Snacks And Letters - Part 83

Author: [info]sionna_raven
Title: Snacks and Letters - Part 83
Word Count: 3911

I've got a crammed schedule today, meeting the Minister at ten and later a shopping spree with Sev. After he left last night I've checked the book list again. All the standard volumes seem to have been updated after the war. The parents must have been delighted. I probably should get the full line of Standard Book of Spells to see what level of skills I can take for granted with the students. I'd better not take anything for granted from what Ginny told me about her 7th year. Their last decent teacher must have been Severus one year before the war and Neville Longbottom with his resistance group. Their only decent teachers perhaps. Amycus Carrow preferred the practical approach. Show, don't tell, to put it mildly. In '98 they brought in three retired Aurors - not as crazy as Alastor - who took turns every other week and couldn't agree on a basic syllabus. Severus kept one of them, when he took over again in '99 and replaced him for this year with the one he sacked in autumn. Perhaps I should just improvise. Find out what they know and fill in what they need to know. Time will tell. Now on to the business at hand.

It's still enough time to pay attention to the delicious breakfast Kreacher has prepared, before I floo to the Ministry.


“Are you going like this, Master?” Kreacher looks at the plain jeans and sweatshirt with severe disapproval.

Nanny elf or not, I'm old enough to choose my own clothes. I'm going to meet a friend and fellow Gryffindor who happens to be Minister.


“That was my intention, any objections? “


Kreacher grumbles with his back turned. How did he survive with the Weasleys?

I remind myself that we've done nothing wrong. Regulus deserved a proper funeral and so do the other poor victims of Voldemort's madness. I meant it that I'm ready to pay a fine for trespassing to be used to recover the bodies. The Ministry has the means to do it and in my opinion it is their responsibility to the dead and the living. No matter who those people were, they shouldn't be left rotting in the cave like this.


***

The Atrium at the Ministry of Magic has changed a lot. All new and shiny, the horrible slogans and the ugly statues in the fountain I've been told about have disappeared. The fountain is just that, a fountain. I remember Harry said they wanted to turn it in a statue of him. It took him a lot of effort to stop such a monstrosity. I'm glad he did. He can be a stubborn idiot in many ways, but he doesn't like this ridiculous hero-worship at all. Will they ever learn to think for themselves and not to rush into the service of the most powerful wizard who accepts them?


I report at the reception. “Sirius Black to see the Minister.”

The young witch on duty quickly hides a Witch Weekly under the desk .

Minister Kingsley awaits you, Mr Black. Please take the lift to Level One.”

Thank you, I know the way.” I smile back at her and she giggles.


There's a small crowd waiting in front of the lift. I say hello to the few I know from seeing them with Harry or Arthur. Their responses are friendly. Our little Christmas adventure is not common gossip, yet. Someone I can't place calls me Professor Black and a few eyes flick at me curiously. A wizard who I recognize as one of Harry's men frowns. The Aurors know. I don't care and leave at the next stop. I would have looked out off place had I followed Kreacher's advice. Many people wear Muggle clothes. In my mind I hear Regulus commenting about 'Muddleborns in charge'. Not quite, Percy Weasley is the Personal Assistant to the Minister of Magic or so it says on the polished bronze plate right in front of the ink stand on his desk. I'm glad he likes it.


“You're right in time, Sirius. The Minister has just finished the morning briefing.”


The door to Kingsley's office opens and a flock of wizards and witches pour out in lively discussions. Harry is talking to the witch who accompanied him to my house. Arthur explains something to Hermione. The three of them halt at my sight. Harry can't or won't meet my eyes and Hermione looks a bit like Kreacher did after I had done something to hurt Regulus or disgraced the family in his opinion. Arthur tries to get over the awkward moment with forced cheerfulness. He understands though he probably doesn't approve. The other people leave the outer-office and Kingsley clears his throat.


“Sirius, I'm afraid my time is short. We have a lot to discuss. Your friends will excuse us.”


I move to follow his invitation immediately, but Harry stops me.


“Are you going to drop by at my office before you leave?”, he says quietly.


“Of course. I won't leave without saying goodbye.” I put my hand on his shoulder. Please understand that I love you, I plead silently.


I walk into Kingsley's office while Harry, Arthur and Hermione leave.


“Coffee for me and tea for Professor Black.” Kingsley says and offers me a seat in one of the armchairs in the corner. We wait until Percy has put the tray on the small table between us and closed the door behind himself.


“Will I ever see the day when you are not stirring trouble, Black?”


How many times have I heard him say that?


“It's been a while since you were the Gryffindor Prefect, Shacklebolt.”


