You've heard the news by now, I'm sure.
The Order of the Phoenix has reassembled, and its members have been talking of nothing else for weeks: Tom Riddle is back. Lord Voldemort, we call him, even though the peerage is imaginary and his title self-styled. We hear he's building up an army, again. There are rumors that little Harry is in danger. The Prophet prints libel against the boy, who did nothing more than tell us what he saw earlier this summer. The functionaries at the Ministry are so frightened they won't say anything about him at all. Uncle Albus drops by my house every few days, checking to make sure the boy is still safe.
Voldemort has returned.
I'm surprised by the calmness with which I accept this news, because I've never been particularly brave. I was a grown woman when Grindelwald first rose to power, and I remember the terror of those days clearly. I was paralyzed by the prospect of playing a role in a war, and there were many nights when I lay in the dark, mind racing and heart pounding, unable to fall asleep. When we first heard about Voldemort, I had a daughter and three grandchildren. All four joined the Order, and I spent my days tracking their comings and goings, fearing for their lives as things fell apart. Now Voldemort is back again, and all I can feel is an overwhelming sadness and frustration with the world.
I'll turn ninety in January, and, though sometimes Uncle Albus teases me about my relative youth, I suspect I don't have that many years left. Lacking magic, Squibs don't live as long as witches. Now, at the very end of my life, I'm involved in a war again, the beginnings of one, at least. I sit at Order meetings where I see young wizards and witches who are impatient to fight Voldemort and his Death Eaters. I don't have the energy for this. When will we realize that problems are not solved through curses and hexes and battle plans? That Voldemort is a threat not because he is powerful himself, but because he can find Death Eaters and allies amongst the rest of us?
I'm tired of crises and danger and strategy. I feel a certain weariness and despair at Order meetings; what we're doing is too little, too late. I'm no longer interested in discussing Death Eaters or the news in the Prophet or the prophecy at the Ministry or whatever it is everyone is talking about these days.
Instead I'm going to tell you a different story. Yes, it's about Voldemort's return. No, it's not about the upcoming war. Not exactly.
It all started in June of last year, when Uncle Albus arrived on my doorstep with a bag of catnip and a twinkle in his eye that spelled trouble.
"No," I said as soon as I opened the door.
"You don't even know why I'm here, Arabella," Uncle Albus said, insinuating himself past me and walking into the living room, where he knelt down and set his bag of catnip on the floor. Mr Tibbles and Mr Paws and Mrs Snowy were there immediately; Mrs Tufty was still engaged in an epic sulk in the guestroom on the first floor.
"I've seen that look before," I said warily, shutting the door and turning toward him.
"You have?" he asked innocently.
I nodded. Indeed, I had, many times, most memorably one day back in 1981, when he'd dropped by to say he had a small task for me that would involve a brief stay in Wisteria Walk, Little Whinging, Surrey.
"I don't think you get out enough these days," Uncle Albus said, peering at me intently over the rims of his glasses, lifting Mr Tibbles into his lap, running his hand along the tabby's back very gently. "It's good for your health, you know, to get out and talk to other people.
"I'm quite fine, thank you," I said. "The cats keep me company."
"You need companionship, Arabella," Uncle Albus said, shaking his head. "It's important, at our age, to stay engaged."
"What do you want?" I asked with a sigh. "Harry's back for the summer and Mrs Tufty is giving me trouble and Mrs Snowy is expecting again; I don't have that much time these days."
"This won't take more than a minute," he said, and I knew immediately that the favor was a large one.
It turned out that he was in a tight spot at Hogwarts. One of his professors had been brewing a medicinal potion for another professor, but there had been a contretemps of some sort, and the two were no longer speaking to each other.
"Not Severus Snape again," I said, and Uncle Albus had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed.
"He is a very valuable member of our teaching staff," Uncle Albus said.
Now, little Harry has never really confided in me, but even I had heard about Professor Snape and the valuable contributions he made as a member of the Hogwarts faculty.
"In any case," Uncle Albus said hurriedly, "I need someone to help bring the potion from Hogwarts to this other professor's house about once a month, and I thought you would be just the one to help me out."
"Does he live close by, this other professor?" I asked.
"Quite close, quite close," he said, in his warmest, most reassuring voice, still stroking Mr Tibbles. The tabby purred happily. "Just outside of Glasgow."
