Chapter 29 — Descent
Harry arrived at the Ministry a little early, thoughts circling around his weekend plans. His fieldwork was scheduled for Friday afternoon, which would allow him to get a good night's sleep before going off to visit Snape early Saturday. By then he should have worked out what Device diagrams were likely the ones relevant from the book, and therefore which accompanying spells. It felt overly optimistic to hope he could fetch Snape so quickly, but the following week, when they were released for Christmas, there would be more opportunities. That would work well with the other Snape being home; Harry could be assured he would be nearby to step into the Device. That just left Candide to work around. At least Harry's disappearances, as needed, could be attributed to last minute shopping. As the lift doors opened, Harry vowed to have his guardian back for Christmas, even as difficult as that would be. It pained him too much to imagine celebrating Christmas with the impostor.
Distracted as he was, Harry did not immediately notice Mr. Weasley standing in the middle of the corridor, just beyond the training room door.
"Harry," Mr. Weasley, said, just as Harry's attention came to rest on his boss' solidly planted figure.
"Sir." Harry had been hoping to get a last glance at his unfinished readings before their session started, but Mr. Weasley's posture indicated that was not going to happen.
"Come in here, Harry," he said soberly. "We need a word with you."
"I'll just drop my bag in my locker," Harry half asked, wanting to follow procedure to secure his lunch from tampering.
Mr. Weasley nodded and then led the way down to the tea room. Harry forced himself to exhale, wondering if somehow Percy's threats were already coming to fruition. The chair's metal feet squeaked gratingly across the floor when Harry pulled it out to sit. Mr. Weasley did not sit; he leaned on the back of the opposite chair.
"What did you do this last Tuesday, Harry? After you left training."
Harry kept all reaction off his face, or he hoped he did. His investigations of the Minister of Magic's receptionist's flat would not sit well with many, he now realized. A flicker appeared at the edge of the door and Shacklebolt came into view. Harry returned his gaze to his boss. "I went to talk to Belinda, Bones' receptionist. At her flat," he added, trying to sound helpful, then stopping himself because they all operated under the notion that overly helpful was a red flag in an interview.
Sounding honestly mystified, Harry added, "What's going on?"
Shacklebolt's blue robes slipped away from the door. Mr. Weasley said in a patently reassuring voice that was not in the least reassuring, "We're not certain yet, Harry. But why don't you stay here for the time being."
"Here in the tea room you mean . . . not just here in the Department?"
"In the tea room." He departed and Harry blinked in the wake of it, mind flying faster than his best broom in a hopeless bid to work this out.
Harry's fellows arrived for training. Their voices came down the corridor, gossiping about the Falcon's captain and his being seen the night before with the girlfriend of the Harpies' captain. Tonks poked her head in, but it appeared to be simply a check that he was still there. By the time Harry opened his mouth to ask something, she was gone.
Harry sighed, wondering what the penalty was for illicit investigations. They HAD made them psuedo full Aurors and had not reversed it, as far as Harry knew. If he were a full Auror, he only needed to justify his actions, which seemed easy enough given what he had observed about Belinda.
Mr. Weasley returned long after the training room door had boomed closed and the corridor had fallen silent. He returned to his previous pose over the chair, leaning heavily on the back of it. Shacklebolt slipped in behind him and took a seat, long parchment and pen in hand.
Mr. Weasley said, "Harry, do you have a solicitor?"
Harry's heart fell as silent as the corridor outside the door. His mouth was too dry to speak immediately, but he managed to stammer, "I . . . not really. Hermione gave me a name once, but I don't have now." He patted his pockets for no good reason, really; the slip of paper had not been magical or anything and would not reappear after all this time.
Mr. Weasley nodded and turned to Tonks who had arrived, face thinned by strain. "Go up to the Minister's office and get a reference from Bones." With a toss of her brown hair, Tonks nodded briskly and slipped off.
Harry opened his mouth to ask something, he was not sure what may come out, but Mr. Weasley held up his hand. "No speaking, Harry, till the solicitor arrives."
Harry breathed instead, needing it badly.
Shacklebolt sat with his hands in his lap, the picture of calm, but Harry knew he always did that, no matter how bad the actions of the perpetrator they were interviewing. Harry reassured himself that if this were truly serious, they would use an interrogation room, so this must be something to do with his unauthorized search, which, apparently, was bad enough. Harry clasped his hands between his knees and wondered morosely if the French would still take him if he were kicked out of this program.
The lift bell sounded and Mr. Weasley went out and closed the door behind him. An argument sounded beyond the door, louder and softer as others came into the room—the whole department aside from Rogan, who must have been left manning the office.
Mr. Weasley was arguing with Fudge. "We will handle this internally. This is our jurisdiction."
"You are soft on that boy, always have been, I will not allow him to make a mockery of my authority again, look where it's got us." Fudge's voice rang with the strains of apoplexy, making Harry's whole body go on alert.
Mr. Weasley said, "You'll get your turn, but right now this is our matter." He came inside then and closed the door and held his hand in front of the handle a few seconds as if expecting it to pop open.
"All right," he said, sounding relieved. He took a seat too and no one moved until a knock sounded, which Mr. Weasley stood to answer.
A hulking, broad figure slid confidently around the full table to the empty seat on Harry's right. Harry gaped in surprise as deBenedictus, the vampire's legal counsel, crisply set down his brief case. Of Harry, he asked, "Said anything?"
Harry shook his head.
"Good." He sat his square frame in the undersized tea-room chair and popped the latches on his battered, but carefully polished, case to pull out a narrow roll of parchment and a gold stand. Harry got a glimpse inside the cavernous bag lined with tall shelves of oversized books and scrolls and even a shelf full of lamps and oil.
Harry wanted to ask something about whether the man held a grudge, but deBenedictus was rolling smoothly on. He set his miniature quill to record and surveyed the table while stating the date and getting the names of all present, including describing their appearance and where they were sitting, all of which the quill scratched dutifully out in a script too small to see without the lens attached to the arm of the stand.
Preliminaries finished, deBenedictus sat back ever so slightly, which did not make Harry feel any less dwarfed, and said, "You may proceed."
Mr. Weasley began, clumsily and Rodgers took over three words in. "Tuesday, Harry. Tell us what you did."
