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FIC: Remus Lupin and the Revolt of the Creatures, Chapter 19 / 21 (PG-13), part two

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Jun. 14th, 2010 | 12:00 am

Title: Remus Lupin and the Revolt of the Creatures, Chapter Nineteen: Best Friends, part two
Author: PaulaMcG
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: (subtly, eventually) Remus/Sirius
Chapter summary: Remus doesn’t know anymore for whose eyes he’s writing – or perhaps he does.
Word count: around 8,950
Disclaimer: Remus won't help me make any money.

Notes: I’ll most probably post Chapter Twenty here only at the end of the month, because I’ll rather publish the brief closing chapter as late as just after mid-July – after polishing it together with my incredible ishonn.

Chapter One can be found here, Chapter Two here, Chapter Three here and here, Chapter Four here, Chapter Five here and here, Chapter Six here and here, Chapter Seven here, Chapter Eight here and here, Chapter Nine here, here and here, Chapter Ten here and here, Chapter Eleven here, here and here., Chapter Twelve here and here, Chapter Thirteen here and here, Chapter Fourteen here and here, Chapter Fifteen here, Chapter Sixteen here, Chapter Seventeen here and here, Chapter Eighteen here and here and the first half of Chapter Nineteen here.

Remus Lupin and the Revolt of the Creatures

Chapter Nineteen continues

“We must believe in escapes. Or perhaps not,” Remus whispered to the darkness, to the presence he could perceive on his pillow, next to his face. “They exist and it can be proved.”

Perhaps in Wormtail’s complete Disillusionment there was no mind in anything close to a full capacity – not quite here, not able to truly communicate, so Remus continued with a bad excuse to say to himself what he needed to hear. “Just think about Padfoot. He got out of prison. The last one, too, in the end.”

This thought made him vulnerable, and as long as he was lying here he was inclined to crying. But it was easy to get up abruptly. There was no quilt or blanket in his bed, and he had not got undressed. He stepped to the edge of the loft and pulled the curtains closed.

“It was all meant to happen,” he said without turning. “I’d rather not know about it, if you truly wanted to hurt us all. I doubt you did. But if you need to say you did, I’ll hear it.”

He waited for a moment, and felt only relieved when there was no response.

“We had some good times, didn’t we? All four and five of us, together. There were shadows, but now it all shines bright. You know, Pads told me how, after having returned to me, he was regaining the past, the images of me, too. I think this is what he meant: the way I now also see you, so the two of us can truly be here.”

He glanced back, and there was a man sitting on the edge of his bed.

Peter’s back was hunched and his both hands were squeezed between his thighs, the silver hand almost out of view. But he had lifted his head enough to gain eye contact. Perhaps not quite willingly – just as if he had realised that the last chance depended on this connection.

Remus could not help doubting that they both had the courage for this. Any move was risky. Talking too much about those for whom Peter probably – and not quite unreasonably – felt he had been abandoned. Talking about anything beyond the good old times, in case only the best memories could enchant Peter so that he would see some value in life, in himself.

Peter’s mouth twisted, and slowly a smile opened up, revealing surprisingly shiny teeth. Perhaps Frank had laid the groundwork well. Remus recognised the robes – clearly too big for Peter – as the plain clothes from St. Mungo’s Frank had replaced with what he’d got from Neville. This was, after all, evidently not the first time in ages that Peter had ventured into his human form. The little hair that was still left on his balding head was at least as greyed as Remus’s, but he looked healthier than Remus had expected.

Slowly, again, Peter nodded. In turn, the rhythm of the muttering he launched into sounded unnaturally quick. “We’re having good times. Hard times, everybody knows, I know, I’m not insane, I know it’s still the hard times, but good times for the three of us – this couple of lovebirds still so young, younger than ever, and me, I’m his best friend, still the best friend.”

“So you’re feeling good enough in this house,” Remus said cautiously, “in this company?”

He hardly dared stop and think what all this meant – how understandable it was that Peter’s mind had been damaged. Just as Sirius’s had been, while Remus had not wanted to accept it.

“Oh, it’s perfect. No baby, no baby boys yet or left, the boys are us again, we’re the boys, so just good times. The lady’s still lovely enough to look at. I know she was a redhead before and bold like you. Let’s get married, let’s have a child.” With his neck stretched forward and his head tilted, Peter continued without stopping to draw a breath, inhaling sharply while talking. “And you dare tell me what you do with the mutt. As if I haven’t seen enough, haven’t tried to get between and stop it. All right, tell me, but don’t stare at me with that dreamy smile, assuming that I’ll be happy to share another of your secrets. At least try to keep it a secret, don’t move in with him and make everyone guess what this brotherhood has been all about. It doesn’t matter to you – you’re a freak in any case, but have you thought how it’ll harm the others?”

Remus now stood still with his back against the curtain. He felt dizzy, almost ready to lean on it and fall down, fall into darkness, at least let Peter fall, both of them damaged enough to leave the better and worse wars for others to fight.

But everything he could see in focus, even in colour, if faded, was now attached to this man, whose unwavering light blue eyes were fixed at him. He wanted to cling to that, even though the manner in which they would need to talk about the old times had taken him unawares.

How much had he harmed them all? Realising that Peter had hushed after repeating, “Have you?” he blurted out in defence, “You left us first: you went to Wales soon after the wedding, after the recruiting began in earnest. I had nowhere else to go when I could no longer pay a rent, after my parents...”

