A Secret Never Told
The Center for All to Magically Explore the Lifestyles of Others Today, or Camelot, had been started shortly after the dramatic ending of the Second War against Voldemort by a group of concerned purebloods who felt the proper answer to the "Muggleborn problem" was not to shut the doors of the magical world, but rather to open them earlier and more fully, and (as daring a thought as this was) even to make them swing both ways, exposing pureblood children to Muggle culture as their Muggleborn counterparts learned what it meant to be magical.
At any other time in wizarding history, such a proposal would likely have been greeted with shouts of condemnation. A wizarding world reeling from the suddenness of Voldemort's defeat, along with the revelations of what he had been planning to do next, meekly acquiesced to what seemed like a fairly harmless project. Besides, its backers were so well-connected (many of them had direct ties, whether by blood or friendship, to the Minister of Magic himself), and they weren't even asking for money—most of them had their own well-stocked vaults at Gringotts, and had even convinced the goblins themselves to help finance the Center's building. What could possibly go wrong?
By the time most of the traditional purebloods realized the answer to this question, it was already too late. Camelot, in all its glory, was a fully functional reality, and though the most proper and oldest families shunned it as they did anything which smacked of Muggle influence, its seductive song reached out to their children, luring them with the promise of forbidden delights. Such wonders as personal music players, televisions, and computers, pureblood children whispered to each other, could be seen every day at Camelot, and even purchased! The conversion to run on certain spells, periodically renewed, instead of Muggle batteries or plugs might be a bit pricey, but what else was money for? Besides, Muggles had some good ideas sometimes, even if they were so silly as to deny magic existed…
And day by day, year after year, Muggles, Squibs, Muggleborns, half-bloods, and purebloods came and went, met and mingled, at Camelot, as did house-elves, goblins, and even the occasional centaur or vampire. Werewolves, though, seldom came there any longer, if only because the Black-Longbottom Treatments (named after the mother/daughter pair of Healers who had discovered and refined the complex series of magical therapies) had all but eliminated lycanthropy in the British Isles. A public assistance program through which the Wolfsbane Potion could be acquired both cheaply and anonymously helped to fill the gaps.
Though the exact nature of the Treatments remained a closely guarded secret, it was self-evident that they worked. One had only to look at the assistant manager of Camelot, or the part-owner of one of the most successful chains of shops in the wizarding world (locations in Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, Godric's Hollow, and Camelot itself), or even the current Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts—ex-werewolves all. And those were only the famous ones.
There were, of course, rumors about this or that set of Treatments which had either failed to cure its subject's lycanthropy or killed him or her outright, but the Healers, when asked, were adamant that this was not only unintentional but actually to be expected. All medicine, Muggle or magical, involved risks, both of the condition not being helped or even worsening and of outright death. All patients were thoroughly informed of those risks before any course of treatment began, and chose freely whether or not to continue. And even the most skeptical had to admit that the reported deaths or failures from the Black-Longbottom Treatments were quite few in number, and paled against the documented numbers of successes.
Life in the wizarding world, as many a wizard or witch would and did testify over a cup of tea or a pint of beer at one of Camelot's pubs or restaurants, was no more perfect than life in the Muggle one. But, most of those same wizards and witches would then add, it was getting better all the time. Especially under the current Minister of Magic—excellent fellow, known him for years, everybody had, really, bit of a surprise when he was chosen, but you can't argue with the way it was done, now can you? And any of their companions who happened to be Muggles would shake their heads and make interested noises, and perhaps signal for another round, preparing themselves to hear yet another astounding story.
They might have been surprised to discover that those who had lived the stories, by and large, found them almost as astounding at times as those who only listened to them.
Remus Lupin stepped out of the Floo fire in the welcoming living room of the house now universally known as the Manor Den, his thoughts, as they always did when he arrived here, ranging back through time to the first day, or rather night, he had ever seen it. The décor had been far less pleasant then, though he'd barely noticed it—his attention had been focused first on his miraculously recovered cubs, and then on the unbelievable request made of him and his Pack by Narcissa Black Malfoy.
And from that request, and our granting it, comes so much of what and who we are today.
