(Disclaimer: Most characters, etc. belong to that wonderful lady, J.K. Rowling!
Second disclaimer: Please note the original posting date of this story—late 2004. As such, it predates both HBP and DH, and a great deal of information clarified elsewhere by JKR (such as Hermione's age as compared to Harry). The author deliberately chose to leave contradicting plot points the way they are, as changing them would have required a lot of effort for very little reward. Don't like, don't read. Thank you.)
Chapter 1: March 15, 1982, Surrey
Happy damn birthday to me.
23 years old and nothing left to live for.
A passerby dropped a coin at his feet, apparently mistaking him for a homeless person. He was about to call after her, but thought better of it.
What the hell. 50p is 50p.
He picked up the coin and pocketed it.
This time last year, I had friends. I had what amounted to a family. I had work—it was dangerous, sure, but what isn't? I had a purpose in life.
And then, in the space of two days—gone. All of it. Three people I loved dead. Another one a traitor and locked up forever. And the last one hidden away where no one will find him.
No one including me.
He stared up through the leafless branches of the tree at the overcast sky.
Why am I even bothering anymore?
Tomorrow, I'll call the local authorities just before sunset and report a rabid animal on my property. Then I'll leave the door open.
End of problem.
End of everything.
This was definitely not one of Remus Lupin's better days.
But fate, as it so often does, was about to play a trick on him...
Having made a decision, he felt a little better. He sat up and looked around. Two tiny children in hooded coats chased one another around the nearby swing set, giggling. A young woman sat on a bench nearby, reading.
They're so little. They can't be more than two. Probably not even that.
His heart clenched painfully. No one would tell him where the boy was. The official story was that it would be better for everyone if Harry grew up fostered by Muggles, without contact with the wizarding world, without knowing that he was a celebrity and a hero. But Remus knew better.
They're afraid of me. They're afraid I might try to take him, and then lose control one night and bite him or even kill him. And the worst of it is, they're right on both counts. I'd take him in a heartbeat. And there's no guarantee he'd be safe with me.
He sighed as the shrieking from the playground rose in volume. No, I'd better just leave well enough alone. I'm sure he's happy where he is.
Wherever that may be.
"Neenie, no!" shouted the young woman at one of the children. There was no telling which, since both their faces were hidden by their hoods. "No pushing! Play nice with Harry!"
Remus sat up straight, every nerve alert. Oh my God.
Then he forced himself to calm down. No. It can't be. It has to be a coincidence. It's not that uncommon a name...
But it had got him thinking, and he couldn't seem to stop.
Lily had a sister, a Muggle sister. Petunia, I think. It's just possible he's with her. Lily's sacrifice would have left blood magic traces. If anyone could bring them to full strength, it would be Dumbledore. Which would make his aunt's home the safest place for him.
Possibly. I just wish I felt better about Lily's sister. If I remember correctly, she didn't think much of magic. Or of Lily.
But she wouldn't harm a child because of that. Would she?
I have to find out where she lives. If she doesn't have Harry, maybe she knows where he is... I think she might even live somewhere in Surrey, that's a start at least...
One of the children pushed the other one down. The fallen one started to cry.
"Oh, it's okay, sweetheart," cooed the young woman, hurrying to the child's side. "Don't cry, Greeneyes, it's just a little bump, right?"
Green eyes? Oh God...
Remus was on his feet without knowing it as the young woman gently pulled down the child's hood, exposing black, tousled hair and bright green eyes in a tear-streaked face.
James' face. And Lily's eyes.
He was running toward the child, unable to stop himself, knowing he must look completely mad, and not caring at all...
"Mooey!" the little boy squealed. His face lit up, and he lifted his arms in a "pick-me-up" gesture. Remus snatched him up and held him close, reveling in the feel of trusting arms around his neck, in the scent of the boy's hair and skin, in having the last person in the world he cared for close to his heart once more.
And I'll never let him go again...
He suddenly realized that the young woman was staring at him. Of course she's staring, she's probably Harry's foster mother or his aunt or something and she wants to know who you are and what the hell you think you're doing!
"I'm so sorry," he began, turning to her with Harry squirming happily in his arms. "I was a friend of Harry's father in school, I haven't seen him in a while..."
"I married you last night," she whispered.
Her eyes went very round. "Oh my Lord. Oh my Lord, I did not just say that out loud. I did not. I did not. I did, didn't I."
"Yes, you did."
"Oh my Lord. I'm so sorry. What a way to start a conversation. Please, can we start over?"
"I'd love to," Remus said, looking more closely at her. She had quite a lot of curly brown hair, as did the little girl holding onto her trouser leg and regarding him solemnly, though the effect was a little spoiled by the thumb in her mouth. The girl was adorable, he decided, and the woman rather lovely, in a bookish sort of way...
