A large, wet, splotty sort of noise sounded from the kitchen, followed by a string of muttered curses. Teddy bounced on his father's knee and giggled.
Remus, for his part, was glad that not-quite-six-months was a bit too young for vocabulary development.
"Everything all right, Dora?"
"Just fine," she called cheerily. Remus heard a ladylike, but pointed, snort that could only belong to Andromeda; Dora ignored it. "You keep Teddy busy, and we'll take care of the roast beef."
Shaking his head, Remus turned back to his son with a sheepish grin. "Mummy's awfully observant, you know." He tickled the small round belly, sending Teddy into another fit of giggles. "You'll want to keep that in mind when you get a little older." Remus always tried not to let it show just how much his bones ached on the day before the full moon, but today Dora had managed to maneuver him into his favourite armchair, with a cup of hot tea at his elbow and the Sunday Prophet in easy reach.
He set Teddy down on a fuzzy blanket on the floor, surrounded by plush bunnies and dragons and hippogriffs. Then he sank back into the soft cushions, took a sip of perfectly brewed Darjeeling, and unfolded the newspaper—
—only to have his sense of peace obliterated by the early-warning signs of a tension headache.
Boy Who Lived Refuses Order of Merlin—Again! shrieked the headline. Magical Britain Up In Arms! Half of the front page was taken up by a large picture of Harry frowning and shaking his head.
Remus sighed. James and Lily's son certainly came by his stubbornness honestly—there was no doubt at all about that—but right now simply wasn't a good time for him to be taking a stand. Especially over this.
Just then, there was a knock at the door, followed by the sound of a key turning in the lock.
"Hi, Remus. Hey there, Teddy."
Teddy looked up and gave a happy screech. Whatever his battles with the Prophet and the Wizengamot, the Boy Who Lived never missed a Sunday lunch with his godson.
"Hello, Harry." Remus, smiling warmly, set down the newspaper and heaved himself out of his armchair as smoothly as he could manage. "How was training this week?"
"Endless." Harry grinned back. "They don't let up on us for a second! But I guess that's a good thing." He scooped Teddy up and swung him around, starting up the giggles again.
Dora poked her head in from the kitchen. "Hi, Harry!"
"Hi, Tonks—" He stopped. "Or is it time for me to start saying 'Auror Lupin' now?"
Dora laughed. "I like the sound of that—I never got to use that name before old Scrimgeour sacked me, you know. But it's still another week before I'm officially back at work. And even after that, it's just 'Tonks' when we're at home, all right?"
Harry nodded, with another grin, and Dora returned to her roast.
Teddy had started to squirm. Harry tossed him up in the air and caught him. But then his gaze fell on the Prophet, draped across the arm of the chair.
When he looked up again, his face was a mirror of the stubborn photograph on the newspaper's front page.
"You're still saying no to the Wizengamot, I see," said Remus carefully.
"You know it's not just me, Remus. The Prophet left that part out, as usual." Harry set Teddy down among his toys again. "The decision was made by the whole Order."
Remus stared into those defiant green eyes and felt his cheeks flush. The whole Order. "Be that as it may, it's not the right decision. People thought we'd be able to put the world to rights in a matter of weeks after Voldemort's fall. No one is happy that it's been so much harder than that. The wizarding world desperately needs a reason to celebrate—and you could provide one, if you'd only change your mind. The rest of the Order would go along if you did."
"No, they wouldn't." Harry crossed his arms. "Not one of us will accept the Order of Merlin unless the Wizengamot—"
"Harry!" Dora leaned in from the kitchen again. She had a smear of flour on one cheek now. "Come and taste the gravy for me, will you? Mum says it's fine, but I think it needs something."
With one last determined look over his shoulder at Remus, Harry followed after her.
Remus sighed, swung Teddy up into his arms (wincing slightly), and pursued them into the kitchen. He was not finished.
"This simply isn't worth the price, Harry. You're disappointing lots of people, and for what?"
Harry turned away from the cooker with a spoonful of gravy in one hand. "For what?" His eyes flashed. "This is exactly the kind of thing we fought the war for! It's time for wizarding society to give up these old prejudices. We need to change people's minds."
