Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
1976 : Summer Holiday
Remus dragged the toe of his sneaker in the dirt to slow his bicycle, and Peter braked beside him. ‘I’m thirsty,’ he said. ‘Want to go to the pub?’
‘Sure.’ Peter was hot; but then, they’d been fairly active today. They walked their bikes up the road, stopping to look into shop windows or to tie up their shoe laces. Anyone watching would never have known that they weren’t Muggle. Remus, having just turned fourteen, had awkwardly long arms and legs and seemed to be all sharp angles. Peter Pettigrew had suddenly found himself the shorter of the two, and his stomach was the only thing that had grown that summer. It was a considerable trip by bicycle from Remus’s house into the town proper of Monmouth, but they had taken their time getting there, choosing to visit the ruins of an old abbey first and swim in the creek until lunch. They left their bikes outside the pub, and ordered lemonades to take with them to the dartboard.
‘Can’t believe it’s nearly time to go back,’ Peter commented, hurling a dart without the remotest idea of what he was doing. It bounced off the wall and fell to the floor, where Remus retrieved it.
‘I know.’ The taller boy played with his straw, breathing through it and then sticking it back into his drink. ‘I think this is the first summer I really enjoyed.’
Peter took that as it was intended, and was pleased that Remus had invited him to come. It was a given that James and Sirius would spend the entire summer together, and while two weeks with Remus didn’t entirely make up for being left out, it made him feel needed and important. It was hard, he reflected, to be different. Though Remus was as different as it got, it was still Peter who was most often forgotten or overlooked. He tried not to be too resentful.
The end of their second year had been too much adventure for someone like Peter Pettigrew. Not only had they discovered something dangerous and so magical that not even Headmaster Dumbledore (whom Peter was very impressed by) had known how to figure it out; they had got stuck there, and not even for just a few days, as it had seemed, but for a whopping five months. Professor Turbute, the Head of Gryffindor House, had nearly gone into apoplexy when he arrived at Hogwarts a few days after the boys had escaped from the faerie field. He had wanted to make them stay behind a year, both because they’d missed end of the year exams, and because it would be the best punishment he could think of. Fortunately, Headmaster Dumbledore (whom Peter had great reason to like very much) had decided it was better to just keep them on probation for a year and see that they kept their marks high. If it hadn’t been for nearly nightly study meetings with Remus, Peter might not have survived probation. He had spent most of his third year worried about the next test, consequently, and even the minor sheen of celebrity that had come onto him thanks to the rumours about their spring disappearance hadn’t helped much. Though it had been nice, Peter thought, and smiled.
Then there had been quite a lot of other things going on. Gryffindor had lost the House Cup while they were in the other world, and even though no one blamed them, no Gryffindor had been more determined to win it back than James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew. It had been very hard not to make any trouble for a whole year– especially since James had discovered a cloak of invisibility in the faerie world. Of course, as a Slytherin, Remus couldn’t be expected to have the same enthusiasm for winning the Cup for Gryffindor as his friends did. But then, through most of third year he hadn’t been enthusiastic about anything. He’d been let out of detention after the Christmas break, but even then he and Professor Asper still worked to find a way to destroy the faerie ring. If Remus seemed distracted ever, the others knew what he was thinking about.
‘Forget it and move on,’ Sirius had finally said. ‘We have.’
Sirius and James only thought it was guilt that kept Remus going on night after night to work in the library or out in the Forest on ‘the silly mushrooms.’ But Peter had come to think differently, over the two weeks he’d spent now with Remus. One way or another, Remus had come by an awful lot of books, and most of his books were about magic. Perhaps Remus had felt guilty, in the beginning. And ashamed. He had been twitchy about his monthly disappearances before, but now he was three times as careful never to be seen as the full moon rose. But whenever Peter tried to talk to anyone about it, James would laugh and Sirius would change the subject.
So Peter kept his observations to himself. Like the time he’d observed Remus casting a charm they weren’t supposed to learn til fifth year. Or that Remus had journals in which he’d copied out whole sections from books in the Restricted Section. He had the feeling that Remus probably knew a lot of things he wasn’t supposed to know, and that he hadn’t given up on destroying the faerie circle yet because then he wouldn’t have an excuse to learn spells that students weren’t supposed to have access to.
‘I think the next time Lucius makes fun of Muggle games I’m going to march him down here to try and aim this damn thing,’ Remus muttered. He was squinting along the line of a blue dart. His throw missed by a country mile. ‘Bugger.’
