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.
Dumbledore handed him a saucer and cup. The heat from the ceramic was welcome; Asper held it to his lips and sipped gratefully. The Headmaster drew up the grey afghan covering his companion’s legs, and reached for the pillow that helped him sit. ‘Don’t fuss,’ Asper snapped. ‘I’m not an invalid.’
‘By a near miss,’ Dumbledore reminded him. ‘Allow my paternal urges.’
Albus sometimes saw a little too clearly. Still, he was not ready to admit to a little weakness or migraine. When the Headmaster was once again seated, Asper lay aside his tea and brandy and spoke briskly. ‘This Voldemort. We have no choice, now. We have to force the Ministry to hear us. Gledi’s death–‘ His throat closed briefly. He had not yet had much time to grieve. But for yet one more time, Asper put that feeling aside and kept at the business on hand. ‘Gledi’s death proves that he was close to discovering Voldemort’s identity. We can’t wander about in the dark, now. The Ministry have to warn people. He could strike again at any time.’
Dumbledore stroked his beared, eyes distant in thought. ‘All those killed were Aurors. All, presumably, stumbled upon Voldemort’s doings.’
‘If he had to kill them to hide whatever he’s doing,’ Asper said, ‘it won’t be long til he’s killing indiscriminately. I felt him, Albus. He is a great evil.’
‘There have been great evils before.’ Dumbledore sighed, and picked up his pipe and lit it. He released a puff of smoke and added, ‘I agree that we must inform the Ministry what you have learned, and I think it will be helpful, as well, if you provided an accounting of Gledi’s final contact. I only fear that the Ministry will be slow to move.’
‘Bureaucrats,’ Asper spat. ‘I don’t fear it, I know it. But there’s no choice in this.’
‘Remain calm, my dear professor,’ Dumbledore replied, with a small smile. ‘You are yet ill.’
‘Strong enough to stand up those paper-pushers.’ Disgruntled, Asper twitched at his green bed robe and glared at the hearth opposite his bed. ‘And what if the Ministry refuse to listen?’ he demanded suddenly. ‘Well, Albus? Will we move without them?’
A grey eyebrow rose in the lined face. ‘Move? If you have plans, my friend, I beg you to share them.’
He had none, and they both knew it. Asper frowned and folded his arms.
‘We will require more knowledge about this Voldemort before we can move.’ Albus stood. ‘I have certain connections, myself, who may be willing to shoulder the risk.’
Gledi had been Asper’s last and best hope. He said nothing, but his throat was once again tight.
‘Rest.’ The Headmaster laid a hand on Asper’s shoulder. ‘The students return sooner than we like to remember. You had best be on your feet by then, or I fear they will run you ragged.’
‘The joy of teaching.’ Asper rubbed his stubbled chin. ‘Albus–‘
The man faced him from the door.
‘Beware.’ Asper looked at him grimly. ‘I have the distinct feeling that this Voldemort counts you as a personal enemy.’
Dumbledore inclined his head, and then he was gone, leaving Asper alone in his underground chambers with his unhappy thoughts.
1977 : Fall
Lucius knocked, and John Eddington, a seventh-year, opened the door. He swept Lucius and Remus with a cool, appraising eye, and then nodded shortly and let them pass. ‘Take a seat,’ he said. He locked the door, and followed them to the chairs that had been set up in a circle that included some Slytherins sitting on the beds. Remus took the edge of the mattress, and Lucius a chair directly beside him. ‘Malfoy, Lupin, these are Fiddle, Keene, Lestrange, Nott, Goyle, Crabbe, Pole, Godwin, and Charatte. We’re waiting on Snape and Bilcock.’ The Bloody Baron was there, too, floating a few inches above the floor, his arms crossed in the deep sleeves of his grey doublet and his stern face without expression or even interest. Remus wondered if Eddington knew the Baron was present. The Baron could be selective on who he allowed to see him. Then he wondered, if that were true, why the Baron would choose him. A glance at the others was not enlightening.
The Housemates sat in silence until, some minutes later, a last knock at the door announced the arrival of the missing pair. All the spots were filled, now. Eddington went to his chair, but didn’t sit. He crossed his arms over his chest, and looked at them all, one at a time, with eyes that were very cold. Remus glanced at the Baron when his turn came; he was nervous, but kept his face blank and his hands still.
At last Eddington said, ‘You all know why you’re here. You’ve been selected. If anything that is said here tonight leaves this room, the rest of us will find you and make you regret it. Understand?’
They all acknowledged him mutely.
The seventh-year sat then, and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. ‘I have received a message from You-Know-Who.’
