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  (radar) Limbo

 

For Sciolist; part of the Fabilaux collection.


"Which brings me to declare at least eight counts of Unforgivables in this jurisdiction," the lawyer said, "resulting in fifty-four permanent deaths, sixteen amputations, the ruin of twenty-eight acres of arable land, nine uprooted ghosts, a plague of bovines, and two counts of Utter Fleecation. I put it to you," she declared, "that this woman be taken from this place and incarcerated for no less than forty-seven mil--"

"The Fleecation was disputed," Servalan's lawyer broke in idly, and Minerva glared at him from her position in the witness stand. He gave the judge a wry smile. "It cannot be proved that the process wouldn't have occurred naturally, given time."

"*Regardless*," the first lawyer growled, "I put it to you that she must be taken from this place and--"

"Also, there are no certificates left in tact proving the previous arability of the land, after the fireball," Servalan's lawyer interrupted, and the judge frowned.

"Is that a formal objection?"

"Not yet," he smiled. Minerva folded her arms and tried not wish impotence on him. He was doing his job. He was not the deserving recipient of the wrath she bore.

"I would thank you to keep your peace, then," the judge said gruffly, "until you have something relevant to say."

"I shall--"

"I put it to you," the first lawyer ground out, "that this woman be taken from this place and incarcera--"

"Objection," Servalan said archly, and the court drew in a collective breath, then hissed it out softly, a tide of barely-legal disapproval. Even the gargoyles were glaring at her. Minerva forced herself to look impassively in Servalan's direction, and shocked herself with the pure relief she felt at discovering that now those fierce eyes and bruise-dark lips didn't call any warmth into her bar the heat of loathing. The voice helped, of course. She still wasn't used to hearing that drawl in an English accent.

The judge looked at Servalan curiously. "Yes?"

"These proceedings tire me," Servalan said, with a dismissive wave of one blackly bejeweled hand. "Enough."

She rose to her feet, and six constable-mages clattered to their feet, putting her at wandpoint from every direction. Minerva couldn't blame them for jumping. Earlier, when the doors had thundered open in a blaze of snow and Servalan had swept in wearing a thick phoenix-feather cloak, she had seemed positively and poisonously inhuman. She reeked of sour magic - perhaps three dozen restrictive wards, each closing its own terms rankly about her limbs - to the point that it would be impossible for any spell to whisk her away from the proceedings, but nevertheless, the air about her couldn't be trusted.

A Trick Up The Sleeve was not a light accusation to make, but if ever a population had cause...

"This will formally be regarded as an Outburst unless you explain yourself at once," the judge was saying darkly, and Servalan regarded him blankly for five seconds before dipping her spiked lashes and smiling like a coy witchlette.

"Maloney," she murmured, voice pitched to wrap the entire court in suffocating syrup. Her lawyer looked at her confidently. "Put an end to this farce, there's a sweetheart."

The back of Minerva's neck prickled, and she crossed her third fingertip over her forth in a silent exorcism charm. The prickling did not go away. The constable-mages looked deeply uncomfortable, though not a one of them lowered their wand. Somewhere near the back of the room, a barely audible grumbling ceased all at once.

Maloney lifted his finger, and an exquisite miniature hawk plummeted from the bird rail like a dropped amethyst. It perched proudly, lifting its shining beak, and Minerva gritted her teeth. Maloney had done work experience at Hogwarts when he was a junior, and she remembered his pet stoat with its grubby claws and tendency to eat parchment.

"Call witness 17," Maloney said clearly, and the hawk shot out of the room like a comet-curse over the jury's startled heads. There wasn't supposed to be a seventeenth witness. Servalan wasn't supposed to be treating the judge like an inferior. There was a distinct increasing intensity to the chill that had possessed Minerva since she'd walked in through the blue 4pm twilight and heard that the prosecution's mind was *not on the job* because she'd been trying and failing to contact her brother for the last three days.

The rest of the witnesses seemed even less poised. The young man Servalan had had indicted for elf farming was crying again, but quietly this time. There was a definite trembling coming from the trio of witches who'd been practicing chameleonic charms near Squid Pier eight months ago - on the precise day, in fact, that Servalan docked dressed as a milkman for the rendezvous with Riddleson that resulted in two of the Fleecation charges and one uprooted ghost. Next to Minerva, Lady Empson of Kent, Servalan's most notorious lover of the last two years, was breathing with a calmness that belied the eight grams of sphinx bile that were gradually eating away her insides. She had approximately eight weeks left, the mediwitch had murmured, if Minerva became her blood-sub. Without Minerva's contribution, six days.

