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Repost: Stray, Chapter Nine: The First Task - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Repost: Stray, Chapter Nine: The First Task
Last re-post. Either tomorrow or Saturday, there'll be something new in Stray.

Table of Contents and Summary So Far




Sirius woke up long before dawn the next morning, wanting to go to Hogwarts and try to talk to Harry, knowing that the last thing Harry would need today was the distraction of worrying about his godfather being caught on the grounds and packed back off to Azkaban. Although he was pleased with himself for applying complex reasoning--he could almost hear Lily saying, in her falsely incredulous tone, "My goodness, James, you never told me that Sirius had a brain, too!"--it was a distant sort of pleasure, far outweighed by the desire to be out there taking action instead of cooped up in Remus's drafty shack in the middle of nowhere.

Remus shuffled out, puffy-eyed and half-asleep, around eight and grunted some sort of greeting before starting to get himself breakfast. He made a sound that was probably an offer of food, and Sirius turned it down absently. He waited until Remus had some tea, then said, "The first task is this afternoon. The dragons."

"I know."

"It's going to be on the Wizarding Wireless Network, isn't it?"

"I imagine so," Remus said. "But I don't have a radio."

"I thought perhaps you'd take your dog over to the mainland, perhaps hole up in a wizarding pub."

"Can't think of one that would let me stay all day--let alone with my dog--without buying drinks."

"Well, maybe..." But it was a fair point; he sighed. "I suppose I'll read about it in the morning."

"I'm sorry. I should have found one to borrow. I'd like to hear it myself, now that I think about it."

Sirius thought about offering to give him money to Apparate to the mainland and buy one, but decided it would probably take too long. Instead, he settled himself into a restless morning of wandering aimlessly around the shack while Remus tinkered with the walls, to get them to resist the wind better.

After a while, Sirius transformed and went outside, thinking that he might have a nice dig in the hogboon's mound to pass the time. He was just discovering that the ground was well and truly frozen when he heard someone coming up behind him. He'd almost transformed when he realized it wasn't Remus that his canine nose was picking up.

He turned slowly. Dora Tonks was standing at the base of the mound, looking at him coolly. A portable wizarding radio was tucked under her arm.

"Come on, then," she said, then nodded at Remus's door and headed toward the shack. Sirius padded after her.

Remus opened the door when Dora knocked, and looked at her with honest surprise. "I thought you were in Morocco."

Dora smiled. "Reckon Kingsley thought a day was long enough to keep me from tripping over my own feet and falling straight into a trial in front of the Wizengamot. Clearly, Kingsley doesn't know me very well." She held up the radio. "He gave me the day off, and I thought you and your dog might want to hear the tournament." Sirius gave her a happy bark and leaned in to lick her hand, but she raised her wand at him. "Lick me and I'll be forced to curse you," she said.

Sirius whined at her playfully. She gave him a squint, turned up her nose, then gave in and scratched between his ears.

Remus grinned and took the radio, Conjuring a table for it in the living room. He tuned it carefully and found the pre-task programming, which seemed to be a rousing account of Triwizard Tournaments of the past, though Sirius wasn't entirely sure, since he was ignoring it as much as Remus and Dora were.

"Kingsley was by yesterday," Remus said.

"I know. He told me. He also told me that he's been looking for Pettigrew and not finding a single trace."

"But you believe me."

"If you were going to tell a lie like that, you'd make sure it was backed up." Remus opened his mouth to continue the conversation, but she held up her hand. "I don't want to talk about this," she said. "It can't go anywhere good. Now... tell me about the boy who's about to be beaten utterly by a Hufflepuff no one knows much about."

"I don't know of a boy by that description," Remus said loftily.

"Oh, come on, Remus. Do you seriously--no pun intended--think he can beat a sixth year?"

"I think Harry can do what he decides to do," Remus said. "What makes you think Cedric will win?"

"Hufflepuff pride."

"Well, as long as it's such a reasonable extrapolation of his skills and temperament..."

"What do you think it's going to be?" Dora asked.

"Why would I know?"

Dora raised her eyebrows. "That's not an answer, Remus. Charlie Weasley's in town. A lot of the old crowd got back in touch."

"I don't know Charlie or Bill, just the other five."

"Charlie's a dragon-keeper. He won't tell anyone why he's here."

"Are you ever surprised?" Remus asked her fondly.

"I'm always surprised. Aurors are just surprised a bit earlier than everyone else, so we have time to be smug and all-knowing." She stuck out her tongue, then turned her hair yellow with black, badger-shaped stripes in it.

