Author notes: The arms blazoned are from the Black crest in the film version, as I could find no canon version in the books. I am not an expert in heraldry, so please feel free to point out errors. Caradoc Dearborn's death occurs at a different time to that given by JKR in her Potter apocrypha, as she left only three months for the bloodbath that descended upon the Order in the lead-up to Voldemort's attack on the Potters, and I needed a named character to drop dead before this. Worse liberties have been taken ...
Of great price
The first time I told Remus that I loved him, I had already stopped trusting him. So it seemed important that I let him hear the words out loud, not wait till he was asleep, or brushing his teeth, or in the next room, as I usually did.
He smiled down at me, merriment in those eyes. 'You're only saying that because James can't hear.'
It wasn't true. At least, it wasn't wholly true. More that, without James, we finally had the leisure of our own time. We weren't the audience that we had been for the last year, looking on at him, and Lily, and little Harry.
Remus and I had accepted the idea that their family was a real family, and we were just uncles. And Peter, too, of course.
But with James and Lily in hiding, we were suddenly a real family ourselves. Breakfasts at the table, notes left regarding bills and shopping, nights at home. It never occurred to either of us that we had left Peter out again. Selfish, I suppose, but Peter was Peter, and Remus was everything.
You might not guess it to look at me now, but I was everything, too. At least for him.
I'd met him on the first day of school. He was that quiet boy whose name they called while I pulled faces at James, who was still over there, nervous, in the gaggle of students waiting to be Sorted. When the hat called out 'Gryffindor', I cheered as loudly as the rest of my house, though I had to ask him his name when he came over – I'd not been listening.
'It's good, isn't it?' he'd asked, a little nervously.
'Course it is!' I'd declared. 'It's the best house in the school, ask anyone!'
One of the older students slapped me on the back then, laughing. 'Never thought I'd hear a Black say that!'
I was so busy grinning and laughing that I missed Peter's name, too, but I led the cheering when they called James's.
We ate that first feast together in a welter of excitement and chat. We were the only four boys in our year, there were seven girls, including Lily – who spent most of that feast looking daggers at James, and me. We didn't care, we were full of brilliant plans that would begin in the morning.
As we traipsed our way up towards the dorm, the Prewett brothers – they were in third year then – patted my head and told us they felt like proud old Gryffindors to see one of their Black cousins not only in their house but happy about it. Their Uncle Ignatius had married my Aunt Lucretia-We-Don't-Spend-Much-Time-With-Her-Family. I grinned, and James rolled his eyes at me. Peter squeaked, I think partly because he knew the Prewetts and was expecting a Jelly-Legs Jinx, and partly because I was one of those Blacks. Remus shook his head and just kept walking up the stairs.
'Who gets which bed?' Peter asked as we came through the door.
'We do it logically,' Remus said. 'Who likes sleeping near a window?'
Peter and James put their hands up, and Lupin nodded. 'Who likes to sleep in?' he asked.
I put my hand up. Both hands, actually.
'Who likes to get up early?'
Peter raised his hand, and James made a vague waffling motion with one of his. 'Depends. If there's flying, or a good breakfast, I'm all for morning,' he explained.
Remus smiled his thinking smile. I think it charmed me even then. 'Well, that's easy. Pettigrew, you have the bed nearest the door, nice big window. Potter, you have the next one, lovely sunshine and you're both near the door for early morning exists. Sirius, you're next to Potter, and I'll take the far corner.'
'Why do you get the dark corner?' I asked him, just to tease.
He was the voice of perfect reason. 'Because you and Potter will be chattering half the night and I'd never get any sleep if I was between you.'
We each dragged our trunks to our new beds, and started to change into our pyjamas. Mother had lovingly packed several pairs of black flannel pyjamas with the family crest and a Slytherin-green Melton wool dressing gown.
'Time to fix that,' I declared, and waved my wand to change it to red. It turned a russet brown, which wasn't half bad for a beginner's Charm. Father would have been thrilled at how well I'd learned his lessons if he'd seen it – actually, given the circumstances, perhaps not.