Remus looked at Lucius; Malfoy was pale, but perhaps it was only a trick of the light. A girl on the opposite bed frowned at him, and he turned back to Eddington.
Who was taking a letter from his pocket. ‘My father conveyed it,’ he was saying, puffing out his chest importantly. ‘Of course it’s too great a risk for You-Know-Who to attempt a direct communication. But not for long. And that’s where we come in.’
Several of the Slytherins shifted uneasily. Then Lestrange– two years behind Remus, a skinny boy with a cruel face who had once been given detention for killing someone’s toad– asked, ‘How you mean?’
Eddington handed the letter to him. ‘Pass it round. My Lord wants us to be his intelligencers. All of us have eyes and ears, and he wants us to use them for him.’
The boy was playing a game with them, attempting to draw them out with his mysterious hints. No one responded, however, and soon Eddington gave up and told them. ‘We search out weaknesses. Find out who has parents in what Ministry, who asks too many questions, who is especially good in classes like Defence Against the Dark Arts.’
‘Spy work,’ Keene, one of the few girls, said.
‘Yes.’ Eddington pointed to the letter, currently in Albert Pole’s hands. ‘My Lord can do for himself beyond Hogwarts, but here in the school it’s practically another universe. We can best serve by reporting any detail that might help him.’
Remus turned his head to look as Severus spoke. ‘What will he do with whatever we tell him?’
‘What do you think?’
Some were frowning. But no-one answered.
Eddington stood and took back the letter. ‘That’s enough for now. Just keep your eyes open. We’re looking for Muggle-lovers. For Mudbloods. For Gryffindors or Huffelpuffs who might grow up to go out hunting for my Lord.’ He went to his desk, and came back with a newspaper. They had all seen the front-page article: over the summer, the tally of dead wizards and witches had grown to sixteen. At first they had all been Aurors. Then Aurors and their wives. Then an Auror and his wife and their two children. Everyone knew now that the killer who called himself Lord Voldemort was destroying those who’d been put on his case. And no-one was any closer to figuring out who he was.
‘I don’t think Eddington knows either,’ Lucius whispered later. He leaned back against the wall, his eyes roaming restlessly. It was hard to be alone now; Slytherins had learnt to always watch each other, and none of the gazes were friendly. ‘I don’t see the need for all the secrecy and passwords and blood-swearing.’ He rubbed his palm and the shallow scratch running cross-wise across it. Remus curled his palm into a fist around the twin to that scar. Eddington had made them swear a blood-oath at the end with a silly-looking dagger he’d gotten at Hogsmeade. But Remus somehow thought he ought not to dismiss it as nonsense, as Lucius seemed inclined to do. The Baron’s rare appearance at the meeting troubled him. He imagined his palm tingled, but put it out of his mind.
‘Probably he doesn’t.’ Remus sighed, and rested his shoulder against the stone of the wall so that he could face Lucius and turn into the wan sunlight. The smell of the grass was strong; Hagrid had been about, cutting it, and in the humid October air he was beginning to feel a little dizzy. ‘Do you think– do you think anything we say could get someone killed?’
‘That’s the point, isn’t it?’
He didn’t reply. Lucius slid into a crouch, and then sprawled his long legs out before him. Remus sat beside him, and caught the matchbook tossed to him. He lit one and held it out for Lucius’s small paper fag, then pinched it out and played with the warm blackened head. At last he said, ‘That word. Mudblood.’
Lucius blew smoke into his face. ‘It means being a Muggle and trying to pass for one of us.’
‘I know what it means.’ It was a new slang, and one that he didn’t like to repeat. ‘Lucius. What if someone finds out that my mother and stepfather are Muggles?’
His blonde friend lowered his cigarette. ‘No-one will. You haven’t told anyone.’
He’d told Sirius. He supposed it didn’t count.
‘Keep it to yourself.’ Lucius plucked away the match and threw it, and then took Remus’s hand. ‘It’s just your mother who left her own kind. Maybe you should turn her in.’
‘Be serious,’ he retorted.
‘I would,’ Lucius shrugged. ‘If they threw me out.’
He looked away. ‘She didn’t. It was Samuel.’
‘I don’t like it.’ He glanced back at Lucius, and rubbed away sweat beading on his temples. ‘I don’t like playing spy on people. It isn’t...’ He struggled to find the right word. ‘I don’t know. Decent.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ the other boy replied, with his old brashness. ‘You know you never get these things, so take my advice. This Lord Whatever is the real thing. If he tells us, even through that wank Eddington, to do something, we obey. It’s not choosing a side– not yet, anyway. It’s covering our arses.’