As for himself, Peter thought, and sighed. Some people weren’t meant to be wizards. He wasn’t a squib– thank all the higher powers– but he wasn’t very good, either. James said that if Peter only wanted it enough, he could be just as good as anyone else; but Peter didn’t believe it and didn’t plan to humiliate himself trying. There were a lot of downsides to being friends to two of the smartest students in the school. James had sailed through the probation, and even when he whined Sirius was still smarter than most of the teachers. If it weren’t for Remus constantly blowing things up in Potions or accidentally overwatering plants in Herbology or getting bit by mild-mannered Auguries in Care of Magical Creatures, Peter might have felt worse than he did anyway.
Remus slid onto his bench with a sigh, and finished his lemonade. ‘What do you want to do now, Peter?’
‘I dunno.’ He poked at a greasy spot on the table. ‘Kind of hungry.’
‘We could go back to the house, then.’ Remus stuck out his lower lip and blew air straight up to toss his fringe aside. He had lost the red highlights and settled into a dingy-looking blonde. It was also nice, Peter thought, to have another friend who was sort of ugly. Sirius and James had filled out and almost never had pimples or anything embarrassing like that, and they were always getting notes passed to them by girls who had *that look* in their eyes. Where they pursed their lips speculatively when the boys weren’t looking, then smiled prettily when they were. Peter had endured a very degrading crush on a Ravenclaw girl named Sissy. It had been degrading because Sirius had told her, and she had avoided Peter for weeks while her friends tittered at him. Girls didn’t look at him. Girls didn’t look at Remus, either, except to poke fun at him; at those times Peter envied Remus, because it never seemed to bother him. Peter could remember every slur that had ever been directed at him.
‘Okay,’ Peter replied, and they left the pub and took their time pedalling back up the winding unpaved roads to Remus’s house. They passed through the woods where Peter thought the wolf attack must have been (not that he would be impolite enough to ask), and just before he started to get really tired of bike riding, Remus’s house swung into view.
It was a big house, though most of it was empty. The tiles on the roof needed maintenance and the shutters needed to be repainted. Samuel, Remus’s stepfather, kept the lawn mowed, and Remus’s mother Blodwen had tried to grow a garden, but mostly the house just looked old and run down. Remus had a room on the second storey facing the woods. They left their bicycles outside the barn, and scuffed the dirt from their shoes on the grass, and went in the front door.
‘Home, mam,’ Remus called, and didn’t wait for an answer. He grabbed Peter’s arm and sprinted for the stairs. They took the steps two at a time and raced, laughing, for the door to Remus’s room. Peter threw the door shut just as Blodwen shouted up to them. When he turned back to grin at Remus, however, he bit the inside of his cheek and stayed silent. Remus was bent over by his bed, and he was white as his bed sheets. He was clearly struggling for breath.
We shouldn’t have run, Peter realised. Should have known better.
Then it seemed to pass. Remus wiped his face and looked up. He pulled his lips back in a smile, and Peter returned it, happy to ignore the scary moments as Remus was.
‘Get the game,’ he suggested, and Remus took down the chess board from his bare desk, and the bag of hidden sweets from the bottom drawer. After Peter won, they lay on Remus’s bed and looked through Muggle magazines. Peter drifted off until Remus’s mother called them down to supper.
Blodwen didn’t look like somebody’s mother, and certainly not Remus Lupin’s. She was a really beautiful woman (who had made Peter blush so much he wondered that he wasn’t permanently scarlet). She had lots of pale strawberry hair, and freckles over her nose, and she wore pretty blouses that let her underclothes show and skirts that revealed an awful lot of shapely leg. Peter tried awfully hard not to look (as she was after all his friend’s mother, and surely that was wrong) but Blodwen was, in the end, a lot nicer to look at than Remus was.
Samuel Mott, Remus’s stepfather, who was an English Catholic and the manager of a supermarket in town, was a spare-looking man who talked a lot about sales prices and the economy. He didn’t like to talk about Hogwarts or magic, and so he never said much to Remus.
Peter could tell that Remus preferred it that way.
Samuel opened dinner the way he had every night since Peter had come. He talked about which detergent had sold the best that day, about which cashier had lost five pounds from the register, and about the brochures he and Blodwen were considering for when his paid leave came and they could take a week’s holiday. That night, he talked about America.
‘The Kennedy Space Center in Florida looks quite interesting,’ Samuel said, lowering his forkful of salad greens. ‘That poor man, so young. Him and that brother of his.’
Blodwen nodded and reached for a slice of bread.
‘Who do you mean?’ Peter asked. ‘Which poor man?’
Samuel leaned on his elbow. ‘Why, that President Kennedy. He was assassinated right before you were born.’
Peter exchanged a quick glance with Remus. ‘He was the President of America?’
