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Ebb and Flow by emberlivi
Chapter 55 : London, October 1984
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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Where the bloody hell am I, she thought as she awoke, fiercely rubbing her forehead.

Slowly opening her eyes, she scanned the flat bedroom or hotel room—she was unsure of where she slept. A few photographs and costly paintings covered the pale green walls—wherever it was, it was comfortable. I don’t remember how I got here, she thought, noticing her clothes in a crumpled pile on the floor, but I know what happened. Stretching, she turned her head to the side and noticed her partner for the night—a man with tousled blond hair—lying on his stomach, his head buried in his pillow. As she yawned, she attempted to remember his name. She was so drunk, so strung out on refined poppy juice, she wondered if she ever knew his name at all. Who the hell is he, she thought as the man continued to snore softly into his pillow. Jake? No, John. No, Jack—that’s it, Jack. Right, chatted him up in that private pub Allegra told me about. We left the private pub and entered the opium den upstairs, she thought, sitting up as she became increasingly queasy. Bloody hell, I’d thought I’d quit that stuff.

As she sat up, Jack began to stir. Sitting up, he smoothed the hair away from his handsome face and smiled. “Morning,” he murmured happily.

Althea smiled and went to stand.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he teased, pulling her back into bed.

He’s one of those types, she thought, as she allowed him to pull her back to bed, I should have left earlier. As she rested her head against the pillow, she noticed a tattoo of a skull and snake on his forearm, which caused her stomach to tense; suddenly, she remembered why she was there. He is so handsome too…pity, she thought, frowning slightly. Unfortunately, last night she had become sidetracked with alcohol and refined poppy juice, she had forgotten. This was the first time she had let the intoxicating concoction cloud her mind from her business. She had planned his death like all the others—stalk him, observe his movements, his habits, and then, kill him. His death would be a little different, though, like the filth he was—killing an entire family deserved special treatment. Once drunk, she would entice him with some illicit tryst in a dingy back alley, and slash his throat—leaving him to die among the garbage and grime. Now she had to change her plan—her knife was in her robe pocket and no gutter to leave him to die.

Jack rested his arm across her waist, which allowed her to look at the Dark Mark. I can’t believe after all these years he would have something like this and not hide it, she thought as Jack kissed her shoulder. He’s either bold or stupid. It hasn’t faded, too…not like the others, theirs were almost gone and one was gone.

“Where did you get this?” she asked, stoking his forearm where the Dark Mark was tattooed into his skin.

“Never you mind,” he murmured, kissing her collarbone.

“No, it’s interesting,” she replied, tracing the outline of the skull.

Jack lifted his head and looked into Althea’s eyes. “Interesting?” he repeated smugly, smiling at her. “It’s more than interesting.”

Althea looked from the Dark Mark back to his eyes. “So, it means something very special to you?” she asked, feigning innocence.

“Oh yes,” he murmured and kissed her collarbone again.

Althea sighed and pushed him away, causing a visible look of disappointment across his face. “I wish I could, but I have business to attend to,” she said, stroking the hair away from his face.

He sighed and took her hand in his. “I suppose…I could see you again sometime?” he asked and kissed the back of Althea’s hand.

“Possibly,” she replied, with a slight smile, as she stood.

Jacked rested his head against his propped up hand. “Possibly isn’t good enough,” he replied smoothly. “You’ve bewitched me, Miss Martin,” he added, smiling smugly.

Althea smiled to herself as she successfully hooked the first bra hook. “I don’t think there’s such a thing,” she said as she had some difficulty with the last hook.

“I disagree, Eudora,” he replied as Althea picked up her black robes from the soft, moss-colored carpet.

Althea shook her head and smiled at the young man’s attitude toward her. “I think you,” she began to explain as she slipped her robes over her head, “had too much refined poppy juice,” she finished as she cleared the robes over her head.

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied, smiling, watching as Althea adjusted her robes. “No, I believe it is more sinister.”

Althea smiled with feigned innocence. “Sinister?” she questioned, slipping her hand into her robe pocket. Her smile widened as her fingers caressed the knife handle.

Jack nodded. “Yes, sinister,” he answered as Althea sat next to him on the bed. Jack took her left hand in his. “How is it that I could miss such an enchanting, sensual pure-blooded witch?” he asked and forcefully kissed the back of her hand.

“You haven’t described what is sinister,” she murmured, leaning closer to him as her other hand slowly pulled out the knife from her robe pocket.

“You,” he replied, pulling her closer.

“Me?” she whispered, allowing her lips to brush lightly across his. She quickly pulled away as she felt his lips meet hers and smiled mischievously.

“Mhmm,” he murmured, taking hold of her right arm, causing Althea to loose her grip on her knife—it falling back inside her pocket. He placed her arms around his neck as he continued, “You’ve cursed me, haven’t you? Or put love potion in my wine.”

Oh bugger all, she thought and sighed with small frustration. I should just slit his throat to shut him up.

However, she would not get her chance to silence Jack as his house-elf had entered the bedroom. “Master, Kirby brought you lunch,” the elf said as the silver tray shook in his hands.

Jack frowned as he pulled away from Althea and reached for a book on the nightstand. “You accursed elf!” he scolded, retracting his arm to throw the book at the trembling house-elf.

“No!” Althea gasped, grabbing Jack’s arm. “It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t know I’d be here,” she implored and Jack dropped the book from his hand. “I should leave anyway; I have so much business to attend to, but I promise we will meet again,” she finished and kissed his lips.

“When?” he asked, attempting a casual eagerness in his voice.

“Soon,” she smiled as she stood. “I’ll owl you for a meeting.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow, then,” she replied and exited the bedroom.

Enjoy your last day, Jack, she thought as she descending the staircase amid Jack’s shouting at his house-elf.

