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.
1982 : Fall
‘And do you see the men who attacked you in this room?’ Fudge’s voice echoed in the vaults of the Ministry back room. During the days it served as a meeting room, stocked with cherry wood tables and cushioned chairs. Someone had added a smaller table for the accused, and Fudge and Crouch occupied two seats on one side of the cherry wood, while Remus sat the other end responding to questions.
He nodded tightly. ‘David Balch. Nigel Hampton. Tom Cheng.’ He pointed to the three, who sat with bored and contemptuous expressions at a table with their representative. ‘There were more, but they started it.’
‘How many more?’
‘It started out small. Them and their friends inside the shop. But once we got into the street, it turned into a riot.’ Remus looked away from Balch, who glared defiantly back. ‘Maybe as many as fifty people.’
Balch’s representative, a thin and greying wizard, rose. ‘Please excuse me, young man,’ he said, smiling. ‘But I’m a bit confused. Fifty is a large number. Were they all Gryffindors?’
‘I couldn’t say,’ Remus replied shortly.
‘Ah.’ The man picked up his notes, shuffling them without looking at them. ‘So you’re saying that it grew beyond a House conflict.’
‘I never said it was a House conflict.’ He clenched his hands in his lap. ‘What does it matter what House any of them were in? It only seemed to matter what house *we* were in.’
Standing by the door beside Dumbledore, his tan skin looking sallow beside the dull green pattern of the wallpaper, Sirius grimaced and turned his gaze to the wall.
The defence wizard wore a polite expression. ‘And why would that make a difference?’
He closed his mouth and refused to answer.
The wizard nodded. ‘Yes. Perhaps because of all the Hogwarts Houses, young Slytherins have been the least impervious to the draw of You-Know-Who?’ He raised one thin eyebrow. ‘Perhaps it was not so unthinkable a conclusion, that two Slytherins might, in fact, be sympathizers? Or, horrible as it seems– Death Eaters?’
His throat was dry, and his voice rasped. ‘In broad daylight? In Diagon Alley? Bothering no-one and buying books?’
The man smiled, the small, polite smile of someone who has made his point and knows it. ‘Dangerous times, Mr Lupin. Thank you.’ He waved his hand. ‘I have no further inquiries.’
Sirius met his eyes from across the room. He shook his head.
‘I’ve heard enough.’ Cornelius Fudge sighed, and removed his white wig to scratch his stubbled head. ‘You may step down, young man. I don’t believe my comrade and I have any need to debate privately, do we?’ He glanced to up the table at the Minister. ‘What happened is reprehensible. No question. Deeply regrettable. But not murder. I’ve heard no evidence to support that those boys meant to kill either Professor Asper or Remus Lupin. Unfortunate circumstances.’ At the nod of his companion, the frowning Barty Crouch, Fudge reached for the small gavel at his elbow, and rapped it on the table. ‘Punishment for assault is time already served. Murder charges are dismissed. Sincerest apologies to Mr Lupin for his trouble.’
For a moment, he sat stunned. Dumbledore gazed at him with sympathy, but left the room with Fudge, talking quietly. Sirius made an abortive move toward the front of the room, but Crouch caught him and drew him into an uneasy, low-voiced conversation. Remus clenched his hands in his robe to wipe away the sweat on his palms.
Feet appeared in front of him, and he raised his head. Tom Cheng looked down at him. He was even younger than Remus– he’d only just graduated before the scene in Flourish and Blotts. The boy leaned in close to him, and whispered,
‘Tell your friends. We’re watching for you lot, now. What happened to the old man was just a start.’
‘Leave him be,’ Balch called. A smirk hovered about his mouth. ‘We don’t want to scare the lad.’
He shoved himself to his feet. Coldly he ignored them, but his spine pringled with Cheng’s nearness. Fingers plucked at his robe, but he didn’t let himself jump. He kept walking, his shoulders straight, and his face carefully devoid of expression. Their jibes followed him, just soft enough not to reach Crouch’s ears where he stood by the door. Sirius caught his eyes, and in that moment, Remus hated him. He looked away, and strode through the open door.
A hand closed on his arm. Remus turned to snarl, but it stuck in his throat.
‘You came,’ he said instead.
Lucius Malfoy nodded. ‘He was the Head of Slytherin. It’s the sort of showing a school governor ought to make.’ He released Remus, but his eyes lingered on the healing scars on his face. ‘You kept your cool.’
‘I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction,’ he muttered. Lucius hadn’t let him go yet. He glanced back; Sirius was watching them, while Crouch tried to win back his attention.
Lucius was wearing a thoughtful look when he turned back. ‘I’m in need of a drink. Come with me?’
