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two days and nights of pre-slash
PG, Sirius/Remus pre-slash. It's cold, wet and miserable, and the Death Eaters are roaming. Lily is fiercely maternal, James keeps tripping over things, and Sirius and Remus are... are friends.
It was just before seven o’clock in the morning, and all was peace.
“Moony,” said a gentle voice. “Moony, wake up.”
There was a pause.
“It’s morning. Get up.”
No response seemed to be forthcoming, and the voice became rather belligerent. “Moony! Get yourself out of bed! You’re going to be late for work!”
Remus Lupin rolled over and put a pillow on top of his head. His voice sounded as if it were coming from the bottom of a well. “Go away, Sirius. It’s Saturday.”
“It is?” Sirius blinked and took a step back. “Oh… I’m sorry.”
Remus said nothing, merely growling slightly and falling asleep again. Briefly, Sirius considered going back to bed and doing the same thing, but decided he was feeling wide awake and went into the kitchen. The newspaper was on the table, and he picked it up and started skimming the front page. The news was as usual – all bad – and he decided he really couldn’t face the day without some coffee. While he rummaged in the fridge for something resembling a bottle of milk, he absent-mindedly flicked the radio on. Deep in the middle of London, you couldn’t avoid picking up Muggle radio stations, and Sirius wasn’t surprised to hear the measured, even tones of a BBC radio announcer, speaking over the muted chimes of Big Ben.
“This is the seven o’clock news on Thursday, 23rd October, 1980…”
Five seconds later, Sirius was attempting to sit on his flatmate’s head. Remus howled in dismay as Sirius whipped first the blankets and then the pillows off him.
“Saturday, he says!” Sirius yelled. “It’s Thursday! Remus, for the last time… get out of bed! You’re going to be late!”
Remus rubbed at his eyes and tried to sit up. “Get off me!”
Sirius stared at him suspiciously, and then deliberately relaxed, attempting to lull his friend into a sense of false security. “Moony,” he said gently, “you have to get up. It’s going to be a busy day today. They think there’s going to be a Death Eater raid tonight, you see. And we’re getting late.”
Remus considered this for a moment. “No, you are. Go away.”
“What do you mean, I’m going to be late?”
“I’m not going to work today.”
Having delivered this pronouncement, Remus seemed quite prepared to go back to sleep, but Sirius grabbed him unceremoniously and forced him to stay sitting up. “Why not?” he demanded.
Wordlessly, Remus pointed towards the wall. Sirius followed his gaze and found himself looking at a large wall chart. It had once been an ordinary Muggle calendar, but it had been enchanted until it had become a sort of calendar, to-do list and almanac combined. Sirius could make out both his own and Remus’s handwriting on it in various places, under the dates – things like “Order meeting” (Remus) and “remember to clean motorbike” (himself) as well as “buy chocolate” (could be either of them).
But today, Sirius looked straight towards the left side of the chart, his eyes coming to rest on today’s lunar phase. After a second, he looked guiltily back at Remus, still lying back although there were no pillows to lie on.
“That’s why,” said Remus simply.
“Moony… I’m sorry, I completely forgot…”
“Don’t blame you.” His voice was sleepy but amused. “You don’t have to come tonight, if you don’t want to…”
Sirius’s look of righteous indignation said more than words. Remus grinned. “All right, then. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel like hell…”
Sirius nodded solemnly and got to his feet. Perhaps to make up for his earlier behaviour, he picked up the pillows off the floor, fluffed them and slipped them beneath his friend’s head. He smoothed the blankets out as well, pulling them from Remus’s clenched fists, and with a final, “Good night, Moony,” he left the room, closing the door carefully behind him.
Two hours later, Remus awoke to the sounds of an empty flat. In a somnambulistic haze, he stumbled into the kitchen, stretching out aching limbs. He sat down heavily at the table and pulled at the newspaper Sirius had left. The headline stood out in block capitals – “DEATH EATER RAIDS EXPECTED” – and he found himself smiling wryly at the morbid humour of it. It was just a euphemism – “raids” meant “murder of innocents” and everyone knew it. For once, there was no typically gruesome image on the front of the newspaper; no destroyed houses, no brutally murdered children, just a simple image of Minister of Magic Millicent Bagnold and her right-hand man, Bartemious Crouch. But the text was as foreboding as ever. Remus skimmed it, letting his eyes drift through the dense prose.
“The Death Eaters (supporters of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) are stepping up their activities in the south of England. More raids are expected in London, said Minister Bagnold in the early hours of this morning. It is thought, but not confirmed, that the Ministry’s Aurors will be patrolling the city streets in preparation this evening. Wizarding families who may consider themselves targets (those containing Muggle-born witches and wizards) are advised to be on their guard.”
Every day for months, there had been warnings like this, but the truth of the matter was very simple. No-one knew when or where the Death Eaters would strike next, and for all their frenetic activity, the Ministry were in essence utterly helpless. The Order of the Phoenix fared better, but being a secret society, they had to keep themselves… well, secret. Sirius suited being an Auror; everyone knew who they were and what they did, and Sirius didn’t seem to mind the entire world knowing his business. On the other hand, Remus was an equally suitable member for the Order. If there was anything he was good at, it was keeping secrets.
