Clio was up very early the next morning. For breakfast she stole a muffin from the kitchen and brewed herself a thermos of coffee. When she left the castle (bag slung over one shoulder and guitar over the other, broom handle clasped in one hand, Nox trotting at her heels, snow crunching under her boots) the sun had barely risen above the level of the trees. She walked just past the winged boars, then disappeared with a thunderous crack.
Her grandmother was already wide awake when she arrived on her doorstep, drinking tea in the kitchen and talking to her favorite cat.
“Who's at the door Sooty? Is that Clio?”
“Meh,” Sooty answered, winding herself around her ankles.
Clio didn't have time to do much more than hug her hello and drop her bag in her favorite bedroom, the one on the upper level with a window seat looking out toward the river. Sooty fled to Gran's room, and Nox stayed close to Gran, who began spoiling her with treats as soon as Clio went to the garage to fire up the Aston Martin.
It had been her grandfather's car, and looked just as pristine now as it had when he'd bought in the mid 1960s, ostensibly as something to cart future grandchildren around in, but in actuality because he'd seen Goldfinger at the muggle theatreand fallen in love with the sleek gray car. Clio could only imagine the wizarding and muggle laws that had been broken in the process of procuring it. A few modifications had been made, of course. It didn't run on gasoline, and it disguised itself as a broken down mid-80s Ford Escort whenever it was parked outside of the garage – it wouldn't do for anyone else with the Ministry to catch sight of it. What should have been a two-hour drive to Glasgow International was made in one (with only the first ten minutes spent on the wrong side of the road).
The plane her sister and the kids were trapped inside was late, so Clio apparated out to Ulster Square to do some shopping. She had time to wander the snow-dusted, dementor-free streets for a bit, buy her grandmother's whisky, eat a real breakfast at her favorite diner and still apparate back in time to greet them as they stepped off the plane. Slipping back and forth past security was never an issue.
Although five years separated them, Clio and Calliope looked remarkably close in age. That was where the resemblance ended. Clio stood three inches taller and displayed many more of the Mediterranean genes inherited from their grandfather, while Calliope took after their father and grandmother. 10-year old Ian and 8-year old Ramona took after their mother with blue eyes, light chestnut hair and round pink faces. She hugged them all and led them to the car. Everything about Scotland was new and fascinating for them, and they listened to her Hogwarts stories with rapt attention for the entire drive home.
Gran warmed lunch for them when they arrived, and allowed them to eat as soon as they had properly hung up their coats, hauled their bags up to their respective rooms and passed a clean hands and face inspection. It wasn't until they were eating that Calliope mentioned the guitar, sitting in a chair of it's own in a corner of the kitchen.
"That's very lovely," she said.
"I don't recall seeing that when you were here over the summer," Gran said. She frowned as she inspected it.
"I just got it," Clio said, pushing her plate aside. "Early Christmas present." She lifted the guitar onto her lap and began strumming the chords she knew.
"Why do you put your wand in it?" Ian asked.
"The magic in the wand amplifies the magic in the guitar, so it becomes an extension of the wand."
"I noticed you still walk around with that thing swinging from your waist." Gran said, referring to the way Clio wore her wand on her belt. "American wizards, walking around like gunslingers with their wands out all the time," she muttered, clearing the dishes from the table with a little more force than necessary.
"Jedis, Gran. Not gunslingers,” said Clio, winking at Ian and Ramona. “It's handy."
"It's vulgar," Gran insisted. "Around here, only Death Eaters brandish their wands so boldly. What do your colleagues at Hogwarts think?"
Clio sighed deeply. "I don't brandish it, Gran. It's usually covered by a robe or a cloak and no one at Hogwarts cares," she said. "Our wands are out half the time anyway because of the dementors."
"I want a belt like that," Ian said.
"Ask again when you get your wand," said Calliope.
"Me too," said Ramona.
"I'll make you both belts when you get your wands."
Gran sat down with a fresh cup of tea, and continued to grumble about Clio being a bad influence under her breath.
"So where'd you get the guitar?" Calliope asked.
"Henry made it. You remember Henry."
"Is he the black one?" Gran asked.
"Yes Gran, he's African American," Clio said with another sigh.
Calliope nodded. "Did you pay for it, or was it a gift?"
"Both. I paid for part of it and the rest was a gift," Clio said. Calliope raised her eyebrows. "But not from Henry," she added.
"Who from?" Calliope was intrigued, now.
"Friends; all the usual suspects. Plus a friend at Hogwarts," Clio said, pretending that the guitar needed to be tuned.
"A Hogwarts friend?"
"Yep," she said, turning the keys. They whined in protest at her touch and turned themselves back as soon as she released them.