‘For what?’ He rubbed their thumbs together. ‘You don’t seriously believe one man is going to– to defeat the entire Ministry of Magic? Kill hundreds of trained wizards and witches and what? Take over the world? He couldn’t.’
‘Who’ll stop him?’ Lucius made a rude sound. ‘Sixteen people haven’t managed yet.’
‘Thirteen,’ Remus said. ‘The rest were just innocent victims.’
‘There’s no such thing as an innocent victim.’ Lucius twisted his hand quickly, to hurt him and to make him look up. ‘Listen. Trust me on this. Whatever you believe, keep it to yourself. For once in your life be a real Slytherin. Play the game.’
He glared, and tried to pull his hand away. ‘That’s the problem. It’s not a game!’
‘All the more reason to follow the rules.’ Lucius held him tightly, then leaned in to kiss him. Remus let him; then he leaned back against the huge wall of the castle and stared out across the lake. ‘Aren’t you scared?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know.’ Lucius finished his cigarette and threw it away. ‘No. Not yet. Why? Are you?’
He didn’t answer. ‘I want to go lie down.’
Blue eyes hovered on him for a moment, then looked away with affected nonchalance. ‘No one stopping you.’
‘Fear makes you horny?’
Remus stood. ‘Mocking gets you no-where.’
Lucius didn’t follow as he walked away, and Remus found he was holding his breath. Just when had given up, however, he heard the pounding of footsteps in the moist dirt, and then a weight hit his back forcefully and made him stumble. Lucius was there to help him up, though, and kept a tight grip on his hand. And when Lucius looked at him that way, silent for once and with something that might be contentment, it was as if he’d been so cold for so long that suddenly he was melting.
James hailed Remus down. ‘Hey,’ he smiled. ‘We’re headed out to the pitch. Going to practise a bit. I know you don’t like to fly, but I thought you’d stand in for Keeper.’
Remus was particularly pale lately, though the early November moon was a week past. As he spoke it, James suddenly wished he could take it back; he wasn’t sure that his friend looked up to a game, even the lazy pace of their intimate practises. ‘Will Peter be there? I haven’t seen him around lately.’
‘Petey?’ James shrugged. ‘You’ve seen him as much as the rest of us have.’
‘Mm.’ Remus mussed his pretty hair, and Lily reached out to stop him. ‘Someone worked too hard on that,’ she chided him. He scrunched his nose at her but suffered her taking a comb from her bag and straightening his fringe. James waved as some classmates passed them, then began to lead his friends toward the north entrance.
They turned to look. A tall boy in Slytherin colours caught them up, glaring at the Gryffindors. Remus excused himself, and he and the Slytherin went ahead a ways. It did not look like a comfortable conversation.
‘What d’you suppose they’re talking about?’ James asked his girlfriend.
She shrugged, tugging at her skirt. ‘Something completely unrelated to you.’
She grinned swiftly at him.
When Remus returned, he was even paler than before– James looked at him with concern. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I...’ Remus shrugged out of his robe and stuffed it into his bag, looking away to give himself time to recover. ‘Nothing. It’s nothing. You know how Slytherins are, they always want to make something out of nothing, always trying to make you give up ground like it meant something.’ His voice was too high, and he cut himself off sharply. He swallowed and said, ‘Not here.’
Sirius joined them on the pitch, wind-whipped into high colour and holding brooms in his tan hands. He rolled up his shirtsleeves as the others shed their robes, and then they took to the air. Lily laughed as the wind blew her skirt up her white thighs, and James pretended to scowl.
‘So what was that all about in the halls?’ he called to Remus.
Sirius swooped near them with the quaffle. ‘What’s this?’
Remus made a half-hearted attempt to block Sirius’s toss, but the quaffle flew past him and Sirius scored. Lily caught it and threw it back to James. ‘You wouldn’t understand,’ Remus said.
James hovered next to him. ‘So tell me anyway. Let me take a crack at it.’
Sirius and Lily drew near to hear.
Remus gazed at all of them. Finally he answered. ‘The man that is in all the papers now. The one who’s killing all those people.’
‘They’re calling him a serial murderer,’ Lily offered.
‘But it’s not. I mean, it’s more than that.’ It seemed that Remus glanced around nervously. The others exchanged looks of raised eyebrows. ‘It’s just a Slytherin thing. I think. But we all have to act like we agree with it. It’s just–‘
‘Hey,’ Lily interrupted. ‘It’s all right. We’re Gryffs, Lupin. You can trust us.’
James was already wincing.
