alive isn't sad // it is when it's over (dramaturgy) wrote in fathersandsons,
alive isn't sad // it is when it's over
dramaturgy
fathersandsons

Chapter 22, Part A - Under Pressure

Fic: Fathers and Sons: Chapter 22 - Under Pressure
Authors: dramaturgy and thinkatory
Rating: Heavy PG-13, R (for violence)
Word count: 11,934
Era: The First War Against Voldemort (1970-1981)
Characters: Remus Lupin, MWPP/L, Fenrir Greyback, many, many others
Chapter Summary: Jeremy shook his head. "All the deaths in this war have been awful, Geoffrey's, all those lost in all those wars, those who were just butchered at the Den, hell, Laurel's death was awful from what I heard, and they're all plays. This isn't your daddy's werewolf war, if we go along the lines of your usual rules, we'll lose," he said flat-out.
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Fathers and Sons
Chapter 22: Under Pressure


Everyone is under pressure in this war, no one more so than Magical Law Enforcement. The question is really if -- or when -- they will finally fold. Trenton Williamson, "Circling the Wagons," The Daily Prophet, 12 August 1981

August 1981
Skylar could hardly believe, even months later, that they'd managed to take down Laurel. Jeremy had been right: having her removed was the keystone to proceeding with the plan with no interference. Now they moved relatively unhindered, and with Briony's Father now in on the plan, it seemed all the easier.

But now her worry was what to do with the children. Gemma and Rory, specifically. Neither of them had been ready to see Fenrir slit Laurel's throat without a second thought, and she had failed to protect them in that. She would not do so again. She'd contemplated sending them with Jeremy on one of his trips back to the Den, but she remained doubtful on whether they would go, or even should. All she had decided was that if she had it to do again, she would have sent them the first chance she had.

One more meeting came and Skylar nonchalantly climbed the stairs and went to Remus's room, surprised to find Briony already there. "Hi," she said, looking back at the younger girl. "Early?"

"Hiding," she answered. She'd been in there for what felt like hours but was probably closer to one. Admittedly, it was probably the second or third place most people would look for her these days, but it was nice to be relatively away from the brush of other wolves and their thoughts. Skylar simply nodded her understanding and took a seat.

Jeremy Apparated into the room, tucking his wand back into his belt as he took a seat. "You're both here early," he said, and went on to tease, "The rumours aren't true, are they, Briony?"

She gave him a bored look from where she was laid out on the floor. "Which rumours would you be talking about, Jeremy?"

"You know, there are girls who were falling over themselves over Remus back at school?" Jeremy went on. "Right into walls. He was a Prefect and everything."

She chortled. "I'm not sure he'd know what to do with himself if I stripped down and crawled into bed with him. Prefect's right, though. Told me himself."

"Be nice," Skylar chided lightly, stretching her legs out.

"I am being nice," Briony replied, turning her head to look at Skylar.

"I was a Prefect too," Jeremy felt it necessary to add. "For three months. Be nice, Briony, if it weren't for me we'd all be out there in shallow graves instead of Laurel."

Conor opened the door to hear the Curenton speaking and grimaced, taking a seat by Briony. "That's the positive discussion I like to hear," he said.

"I am perfectly nice," Briony continued to protest. She acclimated and calmed with Conor there, and she touched wolves easily.

"You are far too easy to rile," Skylar replied to her, smiling to soften the words.

"She's not used to people teasing her." Conor smiled and touched Briony's arm, keeping it light while he could. "Being the privileged first does that."

"Hell, that's the only way we know how to show affection," Skylar answered, and then grinned at Jeremy. "Tell me I'm wrong, I dare you."

"No, that's about how it works," Jeremy agreed. "And you should see Ben and his new mates, the trend continues. Where's Remus?" he added to Conor.

Conor shrugged, flippant. "Out on some important errand, no doubt. There's no end to what Fenrir will trust him with."

"Yes, he's been highly effective in showing himself capable and trustworthy," Briony said, twisting a piece of her hair around her finger idly.

Remus poked his head into the room. He'd heard voices, but he hadn't been expecting to be the last one present. "Hello," he said calmly, shutting the door behind him, and turned to look at everyone.

"Briony was the first one here." Jeremy glanced back at Remus with a slight smirk. "I think it's a hint, mate."

"Hiding," Skylar supplied brightly.

"Oh really, do we have to do this every time?" Conor wondered. Although he would never admit it, he was slightly concerned. "There are things to discuss."

