James Potter is an arrogant, pureblood arsehole who enjoyed bullying people in front of a crowd and thought he could pressure women into going out with him.
Sirius Black comes from a family as dark as they come and was only sorted into Gryffindor to spite his parents. He even tried to murder a fellow classmate that he didn't like.
Remus Lupin is a werewolf - A man infected with a disease whose dark and violent nature made all those with the condition be despised and feared throughout the wizarding world.
Peter Pettigrew is a born sycophant. He was willing to sell his soul to be close to the most powerful wizard around. He braved discovery and death to be a spy in an enemy camp, and murdered at the drop of his master's hat.
So what if the gang was actually as Dark as their nature would (at first glance) appear to be? How different would the HP universe then be?
The loud crack of Apparition echoed off the empty street in front of the Potter's small house in Godric's Hollow. Nobody came to investigate, not after seeing the smoking hole in the roof of the mysteriously appearing house and the initial explosion earlier. The fearful residents hid away, too terrified to even risk peeking out of closed curtains and possibly attracting unwanted attention.
Sirius Black sprinted for the destroyed door of the house before the echo had a chance to return; his face a twisted mask of rage, pain, and fear.
"James?" he called, as he ran. "Lily?"
The front room of the house bore the signs of a fierce battle. Destroyed furniture littered the room and large, blackened holes peppered the walls. Sirius didn't pause as he bolted for the stairs, heading towards the room at the back of the house where the roof was missing and the high-pitched wailing of a baby's crying pierced the deathly silence.
The surviving oil lamps flickered weakly, fighting to stay alight. Their once joyous luminescence cast a demon-red glow over the ruined hallway.
Sirius's heart pounded as he approached his godson's room. The hallways here also showed signs of magical battle, with scorch marks and cracks decorating every inch. The remains of the door to Harry's room hung limply from its frame; smoke still curling from the bent and twisted remains.
Sirius leapt through without hesitation, glowing wand in hand, ready to confront whatever was waiting for him. He had never been as angry or afraid as he was at that point in time, or as dangerous.
Beyond the battered door, the destruction was even more pronounced, but Sirius only saw the man kneeling in the middle of the room, cradling the limp body of a red-haired woman.
"James?" asked Sirius.
James Potter looked up from the dead face of his wife. The tracks of tears ran down his soot and blood covered face.
"He killed her. He came here and killed her. He knocked me out, when I tried to hold him off, and then came up here to kill Harry, but she tried to stop him, so he killed her."
Sirius felt a lump form in his throat and his mouth went even drier, as he lowered his wand and swore.
"Voldemort? Here? What happened? Where did he go?"
James's sorrow filled face took on a new look; a fierce pride.
"She did something, a spell she was working on. She gave her life to make it work, so when he tried to kill Harry, he died instead."
Sirius looked around the room and spied the collapsed cloak that he presumed contained the remains of Voldemort. A wellspring of grief threatened to overwhelm him at the thought of Lily Potter's death, but he fought it down, burying it deep inside his secret place while allowing the rage to burn in satisfaction.
Harry's crying suddenly seemed louder, but neither man paid it any attention.
"What do we do now?" he asked James.
James slowly lowered his wife to the floor, then bent over and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, before standing up and facing his best friend.
"Voldemort is gone, but the others are still out there. They took the sunshine from my life, Sirius. I want to return the favour.
"We kill them. We kill them all."
James cradled Harry in one arm and stepped into the darkness of Apparition. The baby started screaming again the moment the squeezing began, but his father was immune to his cries and continued the journey without pause. Appearing before the sound of Sirius's leading Apparition faded, James immediately strode towards the castle on the hill.
Sirius, wand drawn and eyes alert, let him pass on the narrow track; covering the father and child as they made their way upwards. Neither spoke, not even to calm the distraught boy. No reassuring or soothing words would cross their lips this night.
Hagrid met them before they reached the castle. The massive man lumbered out of the shadows carrying an equally huge crossbow in his hands. It was obvious he was patrolling the grounds and came at the sound of their apparition.
"James? Sirius? What's 'appened? Is that young 'arry?"
James Potter stopped and took a moment to consider the Keeper of the Keys.
"Hagrid, I need you to take care of Harry," he said, his voice cold and hard.
"Me? What's goin' on? Where's Lily?"
"Lily is dead. Voldemort killed her, but she destroyed him. Hagrid, listen to me. Peter was the secret keeper and might have betrayed us. I am asking you to take care of Harry. Keep him with you at all times and trust nobody. Nobody, Hagrid, understand?"
Hagrid lowered his crossbow.
"Dead? Lily dead? And you want me to take care of 'arry? I don' understand. I think maybe you should see Dumbledore-"
"No," interrupted James loudly. "I trust you, Hagrid. Nobody will look after Harry better than you. Dumbledore will palm him off to somebody else as soon as he has something important to do. You take him. Take him to your house, and lock the door. I'll come back, but don't let anybody take him from you, or even know you have him. Please, it's important."
"Al'right, James," said Hagrid, slinging the crossbow over his back and holding out his arms. "I don' know what's goin' on, but I'll take 'arry with me. 'e'll be safer 'ere at 'ogwarts than anywhere else, I reckon."
"Goodbye, Harry," said James, kissing the head of his crying son gently before placing him into Hagrid's arms and then turning back to Sirius. "Let's go."
Sirius stepped towards Hagrid, his wand still drawn and his eyes gleaming in the pale moonlight with an intensity that made the much larger man involuntarily take a step back.
"Make sure nothing happens to my godson, Hagrid," he said, his voice low and menacing. "Or it'll be on your head. Understand?"
Hagrid nodded, his voice momentarily robbed by the grip of fear Sirius's unexpected words and attitude invoked. He knew of the legendary temper of the Marauder, and the famed viciousness that group of pranksters could exhibit when provoked, but he had never truly faced even a tenth of its potential before.
With a final glance at the baby in Hagrid's arms, Sirius turned and followed James back the way they came.
Hagrid stood watching them go. No good would come of this, he knew, but it was outside of his power to stop two of the most talented wizards in the world, especially the way they were now.
He shook his head regretfully and began rocking the wailing boy.
"Come'on then 'arry. Let's get a warm cup of milk into ya and get ya back to bed then, eh? Poor lil' tyke."
Whispering soft words to calm the child, Hagrid headed back to his hut, his heart heavy with sorrow and worry. No matter what else happened tonight, he had a promise to keep. Nothing and nobody would touch Harry. Not tonight, not tomorrow, and not any other day that Hagrid was responsible.
"Where now?" asked Sirius as they neared the edge of the Hogwarts wards.
"Moony first," answered James tersely. "It's a full moon tomorrow, so he should be at his house preparing."
"Do you think he had anything to do with it?" asked Sirius.
For the first time his voice betrayed a hint of emotion other than rage.
"I don't know, but we are going to find out," said James as he stepped from the wards.
Neither needed to say what would happen if they discovered he was; that was taken for granted.
Remus tossed restlessly in his bed.
It was always like this, just before a full moon. Nothing would provide any relief from the anxiety and discomfort, not even forcing the change to start a day early. There was talk of a new potion that allowed a man to keep his mind during the worst nights, the ones where not a trace of humanity remained and the beast was all, but it was still in its trial stages, and would likely prove too expensive anyway.
An unexpected creaking noise made Remus freeze mid-rollover.