"I want to hear more about this friend," Calliope said. "Later," she added, nodding towards the kids.
"Me too," said Gran, "How come I haven't heard about him?"
"Because there hasn't been anything to hear," Clio said, strumming one last chord and setting the guitar down. "And how do you know this friend is a 'him'?" Ian and Ramona looked at each other and giggled.
"You wouldn't be so obtuse, otherwise," groused Gran.
Clio ended up sketching out the basics for them later that night, over brandy pudding. She didn't mention anything about Remus being a werewolf, and felt conflicted about her motivations for keeping it a secret. She wanted to believe that she hid this hairy little detail out of respect for his privacy, but (while she suspected her niece and nephew would think it was really cool) she knew that her grandmother would not approve and that Calliope might not, either. She didn't want to hear all the reasons why dating a werewolf may not be a good idea.
She hated thinking all of these thoughts, and clung desperately to the justification that it was none of their business. Feeling guilty, she borrowed Gran's barn owl to send him a letter that didn't say much more than that she'd arrived and picked her family up from the airport okay, that she would probably come back to school morbidly obese after eating so much of her grandmother's brandy pudding.
Calliope shared a room with Clio, each of them taking a twin bed on opposite sides of the room, so that the kids could each have a room to themselves. She and her sister had a long talk in their room that night, once the rest of the house was asleep.
"So how are they really doing?" Clio asked. "Dad always says that everything's fine in his letters."
Calliope sighed, "They get to keep the house, but dad still can't get a job. Mom's … mom. She won't take the herbs I prepare for her. Dad's tried disguising it as tea, but there's no way to disguise the taste."
"He should just imperius her."
"Oh come on, you know you've thought about it."
Calliope sighed. "Yeah, I have." She looked out her window at the fat flakes of moonlit snow for a moment. "How much of your pay are you sending home?"
"Most of it,” Clio answered.
"I wish I could help out. I just can't with the kids."
"It's okay, really. I don't pay food or rent, so I'm still making out all right."
"How much are you saving?"
"I'm not so worried about saving right now. I'll be fine."
"'I'll be fine.' Calliope repeated, wrinkling her nose. “You're just like dad."
Clio chuckled. "I will be fine." She stared out her window at the moon, just a sliver away from full. "I miss you guys. I wish you could come live here."
"That's not going to happen. Not with their dad."
"How long does the custody order last?"
"Until they're 18."
"Couldn't you appeal it?"
"To do that I'd have to pay for a lawyer. Plus, as much as I hate him, the kids do want to see their dad."
Calliope's side of the room was quiet for so long that Clio though she had fallen asleep. Then she suddenly spoke again, her voice strained. "You don't remember how we moved to the States, do you?"
"Yeah, I do. We flew. Right after grandpa's funeral."
"Right, but do you remember that it was just us and mom?"
"Well yeah, because dad had legal stuff to take care of, and he was planning to join us later."
Calliope contemplated the snow again before answering, "That's what they've always said, but-"
"But what, that's not how it really happened?" Clio turned away from the moon to look at her sister.
"We left in a hurry, remember, it was real early in the morning?"
Clio wracked her brain. She'd been only four, then. She remembered boarding the plane, but everything before that was hazy, "I don't remember the details that well."
"It was still dark. We only took a couple of bags with us, because mom didn't want anyone to know that we were going. Of course, she didn't realize that, duh, of course dad would be able to find us."
"Are you saying that she kidnapped us? Why didn't dad come right away, then?"
"He did. He just didn't fly on a plane."
Clio snorted. "What, he flew on his broom?"
Calliope's side of the room fell silent again.
Clio's eyes widened, "You're serious?"
"Didn't you ever wonder how he got frostbite on his fingers?"
"He said it was from playing quidditch in subzero weather," Clio said, frowning. To her, it had seemed like her father had always had gray fingertips.
"It was from flying over Greenland without gloves."
"Shit. When did you find this out?"
"Just a few weeks ago. I thought it would be better to tell you in person."
"Fuck. So, why'd they stay together? Just for us? Why are they still together, then?"
"They do love each other. They're just … weird. I bet mom saw his frozen fingers and fell in love with him all over again."
"Why'd she leave in the first place?” Clio stared at her sister until she turned away from her window and looked at her in return. “Was she just that freaked out about Grandpa?"
"Well, yeah. You remember how freaked out she was about Uncle Roger, right?" Calliope winced when she said the name, as if forming the sound of it hurt her mouth.
"Yeah." They both fell silent for a few moments. "Speaking of that, I saw a boggart at school, and guess what form it took."
