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Brave New Hope by ARG
Chapter 58 : Warming Up
 
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 A/N: Apologies for the delay, but between writing an outtake and two chapters (that's right - the next one is about 90% finished) this one was only ready for posting now. I hope it's worth is and that you like it. The huge head start on next one probably means it won't take as long to post it as usual :D

29 March 1998

“Neville, be quiet!” Ginny whispered to her friend as the two of them, along with Izzy, stood with some difficulty inside a cramped broom closet just a few hallways away from the Room of Requirement.

“Me?” the older boy asked, surprised. “I wasn’t talking at all!”

“You were breathing. Loudly,” Ginny replied.

“Loudly? I don’t breathe loudly,” he mumbled before turning to Izzy. “Do I breathe loudly?”

“Shh,” the other girl said as she put out her wand, which she’d been previously using to illuminate the Marauder’s Map. “Jugson and Mulciber are coming this way. Not a whisper now.”

All three of them went very quiet inside their hiding space, waiting for the two Death Eaters to pass, hopefully without noticing they were there. Those two weren’t the sharpest quills in the box but they certainly seemed eager to go the extra mile when it came to getting students on a platter to be served to the Carrows as breakfast. Having been named co-groundskeepers only a couple of weeks before, after Hagrid had been nearly arrested for getting caught holding a ‘support Harry Potter party’ (which Neville, Ginny and Izzy, as well as a dozen other DA members had narrowly escaped thanks to handful of Peruvian Darkness Powder), Jugson and Mulciber were already responsible for at least a dozen not-so-pleasant Carrow-style detentions, which not even Snape’s unwillingness to let Alecto and Amycus have fun had been able to stop. Getting caught by them trying to sneak into the Room of Requirement was definitely not on their plans, especially since that would lead to questions, questions that might lead to answers that might lead to getting their friends already inside the room into quite a bit of trouble.

Standing inside the broom cupboard as uncomfortably as sardines in a can, they heard the two escaped Death Eaters grumbling about the most sordid news of the week as if they were trophies on a shelf while they obliviously walked past them. Neither of them allowed itself to breathe in relief until the voices were so far away they sounded like whispers.

“Are they gone?” Ginny asked Izzy.

The younger girl didn’t respond, instead lighting her wand back up so she could check on the map again. “Yeah. The coast is clear. Let’s go.”

“Finally. My neck is killing me,” Neville said, rubbing the back of it as Ginny started to open the door.

“You think that’s bad? My back was pressed so hard against the edge of some box I actually lost feeling to my right leg!” Izzy replied, limping out of the cupboard with Ginny’s aid.

“Well, sorry. It’s not like there was much space for us to move,” the redhead mumbled. “Just be thankful you weren’t stuck with two people who have the hots for each other like I did when we were sneaking out of Hagrid’s. There was far too much touching between Seamus and Lavender and I’m fairly sure 90% of it was on purpose. I seriously considered just turning myself in to the Carrows.”

“And he swears he doesn’t like her like that,” Neville mumbled.

“Yeah, well, idiots do seem to like to tell that to themselves when it comes to liking someone, don’t they, Izzy?”

Izzy glared. And, just that easily, Ginny had managed to get a completely different conversation to shift into her and George. Again. As time passed and the war got nastier, her best friend seemed to have been getting less and less patient about giving her time to deal with her feelings for George and instead keener and keener on hinting at how dumb she thought Izzy was being by wasting precious time they might not be able to afford losing. “Don’t you think this is far from the right time to be talking about feelings?” she suggested.

“What? I thought your leg was numb,” Ginny pointed out, raising her eyebrows.

“It’s getting better – pretty sure I can walk on it ‘till we reach the room,” she replied, narrowing her eyes in a warning fashion.

“Well, let’s go, then,” Neville urged them. “We’re already late.”

“Alright,” Ginny mumbled, sighing before she turned back to her best friend. “Come on, lean on me. We’ll get there faster if I give you a hand.”

Izzy huffed. “Fine,” she mumbled, allowing her friend to support her as she walked. “I’m not… telling myself I don’t like George,” she whispered to Ginny as Neville led the way in front of them rather out of earshot. “It’s just… it’s scary, you know?”

“George? There’s nothing scary about George – I’d be the first one to tell you to back off if he was some slime,” Ginny assured her.

“I know that. But that’s not what I’m talking about and you know it,” Izzy replied.

“Do I?”

Izzy narrowed her eyes. “You just want me to say it.”

“Say what exactly?” Ginny inquired, pretending to be completely clueless about it.

“You suck at playing dumb, you know? You’re far too smart for it to work.”

“And you suck at insulting people,” the redhead replied. “Now, I believe I was nudging you towards saying something…”

Izzy huffed. “This is really not the time.”

“Isn’t it? I’m pretty sure being quiet while we walk won’t make us go any faster. Besides, the coast is clear – Mulciber and Jugson aren’t so smart that they’d make a double round just in case. So, go on. Speak up, Isabelle – you know you want to,” Ginny urged her, pressing just the right buttons so she’d break.

