A/N: Yikes, over 2 mths since the last update...that's abominable! But my life has been utter turmoil for the last...yes, 2 months. Now that I'm settling back to normal, I should write faster. Life is a harsh teacher, but writing is my therapy! =] Please review.
Setting: Alastor Moody’s House, London, 30 October 1981
Reclining in an armchair in front of a window one crisp autumn evening and feeling extremely bored, Sirius sighed. Usually, the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix was filled with the noise of people coming in and out, stopping for meals and sharing their news. But as of last night, most of the Order had embarked again on their assignments halfway across the world.
Sirius, who had already had his share of espionage fun in France in the summer, was house-sitting for Alastor Moody while the Auror went to a classified location on classified “business”. Sirius was almost certain Moody was actually vacationing in Barbados, but who could argue?
Sirius had actually been glad to house-sit the headquarters of the Order. After all, with Molly Weasley stopping by every weekend, he didn’t have to do much cooking or cleaning. It was better than Sirius’s own loft, which was almost too uncleanly to allow inhabitation. Here, there’d be lots of interesting company and news to hear. But with everyone either off abroad or busy, the house was simply lonely.
This eerie silence was making him uneasy. A breeze swept through the curtains of the window, blowing strands of his hair across his forehead. Outside, the last crickets of the season were chirping feebly.
Suddenly, behind him, somebody coughed.
Whirling around, Sirius was shoving his hand into his pocket for his wand when he heard a very familiar voice exclaim, “Padfoot!”
James Potter’s head drifted in the fireplace, surrounded by wickedly dancing green flames of Floo powder.
Sirius leapt up, a hand clutching his heart. “Prongs, I nearly died of fright! And I was about to start shooting hexes your way, too,” he added in a more manly tone. “Next time, give some fair warning, will ya?”
James grinned. “Next time, don’t sit with your back facing the fire. What’re you doing here anyway, gazing out the window like some star-cross’d lover? I thought for sure that you’d be dancing in the secret circus along with the other spy-monkeys.”
Sirius’s face fell at James’s slightly bitter tone. “Oh, Prongs, I know you wish you could do something for the Order. If I were you, trapped in that teeny house with Lily and a baby, I’d have died of boredom by now.”
“Thanks, Pad,” James said sarcastically, grimacing. “If only reminding me of my plight would make me feel better.”
Sirius sighed. “Well, mate, there’s not much for me to do here either. I’m probably just as bored as you, if that makes you feel any better.” He glanced back at the window, through which the muffled sounds of the street could be heard.
“Damn, you’re really losing your touch, eh Pad?” James was laughing. “Home alone, it’s another Friday night in London, and nothing at all for the great Sirius Black to do?”
“Want me to come over and terrorize Harry with the tickle monster again?” Sirius threatened.
“Oh, no, Lily would kill both of us. You know how she gets about Harry getting too excited, and for some reason around you he gets really crazy. I guess it couldn’t help that you’re at about his maturity level.”
“You wound me deeply, Prongs.” Sirius clicked his tongue, deep in thought. “And you’re always so cranky these days. You know what I think you need?”
Without waiting for a reply, Sirius rose from his chair and walked over to the fireplace. “You have half-an-hour, Mr. Potter,” he informed a startled James. “Go get ready, ‘cause the Marauders are hitting the town!”
Sirius paused. “Oh, and get out of my fireplace. I need it to see what ol’Remy and Pete are up to tonight.” He turned on his heel and marched out of the room, presumably to get ready himself. James had no choice but to withdraw his head back into his own living room.
“Oh, Moony? Moony? Where are ya?” Sirius crooned to the empty sitting room in Remus Lupin’s house. Spotting a tuft of blond hair over the back of the couch in the next room, he sighed. Of course Moony would be sleeping at such an hour.
Sirius drew his head out of the fireplace. Racing out the front door, he stood in the front yard for merely a second before he turned on one foot and Apparated, to appear in front of another house. Despite being occupied by only one young man (Remus Lupin did not keep mistresses), the hedges and lawn were kept trim and neat, with colorful flower beds adorning the edges of the walk. It would never have occurred to Sirius to magic such beauty into his yard, not to mention actual gardening.
