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In My Time of Dying by Stag Night

Format: Novel
Chapters: 33
Word Count: 183,095
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse

Genres: Drama, Action/Adventure, Angst
Characters: Lupin, Sirius, Lily, James, Pettigrew
Pairings: James/Lily

First Published: 10/06/2008
Last Chapter: 04/28/2010
Last Updated: 05/04/2010

Summary:
banner by Violet
2009 Dobby Award winner: best Marauder | best canon



When did it happen? When did Voldemort suddenly get so powerful? Dementors swallow the light, and screams can always be heard in the distance as Muggles are murdered. People are missing, people are dying. Chaos and darkness have come, and they are not prepared. They will lose everything.

***

Canon. No Marauder/OC's.


Chapter 1: The Graduation Feast
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In My Time of Dying

Author's Note: I know this is a really long story. It covers three years in a time of war (1978-1981), so it can only be expected. But before you run away screaming, please at least just read the first couple of chapters and give it a chance.

There are a few things to note:

1)-This is a CANON fiction. You won't find any focus on OC's here, nor much romance.
2)-This story involves many different POV's, but mostly those of Sirius Black. James and Sirius are the main characters, but obviously Remus, Peter and Lily will be a big part of this as well.
3)-Much of the events that happen in this story are fabricated by myself, for we know very little of the first war and anything that went on beyond the deaths of certain people. Every battle fought, every mission for the Order, is a wild guess at best. Timing of some events (i.e. marriage, deaths) are estimations.
4)-Above all else, this story is a WIP and will remain that way for a long time, even after the last chapter is up. Just because a chapter is posted doesn't mean it won't be returned to and improved upon later. For instance, I feel I haven't done a good enough job of showing the dark and frightening world - but I can't dwell on that, or I'll never get this thing written. There's too many other things going on in this story to focus on trying to perfect it right now. So please keep that in mind, also, and feel free to give your suggestions for improvement.

At the end of the day, I simply want this story to be a reliable account of what could have happened according to canon, and not some off-the-wall story about how Sirius fell in love with Lily's best friend who was killed, along with their child (who is the same age as Harry) and then she/the child was never mentioned again for the rest of Sirius's life, or anything similar.

This is a story that explores the boundaries of friendship, and how people react to certain situations. You can expect a lot of drama and suspicion and accusations, but also a lot of love and laughter and epiphanies! This is my first fanfiction in over a year of not writing, so parts are a little raw, though perhaps better for it. My writing might leave a lot to be desired, and I know this story will never garner as many reviews as a romance would; regardless, this is the story I feel like I have to tell. It is the story that I would want to read.

That said, I hope this story sounds like it's for YOU! Enjoy!

Please feel free to point out any errors you see. Your reviews are also very much appreciated.

WARNINGS: This story is rated Mature with appropriate warnings. To be more specific on those warnings, this story contains a lot of mature language, some drinking and some minor drug use. There are a few sexual scenes but nothing heavy or too descriptive because, to be frank, I don't enjoy writing that. There is some violence and death - this is the war, after all. If any of these things bother you, then perhaps you shouldn't stress yourself out with this story :)


Disclaimer: The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.





C H A P T E R . O N E
The Graduation Feast





Nobody really ever notices when a life is gone, snuffed out like a candle.


If you are lucky, perhaps - or rather, unlucky - if you died before you were supposed to, then they might write about you in the paper, particularly if you went heroically, tragically or with violence or mystery.


Then you may have the attention of a few hundred thousand people, but they are quick to move on, to forget. You were nothing to them, after all, and your story is only written about for entertainment value, to help sell a paper.


Only those who were once close to you truly remember and miss you. But even for them, life goes on - it must. The world keeps turning without blinking an eye, and loved ones keep turning with it. For everyone else, you are but one in billions, and, for the most part, for most people, it is as if you never really existed in the first place. How easily the world forgets you... And that is quite possibly the most bothersome thing of it all.


I am James Potter. For twenty-one years, I was here...


And then, forever, I was gone.








I.

It was a pleasurable day.


Despite the fact that one terrible wizard had steadily grown more and more powerful over the last decade, days like this one made it easy to forget the troubles going on outside of the old castle’s walls, the walls being those of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. One would think that in an era such as this, the days would always be dark and stormy, but they weren’t.


During the time that this one man, person, thing known as Voldemort had been gaining followers and power, the weather had never been remarkable. All was normal in Great Britain - usually it was overcast and wet, it snowed in the winter and it shined in the summer.


Looking at this clear bright day in late June of 1978, nobody would ever suspect how it would suddenly darken so horribly. Very few (except for mostly those on the wrong side) would guess the hell that they were all about to be thrown into.


Hopefully, the population had enjoyed the pleasant weather. Very shortly, it would all change, and it wouldn’t be the same again for several years.






II.

The headmaster of the school had an inkling. Albus Dumbledore always had thoughts and inklings and ideas on all sorts of things. But it was he who had first recruited the boy (who grew to be Voldemort) to the school many, many years earlier. And it was he and only he who’d seen through the boy’s cunning, charming behaviour. Suspicious, he’d kept an eye on the dark Slytherin, and continued to do so, long after the child had left Hogwarts. When the villain calling himself Lord Voldemort emerged ten years ago, Dumbledore was one of the few to recognize him for who he really was.


Dumbledore knew that something terrible loomed in the future. He did not, however, know that it would all begin today. Nevertheless, he felt it getting near, and as he stood in front of his students in the castle’s Great Hall, he felt the urge to warn them.


The gathering was small, consisting of just one of the seven different classes the school held. This was the Seventh Year class. This class had steadily dwindled over the years as parents pulled their children from the school and relocated to different countries to escape Voldemort’s threat. As a result of their losses, this class had pulled together, had become a tight-knit group (aside from the Slytherins, who sat stubbornly in their corner). Dumbledore was sad to see this class go; he sighed reluctantly.


The students were banging their fists and slapping their palms on the table, creating a thunderous sound as they cheered at his appearance. It was late in the afternoon - the seventh year class had been requested to skip lunch so as to attend a feast in their honour after the rest of the school had cleared the Great Hall. Dumbledore, who could appreciate a celebration (especially in darkening times such as these) allowed them to carry on for a few minutes.


When at last he raised his arms for silence, the students readily obliged.


His tone was soft when he first began to speak, but it captivated his small audience nonetheless.


“Tonight will be the last night you spend in your beds,” said he. “Come morning, you will be on the train home for the last time. You have left your marks on Hogwarts School, certainly. And now you will begin to leave your marks upon the community.


“I daresay you are all aware of the dangerous world outside of these walls. But allow me to grant my wisdom upon you one last time. There is danger lying not only with Voldemort and his followers,” Dumbledore said, and at the mention of the name several students visibly shuddered.


“The danger,” continued the old man softly, “Lies within ourselves as well.


“It would be a terrible thing to lose ourselves in this dark world we face. We have lost so many, so much, already.”


A feeling of sadness stole across the Hall at his words. The students, so excited and proud moments before, were now serious as the weight of their futures pressed down upon them. Dumbledore smiled down at them; his eyes twinkled.


“You are part of the greatest generation. You will be our history, and more importantly, you are our future. You will be the ones who make a difference, the ones to pull us out of the danger we face.


“The advice I wish to bestow upon you is this - never forget the dreams you had as children, when the stars were the limit. Never simply settle. Dark days lie ahead, and in times like these, there is nothing to lose except for yourselves. The only way to end these times is to give everything our all.”


That was all he really wanted to say, and it was quite unremarkable. It was also the best advice he had ever given anybody. By now, he was so hungry his insides felt as if they were going to eat themselves, and he was reasonably positive that the students were feeling the same way (having skipped lunch). He quickly moved on and ended his speech.


“All of the staff here at Hogwarts wish you well, good luck and fortune down the roads you roam. We hope we served you well.”


At that, the headmaster stepped forward and gave a humble bow to the people who, he hoped, would change the world. When he stood straight again, he had only one thing left to say.


“I now give you your graduation feast.”


With a wave and flourish of his hand, the tables suddenly erupted in an incredible assortment of different foods. Nobody wanted for anything, and it seemed the house elves yearned for everyone to realize how much they'd miss such fantastic meals every day.






III.

Peter Pettigrew hungrily spooned a large serving of potatoes onto his plate. He looked at his friends, each of them proud and regal like kings, and tried for a moment to appear the same way. He replaced the spoon in the bowl much more calmly than his manner of picking it up.


“I never thought we’d actually make it to graduation,” he said brightly. This was the truth. The four boys had been a part of many severely dangerous situations during the last seven years at the castle. He had once wondered aloud how they weren’t dead yet. Best not to speculate, really, had been James’s response.


James Potter was the leader of their group and he was the one that Peter adored. James, the Quidditch star. James, who held the attention of every girl in the school, James, who’s hair was ridiculous but who’s demeanour was always smooth. Peter thought that he could be like James; he always watched his friend carefully in the hopes of picking something up, always complimented his friend to remain on his good side. At the moment, James wasn’t eating and his plate remained empty; he was instead staring alertly over the heads of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, glaring at the Slytherins. He wondered what they thought of Dumbledore’s speech, as many of them were already rumoured to be enlisted in Voldemort's service.


“It wasn’t easy,” Remus pointed out, pushing a sausage around on his plate. It wasn’t for him, anyway, being a werewolf, although the company of his friends had made it much more bearable. But it had been tough all the same, trying to fit in studying and homework when he was lying ill and broken in the hospital wing.


“But it was bloody incredible,” Peter said. He never, in a million years, thought he'd be a part of some of the things he'd done. He smiled wistfully.


“I had a fantastic time,” piped up Lily Evans in agreement. She was blissfully ignorant of Remus’s ‘furry little problem’ (as James liked to say), and his sentiment had gone right over her head. She hadn’t spent much time with the four boys as a group - it was only in the last few months that she’d begun to join them, only when she’d begun dating James.


“You would,” said Peter grudgingly. He wasn't fond of Lily always being around lately, speaking as if she knew anything of their bond over the last seven years, as if she was part of it. She wasn't.


James tore his eyes away from the Slytherins at the tone of Peter’s voice, which had caught his interest. This caused him to take notice of his and his best friend’s empty plates. They clashed terribly alongside the full plates of the rest of their party. He reached for a fancy platter of ham.


“Aren’t you going to eat, Padfoot?” he asked the young man beside him.


Sirius Black had been lost in thought, staring blankly down at his plate. He had been pondering Dumbledore’s speech, particularly the bit about childhood dreams and the stars being the limit. He was disturbed to find that he hadn’t had any ambitions as a child, save for being everything his parents wanted him to be. James’s sudden, capable elbow digging into his ribs tore him from this state, and he glanced sideways at his friend.


“Yes,” he said quickly, not entirely sure what he was agreeing to. James passed the ham.


Sirius was beautiful. (Peter thought he was a demon.) Girls went giddy just at the sight of him. Sirius had black hair that hung carelessly in his eyes and tickled his high cheekbones. His jaw was strong, his nose was quaint, and his brow cast dark shadows over brilliant bright grey eyes. He had a dark side that he kept hidden, but everyone could see it when he was brooding. He was reckless and unpredictable, but also elegant and easy to laugh. Sometimes he scared people, but they were curiously attracted to him nonetheless.


James was quite handsome himself, although it was in more of a scraggly way than Sirius. James had an aura of alertness and aliveness about him that made him hard to resist. Remus was hopeless and charming; he was kind and thoughtful, and his looks were average but his dark brown eyes showed his soul. Peter was lumpy, and he hated it. Sometimes he wanted to leave this group and find friends that were more like him, where he wouldn’t feel inferior. But then, he knew it’d be stupid to leave a circle of friendship such as this one. He enjoyed knowing that many students in the school would love to be him, just to hang around with James all the time.


Peter worried, sometimes, that when they left Hogwarts for good, they would fall apart. He was certain that James and Sirius would always be the best of friends; James’s family had taken Sirius in when he ran away from home. Now they were not only best friends, but family. And both considered Remus’s condition to be the greatest of thrills, and so much of their lives had been invested into this already. But he, Peter, had nothing at all to give to the friendship. He felt he was kept around simply because James liked the attention. The thought sickened him.


“Still going to be an Auror after school, Prongs?” asked Peter after a moment, slurping gravy from his spoon. He was prodding, searching for any hints that he would be a part of their future. “And you, Padfoot?”


James’s tone was impatient. “Definitely, Wormtail, you know it’s all I talk about.” He didn’t offer any reassurance of Peter’s inclusion in the future; he didn’t know Peter was looking for it.


Sirius’s response was more careless; he pushed his black hair to the side, off his forehead and shrugged. “Apparently.” He intended to work where James did, even if the job was the worst one in the world. James was his entire life, having lost his own family, and he had little motivation to part with his friend. He was, in fact, dreading leaving the school where he had a solid reason to see James every single day.


Peter smirked at him, suddenly annoyed. “Apparently, if they’ll take you, you mean,” he blurted in a bratty tone, and he was almost surprised to hear the words spew from his mouth. He couldn’t help it - he was jealous of the relationship between Sirius and James. A small part of him hoped that the Ministry would turn Sirius down just to separate the two for a while. Peter thought it might do them both some good.


Sirius was quick to react. “What’s that supposed to mean, then?” he demanded, glaring at his friend through smouldering grey eyes. He set his silverware back on the table and leaned forward challengingly, never even blinking as his gaze tore straight through Peter's soul.


James, Lily and Remus had all stopped eating and were watching Peter carefully as well.


Peter stared defiantly at his plate as he spoke, unable to meet the challenging glare. “They’ll probably turn you away because you’re a Black,” he replied logically, as if he hadn’t just insulted his friend. He steadily ignored Sirius’s ready-to-pounce demeanour, though he seemed to shrink a little in his seat. “Everyone knows your cousin and your brother follow him. Not to mention your in-laws...”


Sirius immediately bristled at his words. “My father happens to be very influential in the Ministry,” he spat at Peter, deciding to leave out the fact that this was largely due to his family’s name and donations. “It doesn’t seem to matter what Regulus and Bellatrix have done, does it?” Despite his words, however, Sirius had a feeling his father might make it very difficult for him to get a Ministry job when the time came. He had shamed the family name, after all - his father certainly wouldn’t be doing him any favours.


“All right,” announced James strongly, putting an end to the argument before Peter had a chance to respond. And then, to settle the matter, “Padfoot can do anything he wants to do.” And he rested his arm across the back of Sirius's chair and gave his friend a wry smile. “Besides,” he added. “Sirius is a Potter now.”


Sirius shook the hair out of his eyes and took another drink from his glass, glaring at Peter over the rim. Peter blushed and kept his eyes down, blinking at the table. If only James would stick up for him that way. He heaved a heavy sigh.


“Moony?” pressed James expectantly. Clearly, he was trying to steer the conversation around again and away from the dangerous territory.


Remus looked up in surprise. He had gone back to eating during the bickering, and trying to ignore it - Sirius and Peter were always going at each other. “Er... I haven’t decided,” he said quickly. His eyes flickered meaningfully towards Lily and back at James again.


“Shame, Remus. It's not like you to be so irresponsible,” said James with a grin at his friend. He enjoyed teasing Remus when Remus was unable to properly respond because of their company.


“Wanker,” muttered Remus, returning his attention to his plate. His cheeks were slightly flushed.


James laughed. He turned his cheerful smile upon Lily, who took this as a prompt - her turn to answer the question that was going around the table.


“I’m going to be apprenticing for the Daily Prophet!” she blurted, entirely proud of herself. It gave the impression that this was news she’d been holding in for a long while.


“Are you?” asked Remus, raising his eyebrows. It was quite an accomplishment, but he was extremely eager to move the conversation along and away from himself. “Congratulations!”


Lily beamed at him and adjusted her long red hair behind her ear. “Thanks, Remus! I’m really excited!”


The flash of a camera caught their attention from a neighbouring table before Peter could discuss what he planned to do with his own life (not that he had anything really planned at the moment, aside from moving away from his mother). Still, he couldn’t hide the disappointed look that flashed across his face; nobody seemed to care enough about his future plans to ask or to steer the subject back around.


“Oh!” Lily jumped slightly as if just remembering something and then dug around in her handbag. After a moment, she pulled out a camera of her own. “I almost forgot,” she said with a smile, turning the machine on and taking off the lens cap. One of her fellow prefects sat across from her, behind Peter at the Ravenclaw table, and Lily called out to her. “Lucy, do you mind?” and she held the camera out when the girl turned around.


“Okay,” Lucy agreed cheerfully, standing up and reaching across the table for the camera. She held it up to her face. “Everyone smile!”


James flung one arm each across Sirius’s and Lily’s shoulders and plastered a grin across his face. Peter and Remus both turned around to smile reluctantly at the camera.


‘Cheese’ was an entirely childish thing to say, meant only to make people smile naturally for a photo because of it’s randomness. Most people abandon the small ritual by the time they are teenagers. Sirius, however, was a person of habit.


“Cheese,” he blurted unthinkingly just before the flash went off. He didn’t even realize he’d done it until everyone’s smiles widened despite themselves, and their faces distorted as they tried to fight the uncontrollable giggles that threatened to break their smooth, posed demeanours.


Lucy was trying not to laugh herself as she lowered the camera and returned it to Lily. She winked at Sirius, who gave half a smirk in response, and sat back down at her own table to resume her meal and conversations.


“Thanks, Sirius,” Lily teased sarcastically, trying to keep the smile off her face as she returned the camera to her bag. “That’s going to be the worst picture in history.”


“Nah,” responded Sirius carelessly, taking a deep swig from his goblet. He was certain that he, at least, would look good.


Lily insisted, “We’re all going to look like utter barmcakes!” Her voice was riddled with chuckles and laughter as she reached for her own goblet, rolling her eyes. At least the photograph would be memorable, and that was all that mattered.


Sirius barked out a sudden laugh, causing several nearby girls to turn their heads and smile flirtatiously. It was over as suddenly as he let it out, and his voice was calm and composed when he addressed Lily. “But you’ll always remember it,” he told her with a wink, almost as if he had read her thoughts. “And more importantly, me.”


Everyone was silent for a moment as they realized that this, this was their last sure moment of all being together without a worry or care. This was goodbye. Of course they’d meet up all the time in the future, but that would require planning and checking schedules. It wouldn’t be the same as this one last afternoon, all Hogwarts graduates with no other commitments.


Feeling slightly uncomfortable for bringing this realization around, Sirius raised an eyebrow at Lily. “You're all barmcakes, anyway,” he lamented just to lighten the mood.


James snorted. “Right,” he said, and he opened his mouth to say something more, something snarky, when the room was suddenly plunged into darkness.


Immediately, several girls screamed in fear. James was on his feet in an instant, wand drawn, and Sirius was right behind him. Ground-shaking thunder sounded suddenly, both outside the castle and within the Hall, and a flicker of lightning briefly illuminated the room.


“Silence!” commanded an important voice, the voice of Dumbledore. The enchanted candles floating above their heads were suddenly lit with a grand wave of Dumbledore’s hand, as were torches lining the windowed walls.


In the sudden flickering glow, everyone looked fearfully at each other. James and Sirius both slowly sank into their seats again, wary looks upon their faces and wands still clutched tightly in their hands. The seventh years quieted their voices to whispers, all of them waiting for something else to happen.


“Look at the sky!” somebody suddenly shouted in awe.


And when they looked towards the enchanted ceiling in the Great Hall, it was to find it pitch black, murky with the darkest clouds any of them had ever seen. Another loud crack of thunder caused everyone to jump in fear. It began to rain heavily, but the droplets disappeared before reaching the floating candles. Lightning flashed once more.


“Bloody hell,” said James slowly, lowering his eyebrows in concern as he stared upwards. “It’s only one o’clock in the afternoon!”


Yet it looked as if it were midnight. The bright rays of summer sunshine were gone - it was as if the sun had completely vanished.


“Listen,” interrupted Remus suddenly, struggling to make himself heard to his friends over the panicking crowd. “Listen!”


Perhaps his condition gave him heightened senses, for he seemed to hear something even over the frightened murmurs of other students. He stood suddenly and leapt agilely across the table to push open the window behind James and Sirius. Normally the Great Lake could be seen from the window, but at the moment the view was of suffocating blackness. Rain splattered on Remus’s face as he flung the window open and an icy breeze swept into the room, despite the fact that it was late June.


But then the rest of them heard it, too. James hurried to peer out the window as well. “Shut up!” he shouted impatiently over his shoulder to his classmates, and all at once the room quieted as faces turned towards the breezy, dark window. People crossed the room and crowded behind the Gryffindors, all trying to get a view out and a better listen. Only the Slytherins remained in their seats, most of them looking quite smug at their classmates’ antics.


A demonic whispering entered the room, carried by the breeze; it was a supernatural, ominous sort of chanting. The students shuddered in horror and a feeling of despair came over them all. The windows suddenly iced over and the candles near the window were blown out by the wind.


“Dementors,” voiced James. He swallowed, feeling sick with dread. “The Dementors are loose.”


And everyone suddenly knew this to be true, though nobody wanted to admit it. The creatures themselves were nightmare enough, but their sudden freedom meant another victory for the most frightening wizard the world had ever known.






IV.

That night, none of the students in the castle slept. Gone was the earlier ecstasy over the end of exams and beginning of summer holidays. Instead, dormitories were filled with hushed whispers and anxious faces as teenagers relayed fears and suspicions to their friends. In the dead of the night, house common rooms were full as students sat around their fireplaces and stared solemnly at each other.


And when morning came and the Hogwarts Express arrived to bring everyone safely home, the skies were still dark, still full of whispers. The wintery chill remained in the air and nobody lingered outdoors.

Chapter 2: Job Interviews
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.




C H A P T E R . T W O
Job Interviews



Panic settled quickly over Britain, a never before seen phenomenon occurring before the citizens’ very eyes. Darkness had suddenly taken over the country, a heavy fog creeping through abandoned streets and the skies turning nearly black. Muggle street lights glowed dismally in the gloom. The few who ventured outdoors could hear demonic whispering all around them; it filled the air with a frightening horror; it filled the country with despair.


Owls swooped through the sky in abundance, carrying messages of concern and curiosity to and from loved ones. They seemed to be swallowed by the thick darkness, and sometimes they never even made it to their destination. Now and then, bloodcurdling screams could be heard in the distance, the frightened cries being the last sounds the unfortunate victims made. When found, they would remain forever unresponsive and barely alive.


The Muggles were in awe; they simply figured it was some sort of eclipse or terrible storm. They stayed indoors and didn’t ask questions; their theories seemed confirmed by the sporadic lightning and ground-shaking thunder. They couldn’t see the hellish creatures swooping freely through the skies, couldn’t see the slimy, scaly hands reaching towards them. They didn’t hear the screams of victims from the safety of their homes.


The magical population could see the monsters - witches and wizards all around the country spoke in hushed tones, not even having the heart to admit what they knew to be true. The battle had just begun, and already it seemed as if Voldemort would win.






II.

Level two of the Ministry of Magic held the Auror offices.


Bartemius Crouch, Sr sat in his office and pondered things. He stared out his window, which displayed a sunny, cheerful day (even though it hadn’t been sunny and cheerful in a week). The head of a department was usually given whatever type of view he or she preferred, and Crouch preferred one that could allow him to forget the current situation.


He watched a hot air balloon meander through the sky and forced himself to accept the horrible truth:


There was no forgetting Voldemort. It was impossible - reports came in every day from his Aurors. Attacks, deaths, failures. Aurors were quitting their jobs in fear, having never expected to face anything like this when they signed up. Some had been killed. Nobody new was coming in to join the force.


Nobody except for two people. He was expecting a couple of new Hogwarts graduates today - they had set up an interview days before. He liked Hogwarts. His own son had just completed his fifth year within the school, and was expecting to receive at least ten O.W.L.'s.


Crouch thought of his two future applicants and could see a glimmer of hope. One of them was James Potter, son of one of the best Aurors the Ministry had ever seen (now in retirement). He knew there was talent there, and hopefully a level head.


The other... well, Bartemius tried not to think of the other boy. He’d rushed home and asked his son about Sirius Black when his secretary reported the appointments to him.


Barty Jr had assured him that Black was as different from his family as night from day. He’d been adopted by the Potters, after all. He wasn’t bad. He was a Gryffindor, of all things.


Bartemius found this sentiment hard to believe. He himself had a bit of Black blood in him. He knew how they were. But Barty was telling the truth. Sirius Black had been taken in by the Potters. Black was, in fact, a Gryffindor. He thought he could accept that.


Besides - Bartemius Crouch was desperate.






III.

Outside, the rain thundered and rolled through London. It was dark and dreary, just as it should have been considering what loomed in the skies above them, unseen by Muggles. Lightning illuminated the dark purplish-black sky every few seconds, and sometimes in that brief moment a dark cloaked thing could be seen fluttering about amongst the clouds.


The Dementors weren't openly attacking people yet (aside from a rare few who were unable to control themselves), but they were watching. And nobody ventured outdoors unless it was absolutely necessary.


It was, unfortunately, necessary for James and Sirius. They had an appointment today, and as a security measure, the Ministry had removed itself from incoming calls from the Floo Network. The only available ways inside were the Muggle employee entrance, or the visitor entrance, both of which were outdoors.


James appeared with a pop in front of the Muggle entrance. He immediately lifted the newspaper in his hands to shield his head from rain. Sirius appeared a split second later, but he enjoyed dark, gloomy weather. He had come unarmed. Fog swirled around their ankles and seemed to absorb the rain before it hit the ground. In fact, it seemed to fade everything in the area, so that the only thing they could see was each other.


“This is rather terribly surreal, isn't it?” Sirius observed, amused. These dark days were like nothing he'd ever seen before. He glanced around at the cloudy surroundings curiously, and then without warning he shook his shaggy hair back. Water droplets sprayed James’s face and trickled down his glasses, and he’d been extra careful about trying to stay dry.


He pursed his lips patiently. Sirius was the only person he knew who actually enjoyed the rain.


“You’re a right old lout,” he observed after a moment, when he was forced to lower the newspaper long enough to wipe the water from his glasses. His hair was getting wet. He half-heartedly rumpled it.


Sirius grinned easily. “Maybe.” He squinted through the fog and clouds, which literally covered everything. “This must be a little like what Heaven looks like, eh?”


“Not really,” grunted James, who was feeling indisputably wet and soggy.


Sirius surveyed the dark clouds and frightening sky. “No,” he sighed. “I suppose not. Is that the entrance, then?” He was indicating a short flight of stairs leading down to a public restroom.


James sighed. “Yes.”


An amused look passed over Sirius’s face; James rolled his eyes, knowing what was coming.


“Hundreds of Ministry employees line up here to go in to work every morning?” Sirius clarified with James. He had never used the Muggle entrance when he’d been here as a child. The Black family was above such things.


He hadn’t been to the Ministry but a couple times, anyway. He could remember throwing dozens of galleons into the fountain with Regulus once when they were young, while his father chatted with people nearby and his mother looked on haughtily. It was a treat back then, a rare moment of fun, but now that he was older, he could see that it was all a show - the Black family, even their very young sons contributing gold to the Ministry. Throwing money away as if it were nothing. Sirius’s eyes narrowed inadvertently.


“Mmhmm...” lamented James glumly. And then, before Sirius had a chance to ask (James knew he would), he added, “They have to flush themselves down the toilets.”


Sirius immediately forgot about whatever memory he was thinking of involving his family.


His gleeful laugh was like a bark, and it made James grin in spite of himself. “Do the Muggles know we do this to their loos, then?” he asked cheerfully. “Hi, how's it going?” he added with a friendly wave as he spotted a passer-by carrying an umbrella and eying him curiously through the fog. It was ominous looking, random people appearing from seemingly nowhere, and after walking past, being sucked right into the fog again.


James rolled his eyes once more and readjusted his soggy newspaper.


I think it’s a load of shit,” Sirius continued brightly, turning back to James as if he hadn’t interrupted himself. Miraculously, he managed to keep a straight face as he spoke. “That’s what I think.”


James, desperately fighting a laugh, grabbed his arm and quickly dragged him into an alley. “You’re scaring people,” he said stiffly. He couldn’t even look Sirius in the eye, or he knew he’d lose it. “We’re here for business, remember,” he schooled his friend.


“Right,” mourned Sirius helpfully, his face turning morbid. They were silent for a few minutes as they walked past old rubbish bins and emergency staircases.


James was quite uncomfortable in his black business robes, and he pulled on his tie in annoyance. It wasn’t him. He was athletic and playful, and preferred jeans and a shirt, or else just his plain school robes. He glanced sideways at Sirius. At least he seemed at ease. Sirius was used to dressing nice. He liked to wear black.


James cleared his throat. “We’re taking the visitor entrance, anyway,” he told Sirius, as they continued further down the alley. “The only way to get in the Muggle entrance is with a Ministry approved token. For security, you know. Only employees get them.”


“Ah,” said Sirius, trying not to laugh. Secretly, he was desperately glad that they wouldn’t be taking that route.


At the end of the alley, they crammed themselves into a telephone box. Sirius was glad that James seemed to know what was going on, at least, because he was absolutely clueless. However, in an effort to appear confident, he took out his wand and busied himself with siphoning the rain water off of their robes. James picked up the telephone and hit a bunch of random numbers that Sirius didn’t quite catch.






IV.

Ten minutes later, they were sitting in two very uncomfortable chairs in a reception area for the Auror department. A secretary chomped loudly on a stick of Drooble’s gum. Sirius was slouching in his chair, leaning his head lazily against the wall behind him. His eyes were closed. Beside him, James eyed the secretary in disgust and pondered what Lily was doing at her new internship.


After what seemed like an eternity, footsteps could be heard approaching them from beyond a door behind the secretary's desk. A commanding voice issued orders to various people as he passed them. James sat up a little straighter and pounded his fist against Sirius’s shoulder. Sirius opened his eyes and sat up straighter as well.


The door to the offices finally opened. A well groomed man with a very straight moustache stood holding it open expectantly. Sirius and James immediately got to their feet.


“Mr Potter,” said the man, holding his hand out for a handshake. “You look just like your father,” he mused pleasantly. “And Mr Black,” he added, holding his hand towards Sirius. He wouldn’t look Sirius in the eye, and seemed on edge slightly (especially when Sirius purposely squeezed his hand especially hard, just as James's father had taught him to do in order to show confidence).


The man scowled and cleared his throat. James turned to his friend.


“Really, Pads,” he murmured under his breath.


“Sorry,” said Sirius. He let go. The man nervously wiped his sweaty palm against his robes.


Sirius shrugged innocently at James. It wasn’t his fault people reacted badly to his last name. All he could do was enjoy their reactions or let it eat away at him. Usually it was a bit of both.


(Although, at the moment, he was in a mild panic over what Peter had said last week. Perhaps he would be declined work after all, if the department head was afraid of him.


He thought it would be pants if James was hired, and he wasn't, and he wondered how he would fill his days until James got home. Even worse, he realized that, once home, James would probably want to see Lily as well.)


“Okay, then,” said the man testily, relieved to be freed of the grasp. “Please follow me to my office.” He turned and lead them out of the reception area and through a maze of cubicles. James and Sirius followed wordlessly, ducking a couple of owls carrying memos to other departments.


At last they reached a large, comfortable looking office. Moving photographs of the moustached man and his family sat on a desk and on the bookshelves behind. Despite the storming weather outside, the office window boasted sunshine and a few pleasant, fluffy clouds. James and Sirius took seats in the chairs facing the desk; the man sat in the fancy leather armchair behind it. All three stared at each other expectantly before the man finally spoke.


“My name is Bartemius Crouch,” he introduced himself, picking up a quill. He looked them each over as if they were prey before continuing. “I have to admit, I’m very pleased with your interest to become Aurors. We’ve been experiencing a shortage, considering all that has been happening with... er... with You-Know-Who. Your father’s retirement five years ago, James, was an exceptionally hard pill to swallow. It’s almost to the point where I fear we may have to start drafting...”


James nodded once, immediately relaxing at the news that the Ministry was getting desperate. They would probably be guaranteed work. He sat up straighter, confidently, as he addressed Crouch.


“That’s why we’re here, sir. We’d like to help out and fight back and take Voldemort down! My father told us, ‘you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.’”


Bartemius Crouch gave a choking gasp at the name and his eyes bulged slightly, but he covered it with a chuckle and a blink; he gave a small nod. “Your father was a very wise man. Let’s see if we can get a hold of your test scores.” His eyes flickered between the two handsome young men and he gave a simpering smile before lifting the lid from a delicate looking jar on the desk. Clearly, he didn’t think they appeared capable of the positions no matter how desperate the Ministry was. He took a handful of Floo powder, turned in his chair and tossed it into his personal fireplace.


“Glenda?” he called as green flames roared to life.


After a brief second, the secretary’s head appeared in the flames. “Yes, Mr Crouch?”


“Be a dear and fetch the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. records of these boys,” Bartemius demanded importantly. He straightened his robes and tightened his tie as he waited for her to grab a piece of parchment and a quill to take their names.


“Go on,” she informed him after a moment, smiling sweetly.


“James Potter, and Sirius Black. Sirius, like the star, that.”


“I’ll have those in just a moment, Mr Crouch,” cooed the secretary in a sickeningly sugary voice.


While they waited, James cast around for some way to break the nervous silence. “Mr Crouch,” he began after a moment, leaning forward in his chair. “I thought the Ministry had been removed from the Floo Network?”


Mr Crouch jumped slightly at the sudden question, taken by surprise. “Oh, only partially, James,” he said pleasantly. “Nobody can Floo here, though we do allow our employees to Floo home again. We still use the Floo to exchange information within the Ministry, however.” He smiled at James. “Excellent question, James, I like a man that pays attention.” And then the smile immediately slipped from his face, making it evident he was only being polite.


James frowned to stop himself from smiling, and when the secretary reappeared in the fireplace a moment later distracting Crouch, he shrugged at Sirius, who smirked back at him.


Suck-up, Sirius mouthed wryly.


James raised an eyebrow in amusement. Bastard, he mouthed indignantly in return.


“All right, then,” said Bartemius Crouch, turning back to his desk. He now held two manila folders in his hands and he opened them one beside the other, peering over the papers within. “Very impressive, boys, I must say,” he noted, sounding surprised. A smile crept over his face as he looked up at the two new prospective employees.


Both James and Sirius looked pleased with themselves at this. N.E.W.T. scores hadn't been mailed out to the former students yet, but apparently they'd both done well. Things were definitely looking good; they were positive they’d be fighting Voldemort and his Death Eaters by Christmas, once all the training was done.


Crouch closed the folders and stacked them neatly on top of each other. Then he folded his hands together and, still smiling, looked from James to Sirius. “I hereby accept your applications into the Auror department of the Ministry of Magic. Congratulations, boys. From here you will proceed to our conference rooms for your written psychological exam, and, assuming all goes smoothly with that, you’ll be sent to St. Mungo’s for physicals. Ministry-paid, of course.”


All three of the wizards stood up, James and Sirius barely listening as he reeled off their next steps in becoming Aurors. They were simply pleased to be accepted and have work - work that would help in the war, no less. This job had been James's dream for as long as he could remember, and he felt like he was walking on air as Crouch droned on. The latter man was just in the process of reaching across his desk to shake hands with his newest recruits when one of his Aurors walked into the office.


“Oh,” said the thin young man instantly, blushing as he glanced at James and Sirius. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had company,” he muttered, backing out of the office again and pulling the door closed behind him. Sirius thought he looked like a git, and in his own mind, James quite agreed.


“No, no, it’s all right, Judas,” replied Mr Crouch smoothly. “We were just finishing up. This is Sirius Black and James Potter; they’ve just been accepted into our Auror program.”


The man entered the room again at Crouch’s reassurance, offering a small, reluctant smile to Sirius and James. “Welcome to the program,” he said, looking wary.


“Judas Christopherus is one of our hit wizards,” Mr Crouch informed the boys, who nodded politely despite their thoughts. “What is it, Judas?”


“Sir, we’ve got a problem. One of your other new recruits,” he paused and glanced at Sirius and James accusingly as he said this, “took your permission to use Unforgivables for apprehension purposes a bit too far. He has just performed the Killing Curse on an uncooperative suspect. It’s causing an uproar; I fear the victim may have been innocent...” He trailed off, glancing at James and Sirius once more. James looked on, his eyes slowly beginning to narrow.


Mr Crouch collapsed into his chair, rubbing his forehead tiredly. “More work...” he muttered, shoving Sirius and James’s records off to the side and searching through a different pile of paperwork.


“Hang on,” said James flatly, interrupting. The hit wizard looked nervously at James; Mr Crouch glanced up, looking suddenly stressed. James looked between the two of them for a moment before he demanded, “You’re allowing your employees to use the Unforgivables?”


Bartemius Crouch laughed nervously. “Well, not normally, Mr Potter, but given the current circumstances...” He held his hand out helplessly, indicating all the work, thus, the troubled times. He looked up at James as if he were insane for even asking. “Is that a problem?”


James fumed silently for a moment. Then, in a low voice, he said, “I’m sorry, but we’re no longer interested in these positions. Thank you for your time.” He glanced at Sirius and motioned for him to follow, and Sirius obediently did. The two men in the office seemed momentarily gob smacked, but Mr Crouch recovered just as they were closing his office door behind them.


“I’m sorry you feel that way,” he grumbled, going back to his paperwork and muttering about a ‘waste of time.'






V.

“It’s an outrage,” James stormed as they stalked through the cavernous Atrium; it was nearly empty now, as everyone was in their offices, and their steps made loud echoes against the wood floor. He glared angrily at the decorative Fountain of Magical Brethren as he passed. “If they’re using Unforgivables on people they suspect, then how are they any better than the Dark ones? Hell, they’re probably responsible for half of Voldemort’s followers at this point! Once you start using Dark magic, Sirius, it’s hard to go back...”


“Relax,” commanded Sirius calmly, reaching for an open jar of Floo Powder atop one of the fireplace mantles. He was thankful Crouch had told them they could Floo home, at least - he wasn’t keen on Apparition. He offered the jar to James.


James’s jaw muscles twitched as he clenched his teeth together angrily. “Fuck it,” he announced, grabbing a handful of powder. “Remember that summer you ran away from home?” Sirius’s eyes immediately darkened and James took that to be a definite yes. “Remember when Dumbledore showed up to ask my dad for help with his ‘secret Order’ to fight Voldemort?”


“Vaguely...” murmured Sirius warily, remembering the evening well. He and James had spent a splendid, thrilling night hovering around the doorway underneath the invisibility cloak, curious and anxious to hear anything possible about Voldemort and how he would be taken down. He glanced sideways at James, waiting for whatever horrid idea was sure to come.


“I’m not going to fall so low as to use Unforgivables, and I’m not going to work for a Ministry that does it either,” James snarled energetically, pointing a finger in Sirius’s chest and causing a small flurry of Floo powder to fall to the ground. “I’m going to Dumbledore. I’m going to see about getting into the Order instead.”


Sirius blew his breath out slowly, eyeing his worked up friend. “Whatever you say, Prongs, I’ll do it too.” It wasn't as if he had anything better to do, or even anything to lose, except for James himself.


James smiled dismally at him and clapped him on the shoulder, calming down at Sirius’s reassurance. “What are you doing tonight? Anything? You should come over for dinner, Pads, my parents would love to have you. They’ve missed you since you moved out last summer.”


Sirius grinned warmly at him. “I’d like that very much,” he said sincerely; he desperately missed the family life that he'd experienced during the year he lived with the Potters. The two threw the Floo powder into the cold fireplace and announced, Godric’s Hollow!

Chapter 3: A Night Out
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T H R E E
A Night Out



It was one o’clock in the morning and the entire house was completely silent. Only one person sat awake at the desk in his bedroom, impatiently tapping a pencil against the wooden surface as he eyed his watch. Sirius had fallen asleep on the sitting room couch before James ever even went to his room, but he wasn't sure if his parents were sleeping yet as well.


When he could wait no longer James heaved a sigh and crossed the room, opened his bedroom door slightly with a small creak and peered into the dark hallway. He often left the house at night - he was of age now, after all - but he certainly didn’t want his elderly parents to know. They were slightly old fashioned, and with the steadily declining state of the wizarding world, they were becoming increasingly paranoid and overprotective. He knew they would worry.


After making sure that all was dark and silent within the house, he slipped out of his room and stealthed down the hallway, taking care not to step on any of the creaky floorboards. Once he cautiously descended the stairs, he pulled his cloak and a broomstick from a closet in the foyer. He could see Sirius passed out on the couch in the sitting room from where he stood and eyed his friend, trying to make no noise at all as he pulled the cloak over his shoulders.


Nevertheless, Sirius startled awake as James softly shut the closet door. He sat up quickly; within a split second, he had his wand pointed towards the foyer where James stood.


“Who’s there,” he demanded forcefully in the dark. It was then that, for the first time, James realized that it wasn’t just his parents who were becoming increasingly paranoid.


James sighed in remorse at this thought as he flipped his collar and shrugged his shoulders a few times to get the cloak to fit comfortably.


“Shh... It’s just me,” he replied softly. “Just James.” He stepped into the doorway where Sirius could see him to prove it.


“Oh,” Sirius sighed, relief evident in his voice. He flopped backwards onto the couch again, rubbed his face tiredly, and peered at the grandfather clock; it took a second for the time to register. After a pause, in which he sat up again faster than lightning, “It’s arse o-clock in the morning!” he told James in dismay. “Just where do you think you’re running off to?”


“Shh,” replied James again, stepping into the room and peering over his shoulder. All he needed was to wake his parents; then the whole family would be interrogating him at this hour. “I’m going to see Lily. Just go back to sleep.”


For a moment, Sirius simply stared at him in the dark; it was stupid to sneak around outside alone, especially at this hour. While he was always one to appreciate the thrill of danger, even he had to give an involuntary shudder at the thought of Dementors and Death Eaters and darkness and being alone out there.


“You’re off your chump...” he finally muttered in annoyance, shifting onto his side. Brooding, he placed his wand on the tea table in front of the couch.


“I know,” James whispered soothingly, agreeing just to pacify his friend. “It’s okay, I’ll be fine. I do it every night. I’ll see you in the morning.”


Sirius heaved a sigh as he settled into the cushions again. He wasn’t happy about it; in fact, he would have kicked James’s arse days ago if he had been aware his friend snuck out at night. Yet, if it was already a habit for James, he knew James couldn’t be persuaded to stop. At least not on this night.


“Jus’ be careful, Prongs, you sodding idiot,” he growled unhappily. He added, his words slurring as sleep began to claim him once more, “Tell Lily hallo for me.”


(The remainder of the night would pester him with nightmares as he worried subconsciously, but he wasn’t aware of this as he drifted to sleep again.)


James regretfully nodded to himself, perhaps understanding and reluctantly accepting new realizations; he picked up his broomstick and turned to leave. Just be careful. He hated it that he couldn’t even sneak out of the house at night to see his girlfriend, to do normal teenage boy things, without endangering his life because of Voldemort. He hated it that Sirius woke at the smallest noise, prepared to be attacked at any second. That he had to hide his outings from his parents because they were too afraid to ever let him go out at night by himself for a simple date.


He took extra care to lock the house up again after he’d let himself outside. As he turned away from the front door and surveyed the dainty neighbourhood in Godric’s Hollow, he couldn’t help but give an involuntary shudder. The Darkness hadn't let up at all in the past week; a misty fog swirled around trees and in between houses. James shook his head slightly in disgust and gripped the broomstick tighter; he thought he heard a whisper over his shoulder, and something icy brushed against his ear, but when he turned there was nothing but darkness. His eyes lingered in the suffocating blackness to be sure; he was definitely glad to have his Apparition license, and with that last thought, he turned on the spot and disappeared with a crack.


When he appeared again, he wasn’t in Godric’s Hollow anymore. He was in the small town of Cradley Heath, in front of a quaint, quiet house. He gripped his broomstick tighter and glanced behind him to be sure no Muggles were around, although he knew somebody would have to be mad to be outside right then. Mad like him. He felt almost as if he were underwater; the darkness was so overwhelming and thick that it flooded the streets. James shook his head, ignored the chilly, haunting whispers, and slung his leg over the broom. He took a moment to scrub his hands through his hair before taking off for one of the second story windows.


Lily Evans rolled over in her bed and peered at the window as he pushed it open. She sat up all at once, an explosion of blankets and flying limbs and a flash of red hair.


“James!” she breathed, scooting neatly off the bed and hurrying to the window to help him step through. “You’re a good bit late tonight! I certainly was starting to worry!”


Once inside, James stood up straight, leaned the broomstick against her wall, and turned to close the window firmly.


“Yeah, I'm sorry,” he whispered when he was done. He turned and placed his hands on her hips, his lips brushing lightly across her forehead and leaving a pleasant trail that sent a shiver up her spine. “Sirius went home with me for dinner and ended up spending the night. Needless to say, everyone stayed up a little later than usual. I couldn’t get away...”


He trailed away as she suddenly, swiftly pressed her lips to his, almost unable to control herself. The temperature contrast between them was breathtaking - her lips were warm and inviting, and his were cool, having just come from outside. James closed his eyes and kissed her slowly, enjoying the moment, and then in a sudden, graceful movement he dragged her towards her bed where they collapsed on it in a heap.


Their lips smashed together again at the impact.


(It wasn't a surprise, considering how teasingly close their faces had been, anyway.)


The kiss didn't last long. Lily rolled off of James, trying hard not to laugh carelessly and wake her parents up in the next room. She allowed a rogue giggle to escape, and as James looked over in amusement at her face, a slow grin steadily stole across his own as he eyed her in wonder until he had to chuckle as well. This, of course, threw her into an uncontrollable fit of giggles.


“I don’t know what you’re laughing at,” he told her after a second, his grin growing wider the longer he watched her. She really was something else, or at least he thought so. He was lying on his back horizontally across her bed. She was curled up on her pillows, but at his teasing, sat up in a more serious position.


Lily cleared her throat and forced the smile from her face. She had to hug a pillow to her chest for something other than his silly expression to concentrate on.


“Okay, okay. I’m done, then,” she forced out in a wobbly voice, determinedly avoiding his gaze.


James, still grinning, lifted an eyebrow and continued to watch her, waiting. Her face was of such concentrated seriousness that he found it both adorable and completely hopeless at the same time - he knew she couldn't keep it up. Indeed, she dared to meet his gaze and the corners of her mouth immediately curled upwards.


“Stop, now you’re just trying to make me laugh,” she announced, slapping his shoulder playfully.


“You know you like it,” insisted James, but he wiped the silly grin off his face and rolled onto his side to face her, propping himself with his elbow. He opened his mouth to say more - he loved teasing her and driving her mad, after all - but she interrupted suddenly, and he had half a mind to think she only changed the subject to spare herself.


“Right. So how did your interview at the Ministry go? Did you pass the tests and everything?” Lily’s eyes shined proudly as she watched her boyfriend’s face; he was going after his dreams, and that was more important than anything else. He was going to be an Auror, and even though that scared her, she was positive he would be great.


The side of James’s mouth pulled upwards in a disappointed smirk. He picked at a fray in the blanket as he answered reluctantly, “Well, we passed the interview portion. The Head Auror was really impressed with our test scores and everything. He was thrilled to have us, really. Said they’d been having problems keeping people... Some left, I guess. Some have probably been killed...”


He trailed away and sighed, and the smile immediately slipped from Lily’s face. Her eyebrows lowered in concern and her green eyes studied him searchingly.


“But?” she prompted, worried.


“But... Just as he was sending us for the written exam, one of their Hit Wizards came into the room. Seems one of their employees used the Killing Curse on somebody. Somebody that was innocent.” James frowned and continued to pick at the blanket, absently twisting a small thread between his thumb and forefinger.


“Oh, James,” said Lily compassionately. She knew James hated the Dark Arts; it was the whole reason he wanted to be an Auror in the first place. She could still remember him telling her with pride in seventh year how he would fight in the war for the rights of Muggleborns like her. It would be a hard blow to learn his heroes used Dark magic themselves. She reached over and placed a comforting hand on the side of his face.


He sighed. “So I told them we weren’t interested in the positions anymore, and we left. And... that’s that, I suppose.” He vaguely waved his hand as if dismissing it all.


All his dreams, all his hard work, amounted to nothing. Despite this, he smiled as he remembered his best friend's words of consolation hours before: At least we won't have to flush ourselves down toilets, Prongs. They had decided not to tell James’s parents about what happened, at least not until they had a definite in with Dumbledore’s Order. James knew his parents would never allow him to join if they suspected he was trying to.


Lily was quiet for a few minutes, playing with a tuft of his hair, until she eventually broke the silence with, “What are you and Sirius going to do now?”


James shook his head, his eyebrows flying towards his hairline as he took a deep breath. “I was going to talk to Dumbledore,” he finally admitted, avoiding her searching look because he didn’t think she’d be fond of this idea once she knew what it was.


“You want to be a teacher!” Lily’s hand flew off his face and to her own mouth in astonishment.


James laughed and rolled onto his back again, stretching. The idea was ludicrous.


“No, no... No way,” he assured her, chuckling as he stared at the ceiling. “No... that’s- what you just said, Lily? That was horrible.”


She laughed, too, at that point.


“Actually, Dumbledore’s been fighting Voldemort. On his own, I mean... apart from the Ministry. It’s why he wasn’t at school as much the last couple years. He came over one night to talk to my dad about it. Some organization he created to attack Voldemort’s supporters with sudden assaults...” he quoted exact words that he could recall hearing during his eavesdropping, and trailed away, looking over for her reaction.


Lily, who wasn’t keen on hidden organizations, secret things, and breaking the law, made a face at this bit of information.


“You never mentioned it before,” she told him doubtfully, in the hopes that it was only a theory as to why Dumbledore was always absent at school.


James shrugged and gave her a sheepish smile.


“I wasn’t supposed to know about it,” he admitted, and he sat up suddenly as determination came over him. She had to understand this; he loved her, but he wouldn’t let her talk him out of it. “I’m going to fight this, Lily, and I’m not going to use the Unforgivables to do it, and I’m not going to support a Ministry that does, either. If it means working undercover with Dumbledore for no pay...” He shrugged again to indicate that money wasn’t a big deal to him.


When he glanced up for her reaction again, her expression was one of surprise. She looked stunned and at the same time worried; however, she kept her mouth shut. She was holding a hand to her chest as if aghast that he would speak to her so forcefully. She did at least seem to understand that this was something that he was passionate about; she forced a small smile when she caught him eyeing her.


“Right. Anyway,” he grunted, feeling suddenly guilty. He crawled to the head of the bed where she sat and flopped onto the pillows so that they were facing each other. He wrapped his arm around her and fingered her red hair behind her back. “What did you do today?”


Recovering quickly, Lily smiled at him again and settled onto the pillows facing him. “Well, we won’t have to do this anymore,” she stated happily, indicating the window and his broomstick.


James frowned at her in mock pain. “If you didn’t want to see me anymore, Lily, you should have just said something earlier,” he joked, and then he heaved a depressed sigh that was so convincing, Lily was almost saddened by it.


She smiled warmly at him until he couldn’t help but smile back. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said softly. “I got an owl from Lucy today. She’s found a flat in London that she can’t quite afford on her own. She wanted to know if I wanted to be her roommate.”


James narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously. “Oh? And just who is Lucy?” he demanded to know, overprotective nature kicking in.


“You remember Lucy, James... Honestly. Did you never pay attention? The Ravenclaw Prefect? She took our photograph, remember?” With that, Lily rolled over and pulled open the drawer on her night stand. She removed a small photo album and flipped through the pages. “Look,” she said, indicating a colourful photograph.


The five of them - his three Marauders, Lily, and himself - sat crowded around the Gryffindor table, all smiling widely. Except for Sirius, who looked as laid back as ever. James grinned fondly at the picture, remembering the warm, pleasant evening with his friends. He tried not to think about what happened after the photograph was taken.


“I remember. You were right that night, you know. We do look like barmcakes,” he said nostalgically. On second thought, “Well. Pads doesn't. He says hi, by the way.”


“Mmm,” said Lily, watching as James began to flip through the rest of the pictures.


Most of them made him smile. Lily would occasionally point to one and burst out ‘oooh, remember that?’ and then they’d share some story about it. There was one photo of Lily with the other Gryffindor girls (most of whom were in the year above her, as there was only one other female in her own year); she immediately began to explain the picture's fun circumstances but James quieted her, admitting that he’d been there, too, spying under his invisibility cloak. She blushed and so did he, and to change the subject, James smirked at her as he held up a photo of Severus Snape in disgust.


Lily blushed even deeper. “Come off it, James... I was friends with him for years. Far before I knew I was a witch.” She plucked the picture from his fingers and carefully returned it to its place in the book. Then she smiled wistfully. “Tuney hated him, too, you know.”


“Bloody hell, I feel absolutely faint at that bit of shocking news, Lily. Who'd have pegged Petunia for a wizard hater?” He shook his head in mock surprise. “And as for Snape, hell. I thought everyone loved him... Miserable bat...”


“Sod off, James, really.”


He sighed, rolled onto his back and placed his hands behind his head, staring up at her ceiling. She lovingly returned her photo album to its drawer and then rested her head on his chest. He glanced down at her now, while she was staring thoughtfully across the room; the moonlight streaming through the window illuminated her skin and she appeared to shine.


Sirius and Peter had never found Lily to be anything more than average looking, and though Remus would never be rude enough to say it, James knew he agreed. She's pretty enough, Prongs, Sirius used to say, shrugging carelessly in the common room. But nothing fascinating.


(He had then gone on to suggest a handful of other girls that he knew would have given anything to be with James.


James would allow him to carry on a bit, because he loved hearing how long that list really was.)


This was the one and only thing that he and Sirius disagreed on. He wasn't sure how his best friend could be so blind; he'd never laid eyes on a woman that was prettier than Lily Evans. He yearned to touch the soft, milky skin of her face now, but he was afraid to ruin the moment, afraid to frighten her. He settled instead for pulling an arm down to wrap protectively around her shoulders and draw her nearer to him. She sighed contentedly as he did this and, after a blissful moment, she spoke.


“Do you think it’s going to end anytime soon?” she asked him, her voice sounding far away. She felt safe here, in her childhood bedroom with James, at least; it was almost hard to believe in the horrors that were happening in Britain even as they lay.


He didn’t have to ask what she was talking about. Unfortunately, he felt the war was only getting started. Voldemort had really only stepped out in the last two years.


“Yes,” he said firmly, lying through his teeth and hoping she couldn't tell. He trailed his fingers softly, reassuringly, along her arm as he stared up at the ceiling. She smiled now, he could feel her cheek pressing against his chest as she did so.


Sometimes life's okay.


“Good.”


It didn’t take long for them to drift to sleep in each other’s arms, nestled beneath the innocent pink blankets of Lily’s childhood.






II.

When James opened the door to the Potter home early in the morning, it was to find Sirius already up. His friend sat on a stool at the kitchen counter, pouring over The Daily Prophet, a glass of orange juice in his hand and a plate of toast on the side. Sirius spared James a glance, lifting his eyebrows inquiringly. Darkness streaked beneath his eyes and his face was gaunt; still, he grinned sarcastically at James’s appearance.


“Good night?” he pressed knowingly.


“The best,” James lied, helping himself to orange juice and sitting on the stool beside Sirius’s. It wasn’t a bad night, but the conversations he’d had with Lily weren’t exactly uplifting. He took a large swallow from his glass and nodded towards the paper in Sirius’s hand. “Any news?”


“‘course there’s news,” replied Sirius flatly. He folded the paper in annoyance, though his attitude wasn’t directed at James, and shoved it away. “There’s always news.” He hated reading the paper at all these days, but he had to know, had to check that it wasn’t somebody he cared about that had been found dead overnight. He concentrated on his toast, taking a vicious bite.


James studied Sirius’s profile for a moment and then nodded slowly, understanding Sirius's harsh tone of voice. “Anyone we know?”


Sirius shook his head and James breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m going to write to Moony and Wormtail,” he told Sirius.


Sirius looked up in surprise, momentarily forgetting to chew the piece of toast in his mouth. “About the Order? he asked, automatically knowing what his friend was getting at - he always knew, he and James always understood each other. “What makes you think they even want in?”


“Remus will,” insisted James firmly. “I don’t think he’s been able to find a decent job yet. Hell, maybe he can shack up with you, Padfoot, if it’s the lack of pay that bothers him.” James shrugged, and Sirius echoed with a jerk of his own shoulders.


“Maybe.”


“I know you don’t like staying in that flat by yourself,” pressed James. “You never had to move out, you know.”


Sirius scowled at him in response. “I know,” he said simply. He'd hated leaving - he loved James's family - but he'd craved freedom, and once Uncle Alphard left him all that gold, he didn't feel right about living off the Potters anymore. “And Wormtail?”


James shrugged. “I’m sure he’d do anything we do to be included.” Peter was the one person James wasn’t worried about trying to convince; he'd never pass up an opportunity to be involved, and James knew for a fact that Peter had been worried about staying in touch. “I want to fight this, Pads, and I want us to do it together. Keep your friends close...”


“And your enemies closer,” Sirius finished gravely.

Chapter 4: Two Owls
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . F O U R
Two Owls




The two weeks that had passed since graduation had been uneventful for Remus Lupin. He’d spent several days out, campaigning various places to let them know that he was available for hire. He’d dressed his best, which wasn’t very impressive - he didn’t have nice clothing at all; he kept ruining it on accident during his transformations, and his parents couldn’t afford to keep buying him new things. The result was patched clothing that had had the seams let out two or three times already as he grew.


Remus sighed. Nothing. Nobody wanted to hire a werewolf. Every time he filled out an application, his quill had hovered above the line, Check ‘yes’ if you have a criminal history, dangerous condition, or are a Squib. Criminal history, he could deal with. And even Squibs got lucky in finding work in the wizarding world. But it was the tiny print below the check box that always got him. If yes, please explain:


He sighed, rapping his knuckles on the worn tabletop in frustration. He was reduced to applying at private shops, having tried everywhere else. Yesterday he’d combed Diagon Alley, picking up applications for every store. The day before, he’d gone through Hogsmeade. He hardly had the heart to even fill them out; he’d already leafed through them. They all asked the question about his history and background.


Though he doubted finding a job in either town, he couldn't help but picture himself as an Igor, faithful assistant to a random shop owner, never amounting to anything more than that. He snorted and shoved the stack of applications away before resting his elbows on the table and burying his face in his hands, defeated.


He felt he would be sitting here, filling out pointless applications, for so long that he'd have a thick layer of dust covering him before he was done. And then he still probably wouldn't have a job.


A small, light brown owl suddenly swooped through the open window beside the table. Remus spared it a glance, welcoming the distraction from visions of his hunch-backed, dust-covered self.


“Hullo, Aristotle,” he told the bird absently, stroking its feathery chest in greeting. “Got a letter for me, eh?” This was James’s owl; he’d seen the bird many times. As he reached to untie the scroll attached to the bird’s leg, Aristotle hooted and bobbed up and down.


“Calm down,” Remus remarked, slightly irritated as he struggled with the knot. Aristotle flapped his wings impatiently. “Bollocks, you’re just like Prongs,” he stated in a scandalized tone, and feeling almost as if he'd just come out of battle once he finally freed the letter. The handsome bird took off instantly without looking back.


Before he had a chance to open the note, however, his mother emerged from the hallway and looked towards the table where he sat. “Remus, I’m off to work,” she announced, moving towards him to say goodbye.


“Have a nice day,” he said dully, staring unseeingly at the note in his hand as she kissed his hair and then brushed it smooth with her fingers.


“Keep trying,” she urged him with a nod towards the applications. Then she heaved an exhausted sigh, wishing for a day off; she adjusted the strap of her bag and checked that her robes were straight. “I'll see you tonight.”


“Bye,” he mumbled, feeling his ears turn red with shame. He hated seeing his mother work so hard at her age to support him, her grown son still living at home. She'd even spoken to several people at the Ministry on his behalf, both in the Obliviator department (where she worked) and in all other areas. It had been useless; with the Ministry keeping tabs on all "creatures," as he was so often labelled, he couldn't even get a job on the Knight Bus.


As if to back up his feelings of uselessness, his father gave a loud snore from the bedroom. The man had given up everything for Remus, in search of a cure. He still worked nights in the Ministry's Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, just as he always had. But for the past decade, he'd spent all of his spare time among well-known Potion Masters, begging for their help and trying to fund their research.


If possible, his father was even more exhausted than his mother. Remus couldn't help but wonder (and hope) if things were better for them when he wasn't around, when he was away at school and they didn't have to financially support him on top of everything else.


He idly fingered the rolled up parchment in his hand as he listened to his father's heavy snores. He had to do something, for he couldn't continue living in such shame. He knew his parents were somewhat alienated within the community, and all because of himself.


Frustrated, he ripped open the note and quickly scanned over the familiar handwriting.


Moony,

How is the job hunt going? Not well? I didn’t think so.

I haven’t got a job yet either, and neither does Sirius, if that makes you feel any better. We tried to apply at the Ministry, but after discovering that they use Dark Magic to capture suspects, I decided it wasn’t the job for us.

Yes, the Aurors use Dark Magic, you read it right. Yes, it’s mental.

I’ve found something else I’d like to do instead. If you’re interested, I’d love to have you doing it with us. I’ve already got Padfoot. I sent a letter to Peter as well. Owl me back if you want to, and we’ll meet somewhere to discuss.

Always your friend,
Prongs



Remus folded the note and smirked. There was James, coming to the rescue just like he always did. He wasn’t sure what job his friend could possibly have in mind that would take a werewolf such as himself, but James hadn’t seemed concerned about it; he hadn’t mentioned it, at least. If anyone could get him into something, Remus reasoned, James could.


He grabbed the application on the top of the stack and flipped it over.


Prongs, he scribbled.

Any time is fine to meet - just let me know.

That's horrible about the Auror positions. I'm sorry it didn't work out. No luck finding work here. I've started applying in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Hogsmeade would be a rather embarrassing place to work, don't you think? Seeing all the old students... Oh well, I doubt I'll find a job there anyway.

Bloody hell.

Remus.



He cursed Aristotle for taking off without a response, folded up the note and went outside. They lived in an old cabin in a clearing in the woods. He’d hated it growing up; it was in these woods that he’d sustained the bite from the werewolf Fenrir Greyback. Now was not the time for dwelling on that, however; he put two fingers in his mouth and let out a shrill whistle.


From somewhere high in the trees, a hoot was heard, and then a ruffling of feathers. The next thing he knew, a grey owl swooped towards him and landed gracefully on the porch railing.


“It goes to James,” Remus told the bird, attaching the letter to its leg.


He stood back and watched as it flew away, until he could no longer see it over the treetops. As he turned to go back inside, he realized he was suddenly anxious for James’s return owl with the date. He’d missed his friends in the two weeks since school had been out - as their small cabin didn’t have a fireplace, using the Floo to chat wasn’t an option for him. They’d promised to meet for sure every full moon of the month, but Remus had been hoping for something more. He’d like to spend time with them when he was in his right mind as well. Whatever this job was, he was eager for it to start.






II.

Peter Pettigrew hated his life. He didn’t think anyone could blame him, if they knew what it was really like. Even as he came to this conclusion, a wad of mashed potatoes hit him in the face. His three year old brother shrieked in glee as Peter narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth together. Dinner was always like this at the Pettigrew household, and if Peter complained about it, he got the usual answer from his mother:


He’s just a toddler, Peter.


Today, however, his mother didn’t give any excuse for his brother. She pursed her lips as she watched Peter clean his face off with the napkin. “When are you going to move out, Peter?” she asked casually.


Peter stopped scrubbing his napkin over his cheek and looked across the dinner table in dismay. “What?”


“Oh, you know...” said Mrs Pettigrew, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear. “You’re of age now, and finished with school. You haven’t even tried to get a job yet...”


Peter definitely would have given anything to trade lives with any one of his friends. All three of them had a place where they belonged. Even Sirius, whom he knew had been mistreated at home for how he chose to live his life. But all had worked out for Sirius - his home was now with the Potters. That was where he went for the holidays, that was where he went home for dinner, even after he got his own flat. Or even Remus, who’s family was poor, but happy and cheerful; they did their best, and they got by all right. And James was a given - James had always led a charmed life.


Peter hated his own family. His father had died thirteen years earlier, and since then his mother had had quite a few men over. That was how he’d ended up with a three year old brother. His mother didn’t even know who the father was. Little Ben was given his mother's maiden name instead of a father's last name.


His brother got away with everything, too. Whenever Peter went home for the summer holidays, it was to find his bedroom in ruins from Ben playing in there all year without any discipline. Candy wrappers were strewn everywhere - months old chocolate had melted into his bedding and carpet. But it didn’t matter - he hated his room anyway.


His mother had decorated it and insisted it remained the way it was; it was her house, after all, as she frequently reminded him. He had flowery curtains and flowery blankets on his bed. Even if he wasn’t embarrassed of his family, he still would never invite his friends over because he was embarrassed of his bedroom as well.


The one thing that kept him going was the account at Gringott’s he was set to inherit as soon as he reached eighteen. It was a trust that had been made for him when he was a child with his father’s funds. Though he was already of age, the Ministry had wanted to be sure he was out of Hogwarts first, and as his birthday was in the summer, had set the date for then. It was possible, even, that his father had chosen his eighteenth birthday in his will. His father was Muggleborn, after all, and eighteen was when Muggles were of age.


It was only a few weeks away now, thought Peter hungrily. The second week of August and then he’d be out of here. Needless to say, he was in no rush to look for a job right away with a large pile of gold waiting for him in the wizarding bank.


For the moment, however, he took a bite of green beans and shoved the thought of gold from his mind. “I’ve been looking,” he insisted. “I’ve been taking The Daily Prophet and checking their advertisements every day!”


It was true; he’d been taking the paper to his bedroom and looking through the ads, but then he’d grow bored, toss it aside and pick up one of his comic books instead.


“And yet you’ve found nothing?” his mother stated doubtfully. “I know the Ministry is hard pressed for employees right now, Peter, in every department!”


Peter hung his head guiltily. There was no way around this little fact.


“I see,” said Mrs Pettigrew softly. “You are the least ambitious boy I have ever met, Peter. I want you to go to your room and think about your laziness.”


Peter glared at her for a moment, but she turned away, giving all her attention to Ben. He finally sighed and pushed his chair back forcefully, throwing his napkin down, leaving the dinner table and heading to his room.


Once inside the flowery eyesore of a bedroom, he slammed the door and flopped heavily onto his bed, picking up one of his comic books. He wouldn’t think about so-called laziness even if it was the last thing to think about on earth, he told himself defiantly. He rifled through the pages of the comic to find where he’d left off last time.


A low hoot sounded abruptly, taking Peter by surprise so badly that he jumped and sent the comic book flying. There sat James’s owl, balancing on top of his desk.


“Aristotle,” Peter breathed, his heart hammering wildly. “You scared the everlasting shit out of me,” he murmured, approaching the owl to take the message tied around his leg. “So Prongs wrote to me. Maybe I haven’t been forgotten after all,” he said dryly, untying the letter.


Aristotle didn’t look amused at the sarcastic comments. He nipped Peter’s finger harshly, and the moment he was free of the note, he was gone out the window, taking extra care to slap Peter upside the face with a wing as he went.


Peter blinked rapidly, feeling foolish, for his eyes had begun to water slightly. “Even the owls treat me like rubbish around here,” he muttered, unrolling the scroll and peering at it.


Wormtail,

How is your summer? Little brother still being a pain in the arse? I bet you can’t wait until you have the gold to get out of there. Only a few more weeks, mate!

I’m writing to ask if you want to join us for a job. I can’t give the details in a letter, but its something I’ve already spoken to Sirius about, and I sent a letter inviting Remus as well. The Auror thing for the Ministry didn’t exactly work out, and I’ve come across something else.

Let me know.

Prongs.



Peter rolled his eyes. Of course, Sirius was the first to know. And of course, Remus was the second. As usual, he was last in line. Despite the bitterness, he was desperate to get out of the house and away from his family. He ripped off a piece of the parchment and wrote back that he was definitely interested.


“Bloody stupid owl,” he muttered, glaring out the window.


James’s owl never seemed to wait for anyone’s response. He couldn’t leave his room at the moment without getting in trouble; that meant his letter had to wait until morning to be sent out by the family owl. He placed the note on the windowsill for now and turned back to his flowery bed and comic book.


“I can’t wait to get out of here,” he muttered unhappily. Seeing his friends again, as jealous as he was of each of them, would definitely be a good thing right about now.

Chapter 5: Two Meetings
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . F I V E
Two Meetings




Sirius, who was quite drunk, couldn’t resist a dare. And so when Peter had stated Bet you can’t handle three shots at once! Sirius had immediately popped the cork on his bottle of Firewhisky.


“Don’t you think you’ve had quite enough?” asked Remus from the living room of Sirius's flat. He was playing Exploding Snap over the coffee table with James.


“Shut up, Moony,” announced Sirius drunkenly, and he contemplated his shot glass. He filled it three times and dumped each into a much larger glass before loudly setting the bottle on the counter. He hiccupped as he gripped the glass of ‘whisky and held it up to Peter. “Cheers,” he said, and tipped his head back.


The fiery drink slipped down his throat in one gulp, and, eyes watering, Sirius slammed the glass triumphantly on the tiled counter, promptly causing it to crack.


“That was,” slurred Sirius, and he pointed a finger in Peter’s vague direction and swayed slightly. “That was... it was... hic...” He managed to focus his gaze on Peter. “The point is, that it was... that was th- er... three, Wormtail... that’s ...hic... what that was. Right?”


A tear streamed down his face and Sirius allowed his tongue to hang out as he panted for a moment, feeling sloppy and dizzy and befuddled. He doubled over, propped his hands on his knees, and tried to catch his breath.


Peter giggled in delight.


Sirius groaned in pain. “It was ...hic... bloody hot,” he added as he stumbled towards the sink. Turning on the faucet, he shoved his face underneath the cool water and allowed it to flood his mouth.


Aguamenti,” announced Peter, determined to show Sirius up by using magic when the drunken bastard was too stupid to. He pointed his stubby wand at Sirius’s glass, and it shattered.


“Nice, Wormtail,” said James sarcastically. Sirius chuckled and began rummaging in the cabinets for a Sobering Solution. Peter became defensive.


“Shut up, James, you great pillock!”


James sighed, raised an eyebrow and picked up his wand, vaguely waving it in the direction of Sirius’s small kitchen. The glass repaired itself and James replaced his wand on the table, satisfied.


“Watch it,” warned Remus suddenly, but it was too late. James’s cards suddenly burst into flame in his hand, and he dropped them, cursing and whipping his burned fingers through the air.


The smoking cards added one more scorch mark to Sirius’s already flame-scarred table. Most of the damage had been done the previous summer, right after Sirius had purchased the flat. (Sirius and James had spent the majority of their holiday there, eager for freedom and independence, only to find themselves bored and reduced to card games.)


Peter laughed again and sat on the couch beside James. Sirius (potion in hand) hiccupped once more and followed him, collapsing into an armchair.


This was the first night that all four of them had gathered since school had let out. James had called the meeting to discuss his plans to join the Order and to try and recruit his friends. They’d spent hours already, chatting and eating and drinking, smoking and having a good time. But now, decided James, it was time to discuss. It was starting to get late. And anyway, he wasn’t sure how much longer Sirius would last.


He began to gather up the cards and put them away.


“Right,” said Remus, taking a hint. He helped, scooping cards into a neat pile and handing them to James. “So what’s this big job you had in mind, Prongs? At this point, I’ll likely take anything I can get.”


“Er...” said James, avoiding looking at Remus. He shoved the cards into a small box. “Well, it's not really... I mean, it's probably not what you had in mind, Moony...” He dared a glance at his friend but then quickly looked away again, fumbling to close the lid on the card box.


Remus eyed him earnestly. “Right,” he said again, practically ignoring the warning and having full confidence in James. But then he hesitated and added, “What’s that supposed to mean?”


“Well...” said James again, setting the box on the table. “For one, Moony, it’s not paid work, and for two,” he carried on quickly before Remus could object to the first point. “Er... for two,” he repeated firmly, racking his brain. He couldn’t think of anything else.


“For two, it’s not paid work,” supplied Sirius helpfully.


“Drink your damn potion, Padfoot,” James snapped, half amused, half annoyed. Sirius raised an eyebrow and smirked, but obeyed. He pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned, head aching as he felt the alcohol leave his system. The others ignored him (they were rather used to Sobering Solutions).


Remus made an apologetic face. “James...” he began regretfully, but James cut him off, holding his hands up for silence. Remus’s mouth obediently snapped shut.


“Now, Remus, now... Just hear me out. Please. This is important to me, at least let me explain what it is. I've been thinking about this ever since fifth year. The summer after, I mean, that's when it started,” he continued quickly, before Remus could argue.


“Sirius had just run away from home. Dumbledore showed up at my doorstep about a week after. We thought Sirius was going to be in trouble, you know, for running away or something; we thought Dumbledore was going to say he couldn’t stay. When Dumbledore and my father went into the sitting room to have a discussion, we, naturally, sat around the corner and listened in.”


Peter beamed with Marauder pride. (Naturally, he agreed, but he didn’t say it out loud.) Sirius cast him an odd look. James continued, so intent in his explanation that he hadn't paid any attention to anyone but Remus.


“It turns out that he wasn’t there about Sirius. He was gathering people to fight back, and he wanted my dad’s help with it. He didn’t think the Ministry was making progress. While Voldemort and the Death Eaters focused on putting pressure on the Ministry, Dumbledore wanted to come up and attack them from behind.


“It’s worked... The Death Eaters have fallen back slightly in the last couple of years, although they’re putting pressure on the Ministry once more. Anyway, Dumbledore called this organization of his the ‘Order of the Phoenix’.”


Remus was listening intently, but the expression of regret and doubt was still upon his face. All of it was interesting and noble, but it didn't solve his problem.


“I really want us to fight this,” James blurted quickly, horribly aware of Remus's expression. “All of us. I’m not going to do it with the Ministry. I’ve decided to ask Dumbledore if I can be in the Order, and Sirius said he’d join as well. But we’ve always been stronger when we’re all together, Moony. We’ve always been strongest as the Marauders.”


“I know, but...”


James cut him off again. “Just forget about the fact that it doesn’t pay for a moment, Remus. Is it something that you’d be interested in, if it wasn’t for that? I mean, do you want to fight?”


“Of course I'd be interested, Prongs,” stated Remus forcefully. He pulled the collar of his robes away to reveal the scar from when he was first bit as a child. “I haven’t forgotten what the Dark side can do to people. It ruins lives, James. But it's just not...”


“Peter?” James interrupted, turning expectantly to the chubbier boy. (Remus sighed in frustration.) “Would you be? Interested, I mean?”


Peter looked mildly frightened, but resolute. “If we’re all together,” he said - he always felt untouchable when they were together.


James looked thrilled. “This is why we were Gryffindors,” he said proudly, looking fiercely around at his friends.


Remus nodded; his expression lightened slightly as he was touched by his friend’s pride, but then his face fell again. He really needed a job that paid - he had to be an adult and move out of his parents’ home. They’d done so much for him over the years, and he’d been given a wonderful opportunity - education - that he couldn’t let go to waste. “But James... I’ve got to find a job that pays so I can move out... I’m sure my parents are well shot of me now...”


“You can move in here,” Sirius interrupted conversationally, tone cheerful yet smug. He looked curious, as if the whole conversation was a source of entertainment for him and he was eager to move it along so they could resume their fun. He twisted his empty potion vial idly in his hands. “I’ve got an extra bedroom, Moony. I’d welcome you, to be honest, it gets rather boring here by myself...”


Remus blushed, touched yet again by his friends’ actions. “Well, thank you, Padfoot, but still... I’ve got to have a paying job, there’s things to buy. Food and such...”


James suddenly sighed loudly, causing Remus to stop talking and look questioningly at him.


When they made eye contact, James snapped, “Honestly, Remus, I thought you knew we were your friends by now! You don't have to worry about money; we'd never leave you struggling.”


He scowled for a moment. “Come on, Moony, remember what Dumbledore said? I know you do... Never just settle for a job. There are more important things...” He smiled warmly at his friend. “We need you more than Hogsmeade does, mate.”


Remus blushed horribly at this; his friends have done unthinkable things for him in the past, pushing limits and boundaries without a care. It humbled him constantly; it had humbled them all. If there was anything all four of them had learned during their time at Hogwarts, anything good at all that came from running around with a werewolf, it was to never be too proud to ask for help, nor to accept it. He turned to Sirius and swallowed loudly.


“Thank you, Padfoot,” he said quietly, defeated. “I would love to stay here with you.”


Sirius gave him a lopsided smile and a single brief nod from where he lounged casually in his chair.


“Excellent,” announced James, clearly in his element at this point. He turned to Peter. “Wormtail, you’re all right, aren’t you? With your mum, I mean? You’ve only got a couple more weeks until you can get your own place.”


Peter grimaced and then nodded. “I can manage until then,” he said unhappily, though he was pleased that they now had a plan. At least they would see each other all the time. “Shameless old hussy,” he added under his breath about his mother, and he settled back into the couch cushions.


Sirius laughed, a bark of delight. James and Remus grinned at each other and shook their heads dismissively.


“Great. I’m going to owl Dumbledore and request an appointment, then,” James told them, bringing seriousness around again. “Considering the full moon is coming up next Thursday, I think we ought to make the meeting for that evening,” he nodded to Remus. “We can just head through the tunnel to the Shack when we’re done. Just like old times.”


“It works for me,” said Peter eagerly.


Remus suddenly picked up the deck of cards and shuffled them quickly, an effort to cover how humbled he was that his friends were so supportive. As if finances were not enough, he'd been mildly worried about his transformations now that they'd all left the school. Yet here they were, clearly planning to continue to accompany him during his most difficult nights; it was plain to see that they'd never considered otherwise.


“Poker?” he asked hoarsely, glancing around.


They played well into the night; predictably, Sirius was the first to pass out in his chair, and Peter soon followed, lying on the floor. James retreated to Sirius's bedroom after a while and Remus, the only one still awake, stretched out on the couch where he was left pondering his friends and what he'd just gotten himself into.






II.

The week passed quickly in the wizarding world. More deaths were reported in The Daily Prophet. Giants had been spotted coming down from the mountains in France, much to the dismay of the Ministry of Magic. This little fact, however, was kept quiet, something that bothered Lily Evans (who was working for the newspaper) very much. Despite the fact that July was steadily nearing its end, the cool, misty fog did not let up. The skies were always overcast and grey; Britain was always dark and dreary.


Peter spent the week at home, enduring his mother’s unending pressure that he find a job and become an adult and move out. He assured her that he would be out soon enough, and spent most of his time in his bedroom.


Remus gave up his attempts at finding work now that they were planning on getting into the Order. Instead, he focused on packing all of his belongings (which weren’t many) in anticipation of moving in with his best friend.


Likewise, Lily had begun to pack for her move as well, and James spent a fair amount of time helping her with this. Sirius accompanied them one day; it was no time at all before she had everything ready to go thanks to the help of magic.


Sirius spent most of his time being lazy around his flat with James, riding his flying motorbike, or visiting James’s parents. He spent nearly as many nights at James’s house as he did in his own flat, but nobody minded this at all.


At the moment, all four Marauders stood at the gates of Hogwarts and waited for one of the teachers to come and undo all of the magical, protective charms locking intruders off the property. They were there for their meeting with Dumbledore; this would be the day they convinced him to allow them to join the Order.


It was Professor McGonagall who greeted them warmly at the gates; she had always had a soft spot for the four boys in her house. They excelled at her own subject, Transfiguration; they paid her compliments, though she was more than aware that this was just brown-nosing. But they were charming and memorable, and the school felt like something was missing once they left it for good.


She escorted the four through the deserted hallways, gave the gargoyle guarding the Headmaster’s office the password, and then bid them goodbye at Dumbledore’s door. When she was gone, James raised his fist to knock, but before his knuckles struck the wood, Dumbledore called from within.


“Come in!” His voice was pleasant and cheerful, and when they opened the door and filed inside (feeling guilty, no less, for aside from Remus - and occasionally James for Head Boy duties - they had never been here before unless they did something wrong) it was to find him smiling in greeting, a twinkle in his crystal blue eyes.


“Good evening, Professor,” Sirius said immediately, bowing slightly before he stopped himself and his eyes darkened. Sometimes, the ways of the Blacks never left him. He was always the first of his friends to give a polite greeting, always the one to bring up some new conversational topic when discourse became dull. He grimaced at his formal habits and straightened stiffly.


“Good evening, gentlemen! I hope you’ve had an enjoyable holiday?” Dumbledore pulled out his wand and, with a casual flick, conjured two additional chairs.


The Marauders sat down awkwardly. “It has been very nice, thank you, sir,” responded Remus politely.


“Ah, Remus. You are looking especially pale this afternoon. Perhaps we should make this fast?” Dumbledore looked momentarily concerned for his former pupil’s health. He pulled out a pocket watch to check the time, knowing that once the full moon came up, Remus would need to be in the Shrieking Shack.


“Yes, Professor,” said James, jumping straight into his proposition at Dumbledore’s gentle prodding. It had already been decided that he would do the talking; he was, after all, the most passionate about this. “We’ve come here tonight because we want to fight the Dark Rebellion with your Order.”


The twinkle immediately left Dumbledore’s eye, but his voice remained pleasant. “Oh?”


“Yes, sir,” James said, looking mildly nervous at Dumbledore’s lack of reaction. When the Headmaster said nothing for several long moments, James cleared his throat and thought that he should, perhaps, say something more. “I overheard you speaking to my father about it two years ago, sir.”


Dumbledore smiled at this. “Purely accidental, I’m sure, James. Even the best intentioned find themselves in the humbling position of being forced to listen to other people’s conversations.”


“Yes, Professor,” James blushed and found himself staring down at his hands.


Sirius looked away, fighting the smile that was creeping across his face. He stared at the portraits of headmasters around the room instead and was immediately reminded of Grimmauld Place, where portraits of ancestors lined the hallways. He knew them each by name, too; he’d been forced to memorize the family tree, and any time he started to show the slightest deviation from the Black ways as a child, he’d been made to recite it just to make sure he knew where he came from. One of the former headmasters was his great, great grandfather; he gave Sirius a shameful glare from his portrait.


“And you think you are prepared to fight such a war, James?” Dumbledore asked. His tone was still pleasant, but he looked slightly older than he had just a few moments before.


“I believe so, sir,” James responded resolutely. He squared his shoulders as if to prove it and, following suit, the other three sat up a little straighter in their seats. “Professor, Sirius and I were accepted into the Ministry’s Auror program. I think that if the Ministry found us capable, surely we should be good enough for your underground group...”


“Ah, were you now!” exclaimed Dumbledore, looking from Sirius to James. “Congratulations! Though, I must wonder why, if you were accepted into the Ministry’s program, you wish to work for me? The members in the Order don’t receive pay, as I’m sure you probably overheard...”


“We didn’t accept the positions,” James told him quickly, choosing to ignore the comment about what he ‘overheard’. “We found out that Bartemius Crouch is letting the Aurors use Unforgivables.”


“Yes,” sighed Dumbledore now, disappointment etched upon his thin face. “I have heard the same from Alastor Moody. A very noble thing you did, turning the positions down. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it has caused the Ministry to change anything.”


James shrugged and bit his lip. “Please, sir... we want to do something.


Dumbledore looked thoughtful, and it was a moment before he responded. “I do not feel comfortable at all with letting children your age fight in this war,” he said slowly. Sirius and Peter both opened their mouths to protest, but Dumbledore held up a hand before either got a word out. “I am well aware of the fact that you are of age,” he said with a smile. “But you are still children. Inexperienced in this world. However, I have seen children do marvellous things, and I am in no position to turn away those who are eager to climb to the level of greatness. We must never underestimate the power of our youths.”


The four Marauders smiled triumphantly at each other. “Thank you, sir,” James said, unable to control the grin on his face.


Dumbledore looked somber. “I wish to stress upon you the dangers you are about to enter into. Some of what you will find yourselves up against are the things made of nightmares. Inferi - corpses brought back to life. The Unforgivables - you don’t know for sure if somebody is being controlled, sometimes not until it is too late. This is not to be taken lightly, and should you change your mind, please do not hesitate to let me know.”


“Understood, sir,” James said quickly, the grin fading to prove that he took this very seriously. “Thank you.”


“Your first meeting will take place in the Hog’s Head Inn. Please give the bartender the following password: Fawkes. You will then be taken to where we meet regularly. I trust I don’t have to tell you not to tell anybody the password, or the location of the meeting,” Dumbledore instructed with a nod of acknowledgement.


“Of course not, sir.”


“Very good, indeed. You will receive the date and time of our next meeting by my Patronus. Now, I believe Mr Lupin has someplace to be.”


Dumbledore stood to escort the four boys out of his office; they stood as well and Dumbledore shook each of their hands as though they were his equals. Feeling slightly elated at this small victory, the Marauders shuffled towards the door in a daze. “Oh, and James?” Dumbledore asked suddenly from behind them.


James turned in the doorway and peered at the headmaster searchingly.


“Be sure to tell your mother that this was your idea.”

Chapter 6: Moving Days
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . S I X
Moving Days




Today wasn’t like other days. It held a small glimmer of hope, in which people actually ventured outside. The Muggles were thankful that whatever terrible storm had taken over Britain seemed to have moved on. The wizards were terribly confused and wondered what was going on, where the Dementors had gone, and while they were glad to see them go, they knew something must be up. They refused to be lured into a false sense of security.


Today was sunny. It wasn’t even dark and foggy. It was like any normal summer day in late August. The leaves were even starting to show very slight hints of yellow in preparation for Autumn.


As such, Sirius saw the perfect day for riding his flying motorcycle. He had to go to Lily’s house; he’d promised James he’d be there to help her move. He had to keep his tires firmly on the ground until he got out of London. It wouldn’t be any good to let Muggles see him rising into the air, after all, and so he took off speeding through the crowded streets on the vintage bike.


He knew he was going too fast for downtown London, but he was a wizard, after all. It took only a wave of his wand to slow down a car here while he passed, to completely stop one there. (The Muggles didn’t really notice this, as it was so quick and subtle, and traffic wasn’t exactly cooperative to begin with. If they slowed down a little quicker than they had meant to, they simply shrugged it off as an error on their own part.)


Thus, he wasn’t surprised when he became aware of flashing blue and red lights behind him. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. In fact, he’d been pulled over the summer before when out riding with James. And had encountered Death Eaters at the same time, and they had both lived to tell the tale. But it still wasn’t very convenient, especially as he didn’t have a drivers license.


He waited a moment to be sure it was, in fact, him that the cops were after (it was). He made a turn and headed towards the country, and the flashing light followed. Sirius sighed and pulled his wand from his pocket, giving it a vague flick, and the car fell behind with a sputter.


Sirius chuckled to himself as he thought of the looks on the officers’ faces when they suddenly found themselves inexplicably out of petrol. And then he put on his sunglasses and, with a twist of his handlebars, he sped even faster, and then he was gone.






II.

Normally, Sirius wasn’t one to complain. He’d been raised not to, it wasn’t good manners. He never would have anticipated, however, physical labour in the sweltering summer heat. Vaguely, and with a tiny bit of guilt, he wished the Dementors would come back and cool things off.


He sighed and dropped his end of a dresser in the front yard. James, brought abruptly to a halt on the other end, peered around the giant, heavy furniture curiously.


“Sirius?” he said.


“It’s too bloody humid for this,” panted Sirius, pushing his sunglasses into his hair and using his shirt to mop his sweaty face. He stared grumpily back at James for a moment before flipping his sunglasses back over his eyes.


“Why can’t we use magic?” he wondered gloomily. James still held his end up patiently, waiting for Sirius to get back to work. And Sirius, for his part, lit a cigarette and leaned casually, yet very deliberately, against the dresser.


James sighed at this and dropped his end with a thud.


Sirius especially hated the hot, heavy, sticky way his hair was plastered to his forehead and cheeks, and especially on the back of his neck. (Though that was about the extent of his shaggy hair, so it wasn’t as bad on his neck as it was on his face.)


Lily quizzically raised her eyebrows at him and smiled patiently from where she was sorting through a box. “Well, you can if you like, Sirius, but then it's completely up to you to explain to the Ministry why the neighbourhood Muggles saw my furniture floating out the door...”


Sirius's shoulders slumped as another droplet of sweat trickled down his face; it seemed as if everyone in the neighbourhood was taking advantage of the rare lighter day. The man across the street was mowing his lawn; the old woman that lived next door was bent over her flower beds. And a couple of houses down, two children were splashing in a plastic swimming pool.


Sirius eyed them with jealousy as he took a last drag from the cigarette and then flicked it to the ground, crushing it with the toe of his boot.


“Ugh,” he groaned in despair, pushing himself off the dresser so he could turn around and lift it again. “Can we at least charm them to weigh less?” he grunted under his breath, bending down and gripping the bottom.


James, who would never admit to welcoming the short break, at least not in front of Lily, picked his end up again. He had, in fact, been attempting nonverbal, wandless magic in an effort to produce a cooling charm on himself without being noticed.


“Just shut up and lift, Pads,” he panted. They managed to walk the dresser rather awkwardly over to a moving van.


Once they dropped the dresser with a thud inside the van, Sirius whipped his sunglasses off and pointed a finger at James accusingly.


“You know,” he hissed, his voice unmistakably edged with annoyance. “This whole thing could have been made much easier if she'd just shrunk this sodding shit, tossed it in a bloody sack and went on her shagging way!”


James impatiently took his own glasses off to wipe sweat from the side of his nose, and he spoke as he cleaned them on his shirt. “Okay. All right. I know, Sirius, I do. But she was worried about the neighbours realizing they never saw her move her things out. It'd be bound to come up in conversation that she moved. Lily comes from a Muggle world, remember? And then there's Petunia...”


Sirius smirked and waved his hand dismissively before brushing it through his hair and holding it off his feverish forehead. “Who gives a flying rat's arse about Petunia...


“Lily does. Anyway, I'd rather not listen to her insults, either. They're bad enough just when she sees us, let alone sees us use magic...”


Sirius rolled his eyes and shook his head slightly, arms crossed over his chest. He could feel sweat soaking through the fabric of his shirt from the pressure and scowled, dropping his hands to his hips instead because he didn't want to look sweaty and unsightly. “She's damn lucky I like her. Do you know what my parents would do to me if they found me doing this? A Black, doing manual labour, and sweating like a pig, no less...”


James turned and strode out of the van, savouring a cold breeze that just rolled through along with a few raindrops. Wherever the Dementors had gone, it looked as if they were on their way back.


(That just figured, thought Sirius, now that the hot and heavy work was over.)


“Doesn't matter, they can't do a damn thing,” James called over his shoulder to Sirius. “Come on, you tit, just the bed and then we're done. Please. It's not that bad, really, Padfoot.”


“How's this stuff even getting to the flat?” asked Sirius with a resigned sigh, following his friend. Neither of them had a license, not that that stopped him from riding his motorcycle here today. Still, he doubted any of them would be able to handle driving the massive moving van through the streets of London. James didn't seem to think so either, for he snorted at the idea as they entered the house. Sirius focused him with a grumpy glare.


“Lily's father is going to drive it over. We're going to Apparate to Diagon Alley and walk, I suppose. It's not far from the Leaky Cauldron.”


Sirius raised his eyebrows as they climbed the stairs in the house. “Speak for yourself, walk,” he scoffed breathlessly, the effort of climbing the stairs mixed with the humidity and hard work getting to him. “I brought the bike over. It's too bloody suffocating to Apparate today. And the breeze I get on the bike will be a treat...” He closed his eyes dreamily for a moment, picturing the weightless feeling and the cold breeze through his hair.


When he opened them, James was watching him thoughtfully. “Don't be a dolt, Sirius,” he said finally, looking mildly jealous before turning into Lily's bedroom.


Sirius smirked playfully at the back of James's head in response and entered the room to see Lily bent over her bed frame, screwdriver in hand. Without wasting a second, he whipped his wand out and pointed it at the bed. It collapsed in a dismembered heap; Lily froze for a second, looking perplexedly at her screwdriver and trying to figure out what just happened, when she noticed the two boys standing in her doorway.


“Well,” she said with an air of authority. She pocketed the screwdriver and stood up, brushing her hands off. “That takes care of that...


James narrowed his eyes at Sirius, who smiled back innocently as he hurriedly pocketed the wand.


“What? There was nobody around...”


“Right, and you're lucky,” threatened James, shoving him playfully against the wall. “Come on, then, help me with these mattresses...”


It only took a few minutes to carry the mattresses and bed frame down to the moving van. They were blissfully light compared to the heavy dresser and desk. After pulling the doors shut, they followed Lily back into the house in search of her father.


“Lily?” called her mother from the kitchen. “Is James and his friend still here?”


Lily rolled her eyes and glanced apologetically at Sirius, calling as she headed towards the kitchen, “Sirius, Mum. Yes, we were looking for dad.”


“He's in the family room,” smiled Mrs Evans, wiping her hands on her apron, for she had been preparing dinner. “Well, would you like to stay for dinner? You know, a last meal sort of thing?”


Lily looked questioningly at James and Sirius. Lily's older sister, Petunia, who had been washing dishes, turned and looked horror struck at her mother, before turning an angry glare at Lily, James and Sirius. James's eyes flickered to Petunia's pale ones and then looked at Lily, giving his head a slight shake. Petunia was home for the summer from University and she seemed determined to make their lives miserable if they dared to be around her.


“Er, no, Mum, thank you. I think we might order a pizza in London,” answered Lily after reading her boyfriend's face. She avoided looking at her mother.


Mrs Evan's face fell and she cast her daughter a look of sadness. “Are you sure? Well, I understand. You have a lot of unpacking to do,” she observed dejectedly, turning back to slicing a tomato. Petunia looked smug, though Mrs Evans was oblivious to this.


“Can I invite Vernon, Mum?” she asked immediately.


“Oh,” said her mother distractedly, keeping her back turned. “Sure, Petunia, I suppose so.”


Lily smiled regretfully, watching her mother and sister interact, and waved the van keys in her hand. “Okay,” she announced with a sigh. “Well, we're off to the new flat! I'll be home this weekend for dinner, though!” She held her arms out expectantly as her mother turned to her once more, and, Mrs Evans' eyes watering, the two women embraced.


“I can't believe my youngest is moving out,” she warbled tearfully, pulling back to look at Lily's face. Then she released her daughter and dabbed at her eyes with her apron. “Take care of yourself, dear,” she said to her daughter. “Especially with all the strange things that have been happening lately...”


“I will,” Lily assured her cheerfully. “Goodbye,” she added one last time, turning to leave the kitchen.


“Goodbye,” smiled Mrs Evans. “Oh, and James, it was nice meeting you, dear. We've heard so much about you from Lily. We hope you'll accompany Lily in joining us for dinner now and then.”


James grinned. “It'd be a pleasure,” he told her, and he couldn't resist casting Petunia a smug look. She scowled back at him.


James and Sirius left the kitchen and trailed behind Lily, but not before they heard Petunia. “If it was me, Mum, I would have stayed for dinner.”