‘What do they teach you boys at that school?’ Samuel sighed and stroked his moustache. ‘Well, never mind. They say that the Yellowstone National Park is quite lovely, Blod.’
‘Isn’t it an awfully athletic sort of spot?’ she asked. She stood and went to the kitchen; she came back with another beer, and set it at Samuel’s right hand. ‘I’m not sure that’s best for the...’ She stopped, and occupied herself with her fork.
Remus looked up. ‘Best for what, mam?’
Samuel took her hand, and she stood again and leaned against his shoulder. Remus frowned.
‘I was going to tell you after your friend left,’ Blodwen murmured. Colour suffused her cheeks, and Samuel put his arm around her waist and smiled up at her. ‘But since it’s come up– Remus, Sam and I are pregnant.’
Remus put down his utensils. He wasn’t responding. Peter licked his lips nervously.
Blodwen sighed. ‘We’re very happy,’ she added.
Remus left the table. Peter heard his feet thumping on the stairs, and then a door slammed.
‘Damnit, Blod,’ Samuel muttered. ‘Can’t you do something about that boy?’
Peter slid his chair back, sure he didn’t want to be stuck listening to the conversation that was starting. ‘Um, congratulations,’ he stuttered, and ran after Remus.
He knocked on the door before he went in, and was unsurprised to see that Remus was perched on the bed and staring out the window. He closed the door and leaned back against it. Sirius would have said the perfect thing that would make it all seem like a joke. James probably would have tackled Remus and sat on him til he felt Remus was sufficiently distracted.
Peter Pettigrew said, ‘Surely it’s not so bad, Reemy?’
‘I hate them,’ replied Remus Lupin, and that was that.
1976 : Fall
‘Hello?’ It was Lily Simms, tapping at the door. ‘Can I come in?’
Sirius lunged for the nearest piece of fabric and wrapped it around his waist. A shirt, and he wasn’t sure it was his. Or that it was clean. He draped it as best he could, already turning red. ‘Uh– I guess so. It’s unlocked.’
She came in and shut the door softly behind her. When she turned, she flushed even more brightly than he. ‘Black, you’re naked!’ she hissed.
‘I realised,’ he shot back. ‘If you don’t like it then turn around while I get decent.’
Lily promptly turned her back to him, reaching for a lock of her ginger hair and twining it nervously around her finger. ‘You didn’t have to say “come in,” you know.’
‘I haven’t got anything you haven’t seen.’
‘Then why are you blushing?’
‘Shut it.’ He zipped up a pair of James’s corduroys. ‘I’m decent.’
‘You’re never decent, you awful tart.’ She peeked; convinced, she left the door and sat on his bed. Sirius sat back against the headboard and tossed a pair of his underpants to the floor. He waited for her to speak; and when she didn’t, but only nervously gazed off into the corners of the dormitory, he nodded once, sharply.
‘James,’ he said.
Lily raised her head. ‘That obvious?’ Then she looked alarmed. ‘He’s not here, is he?’
‘He’s at study group.’
She let out a deep breath in a huff and slid lower on the toilet seat. ‘He’s such a *git*!’
‘We love him for it.’ Sirius studied her. ‘So it’s unutterably, irrevocably serious now?’
‘’Fraid so.’ She sighed again, and dropped her pale hands into her lap. Her freckles stood out in sharp relief on her cheeks. Sirius noted absently that she was very fetching today. ‘Oh, Black, he barely even knows my name.’
‘You’re female, after all.’ Sirius scratched his chest as he gazed at her. He’d only gotten to know her in the last term, and for a while thought he might decide to ask her out. But Mallory Lewis had asked *him* out and then things had gotten a little jumbled, and in the end he and Lily had ended out with a cautious friendship. He’d never really had a female friend before, and definitely never one who was star-struck with his best friend. Lily had it particularly bad for the Gryffindor Seeker, snot-nosed and gangly and generally annoying as he was.
Thoughtfully he added, ‘Which is most of the problem.’
‘Oh fuck, he’s not a poof,’ she said, sitting up straight.
Sirius burst into laughter. ‘Jamie? Not hardly. Sorry. Was thinking of something else.’
Green eyes blazing in a truly ferocious glare, Lily slumped again. ‘You don’t have to tease. It would be just my luck, though. But what d’ya mean, being female is most of the problem?’
He laid his head back against the cool stone. ‘James lives for a very limited number of things. Food. Fun. Quidditch, top of the list. His life is Quidditch. If it weren’t for classes and sleep, he’d never leave the pitch.’ And the occasional adventure with the cloak. James was disgustingly attached to it.
‘Quidditch,’ Lily repeated. ‘My greatest rival is a silly game.’