The old house he was currently living in had only one redeeming feature; a solid cellar he used for the nights when no safer or more pleasant option was available. The rest of the place was a decrepit pile of rotting wood held together by crude repairs and the lavish use of magic. One of its most annoying features was the way the floor and walls creaked wherever you walked – a creak exactly like the one that just sounded from the front room.
Grabbing the wand from under his pillow, Remus slid from under the sheets, and crept towards the door as silently as possible.
Death Eater attacks were even more rampant lately, and although they didn't specifically target werewolves, there were certainly enough other reasons for them to come after Remus.
Not that the Death Eaters were the only ones currently seeking out werewolves. A program of extermination was only a few votes away from becoming law, and many supposedly law-abiding citizens were apparently taking it upon themselves to pre-empt the new rules.
Before Remus reached the door, it exploded inwards.
Debris flew from the opening, showering the room in a hail of wood splinters, but Remus was already reacting, throwing himself to one side, and releasing a barrage of spells towards the source of the attack.
Rolling with the momentum of his leap, he came to his feet, only to be thrown against a wall by a viscous bludgeoning spell hitting him from behind. Grunting with pain from the collision, he struggled to keep a hold of his wand and drop into a crouch.
Another spell slammed into the spot where is head was just moments before, burning a hole in the thin wall. Remus fired back blindly, hoping to slow down his attacker enough to compose himself.
Not for the first time, Remus wished he had access to some of the abilities of his transformed state. Being able to see in the dark would definitely have been an advantage right about now, as would the wolf's substantial spell resistance.
Before he finished casting, another bludgeoning spell caught him, smashing his bruised body completely through the wall.
Remus fell to the ground on the faded and worn carpet of his front room. His wand flew from his hand as the concussion knocked the air from his lungs. Struggling to draw a breath, he fought to retain consciousness.
"Not like this," he thought. "I am not going to die like this."
Determination filled him and adrenaline flooded his body. With a mighty heave, he rolled over and grabbed his wand from the ground. Continuing to roll, he rose to his knees to confront his attacker.
James Potter sat in one of the threadbare chairs of the lounge room, apparently at ease, with his wand resting across his lap.
Another curse caught Remus and flung him into the air. He kept a hold of his wand and fired off a flurry of cutting curses in every direction even as he flew to collide against the stone chimney of the fireplace, where another spell caught and held him. Pinned spread eagled against the rough rock, and bleeding from numerous cuts, Remus hung, helpless and confused.
Sirius Black stood in front of the hole in the wall, his wand pointed directly at Remus.
"Sirius?" croaked Remus weakly. "What's going on?"
"Did you do it, Moony?" asked James quietly.
"What the bloody hell is going on?"
"Were you betraying us?" asked James, not moving from his chair. "Was it you feeding information to Voldemort?"
Remus's thoughts raced, trying to piece together what has happening. The anger of the wolf. always so close to surface anyway, rose in him, forcing all other thoughts aside.
"I don't know what the hell you are talking about, but if you don't kill me now, I am going to rip your bloody head off and use it as a chew-toy the next time I change."
Sirius stormed forward, rage rolling off him in waves. His wand glowed dangerously as he raised it to Remus's throat.
"You're not immune to spells yet, Moony, not until tomorrow night," said Sirius. "Don't. Play. Dumb. Nobody as smart as you could fail to see Voldemort was getting inside information from somewhere. Was it you? Tell us now and we'll make sure you don't suffer. Lie and I'll make your monthly change feel like a warm bath and gentle massage in comparison. You know I know how to."
Remus's temper flared even higher, overwhelming any sense he may have had or fear he may have felt at the threat.
"I am going to pull those pretty eyes of yours out and force you to eat them, you mongrel," he said, straining to free his hands from the spell holding him. The stones of the chimney groaned in protest.
Sirius didn't blink at the threat and pushed the wand painfully into Remus's neck.
"Come on, Moony, old friend," he said. "Was it the anti-werewolf laws? Was that the final straw? Were you sick of living like a second rate dog, and decided to take Voldemort up on his promise? "
"If somebody is feeding information to Voldemort, it's probably you, or don't you think anybody noticed how much of your family is currently up the Dark Lord's arse?" said Remus.
Sirius snarled and then pummelled Remus's face with his free hand. Remus matched Sirius's glare and licked the fresh blood off his lips, baring his teeth in a vicious smile.
"Enough," said James, rising from the chair and walking over. "We have a problem, Lupin. We know somebody has been giving away our secrets, and you, unfortunately, are a likely candidate-"
"Me? You bastards-"
"-but we can't just dose you full of Veritaserum, since your werewolf side tends to mess it up, and I know the futility of trying to get into that skull of yours with Legilimency, so how can you prove your innocence?"
"Screw you too, Potter," said Remus. "I'm not going to try to prove anything to you limp-wanded pricks. Kill me if you got the balls, but don't expect me to help you."
"Just tell us the truth," shouted Sirius. "Did you tell them anything?"
"Go to hell, Black. I'd rather kill my own brother than turn coat; you know that, but how about you? How's Regulus doing now days?"
Sirius glared at Remus, then suddenly smiled and stepped back, removing the wand from the Werewolf's neck.
"He's telling the truth," said Sirius.
James relaxed and waved his wand. Remus suddenly found himself released and dropped to the floor. He landed in a crouch and brought his wand up immediately.
"Moony, my friend," said James, holding out his hand. "Please forgive us. We had to be sure."
"What did you do?" asked Remus, his anger temporarily on hold but his wand still clutched tightly in his fist.
"I cast one of the spells they use to make Sneakoscopes," said Sirius. "It's fairly weak and needs direct wand contact, but it's the only thing we could think of that might work on you, if you were off balance."
Remus stood slowly, obviously deep in thought. Sirius held his hand out, next to James's
"Sorry for the rough treatment," he said. "We needed to keep you off balance to make it work, and I know you can take a bit of a bruising. Friends?"
Remus smiled ruefully and reached out his hand to grasp Sirius's. With a sudden jerk, he dragged the dark haired man forward and punched him as hard as he could in the face with his other hand. The blow collided brutally with Sirius's nose, breaking it painfully and knocking him to the ground.
"Friends," said Remus, reaching for James's hand.
James didn't even blink, but grasped the werewolf's hand without hesitation.
"Now, tell me what's happened," said Remus, "and make it bloody good."
The door of the Death Eater safe house exploded inwards, shattering into ten thousand fine splinters.
Flying shards impaled the Death Eaters directly in front of it, thrusting them backwards through the air - lifeless before their bloodied, broken bodies hit the floor.
A brief flurry of spells flew at the ruined doorway from the faster defenders inside the room, but Peter knew his former comrades would not be entering from that direction.
All thoughts of once again turning coat and betraying his allies fled Peter's mind at the sound of that explosion. Half-formed plans, hastily cobbled together in the aftermath of the Dark Lord's apparently disastrous attack on the Potters, fell apart as quickly as the wood of the missing door.
There had been a chance, a slim opportunity to kill the few others gathered with him in the house and then claim he had been captured, but Peter hesitated too long, too scared to risk what would happen if he was not believed.
The roof a few feet away from him collapsed on top of another unlucky Death Eater. The sudden appearance of a grand piano smashing through the ceiling to crush the man invoked a ridiculous desire in Peter to laugh.
Remus always did love those Muggle cartoons of Lily's.
No sooner did the defenders turn to face this new threat, when the floor around them burst into flame. Peter was already scurrying away in his rat Animagus form.
