Warm air washed over Remus’s face as he stepped into the bustling rush of Diagon Alley. It was, he had to admit, an exceptionally pleasant day for shopping.
“Right, then,” said Sirius beside him, grinning broadly as he looked out over the busy street, “where to first?”
“Fortescue’s!” said Harry immediately, tugging on Sirius’s hand, which he was already holding tightly to.
“I could go for some ice cream!” agreed Dora, grinning as brightly as her cousin. It was remarkable how much like Sirius she’d grown to look. The same high cheekbones and bright eyes. The pink hair, however, looked far better on her than it would have on Sirius, in Remus’s opinion.
She tugged Remus’s hand in playful mimic of Harry. She’d grabbed onto it as they’d passed through the Leaky Cauldron, keeping a firm hold of him just as she’d done whenever they’d gone out since she was a little girl. But she wasn’t a little girl any more, and Remus couldn’t help but notice some of the disapproving glances passers-by were beginning to give him.
He extricated his hand from hers as subtly as possible, but she still frowned in confusion, a pang of hurt crossing her eyes.
“Don’t you think we should get your supplies first?” he asked before she could question why he’d pulled his hand away. “That list was rather long, and you wouldn’t want to miss anything.”
“Oh, stop being such a grown-up, Moony,” Sirius chastised. “Didn’t you hear? My godson wants ice cream.”
Remus rolled his eyes. When it came to Sirius, Harry’s word was law.
“All right! Come on, Harry!” cried Dora, grabbing Harry’s free hand and yanking him away from Sirius. Before Remus knew what was happening, Dora and Harry were running into the crowd, making a bee-line to Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor.
“Don’t get lost!” Remus called after them, his mind already running with all the things that could happen to them in such a large crowd.
“Honestly, Remus,” said Sirius as they made their way through the crowd at a more respectable pace. “You can’t get weird about her holding your hand if you’re still going to treat her as a child.”
“She’s nearly of age,” Remus grumbled. “She should be aware of the impression such gestures give others.”
“Maybe she doesn’t care.”
“It’s inappropriate, Sirius, as you well know. I’m nearly thirty. I shouldn’t be seen holding hands with a teenager.”
“Whose honor are you worried about, Moony?” Sirius asked. “Yours or hers? Because my cousin isn’t as naïve as you seem to think.”
Remus shot him a startled look, and Sirius laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Remus demanded, glaring.
Sirius paused to look in the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies and smirked. “The fact that not only has she got you wrapped around her finger, but that you don’t even realize it.”
“You’re one to talk. How many presents did you buy Harry for his birthday this year? Seven, wasn’t it?”
“Investments in his future,” Sirius said, unabashed. “Speaking of which, I think it may be time for a new broom. How’s a future Quidditch star meant to practice properly with a broom three sizes too small?”
“Sirius . . .” Remus sighed in exasperation.
“She is a Black, you know,” Sirius said, turning to face him before Remus could go off on this rabbit trail. “And Black women, for better or worse, do tend to get what they want and damn what anyone else thinks.”
“What on earth are you trying to say, Sirius?” Remus was growing very weary of this conversation.
“Just a friendly warning,” Sirius said with a smile. “As long as you insist on thinking of her as a child, you’ll never see it coming.”
Sirius walked past him, heading into the shop. Remus puzzled a moment, then turned around and started following him. “See what coming? Siri—ooph!”
Something slammed into Remus just as he reached the threshold of the store. He looked down, saw a head of pink hair, and grabbed Dora in time to keep her from falling to the ground.
“Remus!” she cried before she even regained her footing.
Fear sliced through Remus. “Dora? Where’s Harry?” He looked around. The boy was nowhere to be seen.
Sirius rushed back out through the door. “Dora?” he said, all playfulness gone from his tone. He didn’t even make an inappropriate and snarky remark about seeing Dora in Remus’s arms as he helped her right herself. Sirius rushed into the street, using his height to peer above the heads of most of the crowd, looking frantically back and forth a moment before looking back at Dora. “Where’s Harry?” he demanded.
