Act I: Iced Coffee
Anyone observing the two of them might have noticed that although obviously making an effort towards discretion, these two wizards were not currently on the best of terms with each other. In fact, the other patrons at this inexpensive but chic establishment, were they watching carefully, might even have been able to detect that one of the wizards, the smaller one, was really quite infuriated with the other one, who simply gazed out at the street with a bored look on his face. Fortunately for the two of them, the other patrons were not really paying attention.
"Remus," the small, irate one was saying, as this tale opens, "it's been three years now. James and Lily have been together for three years! There is simply no way they will ever break up." He shook his head sadly for a moment, allowing a measure of self-pity to colour his features, before assuming a position more of quiet rage than of distant melancholy.
The wizard called Remus was calmly emptying a sugar packet over the ice cubes in his drink, the recently-arrived iced latte. He marvelled absently to himself that he always, without fail, poured sugar into iced coffee despite knowing, every time, that it would never melt, and would in fact simply sit in granules atop the ice cubes until they shifted and deposited the sweet crystals on the bottom of the glass, leaving him to drink a cold, bitter beverage. He sighed.
Remus hated iced coffee.
"You promised me you would help me," the smaller wizard was whispering furiously now. "You're the only one who understands what she does to me." He paused, breathing shallowly. His voice turned more urgent. "You have to help me get her, Moony. You promised you'd"
"Peter," Remus finally replied, looking up from his drink and gazing evenly at his companion, "I haven't promised you anything since before the wedding. At that point, yes, I thought you might have had a chance with Lily." He cupped both hands around the glass and pursed his lips. "What can I say? I'm sorry, really I am. The wedding well, it threw a wrench in our plans."
"'A wrench'? Uh, yeah Moony, you could say that her getting married did sort of mess up my chances of getting her to ditch James."
Remus frowned. Ridicule, it seemed to him, was unnecessary here. After all, he really had been trying to help Peter. The lad was honestly taken with James's girlfriend no, wife, he corrected himself. Peter had had his eye on Lily long before she had started dating James. James had even known about that, Remus mused. But then, what were a friend's feelings when the Head Boy, the Quidditch Captain, Hogwarts' very own Lothario decided he wanted something? Remus shook his head slightly. Arsehole, he thought, not for the first time.
Peter was still talking, oblivious to the fact that his companion was slowly becoming wrapped in his own thoughts. "First the wedding," he was saying, "then Dumbledore asking James to Command the Order." He was working himself into a frenzy. "And now the baby!" Peter moaned. "They'll never split up now that there's a baby." He slumped over their table, hands in his hair.
Remus looked out at the crowded London street on the other side of the café patio. He didn't want to hear another word about that bloody wedding. He had already had a year to be bitter, and years before that to work up to it. Best Man. He snorted. It would almost be funny, if it hadn't actually been so serious if everyone involved hadn't actually believed that the right man had been picked for the job. Yeah, some 'Best Man,' Remus thought. As if he could ever be a better man than me, a better friend Yes, a really good man that one is, trying to trick his best friend into eating a troublesome classmate. He let go of his drink and started to roll up his sleeves against the steamy summer evening air. 'Best Man' indeed.
"Moony?" Peter lifted his head slightly. "You're talking to yourself again. What was that about Sirius?"
Remus looked at Peter. He really had to concentrate on keeping such things in his head. "Nothing, nothing." He waved his hand. "I was just remembering what James told me this morning. Have you heard? Sirius is the baby's godfather." He picked up his watery drink and sipped it through a steely grimace.
"Godfather!" Peter exclaimed. "Wow, first Best Man, and now this! I would have thought James would have traded off, Remus. You know, made you the godfather? That would have been great, huh?"
"Yes," Remus said thinly, "it would have been."
"Oh, who cares about the godfather!" Peter was almost starting to wail now. "The point is that there's a baby, and if I didn't have a chance with Lily before, I really don't have one now."
"Pull yourself together," Remus muttered, glancing around. "All is not lost."
"Yes it is, Moony. You promised to help me; you promised to get me in with Lily."
Remus spread both his hands on the table, palms down, and examined the scars that ran across his knuckles. He exhaled heavily. "There's still a way," he said, not looking up.
Peter, enchanted with this strange behaviour, leaned closer. "There is?"
"It will be difficult, and slightly treacherous," he warned, flipping his hands up to press the tips of his fingers together. He knew he was starting to act a bit villainous, but since it matched the way he felt, he didn't let it concern him too much. "But it will guarantee problems for our beloved Head Boy and Girl."
Peter snorted. "'Head Boy and Girl'? Come on, Remus, that was years ago!"
"Three," Remus sniffed. "I can still use the term. It still describes them perfectly."
Peter shrugged. "What is this brilliant but dangerous plan?"
Remus looked up from his hands and leaned conspiratorially towards Peter. "You have to tell Moody."
Peter's eyes widened. "About the baby? Are you mad?!"
"They weren't supposed to have it!" Remus snapped before he could stop himself. "The Prophecy was clear: the child would be born in July to parents who had defied Voldemort three times. Order members were not supposed to have children until after the war until after we could prove the Prophecy was false!" He angrily swirled his coffee in the glass, clanking the ice cubes together and spilling the milky liquid over the edge.
"I know, but what good would it do to tell Moody?"
"You know how fond he is of Lily, Peter fancies himself a second father to her, or a wizard father, at least. He has a right to know."
"He'd go crazy, Moony! You remember how angry he was when she married James."
Oh yes, Remus remembered that entirely too well; Moody had protested that wedding right up to the last second. He wants something from you, girl, and with a past like his, you can be sure as sugar it isn't your body. Remus hid his sudden laughter under a hacking cough.
"Lily's taken the baby away," Peter continued, ignoring Remus. "No one has to know about it."
"Peter." Remus gained control of his coughing, his memories, and his anger, and shifted to a silkier tone, one he knew would have a more desirable effect on the impressionable man across from him. "If you want your chance to lure the princess Lily away from her noble husband, you first have to get her back to town. And the way to do that, is to get Moody to demand to see the baby."
"But he'll just tell Dumbledore!" Peter protested.
"Exactly," Remus pressed. "And Dumbledore will be so angry, he'll probably make James and Lily split up." He held his breath. Would this really work? Would he really be so thick as to
"Are you sure this will work?" Peter asked apprehensively.
"I'm positive," Remus answered. "Not only will this get her back to town, but it will cause all sorts of stress for her and James. They'll be divorced before you know it. Dumbledore will take the child, to ensure it's raised properly and doesn't bear any signs of the Prophecy, and bingo! You'll be free to woo Lily!" He drained the last of his coffee, shuddering as the pile of unmelted sugar at the bottom slid down his throat. "It's perfect."
Peter still looked unconvinced for a moment, but dreams of winning Lily must have won out, because a sly grin slowly spread across his pointy face. "All right," he agreed at last. "Let's go."
"We don't have to 'go' anywhere, Wormtail," Remus reminded him. "We'll just use the Mirror. Remember, that secret way for Order members to get in touch with each other, so we're not Apparating and Portkeying and Flooing anywhere Voldemort could find us?" He slipped his wand out of his pocket and murmured an Imperturbable Charm to prevent eavesdroppers from noticing their table for the next few minutes.
"Oh yes, right!" Peter exclaimed. "I forgot."
Remus rolled his eyes. "Here," he said, removing a small object from the pocket of his Muggle jacket (brown leather, for this particular London neighbourhood, now slung over the back of his chair) and passing it to Peter. "Remember, I'm supposed to be on watch tonight, so don't tell him I'm here with you or we'll both have hell to pay."
Grumbling something that sounded an awful lot like, "I'm not that stupid," Peter took the Mirror and opened the clasp. "Alastor Moody," he said in a shaky voice. The glass fogged for a moment, emitting a soft wisp of blue smoke. When it cleared, Moody's face had replaced Peter's own in the Mirror's reflection.
A worn, leather face with narrowed eyes glared out of the glass. "Pettigrew," it grunted in reluctant recognition. "What is it?"
Peter glanced uneasily at Remus, who gestured at the Mirror. "Go!" he mouthed.
"Begging your pardon, s-sir," Peter stammered. "H-have you seen Lily lately? Is she there at headquarters with you?"
The face in the Mirror turned to the side for a moment as a floating, hairy hand tipped a flask up to its lips. "Lily?" The back of the hand wiped the mouth, and Moody paused to cough. "I don't know, laddie she's been back and forth on missions lately. Not sure if she was supposed to be here tonight or not." The suspicious eyes narrowed even further. "Why?"
"Well, um I just wanted"
"You making trouble for her again, Pettigrew?" barked Moody. "I've told you a hundred times if I've told you once, laddie: she's a married woman now. Neither you nor I are happy about that and make no mistake, but that's her choice and I'm warning you, you keep those greasy paws to yourself, yeah?"
"No, sir!" Peter cowered in terror. "It- it's not that I- I have to tell you something."
"Well, out with it then." The face grew momentarily alarmed, or possibly hopeful. "Something happen to Potter?"
"No, sir, n-not that I know of, but "
"Out with it, boy! I've still got half a bottle of whiskey to get through tonight, and it's not getting any earlier, is it?" The flask repeated its trip to Moody's lips.
"If you check headquarters thoroughly, sir," Peter said too quickly, "I think you'll find that Lily's not there. She's gone away to- to-"
"To have a baby!" Peter blurted.
The Mirror was silent. Peter went white. Remus, on the other side of the table, frowned. He was suddenly certain that Peter was going to mess this up. He grabbed a nearby serviette and pulled a self-inking quill out of his pocket.
"Now, how in Merlin's name would you know that?" Remus heard the Mirror say at last.
Peter just squeaked.
Remus rolled his eyes as he finished his note and shoved the serviette in front of Peter. "Tell him," he mouthed, pointing at the serviette.
"Th-they're like rabbits, sir," he stammered, reading the note. "They've b-been making the beast with two backs every chance they get. W-without using Contraceptulus," he added, then shoved the obscene serviette back at Remus and made a face.
Moody grimaced. "You didn't answer my question, laddie," he growled. "How do you know this?"
"J- James told me, sir."
Another pause. "Damn proud of himself, I suppose," Moody muttered under his breath, before taking another swig from the flask. "But I've seen the girl in the past nine months I think I would have noticed something like this." The eyes narrowed further. "You're trying to cause trouble for her again, aren't you?
"No, sir, this is no hoax, sir. I just thought you should know, thought it would be best for the war, you know if you knew. She used a charm," he added, "on her body. So no one would see."
Silently watching this exchange from the other side of the table, Remus suspected the old Auror had by now turned a faint shade of green at the news he was hearing. He had ways of discovering hoaxes, of course; if Peter had been lying to him, he would already know about it. Remus listened.
Moody's slightly muffled voice came through the Mirror again after a few seconds. "Black!" he hollered to someone behind him. "Potter and Lupin are on watch tonight at the Bridge go get them and bring them back here, would you?" He took another drink and mumbled to himself, "I need to find Dumbledore."
Remus suppressed a grin.
"All right, laddie, you better know what you're talking about," Moody growled at Peter. "Get back to headquarters. Order meeting in one hour."
"Yes, sir" Peter began, but another puff of blue smoke arose from the Mirror, and when it evaporated, Moody was gone.
When Remus arrived back at his post, Sirius was already there, talking and laughing with James.
"Ah!" James exclaimed as Remus strolled up to them. "Good Master Moony! I was just telling dear Padfoot here that you had begged off earlier this evening, citing an urgent date." He clapped Remus on the shoulder and grinned at Sirius. "I do hope we'll meet her at some point?"
"Her?" Sirius drawled, crossing his arms and raising his eyebrows at Remus. "Since when do you run off to meet people named 'her'?"
"Hilarious, Padfoot, as always," Remus sneered, then twisted his face into a wry grin. "Now if you two don't mind, I'm really much too exhausted from all the sex I've been having tonight to make small-talk with you lads."
The other two young men howled at that and clapped him on the back, laughing heartily. "You work fast, Moony," said Sirius, pretending to consult his pocket watch, "if you're back already."
"What, you expected I'd stay around to cuddle?" Remus smirked, drawing an arm around James's waist and pulling him closer for a conspiratorial whisper. "Well, perhaps I'll reveal my secrets if you reveal yours," he murmured. "Tell me, Prongs, is this really no hoax? You've officially reproduced?"
James grinned, placing his index finger on his lips.
"Aha!" Sirius bellowed. "Well done, old chap! A man always likes to see proof that his little swimmers know how to find their way upstream!"
Remus made a face. "Thank you, Padfoot. That's an image now lodged in my brain for all eternity."
"Oh look, Prongs talk of your swimmers is getting Moony aroused! He'll be dreaming of you tonight instead of that bird he just shagged." Sirius laughed again and stepped between James and Remus, throwing an arm around each of them and missing the fact that each of them turned studiously away from him, and from each other. The Bridge was silent for an awkward moment before James cleared his throat.
"Well, anyway, prophecies be damned! My boy is a blessing, and I won't hear any words to the contrary."
Remus forced a smile. "Of course."
"And did you hear, Remus? I get to be the kid's godfather!" Sirius turned and swallowed James in a full bear hug. "Honestly, mate, it's a right mad decision, but I'll do everything I can to be a good one."
"No one was ever better chosen," Remus said warmly, joining the group hug. "But I haven't asked you yet, Padfoot what are you doing here? Are we off duty?"
"Oh, right." Sirius frowned. "Moody sent me to fetch you two he's called an emergency Order meeting. Wouldn't tell me why."
"Oh, I know why," James said darkly. "I didn't figure it would be long before he found out. Can't keep anything from that bloke, nor from Albus Dumbledore, that's for damn sure."
"We'll be there, James," Remus said solemnly. "Right there with you. Won't we, Padfoot?"
"Of course!" Sirius exclaimed. "We'll do whatever it takes to help Dumbledore see that the kid's no threat to the Order. We're there, Prongs. That's what friends are for, right?"
"Yeah, Prongs," Remus whispered to himself. "That's what friends are for."
The meeting was already underway when James, Sirius, and Remus finally reached the small apartment the Order had been using as its headquarters, passed through the screening charms, and entered the converted dining room. Some of the older members in attendance looked very much as though they would like to be curled up in bed already instead of at this urgent meeting, and were none too happy about it, while others looked alert and adrenaline-fuelled, indicating that they, like the newly-arrived trio, had been on duty that night.
Alastor Moody, one of the Order's best Aurors, was speaking as the newcomers slipped quietly into the room. Remus caught a glimpse of a positively ashen Peter at one end of the table and shook his head ruefully.
"We can't put it off any longer," Moody was saying. "The warehouse is ready, but our enemies sure won't be waiting for us to settle in before they attack. We have to move swiftly, and we have to move soon."
Dumbledore was nodding grimly. "Yes, Alastor," he said. "I understand the urgency." He looked over at James as the three young men moved to take seats at the far end of the table. "Ah," he said quietly. "Just who we were waiting for. Come here, James, if you please."
Moody glared at him from the other side of the table, but said nothing. Remus knew that the Auror had never quite forgiven James for supplanting him in Dumbledore's favour, for being younger, more talented, and infinitely more sane.
James stood and moved over to where Dumbledore was sitting at the head of the table, taking his place to one side of the elderly wizard. Though his youthful face betrayed the slightest etchings of apprehension, his shoulders were thrown back and his chin tilted upwards in pride. He looked every bit the honourable commander Dumbledore had made him some months earlier.
Remus sneered inwardly as he watched James across the table. Let's see you get out of this one, old friend.
"I have one very simple, yet very important question to ask you," Dumbledore began, his voice calm and clear, "and I'm afraid I must demand a truthful answer."
James held Dumbledore's gaze. The hush that had fallen across the room was thick with anxiety.
"Have you recently become a father?" Dumbledore asked.
James did not break their eye contact. "Yes sir," he replied. "I have."
A collective gasp echoed through the room, but nobody dared move.
"Where are Lily and this child now?"
"They're safe," James answered, glancing around the table and waving his hand. "As are all of us."
"Oh, are we?" Moody's low growl cut through the lingering tension. "You right bloody fool. How could you do this to your comrades? None of us will be safe with that devil spawn running loose."
James's eyes flashed fire, but his demeanour remained cool. "Moody," he said icily, "I assure you that my child has nothing to do with that Prophecy, and ask respectfully that you keep your opinions of my personal life to yourself."
"'Personal life'?" Moody raised his eyebrows to the ceiling. "Well, well, well, Potter, this is certainly a fine time for you to suddenly decide to become so shy about sharing your 'personal life!'" The other members looked nervously around at one another as Moody continued. "I always thought that wedding was suspicious, but this, THIS" He jabbed a forefinger at the table. "This is really too much. Just so determined to prove your never-wavering heterosexuality, aren't you?" He drew every syllable of the damning word out.
Remus looked up sharply at that, catching James's eye for a split-second before glancing away.
"Alastor!" Dumbledore's voice interrupted from the other end of the table. "I will not have the integrity of James, nor of anyone else in this room, judged according to your prejudices."
James, his face hardening, continued to stand at Dumbledore's side.
"Oh, now I'm just being prejudiced, am I, Dumbledore?" Moody growled, eyeing the others in the room one by one. "We all know this kid's past. There's no way he just innocently fell in love with a woman one day, and went off to be a suburban husband and father. He wants something! He knew the Prophecy, he knew he's the prime candidate it applies to, and yet he did it anyway, he went ahead and had a child."
"Alastor," Dumbledore rose from his chair warningly.
"No, Dumbledore! Don't you see? He's done it on purpose. He's after something! And there's no way that sweet girl would have agreed to any of this of her own free will. She's under Imperius, don't you see it? First he worked his Dark Magic to make her marry him, because he knew that a pouf would never get made commander! And now he's made her have his baby! I don't know how he accomplished that one, but mark my"
"Enough, Moody." James's voice cut through the ranting at last. "These are rather strong accusations you've made against me, and more importantly, against my wife. Do I at least get a chance to defend myself?" A murmur of assent rose from the table.
"Let him speak!" Sirius sang out, and James smiled at his friend while Remus watched, stone-faced.
"Friends, comrades," he began in dramatic fashion, stepping into his element as the centre of attention. "It is no secret that Lily and I are very much in love, have recently married, and" He paused for a split second "now it is also no secret that Lily gave birth to our son last month. And we're just as devoted to that boy as we are to all the people at this table, and to the cause for which we fight. These things are all true.
"The disinformation begins, however" He shot a look at Moody "with the allegation that Lily did not come to her relationship with me, nor to motherhood, of her own accord. This, my friends, is a falsehood of outrageous proportions." He rested his hands on the table and leaned forward. Warming to his subject now (himself, Remus noted with a bitter shake of his head), James took on the persona of a barrister arguing the case of his career. "I confess that in my youth I" He stumbled only briefly "dated rather widely."
Remus felt every eye in the room on him as the flush rose in his cheeks and the hatred cemented in his stomach. Look at me, he silently dared James, fury lining his brow. Look at me.
"But then I fell in love with Lily, and that was that. It's a simple tale, really." James drew up again and began pacing the room. "There were no love potions involved, no aphrodisiac charms, and certainly no Unforgivable Curses! My wife fell in love with me completely on her own, while I recovered from a Quidditch injury three years ago. She stayed at my bedside, getting to know me, listening to my stories about the Quidditch Cups I helped to win for Gryffindor, and the extra-credit assignments I did in Transfiguration." He paused to wink at Sirius. "If you don't believe me, why don't we fetch her?" He turned to Moody and folded his arms over his chest. "You can ask her yourself."
"A fair idea," Dumbledore agreed. "Where is she, James? Where is she hiding?"
"I'm not hiding," a voice said, stepping into the room and drawing a hood off her face. "Not anymore."
"My dear girl." Dumbledore swept towards the newcomer, taking her hands in his. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, sir," Lily answered, a smile spreading across her face. "I have never been so happy in my life. James informed me at once when he heard about this meeting and suspected its purpose. I've come as quickly as possible."
"So where's this baby, then?" Moody demanded.
"In the kitchen, with the house-elves," she answered. "You are certainly welcome to see him, when we're done here."
Moody muttered something to himself and sat back down.
"Lily." Dumbledore's gentle voice echoed through the room again. "We've been having a very strange conversation. Can you please tell us, once and for all, the nature of your relationship with James?"
She raised her eyebrows. "Sir?"
"That is, girl," Moody interjected, "what on earth do you see in him, and why the hell did you marry him? Especially when it's never been a secret that, you know" Moody lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper as James levelled him with a look of pure daggers "his Snitch doesn't exactly play for the same team as the rest of us."
A silence fell over the table again as the group turned to Lily, awaiting her reaction to this accusation. Remus sat back in his chair and glared at the ceiling in exasperation.
But Lily just smiled serenely at her husband and walked across the room to take his hand. "No." She turned to Moody. "You're right there are very few secrets in this room. I regret that of late, I have been the cause of a rather major one." She turned her eyes to the rest of the group. "I hope that as you all come to know our son, you will understand why we did what we did. It was not to put any of you in danger, and certainly not to anger our enemy." She looked up at James and smiled, squeezing his hand. "We just wanted to have a baby." She faced Moody again, her green eyes flashing. "And no, there is not, nor has there ever been, any witchcraft, wizardry, Potion-making, Charm work, or illegal curses invoked to convince me to fall in love with this man, marry this man, and have a child with this man."
The room visibly relaxed, and the twinkle returned to Dumbledore's eyes.
Lily, however, was not quite finished. "As for your other allegation, Alastor," she hissed, "I love you like my own father, you know I do, but you will not speak of my husband that way." Her eyes narrowed. "Perhaps a little more flexibility, shall we say, in your youth might have made you less of a narrow-minded bastard today."
"Lily " Dumbledore warned, but she ignored him.
"You want secrets revealed tonight, do you?" She walked towards Moody until her upturned face was inches from his. "James didn't come to our marriage bed an innocent " Her voice was a deadly whisper "and neither did I."
Remus looked up sharply. Really? He cocked his head. The perfect Miss Evans, flawed and debauched after all? It was too good to be true. His mind slowly absorbed this new information, as his body continued to ache with memories of James's youthful indiscretions. He hadn't seemed to care about being indiscrete at the time, Remus remembered bitterly. Ah, but what did it matter! They were all grown up now and living their adult lives on the straight and narrow, as it were. He grimaced inwardly. Some more than others.
But Lily Now, a youthfully indiscrete Lily was another matter entirely. A stained princess, a used ware, trying to pass herself off as brand new? Now this was information he could use. This was information he would use.
"I think that's quite enough, Lily," Dumbledore interrupted, "to convince us all that both you and James were not trying to destroy the Wizarding World by having this baby."
Lily smiled broadly at him, and the tension seemed to leave James's shoulders. He leaned back against the wall and cast a glance at Sirius, who smirked back and winked.
"That said," he continued, "we still have a very serious situation on our hands." He paused for a moment, his eyes carefully watching the occupants of the room. "It seems that you two were not the only Order members who thought you could get away with hiding a baby." He sighed, as another collective gasp echoed around the room.
Lily stared at the floor. "Alice and Frank," she whispered to no one in particular, and Dumbledore nodded.
"You already knew of this, I take it?" he asked her.
James was eyeing her with a look of some suspicion, but he quickly tore his gaze away and turned to Dumbledore. "What does this mean, Albus?"
"It means we now have two kids born at the end of July to parents who've defied You-Know-Who," Moody grumbled, shaking his head. "Nice work, folks. Really excellent. Anyone got a quill handy? Might as well get going on our terms of surrender."
"Alastor," Dumbledore said wearily, "it's not as dire as all that, although the situation is, of course, very dangerous."
"But we haven't defied him three times," James protested, "and neither have Alice and Frank. The Prophecy states that the defying would have happened three times."
"Yes," Dumbledore agreed, "but I fear it does us no good to split hairs over semantics. We must be very careful." He glanced back at Lily. "Do you know where the Longbottoms are now, Lily?"
She nodded reluctantly. "They've taken the baby to Frank's mother for now, and then I think they were going to continue their mission in the south."
"Very well." Dumbledore rose to address the group, and everyone seemed to sit up a little straighter in their chairs. "These are unexpected developments," he told them, "but do not assume that our position is any worse for them. We will have to be just as cautious as ever, and ensure that James, Lily, and the baby are safe. I think the protections placed on the new headquarters should be more than sufficient for this purpose. Everyone is to go about their business as usual, and to continue to take orders from James. I must stay at Hogwarts for the time being, but James is in charge at headquarters, and his authority comes from me. Are there any questions?" He peered around the room.
"Good," he continued, turning to Moody. "Now, Alastor is there anything you would like to say to these two?" He gestured at James and Lily.
Moody seemed to weigh his options for a second before heaving a sigh and lurching over to James, hand extended. "Apologies, friend," he muttered. He shook James's hand, then turned back to Lily and appraised her for a long moment. "Was just looking out for your best interests, you know," he said at last.
She gave him a thin smile. "I know, Alastor. Thank you. But I can look after myself."
"Right then!" Dumbledore clapped his hands together and called the meeting back to attention. "We still have one item of business left unfinished." He turned solemnly to James. "As you know, we have information that this location is no longer safe, but the situation is even more urgent than we thought. We can no longer wait until next month; we must relocate our headquarters immediately."
"What do you need me to do?" James stepped forward.
"You must go, tonight, to secure the new location. We will dismantle this one and follow immediately."
"Tonight?!" Lily strode over to Dumbledore in alarm. "I have to go with him," she insisted.
"We need you here, Lily," Moody piped up again. "It's your concealment charm that's holding this place up."
"Albus, please," Lily pleaded. "I've already been away for a month. I need to be with my husband, and my child needs to be with his father. Let us go with him. You know the key spell on my charm, you can override the securities. I'll go with James and start setting up the concealments on the warehouse." Her eyes bore into Dumbledore's.
"Very well, my dear. A small party will go in advance with James." He searched the table thoughtfully. "Sirius," he said, pointing, "Remus, Peter, Alastor, Severus " He named several more members, and within minutes the team was preparing to depart.
The dining room emptied as the Order members rushed off to begin their new tasks. Remus lingered behind, catching snippets of other conversations as they passed him.
The hand on his throat came rather unexpectedly.
"This, friend, would be a good time to explain to me again how telling Moody about the fucking baby was going to lead James and Lily down the road to splitsville."
"Peter," Remus rasped, "crushing my larynx is not exactly putting me in a position to explain anything to you."
Peter grudgingly released his grip on Remus's neck and stepped back, straightening his jacket. He glowered at Remus.
"Well," Remus said as soon as he could breathe again. "That went well, don't you think?"
Peter gaped at him, then slowly shook his head in disbelief. "You're hopeless," he muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets and starting to pace the room. "I don't know what made me think that you could ever help me, Remus. The whole thing is hopeless. That's it." He stopped and turned to the other man. "I'm done here. I'm giving up."
"Giving up what, exactly?" Remus asked. "You don't have anything to give up."
"Everything!" Peter shouted, and Remus took a step backwards. "I'm giving up everything, Moony, all of it. She doesn't want me and she never will. I'm going to go back to the lake at Hogwarts and just drown myself. I'll let the Giant Squid eat me. There's nothing to live for here, anyway." He slumped down in a chair at the meeting table and put his head in his hands.
"Oh, for the love of all Muggle gods, Wormtail, stop being such a drama queen. 'Drown yourself,' indeed. Can you not even think of a proper way to go? Think about it. You'll sink to the bottom of the lake, or so noted the Squid will eat you, no one will see you again, thus no one read: Lily will see your mangled, bruised body and feel regret at your tragic fate. And for what? Clearly, drowning yourself won't really solve anything."
Peter snorted and raised his head. "As always, thank you for your outstanding advice."
"My advice is outstanding, Wormtail," Remus continued. "You simply haven't been following it properly. Forget that declaration of love back there!" He sat down next to Peter and threw an arm around the smaller man's shoulders. "I know the truth, Wormtail, the real truth, and it's a much different version than what we just heard."
Peter eyed him sceptically and said nothing, but cocked his head to the side. Good, Remus thought. He was listening.
"I can't divulge all of it yet," Remus continued, putting up a hand when Peter started to protest. "I don't want to be wrong, Peter!" he exclaimed. "You know how I pride myself on accuracy, right?"
"Yeah, Moony," Peter mumbled. "I know."
"Good. Now I'm asking you to trust me one more time. Come to the warehouse with us tonight; help me" He glanced around quickly for an excuse "uh, ward the entrances to Animagi." That would do. Peter watched him with interest. "I have just a few things left to confirm," Remus continued quickly, "and then I'll tell you the real reason the happy couple are doomed. The baby is just a distraction there are much larger problems ahead for them." His grey eyes glittered as visions swam in his mind of just how large those problems facing James and Lily would become, if he had his way.
Peter mulled this over for a moment, then got to his feet and regarded Remus. "All right, Moony, I'll go. But only to spend some time with Lily, not because I have any hope in your latest scheme." He started towards the door.
"See you there, then," Remus called. "And no more talk of drowning, eh? I couldn't bear the guilt."
Peter smirked as he closed the door behind him, joining the bustle in the rest of the cramped apartment as the selected Order members prepared to depart for the new headquarters, and leaving Remus alone in the dining room with his thoughts.
As the door clicked shut, Remus leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, waves of carefully suppressed hatred coursing through him. He would have liked to blame it on his wolf self, that murderous underworld part of him that could channel rage and fury like no human; that Dark, villainous creature who shared a soul with the mild-mannered wizard the rest of the world had come to know.
But he knew in that soul that this had nothing to do with the wolf, that the evil uncoiling in his mind was his own creation, drawn from years of playing second fiddle, years of being discarded and ill-used by those who called him friend. Or maybe, he thought wickedly, it was none of those things? Maybe this overwhelming need to cause mayhem, to lash out, to hurt and destroy and even kill maybe it had no causality at all, or none that could be traced.
Perhaps that would be most terrifying and most satisfying of all.
All he knew for certain at that moment was one thing.
I hate James Potter.
The golden boy of Hogwarts. Dumbledore's little darling, living it up on the officers' payroll while Remus scraped a living from whatever odd jobs the Order would give him. The catch of a lifetime for girl and boy alike, any he was willing to let into his bed. Nobody talked about those casually discarded, though.
You're not bad, Moony, make no mistake, but you just aren't Lily. The mocking voice still rang in his ears. Go find yourself a nice girl, mate. Leave all this behind us. And his own trembling voice, filled with masked venom. Oh, right, Prongs. Not much else to do in a boy's dormitory in winter, is there? Out of the system now. Say, has Lily got any cute friends?
In the headquarters' dining room, Remus opened his eyes, breathing rapidly. It should have ended there. That should have been the only time he'd allowed James Potter to humiliate him. But it wasn't. Dumbledore's solemn voice wafted into his head.
You have greatly disappointed me, Remus, letting your friends visit you in the Shrieking Shack. Can you imagine what could have happened, had James not stepped in to prevent poor Severus from reaching the end of the tunnel? I shudder to think, Remus, and so should you! I've given you every benefit of attending school here, and this is how you repay me?
But sir, I didn't let them! It was Siri-
No buts, Remus. You understand that you must live with this condition for the rest of your life. You must learn how to manage it. You must start taking responsibility for it, for yourself, and for the safety of those around you.
Even breaking every rule in Hogwarts' books hadn't led to punishment for James Potter, or for Sirius Black.
Remus rose from his chair and crossed the room slowly, to stand before a tattered painting on the opposite wall of the dining room. A solitary pear, greyish-yellow, stem just too long, sat on a lace cloth in the centre of the frame. It didn't move, but gave the illusion of having just toppled over. It wasn't quite upright, but nor was it completely on its side, either. It sat on its heavy end, like a downed bowling pin about to spring back to life at any moment.
But the defeated pear stayed down alone and friendless, knocked to the ground, fading from colour. Remus studied the painting and suddenly sympathised with the pear. "What's been done to you isn't fair," he whispered softly to it, reaching up and tracing the bottom edge of the gilded frame with his finger. "What did you ever do to anyone to deserve this?"
He turned around again and leaned back against the wall. What I need to do, he thought, is hit him where it really hurts, hit him so that he won't ever recover. His mind drifted back to Lily's strange confession at the meeting.
James didn't come to our marriage bed an innocent, and neither did I.
Just then a knock came on the dining room door and Sirius leaned in. "There you are, Moony. Come, get your things, it's almost time to go."
Remus looked up, a light suddenly shining in his eyes. "Be right there."
The door clicked shut again and Remus glanced one last time at the lone pear.
I'm sorry, Remus, really I am, but I can only have one Best Man, mate. You know that. And Padfoot and I go way back, you know how it is. And he and I don't have well, you know, there's not all that old stuff between us, like you and I have. And hey anyway, this way you don't have to worry about any speeches, eh?
A smile slowly spread across Remus's face. "So," he said quietly to himself, "this would certainly shock the unflappable James Potter. His whoring wife" He shrugged his jacket on "and his noble second-in-command. Why, the rumours might even be enough to make one doubt the paternity of one's own child" He headed towards the door "were one to believe them."
As he turned the knob, Remus settled the plan into place in his mind. "Oh yes, James," he breathed. "This is definitely what friends are for."
Act II: The Warehouse
"Oi! Sirius Black, you are humping my leg and you know it! Don't- no! Don't you give me those puppy dog eyes, either, stop- oh! That is- that is inappropriate! Stop humping me!"
The black dog instantly morphed back into a human, and Sirius fell in step beside her, grinning. "Ah, all in good fun Lily, yeah?"
Lily suppressed a giggle, taking a playful swipe at Sirius with one arm while cradling the baby with the other. Remus watched them for a moment, then turned to look at the dilapidated warehouse at which they had just arrived.
And oh, dear reader! 'Warehouse' is indeed the best possible term one could assign this crawling mass of crumbling concrete, steel support beams, and battered buttresses. For no single group of people on earth can abandon perfectly good buildings with such thorough rejection as Muggles. Indeed! The edifice upon which we now find ourselves gazing was, despite its shabby appearance, in perfectly respectable condition certainly no worse than Hogwarts castle itself, which also suffered from some minor aesthetic issues such as eroded stone walls, yet served its duty to Wizardkind with more than the gusto one would expect from such a structure.
The Order's new headquarters was no less suited to its task. In much the same way a spectator at the Quidditch World Cup might Transfigure the inside of his or her modest tent to resemble an aristocratic manor, so did the members of tonight's advance guard have the task of ensuring that this abandoned Muggle eyesore remained Charmed to look suitably unapproachable to Muggles, to remain Unplottable to other Wizards, yet to feature all the trappings of a modern castle on the inside. For this humble warehouse, dear readers, would not only serve as the centre of combat operations for the Order in this terrible war, but would also house its soldiers, the Order members themselves. Thus, tonight's work included setting up a large kitchen and dining area, a conference room for strategy meetings, an upper floor with enough bedrooms for the group, and please excuse your gentle narrator while she pauses to shudder an iron cage in the basement, capable of restraining a fully-grown, sexually frustrated male werewolf once a month.
