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Special thanks to all those over at the forum who helped me name this story, to Violet Gryffindor for both the banner and giving me courage I didn't know I had to post something like this, Girldetective85 for the summary, and every single staffer that joined the midnight staff writing posse chats that helped get this chapter off the ground.
Beneath a Scarlet Moon
He was just a shadow in the dark but the familiar sound of his heavy, uneven footsteps gave him away. He had always favored his right leg - ever since they had both fallen twenty feet onto the landscaped grounds of the Grimmauld gardens when they were kids. Sirius had come out unscathed, but Regulus had come away with the slightest of limps. No one else would notice, it was just another thing that reminded Sirius how well he knew his younger brother.
But as he stepped forward under the dim light of the scarlet moon, Sirius also remembered that the man approaching him was no longer that same boy. He was holding something in his left hand, the other hand hidden behind his back. The pounding in Sirius' chest grew stronger the closer his brother moved and his fingers clasped instinctively around the wand hidden deep in his cloak.
“So you came, brother. I have to admit I'm surprised.”
“So am I,” Sirius returned, willing calmness into his own voice. “I assume you aren't alone?”
Regulus chuckled. “Of course not. We don't travel alone these days, what with Dumbledore on his rampage and all.” His eyes fluttered around the buildings of the village. “And I don't imagine you are either.”
Sirius didn't respond. He was, in fact, alone. Bringing anyone else along would have caused a firefight to erupt and, as much as he was against his brother's ideals, he didn't want to be present at his death. Or be the cause of it. “What do you want, Regulus?”
“Want? I want you to join your rightful place at Voldemort's side,” he chuckled. “But, alas, I'm here on a much more mundane errand tonight.”
“A Black, demoted to the status of an errand boy,” Sirius scoffed. “What would our dear mother think?”
“Don't give them a reason, Sirius.”
Sirius couldn't tell if it was worry, if his brother was trying to protect him, or if he was merely taking the opportunity to gloat and remind Sirius that he was the vulnerable one during this confrontation. “Then get on with it before I lose my accommodating nature,” he grumbled.
“Take this, a present for the Order.” His laughter reverberated darkly through the night air as he offered Sirius the thing he was holding.
Sirius hesitated before taking the package, unwilling to let go of the firm hold on his wand. But Regulus would notice if he tried to switch hands- another reminder of how well they knew each others idiosyncrasies. Releasing his grip on the wand, he outstretched his hand and accepted the squarish, coffee colored piece of wood without bothering to look at his brother.
A frame. Hand-carved by the look of it. It wasn't a Black family heirloom- of that he was certain- but it did trigger a memory from childhood that he couldn't quite place.
“The frame is incidental,” Regulus' voice had a tight, drawn tone to it that told Sirius he was suddenly in a hurry. “Lucius was kind enough to provide it.”
Hairs rose on the back of Sirius' neck unbidden, and his eyes automatically searched the shadows around them. Yes, Lucius would be here. He would never have allowed this meeting to occur without his presence to oversee it.
If he was the more cautious type, Sirius knew the revelation of Lucius' presence should concern him. Instead, it made him more at ease. Lucius he would happily kill without a second thought. That alone made the playing field much more even. “And here I had hoped his taste had improved over the years. Pity.”
And this time, he knew it was a warning. It was low, barely a whisper, designed to keep the others from overhearing. It was the voice Sirius knew from childhood when his mother was about to catch them doing something against the rules. His eyes lifted to his brothers' and Regulus shook his head. It took Sirius a moment to understand: Regulus was in danger tonight, too.
“The gift, Sirius,” he hissed.
He flipped the frame over quickly, now concerned for his brother's safety rather than his own.
Voldemort. And Severus Snape.
They moved together, their heads tilted back in mutual laughter. They were alone in some dark wood, their pale faces reflecting twin-like from the moon's glow. It could have been taken yesterday or five years earlier - there was no way to estimate the time or even date of the photograph.
“You don't seem surprised.”
“If Voldemort expected me to be then he underestimates me,” Sirius returned. “Take your picture and go to hell, Reg.”