Harry's chest hurt, but before he could answer, deBenedictus rumbled, "You don't have to answer that."
Harry turned his neck to stare up at him. "I don't?"
"Have they arrested you?"
"Then you certainly don't have to answer that."
Harry wished his mouth had some saliva in it, talking would be so much easier then. "But I can answer that," he insisted, despite wishing he did not need to say anything.
In a darkly neutral tone, the solicitor said, "All I can do is advise."
Harry turned to the rest of the table. "I went to speak to Belinda." But before he could decide whether to skip over the part about searching her flat, Rodgers interrupted again.
"That was the first thing you did after leaving training?'
"Uh, no, I went up to the Minister's office to catch Belinda there. But the cleaning witch said they were off at a ribbon cutting. That they'd left early for that."
Mr. Weasley leaned forward. "What time was that?"
"I don't know. Right after training."
"Quarter past four," Rodgers supplied to Harry's relief.
Tonks confirmed, "You spoke to a cleaning witch?" At Harry's nod, Tonks left the room, making Harry miss her presence immediately.
"Then what?" Rodgers asked.
"I went to Belinda's flat to wait for her. I didn't want to miss her." That sounded good, and Harry invisibly patted himself on the back.
Rodgers again. "How did you get there?"
Without hesitating, Harry replied, "I Apparated."
The quill caught up during the follow-on pause. On a side parchment, deBenedictus' oversized hand was making notes in a curly, yet sparse, print Harry could not decipher.
"Did you speak to Belinda?" Rodgers asked.
Harry nodded. "She had asked me for help the other day, on Diagon Alley, but I didn't have time that day to talk to her." Harry hoped they did not ask what he had to do instead, as he did not relish having to make up yet another lie. "We talked for . . . a while," he stumbled, given that he had arrived home late for dinner.
"What did she say?"
"Nothing really. Insisted she'd straightened things out on her own, which I doubted, given how oddly she was behaving." Harry imagined mentioning the uncharacteristic dirty dishes but thought that would sound lame, even as strange as it seemed standing there in her flat.
"That's all?" Rodgers asked, sounding doubtful too.
Harry shrugged. "I kept trying to convince her to tell me what was going on, but she wouldn't. She said someone else was helping her."
A ripple went around the table, making Harry wonder if not everyone knew that the old Auror was really alive.
Mr. Weasley, with strange care, said, "What did she say about him, exactly?"
"That he checked in on her once or twice a week." Harry gave in and did what he should have done a long time ago. "I think she's been compromised, so I've been worried about her."
"But you haven't said anything," Rodgers followed on.
"I thought that if things were going that badly, I could convince her to say something herself. She always says how much she cares about the Ministry." He added quickly, "And I wasn't really certain. Am not really," he corrected. So far he felt okay with his performance and relaxed fractionally.
Tonks returned and handed a note to Mr Weasley before sitting with her head down. Harry wished her hair was not so plain.
Rodgers glanced at the note and asked Harry, "Do you have your wand?" When Harry pulled his wand out, holding the point because of the circumstances, his trainer went on, "You've had that with you all along, right?"
Harry glanced at the wand and shrugged. "Yeah."
"Didn't misplace it at some point?"
Harry shook his head.
"Can we check your wand for a spell, Harry?" Rodgers asked.
Harry began to reach out to hand him the wand, but deBenedictus clamped his bear paw-like hand over his wrist. "I strongly advise against that."
"Why? There's nothing on it."
"May I have a word with my client?" deBenedictus asked, in a rumbling, bear-like voice. When the assembled shuffled in their seats as if to stand, deBenedictus added, "It need not be in private." He made an failed effort to turn his body to face Harry. "Mr. Potter, despite your employment in this department, I feel obliged to explain some basic principles to you, so that you may better act in your own interest."
Harry set his wand so it would not roll away and clamped his hands between his knees again to listen.
"You need not cooperate at this stage as you are, and in fact it is highly unwise to." He paused.
Harry said, "But why shouldn't I?"
"Because you do not even know what you are suspected of."
That was quite true. Harry glanced around the table. "But if I don't and I'm suspected and can prove otherwise, nothing will happen."
Patiently, the man went on, "It is much harder to prove otherwise under such circumstances. If you simply hold back, and force them to appeal to the Wizengamot for a hearing, we will be on far better footing. They will have to inform us of the evidence against you, for example, which we can then prepare a rebuttal to. At the moment, we have nothing."
That all made sense, but Harry appealed to him, "But I didn't do anything."
"That does not matter. You are making their job too easy."
Harry considered that most people they brought in here did that, perhaps not knowing any better. But Harry could not imagine not cooperating as the solicitor suggested. It felt too alien. Arguing for helping, he drew on his experience in the office and said, "They might put me in the dungeon if I don't."
deBenedictus put his lower lip out slightly. "No matter."
"No matter?" Harry echoed. "I . . . er . . . I have things I need to do." The notion nearly panicked him. He had to return to Snape and get help with the diagram and spells, make sure the Device still worked, help out so Snape would be safe. And he wanted his guardian home for Christmas. Returning to his early tactic, he said, "I didn't do anything. There is nothing on my wand."
deBenedictus held up his great hands in a motion of giving in. "All I can do is advise."
Harry's mouth worked, then stopped. He studied his wand more, something he did frequently when he was in school, but rarely did now given that it acted as a natural extension of his arm. It was the wand he had ordered for himself, had fetched the feather for it and everything. "I haven't done anything," Harry repeated to himself, remembering the last time they went through this and Moody had tried to argue that Harry could have removed a firestarting spell, making the lack of one no proof of his innocence.
Harry handed the wand to his trainer, expecting some reaction from the solicitor, but the man sat still, pen poised over his notes, letting Harry relax.
The spells of the morning and then the previous evening came off, just a few ghosts of reheated tea and hovered books, then the demonstration from the morning before and their drills, endless, repeated drills that made Harry want to rest his head on his hand. Then some more minor spells, a dehovered Auror book, and then the room dimmed and a flicker of that noxious green emerged from the floor, swelling as it sucked in snaking spirals of itself. The color alone made Harry's soul quiver with revulsion. The spell unwound and the ghostly figure of MadEye Moody, caught by surprise rose up from a heap and turned away from the wand and stood straight before fading out.
