In his memory, it was always summer. Dog days like they had in children's books, bright and blazing. Grass dry and crackling under their feet as they ran for shade underneath leafy green treetops. Round moons residing over the dusty countryside.
And British summer was reliably short. Every day the weather held was one step closer to its own destruction: A thunderstorm, autumn, war. Every second spent pondering the consequences of things was a missed opportunity.
He remembered six boyhood summers, filled with exactly that: Everything, at once, days snatched up like sun-warmed apples from a neighbour's tree. They'd eaten green apples until their bellies ached. The stuff of Patronuses.
He remembered his first Order meeting, after Hogwarts: Right here, in the Weasleys' overgrown garden, on a stifling summer night much like tonight. He remembered James' and Lily's wedding, one hazy morning in August. The birth of Harry, the July after. Always summer.
Had James and Lily expected it to go on forever? Or had they fallen victim to the illusion of British summer – something that looked real enough, but wasn't meant to last?
And all of our yesterdays, he thought, have lighted fools the way to dusty death.
Or maybe Remus was just a cynical old man now.
A cynical, married old man, at that. Whatever madness had begot James and Lily in the summer of 1979, he had fallen victim to it, too. The summer of 1997 would be no different. It was beautiful, and soon it would be over.
Maybe that was the reason he had taken up smoking. These breaks signified nothing, no consequences, all attention on one immediate, irrational need. Time didn't pass inside them.
"Penny for your thoughts?" said a voice in the dark.
Or maybe it did. One minute he'd been alone in the garden, leaning against the Weasleys' broomstick shed, facing away from the Burrow and that peculiar limbo between Order meeting and wedding preparations.
But then he lit up, and the flame briefly illuminated the face of Hermione, now lounging next to him. He'd seen her walking in the garden a minute ago, scattering small clusters of what looked like glowing fireflies amidst the trees and bushes.
Remus allowed himself a deep drag before answering, "Life's but a walking shadow." She'd get it.
Her frown confirmed that she did. "Macbeth sort of mood?" she asked.
Macbeth sort of world, Remus thought. "Says the one reverting to Muggle sayings," he replied.
"What can I say," said Hermione. "It was a simpler life."
"Everything is simple when you're young," said Remus, watching the dark grey smoke dissipate in the night air and trying hard to ignore the symbolism.
She gave him a look. "And everything is complicated when you're not," she said. "It's hard to watch. Lord, what fools these mortals be."
"Midsummer Night's Dream," said Remus. He hadn't been in the mood for conversation, but now he couldn't help a smile. "That's a comedy, Hermione."
His former student shrugged almost imperceptibly. "Someone once taught me to face my worst fears laughing."
"Sage advice," he said. "You should try it out, tell me what happens."
Underneath the thick clouds that trapped the heat close to the land, the garden seemed alive, breathing. In the trees, pinkish-white garlands rustled and jingled softly in the breeze, like so many wind chimes. Hermione's fireflies were zooming slowly across the edges of his vision. Apart from the occasional pop when another Order member Disapparated beyond the perimeter, it was quite peaceful.
The air was still humming with the day's heat, and a promise lay over the land: Somewhere, something was going to burn.
Not yet, but soon.
Hermione laughed at something only she could perceive. "You know, I didn't have you down as a smoker," she said.
"I didn't exactly advertise it at Hogwarts," said Remus. "Though between Sybil's drinking and Hagrid's gambling, I wonder why I bothered. Reminds me, before Molly kills me – "
With a flick of his wand, he summoned the ashtray from under the kitchen stairs, where Charlie Weasley kept it hidden from his mother. "The ashes attract –?"
"Coalbolds," said Hermione. "I listened. You're more the type to smoke a pipe, though. Not cigarettes."
"Pipes are for old men," he said mildly. "I'm not that old."
It wasn't as if he'd ever smoked a lot, not like Sirius used to. It was an expensive habit. He allowed himself just enough to dull the smells, the constant barrage of human, wolf, dog, blood, sweat, especially around moontime. Plus, it was a weird fucking addiction. He could give it up anytime. He found he didn't want to. He didn't get many breaks.