***


Althea, in the early evening, returned home, but home was no longer the cottage at Northfield. She had left Northfield and wandered Britain, sleeping in abandoned nests, under roof awnings, in a few trees, anywhere she could get close to those she tracked. However, after a night of hedonism and debauchery, Althea collapsed in front of the Salisbury House where Madame Allegra White, noticing that Althea had collapsed in her doorway, took her into her home. That night, a gracious Allegra cared for the drunken Althea and nursed her to sobriety. Once sober, the successful middle-aged witch offered Althea a flat above the Salisbury House and the enticing offer as her personal Healer. The Salisbury House, established in 1674, was the esteemed and premier private club of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Britain. For centuries, the greatest minds and talents in Britain gathered at the Salisbury House for sundry entertainments and discussions. Ministers, philosophers, adventurers all stepped through the storied corridors and drawing rooms of the Salisbury House. Indeed, from the exotically and lavishly decorated rooms of the private meeting house, the essence of what it meant to be magic was debated, the seeds of the Statute of Secrecy were planted, and the Cairn Alley Review—the most respected literary magazine—was created. Althea, the quiet, unassuming companion of Allegra, who kept to herself, was privy to all sorts of salacious details, for wizards and witches supplied with alcohol and other comforts would divulge many secrets—from former Death Eaters, to corruption in the Ministry, to which Quidditch players had illegally enhanced their brooms. She would prefer this method of tracking, indeed. However, Althea could not afford Allegra to know her true name or the name she was known by in the Wizarding papers. She gave her name as Eudora Martin, a young disenchanted witch—a Healer broken by the war—that lost her way in the sometimes cruel Wizarding world.

As she walked upstairs, Althea passed a few of the women entertaining a group of young wizards with song and accompaniment as others plied them with drink and conversation. The gossip columnist for the Daily Prophet, Hedda Winchell, held court in one of the small sitting rooms. All were enthralled with Ms. Winchell’s story of the dalliance between Celestina Warbeck and the coach for the Wimbourne Wasps, but Allegra. She looked bored—exhaustingly so—her eyes fought to keep open. Althea paused upon the staircase, which caught Allegra’s attention. Allegra looked up, her eyes met Althea, and she smiled. She discretely beckoned for Althea to come forward, but Althea shook her head. In her clothes from the evening before, she did not want to be subjected to the stares and comments of Winchell and her court. She continued on and listened to the laughter filter up the staircase as one of the patrons accused another of cheating at their game of cards.

Upon entering her room, she headed for her bathroom, turned on the bathtub tap, and undressed, anticipating the warm and comforting water. She had failed in her attempt to kill Jack. How could she have been so stupid? No, no more refined poppy juice, she thought, gently sliding into the warm bathwater and bubbles. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that great of an opportunity to kill Jack again.… Why was I so stupid to take refined poppy juice? I don’t know how many people saw me with him now. There will be more of a trail this time. How will I accomplish it now? I’ll think of something and owl him…he was so bloody eager. Althea laughed to herself and slipped underneath the soothing bathwater. Bloody eager, indeed.

Surfacing, Althea opened her eyes and noticed Allegra enter her bathroom. She was a woman of average height and average looks, but compensated for her deficiencies by wearing exquisite and expensive robes. Today she wore violet robes that produced silver sparkles across the fabric with every movement.

“Eudora, Eudora, what did you do last night?” she commented in her slow, but refined voice as she sat on the edge of the bathtub.

“I had work,” she muttered, smoothing the hair from her face.

Allegra laughed quietly as she took some bubbles from the bathwater into her hand. “Rough work, I see…” she began and gently blew the bubbles from her hands.

Althea frowned slightly.

“You’re a beautiful girl, Eudora—well, except for that red hair, but that’s easily remedied. But you are a beautiful girl—look younger than you are…well, when you’re not drunk. No, you should have the affections of many rich wizards,” she explained and stroked the side of Althea’s face.

“I don’t want the affections of rich wizards,” she replied, turning her face away. “I don’t want the affections of anyone.”

“But isn’t that what every witch wants…to marry rich?” she asked, gently turning Althea’s face toward hers. “To find love?”

“You don’t know me very well, do you?” she replied, refusing to look at Allegra.

Allegra removed her hand from Althea’s face and stroked a stray fiery curl behind Althea’s ear. “I was like you, Eudora, angry—unbelievably angry,” she began in earnest, running her fingertips along Althea’s jaw. “I cursed the Fates for bringing me such despair, but with time, I took that anger and turned it to power. I decided that my life would be on my own terms. I didn’t need my father’s family,” she explained and stood from where she sat on the edge of the bathtub. As she walked over to the bench where Althea’s towels were neatly folded, she continued, “You know what I—”

Althea slid underneath the water—the sound of Allegra’s voice dull and garbled. She opened her eyes. The glow of the candlelight shimmered above her head. She thought of remaining under the water, but the innate panicked sensation in her chest forced her above water where loudly gasped a breath. Althea brought her knees to her chest.

“I know what you did last night,” she said, unfolding one of the towels. “You met some handsome wizard down the pub and he took you back to his flat,” she continued, and held up the towel for Althea. “What did you get out of it, Miss Martin?”

Althea hesitated before she stood. What had she gotten out of it? The opportunity to sleep with not one but two Death Eaters in my life, she thought as she stood, allowing Allegra to wrap the towel around her. Althea wrapped the towel around her hair and slipped her arms through her robe sleeves.

“Come,” Allegra said softly and motioned with her hand for Althea to sit at her dressing table. Allegra removed the towel and started to comb Althea’s hair. “Has your hair always been this red?” she asked, combing through a particularly tough tangle.

Althea nodded.

“Well, that would be easy to charm away…I will have you borrow my robes—the scarlet for tonight,” she continued to murmur as she combed Althea’s hair. “Your robes aren’t as fine.”

“What are you getting at?” Althea asked, turning to face Allegra. “I bought a new frock for tonight—”

Allegra smiled. “Black hair, I think,” she murmured and turned Althea’s head to continue to comb her hair. “Yes, with your eyes.”

