Finally, I bring you chapter 23! :D
These have been some complicated months. After months of studying to memorize a program I had never used in my life, I took a four hour drive to another city, where the exam was held. Once there, I found myself unable to take the exam, as they had provided me (a person with a grave visual disability) a 15" screen to work with despite my request for disability accommodations. I filed a complaint, of course, but I was pretty down for a couple weeks after that. Now, with this whole coronavirus thing, I have spent the last ten days down with symptoms. I don't know if I actually have covid or not, because the government is handling the whole situation horribly and they're barely testing people.
So, basically, not the best of times. Still, I'm pretty satisfied with some of the scenes in this chapter, and I hope you enjoy them.
Roy didn't return to Hogwarts until after dinner the following day. He had spent the time with Sirius and Tonks, doing little of anything but lying about and regretting their life choices until Kreacher had appeared with a hangover potion that had returned them to being functional human beings. The rest of the day had been spent going through suggestions for the students' defence group. Tonks had needed a distraction, which Roy had been more than willing to provide, and by the time they had departed from Grimmauld Place, Tonks had been mostly back to her usual self.
It had been nice to spend some time with friends. To know he still had friends.
Roy felt more human than he had in weeks when he stepped through the fireplace and into Albus' office.
"Ah, Roy. Welcome back," Albus greeted him jovially from his place at his desk.
By now Roy knew Albus Dumbledore well enough to recognize that particular cheerful tone of voice as a cue that Albus had something to discuss with him.
Roy raised his eyebrows and made for his usual seat.
"I take it yesterday's meeting was interesting?" he asked.
Albus' sigh wasn't surprising.
"That would depend on your definition of the word interesting."
Roy settled back and crossed his hands on his lap.
"Meaning that, while the Ministry no longer wishes to openly oppose our efforts, the new Minister for Magic and myself do not see eye to eye."
That was as much as Roy had expected. Disappointing, yes, but he would have been shocked if the meeting had brought out any positive developments.
"Rufus Scrimgeour is rather interested in you," Albus continued. "He asked about the magic you utilized at the Department of Mysteries. He believes that such a spell would be of great assistance to the aurors."
"I hope you told him I have no intention of sharing that knowledge," Roy said, though he knew Albus must have done so. Albus had understood well the dangers of Flame Alchemy, and he was too well acquainted with the world to believe sharing its workings would lead to anything but disaster.
"I did. The Minister didn't appear surprised. He came prepared for my refusal."
Albus reached over to the left and picked up two parchment envelopes, which he placed before Roy on the desk. They were addressed to him.
"These are citations from the Ministry of Magic. Officially, they want your statement regarding the events at the Department of Mysteries, and for you to be a witness at Dolores Umbridge's trial."
And, of course, to have a chance to get Roy away from Hogwarts.
Sighing, Roy reached forward and picked up the letters. He opened first one, then the other, and gave them a cursory read over.
"Assuming what happened with Harry's trial last summer isn't the standard procedure, how do these processes usually work?"
Much to the Order's surprise and general disapproval, Roy had refused to take an escort to the Ministry the day he was scheduled to give his statement about what had happened at the Department of Mysteries —apparently, setting that trial up would take some time. Roy didn't expect any excessively bold moves on the Ministry's part, not given the effort they were putting forth to clean face after Fudge's removal, and he preferred to form his own opinions and cause his first impression unimpeded by any Order member's expectations or good intentions.
According to Tonks, security at the Ministry had been increased after the Death Eater's incursion. Roy was subjected to a few scanning spells, and some were cast on his wand as well —to determine if he had performed any dark magic, according to the guard. None of the spells reacted to Roy's white gloves.
He was greeted right past the security checkpoint by a man Roy vaguely remembered from the clean-up that had immediately followed the fight at the Department of Mysteries: Gawain Robards, recently elected Head of the Auror Office after Scrimgeour's promotion. While being led to the Auror Office to give his statement should have been the standard procedure, Roy wasn't surprised when Robards instead escorted him to Scrimgeour's office, claiming that the Minister wished to see to such a dire matter in person.
