As Time Goes By
Author's note: Since I'm still flying without a net here, I missed the fact that Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore should not have been wearing "robes" during the combat at Longbottom Manor. They should have been wearing "duelling robes" or "tunics", which they had previously transfigured their regular robes into. I will have to put the Dumbledore robes on my list of things to fix later, along with Remus's incredible disappearing and reappearing sofa (which appears again in this chapter).
Chapter Dedication to Bob: This long enough for ya?
As Time Goes By
Harry and the House Elves
As the late autumn passed and winter set in, the house elves began to realize that it was likely to be a long time before someone came looking for Young Master Harry. This became apparent when two of Master James's friends came up to the Big House to look around. 'Mister Sirius Black Sir' and 'Mister Remus Lupin Sir' could get onto the grounds, but not into the house itself because of the wards, and spent some time looking through the ground floor windows and inspecting the outbuildings such as the carriage house and the stables, both of which had been out of use for decades. Ferny had tried to attract their attention, but the two Wizards had looked right past him without even seeing him. Then they walked down the road towards the town of Godric's Hollow, passing right by the Dower Estate without noticing that, either, or Nanny, who was jumping up and down on the front steps, frantically waving at them and calling to them.
A few days after that, Brandy went into town to visit the greengrocer and the butcher, since Young Master Harry Potter and the house elves needed to eat, and the kitchen gardens at the Dower Estate wouldn't be producing enough to support them until the following year. The greengrocer was, in fact, a Wizard, and he was used to the Potters' house elves showing up from time to time, since he and his ancestors had been supplying the Big House for several generations. This was the first time Brandy had been there since the Fidelius was cast, though, and her reception was very different. For one thing, she didn't get a reception at all. The normally quite friendly grocer looked right through her and ignored her presence completely. It took her several minutes to discover that he wasn't being rude, but that he couldn't see her at all, even when she turned off her 'Muggles Can't See Me' power and stood on the counter in front of him. Sadly, because she did rather like talking to Mr. Greengrocer, Brandy took a basket and filled it with everything she needed, tried to figure out how much money she owed for it all — with some difficulty as counting things was not her best skill — and stuffed the appropriate amount of Muggle money, with some extra in case she'd miscounted, into the till. Then she went back to the Dower Estate to report her experience.
"I think we is on our own, Ferny," she said tearfully. "No one in town is seeing me, even when I am turning off my 'Can't See Me'. I don't think we is going to be getting any help with Young Master Harry Potter."
"Then we is doing the best we can," said Ferny. "Nanny is good at taking care of Wizard babies. She will teach him to read and write and be ready to go to school. We is rebuilding the house to get rid of the broken spots. In the spring, we is going to make a big garden — the best garden we can — to grow food. We is still getting money out of the Goblin pot, and Goblins was paying Muggles to send water and gas and 'lectricity so maybe Goblins is still paying. We worries about that if it stops. Mistress Lily liked using Muggle gas and 'lectricity but if it stops we does without it and goes back to the old ways. If we needs something from the village we can go and take it and put the money where the humans can find it. We gets clothes and books and toys for Young Master Harry Potter that way. And when Young Master Harry Potter is all grown up and is a Wizard, we gives him the wizard spell sticks and the rings we found — both Family Magic rings and even the Nasty Dark one — and he can make us all visible again. Yes. That is what we is doing."
And that was what they did. In cleaning up the house and preparing Mistress Lily and Master James's bodies for burial, they had found three wands — Lily's, James's, and a strange dark wood one that had rolled under the crib — and three rings — James's signet ring, the signet ring that had been left on the Messy Bad Man's finger in the kitchen, and a Nasty Dark ring with a skull and snake design that had been found in the nursery near the scorched spot on the floor. The two signet rings were Family Magic. Young Master Harry Potter would be needing his Family Magic ring in order to take control of all the Potter properties and magics when he was an adult, not to mention taking on any new house elves. The other Family Magic ring would have to be returned to the person who had lost it, or perhaps to his Heir, in order for that person to access his own family property and magic. And the silver skull and snake ring held so much Dark magic in it that it had burned Ferny before he dropped it, and he had then used Muggle pliers to pick it up safely and put it in a jewelry box. They had no doubt that the Nasty Dark ring was somehow involved with for their current predicament, but they had great faith that Young Master Harry Potter would eventually grow up to free them from it.
Once the damage to the house was repaired, things settled down for the long winter. Harry stayed in the elf quarters throughout the winter, where it was small and cozy and warm and he fit in. Nanny took care of him and told him stories and sang elf songs to him, and by the end of the winter he was learning how to talk and how to pick up things and put them away, just like a proper little elf would. Nanny beamed with pride. Even though she knew he wasn't an elfling, still, it wouldn't hurt for him to know how to pick up his things a little.
The other adult elves repaired the damage to the upper level of the house, pulling the roofbeam back into place, repairing the roof itself, and patching the ceiling and walls. The elves never did figure out how to get the electricity working in the upstairs again, even though they carefully replaced the wires in the walls just like Mister Remus Lupin and Mister Peter Pettigrew had done when it was first installed, so the bedrooms remained dark. The planks of the floor in Young Master Harry's room had to be replaced where they had been scorched, and the elves worked very hard at making the new planks look just like the old ones had before the Bad Wizard had exploded there. Likewise, all the plaster in Young Master Harry's room was taken down and replaced and then painted just like it had been, and the furniture rebuilt and all the toys repaired. This all took time and a lot of hard work, but if there was one thing the elves understood, it was hard work.
Whatever arrangement Master James had with the goblins was still in effect, because money, both Muggle notes and Galleons, kept appearing in the cauldron which was set aside for that purpose in the study. The Muggle water and electricity and gas service continued too.
In the village of Godric's Hollow, some of the shopowners had noticed some odd things. Items from the shelves would disappear at irregular intervals, and small wads of bills would appear in the tills without there being a matching receipt. This happened primarily at the stores that provided foodstuffs of various sorts, and the only one who had any idea of what was really happening was the greengrocer, one Martin Wiggins, who had one day found two gold galleons in with the pound notes. Fortunately he'd been manning the register himself that day, and not the Muggle girl who was the regular cashier. The presence of the galleons told him that there were elves in the vicinity.
Like many wizards who did not belong to the great families, Wiggins hadn't grown up with house elves and wasn't overly familiar with their ways, but he knew that some of them were trusted with running errands for their families. He'd even seen a few in his shop over the years, although not recently. He knew the Potter family had an estate house in the area, but the old couple had passed on years before and their son and his wife hadn't settled at the estate, as far as he knew. It was a pity, because supplying the house had been one of his major accounts in the old days, back when there was entertaining and wizards passed through the village on a regular basis. Now, though, it looked like someone was back. The galleons in the till told him that. Possibly some wizard had opened up a home in the area. Possibly there were still some elves at the Potter estate, taking care of it. He couldn't remember exactly where it was at the moment, which was about what he expected; that's how the magical gentry kept their privacy. He hadn't seen any elves or unknown wizards in the area, but that didn't mean they weren't around. Presumably they wanted to keep knowledge of their presence to a minimum, and given the things that were going on recently, he couldn't blame them. With You Know Who falling, and Death Eaters showing up in odd places, and babies disappearing — well, who knew what the world was coming to? At least he was fairly sure that his unknown customers weren't Death Eaters — they would have just taken what they wanted, he thought, shuddering at the idea. Whoever this was, they paid properly for what they took, and even overpaid, if his estimates of what was missing from the stock was accurate. If they wanted privacy, he could assure them of that, at least. He showed the galleons to the cashier and told her that if she found anything like them in the till in the future, she was to bring them directly to him. Likewise, unaccounted sums of money were to be given to him to deal with. A very small compulsion charm, of the sort that was learned by almost everyone who dealt with Muggles on a daily basis, ensured that she would do so, and that she would promptly forget it. Then he went to some of the other vendors in the village, especially the ones who had mentioned stock outages or mysterious sums of money, and did the same — showing them the coins so they would know what to look for, he gave them the idea to come to him if they ever found anything a galleon, sickle or knut in their till, and he would simply exchange bank notes for the wizarding money and blur the memories, and no one would ever be the wiser.
It never occurred to Wiggins that possibly the arrival of the secretive new wizarding family in the area might be connected to the nationwide hunt for Harry Potter, the missing heir to the Potter estate. Not even though he knew the Potters had been local. Whenever he might wonder about who owned the elves that were shopping at his store, he would find himself distracted and start thinking about other matters.
The Fidelius held.