Harry stared at where the apparition had disappeared, hands vibrating despite his clasping them tightly. "I didn't kill Moody," he insisted when things clicked into place in his head. He closed his eyes tightly while the last few minutes of conversation unwound in his brain like the spells had. He muttered to the man next to him. "I should have listened to you. It's a trap."
The others in the room fell matter of fact, which made Harry feel even more isolated. Tonks kept her head down.
Harry breathily repeated, "I didn't kill Moody. Someone else did and is pinning it on me."
"Not many people knew he was alive," Mr. Weasley pointed out kindly.
Harry opened his mouth to point out a choice suspect, but deBenedictus cut him off. "What is this?"
Shacklebolt crossed his long arms and explained, "Alastor Moody is officially dead."
deBenedictus scratched out an aggressive extra note. "Well, isn't that interesting," sounding almost upbeat. He correctly gestured again that Harry should remain quiet, just as Harry opened his mouth again.
Shacklebolt asked Harry, "You're certain your wand has been in your possession?"
Harry thought back, imagining Percy dangling it before him. But he had picked it up off the floor just a second before after Harry dropped it. He should mention it, though, despite that. "Percy knocked it out of my hand before the demonstration, in the changing room. Other than that I've had it as far as I know."
deBenedictus softly said, "I feel compelled to remind you, despite your clearly functioning memory, that you need not answer anything."
"Doesn't matter now, does it?" Harry glumly pointed out.
"Well," Harry returned, feeling better for exercising some control over the situation, "in that case they will simply arrest me and then make me answer."
"Willing to submit to Veritaserum?" Rodgers asked. Unlike the others who were all leaning forward, he was sitting back confidently, one hand reaching out to tap out a random rhythm on the table.
deBenedictus gave a squeak, a noise that seemed impossible from one his size.
"Yes," Harry replied.
The solicitor's briefcase flapped open without his touching it and he rapidly pulled out a thick sheaf, which he shoved across the table's stained surface.
"What's that?" Harry asked, feeling life slipping away to the sound of paper sliding rampantly over a tabletop.
"Limitations they must agree to. You do not wish to let them ask you absolutely anything; do you?"
Harry shook his head, appalled by the thought.
The solicitor's calm was underlined now by aggressiveness, which Harry was grateful for, due to his losing all of his better sense somewhere along the way. To the Aurors the solicitor said, while handing over a pen, "State in the blanks on page twenty-seven exactly what you plan to ask him, including any expected followup questions, initial each question and sign page thirty four.
A tiny vial had been fetched and now sat beside a piece of dissolving blotter. Tonks handled putting the soaked square on Harry's tongue for him while he sat on his hands to keep from fidgeting madly. He then sat back and waited as passively as possible for it to work. The room grew melty and streaky immediately indicating it was a fine batch.
Rodgers handled the questioning with reassuring confidence. "Did you kill Alastor Moody."
Harry's mouth handled the answering as though submerged deep in water, "No."
"Have you ever wanted to kill Alastor Moody?"
"Have you ever been angry with Alastor Moody?"
"Angry enough to get even?"
"Yes." Harry remembered that vividly, even through the drug. Moody's shift from paranoid Order member helping against Voldemort to paranoid Harry-doubter felt like betrayal, and he had the magical powers to make Harry pay for his change in allegiance.
"Did you plot to get even at any time?"
"I assumed a chance would come along on its own some time. And he claimed that he helped out in the battle with Merton's associates."
"But he was following you around; he repeatedly told Fudge you were going dark."
Harry could not answer since there was no question.
Rodgers leaned forward, smearing across the left side of Harry's vision. "Are you going dark, Harry?"
Harry's remaining willful part of his mind wondered why that question was allowed. Shadowy pawns and masks swam before him. Dark marks sang in his gut, just below his heart, pressed in like burning marbles. He could touch them now and make them all suffer, no matter where they were. It did not feel very white-wizardy. "I don't know."
The room sat back, shifting in their seats.
Rodgers tried to concoct a followup, tugging the Limitations document over and reading it before sitting back with a frown. He grabbed up the document again and, reading off, asked, "Barring this interview, is your life in any way easier now that Alastor Moody is dead?"
"Have you ever killed anyone?"
"Anyone other than Voldemort and his followers?"
"Sirius Black," Harry heard his dream-voice say, like an announcement.
"Harry," Tonks blurted, voice going teary as she spoke. "Bellatrix killed Sirius. You can't possibly believe you're responsible for that."
Mr. Weasley had interlocked the fingers of his clasped hands and pressed them to his lips. He pulled back after several seconds and said, "I think we're done."
They gave Harry a sip of antidote, and he sat staring at his fingers holding the empty little glass vial, oddly thick sided and heavy relative to its size.
deBenedictus broke the silence. "So, you have a counterbalancing evidence here."
"Not as much as it looks," Rodgers said. "I'll do you a favor, Mr. deBenedictus and give you a heads up. There were no cleaning witches in the Minister's office until after eight; there is no record of anyone Apparating near Belinda's flat until she herself did—to a block away from originating from where the Minister was; and she also denies receiving a visit from Harry that day."
"What?!" Harry snapped.
"I will handle this, Mr. Potter," his solicitor said. "Sit back. Did you expect otherwise given the state of your wand?"
It occurred to Harry that he had not received his wand back. He crossed his arms and slouched, a spectator to the final paperwork of his own official demise. Dizziness washed through him, most likely the potions, but as the room wobbled, he wondered with a wrenchingly helpless alarm if he had not slipped into the wrong place, a place where his counterpart really had done away with Moody. Harry propped his forehead on his hands and found that a better place to listen to the official words pass over him.
Inside his own racing mind, Harry wondered with a icy chill if it had not been Snape who had framed him. Was it possible his guardian's impostor could have arranged such a thing, so quickly? Had Harry pushed him too far?
The paperwork passed in a blur interspersed with scratching pens. Tonks stood, and sounding plodding, said, "I'll take Harry."
Mr. Weasley stepped over beside her. "We'll both take him." They both turned. "Harry? Time to go."