"Well if people are looking for me in Remus's room they're certainly going to think twice about knocking on the door," Briony added in agreement with her Father. "Can we please move on?"

"Ah. Yes, shall we?" Remus said neatly.

"Well, if you want," Jeremy reasoned, locking the door tightly with a few charms. "I have an announcement. Much to everyone's surprise, I'm sure."

Conor suddenly saw the downside of taking orders from a teenager. "Can we stop with the pithy comments and get to it? There's other things to do."

Jeremy ignored that, although the point was very well taken. "As I was saying, Barty Crouch Senior, head of Magical Law Enforcement, has all but declared war against the werewolves. There's not much he can do, but Fenrir will hear soon enough and it's going to hold him back. The more he's held back, the more he'll be paying attention to the pack, so we may have a delay on our hands."

"Has he really," Remus said slowly. That was certainly news, and not good news.

"Unless we move faster, rather than slower," Briony said. Not that she was looking forward to the war would come after, but it was an option.

"Faster? I'm already bringing five at a time, you don't think they're going to notice over ten vanishing every two weeks?" Jeremy couldn't help but tense at this idea. Faster? What more could he do?

"Calm down, Curenton, there's ways to make this work," Conor said. He touched wolves to Briony to give hers an approving nudge. "Take them out six at a time, the long way, while Remus and I make Fenrir unable to stop thinking about a war on Hati. If nothing else, you have all proven yourselves quite adept at starting mass hysteria."

Jeremy sat up straight, his gaze far off. "That's it!"

"What's what," Skylar prompted him patiently.

Jeremy felt lightning-struck, ridiculously comfortable in this role, and inspired. "All of this has worked because he thought there was a threat," he said, appraising his fellow saboteurs as he looked around the room. "He thought it was me, or Laurel, or any one of us, and that's what made him fail. And now what's he got to fear? Barty Crouch -- but that's something he can't combat. We need to give him something he can, make him paranoid about something he can beat. We need to convince him that Hati's a real threat -- that she's going to march on him and he has to make the first move."

Remus allowed himself a moment of cynicism. "Yeah. That'll be difficult," he said dryly. "Which is to say not at all."

"And you haven't even met Hati. I'd be afraid she was going to march on me just from a sideways look," Jeremy said, then looked sideways at Conor. "Sorry, the pithy comments are a genetic condition."

"She never would," Conor said, terse. "Fenrir would have to be a real fool to think that Hati would do such a thing, that house of hers is a fortress, everyone knows that -- likely now more than ever. They're probably prepared for siege if nothing else -- "

"You're not using your imagination," Jeremy interrupted. "We can make him think whatever we damn well want him to."

While Jeremy ignored the insult he’d just given Conor, Briony didn’t. "It's about... appealing to his ego," she said, sitting up. "And... and the... you know, of it all..."

"Megalomania?" Remus provided.

"Right," she said.

"There's a line we're going to have to make sure we don't cross, though," Jeremy added, urgent. "The one thing that Hati has that Fenrir doesn't is wands, and if Fenrir feels threatened by Hati's wands he may reach out to the Death Eaters, and that's a risk we don't want to take. I guess we're going to have to make Hati look like an idiot and not use her strength."

Make Hati look like an idiot. The corners of Briony's mouth twitched upward as she looked up at Conor, and found she had only four words for Jeremy. "Good luck with that."

It had sounded stupid in his head and it sounded stupider out loud, Jeremy knew. "I didn't mean it like that," he said.

Conor couldn't help some amusement. "But that's what you said," he said, sharing Briony's amusement. "'Make Hati look like an idiot.' Any ideas on how to do that, Curenton?"

"Yeah, actually." Speaking without allowing himself to think twice about the difficulties of things really made it easier to think up mad things that worked. "Have her send a werewolf here either as an envoy or as a threat. Or even on an attack. Even better if someone gets hurt."

"One would certainly have to be stupid to do either," Remus allowed. "Would she do that?"

"I think it's more a matter of 'can Jeremy talk her into it'," Skylar said.

"What do you mean, can I? She'll probably try to hex me if I even suggest it, but she can't deny that the plan works. After all," Jeremy said, with a note of finality as he looked to Conor, "it worked on you. So... warn him of the threat of Hati, he'll laugh you off, keep it going, keep the news of Crouch from him as long as you can, and once he does find out -- if Yaxley comes -- we'll spring the trap of Hati's underhanded attack to distract him. Anything else?"

