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
He turned off the path at the lake, his boots sinking into the muddy shallows. It was a damp, grey day, with a chill that had settled heavily in the air. Remus drew his robe closer about him, wishing he’d worn a thicker shirt. He rewound his scarf about his neck, doubling it over, and pulled up his hood to protect his frozen ears. He wound his fingers through the excess fabric of the robe’s skirts, and trudged on through the weedy slope of the lake. The mountains held their throne in massive silence above him. The only sounds, indeed, were those that he made: an indrawn breath, a squelching step. Even the birds were quiet, this day.
At last he left the lake behind for the hills. It was a measure of his returned strength that the upward hike shortened his breath but did not exhaust him, as it would have a year ago. He found a long branch, dropped by one of the massive old oaks, and it served as a walking stick. He paused once to look back; but he’d arrived early on purpose, for just this journey. He turned back to his trek, his breath frosting in the air, and climbed on.
He saw the stone before he’d quite crested the hill. He laid his stick aside, and wiped his boots off in the dry, brittle grass. He crouched before the grave, then settled with his knees up to his chest, shivering in the cold.
He wondered if he’d expected a voice from the heavens. Or perhaps hell– though he rather doubted it, whatever his mother’s priest had wanted him to believe. If anyone were damned, it was surely himself.
In a week he’d managed to overturn everything that gave him the slightest measure of peace. Lucius avoided him, Severus had provided only a blunt ‘I told you so,’ and the puzzle of creating Voldemort’s spell nagged like an itch under the skin that was slowly consuming him. Not even opium helped anymore. He deliberately avoided thinking about the very short time it had taken for him to rely on it for any sort of calm. Moodily, he doubted if he could shoulder another disappointment this month.
The monolith was the only marker, impressed with Asper’s name and the date of his death. Someday some adventurous student might make the climb this far from Hogwarts, some day when they were all long dust, and wonder at the rough-hewn rock with its mysterious name. Remus thought that Asper might rather enjoy that. Probably he’d chortled over it when writing his testament.
A raindrop hit his nose. Remus squinted up at the sky, a dangerous grey without his having even noticed. He closed his eyes as the gathering wind threw another handful of cold drops into his face. He sighed, and looked back at the grave.
‘I have to go,’ he said. ‘I don’t know when I can come again. Things are going... very badly.’ He rubbed his knee, staring at the rock. He exhaled sharply, and shoved to his feet. ‘Thank you,’ he murmured, and left.
Minerva McGonagall greeted him in the north courtyard of the school. ‘Thanks for taking the time to do this,’ he said, throwing back his hood and taking her proffered hand.
‘Of course.’ She smiled at him, and gestured toward the stone entranceway behind her. ‘The library is here to be used, after all. The students certainly don’t make much use of it.’ They fell into step, crossing the empty courtyard, their footsteps crunching a thin layer of frost crusting the grass. ‘What exactly will you be looking for?’
‘I donated Asper’s personal books,’ he said softly, his eyes on the curving buttresses they passed. ‘I believe that he had some journals among the lot that could be helpful in an experiment I’m running.’
‘You’ve been prolific,’ Minerva noted. ‘Two papers and a book to your name. Hogwarts is proud of you.’
‘The prodigal son?’
She only smiled.
The halls were as empty as the corridor; the lunch hour had everyone in the Great Hall. ‘I’d heard you were teaching Transfiguration,’ he said.
She glanced at him sidelong. ‘I had special shoes to fill. Asper was a Master.’
He smiled politely. Here, on Hogwarts grounds, where the air had a special quality, and the pale sunlight seemed somehow brighter– But Remus no longer felt a special connection to the place where he had spent five years of his own youth; it was just a school. And he found himself breathing easier than he’d expected to.
A prefect nodded to them as they entered a larger hallway, and a Hufflepuff left the right-side girl’s lavatory and gave them a startled squeak. The library doors were open, and together they entered, waved along by Madam Pince the librarian. Minerva came to a halt at the polished wooden gate barring the Restricted Section; Remus laid his hand on the crossbar, the smooth spot worn by generations of hands just like his. He released a breath.
‘I’ll leave you here,’ McGonagall said. ‘Madam Pince should be able to help you if you need anything further.’ She touched his elbow lightly. ‘Will you join us for supper? Dumbledore would be pleased to see you.’