Remus cast her a startled look that faded swiftly into worry. A moment later, he was landing, and he dropped his broom and stalked off the field.
‘I’m sorry,’ Lily said. She touched her nose. ‘That didn’t come out how I meant it.’
Sirius sighed. ‘I’ll go after him.’
‘Then they flash that stupid scar at you.’ Remus held out his own palm, and Sirius took it, tracing the crossing red lines. ‘Supposed to be a reminder, I guess.’ He made a fist, and Sirius released him. ‘Like I could forget. Nott and Phineas found out about my mother and Samuel. I don’t know how, they must have somehow got hold of the Registry. They say they haven’t told, because I’m supposed to. So now whenever they see me they wave their stupid hands and recite that stupid oath.’
‘So have you told?’
Remus looked up at him. ‘Of course not.’
Sirius was silent for a long time. At last he said, ‘Have you told them anything about us?’
Remus glanced away. ‘You’re my friends,’ he replied. ‘I would never do that.’
The tower was empty on weekends, and anyway, only a few students were about on a Saturday. Sirius had expected to find Remus in the library, and then perhaps a dorm or the east garden or even a greenhouse. It had taken him nearly an hour to recall the map, and that had led him to the roof of the Astronomy Tower where he had very often sat with Jamie. Remus sat fearlessly at the very edge, glowering off into the distant mountains. A chill wind ensured privacy. No-one else was stupid enough to risk a slip from a tower top.
‘I never knew Slytherins had such a rumour mill,’ he commented. ‘Never knew you had all that news before us.’
‘Shut up,’ said Remus.
‘You’re looking better,’ Sirius replied.
Remus considered him. He smiled. ‘Yes. Thank you. I guess it feels that good just to have it off my chest.’
‘Look, don’t worry about it so much. It’s just more of that secret society bollocks. Like picking on the new years during the first week after Sorting. Then you teach ‘em the secret handshake and everyone feels included.’
‘We didn’t have that.’ Remus gazed down at his open palms. ‘Everyone knew already if they’d be included or not. Slytherin isn’t a democracy.’
‘A what?’ Sirius shrugged. ‘Well, it’ll pass, is what I’m saying. And they’ll catch this bloke. Then you Slythies will have to find something else to harp on.’ He leaned back on his elbows, catching a lock of his hair between his teeth when the wind blew it into his face. ‘So just don’t tell them anything else. You said you’ve been making it up anyway. What can they do to you?’
The boy nodded, and though he still seemed distracted, he relaxed visibly and rolled his shoulders back to ease them. He flattened his palms to the tiles. Sirius reached out and rubbed his fluffed pale hair briskly, grinning at him. ‘There, you look proper again,’ he said. ‘You’re letting yourself get turned into a nancy. Before you know it you’ll be wearing neckties and pratting about with Ministry reports.’
Remus did not smile back. He drew his legs up from the lip of the tower and stood, balancing awkwardly. ‘What does that mean?’
Sirius stared up at him. For once, he hadn’t been trying to be rude or cruel. ‘It doesn’t mean anything,’ he defended himself.
‘You always mean it when you say things like that.’ Remus made a noise of disgust. ‘Forget it. God knows I ought to have become used to it by now.’
Sirius had never considered that his past might work against him at so odd a time. He unwisely grabbed Remus’s arm when the boy would have passed him, nearly pulling him down on the slippery slates. He steadied Remus without half noticing. ‘You running away because I called you a nancy? When did you get so thin-skinned! You’re hardly Peter!’
‘Sometimes you’re no better than a Slytherin,’ Remus snapped back. ‘Peter’s a lot braver than you give him credit for, only you never give him a chance.’
Madam Pince the librarian cleared her throat. Remus shook Sirius off and left; but Sirius followed on his heels, and as soon as they’d shut the library door behind them he picked right up. ‘So this is about Peter,’ he began.
Remus glared at him. ‘It’s not about Peter.’
There was a long silence. Sirius took a deep breath to cool down, and then he extended a hand and smoothed down the cowlicks and tangles he’d caused earlier by fooling with Remus’s hair. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I was only joking about your hair. But I liked you how you were. Just being yourself.’
Remus suddenly laughed, a sound they had heard all-too-infrequently since the start of term. It had an edge that had never been there before, a brittleness, and it didn’t reassure Sirius. Remus reached up and ran his hands through his hair, back and forth and back and forth, until it stood on end like before. ‘Better?’ He smiled, but it was small and thin.
He gnawed on his lower lip for a moment, then took his handkerchief from his back pocket and touched it to a thin line of red that seeped from Remus’s nose. ‘You’re bleeding again.’