Now, the insanity of this favor was beginning to become clear to me; Glasgow and Hogwarts are both hundred of miles away from me, and, as a Squib, I tend to take British Rail when I travel.
"Close to me, Uncle Albus," I said with frustration. "I can't travel to Scotland on a monthly basis. What are you talking about?"
Uncle Albus winced just slightly, and I recognized that guilty look my own father got sometimes, when he had done something wrong. "Also, the potion involved is Wolfsbane, and the recipient is Professor Remus Lupin," he said quickly.
"The werewolf!" I said before I could help myself. His name was in the papers at the time; the Quibbler was running a series of editorials about his ill-fated appointment at Hogwarts and his recent resignation.
Uncle Albus set Mr Tibbles down and looked at me sternly.
"Now, now, you're not a prejudiced woman, Arabella," he said. "Surely you of all people should understand these issues."
"I'm not--" I paused, considering my options. Admitting to bigotry was not one of them. "I'd have to leave the cats at home." I rarely went anywhere without them these days.
He nodded. "Perhaps; they might not get along with Mr Lupin. But it would be a very quick trip. A few hours, at most."
"I have no robes to speak of," I said, casting about for another reason why this was not the good idea he believed it to be.
"I'm sure he won't mind if you come in your housecoat or your Muggle clothing. He is a very kind man, a very modest man."
"How on earth would I get to Scotland every month?" I asked, and Uncle Albus fished a small, grey felt mouse from his pocket triumphantly, while Mr Tibbles went crazy, batting at it with his paw. A small bell tinkled brightly.
"Catnip?" I asked
"This is charmed to summon the Knight Bus for you," Uncle Albus said. "Stand on the pavement, ring the bell, and the bus will appear for you and take you anywhere you'd like to go. In the meantime, I thought Mr Tibbles could keep watch over it, so it doesn't go missing." He gave the mouse to Mr Tibbles, who hissed at Mr Paws, picked the toy up by the scruff of its neck, and promptly retreated to the kitchen.
I sighed, forgetting momentarily that one should never show any signs of weakness or compromise in front of Uncle Albus.
"Excellent!" Uncle Albus said immediately, standing up slowly and stretching his legs. "Your first visit will be next Thursday at teatime. Thank you for your help, Arabella."
He kissed me very gently on the cheek and Apparated with a pop before I could say another word.
It's likely that you know one thing about me, and that's that I don't do magic. It's true, I'm a Squib. But wizards and witches are all too quick to say that's the most important thing about a person, a defining characteristic, where really it's not. We don't solve our problems with spells or potions; we solve our problems with creativity and ingenuity and patience, and occasionally magic is involved. Or not involved, as the case may be. True, there are days when I wished that I could utter a quick Scourgify and be done with the washing up, but I don't wish that I'd been born a witch.
Uncle Albus has always understood. Few people have--not even my parents, who loved me dearly but cried on my eleventh birthday, when there was no letter from Hogwarts. My dear departed Mr Figg, bless his soul, would grasp my elbow when we went to parties, maneuvering me about the room and telling our friends about my curious rapport with cats. Even today, at a meeting of the Order, Arthur Weasley gave me an indulgent, encouraging smile when I joined him at the table, as if Uncle Albus were doing me a favor, letting me into this elite wizarding organization. Arthur Weasley, of all people!
So you understand when I say that I felt I had to go, all of my misgivings about werewolves aside. Uncle Albus had asked.
"Here we are! 17, Primrose Lane! Home of Reeeeemus Lupin! Arabella Figg, this is your stop!"
Dear me, dear me, did that young man have to say it so loudly? There was an awkward silence amongst the passengers on the Knight Bus at Professor Lupin's name, but just as I began to feel my cheeks burn, the bus came to an abrupt, gut-wrenching, stop. I doubled over in my chair, managing to hold onto the cauldron somehow, and my bag tumbled to the floor, and a few spare tins of cat food rolled out.
"Miss?" the young conductor asked, scrambling about on hand and knees for the tins.
"Never mind, never mind!" I said, abandoning the tins and heading for the door. As I stepped off the bus I whispered to the sullen little driver, "You'll come for me when I call for you? With the bell?"