The one thing he’d hoped more than any other to avoid was any sort of meeting with the Headmaster. He looked away, and said, ‘I’d hoped to be gone long before them. My journey is long and I’d like to be home before nightfall.’
She seemed to accept that. ‘I’ll leave you to your work then, Remus. It was good to see you.’
‘Thank you. And you.’ He smiled again. ‘Thank you for your time.’
‘It was no trouble.’ She left him there. He drew in a deep breath, and pushed open the gate. It swung shut behind him, and he walked slowly toward the back. Pince had had the books set out for him, stacked on a table beside one of the great bay windows. A pitcher of water and a plate of thin wafers were set at the right hand of the only chair. He took the seat, and pulled the top book from the pile.
A journal. Old enough to be a school journal, with yellowed pages and a crease across the front cover. He flipped the pages, glancing through the bold and angled writing he’d become familiar with over their long association. How strange to think of Asper as a student, fourteen or fifteen years old– perhaps with a mentor himself, who had encouraged him. Remus leaned his chin on his hand and smoothed a crinkled page.
How long had it been since he’d even felt the magic.
He closed the book and reached for the next one.
Severus appeared with the evening tea, a parcel of books over his shoulder. Black eyes shifted away from his nervously– dare I say, guiltily, Remus thought. But Severus offered no apology for his actions, and Remus demanded none. After all, they knew each other well.
When they were alone, Remus served them both, and Severus drew a chair up to the desk. ‘I brought these from Turbute’s collection,’ he said. ‘I know you were just at Hogwarts, but it didn’t seem wise to meet you openly there.’
He accepted the book from the top of the pile. ‘Potions?’ he asked.
‘Not all.’ Severus leaned his elbows on the desktop, and took back the book to give him another. ‘When you told me about it, I began looking, discretely. Turbute isn’t very organised. This was what I found that broadly relates.’
‘”Finding The Fountain Of Youth,”’ Remus read. He glanced up. ‘Severus, these are legends. Fairy tales.’
‘So were mushroom circles.’ Severus smiled grimly.
He acknowledged the strike. ‘If I had all the time in the world, it wouldn’t hurt to look. But I don’t believe Voldemort will be that patient.’
‘Do you have alternatives?’ Severus set aside his cup and saucer and reached for a wafer. ‘Look, Malfoy and I can split the reading with you. My Lord won’t care as long as he gets the spell. If it involves a potion, I’ll make it for you. Lucius can absorb the costs of materials. We can make it happen.’
‘I just don’t know enough, Sev!’ He slammed the book closed. ‘I dropped out of school, remember? There are years of lessons I never learnt. It’s like trying to build a house without a foundation.’
‘You passed all the same exams. You got ten O.W.L.’s.’ Severus was frowning sharply. ‘What is this about?’
He lifted a hand to his mouth and bit down on his thumb. ‘I went to the grave today.’
His friend exhaled sharply and lounged back in his chair. ‘And, what? Had a revelation? Saw a ghost? Did he talk to you, Remus? Tell you to turn your face from evil?’
‘Don’t mock me.’ He laid his hands flat on the desktop, rolling his wand with the tips of his fingers. ‘You know, he did more than just teach me how to fling a spell at something, or even how to write one.’
‘What did he teach you.’
He glanced up. Severus was watching, an old cautious expression from the days of sneaking to Hogsmeade, the old look of the much more reserved boy being pressed by a Gryffindor-wild companion into crimes worth months of detention. He sighed, and dropped his chin to his palm.
‘He taught me my responsibility to the magic,’ he replied, softly. ‘And I don’t think anyone ever taught that to Voldemort.’
‘Responsibility to magic,’ Severus repeated.
‘Yes.’ He wrapped his fingers around his wand. ‘He’s already created a killing curse. A curse to torture. And now I’m to write one that does both and worse. Magic is supposed to be–‘
A gift, Asper had said. A joy.
Into the silence, Severus reached for the teapot and refilled their cups. Quietly he sipped, then placed the cup back to the desk. ‘I don’t disagree,’ he said, quietly. ‘But neither do I think you have any choice in the matter but to do as he says. He will kill you, Remus.’
A man had already died by his wand, though the man facing him had been the one to do it. He reached for his own cup, curled his fingers around it. ‘And if I should run. What then.’