“I like my red hair,” she said as Allegra charmed her hair to its natural color of black.

Damn, she’s not listening, she thought as Allegra dried her hair. What is she getting at? She began to adorn Althea’s hair with jeweled hair slides, frowning, removing, and placing them to her liking.

“Black hair is stunning and even more beautiful with the jewels in your hair—less wild, I think,” she said, inspecting Althea. “You’ll do nicely…for his sort,” she murmured. “Intelligent, thoughtful—”

“What?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Allegra sat before Althea and took her hands in hers. “I need you,” she said solemnly, looking into Althea’s eyes. “There is someone downstairs that needs you—”

“Are they ill?”

Allegra pursed her lips. “Yes,” she said, her thumbs caressed Althea’s hands, “you could say he is ill.”

Althea frowned thoughtfully. “Does it require St. Mungo’s? I could—”

Allegra shook her head. “It is too late for that,” she said and swallowed, “too late.”

She felt a cold jolt to the pit of her stomach. “Is he dead?”

Allegra laughed a little too loudly. “No, no, of course, not,” she said and smiled at Althea. “His uncle—I met him when he was a student studying the ruins—a great friend to me…it is a pity such a family would fade so quickly.” She seemed to look through their clasped hands. “I understand, I think.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

She looked up at Althea, her eyes pleading. “Will you talk with him?” she asked and pressed her hands. “You, you who can calm the fire of my belly?” she continued, placing her hand upon her stomach in dramatic fashion.

Althea fought the urge to sigh.

“None will talk with him—”

“Why—”

“—intimidated by him, I think,” she said and bit her bottom lip. “A keen intellectual.”

The muffled noises of an excited conversation could be heard—Althea would need to charm the floorboards once more. A keen intellectual? Althea groaned internally at the thought of spending her evening with a dull wizard. Tonight, the Salisbury hosted the Gathering of the Seven, a celebration in honor of the club’s founding members. Althea longed for the night of music, dance, and wit—of dignitaries and magical influencers. It was there she met Apollyon Hare without his mask. She felt an exquisite rush when he did not remember her as he held her in conversation. He was at her mercy and she would delight in showing him the same courtesy. He was discovered two days later in his library; his throat slashed and his belly full of Galleons that Althea had forced him to eat. How strange the bounty on her head was more than the price he paid to stay out of Azkaban.

“I can’t,” she replied, looking into the slightly disappointed eyes of Allegra. “There has to be—”

Allegra shook her head.

“There has to be someone.”

“No, Eudora,” she replied quietly. “Please, just talk with him, please,” she pleaded, resting her hands on Althea’s knees. “You will do well, I think. I hadn’t seen him since he was a small boy…but I knew it was him…looks so much like my dear Francis—”

“But—”

Allegra’s nostrils flared faintly at Althea’s continued refusal.

Althea sighed with frustration—Allegra would not accept another refusal. The man needed someone to talk to, he was lonely, and Althea knew the power loneliness could hold over a person. Out of her periphery, she glimpsed the sliver frame that housed a photograph of Remus standing before the Amazon River. His pleasant features held slight disapproval.

“I won’t go out with him—”

An odd shiver passed over Allegra’s face. “I wouldn’t want you to,” she said quickly, her face still pale. “No, no, while he is very much the intellectual…he is out of place somewhat—”

“Does he smell?” she asked, removing Allegra’s hands from her lap. “Is that it?”

“Heavens, no,” she replied, standing.

Allegra leaned against the dressing table. She picked up the silver picture frame at her side. Her eyes widened faintly—a fleeting look of recognition. Althea leaned forward, feeling tightness in her belly as the woman studied the photograph of her friend. She had the urge to smack the frame from Allegra’s hands, but thought better of it.

“He’s a good boy,” she continued, replacing the frame to its former position. “But lost,” she added, picking up the bottle of foundation, “as you were.”

Althea swallowed at the thought of anyone in the same predicament as her.

“What does one talk about?” she asked as Allegra blended the foundation into Althea’s skin. “I don’t want to upset him.”

Her lips twitched into a smile. “Oh, the politics of the day, literature, forms of art,” she answered as she finished blending the foundation on Althea’s cheeks. “The sorts of things a hostess of a salon should provide—light and entertaining,” she continued as she applied blush to Althea’s cheeks. “Ingrid is such a lovely pianist.”

“I bet she is,” she muttered as Allegra stopped to inspect her work.

Allegra sighed as she patted the powder puff into the face powder. “You vex me, Eudora,” she said, patting the powder with more vigor.

“Vex you?”

She nodded. “You have so much, and yet, you do so very little,” she said and dusted the powder upon Althea’s nose. “You’re an accomplished young woman. One must be to attempt the Healing Arts.”

Althea endeavored not to sneeze from the copious amounts of powder Allegra used. I had it taken away from me, she thought as she applied pale purple eye shadow to Althea’s right eye. All those damn Healers cared about was Sirius escorting me home.

“But before that, your mannerisms as well. You are not a common witch, Miss Martin.”

Althea felt her cheeks flush at Allegra’s knowing look.

“The purple is lovely,” she whispered as she examined the newly applied eye shadow. “Complements you well—I wish you wore it more,” she said and lifted the tube of mascara. “So beautiful, and yet—” She sighed. “There was something about him,” she said, her eyes fixated upon herself swirling the mascara wand in the tube. “This one, this one…he’s like you…well-educated, refined, a gentleman,” she continued and sighed, her look strained. “Tragic.”

Althea gently bit her bottom lip.

“I would myself,” she said as she held the mascara wand to Althea’s eyelashes, “but tonight is the Gathering, and he didn’t come for me…he came for you.” Her fingertips brushed Althea’s cheek. “It is fate.”

“And the Minister is here—”

Allegra fought a smile. “I’ve heard you play and I know what books you read,” she said as she finished applying mascara. “You are my most beloved confidant,” she said and kissed Althea’s forehead. “He longs for that gentle company, I am sure of it.”