"Very good, Mrs Figg, very good," the driver said shortly, nodding. "Help the lady out, will you, Stan?"
I felt a hand at my elbow and another at my waist, and suddenly I was standing on the pavement in front of a small brick house with an overgrown garden. Nothing unusual, nothing ominous--but then, bad things often looked quite harmless, didn't they?
I had a bad feeling about this.
I turned around immediately. "I've changed my mind, sir!" I called out, but the young conductor had already climbed back aboard, and with a shudder and an echoing squeal, the Knight Bus disappeared.
Well, well. There I was, out in the world without any feline support, with a rancid potion in a cauldron under my arm, Severus Snape's rudeness still fresh in my mind, on my way to meet a werewolf.
"You've already met him," Uncle Albus had said to me just yesterday, in what was clearly intended to be a visit for moral support. "Do you remember back before Harry's parents died? He was a member of the Order. Brown hair? Very young? Soft-spoken?"
I didn't remember, but then again, I hadn't known he was a werewolf at that time, had I? I comforted myself with the thought that young Harry had gone through much worse in his fourteen short years--a thought that, against all logic, usually made things a little easier. Be brave, now, Arabella, I said to myself, and I marched up the garden path.
As I drew close I could see that there were neat lacy curtains in the windows and a straw doormat in which the word "home" had been woven in neat black letters. I balanced the cauldron in one hand and rapped on the door tentatively with the other. I could hear the scrape of a chair and heavy steps, and I have to admit my heart beat quite quickly as the door opened and a man's thin face peered out.
"Mrs Figg," the man said, and I nodded. "Professor Lupin," I replied, and the door swung open.
Professor Lupin was a tall man but quite slight, with thin, sloping shoulders, greying brown hair, a tired, clean-shaven face, and an expression of grave concern that took me by surprise.
"Please, just Remus; I'm no longer a professor," he said. "Here, let me."
He reached out toward me, and I jumped, startled, but he was simply taking the cauldron. I saw he grasped it with thick, stiff arthritic fingers like mine.
"Thank you," he said, smiling. "You have no idea how helpful you've been."
This was not what I'd expected. Well, true, I hadn't known what to expect at all--whiskers and fangs? That would be silly--but this certainly wasn't it.
"Would you like to come in? I have tea waiting," he asked, and I hesitated.
"I think I need to return to Surrey," I said uncertainly. "My cats will miss me."
"You didn't bring them with you?" he asked, glancing at the bag on my shoulder. He looked at me with a shy smile. "Albus said you traveled with them. I had cat treats ready."
"Oh," I said, now feeling both uncomfortable and thoroughly ashamed of myself. That was quite considerate of him, wasn't it? "I'm not quite dressed for…" I gestured at my slippers and housecoat.
"Never mind, never mind, come in," he asked, and over his shoulder I could see that tea and sweets had been set up on a small table in the living room.
"Thank you," I said, giving in, stepping past him gingerly, into the house. I loved a good tea. This was all Uncle Albus' fault, I was quite sure of it.
We both sat down in the living room on two rose-patterned armchairs. I glanced around the room, looking for--looking for what, I don't know. It was a very ordinary living room, filled with bookshelves and framed photographs, immaculately tidy.
Mr Lupin smiled at me again. "Thank you for making the trip," he repeated. "Very few people are interested in visiting me these days. Dumbledore said he had a hard time finding someone for this task. I seem to be helping the Prophet sell newspapers, though."
He was, indeed; there were several letters about him in today's Prophet. I hoped he hadn't seen them. "No trouble at all, I'm quite happy to help," I said, suddenly concerned that Mr Lupin might see through this lie.
"Here," he said, pouring my tea. "Please."
"The tea smells good," I said, bringing the cup to my lips and sipping cautiously.
"Hibiscus and rose hips," he said, placing several biscuits on my plate. "Albus said it was your favorite."
Now, who could resist an offer of friendship like that? I felt quite terrible that I'd had any doubts about him, to tell the truth. Here he had gone to the trouble to make tea for me, and I was thinking about the nonsense that they print in the Quibbler and the Prophet, silly old woman that I am.
"It is," I said simply.
"Perhaps next time you can bring the cats with you," he said with a small smile that told me that he knew I was quite won over.