In the life of a young boy, things change rapidly, and yet very little of it is worthy of note to anyone except him and his family. By the time the deep snows of winter receded, Harry was a toddler, and Nanny and Ferny had had to make two trips to the village to acquire clothes and toys for the growing boy. He spent the spring playing outdoors when the weather was fine and indoors when it was raining, and pretty much treated the three elflings as his siblings. By this time, Ferny had discovered that whatever magic it was that made them invisible affected them no matter where they were, even in Diagon Alley. Even to other elves. Still without direction, the Potter elves had to do what they thought best. There would be the need for food, and although there was money now, Ferny still doubted whether it would continue forever. The grounds of the Dower Estate were quite large, and the main estate larger, so Ferny drew up plans for an elaborate set of kitchen gardens to produce all the food they'd need. On a trip to the village bookstore to pick up picture books for Young Master Harry, Nanny had spotted a whole shelf full of books about gardening, and brought one back for Ferny. Ferny didn't read very well, so Nanny had to read it to him, but fortunately Young Master Harry didn't mind listening to chapters about crop rotation and wide bed planting, and he liked looking at the pretty pictures of flowers and bugs. Ferny got so excited he practically swooned, and soon all the elves were busy tearing down the old unused stable so they could use the boards and timbers to make raised beds and build a greenhouse. The tools Master James had bought were once again put to good use, and Young Master Harry got to bang things with his hammer, so everyone was happy. The elves visited the local nurseries for Muggle plants and bought seed for wizarding plants, and Young Master Harry had lots of fun poking holes in the dirt, and within days, encouraged by house elf magic, there were green seedlings popping up all over the place.
Harry's second birthday came, and was celebrated with a proper party. Nanny decided that Young Master Harry was big enough now to move back into the Dower House, and so all of his toys and clothes and things were put in the nursery and Harry's crib was converted into a toddler bed. But that night Harry cried and couldn't be comforted, and the third time Nanny went in to try to convince him to sleep, she found him curled up under the bed with his blanket and his bear. The fourth time, he was in the closet. Eventually she realized that Harry had become so used to sleeping in the small elf house with everyone so close that the big empty room scared him. So she took him back to the elf house, and he was happy again.
The seasons passed, and winter came again, and spring and summer, and soon Harry was three, and difficulties caused by his upbringing began to become apparent.
Shortly after Harry's third birthday, he realised that he didn't look like the house elves, and he didn't dress like the house elves. The elves were properly outfitted in clean, neat tea towels and pillowcases with the Potter family crest on them. Harry wore robes for indoor play, or jeans, jumpers and trainers for outdoors. The house elves were in the habit of getting up before dawn and having an organizational meeting, just to make sure every elf knew what they were supposed to be doing that day, before Harry got up. Apparently Harry realised this at some point, and one morning the elves found their numbers were increased by one. Harry had wrapped himself in a bath towel, which was threatening to fall off at any moment since he had not figured out how to belt it on, and sat barefoot and cross-legged on the floor with the elves. He had somehow managed to get into the green food colouring and had painted streaks of it all over his face and arms.
"Aaaah!" shrieked Nanny. "Master Harry, what is you doing?!"
"Hawwy is a house elf," the boy replied with a huge grin. "Nanny and Ferny and Brandy is house elfs. Hawwy is a house elf too."
"No, Master Harry can't be a house elf! Master Harry is a powerful Wizard!" Nanny said, trying to make him see reason. The folly of trying to making a three year old see reason escaped her at the time.
"Hawwy wanna be a house elf!" the boy said stubbornly.
"Master Harry is a Big Person. He is a Wizard! House elfs is Little People. We takes care of Wizards. Master Harry is not a house elf!"
"Is!" said Harry.
"Isn't!" Nanny said, crossing her arms.
"Is!" Harry replied, crossing his arms just like her.
"Isn't!" yelled Nanny, magicking the green colouring off.
"IS!" howled Harry.
"ISN'T!" yelled Nanny, making a grab for the towel. Then she realised he wasn't wearing anything under it, and hurriedly gave it back.
"Is," said Harry, calmly taking her capitulation in the issue of the towel to mean the whole matter was settled.
Nanny whimpered and pulled her ears in frustration. Harry immediately started tugging on his own ears. "Master Harry, what is you doing?!"
"Make eaws gwow!" said Harry.
"Master Harry can't make his ears grow that way!" said Brandy, pulling the boy's hands away from his ears.
"No?" he asked forlornly.
"No," said Brandy and Nanny in chorus.
Harry burst into tears.
This in turn caused the other elves, who were all quite agitated by what they had seen, to run about pounding their heads on things. Harry's response, as could have been predicted at that point, was to try to bang his own head on the floor. Brandy screamed and slid her own hands in between his forehead and the ground to act as a sort of padding, while Ferny grabbed Master Harry's head and tried to stop him from pounding himself.
"STOP!" yelled Nanny at the top of her lungs. Surprisingly, it worked, and eight pairs of elf eyes and one pair of human eyes stared at her. "Master Harry only thinks he is a house elf. Master Harry is a Big Person and has to learn to be a Big Person."
"House elf," sniffled Harry. Nanny rolled her eyes skyward.
In the long run, Harry outstubborned Nanny, refusing to wear anything that a house elf did not, and refusing to practice talking like the voices on the Wizard Wireless Network that Nanny played for him. He would not go into his room and play with his toys. Instead he followed Brandy or Ferny around and tried to do the work the elves were doing.
Nanny eventually figured out how to cope with it. If Master Harry insisted on dressing as the elves dressed, then the elves would wear clothes. This was perhaps the hardest part of Nanny's program to sell the other elves on, because of the deeply rooted stigma of being given clothes. It was woven into the very magic that gave the house elves life. But Nanny figured out that if the elf put on a tea towel or pillowcase, and then transfigured that so that it only looked like clothes, then it didn't count. Especially when the elf was doing it for him or herself.
So every morning, Nanny would transfigure her pillowcase into whatever outfit she wanted Master Harry to Wear, and so did all the other elves, and then he would consent to get dressed. Nanny supposed it was rather odd to see an estate full of elves all wearing matching jeans, jumpers, and trainers, but it worked.
The next issue was the matter of Harry's speech. Nanny always called him "Young Master Harry" and talked to him as was proper. She knew the difference between the way Big People talked and the way house elves talked, so she had been teaching Harry how to speak, having him repeat phrases heard from the Wizarding Wireless Network. She read books to him in proper Big People talk also. And when Harry was repeating what she taught him, he was flawless. But when he spoke on his own, chattering with the elflings and talking to Ferny about what was being planted, or asking Brandy what was for dinner, he used house elf speech. Nanny didn't know what to do about that. When she encouraged him to speak properly, he did, but he fell right back into talking like a house elf immediately. There was only one possible solution.
She started speaking like the Big People. And she encouraged all the other elves to start speaking like Big People. This was quite a change for most of them, and soon she was teaching classes of elves how to speak, as they all sat around the Wireless. The change was slow, but as the elves picked up the Big People's speech, so did Harry, and eventually everyone was speaking proper English.
Finally, there was the matter of Harry working around the house and estate. For the elves, it was just horrifying that a Wizard would want to do elves' work. But Harry adamantly refused to play with his toys if he was the only one playing. Everybody else was having fun doing things around the house, and he wanted to have fun too! When Nanny tried to teach him his letters and numbers, he refused, because he didn't want to do it alone. He even refused to look at his picture books any more. Reluctantly, Nanny gave in. Brandy and Ferny treated Harry like they would one of the elflings who was starting out to learn home care, even though Harry was already easily as tall as an adult elf. Most wizards thought elves used magic constantly, but in reality they preferred doing things by hand. Magic was used mainly to get from place to place, as when they popped into a room when called, or to put together a meal from previously prepared dishes. Brandy lovingly mixed and kneaded and baked the bread every day, and only used magic to slice it and make Harry's sandwiches from it. So there were a number of things Harry could help with, and as long as the tasks he was given were appropriate to his age, everything went just fine. The day Harry made his first jam sandwich all by himself, Brandy beamed proudly at him, and when he offered her half of it, she burst into tears of joy and had to go into the still room to calm herself.
All the other problems went similarly. House elves normally didn't use chairs, being more comfortable sitting on the ground or squatting. But if she wanted Harry to use a chair, so did she. House elves ate food like stews from one communal bowl, scooped out on pieces of bread. But if Nanny wanted to teach Harry to sit at a table and use a knife and fork and spoon, so did the elves. House elves rarely learned to read, but if Nanny wanted Harry to learn his letters and numbers, she had to teach letters and numbers to the elflings, too. If she wanted him to look at picture books, she made sure there were at least three elflings to look at the books with him. Nanny knew the sorts of games that Big People children played, and taught them to Harry and the elflings and made sure that the elflings, at least, knew that playing with Master Harry was part of their jobs.