“Yes, I'm Minister now and entering that cave was not the same as breaking into the Quidditch locker room and sprinkling itching powder on the Slytherins' robes. ”


“I'm not thirteen any more and had a good reason to go there.”


“You always had a reason for your …. What do you call this now?”


“Family matters, “ I suggest.


Kingsley takes a sip of his coffee and watches me carefully, smirking.


“Which is probably supposed to explain that announcement in the Prophet and your little Death Eater tea party at Highgate. Was that really necessary?”


“It was perfectly legal. We checked the rules. Do you think I should have buried my brother hastily at dawn near the graveyard wall like he was an embarrassment?” I snap.


Kingsley shakes his head. He looks tired.


“You don't make my job easier with public statements like this. Your family has a certain reputation and many people interpreted it as a slap in the face of the Ministry. They expect me to enforce the law. We won't further investigate how you came by the information. This is between you and your godson.”


“So what are you going to do? Put me to trial for …. trespassing? Violation of graves?”


Kingsley grins broadly.


“Maybe I should. “ He twinkles. “But I've seen enough of your family lawyers during the last two years. The Boruks are really nasty chaps and old Ladkill in court.... When Boruk informed us about the funeral he hinted that they might still investigate the chances to sue the Ministry for twelve years of unlawful imprisonment.”


“They are good at their job.” I laugh. “I think they are really disappointed to miss out on their share of the compensation. I take it we agree to settle the matter amicably. Do you think the Ministry would kindly allow me to pay for the expenses of the recovery operation in my brother's name? ”


“The Ministry won't refuse any support given in good faith and the honest wish to help.”


“Just to make it clear; that goes for Severus' involvement, too!”


“Severus' involvement, yes. I still wonder how you made him sign the announcement and help you with your plans?”


I can't help smiling.


“ He was Regulus' friend. You are the first to suggest that I've made Severus do those things... which is the truth. It was my idea and my responsibility. If certain people don't stop accusing and harassing him, there will be more public statements and they'll find it hard to silence me without violating their own new laws.”


“Stop growling, Padfoot.” Kingsley looks more amused than angry about my threat. “I only wanted to hear it from you that you are not trying to get Severus into trouble. He has helped us more than the public knows, more than he wants the public to know. The boys still have to learn that goodness and kindness are not the same. Severus' tasks during the war weren't of a kind that people like to acknowledge. Now tell me about the cave. What exactly do we have to expect?”


“I suppose Harry has already told you a bit. Caradoc volunteered to stay behind as a ghost after the Inferi curse dissolved. He wants the dead to be returned to their families and properly buried. He has powers surpassing those of a normal ghost, drawn from the magic in the cave. I'm pretty sure he can leave the cave and if he gets impatient, he will. He's very focused on fulfilling his task and we had a hard time to convince him that we couldn't possibly act at once. ”


“I can hear the slight reproach in your voice. You think we should have taken care of the situation before, don't you? After the war our priority was with the living. I admit we forgot about the dead. Not to mention that we really weren't sure, if it was safe to enter the cave.”


“I understand that. I really do. But now that you know... it's time to act. The cave is safe as far as I can tell. If you don't trust my judgement, Severus has checked it thoroughly. However it is not a nice place. There are hundreds of bodies in different states of decay. Some have been washed ashore, bones scattered, but I'm sure there are many more still at the bottom of the lake. Voldemort seems to have stored his victims there for a long time, long before the first war. We have always suspected him to recruit an army of Inferi. That cave must have been the place where he kept them. I assume he even stole dead bodies from their graves to use them. The sheer number we saw is far greater than the number of people who went missing during the war. It's a terrible mess.”


“You are trying to tell me that we can't just sent a team in stealth to gather the remains. It will take some more effort, days probably and informing the Muggle authorities...?”


“Yes, that's what I expect. You said you cared for the living first. It has much to do with the living. It will give them answers, a resolution and they will have a body to bury, a place to go. It's as important to the living as it is to the dead.”


Kingsley nods thoughtfully.


“Tell me about Caradoc. How did he die?”


“He said he got into an ambush. He hasn't given much detail. Maybe you want to talk to him in private, before the recovery team starts its work?”


I pause for a moment. It's better to address the issue now than let Caradoc repeat his accusation against Severus in front of a dozen Ministry employees. Kingsley looks at me expectantly. I suppose he can guess what I'm going to say.


“They brought him in, tortured and killed him at a gathering of Death Eaters .... Severus was there.”

“He wasn't the one who killed him or ....,” I add hastily. “Caradoc hasn't accused him of anything like that, but.... He was there, watching and he didn't try to save him. You know he was already working for the Order at the time. He couldn't have done anything. He simply couldn't! If he tried, he had been killed, too and nothing had been gained.”