James half turned back in the doorway, his cheeks flushed in annoyance, but Sirius was quick to grab his arm and continue steering him after Lily, who, fortunately, hadn't heard her sister. “Order a pizza?” he asked her uncertainly, eager to create a distraction.


Lily turned back at him questioningly, but then realization dawned on her - wizards don't order pizzas, and as they'd never spent time in her home previously, this was new to them. “It's a Muggle thing,” she assured him. “You'll love it. They bring it right to your door and you don't even have to go out.”


Sirius tilted his head and thought about it for a moment before casting her a quizzical look. “But you could just summon it,” he countered, narrowing his eyes challengingly. “Or transfigure something. It's a right bit faster.”


Lily smirked as she walked into the family room; here it was, the age old argument with Sirius about magic versus Muggle ways. “Don't be ridiculous, Sirius, how would it look if somebody's pizza disappeared right off their table because I summoned one out of existence? It's not like conjuring an item... foods have to exist before you can make them appear out of nowhere... And as for Transfigured pizza, it tastes nothing like the real thing... and yes, I have tried it.”


Sirius raised his eyebrows humorously towards James, who seemed to have forgotten Petunia. James lifted an eyebrow in return at his friend - leave it to Lily to actually have tried something like that. But before he could tease her for it, his attention was caught by something else.


“What is that?” he asked excitedly. “Is that a television!”


Lily's father, who was slightly overweight and beginning to bald, turned at the exclamation. He was sitting on the sofa watching football, and clearly found it baffling that a boy James's age didn't recognize a television.


“You're James Pooter, then,” he said. Sirius snorted, and James grinned.


“Potter, Dad,” said Lily patiently, although her cheeks were tinged pink.


“I hear you're dating my little girl,” said Mr Brian Evans. He had a Scottish accent, though the rest of the family spoke with an English one. He sat forward on the couch and eyed James with concern. “I think I'd like to talk with you about that!”


James looked awkward and the grin slipped from his face. Sirius fidgeted, suddenly feeling like he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lily sighed impatiently.


“Really, Dad, another time. We're ready to go!”







III.

Remus used spellotape to close the last box in his bedroom, and then sat back to observe his work. All that was left in the room he'd had his entire life was the bed, the desk and the wardrobe. He wouldn't need any of those things in Sirius's flat - the spare bedroom was already furnished, and only required his personal touches.


He sank onto his stripped mattress and his eyes fell on his desk - he'd once carved his name on the top. He thought about going out to the kitchen for something to eat, but didn't feel he could face his mother.


She was upset that he was leaving, and didn't think he could handle his transformations on his own. Remus sighed; the woman had turned her back and walked away when he'd told her he was moving out. He'd thought she'd be happy and relieved. Instead she spent the last week in silence. After that he'd decided against telling her his new job was fighting for Dumbledore's secret group, the Order of the Phoenix.


She couldn't seem to get past the fact that he was an adult now, that he didn't desperately need her to nurse his cuts and bruises after transformations anymore. He wasn't the scared little boy who'd first boarded a scarlet train seven years earlier, but was now a skilled and confident wizard.


Several minutes passed, or maybe even an hour, before Remus looked at his watch (a gift he'd gotten a few months before for becoming of age). His friends would be arriving soon. He sighed and pushed himself off the bed, venturing out to the kitchen.


"Hey, Mum. Hallo," he said nervously, to get her attention.


His mother had been standing at the sink and sipping a cup of tea, staring blindly out the window. She turned quickly at the sound of his voice, nearly dropping her teacup.


"Are you all packed, then?" she asked, trying to keep her voice even and orderly.


Remus nodded, feeling awkward and not liking the way things were happening at all; he'd only seen his mother cry a handful of times, and it had been years since he'd last seen it.


"What's going to happen during the full moons, Remus?" she demanded suddenly, as if the question were a desperate last attempt to get him to stay. Remus knew her tone was only an attempt at regaining control over the situation once more.


"Mum, it's all taken care of, don't worry about it, please!" he responded, just as desperately, for he needed her to understand. "I'm an adult now," he added quietly, almost as an afterthought, and he felt ashamed that he had to point it out to her. He still felt like a child around her, and was well aware that she still viewed him as needing her constant help.


"I know you are, Remus," she said hoarsely, quickly turning towards the window again. Even just by her profile, he could see how her eyes suddenly watered, how the muted light from the overcast sky reflected in them.


He stepped forward and laid his rough hand over hers. "It will be fine, Mum, I swear. And I'll probably still be back to visit all the time."


Remus hadn't even seen his father sitting in the corner at the table, not until the man opened his mouth and said something. "Don't worry about your mother, son," he said with a smile. "We're proud of you."


Remus felt his cheeks flush as he glanced at the patient man. "Thank you. For all of it."


John Lupin smiled warmly and waved the thanks away. It was, after all, a parents job to do what he and his wife had done for Remus. "Do you need help with your things?"


Remus smiled wistfully, for he didn't need his parents' help even in this. "My friends should be here any minute to help, actually."


A sharp knocking suddenly sounded on the front door, followed by muted called of "Moooooony!"







IV.

It hadn’t even been a week since he’d helped Lily move into her new flat and now Sirius found himself helping Remus move as well. Fortunately, both James and Peter accompanied them and so far, it wasn’t going too terribly. They could Apparate here, at least, as he'd cheerfully pointed out to James earlier.


“I swear,” panted Peter, dropping tiredly onto the steps of Remus's cabin porch. “I’ve never done so much Apparating in my life. And I’m still not very good at it, mind.”


Sirius shrugged and sat down beside him, welcoming the break. Peter had a point; Apparition had a tendency to leave one slightly breathless, and to do it back and forth carrying boxes of Remus’s stuff was making him mildly light-headed. Nevertheless, he chose not to let it bother him - he was glad, however, that they hadn't been able to do it at Lily's house. He couldn't imagine Apparating multiple times in last week's heat. At least the days were dark and cool again, and not suffocatingly hot like it was when he helped Lily.


“It’s not Remus’s fault he lives out in Bumfuck,” he told Peter logically, and Peter cracked a smile. They couldn’t use the Muggle moving van again, not unless they wanted to be driving for hours and hours, and then drive for a few hours more. And as Remus didn’t have a fireplace, they couldn’t Floo his possessions over.


“You’re just lucky I haven't got a lot of junk,” came Remus’s amused voice from behind them. He'd just emerged from the house with a pitcher of iced pumpkin juice and four glasses for his friends.


“Ah,” groaned Sirius in agreement as he stretched his legs out in front of him and accepted a glass. “I know. I helped Prongs move Evans out on Saturday. Talk about a nightmare. It was actually warm that day.”


Remus placed the pitcher on the porch rail and crossed his arms, nodding knowingly and recalling the first warm day they’d had in weeks. “You know why, right?”


Sirius looked up quickly, his eyebrows lowered in dread. He had no idea why it was warmer, but judging by Remus's tone of voice, and the fact that there actually was a reason for such a thing at all, he automatically had a feeling it wasn’t good.


“Oh, please, Moony, not another science lesson,” groaned Peter, who was feeling quite dreadful from all the hard work.


Remus pursed his lips, but ignored the comment. “You don’t know, then,” he stated with a sigh, and resigned to explaining, he pushed away from the rail and sat down between Sirius and Peter.


“You mean something really did happen?” Peter's face glowed red after his earlier comment, and how terribly wrong he was. Sirius smirked.


“Yes, something quite big, in fact. Neither of you keep up with the Muggle news?” Remus asked, surprised as he looked back and forth between their two faces.


Sirius, beginning to lose patience, sputtered, “For fuck's sake, Moony, spit it out!” He didn't like waiting on edge to hear the bad news; neither did he enjoy having something he didn't know hang over his head. He simply wanted it done and over with.


“The Dementors have shifted,” Remus shrugged. “They moved back up north. In fact, they had a feeding on a Muggle village the other day. It was all over the Muggle news - they had to put about eight people in a mental hospital, and another twenty or so were completely traumatized, but they don’t even know why - you know how they can’t see them - they're now taking medication for depression. And now there’s probably another hundred Dementors spawned because of it.” He motioned vaguely at the gloom surrounding them now and sighed. “And of course, they came back once the Aurors drove them out of there...”


Sirius grimaced at the thought of the eight Muggles who had received the kiss, now sitting soul-less in a hospital. They would remain that way forever, and no Muggle doctor or psychiatrist would ever be able to figure out what was wrong with the unresponsive people.


“But... you’d think we would have heard about that in the Prophet,” murmured Peter in a weak voice.


“You’d think,” agreed Remus grimly.


“Yeah,” said Sirius now, remembering something Lily had said last weekend over pizza. “You’d think we would have heard about the Giant movement off in France as well, but there wasn’t a word of that, was there.”


“Giant movement?” asked Remus in dismay, turning his head swiftly to stare at Sirius.


Sirius threw a devilish grin back at him. “Salazar's beard, Remus, don’t you keep up with the wizarding news?” he mocked playfully, shoving Remus’s shoulder.


Remus shouldered back, smiling in spite of himself.


“Evans talked about it the other day over dinner,” Sirius enlightened him. “Happened a week or so ago, around the time of the full moon. She was all sorts of angry about it; I guess she saw a note about it in her boss's office, but he threw it in the rubbish bin and they went on printing some stupid gossip story by Skeeter instead.”


Remus’s brown eyes narrowed quickly. “Then the Prophet’s been covering things up,” he concluded thoughtfully. “I wonder...” he trailed off absently.


“What?” prompted Peter after a moment.


Remus seemed startled, he’d been so deep in thought. “Oh, nothing, I just... I wonder if, you know... if He has managed to take over the paper.”


“Voldemort?” asked Sirius in horror, thinking of James's girlfriend working there. “It would certainly make sense... he wouldn’t want his moves being printed in the papers, now, would he? But if he was in control of the papers, you’d think Evans would have, you know... said something, perhaps?”


Remus raised his eyebrow at Sirius. “Not if she didn’t know,” he lamented flatly. “Don’t forget what Dumbledore said, Padfoot. About people being Imperiused, and you’d never know it. Not until it was too late. Of course, it could just be that the Ministry doesn't want people to know how bad it's gotten...”


Sirius’s face fell, but before they could continue the conversation, James appeared with a crack on the porch behind them - he seemed disoriented for a moment, having just Disapparated from Sirius's flat. All three boys turned to look at him.


“Why am I doing all the work while you three wankers are having a chat?” he demanded after a second, when he realized his friends were sitting around.


“Wankers! Oi, it takes one to know one, Prongs,” announced Sirius devilishly.


Remus grinned guiltily and stood up and Sirius and Peter followed suit, forcing Remus’s theory from their minds. Peter practically tripped over his own feet in his hurry to hand James the last glass of pumpkin juice. There was no reason to worry James with the information, after all; if Lily was in any sort of danger, surely something would have happened by now.

Chapter 7: The Order of the Phoenix
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . S E V E N
The Order of the Phoenix




As the next two weeks slowly passed, the Marauders had taken to spending the majority of their time in Sirius's flat - to his dismay, it had become an unofficial meeting place. Remus lived there now, after all, and James might as well have for the amount of time he spent in the flat. It was only a short trip through the Floo for Peter to join them. Many conversations were had, both serious and playful. The newspaper was checked every night, and they were always wary of finding out about the death of a former classmate or loved one.


It was on such a lazy night that a ghostly figure flitted unexpectedly out of Sirius's fireplace, taking them all by surprise.


Remus had been reading a book, Sirius the Daily Prophet. The latter was on his feet in a flash at the visitor, wand out and ready. The newspaper fell to the ground, forgotten.


"Hang on," said Remus quickly before Sirius could get a hex off. He, too, was on his feet, though he rose much slower than Sirius had. "It's just a Patronus, Padfoot. I wouldn't..."


"Oh, right," interrupted Sirius impatiently, for he felt slightly foolish. He flopped back into his chair, looking pale. Then he silently chastised himself for being too paranoid, if that was even possible during times like these.


James had been lying on the floor, lazily transfiguring Sirius's walls to change colours. He had turned and looked towards the fireplace behind him at the Patronus's arrival, leaving the walls a gaudy shade of Chudley Canon orange. His face lit up at the sight of the bird, but whether that was from excitement or from the Patronus's glow, Sirius wasn't sure.


"Your first meeting," the phoenix said pointedly in Dumbledore's voice, "Tomorrow night, eight o'clock." And then it vanished in a wisp without offering any other information, or even any sort of farewell.


When it was gone, James gave a triumphant fist pump and grinned around at his friends. "Yes, finally! I was beginning to think Dumbledore was purposely not inviting us to meetings, the old bastard!"


"Really, James," said Remus, abashed at James's referral to their old headmaster.


"Maybe he is one, though," mused Peter thoughtfully.


Sirius shook his head and picked up his newspaper again, hiding his grim face behind it. This, he recognized, was the end of his carefree life as he knew it, at least for the foreseeable future. From this point on, it was meetings and battles and wars and deaths, and though he was closer to James than to anyone, he couldn't comprehend his best friend's excitement.


But then, James always did hate the Dark Arts, always talked about fighting them.


All was silent for a few moments, as wild ideas of heroic battles ran through James's head, and Sirius brooded in the corner. Peter was still pondering Dumbledore and any possibility of the old man having a father.


Suddenly, James checked his watch. "Right. Since you lot are boring, I think I'm going to visit Lily and tell her the good news."


Peter looked scandalized as James stood up. "We're not boring," he insisted defensively, but his argument died quickly as he glanced at Remus and Sirius, both of whom were staring stonily at James. He sighed. "Oh, blast it, then..." he said, quickly giving up his fight.


James rolled his eyes and gathered his cloak. "See you," he said, ruffling Sirius's hair as he passed.


"'careful," sighed Sirius, fighting to hold his head up against James's playful hand.


He hadn't had any luck in convincing James to stay indoors at night. In fact, James had expressed disappointment in Sirius's lack of enthusiasm for his adventures. But James hadn't seen what Sirius had seen, hadn't grown up in a house such as the Blacks'. Sirius wasn't sure if James fully grasped the cruelty, the heartlessness, the lack of mercy or a conscience in Voldemort's followers. James still acted as invincible and careless as he always had.


He grumbled incoherently as James shut the door behind him, and with a vague wave of his wand, the walls became Gryffindor red.


Peter remained sitting quietly for a moment, but it wasn't long before he stood as well and heaved a sigh of his own.


"I suppose I'll head home as well," he lamented glumly. "My mum'll have a fit if I'm out too late. And anyway, you guys are rather boring..." He walked towards the fireplace regretfully, not really wanting to go home. He had less than a week until he got his inheritance and could move out on his own.


"See you, Wormtail," said Sirius distractedly.


"Yeah, bye, Wormtail," added Remus. Neither looked up as Peter flooed home.






II.

It wasn't easy to see Hogsmeade in its current state: dark, dreary and barren. The only thing that any of the Marauders could think about as they walked through the village was all the wonderful memories they had had in the past years. Even in the most recent years, when Voldemort's presence had become more of a threat than it ever had, the town had never been this bad.


Tonight, as they walked wide-eyed through the streets under James's invisibility cloak, they were more than aware of the effects that Voldemort was having on people. Nobody wanted to be out and about; even the Three Broomsticks was empty. The temperature was as if it were winter, and when the breeze swept through the cobbled streets, it seemed to drop even further. Likewise, haunting whispers were all around them, seeming to tease them as if knowing the four boys were there. Sirius felt as if he should expect Voldemort's leering, pale face to emerge from the darkness at any moment.


James shook his head and pursed his lips, determination etched upon his face. Remus's face was full of sympathy and worry for the small village that they had so desperately loved as students. Sirius shook his hair out of his eyes and bit his lip, for once unsure of what to say or do as he looked in every direction - he was unable to hide the disappointment in his eyes at what the village had come to. Peter (who rode on James's shoulder in rat form, as there wasn't enough room for four young men under the cloak anymore) shivered visibly.


Once they were standing in front of the Hog's Head Inn, James pulled the cloak off and Peter crawled down his back to the ground, where he turned into himself again. James ruffled his black hair confidently and looked around at his friends. "Ready?"


"As we'll ever be," responded Sirius, his tone dark as he glanced over his shoulder. He didn't like being vulnerable in the dark and wished the invisibility cloak was still on. "Let's hurry inside, Prongs," he barked, repressing a shudder.


It was a relief when James pushed the heavy door open with a loud creak. The Marauders were surprised to find that here alone there were people outside of their homes. But then it occurred to them that it only made sense; it was typically the dodgy people that frequented this bar, and they probably weren't as bothered by the going-ons around Hogsmeade like other people were. Sirius gave a polite nod of greeting at the small cluster of patrons now staring. James immediately approached the bartender and whispered, out of the corner of his mouth, Fawkes.


The bartender, who had remarkable blue eyes considering how grungy he looked, nodded once and motioned for them to follow, and they very happily obliged, eager to get out of the customers' glares.


They were led into a very narrow hallway underneath a creaky staircase and then into a hidden room. The bartender glanced back to make sure nobody was following, and then bent down and lifted a trap door in the floor. The Marauders thanked him and descended the stairs.


They rounded the corner, barely had a chance to glimpse the group of people gathered there, barely registered the fact that a few of the faces were familiar to them, when they heard an incantation. "Petrificus Totalis!" and Remus suddenly went stiff as a board. He teetered for a moment, a mixed look of surprise and horror upon his face, and then he started to fall. Sirius caught his arm and dragged him upright again, his first thought being that this was a trap of some sort and they were all about to die.


James whipped his wand out in a flash and pointed it at the group of people, fury upon his face. "What are you playing at," he demanded angrily, moving his wand from Alastor Moody to Benjy Fenwick.


Sirius pushed Remus into Peter's arms and then quickly drew his own wand as well, ready to back his friend up if necessary, when it was suddenly ripped from his hand - it landed in the outstretched hand of Caradoc Dearborn and Sirius felt a wave of panic wash over him. All of the people in the room had their wands pointed at James now. Sirius reached behind, trying inconspicuously to tug Remus's wand out of his pocket and failing dismally.


"How did you get in here," barked Moody harshly, not wasting any time in interrogating the four. His wand was pointed at James; it was he who had cast the body-bind curse on Remus.


James swallowed loudly, still appearing mutinous. He looked quickly to Dumbledore - everything had occurred so fast, the elderly man hadn't a chance to stop it from happening.


"Ah, my new recruits!" Dumbledore quickly announced, clapping his hands for attention and then opening them grandly towards the Marauders. "Caradoc, please return Mr Black's wand to him. Alastor, it would be very much appreciated if you released Mr Lupin. The rest of you may lower your wands any time you see fit."


Slowly, the group began lowering their wands one by one. Caradoc Dearborn approached slowly and, looking rather self-conscious, offered Sirius his wand back without making eye contact. Remus became mobile again and brushed himself off, looking mildly terrified. Peter continued to cling to his arm, despite the fact that he no longer needed the support, but it occurred to Remus that perhaps Peter needed support now, and he didn't pull his arm away. Only when the rest of the wands dropped did James lower his own, breathing heavily as adrenaline coursed through his veins. Of course, a trained Auror such as Alastor Moody would be able to recognize Remus for what he was instantly; he should have figured this would happen.


"Very good," said Dumbledore at last. "Clearly, there are some things that will need to be explained. Please have a seat, boys," Dumbledore gestured towards the other Order members.


Reluctantly, the Marauders moved forward. Sirius was terribly aware of a low growling noise as they took their seats, and he turned to see Moody glaring at him, hunched over as if preparing to spring. Sirius blinked and turned away, determinedly staring at Dumbledore. Remus, however, wasn't at all prepared for having his secret in the open, the way people would react and fear and hate him. Remus's face flushed crimson and he stared at the floor, trying to sink low in his chair.


"I should have anticipated this," Dumbledore announced after a moment, standing at the front of the room and observing what was happening. "That was my mistake; I should have warned the Order members. Please accept my apologies, Remus, and you as well, Sirius."


Moody spoke up impatiently at this point. "Why are you bringing this type of filth in, Dumbledore," he growled angrily.


James pulled his wand again, but Dumbledore cleared his throat loudly. James hesitated before shoving it back into his pocket, looking flustered. He sulkily crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the wall behind Dumbledore, because he felt if he looked anywhere else he might do something rash.


"Please refrain from throwing insults until you can fully understand the situation," Dumbledore responded pleasantly.


"But a werewolf and a Black!" spat Moody, annoyed. The few Order members that hadn't appeared to understand what had gone on earlier, mainly Hagrid, Frank Longbottom, and Alice Hopper, let out audible gasps at the word werewolf. Hagrid peered at Remus now, a look of sheer delight upon his face.


"Ah, but this is your weakness, Alastor," Dumbledore said, holding up a finger. "You are too quick to judge. Yes, a werewolf, but only dangerous one night a month, and during that particular night, Remus carefully locks himself away in an abandoned building. He attended Hogwarts and in seven years, never harmed a student. Are we to deny him the same sort of treatment anyone else gets, over twelve nights a year? He is not like many werewolves, after all, hunting humans and turning them."


Alastor didn't seem convinced.


"I daresay you can see the benefits of having a werewolf working for the Order," said Dumbledore after a moment, and at this, Alastor's face lightened slightly as he considered possibilities.


"But a Black," he reminded Dumbledore now. "One Black is currently suspected of being a Death Eater! And one is married to a suspected Death Eater! And it is well known that Orion and Walburga support Voldemort's ideas!" He thumped his wooden leg into the floor angrily as he became worked up over Sirius's family.


Sirius frowned and played with the hem of his robes, for it gave him a reason to look down and not face the room. He felt James's arm come to rest behind him, on the back of his chair, as if in defiance to Moody's protests, as if to prove he stood behind Sirius. James knew how the words could cut like glass, right down to the bone. How horrible was it that a werewolf's presence could be justified and made to be okay, and his own could not? That they would accept a monster before him?


A sideways glance at Remus's downcast face and he immediately wanted to kick himself for thinking such a thing. He knew, they all knew, that there was nothing wrong with being a werewolf.


His heart felt as if it were being cleaved in two; perhaps he had become too spoiled when living under the protection of the Potter roof. He hadn't anticipated being treated this way, and he should have. James's arm was still on the back of his chair, and now Sirius felt James's fingers idly twirling a shaggy lock of his hair. He glanced at James, but James was watching Moody. Sirius looked the other way, at Peter, and it pained him slightly to see that Peter looked just as humiliated as he and Remus did.


"Sirius has never performed Dark magic," Dumbledore said now, a hint of impatience in his tone. "He was sorted into Gryffindor, not the Black's usual house of Slytherin. He ran away from home and lived with John and Evelyn Potter. If Jonathon Potter didn't think he was a dark wizard," said Dumbledore, looking hard at Moody, "I believe you should find it easy to trust this young man in the same way."


Moody didn't look overly pleased, but then, James had known he was like this. Years of service for the Ministry had taught him to act first, defend himself, and ask questions later. He nodded and said gruffly, "Very well."


The other Order members who'd appeared wary of Sirius and Remus now appeared convinced at Dumbledore's insistence, and dirty looks were no longer cast at the four friends.


"Very good," said Dumbledore. "Now that we have welcomed our newcomers most warmly, allow me to introduce them. This is John Potter's son, James. Clearly, you all know Sirius Black. We also have Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. These boys just completed their education in June and have approached me with the wish to help in the war. Young as they are, I believe you will find them more than capable. James and Sirius were the best in their year with little effort. Mister Lupin and Mister Pettigrew were not far behind."


He turned and addressed the Marauders now. "During the next few meetings, we will work on getting you caught up with what the Order is doing, as well as teach you what we know and how we act. Being able to produce a corporeal Patronus is essential, as it is how we communicate. You will be enlightened as to what has been happening behind enemy lines, things that the Daily Prophet are not telling the general public. You will come to understand Voldemort's intentions, for he is not simply mass murdering Muggleborns. He has an actual plan."


The Marauders nodded in understanding as Dumbledore continued. "You will also come to recognize the signs of Voldemort's work in the Muggle world. You will work on Occlumency, as well as learning to fight the Imperius Curse. These are things that you have not learned at Hogwarts. For today, however, I simply wanted you to sit in on a meeting and get caught up on what the others have been doing." With that, he turned to the rest of the Order. "Gideon and Fabian, I believe you have a report on the giant movement?"


The identical twins stood in unison and began to speak; Sirius barely recognized them. Gideon and Fabian Prewett had been seventh years when he was in his first. He could recall, however, how much James had admired the two back then. They were Quidditch Gods, proclaimed an eleven year old James. Sirius grinned and elbowed his friend fondly, indicating the innocent memories. James smiled back, his enthusiasm for the Prewett boys obviously long gone since he'd begun playing Quidditch himself.


The Prewett brothers sat down again when they were finished speaking, and Dumbledore was at the front of the room once more. "Very well," he stated gravely, before calling on several other people for discussion. Each person gave a report on various things that they had been keeping an eye on, though Sirius had a hard time concentrating on any of it. He was still a little bothered by their reception into the Order. Before he knew it, Dumbledore was smiling and concluding the meeting for that evening. People were standing now, putting on their travelling cloaks.


Suddenly, Frank and Alice were in front of them, Frank shaking James's hand enthusiastically. "Welcome aboard!" he stated wildly. Frank and Alice had graduated two years before the Marauders, but James had played on the Quidditch team with Frank and they had been decent friends. Alice smiled at Peter, whom she had dated before she left him for Frank. Peter, pink faced, glared at Frank and completely ignored Alice. Frank was looking apprehensively at Remus now.


"He won't bite," said James flatly. "You knew him for five years at Hogwarts, remember?"


Frank blushed. "Right. Sorry, Lupin, I know. I'm just a bit shocked is all. You hid it so well."


Remus gave him a small, guilty smile. What was one supposed to say to that?


"Well, that was always my intention," he finally admitted, trying to hide his shame. He accidentally dropped his wand with a clatter, and bent to pick it up, and then dropped it again. He blushed, and a moment later Peter placed it firmly in his hand.


He wasn't used to letting others in on his secret, and it was making him a nervous wreck. He wished the floor would open up and swallow him whole; he felt as if Frank were scrutinising him for hints of what he was.


Frank stared at him for a moment, and then turned to James. "Listen, Potter, Alice and I are getting married in a couple days. It's just going to be a small thing for friends and family... And by friends, I mean mainly just the Order members. I know you lot only just joined, but you're welcome to come too, we'd love to see you guys there."


"Oh yeah?" said James. He clapped Frank on the shoulder. "Well, congratulations, Longbottom. Of course we'll be there. Would it be all right if I brought my girlfriend?"


One of Frank's eyebrows shot up and he eyed James warily. "Who is it this time?"


James smirked. "Evans."


Both Frank's and Alice's eyes grew wide at this. "Holy shit!" blurted Frank. "Seriously?"


James looked at the pair as if they were crazy and smugly blew off their surprise. "Come on, everyone knew I'd get her eventually! But she'd love to see you guys."


"We'd love to have her come," interrupted Alice, who'd always gotten on extremely well with Lily in school, despite the two year gap in their ages. "What has she been up to these days?"


"Working for the Prophet," James said proudly.


"Oh?" asked Alice, quickly busying herself in a search for a spare invitation in her purse. She seemed to have nothing more to say on the success of one of her good school friends, and James frowned.


Frank's face, however, darkened; obviously, he was not fond of the paper's way of hiding things. "Good for her," was all he said, in a mumble, as Alice handed the invitation over. Things seemed suddenly awkward, and Frank spoke quickly, as if in a hurry to escape.


"Listen, we have to run. Still have a lot of work to do!" He wrapped his arm around Alice's waist and began to lead her away, calling over his shoulder with a hasty wave, "Have a good one!"


James turned the invitation over in his hands absently for a moment, raising his eyebrows at his friends. Peter was pursing his lips and looking rather annoyed.


"All right, Wormtail?" asked James, elbowing him and grinning. Peter had never quite gotten over Alice Hopper. She was one of the few girls that had given him a chance in the school, having not been blinded by his much cooler friends.


"All right," Peter grumbled. Under his breath, he added, hellish bloody harlot and Sirius laughed, and then Peter decided, "Let's get out of here."


"Agreed," said Remus hoarsely, pulling his ragged cloak on and quickly moving towards the door. He had just spotted Hagrid making his way excitedly towards them.






III.

They attended many more meetings in the dark, dingy basement of the Hog's Head Inn over the next two weeks. Dumbledore formally introduced them to Alastor Moody, rather than the testy group introduction they got in the Order.


Moody, they came to find out, was going to be training them. Dumbledore had explained that they would need to know defensive spells far beyond anything they had learned in school. And Moody was the best Auror the Ministry had since James's father had retired.


"Can't James's dad just teach us?" Sirius had begged of his former headmaster. He still didn't like the way Moody looked at him and Remus.


Moody looked just as displeased at his new task, taking a long, hard drink from his hip flask, and Sirius was quite sure he only did so to stop himself from saying something rotten.


Because James's parents had absolutely no idea what they were up to (for James was still too reluctant to tell them), Sirius's pleas had fallen flat. And as Dumbledore said, James's father had earned his retirement and did not need to spend his days performing complex spells once more.


And so their rigorous training began. Moody shot spells at each of them, unannounced, unexpected. They'd scrambled to defend themselves, and within a couple of days, his lesson of "Constant Vigilance!" was engraved within their minds.


(Sirius hated him. The feeling seemed mutual, for Moody seemed to target Sirius more than any of the others, and the spells he used against Sirius always seemed to be the harshest.


"You might have everyone else fooled, Black, but I'll be watching you," the man had growled gruffly at him during a moment when they were alone.


And Sirius wanted to attack the man, though he didn't ever dare.)


It was hard; Sirius felt alienated and alone. Peter and Remus were treated as any normal person would be by Moody, albeit with impatience. Sirius was used to people keeping their distance when they learned of his last name, and didn't expect anyone to ever want to be with him. But he never expected James to be treated like a king, simply because Moody had respect for his father. He never expected to have to watch that, all while he was being treated like dirt.


But it wasn't James's fault.


"This is brilliant," said James happily, causing shimmering gold string to shoot from his wand and tie around a bunch of chairs. He was keen on any spell to capture or halt suspects without resorting to Unforgivables to stop their escape.


"It is," agreed Sirius disinterestedly, watching Moody smile at James's success.


"Try it," James said, waving his wand again so that the string vanished around the chairs and Sirius could have a turn.


"No. Thank you."


"You all right?"


"Fine. I'm just..."


But he never had the chance to finish his sentence. The incantation "Ventermorsus!" was spat out, and before Sirius could even recognise the spell, a jet of silver light hit him square in the stomach. He doubled over, his insides feeling as if they were twisting in knots. He struggled to breathe, until the tension faded with a wave of Moody's wand. It was a harmless child's spell. It caught him off guard.


"Constant Vigilance, Black!" snapped Moody. "Stop chatting and get to work!"


Sirius straightened, stiffly, angrily, with his hand clutching his aching belly, and he automatically glanced at James.


James looked furious on his best friend's behalf. "It's all right," he muttered, trying to calm both himself and Sirius before either did anything stupid that he might later regret. He patted Sirius reassuringly on the back before his friend tensely moved away.


Peter struggled, was never fast enough, never came up with the correct responses. He complained that his mind just couldn't think that fast, that Moody was trying to make him look foolish. Sirius scoffed, for he rather thought Wormtail had it easy compared to the exercises he was being put through. That was when they got the lecture from an annoyed Alastor Moody on what, exactly, they were fighting for, because he seemed to think that both Sirius and Peter just didn't care enough to try.


"Blood traitor," growled Moody, pressing his finger into Sirius's chest. Sirius set his jaw and stared back, hard, but Moody was unaffected.


"Family of Muggle lovers," he continued, jabbing James in the chest as well.


"Werewolf. Half blood," he finished with Remus and Peter, respectively. Peter winced and rubbed the spot Moody had touched, scowling, while Remus flushed bright red and stared at the dirty wood floor.


Alastor, having reached the end of the line at Peter, walked back and stopped in front of James. "Speaking of Muggle lovers, aren't you dating a Muggleborn, Potter?"


James's eyes flashed dangerously in response, his fists clenching.


Then there came a day when Sirius and James were browsing through an old book for helpful spells. Moody had instructed them to read up on Patronuses, for that was what they would be learning next, though they'd been easily distracted by a page on jinxes. James had just pointed out something particularly interesting when Sirius saw movement from the corner of his eye.


His head lifted instantly and he raised his wand. "Protego!" he cried, and James let out a surprised Fuck! and jumped so high the book toppled from his lap.


But it worked. In a darkened corner stood Alastor Moody, his wand raised and a grim look on his face. The battle worn old man threw back his wand arm once more.


"Expelliarmus!" snarled Sirius, not wasting a moment.


Moody pulled out a spare wand, looking annoyed.


"Accio!" and the wand flew into Sirius's hand.


At that, Moody lifted his gnarled hands in surrender. "All right, Black," he grunted, sounding rather unhappy at losing this time, being under the ferocious glare of Sirius, beneath his pointed wand. "Right you are. Nice work. Remember that."


And it was the most glorifying day of Sirius's life.

Chapter 8: Weddings, Tea and Death Eaters
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . E I G H T
Weddings, Tea and Death Eaters




"Sweet Merlin on a cracker!" cried Peter, holding up the envelope with glee. "Finally! Finally!"


He ripped the note open, his heart hammering in his chest as the forgotten envelope fluttered to his bedroom floor. This was, after all, everything that he'd been waiting for the last three years (ever since his brother was born, ever since he became old enough to want to rebel). His escape, his freedom.


Yesterday was his eighteenth birthday. He was the youngest student in his class, being born in August. But it was finally here, had finally come. He was now of age both in the wizarding world and in the Muggle world where his father had come from. And that meant his inheritance was finally his.


The birthday had been a disaster. His friends had wanted him to come over to Sirius's flat, where they wished to celebrate. His mother had disagreed, stating that she'd spent hours baking a cake and Ben was very excited for the small family birthday party.


Begrudgingly, Peter had flooed to Sirius's flat just to tell his friends he couldn't stay, that he had to celebrate with his "sodding family." His friends had acted disappointed at first, but had loaded his arms with their gifts, and as he stepped into the fireplace to return home, had seemed perfectly happy to celebrate without him.


This had bothered Peter slightly. It didn't seem like they missed his absence at all, sometimes.


And then he'd suffered through a night alone with his mother and brother, a night like any other. Ben had painted him a picture that looked like nothing more than a giant blue and yellow blob with a booger in it. And his mother had given him a new shirt, the worst kind of shirt. The kind of shirt that had flowers printed all over it, and really wide, open sleeves.


Ben had stuck his finger in the frosting on the birthday cake. Multiple times, in fact, so that it was impossible to get a piece that hadn't been touched.


But this morning was the best of his life. He'd woken up to an official owl from Gringott's Bank, with a letter stating his father's account had been passed into his name, and a key to the vault.


The gold was his, and he thrust his fist into the air triumphantly. He jumped off the bed and pulled on a pair of jeans. He was going house hunting, right away. He'd even wear his new flower shirt, for nothing mattered, nothing could bother him in this one moment.






II.

“This doesn’t look like much of a place to have a wedding,” Sirius observed sceptically as he and his friends stared at the small house. He stubbornly stopped walking as he looked the place over.


James pushed him lightly from behind, urging him forward again. “What do you expect, Pads? A huge celebration? Might as well send Voldemort himself an invitation to something like that.”


Sirius shrugged and grinned at his best friend. “Let him come, then we can finish this all off and end it.”


James didn’t really find this to be funny, but for Sirius’s sake he smiled anyway. Sirius only had half his heart into the little joke; his own grin slipped from his face after a moment and he looked thoughtfully towards the house again.


It was quaint; certainly nothing large, but in a nice enough neighbourhood. There would be very few guests; any large gathering would definitely attract attention. As they stepped into the yard, they felt a slight ripple run through them. They immediately recognized protective spells.


“Well it looks like they’ve taken the appropriate security measures, at least,” said Remus approvingly.


Lily held onto James’s arm as they walked. “I’m sure,” she agreed with Remus. “Frank and Alice are both Aurors for the Ministry... Plus, working for Dumbledore... this place is probably as safe as Hogwarts right now.” She smiled reassuringly at James’s friends - it was hard to see everyone so hesitant and paranoid to take part in a celebratory gathering.


“Potter!” Frank’s loud voice rang out over the chatter of the small crowed as soon as they entered the house. He hurried to the door to greet them. “Sirius, Remus, Lily,” he said, smiling in welcome. “We’re so glad you could come. Er... Where is Pettigrew?”


“Couldn’t make it,” said James automatically. Peter had determinedly avoided all talk of this wedding, the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, the only girl in school who'd really given him a chance.


“He’s moving out of his mother’s house today,” supplied Remus.


“Ah,” Frank mused, rubbing his chin. “That’s a shame... that’s a shame. Alice will miss him. Well, everyone will be sitting in the living room,” he nodded his head towards a doorway. “It’s just a small wedding for friends, you know, but we’re definitely glad you could come.”


He seemed distracted and flustered and the four didn’t bother to ask him any questions; instead they thanked him and headed to the living room to find seats.


Sirius sighed. “I’m not looking forward to this,” he muttered under his breath. “I wish Wormtail was here...”


Having been forced to sit through several former weddings, funerals, dinner parties and meetings as a child in the Black household, he automatically dreaded something like this. He had only come because he was invited, and because he hadn’t wanted to be rude. He had a hard time shaking off the habits that had been pound into his head by his parents; today, despite his complaints, he was present, proper, and handsome. He'd even combed his shaggy hair to the side so it didn't hang in his eyes. Even though he was miserable at the thought of attending another wedding, he nevertheless had a smile on his face as he grumbled to himself, and he nodded in greeting to those who looked his way.


In all, it was stiff and uncomfortable and he hated it, being forced to appear proper when he really wasn't, not when half the people here knew of his reputation as a Marauder, anyway.


“I know,” James assured him soothingly with a bracing pat on his shoulder, perfectly aware of his friend’s misery. “But you know he couldn’t stand to watch his former girlfriend marry Frank. At least he had an excuse. We’ll have to stop by his new place afterwards, it’s not far from here, I don’t think...” he trailed away, racking his brain for the location of Peter’s new cottage. He swore Peter had told them where it was and he chastised himself now for not paying attention.


It was true that it was a small wedding - there were only five rows of seats stretched across the room. A narrow aisle ran through the middle. Most of the seats were occupied by the Longbottom and Hopper families; the few that remained were occupied by members of the Order. James, Lily, Sirius and Remus sat beside Gideon and Fabian Prewett in the fourth row. The twins were cracking jokes under their breath and welcomed the four friends warmly.


In fact, as the wedding began and Frank strode to the head of the room to wait for his new bride, Sirius had to force himself not to burst into laughter at the twins’ antics. They were passing notes - horrible, childish little drawings that were hilariously pathetic - their actions hidden by the row of people in front of them. Gideon leaned across his brother and whispered about Frank’s mother’s vulture hat in an amused tone. Fabian pointed out Alastor Moody, looking incredibly out of place in dress robes.


Sirius let out an involuntary snort that was thankfully masked by the sounds of scraping chairs as everyone stood up. It was time for Alice to make her debut - as she rounded the corner into the small room, her cheeks were flushed and she looked embarrassed at the attention, but thrilled that this was her day.


At the front of the room, Frank’s smile was bigger than ever as he watched her walk towards him. When she was near the Marauders’ row, her long train caught underneath somebody’s chair. She turned in horror, but Gideon was quick to reach down and lightly tug it free. She cast him a grateful look and walked on, and he nodded back, his face as red as his hair. When he turned back to his brother and new friends, he looked like he was desperately trying not to laugh. Fabian, sensing how close his brother was to completely losing it in the middle of the ceremony, thankfully didn't comment.


In all, it wasn’t as miserable as Sirius was expecting it to be, though this was largely thanks to the Prewett brothers keeping him in silent, hardly controllable stitches. He suspected that weddings weren’t really their thing, either, and they were only here because Frank and Alice were their friends. The ceremony itself passed quickly, barely ten minutes long as the priest gave a short speech and then led them through their vows.


Gideon and Fabian whistled and clapped loudly at the first kiss as a married couple, and Sirius was surprised they’d been paying attention enough to be aware of when it even happened. After the bride and groom left the room arm in arm, the crowd in the seats rose to follow.


“The reception will be down in the basement,” the priest announced over the sudden noise. Gideon and Fabian hurried to Frank’s mother in her vulture hat, offering their arms and huge smiles to escort her out of the room; she appeared quite pleased with them.


Sirius turned and grinned at James, Lily, and Remus. “That wasn’t so bad,” he voiced cheerfully.


“At least we got good seats,” said James, winking at him. Remus smiled knowingly as well but said nothing. Lily alone seemed to have missed out on the antics of the twins; she had been watching the wedding in awe, and she fanned her face with her hand to dry out her eyes. Despite her struggles, she’d gotten teary watching the people she’d practically grown up with get married - especially when she saw the proud looks on their families’ faces.


“Alice’s dress was lovely,” she said. She pulled out a tissue and dabbed lightly beneath her eyes now. “I wonder if this is their new home?”


James looked around quickly, taking in the barren house. “It very well could be,” he said. “That makes sense. Have the wedding here while its empty before they move their furniture in.”


“I want a big wedding when I get married,” Lily announced, her green eyes sparkling. “It’s such a special day.”


James looked alarmed. “Right,” he agreed quickly. “Except that big weddings are kind of dangerous, at least as long as Voldemort is around.” Several people overheard him as they fought their way through the crowd, and all of them looked his way in horror. “Er... You-Know-Who,” he corrected himself automatically.


Lily seemed oblivious of the looks of those around them. She sighed in disappointment. “Yeah, I know. He ruins our lives in so many different ways, doesn’t he?”


“Well, this is nice enough,” Remus assured her warmly. “The wedding turned out great, even if it was small.”


Lily smiled back - she’d always been fond of Remus - they’d worked together as Prefects for three years in school and she’d gotten to know him quite well, even before she got to know James and his other friends. When Severus Snape had voiced his ‘suspicions’ about Remus to her in their fifth year, it was a true mark of how much she liked her fellow Prefect that she brushed her former best friend’s warnings away and never said anything about it to anyone else.


“That’s true. I wouldn’t mind a small wedding if it was like this.” She smiled at James as they headed down the stairs, swept along with the small crowd. “What about you, James, any preference?”


James raised his eyebrows and gave her a quizzical look. “Why, Evans,” he said in a mock tone. “Are you implying that you’d like to marry me?”


Sirius and Remus burst into identical smiles and Lily slapped James upside the arm with her handbag. “Now you’re just putting words in my mouth, Potter.”






III.

It was late in the evening when the fireplace in the comfortable Godric’s Hollow cottage flared to life suddenly with green flame, and a split second later, Sirius spun into view. He threw his hands out, catching his balance with the help of the walls, and then launched himself through the opening. He didn’t forget to take off his shoes, knowing that James’s mother would scold him to no end if he tracked coal and dirt onto her floors.


Eve Potter hurried into the sitting room, wiping her hands on an apron. She had heard his arrival, and when she caught sight of her adopted son, her face lit up. “Sirius! What a surprise! I’m so glad you came, it’s been much too long since we’ve seen you.” And she hurried forward to give him a hug as he shook his black hair out of his face.


“Have you been baking?” he asked her, flashing a charming grin. “Something smells magnificent.”


She blushed at his compliment. “I was making a trifle,” she stated, taking his hand and leading him into the kitchen. Sirius didn’t dare grip her hand back too firmly; she was elderly and was appearing fragile. James often complained about his parents’ age, but Sirius knew his friend was just worried for their health and safety.


He sniffed the air appreciatively as they entered the kitchen - the aroma was much stronger in here - and sat down on a stool at the counter.


“How was the Longbottom wedding?” asked Eve Potter as she turned towards the dirty dishes.


Sirius immediately got to his feet and hurried to help with the cleaning. “It was small. But very nice. James should be here soon, he was just taking Lily home first. I’ve got that,” he added, taking a bowl from her and turning the water on in the sink. He shrugged off his cloak and rolled up his sleeves, deaf to the sound of another person entering the room.


“I thought I heard your arrival, Sirius,” came a hoarse, yet still very strong, voice from behind him. Sirius turned quickly in greeting, wiping his wet hands on a towel rather than on his dress robes, and smiled at John Potter.


“Indeed, Mr Potter.”


The old man was completely bald now with huge thick glasses. He wore a cap to cover the baldness, however, and despite his age, he still stood tall and looked lean. Yet his movements were slow and so Sirius hurried to him instead of forcing the old man to walk most of the way. He grabbed John’s hand and squeezed as hard as he dared, shaking it, and John glared at him threateningly. Sirius glared back, trying to hide the grin that desperately fought to show itself.


After a moment, John relaxed and released Sirius’s hand. “That was a good one,” he stated proudly, and then sat down at one of the stools. “Whenever you shake somebody’s hand, you do it firm. Squeeze as hard as you can, try to hurt them. You don’t back down, you look them square in the face, and don’t smile. That’s how they know you’re not a man to be messed with.”


Sirius nodded once in acknowledgment. “Yes, sir.” They exchanged handshakes every time he came over, but as he enjoyed it, he never pointed this out to anyone and nobody ever said anything about it.


He decided not to mention how his handshake had positively frightened Mr Crouch months earlier.


John Potter had accomplished quite a lot in his long life. He’d been head Auror at the Ministry of Magic from his mid forties to his retirement. He was rich, successful, and independent. Even looking frail now in his old age, he still stood tall and gave off an intimidating presence. When Sirius had first moved into the cottage, John had taken him into his small office and pulled out a wooden drawer in his file cabinet. In it were several certificates for outstanding achievements while at Hogwarts, for outstanding scores on N.E.W.T.s, for outstanding scores while testing to become an Auror. He had rewards from the Ministry for some of the work he’d done, various recognitions, and even an Order of Merlin.


“I want you to get every single one of these rewards,” he had told Sirius firmly.


“Okay,” Sirius had said, scared out of his mind. John Potter was the type of person who's very presence - the pride, the accomplishments, the way he looked at a person, and his inner goodness - radiated and very subtly demanded respect.


The sound of rocks and pebbles hitting stone in the next room announced James’s arrival. Sirius hurried to the sitting room to greet his friend, and Eve followed him. John remained at the stool, knowing he wouldn’t get there in time anyway.


“Hey, Pads,” James greeted Sirius as he stepped out of the fireplace. He pulled his cloak off and handed it to his best friend. Sirius tossed it over his shoulder as James opened his arms and walked towards his mother. “Hi, mum.”


“Did you have a good time?” asked Eve, lightly brushing her lips across his cheek. He settled his arm gently across her shoulder, threw his other across Sirius's, and lead them back into the kitchen.


“Something smells good,” he remarked. “And I had a great time.”


“Lily?” asked Eve - she’d heard a ton of James’s girlfriend, but had yet to meet the girl. She loved her already though, just by hearing the way her son spoke of her.


“Lily looked wonderful. She had a good time too.”


Sirius dropped James’s cloak on top of his own on the counter.


“Dad,” James greeted, removing his arm from his mother and extending a hand towards his father for the traditional handshake.


“James!” Eve gasped suddenly, horrified. Everyone turned to her in alarm and she pointed a shaking hand at James’s feet. “You didn’t take your shoes off! You know better! If you tracked soot on my carpets...”


James rolled his eyes. “For crying out loud,” he muttered, bending over to undo his laces.


“Sirius took his off!” His mother insisted, and she pointed at Sirius’s stocking feet to prove it. Sirius smiled smugly at James and James rolled his eyes. “He’s respectful!”


This is why I spend most of my time at Sirius’s and not here, mum!” James announced huffily, but it was clear he was only joking. He straightened again, a shoe in each hand, and he held them up for her to see. “There, happy?” and then he promptly set them down on the counter.


“James!”


James burst into laughter and grabbed his shoes again, jogging back into the sitting room to toss them beside the fireplace with Sirius’s. Sirius grinned at his retreating back and then stole glances at each of James’s parents. Eve Potter was smiling in spite of herself and John was packing his pipe, choosing not to comment but looking amused all the same. He loved this family - every time he was with them, the house was full of love and laughter - a huge contrast from the Black home that he’d left.


When James re-entered the room, Eve served them all trifle and tea and they sat around, chatting and eating. Neither Sirius nor James could deny second helpings, and John, who grumpily claimed he didn’t like it, had a second helping as well.


“James,” said Eve, now that all their plates were stacked on the counter. “You said you had something you want to talk to us about.” She settled back with her hands folded gracefully in her lap and looked expectantly at her son. Sirius was struck with the sudden feeling that she was expecting a wedding announcement.


“Er...” James said. He pulled his napkin from his lap and wiped his mouth with it. “Right. Well, Mum... Dad...” he looked hesitantly at Sirius, begging for help. And Sirius, knowing it’d probably be easier for their parents to hear it from him than from their true son, obliged.


“Mr Potter,” he started, turning towards the man of the house. He’d never called James’s parents ‘mum and dad,’ though he thought of them that way. He was much too reserved and cautious, especially after the emotional pain he’d suffered from his own parents. “Dumbledore spoke to you about a secret Order he was forming a coupe years ago. I think you even helped out with a few of the meetings.”


John nodded, a grim smile on his face. He enjoyed conversations about the wars - he’d been a part of the Grindelwald days, after all, and he’d done all he could for the war against Voldemort as well until his age forced him into retirement.


Eve’s face immediately fell as she peered questioningly at Sirius, her eyes begging him to look at her instead of her husband so that she could search him for the truth. “Sirius? What does that have to do with anything?”


Her begging worked - he quickly turned his head to her instead, and his grey eyes looked steadily into her hazel ones. “We joined the Order to help fight,” he said cautiously, even gently.


Her eyes immediately became watery. “You what?” she practically whispered, horrified. “I thought you were going to be Aurors!”


“We are Aurors, more or less... unofficially...” Sirius trailed off, feeling horrible for causing the look on her face. He had to look away then, look down at his hands instead to hide his shame at upsetting her.


“But Dumbledore’s Order fights much more dangerously!” she wailed now, covering her face with her napkin.


“Mum,” interrupted James, as he knew Sirius would say no more on the subject. “We tried for the Ministry, but they’re using the Unforgivables on their captured suspects! Somebody was murdered with the Killing Curse while we were being interviewed! So I - we- left. We’ve already been to a few meetings...”


“Excuse me,” said James’s mother, suddenly standing so fast that both James and Sirius hastily reached an arm out to steady the old woman. She blew her nose and then walked purposely into the hallway and up the stairs.


James, looking thoroughly miserable, glanced at his father. John very calmly took a last drink of his tea and then met his sons eye. “That is a very noble thing you are doing, boys. They’re using Unforgivables at the Ministry now?”


James grimaced and slowly nodded his head. Sirius drained his own tea cup and then swirled the dregs, setting the cup upside down its saucer and folding his arms behind his head, completely relaxed.


John shook his head in disappointment as he pushed himself out of his chair. “Times have changed,” he muttered. “Excuse me, I need to check on your mother.” And then he, too, was climbing the stairs.


Sirius and James looked at each other from across the table, Sirius still reclined in his chair and James sitting with his shoulders slumped. “I guess that’s that,” James sighed after a moment.


“Don’t take it so hard, Prongs,” reassured Sirius as he stretched luxuriously.


James shrugged jerkily and they sat in silence for a few minutes, neither feeling the need to say anything because they were perfectly capable of reading each other’s expressions, movements and feelings. James finally stood and took his and his father’s tea cups to the sink. “Wish they’d sell this place,” he grumbled as he set them on the counter.


“You grew up here,” pointed out Sirius, looking completely comfortable in his chair.


“I know, but they’re getting too old to climb the stairs to bed and stuff, and doing the yard work. They’d be better off getting a nice flat or something.”


“Nah,” Sirius disagreed, looking around the walls fondly. “I love this house. They’re not that old, really, James... Mipsy does the yard work...” he trailed off feebly. Mipsy was the house elf.


They both knew the Potters were weak with age and probably wouldn’t last more than a few more years, but Sirius didn’t want to dwell on that and he wished James wouldn’t either.


James grunted and walked back to the table, leaning on the back of Sirius’s chair and patting his shoulder. Thanks for trying, Sirius deciphered in his touch. But when James spoke, all he said was “What’s your teacup say?”


Sirius flipped it over to check. “Danger, an enemy, trials and suffering.”


James smirked and reached over Sirius’s shoulder to take the cup and saucer from him, carrying both to the sink. “Think I can go home with you tonight?” he asked after a moment. “I can’t handle her crying every time she looks at me for the next month. I’ll kip on the couch.”


“You don’t even have to ask, Prongs, you know that.”


James cast him a grateful smile.






IV.

Loud banging was hammering against Sirius's front door. He groaned and rolled over, pawing at his bedside table for his wand.


He knew they shouldn't have stayed up so late drinking.


"Lumos," he whispered groggily, trying to hold the wand up to his watch. He missed a few times in his exhaustion, and he had to blink blearily before his eyes were clear enough to register the numbers.


"Bloody..." he groaned, struggling to untangle himself from the sheets, "Arse o'clock..."


Sirius stumbled, tripping over the bed sheets that were now in a lump on the floor, but with the grace of a cat, he recovered and pulled on the dress robes he'd shed on the floor only hours before. He made his way out of the bedroom and into the short, dark hall.


Remus was snoring in the bedroom next door. Sirius walked on.


In the living room, on the couch, James stirred but didn't wake. Sirius ran his hand through his hair as he yanked open the front door. Outside stood two tall, black robed figures. Their hoods were pulled over their heads and their faces were cast in shadow.


Death Eaters.


Sirius's heart skipped a beat, for he realised now, as he patted his pockets, that he'd left his wand in his bedroom. He looked up, his mouth falling open in panic as he faced his shadowed killers. He was going to die.


They stepped in, one of them grabbing his dress robes and using them to haul him up against a wall; the other crammed a hand over Sirius's mouth.


"No," Sirius struggled against the iron fist, but was quickly muffled. He kicked his feet, and a knee was suddenly pressed into his thigh to restrain him.


James sat up suddenly in the living room. "Padfoot?" he asked in the dark. Sirius could hardly breath and his eyes widened, rolling towards his friend. James had his face in his hands; apparently he had drunk even more than Sirius. Pinching the bridge of his nose, James peered at them through the dark.


"Shit," he slurred, grabbing his wand and standing unsteadily. He stumbled forward as Sirius swallowed. "Shit."


The Death Eaters turned at his voice, surprised to find that Sirius had company. One of the men turned back to Sirius and quickly reached his hand up to remove his hood just as James unsteadily raised his wand.


"Lesson number one," the Death Eater said, and Sirius swore, even as he was about to die, that he could detect a bit of humour laced in the voice. The fingers found the black fabric and the hood was yanked off, revealing a shaggy mess of red hair.


Gideon smiled at Sirius and removed his hand from where it had been clamped over his face to prevent his yelling. "Don't just open the door, you dolt. It could be anybody." He turned to James, who looked appropriately confused, leaning against a wall and staring with glassy eyes. "And you can lower your wand, Potter."


James obediently let his wand fall.


It was a good thing that Fabian still held Sirius pressed threateningly into the wall, or else he might have simply collapsed. Gideon reached over and pulled Fabian's hood back as well. There was a glint in Fabian's eye, and he didn't smile as his brother did. He released his grip and Sirius slumped halfway down the wall before finding his footing and catching himself.


"...the hell are you lot doing here?" James demanded after a moment. His voice sounded agitated, or perhaps it was just the alcohol. He had to have been just as tired as Sirius was. "You gave us quite a scare. Oh, right, and there's also that little bit about it being late, or did you know?"


Gideon shook his head, eyes twinkling, and gave an innocent shrug and a chuckle. "You're bladdered," he laughed, as if having the time of his life.


James couldn't help it, for Gideon's smile was contagious. He grinned back drunkenly, and then after a moment reached over, gripped Sirius's hand and unsteadily hauled him to his feet.


"We've got Orders from Dumbledore," said Fabian, clearly not in the mood for playing games as his twin brother was. "The Hogs Head bartender reported seeing Death Eaters in Hogsmeade today. Said they Apparated into town, raised a little hell, and took off on foot for the mountains. Dumbledore believes they may have a meeting place set up somewhere, and he wants us to try to find it."


Sirius yawned. It had been nothing but late nights ever since joining Dumbledore's group. Order meetings sometimes didn't end until early morning. It had made defending himself against Alastor Moody very trying. All he wanted to do was curl up in bed. He reached over and patted Gideon's shoulder. "Good luck," he murmured, turning to walk back to his room.


Fabian caught his arm. "Not so fast, Black. You lot are going with us."


"What for?"


"To learn a lesson," said Fabian simply. Sirius scowled, but James looked excited. They sobered up quite quickly at the news that they were going out. "Get your friends. We're leaving in five minutes."






V.

Peter leaned tiredly against Sirius and rubbed his bloodshot eyes. Sirius himself was too exhausted to even notice the extra weight. He could do little more than shiver and yawn; his head ached terribly and he felt nauseous with a hangover. Remus stood on his other side, huddled in his thin, shabby robes and a scarf.


Above them, the Dementors whispered. Remus's brown eyes turned upwards worriedly.


Gideon and Fabian ignored the haunting sounds on the wind. They crouched at the edge of the road. On one side, the forest extended into the distance. Sirius knew it was the very same forest that they'd been forbidden to visit during their school years, the very same forest they'd explored many times anyway. On the other side was a stile and a rocky hill. It rose steeply, and the top was lost from sight because of sharp rocks jutting out high above them. Sirius's grey eyes studied them with a feeling of dread.


James leaned over the brothers, hands on his knees, very intent on what they were doing.


"They went this way," said Fabian after a moment.


"How do you know?" asked Remus, trying not to shiver.


Gideon was studying a flattened pinecone, and he held it up for Remus to see. "You'll learn to recognise the signs," he said brightly, as if following Death Eaters at two in the morning was a brilliant adventure.


"Come closer," said Fabian, shifting to the side. They all crowded around, feeling slightly stupid. Six men crowded around a silly little gap in the wooden fence. Sirius heaved a sigh as he studied the fence, pretending to know what he was supposed to be looking at.


Fabian reached out a finger and pointed to the side of the fence, the gap that would let them through. Sirius saw thin, delicate strands of a spider's web, glittering with moisture. It was broken, clearly having been built across the stile. Somebody had walked through it.


Fabian looked triumphant as he straightened and stepped through the gap in the fence. Without a word, the others followed. They began to climb the rocks, Gideon and Fabian pointing out how they could tell where others had been. A small pile of loose rock chips on the ground meant that they had fallen recently, likely disturbed by somebody climbing them. It was in that way that they picked their way carefully up the side of the steep hill.


"You look like a right lout, Pads," James panted, tired and exhausted as they climbed. He glanced at Sirius and a lopsided grin cracked his face. "Why are you wearing your dress robes?"


"Naff off," growled Sirius.


Gideon let loose a laugh and looked back to see Sirius's clothing. "Those are the same ones you wore to the wedding today," he said easily.


Sirius scowled, for clearly, they weren't going to let it go. "Grabbed them off the floor. I didn't have time to put anything better on," he muttered. He didn't find the matter of his attire amusing in the slightest. He was freezing cold and indisputably miserable.


It only took a short while before Fabian, who was in the lead, suddenly cursed and ducked down. Hearts thundering at his sudden fright, the others immediately dropped to the ground as well. A few tense moments passed, but then Fabian inched forward slightly.


"I saw a cave up there," he whispered back to them. The familiar grin cracked his serious face. "Scared the fuck out of me. But I don't think anyone's there anymore."


Remus frowned at Fabian, the wind blowing his sandy hair off his forehead. "Why not?" he asked, trying absorb as much information as possible. "I mean, how can you tell?"


"Do you smell that?" Gideon asked, responding for his brother. They all sniffed the air.


"Firewood," answered Sirius.


"Very good, Black," Gideon nodded, and then jerked his head toward the cave. "But no smoke. The fire's out. They left only recently, but nobody's there anymore. Not unless they decided to put their fire out for no reason and are sitting in the dark."


Sirius felt ridiculous lying in the dirt in his dress robes. He sat up and tried to refrain from rolling his eyes at James. Apparently, Gideon and Fabian decided it was safe enough, and they too quickly got to their feet and brushed their robes off. Fabian lit his wand and crept towards the dark mouth of the cave.


"Empty," he confirmed.


Sirius shivered in the icy wind. "Just cracking," he muttered. He'd been dragged out of bed to freeze his arse off for nothing. He said so aloud, and Peter sluggishly nodded his agreement. James shoved his hands in his pockets and scuffed his feet at the ground, deciding to remain silent.


(He didn't find it to be a waste of time at all, but he was too good of a friend to say so aloud, to tell Sirius he was wrong in front of everyone.)


"Not for nothing," Gideon disagreed, in an annoyingly upbeat voice. "We now know to keep an eye on this place. If they use it for a hideout again, we'll know, and we'll catch them. Mission accomplished," he said with a grin.


Sirius shrugged irritably. All he wanted was his warm bed.


"Hey," said Fabian, slugging his shoulder as Gideon began to place spells on the cave. "You'd be surprised how handy it is to know this stuff. Just wait. You'll see. Dumbledore's got more planned for you lot yet."

Chapter 9: The Daily Prophet
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . N I N E
The Daily Prophet




Dorcas Meadows looked grimly at the four young men standing before her, their wands clutched in their hands. They had a look of readiness about them, with straight faces and hard eyes and set jaws that made them look older than they should. She knew the four had done the rounds with a few of the other members, learning bits and pieces of things that might help them survive.


Now it was her turn, for Albus Dumbledore had asked her to teach them how to cast a Patronus.


Part of her was quite irritated, for she'd have rather been out spying on somebody, or surreptitiously standing guard around the Ministry, than sitting here playing teacher to a bunch of teenagers (not that she was much older herself).


But part of her was curious. She wanted to know if the newest Order members had what it took. She wanted to know if they really belonged here, if they were as skilled as Dumbledore claimed they were, or if they would simply fall under pressure when their first battle came.


Dorcas herself took the Order very seriously. Her father had been killed rather brutally by Death Eaters four years earlier. Back then, the world didn't even know they were called Death Eaters, or that they were part of an organised group for one lone, dark man. But she'd vowed to get her revenge, for her father was very dear to her.


Since then, she'd personally captured five wizards suspected of Dark Magic. She sometimes went too far, and had almost been killed several times. But, defending herself, she'd done her fair share of killing as well. And she kept count.


She lived for the Order. It was the only family she had, and as she surveyed the Marauders standing before her, she wondered if she'd be able to accept them as part of that family.


Without a word, she flicked her wand and an eagle soared out of it. Four pairs of eyes followed its flight around the room before it faded.


"The Patronus," she stated, and then she faltered, feeling slightly awkward. Why couldn't she be off with Benjy Fenwick tonight, who was keeping an eye on the Muggle Prime Minister? Why couldn't she be away with Gideon and Fabian, who were off in France keeping track of the giants' travels?


She swallowed and tried again. "The Patronus Charm is one of the most important spells you'll ever learn here in the Order. As you no doubt know by now, it's what we use to communicate. It's much faster than owls, and there is no risk of being intercepted."


They stared at her, taking in her words. She felt herself blush; she never was a people person. She wished she could be at the Ministry with Edgar Bones tonight.


James smiled. "Relax," he said simply, and Dorcas realised how perceptive he was then. She blushed even more furiously, and offered a small smile.


"I'm sorry," she murmured. The four mumbled their reassurances, shifting their weight and waiting for the lesson to continue.


"Right, then. You should have learned in Hogwarts that the Patronus can also fend off Dementors, which, obviously, are a pretty big problem right now."


They were friendly. They were cocky, yes, but they were friendly, and she warmed to them quickly as she spoke. She explained about the happy thoughts, the incantation and all the practise needed before the Patronus actually took on a shape. And they smiled warmly, they didn't laugh at her nervousness, and they seemed to take the Order as seriously as she did.


Perhaps they'd fit into this little make-shift family after all.







II.

The weeks went on, through September. The Marauders found themselves in the basement of the Hog's Head Inn at least three nights a week. Sometimes, even when there was no meeting, it was just them and one other Order member who'd shown up to teach them something new.


They worked in earnest, knowing the dangers they'd soon face, and wanting to be as prepared as possible. They learned spells worthy of the most senior of Aurors, and it was becoming rare for Alastor Moody to be able to catch them off guard at all. They made record time, Sirius and James picking up on the spells quickly, and in Sirius's flat continuing the practise, helping Remus and Peter achieve them as well.


They were tired, exhausted, often not getting home until after two in the morning. But they were proud as well; they had something to live and fight for, and tired as they were, they looked forward to the next meeting.


The next Order meeting was never too far off.


This one was the usual sort of meeting, in which various members, all of them assigned to their own specific task, informed the group of any changes that had happened. Others gave suggestions as to how they could stop certain scenarios, and musings were made of what might happen next.


Sirius came to learn that the musings were incredibly accurate. He wondered how they could guess so easily, how they always seemed to know just what the next move might be. How they were ready to defend against it before it even began. Left and right, the Order was thwarting Death Eater attacks - attacks of terrorism all around the country. They could now even control the tornadoes that ravaged through Britain.


The Marauders all felt rather useless, for while they were there to hear of all the hero stories, they had yet to have their own. When, finally, the meeting ended, everyone began to leave, bidding them goodbye and good luck. Peter frowned, wondering what kind of terrible lesson this might be that they would even need luck at all.


Tonight, Caradoc Dearborn remained with them, smiling widely.


"Dumbledore has asked me to teach you to defend yourselves against Legilimens," he said, rolling up his sleeves as if readying himself to dig into the dirty work.


James raised his eyebrows. "Occlumensy," he said. "How are you supposed to learn it?"


"Practise," replied Caradoc. "You've only got to keep your mind clear, so that the Legilimens can't break into your thoughts and emotions." He leaned forward a bit. "If you get really good, you can even lie and create illusions in your mind and the Legilimens won't know it from the truth."


Peter raised an eyebrow. "I can see why that'd be useful," he said, astounded.


Caradoc nodded, and tipped his chair back on two legs, surveying them.


"How are you supposed to clear your mind?" asked Sirius, feeling suspicious. He didn't like it already.


Caradoc shrugged. "I don't know; it's hard to explain. You just sit and search for the calm within. It's helpful if you close your eyes at first. Some people like to focus on something to keep distracting thoughts at bay. Right, then. Who wants to go first?" he asked brightly.


"Are you a Legilimens?" asked Remus doubtfully. He exchanged glances with Sirius. Neither of them thought there was a calmness within any of them. They were nothing but a mess of opinions, thoughts, worries and fears. They were monsters and demons, and they had secrets.


Caradoc nodded. "Not very good yet, mind you. But I've been studying it for the last twelve years. I worked for the Ministry."


"I'll go first," said James.






III.

Sirius hated Legilimens.


He didn't think he would ever look Caradoc Dearborn in the eye again, just to try to give the latter a harder time of trying to delve into his mind. He wasn't very good at clearing it, and he rather thought he thought too much to have any sort of success.


Caradoc had easily broken through his weak concentration on the Marauders Map.


Caradoc had uncovered things within him that he had wanted to keep forgotten and buried. He was but a passenger as Caradoc drove him through his own memories, and he hated seeing everything. Sirius hated seeing Grimmauld Place again, hated that Caradoc now knew the dark ways of how his family lived, or the things they never showed him; Caradoc now saw the way his mother had yelled at him, or the evil ways in which Bellatrix had always teased. And now Caradoc could see Regulus, all of the shattered hopes that Sirius had held for his younger brother.


Regulus... he'd failed him. He'd failed...


Caradoc abruptly pulled out of the memory. He seemed to keep his eyes down as well, unwilling to face Sirius. With a slight pat on Sirius's shoulder, he moved on to train one of the others instead, and Sirius ended up practising his Patronus on his own.


(After what he'd just gone through, he folded dismally; his spell casting was terribly lacking. Not even a feeble wisp would emerge from his wand, as Sirius was much too bitter, the memories now fresh in his mind, to possibly think of anything happy.


He flung his wand across the room and buried his face in his hands; his friends watched apprehensively but knew better than to bother him. And Caradoc started up a hearty conversation about the Kenmare Kestrels as Sirius heaved a miserable sigh.)


It was nothing against Caradoc, thought Sirius. He was a decent enough fellow; he had a gentle way of teaching and talking, and when he smiled it could light up the entire room. The young man hadn't seemed judgemental in the slightest after viewing Sirius's most personal thoughts. He was no older than his late thirties at the very most; he was single, he was a massive Quidditch fan, and he was never seen without his hat.


If he had discovered from any of them that they were illegal Animagi, he never said a word.


But Sirius hated Legilimens.






IV.

Lily Evans wrapped her cloak around herself as she walked through Diagon Alley one fine morning. It was early October, and by now all of the crisp leaves from the trees blew about on the cobbled roads. They swirled mischievously around her feet and she took great pleasure in the familiar crunching sound as she walked. It was enough, almost, to distract her from the sheer emptiness of the normally busy street.


It wasn’t quite dark outside, but it did look as if a thunderstorm were approaching. She glared upwards at times as she walked, silently blaming the Dementors for four long months of gloom.


Still, despite the weather and the ominous presence of Dementors, the redhead was positively glowing. She’d been doing a lot of thinking since attending the wedding of Frank and Alice. Much to her embarrassment, she found herself planning her own wedding. And where, when she was younger, her groom’s face was nothing but a blur, these days it was the endearingly obnoxious face of James Potter.


Occasionally, she wondered how she had gotten here. She'd been unreachable throughout Hogwarts, in early years focusing on Quidditch and having fun, and in later on her studies and Prefect duties. Only a few most unlikely boys had ever gotten past her no-nonsense facade.


One was her former best friend, Severus Snape, who had taught her everything she knew about the wizarding world and had stood by her side no matter what. One was Sirius Black, who was the only one who wanted nothing from her, but understood her better than she understood herself. And the last was the very boy she’d despised for six years (and a good part of the seventh), the boy who had mercilessly teased Snape, who had teased her as well. How was he the one she could now see herself marrying? One cocky, fun-loving boy, always in her thoughts and dreams.


She smiled at the irony. Potter, a name that had always rolled off her tongue with disgust, annoyance, impatience. The name that caused a feeling of dread and dislike whenever she heard it. The name that would one day be hers as well.


These thoughts of bliss were enough to push her frustrations towards The Daily Prophet from her mind, and those frustrations were many.


For weeks she’d been obsessing over work, and how it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as it had been when she’d first started the job. She’d seen the inner workings of the paper, and it was nothing wonderful anymore. In fact, it was quite shameful, because she knew of certain things that were being kept hidden from the public, and she wasn’t at all keen on the paper’s way of handling things.


She pondered quitting the job more than once. As an apprentice, she wasn’t receiving pay yet. It really wouldn’t matter if she did quit, she reasoned, for she would be no worse off - aside from never having an opportunity to work in journalism again.


Unfortunately, Lily understood fully now what James had gone through at the Ministry when his own dream job had been a disappointment. The paper felt deceitful and one-sided, printing only the good news, and never letting the citizens properly know of the looming threat of Voldemort.


Still, despite her qualms with the job, she continued to go into the office every morning. Part of it was for the friends she had made there. And part of it was that she hoped, one day, to publish stories that actually made a difference, actually meant something, actually touched or helped people.


(She'd always been a writer; she'd written down short stories and poems since the day she learned to write.


In fact, she and Petunia had been lectured by their parents many times late at night for telling stories and giggling in the dark rather than going to sleep.)


For now, the paper’s main feature was Rita Skeeter’s gossip column. Lily sighed at the thought, because she hated Rita Skeeter and her sodding quill. The woman flounced around the office like a queen, and it was only because she flirted with the bosses so much, thought Lily scathingly, that the woman could even get anything published at all. Her stories certainly weren't anything spectacular, anyway.


What Lily hated the most was the looks of disdain Skeeter bestowed upon anyone she deemed lower than herself (which happened to be, in fact, anyone who wasn’t male).


Sometimes she couldn't help but feel guilty for not being more like her boyfriend. For not standing up for what she knew was right - for not dropping the paper the instant it began to seem so traitorous. She couldn't let go of her dream the way James could. But then she would remind herself that James hadn't really given up what he wanted at all - he had simply found a different way to approach it. And she had yet to discover an alternative for herself.


But for now there were no thoughts of Rita or the paper or anything else, for that matter. It was just Lily, and the Autumn leaves, and sweet, small weddings, and James Potter.






V.

“Good morning,” said a bright young man as Lily took her seat next to him in the crowded office.


(All of the apprentices were shoved into the tiny room, each with their own desk, so that everything was cluttered and there was very little walking space. There was also a very old printing press in the room, which had, on more than one occasion, sprayed them all with ink.)


Lily smiled back as she took off her cloak and hung it delicately over the back of her chair. “Hallo, Harry,” she said pleasantly in return. “How are you?”


Harry was, quite possibly, one of the best friends Lily had had in quite a while. After ending her relationship with Severus, she’d been left floundering among several friends (and a boyfriend) but no single best friend. They’d been sitting beside each other for several hours a day for the past few months now. It had allowed for much time, amid complaints about the company and Rita Skeeter, for a friendship to blossom.


“All right,” Harry spared her a grin and then turned to a sheet of parchment in his hand.


He wasn’t like the other wizards. Harry was sick with a Muggle disease. He’d been receiving treatment at St. Mungo’s, but even their magic wasn’t far enough along to do much more than stop it from progressing. There was no cure, but at least he wasn’t getting worse, either, thanks to advancements in modern Potion-making. He was in his early thirties, and he was already completely bald from the treatments.


(Harry wasn't fussed, however. He was pleased his disease was halted in its tracks, and he hoped that in the future, new progressions in the medical field could remove it from his body altogether.)


“What about you, then?” he pressed as she sat down.


“Oh, you know,” sighed Lily, who still felt bliss from her thoughtful walk. “Same old,” she said with a smile, as if her boring and unchanging schedule was quite wonderful.


“Oh?” he asked knowingly. “You seem curiously pleasant today.”


Lily smirked at him. “You act like I’m not pleasant every day,” she suggested teasingly.


Harry blushed. But then his eyes suddenly widened. “You shagged James, didn’t you?” he demanded. He had only met James a couple of times, on the rare occasion James stopped in to take Lily to lunch.


At his guess, several co-workers turned their heads in interest.


“Harry! I did not,” she insisted with a blush. She moved quickly on, to stop him from dwelling on the possibility, especially in case he might picture her naked, romping in bed.


(She was, in fact, saving herself for her wedding night, though that was her little secret. Not even James knew.


He had bothered her on many occasions, asking whether she'd ever shagged Snape and looking scared to death at the idea. Her response was usually the Silencing Spell.)


“I was at a friend’s wedding last week,” she confided. “Only now I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot. Getting married, that is.”


“Oh.”


“You sound disappointed,” she mused.


Harry shrugged and turned away from her, concentrating instead on the work in front of him. “So disgustingly innocent,” he muttered under his breath as his quill scratched away. “It’s rather boring, really. This is the Seventies, Lily Evans. Sex and drugs, and Rock and Roll!”


Lily was torn between looking embarrassed and looking guilty. It didn’t matter, for he did not look her way again, and didn’t see her expression anyway.


For all his kind manners and illness fighting heart, Harry did have a wilder side. When he was Lily’s age, he’d liked to have fun, liked to party, and had even travelled the world. Though Lily enjoyed his friendship, there were, sometimes, occasions where she really wasn’t sure what to say or do around him.


This was one of those times, so she sighed and turned to her work for the day as well.


“By the way,” Harry said after a moment, mentioned it almost as an afterthought.


Lily looked up at him, and he gave the piece he was editing one last quick glance over before he finally met her eye.


“You’ll want to watch yourself today,” he said. He leaned in closer, as if divulging a secret.


Lily automatically leaned closer as well.


“There’s some strange thing’s been going on around here,” he said under his breath.


“How so?” asked Lily curiously.


Harry looked around the room and then nodded his head towards a girl in the corner. She was a few years older than Lily was, and she was concentrating very hard on typesetting a page for the printing press. “Liandra’s been acting very strange,” suggested Harry.


And Lily immediately knew he was right, just by the sheer fact that the girl was actually working. Liandra was, in fact, quite possibly the laziest person Lily had ever met (and even more unmotivated than Peter). She spent the majority of her days primping, doing her nails, fixing her hair, and writing love letters to her boyfriend. It was only in the last couple hours of a workday that she would really get anything done, simply to avoid getting into trouble.


But now the girl was dutifully working away, first thing in the morning, and hadn’t even been distracted by their brief chat about shagging.


“She’s working,” Lily uttered her observations in surprise, her bright green eyes flickering briefly to her friend before returning to stare at Liandra. “And she didn't even look up when you mentioned 'shagging'!”


Harry nodded quickly. “Yes!” he said, pleased she’d caught on so quickly. “First thing this morning, she was called into the boss’s office, and when she came back, she became entirely responsible! It was absolute madness!”


Lily smiled at his sarcasm and mock wonder. “Perhaps she finally got a talking to, then, and if so, then it was well earned.”


“Perhaps,” he agreed. “Or, perhaps, it was something else.”


By now, Liandra had finished the typesetting project and moved on - she was going through a stack of papers. Lily had never seen anyone typeset so quickly in her four months at the Prophet. The girl seemed almost robotic.


“I said ‘hallo’ to her when she passed my desk,” said Harry now. “She didn’t even look at me, the little blight. And look at her, she doesn’t even look up or anything. You’d think she’d know we were talking about her with all the staring you were doing...”


Lily blushed and quickly looked away. Her fingers ruffled the edges of her own work for a moment.


“Do you suppose she’s been Confunded, then?” asked she, after a delicate moment. “Maybe they’re trying to force her to work harder.”


Harry just shrugged and returned to his own work. “Don’t know,” he said as he picked up his quill. “I’m just saying, is all, Lily. I think that something is up, and I thought I’d warn you.”


Lily’s eyes lingered on Harry for a moment. He was rubbing his bald head as he worked, crouched over his parchment, and she had to fight off a smile because in that moment, he reminded her of James (who always seemed to have one hand absently running through his hair).


“All right, then,” she said, turning back to her own work.


She heeded his warning, and kept an observant eye out all day long. She watched the bosses carefully as the morning slowly passed, and indeed, she began to notice something different about them. Just like Liandra, they seemed to do everything automatically, with little thought or consideration. Neither of them spoke much at all, except to call in other apprentices for brief meetings.


All of the apprentices came back with somber looks on their faces, and none of them would respond when Lily asked them what was wrong. She was beginning to worry, slightly, and she and Harry exchanged grim smiles to hide their fears.


“Confidential,” was the response Harry got when he asked somebody who passed.


“Blimey,” said Harry under his breath.


When new news came in suggesting that the wild, outcast werewolves were serving Voldemort, there wasn’t even deliberation as to whether or not it should be printed. Lily thought it should be front page news. The bosses simply smiled wanly, and then crumpled the note up and tossed it in the rubbish bin.


That was it, the moment when Lily decided something was definitely wrong, and also the moment in which she realized she was going to have to leave her job, for she couldn’t stand the way the news was covered up any longer. Not when things were getting dangerous, when werewolves were on the move, when vampires were increasing their numbers, Dementors were attacking Muggle villages, and giants were coming down from the mountains.


And so, with both those thoughts floating about her head, she was becoming quite stressed by the time noon rolled around and she took her lunch break.


Eager to get out of the office and away from everything, she hurried out the door. The cold, late Autumn breeze was swift to greet her, and it was refreshing. She savoured it as she hurried down the Alley, although she found herself glancing back over her shoulder with each leaf that crinkled. She was becoming paranoid.


She fervently wished she had James’s invisibility cloak - he’d offered it to her, but she’d declined. Curse herself and her stupid self pride and independence.


Despite her worries, she made it to Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour safely and she even allowed herself a slight chuckle at her paranoia. The bells jingled merrily as she pushed open the door.


“Hello, Miss Evans,” Florean greeted with a smile. There were only two other customers in the parlour and they both looked up warily. Lily smiled carefully at them before turning to the shop owner.


“Hi, Florean,” she responded warmly. “I’ll have the usual.” She laid a few sickles on the glass counter and then sat down at a table, pulling out a book and hoping to drown her fears in reading. After a few minutes, Florean brought over a deli sandwich.


“Enjoy,” he told her merrily, turning away and heading behind the counter again.


It was no use, however. She couldn’t concentrate on her book, and her appetite slowly left her as she pondered the day so far. She really wanted nothing more than to go home at this point, go home and curl up on the couch in front of the fireplace and gossip with Lucy about anything and everything. Or even better, curl up with James in her old bedroom and chat about nothing at all.


She wondered, then, what he was doing now. Probably hanging around Sirius’s old flat. She wished he’d have come around to meet her for lunch today. Today of all days, she really could have used his company.


Lily placed her bookmark back in the book and put it away with a sigh. She nibbled idly at her sandwich as she thought of James. She hoped he was all right, wherever he was - she couldn’t help but think of all the times at Hogwarts, all the trouble he’d gotten into, all the dangerous dares and bets just to show off.


Of course, those thoughts, mingled with her paranoia from the day, set her off on a long train of worry. Where was he, anyway? It had been quite a while since he’d come around to see her for lunch. Surely he was due. He should have been here today, in fact, by her reasoning, and he hadn’t shown up, and something must definitely be wrong...


She felt suddenly too ill and anxious to eat anymore, and she pushed the sandwich away.


“Is everything all right, Miss Evans?” asked Florean from behind the counter.


“Fine, thank you,” she managed to choke out. Feeling slightly guilty, she tried not to let him see how much of the sandwich would be wasted as she dumped it in the trash and hurried from the shop. She hurried back down the empty street, trying to look nonchalant, though every dried leaf that scraped across the ground in the wind caused a slight panic to erupt within her.


She felt like she was going to snap by the time she was back in the office. She would rather be here, however, with work and her bosses to worry her, rather than sitting alone in a restaurant worrying about James. There was nothing as horrible as fearing for a loved one’s life and she determinedly pushed James from her mind as she concentrated on work once more. He was extremely talented and intelligent, she reminded herself firmly. He could take care of himself. And anyway, he probably had Sirius with him, who was also talented and smart. And Sirius, she knew, would die before he let anything happen to James.


It wasn’t working, however. Nothing could quench her paranoia after her observances this morning; she couldn’t believe how much it had grown as she’d walked alone through Diagon Alley. It was now uncontrollable and she wanted nothing more than to go home and owl James.


It was only when her boss emerged from his office and called a name that Lily was able to stop worrying about James.


“Harry Faucett,” the boss announced flatly, his voice intimidating. Harry looked over at Lily in alarm and Lily looked just as horrified back at him.


“Yes, sir?” asked Harry after the briefest hesitation, his blue eyes flickering to Lily’s every couple seconds.


“I’d like to see you in my office, please.” The boss turned around and walked out of sight again, not waiting around to see if Harry would oblige or not - he knew Harry would.


Harry remained seated for a moment. “Well,” he said, feeling Lily’s eyes on him. “I’ll be back, I suppose.” And he stood up.


“Yes, I suppose,” agreed Lily. They all came back. But would he still be Harry when he returned?


But he was already manoeuvring through the desks in the room, and then he was leaving, and the office door closed behind him with an ominous click.


The seconds ticked by agonizingly slow. Lily gave up on any hope of getting any work done; instead she stared at the door, waiting for Harry to emerge again. Despite the fact that it seemed like an hour had gone by, it was only a couple of minutes before the door opened and Harry walked rigidly out of it. He sat down at his desk without glancing at Lily.


“What happened?” she asked him urgently in a whisper.


He looked startled at being addressed. “Hmm? Oh. Nothing, Lily, he just had a few questions. Apparently they’ve been speaking to all of the interns, deciding who to take on as a full time employee, who did the best work. Things like that. That explains Liandra this morning - see how she suddenly started working hard? She doesn’t want to be let go. I was wrong about this morning, Lily. I expect you’ll be called in soon enough.” And then he went back to his work without another word.


Lily eyed him apprehensively before slowly turning to face the report on her desk. Something was definitely wrong; Harry was never so stiff and focused. He was right, however; barely a few minutes had passed before the door opened again and the boss emerged, uttering the words she dreaded hearing.


“Lily Evans.”


Despite her suspicions that something was wrong with Harry, she cast him a look of panic. He caught it and gave her an encouraging nod, urging her towards the man. She couldn’t see any way out of this except to run from the building, screaming, which she was reluctant to do considering her awareness of how paranoid she’d been all day. Perhaps she was wrong about everything.


She got up slowly and followed the man into the office.


“Have a seat, Miss Evans,” the boss told her in a deep voice as the door closed behind her. He motioned to a chair in front of his desk and she took it nervously.


“We’ve been meeting with all of our prospective new employees today, Miss Evans, as I’m sure you have noticed.”


“Yes, sir,” replied Lily faintly. Maybe it was the truth after all, what Harry had claimed.


“You’re an excellent journalist, Miss Evans,” said the boss now, trying to lure her in. It wouldn’t work; she was still on her guard, even if she was now doubting what for and if it was necessary. “We’d like to offer you a position to work with us full time for a salary, if you are willing to accept?”


“I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” Lily told him with fake cheer; she couldn’t help but feel flattered in spite of her suspicions. She forced herself not to dwell on it and lose her focus.


“Very well. Look this way, please.”


It was coming, she knew it immediately. He was about to do something. But it was not for nothing that Lily had been very gifted at Charms. Her wand was especially excellent for them, and her charms had always been the most powerful in the class. She’d mastered nonverbal spells with ease, and she was fully prepared. She’d been paranoid about this all day, after all.


Protego! she thought strongly, her hand clenched around the wand in her pocket. She felt the magical shield erupt around her just as she heard the boss’s incantation.


Imperio!

Chapter 10: Aftermath
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T E N
Aftermath




Lily felt a hard shove as the spell slammed against her protective charm, but she was left untouched and in her own mind. The boss seemed suddenly light-headed; he held a hand to his forehead as if in pain and he seemed slightly flustered.


"Miss Evans?" he asked after a second, still pressing his palm against his forehead. He seemed completely dazed and the look he gave Lily was one of confusion and panic. Whatever spell he had been under appeared to be broken, though she couldn't be sure. She definitely wasn't sticking around to find out, not after the man had attacked her.


Lily didn't even have time to breathe a sigh of relief before she took the opportunity to run. She bolted from the office, snatched her bag from her desk, and left, sparing only a glance of concern for Harry. She prayed nothing would happen to him, though she knew now that he was already under the Imperius Curse.


Harry merely gave her a blank look, and he seemed about to call out to her when she passed, but she avoided his gaze and pushed through the door.


Why would her boss try to use an Unforgivable on her? On all of them?


Once she was outside, she wrung her hands for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Normally, after being attacked in the Muggle word, she would run straight to her parents and then they'd probably go to the police. But her parents weren't even a part of this world. She didn't want to act like a damsel in distress, but she couldn't think of a single other person to go to than her boyfriend, James.


Having never been to James's house before, Apparating there would be difficult. She didn't even know where it was, other than in the town of Godric's Hollow. But Sirius knew, and she knew exactly where he lived - it was only about two blocks away, James had insisted on showing her when she moved in case of emergency, and now she was glad he'd thought of it. Without another thought, she quickly turned and Disapparated.


She could trust Sirius, she knew, with almost anything. He knew her; he'd easily read her like a book while at school. He saw through everything she tried to portray. While she played with tadpoles and giggled with friends in first year, he'd seen in her the same look of rejection that was often in his own eyes. And it wasn't long before she'd confided in him about her sister, Petunia. He'd watched her fall in love with Severus Snape, watched as she was crushed by his choices, but never said a word.


And though she'd always found James atrocious and irritating throughout their school years, she'd always left Sirius out when telling his best friend off. And for his part, Sirius hadn't defended James to her, hadn't tried to get them together, hadn't ever gotten angry when she'd snapped.


(Sirius knew better than anyone how James could be, and never faulted Lily for her impatience with him. Lily, however, was certain that Sirius never let anyone but herself talk to James as she had.


James never let anyone but her get away with talking to him like that, either.)


She appeared again in a narrow, vacant alley in London. Leaning against a brick wall underneath the emergency staircase was Sirius’s familiar vintage motorcycle. It was hidden well with a concealment charm, though she was close enough to be able to see the vague outline - it was only noticeable to those who were looking for it. To her left, beyond rubbish bins and more emergency staircases, the alley opened up into the busy street.


Perhaps James was here, anyway. He'd been spending most of his time in Sirius's flat ever since telling his parents about the Order.


Lily hurried towards the crowds, walking around to the front of the building - the entrance. The flat was above a dry cleaners and a narrow door nestled between the shop and it’s neighbour led up a narrow staircase to the top floor. Lily wrenched it open without knocking and hurried up it. She did, at least, have the decency to stop and rap loudly on the door to his actual flat before bursting inside.


"Sirius?"


She didn't see him right away - he was sitting at a small table in the kitchen, in the dim corner. He stood up immediately when she entered, and the sudden noise and movement was what drew her attention to him. He had been smoking, and he quickly rested the cigarette in an ashtray.


"Evans," he uttered, surprised to see her. His voice was flooded with relief, as if he'd been expecting to be attacked when she'd burst in, as if he were paranoid of Death Eaters coming after him. She couldn't blame him; he was certainly related to at least one. "Lily, I meant," he added apologetically.


"Is James here?" she asked him urgently, and she wrung her hands nervously, torn between a sickening feeling of hope at seeing her boyfriend, and her terror over what had happened at work. She looked around expectantly, but James was nowhere to be seen. Her hands dropped to her sides.


Sirius sat back down slowly, almost cautiously as he eyed her. "He was, he left about an hour ago..."


"Where did he go?"


Sirius shrugged and picked his cigarette up again. He leaned back in his chair and surveyed her as he took a long drag. "Home, I expect."


"Can you Floo me there? I've never been there, I don't know where to go!"


It dawned on him then that she was distraught and anxious - he had, at first, wondered if this was really Lily, or if it was a disguise. She'd never been one to simply burst into somebody's flat unannounced, and he'd never seen her acting so uncomfortable around him. But there was clearly something wrong here. He agreeably stood up again, stuck the cigarette back in his mouth, and manoeuvred around the table.


"Are you all right?" he asked as he led her towards the fireplace.


"No," she answered truthfully, and to her embarrassment her voice shook a little.


Sirius stopped, turned and glanced at her, grey eyes narrowed and cigarette hanging from his mouth. He reached a hand up, plucked it from his lips and flicked ashes to the floor before demanding, "What do you mean?"


Lily immediately crossed her arms protectively over her chest, though one hand flew to her face. She covered her mouth, and even her nose, and closed her eyes for a moment, inhaling deeply - she hadn't meant to lay her burdens on him, and his rough concern overwhelmed her and threatened to crumble her wall. She was hardly hanging onto it in her frightened, shocked state, but she swallowed and insisted.


"I'm fine, I mean, nothing happened."


Sirius huffed indignantly, smoke escaping from his mouth. He could read her like a book, and she knew it. She must have thought he was stupid to deny she was troubled to his face. He reached over and pulled her hand down so that she couldn't cover her weak expression anymore.


"Liar," he snarled, leaning in so his face was close to hers. A challenge - an attempt at intimidating her into telling him what had happened.


It was the first time any of them had given any indication that something was wrong in the war, and it scared him, and he didn't know how to deal with it - he was practically crawling out of his skin with the fact that something was wrong and she wouldn't relieve his anxieties and tell him what.


She stared at him icily, standing her ground. She knew how he could get when he was worried or angry or upset - he was reckless and dangerous, but she wasn't afraid. "I just want to see James," she insisted firmly, holding his icy grey glare. "And don't blow your cancer smoke in my face!"


After a moment in which each was too stubborn to back down, he finally grunted and flung his cigarette to the floor, grinding his foot over it to put it out. Annoyed, he impatiently grabbed her arm and dragged her over to the fireplace. When she was in, he snatched a handful of Floo powder and threw it at her feet. Green flame immediately flared all around her. He leaned his head in and firmly announced James's address before pulling out again just before she disappeared. He took a moment to calm himself, resting his forehead against the cool bricks, before stepping in with a handful of Floo powder himself.


When he arrived in the Potters' sitting room, it was to find the house in chaos. James's mother was standing in the distance near the foyer, pacing slightly with tears in her eyes. Mr Potter was standing with his wand out, and it was aimed at Lily, who was petrified on the floor.


Sirius immediately bent over and dragged her upright. Her green eyes, the only part of her body able to move, were filled with panic. "It's just Lily!" he quickly threw at James's parents. At that, Mrs Potter broke down in relief, leaning against the wall for support. Mr Potter quickly removed the curse and placed one hand over his wildly beating heart, and Lily went limp in Sirius's arms.


He struggled to support her slight frame, and uttered a curse as he attempted to pat her back in what he hoped was a comforting manner. He looked towards Mr Potter, mildly annoyed at how things were happening. "James is here?"


"He's in his room," said the elderly man, shuffling back to his chair and looking bewildered at the sudden excitement.


"Thanks," said Sirius as he dragged Lily towards the foyer and staircase, although he glanced over his shoulder at Mr Potter as he went, almost worried it had all been too much for the old man to handle.


Mrs Potter suddenly caught hold of Lily's arm as they passed, drawing Sirius up short. "I'm so sorry, dear," she said. "You gave us a fright - you never know who you can trust these days, and a stranger just stepped out of our fireplace..."


"It was my fault," interrupted Sirius, who was feeling distinctively uncomfortable surrounded by crying women, in a guilty tone. "I should have gone through first, or at least used the Floo to call."


"Nevertheless," insisted Eve, more or less ignoring him and addressing Lily. "It is lovely to meet you finally, dear; please, join our family for tea in a couple hours, once everyone has calmed down?"


Lily's eyes were still watery, and she wiped them impatiently, embarrassed at her breakdown and slightly ashamed that her first meeting with James's parents turned out this way, with both her and James's mother crying and shaken. "Yes, that would be lovely. I'm sorry I frightened you."


Sirius smiled reassuringly at James's mother, and then grabbed Lily's arm and continued to lead her up the stairs. "You're not having a good day," he observed cheerfully; he shot her a devious grin.


She smiled in spite of herself, which had been his intention all along. "Shut up, Sirius."


"Oi, Prongs!" Sirius called as they walked down the hallway. James's door, the first on the right, immediately opened.


"Padfoot?" he asked incredulously as he stepped out - it had, after all, only been a couple hours since he saw his friend. "All right?" he started to ask, but stopped when he stepped into the hallway and saw Lily. "Lily?" he said hesitantly instead.


Lily darted around Sirius and into James's arms. James shot Sirius a look of confusion over her shoulder.


Sirius shrugged. "Well, she won't tell me what’s the matter with her," he muttered indignantly as he stepped around the couple and into the room. He collapsed on James's bed and lounged with his arms behind his head, waiting for them to join him.


James followed, leading Lily into the room and shutting the door. "What are you talking about?" he responded to Sirius's statement, though it was obvious the question was meant for Lily.


Lily sat on the edge of the bed and James sat beside her. "I was attacked at work today," she told them. "It was an Unforgivable," she added, and all three of them shuddered as the weight of it pressed down upon them.


