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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 59 : Weasleys And Werewolves
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6

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He was cold. Cold and damp . And tired, because Wormtail’d been thinking about a lot lately, and rats were clever creatures, but they didn’t have an incredibly high emotional capacity, which made things hard to sort through. He shivered, trying not to think about the explosion and all the people he’d killed, or the pain from cutting off his finger. He tried not to think about Sirius, who was rotting in Azkaban, or Remus, who was probably miserable. He tried not to think about himself, who was going to have to live with the Weasleys for the foreseeable future.

He’d needed a wizarding family – one that wouldn’t drown him on sight – and one that wouldn’t recognise him or talk to anyone that might. It had been a choice between the Weasleys and the Lovegoods in the end, and he’d opted for the former, and tried not to feel too sorry for himself. He felt bad for Lily and James, but it hadn’t been anything personal, and he thought death was a kinder fate than what the rest of them – the remaining Marauders - would have to live with.

He shivered and the small, warm hands around him clenched. He wriggled. He wanted to bite the boy holding him, but the boy had good intentions. He was just a little rough. Wormtail could deal with that if it meant getting inside, however; he was cold and wet and tired and his paw was aching. He’d used his Master’s wand to heal his hand, but he didn’t know any spells to stop the aches. Sirius and James had always given Remus potions for that, and Peter didn’t know how to make them.

“Fred, George!” the boy holding him said. “I’m going inside.” Inside sounded wonderful, and Peter urged the boy to head there at once, with a weary squeak.

“Bye!” a young, cheery voice called. Wormtail supposed it belonged to either Fred or George.

“Yeah,” said another, almost identical voice; presumably it was the other one. “Bye.”

“Bye, Percy!” said the first voice. Wormtail, oddly, was reminded of two other boys he’d known; boys with dark hair, though, not red. He sighed – or squeaked, really.

“No,” Wormtail’s saviour  - Percy - huffed. “If I go in, you have to as well. Mother says you’re not old enough to play outside by yourselves.”

“Are too!”

“Are not!” Percy said crossly. Wormtail was shifted to Percy’s other hand – surprisingly gently, this time – and then his world shook as Percy ran a few steps. Then Percy staggered, and then he surged forward; he had his hand around one of the younger boys’ wrists, and was pulling him toward the house.

“Let go!” the younger boy cried. “We’ll be good, I promise!”

“Liar,” Percy said, sounding angry, and continued to lead him. The other one – the one Percy wasn’t holding – followed, as if unable to be separated from his brother. Or twin? Wormtail thought they looked awfully similar. “You’re never good and it’s always my fault when you get in trouble.” Wormtail thought Percy was being a little harsh on his brothers; they couldn’t have been much older than four. Percy himself could only have been six or seven.

“What’s in your hand?” the free-walking boy asked.

“A rat,” Percy said, abruptly cheerful again.

“Can we see?” Fred and George asked at the same time, sounding thrilled.

“No,” Percy said. “He’s cold.”

“Please,” one of them whined.

“We want to see,” said the other.

“No,” Percy said angrily. “He’s mine.” They reached the door, and then Percy released the brother he’d been holding and both of them raced into the house, leaving a trail of muddy footprints in their wake. They descended on a bowl of fruit on a large table.

“Percy, is Ron with you?”a woman asked, turning to look over the back of a couch on the far left of the room. There was a noise – the sound of a young child (probably younger than Harry, even) being sick – and the woman – presumably Percy’s mother – looked down. There was obviously a child in her arms, or beside her on the couch. “Oh, Ginny,” she said.

“Is Ginny being sick?” one of the boys asked, sounding torn between concern and delight.

“Cool!” exclaimed the other, and Wormtail was reminded of Sirius.

“It’s not ‘cool!” their mother snapped, and both boys looked appropriately chastened. “Don’t you remember how awful you felt when you were sick? And she’s nowhere near as big and strong as you are.” Both looked stricken and went to peer over the back of the couch. “Ron, Percy?”

“I don’t know,” Percy said promptly. “But I found a rat, Mum, look-” He stepped forward, holding Wormtail out toward his mother.

“That’s nice, dear,” she said, distractedly; and fair enough, because Ginny had just started to retch again.

