Chapter 1 : Pointing Wands by the Willow Tree
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Chapter One: Pointing Wands by the Willow Tree
Remus John Lupin, 37, ambled down the glum, unlit streets of Hogsmeade with his head hung low. Hands clenched as fists deep within his cloak pockets, he kicked the crunchy golden leaves that had fallen with the season. Hot tears brimmed in the corners of his weary, puppy-dog brown eyes while a gentle breeze tousled his gray-streaked chocolate-colored hair. The wrinkles and dark bags under his eyes aged him greatly, as did the shiny small scars on his neck.
He forbade himself to glance into the old shops like Zonko’s and Honeydukes where he and his Hogwarts friends had wreaked havoc in, once upon a time. There were countless invisible memories of those golden days clawing at his heart. The ghost of each and every one of them flowed about, haunting him. To his left, his right, in front, and behind, Remus could hear the echos of laughter, hexes, shouts, and fights he had once watched and taken a part in. Even with his eyes focused on his every step, Remus could clearly imagine what the street would look like to him.
The golden hew of the setting sun reflected on the town, capturing another ghost in particular to his left; one Remus could not stop himself from gazing upon. A young, petite redhead, no more than seventeen, was going off on a lanky boy about the same age. He had messy jet-black hair and perfectly round glasses that kept sliding down the bridge of his straight nose. Behind the redheaded girl was a tall and slim blonde with a mousy face watching anxiously with a watery-eyed, slightly pudgy boy, an older looking girl with light brown curls, and a much more vibrant looking Remus with a camera hanging around his neck. Sitting on a wooden bench behind this crowd and apparently immune to the fight, were two impish-looking characters sharing an abnormally large chocolate bar. On the left was a spectacularly handsome boy with shaggy black hair, laughing with a bark in his voice and a sparkle in his grey eyes. His body was tall and muscular, and very relaxed as he leaned casually, though unconsciously intimately, onto a girl. She even smaller than the redhead, though had a definite toned physique. She was whispering snide comments with a crooked smirk and her amused purple eyes, tucking a strand of her pixie green hair behind her perfectly round ear and twirling an amulet in her delicate hands-
Remus shook his head vehemently and focused on the ground again. He wasn’t going to keep letting the past call him back. Especially not her. He sniffled twice and quickened his already brisk steps as he made a sharp and sudden turn down an alley leading to the west side of the Hogwarts Castle.
He had until seven o'clock to march himself to the Black Lake, but had left a little over an hour earlier to gather himself and survey the meeting ground for traps. Fugitive tears streaked down his pale, scarred cheeks and rested in his thinning mustache. With an angry, brash stroke, Remus wiped any stray tear from his face before jabbing his fists back into the pockets of his standard teaching robes.
In his right pocket, Remus’ fist brushed against a rutted, anonymous letter. Somehow, the frayed edges and cloth-like material the parchment had turned into was comforting. The anxiety and temper coursing down his spine dulled as he pulled out the letter and unfolded it like the previous umpteen times. Sloppy, oversized words were scrawled about - obviously the author had written it in a rush. There was barely enough room on the bottom for the stamped scarlet and gold phoenix that had flown off the page once he had finished reading the note for the first time back in the summer. He had not recognized the black owl that delivered it, nor would it stay patiently for Remus to send it back with a reply, demanding answers. The phoenix, though, was the emblem of the falled Order of the Phoenix. Only used by those in Dumbledore’s most trusted, most valiant, and most advanced inner ring of members.
The thought of who was contacting him in the simple owl post had tortured Remus for the better part of the past few months. Most of those elite members were dead, missing, hospitalized, jailed, or in permanent hiding places - completely cut out from the rest of the Wizarding and Muggle worlds that was up in turmoil over recent events. There were only three people Remus dreamed of getting a letter from, and even they were highly implausible dispatchers.
Suddenly, Remus felt the ground soften and sweet dew seeped up the bottom cuff of his black slacks as the limp, hairlike string of Weeping Willow leaves grazed the top of his head. The grass was growing greener and longer with every step toward the lake. Remus could distinctly hear the soothing hum of the water and all the magical creatures below its icy, smooth surface. Temptation got the best of the steady Remus; he could no longer restrain himself from looking around curiously with his soft, observant brown eyes.
