State of self at 1:05 a.m. on New Year's Day, 1980: pregnant, distressingly sober, and about to fall asleep on my own sofa, because both Frank and Marlene have the flu and two randy teenagers--both of whom have their own beds and their own flats, mind you--said they wanted to spend some time with us over the holidays. (Like hell they did. They wanted my self-heating duvet and the mattress I'd charmed to feel like a cloud, the conniving little gits.)
Godric Gryffindor's hairy balls. Had you told me all that a year ago I never would have believed it. I blame Frank, who couldn't say no to a stray.
The puppy first showed up at our house on a grey, rainy Sunday morning shortly after the new year, with wet hair, an itchy prick, and an irrational fear of Muggle doctors. Turns out his cousin Andromeda had told him I could help, which, frankly, was about the worst advice he'd ever been given, because I hadn't forgotten that Andromeda broke my heart and then married a fucking Muggle-born wizard, of all things, and I didn't think I owed her any favors, ever.
But Frank overheard us talking, and Frank's had an itchy prick himself several times before, and he's always been too kindhearted for his own good. And, well, the stray did look rather pathetic, standing there dripping on Augusta's favorite carpet, wearing a Muggle coat two sizes too big for him. I told him very seriously that Muggles almost always cut off itchy pricks, but Frank said hush, Al, love, and bundled him off to the clinic and brought him back home for a cup of chocolate when it was all over. Sadly, the prick was still attached, just covered in some Muggle potion. I warned him that he should never have sex with Muggles, ever, that they were diseased and dirty, and that he should stay away from vampires and werewolves while he was at it, because no potion could fix the problems he'd develop after fucking them. (Sometimes kids just need to be told these things.) And that, as far as I was concerned, was that.
Frank, on the other hand, told the puppy he should come for breakfast next Sunday.
Now, breakfast at the Longbottoms' has always been a fancy affair, the only time of the week we see our friends and the only time of the week I get to eat whatever I want, because two years ago the damn Auror's regulations changed and now we have to pass yearly physical exams at St Mungo's. What the hell kind of stupid idea is that? We're witches and wizards, not Muggles, and I'm not going have to run to catch the Dark Lord. But now I need to lose weight, and Frank watches my meals like my bloody mother did when I was a kid, and Sundays are the only time of the week I can eat eggs or crumpets or bangers and mash. It's bad enough that there are always more wizards than witches at the table, and Doc Dearborn always goes on and on about who's fucked whom--as if I really care--and Hooch has started smoking those disgusting Muggle cigars. Now I had to share my food with the puppy, who eats like he hasn't had a meal in weeks and has developed the annoying habit of following me around and asking me what Aurors did and how long Frank and I had been together and did we have sex and did our parents know and did curses hurt and had I hunted down Voldemort yet.
Sirius, I told him--that's the puppy's name--you'll know when I've captured Voldemort. The entire fucking wizarding world will applaud, all at once. Don't be dense.
That didn't deter him. By April he'd cut his hair like mine and had taken to stopping by for dinner and meeting Frank after work to talk about "Auror business." Which I assumed to be a euphemism and which was fine with me because Frank and I have a pact we've kept for nearly twenty years now, that I won't say a word about the wizards he sleeps with and he won't say a word about the witches I sleep with, and so far that's worked for us perfectly, especially since neither of us thinks we should have to forfeit our inheritance just because of a little familial disapproval. Although, as I told Marlene, teenagers are bad business generally and the stray just asks so many damn questions, all the time. Marlene said that she thought that the puppy was cute and that I protested too much, and I kissed her to shut her up.
Now, the thing about Marlene is that she's quiet and sneaky and smart, and when everyone else is off waving their wands and talking and talking and talking, she's watching the room, seeing what's actually going on. And so one day this past spring she said to me, Al, have you noticed that the puppy is never around during the full moon? And I hadn't noticed, though heaven knows I appreciated the break from all the questions, and I had to really think about that, because I'd spent my entire adult life learning how to track and understand Dark Creatures, and lately the werewolves had been attacking Muggles alongside the Death Eaters and we had been hunting them down, and the puppy was just so purely harmless it didn't make sense. But a lot of things haven't made sense this year, so I filed that away and concentrated on not getting killed, which was more work than it sounds like, let me tell you.
In May, Ian Jones died, and that was rough, because Ian was the first wizard Frank ever loved, and I don't think he ever really got over it. Frank, that is, not Ian—-Ian'd done just fine after Frank. Until he was killed on a sunny Sunday afternoon, right after coming home from breakfast with us. And then two weeks later Alphard, another friend of ours, went missing, and Marlene and I and Frank and Benjy and Edgar spent every waking minute looking for him, and Albus pulled his greatest-wizard-of-the-age act and shook things up at the Ministry and we still couldn't find him, and Frank told me one night after dinner that, for the first time in his life, he was afraid he was going to die.
So the spring was just awful, and then in early June the puppy showed up one Sunday morning in a strop, and Frank coddled him and asked him what's wrong, and it turned out that the puppy was upset because we hadn't invited him to join the secret society we had formed to defeat Voldemort. And I said, what the fuck are you talking about, Sirius, if there's a secret society that's trying to defeat Voldemort I want to be part of it, because I've always wanted to print T-shirts and membership cards in my spare time. And the puppy looked a bit hurt, but Marlene and Doc exchanged a glance and said, hush, Al, maybe he's on to something there.