‘You still have a mother.’
He looked up. Severus was carefully without expression.
He found his throat was dry. He drank deeply, and coughed to clear his throat. ‘He wouldn’t.’
‘I think he would. And you know well enough now that he will.’
He closed his eyes. ‘Well,’ he whispered. He cleared his throat again, and took yet another book from the pile. ‘There were leads. In Asper’s books.’
‘Really?’ Severus seemed surprised. He rubbed his cheek. ‘He was a Transfiguration Master. It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing he’d–‘
‘Not *his* books. Books he owned.’ He traced the gilded cover of the old potions text. ‘He had journals that had been written by the highest of our order.’
Severus’s fingers paused mid-air, a sugar cube held between them. ‘Slytherin himself?’
‘Not all of the collection. Only fourteen, and one that might have been penned by an apprentice. If Slytherin ever tried what Voldemort wants, there’s no record of it at Hogwarts. It’s all in private libraries now and as far as I know, there’s no way of tracing back the ownership.’
Severus dropped the cube into his tea and stirred slowly, his black eyes abstracted as he puzzled. ‘But there *are* leads.’
‘Yes.’ He stood, and crossed the room to where he’d left his robes hanging over the back of a chair. From within the inner pocket, he drew out a small, palm-sized book. He held it gently, wary of its age. He returned to the desk, and showed it to Severus.
Severus stared up at him. ‘You stole that from Hogwarts?’
‘The only person who’d notice is Pince, and I told her I’d put the books back myself. As long as no-one goes looking for it, it won’t be missed.’ He resumed his seat, rubbing the dry old leather of the journal. ‘I didn’t make my way through all of them, but it seems he was giving some thought to prolonging his lifespan.’
He took his notes from the edge of the desk and pushed them to Severus. ‘He hadn’t thought of doing it this way. Maybe he knew better. He was driven– not evil.’
He was speared with a sharp look. ‘Snide comments aren’t going to help you any.’
‘You think I’m being snide?’ They locked gazes, a contest of wills, mutual anger. Remus looked away first. Severus said, ‘You’ve thought of something, haven’t you. That’s why you’re fighting this so much. You’ve thought of something, and it disgusts you.’
‘Yes.’ He stared down at his hands, picking at the edge of a bitten nail.
He heard a soft exhale, and then Severus relented. ‘Tell me,’ he said gently.
‘It’s... it’s not so different from Zundel’s Critical Wounding, is it?’ He linked his fingers tightly. ‘Except she was trying to harvest energy to heal a life-threatening wound. It was meant to keep all the life force in one body.’
Severus was catching on. ‘But if you combined it with a spell that could carry a body-to-body transfer–‘
‘It will mean weeks of experiments, if not months. Finding the right spell to match Zundel’s, modifying what she intended. And I don’t have a test subject for this. I can’t very well volunteer one of the servants.’
‘Don’t worry about that yet.’ Severus checked the water clock standing quietly in the corner, and stood. ‘You were always strong on theory. Do what you can with that, first.’
‘I had hoped to never find anything, Sev.’
‘But you did.’
‘Keep away from the windows,’ Lucius said, looking up from his newspaper. ‘Don’t put your hands on the glass.’
Draco turned and looked up at his father. The pale cheeks folded into a frown, and the boy sullenly put his hand in his mouth and turned back.
Narcissa appeared in the doorway, fastening the layers of a wispy veil to her hair with pins. ‘I’m leaving for London,’ she said.
‘I’m neither your jailor nor your keeper,’ he replied, his eyes on the obituaries.
She made a cynical noise. ‘I don’t expect to be back til the end of the week. Has my Lord departed?’
He had never been sure how much she really knew. He refused to look at her, to give her the advantage or the satisfaction of his full attention. ‘He’s gone.’
‘Mm.’ She tucked her handbag under her arm and smoothed the stiff fabric of her black skirt. ‘Draco, stay away from the windows.’ For a moment longer, she stood, considering Lucius from the door. At last, she only snorted, and left without anything further.
Bored with the window, the toddler came back to the table, gripping his father’s trouser leg. Lucius tried to brush him away, but the boy was insistent. He took a cup from the table and thrust it at Draco. ‘Finish your milk.’
Draco shook his head, his small fingers clenching in the fabric at Lucius’s knee. ‘Up.’