Harry raised his head from his hands and stared at them. They had no idea how very important it was that he finish taking care of his guardian. Maybe he should have told Tonks what had happened with Snape. She certainly knew about his strange skills, but not about how much trouble they had caused. And he had been desperate to keep it a secret and secrets told too broadly were impossible to recapture later, so he had said nothing and now he had no help.
He considered simply slipping away, out of their grasp. He could go anywhere and they would not be able to track him. He could escape to the Plane where his adoptive father was trapped and help him stay alive until he could be brought home. That plan reverberated through him as entirely feasible.
Rogders grabbing up Harry's arm and hauling him to his feet, jarred him out of his plotting. Harry met each of their eyes, Tonks, Shacklebolt, Mr. Weasley, Blackpool. Their faces were full of duty and, surprisingly, affection. Each one met his gaze full-on, promising and reassuring him at many levels.
Harry let his feet carry him to the door, unable to willingly abandon these people and his own duty to them. deBenedictus followed close behind. He said to Harry, "It is unfortunate that you are not free to help prove your innocence, but all is not lost. I am quite certain the legal ramifications of killing someone already dead are murky at best."
Harry turned his head around the room again. "They don't believe I did it," he said with certainty.
This caught the solicitor by surprise. He took in each of the room's occupants one at a time. Upon concluding this survey, he said, "Ah, well then. I will see you before the Wizengamot and you should hear from me by owl before then."
Harry nodded vaguely and let himself be led away, unable to grasp anything more than putting one foot before the other as they went to Mr. Weasley's office to fetch the portkey that would transport them to L'île de Cachot Méfait—the French wizard prison.
Harry wanted nothing more than to yell for it all to stop. He swallowed hard while Mr. Weasley fiddled with the fleur-de-lis-shaped portkey. Tonks leaned close and said, "It's going to be all right Harry, we're more worried about you than anything. We decided if we take you away, you'll be safe."
Harry had only managed to invite that notion partially into his churning thoughts before his boss grabbed his arm and the world he knew jerked out of view and grey took over until the wave-swept quay of the prison spun up at them through a heavy mist.
Harry landed and held Tonks from stumbling. The monolithic entrance loomed over the end of the quay, the door a tiny notch in the bottom of it. Harry had faced this grim façade once before with very different intent. This time, he felt nothing but doom. But he could still get away, could still slip off and take care of his family. Harry swallowed hard, and blinked salt mist from his eyes. If he left, it would be an admittance of guilt and he would have lost this life here. His guardian would not be pleased by that.
Harry stumbled this time, in a bid to delay reaching the door. Tonks wrapped her lean fingers around his arms and waved Mr. Weasley away with a shout over the surf. In Harry's ear, she said, "Don't go. Don't escape unless your life is in direct danger, all right? Promise me. Trust us to take care of things. You won't be here long. We'll find Moody's real killer and fetch you home."
"For Christmas?" Harry asked, sounding difficult, a tone that did not survive over the crash and hiss of the foam on the quay. The waves ebbing over the edges made the solid quay seem to rock on the sea.
"Probably not for Christmas, but soon after. Harry, we don't want anything worse to happen. Durumulna wants to get even and we can't protect you, it seems. It will be loads easier if they believe we bought into their ruse. You'll be safe then."
Salt spray escorted them to the door, which opened just as they stepped on the great slate slab leading up to it. Harry knew that beyond the bridge in the atrium, he could not return, even by using the Dark Plane, and he hesitated again, until Tonks pulled him along. The guard, complete with fancifully feathered helmet and spike, led them mutely to the lift.
The air changed as they descended, growing chilly and thin. When the platform ground to a halt, the guard gestured for them to exit before impatiently poking at the lift controls to return to his post. Another pair of guards snapped to attention and led them to the brightest lit doorway on that corridor where warm air poured out.
Harry had been invited to come back to this place for a tour, so this was not at all how he envisioned returning. His face burned when the warden's office door opened and Mr. Weasley began introductions and explained that Harry was to be incarcerated.
The warden was strangely convivial. "Ah, Meester Pottar, such change in fortune you 'ave had. Well, we will see to it that the best is made of your situation."
Tonks, her hand clamped on Harry's elbow, said, "We are very concerned about Harry's safety. I noticed on the prison map you sent us that you have an outdated and unused cell block. We are . . . " Here she glanced uncertainly at Mr. Weasley, apparently not clearing this ahead of time. "We are hoping that Harry can be housed there, to eliminate any chance that he interact with the other prisoners. Many of the ones we sent here, Harry helped capture, and we are worried about what may happen if they can get access to him."
The warden nodded deeply, then gave a snug twist to his long mustache as if to straighten that too. "I assure you, things very carefully are run here, but nevertheless, given the celebrity of our guest, we can open old Section Bey, just for Meester Pottar."
Tonks gave Harry a meaningful look that he could not translate.
Harry took a seat across from the paperwork and sat, half-aware, through that, followed by the spells to register him. Strained by needing to go home and take care of things there and beyond, he barely perceived what was happening. He looked up at Tonks, ignoring the latest sheets placed before him. "You'll keep an eye on Severus and Candide, right?" he pleaded, wishing she knew what had happened, but it was impossible to explain now.
"Yes, Harry. We will. Extra guards and patrols and everything. Don't worry."
But Harry could not help but worry. The Ministry had said such things before and, even knowing from the inside how things worked, the promises did not feel reliable against real evil. Reading his face, Tonks insisted. "Really Harry. I'll see to it myself."
The warden himself announced he would escort Harry, Tonks, and Mr. Weasley to the cell. They took a second lift and followed along a corridor that resembled the dungeon under the the Ministry, only on a much larger scale. The prisoners they passed could not be seen—the barred windows were too high on the doors and the eye-level viewing slats were locked closed, but the occupants could be heard, reacting to the cluster of footfalls going by. Some pounded metal cups, resulting in a startling racket. Others whispered and muttered, audible through the cracks between the iron-reinforced planks. The noise in the first block made the subsequent quiet blocks, where only a whisper of movement sounded from within, all the more un-nerving.
At the end of the third block, they went around half a curved staircase and through another door. The warden shouted something in French and an office door flew open. More instructions followed before they continued on into the darkness.