“Fine,” Izzy mumbled. “I’m… we… it doesn’t feel like just a crush anymore. It feels like… more. That’s scary. Happy?”

“Thrilled,” Ginny replied. “About time you admitted out loud that you lo…”

“… like him!” Izzy interjected. “Like him.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Semantics? Really? Alright, then. You like him. Now, what are you going to do about it?”

“Hey! You’ve just gotten me to admit it – baby steps, Ginny, baby steps.”

“Wasting time, Izzy, wasting time,” the redhead replied as they were just about to reach the door leading to the room of requirement. It was still closed, she noted, and Neville didn’t seem all too happy about it.”

“…come on, Seamus. You know I’m rubbish at remembering passwords,” he was saying at the person behind the door.

No password, no entrance, Nev. We’ve discussed this. How do I know you’re not some nutter on polijiuce?

“The door wouldn’t materialize for me if I was some nutter on polijuice, would it?!” Neville asked in frustration before turning to the two of them. “A little help here, please?”

Ginny let go of Izzy, who’d already fully recovered the feeling on her leg, and made her way towards the door. “The password is Fawkes, Seamus. Now open up. This is Ginny, by the way.”

The Irish boy did as he was told, holding the door open for them just long enough so they could come in. “Was that so hard?” he asked.

“Quit being a git, will you?” the redhead replied as he closed the door behind Izzy. She quickly spotted over half a dozen people sitting on several chairs, pillows and sofas surrounding a large wireless device just a few feet away – one of the very few in the castle that hadn’t been confiscated yet. “Has it started yet?”

Seamus shook his head as they approached everyone else. “It should’ve, though. You said it would start at five – it’s twelve past five already. They’re never this late.”

“Are you sure your source was right?” Hannah Abbot asked as Neville very casually took a seat on the arm of her armchair. “Maybe the broadcast wasn’t today, after all.”

“Trust me, they had it right,” Izzy assured her. Unless, of course, something had come up in the meanwhile.

“Who are those sources, anyway?” Lavender inquired, a bit sceptically. “Seems a bit weird you’d know all of this about Potterwatch, being stuck here like all of us and everything.”

“We know a bloke who knows a bloke,” Ginny replied simply as she occupied one of two chairs that had suddenly materialized into the room. And, of course, the sources being Sirius and the twins, they couldn’t possibly find more accurate ones in what comes to Potterwatch, since they were the hosts of the program… “Just wait a little longer. It’s a pirate station – it’s not like they have much tech support if something doesn’t go right.”

“What took you so long to show up, anyway?” Parvati asked. “We were starting to wonder if we had to go looking for you.”

“The Carrows were inspecting the dorms for smuggled stuff. We couldn’t leave until they were gone – it’d have called too much attention,” Neville explained. “They made a mess out of your trunk, by the way,” he told Seamus.

“Bugger, I’d just packed up for the train ride tomorrow!” Seamus complained. “Did they find anything, anyway?”

“Nope. I managed to stick your skiving snack-boxes and invisibility hat to the outside of the window before they got there. Probably weren’t counting on there being anyone in the tower since most of you take Transfiguration,” Neville explained.

“We were lucky to have a free period too,” Izzy provided. “We need to start thinking of moving our most dubious things to this room after Easter Break,” she pointed out. “It won’t open to the Carrows, Snape or the other two, so they should be safe here.”

“Yes, that does seem like a pretty good idea,” Susan Bones agreed.

“Shh, listen. It’s starting,” Padma Patil announced, turning the radio’s volume up until Lee Jordan’s voice filled the room.

… afternoon and welcome to another edition of Potterwatch. We apologize for the few minutes of lateness but, as it happens, our usual contributor, Rodent, messed up all the wiring on our equipment right before we were to start.”

It’s Rapier! And I most certainly did not! You’re the one who tripped on it,” Rapier – or rather one of the twins, though Izzy couldn’t quite tell which one it was that time for sure, since they took turns at it and the interference on the wireless made it hard for her to notice the little giveaways that told Fred and George’s voices apart. And, of course, George had refused to tell her the previous night when they’d written to each other which one of them was going to talk that time just so he could tease her about it later. “Tell them, Rascal. Tell them I’m not the klutz here.”

“I didn’t see it happen – I just heard the bang and then found you both on the floor,” Rascal – Sirius, in fact – pointed out, sounding quite amused.

He dragged me down!

Why do you lie, liar?” Lee asked.

“I am going to…” The whole room snorted loudly upon hearing the sound of a microphone being knocked over.

As the squabble took place on the background, a deeper voice reached their ears, which Izzy recognized as Kingsley’s. “Whichever of them is the liar, I think it’s fair to say someone fell down, wiring was misplaced and it held up the broadcast a few minutes,” he offered.

A someone that certainly wasn’t me,” River assured the audience.

We’ll just agree to disagree,” Rapier replied, although his tone seemed to have changed from the previous outraged one to a simply amused sort a little too fast, Izzy noted.

“Is it me or they switched places just now?” Izzy whispered to Ginny, who chuckled.