It was widely whispered, Minerva knew, that Lady Empson of Kent's life was being forcibly sustained by a bevy of High Councillors for the duration of the trial. Minerva was perfectly happy to allow that assumption to continue. She was equally happy for the assumption to circulate that she, Mistress McGonagall, was testifying against the accused on grounds of having discovered Certain Papers when Servalan - at this point Bearing False Identity of Irish Descent - was finalizing her plans to bring the well-liked Baron Restal of Yorkshire-and-Humberside to his knees.

She was more than happy for it never to emerge that Papers had been the least of her worries. She'd like her name to be kept neutral in the history books right back to the beginning, where it ought to be stated that she'd taken an instant dislike to the woman.

She had. She'd quelled it on the proviso that it may well be her baser instincts calling the shots. Realising this, she'd tried to make amends for her prejudice. She'd made far, far too many amends.

Servalan had come amongst them from Ireland, fresh-faced and raven-haired and debilitatingly pretty, and cursed. Definitely cursed. Had fallen foul of an unpleasant character due to her flawless lineage, and been placed in a harsh spellbind - so much that she couldn't perform a single charm, nor spend an iota of magic energy, under any circumstances.

"It's as if I'm *Muggle*," Servalan had shuddered, after the first sour eight hours of tests; Minerva had exchanged looks with Albus, because that was the shocking truth. It was as if she'd never had magic to begin with. They must be up against a terrifying foe, one that could strip a powerful witch down so blithely--

--and so they had fought, researched, compounded their efforts into finding the key to the curse that suggested such a very real threat, and if Servalan helped massage Minerva's shoulders and calves after a long day, well, that was just the sort of gracious generous activity the sweet thing often carried out. If she learnt which refreshments would enthuse, and brought them frequently to the council meetings, it was because she used to care for seven, back at home, and honestly, sixteen such polite high councillors was nothing. If she came late one night to Minerva's room and confessed the raw violation of having her magic clawed from her, the humiliation of being forced to break her own wand, the fear that she would never again be able to do something as simple as the fireweaving charms she used to delight in; if she wept against Minerva's shoulder until the fabric was damp and hot against Minerva's skin, then that was only to be expected of a trauma victim.

"*The problem with the High Council*," Servalan had suggested, another time, in the gentle Irish brogue, "*is their unbelievable carelessness, oversight and superstition*," and Minerva had dismissed her instinctive wariness as paranoia, for here clearly was a lass just as homegrown and well-meaning as could be. The High Council's arrogant reputation was carefully cultivated to lull potential enemies into careless confidence. Their facade was their first line of defence, and since Voldemort's grand diffusion there was rarely need for a second. Servalan didn't understand that because she was a well-meaning, unsophisticated flower who couldn't even pronounce *double-entendre*, let alone comprehend the conceptual politics behind one. It was adorable, especially the widening of her eyes as Minerva patted her hand and explained the logic of always leaving one hatch in the Owlery unwarded to prevent unrecognised fliers - perhaps from foreign wizards, or newfounds - becoming a return-to-sender, and other such irrefutable security measures.

Thinking dispassionately of it now, Minerva felt profoundly sick at the ease with which Servalan had slipped under their radar, under her radar, into her bed.

The hawk shot back into the room, conferred briefly with Maloney, then disappeared without even the slightest bid for a treat. Minerva thought again of the stoat, its untrained begging.

"I'm afraid," Maloney said clearly, addressing Servalan and Servalan alone, "it seems the seventeenth witness hasn't arrived."

Servalan arched a brow. "Has he not sent word?"

"Not yet."

Servalan let out a little laugh. "Men! Never trust them. Isn't that annoying. Oh well, I suppose this charade must continue a little longer. But - enough for today, I think. I do need a short beauty nap these days, keeps the skin nice and youthful." Her voice was shining with crystal rivulets of laughter, girlish and unthreatening. "Would you care to do the honours with the clause about the Muggle Priority Ruling by authority of the Dumble-Blaine-Churchill triangulate, Maloney, or shall I?"

Muggle Priority Ruling. Indeed. By the Wrathful *Graces*-- She knew her stuff, as ever, Minerva thought bitterly, and composed herself for the inevitable stagnation of the trial, heart pounding hard. Servalan's gaze found her in the witness stand and stripped her wordlessly, sliding along her throat, under her robes, confident and inexorable as the grave. Minerva plumbed the depths of the stoicism she required to put up with Severus' musty robes left around the staffroom, and managed not to blink.

"Allow me, madam," Maloney murmured, with an ingratiating salute, then turned briskly to the judge. "Invoking clause 624, by concordance with the 1938 Dumble-Blaine-Churchill subclause, that being, magic crimes must be tried after muggle crimes due to the limited muggle life-expectancy--"

The door thundered open at the back of the hall, and several shrieks created a panic of bats whistling low and scratchy through the aisles. "Wait," a male voice growled, a noise as ugly as Moody with a hangover and twice as energetic. "Nobody move."