After a moment, "You're kidding," said Sirius. He was no longer lounging on the bed - he'd sat up alertly at her words and his eyes had darkened. He glanced at James, who looked dumbfounded and lost.


All at once, her eyes began to water - the adrenaline rush was gone, as was the overbearing thought of getting away, getting to safety, getting to James. All that was left now was the realization of what had actually happened and the time to be afraid of it. "I'm not," she half whispered. "The boss was calling all of us interns into the office. I noticed that something wasn't right when the others came out, but I didn't know... I mean. He - the boss - called me into his office and cast the spell... It was the Imperius Curse..."


James raised an eyebrow at the name of the spell. "And yet you're here," he observed in a light tone, trying to keep all of them from panicking. "So he obviously didn't get it off, or I doubt you'd be telling us about it. He wouldn't want that. Right?"


Sirius ignored the question; instead he stared at Lily in amazement, unsure of how she had gotten away. "Did you resist it?"


"No," admitted Lily, hugging her arms around herself. "But like I said, I had noticed something was off. I was on my guard. I only just got up the shield charm in time, and then I ran."


"No," said Sirius dismissively, shaking his head. "No way can a simple shield charm ward off an Unforgivable. No way, Lily."


Lily looked at Sirius in alarm, and then her face fell again, not because of his denial, but because she knew he was right. She was confused as to what happened, and vaguely wondered if something wasn't quite right after all.


James punched Sirius's shoulder, a silent command to shut him up. "Well, something worked," he insisted as Sirius scowled. "You are here, and as far as I can tell, not cursed."


"I don't know," Lily moaned, resting her forehead in her hand. "It did something. I don't know! Ollivander told me my wand was excellent for charms, maybe that was something to do with it! But that was seven years ago, I'd forgotten until now..."


"You were always rather good at charms," admitted Sirius after thinking back. He, too, attempted to lighten the mood by adding, "Even if your transfiguration was lacking slightly..."


James knew what he was trying to do and played along, grinning affectionately at his friend and playfully punching his leg behind Lily's back. "You can go home now, Pads, you tosser," he said firmly, though both knew he wasn't serious.


Sirius smiled guiltily at James and rubbed his leg. "I'm sorry, Lily. I'll just keep my mouth shut, then."


James's grin lingered for a moment before he wrapped an arm around Lily's neck and dragged her closer. "Why would the boss at the paper be Imperiusing his employees?" he wondered aloud.


"That's what I want to know," agreed Lily thoughtfully, settling into his frame. Now that she had been reassured that she was not in fact, under the curse, and that she wouldn't suddenly begin performing horrible actions against her control, she wasn't quite as frightened.


"Ah," groaned Sirius suddenly. He bowed his head and ran his hands through his hair, feeling suddenly more guilty than he had over anything in a long time. "Fuck."


"What?" asked James immediately, and a look of suspicion crossed his features at Sirius's actions. "Padfoot!"


Sirius's expression darkened before their eyes and he glared angrily at the blankets for a moment. He wondered whether he could have changed anything, prevented it from happening to Lily, if he'd only just said something. When he finally looked up, his ash coloured eyes looked tortured, his nose was wrinkled as if disgusted by his own self.


A shaky sigh escaped him, and then he spoke. He couldn't meet their eyes; he felt like he was giving a confession, and he blurted it all at once to get it over with.


"I... er... Remus and Peter and I... we were talking. I had told them about the giant movement that Lily mentioned when we were helping her move. I had told them, because we were talking about the Dementor attack that day. It wasn't reported in the Prophet. It was on the Muggle news, but Remus saw it for what it was. And I had brought up the giants, how that wasn't reported either... and we were... we were wondering why the paper wasn't reporting. And we thought maybe Voldemort had control... fuck, Lily, I'm sorry, I'd brushed it off. I never really thought it was true..."


"You never said anything?" demanded James in disbelief. "None of you? When you knew she worked there!"


Sirius looked miserable. "I'm sorry," he insisted again, half begging. He felt horrible, almost as guilty as he had when he'd betrayed Remus in sixth year and almost killed Snape. The thought made him slightly desperate. "Nothing happened yet, so we didn't think there was any danger. I swear, Prongs. We brushed off the Voldemort theory and decided the Ministry was probably telling them what not to report... Voldemort controlling the paper... it seemed so far-fetched!"


"And you never said anything," repeated James, hurt and frustrated as he ignored the last few sentences. He shook his head as he eyed Sirius, as if disappointed in him. How could Sirius keep such a thing to himself? Theory or not, it could have made a difference. Sirius looked away, sickened at how things were turning out.


"Stop, James," said Lily evenly, eyeing Sirius. "You're on the same team, remember?"


James glanced from her to Sirius. "All right," he admitted, feeling guilty. He looked at Sirius, who was appearing properly ashamed on the corner of the bed and still avoiding his gaze. "It's all right, Sirius," he repeated, and then he too ran his hands through his hair and stared broodingly at the blankets.


Nobody spoke; the war was suddenly weighing heavily upon them all. This was the first time any of them had turned against each other, even if it was only barely, and they dreaded when it would happen again. They all knew it wouldn't be the last time.


"I'm not going back to the Prophet," said Lily after a moment, breaking them from their thoughts.


James glanced up alertly. "Of course not," he quickly agreed.


"I'm not going to hide, though, either. It isn't me. It isn't any of us."


James narrowed his eyes at her - he knew exactly what she was getting at before she even said it. She was a Gryffindor, just as he was, just as they all were - she was just like them, and she was right - she was a fighter.


It didn't matter, not to James. Brave Gryffindor and all, she was also Lily, his Lily, and he couldn't bear it if anything happened to her.


"You are not joining the Order," he said firmly, voicing his suspicion, but his heart sank; he knew right away that he would be fighting a losing battle over the issue.


"Yes, I am. You can't stop me, I'll go to Dumbledore."


There was an awkward silent moment while James decided how to respond to that - he was livid at the idea. "You are utterly infuriating sometimes," he finally said in a low voice as he glared at her.


The look Lily's face suddenly took on resembled the same one she used to wear when she caught them bullying somebody in the corridors at Hogwarts. Not surprisingly, Sirius took this as a bad sign.


"Er," said he with a cough, scooting off the bed. "I'm going to go... somewhere..."






II.

Tea with Mr and Mrs Potter was excellent and enjoyable as always. Sirius made small talk with his adopted parents. Everyone was careful not to mention the war, or Voldemort, or the Order. For once, James's father didn't tell a story about the good old days, when he'd been in his prime, when he'd put many Dark witches and wizards in Azkaban. And for once Sirius didn't ask.


Instead he complimented the truffle, proudly made by James's mother herself. John Potter told a handful of terrible jokes, each one worse than the one before, but Sirius laughed anyway.


They all stubbornly ignored the shouting match going on upstairs, even though it carried through the house's ventilation systems.


"Lily seems like a nice girl," observed Mrs Potter tactfully.


Sirius managed to keep a straight face as he said, "James brings out the best in her."






III.

It was strange, thought Remus, having Lily in the Order with them.


Her reception had gone much smoother than his own had, smoother than Sirius's had. She was as charming as could be, and everyone was immediately smitten with her, even the rock hard Alastor Moody. Alice Longbottom was particularly thrilled to have her, and the two girls immediately resumed the close friendship they'd had as students at school.


Dumbledore had, of course, been accepting of Lily joining the Order. He couldn't fairly turn her away after he'd let the four Marauders join, not even with James loudly arguing against the case the entire time she talked to him.


Now Lily smiled and laughed and talked. The Prewetts flirted shamelessly, though Remus knew it was only to get a reaction out of James.


And James sat in the corner with his arms crossed, shooting resentful looks at his girlfriend, but being too soft to really be angry with her. Sirius, ever faithful, sat casually beside him, but he met Remus's eye from across the room and shook his head disdainfully.


"Oh dear," said Peter from beside Remus. "Prongs isn't happy at all, is he?"


Remus snorted. "You try to do something good, Wormtail, and look where it gets you." He indicated James. "Your girlfriend decides to follow you in and risk her life, too. Blast it, I think we've all gone mad."


"Fools, the lot of us."


"Indeed." The voice that spoke wasn't Remus's.


Both he and Peter turned suddenly to find Dumbledore standing behind them, smiling proudly. His voice was kind and his eyes twinkled merrily as he spoke. "But the first step towards wisdom is admitting you are a fool."


Peter was trying to determine whether to be offended or not, when Dumbledore said, "Please excuse us, Peter; I have an important matter that I wish to discuss with Mr Lupin."


After a quick shrug at Remus, the shortest Marauder sauntered over to James and Sirius (the latter of whom welcomed his arrival quite exuberantly after sitting in James's bitter company for the past hour.)


“Remus,” said Dumbledore when Peter was out of earshot. “As you’ve learned, Voldemort has been employing the help of creatures that are generally unacceptable to society by the Ministry’s standards.”


Remus nodded warily. He was one of those creatures and the words 'unacceptable to society' stung slightly. In fact, even in the middle of conversation with Dumbledore, it occurred to him that Lily didn't know what he was yet.


She didn't know, and the rest of the Order did, and she was bound to hear about it. The thought made him blush horribly. He would have to tell her himself. He didn't want her to hear it from somebody else.


“Voldemort offers them a future, whereas the Ministry offers nothing,” continued Dumbledore, ignoring Remus's suddenly red face. He seemed to want to make sure Remus knew why Voldemort had the support of Dark creatures.


“Yes,” Remus agreed a little too quickly, and tried to push his worries about Lily Evans from his mind for the moment.


He did, in fact, understand the meaning of Dumbledore's words all too well. And while he would never follow Voldemort himself, no matter what the Dark wizard had to offer, he could hardly blame others like him for not resisting. He had been given a chance, given opportunities, that most like him had never been fortunate enough to receive. Most of them had been shunned by society - most of them had nothing to lose in following Voldemort.


“If you are up for it, I would like you to try to live amongst them,” Dumbledore said quietly now. “I think you could manage to fit in, and perhaps they will know things of Voldemort’s plans. Perhaps they will know his next moves and you can become aware of them as well.”


Remus considered this and shuddered. He would have to do it. He was the only one who could, and anyway, how many opportunities came up where your worst possible trait was actually very useful? How could he deny this man who had given him so much? Barely a few seconds had passed as he pondered before he had his answer.


“When do I start?”



Author's Note:
Do you find it odd that Lily has never been to James's house yet? I thought people might, and I wanted to say this:

Lily and James only just got together in 7th year. And as they live at the school and not at home, there really hasn't been opportunity for Lily to drop by and visit James's parents. Now this chapter is set in September. So they've had a few months out of school, and now was a good time to introduce them. I know some think she could have met them sooner, like right after school. But hey, she's a busy girl, working a full time job. And James has quite been busy himself, with getting into the Order and the meetings and all. And, given the threats that surround them, nobody really wants to go out at night.

Well, except for James, who still sneaks out for a visit on his free nights :) Also, back in 1978, I don't think you met your boyfriend/girlfriend's parents as quickly as you do these days.


Chapter 11: Breaking the Secret
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . E L E V E N
Breaking the Secret




Everyone was proved wrong about him.


There was nothing quite so fantastic to Sirius than to see the looks on everyone's faces.


Throughout the weeks, the Marauders had been subjected to many different areas for their training. Tracking to staying vigilant, Patronuses and Occlumensy, deadlier spells, more handy defences. And the four boys had excelled in it all.


Sirius thought back to their first Order meeting. Everyone who thought he was just another good for nothing Black was wrong. Everything who thought a werewolf was nothing more than a monster was wrong. They had friends now; they belonged now. The addition of Lily, whether James liked her there or not, only made it better.


(So what if they'd had to help Peter, had to spend hours in their free time in his flat, practising and training their less confident friend? Peter did it, perhaps not with such ease and power as the rest of them, but he did it, he could do it, and Sirius felt quite proud.)


Not only had they mastered spells, but they were a master of Voldemort's plans now as well. They felt like they understood everything - every motive, every want and desire of their enemy. They knew how to thwart him, knew not to be tricked into looking another way when a bigger plan was brewing.


Old Elphias Doge, who indeed looked to be rivalling Dumbledore in age, had coached them on those things. Edgar Bones, who's family was very prominent in the Ministry, often helped. They learned the layout of the humongous building, in case they ever needed to battle there. They learned of any secret passage or secret entrance and exit. They knew exactly where the Minister's office was, despite never having been there.


And then, when they could recite it all perfectly, they began to learn the same things about the offices of the Muggle Prime Minister.


Today they stared into the sweet face of Marlene McKinnon, who was nearly always smiling and talking about her five year old little girl. It was hard to believe that this portly young curly haired woman would be the one to teach them about the Unforgivable Curses. Perhaps Dumbledore had chosen her, knowing how kind-hearted she was, to make them less fearful of what they had to learn.


Sirius already dreaded it. His mind ran through hundreds of scenarios, the worst of which involved suffering through relentless applications of the Cruciatus Curse in order to build up their resistances to pain.


Dumbledore wouldn't go that far, would he? That sounded like something the Death Eaters would be subjected to, but surely not on this side, too?


"Hello, friends!" greeted Marlene with a wide smile. She had a sing-song voice. "Dumbledore asked me to teach you to resist the Imperius Curse, so here we are, aren't we!"


A rush of relief flew over Sirius; the Imperius Curse, he could handle. But he quickly came to hate this lesson as much as he hated the ones on Occlumensy.






II.

“Prongs?”


Remus’s voice was quiet and hesitant. He sat on an old wooden stool, one that was covered in scratches and bite marks, and clasped his hands together awkwardly. The familiar old Shrieking Shack was still home to the friends during the nights with a full moon; the place was almost comfortable these days. It was easy to speak of worries and fears here.


James, who had been wrestling on the threadbare, torn up old couch with Sirius, looked up expectantly, one hand still punching Sirius's shoulder roughly. “Yes?” he asked elegantly, as if, beneath his other hand, he didn’t have a struggling young man pinned playfully by the throat.


“I wanted to talk to you about something,” Remus said, beginning to twiddle his thumbs slightly. Then, as if realizing what he was doing, he shoved both hands hurriedly into his pockets and blew out his breath. “About Lily, I mean,” he added, tearing his eyes away from the floor to check James’s reaction.


James narrowed his eyes, and seemed to consider whether hearing something about his girlfriend was worth surrendering to Sirius. In the end, his curiosity got the best of him.


“What about her, then?” he asked, releasing Sirius. The latter gave James one final shove before straightening his robes and casually leaning back against the couch, arms folded behind his head. Peter slid onto the arm of the furniture and stared in anticipation.


“Don't break the couch, you great lump,” laughed Sirius without a care, shoving Peter roughly.


“Shut up, you ratty old fleabag,” snapped Peter in return, his face turning bright red. Sirius laughed again and Peter grinned ruefully in spite of himself.


Watching them joke, Remus swallowed loudly and looked at the dirty floor as doubt washed over him once more. He did not really want to do this; he’d rather keep his secret to himself. But now that Dumbledore had given him a job to do, he couldn’t see any way around the questions that Lily was bound to start asking. Especially since she’d already attended her first meeting, and while he’d gotten lucky that time and nobody said anything, in prior meetings nobody held back the fact that he was a werewolf. It was talked about freely and openly, and it was something he was still trying to get used to.


He bit his lip and James, who was beginning to notice that this was something Remus took very seriously, prompted, “Moony?”


“I think we should tell her. That I’m a werewolf.” He blurted it quickly and his face immediately turned red, redder than even Peter's. However, when nobody responded after a moment, he dared to look up at them and was met with open-mouthed stares.


“Why?” cried Peter, sounding like a defiant child being forced into doing something he didn’t want, and not understanding the reason at all. Sirius and James said nothing, though Remus could tell they were just as reluctant to leak the secret.


Even if the Order members knew, it wasn’t because they had told. Remus had been recognized for what he was by the skilled Aurors, and Dumbledore had confirmed it. They had nothing to do with it, and to them, his secret was one they still kept faithfully. And now here he was, asking them to break it when it was already feeling dreadfully weak. At times, this one secret seemed to be the only thing that they all clung to, the only thing that had remained constant all throughout their school years and now beyond in a frightening war. It did not matter that it was only Lily they were telling, nor that if anyone new had to be in on it, she was the best candidate.


He sighed; revealing the secret that had been theirs alone for years was almost painful. It was almost like saying goodbye to an old friend. But Peter’s question and upsetting tone of voice remained in the dank, stale air. They were waiting to hear his reasoning.


“Because,” he said, sad and resigned, and looked back down at his hands. “Dumbledore’s sending me away,” he admitted.


James stood up quickly at this, his face distorting angrily. “Whoa, wait, Moony. What do you mean he’s sending you away?” He crossed the small space between the crowded couch and the lopsided stool quickly, placing his hands on his hips as he glared down at his friend. Remus seemed to shrink a little more under the sudden scrutiny.


“He wants me to see if I can fit in with the werewolves,” said Remus, not having it in him to lie or brush the job off as if it were nothing. “They’re likely on Voldemort’s side. Dumbledore thinks that if I can convince them that I’m with them, I might find out something useful.” He rubbed at his knee as he spoke; it was beginning to ache. The full moon must nearly be up.


“At the very least,” he added, “Perhaps I could convince them to break their alliance.”


“Ah, hell,” growled Sirius from the couch, and he angrily shoved himself off of it and began pacing angrily. At the same time, James made a noise of disgust and turned forcefully away, his back to Remus.


Remus had known all along that they wouldn’t take kindly to this news. The four friends had always stuck together. It was the one argument James had used when trying to convince him to join the Order - they were strongest as the foursome, the Marauders. Clearly, separation from one another hadn’t crossed their minds. Perhaps they’d thought themselves too young to be apart and thought Dumbledore would feel the same way. Perhaps they thought the professor wouldn’t do such a hurtful thing to them. But this was a war, and in war, sacrifices had to be made. He could be useful for the first time in his life, at least, useful to somebody other than his fellow Marauders, for nobody had ever thought as highly of him as they did.


All of these thoughts ran quickly through his head, and he could tell that James and Sirius were thinking along the same lines. James appeared to be contemplating how to get him out of such a job, and Sirius simply looked livid that he’d be sent out with wild werewolves, alone.


Odd, thought Remus, for he almost felt like defending his new position, as much as he was dreading it. He'd rather go than not, and it was all because he could. He could be helpful and contribute something important. In that moment, a small bit of pride and a renewed confidence washed over him.


It was only Peter who spoke, and he did so with slight impatience. “What’s that got to do with Lily?” he demanded on James's behalf. Either the dangers of Remus’s upcoming job had gone right over his head, or else he’d forced them from his mind because he didn’t want to think about them.


James looked quickly at Peter and then his head snapped back to Remus expectantly. “That's right,” he said, feeling suddenly dreadful. He'd murder Dumbledore himself if Lily was going to be involved in this mission somehow. “Spill it, Remus.”


Remus shrugged, but sat up a little straighter and spoke with confidence and a new sense of direction. “I just figure conversation about my upcoming trip is bound to rear its ugly head. Whether between us, or among the Order. She doesn’t know about my furry little problem. I’d rather she heard it from us, honestly, than heard it in a side conversation about other things.”


James’s nostrils flared for a moment as he stared at Remus, and then he rather forcefully ran one hand through his hair. Sirius stopped pacing and looked expectantly at them both, shoving his hands into his pockets to occupy them - he could see the sense in Remus's thoughts, though he didn't have to like it. And Peter continued to peer searchingly at Remus.


“I guess you’re right, Moony,” James finally sighed. He pressed his fingers into his forehead as if suddenly under a burden of stress. “Damn it.”


“Yeah,” agreed Remus, almost in relief. Nobody spoke for several moments and his joints grew steadily more painful. He shifted his weight uncomfortably on the hard, unstable stool, and here and there a moan or guttural growl escaped him. None of his friends paid it any heed; they were used to the awkward moments before his physical transformation - moments in which he seemed barely able to control himself or his words.


He hated the silence. It allowed time for his pestering thoughts and doubts to wash over him. And he began to wonder how Lily would react to his news.


“She won’t care,” James said, his voice firm and confident, and Remus marvelled because it was as if he could read minds. James had always seemed to know just what his friends were thinking, even if he didn't realize he was usually spot-on. “She’ll still love you, Moony.”


Remus raised his eyebrows and gazed at James, but said nothing. James had, at one time, wondered if Remus might have had a thing for Lily. It certainly said a lot that James was professing Lily's love for him now, no matter how platonic. He had a high enough opinion of Lily that he was certain she wouldn't turn her back on him; he simply didn't want her to look at him differently.


A few more moments of silence passed, marked by Remus's uncomfortable, pained shifting on his stool. He began to shiver violently. Still, his friends were perfectly calm, having experienced it many times before, and nobody made a big deal out of his embarrassing spasms as the moon rose.


“You know what this means, don’t you?” Sirius finally asked them all, still standing where he’d stopped pacing, still with his hands shoved into his pockets. He looked at them all in turn, grey eyes lingering on each before moving on. But nobody answered; nobody got a chance to.


Remus suddenly gave a sharp growl, as if fighting back a moan of pain. His back went rigid and his eyes shut tightly while he clenched his teeth. His fists balled around his shabby robes.


“Here we go,” announced James as Sirius and Peter jumped into action. He, being the closest, wrestled the old cloak off of Remus and flung it into a corner - Remus couldn’t afford to ruin more clothing because they’d lost track of time and hadn’t been ready.


They didn’t go onto the Hogwarts grounds anymore, not since graduation. They didn’t feel right about roaming the grounds with a dangerous werewolf when they were no longer even students at the school. Instead they stuck to the deserted areas of Hogsmeade - the surrounding forest and lake front, the rocky, snow-covered mountain that rose behind the village - the same one they had explored with Gideon and Fabian. They followed the railroads tracks upon which the Hogwarts Express travelled for a short while.


Hours later, as dawn began to show itself and the four were within the shack once more, Sirius finally finished his sentence as if no time had passed at all.


He breathed heavily, looking around at his friends. James, bleeding from the head, was helping a very weak Remus slowly to his feet. Peter was gingerly walking to the corner to retrieve the battered cloak James had tossed aside. He limped slightly. Sirius himself cradled an injured arm and he collapsed onto the couch, sweating slightly.


“It means,” Sirius panted, tiredly sitting back and massaging his aching arm with his free hand as he watched Peter and James pull the cloak over Remus’s shoulders. “We’ll have to tell her we’re Animagi as well.”


James’s head fell back tiredly; he looked up at the ceiling and gave a brief laugh. Then he hung his head forward and heaved a fake sob. Peter laughed and Remus rolled his tired eyes.


“Oh God,” James moaned, voice broken by tired chuckles and he still hung his head. “Why does everything have to be so damn complicated and difficult.” He glanced at Sirius and shook his head, eyes wide and full of warning. “She won’t take that part well at all, mate.”


Sirius grinned at him sympathetically. She wasn’t his woman, after all.






III.

Lily was curled up in a chair in Sirius’s flat, sipping a cup of tea in the early morning hours. She hadn’t been invited to his home, and part of her felt awkward as she sat there alone. Yet her anxious worry over the four boys had drawn her there and she couldn’t resist it. She had to know they were okay, and thus, she stood guard in their usual meeting place, waiting for them.


She’d been okay with it when James told her tonight was boys’ night out. She could understand his close relationship with his friends and only wished that she had such a good one with friends of her own. Yet, after attending her first Order meeting, after learning some of what was really going on out there in the world, she felt anxious any time she didn’t know exactly where James was. Such as last night. She didn’t understand why he refused to at least tell her where they were going. It was taking all of her restraint not to visit every pub she knew of to check for them.


Because of her anxiety, it was a relief when the front door suddenly burst open (though mildly alarming as well). She looked towards it expectantly - James had promised he’d be home early in the morning. Nothing, however, could prepare her for what she saw.


It was Sirius who walked in, his eyes immediately falling on her. Her first thought was that James was dead. She couldn’t help it - how often did Sirius show up with no sign of James at all? It didn’t even matter that James didn’t live here - that perhaps he’d gone straight home or to her flat rather than come here. Her heart leaped into her throat and pounded there in a very sickening fashion. She set down her cup, ready to throw herself at him and scream James’s name in desperation.


“Hey ho, Lily,” Sirius greeted tiredly, stomping snow off his boots on the doormat and slowly, achingly pulling off his cloak. He didn’t even seem surprised to see her there.


He looked nervous, she spotted immediately. And then she saw it - all around his right eye were bloodied gouges and scrapes. He cradled his arm gingerly and spots of blood had soaked through his shirt sleeve. He looked as if he’d been attacked by some wild animal, or worse, a wild wizard. The black eye had already begun to form and it was slightly swollen so that he couldn’t open it all the way.


“Sirius?” she asked in a panic, standing. If this was what he looked like, then she could be sure James was dead, they’d been attacked by something or somebody and he looked nervous because he didn’t want to give her the bad news.


He caught the tone of her voice and gave her a closer, confused look. But then all despair was abandoned as James walked in the door behind his friend, followed immediately by Remus and Peter. All three of them did the same as Sirius - stomped the snow from their feet and took off their cloaks.


“Morning, Lily,” said James cheerfully, looking exhausted and thoroughly clubbed upside the bloody head by something.


“God, James,” she replied shakily, sitting back down. She picked up the tea, hoping it would calm her nerves as it had failed to do all night long, but she felt too ill then to drink it.


“Is everything okay?” he asked immediately, worry evident in his voice as he realized she’d been sitting here, in Sirius’s flat, without them. “What are you doing here? Did something happen last night while we were gone?” He hurried to her side and crouched in front of her, examining her face for any sign of injury.


“Everything’s fine, James, I just thought...” But then she saw just how bad his head injury appeared to be. Dried blood flattened parts of his hair and almost completely covered one side of his face. Even through the ridiculous mess of black tufts, she could see a swollen lump rising upon his scalp. He didn’t have a black eye as Sirius did, but his bottom lip was bleeding and his knuckles looked as if they’d been split open. “What in Merlin’s name did you four get into last night?” she demanded to know, now noticing Remus’s sunken eyes and Peter’s limp.


James smiled gently, glancing around at his friends before addressing her. “Well, Lily,” he began in the same tone her grandfather used to use when he was about to tell a long story. As if on cue, the other three settled onto the chair and couch around her, watching intently as if it really were story time. “That’s been our little secret for a long time now. But we decided it’s about time to let you in on it.”


Lily narrowed her eyes at him, fear once again beginning to grow inside of her. Too many Muggle movies and television shows, she suspected. The way he spoke made it sound as if he’d been acting all along, that it’d been one big elaborate plan, and they were going to reveal they were Death Eaters and would be taking her to her doom. The casual way he let her know she was on the brink of a big secret made her exceptionally nervous. She hadn’t forgotten, not after the incident with her former boss, how people could be Imperiused. She peered at him searchingly, and then at his cronies.


“Are you sure you’re all right?” James asked again, suspicion evident in his own voice then. “You’re mighty jittery.”


She shook her head, trying to clear the ridiculous thoughts as she returned her green eyes to him. “I’m fine, James, I’m just...” She shrugged, not even knowing how to describe it. “It’s just getting to me, everything. I’m getting paranoid.”


“Ah,” James said in an understanding tone. He moved quickly from his crouch and plopped onto the arm of her chair, resting an arm across her shoulders.


Remus swallowed loudly then, once everyone was sitting up straight and alert, once Lily was looking at each in turn in confusion. He could put it off no longer. “Er... Lily. Do you remember how frustrated you used to get with me sometimes when I’d skive off Prefect duties and disappear for a while?”


Lily smirked at him. “Of course, Remus, you told me your grandfather had died once, and I know for a fact you claimed he died in third year as well.”


Remus blushed and rubbed his aching hands together, stretching his stiff fingers. “Right. Well, I wasn’t being truthful all those times I was leaving.”


“Really?” asked Lily, not at all surprised. James elbowed her lightly as if to say, please don’t make this harder than it is.


Remus swallowed again after watching the brief exchange between the two. “Did you ever notice a pattern as to when I was gone?”


Lily’s mouth fell open. It had been two years since Severus Snape had come to her in a fluster to report that Remus was a werewolf. It was a mark of just how separated the two had become that she refused to believe him. She’d assumed that Severus was just trying to make trouble for the Gryffindor boys. She knew Remus and he was one of the kindest boys she’d ever come across. Even if the news came from the one she’d called her best friend since childhood, she couldn’t believe it knowing the rocky history between him and the Marauders. She’d flat out told Severus she didn’t believe him.


“You’re a werewolf,” she blurted. Then she clapped a hand over her mouth as if she’d cursed and looked aghast at James.


“How’d you know?” demanded Sirius, narrowing his eyes at her. Remus gaped at her in surprise.


“Snape,” she said simply. “He told me in fifth year, but I wouldn’t believe him. I thought he was just trying to get you lot back for something by spreading a rumour. Considering the crowd he was hanging out with... it wasn’t hard to brush him off...”


“Oh, he had a run in with Moony here,” said Peter, grinning broadly. “During transformation. It was his own bloody fault for spying.”


Sirius blushed and hung his head. Here it was, brought up again. It was his biggest regret, revealing their secret to their worst enemy. He would never forget the pained look on Remus’s face when they told him the following morning. Neither would he forget the harsh way that James glared at him, had shoved him aside roughly like the dog he was as he ran off to right what he had done.


“Let it go, Padfoot. Everyone else is over it,” Remus used to say, months afterwards, and he’d smile warmly at Sirius and pat the seat beside him invitingly. “I'm not mad,” he’d add, after seeing the indecision and embarrassment on Sirius’s face. And James, seeing how down he’d been in the weeks that followed the incident, apologized for his own actions as well in the hopes that Sirius would smile again.


But neither of them had seen the way Remus’s father looked at him in Dumbledore’s office, a look of shame and hurt and betrayal. Neither had read the letter from his parents, which hadn't chastised him for doing something terribly wrong in school, but rather for not finishing off the Half-blooded Snape boy in his cruel prank.


Indeed, what with running away from home months later during the summer, fifth year had been the worst in Sirius’s life. He still had nightmares about what might have been from the incident; blood everywhere. Remus’s blood, Snape’s blood. James’s blood, for he was the one who risked his life to save Snape. And he was utterly alone. He’d wake up in the dark gasping for air, lungs aching, and covered in sweat. It still tortured him.


James, seeing the look on Sirius’s face when the incident was brought up, looked desperately as if he wanted to change the subject. Yet this wasn’t exactly the type of subject one could easily change. He watched Sirius in concern - they’d always seemed to understand each other without words and he hoped that Sirius could feel him reaching out even now.


He was thankful when Lily didn’t question about the encounter. “Moony?” she said now. “Oh, wow, it makes so much more sense now ” Had she believed Snape, she could have put two and two together in an instant. It was rather obvious, once one was on this side of the secret.


Remus blushed.


“Oh, Remus ” Lily cried, jumping out of her chair and crossing the room to embrace him. “How old were you?”


“Five,” he managed through her mane of hair. The hug felt good. It had been a ridiculously long time since he’d received one.


“You’re the greatest werewolf I’ve ever met,” she told him, resting her forehead against his. “Most are wild, aren’t they?”


“Yes,” he whispered, and he was glad that nobody bothered to point out that she probably hadn't met any other werewolves.


“You went to Hogwarts and everything.”


“Yes,” he repeated, and his tone held a very slight hint of surprise. It sounded like so much more of a big deal than it really was when she said it.


“I’m very proud of you,” she said in a low voice, so that the others couldn’t hear.


Remus smiled at her and she got up and retreated, sitting with James once more. She smiled back from across the room. “So... why are you lot all beaten and bloody?” she asked conversationally.


James smiled grimly. “Because we spend the night with him when he transforms.”


“That’s not possible.”


“We’re Animagi,” said Peter, bravely throwing it out into the open. James shot him a warning look, but it was too late now, and he glanced carefully back at Lily to her reaction.


“That’s not possible either.”


“Want to bet?” asked James daringly.


“It’s illegal,” Lily informed him. “Well, unless you’re registered.”


“Yet entirely possible,” smiled James tiredly, rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses. He loved Lily to death, but he sincerely hoped he wouldn't have to argue with her over this, not right now; all he wanted was to fall into his bed. Or the floor, the floor was fine.


Lily, however, didn’t respond. She simply narrowed her eyes at her boyfriend suspiciously. He gave her a cheesy grin in return.


“Prongs?” she ventured at last, a bit reluctantly, as if she didn't want to accept this.


“Indeed. Listen, Lily, you can't tell anyone... I mean the Order knows he's a werewolf, but nobody knows we're illegal Animagi. And I know you don't fancy rule breaking, hell, even law breaking, and such... but it was all with the best of intentions...”


For a moment she said nothing, simply pursing her lips and surveying the four battered boys in front of her. All of them were slumped over slightly, so exhausted they couldn't even sit up straight. Dark circles were beneath their eyes and their faces looked drawn. Then she sighed and pulled out her wand.


“Do you lot even have potions to heal yourselves?”


“No,” admitted Sirius, wincing as he examined his swollen wrist. “We used to sneak into the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts, but that's obviously no longer available.”


She rolled her eyes. “Have a cauldron lying around, Sirius?”



Author's Note:
Are you thinking that Lily didn't have a big enough reaction? I wanted to explain this, because I'm worried people will think that. In Deathly Hallows, Snape has a memory of himself telling Lily what he knows about Remus. And in that memory, Lily brushed him off and didn't believe him, thinking he was just trying to cause more problems.

For this reason, her reaction wasn't overly surprised. I think that deep down, she already knew. She's smart enough to realise the dates Remus was absent, with Snape's words in the back of her mind, even if she chose to ignore such a thing.

-Stagnight.


Chapter 12: Remus Heads Out
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E L V E
Remus Heads Out




Fresh terror was rising in the wizarding world. The streets of wizarding villages had never been so cold and empty and lifeless. Some stores even closed up shop and displayed "Temporarily Out of Business" signs. The skies were darker than ever before as the Dementors, still lingering in the murky clouds above, fed off of people's fears and nightmares.


Ever since Lily Evans had fled the Daily Prophet, the newspaper had begun printing stories about the Dark happenings again. As a result, the community was reminded of things they may not have had to face for months, and fear was all around them. Much of the news was new to the public; nobody had realised, without the constant updates, how quickly things were going from bad to worse.


The paper reported many of the last few months' happenings all in one issue - the giant movement and subsequent Dementor feeding on the Muggle village in August. The Imperiused employees of the paper. There was tornadoes and flooding up in Glasgow, water brought up from the river believed to be the work of Voldemort himself. And as always, deaths, deaths; death and injury and terrorism.


All hope seemed to be gone.






II.

Sirius lounged lazily on the bed in Remus’s room, grey eyes following his friend around the small space. Remus was leaving. Remus was leaving and he couldn’t wrap his head around it.


Remus had a small, battered briefcase open at Sirius’s feet in which he packed the few things he would need to take with him into the wild. It was where his wand would be hidden, for one. He couldn’t be running around with one while trying to fit in with the werewolves. Most werewolves weren’t even allowed wands. His acceptance into Hogwarts had truly been a miracle. There were also a few pieces of parchment, a quill and a bottle of ink for writing, should he get the chance.


James had loaned him the invisibility cloak and bid him safety while he was away. Remus had carefully folded his friend’s most prized possession and placed it gently into the briefcase. As Sirius watched, he shoved an extra cloak in as well, in case his own ripped beyond repair. He wouldn’t need many clothes, however. Most of the werewolves weren’t clean and human. They’d wear the same clothes for weeks, taking them off only to wash them. The thought made him wrinkle his nose in disgust, and for the millionth time, he wished he wasn’t one of them.


“Hang on,” said Sirius suddenly, scooting off the bed. “I’ve got something for you.”


“All right,” Remus responded quietly as Sirius disappeared from the room. He sank onto the bed beside the open briefcase and rubbed his hands forlornly over his face. He truly didn’t want to leave - he hadn’t been on his own since meeting the Marauders. When Sirius rounded the corner again, this time clutching something in his hands, Remus forced a smile onto his face. He didn’t want Sirius to see how hard it was to go.


Sirius stopped in the doorway, hesitating, inhaling deeply as he eyed his friend. He tapped his fingers against the object in his hands for a moment before blowing the air out again and stepping forward.


“I want you to have this,” he said, thrusting the object at Remus.


Remus eyed the small square package and then looked up at Sirius. It was his magic mirror; James had given it to him. It was how they communicated when they weren’t together. This mirror, Remus knew, had saved Sirius. His friend had clung to it through many difficult summers with his family. It had been his escape.


“That’s your mirror,” said Remus dismissively. He couldn't take that from Sirius.


But Sirius gave a brief nod. “Take it. We’ll want to know how you are. If you need help. We’d be there in an instant if you called.”


“I wouldn't call. You’d probably ruin the whole operation, and you’d get yourselves killed. I couldn’t risk having you seen, even if I were in trouble.”


Sirius rolled his eyes. “Well, we’re not going to sit by and let you get killed. If you’re in trouble, the operation is probably ruined anyway, Moony. Take the bloody thing before I shove it down your damn throat.” He thrust it towards Remus again.


“Sodding...” but then Remus interrupted himself, straightening from his packing to survey his friend; Sirius looked stressed. He sighed and accepted the mirror, quickly turning away to face his briefcase. "All right. Thanks."


“Don’t mention it,” shrugged Sirius, sinking onto the bed beside Remus. “So... how far away are you going?”


Remus smirked. “Do you honestly think I’d tell you that, Padfoot? You, who doesn’t follow the rules?” He glanced sideways at Sirius’s expectant, earnest face. “I’m not having you sneak up for a visit or something, Sirius,” he said gently. “It’s not worth the risk. And if you were spotted, they’d expect me to join in on the killing you bit. I couldn’t do it, not even for the Order.”


“I wouldn’t be,” said Sirius defensively. He crossed his arms. “Spotted, I mean.”


Remus snorted. “We’re talking werewolves here, Pads. Wild ones. They’d smell you from miles away.”


Sirius looked away, down at his crossed arms. It was then that he realized the seriousness - only James had ever called him Pads. He was unable to hide his disappointment towards the entire issue. Remus sighed, feeling fairly regretful himself, and snapped the briefcase shut. Then he stood.


“I guess I’d better get going,” he said determinedly, pulling the briefcase from the bed. He was already tired of his new job, and he hadn't even started it yet, and he hated it.


Sirius nodded slowly, his brow sinking low over his eyes. “Okay,” he lamented, the glum sound of his voice making his despair evident. He stood as well and, after sizing each other up for a moment, they embraced.


“You’ll write?” Sirius demanded, not letting go until he got a positive answer.


Remus, who was feeling quite smothered, nodded into his shoulder. “Whenever I can.”


After he left, the flat felt horribly empty to Sirius, who paced from room to room feeling caged and more lonely than he ever had. There was Remus’s book on the coffee table. When he opened a cupboard, it was to find a half-eaten chocolate bar inside, rolled up into it's wrapper to be saved for later.


(Sirius snapped off a small piece and ate it in an effort to lift his spirits, but all it tasted like was sadness and distant memories. He rolled the wrapper up again and flung it irritably into the shadows beneath a shelf.)


He was searching for something, anything, to fill the sudden void, a hopeless darkness, the depths of which he couldn't even understand. Remus had only been living there for a few weeks. But now without him, it was as if every bit of happiness and light in the flat had been swallowed, and he was left in dark and silence.


On the kitchen counters were all the potions Lily had made them so they could accompany Remus during the full moons. Sirius ran his fingers through his hair, flustered as he eyed the colourful vials, before hurrying to the fireplace and flooing to Godric’s Hollow.


“He’s gone,” he shouted as he stepped out of the fireplace. “He’s gone!”


James’s mother came hurrying into the sitting room at his commotion, wringing her hands on her apron. “Who’s gone, Sirius?” she asked in a panic. She hadn’t seen him out of his mind since he’d shown up homeless on her doorstep two years before. But James entered the room right behind her, dodged around her and hurried towards his friend.


“Remus,” snarled Sirius as James reached him. “He just left. He’s gone.” He shoved the hair out of his face again, impatiently squirmed away from James, and blindly stalked around the room.


James made a grab for his arm and then marched him towards the foyer, the staircase, his bedroom. “I’ll take care of it, Mum,” he said over his shoulder, and Eve Potter hesitantly returned to the kitchen looking confused and worried.


“He won’t tell me where,” groaned Sirius as James dragged him up the stairs. James's father peered curiously at them as they passed his office, but he said nothing.


“Shh,” was all James offered in response, until they got to his room and he shut the door behind them. He pushed Sirius onto the bed and then sat down next to him. “Relax, Padfoot, for fuck's sake.”


Sirius buried his face in his hands and rocked back and forth for a moment while James sat calmly beside him. “What if something happens to him?” he finally asked, looking worriedly at James. “He's not like them!”


“He’s got my cloak, remember?” James reminded him reassuringly. “He’ll be fine. He was one of the smartest in class, after you and I. He won't do anything stupid.”


Book smart, that was, James, and you know it!”


James chuckled, because they'd always teased Remus for it at school; he'd always gotten good grades, but had to work much harder for them than James or Sirius did.


“Perhaps... But he has a wand. And they don’t, werewolves aren't normally allowed. He’ll be all right, Pads, I promise!”


And with that, he scooted off the bed and crossed the room to his desk. He pulled something that Sirius couldn’t see from one of the drawers, and when he returned to the bed he had a bottle of Firewhisky in his hands. He held the bottle out towards Sirius. “Here. It'll help.”


James always thought of everything and Sirius's eyes flickered briefly between the bottle and James's earnest face before he snatched it from his friend's hand. He took a large drink from the bottle. It burned all the way down and he immediately broke into a sweat as tears of pain began to stream down his face, but he felt blissfully numb. His face felt tight with the salt of tears - he was surprised to find they had escaped him, for he couldn't remember outright crying; he wiped at his sticky cheeks impatiently.


“Thanks,” he muttered, pushing the cork back into the bottle and twisting it in his hands for a moment. He considered the heavy bottle, pondered having another sip, but instead, finally, placed it gently on the bedside table and stared regretfully at the label.


“No problem,” James smiled again, patting Sirius's knee reassuringly now that he was calming down. “I never put that bottle back after we stole it from Dad's liquor cabinet last Christmas.”


“You're a right thief, you are...” mumbled Sirius, who feeling vague and amused - slightly silly, really. It didn't take long for the alcohol to infiltrate his blood. “Terrible...”


“Bloody right, I am.” And James sounded almost proud.


Sirius twisted the bottle absently around on the desk, filling the silence with a dull scraping noise, and then sighed and let his arm drop. “I gave him my mirror,” he finally said, after reading the first line of ingredients on the label. “I told him to call us if he needs us. That we’d be there in an instant.”


Nodding simply, James said, “All right. I’ll start carrying the other around with me, then.” He looked sideways at Sirius’s panic-stricken face, at anxious grey eyes staring back at him, waiting to make sure he'd do as he said.


James sighed, got up and pulled open the drawer of his nightstand, lifting his own mirror out and shoving it into his pocket. He couldn't hold back an amused chuckle of fondness for his worried friend as he said, “See? It'll be okay, Pads.”


(James wouldn't admit that he was worried too, that, as far as he was concerned, Remus was entirely hopeless in such dangerous conditions. The boy was charmingly awkward, and it was almost painful to imagine him among such savage creatures.


James was stronger than Sirius in several ways, and he'd hidden these thoughts for the sake of his friend.)


Although Sirius nodded and let out a resigned sigh, James could still read the anxiety on his face. He cast quickly around for a distraction, and realized he knew just what Sirius needed. “Want to spend the night?” he asked suddenly. “Just like old times, when we were kids. Mum’ll make dinner, and we’ll stay up way later than we should... Then, after they go to bed, we can sneak out and get your bike and go for a ride! We can read my old comics, and steal food from the kitchen, and play chess in the dark...”


“We still are kids,” interrupted Sirius. His voice was almost desperate as he had to remind himself that eighteen wasn't so old, no matter how much it suddenly felt like it. It wasn't too old to feel afraid or upset over a best mate heading into dangerous werewolf territory.


“Well. Not so much, perhaps. We're in a war.”


Sirius frowned at that, at James nailing his exact thoughts, but then quickly grinned as he remembered the way things used to be just a year or two earlier. They had caused a lot of trouble on that motorcycle of his, narrowly escaping danger several times, including a group of Death Eaters and Muggle police officers.


“Just like old times?” he asked wryly, eying James mischievously from under his thick black lashes.


Exactly like old times,” agreed James, throwing an arm over his shoulders. “We’ll stop by Lily’s flat when we pick your bike up. I’ll have to let her know I have other plans tonight, or she’ll worry.”


Sirius pondered this, feeling mildly guilty that James would stand Lily up for an evening with him instead. But he quickly shoved it from his mind. James spent every night with Lily, and he’d never complained. He felt he deserved a night with his best friend without feeling guilty about it.


“It’s a date,” he announced, grandly pulling the cork out of the bottle once more and sloshing Firewhisky all over the both of them as he took another swig.






III.

The streets were pitch black in downtown London. James was smiling like a child; the grin stretched across his face and his eyes twinkled even more than Dumbledore's. And Sirius was suddenly jealous.


They had just left Lily's flat. James had kissed her for what seemed like ages, while Sirius and Lily's roommate, Lucy, sat awkwardly together on the couch and watched their friends get carried away. And waited until the two surfaced for air and became aware of the world around them once more.


But they had finally left. They were going to pick up Sirius's flying motorbike. Sirius couldn't wait to ride it, couldn't wait to go soaring through the clouds once more. It wasn't often that he got to ride it when Apparating was so much quicker. Maybe they could even get close to a Dementor, and race for their lives. He was feeling daring.


(He was slightly drunk.)


He could ride it all night, if it kept his mind off of Remus.


It was when they rounded the corner that they came upon the chaos. Or rather, heard it.


A man was screaming, wailing in agony. It pierced through the air, chilled them to the bone. Sirius and James looked at each other and took off running for the sound. The streets were deserted, although, here and there, a face peered out from behind a closed window, searching for the source of the scream. Sirens could be heard approaching; a concerned neighbour had obviously called for help.


The scream came again, and the two young wizards turned down a dark alley. They could vaguely see a dark figure in the back. They sprinted when they saw a flash of light and heard the snarled incantation, trying to get to the end faster to save the poor soul lying on the muddy damp ground.


"Crucio!"


The figure on the ground screamed once more in agony. The shadow towering over him seemed to enjoy the pain. But then the figure looked up, hearing the pounding of James and Sirius's feet on the pavement as they ran. Wasting no time at all, the figure shoved his wand into his victim's back. "Avada Kedavra!"


"Expelliarmus!" shouted Sirius, interrupting him and flinging his wand forward as they ran. He knew it was too late. He felt the air erupt from the tip of it as the spell left him, and could practically feel the spell hurtling towards the man in the alley as the last syllable of the curse left the man's lips. Even as the wand flipped from the man's fingers, Sirius's heart pounded sickeningly in his chest. One figure stopped struggling and lay still on the cold wet ground; the other straightened, but seemed unbothered. He had chosen to make sure his victim didn't survive rather than try to defend himself, and the fact that he didn't care about his capture showed how dangerous he was.


"Stop!" shouted James, pointing his own wand towards the man in warning. "Don't move!"


But the shadow laughed and stepped forward. For a moment James thought he was going to retrieve his wand, which had landed several feet away. "Accio!" he cried, pointing his own wand at the stick. The shadow's wand soared towards James and he caught it easily.


They were drawing nearer now, near enough to see the man's face, though it was hidden by darkness. They slowed, panting for breath as they drew near enough to attempt to make a capture. The man began to turn on the spot. He was going to Disapparate.


Sirius pointed his wand again. "Petrificus Totalus!" he roared as quickly as he could, but it wasn't quick enough. The shadow was gone, and Sirius's spell blasted into the brick wall at the end of the alley, causing a few bits of the stone to crumble to the ground.


"Fuck," groaned James. He strode forward, panting heavily, and rolled the man on the ground over. It was the bartender of the Leaky Cauldron, Will Brookhouse.


Several loud cracks suddenly surrounded all around them. "Drop your wands, by order of the Ministry," demanded a voice. Sirius and James did so, and immediately raised their hands into the air.


"Nice to see you boys again," mused a slightly familiar voice, laced with sarcasm. Bartemius Crouch stepped out of the shadows, and Sirius heard James heave an impatient sigh at the sight of the man. He heard the sirens in the distance suddenly die down, and knew that magic had caused the Muggle help to suddenly forget what they were responding to.


"Causing trouble, are we?" asked Crouch expectantly.


"No, sir," said James confidently. "We didn't do this."


"A dead man in an alley, and you boys standing over him seconds after his death. It seems obvious to me," mused Crouch. "What were you two doing here, anyway? I find it very suspicious that you just happened to be in the right place at the right time."


Sirius suddenly remembered the authorised use of Unforgivables within the Ministry. He warily eyed the Aurors surrounding them, all with wands pointed. "I live around the corner," he said quickly. "We heard the screams, and we came running. He was being tortured with a Cruciatus Curse. It was a Death Eater who did this. Or a supporter of Voldemort..."


There was a shudder that seemed to go all around the circle of wizards.


"He speaks the name," one man pointed out, and the rest nodded and mumbled nervously. Their hands gripped their wands a little tighter.


Sirius closed his eyes and cursed himself for being so stupid. James always spoke the name, so much so that none of them minded hearing it. It didn't scare them, they heard it so often. And he spoke it so often only because his father did; John Potter wasn't afraid of the name or the pathetic man behind it.


"So?" snapped James. Sirius could tell he was quickly losing his temper.


Bartemius Crouch shuddered at the name as well, but was quick to get over it and regain his composed stature. He stepped forward a bit more, as if to command attention again. "If it was a Death Eater who killed this poor man," he said in a level, objective voice, "Then where is he? I see you two have obviously stepped in to save the day. No fruit of that labour?"


James's eyes flared. Gone was the sparkle from moments earlier, after his brief visit to Lily's flat. "He Disapparated."


Crouch's eyes hardened and he gave a small smirk. "How convenient."


"It's the truth," insisted Sirius dangerously. He knew they couldn't take down ten trained Aurors, but if it came down to it, he hoped they could take at least two or three. He'd release every bit of magic within him at once if he had to, even if it killed him. He wasn't going to go to prison for a crime he didn't commit.


Bartemius Crouch pursed his lips as he surveyed the boys. His expression was calm, unbothered, as if he could do this all day. "Perhaps it is. Then you let him get away," he stated. He seemed smug, as if their failure proved them incapable, not as good as he originally thought they were. As if this was karma, coming to get them after they refused his job offer, and he could sit and witness and gloat about it.


James narrowed his eyes. "Not without his wand," he growled back, clearly at the end of his patience. "We got that, at least, failures though we are. I believe you can get an identification that way, can't you?"


At that, Crouch's expression lightened considerably. Any gloating he may have been enjoying was quickly forgotten in lieu of capturing another Dark wizard. "Let's see it," he said eagerly.


"Your Aurors aren't going to use an Unforgivable on me if I pick it up off the ground, are they?" James countered, looking stubborn.


Crouch scowled. "Retrieve the wands," he snapped at one of the Aurors at his side. After the spare was placed in his hand and Crouch had examined it with interest, he finally straightened and looked at his two captives. "You boys have done well, despite the fact that he has gotten away. This information will be very valuable to the Ministry in identifying a suspect and preventing it from happening again. I would like, once again, to extend an invitation to join our forces. You have both proven yourselves to be exceptionally skilled and level-headed. Though he has gotten away, you have managed to recover the most important piece of him."


With that, he handed their wands back to them, and they cautiously lowered their arms to accept them. Sirius narrowed his eyes at how quickly Crouch had gone from finding them incompetent to finding them skilled enough to be on their team.


James turned his wand over in his hands, as if inspecting it for damage. After a moment, he looked up into Crouch's eyes in disgust.


"No. Thank you," he said darkly.






IV.

Remus sniffed the air as a chilly wind blew around him, ruffling his hair. He tested for the scent of the pack - one he knew lived in these particular woods. He’d asked his father. If anyone knew exactly where to find creatures in hiding, it was his father, who tracked them for a living and had records of all known locations.


He was close now, he could smell it. Sometimes his senses were quite keen, full moon and furry or not. He crouched onto the ground, opened his briefcase and removed his wand and the invisibility cloak. With the wand he blasted a hole in the ground at his feet and shoved the briefcase inside. He couldn’t be seen with it. He wouldn’t look wild if he carried a suitcase around. He’d look like somebody merely stopping by for a visit - a lost vacationer, the perfect prey for the werewolf pack. Should he need the mirror, he could come and get it. And as for writing, he’d have to come and do that in his spare time as well. Perhaps while pretending to be off hunting.


He carefully wrapped the wand in the invisibility cloak and shoved both into his deep pockets. He’d chosen his shabbiest robes to make an appearance. It was easy to be thankful that his family wasn’t rich, at least in this situation. He was glad he never threw away his old robes, but simply kept repairing them. He’d never survive if he arrived in new robes.


Knowing he had little time left - if he could smell them, they could surely smell him and would be on their way - he shoved the mound of dirt over the briefcase, placed a small boulder on top of it to mark the spot and hide the disturbed soil, and then rubbed his dirty hands over his face and hair. He hoped it looked realistic. He wiped his face on his sleeve to remove any excess dirt that might look fake.


It was darker here than it had been back at home in London. It was as if this place was a breeding ground for dark creatures. The sky was like ink, though it was barely six o’clock in the evening. The moonlight filtered down through the trees, but it did little to light the forest. Thousands of tree branches, however, kept the Dementors’ mist off the ground, and he could see clearly all around him.


After pondering how to go about it for a moment, he decided to move cautiously towards the scent. He didn’t want them to find him here, anyway, and discover the hiding place for his things. He crouched slightly as he walked, ready to run if necessary, assuming a timid, submissive position.


He was right. They had smelled him. The first flash of animalistic eyes peering at him from behind a tree in the darkness took him by surprise. It felt as if his heart was going to beat right out of his chest and he gasped for air, peering at where he’d seen them. But they were gone. He continued to slink slowly through the forest.


Fifteen minutes passed in which he kept his eyes, ears and nose alert as he crept along. It wasn’t long before he heard soft footsteps falling behind him, but he didn’t dare look back. He didn’t want to alert whoever it was that he knew they were back there. He didn’t want to give them reason to pounce and kill him before he had a chance to communicate that he was one of them. He braced himself for what he knew was coming, however. Capture.


A sudden howl erupted from the bushes to his right, and a filthy man stood and made himself visible. He carried a handmade spear in his hands and he pointed it Remus, who straightened in surprise.


Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another movement, and he turned just in time to see the man who had been following him launch himself towards him. The man landed on Remus's back and he gave a grunt of pain as he was forced to the ground and held there by a bony knee and harsh hands. The man with the spear waded through the bushes and stood over Remus. Remus barely had a chance to look up into the ferocious looking eyes before the butt of the spear was driven into his temple and everything went black.


Blacker than James's ridiculous hair, blacker than Wormtail's beady little rat eyes, even blacker than Sirius's last name and the dark hole of despair that went with it. And these three friends were the last thoughts that flitted through his mind before he surrendered to the darkness.

Chapter 13: Captured
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T H I R T E E N
Captured




Alastor Moody was still an Auror for the Ministry of Magic, although he didn't agree with the way they handled things. He worked in the mornings. When joining the Order of the Phoenix, he had offered to leave his job to commit full time. He wasn't afraid to use an Unforgivable Curse to spare his life in a dangerous situation, but unlike Bartemius Crouch, he disagreed with using it to torture information out of suspects. Suspects that were yet to be proven guilty.


Dumbledore wouldn't have it. The old man didn't want him to lose the job he'd had since leaving Hogwarts as a young man so many years ago. It gave him a surge of pride to admit that, since John Potter had retired, he was the Ministry's top Auror. They still needed him, though it seemed he spent more time helping to train his co-workers than fighting in the field.


Mornings were like that. Never as busy as the evenings, when things got dark. It was all right with him; it fit his new schedule. The Order had breathed new life into his tired body. There was excitement, a sense of belonging, a sense of righteousness. It was raw, it was secretive, it was truth. There were no sneaky curses upon suspects. There was simply quick thinking or risk being killed, fight to stop the terrible things from happening, and always being aware of what was going on in the world around them.


Of course, he still worked the evening shifts often enough. Monday nights, for example. There were never any Order meetings on Monday nights. Dumbledore still wanted him there, in the Ministry. It was good to have an eye on things, to observe any changes in employees, or any odd things happening. They all knew the Ministry was Voldemort's primary target. If any of his Death Eaters managed to get in a position of power, or anything at all, he would see it.


He was the Ministry's top Auror, and he took pride in that.


Alastor had been on his way to see a suspect being held in a courtroom when the message came. Muggles were calling the police - tortured screams had been heard in a dark alley, and weren't stopping.


(The Ministry had personnel working for Muggle public services. They always needed to know if a situation was magical or not.)


Twelve Aurors had been dispatched to the scene, as well as Bartemius Crouch, in the hopes of catching a Death Eater in the act. He had stayed behind, for he already had an engagement to meet with the suspect in the basement courtrooms. Thirteen should be able to handle one, or at the most, two or three, Death Eaters in an alley.


The suspect he had to question hadn't been very cooperative, although Alastor had suspected he wouldn't be. None of them ever were. He didn't resort to the Unforgivables as others did, however. The man had insisted he had nothing to do with a recent attack on a Muggleborn's family. He had insisted he remembered nothing, and if he had been there at all, it was under the effects of the Imperius Curse.


They were all beginning to claim to be under the effects of the Imperius Curse. It was turning into a nightmare.


Moody didn't have time to listen to the same story from yet another suspect. He simply closed his notebook - the one in which he was to record everything the man said - and stood. The man had eyed him in terror, clearly expecting an Unforgivable to come his way. Instead, Moody frowned down at the man.


"You will be held in Azkaban," he began.


The man let loose a wail, and shivers ran up Moody's spine at the noise. He thought he would be used to it by now.


"Until the Ministry can secure a dose of Veritaserum," he continued loudly, trying to be heard over the sound of the man's cries.


"I didn't do it!" screamed the suspect, panicking at the name of the truth potion.


Moody had turned his back and walked out, allowing two guards into the room to take over. The man had screamed after him, asking how long it would take to get the potion. It was the Ministry of Magic, after all; they should have such important potions on hand. He shouldn't have to go to Azkaban, and he shouldn't be forced to take the potion; the Ministry of Magic had failed him as a citizen of the magical community.


Alastor had turned back with a snarl. The Ministry had failed? he had shouted at the man. There was no way, not yet, for the Ministry to defend itself against the rising terror of Voldemort. The Ministry was doing the best it could just to keep its head above water amidst such chaos. The Muggle Prime Minister was calling every single day, to complain about a collapsed bridge, or tornadoes, or the Dementors and the heavy, never ending fog. And all because Voldemort's scum was walking free. And now this man, who Moody was nearly positive was guilty, wanted to act as if the Ministry had failed him.


He nearly lost it, nearly, and let loose the Cruciatus Curse. Almost.


His face was so close to the man's, he could see his own spittle fleck the suspect's face as he growled.


"It will be at least two months," he raged, leaning over the man, supporting his frame with his arms braced on the man's chair. The man leaned back as far as he could go to get away. "We have had an abundance of little blights like you, claiming the Imperius Curse, and it has used up our stock trying to find out who is guilty. The Ministry is sorry to inconvenience you."


"I refuse to take Veritaserum," snapped the suspect. Alastor smirked. All of the guilty ones refused to take the Veritaserum. It was an empty threat; one that he used often to sort out the guilty. The Ministry wasn't out of Veritaserum at all - only the innocent were willing to submit to it, and very few of the people they captured were innocent.


It was practically a confession. Guilty as sin. Moody smiled at the man.


"Then you shall be tried by the Wizengamot. You will be held in Azkaban until your hearing."


The man had screamed again and again as the guards took hold of him, and Moody left feeling grim and tired.


Now, back in the Auror's offices, many wizards bustled about. Those sent out after the attacker in the alley had already returned, and there was a tingling excitement in the air in the aftermath.


"Mister Crouch wants to see you in his office, Alastor."


Moody nodded, and made his way there. Inside, Crouch was examining a stack of paperwork.


"Did you catch anybody?" growled Moody, taking a seat.


"No," muttered Crouch, setting the paper down. "Two young men were already on the scene even before we received word that it was happening. They put forth what I believe was their best efforts to stop the suspect. The incident occurred at the end of a long alley. The man had Disapparated before they could get to him. But they got his wand."


"Then you can make an identification," said Moody, feeling satisfied.


"I have wizards working on it as we speak."


"Two young men, you say?"


"One was John Potter's boy."


Moody's eyes narrowed. "I'd be willing to bet my wand arm the other was Sirius Black."


"That would be correct," said Crouch, looking up from the papers to eye him. "You know them?"


Moody frowned. The Ministry wasn't aware of the Order of the Phoenix. Nobody was aware. "I know the Potter boy through his father. Never liked that Black kid."


Crouch smiled, bemused, and gave Alastor a bit more of his attention. "No, I don't suppose you would. The apple never falls far from the tree, does it?"


It was strange. Moody felt rage pool within him. He may have disliked Sirius Black, but he now felt the urge to defend the boy. He grunted and shoved it from his mind. He chose to change the subject.


"What of the victim, then?" he growled.


"Dead. By the Killing Curse." Crouch scowled and thumbed through the stack of papers before thumping it with his fist. "More work! And do you know who it was, Alastor? It was Will Brookhouse."


"Brookhouse, of the Leaky Cauldron?" gaped Moody.


"The one and only." Bartemius looked grim. "We are speculating that it was a hate crime, directed at Brookhouse purely because he is the one who allows the Muggleborns into Diagon Alley."


Alastor Moody stoked his chin. He would bet anything that the speculation was exactly right. The murder had most certainly been the work of a Death Eater, or at the very least, a loyal supporter of the Dark Lord who fancied himself doing something noble for the cause. "Hate crimes, indeed," muttered Moody angrily.


It was good that they would be making an identification soon, and as a result, sending forces out in search of whoever the killer was. But there was just one thing that bothered Alastor about the whole business.


He felt the need to tell the boys that they'd done well.






II.

Remus stirred amongst the dirt and sticks and fallen leaves. He was tired, his head ached, and he was incredibly thirsty. He wanted nothing more, in that moment, than to get up and Disapparate away, far away to London and the flat he'd been sharing with Sirius. He was filthy and uncomfortable, and even as he lay there he was becoming increasingly aware of a stick or a rock poking into his back.


He groaned and rolled onto his side, and that was when he saw them.


"Oh," said Remus, abruptly sitting up and backing away, as far away as he could get until he hit a tree and could go no further. He stared up at them, his heart hammering in his throat. "Bugger," he breathed, feeling suddenly ill.


There were three of them - all men, all standing around the spot where he'd lain, staring menacingly at him. Two of them clutched handmade spears in their hands. The third sank to a crouch before Remus, so as to observe him from the same eye level.


"Good morning, Sunshine," said he, who's voice was quite hoarse and gravelly, and the smile he offered Remus wasn't the least bit reassuring.


They all looked feral and furious, all with stubble on their chins and cold eyes, and Remus struggled to swallow his fear as he nodded, in what he hoped was a pleasant manner, at the man who'd addressed him.


"Good morning," he responded quietly, for he could think of nothing better to say and felt it rude not to respond at all. The three men laughed cruelly, not expecting a response in the first place.


All of them wore clothing that looked to be made of animal skins, roughly stitched together. With dread, Remus realised that he'd dressed all wrong -that no amount of dirt, and not even the shabbiest of robes, would look convincing besides these wild, outcast werewolves.


One of the men, tall and muscular with curly, light brown hair, stepped forward and spit on the ground. Then he raised his spear high above his head, his eyes fixed menacingly on Remus.


"Oh, sh... shit," uttered Remus, scrambling to back away once more, and once more failing because of the blasted tree. He closed his eyes and waited, and had never felt more trapped in his life.


(Remus wasn't normally one to swear, aside from the occasional bugger. It was usually his other three friends that did the swearing, and whenever Remus did utter a curse, he was brutally teased by Sirius and James, who claimed he only sounded like an idiot whenever he tried.


And even now, as he faced his death and swore in fear, this thought scurried through his head.)


"Wait, Bertulf," commanded one of the other men. Remus's eyes flew open hopefully - it was the one who sat crouched, studying Remus. He held up a suntanned hand to halt the spear. This man had dark brown hair, straight and short. It looked like it had been cut with a pocket knife, and could rival James's for its messiness.


(Remus instantly liked this man a small bit more than the others, not only for delaying his own death, but also for the familiarity of his ridiculous hair.)


His eyes were light blue, almost pale, and they narrowed as he studied Remus closely. He kept his hand raised, as if warding off the attack. Remus's eyes flickered between the three men, waiting for something else to happen, for one of them to strike suddenly. He wished he'd kept his wand on him.


Bertulf lowered the spear and stared evenly at his companion. "It's a wizard," he snarled. "Look at how he's dressed," and he spat again, the wad of saliva nearly hitting Remus's foot.


"Surely, he is," muttered the blue eyed man, almost in surprise as he seemed to realise something. "But he's also one of us." He pointed at Remus's cheek, which bore very faint scars of his transformations, and then his hand travelled down to Remus's neck, where could be found the top part of the scar, barely visible above the collar of his robes, from when he was first bitten.


The man tugged Remus's collar aside to see the scar in full, to confirm his suspicion, and then looked up at Bertulf to be sure he was seeing it as well.


Bertulf shook his head and chuckled, clearly not caring. "Perhaps. But not anymore," he growled, stepping towards Remus again. And Remus, for his part, thought he might pass out. He was already becoming dizzy from the non-stop, heavy hammering of blood in his veins, mixed with his terror.


"I said no, Bertulf!" commanded the man once more, clearly becoming irritated and impatient. This time he snatched the spear from Bertulf and broke it against his knee in one swift movement. He handed the broken, useless spear back, looking icy.


Bertulf accepted his broken weapon grimly, looking more angry than ever.


"Ulfric," said the third man quietly. "What are you doing? He's clearly a wizard. He comes from a society that banished us. He's probably a spy or something."


At this point, Remus felt nothing but despair. It was his very first mission, and it was a pretty important one, and he was the only person who could have successfully pulled it off. And yet, before he ever even got the chance, he'd been caught, captured, and they already suspected him of the very thing he'd been sent to do. And now he might die.


Ulfric shook his head and chuckled. "He's a werewolf, Conan," he said confidently. "Let's just bring him back to the den, and we can decide what to do with him from there. Whatever he is, the Alpha might like to know about him. Especially if he is a spy."


That, Remus didn't like the sound of at all.


"Up you get," grunted Ulfric, standing up and grabbing Remus's arm, hauling him to his feet with ease.






III.

"Why did you bring him here?" demanded a large, grizzly looking wolf, circling Ulfric angrily. "He's clearly a wizard. They've already banished us from society, kicked us out of our homes and separated us from our families! What more do they want from us?"


After the werewolves had found Remus in the forest, he'd been searched for a wand (he told them the Ministry took it and snapped it, though in reality it was buried with the mirror and cloak) and then his hands had been tied behind his back. The three men had lead him through the dark forest, until they had come to a series of caves - all of them looked manmade. The largest one was the one Remus had been lead into moments before, and he'd nearly been ill as he'd heard all the wolfish voices before even entering the room.


He was stunned upon his arrival - there were at least twenty-five others in the room, aside from his captors. All of them had burning eyes, all pointed directly at him. Many looked ready to pounce and Remus shied away as Ulfric prodded him along.


Ulfric had walked him right to the center of the room, which seemed to be a gathering place for the wolves. And then he had left, left Remus standing alone and bound and frightened, with everyone staring.


Behind him, a fire flickered and burned and cast the room in dim, orange light. Remus didn't like it, for the harsh shadows made the werewolves look even more vicious. Smoke escaped through a small hole in the earthen ceiling. He wished they would put the fire out - the cave was sweltering, and sweat poured from his hairline. But then, he thought, if they did put it out, he would probably find it terrifying given his present company.


"Rolff," sighed Ulfric, almost pleadingly, though Remus wouldn't allow himself to think even for an instant that Ulfric pled on his part. Ulfric pled for himself, not wanting to be in trouble, punished or looked down upon for what he'd done - bringing an obvious wizard into the den. The man's broad shoulders slumped slightly, and his voice was quiet as he insisted, "He's one of us."


Rolff, whom Remus took to be the pack's leader, turned at that, grinding his teeth irritably. "Is that so?" he growled, advancing on Ulfric. "And what makes you say that? Because he told you so, is it?"


Ulfric's face twitched and he stared unhappily at Rolff, but didn't react to the jeer. "Because he has the scars that all of us have. Or at least the scars of those who once lived among humanity. The scars of somebody locked up."


Rolff didn't respond to that, although his yellow eyes flickered towards Remus. But Remus didn't return the glare - he had eyes only for the hungry group surrounding him, and his gaze jumped around, taking in every face. Some of those in the group weren't even adults yet, and to his surprise, though he may very well have been staring at the face of his own death, his heart ached for them.


Ulfric hung his head, as if ashamed.


An older man, who'd been standing near Rolff, stepped forward. He reached a hand out to grasp Remus's face, and Remus instinctively flinched away. "I won't hurt you," the man reassured him quickly. And he reached out again. Remus saw no other option - he didn't want to resist too much, and warrant his death out of impatience and irritation because he refused to cooperate. And so he let the big rough hands touch his face, run fingers down the faint scars.


Madame Pomfrey had always done a spectacular job of fixing him up after his transformations. He'd often sport his cuts and bruises for a day or two after the full moon, but they rarely scarred, and when they did, it was hardly noticeable.


"Who's been helping you, son?" asked the man curiously, after observing the marks.


Remus's voice was hoarse, more hoarse than it had ever been, from lack of use, and fear and smoke from the fire. "My parents," he lied, hoping it couldn't be seen in his eyes. Many people had helped him over the years, but he thought he should limit it if he wanted to appear as unwanted as they were.


Rolff snarled, regardless. "Kill him," he snapped irritably, and then he turned his back on the scene and retreated down the tunnel.


Remus's heart stopped and leapt into his throat. He turned his eyes back to the ravenous pack that surrounded him, and it seemed like an eternity went by as they each grinned in delight. In that second, Remus also caught sight of his captor, Ulfric. The man looked strangely tortured.


But then a jagged voice rang out. "Hold it."


And remarkably, everyone did, and some of them even cowered at the demanding voice - it filled Remus with dread, for the owner of the voice was clearly not one to be messed with.


Out of the crowd rose a man that looked like a wolf even in human form. He was filthy and greasy and dirty, so terrible that Remus had a hard time even looking his new saviour in the face. The man stepped forward, roughly shoving his pack mates aside, and it was clear that he held some sort of important position and authority in the group.


"You look familiar," growled the man. His breath was rancid, and Remus tried not to breath it in. "You're John Lupin's boy. You look just like him." There was a brief pause, and then, "I would know."


Remus wanted to die on the spot, and he prayed his parents wouldn't be killed or murdered now that his identity was guessed.


"Do you know who I am?"


Remus's voice was barely a whisper in his terror as he forced himself to respond. "No."


The foul man smiled and pointed to the scar peeking out of Remus's collar. "It was me wot gave you that scar."


There was a name that Remus had heard again and again when he was a very young boy, right after he'd first been attacked and bitten. It was a name his father moaned with his head in his hands, or growled in anger, or cried out at Remus's bedside after transformations. It was a name his mother said with fear and whispers, afraid that saying it aloud would cause the beast to suddenly appear. It was a name that, over the years, had faded away, and Remus had never given much thought to it, and his parents soon lost reason to speak of it.


It was a name that hit him like a ton of bricks now, as he looked into awful golden eyes. The name was Fenrir Greyback.


Remus's breath hitched in his throat as he took a step backwards and stumbled, hitting the wall. It upset his balance, and the jarring impact left him suddenly dizzy. His legs felt weak; he felt himself slipping towards the ground with only the wall for support.


Vaguely, he heard Greyback give another order. "Leave him. He's my creation, and it is I alone who can claim his fate."


And the only thing he was aware of after that moment was the room getting steadily darker.






IV.

Remus Lupin had two thoughts when he woke up. The first was that he was very, very hungry. And the second was that he had a splitting headache, and for a moment, he couldn’t figure out why.


It was dark, and it was only when he reached out for his wand on his bedside table and it wasn’t there that he remembered what had happened. He remembered being in the forest, remembered being followed and attacked and struck in the head. He remembered meeting Fenrir Greyback, his very enemy halting his death.


Greyback, he knew, enjoyed preying on children. He wanted them. He wanted to raise them as his own, turn them against their wizarding backgrounds and families. He wanted them to hate the wizarding world as he did, and he wanted their families - every wizard, every one who had turned their back on his kind and banished them - to suffer.


Remus didn't have to wonder why Fenrir spared him. Perhaps the werewolf thought that Remus's parents had finally had enough. Perhaps he thought that Remus had left them, choosing to embrace the monster within rather than try and fit in where he didn't belong. Greyback probably thought that Remus had turned on his father, probably felt his revenge on the man was more complete now. He was probably amused; it was a game to Greyback.


Vaguely, he reached a hand up to his temple and quickly jerked it away again after it made contact. It hurt, and the spot felt rough and sticky and warm. It was only when the metallic smell reached his nostrils that he realized he’d been bleeding. He groaned and shifted his weight, feeling distinctively sore and uncomfortable after sleeping on what he could only assume was cold, hard earth.


He felt around in the dark for a moment. There was a wall behind him. On all sides, he soon came to realise, except for one opening. And somebody was in the opening. He could hear them breathing and sense their presence in the pitch black dark.






V.

The remaining Marauders were beginning to feel more at ease during the Order meetings. By now, after weeks of practise, they had mastered such things as Occlumency and Patronuses.


Unsurprisingly, when their Patronuses finally began to take on forms, they were the same forms as their Animagi. They enjoyed joking about Peter’s tiny ghostly rat chasing off the big bad Dementors.


“Shut up,” said Peter ruefully, but he couldn’t help but smile. It was slightly pathetic. “You’ll see, won’t you?” he said defiantly. They’d made fun of him when his Animagus form turned out to be a rat as well, but then it ended up being undeniably useful for things such as sneaking around. He was the only one who could usually go anywhere he pleased unnoticed, for one. He was also the only one, aside from Remus in his werewolf form, who could fully see in the dark.


Because Lily was now the newest Order member, and was terribly behind compared to all that James and his friends had learned, they took it upon themselves to teach her. She spent nearly as much time in Sirius's flat now as the rest of them, and they worked with her tirelessly.


And then one day, while sitting around in the Hog's Head during a more relaxed Order meeting, Lily’s Patronus emerged as a gentle doe. She blushed madly when Sirius whistled and James looked smug.


“Imagine that,” said James, running his hands through his hair and stretching luxuriously. He tried to fight off a yawn.


Frank Longbottom shook his head. “Who’d have thought,” he mused, and he earned a slap upside the head from Alice. (Frank and Alice produced a lion and a lamb, respectively.)


“Don’t listen to them, Lily,” Alice told her firmly. “They’re just idiots, the lot of them. Boys!”


Men,” corrected Peter, looking scandalized.


And so they continued, learning even more new things, becoming better friends with their fellow Order members with each meeting, until one day Dumbledore pulled the four of them aside after a meeting had ended.


“Please sit down,” he said as four chairs zoomed at them from across the room, and they all obeyed. Dumbledore sighed. “A difficulty has arisen,” he told them gravely.


There was no twinkle in his eye as he spoke. It was something that Sirius had learned to start looking for when he spoke to Dumbledore - it usually gave away whether something had gone seriously wrong or not. His heart sank and he glanced at James, who looked grim, for he had learned to look for the exact same thing.


“I’m afraid that misfortune has befallen some very dear friends of mine,” continued the old man gravely. “The Lupin family, to be precise.”


Sirius stood up quickly and his chair toppled over backwards. “What?” he snarled. He couldn’t bear it if something had happened to Remus while he was out there. James stood up behind him, cautiously, and Lily and Peter looked frightened.


Dumbledore held a hand up to stop Sirius. “Sirius, please sit down, I must insist.”


Sirius was right up in Dumbledore’s face almost, glaring, searching. He didn’t move, and after a moment James up righted the chair and put a hand on Sirius’s shoulder, shoving him back into his seat.


“Now,” said Dumbledore, when everyone appeared calm again (though Sirius had his head in his hands and was biting his lower lip anxiously). “It is not Remus who is in trouble, at least as far as I know. However, I am afraid his father has run into bad company.”


“What do you mean?” asked James, concerned.


“You are aware, of course, of Mr Lupin’s profession?” asked Dumbledore gently.


“He hunts magical creatures for the Ministry,” confirmed Peter. “That’s how Remus was attacked in the first place. One of the werewolves was quite offended to find out he was being hunted, and decided to get revenge.”


“A entirely separate matter, Peter,” said Dumbledore. “John Lupin was sent after a clan of vampires three days ago. He has not been seen or heard from since.”


“No,” said Lily faintly, with her hand over her mouth. She felt a surge of sympathy for Remus, who wasn’t even aware of what was going on right now, and they would have no way of letting him know.


Dumbledore looked grim. “There is little chance that Lupin has survived the encounter. Yet there is always hope. Often, the vampires will preserve their prisoners. Sometimes they decide to change them, to add to their family. And sometimes, they decide to kill them immediately.”


James shook his head in disgust. “Two members of the Lupin family turned,” he muttered.


“Quite,” said Dumbledore with a slight sigh. “Unfortunately, I am positive that Lupin has not survived. Or, perhaps in his eyes, it is very fortunate indeed, for he is one who would loathe becoming the very thing he hunts.” Dumbledore seemed to trail away in thought before asking, “You are aware that Lord Voldemort has been recruiting dark magical creatures to his side, are you not?”


“Of course,” said James. “That’s the whole reason why Remus is out there right now,” he reminded the old man with a hint of bitterness.


“You must also be aware then, that Lupin was a distinguished hunter for the Ministry, one of the best, and that his line of work removes potential supporters of Voldemort? In fact, it was Fenrir Greyback who bit young Remus many years ago. And it is Fenrir Greyback who is leading the rebellion against humans on Voldemort’s orders. John Lupin’s prey can sometimes be very powerful creatures.”


“Then you think Voldemort ordered him taken out,” snapped Sirius impatiently.


“I think it is a very good possibility that Voldemort will work on eliminating as much threat as he can before he goes after the Ministry,” confirmed Dumbledore.


He allowed that to sink in for a moment. The four former students who sat in front of him all appeared disturbed and saddened. Sirius wouldn’t even look away from the ground; he was leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped uncomfortably. And James was squeezing Lily’s hand reassuringly, as she had tears in her eyes. Peter’s chin was trembling and he stubbornly stared at a wall.


“Now,” said Dumbledore. “I would like to send you on your first mission. I have chosen you because of the sensitivity of the matter, and it is somewhat personal to all of you in Remus’s absence. I also believe you are now ready to go into the field.”


At that, James’s head snapped up alertly. Sirius eyed Dumbledore under his brow, but he couldn’t be as eager as James was. His eyes wandered vaguely down to his clasped hands again and he pursed his lips.


“These vampires do need to be removed,” said Dumbledore. “I do not enjoy killing people or creatures simply for what they are. I find it rather unfortunate, and I would like you to understand that we are not taking them out simply because they are vampires. However, we cannot allow dangerous magical creatures to kill innocents for Voldemort's gain. If they can not be persuaded to join us, and I feel that for this particular group, it is already too late - then they need to be eliminated before Lord Voldemort can unleash their wrath on society.”


The old man looked grim. James thought of Hagrid and of Remus, both of whom Dumbledore had accepted and given chances (he was quite sure Hagrid was part giant, even if nobody agreed with him) and neither of whom would have had a prayer had the Ministry known. He understood then that it wasn't easy for Dumbledore to ask them to kill, even in war. Dumbledore liked to try to see the best in all creatures, human or not.


“Do your research,” the headmaster advised them now. “And don’t be too confident. Vampires are very difficult to deal with and can be very dangerous. Your lives will be very much in danger, but I have every ounce of confidence that you are perfectly capable of dealing with the issue.


“In the process,” Dumbledore continued. “I would like you to search for John Lupin. It would be a wonderful thing to find him alive and well. But even if he is not, he deserves a proper burial.”


They all paled at this. Nobody was quite prepared for the possibility of coming into contact with a dead body. Especially not the body of somebody they all knew personally (with the exception of Lily, who had never been to Remus’s house.) Sirius swallowed loudly and grimaced at the dirty floor.


“It would be an honour,” said James finally, for all of them because nobody else could find words. And he meant it, because John Lupin had been a wonderful person. He could remember having dinner at Remus’s house one summer, all four of the Marauders, and John playing his guitar at the table and Remus’s mother, Grace, laughing. Remus had looked entirely embarrassed, but Peter had laughed uncontrollably and James had felt accepted and comfortable, and Sirius seemed cautious yet delighted all at once. Nobody had mentioned werewolves or laws or bloodlines.


“Very good,” said Dumbledore. “You will leave tomorrow evening. I shall await your arrival at the Shrieking Shack no later than eight o'clock.”


Sirius still stared at the floor and never once looked up. All that he could think of was the look that John Lupin had given him in Dumbledore’s office, after he had sent Snape into the willow. He hadn’t told anyone about it, but after that, he never went to Remus’s house again. He had loved it there, but he felt horrible and guilty and rotten, even though Remus had assured him he was more than welcome many times.


He hoped that John Lupin had, at least, understood that Sirius hadn’t meant it, and that if he could, he would give anything to take it back.

Chapter 14: The Vampire Mission
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . F O U R T E E N
The Vampire Mission




“Garlic,” said Lily, reading through an old Care of Magical Creatures book that James had dug out of the forgotten corners of his bedroom. She had to ignore the curse words and terrible drawings scrawled in the margins. “They can’t stand it. And they also can’t stand the light, so they probably won’t even be up and about until it’s dusk.”


James obediently rummaged through the cabinets in the kitchen of his home. He had refused to tell his parents what they were doing or where they were going. They’d used the Muffliato charm to protect their conversation in the kitchen from being overheard. His parents had gone upstairs to nap anyway (something that people their age often did.) After a moment, he triumphantly produced four large bulbs of garlic.


“Check,” said Lily with a grim smile, and returned to browsing the pages of the book. James dumped the smelly load on the counter in front of his three friends.


Sirius sighed and used a knife to bore a hole through each of the large bulbs, and his eyes watered as the smell intensified. He passed them along to Peter, who threaded a thick string through each. “Garlic necklaces,” he said, producing them when he was finished.


“Good. At least they’ll be hesitant to get too close to us,” said Lily.


“Amazing, the little things that make a big difference,” mused James, picking up one of the smelly necklaces and examining it. He lightly tossed it into the air and caught it a few times.


(Sirius was reminded of when he used to do the same thing to an old snitch in school, and suddenly longed for those days, those which were gone forever.)


“Exactly,” agreed Peter, alluding to his rat form, and Sirius was reluctantly dragged back into the present.


“Supposedly, sprinkling mustard seed on the roof of a house keeps them away,” said Lily. “Hmmm...”


James looked uncomfortable. “Do you think we should do that at Remus’s mother’s house? The poor woman...” He sighed and walked around the counter, sitting down on the stool next to Sirius’s. “What a mess,” he said.


“I don’t know,” said Lily.


“How do you kill them?” asked Sirius abruptly, darkly. “The Vampires?” he specified. All three stared at him for a moment, because it was the first thing he’d really said all afternoon, and then Lily consulted her book.


“Well, there’s the common stake through the heart method,” said Lily. “And there’s also decapitation.” She made a disgusted face and looked up at James.


James shrugged at her. “We could try both, I suppose,” he mused. It was at this point that it began to dawn on him how dangerous the whole thing was. Never in his life would he have thought he’d end up killing anybody, any thing. He grimaced and tried not to feel like a monster, because being in the Order required sacrifices, and it required you to do things you really didn’t want to do. He wasn't sure if he even had the nerve to cut somebody's head off, though if it came down to life or death, he thought he could probably manage.


He sighed and glanced at Sirius, taking a nonchalant step to the side, now standing right beside him. Lily eyed the two of them for a moment.


“Come on, Peter,” she said after a pause. “Let’s go find some wood. We’re going to have to transfigure it into stakes for tonight. The book says ash is preferred. You were good in Herbology, weren’t you? I was ruddy terrible, but... do you know where we can find that?”


And Peter agreeably hopped off the stool and followed her outside, and after a brief discussion, they Disapparated.


James nudged Sirius in the ribs with his elbow. “All right, Pads?”


“Fine,” said Sirius, and he pulled the necklaces towards himself and began to make sure Peter had tied them tight enough that they wouldn’t fall off, because Peter usually failed at such things.


James narrowed his eyes. “You’ve been acting like a prat all day,” he said, grabbing a necklace and examining it. “So what’s your problem, then? You can't hide from me, you know.”


Sirius just shook his head, sighed in defeat because James would get it out of him sooner or later anyway. “The last time I saw Remus’s dad, Prongs, was in sixth year, when I sent Snape in to find out his secret.”


James put the necklace down and scowled at Sirius. “Honestly, Padfoot. That was nearly two years ago.”


Sirius grimaced and stared hard at the counter. “You didn’t see the look he gave me,” he said in a low voice. “It’s all I can think about. And I never came 'round again, and never apologized for it, and now he’s gone and he’s probably thought I was rotten all this time. And I was.”


“No,” corrected James faithfully. “Remus forgave you. He'd have said something to his dad. People make mistakes, and the Lupins are smart enough to understand that.”


“I still have nightmares about that night, you know.”


James frowned.


Sirius nodded in response to James's look, disgusted with himself.


“It’s bloody ridiculous,” he snarled angrily. “I’m such a fucking prick. I never tried to make things right afterwards, I just sulked around until Remus said it was okay again, and then I avoided his whole family even when Remus invited me over...”


“Shut up, Sirius, really,” said James firmly. “I won’t listen to it. You’re my best mate, and I don’t let anyone talk about you like that. Including you.” He sighed and surveyed his friend. “So hard on yourself...” he muttered.


Sirius had fallen silent.


“James...” he started up again vaguely, desperately, after a moment. “You don't get it. He looked so betrayed, like he’d only expected as much from me, except he’d been hoping he was wrong, and I’d let him down. That look he gave me made me feel more ashamed than anything else the entire night... Merlin, I hate myself every time I think about it...”


James didn’t really know what to say to that, so he said, “Look. None of that matters anymore, Padfoot. We're going after him tonight, and we're going to bring him back dead or alive, and I'm sure he'd appreciate that.”


“I suppose...” said Sirius, not satisfied. He ran his finger around one of the tiles on the countertop and brooded. “If I could only go back in time,” he suddenly muttered darkly.


“That’s what we all say,” James grinned, trying to lighten the mood. “Too bad the timeturners are so heavily guarded, eh? I bet you we could get one, though. We've done bigger things...”


“Do you think we should contact Remus, Prongs?” Sirius urgently interrupted him, clearly bothered. “Don’t you think it’s wrong that he doesn’t even know about all of this?”


“No,” said James firmly. “We can’t. I know it’s hard... but if we do and he gets caught, and they find out he’s been living in the wizarding world... while they are outcasts, and it would be so very obvious he’s a spy, Pads. We can’t risk it, you know that. He'd want to come home right away, too.”


“He should! His dad is missing, James.”


James only sighed and ran his hand through his hair.


Sirius growled and slammed his fist down on the counter. James was silent - he understood everything Sirius was feeling - despite what Sirius thought, he had seen the look on Lupin's face that night. He had been there, after all - he had been the one to save the day, the one to make everything right. And it wasn't as if he didn't know that that betrayal of Remus didn't bother Sirius every day. He did know, and he did understand, perhaps better than Sirius realised. And he knew why Sirius thought Remus should come home - Sirius didn't have a proper father himself.


But this was war. And in war there are sacrifices.








II.

They were all set to venture into the dark forest that night. They each wore a backpack that held a large supply of stakes, as well as a large knife that could possibly assist in any beheading necessary. Lily carried a small assortment of healing potions in hers. They only hoped they wouldn’t be outnumbered, but of course, they still had their wands as well.


They each smelled curiously offensive, what with wearing garlic bulbs about their necks for protection. They shuddered in the cold wind as they knocked on the door of the Shrieking Shack. It was there that Dumbledore had told them to meet him.


(It had taken a little bit of persuading and story telling to convince Lily that it really was Remus making all the racket during their school years, and that it was not, in fact, haunted.)


The door opened with an ominous creak, and Dumbledore greeted them briskly.


“I haven’t a lot of time,” said the old man, ushering them into the dark living room and lighting his wand. “I have other business to attend to while the school sleeps tonight.” He quickly unfolded a map and pointed out a spot in a certain forest. “Here is where Lupin reported setting up camp before the Ministry lost contact with him,” he told them.


“Right,” said James. His voice shook slightly, nervous and fearful of the awful night ahead.


“Good luck, and be careful!” Dumbledore bid them. “You may keep this,” he said as he handed the map over. “I must be on my way. Stay together!”


“Yes, sir,” said Lily. Her voice, too, sounded tiny and frightened as Dumbledore strode out the door and Disapparated with a crack.


The four were left facing each other.


“Maybe we should go find the camp in the daylight,” suggested Peter, trying not to sound frightened. “It’d be easier to see it, and there wouldn’t be blood hungry vampires about.”


“No,” said James. “We can’t. I know Dumbledore said it was a long shot, but what if Remus’s dad is actually still alive? We can’t waste time. We’re all scared - I am, too - but we have to do it.”


“Right,” said Lily. Peter and Sirius nodded deftly.


“We have to do it for Moony.”


They gripped hands, having decided on side-along apparition to be certain they’d all end up in the same place. And then, tightly shutting his eyes, James stepped forward and turned on the spot, and the four of them vanished with a loud crack.






III.

Far away from Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, or any other civilized town, there was a thick, dark forest. It was the murky type of forest, in which fog clung to the trees and was held in place by leafy canopies. It was the kind of fog that never went away, and now, with the Dementors hovering about the entire nation, it was worse than ever.


The forest was one that Muggles would call ‘spooky’ and that wizards would call ‘deadly.’ It was rumoured to be even worse than the famous Forbidden Forest surrounding Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.


It was the perfect place for all sorts of dangerous creatures and things, because the chances of them being discovered by non-magical beings was very slim. Many creatures that John Lupin had captured in his life time had been banished to this particular forest.


The Muggles stayed away from it for the most part, aside from the occasional adventurer or researcher or paranormal investigator. Those who went in came out again a frightened mess, and they never spoke of what they saw for fear of being labelled a lunatic. Some of them never came out at all.


In the middle of the forest was a small, abandoned camp, and in the middle of the camp, with a loud crack, three young wizards and one witch appeared, stumbled and caught their balance, and immediately began casting protective charms around the area.


Lumos ” muttered Sirius, as soon as the protective charms were cast. He aimed his lit wand around the area.


The camp was practically in ruins. One small tent stood in a clearing beside a log. There was a large fire pit, but it had long ago burnt out, and now a few desolate grey logs smouldered and smoked pathetically. The tent itself was lopsided and broken - the right half was caving in on itself.


Sirius looked at it apprehensively. They all did. Perhaps there was a dead body inside.


“Right,” said James, breaking the deathly silence. “Let’s have a look, shall we?” he asked, and his tone sounded desperately upbeat, though it fooled nobody.


He approached the tent with caution and peeked inside. It was the typical wizard tent - small on the outside, but large on the inside with many different household amenities. It was the kitchen area that was caved in.


James flicked his wand towards the corner, and thought the spell in his mind. The broken support beams repaired themselves and the tent was as good as new. (He often used nonverbal magic for petty spells, feeling it was always good to practice.)


“Well, Remus’s dad isn’t here,” he called out to his friends. Feeling a good bit more courageous at that information, Peter joined him inside the tent to look around.


Outside, Lily restarted the fire and sat down on the log, pulling her magical creatures book from her bag. Sirius dropped his bag to the cold ground and sat beside her. James and Peter continued to check out the Lupin tent.


“What do we do now?” he asked, absently. He didn’t really expect her to have any answer. The camp was abandoned, clearly having been attacked, and there was no sign of Lupin anywhere. How would they track down one man, or worse, vampires, in a giant forest?


She didn’t, in fact, have an answer. Or at least she didn't have one that he liked.


“I don’t know,” she admitted, flipping through the book. “I don’t know how we are supposed to find them. There’s probably an abandoned cabin or cave or something,” she mused. “They’ve got to live somewhere, haven’t they?”


As far as Sirius was concerned, they didn’t really have to live anywhere, as they were quite dead. Searching dark caves certainly didn't sound appealing at all. He wished, as he often did, that something like the Marauders Map was available for all areas. It would be incredibly helpful to be able to see who was around you, no matter where you were.


He allowed his thoughts to drift around that for a moment. Of course, they didn’t even have the sacred map anymore. They had been caught with it in seventh year, and it had been confiscated by Filch. Losing the map had been their biggest blunder, aside from Sirius slipping Remus’s secret to Snape.


The map.


Sirius gasped. “Do you have the map?” he asked suddenly, turning quickly towards her and taking her by such surprise that she flinched.


Lily looked confused, and proved it by her answer. “Huh?”


“The map? The one Dumbledore just gave us a few minutes ago? It’d probably say if any buildings were nearby, wouldn’t it?”


“Good thinking, Padfoot,” came James’s voice, as he and Peter stepped out of the tent and joined them. They, too, sat near the fire, and James pulled the map from his pocket. They all crowded around, studied it by wandlight, but it really didn’t show anything at all except for a nearby river, and, several miles off, a set of railroad tracks.


“Bollocks,” sighed James, folding it up again.


“Yes,” agreed Peter, who was looking quite pleased in the mingled fire and wandlight. He wouldn't admit it, but he was scared out of his wits at the prospect of searching for vampires in the dark. Especially when the dark was so thick thanks to the Dementors. “Let’s just spend the night, then, and start looking in the morning.”


“Shut up, Wormtail,” snapped Sirius irritably, for he was afraid as well, but couldn't allow himself back out of the job. “Remus’s dad is out there, for fuck's sake.”


“Oh, don’t start fighting, you two,” groaned Lily.


Both boys fell silent, though Peter was looking highly disgruntled at Lily. Most of the time he got along with her quite well. Occasionally, mostly when she interfered with something that he felt wasn’t her business, as she wasn’t a Marauder, he could become easily irritated with her. He already felt as if she were beginning to take his place in the group. She certainly got to see James more than he did.


James was looking like he was deep in thought, and, Sirius noted, whatever he was thinking about, he didn’t look very pleased. In fact, he looked quite pale and sickly.


“What is it, Prongs?” he asked then, because he’d seen that look only a handful of times, and it had always come because of something horrible.


James’s mouth had been hanging open in horror, and he swallowed a sickening amount of saliva as he looked at Sirius. The firelight was reflected on Sirius's face, sharp angles and harsh light making him appear even more terrified. James swallowed again.


