Those last four words came out laced with bitterness. The other man watched him for a moment.
"I and my... followers... do appreciate your cooperation-"
"Honestly, I don't care if it's appreciated or not," Remus snapped. The other man eyed him warily for the first time, perhaps remembering that Remus was, in fact, dangerous. Perhaps he was even wondering when the next full moon was. "I'm not doing it because you-"
"I know your motivations," the other man said, "and am well aware that my happiness and wellbeing don't feature prominently at all." Remus sighed.
"It's not- Look, I'm sympathetic to your... cause... or whatever it is you want to call it," he said, "and that's the only reason I'm going along with this-" He pointed a finger at the other man, who nodded and eyed it warily. "-but don't expect my involvement. You've set this up on your own, and I won't work against Sirius-"
"You've made that obvious in the past," the other man said, rolling his eyes. "Besides, you could argue that you're already involved..." Remus gave him a stony look. "All right, all right. Don't get your wand in a-"
"Why are you here?" Remus demanded, his patience finally giving out.
"Information." Remus checked his watch, sighed, and waved Tom over so that he could order another butterbeer. The other man ordered a firewhiskey. They sat in silence until the drinks arrived, and then Remus took a sip, and clasped his hands together.
"What do you need to know?"
Sirius tapped on the door and pushed it open, figuring it would be closed if visitors were unwelcome, and also that Mary and Susan would probably be well used to interruptions anyway.
Sure enough, Mary, who was sitting at a table with a book, looked up impatiently. Surprise – one of the few things she could probably feel – flickered over her face, and Susan's mouth fell open.
"Morning," he said.
"Sirius," Mary said, smiling. Sirius almost believed the smile. "What are you doing here?"
"I've come to see Amelia Bones," Sirius said, putting his hands in his pockets. He spotted a picture of Mary, Alice, Marlene and Lily and spent a few seconds staring at it before he tore his eyes away. One dead, one mental, one heartless and one broken, he thought. "I thought you might be able to-"
"No," Mary said.
"No." And with that, Mary lost interest in Sirius and went back to her book.
"Please? I need to ask her some questions, about what happened when she was attacked." Mary said nothing. "It's important."
"She's resting," Susan said, speaking up, for the first time.
"She's had a week. She ought to at least be stable. I only need a few min-"
"I'm the Healer in charge," Mary said, "and I said no. She needs rest, and she's not allowed any visitors-"
Mary's habit of cutting him off was starting to get annoying.
"She was attacked, and almost killed. You can understand our reluctance to let anyone near her, I'm sure. You're not getting in, so unless you've got anything else you need to do before you leave, then you might as well leave now."
"Mary, please. She might know something important-"
"I'm sure she might."
"And I need that information. This is me; I won't hurt her. She's an old friend of-"
"You'll have to get it from somewhere else," she said. Angry was too strong a word to use to describe Mary, but frustrated was probably a fair one. Sirius wondered why he was getting such a powerful response. "No one-" Her eyes flicked to the photograph, as if she was trying to direct her words at that too. "-is allowed in there."
"Marlene was here, wasn't she?" Sirius asked. It had to be; Lily was gone, Alice wasn't – last he'd heard – in any state to be investigating anything, and Mary herself was here, being stubborn. There was only one other girl in the photo.
"Yes," Mary said. "And I sent her away too." Sirius paused for half a second and then turned. "Finally," he heard Mary say impatiently, as he pushed the door open and hurried out of it.
It took quite a bit to surprise Marlene these days, so when Sirius showed up on her doorstep, brushing snow off the shoulders of his black leather jacket, in mid-December, she hardly paused before stepping back to let him inside. He'd found her in a muggle prison; it was hardly surprising that he'd found her here, at her place of residence.
"Yes?" she asked, arching an eyebrow.
Sirius opened his mouth at once – obviously he had something he was bursting to say, or ask – but what came out sounded more like an afterthought.
"Are you okay?"