“Wouldn’t put it past them. In any case, I bet an arm and a leg this is the one you were hoping to hear, if you know what I mean. The other’s far too pig-headed to ever ‘agree to disagree’,” Ginny assured her.

Izzy had to bite her lower lip on order to keep herself from smiling.

Now, on to the news, Rapier, if you wouldn’t mind starting,” Lee stated.

Do I ever?” George replied. “In the three weeks that have passed since our last broadcast. There seems to have been… remind me how many sightings of Harry Potter have allegedly taken place, River,” Rapier… or rather George, asked.

“One hundred and thirty-four,” Lee replied.

There is is. Thanks, mate,” he said. “One hundred and thrty-four or, as I like to say it, a boatload of sightings – not just a boatload of them but also spread throughout the globe, some somewhere near the great wall of China, others among the penguins inhabiting the south pole,” he added. “Now, my dear listeners, don’t go thinking there’s no explanation for this ridiculous number of sightings. In fact, I’d say one of two explanations would fit: first, Harry Potter must have around half a dozen twins we don’t know about…

“Seems perfectly plausible,” Izzy heard her father stating. “Who doesn’t run into sets of septuplets three or four times a day? A plague, I’ll tell you.

I dunno,” George agreed, trying to sound sceptical. “Personally, I don’t think I even know any set of twins. Do you, River?

Izzy and Ginny had to hold their breaths so they wouldn’t burst into laughter over the tongue-in-cheek statement.

“I do, actually,” Lee agreed. “You’re not missing much, you know? The wits and the intelligence being split between two… you see that they try, but, well…

“Oh, they might just surprise you one day,” George replied, the threat well hidden behind his tone for anyone who didn’t know who was talking. “But, back to the second reason for said boatload of Harry Potter sightings: people really need to get better past times than making up phony sightings of… I dunno, mythical creatures, famous people and… oh, yes, Harry Potter. I mean, really, we all daydream a little bit about the bloke these days, being the ‘chosen one’ and everything, but there’s a little difference between reality and dreams. Personally, I doubt getting spotted holidaying in Antarctica is anywhere in Harry Potter’s plans right now, not to mention it’s probably a bit too cold for anyone’s taste aside from the Abominable Snowman’s.”

Aren’t those blokes from the Himalayas?

Fair point, River, though not really the one I’m trying to make. Anyway, of one thing I’m sure, if our Death Eater pals had any reason to believe Harry Potter had fled the country, they’d be the first ones to shove it down our throats.

I’m a bit inclined to just go with the septuplet version,” Sirius pointed out. “It sure wouldn’t hurt to have a handful of Harry Potters walking around.”

Yes, I do imagine that would make You-Know-Who seven times as annoyed,” Kingsley – codename Royal – tagged along.

Let’s all cross our fingers, shall we?” Lee suggested. “Now, as you may have noticed our usual contributor Romulus is absent today, due to personal reasons, therefore Royal will be taking over the sharing of the least pleasant news, as well as his regular warnings feature. So, Royal, if you may.

“Thank you, River,” Kingsley said. The auror proceeded to start with the more unpleasant news, ranging from Hagrid’s near-arrest a few weeks before, to a dozen more Muggle-borns having been shipped off to Azkaban the previous week (no children were among them, Kingsley thankfully assured them, which unfortunately didn’t happen all that often. Soon enough though, a familiar, albeit expected name, showed up among the bad news… “Charity Burbage, Sturgis Podmore and Luna Lovegood, remain among the missing people whose whereabouts there are no clues about. Those who do know where these individuals are, please send word to their families or friends.

None of them said a word about it – enough had been said already. When they’d first noticed Luna hadn’t come back, they’d hoped she’d just ran along with her father – if only she’d been so lucky… The news that Xeno Lovegood had been arrested quickly reached them, which left them wondering what had happened to Luna. Izzy and Ginny suspected she might have been somehow taken during the train ride home for Christmas – they’d all agreed to say their goodbyes over at King’s Cross but she’d never showed up. Luna wasn’t the sort of person who stood people up – she valued her friends far too much. None of them wanted to consider she might be gone for good, but three months had passed and there were still no news even though Potterwatch asked for them every single broadcast.

As for the deceased,” Kingsley continued, “it is with great regret that we inform our listeners of the murders of Ted Tonks and Dirk Cresswell. We ask for a minute of silence on their honour and to pay our respects to their families.

Not one dared not to comply to the auror’s request – Izzy imagined all over the country listeners must be completely silent at the moment, honouring their fallen peers.

When the minute was over, her father took over with news from Hogwarts, saying nothing that would have really surprised any of them since they’d been there to witness every single barbarity he reported over the wireless. Kingsley tagged along soon enough, since there hadn’t been many news from her father’s corner that time, proceeding to share a few defence strategies and advice to help people protecting themselves – some were rather obvious although it didn’t hurt to remind people of them. Others, however, were craftier and more out-of-the-box. Some of the Ravenclaws in the room were even taking notes.

Also, if you don’t mind me adding something, Royal,” Sirius said at some point, when Kingsley seemed to be about done.