"Six thousand cups of milky tea say otherwise," said Hermione. "Besides, I'm not that young. I've been of age for almost a year now."
At this, he laughed. "Hermione, you will eventually realise how young seventeen is," he said. "Give it a decade or two."
"Looking forward," she said quietly.
Of course, he thought. They were all in a ruminative mood, and he wasn't going to point out how wildly out of place that looked on a face as young as hers.
"Big day tomorrow," he said eventually. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"
"Tried sleeping, didn't work," she said. "Actually, Tonks sent me. She said that I should talk to you."
He mentally combined these pieces of information: His wife and what they'd discussed last night, tomorrow's mission, the broomstick shed. "Is this about the flying tomorrow?" he asked.
Hermione nodded. "Apart from Mundungus, I'm the only one without significant flying experience. And it was Mundungus's idea, so I reckon he only has himself to blame."
"Yes, Nymphadora and I discussed this," said Remus.
"Is that the expression you want to choose?" said Hermione, trying and failing to suppress her laugh. "Tonks said you called it the worst idea anyone in the Order had since Hyde Park, 1978. Apparently you were swearing quite impressively. And coming from her… wait, do you seriously call her Nymphadora?"
"Never you mind what I call my wife."
Pondering that last bit clearly had her entertained for a moment. It was funny, though, he thought. The Order had had plenty of reckless ideas in the almost twenty years of its existence. But while he had always thought of himself as the voice of reason in Dumbledore's club of crazies, he actually couldn't recall a plan he had resented more.
Maybe he really was getting old.
He turned serious. "The Death Eaters are observing Little Whinging," he said. "It would be foolish to assume that there won't be an aerial battle, that we won't be outnumbered, and that we won't be duelling in the air. Meanwhile, half of our number are inhabiting a body that's not their own. Your balance will be off and you'll be wearing glasses you're not used to. Your wands might react differently. Ever taken Polyjuice?"
"Not successfully," she said, grimacing. "But my best friends will be out there. And the fewer of us there are, the more dangerous it'll be for the rest. We have to do this together."
Remus sighed. "That's exactly what Moody said."
"To be fair, I'll be on a Thestral with Kingsley Shacklebolt," said Hermione. "I guess there are worse places to be during a battle. Right?" She sounded unsure.
There were literal dozens of better places Remus could think of. "Still," he said, "a mile up in the air, deflecting curses from three dimensions. I think my point stands. Sorry, did my wife send you to me for reassurance?"
"I think she knows you better than that," said Hermione with a smile. "Actually, she suggested you take me flying for bit, if you don't mind. Of course there are no Thestrals here, but the Weasleys have a large number of old, wobbly broomsticks."
"Should be quite similar," he agreed.
His wife really did know him, he thought. She knew he'd prefer teaching over talking. Both Hermione and he hadn't been huge fans of tomorrow's operation. What a sneaky way to cheer them both up.
Being married was weird.
Satisfied that he'd thoroughly identified his wife's underlying scheme, he said, "Sure, I can take you up for a few rounds if you like."
"Thank you," said Hermione, looking equal parts relieved and anxious. "I'd ask Ron to take me flying but, you know. He's not very patient. And Tonks said she'd be another hour or so talking to Mrs Weasley, or she'd take me herself."
"No problem, let me just finish this," Remus said, waving his unfinished cigarette.
"Take your time," said Hermione, with a wry grin. "I'm not itching to go."
"Well, that's just wise." He laughed. "Sorry. Flying can be quite fun, really. When the weather is good and you're not being chased by Death Eaters, that is."
"You really are a ray of sunshine sometimes," said Hermione. "Didn't have you down as a flyer, either. I thought James was the Quidditch star in your group?"
Always more memories. It seemed to be that sort of night, Remus thought. "When James Potter is your best friend," he said, "your summers are going to take on a very specific shape. You're certainly going to learn to hang on to a broom by your fingertips."