“He’s sick too, I think-”

“Oh, well, tell Charlie to have a look at him,” she said, without looking up. Wormtail smelled Percy’s disappointment, and felt his arm drop a few inches, as his shoulder slumped. Percy carried Wormtail toward the stairs and his mother’s voice followed him: “Check if Ron’s with Charlie, won’t you, dear?”

“Charlie will know what to do,” Percy assured Wormtail with a pat on the head that rattled Wormtail’s brains. He squeaked once, to express his pain, but Percy seemed to take it as encouragement and patted him again, rather clumsily. “Charlie?” he called, knocking on a door on the first floor landing.

The door opened to reveal another red-haired boy – Wormtail had know the Weasleys had a lot of sons, but this, frankly, was ridiculous – who had a small, laughing figure slung over one shoulder.

“What, Perce?” the boy – Charlie – sighed, looking annoyed. Wormtail was getting the impression that Percy wasn’t very popular with his siblings. The kid over Charlie’s shoulder squealed something incoherent and he chuckled and relocated the child – Ron? - to his arms. Ron squirmed for a bit, and then spotted Wormtail and settled so that he could watch him. “Where’d you find him?” Charlie asked, shifting Ron to his hip. He held out a hand for Wormtail to sniff, and Wormtail obliged.

“In the garden,” Percy said. “I almost stepped on him. He’s friendly, though, look!” He patted Wormtail’s head again.

“Gentle,” Charlie warned, and Wormtail squeaked a thanks, deciding that if Fred and George were like James and Sirius, then Charlie – the kind, gentle Weasley – was like Remus.

“Is he sick?” Percy asked. “He’s shaking.”

“Sorry, Ron,” Charlie said, setting him down. Ron toddled forward, reaching for Wormtail but Percy – thankfully – moved him out of reach. “Put him on the desk,” Charlie said, rummaging through his bedside table. “There’s newspaper over there.” Percy set Wormtail down – as Charlie had instructed – and Wormtail almost jumped out of his fur. Of all of the papers that he could have used, it was a copy of the Prophet; one with Sirius’ snarling face smeared across it.

A BLACK AFFAIR, the title said, and went on to detail Sirius’ supposed betrayal of Lily and James, and also his role in Peter’s death, and those of the muggles in the street.

Only Peter wasn’t dead. He was alive.

He’d survived, yes, but it had been costly. His self-esteem told him his life wasn’t worth his friends’, and his heart wondered if it was worth surviving if he had no friends to share his life with. Peter let out a distressed squeak and trembled again, supposing time would tell. It had been necessary.

Hadn’t it?

“He seems a bit stressed,” Charlie said, gently nudging Ron out of the way. The three of them peered at Wormtail, who shifted under the scrutiny.

“He’s missing a toe,” Percy said. Wormtail’s heart raced, and he did his best to cover as much of the article he was sitting on as possible.

“Huh,” was all Charlie said, however, and Wormtail relaxed a bit. “So are you going to keep him, Perce?”

“Yes, I’d like to,” Percy said happily, and Peter’s heart sank. He could have gone to Charlie – who was like Remus – or Fred and George – who were like Sirius and James – but instead he was going to Percy. Percy, the apparent outcast, Percy, the one who was overlooked in favour of his more interesting friends – or in his case, siblings. Percy, who was like Peter.

And Wormtail couldn’t decide if he hated Percy for that, or if he liked him for it. He shifted, trying very hard not to look at Sirius’ face, but eventually, his eyes drifted back to it.

“Death would have been kinder,” the photograph said, startling Peter. His voice echoed through Bill and Charlie’s room, and the pale walls turned grey, and the desk beneath Wormtail’s paws turned to cold stone.

And then it was Peter, not Wormtail, and he was in his cell in Azkaban. He didn’t have any of the Weasley boys and he didn’t have the ability to transform. Everything was different; the only thing that wasn’t was that Peter was just as cold and damp now as he had been the afternoon Percy found him.

*                   *                    *

Please let it be over, please let it be over, please...

Tonks crossed her fingers as she stumbled out of the fireplace and into Remus’ cottage. Apparating outside and then walking to the door would have been politer, but at six in the morning after a full moon... well, she trusted Remus, but she’d also read enough to not want to test his control when he was a wolf.