A sudden rush of green flame stopped the argument as everyone turned toward the fireplace. And the head that appeared there was that of none other than the Minister for Magic.
"Wotcher, Kingsley," Dora grinned at him, wiping her hands on the apron tied crookedly around her waist. "Want to come through and join us for Sunday lunch?"
Kingsley laughed, his earring glinting in the green light. "If you only knew how much I wish I could!" He looked around the kitchen. "Ah, good, Harry's here too, so that saves me a call." His expression turned smug. "You've done it, Harry—the public's reaction to that piece in today's Prophet was the last straw. The conservative holdouts in the Wizengamot have given in."
Harry cheered. Dora squealed. Andromeda gave a gratified sort of nod.
Remus felt his breath catch.
Kingsley turned toward him with a broad smile. "Congratulations, Remus. Order of Merlin, First Class."
"First class?" His voice came out as a croak.
"Of course." Harry grinned. "All the rest of the Order of the Phoenix are getting First Class. I told the Wizengamot it was no good unless they treated you exactly the same way."
Dora threw her arms around Remus and Teddy both. "I knew they'd see reason eventually!"
"I'm not so sure they have done," said Remus drily, with a sidelong glance at Harry. "I think they've been blackmailed."
"I think so, too," Kingsley conceded. "Because the bad news is, they want to hold the presentation ceremony Tuesday evening."
"What, the day after the full moon?" Dora exploded. "Are they hoping Remus won't show up?" She scowled. "Why not just hold the thing during the full moon and be done with it?"
"Actually," said Kingsley wearily, "some of the really hard-line cases proposed that, but they were outvoted."
Tuesday evening. Remus considered the prospect of having to haul himself out of bed and out of the house so soon after the transformation, having to be on his feet for hours on end, having to fight to stay awake—in full view of a crowd—during what might well be interminable speeches.
Having to stand and face, when he was at his very weakest, a body of witches and wizards who obviously saw him as nothing but a Dark Creature that had no business receiving the highest honour the Ministry of Magic could bestow.
Never mind, he wanted to say. It's better all around if I just stay home. Dora can receive the awards for both of us.
But Harry was speaking again. "It doesn't matter if the Wizengamot are feeling less than thrilled about this. What all of magical Britain will hear on the WWN and read about in the Prophet is Remus, up there with the rest of us, receiving the award he bloody well—sorry, Mrs. Tonks—absolutely deserves." He grinned at Remus, a hopeful, eager grin. "This is our first chance to really change some minds. You can be there, can't you? Maybe you could have a nap that afternoon?"
Remus shifted a wriggling Teddy, balancing him on one hip, and drew a deep breath. It would take a lot more than a nap to get him through the presentation ceremony. But—changing minds—Harry's words echoed in his ears. He had a family now. Any progress at all that he could make toward equal rights for werewolves was that much less discrimination for Dora—and Teddy—to have to face.
"I can be there," he heard himself saying. "If I take a little Strengthening Solution before I go, I'll be fine."
Dora looked up, intrigued. "Strengthening Solution? I guess it ought to be a stimulant, given what's in it. Does that really work?"
"It does," said Remus firmly.
Two more flash bulbs went off in quick succession. Black spots swam at the edges of Remus's vision.
"Lovely, just lovely," called the photographer for the Daily Prophet. "Now if everyone would stand over here, in front of the portrait of Merlin—"
"I think that's enough for tonight." Kingsley's deep voice cut through the babble of reporters' questions. "Thank you all." At his nod, a pair of Ministry security wizards shepherded the reporters and photographers out through the door. The members of the Order of the Phoenix, newly decorated recipients of the Order of Merlin, were alone in the vast echoing Wizengamot chamber.
There were handclasps and laughter all around, as well as a few tears for the ones who should have been there but weren't. Andromeda had taken Teddy and gone home clutching a red velvet case that held a medal engraved with Sirius Black. Dora had her own medal pinned to her robes, but Mad-Eye's in its case was lodged carefully deep inside her pocket. Hestia hugged Emmeline's to her chest. Minerva had received three of the velvet cases—her own, and two for past Headmasters of Hogwarts, one who had another Order of Merlin to his name already, and one who had seen an earlier chance slip away. And then of course there was George, who had a white-knuckled grip on two cases and wouldn't give the extra one up, not even to his mother.