“That’s where you always wanted to be, with him – don’t pretend.”

By the last word Peter’s snarl was accompanied by no more smirks but a grave face – no, an expressionless, empty face. He made an attempt at straightening up, then curled up on himself instead – and was hidden by the bitter darkness.

“Don’t pretend.” Any accusation in the repeated phrase was soft, almost tender, as Remus heard it at the foot of his bed.

Lying here, worried that Peter might not appear again, he had probably fallen asleep, after all. At least his eyes must have closed, as now they opened to meet the stare which lighted his world.

“I don’t,” he said without moving his head from the pillow. “I didn’t. I tried my best to persuade you to come back and join the Order, too, only when... he didn’t take care of me.”

“So why didn’t you let him do that? What stupid pride made you move out for the next winter, or did you do it all just to fool me into getting involved? Then when I’ve done my vows to Dumbledore, you’re back with him and the two of you don’t ask me to stay, too, at least until I’ve found a flat, not even offer me any help to find one close to yours. And in the Order it’s not at all like you told me – nothing like safe parchment work. Of course not, only beasts are treated differently.” Despite the flavour of insanity, Peter’s breathless babbling sounded now less absurd than when he had first started to talk.

There was something so surprisingly familiar in it that Remus felt confident in throwing in his argument. He did so before fully realising how the two of them were competing in bitterness. “Of course, they gave you the kind of tasks a full human, a full wizard, deserved.”

“A full what? A halfblood! They sent me to try and protect Muggles, to be killed among them. Not a big loss, they thought: little Pettigrew with his couple of NEWTs. Trolls in all the subjects I had no time to study when I was learning to be the rat for you. The rat exploring the castle and the grounds for the three of you. And the rat was part of our shared secret, so I couldn’t let anyone know my value.”

Peter was now kneeling on the bed, inching towards him. “How do you know I won’t attack you – that I don’t still serve your enemy – at least one of your enemies?”

“So you know I’ve got a whole bunch of them?”

“Oh, I’ve heard enough, and an invisible Animagus can read, too. So aren’t you scared of me?”

Perhaps he was scared, or disgusted, or disappointed – or just more tired to sort this out than he had expected. “You’re attacking me with your questions, but what else can you do that you couldn’t have done even before I started suspecting you were around? You could have blown us all up to smithereens any time.”

“Stop that! I can’t bear to see that, don’t make me...” Peter cried out, recoiling, and while continuing, to Remus’s relief he kept a distance, sitting on his heels. “And you claim to be a pacifist. You claim to hate violence, but you avoided it only because you were forced to, so you wouldn’t spoil Dumbledore’s half-breed experiment. At the same time I’m forced to see how Muggles are tortured, to fear every time that it’s my turn... I’m sent where they fight in the worst ways – causing with magic the same damage as Muggle weapons do. If I wanted to survive, I just had to...”

“So that’s how you chose the other side...”

“No, I didn’t choose anything! Your Sirius’s cousin just came and said she knew who’d appreciate my services. She was a beauty, Bella. You know, like him. How could I resist her? And soon it was no use regretting, with the brand on my arm. You must understand that now.” He reached out with his silver hand towards Remus’s right wrist.

Remus could not hold back his repulsion. “No!”

But Peter smiled, placing the hand back on his knee. “No? No, you didn’t mean that. At least you want to understand.”

In the bleak, lonely afternoon Remus set out to chronicle what had followed his school years and preceded Peter’s disappearance and Harry’s orphanhood. This was now for him a task he needed to complete so as to proceed both to take a full active role in the current war and to resolve what was haunting him in a more real way than a mere memory. When spreading the sheets of paper on the dinner table, and sitting down to face the door, he caught himself rather wishing to be summoned out than to be interrupted by Peter in a visible and human form. He did not stop to consider if he could mention Peter’s presence to Harry. He simply knew he was not alone – and had to go on blindly whether this was a blessing or not.


I know no longer for whose eyes I’m writing this – who will see these words and through them the young men and women, the life left to be cherished.

I’m not sure it’s good to do this, and I feel trapped in desperately painting these images of the past. The world closer to me has dimmed, but I want to hear exactly what’s going on around me on the estate, and I’m impatiently waiting for someone to come from the barracks and the wilderness to tell me more and give me a reason and a chance to act.

Back in 1978 we were eagerly looking forward to the war needing us. At least the two of us were. Sirius, having been accepted to the Auror training together with James in the autumn after we left school, wanted to use his ever-improving skills against bigots – while as early as then he doubted the Auror office was devoid of bigotry. I had soon realised that the opportunity to pursue a degree in Dark Creature study offered me no more than superficial knowledge or rather misinformation, and Dumbledore’s scholar friends were not likely to even try to persuade authorities to ever employ me in the field of being and beast control. I didn’t know whom to fight first. Unlike Sirius, at least I knew I did not want to fight the love which provided me with a private space of peace tinted with nervous joy, even though I had to hide this love, some of its passion from him, too.

We could hardly imagine that somewhere out there the war was already being fought in earnest. Only now have I learnt from my new allies how uneducated wizards as well as part-humans and non-humans were set to kill each other. What we heard was that the Ministry needed Galleons for the war effort, but we saw no fighting and knew no one who’d have been involved in concrete acts against Voldemort or his allies.