"Don't you dare talk about the death of my first like that, like it was nothing but a play in a Quidditch playbook," Conor snapped, lashing out with his tone and against the tie with Briony. "Don't you dare!"

Briony's breathing stopped for a second at the suddenness of the mental impact and she closed her eyes against it. Geoff. It still hurt after all this while, and it shouldn't have.

"His death was awful," Skylar started carefully, eyeing Briony, and then Conor. "Losing a member of the pack, a first son, is awful. But it was a play, for Fenrir.”

Jeremy shook his head. "All the deaths in this war have been awful, Geoffrey's, all those lost in all those wars, those who were just butchered at the Den, hell, Laurel's death was awful from what I heard, and they're all plays. This isn't your daddy's werewolf war, if we go along the lines of your usual rules, we'll lose," he said flat-out. "The only way to win is to step outside that box, that's how Fenrir won and that's how we're beating him. Don't get philosophical, just win. Who next? We can't kill Wesley -- whoever was sent from Hati's pack would never survive." He sighed and his gaze fell on the most silent of any of them. "Remus."

The mention of Laurel's name made his skin crawl. It would forever, he was sure of it. He glanced up, and met Jeremy's glance. "We've gotten this far because we played with Fenrir's rules and manipulated an order and system that he's established." They'd learned to work the system to their advantage so well it was nigh sickening.

"No, no, Remus." Jeremy sent him a grin. "Remus, Hati's werewolf is going to attack you. Who else?"

"Of course, who else," he echoed.

Jeremy raised an eyebrow. "Take a play from Fenrir's playbook, as it were. Of course, to make sure they don't think Conor's in league with Hati -- forgive me, Conor, but it'll be his first thought, trust me -- Conor's going to have to react violently in opposition. In part, at least, on behalf of his daughter."

"You're going to convince Hati to send one of her werewolves to attack Remus, and have me urge war at that," Conor repeated. "You're really depending on Fenrir to get caught up in the moment, aren't you?"

"I think that the strategy of keeping Fenrir distracted and following the commands of our people has yet to fail," Jeremy said smoothly, "and you can't deny that Fenrir likes to get caught up in the moment. Any protests, cries of outrage? Hati's all but declaring war, ladies and gents."

"Fenrir likes his dramatics," Remus said to Conor.

"He loves his dramatics," Briony corrected.

"My wife corrects me too," Jeremy said, not even bothering to hold that comment back.

"Does she ever tell you to shut up?" she asked in response with a look that would have made Medusa think twice.

Jeremy sent her an innocent smile, unfazed. "All the time. Keep practising that look, in a few years you might rival Hati."

"I think you may find Hati more difficult to convince than you think," Conor said, standing, "but I have nothing more to say. Move faster," he added to Jeremy. "Briony's right. Take them out more and more often. We'll make him paranoid." He nodded to Remus. "We can handle that. You deal with the unnameds." Stand, he commanded Briony over their tie.

Jeremy wore a bitter sort of smile. "Don't underestimate me, Conor."

Briony looked up at Conor, but except for the look obeyed without question. "Don't underestimate Fenrir," she replied. He hadn't as of yet, he had estimated him quite well, but there was a first time for everything and they were too close to winning to screw it all up with one false move now.

Jeremy laughed. "If anything I'm overestimating. Sky, anything before we go? Remus? I trust you lot, go forth and wreak paranoia."

"Not for the general assembly," Skylar said, contemplatively tapping her fingers. "But I do need to speak with you. I think."

That surprised him, though maybe it shouldn't have; Sky actually seemed more reflective than cheerful, which was uncommon. "Great. Mind giving us some privacy, all?" Jeremy asked, tone bright.

Conor said nothing further, tugging Briony behind him gently as he left the room.

Remus waited only as long as he needed to before following after Conor and Briony, nodding to each of them left, and closed the door tightly behind him. Skylar turned back to Jeremy and smiled, although it came out slightly more worried than she meant it to. "It's nothing awful terrible," she promised. "I just... wanted to perhaps talk about sending Gemma and Rory to the Den with you."

He hadn't been expecting that, so he took a moment to really think it through before outright denying the idea. "Sky," he said slowly, "what is it, why do you think they need to go?"