Harry was almost five when the insoluble problem came up: magic. He was out playing tag with the elflings, whose magic had begun to come in. First one, then the others had begun to pop from here to there, and it was natural for them to use it in their games. At first it was fun for Harry to chase after his friends and watch them pop away when he almost caught them, and he rapidly learned to tell where they'd pop back in to try to catch him, but eventually it became frustrating. An elfling popped out of his grasp, and Harry wanted more than anything to catch him, and suddenly Harry popped, too!
The world swirled around him for an instant, and he felt like he was falling through a very cold, dark place. There was no light, no sound, nothing to touch, not even himself. Then he fell out of it into light, warmth, into the soft grass and even the sound of Nanny screaming as he passed out was welcome.
The second time Harry popped was also accidental. He tripped and was falling down the stairs, and suddenly popped to the bottom, where he landed on his bum and didn't hurt himself. This time he didn't pass out. After that, he tried to do it on purpose a few times. He learned that he could do it if he really, really wanted to, but it took a lot of energy. One day he tried to do it twice in a row and got stuck in the cold dark between place, and Nanny grabbed him and rescued him and yelled at him and made him promise never to do it twice in a row again. He thought she was mean to yell at him, and it was years later, when he began to understand what he was doing, that he realised how badly he'd frightened her.
Other kinds of magic came to him the same way. If he absolutely needed to do something, he could, but it always took a tremendous amount of energy out of him, and it was almost always better to do things the regular way instead.
Nanny realised that Harry was reaching the age where he would need to learn how to use Wizard magic, if only to stop him from doing house elf magic. She had watched him like a hawk ever since he got stuck in elf space; he could very easily have died if she hadn't been watching him go and realized that he hadn't come out where he should have. Elf space was no place for humans, and elf magic would wear a human out, but there was no one to teach Harry how to use wizard magic. Nanny knew that when Master Harry was old enough, he would go away to Hogwarts and learn proper magic, but that wasn't going to be for a long time. She would just have to watch Master Harry very carefully until then.
With James gone and Peter missing, Sirius and Remus pulled together as the two remaining Marauders, their temporary estrangement forgotten. Once the shock started wearing off and the initial excitement about the raid on the Longbottoms wore off, Sirius mourned James as he had not mourned his own brother. He held himself together long enough to arrange for the funeral, even remembering to notify Petunia and Vernon Dursley, Lily's only living kin (the Dursleys chose not to attend, but that was their business and nobody really missed them).
Two weeks after James and Lily's deaths was the full moon, and Sirius and Remus went out to Remus's cottage and ran free through the countryside and howled at the moon to express their anguish and protest their loss. They both felt much better after that, although they would forever mourn their missing friends.
In order to partially avoid his grief, Sirius flung himself into his work for the Order and the Aurors, which were really the same thing at this point. He submitted reports of the Longbottom raid, testifying at the trials of those apprehended. He took a particular malicious glee in seeing his cousin Bellatrix Lestrange sentenced to life in Azkaban for her torture of Alice Longbottom. The use of the Cruciatus Curse on Alice and on Snape was enough for that; only the fact that no one, not even Snape, could testify to actually seeing her perform a Killing Curse on anyone saved her from the Dementors' Kiss. Both of the Lestrange males were sentenced to twenty-five years apiece for the rape of Alice Longbottom; the sentences were extended to life terms for various other atrocities carried out during their careers as Death Eaters. He also participated in a number of raids on the homes of Death Eaters revealed by the Snape and Malfoy information.
During Sirius' off-duty hours, he and Remus engaged in their personal investigation to find either Harry or Peter Pettigrew. Even if Harry was safe with someone under the Fidelius, if Remus was correct, Peter was out of its protection, and if someone found him, he could reveal the secret again.
Sirius knew where Peter's mother lived, and when he went to visit her he charmed her as he always had, but to no avail. She had no idea where her son was now. She did know, however, that he had planned to spend Halloween in Ireland with his sister, and provided Sirius with the appropriate information. Remus had to make the trip to Ireland, since Sirius couldn't take a day away from the Aurors, and he reported back that Peter had been there but left without warning some time early in the evening — and woe betide Peter if he showed up at Martha's again without a suitable excuse for his disappearance. Pairing that with information Snape had provided, that Voldemort had sworn in a new Death Eater that same night (the information being obtained from a house elf trained as a tailor, who could not describe Peter's face but gave his robe measurements exactly), they now feared the worst. Peter had obviously become a Death Eater, whether willingly or by coercion, and had broken the Secret. The bodies of both Potters showed spell residue typical of an Avada Kedavra, but also of another, unknown spell cast shortly thereafter. Beyond that, though, everything became muddled and unclear. There seemed to be no indication that Peter had handed Harry over to any other Death Eaters at this point, though. Surely someone would have used him as a bargaining chip if they had him. Therefore it was still necessary to track down Peter.
However, Peter had designed his security net well, and it took quite a long time staking out the Hogsmeade Owl Post Centre, together with the sending of an envelope with a tracer on it, to pick up the contact there. It took even longer to get the man to divulge the next step in the process; at one point, Sirius was even considering humbling himself to ask Snape for a favour in breaking the fellow, since the former spy had a way of getting information out of people that Sirius couldn't duplicate. But eventually they tracked the mail to the Muggle messenger firm, and here Remus took over. They already knew the name of Peter's mythical firm, so Remus contacted the messenger company, claiming to be from that firm, and complaining that they were missing three days' deliveries. He was then shown the messenger slips confirming that such deliveries had been made and signed for, and thus obtained the address to which they had been delivered.
They obtained the flat number from the concierge, who seemed to be of the impression that Peter lived there and was picking up his mail daily. They burgled the apartment cautiously just in case Peter really was still there; they knew exactly the sort of booby traps Peter would set up and didn't particularly wish to fall afoul of any of them. But their caution proved unnecessary. All the mail Peter had received since Halloween was piled up just inside the door, and the signs of a hasty departure were obvious: empty drawers spilled out, the closet standing open, toiletries gone, a fine layer of dust all over everything. There was no sign that the place had been ransacked. Peter's desk had not been touched, although it only contained the normal Muggle papers that one would expect to find. The only sign that a wizard had ever lived here was one plain robe left hanging in the closet, and an empty pain potion vial left in the rubbish bin.
The trail had ended. Sirius remembered that Peter had made a comment about hiding in Australia, but there was no way to tell if he had actually gone there, or if that was in itself a misdirection and that was really the last place they should look for him.
Faced with failure, Sirius fell apart for a week and locked himself in his flat until Remus came to drag him out of it. While they were cleaning up the wreck that he had made out of his flat in that time, he discovered the envelope of papers Peter had sent him for Remus, and decided to give it to now since Christmas was fast approaching. Remus whacked him about the head and ears with it for the very notion of waiting until Christmas, and then the two of them went out and got drunk, winding up, unaccountably, at Remus's flat. After a night spent on Remus's sofa, Sirius understood the situation much better.
On top of all that, there was the Lockhart situation. Sirius had filed a proper report on Gilderoy Lockhart, which had triggered a full internal investigation of Lockhart's arrest record. This took over a month due to the chaos resulting from the large number of Death Eater arrests and trials that sprang from the Longbottom raid and subsequent revelations and testimony from Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy. Sirius was beginning to think the Lockhart investigation had been completely forgotten, since the braggart was still swaggering around the locker room every morning. In early December, however, he was called into the office of Amelia Bones, the Head of the Aurors, se.
"Auror Black, since you initiated the Lockhart investigation, I feel it appropriate to let you know the results of it. A close examination of Auror Lockhart's arrests and the convictions resulting from them show that on a number of occasions he did indeed influence a confession through the judicious use of Memory Charms to alter a suspect's memory. This was not true in all cases, of course. In a number of instances Auror Lockhart had indeed apprehended the correct individual. However, those who were innocent have been released from Azkaban and appropriate settlements have been made to compensate them and to guarantee confidentiality. A settlement has been reached with Auror Lockhart as well."
"Settlement?" Sirius didn't like the sound of that.
Head Auror Bones looked up at him through her monocle. "Settlement. You will understand, of course, that the Ministry in general and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in particular are considerably in the public eye at the moment, and there are political ramifications of something like this that must be taken into account. While I, personally, would love to see Lockhart enjoy an extended stay in Azkaban himself for his abuse of authority, that would require a trial that would gain considerable publicity. Unfortunately, at this time, publicity is something the Department cannot afford. You are aware, I'm sure, that one of the Death Eaters apprehended at Longbottom Manor — the one you Stunned in the Floo Parlour, as a matter of fact — turned out to be one Bartemius Crouch, Jr. — the son of the man who is the head of this very Department and who was also heading the Special Tribunals of the Wizengamot for prosecution of Death Eaters. This is enough of a scandal, and Minister Bagshot has already removed Director Crouch from the Tribunals and may very well transfer him to a less sensitive position within the Ministry as well. We cannot afford to have anything cast further suspicions on the Tribunals — especially something like a rogue Auror performing Memory Charms to obtain false confessions. If it were to be made public, that could result in the release of dozens of Death Eaters, even those that are guilty. I'm sure you don't want to see that happen."