The ceremony really hadn't been as bad as Remus was expecting. The speeches had mostly been short and pertinent. And at the end, several members of the Wizengamot had actually made a point of shaking his hand—including old Griselda Marchbanks, who had known his grandmother, and the newly appointed Augusta Longbottom, who muttered something that sounded a lot like, "You've been a good influence on my Neville."
"And now I have some good news," Kingsley called out, his own medal bright against his black dress robes. "We're all invited to Champignon, that fancy new restaurant off Diagon Alley, for a celebratory dinner." He grinned. "The owner's probably just hoping for some good publicity for hosting the new batch of Order of Merlin recipients, but why not enjoy his hospitality all the same?"
Amidst excited murmurs, they all went to gather their cloaks. Remus stumbled once—and saw black spots again, so that hadn't been the fault of the Prophet's camera after all. The Strengthening Solution was wearing off.
Dora handed him his cloak, her eyes searching his face. "We should probably go home, shouldn't we? You look like you're getting tired."
She smiled cheerfully and squeezed his shoulder, but Remus was sure he heard a trace of regret in her voice. Dora had been drawing a partial salary again ever since the war ended, when she began her official maternity leave from the Auror Division, so they weren't as desperately poor as they had been the year before. Still, a place like Champignon was most decidedly beyond their means.
So he shook his head firmly, grinning down into her worried gaze. "I think we should go out and enjoy the evening, especially since your mother has Teddy at home already. I'll just take another dose."
Before Dora had time to protest, he reached into the pocket of his robes for a small phial, unstoppered it, and took a generous swallow. He felt his heart begin to pound, which was an unfortunate side effect, but his vision cleared, and the familiar bone-deep ache in his arms, legs, and back faded again.
"There," he said, returning the phial to his pocket. "I should be in fine form for another hour or two."
The members of the Order—accompanied by the security wizards, who never let Kingsley out of their sight—made their way up to the atrium of the Ministry, where those who were visitors collected their wands from the front desk. After that, Minerva insisted on escorting Hermione and Ginny back to Hogwarts immediately, much to Ron and Harry's obvious dismay (and Remus's secret amusement). Molly bade everyone a tearful good night and Flooed home, followed by an Arthur who seemed to have aged five years in the last six months. But everyone else Apparated out to Diagon Alley, just behind the Leaky Cauldron, in the cool crisp October evening.
"Champignon is right down this lane," said Kingsley, once they had all arrived. They fell in step behind him, making their way past the shops, which were mostly closed at this hour.
Dora slipped her hand into Remus's as they walked. Holding his breath, he closed his fingers very carefully around hers. This was another problem with taking the potion; once he had gone beyond the minimum dose, he literally did not know his own strength.
But they had only taken a few steps together when she frowned up at him again. "Your hands are shaking. And your skin is on fire!" She pulled her hand free and slid cool fingers along his wrist. "Remus, your pulse is racing. Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine," he said soothingly, glad that his voice was still steady. "This is just how the potion works, especially if I take a second dose."
"You've really used it before?" She tilted her chin at him sceptically.
"From time to time." He shrugged. "Especially during the first war, if there was a mission I simply had to go on that was too close to the moon."
"But there must be a reason why you don't do this every month," she persisted. "What's wrong with taking Strengthening Solution?"
Remus sighed, and one corner of his mouth quirked up. "I'll lose about two days recovering from this one," he admitted. "So unless there's a particular reason why I need to be alert on the day right after the moon, taking the potion isn't generally worth it." Dora frowned again, but he hurried on. "It could be worse—I'm not doing anything that really requires strength, I'm just using the potion to stay upright and awake." He chuckled. "If I ran around right after a transformation performing the superhuman feats of strength this potion was designed for, I'd probably have to spend three or four days sleeping it off."
Dora nodded, looking somewhat reassured, and took his hand again.
"Here we are," said Kingsley. They formed a little knot around the entrance, and the restaurant's owner appeared at once, smiling expansively.
