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Chapter the Fifth

Alice had put it off, but today was the next to last day of her bereavement leave. She put on her best robes, looked in the mirror, and then changed into ordinary robes after carefully making sure that her makeup was properly applied. She then kissed Neville goodbye.

“I’m going into the Ministry, Mum,” she announced to Augusta.

“I think you’re doing the right thing,” Augusta said.

“I hope so,” Alice said.

The hum in the office decreased when she walked into the bullpen. She went to her desk, carefully sorting out the open case files (which would go to her supervisor) the personal effects (which went into her purse) and everything else (which went into the rubbish bin). She then carefully filled out a letter of resignation, signed it, dated it, and put it on top of the stack of case files, which she then carried to her supervisor’s office. Stephen Downton’s door was almost closed, but from the noise the slipped out the crack, the conversation was in the winding-down phase. She pulled the stack to her chest and leaned against the frame of the door.

What seemed like an eternity later, the door opened and Auror Farnsworth walked out; he looked her up and down, gave her a saucy wink, and walked past. Alice resisted the urge to trip him.

“So, you’re here to do the deed?” Senior Auror Downton called from behind his desk.

“I’m afraid so,” Alice said.

“You do know that Amelia Bones gave me a ration of shite when she heard that you wanted to snuff the candle?” Downton asked.

“Not surprising,” Alice said.

“You forgot something,” Downton said, placing a small rectangular box on top of the stack of case files.

Alice arched her eyebrow at him.

“Go ahead, open it,” Downton said.

She opened the box. Inside was a dark maroon colored ribbon and an engraved brass colored medallion. An identical medallion with ribbon had been displayed in a shadow box in the now destroyed Longbottom manor house.

“I figured you’d rather not have the presentation hoopla, so here’s the posthumous Order of Merlin for the late Frank Longbottom, a good man and a good Auror,” Downton said with a swallow at the end, punctuating his sentence. “Minister Bagnold rammed it through the Wizengamot; the Lords of the Ledgers objected to it as an extravagant expenditure, but they were voted down.”

“If you see her, thank her for me,” Alice said.

+=+

The phone rang, surprising Remus. The most frequent callers were the tenants, calling about stopped drains, light fixtures that needed to be re-lamped, and rent checks that might not be paid on time. Those calls came in the evening, typically between the hours of five and nine. A call at 9:00 am, in contrast, was a rarity.

“Hello,” Remus said, trying to not sound annoyed.

“Hello Mr. Lupin, this is Mrs. Cadmus from Mr. O’Neill’s office. If it’s possible, Mr. O’Neill would like to see you today at 1:00 sharp,” Mrs. Cadmus said with cheery efficiency.

“I think that’s possible. Do I need to bring anything?” Remus replied.

“I don’t think so – it will be a very brief meeting – he’s scheduling you in between a status conference, which should be short, and a mediation, which promises to be anything but short,” Mrs. Cadmus advised.

“Very good then,” Remus said, but Mrs. Cadmus had already rung off.

Remus returned the handset to the wall phone and then walked out into the extremely small garden by the back door to the flat. He’d grown a few essential herbs there for cooking: basil, rosemary and a particularly pungent mint. He snipped a few leaves of mint and then returned to the kitchen, dropping the leaves into some steeping tea.

Next he carefully stripped out of his clothes and stood behind his favorite reading chair. He closed his eyes, taking a few deep breaths before diving into a meditative state he’d been working on for weeks. He focused his will and pushed with his magic. He felt a wave of warmth and an itching between his shoulder blades and then felt himself being turned inside out. It wasn’t literally being inverted, but that’s the closest he could come to describing the sensation.

He then took his paws from the back of the chair and padded to the full length mirror in the bathroom. Looking back at him from the mirror was a mature grey wolf, scientific name: Canis lupislupis.

He smiled, which looked somewhat frightening as a wolf. His original plan for the day had been to Apparate to Wales and spend the day as a wolf on the grounds of the Black hunting lodge, but that needed to be cut short now that he was meeting with the solicitor. After looking at himself from various angles, he went back into the kitchen, carefully working the recently replaced door handle with his paws. A lever was so much easier to manipulate than a knob. Once outside he let the door close and then turned around three times as he settled himself, resting his chin on his paws. Accelerated schedule or not, there was always time for sitting in the sun.

