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Steward of the House of Black

Chapter the Sixth

Today was Remus’s second visit to Malfoy Manor. The first occurred on the day when Death Eaters attempted kidnapping the Minister of Magic. He’d received a message from the Auror duty officer that night to the effect that the Steward of the House of Black was asked to place the minor child Draco Malfoy. Remus wasn’t entirely sure how he was keyed into the defensive wards that night, but he’d been told to press his Steward signet ring on the front gate to seal the manor when he’d departed in the early morning with a squalling toddler. Today he was trying to honor Narcissa’s request to fetch her quilt from the manor. He had a hazy notion of how he might be able to use this act of kindness to the favor of the House of Black.

He appeared at the secondary Apparation point and walked up the path from the stable to the manor. He presented his ring to the gate and was satisfied when it clicked open, swinging silently on well-oiled hinges.

A house elf appeared, stepping from the shadows under a locust tree.

“How may Dobby assist the Steward?” he asked, bowing respectfully.

“Actually, the first reason I came was to see how the elves were faring here,” Remus said, crouching so as to be able to look straight at Dobby.

“Tessa is being at house of Tonks, attending to the young master,” Dobby said.

“Are there more elves than Tessa and Dobby?” Remus asked.

“Jugget is caring for the grounds and the winged horsies,” Dobby said. “Toni and Teddi are tending everything that grows. Dobby is here, but there is no work for Dobby as Master and Mistress are away. Does the Steward know when the Master and Mistress will return?”

“Oh, Dobby,” Remus sighed. “I thought you’d been told. Your Master is dead, and your Mistress is in prison, awaiting trial.”

“What has Mistress done?” Dobby asked plaintively.

“I don’t know right now,” Remus said. “I think that the Aurors suspect that she helped the Lestrange family when they came to the manor.”

“Mistress was asking Dobby to write crazy sister into guest book,” Dobby said, pulling one ear with both hands.

“Is she still in the guest book?” Remus asked.

“No, Mistress said to write her in the book for one day onlies,” Dobby said, now tugging on both ears.

“Dobby, you were a good elf to do what your Mistress commanded,” Remus said firmly. “I think the crazy sister may have lied to Mistress Narcissa.”

“Crazy sister lied when she said that she would cut the young master?” Dobby asked.

“Is that what she told Mistress Narcissa?” Remus asked.

Dobby nodded, tears welling in his large protruding eyes.

“Thank you for telling me that, Dobby,” Remus said. “Your mistress asked that I bring her a quilt from her room. Do you know which quilt that may be?”

Dobby nodded.

“Here is a list of things that I’d like you to get in addition to the quilt. Can you gather these for me?”

Dobby nodded again.

“I’ll wait here while you fetch them,” Remus said.

“No,” Dobby said. “Steward will not be waiting like delivery boy; Steward will sip tea like a gentleman in the parlor of Mistress.”

Dobby bowed again and turned towards the manor house. Remus guessed that he was to follow, so he stood and walked a respectful distance behind the elf, who was tugging on his ears as he walked.

They walked through the now silent house, walking through the East wing where Dobby opened a door with a flourish.

“Will the Steward be taking tea or coffee?” Dobby asked.

“Coffee would be delightful, Dobby,” Remus answered.

“The wash room is through that door,” Dobby indicated with a backhand wave. “Dobby will be back instantness with the Steward’s coffee.”

True to his word, in less than a minute, Dobby appeared again with a pale wood tray holding a white coffee service. He set the tray down on a side table and then poured a cup, adding the cream and sugar that Remus usually added to his coffee. He then proffered the cup on a saucer to Remus as if presenting a gift to visiting royalty.

Remus took the cup, taking a sip. It was quite hot, and very good. Remus couldn’t identify the coffee variety exactly, but it smelled like a very expensive blend.

“Thank you, Dobby, this is a most excellent cup of coffee, prepared exactly as I like it,” Remus said.

Dobby nodded and then disappeared. The quilt appeared, neatly folded, on the table next to the coffee service. Minutes later a bundle appeared next to the quilt, wrapped in paper and tied with scarlet twine.

Remus finished his cup of coffee and then placed it back on the tray. He then picked up the quilt and the wrapped bundle. By the time he finished examining the stitching on the quilt, the tray with the coffee service was gone.

“Thank you again, Dobby, I will show myself out,” Remus said. He wondered if he’d somehow trespassed against some house elf custom, given Dobby’s silence. He would ask Augusta the next time she was free for conversation.

He returned to his flat, carefully depositing the quilt and bundle at the end of the kitchen table. He’d ask the solicitor to schedule another visit to the prison, but a lot of things had to be set into motion in the short amount of time he had before the next full moon.

+=+

One of the delightful discoveries in cleaning up and rehabilitating the hunting lodge was discovering a natural cave under what had previously been the stable. Remus planned on eventually getting horses for the stable, but knew next to nothing about horses. He put equine acquisition on his secondary list of things to do at the lodge. The cave had been an exciting discovery for the pack, as it was dry and cool in the warmer months, and had several secure entrances, including a stairwell that led up into the stable.

Most of the pack spent the day prior to the full moon as wolves. Charlie Fletcher had discovered almost a century ago that the waxing of the moon had a negligible effect on an already transformed werewolf. None of the fear, mental fog, or rage that consumed most werewolves during transformation were visited upon the already transformed werewolf. Instead there was, if anything, a certain joy in being a wolf as the moon rose.

This month’s full moon was different in that Remus had spent part of the previous five days in his transformed state, leading to his first full moon without a forced transformation. The pack had gathered silently in the cave and then went on an organized hunt, capturing and killing two older fallow deer. After consuming their kill, the wolves had run freely across the woods and fields and then as dawn approached, gathered in the cave to collapse in a pile of grey, silver and white wolves, sleeping until moonset, shortly after dawn.

When Remus awoke he found that he was wedged between the lupine forms of Charlie Fletcher and Maud Baxter. He stretched, loped towards the stairwell, carefully navigating the stairs to then stretch again in the early dawn light. He walked to the main part of the lodge, pushing on the door lever leading into the kitchen, up another set of stairs, and then into the room that he occupied when visiting the lodge. He transformed into human form and then sat down, naked, in the chair next to his bed. His mind was clear; his body was without pain, he felt positively refreshed, which was odd, given the small amount of time he’d spent asleep in the prior twelve hours. If this was what the rest of his life as a werewolf was going to be like, he no longer thought that he’d be dead by forty. He got up and walked into the shower, marveling at the categorically different nature of this month’s transformation.