"Good evening, Minister, ladies, and gentlemen. Champignon is honoured to host so many recipients of the Order of Merlin!" The man gestured at the storefront behind him, with its ornate gold-trimmed door and exotic magical flowers spilling from the windowboxes. "We hope you will have a lovely evening and enjoy the fine food and wine that we have to offer."
Kingsley said a few gracious words of thanks on behalf of the group.
But instead of ushering them inside, the owner spoke again. "Is there a member of the party by the name of Mr. Remus Lupin?"
Remus saw spines stiffening all around him. He heaved a very small sigh and stepped forward. "I'm Lupin."
Apparently he should have gone home.
The restaurant owner smiled again, politely but less warmly. "I regret to say that I cannot allow my invitation to extend to you. I'm sure you understand that your presence might have an unfortunate effect on the reputation of my establishment."
Remus met the man's eyes and was gratified to see him look away, but he had nothing to say. This sort of thing happened reasonably often now that his condition was known, and there was simply no response to make.
On the other hand, never before had he faced outright rejection while standing surrounded by a dozen members of the Order of the Phoenix. Grumbles ran around the group, and Dora spluttered next to him, searching for words. But it was Harry who spoke up first, with an edge to his voice that made him sound uncannily like James.
"Do you see that medal pinned to Mr. Lupin's robes?"
"Yes, Mr. Potter," said the man uncomfortably.
"That is the Order of Merlin," said Harry. "Either your invitation includes all of the recipients, or none of them." He looked around at the group. "Isn't that right?"
There came a chorus of agreement, and Fleur Weasley's cry of "'Ear, 'ear!" rang out like a silvery bell.
But Remus frowned, shaking his head, even when Dora squeezed his fingers and grinned sideways at him.
Changing minds, Harry had said—but this seemed much more like blackmail again. Remus was beginning to doubt that minds were ever going to change.
"This is bloody fantastic." Dora took another forkful of salmon mousse with wild morels, closed her eyes, and swallowed with an expression of utter bliss. Watching his wife's transports of delight, Remus was glad they had come after all.
The food was, indeed, awfully nice. It was a fixed menu, with every course incorporating mushrooms in some way. Piano jazz played subtly in the background, and the soft intimate light came mostly from candles on the tables and tasteful, elegant chandeliers overhead. And whatever the owner's misgivings about Remus, he hadn't communicated them to his staff; everyone who waited on their table treated Remus with the same courtesy they provided to everyone else.
There was even a blonde waitress who kept smiling at him from across the room. Finally, she found an opportunity to dart over to the table, and he understood the reason for the smiles—the waitress was Hannah Abbott.
"It's nice to see you, Professor Lupin," she whispered. "We aren't supposed to converse with the customers, but I did want to say hello!"
"Hello, Hannah." It was odd to think that the shy, sweet Hufflepuff third-year he had taught could already have grown into such a lovely young woman. "How are you these days?"
"Very well." She beamed. "I'm trying to learn everything I can about restaurants—I'd like to have one of my own someday."
"I wish you the best of luck," said Remus sincerely, and Hannah thanked him, smiling again as she slipped away.
The next course arrived: Chinese black mushrooms grilled with garlic and slivers of bacon. This was delicious, too, but it was turning into rather a long evening, and Remus felt the telltale ache spreading across his shoulders before he saw the black spots this time.
He frowned, fingering the phial of Strengthening Solution in his pocket. Each dose he took would wear off more quickly than the last, and the combined effects of multiple doses would make him hyperactive and shaky, like overdosing on strong coffee. Maybe he could finish out the meal on his own power instead.
But he was already sliding into exhaustion, which is why he didn't react very quickly when it happened.
The door to the restaurant crashed open, slamming into the wall, and a cold gust of wind filled the room.
"We've no use for you vermin and your Orders of Merlin!" a voice shouted. "Mudbloods and Dark creatures and blood traitors—polluting the ancient traditions of purebred wizarding society!"
Then a riderless broom careened through the doorway and plowed into the carpet. There was a sound of smashing glass, and a sudden acrid odour, and then wisps of orange smoke appeared.
A Ministry security wizard grabbed Kingsley around the waist and Disapparated without a word.