“I think,” he said quietly, a failed attempt at hiding his words from Lily. “That we will have to bait them.” The other three stared blankly back at him, so he elaborated. “I think they’ll come if they know we’re here,” he added.


“You mean we have to go out there and let ourselves be taken,” said Sirius flatly. At that, Peter paled considerably and Lily’s hand flew up to cover her mouth, which had just fallen open in horror.


“Just one of us,” said James thoughtfully. Now that the idea had been voiced aloud, he was beginning to feel more confident about it. “The rest of use ought to stay here. We could follow afterwards. But if we all go out, we might all be taken, and then we’d be quite buggered for a way out.”


“That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard,” said Sirius automatically, dismissing the idea as fast as he could. He picked up a stick and prodded the fire, avoiding looking at James again.


“There’s no other way,” said James quietly.


“There is,” Sirius responded, jabbing his stick at a log and creating a flurry of sparks. “There has to be.”


“Their coven could be anywhere in these woods,” argued James. “We’d never find them just by looking. And what would we do, stop to cast new protective charms around us with every step? We have to do it like this, Padfoot.”


Sirius stopped prodding the fire and stared sullenly at it instead.


“Who’s going to be sacrificed?” asked Peter in a small voice.


James sighed. “I vote me,” he said.


“No,” said Sirius, very quickly.


He couldn’t survive without James. He was sure of that, if nothing else. If it had to be any of them, his vote would be Peter, but of course, he kept that to himself. It couldn’t be James. And he’d feel like an absolute bastard to send Lily, the girl, in. And anyway, should anything happen to her, he didn’t think James could bear it, so it was out of the question as well. He glanced over at Peter; the boy was practically trembling in fear.


It was, to be frank, the first heart wrenching decision out of many they would soon have to make in the war. Which of their greatest friends would be sacrificed to danger? Which were they willing to risk never seeing again?


“I’ll do it,” said Sirius then.


James considered it briefly, but shook his head. “I don’t think so, Padfoot,” he said under his breath.


Sirius flared up in an instant, throwing the stick down. “I’m doing it, damn it,” he snarled back. He eyed James like an animal, and he was ready to fight his best friend over it if he had to. He would rather die himself than see them, any of them, lose their lives.


James remained completely calm. In fact, he picked up the stick Sirius had been using and prodded the fire himself before he said anything else.


“Listen, Pads,” he said evenly after several seconds went by (in which Sirius continued to glare challengingly at him). “Your Animagus form is a dog. You need to stay here, because you’re probably the only one out of the lot of us that would be able to track something down with any sort of accuracy.”


“The Prewetts showed us all how to track, James.”


“Sirius, we're not going to have time to examine pinecones and look for spider's nests. Anyway, vampires don't travel on the ground.” James cracked a smile. “Can't they turn into bats? Anyway, it doesn't matter. Your nose would still be more accurate.”


Sirius opened his mouth, began to object, but was forced to close it again. There really was no argument to that. It really wouldn't matter which of them was the bait if those remaining couldn't find them in the end. His shoulders slumped slightly and the fire that had been in his eyes moments before suddenly dulled.


Lily was eyeing Sirius with tears in her eyes. She knew exactly how he felt, and she desperately didn’t want James to go either. “James,” she said then, in a whisper. “What if they kill you?”


James blew it off and smiled reassuringly. “Come on. I’m James fucking Potter. Only the good die young.” His hazel eyes glinted mischievously. “I'll live forever.”


“Your head gets ever bigger,” observed Peter teasingly. He was relieved that they hadn’t chosen him - he had been positive they would. He seemed to be the only unimportant one of the group, at least in their eyes - he was certain of that much. One lover, two best friends, and then there was he.


James smiled at him. “That’s the spirit, Wormtail.” Both Sirius and Lily looked quite frustrated by the lack of seriousness in the situation, and James sighed. “Look,” he said. “I’ve still got a wand. I can probably keep myself alive for a bit, if I had to, whatever happens.”


Sirius just shook his head. He almost said, Remus’s dad had a wand, too, but decided not to.


“I’m going,” insisted James, one last time, finalizing it. “Right now,” he added. “Get your stuff ready.”


And so they all put their backpacks on again and looked around at each other apprehensively. James shoved his bag into Peter’s chest. “Take my shit,” he said. “I don’t suppose they’d be too pleased to find a bunch of stakes on me.” And Peter nodded, terrified, and clutched the bag, and James ruffled his friend's hair reassuringly.


He wasn’t meaning for it to seem like a goodbye. But he had to recognize that something could very easily go wrong. It was their first mission, and they weren’t exactly experienced, even if they were skilled. They were all fully aware that a man trained in dealing with magical creatures - Remus's dad - had been overcome. Vampires could be vicious things. It didn't seem like one wizard fresh out of school stood much chance wandering about alone.


He turned to Sirius, pulled him into an embrace that Sirius hardly had the heart to return. “Bring me back,” he said quietly in Sirius’s ear. “I know you’ll find me. It’s why I want you to stay behind.” And Sirius nodded, understanding, but still not liking it. James let him go, and Sirius felt suddenly very cold and empty. He shoved his fists into his pockets, and stared at James as he moved around the campfire.


He couldn't die. It felt all wrong. It couldn't be this way, not tonight. Sirius focused on those thoughts, and tried not to let his worry flood over him.


James turned to Lily next. She allowed tears to stream openly down her face when he looked at her; up until then she'd been able to hide it. She knew how quickly a vampire could kill; it seemed like a death sentence for James.


“And you,” he said with a smile, trying to show her that he was unbothered and confident, even if he didn't feel like it. “I love you.” It sounded like an offering, and he peered carefully at her as he spoke it, as if three little words could make what he was about to do all right.


“I love you, too,” she responded unhappily, and he smiled even wider. Then he carefully pulled his garlic necklace off and slipped it around her neck, where the bulb knocked happily about her own.


“Double the protection,” he said approvingly. He tucked the bulbs of garlic carefully into her blouse and then looked up to meet her eyes. “Stay with Sirius.”


She nodded, and then, before any of them knew it or even realized what was happening, or had time to argue further, James walked to the edge of the circle, took one more step, and was outside of the camp’s protective spells.






IV.

James walked a good way through the forest. It really was a horrible place, he decided. It was pitch black, and the air was so thick and murky that he could practically feel it. It almost suffocated him with every breath, and he could hear whispers in the air.


He wondered, briefly, if perhaps he might be the victim of a Dementor’s kiss before he ever even came across any of the vampires. He considered summoning his Patronus (which still fascinated him since he learned it the day before in the Order), but in the end decided against it in case it was enough to keep any vampires at bay.


He wanted them to take him, after all. And so James settled for a simple Lumos.


He walked for what seemed like hours, and he lost all sense of time as he stumbled alone through the dark. Bushes caught on his clothing, and he struck his head once on a low hanging tree branch.


(He chuckled at this, despite his fear. He was, at least, glad there was nobody else around for that part. His friends would have teased him to no end had they witnessed it.)


James must have walked for miles as time went on, shining his wand light all around him. The shadows it cast behind the trees frightened him at every glance, until he eventually ended the spell and walked in pure, thick, suffocating darkness.


He didn't know where he was going. He wandered aimlessly, feeling useless. He tried to look for signs as Gideon and Fabian had showed him, tried to figure if what he hunted had been this way, but he wasn't even sure if he'd stepped out of the camp in the right direction. Eventually he decided that spiders didn't even live in these horrible woods.


There was an ever growing feeling of being watched. James had been aware of it for the last hour now. A few times, he thought he heard a tree branch creak, and he'd quickly turn at the noise and spend a moment surveying the trees behind him.


Maybe he was becoming paranoid, and it was just the wind.


“John?” he shouted with all his might. “John Lupin?” and then he listened carefully for any response.


But there was nothing.


Perhaps, he thought, he would die out here, alone and malnourished and lost forever. He sighed, and began to feel very foolish. What was he thinking? He was no match for a vampire. He wouldn't even be able to see one coming. He was going to die alone out here, and he would never see his family, his Marauders, never see Lily again. Despair began to creep over him.


James grit his teeth. Think, he silently told himself. You're getting carried away with the problem, and you're not getting anywhere closer to trying to fix it.


He decided to try one of the new spells he'd recently learned in the Order.


Homenum revelio,” he muttered. He wasn’t sure what good it would do. The spell was to detect human presence, and vampires were technically undead. They were, however, human at one point, and they were also in human bodies, and James figured that that might count for something.


He felt the spell leave his wand, felt the vague ripple in the air around him. But then he gasped in horror and stumbled, almost falling to his knees. He felt the ripple break and reflect back at him, and knew that somebody was there - somebody was watching him.


He turned and looked behind him, up at the branches hidden by Dementor mist, once more.


James clutched his chest as he tried to catch his breath again, leaning against a tree for support. He could hear this heart thudding, and he vaguely wondered if it was even a vampire at all behind him. Shouldn't it have hurt him by now?


“Hallo?” he asked, still gasping, and casting the Lumos spell again in his mind. He shone the lit wand all around him, anxiously. He wasn’t sure if there was a response or not. Surely, if there was, his hammering heart had drowned it out.


“Who's there? Mr Lupin?” he dared to breath. But clearly, it wasn't Remus's dad. Remus's dad, he knew, would have revealed himself, wouldn't have hung around in the dark knowing how frightened James was.


James swallowed with some difficulty. He kept his eyes scanning the trees around him as he slowly held his arm up and shook back the sleeve of his robes. He pressed the tip of his wand to his skin.


"Sectumsempra!" he whispered, and though he cast the spell, he was unprepared for the sudden harsh slice across his forearm. Blood dripped from the wound as he tried not to cry out in pain. But it worked.


Something collided with him in the dark. It was like being hit by a truck.

Chapter 15: Losses
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . F I F T E E N
Losses




Sirius wished that they still had some of their most useful possessions. He hated to think it, because he was worried about Remus still, but he almost wished he still had his mirror. He thought it may have been put to better use here, with him, than with Remus, who would only be able to use it on occasion.


If he had it, then he could communicate with James right now, could know what was happening and if everything was all right.


As it was, he had only his gut feeling to rely on. He wasn't sure if it would be enough.


The three of them were sitting silently around the campfire. Nobody said a word since James had left; they were all waiting and worrying and staring but not really seeing anything. Nobody wanted to say anything, to try to make small talk or make the situation seem less than it was.


Finally, Sirius broke the silence. “I’m going to transform,” he said. His voice was hoarse from the dry air around the fire, and from not being used in at least an hour. He sounded exhausted and at breaking point.


Peter and Lily stared blankly at him.


Sirius pursed his lips and swallowed with difficulty, almost gagging at the dry feeling in his throat. “Sixth sense,” he elaborated, and his hand unknowingly drifted to his chest, where he placed it over his heart. “And,” he said, only dropping his hand when he noticed Lily’s eyes lingering. “Better hearing...”


“All right,” sniffed Peter. He knew Sirius just couldn't take it anymore; that he longed for the less complicated emotions of his canine form.


If it wasn’t for the stressful atmosphere, Lily would have been amazed at the transformation. It was the first time she’d actually seen it since they told her. She found herself desperately wishing to see James in his majestic stag form.


And so Sirius the dog paced around the camp, back and forth in front of the fire, panting and pricking his ears, but never settling or lying down. Lily felt marginally safer for some reason as she watched him.


They carried on in silence for another half an hour. Lily and Peter were both startled when Sirius suddenly growled low in his throat. The dog turned his head alertly and looked at his human companions.


“There’s something,” said Peter, who had spent enough time with Sirius to be able to read his actions in Animagus form. He stood up and pulled his bag onto his shoulders, and picked up James’s bag too. “Come on, Lily,” he said, starting towards Sirius. He was feeling quite manly, considering he was now the only human male in the group.


Lily hurried and pulled her bag on as well, following without a word as Sirius ran ahead. The fact that they were leaving the camp now meant only one thing. James had been caught.






II.

When James came to, his head didn’t ache, he was still alive and breathing, and he had not, in fact, been hit by a truck. His arm, however, was numb and painful, and it was only when he tried to lift it so he could see the damage that he discovered his wrists were bound.


He sat with his back to a wooden beam inside of what looked like an old dusty cabin. His arms encircled the beam behind him, so there was no hope for escape.


James looked around, panicked. When he looked to his left, he felt sudden relief and a small glimmer of hope.


“Mr Lupin?” he whispered.


The middle aged man was tied to a similar beam, much like James was. He was slumped against it, unmoving. In fact, he looked extremely pale and gaunt, and James knew immediately that the man was dead, just as Dumbledore had predicted.


James swallowed a sickening lump in his throat and looked away. Once a month, right before the full moon came up, when Remus was really sick... That was what John Lupin looked like. It didn’t help that Remus had inherited the man’s nose and light brown hair.


He saw his wand against a wall, as if it had rolled there after being dropped on the floor. Accio, thought James desperately as he stared at it. It didn’t move.


A few moments passed. James's fingers brushed against his injured arm, and felt something odd. The wound felt as if it were bandaged. That was odd, and he began to wonder what had happened to him while he was passed out.


He glanced around, taking in his surroundings. The cabin was dimly lit only by the full moon. Two hammocks were hanging from the ceiling. The place looked like a nest. The rest of the building seemed mostly bare; darkness and shadows clung to every corner. James wasn't sure if he was alone or not, and he peered carefully around with his eyes narrowed, searching for his captor.


James wiggled his hands again, trying to get them loose enough to slip out of his ties. He grunted with the effort. And then, out of nowhere:


“Do you work for the Ministry of Magic, too?” hissed a voice through the darkness. It was nearby, and James practically crawled out of his skin. He still couldn’t see the source anywhere, however, and he deduced that it had come from behind him - the only area hidden from his view by the wooden post he was tied to.


James swallowed to wet his dry throat, and wondered if he should keep quiet, wondered if there was anything he could say that would save his life. “No,” he finally said defiantly. “They offered me a job, and I turned it down,” he added, feeling brave.


It seemed to intrigue the vampire, who turned out to be a woman, though he'd been unable to tell by her voice alone. She strolled around the beam James sat at, keeping her distance and never taking her red, bloodshot eyes off of him. She was so pale she practically glowed in the dark.


James inhaled sharply at her startling appearance.


“Who sent you?” she purred, reaching for him, and she used one long finger to lift his chin.


“That’s my business,” James said hesitantly. He didn’t dare tell her he was a friend of John Lupin. He hoped she wouldn’t lash out at him for his secrecy, and he cringed when the words left his mouth, ready for any pain that might come his way. He wished she'd release his chin; his throat felt terribly vulnerable with his head tilted up.


“Saucy,” hissed the vampire after a moment, and she really did sound quite impressed and taken aback at his sheer nerve. Usually, her victims were too petrified to do more than plead for their lives.


She pulled her finger away and strode confidently away, settling herself in one of the hammocks. As she lounged, she stared at him through those red eyes.


James was sweating bullets, and though he tried to appear confident, he failed dismally for quite possibly the first time in his life. He pulled desperately against the rope tying his wrists. He eyed the woman, who was watching him so hungrily. Vaguely, in his growing panic, he wondered why she wasn't doing more than just that.


“Are you working for Voldemort?” he finally blurted, unable to take the silence and the way she looked at him. He had given up on ever getting the ties around his wrists loose.


She seemed, yet again, surprised by his question, but decided there was nothing to hide.


(James thought that, perhaps, she wasn't hungry. He remembered, suddenly, reading in Care of Magical Creatures how vampires would sometimes keep their victims alive, saving them for days, even weeks, until they were hungry enough to feed.


He desperately hoped that wouldn't be the situation.)


“The Dark Lord offers us a wealthy feeding ground,” she responded defensively. “We will be able to walk freely through the streets, rather than be banished to the forests by the Ministry. We will feast on Mudbloods and criminals.”


James closed his eyes.


“Are there many of you?” he asked after a pause.


“We are many in the Dark Lord’s army,” she said. “It is only I here, however, and I do not fight for Lord Voldemort.”


James opened his eyes at that, surprised. He had fully expected to encounter one of Voldemort’s minions. “You don’t... Do you live here alone?”


The vampire’s eyes flashed dangerously, flickering towards the empty hammock. “I lived here with my mate,” she said, and she glared evilly at John’s body. “Until he came along and killed him.”


James looked over at John and swallowed. “You killed a good man,” he accused after a pause.


“As did he,” she replied coolly, examining her nails.


James didn’t reply. Part of him wanted to tell her that Mr Lupin was working on the Ministry’s orders, that obviously her mate had done something wrong to warrant Lupin coming for him, that clearly, he probably wasn't that great. But, in the current situation, he didn’t feel that was a very smart idea. He stared hard at the wooden walls, grey with age. They offered no comfort.


“Look, kid,” she suddenly said in a flat tone, as if tired of playing around. “My mate and I have lived out here for years. We've never ventured into society, we've never attacked any villages. The occasional hiker for a treat, but that is it. We live off of animals.”


“You killed John Lupin,” James pointed out stubbornly.


“My message to the Ministry of Magic,” she replied evenly. “We just wanted to be left alone. But some people are so prejudiced against half breeds and magical beings that they sent this poor man out here to end us. He was just doing his job, but he paid with his life for it. He killed my mate.”


James's mouth tightened into a firm, straight line as he glared at her. He was wrong. The Ministry was wrong. If she was telling the truth - and she had no reason to lie, as he was alone with her and certainly no threat - they had done nothing to deserve being hunted down. It was likely no different than the werewolf situation. The Ministry breathed down their throats, waiting for them to make the slightest wrong move so they'd have an excuse to send them off to the wild.


He looked down at his lap. "I'm sorry about your mate," he finally said after a few moments.


The Vampire straightened and gave him a surprised look. "You are?"


James nodded, daring to glance up and meet her bloodshot eyes. "It doesn't sound like he deserved it."


She curiously tilted her head. "What's your name?"


He didn't know why he told her. But he did. He simply said it was James.


“You are a very rare person, James. And I don't plan to hurt you,” she admitted, a smile playing on her lips. “I'm going to let you go. But I want you to take my message. I want to be left alone.”






III.

Sirius could pick James’s scent out of a thousand different smells. Maybe even a million. Following James’s tracks out of the camp proved to be no issue at all. He was beginning to think that James had known what he was talking about when he insisted Sirius stay behind.


Plus, having such an important job to do kept his mind off his worries. Lily and Peter, on the other hand, were still silent, seemingly traumatized in fear.


He kept the pace quick, so that they had to sprint to keep up with him as he darted through the woods with his snout to the ground. He had come to the place where James’s tracks seemed to stop. He could smell on a tree that James had leaned against it. He could smell another smell, a horrible one, the smell of death. It mingled with James’s scent and from that point on he couldn’t smell James alone anymore.


He continued to follow.


Lily suddenly gave a gasp; Peter uttered, “Blimey!”


The black dog looked up for the first time and saw what had gotten a reaction from them. In the distance they could see an old cabin. Sirius bolted for it without a second thought.


And Lily, who wanted desperately to scream at him to come back, to stop and think about things, to remind him that they could very well be outnumbered and not to just go charging in, whipped her wand out and did the only thing she could think of.


Sirius felt the chilly Disillusionment Charm flow over him, and he looked down to see that he couldn’t see himself anymore. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have the invisibility cloak. A charm cast by Lily Evans always seemed to come out powerful, and this one was no exception. It could, in fact, rival Dumbledore’s invisibility charms. He charged ahead, not leaving this quicker form until he reached the sagging porch.


“Where did he go,” whispered Peter in a panic. The dog had disappeared right before his eyes, and now he felt quite suddenly alone and vulnerable without the beast.


“I Disillusioned him,” said Lily briskly. She did the same to herself and to Peter, shuddering at the clammy, cold feeling that ran down her spine. Then she grabbed his hand and dragged him forward, running towards the cabin after the dog. “Come on!”


The vampire began to advance on James to untie and release him. He had promised to leave, to take his friends and go and leave her in peace.


Incendia!


Fire erupted from seemingly nowhere, somewhere in the vicinity of the open door, and then suddenly Sirius was there. The use of the spell had caused Sirius’s disillusionment charm to wear off instantly, but it had also at least allowed him to get close without being seen.


The vampire jumped back, giving a shriek of rage, baring her fangs towards him instead as the hot flames licked towards her pale skin.


Sirius, being the haughty being that he was (and also being slightly mad with fear), glanced at James and gave a small smile in the midst of it all.


“They’re practically Inferi, Prongs,” he stated loudly, his voice wild and uncontrolled. They had only recently learned about those horrors during the Order meetings. The lessons were still fresh in Sirius’s mind, and he grinned wickedly at the vampire. “The undead don’t like fire much, do they, love?” And with another flick of his wand, the fire erupted again.


The vampire backed into the corner, trapped and afraid (and mildly offended at being compared to Inferi, and disgusted at being called love after she'd already lost her mate for eternity).


Lily and Peter had caught up by then, had glanced at Sirius and the vampire in the corner, and then immediately set to work freeing James from his bonds.


Sirius approached the cornered vampire, keeping his wand outstretched. There was a vicious glint in his troubled grey eyes. “Are you working for Voldemort?” he demanded of her in a snarl.


“No,” she said ruefully, eyeing him with hatred but remaining cowered against a wall.


Sirius hardly hesitated; he'd long ago decided anything she said would be a lie, and he pulled a stake out of his bag and lit it on fire with a tap of his wand.


“Pads!” objected James, getting to his feet, clutching his injured arm.


But it was too late to stop it. Sirius, who was feeling quite ill over the whole thing, flung the burning stake at her and it made contact. Satisfaction stole briefly over him as he watched her take her last breath. But the other three flinched, and Lily had to look away.


That was when Sirius changed a little. He became a bit more of a soldier in the war and a bit less of a boy. A little of the innocence remaining within him after growing up in Grimmauld Place was lost in that moment. It hurt; it didn't matter that he'd done it to stop her from hurting James. He had wanted it; he'd wanted her dead for what she was going to do, and he wouldn't have let anything stop him.


He almost sank to his knees from the ache of it, clutching his chest as if his very soul was torn. He felt strangely heartbroken; it was all he could do not to suddenly cry. He turned to his friends; Lily and Peter stood beside James, looking stunned and appalled. They avoided looking at him, and for that he was glad. He was gasping, he realised, and he squeezed his eyes shut.


James had a pained look on his face as he watched his friend, watched him murder, watched him grin so haughtily, watched the weight of what he'd done come crashing down. He watched as Sirius suddenly found the darkness within himself that he'd been running from for so long.


Why did you do that? You didn't have to do that, James thought desperately, and he turned away. The room was silent, except for Sirius's laboured breathing.


“Are there more of them?” Sirius finally gasped at James in a shaky voice, chancing a glance at his best friend. But James was looking down, his face grim. He rubbed his bandaged arm and shook his head. He was disappointed; Sirius could tell. He could feel it.


His eyes travelled down James's lean frame, focusing on the hand rubbing the arm. James's hand moved back and forth across the bandage, again and again, as if to distract himself from what had happened, a desperate reaction to the sudden stress. It took Sirius a moment to register what he was seeing, and when he did, his brows lowered over his grey eyes and he strode towards James, irritated. He grabbed James's hand and lifted it into the air, pointing at the cloth around his forearm. “What's this?” he demanded. “You cut yourself to get her, didn't you! Who bandaged this?”


James pursed his lips and pulled his hand away, crossing his arms over his chest to hide the wound from Sirius, keeping stubbornly silent. He didn't want Sirius to know the truth, to realise what he'd done, that the vampire wasn't going to hurt them. Sirius glared hard at James, waiting for an answer, and a testy moment of silence passed between them all.


Finally, James heaved a sigh and closed his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Pads," he murmured, shaking his head sadly.


"Why?"


"That you had to kill somebody on my behalf." He wouldn't say. He wouldn't tell Sirius it was unnecessary. Not yet.


Sirius lowered his brow and threw a confused look to Lily, who had eyes only for James. He didn't understand this. He dropped his hand onto James's shoulder. "Hey," he muttered, giving a squeeze. "It's all right."


Peter desperately wanted everything to stop. Everyone was intense, Sirius was furious and confused, and he could tell James was hiding a secret. He longed for their school days, when they never encountered anything such as this, when a joke could solve all problems.


James had removed his glasses and was swiping at his eyes with the heels of his hands, blinking rapidly when Peter blurted, "At least we can all see the Thestrals now..."


Sirius's mouth fell open and he glanced at Peter's hopeful face. He realised then, the full impact of it - he had taken a part of their souls as well. They saw it. A wave of despair overtook him; he ran his hand down his face, and then hung his head, turning his back to all of them so they couldn't see his expression.


(He'd always been able to see the Thestrals, but then, he'd witnessed Aunt Elladora beheading her house elf before he ever even started Hogwarts.)


James scowled at Peter and then flung an arm across Sirius's shoulders as if to protect his friend from the ill-timed joke. As a result, Peter blushed furiously and felt the familiar wave of jealousy wash over him as he watched the two. Sometimes it felt like the harder he tried to fit in, the more he failed, and they didn't even notice or care. He sensed Lily's eyes on him, and wished she'd quit staring, for he felt suddenly foolish. He wished, as he had many times before, that he hadn't even opened his mouth. He always seemed to say something stupid.


Sirius's sorrowful gaze, meanwhile, fell on Lupin slumped against the wooden beam. The man had clearly passed on days earlier, and Sirius felt something die inside of himself at the sight. He shrugged James's arm away and knelt down before Remus's father.


Sandy hair going white and grey at the temples, the man looked very much like Remus. Sirius's eyes prickled. He could remember, it wasn't so long ago, when John Lupin had been full of life, smiling and telling jokes, embarrassing his son. He could remember the pained look in Dumbledore's office like it was yesterday.


“We ought to burn him,” suggested Lily quietly after a moment. She hated the idea of it, and hated the words for coming out of her mouth. “We don’t know what she did to him. I think she probably bit him before she killed him. We wouldn’t want him to come back as one of them.”


James nodded slowly, feeling suddenly more exhausted than he ever had in his life. He wearily bent to pick up his wand, and twisted it in his hands as he spoke. “He wouldn't want that either. We’ll take him back to headquarters and call Dumbledore. He can deal with it, and Remus’s mum.”


Peter pointed at the woman slumped against the wall. "What about her?"


James turned to look at the body, his face grim. He pursed his lips and glanced at Sirius. "Her, we bury," he said. He didn't know why; it only felt like the right thing to do. She had made the last two days miserable for all of them - yet he was sorry she was the victim of the Ministry's prejudices, sorry that her mate had been murdered for no apparent reason.


He was also sorry she had killed Remus's dad, and hated her for that. He hated her for capturing him, for tying him up and scaring him half to death.


But she was going to let him go. And that, James decided, had earned his respect, whether he hated her or not. She hadn't deserved to die - she'd only wanted to send her message along.


Damn it, Sirius...


Sirius quickly turned his head to stare at James in dismay. "Seriously, James?"


James nodded, his face hard. He pulled a stake out of Sirius's backpack and transfigured it into a shovel. He held it out to his best friend, pressing the handle against his chest so that Sirius was forced to grip it. "You can dig the grave, mate. By hand. No magic."







IV.

James was eyeing Sirius apprehensively, and Sirius hated it. He avoided James's pained glare, and kept his worried grey eyes to the worn wood floors of the old pub. He was tired and exhausted, his body ached and he was covered in sweat from his labour.


James had insisted on a proper funeral for the vampire, short as it was. Sirius couldn't understand why. But they'd all stood over the freshly dug grave to pay their respects until James felt certain she could (and would) rest in peace.


They had Disapparated back to Hogsmeade, and it was just before dawn. Lily had cast a Disillusionment Charm over John Lupin, for none of them thought it to be a good idea to appear outside of the Hog’s Head Inn with a dead body. Particularly with the shady people that hung around the place - perhaps some of them might even recognize John if they saw him, considering the types of creatures, breeders, and other dark things that the man dealt with on a day to day basis. Perhaps some of them were even Death Eaters, keeping a watchful eye out for their master.


James had hovered the body in, for, Disillusioned or not, it wouldn’t do to be seen struggling with something heavy and invisible. They knew from seven years of experience that, oddly enough, it was the invisible things that seemed to cause the most problems and attract the most attention. Sirius and Peter kept their distance, both looking particularly pale as they followed. Lily held James's free hand, and her downhearted face contrasted greatly with James's grim expression of disappointment in all that had happened.


They whispered the password to the now familiar blue-eyed old bartender, who, being near enough to see John’s faint, vague outline in the air, grunted and hurried to let them into the secret room the Order met in. He eyed them as they passed, and looked worried; between their expressions and the corpse they escorted, it was clear something had gone wrong.


Sirius wondered if he knew of their first mission, if he knew of Remus's. If not, thought Sirius, perhaps the scrubby old man was noticing who's face was missing from their usual party. He desperately wanted to blurt that it wasn't Remus's corpse they were carrying, despite how similar he looked to his father. Instead he sighed and shut the door, blocking the bartender's view. Rather than face James again, he took a moment to rest his forehead against the door.


“I’ll call Dumbledore,” said Lily, and a wispy doe exploded from her wand, casting the room in a blinding light, and gracefully took off through a small window for the distant castle. Her voice shook slightly when she spoke, and she retreated to stand against a shadowed wall when the room fell dark again with the Patronus's departure.


There was awkward silence as they all waited, ill with dread over facing what had happened and the loss of life. Lily absently played with a stand of her hair, eyes staring without seeing; she seemed to have retreated inside herself to escape the situation.


Peter watched out the tiny window for Dumbledore, shouldering against the wall with his arms crossed. (In the back of his mind, he noticed something that had slipped all of their minds without the presence of Remus. It was a full moon.)


Sirius chewed his lip and rubbed his rough thumb over his calloused hand, raw and sore from using the shovel. And James stared at Sirius.







V.

"Oh, dear," murmured Dumbledore, entering the room less than ten minutes later; he instantly noticed the corpse. "Oh, dear," he repeated dolefully, as if at a loss for words. The other four looked on, feeling uncomfortable and guilty, though Lupin had been dead before they even found him. Sirius crammed his hands into his pockets and thought he might be ill; he cast furtive glances at the body, always looking quickly away again, and once even glanced at James.


The old man crouched down beside Lupin, and then looked suddenly up at them, his blue eyes focusing on James. "Was it the vampires?" he asked, although they were all certain he already knew the answer. James simply nodded and swallowed the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. It was easy to be brave and strong when they were on their own, but when it came to recounting what they'd gone through, he could feel everything begin to crumble. The realization was hitting him - Remus's dad was dead. Gone forever.


Remus's dad, who played guitar and sang, who blamed himself for what happened to his son, who never mentioned werewolves in front of any of them but had done his best to accommodate one. Who spent all of his extra money searching for a cure, so that the family lived cheap and poor and wore patched clothing. The friendly smile, the silly jokes, the way Remus looked embarrassed whenever his father talked to any of his friends... It was all gone, all over, and the rest of the Lupin family didn't even know it yet.


James removed his glasses and pressed his fingers into his eyes to try and stop the sudden watering.


"Were you too late?" asked Dumbledore gravely. "Or did this happen in battle?"


James shook his head and blinked. "Too late," he said darkly, letting his hands drop. "There was only one vampire."


Dumbledore looked surprised at that; he'd expected it would take an entire coven to down an experienced hunter such as John. But in the end, it only took one moment caught unaware. "Only one?"


"There were two," James explained further. "Mr Lupin killed one... I don't know why. The Ministry sent him. And his mate captured and killed him in retaliation," he finished, sounding dejected. "They weren't working for Voldemort," he added. "They were just living in the wild, preying on animals and the occasional hiker."


Dumbledore nodded and sighed. "A bit of good news, amidst such tragedy," he mumbled, turning back to look at the dead man's face. "Perhaps Voldemort's forces haven't reached all of the banished creatures yet. May I ask - what happened to the remaining vampire? Did you warn her of what was coming, convince her not to join him?"


James glanced at Sirius, who frowned and looked at the floor. "She... we killed her."


Dumbledore looked up in surprise. He had sent them on this mission, expecting them to have to deal with something he knew would be difficult for them. But clearly, he didn't think the young people before him would kill a vampire who wasn't even a threat. Not when there was just one vampire that they easily outnumbered. Young Gryffindors like them always seemed to spare life if they had the choice, and especially if it wasn't a fair fight. He had an inkling that something had gone wrong, that somewhere there was a disagreement. That, perhaps, this was a vengeful act.


The others kept their eyes on the ground. The room was filled with an awkward lull, and then the old man rose, knees cracking slightly in the silence.


"Very well," he admonished, sounding weary. "I trust your decision completely." In reality, Dumbledore wondered whether the group was too young to fight the war after all, and the thought of what he'd already exposed them to saddened him.


"I am very sorry for your loss of Remus's father," he stated, trying to mask his disappointment. "Of whom I am certain you were all very fond." He nodded at them in acknowledgement. "Please accept my dearest condolences, as well as my gratitude for taking care of the situation. And now excuse me, for I must be going - I have dreadful things to attend to, and I am certain you are all tired. I will be in touch with Remus's mother tonight."


The old man clapped his hands twice and the body disappeared, likely sent to the hospital wing in Hogwarts to be dealt with. He gave a final nod to his former students, and then Disapparated, leaving them quite alone.


James rounded on Sirius, hands on his hips. He took a deep breath, as if he were about to say something, and then thought better of it. He turned and kicked one of the wooden chairs still set up from the most recent Order meeting. Sirius flinched. He hated more than anything when James was angry with him.


Peter started at the racket, and finally tore his eyes away from the window. He'd stared out it the entire time Dumbledore was in the room, unable to deal with the dead body, unable to deal with Dumbledore's reaction to the news. But now he turned and eyed James apprehensively. Lily watched silently from near the door, her green eyes flickering between the two best friends.


James sighed and yanked another chair towards himself, flopping down on it. He rested his elbows on his knees and rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Damn it, Sirius," he sighed.


"She killed Moony's dad," snapped Sirius in return, not wanting to deal with what he'd done right now. Especially not in front of Lily, for she wasn't really a Marauder, though he wasn't fond of Peter listening in either. He sighed. "She was going to kill you, too," he added in a mumble.


James shook his head. "There were other ways, Sirius," he said in a low voice. "Anything. Obliviate her, for fuck's sake. Petrify her, anything works! She wasn't preying on society, and she wasn't working for Voldemort. I know she did something awful to somebody we knew personally! But killing a Vampire that chooses not to prey on humans, Sirius... It's like killing a werewolf that chooses the same."


"Fuck you," snapped Sirius, at the same time Lily harshly said "James!"


But James ignored Lily. "Did you do it because of what she was, Sirius?" he prodded. "Did you do it because she's a vampire in a war against darkness?"


He hated himself for even saying such a thing to Sirius, but he couldn't get it out of his head - the way Sirius had taunted the vampire prior to her death. He had seen it all in his friend, though the whole thing lasted only seconds. Teasing, because she was undead like Inferi, and using fire to threaten and scare her. And the haunting, cruel smile on Sirius's face as he did it. It was a smile he recognized - it was the same one Sirius's cousin, Bellatrix, often wore.


"Did you do it to get back at her for killing Remus's dad, Sirius? Did that solve anything?" pressed James heatedly.


Sirius narrowed his eyes. "I told you why I did it," he snarled defensively. "She was coming for you, Prongs, and I'll be damned if I'd allow that. I saw her face, and I knew it was the last thing Remus's dad saw... It wasn't going to be the last for you as well." He sighed and turned away, digging the heels of his hand into his eyes. "I know there were better ways of dealing with it, James, and do you know?" Sirius shrugged wildly as James eyed him. "I don't care. I don't. I'm not taking chances. We're going into a war."


James rubbed his forehead. He didn't know if he dared to tell his best friend the worst of it, that the killing wasn't even necessary and that he was never in danger. But he had to, he knew. They had to know and understand and make their choices carefully; they couldn't go around killing anyone who seemed to be a threat. Moody's voice rang in his head from their training sessions, telling them what they were fighting for. Blood traitor, Mugglelover, Werewolf, Half-Blood.


The rights of all beings, whether it be Pureblood wizard or Vampire. Muggle or Mudblood.


They couldn't act with their hearts. It had to be with their minds, and Dumbledore had warned them it would be hard. There could be no compassion, and at the same time, they had to judge wisely, be certain. Why even fight if they were going to kill those they stood for in the process?


He finally sighed, and he stared at the floor because the thought of seeing Sirius's face when he learned the truth caused him pain.


"Sirius... She was going to let me go."


Sirius gaped, his eyes suddenly widening in horror. There was silence, and Sirius's breathing became ragged. He spoke slowly after a moment. "You mean I... I wasn't really saving...?"


James's face was sad. He shook his head, and could think of nothing to say that might be of comfort.


Sirius felt nauseated. He turned his back on them. He was suddenly afraid, afraid of himself and what he was going to become in this war. It was his first challenge, his first mission, his first time in the face of danger. And he'd already lost his mind, had already taken a life instead of choosing other options. And now he knew that it was completely unnecessary. What else would he do for James? Who else would he irrationally eliminate to keep his best friend safe?


Part of him felt like he shouldn't even be in the Order. Like this was going to be too difficult for him to act rationally. Dumbledore had been right - it wouldn't be easy and the decisions could be heart-wrenching. And at the same time, how could he not be a part of it? How could he step back now, knowing that James would sacrifice everything to further the cause against Voldemort? James had exposed his own blood to attract a killer. How far would he go?


Sirius's eyes closed and he tried to forget the guilt and shame he felt. The worst of it was that he'd enjoyed it, ever so slightly. He'd laughed. He felt like an idiot now.


"I don't care," he snarled. He didn't mean it. He did care. But he didn't want to show them that he was weak and foolish and embarrassed.


James took his glasses off and rested his elbows on his knees as he traced a finger around the lenses. It took a moment before he spoke again, chancing a quick glance at Sirius.


"She was innocent," he pressed, to further get the point across. He hated doing it, but Sirius had to understand, had to have control when they were out on missions. "Of all, but standing up to Moony's dad."


"Don't you talk like he did something wrong, James!"


James threw his hands in the air, for Sirius was so frustratingly beside the point. He could see his friend losing his grip on things, he recognised the panicked way Sirius's grey eyes flitted around as a million thoughts raced through his head. He knew then - Sirius did care. He knew he made a mistake. James calmed his voice. At least he knew Sirius had done it for the right reasons, unnecessary or not. But he didn't want it to happen again.


"Okay. I'm not, all right? I didn't mean to. I just don't like it, Padfoot. You killed somebody. You killed somebody."


"I know that, James," snapped Sirius, sulking. He gave his friend a reproachful glare.


James frowned and snapped his glasses in half, not fully aware of what he was doing. His fingers acted numbly of their own accord while his mind raced. It didn't matter anyway; they could be quickly repaired with a spell. But the sound they made caused him to look down at them.


"It breaks you," he said softly.


There was utter silence after that.


"Prongs," said Peter, turning from the window after several long minutes. "I hope you don't think you're going to go through a war without ever killing anyone. If that's the case, then you should just stop now, before you get killed yourself for trying to be noble or something stupid like that. So you met a rare exception tonight! The Dark side won't show the same mercy!"


"I don't like it either, James," interrupted Lily. "But killing isn't the only thing that breaks you. We're already much different people than we were when we were in Hogwarts. And it's mostly because we've known all along we'd face death and danger, and we've been preparing ourselves to do things we don't really want to do. These things..."


James shook his head, disappointed. They were right, of course. He knew the sacrifices he would have to make going into the Order. He knew he'd face difficult decisions, and knew he'd have to do things he didn't want to. They all knew.


He still hated it. He hated it more than anything. It didn't matter if Sirius thought he was saving him. He'd still done it, and as a result was now painfully aware of the darkness within his own soul and what he was capable of. When James looked at Sirius, he saw something a little harder in his friend's eyes after the deed, and that was what he couldn't bear.


"What's the matter, Sirius?" he asked then with a sigh, though he sounded like he already knew the answer. He tapped his glasses with his wand and put them on again, looking up at his friend.


Sirius's mouth thinned as he pursed his lips. Then he confirmed James's suspicion and asked the one question that James knew had been bothering him, for it was part of what was bothering himself about the entire situation as well. They both knew he'd snapped and lost control when he killed her, that he'd seemed out of his own mind.


"Do you think... what I did... I was acting like a Black, wasn't I? I swear to God, James, I did it to stop her from killing you, not in revenge or spite or evil. I didn't know she wasn't going to hurt you. But fuck... I killed somebody today. And I don't even regret it. I liked it. I liked putting her in her place when I thought she was a danger. Potters aren't like that."


James shook his head grimly. He would never deny Sirius the one thing that was most important to him, no matter how disappointed he was in his friend. "You'll always be a Potter, no matter what you do, Sirius. You were only acting like a good friend. And I'm not really upset at all."


(He still was, a bit.)


Lily came and put her arms around her boyfriend's neck. "Nobody was expecting to have to deal with anything like that so soon," she voiced for him, smiling in understanding. "At the end of the day, Sirius, you did it to save James's life, necessary or not. That's something to be proud of."


Sirius didn't feel that he'd done anything worth being proud of at all.


But James nodded and sighed, ready to drop the issue, and motioned at the spot where John's body had lain on the floor. "And now," he said sadly. "We have our first death. And it's not even Voldemort related. How the hell are we going to tell Remus?"

Chapter 16: Celebration
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . S I X T E E N
Celebration




It was snowing again in late November. Soft white flakes floated deftly to the ground, and all was peaceful and silent and serene. Nature beautifully reflected the feelings of those standing around a casket, clad in black. Many had matching black umbrellas to shield themselves from the soft snowfall, though the graceful trees shading the restful site seemed to do a well enough job.


Everything was silent in the graveyard, as friends of John Lupin bowed their heads in silent prayer and farewell. Remus's friends stood in his honour beside his mother - they had carried the casket.


Sirius watched everyone silently, serenely, trying to ignore the gut wrenching sobs of Remus's mother. He had never been to a proper funeral before. He wondered half-heartedly how many more he would attend before the war was over.






II.

After the funeral, among the depths of the Hog's Head Inn, Marlene McKinnon approached Sirius. Sirius sat alone in a chair with his head hanging unhappily, and he was observing the worn, grey wooden floorboards. The Order meeting was about to start soon, and Sirius had too much on his mind to mingle and chat so carelessly as the others could. He didn't join his friends, though all of them glanced at him from time to time.


In the nights since he had been home again, he had been distraught and even, at times, unable to sleep. After returning home in the morning from turning over Lupin's body to Dumbledore, Sirius had done nothing but lie in bed. At times, he even wept, remembering the way it felt to take a life. He felt like a fool, and his heart ached for the one he'd killed.


She had taught him a very important lesson, and as much as he'd hated her when he saw her approaching James, part of him was now quite fond of her as well. He was sorry, and he only wished he could tell her so. He didn't ever want to have to kill again.


The worst part was that he'd never really had to kill in the first place.


Marlene touched his shoulder, making him flinch in surprise.


"Are you all right?" she asked cautiously, drawing a chair towards herself with a flick of her wand and sitting beside him.


Sirius looked up at her for the first time. She was at least ten years older than he was, and she had a warm face and curly brown hair. He gaped, for she had yet to speak to him in all the weeks he'd been a part of the Order. He got the feeling that his last name kept a lot of people away.


"I heard you... had a misfortune with a vampire," she said in a low voice after he didn't respond.


"Who says?" said Sirius roughly, feeling defensive. His face was dark with shame and sorrow, and he quickly looked down again to hide it. He was still the proud boy he'd been raised to be, and he couldn't let his weak moments be shown.


Marlene shrugged. "I killed somebody, once," she divulged hesitantly.


Sirius's expression changed to one of disbelief, and he finally lifted his head once more to look her in the eye, to see if she was making it up or lying. She looked incredibly guilty. In fact, she couldn't return the gaze - it was her turn to be ashamed, and she stared determinedly at the front of Sirius's robes instead.


"But it comes with the job," she practically whispered, and clearly, her own incident still haunted her. She nodded her head towards Dorcas Meadows, almost as if to shift the focus off herself. "You don't even want to know how many Dorcas has killed. She's relentless in this fight since losing her parents to the cause last year. We usually don't speak of it. Just know it's happened to us all. We spare their lives when we can, Mr Black, but-"


"Right, can you call me Sirius?" he interrupted uncomfortably, tipping his chair onto its back legs in an attempt to appear unbothered.


Marlene gave a small smile, unabashed by his haughty rudeness; she looked rather as though she expected it from him, and for a moment he felt even more ashamed. "All right then, Sirius. Don't be so hard on yourself." She gave him an awkward pat on the shoulder and then stood and walked away.


Sirius glowered and returned his glare to his hands. Hands that had killed. He was more concerned with the fact that he didn't regret it than the fact that he'd actually done it. Marlene had meant well, he knew, but it was different for them. The other Order members didn't have a dark past, a dark background that they had to overcome. They didn't have that nagging voice telling him he was living up to his name, his family's habits creeping up and taking hold of him.


They all had to kill - he could believe that. But judging by Marlene's face, they truly felt bad about it and regretted it, didn't like to talk about it and tried to forget that it ever happened. And that was the difference between them and he.


They didn't have the worry or the fear of what they would become.






III.

In the past few weeks since Remus's capture, a lot of things had happened, and many of them were for the good. He'd been trapped in the tunnel for several long days, always with a guard. And that guard was usually Ulfric, Ulfric, who must have been assigned the position as punishment for bringing Remus around in the first place. Nevertheless, Ulfric didn't seem to mind the job. Within a few days, he'd begun to speak to Remus here and there. And though it had taken much longer for Remus to begin to trust the man, he eventually found himself responding.


Occasionally a member of the pack would sneak down the tunnel towards them. And Ulfric would always snarl at them to go. Remus was quite sure they were hoping there would be no guard. They all seemed to laugh guiltily once caught, and hurried to leave before Ulfric could get to them. He felt as if everyone wanted him dead, and it was quite possibly the most humbling feeling he had ever felt.


Twice a day he was fed. Somebody would deliver the food to Ulfric, and Ulfric, in turn, would toss Remus his portion, for he wouldn't allow the deliverer near. The food wasn't the greatest, and Remus ate only because he was usually famished. His meals consisted of raw vegetables, seemingly hand grown by the pack. His sensitive nose, however, easily picked up the smell of meat. Ulfric always had meat as well as the vegetables.


Remus wondered if he wasn't given the meat because he was a prisoner, or perhaps Ulfric just saved it for himself when doling out the food to Remus. Nonetheless, Remus was fairly jealous of his guard, and longed for the fire-cooked meals. Remus didn't think a werewolf could survive without meat - he certainly began feeling more and more weak as the days went on, from lack of protein or lack of exercise, Remus wasn't sure.


He was thankful just to be alive, although he didn't feel he could adequately do his job at the end of the forlorn tunnel. There was certainly nothing to spy on here.


After many days, perhaps a week, Ulfric sighed as he leaned against the dark tunnel wall and crossed his legs in front of him. "You know, Remus," he said conversationally, for by now they seemed to get along quite well (though he was the only friend Remus had). "You're starting to smell."


Remus blushed. "I'm sorry," he said. There was not much else he could do.


After that, Ulfric got permission from one of the elder wolves to allow Remus routine bath breaks. And so, for the first time since capture, Remus was allowed out of the dead end tunnel. He was always guarded by Ulfric, who himself seemed to hold a pretty esteemed rank among the wolves. Though everyone glared angrily at Remus, nobody made a move as long as Ulfric was around.


Remus enjoyed his daily trips to the pond the wolves used for bathing. The fresh air was a fantastic change - it made him feel human again - and it was refreshing to wash the grime and sweat from the hot den from his skin. He always lingered and took his time, and often, Ulfric let him.


(Remus didn't think Ulfric liked being stuck in the tunnel all the time either. It was then that he realised that Ulfric was almost as much a prisoner as he himself was - Ulfric spent just as much time in the cramped space as he did, and was only allowed to leave when another trustworthy pack member could stand guard.


Remus never enjoyed the replacements when Ulfric wasn't around. He spent those times huddled against the wall, deathly afraid that somebody would now take their chance at him.


The replacement never talked to him as Ulfric did.)


And then it was back to the old tunnel. Remus was beginning to hate it there.


The full moon brought about changes for Remus. Perhaps it was because there was finally no doubt at all that he was one of them, that his story about being kicked from society was probably true. Perhaps it was because the beast within him recognised that they were his kind, and their beasts saw the same in him. He ran with them, he hunted with them, he howled with them. He was one of them, and for the first time since his capture, he felt he truly belonged.


Days later, the Alpha stopped by his sorry dead end tunnel. The man hated Remus - Remus could tell. He was terrified of what would happen now that he'd stopped by for a visit. The Alpha settled against the wall opposite Ulfric and stared at Remus. He spoke to Ulfric under his breath for a few minutes, before turning to Remus once more.


"We've had council," he said gruffly, with no introduction at all. "It has been decided that - if you're going to remain here, eat our food, bathe in our waters - you've got to earn your keep.


Starting tomorrow, you'll be put to work like the rest of us."


And then he got up and left.


"He doesn't like me," said Remus, when he was sure the Alpha had gone.


"Jealous," said Ulfric, stretching out on the ground. "But he accepts you now."


Remus made a face at that, for he didn't think there was much to be jealous of. He, after all, had spend the last several days in a cramped, hot tunnel, eating disgusting vegetables. Of course, he had been given many opportunities the other wolves hadn't as he'd grown up - such as attending Hogwarts, and living among wizards. But he'd carefully kept those things to himself, and nobody knew how he'd grown up.


Both of them were silent. Remus drew a stag in the dirt. And then...


"Do you remember when you first arrived?" asked Ulfric casually, though it wasn't long ago. He couldn't be sure of what Remus remembered that night as he'd fainted more than once.


"'course I do," muttered Remus scornfully. He didn't think he would ever forget that fear, that terror, of standing in front of the entire pack as they crowded around to rip his guts out. For his part, he didn't care to know what happened when he was blacked out.


"You said your parents helped you."


"They did," said Remus, slightly defensively, for he didn't like any werewolf to mention his loved ones. But that was all he'd said, he remembered. They still didn't know anything else about him. They didn't know there were others who'd helped as well, that he'd had opportunities.


"Rolff's parents disowned him when he was bit," said Ulfric simply. It explained everything, and Remus felt suddenly selfish, as if he'd taken a lot of things in his life for granted. He'd always been a humble person, but perhaps not quite humble enough.


"Oh."


As promised, the next day dawned and Remus was led out of the cave by Ulfric. He was lead to the gardens first, where he spent a good three days working in the dirt. He was shown how to harvest the small crops every day so that the wolves could eat. He was shown how to plant new seeds. He was given a clay bowl, and Ulfric led him back and forth to the lake. It was a lot of work, but it was the only way to water the plants. It wasn't as if they had wands or Muggle garden hoses.


Remus, though he felt weak and light headed after not working or moving about in so long, thoroughly enjoyed being outside of the cave. And a miraculous thing began to happen, he noticed. The cold glares stopped coming. Oh, how terrible they'd been when Ulfric had first led him to bathe.


But now, over time, it was as if the pack became used to his presence. People still seemed wary near him, and occasionally he would see a small group talking in whispers and casting furtive looks his way - but for the most part, he worked alongside the pack mates, and they ignored him, and Ulfric stood watch.


After a few days of garden work, Ulfric showed him how to craft spears - the very type of spear that Bertulf had nearly killed him with. The spears were often broken or ruined while hunting, and more were always needed. Remus relished this work even more than he had the gardening. He was able to wander and roam throughout the forest, looking for long tree branches and straight sticks and sharp stones.


He was a model worker. He never stopped to chat with anyone, rarely took breaks. He was working for his life, to prove his worth and that he should be allowed to live as part of the pack.


And then, a few weeks after his initial capture, Ulfric swore maniacally while they were setting traps for small creatures. Remus looked up questioningly to find the stocky man doubled over. After a moment, Ulfric held up a bloody hand for Remus to see and winced. He'd cut himself on something, and it was deep.


Remus had picked up a few healing spells in his day, having always needed them cast on himself after transformations. He shook his head, disappointed that he wasn't able to use them to help.


"Look, Remus, I'm going to run back to the den and have it wrapped. You'll stay put, right?"


Remus snorted. "Where else am I going to go?" he said reassuringly. "Things are finally starting to get good for me here."


Ulfric smiled wryly as if to say, You poor chap, you think things are good here? and then turned and disappeared through the brush, moving with surprising speed and agility.


Remus waited until he was gone, pondering things, and then took off sprinting for the place - the place beside the small clearing, where a soft mound of dirt and a boulder on top hid the location of his wand, the invisibility cloak, and Sirius's two-way mirror.






IV.

"Hey, get up, you sorry lout!"


James's familiar voice broke through Sirius's dreams and he groggily, reluctantly raised his head and peered towards his bedroom door. There stood James, hands on his hips.


"Oi, Prongs," grunted Sirius, rolling over beneath his sheets. His back ached, he'd slept all wrong, and he was already cranky. He closed his eyes again. "What time is it?"


James strode into the room, surveying the messy bed and floor littered with Sirius's clothing. "Half past arse o'clock," he said absently. He picked up a half empty bottle from Sirius's bedside table and studied it. "Getting bladdered last night, were you?" he asked, holding up the bottle of alcohol.


"Shut up," mumbled Sirius into his pillow. Perhaps he had needed a break, a distraction from Remus's father's death, or from what he'd done to that vampire. "Go away."


James grinned easily and put the bottle down again. He sat on the edge of Sirius's bed, and gave the lump of blankets a hearty slap. Beneath them, Sirius winced.


"Come on, mate. Did you know your birthday came and went already? We missed it with some of what's been going on lately, haven't we? Why didn't you say anything?"


Sirius shrugged and finally sat up with a resigned sigh. (It wasn't as if he was going to get back to sleep with James Potter around anyway.) "S'not that important," he said, peering at James through the harsh sunlight streaming through his window.


James scowled. "Nonsense. We can't miss our chances to celebrate in these days, Padfoot. Get dressed! Lily and Peter are waiting for us. It's not every day you're nineteen, now, is it?"


Sirius stumbled tiredly to the bathroom, wanting to point out, as he passed James, that he'd already been nineteen for over a week. But in the end he kept his words to himself and diligently brushed his teeth while James rummaged around in the kitchen.


After digging through his wardrobe and quickly combing his hair, Sirius emerged feeling much more refreshed and awake.


"You said Lily and Peter are waiting," he asked James as he crossed his arms over his chest.


"Certainly," James responded from where he lounged on the couch with his eyes closed. "We wanted to take you to lunch, Padfoot."


"Well, let's go, then," smiled Sirius playfully. "I'm waiting on you, and you're faffing around now!"


"Cheeky bastard today, aren't you mate?" teased James as he pushed himself off the couch. "Come on then," he added, shoving Sirius towards the door and ruffling his friend's carefully combed hair.


It was a good day to be outdoors, even if it was dreadfully cold outside as December rapidly approached. Both boys wrapped their coats and scarves more tightly around themselves and huddled against the icy wind - so cold that it made one's eyes water.


"Curse you, Pads, for being born in November," said James through chattering teeth as they walked.


"Oh, come now, that's not exactly fair," Sirius responded defensively, unable to feel his ears and cheeks anymore. "It's not normally all that bad, except these ruddy Dementors overhead." He vaguely gestured towards the intense grey sky. "That's not my fault..."


Indeed, the skies were still dark and gloomy and stormy, though most people gave them little thought anymore. The sunshine hadn't been seen since June, save for one day here and there when the Dementors moved. Sirius often wondered when they would make their attack, what they were waiting for, and it would make him shudder to think of what it would be like when they did.


"I still blame you for everything," teased James, pointedly knocking Sirius in the ribs with his elbow.


Fortunately, they didn't have a long walk. James led Sirius into the pub that was just down the street. It was a Muggle establishment, but it was quite nice. Large windows allowed a view of the busy London streets, and they were swarmed as people bustled around shopping for Christmas. The inside of the pub was dimly lit with large glass lamps, and the atmosphere seemed warm and personal and inviting. Muted chatter from other patrons was a reassuring background noise - the sound of living; the sound of happiness. From a wooden table by a window Lily and Peter greeted him with huge smiles. Peter even stood to shake his hand.


"So formal, Wormtail," Sirius smiled at him, sitting down.


Peter shrugged. "Happy belated birthday, mate," he said with a watery grin of his own.


"And every one of you lot forgot it, too," teased Sirius as he greeted Lily with a wink.


"That's a lie," Lily argued good naturedly. "I did remember, Sirius, and even ask James. Tell him, James."


"She did," said James automatically, slipping into the booth, throwing an arm across her shoulders and stealing her drink.


"That's right," said Lily. "And I even got you something, too."


"Oh, you didn't have to do that, Lily," objected Sirius humbly.


"Shut up, Sirius," she responded as she dug through her handbag. "James picked it out, didn't you, sweetheart?" she added, a devious smile on her face over her use of the nickname.


And James blushed and glanced bashfully at Sirius while Peter teased with kissing noises from across the table.


Lily paid little notice to their reactions. "James, make sure nobody is staring," she asked, glancing around warily.


"Nobody is."


She looked up one more time to be sure, and then yanked a shiny red metal box out of her bag. The box was, in fact, much too large to realistically fit inside of the handbag. Sirius glanced around at all the Muggles as well, but nobody was paying them any notice.


Lily pushed the metal box across the table towards Sirius, feeling quite pleased with herself.


"Ah," said Sirius. And he lifted the lid to reveal a large assortment of shiny metal tools. They were magnificent - they had cogs and wheels that moved on their own. He stuck his hand in to grab one and an adjustable wrench immediately bit his finger. He looked up at James, fascinated.


James was looking excited as well. "Now you won't have to go and take all of my dad's tools, Sirius, you can have your own!" He beamed madly at Sirius.


Lily nodded in agreement, her eyes bright. "We know how much you wreck your bike!" she added, sounding, for all the world, very proud of their gift idea.


Sirius laughed; he couldn't help it. "Really, it's not that often. I've gotten loads better, haven't I?"


"You still break it often enough, just by trying to fix something that doesn't need to be fixed," said Peter, daringly, and under his breath; he flinched, expecting to receive a swat upside his head for the cynical comment.


Sirius pursed his lips and glanced, almost in awe at his nerve, from Peter to James. He gave James a good moment to defend him. James, after all, had broken the bike more times than Sirius had because he couldn't keep his hands off things.


"It's true," James added when he caught Sirius's eye, which was, to be frank, absolutely no help at all.


Sirius shook his head, bemused, and carefully closed the lid on the toolbox. "Thank you," he said with a nod towards Lily and James. They smiled back at him in return, and James instinctively wrapped an arm around Lily's shoulders and drew her closer to him. It was, in fact, the first gift they'd ever given together - as a couple.


"Open mine, then," said Peter, and he handed over a crudely wrapped package.


It was tall and bulky, with pointy edges here and there, and wrapped in old newspaper. It was with a small amount of trepidation that Sirius pulled the paper away. What was revealed to be underneath, however, was completely harmless and, in fact, one of the best gifts Sirius had ever received.


There was a handful of photographs. Seven, to be exact, and a close examination showed them each to be a group photo of the Marauders. In fact, Sirius could remember the exact days that all were taken - the traditional picture in front of the castle on the last day of school, just before boarding the train.


Each picture was framed, and it appeared Peter had made the frames himself.


Sirius looked away from the pictures, over to Peter, who was looking rather pleased.


"It's nothing fancy," he said apologetically. "Not like tools or anything. But I thought you might want to decorate that fireplace mantle of yours."


"Nothing fancy?" asked Sirius in disbelief. "Wormtail, it's fantastic. Really, thank you. You know you guys are the only family I have."


And Peter blushed, this time while James made kissing sounds. Sirius kicked him beneath the table and James stopped.


They ordered drinks and sandwiches then, and were truly enjoying themselves, almost to the point of being able to forget about what was happening in the world around them. Sirius felt like a human being, a normal person out with friends, and for a while, he could forget about everything that had bothered him lately. The pictures were passed around for James and Lily to see, and memories of their school days were spoken of with fondness.


Their smiling faces, their gifts. It was everything that Sirius needed right then, and he knew it would be all right. He would move on, they were all still alive, and he was not a Black. Nobody looked down on him for what he'd done. They still loved him, even when he didn't love himself, and it was all going to be okay.


And then James suddenly jumped and his face paled. Lily looked over in alarm. Sirius stopped chewing the bit of sandwich in his mouth as he noticed and looked upon his friend with concern. And the laughter slipped from Peter's face.


Without a word, James reached behind him and pulled a small glass mirror from his back pocket. He slowly brought it up to his face, and then glanced around at his companions.


A feeling of illness began to creep up within Sirius - nervousness and anticipation and worry - for he knew who held the other mirror. And then James voiced it aloud.


"It's Moony."

Chapter 17: The Dark Mark
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . S E V E N T E E N
The Dark Mark




Three familiar faces crowded around James's in the mirror in Remus's hand. His heart warmed at the site - he hadn't seen them in what seemed like so long, and he didn't quite realise how terribly he'd missed them until that moment.


"Moony," said James in greeting, sounding strained.


The smile slipped from Remus's face, for it didn't sound like James was happy to hear from him at all. They were all together, obviously, and were probably having plenty of fun without him. Perhaps, he thought gloomily, he'd interrupted something, and now they were annoyed with him.


"Hullo," he replied, trying not to let his jealousy shine through his voice. Though he held the mirror to his face so they could see him, he found himself diverting his eyes farther downwards when he spoke, trying to hide.


"Oh, Remus, how are you?" asked Lily then, her voice full of concern.


"Oh, I'm all right," he reassured her. "I'm living with the werewolves. They've started trusting me enough to let me out of the cave now. I'm supposed to be hunting for food at the moment." He tried to sound pleasant, but he couldn't help adding at the end, "I've missed you all."


In the mirror, his friends exchanged glances. Remus felt a surge of shame, and wished he'd have kept his mouth shut. Clearly, the feeling wasn't mutual.


"All right," he sighed. "I'd better get back, before I get caught."


"Moony, wait," the mirror barked, and it was Sirius's voice this time. "There's something terrible that happened."


Remus's heart sank, sank so far that he felt instantly ill. He could feel the blood hammering through his veins, nervous and scared to death. When somebody said that something terrible had happened in these days, it was always something big, something awful, unthinkable. Something that would affect them all, probably for the rest of their lives.


"Okay," he said, waiting, and feeling dreadful at the news that was coming.


"Remus, your father..." Sirius started, and then he hesitated and looked at James.


And that was when Remus's heart stopped.


"What?" he demanded. "What about my father! James!"


This time it was James who kept his eyes down, determinedly avoiding looking into the mirror. Remus saw tears in Lily's eyes, and she looked at him in sorrow. And Sirius had covered his eyes with his hands. Peter had abruptly disappeared, as if too weak to face Remus at all.


"He was killed, Moony," said James softly.


"No," was Remus's instant reply, the one that had been forming in his head since the moment his father had been mentioned. He'd known in that moment that his father was either dead or barely alive, and before it had even been confirmed by James he was ready to not believe it.


James shook his head and said nothing. Clearly, he wasn't going to argue over whether the man was dead or not.


Remus sat and clenched his jaw as he felt his eyes prickle with tears. He glared harshly at the trees around them, and even rocked back and forth for a moment where he sat. Finally, after a few moments, he wiped his eyes and looked back into the mirror.


"How?" was all he demanded.


"He was killed doing a job," said James. "He was under orders to exterminate a vampire. He wasn't prepared for the vampire's mate... She ripped through his entire camp, Remus, we found the tent in ruins..."


Remus lowered the mirror and covered his eyes with his hands. Silence passed between him and the mirror. Though the thick forest surrounding him was calm and peaceful, inside of Remus a war was suddenly raging. His father was dead, and he was out in the middle of the wild, surrounded by werewolves on a stupid mission from Dumbledore. He should have been there, back in London. He should be with his mother right now. He should have been the one to bury his father.


"Do you need a moment, Remus?" asked Lily from the mirror. "We can talk later," she offered, as if that would help.


Remus lifted the mirror to his face again, exposing his red-rimmed eyes to his friends. But it didn't matter - nothing did, and they'd seen him cry and bleed and hurt many times before. He shook his head roughly. "I'm going home," he said hoarsely. "Tell Dumbledore. I'll be at my mother's."


James exchanged glances with their friends once more. "Moony," he said in a warning tone.


Remus knew what he was going to say and headed him off. "Prongs," he countered, furiously swiping his arm across his nose. "I don't care. I don't care about this stupid mission, I don't care if it's ruined so that I can never come back. I don't care."


A hundred thoughts were swarming through his head. He knew - they all did - about the sacrifices that needed to be made to fight back against Voldemort. He knew about the difficult decisions, the horrific jobs. He knew that they had more or less signed their lives away by joining.


But perhaps he wasn't ready yet. His parents had done so much for him growing up. Possibly more than even James's parents had done - of course the circumstances were drastically different, but Remus didn't think any parent had ever done so much for their child, given so much, dealt with it all, as his parents had.


He had to be there. He had to go home.


And so he yanked out his dusty briefcase, opened it and placed the mirror back inside, on top of the invisibility cloak, beside his wand. He felt the briefest moment of joy at the thought of returning home. But he pushed it aside angrily - how could he possibly feel joy when his father was lying dead underground.


He glanced around at the trees, unsure of if he'd be back, and not really caring.


(He hoped, in the back of his mind, that Ulfric wouldn't be in trouble.)


And then he turned and disappeared, leaving the clearing as silent and serene and unmoving as it had been when he'd first arrived so many long, countless days before.






II.

Grace Lupin didn't know how she was going to go on. She'd been married to John for twenty years, and now, in just an instant, he was gone forever. In the past week she'd been spending a lot of time looking through her old photo albums, alternating between fond smiles and tortured tears at what she had, and now what she'd lost.


She remembered the dreadful feeling when Dumbledore had shown up at her door unannounced. At the time, she'd thought there was something wrong with Remus. Remus had told her he was working for Dumbledore, after all. The thought never crossed her mind that it could be her John.


She'd always hated his job, had always found it to be a dangerous profession. She'd spent many, many sleepless nights over the years, wondering if he was all right out in the wild. She'd almost left him when Remus was attacked by that werewolf. But she loved him, and she stayed. And over the years, he'd proved again and again that he was a capable wizard, that he knew what he was doing, he loved his job, and he'd always come home.


He'd proved again and again that he'd do anything for his family, and had sacrificed everything to try and help Remus. He was one of the best men she knew.


She had nearly collapsed when Dumbledore told her that John was dead. Dead. She hated the word - it was so final. It was a word she'd never given much thought to, until it affected her. It was a word she now found to be the most terrifying in the English language. So short, so sudden.


She had screamed and cried out, why, why? as Dumbledore stood by, trying to calm her. She'd bruised her hand, pounded her fist into the countertops with each sobbed 'why?' that escaped her. And Dumbledore still stood by.


Dumbledore had done a lot for her family - especially for Remus, arranging for him to attend school, and helping him have steady work even now, afterwards. But he couldn't do anything for John, and part of her had hated him for it.


She'd had to spend that night in St. Mungo's. Despite fearing John's line of work, she'd never fully thought that she'd be a widow. She was only sixty, which is quite young for a witch. Only sixty, and all alone.


Now, as she sat on her threadbare old couch (they'd never had new furniture, or new anything for that matter, since Remus had been bit) holding a tissue to her nose, she didn't hear the door open. She didn't hear the intruder step across the old pine wood floor. She didn't hear the sad sigh.


But, when the hand fell on her shoulder, she knew who it was instantly.


"Remus," she whispered, turning to face the young man. "You've come home."






III.

The two story house in Cradley Heath smelled like heaven, or at least James Potter thought it did. All of the windows glowed merrily as fresh snow fell soundlessly outside. Muggle Christmas songs provided the background noise from an old radio, complete with static. And the kitchen was crowded and warm from the stove.


It was tradition in the Evans household to make Christmas biscuits in December. Lily's mother had invited her and James over for the evening to carry on the tradition. And Lily was only too happy to oblige, too happy to get away from some of the issues she and her friends were currently dealing with.


(James hadn't been as keen on baking, but in the end, had been convinced by Lily to go and be sociable with her family to remain on their good side. And besides, he loved biscuits.)


And so James sat at the small table in the kitchen, for Mrs Evans didn't want to make a mess in her dining room. He was armed with curiously shaped biscuit cutters, and was hacking away at the sweet dough that Lily spread out for him.


(They wouldn't let him assist in the actual baking or mixing of ingredients, for James had assured them that he was a nightmare in the kitchen.)


James had abandoned all shapes but the reindeer one. Lily tried to stifle a giggle, for her mother certainly wouldn't understand.


"James, honey," said Mrs Evans when she turned around and saw what he was doing. "Why don't you make some of the bells or candy canes, too?"


Agreeably, James picked up a cutter shaped like a holly leaf, but when Lily's mother turned her back once more, he made another deer shape and grinned. Lily rolled her eyes at him, and then rolled out some more dough.


Though the two women kept up a steady stream of chatter and gossip (most of which James didn't understand, for Mrs Evans would bring up a Muggle friend that Lily had known her whole life but that James had never heard of), he could tell that they were hiding disappointment. Lily's sister, Petunia, was upstairs in her bedroom with the door locked. She refused to come down and join in the festivities, not when James especially was there. She still seemed to accept Lily a tiny bit, but even that seemed to be waning as they got older and grew apart with their own lives.


Petunia had ruined the tradition that the family had had for eighteen years.


After they were done baking cookies, it would be time to decorate the Christmas tree. Even as they were in the kitchen in that moment, Brian Evans was in the family room setting up the tree he'd cut down that very morning.


When the entire house was filled with the warmth from the old electric stove and the smells of gingerbread and cinnamon were inescapable, and hundreds of reindeer-shaped biscuits were cooling on the countertops (including a tin each for James and Lily to take home - Lily to her roommate and James to his parents), they threw in their aprons and joined Lily's father, who was stringing lights haphazardly around the tree.


If any of them wondered what Petunia was doing upstairs to keep herself entertained, they didn't have to wonder for long, for she came downstairs with her hands full of small envelopes.


"Mummy," she said, holding the envelopes up for all to see as she walked towards the dining room. "Everyone except the Fullers, Gregorys and Admyers have accepted!" Her face was smug and she eyed Lily, hesitating before she entered the other room, as if daring her to say something.


Lily took the bait.


"Everyone accepted what?" she asked her mother.


"My wedding invitations," said Petunia snidely, shuffling the envelopes in her hand.


"What? Tuney! You never told me Vernon proposed, or that you accepted!" Lily got to her feet and stepped towards Petunia as if to give her a celebratory embrace. But Petunia quickly backed away, a look of disgust on her face.


"That's because Vernon and I agreed that we don't want to have any freaks there to possibly ruin it for us!"


Lily stopped and her face fell. "What?" she asked incredulously. Her parents seemed just as dumbstruck, for they gaped at their eldest daughter with their mouths open, clearly never expecting her to leave her own sister out of her wedding.


James felt awkward and uncomfortable. He tried to distract himself with fixing the lone light bulb on the string that was burnt out, the lone bulb that was ruining everything and not allowing anything beyond it to light either. But of course, as he had never dealt with anything but fairy-lit trees, he had no idea what he was doing. He ended up breaking a bulb, though he didn't notice, for he found himself casting Petunia a dangerous glare.


"Don't act innocent! I remember the first summer you came back from that horrible school! Frogs hopping all over our bedroom! And that bloody broomstick you carried with you everywhere! When we went to grand mum’s, you locked me in the closet with your mind, and they had to cut the lock off to get me out! And everyone was afraid to go near you after that! Afraid of all of us! You're not invited!"


Petunia turned and huffily stalked into the dining room to sort out the responses to her invitations.


Lily, who was horrified to be spoken to like that in front of everyone, turned to James, who was equally horrified to see how watery her eyes were. "It was an accident," she said defensively, but her voice was barely a whisper and the first tear spilled over just as she dissolved herself into his waiting arms. "The night I locked her in the closet. She was calling me names, and then went in there to pout, and it just happened!"


"I know," James soothed, running his fingers through her hair, though he really had no clue what she was speaking of. His own magic had never slipped as a child - perhaps because he'd never felt threatened. But he knew Sirius's had when his cousin was picking on him once. And he knew Peter's had when his father had died.


"I'm going to go talk to her," said Lily's mother determinedly. And as she marched out of the room, she could be heard muttering, "Unacceptable."


As for Lily's father, who had seemed on the fence on whether or not he found James good enough or his youngest daughter, the man now looked upon James in a new light as the messy haired boy tilted his head to whisper something reassuring into Lily's ear. Any qualms he may have had seemed unimportant compared to watching this boy comfort his little girl.


Brian Evans sighed and tried not to stare.


During such a time - when a family was in the middle of tearing apart - nobody expects any news from the outside world to be able to come in and touch them. But, to ease the silence and awkward moment, Brian got up and switched on the old black and white television. He turned the knob through every channel, but they were all playing the same thing - a breaking news story. Grumbling, he sat back on the couch.


Petunia and Mrs Evans could be arguing in the background, behind a closed door. They tried to ignore it.


"Hundreds of hooded people are parading the streets, setting houses to fire..." the man droned in the background, as James kissed Lily's tears away. But something clicked in his brain and he looked up at the glowing screen.


"Oh, fuck," he said, causing Lily to temporarily forget her heartache and look up at the television as well.


As if perfectly timed, a ghostly white and glowing figure suddenly appeared in the room, though nobody guessed where it had come from. James figured it must have slipped through the fireplace, for all the windows and doors were locked.


It was a grizzly bear, its lumbering form taking up the entire room. It spoke to them in the low, rough and demanding voice of Alastor Moody. "You are urgently needed at Order headquarters," it growled, as Lily's father crammed himself against the couch, trying to stay as far from the ghostly beast as possible. The man looked petrified, his eyes wild and his mouth open as if in a silent scream.


"It's all right, Daddy!" cried Lily in dismay, seeing the look on the man's face. She couldn't bear to have another family member alienate her because of magic, and her father certainly looked petrified. "It's just a messenger!"


The bear ignored them all and focused its gaze on James. "Alert your friends. Pass the message on." And then it evaporated into thin air.


James wordlessly pulled out his own wand, and an ethereal stag erupted from it and bolted quickly to the fireplace, disappearing up the chimney in a mighty leap. He turned to Lily's father, who looked pale and disbelieving - the man would never get used to seeing real magic.


"Thank you for having me, for allowing me to join in your family's holiday traditions. I was honoured," he said quickly, pulling his cloak on, never taking his hand off his wand, and glancing back and forth from Lily to her father. He'd been taught by his own father to always be thankful and polite, and he hoped he didn't sound careless as he recited his thanks. "Something big has come up, and I've got to go. I'm so sorry," he rushed his words, striding quickly for the front door.


"I'm going with you," said Lily instantly, wiping her tears roughly away and pulling her cloak on as well. "I'm in the Order, too," she said defiantly, when she saw James hesitate and open his mouth to object.


"Lily," said James distractedly, trying not to let her sense his fear for her safety. "You really should stay... your family tradition... the Holidays..."


She was too smart for that, and she shrugged his suggestion off. She wouldn't be left behind - it was her war to fight as well, perhaps more hers than anyone's. She was a Muggleborn.


"It's not Christmas for weeks, James, and I'd say this tradition is already ruined this year. I'm sorry, Daddy," she apologised, turning to her father. The man looked too dumbstruck to respond or care. "Tell Mum, please, I'll see you at Christmas."






IV.

When the couple arrived at the Hog's Head Inn and rushed down to the cellar, it was to find the majority of the Order already there. Sudden footsteps coming down the stairs behind them and matching James's stride told them Sirius had arrived - he'd gotten James's Patronus in just minutes.


"Prongs," he said breathlessly. James wordlessly gripped his shoulder as they walked into the room, pounding it with his fist nervously. Sirius didn't mind, for he was suddenly afraid too, especially upon seeing the looks on everyone's faces. Peter was already there, and they quickly made their way over to him.


"You look ill," said Sirius pointedly to the shorter boy.


Peter shook his head and said nothing. They all hoped that Remus would join them - Sirius had sent his Patronus on after receiving James's, but their friend never showed up. None of them really expected him to, as he was dealing with the death of his father and helping his mother.


(Though they felt selfish for thinking it, they were slightly disappointed, for all of them felt they'd have better success with the help of their most logical friend.)


"Dumbledore is elsewhere tonight," Moody's rough voice rose above everyone else's. "There's not a lot of time to be lost. If you haven't already heard, there's a riot going on. The purebloods have gathered to show their support for Voldemort."


Several people shuddered at the name. James clenched his jaw.


"They're terrorizing an entire town. They did it before two years ago, and caused a lot of problems."


"I remember that," said Sirius bitterly, under his breath. It had been just before he'd moved in with James, and one of the final straws that had broken him and made him come out and openly fight the Dark side and beliefs within his own home. It had been printed in all the newspapers, and that night Bellatrix had come over, dripping in diamonds and sipping their finest wine. Acting like royalty as she chatted with his parents - how proud they all were of themselves for what they'd done.


"It was one of the events that caused Albus to form this Order," said Moody, who obviously had heard Sirius. "The Ministry seemed unable to get the crowd under control on it's own. Devastation."


"What are we waiting for, then?" asked Gideon Prewett loudly.


"Let's end it," agreed Fabian, pulling out his wand.


Moody held up an empty butterbeer bottle, the sticker torn from the side. "I have a Portkey," he said. "It will activate in less than two minutes. That is what we are waiting on," he said gruffly, glaring at the red heads. Clearly, he didn't appreciate being talked to in such a manner, nor made to appear as though he were wasting time.


Gideon shrugged and Fabian looked grim.


Moody's piercing gaze fell on Sirius. "Stay together," he barked suddenly. "Let's not be rash and start shooting spells from our wands until we are sure we aren't hitting our own team."


People mumbled and nodded their agreement.


"All right," said Moody, stepping up to the middle of the crowd. "Thirty seconds." He held up the bottle and said nothing more. Everyone obligingly crowded around and touched it. "We will land in a small wood just outside of the village."


And then the room dissolved before them, and the trees came into view, and they felt their feet hit the ground. The sound of a crowd could already be heard in the distance. The night time sky was practically orange from fires blazing out of control. Chanting could be heard, as well as tortured screams.


Immediately, many of the Order members slunk away. They knew what they were doing - they were confident, they had dealt with these things - and some things even worse - multiple times over the two years since the Order had been founded. James, Lily, Sirius and Peter were left standing alone in the dark.


"Stay together," said James, and he cautiously started to move towards the noise and terrible lights. It was only seconds before the flames could be seen between the trees. An entire row of houses was on fire. Hurried footsteps approached them, and girls screamed, but they ran past the place where the four were hidden in the trees. Muggles, trying to get away without being seen.


Many shouts suddenly sounded. "Stupefy!" echoed into the night. The other Order members had made their move. Several of the people in the crowd stumbled and fell. The rest of the crowd reacted and sent spells into the trees where Order members hid. A strangled shout came from the trees, and they knew one of their own had been hit.


"Oh my God," Lily whispered, covering her mouth with her hand as she watched the nightmare unfold. "I don't know what we're supposed to do!"


"Don't panic," said Sirius softly, inching forward with his wand held out. He never took his eyes off the crowd, never blinked and never faltered. Peter was breathing heavily behind him, sweating slightly despite the chill air. He looked wild eyed from the crowd to his friends, though he looked at Lily the most (simply because she was the only one who appeared as frightened as he felt).


"Wish we had the cloak," muttered James. "And a broomstick."


The situation looked hopeless. There were hundreds of wizards in the mob. There were only about twenty Order members. And after the crowd had fired into the woods, who knew if any of the Order had been hit. They hoped their comrades were still alive and well.


Sirius crept forward. He left the cover of the trees and crossed the narrow street, crouching behind a Muggle vehicle. He stepped on a body - he hadn't seen it in the dark, in the gutter. He felt sick. His friends followed him and crouched behind the car as well. Lily was breathing as heavily as Peter now, trying not to cry as she looked at the dead man's face.


James pointed his wand at another car a parked few feet away. "Inanimatus Conjurus," he whispered, giving the wand a flick. The engine of the car suddenly started and roared to life. The car revved the engine up, seemingly of its own accord, and turned on it's blinding headlights.


"What are you doing," Peter whispered, looking horrified at the first sign of them joining the battle.


"I don't know," replied James in a strained voice. "Anything. Me and Pads used a car to stop them one time in an alley..."


He flicked his wand again, and the car began to move towards the crowd, still revving its engine, still making noise, and now blinding the wizards in it's high beam headlights.


"Go!" shouted James suddenly, standing up from behind their cover and throwing his wand arm forward. The car took off without warning, tires squealing, for the mob.


And it was enough. Perhaps, being wizards and better than Muggles as they saw themselves, they never expected a Muggle invention to pose any sort of threat to them. Or perhaps the sudden noise and bright light had caught them unaware and rendered them temporarily stunned. Many didn't think to try to stop the car - it was coming so fast, the first thought that ran through any wizard's mind was to get out of the way. Most jumped to the side. Some suddenly Disapparated.


"Incendia!" shouted Sirius, rising from behind the car and standing beside James. He aimed his wand at the car as it hurtled away, and a jet of fire shot from his wand. The car was immediately ablaze, causing the wizards to move even further away.


"Stupefy!" the shouts came again from the Order, comrades who had spotted their chance to catch the supporters vulnerable, and several more people dropped to the ground, stunned and unable to move.


Many wizards raised their wands to fire back into the woods.


"Levicorpus!" whispered Peter. He didn't stand and show his face as James and Sirius had. He remained crouched behind the vehicle, out of sight, and shot his spell over the hood of the car.


One man was caught by the spell, perhaps not the man Peter had aimed at, but it was effective nonetheless. The man had just thrown back his wand arm to fire a spell into the trees and back at the Order. Instead his aim was thrown off as he was heaved into the air, and he set another man's cloak on fire.


Peter actually laughed.


"There you go, Wormtail," grinned Sirius, trying to be encouraging. "This is just like hexing the Slytherins in school. It's not a big deal." He did not say that he was scared out of his mind, and he didn't dare look at the dead man lying beside them. It wasn't the time to be weak or afraid, and he patted Peter on the shoulder as if proud.


Chaos ensued, as the man on fire struggled to get his cloak off, and accidentally set a woman on fire when he knocked into her. They both screamed and shot water from their wands to put it out. Those around the two were distracted as they tried to give distance to the fire.


It only took a few seconds of burning before the car suddenly exploded. Hooded wizards ran from the sudden surge of fire. One or two didn't get away fast enough, and their screams ripped through the night.


"Guess it was full on petrol..." murmured Sirius, now moving from behind their hiding place, slipping carefully towards the crowd with his wand held protectively out in front of him. James and Lily slunk behind him.


"Stupefy!" cried many voices once more, and spells from the Order shot out from the woods, halting several people in the midst of the disarray.


"Petrificus Totalus!" Lily shouted, casting her own spell from behind Sirius. A woman - she had been casting cooling charms on her screaming, burning associates, and trying to put out the car fire - suddenly stiffened and tipped over like a falling tree.


"That's my girl," smiled James, letting his guard down slightly to grab her hand as they and Sirius crouched behind a bush. Peter joined them, breathing heavily.


At Peter's less-than-graceful crawl from the car to where they now sat behind the bush, somebody finally spotted them and fired a hex, a harsh slashing movement with his wand. What looked like purple flame soared towards them at an alarming speed; James and Lily, who were exchanging grins even through their sweat and the smell of burning flesh in the distance, didn't seem to notice. But Sirius saw, and he knew that the wand movement alone had looked deadly, and for a moment his heart stopped beating.


He swiftly sat up straighter and flung his wand arm forward, over the hedge, so quickly that the wand nearly flew out of his hand.


"Impedimenta!" he snapped, not wasting another second. The instant the spell left his wand, he ducked behind the bush once more in case he missed. The purple spell zipping toward them hit Sirius's stopping curse and ruptured in the air, the light quickly disappearing as several purple sparks floated harmlessly to the ground.


It was a close call. Sirius was breathing heavily from how hard his heart was hammering in his chest. He smiled weakly at James, who looked grim at their close call. Sirius placed a hand on his chest to calm his heart as he gasped, "Vigilance." He shifted, sinking closer to the ground, leaning back into the bush once more to catch his breath, and allowed his eyes to close and block out the burning, nightmarish street.


The small battle continued in that manner. The Order, though outnumbered, had places to hide. They hid behind cars, behind trees in the small woods, behind bushes and people's landscaping. Those in the rally had nowhere to go or hide, for they had lit nearly the entire street on fire and were surrounded. They had no shelter, and the Order could pick them off, one by one.


The Ministry Aurors arrived on the scene moments after James had sent the blazing car towards the crowd, and things moved very quickly from then on.


It wasn't forgotten that Bartemius Crouch allowed the Aurors to use Unforgivable Curses, and the Order members retreated, not wanting to be hit in crossfire, or worse, mistaken as participants in the gruesome party.


Wizards were captured and taken into custody. At that point, the majority of the crowd suddenly Disapparated from the Muggle street. A few witches and wizards lay dead among the Muggles. Most were simply purebloods, out for a night of fun and to show their support for Voldemort. Many weren't Death Eaters at all, and didn't intend to kill or do much harm other than vandalism of Muggle property.


Thus, Pureblood families were the first to leave the crowd, not wanting to be arrested just for being there to show support.


"Bet my parents were in that crowd," Sirius later mumbled, and he was right, for they were there, though it was never confirmed. Things like this seemed to be a family adventure. Even Regulus had gone to the last rally two years earlier, and they'd tried to force Sirius to show his support as well. Sirius had been sickened and disgusted, had refused and slammed his bedroom door.


Now everything calmed down very quickly; the fires were extinguished. A few people bent over bodies on the ground to see if any were still breathing. A few others had taken scared Muggles away to Obliviate them.


Within the woods, the four were able to locate the other Order members. Most of them were crouched over a still form. Several more paced around them, nervous, afraid, or possibly anxious.


It was Caradoc Dearborn, and James could now match the muffled shout they'd heard earlier to his voice. He'd been hit with a spell.


"He's all right," said Moody gruffly. "We'll get him in to see the Healers."


Caradoc was lying quite still and breathing heavily. Blood seeped through his robes. His eyes darted about wildly, afraid, and he seemed unable to speak. Dorcas Meadows brushed her fingers through his hair reassuringly, and Marlene McKinnon held his hand. James knelt down beside Moody and patted Caradoc's knee as they listened to the sounds on the street.


The Aurors cornered the last man, who was trying to continue the terrorism on his own for a last few moments - he was tall and thin, though they couldn't identify him for the hood over his head. "The Dark Lord will prevail! He reigns, he reigns!" the man screamed maniacally at them. "Morsmordre!"


The Aurors were distracted, for they had never heard of the spell. Shield charms went up, unsure of how to counter the spell and hoping only to block it. But the spell wasn't aimed at any of them. A green light soared into the air like a firecracker, and it exploded in the sky.


"Bloody hell," said Peter, looking upwards through the trees where they still hid, crouched over Caradoc.


A bright green skull was drawn in the sky from the spell. A snake protruded from a laughing mouth, and cast an eerie light upon the burning, bloody street. The man who cast the spell had gone, laughing as he disappeared with a loud crack.


"Those sodding fools," Moody gave a guttural growl towards the Aurors. "They let him get away."


But nobody heard him, nobody even cared - everyone was busy staring upwards in fear.


It was the first time any had seen the mark. But not the last.







V.

The Daily Prophet was packed full of the news of the night. Sirius read it as he wolfed down eggs in the morning. James, Lily and Peter had spent the night, all too exhausted to go home. All too afraid to part with each other after their very first battle. Too afraid to be alone.


The worst part was when James pointed out that it was a small victory. It was only a rally of Purebloods, and though some Death Eaters had clearly been there as well, not all of them had. It was merely a night meant to show their support, to show that - though the Dark Lord may have been quiet recently - they were still there, and they still supported the cause.


It wasn't really a war. It was only a night that had gotten out of hand. It could and would get much worse, much more difficult and a lot more frightening.


But they were still there, still alive, and though it may have been small, it was still their victory. It didn't matter that the Ministry took credit, so long as their own underground group wasn't known of.


"Look at this," Peter, who had been reading over Sirius's shoulder at the breakfast table, suddenly blurted. He pointed to a paragraph on the front page, a little further down than where Sirius had been reading silently to himself.


"One of the bodies recovered at the scene was identified as suspected Death Eater Vincent Aedhrik," Sirius read aloud the passage that Peter had pointed out. "While trying to make an identification of the body, the staff at St. Mungo's noticed a marking on Mr Aedhrik's forearm."


"The mark was that of a skull and a serpent," breathed James, now reading over Sirius's shoulder as well. "The very same mark that floated above the destroyed Muggle street. It is believed to be the mark of You-Know-Who."


They exchanged worried glances.


"Should anyone come across this mark in the sky, the Ministry asks to be notified immediately," Sirius read on. "Anyone finding this mark is urged not to enter any buildings, and wait for the assistance of a certified Ministry Auror."


Chapter 18: Winter Holidays 1978
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . E I G H T E E N
Winter Holidays 1978




A wild streak ran through the four animals tonight. They ran with reckless abandon, racing and chasing, hunting and playing. Wherever they went, nature became deathly silent. Owls and even crickets stopped their night songs, but this didn't bother the group.


They were reunited.


Only one month had passed since one of them went away. They'd only missed one full moon. But it had always been this way; even in school during summer holidays, the wildness within them always hated being apart, and reuniting for September's full moon was always exciting and full of fun and danger.


They still called the Shrieking Shack their once-a-month home, and they returned there on this night. Panting and out of breath, they waited as painful howls and snarls racked through the body of the werewolf, waited until he was just an exhausted, broken boy lying on the dirty floor of the old building.


"That felt good," sighed Peter after returning to his human form. "I missed that."


"We've only missed a month, Wormtail," said Sirius, and he and James wrapped their cloaks around Remus, hauled him to his feet. The latter winced, and Sirius pointed his wand at Remus's leg and muttered a spell.


It wasn't as bad as it used to be, before they were Animagi. Sometimes Remus still received a broken bone here and there, and sometimes they were all a little beat up. But mostly the self harm was gone, the biting and clawing had ended in the company of his friends.


The minor cuts and bruises they suffered in their rough play were easily healed by Lily's potions still waiting on Sirius's countertop, and it was to the empty London road outside his flat that they all Disapparated in the cold dawn.






II.

They had lit a fire in Sirius's fireplace, and Remus was curled up and exhausted in Sirius's armchair as it snowed outside. James and Peter lounged on the couch. Sirius emerged from the kitchen with a pot of tea and several teacups. He served a cup to Remus before settling himself on the floor in front of the fire with his own.


They had tended to their wounds, and Lily's potions had been a fantastic help.


"So, Moony," said Sirius, sipping his hot tea carefully. "How's your Mum?"


Remus shrugged and winced, his shoulders feeling sore. "All right," he said, his voice hoarse. "She's getting along. She hasn't got much choice. She went back to work last week."


"How about you?" asked James carefully, stirring honey into his own tea. He avoided making eye contact with Remus, and Remus was glad of it.


He frowned and shook his head, staring carefully at Sirius's burned tea table. "I guess I'm all right as well."


"You guess," said Peter, who looked rather unhappy at Remus's apparent lack of caring. He mirrored Remus's frown and glared. "Is that all, then?"


"Shut up, Wormtail," growled Sirius.


"I don't know what else to say," said Remus tiredly. His father had done everything for him, had sacrificed so much. And at the same time, he felt almost distant and removed from the entire situation. Spending seven years in boarding school rather than having every night with his parents could be blamed for it. All he could think of anymore were the bad things; his embarrassment when his father was around his friends, of guitar playing and singing. Or of tattered, stitched robes, or the fact that they didn't make enough money to own a house with a fireplace. He felt guilty. And he felt he should have been there.


"You don't have to say anything," said Sirius firmly.


"Thank you for taking care of it for me," said Remus slowly. Nobody spoke, so he added, awkwardly, "You know. Recovering his body, and carrying his casket, and being with my mother." All the things he should have been there to do himself, he thought sourly.


James shook his head. "An honour, Moony," he protested. And then, desperate to change the subject, he asked, "How are you feeling?"


Remus shrugged and then winced again. "Better," he said simply. He didn't get as sick over his transformations as he used to, and he could thank recent advancements in Potion making for that - he could heal faster. And then there was, possibly, the fact that he didn't lose so much blood and suffer from as grave of injuries anymore thanks to his friends. Already he felt less nauseated, and Peter commented on how quickly the colour was returning to his face.


"That'll be Lily," said Remus, as he watched Sirius on the floor, Sirius carefully swirling the dregs in his teacup before turning it over on top of its saucer and pushing it away. Then he leaned back on his elbows and gazed innocently at Remus, seemingly not even realising he'd done it. It was habit for him, something he'd been forced to learn as a child, even before Hogwarts.


(The Blacks embraced all branches of magic, and reading tea leaves required no wand, so that even children could practice telling their fortune.)


Remus looked down at his own teacup with a small smile, fond, sad, all at once. Sirius was never able to fully escape them.


"She is rather cracking at Potions, isn't she?" observed James fondly, with a silly grin on his face.


Peter frowned and sought for something else to talk about, something besides the seemingly never ending praise of Lily Evans. "So now what?" he said. "Did you hear about the Dark Mark, Moony?"


Remus opened his mouth to respond. Before any noise could escape him, however, a quick knock sounded at the door. All of them glanced at the door, and then James, Peter and Remus glanced at Sirius.


"Don't everyone get up at once," Sirius grumbled, getting to his feet. Talk of Remus's father's death and the war and the Dark Mark was making him grumpy and irritable. He felt guilty and depressed and afraid all at once, and he hated it, and at the moment, he hated himself as well.


"It's your flat, mate," shrugged James, but he eyed his friend carefully as Sirius crossed the room to the door, perhaps picking up on Sirius's sudden, rotten mood. He was often concerned for his friend lately, for Sirius had seemed a bit down since they were sent to the woods after John Lupin.


Sirius peeked through a window. Regulus stood outside. He felt his heart drop to his feet at the sight of his little brother, and forgetting all that he had learned about being cautious, wrenched open the door.


"Regulus," he hissed, getting control of his emotions before Regulus could see. Despite the turmoil inside of him, he appeared cool, collected, and unhappy to see his brother. That was the way he preferred it - being around another Black always seemed to bring out the family values in him, whether he liked it or not. His face was solemn and focused.


"Sirius," responded the younger boy, almost with hesitance, and betraying nothing of what he was thinking. An uncomfortable moment passed in which each tried to stare the other down, until Regulus finally blinked and asked simply, "Can I come in?"


Sirius appeared to consider the question, how those simply words could make him feel so foolish when they came from the mouth of his brother, but finally stepped aside.


Upon entering the flat, Regulus's gaze fell on the other three Marauders sitting in the living room. "What are they doing here," he demanded darkly, narrowing his eyes.


Sirius crossed his arms. "They're my family," he said with defiance, and added challengingly, "Do you have a problem with it?"


Regulus turned and stared hard at his older brother for a moment, as if deciding whether to say something snide in response. Then, finally, "I need to talk to you," he said in a low voice, so that the others couldn't hear. "Preferably alone."