Well, to each his own, Sirius thought with a shrug as he pounded unceremoniously on the door.
A sleepy-looking Remus answered the door a minute later. “Sirius…? Padfoot! What is it?” he asked, sounding alarmed.
“Hey, you’re awake,” Sirius said as Remus rolled his eyes. “Listen Moony, Prongs has been really miserable lately and I was just thinking, since today’s the night before Halloween and all, we could take him out for a bit of fun. Just tonight. Just once. Pleeeeeease?”
Remus held up a hand to stem Sirius’s flow of pleas. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he began, gesturing for Sirius to come inside. Once the door was firmly closed, he continued, “You know James isn’t supposed to be out in public because of the prophecy. If Voldemort finds them, Merlin help us all.”
“I know, I know,” Sirius said. “If Voldemort catches any of us, we’re dead. But that doesn’t stop us from going places. Think if you were him, Moony! How could you stand it?”
“I couldn’t,” Remus admitted readily. “But Pad, it’s not just the prophecy. There’ve been things going on lately that worry me even more.”
Sirius frowned. “Like what?”
“People in the Order have been dropping like flies, Pad. It’s like Voldemort knows what we’re going to do before we do it. I think there’s a traitor here, who’s been reporting to him,” Remus whispered.
Sirius’s eyes blazed. “Who? Do you know who it is?”
“I’ve been investigating on the side of my usual work, trying to find out. That’s why I’ve been so tired,” Remus explained. He sighed. “Right now’s not a good time to bring Prongs out into the open to test fate.”
“It’s a little too late,” Sirius admitted, cringing. “I already told him we were gonna come rescue him. It’d be terrible to get his hopes up like that, only to tell him he has to stay penned up like a good little sheep. He’d hate us for it, like he hates Dumbledore for trapping him there.” He looked at Remus pleadingly. “Won’t you please come with us?”
Remus paused, considering. “I suppose you’ll go whether I do or not. You’ll need an extra wand if you get into trouble, too. Have you talked to Pete yet?”
“No,” Sirius shook his head, “I was gonna talk to him through my fireplace after this. Can I use yours instead?”
“Yeah, okay,” Remus said, shrugging helplessly as he went up the stairs to change his clothes. Once he was on a roll, there was no stopping Padfoot. Remus would feel better if he went with them, to keep an eye out, and just in case there was trouble.
“The Burrow!” Sirius shouted as he stuck his head into the green flames of Remus’s sitting room fireplace. Peter Pettigrew was staying with the Weasleys’ for a bit while his house got fixed up (the Pettigrew house had been the site of a recent magical accident, for which it so happens Sirius was partly responsible).
Molly was sitting in her old rocking chair, rocking baby Ginny to sleep with a half-finished maroon woolen sweater and knitting needles at her feet. She looked up as Sirius’s head popped into her fireplace.
“Hi, Sirius,” she said, smiling warmly. “It’s always nice to see you, especially since you never come by the Burrow anymore.”
“Molly and baby, beautiful as ever,” Sirius replied with a grin. “Have you seen Peter, by any chance?”
“Oh, he’s been coming and going an awful lot lately,” Molly said, frowning. “And with all the kids to take care of, I suppose I’ve been neglecting my attentions to him as a hostess. The last time I saw him was at dinner, but I think he’s here tonight. You should try the study upstairs.”
“Thanks, Molly,” Sirius said gratefully, stepping through the fireplace until his entire body stood in the room. In passing, he gave her a peck on the cheek and patted baby Ginny’s head.
Climbing up the cramped and crooked stairs of the Burrow, Sirius felt uneasiness wash over him. There was something wrong about this picture, though Sirius had no idea what it could be. He wondered briefly why Pete had chosen to stay with the Weasleys, instead of at Godric’s Hollow, Remus’s house, or even Alastor Moody’s with Sirius. Molly was already so busy with the children, and Arthur with work at the Ministry, that there was probably no one for Pete to talk to around here.
Maybe he could convince Pete to come back to Moody’s with him tonight, Sirius thought as he mounted the third floor landing and pushed open the door to the study. There was a fire blazing in the room.