Not at all,” the other man conceded.

Since we’re on the warnings corner,” he said, “Don’t forget tonight is full moon. Now, while I’d like to point out that not all werewolves are unfriendly outside of their… let’s call it ‘time of the month’ – personally, I know ladies who get far more ‘unfriendly’ due to a completely different ‘time of the month’ – let’s not make it easy for Greyback to have his midnight snack tonight, shall we? Be sure to lock up your homes a little bit more carefully than usual and refrain from walking alone on the streets, especially if you live in rural areas. The pub crawl can wait for tomorrow, kids.

“Well, there go my plans for tonight, then,” Lee provided with a chuckle.

By all means, River, do shower yourself with mead – I’m sure Greyback will appreciate the seasoning,” Sirius replied.

That snorting that could be heard over the wireless certainly matched the one in the room. They were good at that, giving people things to laugh about despite the tragic nature of their broadcast. They needed that.

Alright, seasoning aside – and, just for the record, Mr. Greyback, I’d make a terrible meal, unless you’re into dieting –, we’ve reached the end of another broadcast of Potterwatch. The password for the next one will be Evans,” Lee said. “Stay safe.”

And don’t forget to avoid the taboo word,” Kingsley added at the last moment.

Little hint – it rhymes with Voldywart,” George provided.

No, it doesn’t,” Lee replied. “It would need to end with ‘mort’ to rhyme.

Who died and made you the Rhyme Queen, River?

Hey! That’s Your Majesty to you, thank you very much!

And, once again, the catfight unravelled on the background as someone – that time Sirius – got a hold of the microphone. “Well, I’ll just go ahead and assume we all know what the taboo word is. Keep your ears open for the next broadcast and don’t lose faith over there in the meanwhile. Support Harry Potter because he’s certainly doing the same for you. And we’re out.

With that, the wireless went completely quiet. The room, however, became quite loud as everyone started discussing that day’s broadcast with each other.

Izzy didn’t miss the voices wondering about the identities of the mystery contributors. “I swear I’ve heard at least one of those voices before. River, I think,” Hannah Abbot had told her and Ginny, leaving the two of them to make clearly wrong suggestions just to throw her off Lee’s trail – his voice was bound to be well-known to some Hogwarts students, seeing as he’d been the Quidditch commenter for years.

With dinner-time approaching, though, the conversations quickly moved on to the logistics of scheduling their exits from the room, knowing that coming out all at once in a group would call far too much attention. As Neville slipped out along with the group containing Justin Finch-Flechtley, Parvati and Hannah Abbot (with whom he seemed to be quite entranced in a conversation), Ginny and Izzy ended up being the last ones to leave – sort of fitting, since they’d been the last ones to arrive.

They soon regretted it, though, as, while they were too busy chatting to even think of checking the Marauder’s Map, they ran straight into Jugson and Mulciber on the seventh-floor corridor. They didn’t look happy – at all…

“Ladies,” the first one started, eyeing them with suspicion. They’d been marked, of course, ever since Snape had caught them in his office. Every time the two of them were seen on their own or alone with Neville, the Carrows (and now their two new pals) eyed them like they were just about to cause trouble – thankfully, they were always wrong, never really getting the much-needed dirt to get them into detention, “may I ask what you are doing here on your own?”

“Returning to our common room,” Izzy replied easily.

“Returning from where?”

“From taking a walk,” Ginny said, taking over when there was the need to lie, knowing she was the best one out of the two at it. “I believe that’s still allowed before curfew.”

Mulciber nodded. “It just seems odd – two pretty girls taking a walk on their own indoors.”

The disgusting little creep, Izzy thought. The disgusting little idiotic creep. “Well, we could have gone out but we’d rather not spend Easter in bed with a cold or worse,” she said, pointing at a nearby window currently being showered by copious amounts of rain.

“Right…” Jugson mumbled. “So you wouldn’t know anything about an illegal broadcast.”

Ginny raised her eyebrows at them with a poker face that only she could manage to make. “Broadcast?” she asked, her voice a mix of boredom and confusion. She was good. She was really good.

“On the wireless.”

“I thought there were no wireless devices in the castle,” Ginny replied, all but calling them stupid idiots with her eyes. “Didn’t they confiscate them all in the beginning of the term?” she asked Izzy.

Izzy nodded. “Pretty sure they did.”

“So you ladies wouldn’t mind if we looked into your bags, would you?” Mulciber inquired.

Oh, he was so sure he was going to find one of those in their bags, Ginny could tell. That was the main reason why she was willing to let them search whatever they wanted in hers: so she could see their faces when they realized there wouldn’t be detention handed to them that afternoon. Again. “Be my guests. In fact,” she added, gesturing to the nearby window still before moving towards it, “allow me to empty mine for you.”

They followed her there, watching as she turned her bag upside down and let a couple of books, some quills and a half a dozen rolls of parchment fall down. Izzy did the same with her bag, allowing the two Death Eaters to see – with quite a bit of disappointment – nothing seemed out of place. Not even the Marauder’s Map, disguised under its cover shape of an old piece of folded parchment.