"Obviously," she said, rolling her eyes. "I'm still in one piece, aren't I? Still here-"
"-and not in prison," he finished, looking grave. "Yes, you are." She watched him watch her with an expression she couldn't read. "But Amelia-"
"Is a good friend, and what happened to her is horrible, but she's not going to die, and she's in good hands," Marlene said. "It's not the end of the world." She took a deep breath.
"And how many times have you told yourself that since it happened?" Sirius shot back.
"None of your business," she retorted.
"Do you believe it yet?" Sirius asked, his voice quiet all of a sudden. Marlene pulled a face at him and stalked away. "Wait!" he sighed, and she heard him following. "Marly, please, I need to talk to you." She didn't stop; instead, she kept walking until she was in her sitting room. She flopped down on one of the couches, crossed her arms and her legs and glowered at Sirius, who was hovering uncertainly in the doorway.
"Well?" she asked. He approached with all the caution of a man approaching a bludger that may or may not have been secured in its box, and sat down on the very end of the couch opposite hers.
"What were you doing at St Mungo's?"
"Who said I was there?" she asked, keeping a very straight face. Sirius was probably clever enough to put it together if he had the right information.
"Mary," Sirius said. Marlene sighed. "She wasn't very happy with you."
"She'll get over it," Marlene said. And she would; Mary didn't – couldn't – hold grudges because she lacked the emotional capacity to do so. Sirius shrugged. "What were you doing at St Mungo's?"
"Same thing as you," he said, holding her eyes with his own.
"I doubt that," she said.
"Investigating," he said, arching an eyebrow.
"Without permission," Marlene said, giving him a disapproving look.
"When's that ever stopped me?" Sirius asked.
"This isn't a silly rule set by a teacher, Sirius," she said. "Lives are at-"
"Which is exactly why I wanted to help." He frowned at her. "I'd have thought, after the Order, you of all people would understand."
Marlene hesitated. She rearranged herself on the couch, drawing her knees up to her chest so that she could rest her chin on them. She regarded Sirius for a long moment, her own instinctual opinions messing with the opinions she'd had drilled into her these past few months.
"If you weren't asked to help, then maybe you shouldn't-"
"You too?" he asked, in a cutting voice. "Are you really, after everything, going to tell me I should pretend there's nothing going on, and do nothing?"
"Sirius, you don't understand," Marlene heard herself say. "Just- the case is in good hands-"
"I know," Sirius said, giving her a sharp look. Marlene stared at him, genuinely troubled by that admission.
"Dora's got it," Sirius said, lowering his voice. "And Mad-Eye."
"No," Marlene said, confused. "Gawain and I have it." She paused, realising what she'd just said. Then she reached for the pillow beside her and threw it at Sirius with as much force as she could muster. "You tricked me into telling you!" Sirius, who'd dodged the pillow, knew better than to throw it back; he sat on it instead. "If you breathe as much as a word of that to anyone, so help me I'll-"
"Do something horrendously embarrassing or nasty, I'm sure," Sirius drawled, but he looked troubled.
"Exactly," she agreed tonelessly, deflating. Sirius was playing absentmindedly with some sort of necklace he was wearing, and frowning hard at the floor while he did so. He was obviously thinking hard about something. "Sirius?" she asked tentatively. He didn't seem to hear. "Sirius?"
"I have to go," he said, still looking uncertain as he got to his feet. He'd already vanished into the hallway when he called, "Something's come up." Marlene got to her own feet so that she could follow him.
"Sirius, what in Merlin's name are you talking about?! You've been here the whole time, haven't taken any letters or Sidekick talks, or talked to anyone but me, so how can something have 'come up'?" Sirius shrugged in response and pulled open her front door. She reached out and grabbed his sleeve and yanked him around to face her. His face was unreadable, and she didn't like that at all. "What's going on?"
"I don't know," he said, and she suspected he was being honest. She let go of his sleeve so quickly he probably thought it had burned her. "I- I'll see you later." Marlene bit her lip, not sure whether to demand an explanation or just let him go. "Thanks for- well, letting me in," he said.
"Don't mention it."