"I'm so happy Harry has the Weasleys for that sort of thing," said Hermione, and Remus saw her gaze flicker towards the Burrow, to where a light was burning in the attic.
"Actually," she added, "though it's much appreciated, I didn't exactly come here for a flying lesson."
He laughed. "No kidding," he said. Hermione did look like a woman with a mission, and that mission was not definitely not a couple of loops on one of the Weasleys' battered Cleansweep Sevens.
She settled in comfortably next to him, leaning against the freshly polished boards of the broomstick shed. "I was hoping for some answers before you leave," she said.
Remus mulled that over in his head. As usual – he couldn't switch it off – implications clicked into place. "The three of you are not going to return to Hogwarts, aren't you," he stated.
For a second, Hermione just stared at him. Then she caught herself. "This is about the best-kept secret in all of Britain," she said, "and you got it from, I need some answers?"
"No," he said. "I got it from Before you go. You don't expect many more opportunities to ask." He sighed. "I got it from the homework you didn't do all summer. I got it from the trainers you're wearing at all times: You're ready to run. I got it from the wretched creature hiding in the attic. Oh, was that a secret, too?"
There was a long pause. "And you disapprove?" she asked.
Remus faltered. The truth was, he hadn't formed an opinion yet. He'd just observed. It seemed so natural, so 1979, he hadn't even thought to argue against their plans.
Maybe he should.
Maybe it didn't matter. Thinking it through as a rational grown-up, he said, "I'd prefer to see the three of you safe and sound in Hogwarts, of course."
"But it's not –"
He sighed. "Quite right," he said. "Hogwarts was only ever safe for Harry because of Albus Dumbledore, wasn't it? And even then, it hardly was. Severus will expect you there."
At that, she looked down, wearing an expression of contempt. "All that happened," she said, "and you still call him Severus."
"Huh. So I did," he said. This revelation took longer to process. "I guess he really had me convinced he was on our side. Even now, there's still some bits that don't quite… fit."
The Wolfsbane, he thought. Occasional outbursts of protecting Harry. Dumbledore's unfaltering trust. And Lily, years back.
He also thought of Sirius, and how some things hadn't fit then, either.
"It all fits," said Hermione, and he saw her close her eyes. "Such a horrible man," she said. "Such a horrible teacher. Remember Neville Longbottom? How can a teacher be the worst fear in the life of someone like Neville?"
"I know," said Remus. "Made for a fantastic Boggart, though." He remembered that day fondly.
"I was the best bloody student that man was ever lucky enough to teach," said Hermione, "and the first time I ever got full marks on a Potion was when I sat my O.W.L. exam. Oh god. Exams. It sounds so petty now."
"You deserved better," said Remus quietly.
"And remember how he gave you so much grief for being unemployed?" said Hermione. "The nerve. As if someone of his past and attitude would have been considered employable by anyone except Albus Dumbledore. Sorry, I'm angry now. I used to defend Snape. I thought I was clever. Rational. I thought, if he truly were a spy for Voldemort, he'd have put in more effort to get into our good graces."
"Or any effort?"
"Don't beat yourself up, Hermione," said Remus. "This is a man who fooled Dumbledore."
Hermione snorted. "Peter Pettigrew fooled Dumbledore. But then, they both fooled you, too, and you read people like books."
That took a moment to process. "So do you. Am I right?" said Remus eventually. "But some books lie."
"I think it's the suspension of disbelief that gets people like us," said Hermione. "You. Me. Dumbledore. We're expecting a narrative. Snape is a misunderstood hero is certainly a better story than Snape was evil all along."
"And thus Peter the coward turns into Peter the brave," said Remus. "I hate this story."
"Weird, though, isn't it?" said Hermione. "That Dumbledore's most avoidable mistakes had by far the gravest consequences. One trip to Azkaban would have been enough. Just a couple of questions. Veritaserum. Or common sense. Sirius could have been free. Dumbledore never bothered. No investigation, no trial, no evidence worth a damn. Why didn't he bother?"