“I’m sorry!” she said, finally on her feet and now trying to catch her breath. “He—I—” She shook her head. “He’s been taken!”
“What?” Sirius and Remus cried in unison.
“I bought him his ice cream and turned to get mine, then I heard something strange and when I looked back, a woman was carrying him through the door! She’d Petrified him! I chased her, but—I’m so sorry! What are we going to do?”
Sirius was pacing frantically, ready to burst out of his skin. Remus could tell he’d charge off immediately if only he knew where to go.
“We’ll call the Aurors,” Remus said firmly. “I think Lily’s on—”
“Are you mad?” barked Sirius, spinning at him. “I’m not telling Lily I let her son get kidnapped! Besides, there’s no time. By the time they got here, Harry could be long gone.”
“Sirius,” Remus protested, his heart racing though he appeared calm, “we have to call the professionals. We can’t just—”
“There’s no time!” Sirius cried. “Dora, where did you lose them?”
“Round the entrance to Knockturn Alley,” she answered.
Sirius was off and running before Dora had even finished speaking. She was after him a split second later, and Remus raced off at her heels. They ran through the crowd, not even bothering to apologize to the old witch they inadvertently knocked off her feet, and didn’t stop until they reached Knockturn Alley.
Once again, Sirius peered over the heads of the shoppers, looking for any sign of Harry or the woman who’d taken him. Growling with impatience, he grabbed the nearest passer-by by the arm.
“Did you see a woman and a boy come through here?” he asked, his maddened insistence causing the small wizard to jerk back fearfully.
“Wha—what?” the wizard stammered.
Remus laid a hand on Sirius’s shoulder, attempting to calm him, and looked at the stranger. “The boy’s been Petrified. Have you seen them?”
“Oh—oh, yes. Went down that way, they did,” he said, pointing. He shook his head. “Imagine, carrying a child like a piece of luggage. And Mabel told me not to come down here, but I just—”
Sirius released him and took off. Once again, Remus and Dora followed.
The three of them got deeper and deeper into Knockturn Alley, and the other occupants grew gradually sketchier and less helpful. When they reached another fork in the road and the hag they asked for help merely cackled hysterically and leered at Remus, Sirius shoved her away and looked around, growling. “Well then,” he said to himself, his eyes peering sharply down one of the side streets.
“Sirius, no!” Remus hissed, but it was too late. Dora gasped at the black dog that had taken Sirius’s place between her and Remus.
“You’re—you’re an Animagus!” she cried, catching herself part-way and lowering her voice. Sirius, who was too busy sniffing the air, didn’t answer. She looked at Remus for an explanation. He simply shrugged helplessly. The dog was out of the bag now, and given the circumstances, Remus could understand Sirius’s choice.
After only a few seconds, Sirius took off down a pathway to the left, and Remus and Dora followed.
Sirius wound through side streets and past street vendors, never looking back to make sure the others were following. Remus, however, was well aware of his surroundings. At every moment he knew exactly where Sirius was, where Dora was, and which of the people they passed were most likely to pose a threat.
They passed a shop whose sign bore a naked woman wearing a lead, and a huge wizard at the doorway made the slightest move toward them. He might have been merely shifting his weight or scratching his beard, but Remus didn’t wait to find out. Throwing an arm protectively around Dora, he hurried her along and tossed a scathing glare over his shoulder to the large wizard. Perhaps it was something of the werewolf in him, but Remus had found that, when he needed to, he could cause wizards far larger and scarier than himself to back down. If the man at the door had possessed any ill intentions, he gave them up without a fight.
Remus didn’t release Dora until Sirius came to a halt in a filthy, abandoned alleyway and transformed.
“He’s in there,” Sirius said, pulling his wand. “Come on.”
“Wait, Sirius,” said Remus, grabbing Sirius’s arm and refusing to let go. “You know it’s probably a trap.”