Remus let the newspaper slip from his fingers, and was amused to find a note with his name scrawled across it lying underneath.
Don’t bother trying to make coffee, the milk went off in 1972. I don’t suppose it’ll do any good telling you to be good and eat something, so I won’t. I’ll be back by moonrise. Try not to kill yourself before then.
weather’s horrible, so I expect you’ll go out just to annoy me. Take a
Remus smiled and threw down the note. He glanced across the room to the large window and saw Sirius had been quite right. The sky was leaden and there was rain beating angrily against the glass. Because of the gloom, some of the street lights were still on, and their yellow glow reflected strangely in the raindrops.
Wondering when he’d become quite so predictable, Remus stood up and went to get dressed. He didn’t take Sirius’s suggestion to take an umbrella; instead, he wrapped his wizard’s cloak over Muggle clothes, pulled the hood over his head, and ventured forth into the rain.
Everyone out on the streets had somewhere to go. People hid under their umbrellas, heads down, leaning forwards into the wind and rain, and they paid no attention to Remus, who kept his head down with the best of them, allowing his hood to cast a soft shadow over his face. He wasn’t entirely sure where he was going, but he couldn’t go into work today, and he couldn’t sit still, so he had to do something, and roaming the streets for a while was something.
He came to a stop at a familiar street corner, standing in front of an equally familiar sign – “Magic Brew.” The name was popularly thought to refer to the coffee served at the little café, but some were known to have their doubts. It was down the road from the Ministry of Magic headquarters, after all, and it did have a higher-than-usual proportion of magical patrons. There were Aurors here, usually trying to replace sleep with caffeine, as well as the security guards, the code-crackers, the spies, the secretaries, the pencil-pushers – overworked, underpaid Ministry employees of every type. No-one was yet sure if the proprietor was a witch, but she did turn a convenient blind eye to all kinds of magical goings-on, and consequently had a roaring trade. In a time of war, that was not something to be taken lightly.
Remus knew the place well enough, working for the Ministry and living with an Auror as he did. He wasn’t planning to go in, just standing there and enjoying the smell and warmth that leaked out of the door into the street. Lingering, he glanced into the shop window and saw someone else was standing there behind the door, reflection cast into the glass. It was a familiar young woman with red hair and green eyes, and Remus smiled. He realised too late that she could see his reflection as he could see hers, and in a trice, she’d jumped through the door and dragged him bodily inside, out of the rain.
“Remus Lupin!” she yelled. Remus shivered.
Lily Evans-Potter was an intelligent woman. She was also charming, pretty, a good friend and a wonderful mother. Most people were agreed on these points. But she also possessed the ability to be as intimidating as a sabre-toothed tiger, and Remus visibly quailed as she launched herself at him. In her considered opinion, he shouldn’t have been out of bed, let alone out in the autumnal squall, and she could see he didn’t have the strength to resist as she manhandled him into a chair, pulled his hood off his head and pushed a cup of scalding hot coffee into his shaking hands. “Drink that, Remus,” she said sternly. “I don’t believe you, out there in the rain getting drenched… and you wouldn’t have come in if I hadn’t seen you, would you?”
Dumbly, Remus shook his head. Steam was beginning to rise from his clothes and hair.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you give yourself pneumonia,” she continued grimly. “Honestly, Remus! You’re not very well to begin with, and then you go and do ridiculous things like this!”
Remus smiled at her wrath. “I’m sorry, Lily,” he said contritely.
“Hmm,” said Lily darkly, but she relented after a few moments, leaning back in her chair. Sighing, she reached down and picked up a Moses basket, placing it in front of her on the table. Remus peered inside to see the dark-haired baby wrapped well in blankets, seemingly sound asleep. “Could sleep through a thunderstorm, that one,” he said quietly.
“He’s just tired,” Lily said, smiling. “He didn’t get much sleep last night, and by extension, neither did I. And to make things worse…”
She stopped, wondering whether she ought to go on, but Remus prompted her. “What happened?”
“I went into work this morning,” she said, “and they told me I couldn’t go out tonight!”
Remus looked confused. She blinked, and asked, “Did you see the Daily Prophet this morning?”
Remus’s expression cleared. “Yes, I saw it. Something about Death Eater raids in London tonight, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Lily grimly. “They’re going to need a squad of Aurors and God knows what else, but they’ve got me stuck in the office doing paperwork! It’s something to do with Moody and Frank – they seem to think women can’t work as Aurors!”
Remus smiled again. “Now, Lily, that’s not true. This may be a war, but it’s not World War Two. Frank Longbottom does not think women can’t be Aurors.”
“Yes, he does!”
“No, he doesn’t. He thinks women with three-month-old babies, who refused to take maternity leave if I remember rightly, shouldn’t be Aurors. And I have to say, I agree with him there.”
Remus sat back in his chair and grinned. Lily glared at him. “You’re no help at all, Remus.”
“Sorry.” He didn’t sound remotely sorry, and Lily was determined to get to him. “And there I was,” she said mournfully, “getting all worried about you, making you come inside and warm up…”
“Worried about me?” Remus asked, seemingly confused.