Peter and James laughed heartily. They chatted with me as we put our clothes and treasures into our drawers and repacked our chests. Peter's mum had provided him with a bag of sweets, James had a small library of Quidditch texts and Marvin the Mad Muggle comics. Remus unpacked quickly, and was under the covers while we were still fooling about.
'Mum sent me off with cake,' James declared. 'Midnight snack?'
It wasn't even ten, but we didn't care. Peter pulled out some of his sweets and I contributed some of the bottles of butterbeer Regulus had snuck from the fridge for me that morning. The two of them jumped onto my bed and began to put out the spread. Remus said he was full, and that we should go on without him.
'It's okay if you don't have anything to throw in,' James said. 'I've got heaps.'
'No, it's fine, I'll just chat from here,' Remus replied.
And I remember what they looked like then. James was in his red and gold pyjamas, and Peter had on a pair that supported some Quidditch team – I can't be certain who they were, because he changed his allegiance as soon as he found out who James followed.
In contrast, Remus's pyjamas were a little too small and a little too worn. He looked tiny half-under the covers of the huge bed, and gave a ferocious cough as he settled in.
'What's the matter, Lupin?' Peter asked. 'Feeling poorly?'
Remus heard the tone, just as I did. The blush began at his ears and spread quickly across his face. I was mortified for him, but had no idea what to do. Luckily, James was brilliant.
'Oh don't worry about cash. Black and I are rolling in it,' he announced airily. 'We will fund your sweet and broomstick needs and you will help us with our homework, since it's obvious you're the smart one.'
Remus smiled a little at that. 'What if I don't want to help you?' he countered, testing the waters.
'Of course you will!' James informed him. 'You're also the nice one.'
'And this makes you …'
'The handsome one, obviously,' James explained as though to a child.
'Oh, please,' I muttered, and Lupin giggled.
James looked between us with mock horror. 'You are not suggesting that Black is better looking than I am?'
'You're the charismatic one,' Remus assured him.
'What am I?' Peter piped up.
'The short one,' James announced.
And so it was.
It was Dumbledore who first used the word traitor.
James and I had thought the whole thing a jolly great lark, screaming through the city on the bike. It had almost come to grief when the constabulary appeared, but then their chase had been even more fun, and in those last moments, when Potter had grinned his mad grin and glanced at the car, it had all been on again. The sound the Death Eaters made when they smacked into the steel was one of the most satisfying I ever heard.
Back at Headquarters, James was trying to recreate it for the Prewetts and Remus, using an inaccurate pairing of fist smacking and onomatopoeia, when I noticed Moody and Dumbledore shaking their heads at us.
'What now?' I asked, ready for the standard you-young-people speech.
Moody went first. 'You left Muggle police alone with Death Eaters?'
'Relax, I know how to Accio,' James grinned, holding up three wands.
'Well, you're not quite as stupid as you look,' Moody granted. 'But you never asked yourself how they found the two of you, did you?'
'How hard can it be?' Remus muttered. 'Two idiot wizards on an oversized motorcycle stand out, even in London.'
I was about to say something cutting but affectionate when Moody gave one of those strangled groans of his. 'What is that on your shirts?'
'Budgerigar,' I answered.
'African swallow,' James replied at the same time.
Dumbledore hid a chuckle behind his hand, but Moody rounded on me. 'Do you think you are funny, Mr Black? Do you think you are clever?'
And it was hard to forget, at moments like that, that he had taken down a half-dozen Death Eaters alone. The respect on my face wasn't all forced. 'No, sir.'
Beside me, James giggled quietly to himself. 'Elvendork,' he whispered. I ignored him.
The twinkle faded from Dumbledore's eyes, and his voice, when he spoke, was serious. 'I am afraid that Alastor is right, and that we should consider the possibility that there is a leak, or even a traitor in our midst. The two of you were on a mission for the Order. That three of Voldemort's followers should find you and set chase is … unlikely to be a coincidence.'