Someone swore, drawing her attention. Remus was coming in through the front door on the other side of the room, wearing nothing but a thin pair of pyjama pants, and several bruises. He wasn’t alone, however. Tonks cursed herself for being so stupid; after everything that had been revealed at the trial, and the fact that Remus had obviously been hiding out with Sirius since, she should have expected to see Sirius this morning. And yet, she hadn’t spared him a thought.

Sirius Black, ex-mass-murderer, adjusted his grip on Remus – who Tonks could see was not actually moving on his own – and gave Tonks a nervous, semi-defiant stare, and waited to see what she’d do.

“Wotcher,” she said, and her voice caught.

“Hello,” Sirius said quietly, in a voice that gave nothing away. His eyes darted to the fireplace, and then to the door he’d just come through. They stared at each other a moment longer, and then he grimaced and moved forward, very slowly, to deposit Remus on the too-small couch.

“Is he all right?” Tonks asked, stepping forward.

“Don’t,” Sirius said, holding up a hand. Tonks stopped. “He’s still a bit... erm... wolfy.” Tonks stared at Remus, who looked a little battered, but perfectly human. “In his head,” Sirius added. “He transformed about five minutes ago, but it takes a while for it to wear off. If he smells you, things might get tricky.”

“Oh,” she said. “Why can you-”

“I still smell like a dog,” Sirius said, flashing her a strained smile. “Or enough like one that it doesn’t trigger anything.” His eyes flicked around the room, as if he was looking for some way out. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Tonks’ eyes flicked to Remus, and for a moment, there was a very familiar smile on Sirius’ face. It was the same one Harry had worn when she’d met him in Bones’ office.

“I came to see Remus,” she said unnecessarily. “I knew he was here, so-”

“Knew? How?” Sirius asked sharply. Tonks flushed.

“A spell,” she said. “Mad-Eye helped me set it up.” Sirius’ mouth twitched at that. He eyed the Floo and then sighed.

“Can I get you anything? Breakfast? Tea?”

“Oh, er, no, I’m fine,” Tonks said. Sirius nodded awkwardly. “Thanks, though.” He shrugged. On the couch, Remus growled and rolled over. He’d have fallen off, but by the time Tonks could even make a surprised noise, Sirius had already caught him and readjusted him. “You’ve done that a few times,” Tonks said.

“A few,” Sirius agreed, releasing Remus’ ankles. He grabbed a pillow and put it under Remus’ head and then watched him for a moment. Tonks watched too, and couldn’t help but think how much better Remus looked, when compared with last full moon. She couldn’t see any serious scratches on him – just a few small ones on his shoulders and arms - though his ribs bore some fairly nasty bruises.

They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence again. Tonks examined Remus from a safe distance, trying to determine the extent of the damage, and Sirius retrieved a rucksack from the corner and started pulling bottles out of it. Tonks recognised Dittany, but none of the others. Sirius also pulled out a wand.

“Where did you-”

“It’s James’,” Sirius said, without looking up. Tonks pursed her lips, and Sirius seemed to sense that, because he looked a little sheepish as he waved James Potter’s wand. Remus’ cuts knitted together, and Tonks’ disapproval gave way to reluctant awe. Remus made another sound, this one more like a mumble than a growl, as Sirius healed his bruises too.

“You’ve done that a few times, as well,” she said, sitting down in one of the armchairs. Sirius glanced at her, but didn’t say anything. Remus woke a few minutes later, and seemed incredibly disoriented. Sirius talked to him – and seemed a little self-conscious about it, if the sideways looks he kept sneaking in Tonks’ direction were any indication – asking him what hurt, and how he felt, and whether he needed anything right away.

All he got in response were various grunts, moans and jumbled attempts at speaking, but it seemed to make perfect sense to Sirius, who chuckled and offered Remus potions from his rather impressive, mobile collection. Tonks just watched the two of them. Sirius was a mystery to her. She’d known him once, a long time ago, but the man in front of her was very different to the Sirius she remembered. He was even a little different to the Sirius she’d seen while she was on guard duty in the Ministry.

The Sirius from her childhood had been loud and perpetually laughing, while this one was quiet and rather serious – though admittedly, that could have been because of the long night he’d had. And, while he was confident with the way he treated Remus, he seemed unsure of what to make of Tonks, now that she was no longer his guard. This man was careful, which was not a trait she’d ever expected to assign to him.