Althea shrugged. “Play some Beethoven and be done with it?”

“You are so callous,” she said, her lips curving into a smile. “It is an honor to spend time with you—don’t pout—an honor.”

“An honor?” she murmured.

She nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, an honor,” she said as she inspected her work. “Don’t ever forget that.”

Allegra left Althea alone as she went to collect a set of her robes. Althea turned toward the mirror of her dressing table. An honor to spend time with me? No, there is no honor there, she thought as she examined herself in the mirror. She looked so different with her black hair—as if it were a false mirror and she were observing a strange woman. What she had become, the despicable and callous woman, was absent from her reflection. She was Althea Morrigan: the failed Healer, the failed mother, and the sad, duped lover of a man who sought her death.

The Remus in the photograph waved and the movement caught Althea’s eye. She studied her suntanned friend with the pleasant smile. He still wrote to her of his travels and the tone of his letters were light, but toward the end of every letter was the gentle, brotherly encouragement she had come to expect from his letters. She felt as if she were a child. How would Remus know what was best for her? She was alone. Althea’s shoulders rolled forward. She inhaled deeply through her nostrils and flipped over the picture frame.

***


The night was a disappointment. It was a great success for Allegra as the Gathering of the Seven had the largest attendance in five years. In the drawing room, the editor for the Daily Prophet debated the transparency of the current Ministry government and the editor for New Witch held a lively discussion about the influence of the Muggle feminist movement; in the conservatory, Ingrid played, ‘Nymphadora for Violin’; and the poet Noel read from his work Passion of the Moonlight. However, Althea spent very little time enjoying them for she spent much of the night ducking in and out of rooms and cupboards to avoid Alexander Star and his Orpheus band mates. So, the Keeper for the Tornadoes thinks I’m mad, she thought and finally tossed the pruning shears in the drawer of the sideboard. Loads better than Alexander announcing to the world that, in fact, my true name is Althea. In dodging Star and his mates, Althea had forgotten about the young man Allegra had begged her to talk to, for the crowd would obscure a moping, sickly wizard, and she assumed he left. She won’t be happy with me, she thought, tapping her nails against the tabletop. But, if he didn’t want my help, or anyone’s company, what am I to do?

“Oh Davina,” she heard Alexander Star sing, “with your eyes of ocean’s blue—”

Althea’s eyes snapped open. “Blood hell!” she breathed and soon heard the footsteps to her right.

Althea lurched forward to the door next to the sideboard, which rattled the pewter Centaur upon the tabletop. She spun and grasped the door handle as Rex Stardust joined in harmony. Quickly, she turned the doorknob, let out a noise of triumph as it opened, and flung herself through the doorway. She hastily eased the door shut, and once closed, she let out a large sigh. She listened for Alexander Star to pass. Just brilliant, she thought, staring at the door, bloody brilliant. What was she supposed to do now? Her eyes focused upon the wood grain. One day, the ruse would stumble. She needed a holiday. Bermuda, she thought, and her stomach knotted upon itself as to how she would take leave from Allegra. She’d insist she’d come along.

Althea took in her surroundings as she turned toward the center of the ornately decorated room. Gas lamps glowed against richly textured scarlet drapes and cast shadows across the multitude of overstuffed violet and scarlet pillows that adorned the floor, the sofas, and chairs. Althea smirked. Maybe if I move against the wall I’ll blend in, she thought, biting her bottom lip. Alexander would never discover me here. Continuing to look around the room, she noticed the young wizard sitting on the overstuffed sofa facing the large window with his back toward her. He hadn’t moved and Althea thought her entrance into the room would have startled him. That must be him, she thought, looking at the back of his head. The man Allegra wanted me to talk to. It was sad to think the young wizard had spent his evening alone when there was so much joyous company to be had. Inhaling and exhaling a slow, but deep breath, Althea took a step forward, which caused the floorboard to creak loudly underneath her jeweled shoe. The sound startled the young wizard and he quickly turned around to face Althea.

Wide-eyed, Althea took in a sharp, sudden breath. “Remus!”

The same amount of shock registered across Remus’s face as he looked at Althea. She noticed the flush to Remus’s skin. Remus roughly rubbed his cheek—his look, panicked.

“Al—Althea? Althea! What are you doing here?” he asked, walking toward her.

Oh, how could this get any worse, she thought, and feeling lightheaded, closed her eyes. He would never call her Eudora. He would never play along. He might turn her into the Ministry himself—he was that noble sort. Althea’s stomach lurched forward. It all made sense now—Allegra’s pleading—she had noticed the photograph of Remus upon her dressing table. She knew they were friends and might have assumed more. She growled quietly at the deception.

Althea opened her eyes to Remus’s mortified expression. “What are you doing here?” he asked and, hesitated, as if he were about to vomit. “You—”

“She told me you were here,” she lied and forced a weak smile. “Knew you were a friend—”

“Do not lie to me,” he said and swallowed, “you—”

“I swear. It was just…” she said and sighed, looking to her jeweled shoes. “I’m her Healer, but that’s all,” she said and raised an eyebrow. She felt a wave of understanding at Allegra’s apprehension. “Were you expecting—what are you doing here?”

Remus frowned. “No, what exactly are you doing in this very room?”

“I ask you that very same question, Remus,” she said, folding her arms. “What exactly are you doing in this very room? You can’t afford the membership—”

“My uncle,” he said shortly and his lips thinned. “It’s just like you isn’t it—”

“Don’t you dare think of scolding me,” she said and sniffed. She jerked her head back for Remus’s breath reeked of alcohol. “Good Lord, Remus, have you had something to drink?”

“Yes, yes, just a little,” he answered quickly, waving his hand at her dismissively.

Althea’s eyes glanced at the table next to the sofa on which a half-empty bottle of wine rested with an empty glass. “You’ve had more than a little,” she remarked, frowning slightly. “Remus Lupin, I don’t believe you,” she said with astonishment. “What has happened to you?”