+=+

A week prior, he’d met with Charlie Fletcher. After the usual pleasantries of asking after the members of the pack, they’d discussed the various business needs for restoring the lodge. It would be some time before a new garden would yield, but there was now a new flock of laying hens installed in the coop, and the pastureland had sheep and goats under the watchful eye of a donkey named Francis. Then Remus asked the question he’d been pondering since the first day he’d met Mr. Fletcher.

“How is it that Daisy can turn into a wolf in the middle of the month?”

Charlie looked at Remus, a cryptic smile on his face.

“I was wondering how long it would take you to ask that question,” Charlie said genially. “The short answer is that she don’t fight the wolf.”

“Explain, please,” Remus asked.

“Well, it’s like this. Say you’re living alone, and every month a highwayman comes to your house and violates you. You’re going to fight tooth and nail, and afterwards, you’re going to dread the calendar, knowing that in a lunar month he’s going to return and do it all over again,” Charlie explained. “That’s fightin’ the wolf.

“Now, imagine that it’s different. Once a month you get a visit your best friend, or maybe your lover. You may be sweaty and stinky after that visit, but you’re not going to be as beat up, and you’re sure not going to live in dread for the next month.”

“That’s it?” Remus asked incredulously.

“It ain’t something you’d figured out already, is it?”

“Well, no,” Remus said.

“So don’t be mocking the simplicity. Like most of us, you di’n’t have anyone who could teach you how to be a wolf. You di’n’t want to be a wolf, you dreaded the coming of the wolf every month, and when the wolf came, you fought him tooth and nail. I reckon the first few transformations right nearly killed you,” Charlie explained. “I’m as old as I am because I stopped fighting the wolf nearly a hunnert years ago.”

With that, Charlie stood up and in a blur shifted his form into that of a magnificent grey wolf. He then turned around three times and in a slightly slower blur, changed back into the shape of a fit elderly man.

“Can you teach me?” Remus asked.

“Pro’lly not,” Charlie answered. “Daisy pro’lly could.”

Remus looked at him with a bemused expression.

“Daisy, where you at?” Charlie called as he pushed the door open.

“Coming, Gramps,” Daisy called in reply. Seconds later she was standing in the doorway.

“Now, ain’t you a pretty picture,” Charlie said, beaming at Daisy.

“Gramps, stop,” Daisy protested, a blush coming to her face.

“Daisy, go change out of those city clothes and get into something loose. I want you to change for Mr. Lupin,” Charlie commanded.

“Yes, Gramps,” Daisy said, darting out of the doorway.

Minutes later she was back, barefoot in a loose sundress, this one in a blue checked pattern.

“Now, go set in Mr. Lupin’s lap,” Charlie commanded.

“Gramps!” Daisy objected.

“We’re not doing anything sketchy,” Charlie explained. “Mr. Lupin needs to feel how your magic changes when you go with the wolf; you’re the strongest of the pack, so he can feel your magic the easiest.”

Daisy looked at Charlie and then at Remus.

“Well, okay,” she said. She slipped nimbly onto Remus’s lap.

“Now, Mr. Lupin, place your left hand on her throat, and your right hand on her belly,” Charlie instructed.

“Don’t you dare tickle me,” Daisy warned.

“There’s gonna be no ticklin’,” Charlie warned both of them. “Now, both of you’s, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, and breathe out. Now, Daisy, you start the change, but don’t let it go.”

Remus felt a surge of magic across Daisy’s slender frame that shuddered and then disappeared.

“Now, do it for real,” Charlie instructed.

Remus felt the surge again, and this time it blossomed in a burst of warmth. He could feel the bones rearrange and with a yip a slender white wolf jumped off his lap, turned around, grabbed the neck of the now collapsed sundress in her teeth, and carefully walked out of the cottage, trailing her sundress behind her.

“I think it’s best if we let her get dressed again,” Charlie said.

