The figure of Lucius Malfoy came into view and nodded at the guard, who seemed surprised and nervous to see him.
"I wasn't expecting to see you, uh, sir," said the guard. "If you'll just sign in here..."
"'Sign in,'" Malfoy repeated, each word dripping with disdain. "You expect such a thing from Head of House Malfoy? Ridiculous!"
"Oh, calm yourself, darling," said a new voice as Narcissa walked forward and put a hand on Lucius' arm. "Why, I can just sign in instead!"
Lucius frowned deeply. "I still do not care for it. Lowering yourself to such a level!"
"It's just standard security," said the guard, glancing over to the other guards on duty, none of whom seemed particularly interested in helping. "Ministry rules and all that."
Narcissa gave the guard a smile and leaned forward, signing the guestbook with a flourish. "There. Now, you don't have to even mention anyone else, do you?"
"I guess not," the guard said slowly and then he nodded. "Alright then, I expect you'll want to see the prisoner. Wands here, though."
Narcissa put down her wand but Lucius hesitated and gave the guard another glare.
"If I am not officially here," he said. "Then why must I leave my wand. And besides, what if there happen to be Dementors about?"
The guard scowled. "Fine, sir. But don't think I'll keep this quiet if my job's in jeopardy."
Lucius gave him an oily smile. "I wouldn't expect anything less."
As they finally walked through the mostly empty halls of Azkaban, the guard said to them, under his breath, "You surprised me a bit with the accuracy. I almost think that..."
Narcissa held up a hand. "Enough," she said with a sharp note in her voice. "Don't raise suspicion."
The guard nodded and said nothing until they reached the cell. "Well." He paused and then scratched the back of his head. "I'll leave you here for five minutes, but that's all I can do." He then quickly walked away.
Bellatrix scrambled to her feet and looked up with a manic grin in her eyes. "Is it time? Are we to be liberated?"
"Not yet, sister," said Narcissa smoothly. "The time comes soon, but we have some business to take care of."
"The Dark Lord requires something of you, Lestrange," said Lucius coldly.
Bellatrix scowled at him. "When I am free from here, we shall see who he truly favors."
"Do you refuse this command?" Lucius asked with the barest hint of anger.
"Shut up then," said Bellatrix with a smirk. "The Dark Lord knows he can trust me. What is his desire?"
"We'll be moving the Cup," said Narcissa very quietly. "He believes the security has been compromised and he will move it. We will take care of moving it, but you must not mention this to any others."
"Compromised?" Bellatrix's face curled up into hatred and then she spat on the floor. "Bloody goblins! I might've known they'd muddle up the Dark Lord's plans."
"The Dark Lord knows you merely followed his instructions to find a safe place," said Lucius with a small smile. "It is a shame that it turned to be not so safe after all."
Bellatrix growled and she leaned against the bars. "When I get my wand back..."
"Don't pay him any mind," Narcissa said quickly, giving Lucius a look of annoyance. "Is there anything we need to know that you added and haven't yet mentioned?"
"That you don't know?" Bellatrix frowned and tapped her chin. "Probably not. Oh wait!" She grinned. "Gemini curse. Nasty business. But you know how to deal with that."
"Of course we do," said Lucius quickly. "But we were looking for anything that isn't obvious."
"Enough, dear," Narcissa said through clenched teeth. "Bella has been very helpful." She leaned to whisper something to her sister. "The Dark Lord has a message for you as well. After you have left this place, go to this location on the date written." She slipped a piece of paper through the bars. "Memorize it and eat it, of course."
Bellatrix grinned. "Of course, dear sister. I will see you soon on the other side."
Narcissa nodded and then the sounds of the guard walking back were heard.
"We'd better go," he said. "Dementors are near."
As they walked away, the guard dared to ask, "Did you get what you came for?"
"Yes," said Lucius. "Now no more talk until it's safe."
Once they were safely on the boat off the island, Harry sighed and leaned back. "That was an ordeal," he said. "Acting like that sanctimonious monster isn't easy."
"I'm just glad I was able to hold my shape the whole time," said Tonks. "I haven't seen Aunt Cissy in a while, so we're lucky Bellatrix was addled enough to not see anything odd." She gave Harry an appraising look. "And don't think I didn't notice you planting those seeds of distrust, nice one there."
