Living with Danger
Chapter 22: An Important Day
By Anne B. Walsh
Chapter 22: An Important Day
Lucius Malfoy huddled on the floor of his cell, dignity lost in rage. Alastor Moody had kept him gagged until they reached the headquarters of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, then had put a Silencing Charm on him for as long as it took to administer Veritaserum. He had lifted the Charm then, but asked only one question: "Have you ever used an Unforgivable Curse?"
Lucius had tried to resist, knowing the answer would mean the end of life worth living for him, but the potion had dragged the answer, the true answer, out of him: "Yes."
Then he quickly took a breath to tell the Auror about Black and Lupin, about the Potter boy, about where they were hiding, but —
"Silencio!" Moody had snapped again, before he had a chance to speak. "I’m not interested in anything else. With that, and his wife’s testimony, we've got all the evidence we'll need. Take him away, we’ll send him over in the morning."
So now he was alone in this miserable place, his life in ruins, and there was nothing, nothing he could do to take revenge for it…
Someone was coming. He whipped around.
The person stopped in front of his cell, pointed a wand at him, and whispered the countercharm to the Silencer. "I want to help you," she said quietly. "I’m certain this must be some kind of trick, someone has framed you for this... Is there anything I can do, anything at all?"
Lucius considered his options. "Do you know a woman named Aletha Freeman?" he asked finally.
"She knows more than she’s telling about Sirius Black. Investigating her house would not go amiss."
"Thank you, Mr. Malfoy. I’ll remember that. I’m afraid I have to renew the charm, so that no one knows I was here…"
Lucius grimaced. "Very well."
At least I know I will have some measure of revenge…
From somewhere nearby, he heard quiet laughter. "Plot away, Lucius, plot away," said a woman’s cool voice. "They are beyond your reach now. As is Draco… as I will soon be…"
Lucius snarled silently in frustration, wishing he had his wand for just one second, long enough to commit one final murder…
Daily Prophet, Thursday 26 July 1984
LUCIUS, NARCISSA MALFOY ARRESTED
Wife confesses own, husband’s misdeeds
By Rita Skeeter, Special Reporter
Narcissa Malfoy, one of the leading lights of the pure-blood social scene, last night turned herself in to Ministry custody, claiming that she and her husband, Lucius, were both willing followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, something both vigorously denied not quite three years ago. Lucius Malfoy was taken into custody at his home later that same night.
Mrs. Malfoy provided an extensive list of the use of Unforgivable Curses by both herself and her husband, which was verified by Mr. Malfoy under the influence of the controversial truth potion Veritaserum. The use of an Unforgivable Curse carries an automatic penalty of a life sentence in Azkaban, where both Malfoys will probably be sent within the next few days…
Andromeda Tonks shook her head. "Cissy, I never understood you," she said aloud, letting the paper fall to the table. "It was the right thing to do, but why now?"
Something struck her. She reached for the paper again. "What about Draco?" she said, scanning the columns of text. "Come on, there has to be something here about him — who’s going to take care of him? He’s only four, it isn’t his fault his parents are criminals…"
"Andy, who are you talking to?" Ted Tonks said, walking into the kitchen.
"Myself. The newspaper. Look at this — my sister’s been arrested."
She punched him in the shoulder. "I only have two."
"I know…" Ted looked through the article, muttering to himself. "Isn’t this the one with a son? Drake or something?"
"Draco. I know, you’d think there’d be something about him — but not a word."
Ted pulled the paper open to the continuation on page 7. "No, wait, here’s something. â€˜In response to questions about the couple’s four-year-old son, Draco, who was not found in a search of the family’s home, Mrs. Malfoy would say only that she had provided for him. Considering the number and nature of the crimes to which this same woman had only minutes before confessed, only the worst can be feared.’ "
"No," Andromeda breathed. "No. Not even Narcissa would do that. Bella… maybe. But this isn’t Bella. It’s Cissy. She wouldn’t kill her own child."