Sirius would wonder where he was. Dumbledore might want to speak with him. Barty Crouch would want to express his useless condolences. They’d loan him a house elf to pack Asper’s life into boxes into the attic.
‘Yes,’ he said.
Lucius gestured him ahead, and they left the courtyard together.
‘You’re different,’ Lucius said, running the tip of his finger along the golden rim of his teacup. ‘You’re quieter. I can’t read you anymore.’
‘You’re different too.’ Remus looked up. ‘You’re hard, now.’
Lucius acknowledged that without batting an eyelash. ‘I saw Black. I heard a rumour you might be living with him.’
Remus smiled a little bitterly. ‘No.’ He searched for something more to say, and realised suddenly that there really wasn’t anything. He reached for the scotch, and poured half a glass for himself. He sipped, then tossed it back quickly, gritting his teeth through the burn. The tea house was nothing special– quaint English, with cheap and gaudy Victorian tablecloths and curtains of frilly rose lace. The chairs creaked and the silverware was tarnishing. He stroked the head of his teaspoon with his thumb, watching his skin streak the surface.
‘Did you sleep with him?’
‘Do you really want to know?’ He set his cup aside. ‘Sometimes. Not as much as we might have.’
Lucius toyed with his cup. ‘Was he any good?’
‘Do you want him? He’s free.’
‘You’ve gotten hard, too,’ Lucius said.
‘Life is a good teacher,’ he replied, softly. He reached for the scotch again. ‘Let’s get drunk. I don’t want to think right now.’
‘You don’t drink.’ Lucius took the bottle away from him, and replaced the crystal stopper. ‘Besides. This is cheap shit.’ He leaned back in his chair, fingers tapping against the faint golden stubble on his jaw. ‘Which one of them did that to your face?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t remember.’
Blue eyes swept over him. ‘Don’t worry about that trial. We’ll take care of them.’
He drew in a breath that was a little tight. ‘Don’t tell me anything I’ll have to repeat to Dumbledore, Lucius.’
‘That’s up to you, Remus.’
Sirius was waiting for him at the Leaky Cauldron. He stood from the bar when Remus entered, and reached up to remove his hat. ‘I looked for you after the trial,’ he said.
‘After that mockery, you mean.’ Remus nodded to the barkeep, and headed for the stairs in the back. Sirius followed him, but he affected not to notice. He unlocked his door and left it open behind him, and let himself fall onto his bed without removing either his robes or his shoes. It was Sirius who closed the door, and stood leaning against it, watching him in the dim paisley of the small rented room.
‘You didn’t even unpack,’ his once-lover murmured.
‘I didn’t know how long I was staying.’
Sirius dropped his hat onto the battered bureau along the wall, and came to stand beside the bed. ‘How long are you staying, then?’
He stared up at the ceiling. ‘A little longer, I reckon.’
‘Home? Yours or mine?’ His head was cooling in the chill. He’d be shivering soon, but just then it was welcome. ‘I’m selling the cottage.’
‘To who? When did you decide that?’
‘I don’t know.’
Sirius sat on the edge of the bed. ‘Don’t you think Asper would want you to live there?’
‘He’s dead. He doesn’t want anything.’
Sirius looked away. ‘I wonder if you say things like that because you believe it, or because you want to shock people.’
‘That’s rich, coming from you.’ He rolled onto his side, pulling at the collar of his shirt and untucking the hem from his trousers. ‘Maybe I do want to shock.’ I feel numb. I don’t want to.
‘Reemy... We’re worried. I was wondering if– if you don’t want to come back with me, what about Jamie? He’ll be back to work now, but Lily could use help with the baby. It would give you something to do. Something useful.’
‘I’m quite occupied, thank you.’
‘Can you even pay for the room? This place is the size of my water closet, and about as welcoming. Come home, Moony.’
He was cold, now. ‘Why did you tell Fudge that I said I wanted Balch and the others hurt?’
Sirius’s hand moved through his hair. ‘You did say it.’
‘I didn’t mean it. Not like that.’
‘If hanging were legal, you’d have held the rope.’
He shoved the hand away. ‘So what? You made it sound like I was fabricating a story just to see them in jail. You crippled my testimony.’
There was a long silence. The bed creaked as Sirius kicked off his shoes and stretched out beside him. Sirius embraced him from behind, sliding an arm over his waist and slipping it up to hold his chest. A stocking ankle nudged his, toes curling against his calf. ‘Fudge had already struck a deal with them. The trial was for show. He’d pardoned them a month and a half ago, all three of them, Balch, and Tom Cheng, and Nigel Hamptom. I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d be upset. There’s not a lot of people who would believe they were guilty, because everyone is scared. They want some heroes, not more villains.’
He was. Sirius was warm against his back. ‘Why even have a trial?’