With a sigh, he put aside the news and lifted the boy, grunting a little at his weight. ‘What?’
Draco pulled apart his cravat with surprisingly little trouble, grinning. Annoyed, Lucius turned him to face the other way. ‘Sit still,’ he snapped. ‘Learn to sit still.’ He pulled a slice of bacon from his plate as a bribe, and Draco finally settled with the treat clutched tight in greedy fists.
‘The heir to Malfoy fortunes,’ Lucius muttered, gazing down at the blonde head leaning against his chest. ‘A spoilt brat. A messy brat.’
Contented for the moment, the boy ignored him.
‘And soon you’ll be a snot-nosed teenager.’ Lucius wrapped his hand around the toddler’s middle as he squirmed. ‘You’ll go to Hogwarts. And doubtless you’ll associate with those chubby things Crabbe and Goyle managed to spawn. You’ll prat about like you own the place, and you will.’ He laughed shortly. ‘You will. Our Lord has promised me that much in reward.’
Finished with the bacon, Draco flapped greasy hands, and let out a formless sound.
Lucius stared out the window, at the gathering storm clouds that cast a grey pall over the early morning. ‘And when this war is over, we’ll parcel out whatever secrets Hogwarts has to those we can’t afford to offend. Voldemort will have what he wants– rulership, I suppose. The death of every Muggle in England. He can spend the rest of his life murdering the Irish. And if Remus succeeds, his life ought to last a good long time.’ It would rain before lunch, he thought. He sighed, and hefted Draco back into his lap when he sought to squirm away. ‘Sit still.’
But Draco had lost interest in his father’s mutterings. ‘Down,’ he commanded, twisting his head to look up at Lucius.
Lucius released him, and Draco wobbled only a moment before crossing sure-footed to the window. Lucius reached for the juice, and poured a fresh glass. He shook out his newspaper, and laid it flat on the table. ‘And then you’ll grow up,’ he said softly, looking down at the print page without seeing it. ‘And there will be a girl who has money, or a title, or an estate, and I’ll tell you that you have to marry her. And you’ll realise you don’t get everything you want.’
Draco sneaked a glance behind him, saw his father oblivious, and gleefully pressed his palms to the window glass.
Another candle burned out. Remus barely noticed. He shredded the feathers from the shaft of his quill, watching the pale grey flutter down to his lap. He sighed softly, and looked out the window, to the bright reflection of the study.
It was done. The parchment lay before him, a page of scribbled notes and blots and cross-outs, and in the puzzle of his shorthand, it was done. Had been done, for hours. He’d said nothing to those who waited on him, unable to find the words for the most bitter success he’d ever had.
A noise from the corner of the office drew his attention away from the window. Severus had crouched to worm a book out from the bottom of one of the large piles; rentings from Flourish and Blotts, borrows from private libraries, volumes from Knockturn alley’s shadiest book dealers. By chance, Severus looked up, and their eyes met. Thinking he’d disturbed Remus, the man cleared his throat and apologised in a low voice.
Remus blinked it away. ‘What are you looking at?’ he said.
Severus returned to his seat, at a small round table littered with notes of his own. He looked somewhat ragged; Turbute had been keeping him at early hours, and the long secret nights with Remus were telling on him in the bags under his eyes and the lankness of his hair.
‘Pfishterhower,’ he replied.
Remus raised an eyebrow. ‘Bless you.’
He earned a snort for his joke, but a tired smile followed it. ‘Do you need anything?’ He gestured toward the piles.
‘No.’ They returned to silence, and Remus to the view from the window. Such funny names, he mused, stroking the quill. Polish. Germanic, at any rate. Wizard families and their names, always another language or something that sounded vaguely dirty if it were in English...
Staring at his hands, he spoke softly, so softly he wasn’t sure it wasn’t in his own head. ‘Do you think Voldemort knows Welsh?’ he asked.
Severus glanced over at the abrupt address. He cleared his throat, and closed his book, his finger marking the page. ‘Half of Wales doesn’t speak Welsh. Why would Voldemort?’
Suddenly he smiled. He stretched out a hand and reached for a new quill. ‘That’s what I thought.’
Severus left the shelves and came to stand at the desk. ‘What are you thinking of? And why do I have the feeling you ought not be thinking it?’