“Yes, worried!” Lily said indignantly. “It gets dark so early these days, I’m afraid you’re going to have a bad night, and you don’t look like you’re going to be able to stand it.” She ran critical eyes over him, and added, “They didn’t make you go to work today, did they?”
“No, they gave me the day off. Probably afraid I might eat someone,” Remus said dryly, automatically. It took a few moments for the full impact of what she had said to sink into his brain, and he stared at Lily, eyes narrowed. “You know?”
Lily laughed lightly. “I’ve known for a while now,” she said, but he was fearful and she was frightened herself, frightened of the hunted creature lingering in Remus’s amber eyes. It lasted only a moment before she was herself again and Remus looked so utterly normal, sitting there with the coffee in his hands, that she couldn’t see what there was to be afraid of.
“I know, Remus, and I don’t care,” Lily said firmly. “Well, I do care,” she amended, “but I only care about you. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
Remus relaxed slightly. “It’s an occupational hazard,” he said wryly, and then, nervously, “How long have you known?”
“A few months,” Lily admitted. “I love James to death, but I’d be the first to say he’s a terrible liar. I used to ask him why he disappeared every month. I was almost afraid he was having an affair or something… because you know, it was so obvious he was lying, and I got so angry one night I just kept at him and at him until he told me. It was all my fault,” she added hastily. “Don’t blame him for this.”
“No, no,” Remus shook his head. “I’ve often wondered what he’d told you, you couldn’t fail to notice certain things…”
“I asked him a few things when we were still at school,” Lily replied. “Why you missed so much school, and why you looked so tired all the time… that kind of thing. He told me you had special needs.”
Remus laughed delightedly, startling her. “James told you I had special needs? I’ll assume he didn’t tell you exactly what those special needs were?”
“Not until recently, no,” she said, glad to see him smiling again. “And that reminds me, I’ve got a message for you from James. He says he met Peter last night, he says he’s got to work overtime tonight and can’t make it. He also says he might be late, but he’ll do his best to be there.”
Remus sorted carefully through this mess of pronouns, tentatively suggesting, “Peter can’t come, he’s got overtime, and James might be late but he’ll do his best?”
Lily nodded. “That’s right. You know, I’d come myself if I could!”
Remus shook his shaggy head. “No,” he said emphatically. “You haven’t seen what it’s like… it would be much too dangerous. Sirius and James both have the scars to prove it.”
Lily was resigned. “I suppose you’re right. Besides, who’d look after Harry?”
“Speak of the devil.” Remus smiled. “Look who’s awake.”
Harry was staring out at the two of them, eyes wide in interest. Remus reached in and the baby held out his arms, waiting to be picked up. Remus obliged, lifting him and settling him inside his cloak, wrapping him in the thick folds. “Hello, Harry. How are you today?”
Lily laughed. “Remus, you’re the only person on the planet who talks to a baby in standard English. Any normal person would be reduced to incoherent gibberish by now.”
“I’ve always thought babies learn to talk purely so they can tell their parents to shut up,” Remus reflected. “Any self-respecting baby would.”
“James and Sirius are trying to make sure his first word is something to do with Quidditch,” said Lily, laughing. “They keep talking about it in loud voices whenever he’s there. I even caught Sirius reading him the scores from the Daily Prophet the other day!”
“What do you want his first word to be?” asked Remus, interested.
“I don’t mind.” Lily shrugged. “Mama or Dada or” – this with a wicked grin – “maybe Moony.”
Remus actually blushed. “I suppose that nickname now makes a surprising amount of sense.”
“Pretty much, yeah.” Lily gave him a mischievous look, which he duly returned; after a moment, however, his expression grew more serious. “You’re sure you don’t mind? It doesn’t bother you?”
“Remus.” Lily’s hands were on her hips. “You’re sitting there with my first-born child wrapped up in your cloak. Do you think I mind?”
Remus smiled sadly and put down his cup. “I’m glad you know,” he said seriously.
“Me too,” she replied, just as seriously. “At least someone’s finally going to be looking after you properly.”
Remus glanced at her. “James, Sirius and Peter…” he began.
“I’m sure they do their best,” she interrupted. “All the same, Remus, I’ve told James to bring you home with him tomorrow if needed.”
“Sirius can take care of me, and you’ve got the baby to look after…”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she interrupted again. “I want to do it.”
“You know something, Harry?” Remus addressed the baby in his arms. “Your mother is a scary, scary woman.”
Harry looked up into his eyes, and they shared a moment of understanding. Lily took a moment to smile at the scene of the werewolf with the child, and then reluctantly broke the moment. “It’s time for me to go,” she said. “I stormed out on Moody and Frank when they told me I couldn’t go tonight. They’re probably wondering where I am.”
Remus smiled at the thought and returned Harry to his basket. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
“Of course.” She lifted her cloak from the back of her chair and lightly swung it around her shoulders. Standing up, she lifted the Moses basket. Remus was pushing in the chairs, and they walked to the door together. “What are you going to do now?” she asked him.
“Go back home and sleep, most likely,” he said. “Moonrise is at twenty past eight.”
“I’ll tell James.” She held up the basket so Remus could wave his fingers at Harry, and then said tentatively, “Moony?”