And Remus... even Remus was different. His personality was the same, and he looked the same – he was the same, really – but she hadn’t guessed that he’d stand up to witness for Sirius at the trial, so she obviously hadn’t known him as well as she’d thought. She had a lot more to learn about her friend.

Sirius flicked James’ wand once more and then tucked it back into his robes. Tonks was vaguely aware of him moving, but her attention was mostly focused on Remus, who’d suddenly gone very still; his bleary brown eyes had found Tonks, and she gave him a tentative smile. He didn’t smile back. In fact, he paled and looked away.

“Padfoot,” he said in a hoarse, rather urgent voice. “Sirius.” Sirius gave Tonks a shrewd glance, and then looked back at Remus, his mouth pulling up at the corners. It was a perfectly pleasant smile, but there was something decidedly shrewd about it, and it made Tonks nervous. Remus made a sniffing noise, and Sirius’ smile widened. “No,” Remus said. He glanced sideways at Tonks again, and then lurched to his feet. Sirius was ready to catch him – Tonks could tell from the way he’d tensed – but he also looked a little defiant.

“Sit down before you hurt yourself, you idiot,” Sirius said.

“Don’t treat me like a baby,” Remus said, sounding peevish. Tonks got the impression she’d missed something – a gesture, a scent, an expression, something – because Remus was more irritated than the situation merited.

“Don’t act like one,” Sirius shot back. Then he arched an eyebrow, as if daring Remus to argue. Remus growled and took an unsteady step toward the fireplace, and then seemed to realise how far away it was and gave up. He didn’t sit, however, and he didn’t look at Tonks. Instead, he just glared at Sirius, as if something bad had happened and it was Sirius’ fault. Sirius smirked back.

Tonks, feeling more and more like she was missing something, and more and more like she was intruding on this moment between friends, got to her feet. Both mens’ eyes latched onto her.

“Obviously it’s a bad time for me to have come-”

“Yes,” Remus said flatly.

No,” Sirius said, with considerable conviction.

Sirius,” Remus said, and it was practically a whine. Tonks felt her cheeks heat up. It was obvious Remus didn’t want her there, and, while she could understand that – she’d ignored him for weeks – it also hurt because she’d been willing to talk to him when he was the one ignoring her. She’d at least been willing to try.

“Oh, for the love of...” Sirius trailed off, scowling, and grabbed a pillow off the nearest armchair, which he threw – with considerable force – at Remus. It his him square in the chest, and was enough to knock him back onto the couch, where he sat, gasping.

“Careful!” Tonks snapped, but Sirius either didn’t hear her, or didn’t care.

“Right,” Sirius said, looking rather stern, “right.” He picked up his healing equipment and stuffed it back into his rucksack. “I’m going home – alone – and you’re welcome to come back when you’ve had your chat.”

“Sirius,” Remus snapped, getting up again. “I need to rest-” Sirius opened his mouth to say something else, and then glanced at Tonks and closed it. She shifted, feeling – once again – like she was intruding on something. Sirius exhaled loudly – and angrily – and then stepped forward and draped Remus’ arm over his shoulder. Remus looked acutely relieved, and Tonks felt a little lost. Sirius didn’t help Remus to the fireplace, however; he hauled him toward the hallway.

“Sorry about him,” Sirius said grimly.

“Sirius?” Remus said, sounding genuinely bewildered. “The Floo’s over that way.” He twisted and caught Tonks’ eye, and she was fairly certain he was silently asking for help. She shrugged; she didn’t have enough of a grasp on the situation to know how to help, and so she just let Sirius drag him into the other part of the cottage.

*                    *                      *

“So window?” Remus managed, as he staggered along beside Sirius. Everything hurt, and his head was throbbing. Sirius rolled his eyes and didn’t say anything until they reached Remus’ bedroom. Sirius then dumped him on the bed, rather unceremoniously, and kicked the door closed. Sirius didn’t go to the window, however. He stood there, looking torn between furious, helpless, and amused. Remus tried to move into a more comfortable position, but gave up almost immediately, because it required effort he didn’t feel like expending. “Padfoot-”

“If you weren’t still recovering, I would hex you,” Sirius told him. Remus made a questioning sound. “Three weeks,” Sirius said, confusing Remus even more. “Three bloody weeks of listening to rubbish excuses, of putting off complete freedom, just because of your bloody inferiority complex?!”