The implication was clear between them. Why did none of you bother? Remus leant back. Explaining that would take all night, and it wasn't even Hermione's endgame. But then, what was?
"Hermione," he said. "Just from one strategic thinker to the other, I know you're not here to talk about the many failures of Albus Dumbledore. The man hasn't been dead five weeks."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "You tell me what I'm here to achieve," she said. "You usually do."
"You seem keen to bring up Sirius Black," said Remus. "Go ahead. Here's a man who'd have hated being left out of the conversation."
She laughed. "I remember," she said. "I was so surprised when I first saw the ring, Remus."
He regarded her. Oh, Hermione was clever, he thought. Jumping topics, keeping him on edge. He still couldn't guess what she had come to talk to him about.
"Trust me, everyone was surprised," said Remus. "Including Nymphadora."
He stubbed out the long-dead cigarette end in the ashtray absent-mindedly. "I haven't really stopped," he said. He was still pondering where Hermione was taking this. She'd already proven she was rather perceptive.
"I was surprised," added Hermione, and the faint glow of the fireflies suggested a rather cheeky grin had spread over her face, "because up until last week I was convinced you were gay."
That startled him. He searched her face, but could only identify a keen curiosity, not the aggressive contempt of late-night drunks in a pub in Brixton, or the quiet distress of his own mother. He let the silence linger for a moment, considering this. "You," he said finally. "Have you been listening to Mrs Black?"
Hermione shrugged. "Curious, isn't it? Everyone else seemed to just tune her out," she said. "But she was very specific. The occasional unnatural, degenerate, tainting the blood – it was quite clear what she thought about you."
"You don't know half of it," said Remus quietly. "The painting really doesn't do her justice."
"I can't even imagine," said Hermione. "She must have been a complete nightmare –"
"And it's not half as bad as what she said to James, back in the day," added Remus.
Hermione seemed surprise. "Why James? Wasn't he the Pureblood? I thought she'd approve."
"She was very simple-minded about these things," said Remus. "He was the Pureblood, of course he was ringleader. Of course he was the one to corrupt her son, the rest of us were just picking through the spoils. And to be fair, James did have a gift for riling her up."
He remembered James shouting after the Blacks, across King's Cross, in the fakest Cockney accent outside a BBC whodunnit. Oy, Dogstar! Remember I'll be picking you up for the rugby Friday!
"But it wasn't Mrs Black that gave me the idea originally," said Hermione. "It was Sirius. He spent twelve years inside his head. I reckon he couldn't grow apart, the way you did. How he looked to you, in the Shrieking Shack."
She paused, letting those words, those memories sink in. Oh, he thought, she must be doing this on purpose.
"You were thirteen," said Remus lightly, "and that's what you read into one look between old friends? How did you even spare the attention?"
"Fourteen," said Hermione, as if that was answer to either. "And of course, there's the mild-mannered, tea-drinking, aging bachelor persona you are projecting," she added. "Turns out I was wrong, and that's just that. A projection. Right?"
Remus let the silence stretch, allowing himself time to think. He lit up a second cigarette, against habit, against reason, against his promise he'd take her flying after the last one.
This sudden probe into his past life, his private life – and from Hermione, no less – was unexpected. She was trying to go somewhere with this, that much was certain. In all likelihood, this conversation was going to get way more invasive.
But he'd spend too much time in the last years with the Mundungus Fletchers of this world, seedy landlords demanding three months' rent in advance, half-feral werewolves, pigheaded Ministry bureaucrats. Having an entire conversation with someone who quoted Shakespeare at him and was able to juggle at least three ulterior motives was still novel enough to be refreshing.
Time to play.
"People come in more varieties than just gay and straight, Hermione," he said mildly.
"Obviously," said Hermione, in the tones of someone who was tired of explaining these things to her friends. And then: "Oh. I didn't think you did."
"And friendship is a funny old thing," said Remus. "Especially that one. A twisty path that never leads anywhere."
"True," said Hermione.
"Sometimes it crosses a river. Sometimes it vanishes into the underwood."
"Sometimes you're ambushed by marauding thieves?"