“When’s Mrs. Longbottom coming back out to the lodge?”

“I’m afraid she’s indisposed at the moment,” Remus said, embarrassed that he’d not told Charlie the news. “Alice’s husband died last week. He was an Auror.”

“Well, she’s an Auror too, ain’t she?” Charlie asked.

“Yes, but she’s on leave right now. I think she’s going to leave the Auror corps,” Remus said.

“Pro’llyfer the best,” Charlie said. “Young Neville needs a Mama now that he’s lost his Pap. You tell her to come on out and see us. Nothing better to restore the soul than gettin’ out with God’s creation.”

“I’ll let her know,” Remus said.

+=+

“Thank you for being on time, Mr. Lupin,” O’Neill said, immaculately dressed behind his spotless desk. “I have an appointment for you to meet with our client in Azkaban.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow,” O’Neill answered. “Yes, I know, short notice and all that, but I’m feeling lucky that I got anyone to give me the time of day. Things are just crazy now at Azkaban. Apparently there’s some scuttlebutt that there were one or more Aurors involved in the attempted kidnapping of our beloved Minister of Magic. Internal Affairs is trying to turn things inside out. That being said, I did get the Warden to authorize a visit. If you weren’t Steward to a Noble and Most Ancient House I doubt I could have arranged it at all.”

“Where do I go?” Remus asked.

“Stornoway, there’s a ferry that leaves there, brings in the shift change once a week. You’ll be going over with the Warden and the new batch of guards.”

“Thank you for arranging this,” Remus said genuinely.

“Let’s see if you still thank me after you’ve actually been there. Wretched place. If I never went there again, it would be just fine with me,” O’Neill said earnestly. “Well, I’ve got to go; I have just enough time to get to the next meeting, which will almost be as much fun as my last visit to Azkaban.”

“Thank you,” Remus said.

“You’re paying for it, or our client is, so thank you ,” O’Neill said with a smirk.

+=+

Mrs. Cadmus smiled at Remus as he left the office. She handed him an envelope bearing his name in bold, flowing script. “Portkey for the Ministry wharf in Stornoway,” she said.

“That’s good, as I’ve never been there before,” Remus admitted.

“Small place, maybe 8000 souls total. The local ale is good, lots of fishermen, and the place is closed up tighter than a miser’s purse every Sunday, so don’t expect to find anything to eat or drink if you’re there on a Sunday,” Mrs. Cadmus said sagely.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Remus said, slipping out the door and into the sunshine.

+=+

No matter what time of year, it’s safe to predict that there will be a stiff breeze in Stornoway. This morning did not provide any evidence to contradict this generalization. Remus was carrying next to nothing on him, aside from his broad brimmed hat and his warmest cloak. Out of an abundance of caution he’d even left his wand at home, carrying only a notepad, a short, stubby pencil, and a paperback novel to read on the ferry.

The portkey had deposited him in a side street off what must be the town square. From there it was a quick walk to a road leading to a collection of wharves. He’d been advised that the Ministry’s ferry to Azkaban could be met at the end of wharf #7. Thankfully there was no attempt to designate the wharf as 7&3/4 as was the case with Kings Cross and the Hogwarts Express. A collection of somber faced men and women waited under a shelter at the end of the wharf. Remus walked up to the shelter and presented his pass, in duplicate, to a grumpy looking wizard who scowled at the pass, and then quickly stamped it and kept one of the copies. Moments later Remus heard a sputtering and then saw a lime green ferry approach the wharf.

“I certainly hope that no-one thinks that this paint scheme helps the boat blend in to its surroundings,” Remus observed to himself.

Before stepping onto the boat, Remus’s pass was inspected again, this time by a matronly witch who gave him a sad, knowing look as she handed the pass back to him.

As the ship left the wharf the sputtering sound started up again, but once they were out of the harbor it stopped. The boat then continued to glide through the water noiselessly. Once they were out of sight of the harbor there wasn’t really much to watch, as they were surrounded by cold, choppy water on all sides.

After an hour the temperature dropped and the sky became more overcast than before. Remus figured that this meant that they were closer to the island fortress, which he knew was somewhere between the Faroe Islands and the Western Isles, but no one would acknowledge on the record just where the fortress might be found.