Sirius wasn’t speaking too loudly – Dora probably wouldn’t be able to hear him - but he was still loud enough to make Remus wince.

“Now,” Sirius continued, shooting Remus an exasperated look, “if you were worried about the Ministry, I’d understand. What you did for me during the trial, when you told them about... about Moony... that was enormous.” Remus didn’t contradict him, because it had been. He didn’t regret it, but a large part of him wished it hadn’t been necessary. “And I know the Ministry isn’t exactly prejudice-free-” Remus snorted. “-so I could have understood wanting to hide from them.”

“Good,” Remus said.

“But that’s not what this is about,” Sirius said, giving Remus another stern look. It was a look that Remus had given Sirius – and James – many times over the years, and he wondered if it had made them want to hide as well. Remus eyed his blankets and considered trying to burrow, but he suspected Sirius would just drag him out again. “I smelled you when you spotted Dora.” Sirius cocked his head. “It’s her you’ve been putting off seeing.”

“No,” Remus lied.

“Yes,” Sirius said. “Merlin knows why; from what you’ve told me, the two of you are close. I’d expected you to be pleased that she was here, not to want me to smuggle you out the window.”

“Were,” Remus said. “Were close. She hat-”

“She obviously doesn’t hate you, or she wouldn’t be sitting in your living room.” Remus had a very good argument about why that wasn’t true, but he couldn’t for the life of him remember what it was.

“I betrayed h-”

“No one forced you to do anything,” Sirius said, rather coolly, and it occurred to Remus too late that he’d probably offended him. He forced his fuzzy head to think of something to say before he ruined another friendship, but nothing came to mind. “You helped me – and I’ve already said how incredibly grateful I am about that – because you chose to. You didn’t have a problem with it during the trial, but then you spend almost a month hiding in my house because you’re scared what’ll happen if you try to justify your choice to Dora...? I mean, really?” Remus glowered at him, because everything sounded stupid when Sirius put it like that. “What are you afraid of?”

“She won’t understand,” Remus said.

“Or maybe you don’t want her to.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Remus said. “You don’t know-”

“I’m the ridiculous one?” Sirius demanded. Remus eyed his covers again. “And I don’t know? I think I’ve got more of an idea about this that you do, Moony! I think that you don’t want to talk to her because you know the two of you will be able to fix this little misunderstanding. And I think that scares you, because you know that eventually, that’s going to lead to other conversations, and other situations, ones like last full moon-”

“No,” Remus said.

“And you still – for reasons I can’t understand – still don’t think that you deserve that sort of openness, and you think that she can do better than you-”

“She can. I’m a bad friend.”

“Bad friends,” Sirius snapped, “don’t stand up in front of half the wizarding world and tell their biggest secret to help their other friends.” Remus didn’t have anything to say to that.

“You’re wrong,” Remus said, when he’d thought of something. “We’re talking openly now, and I’m not pushing you away.”

“If your friendship is such a bad thing to have, then why do I deserve it, and why does Matt? Either you think pretty poorly of the pair of us-” Remus made a noise of protest. “-or it’s not your friendship with Dora that you’re worried about, you git.”

Sirius gave him a look that was obviously supposed to mean something, but Remus wasn’t following. Sirius threw his hands up in the air and paced in front of the door. Remus shut his eyes, because it was making him dizzy. Finally, Sirius spoke again.

“You know what, you’re right. Obviously I’m imagining things, and you, as you’ve pointed out, are obviously not afraid of talking openly, so you obviously don’t have a problem with Dora.”

“Exactly,” Remus said, pleased. Sirius gave him a patronising look.

“Exactly,” Sirius agreed, rolling his eyes. “So you’re not going to have any problems sorting things out with her, are you? ‘Cause you’re friends and everything, right?” Remus frowned, realising too late where this was going.

“No, wait-” Sirius pulled the door open and headed off down the hall. “Padfoot!” Remus heard Sirius say something to Dora and then heard the Floo whoosh. Remus heaved himself to his feet. Surely Sirius hadn’t left him there? Surely Sirius had been a good friend and sent Dora home? He hobbled down the hall, using the wall as support. The living room was empty but for Dora, who was hovering over the armchair, apparently trying to decide whether to sit down or stay standing. Her expression brightened at the sight of Remus, who scowled and looked at the fireplace.