He followed the sound of voices through the hallways and located his Pack-son and daughter-in-law, as he'd half-expected, in their wing's comfortable kitchen, Draco sitting at a parchment-littered table and talking on his Zippophone, Luna coaching their four-year-old daughter Irina and a girl of about seven with golden curls whom Remus suspected was Lucasta Runcorn through finding the proper places to put away clean dishes. Under the table, Irina's brother Jacob, soon to celebrate his second birthday, was giggling madly as he clung to the twig end of his three-year-old cousin Liam's tiny Meteorite broomstick, which Liam was shaking back and forth in a vain attempt to dislodge its passenger.
This looks familiar. Remus propped himself against the doorframe and enjoyed the scene, in these last few moments before any of its participants should look up and notice him. Doubly familiar. Once from that same trip back through time, and once from not even five minutes ago…
A gentle twist inside his mind, and he could hear the gleeful yells of Marcus and Ruby Black, mingled with the joyful shouting of his own Abigail and John, as they played pirates with all the dedication their older siblings had ever brought to that task, coupled with the extended magical abilities that resulted when members of the group thus playing were also the first Heirs of the Hogwarts Founders in nearly a thousand years to be born at the castle itself.
And when others are the very first children ever naturally born to a werewolf. He slid a hand along his left arm, smiling. Or should I say, an ex-werewolf?
Enjoying all the little twists and turns of life, are we? Danger inquired, looking up from the Muggle Studies essays she was marking so that Remus could see the door in their quarters at Hogwarts which led into the cubs' playroom, with the enormous climbable ship in the center of a padded "sea" it had sprouted. All the things you've experienced at age forty-four that you'd never have believed were possible if you'd been told about them at age twenty-two?
As usual, Danger of my life, succinctly and cogently expressed.
Ooh, big words. I'm a sucker for big words.
Which is why I use them. Remus sent a small rumble of lion-purr through their bond.
Mmm. Danger hummed wordlessly in pleasure. Keep that up and I'll pawn our two off on Sirius and Letha tonight.
Keep that up and I'll let you.
Even as he sent the thought, Remus saw Irina's head start to come around. Talk about it later, he said swiftly, and knelt to receive an armful of shrieking little girl.
Jacob and Liam immediately abandoned the broomstick to swarm him as well, and Remus was very busy for a few moments administering hugs and listening to the most important things that had happened to each of his grandchildren since he had last seen them (all of four days). When he was finished with that, Luna was waiting for him, ready to introduce Cassie. Remus bowed formally in response to her solemn curtsey, then stroked his fingers along his cheek and held out his hand, and Cassie giggled and scent-shook with him as well. "Mother says it's good manners to do as your hosts do," she said. "Even if they're—" She stopped, looking momentarily stricken.
"Even if they seem a bit strange to us?" Remus suggested, and Cassie nodded gladly. "She's quite right. Different people have different customs, and we should be as mindful of that as we can without violating our own ways. Speaking of which…" He glanced towards Draco, who had finished his Zippo call. "Do you have a few minutes?"
"I think so, yes." Draco nodded, standing up. "My next student isn't due until—twelve, love?"
"Twelve-thirty," reported Luna after a glance at the large calendar on the kitchen wall.
"Even better. Though I'm sure you'll have to get back well before that, Moony."
"Sadly, yes." Remus led the way out of the kitchen. "The life of a Hogwarts Professor is not an easy one."
"Especially not since the Headmistress named you Deputy." Draco drew his wand as they stepped into one of the smaller rooms along the main corridor and flicked an Imperturbable Charm onto the door, then closed it. "I'm guessing this is about that damned front-page article in the Prophet? It's not true, at least not the way they were making it out to be—"
"Which I knew as soon as I saw those photographs Luna took, and strongly suspected before that, so there's no need to defend yourself to me when I haven't yet accused you of anything," Remus cut in. "And you know that, so I'm guessing it's someone else you're angry with instead of me."