"Well," this very gentleman said cautiously, peering over his shoulder as we resume our tale, "should we get moving? Don't want to be caught standing out here all night." It would fall to him, of course, to prepare the basement, poor fellow! As if he needed yet another reminder of his tragic fate.
"Thank you, Lupin," a low voice cut through the night air. "As usual, your flair for stating the obscenely obvious shall surely give us the utmost advantage over our enemies. I daresay, with wisdom like that on your tongue, this war shall end victorious for us in no time."
Remus glanced at the source of the voice, a black silhouette emerging from the darkness. "Oh look," he called, "everyone's favourite Death Eater thinks he's funny! Tell me, Snape, was it that sparkling wit of yours that won you so many friends back oh, when was it again? Last Wednesday? when you played for the other team?" Sirius and Peter chuckled; Lily remained silent.
"I wouldn't know, Lupin," Snape replied smoothly. "You're the one best suited to tell us what 'playing for the other team' is like, aren't you?"
Remus lunged forward. "Oh, you rat bastard"
"Hey!" Peter protested.
"Remus!" Lily snapped over him. "And Snape. Both of you, shut the hell up." She turned to the bundle in her arms, a smile replacing the tense lines on her face. "Harry's sleeping."
"Better listen to her, Lupin," Snape said with a sneer. "New mothers are very wise."
Lily rolled her eyes. "Thank you, Snape."
"Wise?" Remus grinned and sauntered up to Lily. "That's not what I hear." He put a finger up to gently trace the baby's forehead, careful to keep his voice playful. "New mothers are no different from any other women, and women by their very nature are deceptive, hypocritical, unfaithful, and above all" He leaned in and kissed Lily lightly on the cheek "women are lazy." He drew out the last word, smirking. "In all matters except sex, of course."
Sirius laughed. "Is that so, Moony?" he exclaimed. "And how, pray tell, would you know?"
"Now, now, Sirius," Lily scolded, "you know only Snape is allowed to tease Remus about that."
Sirius chuckled again. "Ah, right you are, my lady, as always. Sorry, Moony." He turned to Remus and winked. "Forgot about your 'date' earlier."
"Yes, har har, yuk it up, all of you. Classic comedians, the whole lot. Let me see, where was I " Remus cast his eyes up and down Lily's frame. "Deceptive, hypocritical, unfaithful, lazy, except when on their backs of course 'rise to play and go to bed to work,' isn't that what they say, Lil?" He dodged her smack. "And now I'll add cruel and punishing. Have I forgotten anything?"
"You've forgotten that for all this loitering out in the street, we might as well have sent the Dark Lord a free brochure advertising our new headquarters and all its amenities," Snape cut in irritably. "Move this most witty banter inside, for god's sake." He looked around and scowled. "Where, incidentally, is our conquering hero?"
"Don't get your knickers in a twist, Snape, he's coming," Sirius said, his eyes twinkling. "Lily, come with me. We'll decide what to do with Harry while you work on those shielding charms for this place." He put his arm around Lily and began to lead her to the back entrance of the warehouse.
She laughed. "Yes, I think we should get out of here before Remus gives us any more of his thoughts on women!" She cupped Remus's cheek with her hand as she and Sirius passed him.
He gave a small bow as he watched them go, taking special note that Sirius's arm seemed to linger around Lily's shoulders. He glanced up to find Peter beside him, rearranging his satchel. Catching Peter's eye, he gave a discreet jerk of his head, in the direction that Sirius and Lily had gone. Peter gazed after them in silence, then gave Remus a comprehending look and followed Snape through the front entrance of the warehouse.
Pausing on the sidewalk, Remus bent down and picked up a stone, rough to the touch and jagged on one edge. He flipped it in the air a few times before catching it and placing it in his pocket. Lily, come with me. "Aha," he whispered. "With as little a web as this I will ensnare as great a fly as Sirius Black." He turned on his heel and followed the others inside.
"Two more! Did you hear that, Remus? Two more!" James came barrelling through the inner doors to the main conference room at headquarters, shouting with glee. Remus abandoned the parchment he had been reading and jumped to his feet.
"Two?" He grinned. "Sirius said it was five."
James laughed. "Why am I not surprised. But no matter, he can say what he likes two is a great victory for us!" He banged a fist on the table in triumph, then captured Remus in a big hug. "Single-handedly, Remus! He single-handedly apprehended two more Death Eaters on watch this morning. It was unbelievable. I've never seen such duelling I couldn't even keep up!"
"That's incredible, Prongs, really it is. Where is he now? I need to congratulate him again."
"I sent him off to get us some very specific supplies." James winked and led Remus from the conference room to the spacious kitchen, where most of the Order was finishing tea.
"Supplies?" Remus asked. "Are we going on a new mission?"
James just grinned at him, then turned to the rest of the room. "Comrades!" he called in his clear voice, a voice that instantly conveyed confidence and demanded obedience. The room fell silent. "As you have probably heard by now, our fortunes took a decided upturn this morning, when Sirius Black the youngest fully-qualified Auror in forty years, I might add duelled, defeated, and apprehended not one, but two experienced Death Eaters."
A rousing cry went up from the room. "Three cheers for Sirius Black!"
"This," James continued, as the room fell silent again, "is a feat deserving of recognition. Therefore, as your commander, I hereby order" He paused, his face turning solemn "a party tonight like this HQ has never seen!"
"Rah!" the Order cheered. People immediately started bustling around the kitchen, making arrangements.
James turned to Remus, beaming. "So, old friend, you're off-duty tonight, after all."
"Great idea, James," Remus replied, smiling. "The team will really appreciate this. They've all been working so hard."
"I know," agreed James, his face darkening, "and we haven't won yet. We still need to be careful. But for one night, we can afford to take a break."
"Tomorrow will be a different story, though," Remus pointed out. "Voldemort won't be as pleased with Sirius's duelling skills as you are." He caught himself. "As we are."
James ignored the slip and nodded. "Clearly, no. But our headquarters remains safe, for now. They won't come looking for us here tonight. By that ingenious charm of Lily's at the old apartment, any Death Eater spies will be led to believe we're still operating from that location."
"So our party should be safe from crashers." Remus grinned. "Excellent. I could use a stiff drink tonight."
"Or seven, my friend?" James teased. "Just mind you don't overdo it."
Remus rolled his eyes and gave a mock salute.
"What I'd really like to see," James mused, "is old Padfoot having a good time. He's been working so hard, and never seems to take a break. See if you can't loosen him up a bit, Moony, would you?" James clapped him on the back and got up to leave. "As for me," he said over his shoulder, "the kid's finally sleeping through the night now, so I say I'm long overdue for a little quality time with my lady this evening."
Remus fought down a wave of nausea and gave a weak smile.
"Actually, Moony," James added, "on second thought, maybe Sirius shouldn't drink too much. Tell him I'd like him to look in on Harry every so often for me, okay? Give Lily the night off."
"Sure, Prongs, I'll tell him. Have a good time," Remus called as James left for the bedroom upstairs. A smile spread across his face. "I certainly shall."
"Hey, Remus! Give us a hand, will you?"
"What? Oh, sure, Peter. What are you doing?"
"Moody's got a stash of firewhisky at the back of this cupboard, I know he does, but he's Transfigured it to look like air."
As usual, Peter's imbecility never ceased to amaze Remus. It was time to take more overt advantage of it.
"Peter. You can't Transfigure something to 'look like' air. He's probably just got an Invisibility Charm on it. Here, let me look at it." He followed Peter back into the kitchen, where they slipped past the others and climbed down into the cellar. "You know who would be able to get past this charm," he said offhandedly as he took his time arriving at the right counter-spell, "is Sirius. His charm work was always great."
"Yeah," Peter agreed. "Him and Lily, right? Always top of the class."
Remus looked up. Well, this would be even easier than he thought. "Was it them? I thought Amelia was top in Charms " He rubbed his chin. "No, no, you're right, now that I think about it. It was Lily first, then Sirius. I guess they must have studied together or something." He tried another spell on the cupboard, one he knew would not work. Had he not been forced by the cruelty of fate to miss classes four days a month, he would have been top of the class in Charms.
Peter was thoughtful. "They must have," he nodded. "Although it seemed like James never let her out of his sight in seventh year, at least."
"Nor Sirius, for that matter!" Remus pointed out, and they both laughed. "But really, I could see how she would get tired of being around James every second." He tread carefully. "I mean, he's just so good at everything! It must be intimidating."
Peter considered this. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I don't know, I mean, I think they were really good together back at school. But now, well, Lily's a very smart woman. Very talented. So don't you think" He paused.
"What?" Peter coaxed him.
"Oh, it's a stupid thing to say. And I don't want to give you any false hope, that's for sure." He stood up from the cupboard and narrowed his eyes at Peter.
"I- I won't get false hope, Moony," he stammered. "What were you going to say?"
"Well, just that don't you think Lily will get tired of being in James's shadow all the time? I mean, she was always better than him at everything in school"
"fine, yes, except Transfiguration, and she's a natural leader. I mean, she could be commander of the Order, easily. I guess I just won't be surprised if down the road, I mean she gets tired of sitting around with a baby or three while he gets all the glory."
"Yeah, I see what you mean. She's so smart, not to mention gorgeous " Peter trailed off dreamily.
"Well, anyway, I shouldn't be saying things like that. All I meant was that if Lily was ever looking for someone to pay her some attention while James is off being the hero, I wouldn't be surprised if she turned to Sirius." He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the cupboard. Peter's eyes grew wide. "I mean, you saw them that time, the night we first got here, being all cuddly and going off together."
"He was just helping her with Harry, Moony! That doesn't mean anything."
Remus held up a hand. "I'm not saying it does, so calm the hell down. I'm just saying it's possible. They're great friends, and he clearly adores her. If she ever got tired of James if, that's all I mean I could see her going to Sirius."
Peter was silent, but Remus noted the hands clenched at his friend's side.
"I've upset you," he said softly. "I'm sorry, Wormtail, I shouldn't have said any of that."
"No, no, Moony, it's okay." His jaw tightened. "You're right. You're right about all of it. Why didn't I see it before? Fucking Padfoot. He's no better than James, you know, strutting around like a great man. Lily doesn't deserve either of them."
"I know, Wormtail, she doesn't. You know, what you should do, is no, nevermind. I should get back to work on this cupboard if we want to find that firewhisky before Christmas." Remus turned around and tapped his wand at the stone wall behind them.
"Oh, no you don't. What is it?"
Remus considered his friend for a moment before turning back to him and cautiously continuing. "Well. You need to show Lily that Sirius maybe isn't as great a man as she might think he is. Put him out of the running as a contender for her."
"How?" Peter croaked.
"Hmm. I don't know." Remus thought for a second, then snapped his fingers. "The party tonight. He'll be drinking you know how volatile he can get. Why don't you provoke him a bit, start a fight with him? Just enough to drop his standing with the fair lady a touch but don't get implicated yourself of course."
Peter pondered this. "Not bad. I'm not very good at fighting, though. And an angry, drunk Sirius can be pretty scary."
"You don't have to actually fight him! Just do something to provoke him, then get out of the way. He'll do the rest of the damage to himself, guaranteed. And when Lily hears about it," he added, "she will be none too impressed with him."
Peter nodded. "Okay, Remus. For once, you might actually have a good plan, here."
Remus grinned. "Why, thank you, Wormtail. Shall we get back to breaking into Moody's stash, then?"
"Firewhisky?" Sirius's eyes widened as Remus plopped the bottle down in front of him later that evening. "Going all out tonight, are you, Remus?"
"Only the best for our greatest Auror," Remus grinned, unscrewing the cap. "Go on, take the first swig."
"It's for me? Oh no, Moony, no you don't. You go ahead, but I'm not touching that stuff. You know I went off the sauce for Auror exams. Never felt better in my life. I quite like not being a vicious, rampaging drunk all the time." He pushed the bottle away.
"Padfoot the teetotaller!" Remus mocked. "Who would have thought? Come, exams are long since over, you're the most successful Auror this country has seen in decades, and hell, it's a party!"
Sirius looked doubtful.
"I'll make sure you don't overdo it, friend. I promise. I'm here to look out for you. And James," he lowered his voice. "James told me to make sure you had a good time tonight."
"He did? Why?"
"He's worried about you, of course! All work and no play, Padfoot. You've been overextending yourself. Come, let's relax tonight! The location is secure, and the party is a-rockin'. Let's go downstairs with everyone and do some damage to this bottle, yeah?"
Sirius thought for a moment, then grinned. "Oh, how can I refuse you? You and that sweet-talking tongue of yours shall be the death of me, Remus Lupin, make no mistake." He grabbed the bottle off the table and the two of them headed down to the party.
I believe in miracles
Where you from, you sexy thing
I believe in miracles
Since you came along, you sexy thing
Anyone Muggle or wizard alike passing by the half-collapsed old warehouse on Cyprus Avenue in south London that night would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary. They would not have heard the hits of disco on the Muggle record player (courtesy of Arthur Weasley); they would not have smelled the telltale party aromas of smoke and booze; and they most certainly would not have seen the silhouette of esteemed Auror Alastor Moody in the top-floor window, pounding back firewhisky while performing an impeccable Electric Slide.
The Order's battle commander and his young wife certainly didn't notice any of these things either, locked as they were in an upstairs bedroom like teenagers at an after-prom party in the Muggle world. The new parents among this tale's gentle readers may sympathise with the difficulties of attending to one's carnal desires when one is up half the night calming an upset infant, not to mention when one's wife is suffering from chafed nipples and has the sex drive of an elderly Flobberworm.
But James Potter had been preparing for this night for some time; he was determined that it would be special, and that Lily would have an evening to remember. Harry was fast asleep in the nursery, shielded from the noise of the party downstairs by a powerful Silencing Charm around his door. And as for that party, well it was the perfect distraction for the Order, he figured, to keep them from barging into his bedroom as they were wont to do at all hours of the day and night, eager to present him with some or other piece of urgent information.
He gazed at his wife now, stretched out beside him on her stomach, cool, rumpled sheets covering her to her waist. He propped himself up on one elbow and traced the beautiful pale skin of her naked back with one finger. She opened her eyes and smiled at him, her head resting on her arms.
"Mmm," she moaned sleepily, her lips curving into a lazy smile. "That was incredible."
He bent in to kiss the side of her neck. "I'm glad you agree."
"Oh yes, I definitely agree." She sighed. "You're always so good, baby. I've missed you, being away for so long."
His palm on her back slid lower, gently, under the sheets. He caressed the backs of her thighs, her buttocks, watching her closely.
Her green eyes caught fire and she briefly closed them, letting out a gasp as he slipped his fingers between her legs, just barely, just ever so softly, like a whispering breath of touch. He bit his lip when he felt how slick she still was, how warm and wet and painfully fuckable she was, still swollen from their earlier frantic lovemaking. Oh, my beautiful wife
"You randy bastard," she purred. "What do you want with me now?" She moaned softly and parted her thighs a little as his hand continued to stroke her.
"I want you again," he murmured in her ear, as she turned his head and pulled him in for a passionate kiss. Oh, those soft, pink lips he never tired of kissing; those soft, sweet moans he never tired of hearing from her throat; those delicate white hands he never tired of feeling around his cock He wrapped her tightly in his arms, his tongue swirling into her mouth with increasing urgency, the kiss progressing from loving sweetness to lust-fuelled desperation within seconds, and he tore away to devour her neck.
"Mm," she moaned, entwining her legs with his and pressing their bodies together. "What do you want?"
He smiled and ran a hand down her spine, making her shiver, before leaning in close to her ear. "I want to make you scream this time," he whispered. "You were too quiet before, baby. Now I want you to scream my name when I fuck you. I want to know you're mine." His erection sprang to life again at his own words, and he let it brush against his wife's hip.
She inhaled softly at that and raised her head, letting a finger drop to run down the length of his cock. "You don't already know that?" she asked.
"Ah, fuck, Lily," he moaned, pressing into her and trying to get more friction from her hand. "Know what?" he asked after a moment, when she showed no sign of proceeding.
In response, she threw a leg over his hip and started to guide his cock to her entrance, stopping just short. He gasped as she rubbed his tip against her with light motions. "That I'm yours," she breathed. He tried to thrust into her, but she held him back. "Answer me."
"Yeah, yeah, I know it, just come on, let me " He kissed her again, more urgently this time, as his frustration got the better of him. He was so close just one upward push and he would be inside her again, wrapped in her warmth, his cock desperate for her
"Answer me," she insisted again in a fierce whisper, and he panted and pulled back.
"You're mine," he muttered. "I know you're mine."
Lily smiled and sighed, eyeing him for one more second before starting to turn over onto her back. "Good," she whispered. "You know I love your domineering personality."
His grinned and took her arm, preventing her from rolling over. "Oh yeah?" He narrowed his eyes at her. "How domineering do you want me?"
"Keep talking like you were before, and I'll come screaming your name without you even laying a finger on me," she whispered, eyes pinning him to the spot as she rested on her elbows, head turned to watch him over her shoulder.
He groaned and bit his lip, then steadied her as she began to roll over onto her back. "No," he breathed, moving behind her. "Like this."
She grinned and fell back on her stomach, and James was suddenly reminded of the very first time they'd had sex, in Filch's supplies cupboard off the Great Hall. He had whirled her around and lifted her skirt, yanking her panties down and pushing himself into her in one solid stroke. Seventeen years old and full of lust, he had thrust into her with an urgent rhythm, as she had leaned her forehead into the cool stone wall. He always liked her that way, against the wall, green eyes averted unable to see too much.
He knew she wondered if he liked her that way so that he could forget that she was a woman. He knew she wondered, but he never let her ask.
Now, with their baby asleep next door and their friends getting drunk downstairs, Lily moved onto her knees and let the silk sheets slip off her backside, opening herself to her husband. His hands travelled up her thighs, tickling her soft flesh and letting the pleasure race through him as he felt how wet she still was from their earlier lovemaking.
"Oh god, Lil," James moaned as he rose to his knees and positioned himself behind her. "You're mine, right? You're mine."
"Yes," she whispered. "Yes "
He couldn't delay anymore. He grabbed her hip with one hand and took his cock in the other, guiding it to her entrance. He pushed himself inside her slowly, relishing every inch as his cock sank into her warmth, her wetness. In one steady motion he felt his entire length settle inside her, pulsing against her inner walls, and he groaned loudly at the sensation.
My wife, my wife, my beautiful wife
"More," Lily moaned, and James felt a tingling up his spine. "Fuck me " God, she was so hot, so comfortable with her sexuality. Some of the things she said to him he couldn't have hoped for from a porn star, of that he was certain.
He groaned and pushed into her harder, deeper, settling into a rhythm that made him shiver with pleasure. She felt so fucking good, so warm and tight around him, so perfect, so virtuous. He wrapped his arms around her and caressed her breasts as he thrust, and she dropped to her elbows, moaning softly. "Lily," he murmured. "Lily "
"Touch me, baby," she ordered him breathlessly. "Please touch me." He grimaced and berated himself he always seemed to forget that part. She had been a good tutor over the years, showing him what to do with a woman's body, but he still got caught up in himself sometimes. He marvelled again at how comfortable she was in telling him what she wanted. "You know what I want," she continued in that breathy whisper of hers, the one that drove him mad with need.
An unbidden thought assaulted his mind. How does she know so much about what she wants? Where did she learn all of this?
When did she get so much practice?
But he blocked those thoughts from his mind as he reached around her hip and felt for the knot of her just in front of where his cock was pounding. She moaned his name and he felt her insides begin to tighten. Almost there, he thought to himself, doing everything he could to hold off his own orgasm until hers came. If he didn't, he knew he would be too out of it to finish her, and she always got angry when that happened.
So virtuous. So tight.
He rubbed furiously at her, his cock aching for release.
"Fuck me," she whispered.
Where did she learn to say that? When did she start acting like a whore?
His breath came raggedly as he squeezed his eyes closed, his cock sliding in and out of her at a frantic pace now, his fingers desperately trying to bring her to release. But doubt clouded his mind, and his intuitive sense of alarm threatened to cancel his desire. He gazed down at her smooth back, her red hair falling over her shoulders, her knees working as she took him in, over and over again, and all he felt was panic.
"Baby," she moaned, her cheek on the pillow, and James felt her begin to tighten around his cock. She gasped and shuddered as her orgasm began, and James frantically cast his brain around for an image that would get him there as well. His wife's wanton moaning was not going to do it tonight.
"Stop," she began to complain, as her convulsions stilled, "it's too much."
"Just almost," he begged, thrusting harder, desperate for release. Then, unbidden, a long-suppressed memory flooded his mind.
God, Moony, just there. I want to watch you suck me oh fuck yes harder like that oh god Remus
And then he was coming in waves, hammering into Lily like never before, shouting indistinctly as he felt himself pour into her. She stilled, clenching around him, allowing him to release inside her. His orgasm seemed to stretch on for a blissful eternity as his body trembled and shivers ran down his spine. Lily collapsed beneath him, moaning his name and letting the last of her spasms wash over him as he slowly pulled out of her. His mind was foggy, but he knew what he'd seen. He knew what had triggered his shattering release.
They lay twined together for a long time afterwards, Lily snoozing, James lost in thought. He reached into a bedside drawer and grabbed a pack of cigarettes. He pulled one out and waved two fingers in front of it. "Incendio," he muttered softly, as the cigarette flamed to life. He inhaled deeply, one arm still draped over Lily.
She shifted slightly. "James Potter." She opened her eyes. "Are you smoking?"
He grinned. "Sorry, honey. After that, it just seemed like the right thing to do."
She chuckled softly and settled back against his chest. "Touché," she murmured, before drifting off again.
James took another drag, his mind suddenly overrun with thoughts of war and love and sex, of days past, and of days still to come.
"I am not. Drunk. You would all believe me to be that I am, but I assure with you. I am fine." Sirius pushed up from his chair and staggered across the kitchen, where most of the party had ended up in the wee hours of the morning. "Remus. Tell these men that I am most definitely drunk. No! Not drunk!"
A loud cheer went up from the room. "Another shot, Black!"
"Come on! One more for the great Auror!"
"One shot for each finger on a captured Death Eater, eh Black?"
"Now, now, friends, he's had enough." Remus stood up to help steady the other man.
Sirius gratefully clapped him on the shoulder, then lurched out of the room. Remus caught Peter's eye and gave a curt nod. Peter followed Sirius into the sitting room.
"Since when does Black have so much trouble holding his drink, Lupin?" Moody sidled up to Remus.
He sighed. "Oh, well, he's been off the sauce for some months now, Moody. Studying for exams and all."
"Studying for exams!" Moody bellowed. "A right stupid thing to do, I'll say! Being half-tanked all the time was the only thing that got me through Auror training! For the exams, he is best advised to be fully tanked!" He laughed heartily and slapped a passing Arthur Weasley on the back.
"Certainly didn't seem to do you any harm, did it, Moody?" Arthur joked.
Suddenly an angry voice came barking through the walls from the other room.
"A dirty whore?!" it screamed. "You take that back, you rat-faced bastard!"
Everyone in the kitchen exchanged nervous glances, then rushed out to the sitting room to see what the commotion was about. Peter was cowering in a corner, Sirius stomping around the room in a towering rage.
"My mother is a lot of things, Peter," he seethed. "She is a cold-hearted, racist, psychopathic bitch from hell, I will grant you that. But she is no WHORE!" He advanced on Peter, still quivering behind a potted plant.
"Sirius!" Arthur reached out and grabbed his arm. "Calm down, now. I'm sure Peter was just making a joke. You're blowing this out of proportion."
Sirius wheeled around and bore fiery eyes into Arthur. "Just a joke?" he hollered. "Why don't we joke a bit more then, Weasley. Why don't we joke about that whoring woman of yours, yeah?" He looked wildly around the room. "Come on lads, hands up! Ladies too! Who's had a turn with old Molly?" He threw his own hand up in the air and laughed maniacally.
Moody stepped forward and grabbed Sirius by both shoulders. "That's enough, boy," he growled. "You're drunk. Stop this business at once." He struggled to keep his grip on Sirius, but the younger man was too strong. He broke free and pulled his right fist back, landing a punch on Moody's jaw before anyone could register what had happened.
"I. Am. Not. DRUNK!" he raged as Moody staggered backwards.
"Arthur, no!" Remus cried as Arthur pulled his wand out of his robes. "Casting a spell on him in this condition will only make it worse!"
Arthur hesitated, just long enough for Sirius to lunge forward and pluck the wand from his hand. He pointed it menacingly at the crowd of onlookers. "Anyone else want a piece of me?" he spat. "Come on, try me! I'll hex you all into next week!"
The crowd backed away slowly.
"Sirius, please, you're being unreasonable," Remus ventured.
"Oh am I, Remus? Then maybe I should"
"Stupefy!" a strong voice called from the staircase, and a jet of red light flashed overhead. Sirius fell to the ground, rigid.
James, naked to the waist and wearing a pair of hastily pulled-on Muggle track pants, stepped into the crowd. "NOW, WHAT IN GOD'S NAME IS GOING ON DOWN HERE?!" he roared.
The room was silent. Moody staggered forward, his lip bleeding. "That raging lunatic attacked me!" he cried. "And he would have attacked Peter, and Arthur, and everyone else here. Bloody hell." He put a hand up to his face.
James turned to Remus. "Is this true, Remus?"
Remus stared at the floor, aware of all eyes on him.
"Moony?" James prodded gently. "Tell me what happened."
"No, James," Remus whispered. "I would sooner go to my grave here and now than speak a single word against Sirius Black."
James grimaced. "Which means there are indeed words to be spoken against him." He looked down at the figure slumped on the floor. "Ennervate," he muttered.
Sirius opened his eyes and sat up, surveying the scene around him with slowly dawning horror.
"What happened here, Sirius?" James asked quietly, but firmly.
"I- " he closed his mouth, but his eyes remained wide. "I can't speak," he finally whispered, shame flooding his face.
James turned again to Remus, his voice deadly. "You will tell me, Moony, and you will tell me now, or so help me I'll plant the lot of you as Death Eater bait come morning."
Remus turned white. "I'm sorry, Padfoot," he whispered to Sirius, who nodded gravely. Remus turned back to James and took a deep breath. "We were drinking just having some fun, you know. Someone made a joke, about Sirius's mother."
James glanced at Sirius, but said nothing.
"And he, well, it was the booze talking, James, it wasn't his fault. He just took it the wrong way, started yelling at everyone and threatening them. Moody tried to intervene, and Sirius decked him. Then Arthur got his wand out but it was my fault, I wouldn't let him use it, I thought it might make things worse. But then Sirius grabbed it from Arthur." His voice grew small. "We thought he was going to kill us."
James absorbed this information, then slowly walked over to Sirius. "Get up," he ordered.
Sirius stumbled to his feet, the rage gone now but the alcohol still impairing his movement.
"What is the one thing this group needs if it is to defeat Voldemort?" he hissed.
Sirius bit his lip and stared at a point just over James's shoulder. The silence between them stretched to an uncomfortable length.
"Unity," James answered at last. "This sort of thing" He waved his hand around at the onlookers "is exactly what Voldemort wants to happen to us. Divide up and fight ourselves. Defeat ourselves."
Sirius continued to avoid James's eye, but his jaw began to twitch.
"Godfather to my son," James whispered, leaning close to him. He paused, breathing heavily, his face now inches from Sirius's. "Godfather to my son!" he shouted suddenly, "with this behaviour! I would revoke it if I could. I would ensure you never came near my boy again, you stupid, fucking idiot. Fist fighting with your own comrades!" James's eyes were livid. "And I don't suppose you've checked on Harry once tonight, as I asked."
Sirius looked at him then. "What? I didn't"
"Shut up, Sirius, just please, shut the hell up."
Remus watched the two of them carefully, along with the rest of the Order.
"Leaving my boy in the care of a drunk. You are not worthy to be part of this team." He turned and stared back towards the door. He reached it and called over his shoulder. "Your rank is revoked, Sirius. You are hereby assigned to desk duty, until you can prove to me why I should trust you again." He took one more glance around at the shocked faces in the room, then turned to retreat back upstairs.
"James, please!" Sirius whispered urgently. "Don't do this. You don't have to do this."
James whirled around. "Yes," he said fiercely, "I do. I'm in charge here while Dumbledore's at Hogwarts. I'm not trying to pull rank on you here, you know that." His face softened slightly and he ran a hand through his tousled dark hair. "But you cannot be held to different standards than everyone else! In fact" His eyes narrowed and he pointed his finger at Sirius, punctuating every word "You must be held to higher standards than everyone else."
Sirius stared, open-mouthed, as his intoxicated brain processed the past ten minutes of his life. He stepped forward and extended a hand to James, making one last plea for leniency. "Prongs," he said gently.
But James's eyes were ablaze. "No. This subject is closed." He turned to the rest of the room, filled with ashen-faced statues of Order members. "I think it's time to turn in, folks. Party's over." With that, he retreated back to the staircase and strode up, two steps at a time.
"What's the matter?" Lily's groggy voice floated down from the landing.
"It's okay now, love. Come back to bed."
His heart hammering wildly in his chest, Remus gazed, dead-eyed, up the staircase for a moment. Then he chanced a look at the disgraced lieutenant, backing towards the sofa and lowering himself absently onto its cushions. As the room emptied, Sirius sat dejectedly, alone in the middle of the sofa, his head in his hands.
Remus lingered at the door, leaning against its frame with his arms crossed over his chest as he watched the shadow of a man who seemed to be consumed by the overstuffed cushions.
After a lifetime, the man raised his head again. "Well, Moony," he said bitterly, "I guess I'd better go back to teetotalling, hmm?"
Remus gave a rueful smile. "I'm sorry, Padfoot. I am. This is my fault. I made you drink, and then I ratted you out." He shook his head. "I'll talk to James tomorrow, I promise. I'll make him see reason."
Sirius laughed, a punctuated sort of bark. "'Reason' is not something James has ever seen where you're concerned, Moony," he said. "No offence, mate, but I don't think he's going to listen to anything you say."
A dagger passed briefly through Remus's gut, but in the next breath, it was gone. He grinned. "I suppose you're right. But I need to do something! God, I should have blamed someone else. I'm so sorry, Sirius, I just caved, I couldn't think of a plausible story under pressure like that."
Sirius waved his hand. "I know, Moony, it's okay. You had to tell the truth. I don't blame you." He stared vacantly out at the deserted room. "I have no one to blame but myself."
Remus sat down beside him on the couch and leaned back, surveying the other man. "He's just stressed out, Padfoot. He overreacted. I'm sure you'll be able to convince him to let you back on active duty."
Sirius looked at him doubtfully.
"You're the best man we've got!" Remus insisted. "This whole party was thrown in your honour, remember? Because you're such a value to the cause?"
Sirius smiled sadly. "Dear Moony," he said. "Always so optimistic about things, aren't you? Always the first to reassure a friend in need. Well, I do appreciate it, mate. I do. But it's not going to work, not this time. God, my reputation! You heard him, Remus. You heard him. This isn't about him being tired or stressed or up late with the baby. This is about him seeing me as a danger to the Order, like the kid who doesn't play well with others. And I am! Moony, that's the worst of it: he's right. I never think of very much beyond myself, or what I want."
Remus sneered inwardly. You don't say.
"But this was just too much. James was right. Everything he said was right. I punched Moody for god's sake my mentor!" His face grew alarmed. "My god. Is he all right?" He stood up and looked around desperately. "Did anyone make sure he's all right?"
Remus pulled him back down to the sofa. "I'm sure he's fine. Arthur will look after him. Come, sit. I have another idea."
Sirius looked up, and too slowly hid the glimmer of hope that flashed across his eyes. "Oh?"
"Well," Remus tried to sound cautious. "You might be right about James. I mean, about how he could be a bit too emotional to listen to reason right now." He paused. 'Reason' is not something James has ever seen where you're concerned, Moony. He grimaced.
"Yeah," Sirius agreed. "So what's the idea?"
Remus regarded him for a moment. "Lily," he said finally, holding Sirius's gaze.
"What about her?"
"She's your way back into James's good graces!" Remus exclaimed. "Think about it, Padfoot. She's very fond of you, always has been. She didn't see what happened, so she'll be much less likely to believe you really did anything all that bad."
Sirius cocked his head to the side but said nothing. Remus pressed on.
"Appeal to her," he insisted. "Explain the situation to her, and ask her to intercede on your behalf with James. You and he may not be able to speak directly yet, but Lily will listen to you, and James will listen to her. It's perfect." He sank back into the sofa cushions and folded his arms.
Sirius sat back beside him and looked at his friend. A grin slowly spread across his face and he started to nod. "Yes," he drew the word out, nodding. "Moony, you just might have something there. He's definitely more likely to listen to her than to me, especially now." He rose from the sofa and leaned down to clap Remus on the shoulder. "If I haven't said it before, mate, let me say it here: now I understand why they say you're the brains of this operation." He chuckled softly and darted out of the room.
Alone again, Remus pursed his lips and turned to look out the large front window. Anyone looking in would only have seen a heap of rusted old tractor engines, of course, but looking out, Remus could see the world for what it was: damp, dark, and menacing. A cloud shifted to reveal the three-quarter moon high in the sky. He stared hard at it, as if daring it to change to full before his very eyes.
"So," he told it. "I am evil, then. I am Dark and scheming and an altogether horrible man. But how, exactly, am I a villain? I seek to redress injustices, that's all. I have been wronged so too, then, shall those around me. It keeps the world in equilibrium." He crossed one leg over the other and clasped his hands around the back of his neck. "And in fact, I have done nothing wrong! I have simply counselled dear Padfoot to a course of action that I truly believe will help him! Oh, the sweet irony of it. The wheels are in motion," he whispered to the traitorous moon. "He will appeal to her for leniency, and I will be there to ensure her husband sees nothing but treachery in her sympathetic ear. It's a very fine line, after all, between defending a friend" He rose and walked slowly to the window pane, pressing a hand to the cool glass "and sleeping with an enemy.
"To someone who knows his wife didn't come to their marriage bed ah, how did she put it? Yes 'an innocent,' it might wind up difficult to believe she has since become the pinnacle of close-legged virtue." He moved towards the doorway of the sitting room, turning out the lights on his way. "For the innocent you did fuck over, James Potter" He closed the door behind him and made his way up to bed "revenge is long overdue."
The song playing at the party is, of course, Hot Chocolate's classic, "You Sexy Thing."
Act III: Torment
"My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It's better to burn out than to fade away
My my, hey hey "
The acoustic guitar and smoke-tinged voice carried down the hall from the nursery, as a lone man strummed the instrument from a stool beside the infant's crib. He watched the crib's docile occupant grin and squirm to the rhythm.
"The king is gone, but he's not forgotten
This is the story of Johnny Rotten
It's better to burn out than it is to rust
The king is gone, but he's not forgotten "
"Oh, you'll be a heartbreaker in your day, make no mistake about that," Sirius joked to the baby between bars of the tune, as little Harry cooed and wriggled around in his sleeper. Sirius smiled and kissed his fingertips, placing them gently to the baby's forehead.
"Gah, Padfoot, what is this racket up here? Surely Harry's not thanking you for your choice of bedtime lullabies." Remus poked his head into the nursery door and stood smirking at the lone guitarist.