"No, of course I don't."
"Good. Then you understand the necessity of making a settlement with Lockhart. Given his obvious skill with the spells necessary, we offered him a transfer to the Muggle Obliviation Section of the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes under Director Fudge, but he didn't accept that. In the end, he agreed to resign from the Aurors entirely, upon condition of confidentiality, to which we have agreed. This means that you, under your Auror's Oath of Duty, are forbidden to speak of the matter to anyone outside the Department."
"You mean he's just going to walk away from it?!"
"Unfortunately, yes. Any other option would have brought too much publicity."
"Couldn't you at least do something to keep him from doing Memory Charms on people again?"
"No, we couldn't," she snapped. "We couldn't force him to take a Wizard's Oath not to use the spell, nor could we Obliviate the knowledge of the Memory Charm from him. Not without a trial that would have brought the very publicity we need to avoid. The confidentiality agreement binds him as well; he can't reveal anything that happened during the time he was an Auror. In a private meeting with him, I did tell him that we would be keeping an eye on him in the future and that any further illegal Memory Charming done by him would be met with charges. He said he was considering travelling out of the country for an extended period of time, and that was agreeable to me. This is the best settlement we could have achieved under the circumstances, Auror Black. I hope you can come to terms with that."
"I'll have to, won't I, Ma'am?" Sirius replied tightly.
"Good. You are dismissed; report to your Commander for today's assignment."
Sirius saluted and left her office. He was far from satisfied with the result, but at least Lockhart wouldn't be wandering around Memory Charming people any more.
Secrecy or not, of course all the Aurors knew about it. Whether or not they had liked Lockhart, Sirius had now become that most dreaded of things, a whistle blower. The other Aurors drew away from him and found reasons not to associate with him. Soon he found himself partnered most often with Moody, because nobody else wanted to be paired with him. The two of them were working on the investigation of suspected Death Eaters within the Department itself, and three Aurors and one Squad Leader turned out to be wearing the shadowy Dark Mark. Although that was their own fault, somehow Sirius was blamed for their arrests and subsequent incarceration, and he was shunned even more and received fewer assignments. He could cope with things for the moment, in fact it gave him more time to focus on work for the Order, but Moody was threatening to retire after the trials were over. That would leave Sirius isolated, and he found himself thinking about his own career options.
These options had been changed by the death of Sirius' father the previous year. The old man had wasted away and died of grief after Sirius' younger brother, Regulus, who had always been the favorite, was killed. Sirius' mother had remained at the family house at Grimmauld Place, and shortly after the fall of Everybody Knew Who, she took the final step from sheer ugliness of personality into total madness and killed all the house elves except her favourite, who went by the name of Kreacher, and then herself. Sirius hadn't lived at Grimmauld Place since he ran away to live with the Potters when he was sixteen, and he'd pretty much ignored the family properties after his father died, letting his mother do what she would. Now the responsibilities of being the Head of the Family began to weigh heavily on him. At the moment, his closest direct male relation was the infant Draco Malfoy, and while he had nothing against the child, who was only slightly older than Harry was, he had no faith in Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy bringing up their child in the Light.
After Draco, the next males were Sirius's second cousins once removed, Arthur Weasley and his two brothers, the elder of whom had left the country early in the Dark Lord's reign. Sirius didn't care to hand the Black Family fortune over to a man who had fled at the first sign of trouble rather than stay and do something about it, and Arthur, the next in line, was none too responsible with money. Sirius had spoken to both Arthur and Molly many times over the past few years and knew who kept track of the finances in that family. As Head of the Family, he had offered them assistance, but they had their pride and refused to touch the Black money directly; he had, however, discreetly arranged with Dumbledore for "scholarships" to Hogwarts for the Weasley children since he rather doubted their finances would manage to get all six — no, seven, Molly had given birth to a girl just last summer, and hadn't Arthur been tickled pink about that — through school. They were already stretched with the oldest two in school, and there would be at least two years when all five of the youngest were in school at the same time. Hogwarts was not cheap. His scholarships would only cover tuition, but it was the best he could do without their knowledge.
Over the course of the next year, Auror work became less and less satisfying for Sirius. The Death Eaters were almost all in Azkaban, and the work of tracking down the few remaining ones was tedious. Peter's mother notified Sirius that Peter had been spotted in the United States. According to the report, he had been hospitalized as a John Doe. Since he had a British accent, somebody had got the British Consulate in on it, and they had managed to backtrack and identify him. By the time Sirius got there, however, he was gone again. There was no indication that he'd been travelling with a small boy, so Harry's whereabouts were still unknown.
Moody retired in April, and as Sirius had predicted, no one else wanted to partner with him regularly. As the odd man out, he found himself relegated to handling paperwork more often than he was out in the field. Finally he had had enough, and handed in his own resignation. Amelia Bones, now Director of Magical Law Enforcement since Barty Crouch had been transferred to the Department of International Magical Cooperation, did not try to talk him out of it, and accepted his formal letter and his badge without surprise. Rufus Scrimgeour, who had taken her place as Head of the Aurors, seemed downright pleased to see him go.
Now without a job, Sirius found himself at a loss for something to do. He didn't really have to work, of course, but he would have to do something if only to keep himself from dying of boredom.
To keep himself busy more than anything else, he began a renovation of 12 Grimmauld Place. It went more slowly than the renovation of … of … wherever it was that he had renovated before had gone, because he didn't have help. James was gone, Peter was missing, Remus had his own job, and Kreacher, the only available house elf, had a tendency to undo everything Sirius did. He couldn't even think about getting Muggle workmen in to do the modernising, primarily because of the portrait of his mother that had been permanently charmed to the wall in the front hall. Most of the other Dark artefacts and little monsters that had taken up residence in the house over the years could be removed and/or evicted, but how could he possibly have workmen in to install electricity and update the plumbing when they would be continually berated by the old bat?
Remus solved the problem for him one day after he came over and spent half an hour listening to Sirius's mum going on about "HALF BLOODS AND HALF BREEDS AND FILTHY CREATURES!"
"Is that a load-bearing wall, do you know?"
"Is it just a plaster dividing wall, or does it hold up the rest of the house?"
"Just plaster, as far as I know."
"Ah. I have an idea." Remus banged on the wall a bit and discovered that there were two support beams on either side of 'Mum', but where she was it was only plaster and lathing. "Back in a bit," he said jovially, and bounced down the front steps. About an hour later, he was back with a bright orange plastic case in one hand and a hammer in the other. "Observe a master at work," he said, and struck the wall next to the portrait with the claw part of the hammer. A hole was bashed in the wall in short order, with Mrs. Black screaming curses at him the whole time. Remus then opened the plastic case and pulled out a Muggle implement of destruction which Sirius vaguely remembered having used before. A switch was flicked on the side of it, and the blade of the saw started vibrating back and forth. In fairly short order, Remus had stuck the blade into the hole and then run the saw around the portrait. The rather loud noise of the saw overpowered the sound of Mrs. Black's shrieks. When he was done, Remus turned the saw off, put it back in its case, and then casually pulled down the portrait, frame and plaster and all. "You have to love a good battery-powered reciprocating saw," he said, grinning. "And Muggle tool rental places. Now, does the old beldam go in the cellar or the attic?"
Sirius applauded his genius, and stashed the painting of Mum in the cellar, where he hoped she grew mould.
With Mum out of the way, and Kreacher banished from the public areas of the house, it was a lot easier to get the renovations accomplished, and Sirius even found a company formed by Squibs who were used to updating Wizard houses, so the electrification of the house went without a hitch.
It was only a temporary patch, though, and soon enough Sirius once again found himself with time on his hands. He gave some thought to occupations again, and found himself at a loss. Being an Auror had pretty much been his dream job through school. The four of them had once spoken of opening a joke shop, but he doubted he'd have the heart for it now. The goblins did a better job of managing the family money than he ever could. He wasn't good enough for professional Quidditch, or patient enough for new spell development. He'd rather enjoyed the mayhem of demolitions on his house and the rebuilding afterwards, but he'd never hear the end of it if he entered a "service industry." He could always enter society, which was something he'd avoided at all costs, but the idea of spending his days and nights in an endless series of social events, chatting up dowagers while dodging their marriage-minded daughters, was not his idea of a fun time.