"Several someone elses." Draco paced back and forth across the room, his fists clenching and unclenching. "Thackery Runcorn, to start with, though he'll get his, more or less—I could wish our laws allowed for him to receive at least the sensation of the pain he doled out, we have the capability to do that without any actual harm to him, and I think understanding what it feels like to be beaten about the head by someone three or four times one's own size,have one's arm just casually broken, and then be thrown onto the floor of a sodding wardrobe, might do him a world of good if anything will…"
Remus sat back in his chair, watching his son's restless movements. Draco would, he knew, have seen both himself and his brother in little Kenelm Runcorn, though Harry's childhood traumas had been inflicted on the other side of the magical-Muggle divide. Still, harm to a child was against every instinct he and the other Pack-adults had instilled into their cubs, no matter who or where that child might be.
"And yes, the bastards at the Prophet—I understand Zacharias Smith ended up there after all, going into the family business, I suppose it's the only place that would have him—but you'd think, after all the shite we went through in the wars, that they would take ten bloody seconds to go out and ask the people their front-page stories are about what actually happened instead of just printing what they're told second- or third-hand!" Draco slammed an open palm into the wall as he reached it, then turned and stalked back down the length of the room. "I'd sue them for libel if I thought I had a prayer of getting anything other than some damned monetary award, which I hardly need, or an apology which they won't mean!"
"So there's no real risk that we'll be posting bail for you any time soon?" Remus asked lightly. "That was Danger's one worry, that there might have been formal charges made, and that some overzealous MLE might decide it would redound to his credit to try and arrest a prominent member of the dreaded Clans for breaking into a respectable pureblood home and kidnapping their three children."
Draco snorted. "Operative word, try. If he made it past the Den's security charms, which I doubt, he'd then have to brave the swarm which is the Pride-cubs, and that daunts even the most Gryffindor of the Weasleys." A flicker of sorrow crossed his features. "Or it would have done."
"So it would." Remus sighed, moments of memory passing through his mind. "Their legacy lives on, though. And their names."
"Every time the twins—our twins, Ron and Neenie's—get into trouble. Which, as befits Weasley twins, is quite often indeed." Draco grinned and mimicked his twin's angriest tones. "David Frederic and Esther Georgiana Weasley! What in the world do you think you're doing up there?"
"Up where now?"
"Tree." Draco snickered. "Just about the tallest one on the grounds. Looks like more things than the red hair and freckles bred true. Though from the other side."
"Did you ever expect they wouldn't?"
"I didn't expect to live to see them," Draco retorted. "And it's your fault I did." He leveled a mock-angry glare at Remus. "You ruined a perfectly good prophetic vision with that curse you laid on Lucius, you know. If you'd just stayed out of it, I could have died on schedule like I was supposed to, but no, you had to bind him with his own magic that he'd die if he tried to kill me…"
"Because knowing Lucius, I had no doubt what he would try to do once he was finally convinced that you wouldn't return to him." Remus smiled reminiscently. "And if being married to a lady with true dreams for the last twenty-odd years has taught me anything, it would be that visions are not always what they look like."
"But we had to believe it. Believe it meant exactly what it looked like." Draco sat down opposite his Pack-father, his restlessness quieted for the moment. "All of us had to believe it. Me for my reasons, and you for yours. Because if we hadn't, if we'd suspected what it truly meant beforetime—or in your case, if you'd voiced your suspicions to anyone but Danger—"
"Then things would have gone a great deal worse than they did. For all of us." Exhaling a long breath, Remus returned to the present. "So walk me through this. What exactly happened, and when, and how? And what did you do about it?"
"Well, the first I knew anything was wrong was when Cassie came tumbling out of the Floo yesterday afternoon." Draco nodded towards the room in which Remus had arrived. "Terrified almost out of her wits, shaking and crying. Luna was able to get her calmed down enough to tell us what she'd seen that had frightened her so badly, which was her father stalking down the hall from her brother's room, looking angrier than she'd ever seen him before, and no sign of her brother at all. With everything else she's told me about her family, I thought it was worth at least checking out." He shrugged. "If we hadn't found anything, we'd have calmed Cassie down and got her settled in her own room, then come straight home, and no one would ever have been the wiser."