He tried to shove it back at his brother but a deep pain shot through his back, the rounded tip of a wand piercing on his kidney. He dropped to his knees, his body wracked with pain filled convulsions.
“Pass it on to Dumbledore, Sirius. Even if you have no interest I'm sure he will.”
“I am not your errand boy,” Sirius growled at his unseen assailant as he struggled to his feet, his body twitching with the need to whirl around and confront the coward that had come at him from behind.
“We'll see about that,” Lucius' arrogant voice echoed in his ear but before he could even turn, a flash of blinding light dropped him back to his knees.
Whether it was truly his brother or only a pain filled hallucination he wasn't sure but, as he faded into blackness, his last memory was of his brother screaming “No!”
“Sirius, what are you doing out here?”
He glanced up, still dazed, having come to only a few seconds before the voice arrived. He struggled to sitting, leaning his back against the porch railing. He hesitated. A porch railing?
“Where am I?”
“The pub,” Lily sank down to her knees, her hand drifting gently across his face. “You went for a walk and when you didn't come back I came to look for you. You don't remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” he mumbled. “Go inside and get me a drink, would you? Strongest they have.”
Her reprimanding tone irritated him but only for a second. He knew he had to look like hell and she probably assumed he was already drunk. She was worrying, though, and for that at least, Sirius was grateful.
“Please, Lily.” He took her hand and planted a quick kiss on her palm. “I just need a chance to calm myself.”
“Never mind,” he interrupted, waving her off impatiently. “I'll get it myself.”
“No, stay here. I'll get it. Do you want me to get James?”
He frowned. He'd forgotten James was here. Everyone was here. Behind the wall, in the pub, everyone was drinking themselves into a stupor celebrating their graduation from Hogwarts. He should have been with them; should have never allowed himself to be used by Regulus. But he always had been a fool when it came to his family.
He offered her a brief smile. “Drink first. James later.”
As she disappeared, Sirius pulled himself to standing. His mind drifted through a dozen dark spells, trying to fathom what Lucius had hit him with. Obviously it was strong enough to knock him out and allow him to be moved without rousing him. That Voldemort's followers had been so close to James and the others made Sirius' muscles tense defensively. His eyes roamed the shadows but he couldn't discern any movement. He supposed that once their errand was completed, they had all fled back to Voldemort's side. Chickens or planning something more deadly for the future? Feeling the heavy weight of the frame in his cloak, he was afraid he already knew the answer.
“Want to tell me what happened?” Lily asked, slipping up beside him and sliding a shot glass into his hand. He downed it in one swallow and she offered him another held in her other hand. When he'd finished that, he dropped his hands to curl around the porch railing to help steady himself.
“Just out being stupid,” he murmured, sending her a half smile.
“Walk with me?” she tugged on his sleeve. “It was a anesthetic spell. They use them a lot at St. Mungo's. It demobilizes the patient and knocks them out at the same time while they are undergoing treatment. Walking will help it wear off.”
The blinding light. It came from in front of him...not from behind. Regulus had done the spell to keep Lucius from killing him. He knew better than to be grateful. Regulus had a mission to complete for Voldemort and if Lucius had killed him, that mission would have failed.
He lifted an eyebrow her direction. “You followed me?”
“You lost me when you hit the north woods,” she answered unapologetically. “Come, walk. It will help.”
He nodded, burying his hands in his pockets as they stepped onto the dirt path leading back towards Hogwarts. He wasn't surprised that someone had tried to follow him – it was the main reason he'd taken such a circuitous route to the meeting spot. But he was surprised it was Lily.
Although her rule-abiding personality had lightened up over the past year, she still wasn't one to go off without thinking. Especially with a war on the horizon.
“It wasn't safe for you. You shouldn't have tried to follow.”
“And going off alone was safe for you?” she countered. “I may not be one of the marauders, Sirius, but I care about what happens to you, too, you know.”
He exhaled heavily, letting his eyes drift closed for the briefest second. “I know you do, Lils.”