‘Doesn’t have to be a rival.’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Explain, O Brilliant One. And do move it along a bit.’
He cracked a grin, but obliged her by turning as serious as he ever did. Lily would be good for James. ‘That schedule of his doesn’t include much room for girls. And that’s part of the problem– you’re very much a girl–‘
He went on as if she hadn’t interrupted. ‘And I know it sounds weird, but maybe you should go in the other direction. Like– be one of the boys. You don’t have to stop being feminine or anything, but maybe you could come to practice a few times to cheer him on. He’d notice that. You could sit with us at the matches.’
‘I could even give him a good luck charm,’ she added eagerly. ‘You’re brilliant! I could kiss you.’
Mockingly, he puckered his lips. She made a face and waved a hand at him. ‘It’s worth a shot,’ Lily added stoutly. ‘It’s a terrific idea.’
With a great happy sigh, she moved to the edge of the bed, tugging at her grey skirt. ‘Enough about me,’ she said. ‘You, Sirius? Is there anyone for you, or have you managed to alienate all the girls again? You’re very lucky they bring in a new batch every year, even if they are getting a bit young for you.’
‘You may find this surprising,’ Sirius told her, ‘but I’m not looking right now.’ He reached above his head and felt around until he connected with his hackey sack. He tossed it from hand to hand. ‘Not interested.’
‘Sirius Black, not interested?’ Lily pretended to gasp and ostentatiously felt his forehead while he tried to push her away. ‘You must be ill.’ She finally sat back, and stuck her pink lower lip out in a pout. ‘Come on. You know every humiliating detail about my love doldrums. You can’t just sit there and be all secretive.’
‘I’d like to know why not.’
‘Because!’ She laughed brightly. ‘Well,’ she said, mischief glinting in her eyes, ‘if you ever really do get tired of being adored by the hundreds of girls who are your vigilant and stalwart fanclub, you could always send a wink to the new teacher of Magical Creatures. She likes the younger men.’ Her giggle was just a little too relished. ‘Oh, she’d teach you a thing or two, Black!’
‘Fuck off, Simms.’
She ruffled his hair. ‘Itchy, are we? Put some clothes on and come down to dinner. Your stomach is making that noise again.’ She stood and laid a hand on the door; with her face turned where he couldn’t see her expression, she added, almost too quietly for him to hear:
‘There wouldn’t have been a James if you had noticed me.’
He didn’t know what to say. He watched her leave with his chest oddly tight.
James Potter had never really noticed girls before. Not to say that he didn’t know they existed, but his company had always consisted of boys and girls were generally giggly, irritating, silly sort of creatures who got in the way and wanted to tell on you when they saw you stealing a jar of gizzards from Potions, whether you meant to use them for something nefarious or no. But then he’d turned sixteen in March, and then his father had made him sit through an exceedingly embarrassing talk about sex and his mother had started to look at him suspiciously and the girls–
Well, the girls.
He wasn’t exactly sure when it had happened, but now girls were starting to be a lot more noticeable. They had breasts, for one thing. And their skirts seemed to have gotten shorter somewhere along the way. They did nice things with their hair and most of the time they smelled good. That part was kind of exciting. Hypothetically, James didn’t mind admitting that some of them were a great deal more attractive this year than they had been previously. And it was kind of flattering to get those notes with lots of hearts and flowers drawn all over them, though he wasn’t entirely sure what he was supposed to do with them.
Then there was Lily Simms.
At first he’d thought she was Sirius’s girlfriend (one of them), but then maybe not. Then she was Peter’s new tutor. Then not, because Peter finally found his footing in Arithmancy and was actually doing pretty well. Then she was just sort of– around, all the time.
He’d go to breakfast and she’d be there talking to Dylan, the new Gryffindor Beater. He’d go to Potions and she’d be in his lab group. He’d go to practice, and she’d be out in the stands, holding a pair of binoculars and cheering for the team. He’d turn around in the hall and she’d be there, laughing with Sirius about something. She never really paid him any extra attention, but somehow he felt a little nervous every time she was near. He couldn’t quite get a bead on her. Yes, that’s what it came down to. He couldn’t decipher what it was, exactly, that she wanted.
Generally it was rather confusing.
He looked up. He hadn’t realised he’d said that aloud. He summoned a smile. ‘Nothing. Just thinking.’
‘So I see.’ Remus reached across the table and grabbed James’s notebook before James could stop him. He was grinning as he held it up. ‘Not a bad drawing. Her breasts aren’t that big, though. Wishful thinking?’
‘Give it back, you skeevy bastard,’ he muttered, lunging for it. Remus laughed as he tossed it. ‘It’s just a doodle.’