"Festive," Remus said.

Dora suddenly turned her wand on Sirius. "Helga Victrix!"

In a flash of light, Sirius's fur turned bright yellow. Badgers marched up his forelegs. He looked indignantly at Remus, who snickered, pointed his own wand and said, "Godric Domitor." The yellow turned scarlet, the black became golden lions, which prowled threateningly across his pelt and settled on his haunches. With a further flick of Remus's wand, his already full ruff abruptly grew out into a proper mane.

The volume on the radio abruptly went up, giving a generic sort of fanfare that they'd apparently chosen for the Triwizard Tournament. A breathlessly excited actress gave a stirring speech about the grand tradition they were following, then began to introduce the champions.

"He's made his mark on the world of Quidditch, becoming Bulgaria's most famous wizarding son. He's led his year at Durmstrang since he began his education. But who is Viktor Krum?" This purple introduction was followed by the sounds of screaming Bulgarian Quidditch fans, heavily-accented appreciations from his parents, and a garbled comment from someone Sirius thought was a bookie. "But Hogwarts is a long way from the seven lakes of Rila... does Krum have what it takes to win the Triwizard Cup?"

Another burst of fanfare music interrupted, then was replaced by oversweet strains of harp. "In the gilded halls of Beauxbatons, she is something of a queen, adored by boys, envied by girls. Her marks are higher than any of the other champions, and her Charm work has been called innovative and imaginative. Is Fleur Delacour your champion?" More interviews confirmed that Fleur was beautiful and smart, though Sirius noted that the boys were breathless and the girls perfunctory in their praise. Only Olympe Maxime seemed genuinely warm.

The fanfare came again, then broke into a rousing chorus of the Hogwarts school song, awkwardly set to the tune of "Rule, Britannia!" The announcer, more excited than ever (Sirius thought she might embarrass herself soon), continued. "And for the first time in Triwizard history, the two champions from Hogwarts! One, the brilliant and talented Cedric Diggory, known for being stalwart and true. The other, known to all wizardkind... the boy who lived!..."

This faded into a paean to Harry, and Dora gave a frustrated sigh. With any luck the coverage wouldn't get back to Hogwarts and cause Harry more trouble than he already had with his classmates.

She finally finished, leading into a dramatic drum roll. "And now," a new voice piped in, "Triwizard Judge and Commentator, world class Beater for the Wimbourne Wasps... LUDO BAGMAN!"

Sirius inched closer to the radio, willing Harry to be first, to get through this, in one part of his mind. Another part was back at Hogwarts, remembering Ludo on the pitch. He'd been a few years ahead of them and had only played on the same team as James for one year (Ludo's seventh). James had said, with great admiration, that Bagman was a right nutter with a Beater's bat, and had ended up putting up a poster of him when he made the Wimbourne team. It was that smiling face Sirius pictured giving the commentary, though he knew that time would have changed it.

"Welcome, welcome to the first task!" Bagman said, and the crowd at Hogwarts cheered for several seconds. "As you know, the champions have no idea what they will face in this arena. They must be prepared for anything. As each champion faces his test, the others remain securely out of view. And now... the first task!"

There was the snapping sound of a Concealment spell breaking, and the crowd gasped.

"Yes!" Bagman said. "Our champions will be facing dragons! Our first champion, Cedric Diggory, will take on this vicious Swedish Short-Snout, to get to the golden egg hidden in her clutch... and only with the egg will he have what he needs to face the second task in February!"

Sirius glanced up at Remus, who seemed rather pale now that it was actually happening. Dora was biting her lip in anticipation.

The crowd roared again as Cedric Diggory entered the arena, and the Triwizard Tournament began.

Sirius tried to casually stretch out with his ears pricked toward the radio, but he couldn't. He felt like he had an infestation of chizpurfles in his fur, and he couldn't seem to sit still. He prowled about. Dora, comfortably lounged in the tattered armchair with her shoes off (she was wearing striped purple and yellow socks with toes in them, which seemed somehow just right to Sirius), raised her eyebrows at him as she summoned a bag of crisps from her satchel. Remus, sitting on the sofa with his elbows on his knees, shot him a vaguely threatening look, and he tried to sit down again as Cedric Diggory attempted his first bit of magic.

"Diggory is taking an unusual approach," the WWN announcer said quietly--Bagman couldn't name the champions' actual strategies, for the obvious reason that the other champions could hear him, so it was left to the wireless announcer to describe the action. "He seems to have... yes... it's a successful Transfiguration, what a clever idea... he's turned a rock in the enclosure into a dog, and it seems to be attracting the Short-Snout's attention..."