Skylar thought about her words for a second before she said, "I know they aren't small children anymore. And neither is Rory mine, but honestly, it's close enough that it hardly matters. I feel I've done them a great wrong keeping them here as long as I have, even though there were people you needed to get out of here faster than them. But they've risked their lives, they've done their part. For what comes next, I want them to be safe. If Keith were here instead of me, I would want him to do the same. They can be on whatever you think is going to be the last trip out of here, I understand it would be missed if they're gone, Gemma's not exactly... okay, she's loud, and Rory's practically been the permanent attachment to her right arm since the day they met. I want them safe now," she repeated, speaking with a great deal of calm to make up for the panic she was sure would rise if she let it.

"All right." Jeremy stretched out his legs and considered it. "We're going to have to split them up. We're going to pretend one of them ran away, and then the other one followed. Pick one and tell me, I'll send them along with the next group."

She nodded before she could go back on herself. God, moving them could be far stupider than keeping them there, what was she thinking? "I think it'd be more likely for Rory to be the run away." Not to mention, Skylar thought he would be the easier sell for going quietly.

"I thought so too, but I deferred to your superior knowledge," Jeremy said, with a nod. "Are you sure about this?"

"Not at all," she admitted, her second guesses having turned into third, fourth, and beyond over the time she'd been contemplating it. She closed her eyes. Trust your instincts, they have carried you far, her wolf told her, and she nodded. "Yes. Yes, I'm sure. They'll be out of harm's way, if nothing else."

Jeremy nodded, and stood. "We should get them out before the war, at least. Tell Rory to talk to me when he can. Is that it?"

"Thank you," she said, feeling a little better. She smiled again, more genuinely this time. "That's it from me," she added at that, as she stood.

He sent her a smile. "Thanks. It's good to know someone's looking out for the kids besides Wesley," he added. "Keep up the good work." He Disapparated.

Her kids, anyway, or the closest she would ever get. Without much more time to herself, Skylar left Remus's room and made her way down the staircase to look for Rory. Gemma would come easier if she knew Rory was on board, and he would be more likely to be on board if she saw him alone.

~*~


In months since she'd been snatched and bitten, little Mercy Smith had grown up considerably. Not physically -- she had the same bony, lithe build that had left her playing Seeker in games of backyard Quidditch, but she was different. Older. Since her first difficult months, under the guidance of Fenrir and Wesley, she had grown to somewhat nearly perfect harmony with her wolf. Beth had caught on to it within days, and Josiah hadn't taken it quite as hard as she had, but she looked at it as something she had earned rather than won.

With both of her siblings quite well adjusted to pack life -- in fact, their problems seemed few -- Mercy herself had to find her niche in the pack. Inexplicably, though Fenrir was her father, she found herself more drawn to Wesley. Her wolf's brother, for lack of a better term. This had led to her using her athleticism for other means -- learning to fight.

She looked up at Wesley from the flat of her back, in the grass. Well, she was still learning. "I didn't do that right," she said, blinking.

"No, you didn't." Wesley considered her, then eyed the house and the group of children playing tag some distance away. Then he looked down at her again. "Get up."

Mercy scrambled to her feet and blew her overgrown fringe out of her face, waiting for him. He gave her a crooked smile. "You're small. It's an advantage and a disadvantage. But you're using too much force -- it doesn't matter how hard you hit, it matters where." He paused, brushing his hair out of his face, and reached for one of his knives. "I have a gift for you."

She looked at his hand reaching and for a moment she was speechless, instead reaching to him with her wolf. "I don't... I can't," she said immediately.

"You can't," he repeated, drawing out the knife and easily holding the handle out to her. "Why can't you?"

"It's yours," she said slowly, but reached for the handle, mesmerised all the same. She took the knife and held it in her hand, feeling the weight of it.

"If you earn it, then it's yours." Wesley watched her, not sure he could make himself take it from her. It fit too well in her hand. "Only then. Would you like to learn?"

She ran a finger along the edge of the blade, careful to not let it actually cut her. "Yes," she answered.

"Sit with me," he ordered, his wolf giving hers a nudge, and he reached for his other knife as he sat on the ground. Mercy eagerly dropped to the ground across from him, close enough so that he could speak to her.

Wesley shone light off the edge of his knife, caught Mercy's reflection in it, and the corner of his mouth turned up. "Knives are meant to draw blood," he said finally, and opened his palm. "Fast, and sharp, and almost painless. That's why you use a knife." He pressed it into his palm, the knife biting into his skin and drawing blood. "No weakness, no hesitation, no squeamishness." He looked up at her. "Go on."