Sirius rolled his eyes, unable to hide the way the corners of his nose wrinkled in dislike, or the shape of disgust that his mouth took on. He shook his head slightly, as if to say Regulus was the most ridiculous being in the world, and heaved a sigh, irritated at being forced to accommodate his brother's wishes. He turned and led Regulus to his bedroom and slammed the door shut behind them.


Regulus looked amused, part of him seeming to enjoy this irritating effect he had on his brother. He hadn't even been trying to be bothersome, and yet apparently his very presence could do the job. It felt good, powerful, but he didn't have time to relish it.


Sirius had his hands on his hips, waiting impatiently for Regulus to speak his piece. "If you've got something to say, Regulus, say it, because I want you out."


Regulus had been looking around at his surroundings, always with his head up, but his grey eyes came to rest on Sirius's, and he stared intensely for a moment.


"Sirius," he said finally, and he suddenly looked a lot less hard than he had moments before. He glanced around again, seemingly unsure of what to say, or how to word what he wanted to. "I..." and he faltered again. He blew his breath out in frustration and ran his hand through his black hair.


That was when Sirius saw it, just there, barely peeking out from beneath a fashionably rolled up shirt sleeve.


His arm shot out quicker than lightning and clutched Regulus's wrist. He yanked his brother's arm towards himself, shoved Regulus's sleeve up. It was there. The skull, the snake.


"What is this," demanded Sirius angrily. Regulus remained silent, staring back at him without even flinching at his brother's temper. "Regulus!" snapped Sirius, waiting for a response. "You're not even out of school yet, for fuck's sake!"


Regulus's eyes narrowed and he yanked his arm away. "What do you care, anyway," he muttered, rubbing the mark. It ached, sometimes, a constant reminder of what he'd sworn his life to. He turned his back on Sirius.


Sirius struggled with what to say, not wanting to say anything that he would later be embarrassed about, and at the same time, desperate to try to save the boy in front of him. "You're my brother," he finally spat out as his excuse, his irritation at the mark still burning in his chest.


Regulus half-turned at that, watched Sirius from the corner of his eye and gave a wry smile. "We haven't been brothers for a long time now, Sirius," he said plainly, with no hint of emotion at all.


"Then what are you doing here."


Regulus shrugged. "I don't know," he sighed, keeping his voice light and casual and careless, as cool as Sirius had always been. "I guess just to see how you are."


Or to possibly ask for help, the younger Black thought to himself. But he couldn't. He'd known it the second he'd met Sirius's eyes; his pride was too strong. He turned away from Sirius and examined the wardrobe.


"Fuck, why don't you just leave them?" blurted Sirius then, suddenly, as if the question had been eating away at him. "Join the right side, Reg, it's better here. At least this side doesn't force you to carve somebody's mark into your skin. At least this side doesn't kill and..."


But he trailed away. He couldn't claim that their side didn't kill and torture. He, after all, had killed a vampire just because he misconstrued her actions. And the Ministry used Unforgivables against people like Regulus all the time.


He bit his lip and eyed Regulus, who appeared unbothered. Regulus, smoother than anything, held up his hands as if to fend off any further pressure from Sirius.


"No, no," he said easily, as if it wasn't a big deal at all. He smiled confidently, the type of smile Sirius normally would have wanted to hex off his face. "I'm too far into this."


Sirius didn't understand. "So? If you're that worried about it, Dumbledore can hide you. He can, Regulus. We're going to win this war, I feel it."


Regulus placed his hands on his hips and looked around the room again. "I hope you do," he mused, so that Sirius barely heard him. And then, "Did you buy this flat with Uncle Alphard's gold?"


"Shut up, Regulus," snapped Sirius angrily, losing patience. Why were they all so haughty, so confident and stubborn, so set in their ways? Why couldn't he just listen and get out of that nightmare? "Don't change the subject," he muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets.


Regulus looked at him for a moment. "I'd leave if I could, Sirius," he admitted darkly. "I just... can't. I can't tell you why. I've found out about something big. Maybe you'll know soon enough." He looked suddenly desperate, and Sirius was reminded of when they were children, and he was afraid of the dark. "I have to succeed at this," he said determinedly.


Sirius glared at him for a moment. The boy could be him, they looked so much alike, although Regulus was slightly shorter. His hair was groomed in an annoying fashion. Regulus was even more haughty than he was, and it showed everywhere, from his stance to his determined grey eyes. Regulus was always smarter than he was as well.


Anger suddenly flared within Sirius; for somebody so smart, Regulus certainly made stupid choices. He looked down at his hands, noticed how hard he was clutching his wand. He didn't even remember taking it out of his pocket.


"Don't look down, Sirius, it's a sign of weakness," scolded Regulus sharply, an age old demand of their mother. Why he said it, he didn't know. But Sirius wouldn't help him. Sirius couldn't, because Regulus was too proud to let him, to confide. And now he wanted only to hurt his brother, to cut him the way he had been cut when Sirius left to live with those sodding Potters.


(Even as he spoke, he was well aware of Sirius's new brother sitting in the very next room.


There were many reasons why Regulus hated James. This was one of them.)


Sirius looked up quickly, gritted his teeth. "Get out," he said suddenly, letting go of his wand with one hand and reaching for the doorknob.


"What?" It was a mocking tone of innocence as Regulus kept up his smug facade; he didn't know why he did it. He couldn't stop. He knew he'd gotten to Sirius, and knew his family would be proud. It was always in the back of his mind, no matter what else he dealt with.


"Get out. If you won't leave the Dark Side, then you can't stay here. I should have killed you on the spot." Sirius opened the bedroom door pointedly, gestured Regulus through with his wand still in his hand. Angry sparks crackled off the end of it.


Regulus narrowed his eyes at Sirius, but stepped out the door anyway. He turned back as he walked. "One of these days, Sirius, you'll regret that."


"Shut up," Sirius snapped irritably, and he shoved Regulus's shoulder, forcing a faster pace to the front door.


Once outside, Regulus turned back, as if to say one last thing. And though he registered the pleading look on his brother's face, the one he always wore when he was about to ask for help, Sirius slammed the door closed.


All of his friends still sat in the living room, all of them watching him and looking somewhat embarrassed at witnessing something that seemed personal.


"You all right, Pads?" asked James hesitantly, for he knew what a sore subject anyone in the Black family was for his friend.


Sirius rubbed his forehead. He was tired, tired from staying up all night and running around with a werewolf, tired of thinking and worrying about the war. He was tired after seeing what Regulus was getting into, and he didn't know how to stop it.


James was looking at him expectantly.


Remus was appearing guilty, with Sirius's overturned teacup in his hand, and Peter looking over his shoulder.


And Sirius sighed. "I'm going to bed."







III.

Sirius loved the Christmas holidays - there was a time, during his first several years at Hogwarts, when he hated it, dreaded it. Those were the years when he lived with the Blacks and he had to go home to them. Had to sit through the parties, had to watch Regulus receive the world and God and everything under the tree. He never got anything.


Ever since he'd run away from home, things had been different.


He arrived in the Potter home in the evening on Christmas Eve. The moment he stepped out of the fireplace, he was blasted with the tantalising smells of Eve Potter's cooking. He wandered into the kitchen, and a mug of hot butterbeer was already waiting for him.


There was never anything fancy going on in the Potter home during the holidays. James had told him that years before, his aunt and uncle would come over - but his aunt had passed away when he was in second year, his uncle when he was only eight. They had been even older than his mother and father.


Eve Potter was baking cakes for tomorrow. Her Christmas feasts outdid even Hogwarts', although in her old age she had to enlist the help of the family house elf for so much cooking.


"Hallo, Mipsy," smiled Sirius at the small elf. He didn't see her around often - she was exceptionally good at her job and remaining unseen, but Sirius knew she was a great help to James's elderly mother. She was a far better house elf than Kreacher ever was, but he shoved Kreacher from his mind, for thinking of Kreacher made him think of Regulus. His brother had been quite fond of the elf, after all.


"Happy Christmas, Master Sirius," Mipsy replied in a high pitched voice. And then she lowered her head and delicately placed cherries on top of a cake, hoping to be ignored.


The night was spent drinking hot butterbeer - James's parents preferred hot cocoa - and chatting. The lights were dimmed, and a few fairies hovered about the ceilings. Sirius felt warm and comfortable and at ease here, and was able to forget about the war and Voldemort for the night.


He and James only went upstairs when James's parents went to bed. They hurriedly wrapped gifts for Remus and Peter and Lily, cursing themselves for waiting until the last minute (they did every year) and sending the packages off with their owls.


They stayed up late, spoke of their fears of the war. Normally they'd spend this time of year discussing their exams and wondering what grades they'd gotten. This year they spoke of what they would give for one more detention, one more essay on Potions, one more prank on the Slytherins.


They quickly came to find that they both would have given quite a lot.


Sirius grinned at James as they spoke of the place that started it all. He'd probably be where Regulus was right now if it wasn't for that school, the Sorting Hat and his friends.


Hoggy, warty Hogwarts.






IV.

Remus was not looking forward to Christmas. It was the first holiday after his father's passing, and the house seemed silent and empty without the cheerful man around. His father had loved Christmas.


In the corner sat John Lupin's old guitar, the one the man had enjoyed playing in his spare time, especially during family gatherings over the holidays, at dinner every night, when he had his friends over. It had been the source of many laughs, much embarrassment, terrible songs.


It would never be played again.


Remus's eyebrows lowered as he stared at the battered instrument. There would be no Christmas this year. His mother had cancelled all plans with distant relatives, not being in the mood for family or celebration. Remus wasn't upset; he wasn't in the mood to deal with everyone's concerned questions either. Some of them would probably cry, for it would only really hit them that John was dead when they were at his home and he wasn't there.


No, Remus didn't mind at all. His mother was asleep in her bedroom. When she wasn't at work, she was always in her room. Depression. They didn't even have a Christmas tree up.


Remus reached for the guitar, settled it on his lap and strummed the strings a few times. Years earlier, his father had begun teaching him to play one summer. He'd learned one song only, and hadn't been able to continue the lessons because school had started again, and he was excitedly on his way back to Hogwarts. The following summer, the lessons had been forgotten, and he'd never taken it up again.


He wished, desperately, that he could remember the song his father had taught him to play. But that was five years ago.


A soft pecking at the window startled him. He could see a large pair of eyes reflecting the light as they stared in at him, and he gently replaced the guitar and went to open the window for the owl.


He recognised it as Archimedes. It was Sirius's owl, pitch black and more friendly than James's owl, Aristotle.


It carried gifts from James and Sirius. A small smile crept across Remus's face as he gently untied the small packages. These were the only gifts he received so far. His mother hadn't bothered with Christmas shopping. He didn't mind, and he didn't want for anything. But the small packages warmed his heart, for it was always nice to know somebody was thinking about him.


It was as he was feeding Archimedes a biscuit that it occurred to him then that he didn't want to spend the holidays alone. He'd spent far too much time by himself when he was away with the werewolves. He went to his old bedroom and found a piece of parchment, scribbled a note to his mother, and pulled on his battered old travelling cloak. Gently, he put the gifts into his pockets.


He had only been to James's house one time. How odd that he longed for a place that was barely familiar to him.


He stepped outside, huddling against the icy cold breeze (which was even worse than the usual winters thanks to the Dementors) and disappeared with a loud crack. It was a crack that used to echo throughout the clearing, but not anymore, for the thick cloud of mist muffled the sound.






V.

Peter sat alone in his cottage, drumming his fingers against the table. He would rather die than return to his mother's house to spend Christmas with his family. A wave of guilt washed over him at the thought; he knew she would be disappointed if he wasn't there on Christmas morning. But he couldn't bear the thought of dealing with her or his brother any longer.


Just because she was his mother didn't mean they had to get along.


He wondered what his friends were doing for the holidays. Sirius was going to be at James's house, he thought jealously. James probably had the most fantastic Christmases ever. His parents were rich, he lived in a big house, he wanted for nothing and now for the last few years his best friend had been a part of his holidays.


And Remus was probably miserable, having a quiet, lonely Christmas with his mother. Even that, thought Peter bitterly, was something to be jealous of. At least Remus loved his mother.


As if to reinforce his thoughts about his friends, Aristotle, James's pesky owl, soared suddenly through an open window.


(He'd burned his dinner earlier, and all the windows had to be opened to allow the smoke and smell to escape.)


To his delight, Aristotle carried Christmas gifts from his friends. The owl pecked at his hands as he tried to untie them, and Peter had to resist the urge to give the animal a swat on its beak.


He looked at the tag on one of the gifts.


Wormtail,

Merry Christmas from your friend, Padfoot.


Peter smiled. He and Sirius, perhaps, were not the greatest of friends. But Sirius had always come through when he needed it.


He wondered if Sirius and James would mind if he dropped in for Christmas. He wondered if James's parents would. He didn't think they would, going by how James had always spoken of them. It was better than going to his mother's house, anyway. He went to get his cloak.


He refused to think about what his mother would say to him when tomorrow morning came and he wasn't there.






VI.

When Peter Apparated onto the street in Godric's Hollow, Remus was already there, staring up at the large house. Remus started in fright at the loud crack, and pulled his wand out. It was at Peter's throat before Peter had even a chance to regain his balance.


"Oh," breathed Remus in relief, and his breath made little clouds in the chill air. "It's just you, Pete," he said, putting his wand away and shuddering against the cold.


"Yes, just Wormtail," said Peter irritably, dusting himself off.


"Sorry," said Remus.


"Were you invited, then?" asked Peter, ignoring the apology. He didn't think he could stand it if Remus had been invited over and he hadn't been.


"No," said Remus, shivering and looking guilty. "We aren't having Christmas this year," he admitted, trying not to sound pitiful about it.


Peter nodded. "No, I suppose your mother wouldn't really be in the spirit," he agreed. "Do you suppose they'd kill us if we knocked on the door, then?"


"That's what I was wondering," said Remus. "They might think we were Death Eaters or something."


They stared up at the large house. The Potters had gone through the trouble of decorating the outside, and holly and wreaths and garlands and fairy lights adorned the doorways and windows. Smoke chugged cheerfully from a tall fireplace. Snow drifts piled on the roof, on the window ledges, and halfway up the sides of the house. It capped the bushes and flower beds.


Snow was also up to Remus's knees, and he was experiencing the miserable feeling of cold, wet socks as he stood shaking in it.


Peter pulled out his wand and waved it, so that a large silvery rat crawled out of it and tumbled to the snow covered ground. He tried to hide his embarrassment; he wasn't the most skilled wizard, and while everyone else's Patronus erupted mightily from the owner's wand, his tumbled out haphazardly, weakly.


Remus said nothing other than, "good idea," and Peter was glad. They watched the rat scamper up the side of the house and into James's window. After a few minutes, James's messy head appeared.


"We'll be right down," he muttered at them, trying to keep his voice quiet, for his parents were asleep.


When he and Sirius appeared at the front door, they didn't appear bothered at all to see their two friends. They smiled merrily, welcomed them into the warmth and lead them up to James's bedroom.


It felt good. They talked and gossiped, played chess and Gobstones, snuck down to shake the gifts beneath the tree. James pulled out the Firewhisky he'd snuck from his father's liquor cabinet the year before, and they had a jolly time with it. They stayed up nearly all night, and were all passed out on the floor of James's bedroom by the time the sun, muffled through the Dementors' haze, appeared.


And when they finally ventured downstairs on Christmas day, James's parents were surprised, but didn't seem bothered at all to have the extra guests there. In fact, as James whispered to them while his parents were in the kitchen, they were quite tickled to have a large Christmas with many people again.






VII.

Lily sat in the living room with her family. Her grandparents were over for the holidays. Her mother had prepared a roast. They were all gathered around the tree, passing out gifts. It was the typical Evans family Christmas.


She smiled at her grandmother. They were getting so old, thought Lily, and she began to feel depressed. She knew there wouldn't be another Christmas for her grandfather. He had had a stroke five months earlier, and since then his health had steadily declined.


Her grandmother looked all right, considering her age, but tired. She was incredibly thin and frail, likely from the stress over her husband's ill health. After her grandfather passed, Lily thought her grandmother's health might drop rapidly in grief.


She sighed. It was hard to enjoy the family holiday when she was so worried about everyone dying. Voldemort wasn't such a big deal, she thought. Mother nature still took whoever she wanted all on her own.


There was a soft tapping on the window, and everyone turned. Lily recognised Aristotle, James's owl. She'd only seen the bird dozens of times over the years, delivering irritating little notes from James. She quickly got up to let the owl in.


Immediately, Lily's grandmother let out a scream. Lily wheeled around, looking panicked. She pulled her wand out of habit, ready to defend against whatever had caused her grandmother's right.


But her grandmother was staring at Aristotle.


"Lily!" scolded her mother, standing up and approaching. She waved her hands at Aristotle, trying to shoo him. "What are you thinking," said Mrs Evans under her breath when she was near her daughter. "You know your nan is afraid of birds." She tutted and shook her head, giving Lily a meaningful look. "Honestly, Lily."


The blood drained from Lily's face. "I'm sorry," she said, feeling terrible. "I completely forgot. I'll take him upstairs."


She noticed, then, that everyone's eyes had moved from the owl to the wand in her hand. Her grandparents looked uncomfortable. Their pale eyes showed apprehension, and they seemed stiff as they eyed her.


Petunia looked venomous and disgusted. Lily hastily shoved the wand in her pocket and turned, running up the stairs. Aristotle swayed on her shoulder and flapped his wings to keep his balance.


She slammed her bedroom door behind her. Aristotle hooted.


"Shut up," snapped Lily. "Do you see what you've done down there? Because they didn't find me strange enough on their own. Now what have you got."


She noticed the small package tied to the bird's leg. Calming down, she untied the box and tore it open.


Inside was a delicate golden necklace. A small charm, in the shape of a lily, was attached to it. And engraved upon the tiny flower was the letter "J". There was a note at the bottom of the box.


Lily,

I wanted to get you one that had my name on it, but I wasn't sure if you would wear it. I settled for just my first initial instead, and hopefully, if we ever break up, your next boyfriend's name will also start with a J and you can still wear it.

No, I'm just joking. Merry Christmas. I love you.

James.


Lily grinned in spite of her annoyed attitude; her irritation seemed to evaporate as she read the note again. She lifted the gold chain out and fastened it around her neck. It was completely adorable. She smiled at Aristotle, as if asking for his opinion on how it looked, and then turned to pull a small wrapped box from her desk drawer.


She had meant to give the gift to James during the Order's Christmas party, but he could have it now. She turned to Aristotle, who hooted once more and stepped carefully across her bed, keeping his distance.


"Oh, go on, then," she sighed, for he seemed nervous after she'd scolded him. "I'm sorry I became irritated with you. Now come here, I need you to deliver this gift to your owner."







VIII.

It was Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.


The Hog's Head Inn looked the same as it ever did. There were no merry Christmas decorations around the windows like those which adorned the Three Broomsticks down the street. The magical fairies that enjoyed this time of year kept their distance from the run down old place. The Inn looked unremarkable, half buried in the snow. That was what made it such a fantastic place to hold the Order meetings.


In the basement, however, the place was merry and warm. The bartender had done his best to make the old wooden room appealing. Wreaths and garland were strung about, hanging only by magic. Candles were lit. The Order members mingled and talked, chatting about the gifts they'd received, news about their relatives and how their holidays were going.


Marlene McKinnon took great joy in showing off photographs of her five year old daughter opening Christmas gifts from the day before. Gideon and Fabian took nearly as much joy telling the story of how their older sister reacted to the annoying, inappropriate gift they'd given one of her young sons.


Remus spoke in depth with Dumbledore, privately and off in a corner. Nobody bothered them, for it was assumed they spoke of his work with the werewolves. Both looked rather intense.


James teased Lily with mistletoe, and she laughed, for he'd often done it in the corridors of Hogwarts and received a much different response from her. She kissed him lightly, wore her new necklace with pride, and he held her close all night.


Moody was as grouchy as ever, but lightened up as he had something to drink.


The old bartender brought them butterbeer, bread, cheese. He even mingled in the basement with the Order, having a long, quiet conversation with Moody. It was the first time any of them had seen the old man away from his counter.


"The Inn is closed tonight," he'd told them in his gruff voice. And that explained why he was serving them so diligently.


"Ah, yes," said Dumbledore, laying a hand on the old man's shoulder. It was uncanny how similar the two looked with their long beards and blue eyes. Nobody had noticed before, having never actually seen the two stand together. But the bartender's beard wasn't quite as grand as the Headmaster's, and his nose was wider and not so crooked. Dumbledore lifted his goblet to the man. "I would like to formally introduce the bartender of the Hog's Head Inn as my younger brother, Aberforth."


Surprised murmurs spread through the group; Dumbledore never, ever mentioned his family or his past. It was rather odd to learn that this man who resided so close to Dumbledore all along, who'd been in on their secret of the Order the entire time, was actually a relative. But once the fact had sunk in, nobody found it unbelievable. They did look alike, after all, and they'd always found it odd that Dumbledore would hold their meetings in such a shady location. It made sense, now, and Aberforth was pulled aside and chatted with all night long.


(Some of the Order asked awkward questions about his and Dumbledore's childhood and other family. Aberforth always looked uncomfortable, and would suddenly excuse himself to pour another Order member a fresh drink, even if their first wasn't completely gone yet.)


It was good to get together just for a good time, rather than for work. Everyone enjoyed the evening. And Alastor Moody showed his softer side by pulling out an old camera and gruffly announcing that he wanted a photograph.


And so the camera was set up, and Moody hurried back to the group before it could go off. The Order of the Phoenix gathered, including the bartender, and smiled as the camera flashed.


Later that night, as people began to pull on their cloaks and leave the party, Remus pulled his friends aside. "I've got something to tell you lot," he said in a low voice.


They all gave him their full attention, and he took a deep breath before he continued with his news.


"I'm going back to the werewolves."

Chapter 19: Riots and Death
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . N I N E T E E N
Riots and Death




It was easy this time, when Remus Apparated into the massive forest, to know just where to find the werewolves. This time he appeared in the clearing and strode purposefully for where he knew the pack to be living. He was smarter now, more experienced. Perhaps living among his fellows and embracing his wild side had made his senses keener; he could hear everything, and he was alert as he walked. He scarcely made a sound, he stepped so lightly through the trees and bushes.


This time, they didn't sneak up on him or catch him unaware. This time they didn't hear or smell him from a mile away (or perhaps they could still smell him, but weren't alarmed because his scent was familiar to them). This time it was he who snuck upon the collection of caves beside the river.


Remus crouched low behind the brush a safe distance away and waited.


Today was January thirteenth. Tonight was the full moon.


He had carefully chosen this date to return to the werewolves. He thought it would be best to make his return as the monster they all shared in common, rather than the boy who had walked out on them nearly two months before. They would have a hard time denying him when they were all beasts; he was one of the pack, and this way their human emotions could not stop them until he was already there.


Remus settled back against a tree and shoved his belongings deep into his pockets. This time, he wasn't going to hide the cloak or the mirror or his wand. This time he wouldn't need to gain their trust, for they already knew for certain he was one of them. They no longer doubted his lie that he had been banished, and none of them believed he owned a wand or any other magical device at all.


They wouldn't search him, he was confident. He could keep the items with him now. Remus wrapped his cloak tighter about himself and shivered - January accompanied by Dementors was the most miserable thing he'd ever encountered, almost, except for transformations. He settled back against a nearby tree to wait for the moon.


He wasn't sure how long he had sat when the first cricket chirped off to his left. It wasn't long before a few others joined it, and soon the entire dusky evening was filled with the sounds of them. Instantly, Remus was alert. The moon was coming, though through the thick trees and misty fog he couldn't see the sky.


Suddenly, he was rather glad it was January. It must have been only around four o'clock.


(Up until this point, Remus had always hated winter, simply because the days were shorter and the nights were longer. He hated when the full moon began to rise in the late afternoon, hated when it didn't go away again until mid-morning.


But just for tonight, Remus was glad. It was less time huddling in the cold in a thin, worn cloak, and more time running free, blood pumping, adrenaline rushing, covered in fur and feverish heat.)


He began to shiver uncontrollably as the blood running through his veins prepared itself for the transformation. His knees began to ache, and soon his elbows and fingers did as well. Remus shut his eyes tightly and held his breath. He couldn't let his position be known before he became the beast.


From within the caves, the first cry came. It was a child. Remus's heart ached for the children that had to endure the pain that caused even grown men to cry.


His skin prickled for the coarse hairs that were beginning to make their way to the surface. He distinctly felt his ankles break, and he brought the collar of his robes to his face to muffle his cry. His nose began to bleed as it became longer. Remus bit the fabric of his shabby robes so hard he thought his teeth might break, and strained to keep silent.


But at last, only moments after the child had begun to scream in agony, a woman's voice rang out, and then a man's. And then the icy air that chilled him to the bones was filled with howls and screams of rage and pain.


Just as another bone snapped, Remus let out a howl of his own.


Fully transformed, he staggered towards the caves to greet the pack and join the monthly hunt.






II.

They stared angrily at him as the sun began to rise. They had become aware of his presence sometime during the night, but had been unable to do anything while in their beastly forms. A few had approached, snuffled his wet nose and wagged their tails. A few others had snarled and snapped when he came near them, forcing him to roll over on the ground and show submission.


They were all breathless and bloody now as they came to within the caves. The children cried as they waited for the burning pain to subside. Remus was glad they didn't have to experience as he had as a child - locked away, with no outlet for the animalistic rage except for his own body. At least the bones that broke due to transformation healed upon returning to a human body. The bones that were broken during the night by a wild, trapped, frustrated werewolf, however, did not heal on their own.


Perhaps it was a good thing that the werewolves were banished, thought Remus. It seemed healthier for them here, almost. The transformations were a part of life here - there was no suffering for days afterwards as he had been accustomed to at home, at Hogwarts. The suffering ended with the night. The frustration didn't exist when they were in the wild where they could hunt and run freely.


The grizzled old man, Rolff, approached Remus looking deadly. Ulfric trailed behind Rolff, cracking his knuckles nervously, or perhaps to work any remaining stiffness from them. He eyed Remus, and Remus saw a look of betrayal in his yellow eyes.


"Why did you leave, Lupin?" Rolff demanded gruffly. "You have proven that the moment you were trusted and left alone, you fled. You have betrayed our trust, and you dare to come back. Ulfric was punished for leaving you and letting you escape. You belong to Greyback, and when you escaped, Greyback got his revenge on Ulfric."


Remus eyed Ulfric apologetically. Ulfric looked grim and didn't show any sort of reaction to Remus's sympathy. He acted cold and distant; Rolff shoved his shoulder, and obediently Ulfric turned around to display scars - claw marks, bite marks, some of them fresh - on his back.


"What is your excuse?" demanded Rolff, turning to look at Remus again.


Remus swallowed. "I received word that my father had passed," he muttered.


"Oh?" sneered Rolff. "And who sent word? For a wizard who was banished from living among society, I can't imagine anyone who would be contacting you."


Remus clenched his teeth. "My mother," he lied. "An owl came to me with a message while I was checking traps."


Rolff's eyes narrowed. "Ah, how could I forget," he growled. Ulfric's eyes widened slightly as he stared at the side of Rolff's head. "You are the fortunate one, who had parents caring for you and hiding you."


Not knowing how to respond to that, Remus didn't say anything. He knew, from what Ulfric had told him months before, that Rolff's parents had disowned him, cast him out the moment he was bitten, ashamed and embarrassed of what he was. He knew from the start that Rolff had resented him because his own parents were always supportive.


But what else could he have said? There was nobody else who should care for him enough to be in contact, not if he wanted them to continue believing the lie that he'd been banished. Werewolves, after all, don't have friends or associates; they aren't allowed to.


A terrifying thought came to Remus then. How would he explain how he disappeared so quickly? He'd Disapparated on the spot, but that isn't something a werewolf should be capable of doing. But all eyes were on Rolff, and nobody seemed to consider how he had escaped. Rolff himself seemed to be seething, and had only jealous and resentful thoughts about Remus's supportive parents.


"Why did you return, Lupin," demanded Rolff at last, in a harsh voice after a few tense moments passed. Behind him, most of the pack had gathered, and all of them eyed Remus.


Remus swallowed. "I am still not allowed among society," he said softly. He tried to keep his voice calm as he spoke. "I wanted to say goodbye to my father, and lay him to rest. But that deed is done. This is my family now, and I returned."


It was with horror that he realised how easily the lies came. How well he had been fitting in here, and how detached he had felt from everything during his time back in England with his friends. How easy it was to claim the pack was his family. Living in England, going to Hogwarts, attending Order meetings until well into the night, sometimes until early morning even - it seemed like an entirely different life than the one that he'd begun here. It saddened him, and he realised now that the most enjoyable event during all the time spent at home the last two months had been the last full moon. He'd been so subdued throughout everything - even Christmas had been difficult - he was with his friends, but it was the first holiday without his father.


He swallowed a sickening lump in his throat, and his despair must have shown on his face, for Rolff didn't question him any further.


"You have lost all privileges within the pack," Rolff grunted, beginning to turn away.


"Thank you, Alpha," sighed Remus. It didn't matter what he'd lost. Rolff had shown mercy, and he could return, at least. The biggest hurdle had passed. While he wasn't sure what kind of help he'd be to the Order trapped in the cave all the time, he thought that, perhaps, he'd be allowed out again with time.


"You are allowed out of your cave only to bathe," snapped the elder man over his shoulder. Remus nodded. Rolff turned to Ulfric. "As further punishment for your irresponsibility, you're back on guard duty," he glared menacingly. "You seem to be the only one around here willing to befriend this runt, anyway."


Ulfric clenched his jaw, and Remus was reminded of how James often did the same. The muscles in his cheeks worked tensely, but he kept his mouth shut, and after the Alpha was gone, he turned to Remus and gripped his arm irritably.


"Let's go," he said shortly, hauling Remus roughly to his feet. Remus winced, feeling the aches and pains of last night's transformation. Ulfric seemed to be sore as well, for after a few steps he lightened his grip and walked more slowly.


He glanced at Remus and, in spite of himself, wasn't able to stifle a grin. "Ouch," he said, looking mildly embarrassed.


Remus laughed.







III.

Tonight’s Order meeting was in full swing. Not everyone was there, however. Remus, for one, was certainly gone. Marlene McKinnon had been unable to make it tonight, claiming her young daughter was ill at home.


“You are a mother above all else, my dear woman,” Dumbledore had responded to her sincere apologies, and she had left amidst well wishes for her child.


Elphias Doge and Edgar Bones were both at the Ministry tonight, keeping an eye on things. The worst possible thing right now would be for a Death Eater to penetrate the Ministry’s securities and have access to the Minister’s office. The fall of the Minister was the fall of the Ministry, and the fall of the Ministry would be the fall of all of them.


Only one person was missing from the scene and unaccounted for, and worry was growing among the Order members.


“Benjy’s never been late before,” said Dorcas stiffly, pacing around and chewing on her thumbnail. “Do you suppose something has happened?”


Moody scratched his neck and frowned at the floor. “Give him a chance,” he said gruffly.


Dorcas resumed her pacing.


“Sit down, Dorcas, you’re making me nervous, too,” said Caradoc, smiling tightly, smiling fakely.


She glared at him for a moment and then sat with a huff.


“Patience, everyone, patience,” said Dumbledore. He alone seemed easy and unworried as he stood at the front of the room.


“We ought to go look for him,” said Fabian Prewett.


“We know where he lives,” added Gideon helpfully.


Sirius Black narrowed his eyes against the growing panic in the room. Frank and Alice were talking quietly amongst themselves, occasionally eyeing Dumbledore. Each were pale and worried looking. Hagrid looked teary-eyed in the back of the room.


His own best friends, Peter and James, were watching everyone’s reactions with frightened looks upon their faces. James’s brow had sunk low over his eyes, his face seemed torn between worry and anger, anger that something bad may have happened. Peter’s eyes were wide as he looked around, once even meeting Sirius’s eye, and his face seemed to cry out for help.


Dumbledore hummed a little tune, barely audible over the murmurs of the Order. And then, suddenly, the hurried pounding of feet were heard outside the room on the hidden staircase. “Ah,” said Dumbledore pleasantly.


Benjy Fenwick burst into the room, breathing heavily, followed by Aberforth Dumbledore, who appeared worried enough to leave his post as bartender. Benjy’s face was white, as if he had seen a ghost. “Dumbledore,” he gasped, nearly choking on his words.


At once, Dumbledore’s cheerful demeanour became quite serious. “What is it, Benjy? What has happened?”


Benjy seemed to struggle to swallow, his voice broken and hoarse as he spoke. “In my neighbourhood. Death Eaters. In my neighbourhood! I tried to stop them, and then I realized there were too many…” he slumped slightly against the door frame and touched his hand gently to a burn on the side of his face.


It was uproar in the room. Everyone sprang from their seats, their wands clutched in their hands.


Benjy Fenwick lived in Ottery St. Catchpole. It was a small village, and more than one wizarding family lived in the area. It was a surprise to no one that such a place would be targeted by the Dark side. It would be considered an insult to anyone supporting the Dark side that witches and wizards would choose to live among Muggles.


Dumbledore’s voice was loud above all the sudden noise in movement, causing everyone to stop. “Is there anyplace safe where we can Apparate to counter this attack?” he demanded of Benjy.


Benjy gasped for breath and slumped even more against the door.


Gideon looked grim. “He lives right near my sister,” he started to say.


Fabian looked at his brother very quickly, as if to try to stop him. Gideon held up a hand to silence him, even before he said a word. “She won’t mind if we Apparated on her property.”


“Are you-” growled Fabian at once.


“This is important,” snapped Gideon. “She won’t be harmed.”


“Will you send her your Patronus, please, Gideon, so that she isn’t taken by surprise at our arrival. Let her know we won’t be bothering her, and aim only to use her yard as a gathering point.”


Gideon gave a single nod and raised his wand. A monkey leapt from the tip of it with a gleeful laugh, and then it bounded out of one of the room’s tiny windows. Fabian gave an indignant huff. Gideon grinned; his Patronus always made him smile.


When it was gone, the smile immediately slipped from his face. Fabian crossed his arms unhappily.


Dumbledore turned to Hagrid then, who hastily wiped his small, wet, beetle-like black eyes.


“Hagrid, I should like for you to return to the school tonight. Please inform Professor McGonagall that something grave has come up, and that my return will be postponed for several more hours.”


Hagrid nodded and shifted his large form, struggling to stand from the tiny chair supporting his weight. He clutched his cap in his big hands, wringing it, and glanced worriedly around the room.


“All righ',” he said, squeezing between the rows of chairs. “Good luck with the attack.” He gave Dumbledore a curt nod. “Professor,” he said, and then added, “We'll all be waitin' fer news of your safe return.”


“Of course, Hagrid, of course,” agreed Dumbledore respectfully, and then Hagrid was gone.


“Right,” Gideon said, heaving a nervous sigh and hoping that he didn‘t just place his sister and his young nephews in grave danger. “Picture a small country house upon a hill. It’s on a large piece of property - it has a garden and an orchard, a shed and a pond. There’s a chicken coop. There’s a river nearby. They call it the Burrow. That should be enough to get you there.”


The Order hurried out of the room, up the hidden stairs and through the trap door in the floor. They emerged from behind the bar; some of them vaulted the counter, much to the surprise of the patrons drinking there. There was a great rush to get outside, into the alley, and the night was interrupted with popping noises as, one by one, the witches and wizards Disapparated.


Sirius glanced around when he appeared in the dark countryside. In the distance he could see a small house, it’s windows brightly lit from within. He thought he saw a face in the window, watching, but was too far away to really make anything out. He glanced around him.


Dorcas Meadows appeared some thirty feet away. A pop in the distance indicated another arrival, though they couldn’t see where in the darkness.


“Gather in front of the small cottage, if you will,” Dumbledore’s voice was magically amplified in the darkness.


“Come on, then,” said Dorcas to Sirius, and together they set off across the field.


“A bit off, weren’t we?” said Sirius, trying to sound light.


Dorcas’s face was grim. “A bit,” she agreed, though her voice held no hint of any desire to make light of the situation. “Are you all right, Black?”


Sirius glanced at her as they trudged through grass that was in desperate need of being cut. “Brilliant,” he smiled. “This is much better than sitting around being trained, isn’t it?”


At that, the corners of her mouth gave a slight twitch. Dorcas Meadows whole-heartedly agreed; there was nothing to compare with the feeling of being out there, fighting for everything you believed in and everyone you loved.


Many of the Order members were already there, gathered in front of the old house. A kindly looking woman with red hair was standing in the window, a chubby, drooling infant in her arms, and she looked rather worried as she watched them. Gideon gave her a silly wave, and the woman turned away, though for the moment, Sirius swore he saw the briefest smile on her face.


James and Lily walked up to them. Lily was soaking wet.


“What happened to you?” asked Sirius in dismay.


Lily blushed furiously. James grinned. “She Apparated into the pond.”


“Shut up, James,” said Lily, sticking her nose into the air haughtily and trying not to let the corners of her mouth twitch. She pulled her wand out and began, whilst trying to retain some level of dignity, to dry her clothes.







IV.

They moved quickly, and in the distance, they could hear the screams of tortured citizens. It didn’t take long for them to reach the outskirts of the town.


As had happened before, during the rally, everyone split up. Dorcas grabbed Sirius’s arm and yanked him along with her, and he was dismayed to be separated from James and Lily. He fought against her for a moment, but she was so determined that her grip was like iron.


“Stop it, Black, I need you with me,” she snapped as she dragged him through the trees and houses.


And James, who turned in a circle searching for his best friend, for one moment Sirius was there and then he was gone, grabbed Lily’s hand. “Come on, Lily,” he said grimly. “I don’t know where Sirius has got to, but we’ve got to watch our backs. Are you coming, Peter?”


Peter, eyes wide in terror, nodded and followed the couple through the streets.


Dorcas, meanwhile, crouched down behind a bush. Some twenty yards in front of them, in the dark, a Muggle lay on the ground screaming. Two wizards were laughing, taking their turns at torturing the woman.


Dorcas yanked Sirius down with her. “Can you cast the Disillusionment Charm?” she asked him breathlessly.


Sirius eyed her carefully, but nodded.


“Do it,” she demanded, and he obeyed without question. The sensation of the charm was cold and clammy, and he shuddered as he felt it slip down his back. It wasn’t as effective as an invisibility cloak, but here, in the dark, it did it’s job and they were hard to see.


Dorcas eyed him. “We’re going in there. When I cast the first spell, the charm will wear off. Sirius, you need to cast the second, I’ll be busy enough dealing with the first fellow, and the second will be trying to kill me instantly when he spots me. But you’ll still be hidden, you can take him by surprise. You can have him, Sirius, before he even has a chance to turn and see me. Can you do that Sirius? Are you ready for that?”


Sirius nodded, clenching his jaw determinedly. He knew why she was asking him. He knew why she doubted him, and it was because of how killing that vampire had affected him.


She would be killed if he couldn't do this.


“I’m ready,” he said darkly.


And without a word, Dorcas stood up. They moved quickly towards their prey.


Imperio!” Dorcas screamed through the night, and her spell hit one of the men just as she became visible once more. The other turned instantly, so quickly that Sirius almost didn’t have time.


Confundus!” he bellowed, interrupting the man’s spell casting.


The Death Eater looked confused, and shot a killing curse at a tree. He swore loudly and spun on the spot, searching for Dorcas. After a moment, he focused on her once more, but by then it was too late.


Avada Kedavra!” Dorcas growled, pointing her wand at the man before Sirius had a chance to do anything else. And the Death Eater dropped to the ground.


Sirius gaped at her.


Dorcas narrowed her eyes at him. She looked hard, unbothered, her expression blank as if she'd retreated elsewhere in a part of her mind. There was only a warrior there now, and Sirius swallowed, restricting his urge to say something.


“Do the charm again,” she demanded. And he did, feeling ill. Dorcas pointed at the remaining Death Eater, still under the effects of the Imperius Curse. The man was smiling stupidly at her, waiting for a command. “Him too,” she muttered, nodding in his way.


Sirius pointed his wand at the Death Eater and the man was hidden. It was a terrible feeling, knowing an unseen Death Eater was walking behind him. The fact that he was Imperiused did not matter.


They continued. Two Dark Marks shot into the air above them, and more screams riddled the night.


“That way,” said Dorcas grimly, as a Muggle woman and a young boy ran past, panting in fear.


She led the way, and the shouts became steadily louder as they approached the center of the village. There was a fire, Sirius saw. Two Muggles were tied to posts erected in the town square. Fire burned beneath them.


Sirius’s mouth fell open; here was Muggle persecuting at it’s worst. Rage boiled within him at the sight, as the Death Eaters jeered and cheered. The Muggles, a man and a woman, cried out as the fire licked at their legs.


“We have to do something,” whispered Sirius desperately. He didn’t think he could stand to watch two people suffer so horribly.


“And what, Sirius, do you think we can do?” asked Dorcas, sounding harsh, though her voice was strained. “Do you see how many of them are out there? Those aren‘t just Death Eaters, Sirius, there’s too many. There’s people there who merely support the Dark cause and have joined in.”


Sirius glanced around. He spotted Gideon and Fabian nearby, watching grimly from a roof. Benjy, Caradoc and Alastor Moody were nowhere to be seen, nor were James, Lily and Peter. And Sirius couldn't remember seeing Dumbledore at all, not since standing in front of the Weasleys' small cottage.


Above, the two Dark Marks glowed brightly, the snakes twisting from the mouths of the skulls as if watching the scene below in interest. It all felt so unreal, like a nightmare. Sirius felt hopelessness begin to take over the rage within him.


And then, out of nowhere, a fiery red creature soared into the crowd. Sirius recognized Fawkes; he’d seen the mythical bird when he sat in Dumbledore’s office in sixth year, after persuading Snape to go into the Whomping Willow.


Fawkes let out a cry, beautiful in the tortured night as he soared above the heads of the dark witches and wizards.


“Dumbledore’s here,” somebody shouted. And at once, the crowd began repeating his name amongst themselves. A few of them gave up and Disapparated then and there. Many of them remained; they still outnumbered the powerful headmaster of Hogwarts.


And then Dumbledore appeared, right in front of Sirius and Dorcas. He raised his arms, and it felt like the air exploded. There was a great boom, and it felt like a powerful wave of something rolled through the town. It knocked people off of their feet and caused the Dark side to give a strangled shout of surprise.


With another flick of his wand, it seemed a wall of fire had erupted all about the town square, preventing escape.


Spells were shot at Dumbledore, who quickly turned and disappeared with a swish of his cloak, appearing again on the other side.


“Move!” screamed Dorcas, but the spells meant for Dumbledore were too fast. One of them grazed Sirius’s shoulder, instantly ripping his Disillusionment Charm from him. Several of the Dark wizards shouted in surprise at his sudden appearance, and they advanced.


Dorcas immediately sprang into action, her wand swinging crazily. From the roof, Gideon and Fabian joined in, their attacks from above taking everyone by surprise. At first the Death Eaters couldn’t see where the spells came from. And, amidst the confusion, when the Prewett brothers were finally discovered, they simply ducked behind the roof to avoid any spells cast their way.


A few in the crowd Apparated up to the roof to engage the brothers. Muffled shouts could be heard from above as they fought for their lives. One wizard fell to his death, a look of surprise upon his face as he went.


Sirius fought as valiantly as Dorcas. Many Death Eaters fell beneath their spells, but it was a never-ending wave that advanced towards them.


“Protect us!” screamed Dorcas at her Imperiused Death Eater, and the man joined in the battle, fighting to save their lives. He was ruthless in his efforts, and none of their attackers tried to stop him, for they recognised him as a Death Eater. Nobody realised it was him striking them down instead of Dorcas or Sirius, and only then did Sirius realise how well Voldemort trained his minions, how powerful they really were, as he watched one man cause so much destruction.


Many more of the crowd began to Disapparate, for James, Lily and Peter had appeared from another corner of the square. Benjy, Moody and Caradoc flung spells down from another rooftop. A glowing silver lion pounced on the crowd, causing no damage but eliciting surprise and fright, causing distraction and announcing the arrival of Frank and Alice. Dumbledore captured people left and right, and beside him, a large group of subdued wizards sat, tied and helpless.


Sirius felt his spirits soar - their attackers were now surrounded and out in the open. Their numbers dwindled by the second, and for a fleeting moment, he felt they might actually win this small battle.


And then, from out of nowhere, Sirius saw a flash of green light. Somebody was going to die, he thought. He only realised it was him when Fawkes swooped down in front of him from the sky. The curse hit the magnificent bird full on, and then Fawkes was gone as he hit the ground in a pile of ash.


For a moment Sirius felt his chest tighten, but then a tiny chirp was heard from the pile. Quickly, Sirius reached down and scooped the newborn creature into his hand. He kissed the top of it's featherless head. "Thank you," he muttered under his breath, before slipping the baby bird into his pocket.


Sirius aimed his wand at the building beside them, to their right. “Confringo!” he roared, just as Dorcas began to look afraid, as if she didn’t think they would survive.


And the side of the building crumbled and fell, large chunks of brick and plaster tumbling onto the crowd. Perhaps some were killed instantly, and some gravely injured. Some were trapped. Wands were broken in the impact and spells were unable to be cast to save them.


Much of the crowd was cut off by the sudden barrier; the fact that it could easily be cleaned up by magic did not matter. It gave Sirius and Dorcas a chance to retreat, to escape, and they took it. The two burst through a side door of the building on the left, racing through the dark, climbing the stairs.


They leaned out of a broken window, continuing to fight the crowd that had lost track of them in the dust and rubble. More Disapparated, sensing a losing battle. More fell, stunned or dead or injured.


Eventually the Order members were able to gather. Those on the rooftops came down; those fighting from the alleys emerged. Soon they outnumbered the few Dark supporters who remained. Soon there were only a few left, fighting valiantly for what they believed in. And soon there were none at all.


The ground was littered with corpses. The walls were crowded with captured wizards lined up against them, screaming in anger, screaming support for the Dark side despite their capture.


Dumbledore flicked his wand and his Patronus shot from it. “The Ministry should be arriving shortly,” he told them. He turned to the Muggles tied to the post, and only then did Sirius realise that the two were still alive - that Dumbledore must have cast some spell to protect them from the flames during the ruckus.


“Are you all right?” he asked the couple kindly.


Their eyes were wide and disbelieving. “I think I have died,” said the man. “This can’t be real.”


Dumbledore’s blue eyes twinkled as he smiled kindly at them. “You will find yourselves soon escorted to the Ministry of Magic, where you will likely act as witnesses in the trials of these attackers. When all of the information you have to give is taken, you will be handed over to the Obliviators, and after that, you won’t remember any of this at all,” he said kindly.


The man looked unsure of how to respond to that. “Okay,” he said agreeably. The woman remained silent in her shock.


“Prior to all of that, the Ministry will call for a healer to deal with your wounds.” Dumbledore turned to the Order, surveying them all as if looking to see if any were missing.


Sirius felt he could collapse with relief at the sight of James, Lily and Peter.


“Ah, Dorcas,” said Dumbledore. “I believe we haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting your new friend, hmm?”


Dorcas scowled and turned to the Imperiused man beside her as if surprised to find him still following her. “Go stand with the other prisoners,” she snarled. The man happily obliged.


Sirius struggled to hide his frown. The man had saved their lives; he’d fought valiantly on their side, protecting them. Sirius hardly thought he deserved to be spoken to in such a way. But then he had to remind himself that it was only the work of the Imperius Curse, and if he had the chance, the man would turn on them in an instant.


“Is something wrong, Mister Pettigrew?” asked Dumbledore after a moment.


Everyone glanced at Peter, who looked as if he might collapse.


“How on earth…” he started. “There were so many!”


Frank laughed. “The art of war,” he answered. “We really only won because we were all in such small areas. That is how you win a battle, Peter. They can’t all attack us at once when we are in tight quarters, for only a few of them can fit in at a time.” Frank nodded at Dorcas and grinned, the smile a mixture of playfulness and relief. “No doubt that is how you lot survived. I thought you were goners.”


Dorcas didn't return the smile; she looked grim as she surveyed the alley in which they had stood, with it’s caved in walls and blood and lifeless people on the ground.


(Sirius noted that her face still held a bit of that detached expression she'd worn when uttering the Killing Curse.)


Dumbledore checked his watch, intricate with detail and many different hands. “The Ministry will be arriving in seconds,” he said quickly. “I should like for all of you to return to headquarters; I do not want the Ministry to know of the Order just yet.”


Without question, everyone turned and Disapparated on the spot, leaving Dumbledore standing quite alone in the middle of what looked like a war zone.







V.

In the basement of the Hog’s Head Inn, tension was high. Only now did fear reach out and take hold of the Order members. Several of them paced about, waiting for Dumbledore to return to them. Alice Longbottom looked green with illness brought on by nerves. And she wasn’t the only one; Caradoc sat with his head in his hands while Dorcas, sitting beside him, absently patted his back.


“You’re hurt,” said James, grabbing Sirius’s arm and examining his bloodied shoulder. The four of them had just dropped exhaustedly into chairs.


Sirius turned his head to glance down at the wound. “Oh,” he said. He had forgotten, in the adrenaline rush, hadn’t even felt the pain from it. It gave a sudden throb now that it had been brought to his attention. He didn't mind it, for he felt lucky to be alive at all; it was the type of night where he had to fight to keep the smile from permanently sticking to his face, so that with every twinkle of his eye, his friends wondered what, exactly, he had gotten into out there.


Peter’s face looked gaunt as he caught sight of Sirius’s blood soaked sleeve.


Sirius grinned at him, trying not to laugh, and tipped his chair back onto two legs. “It’s all right, Wormtail,” he said, and he felt gallant.


James scowled at his best friend's light-heartedness and lack of concern. He felt sick as he yanked Sirius's arm towards his girlfriend. “Lily, can you heal this?”


Lily leaned forward, trying to get a better look at the injury. “I can certainly try,” she said. “But it depends on the spell that was used.” She glanced questioningly at Sirius.


He gave an easy shrug. “I’m not certain,” he admitted.


Lily frowned and looked grimly at his shoulder. “I’ll give it a shot,” she said, and she murmured a spell as she ran her wand across the wound. Three times she did this, and it did feel marginally less sore, though it still looked like a mess.


“Well, I’ve stopped the bleeding, anyway,” she said apologetically.


“It’s all right.” Absently, Sirius reached into his pocket and stroked the baby bird's head, wondering if it was still all right in there. He hadn't heard a peep from the newborn Fawkes since he took the Curse. But Fawkes nipped his finger, possibly hungry, and he quickly pulled his hand out.


Sirius hadn't told his friends that he'd be dead right now if it wasn't for the bird. He wasn't sure why. Perhaps he didn't want to think about how close he'd come, or what would have happened if Fawkes hadn't been there. Perhaps he didn't want to think about how easily it could have happened in just a split second. Or perhaps he didn't want to scare them with those thoughts.


“Those potions I made you should work when we get home, Sirius,” Lily told him now.


Sirius nodded, wondering when his flat became considered ‘home’ for all of them. He rather liked the thought.


There was a sudden scream, causing everyone to look up in fright. Dorcas had her hand over her mouth. Sirius narrowed his eyes; nothing made Dorcas Meadows scream. Nothing could frighten the woman with nerves of steel. He quickly followed her gaze, and his grey eyes landed on a weak, silver Patronus.


It was a kangaroo; it seemed crippled, for it wasn’t entering the room in its usual loping jump. This time the ghostly creature limped and staggered, eventually collapsing to the floor as a deathly silence overtook the basement. It was a dead Patronus, and upon hitting the ground, its form evaporated into a shining mist.


The only thing that scared Dorcas Meadows was the loss of somebody that she cared about.


Marlene McKinnon’s Patronus was a kangaroo.




Author's Note:
So I know that the McKinnons died only shortly before Lily’s letter to Sirius in DH, as she mentioned their deaths specifically. However, it is stated that the McKinnons died only two weeks after the Order photo was taken. Now, considering that others who have died, such as Dorcas, the Prewett brothers, Caradoc, Benjy, Edgar Bones - were in that photo, I really find it hard to believe that all of those people died only after Harry’s first birthday, in the last few months of the war. That’s not including the Potters and the loss of the Longbottoms as well.

Add to that the fact that Moody claims he never met Aberforth - an Order member - until that picture was taken, and I find it hard to believe. All those years, and he only met Aberforth at the very end?

In this, I have deviated from canon, for I strongly feel that this is an error on JKR’s part, that she had possibly forgotten she stated the McKinnons died two weeks after the photo. For this reason, I have chosen to move the time the photo was taken to much earlier in the war, to give time for deaths to happen throughout the story.

Also, can I just say that this chapter was written BEFORE the HBP movie came out - in other words, before Harry Apparated into the pond on the Weasley property. I was rather annoyed to see that in the movie, right after I'd done it in this story.


Chapter 20: Gillyweed and Werewolves
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y
Gillyweed and Werewolves




Caradoc and Dorcas shot out of their chairs, hurrying towards the door. Gideon and Fabian were right on their tails, and it was obvious where everyone was going. They were going to leave the building, head out to the alley so they could Disapparate to the McKinnons’.


Impedimenta!” snarled Alastor Moody. Instantly, the four slowed.


“Oi!” barked Fabian, twisting around.


“Nobody’s going anywhere just yet,” said Moody gruffly.


“But Marlene!” argued Caradoc in desperation. He swung his arms wildly, trying to surge forward against the spell. When he failed, his hand reached for his own wand. It immediately flew from his pocket and landed in Moody’s hand. Caradoc howled in anger. “Damn it, Alastor!”


Alastor stared at him for a long moment, clearly debating how to respond as he tucked Caradoc’s wand into the front pocket of his robes. He slowly pulled his cap off of his head and Sirius could swear he saw a rare look of sorrow pass across the man’s scarred face. But at last Moody thumped his wooden leg into the ground and his face took on a hardened look. “As far as I can tell from that Patronus, Marlene is already dead.”


“And we could catch the sodding bastards that did it to her!” growled Dorcas, still fighting against the slowing spell to reach the door. Sounds of desperate fury escaped her as she struggled to move faster.


Everyone else in the room watched the scene unfold with pale faces. Caradoc Dearborn looked as if he might burst into tears. Sirius knew that all of them - Dorcas, the Prewett brothers and Caradoc, and Marlene - all of them had gone to Hogwarts together. Their time was just before his own. They were close, possibly as close as he was to his fellow Marauders.


His brow sank low over his eyes as he tried to think about what it must be like to know a part of you has just died, and he swallowed loudly.


Frank and Alice were sitting nearby, eyeing the four near the door with wide eyes. Alice looked shaken and Frank had an arm around her shoulder, absently rubbing her arm. And Moody twisted his cap in his hands. Nobody wanted to believe that, for the first time, one of them was dead.


The first member of the Order of the Phoenix had fallen.


“Don’t you see?” asked Moody gruffly, breaking the absolute silence in the room. “It was a setup. They must have been staking out the McKinnon place for days. That battle we just fought in Ottery St. Catchpole… It was all a ruse to distract us, to keep us busy. And we fell for it.”


Frank’s head instantly snapped towards Moody. “Staking out the McKinnon place?” he blurted. “What?”


“You heard me, boy.”


Everyone looked to Frank now. Frank Longbottom was still an Auror for the Ministry most of the time. He worked with Moody every day, and perhaps he had picked up a few of Alastor’s qualities. His way of thinking and figuring things out, perhaps. Now Frank seemed to have deduced something in his mentor’s words that nobody else picked up on.


“They wouldn’t stake out the McKinnon place unless it was important,” said Frank under his breath. “The McKinnons have never been really prominent or anything. And they’re all purebloods…”


“That they are,” agreed Moody. “And Voldemort’s Death Eaters have been trying to avoid harming any purebloods whether they are blood traitors or not. They don’t want to shed that valuable blood - they’d make every effort to save it all. Probably to breed more wizards further down the line…”


“That’s sick,” said Peter, his voice shaking. Lily reached over and grasped his hand, but neither of them looked comforted by her gesture.


“Never mind that,” said Frank impatiently. “What I’m concerned about is why the McKinnons were targeted. And I’ll bet it’s because they know she’s in the Order, fighting against them. They lured us to battle when they saw she was home tonight. I think they know about us. I think they‘re going to be trying to pick us off.”


Alastor looked grim. “Very good, boy. I believe so, too.”


“It doesn’t matter,” said Gideon, sounding very impatient through gritted teeth. “The McKinnon’s are dead, and we need to go to them. We need to find the ones that did this, before they get the rest of us.”


Moody scowled at the handsome red head. “We need to wait for Dumbledore,” he countered.


As if on cue, the old man strolled into the room looking rather pleased. “Ah,” he said upon his arrival. “Thank you for waiting for me. The Ministry Aurors have been filled in and dealt with, and we have taken into custody more than thirty supporters and suspected Death Eaters. All in all, it went remarkably well…”


Dumbledore trailed off when he saw the looks on everyone’s faces. Silence came over the room.


“Professor,” said Frank gravely. “Marlene’s Patronus just turned up…”


“Oh?” smiled Dumbledore. “And how is her little one doing?”


Frank’s face paled. “Professor… the Patronus collapsed.” The smile instantly slipped from Dumbledore’s wrinkled face, which seemed to sag wearily all of the sudden. “It… it died,” finished Frank.


Dumbledore stared at Frank for a moment and then glanced around the room, taking in everyone’s gaunt appearances. He saw the four standing by the door, clearly on their way out before they’d been stopped. The old man looked suddenly heartbroken.


“Oh dear,” Dumbledore worried after a few seconds of silence. He paced for a quick moment and then looked up at the group. His voice was very grave when he spoke, and he seemed only to address the Prewetts and Dorcas and Caradoc. “Are we ready for a visit to the McKinnon cottage?”


“Yes,” snarled Dorcas from where she stood by the door, and her eyes were now watery with unshed tears.






II.

The scene that unfolded in front of them after they appeared in the McKinnon neighbourhood was serene and peaceful. It was almost hard to imagine that such a terrible thing had happened. Unlike the battle they had just been engaged in, there was no fire or chaos, no tortured Muggles or screaming.


They had Apparated around the corner, in a nearby deserted park so as not to be seen by any Muggles. And now as they walked towards the McKinnon home, Sirius saw frightened faces peeking out of windows. All of them looked towards the sky, and he followed their gaze. And there it was, the third, fourth and fifth marks he’d seen that night. Glowing bright and green against a starry backdrop, the skulls looked down at the house. A snake seemed to curl about in an excited manner within each skull, all looking ready to strike again at any moment.


He repressed a shudder. The marks had been an ominous sight up until now, but they’d never been able to reach out and grab him. They’d never hovered over the home of somebody he knew personally before, and the way he saw them now was remarkably different than in the past month. They seemed to tease and laugh, reach into his very soul and jeer, “Look what I’ve done. Look what I have taken away from you.”


It was like a living nightmare. Like he was drowning, or like he'd been punched in the face. It was a blur of terror, and disbelief at what was happening.


Beside him, James heaved a sigh as he looked upon the marks for himself. His bespectacled friend had been oddly silent since the appearance of the Patronus and Sirius didn’t try to push him to say anything now. James always had a fierce determination to fight against Dark magic. Sirius could practically feel the hatred radiating from his best friend as they looked upon what had been done.


As one, the Order marched up to the front door of the McKinnon cottage with varied feelings of dread. Sirius didn’t want to go inside and see their bodies. He felt he had seen far too much death and injury lately. Starting with Remus’s father and finishing with the McKinnons, it had seemed to never end.


He had half a mind to close his eyes as he walked through the door, but instead he kept them open. For some reason, he felt that Marlene deserved to be seen and looked upon and not avoided in disgust. It was sheer respect and fear that made him look upon her broken body with an overwhelming sympathy.


She was on the floor by the couch. Her face looked peaceful, although she looked as if she had been tortured before her death. Burn marks covered her hands. Sirius wondered how much it had taken for her to be able to conjure her Patronus just before she died. Perhaps that - the happy memory she must have dredged up to make it appear - was what left her with a small smile upon her face as took her last breath.


Dorcas Meadows was at her side instantly, crying. Alice was sobbing but keeping her distance, pacing in a corner and not daring to look. Alice had been in the Order for over a year now. She, perhaps, had a friendship with Marlene that Sirius had yet to experience. He glanced around, noted the gashes and holes in the walls, in the ceiling. There had been a fight. She'd gone down swinging. The might Marlene. His heart hammered against his chest and he swallowed loudly.


Alastor, Frank, Fabian and Benjy immediately disappeared down hallways and into bedrooms, searching for the Death Eaters that may have done this. Nobody expected the killers to remain in the house, but to be certain they checked regardless.


Lily’s heart seemed to break over the scene. She barely knew the McKinnons herself, but it was the knowledge of the utter fear they all must have experienced prior to death that overtook her. The body of their young daughter lay beside Marlene’s, and Lily knew Marlene died trying to protect her. The little girl appeared to be nothing more than a bonus kill, her life tossed aside carelessly, with little effort, no mercy.


The corpse of Marlene’s husband was in a hallway. The man looked as if he had been tortured even more than Marlene had been.


“Oh, Keith,” sighed Caradoc sympathetically when they found the man. Of course Keith McKinnon had been in school with them as well. Just because he wasn’t in the Order hadn’t meant that he wasn’t just as important to them, just as missed. His death was no less tragic than Marlene's, and a strangled sound escaped Caradoc as he realised that they were gone forever.


Without a word, James wrapped his arms around Lily and planted a kiss on the side of her head as they listened and witnessed the heartbreak. He pressed his lips into her hair while his hazel eyes flitted uncomfortably around the scene before them.


Several loud pops sounded suddenly outside. Sirius’s heart hammered in his throat and he, along with every other member of the Order, instantly drew their wands at the sounds of Apparition. It was Bartemius Crouch, however, who led the way through the front door.


“Dumbledore,” Crouch barked upon seeing the old man there. “We have only just spoken in Ottery St. Catchpole, and now you are here as well.” He looked suspicious as he took in the Order. His eyes rested momentarily on Sirius and James and he scowled.


“Forgive me, Barty,” said Dumbledore. “Shortly after I left you only moments ago, I received word that friends of the McKinnons received her Patronus in distress. Understandably concerned, they approached me with this news, and we have merely come to check on the family.”


Crouch didn’t look very believing as he took in the Order. “What is this?” he demanded. “Have you a secret army going, Dumbledore?”


“No, no,” said Dumbledore pleasantly, despite the terrible scene surrounding them. “I assure you, Barty, these are Marlene McKinnon’s closest friends, here only out of concern for her safety. Alas, I fear we are too late.”


Crouch caught sight of the teary eyed females in the group; even some of the males looked rather upset. It was this alone that seemed to convince him that Dumbledore told the truth, that these were not secret Aurors working behind the Ministry’s back but instead merely friends.


He lowered his wand. “Alastor,” he nodded to Moody, recognizing the Aurors who worked in his own department. “I didn’t know you were friendly with the McKinnons. Longbottom,” he greeted Frank.


Moody grumbled and said nothing. Frank shifted nervously on his feet.


Crouch took a deep breath and addressed Dumbledore again. “Concerned citizens of the neighbourhood have alerted the Muggle Prime Minister after seeing the Dark Marks in the sky. In turn, I was notified of this attack. I have a group of well-trained Aurors to assist me in assessing the situation. So, if you please, Dumbledore,” he said, seeming nervous at addressing the old man in this way. He nodded to the rest of the Order. “Friends of the McKinnons,” he acknowledged before continuing, “I appreciate your concern but must insist you be on our way, lest you inhibit our investigation.”


“Certainly,” agreed Dumbledore with a bow. “We shall continue our mourning elsewhere.”


They shuffled out of the cottage as the Aurors made their way in. Moody growled at them, his co-workers, as they passed each other. “If I find that these bodies have not been treated with respect,” he snarled at them. “You shall regret the day you ever met me.”


All of them seemed to take that threat quite seriously.







III.

It was late, very late, when they returned to Sirius’s flat. All four of them trooped wearily up the narrow stairs. Nobody had spoken to each other; nobody had said a word. Nobody knew what to say. The fact that one of the Order was gone forever weighed heavily on each of their minds.


The flat was cold when Sirius opened the door. He wordlessly pointed his wand at the fireplace - a ball of fire shot from the tip of it and exploded against the bricks at the back of the chimney. The fire crackled instantly as it set logs ablaze. It seemed fierce, as fierce as Sirius was feeling at the moment. Without a word to any of his friends, he stormed to his bedroom and slammed the door shut behind him.


Sirius sank onto his bed as if in a daze. He could hear Lily crying through the walls of the flat. He could hear the floor creaking as somebody paced around, and he guessed it must have been Peter, for James would most certainly be sitting and trying to comfort Lily.


Sirius ran his hands through his hair, pushing it back off of his forehead. He wondered what kind of torture the McKinnons had suffered through tonight. He could remember how terrible it had felt to find the body of Remus’s father. John Lupin’s corpse had been the first Sirius had ever seen, at least of somebody he knew personally. Prior to that, he’d only seen the dressed up bodies of a recently passed on aunt or uncle during a funeral viewing. That, or the bodies of the beheaded house elves.


(He could still remember the first time Aunt Elladora beheaded an elf. It was the first time he had ever in his life seen death. He was eight.)


Sirius could remember the terrible feeling of loss that followed the death of Mr Lupin. The rage he’d felt when killing the vampire that took his life. And now, he realized, Lupin must have had an easy death. No torture. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to get the images of the burns on Marlene’s hands out of his mind.


He hadn’t even looked at the little girl; he didn’t think he could bear to see a child’s suffering.


Sirius laid back on his bed and thought about after Lupin’s funeral, when Marlene approached him after noticing his silence. She’d tried to comfort him after his reaction to having killed somebody. He had been rotten to her.


It was unclear how long he had been laying there before his thoughts finally drifted to Marlene’s friends. They had reacted so strongly to the news of her death. Fighting to get to her, and Moody having to restrain them. Dorcas, who’d been so tough before, had actually cried. He wondered what they were all doing now that Dumbledore had sent them home.


Perhaps they were sitting together at a bar, drinking away their sorrows. Or perhaps, like him, they’d shut themselves up in their bedrooms and weren’t in the mood to see anybody.


Sirius sighed and sat up. He could no longer hear Lily crying. She must have cried herself to sleep. Cautiously, Sirius crossed the room to his wardrobe. He dug around in his clothes until he found what he was looking for. A ball of Gillyweed.


He and Peter had snuck down and stolen it months earlier when they were still in Hogwarts. They’d gotten the mess of rubbery plant from the Potions cupboard. And while James was off snogging Lily somewhere and Remus was patrolling a corridor, he and Peter had smoked it in the bathroom.


But not all of it. Sirius had saved some, pocketed it when Peter wasn’t looking. Sirius pulled one of the vines away from the ball now, ran it underneath his nose and inhaled deeply. He only wanted to forget the images of burned hands and bodies out of his mind for the night.


Quickly, feeling almost guilty, he shoved the ball back into its hiding place. He twisted the one vine he’d pulled out until it resembled a cigarette. And then he pulled out his wand and lit it.


The first drag relaxed him instantly. He took a second.


A quick knock sounded on the door, and then James walked in, carrying one of the potions Lily had made for the full moons. It was pink, in a small vial.


“Pads,” said James, shutting the door behind him and approaching the bed. “Lily’s asleep. I carried her to Remus’s bedroom. You forgot to take… Sirius, what are you doing?”


Sirius, who had quickly attempted to hide the gillyweed, coughed slightly and waved his hand to clear the smoky air. His eyes watered slightly.


“Nothing,” he answered, a little too fast, and James’s eyes narrowed.


“What have you got?”


“Nothing, James.”


“You know better than to lie to me, Sirius.”


Sirius swallowed. He knew that was right; James could read him like a book. Slowly, he pulled the gillyweed from behind him and held it out.


James, who looked highly amused, set the potion on the bedside table. Hesitantly, he took the magical plant and examined it. He sat on the bed beside Sirius and then cautiously put it to his lips.


“Sirius, this is very bad,” he said as he exhaled a greenish smoke. He handed it back to Sirius.


“I know,” said Sirius. “I don’t care. I’ll fall apart, Prongs, if I don’t have this - just for tonight.”


“Just for tonight, then.”


They shared it, while Lily slept in the next room and Peter tried to settle on the couch in the living room, not wanting to go back to his empty, lonely cottage. It was all right, thought Sirius to himself. They were only human. Human beings. Humans being. He smiled and relaxed a little.


“Where did you get it?” asked James when they were done.


“Wormtail and I stole it from the Potions cupboards,” said Sirius easily. He laid back on the bed and stretched luxuriously.


“Hey, Padfoot, don’t tell Lily we smoked that.”


“Of course not, Prongs, I’m not daft.”







IV.

Lily almost couldn’t remember where she was when she woke up. She felt the side of the bed dip down as James sat on the end of it. Her green eyes opened and she took in her surroundings. It must have been the spare bedroom - Remus’s room - in Sirius’s flat.


James didn’t have a shirt on and his hair was wet as if he’d just showered.


(And indeed, he had, not wanting Lily to smell the gillyweed on him.)


And then the memory of the McKinnons’ murders flitted across her mind. She sat up quickly with a gasp. She must have been asleep only an hour or two.


James turned at her sudden movement. “All right?” he whispered, stroking her hair.


She looked at him, then, and tried not to cry. He looked so careless in the soft lamplight. She couldn’t help but wonder which of the Order members would be the next to die. Maybe it would be James. She didn’t think she could stand it if it was James. Without a word, she flung herself at him, her arms wrapping around his neck.


She kissed him, her lips tracing his jaw line and feeling the roughness from where he’d shaved that morning. James shuddered in her arms at the sensation and turned his head so that their lips met.


“Lily,” he started to object after a moment. He hardly thought that this was the right time for them to begin a relentless snogging session. He was tired and not fully in his right mind; she had been crying all night.


“Please, James,” she whispered. “We could all die tomorrow.” She sighed and sank against his chest, and he absently traces his finger down her arm.


He felt the smooth curve of her shoulder, traced her firm upper arm down to her elbow. He ran his finger over her wrist and down her fingertips. A small smile played around Lily’s lips at the mild tickling sensation, although James never saw it as her face was against his chest.


He heaved a sigh and she reached up to brush her fingers through his damp hair. “We’re not going to die tomorrow, Lily,” he said softly. “We’re going to live long enough, at least, to end this war.”


“You can’t know that,” she said. “How many close calls already, James. The Daily Prophet. The riots. Sirius was hit with that spell, and I saw him hand Dumbledore Fawkes tonight after we left the McKin…” her voice caught in her throat. “The McKinnon’s. James, the bird was just a baby. It had died…”


James only closed his eyes.


“It took a Killing Curse, I heard Sirius say so. It took it for him. And now Marlene’s family. All of them.”


James’s arm was wrapped around her as they sat, and now he absently and unhappily fingered the waist of her trousers. He didn’t say a word; he only frowned as he listened to her worries.


“And now Frank thinks they know about the Order! They’ll try to pick us off one by one! Oh, James!”


“Lily,” he sighed patiently, trying to think of something to say. There was nothing, nothing that could end the worry. Nothing but being vigilant could stop the same fate of the McKinnons’ from happening to all of them. His fingers slipped between the waist of her knickers and lightly ran across the skin of her hip. He felt the goose bumps of pleasure form beneath his fingertips at the touch.


He kissed her then. His earlier thought about it not being a good time for snogging went right out the window; Lily, who had tried kissing him first moments before, responded enthusiastically. Her fingers toyed with the waistband of his pyjama bottoms.


“Let’s make love,” she suggested breathlessly, while surfacing for air. She watched him expectantly, a sparkle in her eye at her suggestion.


James inhaled sharply. “Lils,” he started to say, gently. “Lily, you know… You don’t want to do this.” She didn’t. He’d give anything for it, but he knew she’d been waiting for marriage. He wasn’t going to ruin that for her in one night just because she was grieving. He put his hands on her shoulders and gently pushed her away.


Lily wrapped her arms around his neck and locked her fingers together so that he could push her no farther. “Yes, I do,” she said quietly. “We could die tomorrow, James.”


“We won’t.”


“We could.”


“Lily…”


“I want this, James. I want to give it to you. Will you ruin it by saying no? I know you want it, too.” She fixed him with an earnest gaze.


James rolled his eyes and tried not to smile. “You’re going to make me feel guilty if I do, and guilty if I don’t, aren’t you?”


“No,” said Lily, tugging at his pyjama bottoms and trying to get them off. James grabbed her hand to stop her, and she met his eye with a mischievous grin. “You won’t feel guilty if you do,” she said.


“You’re certain?”


“Positive.”


James leaned back against the headboard and closed his eyes, trying to clear his mind. Lily kissed him while his eyes were shut, and he didn’t resist it; he shared her breath, let her hair tickle his face and breathed in the smell of her. She smelled like fear and everything bad that had happened tonight. She smelled like fire and battle. When he kissed her neck and forehead, it tasted salty with sweat.


He pulled her closer to him and his hands ran up her back. Her skin was warm, but his hands were warmer; he savoured every curve - the small of her back, her lean shoulders. There was nothing, he decided then, that could compare to a woman. Nothing softer, or gentler, nothing so delicate and so strong all at once. The heat, the texture, the smell; the sheer femininity that radiated from the smallest bit of exposed skin.


James nuzzled his lips into the dip where her neck curved gracefully, scooping into her shoulder. He longed to lay with her, wrap his arms around her and feel the way her body curved and snuggled into his.


Her eyes fluttered closed at his touch.


And James, who, perhaps, had flirted and kissed and snogged and loved several girls at Hogwarts, had never felt this way about a woman before.







V.

The pack was restless tonight, Remus noted.


He sat at the end of his tunnel, prisoner once more. Ulfric, being punished yet again on Remus's behalf - this time for letting him escape - sat as his guard. But 'guard' was just a fancy word - Ulfric was just as much a prisoner as Remus was, confined to that small, dead end tunnel. Remus sometimes wondered if Ulfric was angry about it.


It didn't matter; personally, Remus didn't mind being back to doing nothing. Prisoner was nothing when he grieved the loss of his father, the man who had given so much to ensure a normal life for Remus. Sometimes he was startled to find himself humming an old tune his father used to play on the guitar. Realising where he was, he would quickly glance at Ulfric, feeling embarrassed, and sometimes he could see a far off look in Ulfric's eyes, too.


No, being a prisoner again was nothing compared to the heartache of losing his father. Most days passed Remus by without a care; he hardly reacted to anything now.


Tonight, though, Remus could hear voices and sense excitement. Grieving or not, it spiked his curiostiy, for he had never heard anything like this happening within the caves. He lifted his head and listened intently.


“What is going on?” he asked Ulfric.


“Greyback’s back,” said Ulfric absently, carving a stick into a sharp point with a handmade knife made out of bone.


“He left?”


“Yes, Remus. He left while you were away. He’s earned the favour of the Dark Lord. He’s turned many children into werewolves. I think the Dark Lord regards him rather as a pet, almost. Greyback goes to him often.”


Remus furrowed his brow. “Greyback is a Death Eater?”


Ulfric tilted his head back and laughed. “Of course not,” he said, and he sounded almost bitter. “Do you really think the Dark Lord would employ a beast? A werewolf? We're blights on the wizarding world, Remus. We're talking about a man who wants only Purebloods to be involved in this world. No, he wouldn't give Greyback the privilege of being named one of his minions...”


“But Greyback works for Voldemort?”


“We don’t speak his name, Remus, show a little respect,” said Ulfric irritably. Ulfric was Remus’s closest friend in the pack, but ever since Remus had left the group to go home, they hadn’t been on the best of terms.


“I’m sorry; the Dark Lord,” Remus corrected himself, trying to sound more humble.


(He hated himself for saying 'the Dark Lord.' He hated referring to such an evil man in such a worshipping way. His heart screamed in protest, and his mind thought of Dumbledore and everyone fighting against the Dark wizard.)


“We all work for the Dark Lord. Greyback is just the messenger, however much he wishes he were more than that. Still - you could say he’s more involved than the rest of us. He’s been gone for weeks to pay the Dark Lord a visit and discuss plans. Now he is home; he will be sharing those plans with us so that we can act on them. Tonight there will be a banquet to welcome one of our greatest warriors home, and then we will have the gathering.”


“Ah,” said Remus, feeling slightly nervous. Here it was. After all this time - months - and the plans were finally coming out. It was finally his chance to do what he’d first been sent to do back in October.


“Can I ask why we are working for the Dark Lord? He wants us to do his dirty work, but can't name us among his loyal followers?”


For a moment, Ulfric glared at him as if he had come from another planet. Remus was beginning to regret what he'd asked when Ulfric finally sighed. “He offers us feeding grounds and villages of our own when this is over,” Ulfric murmured. “And that's more than the Ministry's done, isn't it?”


Remus could only swallow and nod reluctantly.


Ulfric's eyes seemed glazed over, but he quickly shook his head and his face regained his irritated expression. “And when I say ‘we’ will have the banquet and gathering, that doesn’t include you, Remus. I’m sorry, but you’re a prisoner. You’re going to have to stay in here.”


Bugger. Remus sighed and shifted his weight; the hard cold ground was uncomfortable to sit on. “Are you going?” he asked innocently.


Ulfric nodded. “I’m rather important in the pack, Remus, even if I’m being punished. Seems like all I’ve done lately is earn punishment ever since you showed up.”


“I’m sorry,” said Remus.


Ulfric shrugged. “I was the first that Rolff bit,” he said absently. “I am the son of the Alpha. While I am at the banquet, somebody else will be guarding you tonight so you can’t escape again. You won’t try, will you?” asked Ulfric, turning to look at Remus. His voice held a hint of pleading, his eye a look of warning.


“Of course not,” lied Remus.


It was only a few hours later that Ulfric got up and left him and another man came in, although his new guard was much less a man and much more of a boy. Ulfric gave the boy the stick he had carved into a sharp point.


“If he tried anything funny, Fillin, stick him with this a few times,” growled Ulfric, and he gave Remus a warning look. Young Fillin looked grimly at Remus as well, and Remus rather thought he looked as if he might wish to try a few prods just for sport. He offered what he hoped was an endearing smile.


It pained him to see how little Ulfric trusted him now. Remus said nothing as Ulfric left. Fillin stared at him harshly. The boy looked ready to pounce at the slightest movement.


“Er… Hullo,” said Remus kindly. Fillin’s lip curled into a sneer. “Very nice to meet you,” muttered Remus under his breath.


There was, however, one thing that was very fortunate about an adolescent being left to guard him. The chanting music, the delicious smell of cooking meat wafting down the tunnel, the food brought to feed Fillin by one of the women. The boy ate hungrily and sat against the wall, and it wasn’t long at all before he was fast asleep.


Remus chuckled to himself and pulled out James’s invisibility cloak.


It was easy to step around Fillin. And it was dark, so he wasn’t overly worried about anyone discovering his absence. He snuck down the long tunnels towards the sounds and smells of the banquet. The closer he got, the clearer the sounds were. He heard laughter, drumming. Torches were lit, bonfires causing flickering light against the tunnel walls. There was fire both outside of the caves and within. Remus know how much work went into gathering the firewood. It was then that he realized that such a celebration among the werewolves was a pretty big deal.


The smell of the food was more powerful here than it had been back in his little prison. Remus’s stomach rumbled so loudly that he feared the sound might give him away. As he came upon the banquet, Remus pressed himself up against a wall and tried to make himself as small as possible beneath the cloak.


The females were dressed in brightly coloured clothing. Scraps of cloth, worn dresses - the types of things, Remus realized, that may have been brought back to the caves as a sort of trophy after attacking a Muggle household. He’d never seen the attire before, and he knew it must have been brought out only for special occasions.


The children ran around gleefully, wrestling roughly. The older ones looked like normal children. The younger ones were surprisingly furry. And the youngest looked like wolf pups. Remus’s eyes lingered on them for a long while as he waited for the celebration to end and the talk to begin.


Several young women hovered around Greyback. The wolfish man looked as if he sincerely enjoyed this - it must have been a status thing, Remus realized. Greyback was important; he had met with Voldemort himself personally. In a dwelling such as this one, to have Greyback’s child would be a blessing. Remus felt disgusted as he watched it all unfold, and he wondered vaguely how many of the cubs running around now were the spawn of Greyback.


Remus wasn’t sure how many hours had passed in which he sat hidden away against a wall, watching. He hoped the banquet would end soon; he hoped it wouldn’t go on all night. If that was the case, somebody was sure to discover him missing sooner or later.


But, to his relief, it lasted only a few hours. Eventually the women disappeared, taking the children with them off to bed. The men stuck around, but without the presence of the females and children, much of the excitement of the party quickly wore off.


The Elders, as Remus had come to know them - those of importance in the pack - stood and disappeared down a tunnel. Remus was quick to follow them underneath the Invisibility Cloak.


They went into a room, a room apparently carved into the earth. Tree trunks sat in a circle and acted as chairs. There were five elders, including Greyback, Ulfric and Rolff. There was another man that Remus recognized - the man who had stepped forward months ago and examined Remus for scars upon his arrival.


“What news does the Dark Lord have, Greyback?” asked Rolff after they were all settled.


“The Dark Lord wishes us to attack the Ministry of Magic,” said Fenrir lazily. He seemed to savour being the center of attention, and Remus hated him more than ever. Fenrir loved being so important, enjoyed holding the information he had above the Alpha’s head, practically forcing the old man to beg for it. Ulfric might have been next in line to be Alpha by right, but, Remus thought, if Rolff ever died, Greyback would most certainly take the throne.


“And how is this to happen? I will not attack if it means we will be killed,” said Rolff wisely.


Remus had never liked the Alpha of the pack before. The man had been bitter, grumpy. But now he suddenly found a certain respect for Rolff, and he hoped the old man wouldn’t allow the attack to proceed.


“It will happen during a full moon, obviously,” sneered Greyback. “Death Eaters will arrive early on the day of the attack, while we are still human. They will take us to London through Apparition. We will lie in wait until the moon rises, and we will be guided into the Ministry.”


Remus closed his eyes. That sounded like a terrible plan.


Greyback continued, his voice sounding excited as he told of the plan. “The Ministry of Magic is generally deserted at night. This means we'll find very little resistance, if any at all. We'll kill all who oppose us, and we'll lie in wait until morning. And when employees show up...” He trailed away and grinned maliciously.


“At which point,” said Ulfric, daring to finish the sentence, and he received a harsh glare from both Rolff and Greyback. “We will turn human once again, and find ourselves surrounded by Aurors and other magical people.”


“No,” snarled Greyback, sitting forward suddenly. He looked furious at being interrupted. “The attack'll happen soon - the next full moon. He plans carefully, Ulfric. It's still winter - the nights are still long. And the full moon will be up at least until nine o’clock. Imagine the terror we can cause…”


“It doesn’t matter,” said Ulfric through gritted teeth. He spoke slowly, as if Greyback were stupid. “At some point, the moon will go down again, and we will find ourselves human and surrounded.”


“The Death Eaters will be standing by to help us,” said Greyback carelessly, leaning back again. “They'll bring us back here immediately upon transformation.” He shot a piercing gaze towards Ulfric, his yellow eyes almost glowing. “These are the Dark Lord’s Orders, Ulfric. Dare you resist?”


Ulfric glared back and seemed to fume for a moment, but he didn’t respond. He didn’t say anything at all.


“We do not resist,” said Rolff after a moment, his voice low and husky. He raised his clenched fist in the air. “For the Dark Lord.”


“For the Dark Lord,” echoed Greyback with a smile. There was silence for a few moments and Remus made to leave. He had gotten the information he wanted. He didn’t want to be caught out of his cave, however.


But then Greyback spoke once more. He couldn’t resist showing off.


“O' course, that's nothin' compared to some o' the other plans.”


Remus turned back to see Greyback smiling greasily. Ulfric eyed Greyback with a frown.


“Eh?” grunted Rolff.


“The Dark Lord has all sorts of things in mind. Tomorrow, for instance. An attack on the tube underneath London. Wot, maybe nine o'clock...” Greyback tilted his head back and let loose a laugh. “All of those Muggles on their way to work. KABOOM!”


Remus’s eyes widened in horror as he backed out of the room. His heart hammered so loudly as he slipped back down the tunnels that he thought it might wake the entire pack. And Sirius’s two way mirror banged against his leg as he ran back to his dead-end prison beneath James's cloak.

Chapter 21: The Tube
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - O N E
The Tube




“James. James!”


James’s eyes opened and he blinked in confusion for moment. His mind was still in his dreams; he could still smell Lily’s hair, still feel her warmth around him. His hand shot out and ran over the smooth bed sheets beside him. Empty. There was no Lily there, and he paused long enough to feel suddenly lonely.


“James, please!”


It occurred to him, then, where the familiar voice was coming from. Rubbing his face tiredly, James sighed and rolled over, fumbling for his wand on the bedside table. It had been an excellent dream and he was reluctant.


Lumos,” he said slowly, tiredly. The tip of the wand obediently lit, and James laid it down on the bed to light the room. Remus’s room. He spent the night in Sirius’s flat again. He’d barely spent any time at home with his parents since learning of the McKinnons’ deaths nearly two weeks earlier. He wasn’t sure why.


James heaved a sigh and his hand came to rest on the small mirror lying on the bedside table. His fingers closed around it, vaguely registering who it was on the other end in his bleariness, despite knowing who, exactly, had the other mirror.


“Please wake up,” Remus said desperately, a hoarse whisper.


“I’m awake,” he reassured, lifting the mirror to his face in the weak wand light.


Remus breathed a shaky sigh of relief, for he had been whispering into the mirror for at least ten minutes now. James watched as Remus banged his head back against a wall of earth and swallowed roughly at the small victory. His friend’s face held a slight sheen of sweat, and worried brown eyes stared back at him after a moment.


“What is it, Moony?”


Remus glanced away, at something nearby in the dark. “Keep your voice down, Prongs, please!” he begged, his voice barely a faint breath. He looked wary, as if afraid of being caught at any moment, and James was slightly fearful for him.


“All right,” whispered James agreeably. It felt terribly familiar, sitting up in the dark late at night, whispering through the magic mirrors. When Sirius still lived with the Blacks, the two of them always did the exact same thing. He hated doing it now, the innocence of it lost as he looked upon Remus’s worried face. “What’s wrong?”


“I heard the werewolves talking,” whispered Remus. “One of them meets with Voldemort and his Death Eaters on occasion. They came back, and they met with the Elders to speak of Voldemort’s plans and the werewolves’ role in the war.”


Remus closed his eyes. James waited patiently.


“James, tomorrow morning there will be an attack in the London tube.”


James thought his heart stopped for a brief moment. “What?”


“Nine o’clock, Prongs. You have to tell Dumbledore. Please, James, I can’t send a Patronus from here without it being seen and giving me away.”


“All right,” James whispered, his throat dry.


“I’ve got to go,” said Remus then; his job was done. James only nodded. “Hey, James. Be careful, right?”


“Yeah, right,” he whispered, and then Remus was gone. James lowered the mirror and sat in the dark for a moment, lost in his thoughts. All he could do was glance towards the heavens in disbelief. He shook his head slightly and wondered why they couldn’t get a break.


He picked his wand up again and raised it towards the window. The familiar silver stag burst from it’s tip and soared through the window effortlessly.


And then he rolled out of bed. Dumbledore would be calling them all to an emergency meeting shortly, anyway. James glanced at his watch. It was barely three o’clock. He rapped loudly on Sirius’s door as he made his way down the hall to the kitchen.


They might as well have breakfast, at least.







II.

All of the Order members looked rather drowsy as they sat in the familiar old basement of the Hog’s Head. Sirius had dark circles under his glassy eyes and he stared dully at the floor. Peter looked as if he’d rather be anywhere but there; he chewed his fingernails nervously and stared unseeingly at Frank and Alice. And Lily’s red hair could rival James’s for its messiness; she looked rather unhappy at her appearance and was constantly running her hands over her robes in fits of nervousness.


The silvery Patronuses that had soared to everyone’s homes had gone out like an army, and they were only waiting for the last few members to show up. Caradoc was still in his pyjamas, and Dorcas sat with her arms crossed and her eyes closed in her dressing gown, as if hoping to catch just a few more minutes of sleep.


Gideon and Fabian entered the room, yawning and stretching. Dumbledore, looking worried as he stood at the front of the group, gave the brothers a curt nod.


“What’re we waiting for?” growled Moody after several long moments.


James looked around.


“I guess we were waiting for Marlene,” said Peter sadly. Everyone stared at him for a moment, and an awkward silence, followed by forced shuffling and mutterings, came over all of them.


Dumbledore looked particularly heartbroken at the realisation, as if surprised to suddenly understand that Marlene wouldn't be coming. His blue eyes, their twinkle long gone, met James’s for a moment. The old man then cleared his throat, causing the room to grow quiet, and he began to explain to the group the news from Remus. They didn’t know what to expect, didn’t even have a clue about where, exactly, the attack was going to happen. Nevertheless, a hopeful plan was worked out. They were going to attempt to counter something they knew nothing about.








III.

Brian Evans sighed at his wife as she powdered her nose in their restroom.


“You’re going to make me late,” he told her impatiently, though his voice betrayed a hint of amusement.


Mae spared his reflection a glance through the mirror and then pulled out her tube of lipstick. “Honestly, Dear,” she responded. “You aren’t normally leaving the house for another thirty minutes! Would you relax? We have got a ton of time.”


Brian grumbled and left the bedroom, presumably heading downstairs to turn on the television. And Mae was glad, for he was driving her insane with all of his hovering. She checked her make up one last time and then ran the brush through her hair again.


It was Monday morning. Brian had to go downtown to work as he did every weekday. But today was quite different, for today Mae was going with him. Her daughter, Lily’s, birthday was the next day. Mae was going to be meeting with her elderly mother and then they planned to shop together for birthday gifts and have lunch.


And then the next day - Tuesday, January 30th - Mae planned to surprise Lily.


She smiled at her reflection in the mirror, excited. She missed her youngest child since Lily had moved to London. It was going to be so very hard not to stop by for a surprise visit today, as she would be in the area. She was torn between desperately wishing to see Lily, and praying they wouldn’t bump into each other and spoil the surprise.


“Mae!” shouted Brian from downstairs.


“All right!” she called back, putting in her earrings. “I’m coming, you impatient old man.”


Grumbling to herself, Mae gathered her purse from where she had set it on the bed, checking to be sure she still had the money she had pulled out of the bank on Saturday. Once she was downstairs, she pulled her travelling cloak from the closet.


Petunia was slouched over a teacup at the table, looking disgruntled.


“What is it, Tuney, darling?” asked Mae in hurried concern after catching sight of her.


Petunia’s hard, pale eyes turned towards her. “Nothing,” she said irritably. Mae tutted, for she knew how jealous Petunia was of Lily. She felt quite terrible for her eldest daughter; it did seem rather unfair that one child was magical and the other couldn’t be. But at the same time, she couldn’t punish Lily for that. She cast Petunia a sympathetic look.


“Are you certain you don’t want to go with us, Petunia? Grand mum would be properly thrilled to see you.”


“No, thank you,” grumbled Petunia, turning back to her teacup. Then she tossed her brown hair importantly and stood from the table, carrying her tea over to the couch. The news was on and she intended to watch it just as she did every morning after her father left.


(Vernon, after all, was always up to date on the current events. He always had an opinion to voice, and she wanted to be able to agree with him.)


“Anyway,” she said snidely, setting the teacup down on the tea table and turning back to her mother. “I’ve got far too much work to do for the wedding. I was going to order the cake today, Mum. You know, I really would have liked to have your help with these things! A mother should be involved in her eldest daughter’s wedding!”


Mae couldn’t help rolling her eyes. “Yes, Petunia. But I can’t just ignore your sister’s birthday, can I? If you would like to wait until this afternoon, I would be more than happy to visit the cake shop with you.”


Petunia’s eyes narrowed at the words, ‘your sister.’ She couldn’t stop her nostrils from flaring slightly as she looked up at her mother’s face. “And tomorrow, Mum, I made arrangements to meet with a Florist-”


Mae sighed. “Oh, Petunia,” she said impatiently. “Tomorrow is Lily’s birthday! You know-” but she was interrupted by the impatient sound of the horn honking. She hadn’t even noticed Brian slip out the front door and head to the car. Mae threw her hands up into the air, tiring of his impatience. “We will talk about this tonight, Petunia.”


Petunia glared at her mother’s back until the front door slammed shut.


The small village of Cradley Heath was a two hour drive from London. The train, however, cut the travel time in half. Brian read the newspaper as he travelled, ignoring his wife’s presence. Mae didn’t mind; she was happy to look out the window. She didn’t go downtown very often, and for the moment, life was good.


One daughter getting married, and the other happy and successful and in love. The middle aged woman sighed contentedly and allowed her mind to slip off into a day dream - a day dream that she had often as of late. She was dreaming of her future grandchildren.


The hour long ride breezed by; Mae was quite stunned when they pulled into the train station in London. Brian held her hand as they got off the train, and he led her out of the station and onto the sidewalk. He took her down a flight of stairs to the subway.


The underground platform was crowded with commuters. Mae was bumped and jostled as people hurried past, and she gripped Brian’s hand even more tightly, lest she be ripped away from him. She certainly didn’t know her way around the city as well as a woman her age should have.


Brian seemed to know exactly where he was, which car to board, where they were going. He pulled her around, and she soon found herself travelling at high speed through the tunnels beneath London, heading for another part of the city.


Mae stared solemnly at her husband’s face as she clutched a pole for support in the rocking carriage. He looked so relaxed, so confident and at ease. Perhaps it was because he did this every day. Mae felt on edge and paranoid. She glanced around at the people in the carriage with them. Then she checked her handbag to make sure she hadn’t lost the money in the crowd. It was still there.


Brian glanced at her. “This place we’re going,” he said, talking loudly over the noise of travel. “I will meet you right where we get off. Be there at noon, and I’ll join you for lunch.” He smiled at her. “Don’t worry, I’ll show you which train to get on after we eat and you can go home. Then you won’t have to see my ugly mug again until you pick me up from the Cradley Heath station this evening.”


Mae only nodded and clutched the pole tighter. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.







IV.

Sirius hammered the palm of his hand nervously against his thigh. The underground station was crowded, sweaty. Horns honked as the trains went rushing past at breakneck speeds. Businessmen in suits stood and waited, reading newspapers. Mothers soothed crying infants in bulky prams that caused others to give irritated looks. Children - those too young to be in school - danced on their toes and complained that they needed to use the restroom.


Sirius eyed the little ones and his sense of fear grew. Sweat erupted on his forehead and he pushed his black hair off his face, feeling sickened.


He glanced over the heads of everyone. Alastor stood on the stairs, looking gruff and wary. When he caught Sirius’s eye, he gave a curt nod.


Beside Sirius, James was looking suspiciously around at the crowd of people. He searched for anyone who looked like they might be planning something. He narrowed his eyes at several different people, earning affronted glares.


Peter chewed his lip nervously. “Do you think we ought to warn people?”


