A/N: It's Leap Day and I felt like I wanted to do something in honor of the day, so I decided to post a short story. I give many thanks to KATMOM the AMAZING for her enthusiasm, her beta-brain, and her encouragements. Where my brain was scrambled, she brought toast and marmalade and made it a balanced breakfast. :) This was supposed to be a one-shot, but...it got a little bit away from me while I was writing. So, it's now a four-shot and will be posting this week. Yes, of course it's done on my end. ;-)

Hope you find something once-every-four-years-ish to do in your life today!

This is AU. Alternate Universe. That means things will be different here than they are in the books and/or the movies.

The initial timeline referenced in this story for these events is taken from the Harry Potter Lexicon. Of course, I altered things. I always do. AU, remember?

Legal Matters: This is a work of derivative fiction. I have many copyrights in the world, but this is not among them nor will it ever be. All things Harry Potter are the property of J.K. Rowling and whomsoever she designates. I'm just here for my own amusement. And, maybe, yours.


Runic Mystery

Part the First, 31 October 1981

"Lumos."

Remus Lupin squinted by his wand's light into the cocked visage of a mottled gray owl. "Elspeth? What the hell are you doing out here, girl?" With a sneeze—prompted by the multitudinous growing things outside the tent, no doubt—the young member of the Order of the Phoenix rolled up to his knees and stretched to reach his rucksack, where he had a bag of owl treats. The Potter owls were fond of bacon and it kept well enough, so he offered some to Lily Potter's personal owl. "Whatcha got there, girl, eh?" He tucked his wand behind his ear to shed light on what was before him. A convenient place, that.

Elspeth nipped at his bare knuckle in clear reproof before taking her bacon and Remus had to chuckle. "You're just like Lily, aren't you? Here, let me relieve you of this oh-so-heavy burden."

Elspeth, once her leg was free, immediately waddled to the tent flap and pushed her way out into the night.

"Thanks, girl. My best to James and Lily." Remus broke the cedar red wax seal on the roll of parchment in his fingers. The handwriting was clearly Lily's—he'd known her for almost ten years and her script was as familiar as any of the Marauders'.

Moony~

Had a scare and a new thought. New S-Keeper is Wormtail. Had the feeling I had to tell you.

Be safe up there.

Fondly,

Doe

The gentle amusement that had curled his lips dissipated. "A scare? What's wrong with Padfoot being the Secret Keeper? What happened? Did he…? No. James is like his brother. And Harry's his godson. Pads wouldn't dream of doing anything against them. But…he is a Black. Maybe his family…?" Pursing his lips, Remus fell back on his elbows, thinking hard.

And he heard a rustling sound under one arm. The sound of, well, not parchment, but something like it.

Shifting, he inhaled again, more slowly, trying to parse out new scents. Layered over his own sweat, the faint aroma of chocolate—his biggest vice—and cold beef, he found what he was smelling for.

"Potion. Scent masking potion. What the bloody hell?" He slapped the canvas sheeting next to him and got his second, or was it third, startle of the night. Paper. Cautious, now, for the odd bits were starting to add up to anything other than safety for a spying sort, Remus aimed his wand at the folded bit of Muggle paper and cast a Revelio geared specifically to traps, then one for poisons.

"Potion. Again." He leaned down to smell the still-folded paper and caught only the scent-masker.

Concerned but also impossibly intrigued, he gloved his hands and unfolded the paper . . . to find nothing. It was blank.

Here, though, he smiled and thought he knew what was up. "Padfoot. You're behind this somehow." He would have thought James, but James was in hiding with Lily and the cub. "Fine. I solemnly swear I am up to no good," he recited, tucking his wand behind one ear and brushing sandy hair off his forehead.

The blank page filled slowly with a mix of runes written with a Biro. "Damned sight more convenient than a quill and here: solid English." But then, Remus swore, all of his prior discomfort returning threefold as he read.

Dear Remus,

The greeting was not in any handwriting he recognized, but it was someone who had written his name before, for the letters flowed smoothly. Firm script with a slight cant toward the right. After his name, though, most of the letter was in Ancient Runes, save for the name of Peter Pettigrew. The author of this mysterious communication on the Muggle paper must have taken a leaf from The Tales of Beetle the Bard, which had once been written in the Runic language.