"But you found quite a lot." Remus flattened his hands against the arms of his chair, holding to his human form with the strength of many years' practice in this art, quieting the two predatory shapes which were also his to call upon with assurances that the cub who had been endangered was safe now, and that the one who had harmed him was being punished. "And very wisely took pictures before you did anything else."
"Luna's idea." Draco smiled. "As are most of the best ones around here. Though I was the one who remembered we have a contact or two at WFS, and made sure to pull those strings and get the reports into the proper channels. The staff at the Prophet's going to have a great deal of egg on their faces if they ever bother to look up the paperwork."
Remus chuckled. "Ah, but that would require admitting they were wrong in the first place."
Father and son looked at one another. "Hmm…no," they said in unison, and shared a laugh.
"So your 'ruthless kidnapping' was more along the lines of removing children too young to defend themselves from a situation which was clearly dangerous to them," Remus said when he had his breath back. "And you made sure to have your actions vetted by the correct authorities at the earliest possible moment, and the birth father of those children—as Sirius had to tell me, since the Prophet didn't see fit to print it—has already been arrested for what Luna's pictures make it obvious he did to his son." He knew his eyes must present something of a kaleidoscopic appearance at the moment, since Danger had set her essays aside as soon as the explanations had begun. "I'd say that covers you quite well, in the eyes of anyone reasonable."
"And since our enemies tend to be entirely unreasonable on the subject of the Clans, to the point where they'd believe a two-tailed fire crab if it started telling stories against us…" Draco smirked. "Side effect of being successful, I'd say. We won the war resoundingly, we've got the goodwill of house-elves and goblins, and the Clan lifestyle as we've set it up is a blend of just enough of the familiar and the exotic to be appealing on both counts."
"More exotic than familiar, to the purest of the purebloods," Remus pointed out. "But as tradition-fettered as that society has become, I would imagine it's an exciting difference to most of their children, or appears that way from a distance."
"And then you get what the purebloods like to ask me, or Harry, or sometimes one of the ladies, to do." Draco leaned back in his chair with a sigh of purest Marauder happiness. "Steal your child for a few days to throw a little scare into them, get them to stop misbehaving, make them 'appreciate what they have'? Why certainly, I'd love to."
A wordless question hummed through Remus's mind, and he mentally stepped back from control of his body in reply. "And have any of them worked out yet how hard you have to argue to get most of their children to go home again?" Danger's voice inquired from his lips. "Or that the 'follow-up lessons' you suggest to most of the parents are really just play sessions for their children and your cubs, or visits to Camelot to meet the Muggleborn children who'll be in their year at Hogwarts? And the amount of letter-writing, firecalling, and other forms of communication that take place in between times?"
"Never a one." Draco blew a kiss to his Pack-mother. "I'd say it's like taking sweets from a baby, except most babies would fight harder than this. They're asking us to 'corrupt' their children, and when we do, they're thanking us for it!"
"Because you're taking away a burden most of them never really thought about, and weren't ready for," said Remus, sending a mental kiss of his own as he resumed control of his voice and movements. "It never occurred to them that raising children is work. House-elves can do most of the heavy lifting, yes, but to learn to be human, a child needs other humans around. But the traditional purebloods, many of them, missed that step in their own lives, so it doesn't occur to them that their own children need it."
"And they're surprised when they end up with spoiled little monsters, just like their parents were before them." Draco sighed, then allowed his grin to return. "But in this generation, they have something they never had before. There were always the stories of who or what would get you if you weren't good—werewolves and Mudbloods were the usual fare, though I seem to remember Padfoot got his innings when I was young, notorious escaped prisoner and all that."
"Check, check, and double-check." Remus pretended to mark off items on a list. "In the Pack as we then were, at any rate."
"I must have been very bad." Draco pulled a sad face. "Poor me."
"But I do see what you're saying." Remus nodded. "Most of those stories never came true. By their very nature, they couldn't. Whereas the Clans patently do, and will, steal children—on request and temporarily, most of the time, but still, it happens. And the children know that. It isn't something that happened to the friend of a friend's friend, hundreds of miles away, before they were even born. It's going on now, today, and they all know that they could be next."