“Sure, Wormtail. Go tell these people that they all have to leave because you’ve had a psychic vision of disaster, and see how well that goes over, eh? Go on, then,” snapped Sirius. “That bloke over there looks friendly,” he said, eyeing a harsh looking importantly dressed man. “Go on and tell him, Wormtail.”


“Shut up, Padfoot,” demanded James, digging his elbow sharply into his best friend’s ribs. “Now’s not the time. What do you think of that bloke over there?” He surreptitiously nodded his head towards a dodgy looking fellow in a trench coat.


Sirius ignored the smug look on Peter’s face and followed James’s gaze.


(Part of him, though, wanted nothing more than to sock his friend. Peter had a terrible way of trying too desperately to be on James’s good side, and sometimes, on the few occasions when James actually stood up for the boy, Sirius felt slightly betrayed.)


“I don’t know, James. He just looks like a common thief or something to me…”


“Oh, blast it,” sighed Peter in frustration. “We don’t even know what we’re looking for! By the time we figure it out, it’ll probably be too late!”


“Shut up, Wormtail!” growled Sirius. This time James said nothing. Peter made a face at Sirius, and several seconds passed in which the tension built to the point of being almost tangible.


“Oh, sod off, you two,” James finally muttered miserably, catching Peter’s face-making out of the corner of his eye. “There are bigger things going on here.”


“You’re right, Prongs, I’m sorry,” said Peter automatically, and he turned away from Sirius.


Sirius could only roll his eyes and huff indignantly, falling silent and broody. He wondered how everyone else was doing, if anything had happened yet. They had been split into groups and were covering various platforms throughout the area. Lily had been sent off with the Prewett brothers and Edgar Bones.


(He knew it was why James was so irritable. James had thrown a fit over the fact that Lily was going to be separated from him. Dumbledore had quite calmly explained that, while they knew not what to expect, he had tried to divide groups based on skill level. The three Marauders had gotten Alastor Moody - Lily, the newest Order member, was placed with the skilled Edgar Bones.


James knew, at least, that she was in good hands, but he hated not knowing for certain that she was all right.)


“I’m sure Evans is fine, James,” said Sirius under his breath, and it was this that earned an appreciative glance from James. “Edgar’s a hell of a wizard, and Gideon and Fabian are no slouches, either.”


Peter scowled at Sirius, and Sirius couldn’t help but smile crookedly and smugly back at him after James had turned away. Just to be irritating, he winked, and Peter pursed his lips and looked away.


No matter how much Peter admired James, no matter how much he tried to be like him, tried to suck up, tried to be his best friend, he could never understand the way Sirius could. Peter felt sickened with yearning and desperation, how badly he wanted to be apart of something like that. How teasingly close he was, witnessing it every day and always feeling just on the outer edge of the circle. He crossed his arms and turned away on the pretence of surveying the crowd once more.


(He'd tried, sometimes, to duplicate the friendship that James and Sirius had with his remaining fellow Marauder, Remus. But Remus wasn't the same, wasn't as enthusiastic. Remus loved them all and had no chosen 'best friend.' And Remus wasn't James; Peter didn't idolise him like that, and it wasn't there.)


A horn blew loudly. Again, again. It happened very quickly, all at once, so that there was no stopping it - there was nothing they could do. It was on top of them before they could even react.


Sirius heard the horn and instantly looked up, glancing around the platform. All of the Muggles glanced towards the oncoming train in horror. A few of them turned and ran past Moody and back up the stairs to the street. Sirius’s grey eyes searched desperately through the crowd, hoping to find somebody with a wand, somebody looking as if he were concentrating very hard whilst everyone else looked terrified. Somebody who looked to be controlling the speeding train.


And then he saw him. Sirius pulled his own wand out. “There!” he shouted loudly, and he saw Moody start towards the man dressed in robes.


“Run, run, get out!” screamed Peter suddenly. He shoved past Sirius and James and took off for dear life, shoving through the crowds that moved with him.


The tracks shifted, so that the incoming train was directed to where the scheduled outgoing train was parked and waiting for people to board. They shared the same tracks now. There was no time before the collision. It would be a head-on crash. The one headlight of the approaching train grew quickly larger, until it was blinding.


“Fuck, go!” screamed James now, deciding in a split second that they wouldn't have time to stop it. He picked up a wailing child and gave Sirius a hard shove, pushing him to run. Obediently, Sirius did, James’s hand on his back, pushing him ever faster, the child crying in his ears.


He glanced over his shoulder. He couldn't see the Death Eater any longer. Moody was looking around as well, appearing flustered. It looked as if their suspect had Disapparated in the commotion.


It was a mere five seconds from the time the horn sounded, the time people began to see a nightmare and try to get out of it, to the time of collision.


The sound of breaking steel and glass was deafening. The crash was horrendous, sparks flew everywhere as James and Sirius ran. Upon impact, the oncoming train was thrown into the air, using the parked train it had hit almost as a ramp to launch itself. Sirius looked over his shoulder in horror as he saw it approach - it was going to hit the platform. It was going to land right on top of all these people.


James had a handful of his shirt, dragging him along almost mindlessly. Sirius twisted away.


“Sirius!” James yelled in dismay, half turning back. He shoved the child into the arms of a stranger running by, and reached out to grab Sirius’s arm. Sirius ripped it away, out of his grasp.


Without bothering to think of how many people might see him standing and casting a spell with his wand, how many Muggles would find it odd, or how the secrecy act would be breached, Sirius yanked his only weapon out and flung his wand arm towards the flying wreckage.


Impedimenta!” he screamed, and like an explosion, the spell shot from his wand and hit his target just as his target hit the platform.


In horror, Sirius watched as a few people - those who hadn’t been fast enough, hadn’t reacted in time - were crushed beneath it, disappearing from sight. Though slowed, the train was still a beastly mass of metal and could still kill with ease.


And though the train slowed as it slid across the platform on its side, the flying debris did not. A sharp scrap of thin metal flew towards Sirius at incredible speed - he didn’t see it coming, not through all the other bits of glass and blazing engine parts. He was stunned when it hit him, embedding itself deep into his chest. It was like being stabbed by a butcher's knife.


He dropped to his knees as he felt the warm blood soaking through his shirt.


Instantly, James had an arm around him, struggling to hold him up. “Protego!” he panted, tapping Sirius’s shoulder with his free hand. He didn’t know if the shield charm would work against physical harm as well as magical. It was something he had never tested.


Perhaps they were just lucky that nothing else hit them as he dragged Sirius towards the stairs, or perhaps the shield charm did, in fact, stop more debris from striking them. The platform was nearly empty now, the last dozen people shouting in a panic as they rushed out. Moody rushed forward and grabbed Sirius’s other arm, helping James drag him out of the station. The gruff man eyed the wreckage in wide-eyed worry as they moved.


“It’s going to explode,” he said then. James threw him a look of horror; how did things get this bad? They were ready, they were here waiting and were prepared.


Alastor dropped Sirius’s arm and rushed towards the fiery wreckage.


“Alastor,” James shouted after him. “Damn it.”


Screams of anguish and pain could be heard from within the two crushed trains. Sounds came from a woman trapped beneath the train, terrible sounds, sounds that James knew he would never forget. They were the sounds of people who knew they were going to die, people who probably accepted it and welcomed it now, and for some it wasn’t coming fast enough.


Aguamenti,” growled Moody, approaching the smoking mess and trying to ignore the weak cries for help. The water poured from the tip of his wand like a fountain as he walked, wondering where to begin, which blazing area was the biggest risk. He never got the chance to water the mess down, however.


The explosion came quite suddenly, and Moody was thrown off of his feet with the force of it. He landed on his back at the foot of the stairs. James, who still stood on the stairs clutching Sirius, nearly lost his glasses as they were blown up into his fierce hair. The heat of the explosion played against his face and parched his lips. He glanced down at Sirius.


And Sirius, who barely held onto consciousness, saw the bright light of the explosion in a blur. And then it all went black.







V.

The wails of sirens rocked the scene. The streets of London were alive with flashing lights. The entire block was roped off, barring onlookers from seeing what had happened. The sidewalks were lined with the people who had been on the platform. Many of them were bleeding from the flying debris, some had torn clothing from the stampede to safety.


Paramedics and firemen crouched over people, and smoke poured out of the underground stairwell.


Aurors were on the scene, speaking in raised voices with policemen. Peter was speaking with Bartemius Crouch, giving an account of what he had seen. Moody had a handkerchief out and was attempting to wipe soot from his face. His eyebrows were singed and his forehead bright red with burns from the explosion.


James didn’t stick around. He Disapparated right where he stood, halfway up the concrete stairs, clutching Sirius tightly. He didn’t care who saw them disappear.








VI.

When Sirius woke up, he was startled to find himself in an unfamiliar white room. He slowly became aware of various small details, such as hushed voices or the fact that he didn’t even have a shirt on. He glanced down at himself and saw a thick cream slathered upon his chest. His nose wrinkled in dislike.


Sirius glanced around then and his eyes fell on James, who sat in a chair at his bedside. James was leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees and hands clutched together tightly. He was watching Sirius earnestly, his face solemn. When Sirius turned his head towards him, James’s eyebrows raised.


“Hello,” James said simply, looking rather pale.


Sirius groaned, feeling a sudden ache within him. And suddenly, he could remember it all. “The tube,” he croaked. Just breathing, the effort to use his voice, caused a sharp pain in his chest. “Ow,” he moaned.


“Shh. It’s over, Sirius. We're in St. Mungo's.”


“H-How mm-many... p-people were... were kill-killed?” gasped Sirius with great difficulty, struggling to voice the question through the stabbing pain with every breath. His face contorted with pain; he was surprised at how he sounded. Like a dying person, struggling. James stared at him a moment, wishing he'd stop talking.


And then he pursed his lips as he considered how to answer. “A lot,” he finally sighed. Sirius groaned, and James quickly added, “But not as many as there would have been if you hadn’t gone back to slow the train. You were a hero.”


“Nnn... No,” Sirius quickly disagreed. He felt as if an elephant were standing on his chest with every word.


James shrugged. “You did more than I did.”


Sirius also shrugged, though he winced and bit back a pained whine that threatened to escape him over the movement. His voice was laboured and weak as he spoke, straining with each syllable. Words were broken as he was forced to inhale in sharp pain; it seemed to take ages to spit out and stutter what he was trying to ask.


He felt foolish at how his voice shook and gasped as he tried to fight through the burning in his chest. James didn't seem to mind.


“You- saved-d a ch-child. That’s... just... just as immmp-portant, I th-think. Was any-anyone... anyone h-hurt? The... the Order? Did- did P-Peter ...get out ...out of th-there?”


He swallowed, trying to ignore the horrible gurgling sound that seemed to occur each time he inhaled, and looked earnestly at James for an answer he half dreaded.


James nodded slowly. “Peter got out,” he confirmed gently.


“Guh... good.”


James rolled his eyes. He didn’t understand how two people could argue so much and still show concern for each other at the end of the day. “Moody suffered some small burns. But that’s it.”


“Good,” whispered Sirius. His hand reached up to touch his bare chest, the injury. It ached fiercely, sharply; every breath was a struggle between pain and necessity. He recoiled, however, when his fingers touched the sticky cream. He made a face at James.


“Don’t touch it,” warned his best friend. “The Healer will have a fit.”


“What haa-happened?” He gasped for air. He thought he might die at any moment, though James didn't seem worried. Clearly his injuries weren't life threatening, and he had only to wait for them to heal.


James took a deep breath and rubbed his hands together. “A piece of metal was stuck in your chest. Broken ribs, a collapsed lung.” He forced a smile. “You know, the every day sort of thing...” The smile quickly slipped from James's face. “If this was a Muggle hospital, you probably wouldn't have survived...”


Sirius allowed his head to crash back against the pillow. A collapsed lung certainly explained his difficulty breathing and horrendous pain in speaking. “I w-wish we could have... could have ss... st-stopped it,” he said hoarsely.


James looked down at his hands and wished for the very same thing. It was overwhelming, suddenly, after their recent victories, how terribly things had gone wrong. “We can’t stop it all, Pads,” he finally said, feeling defeated.


Sirius eyed him for a moment before looking away. “N-nno, I- guess not,” he agreed dejectedly. The room was filled with silence.


Lily and Peter rushed into the room then, and Sirius recognised the hushed voices he had heard upon waking as being theirs. They had been arguing with the Healer about being allowed in to see him, and, judging by the smug look upon Lily’s face (and the irritated one on the trailing Healer's), they’d won the argument.


Feeling much more self conscious around Lily than he was when it was just James alone, Sirius hurried to pull the white sheets up to his chin to cover the disgusting wound.


“Sirius,” said Lily kindly, approaching his bed. “You’re awake.” She combed the hair off of his forehead for a moment as James and Peter looked on and then quite suddenly slugged him in the arm. “You gave us a fright!”








VII.

It was ten o’clock. Petunia had showered and gotten dressed and done her hair. She had already phoned Vernon and had a long, pleasant chat. He spoke of how grand the wedding was going to be, boasted that it would be the wedding to talk about for years to come.


And Petunia loved every bit of it; she felt special among Vernon’s family. She knew Vernon was the spoiled child of the Dursley family, the youngest, the one everyone rooted for. She knew Vernon’s family would throw the most extravagant wedding, even if her own didn’t have the funds to do so. She relished the thought of being the centre of attention for once, of being known as “Mrs Vernon Dursley,” or even just “Vernon’s wife.”


She felt privileged just to be a part of it all.


To the Dursleys, Lily Evans was nothing, a nobody. Petunia Evans was everything - the future wife of everyone's son.


Humming pleasantly as she wiped down the kitchen counters, for she loved to clean and sometimes allowed herself to picture having her very own home soon, Petunia imagined the cakes she had seen in the bridal magazine.


She was quite fond of several of them. She looked forward to this afternoon when her mother would accompany her to the cake store, and for once everything would be about her.


Folding the wet cloth after she was finished with the wipe down, Petunia cheerfully grabbed the magazine off the table and headed to the living room to pour through it once again.


She settled on the couch. The television was still on, and Petunia spared it a glance as she opened the worn monthly digest. A breaking news story was on, and that immediately caught her attention.


“…massive wreckage on the Underground,” the reporter was saying. Behind him was the scene, the ambulances and the injured people lined up. “Hundreds are presumed dead. There were passengers in both trains involved in the collision and it has been confirmed now that none of the passengers have survived the impact. Additionally, several people on the platform were brutally crushed…”


Petunia’s heart hammered furiously in her chest. She launched herself from the couch and leapt towards the television, turning the old fashioned knob to change the channel.


“...all scheduled departures are now on hold...” droned one man. She interrupted him, changing the channel again.


“...suspected act of terrorism...”


“What time was this?” she worried, feeling sick and turning the knob again.


The breaking news story was playing on all channels, she quickly came to see. She flipped through all of them, and back again, until one of them finally gave her the information she was looking for.


“That’s right, Jim, this happened at about nine o’clock this morning…”


Petunia tuned out the rest of it as she stared blankly at the glowing screen. After a moment she reached out a pale arm and shut it off. The house was filled with silence. Petunia stood up and paced worriedly, unsure of what to do or how to distract herself, or how to find out more information.


After a moment, she picked up the telephone and dialled her father’s work. His secretary answered and confirmed her worst fears: he hadn’t arrived yet.

Chapter 22: The Worst Birthday
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - T W O
The Worst Birthday




It was evening before they released Sirius from St. Mungo’s.


All day, he’d sat in the hospital bed while his wound slowly healed. James, Lily and Peter never left, except to get lunch. (They snuck in sweets for Sirius.)


Throughout the day, a few fellow Order members stopped by for a visit, Dorcas and the Prewett brothers among them, after hearing of his nasty injury. Others, such as Alastor Moody and Edgar Bones, simply sent their well wishes along with those who visited.


It was a boring day, overall, after the excitement from that morning. Peter brought in the Daily Prophet, and many hours were spent pouring over the paper. It was packed full of articles on the Underground incident, everything from witness accounts (which were unrealistic and likely made up) to more chatter about an attack from the Dark side. But no mention of the Order was made, none even of Peter, who had actually talked to Crouch, and for that they were all glad.


“I thought Crouch talked to you, Wormtail,” said James, folding up the news and tossing it on Sirius's bed.


“He did,” replied Peter. “But he only saw me and Moody, didn’t he? You and Padfoot were gone right away, and the others were still at other stations waiting for something to happen. I’d think he just thought we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s not unheard of for wizards to ride the Tube, after all…”


And to that, nobody had a response. It seemed, lately, with all the attacks from the Dark side and sudden run-ins with the Ministry, that the Order’s presence was becoming increasingly more obvious. As of yet, the group had not been discovered by the Aurors that were always one step behind them.


(Not that it mattered now that they suspected the Dark side knew of them. It was, however, always nice to not have the Ministry thinking they were forming some sort of underground rebellion or something.)


After that, the paper was used strictly to fill in the crossword puzzle on the back, which kept them amused for all of thirty minutes. Crosswords, they discovered, did not last long when there were four of them working on it.


Through out the day, breathing and speaking became easier for Sirius. It no longer felt like he was battling against a force pressing around his chest when he spoke. His sudden gasps with every word soon faded away to happening only occasionally. His voice became stronger and less strained. And after a few hours, the pain became little more than a heavy ache at first. By the evening, the pain was fairly dull and only really gave him trouble if he breathed too heavily, or yawned, for instance.


And then finally, the Healer came in, quickly checked his condition with her wand, and told him he could leave.


“I could have left ages ago,” said Sirius as she filled out a form for him. And, rather smartly, the Healer ignored his comment and kept on writing.


They decided to stop and have dinner out on the way home. It was rare that they were able to do such menial things since joining the Order. Many nights were spent at the Hog’s Head, or lately, fighting something or somebody. They couldn’t remember sitting down together for a meal since celebrating Sirius’s birthday, and so the outing was long overdue.


The restaurant they chose was small, quiet, but nice enough. A few young couples sat here and there, and snippets of conversation were overheard. It seemed as if everyone was talking about that morning’s subway crash. Sirius tuned them out as they were seated.


“You should have kept that bit of metal, Padfoot,” Peter said with a grin. “A souvenir of sorts, to remember it by. To show what you’ve survived.”


Sirius focused him with a look of exasperation. It didn’t matter that what he survived. How many had died in that very same attack, an attack that he had been sent to stop?


“Why would I ever want to remember it?” he asked incredulously.


Peter fell silent after that. James had his arm around Lily and was absently rubbing her shoulder as he eyed the younger boy and how his face fell. He should have said something to Sirius in Peter's defence, but he didn't. Sirius was tired, had had a rough day, thought James, and a bit of rudeness was all right given the circumstances. Instead of saying anything, he took a drink from his glass.


“No, I don’t suppose you would…” Peter muttered, straightening his silverware as his cheeks turned a brilliant shade of pink. He tried not to show how crushed he felt. He'd been at Sirius's bedside all day, after all. But then, maybe it was a stupid suggestion... He was careful to make sure each utensil was evenly spaced so as to avoid looking at anyone.


Nothing more was said, however, for the waiter came up then to take their orders. Sirius was famished. Despite having food snuck into him for lunch, all of his energy seemed to have been sapped as his injury healed. He was now exhausted and starving; he wanted nothing more than to eat and go lay down somewhere.


“Look, Wormtail, I’m sorry for being an irritable arse…” he said when the waiter was gone.


“No, no, I understand completely, Padfoot,” said Peter, offering a smile.


Sirius rested his elbow on the table and his face in his hand, allowing the heel of his palm to press into his eyes. They ached and burned with the horrors of what he’d seen this day. That and the bright, magical lighting that illuminated St. Mungo’s.


“Not feeling well, Sirius?” asked James then, observantly. After all, Siruis had had a rather bad day.


But Sirius only shrugged and dropped his hand. “Just tired… You know, I wish Remus were here,” he said suddenly. “It seems like it’s been ages…”


“It’s only been two weeks since he left again,” said Peter, rather dismissively. He leaned forward and took a sip of his soda.


“Yes, but we hardly saw him when he was home, he spent all his time with his poor mum,” said Sirius impatiently.


“I miss Remus, too,” Lily sighed. “But his job is important. If he wasn’t out there with the werewolves, after all, Sirius, we never would have known about the attack this morning. Then even more people would have died than what did, because you wouldn’t have been there.”


Sirius changed the subject.


“Do you have any plans for your birthday tomorrow, Evans?” he asked, and he gave her a hopeful look, begging her to take the bait, to say something, anything, so that he wouldn’t have to talk about Remus or the Underground anymore.


Her eyes suddenly widened. “Oh, bugger! I completely forgot! Tomorrow is the thirtieth!”


Peter giggled. “Forgot?”


Irritated with herself, Lily sighed. “Yes,” she snapped, although her tone wasn’t directed at Peter. “Oh, blast it, my Mum is probably beside herself with trying to get a hold of me.”


James frowned to conceal the smile that was playing around his lips. “We can stop by later, if you wish,” he suggested.


She sighed again and flipped her hair over her shoulder. “No, I’ll just get in touch with her tomorrow… She knows I’m rather busy. She still thinks I’m working hard toward my career in journalism at the Daily Prophet, you know.”


Sirius grinned and glanced at James, and then his grey eyes flicked quickly back to Lily. “You mean you haven’t told your parents you don’t work there anymore? It’s been months, Evans. October, wasn’t it?”


Lily rolled her eyes. “For somebody so intelligent, Black, you don’t use your brain very much, do you? You know being an apprentice means you don’t get paid. That’s what I was for the Prophet. An apprentice.”


Sirius only raised his eyebrows and smirked at James. Lily was quite amusing, even when she wasn’t trying to be, even when she wasn’t aware she was.


“Well, come on,” she encouraged. “You’ve got to have figured it out by now,” she added, and only then did Sirius realise she expected him to understand something. He crossed his arms and gave her a blank look.


She sighed. “If I wasn’t being paid, then who do you suppose was paying my half of the rent on my flat?”


“Your parents,” guessed Peter, feeling rather smart.


“Exactly. And, as I’m not being paid in the Order, guess who is still paying my half of the rent?”


“Your parents?”


“Precisely. Do you really think my parents would continue paying if they knew I’d abandoned my future career to run around and risk my life? They’d likely as not pull me right out of the wizarding world. So no, of course I haven’t told them I left. They’ll never know the difference, anyway.”


James grinned at Sirius and shook his head. “Well, well. Look who’s become rather Marauderish. Sneaking, lying, cheating… all for free rent. Lily, I never thought you had it in you.”


She blushed at that. “You make it sound terrible.”


Sirius laughed and immediately brought his hand up to his chest to try to quell the sudden stabbing pain. He had forgotten, almost, and the sharp ache brought sudden tears to his eyes. He still smiled, however, as he addressed her and choked out, “Why, because he called you a Marauder?”


“Yes, exactly that.”


The three boys made exaggerated noises of objection, causing Lily to burst into giggles. And then the waiter returned with their plates. Sirius had bolted down half of his meal in the first ten seconds, but slowed down to properly enjoy the other half. When he was done, Lily gave him half of hers (Peter huddled protectively over his own plate), and he ate until he could eat no more.


Afterwards, a humorous argument over who would have the honour of paying the bill ensued, and when all was said and done, they left the restaurant, walked around an alley and Disapparated to Sirius’s flat.


Sirius was asleep almost instantly, his head drooping back against the armchair he’d collapsed in. He didn’t even take his travelling cloak off, or his scarf. Peter helped himself to a butterbeer. James and Lily sat on the couch, and when Peter sat down and joined them, they had pleasurable conversation about pointless things.


(They all thought it seemed oddly normal after the hectic morning, and for the first time, James was glad wizards don’t watch television. They didn’t have to be pestered with the ongoing news reports that would likely last for at least a week.)


Eventually, though, they decided to leave the flat and let Sirius doze without interruption. Peter went home to his lonely cottage, and James, not quite ready to say goodbye to his girlfriend yet (for they were much closer, more attached and more intimate now than they had been before), decided to join her in her flat.







II.

Lily opened the door to her cheerful flat and led James in, both of them feeling rather blissful after the day’s events and an enjoyable dinner out. They were glad to see it over; it was dark out, it was night time, and Lily was exhausted. All she wanted to do was fall into her sheets and leave this day behind her, curl up against James and feel his warmth and forget about the world.


She tried not to think about all of the Muggles who had died that morning on the Underground. Instead she focused on her birthday tomorrow, seeing her family, as they would undoubtedly want her over for dinner to celebrate. She wondered vaguely why they had not called her prior to today, and surmised that they must be planning a surprise as they seemed to be waiting until the last minute. It wasn't the first time.


A wry smile crossed her face, for they may have even pulled off the surprise if Sirius hadn’t reminded her of her birthday over dinner. She couldn’t believe she had forgotten, but then, more important things were happening than birthdays and celebrations. Still, she felt warm and loved; those were the feelings she found herself living for during times like these.


“What are you smiling at?” asked James, a grin cracking his own face, and his surprisingly gentle voice tore her from her thoughts.


Lily turned around, smiled at him and grabbed his hand, pulling him into the flat and slamming the door shut. She hadn't realised she'd stopped walking to take off her cloak, that she'd been standing in the doorway blocking his entrance. “I was just figuring that my parents must have a surprise birthday party planned for tomorrow. It's not like them to not contact me about coming over.”


“Maybe they forgot.”


She playfully slapped him on the arm.


James flinched and laughed. “Well, you did!” he pointed out, rubbing his upper arm.


Her flatmate, Lucy Englehardt, must have heard them enter the apartment. Her familiar voice suddenly rang out, “Lily? Is that you?” and Lily was somewhat concerned to hear that her tone sounded quite depressed.


“It’s me, Luce,” she called back, squirming as James’s lips nuzzled behind her ear. His mouth left a gentle, pleasurable trail that felt cool against the air, distracting her. A wave of goosebumps erupted on her skin at his light touch.


Lucy appeared around the corner then, and James drew up suddenly with a mischievous glint in his eye. He tried not to smile guiltily, and Lily struggled to keep her own face straight. She frowned with ease, however, when she caught sight of Lucy’s stricken face.


“Lucy, why are you so upset?”


“Lily… I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day.”


It was then that Lily noticed how red her friend’s eyes were, how swollen they appeared. How pale Lucy’s face was and the stiffness of her skin from dried tears.


“Lucy, what is it?” asked Lily with concern, stepping forward to embrace her friend (who clearly needed it). Horror struck her then, for she could tell instantly that somebody had died. What if somebody in Lucy’s family was on the Tube this morning? The morning's incident seemed ages away; how had it not occurred to her that this would be upsetting for Lucy?


(And vaguely, in the back of her mind, she wondered why the accident wasn't more upsetting for herself as well. Had she really hardened that much over the past few months? Her heart sank at the thought.)


Lily glanced back at James, unsure of what to do. James’s face was solemn and his hands were crammed into his pockets as he looked upon the crying girl. The playful spark in his hazel eyes was gone now; he looked utterly miserable, as if he somehow could sense that something just wasn't right. He bit his lip and shrugged at Lily when he caught her eye. She turned back to Lucy.


“Lily, the landlord has been beside herself all day. She’s furious with us, because you’ve had about a hundred phone calls today. She’s told us to get a phone…” Lucy was blabbering now, her voice interrupted by frequent gasping sobs.


“Lucy, stop stalling and tell me what happened.” She didn't care about the phone calls. She knew it was her family, she'd already chastised herself, knowing her mother would be trying to get a hold of her. She didn't care - she wanted only to know what was wrong with her flatmate.


“Lily, it was your sister calling…” croaked Lucy, looking as if she might start bawling on the spot.


“Okay,” soothed Lily. “I don’t care, Luce, they probably just want me to come over for my birthday tomorrow. Now what’s happened?”


Lucy gave a small gasp and wiped a tear off her cheek. “Lily, you’ve been gone all day… Did you hear about the accident in London this morning?”


“The Underground, yes,” urged Lily, knowing that Lucy was getting closer to telling her of the problem now. A wave of dread washed over her and sorrow hung heavy on her heart for her friend. This was just as she’d suspected. She didn't tell Lucy that she had actually been there, for that mattered little now.


Lucy was crying now, taking deep little breaths as she struggled to get the words out. “Lily, P-Petunia has been calling because…” She faltered, pressed her hands together against her lips, and finally blurted, “Oh, God, Lily. Because your p-parents were on one of those trains…”


It felt as if a great rush of air struck her. Lily’s mouth fell open, and a strangled sound seemed to escape her throat, but she didn’t notice it. She was falling down a black hole and there was nothing to grab onto. Suddenly, nothing mattered anymore. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.


In front of her, Lucy covered her face with her hands and sobbed quite loudly. Lily knew how it hurt the girl to be the bearer of such bad news. Lucy was shy and caring and sweet; normally quiet and happy, never harming even a fly.


“I’m so sorry, Lily,” the former Ravenclaw managed through her hands. When she lowered them, her face was revealed to be covered in streaks of tears once again. She swallowed and patted Lily’s shoulder. “I’ll be in my room if you need me,” she whispered.


James offered her a small, unhappy smile for having the guts to tell Lily the news. He knew what it felt like to have to tell a friend of a loved one's death. He could recall with a sickening feeling the way it felt to tell Remus of his father, how terribly difficult a task it was, and he hoped with all his heart he would never have to do that again.


(Even Sirius, whose family hated him, who'd been blasted off the tapestry and had run away from home, wouldn't take such news well.


Perhaps the Blacks hated their eldest son, and perhaps Sirius acted tough, but James knew the feeling wasn't quite as mutual as Sirius hoped to have people think.)


Lucy didn't return his smile; she turned and retreated to her room, looking defeated and exhausted after the difficult day of worry and misery. Her shoulders shook, but no more sound escaped her, and then the door shut behind her and they were alone.


Lily only stared blankly at the spot where Lucy had been. Why wasn’t she crying? Why wasn’t she reacting? Her heart was up in her throat, her chest felt tight, her mind was panicky. How was this possible? She couldn’t believe it. She didn’t believe it. Her parents weren’t dead. That was the stuff of nightmares, not of real life. Girls like her don’t have dead parents. That stuff just doesn’t happen in the normal lives of the Evans family.


Dead parents come from illness or the occasional car accident. And that stuff only happens to those unfortunate children. It could never happen to her. She’d received no warning that her parents would be gone forever, that she’d never see them again. There had been nothing to hint that she wouldn’t see them again. The possibility of it had never even occurred to her. Hadn’t it been James, back when they were seventh years, who’d reassured her that her parents were likely even safer than his were? That the Dark side wouldn’t waste time hunting down the parents of a Muggleborn when they had bigger agendas?


She’d believed him, she’d believed that they would be safe and that nothing would hurt them. That they would be around to see their grandchildren, and possibly even a generation beyond.


It was all so unreal.


“Lils?” said James quietly, breaking through her frenzied thoughts. She felt his warm, rough hand on her arm.


She turned to him. His eyes held nothing but concern. Possibly even pity. Lily scowled as she felt her eyes prickle against her will. She shouldn’t be crying; she didn’t believe this was happening. This was a mistake, and she shouldn’t be crying. Her parents were still alive. Her mother didn’t even have reason to go into the city; her mother wouldn’t have even been on the Tube. Her father, perhaps, but not her mother. She cried for her father, for her mother was certainly still alive.


James embraced her. She buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed, her mind still a whirlwind of thought. She wished she could turn it all off.


“I’m sorry, Lily,” sighed James when she finally pulled away from him. She was unsure of how long they had stood in the embrace. She looked town at her hands and absently tore at one of her fingernails that had grown long. “I really am... I don't know what to do.”


“I should go see my mum,” murmured Lily. Her face felt tight with the salt of her tears; a dull ache was inside of her. All she wanted was to lay down and sleep and make it all go away, but she didn’t know if she would ever be able to sleep again.


How could she sleep knowing her father was dead? There would be no peace, only torment.


James gave her an odd look. “Your sister, you mean,” he said gently, reaching out and giving her arm a quick squeeze.


Lily stubbornly narrowed her eyes at him. “It’s a mistake, James. My mum doesn’t go into the city. She wouldn’t have been on or anywhere near the Underground.”


He sighed and ran his hand through his hair, eyeing her but deciding not to argue. What did he know, anyway? “Do you want me there?” he finally asked.


She watched him for a moment, his earnest face as he shifted his weight from side to side, uncomfortable in this situation. Why did his parents, nearly a hundred years old, still live? Her father was only forty seven. A surge of jealousy suddenly shot through her and she turned away from him.


“I think I would,” she finally mumbled. She didn’t know. She didn't know anything.


“I’ll take us,” he said warningly, grabbing her hand. She would let him; she was too upset to focus on Disapparition. She willingly let him lead her out of the flat and back down the stairs, into the dark, cold alley.







III.

Lily released James’s hand upon Apparating behind somebody’s shed. She took off sprinting, darting around the corner and up the dark street to her house. James jogged lightly after her. He wanted to give her a chance to get into the house. He didn’t want to walk in with her, make it look like they were just a casual, happy couple returning home. He didn’t want to intrude, and he wanted to give her a chance to discover what happened without him standing over her shoulder.


His hand clutched his wand in his pocket, and he jogged only to keep her within safe range should some dark being jump out to attack. They could never abandon caution, after all, not after the murder of the McKinnons. Even as family members died, he couldn’t forget that the Dark side likely knew who they were, that they were a part of the Order.


But nobody jumped out at Lily. She ran into the house unharmed. James slowed to a walk, lingered up the walkway and hesitated outside the front door. Finally, unable to delay the inevitable any longer, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.


Petunia looked to be in the middle of doing laundry. The house was sparkling clean, and as his hazel eyes flitted around, James understood that she was doing it to stay busy, that she probably hadn’t stopped working all day trying to occupy her mind.


She stood behind a pile of folded shirts which were stacked neatly on the back of the couch. Her hands were on her hips and her pale eyes glared at her younger sister. Lily had her hands covering her mouth in disbelief, looking terribly pale and as if she might be sick at any instant.


Petunia turned to James. “What are you doing here,” she demanded angrily, sounding hysterical.


But James's concerned gaze was only for Lily; his eyes flickered towards Petunia at being addressed, and a pained silence filled the room. “I’m sorry about your parents,” he said finally, almost as an afterthought, and he shoved his hands into his pockets and ignored her question. He turned his gaze upon his girlfriend once more.


And Petunia gaped at him for a moment, her mouth opening and closing as if trying to think of what to say; it didn't matter, for he didn't look her way again. And then her pale eyes filled with tears; she tossed her head and stalked out of the room, hurrying up the stairs. James didn't care; he'd have a few choice words for her if she dared to blame Lily for this.


Lily, who still held her hands clamped over her mouth, slowly sunk to the ground. The tears streamed freely down her face now, and James walked over and sank into a crouch beside her. He gently ran his hand through her hair, at a loss for words.


His touch seemed to tear her from a trance. Her eyes set upon his, and there was silence in the room for several long moments.


“She told me,” whispered Lily, finally breaking the silence. “That my mother went to London with my father this morning. To meet my nan and shop for my birthday.”


James took her up in his arms and Lily thought that no embrace had ever been sweeter as he cradled her against his chest. He rested his cheek against her hair, and his shirt felt damp with snot and tears. But that was all right. He didn’t know what else to do, and if crying on him was what helped her, then he was happy for that, at least.


He stared at the pile of Brian Evans’ freshly laundered shirts on the back of the couch - they would never be worn again - and allowed himself and Lily to lean back against the wall. As he looked upon the pile, he recognised the shirt her father had worn at Christmas. It jolted him; it was terribly familiar, even if he didn't know the family that well.


Lily's tears and cries eventually subsided into nothing but a dull stare. Her green eyes looked empty and lost; she saw nothing she looked at and her mind raced. And she was right. She didn’t think she would ever sleep again.








IV.

There was a knock at the front door. Three knocks, soft and slow and spaced apart.


It woke James from a very light, uncomfortable sleep. He and Lily still sat on the floor against the wall. He couldn’t remember dosing off; he must have done before Lily, though, for the last thing he could remember was her still staring.


She was still asleep now. He didn’t want to move and wake her after such a long night, and for that matter, a long day as well.


“Who’s there,” he said, hoping his voice would carry without having to shout.


“Me.” Sirius.


James lifted his wand and flicked it at the door, which obediently fell open. The light of dawn seemed to shine in around his friend’s silhouette, and James wondered just how long he and Lily had been asleep on the floor. Sirius stepped inside and shut the door behind him; he turned to look upon the couple and seemed to inhale sharply and hold his breath for a moment, his eyes lingering on Lily.


“Hey,” said James, as Sirius approached and sank down along the wall beside him.


Sirius was still staring at Lily’s sleeping form with an odd look of regret upon his face. At last his grey eyes moved up to meet James. “I thought I’d surprise you lot,” he said quietly. He looked away then, twisting his watch around his wrist as he rested his arms upon his drawn up knees. “For Lily’s birthday, I mean. I went to her flat to take you both out to breakfast.”


James didn’t say anything when Sirius trailed away; he only watched as Sirius’s fingers pulled the watch around and around on his wrist. He had given that watch to Sirius. It seemed like so long ago.


Sirius sighed and licked his lips. “And then,” he said, folding his hands together and ceasing the watch’s movement, “her flatmate told me about her parents. I thought I’d find you two here.”


James nodded. “Some birthday.”


“Agreed.” Sirius banged his head back against the wall. “Lily’s mum made some glorious Christmas biscuits, though…”


James scowled at him. “I helped with that. And there’s more to this than just her cooking, Sirius.”


Sirius smirked, but then his expression quickly became apologetic. “I know. But that was all I knew of her. I’m sorry, Prongs. I didn't mean to sound... I mean, I wish we’d known they were there… I can't believe her parents are dead...” His voice became lighter, musing as he stared unseeingly across the room. “Dead,” he repeated, and it sounded so terribly final that they were both speechless for a few moments.


Finally, James shrugged. He knew what Sirius was thinking about in the silence, what he hadn't said aloud. Maybe we could have saved them. He shook his head; he didn't think they could have saved them even if they'd known. They couldn't beat themselves up over that on top of everything else.


Sirius suddenly sighed and opened his mouth to speak. James quickly interrupted him, heading off the thought before it could be voiced. “Don't, Pads.”


He didn't have to say anything more. Sirius obediently snapped his mouth shut; he understood the reasoning behind the simple command, even if he felt terrible about it.


“I bought her a gift,” said Sirius after a long pause. He reached into his leather jacket and pulled out a small package. “For her birthday, I mean,” he added. He held it out to James. “I know she probably won’t want it now, but there it is.”


“There it is,” sighed James in agreement, and he took the wrapped box, bouncing it in his hand for a moment. Sirius watched the couple earnestly for a few minutes before he looked away, down at the floor.


“Do you think I should leave?”


James quickly shook his head, flashing his friend a suddenly frightened look. “Stay,” he said firmly. “I'm sure Lily will appreciate that you came here for her when she wakes up. And... I don't know what I'm doing. I need your help with this.”

Chapter 23: Werewolves in the Ministry
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - T H R E E
Werewolves in the Ministry




Lying in bed, waiting for morning, Lily Evans stared worriedly up at the ceiling in her flat. There was so much to be done. She was trying to work with Petunia to plan a funeral. She didn’t quite have the funds for that, and her parents weren’t exactly rich. Paying for Petunia’s coming wedding, not to mention paying her own flat for the last six months, had completely taken over any spare cash the Evans family may have ever had. The life insurance would barely cover the funeral. Her parents weren’t made of money, after all.


Aside from funeral plans, there were other things to do. Closing accounts, cleaning out the house. They would have to sell it, of course. There was no way she and Petunia would be able to take over the payments. The thought brought tears to her eyes; it was the only home she had ever known. Even worse, it brought up every past memory of running around with Severus Snape on the playground down the road.


And that brought on a wave of sadness for the best mate she had lost, a wave of fear for what he had gotten himself into, a wave of anger for his poor choices. A wave of regret that she hadn’t done a better job of talking him out of it. She sometimes desperately wanted to go back to Hogwarts, go back to being a first year, new and afraid and innocent, but with Severus holding her hand.


James had seen how upset she’d become when speaking of the house.


“Lily… I can pay for the house for you,” he’d offered. He’d looked unsure of that commitment, but he couldn’t just sit by and read the desperation on her face without trying to fix it. He didn’t want her to lose her childhood home and all the memories that had been a part of it on top of everything else.


She refused. She could never let him take on the financial burden of her parents’ home. Perhaps he came from a rich family, but the money was not yet his to spend. She knew he was already taking money out of his personal Gringott’s account to assist Remus when needed.


As she lay staring at the white ceiling, she felt a tear escape the corner of her eye and run down her temple, into her hair. She was quickly becoming an insomniac in light of all that had recently happened. And she didn’t even mind. She clung to these times, in the middle of the night, when the time seemed to pass so slowly as she lay awake and thoughtful. It did, at least, put off the start of another day.


At times, it felt as if she was only barely holding on.


Petunia was avoiding her. Lily wasn’t sure what to make of it; she knew Petunia likely blamed her for what had happened. It was her birthday, after all, that had caused Mae Evans to venture into London. She didn’t think that Petunia knew the accident was caused by magic, however, and for that she was glad. Part of her supposed Petunia just didn’t know how to deal with it, and was instead filling all of her time with her fiancée, Vernon. But, thought Lily sadly, she could really use a sister right now.


Lily rolled onto her side and buried her wet face in her pillow. Part of her felt like screaming into it, but instead the only sound that escaped her was a sob. She was lost; she was falling apart.







II.

Tensions were high in the basement of the Hog’s Head Inn. Dumbledore had called an emergency meeting. All of them knew that the emergency meetings were news of danger or another attack. The last time an emergency meeting had been called was the morning of the Underground attack. This time, the Order members paced around, too full of dread to be able to sit.


Dumbledore cleared his throat when Elphias Doge, the last member to arrive, finally walked in. “Please, friends, have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the wooden chairs scattered around the room. “There is no battle tonight, but I have received word of what will come.”


Groans of relief mingled with the sounds of chairs scraping across the wooden floor as everyone obliged. It wasn’t until the room was quiet again that Dumbledore finally spoke once more.


“As you all know, Lupin has been gone for a few months now, attempting to live amongst the werewolves and gain any information about the Dark side’s plans as possible. Thus far, Lupin has done an excellent job of remaining undercover, and we knew of last week’s Underground attack only because of his efforts.”


Dumbledore paused to smile at his friends, the remaining Marauders, and they felt a keen sense of pride at what Remus had accomplished in the wild. Perhaps it was only one thing so far, but it was one thing that they were able to attempt to counter. Hundreds had died on the tube, but hundreds more were saved simply because they had been there to slow the wreckage.


“We have yet to see the worst of Voldemort’s attacks, however. We all know that it is Voldemort’s aim to become the Minister of Magic, so that he might rule both magical and Muggle people alike. We have had Edgar and Elphias keeping an eye out within the Ministry, going so far as to stand guard at night so as to alert us should anything suspicious happen.”


Dumbledore gestured towards the two oldest men in the Order, who both grunted at the recognition.


“The defence of the Ministry is of the utmost importance,” said Dumbledore now. “It matters not our victories elsewhere, should the Ministry fall into the Dark side’s hands. Tonight, as I was sitting in my office at Hogwarts, I received Lupin’s Patronus,” he finally said.


Everyone seemed to be on the edge of their seats at the news that Remus had sent a message.


“Mr Lupin wishes to inform us of an upcoming attack on the Ministry,” Dumbledore finally said, and there was a terrifying feeling of finality to his words; everyone in the room realised how important this news was. As the old man himself had said moments before, the defence of the Ministry was more important than anything else. If they lose the Ministry, they lose the war.


News of a planned attack on the establishment was dire, and all of them were suddenly filled with dread.


Dumbledore sighed as he watched his news sink in. “There will be no guesswork this time,” he said at last. “Voldemort plans to unleash the werewolves upon the Ministry building.”


There was a sudden, sharp intake of breath at the plan. Werewolves were dangerous creatures; spells had difficulty penetrating the thick fur and strong skin of the beasts. They were brutal and wild, mindless and bloodthirsty when transformed. Any injury a victim might give the beast in self defence usually only survived to further enrage the monster.


The Marauders had difficulty in swallowing. They alone knew first-hand how werewolves really behaved during the full moon. They knew how dangerous and brutal the creatures could become, turning even on their best mates without a knowledge or care of what they were doing.


“This attack,” Dumbledore continued, ignoring the wide-eyed stairs of his audience, “will clearly be taking place during the upcoming full moon. It has been meticulously planned to take place this month, in the dead of winter, when the nights are longer and the days are shorter. The moon will still be up as the Ministry is opening it’s doors. Ministry officials and employees, including the Minister of Magic himself, will enter the building to find the beasts lying in wait. All will be trapped in the Ministry’s Atrium with the creatures - first thing in the morning is guaranteed to be the best time to get as many employees in the one place as possible.


It is my estimation that the wolves will have at least an hour to do their best before the moon goes down. It is guaranteed to be a bloody battle, and should the wolves succeed in their attack during the Ministry‘s busiest hour, it will leave the path to Voldemort’s success relatively clear.


With many Ministry officials dead in the attack, hopefully including the Minister himself, Voldemort will be able take the office,” said Dumbledore in a hoarse voice, feeling mildly defeated already. “He will be able to refill the positions of the dead officials with followers of his own choosing. Every important position will be held by a Death Eater or supporter of his causes. The war will be lost in this one battle.”


Sirius felt sick. One battle. One battle, and it could change the world. It seemed, at times, as if they were fighting a losing war, as if they never even had a chance. It felt as if they were all sentenced to death and were only waiting for it to happen. Times were dark, he knew, but they never felt darker than they did in this moment, as they faced the biggest attack yet.


Part of him was jealous of Lily’s parents’ fate. Part of him would give anything to be dead already, to end the suffering and worrying, to have peace at last and not have to deal with this anymore. They’d only been at it for six months. Things had only really picked up in the last two, after they’d gone through a bit of training. He didn’t know how he could keep this up for years; they were no closer now to ending the war than they were when he first joined the Order.


Peter tugged on James’s sleeve.


“What if Moony is one of the wolves attacking,” he muttered hoarsely.


James’s face paled. “He wouldn’t,” he said firmly.


“What if he has no choice?” Peter’s voice dropped to a frightened whisper. “He is one of them. They might expect it of him.”


Sirius felt like screaming, he isn’t one of them! Instead he glanced at James, just as anxious for a response as Peter was. James only stared at the floor, breathing evenly through his nose. Beside him, Lily’s gaze flickered between Peter and Sirius with a worried expression on her face.


At last, Sirius could take it no more. He turned away.


Dumbledore continued to speak at the front of the room. “The full moon is on the twelfth,” he finally said. “We have three days to do any planning we might need. Edgar, Elphias - we will need a way to get the Order into the Ministry at night unseen.”


The two men nodded.


Sirius closed his eyes.








III.

His bones ached. Remus always knew when the full moon was coming by the way he hurt. His joined were brittle and sore; even the smallest movement made him cringe. He had a headache. His stomach churned. He was so cold; nothing he did warmed him. He was allowed to sit in front of the bonfire tonight, for, prisoner or not, all of the werewolves knew the pain of the transformation. They sympathised with him, even if they didn’t fully trust him anymore since he left months earlier. They didn’t deny him the warmth of the fire tonight.


But it wasn’t enough. He was still chilled and shivering.


The women and children sat around the fire with him, trying to stay warm and comfortable. The men of the pack, however, paced about nervously, waiting for tonight. Even Ulfric would be leaving - this was the one night a month when Remus could be trusted without a guard. They knew, in wolf form with animalistic instincts, that Remus wouldn’t leave the pack.


Tonight was the night of the attack on the Ministry. Remus felt sick, and he knew it was more because of this than because of the full moon for once. He prayed that his Patronus made it to Dumbledore - he’d managed to send it in the early morning hours several days ago, when most of the pack was asleep. He’d chosen to risk the Patronus over contacting James through the mirror. He didn’t want to risk being overheard this time, for these plans were huge. Even if he was caught conjuring the Patronus, there was no risk of hearing it’s message, and the werewolves couldn’t make him talk.


He prayed tonight that the Order had gotten a plan of defence together. It was terrible not knowing, not being able to communicate freely back and forth to find out if they were prepared. He prayed for his friends, that none of them would be harmed, that everyone would be safe.


Dread filled him with thoughts of the coming days and weeks. Who knew when he would get a chance to contact James through the mirror again, to ask of the casualties, to make sure they had all survived? He wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming sleepless nights of not knowing. He hoped he would get a chance with the mirror soon. Unfortunately, Ulfric was a much better guard than young Fillin was. Ulfric didn’t fall asleep on the job; Ulfric gave him little opportunity to speak through the mirror.


Fenrir Greyback paced about, walking tall and proud, sticking his chest out and feeling important. Remus hated him.


They were all waiting for the Death Eaters to arrive and take them to London. Remus prayed they would arrive too late, that the transformations would already be in effect and the plan would be ruined. The wizards wouldn’t be able to Disapparate with a werewolf, after all. They’d be dead before they even tried.


But even as he thought this, he heard the familiar popping sounds of Apparition. He shivered as a cold chill ran through him. Death Eaters. He was going to be face to face and surrounded by Death Eaters.


The men in the pack cheered, excited and blood hungry for tonight. Remus got up and hurried away, feeling like he was going to vomit. Behind him, more pops were sounding. The men’s voices were becoming more sparse, and Remus knew that they were already being whisked away by the Death Eaters. They were already in London. The nightmare was already beginning.


“Lupin.”


Remus’s heart stopped at the voice. It was familiar, in a horrible way. He turned to see Regulus Black standing behind him.


“Regulus,” groaned Remus. He should have hidden his face faster. He had forgotten how many former Hogwarts students were a part of the Death Eaters now. How had he forgotten?


Regulus narrowed his eyes and stepped forward. When he spoke, his voice was low. “Does my brother know you are here,” he demanded.


Surprise overtook Remus at the question. Regulus sounded almost angry at what looked like a possible betrayal of Sirius. Part of him feared what Regulus would do to him if he said yes. But he couldn’t say yes; he could never say yes. That would make it obvious that he was here undercover, only pretending. Regulus was a Death Eater.


So Remus swallowed and shook his head. “The…” he stammered, trying to sound firm. “The Dark Lord offers werewolves…”


Regulus’s eyes narrowed even further, and Remus could swear he saw a look of disgust cross the boy’s features. He wondered then why Regulus was even there. Regulus wasn’t even out of school yet. Perhaps he had dropped out. His heart broke for Sirius; Remus knew his friend still had hopes for the boy, however much they had diminished during Regulus’s Christmas visit.


“Regulus,” snapped another Death Eater. “Come on, we’re done here.”


Regulus turned back to Remus. “Are you a part of this tonight,” he growled, offering his arm for Disapparition.


Remus shook his head again. “I’m a prisoner.”


At that, Regulus’s face suddenly lightened. He offered his arm again. “Do you need me to get you out?” he asked then, under his breath. “We can make it look like I’m taking you there, and you can hide.”


Remus felt his heart break even further at the offer of help. Perhaps Sirius hadn’t been so far off after all. Perhaps Regulus was more than how he acted to please his parents. He could understand now, suddenly, his friend’s desperation to get his brother to the light side. Regulus had some good in him, still.


It was the most difficult thing he’d ever had to do when he shook his head and lied. “I don’t mean they’ve captured me, you… you great dolt!” he said darkly, his throat going dry. He blushed at his lack of skill in name-calling, and thought he saw a look of amusement cross Regulus’s features. “I came here because I wanted to be here. I’m only prisoner as punishment for a wrong I’ve done. Get out of here, Regulus, I don’t want your sodding help. Before I tell them of your attempted betrayal to the Dark side.”


Anger flashed in Regulus’s grey eyes at the threat. How many times had Remus seen that same look in Sirius?


“Watch yourself, Lupin,” said Regulus haughtily, turning away. He walked off, and moments later, Remus heard the sound of his Disapparition. And he couldn’t shake the feeling that Regulus knew what he was up to. He could only hope that the youngest Black wouldn’t say anything.








IV.

Sirius sat stiffly in his armchair, drumming his fingers against the upholstery in a nerve-wracking fashion. He glanced at his watch again, and then glanced at James.


James stared wide-eyed and unseeingly at the floor.


“What time is it, Padfoot?” asked Peter softly.


“Six.”


“Almost time, then,” sighed Lily. She shoved her bookmark between the pages of the story she was reading and laid the novel on Sirius’s scorched tabletop. She had been pretending to read, the fingers of one hand laced through James’s. She wasn’t really reading, though; she couldn’t concentrate on the words. She held the book in front of her face only to give an excuse not to look up at her companions.


Dumbledore had advised all of the Order to try to sleep tonight, but to be ready for battle in the morning. The suggestion had been impossible.


All of them had sat up tonight, worrying about Remus. Not only were the full moons always a time of concern for the group, but this time they feared he might be a part of the upcoming Ministry invasion. None of them wanted to face the prospect of finding him there, of possibly even killing him without knowing which he was. He would be surrounded by Merlin only knew how many other werewolves, after all. And as if their personal issues with the battle were not terrible enough, the battle itself - werewolves - was terrifying.


Sleep had been a joke. For a short while, Sirius had lied upon his bed, staring at the ceiling. For a short while, Peter had stretched out on the couch. For a few moments, James and Lily spoke quietly in Remus’s empty bedroom.


But they’d all found themselves out in the living room again. They’d sat in silence all night, waiting and dreading.







V.

Morning, thought Dumbledore as he sat in the Three Broomsticks, would be the best time to try to counter the attack. It was a terrible risk, to do it just as the Ministry would be filling up with employees - many, many innocent bystanders could be injured or killed or bitten and infected. The old man’s eyes filled with sorrow at the thought, but he grimly forced it from his mind. He did not live for as long as he had and not understand that, sometimes, sacrifices had to be made. That sometimes, the innocent had to die for the greater good.


Dumbledore cringed at the words. For the Greater Good. How familiar they were; how different their meaning had become to him over the years.


He sighed. It had to be this way. Fighting one werewolf was difficult enough - he guessed the Order would be easily outnumbered in this fight. On top of that, he feared there was a very good chance that the Death Eaters would be around as well; he was certain they would be, in fact. This battle would give them the perfect opportunity to try to claim the Ministry as their own.


The only chance to win would be to force the other magical citizens, the employees, the guards - any visitor for any reason - into helping. The only way would be to begin the battle in the mere seconds before the doors and the Floo Network opened for business. In that, the Order could start the defence, and others would join in, finding themselves suddenly in the midst of a battle.


The lives of innocents were the price of victory. He was sentencing them to death; all of them, unless they were lucky. Possibly members of his very own team.


He glanced at his fancy pocket watch and got to his feet. It was almost time.


“Early start, Albus,” smiled Rosmerta, coming around to pick up his empty goblet. “Have a big day ahead?”


“My dear woman, you have no idea.”







VI.

In the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, the werewolves were gathered. Snarling and growling, standing with ears erect and alert, hackles raised. They were restless and bloodthirsty; it had been a long and terrible night of captivity within the building. The beasts had lived in the wild, free, for years. To be cooped up in the Ministry was torture to their feral minds, whether or not their human brains were aware of it beforehand.


There had been a few spats between the pack already; frustrated creatures who’d lost control and snapped. Easily irritable beasts lashing out when a brother got too close.


They were restricted to the Atrium only. Below, on the other floors of the building, the Death Eaters were already working through the various offices and departments. Every office fireplace was sealed to prevent their important owners from a private Floo. All except for one - they left the Minister’s fireplace wide open.


It was still dark outside at nearly seven in the morning and the full moon was still up, but there was, perhaps, only about fifteen more minutes before the sun would rise. It didn’t matter; fifteen minutes was plenty of time to ravage the crowds.


The wolves tensed when, at exactly seven, every fireplace surrounding the Atrium suddenly burst into green flame. The gates were open; people would begin Flooing any minute.


They were quite surprised when, all around them, the first of the magical people appeared in the fireplaces like liquid, solidifying into humans with their wands held out and ready. Instantly surrounding them, the first ones through the Floo Network were the members of the Order of the Phoenix.


Spells were shouted instantly. Many of them did little good against the thick hides of the werewolves and served only to further enrage the beasts.


Stupefy!” shouted Gideon and Fabian Prewett at the same time. Their voices sounded excited, and the combined force of both spells took a werewolf down, although it didn’t knock him out as the spells intended.


Instead Fabian quickly whipped his wand back once more, and silvery ropes exploded from it and tangled itself around the wolf’s legs. The werewolf snapped and writhed against the ties, bumping into his pack mates, distracting them. They snarled at him, annoyed and overly paranoid of any touch.


The other members of the Order did their best as well. They shot spells at security desks, pulling them across the room and into the paths of the monsters. The obstructions did their job, hindering the wolves, tripping them up.


The Order knew they could only hold out for a few moments against the beasts. For every snapping jaw they avoided, three more came from an opposite direction. For every wolf they momentarily stopped with an obstacle, two running behind it leapt over with extreme agility, claws bared.


Sirius saw Edgar Bones trip over a broken piece of plaster from a wall. Instantly, a wolf was upon him, foaming at the mouth and fangs at his neck.


Expulso!” came a shout from behind him. It was Peter, much to Sirius’s surprise, Peter, who had barely done anything brave in his entire life.


A sense of dread rolled over Sirius in the split second between Peter’s incantation and the time the spell hit the target. It did not hit the werewolf as Peter had intended. Instead it hit Edgar, the force of it ripping him from beneath the wolf’s claws and throwing him across the room.


“Oh, bugger,” said Peter, looking worried. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”


The wolf looked confused for a moment, unsure of where it’s prey had just disappeared to, but at the sound of Peter’s voice the beast turned with a snarl, yellow eyes focusing on the two Marauders.


“Oh, God,” moaned Peter, practically climbing over Sirius in an attempt to escape. “That wasn’t supposed to happen either!”


The wolf advanced and Peter did the only thing he could think of - he transformed into a rat, right in front of everyone, and scurried up a window hanging.


Surprisingly, Sirius had half a mind to look around and make sure nobody had seen it, for they would all be in trouble if the fact that they were illegal Animagi were known. He quickly came to his senses, however, as the wolf abandoned its chase of Peter and turned to him instead.


He was wary to cause any harm to the creatures; he had no way of knowing if any of them were Remus. He rather hoped he might be able to recognise his friend, but no, they all looked the same. There was no Remus left when he was in werewolf form. There was nothing to recognise him by.


Sirius’s mind quickly worked over what he could do to both save himself and put the werewolf out of commission, preferably not harming it, just in case. At the very last second, just as the wolf lowered itself to pounce, Sirius thrust his wand at its feet.


Deprimo!”


A massive hole was blasted in the floor. Immediately, it caved in, and the wolf gave a howl as it fell to the office below.


When Sirius looked up again, it was to find the Atrium much more crowded than it had been moments earlier. Screams were filling the air and spells were flying all over the place. The Ministry employees were beginning to arrive, piling unknowingly into the Atrium from the Muggle security entrances located in the restrooms.


Instantly, the bravest of the people joined in the battle, casting a spell of their own here and there to help defend the building. The less confident were more cautious, but they joined in all the same when they saw the great numbers beginning to help.


The wolves were failing. They were being captured, tied down and restricted. Some were bleeding now, seriously injured. Here and there, a furry body lay unmoving, unbreathing. Howls erupted, shaking the building, and Sirius understood when a ray of sunlight hit him through the window.


It was over - they were transforming into humans again.


Instantly, Death Eaters poured into the Atrium from the lifts. The battle was not yet over; spells were cast anew as the Dark side fought their way to the werewolves. There was confusion in the massive crowd as even more employees spilled in from the restroom entrances. People abandoned casting offensive spells in lieu of throwing up shield charms and hoping not to be hit in the crossfire.


Only the Order members and perhaps a few Aurors seemed to be able to recognise certain Death Eaters. Only they continued to cast spells.


Sirius saw a person dressed in black run past, towards one of the wolves caught in transformation. There was something terribly familiar about the boy, though he caught only a glimpse as the fellow dashed past. He knew only that the person wasn’t an Order member, so he threw out his wand and the spell that emerged tripped the young wizard.


The boy fell forward, gliding upon the polished floor for a moment, before turning back quickly with his wand aimed at Sirius’s face.


And Sirius’s eyes widened. It was Regulus.


Nearby, Moody was duelling with two Death Eaters, and he glanced at Sirius frantically.


“What are you waiting for, boy,” he growled, casting a hex at a third Death Eater approaching. The man tripped and fell, much as Regulus had done. Instantly, Alastor whipped around, returning his attention to the Death Eaters he had already engaged.


But Sirius only held his wand out, pointed at Regulus, and could make no move.


Dorcas Meadows and Caradoc Dearborn were quickly trying to reseal the fireplaces, blocking the exits to the Floo network. They were trying to block the escape of the Death Eaters and werewolves. Dumbledore was holding off a group of Death Eaters stuck in a lift. James and Lily were each fighting Death Eaters of their own, and Peter was still nowhere to be seen. Edgar Bones was unconscious in the corner from Peter’s spell, and Elphias Doge was trying a rope around several bloody werewolves. Gideon, Fabian and Benjy Fenwick were nowhere to be seen, and Sirius guessed they must have ventured off to other floors to search out more Death Eaters.


Frank and Alice were rushing around, engaging any Death Eater they saw about to Disapparate in order to interrupt them. They couldn’t stop them all, though, and several escaped.


Everyone was busy. A few laughing Death Eaters hurried into the fireplaces to avoid Frank and Alice, clutching the arms of wild looking men in animal furs - many of them bleeding and unconscious. The werewolves. Dorcas turned and fire a spell at one pair, but it bounced off the brick fireplace and the Death Eater and werewolf disappeared in a flash of green flame. She began to move faster to seal the fireplaces before more could escape out of them, but there were far too many.


Regulus turned and shot a spell from his wand upon the werewolf nearby on the floor - an old man who looked near death. Scrambling to his feet, Regulus quickly grabbed the man’s arm and dragged him towards one of the last fireplaces. Sirius realised that he must have made the werewolf almost weightless to be able to move so quickly. The man looked to be terribly injured, not even worth saving, and Sirius wondered why Regulus even tried.


As he went, Regulus glanced back over his shoulder at Sirius, a pleading look in his eye. Sirius’s wand lowered slightly. He understood, then. Regulus was going for the fireplaces to try to Floo out. He couldn’t Disapparate with the werewolf so badly injured. And the Longbottoms would probably interrupt it if he tried.


“What are you waiting for!” screamed Moody again, ducking a black bolt of lightning. His wand moved frantically, offensive spells, defensive spells. He didn't have a second to spare to apprehend Regulus. “You’re the only one who can stop him, Black, do it! Do it now!”


But Sirius couldn’t do it. Regulus flung himself into the fireplace dragging the werewolf with him, barely dodging Caradoc’s body-bind curse, and he and the old man were gone in a flash of green flame. The last thing that Sirius saw was his brother’s huge grey eyes staring back at him from the hearth.


Quite calmly, Sirius turned and shot a stunning spell at one of the Death Eaters attacking Moody. After that, they were very quickly able to drop the other man. Sirius turned to help out elsewhere (or possibly to scan the ground, the weakened werewolf men, for Remus), his heart pounding, when something suddenly collided with him, gripping his arm tightly.


“You let him get away!” shouted Moody in his ear, over the hysterical screams of Ministry employees. “You let him get away, Black! Do you know who he was?”


Sirius yanked his arm away from the tough old Auror, shrugging his shoulders to get the man to stop leaning on him, trying to keep him in place. His voice was impatient. “He was my brother,” he said simply. He felt his cheeks flush with shame. Regulus was a Death Eater. Why was he so weak?


“He was a Death Eater! He was a Death Eater with the Alpha wolf, and you let them get away! That werewolf was wanted for the slaughter of two families in Liverpool! I have been waiting for him to leave the safety of his pack for years!”


Sirius pursed his lips angrily and remained silent. Moody's spittle flecked across his face as he leaned forward, shouted louder.


“I had him stunned and half dead on the floor! And you let him get away!”


Sirius didn’t care. He whirled around, his grey eyes furious, and stepped forward challengingly. His face was mere inches from Moody’s scarred nose when he snarled, “I made a decision. Three Death Eaters were attacking you. I decided to help. Capturing one man and one werewolf wasn’t worth not trying to save your life!”


Moody looked furious; one eye bulged. The veins in both his neck and forehead stuck out in a rage. Just as Sirius started to turn and walk away, the old man pulled back his arm. His iron-like fist collided with Sirius’s jaw. The crowded Atrium swam before Sirius’s eyes for a moment, and then he was aware only of falling, and then it all went black.


Author's Note:
Still with me? Are you lost on what just happened? I've gotten a few reviews saying they didn't really understand how the timing of that attack worked out. Admittedly, this chapter does need a lot of work, but when I go back and edit at some point, the timing is probably something that will not change. So allow me to try to explain for those who didn't understand :)

1.)- The werewolves arrived at the Ministry accompanied by Death Eaters the evening before. They hid, and when the Ministry closed down for the night, they were locked inside. They transformed due to the Full moon.

2.)- Because the Ministry is closed, nothing really happens all night (aside from a lot of damage, most likely, due to the wolves running rampant.) They were meant to make their attack in the morning, anyway, when people began to arrive for the day and the Atrium would be busy. Because it is winter (the nights are longer), it will still be dark out and the moon will still be up when the first of the employees begin to arrive. They only arrived the evening before because - how else would they get there? The Death Eaters could hardly Apparate with them already transformed - not without getting attacked themselves.

3.)- Dumbledore knows that the werewolves' thick hides protect them against a lot of spells. He knows that the Order will be outnumbered, and even if the numbers were even, it would be a difficult fight to win. Therefore, in order to hopefully cut back on injuries to his team, he has them arrive a few minutes before the Ministry officially opens it's doors to employees. This way, they can begin the attack, and have the wolves distracted enough that when other people begin to arrive, the wolves will not attack or turn on them - they will be too focused on the Order members. Dumbledore hopes that the new arrivals will see the battle and join in to help. With the large number of Ministry employees, defeating the pack would be no problem at all if the people were willing. This way, the Order only has to survive a few minutes before their (unknowing) reinforcements arrive.

I know it's still a little awkward, but it does make sense if you understand the reasoning behind it!


Chapter 24: Punishment
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - F O U R
Punishment




Alastor Moody pointed his wand at Sirius. “Ennervate,” he muttered impatiently.


The chaos was beginning to subside now. Many of the Ministry’s officials had arrived for another day at work; many from the Auror department were now standing around, getting things under control. Captured wizards were being led away for questioning. The werewolves left behind, whether by injury or by not escaping quickly enough, were treated even worse. They were blindfolded so they couldn’t see their surroundings, couldn’t lash out at the crowds. Their arms were tied behind their backs and chains were conjured about their feet.


Sirius’s eyes fluttered open. He seemed momentarily confused by his surroundings. His hand drifted up to his face, fingers touching his aching jaw. It seemed as if the entire situation rushed back to him all at once suddenly. He sat up very quickly and then got to his feet.


“Forgive me, Black,” said Alastor gruffly. “I lost control of my temper.”


“No shit,” snarled Sirius, storming away without listening to an explanation.


This seemed to anger Moody once more, for the grizzled man lifted his finger at Sirius’s retreating back. “I don’t need rescuing from the likes of you, Black!”


Sirius only ignored him and scanned the crowds for James, Lily and Peter.


Lily’s eyes widened when she saw him. “Are you all right, Sirius? What’s happened to you!”


Sirius shrugged. “Nothing,” he said. But this clearly wasn’t good enough for Lily, who scowled at his lie. So he added, in as nonchalant a tone as he could muster, “Moody punched me.”


“What?” said James mutinously.


“It doesn’t matter,” muttered Sirius. He was embarrassed of it; he didn’t want to start a scene over it. He was afraid that, if the news got out, Alastor would bring up the fact that Sirius had let Regulus get away. That was the last thing he wanted. He quickly ploughed on, to occupy James’s mind and change the subject.


“Listen, have you seen Moony at all?”


James’s angry hazel eyes stopped scanning the crowd for a moment in search of Moody and they came to settle upon Sirius. “No,” he said finally. “No, I haven’t. I was looking, too, and I think Dumbledore was watching out for him as well. I don’t think he was a part of this, really, Padfoot.”


Sirius seemed to sag in relief at the news. “I hope not,” he said. James continued to survey him, and Sirius wondered exactly how horrible he must look. He turned away.


“You look rather beat up, yourself,” he muttered under his breath, glaring at the crowd. He was in a bad mood after seeing Regulus, and disappointed in himself for being so weak.


James only grinned. “Battle scars,” he said cheerfully. “To impress the ladies.”


“James, no amount of scarring could ever…” started Peter cheekily.


“Yes, I rather agree with Wormy,” said Lily sceptically.


“Wormy?” said James instantly, wrinkling his nose.


Peter gave his friend a smug smile. “She likes me best,” he said.


Lily blushed furiously. “Well, I always hear you lot calling each other those silly names,” she said in self defence. “I can’t help it that I’ve started to think of you with those names as well. And sometimes those names get shortened in my mind…”


She turned to Peter, looking apologetic. “I’m sorry, Peter, I know its about the most un-manly thing…”


But Peter only chuckled and shrugged it off. “I like it,” he said. “A bit endearing, really.” Endearing was good. It made him feel involved. He smiled warmly at the red head and Lily sighed happily, relieved to have not offended him with her nickname.


By now, reporters from The Daily Prophet were beginning to swarm around the Atrium, asking witnesses to give their accounts on what happened. Lily immediately turned and tried to hide her face.


“Bugger,” she half-whispered, burying her face in James’s shoulder. “Can we go now, please,” she demanded, hoping nobody would recognise her. It had been months since she’d fled the paper, and part of her was filled with shame at the thought of it; a much larger part of her was filled with fear and dread whenever she even thought about it.


“Yes, let’s,” agreed Peter, wringing his hands and eyeing everyone. “I think we’re quite done here, aren’t we? Anyway, I’m dead tired.”


“We’ve got to return to the Hog’s Head first,” said James. “Just like always, so we can make sure everyone’s all right.”


“Yes, yes,” said Lily impatiently. “Anywhere, James.”


Peter stepped forward and turned on the spot. There was a pop of Disapparition, and then a moment later he was on the floor, holding his head.


“Wormtail, what the hell are you doing,” said James in amusement.


“I was trying to…”


“Disapparate? You can’t here. They’ve restricted it for security reasons. Only certain people can Apparate or Disapparate here, and they’re all Ministry officials. I hear they have to apply for a permit to be granted the ability.”


Peter scowled at him from the floor. “Well then how did the Death Eaters get all those werewolves in here?”


James’s brow furrowed. “Now that’s a good question. How indeed?”


“Maybe they broke the security spells,” Peter suggested.


James shook his head. “Then you’d have been able to just now, wouldn’t you,” he said. “I think there’s a Death Eater working for the Ministry. I think he must have snuck into the Apparition Department and done something to give his friends permission...”


There was silence at that. Finally, Sirius shrugged.


“We can think on it later, Prongs, or bring it up to Dumbledore. Let’s just go home.”


And so they went, exiting through a lift out to the streets of London before Disapparating to the magical village of Hogsmeade. Hogwarts, terrible, achingly familiar, loomed in the distance in the snowy scene. Sirius sighed as he caught sight of it.







II.

Gideon, Fabian and Benjy were already in the basement of the Hog’s head. Benjy had the leg of his trousers rolled up, revealing what looked to be a bloody, mangled mess. Gideon sat on the ground before him, carefully wrapped a conjured bandage around the wound.


“That’ll hold her until you get to St. Mungo’s, mate,” he said.


Benjy quickly rolled down the trouser leg again when he saw the Marauders enter.


“What happened to you?” asked Peter.


“One of the werewolves got me,” said Benjy.


“You didn’t get bit, did you?”


“No. Just his claws. He pounced and nearly missed as I was running away. He only just got me.” Benjy yawned, and then Gideon did, and before they knew it, it had gone around all of them.


“So who actually slept last night?” asked Gideon with a smile.


Nobody responded; of course nobody could sleep knowing that the attack loomed ahead.


Instead Lily said, “I wonder what’s taking everyone so long to get back. Where are they?”


A worried silence filled the room. It was not for long, however, for a few moments later, the rest of the group walked in, Dumbledore in the lead. Their faces were downcast and grim, and Sirius’s heart immediately leapt into his throat. He allowed his eyes to flit over everyone entering - they were all there, nobody had been killed. None of them appeared seriously injured, for they could all walk on their own.


And then his mind wandered and his heart plummeted. He didn’t want to think that, perhaps, they had discovered Remus among the dead, seriously injured, or captured. That would certainly be reason for the long faces. Sirius quickly turned to look at James, who’s face betrayed no fear, but Sirius could see the same worries in his friend’s hazel eyes.


Dumbledore’s voice was weary.


“Please, everyone, have a seat,” he said with a gesture.


When the room was quiet and the members settled, Dumbledore spoke.


“You fought incredibly,” he said. “I’m pleased to say that, with our efforts combined with those of the community walking in on the scene, we have successfully stopped the werewolves from infiltrating the Ministry of Magic. They were killed in the Atrium, and all magical citizens remain alive and well, though a few with minor injuries.


“The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for the werewolf community.”


Sirius’s throat was so tight, his stomach clenching terribly with nerves, that he thought he might be ill. Why was Dumbledore speaking of the werewolves with such regret? Something terrible must have happened to Remus to make the old man speak this way; he clenched his teeth and his hands curled into hard fists.


But a moment later, Dumbledore continued on, and nothing more of the werewolves were mentioned at all.


“As you may have noticed,” said Dumbledore now. “While we were fighting the werewolves in the Atrium, the Death Eaters were nowhere to be seen. They, of course, returned to the Atrium at sunrise to take the werewolves home again. Clearly, they had been wandering throughout the Ministry all night long.


“This has raised much concern, for there are many departments within the Ministry that deal with confidential things. Areas such as the Department of Mysteries may have been under attack or penetrated in the night. Aurors are, as we speak, searching and checking this areas for traps or hidden Death Eaters.”


There was another long pause. Sirius felt relief that Remus was not mentioned at all. There was still no word on whether or not he was safe or well, but there was not, at least, word that they had found his corpse in the Ministry.


“Unfortunately,” continued Dumbledore. “Something terrible has happened last night. I fear it is my own fault that we waited too long to attack. Perhaps it would have been smarter to attack early in the night, rather than first thing in the morning. It was my own weakness, I am afraid. I knew we would be outnumbered, and wanted only to attack when others would be around to join in and help.


“I was afraid of getting you all killed, and so I allowed us to hesitate. I allowed us to wait for back up. And that, in turn, has allowed for something terrible to happen.”


Dumbledore hung his head.


Frank cleared his throat. “Professor,” he said evenly. “I don’t think there would have been anything else we could do. We were outnumbered. Even if we had been at the Ministry, hiding and waiting for the Death Eaters to first appear with the werewolves, we still would have been outnumbered. Even if the werewolves weren’t transformed yet, they could still cause harm. They are ruthless monsters, sometimes. Voldemort’s Death Eaters are incredible witches and wizards who’s numbers are much higher than ours. It would be all we could do just to survive them alone.


“Sir, if we had gone at any other time, I, too, think we all would be dead right now. And then what? There would be nobody left to fight back, except for the Ministry Aurors, who, in general, are not nearly as quick as we are. If we would have gone sooner, Professor, I think we could have lost this war.”


Frank sat down again and took a deep breath. “Sir, I think we went about it the right way. It was incredible to see the citizens join in on the fight. I think many of them have forgotten what we are fighting for; it is almost easier just to give in.”


James looked baffled. “Professor,” he said. “You said something terrible happened.”


Dumbledore’s blue eyes met James’s. “Yes,” he said, in a tone of regret. “We were not quick enough to move through and check the rest of the Ministry. The Death Eaters, in the night, penetrated the Minister‘s office. The Minister of Magic is the only one in the Ministry who currently has a fireplace connected to the Floo network - for his safety, a direct connection strictly to his home. He flooed in this morning just as he’d always done, but the Death Eaters were waiting in his office. The Minister of Magic has been taken.”








III.

Moody entered the meeting late. He, being one of the best Aurors in the Ministry, had decided it was his duty to stay behind when the rest of the Order left. It was his duty to explore the Department of Mysteries and make sure all was well. It was his responsibility to find out as much as he could about the Minister’s disappearance and attempt to locate the man’s whereabouts.


He feared that hidden Dark arts supporters might try to elect one of their own to fill the Minister’s absence. That would be the worst thing possible, he thought. He scrutinised all of the higher ups with narrowed eyes; a simple look from the likes of Alastor Moody was enough to send most wizards into shivers. They all knew who he was and what he was capable of.


He had ordered guards be positioned outside of the Minister’s empty office at all times.


“Sir, we simply must have a Minister! Somebody is going to have to fill the position!”


And Moody’s gruff reply had been, “Until we know that our current Minister is dead, we still have one. Spread the word that the Minister of Magic is on an emergency holiday. I, personally, will do my best to locate and rescue him quickly.”


Now he walked into the Hog’s Head to meet with the rest of the Order.


Immediately, his eyes fell upon Sirius, who scowled at him and then looked away. Moody growled. “Stupid, daft boy,” as he entered the room in a huff.


“Excuse me?” demanded James, turning in his seat and narrowing his eyes. It didn’t matter that he had always idolised Moody nearly as much as his own father. He knew now how temperamental the man could be. He hadn’t forgotten the prejudiced ways in which Moody had always dealt with Sirius.


Moody seemed to be angry at James’s sudden intrusion on the situation. He quickly crossed the room, flinging an empty chair aside, and thrust his wand into the back of Sirius’s neck. Sirius quickly went stiff, his back erect as the point of the wand drove into his neck. James’s eyes went wide.


“He sat back and watched as Regulus Black escaped with a werewolf!” spat Moody. “He sat back and let him leave without even trying. He lowered his wand. He let a Death Eater get away with the Alpha wolf.”


James swallowed and his eyes flickered towards Sirius’s. Sirius had the decency to look ashamed of himself. His own eyes were dark and shadowed. His mouth was twisted in a frown. He met James’s look, half embarrassed, half pleading.


“That was his brother,” said James at last.


“I don’t care who it was!” growled Moody, thrusting the wand slightly so that Sirius winced. “That Death Eater could go on to kill hundreds of people! That Death Eater could be the one to help Voldemort secure the office of the Minister should we ever fail! That one Death Eater could help lead this country, and then the rest of the world, to ruin!”


James glanced at Sirius again, but he could think of nothing more to say.


“We all have personal issues, Black,” said Frank at last.


James started. He had almost forgotten, in the sudden commotion, that they were in the middle of a meeting. He had almost forgotten how many others were in the room; he hadn’t been aware that all conversation had halted at Moody’s entrance and James’s loud question in defence of his friend. He glanced around to find that everyone, including Dumbledore, was staring apprehensively.


“Shut up, Longbottom!” snarled James. Instinctively, his hand flew to his wand. He clutched it tightly.


Frank shrugged, looking rather haughty, James thought. As if he was better than them, better than Sirius. The look on his old friend’s face sickened him, for he’d have never thought Frank could look like that. “We all do,” he repeated, ignoring James. “It can not interfere.”


James’s eyes flashed. “It’s not-”


Moody interrupted. “Don’t you think it gets to all of us?” he snarled, glaring at James. He waved his free hand in Dorcas’s direction. “Don’t you think it bothers Dorcas whenever she sees the Death Eater suspected of murdering her father? Do you know what would happen if she went after him and him alone, and ignored everything else in her vengeance? Do you understand what can happen if you make your decisions based on passion?”


James’s mouth fell open to respond, but Moody impatiently continued.


“Don’t you think that we all get angry when we think of what happened to the McKinnons?” He jabbed his wand a little harder into Sirius’s neck. “Don’t you think,” he snarled. “That perhaps your brother might have been involved in their murders?”


Sirius swallowed and set his jaw, glaring ahead at the floor.


“And don’t you think,” continued the grizzly man, leaning forward and lowering his voice to Sirius’s ear. “That your wonderful brother could responsible for the deaths of your friends? Or how about your cousin, Black? You grew up with Bellatrix, haven’t you?”


Expelliarmus!”


Moody’s wand suddenly flew out of his hand. Angrily, he turned. It was Peter who caught the wand, Peter who had his own aimed at Moody’s back.


Peter’s face was set, angry and unforgiving. “You make mistakes yourself, Moody,” he said in a low voice.


“That is quite enough,” said Dumbledore, finally putting a halt to it all. “We all make mistakes. If we start to turn against our own, then we might as well stop fighting this war right now. What is there to fight for, if not the love and rights of our friends and family? Perhaps Sirius acted out of passion, but it is not such a terrible thing. Even if young Regulus doesn’t end up doing the things you say, Alastor, somebody else will.”


“Acting out of passion can get us all killed,” snarled Alastor, snatching his wand from Peter’s hand.


“Acting out of passion is the very reason why we fight at all,” responded Dumbledore wisely, and in quite a pleasant voice as he smiled at Sirius. It didn't change the fact that they were all right, that such a thing could cause the death of him or others. It was just Dumbledore taking pity on him, and that infuriated him more than anything.


Sirius, free from the wand poking into the back of his neck, stood up suddenly. He kicked his chair out of his way and strode from the room.







IV.

Remus was left pacing around frantically in the dark tunnels, being watched warily by the werewolf women. They had never seen a man behave as he did.


(Granted, they had never seen a man like Remus at all - most of them were used to buff, strapping werewolf men, and Remus was embarrassingly thin and gangly, having not spent all of his life living in the wild. Even some of the women were stronger than he was, something that occasionally brought upon him bouts of shame.)


Remus was frantic with worry, chewing his nails, scuffing his feet in the dirt floors of the cave, prodding the bonfire with a stick.


“Remus,” scolded one of the women in a thick accent. She looked upon him as if he should be ashamed of himself. “What is the matter with you,” she muttered. The werewolves rarely showed such emotion or fear. Perhaps, to this woman, his display betrayed his bravery and manhood. Perhaps his actions were offensive to a pack who had always shown such pride.


Remus spared her a glance and resisted getting up and walking away.


He was worried about the battle. It was dawn now; light was outside. He’d awoken from his own transformation in a daze, and then, like a ton of bricks, the awareness of what was to have gone down overnight hit him. He prayed that his friends were all right, that none had been injured or killed or bitten in the battle. He prayed that they had been able to stop it, that the Ministry hadn’t fallen.


And in a strange twist, he also found himself worrying about his newest friend, Ulfric. Part of the enemy itself, one of the vicious werewolf attackers, but Remus didn’t want to see the man injured or killed. He wondered if it might have been best if he hadn't informed Dumbledore of the attack - then, both groups would be spared from hurting each other. Would it really matter if a few strangers died in the Ministry, so long as his friends - all of them - returned safely?


His cheeks suddenly flushed with shame. Maybe he was weak. How much would he be willing to sacrifice, just to avoid suffering personal loss? Growing up as a werewolf, he had never taken his Hogwarts friends for granted. He tried too hard, sometimes, to be liked; let them get away with murder. Would he really allow innocents to suffer just to spare them their lives so they couldn't fight back?


He felt ill as he stared around at the wild women, who were incredibly strong and brave. None of them betrayed their worry. A few of them nursed infant cubs. A few slept with the pack of children after enduring the long night of being a beast. Many were tending to the garden, or were checking the traps in the absence of their men.


One woman sat near the fire kneading a ball of dough. Another chatted happily with her, sewing an animal skin onto somebody’s tunic.


It was incredible, the way they lived and adapted in the wild. Remus liked them. He hated to admit it, his condition had always brought him shame, and he’d always thought of people like him as monsters. But he liked them, and he enjoyed their simple way of life. A young boy came in proudly showing off a fish he’d caught in the nearby river.


And Remus continued to worry.


It was at least fifteen minutes later when the first pop of Apparition was heard. Remus rushed outside to greet those returning, forgetting that he is a prisoner, that he is merely a spy for Dumbledore and not a part of them.


The Death Eaters unceremoniously shoved the injured to the ground, clearly disgusted with having to support and touch the monsters.


“You have failed the Dark Lord,” they said scathingly at the men. “He will be displeased.”


And they were gone without so much as an attempt to heal the injuries or any word on what had happened. Only about six of the men returned. One of them was, to Remus’s relief, Ulfric. Ulfric limped terribly and he’d lost an arm at the shoulder. It was nothing more than a bloody stump now; the cut looked clean, and Remus knew it had been caused by magic.


The look of anguish on Ulfric’s face was almost too much to bear, and for a moment Remus found it odd the way they could endure the pain of transformation so well, and still found other injuries to be so torturous.


It wasn’t as if they had never had joints disconnected from their sockets before, or bones breaking and splintering and reforming, or muscles stretching and tearing, or claws slicing through their own skin.


He hurried forward and helped Ulfric to the ground, took off his patched old cloak and pressed it tightly to the wound. Ulfric glared at him and tried not to cry out in pain at the pressure.


“Is that all, then?” asked Remus, his throat terribly try and his tongue feeling much too large for his mouth. He felt he might choke on it with every panicked word. “Is there nobody else coming back?”


Ulfric grunted. “Most of us did not survive or were captured.” He clenched his fist angrily. “I am going to kill Fenrir for this! I knew it was a bad idea!”


Remus shuddered. Out of all of them that had left, only six had returned, gravely injured and not guaranteed to survive. He swallowed thickly and reached down to Ulfric’s good arm, attempted to drag the man to his feet.


“Come on, then, let me help you to the fire,” he said, trying not to let his voice shake.


They were interrupted by another pop. Remus looked up, almost fearful of seeing yet another Death Eater, yet another injured man. But it was Regulus, wide eyed and looking pale. His arms were clutched around Rolff’s chest, the much smaller boy struggling to hold the Alpha up.


“Rolff!” growled Ulfric, immediately shoving Remus off and finding the strength to go to his old friend.


Remus hurried forward too, grabbing one of Rolff’s arms.


“What has happened to him!” he barked at Regulus. Regulus looked rather timid, backing away and twisting his wand in his hands.


“I… I don’t know,” he said, taking another step back. His familiar grey eyes met Remus’s and he suddenly lifted his chin a bit, regaining some composure. “I don’t know,” he said again, more firmly this time. “I couldn’t Disapparate right away,” he said. “I Flooed with him back to my home just to get away.”


“Did anything happen to him there?” asked Remus quickly.


Regulus smirked back. “No,” he said haughtily. “Nobody in my family attacked him for being a half-breed monster, if that is what you mean,” he added. “However much my mother may have wanted to.”


Ulfric snarled at Regulus. “Us monsters are doing the work of the Dark Lord, same as you,” he barked angrily.


Regulus only smirked and took another step back. “Not very well,” he said. “And you’re only being used, anyway. The Dark Lord doesn’t really value your help. He obviously didn’t care if you perished in this battle, did he?”


Ulfric lunged. Regulus was quicker, and with a pop he disappeared just before Ulfric reached him. The latter threw his head back in a rage and let loose a roar, a terrible sound that chilled Remus to the bone, that cut like glass.


But he knew what Ulfric did not. Regulus spoke the truth. The Dark Lord would never value beasts like them. They were merely pawns in this war, although he didn’t have the heart to tell Ulfric this. Instead he struggled to hold the elderly, dying Rolff upright in his arms.








V.

They all sat around the body of their Alpha. Bundles of soft grass, animal skins, cloth had been piled together to make the most comfortable bed possible. The women hummed a beautiful tune and rocked infants in their arms. The children were remarkably subdued for once. The men were solemn.


They were waiting for him to die.


Rolff’s breath was laboured, his tanned, leathery face shining with sweat. He was feverish, his cheeks were tinged pink and his lips were horrible pale and chapped.


Ulfric was kneeling beside the man; Remus knew now that Rolff was like a father to Ulfric. Rolff had been the one who infected him. Rolff had allowed him to tag along until both were banished together to the wild. He supposed there was a bond there, between the monster and the prey. It was the same bond that had caused Greyback to step in, way back when Remus first arrived in the pack, and stop him from being killed. Perhaps Greyback didn’t care about him the same way that Rolff cared about Ulfric, but it had been there.


Ulfric shakily held up the flask - a hallowed out animal horn - and tipped a few more drops of water into Rolff’s parched mouth with his only remaining arm. The sound of Rolff swallowing was thick, and the man’s breathing sounded painful, laced with his own moans, as he tried to will his throat to swallow the liquid.


One of the women, an herbalist, apparently, leaned forward and crushed a leaf in her palm, causing a single drop of liquid to fall into his mouth. She then smeared a thick, greyish paste across Rolff’s forehead.


“To stop the fever,” she said, in response to Remus’s questioning look.


Ulfric groaned suddenly and bent forward, resting his forehead on Rolff’s burning chest. It was too much now, and his entire frame shook with wracking sobs. He was despairing; he had lost so many members of the pack in this battle. He had lost a part of himself, even. “Oh God,” he moaned. “He can’t die.”


“If he dies, Ulfric, you are next in line to be Alpha,” said one of the strong women, trying to soothe him.


“No, no, no,” cried Ulfric in desperation, his tears running from his cheeks and soaking into Rolff’s animal furs.


Remus swallowed thickly. He could fix Rolff. He knew he could; he was a wizard, after all. What could he do? He was here on duty, to spy, to inform Dumbledore of what Voldemort might have planned. He felt sick as he watched Ulfric’s entire frame wrack with sobs; his eyes fell on the man’s shoulder, where an arm should have been but instead was only a bloody cloth now.


He doubted that the werewolves would do anything for Voldemort again. As it was, Greyback was sitting in the corner, looking deadly and furious. He knew that Greyback had been dismissed from Voldemort’s service, and he was taking it as a personal insult.


Greyback, up until now, had done nothing but brag of how important he was to the Dark side, and how he was the only werewolf privileged enough to be allowed in the presence of the Dark Lord. And now he sat abandoned, the pretty young werewolf females ignoring him to hang on Ulfric instead, and pray to the spirits for Rolff’s recovery.


No, Remus didn’t think there was anything else to stay here for. He rather felt that his time here was done now. There was no other service he could offer Dumbledore if the wolves were no longer a part of the war. And they couldn’t be now that half their pack - nearly all of their warriors - were gone.


He swallowed and wondered what would happen if he pulled out his wand. He shut his eyes tightly and forced it from his mind.


“I can fix him,” he said in a hoarse voice.


The herb woman looked at him in disgust, clearly affronted that he found himself better at healing than she. She stopped shaking her clenched fist, which rattled with the bracelet of animal bones she wore around her wrist, over Rolff’s heaving body.


Ulfric lifted his head tiredly, his eyes puffy. Impatiently, he swept his only arm across his rugged face and allowed his brown eyes to meet Remus’s. “What do you mean by that, Remus? I’m not in the mood for your jokes…”


Remus swallowed nervously. “What I mean is… is I can fix him. I… I have a wand,” he finally choked out.


Several eyes widened in alarm. Ulfric suddenly looked angry; he looked away from Remus quickly and stared down at Rolff instead.


“Why do you have a wand, Remus,” he said in a straight tone.


Remus bit his lip. “Well, I… I did grow up in the wizarding community, after all, my parents got one for me…” he uttered miserably.


Greyback suddenly rose to his feet and charged forward. “It was him! It was him what told the wizards of our attack! He is responsible for the death of our brothers!” he snarled, lunging for Remus.


Ulfric, faster than lightning, threw his good shoulder towards the charging man. They collided and Greyback was knocked off balance, rolling across the dirt floor of the cave with a snarl.


“He couldn’t have done!” said Ulfric in a low voice. “He was under guard the entire time he has been here. He didn’t even know of our plans until the Death Eaters showed up to take us! It was only the Elders in the cave with us, Fenrir! It was one of those damn Death Eaters that turned! It was one of Voldemort’s own men who gave us away!”


Remus’s heart was in his throat at the prospect of nearly being attacked. He felt a flush rise to his cheeks as Ulfric wrongfully defended him. He had, in fact, been guilty of the things Fenrir accused him of, but he couldn’t let any of them know it. He felt ready to crawl out of his skin as he met Fenrir’s evil yellow eyes glaring at him.


“You dare to speak his name,” snarled Fenrir in a terrible voice. He positively foamed at the mouth as he circled around Ulfric.


Ulfric’s eyes narrowed. “I do,” he growled back in an even voice. “He cares nothing for us, Fenrir, nothing! There is a traitor working for him. Or perhaps not traitorous at all - you saw how his men treated us, Fenrir! Disgusted to be near us! They dislike us as much as they dislike the Mudbloods they fight to eliminate. Perhaps this was their way of trying to kill two birds with one stone and wipe us all out, eh?”


Fenrir stood panting in the corner, crouching as if to lunge again. He was furious, so feral looking that Remus took a step back in fear and actually pulled his wand out to ward off attack. But this time the stick drew no fear from the others crouched around Rolff. This time they all eyed Fenrir in fear, and Remus felt that if he used the wand to defend them against one of their own, they wouldn’t mind it one bit.


Finally, with a snarl, Greyback turned and stalked out of the cave.


Ulfric gently checked to make sure the wrap was still on his injured, bloody shoulder, and then turned to look back at the group staring at him. He sucked in a sharp breath when he noticed that Remus had drawn his wand.


“You’re a wizard then,” he said quite calmly. All of the women looked from Ulfric to Remus.


Remus nodded hesitantly. Ulfric nodded as well, more slowly, as if coming to understand and accept this.


“You can do magic.”


And again, Remus nodded.


Ulfric glanced at Rolff, and then back at Remus. Finally, he took a deep breath. “Remus, as the Beta of this pack, I command you to try to heal Rolff, our Alpha.”


Remus nodded solemnly and turned to the task, kneeling over the struggling old man.


He was not the greatest healer in the world, but he had spent enough time around Madame Pomphrey during his school years to have picked up a few things. He could mend bones and he could heal cuts and lacerations. He could brew a blood replenishing potion with the herbs that their healer woman had. He could show them how; one didn’t have to be magic to brew a potion, after all, although it was only the magical people who were educated enough to do it.


And so it began. He took it slow, wanting to be certain of what he was doing and not make things worse. He leaned forward, resting his ear against Rolff’s chest to hear just how bad his breathing was. He pressed his fingers into the old man’s throat to feel for injury. He pinched Rolff’s wrists and experimentally moved his head back and forth, all while the rest of the pack looked on.


He brewed a potion right over the bonfire, explaining to the herb woman everything he did as he worked so that she could understand and create her own. He invited her to help, to chop up the ingredients on her own or throw them in or stir it. He conjured a cauldron with his wand, and allowed the pack to keep it.


It was two days before he was able to get Rolff to open his eyes, and even then the old man was terribly weak. But every day brought a new development. Every day he was stronger and louder and more talkative. Although he never talked to Remus. He refused to talk to Remus, once he became aware of what was going on.


And finally, when it appeared certain that Rolff was going to make a full recovery, Ulfric turned to Remus with a stubborn look upon his face.


“As a part of this pack,” he said solemnly. “You must be punished once again for the lies you have led us to believe. I don’t think I have ever come across anyone I have had to punish as often as you.”