"I’ll take your word for it, sweetheart, I don’t know either of them." Ted poured himself a cup of coffee. "They wouldn’t have anything to do with the likes of me. I’m sorry about this, but don’t forget, you did promise to take Dora shopping for Hogwarts today."
"Oh, that’s right… damn it… and she’s not going to take no for an answer, is she?"
"Not likely. Not that stubborn little girl of ours. Not after you promised, and took off work specially…"
Andromeda sighed. "All right. I’ll go get dressed."
"Are you sure you don’t want to come along?" Aletha asked Sirius as Remus and Danger marshaled the three older children for their shopping trip to Diagon Alley.
"Nah, I’ve had an idea ambush me, and I want to get it written down before it gets away."
"Sirius Black, romance writer. If The Quibbler ever got word of that…"
"They’d refuse to publish it, because it was too impossible?"
"Something like that. All right, I’ll see you when we get back."
I do love my job. If I’m caught up on my work — which I am — it’s almost never a bother to get a day off… but I’ll pay for it tomorrow, my desk will be full…
Oh well. Time to play "Witch-Auntie Letha takes the Muggle parents and their magical children around Diagon Alley".
Nymphadora Tonks raced along the sidewalk, trailing her dull gray school tie behind her, thinking of the day when the Sorting Hat would shout out "GRYFFINDOR!" and it would magically turn red and gold striped as the table of Gryffindors cheered for their newest member…
Not looking where she was going, she tripped and fell full-length onto the sidewalk. Or rather, she would have fallen if a nearby man hadn’t caught her. "Are you all right, miss?" he asked her, helping her regain her balance.
"Dora!" Her mother caught up with her. "Thank you, sir — Dora, did you hurt yourself?"
"Mum!" Dora protested as her mother started to dust her off. "I’m fine, I just tripped—"
"So I guess she never grew out of it, after all," said one of the women with the man. "How are you, Andromeda?"
"Aletha Freeman! Good heavens, I haven’t seen you in years!"
Dora rolled her eyes. This was going to take a while, she knew from experience. Her mother was hugging the woman and exclaiming over the baby girl she was carrying in a backpack, and they were both talking at a great rate, and the man and the other woman with him were being introduced as "John and Kelly White, neighbors of mine, their twins are magical, Kelly was a childhood friend of mine…"
Twins? Looks like triplets to me…
"Twins? You have three here…"
Mr. White laughed. "This is Reggie," he said, tapping one of the boys gently on the head. "He’s a cousin — Kelly’s sister’s boy." He lowered his voice. "His parents died in a car accident — it happened quite recently, so he’s just come to us lately."
"He’s a bit shy because of it," Mrs. White confided, "and we’re trying to get him used to people gently — thus, a Thursday morning for shopping, it’s not nearly as crowded as the afternoons, or, heaven forbid, a weekend."
"A good idea — Letha, have you seen the paper yet today?"
"The Prophet? Yes, I get it delivered, and that was quite a headline this morning."
"Did you read the whole article?"
"Most of it, why?"
"I’m worried—" Her mother leaned a bit closer to Ms. Freeman. "Worried about Draco."
Reggie jumped a little, looking at her mother with something like fear. "We’ll be in Madam Malkin’s, Letha," Mrs. White said quickly. "Come on, children, this way."
"Dora, shoo," her mother said. "But don’t go far."
"Yes, Mum." Dora trotted around the nearest corner, leaned casually against the wall, and ever so carefully reshaped her ears for maximum hearing potential.
"Draco? Narcissa’s son?"
"Yes — they claim they can’t find him, and Narcissa said she’d â€˜provided for him.’ Letha, do you think that means what I think it means?"
"That she’s killed him? No, I don’t think so. Andy, she probably just sent him to live with a cousin or something — your family’s enormous, you’re related to three-quarters of the pure-bloods in Britain. She might even have sent him overseas somewhere. He’s probably just fine."
"But there’s no way to be sure. Letha, I — I just feel so betrayed. I mean, we didn’t like each other, we almost never spoke, but she was still my sister! Couldn’t she at least have let me know what she did with her child? Even if she didn’t think I’d be able to raise him right, couldn’t she at least have told me?"