It was true the Dark Lord capture and tortured him, but nowhere near enough to justify how quickly he gave in and changed sides. The writing was on the wall long before that, with Death Eaters infiltrating and taking over everywhere. It was only a matter of time before they would seize complete control.
Peter saw his time was up, and changed sides at almost the first opportunity that presented itself, telling himself he might somehow use his defection to spare a few others, when their time came.
Unfortunately, he was wrong. Now, a mere year after joining the Dark Lord's service, the tide again turned against him.
Barrages of spells flew through the air of the room, causing more confusion and chaos than actual harm. The effect was similar to a prank the Marauders once played in their fifth year, charming the D.A.D.A classroom itself to appear to attack the students once practice duelling started, but that prank took the four of them a week to setup. He knew James repeated the prank on several other occasions, but didn't know that how it could be cast without entering the room.
Unless someone had entered the house unseen, maybe hidden underneath James's old Invisibility cloak.
The pungent odour Peter detected just before the attack began was almost overwhelming to the rat as he dodged the billowing flames and trampling feet of the terrified Death Eaters. The smell was familiar; Sirius's enchanted motorbike often smelled similar.
Petrol, Peter recalled while leaping through a previously prepared hole near the corner of the room. Muggles seemed to be addicted to the substance, pouring gallons of it into their vehicles every day. He knew it burned well, but he didn't realise exactly how well until now.
Leaving the choking and no doubt soon-to-be-dead men behind him, Peter scrambled through the walls of the house and out into the clear air of the garden. He had no idea how the Marauders located him, but that's who was attacking, for sure. There would be anti-apparition wards to stop anybody getting away, and possibly an alarm for anything larger than a fly crossing a boundary inside the ward.
With luck, he might be able to find a place in the neglected garden to hide until his pursuers left. Where he went after that was undetermined, but Peter knew he could not risk showing his face in public for a very long time.
Maybe he could find a wizarding family and become their familiar, that way he could still be close to the magical world he loved, but be hidden and protected.
Suddenly Peter found himself flying through the air. He twisted his body and tried to transform, but a gloved hand caught him in a crushing grip, and a familiar voice destroyed the small shred of remaining calm Peter held onto since learning of the Dark Lord's demise.
"Hello, Wormtail," said James Potter, his deep voice reverberating with the promise of danger.
Peter once found that same tone exciting, when used on one of Potter's enemies, but now it sent familiar shivers of fear down his rat spine.
"Fancy meeting you here."
"Do you forever forsake Voldemort and his followers," asked James.
"Yes," mumbled Peter through broken and missing teeth.
Blood pooled in his mouth and his swollen, lacerated tongue made it hard to talk, but he forced himself to answer as clearly as possible and not whimper at the pain pronouncing the simple word caused.
A slow, spiralling thread of magic fell from Remus's wand to curl around their clasped hands. The unbreakable vow was the most powerful magic Peter ever participated in, and the ramifications of the oaths he was agreeing to take just added to his terror.
"Will you do as I instruct, in the spirit of orders I give you, with no effort to disobey or betray me and my companions," asked James coldly.
"Yes," answered Peter, without hesitation.
Even a slight pause might give Black reason enough to finish what he started earlier. Only Remus's level-headed advice spared Peter from Black's relentless punishment. Potter was almost as bad, watching calmly while Black vented his rage on Peter.
Another thread of magic fell from the wand to curl around their hands. James's firm grip kept Peter's from shaking uncontrollably.
There was no doubt in Peter's mind that Black was being kinder that Potter would have, if he had allowed himself to start, or that Remus was the only reason Peter was still breathing.
"Will you give the rest of your life attempting to make up for your betrayal?"
"Yes," cried Peter, finally overwhelmed by the night's events.
The final thread made its way down, and the unbreakable oath was sealed with a flash of light. He was now effectively a slave – Slave of a man he knew hated him more than anything else on the planet.
Released from the painful grip, Peter fell. He was already on his knees, but didn't have the strength to stay upright without assistance.
"Drink this then get up," said James, dropping a potion bottle onto Peter's whimpering form.
Peter weakly prised the lid from the bottle and downed the contents without question. The bitter burning of the healing potion raced through his body causing sharp stabbing bursts of agony as it repaired the worst of his injuries. A few minutes later, he could climb stiffly to his feet.
The three other Marauders stood facing him. No pity showed on any of their faces, but the cold indifferent stare from Potter was the worst thing Peter had ever seen. Not even Voldemort himself had managed to make Peter feel so utterly defeated.
"Get your wand, Worm," said James. "You are going to take us to every bolthole you know of, starting at the top of the food chain - you are going to help us find every single one of Voldemort's little army."
Peter didn't need to ask why.
Albus Dumbledore paced the hallways of his school anxiously.
Hours ago he learned the wards around the Potter's house had fallen and correctly summarised that Voldemort somehow breached them. Before he could get out of the castle or even call anybody, a magical backlash hit him, knocking him out cold.
Only the patient crooning of his familiar prevented the Headmaster from panicking when he woke.
It taxed his resources badly to cast a Patronus charm and send it for help. Unfortunately, Hagrid did not come, leaving the Headmaster lying on the floor waiting for his strength to return.
Once sufficiently recovered, he started taking the numerous Floo calls coming through. In a short time, he managed to put together a picture of some of what apparently happened.
Voldemort was defeated.
Severus himself confirmed the Dark Mark was almost gone, a sure sign that the Dark Lord was either dead or severely injured. All over the country, people suddenly woke from spells they did not realise they were under. Reports of crowds flooding the Auror offices with stories of atrocities committed while being controlled were rivalled only by tales of people recklessly celebrating the Dark Lord's defeat in the streets.
Word spread faster than imaginable. Voldemort attacked the Potter's and was defeated. Lily Potter died, but the baby, Harry, and his father, survived. Exactly how that information got out still eluded the Headmaster, since he himself was unable to determine the location or condition of either James or Harry.
He did discover some of Voldemort's most notorious associates were already scouring the countryside, searching for the location of their master, possibly believing the Dark Lord was a captive somewhere. Many simply did not believe he had fallen, but others wanted revenge for the loss of their leader.
Albus sat heavily in his chair and stroked the feathers of his familiar.
One thing was certain, wherever James and Harry were; they were in grave danger.
Bellatrix Lestrange screamed and launched another powerful spell against the house in front of her. Alongside, several masked Death Eaters added their own contributions to the attack.
Holed up inside the house were two of the Order of the Phoenix's most prominent members. Floo and Apparition were cut off, and the constant barrage of spells would soon destroy the wards protecting the building.
Bella didn't know what happened to her master, but she refused to believe the rumours brought to her by now dead messengers. Only the least faithful would even consider her master might be dead. He was immortal and more powerful than any Mudblood witch or her offspring.
Still, something had happened, and the people most likely to know were the top Aurors currently trapped in their burning house. She heard the prophecy Severus brought her master, and knew the Longbottom child inside was one of two possible candidates. The other, the Potter brat, was only a half-blood, but her master felt he should be the first to die.
Bella herself felt the Longbottom child was the more likely of the two, and his parents were much more important to Dumbledore's Order. It stood to reason they would be kept better informed, and so represented her best chance to get answers. A few more minutes would see the home crashing to the ground, but the residents would flee well before that.
As if reading her thoughts, the front door suddenly burst open and a man wearing the unmistakable red robes of an Auror rolled out, firing spells at the attackers.
A dozen bright green killing curses flew back at him, but he easily dodged or blocked them with rocks magically dragged from the garden bed. Her minions had strict orders to capture one of the two alive; she didn't care which one.