Around summer 1979 disappearances started among people who counted. That’s when Dumbledore agreed with the Minister that he’d form a secret elite group of volunteers. But until James and Lily’s wedding in August our lives were almost as sheltered as in our school years.

Soon after leaving Hogwarts we all gathered in London mainly to have fun, to explore the worlds at their most bustling: the Muggle as well as the magical one, and their borderlines.

Peter managed to locate a suitable grandaunt at whose place to take up quarters. Thanks to her contacts he got the chance to study in Oxford despite his poor Hogwarts certificate, and as a student of full standing, unlike me, he could have lived there in the community of students. But he preferred the friends he knew, and I doubt he ever passed a single post-Hogwarts course.

James first shared the flat Sirius bought with the gold left for him in a will by an uncle who wanted to irritate the rest of the family. And I let my parents understand that my excellent performance at Hogwarts secured for me such a scholarship which covered reasonable housing expenses.

“Bloody brilliant!” Peter exclaimed, flopping onto the bed I had conjured for their first visit, further improving the charm I’d practised before my parents’ inspection of the unfurnished room I had rented.

Any large sophisticated items I accomplished would vanish soon, so having to content myself with a tiny flat had its advantages. When I invited more than one person at a time, it was obvious they were supposed to only have a look at how I lived, and we’d quickly head somewhere more spacious to spend the evening.

“It’s a great little place – not too much to clean,” Sirius said when all four of them jostled each other back towards the door.

“Why don’t you just apparate down,” I hurried to suggest, hoping I’d avoid any new comments on my neighbours and on the peculiar beastly stench they left in the stairwell.

“You get to live all by yourself. That must be the best thing – or the second best, after the dorm,” Peter said in a wistful and admiring tone.

Sirius was continuing, “And since there’s no proper kitchen you don’t need to cook much either.”

“Instead, James will take turns with Sirius,” Lily cut in, “and practise to prepare decent meals.”

Peter was immediately alert with a playful question, while his voice was too grave in its hopefulness. “So you promise not to marry him before he learns?”

“I’m afraid I can’t promise you anything – can’t wait forever.” Lily was hardly less serious than Peter.

For two years she devoted herself to her curse-breaker apprenticeship. She enjoyed travelling to exotic places as well as returning for periods of office duty at Gringotts – for wild partying at the flat she shared with Alice.

Despite her curiosity to meet new people she was faithful to us – to all of us, not only to James. We were her confidants. Besides, in the end, she did not expect James to learn cooking, and she often insisted on cooking for me as well. Before you were born she had the energy to take care of everyone, so you can imagine the force of the acts of love – as she called them – directed at you as her sole focus. When she had to choose between opportunities abroad and responsibilities in our magical community, she could only decide to stay and together with her friends offer her services to the Order.

And as she knew she was also ready to have a child, she waited no longer. She proposed to James.

The white dress emphasises the rosy glow of her fair skin. I’m afraid I paint both sunsets and sunrises as similes in my speech, after I haven’t resisted the abundant free punch. Anyone could forgive me that, when I manage to keep a relatively low profile until the photographer has passed out, and I doubt my old dress robes are short enough to embarrass anyone but me (whereas I wish I hadn’t been subjected to the image of the bride’s sister in a mini skirt).

But this is the unique opportunity to drag my true love to waltz with me in public. While spinning him around I notice that Peter finds it hard to join in our merriment.

There were so many reasons for Peter to leave London that I could not imagine I had any role in it. He’d got enough of the grandaunt, who was losing her mental faculties in addition to having broken her hipbone and now making him run back and forth with her chamber-pots. At the same time he had been offered a job in Amlwch, and there were good career opportunities over there for his girlfriend as well, he said.

“You have a girlfriend?” James says, emphasising more than one word and clapping Peter on the back. “I’ll get another round, so we can celebrate. And you must show her to us,” he adds, as he stands up to head for the bar.

Peter smiles mysteriously and says their jobs won’t wait.

“Where was that? Alm what?” Sirius asks, and it’s hard to say if he sounds suspicious or indifferent, or scornful.

“Almwch,” I say. “It’s in North Wales, right?”

“In the Isle of Anglesey. Look, I’ve got a tourist guide. Beautiful, isn’t it? Healthy sea climate and all. Actually, I have some other relatives of my mother’s over there. Perhaps you can’t remember but I always wanted to move to Wales.”

I doubt the others ever knew anything about that, and I feel his smile switches off when he glances at me. After a moment of loaded silence he continues. “And of course I wouldn’t go abroad and leave my country, with the war and all…”

“And what kind of great jobs do they have for you in the farthest corner of your country?” Sirius asks.

I’m reading the guidebook. “The economy in Muggle Almwch has declined, but the place is still famous for holding the record in pub-to-person ratio… I reckon there’ll be one pub for Pete to run and one for each of his birds.”

I didn’t wish to lose his friendship, or to lose contact. That autumn I realised that any day I could truly lose one of them, and the fear became real and compelling after my parents had been killed. In a way I could have been relieved that at least one of the Marauders did not risk his life in the elite group of fighters. But I felt that no one in Britain could be considered completely safe from violence. Innocent people ended up dead when stunned by Aurors in precaution. I wished I could have those I loved as close to me as possible for whatever time we had left.

During those last two years I made more attempts at portraits than ever in my life. I’m afraid I’ve never fully recovered from the additional loss I suffered when all my works I hadn’t given away or sold before were destroyed in Sirius’s flat after he was imprisoned.