Dora was on her feet at once, knocking over her chair. "Out! Everyone out! We need to evacuate immediately!"
It was a potion bomb.
Remus grabbed for his phial and took a healthy swig. The sudden burst of shaky energy carried him across the room in an instant.
"Remus, Fleur, you stay here and look after this lot," Dora called over her shoulder. The rest of the Order of the Phoenix dashed off in a dozen different directions, searching for signs of the bomber (although Dedalus didn't look like he would be much use, the way he had to stop to retrieve his violet top hat every three steps).
In mere minutes, the restaurant had emptied out, and the dead-end lane off Diagon Alley was swarming with worried, disheveled dinner guests. Remus slammed the restaurant door shut again, trying to keep the deadly smoke indoors.
"Is everyone 'ere?" called Fleur. "Please, all of you, make certain zat everyone you know is outside."
There was a little scream, and then someone hurled herself at Remus, latching on to his sleeve. "Professor Lupin! Mr. Stanthorpe is still in there—he's down in the mushroom cellar!"
"Steady, Hannah," said Remus sharply. "Where is the mushroom cellar?"
"Down the stairs at the back, next to the door to the kitchen," she answered, her voice shaking.
"All right, I'll get him out."
"You are not well, Remus," Fleur began, but he cut her off.
"Stay outside, Fleur. Whatever you do, you've got to keep the baby away from that smoke."
She crossed her arms over the swell of her stomach, clearly evident under her pale green dress robes, and nodded.
Remus took a deep breath, pulled the phial out of his pocket, and gulped down the last dose of potion. It wouldn't do at all to be running out of energy now. "Hannah! Is there a window in the mushroom cellar?"
Remus didn't listen to the rest of her explanation. He pulled the collar of his new blue dress robes up over his nose and mouth, tugged the door open, and flung himself inside.
The candles on the tables were still flickering, but the hissing parcel from the crashed broom was emitting more and more of the sickly orange smoke. Another minute and the air would not be breathable at all.
Remus dashed across the room, scattering the delicate gilded chairs as he passed. The staircase was just where Hannah had said it would be. He raced down the stairs, two at a time, and found a single door at the foot.
The door was locked.
"Stanthorpe!" he called, knocking loudly. "Are you in there? The place has been hit with a potion bomb."
"I know!" came a voice faintly through the door. "There's no way out!"
"Let me in." Remus rattled the doorknob.
It turned from the inside, and the door opened.
Hannah's Mr. Stanthorpe was the restaurant owner.
The two men blinked at one another, but then Remus pushed past Stanthorpe and quickly shut the door behind them.
Orange smoke seeped through the crack underneath.
Remus cast an Imperturbable Charm immediately. The potion—invidious stuff indeed— continued to seep through, but more slowly now. "That should buy us a few extra minutes," he said, and turned toward the window.
It was high up in the wall, and quite narrow. And covered with iron bars.
Remus shot a rapid series of spells at the bars, but they refused to vanish, shrink, explode, or (in a last-ditch effort) Transfigure into toffee.
"It's no good," said Stanthorpe miserably. "For security reasons, we've had the Gringotts goblins charm the bars on the window to be impervious to any further spellwork. I was trapped—and now you are, too, unless Magical Law Enforcement gets here and takes care of that smoke in time."
"Don't give up so soon," said Remus absently, thinking fast. "Impervious to spellwork, you say?"
There was a set of shelves under the window, holding what looked like trays of a dozen different kinds of mushrooms growing in rich black loam. He strode over to the shelves and gave them a shake. They seemed solid enough.
Remus climbed up along the edges of the shelves as if they were a ladder. When he reached the top and extended one arm, the windowsill was only a foot above his fingertips. He steadied himself, gave a leap, and managed to close one fist around a bar. He scrabbled for purchase on the rough stone wall with his feet and reached his other hand up until he could hold on with that one too.
Then he braced both feet against the wall, leaned back, and pulled.
He pulled harder.
The stones holding in the bars began to creak and groan.
Remus gave a mighty heave, feeling the potion fizzing in his bloodstream.
All at once, with a clashing, scraping sound, the stones around the window gave way, and the set of iron bars pulled free. Remus had just enough time to push off from the wall with his legs and turn a rapid somersault in the air, landing heavily on his feet.