The silence which fills the room after my words, my plea, is heavy. Kingsley and Caradoc were friends, almost as close as James and I. Kingsley has spoken of Severus with respect. He doesn't want to get him into trouble. He has been an Auror. He has seen many people die, friends and colleagues. He knows that sometimes you can't do anything. He must know.

After a few minutes which looked like ages to me, Kingsley speaks.


“This should stay between the three, the four of us. It only breeds new resentment, if it gets out to the public. I'm not unreasonable, neither was Caradoc.” He takes another minute to think. “I've got to take a look at the cave myself and I want to talk to Caradoc's ghost. I want you and Severus to come with me. What do think? Can we arrange it early next week, Monday or Tuesday? Will Caradoc wait this long?”


“I think he will. He was a bit upset in the spur of the moment, seeing someone who he thought is a Death Eater and at my refusal to get all the corpses out immediately. He let us leave in the end, so yes, I think he will wait a few more days.”


“All right, then I check my appointments for next week with Percy and owl you about the time.”


I feel relief that we could settle it.


“Is there anything else? I'm meeting Severus at the Leaky Cauldron at noon. I need to buy 'schoolbooks'.“


“There is indeed something else you should take care of. Harry said that you probably intend to keep your elf Kreacher?”


“I don't think I have a say in this. Kreacher has made his decision and I won't risk his renewed goodwill. I doubt that I have a chance to get rid of him ever again.”


“ You'd better not try. Elves can be tricky. I suggest you spare a few minutes and drop in at the house elves department and get a license today.”


“Get what? Kreacher and his ancestors before him have been in the family for centuries and now I need a Ministry license to keep him?”


He must be kidding. Kingsley is shaking with laughter.


“Elf rights decree number 47 from July 24th 1998. All owners of magically enslaved beings have to pass a test on their general knowledge about how to care for their slaves' needs and prove that they have read and are willing to obey the rules of the House Elf Protection Act.”


“Hermione Weasley?” I sigh.


Kingsley is still chuckling.


“Yes, Hermione Weasley. Count yourself lucky that the first version of the decree has been altered after two weeks. The original version required the elf itself to give testimony about its owner's decent behaviour in front of a commission. My own grandmother's elf was among those who spent several days at St Mungo's in severe shock at the insinuation that they would even think of speaking ill of their families. Hermione at last saw reason when one elf nearly killed itself on being questioned.”


“Muddleborns.” I mutter.


“Pardon?”


“It's a term Regulus coined as a boy. It means that Muggle-born witches and wizards often don't get the point.”


“Don't let Hermione hear that. She meant well.”


“I know, but she should talk to the people whose lives she is going to improve first.”


“Bread on Brooms.” Kingsley says, smirking. “Arthur told me.”


I smirk, too.


“All right, I'm going to take the test to get the license. I hope I don't need to know all of the rules by heart.”


“Don't worry, it's pretty basic. Just a formality.” Kingsley puts his empty cup on the table. “I think I've got to return to work.” He points at a pile of parchments on his desk. “Percy's daily reports.”


“I leave you to it and do my own paper work. Goodbye, Minister.”


“Bye, Sirius. Please behave yourself. I don't want to read reports on you.”


I wave at him through the open door and try to remember where the House Elf Department might be. I ask a wizard in front of the lift.


“Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Level 4.”


I thank him and enter the lift. The corridor in the Creatures Department is long and filled with strange noises from many different offices. In an open door I can see the rear of a Centaur who is stomping with his hoofs to put emphasis to his cause. A Goblin hurries past me, stuffing some old files in his briefcase and muttering not so nice things about wand bearers. There it is, House Elf Relocation; Elf Rights Commission; Owner's Licences.

The witch behind the desk doesn't look up from her papers, when I step in front.


“Take a seat.”


I sit down on a chair.


“Full name and address? “


“Sirius Alphard Black, 12 Grimmauld Place, London.”


She's scribbling it down and stops, “How do you spell Ellfart?”


“A-L-P-H-A-R-D.”


“Is this your first application for an owner's licence?”


“Yes.”


“The elf's name?”


“Kreacher.”


“When did you inherit the elf?”


“In 1979 on my father's death, I suppose.”


“Mr Black, the deadline for registration of long-term enslavements has ended in January 1999. What did you think keeping the elf for so long without a licence?”


This is beginning to amuse me.


“I've been …. err.... abroad until very recently and only heard that I am required to get a licence today.”


She frowns.


“Your elf has been accompanying you on your travels?”