All in all, becoming a drunkard like Great-Uncle Crateris was looking like a better idea all the time.
The owl from Algernon Croaker was unexpected, mainly because Sirius had no idea who Algernon Croaker was. The letter in elegant old fashioned copperplate script desired an appointment with Mr. Black, if he was not previously engaged, and since Mr. Black had no engagements at all for the next month or so, he rather inelegantly scrawled a reply suggesting a time the next day.
Mr. Croaker proved to be an elderly wizard who favoured the dress of the Victorian era. He looked around the ground floor of the house, with its new, open floor plan (Remus hadn't returned the reciprocating saw until he'd demolished quite a few unnecessary walls) and commented on the changes. "Last time I was here was in your grandfather's day, don't y'know. Quite a few changes you've made here, young man. Quite a few. Always thought the Blacks were traditionalists, m'self."
"Some traditions should be disposed of," said Sirius, shortly.
"I dare say," said Croaker. "Like that lovely portrait of Lavinia, eh?"
"She didn't match the dÃ©cor."
"Damn few decors that woman would match, if you ask me," mumbled Croaker. "Dare say you're wondering why I'm here, correct?"
"Correct, Mr. Croaker."
"As it happens, y'did a signal service for one of my family not so long ago, and I feel the family owes you. I've come across an opportunity for a bright young man such as y'self, and I understand you're, er, between engagements at the moment?"
"You might say that."
"Albus Dumbledore speaks well of you. So does Amelia Bones."
"Scrimgeour, now, he's a little less fond of you. Gather he'd prefer an Auror who's more likely to play by the rules, if y'take my meaning?"
"Rules are meant to be broken."
"Well, now, some are and some aren't. What I'd like to know, lad, is can y'tell which is which?"
"I'd like to think so," said Sirius. "I learned the hard way which pranks should not be played." He shuddered, thinking for a moment of James tackling Snivellus beneath the branches of the Whomping Willow, and the consequences that would have come had James run not quite as fast.
"Pranks, was it? I heard y'had a bit of a reputation as a hellraiser at school."
"Yes, I did. Well, the four of us did, two of us —"
"I know, two of you gone now, and the fourth making his own life now, isn't he? And after school, you trained up to be an Auror, but it wasn't quite what y'expected, was it? Or Albus and his bird watching club?"
"How did you-?" Sirius hadn't been aware that his connection with the Order was public knkowledge.
"Now, m'lad, there's secrets and then there's secrets. I already know you're a man of action and quick thinking, else m'grand-nevvie might be in St. Mungo's next to his mum. I know you’re a man of honour, and y'keep your word. And Albus's recommendation is good enough for me."
"Recommendation for what?"
"I cant say," the old man said with a slight smile, "but the Department of Mysteries is always looking for a few good men."
Armed with his new identity papers and records, Remus set about looking for a job — a real one, with a regular schedule and everything. Several of his off the books employers had given him reference letters. Even with his papers and references, though, he found he wasn't qualified for most office jobs. Most of them required that he either know how to type — and most of those jobs seemed to be set aside for women anyway — or have specialized skills which he would have to attend a business school, or go to university, to learn. With the coming of winter, the landscaping and construction work he had been doing thinned out; it wouldn't pick up again until spring. He could continue waiting tables, he supposed, and he could now get jobs in the better restaurants, which would assure him better tips, but that really wasn't his favourite job. The mingled odours of food, alcohol and smoke were too much for his heightened sense of smell. On the other hand, it was December and the annual shopping frenzy that beset London was in full swing; perhaps he could find something in retail that might carry over to a permanent position after the holidays.
So it was that at the end of a long day of putting in applications everywhere he could think of, he stumbled into a small bookstore, not one of the big chain ones, that had a "Help Wanted" sign in its window. The store was called "Dreamweavers" and had a Christmas-themed display of children's books in the front window. Remus entered, jingling the bell above the doorway. He spent a few moments looking around. Since it was a small store, it couldn't carry the variety that the large ones did, but there was a surprisingly wide selection of fiction and children's titles in the front room and non-fiction in the smaller back room, and some used books on rolling carts. Some books which had been "used" long enough to be called "rarities" were in the glass faced sales counter. A bored looking teenager was restocking the non-fiction shelves in the back room, and a friendly looking woman in her sixties was operating the till and handling the flow of evening customers. Mrs. Weaver turned out to be the owner of the store; she and her husband had operated it for a number of years. He asked for an application, but she said she didn't have any, that she would rather pick her employees by chatting with them, although she did want to check his references. She called the teenager up to take the counter and took Remus back into the non-fiction room to, as she said, "chat." It turned out to be one of the most thorough and grilling interviews Remus had ever had, but she was so nice about it that he almost didn't notice. Suddenly he discovered that he'd spent almost an hour talking to the woman, and that he had an offer of a job, which included a reasonable salary, flexible working hours, and an employee's discount.
"So, when can you start?" Mrs. Weaver asked, beaming at him.
"Well, I'm between positions at the moment, so I can start tomorrow since I don't have to give notice anywhere," Remus said. "But, er, there's one thing. I have, ah, previous engagements on certain days of the month. It's only one or two days, and I'm willing to work other days to make up for it, but …" This was the point where job offers usually fizzled out, and he was ready for the refusal.
Mrs. Weaver stuffed a last book on a shelf. "Don't fret, we have a flexible schedule here, and I'm sure we can work it out. Do you have an objection to working on Sundays? Or the occasional evening?"
"No, ma'am, none at all."
"Good, then there shouldn't be a problem at all. Let's get a calendar out and pencil those in, shall we?" She bustled up to the sales counter and introduced Remus to Richard, the teenage clerk, while she simultaneously rooted around behind the counter to locate a calendar. Remus gave her the dates he would not be available for the next few months, noting rather anxiously that one of them was just the following week, and she marked up the calendar with those days. "Hm. All full moons," she commented. "I hadn't realised you were one of them."
Remus froze. "'Them' who?" he asked carefully. "I'm not sure I know what you mean." Mrs. Weaver certainly looked like a Muggle and not a witch, but some of the Muggle-born and half-bloods did return to the Muggle community and blended in quite seamlessly. It would be just his luck to have run into someone who could recognize his lycanthropy for what it was.
"I'm sorry, of course you wouldn't," she said, looking at the oblivious teenager, who was now ringing up a customer's purchase, in a way which was obviously supposed to be meaningful. "Not that anyone ever talks about it anyway. Don't worry, I don't have a problem with any of that, and your personal life is quite your own business, as long as it doesn't affect your work."
"I assure you, Mrs. Weaver, I won't let my personal life interfere with the job. I'm far too grateful for it," said Remus truthfully.
"That's all right, then," said Mrs. Weaver as if all was understood. "You didn't ask for these days either, but you'll be wanting them, too, I expect," she said, using a quickly sketched star to mark off a series of days that seemed random to Remus, starting with the Monday before Christmas and at approximately six-week intervals thereafter. "There. We can work out the rest of your schedule from that as we go, and it takes us up through May. If you're still with us then, of course, we'll work out the rest of the year."
"Thank you, I … I appreciate your consideration."
"It's nothing. As long as you're discreet, and you are, I would never have known if we hadn't had to schedule days, I don't think there's anything wrong with any of it. Now, since you said you can start tomorrow, why don't you come in at nine and we can get you started before we officially open at ten?"
The whole conversation left Remus quite puzzled; he had the feeling he'd missed something vital. It wasn't until several days later, on his last day of work before the full moon, that he noticed the small shelf in the back room which bore titles such as Witchcraft for Today, The Compleat Book of Witchcraft, and The Witches' Bible Complete, by authors such as Gardner, Leek, Farrar, and Valiente. The covers of most of them featured the same five pointed star that Mrs. Weaver had used to mark his days off. He picked up one of the books curiously, and was soon howling in laughter, which eased some of the anticipatory pains he was feeling at the time. It was a good thing he was alone in the store. Those books were all about the Muggle conception of witchcraft, which was nothing like the truth, of course. Mrs. Weaver thought he was a witch! The Muggle witches apparently treated magic as a religious practice, and didn't really expect it to actually do anything. But their sacred days were all the full moons, and so Mrs. Weaver was perfectly willing to let him have those days off so he could go and … do whatever it was she thought he did.
Grinning, he took The Witches' Bible Complete up to the register to put it on his employee's account. If Mrs. Weaver thought he was a witch, he'd better read up on what she expected of him. Judging from the pictures of the attractive nude blonde portraying the Goddess in the book, it did look like an interesting religion. He rather thought Sirius would agree.
Life settled into a comfortable rut. Remus had never been one to seek excitement for excitement's sake.