The sadness and worry in her mother’s voice surprised Dora. I never knew she cared that much about her sisters. She never mentions them, because they don’t acknowledge her — we pretty much don’t exist to one another…
"You know something. Tell me."
A pause. "I can’t."
"I swore I wouldn’t."
"Tell me this much, Aletha Freeman, or I will curse you to America and back, I don’t care what you swore. Is my sister’s son dead?"
Another pause, longer this time. "No."
"Thank God," her mother said, barely audible. "And thank you, Letha. I won’t ask you how you know."
The other woman chuckled. "Wise decision. It’s a very long story, and you probably wouldn’t believe most of it."
"You’ll have to try me sometime."
"Sometime. Not today."
"All right. I’ll see you around, I hope?"
Dora quickly changed her ears back to normal and started mooning over her tie again. With any luck, her mother would think she’d been doing that the entire time.
Her mother came around the corner and stopped short. "How much did you hear?" she said crisply.
Dora shrugged. "Some."
"You are not allowed to tell anyone. Ever. Understand?"
"Good. Come on, we need to get to Flourish and Blotts."
The woman who had spoken to Lucius Malfoy the night before was now in colloquy with a different sort of being.
"Crozer Street, in London. The house is number 71. Seek him there. If you find him…" She paused for thought. Would it be allowable?
She decided that it would. Black’s demise could only benefit the general wizarding public, and that would mean more popularity for her master.
"If you find him there, you may Kiss him. Do you understand?"
The black hood moved up and down, solemnly.
"Very well. You are dismissed."
As the creature left the room, her mood of glee returned. She, and she alone, would be responsible for the ending of the two-year reign of terror posed by the escape of Sirius Black. But she would not take the glory for herself, of course. Everything she did, was done for one purpose and one alone — to further the career of Cornelius Fudge, and her own through his. Nothing else mattered.
Well, except having a little fun along the way.
Sirius paused in his typing, flexing his fingers. His idea, for once, was behaving itself, its portions queuing up neatly and allowing him to set them down in understandable sentences rather than insisting on all being heard at once so that he had to jot down fragments as they came clear.
Maybe I’m getting better at this.
He frowned at a slight sound. Was that the door?
"Hello? Anyone there?"
I must have imagined it.
He returned to typing, but shivered slightly as a wave of unreasonable chill swept over him.
That’s odd. It’s the middle of July, the dog days — no pun intended — so it’s nice and warm out. I shouldn’t be cold.
He looked at the typewriter, oddly averse to continuing any farther with his work.
Why does it matter? It’s just words on a page, no one really cares about it…
He shivered again.
Something is wrong here.
He turned around.
There was a shadow on the wall of the hallway. And whatever was casting it was very tall, and wearing a hooded cloak…
And now he could hear the breathing, rattling in its throat. The harsh breathing of something that hated life, all life, even its own, and would gladly feed on it…
Sirius’ own breath seized up, and he fumbled for his wand.
How the bloody hell did they find me?
Aletha shivered a little. "You all right?" Danger asked her as Meghan threw her rattle over the side of her high chair for Draco to pick up, a game both children were enjoying.
"Fine. Just… cold for a second. Don’t know why."
Sirius’ first try was not impressive, producing only a few wisps of silver mist. Concentrate. Concentrate. A good memory, a happy memory…
His eye fell on his wedding band. The day we got married. No, even better — the day Meghan was born.
He thought as hard as he could of that day — Letha almost falling out of the fireplace, the tense ride to the hospital, the hours of her labor, and then the astounding, intense joy when the doctor had announced that they had a daughter…
This Patronus was better, much better — there was a lot more mist, and it had something resembling a shape — a dog, of course, he knew that already. But that would only hold the dementor off. To chase it away, he needed a truly corporeal Patronus.
And I’m not sure I can produce one…
No. No negative thoughts.
But it was too late. His Patronus dimmed, and the dementor advanced again.
No, no, go away… come on, Sirius, get it together!