Bella disillusioned herself and slipped to the side of the battle. She was under no misconceptions regarding the capabilities of the man, or his wife. The pair had three times faced her lord in direct battle and won their way out – a testament to their abilities and luck.
Waiting for her chance, she slowly crept passed the line of her troops. Already two of them were down, although the Auror wasn't using the killing curse, yet.
A moment later, a second red robed figure ran from the house. Wrapped in her robes, she carried the screaming form of a young child. The momentary distraction, provided by his wife dashing from the house, was all Bellatrix needed to get her hit in.
"Crucio!" she cast, allowing all of her twisted desire for pain to power the spell.
Frank screamed and arched his back. His wand fell from his hand as he crumpled to the ground twitching.
She could have killed him – any one of a hundred curses taught to her by the Dark Lord himself would finish it, but this was much better.
At the sight of her husband, Alice promptly forgot all of her training and raced toward Frank. A spell from a masked Death Eater dropped her a few feet from her writhing husband.
Suddenly, a fireball enveloped one of the Death Eaters.
Surprised by the attack, Bellatrix left her spell fall and dropped to the ground, spinning around to locate the new enemy. Another Death Eater failed to react as quickly and paid for his delay. His chest exploded outward, raining blood and gore over Bella, who recognised the spell as a Black family specialty.
"Shit!" she said, realising who was attacking them.
As much as she hated her cousin and his Muggle loving friends, she had to respect their fighting abilities, although it was the first time she could recall their use of lethal force so early in a fight.
Another Death Eater screamed and rose from his cover. Bella could just make out the man was missing an arm and a good portion of his shoulder before a second cutting curse decapitated him. Even as he fell, a bludgeoning curse hit his body and flung it a dozen feet into the air.
The Marauders weren't playing games tonight.
Seeing yet another of her force felled, this time by a stunning spell from one of the forgotten Longbottoms, Bella concluded it was a losing battle. Trapped between two forces, with anti-apparition and anti-Portkey wards up, she had no choice but to abandon the fight and retreat.
Still weakly disillusioned, she slowly began crawling away. With the flickering light of the house and more obvious targets around, it was unlikely anybody would see her. Confidence increasing as she drew further away and neared the edge of the anti-apparition ward, she vowed to one day return with more force and finish what she had started. The Longbottoms would never live to see their son grow up.
Her musings were suddenly shattered when a heavily booted foot appeared out of nowhere to brutally crush her wand hand.
"Hello, cousin," said Sirius, dropping his own disillusionment and removing hers at the same time. "I was hoping to catch up with you. It seems we have a few family matters to discuss."
Bellatrix opened her mouth to yell abuse but found herself petrified before a word could escape.
"First, let's just make sure you won't need that nasty old wand anymore."
Unable to move, not even to scream in pain, Bella watched in silent anguish and horror as a blade of pure flame removed both her hands at the wrists, cauterising the stumps in the same sweep.
"Now, let's start with what really happened to my little brother, eh? Then we can move onto more pressing issues, like where we might go about finding more of your little social group."
"R-Re-Remus," stammered Frank Longbottom. "T-thank M-Merlin you arrived in time. Did Albus s-send you? W-Where's Alice? Alice? Alice!"
The after affects of the Crucio still wracked Frank's body, but at least he was coherent. A minute or two more, and Bella's torture curse would likely have rendered him a vegetable.
Alice was not much better off. The spell that hit her was a dark curse that would need a long time to completely undo, but the majority of its affects were manageable.
"Take it easy, Frank," said Remus, refilling the cup in Frank's hands with water from his wand. "Alice is at Saint Mungos, and Neville is with your mother. You can join them in a few minutes."
"W-w-why didn't you send me to hospital?" asked Frank, after taking a long pull from the cup.
"We need you to tell us a few things," said Remus.
"T-things?" asked Frank. '"W-what things?"
"We need to know who and where the Death Eaters are. Everything the Aurors know or suspect," said Remus.
"T-that's con-confidential," said Frank, still struggling to speak clearly.
"I know, and I wouldn't be asking you at all normally, but a few things have happened tonight, you being attacked and tortured being just one of them. We need to know, and we need to know now."
A muffled scream made Frank jump, spilling the remaining water from his cup.
"Wh-What was th-that?" he asked nervously.
"That was likely Bellatrix Lestrange," answered Remus calmly, as he refilled Frank's cup again and pushed it towards the man's mouth, encouraging him to drink. "She is the one who led the attack on you and your family, and put you under the pain curse."
Frank's eyes widened.
"What's ha-happening to her?"
"Nothing you need to worry about. James and Sirius are just asking for the same information I am asking you."
It took a moment for Frank's badly punished brain to fill in the gaps.
"They can't!" Frank said, starting to stand up.
The strong hand of the werewolf clamped Frank's shoulder, pushing him back down.
"Frank, you need to focus. Think about what they were about to do to you and your family before we arrived."
"But it's wrong!"
The werewolf's eye suddenly shone brightly, a strange gleam filled them.
"Is it? Do you want to know what happened tonight? They attacked Lily. She is dead. They attacked James and Lily, just like they attacked you, but nobody came in time to save them, and Lily is gone. We've had enough of this crap. It's time to put an end to it once and for all."
"Cr- Crouch won't s-stand for it," said Frank. "He is in enough trouble for letting the Auror's use unforgivables; he ca-can't let vigilantes-"
"Crouch has other things to worry about," said Remus.
"It's not a joke, Remus. He'll c-come after you all; you know he hates Bl-Black as it is. Think about what he'll do to my career if he finds out I helped you."
Remus smiled and picked up a sack that was sitting nearby. Frank could see blood dripping from the soaked bottom. Without saying a word, Remus tossed it to the shaking man's feet and looked at him expectantly.
Almost in a daze, Frank leaned down and opened the sack. As he feared, inside was a human head, the head of Barty Crouch junior, his boss's son, face half covered by the shattered remains of a Death Eater mask.
"Like I said," said Remus. "Crouch has other things to worry about."
Stunned, Frank let the sack fall and closed his eyes, forcing the rising bile back down his throat.
"O-Okay," he said. "Okay. The m-most im-important base I know of is M-Malfoy manor. It's protected by a special ward-"
Remus took a pad from his pocket and began writing. Neither man paid much attention to the occasional muffled scream that came from the darkness.
A festival raged through Diagon Alley.
Everywhere people were cheering and laughing; toasting the demise of the Dark Lord and the brave woman who gave her life to protect her son.
Nobody paid much attention to the trio of grim-faced wizards making their way silently through the throngs near the wizarding bank, except to press drinks into their hands or hug them with joy. Strangely, nobody noticed the empty space between the three, or the way they guarded it.
Not until the group entered the Goblin bank did anything unusual happen though. An invisibility cloak dropped from the empty spot, revealing James Potter and Bellatrix Lestrange.
Bella appeared barely able to walk. Blood matted her hair and bruises covered her face. Several of her fingers were missing from an obviously only partially healed hand, as was one eye. The other eye was bloodshot and glazed.
The sole Goblin at the night desk watched sourly as the unappealing group approached.
"I require access to my vault," said Bellatrix weakly through swollen and bleeding lips.
The Goblin looked closely at the obviously abused woman. He noticed the four wizards suddenly clenching their wands a bit tighter, and made a very sensible decision.
"Of course, Madam," he said, apparently satisfied everything was in order. "Allow me to get the Clankers and we shall be on our way immediately."