"And they'll run off with your heart." Remus laughed softly as more half-forgotten memories came up. "You'll find I did my fair share of ambushing," he said.
Hermione grinned. "I've been wondering about this since third year," she said. "Thank you for satisfying my curiosity."
She was still wearing that same look, that barely contained need for knowledge, that had greeted him from his classroom at Hogwarts every Thursday morning, back then. "Oh, I daresay I hardly did," he said.
And whatever picture he'd barely outlined, she might have got the wrong one. Seventeen-year-olds were romantics at heart, he remembered painfully. She'd imagine a love that would span decades, that bridged mistrust and betrayal and the North Sea and even death. He knew he had, at the time.
"How did it end?" she asked, proving him wrong.
"Many times, and in many ways," said Remus. "But in the end, it never did. We grew apart." Sometimes, he still found it unfathomable how much time had passed since then. "At least, I did. I dare anyone not to, in thirteen years. And then I overestimated how much time we had left. Never learnt that lesson the first time, see."
Hermione paused. Clearly she'd come with an agenda, but still – "I'm sorry,", she said. "I never asked. Are you okay now?"
He tore his eyes from the roaming fireflies, towards the Burrow's brightly illuminated kitchen. Inside, he could make out the shape of his wife against the steamed-up kitchen window. She was still deep in conversation with Molly Weasley, slightly tipsy on Molly's part, stone-cold sober on Tonks's. Occasionally they could hear laughter.
"I'm lucky," said Remus eventually. "More than I have any right to be."
What he didn't say: This was it. The last gamble he was willing to take. Yes, he'd stalled like the bone-headed middle-aged tosser Hermione believed him to be. He'd made that promise to Tonks – till death do us part – and it had been a marauder's lie, because it wouldn't. It wouldn't be death, or else it wouldn't part them. Death was not the boss of him, not anymore.
"So here we are, Hermione," he said. "You got your foot in the door. What were you going to ask?"
Hermione didn't say anything for a long while. Clearly she had aimed for a subtler line of approach. Then she said, "Talking to you is like talking to myself. No tricking you, is there? No easing you into a false sense of security?"
"You'd be surprised," said Remus. "Attack, then. Might be your last chance."
She looked uneasy at that bold invitation, but still, she was a Gryffindor. "Fine," she said. "Harry Potter."
He should have known.
"A fine young man of many talents," he said carefully, "with an unfortunate habit of procrastination."
Hermione laughed, despite herself. "That's what I say, but does he listen?" she said. Then she became serious again. "Harry's my best friend."
"And I'm glad of that," he said.
"You would," said Hermione. "You know the value of friends. Like James was to you. Like Sirius was. Like Peter was, before all the – ?"
"Backstabbing?" said Remus, who knew a blatant attempt at emotional manipulation if he saw one. "I can't seem to forget."
"Harry deserves to be happy," said Hermione. "He has such a hard time of it. I think it might be his upbringing."
Remus nodded. Ever since their difficult Patronus lessons, back when he'd been a teacher, Remus had been harbouring much the same thoughts.
"And of course you already know where I am going with this," continued Hermione.
"We're extracting him from the Dursleys tomorrow and he is never going back," said Remus calmly. "And that horrible chapter of his life will finally be closed. You're asking why it was ever opened."
"Someone has to," said Hermione. "Everyone always ever seems to accept this. I can't."
"And the answer is as it ever was. Complete, correct, and unsatisfactory," said Remus. "For his own safety. But I'm sure Albus explained that."
"I'm sure he thought he did," said Hermione, and then she stared into the darkness for a bit. The darkness stared back with many twinkling eyes. "Harry was never safe there," she said finally.
"It was the safest place for him at the time."
"Safe how?" said Hermione. "They locked him in a cupboard. They told him his mum and dad had died drunk in a car accident. They didn't feed him properly, they gave him ridiculous rags to wear, and no-one ever came to check up on him. No-one ever cared. After third year, after all the heart-breaking things he learned in the Shrieking Shack, after you wandered off to God-knows-where, Dumbledore sent him back to them. That summer, Harry wrote to us asking to send him food. How is that safe?"