James and Lily's Wills were finally processed shortly after the New Year, after some delay caused by the manner of their deaths and a contest from Petunia Dursley, Lily's sister. Although she hadn't bothered to attend the funeral, the minute she found out there was a fortune to be had, she overcame her dislike of magic long enough to contact a solicitor and attempt to claim James and Lily's estates, claiming that since James had predeceased Lily, all his property was vested in her and when she died, it all came to Petunia as next of kin. Apparently she hadn't even remembered the existence of Harry. Her solicitor argued that Harry should be declared dead as well, given the circumstances, but the court had decided that since it could not be sure that Harry was dead, the estate would be held in trust for him until his eighteenth birthday, thus giving him one year after his majority to claim it. Only if he had not appeared by then would Petunia inherit so much as one knut. In the meantime, only the few specific bequests mentioned in the Wills would be honoured. One of those bequests was for a cash payment to one Remus Lupin, in remembrance of his great friendship. It wasn't a fortune by anyone's standards, but Lupin was used to living on a shoestring. He also knew about investing. With his salary from Dreamweaver's and the principal of the bequest invested so that he could take a portion of the interest, he could live better than he ever had before.
Things were finally looking up for Remus J. Lupin.
Remus had taken to reading a little bit of everything that came into the store, if only to be able to make recommendations to the customers. One slow Monday morning, he was sitting behind the counter practically snarling at a paperback book when Mrs. Weaver came in for her afternoon shift. She would take over the till while he stocked the shelves with the new shipment that had just come in.
"Goodness, Remus, what ever has you so worked up? It looks like you have a serious grudge against that poor harmless book."
"Poor harmless book indeed. Collection of horrendous lies, is what it is."
Mrs. Weaver curiously turned the book in his hand so that she could see the cover. The title was simply Werewolves, and the cover depicted three versions of a werewolf's head; a man with pointed ears and teeth, the stereotypical shaggy wolfman, and a huge grey wolf's head. She recognised the book as a newly published anthology of fantasy fiction. "Heavens, Remus, it's just fiction. You'd think you had a personal stake in it."
Remus flushed. It was too close to the full moon for him to completely control his emotions, and he really shouldn't have picked up this particular book for his morning's read. "I'm sorry, it's just … I do have rather a strong personal interest in the subject."
"Yes, it is a compelling aspect of mythology, isn't it? Is it werewolves in particular or shapeshifters in general you're interested in?"
"Both, I suppose. I just hate to see the stories mangled so badly … some of them are really very poorly written."
Smiling, Mrs. Weaver said, "Then you only have two choices — go back to the classics, I think there's a copy of the Metamorphoses on the shelf, the good translation, mind you — or write your own."
"Write my own?" asked Remus.
"Somebody wrote all these, you know," she said, waving her hand at the floor to ceiling bookshelves that lined the room. "If you think you have a better idea of how the stories should be written, write them yourself. I have it on good authority that publishers are always looking for new talent. And if it turns out you can't write them, well, maybe you won't be so harsh on the ones who do try. It does take an awful lot of nerve, you know, to put your words out where everyone can read them." She walked quickly to the back room and came back with another book, plucked the offending werewolf book out of his hands, and replaced it with How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction. "Now off with you. The stockroom is full of boxes, and they won't get unpacked by themselves."
Remus saluted and headed off to deal with the new stock, but when he left for the day, How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction went with him, and Mrs. Weaver smiled quietly to herself.
A week later, Remus cleared off his home desk, purchased a used typewriter and a ream of paper, and set to work.
Three days later, his employee discount was applied to a copy of Learn How to Type in Ten Days.
Six months after that, he sent off his first manuscript by Muggle post, and wondered if parents sending their children off to school for the first time felt this way.
After a further two months of checking his post box with ever increasing frustration, he received a letter from the publisher. Here it is, my first rejection slip, he thought, not realising that if it was a rejection slip, it would be accompanied by the returned manuscript.
Dear Mr. Lupin:
Thank you very much for sending us your manuscript, Children of the Night. Your concept of the werewolf as protagonist is quite interesting, and we are considering your novel for publication next year, but would like to see some revisions in it first. Specifically, we believe that as it currently stands it is unpublishable, but it could, with moderate changes, be acceptable. If you choose to submit it for our horror line, it would need to be rewritten with a bit more violence, and you should also make the relationship between the hero and his vampire girlfriend a bit more explicit. If you choose to submit it for our fantasy line, it will need more humour and the romantic aspect of the relationship should be played up instead.
In any event, we would appreciate it if you or your agent would make an appointment to contact our editor at your earliest convenience to discuss …
Dazed, Remus read and re-read the letter several times, and was even tempted to pull out his wand and make sure it wasn't a prank letter from Sirius. When he went in to Dreamweavers for his shift, the first thing he did was give Mrs. Weaver a heartfelt hug and a kiss.
"Albus, there must be someone else. I'm not cut out for this!" Severus Snape set his cup down rather sharply on the tea table in Dumbledore's drawing room and ignored the wince the matching pot gave.
"There is no one else, Severus. Not unless you want to let Lucius Malfoy take all the credit. Merlin knows he'd be more than happy to take advantage of it." Dumbledore stirred his tea idly.
"Malfoy? Circe, no! He only came to me because he thought the Order could save his misbegotten hide. I'm sure he'd jump at the opportunity, of course. And likely he'd ride it all the way to the Minister's office."
"Precisely. I don't doubt that such a possibility was why Mr. Malfoy joined Voldemort's followers to begin with. It would be ironic if we were to be the ones to enable him to achieve his ambitions instead."
"Potter? A dead hero can't misuse his standing. And with Lily fallen by his side? How romantic. How tragic. The newspapers will have a field day."
"They already have. They're milking the Potters' deaths, and their mysterious appearance at the chapel, for all they're worth. But the Potters are dead, as you pointed out. They were, in the end, victims, regardless of how hard they resisted. We need someone living."
"The boy? The Daily Prophet is already hyping him as 'The Boy Who Lived.' You'd think they get paid by the word for these epithets."
"He's just a child, Severus. It would be unfair to him to hold him up as a symbol of anything, though it may be impossible to prevent that completely. Whatever he did, I doubt it was intentional, and the pressure of having to live up to it would be too much for a child. Even if we had access to him at the moment, I'd be loath to bring him up in the Wizarding world for just that reason. I hope that wherever he is, he is at least allowed to have a relatively normal childhood. He could never have that being a Boy Hero. An adult at least will be aware of the pressures and able to adjust to them."
"Black, then," Snape said with a shudder. "Though I'm reluctant to give him credit for anything, at least he'd put up a better front than I."
"You must be desperate if you're tossing his name out," said Dumbledore. He paused to take a sip of his tea. "Sirius is in a delicate position. He's already trying to live down the reputation his family has had for many generations. There would be — in fact there already are — those claiming that he was always a Death Eater, that he overthrew the Dark Lord, and that it's only a matter of time before he would become the next Dark Lord."
Snape snorted in disgust at the very idea of Sirius Black becoming a Dark Lord. After seven years as "best enemies" at school, Snape knew better than any other, perhaps, that Black didn't have it in him.
"Yes, well, most people don't know him as well as we do," said Dumbledore, correctly interpreting Snape's snort. "Most of them won't look beyond his family name and reputation. Above and beyond that, there's the fact that he's already working for the Ministry in an official capacity, however minor. If we used him, we would be backing the notion that everything that was done was done on behalf of the Ministry, and giving them the entire credit for the fall of Voldemort. They're already trying to take credit as it is."
"What would be so wrong about just letting them do that, then?" Snape asked. "With or without Black? Isn't the Ministry supposed to provide leadership and be looked up to by the public?"
Dumbledore looked at Snape over the edge of his teacup. "Don't tell me you've forgotten the lessons of Grindelwald so soon."
"I wasn't even born then, Albus. That was your war. And recent history isn't something your History of Magic professor seems to be up on, if you'll pardon my saying so."
Dumbledore frowned. "Professor Binns is the acknowledged expert on the Goblin Wars, Severus. We're lucky to have him."
"Yes, but the last Goblin war was what, two hundred years ago? History even for you, Albus. And Binns was dry even when he was alive. After he died when I was in fourth year, his teaching lost any sort of animation, and judging from what my Slytherins tell me, it's only got worse in the twelve years since." Snape steepled his fingers and looked at Dumbledore with a wry smile. "You must also remember my own background. I have a much better grasp on the Muggle affairs of the period than the Wizarding ones."
"True," sighed Dumbledore. "You have done such an excellent job of adapting to the Wizarding world since you first came to school that it's hard even for me to remember that you weren't always part of it."