“So what?” Sirius said. “You want to just leave him to his captors?”
“Of course not. But we need a plan.”
“Did you get a good look at who took him?” Remus asked.
Dora shook her head, her face set as firmly as Sirius’s. “All I could tell was that it was a woman with long, black hair.”
Remus frowned. That could have been nearly anyone.
When Remus looked back at Sirius, he found him looking shrewdly from Remus to Dora. “You know, Dora,” Sirius said thoughtfully, “you’re really too young to be involved in something like this. The smart thing would have been for you to stay behind and let Remus and I deal with this.”
Dora bristled, her spiky pink hair actually standing up straighter. “Like hell! I’m the one that let him get snatched! If I’m going to be an Auror, I can’t just run away from things like this. You know there’s not a chance I was going to stay behind.”
Sirius smiled dangerously. “Yes, but whoever took Harry doesn’t know that.”
“Sirius, it’s too dangerous,” said Remus, even as Dora smiled in an eerie imitation of Sirius.
“I agree,” said Sirius. “Far too dangerous for a little girl.”
Remus nodded at him in relief. “Yes, it is.”
With a start, Remus looked at Dora only to find himself looking back, still smiling that wily Black grin.
“You find another entrance, Remus,” said Dora, in his voice, with his lips. “Sirius and I will go in the front.” She looked down at herself and added, “Good thing I wore unisex robes today, though they’re a bit small now . . .” She shrugged.
Seeing he’d clearly lost, Remus groaned. “All right, but you two be careful.”
Wand in hand, Sirius made his way to the front entrance of the building. Dora moved to follow, then paused, turned back, and, with a flicker of uncertainty in her—Remus’s—eyes, kissed Remus on the cheek. It was a wholly astonishing sensation, all things considered, but she and Sirius were nearly to the door before Remus could quite process it.
Pushing the incident to the back of his mind for later consideration, Remus snuck around the building until he found a window with a loose latch. He listened carefully, but detected only muffled voices coming from inside. Gently, he pushed the window open.
It was a back room of some kind, totally empty from what he could see. He did a quick homenum revelio, which showed no occupants hiding in the shadows, and slipped inside.
The place, whatever it was, was musty and filthy. There were boxes of what looked like moldering fabric stacked high against the walls. Stealthily, Remus moved to the single door, cracked it, and peered through.
He was looking out onto a larger space, filled with more boxes and other random bits of forgotten rubbish. He could see Sirius and Dora, already having entered, standing as if ready to fight. Harry was unconscious against the far wall, bound with magical ropes. And between them . . .
The woman looked like Andromeda, but—
. . . No.
“Bellatrix,” snarled Sirius, “you’re out early.”
“Good behavior,” the woman said with poisoned sweetness, her smile quite mad.
Bellatrix Lestrange. Dora’s aunt. She’d been sent to Azkaban for five years after torturing three Muggles nearly to insanity for the fun of it. She should have gotten at least twenty years, but she’d had a sympathetic judge.
“Release Harry,” said Dora, her wand leveled at Bellatrix. Remus had to hand it to her. She did a fair impression of him. She hadn’t even reacted visibly when she realized who the kidnapper was—no more than he would have, anyway. In an offhanded way, Remus wondered just how much attention Dora had been paying to him.
“Is that the blood traitor’s brat’s name?” Bellatrix asked casually.
“Unhand my godson!” Sirius demanded. “And if you’ve hurt him, so help me, I’ll—”
“You’ve done enough!” Her face suddenly became twisted and deranged. “You, the worst kind of blood traitor, heir of the Blacks!” she spat.
She wasn’t making any sense. It’s the Dementors, Remus thought. They’ve driven her mad.
“You dare take the Black fortune after betraying everything the name stood for?”
Sirius smiled humorlessly. “Is that what this is about, Bella? You’re jealous?”
“You had no right to that inheritance!” she shrieked.
“You think I give a damn about the gold, the house, or any of it?” Sirius shouted back. “Give me Harry back and you can have it! Did you hear me, Bella? Take the lot! I don’t care!”