'Oh!' I had quite forgotten the actual mission. I reached under my T-shirt and pulled a book from the waistband of my jeans. 'Caradoc said this was the one.'
Dumbledore took it from me quickly, ran his fingers over the strange triangular symbol on the front and flipped it open to the index. After a moment's scanning, he sighed gently. 'Thank you, Mr Black, Mr Potter. This is indeed the one.' He seemed lost in his perusal for a moment, but then his eyes flipped up, sharp and focussed. 'Do you still speak with your brother, Mr Black?'
His question caught me by surprise. 'No,' I began, then, more honestly, 'Sometimes. When he's being reasonable. I don't want to cut off … his way out …'
He and Moody exchanged a nod. 'An admirable sentiment,' Dumbledore said with a smile. 'If he wishes to speak with you of any of your friends, I believe that listening carefully would be advantageous.'
And with that, he and Moody went from the room, whispering over the book, leaving the five of us.
Gideon summed up the situation with his usual precision. 'Because if you can persuade the little bugger to turn tattler, we'll be able to plug the leaks in our organisation very quickly indeed.'
'And get him killed in the process,' I muttered.
'Not the best plan, I agree.' Gideon grinned at me. 'Phoenix T-shirts? You two really are prize plonkers.'
'Hey!' James protested. 'I ordered enough for everyone!'
While the three of them laughed, I sat beside Remus at the table. He was still frowning at me.
'You being killed in an alley is not funny,' he told me.
'Me coming back to you completely unharmed ought to raise a smile, though,' I grinned at him, and rubbed my head affectionately against his shoulder.
He rolled his eyes patiently until I stopped.
'Where were you this morning, anyway? You were gone when I woke up, I didn't even feel you get out of bed. I'd have left the bike at home and Apparated sensibly if you'd come along, too.'
'No you wouldn't, you'd have told James to Apparate and taken me on the bike.'
That was, probably, true, so rather than admit defeat, I reached under the table and squeezed his thigh. 'Home soon?'
He looked directly into my eyes as he smiled back at me. 'Home soon.'
We didn't speak of the war in the early years. No one did in public, it was a whispered conversation, between adults, hushed up at the first sign of childish interest. But we all knew that name.
Remus shuddered when he heard the older boys use it. Malfoy noticed one day, and spent the afternoon in the corridors loudly lecturing his first year Slytherins on the new order that was dawning.
Snivellus was there, among the panting followers. Unctuous little git, even then. Nodding away merrily as Malfoy preached his pureblood supremacy.
I was all for walking past with as much dignity as a first year could muster, but Remus stopped and glared.
'And when the Ministry comes to its senses and stops this flirtation with the Muggles, we will be able to return to the right path for the wizarding world, one that is strong and clean and unpolluted by outside influences.'
'Like Fenrir Greyback?' Lupin asked, in his ridiculously small voice.
Malfoy stopped his oratory and sneered down at him. 'Whatever means it takes to accomplish the proper end,' he pronounced.
'So you don't care if it's impure blood, so long as it's impure and fighting on your side,' Remus pushed.
'There is a time and a place for everyone to be useful to the cause,' Malfoy countered. 'We can winnow out the remaining taint when the battle is done.'
Remus squared his slim shoulders. 'Do they know that? That you'll dispose of them when the time is right?'
Malfoy laughed at him. 'They are tools for the powerful. Serfs. Like your family, Lupin. Some blood was born to serve. You'd know all about that.'
And I had never seen Remus so pale as at that moment, not even when he was sick. So I laughed, loudly.
'Oh please, Lucius, you may be older than I am, but your family has followed mine into battle through the centuries. My ancestors had names and heraldry when yours were still trying to find a son born on the right side of the sheets.'
I was cheating. Cissie and I were still on hugging terms in those days and I knew he wouldn't risk hexing me.
He was good, it only took one breath for him to recover. With a broad smile he flung an arm around my shoulders. 'We date back to the Conquest, and that's enough for me. I know you'll be there beside us when the time comes, Sirius. Blood will out.'