I have to alert you that Peter Pettigrew has been named Secret Keeper for your mutual friends. The Grim, however, is fine.

Make sure Padfoot protects the pup at all costs. He cannot stray from this one iota.

Sorry this is so cryptic, but secrecy is paramount.

Have a care.

With much respect,

A friend

Instead of a signature, there was a sketch of an hourglass framed by what appeared to be a regular letter H and Remus felt a chill move all over his body.

He let his mind run while he packed up his gear. Dumbledore. Dumbledore would know what the bloody hell was going on, of course. The Head of the Order had to know. Questions Remus John Lupin planned on asking immediately, however, included:

How did the author know that Sirius looked like a Grim when he was in his Animagus form?

What had happened to cause the Potters to switch the role of Secret Keeper to Peter if all was well with Sirius?

What was happening with You-Know-Who?

Perhaps his ominous visitor was someone who used a Time-Turner and chose to indicate that by the hourglass below the signature. Someone who knew that his sense of smell was preternaturally keen so had masked her own scent. Someone who knew or guessed that he was familiar with the Runes and could read them as he might Latin. The writer had to be well-versed in the Runes, too.

Damned clever witch or wizard, he was guessing. Still, he swore. He'd have to get back to James and Lily. And Dumbledore, but the Potters had priority.

Something was mysterious. And a mystery during a war was a frightening thing.

He hated abandoning his mission, but the situation with Peter and Sirius—and the Potters—was striking him as an imperative so Remus finished packing up his gear. He hadn't quite mastered the Undetectable Extension Charm—yet—so he felt a bit unwieldy as he surveyed his campsite. He hoped that the fresh air would dissipate his scent soon. He didn't want the northern packs to think he was spying on them—even if, in essence, he rather had been.

"I'll make my excuses to Dumbledore," he muttered to himself as he focused on his different destinations. Apparition was tricky and he didn't want to try the length of England in one go. His final Apparition Point would have to take him to a Floo so he could get directly into Potter Manor; their wards would keep him out otherwise. He had to get to James and find out what by Merlin's own beard had happened.

. . . .

As he braced himself and turned in place for each of half a dozen Apparition hops, each taking him closer to Godric's Hollow, Remus felt his heart rate increase. Nerves jumped and his wand hand got twitchy. With his rucksack over his shoulder, he took a few quick, deep breaths and made the final Floo hop right into the Potters' reception room. James and Lily had their Floo oriented to be select. Remus's wand signature was always allowed, as were those of Sirius, Peter, and Albus Dumbledore.

The house—a manor, really—was dark as Remus blinked and immediately inhaled the scene before him. Dark and smelling of blood, of death, of smoke; the essence of dark magics made the hair on his head rise in protesting awareness. Within him, Moony howled, fury drawing back Remus's lips into a lupine snarl.

"Stupefy!" he hissed, all his instincts firing on the shadowed figure that seemed to only then notice the Floo had activated. The power spilled from his mind, down his arm, out his fingers and into his wand before making a lightning connection to the cloaked male who was only then lifting a wand at him.

The intruder fell down as if dead. The stunner was a great spell, that way.

Remus finally exited the fireplace, keeping his body low to the ground. Shouts, mostly outside, reached his ears, but then he heard a cry.

"Mummy!"

His heart practically seized in his chest. He knew that cry. He'd known Harry since the hour of the lad's birth. And Harry was angry and scared. Wand still at the ready and the Stupefy curse on the tip of his tongue. Remus darted past the stranger on the floor, barely pausing to wrap him in a spelled body-bind. I'm coming, Harry! Where's Lily? Where's James?

Protect the cub. Protect the cub.

Death. Death was still everywhere. He felt it crawling, writhing in the corridors of the manor home. It was a combination of burnt skin, voided bowels, and the incipience of rotting flesh that made his lupine senses cringe in disgust. Shadows, darker and lighter, overwhelmed the upper corridor, but Remus's memory and sight were too good to be misled. He went directly to the nursery, where Harry was still crying in abject terror.

"Mummy!"

When had the boy learned to say that? Pain sliced through Remus's heart—he had missed so much. That the lad hadn't been silenced, though, seemed to indicate that at the very least he was alone. A brief pause—a quick scenting of the nearby rooms, listening for heartbeats, for breathing— and Remus leapt over the body on the floor, knowing it was dead. His first priority was Harry.