Rufus Scrimgeour's appearance fit more or less what Roy had expected to find: a slightly dishevelled man —despite clear efforts to appear otherwise— with an obvious old injury, no doubt a consequence of his job as an auror. While, unlike Moody, he kept both legs, Scrimgeour used the assistance of a cane and had a noticeable limp when he moved.
Scrimgeour had been standing when Robards opened the door into the office, and he wasted no time in approaching Roy.
"Ah, Professor Mustang. I have been looking forward to meeting you," Scrimgeour said, extending a hand for Roy to shake.
Roy did, keeping his grip deliberately firm but not too strong. This wasn't a competition of wills. Not yet, at least.
"Minister. I'm afraid I can't say the same, as I hadn't heard of you until quite recently."
Robards, standing to one side, gave Roy an incredulous look, but it was Scrimgeour's reaction that interested Roy. Scrimgeour didn't appear offended by Roy's admission, though the smile he gave him wasn't quite flawless.
"Understandable. I believe you have been focused on Hogwarts until very recently? Please, take a seat, Professor. I'm afraid this is an important matter we must attend to."
They settled around the desk, Scrimgeour on his fancy seat that didn't quite rival Albus' throne-like chair, Roy on a comfortable armchair, and Robards on an armchair to one side of the desk, parchment and quill poised to take notes on the meeting. Roy somehow doubted it was standard procedure for the Head Auror to take notes while the Minister for Magic asked the questions, but he didn't bring attention to it.
Scrimgeour offered a drink, which Roy refused. He didn't miss the tension around Scrimgeour's eyes and mouth. Roy couldn't comment on his skills as a wizard, but Rufus Scrimgeour was most definitely not a politician. While decent enough for daily situations, his skill to control his own body's reactions left a lot to be desired in such a field. Not that, from what little Roy had seen, Cornelius Fudge had been any better.
Scrimgeour forewent a drink himself and instead sat up straighter, squaring his shoulders and settling his hands, right palm wrapped over left fist, on the desk.
"We are here to discuss the events that took place at the Department of Mysteries, Ministry of Magic, on June 18th, 1996. Interview by Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister for Magic, to Roy Mustang, Professor of Alchemy at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, witness and participant at the incident. Notes taken by Head Auror Gawain Robards," Scrimgeour stated in an official manner, followed by the case number and current date and time.
Robards' quill was enchanted to write on its own.
"Professor Mustang," Scrimgeour addressed him, much more in his element now than he had been a moment ago, "how did you come to learn of the presence of Death Eaters at the Department of Mysteries?"
Roy leant back on his armchair, a movement that would be seen as him getting himself comfortable, and crossed his hands on his lap.
"I had just returned to the school from St. Mungo's, and was walking around the second floor when I heard a commotion coming from Dolores Umbridge's office—"
"Professor Mustang," Scrimgeour interrupted him. "We are here to discuss the events of the Department of Mysteries, not the situation with Dolores Umbridge." Roy could tell it took a great effort to speak those words politely instead of barking them out as an order.
"I'm aware," Roy said calmly. "However, it was what happened with Umbridge that led me to discover about the Death Eaters. So, if you don't mind?"
Robards gave Scrimgeour an uncomfortable look. It was clear that Dolores Umbridge and her upcoming, very public trial, was a sore topic in the Ministry. Tonks had told Roy there had been an attempt to hold the trial behind closed doors, but the outrage over what the students had already shared about Umbridge's reign of terror over Hogwarts was so great that the Wizengamot had refused to even listen to the proposal. Besides, as Shacklebolt had pointed out, hiding that trial would make for a terrible start at an attempt to distance the current administration from Fudge's rule.
Scrimgeour gestured for Roy to continue.
And so Roy did, weaving the truth into a story that conveniently omitted he had used alchemy on Umbridge, keeping out the name of the loved one Lord Voldemort had attempted to use to lure Harry Potter out to the Department of Mysteries (Scrimgeour hadn't flinched when Roy had used Riddle's chosen name, which was interesting; Robards, however, had), and giving no details on how he knew the individuals who had accompanied him that day. He once again left Sirius' name out of the story, as well as the location where they had met —it turned out mentioning the fidelius charm was a very effective way to stop that line of questioning.