In September 1979, when Dumbledore offered me a tailored role in the Order, I got the courage to suggest that the beastiologists at Oxford also broaden their experiment by allowing me to study something as deeply human as Magic of Images (something exclusively human, as they thought, ignoring the superior elfish magic). The university agreed, when Dumbledore presented my wish as his own idea. I was dying to learn how to better record the life around me, and thrilled that I finally had access to guidance for approaching real, moving art.

Peter got included in the numerous sketches and nostalgic schoolboy group portraits which served as opportunities to practise depicting human body. I could rely on my extraordinary visual memory, so much that some of the art teachers, too, who were not supposed to find out about my so-called breed, started saying there was something uncanny in the way I worked. Some of these pieces, which were valuable for me as such, not only as exercises, I sent as gifts to Peter in early 1981, when I felt desolate enough to start persuading him to return to London.

I’d like to confess that Sirius and I lived together as a couple from Christmas 1979 until October 1980 and again from March 1981 until… the end. But I’m not sure it’s true beyond my perspective. If this isn’t more than you want to know, perhaps someday I’ll have the chance to tell you in a bit more detail about the hard, beautiful times the two of us shared. And I trust you would never suspect that my moving out once was his fault. It was just something to do with my stupid pride, as Peter says… would say. Or my insecurities. Then again, if you’d rather not have heard anything like all this, you can rest assured the whole thing was not his fault either.

He did not invite me to share the flat when James became a married man and moved out. I must admit that for more than one reason I kept hoping he’d soon do that.

After paying the rent for my room, I hardly had enough of my scholarship left for feeding myself, not to mention buying anything like new clothes. And I detested the idea of my friends or parents realising this. In my urge to prove that I had what it took to be independent, I nearly managed to convince even myself that the contents of my wardrobe and diet were a voluntary choice of lifestyle.

Sirius kept providing me with material – and not only as a gorgeous model and a source of inspiration – for my art, and I couldn’t make myself stop him. Instead, he often failed to notice my dire lack of more basic things. In a way this was a relief, as I would have found it hardest of all to accept any charity from him.

Now I must wonder what I used to believe love was about, but I was sure it could not possibly be about taking care of someone’s needs. I loved James and Lily, and my parents, because they were such wonderful persons who could, for instance, give me some handout in the form of meals and even coin, as if according to an unspoken agreement that we’d all pretend they weren’t doing it. But I wanted Sirius to love me, and to ask me to live with him – to do it not at all because I needed a place to stay for free, but because he loved being with me.

So many times Sirius behaved in the presence of others as if there were no special bond between us. In fact, when strolling around parks and streets with me he often chose to be the dog. So many times I asked myself how I could expect someone with his looks, his style – his background, too, regardless of his decision to cast it aside – to ever want to be suspected for having a pauper like me as his partner.

This must sound terribly unfair. Of course, our relationship would have been illegal, even if I were human. But even back then, even during the war, when it was not wise to trust many people, I saw that abundance in expressions of affection between close friends led to nothing worse than benevolent gossiping. My view might be skewed, though, since I had grown up in an extremely tolerant community, and accepting the fact that I belonged to a minority in this sense, too, was not too hard for me. Sirius, instead, despite all his radical ideals, was far from ready to admit something like this about himself to anyone, even to himself.

I now believe that he always loved me. He was simply at a loss with it – for a long time, until last winter, perhaps.

Ever since I moved to London, he was keen on seeing me regularly – and alone, too. We often spent a night, or a day, together in his flat, or in mine, if James was at home. But whenever anyone else was present, he acted as if we’d never shared those moments of pleasure, of ecstasy, of comfort. Our intimacy included talking, too – talking about anything except our relationship.

I managed to move in without ever talking about it. Soon after losing my family and home here I was also evicted from the rented room, and I finally sought shelter at his place. I could have relied on Lily, but she’d suffered from bad nausea due to her pregnancy, and I think she was with her mother, and in any case I just wasn’t in the shape to talk to anyone. I managed to go to Sirius’s exactly because he was away, with James and other Auror members of the Order on one of those prolonged, risky missions. By the time he’d figured out that I wasn’t only on a surprise visit to welcome him back, perhaps something had changed in his attitude, too. Perhaps he had realised that someday he might not return, and as long as he did, he wanted to return to me without any more delays.

All three of them got badly hexed and wounded several times. Yes, Lily, too – albeit only after summer 1981, when she stopped breastfeeding and asked to be sent on missions like any other fighters.

However, the main reasons why I did my best to take advantage of the increased availability of instruction in the field of Healing – starting as early as autumn 1979, in addition to the art classes – were rather self-centred. Later I applied for courses of Curative Potions, so as to get close to following in my mother’s footsteps. Above all, I needed to learn to tend my self-inflicted wounds. Even when living in Wales, Peter still visited me briefly at full moons, but not every month, whereas the other two Animagi would often be unable to help me – out there on their missions, suffering their own wounds.

After returning and joining the Order in early April only that year, by autumn 1981 Peter seemed to have got used to his role. At first he was obviously bothered by the differences between his tasks and mine. I appeased my conscience by telling myself that he couldn’t possibly have decided to join only due to what I had told him about the membership. My letters can’t have had much of an impact on him: whatever I had sent to him had not made him visit me often, ever invite any of us to see him and any girl in Wales, or come back to stay when I had needed him most.