“Don’t you dare scold me!” he warned, breaking away from her.

Althea took a small step backward. He had never spoken to her so harshly. Remus’s pale eyes were pensive. She observed him fully as he massaged the back of his neck. His hair was the longest she had ever seen it and slightly unkempt. His robes were worn and the hems of his sleeves frayed. He had not fared better in the years since they had parted.

“Remus?”

“And it’s you,” he whispered and laughed bitterly, rubbing his jaw, “bloody perfect.”

“Remus?”

“Is there somewhere we could go?” he asked, looking ahead of him.

“Yes, of course, is everything all right?”

“No, Althea,” he said, his eyes darted from side to side. He leaned forward, “But there is a place?”

“Yes, my flat—it’s upstairs.”

“Good,” he said, offering his hand to Althea. “Take me, please.”

Alexander Star be damned, she thought as she took Remus’s hand. The two left the room and the couple maneuvered their way through the corridors and crowds, with Althea tightly holding onto Remus’s hand. The music and conservation seemed to blur into one unintelligible sound. What an odd couple they seemed: Althea lavishly dressed for the celebration and Remus dressed as though he had come from an expedition. The attendees didn’t seem to mind or didn’t notice, but Althea still held onto Remus’s hand and shielded him, protectively so.

“You’re not in trouble, are you?” she asked as she led him toward the door that led him to the flat above.

“It’s a different sort of trouble.”

“You didn’t bite someone?” she asked as the two walked the staircase to her bedroom.

“No, I didn’t.”

“You didn’t get a girl pregnant?”

Remus laughed quietly for a moment. “No, I didn’t,” he explained as they reached the top of the staircase. “I’ll tell you when we are in your flat.”

What sort of trouble could he be in, she thought, as she unlocked her flat door. If it’s financial—that is no problem. I’ll pay for anything…. Oh, Remus, please be all right…let one of us be all right. Althea led Remus to her bed and motioned for him to sit down. Remus sighed sadly and looked around Althea’s flat.

“It’s not as ornate as downstairs,” she said uneasily and bit her lip. “Remus, what is—”

“Why were you in that room?” he interrupted, turning his attention back to Althea. “No lies. No questions. Why? Did you know? Did you think—”

“I didn’t,” she blurted out, “I swear.”

Remus remained silent.

“I was escaping Alexander Star,” she explained and Remus let out a quiet, knowing laugh of spite. “I wanted to enjoy the celebration, but everywhere I went, he seemed to be,” she continued and leaned close. “Noel is here, reading his poem, and if I were to bed anyone, it would be him.”

Remus gave her a wary look.

“It’s not that sort of—”

“I know,” he said. “I spent much of my childhood here,” he continued and folded his hands in his lap. “My uncle would take me Saturdays to hear Aurelia Cavendish speak. I’ve known Allegra for as long as I can remember…she and my uncle were lovers.”

Althea remained quiet.

“I thought—I just wanted,” he said and sighed, “help.”

She felt a jolt in the pit of her stomach.

“Pathetic,” he whispered.

“I have your photograph,” she said and pointed to her dressing table. “She must’ve realized that I knew you. Did she know?”

Remus shook her head. “She thought the boy my uncle tried to save was killed,” he said, his eyes focused upon his hands. “She didn’t know what I was until tonight.”

Althea slipped her hand over his and squeezed it.

“I saw the fear and the repulsion upon her face…I felt it,” he said and removed her hand from his.

Althea imagined Allegra clutching her throat and muttering in Italian to the Fates, to the gods, and to her beloved Francis.

“But she didn’t order you to leave?” she said, watching as the light from the gas lamps caught the jewels of her shoes.

“No, no, she would never,” he said, shaking his head.

Althea frowned. “Why return to London? I thought you were in Borneo—”

“I had to return,” he replied, a deep crease forming between his eyebrows. “I was ordered to return.”

She slid herself closer to him. “Did something happen?”

Remus, refusing to look at her, inhaled a slow, steady breath and frowned as he exhaled. “I was marked this afternoon,” he answered, still looking away from her.

Althea did not understand. What did he mean by marked?

“Marked?” she repeated, furrowing her eyebrows. “Remus, look at me, I’m not sure if I understand.”

“What is there to understand?” he snapped as he looked at her. “I was branded like an animal.”

Althea opened and quickly closed her mouth, realizing she could say nothing. Remus was never one for pity.

“I was so stupid, Althea. I actually thought I had a chance of living a normal life, but now—now I realize what a fool I was,” he continued, the frown deepening across his face. “All anyone will ever see is the W on my wrist…I saw it at the Ministry. As I entered a lift, I saw the fear, the horror, that one of them would have to stand next to me,” he finished, his face contorting as if the words tasted bitterly in his mouth.

“Let me see your wrist,” she said softly, reaching for both of his hands.

“So you could feel pity for me? No,” he replied, quickly retracting his hands.

“Come on, let me see it,” she demanded, holding out her hand.

“No, Althea, I won’t show you—”

“Don’t be a child!” she said, reaching for his hands.

Remus pulled away. “Don’t—”

Althea sighed.

“It’s not important—”

“Not important? You’re just being stupid now,” she said shortly and grabbed his wrist, hoping it was the wrist with the mark.

She could feel Remus’s wrist tense in her hand and she knew she had the correct wrist. Carefully, she slid her fingers underneath his frayed cuff and uncovered his wrist. Althea, heavily biting her bottom lip, refused to show him her repulsion as she looked at the red, raised W burnt into his pale skin.

“Nothing more than a monster,” he muttered with disgust, grabbing Althea’s hand and releasing it from his wrist. Remus roughly stood and refused to face her. “I should leave. I was wrong in coming here,” he said, shoving his hands in his robe pockets.

“No,” she replied as she stood. “Please don’t leave,” she pleaded quietly, holding onto his sleeve. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to see you again. Please stay.”