The boat came to an abrupt halt and one of the sailors hopped onto a fog shrouded dock to tie up the boat securely to a mooring post.

A tired looking wizard met him at the foot of the dock just before stepping onto the sharp gravel shore.

“Mister Lupin?” the wizard asked.

“I’m Mr. Lupin,” Remus acknowledged.

“I’m Underwarden Sinclair. I’ll be your guide today.”

The Underwarden walked wordlessly with him along the sloping path that transitioned to scree as they approached a portcullis on the outer wall of the fortress. He pointed to a room where Remus waited until a uniformed Auror gave him a thorough pat-down and then ran him through a glistening arch. The arch gave a brief shimmer as he passed through, causing a bit of consternation on the Auror’s part. After he’d passed through the arch three times the Underwarden approached the Auror and there was a muted conversation, the only words Remus was able to catch were “dark” and “Steward.” The Auror made a face and then pleasantly pointed toward the door at the far end of the room.

“I’m sorry about that,” Underwarden Sinclair said. “We don’t get many of your kind here.”

Next he led Remus down a sloping hallway, across a courtyard that was under open sky, and then into a stairwell where they climbed many flights of stairs to what Remus estimated was the equivalent to the tenth floor. They stepped out of the stairway onto a hallway with iron barred cells. All of the cells were empty except for one at the very end, where a bored looking woman leaned against the bars.

“A visitor for me, Underwarden Sinclair?” the woman called.

“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Malfoy. This is the Steward of the House of Black, here on a visit to your cousin,” the Underwarden replied.

“Steward, eh?” she drawled. A quick smile flashed across her face. “Underwarden, I wish an audience with the Steward after he’s done with my cousin.”

“Not authorized, Mrs. Malfoy,” the Underwarden said patiently.

“But Underwarden, I am a daughter of the House of Black,” the woman said earnestly. “This is family business. Surely that is allowed in this upright institution.”

“We’ll see, Mrs. Malfoy,” the Underwarden said noncommittally.

“Don’t forget me, Steward,” she called as they left the cell block.

“Good day, Mrs. Malfoy,” Remus called behind him as the door closed.

They walked through another empty cell block and then into another. This one had just one occupant also, someone who was under a pile of blankets on the narrow bed in the middle of the room. The Underwarden opened the door to a cell two doors down from the occupied cell, and then slammed it shut three times. “Wakey, wakey, Sirius,” the Underwarden called with mock cheerfulness.

A hand appeared from under the blankets, making a shooing gesture.

The Underwarden slammed the door three more times again.

“All right, I’m up,” a voice croaked.

The Underwarden opened the cell door that was two doors from the occupied cell. “Here’s the drill Mr. Lupin, if you want to be in the same cell, you have to be supervised, but if you want something approximating a private conversation, I can lock you in this cell and then I’ll leave for thirty minutes.”

Remus stepped into the cell, sitting down on the bare metal cot.

“Thank you, Underwarden Sinclair,” Remus said sincerely.

“It’s not discretionary on my part. You have a very good solicitor,” the Underwarden replied.

“I’ll be sure to thank him when I pay my next bill,” Remus said.

The Underwarden said nothing, locking the cell door, and then walking out of the cell block.

The figure under the blankets sat up, stretching, and then turned around.

“Moony, what the hell are you doing here?” Sirius asked.

“My job, apparently,” Remus said. “I’m assuming that someone is listening in right now?”

Sirius shrugged his shoulders and spread his arms out, palms up. “Maybe.”

“Look at my hands,” Remus said, holding his hands out, palms down, fingers spread wide. He then closed both hands and then opened them. On the middle of the palm of his right hand was the Head of House ring.

Sirius looked blearily and then nodded. “I, Sirius Orion Black, am the Head of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black.”

He shook his head as if to clear it, and then looked down at his own right hand. The large black signet right was now on his ring finger.

“Still ugly as pus,” Sirius said.

“Yeah, I’m not wild about mine, either,” Remus said.

“So, what’s shaking?” Sirius said.