Roy had no choice but to reveal that he had used an alchemical array to neutralize the Death Eaters, because everyone who had gone with him had known as much and he couldn't risk such a potential inconsistency in his story.
"No," Roy said before Scrimgeour could even finish his next question. "I will not share that array. Aside from the fact that it would take literal years for anyone to learn how to control the technique, I refuse to put such power into anyone's hands."
"But it's safe for you to have it?" Robards asked, not for the first time interrupting the questioning.
Roy gave him an unimpressed look.
"Whether it is safe or not is a moot point, Auror Robards. I have it. I know this power, and I won't pass it on to anyone. End of story."
Robards sank back into his seat. Then, clearly realizing what he had just done, straightened again.
"That array could change the course of the war," he argued.
"Yes," Roy agreed. "But can you guarantee it would be for the better?"
The silence that followed was telling. The Ministry's security had been heavily compromised less than a month ago, and Roy was fully aware there had been spies, both willing and imperiused, in important Ministry positions during the last war.
It was clear Robards and Scrimgeour knew it as well.
"If that is all, I believe we are done with the interview," Scrimgeour said, breaking the awkward silence. "You may go, Gawain," he added, glancing at Robards before focusing fully on Roy. "If you don't mind, Professor Mustang, I was hoping we could have a conversation. I wanted to speak to you the other day, but I was informed you weren't at Hogwarts."
"I needed a break from life," Roy offered, and made no move to stand up.
Much to Roy's surprise, Scrimgeour actually smiled.
"Don't we all?"
Robards stood up and excused himself, closing the door after him.
"I must admit," Scrimgeour said when the door was closed, "that, after my conversation with Dumbledore, I did not expect you to agree to remain here."
"Well, I am not Albus," Roy pointed out. He noted the raised eyebrow at his use of Albus' given name. "While I admit, after the events over this past year, I have many reservations about the Ministry, I also understand that any infighting between those who oppose Lord Voldemort would only benefit him, so I am willing to listen to whatever proposal you have."
Scrimgeour gave him a scrutinizing look.
"You are a very brave man, aren't you, Professor?" Roy simply raised his eyebrows. "Throughout this interview, you have used You-Know-Who's name on multiple occasions, and not even once have you hesitated about it. Nowadays I know of only one other man who dares to do so."
"It's just a name. And not even a very imaginative one."
Roy had the pleasure of seeing Rufus Scrimgeour choke on nothing. He waited for Scrimgeour to be done coughing and then compose himself again.
"...I see," Scrimgeour said eventually, at a clear loss for words.
Roy held back a smirk.
"If you don't mind, Minister, I would like to take over the conversation from this point on."
"Oh? How so?" Scrimgeour asked, sounding more curious than annoyed.
"I spoke to Albus about your meeting, and I must agree with most of what he said to you. However, that doesn't mean I am not open to other forms of cooperation."
Scrimgeour tensed, his face going stony, but he nodded for Roy to continue.
"First of all, Harry Potter is a child. While it has been made clear that Voldemort and his Death Eaters do not care about the ages of their victims, that is no reason for us to follow that same mentality when we have other options available. I cannot condone the usage of a child as a war symbol. That said, even if you somehow gained Albus' consent, Mr. Potter would refuse to cooperate with you. The Ministry has done him much harm over the past year, and he has no reason to trust in it now."
Scrimgeour gave a stiff nod. While Albus hadn't gone into much detail about this part of their conversation, Roy knew it was unlikely that he had bothered to explain the reasoning behind his refusal to allow Scrimgeour to use Harry for propaganda.
"You must understand, Minister, that actions have consequences. The face and standing of the Ministry may have changed, but that doesn't erase what has happened in the past." Scrimgeour opened his mouth to speak, but Roy continued before he could utter a word. "I'm not condemning you for staying silent this past year. I don't know what your beliefs were all this time, but I understand that sometimes it is best to remain under an ineffective or even dangerous power in order to do as much good as the circumstances will allow. What I mean to say is that now words aren't enough. If you want the support of those of us who have spent this last year opposing Voldemort, you will have to prove yourself worthy of that support."
