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.
He found Remus in the garden. He crouched beside the bench, laying a hand on the younger man’s knee. The closed eyes opened, and Remus drew in a sleep-heavy breath. ‘Hullo,’ Sirius said.
Remus smiled, and reached a hand for the quilt that had slipped down his lap. ‘You woke me.’
‘Sorry.’ He shrugged his cloak from his shoulders and stood to drape it around Remus. ‘It’s chilly out. You should be more careful.’
‘It feels good.’ He looked behind Sirius, to the bike. ‘You’ve been working on it.’
‘Yeah.’ He turned to look, as well, with a faint feeling of pride. ‘I tried that spell you recommended. Needs a little fine tuning, but I think it’s the right track. I managed a bit of flight over Manchester.’
‘Scoot over.’ Sirius sat beside Remus, rubbing his arms to warm them. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘I’m fine. I’ve been fine.’
‘I know.’ He chewed the inside of his cheek. ‘Asper around?’
He looked up to find Remus’s eyes on him. He made himself smile. ‘You look good. You’re gaining back some weight.’
‘Oh, Moony.’ He wrapped his fingers around Remus’s hand and squeezed. ‘Look. I–‘ But he didn’t know what else to say. ‘I’m on a bit of a leave. Thought I’d stay for a while.’
‘How long should I plan for?’ Remus’s gaze was unwavering. ‘Before you run off, that is.’
‘I explained that.’
‘Yes. You always do.’
‘Damn it, do you love me or not?’
The pale lips quirked. ‘I’m not sure that has anything to do with it.’
He tried not to let his hurt show on his face. He put his arm around Remus’s shoulders and pulled him close, tucking Remus’s head under his chin. ‘I love you.’
‘I know you do,’ Remus whispered.
He ran his hand over the stark bones of the boy’s shoulders. ‘Are you really all right?’
‘Dizzy.’ Remus sighed, and hugged him tightly around the waist. ‘My back hurts.’
‘Want me to rub it?’
‘No. Just hold me for a while. You never do that.’
He drew back the soft hair at the back of the boy’s neck, and kissed the bare skin. Finally Remus lifted his head. Sirius spread out his cloak and drew Remus down onto it. ‘Are we over?’ he asked, spooning him and resting his cheek against the shuddering heartbeat he could feel through Remus’s wool layers.
‘I don’t know, Sirius.’
Remus drifted into light slumber, and Sirius lay awake and watched him. He hated the nakedness of the boy’s face, how the dim dusk filled the tiny lines that encased Remus’s eyes and mouth and made him look– old. Sirius pretended he was laying with an old man, not an eighteen year old boy. He pretended they had lived a long life of happiness and that the lines were laugh lines. He pretended that it wasn’t about hurting each other, but loving, and he pretended that when Remus woke there would be a smile and tea and a bed with a soft comforter and little fond words.
Remus looked mostly dead.
When he was sure Remus was asleep, Sirius stood and tucked the edges of his cloak tightly around the boy, and then he put the bike in neutral and walked it away from the cottage. He didn’t start the engine until he could no longer see the house in the trees.
The owl woke Remus, hooting softly beside his head. He opened his eyes, focussing slowly in the dark on the bird. It held out a leg, flapping its wings for balance.
‘Thank you,’ he said, reaching a hand from beneath the cloak to untie the scroll from the owl’s foot. It nibbled his knuckle, and he stroked the soft feathers at its crown. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have anything. You want to wait?’
It bit his hand again, but gently, and hopped onto the bench. From there it took off, ghosting away silently. Remus sat up, newly aware of how the cold had stiffened him. He drew the cloak up over his shoulders, and smiled. It smelled like frost and dirt, and somewhere beneath the earthiness, like a man who used a certain cologne.
He entered the cottage through the back porch, and lit a lantern outside the storeroom with a match. He broke the wax seal on the slender scroll and unrolled it, tilting it into the light to read it. His hands were trembling; he clenched them into fists until it stopped, and then he raised the letter again to read it.
I know you’ve said you’re well again, but tell me honestly. If you’re not well enough, I don’t want you to try and push. We’ll reschedule– it’s just a wedding. Lily agrees. It wouldn’t be the same without you there. And I’ve sent a note to Asper too, so you better tell me the truth about it or he will. If he says you’re not ready, I’ll take him at his word. I mean it. We love you.
James & Lily P.
He opened the door to his study and fetched a pen from the desk inside. He wrote on the bottom of the parchment,
I’m fine. Ask Sirius, when you see him, if you need proof. I’ll be there, with bells on.
He used a knife to cut the slip of parchment he’d written on, and he rolled it and tied it with a bit of string. He took it to the kitchen and put it in the basket of messages to be sent, the next time an owl came by. He checked on Asper, and found him working in his small library. He left without interrupting him and settled back at his desk, and his newest project. When he could no longer see in the darkness of the room, he lit more candles. He only noticed the passage of time when his stomach began to growl, but he found a sugar quill in his top drawer and held it between his teeth as he worked.