The next week we had all the usuals at breakfast, Marlene and me and Frank and Edgar and Benjy and Hooch and Doc, but Albus and Elphias came and brought Alastor Moody, and Benjy brought the Prewetts from the Department of Mysteries, and Hooch brought Professor McGonagall and Emmeline Vance, a rather nasty witch from the upper echelons of the Ministry, and Frank, predictably, brought one the nicest of the new Aurors-in-training, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and the puppy brought half a dozen of his little friends, including—-and I could hardly believe this—-a skinny redhead who had somehow deflected Voldemort's killing curse twice while she was shelving books at Flourish and Blotts.
Things were just getting more and more crazy.
I wasn't that keen on the puppy and his friends joining us, because I was fairly sure the puppy was going to wave his wand around at the first sign of a crisis and wind up killing someone. Frank asked if I didn't think I was being a bit pessimistic, but I said no, he'd had no training and was young and angry and wanted to get back at his crazy-arse family. Frank just smiled at me and said he thought he remembered a Carrow who was just like that, back in school. Call me Mrs Longbottom, I said. I've earned that, at least.
It turned out that the puppy wasn't too much trouble, and by August he'd stopped asking Frank about Auror business so often and had started to fancy one of his little friends, the shy one with the brown hair, which even I had to admit was just about the cutest thing I'd ever seen. Marlene said that if I got killed she was going to blame Sirius, because he and his friend were making me almost as soft as Frank.
And this autumn, well, Doc went missing and Edgar was killed and Frank was injured twice, and sometimes it was all I could do to get up in the morning. I killed a Muggle by accident and got demoted at work and cried at Edgar's funeral and begged Marlene to fuck me in the loos afterward to make me feel better, which turned out to be the biggest mistake of all, because two weeks later I looked in my teacup and realized I was pregnant.
Luckily, both Frank and Marlene have always been rather level-headed. I called Marlene a Mudblood and a number of other things I regretted afterward, but she sat there quietly and said that she had always wanted a child and never thought she would have one, and she and Frank had talked it over and would support me if I wanted to go through with it.
You said we were safe, I said to her, still feeling betrayed. I had no idea what those spells were for, Marlene said calmly; I never dreamed two witches could get pregnant. And I rolled my eyes, because what else was Poppy Pomfrey talking about when she warned us that pleasure was for adults only, and that wands should be kept far, far away from our private bits, at all times?
Here's the thing: a year or two earlier I would have got rid of the baby in a heartbeat, barbaric Muggle practice though it was, because I'd never wanted children and I was determined to head the Auror department before I turned 50, but I'd grown used to having the puppy underfoot, and a little Marlene running around wreaking havoc with our lives no longer sounded like such a terrible thing. (Marlene kept saying it could be a Marlon, but I said there'd never been a wizard inside of me and never would be, and there was no point in counting one's toes before Apparating, anyways.)
So by December Frank and Marlene were sewing baby clothes in the evening and I was learning the spells to add a new room to the house and Augusta—-who couldn't believe that her gentle little boy had finally proved to be a stud—-was calling 'round at all hours, offering advice that I had no intention of taking. We finally had to escape to the puppy's friend's house for the holidays, pleading exhaustion and top-secret Auror's business. We celebrated the most traditional Christmas I've ever seen at the Lupins'—-a tree and presents and carols and all of the puppy's little friends over for a big meal, and two parents who were nearly bursting with pride because their son was helping in the fight against You-Know-Who.
Sirius and I regaled with them tales of Christmas in the houses of the Dark families, where the ghosts of Christmas past sang of murders and mayhem and house-elves rattled chains through the night and Christmas candles dripped blood. None of it was true, exactly, but it made for a wonderful holiday.
The full moon fell on Boxing Day, and the puppy and his friend disappeared shortly before nightfall, and, well, I'd had a little too much to drink and was feeling sentimental, and I told our hosts just what a wonderful, wonderful boy their young Remus was, how kind and patient and caring he was with a Dark Creature like Sirius, and how happy I was that they were fucking, since we could all use a little more sex during hard times like these. Marlene exchanged a look with our oddly bewildered hosts and took my drink away and put me to bed, so I never had the chance to add that the boys needed to be very, very careful what they did with their wands.
Which brings us to New Year's Eve. We'd been planning on celebrating at home alone, Frank and Marlene and I, but the puppy got very cross and insisted that we invite him and Remus over for the new year, since I had--in his words--ruined the rest of their holiday plans. I had no idea what he was talking about, but Frank said he had already invited them and I should be flattered they wanted to spend more time with us. And then he promptly got sick all over my lap, and I got stuck with the cooking duties.
We've had no real New Year's celebrations this year. At midnight, Frank was sick and asleep in his bed, Marlene was sick in the toilet, and the puppy and Remus were rolling around in my self-heating duvet while I tried to get comfortable on the couch under a sad little baby blanket Frank had knit. In the early hours of the morning, the puppy came out for a glass of milk and threw a curious glance at me, sprawled out on my back on the couch, half-asleep.
Is that the baby showing already, he asked.
No, I said. You won't see her, not for another few months. That's just my stomach, a little fatter than usual.
The puppy had the good grace to bite back his snicker. Sorry, Al, he said. Happy new year. Got to go, Remus is waiting. Wake us up when breakfast is ready in the morning.
Happy new year, indeed. I turned over, pulling the blanket over my shoulder, and finally fell asleep, dreaming of house-elves ratting chains and little Marlene and all the bangers and mash I could eat.
I'm blessed to have so many wonderful witches and wizards in my life, but I'll say again what I say every year: may the next year be better for all of us than the last. And be careful when you pick up a stray; sometimes it takes a fancy to you and never goes away.