Scrimgeour stayed silent for long moments following Roy's words. He may be no politician, but he was clearly a soldier, and the scrutinizing look he was giving Roy now left him with no doubts that he was evaluating Roy as one right now.
"I take it you have a few ideas on how I could start gaining that support." It wasn't a question.
Roy smiled mirthlessly.
"Just one. Sirius Black."
"We've had no leads since we were informed he was in London last September."
"Minister, please," he said, perhaps with more exasperation than he should have. Scrimgeour was clearly not the type to play the political game —at least not well— so Roy didn't see the point in dancing circles around this topic in particular. "You were Head of the Auror Office two years ago, weren't you?" Roy asked, but didn't bother to wait for an answer. He had investigated Scrimgeour prior to this meeting. "You know what happened at Hogwarts two years ago with Sirius Black and Harry Potter and his friends."
It was Scrimgeour's turn to snort, but he paused immediately after and gave Roy an incredulous look.
"You cannot be serious."
"You don't have to believe me," Roy said, shrugging. "Right now, you have twelve Death Eaters in custody. According to Harry Potter's account, it was Peter Pettigrew who performed the ritual that gave Lord Voldemort back his body, and Mr. Potter named a few of your current prisoners as some of the Death Eaters who answered Voldemort's call that night. Any of them could confirm Pettigrew's survival. As for Black being a Death Eater... I'm certain you can confirm that too. With no need for secrecy, I'm sure the truth has made its rounds through the Death Eater ranks. I wouldn't be surprised if they find it amusing. And, unless I am very much mistaken, the Ministry has decent stores of veritaserum, which should guarantee the validity of any responses you obtain."
Scrimgeour stared at him for another long moment. He was an intimidating enough man that such a gaze would have been effective on many people he questioned. Roy simply waited him out.
"Professor Mustang. You do realize that you have just admitted to being in contact with one of the most wanted criminals in the British Wizarding World, don't you?"
"Actually, I haven't admitted such to a thing," Roy replied. He had very carefully limited his arguments to information he could have easily obtained from sources other than Sirius himself. "I simply pointed out a way in which you could finally solve the matter of Sirius Black. If I, and quite a lot of other people, am right, then you would clear the name of a powerful wizard who could assist in the war against Lord Voldemort and show you are willing to take necessary action, even if it may not paint the Ministry under the best of lights. And, unless I am very much mistaken, the blame for Sirius Black's wrongful imprisonment would fall neatly on the shoulders of Bartemius Crouch Sr., whose reputation was already ruined when it was revealed he had smuggled his son out of Azkaban and unwittingly enabled the return of Lord Voldemort to power."
Roy could see the wheels turning in Scrimgeour's head. Roy had just given him the tools to clear Sirius' name and improve his standing with the Order of the Phoenix. Scrimgeour was no fool, he had likely already guessed that if Sirius was in fact innocent, he must be connected to the Order somehow. He might even have gone as far as guessing Sirius' name was the one Roy had refused to give during the questioning.
Roy certainly hoped so.
"You raise a compelling argument, Professor Mustang," Scrimgeour finally said. "And, I guess, it would be no hassle to add a few extra questions to the prisoners' interrogations."
"I'm glad you see it that way," Roy said, offering his first sincere smile since his arrival.
"I suppose we are done for today, are we not?" Scrimgeour asked.
"I'd say so. I don't believe we have anything else to discuss until a few matters have been dealt with," Roy agreed.
He waited for Scrimgeour to stand up before doing so himself.
"I will see you at Dolores Umbridge's trial then, Professor Mustang."
"You did what?" Sirius asked. His fork fell out of his limp hand, but he didn't appear to notice.
Not that anyone could blame him.
Mustang had returned from his meeting with Rufus Scrimgeour not long ago. He had passed through Professor Dumbledore's office, both to report and to cover up for his next destination, before coming to Grimmauld Place for lunch.