‘Dunno.’ Sirius shrugged, a movement of muscles in his arms and chest, and pressed his forehead into his neck. ‘For you, I think. So you’d feel something had been done. Maybe just for appearances.’
He whispered, ‘It’s ironic, isn’t it. Slytherins demanding fair play. Gryffindors playing dumb and skirting in the shadows.’
‘Get off it.’ Sirius squeezed him. ‘We’re not in school anymore. It’s not Slytherin and Gryffindor.’
‘It’s us and them. Isn’t that the same thing?’
Sirius shifted and rolled him onto his back. His brown fingers unbuttoned Remus’s shirt, and then he bent and kissed him. It was a gentle kiss, the kind of kiss he’d given Remus over the past six months. Devoid of passion and with a sour wistfulness that made Remus want to leave the room. He turned his head away, broke the contact of their lips.
Sirius sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. ‘How much did you have to drink? I thought you didn’t take alcohol, not after New Years.’
‘Forget fucking New Years.’
Dark eyes looked down at him in surprise.
He pushed himself up on his elbows. ‘Make love to me. You haven’t touched me since New Years, either. This is the perfect way, isn’t it? Just like when we started. On a rented bed in an inn.’ He smiled, a stretching of his mouth that felt unnatural and must surely have looked it. He ran the backs of his fingernails down Sirius’s cheek, and lingered his thumb on a chapped lip.
Sirius gazed at him, something confused and odd in his expression. He watched as Remus sat up and tossed aside his robe; when Remus shouldered out of his shirt and sent it after, Sirius drew in a breath and reached for the scarf he wore. For once, Remus didn’t protest. Instead, he bared his throat, tilting his head back. The teeth that brushed his neck were human, but he shivered reflexively nonetheless. The threads of his bed quilt dug sharp into his palms as he gripped it tight. He was no longer cold. He turned onto his hands and knees, slowly sliding down the bed, ghosting his palms over Sirius’s thighs, trailing his fingers through the curling hair of his calves and tickling the soft creased underside of his feet. Sirius made muffled noises that he’d never heard before; and Remus knew it suddenly, what his lovers had felt with him. He felt powerful. He felt stone sober.
Sirius looked up at him with dazed eyes. His hands flustered, their cleverness lost in their reversed positions, no longer aggressive. ‘What are you going to do?’ he managed, his voice husky, even choked.
He smiled. ‘I’ll take care of you,’ he whispered. Fingers moved in his hair, holding, tugging, begging. With those blunt and ungentle hands holding his head in place, he squeezed his eyes tightly shut. He imagined blonde hair where it was brown, and blue eyes where they were black with mindless want. Lucius breathlessly let loose little exclamations of– love. He gasped when Lucius bucked, and held the helpless hips with dreamy pleasure.
When he opened his eyes, Sirius Black stroked his cheek, his face flushed and his brow drenched with sweat.
‘I think I fancy tea,’ he said, and rose. He turned at a thought, and drew up the quilt over Sirius. He paused when Sirius gripped his hand, and bent to place a kiss beside Sirius’s mouth. ‘I’ll be right back.’
‘Don’t you want... ‘ Sirius made a vague gesture.
‘No. Don’t worry about it.’ Curiously, he didn’t. He patted the hand he held, and left the bed.
The owl came for him two weeks later, just after the full moon. Seated in a dim corner picking at a breakfast of ham and beans, Remus looked up to see one of the serving girls approach with a handsome long-eared owl balanced on her arm, and a letter in her hand. He accepted it with murmured thanks, and flipped it over to see the Malfoy seal stamped into the dark blue wax. He broke the seal with his thumbnail and unfolded the paper. Lucius had exquisite, if somewhat elaborate, script, and his signature dominated the lower half of the page in a fine display of egotism that brought a smile to Remus’s face.
Lupin: I’ve heard that you put Asper’s cottage on market. Good. You’ll come stay with me til you find your own place. I’ve had quarters set up for you. Have the owner of that so-called ‘inn’ send the bill to me. I’ll expect you tomorrow. --LUCIUS DARLING MALFOY VII
‘Will you be wanting to reply, sir?’
He looked up at the young woman. A long moment passed in indecision; part of him wanted to turn down the offer purely to wipe the smirk of insufferable confidence from Malfoy’s words. It may have been the nearness of the moon, and the jitters that always accompanied it. But in the end, he only shook his head, and said, ‘Gertie, I’ll be leaving soon. If you could tell Tom that I’ll be settling my account?’