It was the first time she’d ever used the name. Remus looked at her sharply, but she merely gazed calmly back at him. “Take care,” she said, and hitching up the basket so it balanced on her hip, she headed off towards the Ministry buildings in the rain. Remus watched her go, then set off himself, head down, hood forwards, rainwater dripping down off his eyelashes and into his eyes. He was drenched again by the time he reached home. Lily would throw fits, he thought wryly as he let himself in and kicked off his boots. He padded barefoot around the flat, finding himself a blanket (covered in dog hair, but he didn’t mind so much) and curling up in an armchair with a book.
Some hours later, Sirius found him lying there, fast asleep, the book hanging loosely from his fingers.
James Potter, Quidditch player extraordinaire, was nevertheless astonishingly graceless on the ground. Lily said once that if a given object were within a hundred-mile-radius, he’d walk straight into it no questions asked. That was, of course, before she decided she didn’t hate him any more and consented to marry him, although her opinion of his clumsiness remained much the same after their wedding. She was terrified that one day he’d drop Harry on his head. Come to think of it, she was also terrified Sirius might do the same thing. She trusted Remus and Peter. It wasn’t fair.
James wasn’t exactly sure why he was thinking about it, but the fact remained he was lost in thought and consequently walked straight into something – or someone – else. It turned out to be a person whom James recognised. Newt Scamander, magizoologist, was working for the Ministry part time and the Order of the Phoenix full-time, just as James himself was, and he supposed he ought to stop and apologise, but there simply wasn’t time.
“Sorry!” yelled James over his shoulder, rushing onwards. He glanced at his watch – five to eight, with moonrise at twenty past. He might still make it. He hurried on through the Ministry’s crowded corridors – everyone worked insane hours these days. The Death Eater raids invariably took place in the small hours of the morning, and consequently when there was one expected, no-one could be spared the night before. James supposed in a strange way, he was lucky. Frank Longbottom was a soft touch when it came to babies, having one of his own just about Harry’s age, and when James had asked for the evening off to spend time with Lily and Harry, he’d been granted it. Alastor Moody wouldn’t have been nearly as understanding. Apparently he’d had some sort of run-in with Lily earlier that day – James couldn’t decide who’d come off worst in that fight.
And it would all be very well, James reflected, if he was actually going to spend some time with his family tonight, but he wasn’t. This is the closest I have to a social life, he thought wryly, almost tripping over a cardboard box someone had inexplicably left in the middle of the corridor, and then he made it out into the Atrium at last.
He looked at his watch again. Five past. He could risk it. Concentrating, he Disapparated, and whirled through space and time at an incredible rate of knots. When he opened his eyes, he was in his own house in Godric’s Hollow. He’d chosen to Apparate into the dim hallway, to minimise the chances of landing on someone, and Lily was standing there, waiting for him. “You don’t have time…” she began.
“I know,” James said quickly. “Just thought I’d check you were all right before I went.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “Remus knows you might be late, I told him. Bring him back with you in the morning.”
“I’ll try,” James promised, privately wondering if Remus would be exhausted enough to be talked into it. He ran through into the living-room, kissed first Lily, then Harry, then he was off again. Apparating twice in as many minutes wasn’t generally recommended, but damn it, there wasn’t enough time…
It was about a quarter past eight when James materialised in the small room at the base of the cabin.
It wasn’t the Shrieking Shack. The old house in Hogsmeade was too far away now, but they had another place. The village of Godric’s Hollow was in a part of southern England that had almost magically escaped modernisation, set in a natural depression in the land and surrounded by forest on three sides. Deep in the trees, an old cabin, possibly belonging to a birdwatcher once upon a time, had been strengthened and warded until it was as close to safe as they could make it. James materialised in the dying light, remembering inconsequently that Remus called this one the Hunter’s Moon.
The first room was empty, but he heard familiar voices, and following the sound, he went through to one of the other rooms, looking up at the sky through the cracks in the boarded-up windows. Sirius was standing by the doorway, looking tense and nervous. “James,” he said softly by way of acknowledgement, and moved so James could stand beside him. He could tell Sirius was worried, and he could guess why; this was October, and the night would be a long one.
Remus was on the floor, hugging his knees and rocking back and forth distractedly. He glanced up at James, flicking his long hair off his face, but didn’t seem to recognise him. James saw the glimmers of an alien, animal intelligence lurking behind his friend’s eyes, and understood the warning signs. He nodded to Sirius; as one, they shifted forms and settled down on the floor, waiting. Remus’s fingers clenched into fists, his eyes widened in pain-induced shock, and it began. Bones broke and re-shaped themselves, a human mind submerged, golden hair became thick winter-grey fur, and there was the wolf.
James, now Prongs, stayed back. Only Padfoot dared move forwards, and with a rush, Moony was on top of him. They went for each other mercilessly, biting and scratching and tearing at each other with sharp teeth and pointed claws. Moony, proud and wild and lupine, invariably triumphed over his tamer cousin, but James was never sure exactly what they were doing; playing, or fighting? Maybe it was both or maybe it was neither, but tonight as on all nights, Moony came out on top. The amber-eyed wolf was the alpha of their little pack.