“Is that all?” Izzy asked.

What is going on in here?” they heard McGonagall saying as she appeared from behind Mulciber and Jugson.

“Just a spot-check, professor,” Ginny told the older woman as she approached. “I believe all was in order…”

Jugson pursed his lips tightly. “It appears that way,” he mumbled.

“Well, good,” McGonagall said, crossing her arms. “One has to wonder, though, why two groundskeepers would need to call for any spot-check when their job is to take care of the grounds, not look after the students.”

The two Death Eaters glared at the woman and she did the same – if someone asked Izzy, she’d say McGonagall’s glare could wipe the floor with the other two’s. “Times have changed, Professor,” Mulciber told her before the two of them were off.

“I suppose you think that’s news to me,” McGonagall mumbled under her breath before turning to the two students, who appeared to be sorting which things belonged to who in order to put them in the right bag. “Everything alright, ladies?”

“Yes, Professor,” Izzy responded.

“They really were just fishing for a reason to give us detention,” Ginny assured the older woman. “Which they didn’t find.”

“Yes – it was clear they were disappointed,” the former deputy headmistress agreed. “Are you heading to your Common Room?” she asked, receiving a nod in return. “Good, then you can walk with me.”

The two girls did so, following the older teacher through the hallways as she apparently headed to the Gryffindor Tower as well.

“You need to be careful around our new groundskeepers, ladies,” McGonagall told them. “I don’t think I need to tell them they’re from the same stock as the Carrows.”

“You don’t, Professor,” Izzy told her. “They were looking for something in specific, though. Wireless devices.”

“Something about another illegal broadcast this afternoon,” Ginny said, as if the details of it were unclear to her.

McGonagall wasn’t fooled by it, though. The girls had heard every word of that broadcast just as she had, along with Flitwick, Mia and Sprout from a wireless device the latter had hid behind all the mandrakes (which the Carrows were terrified of, for some reason) in the greenhouses and then smuggled into her office inside the castle. “Yes, I heard something in passing,” the woman said vaguely. “I imagine our headmaster won’t be happy at all about it.” Her lips curled slightly as she said so.

Izzy and Ginny did the same, stopping in front of the Fat Lady’s portrait upon reaching their destination.

“Now, Miss Weasley, Miss Black, if you’d be so kind to place this on your Common Room’s announcement board,” McGonagall requested them, handing them a roll of parchment.

“What is it about?” Ginny inquired, taking the roll.

McGonagall sighed. “I’d advise you to see it for yourselves… otherwise you might not believe me.”

The redhead did so, unrolling the parchment in front of her. “No way…” she mumbled.

“What?” Izzy asked, moving to another position so she could get a better view of the parchment.

“It’s a seating chart for the Gryffindor coach on the Hogwarts Express. And it’s on alphabetic order – that puts us on opposite ends of the train,” she said.

“What? Let me see that!” Izzy said, snatching the roll of parchment away. It was true – there was a diagram and everything: she was in the first compartment on the left (as was Lavender Brown and Ginny was on the last one. Neville was lost somewhere in the middle too, in the compartment by Seamus’s. “They won’t let us pick our own seats now?”

McGonagall let out a long breath. “I’m afraid those are the new rules,” the teacher said. “Believe me, we, the heads of the houses, have already stressed how ridiculous we think the arrangement is. To no avail, as you can imagine.”

“It’s a power-trip,” Ginny said. “Another one. And hear this,” she told Izzy. “‘Students are not allowed to leave their own compartments unless requested to do so by a teacher. Visits to the toilets are only allowed when accompanied by a teacher, one student at a time’,” she read.

“It’s ludicrous. At this rate I wonder what’s going to be next term: maybe a freight train with individual cages for each of us,” Izzy mumbled.

McGonagall pursed her lips. “I might have laughed at that idea before – now I’m not so sure if I should. I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait and see.” She gave them each a nod. “Dinner starts in ten minutes, girls – I’ll see you down there.”

“Thank you, professor,” Ginny told the older woman as she started to walk away from them. When she was out of sight, she turned to Izzy and gave her an exasperated look. “So, is tomorrow gonna suck or what?”

Izzy huffed. “You have no bloody idea.”

And neither did she…

---

Maybe you should’ve been a radio personality,” Sirius heard his wife suggesting over the two-way mirror as he lounged on the living-room sofa during their daily talk.

“You think?” he asked.

She nodded on the other side of the mirror. “I’ve already told you that you’re good in there. All of you in Potterwatch, really. You don’t just inform people, which would pretty much be just breaking bad news to them. You entertain them – that’s important, now more than ever.

He grinned. “Well, I always love to hear a compliment, especially from such a pretty source. Now I’m sort of wishing it was tomorrow already.”

And why would that be?

“Because if it was tomorrow, by this time I’d have my lovely wife right here, just at hand for me to kiss as thanks for the compliments she’s sending my way,” he replied.

But if it was tomorrow, the broadcast would’ve been a day ago, so I wouldn’t be complimenting you for it since it’d be old news,” she pointed out.

He chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure I’d find a way or two to get a compliment out of you,” he stated.

He saw her smiling – he couldn’t wait to see her smiling at him in person again. One day, he told himself. Just one day before she and Izzy got home for Easter Break. Then he could kiss her all he wanted.

Why am I not surprised you think so?” she replied. “Now, changing subjects before your ego grows further, where are my babies?”

“Upstairs, splashing in their bath. Lulu banned me from the bathroom – said it was idiotic for me to even offer a hand when I know they’ll get me wet from head to toe and Remus will be getting here any time now so we can head off to handle his monthly problem,” he explained.

Well, she does have a point,” Mia stated. “Has that menace you somehow convinced me in a moment of weakness to let you give our son for his birthday broken yet?

Sirius raised his eyebrows. “If by ‘menace’ you mean his spectacular new toy broom, then no, it’s still perfectly fine. You should see the kid ridding it – he’s going to be a star. He’s been training some moves to show you.”

Please tell me it’s nothing dangerous.

“How could it possibly be dangerous? The thing flies little more than three feet over the floor and I have the whole room, from floor to walls, covered with cushioning charms when he’s playing with it,” he assured her. “Trust me, it’s perfectly fine – I wouldn’t let him play with the broomstick if it wasn’t.”

Mia sighed. She knew it, of course. The one thing he never took risks on, was their kids’ safety. “And Mary? How’s is her walking going?

“As is should. She gets up, she takes a few steps, she falls on her bum. Then she gets up again, takes some more steps and falls again. Honestly, I think she does find falling funny – it’s probably the cushioning charms. Even Alex throws himself on the floor just for kicks sometimes – says it’s like falling on a cloud,” Sirius informed her.

She chuckled. “I still can’t help but feel a little bit suspicious that I just happened to be around for both her first word and her first steps, Sirius. Feels like a little bit of a long shot when I’m away most of the time, Sirius.”

“Hey, that’s the version I’m sticking with,” he stated firmly. She was right, of course, although she’d never catch him admitting that. He knew what it felt like knowing one had missed most of their child’s milestones – he still felt bad for it sometimes when Izzy was around –, so he wasn’t about to let Mia feel the same way.

For all intents and purposes, Mia had been there to watch both Mary’s first steps and her first words. She’d been there, even if just for a few hours before she’d needed to catch the Hogwarts Express, for their little girl’s first birthday on New Year’s day and again for Alex’s third about two months later (when Mary’s walking feat had allegedly taken place). And, Merlin, was he thankful for Snape and the Carrows’ antics that had led to that last one… Because he was pretty sure that if the Carrows hadn’t immediately gone over Snape’s head and refused to give Mia the weekend when Alex’s birthday took place, right when she’d asked the headmaster over dinner in the Great Hall, he sure as hell wouldn’t have taken his own turn at pissing the creepy siblings off by allowing her to have that day at Hogsmeade instead.

Sure, it hadn’t been the same as having her home. Sure, he’d needed to take Lulu, Gabe, Molly, Arthur and Remus along to the Three Broomsticks just so he was confident enough the little ones were protected enough. And, sure, he’d spotted the ridiculous amount of spies standing around reading newspapers and downing drinks as if they were expecting them to be meeting to conspire. But she’d been there with them – that was all that mattered.

So, Tonks will really be staying over there tonight with Gabe, Lulu and the kids?” Mia asked him, then, giving in to changing the subject.

Sirius nodded. “Yeah. With the baby coming any time now, it’s not a very good idea for her to stay home alone. And when you add her dad to the mix…”

Mia sighed. “How is she doing? Have you seen her at all since the funeral?” she asked. Unfortunately, asking for a home leave to attend the funeral of a supposed traitor hadn’t been much of an option then…

He shook his head. “She hasn’t been going out much. I haven’t seen much of Remus either – he’s barely left her side at all. I guess he’s afraid for the baby.”

As he should,” Mia stated. “All this stress hitting when she’s practically nine months pregnant… I’m surprised the baby didn’t come early or anything. By now she must be overdue, already.

“I suppose,” Sirius mumbled. He wasn’t very good at keeping track of the weeks on his own. “Merlin, I hope it doesn’t come tonight. It would suck for Remus to miss it because it just happens to be full moon.”

“Well, it could happen. But then again, if it does, maybe he wouldn’t miss it. Labour takes a while, especially for first babies,” Mia stated. “Who knows, if it happened tonight, it might extend well into the morning.”

“Merlin, don’t let her hear that,” he said, gulping. Then again, Remus missing most of the labour might be for the best – pregnant Tonks could be unbelievably mean. She’d literally cursed Lee Jordan in the previous month when he’d asked her if she might be having twins… true, it had been an unfortunate question, that not even the twins had dared to ask despite her being so… huge. But if she’d cursed a nineteen-year-old for asking her such an idiotic question, who knew what she’d come up with for Remus during labour, as revenge for having knocked her up in the first place.

Before he could start thinking up said ways for Tonks to get revenge, though, he heard the house’s doorbell. “Speaking of the devil, that must be them. I should probably go.”