"You listen. He never had pictures of his mum and dad. He has never visited their graves. He has never had his birthday celebrated properly." Her voice was soft, choked with emotion for her friend who, at this moment, was still waiting for them in Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.
"I know, Hermione," said Remus. "It should have been Sirius."
"It should have been you!" said Hermione, and now she was almost shouting. "You were their friend. You weren't the one in Azkaban, or the one everyone thought was dead. And with the war over, you weren't risking your life every day. It should have been you."
"Hermione!" said Remus, a little shocked and sharper than he'd expected. "I thought you were the clever one. You know it would have been completely impossible."
"Yes, I know. He was little, and you have a furry little problem," she snapped. "So what? You're still human ninety-five percent of the time, that's more than the Dursleys have going for them. Other parents have date nights, you have… wolf nights. Shut up and get a babysitter."
The outburst left them both silenced for a moment. Remus wondered whether it was worth the effort to be offended. But then, Hermione was only drawing conclusions from the world as it presented itself to her. She read it like a book.
But as they had determined, some books lied.
He suddenly started laughing. He couldn't help himself, it just started pouring out, like when they'd been school boys, playing truth or dare. He hadn't spent so much time with his head in the past since… well, since it had been the past.
"What's so funny?" asked Hermione suspiciously.
"Nothing much," said Remus, when he could finally trust his voice again, "it's just, that's almost exactly what James told Sirius. When he first asked him to be godfather. Sirius wasn't… well, he wasn't immediately sold on the idea, so James said, Shut up and raise my kid, you wanker."
He saw Hermione mouthing the word wanker before she said, "Sirius, too? Could no-one be bothered to step up and do the right thing?"
Remus became serious in a heartbeat. Hermione didn't know. She truly didn't know what it had been like. No reason to lash out, even though the wolf really wanted to.
Might be a teaching opportunity, though. He went for it.
"Do your parents know you're here?" he inquired mildly.
It had been a guess, though a good one, he realised as he watched the guilt flicker across her face. He knew where it hurt.
"You can be such a bastard," Hermione said. "You know what, you're right. Maybe you really shouldn't take care of –"
He launched another shot in the dark. "So you understand," said Remus, "that sometimes, doing the right thing can look indistinguishable from doing the wrong thing, to everyone, and especially to you."
"They're not kids," she protests. "They're grown-ups, they're dentists, they can build a new life and be happy, and safe, in Australia, with no war and no Death Eaters and no bloody Voldemort. And they won't – they won't ever have to miss me. If something happens."
Remus had to admit to himself that he was impressed, if a little appalled. Memory charms were far beyond even N.E.W.T. level. He even remembered signing a petition against their non-consensual use, years back.
"Did you ask them if that's what they wanted?" he inquired.
"They wouldn't have agreed," said Hermione. "They didn't understand – they never understood –" She swallowed visibly. "I never told them half of what happened at Hogwarts. I was too scared they wouldn't let me go back."
"Then you have treated them like little kids for years," said Remus. "And now you go through this without guidance. In a way, you're as much of an orphan as Harry is."
Her eyes glittered in the dark. "It's not the same damn thing," she said. "You abandoned a child."
"I'm not asking you for a justification for what you did," said Remus softly. "I don't have to, because you're clever. You already know the holes in your argument. Yes, your parents would be in terrible danger right now if they were here. But it would be insincere to ignore the fact that you robbed them of their fundamental right to decide their own fate."
Hermione took a step back. "Are you saying I should let them perish in this war?" she said.
"No," said Remus. "I'm saying that in sometimes, it's impossible to get it right. Sometimes everything you can do is just a different shade of wrong. And you can't prepare for all eventualities."
"Watch me," said Hermione coolly. "Let's start preparing for the most pressing one. Ready to fly?" With these words, she dug out a key from the pocket of her trousers.
He inclined his head. "Be my guest."