Three of the wizards relaxed their grips slightly; one held on just as tight.
The Goblin pressed his hand to the wood of the door, and it melted away. Beyond lay a cave filled from floor to ceiling with treasure. Mountains of gold coins, piles of animal skins, racks of armour, and hundreds of other valuables filled the vault.
Sirius let out a low whistle of appreciation, and Peter rushed forward to run his hands through a mound of gold coins.
"Get the cup," ordered James, unimpressed by the horde.
Bella stumbled into the vault. Sirius and Remus followed closely behind. Peter wandered off by himself, openly excited by the wealth laid out before him.
"Goblin, what's your name?" asked James.
"Cokepile," said the startled Goblin.
"Cokepile, Madam Lestrange has decided to empty this vault. Everything in it is to be moved to a new vault accessible only to myself, my son, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black. Can you do that?"
"There will be substantial fees involved," said the Goblin greedily.
As soon as the words left his mouth, the Goblin realised he may have spoken a bit too enthusiastically, as the wizard, without moving a single muscle, suddenly looked very dangerous.
"No higher than your normal fees though, correct?" asked James, somehow making it sound like a threat.
"Yes, yes," said the Goblin quickly. "Nothing above normal, of course."
Just then, the two wizards and the witch returned, a golden cup clutched reverently in Remus's hands.
"Got it," said the werewolf.
"Worm," called James. "Get your arse out here, now."
Peter came running out of the depths of the vault, his pockets bulging with loot.
"Travelling money," he said, in response to the pointed looks the others gave him.
At a gesture from the Goblin, the vault door reappeared, sealing off the treasure.
"What about her?" asked Sirius, nodding towards Bellatrix.
James raised his wand.
She stood defiantly, despite her obvious pain and the control of the Imperius curse.
"You don't dare murder me here," she said.
"True," he said, then flicked his wand deftly.
Bellatrix let out a shocked grasp as the spell hit, sending her flying towards the closed door of the vault. The surface of the door swallowed her up with a wet sucking noise.
Sirius cocked an eyebrow at James.
"We might need her again," explained James, before turning to the Cokepile. "I trust you won't need to free her from the door to access the vault?"
"No," said the stunned Goblin.
"And you understand I will be very displeased if anybody should suddenly feel the need to check for intruders?"
"Good. Let's go."
The journey back to the surface was made in complete silence.
"There is nothing to discuss, Cissy. I must present myself to the Minister and claim to be one of the weak minded sheep acting under the Dark Lord's control."
"But Lucius," cried Narcissa. "The Dark Lord can't be gone – he just can't!"
"It doesn't matter," sighed Lucius. "The tide has turned, and the Dark Lord is nowhere to be found. The longer I delay, the harder it will be to make my case. Already I have risked everything waiting these few hours for your sister to return. Others have been interrogated by the Aurors and exonerated of their crimes. The list of reported names to investigate now undoubtedly includes mine."
"Bellatrix will find him," sobbed Narcissa.
"I cannot afford to wait any longer!" snapped Lucius, losing the last of his patience. "Every moment acts to cement my guilt further. It will likely take most of our money and a vast majority of the favours owed to get through this without spending time in Azkaban!"
"They don't dare lock you-"
A chime rang through the house, signifying somebody entering the main gate using the Dark Mark to open the wards.
"There is Bella now!" cried Narcissa, racing for the front door of the manor. "You wait, she will have found our Lord - I know it."
The massive oak door opened to reveal a battered and bruised Peter Pettigrew.
"Lucius," he called, ignoring the horrified look Narcissa gave him. "Lucius, help me!"
"Are you mad?" yelled Lucius. "Get away from me! Get away from my house!"
"Lucius – the Dark Lord – has fallen! Bellatrix-"
"Bella? What do you know of Bellatrix?" demanded Narcissa.
"Bellatrix was captured trying to retrieve something from her vault. She said it was vitally important for the Dark Lord. Something he insisted she keep safe for him, to safeguard his life and ensure his return."
"She was captured?" wailed Narcissa. "No! My poor sister. My poor, poor sister."
"Enough," shouted Lucius, drawing his wand. "Get away from here, you filthy animal."
"But Lucius, my friend-"
A beam of light flew from Lucius's wand and hit Peter hard. He flew backwards several feet and tumbled down the steps of the mansion. The doors slammed shut even before he finished falling.
Inside, Lucius ignored his grief stricken, weeping wife and made for the secret room under the floor of his drawing room. It took only seconds to roll back the carpet and unlock the hidden trap door with a few flicks if his wand, but Lucius tapped his foot impatiently the whole while.
Finally, he was inside the room, a very special book clutched in his hands.
"I wonder," he mumbled to himself.
A cold wand pressed against his neck and a voice came from behind him.
"So do I, Lucius. So do I."
"Potter!" said Lucius, going very still. "You'll not get out of this house alive."
He barely finished speaking before a cutting curse tore through his neck.
Dropping the book, Lucius grabbed at his ruined throat with both hands while gasping for breath.
"Maybe not," said James Potter, bending over to pick up the thin volume. "But neither will you. Now what's so special about this and that fancy little cup Bella had, eh?"
Lucius gasped, unable to make anything but rasping noises.
"Not to matter," said James, pocketing the book and slipping his invisibility cloak back over his head. "I'm sure we'll figure it out."
Lucius felt the blackness of death approaching, but could do nothing more than gurgle in agony.
"Don't worry, Lucius. Your family will be taken care of. In fact, I'll just go take care of them right now."
Outside the Manor, Sirius and Remus looked on in stony silence as two flashes of green light briefly lit up the house. Peter wept at their feet.
James joined the trio a few minutes later.
"Torch it," he said when he reached them.
Not needing to ask what he meant, the two friends raised their wands and began sending huge tongues of fire to cover the walls. James added his own magic, and a moment later, so did Peter.
"I never did like that bitch," said Sirius casually. "When we were kids, she used to hex my toys."
An inferno soon lit up the night sky where Malfoy Manor once stood.
"Albus, I've got Frank Longbottom here," called a gruff voice from the fireplace of the headmaster's office at Hogwarts. "He says he spoke to James Potter."
The headmaster leapt from his chair and raced to kneel before the glowing fireplace.
"Where? Is he safe? Put him on, Alastor."
"I can't," said Alastor Moody. "He's in with the healers now. Got pretty twisted up by Bellatrix and her favourite curse."
"What did he say?" asked Albus with uncharacteristic impatience.
"He confirmed that it was Potter and his friends who stopped the attack, but he says they weren't right in the head. He says Potter's gone looking for the rest of You-know-who's followers. Sounds to me like he and his friends might be going out for a bit of revenge. Quite a few folk are thinking the same way, to tell you the truth."
"Great Merlin," said the Headmaster, sinking back onto his heels.
"It gets worse, Albus," added Alastor. "You're not going to believe what Frank had in a sack with him."
Across the country, more houses burned in an unstoppable chain-reaction, as many raised their wands against those they previously feared. Noble families, who once prided themselves on the purity of their blood, suddenly found they bled just as easily as the despised 'lower classes'.
It didn't matter what political or financial sway they held, it didn't matter how young or old they were, if they wore the mark on their arm, they died. Sometimes they died without knowing what was happening. Other times they died only after being forced to answer questions about their associates, but die they did.
Often, their families died too.
"Arthur, did you hear the latest?" asked the elderly head of the Misuse of Muggle artefacts office.