James waited until the wolf had bitten into the dog’s neck, his assured superiority unquestioned by the floppy-eared animal, and they were ready. Prongs ducked so his antlers didn’t bump on the doorframe, and led the way outside. It was like stepping back in time, to a simpler world where there was no war, no frantic Ministry, no Order of the Phoenix, no James Potter, Sirius Black or Remus Lupin…
Just three old friends, running through the darkness under the silvery moon. Moony, Padfoot and Prongs, wolf, dog and stag.
Safe in the little sitting-room in the house at Godric’s Hollow, Lily sat with the curtains pulled back and the window slightly open. It was so late it was almost early, and it was much too cold, but she needed to listen to the sounds of the night. The wolf’s howls broke the silence, clear and lonely at first, then mixed with the yelping of his tamer cousin. In their quieter moments, Lily was almost sure she could hear the beat of hooves on hard ground. She breathed in the wintry, frosty air and tried to imagine what James had tried in vain to describe.
Another howl rent the still night air, and Lily started. She got up out of the rocking-chair and walked to the small crib in the corner of the room, half-expecting Harry to be scared. He was awake but quiet, green eyes opened wide, and she picked him up and carried him over to the window, wondering how he could be so fearless and she could be so afraid.
Harry gurgled and made small, indistinct sounds of restlessness. Lily looked down at him. “Want to be out running with them, do you?” she asked. “Not until you’re fifteen at least.” She stopped for a moment, listening. Another savage howl, this time filled with pain. “In fact, scratch that. Not until you’re fifty.”
Harry merely gazed at her impassively. She shivered; she wasn’t scared, not exactly. For some reason, she thought back to Hogwarts, specifically the Defence Against the Dark Arts classes. They’d done werewolves in fourth year, hadn’t they? Lily was a good student, she’d done the essays, thoroughly researched and well-written, on how to recognise werewolves, how to capture them, how to torture them and how to kill them. That was the really scary thing; they’d never written essays on what it was like to be a werewolf.
What it was like to be one. Or what it was like to love one.
Harry squirmed in her arms. She sat down in the rocking chair by the window, settling him on her lap. “Maybe you’ll never have to run with them,” she said hopefully. “Maybe by the time you’re fifteen they’ll have found a cure.”
She considered for a moment. “Maybe the war will be over,” she continued. “Maybe you’ll be at Hogwarts, doing your OWLs. Maybe Sirius will have finally got rid of that stupid motorbike.” She laughed guiltily. “Maybe not. Maybe he’ll have realised the love of his life is right in front of his eyes. Maybe you’ll have a girlfriend… yeah, and I’ll get to embarrass you. Maybe you’ll decide you hate Quidditch and want to take up ballroom dancing.”
She found herself smiling at what James would say to that, and went on, “Maybe we’ll all live happily ever after.”
The morning dawned bright and clear, and nine o’clock found James and Sirius wandering down Charing Cross Road, yawning. Padfoot’s attentions had prevented Remus from injuring himself too badly, so Sirius had carefully carried him home, deposited him in his bed and let him sleep. He’d left a glass of water and two paracetamol tablets on the floor, but unlike usual, he hadn’t left the newspaper. One look at the headline had convinced him he’d better take it with him. James was of a similar opinion, constantly fighting him for it as the pair made their way to the Ministry. Finally, Sirius stopped dead, sat down on a shop doorstep and spread the paper over his knees. James sat beside him and read over his shoulder. The headline was very simple – “DEATH EATERS ATTACK – THREE DEAD” – and it was the brief paragraph that followed that provided the details.
“As per yesterday’s warnings, Death Eaters have made their move in south London. It is as yet unknown how many of them were involved in the attack, as Muggle witnesses have yet to be rounded up by the Ministry of Magic, but Ministry Aurors were on the scene in the early hours of this morning. They were too late; the Death Eaters had gone, leaving only their infamous Dark Mark floating above the house. Three unmarked bodies were found, and they have now been identified as a wizard and a witch, Jack and Marlene McKinnon, and their daughter, Sally-Anne, most likely murdered by means of the Avada Kedavra killing curse.”
Sirius swore comprehensively on finishing this; James, less vocal, seemed deep in thought for a few moments. “McKinnon,” he muttered, “Jack and Marlene McKinnon… do we know them?”
“Hufflepuffs,” Sirius supplied. “At Hogwarts a few years before us. Got married straight out of school.”
“Right,” James said thoughtfully. “It’s the surname that’s familiar. Sirius, they’re purebloods. Were purebloods,” he corrected himself.
“Since when have Death Eaters gone after purebloods? They’re like the bloody Ku Klux Klan that way – if you’re a pureblood, you’re all that is holy, but if you’ve got Muggle blood in you, you’re the scum of the earth. They’re maniacs, but they’re consistent maniacs. They don’t go after purebloods.”
Sirius sat back. “You’re a pureblood,” he said significantly. “So am I. So is Remus. But I don’t think any of us want to meet a Death Eater on a dark night.”
“That’s different,” James argued. “We’ve done other things to make ourselves into targets. We’re in the Order of the Phoenix, so obviously we’re on their most-wanted list.”
“All right, it’s a mystery.” Sirius shrugged. “We’re getting late.”