"Turning things into dogs," Dora remarked casually. "Who'd have thought of it?"

"Oh, narrow miss there, very narrow!" Bagman said, and the announcer mentioned in the same quiet, calm voice that the dragon had changed its course and shot fire in Cedric's direction. Dora lost interest in needling Remus and leaned forward, her eyes dark and intense.

"Diggory has taken a rather serious burn," the announcer said, "but he seems to be continuing. He has prodded the Transfigured dog... yes..."

"Clever move!" Ludo Bagman put in. "Pity it didn't work!"

"The dog was unable to distract the dragon long enough for Diggory to grab the egg..."

As the battle wore on, Sirius developed some respect for the Hufflepuff champion, whose plan clearly hadn't worked properly, but who was soldiering on nonetheless. He was able to use the Transfigured dog once more to worry at the dragon's claw, which got him into the egg clutch, and the announcer mentioned that he'd got the egg, but it still took him five more minutes to escape the nest. He finally simply made a run for it, and, judging by the yell that went up in the crowd, it was an exciting escape. Sirius wished he could have seen it. The judges gave their combined marks--announced by the WWN announcer, but not Bagman, presumably so that the other champions wouldn't be able to compare, totalling thirty-eight--then Bagman said, "One down, three to go! Miss Delacour, if you please!"

Fleur Delacour entered to applause Sirius could only describe as polite-sounding, but the crowd grew fonder of her as she was able to successfully mesmerize a dragon... not an easy feat even for an adult witch with a lot of experience. Quite unfortunately, the dragon snored, lighting her skirt on fire. The judges marked her down rather harshly, with her own headmistress giving her an eight, but Karkaroff and Bagman marking her down to sixes.

"That's not fair," Dora said. "Cedric was more seriously burned than that, and he's ahead of her!"

"I thought you were supporting Cedric," Remus said.

"I am, but that doesn't make it fair to mark the poor French girl down when her strategy was working better. She just had bad luck. She'd have got away completely clean otherwise."

Remus smiled. "If I know Cedric, he'll try to make the case for her once he finds out. He tried to give up a Quidditch win against Harry the year I was there because he caught the Snitch before realizing that Harry had fallen off of his broom."

"He did?" Dora grinned. "That's the Ced I know. His dad works at the Ministry, and he's gone on and on about how Cedric beat Harry at Quidditch. Drives everyone mad. Of course, he's a Gryffindor. It took Cedric most of his first year to convince him that he could admit in polite company that his son was a Hufflepuff."

"We're not all like that," Remus said.

"I know. But tell me that you're not expecting your children to be in Gryffindor. I dare you."

Remus gave her a rueful smile and said, "I can honestly say that I'm not expecting to have children in Gryffindor. Or anywhere else."

"Oh, good, I thought we'd go all day with no Lupin fatalism. Crisp?" She offered the bag.

Krum came into the arena next, and Sirius thought it was quite possible that there was a conspiracy to drive him mad with anticipation and nerves about Harry. It seemed to take forever. Krum used the Conjunctivitis Curse, which Sirius had meant to tell Harry about, but the dragon rampaged in irritation and crushed several of its eggs. Only a ten from Karkaroff kept him from falling below both Cedric and Fleur (who were very close indeed). Dora muttered again about unfair scores.

"And now," Bagman announced, "our fourth and youngest champion, the best known of the four... Harry Potter!"

The crowd applauded, and Sirius wished he were more shocked that it was less enthusiastic than it had been for Cedric Diggory. Still, there was more than Harry had led him to believe there would be. He looked anxiously at Remus, who was now leaning forward again, looking tense.

"Potter has entered the arena," the WWN announcer said, completely unnecessarily. "He seems at a loss at the sight of the dragon. Is he too young for this tournament?"

The arena on the other side of all of the airwaves seemed preternaturally silent, and Remus whispered, "Come on, Harry. You can do it."

Sirius crept closer to the radio and touched it with his nose, willing Harry to do something quickly. Conjunctivitis Curse, he thought, trying to send waves back through the radio. Conjunctivitis...

Suddenly, with complete clarity, Harry's voice came across: "Accio Firebolt!"

Sirius sat back in delighted surprise as the announcer and a commentator in London discussed whether or not this was against the rules. Both agreed that it wasn't, but thought the more conservative judges might object. They interrupted themselves when the Firebolt Sirius had bought for Harry zoomed into the arena, and Harry took flight.