He straightened from his bent position at the desk when movement not his own startled him. Asper joined him in the cold study, lighting the fire with a murmured word and carrying a fresh pot of tea in a hand wrapped in a fold of his robe. Remus reached for the mug he used to hold his charcoal pencils and dumped them out; he held out his cup, and Asper poured. ‘Thank you,’ he said, and lifted the warming ceramic to his cheek, enjoying the heat of it. Asper motioned to one of the ottomans, and its clawed feet moved smartly into action, trotting to Asper’s feet and settling. ‘And how are we today?’ Asper asked, sitting and placing the teapot on the floor.
‘Nearly done in.’ He managed a smile, and removed his glasses. The tea provided only momentary relief from the sharpness of his headache; he rubbed the back of his neck and leant back in the chair to ease his spine. Asper gazed searchingly at him, and he smiled again, to reassure.
‘Should you take a rest?’
‘No. It’s fine.’ He finished his tea, grateful for the burn of it on his tongue. ‘Perhaps you’d take a look at it for me?’ he asked, to delay further questions.
Asper glanced over his desk, and Remus brushed aside loose leaves of parchment and shavings of silver to better the view. ‘Have you set any of the enchantments?’
‘Only basic wards.’ The project had been harder than he’d anticipated; silver was the most malleable element for spellmaking, but his peculiar impairments had made its working difficult. ‘I feel as though I come a little farther every day, but it’s not fast enough.’
‘Is it so important to have it ready for the wedding?’
‘Yes.’ He lifted one shoulder in a shrug, and winced as a joint popped. ‘I just feel it is.’
‘Then you’ll have it done.’ Asper took his cup and refilled it. ‘Don’t strain so much. You’re not fully recovered.’
‘I know.’ He sighed softly. ‘Trust me, I’m aware of every discomfort.’
‘You knew it would take time,’ the old man murmured. ‘You can’t rush it, Remus.’ For a moment, piercing eyes swept his. He flushed and looked away; clearly he’d not gone far enough into the forest before attempting his spells. Worse than Asper knowing was the continual failure of his efforts to accelerate his convalescence through magic. His experiments left him exhausted, and the last one had made him so nauseated that the mere smell of food in the kitchen had sent him scrambling for a basin. What little was left of his strength he devoted to fighting with the silver. The long confinement to his bed after the overdose of wolfsbane herb had reduced him to a shadow of himself. It had been a month before he had been able to taste anything but the bitter herb; the headaches seemed permanent and spells of faintness had yet to really leave him. He’d recovered his Hogwarts weight only by forcing himself to eat through his infirmity. All for the sake of one mistake, he thought, and did not ever say aloud. No-one ever said it aloud. All the euphemisms made him sick, but he hated his own bitterness.
‘Did I miss Black?’ Asper asked. Remus pressed the ball of his thumb to his eye, and grunted an affirmative. ‘Are you fighting?’
‘It’s none of your business, dear sir,’ Remus replied.
‘It’s all conducted under my roof, just the same.’ Asper rapped the edge of the desk lightly. ‘When are you going to forgive him?’
‘It’s not a question of forgiving him anything.’ Uncomfortable, he stared blindly at his lap. ‘If anything, I wonder if– if he’s forgiven me.’
‘Are we going to be honest about this?’
He looked up. ‘I– yes.’
Asper nodded faintly. ‘You scare him, Remus. You know I’d support you in anything you chose to do. I never had a wife,’ he added suddenly. ‘So I never had a son. For better or for worse, you have been as one to me. I taught you everything I knew and the only thing that ever gave me joy.’ His gaze was direct, but softer now. Remus felt a tightening in his chest that had nothing to do with being ill. ‘Not everyone can be a James Potter,’ he said. ‘It isn’t easy to love all of us. You’re not an easy person. And he may never be able to come to terms with you. You should know it now, before you set your heart on it.’
His eyes were burning. He closed them, and willed back the tears. ‘I know,’ he managed hoarsely. ‘Doesn’t make it any easier.’
Asper nodded. ‘What will you do, Remus? What are you willing to do.’
‘He asked me today if we were through.’ He gazed blindly at his hands.
Asper was silent for a moment. Then, ‘Are you?’
Remus said nothing.
Asper stood, and patted Remus gently on the shoulder. ‘I’ll make dinner. How does a Yorkshire pudding sound?’
1981 : Spring
‘You’re a little flushed, Lily dear,’ Petunia said critically. Lily suffered her dabbing powder onto her nose– which was not flushed, she noted in the mirror. She’d never felt calmer.
James, on the other hand, had been pacing for the past hour and a half. Every so often he would try to poke his head in the door. Lily was not particularly traditional, but Mrs Potter would shriek every time and lunge to keep him from seeing the bride. Knowing he was so nervous had given Lily a strange sort of strength. With a half an hour left till the ceremony, Lily lifted a pin and began to lace violets into her hair.
There was a gentle knock on the door. Minerva opened it, and Remus Lupin, looking smart in new robes of a velvety deep green, came in holding a small wrapped gift. ‘Delivery,’ he said.
Lily smiled at him in the mirror. He was almost looking normal again, she thought. His eyes held hers in the reflection. ‘You didn’t have to bring it now,’ she said.