They both looked carefully around, saw there was no-one about, and nodded to each other. With a faint pop each, they Disapparated.
They reappeared in the Atrium at the Ministry of Magic, which was clearly in a state of uproar. They had to dodge crowds of people clambering in and out of the fireplaces and make their way around other people running from one end of the hallway to the other, trying their best not to get accidentally pushed into the fountain, and it took them at least five minutes to work their way through the throng to the lifts. Choosing one that didn’t seem as overloaded as the others, they slipped in, chose their destination, and shortly after that, disembarked at Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
The contrast was startling. It was eerily silent in the long corridor, and their footsteps rang out in the almost unnatural peace and quiet. The Auror Headquarters had had its cubicle partitions removed so there was now a single large room, filled with white-faced Aurors, some of whom were sitting at desks, but there were none who seemed to be actually doing anything.
Frank Longbottom looked up at the sound of footsteps. “Potter, Black,” he murmured absently. “Where have you been?”
“We were delayed,” James said.
“But we saw the newspaper,” Sirius added, holding it up. Almost comically, Frank shielded his eyes. “Don’t tell me,” he said. “It was an absolute disaster. We were useless. Worse than useless. All we could do was clean the place up and retrieve the bodies. And then we had to deal with the press.”
“We should have been there,” said Sirius guiltily.
“Nothing you could have done,” Frank replied gloomily. “We were there, and there was nothing we could have done, either.”
“We had no warning!” burst out another voice. James looked up to see Andromeda Tonks, one of Sirius’s many cousins. “They weren’t targets! They never did a thing to hurt anyone! And that poor little girl… she was the same age as Nymphadora!”
James knew, he just knew, that Sirius was about to say something about the wisdom and good sense in naming your only child ‘Nymphadora’, and broke in before Sirius could open his mouth.
“No, they weren’t targets.” James shook his head. “I was just telling Sirius… did you know they were purebloods?”
“Yes, but that’s strictly off the record,” Frank replied. “We’re trying to keep that bit of information out of the papers. It’ll only cause more panic among the purebloods on our side. The truth is, we have no idea why they were killed. None at all. And there’s signs they’re breaking a pattern – the attacks tend to take place at around midnight, don’t they? This one took place at dawn. The Ministry has no idea why.”
“The Ministry has no idea,” Sirius repeated, “but what about… unofficial sources?”
Frank raised his eyebrows. “Your guess is as good as mine. I’m in the Order too, remember?”
Sirius shrugged. “Now what?”
“Nothing much,” replied Frank. “From what little information we’ve intercepted, there’s not likely to be another attack very soon. We’re just picking up the pieces. Take the day off if you like, look after that boyfriend of yours… what’s his name, Lupin?”
“He’s not my…” Sirius began, and sighed as Frank continued to talk over him. “Just avoid the press as much as possible. They’re having enough of a field day as it is. Oh… Potter?”
“Yes?” James looked up.
“Your wife’s been in looking for you.” Frank shuddered. “Scary woman.”
James grinned, immediately felt guilty for doing so, and made his way out. Sirius lingered for a moment to speak to Andromeda – the only member of his family he still talked to, James thought absently – and then followed his friend.
Going out the door, James walked straight into Newt Scamander. Again.
“Constant vigilance!” barked the magizoologist in an uncanny imitation of Alastor Moody, and stood back to let Sirius through.
Sirius worked hard to stifle his laughter. This cold, clear morning, laughing didn’t seem right.
Lily was with Peter in his office at the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes. He was seated at his desk, bits of parchment spread everywhere, and she was perched on the edge of it. Harry was in his basket on a chair.
“Heard you were looking for me,” James told her, kissing her briefly on the cheek.
“Yes, I was,” she replied. “According to Frank, most Aurors have the day off today. Does that include you?”
James nodded. “I should think so. Sirius, too.”
Peter looked up distractedly at the sound of the conversation. “Hello, James,” he muttered. “How’s Remus?” And without waiting for an answer, he abruptly threw a pile of papers in the air so they fluttered down around him. “What do I do?” he demanded desperately. “What do I say?”
“What’s up with you?” Sirius asked him.
“Letters of condolence!” Peter exclaimed. “The Ministry of Magic regrets to inform you, blah, blah, blah… what can you possibly say at a time like this?”
“Letters of condolence?” repeated James blankly. “Who for, the McKinnons? The whole family were killed!”
Lily shook her head. “Apparently not. The little girl and her parents were killed, but there was an elder sister…”
“At Hogwarts?” asked Sirius, realising.
“That’s right. She’s only just eleven, it’s her first year away at school.”
“Oh, Merlin. She’ll have got up this morning and seen the Daily Prophet…” Sirius broke off, deciding he had no need to finish the sentence. Unconsciously, both Lily and James had turned to look at Harry, sleeping peacefully through all this uproar.
Peter glanced up. “Help me out, here,” he said. “What can I write?”
Lily took his quill from him and licked the end of it. “I’ll have a go,” she said, and began to scribble on a piece of parchment. James was staring at another copy of the newspaper, which Peter had apparently thrown off the table in a fit of pique. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to the front-page photograph. It showed a house reduced to rubble, the Dark Mark twinkling eerily above it. “That poor, poor girl… imagine waking up to this.”