"Yeah, well, you know how it goes." Harry shrugged. "Sometimes the character just speaks to you, like Moody and Crouch."
They said nothing for a few minutes, and then Tonks frowned.
"The thought occurs to me, Harry; what if You-Know-Who spills the beans about the Horcrux to Bellatrix?"
"Then we've read him wrong," said Harry, although the thought had also occurred to him. "But hey, if it happens, we'll figure out what to do."
"I can't help but think that our guard friend was right, though," admitted Tonks. "What could you possibly do to get the goblins to help us?"
Harry gave her a slightly evil smirk, which was entirely too appropriate on Malfoy's face. "I've got something they want."
"You can't be serious!" Later, Harry would be shocked that he had yelled at his Head of House, but he would be too busy to care at that point.
McGonagall frowned. "Don't raise your voice at me, young man! It doesn't matter if you have a permission slip or not, it is far too dangerous for you to go to Hogsmeade with Sirius Black on the loose."
"But you're letting everyone else go," Harry said. "What's the harm?"
"You know very well that you are being targeted," she said firmly. "And if you are seen around friends, Black might think they are targets as well. You may be cavalier with your own safety, but you don't want to endanger your friends, do you Mister Potter?"
"No," grumbled Harry. "I don't."
"Then the matter is closed."
Of course, this didn't prevent Harry from sneaking into Hogsmeade anyway, his Invisibility Cloak concealing his form as he explored the town. When he saw McGonagall go into the Three Broomsticks with a few others, including the Minister of Magic, he decided to find somewhere else to avoid attention.
The Hog's Head Inn seemed exactly the place to try.
Everything was quiet in the pub, and not another soul was there except for the bearded bartender. But perhaps it was that lack of noise that caught the old man's attention.
"Eh?" The bartender looked up. "Is someone there?" His eyes narrowed. "Show yourself! This is no place for a bunch of Disillusioned kids sneaking a firewhiskey."
Harry inched towards the door. "You have to promise not to say anything," he said softly. "I was just looking for someplace quiet."
The bartender raised an eyebrow. "So you're there after all, eh? Sure, I don't care who you are, just don't much like anyone sneaking around."
Slowly Harry pulled off his Cloak, and looked straight at the old man. "Well?"
"Well what?" The old man asked and then laughed. "You expect a reaction from me? I recognize who you are, but is that supposed to impress me? I've been around a long time, kid."
Harry bristled in annoyance. "I don't like the whole fame thing anyway. It's about something I was just a baby about and caused my parents to be killed. Why should I be happy about it?"
"So cynical, kid," said the old man. "I like your attitude. Here, have a seat, I'll get you a butterbeer."
Harry blinked, surprised by the reaction. He shrugged but sat down anyway at a table. The old man sat across from him with a bottle and two glasses.
He then poured a small amount into one glass and about three times as much into the other.
"Go ahead, Potter," he said, pushing the less full glass forward.
Harry picked it up uncertainly. "This is butterbeer?"
The bartender laughed. "No, kid, it's firewhiskey. Cheers!" He then poured it into his mouth and after a moment, his eyes watered and he blew out a small tendril of smoke. "C'mon, you haven't drunk yours," he said. "I thought I heard you were in Gryffindor. Scared to try?"
"I thought it wasn't allowed for anyone under seventeen," said Harry, although he was a bit curious. "Safety or whatever."
"Nonsense!" The old man scoffed. "I've been handing out this stuff for decades. I know how much a kid your age can handle, and one shot'll be fine. Take it! Here, I'll take another one myself to make it easier." He poured himself another two fingers and held up the glass. "Now then, if you don't drink this time, it's considered an offense to your host. Got me?" He winked.
Harry laughed. "Well... okay, how bad could it be?" He clinked his glass against the old man's and drank it all in one go. Instantly he felt like his face was on fire and there was an intense build up of heat in his throat. Harry felt like he was about to burp, and tried to hold it back for politeness, but when he couldn't handle it any more, he let go, sending off a large burst of flame.
Suddenly Harry felt a bit lightheaded, but a curious warmth spread through him and he grinned. "That was pretty interesting," he said. "Thanks, sir."
"Call me Aberforth," the old man said. "Or just Abe, if you don't have time for the whole thing."