Remus tried to keep his face solemn. He was a Marauder, after all; punishment was like second nature. He sighed and nodded, ready to accept his punishment. He was only glad they weren’t going to kill him, and that they didn’t think it was he who had betrayed them. And anyway, he decided, he intended to return to London soon, so none of it would matter in the end. There was little reason to stay after healing Rolff - he was fairly certain the wolves would not fight any battles for Voldemort again.


Ulfric still looked grim as he stood tall and spoke. “Your punishment, Remus. You must leave at once and return to wherever you came from.”


Remus balked. “I beg your pardon?”


“Do you want to return home?” asked Ulfric plainly.


Remus shook his head no. Of course he desperately wanted to go home, but he couldn’t let them know. He had to say no; he was still living a lie, even when he was certain Ulfric now knew the truth. And he knew Ulfric knew the truth, for he could see the shine of mischief in the man's blue eyes that he so often recognised in James.


They didn't think it was he who'd betrayed them, and they didn't know he was sent only to spy. He was still one of them, wizard or not. He still had to pretend, lest they wonder why he came here.


“Then that is your punishment. You will go home. We banish you.” Ulfric couldn’t help it after that. The smile cracked his face, warm and familiar as Remus gaped at him. “I hope you are utterly miserable,” he added with a wink.


Remus tried not to laugh and only nodded, trying not to look as dumbfounded as he felt. “If that is what you wish,” he said meekly. It was an odd feeling, to be a wizard banished by the werewolves.


“It is my wish, and what is best for my... our people. And for you.” Ulfric’s expression suddenly turned serious. “Remus… Don’t come back.”

Chapter 25: Conversations
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - F I V E
Conversations




James found him in his bedroom, smoking gillyweed just as he had a few weeks before. This time, however, Sirius made no move to hide the magical plant when his best friend entered the room. James hesitated in the doorway.


“You've missed four Order meetings, and a couple of stake outs,” he finally said. “But we have another meeting tonight, if you want to go. I just stopped by to let you know, Sirius. Dumbledore sent Wormtail and Lily and I home to rest, so we came here to let you know...” he babbled tiredly.


Sirius only waved him away. “I’m not going to any more meetings.”


James gaped at him. “What? Why the hell not? The Minister is missing, Sirius!”


Sirius could only shrug. “James,” he said. “Prongs. Moody hates me. He’s hated me since day one. I’m tired of fighting and risking my arse just for him to turn around and shout at me and tell me I’ve done it wrong. I’m not dead, am I? I’ve kept myself alive! I can’t have done quite as terribly as he thinks I have, but since I’m a Black, it’s never going to be good enough.”


James crossed the room and plucked the rolled up gillyweed from Sirius’s fingers just as he was about to put it to his lips. Sirius objected but James cut him off.


“Since when were you fighting for Moody?” he asked matter-of-factly, even going so far as to lean down towards Sirius’s face, to get more to his level.


Sirius glared stubbornly at the wall a few feet in front of him and said nothing.


“Have you forgotten what we’re really fighting for?” asked James in a surprisingly gentler tone.


And Sirius only shook his head. “It’s getting harder to keep it in mind, James. Remus is gone. Lily’s parents are dead, the McKinnons are dead, Moony’s dad is dead. Hundreds of Muggles are dead. Disaster is everywhere, torture, Prongs. I hate it; I hate it. I just want to go back to Hogwarts and not think about it all.”


“Sirius…”


“James!” sighed Sirius. “I’ve killed now. I’ve murdered somebody, and I hate it. I will never forget how that feels for as long as I live… How I liked it when I thought I was doing well. It was a mistake. And then how I hated myself.” He repressed a shudder and finally brought his gaze to James’s. “Regulus is on the Dark side. He’s a Death Eater. Oh, God, James. I was so terrified that I was going to have to kill him tonight. Regulus, dead. Not by my wand, James.”


“Padfoot,” said James, halting his frantic rant. He gave the gillyweed back to Sirius just to calm him down; Sirius shakily accepted it, and there was a moment where nothing was said between them. James stood up straight again, crossed his arms over his chest, and simply watched.


“You don’t know how it feels, James. You don’t have a brother. It’s…” but the words wouldn’t come to him. He trailed away, shaking his head in disgust with himself. For breaking so easily, for allowing Regulus to get to him. He tried to throw Regulus away with the rest of his family, and a part of him just wouldn’t have it.


James’s gaze hardened. “You’ll always be my brother,” he said in a low voice. “Don’t tell me I haven’t got one, or that I don’t know how it feels when he makes stupid mistakes.”


“Sorry.”


James only sighed. He did not know how to deal with this. Perhaps it would all be better in a few hours. They were all exhausted. They hadn’t slept in anticipation of the attack. The fight itself was draining. The Regulus ordeal was draining. The worry for Remus was draining. And they hadn't even had a break before the frantic search for the Minister began. Sirius, perhaps, hadn't been a part of that the last two days, but it was obvious by the dark, hooded look in his eyes that he hadn't slept any more than the rest of them.


“Get some sleep, Sirius, we can talk about this later. I’ll be waiting for you tonight.”


He started to shut the door. Sirius called out, “I’m done with it, James! I’m not going tonight,” but James was no longer there. He didn’t give any sign that he had heard Sirius at all, and Sirius was left with nobody to insist he had quit the Order to except for the walls.


“I’m not going back,” he uttered in the darkness. “I’m not.”








II.

It felt so terribly strange and out of place to find himself in London again. Remus felt filthy and dirty now that he was among civilisation once more. He felt, almost, as if he were merely in a dream, and that he would be waking up at any moment now to find that familiar, musty cave with its crackling bonfire. Strangely, he considered the crude tunnels his home now, and he felt curiously awkward to be standing in front of the brick building, staring up at the windows of Sirius’s flat.


It was his flat, too, he had to remind himself. It was home. It was. Regardless, he felt like an intruder, like a tourist or visitor staying only for a brief time. He felt like he didn’t belong there anymore; he felt like a wild animal.


“Buck up, old chap,” he muttered to himself, stepping forward and unlocking the door to the steep stairwell. “In a few days, things will be right back to normal.” At least he hoped so.


He was surprised at how lonely he suddenly felt to be, once again, the only werewolf in London. Or at least the only one that he knew of. The majority were banished, good behaviour or not. He was only tame (as Ulfric had put it) because his parents worked for the Ministry.


It had been surprisingly difficult to leave the tunnels. He had tried to dawdle and linger, looking for an excuse to stay a few moments longer and give his goodbyes. But he couldn’t; it wasn’t as if he’d had to pack his suitcase or anything. He could only thank Ulfric for not killing him and be on his way.


Remus realised now, quite suddenly and with a start, that he was procrastinating. His foot was still on the very first step. He forced himself to think of the friends that he had missed for so very long and took another.


He hoped things wouldn’t be awkward between them. He knew they might be different. He knew they had seen horrors and nightmares while he was gone.


Given his wistful mood, Remus was quite surprised to finally make it up the stairwell, open the front door, and come face to face with James and Lily snogging on Sirius’s couch. He carefully stepped inside, gently set down his briefcase and approached the pair.


(They were so caught up in each other that they never even heard him enter, nor his footsteps as he advanced on them.)


Remus waited patiently for a moment, watching and feeling awkward. He expected they had to surface for air soon, but alas, they did not. Finally, Remus very deliberately leaned forward and tapped James on the shoulder.


And James finally turned his head slightly and opened one eye, peering at him. Instantly, the bespectacled boy pulled away from Lily and stared at Remus in disbelief. At that, Lily, too, looked to him with surprise. Clearly they had assumed he would be Sirius. A pleasurable squirm welled up within Remus at stunning them so, and he smiled a little. There was still joy in small things, after all.


Lily immediately launched herself off the couch and into his arms. He only just barely caught her in time, and she gave a gleeful laugh.


“Remus!” she said simply. Remus wondered distractedly when the last time he’d been able to bathe in the creek was, but Lily never said a word about how filthy his clothing was, or whether or not he smelled bad.


James stood as well. “Moony,” he said, when Remus’s chocolate brown eyes met James’s hazel ones. The latter held out a hand to shake. Remus took it, and then pulled James into a bear hug.


James grinned. “Good to see you again, mate. I didn’t know you were coming back.”


“Nor did I,” admitted Remus at last. He sounded surprised at himself as he admitted, “I’ve been kicked out, if you can bloody imagine that!”


James couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled up inside of him. “You are a Marauder, after all. If anyone would be, it would be a Marauder.”


But Lily was looking horrified. “Kicked out!” she demanded, as James’s laughter died off. “Kicked out. You’ve done something horrid, then, haven’t you! I’m surprised they kicked you out, Remus, I’d have thought you’d be murdered if you screwed up at all!”


“Lily,” warned James from the corner of his mouth and under his breath.


“No, no,” interrupted Remus. “She’s right, of course. They really ought to have… er… Well, I mean, I thought they were going to at first, when I pulled my wand out. Perhaps they were just a bit afraid of me. Fenrir Greyback wanted to have a go, but one of the elders chased him off…”


James looked rather amused, but Lily had paled considerably.


“Why don’t we sit down?” asked Remus, upon seeing her faint expression. “Have some tea, perhaps? Seems like it’s been ages since I had a cuppa…” And he collapsed in the arm chair, rubbing his hands over his face. He was tired, he only just now noticed.


James sank back onto the couch, grinning at Remus in wonder at seeing his friend again. Lily scurried off to the kitchen to make tea.


“Been ages since you had a bath, too, hasn’t it?” teased James. Remus blushed and examined his filthy hands. He knew his face must have been even worse.


After a few minutes, Lily hurried out and thrust a teacup into Remus's hands, nearly slopping its contents all over him in her excitement. She sat down beside James and demanded in a snappy voice, “What happened, Remus? What made you pull your wand?”


Remus held the teacup at a safe distance in case it spilled, and was thankful he could concentrate for a moment on that, on cooling his fingers or taking a sip, rather than meet their eyes. This was the one question he had hoped they wouldn’t ask him, for he feared they would look down on him for what he had done for the Dark side.


“Well… I… How did the attack on the Ministry go?” Remus looked around suddenly, his face going suddenly white. “Where is Padfoot? He should be here, he lives here. Is he all right, James? He hasn’t…-”


“Died? No. He’s asleep, or at least he should be. And, before you ask, Wormtail's all right too. I assume he's also asleep at his cottage.”


Remus glanced at the clock. “It’s three o’clock in the afternoon,” he said.


“Long couple of days,” said James. He gave a hesitant grin. “Lazy afternoon…”


“Yes, a long couple of days,” he agreed, thinking of his efforts with Rolff. It hit him, then, how recently the Ministry attack had happened. It had felt like so long ago, and was only two days. In two days, he had been in two different worlds. He closed his eyes and swallowed. “How was that, the attack? I never did hear about it...”


“It was a nightmare, naturally. Dumbledore wanted to attack late that morning - give the intruders run of the Ministry, let them lower their guard just when the night was nearly over and they thought they'd get away with it. And attack when employees would begin to arrive at the Ministry, just to have extra back up and hide the Order's presence. We apprehended a few more Death Eaters. We took a lot of werewolves into custody. Some of them were killed. Most will probably be executed.”


Remus felt sick at the news, mentally running through the names that he had come to know so well. “But they’re still alive now?”


James nodded. “The Ministry will want to do their trials,” he murmured distractedly. Remus almost thought that was even worse.


“What about the Order? Is everyone still… you know. Here?” he finally asked, feeling dreadful at hearing the answer. He closed his eyes and waited. He wondered how many times he would have to ask if certain individuals were still alive.


“Everyone is all right,” said Lily. “Nobody was bitten or anything in that battle...” she trailed away hesitantly.


Remus nodded in relief, not catching the look in her eye. James cleared his throat and glanced at his girlfriend. “Except...” he started and Remus looked suddenly alarmed. The word 'except' rarely meant anything good.


James held up the newspaper. “They got the Minister.”


“Brilliant.” Sarcasm was all Remus could muster, and he was glad James didn't tease him for it. “I assume that's going to be our next mission, then. That's what you meant by a long couple of days.” He sighed at the news, almost wishing again for the simplicity of life in the wilds. “And what of the attack on the Underground?”


At that, Lily’s face fell, and Remus felt a wave of dread. Something awful had clearly happened, and Remus found himself glancing around frantically, wondering why Peter wasn't there; the boy was usually around, after all. And then it struck him that James had already reassured him that Peter was safe at home.


“My parents were killed,” said Lily softly at last, as James subtly squeezed her hand.


Remus felt his stomach unclench and almost breathed a sigh of relief. Nobody he knew or cared about, nobody in the Order, had been killed in that attack, at least. He caught sight of Lily's pained expression.


“What?” he asked in disbelief, her words finally registering in his mind. Why hadn't he heard her the first time? “Your parents? What were they doing there?”


James frowned. “Has anyone ever told you you’re the least tactful person in the world, Moony?”


Remus blushed, feeling terrible. “I'm sorry, I just didn't catch that right away. It's just not...” his gaze wandered over Lily's stricken face and he felt a part of him melt in sympathy. “Not what I expected to hear, Lily, I am so sorry for your loss. I should have been here to help...”


Lily quickly shook her head and wiped her fingers beneath her eyes, as if to clear away any running mascara from how they suddenly watered. Her voice was shaky, but it gained strength as she spoke insistantly.


“No, Remus. You've done plenty. You have! So many Muggles would have died if it wasn’t for you warning us that it would happen. And yes, my parents were there. My father rides the train every morning to work, and my mum was with him on that day to do some last minute birthday shopping.”


Remus vaguely registered that her birthday had come and gone. That's right, he said to himself. Lily and Padfoot are both nineteen now... And James and I are about to be.


James scratched his jaw thoughtfully. “It was terrible, really. We were there, you warned us and we went to try to stop it. We couldn't... it was so fast. We didn't know what we were looking for until it was too late... Hundreds died, really... It is still on the front page of the Muggle papers every day. And up until the Minister was kidnapped, it was front page news on the Prophet as well.


“Sirius slowed it down... he tried to stop it as it came. It probably saved many people... but I think the worst had already been done before anyone could react...”


It was all a mess of information. Remus remained silent as he stared at his teacup, wiped a dribble down the side away with his thumb, trying not to let his horror show upon his face. So much had happened while he was away, and he wanted to hear about all of it. But he could barely wrap his head around one thing before another bit of news was sent his way.


“You ought to know,” James added quietly. “A few days after you left us again, the McKinnons were killed.”


Instantly, a wave of nausea hit Remus. His eyes widened and his throat went try, so that he felt like he might gag if he tried to swallow. “The… the McKinnons. All of them? Marlene? And the child?”


Lily’s eyes teared up and she nodded. “I cried all night…” she said quietly. “We all did.”


James stroked the back of her head absently and confirmed Remus’s questions. “All of them. Listen, Moony… the Death Eaters know the Order exists. We thought the McKinnons might have been killed as a warning to us all. A warning that they know who we are. So watch yourself.”


Remus could only nod, and then everything became silent. He thought, in the back of his mind, that he ought to go and see his mother.


“So…” said Lily meekly, reeling slightly from the talk of all who had recently perished. “Are you going to tell us what happened, Moony, or shall we force it out of you? Why are you home?”


After the news of the McKinnons, Remus was most definitely not in the mood to discuss what had happened with the wolves. He wanted nothing more, at the moment, then to sit back and reflect on things, and get over the shock and regret. The McKinnons were good people. They didn’t deserve to die.


But instead he sighed. “Right,” he said reluctantly. “Well, it was just this morning that they told me to go. After the Ministry ordeal, it was very stressful, waiting around for the pack to return…” he bit his lip and glanced at James. “Look, I know it’s going to sound terrible, but they became my friends.”


James’s face hardened slightly.


“Maybe it’s the beast in me,” sighed Remus. “It’s a ‘pack’ thing. Maybe it’s why I love being a Marauder. We stick together, too. And - anyway, when the pack elder was brought back from the battle, nearly dying… It was just so difficult to sit there. Everyone left in the pack just sat around him, watching, waiting for him to die. I couldn’t stand it, just waiting for somebody to die. How could I not do something?


“The one person who truly befriended me was raised by that man. The look on his face as he watched and waited… I just couldn’t sit there. I just lost my own father. I told them I could probably heal him. I’ve picked up on a lot from all the time I spent with Pomfrey.” He smiled ruefully. James gave a tiny grin and nodded for him to continue.


“They had already said that they were done with… well, with You-Know-Who.”


“Voldemort, Remus. Say it,” demanded James, interrupting in a firm voice.


“Right. With Voldemort, then,” said Remus, swallowing uncomfortably.


(It surprised him how suddenly awkward it felt to say the name. He'd lost the familiarity of it while living with the pack. They only called him 'the Dark Lord.')


“They realised then, after seeing all they’d lost, that they never did matter to him. They were just his pawns to use as he pleased. Perhaps his promises might have come true in the end, but I don’t think it was worth it after losing nearly all their warriors. Their fathers, their brothers.


“They said they weren’t going to be doing anything for him again. And so I figured I would have little else to report to the Order, anyway, if that was the case. If they killed me for spying, then at least I could have saved a life. I had to try. I lost a father, too.”


He shrugged, then. “And that’s it. I was able to save him. I taught them how they can brew potions to help in the future - you don't need magic for that. They were very grateful, but insisted I had to be punished for lying about what I really was - a wizard.”


James laughed. “What you really were! How many times has that phrase been used to reference you being a werewolf!”


Remus grinned too, and a chuckle escaped him. “Oh, that’s nothing, Prongs. I am probably the only bloke in the world who has been banished by werewolves for being a wizard.”


James laughed even louder at that. “You probably are,” he agreed. “Imagine that. Well, not a bad punishment, I’d say.”


Remus shrugged. “I think that was the point. They figured out in the end that I missed being home.”


James only tutted and ginned at Lily. “Really. And to think people are afraid of these monsters. The whole lot of them is a bunch of soft, cuddly puppies, in my opinion.”


“Fenrir is still a beast,” said Remus seriously.


“Always one bad apple in the bunch, Remus,” James said cheerfully.








III.

Sunday was a decent day. The Dementors, on Sunday, were not quite so active. There was a slight lift to the air - the sun barely peeked through the clouds, which were a much lighter colour than the usual gloomy, frightening dark grey. It was still cold, but then, it was still February.


The lack of Dementor presence had all of the Aurors on edge. Many in the Auror department were stationed across the country, keeping an eye out for sudden darkness over a town, another sign of a Dementor attack on Muggles.


But in London, Sunday was a decent day. Sirius woke up due to the rare light shining into his room, and as he sat up and squinted, he felt confused, for it had been so long since such a thing had happened.


The first thing he noted upon stumbling from his bedroom that morning was that Remus was still asleep, and was, in fact, snoring quite loudly. That was no surprise - Remus always slept harder, slept longer, in the week following a full moon.


Today was exactly a week since the full moon. He tried not to think about that, about the attack on the Ministry, about all the corpses, some of the injuries. Fortunately, most of the casualties were on the werewolves’ end. Or unfortunately, as Sirius sometimes thought. Remus was on the werewolf end, and though he sustained no injury and wasn’t even there, he was one of them, and he sympathised with the attackers despite his better judgement.


But mostly, he tried not to think about the Full Moon because that was the last time he’d seen anyone in the Order, save from his own best friends. He tried not to think about Alastor Moody, about seeing Regulus, the accusations. He tried not to think about how he’d simply walked out in anger.


And now he found himself with an entire Sunday, free to himself. Sirius sighed as he listlessly transformed stale bread into toast (he had never been one for grocery shopping). Another day to himself. He’d had days to himself all week, and, though he didn’t want to admit it, he was sourly beginning to regret the fact that he’d left.


There came the sound of pecking at the window glass. His owl, Archimedes, had returned from the night of hunting. Sirius opened the window for the bird, and Archimedes perched happily in the windowsill and preened his feathers. Sirius studied him absently as he munched on his burnt toast.


“Do you know what today is a good day for?” he asked the bird, who unsurprisingly had no answer. “Today is a good day for visiting James’s parents.”


Archimedes simply stared at him before twisting his head around to nip at his tail feathers, and Sirius stood and gave him the crust of the toast before turning to locate his cloak.


It was rather lonely in the flat. Even with Remus being back, it was hard to sit by every time his flatmate walked out the door for a meeting or a minor mission, or one of the many lessons in Defence that he had missed whilst living in the wild. Even with Remus being back, Sirius was still alone most of the time.


He was not surprised to find James in the Potter home when he arrived. If Remus was still asleep, after all, there was obviously no work for them today, or at least not yet.


“Hullo, Padfoot,” James greeted him, barely even looking up from the Daily Prophet.


And Sirius was struck, fleetingly, with the thought of how nice it was to be greeted and acknowledged. He could still remember a time living in Grimmauld Place, where he’d enter a room and nobody looked up. He would come in from outdoors and nobody said a word, nobody even turned his way, nobody ever met his eye. He had once snuck James in, which would have been forbidden, and it was so easy he could have laughed. Nobody ever once acknowledged him, when simply glancing his direction could have revealed a bloot traitor in their midst.


Sirius certainly didn't miss those days, and he shoved the memories from his mind as he pulled off his cloak.


“Hi,” he said, peering at the newspaper, though from where he stood it was impossible to make anything out. It was most likely about the still-missing Minister, anyway. He didn’t want to appear too interested, but James knew better.


James glanced up, eyeing Sirius over the frames of his glasses. “Have you had a change of heart yet?”


And Sirius’s face turned to stone. “No,” he said firmly.


James only sighed.


James’s mother walked into the room then, clearly having heard their voices from the kitchen. “Sirius,” she smiled warmly upon seeing him. “Have you come for a spot of tea?”


“That would be brilliant,” said Sirius earnestly.


And so she made tea and put out a plate of sandwiches. James and his father had some as well, and for the first time in days, Sirius was happy.


“Sirius, I hear you left the Order,” said Eve Potter, mild concern on her face. Clearly, her regard for his emotional well being outweighed that for his physical safety in the war, which Sirius thought quite odd yet at the same time, understandable. It really wouldn't matter if one made it safely through a battle only to be an empty shell afterwards.


She pressed on, “You had a disagreement with Alastor?”


Sirius shot James a look of annoyance, for he had obviously told his parents of the event, before turning to face his adoptive mother. “Alastor has never liked me,” he said simply. “He knows where I came from, and he won’t forget that.” To try to show that he didn’t care, that he’d moved on, he took a bite of a sandwich and then examined what was left of it half-heartedly, feigning interest as he chewed.


John Potter cleared his throat as he stirred his tea. Sirius glanced at the old man, who often remained silent. When James's father spoke, it was usually to say something important. “Alastor has been working too long and too hard.”


“That's no excuse. You worked far longer,” James pointed out on Sirius's behalf.


John surveyed his son thoughtfully. “But I had something to work for,” he said at last. “I had a family. And long before you came along, James, I still had the love of my life.” The old man ignored his wife’s bright smile. “Alastor has nobody. He fights Dark magic because of a bitterness inside of him. Because he hates it. He doesn’t fight to protect a family. He doesn’t even have real friends like you boys do. The coldness towards this war only grows within him with every fight.”


There was silence after that as the two younger men took in his words. John remained quiet as well, and he let them think about it. At last he said, “Most of us who fight, we act on emotions. We have something to fight for, something besides a simple anger and disgust towards the enemy.”


“That’s what Dumbledore said,” James interrupted. “Acting out of passion.”


“Yes, exactly,” agreed John. He turned and eyed Sirius through his spectacles. “Alastor can’t understand the way most of us fight. He can’t even begin to comprehend why some of us do what we feel we must. To him there is only black and white. He’s not a bad person, Sirius. We are all weak sometimes, in some areas.” John offered a smile. “He is still a hell of an Auror.”


“John!” gasped Eve, clearly affronted at the curse, even a mild one such as that. Sirius tried not to smile as he hung his head. The woman was the picture of innocence.


But other thoughts flooded his mind. He felt foolish for how he’d acted. He was thankful the Potters considered him a part of their family, that he had a father figure who would actually explain these things to him, to help him understand or see where he’d gone wrong.


He met James’s eye. James ginned smugly and tried to cover it by taking a large drink from his tea cup.








IV.

Lucy Englehardt folded her hands together nervously. Her flatmate, Lily, was sitting on the couch, holding a warm cup of coffee in her hands and staring thoughtfully out of a window. Lucy knew what Lily was thinking about. It was something she herself often thought about - Lily’s parents - but in her case, more in sympathy and disbelief that somebody she knew could come to such tragedy.


She took a deep breath and hurried to the couch, dropping onto it right beside the red head. Upon feeling the cushion sink with new weight, Lily looked over in surprise, as if noticing her flatmate for the first time. Lucy offered a sheepish smile.


“I’m sorry, Lucy,” Lily began. “I was off in my own world…”


“It’s all right,” said Lucy carefully. She paused and bit her lip, and she had to look at the floor, for she couldn’t bring herself to look at her best friend’s face. This was, after all, one of the most difficult things she had ever had to do.


She had no choice.


“Lily, I really need to talk to you about something.”


Lily sat forward and gave her full attention to Lucy. “Anything, Lucy, you can talk to me about anything. I’m sorry we haven’t had as much time for chats as we used to…”


Lucy interrupted her. “Lily… this is going to be really hard for me. I really don’t want to do this, and I really don’t want to ask this of you. I know you’re going through a hard time, it’s just… I… I really can’t afford the rent on this flat all by myself.”


Lily’s mouth fell open in sudden understanding. “Oh my god,” she said in dismay. “Oh, Lucy, I completely forgot!”


“I know,” Lucy nodded quickly. “I know you’ve had a lot on your plate lately. I paid it all for this month on my own because I know… I just… I can’t afford to pay it all next month.”


And this was yet another complication in the life of Lily Evans. Her parents paid her rent while she was supposed to be apprenticing at the Daily Prophet. Her parents supported her until she could support herself. And now they were gone.


She was aware of her breathing becoming slightly heavier, if only because of the silence in the room, as understanding came over her. She had no income. There was nothing now. She had survived the last couple of weeks purely on the kindness of others, and with everything else going on, she hadn’t even stopped to realise her financial situation.


She covered her face with her hand and glanced at Lucy.


“I don’t…” she started, but she didn’t even know what she could possibly say. “I don’t have any way to pay rent,” she said, feeling light headed. It was an observation, but a moment later she turned to Lucy and repeated herself, reluctantly, as a confession.


Lucy nodded in understanding. “Well, maybe we can find another flatmate,” she suggested. “It would make the amount you have to pay every month even less when it’s split three ways instead of two.”


Lily’s fingers still covered her mouth, and now her eyes watered as she shook her head. “It wouldn’t… I wouldn’t be able to pay… All my money, everything, came from my parents.”


“Everything?” asked Lucy. “You aren’t… aren’t getting paid for whatever you’ve been doing lately?”


She could only shake her head.


This time, Lucy’s eyes began to water. “Oh, Lily. I don’t know what to do! I can’t kick you out! You’re my best friend! I just can’t afford this by myself! And anyway, I don’t think I could live with anyone else! You know I hated everyone in my dorm at Hogwarts!”


“I’m so sorry, Lucy,” Lily whispered, feeling suddenly too weak to even speak. She was homeless. She was a homeless orphan with no job and no money. And her only family hated her.

Chapter 26: Apologies and Proposals
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - S I X
Apologies and Proposals




It was with a feeling of sheepishness, foolishness, and a resigned sigh that Sirius picked up his mirror and contacted James late one night. For the last several days, he'd done nothing more than lounge around and mull over the words of Mr Potter, mull over Moody, and mull over the bored ways in which he ambled around the flat while everyone else was in a meeting.


Though it frightened him, and he worried about the safety of the few people he actually gave a damn about, he missed the war and the few battles he had been a part of so far. The feeling of excitement and fear, the adrenaline rush. The feeling of defeating somebody he knew was out to get him, the feeling of being better, of winning.


He was much less stressed out now that he’d stepped away from it all. He didn’t know if he liked it. It wasn’t exciting or reckless or fun. And he had to consider the way they used to be in Hogwarts, the chances they took and the feeling of being invincible. Of course, he knew they weren’t invincible now. They had all seen more death than any nineteen year old ever should, and they’d only seen it a few times.


But Sirius had never been a coward. Proud and haughty, perhaps. Stubborn and broody, most definitely. But never a coward, and he felt shame when he thought of what the Order members must think of him for walking away from it all.


“James,” he finally said in the night. He was lying on his back in bed, holding the mirror above his face. He didn’t know why he bothered; it was too dark for James to even see him, so he grabbed his wand off the bedside table and lazily lit it, letting it rest where it lay. The glow it cast around the room was eerie, the shadows seemed exaggerated. It made him feel, for some odd reason, terribly alone.


“Come on, Padfoot,” groaned James after a moment. It was dark in James’s mirror, too. “Don’t you know what time it is?”


Sirius grinned into the mirror. “Arse o’clock,” he said, referencing their old joke.


James didn’t seem to find it funny. “What do you want,” he moaned impatiently.


“I want to know when the next Order meeting is.”


There was a pause, and then James seemed much more awake. “You’re coming back?” he asked warily, as if reluctant to get his hopes up.


Sirius took a deep breath, wondering how he could answer without hurting his own pride, but he finally just shrugged and muttered, “Yeah, if you lot still need me, I mean…”


Even in the dark, he could recognise the smile on James’s face, and he could also recognise the way James fought to get rid of it. His best friend took on an impatient voice, one that Sirius knew wasn’t real, but they all fought to hide what they really thought for some reason, even when they knew they could understand each other perfectly anyway.


James was acting like he didn’t care quite as much as he really did, and his voice became muffled as he rolled onto his side, as if ready to dismiss Sirius and go back to sleep. “You couldn’t go and ask Moony?” he said impatiently.


Sirius rolled his eyes. “He’s asleep.”


“Well, so was I!”


“I thought you’d be out staying the night with Evans or something, Prongs. And Moony seems… different. I didn’t want to wake him.”


“What do you mean, different?”


“I don’t know. He seems detached. Like he just sits back and observes, and he used to be a bigger part of things.”


James only sighed. “How much gillyweed tonight, Sirius?”


“Shut up, wanker, I haven’t. I’ve only done it occasionally. Only twice so far. I can’t handle… And I’m trying to remember, and I’m trying to forget…”


“All right. I know, Pads, I was just being an arse.”


“Really,” said Sirius sarcastically. “Tosser,” he added under his breath.


James ignored him. “I’m not with Lily tonight because we have a meeting first thing in the morning. Early. Be at the Hog’s Head at five.”


Sirius groaned. “All right,” he said reluctantly, and he felt suddenly nervous at the prospect of facing them all again. He started to put the mirror down, but then lifted it again and added gratuitously, “Good night,” to his best friend.


James only grunted, and then there was silence. It was a while longer, Sirius continuing to stare at the ceiling and at the shadows cast by his wand, before he finally dozed off. He thought, at one point, that he heard somebody scream far off in the distance, and he wondered if a lone Dementor may have swept down from the sky in a fit of hunger. And he wondered when he became able to consider such a thing without being horrified, and he wondered at what point he became so immune to such thoughts that he didn’t go rushing outside to try to save the person.


He knew he would never find them in time. It sounded far away. And he tried to forget about it as he finally closed his eyes.







II.

Remus, who had gotten dressed and ready in his bedroom, who had also already wandered into the kitchen and made himself a cup of hot cocoa, was surprised to enter the living room and see Sirius already up, and Sirius regarded him with a careful gaze from where he sat in an armchair by the fireplace.


“Good morning, Padfoot,” said Remus. “You’re up early,” he added, setting down his beverage and pulling on his cloak. He carefully wound a scarf around his throat as Sirius watched in silence. At last, Sirius spoke.


“I’m going back to the Order,” he said reluctantly. “It’s too sodding boring sitting around here by myself while you lot get to have all the fun.”


Remus chuckled. “Fun. Right.” His eyes met Sirius’s, who didn’t look quite as amused as Remus sounded. They surveyed each other for a moment, and then Remus pointed a thumb towards the door and blurted awkwardly, “I was just on my way to a meeting, Sirius, if you want-”


“I know,” interrupted Sirius. “Prongs told me there was one this morning.”


“Right,” said Remus. “Well… Shall we?”


At his words, Sirius seemed to abandon his scrutiny. He stood from the chair, stretched and offered a rarely seen (as of late) smile. “Let’s,” he said in a fairly pleasant tone, and Remus nodded, and they turned towards the door. Down the stairs, around the side of the building, and into the empty (though narrow, and even narrower thanks to the snow drifts) alley. After a quick check on Sirius’s hidden motorbike while Remus sipped his hot cocoa, they Disapparated to Hogsmeade.


The bar was empty at this hour, except for a lone figure sitting at the bar. James was already there, making small talk with the bartender, Dumbledore’s brother. He glanced their way when the door opened and quickly stood from his barstool to greet them. He nodded at Remus with a smile, and clapped Sirius on the back.


“All right, Pads?” he asked with an amused chuckle.


Sirius nodded and swallowed.


“You look nauseous,” James observed with a laugh. Sirius groaned, because James knew he was feeling nervous about rejoining the Order after he'd stormed out, and yet continued to poke fun. “Rather peaky today, isn’t he, Moony?”


Remus only offered Sirius a small smile, and avoided responding by draining the last of his cocoa instead.


“Shut up, James,” muttered Sirius, giving him a small shove. “Are we going downstairs or not?” He didn’t want to admit that he didn’t want to enter the room alone.


“Waiting for Lily and Wormtail,” said James, leaning back against the bar. He smiled at Sirius again. “But feel free to do down there, Padfoot, you don’t have to wait on us…”


Sirius sometimes wondered why he considered this boy, who clearly enjoyed torturing him for fun, his best friend.


The tiny bells over the door rang a moment later, and Peter squeezed in, trying not to let the cold from outside in with him. His cheeks were red and he looked out of breath. “I’m not late, am I?” he asked frantically.


“No, Wormtail, you’re right on time,” said Sirius quickly, before anyone else could answer. He was glad to see Peter, what with Remus seeming so subdued and James doing nothing but teasing him.


All four of the boys could see that something was clearly very wrong when Lily finally entered the Hog’s Head Inn. She didn’t look as presentable as she usually did. While she had never been huge on cosmetics, she’d worn just enough to enhance her eyes and still look natural. Today her eyes were puffy and red and unremarkable. Her cheeks were flushed and spotty, her hair was sort of all over the place, and she appeared to still be wearing her pyjamas beneath her travelling cloak.


“Lily!” said James instantly, jumping towards her in concern. “Lils!” He put an arm around her shoulders and led her into the room, kicking the door shut behind them. “What’s wrong?”


He was reminded of a time, little more than a year ago, the first time he’d seen her cry. It was just before Christmas, and it was in the Prefect’s bathroom at Hogwarts, where he’d had a good snog with another student, not realising she was there, hiding behind the curtains and upset about a Slytherin prank. He remembered his concern, asking her what was wrong, and the shame he felt for making out with another girl in front of her. He could also remember the way she denied anything being wrong, and the look she gave him as she walked out of the room.


He pulled her closer to him, kissed the side of her cheek, and then tried to comb her hair better into place with his fingers. “Good morning,” he added.


Lily seemed in a daze. “Morning,” she responded absently, looking at the floor.


“Have you been crying?” asked Sirius bluntly. James threw him a look that clearly stated, shut the hell up, you aren’t helping, tosspot. Sirius responded with a small but earnest smile; for all the joking around they sometimes did, sometimes it was the tiniest of looks that only he could understand that made him realise how important James was to him. James turned back to Lily.


Lily self consciously wiped at her eyes. “Last night, a bit,” she admitted with a guilty, uncomfortable smile, and she seemed to become more aware of her surroundings and the fact that they were all watching her.


“What’s wrong?” asked James again, though he seemed more relaxed about it this time, as if expecting it was simply the war getting to her now and then, or the loss of her parents. Perhaps they had all felt like crying at one point since leaving Hogwarts, even if they were too manly to succumb to it.


She took a deep breath. “I… I can’t afford my rent. My parents were paying for it…” As she admitted this to her friends (for she had long considered all of the Marauders her friends by now), a wave of nausea swept over her again at her predicament.


“Oh,” said James. “Oh,” he said again after a moment, upon realising that there was quite literally nobody left to take care of Lily. “Er… what about your grandparents?”


Her eyes watered as she looked at him. “Retired… they aren’t exactly rich. They live in a community for older people… They can barely take care of themselves, at times…”


James’s eyes narrowed as he thought of Lily’s flatmate. “Well, is Lucy kicking you out?” he demanded.


“Oh, James, it isn’t her fault! She already paid last month for me, which I completely forgot was due because of my... My parents.” She swallowed thickly. “She feels so terrible, James. She just can’t afford to pay it by herself. She even offered to find a third flatmate to lower the cost for me, I just… I have no income, so even that wouldn’t work…”


A determined look crossed James’s face, and they could all guess what he was going to say next. “Well, I can cover your rent, Lily, it’s not a problem.”


“I can’t let you waste all your savings that your parents have put aside for you to pay my rent, James.”


Remus looked uncomfortable at that.


“Well then we’ll buy a house,” said James quickly. “A nice little cottage, Lily. It wouldn’t be a waste then. It’d be an investment. If I wanted to sell it later, I could, and get all the gold back.”


There was a pause in which Lily’s green eyes met James’s hazel ones, as they both considered the wild idea, whether they might be ready to live together, something they had yet to even talk about, whether they might be married in the future, and how appealing the idea actually was. At the very least, it did make sense, although Lily found it quite absurd to have James decide to buy a house on her behalf.


“James…” she began, half-heartedly trying to object to the idea. She didn’t fully want to - the thought of owning their own home together was utterly warming - but she felt she had to at least try to talk him out of it. It was only right, after all.


“It could work,” he insisted, cutting her off.


She opened her mouth to say something more, but with his usual stubborn attitude, he interrupted her again. “The meeting’s about to start, Lily, we can talk about it later.”


She could only nod, and for the first time since Lucy had approached her the afternoon before, relax. James was here. It would all be all right.


Sirius, on the other hand, could not be so easily comforted. A wave of nausea welled within him at the thought of entering the room, and he knew all eyes would be on him, and he wondered if anyone would have any sarcastic comments about his presence. He mostly dreaded seeing Moody, although he knew now from James’s father that Moody struggled to understand him. He respected Alastor in a different way now, but it made the man no less difficult to deal with.


James patted his shoulder knowingly as they walked down the stairs to the basement.


And it wasn’t quite as bad as Sirius was anticipating. In fact, he felt his heart swell at the site of some of the people he had already been through so much with. People, he realised, that he was almost beginning to consider as family. He had missed them; he hadn’t even known it.


A few of the people only smiled at him. A few caught his eye and then turned to whisper excitedly to his or her friends. As for Alastor Moody, he saw Sirius, immediately scowled and then looked away. Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled when he saw Sirius had returned, and Sirius had a feeling Dumbledore had always known he would be back.


When the meeting officially started, Dumbledore said only how nice it was to have him back, and most of the rest of the Order mumbled or nodded their agreement. And then the usual things were said. The Prewett twins had done their weekly check on the giant situation in France, and the news was nothing new, though no less terrifying.


The giants were still on the move. They were still coming. There would, eventually, when they got here, be a battle. And it would be difficult. A few villages had already been trampled in the movement and many people had died. The French Ministry were at a complete loss as to how to deal with the situation and had already lost many of their Aurors trying.


“I recommend getting all of our Aurors together and possibly trying to form an alliance with France and assist them in driving the forces back to the mountains,” said Fabian from where he stood with his brother at the front of the room.


“All of our Aurors are currently working to locate the Minister,” said Frank automatically. It was only then that Sirius noticed how tired he and Alice looked. Of course, between being in the Order and working as full time Aurors for the Ministry, they had put more hours in than anybody, along with the others who held jobs at the Ministry. Feeling almost concerned, Sirius spared a glance at Moody, who was twice the age of the Longbottoms, and appeared twice as worn.


Fabian seemed to bristle as he lowered the parchment upon which his report was written. He stared evenly at Frank. “And is saving one man worth all the lives that are being lost right now as vicious giants run loose? Do you understand, Frank, how violent they are in nature? Do you realise how difficult they will be to take down? How in a single step they can overpower you if you try to run? How thick their skin is, that normal spells can’t penetrate? Do you realise, Frank, that violence is their very nature, and that every town they come across is doomed?”


Frank clearly didn’t appreciate being spoken to in such a way, and quickly rose to defend himself. “And where would we be without the Minister of Magic?” he said loudly, interrupting before Fabian could say anymore. Both of the twins had fire in their eyes as they watched Frank; Gideon would clearly back his brother. “We would be fucked, is where,” shouted Frank. “What do you think will happen if we don’t return the Minister soon? The Ministry will be forced to appoint somebody else to that position, and do you know what will happen then, Prewett? Do you know how many Ministry employees we are currently watching? Do you know how many we currently suspect of being involved in some way with Voldemort or his Death Eaters? All of the most ambitious lot, all of those most likely to be appointed.


“Do you know how many are to frightened, too desperate to save their own arses to fight back? They will succumb out of fear, and the Ministry will fall.”


By now, Frank was pounding his fist into his palm to make his points. He was red in the face, and clearly his exhaustion was causing him to lose control. Everyone else simply watched, half fascinated and half bothered by the fact that they were losing their tempers with each other.


Frank was breathing heavily as he looked upon the twins at the front of the room. “If the Ministry falls,” he panted. “Then this war is over. Why do you think they took the Minister? Why do you think they’re focusing on the Ministry rather than killing all of the Muggleborns? Because killing the Muggleborns is only a sport right now. It’s the Ministry they need to accomplish what the Dark Lord wants. The Ministry is priority.”


Fabian didn’t look happy at being yelled at, particularly because Frank was five years younger than them, only a third year when they were in seventh at Hogwarts. He gathered up his parchment rather roughly in his fist, and then jerked his head at his brother to imply that they should sit down, that he wasn’t going to argue about this. Both twins shuffled back to their seats, where Fabian fumed silently and Gideon looked rather affronted.


Dumbledore took the front of the room again. “We know what war can do to people. But we must always remember,” he said kindly, but with stern looks at all parties involved. “We fight this together, on the same side. We must be patient with one another, for we are all worried about the outcome. We are people with something in common - a desire to end this nightmare.”


Sirius felt like Dumbledore was speaking to him as well. He fiddled with his wand uncomfortably as his former Headmaster continued speaking. The rest of the meeting involved going over some of the places they had already searched for signs of the Minister, and discussing what other places should be checked. Some of the Order members had been spying on suspected people, but upon learning no information, they were assigned to follow somebody else instead.


Dumbledore didn’t give Sirius an assignment. He soon learned why, as the meeting ended and the old man quickly pulled him aside.


“How do you feel, Sirius, about checking in on your family?”


It took Sirius a moment to catch on, for his immediate thought was that something might be wrong with the Potters, James’s parents. Why would Dumbledore suggest that he check in on them? He just saw them yesterday, and fear and unease welled in the pit of his stomach.


But something in Dumbledore’s eyes made his mind shift elsewhere.


“Do… Do you mean, my parents?”


Dumbledore squinted and tilted his head thoughtfully. “Yes. Or no, perhaps not so much. Perhaps on your brother, Regulus, or your cousins, Bellatrix and Narcissa?”


Sirius’s heart sank at the thought of seeing any of them again. It sank even at the sound of their names. A feeling of dread that he’d wanted nothing more than to get away from, and now that he had Dumbledore was suggesting he face them again.


“I’m sorry, sir, can I ask why?”


“Certainly.”


Sirius glanced at James, who was waiting several feet away with Lily. “Er… why?”


“I have, through observations of my own, come to an understanding that your family is in very good standing with Voldemort. Particularly your cousin, Bellatrix. Your brother, however, is one that Voldemort looks to have high hopes for, as Bellatrix speaks most highly of him. Your other cousin, Narcissa, is not so involved, but her significant other is rising through the ranks quite quickly.”


“Right…” said Sirius. Not exactly good news, and certainly nothing that made him proud.


“Sirius, if you were going to hide a precious secret somewhere safe, where would it be?”


He knew the answer to that question. The Marauders already hid a precious secret. “It would be with the people I trusted most.”


“Precisely. And if you were evil enough to capture the Minister of Magic, where would you put him?”


Sirius made a face. “I’d probably tell James and we’d shove him in the basement at his parents’ house.”


“Exactly. Or anywhere similar, but James would be involved, correct?”


Sirius nodded warily. “I couldn’t do it on my own.”


Dumbledore smiled. “With your family being so important to Voldemort, Sirius, I can’t help but wonder if they might be involved in all of this. Perhaps they are hiding the Minister themselves. Perhaps they simply know where he is, and if one were to listen hard enough, they might say something. Regardless, they are important people to watch, and you are probably the only one who could get away with it if caught spying.”


“They would kill me,” Sirius objected, in disgust and without a doubt.


“You could claim a change of heart,” said Dumbledore with ease. “You are still the family heir, if I am correct?”


The thought was appalling. Sirius stared dumbfounded at the old man for several moments. “I’ll think about it,” he finally said unhappily. He was reluctant to commit to any such idea without at least brooding on it first, and Dumbledore seemed to understand that.


“Very good.”








III.

He was pulling his cloak on. Sirius was eyeing him from all the way across the room. Moody moved slowly, and Sirius knew he was off to work in the Auror offices for the rest of the day. Perhaps it would even be a late night for the man, what with every Auror on a desperate hunt for the Minister.


Now was his only chance. Sirius took a deep breath.


“I’ll meet you later,” he said in a low voice to James. “My place. Or yours. I’ll find you,” he added impatiently, and James glanced at Moody and nodded in understanding. He placed a hand on Lily's back and ushered her out, glancing back over his shoulder one last time before they were gone from sight.


When Alastor saw Sirius approaching, he straightened with a grunt, his eyes wary and his lips pursed. He said nothing as Sirius drew near. He only watched, and Sirius was immediately on edge around the older man. But he had to set aside his differences with Alastor if he ever hoped to successfully be able to work together in the war. And Alastor had seen and done so much to protect people like him; at the first least, he deserved a little respect and an apology.


Wasting no time and wanting to get it over with, it was the first thing Sirius blurted.


“I’m sorry.”


Moody only looked at him suspiciously. Finally, after several long moments of Sirius fidgeting uncomfortably, Moody sank back into his chair and tapped one nearby with his wand. “Have a seat, boy.” Sirius obediently did.


Moody opened his sentence with a sigh, heaving out, “Sirius Black. The Blacks of Twelve Grimmauld Place.” And he glanced at Sirius for a reaction.


Sirius narrowed his eyes. “This Black is from Godric’s Hollow,” he said firmly.


Moody winced, as if more than aware of how wrong he’d been to be so judgemental (or at least Sirius hoped so), and nodded. “Let me tell you something, Sirius. I’ve been in that damned house you grew up in more times than you can count. I’ve raided it in search of Dark artefacts while you were in school. I’ve interviewed your parents for suspicious activity while you slept in your bed. I’ve seen the things that people like your family is capable of.”


Again, Sirius shook his head. “They’re not my family,” he said determinedly, although his voice had turned mildly hoarse.


“I know that,” said Moody, holding a hand up to stop him. “I know that. But some of the things I’ve seen come out of houses like yours…” He shook his head and shuddered. “I didn’t think anything that came out of houses like that had any good in them. Including people.” He surveyed Sirius sternly. “I thought wrong. I’ve been tough on you, tougher than on the others, and you keep proving me wrong.”


Sirius didn’t say anything. He only waited, though for what, he didn’t know. Perhaps an apology, though he doubted that was coming.


“I’ve been threatened and attacked. I’ve grown paranoid, and I’ve learned to act on instinct rather than wait to find out. To be frank, Black, I was certain you were putting on a big act to be a spy. But then you were with Potter when you both nearly caught that fellow in the alley - the bloke that killed Brookhouse.”


It seemed like so long ago, Sirius thought. But he still remained silent.


“I was quite proud of you boys,” said Moody, his gruesome looking face cracking into a smile. “And I thought I had been proved wrong about you. But I never said anything because of my own pride. I meant to tell you it was a job well done, and I never did. And then, when I watched you let your brother escape, Black, I lost it. It was like my suspicions were coming true, right after I began to think you were worth something, after all.”


“He’s my brother,” shrugged Sirius. He tried to sound casual and not too attached. He could never explain to Moody that as a child, he’d shared a bed with Regulus when it thundered outside, or that Regulus had cried when he left for Hogwarts the first time. The way Bellatrix had teased Regulus for caring about a house elf, or the way their mother glared at them when she had a bit too much to drink. He could never explain the sympathy Regulus had given him when everyone else in the house shunned him, the tiny connection they still had that grew weaker by the second.


Moody nodded and looked down at his gnarled hands. “Let me tell you something else, Black,” he said after a moment. “We might not get along or agree on most things, but if I had to pick one person to fight beside me in this war, it would be you.”


Sirius’s eyes widened as he glanced at the man in confusion. “Me!” he blurted suspiciously, and his eyes quickly narrowed again.


Alastor only nodded. “You. Everyone else here is fighting for whatever personal reason. Some of them fight in revenge after the Dark side has taken a loved one. Some of them fight for their beliefs. Some of them fight because they enjoy it. But you…” he stopped and smiled crookedly at Sirius.


“You fight because you have something to prove. When you first joined, and I was hard on you, and I could see you were ready to quit, you stayed because of pride. You want to prove that you aren’t like the rest of your family. You hated me, but you were determined. You wanted that more than you wanted to get away from me, more than you wanted to hex me back for all the things I’d done to you.”


Sirius looked at the floor, feeling uncomfortable at the thought of being understood by somebody he didn't even get along with.


“And also,” Alastor added as an afterthought. “You want to protect more than harm. It’s why you let Regulus Black go. It’s why you killed the vampire you thought wanted to harm James. I was just too blind to see it.


“You will never fail, Black. Never. Because if you screwed up, I don't think you would want to show your face around here again. If I had to choose one person at my side, Black, it would be you.”







IV.

It was a quaint, two bedroom cottage with a lovely garden in the back and a huge tree growing in the front yard. Stone steps led from a wrought iron gate to the front door, and the grass grew sparse around them in the shade of the huge tree, so that if one were to reach down and touch the earth it would be cool against their fingertips.


“Think about it, Lils,” said James, grinning widely. “If you were really bothered, you could have your own room separate from mine. But, you know… We could buy a big bed, just in case…” He lifted his eyebrows suggestively and then burst into giggles.


Lily rolled her eyes. “It’s adorable,” she said, looking at the cottage. She didn’t want to admit that she loved it, that she was already picturing herself and James living there, her cooking breakfast, or having their friends over for tea. Or perhaps, though she barely dared to think on it, teaching their young toddler to walk. She could see herself gardening in the yard while James cut the grass and their offspring played in the giant tree.


She could see the family dog barking and playing in the garden. The family dog looked oddly like Sirius’s Padfoot form, and at that thought she also burst into giggles.


The older Muggle woman who had given them a tour of the cottage rolled her eyes. “You can think on it,” she said briskly, clearly in a hurry to get away from the couple. “Do you have my business card?”


James immediately straightened, his face going slack and businesslike. “Actually, I think I’m going to buy it.”


“What?” yelped Lily in surprise, and the older woman’s eyes widened.


James gave her an easy smile and the grin lingered as his eyes surveyed the outside of the house once more. “Yes, I think so. Why not? It’s about time I moved out of my parents’ house, after all, and Sirius’s flat is full. I ought to get my own place, and this one is rather cracking, isn’t it?”


Lily didn’t say anything; in fact, she could do nothing more than look at him in disbelief.


“Well,” said James, after a few moments of standing amidst the silence. “I’m buying it, Lily, and if you want to stay here with me, then you can.” He turned to the sale woman. “And you. What are you doing just standing there? Get the paperwork!” He ushered her away with a wave of his hands.


When she was gone, Lily stepped closer to her boyfriend. “Are you nuts?” she hissed.


James appeared to give it some serious thought. “I don’t believe so,” he responded pleasantly. But then he caught sight of her worried expression and sighed in exasperation. “Come on, Lily. It’s the middle of a war. We could go at any time, you know. Let’s just… forget about it and live a little for once! What are we fighting for if we can’t enjoy ourselves and have a life?”


She could only shake her head in wonder. “Will you let… it’s okay if I stay here with you?”


James gaped at her. After all this, she still had to ask? He immediately dropped to his knees and grabbed her hand. “Lily. I would love it very much if you lived here with me. On a permanent basis… What I really mean is… Merlin, you have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen.” A fit of nervousness came over him, and he trailed away.


“Thank you,” she said pleasantly, as he clutched her slender fingers in his and determinedly looked anywhere but at her face. His own face felt terribly flushed.


After a moment, he took a deep breath, looked up at her, and blurted, “Marry me, Lily. I haven’t got a ring yet, but I swear if you say yes, I’ll do this again the right way.”

Chapter 27: The Minister of Magic
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - S E V E N
The Minister of Magic





March rolled in with a very loud boom of thunder, and many cracks of lightning to go along with it. It was made all the more spectacular, or all the more terrifying, by the glowing green designs in the sky. They highlighted the thunderclouds with an eerie yellowish glow, and many people thought that this must be what it was like to live in a nightmare. They, the Muggles, couldn’t understand the skulls in the sky. Thousands of theories were gossiped about all across Britain, from pranksters to gangsters, aliens and signs from God.


The Dark Marks were so numerous every night by now that the Ministry could no longer keep them a secret. Muggles could no longer have the memories purged; there were just too many seeing the Marks now. And even if they could purge every memory, half the population would just see the Marks again the next night.


There was little choice but to let the theories fly. The Muggle Prime Minister knew the truth, and he was furious that the Ministry wasn’t doing it’s job in keeping the magical world a secret. He couldn’t understand that the situation was beyond their control.


The only good thing in all of it was that the thought of there being a secret, magical world amongst the Muggle one was so ridiculous, nobody took that theory seriously, not even when a group of mischievous young wizards started the rumour. Most people chose to believe that this was Armageddon, and the world was ending as they knew it. Too many terrible things had happened lately. The Underground catastrophe, the deaths, the mysterious marks in the sky. The rioting, the terrible weather and horrible feelings (caused by Dementors, but Muggles didn’t know that).


News anchors began to report on the catastrophes with a tone of sadness and impending doom, as if simply waiting for it all to end. Churches quickly filled as people lined up to give their confessions or simply kneel in prayer.


It was when the British figured out that no other country was having the same difficulties that they really began to get frightened. Perhaps Armageddon only took one country at a time, or perhaps there was something more terrible than they could ever understand happening.







II.

Lily Evans was in Heaven. Her new life was intense with happiness, she felt lost in a whirlwind of love and blissfulness; life was beyond good. It was sometimes hard for her to even remember there was a war going on, that it was storming outside, that people were dying and many were afraid. It was hard to remember the Minister of Magic was missing, the giants were coming, her parents were dead.


Life with James was something she couldn’t even describe. Seeing him when he snuck out at night had been child’s play. Seeing him during Order meetings had been a distracted get-together. Seeing him fighting in the battles they’d already survived had been terrifying. And being with him after somebody died had been a comfort.


Being with him all day, all night, seven days a week was entirely different. Experiencing James full time with nothing holding her back was almost exhausting. He was alive, so much more alive than anyone she had ever known before. He lit up the room with his smile, lit up her very soul with the light in his eyes. She came to understand that he laughed first and laughed loudest, and so many other things that she never knew or noticed or understood until she really, truly had him all to herself.


Up until now, it had seemed like puppy love. School crushes, and they had been a good match who’d managed to last even beyond their exit from Hogwarts. He had been as much of a friend as a lover, and though she had fantasized about marrying him and having a family with him, she had kept level in the back of her mind the fact that they were young, it probably wouldn’t last just because it was good for now, that there were many other boys that she had never experienced. She had only had one other boyfriend, and that had been in fifth year, and she hadn’t liked him, and they hadn’t done anything more than hold hands awkwardly at Quidditch games, or walk to class together. It had lasted two months.


But James was so much more than that, than even what they had before. She woke to his chipper attitude; James would roll out of bed every morning and into the shower. He never looked back, never lingered; he moved in one direction only, and that direction was forward.


She came to recognise him as the light at the end of the tunnel. The one thing shining in a world of darkness. She understood now why the other three followed him. She understood why Peter idolised him, and why Sirius would follow him to the ends of the earth. She understood why Remus, even as a Prefect, had always let the rotten things James did slide. They were all blinded by him. This was why so many students at Hogwarts yearned to be around him. Nobody was as alive as James was.


She could see the anxiousness on Sirius’s face now at everything James did. She knew now why he killed the vampire. She understood it all. Sirius was determined to protect James. She understood now what a tragedy it would be if James’s light was ever put out. Life itself would lose it’s biggest fan; they would all be lost without him. Nothing could describe the emptiness that would remain if he ever left.


He always had something to give, and it came as no surprise to her when he announced to her that he was throwing a party for Remus. In fact, she readily agreed to it. She needed something to celebrate, some other happy distraction to give her a break from being so drunk on James all the time. And, she was certain, the other Marauders would appreciate the distraction from the real world.


James interrupted her thoughts as he tried to choose a workable date. Lily paused in her rummaging of a cupboard to listen.


“The full moon is on the thirteenth,” James stressed. “But his birthday is the tenth. I don’t know if he’ll be up for it.” James chewed his lip worriedly and stared at the calendar.


She joined him, wrapped her arms around him as she peered over his shoulder at the calendar. “How about the seventeenth? Seven days after his birthday, ten days before yours. And it’s a Saturday. We could make it a joint thing.”


At that, James turned his head to glare at her from the corner of his eye, and from her close view behind him, she admired his profile and long eyelashes - they nearly swept against his glasses. “A joint thing? No, no. I don’t care about a party for myself, Lily, but I want to do something for Remus. This is his first birthday without his father and all. Maybe we should have his mum over?”


He chewed the tip of his thumb thoughtfully as he stared back at the calendar. “Oh, look. The seventeenth is St. Patrick’s day, too.”


“It always is,” said Lily, repressing a giggle and releasing her arms from him. She turned to distract herself with making tea instead, having finally found her teabags shoved in the very back of the cupboard.


“So you want to cram two birthdays and a holiday all into one day. That’ll make it real special.”


He made no attempt to hide his sarcasm, and Lily could only roll her eyes as she summoned a sugar cube. “Well, why don’t we just take them all out for a nice dinner on his birthday, then? That shouldn’t be too exhausting for Remus. No wild party. And no mess for me to clean up afterwards.”


James looked highly disappointed. “But I wanted to have them over to the new house,” he admitted finally, turning to lean against the counter and study her. He looked like a very sad child, and Lily’s resolve over keeping a clean house faltered.


She sighed, because she couldn’t say no to him. “Fine, have the lot of them over for a sleepover then. You utter child.”


He laughed, kissed her cheek, and then hurried off to contact his friends by Floo.







III.

Remus’s birthday was nice. It was laid back and quiet and comfortable. The birthday boy was silent for the most part, and they could all tell he was fairly unwell. Dark circles pooled beneath his eyes and his skin looked pale and drawn. The light had dimmed in his brown eyes, and his hair looked rather limp.


Mostly, Remus sat in an armchair, leaned his head back tiredly and swallowed the nauseating excess of saliva in his mouth. He didn’t mind being there at James and Lily’s new cottage when he was sick. It was hardly different from being back at the flat instead, or in the dormitory where he’d gone through this every month for seven years. He was still surrounded by the same people, and the only thing missing was his bed.


But the armchair was rather comfortable, and his friends kept their voices quiet, and a fire crackled in James’s new hearth. Lily had baked him a birthday cake, and she had burnt it terribly, to where the Muggle fire alarm had loudly protested. Tears pooled in her eyes, and James had tried not to smile, and Peter had silenced the alarm with his wand (possibly permanently, for his spellcasting was nothing to boast of; it wasn't as if they needed the Muggle device, anyway, he'd reasoned aloud), and Sirius had transfigured the cake back to normal, and Remus, for his part, had assured her that it was the thought that counted and, look, Sirius fixed it to where it looked quite lovely and probably tasted perfect (much too good for the likes of him, anyway).


And afterwards, as they sat around enjoying it (though Remus’s piece was very tiny, because he felt too ill to eat anything very sweet), Lily laughed, her disappointment gone.


“I wish they would have taught cooking classes at Hogwarts. When you’re away from home for seven years with only small holidays in between, you don’t get much time to learn about real life things.”


“Well they figure most people would probably use magic to get done what needed to be done,” said Peter knowingly, waving his fork at her.


“Well, yes, perhaps,” Lily responded. “But my mum used to make me the most wonderful birthday cakes, and it was like you could taste the love she put into it.” Her eyes appeared to get slightly misty suddenly, and she looked down and fiercely stabbed at another bite of her creation.


“I can taste it,” said James quickly, grabbing her hand and squeezing it gently.


Lily smiled at him. “Tuney used to want the fancy cakes. She would have all her friends over, and she’d insist on one of the big, impressive cakes they make professionally. Everyone gushed over them. But not me. I always wanted my mum’s messy, sticky, chocolate fudge cakes.”


“What kind of cake from the store?” Peter inquired, licking his fork clean.


“It was always plain white,” sighed Lily, staring vaguely as she remembered. “Vanilla cake, white frosting. Perfect white frosting that had too much sugar and always tasted a little hardened...”


Sirius sniffed and said, “I think I'd rather have the messy fudge cakes, too.”


Later, when it was dark outside and the fire had crackled down to little more than a few small flames desperately licking at the logs, and Remus was dozing, Sirius was chewing his fingernails thoughtfully. Lily stared into the fireplace, and James idly rubbed his thumb across the back of her hand. Peter glanced between them all, and back to the fire again from time to time. It was so quiet in the room, the steady ticking of a clock could be heard with ease.


At last, Sirius sighed and cleared his throat. Those who were awake looked at him, and Sirius appeared suddenly put upon the spot. He fidgeted uncomfortably, all too aware of how they would react to what he was about to tell them.


“Did you want to say something, Pads?” said James softly, not wanting to speak too loudly, not wanting to disrupt the comfortable silence in the room, or wake Remus.


Sirius reluctantly forced a small smile that didn’t last long. “Dumbledore,” he started, and he had to swallow the sickening lump in his throat. “He wants me to spy on my family,” he said hoarsely.


James, Peter and Lily all looked at him quite suddenly, not expecting to hear such a thing, and finding the request ludicrous given Sirius’s background with the Blacks.


“Why?” demanded Peter, and he looked terribly horrified and dismayed. James frowned at Sirius, waiting for the answer. He looked rather horrified, himself.


Sirius sighed and glanced at the three of them in turn. “He thinks that if Voldemort ordered the Minister kidnapped, he’d have him held hostage somewhere. I doubt he’d want to baby-sit the prisoner himself… Dumbledore doesn’t think he’d hide such an important catch anywhere but with his most trusted followers. And the most trusted would be, much to the honour of my family, Bellatrix.”


“And what did you say to that,” said James flatly.


Sirius shrugged. “I told him I’d think about it.”


“And have you?”


At that question, Sirius hesitated. “I have.”


“And?”


“And… Well, bollocks, Prongs, I don’t suppose I could tell Dumbledore no...”


“Yes, you can!” objected James heatedly. “Dumbledore doesn’t know everything, you know, Pads…”


“But he’s probably right,” Sirius interrupted quickly. “The Order has been searching high and low. The Ministry Aurors have, too. They even checked Azkaban prison, Prongs, because we know the Dementors are working for Voldemort. Nobody can find him. Nobody can even find a trace of him, if he’s even still alive.


All we know is that he was kidnapped from his office. The escape was made through the Floo network, which was directly connected to his fireplace at home. The Aurors have been in and out of that house searching for fingerprints or footprints. They’ve even resorted to Muggle type investigations, and nobody can find a damn thing.


We’re never going to find him based off of evidence. But this, this actually makes sense. Where else could he be but kept hidden in the home of a Death Eater? I lived in a home like that, remember, James? I know about secret passages and hidden dungeons. I know.” He jabbed his finger into his own chest as he tried to make his point.


James glared at him, but could do little more than shake his head in disgust. “You’re barmy,” he said under his breath. He pursed his lips and looked away, and Sirius could tell that he was brooding.


“Am not,” said Sirius defensively. “You heard Longbottom. You heard all the horrible things that will probably happen if the Minister isn’t found. We can’t let the Ministry fall. I’m probably the only one who can do this,” he added at the end. And in his mind, he could only hear Moody’s voice.


You’re the only one who can stop him, Black, do it! Do it now!


Moody was right. Sometimes it felt like everything inside of him was unfolded, unfolding for all to see, like nothing else mattered so long as people recognised him for who he was and not where he came from. He wouldn’t let his family get away with something else just because he still clung to his silly dreams that they might give a damn about him after all. He fell into a broody silence and chewed on his thumbnail in thought.


“I am ready,” he finally said, slowly, with deliberation. He glared at James, almost challengingly, daring his friend to try to stop him. That was what he'd been prepared for; he'd expected a fight from James.


Instead, James glared at him and then got up and stalked off to his bedroom. Sirius, after watching him go, looked sheepishly at Lily. Lily's lips thinned to a grim, apologetic smile.


“I’ve ruined Moony’s birthday,” he finally said. His tone was gruff, and he stared at his lap.


“No!” Lily objected sympathetically. “Not at all, Sirius. James is just… He… He loves you.” She bit her lip awkwardly and reached over to pat his knee.


Sirius’s face melted into an expression of pain, desperation and confusion as he glared at her for a moment, but it was very brief, and then he leaned his head back against the couch and shut his eyes.







III.

Sirius was armed with three things as he stood in the dark. One was James’s invisibility cloak. One was his wand. And the last was his two-way mirror. If anything happened, he could call for help. He hoped nothing would happen. Of course, if he were caught, he would attempt to fall back on Dumbledore’s suggestion of pretending he had a change of heart. He could pretend he wanted to be a part of the family again, even though the thought made him want to vomit.


He prayed he could find out something, anything, without ever being caught. That would be ideal. If he were caught and had to pretend, he wondered what sort of horrific task Bellatrix would have him do to prove his loyalty. He wondered what would happen to him if he refused the task. That was why he’d brought the mirror.


Standing behind the thick bushes in the landscaped garden, Sirius shivered. He wondered why it was so cold. March was a time for the winter to subside and for spring to make itself known. It shouldn’t be quite as cold as this, and he scanned the skies for signs of Dementors.


And then he sighed. He was stalling. It really didn’t matter that it was cold outside. Move your arse, he willed himself. Just get it over with.


He tightened the cloak around his shoulders and glanced down to be certain it was covering his feet. He didn’t want to be seen. And then, with a deep breath and his sweaty hand clutching his wand tightly, he strode towards the three story house.


It was the Malfoy house. He had been in the house only once, back when Narcissa had gotten married. Back when he was still a part of the family. He had been in his fourth year at Hogwarts. Though he was there only once, he thought he remembered the house well. That was the thing about not getting along with one’s family - one tended to wander off on his own just to get away from them.


He could still remember walking the halls, looking at the portraits and tapestries as he did so, and thinking with disgust that it was just like his own home. He could still remember peeking into bedrooms and daring Regulus to steal a pair of Lucius’s mum’s knickers.


(Regulus had, and when caught, had immediately declared in a loud voice that Sirius had dared him to. And though Sirius tried to look innocent and shocked, nobody had doubted Regulus for even a moment, and Sirius had been made to sit down in the kitchens with the house elf until hours later, when the family finally left.)


Before he’d been punished, however, in his day of exploring, he had discovered a door within one of the many rooms. It was a door that could be hidden very well, but on that day it was cracked open the tiniest inch. Sirius’s keen eye for mischief had spotted it with ease, and he could remember approaching it and peering inside.


Beyond that door, it was cold and dark. There was a set of stone steps leading forever downward, or at least it had seemed that way. He didn’t like it. He hadn’t gone in, hadn’t fully explored. It had frightened him; it had given him a feeling of dread. He had quickly backed out again.


He had almost dared Regulus to go down those stairs, but changed his mind. Perhaps that would be too cruel a joke. But he remembered it now, the dark mysterious staircase leading down to some sort of dungeon. The house he grew up in was huge, and even his house didn’t have such a place. He’d found it curious.


It was the reason he had chosen this house first. He could spy on Regulus and his parents and have a much easier time of it, but he didn’t think they would have the Minister there. They didn’t have a secret room like this house did.


(He didn't have to remind himself, in disgust, that it was likely his own family's home had already been searched by suspecting Aurors. That their reputation might preceed them, and that, clearly, nothing had been found.)


Sirius prowled around the perimeter of the house, fearing his heart was beating so loudly he would be heard. He gently pressed his wand to each window he passed, in the hopes of finding one vulnerable. His whispered Alohomora did nothing, however, and he sighed. He should have known that a house such as this one would have extensive security spells on it.


He wondered, then, how he was even able to be on the property without setting an alarm of some sort off. He was an intruder, after all. Perhaps the spells didn’t alert for anyone with Black or Malfoy blood running through their veins. Or perhaps the Malfoys had already been alerted of his presence, he thought with dread, and were only waiting for him to walk into a trap.


But nothing happened and, eventually, he found that he had come full circle. There was no way in, nothing had been left unlocked. For a moment he felt hopeless, and then he reluctantly pulled the mirror out of his pocket, planning to contact James and ask for any ideas. That was when his fingers brushed something else, something that he always carried with him but never thought about.


It was a pocket knife, one that James had given him for his birthday a few years ago. One that he’d used to pick the lock on his bedroom and sneak down for food whenever he was being punished at Grimmauld Place. One that James had once borrowed to pick a lock on Lily Evans’s charmed trunk to snoop around.


As he ran his fingers idly over the smooth handle of the knife in his pocket, it occurred to him that, perhaps, this pureblood magical family might find themselves so far above Muggles that they would never even think to protect themselves against such a small threat. Perhaps, though his magic couldn’t let him in, they would never suspect that somebody might try to pick their locks the Muggle way.


Sirius excitedly pulled the knife out and flicked it open. He peered through a window beside the door to be certain nobody was inside to hear his fidgeting in the lock, and when he was certain that the coast was clear, jammed one of the knife’s many small pieces into the hole.


It really was too easy, he thought smugly. It only took a few seconds before he heard the successful click and pulled the knife out again. It really wasn’t fair at all; he stepped lightly into the foyer and carefully shut the heavy door behind him. Perhaps Muggles were a threat to wizards after all, or whatever silly propaganda the Dark side was trying to spew.


Nobody was as graceful as Sirius was. He had always been lithe and agile, something James had often declared in an accusatory tone as he demanded to know why Sirius wouldn’t join his Quidditch team. At the moment, his nimble frame helped him slip easily through the house without making a sound, and he did it so effortlessly that he almost felt he wasn’t doing a good enough job of trying to stay hidden.


Nevertheless, his heart pounded terribly in his throat, so strongly that it was almost painful. He was terrified to be in the house, at the thought of being caught. He still remembered it from years before, and it made him uncomfortable, as if his mother might stroll around the corner and catch him and Regulus with Lucius’s mum’s knickers at any moment. Dumbledore’s idea that he might be able to pretend a change of heart and get away with being caught in the house seemed stupid now; Sirius didn’t think there was any way anyone in his family would fall for that.


These people were killers, intelligent and crafty. They were Slytherins. All of them. It was all Sirius could think about now as he lurked past old portraits of Lucius dressed in green and silver attire.


They were Death Eaters.


Sirius inched past the drawing room. He knew he was getting closer - the room with the door leading down the dark stairs had been just off the drawing room, just off where everyone had gathered in celebration of the Black-Malfoy union. As he passed the closed double doors of the drawing room, however, he heard voices.


And, being a Marauder, he couldn’t help but swallow his fears, ignore the frantic beating of his heart, and listen in.


He recognized the voices, or at least most of them. Voldemort had many followers, but only a select few seemed to be so esteemed as to be in his presence, as to be protected from much of the dirty work the other Death Eaters had to do. Sirius had yet to encounter any of his relatives in battle except for Regulus; they were above those things, and instead stood majestically at their master's side. They were used only for the most important of deeds, and, though Sirius never saw her, he was fairly certain that it had been Bellatrix who'd personally kidnapped the Minister. That task would be too important to trust to anyone else.


It was a frightening thought that the same blood ran through him as what ran through Voldemort’s most loyal supporters. Goose bumps erupted along his arms as he sagged his shoulders in disgust at what he was.


Bellatrix’s voice was the first he picked up on in the conversation, breaking into his dreary thoughts. It was sultry, breathy, sensuous. She sounded as if she could seduce with every word, and indeed, thought Sirius, she could. The very sound of her made his heart beat faster, long forgotten memories suddenly dredged up again. He hadn't heard that terrible voice in nearly four years.


They were discussing their big victory and how long it could be before they made their next move.


In response, Lucius’s voice was low and firm. “The Ministry is getting desperate,” he informed the group. “If the Minister isn’t recovered within the next few days, they will be forced to appoint somebody else.”


Sirius rolled his eyes. Lucius would know, of course. He was quickly gaining a reputation with the Ministry of Magic through various donations and favours. He was dangerous. Few people suspected him yet of being involved in the Dark side; most of the public viewed the Malfoy family as nothing more than harmless aristocrats; any cruelness evident in their expressions or behaviour had always been written off as haughtiness.


Lucius slipped in and out of the Ministry with ease, somebody who was always welcome to take somebody of importance out for lunch on pretence of a possible donation. Many people were happy to stand in the atrium and have a friendly chat with the handsome man.


(Malfoy Manor, Sirius knew, would never have been raided by Aurors in the search for the missing Minister.)


Any other civilian would never know of the Ministry’s dire situation. It was only the Aurors who were searching for the Minister, and those who held the highest positions of power that were aware of the need to appoint somebody new.


Lucius Malfoy shouldn’t know that. But, with friends in high places, he knew a lot more than most, and that was very bad news, indeed.


Bellatrix let out a throaty laugh, and Sirius could almost see her in his mind, diamonds dangling from her ears, neck and wrists, draped in fancy robes and jewellery, sipping wine in front of the fire. “The Dark Lord will be most pleased,” she mused contentedly. “Well done, Lucius. I knew Cissy made the right choice in you.”


“Thank you, Bellatrix,” said Lucius quietly, sounding rather humbled at such a compliment from one of Voldemort’s most loyal and important Death Eaters.


Sirius was disgusted, and was just about to move on when he heard Bellatrix speak again. He paused, listening carefully.


“Will you be able to perform the Imperius Charm?”


Lucius’s tone betrayed the confidence he tried so obviously to show. “I have been practicing,” he said hesitantly.


“And have you been successful in your practices?” purred Bellatrix.


“Lucius has practiced on the prisoner every day,” Narcissa’s brisk voice interrupted; she sounded almost defensive of her husband. “He seems to be doing a fine job so far. He is certainly picking it up quicker than some…”


Bellatrix sounded amused. “Yes,” she agreed disdainfully. “Poor Regulus does seem to be having a lot of difficulty, doesn’t he?”


Sirius took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly through his nose. He ignored any talk of Regulus and made himself focus on something else that had been said instead: there was a prisoner. He forced himself to step away from the door and do what he’d come to do. Especially now that a prisoner’s presence had been confirmed. It could be anyone. But then, why hold anyone prisoner unless they were important? Most lives were worthless enough to be killed and not burdened with trying to keep a prisoner quiet and yet still alive. It was somebody important, of that Sirius was certain. Whether it was the Minister or not, it would be somebody important.


He heard one last thing out of Bellatrix as he quickly slipped away.


“Lucius, who do you suppose would be the best bet to be appointed as the next Minister? And more importantly, is this person somebody who would be willing to have lunch with you in the next couple of days?”









IV.

As expected, the prisoner in question was, in fact, the Minister.


Sirius had slipped down the dark stairs without a single sound. He had been so silent, in fact, that when he reached the bottom of the cavern, pulled the Invisibility cloak off and lit his wand, he found the Minister of Magic staring back at him in stunned surprise.


Feeling rather shocked himself, Sirius took a moment to stare back in wide-eyed wonder. Here he was, in the flesh. It had seemed so logical that he would be here, so logical that he almost didn't think it could be possible. Here was the man missing for weeks that everyone was searching for. Here he was, right in front of Sirius.


“Oh no,” the man uttered, fear in his eyes. His voice was weak and hoarse, and he sounded half-hearted, like he really didn’t have much fight left. “Oh no, please, not again,” he said, his voice wavering.


“Shh,” said Sirius impatiently. “They’ll hear you,” he whispered. He could still hear their muffled voices drifting through the ceiling.


“Don’t hurt me,” begged the man, backing as far from Sirius as the chains that restricted him would allow. They rattled across the floor loudly, and there came a loud thumping sound from the ceiling as Lucius impatiently stomped his foot, warning the prisoner to be quiet.


“Shh!” hissed Sirius again with urgency. His voice was barely a whisper, and he spoke very slowly. “I’m here to get you out.”


The Minister’s mouth fell open and his eyes grew wide as he stared at Sirius in disbelief. The man was filthy. Soot smeared his face, dried blood covered his mouth and chin, having clearly dribbled down from his nose, which looked to have been broken at some point over the past couple of weeks.


His clothing hung limply off of his sagging frame. And Sirius had to hold his breath against the stench of somebody who clearly hadn’t been allowed to bathe for quite some time.


The Minister didn’t speak again for several long moments. He only watched in silence as Sirius pulled out the knife again and began to pick the locks on the chains, hardly daring to believe that this was happening.


“Please,” said the Minister as Sirius worked, although this time he had obliged by lowering his voice to a whisper. “Please don’t play games with me,” he begged. “If this is a trick, please…”


Sirius pursed his lips impatiently at the man. “Do you want me to get you out of here or not?” he demanded, looking up from his lock picking.


The Minister clamped his mouth shut, seeming satisfied and delighted that this really was happening.


It was frustrating work, and terrifying. It seemed to take forever, and with every noise that sounded above as somebody paced across the room, Sirius halted, ready to yank the Invisibility Cloak over himself once more. He was paranoid and frightened, he felt sick with the smell of the dungeon and with nerves, and he didn’t want to risk using magic in case it was traced or detected.


In the end, as the locks were tiny, they took much longer to pick than the front door had, but at last Sirius did it. As he sat back on his heels, his neck and back aching from being hunched over for so long, the Minister rubbed his raw wrists in relief.


“Be very quiet,” whispered Sirius slowly, standing up and stretching his muscles carefully. “Don’t make a sound,” he warned. He grabbed the Invisibility Cloak and flung it over his shoulders, holding it open and motioning for the Minister to join him.


It was almost unbearable, the sudden closeness, and Sirius had to hold his breath against the smell. The Minister was rather larger than he or James or Remus was. Even larger than the mildly round Peter, although that didn't much matter, for nowadays Peter took on the form of his rat to fit comfortably.


The Minister was only slightly podgy, but with wide shoulders. No matter how hard he tried, Sirius couldn’t get the cloak to hide their feet. But he could still hear the Death Eaters talking above, and decided it would be okay to risk sneaking past anyway.


After all, there was no other choice.


After all, it wasn't as if the house of a Death Eater was well-lit.


He could hardly believe it when they were once again outside in the cool night. The fresh air was a relief, and Sirius felt suddenly exhausted as he realised that they had escaped. The seriousness of the situation didn’t fully dawn on him until just then. He had rescued the missing Minister of Magic. He had done it right underneath their noses, and it wasn’t even that difficult, all because they underestimated the Muggle way of breaking into a house.


A crazed giggle escaped him then, and the Minister, who was sagging in exhaustion, cast him a curious look. Sirius quickly lifted his wand, his Patronus bursting out of it to inform Dumbledore. The smile lingered on his face. After all the anguish he had suffered in making the decision to risk coming here, it had been ridiculously easy. Nobody could find the Minister, and he was here all along.


In the middle of the alley, surrounded by the high, delicately pruned bushes of the Malfoys’ carefully manicured property, Sirius gripped the Minister’s arm tightly, turned, and disappeared with a loud crack.


Author's Note:
Yes, that was the same pocketknife that Sirius gave to Harry.


Chapter 28: Kiss and Make Up
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - E I G H T
Kiss and Make Up





Hogsmeade was unsurprisingly dead. The wave of disappointment at seeing the village - a place where he and his friends had experienced many joys over the years - didn’t even strike him anymore. It was like living in a different life now. Some of the shops had shut down, with windows and doors boarded up. Most of them closed down much earlier than they ever used to; nobody bothered to be outdoors at night anymore, after all.


The Hogs Head Inn, however, was always open. It was there that the shadiest of people frequented, not wanting to deal with the lighter (and considerably more crowded) Three Broomsticks. Or, farther away, the Leaky Cauldron. These were the people with something to hide, the people that wanted to avoid confrontation or being noticed.


Sirius wondered, sometimes, if Death Eaters themselves ever visited the small pub for a drink. The run down old place seemed like a terrible location to hold their Order meetings, but by now, they could all recognise the usefulness.


Most people stayed away, so their was little risk of discovery. Of those who visited, few would ever suspect that such a gathering would happen there, of all places. Most people, if they did pay attention to the visitors who were quietly led out of the room to a secret staircase, were too sloshed to think anything of it anyway.


But Sirius had to smirk when he turned to see the look of apprehension on the Minister’s face as the older man’s eyes scanned over the gruesome Hog’s Head sign hanging over the street. The poor fellow probably thought he’d been removed from one evil to go to another.


“Here,” muttered Sirius, stepping out from beneath the Invisibility cloak. They couldn’t let anyone see the Minister, after all. Everyone was looking for him, and as he’d wondered before, who knew if a Death Eater sat drinking in the bar at the very moment.


Even if there wasn’t an actual Death Eater, one could never be too certain these days that the person right next to him wasn’t a loyal follower of the Dark Lord. Anyone could pass a message along that the Minister was in the Hog’s Head, after all, and it would only take a second for a real Death Eater to appear, and then that could even expose the Order’s presence.


He double checked to be certain the Minister was covered before turning to open the door. “Be very quiet,” he muttered under his breath.


The Minister seemed frightened, and he didn’t say a word. He really didn’t have much choice, Sirius realised with amusement, because he hadn’t bothered to search for or try to recover the man’s wand.


Inside the inn, Aberforth didn’t even bother to wait for Sirius to give him a password. Sirius was pleased, for it likely meant that Dumbledore had gotten his Patronus’s message, was already here and had told his brother that Sirius would be coming. Aberforth lead them through the doorway to the hidden room and staircase to the basement. He nodded pleasantly at Sirius, and his eyes lingered in the open space, as if he had felt something, as if he was aware that somebody hidden was among them.


Sirius rounded the corner, hoping that the Minister was following. What would he do if the man used the opportunity of an Invisibility cloak to make his escape? But he heard a footstep behind him. The Minister didn’t seem to have any fight left in him to run, and for that Sirius was glad.


Dumbledore stood alone in the centre of the room, and he strode forward quickly when he saw Sirius.


“Sirius,” he said urgently. “I have received your Patronus.”


Though it was rather obvious that he had, or he wouldn’t be there, Sirius didn’t say anything. He didn’t get a chance to, anyway, for Dumbledore’s eyes immediately darted towards a place behind Sirius.


(Sirius had been struck before with the thought that Dumbledore could see through Invisibility cloaks. He had sworn before, while still at Hogwarts, that the old Headmaster had spoken directly to him and James as they stood holding their breath beneath it for fear of being discovered where they shouldn’t be.)


Sirius tried not to make a face, let his sudden irritation of that fact (it really wasn’t fair, after all) show as he glanced behind him and saw nothing, despite knowing the Minister was there. Dumbledore spoke quickly.


He said, “Ollie,” and his tone took on less urgency and more gentleness as he stepped forward. “Are you all right? It is safe to remove your disguise, now. You are among friends fighting against the Dark side, now.”


The Minister seemed to hesitate, but a moment later the cloak came off to reveal the portly man standing before them. He balled up the cloak nervously, and Sirius glared at the bundle, feeling that that was no way to treat an object that had always been so helpful and endearing to him and his friends. When the Minister held it out to him, Sirius accepted it readily, and tried to smooth it’s wrinkles as Dumbledore interrogated the man.


“Who took you?”


The Minister’s voice shook as his eyes flickered to Dumbledore. “I… I believe it was one of the Lestrange’s sons. I don’t know which one.”


At that moment, Aberforth appeared with a glass and a bottle of firewhisky. The Minister snatched them both, poured himself a shot, and downed it in one gulp. He refilled the glass then, and sipped more slowly, and after a moment he waved a hand dismissively at Dumbledore.


“I can never tell those Lestrange boys apart. But perhaps it was the older one, because the eldest Black daughter was there as well.”


“Bellatrix,” supplied Sirius in a flat voice.


The Minister nodded. “Yes,” was all he said. He took another drink and licked his lips, appearing to ponder things as he stared at the floor a moment. He finally glanced at Dumbledore again.


“I don’t know what happened, or how they got into the Ministry. How they got into my office! It was a fine morning, and I took the Floo network from my home straight to my office as I always did. And yet somehow, they were there. Somehow, they penetrated the Ministry’s defences and were waiting for me.”


“They spent the night. They hid out and never left,” said Sirius, his voice growing more intense the longer he spoke. “They brought werewolves in to kill people, and to create a diversion-”


Dumbledore held up a hand to silence him, and Sirius trailed off.


The Minister looked weary. He sank towards the ground, and fortunately Dumbledore was quick to summon a chair to slide beneath the man just in time. A million thoughts ran through the Minister’s head; Sirius could see each reflect in his pale eyes.


“There were werewolves in the Ministry?” he finally choked out. “How can that be?”


“Ollie,” said Dumbledore quietly. “We have been keeping an eye on things within the Ministry for a very long time now. And there are many, many people who are supporting Voldemort.”


“Don’t say his name!” hissed the Minister, his face going red. “Cripes, are you trying to give me a heart attack, Albus?”


Dumbledore merely waited pleasantly for the Minister to finish speaking before he continued as if the interruption had never happened. “Many people are fulfilling his wishes simply because they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t. Some are under the Imperius Curse even as we speak, and do the Dark Lord’s bidding simply because they are forced to. Some are more active followers, but keep their noses clean in public. You would never know…”


“That blasted Lucius Malfoy,” growled the Minister. “He has everyone fooled. He was there. I haven’t been able to tell much, being locked down in a dungeon. But I’m fairly certain that I was kept in his manor. Lucius Malfoy, of all people! He has had us all wrapped around his little finger!”


To illustrate his point, the Minister held up his finger, his entire hand shaking with rage. Sirius could tell he was becoming rather drunk.


“He’ll be sent to Azkaban for the rest of his life when I’m done with him. For treason,” continued the Minister savagely.


“Ollie,” warned Dumbledore in a low voice. “Might I suggest you not be so hasty in your quest for revenge. As I have been trying to tell you, many people are in support of Voldemort right now. You don’t know who you might be dealing with at any time.”


The Minister appeared annoyed. “What would you suggest I do, Albus, just sit by and let them get away with it?”


Dumbledore nodded once, appearing pleased that the man, though drunk, picked up on it so quickly. “Precisely. One wrong move to implicate somebody important to Voldemort, Ollie, and it could be the end of you. You must always watch yourself, and when the war is over, know that nobody will get away with anything…”


“Now you listen here, Dumbledore,” said Ollie, standing up to point his finger in Dumbledore’s face. Sirius watched in amusement. “You don’t know what I went through. I was gagged and bound and petrified. Do you know what it’s like to be carried to your doom when you can’t do anything about it? When you can’t even blink your eyes? To be taken back through the Floo to my own home, to hear my wife scream in horror and know there was nothing I could do as they carried me out to the back alley and Disapparated away!


“If you think for one instant, Albus, that I am going to let somebody get away with that-”


Dumbledore interrupted again. “Minister, I understand that you wish to release your vengeance upon those responsible for the crimes committed against you, however, I must warn you again that doing so could result in danger for you and your entire family.”


Stopping to gesture towards Sirius, Dumbledore turned to the Minister and added, “And what of your rescuer? What dangers are you going to throw young Sirius Black into when people demand to know of how you escaped?”


Sirius, who hadn’t thought of that, felt his heart briefly stop beating.


The Minister did, at least, give Sirius a sympathetic look before his face hardened once more. “A crime has been committed, Dumbledore. Against your Minister of Magic, no less. That is one of the gravest of offences; it threatens the very security of all of Wizarding Britain. I would have thought you, of all people, would stand behind me in this. Nothing is more important than getting those who are guilty the punishments that they deserve.”


“This is a complicated war, Ollie. We can’t be too quick to take action, or we could risk everything. And allow me to remind you that the Dementors are currently working for Voldemort, roaming free and happily sucking the souls out of innocent people. I really don’t think sending anyone to Azkaban right now will matter when security is at its lowest.”


Ollie stood up, clearly ready to leave. He narrowed his eyes at Dumbledore. “I will assign Aurors the task of patrolling Azkaban in the Dementors’ absence.”


“Ah,” said Dumbledore. “A good substitution, indeed. I have often thought that the use of Dementors was cruel and unusual punishment, but very few seem to agree with me.”


“I should think not,” grumbled the Minister under his breath. “The Dementors are the only thing that lets people sleep at night, knowing there is no chance for escape.”


“Regardless,” continued Dumbledore, pretending not to hear him. “Might I suggest that the Auror’s time could be desperately used elsewhere, outside of guarding the prison? France is in a bit of a catastrophe with the giant movement, and could certainly use our help. If they are not stopped, the giants will be Britain’s problem, anyway.”


The Minister glared grumpily at Dumbledore. “Why don’t you go back to your school, old man,” he growled.


At once, Dumbledore lost the twinkle in his eye, and he stiffened, becoming rather fierce looking. When he spoke, it was harsh enough to cause Sirius to gape in awe and fear (he wasn't sure which was the stronger emotion).


His former headmaster had raised his voice slightly; he was commanding and intimidating. “Do not forget,” he spoke slowly, though his tone no less hard for it. “You have narrowly escaped by sheer luck. Do not allow yourself to be vulnerable again. The Ministry will fall if you are not careful.”


The Minister seemed annoyed at being spoken to in such a manner, for he raised his finger at Dumbledore, as if to give a piece of his mind, but after a moment only shook his head and lowered his hand. He turned and quite suddenly stalked back up the staircase.


“Ollie,” called Dumbledore loudly after him, still looking menacing although his tone was more matter-of-fact now. “Do remember to cover your face, at least until you arrive safely at home.” There was a grunted response, and then the man was gone.


Sirius lowered his brow and snapped his mouth shut, for it had been hanging open. His grey eyes flicked to Dumbledore, and the old man looked quite pleased. His blue gaze regained its twinkle, and he cast it upon Sirius.


“How did you rescue him, Sirius, I was certain it would have to be a raid to get the man out.”


Sirius swallowed. “I picked the lock. The Muggle way,” he added. “I remembered seeing the stairs down to the basement at a party, once. It was the first place I checked because it seemed the most obvious. He was there, so I picked the chains that bound him, and with the Invisibility cloak…” he shrugged. “It really wasn’t that hard, and I didn’t think I could just leave him there once I had found him.”


Dumbledore chuckled. “And how do you feel about that now, Sirius?”


“I wish I had left him there,” said Sirius flatly. All he could think about now was Bellatrix or his parents or his aunt and uncle coming after him once learning the news that it was he who had rescued the Minister. Right from beneath their noses. He could think of nothing that would enrage Bellatrix more.


“Do not be too hard on him, Sirius,” said Dumbledore with a friendly pat on his shoulder. “Ollie is normally a fantastic person. One of the best Ministers we’ve ever had, and as of late, it hasn’t been easy to be the Minister. And I would not doubt that sitting in a dungeon for weeks has made him slightly grumpy.”


“Professor, do you think he’ll tell it was me?”


“Oh, most definitely,” said Dumbledore, and Sirius thought his tone was all too pleasant about the subject. “But, Sirius, the man has been missing for several weeks, and the Malfoy family has always had a very, very good standing with the Ministry. Do Death Eaters donate thousands upon thousands of galleons to St. Mungo’s to help the unfortunate? I don’t believe most do. And neither will anyone else.


“When Ollie walks in his front door, his wife will immediately notify the Magical Law Enforcement. They will arrive to find the Minister drunk, angry, and spewing rather unbelievable stories of his capture and rescue, incriminating one of the most respected families in the wizarding community. Two, in fact, if you wish to include your own.”


“No,” said Sirius quickly.


“Ah, just one, then.”


Sirius didn’t look convinced, so Dumbledore tried to further reassure him. “Do not worry, Sirius. I tried to warn the Minister against seeking revenge just yet. He is only going to harm himself, and chances are he isn’t even going to remember your name when he tries to explain his escape.”


“But my family,” said Sirius in disappointment. “Bellatrix. She will know it was me after he talks. It won’t be hard to figure out.”


“Be very careful, Sirius.”


“I always am, lately.”


“Then everything is as it should be.” Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled again. “You ought to go home and try to rest. I expect that the next few days will be busy ones.”








II.

Dumbledore was terribly right about the coming days becoming busier. There was a flurry of interviews and accusations, and it seemed for a while that wherever one looked, there was always the blinding flash of a camera. At least it seemed that way within the Ministry of Magic.


The Minister could go nowhere without a cluster of Aurors assigned specifically to protect him, and he was also unable to escape the questions that flew at him anytime he showed his face out of the office.


Alastor Moody and Edgar Bones leaned against a wall one day, absently taking a lunch break and munching on sandwiches. The freedom to leave the Ministry was gone now, and nobody ever got to have lunch out anymore. It didn’t matter for those who were also in the Order - they hardly ever left the Ministry anyway, always trying to keep an eye on things. Many other employees, however, walked around disgruntled and unhappy, clutching their boring brown lunch bags with annoyed expressions on their faces.


The two Order members watched the Minister juggle the questions thrown at him with eyes like hawks. Moody ripped a bite off his sandwich with his teeth.


“Do you think he regrets being rescued,” he grumbled. He was worried, now. Something didn’t feel right about the Minister being back, although he could see no signs of the man being under the Imperius Curse. He’d tried many times in the past couple of days to get the Minister alone, just to get a good look in the man’s eyes, but the Aurors never left the nervous man's side.


“Aye,” said Edgar with a nod. He bit into an orange he’d just finished peeling, and didn’t appear to notice as juice squirted out against the wall beside his head. “Malfoy’s got him all in a panic, hasn’t he?”


It was the current headline news, the accusations against Lucius Malfoy. It had sparked a minor war between the Minister and his supporters, and the civilians who counted Malfoy as one of their peers. After all, everyone knew of the Malfoy family’s generous donations and the prestige that came with the Malfoy name. Generations of Malfoys had been around for centuries, always pureblood, always wealthy and elite. It was practically a crime in itself to accuse a Malfoy of such things, things that such a wonderful family would always be far above.


And so when the Minister declared he’d been rescued by some fellow (as it turned out, he was too drunk to remember the young hero's name) from the Malfoy Manor, and that he’d even spoken to Dumbledore in secret afterwards, he’d been accused of being touched in the head. It was even worse when he’d arrived home after speaking to Dumbledore, only for his loving wife to alert the authorities with delight that he was back. Only for everyone present to smell the reek of alcohol and firewhisky on his breath as he slurred his explanation.