The house elves seemed dismayed by the size and quality of his luggage; he had only one trunk, from his schooldays, filled with what few of Asper’s personal effects he’d convinced himself to keep, and the duffle that held his own clothing and books. They offered to find him something appropriate for dinner, but he turned them down. With disapproving looks on their faces, they packed away his meagre possessions into the drawers of an ancient bureau, turned down his bed clothes, and filled a bath for him. Assuring them he needed nothing more, they bowed and left to tell the Master he was settled.
Asper had had a proper bath tub, of course, but nothing like the best the Malfoy money could provide. It was practically a porcelain swimming pool, large enough for two men of Remus’s height, and shelves of cleverly twisted golden cable held row after row of salts and soaps and solutions. Remus tested them one after another, and, thinking of Lucius coming to see him and smelling, no doubt, like a bed of roses, he gave in to impulse and ran a bit of sweet scent into his water.
He’d spent the moon at the cottage, the last run he ever intended to take through the woods there, and in the morning he’d cleaned all signs of his life and Asper’s from the house. He’d mopped down the floors and used the linens to cover the furniture, thrown whatever was left of their foodstuffs to the animals in the forest. He’d been careful not to think. He lay back in the water until it crept up over his face, nearly to his nose, and he let himself drift.
Turning over the shrunken and broken body in the street, blood from the thin grey hair oozing over his fingers. Shielding him and knowing all the while it was too late to save him.
He stood, and reached for the dressing gown the house elves had left. Uncaring of his wetness, he drew it on, the quilted lining holding in the warmth of his bath. He reached one arm into the tub to pull the plug, and then, trailing water droplets, he left the bathroom and padded barefoot back to his room. He sat on the chair before an antique ironwork vanity; he played the red checked fabric of the table cloth between his fingers, and then he touched the soft silk ties the elves had left out for him, and the silver-backed hairbrush, the small silver bottles of cologne and clippers for nails; and he looked beneath the vanity and found a pair of soft leather house slippers waiting there. He slid his feet into the them, and thought he could learn to envy Malfoy his life.
He looked up into the vanity’s mirror, to the half growth of beard that shadowed his cheeks, to the scar over his eyebrow and the nearly purple circles under his eyes. His throat closed. He looked back blindly to the contents of the vanity’s desk top, and opened one of the cologne bottles. His fingers trembled so badly that the scent spilled over his hand. He set it down carefully, and used one of the ties to wipe the liquid off.
‘Who’s been doing your hair?’
He glanced up, and in the mirror’s reflection saw Lucius leaning against the doorframe, elegant in dark blue, keen-eyed despite the lateness of the hour. Belatedly he answered, ‘I have.’
‘What did you use to cut it? A butter knife?’ Malfoy entered the room, closing the door behind him. He came to the desk, and reached out to finger a lock at Remus’s temple. ‘It’s disgraceful,’ he said.
Lucius’s fingers brushed his cheek. ‘Remember when I used to cut it for you?’
His throat hurt so badly he wondered he could speak. ‘Yes,’ he whispered.
Lucius reached around him slowly, and came back with the pair of small scissors from the manicure kit in his pale hand. He took the lock of hair and carefully snipped it. His lips compressed; then his arms went around Remus’s neck and Remus turned to press his face against the other man’s chest, breathing in his heartbeat. Then Lucius fell to his knees before the chair, and they kissed desperately. Remus clutched Lucius to him dizzily. He felt bruised by the force of it, but it was so welcome. It was coming home.
Lucius withdrew at last. His mouth was red and his eyes were closed. Remus kissed him again, gently, and then Lucius laid his head in Remus’s lap. ‘I missed you,’ he confessed.
Remus stroked the shining blonde hair. ‘I’m here now.’
‘I hate Black. I wanted to kill him.’ Lucius gave a little bitter laugh. ‘I made his life hell that final year. Did he tell you?’ Suddenly his voice cracked. ‘It’s been hard. I wanted to owl you so many times. When Father died...’
‘I’m so sorry, Lucius.’ He trailed off as Lucius sat straight; they kissed again, slowly this time, searching. Fingers pulled at the halves of his dressing gown, and he dug his own palms into the strength of Lucius’s shoulders. He was pulled from the chair and shivered as he slid onto Lucius’s thighs, and their groins met. Lucius levered him in powerful arms and laid him on his back on the thick rug, tearing open the knot of his belt and pressing between his thighs. He pulled back his knees and brought Lucius closer by wrapping his legs around the slender waist above his.
‘Fuck,’ Lucius grunted, kissing him, sucking so hard at his mouth that he tasted blood. He fought the intricate clasp of Lucius’s robe blind, knocked the chair with his elbow and swore. And then suddenly Lucius went limp, laying across his chest and hiding his face in Remus’s shoulder. Remus drew a dazed breath, and brought up a hand to the back of Lucius’s skull, squeezing gently.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked softly.