Inside, a short, pudgy man with soft features and thinning hair scuttled about. He did not run, but the short steps he took across the room as he gathered things from his desk and bureau sounded urgent. Fleetingly Sirius saw a suitcase propped on the armchair, half-full with what looked like food and clothes.
“Pete, mate, you’re going on a trip without telling us?” Sirius exclaimed. The other man whipped around to face the door, his shifty eyes moving faster as he saw Sirius.
“I was…summoned,” Peter choked out guiltily. “It was last second—no notice—and I have to leave soon tonight,” he stumbled.
“Summoned?” Sirius questioned. “Summoned by whom?”
“By, um, Belinda Evens. She’s one of our new contacts in the Ministry. I think Emmeline hired her, but I’m not sure,” Peter lied. “She said she had some information for me to bring somewhere…you know, top secret.”
Sirius tried to remember if he’d ever heard of Belinda Evens, but drew a blank. But he knew the Order had been trying to recruit more people inside the Ministry for a while, and then again, he hadn’t talked to Emmeline Vance in ages. He could’ve easily just overlooked the new addition to the Order.
“When do you have to leave?” he asked Peter. “Do you have time to come out and have a little fun with the rest of us?”
Peter eyed Sirius suspiciously. “What kind of fun? Isn’t James supposed to be in hiding?”
“Pete, the poor man is dying of boredom. It’s just one night. One small night. And after that, I promise you, it’s back to the cow pen for Prongs.”
Sirius made his puppy eyes, begging Peter to go along with it. Peter hesitated. For a moment, it seemed to be working, before Peter remembered again that he had been summoned.
He sighed, his watery features drooping. “I can’t, Padfoot, I’m sorry.” His face took on a strange expression. “But make sure Prongs has fun, then.”
Sirius shrugged. “Alright by me. Have fun being the Order’s human owl, Pete.” He turned to head back down the stairs, shaking his head. He had never understood why Peter spent so much more time with Order business than the rest of them seemed to. Since graduating from Hogwarts, it had consumed most of his time until he drifted farther and farther away from his mates with every passing year.
“Stop being ridiculous,” he chided himself as he re-entered the Burrow’s sitting room. Molly and baby Ginny were both sound asleep on the rocking chair.
Sirius stopped to examine them for a moment, feeling a slight twinge of melancholy in his gut, before Flooing back to Moony’s house.
“Thank Merlin Lily’s asleep,” James said, letting out a breath as they strode down a street in Diagon Alley. “Now that Harry’s sleeping patterns are starting to resemble a normal human being’s, she’s just trying to catch up on all the sleep she’s missed in the last year,” he said dryly.
“Babies,” Sirius grumbled sourly. His head was still sore, and his hair not fully recovered from the abuse Harry had inflicted on it months ago.
Remus said nothing. He was too busy looking around, checking for signs of trouble around them. So far, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, there was not a single shady character prowling around in all of Diagon Alley. This made Remus uneasy. Where were all the Death Eaters tonight? Usually at least a few scattered in from Knockturn Alley, especially this late. He pulled his cloak closer around him agitatedly.
“Here’s the place,” James said, pointing to a large pub on the corner next to the Leaky Cauldron. The warm lights in the windows gave James a strange feeling of nostalgia. “Oh, it’s been forever since we’ve been here!” he sighed, even though it had only been a year.
Remus cleared his throat guiltily. He had been here on more than one occasion since James had been put under house arrest.
Sirius, apparently having the same thoughts, elbowed him gently. “I’ll bet Miss Eloise will be happy to see you after your long absence, eh Moony?” he teased. Eloise Brenner was Remus’s favorite waitress, and her uncle owned the place.
Inside, James collapsed happily onto a worn wooden stool at the Marauders’ usual table near the door. His fingers, without thinking, began to trace the familiar pattern on the scratched leather covering.
Sirius met Remus’s eyes across the table and both men smiled. “Okay, so maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea,” Remus admitted to him in a low voice. Sirius silently congratulated himself on his most recent stroke of brilliance before calling the bartender over.
“Let’s start with a few pints of firewhiskey, shall we?” he asked with a smile. “How’s business been, Bart?”
The bartender smiled at his old customers. “Fine, Sirius. It’s not the same without you lot around disturbing the peace anymore, though.” He slid the drinks across the bar and Remus went to retrieve them. Bart seemed to notice for the first time that James was with them. “Oh, I heard about the baby, James. Congratulations! And how’s Lily?”