"Really? That's horrible," Calliope's face paled in the moonlight. She looked like she might vomit.
"Remus saw it, and this other asshole I work with, Snape."
"Did they say anything?"
Clio hemmed and hawed. "Remus asked about it, and I just said it was something I saw when I was little, and he hasn't asked about it since. Snape, it's kind of eerie, and I don't know how, but I think he suspects that I had something to do with the fire."
Calliope sighed. "It's okay to talk about it with other people. It will make you feel better to get it out there. It would probably help with the boggart, too."
"Yeah, maybe I will tell Remus about it. Snape," she made a face. "He's the last person in the world I would ever want to share that with."
They spent the next few days sledding down the hill behind the cottage and ice skating on the river. Ian and Ramona took turns flying her broom, chased by a wildly barking Nox. Clio could hardly believe that this was was the same hill she used to watch Domino lope across; it seemed so much larger in her memory. She could close her eyes and see the dog darting over and through the tall grass burnt gold by the summer sun.
Evenings were spent drinking hot chocolate and singing by the fire, where Clio struggled to perfect enough chords to accompany them for a few Christmas carols. Her sister's clear soprano covered many of the sins in her strumming.
They opened presents on Christmas morning. Ramona was not yet old enough to refuse to wear a hoodie that matched her mother's (it helped that purple was her favorite color), and Ian proudly set off his very first Zonko's dungbomb that afternoon. Calliope and the children presented Clio with a red hoodie emblazoned with a lion's head that had pockets deep enough to conceal her wand and flask. Gran frowned and grunted in satisfaction at her whisky. She'd gotten everyone money again, plus candy for the kids. Nox and Sooty called a truce that afternoon in order to stalk and kill several escaped chocolate frogs.
They all drove to Glasgow the next day to shop with their Christmas money. In addition to picking out some Muggle music and magazines to share with Charity, Clio found a bottle of chocolate mead for Remus and the last few months' worth of Sandman comics for herself. Just when they'd fallen into a comfortable routine, and the rare family time began to feel normal, it came to and end.
She hugged her sister fiercely at the airport, then drove to the city center to meet Vincent for drinks as promised. The pub he'd chosen was the complete opposite of Underworld. It was fresh and tidy-looking, well-lit and occupied by a largely homogeneous crowd of young professionals. He'd already ordered wine and appetizers by the time she arrived.
“Chips for milady?” he said as she sat down.
“You do know the way to my heart.”
They'd met as students at the Runic Archives, and even though she called him Vincent the Fox because of his patronus, the nickname fit. His clever wit, sophisticated dress, delicate facial features, silky chestnut hair and dreamy hazel eyes combined to make him something of a ladykiller.
Apart from one drunken hookup that they'd mutually agreed to never mention again, their relationship had remained strictly platonic. They were the same height, and with his light build Clio had always wondered whether she might actually weigh the same or slightly more than him. This was huge a turn off for her. Meanwhile, her throaty laugh, deep voice and penchant for aging jeans were all turn offs for him.
“And you know the way to my heart,” he said, pulling a sheet of parchment from his briefcase.
“What have you got? A new device?”
“A new device, yes,” he said, sliding the rough sketch over the table to her. “This is a mood lamp. It's not quite ready for prototype yet, but once it is...?” he batted his long eyelashes at her.
“Of course I'll build it for you,” she said.
It was their mutual passion for ancient runes that had brought them together, and that ultimately drove their friendship on. Clio tested it a bit by pressing him for information about the Death Eaters.
"There's not much I can tell you that you don't already know," he insisted for the second time.
"Come on, you lived through it."
"Oh, I can tell you plenty about how fucked up everything was. How my mother was scared to let us leave the house. How we used to hide in a cabinet whenever she caught wind that You-Know-Who was out and about."
"Voldemort. Dumbledore insists that we refer to him by name."
"Easy for him to say, it's not like he's going to come knocking on his door."
"He's not the bogeyman. It's not like he's just going pop out of the mirror if you say his name too many times."
"Ridiculous, I know; but hear it, and imagine it enough times and you begin to believe it."
"So what have you heard about Crouch, Jr. and Rookwood?"
"Other than they both worked for the Ministry, both are murderers and both went Azkaban, they have virtually nothing in common." He paused for a sip of wine before continuing. "Crouch is dead, of course. You won't get anything out of him.”
She nodded. “I'm actually hoping Crouch wasn't involved. It'd be kind of anti-climatic if it turned out the killer's already dead.”
“Maybe,” he eyed her slyly. “It'd be more convenient, though. You could move on with your life.”
“Yeah,” she murmured, staring at the chip in her hand. “So, what about Rookwood?”