No matter how many times I've told you being beside me will get you killed, he added silently. Sometimes he found his friendship with her impossible. She never listened when he warned her, never trusted his instincts on what was safe, never believed that his being a Black was reason enough for her to stay far away.
And then there were these times. Moments after the danger had passed and he knew he wouldn't trade her for anything in the world. There was no other woman in the world who would have followed him just in hopes of keeping him safe. Risking her own life to try and save his- stupid mentality but an endearing one nonetheless.
Dropping an arm around her shoulders, he tucked his head into her neck as they walked. “Next time, just let me know you're coming along, all right?”
“So you can send me back?” she chuckled. “I think not. What was so important to take you away from the festivities?”
“Family business,” he shrugged. “You know reveling in all things dark arts related and such.”
“So it was Regulus then,” she nodded. “I figured. Still hasn't given up on converting you?”
“But you haven't given up on him either, have you?”
“There are some things about you, Sirius, that I will never understand.”
“Probably best that way,” he chuckled. “Come, sit with me. My body's decided it's done enough walking.”
“Are you better, then?” she asked, dropping to sit beside him at the edge of the Black Lake. In the distance, the turrets of Hogwarts shown through the gathering clouds. “Physically anyway?”
“Yes,” he grinned. “Physically I am better. How did you know what spell was used?”
Taking his hand in hers, she turned it over. She let her fingers drift over a blueish colored streak that wrapped around his wrist. “It allows the healers to know who has already been cast on. Not much use at St. Mungo's really but is a throw back from field work, I think, when hundreds of wizards needed treating at once.”
He scrubbed self-consciously at the mark, cursing under his breath.
“It'll wear off, don't worry,” she chuckled. “Plenty of time for you to get back to the freedom fest at the pub if you want.”
“Time enough for that later. Besides,” he shrugged, “I've had my freedom for quite some time now, remember?”
“Depends on how you define freedom.”
“No way, Lils. I'm not playing 'let's dissect Sirius Black' with you tonight.” He chuckled, adjusting his position so he could pull her to lean against his chest. He let his head rest against the back of hers for a moment, inhaling the scent of her shampoo. She'd recently switched from some sickly sweet berry scented thing to a much more natural chamomile type. Fitting, he thought, that the woman that could best calm him had infused herself with a calming herb.
He shouldn't be here with her – out in public when anyone could see them- but he didn't have the strength to leave her either. This had been what she wanted to talk about, he knew. How no matter if he had been free from his parents for years now that he had managed to tie himself to others in the process: James and the other marauders; Hogwarts; Dumbledore's crazy new found Order of the Phoenix; and, unfortunately, her.
“A scarlet moon again,” Lily said off-handedly. “Second one in less than a month. Dumbledore says its indicative of the troubles ahead.”
“A mercenary's moon,” Sirius said, nodding. “A blood red moon to light the way for pirates, murderers and thieves.” He could feel her questioning gaze and smiled. “When upon the moon lies a blanket of scarlet red, the end of the world is nigh. The righteous will cower in fear allowing the wicked to rejoice and inherit the vastness of the earth.”
He shrugged, dropping his gaze away from the sky and back to Lily. “It's an old tale, told in wizarding families from childhood. Part of a bedtime story, I suppose.”
“There are probably thousands of those,” she murmured, sinking deeper into his chest and molding her body against his. “Wizarding tales and legends, myths or even real heroes. Things I've never known.” She dropped her voice to a mere whisper. “Things I will never know.”
“Would you like to know what happens when the stars go blue?” he asked in an attempt to distract her. He wrapped his arms around her, engulfing her small frame in his and shook her gently. “It's much less depressing, I assure you.”
She shook her head but remained silent. Sirius knew she was filling herself with dark thoughts, imagined and not so imagined fears of what the coming war with Voldemort might bring. He had been raised with a knowledge of killing curses and dark magic- to try and imagine the fears she must be facing was impossible. To not know what Voldemort was capable of, to hear but not yet comprehend the allegiances of purebloods that he now commanded- it must be terrifying.
He dropped his lips to ear, his warm breath causing her to shiver in his arms. “I won't cower to him. Others, too. Opposition, no matter how slight, is always the strongest defense.”