‘James wanted me to check up on you and his mam wouldn’t let him through. And anyway, I wanted to give it to you before you open all those other gifts.’ Her crowd of bridesmaids obliged him by taking seats on the other side of the room, preparing the corsages and bouquets. He pulled a chair up to Lily’s dressing table, and set the box before her. ‘Go on.’
And so she untied the ribbon and slit the tape on the paper with her fingernail, and shucked the paper aside to open the little box. She let out a little gasp, and took the ring from its velvet cushion.
‘It’s not the sort of thing you wear down the aisle,’ Remus murmured. He took it from her and turned it so she could see inside the band the tiny inscription. ‘It’s enchanted. There’s a lot of magic in it actually, but the important one is the calling spell. Whenever you need one of us, grip it tight and call. There aren’t any special charms to say or anything.’ He seemed to notice the tremor in his fingers, that Lily had been carefully not looking at. He curled his fists loosely. ‘We’ll hear, no matter where we are. James, and Sirius, and Peter and I. I put the strongest calling magic I could find into it.’
‘You made this?’ She laid her hand over his. ‘Remus, this is a wonderful gift.’
He shrugged, but he was smiling. ‘I think Sirius got you a year’s worth of a maid service,’ he said. ‘Hopefully you’ll find that more useful.’ He cleared the wrapping from her table. ‘You look stunning,’ he told her. He took one of the flowers from her table, and pinned it gently at her temple.
She couldn’t help but laugh. ‘I’m going to knock his socks off,’ she said cheekily.
‘Congratulations, Simms.’ He bit lightly at one knuckle. ‘I love you, you know,’ he said suddenly.
‘And I love you.’ She cupped his cheek in her hand. ‘Thanks, Moony.’
He bent and kissed her, and then he was gone.
Sirius appeared next to him, looking a little ruffled, but grinning nonetheless. ‘We’re ready,’ he said. ‘I’ve never been to a Muggle wedding before.’
He’d only been to one, himself, and it was not the best of memories. ‘It’s not precisely Muggle,’ he said. ‘Muggles have priests. We have Dumbledore.’
Sirius laughed. ‘Yeah. That particular shade of lavender looks very well on him, I think.’ He faced Remus, and tugged at the shoulders of the monkish robe he wore. ‘You could pass for the priest, though. Are these even yours?’
They’d been a gift from Asper, who had offered to buy a second, more modern set for the wedding. But Remus had turned him down, unable to justify the expense of the distinct white garments in summer cotton that the best man and bridesmaids wore. He was determined to be practical, and he’d get more use from a winter weave. Sirius looked gorgeous in his white robes, though, even if white wasn’t really his colour. The violet sprig tucked into his lapel was crooked, and Remus straightened it absently even as he admired Sirius. ‘You should have someone as pretty as you are,’ he said.
Sirius’s hands fell still on his shoulders. ‘I do,’ he replied quietly. ‘Even if you don’t like the rest of the world to see you.’ He carefully brushed Remus’s hair back from his face. ‘Your eyes are the best. You’ve never lied with your eyes.’
Dumbledore motioned from the front, and Remus sent Sirius off with a soft word, his cheeks burning. He walked more slowly to the front row of the chairs, where Peter already sat, taking pictures of the garden. ‘It’s the perfect day for a wedding,’ Peter said. Remus agreed silently. The Potters and the Simms had outdone themselves. The grass was thicker than it had any right to be, and James’s father, a weather wizard, had clearly cheated on the flowers. Grape vines had covered the fence surrounding the yard, in full bloom, and the dirt beds had blossomed with a variety of flowers that all seemed to be out of season. Swags of white silk hung everywhere. It was even pleasantly warm. Not feeling particularly frenzied, as most of the guests seemed to, Remus sat quietly through the final rush to the seating. Dumbledore spared him a wink, and then everything suddenly became hushed. He and Peter turned to face the house.
Lily stood on the porch. Remus, having already seen her, only grinned at the appreciative gasps. Her face was radiant, just as his mother’s had been, six years ago in the church. But unlike his mother, Lily’s eyes were the give away. She was enjoying herself and the attention immensely. James, on the other hand, was visibly nervous. Remus spared him a moment’s pity, remembering his plaintive comment that everything had been just fine as it was before the wedding. Lily swept up the aisle between the chairs so smoothly she might have spelled herself, her white skirts swaying gently, while James clumped along beside her with a shocking lack of grace for a six-year Seeker. Peter snapped a picture.
Once they reached Dumbledore and the Headmaster began his speech, Remus found himself paying more attention to the people surrounding him than the words themselves. Lily’s white teeth were flashing as she smiled broadly at James, who was breathing through his nose and focussing intently on his bride. He turned his head, and Peter looked away to smile at him. I wonder if he’ll ever get married, Remus thought. Was there anyone out there for the last of the Marauders?