Hermione turned and marched towards the shed door, apparently determined not to continue this particular argument.
The Weasleys' broomstick shed turned out to be surprisingly well-organised. Whether that was because the Weasley family took Quidditch seriously, or whether Molly Weasley had anticipated that her wedding guests would spend significant time in there, was unclear.
He dug out a battered Cleansweep Seven and handed an elderly Nimbus Nineteen Eighty-Four to Hermione, who held it at arm's length.
"Follow me," he said. "There's a designated landing corridor near the perimeter –"
"I know –"
" – where we'll be concealed until we reach cloud level."
"Cloud level?" said Hermione with what might have been a squeak.
He shrugged. "Ottery St. Catchpole is a Muggle settlement," he said. "Best follow the law as long as it still exists."
"O-kay," she said.
They were walking to the back of the garden as Remus picked up their previous conversation. "Yes, Sirius hesitated at the time. He was twenty," he said. "And he was risking his life every day in a war that didn't look like it would be over any time soon."
"Like this one," said Hermione.
"Trust me, it hasn't even started," said Remus. "Sirius pretended – we all pretended – that we weren't scared, that nothing was of consequence. We could do what we did because we knew there'd be no family grieving by our grave. Because the only people that mattered were in there with us, and we'd go down," here, he hesitated, "together."
He didn't have to look at her to know she was seething. "And you have the nerve to tell me what I did to my parents was wrong," she said.
"I didn't," said Remus. They'd reached the spot, and he surveyed the sky. Nice and cloudy. On the ground, the air was thick, unmoving, but all could change when they'd ascended.
"But that's what you think," she probed.
He looked at her. "Yes, I do," he said simply. "But what I'm saying is that I understand why you chose this. It was the same in 1980. Family made it real. Harry made it real. Making arrangements in case our best friends died – it was what turned the war from bad to unbearable."
A gesture of his hand had the Cleansweep spring to life beside him.
"Anyway," he added, "Sirius changed his tune when he saw Harry for the first time, so there's that. He became different. More careful. Thank god, or he'd have died three different times before he turned twenty-one." He grinned slightly. "Including, as I recall, by crashing a broom into the side of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Ready?"
"So that's why you never made contact," said Hermione, observing the waiting broomstick. Her Nimbus, he saw, was still clutched in her hands. "Even if you couldn't have taken Harry, you never checked on him to make sure he was okay. You were scared you'd realise you were wrong, didn't you?"
"I wasn't wrong," said Remus. "I never doubted that." Then, with some finality, he added, "But you're right. I was worried I'd change my mind."
With a nod at her still inactive broom, he added, "You'll have to start it, Hermione."
He watched as she lay it on the ground, stretched out her hand, and said, in a firm voice, "Up". It was a painful reminder of first year flying lessons.
The broom wasn't doing anything.
"Up," she said. "Up. I'm sorry," she said, looking up, "I'll have it in a minute. I got it to work once. Back in first year. … I'm going to die tomorrow, aren't I."
"All broomsticks manufactured after nineteen fifty-four are enchanted with a form of non-sentient telepathy," said Remus conversationally.
"Oh god," said Hermione. "That really explains rather a lot. It can tell I'm –"
"Scared, yes," said Remus. "It's a safety feature. Can you try to be less scared?"
"I am trying," said Hermione impatiently. "Sorry, I can't really get the words 'cloud' and 'level' out of my head. What now?"
"I'll take you up," Remus decided. "Hold on to that one –" he pointed to the Nimbus – "and I'll demonstrate another handy safety feature once we're there."
Hermione seemed rather relieved until he mounted the Cleansweep Seven and motioned her to sit down behind him. She looked from him to the Nimbus in her hand, then quickly conjured something that looked like a guitar strap. The Nimbus slung diagonally over her back, she climbed on awkwardly behind him.
"Hold on," he said.
"To what?" she managed to get out before he kicked off from the ground.
Remus had a hand on his wand in case he needed to levitate her, but the surprisingly strong grip around his waist told him she had better flying instincts then she let on.
To be continued.