She nodded, and he nudged her head to lay on his chest. Holding her had always been comforting. On their first day at Hogwarts, he had found her curled into a ball, sobbing over some Slytherin nonsense about purebloods. He had had his own demons that night after the shock of being sorted into Gryffindor. When he had moved to check on her, she had lerched into his arms as if they'd known each other for years. He'd patted her back like a kid sister until she'd realized who he was and started reaming him for being no better than the ones mocking her. His fury quickly matched hers and it had taken Remus Lupin to draw them apart. But neither had held the tirades against each other and, even now, while they still could engage in the most heated debates, there was no one save James that knew his demons like Lily.
“A lover's moon.” Lily murmured, interrupting his thoughts.
“A lover's moon. Romantic, melancholy, timeless and mysterious all at once.”
He shook his head. Yet another place he didn't want to go with her this evening. While every girl at Hogwarts was in the mood for end of term, starting of your adult life romance, his thoughts revolved around a coming war and the devastation that would follow. They believed in a future of possibilities...he only believed in the darkening world around him. He glanced down, saw her watching him intently, and grimaced.
“Did I terrify you, Sirius Black?” she asked, her lips turning up in a wide grin. “Afraid of what will happen, are you?”
That she had taken his demeanor for something else entirely was only an amusing anecdote to the whole sordid evening. A war was coming. He'd be stupid not to be afraid. As he sat here with her, it was impossible not to realize that in an hour or a week, she could be dead. Any of them could. The idea that it could her – her red hair matted with blood, her green eyes never again shining brightly, her hand never again holding his- was more than he could stomach and he fought to settle the terror welling within him.
“Your every breath terrifies me,” he mumbled darkly, standing up and offering her his hand.
“And?” she prodded.
It bothered him how well she knew him. That she knew he was thinking something else and yet keeping it to himself was just another indication of the ties he'd forged and how desperately he needed to break them. But as she closed in on him, rising to her tiptoes and enveloping him in her calming scent, he couldn't bring himself to refuse her.
He closed the single step between them, his breath ghosting across her face as she slowly lifted her head to gaze steadily at him. He reached down, the rough pad of his thumb caressing her cheek. Her eyelids fluttered closed as his hand wandered to her neck following the curve of her collarbone until his fingers found the silver pendant that rested in the hollow of her throat.
He leaned forward and whispered softly in her ear. “And yet,” he continued shakily, “without your breaths, my next isn't worth taking.”
Her breath hitched and he covered her lips gently with his own, kissing her tenderly. His hands came down to encircle her neck tilting her head up for a better angle. Unconsciously, he could feel her move with him, their lips connecting hesitantly. Her innocence made it awkward, but her trust in sharing something so intimate with him called to his buried emotions and Sirius cupped her face in his hands to help lead the way. With each ragged breath that escaped her, he knew he had the opportunity to pull away and yet, nothing in his being would allow him to consider taking his lips from hers.
It was heaven. And yet the darkest hell he could imagine.
He pulled away quickly before his resolved weakened again, still keeping her in his arms but far enough away to get his emotions in check. Or try to. He had just kissed Lily Evans. The girl he had watched move from an obstinate rule-abiding brain child to a woman willing to carelessly risk her life for those she cared about. The girl who had been one of his closest allies since his first day at Hogwarts. She was demanding and moody. She was a devil when she was fighting and the giver he wished he could be. The one who tried to shelter him almost as much as James Potter did.
And he was repaying her how? By taking her here, knowing they were probably being followed by Death Eaters. Knowing, that Lucius, Regulus and Voldemort had all put him at the top of their wanted list and anyone near him was in mortal danger. And yet he was kissing her as if none of it mattered. How selfish and irresponsible could he possibly be?
He exhaled heavily and smiled the most winning smile he could manage. “It's time to get you back.”
But his patronus was already streaking through the night air, summoning the marauders to his side. He could feel the heat around them, magical electricity defining their location to his friends and he knew he had only seconds before they would appear. Dipping his head quickly to her ear, he drifted his lips across her cheek. “Be safe, Lils.”