Sirius looked up and grinned back. "He loves it. I say this kid is going to be a genuine rock-and-roller when he grows up. I'll fix him up with a leather jacket and take him for spins on my bike, like a proper godfather. What do you think of that?"
"Sure." Remus waved a hand. "Sounds like fun."
But Sirius's grin turned to concern as he flicked his head towards the door and the hallway beyond. He lowered his voice. "Lily out there anywhere?" he asked hopefully. "Think she's heard my efforts to bond with my godson?"
"Sorry, mate," Remus answered. "I haven't seen anyone but Snivellus skulking around. Not sure where Lily is tonight."
Right on cue, Snape rounded the corner and stuck his head next to Remus's at the doorway to the nursery. "Black." He pronounced the word as if it physically pained him. "If you see the need to continue this infernal racket of yours, might I request that you take it outside? Perhaps to Lincolnshire, in fact?" He scowled deeply at them before continuing down the corridor.
"Wait a second!" Remus called. "Snape, weren't you meeting with James tonight? Do you know where he and Lily are now?" He stole a glance at Sirius and winked.
Snape sneered. "First of all, Lupin, I do not 'meet' with anyone but Dumbledore, and second, I've got work to do and it doesn't involve arranging a threesome for you. But winking at Black when you think I'm not looking is not making me any more inclined to answer your stupid questions." He moved again to leave.
"Oh, fuck off, Snape," Sirius barked, his face angry. "You're the one who came crawling back to us, so quit fucking acting like it's such a pain for you to be here, yeah?"
In one swift movement, Snape strode into the room and knocked the guitar out of Sirius's hands, and had his wand pointed at the other man's throat in seconds. "You don't know anything about it," he hissed. "You don't know anything about why I'm here, and you don't know what I can do to you if you get in my"
"All right!" exclaimed Remus, pulling Snape away from Sirius and back towards the door, as Harry began to cry. "Cut it out."
Sirius straightened his robes and bent over the baby, one eye still on Snape. "Hey kiddo," he called softly, "it's okay, Uncle Snape was just leaving."
"Black, I swear, if you"
"Shut the fuck up, Snape," Sirius said sharply, "and answer a simple question: have you seen James and Lily, or not?"
Snape paused, then looked Sirius up and down, a sneer etched on his face. "Downstairs. Discussing you, it seems."
"Thank you," Remus replied. "See, that wasn't so hard." But Snape wasn't finished.
"Quite the performance that night, I hear," he continued, a satisfied smirk still dancing about his lips, as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Must be pretty embarrassing for you, Black, having your best friend demote you to desk duty. Didn't your friend Lupin teach you how to suck the commander's cock properly?"
Sirius and Remus both glared, open-mouthed, at their childhood nemesis for three solid seconds before they could speak. Then Sirius kicked the guitar aside and rose from his stool, and Remus advanced on Snape with his hands balled into fists at his side.
"You fucking bast"
"Get the fuck out of here, you"
"Yes, thank you, that will do," Snape replied, his eyes narrowing as he trained his wand on them once more. The air between the three men hung thick with tension, before Snape lowered his wand with an unconcerned wave of his hand, and left the room. "Oh look," he called back to them over his shoulder. "The mistress Lily is coming your way."
Breathing heavily, Remus swallowed and exchanged glances with Sirius before following Snape out the door. He quickly moved back inside and whispered to Sirius. "He's right, mate she's coming this way. Listen, forget about Snape. I'll go find James, and then I'll ask some dumb question or other, so that he doesn't interrupt you two. Use the time with Lily to appeal your case."
Sirius nodded, picking the guitar up from the floor and leaning it against the side of the crib. He grasped Remus's arm as the other man turned to leave. "Thank you, Moony," he said, his eyes bright with emotion.
Remus smiled wordlessly at him and ducked out of the nursery. "Evening, my dear," Sirius heard him say to Lily down the hall. "You had better get in there and intervene on your child's behalf with his godfather," he advised, "before the poor boy becomes hopelessly addicted to biker-rock."
An hour later Lily was nodding sympathetically as she left the nursery with Harry in her arms and Sirius at her side. They entered the communal kitchen and Lily cradled Harry in one arm while she used the other to reach into the fridge for his bottle.
"I'll see what I can do, Sirius," she was saying, as she placed the bottle on the counter, found her wand in her robes, and flicked a warming spell at Harry's dinner. "It's obvious that James overreacted. He's been under a lot of pressure, you know that trying to keep things under control here while Dumbledore's at Hogwarts. He just doesn't want to come across as a weak leader, so he made an example of you. Everyone got the message, I'm sure, so now I'll see if we can't smooth this over in private."
"Thanks, Lil." Sirius sighed, a weight visibly leaving his shoulders. "I owe you, big time." He clasped his hand to her upper arm and leaned in to peck her on the cheek. "I better be off before James finds you talking to me. See you in the morning." He paused to touch a forefinger to Harry's tiny fist, then left out the kitchen's side door.
Time, as many philosophers and scientists alike have already noted, is at once a complex and base phenomenon, one whose full principles and laws remain elusive, despite humankind's best efforts to capture and catalogue them. As alert readers of our tale thus far will surely have surmised, a particularly damning sense of time and of timing has already had significant bearing on events.
Thus, it may come as no surprise to you, gentle readers, to learn that unbeknownst to either Sirius or Lily, the precise moment in which our disgraced lieutenant leaned in to place a chaste kiss of gratitude on the cheek of his commander's wife, said commander and his loyal friend and comrade were just rounding the corner to the corridor leading to the kitchen, and just happened to distantly witness the moment as it flittered away.
James turned to Remus. "Who was that?" he asked, keeping his voice casual. "It looked like Sirius, but"
"But what?" Remus interjected.
"But... what would Sirius be doing kissing my wife?"
Remus chuckled. "Oh come on, Prongs! It looked fairly innocent to me. Probably just spending some time with his godson. Although "
"Well, nothing. Just that whoever it was certainly snuck off pretty quickly afterwards."
James furrowed his brow.
"So it couldn't have been Sirius," Remus continued. "He'd know better than to show his face to either you or Lily right now, what with his actions last month."
"Right," James said cautiously as they reached the kitchen door.
"And besides," Remus pressed on, lowering his voice as they entered, "surely Sirius wouldn't behave like a guilty man, skulking off when he heard you approach?"
James looked up sharply at that, and Remus caught the fleck of alarm that ignited in his eyes before it was masked a split second later. A tight smile spread across James's lips as he strode towards his wife and child.
Remus pulled a sheaf of parchment out of his robes and sat down at the table, perusing it in silence while listening intently to James and Lily's conversation.
"There you are, love," Lily smiled broadly as she looked up from feeding Harry.
James leaned down and kissed her on the cheek, pausing for a nanosecond to note its lingering warmth, and the scent of another man's lips. He straightened, cupping his large palm over little Harry's head as the boy sucked happily from his bottle.
"Yes," he said softly. "Here I am. Remus and I were just discussing Snape's latest report. Things on the other side seem to be... heating up somewhat."
Lily's smile faded. "Oh? What news does he have, James?"
James reached out and stroked her long auburn hair. "Nothing to worry about, sweetheart. I'll fill you in later. Now, what have you been up to spending quality time with this little terror?" He grinned at Harry, still placidly drinking and gazing up at his parents.
"Yes, yes," Lily confirmed. "And I've also been talking to Sirius," she added.
James stiffened. "Sirius? Why on earth would you be talking to him?"
"Oh, come on, James," she scolded. "He's one of your best friends yours and mine both. He's Harry's godfather, and one of our best assets in this war. The way you've been treating him is abominable."
James sighed. "Lily," he began, "we've been through this. You know what he did Moody still has a black eye, for crying out loud! I would have punished anyone else the same way. I can't go making exceptions for him."
"I'm not asking you to make an exception for him, James. He's had his punishment. He's right humiliated, you can be sure of that, and he's learned his lesson! 'Desk duty'," she scoffed, shaking her head. "We need him out there, and you know it. I'm asking you to reinstate him."
James was silent for a moment. "Did he ask you to appeal to me on his behalf?" he asked at last.
She paused. "No. He just told me of his remorse, and I saw how upset he was."
James regarded her, then smiled. "You're lying, but I won't hold it against you," he said, ignoring the sheet of ice that spread across her features. "Very well. I'll speak to him."
"Good," replied Lily, rising from her chair and taking Harry's empty bottle over to the sink. "When?"
"Not now, Lily. Some other time."
"But will it be soon?"
"The sooner, sweetheart, for you."
"What about tonight, now that supper's finished?"
"No, not tonight."
"Tomorrow at lunch, then?"
"I won't be here; I'm meeting Dumbledore tomorrow."
"All right, then, why not tomorrow night, or the next morning, or the next day at noon? Come on, James, don't put this off." Lily sounded exasperated now. "When will you speak to him?"
"At my convenience," he muttered through gritted teeth. "Now stop meddling, and go put Harry to bed."
She sighed and shook her head, then seemed to decide to change tactics. She sidled over to him and gave a mock salute. "Yes, Captain," she grinned, pressing him against the cupboards and tilting her hips upwards. She held his gaze for a long minute, then leaned in with her tongue and gave a soft yet firm lick up his exposed neck. "Now, enough fighting. You should come to bed yourself," she breathed in his ear. Then she turned, Harry bundled in her arms, and strolled out of the room. "'Night, Remus," she called as she left.
Remus looked up from his parchment and was momentarily distracted by the sight of a slightly dazed James leaning against the far cupboard, breath ragged, neck glistening. Trousers too tight, he imagined.
James glanced over then and caught his eye. A hungry look passed between them before they both reset their masks.
"You look like you could use a whisky there, mate," Remus offered.
"How do you know so much about Muggles anyway, Moony?"
Remus glared. "You're not really asking me that, are you, Prongs?" he mocked. "Forgetting, I suppose, my Muggle mother and previous Muggle jobs, as a start?"
"Yeah, yeah." James waved his hand. "But that's still no excuse for knowing all the best Muggle watering holes in south London."
Remus just grinned as they stepped into the dark pub. Despite not knowing much about Muggles, he thought to himself, James certainly did know how to dress like one, when the occasion warranted it. His eyes lingered on his commander as James walked in front of him over to a free booth. Fitted dark brown trousers with a slight flare at the bottom, over thick-soled brown boots; a simple white t-shirt, snug over his chest; and a tawny three-quarter length leather jacket. Yes, Remus thought, that man could definitely do some damage in the right clubs on the other side of town. His own hastily thrown-together outfit was much less fashionable fading jeans and a black t-shirt but the pair of them still made a damn fine-looking couple, he had to admit.
He caught himself then and frowned. Focus. They sat down and ordered drinks. This is not a fucking date. There was work to be done.
"It's nice to get out of there, isn't it?" Remus began. "It's bigger than the last place, true enough, but a fellow could still go mad living in that warehouse with two dozen high-strung people."
James laughed softly. "Too true. You've been holding up well, though, or so it appears. Everything all right?"
"Yeah, everything's fine from my end," Remus replied casually.
James eyed him. "Moon's on Thursday this week, right?"
Remus shot him a look. "Yes. So?"
James laughed. "So... your trademark five-day countdown testiness is setting in right on time, is all." He leaned back and smirked at Remus as their whisky arrived.
Remus sighed, then picked up his drink and downed it in one shot.
James raised his eyebrows. "Impressive," he teased, surveying Remus with a look that made the other man feel suddenly light-headed, in a way that had nothing to do with the alcohol.
Stop looking at me like that.
He avoided James's eyes by staring at the empty glass in front of him, waiting for James to press the issue.
"Moony?" James began softly, right on cue. Oh Prongs, you are so predictable. "I'm sorry, mate. I shouldn't have brought it up. I just well, you know. I don't care how many months, or how many years go by, I still worry about you when the Moon comes."
Remus decided to play up this pity card, and raised his sad eyes to his companion. "I know, James, it's okay. I know I get overly... irrational before the Moon. I just" His voice hardened. "Prongs, I fucking hate that cage. A cage! Locked up in a goddamned cage, like the beast that I am. It just" He pursed his lips and looked away. "It just pisses me off, is all."
"I know, baby," James whispered, the endearment slipping out and fogging up the air in front of them, a mothball reminder of broken promises and the sex-soaked words they used to share.
Remus ignored it, forcing every melting icicle in his heart back into place with a steely resolve.
"Dumbledore's got Snape working on a potion, though," James quickly continued. "I don't think you're supposed to know, so you don't get your hopes up."
Remus raised his eyebrows at this.
"It's not a cure, mind. It's just a way to make you... safe, during the Moon. Dumbledore reckons he'd have a better chance of bringing the werewolves onside if he could offer something like that. Just think, Moony it could solve all your problems."
Remus laughed at that before he could stop himself. You think you know my problems, James Potter? "I'm not drinking anything Snape's brewed," he sniffed instead.
James grinned. "Fair enough. We'll talk about that another time. Look, for now, why don't you tell me what's really bothering you? I know it can't just be the Moon."
Remus gazed at his friend for a long moment before dropping his eyes dramatically and sighing. "You won't like it," he ventured.
"All the more reason for me to hear it, then," replied James, unmoved.
"You have to understand, James. I'm probably overreacting. Near the Moon, my senses go haywire, you know that. My intuition... I don't know. Sometimes it sharpens, and sometimes it's way off."
"Remus," James warned, "out with it."
Remus considered his words carefully, his stomach in knots over the thought of revisiting this particular past, but knowing it was the only way. "When you first... took an interest in Lily," he began, ignoring James's look of alarm. "Did Sirius know about it?"
James relaxed. "Oh!" He eyed Remus carefully. "Yeah, of course he did. He, well... actually, he acted as a go-between for us at first."
While you were still with me. The unspoken words hung like sheathed swords over the table.
"Oh, nothing, I just wasn't sure if he knew her back then. I didn't think they were really friends."
"Sure they were," James replied. "She had trouble believing at first that..." His voice trailed off as he frowned and looked away.
"...that you really had transferred your affections from me to her," Remus finished, smiling casually to mask the nausea welling up in him. Focus, he ordered himself. "Come on, James, it was a lifetime ago! You can say it. And anyway, that's not my point; I'm not bringing this up to talk about us."
James let out a breath he seemed to have been holding for years. "Okay," he said cautiously. "So why are you bringing this up?"
Remus picked up the newly-arrived whisky glass in front of him and downed it before answering. "Sirius," he said at last, clinking the glass back down on the table. "He spent an awful lot of time with her back then."
"Yeah. Like I said, he persuaded her to go for me. He was brilliant, really. I swear, that man could sell world peace to Voldemort himself and convince him it was his idea." James chuckled and sipped his drink.
Remus wasn't laughing. "Yes. But, he still spends an awful lot of time with her now too, doesn't he?"
James voice was no longer friendly as he gave up sipping and downed the shot. "They're friends, Remus," he said icily. "What's your point?"
Remus met James's glare and leaned forward. "'Friends,'" he mouthed silently, then paused. "Look to your wife, James," he whispered at last. "Observe her closely with Sirius. Then come back here and talk to me about 'friends.'"
James stared hard at him. "You don't believe Padfoot's an honest man?"
Remus bit his lower lip, considering the question.
James grew even more alarmed by this silence. "You don't?"
"I do," Remus replied. "Of course I do, I believe he's honest, and he's a good man. Of course he's one of my best friends! One of our best friends."
"But...?" James prompted.
"I don't know, James. Think about the things he's done in his life." Remus started counting on his fingers. "Lying to his family and running away from home"
"They're Dark wizards, Remus!"
Next finger. "Coming up with the Animagus idea and convincing you and Peter to keep it from Dumbledore."
More quietly: "We were trying to help you, Moony."
A pause. Then the third finger. "Sending Snape to his death, and leaving you to take the fall when it didn't work."
James was silent. This last, of course, was a heinous distortion of the truth, in Remus's mind. But if there was one mind he knew even better than his own, it was that of the man sitting across from him. Remus knew that deep down, James had felt personally wronged by what Sirius had done to Snape. Neither of them, Remus thought bitterly for the hundredth time, had considered the wrongs done to himself in that situation. But no matter. That was about to be remedied.
"What does any of this have to do with Lily?" James asked quietly, when he found his voice again.
"Nothing!" Remus waved his hand. "No, forget I said anything. I'm just being paranoid. You know how I get before the Moon. It was just a hunch, but my intuition's probably gone haywire. Why, just yesterday I sensed that Arthur's piece of toast was really a Transfigured Death Eater and swatted it right out of his hand, the poor man, and"
"Your intuition, my dear werewolf," James interjected through gritted teeth, "is never wrong, and you know it. So stop saying that."
Remus looked down at his hands. "Observe her closely with him, that's all," he muttered.
James levelled him with a fiery gaze, a flush rising in his face. "I get it," he began venomously. "You're jealous. You're still bitter that I picked Lily over you, and now you're trying to get revenge!" He gripped the table edge with whitened knuckles.
Remus held his gaze. "I wish that were it," he said, "but you know I've long since moved past you, James. You think you were the only one for me at Hogwarts?" He laughed. "Shit, you weren't even the only one in Gryffindor Tower."
James looked perplexed. "What?"
"Well, you know," Remus continued. "There was still a cold winter ahead after you got together with Lily. He was right there and all, close by, yeah?" Remus smirked at his friend and cast a knowing wink.
"You and Sirius?!" He was flabbergasted. "But... I- I asked him that once, point blank. He said no."
Remus cocked his head. "Hmm. Did he? Well, at any rate, that's not the point. The point is that while I'm honoured you'd think this is about me and you, in fact it's not. Look to your wife."
James was breathing rapidly. "I- I'm sorry, Moony, I didn't mean that. I didn't really think you were still- well." He looked around frantically, as if the answers to his troubled thoughts might be written on the walls.
"It's late," Remus said. "We should get back."
James nodded wordlessly, digging in his pocket for some Muggle bills and leaving a sheaf on the table.
As they stood and headed towards the door, Remus felt the achingly familiar hand on his back.
"Thank you," James whispered from behind him. "We don't drink together nearly often enough anymore, mate."
Remus turned around and grinned, then impulsively reached out and ruffled the black hair. "No," he agreed. "We don't."
The young commander passed several sleepless nights in the aftermath of his strange conversation with his friend and former lover. Lying in bed with his wife snoring softly at his side, he would stare up at the dark ceiling and let a lurid imagination get the better of him. I never deserved her, he would muse. How dare I bring this used body, this stained past, to our marriage bed? She is sunshine and light and I am weak and carnal and beastly. I sucked more cock in my youth than even I can remember and more than she knows about, that's for certain. Why should she be stuck with a husband like that?
Of all the emotions he had ever felt regarding his sexuality, guilt had never been one of them. But now, all he could think of was how his damaged self was unworthy of her pure affections. She's gone, he lamented. She's finally seen me for the whore that I am, and she's decided she wants no part of it.
On the sixth night, flashes of her admission to Dumbledore at that Order meeting many months ago burst into James's mind, drastically altering the focus of his musings. "If he didn't come to our marriage bed an innocent, neither did I." James sat up in bed and quietly pulled on a pair of loose-fitting pajama bottoms, then slipped out the door and into the nursery across the hall. He pulled a stool up to the side of the crib and smiled as he watched his son sleeping soundly.
"Neither did I." What did that mean? And why hadn't it struck him at the time? He knew that he hadn't been Lily's first lover, just as she had not been his. But were there others he didn't know about? He hadn't exactly given her a running enumeration of his past partners. Some had been mentioned, sure Remus most especially, since everyone in the goddamned Wizarding World had seemed to know about that, somehow. But there were others... others that he just didn't think she needed to know about. He was devoted to her, after all; the past was the past.
But the thing he had never considered before now was... what if Lily had done the very same thing to him? What if she had only told him about a fraction of her former lovers? His breath quickened as he gazed through the bars of the crib at little Harry. What if she's had more cocks in her than a groupie on a Blind Bludgers' tour? He felt a wave of sickness pass through him as he ran a hand over his face in an attempt to erase that last thought from his mind. What if she had been the Hogwarts slut? What if every Quidditch player had had a turn with her behind the broom shed? Suddenly, massive teenage erections were swimming in front of his eyes... and not in a way that he liked.
Lily lifting up her skirt for him in that supplies cupboard how had she known that was there? Had she even been wearing knickers? He couldn't remember. Dream and reality blurred in his mind. Lily in the Quidditch changing rooms, giving blow jobs to every player that stepped out of the showers. Lily on her knees in the library, sneaking under Ravenclaw robes. Lily in the Slytherin dungeons Slytherin! pressed against the stone wall, panting. Lily in the Charms classroom, practicing Contraceptulus with the seventh-year Hufflepuff boys how else did she get so fucking good at that charm? Lily... Lily... James covered his face with both hands and doubled over.
Lily in Gryffindor Tower, while James was out by the lake with Remus... Lily pushing back the bed hangings, Lily running a hand over his dark chest hair, climbing in and straddling him, then pulling her robe over her head to reveal her perfect breasts Lily leaning forward so that he could take a luscious nipple in his mouth, then pushing the sheets down to their feet, stroking his erection, licking his neck, soaking his thigh as she rubbed her wetness against him, Lily... James choked back a sob Lily guiding his hard cock to her entrance, lowering herself onto it until he was fully sheathed, moaning and bucking, riding him with abandon Lily pumping, Lily fucking, Lily coming, Lily screaming
James blacked out.
The soft murmur of voices over his head woke him first, and the steady whine of a crying infant did nothing to help the pain in his left temple. Opening his eyes seemed like a great deal of effort at that moment.
"Must have fallen asleep in the chair."
"You think? Seems he would have woken up long before hitting the ground."
"Shh, Harry, it's all right, don't cry, daddy will be okay."
"Commander! Can you hear me?"
"Has anyone gone for a bandage? That's a nasty cut he's got there."
"I'll say. Must have hit the crib on his way down."
"I've got a handkerchief here, let's use that." Lily. "James? Honey, it's me. Can you open your eyes, love? Please, James, look at me."
"Let me try." A new voice. "Potter! You may feign unconsciousness for the rest of your miserable life for all I care, but I do believe this offspring of yours would stop its wailing racket were you to demonstrate to it that you indeed remain among the living."
James opened his eyes. "Fuck off, Snape." He closed them again.
"Oh, thank the gods," Lily exclaimed. "Here, love, sit up. Let me bind your head. What on earth happened?"
James sighed and opened his eyes again. "I'm fine. Nothing happened. I must have fallen asleep while watching Harry. I fell off the chair, is all."
"Perhaps the Headmaster should be informed of this narcolepsy," Snape's snarling voice piped up again. "It is surely an undesirable characteristic in a field commander."
"Oh, fuck off is right, Snape," Lily sighed with exasperation. "It's the middle of the bloody night! 'Narcolepsy,' indeed. Help me bind his head, or get out of here, would you?"
Snape was silent, but reached out to help. James batted them both away and rose to his feet.
"I'm fine, really. And that thing's too small for my head anyway." He tossed the handkerchief at Lily as he moved to the door. It fluttered to the ground and she ignored it as she moved to follow him.
"Fine. Back to bed, everyone," she called to the assembled group around the door. "Come to bed, love," she added to James. "I'll see what I remember from my seventh-year Introduction to Mediwizardry class." She cuddled Harry in her arms and followed James back to their bedroom, as the others filed out of the nursery behind them.
Snape stared after them, a scowl etched on his face.
Shaking his head at the idiotic cretins he was expected to work with, Snape made to exit the room himself when his eyes fell on that abandoned handkerchief pooled on the floor. He squinted at it. Was this the thing Lupin was always blithering on about? Lily's got this gorgeous lace cloth she carries around. Legend has it old Godric himself once gave it to his wife. I'd kill for a closer look at it, for historical purposes and all, but she's very careful about letting anyone see it. Honestly. You'd think the man would go to a little more trouble to hide his love for embroidery.
But very well, Snape thought, reaching down to pluck the fabric from the floor. He held it between his fingers for a moment, examining the material for any outward sign of magic, but he sensed none. He furrowed his brow, thinking hard as he folded the handkerchief and tucked it in his robes. Lupin was a Neanderthal at the best of times and hardly worth the effort, not to mention that Snape would rather return to the Dark Lord's service than confront a werewolf again.
But on the other hand, his kind had a tendency to shift allegiances rather quickly, and all they needed was the bloody Werewolf Packs of Wales and Scotland turning to Voldemort's side. It wouldn't hurt to make Lupin this offering, as a show of good faith at least until that potion was ready.
It would be best to catch the werewolf at his most vulnerable time, Snape concluded, exiting the nursery and closing the door behind him. He kept the handkerchief hidden, and watched Lupin carefully over the next few weeks. When the full moon came later that month, and that plain, dark wood door just off the pantry clicked shut, Snape went upstairs to retrieve his treasure.
Early the next morning, he headed to the basement.
At this point in our tale seasons had passed, and the murky coastal British clouds that had never quite allowed summer to shine through, that had then protectively coated the land in autumnal fog, had now given themselves fully over to the ice of winter. Another school year had long since begun at Hogwarts; dozens more Muggle villages had been torched by Death Eaters; and all over the Isles, war continued to rage between the forces loyal to Tom Riddle on one side, and Albus Dumbledore on the other. The secret defection of Severus Snape had lifted Dumbledore's fortunes immeasurably, but as fall turned to winter, there were still too many unexplained deaths, too many random coincidences, too many leaked strategies. Fall turned to winter and winter turned to spring, and it became increasingly evident to all residing at the Order's warehouse headquarters that a spy was operating in their midst. Tensions began to run high; suspicions began to fall; friendships began to fragment.
Meanwhile, the private drama unfolding between the Order's commander, his wife, his trusted friend, and his loyal lieutenant was doing nothing to ease the political dramas of the war, nor to strengthen the allegiances of its combatants.
Snape, we should add, knew nothing of this private situation as he made his way down a steep flight of stairs early that morning, an embroidered handkerchief folded neatly in his pocket.
"So," he said grimly as he reached the bottom and made his way into the stone-walled chamber. "This is where they keep you."
Thick iron bars, so close together they almost formed a solid wall, lined one end of the chamber. Squinting in the darkness, Snape could just make out the shadowy form of a man behind the bars, collapsed in a heap on the floor, breathing heavily. At the sound of the voice, the man stirred but did not could not lift his head.
Snape surveyed the chamber. Claw marks gouged the stone walls. Chunks of shattered clay littered the floor. Even a pair of bars high above him, Snape noted, had been slightly wrenched apart. He gave a low whistle.
"Quite the damage you're capable of here, Lupin. I am most delighted to see that the Headmaster has finally realised that a wooden shack is woefully insufficient for containing you."
The limp form in the cell still didn't move, but a pained voice escaped from it. "Fuck off, Snape."
"Tsk tsk," Snape clucked. "I seem to be hearing that phrase an awful lot lately. You must have picked that one up from your eloquent former bedmate, I imagine? Yes, our dear commander has quite a way with the... finer points of the English language too, doesn't he? Honestly, the manners in this hellhole. One would think that Dumbledore could at least teach his wretches to speak to their superiors with common decency." He folded his arms across his chest.
Another strangled sound came from the cage. "You're right, Snape," it rasped. "What I meant to say was: go fuck yourself."
"Indeed? Well, in that case I'll just leave you alone then, shall I, Lupin?"
"I'll just take Lily's handkerchief here you know, the legendary Gryffindor one, no interest to you, I'm sure I'll just take it and be gone then, hmm?"
The man rolled over, and two bright grey eyes suddenly shone out of the darkness at Snape. "What did you say?" the eyes whispered.
Snape stepped forward and curled each fist around an iron bar, leaning in towards the heap of rags on the floor. "You heard me," he hissed. "She dropped it. I picked it up. Remarkably easy, really."
With a sharp inhalation of breath, Remus pushed himself into a sitting position. Snape recoiled briefly at the sight of the sunken eyes, the matted hair, the bleeding hands, the bruised jaw, the hunched shoulders. "Let me see it," Remus croaked.
Snape eyed him carefully for a moment, then reached into his robes and pulled out the delicate cloth. He hesitated a split-second, moving the pad of his thumb over the fabric, then dropped it through the bars.
Remus watched cautiously as it fluttered to the floor, then he crawled over to pick it up. Snape noticed with a turn of his stomach that the man's ankles were bent at entirely the wrong angle. He closed his eyes and swallowed.
"Yes," Remus said softly, his normal voice beginning to return. "I'm hideous, aren't I? You didn't really know that before, did you?"
Snape stared at the floor, his lips tight.
"What are you finding most repulsive right now, Snape?" Remus's voice gained confidence as he took the upper hand over his opponent. "My broken jaw? Elbows? Feet?" He snatched the handkerchief and collapsed again.
Snape dared to look up once more at the protruding ankles.
"Ah," Remus smirked, watching him. "Yes. They should move back into place by later tonight."
Snape almost retched. "Tonight?" he croaked at last. "My god, Lupin, how do you stand it? What do you do for the pain?"
Lupin smiled sadly, then winced and put a hand up to his jawbone. "Nothing," he whispered. He curled up into a ball on the floor and pressed the handkerchief into his face. "Thank you for this," he added. "Now fuck off and let me sleep."
But Snape didn't leave. "Nothing? Lupin, I don't like you and that's for certain. But I can make you a Healing Potion for this; I'm not callous enough to deny you that, despite what you and your friends may think of me."
Remus sighed wearily. "The great potions master, are you, Snape? It seems your longstanding prejudice against werewolves has kept you from adequately studying their physiology, hmm?" He paused to take a few deep breaths, every word obviously paining him.
Snape stood rigid. "My prejudices, Lupin, are borne of"
"Save it, Snape," Remus interrupted. "I'm too tired to talk. Suffice it to say that regular pain potions don't have the slightest clue where to begin when they encounter a body like mine. I might as well drink pumpkin juice as a painkiller than anything you could make for me." His breathing became ragged again and Snape sensed through the darkness that Remus had passed out.
"I" He opened his mouth to speak, then seemed to think the better of it. "Fine. I hope your beloved needlework helps, then." He gestured mockingly at the handkerchief Remus clutched, then turned and began the long climb out of the basement dungeon. He paused at the top of the stairs to press his forehead into the cool stone on the wall, still fighting back sickness from the deformed bones he had just seen. Then he re-entered the world of light and locked the door behind him.
"Thank you," Remus whispered to himself as he heard the distant lock click shut. "It shall indeed. Especially once this harmless-looking piece of lace appears in the chambers of one Sirius Black."
Jealousy, as the dear readers of this tale surely understand, is one of humankind's more dangerous emotions. It can lead a toddler to smack its newborn sibling; it can cause an office worker to sabotage a colleague's promotion; and when mixed with love romantic love, marital love, and above all, sexual love it can bring a grown man crashing to his knees. It can induce in him writhing spasms of terror, as images of rejection, humiliation, and betrayal flash through his mind.
For an alpha male like James Potter Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team three years in a row; Head Boy with six NEWTS graduating year; accomplished Animagus; and deputy commander of the Order of the Phoenix there were not many occasions in life where jealousy reared its ugly head. This was both a blessing and a curse, for while it ensured that very little caused him green-tinged pangs, when something did, it was destined in fact to gather like an emerald tidal wave and pummel him broadside when he was least expecting it. This may best characterise the way he'd been feeling ever since Remus had first mentioned to him the possibility that Lily was betraying him with Sirius.
No. It had started before that. Long before.
Though he didn't know it, Remus had only flicked his skilled tongue against a very sensitive spot on James, one that wondered only secretly, mind, in the dark corners of the night, when the wind caught the curtains at a certain angle and her breathing beside him suddenly felt forced if he had married the right girl after all. Or, for that matter, the right person.
James's eyes clamped shut as he pondered all of these things, alone in a Muggle park in Lewisham on a Tuesday evening. The winter breeze was brisk; he opened his eyes again and pulled his scarf tighter around his neck and jaw, stuffing both hands in his coat pockets as he walked aimlessly down a gravel path. His thoughts drifted to a narrow chest covered in light brown curls; to soft grey eyes; to surprisingly strong thighs and buttocks... He smiled in spite of himself.
Who the fuck cares what Sirius thinks, Moony? He's probably off shagging some Hufflepuff bird while we're out here.
I know, James, I just... I don't want things to get weird for him, because of us, you know?
Fuck him! No, wait, I didn't mean that. I meant, come over here, you sexy beast, and fuck me...
James quickened his pace as a hazy drizzle began to fall. He tucked his head down, watching his own feet as they strode, one in front of the other.
He's probably off shagging some Gryffindor bird... He's probably off shagging one of the girls in our class... He's likely off shagging my future girlfriend... He's almost certainly off shagging my wife... He's definitely off shagging the mother of my child...
My child. My child.
James stopped cold, gasping for air. An elderly man shuffled past him.
"All right, there, lad?" the man inquired.
James nodded slowly, his eyes unfocused.
"Should find yourself some shelter, I reckon. This rain sure won't be letting up anytime soon."
James gave a grunt and a weak smile, then made up his mind on where he was going. This speculation was madness. It was time for some answers, some real answers and someone had an awful lot of explaining to do.
"Ah, good commander!" Remus called as James came barging through the door. "I must say, I wasn't expecting visitors do excuse my state of undress but certainly it's lovely to see you, as always." He smirked and flicked a handful of water at the newcomer.
"Yeah, pardon the intrusion, but this can't wait." He stood hovering over the fragrant bathtub, scowling at its sudsy occupant.
Remus looked as though a team of cosmonauts had just discovered a way to safely incinerate the moon. "By all means! Sit, sit! Or, perhaps you'd like to join me?" He couldnt help but bite his lip in hope as he ran a hand through the bath water.
James was stone-faced as he sat down on a small wicker chair perched in the corner of the bathroom. "No, Remus. This is a business call." He didn't even laugh at his own weak joke. Neither did Remus.
"All right. I was only taking the piss anyway. So what's so important that I can't have a wash in peace?"
James leaned forward. "You have driven me to the brink of insanity with your insinuations, you fucker. I can't take this speculation anymore." He pointed a long index finger. "You'd better be sure you can prove my wife's a whore, be sure of it! Give me proof real, visual proof. Either you prove to me, without a shadow of a doubt, that my wife is disloyal, or you rescind every accusation you made, and swear to me that you dreamed it all up."
Remus looked shocked for a split second, then regained his composure. At least, he regained as much of his composure as it was possible to regain for a man sitting nude in a bathtub, as the suds providing the only barrier of dignity between himself and his quite desirable former lover slowly died away. "James," he said calmly. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about that night at the pub."
"What night at the pub?"
"Firewhisky?" James said, exasperated. "You and me? When you dug up all that shit about us at school, asking about Sirius and Lily and everything... wait, why am I explaining this? You bloody well know what I'm talking about."
Remus smiled. "Yes," he replied, "I do. But that was months ago I was hoping you'd forgotten about it."
James rested his elbows on his knees as he sat forward. "Why? Because you knew it was bullshit?"
Remus looked down quickly, avoiding James's eyes. He slid down a little, bringing his knees up out of the water, then rested an arm on either edge of the tub and finally spoke. "No," he managed. "That's not why."