We fell into a routine, we did. Every month, a few days before the full moon, I would summon the Knight Bus, stop by Hogwarts for a round of abuse from Professor Snape, and carry the potion to Mr Lupin's house. He invariably had tea and some sweets for me and some food or playthings for the cats.
Yes, he and the cats did get along. I brought Mrs Snowy first, because she has always been a shameless little thing, eager for attention, and I figured that if any of my cats wanted to befriend a werewolf, she would be the one. Besides, she was visibly expecting, and I was already getting ideas about what I wanted to do with the kittens.
"This is the one who wanted to meet me the most?" Mr Lupin asked me, crouching down next to her, his stiff fingers smoothing her long, black fur over and over. She looked at him for a moment, then rolled over on her side and stretched out, begging for more. She clearly didn't sense anything dangerous about him at all, and I felt quite embarrassed about my own hesitation.
"Mrs Snowy's the most friendly," I said, nodding.
"Mrs Snowy?" he asked and then laughed. "You have a sense of humor, Arabella."
"Oh, no," I said. "I'm quite dull; it's Mr Tibb who came up with the name."
I must not have spoken very clearly, because he frowned. "Mr Figg?"
"Mr Tibb, short for Mr Tibbles," I said. "He's the tabby, and the oldest, and by far the most clever of the bunch. Mr Figg, my husband, passed away many years ago."
"Ah," he said, looking at me carefully. "And Mr Tibbles suggested the name?"
Now, I may be an elderly woman who talks to her cats, but I'm not so old I don’t know how other people feel about this. Little Harry thinks I'm quite crazy, and my granddaughter Emmeline laughs at me and tells me I need to get out more. I don't usually mention these things to strangers, but Mrs Snowy was purring so happily in Mr Lupin's lap I could hardly lie.
"He did indeed," I said. "He's named all the cats who've come after him, actually. He's very quite bright. He helps me keep an eye on Harry."
Mr Lupin blinked at me several times, and then smiled. "You can bring them all next time, you know," he said. He leaned forward, whispering so that Mrs Snowy would not hear. "It sounds as if I need to impress Mr Tibbles."
The next time I brought all four cats, and Mr Lupin lay on his stomach in the living room and tossed Uncle Albus' charmed toy at them. Mr Tibbles took a few minutes to warm up to him, but by the end of the visit they were getting on splendidly. Mr Tibbles told me later that night that he never imagined a werewolf could be so gentle, or so friendly, or so unnaturally neat.
"Indeed," I replied, crawling under the covers, pulling the duvet up to my chin. "I do wonder sometimes if he's lonely in that tidy little house of his, though." Mr Tibbles burrowed into bed beside me, his whiskers ticklish against my ear. "You're right, dear," I said. "I shall ask him one day."
The next time I brought my granddaughter Emmeline, who wanted to know who had so charmed her grandmother and the finicky Mr Tibbles. We had madeleines in the garden on one of the last warm days of autumn, talking about Harry and the Triwizard Tournament. Emmy and Mr Lupin had been at Hogwarts together, though they hadn't known each other well. They talked about mutual friends, and various theories behind Harry's inclusion in the tournament, and Emmy's job at the Ministry, and Mrs Snowy's litter.
Afterward, on the Knight Bus, Emmy squeezed my hand and laughed at me. "I think you fancy Mr Lupin," she said, teasing. There were the smallest lines just developing at the corners of her eyes, and they gave her away every time.
"Mr Tibbles would protest," I said with a sniff. "Besides, Mr Lupin is much closer to your age than mine."
Emmy rolled her eyes. "Nana, Remus was a firstie when I was Head Girl. He'll always be a baby to me." She squeezed my arm. "Besides, he's taken, didn't you see?"
"He's not married," I said. At least, I hadn't seen a ring.
"Two toothbrushes in the bathroom," Emmy said knowingly. "Take my word for it."
In my day, two toothbrushes would have meant only that one had very, very clean teeth.
"Nana, you're blushing!" Emmy said with a laugh.
"Am not," I said. In any case, I didn't believe her. I may be elderly but I'm not foolish, and truly, no one would visit that house and have any doubts that Mr Lupin was anything but a confirmed bachelor.
"Did he seem interested in a kitten, do you think?" I asked, changing the subject. "I think a cat would do him good."