Sirius left with one more worried, confused look over his shoulder.
"I didn't know who else to come to," Sirius said quietly, sitting down. "I don't know- I'm scared. I mean, I trust Moony implicitly... and if he's been off lately, I'm sure there's a better explanation for it than something nefarious, only- Urgh! Last time I doubted him, it turned out to be Peter, and not trusting him – not confiding in him - is one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made. But I know he's up to something; sneaking off to meetings, being vague about where he's been, and the fact that he was out to lunch on the day that Amelia... I know," he said, anticipating the response before it came. "I know, it's probably coincidence, but I just can't shake the feeling."
"And I hate it," he continued. "I hate that I can't trust him completely right now. I feel like the world's biggest git, because he's been nothing but loyal, and here I am accusing him of- I don't even know what I'm accusing him of!" Sirius ran a hand through his hair, and aimed a kick at the nearest thing, which happened to be a shoe. It soared across the room, and hit the wall with a thud. "Maybe he is involved with them, and maybe they're not evil at all... but then why wouldn't he have said something? And why would they have attacked Scrimgeour, and put Amelia in St Mungo's?"
"And then Dora- I trust Dora, but I trust Marlene, and they can't both have the case! And I know Marlene tried to kill me, but she's never lied to me, so I don't know why she'd start now, and she's certainly not the type to go around cavorting with Death Eaters, or whoever the bloody Serpent Sworn are. But then, neither's Dora, but the Ministry wouldn't assign two separate Aurors and their trainees one case without the others knowing about it! You know they wouldn't! And unless either Mad-Eye or Robards are behind it-" Sirius didn't like to consider either of them as possibilities. "-then I just- I don't- it doesn't make any sense."
"I don't know what to do, James. I have no idea. The files Dora brought over didn't have much at all, and now I can't help wondering if they're even accurate... I'm not even really supposed to be helping, but I can't exactly let it go, can I? Not when they might be after Harry." Sirius buried his face in his hands. "I just- I don't have anyone else I can talk to – Moony's weird right now, Dora and Marly and Robards may or may not be working with the Serpent Sworn, and I can't dump all this on Harry, and Snape and Dumbledore don't have much more idea than I do, and I just- I could really use the help, Prongs."
James smiled back at him, from one of the photographs on the wall, and Sirius gave him a sad smile back.
"You won't get answers from there, Kreacher doesn't think." Kreacher stepped into the room, holding a plate of biscuits and a steaming mug of tea, which he pressed into Sirius' hands. Then, hesitantly, as if expecting to be told off, Kreacher perched himself on the bed beside Sirius, and petted his knee.
"Thanks," Sirius said, staring at the biscuits. He didn't really feel like them, but appreciated the gesture. Kreacher petted his knee again.
"Is there anything that Kreacher can help Master with?" Kreacher asked hopefully.
"You don't know anything about the Serpent Sworn, do you?" Sirius asked, without much hope. Kreacher's ears drooped and he shook his head.
"Kreacher has nothing to share with Master on the matter," Kreacher said. He sighed, and spent a moment admiring his ring, then looked up and watched photo-James before turning back to Sirius. "Kreacher thinks that, in these stressful times, Master is wise to be wary, but not of his friends. Easier to say than do, Kreacher knows," he added gently – or in as gentle a voice as he could manage with his bullfrog's voice - before Sirius could comment, "but Master Sirius has picked good friends. Friends that can be trusted, Kreacher thinks." Kreacher gave Sirius a sly, toothy grin. "Even if they are half-breeds and blood traitors." He petted Sirius' knee for the third time, and nodded. "Good friends indeed."
"Thanks, Kreacher," Sirius sighed.
"It'll work out," Kreacher said optimistically. "Master will see." And with that, he hopped off the bed and vanished with his usual cracking noise.
"I hope so," Sirius said to the empty room.