James stared, then suddenly became angry. "No, Remus!" he shouted. "No, you don't. Not this time. I won't listen to any more of your hushed tones, watch any more of your furtive glances in the other direction when I ask you something." He leaned back and ran his hands through his hair, leaving them clasped at the top of his head. "Proof, Remus. By your life, you do not want to answer my wrath if you're lying to me."
Remus almost snorted. James and his veiled threats that was nothing new. "So it's come to this?" he asked.
"I trust you, Moony," James whispered. "Fuck, we've been I've done things with you, right? You're closer to me than any of my other friends. You've always been loyal to me, even when I've been a jerk and not returned the favour, and I know I know that you've always looked out for me. That's why I'm asking you, as a friend, as a man " He paused. "Do you have information real, conclusive information that Lily is cheating on me?"
His voice broke on those last words, and Remus thought his friend might actually cry.
"No games, Remus," James whispered, his voice low, "and no half-answers. Please. For my sake."
Remus sat up and leaned over the edge of the tub. He looked clearly into James's eyes, never flinching. Images of sex and sweat and the stains of his own betrayal flashed through his mind, and he took a deep breath. "Yes," he said. "I have such information."
James let out a whimper and slid to the floor, his head in his hands. "No," he sobbed.
Remus forced himself to keep his voice even. "Night before last. I was I was lonely. I went to him. 'For old times' sake, Padfoot,' I said. 'It's cold tonight.' He let me in. He pulled back the covers. I took off my clothes. He he let me in."
James's face had gone pale, but he said nothing.
"I we- we were together, James. I'm sorry if it upsets you to hear this. You know I try to be discreet, I don't go around announcing these things "
"What does this have to do with Lily?" James croaked. A possibility seemed to dawn on him and his eyes widened in terror. "She didn't- did she join you?"
"God, no!" Remus cried. "Jesus, Prongs. This isn't even about me. I'm just telling it this way because well, okay." He took a deep breath. "We were together, you know, and he was inside me, working me, you know? I was on my stomach god, this is so hard to say "
Remus sighed. "He was on top, inside me, and it was dark, so maybe he couldn't really see me "
"What does this have to do with Lily, Remus?" James's voice was a warning now.
A deathly pause. "He called her name."
James went rigid.
"No, he screamed her name." Remus's voice rose. "He was fucking me, pounding into me like a fucking madman, and don't get me wrong, it was unbelievable, but then he started coming, started screaming, 'Lily, Lily! Oh Lily, you dirty whore, come for me!' And, well. That pretty much ruined it for me, I have to say. And then he passed out, and he didn't even say anything else to me." Remus cast his eyes down, hoping the look of disgust he had conjured on his face was masking the evil smirk threatening to break through.
James couldn't speak.
Remus rose from the lukewarm tub and stood over his friend's shrunken form on the floor. He reached for a towel. "Bastard didn't even say anything to me," he continued. "Just bloody passed out. So I took my injured pride and got the hell out of there. I haven't seen him since. Not sure he even remembers it was me, not her." He wrapped the towel around his waist and sat down on the wicker chair James had abandoned.
The crumpled man on the floor raised his eyes. There were tears in the corners of them, and Remus grimaced as his heart lurched.
Oh fuck, don't cry, he silently begged James. Don't you dare start crying on me. "It's circumstantial evidence, Prongs," Remus whispered. "It's still not hard proof. It could just be his dream, his fantasy."
"Nice time to declare it, though, yeah?" James's voice surprised Remus. It was broken in a way he'd never heard before. "God, Moony, I can't believe he did that to you, treated you like that."
"And you," Remus added softly. "It's you he's treated badly."
"It's both of us." James pulled his knees up to his chest as he sat back against the tile wall and lowered his head into his hands. "He called us friend, and look what he's done to both of us." His eyes turned black with rage. "And her. I swear to god, Moony, I'll tear her all to pieces."
They were silent for several minutes. Remus reached a hand down and slowly began to stroke James's dark hair. James closed his eyes and tilted his head back, just slightly, inhaling and exhaling with determined calm. Daring to hope, Remus let his hand fall down the back of his friends head, drifting down his neck, stroking the prickled skin there.
Suddenly James looked up, a light in his eyes. "Something else occurred to me tonight, Remus, when I was out walking. You have to be honest with me, okay? One more time."
"Of course. Remus pulled his hand away. What is it?"
A sob welled up in James's throat, but he fought it back as he whispered a single word. "Harry."
Remus looked up at the ceiling to avoid making an incredulous face. Oh, the man really had lost it, hadn't he? Just as planned, he really had convinced himself that Sirius could be Harry's father. Honestly! Even at only eight months old, the child was the spitting image of James. Well, if his friend really wanted to open that particular can of worms, who was Remus to stop him?
"Just just tell me how long you think it's been going on, Moony," James was saying, his head leaning against the wall. "Long enough for for Harry "
"I don't know, James, I honestly don't. But, well, think back. What did she say when she told you she was pregnant? Did she seem distraught? With the Prophecy and all, you two really were planning on waiting, right? So was it- was it an accident?"
James looked numb. He slowly nodded. "Yes," he whispered. "That story to Dumbledore about wanting a child, planning one? No. It just happened. I thought she was on the Charm. I did it myself. We were always careful; I swear I never forgot! She told me she was pregnant and she said we must have forgotten once, or done it wrong. I just assumed I trusted her " His voice trailed off as he looked up desperately, placing a hand on Remus's bare knee. "I know I didn't forget, Moony. And I didn't do it wrong! It was him. It must have been him. He's bollocks at Charms, and if she was distracted" He grimaced "If she didn't remember " He dropped his head into Remus's lap and sobbed. "My son, my son "
Remus blinked back tears of his own, his mind warring between wanting James to stay curled in his lap like this forever, and wanting to push him away before he encountered a very substantial erection under that towel. "Shhh," he soothed, stroking James's head.
But really, he thought to himself. Sirius, 'bollocks at Charms'? James really did have a precarious grip on reality if that's how he remembered their school days. Contraceptulus was not, alas, an easy charm at all, as it required sustained concentration at a time when neither party involved was terribly well-suited to the task. James would never have learned it at all without Sirius's constant tutoring.
"Come on, mate," he would say. "At some point you're going to get tired of this one here" Hed jerk his head playfully towards Remus "and when you do, there will be a bevy of beauteous, fertile babes out there waiting for you. Unless you want to spend your Quidditch earnings on child support, you'd better practice this one. Now, the key is the positioning of the wand "
Remus reached out again and ran a hand down James's neck. No, he told his melting heart, a man this stupid deserves what he gets. "There's something else," he said quietly.
James raised his head and fire flashed through his eyes. "Tell me."
"That handkerchief Lily has the Gryffindor one you gave her from your grandmother?"
"Yes " James drew the word out, gazing deep into Remus's eyes.
"He's got it."
James's mouth dropped open. "Oh, blood blood blood," he said under his breath, then turned back to Remus. "She gave it to him? Did you see it?"
"Out with it, Remus! For gods sake, it's like pumping water from a stone with you tell me what you fucking know!" James jumped to his feet and stood over his friend, who was suddenly very aware that he was wearing only a towel.
"Fine!" Remus shouted back, standing up as well so that he was level with James. "He bound my hands with it, all right? Is that what you want to know? I went to him and asked him to fuck me, and he said, 'Take your fucking clothes off and get on your knees,' and I did, and he said, 'I'm going to tie you up and fuck you till you scream,' and I said, 'You bloody well better,' and he went to the cupboard and got that goddamned Godric handkerchief, and he tied me to the bedpost with it, all right?" Remus's face was flushed and his breathing heavy.
But he wasn't finished. He moved close to James, so close that their faces were only inches apart. "He tied my hands over my head, so I couldn't touch myself, and I was on my knees, and he got behind me and said, 'Is this what you want, bitch?' and I said, 'Fuck me right now or I will kill you.' And he rammed his cock in me all at once, and it is huge, James, did you know that? He is a goddamned monster, and I thought he would split me in two but it was good, it was so good, I think it was the best I've ever had." This was vulgar; he was overdoing it, he knew that, but James deserved every word.
James flinched at the words, but did not look away.
Remus dropped his voice to a deadly whisper, filling James's ear with the most forbidden words, the most outrageous tale he could think of. "He fucked me. And fucked me. And fucked me," he repeated, punctuating every pornographic word. "My hands rubbed raw on that cloth. My cock exploded on the sheets. And he came hard inside me, so hard I swear I could feel him in my throat."
James blinked and absently licked his lips.
"And then," Remus grinned mischievously, grabbing James by the shoulders and leaning in to whisper in his ear, "he called for your wife." He traced the outline of the ear with his tongue, then playfully bit the lobe. "Is that enough detail for you, commander? Has this stone given up enough water?"
James pulled back suddenly, his eyes wild. "No," he breathed. He whirled Remus around with one hand and snatched his towel off with the other, then shoved Remus into the wall. Remus heard him reaching to open his trousers, and his lungs went dry for a second. "Best you've ever had, eh?" James sneered. "I'll show you what you've been missing, Moony. Let me remind you how good I was."
Remus couldn't help but grin as he pressed his forehead into the tiles. Ah, an unintended detour from the plan, he thought to himself. But what the hell. "You think you can do better than him?" Remus goaded. "You think you can fuck me better than him?"
"Yeah," James groaned in Remus's ear, "I do."
Remus turned his head to the side and whispered menacingly. "You think you can fuck your wife better than him?"
James paused, then pushed Remus hard against the wall, one forearm across the back of his neck. "Watch your mouth, Moony," he said hotly, and Remus could feel the other man's erection through his trousers.
"Let's have it, then," Remus dared. "Top drawer under the sink," he added over his shoulder.
James's weight lifted for a second and Remus heard a drawer being opened, a jar being uncapped, and a zipper being drawn.
"Tell me again what he did to you, Moony," James said hoarsely as a slick finger found Remus's entrance.
"He ah. He tied me up and fucked me, Prongs. With the biggest cock I've ever seen"
"Bigger than this?" James hissed in his ear.
"I don't remember." Remus bit his lip and smirked. "You'd better remind me. How big are you, James? Remind me oh god " His voice trailed off as James moved two fingers inside him.
It seemed that James's tolerance for talking was at an end. Remus felt the fingers withdraw, and glanced back to watch his first lover, the man who had pushed him into an eerily similar position all those years ago, run a lubricated hand over his own erection. His first lover. The only one he'd never been able to forget, or wash away.
In one rough stroke, James pushed himself into Remus's body.
"Fuck," Remus hissed, his knees buckling. "Slow the fuck down, you fucking cock." It had been too long, years, really and desire be damned, Remus was out of practice.
But James had other ideas, and slowing down might have given him time to reconsider what he was doing. And nobody neither James, nor Remus, nor this tale's loyal readers wanted that to happen. "Who's better, Moony?" James panted. "Who's bigger now, you fucking whore?"
Remus gasped for air as the pain inside him slowly subsided and the familiar warmth of James came back to him. His senses recognised him; his body recognised him, and it opened. Welcome back, baby, he couldn't help thinking.
"You're better, James, you always were," he moaned as he was rocked into the wall, over and over again, the unmistakable sensation of Jamess cock sliding in and out of his body causing sweat to break out on his brow, and his own cock to beg for release. "Always better, al"
James had reached around and taken hold of Remus's neglected erection, stroking it with a rough hand. "Come for me, Remus, like you used to. Like you did for him."
Remus couldn't have refused if he'd wanted to. The story about Sirius, about being tied up and being called Lily, had already worked him into a frenzied state of arousal not to mention that it had all been concocted while in a bathtub, with James eyeing his naked form hungrily. It was too much, just too much. The hand around his aching erection, the steel cock impaling him, the cool tiles pressed into his cheek getting fucked by James Potter, just like when he was sixteen furtively, standing up, one or more pairs of trousers still half-on. Hard and fast.
His orgasm came bursting out of him, covering James's hand and dripping down the wall in front of him, and he knew he shouldnt have done this, should never have let James Potter get to him again, but god. He heard the echo of himself shouting "God- James- fuck."
And James, pumping fast behind him, banging his hips into the wall, too much, too hard "Moony, you whore, fucking hell" Remus felt warmth fill him, James's jerky thrusts smothering him, pushing the breath from his lungs and all rational thought from his mind, and he never wanted it to stop.
When it did, they both slumped to the floor, eyeing the bathroom door warily. Nobody spoke for a long moment.
Finally James broke the silence. "So, how many people do you think heard that?"
This wasn't what Remus wanted to hear, even though he'd been thinking the same thing. "Still ashamed of me, then, are you?" he spat.
"Get off my leg, you prick," James answered, "and no, you know I was never ashamed of you. But I'm married now, Remus and the situation all of us are in it's just not good."
Remus's face softened. "I know. Come on, get up, old man." He pulled himself to his feet and offered James his hand.
James's face darkened as he pulled his trousers up from his knees and refastened them. He threw Remus the towel. "This doesn't change the situation with Lily and Sirius," he said matter-of-factly. "Theyll pay." His jaw clenched and his hands drew into fists at his sides.
Remus watched him carefully, tucking the towel around his waist once again. "Whatever you need," he declared, "I'm here to help."
Yeah? James regarded him for a moment. That handkerchiefs pretty small for binding hands, Moony, he challenged, chin lifted and jaw set.
Remus returned his gaze, slowly letting his face twist in a smile. Are you accusing me of lying, Commander? he whispered, as James continued to watch him carefully, eyes running up and down his body in undisguised scrutiny.
No, replied James after a pause, then nodded. "For your loyalty, dear comrade" A hint of a smile played at his lips "you can start by being my new second-in-command. I should never have overlooked you in the first place. But if Sirius thinks he's ever getting his position back now, he's got another thing coming."
"And if Lily thinks she can work him back into your good graces ?" Remus ventured.
" then she's got another thing coming as well."
"What will you do?"
"My gratitude for your help is not just words, Moony, and I hope your offer to help isn't, either. I have a task for you, right away. Heres what you dont know: dear Padfoot's escapades with my wife are not his only crime of late. Snape has information that Sirius is the spy we've been looking for in our own camp." He leaned in close to Remus and ran his palm down the other man's bare chest. "Remus," he whispered, so quietly Remus had to strain to hear him, but so confidently there was no tremor in his voice. "Before the next Moon, I want to hear you say that Sirius is not alive."
Remus's mind reeled as his breath hitched in his throat. Of course. It all made sense; why hadn't he put two and two together? Unexplained absences, furtive behaviour, lies and deceit. He'd begun with a plan to frame the man for adultery, but in the meantime, the man himself had been committing much more serious crimes. Remus gathered himself to answer. "Our friend is dead," he whispered, "at your request. But " He paused, then plunged ahead. "Let her live."
"Fuck her!" James fumed. "I'll decide what to do with her. You worry about Sirius. You," he pressed a forefinger into Remus's chest, "are my loyal lieutenant now. Don't let me down."
Remus smiled. "I am," he agreed. "Now come, commander. I'll pour you a drink."
"What's this?" Lily's teasing voice rang out as she entered the kitchen and stopped cold in her tracks, her eyebrows hiked to the ceiling. "Arthur Weasley, are you doing the dishes?"
Arthur turned from the sink to display a frilly pink apron and a matching pair of rubber gloves. He grinned and winked at Lily. "Ay, love. Just trying to do my part, of course."
Lily appraised him warily. "Indeed? Let me see," she drawled. "I'm willing to bet one of two things has happened: either Molly has advised you that you'd better not step foot in this place again until you contribute your labour to a sink full of dishes, or one or more of the Weasley offspring have the flu, and you don't want to go home." She folded her arms across her chest and smiled fondly at him.
"Er," Arthur mumbled, "both, actually." They laughed as Arthur stripped the gloves off his hands. "And where is that lovely child of yours? I swear, I would trade Fred and George in a heartbeat for a baby as calm and happy as little Harry."
"Aw, thank you, Arthur! You really do know just what to say to a new mother, don't you?" Lily beamed. "He's asleep upstairs. If there's one thing witch-mothers of the '80s can be thankful for, it's the Quiritatio charm. If he makes so much as a peep, I'll know about it."
"Is that so? You'll have to teach that one to Molly next time you're at the Burrow."
"I'd be glad to. Now, as for you, why don't you go and do me a real favour, hmm?"
"Sure, Lily," Arthur replied. "What do you need?"
"Go find Sirius for me, would you? I'm sure he's lurking about this place somewhere, and I need to tell him I've spoken to James again about his situation."
"Ah, he's appealed to you, has he?" Arthur dried his hands on a nearby towel and slipped the apron over his head. "Smart man." Lily took a playful swipe at him and he chuckled as he left the kitchen. "I'm on it, my dear," he called back to her. "'Evening, Severus," she heard him mutter in the hallway, as she put the kettle on the stove.
A second later Snape had come sweeping into the room, eyeing Lily with his trademark look of suspicion. He gave her a curt nod, but said nothing.
"Cup of tea, Snape?" she ventured.
He hesitated, then settled himself down at the table with a roll of parchment. "Thank you," he replied stiffly. "That would be nice."
Lily retrieved two cups from a cabinet and rummaged about for the canister of leaves. "I've been meaning to ask you," her head called from inside the cupboard, "have you seen that lace cloth of mine the Gryffindor one?"
Snape glanced up at her coolly. "No," he replied. "Why?"
"Well, it's just that I thought I had it that night that James was hurt," she muttered with a hint of embarrassment. "But I haven't been able to find it since. I wondered if maybe I dropped it in the nursery, if maybe you'd seen it?"
The kettle began to whistle and Lily dashed to the stove, then poured the steaming water into the waiting cups.
"I'm sorry you've lost it," Snape said, "but I'm afraid I don't know where it is."
Dear readers this, in Snape's mind, was the truth: he rationalised that Lupin could have done any number of things with that cloth in the past few weeks. At that precise moment, Snape indeed did not know its precise whereabouts. And why, moreover, should he do this girl any favours? In his mind, she had certainly never done any for him, and 'comrade' or no, he saw no reason to go out of his way to help Potter's little wife. A former Death Eater might have been a bit less stringent in his application of the 'guilt by association' adage, but where Potter and his gang were concerned, Snape found that a little inconsistency in his life philosophies was not unreasonable. She was his wife. She had to be just as bad as he was.
He would be most aggrieved to shortly learn, dear readers, how wrong he was in this assumption.
Lily sighed as she placed the cup in front of him. "All right," she said. "It was worth a shot."
"Thank you for the tea," he said, raising the cup to his lips.
Just then James came storming in, his eyes wild as they cast about the room. They settled on Lily. "There you are," he said coldly.
Snape glanced up with mild interest, then continued sipping his tea and scanning his parchment.
Lily approached her husband apprehensively, then reached up and laid a quick kiss on his cheek. "Here I am," she confirmed. "Cup of tea, darling?"
He caught her hand as she went to move away, and pressed his thumb over her palm. "What's this?" he sneered. "Your hand is wet, darling. And " He lowered his voice to a whisper "sticky. What have you been doing with it?"
Lily's eyes bulged. "What on earth are you on about?" She snatched her hand away. "I was just rifling through the cupboard for the tea. It's disgusting in there; hasn't been cleaned for months, I'd guess. You certainly haven't been going out of your way to clean up this kitchen, that's for certain," she added. "It's probably jam on my hand." She brought it up to her face and inspected it, then headed for the sink to wash it.
James followed her, not letting her out of his sight for a second. His voice softened as he sidled up behind Lily at the sink and wrapped his arms around her. "Sweetheart," he drawled, "let me see that handkerchief of yours."
Lily tensed. "Hmm? Which one?"
"You know which one. The only one that should have any meaning for you. There's a marking on it I'm trying to remember. Could I see it, Lily, please?"
The sarcasm dripping from her husband's voice did not escape her. "I don't have it with me right now," she confessed after a brief pause.
James gently turned her around to face him, then reached out a hand to caress her cheek. "Come on, Lil," he chided. "You haven't lost it, have you? You know how much that handkerchief means to me. I told you the story how Godric Gryffindor gave it to his wife as a sign of his loyalty, and how it's been passed down to"
"Oh, James, for the love of" Lily sighed in exasperation. "Not the Godric tale again? I'm charmed that your demented old grandmother was so fond of that story, but honestly, you too?"
James glared at her. "As I was saying," he began, but Lily interrupted him with a gale of laughter.
"Yes, yes, I know," she mocked. "You're the bloody heir of Gryffindor. And Snape is the heir of Slytherin, and let's see... lovely, mild-mannered Arthur is the heir of Hufflepuff, and... hmm, we need a Rowena progeny..." She snapped her fingers. "Aha! Remus must be the heir of Ravenclaw you know, because he's smart, and his name begins with 'R'..."
James looked momentarily stricken at the mention of Remus's name, and Lily watched him with curiosity as he answered. "You done there, Lil?" he glowered. "Now, if you don't mind," his voice edged up until he was shouting, "tell me where that bloody handkerchief is."
He may have thought he was being intimidating, but he'd forgotten that Lily was more prone to stand up and fight for herself than anyone else he knew. She stepped towards him now, her eyes ablaze. "I used it to wipe the baby's arse," she whispered fiercely.
James looked surprised for a second, then a look of pure loathing spread across his face. "Oh, that's nice, Lily. That's really great. Do you want to cut the bullshit now? You've done nothing but lie to me for the past few months"
Lily's eyes widened.
"and now I'm calling you out. You have one more chance to tell me"
"Lying to you?!" Lily cut in. "I don't know whats gotten into you, James Potter, but you will stop it this instant."
"Where's the handkerchief, Lily?"
Lily glared at him. "Fine. You're right. You win, as usual." She raised her hands to him in surrender. "I have been lying to you." James's breath hitched, as Lily leaned in close. "I didn't actually use the cloth to wipe Harry's arse."
James stared her down, and she felt her insides begin to tremble. Something was very wrong with him. "Where is it, Lily?" he repeated.
"Look, why don't we talk about that later?" She desperately tried to change the subject. "For now, let's talk about Sirius. You promised me ages ago that you would speak to him about being reinstated, but now you keep putting it off, and I"
"How dare you talk about him to me!" James roared. "Where is that goddamned handkerchief?!"
Lily remained as cool as she could, though her rational demeanour was quickly disappearing as her terror of her husband's inexplicable rage increased. "Really, love, we need to put him back on patrol; he's the best Auror we've got, and"
"WHERE. IS. THAT. FUCKING. HANDKERCHIEF?!"
Lily saw that even Snape flinched as the commander's voice broke into a terrible scream.
She fell backwards into the counter as fear clouded her brain. "I- James, honey, I'll find it, I promise!" She was speaking quickly now, anything to calm him down. "I know where it is, I just have to"
"You fucking whore! You are LYING to me again!" Before she could respond, before she even knew what was happening, James had swung his right hand back, and his closed fist had collided with her cheekbone in a sickening crack.
She spun around from the force of the blow and her shoulder slammed into the wall behind her. Tears filled her eyes as she slid to the floor, cowering in fear.
Snape was on his feet in a split second, his wand drawn and pointed at James. "You will not lay another finger on her, and you will exit this room immediately, Commander," he hissed ferociously, "or I shall give you a personal introduction to the curses I learned in the Dark Lord's service."
James turned to him and their eyes locked for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, with his face purple and his chest heaving, James stormed out of the kitchen without a word.
Snape put his wand away and kneeled in front of the crumpled form on the floor. Lily raised her head tentatively, tears streaming down her face.
He rose again and strode over to the icebox, quickly packing ice into a nearby dish towel and bringing it back to Lily. "Here," he said gruffly, "put this on your face." He regarded her as she lifted the ice and touched it to her swelling cheekbone. She made to speak but found she could not, and instead simply nodded at Snape in gratitude.
"Men are weak," he told her in a quiet voice. "All of us. But it seems that you have married the very weakest of us."
Snape had helped Lily to her feet and the two of them were sitting at the kitchen table in silence a quarter hour later, when Remus and Sirius entered in search of dinner.
"Hey, Lily-vanilly!" Sirius called to her, heading straight for the refrigerator without looking at her. "You and Snivellus having some quality time together?"
"Jesus, Lily, what happened?!" Remus gasped as she raised her head.
Sirius ducked his face out from the door of the fridge and his eyes widened. Comprehension or what he mistook for it dawned on his face and he slammed the door shut, striding over to Snape and reaching for the man's collar. "What did you do to her?" he demanded.
Remus crouched down beside her and removed the ice pack, then he too shifted his eyes to Snape. "You fucking coward! Attacking women, now? We were right about you all along!"
"Shut up, both of you," Lily sighed wearily. "Snape's been helping me, all right?"
Snape pushed Sirius away from him and smoothed the front of his robes. He remained silent, but fury raged behind his black eyes.
Sirius's mind seemed to work rapidly to process the situation or what he assumed it to be. "Okay, look, Lily, we've got to get James. I'll go with you, and you can tell him I rescued you from an attacker. That will make me look good, and you can convince him then to reinstate me! It's perfect." He looked around expectantly at the others, waiting for praise of his plan.
Even Remus's cold heart was horrified, however. Good Merlin, he thought to himself as Sirius bent to help Lily up from her chair. The man really is a complete, utter, self-involved arsehole. "Sirius," he began, "maybe that's not the best"
But Snape cut him off. Rising to his feet, he moved towards Sirius and plucked the man's hand from Lily's arm, throwing it back down to his side. "Black," he seethed, "I understand how tremendously difficult it is for you to think about anyone other than yourself on an hourly basis, but just this once, would you please shut your fucking mouth and listen to the lady?"
Lily herself rose then and seemed to find her voice. "We're not going to see James," she told Sirius. "He's not in a very good mood tonight, to say the least. And I don't think I'll be intervening on your behalf anymore." She grimaced and lowered her eyes. "He doesn't seem to like it when I talk about you."
Remus stared at her. "He did this to you," he said quietly. It wasn't a question.
Sirius looked at him sharply. "What?!" he shouted. "WHAT?! Lily, that's not true! That can't be true!"
She smiled grimly at him. "Yes," she whispered. "It can. And I've had quite enough of being called a liar already tonight, all right?"
"But " Sirius sputtered, "why? Why, Lil? What happened?"
"It's very obvious to me what happened," Snape's low voice rang out again. They all turned to look at him. "What I witnessed of the scene bore all the trademark signs of an irrational man consumed by jealousy."
Remus furrowed his brow. "Jealousy?" he asked. "What do you mean?"
But Snape's face had closed again, as if he had already ventured too far into his own personal insights on the matter and was unwilling to go any further.
"No, no," Lily said dismissively. "He's just under pressure from the war, the political situation. It's fine, really it is. I can take care of myself."
The three men looked at her with disbelief.
"Really!" she insisted. "He was just in a bad mood; he'd probably been drinking," she added.
"Lily," Snape spoke again. "I will say this to you only once more, and after that you may think what you will of your husband's behaviour tonight. But I have seen men in jealous rages" He raised a hand to cut off her attempts to protest "whether there are grounds for it or not. And such men do not strike their wives and call them whores because of a 'political situation.'"
Lily slowly shook her head. "No. It's impossible. I've given him no reason to be jealous of anything " Her voice trailed off as her eyes filled with tears again.
"I'll speak to him," Remus interjected. "I'll find out what's bothering him and make sure he doesn't take it out on you again, Lily."
She gave him a grateful smile. "Thank you, Remus."
He left the kitchen quickly.
"As for you," Lily turned to Sirius. "Why don't we wait a bit before appealing your case again? Whatever's bothering him, he's just not listening to reason."
Sirius nodded. "Okay, Lil, whatever you say. You sure you're all right?" He glanced accusingly at Snape.
"Yes, Sirius, I'm fine. And stop being a bastard to Snape. If he hadn't been here, I" She choked back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her again, then shrugged, lowering her head.
Sirius grimaced, then reached out and squeezed her hand. "You're safe now, that's all that matters. He won't do this again, Lil, don't worry." Then he turned and left the room as well.
Alone again, Snape regarded Lily for another moment, his eyes dark and troubled. "I trust you can make your way to one of the, er extra bedrooms tonight?" he asked awkwardly, after a pause.
A shadow darkened her bright green eyes. "Oh," she said, startled. "Yes, I might." She brushed away her tears and turned a stern face to Snape. "Thank you," she added stiffly. "I'm fine."
With a last nod of his head, he too exited the kitchen, not hearing the stifled sobs of the lone woman left in the room to mull over the disastrous turn her life had just taken.
The song Sirius is singing to Harry at the beginning of this chapter is Neil Young's My My Hey Hey.
Act IV: Cloaked and Daggered
Sirius Black had a lot on his mind as he patrolled the streets of Hogsmeade late one evening, a month after finding Lily in the kitchen with Snape, her face red and swollen. He pulled the hood of his dark cloak up over his head as he walked the streets, keeping a sharp eye out for suspicious activities. He knew he shouldn't be out here, shouldn't be on duty without James's permission, but he was rotting in that place, locked up like a criminal. For a man like Sirius gregarious, affable, extroverted being locked in that warehouse like an animal in a cage was a punishment worse than death.
He breathed in the cool night air, keeping one hand firmly on his wand. He had to get out, had to come here. He was the best dueller in the Order, and James's whims be damned, he was bloody well going to keep his promises to Dumbledore and fight.
A shuffle behind him sent him whirling around, wand drawn.
"Ah," a woman's voice murmured. "Wand at the ready, love? You know that's what I love most about you. Always... erect."
He relaxed and placed the wand back in his robes before stepping forward and draping one arm around the woman's shoulders. "Rosmerta," he breathed in her ear, playfully darting his tongue out to taste her. "For you, gorgeous? Always."
She sidled closer to him and turned her face upwards, reaching a hand inside his robes. "You haven't been around here much these days, my boy," she said softly, her mouth inches from his. "You've been at least a week away," she complained with a pout. "Seven whole days and nights."
"Seven days?" He laughed. "More like seven months I think, baby you must be losing track of all your lover boys, yeah?"
Rosmerta bit her lip and grinned at him. "That long?" She blushed. "Well anyway, how dare you keep away from me so long."
"There's a war going on, Rosie," he teased. "I've been a bit busy."
"Oh, I've heard all about what you've been busy doing, and it hasn't been fighting any war, Sirius Black." She nibbled playfully at his earlobe, then placed a row of light kisses down his jaw line to his mouth.
He moaned softly before turning his head to face her. "How do you know about that?" he demanded, grabbing her hips and pulling her close. "Been snooping around again, love?"
"Who, me?" She grinned. "It's a barmaid's job to know all alcohol-related incidents that occur in a certain radius," she ventured.
"London is nowhere near your radius, Rosie." He laughed in spite of himself and nuzzled his face into her dark blonde curls. He felt her breasts heaving against him and his cock began to stir. She was right, he thought: it had been an awfully long time since he'd been up to see her.
"Still," she continued, "I heard James gave you a royal whipping over that drunken spectacle. Tell me, love," she snaked her hands past his robes and tugged at the waistband of his trousers, "did he strip you down and bind your hands before he got the whip out? And if so, when it happens again, will you let me watch?"
Her first mention of James had sent a cold lump of dread to his heart, but he quickly found with her words that the lump was not dread at all, and that it had already travelled to his trousers. "I should tie you up for saying things like that," he murmured to her.
"Tie me up and spank me?" she asked hopefully.
"You dirty bitch," he growled, letting his hands roam down to her arse and cup her backside. Her hips ground into him and he groaned. "You bring that up every time I see you. Be careful, or I might start to think you fancy the commander more than me."
"Never," she assured him. "Now let's be honest; you're not really 'on patrol' here, are you?" she whispered hotly in his ear, one hand already unzipping his trousers. "You came up here because you knew Rosie needed your hot young cock in her, didn't you?"
Merlin's blue sodding balls, he thought, and brought his mouth down to capture hers in an urgent kiss. She had already pushed her tongue into his mouth before he had a chance to do the same to her, and in seconds he felt lightheaded, the breath being sucked out of him in that exhilarating way that only Rosmerta's torrid kisses seemed to cause.
"Right here, right now," he ordered her, his fingers already inching her skirt up and pulling at her knickers.
Rosmerta flashed him a wicked grin and pulled him by his robes off the main street and into a side alley. The smell of stale liquor assaulted Sirius's nose, as they stepped over rocks and debris, making their way down the lane and completely out of sight of the main village.
He squinted through the darkness and could faintly hear raucous laughter and the clinking of glasses around them. "This is the Three Broomsticks, isn't it?" he asked her. "Why don't we just go in and get a room, love do this proper?"
"Proper?!" She shrieked with laughter and backed up into the concrete outer wall of the pub, pulling him towards her. "You fuck me now, and you fuck me hard, or you can take that droopy prick of yours back where it came from tonight."
He was already hard, but his cock twitched at that, as if it had heard the taunt and was not about to let anyone accuse it of drooping. "Come and get it, then," he rasped at her, pressing her into the wall.
In seconds she had torn his trousers open and wrapped her fingers around his throbbing erection, pulling gently but firmly on his flesh. "Ooh," she cooed. "I take it all back. You are hard for me, aren't you, baby? Tell me what you want to do to me " She leaned her head back into the wall as he bent down and licked her exposed neck and collarbone, his hands roaming her body.
"I'm going to get rid of this" He flung her skirt up to her waist "and get rid of these" He yanked her knickers down and let her kick them aside.
"And then ?" she prompted, flexing her hips up and guiding his cock to her entrance.
"And then " He groaned in her ear, his voice low and teasing as it trailed off, leaving her to learn the answer from his body, not his lips. He gripped her by the wrist, prising her warm fingers away from his cock, and a second later plunged himself into her warm, wet core.
"Ah!" She gasped in pleasure. "Wait, let me" She kicked one leg around his hip and directed his hands to her bottom. Once she felt him firmly holding onto her, she lifted her other leg and crossed her ankles behind his back.
"Oh, sweet Merlin, woman," Sirius panted, treasuring the depths he could reach with her in this position.
"All right, lover boy," she taunted. "Show me what you can do."
Sirius did not require further invitation. Rosmerta may have been fifteen years his senior, but he had never met anyone with her wanton sexual abandon. She was a beautiful, voluptuous woman, and more to the point, she loved cock. Sirius had no doubts that she had shagged most of Hogsmeade, probably many of them in this very alley, in this very manner, but that never bothered him. He was twenty years old and had the sex drive of a wild stallion; Rosmerta was like a gift from the gods for him.
And so, with his hands cupping her arse and his cock keeping her upright, he pinned her to the wall and thrust hard, over and over again.
"Fuck, love!" she cajoled. "Harder. You can do better than that."
He groaned and sped up his motions, relishing the feel of a woman's body after too long without. She felt incredible around him so tight and wet, riding his cock like that, allowing him to fuck her into this wall Sweet Merlin Prongs could sod off there was no way Sirius was going to sit around that warehouse anymore, if it meant missing out on this.
Surging into her with laboured breaths, he felt her clamp down on him from the inside as her head rolled to the side and her eyes fluttered closed. Her face was one of pure bliss as she shouted his name into the night air.