‘I don’t care.’
It seemed to have stopped. He stuffed the kerchief back into his pocket, then wet his thumb and brushed away the stain from Remus’s upper lip. They were standing very close now. And the hall was empty; no-one would see... He touched Remus’s mouth, and saw that he had begun to tremble, just a little in his fingers, which looked very brown by Remus’s pale skin and startled grey eyes. He slid his hand to the back of Remus’s skull, and held his head steady and leaned down and kissed him.
He had meant it to soothe, had meant it to– But if anything, it made it all worse. Remus looked stricken when he stopped, and he choked, ‘Oh, Sirius. No.’
The shaking inside was worse. ‘Why no?’ he demanded hoarsely. ‘Tell me you haven’t felt it!’
Remus gripped his wrists, holding his hands against his cheeks. ‘There’s– I’m so sorry. I thought... I don’t know what I thought... I didn’t think you’d ever do it, Sirius, I didn’t think there was anything to wait for. I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry.’
He pulled away as if he’d been struck by lightning, and crossed his arms, tightly clamping his hands between his chest and elbows. ‘Who is it, then?’ His voice cracked and then he felt more humiliated than he could stand. ‘I took a real sodding chance there and someone beat me to it. Well, who the fuck is it?’
Remus hesitated. ‘You don’t really want to know that. I’m sorry, Sirius, I really am. I– I might have waited, but it just...’
‘It just came up. I get it.’
‘Well, there were a lot of girls who “just came up,” too,’ Remus protested. ‘Did you just expect me to sit around hopeful for you to maybe someday notice me that way? Be fair!’
‘I don’t have to be fair,’ Sirius retorted. ‘I’m the wounded party.’
Remus flushed. ‘You’re a real ass, Black! What do you want me to do?’ He scrubbed his nose fiercely and wiped his cheeks on his sleeve. ‘I *am* sorry! But there’s nothing to be done for it now.’
‘Done for what?’
(Used map to find them)Sirius whirled. James and Lily were just coming up to the Library, and looked cautiously between Sirius and Remus. Sirius opened his mouth to explain or to tell them to go away, something– but Remus hurtled past him and took off down the hall. With a silent curse, Sirius watched him go.
‘Black?’ It was Lily. He focussed on her and saw her frown. ‘You two alright?’
He swallowed to ease his throat. ‘Yeah,’ he replied. ‘Peachy.’
He had his eyes on his feet, his mind whirling with ache and anger for Sirius. It wasn’t bloody fair! Just like Black to wait til precisely the worst time, like-- like he was trying to hurt Remus. Maybe he was and it was just part of a game. He didn’t see Eddington until the older boy grabbed him by the collar and hauled him to a stop. ‘What’s the rush, Lupin?’
He couldn’t breathe, the way John was holding the fabric of his shirt. He had no choice but to move closer, and the seventh-year glared down at him. ‘Nothing,’ he managed. ‘Late for a study group.’
‘Who with?’ was the prompt demand.
‘Snape,’ he said.
‘Funny. I just saw Snape heading up to dinner.’
There was nothing to say. Remus clenched his jaw.
Eddington pulled him into the doorway of a nearby storeroom, out of the way from whoever may have been in the hall at this hour. He released Remus and took a crumpled parchment from his back pocket.
Remus recognised his own handwriting, and stiffened.
‘Good. You know what this is.’ Eddington pressed it into Remus’s chest. ‘We’re meeting tonight. And I want you to stand up and say, “My mother is a Mudblood.”’
‘Leave her alone,’ he whispered. ‘She doesn’t even have a wand anymore. She’s harmless!’
‘She’s an insult to our race,’ Eddington snapped. ‘Are you defending her? Are you saying you think all witches should be able to just decide they don’t believe in magic anymore? That they can breed with Muggles and produce Mudbloods whenever they want? Are you saying you think Lord–‘ He paused, and glanced around him. He lowered his voice and finished, ‘Lord You-Know-Who would approve of that?’
He wanted to say he didn’t give a pig’s shit for what Lord You-Know-Who thought. But the scent of danger was reeking off of Eddington. And Remus knew better.
He carefully arranged his face into shame. ‘No,’ he denied. ‘I’m not saying that.’
Eddington nodded, satisfied. He leaned away from Remus and threw back his shoulders. The violence leaked out of his arms and fists, but Remus did not yet relax. He could feel more coming.
‘Who were you running from just now?’
He hesitated a precious second. Just before Eddington frowned, he said, ‘Gryffindors. They tried to talk to me.’