Harry was bored. He'd made himself bacon and eggs for dinner to give Kreacher the night off, he'd eaten, he'd done the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, cleaned his bedroom, tidied the training room, brewed a hair-colour changing potion to slip into Padfoot's tea at some point tomorrow (it was a Saturday), done his weekend homework, and wrapped all of his Christmas presents for next week.
Harry was really bored. And he couldn't even go to bed because it was only eight and there was no way he'd sleep for at least an hour.
"Master Harry," Kreacher said, emerging from his cupboard. "Kreacher was wondering if perhaps, Master could pace elsewhere..."
"Sorry," Harry said sheepishly. Kreacher disappeared into his cupboard again, looking relieved.
Eventually Harry found himself in the training room, casting spells at the walls, and at the training dummy. He and Padfoot hadn't done much spellwork lately – Padfoot feared he might be too far ahead at Hogwarts, otherwise - and it felt good to practice a bit, even if it was old stuff.
He flopped down onto the floor, tired, and thought, maybe, that he might work on his Animagus incantation. Then he decided, mere seconds later, that he couldn't be bothered with that, and decided that maybe he'd do the next best thing; maybe he'd try to see what it'd be like on full moons, once he was an Animagus... it was purely motivational... not at all merely because he was curious.
He ran up to his room and retrieved his father's mirror, and then flopped down onto his bed.
"Sirius Black," he said into it. It shimmered and showed Moony's sitting room, and his little kitchen bench in the background. Harry thought he could hear howling but he couldn't see Padfoot or Moony. Ostendere me omnia, he thought, hoping me might be able to look through the walls of Moony's cottage and get a glimpse of them.
All that happened, however, was that the image in the mirror glowed a faint yellow-gold. It was Moony's magic, hovering like mist throughout his house. There were trails of Padfoot's static red and even Tonks' rainbow. The mirror itself was glowing a deep red with brilliant gold streaked through it. Harry knew it was James' and watched in fascination as the magic darted around - fluttering like Snitch wings - without actually moving anywhere. He ended the spell on the mirror and Moony's house vanished. All Harry could see was his own reflection; the red and gold of his magic, green of his eyes, the black of his hair and of his... forehead...?
Harry stared, stunned. His scar was black to his magical sight. Black, with green and silver flickering inside- No, Harry thought. No, it can't be. But it was. Black and green and silver like the locket, like the warding on the cave, like Voldemort. He stared into the mirror again, horrified, and tried to scrub it off.
It wouldn't go. He tried, again and again, through he knew it was useless. He couldn't feel it, but he didn't know if that made it better or worse. He didn't know how long it had been there. He didn't know if it had been controlling him. He didn't know how much of him was him, or if he was just as bad as Voldemort, or would be eventually. He didn't know if Voldemort knew that some of his magic lived in Harry, or if he could somehow use it to read his mind or attack people the way the locket had attacked him. What if he attacked Padfoot? What if he woke up one day and decided to kill muggles? Like Hermione? Or Blaise? Or Mrs Phelps, or any of the others?
The windows shattered, as did the lamps. The curtains fell in a heap on the floor. Harry let out a little sob and sprinted out of the training room. By the time he burst into his bedroom and dragged his rucksack out from under the bed, he'd calmed down enough to evaluate his options.
I can't stay here, he thought, oddly detached as he pulled clothes out of his wardrobe and shoved them into his rucksack. Padfoot... Padfoot will- Harry bit his lip. Moony has Tonks now. He grabbed his spare pair of trainers and tossed those in too. I can't go to the Ministry, because they'll hand me right to Umbridge, and that's not going to help anyone... Dumbledore might help me... but he wouldn't want me near his students once he realised I've got Voldemort in me... Snape's out of the question, because he lives in the school... I can't go back to the Dursleys either. Padfoot would look there, and I could hurt them.
He'd be alone, Harry realised, wherever he ended up going. He grabbed a photograph of the Marauders and Lily off his desk and tucked it carefully into the top pocket of his rucksack and then, after a moment's hesitation, grabbed his Gringotts key and the hefty bag of galleons he'd earned in pocket money so far.