The Black Lake and Willow Tree. They were two of the most ancient and constant parts of the school that had and continued to have a mysterious electricity, making it such a tranquil spot. Inside his chest, Remus’ heart flipped as old butterflies woke up in his stomach with an old fluttering he had forgotten. There were more vivid ghosts of memories swinging on the broad limbs, dancing through the winding roots and leaves, and jumping into the black water with shrill laughter.
It had twenty years since he had last been on Hogwarts grounds, before he returned for the professor post. Bittersweet memories of first kisses, petty fights, bitter abandonments, evasive lies, philosophical talks, and promises of a lifetime all flashed before his eyes. Taken aback by everything he remembered, Remus had to lean against the broad tree, choking on sobs and wiping away tears that betrayed him.
“You know, there was a time when the only way to see you cry was when Sirius and I would tickle you until you nearly pissed your knickers. Remember?”
The dreamy, fluid voice hit Remus as if he had flown a broomstick at top speed into a solid brick wall. With a livid snap in his body and astounding agility, he spun on the balls of his feet until he was face-to-face, with a very petite, cloaked woman. He whipped out his wand and jabbed it roughly into the stranger's neck.
“YOU!” he bellowed, his usually soft eyes were wild with horror and lunacy. The hooded woman snorted.
“Mr. Lupin, I do believe it was you who taught me that ‘wand pointing is rude and potentially hazardous’?” she mocked in a horrible imitation of a male voice, as she twiddled her own wand with her long fingers. Grunting, Remus flicked his wrist and the woman’s cloak flew off her shoulders and onto the ground behind her with a soft thud, as if something was in a hidden pocket.
Dark, silky curls tumbled out and fell with a graceful bounce around her thin, oval face, and right below her perfectly ample breasts. Despite the twenty years since he had last had a good look at her, the woman did not look drastically different from her seventeen year old self. She still preserved her smooth skin with faint freckles scattered across her small nose and olive complexion. Her cheekbones were as defined as ever, her small rosy lips twitched into her trademark shrewd smirk, soft dimples complemented her smile, and her arches eyebrows and thick, curved lashes shadowed her abnormal red irises.
She was clad in a simple, form-fitting scarlet sweater that fell off her left shoulder and stooped low into her cleavage; an excruciatingly familiar blackened scar burnt deep into the skin above the sternum in the clear shape of a phoenix was left in plain sight. Nothing, nothing at all had changed about her, save for the few new jagged scars and dark circles under her blood-red eyes.
Regardless of all the fury steaming out of him, Remus could not refute the obvious: this woman was as dangerously striking as ever.
“I know, it’s a shocker. I’m not using my Metamorphmagus powers to do some odd thing or another. But I’m sure you’ve seen me without green hair, like, once,” she teased, playing off his dumbfounded expression.
He shook his head stiffly. “Don’t you dare start with that bullshit, Riddle. Don’t you dare,” hissed Remus menacingly, jabbing his wand further into her neck. He wanted her to flinch in fear; he wanted her to wince in pain…
But the woman’s quirky grin merely grew wider as she dramatically dropped her wand at his feet, signaling peace. She slowly pushed his away from her throat with her index finger.
“Loony Moony! What a potty mouth! I've never been a fan of cursing...unless you mean hexing Slytherins...those stupid rabid turds," she mumbled, relishing a distant memory. She smirked, mid-thought. "But, you know, last time I checked- which is every morning I wake up, mind you- my surname was Black. And before that, it was Somebody. Never has it been this ‘Riddle’ you so deliriously called me-“
Remus shoved the woman, one rough hand on each of her narrow shoulders, cutting her off. She stumbled backwards, but remained unphased. This nonchalance, this innocence she presented herself with was about to send Remus off the deep end.
“LAST TIME YOU CHECKED?! WELL, LAST TIME I CHECKED, YOU ABANDONED NOT ONLY THE ORDER BUT YOUR FRIENDS- LILY! JAMES!- TO GO GALLIVANT WITH THOSE DEATH EATERS! AND LAST TIME I CHECKED, YOU CAN BACK TO FEED US LOADS US RUBBISH! LAST TIME I CHECKED, IT WAS YOUR FAULT LILY AND JAMES GOT KILLED, PETER AND NADIA WENT MISSING, SIRIUS WAS IN AZKABAN, ANDROMEDA HAD TO HIDE, AND THE ORDER WAS TORN APART! HOW ABOUT THAT?!”
