FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

Stray, Chapter Nine: The First Task, pt. 3

Well, I'm going to write as much as I can this week, before whatever existential angst will come on Saturday.

Sirius (as Padfoot), Remus, and Tonks have just listened to the First Task on the radio, and Tonks is on her way to a meeting with Amelia Bones, which she made the mistake of telling Remus about. So he scolded her. She left with a huge eyeroll, and just as Remus is turning around to tell Sirius that he's pretty sure she's actually going, as opposed to her regular habit of turning around and coming back, they hear a scream, and run outside (Sirius is now human), where she's fallen into a mound where the hogboon Remus was meant to expel is living. Remus tells Sirius to transform and runs to help out. Sirius doesn't transform, and follows.

Table of Contents and Summary So Far

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--or possibly it was hair--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 the old spell James had learned to pick it up and turn it upside down; it didn't work entirely, but did manage to throw it up onto the ceiling and stun it. It backed toward the niche, looking over its hairy shoulder at it, 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?"


"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, not bothering at a pretense of belief. "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 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--Sirius guessed she kept some in the satchel--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. 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. Kingsley made the daily visits, on a curiously regular and predictable schedule.

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 in back (he was putting down sods to repair the mound), 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 the owl 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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