It was the right move, for once. Hate spasmed over John’s face. ‘Filthy prats,’ he muttered. ‘Well, all right. But next time don’t run like that.’ He poked Remus hard in the chest. ‘Don’t let them think they have an edge.’
He nodded obediently.
Eddington made a short, sharp noise of acceptance. ‘Tonight,’ he reminded Remus. ‘I expect you to be there.’
He’d promised to catalogue the journals from his last experiment in Professor Asper’s office, but he had never felt less inclined. The alternative was sitting alone in his room, however, and he didn’t feel up to facing that much time with only himself for company. Asper wasn’t there, but he’d left the door on the latch for Remus, and he found himself tidying aimlessly as the dinner hour ticked past. He had no appetite– indeed, he felt sick. He found a house elf and procured a broom (over vociferous protests) and set himself to sweeping. Concentrating so intensely on the motion of the broom kept him from thinking on the inevitable consequences of nine o’clock in John Eddington’s dorm.
He knocked a pile of letters from the edge of the desk with his sleeve as he moved the trash bin. Bending to pick them up, his eyes picked out a name, and he hesitated in his crouch.
Ten more killed, read the top note. Just Suffolk Regional Ministers. No-one important and certainly no-one assigned to my Lord. Fudge knows, not that he’ll let it get out; until the monthly reports start to pile up, doubt anyone will even notice. Poor sods.
Quickly he flipped through the other letters. ‘Voldemort’ was written all over the letters. So-- they’d gotten to Asper, too. He supposed it only made sense– the teachers stood to gain much more than teenagers. Now that Voldemort had left the backwoods and started murdering people in broad daylight.
He sorted them through, skimming for names. And all of them had that name and the names of the dead, many more than were known even by Eddington, on them. He sat with his back against the side of the desk and read all the letters, then read them again.
They weren’t letters, he soon realised. They were personal notes-- pages from a diary. In unknown handwriting. Asper had gotten the diary from someone who worked for Voldemort.
‘It’s the Mudbloods he wants rid of,’ he read. ‘He hates them with frightening passion. Wants to rid the world of them.’
‘Purity in wizarding communities,’ the writer said. ‘No more corruption from the Muggle world. He speaks of Dumbledore with contempt. Opening the schools to anyone. Cites old Dippet there. Rules and regulations. Bloodlines. Pure education.’
‘He was a Slytherin. I’d suggest going through the roles, but can’t tell his age.’
‘Odd thing is, he makes a lot of sense.’
‘Roxim got too close– threatened to go to Fudge. I warned him– I begged him. I never wanted to kill him, just to scare him, but Rox never knew when to back down. Stubborn Hufflepuffs! It’s his own fault. I told him not to cross Lord Voldemort.’
‘What are you doing?’
Remus scrambled to his feet, gripping the pages tightly. ‘Professor!’
Asper stood in the doorway, looking at him in blank-faced surprise. ‘You read them all?’ he asked.
Remus looked down, his heart thumping so wildly he felt faint. But then he met his teacher’s eyes. ‘Yes. Who is he?’
The dismay left his professor’s face in a jolt of action. Asper swiftly closed the door and locked it. He took the parchments from Remus, and returned them to the desk. ‘Sit.’
Remus took his normal seat on the leather armchair. Asper took the woodenback behind the desk, and laid his hands one atop the other on the desktop. ‘He was my friend,’ the man said. ‘He was also a spy.’
‘Is he dead?’ Remus demanded.
Asper had no expression. ‘Yes. I think you can guess who killed him.’
Remus looked at the diary. ‘He didn’t sound like a spy.’
Asper frowned. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean he sounded like he believed what Voldemort was telling him.’
Asper leaned forward over the desk. ‘Listen to me, Lupin,’ he said quietly but forcefully. ‘You don’t know the whole story and I will not stand for blind assumptions. Do you understand me?’
He felt the blood drain from his face. ‘Yes.’ Asper hadn’t spoken so to him since the night he and James and Sirius and Peter had escaped from the faerie world, in his second year. Any confidence brought on by his discovery vanished.
The professor let the silence settle, and then he tried to change his tactic. ‘I am not trying to intimidate you. But what you read isn’t the whole story. Can you accept that?’
Remus stood and went to the door. Asper let him put the distance between them, watching him wring his hands in his robe. ‘Are you one of them?’ he demanded suddenly. ‘Do you– you work for Voldemort? Did you kill anyone?’
‘No,’ was the soft reply.
Remus cast him a look of anguish. ‘How do I know?’