After his shower he’d gotten dressed and then fell asleep in the chair while reviewing his notebook. He woke when he heard a quiet knock at the door.

“Enter,” he called.

“Mr. Lupin?” Daisy asked from the other side of the closed door.

Remus walked to the door and opened it. Daisy was holding a tray with tea and breakfast.

“I can’t open the door when I’m carrying the tray,” Daisy explained.

Remus motioned to the small table in his room. Daisy walked in and set the tray on the table.

“Julia said that you like tea after transformation,” Daisy said shyly.

“It’s very kind of you to remember that,” Remus said.

“Will you be staying with us at the next moon?” Daisy asked.

“I don’t know, probably,” Remus said.

“The pack is very thankful for everything you’ve done,” Daisy said. “Maud’s less stressed now that she’s getting medicine for her ailment again, and we’re all eating better. I’m starting to outgrow some of my clothes.”

“I’m glad,” Remus said. “I’m hoping that this will be a very long relationship between the pack and the House of Black.”

“Will you…become part of the pack?” Daisy asked.

“I think that’s a question for the pack and the Chieftain,” Remus replied.

“I’m sorry,” Daisy said, suddenly flustered. “I’m glad you’re here.” She bobbed a quick curtsey and disappeared into the hallway.

Remus smiled, shook his head, and picked up the still-steaming cup of tea.

+=+

Remus’s breakfast was almost finished and he was working on his second cup of tea when he saw a dark bird at the window. The bird was staring at him and then rapped once on the windowpane. He opened the window, letting the bird flutter in to land on the table. The bird, a jackdaw, was pecking away at the eggs remaining on his plate. After the bird finished, it hopped over to Remus and presented its leg. Attached with fine thread was a small brown envelope. Remus pulled the thread, releasing the envelope which became full sized as it hit the table. The jackdaw looked intently at Remus.

“Thank you, sir or madam,” Remus said.

The jackdaw nodded its head at him and then flew out the window.

Remus reached for his wand and waved it casually over the letter. Nothing happened, so he opened the envelope.

Docent Lupin, greetings!

You may be surprised to receive this letter from the Danish Ministry of Magic, Department of Education, but as the Council of Magical Governance, Magical Protectorate of the Isle of Man, is under our supervision, when the test results of one of your students caught the evaluators by surprise, it got passed along in good bureaucratic fashion from the Magical Protectorate to the Danish Ministry of Magic.

Your student, Julia Kelly, obtained perfect scores on her written and practical examinations. My staff has verified the accuracy of the results, and enclosed you will find Ordinary Wizarding Level certificates from the Magical Protectorate in all three subjects tested, along with special commendations to both you and your student from my department.

If ever your plans include travel to the continent, please do not hesitate to make an appointment with my office to obtain the requisite licenses for teaching at the Magical Baccalaureate level in Denmark. (Unlike your country of birth, the Danish Ministry of Magic does not consider your positive status for Lycanthropy to be vocationally disqualifying.)

Please commend your student for her outstanding achievement, and take pride in your student.

Sincerely,

/S/

Anni Pedersen, Minister of Education

“Well,” Remus said aloud. “Who says that good news never arrives by mail?”

As he had the morning free, he figured that a quick trip to the Isle of Man was in order.

+=+

It was a busy morning in town as Remus walked up the hill to the hotel. He pushed the door open and walked into the small parlor that served as the hotel lobby.

Peddyr Kelly, Julia’s father, was behind the counter.

“Remus, I was just thinking of you. Julia’s been going spare as she’s heard nothing on her OWL results,” Peddyr said

“I think I can shed some light on what’s been causing the delay,” Remus said, working hard to look serious.

“I’m not quite sure where she is,” Peddyr said, leaning over to push a button on the countertop.

They heard an upstairs door close forcefully and then the sound of steps.

“Coming, Father,” Julia called.

She came quickly down the stairs, carrying a bundle of linens.

“Room four checked out last night, but the maid didn’t know that the room needed changing,” Julia said, stopping short as she saw Remus. “Mister Lupin ! Such a surprise to see you.”

“Your blonde friend served me tea this morning,” Remus said.

“Did she now? Were you dressed at the time?” Julia asked.

“Of course,” Remus replied.

“I can only imagine her disappointment,” Julia said, and then realized that her father was present. “Oops.”

“Mr. Lupin came about your tests,” Peddyr said, giving a knowing wink to Remus.

“Oh, no, what’s wrong?” Julia asked. “They didn’t lose them, did they?” Julia put the bundle of linens down in front of the counter.

“I’m afraid it was a little more involved than that,” Remus said, handing over the letter he’d received that morning.

Julia began to read the letter.

“Why is she calling you ‘Docent?’” Julia asked.

“I believe it’s a Danish academic title, she’s assuming that I’m some sort of teacher, one step below a full Professor, or maybe she’s just trying to be polite,” Remus explained.

Julia read the letter and then read it again. She then opened up the envelope containing the certificates.

“Aren’t these supposed to be on tan card stock?” Julia asked, pulling three yellow certificates from the envelope.

“Not when it’s a perfect score on both theory and practice,” Remus said.

Julia handed the papers to her father, gave a whoop and did a very carefully controlled cartwheel in in the parlor.

“Oh, Docent Lupin , thank you,” Julia gushed, turning to hug Remus.

“You should be proud of all your work,” Remus said, a broad smile on his face.

“Mum’s going to flip when she sees this,” Julia said. “Sorry to whoop and run, but I’ve got to finish changing that room if I’m going to go out with a girlfriend who’s going to be here at 11:30 this morning.”

Julia picked up the linens, disappeared around the corner, and then went back upstairs, the linens safely deposited elsewhere.

“I had something else I wanted to discuss with you,” Remus said to Peddyr.

“Would you like to step into the office?” Peddyr asked, not waiting for an answer.

Once in the office, Peddyr pushed a button on his telephone and then adjusted the blinds.

“Anything we say will now be private and uninterrupted,” Peddyr said. He then rapped his knuckle on the desktop.

“I need to rent a boat, discreetly,” Remus asked.

“Big boat, small boat, river trip, fishing, sightseeing? I need more information, Remus,” Peddyr replied.