Arthur Weasley paused in his writing to consider his answer before speaking. Bad, enough that he was working in the middle of the night on jobs not even part of his department, when he would much rather be celebrating with his wife and family, but people kept interrupting him with a new rumour every few minutes.
"Which one?" he asked.
"They just found the Nott family, all seven of them, dead!" said Gareth, sounding slightly panicked. "Apparently they were trying to get to France by boat, but all drowned instead. It must be vigilantes again. That's the sixth or seventh tonight. Bagnold is ripping his hair out. The only place that's safe is the Ministry!"
Arthur dropped his quill and rubbed his eyes wearily. Was the death and destruction ever going to end? You-know-who's defeat should have meant an end to the war, but it seemed to have started a wave of violence and death worse than any before.
At least it wasn't his friends or family dying in droves this time.
"What makes you sure it wasn't natural?" he asked. "Boats get capsized all the time, you know? Maybe a freak wave caught them when they tried to sneak out. It's a dangerous way to travel, if you ask me."
He didn't need to ask why the Notts where risking a sea voyage to secretly escape the country – their sympathies were common knowledge, and few doubted the majority of the family wore the mark.
Gareth eased himself into the chair opposite Arthur.
"Never heard of a freak wave catching a boat while it was still in dock," said Gareth. "A strange wave it would be too, to fill the boat up so quickly that nobody could get out in time."
Arthur swallowed, his throat going dry.
"Filled with water? Inside it?" he managed to say without squeaking.
"Yep. Funny how it was still floating and all. I heard they had to send a whole Oblivator squad down there. Of course that means there's even less of us left here to deal with all of these blighters claiming Imperius."
Suddenly all of the lamps in the office dimmed, almost going out completely.
"Haven't they found out what's causing that yet?" asked Gareth angrily.
"Apparently not," said Arthur, looking at the lights thoughtfully. "I've not seen anything like it. Well not since school anyway."
"Hogwarts, of course. Somebody once pranked the Gryffindor tower, turning all of the lights out for several hours one night. Even Lumos spells didn't work. I never did find out who it was, but rumour had it that it was done by some boys attempting a raid on the girl's dorm room. Apparently they invented some sort of charm to see in the dark, but hadn't counted on the enchanted stairs stopping them from getting into the girl's tower."
"I don't suppose you were one of them?"
"No," said Arthur smiling. "I was in seventh year and far too busy with my N.E.W.T.S to play around like that, unfortunately.
"Anyway," Arthur said, pulling himself out of his fond memories and back to the not so happy present. "How are we going with the screening? I've processed a dozen reports myself but haven't managed to cross reference one of them yet."
A frown replaced the smile on the older man's face.
"I've taken testimony from over fifty people myself - all victims. Still a hundred in the foyer, and more arriving every moment, although just as many are leaving once they are told the Dark Lord is supposedly gone," Gareth said disgustedly. "Going out to celebrate, I suppose - Fools."
"You don't believe it?" asked Arthur, noticing the look and tone of his boss's voice.
"No. The Dark Lord is too powerful to die just like that," Gareth replied quickly. "I mean, if Dumbledore couldn't beat him, nobody can. He'll be back, you'll see."
The lights dimmed again, and then went out completely just as Arthur's door opened, cutting off any response he was about to make.
Loud swearing and complaining drifted in through the open door as the multitude of people in the Ministry found themselves in absolute darkness again.
Arthur heard whoever it was entering the room apparently trip over and crash into Gareth, who swore even louder. The volume of noise outside rose as mass confusion and not a bit of panic started to spread.
"Everybody just stay still for a bit and we'll see if they come back on again," called Arthur, hoping to calm down at least the person or people who entered his office as the lights went off. "That's what happened earlier."
He didn't catch a clear reply above the din coming in from the hallway. It almost sounded like a riot was in progress out there. Arthur fumbled his wand out of his pocket and tried a Lumos spell. As with the previous times, it failed to cast even a dim glow.
Slowly the lamps relit, blazing back to their full glory in a few seconds.
"I hope they get that sorted out soon," said Arthur, tucking his wand back into the pocket inside his robes.
When no reply came, he looked up, and his blood ran cold.
The headless body of Gareth sat opposite him, blood pouring from the blackened stump of the neck. It looked as if a fiery sword decapitated the man where he sat.
Too shocked to move or let out even a startled yelp, Arthur simply stared silently at his colleague for many seconds before noticing the unnatural position of the man's arm. It lay on the desk at an odd angle to the body, pinned in place through the hand by a large knife; the sleeve of the robe was missing as if torn away.
The faint outlines of the Dark Mark were clearly visible against the pale skin.
Rubeus Hagrid was a gentle soul. For all of his giant blood and fascination with large, dangerous creatures, it was extremely rare for the huge man to raise his hand against anything.
Not to say he wasn't tough, or not capable of violence, just that it was not in his nature to hurt anything – without cause.
At this point in time, he had cause.
Sweet Lily was dead. Murdered by the stain on wizardkind called Voldemort – the same bastard who managed to have Hagrid's wand snapped and got him put into Azkaban prison for supposedly harbouring a dangerous animal.
Little Harry slept in a corner of Hagrid's massive bed; the weeping, cursed scar on his forehead smothered in a salve Hagrid used on wounded unicorns and other magical creatures. It seemed to ease the pain, and along with a weak calming potion normally used for foals and small creatures like bow-truckles, helped to put the poor boy into a deep slumber.
Hours had passed, but Hagrid barely moved from his vigil beside the darkened window. He blatantly ignored several messages from the headmaster, mindful of James's wishes.
They would come for the boy, Hagrid knew. Somehow, the Dark Lord's followers would learn something of what had happened, and would come for Harry. James could take care of himself, and he had his friends with him, so nobody would go looking for the husband of the woman who defeated their master. The son was a different matter.
Not being the brightest of people, Hagrid simply did what he believed was right. Protecting Harry and keeping his presence secret was what James asked. Not even Dumbledore would find out, unless he came to Hagrid's house himself.
Still, Hagrid knew they would come.
A faint movement at the border of the forest didn't escape his keen eye. Not moving a muscle, Hagrid waited with all of the patience of an experienced hunter. His massive crossbow was cocked and resting on the sill of the partially open window, already pointing towards the most likely place an intruder would come from.
A moment passed before the shadow moved again, stealthily walking toward the front door of the cabin. Hagrid held his fire, waiting to see what his visitor was up to. His patience was rewarded when a second figure detached itself from the shadows and began jogging towards the side of the cabin, obviously intending to go around to the back door.
Still Hagrid waited, making sure of his target. He ignored the second person for the moment, confident his few precautions would suffice to delay any approach from the back.
Finally the figure was close enough for the moonlight to show his face: it was a skull-face mask.
The almost silent twang of the cross bow was enough to make the Death Eater raise his wand suddenly, but he was far too slow to prevent the heavy bolt from impaling his chest, lifting him completely off the ground and tossing him several feet backwards.
At almost exactly the same moment, an enormous clang sounded from the back of the house, followed immediately by an inarticulate scream of agony.
Taking his time, Hagrid reloaded the crossbow, and then opened the back door a crack to peer out. He could make out the form of a man struggling to free himself from the jaws of one of the huge 'rabbit' traps buried near the vegetable patch.
For a moment he considered going outside to drag the scum into the forest as a treat for his huge spider friend, Aragog, but Harry's safety overrode his personal preference.
Taking careful aim, Hagrid fired, pinning the body to one of the giant pumpkins.