Remus capped his ink and closed his own book. ‘Have you asked her out, yet?’
James stared. ‘Why would I do that?’ But his stomach was getting tight just at the thought. He began to play with his tie, and slumped back in his chair. A gargoyle in one of the far eaves scowled back at him.
Remus left the table to return a book to the shelves, and then began to pack up his supplies. ‘No reason,’ he replied, peaceably. ‘Since you’re clearly not going to get any more work done, do you want to go to lunch early?’
‘Yeah.’ He scooped up his books and deposited them carelessly into his bag; then he opened the notebook with the drawing of Lily and ripped out the page. He dropped it into the trash bin as they passed it.
Out of the musty atmosphere of the library, he felt more relaxed. He rolled his head about, cracking his neck, and sighed deeply. ‘Why is it I feel I can never breathe in there?’
‘If I had a photographic memory like you, I wouldn’t go in there either.’ Remus had to roll back the cuff of his too-long sleeve to check his wristwatch. ‘There’s days I feel I haven’t seen the sun for years.’
‘You’re a bit on the pale side,’ James agreed. ‘Any progress for all your efforts yet?’
The smile faded from Remus’s face, and the brightness in his eyes faded as if he gazed at something far from sight. ‘No,’ he replied, at last. ‘I don’t know if–‘ He hunched his shoulders, wrapping his fingers around the straps of his bag tightly. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever really find anything,’ he confessed. ‘I don’t want to think it’s been worthless, though.’
They passed into the courtyard. An impromptu game of Muggle football was going on, and had gathered an audience that included Hagrid and Professor Turbute. James noticed one of the prefects sneaking a few knuts to a Hufflepuff. James couldn’t imagine how anyone could figure out the game enough to bet on anyone else. He wasn’t even sure if there were two teams playing. A bench in a westward alcove opened as two Ravenclaws vacated it to join the crowd, and James broke into a trot to reach the seat before it was taken again. Remus followed, his face turned up dreamily to the sun, and they stretched out to the full length of their awkwardly long arms and legs.
It was a good year for Hogwarts, so far. There had been no ugly incidents the first weeks of school, and everyone seemed in good spirits. The Headmaster had mentioned a party upcoming, whether there was a holiday for it or not.
‘Maybe you ought to give it up,’ James said slowly, breaking the silence between he and his friend. ‘Seriously. Maybe it’s time to really consider giving it up.’
Remus sighed and picked at a tangle in his curly hair. ‘I don’t know, James. I just feel...’
‘I know.’ He stretched his legs out before him and shoved his hands into his pockets. ‘But think on it.’
Remus turned a little to look at him. ‘You have something better in mind?’ His eyes came back from whatever far-away place they’d been, and now they speared him sharply. James had to bite back a grin.
‘Might be that I do,’ he replied equably.
‘Is it a private party, or can anyone join?’
He laughed. ‘It’s not a secret, exactly, but for now let’s just say that I think it’ll be of sufficient trouble to distract you from the tylwyth teg.’
Remus, predictably, heard only ‘trouble,’ and ignored the rest. ‘What are you getting into? And more importantly, what are you getting the rest of us into?’
‘Just wait, O Ye of Little Faith.’ His stomach growled, and that was enough encouragement for James Potter. ‘Come on, now I’m hungry.’ He grabbed his bag and stood. ‘Gryffindor go up against Hufflepuff in a week. Sirius is bringing beer for the after-party. Want to come?’
It was the wrong thing to say, and he remembered why before Remus even opened his mouth.
He sighed. ‘We’ll save some for you. We’ll celebrate another day.’ He slung his arm over the younger boy’s shoulders. ‘You’ll be going home?’
It was a rote question, one he knew the answer to. But this time Remus looked down at his feet in that old, nervous gesture, and then back up at James.
‘I never actually went home,’ he started, and then stopped. ‘Jamie... do you want to...’
He faced Remus. ‘Do I want to see where you go?’
Remus nodded. His fingers were white, James noticed, where they gripped the strap of his backpack. He doesn’t really want to show me, he thought; but then, he’s had a year since we found out to tell me. So if he’s mentioning it now, he must be ready.
‘How far away is it?’ he asked, and got a spark of relief in return for his willingness.
‘Not far. We could even go now. Or tonight. If you’re still hungry.’
It’s close enough to go during lunch? That piqued his curiosity. ‘No,’ he decided. ‘Let’s go now. You mean that all this time you’ve never once gone home?’
Remus smiled. ‘Yeah,’ he said, and pointed in the direction they’d come from. ‘Best to go that way. Dumbledore thought it would be better to say I went home.’