"I had a dream about you last night," the woman said, getting herself under control. "Even though, as far as I know, we have never met in the flesh. Am I right?"
"I think I would remember it if I had met you before, Miss..."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Please, call me Danger. It's my nickname, I answer to it faster than anything else."
"Well, if we're on nicknames, please, call me Moony." He transferred Harry to his left arm and shook hands.
"Is that what Harry said, then? I was wondering." Danger gave a lopsided smile and bent down to the little girl. "Neenie, this is Mr. Moony." She straightened up. "My sister, Neenie."
"Hello, Neenie," Remus said, smiling at her. Neenie gave a tiny wave with the hand that wasn't partially in her mouth. "Your sister?"
"I know, it's a big age difference, everyone thinks she's mine, but no, definitely my sister."
"So how do you know Harry?" Remus asked, sitting down with the child in question snuggling down on his lap.
"He lives up the street from us a little ways with his aunt and uncle. You said you were a friend of his father's?"
"May I ask, then?"
"Ask what happened to his parents?"
Remus took a deep breath, feeling the weight of Harry against his ribs. All the nightmarish images of the last six months flooded through his head, starting with the moment he had heard the news, and not from anyone he knew, anyone in the Order, no, just some random witch on the street, who had shouted it out to him when she saw him coming...
"They were murdered," he said. "Betrayed by a friend and killed by a lunatic."
"And his mother threw herself in front of him, to save him," Danger murmured as if to herself. "A flash of green light and a rushing sound like death on invisible wings..."
Remus stared at her. "How do you know that?" he demanded.
She met his eyes openly, and Remus saw something he'd never seen before—pain, grief, loss, all there, and all equal to his own.
"I dreamed it," she said softly. "I dreamed it all. You, and him, and this. Please, tell me something, and tell me the truth."
"If I can, I will."
"Is magic real? Because I dreamed of magic when I dreamed of you, and you're real, and here in front of me. So please tell me."
Harry squirmed. "Down, Mooey," he requested. Remus let him slide to the ground, still looking at Danger. Should I tell her? It's against the law, but she seems to know already...
"Yes," he said finally. She deserves the truth, if only for the pain in her face.
"Thank God," Danger breathed. "There was no other explanation."
Her eyes closed for a moment. "I was at school. I went to get Neenie from day care, then I went home. And there were my parents, lying in the living room, dead. They had these expressions on their faces..." She broke off. "I can't describe it."
"Pain," Remus said, thinking of the Longbottoms. "As if they died in pain."
"Yes." Danger's voice choked. "They never did anything wrong. Why them? Why?"
"The Dark Ones lost their leader just half a year ago," Remus said quietly. "You saw it in your dreams. They're trying frantically to stay out of prison, but some of them can't control themselves. Please believe me when I say that I wish I could have stopped them."
"I believe you," Danger said with her face in her hands. "And thank you." She squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and went on. "So, after that, I got custody of Neenie, and I got a job, and life went on. My parents were both professionals, they were fairly well off, so we have a little saved up to help eke out my salary. But then I started dreaming. Pictures, words, and finally, last night, a story."
"Yes, you said a wedding?"
Danger smiled wanly. "Said more than that, didn't I? Yes, it was a wedding. I was the bride, and I realized I had no idea who any of the people were. Except my maid of honor, that was Aletha, my best friend when I was little. I haven't seen her in years, I wonder how she's doing... anyway, I got to the altar, I looked at the groom—and it was you. And please don't take this wrong, but if you kiss in real life like you did in the dream... damn."
"Thank you," Remus said. "I'm flattered. I think."
"Oh, it's a compliment, trust me," Danger said. "And I was so happy to see you that I forgot I didn't know anything about you – and suddenly I did know all about you. Everything."
"Everything?" As in, everything?
"Yes. Everything. Like how you have a hard time getting a job, because you have to be, shall we say, 'away' for a couple days every month, and everyone in the magical world would know why and be afraid, and no one in the rest of the world will put up with it, even if they don't know why."
Remus shook his head slowly, bemused. "You know what I am, and all about me, and you're still sitting here beside me?"
"Not everyone's a bigot," said Danger. "And besides, Harry likes you. I trust that kid's judgment."
"He liked Sirius, too," Remus said quietly. "It was Peter he wouldn't go near. He may not be the best judge of character."
"A couple of men I knew."
"Friends of yours?"
"At one time." Remus hoped she would be able to tell from his tone that he really didn't want to talk about this.
Danger was silent for a moment. "Do you believe me?" she finally asked. "About the dreams?"
"I don't know. You could have found out what you know somewhere else, I guess. Though it seems unlikely. Let's say I remain unconvinced at the moment."