The air grew colder. Torches fluttered weakly when commanded to by the warden. They reached a T intersection where the corridor widened into a real room, complete with chairs and a table supported only by magic, before crudely narrowing into crooked rows of hand-hewn cell doors. Stray newspapers and cigarette ends littered the area.
"Dis is sometimes used as a breaking room," the warden explained before unlocking a block of cells with a rattle and chatter of resistant metal and leading the way inside. Harry hoped that he had misspoken.
They stopped before a door about three quarters of the way along the block. Pounding footsteps preceded the breathless arrival of a guard carrying pads and blankets. With some ceremony the pads, less than an inch thick, were stacked upon the bench, which like everything else, was carved directly out of the unyielding rock. The opposite wall had tilted shelf of rock with a groove cut in the middle. Water trickled along this and down to a channel where it dropped away into a bottomless hole that also served as the facilities. The place was so grim, Harry did not move immediately, even after the explanatory tour ended. He tried to speak, but Tonks cut him off, saying to Mr. Weasley, "Let me talk to Harry alone, please."
Mr. Weasley sadly nodded his ascent and after bowing several times, the warden followed him out, gesturing to the uncomprehending guard to do the same. The door thudded closed and bounced slightly, unlatched.
"Harry," Tonks said with firm appeal and a tight grip on Harry's sleeves. "I had them put you in this cell block so you could escape if needed to. I expect you can."
Harry's mood brightened considerably, and it must have shown in his face because she sharply said, "I don't want you to use that route unless your life is in danger. Do you understand?" Her voice dropped to barely audible. "They'll know that a prisoner is gone the instant the cell is empty. Their magic is very good here. If you leave, and the press finds out, we're going to have a much harder time proving you innocent."
"What if you never do?" Harry said, heart sinking precipitously.
"Don't be daft, of course we will. Just give us a little time. Like you said, there is only a rather short list of people who knew Alastor was alive."
"Percy," Harry said, feeling darker just stating that name.
"I'll be on his case, Harry, if that's where you want me to focus my part of the investigations."
Harry thought that over. He could be wrong, but that did not feel wrong. "And Belinda. She's got in over her head in this. I'm not certain she meant to."
"She's a given for a closer look, Harry. And Transportation. They should have seen you Apparate."
Harry shook his head.
Tonks twisted her head and glared for an instant. "You're not making this easy, Harry."
"And if you tell them now . . . you know . . . how I get around."
"It's not going to help your case," she finished for him.
The stared at each other until Tonks pulled him down for a deep kiss. The door squeaked open and the Warden said, "Ah, such is a most important reason for delay."
Tonks stepped back and patted Harry on the cheek. "We're doing this for your own good, Harry. Behave, please." She sounded truly pleading. After another quick kiss, she joined Mr. Weasley in the corridor. The door closed again, this time with a clang and the rusty scratch of the bolt sliding into place. Footsteps scuffed on the floor and then receded.
"Please," Harry murmured to the dank, empty air. "Please, no one do anything for me for my own good."
- 888 -
"What did you do to Harry!" shot out over the crowd-murmured air, powerful enough it echoed around the high ceiling of the atrium before vanishing. An instant later Ginny collided hard with Aaron and grabbed hold of the front of his crisp designer robes.
Aaron stepped back to retain his balance, and glanced around at the atrium's full attention on them. He pulled her closer to quietly plead, "I didn't do anything to Harry."
Voice toned about halfway down, Ginny insisted, "I just read that you took him away, to prison."
"I didn't. Personally."
"Yeah, but you're in that department," Ginny said angrily, continuing to behave as rigid as a metal spring in resisting his attempts to shift them to a more delicate, and publically palatable dance. "I was just on my way to giving my dad what-for, for me and the twins and anyone else I know."
"Look," he said, glancing around the burgeoning lunch-time crowd. "Let's discuss this elsewhere, okay?" He Apparated her away to his flat.
When they arrived in the brightly lit sitting area, Ginny stepped back and propped her arms akimbo, her elbows as pointed as swords and looking just as dangerous if well-aimed. Aaron wondered if somehow her hair became redder when she was angry, or if it was just the light.
"Look," Aaron said, "I don't have any control over what the department does." He started to tell her more, then decided he best reseal the room from eavesdropping, which he proceeded to do, ignoring her complaints until that was finished.
Aaron ended up near the long leather couch. "Have a seat," he said, feeling drained all of a sudden.
Ginny strode over to the end of the couch and stood firm, arms crossed, face sharp.
"All right then, I'll sit." Aaron let the couch absorb him. It was the kind of couch where your bum nearly reached the floor by the time you finished sinking in. He waved over a foot stool and sat back, making a point about relaxing in the hopes of getting her to do so too. But this failed.
"How can you sit there like that?" she accused, eyes burning.
"Because there is nothing to be done. If you'd sit down and listen for half a second I can explain."
She pulled the footstool out from under his legs and sat there, looking ready to disbelieve everything.
Aaron propped his legs on the armrest instead. "Magical Law Enforcement put Harry in prison pending his hearing because they feared if they did not do so Durumulna would find some other means of getting even or simply getting Harry out of the way. They killed Moody. They went to all this trouble to set Harry up. They are serious about this."
Ginny did not budge from her stiff posture. "They set him up because they know they can't kill him."
Aaron had to concede that. "Possibly. But Harry has others around him who could be hurt. And some bad blokes are determined to get even with him. I'm sure by now they've discovered that they've been cheated. Those metal disks have started showing up in the shops and it's had the positive side effect of getting the shop keepers to talk." He crossed his hands behind his neck and stretched back. "Nothing like feeling cheated to loosen them up their tongues and get some cooperation."
Ginny fell thoughtful. "We just have to make sure nothing happens to Candide while Harry is away."
"She has a guard assigned now. You can sign up for double shifts if you like." His mouth twisted into a silly grin. "I can come serve them with you if I'm not on duty."
She flushed and stared at the ceiling.
Aaron went on, "Training has been cut to three hours so they can assign us all to the investigation. And Professor Snape will be home from school for the holidays shortly." He sat forward slightly. "But no one is to know that Harry is not considered to be the primary wizard of interest. Don't let that slip to anyone."
"I won't," she snapped, recovering from embarrassment with another dose of offended anger. "I know how these things work."