‘I thought once maybe you didn’t leave Hogwarts, but then I don’t remember why I never pursued it.’ They had to descend a staircase to the first floor, and Remus showed him to a door he’d never paid any mind to– a janitorial closet. There was a new man in charge of the castle care-taking: Argus Filch, a mean-looking man with a mouldy old cravat and long greasy hair. He had temporarily locked and chained all the storerooms until such time as he completed an inventory. It had put a cramp in their ability to sneak about, but this door was not locked. When Remus opened another door inside the closet and it revealed sky and lawn, James made a note to himself about it and reminded himself to tell Sirius. With the cloak, it would be no trouble to get out to the grounds.
No one was about, and James realised they were outside the east wing. ‘How’d you find this?’ he asked, as they set out across the grass.
Remus shrugged. ‘Dumbledore told me it would always be open for me. It’s so out of the way not even the house elves use it.’ He glanced behind them, but it was quite deserted. ‘We’re going to the willow,’ he added.
James raised his eyebrows even as he took off his robe and hung it over one shoulder. ‘*The* willow? The Whomping Willow?’
Remus nodded shortly.
A million questions occurred to James then, but he couldn’t figure a way to put them in a sensical order. While he puzzled it through, they arrived, and he put them on temporary hold.
Remus was searching. ‘I must have thrown it farther than I thought,’ he muttered, but finally came up with a long branch. While James watched in confusion– and not a little concern, as it was quickly clear that Remus intended to walk right up to the willow, which was already beginning to look agitated– Remus secured a good grip, and reached out with it for the thick trunk of the tree.
And the branches stopped waving.
James whistled. ‘Neat trick,’ he said. ‘Wouldn’t have been any accidents if that secret was known.’
‘Don’t tell anyone,’ Remus cautioned. ‘It’s the way it is for a reason. Come on; we only get a moment before it starts again.’ He ducked a low-hanging stream of leaves, and James hurried after. The willow was just as huge as it looked. James looked above him as he walked, wondering if at any moment the branches– many as thick as his body– would begin to wave and threaten to bash them into the ground. Then they halted before the trunk, and Remus pushed aside a wall of thick moss.
‘A door,’ said James, surprised.
‘Duck,’ Remus advised, and they went inside. It was a tunnel, all made of packed dirt, and tall enough only for a child. They had to keep their heads bowed and their arms tucked in.
‘How far does this go?’
‘To Hogsmeade,’ was the reply. The tunnel began to incline at long last, while James pondered that. When they finally reached a door made of wood and steel-- no, silver-- he thought he knew where they had ended out.
‘This is the Shrieking Shack, isn’t it?’ he asked, as Remus tapped the door with his wand and muttered the charm. It swung open noiselessly under his palm, and Remus stepped aside to let him enter first.
He had been right. They were in a bedroom, an old and strange-smelling bedroom with boarded-up windows and a ceiling that had a great many spiderwebs and even a bird’s nest. Remus closed the door behind them, and lit a candle in the corner, and sat on the bed. He watched silently as James explored, tossing his bag to the floor and setting the candle on an old sconce.
‘I can’t say much for the decor,’ James sighed. An old bookshelf sagged along one wall, and the carpet was chewed and ruined by some large animal. No, he corrected himself. By Remus.
What an odd thought to have.
He turned back to the bed, and to the boy sitting on it. It was a Hogwarts bed, he realised, though a rather old one. The bed hangings were tattered, and one of the pillows had been torn apart so that grey down and feathers had made an awful mess. He sat beside Remus, and as he did so, identified the elusive smell.
‘It’s not as bad as it looks,’ Remus said. He was gazing up at the ceiling. ‘There’s not really a point in trying to repaint it or spruce it up. It’s sturdy and safe, and that’s all that matters.’
‘They really went to a lot of trouble for you.’ James had never actually thought about it before, though he had known Remus’s secret for an entire year and more.
‘Headmaster Dippet wouldn’t have done it.’ Remus sighed, and leaned back against the wall. ‘It was only because of Dumbledore I could even come. He’s the one who arranged this with the landlord, and had the tree planted to make sure no-one could get here. He said he was looking for a different way to do it, but really, it’s fine.’ His hand drifted over the wrecked pillow. ‘It’s not as if it matters to a werewolf.’
‘What do you do when you’re at home?’
‘There’s an old bomb shelter in back of the house.’
James shuddered. ‘You lock yourself in that thing? All night?’
He couldn’t see Remus’s face, turned away from him. ‘It’s all right.’
James felt– upset, but knew better than to say anything. To get the image of the dangerous darkness of a bomb shelter out of his head, he reached for the faded quilt beside him, and frowned. There was a great dark spot on the fabric.