Sirius didn't know very much about women's bodies, but he was fairly certain that the way they usually fucked was not conducive to Rosie getting off. But if she was faking it, he didn't care. He thrust hard into the very centre of her, her walls closing around him until he could bear it no longer, and with a strangled cry he exploded in his own orgasm, kneading her buttocks between his fingers and spilling himself inside of her.
His knees weakened, and fortunately she laughed and hopped off of him before he could drop her.
"Very nice, Mr. Black," she purred, once she was back on two feet. She picked up her knickers and threw them in her cloak, then straightened her skirt and smoothed the stray curls off her face. In seconds she was as composed as when he'd first seen her that night.
Sirius was rather less assembled. His dark hair was mussed and his cheeks flushed and, moreover, his trousers were still unfastened. "My god, Rosie, is there nothing you can't, or won't, do?" He grinned at her and leaned in to kiss her cheek.
"Ah, dear boy," she said, wagging her finger at him, "you know I'd do anything you asked."
Sirius pondered this for a second, then an idea popped into his head. "Yeah? Because actually, I do have a favour to ask, if you have the time." He rummaged around in his robes, as she looked on with curiosity.
She furrowed her brow when he pulled out a small lace handkerchief, elaborately embroidered with two intertwined G's. "I don't care how mussed up you've gotten," she said with a sniff, "I am not wiping you up after that."
He laughed. "Oh, no, love, that's not it. I just wondered if you might copy this for me the pattern is bloody brilliant, don't you think? It's a Gryffindor emblem, you know "
Rosmerta's eyes suddenly blazed. "What, I'm your maid now? No-strings sex isn't enough for you; now you need a whoring handmaiden, ready at your beck and call to do whatever needlework you need after a good shag, of course"
"No!" Sirius exclaimed. "What are you on about? I just thought- because you're so good at it and all"
"Oh, yes, you think flattery will help you here?" She was seething. "Where did you get that thing? I'll bet it's a gift from the last twat you laid, yeah? Well, Mr. Black, I'll have you know that I will not have any part of your girlfriend's"
"For fuck's sake, Rosie, calm down! It's not from any woman I told you, I've been fighting a war it's just something I found in the closet of the room I've been using at Headquarters. It must have been left there, I don't know." He sighed, then stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her tentatively. "I didn't mean any offence, beautiful, really. I just thought that if you had the time, you might be able to stitch up another copy for me, that's all, in case the owner ever comes looking for this one." He placed a tender kiss on her forehead and felt her relax in his arms.
She looked up at him and gave a small smile, though her voice was still suspicious. "All right, then," she conceded. "If I have time. Now I'd better get back to the pub before they come looking for me." She took the cloth and squeezed his arm lightly, then disappeared into the dark mist.
"'Night, love," Sirius called softly after her, then shook his head and smiled to himself. He pulled his cloak around his shoulders against the suddenly chilly night air, and wandered back up to the main road.
"One shag in four years doesn't mean we're fucking dating, Remus," James growled as the two men stepped into the low lighting of the Three Broomsticks. "And even if we were," he continued, "you don't have to take me all the way to sodding Hogsmeade for a whisky Moody's got a stash at the warehouse."
Remus sighed in exasperation. James had always been something of a prick, he knew that, but ever since their frantic coupling in the third floor bathroom last month, quickly followed by James's despicable transformation from loving husband to abusive husband, the man had become intolerable. Snapping at Order members, unleashing cruel sarcasm at his wife, completely ignoring his baby ever since he began to suspect he was not the boy's father, and even disobeying Dumbledore at times. Yes, Remus mused, James definitely seemed to have lost his grip. No one wanted to be around him anymore, prone as he was to fly off into a rage at the slightest provocation.
And it all appeared to be due to his belief that his wife was sleeping with his best friend.
Remus turned abruptly now and glared at his companion. "Number one," he seethed, "no, we are not 'fucking dating'; number two you called that a shag? I must have blinked and missed it"
James narrowed his eyes.
"And number three, Moody's stash was used up months ago, in a little incident of drunken debauchery that I don't blame you for having forgotten about, and everyone has been too bloody scared of the repercussions of having booze in the warehouse to replace it!" He set off again towards the nearest table, James sulkily following. "So that is why we're in Hogsmeade, you great fucking prat." He sat down, immediately noticed Rosmerta behind the bar, and beckoned her over.
James slumped into a chair and watched Remus carefully, but he didn't seem capable of formulating a comeback.
Rosmerta sidled up to them with a sexy swish of her hips, a smile playing at her lips. "Well, well, well," she drawled. "Haven't seen you two lovebirds in here for quite some time."
James fixed her with an icy stare, and her smile quickly faded. "Firewhisky, Ros, and save your witty banter for your other customers, all right?"
She flushed and glanced furtively at Remus. "I- I'm sorry, James, you know I was just kid"
"It's okay, Rosie," Remus interjected in his best honey-coated voice. "How about a couple of whiskys for the commander and me, eh? There's a girl." He gave her a sweet smile and reached out to pat her arm.
She relaxed and gave his hand a squeeze. "Sure thing, love. Coming right up." She shot another nervous look at James, still slumped sullenly in his chair, and hurried off to the bar.
"Well, you're in a right mood," Remus challenged James when she had gone.
James just sneered and looked away. "I've got a lot on my mind," he said tersely. "Everywhere around me, everywhere I look, all I see are traitors."
Remus watched him.
"Lily. Sirius. Nobody in the Order is doing what they're supposed to be doing. Fucking Snivellus and his 'spying'; honestly, we could send a Blast-Ended Skrewt into Riddle's camp and it'd come back with more useful information than that idiot." His breathing quickened and his face started to flush as he ran a hand through his messy black hair. "And you." His eyes glittered at Remus. "I gave you a job to do, over a month ago now, and I have seen zero progress on that score. Perhaps your brain was too foggy with post-coital bliss to have understood me properly?"
Remus willed himself to stay calm. "No, I understood you, and the job is still being arranged. But I've been a bit busy lately patching up your battered fucking wife every few days to have time for much else." He sat back and glared across the table.
"She's a lying, slutty, piece of useless shit, Remus. You more than anyone understand that."
"Then leave her!" Remus snapped. "Cut her loose, you bloody coward, or grow some testicles and do her in once and for all, but stop giving her fucking black eyes for all the world to see!"
"She's a whore! She's been spreading her legs for my best friend! She won't even tell me if I'm Harry's father! She's a sex addict, she always was! Back in school, she used to give blow jobs to the Slytherins behind the broomshed"
"What the fuck are you talking about, you lunatic?"
James snapped out of his rant. He sat very still, staring at a point just over Remus's shoulder, his eyes misting over. "Oh, Moony," he whispered. "I'm sorry. I'm a prat. I just..."
"I know," Remus answered softly, as their drinks arrived. Rosmerta quickly unloaded her tray, gave them each a wary look, and retreated back to the bar without a word.
"It's just that the thought of the two of them together," James continued, "it haunts me every waking second."
"Mmm," Remus nodded thoughtfully. Oh, what the hell let's have a little fun with the old bastard. "Although I must say, mate, it's entirely possible for a woman to be naked with a man without sex taking place."
James raised an eyebrow. "In what circumstances?"
"Oh, I don't know, a swimming rescue, perhaps? No, seriously. In theory, is all I'm saying, a woman could be naked with her friend in bed."
"Naked in bed, Remus, and not mean anything? You're mad. So now you know they've been nude together, but kept the beast with two backs at bay?" James's eyes widened as he stared at Remus.
"No, no!" Remus waved a hand dismissively. "Just a theoretical observation." He smirked to himself. "Same principle with the handkerchief, really. If I gave my wife a lovely piece of lace like that, it would then be hers, to do with as she wished."
James shook his head in disbelief and signalled Rosmerta for another drink. "Are you telling me that she had every right to give my gift to her, to her lover? You have exactly five seconds to take that back, Remus."
"Oh, very well. I take it back. I wasn't talking about Lily, anyway, I was just thinking out loud."
James's face was like stone. "Have you spoken to him?" he asked quietly. "Have there been any more confessions?"
Remus sighed heavily.
"What is it? I have to know everything."
"All right. We talked the other night, about the er- incident between us before. Smoothed it all out, he apologised to me, case closed."
"Good," said James gruffly.
"But then I asked him if he'd really slept with Lily, or if he'd only called her name from some fantasy."
"And?" James prompted.
"And " Remus exhaled dramatically. "He admitted that he has slept with her. In the er non-innocent way," he added.
James was silent. News such as this had evidently long ceased to surprise him.
"I'm sorry, mate," Remus whispered.
"Yeah." James didn't seem to be paying any attention to him anymore. "Look, can we just get out of here? I have a headache. Let me just get some money " He began rummaging in his pockets for a handful of Sickles.
Just then, Remus caught sight of the pub's door over James's shoulder and saw Sirius strolling through it. He glanced quickly at James and saw that he was still searching his pockets for his money, head bent low. Remus slipped his wand out of his robes.
"Stupefy," he whispered, almost inaudibly. He controlled the flash of light that accompanied the words so that it ran along the side of the table, rather than through the air, to evade the notice of the other patrons.
James's body locked into its pose, still looking to all the world like he was checking his pockets for something, his head bent down.
"Sorry," Remus told him quietly, then jumped up and bounded over to the door to greet Sirius keeping one eye on the table in case anyone tried to chat up his Stunned commander.
"Remus!" Sirius bellowed when he spotted his friend. "Fancy meeting you here! Pints are on me, come on "
"No, Padfoot, I can't, I'm sorry. I'm here with James"
Sirius raised his eyebrows.
"No, you prat, not like that, we're just chatting, but you don't want him to see you here he's still very upset with you."
"Still?! For crying out loud, Moony, that was literally months ago! And besides, I want to talk to him about Lily. If he lays another hand on her, I swear I'll"
"Shhh I know, Padfoot, I know, but come on, this is a pub! If he sees you drinking again it will just bring up all sorts of bad associations for him. And Lily, well he'll just cause a scene, and this whole place will know our business. It's not good for the Order."
Sirius considered this.
"Listen, he's just paying the bill now. I'll get rid of him, and then we can have a pint and chat, eh?" He smiled devilishly and lowered his voice. "I want to hear all about your latest exploits with that saucy barmaid over there." He jerked his head towards Rosmerta, wiping glasses on the other side of the bar and chatting to smitten customers, her back to Sirius and Remus.
"Ahhh " Sirius followed his friend's eyes and grinned. "Indeed, do I have a story for you!"
"Good." Remus returned the conspiratorial smile. "Go hide in the loo or something for five minutes, and I'll get the commander out of here."
"Fine, fine," Sirius waved. "I could stand to empty the old hose, anyway."
When Sirius was safely in the water closet across the pub, Remus returned to his table and muttered a quick "Ennervate" at James, then tucked his wand away while the other man was rubbing his eyes and stretching his fingers experimentally.
"James! James, look at me," Remus called to him frantically. "Fuck, are you all right?"
James looked around, bewildered. "What happened?"
"You just went into some kind of trance for a few seconds, it was really weird. I was waving my hands in front of your face and snapping my fingers, but you couldn't see me."
James furrowed his brow. "Shit." He shook his head as if to clear it. "Shit, sorry. I don't know, must be the stress. I just blanked for a second."
"No worries, as long as you're all right now. Look, there isn't much time: Sirius is here, he came in while you were out of it. I told him to come back in a few minutes I have an idea."
"Sirius is here?" James's eyes widened. "That fucking"
"I know," Remus implored, "But just listen for a second, all right?"
James was silent.
"Do you have your Cloak on you?"
"Good. Put it on and go sit at that table over there. It's not very busy in here, so no one will notice. When Sirius comes out, I'll ask him point-blank about Lily. All the details. When, how often, which ways, all of it. You can hear it all for yourself, and then all this business about doubting my loyalty will be done with, yeah?"
James bit his bottom lip.
"He'll be back here any second, James. Do you want to hear or not?"
James looked Remus directly in the eye and steeled his jaw. He reached into his robes and pulled out his Invisibility Cloak, folded to the size of a handkerchief. He cast a quick glance around at the other patrons, all of whom were either staggeringly drunk and hitting on Rosmerta at the bar, or too deep in their own conversations to pay James and Remus any mind. James ducked below the table and slipped the Cloak over his head.
Remus watched him vanish and gave a diabolical smile. In another second he noticed a chair two tables over shuffle almost imperceptibly away from its table, and he knew the game was on.
Right on cue, Sirius emerged from the loo and strolled over to Remus's table, his eyes roving over the other customers. "Is he gone?" he whispered to Remus as he sat down.
"He is," Remus confirmed. "Now, onto more important matters. What's the latest with your secret lady friend?"
Sirius laughed heartily. "'Secret'?" he mocked. "I'd say my exploits with that sexy vixen aren't very discreet." He chuckled again and shook his head. "No, not with a woman like that. Everyone's had a go with her; there sure aren't any secrets about it."
"Do you think James knows?" Remus prompted, praying that Sirius would not actually mention Rosmerta by name.
"James?" Sirius asked with some surprise, reaching into his robes for a pack of cigarettes. "Well, he and I haven't exactly been on the best of terms lately, Moony you know that. And he's been so busy and stressed and worried about himself, as usual " He laughed again as he paused to light his cigarette. "No, I'm fairly certain he hasn't yet caught onto just who it is I'm shagging every other night. And it sure as hell's been easy to sneak out to meet her, although I fell a bit behind this past month neglected her a bit. Just made up for it, though, not to worry." He took a deep drag. "Nah, old Prongs doesn't really notice a thing, does he?"
Remus grinned. Perfect. "Yeah. So, tell me about said shagging. You hinted before that it was pretty hot I want details."
Sirius smirked and leaned back in his chair, tapping his cigarette in a nearby ashtray. "You want details?" he drawled. "Promise not to get freaked out by vulgar tales of straight-person sex?"
Remus reached across the table and took a swipe at Sirius's arm.
"Ow! Fine, I'll get right to it then, shall I?" His eyes twinkled and he leaned forward. "Remus, she is just so hot, and that body on her, and oh man the things she says to me." He shook his head and grinned.
"Okay, I was up here in Hogsmeade just the other night, having a look around and all, and she sneaks up behind me, starts going on about my wand always being erect or something"
"Right, so I start teasing her, and I thought we were just flirting, you know, but then before I know it she's grabbed my robes and she's dragging me into this back alley, right"
"Oh, we fucking did, Moony. I said to her, I said, 'Baby, let's go upstairs and get a room, do this proper,' but she just laughed at that! Laughed at the very idea of a room, Remus, and do you know what she said to me?"
"She said, 'You fuck me now, and you fuck me hard, right here against this wall.'"
"She did not."
"She fucking did, Moony. She didn't even need any prep I swear, that woman's twat is always ready."
"Oh yeah, it is. So anyway, I don't need to be told twice, right, and I hike her skirt up and tear her knickers down, and she's tugging at my trousers, and honest to bloody hell, it was literally seconds until I was inside her, and hell, Remus, I don't know how she stays so tight with all the fucking she does, but oh yeah, she is so tight and hot "
"Wait, wait. Let me get this straight. She just pulled you off the street, into a back alley, and asked you to fuck her against a wall?" Remus rested his chin in one hand and grinned. "You're making this up."
"Oh, I am fucking not making this up, Moony. This is so beyond my wildest fantasy I couldn't have made it up if I wanted to. And anyway, that's not all of it."
Remus's eyes widened. "It's not?"
"She wanted me so deep, Moony, she made me grab her arse, right" He made the motion with his hands "and hold her up, and she threw her legs around me. Fucking locked her ankles behind my back, so that she wasn't even touching the ground." He took a shuddering breath and then another drag before leaning forward and whispering wickedly. "So, what do you think was the only thing holding her up?"
Remus smiled. "Your cock, obviously."
"That's right, mate," Sirius confirmed as he sank back into his chair, a look of pure triumph on his face. "My cock hammered her into that wall so hard, she didn't even need legs to stand on."
Remus let out a low whistle, just in time to mask a muffled clunking sound from a nearby empty table. "That is pretty hot you know, for straight people," he agreed. "Even I'll admit that."
Sirius laughed. "Oh, and speaking of heterosexual or not, how about this tidbit: this one time in the summer, she let me do her up the boot."
Remus inhaled sharply as his eyes flicked quickly over to that empty table. "She- she what?"
"You know" Sirius licked his bottom lip "the back door. I didn't think it would hurt to ask, so I did, and she was all over it. Said she'd had other guys do her that way and she loved it. Couldn't handle it too often, but for me she'd give the green light."
Remus's mouth dropped open. He didn't even care which woman they were talking about now, or even the fact that they were talking about a woman at all hearing all these things that Sirius had done with Rosmerta was giving him a very substantial erection. But he reluctantly held a hand up, as he was certain that James would unleash a Killing Curse on the man right then and there if that story was told.
"Sorry, mate," he said ruefully, "I have to stop you there. You know I like the boot as much as the next guy, but women creep me out."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Oh, all right. I'll save that tale for a different crowd."
"But tell me," Remus continued, "exactly how long has this incessant shagging been going on?"
"Oh, ages," Sirius confirmed with a nod of his head, stamping out his cigarette. "I mean, off and on, but probably back to summer after graduation."
"Sure. Remember, she was working at"
Danger! Danger! "Right, and how often do you two get together?"
"What? Oh, let's see. Shit, mate, a few times a week, easily. You know how much that woman loves the cock everyone knows it."
"Yeah," Remus nodded cautiously. "I've heard things "
"Oh, she is well-known in these parts for spreading those pearly thighs of hers for just about anyone."
"But you think she prefers you? I mean do you think you get her more than the others?" Remus stole another glance in the direction of the Invisibility Cloak.
Sirius considered this for a moment. "Actually, Moony," he responded slowly, "yeah, I do. In fact, I sometimes think she's dropped the others altogether, that she's doing special business just for me. Says she can't get enough of me." He smirked like a cocky teenager. "Well, that's not hard to understand, yeah?"
Remus snorted. "Right, yeah."
"But you know," Sirius continued, "I think she might be getting too attached to me. I mean, I like her and all, but I can't have her following me around all the time, pulling me into alleys to fuck, when I'm on patrol and she should be doing to her own work, you know?"
Remus nodded sympathetically. "Right, yeah, I know what you mean."
"I don't know, I might have to call it quits with her if she doesn't back off a bit, regardless of how good no, how spectacularly hot the sex is!"
They both laughed heartily at the idea of Sirius giving up guaranteed good sex. It was all perfect, Remus thought as he chuckled with his old friend. This had all proceeded according to plan, although he knew he had better cash in his chips and wrap this up before Rosmerta's name slipped out and the ruse was revealed.
Fortunately for him, Rosmerta herself had just appeared to take the pressure off. Unfortunately, Remus soon realised that she was screaming at Sirius loudly enough to be heard back in London.
"You cheating pile of filth!" she shrieked, striding across the bar after spotting Sirius for the first time since his entrance. She ripped a small piece of cloth out of her pocket and hurled it at him, then whipped a hand back and slapped him hard across the face.
"Hey- ow! Rosie, what the fuck is going on here!" he stammered, rubbing his cheek.
"You are a piece of rotten vermin, Sirius Black! I took a closer look at that handkerchief you gave me, and it is no ordinary lace cloth. That thing has love and fidelity Charms shimmering off of it! I couldn't copy that pattern if I tried it's Charmed to fucking Godric and his wife. 'Found it in my room' my arse! Someone gave you that, and you try to pass it off to me?!" She began to sob, frantically waving her arms around at him.
Remus picked the handkerchief up off the table and fingered it gently. While Rosmerta was busy yelling at Sirius, Remus held the cloth up to his face and turned towards that empty table. You see this, friend? he murmured to himself, before laying it back down in front of him.
"Rosie," Sirius was protesting, "you're wrong, I swear! No other woman gave this to me. I just I found it. Really!"
"You do nothing but take advantage of me, Sirius Black, day after day." Rosmerta's chest was heaving now as she was overtaken by sobs. "All you ever want is sex, but I care about you, and you know it! And this is how you show affection to me? With some second-hand gift from your richer lover? You- you bastard!" She clutched the edge of the table to steady herself, and Sirius rose to take her hand and wrap an arm around her waist.
"Shhh," he whispered. "There, love, you've upset yourself. Come upstairs with me, I'll explain everything, I promise, no more taking advantage of you, honest " He shot Remus a withering look over his shoulder as he escorted Rosmerta across the bar to the staircase that led to the Inn.
They disappeared upstairs, the other patrons resumed their chatter that had been interrupted by Rosmerta's outburst, and Remus gazed evenly for a long moment at Sirius's abandoned chair.
"I'm sorry," he said to the chair after several long minutes of silence. "That was even worse than I thought it would be."
"Talk to me, James," he warned, glancing around the bar. "It's clear."
Slowly a hand appeared on the table flat, palm down then an arm, shoulder, one side of a neck, an ear with telltale black frames hooked around it, then James's ruffled hair. He ran a hand through it, then folded the Cloak quickly and stuffed it back in his robes. When that head rose again to look at Remus, the other man saw a savagery in the eyes he'd never fathomed existed among humans. He'd seen it in animals, just before a kill, but never in a man. Yet here it was in James that penetrating stare, at once vacant and focused, betraying the distinct knowledge the distinct planning of forthcoming disaster.
Dear readers, if the James Potter that had disappeared under that Cloak twenty minutes earlier had been testy, uncertain, hostile, self-doubting the James Potter that reappeared was cold, calculating, and robotic in speech and movement. The turning point had come; the program was irreversible now; the ending was pre-determined. The James Potter that emerged from that Cloak that day would never forget the conversation he had overheard, nor would he ever doubt its authenticity. Nor, most importantly, would he ever question the instantaneous decision he made after hearing it.
"Talk to me, James," Remus repeated, his voice low and anxious.
The steely gaze behind the black spectacles locked onto Remus. "How shall I murder him, Moony?" he asked flatly.
Remus nodded but avoided the question for now. "Did you hear how he laughed about it all? And did you see the handkerchief?"
"That was mine, wasn't it?"
"See how much he values your wife? She gave it to him, and he turned around and made it a gift to his whore."
James shook his head absently but said nothing.
"I didn't know about the anal business, mate," Remus continued nervously, chattering away to fill the terrible silence. "I swear to fucking hell I didn't. I never would have wanted you to hear that."
James suddenly started to laugh, and an electric chill ran up Remus's spine. "The funny thing about that one is," James began, in a voice that clearly indicated he actually found nothing funny about it whatsoever, "that I asked her that before, too. She said she'd rip my dick off with her bare hands if I ever even thought about it again, nevermind asked her to do it."
Remus grimaced and looked at his hands, recalling a time when the man in front of him hadn't cared so much about asking permission.
"And now she's not only spreading her legs for him and for half the British Isles, apparently but she's letting him do do that? And other blokes, too? And since graduation? Following him around, dragging him into alleys like a fucking prostitute?"
"There's nothing more to say, Moony. She's no longer my wife."
Remus looked up, then. "What will you do?" he whispered, glancing around the pub for eavesdroppers.
"I will chop her to pieces for cuckolding me," he declared dramatically, as Remus nodded.
"She is foul, indeed."
"With my best friend!"
James inhaled deeply and set his mouth in a tight line. "Snape's still the Death Eaters' top potions master. I'll get him to give me something."
Remus sighed. "Oh? And you don't think that would be easy to trace? Snape would rat you out in a heartbeat once he found out what you used it for."
"I'm his superior. He'll do as he's told."
"In your dreams, Commander. You didn't see him that night with Lily, when Sirius and I found them in the kitchen. He was looking after her like she was an injured bloody faun! He'll never agree to it."
James seemed to consider this. "Fine. No poison. What, then?" The cold glint was back in his eye as he held Remus's gaze and debated this subject as if it were a fourth-year Herbology experiment.
Remus leaned forward and swallowed his last ounce of conscience. "A proper murder," he whispered. "In the bed she contaminated with her infidelity."
James nodded slowly. No direction this conversation took could surprise him now. It was all perfectly logical to the man who emerged from that Cloak. "Yes, you're right. AK, then? My only concern would be pulling it off. Not like it's your every day curse, and I didn't exactly get trained on it at school, yeah?" He smirked icily.
Remus forced himself to slow his breathing. "Do you hate her?" he asked.
"Do you want her dead for what she's done?"
"Are you sure?"
There was no delay in his answer. "Yes."
"Then you'll be able to do it." Remus picked up his glass with a trembling hand and downed the watery remnants of his stale whisky.
They stared at each other for what seemed like years. Remus thought he felt himself age as the minutes passed and his last statement hung in the air between them.
"Yeah," James agreed at last. "I'll take care of her, and you take care of him. Immediately, this time. No delaying tactics."
Remus reached across the table suddenly and laid his hand on James's forearm. "It's done," he declared. "For both of us."
Upstairs, Rosmerta had forgiven Sirius a second time and was busy giving him the best blow job of his young life. Outside, a breeze picked up and rustled through the pines surrounding the village. And as the cobblestone steps of the Three Broomsticks met the lightly gravelled path of Hogsmeade's main road, a patchy grey rat stumbled briefly over its racing paws, righting itself after a second and scampering as fast as its feet would carry it out of the village, through a neighbouring forest, and into a distant and secret location.
"Well? How shall my newest servant prove his loyalty to me?"
"The- the Potters, my Lord. Th- they are no longer your concern. My Lord, you will scarcely believe what has happened."
Pain is a multi-edged sword, slicing through the core of a person, then vanishing for a split second before reappearing to sever one's extremities and shatter one's soul. Some might say, in fact, that a person can only be whole in the absence of pain. Others might say the opposite, that pain, suffering, trauma, loss that these are the base elements that in fact create a soul, lock in experience, and cement wisdom.
Remus was never sure onto which side of that debate his pain fell or, whether it was even that simple. All he knew was that he had spent more years of his life in pain than not, and his desire to introduce others into such an elite group was growing stronger day by day
Ever since he had first decided to seek revenge, that is. The first person he would target, were the man not already dead, would have been the werewolf who had bitten him. The second the person who had caused him the second-most pain in his life well, that person was already well on his way to feeling pain himself that he had never felt before.
Alert readers of this tale and its eminently engaging dramatis personae may be wondering, however, why our villain has not yet betrayed second thoughts about his diabolical scheming, particularly when, in a truly unintended side effect, his target's wife had been showing up to meals every few days with fresh bruises on her face and arms.
In order to answer this astute question, said clever readers may wish to join us in a brief diversion from our tale, and a sneak peek into the personal Pensieve of one Remus J. Lupin, where, on the shelf labelled simply, "James," lies a single memory a memory which our villain feeds on night after night; a memory which maintains a frightening degree of control over his present-day actions, so long as it remains swirling in the foggy mist of that marble bowl.
A memory that leaves his mind racing, his lungs gasping, and his stomach churning, every time it visits him.
"Good summer, Prongs?"
"Fuck, yeah. Found some right strapping lads up in Cardiff. Older blokes, you know. Really like to show a visitor a good time."
"What, with your folks there?! I thought they weren't letting you out of their sight after that shit last year with Snape and the Shack."
"Fuck off, Moony, that wasn't my fault and you know it. And besides, I'm seventeen. Parents don't need to know everything."
"Well, all right. Come on, get your trunk, the train's leaving."
"You seen Sirius and Peter?"
"Yeah, they're saving us seats. I said I'd wait for you out here."
"Ah, I bet you did. Couldn't wait to get your hands on me again, yeah?"
"Har har. Come on."
"Oh, fine, get on then. Now come with me."
"Shhh, keep your fucking voice down."
"The loo? Oh, how romantic. What the hell are we doing in here?"
"Lock the door."
"James, what the hell fuck! Get your hands off me! Not here!"
"Relax, Remus, relax. I know you want me; I see it every time I come near you."
"I want what?"
"Come here, let me show you some things I learned this summer. Tricks."
"James, I know a couple of snogs in the Prefect's bathroom does not a relationship make, but I still don't really need to hear all about your 'tricks' and your summer shagging, all right?"
"Fine, I won't talk. I'll just do "
"Oh! Fuck ah, what the "
"Shhh just let me I want to try something, okay? I won't hurt you. I promise you'll like it. Shhh that's it. Oh, that feels good, doesn't it?"
"Oh yeah, Remus. I know how you look at me, I know you want me snogging and blowjobs aren't enough for you, eh? Tell me you want me."
"I don't know, James. We're mates. I want to, but what if we don't Oh my god "
"Move your thumb yes. Fuck, just like that "
"Mmm, glad to see you're coming around, Moony."
"Just oh. Oh. Wait. What do you want to do?"
"Just something I've wanted to try all summer."
"There's something you didn't do?"
"I know, hard to believe mmm put your hand here do you like that?"
"Y- y- yes."
"Good. Now I need you to turn around."
"What? No. No, James, wait"
"Fuck, Moony, come on! I'm so hard feel how hard I am for you! Let me come on. You want it, don't you?"
"Oh god, James. I oh- fuck- stop it "
"That's right. It'll be good, I promise."
"James, please, no"
"Oh yeah, I'm so hard for you, Moony. And you're hard for me, I can feel it. Here, I'm just going to bend forward, all right? Oh yeah, nice and tight for me, just like I thought "
"Ow! Fuck off, James, I mean it get away from me!"
"Hold still, you cunt! You want this! I hear you at night in the dorms, calling my name in your sleep. Everyone hears it! You want my cock, Remus, admit it."
"Fine! I admit it, I want you, I want you to fuck me but not like this. Not in a fucking toilet on a train, everyone will know please Not now, I'm not ready, not like this, please"
"You're ready when I say you're ready. Oh- mmm- fucking hell you're tight, Moony. So hot and tight for me, aren't you? Oh yeah, I've been waiting for this ah "
"Shut up! Nnnh. Nnnh. Oh yeah nnnh, fuck Moony, so good, so tight, yeah "
It had all been smoothed over later, of course, with apologies and soothing kisses and eight months of wild shagging in which Remus was a most willing participant. But in the whirling mist of the Pensieve, the abandoned memory of that first time gnawed at him like an acid burn. Only one other memory came close to that one in nursing the hatred of a broken man, and the second one involved a sunny afternoon late in seventh year, when a pert, young Lily Evans approached him across the grass and plunked herself down.
"I'll only say this once, Remus, and if you don't listen to reason I'll have no choice but to hex you. It's over. He's just not gay. You have to stop harassing him like this. He's with me now, and he's not going back to you. You're making a fool of yourself in front of the entire school; it's very sad to watch. I know it's hard for you, being gay in a place where no one else is, but this fantasy with my boyfriend won't change that. So he experimented a bit with you that's normal for teenagers. Hell, I've experimented myself! But he's not like you, Remus. He belongs with me, all right? Now, come, I want us to be friends. Will you have lunch with us?"
And his dull voice answering, numb with a pain and a rage he could never have conveyed to her if he had even possessed the strength to try. "Sure, Lily, okay. Friends."
She would pay for that speech, he decided that day she would pay for that condescending attitude, for that blatant disregard of the facts of her boyfriend's sexual history and preferred behaviours. He didn't know when, or how, but he knew that she would pay. They both would. He would make sure of that, if it was the last thing he did.
The sun had long since set on the shortening September day when James and Remus arrived back at the warehouse after the events with Sirius and the Invisibility Cloak at the pub. After their grave conversation, they had hardly spoken a word to each other as they Apparated to the grassy clearing a half-mile south of the warehouse and trudged uphill towards it, keying the various security spells along the way.
When they finally disappeared inside leaving only the shadows of two homeless drifters hovering out front, for any prying eyes they were met by an unexpected visitor.
"Mr. Potter, Mr. Lupin." The newcomer nodded at them each in turn as they entered the vast kitchen.
"Professor McGonagall!" they exclaimed deferentially, in unison.
Their old Head of House chuckled and lifted a teacup to her lips.
Across the table, Lily, who had been scooping another spoonful of sugar into her cup, giggled as well, before casting a wary glance at her husband. She swallowed her laugh and looked down into her cup.
"Oh, honestly, boys! Was I really that authoritative at school, that you feel compelled to continue addressing me so formally, three years after graduation?"
"Well," Remus pointed out, "you addressed us like you did at Hogwarts, too." He grinned as he leaned forward to shake her hand.
"Touché, Remus," said McGonagall, returning the smile.
James shook her hand as well, then he and Remus took a seat at the table.
"Minerva's just been filling me in on some of the latest Hogwarts gossip while we waited for you," Lily told them, pouring two fresh cups of Earl Grey.
"Hogwarts gossip?" James asked, leaning back in his chair. "Is that all Dumbledore's having you to do for the Order these days, Minerva?"
"No," she replied, shooting him a stern look. "You seem to have forgotten my unique powers of disguise, in the surveillance department. I assure you, I've been keeping plenty busy."
"Ah, yes," answered James with a smirk at Remus. "So unique."
"Well, anyway," Lily cut in, glancing at her husband, "it sounds like old Professor Burke really is overdue for retirement apparently the daft git brought Hagrid a Shrinking Potion during breakfast last week, convinced he'd been hexed with Engorgio!" She snickered again. "Guess the search will be on for a new Potions professor soon, then?" she added.
"Yes," replied McGonagall. "It seems more than likely that the poor man will have to be replaced before the next school year begins. I think Mr. Black will be pleased to hear that I don't ever recall a student-professor relationship as vexed as that between Sirius and his Potions professor." She shook her head ruefully for a moment, then furrowed her brow. "And how is Sirius these days? Between keeping an eye on Hogwarts when Albus needs to leave, and my own scouting missions, I haven't heard a thing from Sirius in months. He's alive and well, I presume?" She looked with interest from James to Remus to Lily.
The commander's visage settled into a stone mask at this question. "He lives."
Lily glanced at him, then turned back to McGonagall. "Oh yes, he's fine, Minerva. He and James had a bit of a falling out, is all, but they're working to resolve it."
"Are you sure of that?" James demanded.
"What?" When he didn't answer, she continued speaking with McGonagall. "You heard about Mulciber and Jugson, of course, the Death Eaters Sirius caught single-handedly last spring "
"Certainly," McGonagall replied. "But that was ages ago. Surely he hasn't been housebound since then with those duelling skills, he could have caught You-Know-Who himself and his entire army by now! What has he been up to?"
Lily began to fidget with the edge of her cup "He- he's been slightly housebound, it's true," she began, her voice wavering slightly, as James and Remus both watched her. "But he's been put to good use. We've needed him for security around here you know, to stabilise the Shielding Spells and what not "
Her voice trailed off as James suddenly came to life again, snorting loudly. "Indeed, darling?" he drawled. "I'd say you've put him to very good use, haven't you?"
Remus frowned and McGonagall's eyebrows shot up. She looked between James and Lily with intense scrutiny.
"Well anyway," Remus interjected hastily, what have you got there, Professor?"
"Oh, yes." She picked up the roll of parchment in front of her and handed it to James. "I'm here to deliver an urgent message from the Headmaster," she continued. "Your presence is required back at Hogwarts immediately, Commander." She sat back and folded her arms across her chest, watching James's reaction to this news.
The commander's eyes rapidly scanned the parchment. " Return at once," he muttered as he read. " With your family situation changed cannot give details yet what?!" His eyes bulged and his face purpled as he reached the end of the note.