He shook his head. “You know, you may have better luck going to the Ministry itself. Talk to some of your grandfather's colleagues if any are still there. What department did he work in?"
Clio shook her head. "I don't even know. Gran's never talked about it. He was a scholar, though. He studied ancient magic in Egypt. Is there a Ministry department for that?"
Vincent's eyes widened. "Ancient magic? Not to my knowledge. If he was really studying something though … You really have no idea what he did?"
Clio shook her head.
He finished off his last few sips of wine in one gulp, then refilled his glass, topping hers off as well.
"Sounds to me like he worked in the Department of Mysteries," he said softly. "They study all manner of ancient subjects there. Time, space, love, death, even."
She chuckled. "Did you say time and space? Why am I teaching runes when I could be building a TARDIS?"
"Rookwood worked in the Department of Mysteries.” Vincent leaned in close and whispered, “He was an Unspeakable."
"An Unspeakable. Their studies are top secret. They aren't allowed to speak about what they're working on. To anyone. Not their families, even." He looked at her pointedly.
Clio was dumbfounded. "Why is it so secretive?"
He shrugged. "Because it's dangerous? Messing around with time, exploring space …” He made a face. “Death."
Clio sipped her wine and pondered his words for a while. "If my grandfather was an Unspeakable, would the Ministry even tell me if I asked?"
Her shoulders sagged.
"You should ask your Gran. If he were to slip and tell anyone anything, it would be her … or his mistress, if he had one on the side."
"Kidding," he said, throwing up his hands and flashing his most disarming smile.
She sighed. "Hey, change of subject. Have you heard of any secret societies that fought against Voldemort?"
"Not really. Well, I've heard rumors, but that's it. And stop saying that name," he whispered.
"What did you hear?"
"Just that it existed. The Potters were supposedly members. And the Longbottoms."
"Longbottoms? Like Neville Longbottom?"
"That's their son. His parents are permanent residents of St. Mungo's now, in the looney ward. Crouch's work, and the LeStranges."
"LeStrange? I've heard of them."
Vincent leaned forward conspiratorially, "There were also rumors going around Hogwarts in my day that Professor Snape had been a spy."
Her mouth quirked up in its half smile, "Yes, I've heard that, and also that he was a Death Eater."
"Oh yeah, those rumors circulated as well, though no one was ever able to get a look at his arm to prove it," he said, shaking his head. "Supposedly it was only Dumbledore's word that kept him out of Azkaban. There are those who've wondered just whose side he was really spying for, of course."
"Hmm." Clio sat back and sipped her wine as she thought of him clinging to Dumbledore's side at the beginning of term party and at the quidditch match, and waiting sullenly for him at the Christmas party. "Snape loves Dumbledore," she concluded. "He's his only friend."
Vincent laughed. "How is the old vulture? Has he been stumped, yet? I've been inserting little digs at him into the rune puzzles, like 'try shampoo.' Has he noticed?"
"He hasn't said anything, but I'll let you know if he seems especially surly some day," she said, shaking her head.
He laughed again. "Good luck."
After hearing about the Unspeakables, Clio was anxious to get back to her grandmother's. She tried to formulate the right question to ask as she drove. Phrasing it the wrong way or asking it in the wrong tone of voice would surely result in disaster.
Nox was curled at her grandmother's feet when she walked into the kitchen. Gran was reading the paper and nursing a glass of whisky.
"Hey, Gran," she said, sitting down in the chair opposite her.
"Did everything go okay at the airport?"
"Where'd you go afterward?"
"How do you know I went anywhere?"
Gran pointed to her packed bag and broom, leaning by the door. "You're obviously anxious to get back to your friend at Hogwarts, so you wouldn't have been dilly-dallying at the airport. You must have had somewhere else to go."
"You're scary, you know that?” she said. “I met another friend of mine for a drink."
"Does your Hogwarts friend know about this other friend?"
"It's not like that Gran, Vincent's just a friend-friend. Like Henry."
"You have too many male friends."
"I'm a man's woman, Gran. I hate other women and they hate me," she muttered. "That's a joke," she added, when her grandmother glared at her over the paper. "I have female friends at Hogwarts, too. You'd like Charity, I should bring her by some time."
"Please do. This Remus fellow, too. I don't like all this secretive stuff."
"Of course." It was the slimmest of openings, but Clio decided to take it. "Speaking of secretive, Gran, do you know, I just realized the other day that I don't even know what department Grandpa worked in at the Ministry."
She lowered the paper, her blue eyes hard and cold. "What?"
Clio winced, knowing she had messed up. "I was just wondering. Someone mentioned the Department of Mysteries the other day, which I'd never even heard of, and I thought it would be cool if Grandpa had studied time, or space..." Her voice trailed off.