"You think a cat would do everyone good," Emmy said. "Leave the poor man alone."
Now, Emmeline is my favorite granddaughter, but sometimes she doesn't understand these things. I sighed and made a mental note to ask the cats that night.
A few days before the full moon in December, I received a letter from Mr Lupin by owl post, thanking me very kindly for my services but telling me that I no longer needed to make the monthly trip north. Beginning this month, he would receive his potion by other means. He was, very sincerely, with enormous gratitude for my efforts, mine, signed Remus J. Lupin.
I was a little hurt by that letter, I have to admit. I didn't fancy Mr Lupin, as Emmy had suggested, that was rather silly, but after all those months I had begun to care for him, and I worried about him. What would happen to Mr Lupin, all alone in that tidy little house? Was he no longer interested in my company, or that of the cats? Had I somehow insulted him? I had never said a thing about werewolves, I was quite sure, but perhaps something had slipped out, unbeknownst to me? It haunted me, this thought.
I had fetched the post on my way to the greengrocer, and when I returned, Uncle Albus had taken up residence in my living room. He was lying on his back on the sofa in my front room, his long legs dangling over the armrest. Mr Tibbles was nested on his stomach in an especially fluffy part of his beard.
I told him the whole story. How could I not?
"It's not that I miss talking to Professor Snape, or that smelly cauldron, or riding on that awful bus, but…" I finished, trailing off, uncertain how to explain myself. "It was just all rather abrupt. Did he say anything to you?"
Uncle Albus heaved a very deep, very long sigh and rubbed Mr Tibbles behind his ears.
"Do you remember when I first told you that I needed your help?" he asked. "That I needed someone to act as a liaison between Professor Snape and Professor Lupin?"
"It wasn't Severus who was giving me problems," he said.
"It wasn't?" I asked blankly.
Uncle Albus gave me a very meaningful glance over the rims of his glasses.
"For Merlin's sake, Uncle Albus," I said. "No riddles!"
I think I heard Mr Tibbles snort. If you've ever met Uncle Albus, you'll understand why.
"Did I see you bought some cabbage, Arabella? Nothing better for digestion than a bite of cabbage," Uncle Albus asked brightly, and I knew I'd learned as much as I could from him.
I took the Knight Bus to Mr Lupin's the next morning. Yes, I'm well aware it's not the most considerate thing to show up on a friend's doorstep first thing in the morning, uninvited, but I hadn't slept a wink the night before, and Mr Tibbles was becoming very cross with my dithering indeed.
Mr Lupin's face was unshaven and his hair still mussed when he answered the door.
"Arabella," he said, blinking.
"Now, now, Mr Lupin," I said, using the same tone I'd used on Emmy's mother, even when she was as old as Mr Lupin. It was a very effective tone, if I do say so myself. "If there's something wrong you just need to tell me."
"Nothing's wrong," he said stiffly, before he remembered his manners. "I'm sorry, Arabella, would you like to come in?"
I stepped inside and frowned at him.
"I've been upset since yesterday, thinking I said the wrong thing," I said.
"Tea?" Mr Lupin asked, rubbing his face. "Coffee, perhaps?"
"I'm fine, thanks," I said, and then stopped. "No, I'm not fine. Why don't you want to see me any longer?"
Mr Lupin groaned. "Must we discuss this right now?"
"Yes," I said firmly, sitting down on the one of the rose-patterned armchairs.
Mr Lupin sat in the other.
"Well," I said, bracing myself for the worst.
"Er," he said.
"Yes?" I asked.
"Really, Arabella," he said to me, looking quite awkward and unhappy. "Emmy is a lovely woman, really, she is--"
And suddenly I began to understand: he thought I wanted him to ask Emmeline on a date. Thank goodness, I hadn't offended him on the werewolf issue somehow.
"Mr Lupin," I said, interrupting him. "You've misunderstood. I'm an old busybody, but I never meddle. Not that way."
He looked relieved, poor thing, but also a bit confused, so I reached out and patted him on his knee.
"No, I was wondering if you wanted a kitten, one of Mrs Snowy's litter," I explained. "They're perfect company for a single person, very clean."