The announcer seemed stunned into silence--much to Sirius's annoyance--as the crowd screeched in excitement. Ludo Bagman, sounding like a giddy schoolboy, cried, "Great Scott, he can fly! Are you watching this Mr. Krum?"

Remus laughed aloud. "Of course! Harry! Go!"

The announcer finally seemed to gather himself. "Potter, who is known outside the walls of Hogwarts as the Boy Who Lived, is known within these walls primarily as the talented Seeker of the champion Gryffindor Quidditch team, and today he is showing the world how he's got that reputation. He compares rather evenly with Viktor Krum's spectacular performance in the Quidditch World Cup this August. We may well see these two champions facing off again someday!"

"But what's he doing?" Remus asked, not disguising his excitement.

"Potter is using classic Seeker diversions," the wireless answered, "diving and feinting, trying to get the Horntail to leave her nest... he's diving... what a dive!... Oh!"

Sirius nearly jumped out of his skin, but it turned out only to be a graze to the shoulder.

"She's taking the bait," the announcer said, sounding suddenly more interested in his job. "Yes, she's rising, rising... And Potter has the egg! He sped behind her and stole it, and was out before she noticed he was gone! He's done no damage to the other eggs, sustained only a minor injury, and retrieved his egg in less time than it took any of the other champions! So much for talk of coddling Potter!"

"Will you look at that!" Bagman said. "Our youngest champion is quickest to get his egg! Well, this is going to shorten the odds on Mr. Potter!"

"Interesting way to put it," Remus said.

"Bagman has a flutter on everything," Dora told him. "Except this, of course. He's a judge. But he thinks like a gambler."

The announcer went back to his bland presentation, mentioning that McGonagall had come out to take Harry back to the tent to be treated, then a moment later mentioning that he had come back out, accompanied by two other students ("apparently friends of some sort") to get his scores.

"I think he may have the lead," Dora admitted. "But it's only the first task. And he may not get a ten, which means the unfair scoring for--" She stopped as the marks were announced.

Eight, nine, nine, ten--

"Hey!" Dora said. "He did get injured!"

--and then, from Karkaroff, four.

The three of them looked at one another, Dora not even making a pretense of treating Sirius like a dog. "Four?" Dora said, the high umbrage she'd taken on Fleur Delacour's behalf now appearing for Harry. "Oh, bloody hell! That's a bad joke is what that is!"

"The unexpected score from the Durmstrang judge seems to have little impact on the cheering crowd here at Hogwarts," the announcer said. "Potter has tied with Krum for the lead in the Triwizard Tournament. I believe we may see some argument in the coming days about Karkaroff's score--"

"If I may," the London commentator put in, "I suspect Karkaroff may have based his score on Potter bringing something into the arena. While not technically forbidden, as long as it is not initially in the champion's possession, he may consider it something of a betrayal of the spirit of the task, which requires only the possession of a wand."

"Or Karkaroff may be a capricious judge who plays favorites with his champion," Remus muttered.

"And Bagman's not?" Dora pointed out.

"I see your point. Would you like to stay for lunch?" he asked as the coverage faded to after-match analysis.

"I have an appointment before my evening shift," Dora said. "Keep the radio; I have another one in my flat. Which you still haven't visited."

"And here I've been meaning to visit your radio."

Dora made a gesture that Sirius didn't think she'd picked up from Andromeda then started to gather her things. "My appointment is with Amelia Bones," she said. "About just what I'd need to get a new trial for various missing fugitives who are obviously far away from here."

"Didn't Kingsley tell you to let him handle it?"

"Yes, and I always like it when older men think I need such careful looking-after."

"The older man in this case is your supervisor!"

Dora ground her teeth. "I am trying to help you," she said tightly. "Will you please let me?"

"No!"

"Fine," she said. "Then I'm trying to help your dog, and if he says no, I'll have to arrest him." She crouched down and scratched Sirius's ears quickly.

"Dora--"

"Don't 'Dora' me, Remus." She put her satchel over her shoulder. "And while I'm at it, will you please call me Tonks like everyone else?"

"If you don't shape up, I'm not only going to call you Dora. I'm going to call you Nymphadora."

"Remus..."

"Nymphadora Andromeda Lycoris--"

Dora rolled her eyes and pointed her wand at him, and his voice was cut off part way through. "Jane," she said. "I'm naming all of my children Jane. Even the boys." She gave Remus an irritated kiss on the nose, then headed out the back door, breaking the spell with an absent flick of her wand as she went.