Alright,” Mia agreed. “Send them my love. And be careful tonight.

“I always am,” he assured her. “Especially the day before I get to snog my lovely wife again.”

She smiled. “I’ll see you at the platform tomorrow.

“I’ll be the one wearing the devoted husband face,” he told her.

Love you.

“Love you more,” Sirius replied, right before his wife’s face was replaced by his own on the two way mirror.

He promptly got up from the sofa, shoving the mirror into his pocket before heading out of the room. Having been allowed into the house by Kreacher, he quickly spotted Remus helping his wife the stairs with some difficulty, half because , due to the full moon, he looked a train wreck, half because Tonks didn’t seemed all that willing to he helped.

“I do know how to climb up a flight of stairs, thank you very much,” she was saying. There were dark circles under her eyes, indicating she’d been sleeping far too little and somehow her face looked less plump than it had been last time he’d seen her – that just didn’t seem right for a woman in her state. “Just because I’m nine-months and a week pregnant, doesn’t mean I’ve lost all my brain function all of a sudden. Worry about yourself – you look awful.”

“Thanks,” her husband mumbled dryly.

“She’s right, you know?” Sirius pointed out. “You look like the living dead.”

Remus sighed. “It looks worse than it is.”

“Liar,” his wife accused him, a hint of worry on her face. “You could barely land out of the portkey. I shouldn’t have let you take it with me – you should’ve stayed home and I’d send Sirius back for you.”

“I wanted to make sure you and the baby got here okay.”

The pregnant woman sighed tiredly. “We did. Now stop worrying about us. If you worried a little less about us and a little more about yourself, this could have been avoided,” she told him as she made her way into the living room, desperately needing to take a seat as pretty much every muscle on her body ached.

“What do you mean?” Sirius asked the auror.

“She doesn’t…”

“The idiot forgot to take the Wolfsbane Potion yesterday,” she said, interrupting her husband.

“What?!”

“I took it today,” Remus told him. “It will still work tonight.”

“Yeah, but if you’d taken it yesterday, you wouldn’t feel this badtoday,” she said, sitting on one of the sofas.

“I’m fine, Dora,” he told her.

“No, you’re not. Look at you! You look pale as a ghost. You always look pale around this time of the month but never… never this pale,” the woman said, her eyes starting to cloud with tears, courtesy of the hormone casserole raging over her body.

“Calm down, Tonks. I’ve seen him looking way worse before,” Sirius told her. It wasn’t a lie. Back when they were teenagers and Wolfsbane wasn’t an option for Remus, he’s be so ill sometimes that Sirius and James had to literally carry him into the Shrieking Shack under the invisibility cloak. “Maybe a little Pepper-Up potion will help – it did before.”

“There’s no nee…”

Kreacher,” Sirius called, ignoring his friend. The house-elf materialized right in front of them, holding a rag on one hand and a silver chandelier on the other, having been apparently interrupted while he was cleaning it. “Do we have any Pepper-Up potion?”

“Kreacher think so,” he responded.

“Good. Can you fetch us some quickly?”

The house-elf nodded, vanishing the same way he appeared.

“You didn’t need to bother,” Remus said. “Honestly, we really should get going.”

“We still have plenty of time before you grow fur, mate,” Sirius told him. “No need for you to spend it looking so bad and making your wife lose her mind.”

“She shouldn’t be losing her mind,” he replied before turning to her. “I really am fine.”

“You really suck at lying, more like,” she replied, before sinking against the back of the sofa and reaching for the latest edition of Quidditch Digest in order to use it as a fan. “Merlin, it’s a million degrees in here.”

It really wasn’t but neither Sirius nor Remus brought it up. “So,” Sirius started. “Not much longer, right?” he asked, nodding at her belly.

The auror smiled faintly and rubbed her stomach. “Tell me about it – this has to be the first Lupin who’s late for anything. I feel like I’m going to give birth to a small elephant.”

Sirius chuckled. “That would be uncomfortable.”

“It already is,” she assured him just as the sound of steps made its way into the room and Lulu stepped in with Mary on her hip as Alex followed them. Just as soon as the little girl spotted her godmother, a big smile covered her face and she pointed at her, uttering a word that could probably be spelled as ‘Tonsh’ or something of that sort. Clearly, it meant Tonks, which made the woman offer the little girl a genuinely open smile.

“Ah, didn’t know you were here yet,” the older woman said. She frowned over at Remus. “You don’t look too well.”

“That’s being taken care of,” Sirius assured his mother-in-law.

“If you say so…” She turned to Tonks. “How’s the little one doing?”

“Great. Apparently, it’s found a fluffy pillow on my bladder and it’s probably using one of my kidneys as a teddy-bear too,” Tonks replied exhaustedly. “I think it’s safe to say the kid has made itself at home and shows no intention of leaving.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. The human body has a way of evicting them before they get too comfy,” Lulu assured her as she placed her granddaughter on the empty seat next to her godmother’s. Mary didn’t waste time before reaching over to Tonks, curiously touching her big belly with her little hands and soon enough pointing at it and accusing the presence of a ‘bebe’. The metamorphagus welcomed her goddaughter’s interaction with another smile, stroking the little girl’s hair as she placed her head on the belly, trying to hear anything from inside.