With every name he checked off, Remus’ voice cracked. His cheeks flushed and heated anger surged under his skin.
“LAST TIME I CHECKED, YOU DISAPPEARED A SECOND BLOODY TIME! LAST TIME I CHECKED, YOU BECAME A TRAITOR. LAST TIME I CHECKED, YOU STILL DIDN'T EVEN KNOW WHO THE HELL YOU WERE! WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT? OR DID YOU ‘CONVENIENTLY' FORGET, LIKE ALWAYS?"
Remus stopped, panting heavily. He had never raised his voice, let alone a fist, like this save for one time. Ironically on that blessed occasion, he had again been dealing with the same, intoxicating woman.
The woman's grin was still plastered foolishly onto her perfect, serene face. Her head had tilted to the side, curls falling lower and grazing her covered left forearm, as her eyes searched Remus’ for something, anything other than hatred. After a few silent moments of her waiting for him to add more insult to injury, her grin grew- actually grew! Remus felt like his jaw could have dropped to the ground, and through to the center of the earth.
“I just saw a smile in you, Moony-butt, yes I did,” she whispered in a singsong voice. Her slim fingers trailed up his arm to his shoulder where she brushed off some dust carelessly from his cloak. He stared, unable to decide if he wanted to smack her or not.
“Have you done completely daft, you wrenched little-“
In mere seconds, the woman had Remus pinned to the willow tree, her hand on his mouth. The clock from the Hogwarts tower only now chimed six times.
“Remus, have you ever once stopped to think what effect the twenty plus years had on me?" she said quietly with guilt. "Did you once stop to think 'oh, you know, maybe Phoenix didn't have a choice to follow her dad? Maybe she was sacrificing her life for her grandfather’s revenge over his daughter and for the lives of her best friends?’ Did you ever once ask yourself that?"
The woman - Phoenix, as she called herself - paused to inhale deeply. Remus knew that sigh. A whole new guilt wrath would be unleashed.
"Yeah, it is my fault that in the long run, so many were killed or hurt or taken away. But did you ever stop to think how much I was hurt? How long I suffered for lying to my father and the other Death Eaters? How much was taken away from me? It's one thing to lose yourself, but it's a whole other thing when everyone you love dies right in front of you, Remus! You’ve never had to live with watching that, have you? Have you ever thought about any of that?!!"
Stiffly and solemnly, he shook his head. But he still wanted to hold his grudge against her. He too, after all, suffered greatly. He too, had to pick up shattered pieces and move on without a trace…
Phoenix rubbed the left side of her chest, right above her heart, when she released him and look away at the Black Lake, waiting expectantly, before snapping her eyes back up. “If you haven’t, then don’t say a thing because quite honestly, then I wouldn’t care what else you have to say to me.”
Looking into her eyes, Remus’ heart fluttered. He hadn’t seen such raw sincerity or determination in anyone for years; not even young Harry Potter could pass that test. Remus didn’t smile or reach out for her, but he realized what was happening now. It was nothing at all like he planned years ago to blow her off the face of the earth the next time he encountered her.
“I did ask myself those things. Once,” he replied frankly. Hope flickered in her eyes as she clapped her hands together and joy leaped back into her eyes.
“Well, that’s all I needed to-“
“But did you? Is that all true?” he interrupted. “I could never answer the questions because I never knew.”
Phoenix paused again, looking deep into his eyes before plopping down against the tree with a weary sigh. She pulled her fallen cloak into her lap like a blanket.
“Yeah, it’s all true. Unfortunately,” she mumbled, picking at a handful of grass like a stubborn child. Chuckling inwardly at her behavior, - ever the same - Remus took a seat next to her, his knee brushing against hers. “I left you all, ‘specially Lil- well, them. I thought I could make Him hunt me down across the world instead until…well, forever, really. But I was just twenty-three, Moony. I really believed that Albus knew about the Hor-“
Inexplicably, Phoenix started choking, as if an invisible steel hands was clamping around her throat, strangling her words back.
Tenderly like a brother, Remus put a hand on Phoenix’s face to stop her from retching, looking at her with understanding and compassion. “You don’t have to tell me anymore about those things when we know you can’t. I just- I just needed to hear all that from you. Or somebody…”
The two sat, leaning against the tree and one another like the good days of the Marauders. Birds chirped, water dripped somewhere off towards the lake, the breeze whooshed through the long grass with a soft buzz, and time seemed to slow down. All the while, Phoenix smiled to herself and continued picking at the grass.