“Althea, I—”

“Don’t argue,” she interrupted, grasping his sleeve tighter.

“Althea, don’t tell me what I can and cannot do!” he snapped, pulling his arm away from her.

Althea took in a sharp intake of breath at Remus’s outburst. Why would he push her away from him? I can’t help him, she thought as her arms went limp at her sides, but I can’t let him leave. She had to think of something to keep him there. He was angry and drunk, and Althea knew that one could do terrible things when angry and drunk.

“Wait!” she called out, her voice shaking. She cleared her throat before asking, “How was Borneo?”

Remus stopped and refused to turn around. “Hot, now goodbye,” he answered shortly and continued toward the door.

Althea frowned. He usually loved to talk of his travels, tediously so. Her imagination envisioned Remus on a similar destructive path, and the young man touted by the Registry as a fully integrated werewolf would discover himself in Azkaban. She had to think of something else to keep him there. Althea looked up at the carved designs in the ceiling.

Althea took a deep breath and released it as she spoke, “Remus, I’m lonely.”

His hand, reaching for the doorknob, stopped. “I think we all are. Now goodbye.”

“No, I’m lonely.”

“I’m sure you could find someone else to take care of that,” he remarked, turning the doorknob. “Never seemed to have a problem before.”

“I want you.”

Remus rested his forehead against the door. “Althea, don’t—”

“I regret not following you to Brazil,” she interrupted, walking toward him. “Things,” she continued and found her voice suddenly shaky, “could’ve been very different.”

Remus, still facing the door, nodded.

“You were my one, true friend, and I…” she paused and breathed to collect herself, “I didn’t listen to what was said about you or how I should feel about you. I never have. You’re not a monster, you’re a man—”

Remus let go of the doorknob and turned to face her. A bitter smile played across his lips. “I’m not.” He turned for the door. “I won’t keep you any longer. Goodbye, Althea.”

“Don’t reach for that doorknob,” she demanded, pointing her index finger at his arm.

“You can’t keep me here,” he laughed, running his fingers through his slightly unkempt hair.

Althea frowned. “Yes I can,” she replied, taking out her wand. She cast a charm to lock the door, and as Remus took out his wand to unlock the door, she uttered, “Expelliarmus.”

His wand flew from his hand into hers, and she quickly stuffed both wands into her robe pocket.

“Now you will listen to what I have to say,” she continued as Remus frowned. “You are a man. It’s one night a month, Remus, just one night,” she explained, taking hold of his hand. “Think of all the other nights you’re like this,” she said as she led him over to her bed.

Remus sighed with frustration as he sat next to Althea on her bed. “Althea, I’ve lived with this since I was a small boy. I reckon I know more—”

“Dumbledore could have given up on you, but he didn’t. He knew you weren’t some animal or monster—bloody hell, he made you a prefect,” she interrupted, not taking her eyes off him. “He asked you to join the Order…and don’t forget your first job after the war—”

“That’s Dumbledore…he’s unconventional,” he replied, folding his hands in his lap.

Althea leaned closer to him as Remus, frowning, continued to look at his hands in his lap. “What about your friends who knew before you even told them? They accepted you and became Animagi so the transformations wouldn’t be as difficult.”

“Obviously you forgot that Sirius used me to play a prank on Snape…almost got us all expelled.”

“I could never forget that,” she replied quietly and bit her lip. “Did you forget about Iphigenia?” she asked, sliding closer to him. “She loved you.”

Remus’s expression turned grim. “She wouldn’t be dead if I wasn’t a werewolf.”

“What about me?”

“What about you?”

Althea sighed with frustration. “I knew and I dated you,” she reminded, kicking her heel against the lush carpet.

Remus shook his head. “You don’t count, though.”

Althea’s heel slammed against the carpet. “I don’t count? Why would you say such a thing?” she asked, swallowing hard.

“Your father…he wrote a book.”

Althea’s eyes widened. “So? You think I dated you out of some obligation to him?” she asked heatedly, standing. “Out of pity for you?”

“Possibly,” he muttered.

“Possibly?” she repeated with astonishment.

She tightly closed her eyes to prevent her crying. She opened to her eyes to see Remus with his head bent, sitting motionless on her bed.

“Here, take your wand back and go,” she said, thrusting his wand at him, and then unlocked the door. She turned away from him and folded her arms.

She heard the creak of her mattress as Remus stood. “Althea,” he murmured, placing his hands on her shoulders.

Althea quickly turned around and pushed his arms away from her. “No, get away from me, werewolf! Is that what you want me to say? Is that what you expect?”

“I’m sorry—I didn’t mean—I’m not myself—damn it!”

Althea lowered her head—refusing to look at him. “I dated you because I fancied you…I lost my virginity to you,” she said, staring at the floor between them. “Just because you regret it, doesn’t mean that I do.”

She looked into Remus’s eyes. He inhaled a sharp breath.

“Obviously it doesn’t mean the same to you.”

Remus took her hands in his. “No, Althea, our time together means everything to me,” he insisted and kissed her folded fingers. “I had never kissed a girl before you—don’t laugh,” he said, lifting her chin with his hand.

“Sorry,” she whispered, sniffing back tears.

Remus cupped his hand to the side of her face. “You made me feel like a normal teenage boy, almost allowing me to forget what I was,” he said, staring into her eyes. “Thank you.”

Althea held her breath as Remus’s head jerked forward slightly, but he retracted it and frowned.

“Come on, let’s sit down,” he said, taking her hand and leading her toward her bed. “I have something to tell you.”

Smoothing out her robes, Althea gazed at the very pale, very pensive Remus. “What do you have to tell me?” she asked, gently pressing his hand.

“I want to tell you how it all happened,” he said, looking into her eyes. “How I became what I am.”

“Oh,” she murmured and furrowed her eyebrows somewhat.

Hadn’t Remus told her? He must have told her at one point in their friendship. However, upon further thinking, she realized Remus had never told her about how he came to be a werewolf. It was something she always knew that had happened, but never asked. Would he have told her if she had asked? Probably not, she thought, attempting to look thoughtful.