It, also, was further worsened when the Aurors had done a search of Malfoy Manor and they had been unable to uncover the hidden door to the dungeons, as it was disguised rather well as simply a part of the wall. Moody sneered and ripped another bite from his sandwich. If he had been there for the raid, he would be able to find that door. Sirius Black had told him where it was. It was unfortunate that he’d been dealing with another random Death Eater attack, another murdered family, when the raid had happened, for he knew the truth, and he'd have done a better search.


He tried to talk Barty Crouch into another raid, this time with himself as a part of it, but Crouch refused, not wanting to bother the Malfoys, whom he seemed to consider innocent of all accusations, any further.


We can't do another raid, Alastor, not without any evidence. Once was pushing it, and we're lucky Lucius was willing to let us in on nothing but the Minister's word in the first place - especially with no previous record of any wrongdoing... well respected family...


Moody was irritated. If only Dumbledore hadn’t have gotten the Minister drunk… but it had been done to protect Sirius. Unfortunately, that led to protection for Lucius Malfoy as well. Moody had thought that sacrifices would have to be made in this war, that they would have to do things they didn’t want to do. If that meant dying, then they had all known what they’d signed up for. But that was Dumbledore’s weakness; he would let Lucius - a criminal - go to save one of the Order members instead.


(Although, even if he hated to admit it, he would have been quite upset if Sirius Black had been killed because the Minister had been able to supply his name.)


As they watched, it was easy to see the shine of sweat on the Minister’s forehead, the nervous way he shifted his weight and the way his eyes darted around before he answered questions. It was only the reporters who rallied around the Minister these days, always wanting to stir up more controversy for the Daily Prophet. Everyone else pretty much stayed away. Most people felt betrayed by the Minister’s disappearance, only to be found at home again, safe and drunk.


“Oi!” shouted one man from the throng of people moving through the busy Atrium. “Are you going to accuse me of kidnapping next, Minister?” The voice couldn’t be matched with a face from the busy crowd.


The Minister’s eyes bulged. “Who said that!” he demanded wildly, quickly becoming defensive.


“Ah, go have another drink,” snapped somebody else, in a gruffer voice.


“This is terrible,” said Edgar to Alastor. “We’re trying to fight a war here… Everyone should be banding together.”


Moody only nodded. “Things are going to get worse before they get better, Edgar. Mark my words.”






III.

James’s birthday was something to look forward to for all; James’s parents had invited everyone over for a small party. So many things had gone wrong in the past couple of months, from the McKinnons’ deaths to the Underground to the Minister. Even personal things, such as Lily’s parents, didn’t escape the doom that seemed to hover over everything in the world. Remus’s birthday had been enjoyable, but quiet and subdued due to the timing of the full moon.


But James’s birthday was like a lighthouse in the middle of a dense, foggy sea. They were all well, there was no full moon lingering just around the corner. It was simply a nice get together for a lovely reason, something that hadn’t been done since Sirius’s birthday months before, and even then, Remus wasn’t there for that one.


Sirius was ecstatic. He stepped out of the fireplace in the Potter home and immediately began casting spells, so that celebratory ribbons adorned everything and confetti sprinkled from the ceiling.


James’s mother pursed her lips at him. “I hope you are cleaning that up.”


Giving her a sheepish grin, Sirius tossed a gift (with a terrible wrapping job) at James. “Happy birthday, mate.”


James caught it with ease, even if Sirius’s throw was a little off. “Thanks. Is Moony coming?”


“Right behind me,” said Sirius, settling into a chair, and a moment later Remus appeared in the fireplace as well.


“Happy birthday, Prongs,” he said with a cheerful smile. “Oh, blimey,” he added as a cascade of confetti fell on his head. “Here you are, then,” he said, stepping quickly towards James and thrusting his gift out. “Hullo,” he added shyly to Mrs Potter.


James laughed. “Slow down, Moony,” he said. Remus blushed and shoved his hands in his pockets. To break the awkward silence, James informed them all, “Wormtail’s in the kitchen. Probably sticking his finger in the cake…”


“He better not be!” gasped Mrs Potter, struggling to get out of her chair in her old age.


“Mum! Merlin. I’m just taking the Mickey, really, you don’t have to…” objected James, trailing off in laughter.


“He probably is, though,” said Remus under his breath.


“Let’s go find him and go to my room,” James suggested brightly. “I don’t think my mum is enjoying having so much company.”


“Where’s Evans?” asked Sirius as they made their way into the kitchen. They were pleased to find Peter not in the cake as expected, but instead having a nice conversation with James’s father.


“She’ll be over later,” lied James absently.


Sirius balked. “Why?” he demanded. “She hasn’t got anywhere else to be.”


James only shrugged. “Just tired. She’s in bed, you prat, you know we’ve all been in Order meetings until the early mornings…”


“Does she not want to be around us?” pressed Sirius knowingly. Remus looked rather displeased at the suggestion, and he watched James warily for the answer.


“No… she does,” said James carefully. He bit his lip and his eyes flicked quickly to Sirius, who could see the hints of desperation and pleading in them. “Will you stop,” James hissed under his breath.


Sirius could only blink at him. He'd never meant to hit a nerve with James; he'd only figured that if she was going to miss her own fiancée's birthday party, it would be for a reason other than just being 'tired'.


James turned away from his best friend. “Wormtail,” he snapped. Peter looked up in surprise. “Come on, we’re going up to my room for a bit, until it’s time to eat. We’re driving my mum crazy.”


As the four were halfway up the stairs, Sirius grabbed James’s arm and pulled him back. He glared meaningfully and didn’t have to say a word.


James swallowed. “We had a fight,” he whispered, so that Remus and Peter didn’t hear. They kept climbing the stairs, unaware that James and Sirius had stopped moving.


“Why,” was all Sirius had to say, and his tone was rather demanding.


“Over her sister,” muttered James. “Lily wants to go to her wedding.”


“I thought she wasn’t invited,” said Sirius.


“She’s not.”


“Then why-”


“I don’t know, Padfoot. Because it’s all the family she has left, perhaps?”


Sirius frowned, and James continued up the stairs without him. “Is that your first big fight, then?” he finally asked. Perhaps if anyone else had asked, James would have been annoyed, but only Sirius could get away with such personal things put so bluntly.


James reached the top step and rounded the corner, heading down the hall. “Yes,” he said over his shoulder. He stopped suddenly. “Hey, Sirius. Do you think we’re too young to get married?”


Sirius frowned at James. “What are you talking about, Prongs, you had one argument and now you’re rethinking marriage? That’s the most barmy thing I’ve ever heard…”


“But we're hardly nineteen...”


“And yet you fight a war,” said Sirius pointedly. “Everyone argues now and then, James.” He wrapped his arm around James’s neck then, and with his other hand ground his knuckles into the top of James’s head, thoroughly messing his hair up and causing great pain to his friend all at once. “Even us.”


James wrestled out of the hold and shoved Sirius into the wall. “I know that,” he objected in his own defence. He ran his hand through his hair and thought a moment.


“I just wasn’t expecting to have such a huge disagreement so soon… I mean, we've never had a fight before. At least not since we started dating,” he added quickly, upon seeing the look Sirius threw him, one that clearly was meant to remind him of years one through six at Hogwarts. “I mean, we were fine for over a year, and then we get engaged, and boom! Fight.”


“Yeah,” said Sirius finally, straightening the portrait he’d knocked crooked. He glanced at James and grinned. “But don't forget, Prongs, you two have to learn how to live with each other now. Believe me, it takes time getting used to living with you.” He ducked James's swing and added quickly, “Besides... It's healthy to fight. Now you get to have a birthday shag and a make up shag.”


James shook his head and watched his friend in amusement. “As far as you know, Lily is still saving herself. So…”


“Oh, right, Prongs.” Sirius stepped away from the portrait and stroked his chin distractedly, trying to determine whether or not it was level. James frowned.


“Er, how did you know?”


Sirius couldn’t stop the chuckle that escaped him. “Ah, Prongs. The look in your eye… I knew right when I saw it. It was right after the…” and he stopped short, horrified to find himself about to speak so lightly about somebody’s death. His smile faded and he eyed James reproachfully.


“The McKinnons,” finished James softly. Sirius only nodded, and the two watched each other for a moment, both lost in thought.


“Oi,” demanded Peter suddenly. Neither James nor Sirius had noticed him suddenly come up behind James, who turned quickly to address the interruption. Peter feigned a disapproving frown, teasing them. “Are you lot coming, or what? Otherwise, I’m going back downstairs to stick my fingers in that cake.”


“The hell you are,” smiled James, punching Peter lightly in the shoulder. “That cake is mine. And Lily might make me one, too. And no, you can't have it!”







IV.

When James stepped out of the fireplace and into his own small cottage, Lily was there. She had been waiting for him all day, feeling guilty and sick and nervous about confronting him when he finally came home. And when he appeared, all she could do was stop and stare at him shyly.


It took only the tiny smile he offered for her to forget it all and throw herself into his waiting arms.


He grunted as he caught her, and the force of her energy nearly knocked the wind out of him. Though he had invited her into his embrace with his gesture, the fact that she'd so readily accepted had caught him off guard. All through the first six years at Hogwarts, after all, he had come to know her temper and the way she held grudges rather well. But her arms squeezed lovingly around his neck, and it only took a moment to overcome his hesitation and surprise before he wrapped his arms more tightly around her.


“I’m sorry, James,” she murmured into his throat. He tried not to shiver in pleasure at the way her sweet, warm breath brushed against his skin. “I shouldn’t have missed your birthday, it was really childish of me…”


“No,” disagreed James softly, his voice mildly hoarse from the soot and Floo powder, and her tight hold, and perhaps a small bit of relief as well.


“Listen, Lily. I shouldn’t be trying to stop you from going to Petunia’s wedding. I know she’s still your sister, no matter what. I just don’t want to see her make you miserable.” He frowned reluctantly and took a deep breath. “And,” he said, blurting the next part out very quickly, and half hoping she wouldn't take him up on the offer. “If you want me to be your date to this wedding that we are crashing, I’d be happy to.”


“You’d better be my date,” she said slyly, leaning back to see his face and smile. “You are my fiancée, after all.”


“Guilty,” he admitted. Lily watched him force a frown upon his face, although he was rather unsuccessful at making it look real - even if he hadn't escaped having to accompany her.


“You know, James,” she said after a moment, and she idly toyed with the buttons on his shirt. “It’s still your birthday.”


“Indeed, and the night's still young!” he agreed eagerly. His hazel eyes seemed to light up as he watched her face move slowly closer, until he finally let them close in bliss. She gently pulled his glasses off, and her breath tickled his skin and she softly pressed her cool lips to his eyelids. She moved down, towards his mouth, her nose tracing a gentle line down his cheek. At the last moment, she skipped his lips, just to tease him.


“Happy birthday, James.” Her lips barely brushed against his jaw (which was quickly going slack as his own lips parted and his mouth hung open). He let his head fall back, relishing the cool, gentle kisses around his throat and chin.


James struggled to concentrate and hold his head up as she moved towards his lips again, kissing the corner of his mouth as it curled into a confident grin. Sirius was right, he hoped.


A birthday shag, and a make up shag.



Author's Note:
Hello readers! I've gotten a few reviews lately that sound a little panicky about my slow updates. Just want to say stop worrying :) It might be slow going now and then - it IS a little bit of a complicated thing, after all, and there's a lot going on. It kind of moves from one thing to another, you know, with the werewolves and then the Minister, and then the next thing (no, I won't tell you what that is).

I'm a little short on time lately, not only with the holidays but also with my son being in Kindergarten this year, and carpooling, and I also have to babysit my two nieces during the day - and all that aside from my actual life and other interests.

I won't ever stop updating until it's done, it's too much fun to write and I'm really enjoying it, and it's also one of the most awesome things I have ever done. So STOP worrying! Sometimes I run into a problem that needs to be fixed, and it takes a little longer to brainstorm, and sometimes I write myself into corners, and sometimes I am just plain unmotivated. Things like that. I'm really thrilled you guys like the story so much, but I feel really bad whenever somebody tells me they feel like giving up on reading it because it seems like I'm not going to update anymore.

I promise, more updates will come :) WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER, OKAY GUYS! lol

So I know you guys have been waiting a long time for this chapter, and I wanted to hurry and get it up. It's done, but it hasn't been read over or corrected or anything. After reading it, you know by now that it's a little bit short (long A/N here) and not one of my best - but it's a little necessary setting up for the next chapter, in which something big should happen. I just finished it and put it up COMPLETELY UNEDITED, so go easy :)


Chapter 29: Be Warned
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T W E N T Y - N I N E
Be Warned




It was rather plain, and normal, and even boring, thought James sullenly. Typical, the type of wedding one would see in a magazine. Perfection. They were in a large church, the location of which (and time and date of the event, for that matter) Lily knew only because she’d managed to grab an invitation whilst clearing her parents’ house out months before.


The seating was split into two sides, with a long aisle up the middle - the usual church layout, though James had never been to one before. Instead of chairs that were set into rows as he had seen at the Longbottoms’ wedding, here there were fancy pews adorned with flowers and ribbons. Ushers stood ready to escort people out again when the ceremony was over; right now, the last couple of people were being shown to open seats.


A priest stood at the head of the church. He was dressed in a robe and clutched a Bible in his hands. Behind him, the wall was nothing but a beautiful stained glass mural. Candles and more flowers surrounded the sacred place where the couple would soon be joined in marriage.


The double doors to his left suddenly opened, and several ladies in matching dresses were escorted to the font of the room by men dressed handsomely in Muggle tuxedos. A moment later, a girl stepped lightly after them, tossing rose petals on the floor to lay a beautiful path for the bride.


It was horrible, James thought. He had to wrinkle his nose against the smell of all the roses, and when he pulled his wand out to cast a spell against the fragrance, or at least one to dull his sense of smell for a while, Lily stubbornly grabbed his arm and shoved it down again.


She didn’t want to take chances. Petunia would die if she knew they were here. If the magic somehow went wrong, it would ruin everything.


(James thought this was rather stupid. He was a gifted wizard, one of the top in their class at Hogwarts. What could go wrong?)


James kept his mouth shut and humoured her, and tried to hold his breath against the smell as much as he could. The flowers reminded him of death, of funerals that he’d been to recently. The smell of roses that overwhelmed the McKinnons’ burials. The same blood red flowers that had been laid carefully over the casket of John Lupin before it was lowered into the ground, and also the same with Lily's parents.


These roses were mingled with white ones, but they smelled the same. Or at least James thought so.


At the front of the room, a hefty Vernon Dursley stood, now surrounded by the matrons of honour and his best men, waiting for his future bride and smiling haughtily at his family. Unseen under the Invisibility Cloak at the back of the church, James frowned at the man. Vernon gave off an aura of luxury, of spoilery and expectedness, as if everything were owed to him, as if he was entitled to anything he dreamed of. He knew his family, many of whom gave off the same feeling, would give him anything he wanted.


This fancy big wedding, James knew, was all about Vernon. Perhaps Petunia was thrilled with it, and perhaps she wanted it this way just as much, but James had a feeling that if she’d married somebody else, it wouldn’t be this way. It would likely be smaller, less fancy decorations and stiff ushers. Less entitlement and showing off.


The double doors suddenly opened once more, and before he knew what was happening, organ music began to play, and everyone suddenly stood up. Petunia stepped into the aisle, dressed in white and clutching a bouquet, and the audience gave a collective gasp.


(James didn’t think she looked all that cracking. Her scrawny, thin figure didn’t fully fill out her dress the way it was meant to be filled. Her bony face beneath the veil could never look as lovely as Lily’s softer one.)


He found himself carefully wrapping his arm around his own fiancée’s waist, feeling thankful that he was with Lily and not somebody else. That she was beautiful and lovely all the time, first thing in the morning, or crying about somebody’s death, or furiously casting spells against an enemy. He loved every freckle, every curve (especially in comparison to her bony sister), everything. The way she chewed her nails and they were never as long and lovely as she wanted them to be, or the way her temper was so quick to flare when she didn’t agree with something.


With his gaze still set on Petunia, he lowered his head and gently buried his nose and lips in Lily's silky hair, and to his relief, the scent of her drowned out that of the roses.


Lily’s eyes watered slightly at the sight of Petunia. Her older sister walked down the aisle alone, no father to escort her, no parents to give her away. A sudden, unexpected sob escaped her, and Petunia’s head turned suspiciously their way, her wooden smile still plastered on her face.


Lily clapped her hand over her mouth and recoiled slightly, trying to hide behind James. It was only a natural reaction, however; she hadn’t been under the Cloak as often as James and his friends had been. She wasn’t used to trusting that she couldn’t be seen.


And Petunia continued on; she didn’t stop to investigate further, and she didn’t want to mess up the timing of her steps to the music. She walked away, she was walking away from everything, it seemed to Lily. Of course, there wasn’t much left at this point to walk away from. Their childhood lives were long gone; it wasn’t as if they were friends anymore. Now they didn’t even have parents to tie them together. Petunia seemed perfectly content to leave it all behind and join Vernon’s spoiled lifestyle.


Her hand remained over her mouth in heartbreak and horror. She was vaguely aware of James’s arm curled around her, the way he rubbed his hand idly up and down her own arm in an attempt to comfort her with the warmth and friction.


The rest of the wedding passed by in a blur. From the back of the room, they could hardly hear the vows being spoken, and though James offered to cast a spell to enhance the volume for her, she refused. She wasn’t sure she actually wanted to hear them.


After a few moments, Petunia and Vernon kissed, and then turned proudly to face the applauding crowd. And just like that, it was all over, it was done. She was no longer Petunia Evans; she was now Petunia Dursley. Her children wouldn’t be ‘the Evans children.’ They would be ‘the Dursley children.’ And her own children would be ‘the Potter children.’ Lily felt a wave of sadness that her parents had never had a son to continue the Evans name.


The bride and groom made their way back down the aisle, now sporting fancy gold wedding bands and waving at their onlookers. They were followed by the rest of their party, the ladies escorted out once again by the best men, the flower girl grinning cheekily at the job she had done.


And then the ushers began to let the rows of people exit one at a time. In the sudden noise and commotion, James felt it was safe to speak.


“Do you want to go to the reception?”


“No,” said Lily in a firm tone, although her voice shook slightly. “I’d rather not see the Dursley family dance and mingle and show off, thank you.”


James chewed his lip for a moment. Personally, he was rather thrilled she didn’t want to go, because he didn’t want to go either. But he wasn’t sure if she might regret not going later, if perhaps he should force them both to sit through it just so she could be there and see it all. She’d made it sound like it was so important to her to be here, after all. She’d wanted to see her sister get married, and perhaps she was just too upset now to think rationally. Perhaps he should make her go.


“Are you sure?” he finally asked, feeling lost.


“I’m sure, James, lets go home,” she said, grabbing his hand. Home. It sounded like heaven. She missed her old life and her old family, but after watching Petunia leave it all behind for her new family, Lily felt rather blessed.


Her new family, with the Potters and the other Marauders and the Order, at least, wasn’t unbearable.






II.

Sirius was there when they arrived back at their little cottage. It wasn’t surprising. He was always there; he practically lived there, now, and he spent more time napping on their couch than he spent in his own flat.


“Hey, Pads,” was all James said when they arrived. He turned to take his cloak off, and carefully hung the Invisibility Cloak up beside it.


“Hey,” said Sirius, looking up from where he sat in the armchair, reading the Daily Prophet. “How was the wedding? Did you not go to the-”


And he was interrupted by Lily suddenly throwing herself at him, her red hair flying wild and free behind her as she moved. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held him tight, and Sirius cast James a wide eyed look over her shoulder before hesitantly returning the hug.


“What-” he started to say.


Lily pulled back and released him, quickly swiping at her watery eyes. “Nothing, Sirius. I just realised that you lot are the only family I have left, is all, and I love you.” She turned to James, who stood, looking rather unsure of himself, near the door. “Can we have them all over for dinner, James? Remus and Wormy, too?”


James looked surprised by her request. Up until this point, Lily had always seemed to crave alone time with him. Normally it was him begging her to let the Marauders come over. He idly rubbed his head slowly, messing his hair up. “Of course, Lily,” he said cautiously, as if afraid she was playing a trick on him. “Of course.”


“Can you stay, Sirius,” she demanded, turning quickly back to the boy still sitting, shocked, in the armchair.


Sirius set aside the mangled newspaper, crushed when Lily had hugged him. “Yes, I suppose I can make room in my schedule to stick around,” he said gruffly, clearing his throat and trying not to smile at James. He really had nowhere else to be, anyway. It was why he’d been sitting in the living room, waiting for his best friend to return.


It was mere minutes later, or so it seemed, before there was a lot of coughing coming from the fireplace, and their remaining two friends stepped through, brushing each other off. Remus seemed pleased to be with his friends, and Peter had hardly been able to contain his excitement, feeling particularly eager.


The sat and chatted and drank tea. They spoke of their days at Hogwarts, and Lily laughed at how uptight she used to be, back before she understood them so well.


“Did you go to your sister’s wedding, then?” asked Peter after a while.


“We went,” affirmed Lily. She didn’t seem to have much more to say on the subject, but Peter, who was never very good at picking up on such things, wanted to know more.


“Well, did you have fun?” he asked.


“No, not at all,” said Lily bluntly. “Actually, it was miserable. I hated to see the family she was marrying into. I hate the way they all show off and act like they’re better than everyone else, when they really aren’t.”


“They’re all a lot of podgy blokes, if I ever saw any,” input James, taking a sip of his tea. “Petunia looked like a toothpick compared to their lot.”


“James,” sighed Lily, trying not to giggle. James only rolled his eyes at Sirius and took another sip.


Remus was more subtle in his gentler tone. “But at least you got to see it,” he encouraged. “I know it was what you wanted.”


“I suppose,” agreed Lily. “It was bloody miserable to watch her walk down that aisle, away from everything in her past. Away from me.”


“She didn’t know you were there,” reminded Peter.


Of course, she was already aware of that.


“Wormy!” she barked in exasperation, throwing her hands into the air, but she couldn’t hide the laughter that bubbled inside of her at his utter ignorance. It wasn't meant in a bad way; he was so clueless, it was almost endearing. She cleared her throat a moment to regain control of herself. Peter needed everything laid out in black and white, it seemed, and she had forgotten that he was never as brilliant as his three friends.


She finally sighed and said in a controlled voice, “She didn’t want me there, anyway. It makes no difference whether she knew I was there or not. She walked away from me a long time ago... it just took today for me to finally see it.”


“She’s stupid,” said Sirius simply.


“Really, Sirius,” Remus said, aghast, and his cheeks flushed slightly as he cast Lily an apologetic look for his friend's behaviour.


“She is,” Sirius shrugged defensively. He swirled the dregs in his teacup around and flipped it over on the saucer.


Peter watched him, admired (nobody could make reading tea leaves look as careless and cool as Sirius could), and then suddenly said, “Why do you always do that, Padfoot?”


Sirius looked up in surprise, as if he hadn’t been aware of what he’d done. “Er… habit,” he mumbled. They had always done it in the Black household for as long as he could remember.


“What’s it say?” asked Peter.


Sirius rolled his eyes and grinned, peeking underneath his cup. “Says I’m going to eat some Italian food.”


(He lied. It warned him of death and heartache and disaster.)


“Ugh!” said Lily, standing up and swatting him in the back of the head on her way to the kitchen. “You’re so demanding. Fine, I can take a hint, I’ll get to cooking.”


“You can use magic!” piped up Peter helpfully after her.


“Shh!” said James loudly. Peter looked at him in surprise while Sirius tried not to laugh. “It tastes better when she makes it from scratch,” hissed James in explanation.


“Oh.”


(Peter was thinking about her disaster of a birthday cake for Remus, and how that had been made from scratch, but he decided to keep his mouth shut.)


In the end, they all ended up helping her cook, because it was more fun when they were all in the same room, anyway. Thus, the tiny kitchen was crowded and warm and soon smelled like garlic and spaghetti sauce.


Sirius casually tossed a garlic bulb in the air and caught it again, again and again. The fourth catch made him suddenly think of Remus’s dad, and standing in James's kitchen making garlic necklaces to save him, and he quickly set the bulb back on the counter. Instead, he distracted himself with tasting a spoonful of the sauce when Lily’s back was turned.


(James promptly told on him, and he was soon banished to sit at the table with a butterbeer for company.)


Remus, for his part, thought it was the best night that he had had in a long time. Even his birthday party couldn’t top this, for he had been ill for that one. Even James’s birthday party hadn’t been as good, for Lily hadn’t been there and James had been in a bad mood. He knew why Lily wanted them all over, and he understood that. He had no siblings himself, and now he only had his mother left; regardless, these were the people who had accepted him no matter what, and who had risked everything to help him.


And Sirius could understand that, because he’d hated the Blacks for the last eight years now.


And Peter could understand that as well, because he didn’t think his mother really loved him at all, and though he’d never had it quite as bad as Sirius, her strict ways with him stung more than he wanted to admit.


And James could also understand, because though he’d always had a wonderful life, he’d always considered all of them as family from the very start, and felt he’d be lost without them.







III.

A middle aged couple stared at him through dead eyes, their faces still frozen in terror. They were slumped in a corner, where they’d huddled together in fear at the sudden intrusion. It hadn’t even been fun to kill them; they hadn’t even fought back. It had barely taken a flick of his wand and they’d collapsed, still hanging onto each other.


Hadn’t even fought back. Worthless, wastes of lives. This was the reason he wanted the magic world out in the open, the reason he wanted the witches and wizards to rule everything. Muggles such as these weren’t worthy of having a say in things like government. Why should such great beings as wizards have to hide from these weak people? Why were these people in charge?


He was a god. He should never have to hide. He felt smug when people cowered in his presence. He felt powerful when he took their lives with nothing but a whisper.


He sat at their unremarkable table in their unremarkable little house, his long fingers steepled together. He clicked his long fingernails impatiently and stared at them. He could make them do things. He could play with them like puppets. He had done it in the past, with other corpses. He could build an army.


But not right now, he thought, as he heard several loud pops outside in the garden. He had more important matters to attend to right now.


The Death Eaters shuffled in through the front door, looking around at their surroundings, not amused. They had seen many different houses over the last couple of years. They couldn’t have meetings in anyplace consistent, after all, or they would risk being discovered. It was so much easier to just kill somebody for use of their home for a few moments. They victims were never anyone special, anyway. They were just Muggles.


“My Lord,” said the first Death Eater to approach, and he got to his knees beside the table and crawled forward, pulling back his mask and kissing the hem of Voldemort’s robe.


Voldemort watched boredly as two more of his loyal followers did the same.


“That is enough,” he finally said idly. “There isn’t enough space in this excuse for a house. We have more important matters to discuss.”


An uncomfortable murmur passed through the Death Eaters. They knew what he wanted to talk about: the Minister of Magic’s untimely escape.


“Lucius,” hissed Voldemort.


Lucius Malfoy gave an audible gulp and stepped forward out of the group.


“Yes, my Lord,” whispered Lucius, getting to his knees and kissing Voldemort’s robe. He visibly shook.


“Why, Lucius, you look terrified,” said Voldemort, feigning amusement.


“No, my Lord,” insisted Lucius, his eyes going wide.


“Perhaps you should be,” Voldemort said shortly. His eyes glinted red.


“Y-yes, my Lord…”


“Did you not have the Minister of Magic properly locked up, Lucius?” said Voldemort now, lazily.


“I did, my Lord. I did. He was locked in the dungeons. He was chained to the wall!”


“You must not have,” complained Voldemort. “Or he would still be there right now, hmm?”


“My Lord,” Lucius whispered. “I do not know how he got away. I… We had curses up around the house to prevent break ins! We had security spells to stop anyone but the family from being able to enter the property!”


“You must not have cast your spells well enough, Lucius,” replied Voldemort coldly. He twisted his wand in his long fingers, and Lucius’s eyes were drawn suddenly towards the dead couple in the corner.


He suddenly winced and cried out, grabbing his head as it felt like it was going to explode. And then the next thing he knew, he was seeing all of the events of the last two weeks flying through his mind. He saw himself practising the Imperius Curse on the Minister, who cowered and cried in the corner of the cold dungeon. He saw himself fail and fail, until he finally succeeded. But he always removed the Curse again so that he could continue to practise the next day. He saw himself having tea and conversation with his sister-in-law, Bellatrix, and his wife, and Rodolphus. He heard them discussing his progress on the Curse, and talk of who they could get to take over the Minister’s job.


And then he saw himself going down to the dungeon that night, in the dark. He saw his lit wand illuminate the empty corners of the room, searching desperately. The light fell over the shackles that were bound around nothing. He let out a horrified scream and turned and raced up the stairs, searching the house. He tore it apart, desperately searching for where the Minister could be hiding.


He wasn’t even sure how long the man had been gone. He hadn’t been down to the dungeon since the night before. He saw himself calling his house elf and demanding to know if he had seen the Minister. Dobby had mentioned bringing the man lunch that day, but he hadn’t been down to bring dinner yet. Lucius snarled at the elf, and Dobby had wrung his ears and cried and ironed his hands for letting the Minister get away.


He could remember hearing the Minister underneath him as he’d spoken to his visitors. He could remember banging on the ground to get the man to be quiet.


The memories suddenly stopped.


Lucius pressed his forehead to the ground, breathing heavily as he hunched over.


“Did you have the Imperius Curse on him when he escaped, Lucius,” said Voldemort, waving his wand idly in the air and watching it’s movements.


“N-no, my Lord,” said Lucius breathlessly.


“I see.” Voldemort stopped moving his wand now, and his eyes examined Lucius’s submitting posture. He trembled, as if unable to hold his rage any longer, and then he suddenly lunged forward, throwing out his wand arm. “Crucio!” he snarled, showing no mercy.


Lucius screamed in pain. After a moment, his screaming subsided, and he was left gasping for air and lying on the ground in the fetal position. For several long seconds, he struggled to move, to send the signals from his brain to make his arms and legs work again.


“Get up,” spat Voldemort after watching the pathetic display. It was almost embarrassing.


“My Lord,” Bellatrix Lestrange suddenly said, stepping forward as Lucius slowly got to his knees. She gave a quick bow.


“Yes, what is it, Bellatrix,” said Voldemort impatiently.


“The Minister was there. He was there when Rodolphus and I visited the Malfoy Manor. We heard him in the dungeons as we conversed. Might I suggest that Dumbledore may be behind his sudden disappearance?”


She cringed and remained bowed, as if waiting for her master’s wrath at her interruption.


“Dumbledore,” repeated Voldemort angrily.


“Yes, my Lord,” said Bellatrix, not sounding quite so sure of this. “And his secret Order.”


Lucius took the sudden distraction to hastily back away from Voldemort. He slipped back to the crowd of Death Eaters in the room and stood erect, though still wincing in pain, and hoped to disappear from Voldemort’s view and his thoughts.


Voldemort suddenly slammed his fist onto the wooden dinner table, causing the carefully laid placemats to slip from their positions. “I don’t care about Dumbledore’s little Order,” he snapped loudly. “I will have the Ministry. Apparently, it is something I will have to conquer myself.”


“My Lord,” Bellatrix uttered apologetically, feeling nothing but shame over their failure. She was ready to grovel before him to replace his trust in them, in her specifically. She wanted to win the Ministry for him; she would do anything.


“Silence!” Voldemort drummed his long fingernails against the table for a moment, his face deformed with a sneer, before he spoke again. “Get out of my sight, the lot of you. Clearly, I have put too much faith into your abilities. Nothing has been done so far that hasn't been countered by Dumbledore and his sorry group of pretend Aurors. And all that any of you have managed against this so called Order thus far is to kill one member and her family! Leave me! I must think of another plan.”


The Death Eaters wasted no time in leaving the small house. Out in the garden, they quickly Disapparated, returning to whatever it was they had been doing prior to being called by the searing scars on their arms, grateful that their master had been too distracted to exercise his wrath upon any of them.


Bellatrix, however, had an idea. Something that would hurt the magical community. Something to make them fear. Something that might bolster her master's spirit once more, if only temporarily, while a new plan for taking over could be worked out.


And then she began to watch. She paid special attention to the most prominent, well known people around the Ministry.







IV.

It was late.


Edgar Bones was assigned tonight’s shift to guard the Ministry. It was often his job to guard the place. He was the most suited for it, after all. As an employee, he had a reason to be there, for one thing. He had an identification coin to allow him access without going the visitor’s way. It wasn’t as if Dumbledore could have Peter Pettigrew guard the place, after all. Pettigrew would never be allowed to remain in the Ministry after hours.


And second, the Bones family had always been very prominent within the Ministry of Magic. One of his relatives had been Minister before, many generations before. His sister was on the Wizengamot, and his brother (who had just welcomed a daughter with his wife), worked in the Department of Mysteries.


Nobody questioned Edgar’s presence in the Ministry. He always had work to do, after all, and if he stayed after hours, nobody said a word.


For those reasons, he and Alastor both were assigned to guard the Ministry often.


Tonight, Edgar strolled through a corridor. He had cast a protective spell upon the Atrium. He did that every night when he stood guard. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, after all, and the Atrium was the main entrance to the building. All of the fireplaces that were currently sealed, he knew meant little. He figured a wizard as powerful as the Dark Lord could overcome that easily if he really wanted to. And then there was the loos, the temporary employee entrance whilst the Floo wasn’t running. And of course, the lift and the visitor’s entrance.


He had just been casting a security spell on the fireplace in the Aurors’ offices when he’d felt his spell in the Atrium break.


“Bloody hell,” he murmured, straightening stiffly. He lifted his wand and his Patronus flew out. It was a graceful owl, and it slipped silently from the room in only a blur of silver. It was on it’s way to alert Moody. There was an intruder in the Ministry, and the Order needed to know.


And then, with a deep breath, Edgar straightened his belt and strode down to meet whoever it was.


When he stepped into the Atrium, everything was dark, pitch black, just as he left it. But there was an eerie, uneasy feeling in the large hall. He felt a breeze, which made no sense for an indoor building. He felt watched, and he could have sworn something touched him. It was suddenly cold as ice in the area as he jerked his arm away.


“Hallo?” he called out with hesitance, rubbing his arm.


An answering laugh, female and cheeky and wild and teasing, echoed around the room, bouncing off the walls and decorative arches, off of the fountain and the floors and ceiling. Edgar turned in a slow circle as he followed the sound. Before he even got the chance to locate the source of the voice, there was a flash of green light, and Edgar Bones slumped to the floor.







V.

“Somebody has broken through my spells at the Ministry,” said the owl in Edgar’s voice. “I’m going to check it out. Please reinforce immediately.”


The silver ghost of an owl barely croaked its message out, flapping it’s wings wildly as if struggling against something. And when it was done, it closed its eyes softly and tipped forward. It was already evaporating before it hit the ground. Little bits of silver floated into the air and drifted away.


Moody narrowed his eyes. “Did that Patronus just die, Benjy,” he demanded.


Benjy Fenwick’s eyes were wide as he glanced from the spot where the owl was to Moody’s chiselled face. “I.. I couldn’t tell. If it did, it died at the very last second… it got it’s message out first, not like Marlene’s,” he said softly.


Moody groaned. “Edgar is in trouble.”


The giant bear suddenly lumbered out of his own wand, and flashed through the window in a blur to get to Dumbledore.


Benjy bit his lip as he watched Moody's Patronus depart. “Should we wait for the others?”


“No,” said Moody gruffly, standing up and striding quickly towards the door. “Edgar is in trouble,” he repeated. He had a one track mind when it came to his old friend. Edgar had been at the Ministry for as long as he himself had been, and the two ate lunch together every day. On the few nights that they were free from Order duties, Edgar would often come over to play a card game, and sometimes he and his wife would invite Moody over for dinner instead.


Benjy scuttled out of his chair and hurried after Moody. Once outside, they both Disapparated, appearing again almost instantly in London.


Moody fingered the coin in his pocket, the one that would allow him access to the Ministry. It would be much faster to go through that way, but Benjy would need to try to get in through the visitor’s entrance. He didn’t think that would be possible at this hour, but then, somebody or some thing had clearly gotten in somehow.


“Go to the visitor’s entrance,” he barked at the younger man. “I don’t have time to escort you in, see if it will let you in on your own.” And he took off limping, loping, towards the men’s loo.


Benjy hesitated, and then turned and sprinted towards the alley. The telephone box waited, it’s door hanging wide open. “Ah, bloody hell,” he grumbled, stuffing himself in and struggling to close the door.


He turned and picked up the receiver, which was hanging by its cord. The hook that held it was broken, he could see. He pressed his finger against the hook a few times, and it easily gave way.


“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic,” said a cool clear voice. “Please hold.”


“Please hold?” demanded Benjy. “What in the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?”


Wasn’t it supposed to ask his name? For that matter, wasn’t he supposed to dial the magic number first to even be able to get the voice to recognize him? Any Muggle could step into the telephone box otherwise, and suddenly be transported into another world.


But before he could do anything else, the floor shook, and then suddenly began to lower stiffly.


That was it, he realised then. The box was broken. Whoever was intruding had broken the box.


Benjy waited impatiently, still clutching the telephone receiver in his hand. He didn’t know what else to do with it, and it was quite frankly at the very back of his mind as the dark Atrium began to come into view at his feet.


At first he could see nothing as his eyes adjusted. But then he saw a dark mass in the corner, by the far doorway. “Edgar?” he asked, dropping the phone and quickly striding forward out of the box. His soft voice echoed around the Atrium. He had his wand out and ready, just in case. But as he drew closer, he could see the grizzled gray hair of Alastor sticking out above the back of his collar. Moody’s back was to him, and the older man was hunched over something.


Benjy’s eyes travelled to the black mass on the ground. It was a body. Another few steps, and he could make out features. It was Edgar Bones.


“Oh, Merlin,” he breathed, stopping short.


“He’s dead,” said Moody hoarsely, not bothering to turn around.


“Oh, God.”


“He was targeted specifically.”


“What?” breathed Benjy, his face paling in disbelief.


Moody passed a piece of parchment to Benjy, who cast his wand light upon it. He read aloud, “Let the death of a prominent wizarding employee from a prominent wizarding family serve as a warning. The Ministry will be His. Your Aurors can not save you.”


Benjy lowered the parchment slowly to his side and stared at Moody’s slumped form. “I’m sorry,” he uttered in barely a whisper. He knew that Edgar was probably the best friend Alastor had; he didn’t have many, at any rate.


“Shut up, Benjy,” growled Moody. He covered his gnarled face with his hand.


Many soft footsteps behind them alerted the pair to the rest of the Order’s arrival. Everyone’s faces were sullen. Every single one of them looked at Edgar with pity. Benjy silently passed Dumbledore the note that had been left.


Dumbledore read it quickly and then immediately passed it to Frank Longbottom. The old man took a step forward.


Moody stood up. “Permission to go home for the night, Dumbledore,” he requested wearily.


Dumbledore nodded. “Granted, Alastor, but I will be by to speak with you later,” he promised. Alastor didn’t look completely thrilled about that. He took his hat off and walked forlornly away.


The rest of the Order members were still passing around the note as Dumbledore knelt in front of Edgar in Moody's place.


James could only stare at Edgar’s still body with wide eyes. Peter had recoiled almost instantly, and tried not to look at the corpse. Alice sobbed into Frank's arm; as Aurors who worked at the Ministry, they'd spent a lot of time with Edgar, sometimes joining him and Moody for lunch. Lily's eyes watered and Sirius patted her shoulder and watched James clench and unclench his jaw. And Remus (who could barely stand from the exhaustion and lingering aches of last night's full moon) sighed and stared after Moody’s retreating form.


“I think they’re getting rather frustrated,” mumbled Caradoc, reading the note.


“Yes, and poor Edgar is the one who paid for it,” sighed Elphias Doge.


Author's Note:
While the Harry Potter Lexicon says that Edgar was killed "with his wife and children, by a Death Eater before Voldemort fell," the actual book only says "they got him and his family too, he was a great wizard..." (OP pg 174 US). This means you can probably guess what will be discovered in the next chapter, and I'm sorry to point it out and spoil it for you, but I had to just in case anyone disputes how Edgar died due to the Lexicon (which is not 'always' right, as I have found). As I pride this story on being canon, I want to cover all the bases ahead of time, and just because Edgar didn't die "together" with his family doesn't mean it's wrong :)


Chapter 30: The Letter
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . T H I R T Y
The Letter




They all sat silently downstairs in the basement of the Hog’s Head. Aberforth Dumbledore sombrely served coffee that was too strong; the members of the Order sipped it without fully tasting it, which was, perhaps, a good thing. There was one thing at the front of all of their minds in this moment: while it had been somewhat easy (though no less painful) to ignore the one empty chair belonging to Marlene, it was much harder to ignore three that were empty now.


One for Marlene, one for Edgar and one for Moody - who knew when the fearless Auror would return to them? Those who were left found their eyes slipping towards the empty chairs, unable to resist, only to look away again in agony. Their numbers were slowly dwindling, and when the attacks were coming so unexpectedly and catching them off guard, it felt as if there was little they could do to stop it from happening again.


Alice Longbottom’s eyes were rimmed in red, and every now and then she sniffed still. Dorcas’s face was set, looking stony as she stared at the ground. Out of all of them, she was the only one who had the will to resist looking at the empty chairs.


The Prewett brothers both looked dazed. They clutched coffee cups, but didn’t drink. Elphias Doge paced at the back of the room. Benjy and Caradoc sat with their chairs facing each other, both leaning forward, both whispering.


Sirius looked around at them all warily, wondering which would die next as he tipped his chair back and balanced it on two legs. Peter anxiously chewed his fingernails while Remus’s eyes followed Aberforth around the room.


James had one arm around Lily, and she rested her head on his shoulder while he spoke softly in her ear. Sirius couldn’t hear what he was saying, and felt it was none of his business, anyway.


“Would you knock it off, Black?” snapped Benjy suddenly.


Sirius hadn’t realised the sound of his chair dropping back onto all four legs, over and over, was bothering anyone. He stared at Benjy in stunned silence, but didn’t tip the chair back again.


“Don’t talk to him like that, Fenwick,” said James, rather suddenly. His eyes were narrowed as he focused on Benjy. It was easy to notice how he pulled his arm away from Lily’s shoulders, how he suddenly grabbed his wand and clenched it tight in his fist instead; James didn't try to hide it.


The sides of Benjy’s nose wrinkled in a small sneer at the challenge. “Sod off, Potter,” he grumbled. He didn't see Peter suddenly fumble for his own wand in an attempt to back his friend up, but Frank Longbottom did.


“All right, that’s quite enough,” demanded Frank suddenly, glaring at them all. Peter blushed and dropped his wand; James's eyes only tightened as he watched Benjy like a hawk. Benjy begrudgingly eyed Frank, who was rather much larger than he was, and then turned away in disgust.


“Do you ever wonder how they know?” he mused aloud after a moment. He fiddled with his own wand, trying to appear nonchalant, but beneath his brow his eyes flicked carefully in Sirius’s direction. Had anyone but him noticed the look on Sirius's face, how his expression had changed when he'd read the note left with Edgar?


“How they know what,” spat James, already knowing what was coming and looking rather livid about it.


“How they know who’s in the Order?” finished Benjy, as if it were obvious. “How they know where some of us live, how they know when some of us are standing guard? Or when we don’t come to a meeting because of a sick child. Do you ever wonder how they know…”


“If you’re implying you think somebody is passing them information, Fenwick, then you’d better think again,” growled James, raising his wand arm slightly and leaning forward in a challenging stance. He looked ready to leap out of his chair at any moment.


Benjy only shrugged and turned away.


“Benjy,” scolded Dorcas, her voice nary a whisper. She sounded utterly disappointed in her old friend. Benjy turned to look at her, hardly able to meet her eye. “What is the matter with you,” she demanded softly.


Shaking his head, Benjy moaned, to nobody in particular, “How did they know he was there?” His voice broke, and he covered his face in his hands. He was the first on the scene, aside from Moody. He would never forget walking alone through that dark atrium towards the body of a friend. “Oh, Edgar…”


Caradoc looked rather uncomfortable, being the one sitting closest to Benjy. He took his cap off and worked it through his hands a moment. Then he reached over and squeezed Benjy’s shoulder. “Hey,” he said. Benjy glanced at him, and they seemed to communicate something between their eyes, and then Benjy suddenly seemed fine again. He heaved a sigh and stretched his legs out in front of him, regaining his composure.


“Did it never occur to you that the Dark side has spies?” Frank reminded him in a low voice. “People like Malfoy, whom we know is working for Voldemort after the whole Minister ordeal. Merlin only knows how many others there are, passing information. It wouldn’t have been hard to know that Edgar often stays at the Ministry after hours… All they would have to do is watch.”


“Maybe it wasn’t an attack on the Order,” agreed Caradoc. “Maybe the Order has nothing to do with this. Maybe it was an attack of desperation, because so far, the Dark side has failed to capture the Ministry. It’s not falling easily, and maybe they thought killing somebody from such a well known family would send a message, or scare people…”


He trailed away, looking hopeful, clearly not ready to accept that the Order members might be in danger. “Maybe it was just a coincidence that Edgar happens to be in the Order, too,” he finished. “And maybe that note that was left was meant for the Ministry to find and publish for all to see, and not for us. That’s what my first thought was when I read it, anyway. Maybe… Just maybe you’re putting too much into it, Benjy.”


Benjy frowned thoughtfully. “Maybe,” he finally sighed. It was logical. It could be just a coincidence. Maybe he was overreacting. He scratched the side of his face and stole a glance at Sirius.


But Sirius stared at the floor. He knew what Benjy had been thinking. That perhaps he had passed something along to his family. Perhaps he was a double agent; he’d been in very close to them when rescuing the Minister, after all. The opportunity was there, if he’d wanted it. He knew it crossed all of their minds now and then. None of them fully trusted him yet, and he couldn’t blame them. Though he hadn’t said anything, he recognised the handwriting on that note as belonging to his cousin. He wondered how many others have died to her wand so far.


James settled back into his chair again, seemingly appeased by the fact that Benjy was no longer displaying an attitude, and he absentmindedly played with a strand of Lily’s hair as they continued to wait.


At last, footsteps on the stairs alerted them to Dumbledore’s arrival. The old man entered through the stairwell and crossed the room wearily to stand in front. His face was gaunt.


“At the moment, Edgar’s body is resting peacefully at Hogwarts,” he began. Frank began to object, and Dumbledore raised a hand to halt him. “I know the murder is something the Ministry should deal with, particularly as it happened within the building itself, Frank,” he said quickly. “However, I fear awkward questions might arise, such as what Edgar was doing in the Ministry so late in the first place.”


“He’s always there late,” said Frank.


“But they do not know he often stays all night,” Dumbledore responded wisely. “It would risk putting the Order out in the open, particularly as Bartemius has seen Edgar with us in the past.”


Frank seemed to teeter on the edge of indecision; he knew that what Dumbledore said made sense. But he stared at the old man, trying to think of something to say. Finally he sighed in resignation, but added, “They’re going to ask questions. Edgar wasn’t just anybody.”


“No,” Dumbledore forced a smile. “He was a member of the Order of the Phoenix. And we are going to do whatever it takes to keep that fact a secret, and we are going to protect his family. Which reminds me, I need somebody to go and check on his wife and children, and inform them of the news.”


“I’ll do it,” said Sirius automatically, rising halfway to his feet quickly. There was nothing he wouldn't do in that moment to get out of the room and away from the tension. But then he seemed to suddenly realise what he'd just volunteered himself for, and he rose the rest of the way with more hesitance, the expression of resolve draining quickly from his face.


“Very well,” said Dumbledore, trying not to sound surprised. He knew Sirius Black didn't do this sort of thing.


“I’ll go with him,” Remus blurted, standing as well, for he understood that this wasn’t going to be something Sirius would be particularly good at. The Bones family at least deserved to have the news broken by somebody who could be sympathetic.


(It was nothing against Sirius. He just wasn’t that way, not unless it involved his closest friends. If there was anyone else involved, Sirius tended to be selfish and closed off, guarded. He didn’t reach out to people, and he was more likely to stand in uncomfortable silence than offer any sort of relief to Edgar’s family.)


Sirius could only cast his gentler friend a grateful look. Remus offered a tiny smile, but it was half hearted in the wake of the death. And in anticipation of what they were about to do. They were going to ruin a family’s life, and though he had volunteered to help Sirius, he wasn’t sure he was ready for that.


“If you wish, Remus, I am certain it would be most helpful,” agreed Dumbledore. “I must go and tend to Alastor, but please inform the family that I will be by in due time to speak with them.”


The two Marauders only nodded and sat down again. Dumbledore gravely dismissed them all for the time being, and he strode quickly from the front of the room. He hesitated in the doorway to the stairwell, turning back to face them. “To the Bones family immediately, boys, if that is all right with you,” he said.


Sirius nodded, and Dumbledore left.








II.

It felt wrong to be walking down this deserted street so late at night (or perhaps so early in the morning). Remus felt ill, nauseous, at the thought of knocking on that door and ruining the family’s lives. He had never met the Bones family before, but he knew that Edgar had two teenage children at Hogwarts. A boy and a girl - a Gryffindor and a Hufflepuff. The two students had just arrived home on the train hours before for a week long vacation for Easter - something many students went home for, though the Marauders never did. Sirius never wanted to while he still lived with the Blacks, and the other three couldn’t bring themselves to leave him.


Remus shut his eyes against the way his heart ached for the family. He remembered last night's Order meeting - Edgar had been cheerfully speaking of going to pick them up from King’s Cross. His eyes had shown with excitement. Perhaps the family had gone out to dinner before Edgar had had to leave to guard the Ministry. It was supposed to be a happy night.


The timing, thought Remus, was terribly ironic.


And his mind was on this as they walked down the street towards Edgar’s house. Sirius was silent beside him, but Remus looked up when his friend suddenly inhaled sharply.


“All right, Padfoot?”


But Sirius’s eyes were wide and he stared at something in the distance. Remus’s gaze lingered on Sirius’s suddenly pale face, and then, with hesitance, he turned his head to see what Sirius saw. There was nothing to draw his attention right away, but after a moment of surveying the sky, he became aware of a green glow over the rooftops and obscured by trees, their spring leaves still small and growing as the winter snow slowly melted.


Remus could have sworn his heart stopped in that moment. His throat went suddenly dry, and when he tried to speak, he nearly choked over his own words.


They both stopped walking.


“Do you think we should go back,” whispered Sirius then. “And get a few more people to go with us?”


Remus understood the need for getting more; it was the same reason Sirius spoke so softly. They couldn’t know if Death Eaters still lingered around the house. For there was no denying now what neither of them wanted to say aloud - that that was a Dark Mark, and that the house it hovered over was most likely Edgar’s. And if it was Edgar's, then important Ministry people would soon be all over it. And to have important Ministry people there, vulnerable and unsuspecting, might be exactly what the Dark side would want.


Remus didn’t answer; he was still trying to assess the situation.


He took so long that, beside him, Sirius took a deep breath. “Moony, I've got something I have to get off my chest.” His voice seemed strained, forced and somewhat angry, and it took Remus by surprise when he was still pondering the idea of back up and safety in numbers. Sirius wouldn't look at him; he kept his eyes trained on the green glow in the distance.


“Er... Okay, Sirius. Go on.”


At the sound of Remus's hesitance, Sirius stole a quick glance at his friend. Then he sighed and looked at the ground, the hardness of his expression and tone of voice suddenly gone for the moment. “You know that note that was left with Edgar’s body?”


“Yeah.”


“Bellatrix wrote that note.”


Remus looked sharply to Sirius then. Sirius didn’t return the gaze; he kept his head down. Remus could think of no response to that, however. There was nothing he could say. He knew that it bothered his friend to be related to such people, and that every reminder of that threw him into one of his brooding episodes. So he merely turned his attention back to the eerie green glow in the distance.


“What do you want to do, Padfoot?” he finally asked after several long moments.


Sirius glanced at him and lifted the corner of his mouth in a sarcastic smirk. “I don’t know about you, Moony, but I’m going up there.”


“You don’t want to get anyone else to come with us?”


Sirius seemed determined as he looked at the green sky. “No,” he responded firmly. There was no reason to bring others into danger, after all. “If she’s in there, Remus, I’ll kill her. She is mine.” He took a step forward.


Remus was silent for a moment, but he walked behind his friend. “What if there’s more than just her?” he finally asked, trying to ignore the desperate thumping of his heart.


“I don’t care,” Sirius threw over his shoulder. His pace quickened with determination. “As long as I get her, Moony, I don’t care. Maybe you should go get the rest of the Order, though.” It would be good to get Remus away from the area, perhaps.


“Sirius, stop being so daft...”


Sirius stopped suddenly, so that Remus almost walked right into him, and turned to glare. “If she was your family, Remus, you’d want to do the same,” he snarled.


Remus remained calm as he met Sirius’s eye. “She’s not your family,” he said simply. “We are.”


Sirius only glared at him and then furiously turned and stalked into the darkness once more. How many times had he heard that before? It didn't matter, he reasoned; it didn't change things, and people still looked at him warily at times. Every halfway noble person he knew - Dumbledore, James's father, his friends - all of them insisted that it was choices that make a person. But Sirius's choices didn't seem to matter, sometimes. Prejudices ran deeper. He ground his teeth as he heard Remus's footsteps behind him.


Remus, perhaps, could relate to him the best out of anyone, having received similar attitudes in the past for being a werewolf. But at least the fact that he was a werewolf was hidden from most people. At least Remus had that. He, on the other hand, could never hide where he came from. What he was, no matter how far he tried to run from it. His last name would forever give him away; even the way he looked gave him away.


Remus couldn’t understand how it felt to be on the receiving end of Benjy’s suspicious gaze, even after all these months. Remus couldn’t understand how it felt to pour everything he is into the Order, only to still face people’s doubts. Remus couldn’t understand his determination.


“She’s probably not still there, anyway,” said Remus quickly, trying to comfort himself as much as Sirius with that suggestion.


Sirius only grunted, because the fury in him still hoped she would be there. By now, the green glow was no longer obscured. It was just as they'd suspected - the Dark Mark. Sirius stared at it as he stalked forward, his determination only growing.


The house was coming into view, now. It was large, even bigger than James’s house, and nearly as big as Twelve Grimmauld Place, but given the Bones’ status in the wizarding world, that wasn’t surprising. Remus was glad that it was only three in the morning. If this had happened during the day or evening hours, there would likely be a massive crowd around the house right now.


They turned up the walkway.


The front door was still cracked open; one hinge had been broken. As Sirius pressed his hand to it and carefully swung it open, Remus felt terror grip him, nearly strangle him. He half expected to see a figure shrouded in black waiting there, ready to strike as soon as that door was out of the way.


But there was nobody; the entrance hall was empty. Sirius started forward. Remus grabbed his arm to halt him.


Homenum revelio,” he whispered. Sirius seemed impatient, but waited for the spell to come back.


When it did, it revealed that nobody was in the house, and only then did Remus release Sirius’s arm.


(Sirius yanked his arm away, not bothering to hide his disappointment that he wouldn’t get to throw his life away to kill Bellatrix; at least not tonight. But this didn’t bother Remus, who felt only a sense of relief.)


“Hallo?” called Remus then, lighting his wand with a simple Lumos.


There was no answer. He wasn't expecting one; his spell had already told him nobody was here, at least nobody alive. He tried to convince himself that there was still a chance that the family wasn't home. They could just be out for a midnight stroll. He bit his lip in desperation.


Sirius immediately headed for the stairs and the bedrooms, the likely place where the family would be at this hour. Remus, slightly grateful that Sirius had chosen to explore upstairs, made his way into the living room. It was empty, of course. And the dining room was, too. He was in the middle of the kitchen when Sirius’s voice behind him nearly startled him out of his own skin. Only Sirius could slip so quickly and silently through a house.


“They’re all dead,” he said in a flat tone.


“Oh,” whispered Remus, not surprised. He'd already known. They both had known.


“Let’s go.”


The thought of leaving three dead people in the house bothered Remus greatly. He hesitated, but then followed his friend back towards the front door. It had to be done this way, he knew. Dumbledore would bring Edgar’s body here. They couldn’t have people find the man dead on the Ministry floor, after all. It would raise questions about what he had been doing there. Simple magic would tell them what time he was killed. People knew Edgar often stayed late, but the fact that he stayed all night was a secret known only to the Order.


The Order still needed to be kept secret, for their own safety.


At least this way, it would look like what it was - an attack on the Bones family. With Edgar here, where he should have been, and not sneaking around the Ministry.


“Come on,” said Sirius. Remus hadn’t realised he’d hesitated in the doorway. He started to drag the door shut, but then realised he might as well leave it open, just as they’d found it.







III.

The news that Edgar’s entire family was dead brought fresh sobs from the female Order members, and looks of determination from the males. Dumbledore had brought Edgar’s body to his house. When the neighbours woke in the morning and stepped outside to retrieve their newspapers, they found the green skull still hovering in the sky.


And when the Ministry officials responded to the scene, they found all four members of the Bones family dead in their beds, with the handwritten note of warning left behind.


Sirius told nobody else but James that it was Bellatrix’s handwriting on that letter. James didn’t say anything. He understood Sirius’s need for revenge on his cousin, even if he didn’t agree with it. He wouldn’t try to stop Sirius if the opportunity to go after Bellatrix came up, but he did ask that Sirius let him come, too. At least then, it might be two against one.


Sirius had reluctantly agreed, but then, he never could say no to James.


(Neither of them told Lily. There was no reason to scare her, after all.)


But things were relatively calm after everything was said and done. There were no more attacks for the time being. Even the Dementors seemed to have retreated slightly. And Sirius never got the chance to find Bellatrix. After a few days, he didn’t think about her quite so much, and James was relieved when his friend's eyes lost the hardened look of hatred and anger.


The funeral for the Bones family was massive. It was held in the Ministry’s Atrium, which was rather ironic, considering that was where he died. Nobody but the Order knew that, however, and with all of the security measures (and the repaired telephone box, although the hook to hold the phone was still broken), it was the safest place for a large gathering. It was the only place, in fact, that could even accommodate as many people as what wanted to attend.


(The safest and only place aside from Hogwarts, anyway, but Dumbledore refused to allow so many people into the school, especially when there was still no way of knowing who could be trusted and who couldn’t be.)


Every Auror the Ministry had stood on duty that day to make sure the Ministry couldn’t be penetrated. And, unbeknownst to them, an additional, smaller army in the Order sat clutching their wands in their seats.


In all, it was an honourable ceremony for Edgar Bones and his family. It was only a shame that most of the people there had no idea how much Edgar had really given and sacrificed for the magical community.


Moody returned to the Order after Edgar had been laid to rest. Everyone was careful around him, but he seemed to be just the same as he had been before Edgar’s death. He didn’t mention Edgar, however, and stubbornly kept himself constantly busy.


Hogwarts Castle was a gloomy place the week after, when classes resumed after Easter break. Only two other students had died in the past several years, but the Bones children made it four, and both of them were rather popular and well known. Out of everyone who might have suffered at the hands of the Dark Side, the Bones children were never considered to be in any danger. They were well known purebloods, after all. They were good stock - they, of all people, should have been safe from attack.


As for the Daily Prophet, the surviving Bones family was on the front page nearly every day. It was the equivalent of if a celebrity had been murdered - and in their world, the Bones family were celebrities - as much so as the Black family, or the Malfoy family, the Prewetts or the Potters.


It certainly didn't help that the violence and attacks had suddenly withdrawn. Trees waved innocently in the gentle wind these days; there was suddenly no wildly rocking bridges, or dead farm fields, or massive vehicular accidents. Previous talk among Muggles of Armageddon died out, albeit shakily and with a reluctance to believe what was too good to be true.


So instead, the newspaper filled it’s pages with interviews from other members of the Bones family, and small biographies of those who had died, and family photographs. The Bones family got nearly as much attention as the attack on the Underground several months before, although they didn't seem happy about all the attention.


In the end, nobody in the Order could even stand to look at the paper anymore. It was especially hard when it seemed as if the remaining Bones relatives couldn't even walk out their front doors without having cameras and journalists in their faces. Nobody deserved that, thought Remus, as he frowned at the photograph of Edgar's sister, Amelia, trying to hide her face as she entered the Ministry.


As April turned into May, and the flowers began to bloom and the skies became more cheerful, it was easy for all of them to let their guards down slightly. The Order had been on edge for weeks, waiting for something more, but it never came. They could almost dare, now, to hope that they were winning the war. They suddenly had time to focus on Gideon and Fabian’s reports on the Giant movement.


Slowly they became more upbeat about how things were going. They felt that their plan to defeat the giants was flawless; it was a battle they knew they could win with a little help from nature. And so they would wait until the giants had crossed France and moved towards the English channel. It wouldn’t be long until they were there. And then they could fight the massive creatures with magic and water. They could mould massive waves to drive the giants back. Perhaps magic could not penetrate their thick skin, but the force of a tidal wave could wipe them out.


Outside of the Order meetings, which were becoming somewhat scarce, things were going rather well. Having more time on his hands, Peter found a job working in one of the shops in Diagon Alley - the life insurance money he'd received last August was now beginning to run out. Remus joined him in looking for work, but didn’t have quite so much luck. Instead he felt as if he had just graduated Hogwarts all over again, and he could remember sitting in his parents’ cabin and filling out stacks upon stacks of applications.


(And then he painfully remembered that back then, his father was still alive, and that though things seemed easier and better for now, many things had changed in the last year, and many things would never be the same again.)


Lily took to planting a vegetable patch and landscaping her garden. She chose to do it all by hand, for if she used magic, she would be finished with it in mere seconds, and as she told James, “There’s no fun in that.”


(Although James couldn't figure out what, exactly, was so fun about doing it by hand - every night Lily complained of an aching back and knees. Every night, as they lay in bed, he would massage her back, pressing his knuckles into the tight muscles and savouring her warm skin.


Every night, as his hands drifted vaguely south after a while, Lily would suddenly turn and smack him.


“I said a back rub, James!” she would snap while he snickered.)


They had all of the Marauders over nearly every night for dinner and tea in the cheerful backyard. The sun shone more often now. The flowers and vegetables thrived. Peter excitedly talked about his new job, and Remus told them of his struggles with finding one for himself.


“You don’t have to work, Moony,” James reassured him as he chewed on a chicken leg. “I’d imagine it’d be rather hard for you to hold a job anyway when you’d have to disappear once a month.”


Remus shifted uncomfortably. He was well aware of that fact, and he’d figured he might just have to suffer through the aches and pains surrounding the full moon. He couldn’t expect James to support him for the rest of his life, after all. The one thing that was keeping him from finding work was never going to change, never going to go away.


He stared out over the sunny garden, at the bees buzzing around the flowers and the bright green grass against the blue sky. He glanced around at his friends; Sirius was leaning back in his chair with his hands folded behind his head and his eyes closed, and Peter was eagerly spooning seconds of everything onto his plate, and Lily was dabbing at her mouth with her napkin, and James simply watched him right back as he took another bite of chicken.


It was so easy to forget his problems when he was around his friends.


Remus did something he hadn’t done just for pleasure in quite a while; he smiled. In return, the corner of James's mouth twitched upwards into a crooked grin of his own - as if they both now shared some secret knowledge of something; the meaning of life, or something equally content.






IV.

It was late one night when James received an owl tapping urgently at his bedroom window. It took him a moment to wake up and fully understand what the noise was, and by then, Lily had already beaten him to the source of the sound. She shoved the window open and the unfamiliar owl swooped into the room, dropped a note on James’s head, and then flew out again.


“Hm,” huffed Lily. She had barely gotten the window fully open before she had to close it again.


“Really,” said James irritably, propping himself on his elbow. He grabbed his glasses from the bedside table, shoved them onto his face, and then held up the parchment and reached for his wand. He grumbled, as he lit the wand, that it was arse o’clock, and this better not be one of Peter’s jokes. But the first thing he noticed in the soft light was the logo in the upper corner of the letter - he recognised the crossed bone and wand as being the mark of St. Mungo’s.


“Oh, no,” he murmured automatically, suddenly sitting up straight. He couldn’t help but wonder which of the people he loved and cared about was currently in St. Mungo’s, so terribly injured or sick that it would warrant a message in the middle of the night.


James closed his eyes, tight. Lily noticed his sudden expression, and stepped towards him in concern, laying her hand against the back of his head. James hardly noticed, and after taking a moment to compose himself, as well as a deep breath of dread, he read on.


Dear Mister James Potter,

It is with our utmost regret to inform you that your father, Mister Jonathan James Potter, has suffered a stroke at approximately one o’clock in the morning.

Your presence is urgently requested.

Sincerely,

Edward H. F. Bonham, Jr.
Head Healer
St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries



James almost felt his heart stop. He grabbed his watch off the bedside table and peered at it. It was thirteen minutes after one. It dropped back onto the table with a loud clatter.


“Fuck,” he said, getting out of bed and scanning the letter again and again.


“What is it?” asked Lily, rather alarmed at his reaction. She watched him as he tossed the parchment on the bed and turned to scan the room - or, rather, the discarded clothing on the floor.


“My dad’s had a stroke,” said James in a strained voice as he yanked yesterday’s jeans on.


Lily’s jaw dropped.


“They want me at the Hospital,” he continued, trying not to let his voice shake. He stopped to look at her. “Immediately. What do you suppose that means? Does that mean it’s really bad? Do they think he’s going to die?”


Lily only stared at him. After a moment, James turned and pulled a shirt over his head, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer to that, anyway. He ran his hand through his hair wildly, and paced about, looking for his shoes. When he located them, he sat on the bed to shove them onto his feet, not even bothering to tie the laces. He stood up and grabbed his wand again. But he stopped at Lily, kissing her mouth, which was still hanging open.


“Hey,” he said gently, using his finger to lift her chin and shut her mouth. “Do me a favour, Lily, and go and get Sirius.”


She nodded, feeling ill at the thought of James losing his father. She hated hospitals. She hated that he was about to go through the same pain that she had just gone through months before. James left, then, and she was quite alone.


She angrily brushed the tears from her cheeks as she pulled her clothes on.

Chapter 31: Fall of a King
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . T H I R T Y - O N E
Fall of a King



The flat was dark when she stepped into it from the fireplace.


Clearly, both Sirius and Remus had already retired to bed. Lily felt awkward as she travelled through the sitting room and hesitated outside of Sirius’s closed door. She bit her lip - what could she even say? Sirius considered Mr Potter as much of a father as James did. How could she break the news to him?


But James was waiting at the hospital, she knew; there was no time for her self doubts or heartache. She inhaled deeply and slowly opened the door. The mound of blankets in the centre of the bed in the room rose and fell slightly with his even breath. Lily stared at it for a moment before stepping forward.


“Sirius,” she whispered. There was no reaction. She repeated herself, louder, but there was still nothing. “Padfoot?”


Finally, with a roll of her eyes, she pulled the blankets away to see his face.


“Black!” she said loudly, shoving his warm, bare shoulder.


Sirius’s eyes opened at that. He blinked at the ceiling for a moment before he caught her red hair in his peripheral vision. There was a pause as his eyed flicked to her in curiosity, his expression blank. Then he suddenly scowled.


“Well, shit, Evans,” he grumbled. “Just because the Floo Network lets you get here easily doesn’t mean that you can come molest me in the middle of the night,” he said, rolling onto his side, turning his back to her and wrapping his arms around his pillow.


“Shut up, you lout, and be serious,” she snapped in return, aiming her wand at the light overhead. A glowing orb shot from the wand’s tip and settled in the fixture, so that it was suddenly bright.


Sirius detected the hint of panic in her tone. He pushed himself up on one arm and swiftly turned to look at her, suddenly more alert than he had, possibly, ever been in his life. “Is James all right?” he breathed, and as he asked, his grey eyes scanned the empty space behind her for his friend. But James wasn’t here. Lily would never be here without him, not unless something was wrong. Last time she was here without him, something was wrong…


“He’s at St. Mungo’s,” Lily started to explain, turning to Sirius’s wardrobe. In a businesslike manner, she began to pull out clothing for him to change into.


“What?” demanded Sirius, his heart ready to explode out of his chest.


Lily suddenly realised what she said, and how he would take it. She turned quickly to face him. “Oh, no, Sirius! James is fine! It’s his dad.”


Relieved, Sirius took a deep breath. He ran his hand through his hair, however; he wasn’t exactly pleased to hear that something was wrong with James’s father, either.


“He wanted me to get you,” she said, flinging a shirt at him. But Sirius still stared at the blankets in front of him, his hand seemingly frozen to his head as he considered the bad news; his expression was worried, and she hoped that hers didn’t look the same. She frowned at him, instead, just to be sure he couldn’t see the fear in her own eyes. Perhaps it was a way of protecting him. Her attitude took on a bit more resolve and a bit less hopelessness.


“Sirius!” she barked, interrupting the sudden silence and making him jump in surprise. “Quickly!”


“Turn around,” he demanded, not about to get out of bed in front of her. She was James’s fiancée, after all.


“For crying out loud,” she muttered, stalking out of the room and completely misunderstanding his reasoning for the request.


(As if she hadn’t already seen him half naked during his own stay at St. Mungo’s back in January. There was nothing she particularly wanted to see, anyway, but she held her tongue from telling him so.)


But Sirius only took an instant; he seemed to appear behind her before she’d even gotten through the doorway; he was fully clothed and ready to go.


Sirius’s face was stony as he softly shut the bedroom door behind him. “What’s wrong with him?” he asked.


“He had a stroke,” said Lily. She bit her lip, surprised at how small her voice sounded when she told him. So much for not letting him see her own fear… But then, he’d always been the one person who could read her like a book. He rarely said anything about what he saw, though, and she hoped he wouldn’t mention what he undoubtedly knew even now. How close this threw her to falling apart after the recent loss of her own parents…


Sirius looked at her carefully as he opened the front door for her and they stepped into the stairwell. “What’s a stroke?” he said, leading the way down the stairs.


“It’s a Muggle thing, mostly…” she told him. “I suppose it can happen to magical people too… Or maybe it’s just because of his age…” Her breathing suddenly became rougher, as if she were trying not to cry. “You know what a heart attack is?” she asked, trying to put it in terms he could understand.


“Yes.”


“I suppose it’s rather like a heart attack… except in your head. Your brain…”


“Oh,” he said quietly, almost a whisper. His voice sounded resigned, and he seemed prepared to accept the worst, now. Sirius didn’t look at her, and she was glad. She followed him around the side of the building, to the alley, and they both Disapparated to the hospital without another word to each other.









II.

The hospital reception area was empty. For a moment it took Sirius by surprise; he had been expecting it to be quite crowded, it being a war and all. He would not have been surprised to find many, many injured people waiting for treatment as the result of Death Eater attacks.


Then again, when Death Eaters attacked, the victims rarely survived.


But on a brighter side, perhaps they could take the emptiness of the room as a sign that the attacks really had tapered off to nothing. He scanned the open area hopefully before turning to face the woman in uniform behind the counter. His optimism suddenly faltered as the seriousness of the Potter situation came crashing down around him.


Luckily, it was Lily who spoke. She managed to keep her voice firm. “We’re here to see Jonathan Potter,” she said, lifting her chin slightly as she addressed the woman.


“Oh. The stoke victim.”


“Yes,” said Sirius icily. Victim. How he hated that word as of late. Every victim had a name.


“Are you family?”


Lily nodded vigorously.


“Do you have identification?” asked the woman. Both of them hesitated; their identification would not show them as Potters. The lady rolled her eyes, clearly considering them liars now at their silence. “I’m sorry, but we’re only allowing family in at this hour,” she said coldly.


Lily blushed and glanced at Sirius. Sirius could only glare at the woman; it was as if she had just slapped him in the face with the reminder that, no matter how much he wanted to be a Potter, he would never be. He couldn’t even think of a response, and the woman seemed to take his glare as argument enough.


“Well, Sir,” she said defensively. “It is one-thirty in the morning, after all!”


“But she’s about to be his daughter in law!” said Sirius finally, jerking his thumb at Lily.


The woman turned to scan Lily’s small figure. “I see no ring,” she said sarcastically. She had heard that particular excuse before. Lily looked down at her bare fingers in embarrassment. She didn’t have an engagement ring yet due to James’s impromptu proposal.


She blushed once more and Sirius scowled. For a moment, he considered ignoring the woman and simply barging through the doors on his own. But then common sense took over. Surely there would be security guards ready to pop out of nowhere. That wouldn't help anything, and might even make it worse for the Potters if he and Lily had to be bailed out of a holding cell in the Ministry.


Growling to himself resentfully, he finally grabbed Lily’s hand and hauled her towards the chairs without another word to the woman. As soon as they were both sitting, he manoeuvred his mirror out of his pocket.


“Unbelievable,” said Lily under her breath, eying the piece of glass. How absolutely fortunate that old habits never died, that Sirius and James both likely still carried those mirrors around everywhere, just as they always used to. Something that she would never even have thought of; she was in awe of their tiny ways of getting around authority - these mirrors had helped them do that in various situations many times over the years.


Sirius gave her a small smile as he addressed the mirror. “Prongs,” he hissed.


It took a moment for James’s face to appear. He was pale and looked tired and on edge. Worry immediately sprang to the front of Sirius’s mind once more.


“How’s your dad?” he asked quickly.


James didn’t respond. “Where are you,” he demanded.


“That reception hussy won’t let us in,” said Sirius, his voice suddenly loud. Lily blushed as the woman glared at them. “Family only, she says,” he added sarcastically, his tone dropping back to a low murmur.


“You are family,” said James, as if he’d said it a million times before.


Sirius shrugged at the mirror. “Tell her that.”


James growled. “Oh, fuck,” he snapped irritably. “I don’t have time for this. Ugh. I’ll be right there.”


Sirius shot the woman a triumphant gaze and slipped the mirror back into his pocket. She was watching them, but appeared confused as to who he was talking to, and how. She was utterly unaware of what was coming for her; Sirius’s gaze seemed to intimidate her, however, and she quickly turned her back to do paperwork instead.


It only took James a moment to arrive in the reception area. He completely ignored the woman behind the counter as he strode towards Sirius and Lily quickly. He’d grabbed both of them by the arms almost before they’d even noticed his appearance, and had yanked them out of their chairs and began leading them back through the door he’d come in.


Instantly, the woman was on her feet to stop them.


“Mr Potter!”


James wheeled on her furiously. “They are family,” he said harshly. He slapped Sirius on the back, and his voice took on a gentler tone as he introduced them. “This is my brother,” he said easily. “My father’s son. His name is Sirius,” he added, and then he allowed his arm to fall around Lily’s waist. “And this is the love of my life, and soon to be wife. This is Lily, and she’s about to become my father’s daughter-in-law. I asked them to come. My dad would want to see them.”


Still, the woman looked ready to object to their lack of proof, but at the furious look in James’s eye, she seemed suddenly meek. She turned and tottered back behind the counter again, appearing to be utterly ignorant of their presence.


James continued to grumble loudly. “And I shouldn't have to leave my father's deathbed to deal with this shit. Let’s go,” he added, shouldering through the door and leading the way, dragging them along with him.


Sirius and Lily exchanged sickened glances behind his back at his words, and as they walked down the long, clean halls, the seriousness of the situation, the whole world, everything came crashing down all around them. Sirius felt his throat go dry, and Lily’s eyes slowly began to water with every room - every injured person hovering on the brink of death, every reminder - that they passed.


“James,” said Sirius after a moment. James responded with a glance over his shoulder, and Sirius hesitated, his voice becoming gruff. “You-... You said deathbed. He’s…”


“Alive,” finished James suddenly. He winced and had to look away from Sirius. “Sort of.”


Sirius breathed a sigh of relief. At least he was still alive.


James suddenly grabbed Lily’s hand as they continued walking, and nobody said another word until Sirius noticed the signs that told him where they were going.


“They have him in the closed ward?” he demanded, suddenly stopping short.


James bit his lip. “They didn’t know where else to put him,” he admitted. “Sirius… St. Mungo’s is a hospital for magical ailments and injuries. And this… a stroke. That’s not magical, Sirius. They don’t really know what to do with him. The stroke - it makes him kind of touched in the head. He can hardly talk…”


“They can help him, though, can’t they?”


“They are trying,” said James. “They’re looking for a Muggle healer that knows of the Magical world. They can’t just send him off to a hospital - he’s too old. Nobody lives to be as old as he is unless they have magic. It would raise too many questions.”


Sirius scowled. “That’s stupid,” he growled. “Who cares? That’s what the Obliviators are for. So he’s just lying there waiting for help, then, and all they’re really doing is stopping him from dying for now, in this moment.”


James’s eyes were suddenly dull. He went stiff as a statue at Sirius’s words. He was already aware of what they were doing; it was why he was so irritable. But it felt different to actually hear it voiced by somebody else. More realistic, somehow.


Sirius watched him carefully and then glanced worriedly at Lily. “Prongs,” he said after a pause. “I didn’t mean…”


James shook his head. “Pads…” He stopped, and Sirius could swear his best friend’s eyes looked slightly misty. James stared hard and furiously at a scuff mark on the shiny floors and took a shuddering breath as he finally let them in on the direness of the situation.


“They can’t send him on to a Muggle hospital and Obliviate. If they take him out of here, he won’t make it. If they can’t find a Muggle doctor to come quickly enough, he won’t make it. Even if they can find somebody who knows more about treating this without magic - because magic doesn’t seem to be helping - he still might not - probably won’t - make it. There is no guarantee in the Muggle world, or in the magical world.”


Sirius looked grumpy. Like a child not getting his way, he lowered his eyebrows and almost appeared to pout as he stared at James. “Why can’t magic take care of this?” he finally asked. “Magic can take care of other things Muggles suffer from - broken bones, headaches…”


James gave his head a single shake. “He’s too old. If he was younger… He’s one hundred and twelve years old…” He trailed away and glanced at the door. “You should go see him,” he finally sighed, nodding towards it.


Sirius suddenly paled at that suggestion, and felt terribly awkward. He wasn’t one to show compassion to others, no matter how important James’s father might have been to him. And he was terrified to see the man he’d considered to be so strong and wise suddenly lying helpless - and who knows what else, if he was in the closed ward of all places - on a bed, in a hospital gown.


He eyed James and remained silent, stalling the moment when he had to walk through the doors.


“Mum’s in there with him, too,” encouraged James. “It’d mean a lot to them both to know you came,” he added.


There was no saying no to something like that. Sirius gave one last glance at James and Lily and then pushed through the double doors.


When he was gone, James turned to look at Lily. All she could do was stare at him apologetically, with her hands cupped over her nose and mouth in disbelief. She didn’t know what to say, or how to act. She couldn’t imagine sitting around, knowing that somebody probably wouldn’t make it. She didn’t know if it would be easier this way, or to lose somebody quickly and without warning as she did.


And they remained that way for several long moments, neither speaking, neither tearing their gaze away from each other. James’s mouth slowly thinned to a flat line, and finally he grabbed her elbow and turned them both away from the double doors.


“We should go find somewhere to sit,” he finally said.


“You look about ready to collapse,” she agreed anxiously.


When they found a small sitting room around a corner, James immediately dropped into a chair and put his head in his hands. They were losing his father - his heart was breaking. Lily didn’t know what else to do but rub his back sympathetically.


“It doesn’t look good, Lily,” he finally said. Then he suddenly leaned back against the chair and stared at the ceiling, blinking against the harsh fluorescent lighting. Lily wasn’t surprised to see that his eyes appeared red, although it did make her uncomfortable. “Merlin,” he sighed. “I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. Ever since I first noticed that most kids didn’t have parents as old as mine…”


“Doesn’t make it any easier,” said Lily bitterly.


“No,” he agreed.


She gently reached over and touched the dark streaks underneath his hazel eyes, tracing them with her index finger. “You look so tired,” she mused aloud.


To that he shrugged; he had bigger issues now. But he glanced at her, anyway, because he knew she was just trying to distract him. “So do you,” he said to appease her. She didn’t appear any less worried, and James knew she worried more for him than for his father. He had to look away from her intense gaze.


He wasn’t sure how long they sat and waited. Eventually, Sirius rounded the corner, clearly looking for them.


James stood when he caught sight of his friend. Sirius’s face was pale and his eyes looked dull and dead. His mouth was slack, and he, too, looked utterly exhausted after being in the room.


“Your mum wants you,” he said softly after catching James's questioning gaze.


James only nodded. It was obvious, now, that Sirius understood. This was the end. There would be no recovery. They could continue to search for a Muggle doctor who might understand more about the condition, and who could keep the secret - but in the end, it was obvious that a one hundred twelve year old body wasn’t strong enough to stand up to it.


Sirius stared at the floor for a moment, and then he spared a quick glance at James. There was a crazed look in James's eye - he was losing it. Sirius could see it, subtle as it was. He could still remember James boasting about his dad when they were only first years. Everything James did was the result of him wanting to be just like his hero, his father.


“I’m sorry about your dad, mate,” he finally said in resignation.


James frowned. “Sirius,” he growled in a low voice, his tone laced with disbelief, disappointment that he would even have to tell Sirius this. “He was as much your father as he was mine,” he scolded softly.


Sirius only pursed his lips and stared at the ground a bit more, rocking on the balls of his feet. He shoved his hands in his pockets and his expression was regretful. He didn’t meet James’s eye again as he tried to mentally distance himself from everything.


“Did you get done what you needed to?” asked James then. He wasn’t sure what sort of goodbye Sirius could give; it was too personal to probe further. He watched as Sirius quickly put up walls around himself - he could see that look in Sirius's eye. The one that had been there when his family sent him awful notes at school, or the one that had been there when he'd shown up on James's doorstep with his trunk - the one that he wore when his uncle Alphard died.


Sirius nodded and sat down in a chair across from Lily’s. He still didn’t look at either of them.


James gave a single nod in return and sighed. He hovered for a moment, putting off going back. He knew that the next time he was in this sitting area, his father would be gone. Part of him hoped it wouldn’t take too terribly long, and part of him hoped he could stop time right here, forever.


At last he ran his hand through his hair and gave Lily (who was watching him very carefully) a small, rather forced smile. “When I come back, I might not be the same person.”


“It’s okay,” said Lily quickly.


James closed his eyes for a moment, and then turned to return to the closed ward.










III.

Sitting in the Potter household the next morning felt terrible. It was a place that was so familiar, and to Sirius, it had always been an escape, a sanctuary from where he came from. And now it was still familiar, and it was still home… but it was also empty and sad and miserable. It was as if the house itself knew that somebody was missing.


Already, people had come to visit. Dumbledore had spent a long while with James's mother. Remus and Peter had both come knocking as well, although after a few hours of miserable silence, both had made their escapes.


Now Eve Potter was sitting at the dining room table with what was left of her family. In one hand, she held a balled tissue up to her face, propping her head with it as she absently stared out the window. Her other hand reached across the table to hold her son’s.


James looked utterly miserable. He was still in shock, Sirius thought. He sat at the head of the table now, and he didn't even grip his mother's hand back. He simply allowed her to hold his as he stared unseeingly at the chandelier.


Lily walked into the room them, holding a piece of paper in her hand. “The funeral home has an opening for Sunday at ten,” she said softly, reading off what she’d written. Being the least involved, the planning of the funeral and handling of similar affairs had fallen to her. She didn’t mind in the least; it gave her something to do without feeling like she was intruding on something.


“Thank you, dear,” said Eve tiredly. “Can you call back and have them schedule us in?”


“Of course,” said Lily, and she left the room once more. She had to go to the restaurant down the road to use the phone; there certainly wasn’t such a Muggle device in the Potter home.


Mipsy, the house elf, appeared then, carrying a large plant into the room. She could hardly see where she was walking, but she lifted it onto the opposite end of the table effortlessly, where it sat with the other plants. “Another gift, Mistress,” she squeaked with a bow. “From the Prewetts.”


“Thank you, Mipsy, that’ll do,” said Eve. Mipsy turned to leave, but Eve suddenly stopped her. “Mipsy, can I have a spot more tea, please?”


The house elf bowed low again and disappeared to the kitchen.


James rolled his eyes at all the flowers and plants that were sent in sympathy. “Don’t people realise it’s just more of a burden when you have to sit and send out a thank you to all of them?” he wondered irritably.


“James,” Eve said disapprovingly. James’s nostrils flared in annoyance. He glanced at Sirius, if only because he was there, and then glared down at the table again.


“I’ll write them back,” said Sirius quickly.


Eve nodded and smiled tearfully at her adopted son. “You’re a love, Sirius,” she said, not bothering to mask the relief in her voice. Sirius grimaced back.


It was a long while before Lily returned. “The funeral director would like to come over tomorrow to discuss things,” she informed them. “I told him that would be fine - I hope it’s all right. If it’s a bad time…”


“No,” interrupted James’s mother with a sigh. “That will be fine.”


“Okay,” said Lily, offering a smile. She stood behind James and played with his messy hair a moment.


James finally sighed and released his mother’s hand. “Do you want us to stay, Mum?”


“You don’t have to stay,” said Eve weakly. “I can get along. I have Mipsy…”


“That’s not what I asked,” responded James through clenched teeth.


(Sirius wondered why his friend seemed so irritated - perhaps James didn't handle such personal loss well. He didn't think that James had ever suffered a loss before. All of his relatives had likely passed on even before he was born.)


“I know you have Mipsy. I don’t know if you want to be alone or not.” James caught Lily’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “I think I might want to be, is all…” he added as further explanation.


“Oh,” said Eve. “Well… yes, go on. I really am very tired. These potions they gave me… Though I don’t know how I’ll get to sleep without him there…” Her face took on a horrified expression and seemed to freeze there as she realised her husband of the last eighty plus years would never be back, would never wrap his arms around her again. The bedroom would be silent at night; the comforting sound of his even breathing was forever gone.


James watched her, and finally blinked and looked away. Eventually, he stood from the table. “Mum, let us know if you want us to come back. Otherwise I’ll be over tomorrow.”


“Okay,” she whispered, pressing the tissue to her eyes.


James motioned to Sirius. “I’ll help you with that,” he said, nodding to the gifts. He knew why Sirius sometimes smoked gillyweed now. Sometimes it was hard to deal with life. Or death. He wasn't sure anymore; he wanted only a night of forgetfulness and stupidity, to be numb to everything.


Perhaps Sirius still kept some hidden in his room.


“Go on home without me, Lily,” he said absently, staring at his best friend. Sirius seemed to understand; a haughty look suddenly crossed his features, as if to say I told you so.










IV.

It was different from Edgar’s funeral a month before. This funeral was much smaller, much more personal. There weren’t guards standing around, and that seemed to make it more intimate and less dangerous and open and exposed. Only the closest of friends were invited - though even then, there were a few hundred people there. John Potter had touched many, much to Sirius's surprise. He had, apparently, come into the man's life too late to fully grasp who the retired Auror used to be.


They didn’t have the funeral in the Ministry like Edgar's; there was hardly a threat - John hadn't been targeted, after all. Instead it was held at a cemetery, just as Remus’s dad’s had been. This cemetery - Godric’s Hollow’s very own - had a chapel right next door which they had planned to use, but the turnout was far larger than anticipated. They ended up having to move the service out onto the lawn.


Folding chairs had been set up in rows for the family and only the most fortunate of people - most in attendance had to stand. Sirius sat in a rickety chair in the front row where the family of the deceased were sat. James had invited Remus and Peter to sit up front with them as well - all four of the young men were pall bearers. Now they silently listened as a preacher stood up front and gave John an honourable farewell.


(He really was an excellent preacher, Sirius came to realise in the days after. He had come over for a visit with the family shortly after being hired to do the job. He’d brought with him a notebook, and he had asked many questions. He wanted to know who John Potter was; he wanted to do him well. He’d learned as much as he could about John’s life, and he stood in front of the crowd now with much respect for the elderly man in the casket.)


Most people ignored Sirius, or didn’t find anything odd about him being there. At least not the Muggles from the neighbourhood who had known the family. They simply knew he was a runaway who’d been taken in.


The magical people in attendance, however, cast furtive looks his way. He could feel their eyes on his back, and he tried to ignore them. Perhaps they thought it odd that a Black would be sitting in the front row at a Potter funeral. Most people had never seen him with the family - they'd only heard the rumours that the family had taken in the Black heir.


He ignored them. It wasn’t a day to dwell on what others thought. Instead he stared at the casket; he could hear James’s mother sobbing, and many others in the crowd. He could hear Lily sniffle - she did not, perhaps, know James’s father extremely well yet, but it was hard not to react to the preacher’s kind words about what the world had lost. Even he himself struggled to swallow a lump in his throat.


James, who’s eyes were red and watery but his face calm, patted Sirius’s knee distractedly for several long minutes, seemingly not even realising what he was doing.


Because John hadn’t died to any sort of trauma, they allowed a viewing after the service was done. All of the guests filed past first - the family would go last so as to spend as long as they wished. Afterwards people walked to the waiting burial site and mingled quietly.


When Sirius finally got up to the casket, he was almost terrified to look inside. He wasn’t sure he wanted to remember the man who’d taken him in in this way. But at the same time, he felt almost like he was insulting Mr Potter not to look. He shouldn’t be afraid - there was nothing wrong. So he held his breath as he gazed upon the lifeless face.


It was breathtaking to see all of the small items that were suddenly in the casket. Many people had slipped something in - some symbol of a memory they had once shared with John Potter. For a moment, he tried to look at it all.


His eyes caught on a faded old photograph somebody had left. In it were two boys - one of them looked exactly like James, except with neater hair and no glasses. Sirius peered at the photo, and wondered what John Potter had been like as a child. And who was that other boy? Did John have a best friend as close as James did?


And there were other things. A splintered wand. What could that mean? Perhaps a keepsake from a battle that John had been a part of… There were several cigars. Maybe James’s father had old friends he’d use to sit and smoke with during breaks at work.


There were medals and awards and badges meant to be sewn onto a uniform. Somebody left a Snitch, carefully bound with Spell-O-Tape so as not to escape the casket. Sirius wondered if John had played Quidditch as a boy; maybe he was a Seeker.


He found himself turning to stare at the crowd, trying to pick out who had left the items. His eyes hovered on the oldest of visitors - none of the younger could possibly have shared some of the more personal memories. But still, he was certain that John was older by far than anyone present.


Sirius turned back to the casket and at last looked at the old man’s peaceful face. John looked simply like he was sleeping. His eyes lingered a moment; it was odd how he had seen dead bodies fairly often before now, but he’d never taken the time to really look.


There was something so definite and so obvious about the fact that there was no longer a soul in this person. He could remember playing with Regulus as a child - Regulus holding his breath so that Sirius couldn’t see him breathing, trying to fool him and scare him by playing dead.


Sirius smirked. He would never be fooled by such a thing again, that was for certain.


Rather wistfully, he found his eyes drawn to John’s peacefully folded hands. How many times had he shook those hands in the past? How may times had he and his adoptive father stared solemnly into each other’s eyes and had that silent battle of who was the strongest? How many other hands in a lifetime had John Potter gripped with such strength?


John had taught him how to shake hands and leave an impression.


In the last couple of years, Sirius hadn’t gripped the old man’s hands quite so hard, afraid of hurting him. He had been more frail as of late. But he never said anything and he tried not to let John figure out that he wasn’t using his full strength anymore.


Sirius frowned. How fragile those lifeless hands looked, now. John used to have huge hands, bigger than Sirius’s. Now they looked rather small and flat.


Never again would he shake the hand of a man like that.


“Padfoot,” said James then, ripping him from his thoughts.


Sirius turned quickly, taken by surprise. He vaguely wondered how long James had been beside him.


“You all right?”


“Yes,” Sirius responded. “Are you?”


James glanced at his father and took a deep breath, and then gave a hesitant nod. “This is a start,” he said under his breath. He ran his hand along the glossy, smooth wood of the casket’s edge, and then he gave it a pat, a final farewell.


“I think everyone is waiting,” he said, turning back to Sirius. “If you‘re finished, I mean. I know he meant something different to you…”


Sirius glanced at the crowd. Off to the side, Remus and Peter stood ready, watching. He wasn’t finished, really. He wasn’t sure if he would ever be finished, or ready to never see John’s face again. Wasn't this all just a terrible dream? It still seemed so surreal and unbelievable... he could almost imagine Mr Potter now as the young boy in the picture...


But he dragged his eyes away from the mingling people, pursed his lips and turned back to the body. He leaned in a little towards the casket, as if to share a secret with Jonathon Potter only.


“Thank you,” he said firmly, pointedly, managing to keep his cool. “I hope you liked me,” he added in a low voice, and James pretended not to hear or notice. Then he nodded quickly at James to signal he was ready now, and they both gently closed the lid.


Moments later, Remus and Peter were helping them to carry the heavy box to the hole waiting in the ground. One last prayer was said, the last of the roses were tossed in on top, and then they began to fill the hole with dirt.

And though he never would have waved goodbye,
you could see it written in his eyes
as the train rolled out of sight -
bye bye


-The Dream Academy, "Life in a Northern Town" (1985)




Author's Note:
This chapter was SO HARD to write. Sorry it took so long; I was putting it off for quite a while. I hope it turned out okay! I tried to make it touching but not super emo or anything. So nobody really broke down or burst into tears - hope that is okay.


Chapter 32: The Missing
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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.



C H A P T E R . T H I R T Y - T W O
The Missing




In the weeks following the death of Mr Potter, those leading into the month of June, it was almost too easy for James to forget that he was gone. Not living in the Potter home anymore, for one thing, made things seem just as they were even before the dreaded note from the hospital. In a part of James’s mind, both of his parents were still alive and well, drinking tea and eating truffle, reading the newspapers and discussing the state of things.


Of course, logic would always kick in with a sudden jolt, when he would realise with dread that his father was no longer around. He would experience these things rather frequently, usually whilst considering something he had always taken for granted before. When he had a question about something to do with the Dark side, for instance, and resolved to ask his father the next time he was over for tea, only to come to the sudden understanding that he couldn’t, not ever again. Or when he was checking in on his mother, and he would find himself occasionally glancing out the window towards the garden, where he fully expected his father to be - even when he was clearly there because his father was dead, to comfort his mother.


Such experiences occasionally boggled his mind. Vaguely, he wondered if Lily had experienced this same thing when she lost both her parents at once. Perhaps she, too, had gotten ready to go and visit them, only to stop and end up crying when she remembered they were no longer there.


But James, of course, never cried. He would instead grit his teeth, irritated with himself for fooling himself once more. He wasn’t the only one, however, and there was some comfort in that. Twice now, Sirius had called through the mirrors, asking if James wouldn’t mind joining him for tea with his mum and dad.


“Or just Mum,” James would remind him.


And Sirius would heave a sigh. “Right,” he agreed reluctantly, clearly frustrated.


And then there was Mrs Potter. She, too, seemed to go through bouts of expectedness, where, at certain times of the day, she would begin to go about the old routines, and then suddenly come to her senses after a few steps. Of course she didn’t have to make breakfast anymore. She rarely ate in the mornings, herself, but John had eaten bacon and eggs every day for the last seventy years. And as for dinner, she could not break the habit of cooking for two, and often ended up feasting with Mipsy. Or inviting James and Lily, or Sirius, or all three, over to join her.


“I keep forgetting to fetch that blasted newspaper from the front step,” she scowled to Lily once, frustrated. “John always had it before I even got out of bed.”