"What is it?" Remus asked.
James rose from his chair and stormed across the kitchen, flinging the parchment onto the table behind him.
Remus picked it up and scanned the offending lines. "' Please instruct Sirius to take over command of Headquarters in your absence. He is a capable leader and has my full confidence. I expect you in my office at Hogwarts no later than the end of the week.'" He looked up. James was leaning over the far countertop, his arms outstretched over the tiles, his shoulders heaving with rage.
"Potter?" McGonagall asked, bewildered. "What in god's name is the matter with you?"
"He's fine," Lily cut in, jumping up from her own chair to join her husband. She placed a hand on his back as Remus and McGonagall watched from the table.
"Not now, Lily," he said in a low voice, not turning to face her. "I won't deal with you right now."
"But this is good news!" she exclaimed. "You love Hogwarts we can stay in the Gryffindor guest apartments, have some privacy at last. This confined space, with so many people in it well, you know as well as I do how it's been affecting us all!" She ran her hand up to the back of his neck and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. "Why are you upset, sweetheart? Sirius will do an excellent job in your place, and it will be his chance to finally redeem himself"
James whirled around then with a roar, throwing her hands off of him. "Will you stop fucking talking about him!" he bellowed. "He's already taken my place with you, and all you do is rub it in!"
Lily took a step backwards and glanced frantically at Remus and McGonagall, frozen in their seats. "James, please," she begged him, "not in front of our guest Just- come, we'll go tonight, right away, let me get Harry"
His eyes blazed anew at that and he grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her hard into the pantry door. "I will not have any more to do with your bastard child," he shouted. Before Lily could think, or push him away, or plead with Remus or McGonagall for help, her husband had pulled his fist back and landed a deadening punch to her jaw.
"James Potter!" McGonagall shrieked, her eyes as round as saucers as she jumped to her feet. "What on earth is wrong with you?!" She hurried over to Lily and crouched down, wrapping an arm around the trembling woman's shoulders.
Lily lowered her teary eyes away from McGonagall, who was helping her back on her feet and confronting James.
"You will recall your marriage vows and apologise to your wife at once, Mr. Potter, do you understand me?" McGonagall shouted.
If her tone had worked on him as a child, however, it didn't anymore. He lifted his chin defiantly and crossed his arms over his chest. "All right," he hissed, turning to Lily. "I'll apologise. I'm sorry I didn't realise what a false, lying cunt you were before I married you."
McGonagall's jaw dropped, and in her shock at this insolence, she seemed unable to formulate a response.
James glared at her. "Fine," he said after a moment's silence. "Tell Dumbledore Ill obey his orders. You" He jerked his head at Lily, quivering in a corner behind McGonagall, a stream of blood flowing from her lip. "Go get ready."
Her eyes fell momentarily on McGonagall, then flicked to Remus still rooted to his chair at the table. "As you wish," she whispered to James, then turned towards the kitchen door and fled.
"I suggest you keep your nose out of my family's business, Professor," James spat at McGonagall, fixing her with a menacing stare. A second later, he too was striding to the door, following Lily out of the kitchen.
Left alone with Remus, McGonagall turned to him with a look of sheer terror on her face. "Mr. Lupin," she began, her voice trembling. "Please, for the sake of an old woman's poor heart, tell me I did not just witness that." She lifted a forefinger and jabbed it at the door.
Remus just sighed, sinking back in his chair. "I wish I could," he replied dully.
"That is not the James Potter I used to know!" she continued. "Nor the Lily Evans, for that matter."
"He's changed a lot," Remus agreed. "It's wartime strange things happen to people."
McGonagall gave him an incredulous look. "Like this? Surely you jest, Mr. Lupin. I have seen a number of wars in my day, but never have I seen anything like what I saw here tonight. And now you're excusing it?"
Remus ran a hand through his sandy hair and pushed his chair back. "I'm not excusing it, Professor," he said simply. "I'm just explaining it."
"Same bloody difference," she seethed, then pointed at the door again. "That man is mad," she concluded. "Wits unsafe, light of brain whatever you want to call it that's the only explanation."
Remus rose slowly and headed to the door. "I'm sorry, Professor, but it is not my place to speak of what I've seen and known. You'll have to observe him for yourself." He swung the door open and made his exit.
Alone in the kitchen, Minerva McGonagall stared vacantly at the closing door, her hands trembling and her mind numb with shock.
Meanwhile, James's conscience had momentarily gotten the better of him as he stormed upstairs. Get a hold of yourself! it urged him. His eyes fogged briefly as images of Lily's beauty and charm assaulted him. She was so perfect when I married her, he thought longingly. So delicate and perfect, like a doll. And now look at her. He shook his head as he climbed the stairs, and felt himself collide with something stiff and heavy.
"If you don't mind, Potter, I've never been one for contact sports," came Snape's irritated baritone, "so kindly watch where the bloody hell you're going."
James looked up, none too pleased to see his schoolyard enemy blocking his way up the staircase. "Snape," he growled. "Get out of my way."
Snape's arms flew up, his fists grabbing James's robes at the collar. "Get out of mine," he spat, his upper lip curling in disgust. "And don't you dare go near that bedroom, you piece of rotting flesh."
James was momentarily startled by this, but then remembered Remus's words that afternoon. He's been looking after her like she's an injured bloody faun. "I'll go anywhere I fucking please in this place, Snape, and if I want to see my wife, a traitor like you is not going to stop me." He pushed Snape's fist from his collar and glared at the other man.
"Not that I care to give you marriage counselling, Potter, as quite frankly my plate is full enough these days, what with single-handedly shielding you and your band of ragtag prats from the Dark Lord, but tell me if you will: what in bloody hell has she done to you to deserve this?" Snape narrowed his eyes and fixed James with a black stare.
James snorted. "It's more just the fact she exists, really."
Snape recoiled, the vein at his temple throbbing.
"You seem to spend more time with her these days than I do, Snivellus," James continued. "Surely you've seen evidence of her deceit, her cunning, the hoards of men filing in and out of that room."
Snape held the other man's gaze, keeping his face blank and calm.
Dear reader, let us pause for a moment to recall the nature of the relationship between the actors placed before us at the present moment. 'Childhood enemies' does not quite go far enough towards describing the enmity steaming from the pores of these two gentlemen as they glared at each other on the staircase, each perfectly prepared, since age eleven, to kill the other at any moment. Yet let us also recall that Severus Snape had a rather important job to do in this war, and was far too clever to allow such personal feuding to interfere with that. And let us also recall that James Potter was quickly losing a good deal of his mental faculties and that as evidence of this, we need only watch, with jaw-dropping awe, as he asks Severus Snape for marriage counsel.
"I've seen nothing of the sort, Potter," Snape replied, "nor has anyone else around here. We see the Lily we've always seen you're the only one who sees someone different. You are the only one so willing to accuse her falsely, I might add of disloyalty."
James looked sceptical. "You've seen nothing, then?"
"Nor ever heard, nor ever did suspect."
"I don't believe you. You must have seen Sirius and my wife together."
"Black? Honestly, Potter, if there is one person whose business I care even less about than yours, it is he. Of course I've seen them together; so has everyone else around here. He's your sodding 'best mate,' is he not? But no, I've seen nothing of harm between him and your wife."
"They've never whispered together when I'm away?"
"Nor sent you out of the way?"
"Never, Potter! Stop this bloody interrogation!"
"That's strange," James mused.
Snape closed his eyes. "She is honest, and I stake my soul on it," he declared firmly, opening his lids again to allow his black gaze to bore into James. "If you think otherwise, I recommend you remove such a thought at once from your infantile brain, and if any wretch put this in your head, let Merlin himself requite it with the serpent's curse!" He leaned forward menacingly and pointed an authoritative index finger at James. "If that woman in there is not honest and true," he insisted, "then no man is happy, and the purest of their wives is as foul as slander."
James stared at him. "What? That doesn't even make sense, you idiot." He sighed and looked away for a second, missing the murderous look on Snape's face. One hand heavy on the banister, James raised his eyes again. "Just let me see her, Snape, all right?"
Snape was silent for a moment, then let out a heaving sigh. "You know, don't you, Potter, that I loathe you more than one would think it possible to loathe anything in the known universe." It was a statement rather than a question. He turned and climbed back up the stairs, James at his heels.
He reached Lily's bedroom door and knocked apprehensively. A sob was quickly muffled from within. "Mrs. Potter," he called. "Your husband wishes to see you. Shall I push him down the stairs and hope he dies of the internal injuries, or would you permit me to employ a simple Avada Kedavra here on the spot?"
"Oh, fuck yourself, Snivellus," James muttered irritably, reaching for the door handle. "Lil?" he called as he entered. "Let me see you, baby."
Snape followed him inside, one hand firmly on his wand. Lily was lying on the bed with an icepack fixed to her jaw.
James turned back to Snape. "Sorry, mate, no pimping for you to do tonight. Why don't you go tell her queue of customers that she's off duty, and leave us alone for once, yeah?"
Snape snarled and drew his wand. "Why don't you just say what you need to say to her which, if there is any hope left in this world, will involve the phrase, 'I'm sorry I'm a useless Neanderthal who beats up women for sport' and get the fuck out of here, Potter? Your wife needs to rest."
Lily sat up on the bed at that moment and regarded them both wearily. "Maybe neither of you knows what I need right now, hm?" She sighed and rubbed her temples. "It's all right, Severus, you can leave us I'll be fine. But thank you all the same."
James lifted his chin triumphantly as Snape lowered his wand and frowned.
"Lily, I really must object" he began, but she cut him off.
"Please, Snape. You may wait outside the door."
He regarded her intently for a second, as if trying to read her mind, then swirled his robes around himself and retreated to the corridor, his footsteps not travelling far.
Alone with her husband, Lily crossed her legs on the bed and tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear before speaking. "Is this really what we are, James?" she asked softly. "Is this what our relationship is about now?"
"It wasn't my choice," James retorted.
"Well, it wasn't mine! Will you please tell me what this is about, what I've done to earn this treatment from you? We were in love once not so long ago."
"The woman I thought I loved is not you."
Lily bit her lip. "Then what woman am I?"
"A lying woman. A false woman. A deceiving woman."
She shook her head, wincing and bringing a hand up to her jaw. "No. That woman is not me. I'm your wife your true and loyal wife."
"Oh? Would you swear it, and damn yourself? Swear to me that you're honest."
"Heaven truly knows it," she said sadly, her eyes skyward.
"'Heaven truly knows that you are false as hell,' if we're going to be quoting Muggle poets," James replied coldly.
But Lily just shook her head. "To whom? With whom? How am I false? How am I deceitful?"
"Oh, Lily, for fuck's sake, don't do this innocent routine."
"Answer me, James! What ignorant sin have I committed?"
He sneered at her. "You have 'whore' written all over you," he spat.
Her eyes filled with tears. "You have been deceived, James," she whispered, "but not by me it's by whoever has put these ideas about me in your head in the first place."
"They're my ideas, and they're the truth."
"No!" she pleaded, grasping his hands. "Don't you see? There's something else at work here. Dark magic, James that's the only explanation for your behaviour towards me and your son. We've done nothing to you. I'm honest and faithful and our child is the pride of my life! A potion, or a hex, has gotten to you the Death Eaters must have caught you unaware, casting it so that you wouldn't notice, leading you to believe these terrible things of me"
"Enough! There are no spells or Dark magic at work here; there's only you, and the polluted fountain your child came from."
"My child? He's our child, James, ours together! And if you're suggesting otherwise, I beg you to listen to me, to listen to reason! I'm your wife, and I have never violated our marriage vows."
"Indeed?" James exclaimed in feigned surprise. "You're not a cheating slut?"
"James!" She shook her head, tears spilling down her cheeks.
"Not a slut, then?"
"No." She suddenly felt the husband she had known slip entirely away from her, replaced by a delusional stranger. "I am a witch, an Order member, a wife, a mother, and my body belongs to you; it is touched by no one else."
"What, not a whore?"
"Then I beg your pardon, good lady." He gave a mocking bow. "I took you for the cunning whore of Hogwarts who married James Potter." He whirled on his heel and stormed out the door with that, leaving Lily perplexed and speechless on the bed.
A moment after the sound of James's heavy footsteps had died away, an indignant black-robed silhouette appeared in the doorway. "That did not sound like an apology to me," Snape fumed.
"No," Lily agreed sadly, "it wasn't one. He just wanted to reinforce what he thinks he already knows about me."
Snape nodded. "It seems so."
"Don't you think I'm right, though, Severus? Don't you think he has to be under Imperius, or some hallucinogenic potion the Death Eaters have slipped him? He's very high-profile, after all; they would definitely target the Order's senior commander if they wanted to wage some sort of psychological warfare on us, wouldn't they?"
Snape pursed his lips. "I've heard nothing of such plans," he told her plainly. "It's most certainly not a potion, as you're currently speaking with the only person in their camp capable of brewing such a thing, and I assure you I've done nothing of the sort."
Snape held up a hand. "And I'm fully aware of the identities of all witches and wizards who are unfortunately under the Imperius at the moment. Your husband is not one of them."
The finality of his tone told Lily that it would be futile to argue with him. Of all the people around her, she mused including those who purported to care for her the most it was a fucking double agent who had consistently been honest with her. She blinked sadly at the irony. There was no cause for her to doubt Snape's information.
"Then," she whispered after some minutes, "it's just him?" She felt as if the final remnants of her formerly happy life were crumbling around her with this realisation.
"Yes," replied Snape, "it's just him, and with all due respect, Lily, I'm sorry you didn't realise that before you married him. This is simply who he is: a narcissistic, controlling, jealous, bullying arsehole."
Lily glared at him with cold fury in her eyes. "With all respect you are due in return, Snape which, after that comment, is not very much your assessments of my husband's character, and mine by association, incidentally, are not helpful to me whatsoever right now, all right?"
Snape returned her hard stare for a defiant moment, then dropped his eyes and sighed. "Very well, I'll let you be" he replied. "Do you require anything else for your face?"
Lily touched her fingers to her jaw again, where a purple welt had formed from James's blow in front of McGonagall earlier that evening. "No," she decided. But " She glanced across the room with apprehension. "Could you reach those sheets at the top of the bureau for me?" She pointed to her wardrobe. "They're from my wedding night. You'll think it's stupid, but well, perhaps it's worth a try perhaps all the 'marital bliss' charms James's mother put on them might still work wonders."
"After three years?" Snape asked, reaching for the wedding sheets. "It's very unlikely." He passed them to her and returned to the doorway. "Anything else?"
Lily was quickly realising why most sane people did not rely on Severus Snape for compassion and geniality in their hour of need; the man had an uncanny knack for extinguishing all embers of hope in a person desperate to keep them alight. But speaking of keeping desperate desires alive, Lily had just thought of one other person who had been spending an awful lot of time with her husband lately, and who just might have the necessary insight into or, she suddenly thought angrily, might be the cause of James's strange behaviour.
"Actually, Snape," she replied, "there is one more thing. I'm going to check on Harry; while I'm gone, could you ask Remus to come up here please?"
Lily returned from the nursery to find Snape and Remus waiting for her in her bedroom. Remus rose from his armchair by the window and hurried over to embrace his friend's wife.
"Oh, Lily," he sighed as he examined her face. "How are you?"
"I've been better, Remus, thanks," she retorted.
"Right, of course. Er- is there anything I can do?"
"You can tell her why her husband is treating her like an irritating flesh wound, for a start," Snape snarled.
Remus turned to him. "And why would I know anything about that?"
Lily stepped forward. "Because you've been spending more time with him lately than anyone else, that's why. Always taking him out drinking, filling his ear with god knows what "
"Lily!" Remus exclaimed, looking hurt. "How can you say such things? I've seen that James has changed lately, and I've been trying to get to the bottom of it for your benefit," he added. "You might recall that I did promise you I'd do my best to talk to him, find out what's wrong."
"And have you?" Snape pressed.
"It's the war," Remus insisted. "He feels helpless; he sees the destruction, the mind-control, all the good wizards he knew at school going over to Voldemort's side it's rattling him in a serious way! He's been taking his frustrations out on us, is all you especially, Lily. I see how he treats you. When I know he's in a foul mood, I take him out of here so that he won't hurt you. You may think I'm angling for time with him, but nothing could be further from the truth. He is a right pissy bitch to be around lately, I don't mind telling you, but I'd rather he take it out on me and a billiards table than on your face all the time!" He sat back and folded his arms over his chest, looking between the two of them.
"A valid effort, Lupin, but you're mistaken," Snape shot back. "It's not just the war that's upsetting him. His behaviour seems to stem from his suspicion of infidelity on Lily's part."
"Am I that name, Remus?" Lily interjected. "Have you ever known me to be that name?"
"The one James insists on calling me, to anyone who'll listen."
"'Whore,' Lupin," Snape drawled. "He won't call her by any name other than 'whore' these days."
"That great fucking prat," Remus muttered. "No, Lil, of course you're not."
"There's villainy at work here, Remus," she explained, "and we've already determined that it's not of the magical sort. No, this irrational jealousy, this madness it's even more terrifying than Dark magic, because it's entirely human " She trailed off thoughtfully, and Snape picked up on her tangent.
"Precisely," he agreed, as Remus simply stared at them. "Whoever has put these ideas in Potter's head knows him very well indeed, and knows that playing on his greatest fears of losing his alpha male status in his group is the most effective way of driving that man to the brink." He paced the room, his anger seeming to rise with each footfall. "Why should he call her whore?" he demanded. "Who keeps her company? What place? What time? What form? What likelihood?"
Remus fidgeted in his chair. What was going on with these two? And since when were they such allies he'd been certain that Lily hated Snape just as much as the rest of them, even if she didn't regularly show it. But now they were in some sort of partnership, tracking down the source of James's ire? He became very nervous indeed this was sounding an awful lot like a confrontation, and Remus didn't like it one bit. His only hope was to steer the conversation away from himself.
"You're both right," he mused aloud. "There's definitely something strange going on with the commander, and I just wish I knew what it was. He's been a right prat to everyone lately and his behaviour to you especially, Lil " He sighed and brought a hand up to his mouth, shaking his head regretfully. "It's just wretched, inexcusable."
Snape appraised Remus for several seconds, and Remus had the distinct impression that the slimy git was trying to read his mind, catch him in a lie. He might have been the least antagonistic Marauder as far as behaviour towards Snape had gone in school, but he was a Marauder nonetheless, and it was perfectly reasonable for Snape not to trust him.
Fortunately for Remus, however, he had been masking his true feelings for so many years now about his lycanthropy, about his relationship with James, about his envy of Sirius, about his disrespect for Peter, about his friendship with Lily, about his gratitude to Dumbledore that truth and falsehood had become merged on the same plane for him. He was quite certain that not even Veritaserum could re-establish the line between them at this point, nevermind a beginner's attempt at Legilimency.
Snape lowered his gaze. "All right. I'll see what I can find out from Riddle's camp discreetly, of course," he said at last. It may not be Dark magic so much as simply a few well-timed words in Potter's ear at some point recently. In fact, I declare here and now: may the Dark Lord himself strike me down dead, if some eternal villain, some busy and insinuating rogue, some cogging, cozening slave, to gain something for himself, did not devise this slander. I bet my life on it."
"Um, okay, Snape," Remus snickered, rolling his eyes. "And you think there is such a man?" He crossed his arms over his chest and raised his eyebrows. "That's a pretty tall order."
"If there is, may I find him and rip his balls off myself, with my bare hands." Lily folded those hands in mock prayer and turned her face to the ceiling.
Just then, a jovial red-haired man appeared in the doorway. "Sorry to interrupt," Arthur piped up, "but Molly's sent over some fresh-baked crumpets for Minerva's visit. Care to join us?"
As they made their way back down to the kitchen, Remus couldn't help but give himself a mental pat on the back for his excellent orchestrations of the plan thus far. There was only one more thing for him to arrange; after that, James would take care of the rest of his own downfall himself.
"Proceed five paces past the third willow on the gravel path, turn around 180 degrees, then lift your left arm over your head." Lily read softly to herself from the parchment in her hand, then raised her head and looked around. "That doesn't make any sodding sense," she muttered, stuffing the scrap back into her robes. She was in the middle of a forest five kilometres from the Order's warehouse headquarters, night had fallen swiftly, and she had no idea why she was there. She was beginning to grow worried; even though she was a fully-qualified witch with many personal security spells at her disposal, she still did not approve of women wandering around in Muggle forests by themselves at night.
Snape must really be mentally unbalanced to have wanted to lure her in here. And, she thought with a wry smile, she must have been even more so to have followed him.
She had found the note in Harry's nursery two days ago, hidden in the folds of the child's blanket. Snape must have known that James hadn't come near his son in weeks; he would never find it there.
Thursday night, eleven p.m. Apparate from the warehouse to Dulwich Park.
At the entrance sign, there are three paths gravel, stone, and brick. Take the first.
Proceed five paces past the third willow on the gravel path, turn around 180 degrees,
then lift your left arm over your head. Try not to be followed, but if you are, do not panic:
no one but you can access these instructions. Bring the child if you must.
It had been unsigned, but Lily had recognised Snape's hand. Perhaps it was foolish to have wrapped Harry up and actually followed the instructions tonight; she was a member of the Order of the Phoenix, after all, and this could very easily be a Death Eater trap. But something in the note perhaps the special shimmer of the ink, perhaps the particular crinkles at the edge of the parchment made her trust it. More importantly, she trusted Snape not words she ever thought she'd say, but he had been so gentle with her, so helpful in the past month, that she could not help but agree to anything he asked of her. She was at war not against the Death Eaters but against her own husband and Snape so far had been her only ally.
Everyone else averted their eyes, turned away shyly when she approached with a bruised cheekbone or a welt on her arm. Even Remus and Sirius, so eager to help that first night, had fallen away from her avoiding her, never asking questions. Remus especially had been a bastard, but then again he'd always had a soft spot for James; despite his words the other night, seeing this marriage in trouble clearly didn't bother Remus one bit. Sirius, for what it was worth, had tried to talk to her a few times, but he wasn't around the warehouse much anymore, and she could tell that he didn't want to get involved in any rift between herself and his best friend. She blinked back tears now, just thinking about the two of them. Motherfuckers.
It was always about James and his sodding friends but where were her friends? He had the entire non-Voldemort-supporting Wizarding world at his beck and call, ready to help him out of any scrap. But who did she have? No one. Lily was one of the only women active in the Order: Alice Longbottom was an Auror, always out on some mission or other, and Molly Weasley wasn't a full-fledged member the way that Arthur was, citing quite sensibly, Lily thought the need for at least one parent to stay out of danger and be available to raise those boys. Not to mention that she had a seventh baby on the way right now (begging the Wizard gods for a girl this time, she kept telling Lily) well, all told, Lily's friends in her current situation were few and far between.
She didn't doubt that Snape's motives in helping her were far from pure at the very least, the man probably just wanted to see James go down in flames after all those years of teenage torment, and Lily didn't blame him for that one bit but so long as he continued to fill icepacks for her bruises, she would not ask him too many questions.
She sighed now and turned around, shifting Harry in her right arm and lifting her left hand to smooth a stray strand of red hair out of her eyes. "Fuck," she told the child, shaking her head. "We're lost, love, and I don't mind telling you, you're getting bloody heavy."
"Give him here," a low voice behind her suddenly said. "I'd say a pram wouldn't be a bad investment, unless you want to develop permanent spinal damage from hauling that thing around. He's enormous."
Lily chuckled softly and turned towards the voice. "'Lo, Severus. Thank you." She handed little Harry over to Snape, waiting in a clearing just behind her with one arm stretched out awkwardly. "He's fourteen months old now, the little imp. You're right, he's definitely too big to carry anymore; I'm just in the habit, I guess."
Snape scowled at the child, and Lily could have sworn Harry wrinkled his nose in return.
"Give him back to me if he starts screaming," she added, suddenly anxious about the bizarre scene before her. "He's not used to strange, er men."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "It never occurred to me that he would be," he said with sincerity, then tossed Harry over one shoulder and strode off. After several paces he glanced over his shoulder to see Lily still rooted to the spot. "Well, come on then. I haven't got all night."
She hurried after him and caught up just as he stopped in front of a grandiose white poplar. Its jagged bark gleamed in the moonlight, and it cast an imposing shadow over them. Lily stole a sideways glance: the other trees seemed to be giving it a wide berth. "Where are we?" she asked.
Snape made no reply, but pulled his wand out of his robes and tapped the trunk of the tree gently. "Aparecium," he intoned.
Lily felt a shiver run through her as the section of the trunk touched by the wand began to rotate. On its fifth turn, the outline of a door appeared in the bark, and the tree stopped moving. Snape reached for the gleaming grey doorknob and turned.
"Quickly," he whispered, and she scampered through the entrance. He followed with Harry still slumped against his shoulder, quiet as a mouse, then closed the door and muttered a locking spell against the other side of it. A low rumble told Lily that the outside doorway had disappeared, and that they were safely concealed inside.
Snape waved his hand and two torches blazed to life high on the walls. He took Harry over to an armchair and propped him up; the child gave him a dazed look but still made no sound.
Lily looked around and saw that they were in a small, dark, but immaculate sitting room. There were several smaller chairs in addition to the one Harry now occupied, a medium-sized sofa, a square table in one corner, and a hotplate holding a kettle. Two small cupboards jutted out slightly from under the table, where a makeshift laboratory seemed to be set up. Murky liquids bubbled in cauldrons; various bottles and jars sat patiently on shelves overhead; and the smell of potions permeated the air.
Lily walked over to one of the cauldrons and peered in, frowning, before turning back to Snape. "I don't want to know what you're doing in this place, do I?" she asked with a wry smile.
Snape watched her carefully, responding only with a slight shake of his head.
She sighed, wandering back to the armchair and picking Harry up, then transferring him to her lap as she sat down. She stared at him for a second, then glanced up at Snape with a smile playing on her lips. "You can take the Silencing Charm off him now, Severus," she teased. "He should be fine as long as he knows that I'm here."
Snape frowned, as if he didn't believe this for a second, but obediently waved his hand again. "Vox," he muttered.
Harry coughed a few times, but then resumed his silence.
"All right, can you tell me why we're here? And, moreover, where 'here' is?"
Snape took a chair beside her and sat stiffly, as if bending pained him. "Thank you for coming," he began. "I suspected you might not trust my motives."
Lily held his gaze and smiled sadly. "I do trust you you should know that by now. You've" She took a deep breath to steady her voice. "You've saved my life."
Snape looked down and pushed the tips of his fingers together.
"And anyway," Lily continued hurriedly, worried she had said something wrong, "Dumbledore trusts you why would I doubt that judgement?"
Snape took a deep breath and nodded. "Lily. Enough preamble. You are here right now because you are in danger."
Her emerald eyes widened, then she quickly composed herself. She was a soldier in this war like any of them; she would not let news of the enemy rattle her. "All right," she whispered. "You- you've spoken to- him. The Prophecy- it's Harry? He's coming for us?"
Lily had discussed this more times than she cared to remember first with James, when she discovered she was pregnant, and then with Dumbledore and the rest of the Order, after Harry's birth was discovered. Harry fit some of the criteria, it was true, but his parents had certainly never 'defied Voldemort three times,' and there were no marks on him that in any way indicated that he was the 'equal' of any Dark Lord! She thought they were safe. Even Dumbledore hadn't seemed concerned for most of the past year. But now could it be?
"No, you stupid girl!" Snape snapped, rising from his chair and standing over her. "'Prophecy', indeed! What would he want with your bloody child? I've said from the beginning that this Trelawney woman couldn't predict rain in May, never mind a biblical adversary to the Dark Lord!"
Harry whined at the sudden change of tenor in the room.
"Shh," Lily whispered to him before turning her attention back to Snape. "First fine, sorry for making assumptions, but this Prophecy has only been the topic of virtually every single Order meeting for the past eighteen months; second do not raise your voice to me, ever; and third what the bloody hell are you talking about if not that?!"
Snape looked up at the ceiling briefly, as if searching for reinforcements there, then strode over to Lily and took her hand. Her sleeve fell back to reveal a yellowing bruise circling her wrist.
She followed his eyes with a closed expression on her face. "Shh " she repeated to Harry, who wasn't making any noise. She swallowed.
Snape took her hand in both of his and knelt beside her chair. One thumb rubbed over her wound gently. "This will not stop," he whispered to her urgently, searching for her eyes. "This will never stop."
Her head remained bent towards Harry, away from Snape's gaze. He lifted one hand and pushed the same sleeve of her robes up again. An angry slash wound appeared above her elbow, barely healed over. He ran a forefinger over it lightly, then he moved his hand up to her face, turning her cheek towards him with the softest of motions, letting the pad of his thumb run over the scarred split in the middle of her bottom lip. "He's going to kill you," he said at last, his low voice breaking.
Try as she might, Lily could not stifle the sob that escaped her at those words. "No," she whispered. "He loves me. I love him! This is just he'll stop it will be okay." Her eyes filled with tears as she brought Harry up to her chest and hugged him closely. "It has to be."
Snape rose and returned to his chair. "Lily," he said, his voice back under control. "Men like your husband do not 'stop' behaviour like this. They cannot. You may recall that you are not his first victim." He crossed his arms over his chest.
"Severus." She leaned forward and put a hand on his arm. "What they did to you in school was terrible inexcusable! You know I never condoned it. But it was teenage stuff, it wasn't like this. No offence, but it wasn't like this at all." She met his gaze and held it.
"No offence to you either, Mrs. Potter," he hissed, "but it was exactly like this. Your husband is an alpha personality of the worst degree he is compelled by some psychotic inner force to be the best at everything, and to destroy both those who don't live up to his expectations, and those that get in his way."
"Snape, really, I"
"Please" He held up a hand. "Let me finish."
She fell silent, rocking Harry gently on her lap.
Snape sighed wearily; now that he had her attention, he seemed at a loss for words. "Believe me," he began at last, "I'm just as surprised as you are to find myself your ally in this situation, as it is most definitely a situation I never thought I would have to live through again."
Lily raised her eyes. Again?
"But you- and your child" He tossed a sulky glance at Harry "have landed in my path, and I feel it my duty to do what I can for you." He had been speaking softly, his attention focused on his hands, folded neatly in his lap, but suddenly his voice took on an increased urgency as he raised his head, addressing something beyond Lily, beyond their tiny room, beyond the forest, even.
"I must help you. I can do that much. I asked Dumbledore to have the two of you transferred back to Hogwarts, so that he could watch over you, but both of us now agree that such a measure would be insufficient. I've checked things out in Riddle's camp, and no one there has said or done anything to your husband, I'm certain of it. It's just him, Lily. This madness is entirely his own creation, and nothing could be more dangerous for you. I can help you, but you have to let me, you have to listen to me. I couldn't do it before; I couldn't help then because I wasn't strong enough, and I'm sorry for that. I'm very, very sorry for that. But now I can do it. I can hide you, and he won't find you this time. You'll be safe, you'll be alive to raise your son, and you'll know that I saved her, that I stood up to him, that I didn't let him kill her this time "
Lily's eyes had gone wide with fright as Snape's rant trailed off. She leaned towards him tentatively. "Severus?" she whispered.
Snape jerked his head towards her, as if seeing her for the first time. He reached a hand up and pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut. "Mrs. Potter," he said at last, resuming his regular demeanour. "I've arranged it with Dumbledore. There is a cottage for you and Harry. It will be protected with a very powerful charm the Fidelius. Do you know it?"
Lily nodded absently, trying to absorb all that Snape was telling her, but still disturbed by his strange behaviour. "Yes- I- it's the one with the Secret-Keeper, but- Snape, what do you mean, 'there's a cottage for me'? I"
Snape seemed to have lost all patience with her inability to grasp the gravity of her situation. He gritted his teeth in exasperation. "What did he say to you the last time you saw him?" he asked angrily.
Lily jumped. "He- he " She slumped back in her chair. "He called me a lying cunt," she whispered, fresh tears stinging her eyes. "And he called Harry a child of filth."
"And then what did he do?" asked Snape.
"Lily took a deep breath. "He grabbed my wrists and threw me into the side of the bureau," she said, her voice almost inaudible. She rubbed one wrist with the fingers of her other hand, wincing. "Something cracked I don't think it's healing right."
"And?" Snape pressed. "What did he say to you?"
The tears flowed freely down Lily's ashen face as she clutched Harry to her chest and sobbed. "He said he would fucking kill us, because filthy sluts like me don't deserve to live, and bastards like Harry are a stain on the Wizarding world," she finished, burying her head against her son.
For several long minutes, only the sounds of a broken woman's desperate tears filled the room. Even little Harry seemed to have concluded that his mother's sobs were enough; he did not add his own to the cloud of misery hovering over them.
"There is a cottage for you," Snape repeated at last, his voice low and gentle. "You must choose a Secret-Keeper, someone you trust. Someone who won't tell your husband where you are. And" He held up a hand to anticipate what she was thinking. "It can't be me or Albus. We are both hiding too many secrets as it is. Were we in the hands of the Death Eaters, your Fidelius would likely be the first one to crack."
Lily lifted her head and brushed the back of one hand across her cheek. Her voice trembled, but she attempted to steel her nerves. He was right, she realised at last. She had to do this, for her own safety, and for that of her son. "Sirius," she said calmly, stroking Harry's head. "Let it be Sirius."
Snape's eyes blazed. "Surely you're joking," he spat. "Try again."
"No, Snape," she said slowly, rolling the thought around in her head. "It makes perfect sense. James is still not speaking to him. We could even get Dumbledore to suggest that James throw him out of the Order altogether. James would never think to ask him where we are, and even if he did think to ask, he would never trust anything Sirius would tell him."
Snape frowned. "Is there no one else?"
"We can't use Remus because the Fidelius doesn't work on werewolves," Lily replied, her sixth-year Charms notes suddenly dancing through her head. "And anyway, I suspect he's never much cared for me, since you know."
"And it won't work on Molly while she's pregnant," Lily continued, her mind racing now. She got up and started pacing the room thoughtfully, Harry draped over her shoulder. "Arthur's got those boys to worry about; I can't put him in such a dangerous situation. Moody's already Secret-Keeper for the warehouse, right? So we can't use him twice "
"You know about that?" Snape interjected.
She grinned. "I figured it out. Look, Sirius is really our best bet."
Snape sighed. "What about that- what's his name? Pettigrew."
Lily wrinkled her nose. "Who? Oh, him." She shrugged. "He hardly knows me. I don't think I could ask this of him." She stopped pacing and leaned back against Snape's work table, running her hand up and down Harry's back soothingly. "It's got to be Sirius," she declared.
"Lily," Snape began, "you should know something about Black."
She raised her eyebrows, shifting Harry in her arms. A beaker clanked behind her as she jostled the work table, and she jumped away. Her eyes darted to Snape as she prepared to be reprimanded for disturbing his potions, but it didn't seem to have noticed. "What is it?" she asked instead.
"We have reason to believe that he's the spy in the Order," Snape replied. "I would very much hesitate to trust him with any information, never mind something as important as this."