“Everything and nothing,” Remus replied. “You haven’t been charged with anything, I’m trying to get you out of here, and I’ve run across Peter since his unfortunate alleged death at your hands.”

“I wasn’t the secret keeper,” Sirius said.

“I know you weren’t,” Remus said. “You’d never join the Pretender, and it was Peter’s blood that I found on the ward stones at Godric’s Hollow.”

“Did the idiots really try to kidnap the Minister?” Sirius asked.

“You’re pretty current on the news,” Remus said.

“I listen to the guards talking,” Sirius said.

“You doing okay?”

“No, I’m locked up in this hole, I get nightly visits from the Dementors, and I got beat at least twice by the guards the first week I got here. Speaking of which, how long have I been in here?”

“Next week, it’ll be three months,” Remus said. “Yes, about two weeks ago Barty Crouch Junior, RabastanLestrange and Bellatrix Lestrange tried to kidnap the minister. They’re convinced that the Ministry are holding the Pretender somewhere.”

“Well, you have to admit, the Ministry has shown that they don’t seem to have much of a problem holding people without trial,” Sirius said. “I’m assuming that all of the bad guys got away?”

“Not really, Barty Crouch Junior and RabastanLestrange are probably somewhere here in Azkaban. Narcissa Malfoy was charged as an accessory – I passed her cell on the way in here.”

“Who all got killed?”

“Barty Crouch Senior, Lucius Malfoy, Cornelius Fudge died at the scene, and Frank Longbottom died later from injuries.”

“Not Frank,” Sirius lamented.

“I’m afraid so,” Remus said.

“How’s Alice?” Sirius asked.

“About as you’d expect – she took some leave. I don’t think she’s going to go back. Little Neville needs to have at least one parent.”

“Where’s Harry?”

“He’s somewhat safe for now,” Remus said. “Dumbledore tried to seal the Potter will and then stashed him away. No one knows where Harry is.”

Sirius mouthed “You’ve seen him?” to which Remus nodded in reply.

“So what are you doing?”

“Being the overworked Steward of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black,” Remus said. “Part of that is trying to get you a trial and get you out of here, but not necessarily in that order. How is nightly exposure to the Dementors affecting you?”

“It was pretty bad at first. They roam the blocks freely at night. The cell doors seem to stop them, but somehow they can get past the cell block doors. They don’t seem to be able to see Padfoot, or maybe Padfoot is beneath their notice,” Sirius said. “How’s the landlord business going?”

“Lots to do, not much time to do it, but that’s normal,” Remus said.

“Still tutoring?”

“I think I just lost my star pupil. Julia blew her OWL exams away and did likewise on the practicals. She’s going to start at Swansea in the fall.”

“She’s what, twelve?”

“Not quite, she turns sixteen this summer. She’ll be a day student, commuting from home,” Remus explained

The two friends continued to chat about everyday things in the remaining time until the Underwarden returned to the cell block.

“Well, I’ll try to get out here again,” Remus said vaguely.

“I’ll try to fit you into my schedule,” Sirius said with an ironic smile.

The cell block echoed as the cell door was closed.

+=+

The Underwarden led Remus back by the way they’d come originally. They stopped in the cell block holding Mrs. Malfoy, the Underwarden again unlocking a nonadjacent cell for Remus’s use, and then left the two alone on the cell block.

Mrs. Malfoy was sitting primly on her cot.

“Might I see the ring, please,” she asked.

Remus held up his hand, spreading his fingers and wiggling the little finger to display the black signet.

“I’m afraid we haven’t been properly introduced,” she said.

“I’m Remus Lupin. I was with Sirius in school,” Remus said.

“You’re the…”

“Yes, I’m the werewolf that graduated Hogwarts,” Remus said.

“That must be bending some noses,” Mrs. Malfoy said. “I’m Narcissa Malfoy, nee Black. I’m Sirius’s cousin.”

“Sirius was most amused that Arcturus appointed me,” Remus admitted. “How are you faring?”

“Oh, fabulous, I’ve been groped so many times I’ve lost count; a half dozen guards think I’m for nothing better than kneeling in front of them, but other than that, it’s about as I expected,” Mrs. Malfoy said.