"You didn't sound like it two minutes ago," he pointed out, teasing with false exacerbation.
"Well . . ." she hemmed. "It just struck me as terribly unfair."
Aaron stared at her blushing, noticing it did not fade immediately. "You still like him, don't you?"
She looked away and shrugged. "Everyone likes Harry." But she could not hold her mouth still.
Aaron, sounding clever, said, "I like Harry just fine too, but there's a limit to my like." After a pause, he said more soberly, "Is that why you don't want to get married, because you are still hoping . . .?"
"That isn't it at all," she insisted. "Ask me in a year, all right?"
Sounding childlike, Aaron echoed, "A year?"
- 888 -
Harry sat pensively on the stone bench that served as a bed in his cell. The constant trickle of water was the only sound in the cool air beyond the range of his breathing, which he consciously had to keep slow. He had no idea what time it may be, only that the total time for which his current reality felt solid was much shorter than the total time he had occupied it.
He tried to believe he had fallen out of place, because it would wipe out all of his problems if true. But beyond his bad circumstances, nothing felt truly out of order. He was home, in his own Plane, albeit with the wrong man for a guardian.
Harry's thoughts seized up and then spun away in a mad review of the past week. What if he had pushed the intruder too far and he had arranged to get Harry out of the way? Perhaps Harry had underestimated this version of Severus Snape and his ability to scheme and play the double agent. What if Snape had played Harry the way he played Voldemort, pretending to be meek and cowed when in reality, working for his downfall?
Harry did not move, but the rhythm of his heartbeat changed, speeding his thoughts along faster. He should go, he thought, and challenge Snape, just in case his fears were correct and this Death Eater was all enemy and no friend. That was when Harry felt them; before that moment he had been too caught up in his own distress to properly perceive their presence. But there they were, dozens of Death Eaters, hovering so terribly close, in rows, even, like soldiers waiting for orders. Harry's hand twitched where it lay beside him on the bench, longing to hold a wand. But did he really need a wand? He had these followers; weren't they better than a wand?
At the moment, he was safely separate from them. They were in one area of the prison and he in another, and clearly they had not escaped before now and likely would not anytime soon. One of the shadows must be Voldemort himself, trapped as he was in a Muggle existence. He, certainly, represented no threat.
Harry's thoughts ran through this, then reeled back to concern about leaving a double-crossing Snape free to do more harm. He could not allow that. He gathered his wits, preparing to slip away in the long gap between regular corridor patrols. But the clacking noise of the viewing plate in the door sliding aside stopped Harry cold.
"Monsieur?" Came a startled sounding voice through the gap. Only a pair of eyes could be seen, hovering beyond the slot, moving constantly about to see around inside.
"Yeah?" Harry replied, thinking it silly now that he had not moved at all for hours. Although . . . what would he do, instead, really?
"Très bon . . . az you were," the voice said, and the slat closed with a slap.
Harry blinked at the wall across from him while he took that in. As a test, he stood and shook his robes straight. He thought of Snape at Hogwarts, of wanting to visit him for a serious talk. Nothing happened. He prepared to slip away. The slat clattered open again.
"You zink dere is escape, Monsieur Pottar?"
Harry scratched his head. "There is a way out of every prison," he replied, finding a jovial tone. "If one dreams hard enough of it."
"Ah, a poet!" The eyes widened with delight.
"Not really," Harry mumbled, acutely disappointed that as soon as he prepared to escape, someone would notice. Magically, he was being watched too closely to sneak off. As Tonks depressingly insisted, he should only go for an emergency. The slat closed again. Harry was not truly certain it was Snape who had arranged this, in fact, he wanted to believe otherwise.
Harry sat down, having nothing else to do. Even the three pads were not all that thick and his bum complained. Unable to contain the energy inside him, he slipped off his robes and proceeded to jog in place until his breath steamed the closed-in air, then he did push ups against the bench, then he did sit ups, then with muscles burning he repeated it all until he could barely move to flop on the bench and sleep, kept company by a forest of shifting shadows whispering promises.
- 888 -
Severus Snape re-read the first part of the letter he held. He had subconsciously moved closer to the stone-framed window to better see it, but the words remained the same the second time. Arthur Weasley's handwriting read straight and simple on the page, no flourishes marred his message. He had arrested Harry for the Murder of Alastor Moody, but . . . and here the letter grew careful . . . investigations are continuing and I will pay you a personal visit as soon as I can get away. The oath of the Order is still in force.
The foolish boy, or perhaps more accurately, young man, had walked into a trap that he should have foreseen. Snape shook his head. His cleaner-than-normal hair did not sway the way it normally did, part of keeping this ruse intact. He stared out the window. The Hufflepuffs were practicing on the pitch, earnest but barely competent, a description that fit the Harry he knew, and apparently this one as well, despite first impressions otherwise.
A whistle drifted over the lawn and the figures at the pitch gathered in a cluster again, one figure gesturing at the rest. It would be convenient to have Harry out of the way. He had kept Snape's secret until it was too late. Were he to attempt to reveal Snape's origins now, his accusations would sound shrill and too far-fetched to credit.
A fierce knock sounded on the door, and Snape instinctively crumpled up the letter and stuffed it away in his robes. The door opened without further pre-amble. Snape had been forced to leave it unsealed, a necessary vulnerability he would never grow accustomed to.
Hermione Granger burst into the room, wild hair appropriately framing her frenzied face, voice half an octave too high. "Did you hear what happened to Harry?"
What should his reaction be, he wondered. "Arthur sent me an owl." He needed her on his side; she was smart enough to catch him up, so he added, "One promising further explanation and action, presumably in Harry's best interest."
Hermione stopped in the middle of the floor, just at the edge of the worn rug and exhaled what sounded like the last of her strength. "We knew they'd get even, or try. But how could Harry be accused of killing Moody when he's already dead? I don't understand that."
"Presumably he was not."
She blew her fringe off her forehead with an overdone sigh. "Yes, presumably." Her gaze narrowed to his, heavy with sweet hope, something he viscerally disliked having aimed his way. "What are you going to do about it?" she asked.
Snape thought quickly, pulling out and smoothing the letter to gain time. "Arthur promises to visit when he had a spare moment, but I will turn my duties over to Professor Lupin and pay the Ministry a visit instead, right now."