“I need to go out into the North Sea and pick something up from an island,” Remus said.

“Would this happen to be an accursed island owned by your Ministry of Magic that’s north of Stornoway?” Peddyr asked.

“Probably,” Remus said.

Peddyr leaned back in his seat, a look of concentration on his face.

“I have family, of a sort, on the Faroe Islands,” Peddyr began.

“Yes, the Viking connection,” Remus said.

“The English think they own this island, and while that may apply to the mundane population, the magicals here still owe their allegiance, such as it is, to the Danish crown.”

“I remember reading that one time,” Remus said.

“Reading it and understanding it are two different things,” Peddyr said emphatically. “The Brits occupied the Faroe Islands during the second war, and then promptly left again, probably the smartest decision ever made by the Empire. It left the inhabitants with an abiding fondness for British food, but the magicals feel that Azkaban is an open sore. They’ve lost too many boat crews when the boats brush up too close to Azkaban. I have some sort of great-uncle living in Faroe who politely can best be described as a businessman, but in reality he’s a smuggler.”

“That sounds interesting,” Remus said noncommittally.

“He might be interested, but you’d need to use an inflatable or some other shallow draft boat to go the final mile,” Peddyr said.

“He’s done this before?” Remus asked.

“He might have – the stories are a bit hazy on details,” Peddyr replied.

“Can you introduce us?” Remus asked.

“If you give me two days, I can take you to him, assuming that he’s in port, which is always a bit of a gamble with him. He spends more time on the water than he does on land.”

+=+

It was three days later that Peddyr arranged a meeting, in the city of Tórshavn. They met at the hotel, Apparated to Stornoway, and then took a portkey to Tórshavn. Peddyr led Remus through some narrow streets into what appeared to be a pub, and then into a back room. An old man with piercing eyes was sitting at a table, watching the entrance to the room. When Peddyr entered, the old man smiled, but the smile didn’t quite erase the intensity of the man’s eyes. He embraced Peddyr and then gave Remus a firm but not overpowering handshake. Peddyr then excused himself from the meeting.

“You may call me Emil,” the man said in lightly accented English.

“Thank you for meeting today, Emil,” Remus said.

They sat back down at the table.

“Why do you want to go to that accursed island?” Emil asked.

“You’re familiar with it?” Remus asked.

“Years ago, one of my ships sank close to the island. We recovered half the crew and lost the ship. Yes, I’m familiar with that wretched place.”

“To answer your question, I have a friend who is being held without trial there. I have reason to believe that if I manage to get him a trial, that he will not make it to trial,” Remus explained.

“He would have an accident , or he would die while trying to escape ,” Emil said with scorn.

“Exactly,” Remus replied.

“Is there no one in your government that you trust?” Emil asked.

“No.”

“That’s rather absolute,” Emil said.

“I am a werewolf…” Remus began.

“And today is not the full moon, so I don’t care,” Emil said.

“What I was going to say is that we were having troubles almost amounting to a civil war in magical England – the people responsible for the troubles had infiltrated the government at all levels,” Remus explained. “The traditionalists think that my kind are not people.”

“Yes, I’ve seen this type of thing before, usually not in a civilized nation, but it’s not altogether uncommon,” Emil said. “Do you have a specific date in mind?”

“Next new moon,” Remus said.

“Good choice, we can get things together in that amount of time,” Emil said. “Peddyr says that you are a good man, which is one thing, and that he trusts you with his daughter, which is something altogether different. We can do the job; assuming that we can agree on price, we will do the job.”

“Thank you,” Remus said.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Emil said. “You’re going to need a little boat, no magic use allowed once you’re on the water. I recommend a Zodiac Mark II. You should be able to pick up a used Zodiac almost anywhere. My ship can take you within two kilometers of the island, and then you will take the little boat and extract your friend. What you do on the island is your concern; my concern is getting you there, and then getting you out once you get back across the two kilometer line.”

“Is there something significant about two kilometers?” Remus asked.

“The Dementors don’t like to travel over open water. They’ll usually turn back one kilometer from shore,” Emil explained. “For reasons that take too long to explain, you need to provide the little boat. After the operation, you need to dispose of the little boat.”

They discussed prices for Zodiacs, preferred make and models of motors, and then haggled on price for the drop off and pickup service. The final amount agreed to was a large number, but not as much money as Remus feared. With the price agreed, they shook hands and Emil brought out a bottle of ale and they toasted to the success of the operation.

“When you have finalized the crew for the little boat, forward the names to my nephew,” Emil said.

+=+

Emil stayed in the back room long after the others left. He considered ringing for something to eat when he saw a blurring on the edge of his vision. A smartly dressed man in a naval uniform appeared noiselessly in front of him.

“Greetings ‘Uncle Emil’,” the man said.

Emil gave him a sharp appraisal. “You have a new half-stripe, congratulations on the promotion,” Emil said.

The man sighed. “Orlogskaptajn was so anonymous, as there are so many of them, now I stick out as a Kommandorkaptajn.”

“Did it include extra pay, or are you just frocked?” Emil asked.

“It’s a real promotion, and yes, I am accepting the extra pay,” the man said with a laugh. “You called?”

“I’m accepting a job that might be of interest to you,” Emil said.

“Oh?”

“Apparently I’m supporting an extraction from Azkaban Island,” Emil said.

The man made a sour face.

“Don’t worry, I understand the legalities. The customer is providing his own Zodiac, my ship will remain two kilometers from the island,” Emil said.

“Is this a night job?”

“Of course – new moon, the kommando’s favorite night of the month,” Emil said nostalgically.

“How are you navigating?”

“Inertial navigation. I can’t afford the satellite units, and at the moment the good ones are technically illegal for civilians to use,” Emil complained.

“But you got a good deal on a block of inertial units when the Home Guard went to satellite?” the man asked.

“Of course,” Emil said with a chuckle.

“Who’s being extracted?”

“He says it’s someone being held without trial,” Emil answered.

“Convenient answer – prisons are notorious for being filled with innocent men,” the man said cynically.

“I happen to believe him, for what it’s worth. So, do you need to interfere?”

“What, stand between my favorite uncle and his pursuit of a somewhat honest living?” the man asked. “Officially, I doubt the

Royal Navy cares what happens on that rock, so long as no Danish flagged ship touches the island. Unofficially, if any of those demon monsters leave the island, I will make someone’s life very miserable.”