Sirius was already watching when their gazes crossed. He seemed to be trying to communicate something. His eyes looked very dark. Remus glanced away. Mr and Mrs Potter beamed proudly, standing behind Sirius, the best man. Mrs Simms, standing with Lily’s bridesmaids Minerva McGonagall and her sister Petunia, discretely lifted a handkerchief to dab at her cheeks. And then suddenly it was over. James leant stiffly down and administered a chaste and careful touching of lips. Lily laughed, and flung an arm around his neck, dragged him close and kissed his deeply. Everyone applauded loudly, and some whistled. Peter stood to take more pictures, a broad grin on his plump face.
As the glowing and faintly relieved couple marched back down the aisle, Sirius stopped before him and held out a hand. ‘There’ll be dancing now,’ he said. ‘Owe me one?’
He glanced to Peter for escape, but his friend had abandoned him to follow the bride and groom inside with the other guests.
‘All right,’ he said, and stood. Sirius took his hand and squeezed it, and stayed close to him as they walked slowly inside. ‘It was a nice wedding,’ he noted.
‘Aren’t you happy?’
‘Of course I am.’ Sirius tossed his thick hair away from his face. ‘I’d like to do it myself, some time.’
‘I hope you get to, then.’ His heart beat faster and faster, and he wondered if he only felt lightheaded because of the sun beating down on his head. He freed his hand and lifted it to wipe sweat from his temples.
‘Are you all right? D’you need to sit down?’ Sirius touched his shoulder. ‘Come inside and I’ll get you some wine.’
‘No wine.’ He made himself smile. ‘I’m fine. Are we– are we still on for the dance?’
Sirius’s mouth shut. For a moment, his expression was perfectly unreadable, and Remus wondered if he’d gone too far.
Then Sirius said, ‘I want to give us another try. Officially.’
‘How official?’ he asked, without really knowing what he meant. ‘Wedding official?’ he added brashly. Caution to the wind. And when Sirius turned red, then pale, then red again, he didn’t know if he ought to laugh or cry.
1981 : Summer
‘He’s very... red,’ Sirius said.
‘Shut it,’ James retorted. He stroked the baby’s skull with gentle fingertips. ‘I can’t believe that hair,’ he repeated. ‘I didn’t have that much hair as a baby.’
Lily shifted the infant when he scrunched up his wrinkled small face and emitted a small whine. ‘He’s getting tired,’ she said. ‘And heavy.’ Her eyes settled on Remus. ‘Would you take a turn at holding him?’
He blinked, startled, and glanced automatically to Peter, not quite believing she’d meant him.
‘Come here,’ Lily decided. She nodded encouragingly, and Remus left his seat to crouch beside her rocking chair. Carefully Lily handed him over. ‘Hold his head,’ she started, but Remus had already settled the baby in the crook of his elbow.
‘Hullo, Harry,’ Remus murmured, jiggling the baby lightly. He stood, and Lily, smiling, watched her son stare up, wide-eyed, at the young wizard.
‘Will you have children, Remus?’ she asked.
‘Not without a miracle,’ he answered drily. He touched the tip of Harry’s nose with a gentle thumb, and Harry crossed eyes before yawning a surprised little yawn.
James was grinning. ‘Our Remus was never hands-on with the women-folk,’ he said slyly. ‘I remember when that rumour was going about that Remus was walking out with Chuck Weasley. It was all Chuck could do to get a proper date, after that.’
‘Poor Chuck,’ Peter said. ‘Remus, you weren’t...’
Remus rolled his eyes. ‘No, for God’s sake. I never could find out who’d started that awful rumour.’
Sirius cleared his throat. ‘Yeah, those rotters,’ he murmured, and grinned when Remus glared at him.
‘I still think you should have children,’ Lily said. ‘You’re a natural with babies. Must have come from all those brothers.’
‘I’ve changed enough diapers.’ But something wistful came into Remus’s face. The other men looked away with all the awkwardness of adolescent boys whose towering dignity was under assault. Minerva spontaneously kissed Remus on the cheek, however, and only smiled at his startled expression.
‘You’re a dear man,’ she whispered to him, and patted him on the shoulder.
‘He never cries,’ James announced, clearly eager to bypass the moment. ‘He’s such a good boy. Quiet as a mouse, you’d never know he’s alive.’
‘Are his eyes blue or green?’ Remus asked, brushing a finger over one soft cheek. Aside from the shock of black hair, Harry had none of the usual baby fat. He looked old for an infant. Such an unusual child, he thought. He’ll be a strange one. There was more of Lily in him than James.
‘They’ll settle soon,’ Lily answered. ‘I’m hoping for green, though, with that hair.’
He glanced at the clock, and handed the baby over to Minerva with only a tinge of regret. ‘Classic witch,’ he replied belatedly. ‘James, Lily, I’m sorry to run, but I have to be going.’
‘You just got here,’ Sirius protested.
‘I know. I’m sorry.’ He found his travel sack where he’d left it by the door, and slung it over his shoulder. ‘I’m to see my publisher today.’ He grinned a little. ‘My book is due out. He’s going to show me the first printing.’
‘That’s wonderful,’ Lily said. ‘Why didn’t you tell us earlier? Would you like any company?’
‘I didn’t say anything about it because it’s not very important,’ he answered, uncomfortable, suddenly, with their attention. ‘Not compared to this little man anyway.’ He nodded toward the baby, dozing in Minerva’s arms.