The worst thing about my unpaid services to Dumbledore’s organisation was that his demands made it ever more difficult for me to do any work for money. I could have found some time for that, had I given up art as well as attempts at proving that someone like me could be a successful student, but it was impossible to commit myself to doing even the lowliest menial tasks with any regularity. Instead, my Order duties were seldom dangerous. Perhaps once in a couple of months Dumbledore would assign me to reconnaissance missions with strict orders not to resort to magical or non-magical violence. Mainly I would just be summoned at any hour to urgently decipher intercepted messages.

Peter in turn, together with our Muggleborn members, was ordered to locations where there were threats of attack on Muggles. If something actually happened, he was supposed to send for reinforcements and do his best to hold back the enemy. He’d freak out and disapparate. In a few months, however, he seemed to have hardened and even gained such confidence that he often actually ended up not asking for help swiftly enough.

The Auror members’ missions must have got more and more dangerous, and by autumn 1981 also more frequent than monthly. But James only complained when Lily, too, started participating. Each single mission was – particularly for the one waiting at home – a test of faith.

At least Lily retained the trust that nothing could truly go wrong, ever. She seemed to have decided that her little family was blessed. The force of her initial denial – which suited well the devoted new mother’s spontaneous escape to a world which was inhabited only by you and her – was not even fully needed, as a year had passed and we heard of no evidence of any threats against you, or against Neville either. She was not the only one who found it easy and pleasant to believe that Dumbledore had made a mistake when concluding that these babies were in particular danger.

Both Lily and James were, of course, worried about each other, but they trusted in their own skills. The deaths of other Order members, particularly of young people like Fabian and Gideon – you know, Molly Weasley’s brothers – did shake them. But they recovered as life went on. It could have been different, if they’d lived in constant immediate danger (like those recruited among uneducated wizards or among not-fully-human and not-fully-magical people), but most missions lasted mere hours, only a few took several days.

In early October I heard some talk about a spy among the Order. But soon no one said anything on the topic to me any longer, so I thought the suspicions had been proved wrong. Only in November did I find out that I had been one of the main suspects.

As I experienced it, the last month was beautiful, despite the amount of separation and fear. Dumbledore seemed to have mercy on me for once, and I got the chance to study for my Potions exam without interruptions. Sirius had finally convinced me it was no use and there was no need to beg for lousy jobs. As I couldn’t afford the ingredient expenses for practical classes, I concentrated on learning the theory as perfectly as possible, and that kept me busy enough night after lonely night.

Sirius told me ever less about his ever more frequent missions, their length and purposes, either beforehand or afterwards, but I thought – unlike I would after Halloween – that this was due to intensified secrecy in the Order, and partly to his carefree, even careless attitude. Yes, I had learnt to accept even inconsiderate behaviour as something he could not easily change. I believed he simply didn’t regard his absences as something worth talking about.

After his brother’s death the war seemed to have become mentally less taxing for him. It consisted simply of a succession of challenges to survive. No confusion, no contradictory feelings any longer, as far as I knew. I sometimes wondered if he had needed me more before his loss, and whether hurrying to look him up soon after had been based on my needs and meant almost manipulating him to invite me back. At least we were now the only family left for each other, at least the only potential closest family.

In his absence I would hold to images of him constantly, as if my mind were able to keep him safe and sound. Since I often didn’t even know for sure if he was on a mission, I chose the jealousy in imagining that Padfoot was roaming through woods with Prongs, instead. Images of the dog in my mind were at least a slightly less distracting illustration for the textbooks through which I waded in all those dark hours. In daytime I welcomed images of the man I loved.

Towards the end of the month all my solitary daylight time was dedicated to making countless sketches of him from memory, and to preparing a major painting.

I’ve worked on the birch trees for several weeks now. They grow so near our balcony that my outstretched hand reaches the branches. Having lived here since these leaves burst out of the buds and throughout another summer, I’m familiar with the nuances of their reactions to light and humidity, to temperature and any movement of air, to my touch.

This top-quality aquarelle canvas with special sensitivity for concealing and resurrecting line and colour can allow a beginner like me to succeed. I’ve known all the time what I want to include.

The composition was first outlined determinately by my right hand – with the fingers of my left hand brushing the rich green foliage, then stealthily lingering on the warm skin of his knuckles while fumbling for his cigarette. The initial elusive pose is in the profile. He’s with me and he’s not.

Now last time’s background image, too – the dance of the verdant branches hit by an early autumn storm – is hidden, but the rippling my fingertips can feel on this fresh white surface confirms that nothing has been lost. I captured that movement, although the rain had driven me to move the easel from the balcony. Since I’d ventured out for too long and got drenched, I was so cold that I also needed to soon close the door and to complete the scene while watching it through the glass. Still, the life in that picture did not escape my compassionate brush strokes.

This reassures me when I start wetting the canvas for today’s scene. Depicting the birches in their golden glory may look like an easy feat, but just because of the temporary serenity it is a challenge to catch the subtle anticipation of further change. If the merry and desperate glow of my colours succeeds in conveying the vulnerability of each leaf, this view will flow into the next ones. Into the thinning of veils in shades of bronze, into their opening for the chill to enter. Or for someone to leave. This year I won’t.