Mr Lupin's mouth twitched, and then twitched again, and suddenly he was laughing,
"I beg your pardon, Arabella, I really do, I just thought--"
I could see very well what he thought; I had appeared with my granddaughter and asked if he were lonely here, all by himself. It made a certain kind of sense, even if his reaction hadn't.
He stopped laughing and smiled at me. "It's very kind of you to offer," he said. "But no, no cats, Arabella," he said finally. "I'm not a cat person."
This I couldn't let pass. "Mr Tibbles hardly trusts anyone, and he trusts you," I pointed out.
"No," he said firmly, shaking his head. "I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I'm afraid I can't accept. I…"
He trailed off here and looked at me very seriously. "Would you like to know a secret, Arabella?"
I would, indeed. I nodded.
"I've, er, become interested in someone," he said slowly, not quite meeting my eyes. "Someone who visits occasionally. Someone who's not particularly fond of cats." He paused, shrugging, self-deprecating. "Someone who might move in with me. One day. Perhaps."
"You are!" I exclaimed. "You have!" Emmy would gloat, I was sure. How did she always know these things? I didn't give the girl enough credit.
"Er, yes, well. Perhaps," he said. "We're, er, well. We're still sorting things out."
It occurred to me suddenly that it was still quite early in the morning, and Mr Lupin had two toothbrushes in his bathroom. Now was probably not the best time for a visit. I stood up. "I've completely forgotten. Mr Tibbles will be wanting his breakfast."
Mr Lupin looked quite confused but stood up as well. "He will?"
"He will," I said. "You still need your potion delivered, don't you? I'll see you again on Thursday?"
He gave me a sheepish, crinkly smile. "I do, Arabella. Thank you."
Now, you'll want to know who it was that Mr Lupin was seeing. Merlin knows, I did. Mr Tibbles did. Emmy did, after she finished telling me how I don't listen to her often enough. But Mr Lupin never offered the information, and I didn't ask. I'm not sure why my supposed matchmaking frightened him so; then again, if I wanted to know, I'd have to admit just why I felt so guilty and upset about the whole incident, and I wasn't ready to do that.
Thus we fell back into our habits, a monthly visit over tea and biscuits. We talked about the cats and Mr Lupin's spring plans for his garden, about the Triwizard Tournament, and about Harry. It seems quite silly, in retrospect, that we were so excited for the boy; wasn't his very inclusion in the tournament a warning sign for us? Uncle Albus had said so, once or twice, but Uncle Albus worried about many things, and I paid him no mind. Silly me.
Then, in June, everything fell apart.
It was a quiet Friday morning in late June, and I had been out in the garden while Mr Tibbles patrolled the neighborhood. Harry was due to come home in a few days, and we were both getting ready for him.
I was just returning to the house when I heard a screech, and Mr Tibbles was running down the street faster than I'd even seen him run, a large black dog on his tail. I took one look at the dog, and all of my worst childhood fears came flooding back.
I stepped inside the house and slammed the door behind me, fumbling with the lock, heart beating loudly. Mr Tibbles was underneath the ottoman, his tail flicking back and forth anxiously.
"Go away," I said, as loudly as I could. "Mr Tibbles is not ready to die yet."
Was there a way to keep back the Grim? He was out there, I could hear him, scratching at my door and whining insistently. After a few minutes I peeked through the curtains, and when he saw me he pressed his nose against the windowpane and barked.
I sank down, my back against the door, and I'm not sure how long I would have sat there had I not hear a man's voice whisper my name. "Pssst! Arabella!"
I peeked through the curtains again, and there was Sirius Black, on his knees in my rosebushes, trying to look inside my house.
I fumbled with the locks again, flung open the door, and grasped him by the arm, pulling him inside.
"Animagus," he said shortly, by way of explanation.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, glaring at him.
"Why are you locking me out?' he asked. He was standing in my living room, shaking out his dirty robes, brushing soil off his knees onto my rug. He was even more fearsome in person than he'd been in the papers last year--deathly thin, with deep-set shadowed eyes and dark, unshaven cheeks and a rather cruel twist to his mouth.
"Why are you trying to kill my cat?" I asked, and he laughed. There was a manic light in his eye, a kind of morbid excitement that did not bode well.
"What are we talking about, Arabella? Look, now, you need to sit down. I have some important news for you."
"You can tell me right now," I said.