Mercy looked back at him, at the knife, and finally at her free hand. She had only a moment's hesitation before she imitated Wesley, pressing the knife's edge into the palm of her hand. It began to cut, and she flinched slightly as the thin red line of her blood appeared along the blade.

"A lesson for the knife and for everything, Mercy," he said, tossing his knife to his other hand and touching her head with the other. "The sooner you're always prepared for pain, the less it surprises you. And then you never hurt again."

She closed her fingers over the stripe, feeling it sting with each beat of her heart. "The worst part of pain is the surprise," she said to herself, as though making a note. A throat cleared and she jumped, looking up at the first of the pack.

Remus wasn't sure which was more disturbing, that a thirteen-year-old girl was sitting there with a sliced palm, or that she was sitting there with a sliced palm while Wesley sat across from her in a similar state. "Ah, apologies for interrupting," he told them, feeling very awkward indeed, "but if I may borrow you for a moment, Wesley."

Wesley gave a brisk soldier's nod, and looked to Mercy. "Go see your sister, she can bind that for you. I'll find you later. And beware the element of surprise," he added, almost joking, as he stood.

Remus began to wash the image from his brain as Mercy stood and left them to find Bethany. Not that he'd ever seen Wesley as one for small talk, that didn't stop him from trying to ease into conversation with, "How is she learning?"

"Best you can ask for, from a girl. She'll be formidable in a few months, unstoppable in a year." Wesley smiled as she shut the door behind her. "She has the poise." He dropped the soft look, looked back to his Father's heir, and straightened. "She'll do good work for this pack."

He nodded slowly, expression passive. He'd been somewhat afraid of that -- the Smith kids were going to be too far in to get out. "Good," he said.

He nodded again in return, and lovingly wiped the blood from the knife before returning it to its sheath. "What do you need, Remus?"

He breathed in, and out once. "I think between... what happened to Laurel and Curenton's punishment for his seeming involvement, any bit of rebellion's been scared out of them. But you know what to look for," he informed him. He prepared to agitate. "A good thing. Every wolf will be needed against Hati."

"Against Hati," Wesley repeated, regretting the echo of the name, the only name that made doubt appear on his Father's face. "You're right. Of course. We do mean to bring the bastards along, there shouldn't be any risk. And any risk shouldn't be a problem." He gestured to the handle of his knife.

"Of course not. Vigilant as always," he noted. Looking at that knife made him uneasy. "The fight should be a fast one."

"She has wands." But he had to banish the uneasiness from his voice, that was weak. Fear dulled the mind. "We'll be ready for them. With your help."

"The wands won't be a problem for you," Remus told him. At that point he looked over at Wesley and swallowed. "Worry about the people who aren't going to have them."

"I'm not afraid of her," Wesley said; his hand rested on his knife, for comfort. "I'm not afraid of any of them. I'd kill them now if you gave the order. Hati herself."

If he could get close enough. The way Jeremy told it, Hati and her pack were well guarded -- but then again, this was Wesley, and Remus had no doubt that if he gave the word, he would go. "Soon enough," he told him. "You'll get a shot soon enough."

Wesley nodded, then scoffed, vigilantly watching the children far off. "It won't be soon enough. She's an abomination. A woman at the head of a pack, a mother instead of a Father. She'll be better off here, if she survives."

Remus looked at the children as well. He watched Gemma pick herself up off the ground and immediately bounce back. "Depends on whether Fenrir thinks that she'd be a danger here, I expect," he said. "Which she probably would be."

He simply shrugged in return. "They say she carries a wand -- that she can read minds. But I think we could break her, given the time. The Scrimgeours," he added to Remus, pointing at two boys who wrestled on the ground. "They tried to cling to their wizarding roots, but here, in the unified pack, it's irresistible. It's how we're meant to be, and here, we're free."

"They've adjusted," Remus conceded. Another pair they would probably not see out of the pack. It didn't leave him with a good feeling. "That's what it is. An adjustment."

"I'm surprised at Ben Skoll's boy, Rory. Do you know him? You'd have seen him around Bethany," Wesley supposed, his hand drifting away from his knife. "Right there." He pointed. "Taller every day, I swear. Clever, if nervous. A named son of a named son, so he's almost salvageable."