Until late into the fading afternoon I can pretend that some of the dazzling sunlight has been stored in a solid wall of trees so that they radiate enough heat to reach me. Finally I’m sure that further touches could only spoil the tints of yellow. That’s when I allow myself to resurrect the graphite pencil lines of the sketches for the figure I’ve been dying to work on again. Now I notice my hands are getting stiff, but I don’t want to waste any time on preparing a mug of tea to warm them up.

I’m staring at the landscape through the window again, to let my memory show me more than the outlines of my model as he would lean against the railing. I erase the extra graphite with wand magic and go over the important lines again. My fingers are just starting to tingle, as if they could already sense the figure stirring, when I hear his keys and my heart leaps. A spontaneous flick of my wand hides everything except the latest completed background.

I hardly have time to fear I’ll meet the worst sight of him I’ve dared imagine: exhausted, perhaps wounded, sliding down with his back against the door. I’m only dropping my pencil, turning away from the easel, so as to rush to the hall to hold him, when he surprises me by striding into the room. His heavy boots leave muddy stains on the floor which I’ll be happy not to clean.

There’s such an unexpected amount of energy in him that he’s overwhelmingly close to me almost too soon. I can see he has not shaved for a few days, but there are only the comforting smells of leather and dog, of garages and woods. His rough, cold hand lands with force on the nape of my neck, then the fingers slide softly along my chin, touch my lips, and flee.

Having hardly spared a glance at my work, he’s already stepping out to the balcony. But he leaves the door open and as soon as he’s lit the cigarette, he turns back towards me, leaning with his hips against the railing.

I don’t know if I’d better just concentrate on looking, as long as he stays in the middle of my landscape. But I decide to take the risk. I drag the easel and my palette to the balcony.

No words are spoken, just like every time when he came to me in the middle of the night and left me wondering whether his touch was a dream. There is hardly enough light but more than in those secret moments of intimacy. The birches still glow like torches, and he tosses the hair from his face, and his mouth opens more than is needed for placing the cigarette between his lips.

Now he knows what I’m doing – perhaps understands why I want to do it out here in the open. And he’s not escaping it: his eyes meet mine every time I look his way, and his relaxed pose assures me he won’t get impatient. I’m taking my time, fleshing out the figure in my fragile medium, forcing myself not to tremble from the cold.

I trust that this time he doesn’t care if we can be seen by someone from the street or from another balcony. When I move the paint brush to the right hand, he’ll step closer and grab the left, frozen one between his palms. Having stayed almost still for my sake, he’ll be shaking, too, and we’ll be standing in a tight embrace while I give the final touches to the portrait. I dare hope he won’t be gone before the light of the dawn.

He stayed until the next evening and actually, for once, let me understand that he’d be back again by the next morning. Exceptionally James and Lily had been assigned to the same mission and since all three of them were leaving together, I assumed that what Lily promised applied to him, too. James had asked Peter to babysit, and Peter had asked me to help, not hiding from me that he didn’t quite master handling a fifteen-month-old.

The two of you are a sight finer than I could see in a dream. You don’t care about the toys I’m offering to you, having sat down on the carpet to play. You keep stepping in front of your godfather and he keeps turning, as if desperately trying to escape while you do your best to stop him from leaving. It’s like a dance, and I stare at you, then turn my eyes up at him, mesmerised and almost jealous. You laugh and grab his robes. Over them he’s wearing the leather jacket – not less for style than for warmth. He seems to be as fully enchanted by you as always, like another child in a grown body – a finely grown one.

But the moving picture is shattered when he stops to talk with distress in his voice. “I still think you’d better take him to Alice.”

Startled, I drop a toy hippogriff and it scurries under my robes. He’s always been overprotective of you, serious about his role as the godfather, but he’s never hesitated to share you with us, who take you to no spontaneous outings anyway. He’s the one who decides that a motorbike ride is completely safe for a toddler when the bike is handled by a master motorist like him. And I never object too fiercely, since I get on these rides, too, when you come along. Your presence obviously makes him feel less embarrassed about being seen with me in public.

I can see that Lily is uncharacteristically nervous but determined to reassure at least herself. “It’s all right with the two of them together.”

Sirius’s eyes dart from me to Peter and back again. Once again I have to wonder why he cannot allow a slightest smile to hint at what we shared just before leaving our place. And this time he seems to assess Peter and me in the same suspicious way. The only difference is a trace of regret and sadness spared for me.

At least I’ve got your attention since he started focusing on the adults. I seek solace in the rapture with which you chase the hippogriff as I send it bouncing across the floor. “You know we’ll manage with Harry,” I say to no one in particular. “But I wish I could go, instead of one of his parents.”

I look up to catch James shaking his head and snorting at me. “No, of course you’re not coming. People like you get other kinds of missions from Dumbledore or…”

“Enough.” Sirius has interrupted him by slapping him on the head. I can see playful tenderness in that touch – whereas the look he casts at me lacks all warmth, even the earlier sadness.

I know he will not kiss me good-bye in front of them. And I fear that this time he does not want to leave his cigarettes behind so as to come back and see me alone, and anyway Peter is here. In my persistence I stand up to follow them to the door, in order to give him a chance…

But Peter grabs my wrist and drags me to sit on the couch. “Let them go. Dumbledore chose them. Stay to play chess with me.”