"It's Uncle Remus, Harry," he said in a soothing voice. He passed a hand briefly over the boy's face and head as he held him close. Harry's cries quieted a bit until Remus inadvertently touched a spot on the boy's forehead that felt hot.

Was that an infection? In such an odd location?

Remus sniffed at the spot and recoiled so much that he staggered against the nearest wall, tripping over the body on the floor while clutching the cub to his chest. "Ow," he muttered, looking to see that he had managed to plunge two holes in the wall with his elbows. Harry, though, seemed fine, except for that hot spot.

It smelled of Dark Magic. The darkest. Arcane power fairly oozed from Harry's skin and Remus whimpered in his chest. Dumbledore. He had to show Dumbledore.

"Unka Moon…"

Eyes filling with belated tears, Remus hugged the black-haired boy in his arms and took a quick inventory of the nursery. The overpowering odors of pine-scented cleaner, of nappies, and of Lily herself had masked the darker, horrific scents that lurked near the floor.

Blood. In the darkness of the room, Remus still had wolf-sensitive vision and now that the boy was not crying, he had a moment to observe and see if he could reconstruct what had happened. Blood. Lily was on the floor, but there was no heartbeat. Just the fading warmth of a life extinguished. He choked on a sob, wishing he could bring that life back.

"Mummy… Daddy… Green! Unka! Green!"

Another sob pushed from Remus's throat. "Lily…" Hesitant to examine her body while he held Harry, Remus reminded himself to do so later. The needs of the living had priority. "James…?"

James would be dead, Remus knew this in his heart. No one could have reached Lily or Harry without taking James out first. Still holding Harry in the crook of his left arm, Remus gathered supplies quickly. Lily—oh, Lily, our den mother, our friend, James's wife, our sister—had been prepared. She had sent him an owl and made sure she could run with her son at a moment's notice. A bag, there, with wide straps. Remus shifted the contents about, seeing nappie paraphernalia, liquid formula, thick crackers, baby food, clothes and shoes for a toddling child.

He tried, he tried so hard to keep his weeping silent, but still tears fell from his eyes and dripped on to Harry's body, making splotches on his sleeping outfit with the feet on it.

"Mummy?"

"Hush, lad. Hush. We'll get you safe. All will be well. We'll get you to your godfather, Padfoot."

"Unka Pad!"

Sirius. Right. He had been going to be the Potters' Secret Keeper, but Lily said Peter had been, instead.

A lightning bolt of fury ripped through Remus's torso. "Peter," he said on a growl.

Peter Pettigrew was a dead man.

With Harry's bag over his shoulder, Remus managed to search the rest of the house, finding James's body. No blood, there, but there wasn't a pulse, either. It was clear he'd been Avada'd and that was that. Remus kept his body turned so that Harry didn't have the image of his dead father in his memory—bad enough he might have Lily's death always with him. How much would a toddler remember?

Tend to the cub. Protect the cub.

"James! Lily! Harryyyyy!"

Sirius! His erstwhile best friend was out there, and Remus's muscles tensed in suspicion. Why had Lily and James made Peter their Secret Keeper? What had Sirius done?

The Grim, however, is fine. The reminder only served to confuse Remus even more.

Remus took the stairs slowly, his senses on full alert just in case any more Death Eaters decided they needed to check on Harry. He was grateful for the ability to see in the dark in that lupine manner. His only worry was that the toddler in his arms would give him away.

"Silencio," he murmured with a flick of his wand over Harry's head. The boy chose that moment to flail his limbs and roar—silently—which made Remus take a moment to secure all that he had charge of before he went on.

Sirius's voice was drawing nearer.

"Jaaaames!" The name was followed by a harsh cry, which caught firmly in Remus's chest as he paused in the parlor.

The Death Eater on the floor was still in the full-body bind, but he was alert now and his eyes seemed to flare to see young Harry.

Remus snarled at the man and stunned him again. Then, he reached the door.

"Sirius! It's me, Remus. I have Harry with me. I'm coming out."


A/N: A part of this might be familiar if you read Runes on Paper, one of my Glimpses of Hermione drabbles.