Rage still silently burning, his giant blood clambering for more violence, Hagrid dispassionately reloaded his crossbow and returned to the front window. If there were more of them out there, they would have already made their move when their companions fell, but that didn't mean others wouldn't come.
Settling back down into the same position, Hagrid aimed the weapon and waited. Maybe the next one he would capture alive.
"That's the last one," said Sirius, dropping the small hour glass onto the paving as he reverted from dog form to human.
It smashed into pieces, a flash of yellow light signalling the release of magical energy. Several other depleted and broken time-turner hourglasses lay scattered on the ground around it.
Remus looked at Sirius and cocked an eyebrow questioningly.
"Well it had about fifteen seconds left in it, okay?" said Sirius. "What's with rat?"
Peter sat on the ground several feet away, arms cradled to his chest, rocking backwards and forwards mumbling to himself.
"Lost his hand," said Remus. "It got hit with a Withering Curse, so I cut it off."
"Bugger," said Sirius with complete insincerity. "Where's James?"
A gurgling scream rang out of the house behind them for a split second, only to cut off abruptly.
"Finding another target," answered Remus. "It's getting harder – I think we've scared them all into hiding."
"Good," said Sirius, flexing his neck and rolling his head from side to side. "I'm starting to slow down. I nearly cursed myself a few times in the Ministry."
Remus laughed, but Peter just rocked to and fro.
"Never really had much of a sense of humour, did you, Worm?" said Sirius, kicking Peter in the leg.
A sob left the whimpering man's mouth.
"Oh, toughen the hell up," said Sirius. "You still have your life, for the moment. Here, let me look."
He grabbed Peter's arm and prised away the other hand. A raggedly bandaged stump sat where Peter's hand should have started.
"Doesn't look too bad," said Sirius. "Maybe you can get a hook or something – be a bit more interesting to the ladies."
Peter cried out and snatched his stump back.
A noise behind him had Sirius dropping into a couch, wand ready and a curse on his lips.
James walked out of the front door of the house, negligently trailing a fountain of fire from his wand behind him.
"Let's go," he said, cancelling the flame thrower spell as he neared the others.
"Where to?" asked Remus.
"To visit an old friend, one you are personally going to enjoy reacquainting yourself with, Moony."
Sirius smiled and Remus's eyes glowed slightly yellow.
"Good," he said.
Peter sobbed quietly.
Severus Snape downed another shot of Firewhiskey and threw the glass into the fireplace with as much force as he could muster.
It was all for nothing. The Dark Lord had promised to spare her as reward for his loyalty, Dumbledore had promised to keep her safe if he continued to spy for him, but in the end, nothing protected the woman he loved from been torn from his grasp. The dangerous balancing act he played for well over a year had fallen apart, leaving him without the one thing that would have made it all worthwhile.
Worse yet, Potter and his brat both survived.
Severus took a deep pull directly from the bottle. It was all for nothing. All of the risk, all of the lies, the torture, the sleepless nights wondering if he would wake up tomorrow, everything he had endured since discovering the prophecy might pertained to his beloved Lily - all of it for nothing.
"I wish I was dead," he said aloud to the empty room.
"Well I can help you there," said a deep, hateful voice from behind him.
He had no time to react before the red light of a stunning spell struck him.
The abrupt consciousness that came from being woken by a spell was the next thing Severus knew.
He was no longer in his father's house on Spinner's End, but the room around him was equally as decrepit. Memories returned in a rush as his vision cleared and he made out the figure standing before him.
"Potter," he spat.
He tried moving his arms, half expecting them to be tied to the chair he sat on. To his surprise, he was free to move.
"Snape," said James coldly.
"What do you think you are doing, Potter?"
"Calling in an old debt, Severus," said James Potter. "I do believe you owe me a life debt from when I saved you from being torn apart by a werewolf in school. Do you remember?"
"I don't owe you anything," said Severus. "Black set me up to die. The only reason you stopped me was to keep your mutt from being expelled or put down for murder."
"Now, now, Snivellus," said a voice to Severus's left. "No need to deny it."
"Black," said Severus, turning his head to look around. "And Lupin as well, I see. Where's Pettigrew? Or have you become too pathetic even for him?"
"Oh, he is around," said Sirius. "He had a lovely little tale to tell us though. Something about how you overheard a prophecy and ran to your master with it?"
For the first time, a slither of fear penetrated Severus's alcohol muddled brain.
"The Dark Lord would have gone after you anyway, Potter. Why am I here? What do you think you will gain from this childishness? Do you think you can scare me into a confession by bringing me back here? Yes, I recognise this hovel, but you can't possibly believe it will make an ounce of difference to me where you make your empty threats."
Black laughed, but Potter remained coldly passive. Only Lupin looked slightly uncomfortable; a grimace crossing his face.
"Severus," said James, speaking in an oddly unemotional voice. "I have decided to let fate return to its original course-"
Lupin suddenly gave out a groan and took a few steps away from the others. A strange bulging ran through his face, as if something inside of him was struggling to get out.
"Did you know that a sufficiently disciplined person can actually control the werewolf transformation a bit? Remus here has managed to perfect his control to a degree where he can bring it on a day or two early. Impressive, isn't it?" said James. "Of course he was rather hoping to go the other way, and not change at all, but that's not happened, yet."
Severus felt his throat go dry; they couldn't be serious.
"You can't," he said. "Dumbledore won't-"
"Dumbledore is not here though, is he?" said Potter.
Remus groaned again, louder. A thick mane of fur suddenly sprung from his face and neck, disappearing under his loose-fitting clothes.
"I work for Dumbledore," screamed Severus, leaping to his feet and picking up the chair, holding it before him like a lion tamer. "I am his spy. I bring him information about the Dark Lord. Ask him! He'll verify it. I am on your side."
"Didn't I just mention that Dumbledore isn't here?" asked James in the same tone as before. "But even if your claims are true, it doesn't matter. The Dark Lord is gone Severus; we don't need a spy anymore."
Lupin let out a blood-curling cry as more of the transformation took place. Severus couldn't tear his eyes from the horrible sight of a man turning into a wolf, one painful piece at a time
"You're bluffing," he said. "You'll die too. Lupin won't be able to stop; nobody has that much control. He'll tear you both to pieces just as quickly as me."
"Snivellus, for a spy you really just aren't that good, are you?" asked Black. "All of those years at school, and yet you never worked out how we survived running with Moony every full moon? You always were a second rate loser at everything, and you still are, aren't you?"
With a final howl of agony, Remus completed the transformation and a massive wolf stood in his place – the madness of its kind evident in the yellow eyes now staring intently at Severus.
Severus desperately turned to look for Black and Potter, but instead of the two wizards, a huge black dog and a massive stag stood in their place.
Understanding sunk in, and Severus had just enough time to scream before the wolf bared its teeth and leapt.
In the nearby town of Hogsmeade, the celebrations were just as loud as anywhere else in the wizarding world that night, but even if the screams coming from the Shrieking Shack were heard, nobody familiar with the area would have paid them any notice.
Dawn found most of the magical people of Britain already wide-awake. Many were celebrating the fall of the Dark Lord in various, not always wholesome, ways. Others were locked away in their houses or boltholes, quivering with fear and uncertainty.
Some would never wake to see another dawn ever again.
The morning sun filtered through the trees around Hagrid's hut making a patchwork of light and dark on the rough ground. Three tired and battered figures exited the forest further down the path and began slowly making their way towards the rustic building. One was leaning on the other, obviously having difficulty walking.