Draco held up a hand. "Something's happened with that we weren't expecting," he said. "Though I suppose we should have been. The kids themselves are starting to spread the word about what being stolen by the Clans really means. And some of them are working out ways to come and meet us without ever getting in trouble. Asking for lessons in some of the areas they know we tend to be the chosen teachers, or getting their half-blood relations to take them out to Camelot. That sort of thing."
"Future Slytherins, I see." Remus chuckled. "If you come to the Clans on your own terms, then you don't get stuck with double chores. Which is your usual first step for the ones you 'steal', isn't it?"
"Double chores and no sweets, at least to start," Draco confirmed. "But every other way, they're one of us while they're here. And as soon as we start seeing an improvement in attitude, some basic politeness and the occasional smile, we lighten the workload a bit, let them swap chores with our cubs or with one another to get things they like better. Even with the grownups, if they can figure out a fair trade."
"And all the while," said Danger, sliding back in with a mental caress to Remus, "you're corrupting them horribly. Giving them things they'd never have at home. Like the full attention of an adult, a listening ear and some words of advice or comfort for their problems. Like stories, and music, and even the occasional hug if they allow it. Like permission to get sweaty, and dirty, and soaking wet, and scratched up. Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum."
"In many of their cases, the first real friends they've ever had." Draco smiled ruefully. "Though we should probably be careful of telling them too much about Clan ways to start with. I understand you're starting to see proto-Prides arriving at Hogwarts."
"Arriving in some cases. Forming after arrival in others." Danger laughed. "And we've also got groups calling themselves Aeries, Nests, and Cetes."
"Cetes?" Draco's brow furrowed, then cleared. "No, don't tell me, I think I see it. An aerie is a group of eagles, a nest is a group of snakes, so a cete must be a group of badgers, yes?"
"Yes." Danger blew a kiss back to Draco. "Though the basic configuration remains the same. Either between six and ten students with a more-or-less even split of boys and girls, or a smaller group, four to seven, all one or all the other. Usually with some pre-existing connection between most of the members, siblings, cousins, friends, and so on, but also with a wide range of talents and abilities."
"In other words, very like the original Pride. Or Prides." Draco ran his hands through his hair. "What did we get ourselves into?"
"Nothing any of us could ever have imagined to start out with," Remus said speculatively. "But, in my admittedly biased opinion, something surprisingly wonderful. So far." He glanced through Danger's eyes at their wall clock and got to his feet. "And I should be getting back. I have a class of fourth years later today which includes a Nest of mainly Slytherin boys, plus one Ravenclaw, and a Cete of mixed Hufflepuff and Gryffindor girls…"
Draco snorted. "And how many couples is that going to result in?"
"At least three, I think. Danger's tentatively leaning towards four. Most of them are still in the 'get away from me' stage, but somehow their wandwork mysteriously improves whenever the other group is observing them…"
"And I'm sure you're assigning as many projects as possible that make them work together." Draco accompanied his Pack-father to the door. "I've actually got to pop out for a bit as well. Pearl's taking a shift at the Camelot clinic and asked me to bring Liam by. It seems some of the Muggle parents do better with their introductions to magical healing when the Healer is clearly working on someone she wouldn't want harmed."
"That makes sense. And if she's in with a patient when you get there, you might be able to leave him with his father for a few minutes."
"With—oh, that's right, Captain was taking a few of his upper-level students out there to do some of the groundskeeping today." Draco shook his head with a lofty look. "Hogwarts students, being taught to use their magic for the benefit of others. How else can these 'Clans' corrupt the perfection which was pureblood society?"
"In every way we can possibly think of," retorted Danger. "And a few we haven't, that I'm sure our children will."
And in the simplest one of all, Remus said silently as Liam pelted out of the kitchen and into Draco's arms, squealing happily as his uncle swung him around once or twice, then hoisted him into a piggyback in order to get a kiss from Luna. By outliving, outbreeding, and outjoying them. If that last one is a word.
I don't think it is, but I take your meaning anyway. We, by and large, are happy, and they, by and large, are not. And human nature, especially in childhood, is to look for what will bring us the most happiness.