“What assistance do you need from the House of Black?” Remus asked.

“A solicitor would be nice,” Mrs. Malfoy said. “Who’s representing Sirius?”

“Michael O’Neill,” Remus said.

“Ooh, good choice,” Mrs. Malfoy said. “Ask who he’d recommend. Do you, by chance, know where my son is?”

“He’s with your sister,” Remus said.

Narcissa Malfoy looked at him without comprehension.

“He’s with Andromeda,” Remus explained.

“Oh, that’s good, I suppose,” Narcissa said, looking relieved.

“Bellatrix is in hiding somewhere. I took Draco to Andromeda, who was glad to take him in. She already has a daughter, who seems to enjoy playing with a cousin,” Remus said.

“That was most kind,” Narcissa said earnestly.

“I’m not a believer in visiting the sins of the parents upon their children,” Remus said. “Is there anything else you need?”

“It’s cold here. I have a favorite quilt, it was in my bedroom,” Narcissa began.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Remus said.

“I am not now, nor have I ever been a Death Eater,” Narcissa said. “I was a dutiful wife to my husband, but we did not see eye to eye on politics; that was our primary disagreement.”

“You don’t think Wizards should enslave the mundane world?” Remus asked.

“I hardly think that it’s possible, so the question of whether or not we should is academic,” Narcissa said. “I’m a big fan of mundane cinema and music.”

“What music do you favor?”

“I adore Debussy, and I think that Big Band Jazz is one of their highest achievements. It’s a pity that it’s now in decline.”

Remus began to stand up.

Narcissa leaned toward him and hissed, “Listen carefully, Steward, the Underwarden just turned off the listening charm as he started walking back here. I recognize one of the guards as one of my husband’s former associates. I don’t know his name, but he’s an extremely tall blond man. I overheard him saying that if the Wizengamot grants Sirius a trial, Sirius will never leave the island alive.”

“Why are you telling me?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do? Because I’m a daughter of the House of Black? Because I despise the guards? Take your pick,” Narcissa continued. “But I can’t abide the later musical innovations. I believe that Mr. Presley is nothing more than parrot impersonating ethnic music,” she said in a louder voice.

The Underwarden unlocked the door leading into the cell block.

“Time’s up, lady and gentleman,” he said.

“Thank you, Underwarden, you’ve been most gracious,” Narcissa said with downcast eyes. Her tone of voice was almost reverent.

Remus thought to himself as he walked out with the Underwarden, “If she’s that good at playing him, how much was she playing me?”

+=+

The ferry back to Stornoway was uneventful. Remus saw another ship, flying a Danish flag, passing in the opposite direction. He asked a crewmember if they saw other boats out here often.

“Often enough,” the crewman said laconically.

“What’s that boat?” Remus asked.

“Muggle boat – Danish Home Guard, probably out of the Faroe Islands,” the man said before returning to his task.

Remus jotted another note in his ever-present notebook and paid no further attention to the matter. He had a lot do to once he got to shore.

+=+

Remus called the answering service, only to be informed that “Mrs. Longbottom is no longer using this service.” He then pondered if he was going to finally break down and purchase an owl, but on general principles decided against it. If he could buy the services of the ravens used by Gringotts he might reconsider just for the style value, but he was already paying dearly for Gringotts services. He didn’t need to dig that particular hole any deeper. He wrote himself another note in his notebook and went about his duties.

By lunchtime he’d made his way to Hogsmeade, where he slipped into the Owl Post Office long enough to write a short note to Alice, requesting an appointment. He then dropped into his favorite Apothecary to pick up some compounds that Maud (of Anthony & Maud) had requested that weren’t available locally in Wales. With time, she’d warmed a little to Remus, but still was exceptionally formal whenever he appeared on the grounds of the lodge. He hoped that his charm offensive would be fruitful.

He then visited a plumbing contractor to get a bid on some upgrade work requested by one of the tenants on a commercial Black property. That was followed by a visit to yet another solicitor, this one a specialist in juvenile law, regarding the necessary paperwork for a voluntary relinquishment of guardianship from the Dursleys to Alice Longbottom. Remus pondered whether Sirius would want to have primary custody instead, but as Sirius wasn’t available at the moment, he figured that would be resolved on another day.