"Yes," he said, and looked. Rory was not difficult to pick out, tall amongst the children. "He is quite intelligent," he said reluctantly, feeling as though it may have done him a disservice -- but the less attention drawn, the better.

"Still, one of Ben Skoll's. Still attached to Skoll's girl. That must be fixed." He looked a bit perturbed at that.

"She's not been a concern," Remus said mildly. "There will be plenty of time once the pack is together."

Wesley's head dropped into a respectful nod. "If you consider her to be trustworthy, Remus."

"At the moment," he replied.

"Just let me know." Everyone knew that Remus could observe and speak, but action was hardly his strength.

"Of course." Skylar was glue, as far as their little group of saboteurs was concerned, and it was no wonder. "I'll leave you to them, then. Children, obviously," he clarified.

"Yes, of course," Wesley echoed with faint amusement. Any other order might have killed him with the shock. "You must have things to look after, and I should make sure Terry hasn't killed Byron yet." He allowed the wolf to give Remus's a familiar touch, and wiped what blood remained off on his shirt before heading up towards the kids.

Remus touched back, more out of habit than anything else, and slid his hands into his pockets. For a moment he watched as Gemma tried to chase Rory -- it was difficult to chase when the chased wasn't moving, but it was so typically them that he had to smile a bit. He went back towards the house and back inside in an unusual humour from the sight.

~*~


When it came to wizarding pureblooded society and its hierarchy, the Davises fell somewhere between the second and third tier, but Isabelle Davis had spent her life attempting to change that. Today showed her work worthwhile -- today showed how far her family name had come with all of her efforts. She restrained a much more enthusiastic smile in favour of one that more closely mirrored the one on Miss Umbridge's face as they made their way down the walk to the front door of Malfoy Manor.

"Tea with Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy," Dolores said, her smile widening at the girl's excitement. "An honour, you must know! Very private, intimate."

"I do consider it an honour, Miss Umbridge." Isabelle had caught glimpses of the Malfoys, but the idea of being in their Manor, nonetheless drinking their tea and conversing openly with them, was almost too much for her.

Umbridge cleared her throat. "Miss Davis... remember we come here with a purpose. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy are very important people, very influential people, and they have something we need -- but they are still people. We can hardly come all this way just to leave without what we need! We're here to drive a bargain."

At that, Isabelle genuinely smiled, it settling into a smirk as she realised the power she really did hold. "And we will win that bargain, Miss Umbridge," she said. Her heart leapt into her throat as they approached the door, and knocked.

Narcissa Malfoy was not one who worried constantly about who was on their property -- after all, she had nothing to fear. Appearances had to be kept, though, and unfortunately that meant their wards had gone off, setting poor Draco to whimpering in the bassinet they kept in the parlour. "Shh, there, there," she told him, smoothing a hand over his fine, blonde hair. "Dobby," she commanded, and waited for the House Elf to appear before giving her orders. "Answer the door and then go find Lucius. Our guests have arrived."

The House Elf nodded quickly. "Yes madam, very quickly!" he answered smartly, but didn't dare say any more on risk of having to iron his hands again. He disappeared and reappeared at the front door, pulling it open to admit Umbridge and Isabelle. "Welcome misses, please follow Dobby."

Isabelle barely managed to keep her lip from curling, but Miss Umbridge didn't look at the beast at all, so she kept her expression blank and simply followed. The manor was beautiful; she had seen pictures, but they hardly compared. She stopped right away, though, at a sight unparalleled in the manor -- Lucius Malfoy himself. "Miss Umbridge," he greeted. "And this must be your assistant."

"Oh, Lucius, how lovely to see you," Umbridge simpered, accepting his hand and shaking it, only then gesturing to Isabelle. "Might I introduce you to Miss Isabelle Davis, Bradley Davis's daughter, my very capable and right-minded assistant in all sorts of ... messy policy areas."

Dobby wrung his hands nervously and got as close to his master as he dared to break in and say, "Madam is waiting in the parlour for you all, sir."

"You might have said that earlier, elf," Lucius said tersely. "Go on, run along. This way, if you will," he added to the two women, gracious as always, and led them to the parlour. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss Davis, and I'm certain my wife will feel the same, if all I've heard of you is true."

It was enough to start a flush in Isabelle's cheeks. She opened her mouth to speak, but Umbridge was giving her a pointed look (with just her eyes, her polite smile remaining), and she simply said, "Thank you, sir."