“Remus?” Dora said tentatively.

“That miserable, traitorous git,” Remus grumbled. “He left, didn’t he?” She nodded. He groaned and flopped face first onto the couch. “Next time, remind me just to leave him to the Dementors,” he told her, his voice muffled by the fabric. “It’ll serve him right for leaving me here when I’m sore and tired.”

Dora laughed, and Remus, who’d expected shouting, or her to ignore him altogether, glanced up at her. She hastily smoothed her expression – literally, as in, she made her eyes, nose and mouth vanish – and then Remus snorted, so surprised that he couldn’t help himself.

“So you’re anticipating a next time?” she asked, when her face was normal again.

“Have you met him?” Remus asked, tilting his head toward the fireplace. Dora smiled again. “There will definitely be a next time.”

“He’s different than I remember,” Dora offered. “Older.”

“Harry’s been good for him. They’ve been good for each other, really,” Remus said. Then he scowled. “But he’s still a git.”

“And you’re still leaving him to the Dementors, right?” Dora asked, looking amused.

“Exactly,” Remus agreed. They looked at each other and smiled. Remus felt his smile vanish. “Dora, I can’t even begin to apologise-” Dora came to perch on the side of the couch.

“It’s all right,” she said. She didn’t smell angry, and so Remus – who’d been expecting her to shout that no, he couldn’t even begin – was a little confused. “There’s fault on both sides, I think.”

“But mostly mine.”

“Mostly yours,” she agreed, with a small smile, then she shook her head. “Can we not get into this? I’m a bit annoyed, but I know why you lied, and I probably would have done the same thing if the situation was reversed. I’m sorry and you’re sorry, all right?” Remus’ mouth twitched, but he fought to keep a straight face.

“It’s not that simple-”

“It is,” Dora said, folding her arms. Her hair started to turn orange, which Remus knew meant that she was getting annoyed. “Why shouldn’t it be?”

“Because,” Remus said lamely. This morning had not been kind to him; people were taking advantage of the fact that he was having trouble forming coherent arguments.

“Well argued,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I think it is that simple,” she said, and Remus got the impression that that was it, and gave in with rather ill grace. She grinned, apparently sensing that she’d won, and leaned over to hug him.

Remus hugged her back, and, while he got the impression he should be upset that he hadn’t won the argument, he wasn’t sure how being on friendly terms with Dora again was in any way a loss. He shook his head and gave up.

Ha! he thought. Sirius obviously has no idea what he was talking about.

*                    *                     *

Tonks made her usual stop at Robards’ cubicle on her way to training. She still hadn’t worked out why he had a cubicle, when Mad-Eye and Dawlish – who were equally as senior as Robards - both had offices, but she was reluctant to ask.

“Wotcher,” she said, tapping on the wall. Robards, who was face-down on his desk, shifted and looked up. He had a piece of parchment stuck to his face which he pulled off. Then he cleared his throat, looking a little embarrassed.

“Good morning, Tonks,” he said gruffly.

“How... er... how are you today, sir?” she asked, concerned. He had a scruffy beard, shadows under his green eyes, and his hair didn’t look like it had seen a comb in days.

“Been better,” he said wryly. “I’m looking – believe me, I’m looking – but I’m just not-” He paused to yawn. “-finding anything. She’s taken a leaf right out of Black’s book, or so it seems.”

“Oh,” Tonks said, her face falling. Some of her good mood - from her morning spent with a tired, somewhat irritable Remus - faded.

“I can’t even take a leaf out of Black’s book myself,” Robards sighed, shuffling a few papers on his desk, “because none of us have any idea where he is, either.” He gave her a tired look. “You wouldn’t happen to know when he’s planning on coming back for his trial, would you?”

“No,” Tonks said. Robards looked disappointed. “Remus didn’t mention it,” she continued, apologetically. “I could ask next time I see him, if you’d like?” It occurred to her that she had no idea when that would be – he hadn’t left her with any way to contact him, though the wards on his cottage would still work.

“That would be-” Robards rubbed his eyes and yawned again. “-helpful, thank you.”