Remus took a deep breath and shifted his gaze from her eyes. “I was eight when it happened,” he began, rubbing the tops of her hands with his thumbs. “My parents had bought me a telescope for my birthday, and I’d spend almost every night looking at the stars. Of course, there were certain nights I couldn’t go outside, so I’d have to look at the full moon from my bedroom window…. I had read about a meteor shower and I was very excited to see it with my new telescope; however, my father had forbidden me from setting up my telescope outside. He said that I could wait one night, and that there would be another meteor shower the next month…” he continued and paused—his expression dark and solemn. “I didn’t listen…. I snuck outside with my telescope, and all was fine until…until I heard the awful growling…. I panicked and started to run, but Greyback—”

“Greyback?” Althea repeated quietly.

Remus nodded slowly. “I didn’t know until the Order,” he said, his hands still, “my father thought it best—”

Althea felt her heart sink—the werewolf that reveled in his lycanthropy and sought to convert the world. The werewolf that took particular interest in converting children. Would it have mattered if it were a werewolf like Remus? Althea fought to keep the horror in her belly concealed.

“He caught me. I screamed for help as he started to drag me away. I thought I was dead….”

Althea stopped listening to Remus’s story about the werewolf bent on revenge against Remus’s father and closed her eyes. The memory of the wizard brought to St. Mungo’s, after a werewolf attack, flashed across her eyelids. She remembered helping the Healer on the ward with restraints as the wizard thrashed about his bed. She remembered the fear and terror in his eyes, and the screaming as his body started to contort into its wolfish shape. After the first transformation, too horrific for the wizard to bear, he hung himself after leaving St. Mungo’s. Althea could never imagine how an eight-year-old boy could have survived such an awful transformation.

“I wasn’t taken to St. Mungo’s. My father couldn’t stomach the shame, I think…the transformations were awful until—”

“Until Hogwarts,” she interrupted, returning to the conversation.

“Yes,” he replied, nodding his head.

“How are your transformations now?” she asked and gently bit her bottom lip.

“Awful,” he replied, making a face. “I’m alone now when I make them.”

Althea caught her breath from the surge of excitement. For the first time in months, she felt true joy—she would transform with Remus. However, she was a raven and not a large dog, but it was better than transforming alone. He could not refuse; her presence would help ease his transformation. It would still be awful, but she would be there to help him. Her mind rapidly sorted out the plan—she could travel with him, help him in his research, and eventually they might—Althea felt the apples of her cheeks pink.

“You don’t have to be,” she began, her excitement apparent her voice. “Take me with you.”

Remus blinked. “What?”

Althea smiled. “Take me with you, to Borneo,” she answered eagerly, squeezing his hand. “I want to come with you. I could stay with you when you transform and then look after you. I know how you can’t cook, but I can,” she explained rapidly, shaking and dizzy from excitement. “I could help you in your research…please.”

Remus furrowed his eyebrows. “Althea…” he began quietly and licked his lips—his demeanor hesitant. “I—I can’t take you with me.”

“Why not?”

“Just know that more than anything I want to take you with me, but I can’t. I just can’t.”

“Then why don’t you?” she pressed and lowered her head. She cursed herself as she felt the tears collect in the corners of her eyes.

“I wish I could,” he replied, lifting her chin with his fingertips. “But I can’t…I’m sorry.”

Althea removed Remus’s hand from her face. “I know what it is. You get so close and then you have to push everyone away.”

Remus frowned. “Althea—that’s not true—I—”

“Yes, it is. You did it when we were fifteen. You did it after Iphigenia died. You did it after James and Lily died—you left the entire hemisphere then—and you’re doing it now,” she said, not removing her gaze from his saddened eyes. “Stop running away from those that love you.”

Remus sighed as he brought his hand back to her cheek. “I’m not running away from you, Althea,” he said solemnly, his thumb gently stroking her cheek. “I swear I’m not.”

It had been years since any man had touched her with such tenderness.

“I want to be with you,” he said earnestly. “Yes, yes I do.”

Althea raised her trembling fingers to Remus’s face.

Remus rested his forehead against hers. “I should never have left all those years ago. I should have stayed with you, married you, and helped you raise your daughter.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“Because I thought it was me,” he began, taking his hand from her face. “I thought that I was being repaid for any happiness I ever felt by being a part of something. I mean, who ever heard of a happy and accepted werewolf?” he continued and shook his head. “I didn’t want anything to happen to you, so all those years ago I did run away, but you did, too. We all did.”

“Then don’t run away now.”

“There’s a reason I can’t be with you,” he said, taking her hands in his. “When the Ministry passed the law to mark all werewolves, it also passed another law…I’m unable to…to….”

Althea raised her head. “To marry,” she finished.

Remus nodded.

“But, I don’t want to marry you—”

“It doesn’t matter to the Ministry. It denied a case while I was there waiting—one that would be similar to ours.”

“Forget the Ministry.”

“Althea?”

“No, forget them, forget the Ministry. You deserve every right to be happy and to lead a happy life,” she said and gently squeezed his hands. “We could blackmail them—there’s so much corruption. I hear about it all the time here.”

Remus smiled at Althea. “It’s a sweet gesture, but—”

“But what?” she interrupted. Her plan would work.

“Althea, it doesn’t matter what you or I want,” he said, refusing to look at her. “I’ve had to live with this for a good part of my life. It is something you have to get used to…don’t waste your life on a werewolf.”

“But you’re not—”

I am, Althea,” he replied gravely, “I am a werewolf.”

“But you’re also a man, Remus, and I wouldn’t waste my life…” she replied and paused.

Suddenly she frowned at the thought that maybe Remus did not want her. It was possible—look at what she had become. Who would want her as a friend or a companion? It would be justified that he did not want her anymore in his life—that he did not want her to spend transformations with him, or to travel through Borneo with him.