“You never mentioned what I did to you, Moony,” she finally said softly. “When you so kindly reminded me of what I did to everyone.”
Guiltily, Remus shifted uncomfortably and glanced back up to the castle before looking back at Phoenix’s resolute face.
“I felt like you took everything away from me. I felt that out of everyone, I should be the angriest. Losing all the Marauders, you, Lily, Andromeda…and…um, others,” he shifted again as the ghost of the tall, slim blonde twirled before him.
Phoenix nodded silently and as Remus’ final words rolled off his tongue, the grand clock of the castle chimed.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven...
Remus and Phoenix looked at each other again, both of their stomachs flipping with uncertainty.
It had been thirteen years to this day, even to this moment. Thirteen long years of utmost despair, wand pointing, seclusion, and 'what ifs?'. Thirteen years since their two-faced best friend, Sirius Black, murdered best friend Peter Pettigrew, and was shipped off to Azkaban - no questions asked. Thirteen years since their best friend Nadia Dolohov went missing in a black void of purebloods. Thirteen years since best friends Andromeda and Ted Tonks went into hiding with their then young, teenage daughter, Nymphadora Tonks. Thirteen years since the demise of the first Order of the Phoenix. Thirteen years since Phoenix’s impromptu third disappearance. Thirteen years since the once bloodcurdling Lord Voldemort, ruthlessly murdered Lily and James Potter at Godric’s Hollow. Thirteen years since the legendary Harry Potter survived the inexorable Avada Kedavra Killing Curse.
“Happy Halloween, Moony,” mumbled Phoenix. Remus took her slim hand into his rough ones and squeezed.
"Happy Halloween, Phe. And you are officially thirty-seven."
She smiled meekly and gave his clammy hand a squeeze back. "I'm surprised you remember."
"Who else has a birthday on Halloween?”
“I dunno…probably someone else out there,” she answered cheekily. “Hey, Remus?”
“You didn’t think the letter was from me, did you?”
Sighing, Remus replied. “Honestly, it was a tie between you, Andromeda, and Sirius.”
Phoenix snorted loudly. “Sirius? You considered that Sirius sent you a letter? He never even sent me letters, Moony! No offense, but why would he send you a letter? Especially now when everyone’s looking for him?”
"You never know with Sirius..."
“What about Tonks or Nadia? You had to have thought of them when you got it.”
A lump developed in Remus' throat. He stared straight ahead like a fixed statue. “No, I didn’t,” he lied curtly.
Phoenix raised her eyebrow, detecting the lie, but said nothing before resting her head on his shoulder.
“So…what have you been doing? Other than waiting for a letter from us? Did you open your photography studio yet or what?"
Remus chuckled stiffly at the old dream. “No I didn’t…actually, Dumbledore gave me the position as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor,” he announced slowly, nudging his chin towards the castle. Phoenix straightened up as her red irises darted back and forth between Remus and the old marble castle.
“Professor? Bloody hell," she whispered, rubbing her chest again. "We were so bloody sure you'd become the artist out of all of us!” Remus shrugged as Phoenix continued shaking her head in disbelief. He couldn't help but feel like disappointment slipped up in her voice. “Professor Lupin…I guess your brains did pay off then, eh?”
He laughed lowly with a growl as he playful elbowed her in the side. “Excuse me, Phoenix, but didn’t you beat me, Snivellus, and Lily in all of the seventh year exams?” he asked. “I mean, you always acted thick but everyone knew you were bloody brilliant. Remember when we all met, and you and James took on Malfoy and Flint? It was 1968…blimey, so long ago!”
“That was wicked, wasn’t it? I guess those lessons my grandfather gave me weren't a complete waste, eh?"
"Puh-lease, Phe. I mean, Dumbledore was a bit careless to teach someone so young those kind of spells and hexes but frankly, the Order would've be demolished if you didn't know all that stuff."
"Optimism never was your strongest point, did you know that?"
“I’m just saying!”
Their laughter and conversation subsided for a moment. In the wind, Remus thought he could hear Lily’s voice yelling at James to stop touching her ink bottle as Peter and Sirius fought over a game of chess, and Phoenix snored as she had fallen asleep on Remus, her Herbology book flying to the ground.