"I think I can convince you."
"Ask me something. Something you think no one would know."
"Something I think no one would know." Remus thought for a moment. All right, classic identification question. "What's my middle name?"
"John," Danger said quickly. "Remus John Lupin."
Remus stared at her for a moment. And I never told her any of that... just my nickname, that's all...
"Mine's Gertrude," Danger said quietly. "Gertrude Kelly Granger. Convinced now?"
"Yes," Remus said slowly. "Yes, I think I am."
"Would you like to come over for some tea, then?"
"To my house. It's not far. And there are a few things I want to tell you. About the dreams. Things I think you need to know."
"If you're not busy..."
"I have the day off at work, so my only job is watching Harry until his aunt and uncle get back. And he's a great kid, so no, I'm not busy. It's just a few streets this way..."
The little house looked even more inviting when the skies opened as they had been threatening to do all day, and Remus was obliged to stay "at least until it stops raining." Danger—Remus found himself unable to think of her as Gertrude—changed Harry's nappy, then turned on the TV for the children, and put the kettle on to boil.
"The dreams are always similar, if not exactly the same," she said without preamble, sitting down at the kitchen table. "Cacophony, madness. Blurs of color and sound. But I can get bits and pieces here and there. Lots of orange, but always associated with the word red. That confuses me a lot. When is orange red?"
Remus was taking notes on a pad he'd noticed on her desk. When is orange red?
"Along with the orange, or the red, or whatever, flashes of black and flashes of brown. And then it's as if someone shouts a couplet in my ear.
"Black to red and red to brown
"Shall truly bring the darkness down.
"But I don't know what it means," she finished in frustration, lightly pounding the table. "Then I start getting actual pictures. Four boys. One of them is you. Then two with dark hair—one of those looks like Harry—and one kind of mousy-looking one."
"My best friends at school," Remus said. "We called ourselves the Marauders. The boy who looks like Harry is his father, James, the other dark one is Sirius Black, and the mousy boy is Peter Pettigrew."
"Thank you," Danger said in relief. "Having names makes everything easier. I see James, then, with a red-haired girl, flashes of dates, a wedding, a baby – Harry – and you and Black and Pettigrew around them, doing the things friends do. And then it all goes awful." She shuddered. "One of you goes over to the Dark. To some horrid scary guy who looks like a snake gone wrong."
"Sirius," Remus said bitterly.
"What?" Remus jerked his head up from his notes to stare at her.
"That's what I see," Danger said. "It's definitely Pettigrew talking with the nasty one. Pettigrew telling him where to find them. Pettigrew turning into a rat. Can he do that?"
He almost didn't want to believe her, but her last comment clinched it. No one besides the Marauders had known about that.
And I'm the last Marauder.
About that, at least, she had to be telling the truth.
And if she's telling the truth about that, what about the rest?
"Yes. He can."
"He did it the day everyone thinks he died," Danger said, her eyes almost closed. "I always see it in slow motion. He shouts something at Black, he pulls out this little stick behind his back," she shuddered, "cuts off his own finger with it—I don't know how, or why—"
"A finger was the most they ever found of him," Remus said in a deadly quiet voice. Too much was making sense all of a sudden.
"And then the street behind him just explodes, and he shrinks down to rat size and shape and runs away while the smoke is clearing. And Black looks at the place where he was, and he starts laughing. And then I drift into a kind of foggy place, and I hear a poem, repeated over and over again until I wake up with it drumming in my head."
She clutched her hair melodramatically, then smiled apologetically. "I always thought that was just an expression, until I started dreaming like this. I finally wrote it down, and then it left me alone. I think you should see it."
"I think I should too," Remus said grimly. Several loose parts of his world were starting to fall into place. Specifically, the "Sirius would never betray Lily and James" part, and the "Peter doesn't strike me as the martyr type" part.
"Here it is," Danger said, handing him a sheet of paper, half-covered with lines of neat handwriting. "I did a clean copy once I was sure I had it right."
Black to red and red to brown
Shall truly bring the darkness down.
Find the red and find the rat
Whose cunning plot did catch no cat.
Trust thy heart and try the grim,
And truth shall bring new life to him.
The wolf that runs in brightest dark
Of fear in danger strikes no spark,
For she is maid of warrior soul,
And by her touch his mind is whole.
When they who saved the savior twine
The freshest blood with founders' line,
Then has the age of hope begun,
And peace comes to the man who won.
"That couplet from before, that's repeated in here," Remus said as he scanned the lines.
Danger nodded. "I know. It must be important somehow."
"But we don't understand it at the moment, so let's look at the first quatrain, after the couplet."
The somewhat unlikely pair bent over their work.
(A/N: If you read, please review! I love getting reviews! And reviews encourage me to update sooner!)