"Voldemort is back," he said simply. "The Order is reassembling. Our first meeting is tomorrow morning, 8:00a.m. in the old Charms classroom at Hogwarts. Dumbledore has requested that you attend."
I sat down.
He told me the whole story, about the third task, the maze, the cup, Harry's encounter with Peter Pettigrew and Voldemort, Cedric Diggory's death, the assembled Death Eaters. I shouldn't have been so surprised, given everything Uncle Albus had told me, particularly about the Triwizard Tournament and Harry's unexpected participation in it. But I was shocked, deeply shocked, and when Mr Black finished his story, I couldn't think of anything to say at all.
Finally Mr Black turned around, as if he were preparing to leave.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"I've got to go and tell Remus," he said shortly. I'd forgotten he knew Mr Lupin.
"Are you going to walk there?" I asked. "You do know he's living in Scotland, don't you?"
He shrugged. "I might be spotted on the Floo Network or if I Apparated. I caught a lorry on the way here. Drivers sometimes like a little canine company."
"There are other ways of traveling, you know," I said. "I might be able to help you."
He looked surprised, foolish man. I dug the felt mouse out of my pocket. "Transform again," I instructed him. "And let's go out on the pavement."
Mr Lupin went white when he saw the two of us standing on his doorstep. "Inside, Arabella, Sirius," he said, voice low and urgent, and we stepped inside his house. Mr Black transformed immediately.
"What's wrong, Sirius?" Mr Lupin asked, and Mr Black stared at him for the longest time.
"He's back, Remus," he said finally. "It's starting all over again."
Mr Lupin sat down heavily. "Tell me about it."
And Mr Black did, the same story he'd told me not half an hour earlier: the maze, the cup, Harry, Peter Pettigrew, Cedric Diggory, Voldemort, the assembled Death Eaters.
Then he glanced warily at me and cocked his head toward Mr Lupin. "Could we talk alone for a moment? In the kitchen?"
Mr Lupin gave him an inscrutable look and turned to me. "Would you care for some tea, Arabella? We won't be more than a moment, I'm sure."
I nodded, anger gathering in my throat. What was it that Mr Black had to tell Mr Lupin that he couldn't tell me? May Merlin forgive me, but I followed them. A moment after they disappeared, I walked quietly toward the half-closed kitchen door and looked inside.
They were standing quite close, Mr Black leaning against a counter, glaring, while Mr Lupin fussed with the teapot and the stove.
Mr Black cleared his throat. Mr Lupin ignored him.
"Dumbledore said I should stay for awhile," Mr Black said, sounding rather meek for all his fearsome expression.
"Did he?" Mr Lupin asked blandly. The kettle was now on the stove, and he was measuring tea leaves into the pot.
"Lay low," Mr Black added. "That's what he said."
"And Dumbledore thought that this was the best place to do that?" Mr Lupin said.
Mr Black nodded, still ill at ease.
Mr Lupin sighed and muttered something under his breath that sounded like "Damn you, Albus."
He turned around, leaned back against the counter, and crossed his arms.
"I thought you didn't approve of this house," Mr Lupin said. "Didn't approve of me. Didn't want to live like a sad old nancy, I think that's what you said."
Mr Black shifted uncomfortably. "Those words might have been spoken in haste," he said.
"Well, we should both make a sacrifice, for the Order," Mr Lupin said calmly. "That's fine. There's certainly room for you here."
He turned back to the stove, extinguishing the burner and pouring water into the teapot. Mr Black's face was hardening and his mouth was set.
"Damn it, Remus, this isn't about the Order," Mr Black said. "I want to be here. You're right, you're right, I'm done being on the run."
Mr Lupin looked over his shoulder and raised an eyebrow. "You are?"
Mr Lupin turned around again, and they started at one another for a moment.
"You want to stay here," Mr Lupin said.
"I do," Mr Black replied.
"No more sudden disappearances," Mr Lupin said, suddenly stern.
"No," Mr Black said.
"No more appearing in my bed at midnight, unannounced," Mr Lupin added. "No more--"
"No more leaving the towels on the floor, no more complaining about the bloody china," Mr Black said, breaking in. "Whatever else you want, I'll stop doing it. I just…"
Here he broke off, as if struggling to say something. "Voldemort's back again, and we have a second chance to get it right."