‘But a first printing,’ Peter agreed. ‘It’s great news.’
He rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed. ‘It’s no very great accomplishment. And it’s just fifty copies. I doubt it’ll sell even ten.’
Lily laughed. ‘We’ll each have to buy one then, to bolster sales.’
He couldn’t find a response to that, and so let it pass. ‘Anyway... I’ll be in Diagon Alley for the day. Is there anything I can pick up for anyone?’
No-one needed anything. ‘I’ll see you, then,’ he said, and let himself out.
‘See if you can find me a copy of Hesseh,’ Asper said. ‘Did you see the new DADA journal? Lievier has a study in it, I believe.’
‘There’s a new book on potions, too,’ Remus murmured, waving it at him from the stacks. ‘Most Potente Potions IV.’ He flipped through it. ‘It might be worth a look.’
‘Ask Jensen if you can rent it out. No point buying it when you take such copious notes.’ Asper wiggled an eyebrow at him. ‘I’m hungry. After Hesseh, let’s head for the Leaky Cauldron. A first printing deserves a celebratory feast.’
‘All right.’ He drifted up the aisle, running his fingers over the stiff leather of the tomes at his shoulder-height. He stopped abruptly at the end of the shelving, when he bumped into a man he hadn’t noticed. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said automatically.
‘No worries, mate.’
The man was vaguely familiar. Remus smiled uncertainly, and stepped around him. A hand held out before his chest prevented him from leaving the aisle.
‘You were at Hogwarts, weren’t you?’
He met the man’s eyes. ‘Yes...’ He thought he remembered seeing the other man at the Ravenclaw table. Muddy hair and a bad complexion. Something Balch. ‘Remus Lupin,’ he added belatedly.
‘I know who you are.’ Balch nodded up the aisle to where Asper stood perusing a journal. ‘He’s the Slytherin head, isn’t he?’
‘He was.’ Something in the encounter began to make him feel uncomfortable. ‘He left several years ago.’
The man looked back to him. ‘Around the time Voldemort and his Death Eaters moved out into the open.’
His spine tingled with warning. ‘Excuse me,’ he said, and turned his back. He tried to catch Asper’s eyes, but his attention was caught by two tall men who appeared at the head of the aisle, mere feet from his professor. He stopped.
‘We’re not looking for trouble,’ Balch said quietly at his back. ‘But if it finds us–‘
One of the men near Asper came to block Remus’s exit from the aisle. The other reached over Asper’s shoulder and took the book from his hand.
‘Let him alone,’ Remus said. ‘Whatever your grudge is, it isn’t worth a public fight.’
More men were appearing, drifting toward them from all corners of the bookstore. Asper said something warning to the one bothering him. They were more than surrounded.
The man at the head of the aisle reached out and grabbed Remus by the wrist. ‘Let’s go outside, shall we, mate?’ he grinned. ‘I’m dearly interested in what a Slytherin has to say about recent events.’
‘Let him alone!’ Remus wrenched away from the boy who was holding him, but Balch caught him by the shoulder and slammed him back into a bookcase. A heavy fist hit him in the stomach, and he doubled over it, his breath knocked out and nausea swelling. Dimly he heard shouting; he managed a sick gasp and lurched sideways. Hands snagged at his shoulders and ripped a handful of hair painfully from his scalp, filling his eyes with tears. They were taking Asper out into the street. Wobbling dizzily, he staggered to the door, only to be seized again by Balch. The taller, larger man held him in a crushing grip by his upper arms. A wave of claustrophobia swept over him, and he closed his eyes against a faint.
‘Here now, what’s this?’ A stern-faced witch tried to interpose herself between them. ‘Fighting is prohibited--’
Scarcely pausing, Balch turned and threw a fist into her face. She reeled away with a damp cry, her hands pressed to a bloodied nose.
Remus took the brief distraction as a chance to dash for the street. Asper stood in the middle of a ring of their assailants, spun cruelly from man to man. Remus had only clambered down the Flourish and Blotts steps when Balch caught him by the elbow. His own momentum whirled him about, and he banged his shins painfully on the lowest step, stumbling to his knees. A sharp-knuckled fist struck downward across his face. Numbness exploded over his cheek and nose, but the hand gripping his arm vise-like held him up for the second punch, then the booted foot high in his stomach. New pain, piercing and burning hotly, drove all thought from him, and when he was released he fell, unable to hold himself up. His face throbbed, the taste of copper thickly coating his mouth. Curling himself around his injuries, he crawled clumsily across the cobblestones, trying not to think of Balch behind him, trying to remember a spell, trying to get to Asper.
Leave him be, he thought he said, tried to say, and the rushing darkness rolled over him.
He only heard the banging on his door when he took the whistling teapot from the stove. Sirius jumped down the stairwell to throw open the latch, and was nearly bowled down by James Potter. ‘Where have you been?’ his best friend demanded.
‘Taking a bath,’ he replied, surprised. ‘What’s wrong?’ He shut the door behind James. ‘Another attack?’