“No problem,” she said. She muttered the password for her Sidekick, and then frowned. She was almost late. “Er...” Robards waved a hand, his attention already back on a piece of parchment on his desk. “I’ll come by again-”

“Tomorrow,” Robards said. “I know.” Tonks left, making her way down the corridor to the broom cupboard entrance.

“Morning,” Yaxley said, as Tonks approached her and Ben. Both looked utterly exhausted and Florence, unsurprisingly, wasn’t there.

“Wotcher,” Tonks said. Ben was silent for a moment, as if trying to decide where to start.

“I saw Robards,” he said eventually. Yaxley frowned at him. “He-”

“I was just there,” Tonks sighed, and Ben’s eyes dimmed.

“Bit of a mess, isn’t he?”

“He was asleep when I got there.” The corners of Ben’s mouth turned down, and Yaxley put a hand on his shoulder, and gave Tonks a sad look. “You two don’t look far from it either. Big night?” Ben ran a hand through his hair, and looked at Yaxley.

“Florence is missing,” he said. Anyone else might have laughed, but after Melvin, and after McKinnon, and after Remus – who had now twice vanished for weeks at a time - missing people were not something Tonks could find even remotely humorous.

“What happened?” she whispered.

“We were working late last night, tracking a guy who’s been targeting muggles. Lyra and Florence got caught up in a duel, and then the bloke hit Florence with something and ran for it. We thought it was only a Stunner, but she wasn’t well; she was sick, and shaking, and she just kept getting worse... and then Kingsley was hit with something – he’s in St Mungo’s – and by the time we’d stabilised him, our man had vanished, and so had Florence.”

“We found her Sidekick, but we don’t know if she left, or if she was taken,” Yaxley said anxiously. “We checked her flat, St Mungo’s, the entire Ministry-”

“Did you check for magical traces?” Tonks asked. That horrible, twisting feeling in her stomach was back and far too familiar.

“At the scene? Yeah: portkeys,” Ben said. “Twenty of them, all of which all activated at the same time, and all ended up in different locations.”

“Who were they made by?”

“Dunno,” Ben said. “The traces were just Portkey coloured.”

“Portkey coloured?” Tonks repeated, more confused than upset for the first time.

“Yeah, you know, pale blue.” Tonks shuddered; she’d developed a loathing for the colour blue thanks to their Greyback case. She almost told them that it was probably just Florence’s magic they’d seen, but didn’t, because that would lead to awkward questions. “Like when they activate and go and there’s that light?” Ben added, but Tonks wasn’t listening, because pale blue where the Portkeys had been meant that Florence was the one who’d created the Portkeys, and that unnerved her for a reason she couldn’t put her finger on.

That’s silly, though; why would she leave in the middle of a case? And then she realised; Ben had said that Florence had been sick and shaky, and that they’d assumed it was spell damage. But what if it hadn’t been? What if Florence had had to leave? Thanks to several hours worrying about Remus, Tonks was uncomfortably aware that it had been a full moon last night.

She can’t be. Except she could. How many times had Florence slept in, or been sick? More than Tonks could count, honestly. And how many times had she sniffed something or someone to identify them? Tonks tried to remember if she’d ever seen Florence holding a sickle, and couldn’t name a time.

And my jumper, Tonks remembered. She’d spent the afternoon with Florence – and Melvin and Keith – before going to the camp, which must have been why Tonks’ jumper had smelled like the elusive Smoky. Tonks was almost convinced.

So Florence is – possibly – Smoky, she thought, and panic started to bubble in her chest. Not because her friend was a werewolf, but because her friend was – possibly – a killer. Tonks and Mad-Eye would have to arrest her, and, though she’d probably done the wizarding world a favour, she’d still be stripped of her trainee position, and could well serve a sentence in Azkaban.

Only if I turn her in, Tonks realised, and then cringed, not liking the outcome of letting her stay free, or having her turned in.

“Tonks?” Ben said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, we’ll find her.” Tonks gave a fake little laugh, her mind reeling, and hoped that nothing they were about to be taught was too intensive; she needed time to think.

*                     *                      *

“Come in,” Albus called, as one of the instruments on the table in the corner flashed brightly. He heard a startled intake of breath on the other side of the door, and then it opened slowly to admit two children – a boy and a girl – neither of whom were familiar to him.

“Are you Professor Dumbledore?”