“Understood,” Emil said. “Have you eaten?”

“Are you buying?” the man asked.

“I suppose so, since everyone knows that a sober sailor never voluntarily pays for a meal on shore,” Emil said.

+=+

“I’d like to thank you all for being here promptly,” Remus said. “You’ve been doing a great job in getting the lodge up to snuff. I’d like to start getting paying clients later this year. Realistically, it’ll probably be in autumn. I’d like to introduce you to Mrs. Augusta Longbottom, who’s going to providing some direction for the lodge.”

“Is she going to be the boss?” Maud asked.

“Not exactly,” Remus equivocated. “I want the lodge to break even, so as to be able to pay all of you a living wage beyond providing room and board. That means we need paying customers. Let’s be frank, the people who pay too much money to go hunting in the country are toffs, be they mundane toffs or magical Purebloods, and I wasn’t raised a toff. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what my father did for a living?”

No one offered any answers.

“My father was a carpenter, my mother worked as a bookkeeper,” Remus said. “Mrs. Longbottom is Regent for House Longbottom until little Neville comes of age. She’ll be teaching us how the toffs do things, which means we’ll be able to take lots and lots of lovely money from the toffs, whether it’s Pounds Sterling or Galleons.”

“Hear, hear,” said one of the singletons from the back of the room.

“Mrs. Alice Longbottom and little Neville will be living here as well. Once the lodge is in business, Alice will be running things on the days that the rest of us are indisposed. For those of you who are interested in earning one or more OWLs, Augusta and Alice will be tutoring in various subjects. Alice was, until recently, an Auror, and Augusta, back in the day, was highly ranked on the Dueling Circuit. For three years running she was at the top of her classification.”

Augusta smiled and then resumed her typical matron expression.

“Any questions?” Remus asked.

“So who is in charge?” the same singleton asked.

“Charlie is still chieftain of the pack, Anthony and Maud are in charge of everything outside of the main lodge, Benjamin and Rebecca are in charge of the lodge, cooking, maintenance, and the like.”

“What about you?” Charlie asked.

“Me, I just keep the books,” Remus said.

“Riiight,” Charlie said. There were some appreciative chuckles. “T’ank you Mr. Lupin, and Mrs. and Mrs. Longbottom.Dere will be a pack meeting in the cavern tonight aftah dinner. Until den, I wish you a good day.”

+=+

Remus was in the room adjoining where he slept at the lodge. Out of lack of anything else to call it, it was known as ‘the study,’ as in ‘you’ll find Mr. Lupin in the study’ when one member of the pack was inquiring of another as to where he might be found.

He heard a knock at the door.

“Enter,” he called. “Oh, hello, Alice, how are you settling in?”

“Quite well, Remus, thank you again,” Alice said. “Mimsy is having words with Mistress Rebecca over whether or not she’s going to be allowed kitchen privileges. She desperately wants to be able to cook meals for the Longbottoms.”

“Why can’t they work together in the kitchen?” Remus asked.

“Mimsy’s never worked with a human before,” Alice answered.

“So? If push comes to shove Augusta can order her to work with Rebecca, but that shouldn’t be necessary,” Remus glowered, as he wrote another note in his note pad.

“Actually, that’s not what I came to talk about,” Alice said.

Remus put down his pencil. “Go ahead, I’m listening,” he said.

“You’re going to break Sirius out of Azkaban,” Alice stated calmly.

Remus looked at her blankly.

“What leads you to that conclusion?” Remus asked.

“Oh, the invoice on your desk for a Zodiac Mark II might be a bit of a clue. I was until recently an investigator, Remus; I collected facts and I put them together,” Alice said.

Remus was silent.

“I want in,” Alice said.

“Why?” Remus asked.

“Because I owe you, because it’s the right thing to do, because I dislike the fact that my own government is holding an actually innocent man without any pretense of a trial, take your pick, Remus,” Alice said.

“That’s funny, Narcissa said pretty much the same thing when she tipped me off that some of the guards had it in for Sirius,” Remus said.

“Obviously a sign of breeding and refinement then,” Alice said.

“We might be thinking of how to get Sirius off Azkaban, alive, so he can get a trial,” Remus said.

“You can’t be involved in the operation,” Alice said.

“Because?”

“Because you’re Steward of the House of Black – you’re going to be the first suspect if Sirius escapes,” Alice explained. “If you’re the prime suspect for accomplice, then you’ll likely end up leading the hunters to wherever you are going to stash Sirius.”

“I thought that Bellatrix would be the most likely suspect,” Remus said.

“Bellatrix hasn’t retained a solicitor to get Sirius a new trial,” Alice pointed out.

“Hmm, there is that. What do you recommend?” Remus asked.

“You need to be seen, in public, whenever it is that you’re planning the breakout,” Alice said.

“What do you recommend?” Remus asked.

“What’s your target date?”

“The night of the next new moon.”

Alice reached into her clutch purse, pulling out a brass device that she manipulated and then twirled on the desk. The device rolled in a lazy circle and then stopped.

“Thursday, almost two weeks from now,” Alice said.

“What’s that?” Remus asked, pointing to the brass device.

“I’m not quite sure of its name, maybe it’s a lunarlabe – it’s a lunar calculator,” Alice said.

“Which you just happened to have on your person?” Remus asked.

“When I decided to move here, I thought it might be a good investment,” Alice said coyly. “I think that there’s a Ministry ball that evening.”

“My invitation must have gotten lost in the mail,” Remus said.

“Oh, stop, Remus, Augusta gets invited to all of these events, and as the widow of an Order of Merlin recipient, I’m starting to get the invitations as well,” Alice said. “I can accept the invitation, and you can go as my ‘plus one.’”

“Are you asking me for a date ?” Remus said.

“Technically, I’m offering to provide you with an iron-clad alibi,” Alice said.

“Wouldn’t this be socially damaging to you?” Remus said.

“Remus, I’m a widow. I’m still in my year of mourning. If we were living in the reign of Queen Victoria I wouldn’t go out at all, but we are in the twentieth century in Magical Britain, so if I am to go out to a social event, propriety dictates that I must have an escort,” Alice explained. Am I that hideous that you don’t want to be seen with me?”

“Alice, no, not at all, it’s just…” Remus began.

“So, it’s the werewolf thing,” Alice interrupted.

“James use to call it my ‘furry little problem,’” Remus said, smiling wanly.