Servalan's head had turned interestedly at the commotion, and Minerva felt sick as she saw recognition light up Servalan's eyes. This was undoubtedly the missing witness, arrived after all. Fuck.

"Travis," Servalan cooed, with a bright, gorgeous smile. "How nice of you to drop in."

Minerva refused to crane round and look. She'd see him soon enough. The footsteps were those of a warrior, measured and menacing, ringing like the beat would of a death eater's heart. "Ma'am," the voice said. "Small uprising to the east. Got Stannis' stamp all over it, so I thought it prudent to investigate." The voice welled with rich, cruel humour. "Turns out it was nothing of the sort."

"But I'm sure you did your very best quelling anyway," Servalan smiled, and the object of her affection marched into view, and Minerva understood why his entrance had brought down the bats. His very face had been spliced into by some black material, making a patchwork of flesh and darkness that was echoed by the rest of his lean, leather-ridden body. Servalan was smiling upon him as if he were her favourite puppy, home from a playful romp in the local park. "And the Time Straddler?" she was asking, and Travis nodded curtly.

"Stannis is definitely after it, and they're getting close. The window falls tonight if we want to trap her in this calendar; otherwise we'll have to settle for the late 14th."

"Oh goody," Servalan exclaimed, and clasped her hands together. "It will be lovely to travel at mark-sixteen again, having now experienced London traffic firsthand. Now I trust you've brought the." She paused for the most minute of moments. "The piece of tribal jewellery which under the Dumble-Blaine-Churchill ruling in the case of Agatha Thumbry, 1962, against the Crown, nobody can deny me?"

"Ma'am."

"Oh, good," Servalan said lightly, but to Minerva it seemed that a tension she had not noticed before left Servalan's face; she looked fresher and more frivolous than ever. She looked like she did as she awoke in the mornings, stretching her slender wrists high above her head and arching like a feline. Peaceful, sated. Minerva swallowed.

For the first time, Travis looked to the judge. "Permission to approach the defendant," he said, hollow-voiced in disdain and boredom. Minerva heard Lady Empson of Kent start to breathe faster, and felt an acrid panic pounding through the blood-debt. She gritted her teeth, willing herself not to succumb to the phantom sensations that rushed to her from Empson like contamination. She had enough dread to tamp down of her own, right now.

"Permission denied," the judge said, and Travis lifted his chin like a stone soldier.

"Referring to the case of Mrs Thumbry, 1962," he said clearly, "it is requested that the court observe the precedent set there, when a witch was granted permission to wear a shielding amulet to protect her from Muggle pursuers until the innocent verdict was passed and global protection awarded. It is then requested that the court honour the subclause passed by the triumvirate of Dumbledore, Blaine and Churchill upon that date."

He was entirely motionless. Servalan gave him a doting smile. Malloney said, clearly, "Validatum?" and the judge shook his head irritably.

"I am familiar with the entire breadth of the law, more than mere loopholes. Approach the box."

Travis inclined his head to regard Servalan again. She nodded. This he *did* take as an instruction, and he moved forwards; the unpleasant prickling on Minerva's skin increased incrementally with his measured steps. He reached into some breach of his armour and withdrew a gleaming black bracelet, and a sense of inverted wedding descended when she presented her pale wrist and he slid the bracelet obediently over her hand.

"Very good," she said, admiring it elegantly, then flicked her fingers, and Travis inclined his head once and then strode towards the exit. The rushing chaos of snow and storm blurted in as the doors opened, bringing an even colder chill under Minerva's collar.

"Inconsiderate wyrd creature," Minerva heard somebody mutter, but she had no desire to turn around. She couldn't take her eyes off Servalan. Light glided over the bracelet; not tribal, no, but, even faced with Servalan's obvious sense of triumph, Minerva couldn't comprehend any use for a muggle artefact in a wizard court. Not this day and age. Any spell would be forestalled by the wand-binds that twined about Servalan's limbs. Any weapon would dissolve on being used in a place of justice. Any other--

"So efficient," Servalan murmured, apparently noticing for the first time that Travis was gone. "He's my number-one man. Ah, and now, this deliciously nervous gathering - I wish I could stay to see their faces," she sighed, "but it's all work and no play this week, more's the pity." She looked directly at Minerva, and gave a lioness smile. "*Ta-ta*," she said, and passed her thumb over the black bracelet, and disappeared.

The room erupted into cries and wand-blast and blaring alarms, and Lady Empson wilted to the floor. "Visibility magic!" shouted somebody; "Block her off! Close the door!" but Minerva, staring at the treacley nigh-translucent ribbons of spell-bind drifting to the floor where Servalan's diamond-encrusted feet had been, didn't move. None of the wards had gone off. It wasn't magic, not in any form they could recognise, and she knew they'd discover that soon. It was just carelessness, oversight, and a riot of superstition.

/end

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