Blood, he thought, and quickly flipped an edge over the stain. ‘I want to go, Remus.’
They left the Shack in silence. James was relieved to be back in the sun and warmth of the outside, and gladder still when they left the Whomping Willow behind and took the long way round the school to the front courtyard.
James heard wings flapping, and threw himself to the side. He and Remus tumbled down and rolled just as something huge and screaming flew over them. His heart thumping, James wondered if he’d only imagined feeling talons grasping for his hair.
A huge pair of feet presented themselves before his face. ‘Sorry about that,’ a deep, worried voice said, and big meaty hands helped first him, and then Remus to their feet. James found his glasses, miraculously unbroken, and Rubeus Hagrid swam into view.
‘What was that, Hagrid?’ he demanded.
Hagrid looked distressed and a little ashamed. ‘Nothing.’ He scratched his chin. ‘All right, Potter?’
He checked his head reflexively; but the winged thing must have missed. ‘Yeah. But what was that?’
‘Just a bird.’ The man cleared his throat. ‘All under control. Best not to tell anyone about that, right?’
Remus rubbed a grass stain on his elbow. ‘Sure,’ he answered, before James could press the groundskeeper any farther. ‘I think it’s coming back.’
Hagrid gave him a relieved grin, and ran off.
James scrubbed through his hair with a shudder. ‘I don’t get him,’ he muttered. ‘Those animals of his will hurt someone, some day.’
‘Oh, probably not.’ Remus handed him his backpack. ‘Why don’t you like him?’
‘I don’t dislike him.’ James cast a glance about for the bird-thing, but it and Hagrid were no longer in sight. ‘I just wonder why the Headmaster lets him stay around. He’s too old to be a student and not old enough to be staff.’
‘I like him.’ They set off. ‘He told me that Headmaster Dumbledore did the same thing he did for me– found a way for him to stay at Hogwarts. The old Headmaster never wanted anyone abnormal or different at his school,’ he added, with surprising bitterness. James took a closer look at him, and decided to hold his tongue. ‘We’re lucky, Hagrid and I.’
‘I never thought of it like that,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry, Remus.’
‘Then I forgive you.’ Remus seemed to shake off his mood. ‘Now I’m really starving. We’re late for luncheon, but we have just enough time.’
Crabbe and Goyle had found somewhere else to be, Lucius saw. The dorm was empty. A jar that had recently held crickets was overturned on the floor and sat guiltily askew, its occupants missing. Quiet chirruping from an unidentifiable corner explained that. ‘Morons,’ Lucius muttered.
‘They’re terrified of you,’ Remus said, stepping past him to pick up the jar.
‘I think you’re overestimating the bugs’ intelligence.’
‘I meant Crabbe and Goyle. They lost the crickets and they’re too scared to tell you.’
‘I meant Crabbe and Goyle, too.’
Remus smiled at him, absently resealing the lid and setting the jar on Goyle’s desk. ‘You must have some affection for them. You don’t have to live with them every year.’
‘They’re about as stimulating as tree stumps.’ Lucius tossed his bookbag to his trunk and fell backward onto his bed, throwing out his arms and kicking at the bunched duvet. ‘But my father was friends with their fathers, and his father was friends with their fathers’ fathers, and it’s some bloody tradition. Stumps are great fans of tradition. It reduces the amount of thinking they have to do.’
‘Be nice,’ was the mild reply. Remus halted beside the bed, looking down at him. ‘It’s a Hogsmeade weekend. I was thinking of taking a lunch to the park. I’ve never been there before.’
‘The park?’ It was a walled botanical garden, frequented by old ladies and snot-nosed grandchildren. ‘What’s wrong with Zonko’s? Or Quidditch Coastal? Or Danny’s Pub?’
‘I’ve been to all those places.’
‘I’d have thought a Welshman would prefer to stay close to the beer.’
‘You’re terribly offensive when you put your mind to it, Malfoy.’
‘I know. It makes my father very proud.’ He made a show of examining his fingernails– he never had quite gotten the dirt out from under them after Tuesday’s botany lesson in Greenhouse Four– and attempted a casual tone. ‘Well, maybe I’ll come after all. Unless it rains.’
‘Done, then.’ Remus wore a satisfied expression when Lucius glanced up at him. He adjusted the lay of his jacket, and slipped his hands into his pockets, gazing down at Lucius.
‘Well,’ Lucius said. ‘If I pretend to be asleep when Crabbe and Goyle come back, I can avoid any clumsy apologies until morning.’
‘That’s if the crickets don’t keep me up all night.’
‘Best of luck.’