A good amount of Order members had gathered at Grimmauld Place throughout the morning, worried about how Mustang's meeting might have gone. The Order had yet to reach a consensus about Mustang and his actions at the Department of Mysteries: not everybody was as willing to trust him as Sirius and Tonks had proved to be, and some had even raised doubts about Mustang's loyalty to the Order and his reasons for wanting to go to the Ministry alone.
Mustang's account over lunch had calmed many nerves, proving to be even amusing on some points —the Ministry's unease over Umbridge was something the Order found grim satisfaction in.
Until now, when Mustang had dropped a figurative dungbomb in the middle of lunch.
"It seemed the right moment. Albus' dismissal of the Ministry is too hasty. While it's true they are unlikely to be of much assistance, they can have their uses," Mustang answered.
The response to those words didn't take long to come.
Everyone spoke at once. Some shocked by Mustang's casual disregard of Albus Dumbledore's decisions. Others were more focused on Roy's actions themselves.
Because he had, somehow, convinced Rufus Scrimgeour to clear Sirius' name.
That was, of course, provided that Scrimgeour followed through with Mustang's suggestion. The Order's faith in the Ministry had never been particularly strong, and it had reached a new low point over this past year.
Roy stood with his back to Albus, looking out one of the many windows that showed the school grounds in their stunning summer glory, and remained silent. Albus waited, giving him time to process the information he had just shared. Severus' report about Narcissa Malfoy's visit to him last night wasn't altogether surprising. Somewhat unexpected, certainly, but Severus had always maintained a close friendship with the Malfoys, and Narcissa Malfoy was nothing if not a devoted mother.
"I understand the benefits of having Professor Snape kill you instead of Draco Malfoy if the war is still raging when the time comes," Roy said finally. He had crossed his hands behind his back, and his stance was too straight to be called relaxed, but not tense enough to be rigid either. "However, have you considered the possibility that the war might be over before Malfoy is cornered into attempting to murder you?"
"I have," Albus replied. Draco Malfoy would be given some time to act, considering the second part of his orders, and their search for the horcruxes was advanced enough that Albus hoped they would be able to collect all but Nagini before his time was up. "If the war ends before Draco makes his move and we are both still alive, I will put an end to myself before the Unbreakable Vow can kill Severus."
Roy turned to meet his eyes, expression grim. After a moment, he nodded.
"Any ideas on how to deal with Malfoy's other task?" Roy asked, walking over to his usual armchair.
"Severus will offer his assistance to Draco in hopes of learning his plans before he sets them in motion. However, I am open to suggestions."
Roy's eyes slid away from Albus, up the wall behind him, and a pensive expression took over his face.
"Just how familiar are the students with the appearances of the former Heads of the school?"
Roy had pondered over the possibility of writing this letter for a while now, going back and forth on both its contents and its recipient. When it came down to it, though, the fact remained that he had built a much better rapport with Hermione Granger than he had with Harry Potter, and after an entire year of correcting their exams and assisting them with their projects, he knew Hermione would provide a much more detailed report.
Thus, Roy finally sat down and began to compose a short missive.
Dear Miss Granger,
I hope your holidays thus far are going well. I would enquire after your homework, but I believe by now you will have already finished it and be in search of new academic pursuits. May I recommend muggle sciences? A deeper knowledge of Chemistry and Physics would be most beneficial, for you and for any student who wishes to continue on with Alchemy next year.
I am writing to you to request information on the Defence Club (Dumbledore's Army, truly?). If I am to become its overseer, I would like to know what we will be working with beforehand. Could you write me a list of the spells and tactics you studied? I would also like to know how you set up the training room. While I expect Umbridge dismantled it, any information you can give me would be useful to decide how the new one will be organized. Likewise, if you have any suggestions you would like to see implemented, please feel free to share them with me. I wish for this activity to be as useful as possible, and for that to happen, feedback is a necessity.
Awaiting your response,
Prof. Roy Mustang
Roy startled awake, clapping his hands before he could fully process his surroundings. Fire burst in the middle of the room, followed by a musical yet indignant trill that snapped Roy out of his battle-ready daze.
Grimacing, Roy clapped again to extinguish the fire, and was met by the very unimpressed gaze of Fawkes. The phoenix was perched on Roy's newly-scorched coffee table, looking considerably more dishevelled than usual.