“Is that the Daily Prophet you’re looking at?” Peter asked from behind the desk. “You should have seen the photographs we persuaded them not to use. It could have been worse.”
“What could have been worse?” James asked. Peter stood up and began rummaging on a shelf above his desk. Despite the mess, he found what he was looking for soon enough. “There,” he said, handing over a plain brown paper envelope. “Take a look.”
James opened it to find a handful of more photographs. Unlike the one in the newspaper, they were in colour. He inhaled sharply at the sight of the first one. “Sirius, look.”
Sirius looked. The picture showed the bodies of the two adults, lying in strange, unnatural positions amidst the piles of rubble. Their wands were clearly visible, hanging loosely in limp hands, and their eyes, blue in both cases, were widened in surprise. That was always the way.
“There’s another one, look.”
Sirius took it as it was handed to him, feeling horrifically voyeuristic. This one showed the child, who had apparently been in a different room from her parents when the Death Eaters attacked. She lay curled up on the floor, her head tipped back, dull, sightless eyes staring straight up at the camera.
Sirius suddenly felt very impatient with all the talk of ‘targets.’ It was clear to anyone with half a brain, he decided, that a seven-year-old child couldn’t cause harm to anyone or anything. The Death Eaters had murdered her parents for no apparent reason; but no matter what, there was no possible justification for the death of this little girl.
Behind him, Lily had made some progress with the letter of condolence. Peter seemed almost tearful with relief, scribbling away as she dictated. James had decided he couldn’t look at the pictures any more. He put them back in their envelope and methodically folded up the newspaper. After a moment, he realised there was a photograph missing. Sirius was still holding it, staring at it with such intensity James was startled. “Sirius?”
Sirius glanced up, seemingly distracted. “James. I’ve got to… um. Well. I’ll be back. Um.” He got up, looking confusedly round the room, and went to the door, still holding the photograph. The door slammed behind him and Lily looked up. “Where’s he off to?” she asked.
“No idea,” James answered, staring at the closed door.
Outside in the corridor, Sirius leaned against the wall. He was still staring at the picture, straight into the little girl’s eyes, as if staring at it for long enough would stop it being real.
Those eyes, such strange eyes for a child to have. Blank and empty now, but in life they must have been beautiful, bright amber-gold, and so very familiar. Sirius had lived too many years with Remus Lupin not to recognise eyes like those.
And on the night of the full
moon, the Death Eaters came at dawn…
Sirius looked up. There was an old man standing there, watching him. Newt Scamander, magizoologist.
“Auror Sirius Black?” asked Scamander.
Sirius nodded dumbly.
“I thought so. Well, you’re an intelligent young one to have guessed.” Scamander paused, regarding Sirius critically. “I’m right, am I not? You have guessed?”
Sirius nodded again. “The little girl…”
“Sally-Anne McKinnon. The newest addition to the Registry.” Scamander sighed deeply. “The Werewolf Registry was my brainchild, you know. I regret it now, putting the names of all those at risk on a list in the public domain. And they are at risk, I make no bones about that. The Death Eaters are hunters, utterly ruthless. Their obsession with so-called purity of blood seems to extend to frankly terrifying lengths.” He paused, looked carefully at Sirius, and continued, “I’m on my way back from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Frank Longbottom is asking it stays out of the press, so…”
“I won’t tell anyone,” Sirius promised.
“I believe you.” Scamander stopped for a moment, and then went on, “Sirius Black… you’re fairly closely associated with one of them, aren’t you?”
Sirius nodded. “Remus Lupin. He lives with me.”
“Ah, yes. They were a nice family. That poor, poor child.”
Sirius wasn’t sure whether he was talking about Remus or Sally-Anne McKinnon; both seemed equally likely. He glanced back at the picture. Now he knew the truth, it seemed all the more horrible. He wondered if they’d killed her cleanly, or tortured her first. A few drops of silver nitrate, one silver coin…
“Well,” said Scamander after a while. “I shouldn’t keep you, you’ll be having things to do. Look after yourself, Sirius Black. Look after your werewolf.”
And he was gone, walking surprisingly quickly for an old man, down the corridor and away.
Lily was the only one who knew why Sirius disappeared suddenly at lunchtime. Bearing an expression designed to give nothing away, she carefully told James and Peter that Sirius had been feeling tired. He’d promised to get in touch soon, he was just going home now to catch up on sleep. Peter accepted this unquestioningly; James with reservations. But he didn’t comment on it, merely observing as Lily picked up Harry’s basket, gripping the handles so hard her knuckles turned white.
A few miles across the city, Sirius had shredded the newspaper into tiny little pieces, and was even now standing beside Remus’s sleeping form, brushing back his hair with hands that were still shaking.
Remus awoke to cool night breezes blowing stray locks of his hair across his face. Glancing at the window, he saw a dim purple twilight with the wet London skyline superimposed against it. Evening, then. He must have slept straight through the day.
Or was that the case? He remembered the morning, vague human memories alongside the dark vivid bloodlust of the wolf, but he was sure Sirius had been carrying him, and he was equally sure he’d been left in his own bed. That wasn’t where he was now. Still wrapped loosely in blankets, he was on the rug beside the window, pleasantly tired and comfortable. Sirius must have been carrying him again, he reasoned, and now he thought about it, he could remember it very hazily. What had he said? Something about… sleeping with… sleeping with wolves? What was it?