"I think she's really going," Remus said, watching her walk toward the mound. He turned. "But you'd best wait until she--"

He was interrupted by a brief, quickly muffled scream.

Sirius transformed and stood up. "The hogboon," he said.

They ran outside.

The mound had opened up like a great maw, and Dora's satchel was spilled at one side of it. From inside, they could hear her shouting curses.

"Transform," Remus said, running toward the drop without looking back.

Sirius pulled John Lupin's wand from his pocket and ran after him.

A few steps ahead of Sirius, Remus dropped down into the gaping hole without looking, wand drawn. The maw suddenly opened wider, and Sirius found himself falling, elbows banging against the hard-packed dirt, into the largest of the burial chambers in the mound. He landed on top of something wriggling, and Dora shoved him away.

"Dammit, Sirius!" she said, and scrambled across the chamber, not looking back.

"Keep it busy!" Remus yelled. "I'll trap it back in its crypt."

Sirius felt the ground shake only a moment before a sharp pincer took aim at his side. He jumped away as a Stunning Spell blasted the hogboon back into the far wall. It got to its several legs and crouched to pounce in Dora's direction.

"Petrificus Totalis!" Sirius tried, but he hadn't done that spell with this wand before, and, combined with the hogboon's magical protections, its only effect was to make its reddish fur spark with electrical current.

"Aguamenti!" Dora yelled, and water shot onto the hogboon, fizzling into the electricity, causing it to howl in pain. It charged her.

Not wanting to bother with another potentially bad spell, Sirius leapt onto the hogboon's hairy back, letting himself get burned as he threw it off-balance and dragged it over. It fell heavily on him, and he kicked upward and to the side, trying to trap it against the wall.

"Make it shrink!" Remus called.

Dora tried a Shrinking Charm, but it had no effect.

"It's a shapeshifter," Sirius told her. "Make it go for somewhere small."

She gave him an irritated glare, but shot another Stunning Spell at the hogboon, which was currently towering over her, his nearly human face glowering down as Sirius managed to get to his feet. There was a niche in the wall where it might try to shrink and hide if pushed. He tried to use Levicorpus; it didn't work entirely, but did manage to throw the hogboon up onto the ceiling and stun it. It backed toward the niche, looking over its hairy shoulder, shrinking a little bit to fit under a lowering ceiling.

Dora moved in, hitting it with more spells and kicking at its broad side until she managed to somehow twist her ankle on a loose rock and sprawl down to the ground. Sirius ran in front of her, blocking the hogboon's way, and took over the fight. It curled into itself, shrinking down until to create a smaller target.

"The spellwork's done," Remus called. "Let's get him over here."

Sirius grabbed the hogboon around its neck, letting its various limbs flail into empty air. Dora Petrified it.

Remus grabbed hold of it and shoved it into a side crypt, shutting the door on its outraged scream and doing a sealing spell. The hogboon hurled itself twice into the door, then screamed.

"Let's get out of here," Remus said, then really looked, for the first time, at Sirius. His eyes flashed over to Dora, then back to Sirius. "Oh, no."

Dora Conjured a ladder and climbed out of the mound. Remus followed her, and after a moment, Sirius went up.

Dora was sitting on a rock, looking pale and miserable. Remus was standing off to one side. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then shook his head.

There was only one thing to do. He could always escape again once he was out of Dora's hands.

Sirius went to Dora, handed her the wand, and held out his hands to be bound. "Do what you have to," he said. "But leave Remus out of it."

She looked for a long time at Remus's father's wand, and Sirius wondered if she'd seen it before somewhere. "You..." she started weakly, then took a deep, shaky breath. "You look like... has anyone ever told you that you look like... Sirius Black? It's startling, really. Whoever you are."

Sirius knelt in front of her. "If you don't do it, you'll be guilty, too."

"Too? You're not guilty in the first place. Remus and I are the only ones actually committing a crime here." She swallowed hard. "I mean, presuming you were who you look like, of course. If you were, I'd tell you that I'm going to help you. So... who are you?"

"Dora..."

"A name. Give me a name I can use."

"You already used it."

"Padraic Foote," Remus said suddenly. "At least until you speak to Madam Bones, this is Padraic Foote. A cousin. I won't specify whose."

Dora nodded. "I'll need to clean up a bit. Do you mind if I do it here? I'm not ready to go back yet."

"It's fine."

She sighed and stood up. "I never knew hogboons packed quite so much power. I thought they were just quaint little family spirits, bound to some unsuspecting shapeshifter."