His friend ran a hand through his sweaty hair. ‘Dumbledore’s been trying to get in touch with you for hours. He has Remus at St Mungo’s.’
James chewed his lip. ‘Moony and Professor Asper were in Diagon Alley. At Flourish and Blotts. I guess– I guess that Asper was recognised. You know how things have been for Slytherins.’
‘Spit it out,’ Sirius commanded. Now it was he who gripped James hard. ‘Remus?’
‘He’s fine, now. Shook up.’ James let out a short breath. ‘Asper’s dead. It was just a mob, Sirius. It got crazy and when it was over, Asper was dead.’
‘I came as quickly as I could,’ Sirius whispered to Minerva, shucking his cloak. The on-duty nurse rose from her seat in the corner of the ward to take it from him, and his hat as well. He shook the rain from his hair and brushed it back from his forehead, already searching the row of identical white beds. His eyes settled on the far corner, near the window. Professor Sprout stood at the bedside, and she politely gave up her seat so that they could have privacy.
‘Remus,’ he said softly.
The young man started, brought out of his daze abruptly. Sirius eased into the chair Sprout had vacated, brushing his thumb over the abraded, vividly purple bruise that decorated Remus’s bony nose. ‘You took quite a beating, mate,’ Sirius said with a lukewarm attempt at humour.
‘He’s dead.’ Remus stared at the window. His chalky hands were still in his lap, limp on the starched white sheets tucked securely around his body. Sirius took one of them, rubbing warmth into the thin fingers and lifting it to his mouth to kiss. He couldn’t prevent the memory that washed over him, sitting with Remus at New Year’s, not knowing if he would live or die or lay there forever, preserved in that brittle silence.
‘I know,’ he replied at last. ‘It’s tragic. I’m sorry, Moony.’
Dumbledore entered the ward, and Sirius glanced back. The old man nodded to him, and silently indicated the door.
‘I have to go,’ he told Remus. ‘I’ll be back, and we’ll talk. I’ll take you home. All right?’ He touched a deep gash over the man’s left eyebrow, and sighed. ‘I promise.’
Dumbledore led him out, walking slowly through Mungo’s unrelieved white corridors with his hands hidden in the sleeves of his robe. ‘Barty Crouch has come to see this investigation through,’ he said. ‘He is waiting in the visitor’s lounge. He would like to speak to Remus–‘
‘He’ll have to wait, then,’ Sirius interrupted grimly. ‘And if he wants to try and force it, he can *try* and get through me.’
Dumbledore nodded peaceably. ‘I was going to express a like sentiment. As it is, witnesses have come forward. Remus’s testimony can wait until a trial.’ For a while, they walked in silence, passing a nurse carrying a food tray. The Headmaster added, ‘I fear this is far from the last such incident these uneasy times will produce.’
‘It’s ignorant people causing the ruckus,’ Sirius muttered. ‘They’re sheep. Pathetic sheep. Panicking just when they ought to keep their heads.’
‘They are frightened,’ Dumbledore said. ‘Fear often brings about cruelty. The men who initiated this– I don’t believe it was an accident. Asper and Remus were targeted. And I further believe that they were not the first to be attacked by this particular group of young men.’
‘Has he been buried yet?’ Sirius rubbed his stubbled chin. ‘I mean to say... ‘ He shrugged awkwardly.
‘Arrangements are being made.’ They had arrived at the lounge. ‘Go ahead,’ the Headmaster said, and held the door for Sirius. The room was empty except for a thin man perched awkwardly on a low white couch. ‘Barty Crouch, recently made Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,’ Dumbledore introduced them, closing the door securely. ‘Sirius Black, one of your Aurors.’
The stiff-looking little man stood, holding a bowler hat in his hand. He thrust the other out at Sirius, who shook it politely. ‘Asper had just started teaching Transfiguration when I came to Hogwarts,’ the man said gruffly. ‘I was sorry to hear the news.’
‘I’m afraid Remus was closer to him than I.’ Sirius took the chair Dumbledore indicated, and watched as the Headmaster sat behind his massive desk. ‘Do you have anyone in custody?’
‘We do, but the charges are tentative.’ Crouch smoothed the felt of his hat. ‘It’s a delicate situation. There is some question as to the actual crime. Professor Asper was not in good health, you understand... difficult to say if it really was a murder.’
‘Not a murder?’ Sirius leaned forward in his chair. ‘I should think there isn’t any question. You might have had two on your hands if the authorities hadn’t intervened. They were vigilantes. They were there to kill. Sir, it could have involved innocents. We’re lucky there weren’t more injuries.’
Crouch set his hat on Dumbledore’s desk, and took a tightly rolled parchment from inside his robes. He held it out to Sirius. ‘I must ask you to put aside whatever preconceptions you have about this incident. I won’t order you, Black; you have a good head on your shoulders. You can see the necessity for dire action. Vigilantes, you said? That’s close enough. People, untrained and violent people, taking the law into their own hands. I will not have it, sir. Not when a trained and approved force is available to root out dissidents and deal with potential threats.’ He rubbed his moustache irritably. ‘You can’t even blame the bunglers. Voldemort has gone into hiding, and in the meanwhile, his supporters are getting bolder. The people know our tactics have been useless against the man. My predecessor’s measures have failed to suppress the problem. When something is broken, you replace it.’