‘You’ll have to trust me.’ Now Asper stood. He walked around the desk and approached the boy slowly, cautiously. ‘You did trust me. Why are you so willing to throw that away?’
Suddenly it was too much-- months of hiding, of worrying, of looking over his shoulder and watching what he said. And he could trust Asper, couldn’t he? Didn’t he have to, now? ‘Everywhere I turn I hear his name. I don’t know who to talk to. I don’t know what to do!’ He looked up at his mentor. ‘They want me to stand up at the meetings. They want me to turn in Mudbloods. They want me to turn in my mother to prove my loyalty!’
Asper reached out and gripped his shoulder. ‘Slow down,’ he said. ‘Have you done any of these things?’
‘No.’ Remus ran his hand through his hair. ‘No, but tonight I have to.’ He looked away. ‘Things are going very badly,’ he whispered.
Asper glanced at the waterclock on his desk. ‘Run to dinner. Eat quickly and then meet me back here. I will find Dumbledore. The sooner you tell him what is going on in Slytherin, the sooner he can pass it on to the Ministry.’
He caught his breath and held it for a moment to calm himself. ‘What will they do?’
Asper hesitated. ‘Don’t worry about that. Now, go quickly. Is a half an hour too little?’
‘I’ll be here,’ he said. His stomach ached sharply from the confrontation, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to eat. But it might be enough time to convince Severus to come forward. Maybe even Lucius. Light-headed, he turned and opened the door, and somehow he put one foot before the other, somehow made it up the stairs though his legs felt like lead weights, somehow came to a stop before the great oak doors of the Hall. He drew a bracing breath, and kept it in his lungs. Then he slipped through the doors and slithered in past the inquiring stares of those closest to the door and made it to the Slytherin table.
‘Need to talk to you,’ he whispered, bending over by Lucius. He touched the boy’s arm to prevent questions, and searched the table for Sev. There. He gathered Snape with a glance, and this time he crossed the Hall at a slow pace, so that the others could catch up with him.
Sirius was seated at the end of the Gryffindor table. He stopped talking as Remus passed him again, and watched him silently. Remus avoided his eyes; there isn’t time, he thought, even if I knew what to say. Still, it was a relief to have the doors between him and Sirius Black.
Lucius handed him an apple. ‘What’s all this about?’ he demanded, leaning back against the cold stone wall.
‘I told Professor Asper,’ he answered softly. ‘I told him everything. And he’s going to get Headmaster Dumbledore to come listen.’
‘What do you mean, everything?’ Severus shifted uneasily on his feet, and took off his glasses. His eyes looked much smaller without the magnifying lenses.
He waved his hands. ‘Everything. Everything since September. Once Dumbledore knows he’ll put a stop to it.’ He looked uneasily between the two. ‘Well? I thought you wanted to be rid of Eddington and his mates too.’
‘Not saying I don’t.’ Lucius had a thoughtful expression; Severus was merely silent. At last Lucius shrugged. ‘Nothing for it,’ he said. ‘You’ll have to lie.’
He felt as if he’d been struck dumb. He struggled for form intelligent words. ‘Lie? Why? I don’t– I don’t understand. It’s not a game anymore. Voldemort kills anyone he can and if Eddington has his way, my mother will be on the list.’
Severus captured his eyes. ‘Then you need to get used to the idea,’ he murmured.
Anger broke over him in a hot, welcome wave. ‘Am I the only one with sense?’ he spat. ‘If we come forward now the Ministry will have to do something! They’ll arrange a task force or something, they’ll find him and those men who helped him–‘
‘They won’t listen to what a bunch of schoolchildren do,’ Lucius interrupted. ‘Don’t fool yourself on that account. They’ll think we’re making it up to get a reward. Or to bother them. What do we know? We’re just kids.’
That had not occurred to him. Worst of all, he knew that Lucius was right, and he remembered now how Asper had not exactly told him that the Ministry would believe whatever he said. Lamely, still, he protested. ‘But if Dumbledore tells them...’
Severus said, ‘You know what they think of him. He’s just a schoolmaster. Plus he’s an eccentric. Maybe if it were Dippet–‘ He shrugged. ‘They’ll laugh him out of the offices.’
Remus hugged his chest. He couldn’t suppress a shudder; it felt as if one of the ghosts had brushed against him. ‘If it were your mothers you wouldn’t be this way about it,’ he managed.
Lucius laid a hand on his shoulder. ‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘And maybe not. Reemy, don’t you get it? For better or worse, there’s a real chance that You-Know-Who could pull off a coup. The Ministers of Magic are old and stupid. They’re not going to stop him. He could walk into their homes at any time and blast them away. And I think we all know that’s exactly what he plans to do. Even if Dumbledore believes you,’ he added, ‘even if the Ministry does, there’s just nothing to do about it.