But the darkness was closing around him, he could distantly hear a dull thud, the sound of his cell door slamming shut —
"Someone help me," he whispered, not even aware he’d spoken.
His wedding ring chilled on his finger.
Aletha gasped. "My ring!"
"What about it?" Remus asked, startled by her urgency.
"Feel it. It’s… cold." She looked from one to the other of her friends. "Something’s wrong. I’m going home." She stood up and Disapparated.
The children exchanged bewildered looks. "We going home too?" Harry asked.
"Maybe," Remus said. "For right now, everyone stay where you are."
I’ll stay with them if you want to go…
Let’s give it a minute. If Letha comes back laughing at herself, we’ll know it was a false alarm. If not…
Yes. Danger shivered a bit herself.
Aletha arrived in the middle of her front room and shuddered.
It’s cold in here. Too cold.
And too quiet.
He said he was going to work on a story. So he would have been in his typing room, which used to be my guest bedroom…
She hurried up the stairs, more worried than ever when she saw the door standing open. He should have heard me, he should have answered by now…
"Sirius!" She was in the doorway even as she called —
In one awful instant, she understood everything.
No, oh God no…
The dementor was just beginning to pry Sirius’ mouth open, preparing to Kiss him —
Over my dead body!
"Expecto patronum!" Aletha screamed, wand pointed straight at the foul thing. A blast of silver shot from it and shielded Sirius, forcing the dementor upright and herding it back.
She ran to him and stood between him and it. "Begone, if you be not deathless!" she hissed. "For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him." She closed her eyes for an instant and brought up the memory of the night she and Sirius had been reunited, her undiluted joy at having the love of her life in her arms again…
"Expecto patronum," she said calmly, and a great silver — something — sprang from her wand. It had four legs, but also wings, and it galloped at the dementor and struck it full in the face with its front hooves —
The dementor fell back, and glided swiftly out of the room. Aletha stepped into the doorway and urged on her Patronus — the winged horse chased the dementor down the stairs and out of the front door, which it left open behind it.
Fine. I’ll close it later. Thank God, all the neighbors are Muggles, they won’t see it.
A groan from behind her brought her back to more important matters.
She ran to his side. "Sirius, wake up. Are you all right?"
"Yes." The whispered word didn’t sound all right, but it reassured her on the important point.
He still has his soul. He’s still with me.
Nothing is more important than that.
She embraced him, shaking herself now that it was over. "It’s gone," she whispered. "It’s gone. It won’t come back. You’re safe now."
"Letha?" Sirius opened his eyes and focused on her. The sheer terror in them was fast being replaced by relief and puzzlement. "What are you doing home?"
"I had to come. I — my wedding ring. It got cold, here, feel it—" She paused, confused. "It’s normal again. But it got freezing cold, and I knew, I knew something was wrong, and — I came."
"Damn good thing you did." Sirius pulled himself up to sitting and returned her hug, holding on to her tightly. "I like my soul where it is."
His flippant words could not disguise a lingering trace of fear — trace of fear? If this was me, I’d still be screaming in terror! He’s incredible.
But, of course, I knew that… that’s part of the reason I married him…
The crack of an Apparition sounded through the house. "Letha?" Remus called. "Sirius?"
"Upstairs!" Aletha called back. "Everything’s all right now — but it wasn’t when I got here."
Sirius snorted. "Understatement of the year, that."
"What happened?" Remus appeared in the doorway, wand out and ready.
"Dementor," Sirius said succinctly. "If Letha had been ten seconds later, I’d be down one soul."
Remus expressed his feelings with several short words, including one Aletha didn’t know and made a mental note to look up. "Is it gone?" he finished.