“No, he stayed with a friend here in Britain during my absence and only returned to me four days ago.”


“Name and address of that friend. I hope your friend has seen the necessity to acquire a license.”


“I haven't asked him, but yes, I think he is a law abiding citizen. His name is Harry James Potter, Hollyhock House, Godric's Hollow.”


The witch finally looks up. She obviously tries to figure out, whether this is true or I am taking the mickey out of her.


“You are.... Sirius Black?”


“That's what I've told you when you asked my name.”


“I'm sorry. You see people come here with all kinds of excuses and weird stories about why they couldn't take the test earlier and didn't treat their house elves as they should. Those old family purebloods can't accept that times have changed and they are no better than any of us.”


She stops abruptly. Remembering that I am an old family pureblood?


“No need to apologize,” I say smiling generously. “you are just doing your duty. Carry on with your questions. I'll answer them to the best of my knowledge.”


She hands me a booklet “Elf Protection Act, 26th revised edition”.


“Are you familiar with the laws? Do you want to have a look at them first?”


“I think I've got the gist. I only missed out on the licence thing.”


She smiles encouragingly and starts reading from a form.


“Define your relation to your house elf.”


“He is part of the family like his ancestors have been for centuries.”


She raises her eyebrows in astonishment. I hold her gaze.


“Summarize the 1rst Article of the Elf Protection Act in your own words.”


“The owner of an elf has to provide for all needs of his slave, food, drink, non-clothing, medical care and a small place for it to get rest. An elf should not be wilfully mistreated or abused, punished without reason or made to punish itself beyond reasonable measures. An elf should not be killed or abandoned to die by its owner, when he becomes incapable to work due to old age, illness or injury.”


I'm not sure how I will explain the last rule to Kreacher, when the time comes. I hope it will be a long time until I have to face that decision.

The questions go on and on, testing my knowledge of laws I think are to be taken for granted within tradition. A second page contains 'what if' questions.


“What are you going to do, if your elf burns your toast?”


I can't help chuckling.


“That depends on the circumstances. If it really happened by accident, I will remind him that he is forbidden to punish himself without my permission. If it wasn't an accident, I will try to find out what I have done wrong.”


“Could you please answer the question seriously.”


“I am dead serious. If you knew my elf, you understood that it is not a good idea to get on his wrong side.”


There's more of the same nonsense for about three pages until finally....


“Would you ever consider to set your elf free?”


“That would be a severe violation of the 1rst Article.”


The witch sorts the pages and checks my answers again. She sometimes raises her eyebrows. I can only wait for her verdict.


“Some of your answer are a bit unusual, Mr. Black.”


“I'm sorry to hear that. Can you tell me where I've made mistakes.”


“Oh no, don't get me wrong. You have passed the test. Your licence will be owled to you within a few days.”


“You make me very happy. I've been a bit worried about what to tell Kreacher, if I failed.”


It's 11:40am, not much time to see Harry, but I can't just leave. He's at his desk, when I stick my head through the door.


“Hi Sirius, your meeting with Kingsley took a long time. Is everything fine?”


“Not that long, we reached an agreement. I have taken the test for the house elf owner's licence afterwards. “


“So you're really going to keep Kreacher?”


“It's more like he's going to keep me. Tell Ginny she can borrow him any time. I won't need much of his service at Hogwarts.”


“Ginny will be delighted. She's having her team mates over Thursday next week. Girls' night.”


“A house full of Harpies.”


“I'm planning to work late. What do you think of having lunch together at Wimpy? I could do with an Eskimo Waffle.”


“Sounds great, but I'm a bit in a hurry. Severus is waiting for me at Diagon Alley. I need new books.” Harry looks disappointed, so I quickly add. “What about a boys' night out on Thursday? School's only starting the following Monday. It may be my last night of freedom in a long time. Only the two of us?”


“If you talk to Ginny and promise her not to take me to dodgy places again.”


“I always had to promise that to your mother, to bring James back untouched and in a decent state. We usually managed.”


Harry has started to smile again. My task will be a lot easier with him than it was with James. James adored Lily, but he also loved to be the centre of attention.


“All right then, that's settled. We talk about it next week.”


“Sure, I'm looking forward to it. Now I have to run. Can't be late to a meeting with my new boss.”


I laugh when Harry pulls a face. Back to Grimmauld place and swap my jacket for a warmer coat. The house elves nonsense messed up my already tight schedule.


I'm ten minutes late to enter the Leaky Cauldron. Severus is sitting in a corner scowling.


“Kreacher should have given you the watch for Christmas.”


“Sorry Headmaster, I had to prove my ability to care for a house elf. Minister's order.”


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