There was a long silence, and he slowly slid his knees down, shifting to cradle Lucius. So much pain, he thought. This war is killing all of us.
No. Not Sirius Black. Not James and Lily Potter, and their perfect baby son, the baby who never cried. Not poor Peter, who lived life from the sidelines while he waited for people to tell him what to do.
Just Slytherins, he thought, and winced at the guilt the thought raised. That wasn’t true. God knew it wasn’t true, but it felt that way nonetheless. Asper shouldn’t have died. Lucius shouldn’t have to bow the maniac who’d murdered his father.
‘Shh,’ he whispered, though there was no noise between them at all. ‘It will be all right.’
Lucius finally lifted his head, and managed a smile; but it faded. Remus lifted a fingertip to the web of fine wrinkles that frayed outward from Lucius’s eyes, and the deep new lines around his mouth. ‘Has it been that awful?’
The blonde man shook his head, but Remus couldn’t interpret it. He turned his cheek into Remus’s hand, and said, ‘Let’s just– let’s just stay together tonight, all right? Nothing else. I just want to be near you.’
While Lucius slept with his head pillowed on Remus’s chest, Remus lay awake, staring at the ceiling, careful not to think as the hours crept on till dawn.
On Monday week, Lucius joined him in the breakfast grotto, resplendent in a claret dressing gown and carrying The Daily Prophet under one arm. ‘I had the house elves retailor those shirts for you,’ the blonde man said. ‘The least you could do is wear them.’
‘There’s no-one to see me being unfashionable.’ He reached for the pitcher of juice, and poured a glass for his companion. ‘Besides, they look better on you.’
‘Only because you’re so thin.’ Lucius took hold of his wrist and pinched. He sat, downing half his juice, and then he tossed the paper onto the table in front of Remus. ‘Done relaxing in my mansion? Ready to actually do something?’
He turned his face to the sun. ‘What does “something” entail?’
‘Something to help you sleep a little better at night.’ Lucius flipped open the paper and pointed to a slip of cream stationary tacked to the fourth page. Remus slipped away the clip and picked up the card; it was expensive paper, watermarked, and the surface was smooth under his fingertips. The words were marked bold and deeply.
‘Who’s it from?’ he said. It was only an address, to a place he didn’t recognise. He looked on the back, but it was blank.
‘I have my sources in the Ministry.’ Lucius smiled. ‘Tell me when you’re ready, dear heart. And I’ll introduce you to other side.’
It took surprisingly little time. Lucius had accepted Remus’s indecision as affirmation, and in only three days he swept aside their evening plans and personally dressed Remus in a velvety black robe. The sleeves and cowl were lined with whispery green satin, and instead of a clasp, a woven belt buckled with grey opals completed it. ‘It’s perfect,’ Lucius announced. ‘Happy Birthday, or something. I knew those opals would match your eyes.’
‘They’re beautiful.’ They were, and he was flattered by the thoughtfulness of the gift. The sheer luxuriousness of the robe made it more valuable than anything Remus owned– probably more valuable than all of his possessions together. While he admired himself in the boutique’s mirror, Lucius shed his housecoat and replaced it with a robe that was similar, but lined in blue and clasped, not belted. They made a splendid-looking pair.
Then Lucius kissed him, hard and tender all at once, and gripped his shoulders tightly. ‘It’s tonight, Remus. Are you ready?’
A crowd of nearly thirty gathered in Lucius’s east gardens as dusk crept on to evening. Remus, who had entertained some vague idea of numbers in fives, not tens, found himself at the edge of the universally black-robed men and women. Some were familiar to him, others not, but even if he had wanted to talk, worry and nervousness sealed his mouth. He tried to look occupied with the twisting vines of pale roses against the fanciful trellises, hoping a scowl would keep any visitors away until Lucius came to find him again. It didn’t work.
‘I never expected to see you here.’
He steeled his spine, and turned. ‘Sev,’ he said.
Severus Snape stood before him. His shoulders were straight, his robe immaculate, but his hands were clenched uneasily and his eyes were restless. ‘You’ve gotten rid of your glasses,’ Remus noted, and wondered at how detached he sounded.
Severus nodded sharply. ‘You haven’t answered my question.’
‘You didn’t ask one.’ And there it was, finally, his stomach turning over and nausea spreading in prickles down to his fingers. He turned away blindly and walked, barely aware of where he was going. Severus followed, his longer legs making up the difference, hovering at his elbow but afraid to touch. ‘Damn it,’ he muttered, and laughed at himself. At them both. He slowed, and stopped, pressing a hand over his belly to calm the flutters. ‘How long have you been a Death Eater?’ he demanded, staring ahead through the manicured lanes of hedges.