‘I’m sure you have no such feeling.’ He laid out a fresh sheet of paper, and drew his notebook closer. ‘Could you ring for tea? It’s cold here.’
Clearly Severus would have pursued it, but Remus ignored him steadily, and at last he moved away from the desk. Remus dropped the quill to clench his fingers to a fist, and stared down at the page.
‘Here’s nothing,’ he whispered. He raised his voice, and said, ‘Tell Lucius it’s done. It’s done.’
The midday sun was weak, unable to force past the remains of the week’s storming. The greenhouse was chilly; the servants had been around perhaps the day before to cover the most delicate of the plants with white sheets. It gave the impression of snow scattered through the green, a winter scene foreshadowing the winter season nearly upon them. Remus walked slowly, his shoes crunching gravel in a comforting soft sound. His hands trembled, and he clasped them together nervously.
Lucius walked beside him, his fair hair covered in a ribboned, tricorn hat that reminded Remus of pictures in history books. Severus’s comment came to him, suddenly, about the look suiting Malfoy, an actor’s getup. Lucius was every bit the English lord, this day, from his crisp white stockings and elegant pilgrim black waistcoat and tails. He carried gloves of kid leather, and the creamy lace frothing at his throat was so starched it might have been carved from marble; like the pale face above it, china-blue eyes stonily forward, mouth immobile. Remus wore the robe Lucius had given, the opal belt loose about his hips, the jewels cool to his wandering fingertips. They made a stark pair.
Voldemort awaited them in the orangery, and Lucius drew the doors closed after their entrance, locking them physically first, and then magically. Remus strode to the wide windows, and began drawing the heavy winter curtains, tying them shut and slowly blocking out all the wan light. As he shut the last, his chest tightened, and he longed fiercely for the freedom that watched him from the other side of the glass.
Lucius was lighting candles with his wand when he gathered himself to turn. Voldemort had risen from his bench. His robes were rich, blood-red; colour appropriate to his deeds, Remus thought. He bowed as the green eyes settled on him.
‘Give it to me,’ Voldemort said.
The wizard accepted the scroll from his hand. At his back, Lucius was tense with anticipation. He felt butterflies tumbling crazily in his stomach, nausea rising in his throat. An ache had begun high in his jaw that promised to spread across his skull.
The white head bent over the words, thinly stretched lips moving silently, forming the letters of his painstaking work. Green eyes speared him. ‘What language is this?’
He coughed once to clear his throat. ‘Welsh, Lord.’
If anything, the look sharpened. ‘Why?’
He bent his head diffidently. ‘My Latin is not what it ought to be,’ he said. ‘As my Lord no doubt knows, however, it is not the language itself that is important; it is merely a focus for the magic...’ He trailed off.
He could *feel* the intensity of those eyes on the top of his skull. Don’t question, he willed the man. Don’t ask me to translate. He’d bet everything on the pride of an unpredictable man; sweat trickled down between his shoulder blades, and he shuddered.
At last Voldemort said, ‘Don’t think to lecture me on theory, boy. Fine. Have you tested it?’
He spread his hands, weak with relief. ‘No, Lord.’
He licked his lips, dry and chapped. ‘It does. It should.’
A thin hand with brown age spots reached out and beckoned him. ‘Come.’
Lucius looked up, then quickly glanced away again. His shoulders had pulled still.
But Remus had half expected it. Planned on it, staring nights into Salazar Slytherin’s journals. He uprooted his feet and shuffled forward a small step, then another. A third brought him in reach of the hand, the twig-like brittle fingers that were still stronger than iron. They wrapped about his wrist and caught him close. The parchment was shoved under his nose, and Voldemort said, ‘Explain this Mudblood creation of yours. Pronunciation.’
Dutifully he taught the wizard the words, as patiently as he had with Lucius, years ago. To his credit, Voldemort learned quickly; but Remus supposed that to a Parsletongue the soft consonants of Welsh came easily. The hand that held him never released its cruel pressure, but he endured. He was just an inch or so taller than Voldemort, he realised. Just an inch or so, but he was careful to keep his eyes on the parchment and not the man committing its words to memory.
Voldemort crumpled the paper and held it out in his flat palm; with a murmured word, it burst into flame and collapsed. Voldemort let the ashes fall. Fingers stained with flakes brushed his jaw, and he looked up.