"With your family," Sirius said, "you ought to know there's nothing harmless about guardian ancestors."

She raised her eyebrow at him. "Yes, well, consider me your personal shapeshifting guardian hogboon until we get this settled, Mr. Foote."

"You don't have to."

"Hopefully, you're right," Dora said. "Hopefully, tomorrow at this time, I'll come back, make a formal arrest, and take you to a fair trial."

"But Wormtail..."

"Hang Mr. Pettigrew," she said. "We don't need to prove who did do it to prove you didn't. Or that Sirius Black didn't--sorry, Mr. Foote. I just need to find out how."

Sirius nodded.

"And there's one other thing I need to do," she said.

"What's that?"

She leaned forward and put her arms tightly around him, pressing her cheek against his shoulder. He returned the hug gratefully, and she pulled away and kissed his cheek. "I don't imagine you've had enough of those lately."

"Never in my life have I had nearly enough of those," he said. "But I seem to remember a little girl who tried to make up the balance. I always loved her."

She smiled sadly. "I'm sure she loved you, as well."

"What are you going to do if Madam Bones tells you that it's impossible?"

"I don't know," she admitted. "I really don't. I can't... not forever. But I can't send you back to Azkaban for something you didn't do." She shook her head and shoulders, like she was flicking rain from them. "But we don't need to worry about that, because it will be all right."

With that, she disappeared into Remus's house to clean up.

"You couldn't just stay transformed?" Remus asked.

"Sorry. I thought it would be more useful to help keep both of you from being killed by a dead Scotsman." Sirius looked at the house. "I'll leave," he said.

"Where will you go?"

You were meant to come home, Regulus's voice piped up in his mind, and the door of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, swam to the top of Sirius's consciousness. He pushed it back down and said, "I'll think of somewhere. Maybe Dumbledore can help."

"Stay until there's no choice," Remus said. "Dora's already got a problem. Leaving won't make it go away."

"It will if I don't tell you where I am, either."

Remus gave him an uneasy look.

Sirius transformed again, more for comfort than concealment, and trotted to the front door while Remus went back to try and seal the mound. Dora came out a few minutes later, her bruises and cuts from the fight with the hogboon healed. She'd changed her clothes entirely, and she shook her head in his general direction. "You don't make my life easy," she said, then bent and rubbed his face vigorously between her hands. She kissed his forehead, and he licked her cheek. She wrinkled her nose. "Licking is still disturbing in context," she said.

Sirius nodded.

She stood and greeted Remus, who'd just appeared, looking dodgy. "Dora, I'm sorry," he said.

She hugged him. "It'll all work out. And don't start correcting me, I feel terrible enough already."

Sirius half expected Remus to kiss her properly before she left--he'd never seen Remus with a girl he more obviously wanted to kiss, though he didn't say anything--but he didn't, and she left with her usual fond goodbye.

Remus went back to the mound, now apparently determined to finish the hogboon off, though two hours later, when he came back to the shack, Sirius could still hear it flailing away.

They only passed a few words for the remainder of the day. Dora sent a discouraged-sounding letter by express owl the next day, saying that--to no one's surprise but her own--Madam Bones had said the only thing they needed to question Sirius's original conviction was new evidence. She did her best to make it disconnected when she said that she wouldn't be able to come back for a week or so.

Two days later, a far more satisfactory owl appeared, though Sirius doubted the dignified post owl Dora had sent would appreciate such a characterization. He knew this one instantly; he'd bought it himself at the beginning of his exile with Buckbeak, meant as a gift for Ron Weasley (Peter had, after all, been the boy's pet), but he'd nearly kept it himself, as it had utterly delighted him with its energy and cheerfulness. Now it was flying in erratic, self-important loops, a heavy letter bound to its talons.

Sirius opened the window and let it fly inside. He could hear Remus mucking about at the mound (he was putting down sods to repair the surface), but decided to read the letter himself first. He took it from the owl, then put out a plate of owl treats and a bowl of water for it to tuck into. He settled back on the sofa to read.

Dear Sirius, Harry had written, I survived the dragons!

Sirius smiled. The letter wasn't just the assurance he'd expected that Harry was all right. Harry had, instead, given him an excited, blow-by-blow account of his flight around the dragon. He seemed more animated and engaged in his life than he had when Sirius had spoken to him in the fire, and he wanted to share everything. Ron was apparently talking to him again (this got as much attention as his repeated thank yous for the Firebolt), and several of the other students were coming around. He seemed to think a lot of the other champions.

Remus came back inside when Sirius was on his third read-through. "Letter from Harry?"

