Table of Contents and Summary So Far
Sirius transformed as soon as they were inside (and Remus had ascertained that no Aurors were lurking), and pulled a sheet of fresh parchment from the pile on Remus's table. "She said November the twenty-second, didn't she?" he asked, scribbling, "Harry--I can't say everything I would like to in a letter."
"Yes," Remus said uncomfortably. "All day. A Muggle show that night."
"Well, we won't have to worry about the night. We'll just pop over while they're spending a pleasant afternoon shopping."
"Or a not so pleasant one sitting beside her dementor-kissed husband?"
"Would you prefer that we ask permission directly? 'Dona, since you already trust me greatly on the werewolf front, perhaps you'd be glad to let an escaped convict who is also an illegal animagus use your fireplace. Which will, of course, end up with you as a conspirator, with a threat of Azkaban over your head.' Because if that's what you'd prefer, it certainly sounds better than sneaking around, but I'd like to keep both of you out of trouble, if I can."
Remus sighed. "November twenty-second," he said. "But you do need to worry about the night. How likely is it that the Gryffindor common room will be empty in the middle of the day?"
Sirius cursed himself for a fool--of course it would have to be night. He'd been so worried about his own side of the conversation that arrangements on Harry's had slipped his mind entirely. He shook his head. "Shows go late. If I can get him alone at midnight, there might be time if they're taking the Floo home. Maybe they'll even decide to stay the night."
"I'll stand guard."
"No. I don't want you around while I'm breaking the law. You have enough problems--"
"I'll stand guard," Remus said again. "Give the Aurors a little credit, Sirius--if they catch you breaking into someone's house the next island over after I've already been to visit, they're not quite thick enough to miss the connection. I may as well do what I can to keep you from getting caught."
Sirius grimaced. "All right, then. But I'm not going to take the chance of anyone overhearing your name. I won't tell Harry where I am, or that you're here. Is that an acceptable level of protectiveness toward someone risking Azkaban to keep me here?"
"I can live with that. Harry doesn't appear to want my help, anyway."
Sirius squirmed uncomfortably, and finished his letter to Harry, put it back on the barn owl, and sent him off, hoping that Harry would be able to make it work. When he'd finished, Remus had settled himself down on the sofa, reading a Daily Prophet that might have been a week old.
"If I give you money," Sirius said, "will you subscribe to the damned thing? I need to know what's happening."
"Sure," Remus said. "I'll pop over to the mainland tomorrow and send an owl. Do you want the back issues I have? They're in the back room where I gave you Harry's letter the other day."
"Do you have any from the Quidditch World Cup?"
"Yes, I kept those. It's Rita Skeeter's byline, though--read it with a grain of salt."
"Only a grain?" Sirius asked, and went to the back. The papers were stacked neatly in a cabinet, and Sirius brought them back into the living room. He settled himself in the frayed old chair and read them, dropping each to the floor in a rough circle around him, sometimes picking them back up to check facts, or what passed for them in a series of articles by Rita Skeeter, who, in her first year on the Prophet, had suggested that James's mother had an unhealthy interest in taking in "a particularly handsome young runaway," and had in fact been the reason that said youth had run away from his "good home." No names were mentioned, but Sirius doubted that anyone had been left wondering. Between the lines, he gathered that the Ministry had been taken entirely by surprise, which wasn't a good sign. They'd gathered openly, and people had run in terror, which was an even worse one. Worst of all, they'd only scattered when the Dark Mark had gone up... which meant that there was something even the Death Eaters hadn't anticipated.
He set aside the last Quidditch World Cup article and started a feature piece about the Triwizard Tournament that had come out shortly after it had been announced, before the champions had been chosen. It profiled each of the three schools--a warm remembrance of Hogwarts, a rather snide piece on Beauxbatons' high opinion of itself, and--
Sirius stopped cold, staring at the piece on Durmstrang.
"What is it?" Remus asked, looking up with some alarm.
"Igor Karkaroff is headmaster of Durmstrang?" He looked down at the paper in disbelief, at Karkaroff's graying hair, at his disdainful smirk. "Why didn't you tell me this?"
"I'm sorry," Remus said. "I forgot that you wouldn't know. It was an international incident, but it was eight years ago. Everyone's got used to it now."
"I'm not bloody used to it! He's a Death Eater!"
"Which is why it was an international incident," Remus said. "As soon as it came out, the Wizengamot filed a formal grievance against the Durmstrang governors on behalf of the victims. After everything he did here during the war, they weren't particularly pleased to see him honored, let alone put in a position of training half the children in Eastern Europe." His mouth curled in a bitter half smile. "The Durmstrang governors were less than receptive."
"How could they justify that?"
"Oh, you wouldn't believe how outraged they were. It seems they would never judge anyone dangerous until he'd shown himself to be... and someone who had clearly seen the error of his ways deserved the second chance, and as far as they were concerned, he was clean."
"You don't believe them, I take it?"
"I applied for a post at Durmstrang. Their ability to reserve judgment is curiously limited to known Death Eaters."