Lily stared at him. "Sirius? No, that's not possible." She shook her head. "I know he can be a bit- well. I know there's no love lost between you two, but really, Snape I trust him."
"Would you trust him with your life?"
Her eyes fell to the floor, and she thought again about her limited options. Her friends were few and far between, and none of them were suited to this task. Clutching Harry tightly, she kissed his cheek and raised her gaze again to Snape. "Yes," she answered, watching Snape's shoulders deflate.
"Very well," he conceded. "I'll get Albus to speak with him, and we'll perform the Charm as soon as possible."
Lily sat down again and let a long shudder pass through her. James's cruel words and terrifying actions of the past months came washing over her all at once. She struggled to breathe, trying to focus on Snape through the fog in her head. When it cleared, she knew he was right, that it would never stop, and that this was the only way.
She took a long, appraising look at Snape, as he sat back in his chair with his eyes momentarily closed. It must be killing him to trust this to Sirius, she thought suddenly. He's taking it so personally, this mission to save me, as if he'd already failed before, as if I'm his second chance
She inhaled sharply. Oh. Holy. Fuck. Her stomach turned and she cautiously reached a hand out to him. "Severus?" she whispered.
"Yes?" His voice was neutral, his eyes still closed.
She swallowed. "How- how old were you," she began quietly, "when- when " Her voice broke and she was unable to finish her question.
Snape sat perfectly still for what seemed like an eternity, but she could see his eyeballs twitching frantically behind the closed lids. At last he opened them and looked at her evenly, his face unreadable. He knew what she was asking.
"Twelve," he answered tonelessly.
She choked back a sob as her eyes filled with tears again. Sweet mother of god.
"If you're still unsure whether or not to do this for yourself," he continued in a hollow voice, "I advise you to consider your son. I'm no great fan of the boy what with his father's blood running loose in him you'll have to be sure to raise him in an exceptional atmosphere of tolerance towards his peers but no child should have to live with the knowledge that his father killed his mother, and that he was powerless to stop it." He gazed at her for a long moment before rising and offering her his hand. "Come," he whispered. "We've told James you're on a mission. You're staying at Hogwarts tonight."
Lily nodded vacantly and gathered Harry in her arms. She paused and regarded her son. No, she told him silently, I won't let you live with that knowledge, and I won't let him hurt you, either. She stood and followed Snape back out of the trunk of the poplar, Harry still silent as a mouse.
I will die before I let him hurt you.
"Excusing me, Master Lupin "
"Oh yes, Tippy, come right in. Here, I've got some special dish soap for you, for your troubles."
"Oh, thank you, sir! Master is so good to Tippy! Master understands how hard it is to be washing dishes for so many people all the time with the bad soap! Even our house-elf magic can't be helping "
"Of course, Tippy, I know how hard you work, how hard all of you work! And I'm so grateful you know, we wouldn't have made any progress at all in this war without the valuable help of the house-elves."
"Master is too kind to Tippy! It's terrible what Master has to endure, his disease, on top of the war. Master is such a good wizard! Tippy has cleaned out Master's cell in the basement, it's all ready for Master oh, poor, good, Master!"
"Yes, there there, Tippy, get a hold of yourself, now. Why don't you be a good elf and tell me what happened tonight? Where did she go?"
"Well, Tippy followed the Mistress, sir, like you was asking. She was going to a forest with the one who wears black all the time and frightens Tippy something terrible!"
"Yes, Tippy, it's all right; he's a very frightening man. Did he hurt you?"
"Oh no, sir! They was not seeing Tippy at all! House-elf magic is very powerful, sir. Wizards and witches doesn't know anything about it."
"Of course, Tippy, you are a very powerful elf, very impressive."
"Oh, Master! Tippy is so flattered to serve you!"
"Yes, yes, Tippy, I know. Now please, let's focus. What did they talk about?"
"Oh, it was terrible, sir. He- he thinks the commander is going to- going to"
"Shhh, there there, Tippy. That he's going to what?"
"Murder the Mistress! Oh, for shame! Tippy is never been hearing such horrible things before in her life!"
"Indeed, Tippy, it is tragic. Did they say what they would do about it?"
"Yes, sir, Tippy was hearing everything. A cottage, sir, and a a Fidelius."
"With a Secret-Keeper?"
"Just so, Master, just so."
"Come, Tippy, you've been very brave tonight. Let me make you some hot cocoa, and you can tell me everything."
"Iced coffee, Moony? I know it's your favourite." The voice that approached Remus from behind the next day, as he was polishing his wand in his room at the warehouse, was even frostier than the beverage it offered.
Remus looked up. "Peter, old chap! Are you still in this story? Well, come in, then, haven't seen you in ages, friend! Tell me what you've been up to."
It was a simple enough question, but Peter shifted uncomfortably. "Nothing! I mean, I've been busy doing things. For the Order and everything, you know how it is. Same as you." He left the glass he was carrying on the nearby table and glared at Remus. "And I've been lying awake at night, wondering if Lily's been getting any of the gifts I asked you to send her, or if you've just been using my money to take James out for drinks all the time."
"Oh, really Peter when James and I go out for drinks, do you really think I offer to pay?"
Peter ignored him. "Don't think I don't know what you're up to, Moony the others have told me. You and James have been spending an awful lot of time together. You don't care at all about me and Lily you're just trying to get James back!" His cheeks flushed and his chest heaved. Remus was suddenly terrified the man might cry.
"Peter," he began, "I have no interest in James, you know that. But if I did, and if I were trying to court him again and lure him away from Lily, how, precisely, would that damage your cause?"
Peter blinked at him in confusion.
"If James was to become estranged from Lily because of me, or because of whatever reason it would only help your suit, would it not?" It was like explaining evolution to a Flobberworm, Remus decided with a grimace.
"Lily would be available," Peter mused. "All right, I guess I can see that. So do you think it's working? Do you think they're going to split up? Because Arthur told me they've been fighting a lot lately pretty nasty, he said."
"Because I want to tell her, Moony. I think it's time I told her how I feel, that she's better off with me. I'm tired of waiting around, you know? And besides, I've been doing a lot of things, Moony, a lot of important things for the war. I'm going to impress her, you know, she's going to want to be with me when it's all revealed "
"What the hell are you talking about, Peter?"
"Nothing, nothing. Anyway, I want to tell her, because if she doesn't want me, then she should bloody well give back that necklace you gave her for me oh, and the emerald ring! That thing cost me a right fortune "
Remus said nothing, laying his wand down on the table and picking up the coffee. He swirled it around a bit and sniffed. Hmm. Not arsenic, exactly nothing deadly; but there was definitely something in there that shouldn't be. Remus was impressed; he hadn't thought Peter had it in him. It was pleasing to know that he was wrong.
"Well, listen," he replied after thinking for a moment, "there are some complications now. McGonagall was just here, and the word has come down that Sirius is supposed to take over control of the headquarters here, and James is being sent as an emissary to Beauxbatons."
Peter's eyes widened. "Germany! But what about Lily is she going with him?"
"France," Remus muttered under his breath, turning away from Peter and rubbing his temples. "France "
But Peter wasn't listening, having begun to pace the room in agitation. "I can't let her go that far away I'll never see her again! Moony, you have to help me keep her here."
"The only way to do that would be to make sure that James is forced to stay as well, by some emergency or other."
"Hmm. It seems to me that the only sort of event that would keep James here would be if he were required to continue his duties at headquarters if Sirius was unable to fulfill the command as James's replacement. If he was removed, that is to say, from his new post, then James and Lily would have to stay here."
"How do you mean to remove him?"
"By making him somehow incapable of taking James's place." He raised his eyes to Peter and gave him a meaningful look. By knocking out his brains, he finished in his head.
"Ah. And you want me to do that."
Remus watched his old friend for a long moment, then slowly nodded. Honestly, the man could barely grasp the essentials of the English language and European geography, yet he understood a veiled murder plan on first listen. Remus couldn't help but wonder when, exactly, his bumbling old friend had developed that particular ability.
"Oh, we're getting ahead of ourselves here; there's more to this story, I'm afraid."
"All right, what else is there?"
"It's a delicate situation, obviously. You already know how Lily feels about Sirius"
Peter hung his head. "Yeah fucking Padfoot, always getting the things that I want "
"Exactly. And the incident at the party didn't seem to do much to diminish him in her eyes. Got James all riled up, sure, but Lily still defended the drunken git."
Peter's hands had balled into fists. "I hate him!" he declared.
"Yes, quite," Remus agreed, proceeding cautiously. "But what you don't know, Peter, is that Lily is already making plans to leave James."
"Wait, wait." Remus held up a hand. "It's not good news for you. She's leaving him and taking Harry to a secret location, so that James won't be able to find her. But," he warned as Peter tried to interrupt again, "she's already taking up with Sirius, just as I predicted."
Peter yelped. "No!"
"I'm afraid it's true," Remus remarked sadly. "She's setting up a special charm the Fidelius, do you know it?"
Peter shook his head.
"Of course you don't," Remus muttered, then cleared his throat. "It's very complex, but essentially what it means is that no one will be able to find Lily and Harry except their Secret-Keeper. He'll be the only one who knows where they are. So, can you guess who she's planning to use as her Secret-Keeper?"
Peter's eyes were wide. "Sirius?" he whispered.
"Exactly. He alone will know where she is, and will be able to visit her whenever he wants."
"Moony!" Peter wailed before composing himself. He tapped a finger to his bottom lip. "Ah. So this is why he must be removed."
"Right. But first and listen carefully, because this part is very important you need to convince Sirius to switch with you, so that you become Secret-Keeper instead of him."
"But why would he do that? If he switches with me, he'll never get to see her."
"Yes he will, because once you're the Secret-Keeper, you'll be able to tell him where she is if you choose to, that is. Now the key to your argument will be James. You have to get Sirius to believe that when James finds out Lily's gone, and has used a Fidelius and I'm sure it won't take him long to figure that out he'll immediately suspect that Sirius is the Secret-Keeper. You must convince Sirius that Lily will be better off with you as Secret-Keeper, because James would never suspect you."
Peter took a second to process this glut of information. "Okay " he said slowly.
"Or whatever you want! Tell him whatever, just make sure he switches with you."
A sly grin spread across Peter's face. "Whatever I want? You sure about that, Moony?"
"Yeah, whatever. Trust me, Peter, it won't be as hard as it sounds. Then, all you have to do is tell me where she is after the spell has been performed, and I'll help you get to her."
"Albus, this is madness! I don't understand why I need to"
"Please, Sirius. I need you to do this for me. For my baby."
"James'll find out, Lil, you know that. I swear to god he and Remus are in on something together I think Remus has gone to Voldemort; they'll both get it from me."
"Remus has what?"
"He's just- they've both been acting strange lately, you know?"
"We do indeed need to be careful until we discover whether or not there is a spy in the Order, but if this procedure is performed properly, Sirius, as I am certain it will be, I have no doubt that James will not be able to learn Lily and Harry's whereabouts from you, and he will not be able to find them."
"I just don't understand, Lil. How did it come to this?"
"He's going to kill me. Please help. You're the only one who can help. Please, Sirius for Harry! You have to help us "
"Okay, Lil. Yeah, okay, of course I'll help; you know I'd do anything for you. So, all right, how do we do this thing?"
Unbeknownst to Remus, who had a terrible habit of underestimating his old friend, Peter rolled this new development of the switched Secret-Keepers around in his head in the context of the conversation Wormtail had overhead at the Three Broomsticks months before information he had then taken to his new master. "Bring me the Potters," the Dark Lord had told him when he had first presented himself as a spy in Dumbledore's camp. That Prophecy was Biblical nonsense, everyone serving the Dark Lord knew that, but if Peter could bring about the demise of the Order's commander and his wife well, that would be something grand indeed.
Fortunately for Peter, whose work ethic had never been quite what it should be, the Potters seemed to be bringing about their own demise without any scheming on his part, and certainly without any help from Voldemort or his Death Eaters.
His new mission was simply to ensure that the Potters indeed self-destructed as promised, so that the Dark Lord could attend to other matters. James planned to kill his wife, Peter knew that. After that, the plan was less clear, but he suspected that either the immediate remorse would lead him to kill himself right after, or Remus's multiple machinations this past year included his own plan to finish off James himself. This information about the Fidelius was perfect. Remus was right: Sirius could easily be persuaded that his acceptance of the Secret-Keeper role would put Lily at risk from James and Remus. The job would go to Peter, who could then tell James where his wife and son were hiding, and the Dark Lord's original plan would be carried out by his own would-be victim. It was all perfect.
The only snag, of course, was Peter's continued affection for Lily, which was indeed genuine. But the Dark Lord was strong, and getting stronger every day. He was taking over everywhere; no one could resist him for long. There was much to be gained from joining with him now, rather than after the victory was achieved; if Lily must be sacrificed to accomplish that, so be it. It wasn't not like she was on the verge of throwing herself at him anyway, Peter knew that.
"Peter! Are you listening to any of this?" Remus's voice shook him out of his thoughts as they continued their conversation in the warehouse.
"Yeah, yeah, I get it.
"All right, good, then we're set." Remus ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
"But wait," Peter added. "What does this have to do with Germany?"
"Honestly, Peter, do I have to explain everything to you?"
"If you don't pull this off, and Sirius becomes Secret-Keeper, then James will find out about it and make Sirius reveal the secret, and then James will find Lily and take her and Harry off to Beauxbatons with him! Then you'd never see her again. You see? It's really very simple and logical, Peter; you just haven't been paying attention."
Peter pouted at this. "All right, I get it now," he retorted.
"Good, good, then it's all settled." Remus smiled at him and resumed his wand-polishing.
"Not exactly." Peter crossed his arms and gazed evenly at Remus. "What about this business of incapacitating the new commander so that he doesn't take control of headquarters?"
Remus looked up sharply.
They stared at each other for a long moment without speaking, two traitorous former friends who had their own clear, yet very different reasons for their disloyalty neither willing to recognise the extent of the pain, the mistrust, the debilitating envy in the other that had led them to this spot.
"Right," Remus began. "Once you're Secret-Keeper, Pete, I would advise eliminating your competition for Lily. You know how violent he can be you saw it yourself at that party, and that wasn't the first time we've seen it"
"He tried to bloody kill me that night."
"Exactly! He's very dangerous when he's angry. So what if when you're the Secret-Keeper and you refuse to tell him where Lily is what if he gets really angry and comes after you?"
Peter nodded solemnly. Getting Black would be almost as good as getting Potter the Dark Lord had said as much himself. He was a stain on Pure-blooded wizards everywhere; Bellatrix and Lucius especially would grant Peter anything he wanted, he was certain of it, if he brought them the head of Sirius Black. "He'd kill me, Remus," he panted, wide-eyed. "He's bigger than me and he knows more spells. I'd be doomed!"
"Not unless you got him first."
"He's in Hogsmeade every other night, either with a bevy at the local house of ill repute, or with Rosmerta herself at the Inn. Catch him unaware "
Peter nodded again. "Mmm. All right, Moony. I can probably be convinced, but it's late and I've got- a meeting no! I mean, a thing I need to do right now. We'll figure out details tomorrow, eh?"
Remus watched him for a moment, then nodded. "All right, Pete. See you tomorrow."
"Pete, what is it? I'm busy."
"I just- I need to tell you something, Padfoot."
"Fine, get on with it."
"I- well "
"I said, get on with it!"
"I know about the Secret-Keeper thing."
"What did you say?"
"I know, all right? But I have to tell you something you can't do it. Moony's the spy, I know he is, and he's going to try to get it from you."
"But why would Remus want to hurt Lily?"
"Think about what you're saying, you idiot if Remus wants the Secret, then he wants to know where Lily is. Why?
"Well, to tell James, I think."
"Oh. Oh, fucking hell. Fucking fucking hell! That lying son of a motherfucker! He still wants James, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"He'd kill Lily for him?"
"Um, yeah. Yeah, I think so."
"Fuck. Fuck. FUCK! All right, Peter, fuck, all right here's what we've got to do but you can't tell anyone, do you hear me? Dumbledore'll have both our bollocks if he finds out I switched this up."
"Okay, Padfoot, I won't tell. What are we going to do?"
When Peter was gone and the door was closed, Remus sat down in his chair and stared hard at the sweating glass Peter had brought him, then he narrowed his eyes at it and swatted it across the surface. It fell with a thud, the contents bleeding onto the table, as the glass rolled towards the edge and crashed to the floor. He hated iced coffee.
He watched a puddle of murky brown liquid run slowly across the dark wood of the table, and cemented his plan in his head. "It's all arranged, then," he whispered quietly to himself, as the coffee oozed in front of him. "The Head Boy and Girl. The Best Man. The Quidditch hero. The Charms goddess. Everyone's favourite fucking godfather. The hetero poster couple the board is lined up perfectly against them now, against all of them."
The coffee reached one edge of the table and dripped over the side in small splashes. "I've waited a long time to be able to say this to you, James Potter," he breathed. "Check mate."
"'Heaven truly knows that you are false as hell,' if we're going to be quoting Muggle poets." James is, of course, referring to this exact line from Shakespeare's Othello.
Act V: Godric's Hollow
"Ow! Moony, you're on my foot! Shove over, for pete's sake."
"Shut up, Wormtail! I've never known a person who's supposed to be hiding to talk louder than you."
"Get off my foot and I'll shut up."
"Fine. Just move- there, okay. Gah, I can't feel my legs."
"Then stop crouching! It's got to be almost time, anyway. How long can a shag take?"
"I don't suppose you'd know, would you?"
"Moony, I swear to god, if you piss me off, I'm walking down that street and away from all of this, all right?"
"Fine, fine, I'm sorry. Don't walk away, Peter, I was just joking."
"Just settle down, all right? Don't be afraid; I'll be right at your elbow. This will make us or mar us, think of it that way."
"What? My elbow? What does that mean, you lunatic?"
"Nothing, nothing, okay, look, here he comes, just out the door there. Fix your resolution. Are you ready?"
"He'll never see you here, never see it coming. Just focus."
"I'll be just down the lane here."
"You'll- what? You'll stay right where you are, Remus! What if I need help?"
"You won't. Look he's coming. Go!"
With a great shove, Remus hurled Peter out from the shrub they had been hiding behind, out into the lane outside the Three Broomsticks and right into the path of Sirius Black, who had just emerged from the pub whistling to himself, his head down as he checked to make sure his trousers were fastened.
Hiding behind a nearby patch of hedge, Remus briefly pondered the ramifications of the outcome of the evening's events. "I've done all I can here," he muttered to himself as Peter stepped forward. "Now, whether he kills Sirius or Sirius kills him, or they each kill each other any of these outcomes would benefit me. If Peter lives, he'll demand I return those jewels he gave me for Lily, which of course have nicely lined my pockets; if Sirius lives, James may eventually tell him everything I've said, and that simply would not do at all. No, he must die."
Remus spared a brief glance up at the shifting clouds and the darkening sky, then turned his attention back to Peter just as Sirius came waltzing down the lane.
A few metres away, Peter prepared himself for his task. "I don't really want to do this," he whispered with resignation in Sirius's direction, "but our friend has made a strong case for it." He clutched his wand. "You will have to die," he muttered under his breath, as he gathered all his courage, steeled his mind towards his task, and forced his narrow eyes in the direction of his target.
"Avada Kedavra!" Peter bellowed, pointing his wand at Sirius and assuming what he believed to be a duelling stance.
Be assured that the incantation reverberated throughout the lane, dear readers! The pure evil encapsulated in those words, words never before uttered on Main Street in innocent Hogsmeade, floated up over the nearby houses and rippled through the branches of neighbouring trees.
Alas for Peter, the force of the words was not quite enough to cause death.
"Ow!" Sirius stumbled backwards, one hand flying to his other arm as a deep slash wound appeared there. "What the" He looked up and saw Peter standing before him, eyes wide with shock.
In a flash, Sirius tore his own wand from his robes and aimed it straight at Peter's head. "Stupefy!" he bellowed, and Peter crashed to the ground, immobilised.
Watching all of this from behind the privet, Remus swore under his breath. Leave it to Peter not to have the requisite evil in him to pull off a Killing Curse, and leave it to Remus to be so caught up in the plan as to assume he did.
Pulling his own wand out, he carefully aimed for Sirius's legs, while the other man was looking the opposite way down the street for further perpetrators. "Crucio," he hissed quietly.
"Ahhh!!" Sirius cried out in agony and fell to the ground, writhing and screaming as his legs tore themselves apart from the inside.
Remus held his wand up as long as he could, channelling all the rage and fury he had ever felt towards that no-good, useless, underachieving, accolade-gathering, worthless, traitorous He took a deep breath and quickly backed away from the hedge, then he finally lowered his wand and bolted from the road and into the safety of the nearby trees, as Sirius came back to himself.
Panting and trembling in the middle of the road, Sirius slowly regained consciousness and peered through the darkness for signs of a renewed attack. "Fucking hell," he muttered, his legs shaking. "I'm dying," he whispered in dramatic fashion, possibly feeling very much as though this were in fact the case. "I'm fucking dying " he moaned louder, one hand covering his face, and at that moment, unbeknownst to him, the stealthy shape of his former commander appeared through the trees.
"What's this?" James said softly to himself. "Sirius, murdered at last? It's about bloody time." Evidently, Remus didn't need checking up on, after all this was a most pleasing development. "Well done, Moony," he said with quiet approval, retreating back into the trees. "Oh yes, love, very well done indeed. You've kept your word, and now it's my turn."
He was gone when the patrolling duo of McGonagall and Hagrid came strolling up the lane.
"I'm dying," Sirius continued to groan, his legs writhing under him as he lay in the street.
"Yeh hear summat, Professor McGonagall?" Hagrid asked his patrol companion as they approached the scene of the crime.
"Yes, Hagrid, I do, but I can't see a thing out here where are all the lights on this street?" she whispered.
"Well, I'd be happy to give us a little light, Professor, but yeh know I'm not allowed to do magic "
McGonagall rolled her eyes. "Yes, Hagrid, I know. Just be quiet and wait it might be a trap."
"Oh! O' course, Professor. A trap." Hagrid's eyes widened as he tried to look around the lane.
Several paces up the lane and out of earshot of the patrolling officers, Remus emerged from the thicket to check on the state of Sirius's injuries. "Fuck," he muttered under his breath, as he confirmed that Peter's attempt at the Killing Curse had achieved less power than a simple Stunning spell, and his own Cruciatus would not leave permanent damage. Sirius was still rolling about on the ground, eyes squeezed shut, moaning dramatically, when Remus stepped over him and pointed his wand at Peter.
"Ennervate," he whispered, and Peter's stiff body slowly bloomed back to life. He coughed and sat up, only to find Remus's wand still trained on him. "You're an idiot, Wormtail," he seethed. "A useless fucking idiot."
"No, Moony, I can explain it'll be okay, I just" He raised his hands in surrender, shuffling away from Remus as the wand came closer.
"I told you I couldn't afford to have this fucked up," Remus told him calmly, pointing his wand at Peter's hands. "I'm sorry, Peter, but I told you." He narrowed his eyes and swished his wand. "Exsectio!" he hissed.
Peter cried out in pain as the middle finger on his right hand fell to the ground. His eyes round with shock, he clutched his hand and looked up at Remus.
"I thought we were friends, Wormtail," Remus continued, shaking his head. "I can't believe you let me down this badly. Now I have to do this. Put your hand up again." He raised his wand as Peter whimpered in a ball on the ground.
"No, Moony, please just"
"I've found him, Professor!" a gruff voice boomed through the night air at that moment. "He's over here well, great Bludgers, it's Sirius Black!"
Remus whirled around in the direction of the voices, cursing his timing.
Now, dear readers, we should all be aware by now that Peter Pettigrew did not nearly fit the level of dunce that his friends had assigned him. Despite his propensity to act the fool, this was in fact a carefully planned method for gaining the trust of more powerful men. Once gained, Peter was quite skilled at using that trust against these men. It was a method that had served him well so far in his dual life. Right now, for instance, he could see that Remus trusted him to stay still while he investigated the source of the commotion around Sirius, but Peter was rather unmotivated to do this. Sparing one last glance at his amputated finger, lying cold and dead in front of him, he squeezed his eyes shut and formed a clear image in his mind.
A second later, his body had shrunk to the size of a common rat's, his ears and nose pointy, his whiskers sensitive, his claws scampering frantically through the dirt as he raced down the lane and away from the scene. Darting into the nearby trees on his injured foot, he vowed that Remus Lupin would not get away with this. It might take days, weeks, or years, but he was willing to wait. Someday, Remus would pay.
Remus turned around again just in time to see the rat fleeing down the street and into the trees, and let out a stream of James and Sirius's finest curse words. No matter. He had another botched situation to fix; there was no time to worry about Peter.
"Sirius Black, what's happened to yeh?" Hagrid's voice wailed from down the lane.
"Attacked," Sirius moaned in response, as McGonagall joined them.
"Attacked! By Death Eaters?" she asked in alarm.
"I" Sirius blinked. "I don't know. I thought I saw Peter, but " He closed his eyes again, cradling his head in his hands.
It was time to join the ruse, or risk being implicated in it. Remus stepped out of the trees, wand forward. "Lumos!" he called, bathing the lane in light. His eyes widened as he hurried forward, the other three people on the road pausing to look up at him. "I heard shouting!" he exclaimed, wand out as his eyes darted around. "What's happened where's Peter? What's- Sirius? My god, what happened here?"
Sirius's eyes flitted to him. "Moony," he pronounced, wincing in pain. "What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here? Hagrid, Minerva" He straightened up to face them squarely, chin high. "Be careful of him Peter told me not to trust him!" He whirled back around to face Sirius. "What have you done to Peter?"
"I- what have I done to Peter? What are you on about? Ah, god, my leg "
"Pettigrew was out here with you?" McGonagall asked Remus, her eyes narrowed.
"We were on patrol," Remus explained, his heart hammering. "There were sparks of light, and some sort of explosion I thought we were under attack, so I ran for those trees." He pointed to the thicket on the other side of the lane, doing his best to keep his voice urgent and distraught. "I lost Peter I thought I heard him screaming, but there was smoke everywhere; I couldn't see anything to help him!"
"What are you saying?" Sirius moaned. "I didn't- I was just coming from Ros- Fuck, Moony! Peter told me not to trust you, and now you're-"
"Professor!" Hagrid's booming voice came through the night air from up the road. "Yeh'd better have a look at this."
Remus and McGonagall hurried up the lane, Sirius following at a pained crawl.
"What is it, Hagrid?" asked McGonagall briskly. "We have quite a mess to sort out here as it is, and-"
"Yeh're right about that, Professor, and I'd say it's gettin' messier by the minute. Look!" With that, he bent his huge form in half and reached down to the ground, plucking a lumpy digit out of the dirt and holding it up in front of his eyes.
"What the hell is that?" Sirius cried, his eyes wide.
Remus clutched Hagrid's forearm, pulling the object towards him. "Oh, Peter," he moaned. "Oh no. No!" He let out a cry of rage, then whipped around again to face Sirius. "How could you, Padfoot? How could you?"
"Remus, please, you must stay calm," McGonagall pleaded, but Remus noted with satisfaction that she, too, was eyeing Sirius with trepidation. "You believe this- this finger to be Pettigrew's?" Her voice shook.
"I'd know it anywhere, Minerva," he said quietly. "He- he was my best friend." He covered his face with his hand and sighed heavily. "This war, my god. So many casualties "
"Whaddya have to say for yourself!" Hagrid roared all of a sudden, whirling on Sirius. "That poor boy! I knew there was a traitor in the Order, by god, but I never dreamed it was you!"
"What?" Sirius stared at them all. "Professor McGonagall," he ventured, attempting to stand, "you don't believe this, do you?"
"I don't know what to believe, Mr. Black," she said sadly, shaking her head, "but until I do, you aren't going anywhere, is that clear? Albus will have to question you about this, but I have to tell you, I never would have believed it." Her face softened for an instant, and Remus feared his stern former professor might actually cry. But the next moment, she had taken her wand from her robes and pointed it at Sirius. At her command, thin, snakelike cords leapt from her wand and wrapped around Sirius's body, binding his arms to his side. Another incantation, and the same happened to his legs. He attempted to wrestle free for a moment before surrendering, his eyes wide.
He stared, open-mouthed, at McGonagall and Hagrid for a few seconds before turning his head to Remus. "You " he panted, shaking his head. "You " Fury radiated from his dark grey eyes as his gaze bore into Remus. "I don't know what you've done to him, Moony, but he knew the truth about you, and now so do I."
"Oh, he told you I was the spy, did he?" spat Remus. "Yes, I figured he'd do that."
"Wait a second," Sirius continued, his eyes narrowed. "What about James and Lily? Peter told me you'd try to get the Secret from me, so you could kill Lily and have James to yourself again."
"That's enough, Mr. Black!" McGonagall snapped. "You have a good deal of explaining to do later; if I were you, I would save my breath right now."
"No, Minerva!" Sirius shouted. "Don't you see? Don't any of you see! It's him." He tried to point at Remus, but the bindings held his arms down. "Moony," he intoned, his eyes burning and his breath coming raggedly. "Oh god we have to- he's told James- oh god, Lily "
"Whoa, there, Sirius," Hagrid said. "Jus' take a few deep breaths; yeh're not quite yourself."
But Sirius shook him away, wriggling frantically in his bindings. "No! Where is she, Remus? He must have told you."
"Where's who? Padfoot, it's over for you now we all know. So just be quiet."
"WHERE IS LILY HIDING?" he shrieked. "There's no time we have to find her. I switched, Moony, I fucking switched Peter was the Secret-Keeper, and whatever you've done with him- oh god, if he told James- you told James he's going to- he's going to- WHERE IS SHE?"
McGonagall turned to him then, her eyes flashing, and Remus knew it was done. "If you know where Lily is, Remus, you had better tell us straightaway." Her gaze bore into him over her spectacles, and he sighed, dropping his head.
"I think you're mad for suspecting James of anything," he replied, his eye on Sirius, whose mouth dropped open at that. He renewed his struggle against the bindings, howling and tearing at them as he writhed on the ground. Hagrid, for all his security duties, had jumped out of the way when Sirius began to struggle.
"Suspecting James? Suspecting James? You know what he's been doing to her, you know it, and you let him, didn't you? What did he tell you, Moony if you set me up and get rid of Lily, the two of you can fuck in the clear again?"
"Sirius!" Hagrid hollered, trying to hold him still.
"WHAT DID HE TELL YOU?" Sirius shrieked, fighting off Hagrid as best he could without his arms or legs in working condition. "Remus! You cocksucking son of a whoring "
"Mr. Black!" cried McGonagall, pointing her wand at him again. "Silencio!" she intoned, and Sirius fell silent, though his lips continued to form a stream of obscenities.
"What was that business about James an' Lily, Professor?" Hagrid asked, his foot resting menacingly over Sirius's stomach.
McGonagall turned to Remus. "What was he talking about, Remus?" she asked, her trademark fierce expression on her face.
Remus shrugged. "You see what he's like now! Totally irrational. I can't even begin to imagine what he's done to Peter, the raving lunatic "
"Yes," McGonagall agreed, sighing. "But we need to check. If you want James cleared of wrongdoing," he added, "we need to check."
Remus frowned, biting his lip. Fuck. He only hoped the commander had finished his business and cleared out of there by now, or the entire plan would have unravelled. He nodded, his head bobbing up and down in a slow rhythm, his eyes vacant and his soul numb, as he gazed around at the two Order members beside him. Taking a deep breath, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled bit of parchment. He unfolded it slowly, then ran his eyes over Peter's scrawled handwriting, giving him instructions on reaching Lily's cottage.
He ran his finger gingerly over the ink, wondering if James's note had looked like this as well. Above him, the moon rose steadily as daylight retreated, masked in the clouds of this early winter night. He glanced up at McGonagall and laid a hand on her arm.
"She's at Godric's Hollow."
The Muggle village of Godric's Hollow was alive with festivities on Hallowe'en night. The pubs were open late, and revellers could be seen in all the streets, stumbling and calling hearty greetings to each other. The spirit, the joviality, the celebrations they all collided harshly with the subdued activities going on simultaneously in the lives of the village's two hidden refugees from the Wizarding world.
Lily readied little Harry for bed that night and sang him a sad lullaby. Despite the revelry outside, an unnamed streak of fear and dread had settled deep in her chest earlier that week, and try as she might, she simply could not shake it. Even growing up as a Muggle, she had never much cared for Hallowe'en; it didn't matter what anyone else said about fertility or peace or whatever it was the occasion was historically about to her it was a demon night, filled with negative energy and spectres of death everywhere. Seemingly as proof of this, her magic had been off-centre all week, and she couldn't explain why. She would flick her wand to light the stove and a bellowing flame would appear.
Even more curious, Harry had been strangely needy, in a way he hadn't been in months. She hadn't been able to leave him alone for days not even to use the loo. He would wail in heart-wrenching sobs until she returned and took him in her arms. "Shh," she would whisper soothingly to him. "It's all right, love, mama's here. You're safe. Mama won't let anything happen to you."
And as soon as she said something like that to him, she would feel the slight tug in her chest and ribcage, as if she'd pulled on a jumper three sizes too small. But Harry would instantly calm down and gaze at her with utter contentment. "Oh yes," she would say to him with a smile. "You know you're loved, don't you."
Yes, Hallowe'en was definitely doing strange things to the energy around her, she decided. She just wanted it to be over for November to come, and then December, and for snow to dust the ground as she and Harry went out shopping for Christmas presents.
The sense of hope and of future plans for herself and her son were what kept Lily from thinking about James, and what was now quite obviously their failed marriage. She had neither seen nor heard from him at all in the two weeks since she had moved into the cottage, and thus found herself alarmed and frightened when she peered out from behind the curtains of her sitting room window to watch a group of costumed children pass by
and saw his angry face staring back at her from the garden.
Her eyes widened as she yanked the curtain closed again. It was a hallucination, she told herself the devil's work; he was everywhere that night.
The pounding on the front door said otherwise, however. He's here. She didn't even have time to process how that was possible, when his impassioned voice came bellowing through the door.
"You can't hide from me, Lily. Open this door at once!"
Her mind was suddenly clouded with irrational fear. But he's my husband, she tried to convince herself through the fog. It's just James! Same old James, from Hogwarts. The silly boy who was always trying to impress me with Quidditch tricks. It's just James
But the swirling images in her head drowned out this voice of reason. Herself thudding to the floor as he stood over her angrily; Snape's sad eyes inspecting her wounds Snape's mother good god. Was this how she had died? Just like this?
"Alohomora!" James's voice thundered, and suddenly he was inside, he was storming towards her, he was grabbing her arm.
The nameless fear that she had been fighting all week cemented in her stomach, and all at once, with nauseating certainty, she knew exactly what it meant. All the sound around her was muted, and her chest opened up. She breathed in deeply, calmly, and felt waves of peace wash through her. It would all end here tonight, she understood now, and though she could not explain how she knew, she felt placid in the face of it.
James's terrible voice jarred her thoughts. "Where is he?" he demanded. "Where is that bastard child? The two of you will not cause me another second of grief!"