"A long one," Sirius said. "Listen..."

He read the letter to Remus, stopping when he realized he was in the midst of a paragraph extolling Moody's virtues as a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.

Remus looked at him mildly. "Go on."

"You're all right?"

"Moody had quite a bit to teach us," he said.

"I'd bet that Firebolt strategy was Moody's advice," Sirius said.

Remus nodded his agreement, and listened to the rest of the letter, getting dinner himself so that Sirius could continue basking in it, asking him to re-read bits now and then.

"You do know," he said when Sirius had all but read the whole letter over again, "that you're going to have to remind him that he still needs to be careful."

"Yes, I know that part. Can I borrow some--"

He was cut off by a knock at the door, and transformed immediately, heart pounding. Remus banished the letter to his desk and moved several pieces of parchment on top of it as he went to open the door. It was Dora.

She shook her head vaguely in his direction, but sat beside him on the sofa and hugged him while she spoke. "Nothing," she said. "Remus, can't you think of anything at all that would help find proof?"

"Don't you think I would have told you already?"

Sirius barked urgently.

"Oh, all right," she said. "Go on, then."

He transformed back. "When you nearly caught me in Brazil, did you pick up the notes I was making in the news stand?"

"I think Kingsley has them. Were you tracking Pettigrew?" She hissed. "I mean was Siri--... oh, hell. You know what I mean, and they'll already arrest me if they find out how much I know."

"Look at the pattern. Up from Albania to Croatia to Germany..."

"You want me to go to Albania?"

"I was hoping someone would."

She ground her teeth. "I'll ask Kingsley if I could look at the notes, and come up with the brilliant idea on my own." She gave him a miserable look. "I don't suppose you'd trust me to solve it, and go nicely back to Azkaban for a few days?"

"If I didn't think that they'd send the first Dementor they could reach to kiss me, I'd trust you. I'm more useful out here than an empty shell in there."

"You knew I wasn't going to arrest you when you offered."

"Yes. But even if I hadn't, it wasn't fair not to give you the choice."

"You need to hide better," she said. "Kingsley and I can't keep this up forever."

"How much does Shacklebolt know?" Remus asked.

"We're very careful not to compare notes."

She stayed for a few more minutes, then left. Sirius's good spirits seemed a lifetime ago. Remus puttered about for an hour then went to bed, and Sirius lay down on the couch, waiting for sleep to come.

When it finally did, it carried him to Hogwarts, to the clear skies above the arena where the first task was to be held. He was on his Firebolt, zooming into the sky, free and distant from everyone below. Everything was going to work out.

He dove at the dragon--not a Hungarian Horntail this time, but a great green beast glimmering with scattered silver scales. In its egg clutch, he could see Dora and Remus sheltering together, holding on to one another in a carefully constructed nest. Harry sat on the edge, playing with a toy he'd had as a baby, and Ron Weasley watched with wide, jealous eyes. Dumbledore was in the stands, and, though he was far away, Sirius clearly heard him say, "You must retrieve it."

As he circled around, he finally saw the golden egg, just behind the dragon's rear paws. It was a half shell, and inside it was curled his brother, Regulus, who looked up at him mutely.

Sirius skimmed low to the ground, the dragon breathing fire just behind him. He was sure the Firebolt must be in flames, but it didn't burn.

"You can do it," Harry said encouragingly as he passed. "I did!"

Sirius nodded and turned back on himself, confusing the dragon. He reached out and scooped up the egg, which, to his horror, had suddenly become a small model of a terrace house, and in front of it, he could see a tiny garden. He spiralled to the ground and thrust it away from himself. It split open. Regulus stood up, holding out a key.

"I don't want that," Sirius said.

"But it's yours."

"Take it back."

"You need it for the next task."

Sirius grabbed the key, then threw it off to the side, where the lake had suddenly appeared. "I won't have it," he said.

Regulus looked at him sadly, then walked into the lake after it. He turned just before his head went under and said, "Don't worry. I'll bring it back for you."

Sirius dragged himself awake, cursed his brother for the miserable haunting, and sat down to write a sober letter to Harry, reminding him to keep his eyes open.

Someone was out to hurt him, after all.
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Comments
chrischewscud From: chrischewscud Date: March 20th, 2009 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Haha, Padriach Foote!