"Exactly. I know about Hitler, of course, though only in generalities since my formal Muggle schooling never extended past primary school. My mother made sure I knew the Wizarding basics, and she always talked about Grindelwald as if he was exactly the same."
"The two were very similar, yes. At the time, the Muggle world harboured some rather virulent notions of blood purity which make our own look like petty disagreements. They seem to be getting past that now, fortunately, but they … and we … have a long way to go yet. Grindelwald was originally a low-level bureaucrat in the German Ministry, but like all would-be Dark Lords, he had ambition and, perhaps, a higher opinion of his own worthiness than he should have. He did study history, and saw that whenever a Dark Lord rose and attempted to impose his will from outside the government, he was doomed to failure. The rather spectacular rise and fall of Rasputin, who attempted to control both Wizarding and Muggle Russia within Grindelwald's own lifetime, was proof enough of that. On the other hand, the Chinese model has shown how successful a Dark Lord can be when acting within the system. Every one of the last eight High Mandarins of China has been what we would call a Dark Lord, and they have all had very long reigns, surviving through the turmoil of wars and changes of Muggle government while maintaining absolute control of the Wizarding World there. Some of them even lived to retire peacefully, handing over control to a chosen successor rather than waiting to be assassinated. It's not a system I would like to see enacted here, of course, but there are some who claim it has benefited the Chinese Wizarding population in the long run."
Dumbledore had now obviously settled in for a lecture; it wasn't often, these days, that he got a chance to return to his professorial roots. "Grindelwald sought to combine the two ideals. Working within the German ministry, he could establish control over the Wizarding population, while influencing the Muggle government along the same lines. He was able, with little difficulty, to influence a group of like-minded Muggle individuals who had an unhealthy fascination with magic and the occult — the Muggle understandings of them, anyway. The rest, as you know, is history. The Muggle racial purity movement actually got away from Grindelwald — I think, at the end, even he was appalled by what he'd created — and it took a war of proportions hitherto undreamed of to end it, together with an alliance of Wizards from around the world, acting outside any one Ministry's directives, to break through Grindelwald's wards and destroy him. Any of us could have been the hero of that war, you know. I just happened to be the one at the head of the group when we broke into his sanctuary. If Jean Bourgeois hadn't turned his ankle in the last dash down the tunnel, he would be the Destroyer of Grindelwald, the Saviour of the Wizarding World, and I just an obscure schoolteacher." His eyes twinkled at the younger man seated across the table from him. "And don't believe for a minute that I wanted the fame, either. Twice now they've tried to make me the Minister, and twice I threatened to run away to the Antipodes if they even thought about it."
"I just wish … I just wish there was anyone else," said Snape, rising to his feet and pacing restlessly in front of the fireplace. "I signed on to be your spy, to work from the shadows to bring down the Dark Lord, to … to atone for my own sins, if you will. I didn't want to be a hero, and I don't want to be a bloody hero. That's a Gryffindor's job, not mine."
"Believe me, if there was anyone else, I wouldn't have been pushing this. You were and are a Slytherin, Severus, that means you have ambition. And I know that your personal ambition has always been for personal recognition of your potion-making skills. You are the youngest Master ever, and it's well deserved. But you have other attributes which deserve recognition as well."
"What attributes, Albus? My ability to slink about in shadows, hearing things I should not? My ability to smile and swear loyalty to a man who encourages his followers to commit atrocities in wholesale lots? My ability … my ability to buy my own life by revealing a Prophecy which results in the deaths of your precious Gryffindors and their innocent children?"
"If anyone bears the responsibility for that, it is I," said Dumbledore gravely. "I knew you had that information and did not Obliviate you immediately. I helped you hide it so Voldemort could not find it through his random attempts at Legilimency, and I gave you permission to reveal it in an emergency. I, not you, made those decisions based on my own reading of the entire Prophecy … which you never heard. I must admit, I never foresaw its coming true as soon as it did. I had feared that the Prophecy doomed us to another twenty years or so of terror, which is why your information was so vital; if we could not strike directly against Voldemort, we had to act against his followers, and in order to do that, we needed to know who they were. Both the Potters and the Longbottoms knew they were targets and likely to remain targets for many years, until their boys grew up to be strong enough to possibly vanquish Voldemort. We had already begun to formulate training plans for both boys. None of us thought he might be brought down by a mere infant." He replaced his own empty teacup on the tray.
"But that is why it so important that you do this, Severus. Harry may have vanquished Voldemort, either temporarily or permanently, but it is you who have almost single handedly provided the information needed to destroy the Death Eaters. For all Voldemort's power, he was only one man. The Death Eaters were many, and a greater threat because they hid behind their masks. They could be anyone, anywhere, and they could still have regrouped and threatened our very society without you. The Wizarding world needs a hero, and I'm afraid you're it. It needs someone outside the Ministry to whom it may look for reassurance that there are still those who will stand fast against the Darkness."
"But I was part of that Darkness!" Snape protested.
"Not for long. Not after you discovered its true nature. And after you did, you took horrible risks to bring us the very information we're using now to dismantle Voldemort's organization. Don't think I don't know some of the dangers you've faced, my boy. And don't think heroes only come from Gryffindor."
"You'd think they did, to hear people talk. Golden Gryffindors and Sneaky Slytherins. Even after we leave school, those labels follow us."
"That's another reason to step forward, then. How better to shake the stereotype?"
"For God's sake, Albus, look at me!" cried Snape, whirling to face Dumbledore and spreading his arms dramatically. "I'm the greasy git, the great bat. In less than two years I've established myself as the Terror of the dungeons. How could anyone possibly take me as a hero?"
"You underestimate yourself, Severus. You always have and you always will. That is, perhaps, one reason why I would trust you in the role I propose. You still think of yourself as the teenager you once were; I assure you that the man you have become is far from that. You are well spoken and charismatic when you wish to be. Your voice, in particular, commands attention. You may not know it, but quite a few of the sixth and seventh year girls have been crushing on you based on your voice alone. Though the fact that you're the only male teacher under sixty might also have something to do with it. I'm well aware, also that quite a few of your physical disadvantages are self imposed. You forget that I was trained as an alchemist myself, and practiced that art for many years. I'm well familiar with the use of protective unguents on the skin and hair to keep potions fumes from destroying them. And your complexion is only as sallow as it is because you don't get enough exposure to the sun. You'd look almost Italian if you got out a bit more. All that black you affect just makes it worse. A little colour wouldn't kill you, you know."
Snape looked at the Headmaster's robes, which today shaded from light blue at the shoulders to dark blue at the hems and had a myriad brightly coloured fish swimming across them. "I can't believe you are attempting to give me fashion advice. Would you have me looking like an aquarium as well?"
Dumbledore looked down at his own robes as a rather flamboyant guppy darted across the left sleeve. "Nothing of the sort, dear boy. My tailor tells me it takes a rather special sort of personality to wear these with any success. Perhaps in a hundred years or so you might manage it, but you're not ready for it yet. No, I had in mind the darker blues and greens. Perhaps a touch of burgundy, and maybe a little embroidery on collars and cuffs. Nothing too flashy."
"You know why I wear black."
"Keep the black for your work robes. That makes sense, it doesn't show the stains. But it's been three years, Severus. I don't believe she would have wanted you to remain in mourning forever. And you really will need to have something more presentable when you're testifying. And for the interviews afterwards, of course. And something for the formal occasions. And you really should decide whether you're going to wear your hair short like a muggle or long like a Wizard; this half length doesn't suit you …"
"But who will teach my classes?"
"Oh, I'll cover them myself, don't worry. Or I'm sure Horace will be willing to come back for a day or two. It will all be taken care of, don't fret."
And so it was that two days later, Severus Snape found himself wearing a set of new green robes but missing the layer of Paracelsus' Protective Preparation that he wore whenever he was working or teaching, testifying at the trials of Bellatrix Lestrange and her accomplices, and giving interviews to the Daily Prophet and the Wizarding Wireless Network.
Within a week, Snape couldn't look at a news stand without seeing his own face staring at him from at least three magazine covers. Witch Weekly even described him as being "extremely distinctive, in a tall, dark and gruesome way."
Shortly after that, he started receiving fan mail. And marriage proposals.
That was when he fled back into the dungeons, locked himself in his work room, and swore he wasn't coming out. Ever.