Perhaps he should ask Sirius himself. His friend was sitting at the table, reading through stacks of parchment. Order of the Phoenix mission reports, Remus observed. Sirius had clearly been sitting there some time, using only a small Muggle electric lamp as a source of light, and it was almost too dark to read in the room. Something brushed Remus’s face, and he realised it was a moth, blundering blindly through the open window towards the light. It was only one of many, all helplessly drawn towards the small lamp, and Remus watched as this one flew straight into Sirius in its blindness. Sirius jumped slightly, and clapped his hands. He missed, and the insect flew out between his fingers and upwards. Cursing softly, he stood up, trying to catch it, but to no avail. It dodged him again, curving backwards towards the light. Sirius wheeled round, jumped, clapped and missed it again.
Smiling slightly, Remus quietly reached out for the wand lying on the floor beside him. It was his own wand – Sirius must have left it there for him – and as ever, it warmed his fingers. He carefully pointed it towards the ceiling and murmured, “Accio moth.” His control over his power was never as strong as it could be the day after the full moon, but nevertheless, the moth flew straight down to the tip of his wand, where it hung drunkenly by one wing. Sirius watched its flight with a dazed expression, his eyes finally coming to rest on Remus, lying there watching him in quiet amusement.
“You’re awake, then.” Sirius sat down heavily on the floor beside Remus’s head.
“It looks like it,” Remus replied, stretching out. His fingers made claw marks in the rug.
“You’ve been out of it all day,” Sirius remarked. “Interesting night last night.”
“I remember.” He did remember, but only in a sense. He had the wolf’s memories, fleeting impressions of movement and motion and sound and light, but they never fitted very well in the confines of a human mind.
“I got home about lunchtime and you were awake,” Sirius continued. “Sort of, anyway. You fell asleep again after I carried you in here.”
“Why did you?” Remus asked.
“I was working” – he pointed to the messy stacks of parchment on the table – “and I needed the company.”
“And I must have been scintillating company,” Remus said dryly.
“You had your moments.” Sirius smiled. “Did you know you growl in your sleep?”
“No. No, I didn’t.”
“And besides,” Sirius went on as if he hadn’t heard, “I wanted you here with me.”
There was a long pause. In the cool of the evening, Remus could sense something beneath the surface. Was it really him, Remus Lupin, who could feel the layers, the deep shading, the complexities of human artifice? Or was that the wolf?
Sirius was staring blankly out of the window, and Remus shifted slightly, untangling the blanket from his feet. He didn’t have to ask where said blanket had come from. Sirius again. Why did everything lead back to Sirius?
The brightest star in the sky…
He was holding Remus’s wand, now, staring at the insect hanging off the end of it as if it were some precious gem.
“Why the sudden fascination with moths?” Remus asked, almost irritably.
“They’re not just moths, Moony,” Sirius said in mild outrage. “They’re fireflies.”
And now he looked closely, he wondered how he’d not seen it before. The creature was alight with cold white flame, and as Sirius shook it free, it became a flying jewel, drawing the eyes wherever it went.
“They’ve been flying in for ages,” said Sirius matter-of-factly. “I’ve been catching them… look.”
Remus looked. It was a small matchbox, and as Sirius slid it slightly open, he saw it was filled with what seemed like scores of the glowing insects, casting ghostly white light through the gap in the box. “You can’t do that!” he said. “You can’t keep them prisoner!”
He was a werewolf. He knew everything there was to be known about being kept prisoner.
“I can’t?” Sirius sounded almost amused. “All right, then…”
With one fluid motion, he’d opened the box and flicked it into the air. The contents of it had one direction to go in, and that was straight towards Remus. He tried to get back in time, but sleep-heavy limbs and a tangled blanket didn’t help, and in a trice, they were on him, flying into his eyes, catching in his hair. Sirius laughed. “Beautiful,” he said softly.
Remus glanced at him, his face an impassive mask. Slowly, carefully, he stood up and faced the window, sticking his head outside. It was beginning to get dark.
The fireflies didn’t move, firmly entangled in his hair and still glowing brilliantly. An observer on the street outside would have seen a human radiant with strange, ethereal light.
Remus turned. “Padfoot?”
Sirius wanted to say it. He wanted desperately just to open his mouth and let the words spill out. Those fireflies are beautiful so are you and you never get fireflies in October unless by magic and by magic I mean mine and are you even listening to me no you’re not do you ever listen you stupid bloody self-destructive werewolf you sleep all day and all night and that could have been you in the newspaper this morning that could have been you lying dead with silver in your eyes and you can’t I need you here with me I love you to death.
But he didn’t. Instead, he breathed in and asked, “Do you want me to take those things out of your hair?”
Remus nodded. Raking his fingers through his friend’s long hair, Sirius pulled each small insect out, tapped it with his wand and threw it out the window. They flew in circles at first. One by one, he set them all free in the night air, and they grew more and more distant, shining lights that became fainter and fainter, until…
Like a candle blown out against the sky, they were gone.
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