"By Rowena's diadem," Stanthorpe breathed. "I had no idea werewolves were so strong."
"Oh, we're not." Remus almost laughed. "I've taken some Strengthening Solution tonight, for completely unrelated reasons, but it's turned out to be quite useful, really." He took a deep breath and dropped the iron bars to the floor with a clatter. "All right, I'm going to levitate you now. See if you can reach the window opening and crawl through. Ready?"
Stanthorpe rose into the air, ankle first. Remus pointed with his wand, sending the man higher and closer to the jagged masonry around the now-open window until he grabbed hold, pulled himself through, and disappeared from sight.
"Finite." Remus pocketed his wand and prepared to climb the shelves again.
A hissing noise made him turn around to see that orange smoke was seeping under the door more quickly now.
And then black spots began to hover at the edges of his vision.
"No," he whispered. The Strengthening Solution simply couldn't wear off until he'd climbed out of here. He had no more doses left.
Remus drew a shuddering breath and grasped the edge of the set of shelves. His arms and shoulders had begun to stiffen, and his body felt much heavier this time than it had before. Shelf by shelf he heaved himself upward until he was leaning on the top shelf, at waist height.
The window still looked awfully far away, and the crushing ache from the transformation had begun to spread down his spine and along his limbs.
If he jumped, and missed, it would be an awfully long fall to the stone floor below. Not a healthy outcome, even without the noxious orange smoke pooling on the flagstones.
Suddenly, a dark shape appeared in the window, blocking out the light from the street lamps.
"That's right," came Stanthorpe's voice, "lower me in."
Someone apparently had the restaurant owner by the legs. He was lowered slowly down through the window until his hands were just above Remus's head. "Come on, Lupin," he called. "Grab hold!"
Remus reached up and caught one hand, then the other, letting go of the shelves. He swung free as he and Stanthorpe held each other by both wrists.
"Pull us out!" Stanthorpe shouted, breathing hard. Someone outside began to haul them up. Around the black spots dancing in his eyes, Remus could see orange smoke rising higher above the floor of the mushroom cellar below him.
And then Stanthorpe was through the window again—and then so was Remus. He collapsed in a heap on the ground behind the restaurant, but after catching a breath or two, he got creakily to his feet.
The black spots were getting thicker, and a buzzing had begun in his ears. There seemed to be Order members standing around, now, but it was hard to count them. He caught snatches of phrases like "not a sign" and "got clean away."
Remus leaned against the wall. The stone was chilly against his cheek, but it felt ... friendly. He started to slide down along it, but a strong shoulder inserted itself under his arm and he ended up leaning on that instead—or the person it was attached to, anyway.
His prop smelled of acrid smoke, garlic mushrooms, and lavender shampoo. There was a cloud of soft, pink hair. Dora, then. So that was all right.
"Mr. Lupin!" He heard Stanthorpe's voice, as if from a very long way off. "Are you all right?"
"Rrhmmm." He frowned at his body's utter lack of cooperation and tried again. "'M fine."
"Of course he's not all right." Dora's voice vibrated through his skull, and he realised that his cheek was resting on the top of her head now. "It's the day after the full moon, and he's been off his face on Strengthening Solution all bloody evening to compensate. It'll be a miracle if he wakes up again this week."
Sleep, thought Remus. The idea was extremely appealing.
The voices around him drifted even further away.
"Any time you and your husband would like to come here for dinner, Mrs. Lupin, you are most welcome," said Stanthorpe. "As my guests."
Harry snorted. (Where had he come from?) "A little while ago you were saying you didn't want the likes of Remus in your establishment at all."
The last thing Remus heard before he slid into a thick, heavy sleep was Stanthorpe's reply:
"I did, I know, but now I'm sorry. Given the lengths that Mr. Lupin went to, to get me out of that trap—"
The man laughed, once, in some embarrassment.
"Let's just say that I have most decidedly changed my mind."
o— fin —o
Author's note: Originally posted at metamorfic_moon on LiveJournal for the Autumn Moonlight Jumble. Many thanks to LadyBracknell and Gilpin for British slang help.