When Remus returned home to his flat, the phone was ringing. On the off chance that it might be Alice, Remus rushed to pick up the handset from the wall phone.

“Lupin,” he announced.

“Remus, it’s Alice, where have you been?”

“Out and about, actually,” Remus replied.

“I’m sorry if that sounded sharp. I’m not quite myself these days,” Alice said apologetically.

“Can we meet?” Remus asked.

“Have you had dinner?” Alice asked.

“No, I’ve been out all day,” Remus replied.

“Can you meet me at the restaurant down the street from Plug’s? They do mostly lunch, so they should be fairly quiet. I’ll have Neville with me.”

“Is he our chaperone?” Remus asked.

“I’m a widow in black, I hardly think that I need a chaperone, Remus,” Alice said in good humor.

They agreed on a time and then Alice rang off.

+=+

The restaurant was oddly named as “Blitz” but had nothing in the décor that would relate to the bombing during the prior war, nor any sports related memorabilia. Remus had wondered about the name, but never enough to inquire of any of the staff.

As predicted, it was quiet when Remus appeared. Alice was already at a table, cajoling Neville into the highchair provided by the restaurant.

“’emus!” Neville shouted in greeting.

“Hello, Neville!” Remus replied with enthusiasm. He placed his palm up and Neville bumped it with a pudgy hand. “My man!”

“Behave, Remus,” Alice admonished without much enthusiasm.

“You’re just lucky that it’s me that’s here, Sirius would be zooming him around the restaurant on his shoulders while singing questionable songs,” Remus said.

“Are you ready to order, sir?” asked an older waitress.

“I’d like some tea, and then I’ll have whatever is the evening special,” Remus said. There were advantages to liking pretty much every form of food known to mankind.

Alice placed her order and an order for Neville, and then began breaking some bread into smaller pieces for Neville, who eyed them suspiciously.

“I introduced him to sultanas bread yesterday,” Alice explained. “Since then he’s been suspicious that I’m trying to hide things in bread, which is a bit odd, as he’s actually very fond of sultanas, when they aren’t in bread.”

“They become suspicious so young,” Remus said dramatically.

“Well, if we’re hanging around with you, that’s probably a good habit to develop,” Alice quipped. “Your note said that you had news.”

“Ah yes, I have a number of topics,” Remus said. “Do you want to wait until after dinner?”

“I’m afraid that I’ve limited time, Remus. If we’re extremely lucky, and if Neville is hungry, we’ve got about twenty minutes maximum before Neville wants to be out of this high chair,” Alice explained.

“I’ll try to be concise,” Remus said. “I saw Sirius yesterday.”

“What did you think of Azkaban?” Alice asked.

“Can’t say that I care for it,” Remus replied. “The ferry wasn’t bad.”

“Still a garish lime green?”

“Still lime,” Remus said.

“You know, it’s actually closer to the Faroe Islands, but Stornoway is the closest place flying the Union Jack. The Danes want us to close Azkaban. They consider the Dementors to be a hazard,” Alice said. “I’m not quite sure what we’d do with the Dementors if we closed Azkaban, and I’m certain that the Ministry wouldn’t want to spend more money than they spend now, so it just has to remain a sticking point between the Ministry and the Danes. How’s Sirius?”

“He’s okay. He says he was beaten during his first week, but either he healed from it, or he’s had some medical care,” Remus said.

“Maybe both,” Alice said. “They used to have a healer come out every other week. It was not the favorite rotation at St. Mungo’s according to a girlfriend of mine. Speaking of news, I’m a civilian again.”

“Congratulations?”

“It’s for the best. Frank loved being an Auror, I was an Auror because Frank was, but now I have to think of Neville,” Alice said.

“Can you afford being a full-time mum?” Remus asked.

“We’ll see,” Alice said. “I still need to find a place, as it’s going to take years to rebuild Longbottom Hall. I’ve got some savings, and a pension because Frank died in the line of duty, so I won’t be totally destitute. All told, I’d rather have Frank back and have not a Knut to my name, but it doesn’t work that way.”