Sirius snorted, and looked back down at the newspaper. "Did you go there for an interview?"
"What did you see? Did Karkaroff interview you?"
"He did." Remus sat forward. "I didn't see anything comforting, Sirius. He's taken Defense courses out of their curriculum."
"Then how do they learn to... Oh. He's showing them the Dark Arts first hand."
"He's not calling them Dark Arts. I believe he's teaching it as 'Traditional Magic,' as opposed to 'Contemporary Magic.' No one is fooled."
"And the parents go along with this?"
"These are parents who've been sending their children to Durmstrang for generations. I imagine they see it much the same way Lucius Malfoy sees sending Draco to Hogwarts under Dumbledore." He sighed. "And some of them aren't going along with it. The room that serves as their Great Hall was only about half full when I saw it--at lunchtime."
"That must be why Dumbledore brought Moody. Moody caught him the first time; he'll be on the lookout. But I don't like this at all."
Sirius continued reading into the night, circling himself with grainy images of smirking headmasters and leering Dark Marks that looked up from the floor. He slept only fitfully after midnight, imagining a Death Eater prowling the halls of Hogwarts, in easy reach of Harry, waiting for a sign that could come at any moment.
His thin sleep was broken by a knock at the door, and he transformed as Remus shuffled out of the kitchen to open it.
Dora Tonks had brought breakfast after her night shift, admitting flatly that she was today's surprise check-in. She looked worn out.
Remus served out breakfast. "Is there any trouble with the tournament?" he asked, pouring her juice.
"Not that I know of." She sighed and rubbed her head. "Fudge has us working on the World Cup. He's told us that he wants us to prove it was an aberration."
Remus stopped. "Wouldn't it make more sense to--"
"--find out what it actually was?" Dora finished. "Only if you're not a politician." She looked across the table into the living room, and frowned. "Why have you been reading so many issues of the Prophet?"
Sirius looked over, seeing the detritus of yesterday's reading binge.
"I looked after Harry for a year," Remus said. "And he was the child of two of my dearest friends. I'm concerned about what's happening."
Dora still seemed troubled, but she looked away. "I see you still have Snuffles."
"He can stay as long as he likes," Remus said.
She Summoned his dog bowl and started to fill it with bacon and eggs. Before putting it down, she added some porridge off to one side. Sirius sniffed it, then tucked in. Dora watched him for a moment, then turned back to Remus. "Have you heard about these new rules they're pushing through the Wizengamot?"
"The Umbridge laws?" Remus snorted. "Yes, I've heard about them. I may as well enjoy my last job while I have it."
"Mum's testifying with the people from Werewolf Support Services today. Maybe they won't pass it. But Aunt Narcissa is testifying that--"
"--a dangerous werewolf was loose on school grounds with her only child in residence?"
"Essentially." She turned her teacup thoughtfully in its saucer. "I think you should testify. If she's going to put a face on someone they think is threatened, you could put a face on someone who really is threatened."
"That's presuming that they'd listen."
"Do you even ever try to get them to listen?" She picked at her eggs. "They might, you know. There are decent people at the Ministry."
She raised her eyebrows. "I hear there's a shiny new Auror..."
"Aside from you."
"My friend Maddie. Kingsley Shacklebolt. He's a decent sort. And that bloke in Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, Arthur Westley--"
"Weasley," Remus corrected.
"Weasley, of course. I don't know him very well, but everyone knows that if you need a decent person to stand up for you, he's the one to go to. There are good people there."
Remus sighed, and put his hand over hers. "I know that, Dora. But they're thin on the ground, and there are fights they can't win."
Dora looked perfectly miserable, but she found a sunny smile. "Well, it was worth a try," she said. "Someday, I'll convince you that the whole world isn't out to get you."
"I don't think the whole world is out to get me. I just have expectations of the Ministry that are based on bad experiences."
"Well, try not to be quite so cynical about the lot of us, all right?"
"I'll make a good faith effort," Remus said, then patted her hand and let go of it. Sirius watched this with some curiosity--it was a strange sort of gesture for Remus, quite unlike him. He also had a tendency to lean toward her, like a broom caught on the edge of a wind current. Neither of them seemed to take this as anything in the least bit odd.
They talked of other things for the rest of the meal, including the tournament, continuing their good natured banter about Hufflepuff and Gryffindor. She lazily scratched Sirius's ears, and he rested his nose on her knees. He'd never thought a member of his blood family would be quite so comforting.
Especially given the fact that she had the power--and the responsibility--to send him back to prison.
They finished breakfast, and Dora announced that she needed to get some sleep before they pulled her in for another double-shift. She stood up and stretched, then looked around the living room again, frowning at the piles of papers. "You should pick those up," she said. "You wouldn't want them to trip you."
As soon as she was gone, Sirius transformed. "All right. You didn't tell me she was obsessed with housekeeping."
"She's not," Remus said, frowning. "Pick up the papers. We should start deciding what you need to tell Harry."