“Fine, thanks.” James seized the firewhiskey from Remus hungrily. He wasn’t in the mood to make the usual smalltalk. Instead, the men all drank to several random toasts that Sirius made up on the spot.
Sitting there in the familiar dim lights with the vague smell of alcohol and air freshener tickling their noses, time seemed to slow. The people entering and exiting the pub called greetings to the Marauders, and got only dazed replies. They were three lost creatures who had returned finally to their natural state. This was their home. Their home was each other. The three men basked in the comfort and relaxation of utter content.
James felt warmth spreading from his core to his toes that had nothing to do with the liquor simmering in his belly. He felt as if he had not laughed, actually laughed, in a long time.
“Another round, Bart,” he called.
“You know,” Remus mumbled halfway through his third drink, “I still can’t shake the feeling that something bad’s gonna happen. Like, an event of catastrophic proportions.” Sirius laughed incredulously, and Remus shot him a solemn look. “We’ve been too lucky for too long, mate.”
“Moony, you’re ruining our fun,” James complained. “Can’t ominous premonitions and stuff like that wait till later? Just ‘cause Miss Eloise isn’t working tonight…” He trailed off and winked at Sirius, who laughed again.
“You lot never take me seriously,” Remus grumbled.
“Now, Moony, that’s not true,” Sirius protested. “We can’t fight on our big night out. What say you to a trip down the street after this? I heard Madame Seymour’s Exotic Dance Academy is open late.” Grinning, he waggled his eyebrows at the other two men.
“Padfoot!” James exclaimed, choking on the last of his drink. “You know I hate that place. Besides, there’s nothing that can compare to my Flower.”
Down at the far end of the bar, Bart chuckled. “Oh, I remember the old days, James. All the girls in Diagon Alley would come to greet you lot. You were a regular attraction.” James rolled his eyes modestly. “Remus and Sirius could have a little fun, but with you, it was always—”
“There’s nothing that can compare to my Flower,” Sirius and Remus chorused along with Bart, eyes twinkling.
“Well, I see you all haven’t grown up in the least,” James proclaimed.
They did not end up going to Madame Seymour’s Exotic Dance Academy. Instead, as the late-night customers began to trickle out and business slowed to a halt, Bart came over to sit with them. In their half-drunken haze, old stories of Marauder adventures told across the table became even funnier. They did not mention a certain sixth-year crisis, did not even think of it. It was like it had been wiped out of their memories altogether.
At one point, Bart asked, “Where’s Pete?”
At this Sirius sighed. “I tried to get him to come with us, but he was rushing off somewhere again. These days it seems like he’s always got business with—”
“Something or another,” Remus interrupted quickly. He did not elaborate. Silence descended, and the men drank.
Long after that, James looked up. The clock in the corner read four in the morning. As he heaved himself up from the table, he felt a strange sense of finality. Tonight had been a visit back in time, and now that it was over, he had to get back to reality. He had a family now, an adult life. The Marauders were different now that the world was changing. Tonight had been the Marauders’ last stand as the way they had been.
“We should probably go,” he said regretfully. “After all, Moony and Pad have actual jobs that require actual upkeep.”
Bart called his goodbyes as the men walked out the door, but it was already too late. The spell of the past had been broken, and they all knew they would not be coming back, together. This was a place of their carefree childhood, and that part of their lives was over.
Outside the air was lit with the gray of pre-dawn. Diagon Alley was nearly deserted, but the Marauders had been used to being out so late (or early). The sight was no different than before, but the way the Marauders saw it had changed.
Before they Apparated away to their respective destinations, the men bid each other goodbye.
The next night, the night after Peter Pettigrew had been summoned, was All Hallows Eve, and Avada Kedavra lit up the sky in Godric’s Hollow as James Potter came face to face with the realization of evil. The Marauders were different now that the world was changing. Tonight was his own, a Marauder’s last stand.
A/N: Edited December 6, 2008. So, did you like it? Please REVIEW! This one was so sad, I remember I almost cried while writing it. Haha, I'm ridiculous, aren't I?
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Siriusly: A Marauder's Last Stand