“Moony, I came here for a reason..."
"I figured that much, Phe,"
She smirked slightly, but it didn't meet her eyes. She looked down at her hands and wringed them around several times. Guilt? Anxiety? Fear? He couldn't quite detect it anymore. "I...I have a couple hours to spend with you now in which we must do something of great importance."
“A couple hours?” Remus asked, slightly hurt. “You could come up to the castle and see Albus and my office and blimey, you could at least see your godson-“
“Got places to be, people to meet, Moony. A couple hours is stretching it for me.”
Surprised by her shortness, Remus sat up a little straighter and subconsciously moved away from her. He was dying to snap at her, and ask if she was going to run away and disappear again. “And what’s this thing we must do?”
Digging into the pocket of her cloak, Phoenix pulled out a leather journal, bound by a gold spine with the initials ‘LMEP’ etched into it with delicate cursive.
“Bloody Hell! That's the diary you gave Lily! You-you stole her diary?"
Phoenix rolled her eyes as she traced the leather book with her fingers. "No, stupid. Sirius did and he gave it to me. He told me you didn’t believe him back then," she said, trying to egg him on. "That you actually believed he killed Peter and betrayed everyone like I did. So, he told me to give this to you.”
"You called me here so I’d read a stolen diary that belongs to our best friend just so Sirius can indirectly prove to me he isn’t a traitor?"
Phoenix looked slyly at Remus, her eyebrow raised knowingly. “C’mon, Moony. I know that you’ve seen something that makes you believe it wasn’t Sirius.”
Suddenly, all Remus could think of was the night that he found Harry Potter in the corridor with Snape, armed with the infamous and thought-to-be-lost Marauders Map. And on that map had been Peter’s name…
"Phe, you need to stop reading through my thoughts,” Remus blinked, seeing Phoenix’s red irises dilated and boring into his brown ones.
Her pupils returned to normal size. She shrugged, an evil twist in her grin. “You need to be more on guard then. I’ve read a novel from your mind since we’ve been sitting here,” she tapped the diary with her index finger, “and no, we are not going to read what’s written because nothing is written in here.”
Remus stared at Phoenix, dumbfounded. Really, there was a limit to how nonsensical a person could be.
“Phe, did you hear anything you just said?“ he emphasized strongly.
“Yes, I bloody heard myself. What kind of ridiculous question is that?”
“Well then, how am I supposed to be convinced that Sirius is not a mass murderer...from an empty bloody book?!”
Phoenix rolled her eyes, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “You’re going to have to write everything- and I bloody well mean everything- dating back to when we first met. Sirius told me to tell you that if you think back hard and far enough, you’ll see all the pieces come together.”
Remus stared back and forth between the journal and Phoenix. He wasn't even that surprised at the immensely odd demand to write a book in mere hours. Rather, he was mostly unsure of if he really wanted to dig so far into the past. It was, after, a very dark and glum one. One he was still taking the time to heal over. Of course, he would discover new things that would surely keep him up at night…but this was taking one for the Marauders, wasn’t it? That was their agreement- stand until we all fall.
“I don’t know everything, you know,” Remus argued weakly. “Like when you all ran off to different places…how should I know all that rubbish?”
Phoenix grinned. “That’s why I’m here, silly. I’m going to help fill in everything you can’t, with my impeccable memory! Isn’t that just splendid?!”
“Peachy,” he snapped, regretfully taking the quill and ink bottle that magically appeared in Phoenix’s outstretched hands.
She sighed contently. “It’ll be nice to prove you wrong, Mr. Lupin. This chance doesn’t come along a lot.”
"Ugh, what is it, Moony-butt?"
"What if I don’t believe you? Or what if I find out things I don’t want to know?”
She shrugged and opened up the diary to the first, crisp page. The musky smell of lilies and fire tickled Remus’ nose. He couldn’t help but smile; the familiar scent was so appealing and comforting, he almost felt like he was back in the Gryffindor common room.
“Someone once told me that you’ll just have to deal with what you’re given,” she replied with a sad, knowing smile. She patted his shoulder encouragingly and placed the journal in his lap. “September 1, 1968!" she coaxed.
"September 1, 1968," Remus repeated with a sigh, writing with an edge in his professional cursive. “This is going to be one hell of a visit of yours, isn’t it?”
Phoenix smirked mischievously. “Oh, you have no idea…”