‘Can’t be much worse than Goyle’s snoring, though. He could wake the dead.’
Remus didn’t even bother to reply to that. Lucius cast about for something else to say; he wasn’t sure if he wanted to prolong the stilted conversation or end it with minimum fuss. He wasn’t used to indecision, and the process was distinctly discomfiting.
At last, Remus sighed. ‘Good night, then. I’ll see you at breakfast.’
He felt oddly disappointed. ‘Sure.’ Remus shouldered his bag and crossed the room. He paused, however, with his hand on the latch. ‘Lucius,’ he said.
Lucius sat up. ‘Yes?’
Remus faced him. ‘Are you ever going to kiss me?’
‘What!’ His face flamed. ‘You– I don’t–‘
Remus actually looked irritated. ‘I’ve done everything but tear your clothes off, Malfoy,’ he snapped. ‘I’ve tried everything I could think of to make it easy for you. I’ve smiled at all your stupid jokes, I didn’t even protest when you hexed Peter last week, and I’ve listened to all your lame stalling. If you don’t kiss me very soon, I’m going to– well, I don’t know what I’ll do, but it’ll be nasty.’
Weakly, Lucius stuttered, ‘I didn’t know– notice– that is, I wasn’t sure...’
Remus said a dirty word. He pointed a finger at Lucius. ‘You’re going to take me to the Astronomy Tower. Everyone goes there to make out, and I am not going to be the only fourth-year who hasn’t been up there yet. And then you’re going to take me to the park on Saturday, and if you don’t at least hold my hand I’m going to start thinking of very evil things. Very evil, Lucius. I’ve got Sirius Black to help me think of the most evil things I can do to you, so don’t test me.’ He frowned at Lucius. ‘Do you understand me?’
Lucius managed a nod. His throat was too dry for speech.
‘Good.’ Then Remus pulled open the door and marched off down the hallway, muttering to himself and waving his arms.
Asper walked briskly through the hallways, stepping evenly so as not to disturb his candle. He was forced to stop once to send two amorous students scurrying off to bed– separate beds– but completed his journey in good time. He pulled the step ladder up after him and locked the trap door with a flick of his fingers. Then he stood, and blew out his candle, and muttered a charm to fill the room softly with light.
He turned, and sighed. ‘Mr Malfoy. Kindly join me?’
His student scrambled up from an old couch along the back wall, his face flushed. ‘Professor,’ the boy started. Then he lifted his chin and attempted to look down his nose. ‘Good evening,’ he finished, with a certain admirable amount of aplomb.
Asper, however, was in something of a hurry. ‘Good evening,’ he parroted sarcastically. ‘Rather cliche, isn’t it? I’m saddened to find that you couldn’t be more creative for your date than the Astronomy Tower. Well. You might tell your girlfriend to stand up, as well.’
Another blonde head emerged into view, while Malfoy turned a dark purple and rubbed at his mouth. Asper raised his eyebrow, startled, as Remus Lupin brushed ineffectively at the dust on his uniform and stared, blushing, at the floor.
Suddenly he felt like laughing.
With a great deal of effort, however, he kept his face devoid of expression. ‘Scat,’ he said, and the two boys awkwardly slid past him and all but threw themselves down the step ladder. Asper allowed himself a chuckle as he pulled it up after them.
When he lay his hands along the smooth glass of the seeing crystal, his amusement communicated to the swirling mist inside. It turned a tickled pink, then faded back and revealed the face he had come to the Tower to meet.
‘Glad to see you well,’ said the face. Cheery brown eyes winked at him. ‘What’s this that you called me up for?’
‘I need news, my friend,’ Asper replied. ‘Anything you can tell me.’
Dark eyebrows lifted in surprise. ‘It’s only two weeks since my last letter. Didn’t you receive it?’
‘Yes, your owl came.’ He sighed. The mist swirled up in response to his mood change, a periwinkle blue that receded gently when he nudged it with his mind. ‘Did you hear about Roxim?’
‘Rox? Oh, bloody hell. Not Rox.’ His companion closed his eyes and sighed heavily..
‘That’s three,’ Asper told him. ‘The Ministry won’t be able to cover it forever. We need to find him.’
‘You think it is a man, then?’
‘Just a feeling,’ he admitted.
‘I’ve nothing new. I’ll look harder, though.’
‘I appreciate it.’ He hesitated, then nodded briefly and let loose their connection. The mist, now a dull grey, clouded the crystal. Asper let his hands drop away from it; he covered it with a cloth, then darkened the room and stood letting his eyes adjust.
His gaze fell on the couch Malfoy and Lupin had been occupying.
He left the Tower with a small smile.
Return to Archive | next | previous