“Oh, I’ll take it,” said Bellatrix, sickly-sweet once again. “But you owe more than that. Stupefy!”
Sirius wasn’t quick enough. Neither was Dora. Before either could react, Bellatrix had Stunned them both. Remus cursed himself. If he’d been the one to go in with Sirius, he would have reacted in time. But Dora had been just as wrapped up in Bellatrix’s words as Sirius had been, and Remus could do nothing from this vantage point. He pushed the door open an inch, preparing to go forward and disarm her before she could do anything more to Dora and Sirius.
“Bella! What are you doing?”
Remus froze, a jolt of fear shooting through him as he realized there was someone else in the room. Someone he hadn’t yet seen.
Then a young man stepped forward from behind some boxes, where he’d been hidden from both Remus and Sirius. He had black hair, shorter than Sirius’s, and the same grey eyes and high cheekbones as his brother.
“Change of plans, my dear Regulus,” said Bellatrix smoothly. “You’ll have your inheritance. And I’ll have something I desire much more. The purification of the Black family.”
Regulus looked uncertainly from Bellatrix to his brother and back. “But . . . you can’t kill them.”
“I can, and I will,” said Bellatrix. Suddenly, she squealed with glee. “Oh, my dear Reg, this is our lucky day.”
Remus glanced at the floor where Dora had fallen, and his blood ran cold. In unconsciousness, she’d lost her morph.
“My dear sister’s half-blood abomination of a daughter,” she cooed, looking as if Christmas had come early.
Remus glowered, his mind racing. He was outnumbered two to one, with three unconscious people to save, and Bellatrix was going to realize at any moment the reason Dora had made herself look like him.
“Where’s the real Lupin, then?” asked Regulus, looking at Dora with a strange mixture of disgust and concern.
“Running for help with his tail between his legs, most likely,” Bellatrix spat. “The mongrel always was a coward.”
While part of Remus was incensed at the insult, he was also elated. If she thought he had gone for help, she wouldn’t be expecting him. Of course, it also meant she might hurry in her plans, thinking the Aurors were on their way. He had to act quickly.
Pushing the door open, he crept along the wall toward Harry, trying to stay out of sight.
“Put them with the boy,” Bellatrix commanded Regulus.
Regulus drew his wand, but hesitated. “Aren’t you going to let the boy go? You said you’d release him once Sirius agreed to give his inheritance back.”
Bellatrix sighed in exasperation. “Sometimes I worry for you, cousin. James Potter is a blood traitor, as well. And, like all blood traitors, he needs to be taught a lesson. We will kill the boy while Sirius watches, then we will kill Sirius and my sister’s brat. The Black fortune will go to you, our family will have two decaying branches pruned off, and another pure bloodline will be spared from further degradation. Now, put them with the boy.”
As she’d spoken, Remus had inched closer to Harry. He was nearly close enough to release his bonds now. If he could just get him out of sight—
Remus’s wand flew out of his hand and clattered to the floor several meters away.
Bellatrix approached, her wand pointed at him. “So, you didn’t scurry off after all,” she said, sounding surprised. “I presume, then, that no one knows you’re here?” Remus didn’t answer, and she smiled. “This day just gets better and better. Crucio!”
The curse hit Remus like a wave of knives, and he howled in pain. It felt like he was burning, like every nerve in his body was being sliced open, like he must surely die at any moment, but he knew he wouldn’t. But worse than that, he knew he’d failed. His friends would die, and he’d been totally useless to stop it.
The pain went on for an eternity, until Remus couldn’t remember what it was like not to feel it, when finally, miraculously—it stopped.
He laid there, the echoes of the pain still singeing his nerves, his throat raw from screaming, and gradually, other sensations returned: the hard floor under him, the smell of dust and decay, the sound of boots on the wood floor.
“Get up, wolf.”