"Yes, my Patronus chased it out — I never got a corporeal one before, it was a winged horse — damn, I’m babbling, I’m sorry…"
"Don’t be. It’s fine. Winged horse, that sounds right for you…" Remus shook his head. "Hold on, I’m being shouted at." His eyes went unfocused in the way they often did when he and Danger were speaking silently, and Aletha took the opportunity to have a good look and see if something she’d half-noticed quite a while ago was true…
Sure enough. The clear blue of Remus’ eyes was slowly being stained with brown, the same warm brown she saw every time she looked at Danger — and I would bet Danger’s are going blue at the same time. That’s a bit creepy…
"I should get back," Remus said abruptly, coming out of his half-trance. "The children are taking advantage of the reduced odds. We’ve got just about everything we need, anyway, I think it’s time to bring them home…"
"Are you sure it’s safe?" Sirius said sharply. "Those children do not come in this house if there’s the least possibility that thing is coming back."
"The only reason it would come here is if it was sent, Sirius." Remus sighed. "Which opens a whole new can of flobberworms. Who sent it, and why, and did they know you were here, or were they only guessing? We don’t know — we can’t know — but it’s a distinct possibility that Lucius Malfoy got someone to believe him before they put him away, and that someone sent the dementor to check out the situation."
"Who sends a dementor to check out a situation?" Aletha objected. "They don’t even talk, they’re smart enough to take orders and not much more — whoever sent that thing knew Sirius was here!"
"So complain," Sirius said, standing up. "File a formal complaint about it coming into your house. And if anyone comes looking for me, I lick their hands and look adorable, and you remind the world that you haven’t seen me for years and you couldn’t care less."
"True — they haven’t got anything plausible on me, so they have no grounds to use any kind of verification, potion or spell. They’ll have to take me at my word." Aletha chuckled, realizing the irony of the wizarding law in this instance sheltering the law-breakers. "And if the thing comes back, we have three fully qualified wand-users in the house. We should be fine."
Dumbledore’s letter arrived soon after Danger and the children returned home, and Danger replied promptly, with her usual good humor, enclosing the wizarding equivalent of a Polaroid. Remus insisted on adding a postscript, but Sirius insisted that nothing be said about the dementor. They had a brief conversation in hand signals, which ended with Remus capitulating, and the letter was sent on its way by return owl.
After their celebration for Draco’s birthday was over, Aletha went to the Ministry to file her complaint. Harry and Neenie hauled Draco upstairs to initiate him into something or other to do with being a cub — the adults didn’t really know everything that went on with the cubs, and that was fine, since the reverse was certainly true. Sirius and Remus sat at the kitchen table, each with a pile of paperwork — Remus doing the family finances, Sirius revising his latest work — while Meghan made loud noises under the table, and Danger did the dishes and ruminated.
Last night, an evil wizard was planning to experiment on us. This morning, a freakish thing tried to suck out my Pack-brother’s soul. And now, here we are, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.
Of course, for us, nothing really did…
Andromeda stepped out of her fireplace and sneezed. I hope that’s everything. Merlin, Dora’s so excited about Hogwarts — I hope we can survive the last month or so until she leaves…
A white envelope lay on the table. Must have come while we were out.
"Mum, you’ve had an owl." Dora picked it up. "Who’s it from?"
"Let me see." Andromeda took the envelope from her daughter, looked at the name written on the outside — and froze.
I know that handwriting. Oh, I know that handwriting. So perfectly precise, so pointed and narrow…
"Muuuum," Dora wheedled.
"Dora, go to your room," Andromeda said distantly. "You’re in no trouble — just go."
Dora looked at her for a second, then went. Andromeda sat down in her husband’s big armchair, smelling the faint odor of his soap and aftershave, and wishing he was there…
Nonsense. Are you a witch or not? Open the letter and read it!
She did what the emphatic voice in her head told her, while noting that it had much the sound of Professor Minerva McGonagall…
26 July 1984
I hope that you will not destroy this letter, for there is much I wish to say to you. First, I owe you an apology. I have wronged you by not communicating with you all these years. Your choice of a husband, however much I may disagree with it, does not change the fact that you are my sister. Please forgive me.
By now I’m sure the news has reached you of what I have done. If not, I suggest you seek a copy of today’s Daily Prophet before reading any further. Suffice it to say, I have come to my senses at last. My husband is a fool, and it is high time his crimes were punished as they deserve. As for myself — Andromeda, I have taken the coward’s way out. By tomorrow morning, I shall be dead. I have told no one but you, and you may judge me as you wish. You have earned that right.