Sirius unrolled the scroll, skimming past the windy protocols that headed the paper. ‘What is this?’
‘As of now, I am granting all Aurors the authority to kill.’
He looked up from the parchment, stunned. ‘What?’ He glanced automatically at Dumbledore, to see what the old man made of that. The Headmaster’s face was carefully expressionless.
‘We lose valuable time trying to expose and capture,’ Crouch was saying. ‘No longer. We cannot allow this rampage to continue, and it is time to fight fire with fire. At the very least, we need to stop the vigilantes from dispensing their own justice.’ He softly rapped a fist to his knee, his thin mouth grim.
‘In all of history, Aurors have never had the power to kill,’ Sirius protested. ‘It’s against our oath of office! People won’t stand for it–‘
‘People want action,’ Crouch corrected cooly. ‘As of now we can offer that.’ He picked up his bowler hat and placed it carefully on his head. ‘I’ll call the rest of you together tomorrow and announce it officially. It’s all about strategy, Black. Not only will we be better able to protect, but we’ll force this Voldemort’s hand. When his henchmen start dying, he’ll get desperate. Eventually, he’ll have to come into the open.’
‘And what if he doesn’t?’ Sirius stood, waving the parchment for emphasis. ‘What if he just goes back into hiding with a few loyals? We’d never find him.’
‘My best information suggests he wouldn’t do that, not at this point. The man is overconfident. Considering the tally of his murders, wouldn’t you be?’ Crouch stood with a grunt. ‘I’ve got a son your age. I know it offends your youth and your ideals. It might have offended mine, once.’ He nodded sharply. ‘But I have a duty. And my duty must come before my personal sensibilities.’
Sirius looked to Dumbledore for support. The Headmaster met his eyes steadily, but stayed silent. He’s as powerless as I am, Sirius thought, and gripped the parchment so tightly it crumpled in his fist.
Crouch smoothed his tie absently. ‘Now, the boy. Could you bring him up here, Albus, or shall I go to him?’
‘As to Remus.’ Dumbledore laid his hands flat on the arms of his chair. ‘He’s in no condition to give a deposition, Barty. I beg you to give him some time to recover.’
For a moment, Sirius thought Crouch was going to insist, and a vicious protest leapt to his tongue. But then Crouch’s expression changed, arranging his features into something resembling sympathy. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘He was Asper’s apprentice, wasn’t he? I should have remembered. Of course.’ He tugged on the tail of his tie. ‘Well, have him come see me at the Ministry then. As soon as he can manage.’
That mollified Sirius. He bade Crouch a polite good-bye, and watched him leave the office. Dumbledore looked up at Sirius silently.
At last, all the Headmaster said was, ‘Take him home.’
Remus was sleeping fitfully by the time Sirius returned for him in the ward. Only Minerva was with him now, a book open on her lap and tea cup in her hand. She rose as Sirius entered, and gestured him to whisper.
‘He had a skull fracture,’ she reported. ‘He should be fine to sleep, if you can keep him down. The bruises look more serious now than they are. Two cracked ribs, but in a few days he’ll be back to normal. No activity more strenuous than sleeping, Sirius.’
‘I’ll take care of it,’ Sirius promised.
‘He’s a good boy.’ She glanced back, and shook her head angrily. ‘He loved Asper like a father. If he lets himself cry, be there for him.’
‘I will, Minny.’
She nodded sharply, and left them alone.
Looking at him, Sirius debated waking Remus out of what was probably the first rest he’d managed since Asper’s death. But Remus would sleep better if he were in a place he knew, and he really ought to be bathed and cleaned up. With a sigh, he reached out and gently touched his shoulder.
Remus woke with a jolt. For a moment, he stared about him wildly; then he slowly eased as he recognised his surroundings. His eyes met Sirius’s blankly.
‘Can you stand a Floo ride?’ Sirius asked. ‘It’s quickest.’
The comfort of his small flat erased the tension that had taken residence in his spine since the talk with Crouch. Remus’s quiet bothered him less, here; he hung his cloak to dry, and took Remus into the bath. He stripped his lover, and sat him on the edge of the tub while it filled. He stroked Remus’s thick hair and cheeks, leaning their heads together.
‘My head hurts,’ Remus said. His voice was hoarse with exhaustion, and his hands trembled.
‘I’ll make some tea. I’m not sure you should have anything stronger.’
Remus’s eyes remained closed until Sirius asked him to get into the bath, and after the first shock of hot water, he drifted into uneasy sleep. Sirius washed him and found a fresh bandage to wrap around his head, and rather than wake him, he carried Remus to their bed and left him in it. He settled on the floor beside him with a pillow and quilt, and lay staring up at the ceiling for a long time.
He was starting to lose his feeling of control. He had never liked that feeling, and it unnerved him.
‘How’s he holding up?’ James whispered.
Sirius hadn’t taken his eyes off Remus’s thin form at the head of the grave since the ceremony had begun. ‘Dunno,’ he muttered. ‘He won’t talk.’