Thus, their children, being wiser than and not yet so indoctrinated as their parents, come to us. Remus smiled, and felt Danger do the same, as Cassie shyly presented herself after Jacob and Irina for her own goodbye hug. And we happily teach them what we know, and they take that, and change it as seems good to them, and go forward into the future.
Making mistakes along the way, Danger added. But who doesn't? A loud crash from the playroom caught her attention. Speaking of which—
Yes, please, go and deal with whatever that was. I'm on my way back, let me know if you need me.
I shall. Much love.
"Ready to go to Camelot, sprout?" Draco inquired of Liam as he carried him along the hallway.
"Camelot!" Liam pumped one small brown fist enthusiastically. "I wanna ride the Broomstick Swoop! And go to the conservat'ry, and the liberry!"
Remus chuckled, following the two into the living room. "In case there were any doubt whose child he is," he said. "Adventures, plants, and books, in that order. See you for dinner on Sunday?"
"Try and keep us away." Draco shifted Liam's weight to his left arm and tossed Remus a scent-salute, then turned to allow the little boy to take a handful of Floo powder from the flowerpot on the mantelpiece. "That's right, and in it goes!"
The fire roared up emerald green. Remus idly reached out a tendril of magic to steady his son and grandson as Draco stepped into the flames. "Camelot!" he announced over Liam's gleeful squeal, and whipped out of sight.
Humming the namesake song of the place the two had gone, Remus waited for the fire to return to its original golden-yellow, then stepped into it without bothering to add anything. "Remus Lupin's office, Hogwarts," he said clearly, and disappeared in a swirl of flame.
Gifts, after all, were not generally given with a time limit attached to their use.
Ken thought his eyes might stick wide open from all the staring he was doing. Not even his wildest imagination-picture had ever shown him a place this big, this crowded, this colorful. Rory and Rosie, Rory holding his hand and Rosie holding Ms. Crystal's other one, were bouncing up and down with excitement, both trying to point things out to him at once.
"Girls," Ms. Crystal said mildly, and the twins settled down right away, though Ken could still feel Rory's excitement in the way she was squeezing his fingers. "Now, what shall we do first? We could get ice creams, or see if my books are in at the library, or what about—well, well! Dora! Andy!"
"Crystal, how've you been? Wotcher, Weasley girls!" The woman who answered the hail had a pretty, pale, heart-shaped face, as did the girl about Ken's age who was holding her hand, but none of that was what made Ken's eyes open even wider still. He'd known hair could be black (like his father's), red (like Rory and Rosie's), brown (like his own), or blond (like Ms. Crystal's), but he'd never known it came in pink.
"And who's this?" the woman was asking now, smiling at Ken. "Your newest arrival? Kenelm, wasn't it?"
"Just…" Ken tried to say, and felt his throat get tight. He swallowed once, then saw the pink-haired girl looking at him with warm, dark eyes that seemed to smile even though her face was still. "Just Ken, ma'am," he managed to get out on his second try. "Ken…Weasley."
"Are you, now." The woman looked up at Ms. Crystal. "Quick work."
"Not my idea." Ms. Crystal had the hand which had been holding Ken's planted on her hip. "Though he does even things up nicely for Arthur. Six of each."
"So he does. And if he's made his decision, who're we to fault it?" The woman turned back to Ken. "Glad to meet you, Ken Weasley," she said, holding out her hand. "I'll be your Auntie Tonks, and this's your cousin Andrea." She nodded to the girl beside her. "Welcome to Camelot."
Ken shook her hand, then that of the girl, Andrea, and held on for an extra moment. Andrea didn't seem to mind.
"You're a stolen child," she said in a high-pitched voice that somehow managed to miss being squeaky. "Like me, except I was more inherited. Or maybe given, if we knew who gave me." Now she really smiled, and Ken had to smile back. It was just that kind of smile. "It's nice to have company. Almost all the other cousins are born children."
"And you're going to confuse Ken terribly, Andy love," Tonks put in. "He doesn't know the stories yet, about all the different ways how the Clans get their children, and what that means for how I got you." She hooked an arm around her daughter and pulled her close, making Andrea squeal happily. "And I think you must've been inherited, or where'd you get this?" A tweak of Andrea's pink hair, eliciting another squeak. "Not like Metamorph's exactly common!"