Lily's heart thudded to a stop in her chest. Harry. The peace was for her it was her time, of that she was now certain. But not Harry's. You will not hurt my son! she screamed at James, though whether or not it was in her head or aloud, she didn't know.
She faced her husband, grim determination in her eyes. "Why, James? Just tell me why."
"You know why."
"No, I don't. I swear I don't."
"You take me for a fool, Lily you always have." James advanced on her, wand gripped tightly in his hand. "But I'm no fool. I found you, didn't I?" He grinned, spreading his arms wide and gazing around the room.
"Oh yeah, you can't hide from me, and you can't keep secrets from me, Lily. I found you here, just like I found out what you've been doing with my best friend."
Lily's eyes grew wide. "Remus? I never did anything"
"Not Remus!" snapped James. "He's not my best friend, he's" He paused, frowning. "Sirius," he continued after a moment. "I know you've betrayed me with Sirius."
"Sirius?" she repeated in wonder, shaking her head as if in a daze. "No, sweetheart, no. That is not true! I've never betrayed you with anyone not Sirius, and not anyone else!"
"No?" James glared at her. "Then maybe you can tell me how he came to possess that handkerchief?"
"What? No, he doesn't have it that's impossible."
"Stop it, Lily! Just stop the fucking lies, all right? He confessed. He has the handkerchief you gave him, I heard him confess, and that's it, all right? So shut the hell up."
"Let me talk to him," she begged. "I'll find out why he would have said that, because it's not true. Please, just"
"There will be no more talking to him," said James coldly, "and no more fucking him, because he's dead."
Lily felt her heart stop. "No. What- no, James, no, tell me that's not"
"Shut up! You want to cry about him in front of me! I'm your husband, Lily. I'm your fucking husband, not him."
"You killed him oh god Sirius how did this happen " she sobbed.
"It's all done now, Lily, don't you see? You don't have any power over me anymore. No one has any power over me "
Heavy footsteps stomped up the stairs. A sobbing voice followed them. A child's cries joined them. A door flung open, a wand was drawn, a man's eyes flashed venom, a woman's arms dove forward, a baby's body was shielded. Angry words filled the room, terrible words about bodies and lies and honour and faithfulness and envy.
Outside, the frosty night air blew through the blades of grass of the neighbour's lawn, as revellers packed the pubs to sing seasonal ditties and tell ghost stories.
None of them noticed the first jet of green light that flashed for a sickening split second in the upstairs window of the cottage at the end of the lane, nor did they hear the horrible thud that echoed through the room, as Lily Potter's body hit the floor.
"It is ready, my Lord."
"Excellent work, Severus. When I have achieved immortality, how shall I repay the world's greatest potions master?"
"My Lord is too kind; I require no reward but the knowledge that the glory of the Dark Lord shall never diminish, that he shall live for all eternity as the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen."
"Indeed, Severus. Your words please me greatly. Do you have my cloak?
"It is here, my Lord."
"And the chamber is prepared?"
"All is as it should be in the chamber."
"Then it is time. Signal my Death Eaters to gather in the chamber to witness my transformation to immortality."
"I have already summoned them, my Lord. With great anticipation they await you."
"Good. And you have warned them of the nature of the potion's course?"
"Yes, my Lord. They have been informed that after drinking of the goblet, you shall slumber for one hour as your immortality is secured. They are not to disturb you. When you awaken, you shall never sleep again so shall the greatest sorcerer in the world achieve endless life!"
"Your loyalty shall be rewarded, Severus. The potion, now."
"My Lord. I present to you this goblet, as a symbol of my fealty and of my love for you, as recognition of my deepest and unwavering support for your leadership, and as an investment in the future of the Pureblood wizarding world the world that the great Salazar Slytherin intended it shall be yours at last, my Lord!"
"It is time. Let us enter the chamber."
A thin wisp of blue smoke shot through the sky high above the Death Eaters' central command dungeon as Severus Snape slipped quietly through his private laboratory, pocketing precious and rare stoppered bottles and leather-bound recipe tomes. He heard bustling upstairs and the frantic cries of the Death Eaters discovering that after one hour in his sealed bedchamber, all that remained of Voldemort was an ash-coloured velvet robe.
He didn't have much time.
He finished gathering his things and strode quickly over to a jewel-encrusted beaker on the top shelf of his supplies cupboard. He took a deep breath and one last glance around the room before reaching up and grabbing the beaker firmly in his hand. He felt a soft tugging sensation behind his navel and a second later, when a half-dozen murderous Death Eaters burst into the room, he was gone.
The wisp of blue smoke continued its tortured travel through the hostile air and found itself briefly in the village of Godric's Hollow. Its misty tail passed directly by a small cottage at the end of a lane, just as the second burst of green light in two minutes flared upstairs. The unusual comet was long gone already searching a faraway forest floor for refuge when the clunk of a second adult body hit the ground in that upstairs bedroom.
In the middle of the room, a fifteen-month-old baby lay stunned, but alive, in his crib, a single stream of blood trickling down the side of his face from a slash, the shape of a lightning bolt, now etched into his little forehead.
Severus Snape sat in Dumbledore's office at Hogwarts, shaking and exhausted. His night was not over yet.
"Minerva has just sent word," Dumbledore told him, worry creasing his brow. "It is as you feared, Severus. It appears that Sirius Black has betrayed the Order to Voldemort, and now he has killed Peter Pettigrew."
Snape bowed his head. "Albus," he began, his face grim, "Black was Lily's Secret-Keeper. We must find her."
Dumbledore nodded gravely. "Minerva informs me that Remus knows where she is."
"Lupin? But how could"
The old wizard held up a hand. "I do not know, Severus. But he insists that she is at Godric's Hollow. Minerva is taking Sirius to the Ministry, and Moody, Hagrid, and Remus are on their way to find Lily."
"Lupin has done something," Snape declared, standing and glaring at Dumbledore. "We have to get there first, and find out what it is."
The story as it is unfolding before you, dear readers, may by this point have struck you as improbable, implausible, impossible. It is certainly not the story you thought you knew. But if you have indulged in our tale thus far, you shall already be aware that not everything before one is as it seems; and not everything one thinks one knows is in fact secure.
The upstairs bedroom of the small, unremarkable house at the end of the lane in Godric's Hollow was creaking. The floorboards moaned in pain; the windowpanes ached; the door trembled on its hinges, as James Potter crawled, wincing in agony, over to his wife's lifeless body.
So beautiful. His heart felt ripped apart from the inside as he regarded her, sleeping so soundly against the weeping oak of the floor. Her auburn hair fanned out behind her head, her pink lips lay slightly parted, as if air still passed through them, and her piercing green eyes gazed up at the ceiling, away from him, and away from his heinous act. Sleep, he whispered in his head, dragging his numb body towards her.
He reached her and slumped against her shoulder, struggling for breath. Why couldn't he stand? Why wouldn't his arm reach out to close her eyes, as he intended? He gave the command, through the fog in his head, but the arm remained at his side. He tried again. I need to close her eyes! I can't let her see this. Nothing.
His numb limbs began to prickle with warmth, seeping through his muscles and joints, heating his fingers, his neck, his lungs. He took a deep breath as the warmth intensified, a pleasing sensation of magic enveloping his body, pulsing through his veins like poison, and he knew he was dying. What have you done to me, Lily? The deep breath turned into a sob. What have you done?
Across the room, Harry began to cry.
"POTTER!" a maniacal voice bellowed from the front door as Snape pounded his fists against the unpainted wood. It quivered with every blow, nearly bending under the assault, until an elderly hand bent over Snape's fist and gently pulled it away.
Dumbledore frowned at Snape and pointed his wand at the lock, flicking it open with a spell much stronger than Alohomora. "Check upstairs," he said quickly as they crossed the threshold of the small cottage, "and I'll check down here."
Snape strode up the stairs and pushed past the door to the bedroom, stopping dead in his tracks as it swung back to admit him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, ignoring the crying child for the time being, as he steeled himself to deal with the reality of Lily's body, lying before him on the floor. Wand at the ready, he glanced quickly around the room, eyes taking in the scene: Lily's lifeless form lay peacefully, her eyes shining up at him, while beside her, Potter lay curled up in a ball, one arm extended towards her.
We're too late.
He stepped around the bodies and peered into the crib, eyes widening as he gazed at the single cut on the baby's forehead, the shape of a lightning bolt. A noise behind him sent him whirling around, wand raised, as he impulsively stood in front of the child.
"Snape," a voice croaked from the floor, as the curled form turned onto its back and crusted eyes gazed up at him. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I thought you were dead, Potter," he spat, not moving a muscle. "Pity."
"I will be," James whispered. "She did something she killed me."
Snape's jaw dropped. "She killed you?" he hissed. "You seem to have a precarious grip on reality, Commander. So long as you're alive, you will be spending your days rotting in Azkaban for this." His heart hammered as he looked down at the crumpled man, hatred surging through his veins. "She did nothing to you!"
James almost began to laugh. "Nothing," he sneered, panting for breath, "except fuck my best friend." His face hardened. "Whore."
"Is that so? Then you should be pleased to know that your best friend is on his way to Azkaban. The two of you should have a marvellous time there together."
James looked up sharply at that. "Azkaban? He should be dead."
"Dead? Ah, you arranged that as well, did you? Well, he is not dead. It appears he has killed Peter Pettigrew, and was caught trying to flee the scene."
"Peter's dead?" whispered James through cracked lips. "And Sirius is dead?"
"No, Black is not dead," Snape repeated angrily.
"Not dead?" James's head hit the floor with a thud. "Not dead But Lily Lily " He closed his eyes.
"Lily is dead," Snape finished for him, glancing down at her body. "Why, I will never understand."
"She's a liar, Snape; she's gone to burn in hell," James insisted, lying flat on his back on the floor. "Yes, I killed her."
"Like an angel and the devil."
"She'd turned against me! She was a whore."
"She was nothing of the sort, Potter. You're mad."
"She was false as water."
"You're mad, Potter, and the devil's own serpent besides. She was nothing but honest, and I do not say that lightly about anyone!"
James let out a howl and struggled to sit up. "Sirius fucked her!" he raged. "Ask Remus he knew! Sirius told him all about it. Go ahead, if you don't believe me. Just ask Remus."
"Lupin? What would he know about it?"
"Lupin said he knew something about Lily and Black? That's preposterous."
"No it's not, Snape. It's true. Remus told me it was true, and Remus is an honest man."
"Lupin?" Snape repeated incredulously.
"Yes, Lupin! Remus! What the hell's the matter with your ears, Snape?"
"If he said that," Snape growled, "may his animal soul rot for it. He lied to you, Potter."
"He lied to you."
"Shut up, Snape. It doesn't matter now."
"It matters to me!" Snape thundered. "And it matters to Lily!" He strode across the room again to the door, flinging it wide and calling down the stairs. "Up here, Albus. Potter is injured and Lily is murdered!"
There was a pause, before Dumbledore's soft voice floated up the stairs. "It is not possible, Severus. You cannot mean it."
"Murdered!" Snape roared. "Murdered in her own home, by her own husband." His voice shook and he covered his face with his hands. "By her own husband," he repeated, his voice a pained whisper, and in his mind, he was a twelve-year-old boy again, watching the caskets float by, with his heart in his throat.
In seconds, Dumbledore had climbed the stairs and appeared outside the bedroom, with Moody, Hagrid, and Remus in tow.
"Snape, what's happened up here?" Moody called, both eyes flying around the room. He limped in, making way for the others. As Remus appeared, glancing around the room with a closed expression on his face, Snape's jaw tensed.
"Lupin," he seethed, eyeing the man with undisguised suspicion as he entered the room behind the others. "Potter has been telling me some very interesting things about you."
"Murdered!" Hagrid wailed, giant tears rolling down his cheeks.
"Quiet, man!" Snape snapped. "You're not helping matters here." He turned again to Remus, who stood silently, taking in the scene. "What do you have to say for yourself, Lupin? He says you told him his wife was disloyal." He jerked his head towards James, lying still on the floor beside Lily, his face contorted in pain. "It is not possible that you said such a thing." He glared at the other man.
Remus paused for a moment, then stepped forward. "I told him what I thought," he confirmed. "He concluded the rest for himself."
"You told him she was cheating on him?" Snape's jaw dropped.
"You told a lie!" Snape thundered, and even Hagrid took a step backwards. "A complete, utter, damned lie; I swear on my wizard soul it was a lie. Lily, cheating on him? And with Black! Did you say with Black?" He pointed an accusing finger at Remus, who merely sighed.
"Yes, with Sirius. Now shut up about it."
"I will not! The truth must be known, you wretched animal, and I am bound to tell it. Lily has been murdered, and so help me, Lupin, someone is going to pay for it."
"What's it to you, Snape?" snapped Remus. "You never cared for her. As I recall, you thought she was nothing but a useless Mudblood, didn't you?"
Snape glared at him. "That was years ago," he said quietly, "and no, I didn't think that's all she was. I swore to help her to get her away from that tyrant of a husband. But for whatever reason, your words to him have led him to kill her."
On the floor, James began to stir again. "Yeah, yeah, stare all you want. It's all true."
"It can't be true!" Hagrid hollered, sobbing again.
"Bloody hell," added Moody, "what a monstrous act."
"James," Dumbledore said, stepping forward. "What has happened to you? Have you drunk a potion?"
James shook his head, eyes closed and cheeks flushed. "No. It was her; she's killed me, even from the dead."
Dumbledore and Moody exchanged anxious looks.
"He keeps saying that!" Snape cried. "That she killed him! It's villainy even the Dark Lord could never conceive."
Dumbledore turned towards the crib at last, where Harry lay still, his eyes wide but his cries muffled for now. The old wizard reached in to scoop the child into his arms, and James opened his eyes again.
"There!" he cried. "It's the baby! I tried to- I cast it, I know I did oh god, my son but there he is, and I'm down here, I can't move " His voice broke and he collapsed to the floor again, limbs paralysed.
"Yeh cast the Killing Curse on yer own child?" Hagrid sobbed. "Oh, little Harry!"
"He cast it on his own wife!" Snape fumed.
"Yeah, Snape," interrupted Moody, "but one worked, where the other didn't."
"Exactly, Alastor," Dumbledore said, nodding in agreement. "Exactly. Why is Harry alive, with only this cut as evidence?" The old wizard raised a tired index finger to the baby's forehead and inspected the lightning-bolt etched there in red.
The group stared at the headmaster.
"What does it mean, Dumbledore?"
Dumbledore stared down at little Harry for another moment before answering. "She protected him," he said simply, raising his head to gaze around at the group. "It's rare, but not unheard of."
"Ah!" Moody's good eye lit up. "I've heard of that, but never seen it in action. So she tried to save the kid, and left her protection charm around him then, eh?"
"So the child could not die by the curse?" Snape furrowed his brow. "Useful magic, that." He glanced back down at James. "And what of him, then?"
Dumbledore sighed. "I imagine the curse backfired upon him. It's surprising he hasn't died yet, but I'm sure it won't be long."
The group turned to look down at James, mouths agape.
"Oh!" Hagrid wailed again.
"Hagrid," Dumbledore began sternly. "Please, pull yourself together. I have a very important job for you to do."
Hagrid wiped a great hand across his face and sniffled. "Right, Headmaster, sir, whatever you need."
Dumbledore wrapped the baby in a sheet and passed him over to the gamekeeper. "Take Harry," he said quietly, "to number four, Privet Drive, in Little Whinging, Surrey. His aunt and uncle will care for him now. As soon as Minerva has taken Sirius to the Ministry, she will investigate the area. I shall meet you both there just before dawn. Can you make it in that time?"
"Yes, sir, Dumbledore. Little Harry will be jus' fine with me, I swear it."
"Good, good. Thank you, Hagrid."
Hagrid tucked the bundle under his arm and left the room.
"Alastor," Dumbledore continued, turning to the old Auror, "I need you to attend to Hogwarts for me, while Minerva and I settle things with Harry and his relatives."
"Sure, Dumbledore. On my way." With that, Moody followed Hagrid out of the house.
"Severus." The old wizard turned to Snape at last. "Watch over James for a moment, and question Remus if you think it necessary. I must speak to the Minister about Sirius and Peter."
Snape inclined his head, then settled his eyes squarely on Remus. "Headmaster," he intoned as the old man left.
The big man glanced around. "Who's there?" he demanded.
A man stepped out into the low light of the street in front of the cottage at the end of the lane, limping slightly and frowning at the bundle in Hagrid's arms. "Where are you taking him?"
"Sirius!" roared Hagrid. "You should be at the Ministry! Where's Professor McGonagall?" He looked around frantically.
"Shh, it's okay, they let me out for now. It was just a misunderstanding, Hagrid, don't worry. Just- let me see Harry?"
Hagrid stepped forward apprehensively, eyes not leaving Sirius, and opened the bundle just enough to let the baby's face peer out.
Sirius broke into a grin, as he cupped Harry's head with his palm and whispered to him. After several minutes he looked up at Hagrid again. "They're both dead, then?" he asked, his voice strained.
Hagrid nodded, more giant tears threatening to spill down his beard. "Takin' him to his aunt an' uncle's, I am."
"This is all my fault," Sirius moaned, shaking his head. "If only I hadn't switched! Oh god, this is all my fault!"
"Nah, it's not, Sirius. Harry here'll be all right, I reckon. It isn't yer fault." He patted the other man awkwardly on the back, tightening his grip on the baby.
Sirius seemed to calm down after a moment, and he took a deep breath. "Here." He flung a set of keys at Hagrid and gestured at the woods behind him. "Take my bike, would you? Get you there faster, and I don't need it anymore."
"Yeh sure? I'm not really suppos' to do magic, technically speakin' "
"You wouldn't be doing it." Sirius smiled. "It does it on its own, right? Just take it. I got other things to do now," he added grimly, "and they don't involve that bike anymore."
Hagrid gave him one last look, then shrugged and took the keys. "Thanks, mate. Owe you one for this."
"So." Snape folded his arms over his chest and glared at Remus, once the two of them were alone, a struggling James Potter still dying on the floor.
"Get out of here, Snape," Remus snarled. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what happened here."
"Remus " James moaned, sweat lining his brow. "You don't have to tell him anything; it's just you and me now, right?"
Snape glared at the two of them. "Is that so? You killed your wife for this cretin? Loathsome, both of you. She was a good woman."
"No," James whispered. "Remus knows all about her and Sirius. A thousand times they had each other behind my back, moaning and fucking in my sheets. Sirius confessed to it; he told us how she let him do whatever he wanted to her."
Snape shook his head. "There's no way."
"I saw him with her handkerchief!" James cried suddenly, then fell into a fit of coughing. "I saw it. My Gryffindor token, passed down from my grandmother. I gave it to her, to show her how much I loved her and she turned around and gave it to him."
"A handkerchief?" Snape's eyes widened.
"Shut up, Snape," Remus warned, "if you know what's good for you."
"What's good for me?" Snape shook his head in exasperation. "You both will tell me what's going on here."
"Get out of here!"
"So help me, Snape, I will kill you right here if you don't get out." Remus paused and glanced out the window, then smiled. "Full moon tonight, didn't you know? And I don't see a cage around here anywhere."
Snape flinched, then quickly composed himself. "You think you scare me, Lupin?" he growled, before turning back to James. "That handkerchief? I found it."
James narrowed his eyes, still struggling for breath. "What?"
"You heard me. I found it, and I gave it to Lupin to shut him up. Always blithering on about the stupid thing, and I didn't think it mattered, so I I gave it to him."
"Shut the fuck up, Snape," Remus warned.
"You think Lily gave it to Black?" Snape barked a laugh. "No, Potter. I found it, and I gave it to Lupin. After that, I think we all know what he did with it."
"You're lying!" shrieked Remus.
Snape shook his head. "I am not. What reason do I have to lie? You are a fool, Potter, and you've let this Dark Creature convince you of your wife's betrayal. It was his tongue that fed you the lies, not mine."
Sprawled on the floor, his breath coming slower now, James looked up at Remus. "You didn't. Please, Moony, tell me you didn't."
"You'd believe Snivellus over me?" Remus replied angrily, reaching for his wand. "He's a waste of blood and skin! How dare you?" He turned on Snape, wand raised, and had the first words of the curse out of his mouth before Snape, with astonishing speed, pulled his own wand out and deflected Remus's words.
"You will not kill me!" Snape roared. "Look! Look around you at all the bodies piled up because of you! You will not kill me."
"Moony, how could you?" James moaned, his lips dry. "I trusted you. I loved you."
Remus whirled around. "You never loved anyone but yourself," he hissed. "You want a liar around here? There he is." He pointed his wand at James and glared. "You promised me the world once, James you remember? You said I was the only one. You lied to me. You always got what you wanted, didn't you? Didn't you?" His chest heaved. "Not anymore. I win this time, right? For once in my life, James, I win."
Snape and James both stared at Remus. Snape began to raise his wand, but James stopped him.
"No," he panted. "I'd rather have him live. Lily's dead. I'm dead. My baby's gone where I'm coming from, it's happiness to die. He doesn't deserve happiness."
"I said no, Snape! Now shut up; I have some things to say. I've served Dumbledore; I've served the Order in this war, and we thought it would be Voldemort to bring about our ruin, and instead it's me." He choked out a laugh. "The Prophecy! Remember that one, Snape? We thought Voldemort would come to kill us, and instead it was me. Don't tell Harry about this, please. When you tell this story, when you tell people what happened to us, just remember that I wasn't always like this. I cared about the Order. I loved my wife. Oh, Lily! I loved her too much, that was what went wrong. I loved them both too much."
He coughed, blood trickling down his chin, as his head fell back against the floorboards for the last time. His chest heaved twice more before falling still, his trembling fingers quieting, his clouded eyes closing. Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team three years in a row; Head Boy with six NEWTS graduating year; accomplished Animagus; and deputy commander of the Order of the Phoenix.
At age twenty-one, with his wife dead beside him and his child taken away, his three best friends deserting him, and the war against Voldemort over, James Potter died.
With one last loathing look at Snape over his shoulder, Remus darted out of the room and down the stairs, hurling the front door open and racing down the lane, away from the house as quickly as possible. He had just reached the main square of the village when something stopped him.
"Impedimenta!" a voice roared, and his legs locked. He tumbled over at full speed, hitting the gravel path at full force and wincing in pain as his hands and knees scraped raw. After catching his breath and cursing his luck, he dared to look up. Fuck.
"Get up!" Sirius shouted, wand pointed at Remus's head. "Get up, you worthless animal."
"Take the hex off," Remus answered through gritted teeth, "and I'll think about it." Sirius glared at him for a moment before kicking him squarely in the stomach, leaving him groaning in pain.
"You'd think someone so good at magic one of Voldemort's own servants would be able to get out of a simple Impediment Jinx, Moony."
Passersby in the square began to stop and stare, pointing fingers and whispering. The clouds began to shift.
"Shut up, Padfoot I'm not one of his servants. Peter lied to you."
"Maybe he did, and maybe you lied, too." Sirius inhaled sharply and let his wand falter a bit. "Why, Moony? Why did you tell them I killed Peter? Why did you say those things about me to James?"
Remus was silent. He located the counter-hex in the back of his brain and muttered it to himself, then shook out his limbs and climbed to his feet, knees quaking. He started to reach into his robes, but Sirius stopped him.
"Reach for that wand and I'll kill you right here, Moony," he seethed, steadying his own wand in his fist, and pointing it straight at Remus's heart. "Tell me why," he repeated, his voice low and trembling.
"How did you get here, anyway?" Remus muttered, and Sirius laughed.
"A Binding Hex? Fucking hell, Moony I'm the best Auror this country has ever seen. You think I can't get out of a fucking Binding Hex?"
"Yeah, the great Sirius Black I've heard that one before," Remus snapped, before he could stop himself. Sirius stopped laughing. "Nothing Sirius Black can't do, is there? Nothing he can't get out of," Remus continued, the malice in his chest pounding through him as he narrowed his eyes. "I'm so sick of you."
"So you thought you'd frame me and Lily, eh? You got her killed, Moony is that what you wanted?"
"Yes," Remus breathed. "And I wanted the same for you, and for James, and for everyone else who has looked me in the eye and told me they loved me, and then gone behind my back and fucked me over."
The darkness grew around them as the crowd thickened, staring and pointing. The dense clouds began to part. Remus took several deep breaths, pulling at his collar. Not long now.
Sirius was staring at him. "What? Then James was right about you you're nothing but an animal, are you? Just a fucking wild beast, with no sense of right and wrong. You lie, Moony." He shook his head, his wand hand trembling. "Liar!"
The crowd gasped as they watched. Remus began to shake.
"What are you going to do about it, Padfoot? You're done. Peter won't show his rat face around here anymore, and they'll haul you off to Azkaban for his murder. Finally, the world's best Auror has met his match. If they'd let me into that fucking academy, I'd've been better than you, better than you could have dreamed of."
"It's not about you, Remus!" Sirius hollered. "It's never been about you."
"I know that! That's exactly why I had to make it about me for once. It's never about me."
"You killed Lily and James," Sirius whispered, breathing heavily. "You killed them, and you're letting me go to Azkaban. I won't do it, Remus. I won't forget this, and someday I'll get you back for this."
"Yeah?" Remus just laughed, his fingers creeping into his robes. "You killed Peter Pettigrew!" he screamed for the crowd to hear.
Sirius whirled around at the collective gasp that rose from the onlookers in the square, and Remus took the opportunity to grasp his wand.
"Deflagratio!" he shrieked.
Dear readers, as if the scene before you was not already tragic enough, several terrible things now happened at once. A crater the likes of which only a fully-grown mountain troll could have produced appeared in the town square, flaming with fire and debris and the body parts of twelve Muggle onlookers unfortunate enough to be caught in this feud.
Sirius Black just barely managed to jump out of harm's way and cast a Shielding Charm around himself, watching with horror at the scene of carnage unfolding around him.
And Remus Lupin, gazing up at the night sky with rare hope, watched with a smile as the clouds finally parted to reveal the glistening greyish skin of the full moon blazing down at him. His bones began to crack; his jaw began to lengthen; and his fur began to sprout.
In just over one minute's time, as the power of the blast in the square still reverberated throughout the stunned and sobbing witnesses, the villain of this tale let out a great animal cry, howling to the wind and the clouds and the moon like a soul on its way to purgatory, then turned and fled away from the square, through the trees, and deep into the surrounding forests.
He would not be heard from again for twelve years.
With all the other sordid details of the evening now settled, Dumbledore returned to Godric's Hollow and turned to Severus Snape, standing stiffly in one corner of the room, his chest heaving with rage and frustration as his gaze lingered on Lily Potter's lifeless body.
"Severus," Dumbledore called softly. "We must talk."
He looked up, steeling his black eyes on the older wizard. "It didn't work, Albus," Snape whispered, his jaw set.
Dumbledore sighed. "No, it didn't. What happened? He should have died."
"I know he should have died!" Snape barked, then lowered his head. "I don't know what happened. The potion was in preparation for months, in my hide-out. There was nothing that could have contaminated it."
"Severus, much has occurred tonight that will have repercussions for many years to come. We must act quickly, to ensure those repercussions do not include a negative impact upon your life, or that of Lily and James's child."
Snape raised his head. "What does that child have to do with me?"
Dumbledore walked over to the window, gazing out with a sad countenance before turning to Snape once more. "Two things need to happen now, Severus," he began calmly. "First the Death Eaters must not find out that you had anything to do with Voldemort's disappearance."
"That's impossible, Albus," Snape interjected. "They know I readied the potion; they know I wasn't there when it failed."
"Yes," Dumbledore agreed, watching Snape carefully, "but they don't know that the entire ceremony was a decoy, so that the two of you could come here to destroy one of the potential Prophecy children." He gave Snape a meaningful look over his half-moon spectacles.
"To destroy- what? Albus, this doesn't make any Ah." He fell silent, pondering the headmaster's words. "They will never believe that," he said after a pause.
"They will, if the rest of the Wizarding world believes it," answered Dumbledore, "and if the rest of the Wizarding world believes that Harry Potter stopped Voldemort."
Snape glared at the headmaster for a long moment in silence.
"Severus, I know that"
"You don't want the boy to know the truth," Snape interrupted.
Dumbledore sighed. "Do you?"
"He should know what his father was," he snapped, then softened his voice. "What his mother was."
"And do you want to be the one to tell him, Severus?"
Snape looked away from the piercing blue gaze. "No," he whispered.
"I thought not. Then the second thing that needs to happen," Dumbledore continued, "is that Harry Potter must not learn the truth of his parents' deaths." He gave Snape a meaningful look. "No child should have to endure that pain, Severus. You above all others should understand that."
Snape cradled his head in his hands, as if not quite believing what he was hearing. "I understand that, Albus," he seethed, his voice rising, "but I defeated the Dark Lord! I did it," he shouted. "It wasn't the death we'd hoped for, but it's destroyed his body for the time being, and ended this portion of the war. And you want to give a baby credit for that? James Potter's baby?" His hands curled into fists at his sides. "No, Albus," he said, shaking his head. "I deserve better than that."
"Do you deserve your head on a Death Eater pike, then?" answered Dumbledore calmly. "If they think you had anything to do with this, that is exactly where they will place it. Unless you can give me a better plan, this shall be the one we use."
"I'd rather risk the pike," Snape grumbled, arms folded over his chest. "Now I have no job, no accolades, no honour in the Wizarding world at all "
"As to that, Severus, that leads me to another topic of discussion, now that the first is settled."
Snape grumbled some more and turned away.
"I believe it would be best if we brought you to Hogwarts, to keep you safe from any lingering Death Eater doubts as to the circumstances of Voldemort's demise, should there be any."
"And what do you expect me to do at Hogwarts?" Snape asked icily, one eyebrow raised.
"I should have thought that was obvious," the headmaster answered. "We need a Potions professor, and I believe you need a job."
Half an hour later, the details secured as to both his new place of employment, and the great sham about to be pulled on the Wizarding world, Severus Snape trudged down the front steps of the house at the end of the lane in Godric's Hollow, his mind weary and his heart numb.
He had spent most of his childhood praying for the demise of his four nemeses, and now he had it. Potter was dead, Pettigrew was dead, Black was in prison, and Lupin had fled, hopefully for good. But Snape could not feel joy yet at the news.
Mother was dead, Lily was dead, and he had not been able to save either of them. Not only that, but a tiny child was about to claim a place in the history books Snape's place in the history books for defeating possibly the greatest sorcerer of their time.
Even worse in eleven years, if both of them lived that long, Snape was going to have to teach that damned child to brew boil cure potion in a dungeon classroom at Hogwarts.
Oh, the cruel, cruel fates.
April 1, 1993
The potion bubbled happily as Snape slumped against the counter of his work table, pulling his gloves off and shrugging out of his lab robes. Absolutely astonishing, he thought to himself, the level of ignorant, blind, misguided trust that man has in the redemption of others.
It wasn't so long ago that you yourself needed the chance for redemption, Severus, was it? Would you deny that opportunity to someone else who has made poor choices in the past, but has since repented his sins?
Snape almost laughed now, at the memory of his conversation with the headmaster earlier that evening.
No, Headmaster, I would not, but Remus Lupin is a dangerous man. We know what he is capable of, when provoked
But the Defence Against the Dark Arts job was open, and no one else wanted it. I want it, sir. No, that was not enough, not when Remus Lupin needed redemption. Dammit, Dumbledore! That sorry old man would bring about the destruction of the Wizarding world one day, with his blind trust in people.
He returned to the cauldron now and tapped it with his wand. Blue-grey smoke roiled from it, emitting fumes that nearly made the Potions master gag.
I need you to brew him a potion, Severus. He thinks it will help his transformations, but what he will not know, is that it will also inhibit his more unbalanced impulses. He should be perfectly safe, as animal and wizard, so long as he takes that potion.
Snape glared into the cauldron, flicked his wand to engage the ladle in a counter-clockwise pattern through the liquid, and sighed.
Potions do not stop lunatics.
July 24, 1993
In a rusted cage in Azkaban, a bearded, gaunt prisoner snatched a discarded newspaper from the floor just beyond his cell. On the cover was a photograph of the Weasley family vacationing in Egypt, and below that, in the forgotten, lower left-hand corner of the page, was a small blurb:
Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore announced on Friday that Professor Remus J. Lupin, a Hogwarts alumnus who has been studying in Europe for several years, has agreed to take the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for the upcoming school year. Very little is known about Professor Lupin, or his academic specialties, but Headmaster Dumbledore has said that his efforts against You-Know-Who in the First War proved crucial to our victory, and that Hogwarts will be pleased to have him on staff.
Later that night, the Dementors smelled anxiety, anger, and fear emanating from that cell as that prisoner tossed and turned in his sleep, moaning one phrase over and over again.
"He's at Hogwarts "
September 1, 1993
Going back to Hogwarts was possibly not his best idea.
It would be difficult, of course, convincing both Snape and Dumbledore, day after day, that what had happened twelve years ago was not his fault. He shook his head and absently stirred his drink, iced cubes clanking against each other through the murky brown liquid.
Some things never change.
But he was done with hiding, scratching a living from the forest floors of god-forsaken places like Albania. He had skills. He was clever. He deserved a real job. And besides, the Dark Lord appreciated his ties to the Potters. He didn't need to submit no, not yet at least. Remus Lupin was done serving other men; he served only himself now, and the Dark Lord understood that, for now. Remus had learned a few very useful things in Europe, about memory charms, and Imperius curses, and the alteration of reality to suit his purposes.
Yes, their interests merged at times, but only Remus knew that Dumbledore, Snape, Moody, and all those motherfuckers were fighting for the wrong side, if they were fighting for a Potter.
It would take time. He had to gain their trust first, just like he had gained James and Lily's. Sirius would come after him, of course Padfoot had already slipped through the bars of Azkaban, and as soon as he discovered Remus was anywhere near Harry, there would be a headache to deal with. Some quick spell work should take care of him, though, and best Auror in a generation or not, his skills would be weak, while Remus's were sharp. It wouldn't be difficult to subdue Sirius, that was a certainty.
Yes, it would take time, but eventually eventually he would finish what he started. Sirius. Peter. Snape. They would all pay. Everything he didn't finish twelve years ago, he would finish now. This war would not be about a Potter. This war would be about him. He deserved that much.
As he drained the last of his coffee, the sugar crystals trickling down his throat like sweetened lead, the next stage of his revenge cemented in his mind. Youngest Seeker in a century. So, James's son thought he could gather all the misplaced accolades and triumphs that his father had also considered his right. No doubt the boy would also grow up to be just as arrogant, just as dishonest, just as emotionally bruising. Who would he fuck and discard? Who would he call friend, lover, loyal lieutenant, only to change his mind at the snap of his fingers, never looking back?
No, that boy would be the spitting image of his father, and Remus would not sit by and watch another Potter rule the Wizarding world.
Flinging some Muggle notes on the table, he grabbed his cloak and his old suitcase, the name Professor R.J. Lupin staring up at him from the stained leather in mockery, checked his pockets for the Honeydukes bar he had stowed there the day before, and strode out of the café.
He had a train to catch.