There was a long pause, and then Mr Lupin spoke very quietly. "We didn't get it right the first time, did we?"
"No, we didn't," Mr Black said. His face looked angry, but his eyes were very bright.
Mr Lupin stepped forward, and I don't know how he did it, because he's not a large man, but somehow he had Mr Black in his arms, cradled there protectively. They fit together awkwardly, stiff and unmoving.
"Sirius," Mr Lupin said after a moment. "You are always welcome here, you know that. In any circumstances. This doesn't have to be anything you don't want."
Mr Black cleared his throat and spoke in a rough voice, barely more than a whisper. "I know."
They separated slowly and looked at one another.
The very edge of Mr Lupin's mouth twitched, and when he spoke, I could hear a note of amusement creeping into his voice. "And you can kiss me here in your own kitchen. It's allowed. No one's looking."
Mr Black laughed.
Dear me, dear me, this was a reminder I should have left long ago. I slipped away guiltily, my feet as quiet as a cat's paws on the floor.
Now you know: that's whom Mr Lupin had been seeing all this time, Mr Black. I can't say that it didn't shock me at first, but who am I to say anything?
I have to give him credit, Mr Black. This story has been about Mr Lupin, primarily, because we understand one another; we're both cautious and fussy and reluctant. Mr Black is aggressive and messy and hotheaded, but sometimes we need people like him in our lives, people who won't be pushed away. I don't like him very much--sad old nancy, indeed!--but if Mr Lupin is happy, so am I. As Mr Tibbles said when I told him Mr Lupin's story, the currents of life run far beneath the surface.
Love is like the secret language of cats, I replied. You need to listen for it.
After a few moments, Mr Lupin brought a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits out to the living room.
"Sirius is upstairs, taking a shower," Mr Lupin said very lightly, as if nothing had happened. "Too many years living as a dog, that one."
He poured us each a cup of tea, and his hand shook a bit as he did so.
"He's the one you've been waiting for this year, isn't he?" I asked, hoping desperately that he wouldn't guess I had been eavesdropping.
He placed a biscuit on my plate. "Yes."
"I wouldn't have guessed it," I said, still too surprised to be polite as I should be. "He's very...dirty."
Mr Lupin looked like he wanted to laugh. "He cleans up well," he said. "You should have seen him when he was young, we couldn't keep him away from the mirrors and the hair potions and the dress robes."
I did, indeed, remember Mr Black as a young man--who could forget someone like him? But I supposed that wasn't the point.
"You're not old yet, neither of you," I said. "Although I can see where you'd feel that way."
Mr Lupin nodded and sighed. "Don't tell anyone, Arabella? Sirius isn't…" Mr Lupin paused. "We're not quite at that stage. Not yet. Perhaps, when this is all over…"
"You could tell Mr Tibbles, I suppose," Mr Lupin added. "If he doesn't gossip too much with the neighborhood cats." He took a sip of his tea and smiled at me.
"He's discreet," I said. "As am I."
"Our lives depend on it, don't they?" Mr Lupin asked me with a wry smile, and he reached over and squeezed my hand.
I hope Mr Lupin will forgive me for recounting his story here. I'm usually the discreet person I need to be, I am, really, but I've been thinking about him and about Mr Black so much in recent days that I needed to confide in someone, even if just this once, to a stranger like you.
This is my story about Voldemort's return. It has nothing to do with Voldemort himself, or with the prophecy that Uncle Albus is now so concerned about, or with the coming war. Not exactly. It has to do with love and empathy and patience making themselves known only in the face of something much darker.
I'm not a romantic; I don't think love solves our problems any more than magic does. But seeing Mr Black and Mr Lupin together reminds me of how much we lose when we go to war. How much we've lost already, before it's even started. Defeating Voldemort is the essential task for the Order, but it's not about spells or battles or prophecies. It's about sacrificing those we love because we didn't get it right the first time. I look around the table at Order meetings, and I'm quite sure we'll lose some among our ranks before the year is out, Mr Lupin or Mr Black, Uncle Albus or Emmy or Harry. And yet all we do is talk about tactics and strategy and our eventual victory.
There is no victory; I can see that now. This is why Voldemort is back again, because we thought a little magic rid us of him the first time.
The thought tears at my heart. Merlin save us all.