He tiptoed past Kreacher's cupboard, and into the library, where he grabbed Practical Defensive Magic And Its Uses Against The Dark Arts and Wands As Weapons in.
Then, he left. He slipped out of the front door and closed it as silently as he could, before he headed left, not daring to walk past Marlene's house. Once he was a fair distance down the street, he stuck out his wand hand.
"He's not answering," Sirius said, frowning. Remus accepted a bowl of porridge from Sirius, and propped himself up on the couch, groaning.
"Maybe he's still asleep," Remus suggested.
"Maybe," Sirius said, unconvinced.
"By all means go and check on him, then," Remus said, wincing as he sat up. "Do you want me to come too?"
"No, stay," Sirius said. "Finish breakfast, and I'll come back with tea." Sirius clambered into the fireplace and stepped out into the quiet kitchen. He took a cautious sniff but nothing stood out. The table was clean and the dishes by the sink were washed but not put away which meant Harry had done them. Smiling slightly, Sirius waved his wand and sent them floating into the dresser.
He nodded, satisfied, and headed upstairs. That was when the little niggling feeling that something was wrong - the one he'd had all morning - peaked. It was nothing big, really, but all the doors were closed, and it scared the hell out of Sirius.
He sprinted up the stairs taking them as-many-at-a-time-as-he-bloody-well-could until he reached the fourth floor landing and wrenched Harry's bedroom door open.
Harry didn't look up and ask what he was doing. Harry didn't hex him. Harry didn't call from downstairs and ask why he'd charged up the stairs so noisily. Harry wasn't there, but the room was a mess. The lamps were shattered, as was the window, the desk chair had fallen over, and the things that had rested on Harry's desk were scattered on the floor. The room smelled like panic.
He sprinted back out onto the landing and whispered, "Homenum Revelio." Kreacher's silhouette burned a bright orange-yellow through the linen cupboard wall but search as Sirius might, he couldn't find as much as a spark to indicate the presence of his Godson. "Kreacher!" he called. Kreacher wandered out of the cupboard looking confused.
"Where's Harry?" he asked.
"Master Harry is in-"
"No," Sirius said. Panic crawled like hot-footed ants across his forehead. "No, he's not." Kreacher's eyes widened. "Get Moony," Sirius said in a shaky voice. "Get- Kreacher, please, now."
Kreacher was back in a few seconds; Sirius had hardly moved, and was trying to put together what might have happened.
"Sirius?" Remus croaked, straightening as Kreacher released him. "Wh-"
"Harry's gone," Sirius croaked. Remus stepped into the room, his nostrils flaring as he smelled the room.
"I can't smell anyone else-"
"No," Sirius said, as that dawned on him. "No, I can't either." So the mess had been made by accidental magic. "But he was scared, Moony! Can you smell that!?"
"Yes, I can," Remus snapped. His irritation faded immediately. "Where could he have gone if he wasn't taken-"
"If I knew, I wouldn't-"
"I know," Remus said, agitated. "I know."
"The Serpent Sworn?" Sirius asked, feeling ill.
"No," Remus said, ashen. "No, it can't- It wouldn't..."
"Well then where is he?" Sirius snapped, kicking the wall. One of the lamps in the hallway shattered, and Sirius didn't think he'd felt this volatile since he escaped Azkaban.
"I don'- Sirius, look."
"I've looked, Moony, he's not here!"
"No, Sirius, look." Sirius followed Remus over to the wardrobe. Drawers were hanging out, but the clothes were gone. Not all of them, but the washing had gone through yesterday, so the drawers should have been full. Sirius glanced at the overturned chair. Usually, Harry's rucksack rested on it. But that was gone too, now that he looked.
Slowly, Sirius looked over at Remus, who looked just as confused and scared as he did.
I hope you all had lovely Christmases! :D
Just a little message to let you know that I'm about to head on holiday - unfortunately, that means no update until the 13th of January.
I'm so, so sorry to make you wait, particularly after this chapter, but I promise I'll update as soon as I'm back!
Sorry again, and a happy new year to all of you!