“I understand. Oh, I met up with Narcissa Malfoy too,” Remus said hesitantly.

“Oh?” Alice said frostily.

“She is a daughter of the House of Black,” Remus explained.

“The gift that keeps on giving,” Alice said. “I don’t blame Narcissa for what happened. I read the interviews, and I suspect that Bellatrix was leaning on her pretty hard. I’m inclined to believe that she didn’t know anything about the kidnap attempt.”

“We’ll see what gets sorted at trial,” Remus said.

“As it should be,” Alice said.

“Narcissa reports that she’s being harassed by the guards, and that one of them is probably a Death Eater,” Remus said. “She also overheard the guards say that if Sirius gets a trial, he’s likely to not make it off Azkaban Island alive.”

“That’s not good,” Alice said. “Do you believe her?”

“That she’s getting groped and worse by the guards? Yes, certainly. That she’s overheard the guards plotting against Sirius? Again, not surprising to me, but I’ve had a pretty dismal history in my encounters with Aurors, present company excluded,” Remus answered. “She mentioned something about a really tall blond Auror.”

“ThorfinnRowle,” Alice said immediately. “Old family, typical Pureblood prejudices, barely made it through the training program. I suspect that Internal Affairs have a fairly thick file on him, but someone in the hierarchy has been protecting him. If he’s not a marked Death Eater, he’s certainly a sympathizer, and he’s a creep to boot. He didn’t care for any of the women in the Auror corps.”

Remus jotted the name down in his note pad.

“How’s Harry?” Alice asked, as she spooned out pasta for Neville, who was now eating it one piece at a time.

“Pretty chipper, notwithstanding that his Aunt pretty much blames him for every petty thing his cousin does,” Remus explained. “I’ve retained a mundane solicitor about custody. He’s working on the paperwork.”

“You know that Albus will give birth to a litter of dragons when that happens,” Alice said.

“So we have to be ready for that, and not spring it until all the pieces are ready,” Remus replied. “Have you figured out where you’re going to move next?”

“Not really, I’m going week-to-week at a flat barely big enough for the three of us,” Alice explained.

“Have the Longbottoms ever fancied living at a hunting lodge in Wales?” Remus asked.

“What?” Alice barked.

“It’s where Daisy lives,” Remus explained.

“I know that,” Alice said. “What would we do at a hunting lodge?”

“Bear with me, I’m making this up as I go along,” Remus said. “I actually want to offer Augusta a job, making sure that everything is just right for the posh Pureblood set.”

“Remus, the place is run by werewolves,” Alice objected.

“So? We weren’t planning on taking any engagements when the moon is full,” Remus said.

“What about the staff that aren’t werewolves?” Alice asked.

“They’d be the ones who would run things when the rest of the staff are out playing under the moon,” Remus said.

“You’re serious,” Alice said. “No, don’t give me the Sirius/serious gag; it got old five hundred repetitions ago.”

“This isn’t a joke, Alice,” Remus said. “I really do want to hire Augusta, and we do need some non-were people on staff, even if we don’t take any guests when the moon is full.”

“Let me talk to Augusta,” Alice said. She then turned to Neville and wiped his hands and face with a napkin. “I think this has been our most successful time eating out.”

“It must be the cultured company,” Remus said.

“Obviously,” Alice said, rolling her eyes. “Or maybe it’s just that Neville is a fiend for penne pasta today.”

“More?” Neville asked, smearing his hands in the debris on the highchair tray.

“Neville, I just cleaned your hands!” Alice exclaimed.

Neville grinned and smeared his hands in his hair, holding his now slightly less grubby hands out. “Better?”

“Let’s see if I can get you a biscuit, then I’ll clean you up while Mr. Lupin removes the tray,” Alice said. “If we can keep you clean, that would be better.”

“Better!” Neville echoed.

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Author Notes:

Thanks to Jeconais, who fixed my email notice problem, and for keeping the lights on.  Thanks also to Garden Girl who has a cute puppy, and turns files around pronto.

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