“Assuming that you successfully get Sirius off the island, where are you going to stash him while trying to arrange for a trial?” Alice asked.

“I was thinking here?”

“Have you made the grounds unplottable?”

“Not yet, but it can be done,” Remus said.

“When I was originally running the Black investigation, no one in the Ministry knew about this lodge as being owned by the Black family, so if it were made unplottable and had some sort of anti-scrying magic applied, you should have several weeks before the diligent hounds of the Ministry come sniffing this way,” Alice explained. “If the Steward of the House of Black isn’t the most likely suspect and they’re haring off after Bellatrix, you might have years.”

“Which brings us back to my alibi,” Remus said.

“Exactly,” Alice said smugly.

“I like the way you think. I’d been so focused on how to get Sirius off the island that I hadn’t thought ahead to keeping him safe. Will it damage your social reputation to be seen with me socially?”

“Remus Lupin, notorious werewolf? Possibly, not that I care much about my social reputation. I’m not planning on marrying well to get ahead in life, I already did that once. My parents were purebloods, but not exactly what you’d call high society,” Alice explained.

“Now, Remus Lupin, Steward of the House of Black? Some might accuse me of being a social climber. So, what do you say, Remus, will you take me as your alibi?” Alice batted her eyelashes in an exaggerated expression.

“Your plan has merit,” Remus said.

“You just want to see me in a ball gown,” Alice said.

“As an alibi, it does have fringe benefits,” Remus said.

“Then I’ll look for a dress, something tasteful in widow-themed black. You do know how to dance, don’t you?” Alice asked.

“There’s dancing involved?” Remus asked.

“Yes, Remus, that’s the point of a ball.”

“I thought it was an opportunity for Pureblood toffs to congratulate themselves on not being born commoners while drinking overpriced booze and nibbling on little bits of fatty salt clusters,” Remus said.

“You’re closer to being right than you know,” Alice said.

+=+

The pack meeting was rather anti-climactic; Charlie Fletcher outlined the proposal for extracting Sirius Black from Azkaban Island, and noted that two volunteers were requested.

After a full explanation what, when and how, the deciding factor for winnowing down the volunteers came down to two mundane skills, the ability to drive a motorboat, and the ability to swim. He’d gone into the meeting more or less suspecting what the answer was going to be. He didn’t like what he suspected, but he knew that he had to let the facts determine the outcome.

At the end of the meeting the unanimous consensus of the pack was that the extraction would be performed by the two members who were proficient swimmers, Maud Baxter and Daisy.

After dismissing the pack, Charlie muttered to himself as he walked up the stairs from the cavern.

“Remus is going to have my hide.”

+=+

Remus was not amused.

“Is this some sort of joke?” he asked as Charlie Fletcher settled uneasily in the guest chair in the study.

“No, sir,” Charlie replied. “It is, however, a pack decision.”

“Which means?”

“Which means, sir, datdere’s not much I can do. Da pack reckons dat we are vassals of House Black, and da pack has two members dat can swim good, so end of discussion. If da deciders were bravery, trackin’ ability, or speed, we’d probably still be down in the cave, natterin’ away. Our honor means we assist our ‘lord’ in his distress, and dese are da two what best fit da job,” Charlie Fletcher said, which was a long speech for him.

“Let me sleep on it,” Remus said. “I don’t like the idea of sending Daisy anywhere near Azkaban.”

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but you’re thinking wrong,” Charlie said.

“How so?”

“Maud has had dealings with da Dementors before,” Charlie said. “She and Tony used to live up North nex’ ta’ mess of them. She knows what she can slip right by them when she’s a wolf. As to Daisy, she may be young, but she is pack, and she swims like a fish.”

“Can Maud drive a motorboat when she’s transformed?” Remus asked.

“Well, we’ll have to see now, won’t we?” Charlie said, smiling for the first time during this conversation. “You got fancy clothes for your ‘alibi?’”

“Does everybody know about that?” Remus asked.

“Pretty much,” Charlie said.

Remus wiped his face with his hand. “Thank you, Charlie,” he said.

+=+

Under normal circumstances, meeting with one of his favorite professors would have been a delight, but Remus felt the pressure of getting all the details resolved before the new moon, which spoiled a bit of the social aspect.

“Hello, Remus,” Professor McGonagall said, sweeping into the private room at the Three Broomsticks. She wore a dark tartan cloak over an emerald dress. “I was surprised to get your note.”

“Thank you for coming,” Remus said.

“What are you doing these days?”

“Oh, a bit of this, a bit of that,” Remus said. “I do some tutoring, I manage some rental properties.”

“I’m glad that you’re teaching, you certainly have the gifts,” McGonagall said with a smile.

“I had a star student recently,” Remus began.

“Not that girl from the Island of Man?” McGonagall said.

“The very same,” Remus said proudly.

“It is so thrilling when you can help shape a brilliant young mind,” McGonagall said.

“I need to pick your brain,” Remus said.

“Oh?”

“It’s a detail that I can’t find in any of the literature,” Remus said. “How do clothes transform when doing self-transformation?”

“As in Animagus work?” McGonagall asked. “In other words, why am I not stark naked when I transform back to human?”

“When I am forced to transform, my clothes don’t transform with me. I had a raincoat when I was younger, I couldn’t slip out of it in time, and the wolf couldn’t slip out either,” Remus said. “My mum gave me what for when the raincoat was shredded .”

“Well, the two transformations are different,” McGonagall said, her eyes sparkling.

“I can’t very well ask the Animagi I used to know, so I turn to you,” Remus said.

“Largely, it’s a matter of practice and visualization. I imagine as your transformation is involuntary, visualization may or may not help. There is a work-around, though,” McGonagall said.

“Oh?”

“This question comes up every decade or so when the Aurors have a bright young cadet who decides to become an Animagus,” McGonagall explained. “They learn the transformation, but then face the post-transformation nakedness problem.”

“So what’s the solution?”

“Blood magic,” McGonagall said.

“Isn’t that frowned upon?” Remus asked.

“I don’t know, I never asked,” McGonagall said, her face assuming an innocent expression. She took out a biro from her clutch purse.

“Your notebook please,” she said.

Remus produced his notebook, turning it to a fresh page.

“You draw a circle on the skin of the human, like this,” she said, drawing a circle on the page. “Then a corresponding circle on the garment. The Aurors typically used it on their service cloaks. Then this rune,” McGonagall said, drawing a rune on the note pad.