‘You have done well. Be rewarded, now.’
He bowed his head. ‘Yes, Lord.’ He steeled his shoulders for what he knew was coming.
‘Yn iachau gweithir i mewn ‘m chorff,’ Voldemort recited, his accent nearly flawless.
The first line of Zundel’s Critical Wounding. Healing is worked on my body.
‘’N bob cafell i mewn ‘m chorff ydy ‘n bybyr.’
Every cell in my body is strong, Remus thought.
‘’R chysgoda chan addoed arweinir ar gerdded chen.’
The shadow of death is carried away from me. Lucius moved, leaning forward for a better view, perhaps. Remus saw him from the corner of his eyes, but didn’t dare look away from the old man irrevocably casting his spell.
‘Ddeled chan arall.’
The first departure from Zundel, the critical piece, the directive, the inclusion of a victim life force. His palms twisted slickly against each other.
And then the last, his own addition, his best hope of redirecting the spell, untested, untested Welsh words that he doubted would work in the hands of any but the greatest wizards, a Salazar Slytherin, an Albus Dumbledore– a Voldemort–
‘Mai a sy ffinia at arall ca ‘i ffordd addef.’ May that which is bound to another find its way home.
He hadn’t prayed since he was fourteen. He prayed now, his eyes locked on Voldemort’s face, on the wand pointed at his own chest.
‘Fel fflaw ‘i bod,’ Voldemort declared, So Mote It Be, in a tone of vicious finality. For an agonising eternity, nothing happened, and Remus panicked, pulled in a harsh gasp--
It wrenched upward from his knees. Lucius made some protest, but he barely heard; rushing filled his head. It clawed from his chest, ripped out of his throat. He gasped for air but was drowning.
And that quickly, it was over. His legs would not support him, and he fell against a cold pillar. His heart was racing far too fast to live– it would explode, or was he already dead?...
Voldemort let him fall.
Lying on the floor, trembling, freezing. Lucius was there, kneeling beside him. They were alone.
Lucius felt for his pulse. His face was white, a white blur. It was like being high. A laugh bubbled out of him, breathless, choking him, but a laugh. Lucius stared down at him. ‘It failed,’ Lucius said. ‘Do you hear me? It failed. It backfired.’
Good. God. Good.
The house elf scurried out with a load of linens, and the maid returned from the laundry with the clothes he’d had when he’d first arrived at Malfoy Manor. ‘In the bag, sir?’ she asked.
He looked up from his table, and focussed on her belatedly. ‘What?’
‘Should I put these in your bag, Mr Lupin?’
‘Please.’ She gazed at him a moment longer, and he licked his lips and turned his face down to the letters he was writing. ‘Can you arrange for an owl to be readied?’ he murmured, trying to regain his train of thought.
Headmaster, I write to request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience. Though we have not spoken in some months I believe that you will wish to hear, most urgently, what it is I have to say.
He released a breath, and swiftly crossed out the last clauses. Then, annoyed with himself, he crumpled the paper and reached for a new one.
Headmaster, please meet with me. It is important, and I don’t ask lightly. I’m following this letter directly to Hogwarts.
It wasn’t going to improve any further. He signed, and folded the parchment into a tight square, and sealed it with a dollop of hot wax from his candle. He set it to the left, atop the letter addressed to Severus Snape.
The maid came to his elbow, and without being asked, set a full wineglass at his right hand. He looked up at her.
‘If there’s nothing else,’ she said, ‘I’ll take those to the owlry for you. I can have a carriage brought round.’
‘No carriage.’ He handed her his messages. ‘Thank you.’
She tucked the letters into her apron, and said neutrally, ‘If you ask me not to, I won’t tell the Master you’re leaving.’
He managed a smile. ‘I ask. Thank you.’
She bobbed into a short curtsey. ‘Was a pleasure, sir.’ She took her lamp from beside the door, and left him alone.
There was a final letter to write, one he was dreading. He smoothed the final sheet of parchment, elegant watermarked paper that smelled like the rose petals it had been packed in. An expensive gift, the sort of gift given between lovers.
He wrote, I hope that my leaving doesn’t put you in trouble with your Lord. If it does, I can only say that I am deeply sorry. In a better world, we would still be friends.