The lead figured stopped at the sight of the mutilated body with a large crossbow bolt sticking out of the remains of its chest. A wand suddenly appeared in his hand.
Without a word the two figures behind him separated and drew their own wands, just as the door to the cabin opened and a huge man stepped out, massive crossbow held lightly in one hand, and a small boy cradled in the other.
"'All right there, James?" called Hagrid, keeping the crossbow pointed at the approaching men.
James lowered his wand and smiled, resuming his walk up the path.
"Have a spot of bother did you, Hagrid?" called James.
"Nothin' I couldn't 'andle," said Hagrid. "Wish the Thestrals 'ad cleaned up properly though. Now I've gotta go an' bury the rubbish mi'self."
Sirius and Remus laughed appreciatively.
"Looks like you lot could use a cuppa," said Hagrid, after passing the happily smiling boy to his father. "Rough night?"
"You have no idea," said Remus, stepping passed the half-giant and into the house.
Suddenly Hagrid roared and raised his crossbow, aiming back towards the way the men came. Another figure stumbled out of the trees, falling over in obvious exhaustion.
James's hand clamped down on the crossbow before Hagrid could fire.
"He's with us," he said.
"I'll explain everything," said James, letting go of the crossbow. "Get your filthy arse up here now, Worm, or I'll let Hagrid feed you to those pet spiders of his."
Pettigrew struggled to rise and began crawling towards them. James turned and entered the house, not bothering to wait. Hagrid stayed, eyeing Peter with distain and not a small amount of loathing. Eventually he released his grip on the crossbow and entered the house where the exhausted and wounded trio were already making themselves comfortable.
"I've bin listening to the wireless," said Hagrid, placing an enormous kettle onto the fire and grabbing a bottle of something a bit more substantial from one of his shelves. "Sounds like you lot stirred up a bit o' trouble. Few 'aint too 'appy to wake up and find themselves dead, if ya know what I mean. Gonna cause you some grief, I reckon, although a right lot o' people are saying you're heroes – 'specially Lily."
James didn't look up from where he was playing with his son; his eyes swollen with unshed tears.
"Screw 'em," said Sirius, leaning back in one of Hagrid's huge chairs. "We did them a favour. No long court cases, no expensive jail cells, no more Death Eater scum threatening anybody. They should give us medals."
"Oh yeah, I can just see that," laughed Remus, lying on his back on the huge bed rubbing his stomach. "Here you go, werewolf, have a medal for eating a wizard."
Hagrid snorted and began handing out bucket-sized cups of tea, liberally laced with the potent contents of the bottle.
"Actually," said Sirius thoughtfully. "My parents will probably be quite pleased to know I've finally taken up my responsibilities and started murdering people. Hell, I might even get back on the family tree."
Harry laughed happily as James bounced him on his knee. The angry red wound didn't seem to be bothering him, but it would forever be a thing of pain for both of them; a visible symbol of their loss.
"Wot happens now, then?" asked Hagrid. "Dumbledore'll 'elp, if you go to 'im."
"No," said James. "He can't condone what we've done, or protect us. Too many people are going to want a piece of me."
"You?" laughed Sirius. "What about Harry? He did survive a Killing Curse, you know?"
Hagrid gasped and James looked shocked, even Remus propped himself up to look at Sirius.
"What?" asked Sirius. "You think that cut just appeared out of nowhere? It's practically leaking dark magic. People are going to go crazy about it. Department of Mysteries are probably wetting themselves with excitement already."
"Died. Harry didn't," interrupted Sirius. "Voldemort tried to kill Harry after her, and failed – that makes him the only survivor of the Killing Curse."
"Crap," said Remus, falling tiredly back onto the bed. "Holy, bleeding, frigging, crap."
Hagrid, nodded vigorously.
"Blimey," he said. "'e's right. Young 'Arry there's gonna be right famous."
"Well that's that then," said James. "We'll have to leave. Get as far away as possible for a while."
"Mate, the whole world is going to know Harry's name before the week is out," said Sirius, taking a long drink from his cup. "You can't just run; you are going to have hide, for a very long time."
James slumped, letting Harry struggle from his grasp. The boy dropped happily to the floor and began shakily walking around, exploring the strange and exciting place.
"Don't worry, Prongs," said Sirius. "I'll come with you. There's nothing keeping me here. We're both probably wanted men by now anyway."
"Best get moving right quick," said Hagrid thoughtfully. "Ya don't want to be 'anging around wen people settle down and start looking fer someone to blame.
James nodded and stood up, gathering Harry up from where he was playing in a corner. He looked at Hagrid for moment, and then reached into an inner pocket of his robes to pull out a golden cup and a battered diary.
"Give these to Dumbledore," he said, dropping them on the table. "Tell him they were important to Voldemort and his followers for some reason."
Hagrid nodded, accepting the responsibility.
"You coming, Moony?" asked Sirius, slapping Remus's leg. "Or you going to hang around till after the full moon?"
"I'm coming," said Remus, struggling to sit up. "Can't be found anywhere near the shack, remember?"
"Thank you, Hagrid," said James, offering his free hand.
"Take care, you young scamps," said Hagrid, crushing all three men in one hug.
Opening the door, they found Peter just reaching the steps to the house.
"Come on, Worm," said Sirius. "We're leaving."
Wormtail looked ready to burst into tears again, the bloody stump of his arm cradled pathetically to his chest.
"Where?" he squeaked.
"Elsewhere," said James, brushing passed him.
"Where?" Peter whined again as Sirius walked passed.
"Doesn't matter," Sirius said, twirling his wand around his fingers. "You're coming too. There's a bright new world out there just waiting to be Marauded."
"Don't worry, Peter," said Remus, grabbing the man under the arm to drag him along. "Wherever we're going, it's bound to be fun – not so much for you unfortunately, but fun nevertheless."
Hagrid watched them retreat down the path, heading towards the wards. He knew in his heart that he would see them again, although maybe not for many years. Possibly he wouldn't see hide nor hair until young Harry returned to start at Hogwarts himself, but Hagrid was sure of one thing.
When Harry returned, he was going to be a chip off the old man's block, and the world had better watch out.
Albus Dumbledore sat behind his desk and contemplated the alternately horrible and wonderful events of the last twelve hours.
The world was a different place than yesterday, and it was hard to say if it was better or worse. Voldemort was gone, but his passing was such that it was impossible to say forever, and his followers were either in hiding, under arrest, or dead – many the victims of rampant revenge killings.
The suffocating companion of fear was gone from the hearts and minds of the people previously suffering under it. Elation and joy for the sudden freedom was making even the most conservative act like drunken revellers.
The future never looked brighter.
Yet a lingering doubt remained, a suspicion that the Hogwarts school motto, "Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus," - "Never tickle a sleeping dragon", barely hinted at.
Deep in his heart, Dumbledore knew a sleeping dragon had not been just tickled; it had been kicked into a fury. James Potter and his friends were undoubtedly responsible for much of the recent murder and mayhem. The loss of Lily finally pushing the trio over the line between light and dark they had walked since birth.
The Marauders lived up to their name that night, and the consequences of their actions could not be guessed at, but would likely be felt for at least a generation.
Albus popped a sour lolly into his mouth and contemplated the future.
The prophecy might not be fulfilled, and young Harry might one day have to face his mother's murderer. Albus just hoped that, if and when that time came, it would be a meeting of two 'equals', but not 'two of a kind'.