Lily’s arm slid into his, and she leant her head against his shoulder. ‘Poor Remus,’ she said.
‘We can put him up for a while,’ James offered, speaking softly under the monotone eulogies being read. ‘He’d be no trouble, til you get everything figured out.’
Remus stared down at the coffin, dead to the world. The livid marks on his face stood out even more for his paleness.
No-one was surprised when it began to rain. It hastened the end of the commitment, though, and the mourners left the graveside with some relief. A few stopped to say something kind to Remus, but if he heard, he gave no sound. Sirius waved Lily and James on ahead, and went to his lover’s side.
‘Come in,’ he said. He took off his own cloak and draped it over Remus’s shoulders. ‘You must be freezing.’
Dumbledore came toward them, sober in black and with raindrops on his spectacles. ‘If you would give me a moment alone with Mr Lupin, Mr Black,’ he said, laying a hand on Remus’s arm. Sirius hesitated, but left without protesting. He walked back to their coach, but didn’t get in; instead he stood watching the conversation he couldn’t hear. In the near distance, the Hogwarts castle blended hazily into the grey sky. He sighed. He’d wondered if having a grave to go to would give Remus any comfort, but now he wasn’t sure. Remus had no love for Hogwarts and he couldn’t see them returning very often for a desolate cemetery, even if it had been in Asper’s last will and testament.
It was not very long after that Dumbledore escorted Remus to the road. The Headmaster left them with a murmured word of condolence, and Sirius drew Remus close in a tight embrace.
‘I want to get something warm inside you,’ he said. ‘Let’s head over to the wake.’
‘No.’ The hoarse word issued from between lips that were almost blue. Remus shook his head, and grabbed the rail to pull himself up into the coach. ‘I just want to leave here.’
‘All right. Anything you want.’ He nodded to be sure the driver had heard the change, and swung up into the coach to the bench beside Remus. He wrapped his arm around the other man, and didn’t let go as they rolled out of the cemetery.
They apparated back to the cottage. He left Remus in the study warming his hands by the fire, and put a pot of water on the stove to boil in the kitchen. He opened the frigidaire and stared into it; Lily and some of the girls had baked enough meals to get them through the week. She’d taped a small notecard of instructions to the foil covering each dish. He took out kidney pie and put it in the oven. Impatient with the water, he used a charm to send steam issuing in gusts from the pot, and poured two mugs. He searched the counter top for tea bags, gave up on lemons, and brought them back to the study only to discover Remus had left it.
‘Where’d you go?’ he called, but got no answer. He drifted up the hallway, glancing in each door as he passed it. Remus was in his bedroom. He set the cups on the small bedside table, and turned to say something when he saw Remus stripping clothes from the closet hangers. ‘What are you doing?’
Remus turned, and Sirius intercepted the folded robe he was about to stuff into the duffle. When Remus grabbed for it, he held it up high above their heads. ‘I asked what are you doing.’
Remus made a wild grab again for the robe. ‘I’m packing. Is there some reason you’re stopping me?’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Away. I can’t be here right now.’ Remus gave up the robe and turned to the bureau, and began throwing bundles of socks into his bag. ‘There’s too much of him around and I can’t be near it now.’
‘All right.’ Sirius gave him the robe. ‘I’ll go get my things.’
‘No, I don’t want you to come with me!’ Remus slammed a hand down on the bureau, and the loud crack made Sirius wince. ‘I just want to be alone!’
Sirius took a moment to phrase his words. He spoke softly, calmly, and laid a hand atop Remus’s bag. ‘All right. I can understand that. All I ask is that you tell me where you’re going, and for how long, if you won’t let me be there with you.’
‘I don’t know.’ Remus ripped three shirts from their hangers in the closet, and wrapped them around each other. ‘Till the trial. Till something gets done about the people who murdered him.’
He licked his lips. ‘Moony,’ he said. ‘No-one is going to go to jail for this. Do you realise that? It was just assault, not murder. If Asper hadn’t been old and ill–‘
‘He wasn’t ill!’ Remus threw the shirts to the bed. ‘He wasn’t even as old as Dumbledore! He wasn’t weak and he wasn’t infirm and I’m so sick of people saying that to somehow make it all look better. They were his *students*!’ He fended off Sirius’s hands when the other man tried to calm him. ‘They’d spent seven years with him and because he was a Slytherin they killed him. I gave notice of my intent to speak at the trial. I want to see them punished! I want to see them hurt for what they did!’
Sirius finally managed to get a hold on Remus’s shoulders. ‘That’s not going to happen. Do you understand me? No-one will be found guilty. Whether it’s a cover-up or not. You have to accept that. There’s nothing you can do for him but try to move on.’
‘Get away from me,’ Remus retorted.
‘I know you’re grieving–‘
‘I said get away!’
‘Excuse me,’ Lily said, from the door. Sirius, embarrassed to be interrupted, dropped his hold on Remus, and the younger man stuffed his shirts into his bag and threw it over his shoulder.
‘Thank you for everything,’ he curtly acknowledged Lily, and slid past her into the hallway.
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