‘Has it occurred to you that it’s going on outside Hogwarts, too?’ Lucius squeezed his shoulder. ‘My father has been sending owls to mysterious places since August. Snape’s parents the same, I’ll wager. Maybe even Asper.’
All he could do was shake his head in an increasingly useless denial. ‘It can’t be true.’
‘Stop it,’ Severus said softly. Betrayed, Remus stared at him. Steady black eyes met his and held his gaze. It was worse than a physical blow. ‘Tell Asper you were mistaken. Lie to Dumbledore. If you don’t, Eddington and the others won’t stop at harassing you between classes.’ For a second, just a second, Severus’s eyes slid toward Lucius. But then Remus wondered if he’d only imagined it. ‘They can make you leave Hogwarts. It’s happened before. And once you leave, you’ll not be a Slytherin anymore. You’ll be a Mudblood. And no one will want to protect you then.’
‘Protect me?’ His lips and nose were numb. Lucius let him go and stepped away, and Severus stood there looking at him with that awful pity. ‘What do you mean?’ He couldn’t make himself think.
‘Don’t be naive, Reemy.’ Lucius sighed and twitched his tie straight. ‘If you weren’t my friend, do you think they’d have let you drag on the way you do? Just for talking to Gryffindors they’d string you up. And your mother, for that matter.’ He looked cross, but then the set of his mouth moved and Remus wasn’t sure what to think. Lucius almost looked sad. Almost. ‘She’s not worth it. Neither is Potter, and surely not Black. You’d save yourself a lot of trouble if you turned around and went to Eddington tonight, and not Dumbledore.’
He closed his eyes. He felt so empty now. ‘I played Quidditch today,’ he whispered. ‘I failed a Potions exam. And you want to tell me it doesn’t mean anything. It was real, though.’
Severus turned and walked up the corridor. Lucius watched him go, and turned back to Remus. ‘It was,’ he whispered back, sliding his hand along Remus’s elbow. ‘But this is real too. And you have to rank priorities. Take care of yourself first.’
The hour bell rang from the east wing. He swallowed to wet his throat, and made fists of his hands, digging his nails into his palms. ‘I told Asper I’d be back.’
‘Be smart,’ Lucius warned him. ‘Do you understand me? Think before you speak, you have to do that now. Don’t go blurting something out.’
He nodded. Lucius brushed a finger over his cheek, and smiled at him. ‘That’s good. Okay? I’ll be in your room when you get back. All right?’
He nodded again, and walked away slowly, scrubbing his fingers unconsciously and trying to gather his scattered mind back together. Were they right? How did they know all these things? How did he not know? How could he be so blind?
At the foot of the stairs leading to the dungeons, Severus stood waiting for him. He had gotten rid of his robe, and looked oddly unthreatening without it, shorter somehow. Remus stopped, and really looked at his first Slytherin friend.
Severus had grown into his nose, into his hair. He was not handsome and would never be. He was tall, lanky in the legs and long in the arms, but not awkward as Remus was, at nearly his height. When Remus felt frantic, Severus was collected. Remus felt like he might explode; Severus looked strong enough to contain it.
Severus looked like a grownup, and Remus felt very young beside him.
‘I’ll go with you,’ Severus said.
The awful knot in his stomach unclenched suddenly. ‘You will?’
Snape nodded. Then, boldly, he reached out his hand. Remus took it.
‘I’ll protect you now,’ Severus told him gently. ‘Don’t worry.’
He closed his eyes. And he nodded.
Sirius watched them descend the stairs, his stomach roiling and his jaw tightly clenched. And then he turned, and saw Malfoy watching him.
A slow smile spread over Malfoy’s face. He flushed, and belligerently demanded, ‘What?’
‘You fancy him,’ Malfoy said. There was triumph, but contempt as well, in his voice. The Slytherin propped a hand on his hip, and tapped the side of his nose. ‘Never knew you had it in you, Black. I suppose you’ve snuck around for years, keeping tabs on him. I bet you’ve watched him undress.’ His grin grew sly. ‘Do you dream about him? You’ve never fucked a boy, have you? Does he moan in your dreams?’ He laughed wickedly. ‘I bet he’s a moaner.’
Sirius fisted his hands. ‘I’ll make you sorry,’ he said hoarsely.
‘There’s nothing sorrier than you, Black.’ He was still laughing as he left. Sirius stayed where he was, shaking with fury and humiliation.
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