Draco had calmed down by the time Lucius lead Madam Umbridge and the girl in, thankfully. "There's my strong, handsome boy," Narcissa murmured to him with a slight smile, and then straightened. "Hello, Lucius -- and welcome to both of you," she greeted her husband and their guests.

Lucius moved to stand beside his wife, glancing down at his son for a cursory moment. Before he could speak, Madam Umbridge was smiling and speaking up. "Narcissa, it's truly a pleasure. I'd like you to meet Isabelle Davis, my assistant in policymaking."

"Bradley Davis's daughter," Lucius murmured to his wife.

Ah. The glint in the girl's eye immediately made sense now, although Narcissa kept that to herself. "I'm pleased to meet you, Isabelle," she told the girl.

"I -- thank you, Mrs Malfoy, it's an honour," Isabelle returned, with a certain amount of pride that she managed to stay reserved.

"Shall we sit, then?" Lucius suggested, and pulled out the chair for his wife. "So many things to discuss."

"Of course," Narcissa agreed. "Sit, please," she added to Umbridge and Isabelle, letting them take seats before she did as well.

Umbridge glanced aside at the girl just barely, to keep her from squirming in her chair like a child, and accepted her cup of tea. "In such dangerous times it's a lovely thing to see a family doing so well. How is your Draco?"

"He's doing very well," Narcissa answered, casting a cursory glance to their son. "Growing so quickly, and he's strong as well. How is your work at the Ministry?"

"Oh, it has its difficulties as always -- I imagine you saw the piece in The Daily Prophet about our esteemed Department Head," Umbridge said, with a thin smile.

"Ah, yes. Yet another man who is content to lay their problems on Barty Crouch's shoulders. Assuredly, though, there isn't a more capable man in Britain than Mr Crouch," Lucius said.

Isabelle set down her tea. "It's a pity that even our Department Head doesn't have faith in the people of our Department to do what we must with the resources we have," she said, ignoring the issue of Crouch.

"Are you suggesting that your Department is lacking in resources?" Lucius said directly to the girl.

"Mr Scamander is the one who said that, sir." Isabelle cleared her throat. "I only mean to say that there are employees in the Department who have new ideas for new ways to deal with the... dangerous magical creatures that have emerged over the course of this war, but Mr Scamander only sees his precious, costly and outdated programs as assets."

"I do hope you manage to convince Mr Scamander otherwise," Narcissa said. "Some... things are far too dangerous to be allowed to continue. And if he cannot handle his department, he should not be in charge of it."

Lucius glanced aside at his wife, with the start of a smirk. "Well, he is very qualified for the job, overqualified perhaps in the area of magical creatures, but I ... can't say that he is the sort of political mind necessary at a time like this."

"Oh, truly, Lucius," Umbridge agreed, with a gentle frown. "The very idea of a man who neglects his own Department, criticises his employees, and then dares to criticise the choices of a greater man who is expertly running the largest Department in the Ministry in the midst of a war..."

"The leadership is a problem, but Mr Scamander is as alive and active as ever, so his retirement isn't exactly imminent." Isabelle picked up her tea and dared look at Narcissa. "The creatures that terrorise the people of wizarding Britain, they should be our first priority."

Narcissa's smile was small and polite, but geniune for all that. "You're a bright girl," she said. "But so young to be helping Madam Umbridge, Isabelle. How long have you been working for her?"

Isabelle didn't look over at Madam Umbridge, but she certainly knew the look she was getting, and composed herself quickly. "Oh, it's been... a year and a half at least. I work specifically for the Werewolf Registry, though, the policy work is all volunteer... "

"The Werewolf Registry," Lucius mused. "It's no wonder you say these things, you've seen Scamander's bumbling firsthand."

Isabelle smoothed her hair. "It's a modest operation, but I do what I can with what we have. The werewolves haven't been tracked, tagged, not for decades, there's just paperwork. There needs to be more regulation, more control, and that -- "

"That is one of the many things we're looking into," Umbridge segued neatly. "There are all sorts of details that need working out, but we have high hopes for the Department."

"Ah, I see." Narcissa nodded and lifted her teacup. "Well, volunteer or not, she is certainly lucky. The Registry will also benefit -- of course, it isn't as though that's difficult to do."

Isabelle smiled slightly. "Not at all. Not that werewolves deserve the help," she dismissed, "but we can hardly have the children of upstanding pureblooded wizards suffering at their hands. Our families shouldn't have to live in fear."