He left it where it sat, capped the ink, and cleaned the quill. He stood, and crossed the room to the vanity. He gathered up his few toiletries, the toothbrush and comb and his better tie and a pair of battered cufflinks. The pocket watch, long broken, that Peter had given him for a birthday.
The face that looked back at him in the mirror still made him cringe. It was the face of a man of forty, though he was only twenty. Grey and silver feathered back from his temples. The hints of future lines had become deeply carved, especially around his mouth. It was like looking at the man who should have been his father, only to know it was himself. Only the tired eyes were familiar, now. But the spell had backfired. It had drained him, yes, more than he’d planned for– but if Voldemort had been the recipient, he hadn’t heard it. The silence from Lucius and Lestrange, the reduction of the servants who attended his needs, and Severus’s unexplained absence all added up to a failure.
Perhaps Severus would be ordered to fix the spell. Perhaps it was possible to do what Voldemort wanted; Remus did not know. He knew he’d come close, before deciding to betray instead. The most he could do now was warn Dumbledore it might be coming.
He gave himself a shake, and turned to the bed, now stripped. His duffle sat atop the mattress; he slung it over his shoulder and cinched the strap tighter. He gathered his trunk close, and the notebooks he’d filled, and freed a hand to hold his wand. He took one last survey of the room, and blew out the candles with a soft word. Into the darkness, he said, ‘Apparate.’
‘Do you have any names?’ Dumbledore’s pen scratched comfortingly as he scripted a note to the Ministry.
Remus stared out of the fifth storey window to the wide green lawn below. A few students played a game of handball amidst the grass, their faces closed in concentration. He envied them that ability. His thoughts were flying about, as impossibly far from his reach as hundreds of golden snitches. He had given up trying to seek them out.
Dumbledore touched his shoulder, and Remus shuffled aside enough for a large barn owl to launch from the window. The wrinkled warm hand stayed on his back, and drew him toward a chair. Minerva set a saucer before him and poured him tea. Her eyes evaded his; or maybe it was the other way around.
He said, so softly he barely heard himself, ‘I am ashamed.’
Dumbledore only nodded. His silence was understanding, even forgiving, and Remus squirmed with it, knowing he didn’t deserve such an easy acceptance.
‘I believe he meant me to die,’ he said. ‘Whether the spell killed me or he had to. Perhaps he thought it had. But I do believe he wanted me dead. I was no use to him beyond the spell and he didn’t trust me.’ He smiled a thin smile. ‘Rightfully, I suppose. He knew I wasn’t there out of loyalty to him. He even asked me directly. He knew, before he even set me to write the spell.’
‘And yet you did write it,’ Dumbledore observed. There was no censure in his voice, only thoughtfulness. He folded his hands across the desk, and said, ‘Describe it to me, please.’
‘I can show you.’ He looked around for his things, and found them by the door where the house elves had left them. His notebooks lay atop the trunk. He put them on the desk before the Headmaster, shuffling through the loose pages he’d stuck in the top one, and finally found his draft copy of the spell. ‘I based it on Zundel,’ he said, then fell quiet. Dumbledore would know it at a glance, of course. The old wizard had adjusted his spectacles and lifted the page to examine it. Minerva stooped to read it over his shoulder. A frown, surprisingly similar, creased both faces at the same time. Remus sank back into his chair, watching them.
At last Dumbledore lowered the page. ‘You played with fire, Mr Lupin. I think it is a wonder you were merely burned.’
He flushed. His fingers trembled weakly. He clenched them tightly into fists and stared down at them.
‘Do you think he will attempt to translate it?’
His voice was too husky when he tried to respond, and he had to clear his throat. ‘He is over-confident, sir. He believes himself to be the greatest wizard alive, a successor of, if not equal to, Slytherin himself.’ His speech, carefully rehearsed as he had anticipated his interview in the hallway, came out quietly, measured. ‘He may eventually realise he was crossed, but I don’t think he believes any of us would dare do it.’
‘Is there anyone among his circle who will suspect it?’ Minerva inquired.
He had one last surprise for them. ‘Sev– Severus Snape. He may know.’
Dumbledore’s head came up, and Remus did not imagine the dismay in his eyes.