Later on the following day – when Sirius had, after all, not come home – Dumbledore summoned me urgently, so as to send me to Cornwall on a mission led by a senior Auror member. He mentioned in passing that the Potters had been hidden with a Fidelius Charm. It was a sudden decision, based on some new information on the enemy’s plans. Besides, during that latest brief mission Lily’s as well as James’s parents had been attacked. I could not even offer my condolences.

I did not get to see any of my four best friends again – or to return home – before it was all over. All I had left was the contents of my briefcase as I had first packed it for the sleepover in your house – including the album of photos I’d planned to show and still haven’t shown to you.

Remus had tried his best to ignore the sound of breathing behind his back. But now a heavy weight on his shoulder made him drop the quill, which he had managed to hold in his right hand all through the last two paragraphs. The wrist bones had almost healed, and as the ache had finally subsided, he had not allowed Thisby to cover the brand again. While he determinately kept his head down, the jagged edges of the black scar grew into sharp focus. He turned his gaze to the paper and was now able to read the words: I did not get to see...

Throughout another day the room had been hopelessly gloomy, the shapes of the objects blurred in his eyes, and now... There was white light shining over him. Was it simply the glow of the setting half moon? Was it intensified so – and above all, was he receptive to it – when it was reflected from the silver hand and from the aged face of a lost friend?

“You don’t want its weight, do you? This hand’s, I mean,” Peter said.

To his surprise Remus realised that the grip was not unbearably repulsive. “It’s all right,” he said.

But Peter let go of his shoulder and sat down, pulling a chair close to his. “It actually helps more, if you touch me instead of this thing. If you hold my arm, I can bear to stay a man long enough to tell you... Now it’s my turn... your turn to listen.”

The silver hand shone again on Peter’s knee, and Remus placed his left hand just above it, touching a slice of bare skin as well as the sleeve. He would not move. Only his gaze would wander to caress the elaborately crafted furniture, the spines of the books, all the lost details which had once again been resurrected for his sight to prove that he was right here in the scene of his past, present and future. Peter’s tale – true or distorted – would only anchor him more fully to the reality of his life. He would listen – not interrupt or reject whatever Peter had to say.

“I need you to listen and understand. You can tell me I’m right: this is the way it happened. This way I can perhaps live with it.

“So you see, it goes like this. At first there isn’t much reason for regretting. I can almost forget they expect any service from me. It won’t involve any blood-shedding in any case, they assure me. I continue to work for the Order, only feeling safer than before. I’m valued by my new master, so I won’t be harmed when they slaughter Muggles and I’m around. And I’m allowed to remain close to my old friends. ‘Yes, it’s all right. You may help them in anything, even hiding.’ The Dark Lord is just waiting for some masses to do their fighting, to kill each other off – some inhuman creatures they are, I think, that nobody cares much about – and soon he’ll end the war and all will be well.

“I don’t give their secrets to the Order, and I don’t give many secrets to them. Only to Bella... I tell her about the rat – I mean, I show her. She jeers me, condescends to jeering me in passing, so I show her what I can do, and she laughs. And she says the best way to prove myself is to make my old friends trust me more than each other.

“I’m a good friend. It’s not my fault you look less reliable, is it? Oh, you don’t realise they suspect you. Dumbledore, of course... Our friends think it must be you – only for a few days, but that’s enough. They’re forced to choose the Secret Keeper so quickly. I don’t know exactly why, just that Dumbledore’s suddenly ordered them to do it without delay.

“Nobody tells me the Dark Lord is ready, ready to end it, until... He himself summons me and takes the secret from my mind. He… makes it hurt and then I just can’t help it: I’d do anything, I want to give it away and then it’s gone, so quickly. There’s nothing I can do to save them. Or to explain what then happens to the Dark Lord and why. I’m still sprawled across his stone table when Bella rushes in. She thrusts her wand at me and pushes me down to the floor with a wordless spell, screams that I’m too worthless to have managed to mess things up.

“She’s out of her mind: her master’s gone. ‘I’m going to kill you!’ Sharp kicks hit my side, and I try to curl up, to lift an arm to cover my head. ‘Kill you…’ Now her hand is on my throat, but she gives up squeezing, strokes my skin instead, and whispers, ‘No, I’ll keep you, like in my old plan. You weren’t so fond of the part about your bloody finger, but what’s a little sacrifice when you can be all safe, my pet rat? Yes, let them all think you’re dead, and you’ll be all mine to use – to serve the Dark Lord when we find him.’

“I watch her scribble a hurried note and send an owl, then she returns to drag me up. Pulled by her, I stumble out through gates no longer sealed by his magic. Every bit of my skin still burns like when the Dark Lord touched me. I’m out of my mind: James and Lily are gone.

“‘Now the note will lure my blood-traitor cousin to come and kill you,’ she says. ‘Let’s make him think that he caused all of his friends’ deaths. Dying is not bad enough for him, no. He’ll rot in Azkaban for killing you all, and he’ll regret he ever befriended any bloody brave Gryffindors. He’ll hate himself as much as he hates you now.’

“We’re now surrounded by all these people. She’s grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me along the streets. There’s no strength in my body. Or no will strong enough in my mind to control it. ‘You’ll use the spell I taught you’ she says. I don’t know how I’ve pulled out my wand. My fingers tingle with the magic in it – with her magic that’s got a hold of me.