Roy raised his eyebrows at the bird.
"Don't give me that look," he said dryly, but felt relieved to know Albus had the forethought to send Fawkes to wake him up instead of a too flammable house elf.
Speaking of waking, Roy noticed the light streaming in through the window and glanced over at the clock. He was unsurprised to see it was already past noon and he had missed breakfast. Roy then looked down, to where his notebook had fallen after he passed out, and felt a small flood of relief at knowing he hadn't burnt his research. While he knew it by heart, writing it again would be a pain.
"I take it Albus wants to see me?" he asked, focusing back on Fawkes.
Fawkes, who hopped into the air and slammed into Roy, wrapping both of them in his flames.
A loud crash broke the silence in the office. Albus spun around, wand out at the ready, only to falter at the tableau that greeted him. Roy was sprawled on top of the broken coffee table —which had been very much whole before Albus turned his back to the office— and glaring at Fawkes, who perched rather smugly on Roy's chest.
Albus lowered his wand.
"What did you do?" he asked in amusement, not sure which of the two he was addressing. It had been a long time since he had seen Fawkes be so careless with anyone, as Albus' age no longer allowed for such things and most people were too reverential to a phoenix to ever figure out said phoenix had a temper as fiery as its rebirth.
Fawkes trilled at him happily and flew off to his perch, leaving Roy to pick himself up from the remnants of the table.
"I may have, accidentally, set him on fire," Roy said, shooting a glare in Fawkes' direction.
Fawkes trilled in response, a sound Albus knew to interpret as a refusal to believe whatever was said to him.
"Accidentally?" Albus asked. He pointed his wand at the table and cast a non-verbal reparo on it.
"I was asleep and he startled me. I just," here Roy grimaced, "reacted."
Reacted. By setting an ally on fire. Albus didn't ask; he remembered war well, what honed instincts could do to someone, and he didn't want to know what kind of circumstances would result in a person attacking so quickly they did it before they had taken in their surroundings.
Yes, Albus had done well in sending Fawkes to pick Roy up, even if the original idea was for Roy to arrive in a more dignified manner.
"Let's have a seat," Albus said, gesturing at the couches.
As soon as they were settled, a tray with various breakfast foods appeared before Roy. Roy gave Albus a questioning look, but Albus simply looked down at the tray and gestured for Roy to eat. Roy had missed breakfast, and hadn't been present for dinner last night either. Albus couldn't guarantee how long this would take. It would be remiss on his part to let Roy go on without a meal.
"As you well know," Albus began once Roy had given in and reached for the coffee, "my efforts to convince Horace Slughorn to share the true memory of his conversation with Tom have been unsuccessful so far. I visited him yesterday, and our meeting did not end well. I worry he will try to leave Great Britain soon if I can't convince him otherwise."
Roy raised his eyebrows, and gestured for Albus to continue.
"Have you read yesterday's newspaper?" Albus asked, and waited for Roy to be able to speak again.
Roy frowned and shook his head.
"I was going to do it, but I had a thought and spent the whole day on my research," Roy replied.
The whole day? Roy had mentioned that he was close to having a potential array, and Albus hoped this meant they could attempt to destroy a horcrux soon. However, now was not the right moment for that conversation.
"I see. Much has happened, but what is relevant to us is that Garrick Ollivander and Florean Fortescue were taken by Death Eaters yesterday."
"Do we know why?" Roy asked without flinching.
Albus shook his head.
"Not yet," he confessed. While he could make a guess or two over Ollivander's disappearance, Fortescue was a mystery.
"Why is that relevant to Slughorn?"
"Because Tom always wanted Horace to join him. While Tom kept a low profile, Horace was ensured a certain leeway that allowed him to stay ahead of Tom's followers, but now that the war has broken openly, he is at grave risk. Thus, I thought to offer him back his old teaching position here at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, Horace saw it as an attempt on my part to corner him into giving me the memory, and refused." While, admittedly, Albus intended to obtain that memory from Horace, the horcruxes had nothing to do with his offer.