For some reason, this seemed incredibly funny and Harry laughed loudly. He looked over at Aberforth and nodded. "You can call me Harry," he said.
Aberforth smiled, his mouth quirked up a bit at one side. "You know, I get the feeling we have a bit in common. My mother was a Muggleborn too."
"Really?" Harry asked in surprise. "But you own a Wizarding pub."
"Well, I grew up entirely in the Wizard world," Aberforth said. "So I know how things work."
"Wish I knew how things worked," said Harry tiredly, leaning his head on the table. "The magical world is confusing."
Aberforth laughed. "You just need time and experience, lad. Can't let the smarties and prats tell you otherwise. We can't all be prodigies, can we?"
"Nope," said Harry, trying to get a few more drops out of his mostly empty glass and failing. "You know a few of those, huh?"
"Well, yes," said the old man. "Surprised you didn't know already, but then again, I get the feeling you were raised in the Muggle world."
"How'd you know?" Harry asked in surprise.
"Experience with students and people," Abe said. "Just the way you talk about things. You're not the typical famous sort."
"I hate the fame," said Harry. "It's stupid."
Aberforth sighed. "Seems a bit shortsighted if you ask me. You could do a lot of good if you wanted to. Or just let the idiots out there tell you what they think of you."
"Huh," said Harry, thinking this sounded an awful lot like Lockhart, except that the word "good" had been mentioned. "But what were you saying that I should've already known?"
"Ah, that," said the old man. "You probably already know my brother. He runs your school."
"You're Dumbledore's brother?" Harry almost shouted this and his glass fell to the floor.
"I'm also Dumbledore," said Aberforth with a grimace. "But I've always been the 'other Dumbledore', basically my entire life."
"Oh, I'm sorry," said Harry, feeling terrible. "I was just surprised. I didn't know he had a brother or any family at all."
"I'm all that's left," said the bartender. "But we don't talk much these days."
"Sorry," Harry said, feeling like this was awfully insincere after his reaction. "So I guess you do know a bit about the fame thing?"
"Infamy, more like it," the old man said. "But yeah, I do. I'm not in a position to do anything useful these days, but I know a lot of people. Everyone likes to drink, don't they?"
"I guess," said Harry. "What sort of people?"
Aberforth grinned. "Just the sort you should meet."
Albus looked over at his younger brother and shook his head. "None for me, I do not drink much anymore."
"Of course not," said Aberforth, rolling his eyes. "But more for me I guess." He poured himself a bit extra, perhaps too much to spite his brother.
The Headmaster sighed. "Oh, very well. I shall take a small amount."
Aberforth grinned, something Albus had not seen in many years. "Finally, my saintly brother descends to my level."
"No need for that," Albus said with a frown. "I would hope you'd be past such assertions."
"Not at all," said Aberforth and held up his drink. "To Harry, then? Something we can agree on."
Albus chuckled. "Yes, I suppose so." He carefully sipped at his drink, hoping it would not disturb his health in his advanced age. It had indeed been many years, after all.
"I think he's doing alright," said Aberforth. "Despite all the nonsense you've heaped on him."
"Nonsense?" Albus raised his bushy eyebrows. "You know quite well how important this effort is, as I assume he's told you all about it."
Aberforth nodded. "Most of it, anyway. He's learned his lessons well on that front, hiding what should stay hidden. Think he picked up that one from you too."
Albus sighed. "That was hardly my intention."
"But yet there it is," said his brother. "You hide and hold back and obfuscate and what happens? Harry turns into a little version of you." He shook his head. "It's tragic, that's for sure."
"Perhaps it's not so tragic as that," Albus replied with a smile. "He might have gained a reasonable combination of both our strengths and fewer of our weaknesses."
Aberforth snorted and then he sighed. "So optimistic. Typical Albus. I hope you're right."
"He cannot possibly fail as badly as we did," said Albus in a light tone. "Perhaps together we can ensure that."
"Yeah, maybe," said Aberforth. He tapped at his glass thoughtfully. "Your insufferable genius and my actual understanding of people, who knows?"
Albus laughed and held up his glass. "Indeed, Aberforth. Perhaps one more?"
Post-Notes: Thanks for the lookover from Nuhuh, who knows what the secret pairing is for this story and picked up on it immediately.