“You place the rune on the circle on the skin, then on the garment, then a drop of blood from the human is placed on the garment, in the circle, and another drop is placed on the skin, again in the circle. When the body transforms, the magic sees the rune circle as being part of the body, so the garment transforms with the body, and then back again. I don’t recommend doing more than one garment though.”

“What happens then?”

“If the garments are layered, such as underwear, plus shirt and trousers under a cloak, the garments tend to fuse – which means that you often have to transfigure it, or cut it off, as the inner garments are now fused to the outer garment.” McGonagall explained.

“Fascinating,” Remus said truthfully.

“Is this for your star student?” McGonagall asked.

“No, it’s for another precociously bright student, asking a question her tutor didn’t know the answer to, and said tutor couldn’t find it in three different libraries,” Remus said, glad that he’d prepared an answer in advance.

“So, tell me, what is your star pupil doing, now that she’s earned her OWLs?”

“At the moment, she’s probably at the beach with her girlfriends, giggling about boys,” Remus said. “She may be brilliant, but she’s still a teenage girl.”

+=+

The Underwarden met Remus at the landing. Remus handed a string bag to him, containing the package the Dobby had collected. Mr. O’Neill had explained that the corrupt practice of the prison was to “inspect” all packages before delivery to the prisoners. The smart family member included small bits of contraband with the packages: sweets, small bottles of spirits, or small amounts of cash. This contraband was confiscated, allowing more mundane things such as soap and socks into the prison. Magical items, of course, were always confiscated.

This package included two small split size bottles of wine, two half pound bars of chocolate, six pairs of woolen socks, two pairs of silk sock liners, a mirror, a hairbrush, a barrette, two pairs of knickers, a box of tooth powder and a toothbrush. Remus expected that the wine and chocolate would be confiscated, but had no expectations as to the rest of the materials.

Remus was carrying the quilt as he passed under the arch. As before, it shimmered, but the guard working the checkpoint was expecting that. He asked Remus to put the quilt down on a table where he performed various diagnostic charms, all of which were apparently negative.

“You can pick it up now, Mr. Lupin,” the guard said. “Good day, Underwarden.”

The Underwarden walked Remus through the prison. He held out his hand to Remus for the quilt.

“Same exercise as before,” the Underwarden said, opening a non-adjacent cell for Remus. The Underwarden then walked to Narcissa’s cell door, picking up a tray from the hallway and passed the quilt through the tray slot. “You have fifteen minutes.”

Narcissa was sitting primly on her cot. She leaned over to pick up the quilt, clutching it to her chest, closing her eyes. She then looked at Remus. “What have you done?”

Remus held up his hand, wiggling his fingers, displaying the Steward signet ring.

“We have privacy for the moment,” Remus said.

“Won’t the Underwarden notice that he’s not hearing anything?” Narcissa asked.

“The short answer is ‘no’,” Remus said.

“How is Draco?” Narcissa asked.

“He’s doing as well as can be expected. Tessa is now living with Andromeda, who appreciates the additional help. Dora loves playing with her cousin. His favorite activities seem to be going for walks in the park, and being read to by Andromeda. The last time I saw them, Dora and Draco were sitting on Andromeda’s lap while she was reading a picture story book.”

“I thought I’d be happy hearing that he’s happy, but now…I’m going to miss years of his life, aren’t I?” Narcissa asked.

“I have no idea what will happen at trial, if you ever get one,” Remus said. “Dobby said that ‘crazy sister’ threatened to cut Draco.”

“I should have fought back,” Narcissa said.

“I have a proposition for you,” Remus said.

“I’m all ears,” Narcissa said, clutching the quilt tighter to her chest.

Remus made his pitch.

+=+

The Underwarden returned to the corridor, unlocking Remus’s cell and leading him to the cell block where Sirius was incarcerated. After they left the cell block, a tall guard entered the cell block, bringing a now smaller package to Narcissa, sliding it through a slot at the bottom of the cell door and then walking away.

“AurorRowle,” Narcissa said in a pleasant voice. “Might I have a moment of your time?”

The tall blond guard smirked and turned around.

“What do you want?” Rowle asked.

“I stink,” Narcissa said. “I’ve been here goodness knows how long without a bath. I know you’re going off shift right now, but would it be possible on your next shift to bring me enough hot water that I could take a bath? I would be ever so grateful.” Narcissa smiled sweetly.

Rowle raised an eyebrow. “We’ll see,” he said noncommittally.

+=+

At the end of their walk between cell blocks, the Underwarden stopped to unlock the door for Remus.

“One hour, gentlemen,” the Underwarden said as he locked Remus into the cell he was using for this visit. The Underwarden left without further comment.

“Good to see you, Remus,” Sirius said, sitting still on his cot.

“You’re looking a bit better,” Remus said.

Sirius held up his hand, flexing his hands, making the Head of House ring appear and disappear. “Playing with my magic gives me something to do.”

“Can they take the ring away?” Remus asked.

“Not without killing me,” Sirius said. “They can, however, place me in a worse cell than this, so I’m careful to keep things quiet.”

“Are you keeping track of the days now?” Remus asked.

“Is it Wednesday?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, I’m keeping track of the days.”

“Next Thursday will be the new moon. Your cell will be unlocked with the shift change. The guard unlocking the cell thinks that he’s feeding you to the Dementors.”

“That shouldn’t be too hard to arrange,” Sirius said with a smirk, “a number of them should be more than willing to volunteer for that.”

“Always winning friends wherever you go,” Remus said.

“So I take it this is when Mr. Padfoot takes his leave of this fine establishment?”

“Mr. Moony admires Mr. Padfoot for being perceptive. If Mr. Padfoot makes it to the beach on the north side of the island, Mr. Padfoot will be provided with transportation to a more hospitable environment,” Remus said. “Can you do a ‘point me’ with that thing?”

“Mr. Padfoot cannot do a ‘point me’ but his dashing friend Mr. Black can do so without any problem. How will the driver know I’m ready for pickup?”

“You’ll need to produce some form of light – shining it north,” Remus said.

“Sounds dangerous,” Sirius said. “Will you picking me up?”

“No, I’ll be involved in a different aspect. Someone else will be doing that, someone from my tribe,” Remus said.

“I’m being picked up by tutors ?” Sirius said with a grin.