The Tri-wizard contest and hogboon fight are even more exciting with my cats yowling at each other in the background!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 20th, 2009 06:23 am (UTC) (Link)
It's very exciting with my cat reaching up from under my desk to bat at my hand on the mouse, too. ;p
chrischewscud From: chrischewscud Date: March 21st, 2009 01:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, the little darlings :D.
malinbe From: malinbe Date: March 20th, 2009 07:50 am (UTC) (Link)
It seems I'm not getting much of my beauty sleep, but I traded it for something MUCH better ;)

I loved this chapter. It was so exciting you'd think I had never read GoF (and certainly not read this very same chapter two weeks ago). Dora finally seeing him was painful but necessary- now we can have our adult trio back.

I'm excited for the new stuff! And yawning so widely my lips hurt. Ok, to bed now!

Thanks for the awesome chapter.
From: spitc1899 Date: March 20th, 2009 11:28 am (UTC) (Link)
The ending of that dream is so much more eerie post-DH, despite the fact that you wrote it before. I'm guessing the original reference was to the Second Task, but Regulus walking into any lake is . . . quite depressing, actually.
From: severely_lupine Date: March 20th, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Lick me and I'll be forced to curse you," she said. -- Oh, that's funny. I wonder if things like that are some sort natural instinct that comes with his dog form, or something he started doing in order to behave like a dog. Or maybe Sirius just likes licking people and the dog thing gives him a good excuse.

"I don't know of a boy by that description," Remus said loftily. -- LOL Oh, it's good to see them bantering again.

Poor Padfoot, unable to defend himself against such vicious attacks. That bit about the lions settling on his haunches felt very My Little Pony.

"I can honestly say that I'm not expecting to have children in Gryffindor. Or anywhere else." -- Oh... that's just sad. Good that she doesn't indulge him, though. Probably one reason they're such a good match. A lot of women might have tried to reassure him or some such silliness.

"And here I've been meaning to visit your radio." -- Haha! Oh, I love those little sorts of funny/snarky lines.

"shrinking down until to create a smaller target" -- Extra word?

The reunion between Tonks and Sirius was so touching. And the bit about hugs... It really is criminal to have kept someone who needs human contact as much as Sirius locked up in prison for so long.

It's nice that Remus isn't jealous of Moody at all. Not that I'd expect him to be, but it's nice to see.

He was on his Firebolt -- How could he be on his Firebolt? Wasn't that a brand-new broom model?

Oh, nice reference there with Regulus going under the water.

Wonderful chapter, as always. Looking forward to the new stuff. :-)

sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: March 20th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

"You were meant to come home, Regulus's voice piped up in his mind..."

Ohhh, poor Reggie! And then the ending...

I'm glad you brought him back. I have to go reread those stories, or I'll be curled up in a weepy little ball for the rest of the day...
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 20th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
can't wait for the new stuff!
love the dream
~m
jesfrealo From: jesfrealo Date: March 20th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Absolutely wonderful! I'm really enjoying this...thanks!
silvery_wraith From: silvery_wraith Date: March 20th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's so many good bits in this chapter, I don't know which to choose! I loved the reunion between Tonks and Sirius and Sirius tolerating the fur dying. I loved how Sirius just jumped in to save Tonks from the Hogboon regardless of the consequences; it's so apt to what we see in Canon. That last bit with the dream was absolutly freaky! Oh Sirius, he's just so haunted by so may things: James and Lily, Peter (granted he's after revenge on that one, but it's always on his mind) and his family. Tonks was right, Sirius needs all the hugs he can get. *hugs*
scopart From: scopart Date: March 20th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
While this was all spectacular, this was my favorite part:

"Never in my life have I had nearly enough of those," he said. "But I seem to remember a little girl who tried to make up the balance. I always loved her."

She smiled sadly. "I'm sure she loved you, as well."


I suppose it's just that neither of them were in canon very long that I never gave too much thought to the fact that they're family. It is wonderful to read. And I always did imagine Sirius having quite the soft spot for Dora.

Wonderful job!
From: glynngriffiths Date: May 19th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Remus gave her a rueful smile and said, "I can honestly say that I'm not expecting to have children in Gryffindor. Or anywhere else."

Oh! Teddy!
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: August 17th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
"I'm always surprised. Aurors are just surprised a bit earlier than everyone else, so we have time to be smug and all-knowing." What a great Tonks line! ;)

I loved how Sirius jumped in to save Tonks with no thought for himself. The reunion with Tonks made me tear up it was so touching. Poor Sirius not getting any hugs, and poor Tonks losing her adored older cousin.

I LOLed at Tonks' comment about Sirius' licking ehr being disturbing. ;D

Loved Tonks' bringing over the wireless! That was very well done! :)
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