“I am indeed, my dear,” he said, smiling. “And to whom am I speaking?”

“I’m Sarah and this is Ethan.” The boy – Ethan – waved shyly, his eyes never leaving Sarah, and Albus inclined his head, deciding now was not the time to ask why they’d left their last names out.

“A pleasure,” Albus said. He flicked his wand, startling both children – another strange thing – and conjured chairs. “Please, take a seat.” Sarah hesitated, and then strode forward and sat down. After a moment, Ethan followed her lead. Albus used the time to try to work out who they might be, but reached no useful conclusion.

Sarah was the older one, he thought – she was maybe twelve – while Ethan didn’t look much older than ten. They didn’t look related; Sarah’s hair was a platinum blond – almost Malfoyish – while Ethan’s was a brown so pale and dull that it was practically grey. Sarah’s eyes were brown – and, sadly, haunted - while Ethan’s were blue, and he was lanky while Sarah was more rounded.

“You’re confused,” Ethan said, meeting Albus’ eyes for the first time since he’d arrived. Albus smiled, feeling a little troubled.

“You have me at a loss,” he admitted. Sarah and Ethan exchanged looks.

“We’ve come to join your school,” Sarah said, rather confidently. Ethan cleared his throat and Sarah flushed, suddenly looking uncertain. “To learn magic. If you’ll have us, of course.” She paused, and eyed Albus for a moment. “We have letters. Show him,” she barked. Ethan, to Albus’ surprise, didn’t flinch or seem at all surprised by her tone. Instead, he just pulled two pieces of worn, dirty parchment out of his pocket and held them out.

They were Hogwarts letters. One to a Sarah Walker and one to an Ethan Runcorn. Albus spared a moment to wonder whether Ethan was Albert’s son, and then stored it away for later consideration. He turned his attention back to the letters. Ethan’s was all in order; he’d had his eleventh birthday in February and was expected to begin in September. Sarah’s letter, on the other hand, was two years old; she should have started last year. The letters were missing their envelopes, too, so Albus couldn’t even see where they’d been sent to. His curiosity about the pair before him spiked again.

“Both are genuine,” he said, passing the letters back to Ethan. “I cannot foresee any problems with your own admission, Mr Runcorn, though yours presents a few obvious issues, Miss Walker. Might I ask why you didn’t attend last year?”

“Things were different,” she said.

“How so?” he asked gently. For a moment, he thought she might refuse to answer - her jaw set and her nose came up – but then she seemed to remember herself and shifted in her seat.

“Father was alive,” she said, and that sadness returned to her eyes.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Albus said, trying – and failing – yet again, to make sense of what was happening.

“Are you?” she asked. There was something in her voice that was almost challenging. Ethan glanced between them, looking nervous. “You don’t even know who our father was.”

Our father...? Albus wondered. “Regardless,” he said quietly, knowing that this was delicate ground, “losing a family member is never easy.” Sarah looked pleased with his verdict, and then thoughtful. Ethan still looked anxious, though this time, Albus thought there was something familiar about the boy, though couldn’t place it. When Albus turned his gaze on Sarah, she seemed unperturbed. It was a rare child that didn’t feel uncomfortable when Albus used what Minerva and Severus referred to as his x-ray stare. Ethan’s reaction was more normal; he seemed to shrink under Albus’ attention, and that only made him seem even more familiar. Finally, Albus realised why.

There was something about Ethan that reminded Albus of Remus. Perhaps it was the fact that he was as lanky as Remus had been at the same age, or perhaps it was his lack of confidence around strangers, or perhaps it was just that single expression. Albus’ smile was slow and troubled, but he was genuinely pleased now that he understood what was happening.

“He’s got it,” Ethan murmured, glancing at Sarah. Both looked a little afraid, though Sarah also looked defiant.

“Well?” she said, rather bossily. “Will you let us in?”

“Perhaps,” Albus said, letting the slightest reprimand slip into his tone. Sarah bristled and Albus decided not to try that again. “I have a few concerns, as you can understand, but I have also been in this situation – or one similar to it – and I know that an arrangement like the one you are proposing can not only work, but can do so very successfully.”

Sarah and Ethan exchanged a long look, while Albus leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands. Unsurprisingly, it was Sarah who spoke.

“What concerns?” she asked.

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