Remus reached for his tea and sipped, trying to whet his throat. He clutched the porcelain tightly. ‘I can’t speak for his motivation for joining the Death Eaters,’ he started. ‘No– that is, he has never spoken– spoken directly to me about it.’ He had wanted to address this, had carefully written words for it, but they escaped him now. Pain throbbed in his temples, and in sudden fury he forced it back. He looked Dumbledore in the eye. ‘I had the opportunity once to tell you that they were recruiting us in school,’ he said baldly. ‘But I was too weak to stand up to pressure, and I lied to you. Parents directed their children to collect information on the other students, on our professors. We were to watch each other. I was never... approached, but I would bet my life that Lucius Malfoy was. Probably Severus, too. He told me he was inducted just after graduation. This was years in the making.’
Minerva was white-faced, her lips pulled into a grimace. ‘There could be any number of them,’ she muttered.
Dumbledore gazed at Remus. He sighed, and removed his glasses. ‘Where will you go?’ he asked.
His sudden bought of energy faded, leaving him cold. He had thought about it, but the need to leave Malfoy Manor quickly had take precedence over well-laid plans. In the end, all he found to say was, ‘I owe an explanation to... to many people.’
‘The safest place is Hogwarts,’ the Headmaster said.
To keep me, he thought. To keep others safe when they come for me.
‘I’ll return,’ he replied. ‘I promise.’
Dumbledore stood, and came around the desk. He laid his hand on Remus’s shoulder. ‘I believe you,’ he said softly. ‘Go, then. Come back to us when you’ve made your... explanations.’
The kitchen door opened. They both heard it, and looked up; neither moved, even when James called.
At last Lily stood, taking Harry from Remus and settling him on her hip. ‘You have to tell him.’
The little boy waved at him, his attention already elsewhere, inquisitive eyes on the window and the waving branches outside it.
‘I can’t,’ he said.
She reached up a pale hand to loop her hair behind her ear. She glanced toward the kitchen. ‘All right,’ she replied at last. ‘I’ll do it. But you’ll have to face him eventually.’
‘I will.’ He swallowed to ease his throat. Looked up at her, looking down at him. ‘But I can’t say it to his face. I can’t, Lily.’
She nodded, and at last some sympathy passed the barrier of her blank expression. ‘Wait in here.’
An agony in itself, unwittingly trained on their low voices without being quite able to hear the words used. But better than knowing. His feet itched to pace; his knees creaked as he shifted. He forced himself into stillness, but couldn’t stand it as silence stretched out on the other side of the door. He shoved to his feet and crossed to the mantle, touched a cool edge of the porcelain vases filled with dry flowers. He stared hard at the dull paisley wallpaper, and tried very hard to be invisible.
He’d discovered the invisibility cloak, in Annwn. But there had never been any question that it belonged to James. Beautiful James, destined for the finest of all things, be it magical cloaks or red-headed wives or babies who had uncannily quiet gazes.
And then, the door opened. Remus set his shoulders, and hugged his chest tightly. He turned.
James stood there, the tie of his robe pulled open and his collar loose. New glasses, Remus thought. Their eyes met, James’s full of knowledge and his uselessly defiant. He dropped his head and stared at the floor.
He heard the man draw in a breath, to speak, and hurried to beat him to it, his voice jarringly loud in the day room. ‘I don’t ask for forgiveness,’ he said.
His declaration was met with a pause. Then James shrugged one-shouldered, and said, ‘I don’t think I’m the person to ask, anyway.’ He heaved a heavy sigh. ‘Damn, but you should have come to us.’
His throat closed. He blinked rapidly, digging his fingers into his arms. ‘I know.’
‘Why didn’t you, then?’
‘I was proud.’ His lips were stiff. ‘I was– angry. I thought I had a right to do the– things I did.’
The silence stretched out unbearably. His strength was not great enough to sustain him through this confrontation. He didn’t have a right to dignity, not now, and on that admission to himself he sank into the nearest chair, his legs nothing but knees and sticks awkwardly arranged before him, his breath constricted by the tight grip of his own arms. His eyes stung fiercely, but neither did he deserve to pity himself, and he brutally suppressed it.
James released a long-held breath and broke his stance in the doorframe. He crossed the room, and crouched before Remus’s chair. ‘What has he done to you?’ he murmured, running a thumb over the grey in his temples and the new lines on his face. ‘Oh, Reemy.’ He tugged at Remus’s collar, until their foreheads met. Remus closed his eyes tightly. ‘You should have come to us.’
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