A toe prodded him in the side, and Remus opened his eyes. Sirius was standing over him with the oddest expression. . . . No, not Sirius. Regulus.
His muscles protesting, Remus raised his head to look around. Bellatrix was lying on the floor, utterly still.
“What . . . happened?” Remus asked. His voice sounded like sandpaper.
Regulus grimaced. “I pruned the family tree.”
It took Remus to realize what he meant, then his eyes widened. “You—you killed her?”
Regulus put his wand in a pocket and scowled back at his cousin, then shook his head—not in negation, but regret. “She was unstable. It was only a matter of time before she’d have turned on me, as well. I do think Sirius is a traitor, and I’m furious that he inherited what should be mine . . . but I don’t think he deserves to die. Nor does . . . what was her name?”
“Dora,” Remus said, and glanced at where she and Sirius lay still on the floor.
Regulus nodded. “You should have seen the glee when she was torturing you. And to kill a boy who has nothing to do with us . . .” He shook his head again. “Maybe it’s all madness, after all.”
Ignoring the aches in his body, Remus sat up. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m sorry it came to this, but thank you.”
Regulus shrugged. “You’d better wake them up and get them home,” he said, and before Remus could say any more, he Disapparated.
Remus revived Harry first and released the ropes binding him. Harry looked around in confusion. “What happened?” He spotted Bellatrix on the floor and cowered in fear. “Remus! That woman—”
“It’s okay,” Remus said sadly, hugging Harry to him. “She won’t hurt you any more. She won’t hurt anyone any more.”
“Sirius!” Harry said when he saw the other two bodies on the ground. “And Dora! Are they—”
“They’ll be fine,” Remus assured him. “Let’s go wake them up, shall we?”
Taking Harry’s hand, Remus led him to where Dora and Sirius lay. He knelt next to Dora first, pointed his wand at her, and said, “Enervate.”
She blinked at him, then sat bolt upright. “Bellatrix!” she shouted, looking around for her aunt.
“She’s dead,” Remus said, then shook his head at her wide-eyed, questioning look. “It wasn’t me. I’ll explain later, but we need to get out of here.”
He offered his hand and helped her stand, then pointed his wand at Sirius to wake him.
Sirius awoke with the same sort of alertness that Dora had. “Remus! Where is she?”
“There,” Remus said, and pointed to Bellatrix’s body. “Regulus was here. He killed her.”
Sirius stared at the corpse, trying to understand. “Regulus was in on this? The little bastard! When I get my hands on him—”
“I said he killed her,” Remus repeated firmly. “He saved us all, Sirius. You know, I think you might want to invite him over for dinner some time. I think he’s starting to come around.”
Sirius didn’t answer this, as he’d spotted Harry and swept him into his arms. “Harry! Are you all right? They didn’t hurt you?”
“I’m okay,” Harry said. “Are you?”
“Perfectly fine,” said Sirius, getting to his feet. He looked around at the others, appearing to take stock of their condition. When he was satisfied, he hefted Harry onto his back and looked darkly back at Bellatrix’s body. “Remus, get rid of that, would you?”
With a guilty pang of pleasure, Remus pointed his wand at the corpse and said, “Incendio.” A ball of flame flew from the tip of his wand, setting Bellatrix’s inert body alight.
He stared at the fire for a long moment, watching as it began to spread to nearby boxes. Only when he felt a tug did he realize he’d never released Dora’s hand after helping her up.
“Come on,” she said, looking grimly from the blaze to Remus. “Let’s go.” Then, a glimmer of a smile twinkled in her eyes. “I still have some shopping to do.”
Remus allowed himself to be led by the hand after Sirius and Harry, back out into the shadowed streets of Knockturn Alley. The events of the past few minutes threatened to overwhelm his mind with regret, guilt, and worry—so instead, he focused on the warmth of Dora’s hand in his. Yes, she was still far too young, and far too old, and he was certain that even contemplating viewing her as a woman rather than a girl would lead him nowhere good.
But at that moment, he couldn’t have cared less.