"What position is that?" Roy asked, a curious expression on his face.
Roy's eyebrows went up, and his mouth pulled up in a dry smirk.
"Are you freeing Snape from the lower years?"
Albus laughed, startled by the thought. Severus would certainly appreciate that.
"No, I am not. But I figured, as this might well be my last year as Hogwarts' Headmaster, I could give Severus the position he has wanted since he joined the staff." Roy frowned at the reminder of Albus' impending death, but said nothing. They both knew how unlikely it was that Draco Malfoy would be given longer than the school term to complete his orders. Short of winning the war, Albus would be dead come next June.
"I see," Roy said. He set his fork down after eating far too little of his food and leaned back on the couch. "And you think I can help you change Slughorn's mind? How?"
Albus smiled, pleased by Roy's quick uptake.
"Horace has always had a weakness for talent and novelty. It is my hope that, by introducing the two of you, he will be interested enough to return to Hogwarts in spite of his current wariness of me." Failing that, Albus would attempt to take Harry Potter to Horace's house, but he would rather avoid such drastic measures.
Roy raised his eyebrows again.
"Am I a party trick now?"
Albus smiled in amusement.
When Albus saw the door to Horace's current hiding place swinging wide open, he felt a chill run down his spine. Fearing the worst, he glanced to the side to see Roy had already drawn his wand, did the same, and approached cautiously. It wasn't until they had entered the house that Albus realized something didn't quite fit. In the previous two kidnappings —both Garrick's quiet one and Florean's rather violent attack— the Dark Mark had been left suspended over the spot, but there was no trace of it here.
Taking a glance around, Albus' eyes fell on an overturned armchair that he could swear hadn't looked quite like that yesterday.
"This isn't good," Albus said out loud, and caught Roy's eye over the destroyed room.
Roy moved sideways, stepping on the shattered glass and china that coated everything, and shook his head, frowning.
Taking a step forward as though to investigate, Albus poked the tip of his wand into the seat of the armchair.
The armchair yelped and transformed back into a disgruntled Horace Slughorn.
"Was that necessary?" Horace asked in aggravation, rubbing at his belly where Albus' want had pressed.
"Would you have transformed back otherwise?" Albus returned, torn between amusement and slight offence that Horace had believed this farce necessary.
Horace huffed and rose to his feet.
"What gave it away?"
"My dear Horace," Albus said, settling on amusement over Horace's excessively bothered expression, "if the Death Eaters really had come to call, the Dark Mark would have been set over the house."
"Besides," Roy added from where he had moved to stand by the piano, "in a fight to escape them, you would have either succeeded or been captured long before the destruction reached this level," he said, gesturing around to encompass the thoroughly devastated sitting room.
Horace looked at Roy, clearly taking him in properly for the first time. After a moment, he sighed and slumped forward.
"I knew something wasn't quite right," Horace muttered to himself.
"Would you like my assistance cleaning up?"
"Please," Horace said, sounding tired. He had undoubtedly spent a lot of energy in a rush to set up this scene.
Roy stood back and watched as the two of them returned the sitting room to what it had looked like yesterday, before Horace got this hare-brained scheme into his head. At least he hadn't fled yet.
Once the room was presentable again, Horace turned to Albus.
"As much as I don't appreciate this visit," he said with some irritation, "my answer remains the same, Albus."
Albus had expected as much, and was fully prepared to ignore those words, move on with introductions, and dangle some philosopher's stone-shaped temptation in front of Horace's face. Before he could speak, however, Roy did.
"Do you sleep well at night, Mr. Slughorn?" Roy asked from where he was now leaning against the wall by the newly-repaired piano, piercing gaze fixed on Horace's form.
Horace turned, his expression a mix of confusion and slight outrage, and paused when he met Roy's eyes.
"I hear you are not on Lord Voldemort's side," Roy continued conversationally, and ignored Horace's flinch at the name, "yet you refuse to share that memory with Albus."
Horace's eyes turned, wide on a now incredulous face, to look at Albus, as though he couldn't believe Albus had willingly shared such information with anyone. This wasn't the first time someone showed surprise upon learning that Albus shared knowledge with Roy, and Albus wondered if he had truly grown so isolated in receiving counsel that no one expected him to rely on other people for assistance.