Severus was silent for a minute, a full minute at least. ‘Since graduation.’ Finally, decisively, he gripped Remus’s arm. ‘And you? Since when are you one of us? You never believed in it.’
‘Well, I believe in it now.’ Lie, he thought, but it felt good to lie. ‘Perhaps you’d rather interrogate me, or force me to swear by something. Maybe you’d like me to turn someone in to prove myself.’ He laughed, but it hitched. ‘I’m fresh out of mothers, I’m afraid.’
He turned. There was Lucius, pale hair gleaming in the orange of the setting sun, standing with a shorter man who watched them with keen interest. Lucius gestured, but he was looking at Snape. Remus carefully did not look at Severus as he obeyed the summons, and Severus did not follow.
‘He bothering you?’ Lucius said, as Remus halted before them. ‘Lupin, this is Lestrange. His younger brother was a year or two behind you in Slytherin, Remus. Lupin is new to our circle,’ he added to the man. Remus was presented with a hand, and he shook it briefly. ‘We’re nearly ready,’ Malfoy added. ‘Stick with us two, Remus. If it gets confusing, just apparate back to my manor.’
The flutters were making him nauseated. ‘Yes,’ he agreed.
Lestrange smiled politely at him. ‘I’ve read your book,’ he said, surprising Remus.
He mustered a smile. ‘So you’re the one,’ he joked.
Lestrange laughed easily, and took his arm, drawing him into the shade of the boat house. Lucius followed more slowly. ‘Lucius Darling didn’t mention you were charming, as well. I’d enjoy discussing it with you sometime soon. I found your theory about the existence of wild magics very interesting. You outlined the potentials of harnessing it– have you had any opportunity to experiment?’
‘No,’ he replied shortly. ‘I’m afraid I’ve been occupied.’
Lestrange had the grace to look embarrassed, when Lucius shot him a look of disgust. ‘Of course,’ the man murmured. ‘Please forgive me. My comment was thoughtless.’
‘It’s all right. You must do this often.’
Lestrange laughed again, displaying white teeth. ‘We’re not barbarians,’ he said. ‘But we do protect our own. Professor Asper was an excellent teacher.’ He touched Remus’s arm. Seriously, he added, ‘I am proud to be a part of his avenging.’
Remus was saved a reply, as the scattered groups were coming together, gathering around Lucius and Lestrange. ‘This is the portkey,’ Lucius announced, taking an old bronze lamp stand from his bag and holding it aloft so everyone could see. ‘We’ll go in fours. We’ll wait til we’re all together again before we start. Everyone knows what to do. Cause as much damage as you can. Lestrange will take care of leaving our calling card.’
There was laughter at that. Remus looked around at the assembly. There were only two women, and they looked entirely relaxed, their painted mouths moving as they whispered to each other. Some of the men were nervous; others grinned or twirled their wands and looked menacing. They ranged in age from younger than Remus to perhaps thirty. He didn’t have time to wonder why no-one older was with them. Lucius had handed the portkey to the first group, and was looking at his pocket watch.
‘Stand back,’ he instructed. ‘Five seconds. Three. Two–‘
It seemed there was a slight flash, but it might only have been the last of the sunlight off someone’s clothing.
‘Hood up,’ Lucius told him. ‘Go with the next boys. I’ll be along last.’ Remus obeyed, tugging the dark cowl over his head, nearly down to his nose. He laid a hand on the chill surface of the lamp stand, and one of the women came into place beside him. She smiled slyly at him.
‘Four, three, two,’ said Lucius.
And then his feet were on cobblestones, not dirt, and he stumbled a bit off his balance. The first group waved, and they crouched behind the large hedgerow that lined the street. It was all but night, here. Remus drew his robes close around him, and used two fingers to shift a bunch of leaves aside, and peered through the bushes. It was a squat three storey building, ugly and functional, a low rent rowhouse in what was surely a London suburb. The air smelled heavy with rain. Lights were on in the house.
The third group came, and then the fourth, and then Lucius and Lestrange last, and they were once again assembled, eighteen all together. Remus looked up the line of them, hunkered down like soldiers in the trenches, and caught Severus looking at him. He turned his face back to the hedge, his jaw tight.
They lay in silence, waiting anxiously, until the last of the light had faded. It was a moonless night. Remus glanced to the sky, and drew in a deep breath to steady himself.
‘Wands at the ready,’ someone murmured, and he slid his out from his belt, gripping it in a sweating palm. ‘Spread out. On the mark.’
Then they were moving.
On impulse, Remus followed the women and one of the older men around the side of the house to the back, through a sodden wooden gate and into a neglected garden yard. Loose twigs and damp leaves coated the path and deadened their footfalls. The back door was ajar. Remus held it open for the others, and when he followed them inside, he crushed a still-smoking cigarette butt beneath his shoe. Someone had been outside very recently.