I hope that you retain enough sisterly feeling for me to wonder what has become of my son Draco. He is safe, and in good hands, hands that you would consider good, I daresay, as well as myself. A cousin of ours and his family have taken my son in, and will raise him as one of their own. I cannot name the man, for various reasons, one of them being that my son will be safest from retribution by others of my former fellowship if no one knows where he is.
Andromeda, I cannot pretend that I was a good sister to you. I was not. I cannot pretend either that I was a good mother to my son, for I was not. But I feel I have at last taken a step in the right direction, by giving Draco a home and a family, when he would have known none otherwise. Please do not be offended that I did not send him to you, but you have only one child, and she begins formal schooling in the autumn. I did not wish to burden you with another child at this point in your life.
Please also believe that your husband had nothing to do with my decision. The family raising my son includes all types of bloodline that we recognize, from Muggle to pureblood, and they make no distinctions. It is my hope that by the time my son reaches adulthood, neither will he.
I have taken one further step of which I hope you approve. My son is no longer a Malfoy — he has taken our name, making him Draco Regulus Black. I cannot say that I am not proud that my son will carry on the noble name to which I was born, for I am. But I am ashamed of myself. My actions have smirched our name, Andromeda — I see that now. It is wizards and witches like myself and our sister Bellatrix who have made the house of Black fall. Only those like you, and our cousin who now raises my son, keep it alive.
If, my sister, by some miracle you wish to honor my memory, I ask that you do it in this manner — tell your daughter my story. Tell her about a foolish woman who denied love, who renounced love, and who ran from love, until at last love conquered her with the hands of a child. Tell her about a woman who perhaps loved not too well but wisely, and tell her what became of that love — how a man the world considered upright was exposed for the evil fool he is, and a little boy was given a chance at life he would never have otherwise had.
I bid you farewell, Andromeda. If there is anything beyond this life, I surely deserve a worse fate than you, so I hold out little hope of seeing you again. Please believe, though, that I die content. I have saved my son and ruined my husband. My work is done.
A postscript was scrawled across the bottom, obviously a last-minute addition, done in haste.
Perhaps plant a flower for me…
Andromeda placed the letter gently on the end table beside the chair, drew her knees up to her chest, and began, slowly, painfully, to cry.
Under cover of darkness, Patroclus Nott slipped into the Malfoy manor, carefully avoiding the Auror guard posted at the front entrance.
Drawing room floor. I just hope I can remember how to work the catch…
Luckily, his hands remembered it, though his mind was hazy on the details, it having been shown to him quite a long time ago.
I was new to the Dark then… Lucius seemed a million miles above me…
And now he has fallen. And it is up to me to take his place.
If I can keep it.
He began to remove items from the secret hiding place, bottles of potions, scrolls and books, and load them into a bag.
How odd. I could have sworn he always kept some time-delay poison here. Checking for observers, he lit his wand and peered into the opening. Yes, he did — I can see where it was. Someone took it.
He wondered for a moment, then shrugged. Not my problem.
Cradling the bag in his arms to keep its precious contents from clinking and betraying him, he slipped back out, the Aurors none the wiser.
And they never need to be. No one ever knew about that hiding place except Malfoys — Lucius only told me because the Dark Lord told him to.
An owl tapped on a window of the Den.
"It’s from Dumbledore," Aletha announced. "He’s invited us to tea, at Hogwarts. On Sunday. Anyone have any previous engagements?"
"Oh, I’ll disappoint the Minister if I must," Sirius said, batting his eyelashes outrageously. Remus punched him in the arm, and Danger rolled her eyes.
Sandwiched between two other children, the former heir to the house of Malfoy slept soundly, the emptiness inside him filled for the first time in his life.
Thursday, 26 July 1984 might not be noted in the history books, except in passing, but it really was a very important day, for quite a lot of reasons…