"Well, it's hardly about making friends with them, I should think," Lucius said, bemused. "Regulation and control, if anything. Newt Scamander can tell us as many times as he likes that some of his pets are Beings, not Beasts, but with one glance to those poor families..."

"Something must be done," Umbridge finished, with her pointed gaze set just as firmly on Lucius as her smile.

"Certan families, at any rate," Narcissa added as she sipped her tea. "It's nice to see that there are some people working in our government who still have the right idea of it."

"Some families are more important than others, and those who try to deny it are ... delusional. Or jealous," Isabelle said wryly.

"Miss Davis, please," Umbridge chided immediately.

"It's all right, Madam Umbridge," Narcissa said. "I'm sure Isabelle knows what is appropriate to say where -- and there is... an order to the world. A hierarchy. Without it, there is chaos."

Umbridge's smile brightened. "Oh, well-said! Just look at what the magical creatures do when we let them, they lash out like children."

Lucius rested his hand on his wife's knee, and smirked. "Madam Umbridge, you know my Narcissa is more than a pretty face."

Narcissa smiled in reply to that and simply covered Lucius's hand with her own. "It's even simpler than that. The order has been upset and that is how this war has gotten out of hand."

"Thank Merlin there are people willing to set things back in place," Isabelle said fervently, indulging a smile. "These... troubles will soon come to an end."

"Oh, certainly, and then it's your job to carry it on," Umbridge said with a smile, and patted her hand.

Dobby reappeared in the sitting room and squeaked out, "Sir -- Mister Fudge is here, sir, to see you."

Lucius couldn't keep from looking pleased. "Is he, well, that could only be good news. Escort him here, elf."

Umbridge gave Isabelle's hand a light slap as her eyes widened. "What a stroke of luck," she said keenly to the girl.

Isabelle's hand still tingled, and so she simply smiled, faltering. "Yes, well, I -- yes."

Narcissa couldn't help but appear a little amused as Dobby left with a crack to do as his master bid. "I'm afraid things are going to get quite boring quite quickly," she told Isabelle in a conspiratorial manner.

"Very true, we've all sorts of things to sort out," Lucius said airily. "No matter how much power one holds, everyone is beholden to paperwork."

Isabelle glanced to Madam Umbridge, who wore the same smile as always, then shyly glanced up at Narcissa. "Thank you for the tea, Mrs Malfoy, it's been an honour..."

"Think nothing of it," Narcissa answered.

Cornelius Fudge followed the House Elf to the sitting room where he said Lucius and Narcissa were entertaining, bowler hat in hand. "Ah, Lucius! Good afternoon -- and to you, Mrs Malfoy, of course, so sorry to interrupt..."

"It's no trouble at all," Lucius said, all amiable. "Just a spot of tea with Madam Umbridge and her, ah, assistant -- "

"Cornelius," Umbridge greeted warmly, rising and indicating with a pointed look to Isabelle that she do the same. "What a surprise, a pleasure of course -- have you met Miss Davis yet?"

"I can't say I've had the pleasure, no," he answered, but nodded to the girl. "Hello, Miss -- Davis, it was?"

"Isabelle, Isabelle Davis, it's an honour, sir," she managed, smiling broadly at him.

"Bradley Davis's girl, I'm sure I've mentioned her, and all the work she's done," Umbridge added, clapping the girl on the shoulder. "Remember her name, I'm certain you'll be hearing it again."

Lucius sent Narcissa a weary look, and indicated the girl with a tilt of his head.

Narcissa immediately took her husband's meaning, and put down her tea on the table and stood. "I'll excuse myself, I'm sure you have plenty of business to discuss without me being in the way," she smiled demurely, and moved to the bassinet, picking up Draco. "Isabelle, perhaps you'd like to accompany me in taking Draco back to the nursery? We can let them do business and... talk."

"Of course," Isabelle said instantly, forcing herself not to glance backward for permission from Madam Umbridge, and simply sent Fudge her most demure smile. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr Fudge."

"Likewise, my dear, likewise," Fudge replied with a courteous nod.

"Have a seat, Cornelius, let's get to it," Lucius said, gesturing to the seat Isabelle had vacated.

"Thank you," he said, and sat in the girl's place, perching his hat on the arm of the sofa.

Narcissa smiled slightly as Isabelle closed the door behind them. "Back rooms and sitting rooms," she said. "Where the politics and deal making really happens."

~*~


Part B!
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