The backdoor led to the kitchen, empty except for dishes in the sink and a strong stench of cabbage and fish. At the end of a tiny hallway, he saw one of the front door groups slinking past and heading for a staircase. He and the other three slowly fanned out, opening doors and inspecting corners as they passed them. The first shout of warning stopped him at the bottom of the stairwell. He gripped the railing tightly and stared up into the unlit passage, his spine so tense it hurt.
After that, the noise flowed thick and panicked. Shouting, a scream, another– and then silence.
One of the men came running past, his hood slipping and his face lit with a grin. ‘Start wrecking, mate,’ he called, clapping Remus on the shoulder and kicking over a chair as he headed for the front of the house.
Wrecking. Remus glanced around, and crossed to the fireplace. The logs in the grate were stone cold and untouched. He closed the chimney chute, pointed his wand at the wood, and summoned a blaze. It shot up into the chimney cavern, driving him back a step away from the force of the heat that sucked oxygen from the air. He swept the few picture frames and an errant school trophy from the mantel, and chucked them into the flames. With the chimney closed, the smoke began to pour out into the room. He overturned a small table and shoved it toward the fire, and, coughing, stepped back away from the haze. He turned, thinking to go back into the kitchen.
David Balch came stumbling down the stairs, his face grey and confused, half naked. He saw Remus standing alone in the living room, and for a moment, he sharpened. ‘You,’ he said. ‘What’re you–‘
Balch went rigid as he screamed. Remus started, shocked, and looked up to see Lucius standing on the stairs, his wand pointed at the man, and a savage blankness on his sweating face.
Blue eyes met his. ‘He’s yours, love. I promised you.’
Nausea swirled in his stomach. But he nodded tightly. ‘All right.’ Lucius nodded back, solemnly, and then he turned and climbed back up the stairs. He disappeared into the darkness.
And then Balch collapsed at his feet, trembling. His pleas were drunken and wild, and he reached with clutching hands for Remus’s robe. Remus shoved him away, but the man grabbed hold of his legs, sobbing. ‘Don’t kill me,’ he blubbered. ‘Please, don’t kill me. I don’t want to die.’
Remus kicked him back, shaking himself. ‘Get off me,’ he choked, raising his wand. Avada kedavra. All he had to do was say it. Asper would be revenged.
Balch wiped at the snot dripping down his chin, his red eyes roaming frantically around the room. ‘You’re Death Eaters. Oh, God. Please don’t kill me.’
His fingers felt frozen. His tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He forced himself to swallow, and croaked, ‘Avada– avada–‘
Balch was grey with fear. Sweat poured off him, and the stench turned his stomach.
And then a hand closed over his. Remus stared at Severus, his head swimming. He was going to faint. Pain stabbed his temples so sharply he closed his eyes.
‘Avada kedavra,’ Severus pronounced, so softly he almost missed it. A weight fell against his legs, and he lurched back into Severus’s hold. Balch lay at his feet, his eyes open and staring.
‘Apparate back, Remus,’ Severus said. He pressed Remus’s wand hand, the wand he had used to kill Balch. ‘Go back. Lucius will find you. Say you did it.’
The dead man stared up at him.
‘Go.’ Severus gripped him by the shoulders. ‘Do you hear me?’
He managed voice. ‘I can’t.’ The pain was in his eyes. He pressed his hand to his temple. Dead eyes. ‘I....’
‘You can do it.’ Smoke was billowing down the staircase, spilling out into the downstairs and meeting with black cloud from Remus’s blaze. Severus held his look. ‘Say it with me. See the manor in your mind. Say the words.’ Black eyes. ‘Apparate. Apparate.’
He whispered, then said it louder. ‘Ap– apparate. Apparate.’
And the room disappeared.
Lucius found him in the garden, staring without seeing the narcissus beds. Soot streaked his pale skin and yellow hair, streaked through with tracks of perspiration. When Remus turned a sickly white at the smell, Lucius shrugged out of his robe, scrubbed his face with it, and let it fall onto a bench.
‘It’s over?’ Remus asked, his voice low.
‘Yes.’ Lucius sprawled beside his robe on the stone seat, kicking his long legs out into the path. ‘All back safe and sound to their own homes, and no-one the wiser.’ He raked a hand through his hair. ‘Lestrange left the Dark Mark. I doubt they’ll be able to get inside the place till morning, though. It was burning fair well when we left.’
He had no reply. He ran light fingers over the petals of the flowers, safe from frost inside the greenhouse glass that domed above their heads.
Into the silence, Lucius leant forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands dangling between. ‘You did well. I saw Balch.’