Gran stared at her hard, mouth pinching into a tight line. "Why on earth would you ask me about that?"
Clio tried to smooth things over. "I was just wondering. I wanted to know more about him, that's all."
"Your grandfather was the man who told you stories and sang you to sleep at night. He was the man who taught you to speak Greek and shot off fireworks on your birthdays. That's who he was, not what he did at the Ministry!"
"Gran, I didn't mean to make you upset."
"I'm not upset."
"I'm sorry," Clio said.
"Just go, already," Gran said, tossing the paper down and taking her whisky to the other side of the kitchen. Nox sat up, wondering what the commotion was for.
She didn't want to leave like this, but Clio knew her grandmother would never have told her to go if she didn't mean it. She hastily slung her bag over her shoulder, grabbed her broom, guitar and Nox; and dashed outside. She was blinking back tears when she appeared just outside the school gates. The dementors swarmed her immediately, but Domino's tail had barely emerged from her wand before they scattered. She let him bound through the gates ahead of her, and on up to the castle. She imagined him charging up the stairs to Remus' office and finding Remus sitting by the fire, his face lighting up with one of his rare, warm smiles.
She jogged the whole way up to the castle, letting the cold air dry her tears, and was breathing hard by the time reached his office. She forgot until the last moment that Nox might not be so happy to see him, and swept the dog under one arm as she strode up to his door. She was just lifting her fist to knock when it opened a crack.
Nox growled, the fur on her back standing at attention. He opened the door a little wider, just enough for her to see his face. He looked tired and drawn, as if he had not been sleeping or eating well for the past week.
"Hi, sorry, I forgot I had Nox with me," she gasped, clapping her free hand over the dog's muzzle.
"I wasn't expecting to see you tonight," he said running a hand over his scruffy cheeks and through his disheveled hair. His eyes looked distant, and Clio wondered whether surprising him like this was such a good idea.
"I know. I got into a row with my grandmother and then, I just ... I missed you and I couldn't stand it anymore." He smiled wanly when she said this. "Do you mind if I take Nox upstairs and come back down?"
"No, of course not," he said, eying the agitated dog thoughtfully. "This could be a bit of a problem."
"It's something to work on," she said, trying to sound optimistic.
"I'll be right here when you get back," he murmured.
She ran upstairs and pushed the still growling dog, broom, bag, and guitar inside her room. She checked her face in the bathroom mirror to make sure that she didn't look like she'd been crying, then trotted back down the stairs to the second floor.
Remus was sitting by the fire when she returned, looking slightly better-groomed. He'd already poured drinks for both of them. She startled him by practically jumping into his lap to deliver a hug and kiss. He grunted under her sudden weight.
"Sorry," she said, shifting off of him. "Are you all right?"
"It's not your fault,” he said, fidgeting with his glass and staring into the fire. “The transition back and forth is painful."
"It still hurts, now?" she asked, horrified.
"Not as much, but some," he said, trying to smile.
"What is it like?"
He hesitated, continuing to fidget with his glass, before answering. "Imagine having all four limbs dislocated and then relocated."
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize," she said guiltily. Her fingers brushed, feather-like, over his face, cupping his chin and lifting it to her mouth for a long, tender kiss. His soft lips, tasted sweet from the mead; his wild, musky scent was intoxicating.
"Yes, well, the mead helps," he said roughly when she finally released his lips.
"That reminds me," she said, pulling the bottle from her cloak, "I got this for you." He took the mead from her, managing to smile this time.
His eyes lit up as he read the label, “Chocolate?”
“I hope it's good.”
"I'm sure it's wonderful. You didn't have to, but thank you."
She sat next to him on the couch, coaxing him to lean his weight on her, cradling his back and shoulders against her chest.
"Is this okay?" He nodded in response. She leaned her head against his, careful not to put any weight on it, stroking his thinning hair with the hand that wasn't holding her drink. They sat that way for a long while.
"I'm sorry, I don't have much energy this evening," he murmured.
"That's okay," she whispered back. "You're sure Snape's not putting anything in the wolfsbane to make you feel worse?"
The corners of his mouth twitched. "No, I don't think he's that vindictive. The main side effect is nausea, a small price to pay."
Presently, she felt his breathing slow, and his head drooped, resting heavily against hers. She finished her drink, and a few minutes later stood to go. She took his glass from him and set it on a side table, then woke him with a kiss.
"Goodnight," she said. "See you at breakfast tomorrow?"
"Hmm?" he murmured, eyes barely cracking open. "I may skip breakfast. Dinner, perhaps."