All he could see in his mind's eye was Piotr's deathly-pale face, and all he could think was, Elaine. Elaine, they're still doing it, and I haven't been able to stop them after all this time. Even that Potter boy wasn't able to stop them. Oh, gods, Elaine!
But he could not break down in front of all these people, could not let himself drown in the inexplicable wave of misery. He noticed his son looking at him worriedly and spoke first.
"Seth, I should leave so the rest of you can discuss this."
Seth looked at him even more closely. "I was hoping you'd tell us what you think," he said.
Paul shook his head. "These ladies and gentlemen are far more qualified than I to express opinions about this matter. I'll go home and see if I can research that amulet."
Seth frowned a moment and then swiftly ushered him into an unused office. "What's upsetting you?" he asked.
"I'm fine, son. I just need to go home--"
"Dad!" Seth glared at him. "You went in there, and you were as cold as I've ever seen you. You were practically challenging Sergei to attack you. Now you look as if you want to break down and cry." He touched his father's arm. "What's upsetting you?"
Paul's veneer of self-control snapped, and he shook Seth's hand away. "What the hell do you think is upsetting me!" Paul snarled. "There are two victims in that room! Granted, one of them is as vile a bastard as any I've ever met, but it's quite evident he's suffered torture. His body is dead, and he's being kept alive in a body that isn't his own. It's obscene. And Piotr--My God, Seth! I don't think he has the strength to fight much longer. If he is to prevail against Sergei, he will have to become as a dragon very, very quickly. I don't see how he can; he's not ever been equipped for that. Whoever did this to the two of them--I want to rend that person limb from limb--because I can do nothing else!"
"You can find out what that amulet does," Seth replied in such a firm tone that Paul gave him a startled look. "You said it yourself--that amulet is key. Both of them are afraid of losing it. Anything that Sergei fears losing is a thing we must use. What is it you always told me about Slytherins, Dad? 'They do the unpleasant things that others are unwilling to do.' Slytherins do. You are not useless, here."
"I feel about as useless as I felt when your mother died, and about as ready to tear into someone. I am not in a condition to stand around with your colleagues and calmly discuss things with them. Please take me home."
Seth narrowed his eyes at Paul. "You don't trust yourself to go home alone." It wasn't a question.
"No. I do not." Paul's voice sounded like cracking glass. "I'd rather not do something I'll regret. I could destroy too much hard work with rash action." The look in his eyes was terrible. "I want to do something rash, Seth. Please just get me home."
"Let's go, then." With an efficiency and speed that Paul had never previously come to expect from his son, Seth whisked him back through the security gate, out via the portkey, and back into the regular DMLE offices. Moments later, they took the lift up to the Ministry's main floor and then headed toward one of the Floo points.
Paul barely spoke. There were too many people all around them, too many voices, too many thoughts in his head. Then he heard his son's voice in his ear. "Block them," Seth hissed.
"I can't," Paul replied. "Anger is by nature projective. It shreds the shielding."
"Only if you let it," Seth retorted. "Block them!"
Paul whirled on him. "I don't bloody care who knows how angry I am!"
"I'm very aware of that!" Seth said in a low growl.
Understanding hit Paul like a splash of ice water. He froze and looked at his son. "Gods, Seth. I'm sorry." He took a couple of deep breaths and fought for calm, then silently cast an occlumency spell. Despite his efforts, he could feel that it was weak. "Better?"
Seth let out a breath. "Much. Thanks," he said. "Sorry, but it was getting through my shields."
They reached the Floo port. Paul sprinkled floo powder over himself and Seth and said, "Arbour Grove Manor."
The dizzying whirlwind that was floo travel deposited them in the large fireplace in Arbour Grove's formal parlour. Paul stapped out of the fireplace and let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. He glanced at his son and managed a faint smile. "Thank you, Seth. Somehow, it's easier to manage, now that I'm home."
"Would you like me to stay a while, Dad?" Seth asked.
Paul shook his head. "I'm sure you have to get back to work. I think I'm just going to rest a while, perhaps indulge in a little sword practise, later. I don't know. I'm tired, right now."
"All right, then," Seth said. "I'll come back later, to check on you."
"I'm not an invalid, Seth--"
"I'll come back, later," his son repeated.
Paul snorted and made a resigned gesture. "Very well." He paused. "Seth, about those two?"
Seth glanced at his father and waited.
"Sergei is desperate enough to try anything. If he was indeed a werewolf before his body was killed, he'll crave that power. I was not merely panicking when I said to you what I did about Piotr earlier. He has always led a very sheltered, civilised life. He has not known suffering. If he is to prevail against Sergei, he will have to find in himself the equal to Sergei's strength of will. If what Piotr is enduring now does not become the forge that tempers his soul, you will lose him, and he will lose himself. That is a battle only Piotr can fight. You cannot protect him from it or fight it for him."
Seth grimaced and nodded. "I know, Dad. It hurts, but I know."