Pleading pathetically, she said, "Let me know how it goes, will you? And get Harry's post address there, so I can send him a care package and have my students send him letters of support."
"Yes, I'm certain he will appreciate that," Snape managed to say, only because he should.
- 888 -
The Ministry's security had grown to be rather like that in Snape's world, surprisingly like it, except for the lack of Pureblood registration. Snape submitted to extra tests and questions, and in the end, his former house student, Aaron Wickem, came and fetched him because he required an escort.
As they walked briskly to the lifts, Aaron said, "I'm glad you're here, Professor. We need all the help we can get."
Snape's better instincts told him to stymy the investigation, if possible, but his promise to Dumbledore fought it down. Snape wondered if his pledge really should apply here, and tried to hold that thought, but it slipped away like an eel, leaving him resigned but unenthusiastic about his duty.
"Severus", Mr. Weasley said breathlessly when he turned and found him standing off his escort's elbow. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement hummed with overactivity, with personnel invading from other departments. "Let's go into my office," Mr. Weasley said, waving the others off.
Snape wasted no time after the door snapped closed. "You mentioned the Order Oath."
"It was the safest way to tell you we don't think Harry did this."
Snape nodded silently. He was mostly here because it was expected that he be here, although curiosity helped him along. "How long do you think?"
"Before we can realistically let him out?" Mr. Weasley took a seat and smoothed the wispy hair on top of his head. "I don't know. They've got him pretty good; I'll give them that."
Snape felt annoyance at this, just on principle, and used it to say sharply. "Come now, they cannot have left no holes in their plot. And you must have a suspect of your own."
Mr. Weasley grew agitated, making Snape wish he would look up so he had a chance of seeing why. He considered insulting him for his incompetence, but decided that he personally needed to retain this man as an ally, so he kept quiet, but it was a hard fight holding back. His own dismay came across clearly when he said, "Is there anything I can do?"
"Keep an extra layer of spells around your house, at a minimum. Although, we expect things to quiet down now that they believe their ploy successful."
"How are you proceeding from here, may I ask? This is my . . . family," he managed with a slight choke on the word. "Son" was right out. " . . . we are discussing here."
Mr. Weasley shuffled some files around. "Alastor was doing his own investigations for Fudge in the Department of Mysteries, so we are trying to track backwards what he was doing."
"What have you learned so far?"
Mr. Weasley's hands fell still, limp. "That he was investigating Harry. According to Fudge, that was his primary job."
"Ah," Snape uttered.
"Fudge is livid. Harry isn't going anywhere unless we have something rock solid to get him out with. We're going to delay the Wizengamot hearing as long as it takes to generate that evidence . . . that we have the political power to do, but not to pull him out of there until that time."
"What about the Ministry Dungeon. Why have you sent him so far away?"
"Because we aren't certain of keeping him safe here. I can't bear to think of him trapped in a cell without a wand to defend himself."
"He hardly needs a wand to defend himself," Snape pointed out, mostly to keep arguing, which he felt like doing after a week of being overly nice to everyone.
"True, but you'll recall he was poisoned right here in the Ministry."
Snape did not recall that, but he had no reason to doubt such a confession. After a gap, he said, "Seems you have more problems internally than you can cope with."
This made Mr. Weasley look up and now he revealed the side Snape was more familiar with: the lined and world-weary face of a man responsible for too many lives beyond his skills, a man whose adherence to principal gave him a naïve intrepidness that should be mockable, but Snape, who had no difficulty openly criticizing Dumbledore's attitudes, could never quite manage to.
"We can handle this, Severus," Mr. Weasley assured him.
Snape was not reassured, but one part of him hummed with strategic pleasure at that belief. While Mr. Weasley made more assurances, Snape began laying out his next moves. He should visit Candide at her office. He had seen the address on her papers, and such a visit would be expected. He escaped the Ministry with that excuse, and as predicted, it worked well to get him away.
Candide was far more distraught than Snape imagined.
"Look at the papers!" she shouted, seeming to have waited for his presence to vent this. The papers were scattered around her sizable desk, mangled and forlorn. Her office mates, bent over their work, flinched at her voice; outward emotion and cold numbers mix poorly.
A robustly bellied man in a waistcoat with two watch chains gestured behind Candide's back that Snape should vacate with the woman. It was late in the day in any event.
"Why don't we go?" Snape said.
This halted her tirade. She pushed her hair back and turned hopefully to her boss, who had the sense to smile graciously and gesture that she could depart.
Candide's harsh vocal complaints about the Ministry specifically and fate in general did not re-occur, fortunately. Once home, she took her overburdened body to the couch and sat back with undue care, leaving Snape standing nearby, uncertain what was expected of him. He decided it best to wait for a cue. As difficult as Harry was to handle, this part of his borrowed world left him feeling far more uncertain. Being pushed around and abused by a mad, powerful wizard Snape was accustomed to, even if he had gone to great lengths to escape it only to end up back in the thick of it. He knew well how to placate and lie and act appropriately and do even a bit better than survive. But facing the reality of a very pregnant wife and a veritable mile-deep snake pit of emotional expectations and responsibilities left him feeling inexpert and short of the willpower needed to sustain the needed artifice.
Candide tipped her head back and sighed, then sniffled. "Poor Harry. I can't imagine him there in prison. It's just awful." She dabbed her eyes and looked over at him. "You're just standing there."
"Of how to get him out?"
Snape did not answer. The will to lie was gone, and he had no desire to reveal his torn emotions in this area.
She patted the couch beside her expectantly. "I assume you are staying a while since I don't have a guard yet. Home too early for once."
Trapped, Snape stepped that way and sat down, knowing if he behaved as stiffly as he instinctively wished to, he was going to have questions if not an argument. He brought his over practiced willpower to bear and brushed her shoulder. He intended to leave it at that, but she tugged her feet up and turned casually to lay in his arms. He fumbled while adjusting his hold, but this went by unnoticed. Snape tipped his head back and held perfectly still until his heart slowed. He silently shook his head, far too aware of the pressure on his arms and chest, and wondered with no little alarm how any version of himself could find this casually normal.