I wriggled away, and told him I'd rather eat worms, which was not my finest oratorical moment, but I was only eleven.
'Come on, Remus, James and Peter are waiting.'
We started to walk away, but I couldn't help turning back. 'I wouldn't let Evans see you listening to this, Snipey,' I told him. And for a moment, he almost looked guilty.
Remus and I had a routine for the moon days. If we were in London we would ride out on the bike the morning before and find a nice village somewhere in the Home Counties. I'd book us a room or two in a Muggle inn, and we'd go out that afternoon wearing rambling clothes and carrying a few obvious bottles of Scotch.
If the publicans ever suspected anything it was that we were 'artistic', and most were sympathetic. We'd return in the early hours of the following day, smelling a bit like a distillery, looking a bit the worse for wear, and very carefully pronouncing that we had become a little lost on our tramping and that some local farmer might find a rather good cap or scarf in their lower fields, in which case they were welcome to keep it, with our regards.
Then we'd flop down and sleep for a few hours until the charlady had to make up the room. We'd need the sleep, too, after running up and down the countryside chasing each other. I kept him away from sheep, cattle, the occasional pair of rural youth, and roads. He'd keep me running for hours, and then he'd dive in, and mock-fight, and we would end up curled together, panting, grinning toothily.
So the first time he ran away from me, I thought that I'd just fucked up. But then I heard the howl that cut through the early morning, and the hair down my spine stood on end in a primal reaction. It wasn't him – I knew his voice – nor was the next that sang out, but the third was. I held my breath for a long, horrified moment, but the first two howls blended with his, welcoming, recognising. They would not turn on their own, a small mercy and one for which I was profoundly grateful.
It took me hours to hunt him down. I couldn't risk them scenting me in case they were part of Greyback's pack. They would think nothing of ripping my throat out, whether or not they knew me for who I was. I was nearly at the point of going back without him when he appeared, head and tail held low. He whined when he saw me, a high, thin note. I licked his face and rubbed my nose against his, reassured him he was found, that no harm would come to him.
The next morning the publican's wife had been putting the sheets on the line when we staggered back in. 'I've been so worried about the two of you!' she exclaimed. 'There were wild dogs about last night, they brought down sheep over at the Johnsons', it's a bad business.'
'That's awful,' Remus had whispered.
'It wasn't you,' I whispered to him as we made our way upstairs. I kissed his forehead and combed the dirt from his hair. 'I saw you, you were clean.'
But he'd curled up beside me without even taking his clothes off, and was silent on the ride back to London.
When he went off for an unexpected meeting with someone who might have a lead about a job the following Wednesday, I was actually happy for him. All those meetings, never a job, yet I thought that was perfectly normal, for the longest time.
I sold Uncle Alphard We Don't Speak of Him Anymore's house after he died, a few months after I'd left school. He'd asked me to, said the place was fit only for old people, not young lads about town like Lupin and me.
He'd known the end was coming for a while, so we'd had the chance to say goodbye. That had hurt, but at the same time I think I learned more about him in those last months than in all the years of polite visits. Remus made me go alone more often than not, said he only made Alphard behave properly, and there wasn't enough time left for that.
He was right, of course.
There'd always be Firewhisky on the table, and Muggle pastries, French for preference, but he wasn't above a plate of cream buns and jam slice if it came to that. 'Young girl down the street shops for me,' he told me. 'I've a stash of Muggle money, just for her. When I go, you make sure she gets the rest of it, all right?'
He'd left her thousands of pounds in the end, she took it with tears pouring down her face, said it was enough to go to university. She was a nice girl. I wish I'd thought to ask her name.
'You involved in this war?' he asked me soon after I sat down on one of our last visits.
I was glad I'd not had a chance to sip my drink yet. 'What war?'
'Don't patronise me, lad. You for or against that masked fool half our idiot family sees as the saviour of Wizardingkind?'
I'd looked at him, long and sober. 'Against,' I confirmed. 'Actively against.'
'Good lad. It's bad enough your idiot brother thinks that lunatic's rantings are worthwhile.'