“Maybe you don’t want me,” she said quietly.

“No, that’s not true, Althea.”

“Then what is it?” she replied, but Remus did not answer. “Why couldn’t I see it before?” she asked herself and laughed quietly. “You’d waste yourself on me.”

Remus rested his hands against her shoulders. “You are not a waste,” he replied, looking into her eyes. “If the Ministry discovers that you are even living with me, as a friend, I’ll be sent to Azkaban.”

“Oh, come on,” she sighed quietly.

“It’s the truth…. There was legislation to prevent werewolves from leaving the country, but that failed. I’m sure that will succeed one day as well,” he explained, stroking a stray strand of hair out of her face. “No one wants to fight for the werewolf anymore. They’re so afraid of what happened during Voldemort happening again…. I wasn’t the only child bitten—I just survived.”

“Then it would make sense to give you rights instead of taking them away.”

Remus smiled weakly. “It would, but the Ministry sees taking my liberties away as ensuring the safety of the Wizarding community.”

“They’re not addressing the problems that caused the revolt in the first place—they’re so bloody stupid.”

Remus sighed and reclined on her bed. “They’re afraid,” he said, staring at her ceiling. “Fear can make people believe anything, forget everything, and allow anything to be passed.”

“You’re the least frightening person I know.”

Remus covered his mouth as he yawned. His transformation was two days ago, he must still be very tired, she thought as she watched Remus absentmindedly scratch the side of his face.

“You didn’t think so when I chased you through the forest,” he replied, resting his hands behind his head.

“No, I was very frightened, but I was more frightened for you,” she said, crawling closer to him on the bed.

“How so?”

“If you would have bit me, or worse, you’d never forgive yourself,” she explained, playing with sleeve of her robes. “Always that chance, isn't there? We could never get too comfortable.”

“True,” he murmured, closing his eyes and then opening them very wide.

Althea knew he was fighting off sleep. “Would you like to sleep?”

“Oh, no, no,” he replied, waving his hand lazily in the air. “I do get a bit drowsy when I have a glass or two of wine.”

“Remus, you drank half a bottle.”

“I suppose I did,” he agreed and smiled to himself.

Althea reclined beside him, and hesitated a moment before she asked, “Anyway, what were you thinking when you chased me? Were you thinking at all?”

Remus nodded. “I wanted to devour you…to tear you apart,” he replied, turning onto his side. “Believe me, I would have if you hadn’t transformed.”

“I don’t doubt that,” she replied with mild repulsion. The thought of Remus snacking on her bones caused her to shiver. “Where do you transform now?”

Remus covered his mouth as he yawned. “I have a shed,” he replied and yawned again. “I magically lock myself in the shed until sunrise…. It’s reinforced,” he murmured, closing his eyes. “Sometimes, I’m so tired…I sleep there….”

Althea yawned as well. “I suppose I am that boring for you to fall asleep,” she whispered, and smiled as she looked at Remus sleeping soundly next to her.

Carefully, she rolled off her bed, took the spare blanket from her chaise longue, and placed it over him. He’s had an awful day, she thought, slipping back into bed. I’ll let him stay here as long as he needs to stay. Althea quietly turned onto her side and observed Remus as he slept. Sleeping on his side, his hands were propped underneath his head, with his right leg extended—almost dangling—off the bed. Stifling her laughter as she watched his mouth twitch, her mind drifted to the conversation about his first transformation.

He was eight-years-old when he received his bite. Althea could not imagine and did not want to imagine the stress and fear he, as a young boy, must have felt with every transformation. How could a parent or anyone explain to an eight-year-old what would happen to him? The average age of a werewolf bite was thirty-six. Moreover, the quality of life for the average werewolf was so poor that most did not live for another five years. The average age of death for a werewolf was forty. Remus lived outside of the statistics, and Althea knew he would never become one—his survival instincts were too strong. It could have come from his natural demeanor or it could have come from being bitten so young—Althea did not know. However, she did know that where Remus excelled, she failed. He had gone through the same trials—the same events as she had—with an enormous burden, and remained the same calm, strong person she had always known. She, on the other hand, had become a loathsome, pathetic excuse for a human being.

Althea craned her neck forward and kissed his cool forehead. “You’re not a waste, Remus,” she whispered. “I don’t deserve you.”

***


It was midnight when Althea returned to the celebration. She entered the conservatory and caught Allegra’s eye. The large emerald upon Allegra’s finger sparkled as she beckoned Althea to sit with her. She smiled and patted Althea’s hand once Althea was seated. The composer, Louis Chevalier, was seated at the piano, his fingers played upon the keys at a feverish pace. We could travel, she thought, spend no more than a month or two at one hotel or villa…we could see a surgeon, I’m sure the brand could be removed by such methods. Allegra let out a gasp at a particularly difficult part of the piece.

Althea leaned toward Allegra, “You knew it was him.”

Allegra nodded. “He told you?”

Althea’s lips curved into a smile. “I was fifteen.”

“Fifteen,” she murmured and lifted the ornately painted fan to cover her lips. “He would hide underneath that piano, and once, he stayed underneath there with his picture book for an entire performance,” she said, her smile sad. “He was five.”

As Chevalier continued to play, Althea imagined the five-year-old Remus stubbornly reclining upon his stomach with his picture book before him. With the tiny crease between his eyebrows the little Remus resisted every attempt to remove him from his spot. She smiled at the thought that despite all efforts to extract him, it was decided to carry on the performance with him there. Remus Lupin had defined his life by the night Fenrir Greyback bit him. How different would his life have been if never bitten? What would he have sought for himself? I’ve been given every opportunity, she thought, and out of her periphery, she thought she recognized Jack casually leaning against the white pillar. He had not seemed to notice her. And, I’ve made a mess of things.




Thank you so much for reading! That you for all the comments and reviews--I've really enjoyed the opinions, thoughts, and predictions on the story so far. What is in store for Althea? A date with Jack.


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