She sniffled again, but he did not even move to roll his eyes as he would have liked. Yes, truly this part of his borrowed world was the hardest to cope with.
She sighed for a fourth time and rubbed an eye, but Snape took little notice. The scent of her was impossible to ignore this close. She smelled of love potion brewing, overlaid by something strangely both sweet and animal-like, which could be the pregnancy. Then there was that. His child. Or essentially his. The pit under his feet widened so that he stood on air, suspended helplessly over a seething mass of impossible circumstance and expectation.
"Poor Harry," Candide said, breaking the spell of doom holding Snape captive.
"He'll survive," Snape murmured, far less certain of him own fate.
"Yes, but it's so unfair."
Snape could not censor himself. "Life is unfair."
She slapped him lightly on the arm. "You always say that. It isn't always true." But she was not angry, just teasing to lighten her own mood. Snape was surprised he could recognize that so easily.
She settled in better, head shifting to the crux of his shoulder. Snape's arms were aching he held them so rigid, so he was grateful for a chance to relax them. He had not felt he could move without her moving first.
"I hope the guard is late," she said. "They'll go to the office first so that will delay them somewhat."
The implication of that was clear, even as unbelievable as it seemed; she wanted to be alone with him like this as long as possible. There was only one person Snape had ever wanted to hold like this, but her haunting presence had never felt so distant as it did this moment. Something about that strange scent, the scent of a future faced with hope rather than constant fear and strategic panic, the scent of someone willingly desiring to share that future, sliced a gash in this festering pain. Some morbid instinct in him wanted to gather it up, to hold it from escaping, to cherish it. But with the weight of Candide compressing his chest and the scent of her making his thoughts flutter, he realized that he had only cherished that pain because there was nothing else to cherish.
Something of his inner turmoil must have shown, because she patted his arm and asked, "Are you going to be all right, Severus?"
Again, he could not lie. If she chose to ask the right questions, he would tell her anything. He was bleeding stagnant, poisonous pain and in its absence found that he was not empty without it, as he had feared he would be. He was perhaps lost and drifting, but not empty.
"I don't know. Possibly," he said softly. He was thinking for the first time that Lily was long enough dead that what used to feel like betrayal no longer did. He had sworn he would never do as she did and betray her in return after she had left him with an empty life. He let those old memories run through him, finding himself more like a stone in the stream of them than the tossed leaf he normally was. She had chosen his worst enemy, and that still burned, but in the end maybe his empty life had been his own doing, a thought that felt far safer in his current, cramp-armed position.
The patting on his arm continued, finding a rhythm. "Taking Harry on as a responsibility was a very noble thing to do."
He tried to imagine that without hope of comprehension. "Yes, so unlike me," he said, finding better footing and maybe even strength in self-depreciation. He still felt purposeless and did not particularly like it.
She hit him firmly, but in a philosophical tone, said, "I expect you thought it would get easier."
"I would never think that," Snape replied, absolutely certain, within and without.
- 888 -
Harry woke to the dimness of his cell, reminded firmly by the dank dungeon scent where he was. The shadows tried to follow him out of his dreams to hover around him there in the cell, but he firmly pressed them away. He sat up and slapped his face lightly to rouse himself better. The thin air made it difficult to come to quick awareness.
He sniffled and immediately blamed it on the musty air, rather than emotion. Needing a concrete task, he used the facilities and spent some time washing up as well as he could with a trickle of water, a chained metal cup, and only a faint fairylight to do it with. If he wanted company, he need only prepare to depart and the guard would appear. The magic of this place immediately gave away his escape, but that also made him feel less alone. At the moment, Harry wanted to be alone to think, so he folded his pads and his three ratty blankets and made a comfortable seat at one end of the bench. Then he propped his chin on his hands and did just that; he thought over the last few months of his neglected real life in as much detail as possible.
Clearly Belinda had fallen in with Durumulna, even as unlikely as Harry thought that to be before now. She had always been so positive about what the Ministry stood for and really believed it could accomplish things. Harry shook his head at the conundrum of that. Perhaps she was not involved willingly, but under an Imperius Curse. But for certain she had not shown symptoms of that during their last few meetings. Harry thought back farther when he would go visit her in the Minister's office and Percy always seemed to be lurking about. Had she shown symptoms then, he now wondered. That would implicate Percy. Then with giddy mockery, Harry considered that perhaps that was how Percy got her to date him in the first place. This cruel humor faded quickly as the possibility of that grew in plausibility and his stomach turned sour.
It was possible, Harry decided. Those times she had given Harry nothing but stiff responses, may have had nothing to do with her breaking up with him months before. But she had warmed up after that, so she must have been released from the Curse at some point. Balanced with her insistence that Moody was keeping an eye on her, Harry now wondered it that had not been the old Auror's doing. But if so, why had Moody not reported it? Or, maybe he had, to his boss, Fudge.
Harry pulled the knuckle of his thumb out of his mouth before he chewed it through to the bone. He needed paper to write a letter. And ink. And a pen. Some light would help too. They told him his post would have to be screened coming in, and he wondered if that meant they would have to be screened going out as well.
Harry sat thinking until breakfast arrived, and unlike lunch and dinner the previous day, which he had turned away, this tray he readily accepted through the slot in the door, to the guard's obvious delight.
"Très bon. Très bon," the man said. "Zee warden will be most plea-zed."
Even as the delicious scent of salt cod, bacon, eggs and hollandaise reached his nose from the tray, Harry found himself dismayed to imagine the warden taking an interest in his meal consumption.
The guard went on. "He wishes to invite you for dinnar zis even-ing. If you are will-ing. 'E does not wish to interrupt your five stay-jes, 'owever."
"Your five stay-jes of grief. All ze new prisoners, you know, zey 'ave to go through this."
"Ah," Harry said, finally understanding. But Harry was not staying here long term; he did not have any grief. In fact, what he had instead were quite a few captive followers willing to do just about anything for him. And he had letters to write, and really, he could leave anytime. Not a terribly grief-generating situation. "Yeah, tell him I'll be there for dinner."
Author's Note: No preview this time. Make something up, post it in the comments if you like. There will be some humor in the next chapter. I get to use my Monty Python Frenchmen a bit more extensively. Such fun!