Before Horace could put his thoughts into words, Roy went on.
"So I was wondering how you slept at night, knowing that every day you withhold that knowledge is a day the war goes on. How can you live with yourself knowing people die and are taken away every day Lord Voldemort is out there?" Roy finished his thought casually, eyes still piercing Horace, who by now was staring determinedly at the wall.
Albus hadn't intended to bring up the memory in this meeting, something he now realized he should have told Roy beforehand. Now Horace would become even more defensive than he had already been, and they would accomplish nothing today.
Horace's shoulders shook, and Albus realized he had clenched his fists.
"And what…" Horace began, voice devoid of his usual joviality, "what would you expect me to do?" he demanded of the grandfather clock, still turned away from both of them.
"What could you do?" Roy returned the question. "What would you do, Mr. Slughorn, if I were to tell you that I am but days away from completing a safe, fool-proof method of destroying horcruxes?"
Horace spun in place so quickly that he almost lost his balance, focusing on Roy for a long moment before he turned to Albus, his eyes wide.
"Is that true?" Horace asked of him in a sliver of a voice. For the first time since Albus had first contacted him, it looked like that mark of denial Horace had hid behind might come off.
"It is," Albus confirmed. He looked over Horace's shoulder, raising an eyebrow at Roy. "Though I didn't know the method was so close to completion."
Roy gave him a cocky little smirk.
"Why do you think I was awake all night?"
Horace drew Albus' attention again when he took a step forward, closer to Albus.
"Can you stop him? If I give it to you, can you stop him?" Horace asked, and the guilt Albus knew was there, the one he had never managed to bring out, was so plain on his face now that it seemed impossible Horace had lived with it for so long.
"We can," Albus assured him.
"I'll give it to you," he said, defeated.
Albus smiled, surprised and relieved. He met Roy's eyes again over Horace's shoulder, marvelling at how easily Roy had managed to bring out and play on Horace's guilt. Perhaps the lack of a personal relationship gave him a different perspective that Albus had failed to see.
"If that is the case, then please reconsider my offer of re-joining the Hogwarts staff. Hogwarts would be a much safer location for you than moving around every week."
Horace frowned, his displeasure clear on his face.
"I want a salary raise if I go back."
"We'll see about it."
"If he gets a raise, I want one as well," Roy said, making Albus laugh and drawing Horace's gaze once more. Horace frowned at Roy for a long moment.
"I don't believe we have met. I have a feeling I would remember you." By which, Albus knew, Horace meant that Roy would have been part of the Slug Club had he been a student at Hogwarts while Horace taught, something Albus didn't doubt for a moment.
"No, you have not," Albus said, and stepped between the two to make introductions. "Horace, allow me to introduce Roy Mustang, Hogwarts' dreaded Alchemy Professor," Albus said jovially. Roy smirked.
Horace's face took on an interested expression at the mention of Alchemy.
To be continued
EDIT: I made a very silly mistake when writing this chapter. As some people have pointed out, Bellatrix was mentioned when she shouldn't have been. My bad. The unbreakable vow happened in this AU, but without Bellatrix there to witness, Severus and Narcissa... improvised. Nobody ever expected to keep that vow hidden from Voldemort (as if Bellatrix wouldn't have told him in canon anyway). Everyone, save Draco at first, knows that Draco's mission is a punishment, and no one expects him to fully succeed: Draco's chances of survival always hinged on reducing failure as much as possible. Thus, when Narcissa, desperate, asked for the vow, Severus thought fast. Refusing to do it could be interpreted as a refusal to assist Voldemort in one of his most important plans, jeopardizing his position as a spy. Fortunately, Voldemort had forced Pettigrew on him that summer, so Severus brought Pettigrew out and threatened him at wandpoint to witness the vow. Between certain and very unpleasant death and perhaps-only-torture, Pettigrew chose the second and did it. Severus, of course, spun this as a measure to guarantee Dumbledore's death were Draco to fail (I imagine it's the same tale he used in canon).