Kreacher popped back into the room just then with a glass full of disgusting-looking liquid soon enough.

“Drink up,” Tonks told her husband as Mary narrowed her eyes while trying to listen to the baby. “Don’t make me go over there to pour it down your throat.”

“Are you sick?” Alex asked his godfather, eyeing him suspiciously as he obeyed his wife by drinking the nasty-looking liquid.

“Not as much as everyone seems to think, Alex,” he assured the boy when he was done.

Alex eyed him sceptically. “You should go to bed. Mama makes me go to bed when I’m feeling sicky.”

Remus chuckled. “There’s no need. The potion is already making me feel better,” he said, mostly aiming the words of reassurance at his wife, who kept looking at him as she ran her fingers through their goddaughter’s head.

“It looked yucky,” Alex observed.

“I’ve had worse,” he assured the boy. “Thank you, Kreacher,” he added to the house-elf as he handed the glass back to him. “I think it’s time we went, don’t you, Sirius?”

The other man nodded. He could already see some colour back on his friend’s face. “I suppose, if your better half allows it,” he said, looking at Tonks.

The woman sighed. “I guess you don’t look as bad now,” she offered as he made his way over to her in order to place a soft ‘goodbye’ kiss on her lips. “Make sure you make it back in one piece in the morning. Or else we’ll have words,” she warned him.

His lips curled a little. “I’ll do my best, darling,” he assured her. “If the baby decides to come…”

“I’ll let you know in the morning,” she told him. “Don’t keep your hopes up, though. This one clearly takes after me on the punctuality department.”

Remus smiled a little on his way out of the room, especially when he heard his wife’s laughter for the first time in weeks, when Alex asked her that, if the baby was a boy, she could trade it for Mary.

“Alright, give me a moment to go fetch my cloak from upstairs,” Sirius declared once they reached the hall, heading up the stairs and leaving him alone with Lulu, who’d followed them out of the room.

“Thanks again for agreeing to keep an eye on her,” Remus found fitting to tell the woman. “I couldn’t stand leaving her on her own when she’s so far along and Andromeda’s just so… withdrawn. She can barely function these days.”

“It’s understandable,” Lulu offered in an unusually empathetic tone. “She’s just learned she lost her husband of more than two decades a few weeks ago. That’s a horrible thing to feel.” She could relate in a way – thinking for over a decade that Gabe was dead was just… disheartening. And back when he’d been ‘dead’, she could hardly say they’d ever had a… regular relationship. “Tonks looks well, though. A bit thinner and tired but in a better mood than I’d have foreseen.”

Remus sighed. “She’s got good days and bad days,” he told her. “Sometimes she seems perfectly fine, others she just loses it and can’t stop crying. The hormones aren’t helping, I guess. She and Ted were quite close.” The shock had been immense – Dora had cried for days, harder than he’d ever seen her cry, even back when his rejection was the reason for her tears. He’d feared for her and, Merlin, he’d also feared for the baby. The healers assured him the baby was alright but only Merlin knew how much he’d feared she might lose it so far into the pregnancy. “If she does end up cracking tonight…”

“… I’ll know what to do. It’s not my first time consoling heartbroken pregnant women,” Lulu told him. “Mia,” she quickly explained.

“Oh, right,” Remus mumbled. “Sometimes it’s hard to remember they spent all that time away from one other… and that Mia was pregnant when it first happened.”

“She’s in good hands,” Lulu told him. “And if I can’t manage on my own, I’m sure Gabe can cook up some sort of auror discussion to keep her busy until she goes under. Judging by her face, that shouldn’t take too long.”

The werewolf nodded just as his friend re-joined him.

“Alright. Let’s get on our way, shall we?” Sirius said.

The two of them climbed down the stairs as Lulu made her way back into the living room to make sure the kids weren’t overwhelming the pregnant woman or anything

“Off to the cottage, then?” Gabe asked when they reached the ground floor, at the same time he stepped out of the library, where he’d been previously reading.

“Better not cut it too close,” Sirius replied. “The two-way mirror is on my bedside table if you need to contact Mia for anything.”

Gabriel nodded. “I guess good luck is in order, then,” he said.

“It certainly can’t hurt,” Sirius conceded as they reached the door. “Alright, guess we’re off, then.”

Just as soon as his hand touched the doorknob, though an intense feeling of burning surrounded his wrist. He hissed immediately, pulling it away from the knob. But still, the sensation remained unchanged – he already knew why. The burning had nothing to do with the doorknob – it was his watch. The watch that, along with Mia’s, remained the only way Harry could safely contact them.

“Sirius, are you alright? What is it?” Remus asked.

“It’s Harry,” Sirius said. “He’s in trouble.”

A/N: And so the path into the last phase of this fic (don't worry, there are still a few chapters and a sequel before you manage to get rid of me) starts. Feedback is welcome! Review!
 


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