Peter Pettigrew knew there was a sizeable magical community in New York City, but he never contacted anyone in it. He disappeared into the larger Muggle community instead. In three days, he stayed in three different Muggle hotels, doing little other than sleeping and waiting for the pain in his hand to ease. Once he could shift to his rat form and use the front paw to walk on without too much pain, he began exploring the great city, both above and below ground. He had thought to lose himself among the rats of the city for the winter, but rapidly discovered that they were far larger and more vicious than he expected. After three fights in one day with large males defending their nests and feeding spots, he realised that while he would win many fights due to his superior thinking ability, he would lose others due to lesser physical strength or being outnumbered. He was hampered by not being able to use magic in his rat form. He got out of one fight by simply transforming back into his human shape and causing the pack of rats that had cornered him to flee in panic, but he knew he couldn't always depend on being in a position to do so. As it was, he had a chunk taken out of one ear and some long scores on his legs where the rats had gotten him before he shook them off. He treated them himself with topical antiseptics and bandages purchased at a corner drug store and hoped they would work as well as wizarding potions.
Two days later, he was thrashing in a fever induced by the infected wounds. In delirium, he was pursued by the vengeful spirits of James and Lily, chasing him through the cold grey streets of a city inhabited by men and women wearing the robes and masks of Death Eaters. They looked at him as he ran, turning their blank white masks to him, then away, going about their business, ignoring the fact that he ran and stumbled and fell and crawled among them. The dark mouths of alleys opened, offering him sanctuary, but whenever he ran down one of them, the paired shapes of a Grim and a Wolf waited for him, fangs bared and eyes aflame with red light. With a despairing moan, he would turn and try to find another way, but all ways led back out onto the streets where James and Lily waited, and the chase began anew.
He woke to find himself in a Muggle hospital room, with white light glaring off the walls and ceiling and chrome fixtures. A man in a white coat spoke, but the words were harsh in sound and the vowels were too flat and clipped and everything sounded all wrong. By the time he realised that he hadn't understood a word the man said, he was slipping away back into blackness again.
The fever did not return, and the Grim and the Wolf no longer stalked the back alleys of his dreams. He woke again to darkness, the moans of someone else in a room down the hall, and the soft beeping of machines whose purposes he could only guess at. He tried to get out of bed, but burning pain shot up his thigh and his leg gave out. He hit the floor hard enough to make him see white starbursts and cry out, and by the time his vision cleared, there were people there to help him get back into bed, to examine his leg, and to give him an injection that caused everything to fade away again.
Detroit. He couldn't believe it. He was in a place called Detroit. Somehow he had lost three weeks of his life. He had no identification, no money, and the police had found him wandering barefoot down a city street waving a stick and threatening people with it. At least they had kept the "stick" and gave it to him when he asked, although he had to give them multiple assurances that he did not intend to harm anyone with it. A wizard without his wand was nothing, after all. He was thin and grimy and had long red scars on his legs where the rats had gotten him. The doctors told him the wounds had been infected, he'd had blood poisoning, and they had had to open them up to let the poison drain out.
They asked him who he was. He told them he didn't remember. They told him he was obviously British from his accent, and asked him how he had arrived in Detroit. He told them he didn't remember. They asked him for his insurance information, and he stared at them stupidly. The next day they moved him to a room that wasn't quite as nice.
More people came, doctors and psychiatrists and police officers, and they asked him the same questions over and over, and he gave them the same answers, until he almost believed it himself. They called him John, and after a few days he answered to it. Some kind of holiday came, and the regular hospital food was replaced with turkey and dressing and some kind of tart red jam on the side, but the next day it was back to normal again.
He took his pain pills and his antibiotics and his sleeping pills and learned to walk again, and wished he could just take one simple potion to clear the whole thing up, instead of going through all this Muggle crap.
A woman from the British Embassy came to see him. She took pictures of him and said not to worry, they would find out who he was and get him safely back home again.
That night Peter took his wand and transfigured his hospital pyjamas into something resembling reasonable clothing, then cast a Disillusionment and Silencing charms, and John Doe vanished onto the streets of Detroit in December.
It didn't particularly matter to Peter that he had lost his money and his passport. He had his wand and his animagus ability, and those would get him wherever he needed to go. A grey rat missing a toe on its front paw nosed its way into a closed department store; moments later the security camera decided to have a fatal heart attack. The men's department provided Peter with all the new clothing, from socks to overcoat, that he needed. To his disappointment there was no money left in the till, but that was a lack that could be remedied somewhere else. The jewellery cases were empty, or else he'd have helped himself there, too. He laughed bitterly to himself, the echoes harsh in the empty store. He'd killed his friends, why should he have scruples about a bit of petty theft? When he was satisfied with his acquisitions, a grey rat scampered out through the security grate again.
Life on the streets wasn't easy, and it was never constant. The rat travelled where it would, by box car or in the back of trucks, nibbling on the groceries being shipped here and there. Sometimes the man hitched rides, rode the train Disillusioned, or even bought a ticket when he had the cash.
The dreams that had beset Peter in his fever never truly went away; night after night he'd wake up in a sweat, convinced that Lily's spectral hands were about to close on his throat, or the Grim's sharp teeth were an inch from his tail. The worst nights were the nights he dreamed of Harry trapped in his crib, with his mother's body on the floor nearby, perishing of hunger and thirst. Those nights, he'd get up and leave wherever he was, catching the first bus, train, plane, or thumbed ride he could.
He could always leave a place, he discovered, but he couldn't leave his demons behind.
He began to drink heavily as a way of avoiding his dreams; when that ceased to work, he turned to pills and other substances that Muggles sold in back alleys. They weren't as good as a Dreamless Sleep potion, but they did the trick.
Peter lost track of how many summers and winters had passed. It was hard to tell when he could spend the winter in New Orleans and the summer in Vancouver, or an entire year in Los Angeles, where they didn't seem to have weather at all, just climate. He thought he'd visited about every town in the United States and Canada.
The one thing he was always aware of was when Halloween came. It was a big thing in the United States, and he shuddered when sweets in orange and black wrappers appeared in the stores, and children dressed as pirates and cowboys roamed the streets. He knew better than most what Halloween really stood for, and he lived in fear that on that night the dead might truly walk, and come for him. That night above all he made sure that he drank himself into insensibility, so that he would not know if they were there, or not.
It was Halloween again. Peter scored a handful of white pills; the man in the alley said they would do the job. A liquor store was about to close. Disillusioned, Peter crept in and hid in the back, waiting until the manager had left and the place was locked tight. He crept out and selected a bottle of the very best; none of the cheap stuff for this rat. Not tonight.
Either nobody had told Peter that certain pharmaceuticals should not be mixed with alcohol, or he forgot, or he didn't care. He gulped the pills, washing them down with liberal amounts of whiskey. The back room had a pile of boxes in it, and he crawled into the middle of the pile looking for shelter, and went to sleep.
The body of an unidentified man was found in the back of the liquor store the next morning, when the clerk put the boxes out for the trash. By that time, he'd been dead for hours. The police took the body away for a cursory autopsy; they had a pretty good idea what had killed him, judging from the empty whiskey bottle at his side but it wouldn't hurt to make sure. He lay in the morgue for a week, and when no one came to identify the body, they buried it in a numbered grave in Potter's Field.
Peter woke up with a start as the white light blazed through the back of the liquor store. He tried to snatch up his wand to hex the person who had turned on the lights, but his hand passed right through it. Next to it lay the body of a man, curled into a foetal position, and Peter knew instantly what had happened. The light grew ever brighter, and he heard voices calling. Something was pulling him up, drawing him into the light, but there was a pull equally as strong holding him back. He thought he could see someone standing in the light. Someone waiting. Waiting for him? He threw up his arm to shade his eyes, and he could make out the forms of James and Lily standing there, between him and the light.
"Noooo!" he screamed, and he flung himself away, following the tug back into the darkness of the liquor store.
The light faded, and James and Lily disappeared. Peter stood over his body all night, and watched the police going through their routines the next morning. They zipped him up in a black rubberised bag and took him away, and still Peter remained in the store, unnoticed by all. What was he supposed to do now? Was he doomed to haunt the liquor store forever? He knew all too well that he'd just burned his bridge to the afterlife.
Haunting the liquor store was highly unsatisfactory, he decided. It had only been one day, and already he was bored. None of the damned Muggles could see him, so he didn't even have the consolation of being able to scare their socks off. Eventually he decided to see if he could leave the store, and to his surprise he could. So he wasn't the kind of haunt bound to a place. He ran through the types of haunts in his mind, surprised he could remember those long ago Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. Ghosts could haunt people, places or things, he recalled. Or they could be trying to impart a message, or have unfinished business, or be bound by a spell. A spell. He remembered the tug pulling him back, away from the light. When he inspected himself more closely, he could see it, and couldn't understand why he hadn't seen it before. A thin cord, colourless but sparkling, seemed to be tied around his ankle. It was stretched taut, and quivered with tension. It led due east, and Peter knew he had to follow it. With a soundless sigh, he drifted free from the place where he had died, and let the spell pull him where it would. Back to England. Back home.
The Fidelius was stretched almost to the breaking point. But it held. It held.