“Yes, totally, tutors with furry little problems who happen to be vassals of the House of Black,” Remus said.

“I think the Steward has a lot of new business to explain to the new Head of House Black,” Sirius said. “Preferably on a beach, a warm beach.”

“If there’s a warm beach with women, you’d never listen to the explanation,” Remus said.

“Who cares about the explanation? I’d be warm!”

“I look forward to it,” Remus said.

Twenty minutes later the Underwarden returned.

“Time, gentlemen,” he said.

“The solicitor will visit you next,” Remus said.

“I look forward to it,” Sirius said. “Thank you for your service, Underwarden.”

The Underwarden raised an eyebrow at Sirius and closed the cell door after Remus was out of the cell.

+=+

The Kelly family owned a small island three miles off the coast of the Isle of Man. Most people who were the least bit familiar with the Isle of Man knew of the “Calf of Man” on the southern end of the island, but few knew of the much smaller island west of The Cronk. The island had been owned by the Kelly family for centuries, a reward bestowed by one of the many Viking captains that had raided in the Irish Sea. It was large enough to support a variety of birds, but small enough that no one in their right mind wanted to make a go of living there.

The island, which had no name on the charts, and was known to the Kelly family as “our rock,” was now the practice grounds for the Padfoot extraction exercise.

The boat was on the shore, above the high tide mark, not too far away from a wizarding tent where they were sheltered from the wind.

“I have a little present for you,” Remus said, tossing one package each to Daisy and Maud.

“What’s this, Remus?” Maud asked.

“Dry suits,” Remus answered. “I had some made to your measurements. If Daisy will do us the favor of not growing in the next week, they might actually fit and keep you both warm when you’re in the North Sea.”

“What about transforming?” Daisy asked.

“I’m glad you asked that question,” Remus said. “I’ve been practicing some rune-work. Once I apply the runes, the dry suit will transform with you, but this needs to be your only garment,” Remus explained. “Before you kill me, Maud, I’m not going to be here while you’re changing.”

Maud huffed, and then began unwrapping the suit.

“I’ll be off to the other side of the island. Use the bullhorn to call me when you’re both changed,” Remus said. He then walked out of the tent, and then Apparated away.

“Let’s get kitted up,” Maud said, helping Daisy into her dry suit.

For today’s practice Maud and Daisy were going to make repeated trips towards the island, sometimes picking up Remus as stand in for Sirius Black, and other times picking up a 175 pound dummy that was lying inert on the sand. The day’s high temperature was 35 degrees Fahrenheit, which Remus warned was balmy and tropical compared to the weather they could expect surrounding Azkaban Island; it was, after all, February.

+=+

Maud loved the little boat. It had a peppy 30 horsepower outboard motor which started reliably and allowed them a maximum speed approaching 30 mph, assuming no headwind. Maud made various suggestions for lightening the weight of the boat to allow greater speed which Remus disallowed, as active magic would trigger all sorts of consequences when approaching Azkaban Island.

Remus watched as Daisy rolled and hoisted the dead weight dummy, throwing the body into the bottom of the boat while Maud turned the boat for a dash out to open sea.

If they could survive the cold and avoid the Dementors, they might just make it.

+=+

The dry suits made a big difference in the ability of the two women to function on the frigid waters of the Irish Sea. Although she couldn’t start the outboard motor when transformed, with practice Maud could do every other task while transformed as a serene, mature wolf. Remus thought the visuals were pretty funny, but did not dare mention it to either woman. Daisy could also transform easily with the suit, but was unable to lift the dead weight manikin into the boat when she was in her lupine form. If Sirius had to be hoisted into the boat, Daisy would be visible and vulnerable to the Dementors at that moment.

Remus gave several opportunities for both women to back out of the operation until Maud told him rather directly that it was not to be mentioned again.

“Please do not raise it again, Remus,” Maud said quietly. “I know you mean well, but you insult our honor when you ask us to quit. The job can be done and the pack has agreed to do the job. Yes, it’s dangerous, but packs have been taking down big animals for centuries; we can do this, we will do this.”

Thursday morning found the crew of the Zodiac boat in the North Sea near the Faroe Islands, practicing with the crew of Emil’s ship the proper loading and unloading of the inflatable boat from the deck. After the third flawless performance, Emil called a halt to the practice and directed the ship to shore, allowing the combined crews to get food and rest on dry land; they planned to set off near sundown.

+=+

This year’s Ministry ball was hosted by Tiberius Ogden. The Ogden family had been sitting on the Wizengamot for centuries with various Ogdens busy in business and various positions in the ministry. There were three different Ogdens in the Auror corps at the moment, the most senior being Bob Ogden. Bob had long ago given up correcting people who assumed that he’d had everything handed to him on a platter because of his very wealthy family. His branch of the Ogdens didn’t own distilleries, vineyards, or any other sign of conspicuous wealth. Tonight was the first time since he was a very young child that he was stepping foot on the sumptuous estate in the Lake District owned by his great uncle Tiberius. Unlike some of the manor houses in the Lake District that resembled castles, Ogden Hall was in the Georgian style and was built on the remains of a prior Ogden Hall in the 1700’s. Although tonight’s event was strictly magical, Tiberius Ogden had business holdings in both magical and mundane Britain, and hosted similar gala events that were well attended by the Muggle gentry.

The kidnapping attempt had delayed the Minister’s planned retirement. Minister Bagnold was negotiating with the movers and shakers in the Wizengamot to approve an interim Minister, but the various factions couldn’t agree on any one name, so this was Minister Bagnold’s last event as sitting Minister of Magic. In retirement she planned on avoiding such events for a few years to allow her successor to get proficient at the levers of power.

Alice and Remus were fashionably late to the event. Alice was in a black dress with red trim at the neck. Her gloves were black with red piping at the cuffs. A silver comb held a bit of black gauze that covered the back of her head. Alice called it “mourning chic” as it was obviously black, but not completely black. Remus was wearing the wizarding equivalent to evening wear, complete with top hat and black tie. Many of the gentlemen had family emblems embroidered on the cuffs of their jackets, but Remus was here as Steward, not as a family member of the Ancient and Noble House of Black, so the cuffs of his sleeve were unadorned. His Steward ring, however, had been polished to a high luster.

The event had a caller, announcing the guests as they entered the cavernous ballroom.

“Alice Longbottom, accompanied by Remus Lupin, Steward of the House of Black,” the caller cried.