"You know, that's not a bad idea," Ms. Crystal said thoughtfully. "Stories. Why don't we head over to the library and pull out one or two of the better picture books of the Battle of the Manor, and then go and get ice creams and explain what really happened to Ken while we're eating?"
"Ice creams!" shouted Rory.
"Stories!" clamored Rosie.
Ken felt a smile stretching his face, as broad and beaming as the one he could see on Andrea. "Yes, please," he said firmly for both of them.
If he was going to be a child of the Clans, it was only right for him to know how they had begun.
Percy Weasley looked up from the three mutually exclusive demands his aide, Chris Parkinson, had discovered in the latest copy of a diplomatic letter from the Ukranian Ministry as a broad-shouldered wizard, his dark hair streaked with silver, stormed into his office. "Good morning," he began to say, but was cut off.
"Is this true?" the older wizard demanded, slapping down a copy of the Daily Prophet on Percy's desk.
"Not in its wording," Percy said coolly, picking up the newspaper and regarding the headline as he might something with a great many legs he'd discovered on his shower wall. "My brother-in-law did enter the house in question, but only at the request of one of its inhabitants, and while he did remove the children residing there, he did so upon discovering one of them in such a condition that no prudent person would have considered it safe for any of them to remain."
"Semantics, Weasley." The older wizard waved a hand impatiently. "I mean the piece further down. Did young Black, or did he not, after snatching these children away from their rightful home, hand over the boy to…to…"
"To a recently inspected and fully accredited foster family, including one member uniquely suited to help Kenelm learn how to handle his challenges in life?" Percy smiled thinly, enjoying the reddening of the older wizard's face. "He did, Mr. Runcorn. And quite rightly, if I do say so myself."
"Now see here, Weasley," Albert Runcorn growled, leaning across Percy's desk. "You won't get away with this one, son of the Minister or no! If you and that—that animal you married don't send my grandson home within the next twenty-four hours—"
Percy held up a hand, halting both Runcorn and Parkinson, who had started to reach for his wand. "I would suggest that you not insult women in this office, Mr. Runcorn," he said without a trace of inflection in his voice. "Be they Muggles or be they witches. As for your grandson, Wizarding Family Services has made its determination. Kenelm remains with my family until such time as they—they, Mr. Runcorn, not I—believe it is safe for him to return to his mother." He let his smile grow even thinner, until he thought he could have satisfactorily shaved with its edge. "If, of course, at such time, he wishes to so return. As you can see, I have nothing to do with the decision in either case. Good day, Mr. Runcorn." He drew his wand and flicked it at the door, which sprang open. "Good day."
After one more angry glare, Runcorn straightened up. "This is not finished, Weasley," he said in a low tone. "This is nowhere near finished."
Turning on his heel, he strode out of the office.
Parkinson watched him go, then blew out a long breath. "And people wonder," he said conversationally, "why I ran off with the chauffeur."
"Because she could hold a conversation for longer than two minutes on a subject other than herself?" Percy hazarded.
"So she can. An art my sister, by the by, has never yet managed to master, unless she's insulting someone." Parkinson laughed half-heartedly. "All right, so where were we? They want us to stop interfering in their internal politics, but at the same time they want our help chasing down that little homegrown Dark wizard they've sprouted, and just for a kicker they're asking if we'd like to extend a loan to the present government. That sound about right?"
"Fairly close, yes." Percy leaned over the letter again. "We can give them a flat no on the loan, unless they can come up with better security than they've offered so far, and we don't happen to be interfering in their internal politics, they just think we are, but we might want to consult with MLE and the Auror Office about their second point. Dark wizards don't tend to respect national borders very well, and the last thing we need is another war…"
Listening outside the door, Albert Runcorn curled his lip.
Percy Weasley might not want another war, but by Merlin, he was going to have one.
No one stole a son of the Runcorns from his proper family and got away with it.
So alternating short and long chapters. Sound good?
'Tis late and I am tired. Hope you are continuing to enjoy! Please let me know! More soon, of this, SD, LSSR, and originals!
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