“And some of the Muggles stop to stare, others try to get away when she... She draws a knife, and I look around for someone sane to help me, and through the crowd I see his head. And then she’s backing away and there’s just this pain in my hand, and I have to see... the blood... A finger’s gone and I’m sobbing when I see his face and he hates me, he despises me. Lily and James, I cry. I hate... I don’t know whom I hate, it just hurts. Yes, I hate her. She may think the rat will scurry right back to her, but no, I won’t. To survive I must transform, yet I won’t let her find me. I can only hope that Sirius, too, will escape. My wand does what she wanted. I hear the explosion, but only the rat smells the blood.

“The killing curse is easier, clean. There’s no stink of death. I can just turn away and not look at the pretty boy on the ground. I’m busy enough anyway, not saying a word to the other one, who looks too familiar, not thinking about what I’ll do, what I’ll do to myself too soon, if the potion they’ve made me drink keeps me going through it all. I’m a good servant again, but how I wish your lack of mercy hadn’t driven me to look for protection, to look for his servants and for him.

“After a life as a pet, after the years when I almost managed to forget that anyone of us existed any longer – and after I was attacked by the two of you. What the years had done, what I had done to the two of you... Oh, you just wanted to kill me, and the boy... he had a better idea: you could let them take my soul.

“No one will take my soul. They can take my mind – layer by layer. Take the... flesh, piece by piece. Take all this illusion. I’ve left it behind before. When they made me go through it again.

“The pain in this fake hand didn’t give me any peace, so I kept changing, and she found it amusing to close the rat in a cage. The Dark Lord let her do it, and he laughed with her, rewarded her when she got the idea I could go and explode some of my kind – other little animals, and a Gryffindor, a school mate. She remembered Amelia was in her cousin’s year, my year.

“That’s when they guess I’ll fail to do it, so he asks his ally to get a backup. She comes herself, Disillusions the two of us, and carries me into the pet shop closed in my cage. Not Bella – I mean the ally, Umbridge. In the cage there’s an orb that’ll blow it all up. But she first points her wand at Madame Bones, who’s greeting warmly the cats near the counter as well as the shopkeeper. One moment I can see the victim, the lady of authority in the plum robes, her square face, the smile you used to put on that face and the next – I see the face, the whole head... explode. Pieces of flesh, showers of blood.

“After that moment I can’t see... any me any longer. No illusion left, but I know I’m there. She marches out, with her illusion gradually rippling back, darker than the day, but the impact of her spell has broken the door of my cage, and what’s left of me darts to a hole in the corner and now... watches the explosion. My soul’s there and it knows.

“First I’m all alone. I’m starting anew, watching the workmen who come to rebuild. That’s a beginning, another world, clean and empty – safe enough even after you’ve come. You don’t attack anyone now. You’re on your own. I can see it in you and I can remember he’s gone for good. You bring the pictures and they keep changing in my eyes. I keep watching them while I get company: animals – invisible ones as well. I get to eat some of the food put out for them. Then Frank comes and sees me like children see the wats, and when he holds me I see what’s left of me, only what’s left, not the paw I don’t have. You and Hagrid make me nervous but when I cling to Frank, he understands. When the two of us are alone I tell him I’m Wormtail and he accepts it, as if he remembered that being Wormtail means being the best friend.”

The first half of Chapter Twenty here.

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Comments {3}


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from: werewolfsfan
date: Jun. 14th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)

I believe this may be friends locked or something. I received a comment that the links in the rs_prophet don't work but I can see the entry.

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from: kellychambliss
date: Oct. 15th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)

Love the chapter summary.

I agree with Peter -- "bloody brilliant!" -- especially the whole Peter section. I love hearing his pov and love the way you've characterized his bitterness, his position, the effects of long-term transformation. Great job. I was just riveted by Peter's story.

As always, Remus's letter and his version of the past are a real treat. It's great that Lily is the one who proposed to James. And Petunia in a mini-skirt (haha!) Poor Petunia, out-of-style even in her youth.

I’d like to confess that Sirius and I lived together as a couple from Christmas 1979 until October 1980 and again from March 1981 until… the end. But I’m not sure it’s true beyond my perspective.

Poor Remus -- so sad and yet as honest as he's able to be. That whole description -- of the beauty of those final months despite the tensions, the painful naivete of the young people, their sense of being indestructible -- it all makes such sense. And I love the descriptions of Remus's art; it's so vivid and so apt a metaphor.

Baby Harry is touching (and the toy hippogriff -- delightful!)

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from: paulamcg
date: Oct. 21st, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC)

I’m overjoyed to hear that Peter’s story works for you so well. While I needed to let a character recount what (undeniably – according to canon) had happened a long time ago, and to make it both surpising and pertinent to the current events, perhaps this character with his unusual voice helped me make it all vivid and immediate enough. I suppose it’s a good thing if this section stands out.

However, it’s good to know that also Remus’s account of the past continues to fascinate you, and that at times he manages to even amuse you. As a whole, his story about his relationship with Sirius is bound to remain sad. On the other hand, perhaps some consolation can be found in the beauty which has stayed with him in his memories – of which nobody could never fully deprive him. After reaching the end of the novel you know why I find it particularly important that the description of the painting can make an impression.

Once again, I’m grateful also for a mention of a specific magical detail. And you make me more aware of the value of including Harry as a person in these memories.

Thank you so much for the detailed praise as well as for your genuine emotional response to the story. I'm happy it turned out I wrote this for your eyes!

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