A few heads turned with that announcement, but thankfully, that was the limit to the immediate response.

“So you see, Mr. Lupin, the good people in attendance are not rushing to pick up stones to hurl at the fallen woman you are escorting tonight,” Alice said teasingly.

“The night is still young,” Remus quipped in reply.

+=+

Narcissa looked over the package one more time, although she’d conducted this inventory many times already. In addition to her quilt, which was inherently useful, she’d received a package containing a hairbrush, toothbrush, a can of tooth powder, a barrette, one very slim chocolate bar that she was saving for a special occasion, a pair of very plain knickers, and two pairs of socks. She smiled and set to work.

The handle of the hairbrush was ebony, while the head of the brush was made from some lighter colored wood she could not name. She unscrewed the handle from the brush, shaking out a paper cylinder. She didn’t need that at the moment, so she tucked it under the chamber pot.

Next she gnawed on the hem of the lighter sock until she was able to start unraveling the thin yarn. The barrette was disassembled, taking the clasp apart and straightening the metal bit. Thread from the sock was wound around the slender metal stick. She used a jagged piece of the metal remaining in the barrette to prick the pad of her left ring finger, and then carefully coated the thread wound around the metal stick with her blood. She had to squeeze the finger pad several times to get enough blood, but when the thread was a uniform color, she stopped, sliding the assembly into the hollow handle of the hair brush. She screwed the handle back onto the head of the brush, and gave it a shake. A shower of silver sparks shot out of the end of the handle. She smiled broadly. She didn’t need a wand for her plans, but it made everything so much easier.

A silent mending charm on the sock and an equally silent healing charm on the pricked finger and she erased any evidence of her recent activities. The surplus fragments of the barrette were placed in the chamber pot, which magically emptied itself twice a day. Now all she needed to do was to wait until the end of the shift.

She’d gotten very good at waiting, passing the time by writing a French double ballade supreme in her head, pausing from time to time to recite all the stanzas. Her sisters had pooh-poohed the tutors they’d endured in their childhood, but at the moment she was quite glad that she’d paid attention all those years ago.

+=+

Remus was surprised at how much business was being conducted at the ball. He’d been approached by representatives of two minor houses, each of which sounded him out as to various business proposals. The Sergeant at Arms of the Wizengamot approached him asking if he’d yet nominated a proxy for the Black vote in the Wizengamot. He informed the Sergeant that Augusta Longbottom would be performing that role. Amelia Bones had expressed her condolences at the death of Frank Longbottom, and her appreciation for the technical assistance rendered to Frank in the investigation of the crime scene at Godric’s Hollow. Apparently Frank had amended his report, detailing the information about the ward stones and confirmed that the blood on the ward stone was that of Peter Pettigrew. That conversation closed with a vague invitation to talk in the future about conducting some training. Remus knew that invitation was going nowhere, but thanked Madam Bones all the same; good form was important.

When the second round of music began, Remus found Alice, who was at the end of an impromptu receiving line of friends and former colleagues wanting her attention.

“Would Madam honor me with a dance?” Remus asked.

“I would be most delighted to dance with the Steward of the House of Black,” Alice said precisely, knowing that each word and intonation would be picked apart by the gossips in attendance.

+=+

Narcissa took off the boots, then the stockings, which she draped on top of the boots to give them a chance to air out. The dress came off, then the slip, then the underwear. After some deliberation, she put the slip back on, thinking it better to suggest than show. She unbraided her hair and then took the hairbrush, giving each part of her scalp one hundred strokes. She considered a warming charm, but then figured that the cold would help round out the picture that she was painting.

“Yeah, right, ‘manky matron behind bars,’ soon to be a major motion picture,” Narcissa said to herself.

She heard a door slam in the adjoining cellblock. “Show time, little girl,” she said.

Auror Rowle was pushing a flatbed cart. On top of the cart was a steaming cauldron of water. He smiled when he saw the look of delight on her face, which was certainly not feigned.

“You came,” she gushed.

“Yeah,” Rowle said. “Stand up, up against the far wall.”

“Why?” she asked quietly.

“Because you’re a prisoner, I’m a guard, and I have to get this oversized stockpot through the door, as it won’t fit through the slot,” Rowle explained without much rancor.

Narcissa backed up, stopping when she felt the stone wall at her back. She raised her hands, resting them on top of her head, taking care that her posture was straight. The hairbrush was firmly in her wand hand.

“Well, that’s that,” Rowle said dismissively. “I’ll be back later for the cauldron, and then you can show me how much you appreciate my efforts.”

As he turned to go out the cell door, Narcissa lowered the hand holding the hairbrush. A blue bolt shot from the handle of the hairbrush, striking Rowle between the shoulder blades.

“I wouldn’t count on that, dear,” Narcissa said dismissively.

Rowle crumpled to the floor.

Narcissa rolled the now unconscious Auror over, undoing the clasp of his cloak, riffling through all of his pockets. Rolling him onto his front, she tossed his wand on the bed, and then restrained his hands with the silver manacles she found in his pockets. For good measure she pushed him under the cot. She picked up the cloak, fastening the clasp and pulling the hood over her head.

“I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve got places to go and things to do,” Narcissa said, tucking the ring of keys into the cloak where it was grabbed by an interior clasp.

She eyed the steaming cauldron of water longingly and then shook her head. She really did have to be going.

+=+

“See anything?” Maud asked. The night was dark and as they approached the island, there were patches of fog.

“Nothing on two feet or four,” Daisy said from the prow of the Zodiac.

Maud sighed and swung to boat around in yet another lazy circle.

+=+

Narcissa walked silently on the flagstones of the hallway, any noise her bare feet made being muffled by the edge of Rowle’s cloak as it brushed the ground. Narcissa thought herself tall for a woman, but wearing the cloak of a giant like ThorfinnRowle made her feel like a little girl dressed up in Mummy’s clothing. The thought made her giggle, which she immediately suppressed.

She almost passed by the cell where Sirius was incarcerated, this part of the cellblock being particularly dark, but she could make out something on the cot.

She reached inside her borrowed cloak for the key ring, fumbling with the keys until she found the right one. The mechanism of the lock made a ‘snick’ sound. It was now open, and could not be locked again without the key.

“ToujoursPur,” she whispered before turning around and leaving the way she came.

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Author Notes:


Thanks as always to Garden Girl, who spots the continuity errors I miss.

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