He saw Balch, as well. Dead green eyes vacantly staring up at him from the floor. His headache had receded in the temperate greenhouse, but it throbbed tautly in the back of his skull. ‘He deserved to die.’
Lucius laid his hand on Remus’s shoulder. ‘You did right.’ His strong fingers squeezed. ‘And now you’ll be one of us. No-one can say you didn’t earn the right. You’ll live here now, with me. I’ll give you anything you want. Books. I’ll get you all the books you want.’ He crouched beside Remus. ‘You’ll meet my Lord. And after he meets you, no-one will say you’re a Gryffindor tag-along. A Mudblood. You’ll be just as good as the rest of them.’
He looked up. Lucius smiled at him, for him, and stood, holding out a hand for his. ‘Let’s get cleaned up. My Lord will be here soon and I want everything to be perfect for your first time.’
He accepted the pale hand in his own, and let Lucius pull him to his feet. ‘All right,’ he said.
Alone in the cold porcelain world of the bath, Remus submerged himself beneath the steaming water. Empty green eyes stared up at him. He surfaced with a gasp, and slicked his hair back from his face with hands that shook. Quickly, sloppily, he soaped himself down and vacated the tub. He wrapped himself in the warm fluffy towels seated on a stool beside the large mirror, and rang for a house elf. When it appeared, he asked for tea. ‘Hot,’ he said. ‘As hot as you can make it.’ The little creature bowed, and placed an armful of fabric on the stool before leaving. Remus dressed, the fine linens and bits of silk clinging to his damp skin uncomfortably; they were Lucius’s clothes, and the dark blues that looked so handsome on him gave Remus a gaunt and sallow appearance. The mirror silently reflected his raw and hollow look. The opal belt was last, and he had to fight the urge to hurl it across the room.
When Lucius came for him, he was seated on the bed in the connected room, holding the gold-trimmed teacup to his cheek for the heat. Lucius, scrubbed and pinkly glowing, brushed his lips as he took away the cup and set it aside. ‘It’s time.’
He stood and suppressed the uneasy quivers of his belly. Together, they walked the lavish corridor to the east wing, to the smooth mahogany appointments of Lucius’s study. There they waited, saying nothing, watching the water clock slowly pass time.
Suddenly Lucius stood from the leather couch in the corner. At that moment, Remus heard it too– noise in the otherwise empty wing. ‘He’s coming.’ Lucius put a hand on his shoulder and pushed. ‘Kneel, damnit.’
Remus obeyed, his heart thumping away insanely. He bowed his head quickly as the door opened, hyper-aware of Lucius falling to his knees beside him, of laboured footsteps approaching.
A soft exhalation. ‘Who is this?’
Lucius scrambled to his feet. ‘Remus Lupin, my Lord.’
The hand that touched his cheek made him flinch; it was chilled. Fingers ghosted over his chin, and lifted. Instinct made him meet the green eyes that gazed down at him coldly.
‘Lupin,’ Voldemort mused. He laid his cool, dry palm over Remus’s eyes. ‘I see he hasn’t told you that you must never look directly at me.’
‘I’m very sorry, Lord,’ Remus whispered. He closed his eyes, and Voldemort’s hand slid into his wet hair, gripping it tightly.
‘You acknowledge me your Lord?’
At his Confirmation, the priest intoning, And do you acknowledge Me your Lord and Saviour?
‘Stand up. Let me look at you.’
He stood, keeping his eyes on his shoes and nervously clasping his hands before him. Voldemort kept the hold in his hair for a minute, enough to make his scalp pringle; and then the cold hand was back on his face, moving toward his jaw and then to his neck, pulling away the scarf.
Remus held his breath. His eyes stung suddenly, and he knew in another moment he would be crying.
The cool fingertips traced his scars. ‘I know all,’ Voldemort told him, so softly he almost could not hear. Dead green eyes staring up at him, staring at him knowingly. ‘Weep if you will, child. I will forgive you.’
Lucius was stiff and awkward, looking away. Remus saw him through his tears as Voldemort drew him near, and he lay his head on the hard breast that emanated the chill of death.
He laid with Lucius that night, his mind curiously blank, his spirit subdued. Lucius might have been angry over the scene in his study earlier, but he said nothing, facing him on the bed and stroking his chest.
‘I’ve never seen you cry,’ he said, as midnight grew old.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ Remus whispered.
Lucius rose, and closed the curtains over the moon-filled windows. When he came back to the bed, he unbuttoned his trousers and let them fall; he slid onto the mattress beside Remus, and touched him. They made love, and Lucius swore at him and told him he loved him in the next breath. Remus lay with his cheek nestled against the soft skin of Lucius’s thigh, and he let the hand in his hair and the new silence take him to sleep.
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