'He's just following Cissie,' I muttered. I believed it. Regulus had been happy to be taken under the Malfoy wing, and our cousin had always been charming.
That was the last we spoke of it. After that, most of our conversations were about his younger days, how he'd once been in love with a Muggle girl, how his best friend had been a little bit of a 'you know' and so he thought that young Remus ought to share whatever house I rented with the little bit of money he was going to leave me, how my mother was a vile harridan even in her youth. He did a disturbingly accurate impersonation of her.
In the end, he left me everything, save the Muggle money for that girl, a bequest for St Mungo's and a vase that she had always hated for my mother.
I bought the flat, large and airy. It had a high attic room and Juliet balcony that you could land on with a broom if you were careful. It was easy to convince Remus to move in, once he saw how I lived without him. Not a day went by that I didn't thank Alphard.
Regulus was at the funeral. We sat beside each other formally, and he squeezed my hand where no one could see. I squeezed his back. He was still my brother, though we had barely spoken through the year.
'What did mother say about you coming?' I whispered.
'I told her someone had to represent the family, and that she owed him for the vase.'
We grinned at each other conspiratorially, and it was as though all those shouted arguments had never happened.
Mother didn't attempt to stop Alphard's internment in the family tomb, I would like to think that even she would have hesitated at that.
Regulus shook my hand before he left.
'I'm buying a place with the money he left me,' I told him. 'There are three bedrooms, you could …'
He shook his head. 'Back to school in a month, anyway,' he muttered. 'I'd best be off. Cousin Bellatrix It's Good To See Traditions Upheld is coming over.'
I half-smiled at that. 'What's Mother calling me?'
And Reggie bit his lip, and hugged me, and said goodbye. And the smile left my face altogether as I watched him leave and realised why he couldn't answer that – because she never spoke my name at all.
You can judge me over Snape. It wouldn't be unfair. Something about him always irked me. But I did try, once or twice. Not that Remus ever saw that; he seemed to only appear when we were at each other's throats. He would just shake his head at me back then, but years later he told me that it was the only time I disappointed him.
When Regulus started to follow Snape about, I actually made a conscious effort. To the extent that I sent Snivellus a letter, rather than hexing him in the corridors. On good parchment, even. I was as surprised as he was when he met me in the Owlery that afternoon.
He had his wand drawn, and I suspect it was only the fact that I was alone that stopped him opening the meeting with a curse. I held my hands out openly. 'Truce,' I offered.
'What do you want?' he muttered, looking at my hands.
'Five minutes. I want to talk with you about what you're doing still following slime like Rosier, Avery and Wilkes about. Lucius is gone now, you don't need to trot about spouting pureblood rubbish to impress him anymore. I won't tell, and Reg likes you, so he won't tell either.'
'Good day, Black.' He turned to leave.
'No, wait, I'm serious.' I think he only turned back because I sounded so surprised. 'You're not stupid, so I don't get why you're happy to hang out with that lot of freaks. You've got some nice friends. Reg is a good kid, and Evans is all right for a …'
His wand hand twitched and he looked me in the eyes then, daring.
'Evans is all right,' I concluded. 'It doesn't make any sense for you to swan about with the pureblood set when your best mate's a, you know.'
'Muggle-born?' he asked archly.
'Yeah, one of them.'
'Do you ever hear how ridiculous you sound, or do the words come out your mouth without troubling your brain?'
I held my temper in, more or less. There was a small amount of face-pulling, but nothing more. 'I mean it. I don't want Reg getting caught up with the wrong sort. I don't like you, but he does, so you need to watch who your friends are.'
I'll say this for Snape, he was always better at restraining himself than I was. He spoke quietly: 'I'm too busy watching out for your friends, Black. That's where the danger comes from.' Then he turned and walked away without looking back.
You know how it ended between us. I nearly sent him to his death. Remus didn't even lecture me on that. Just one sentence through a tight jaw the next day – 'You tried to use me as a weapon.'
I hadn't meant it, but it made no difference.
We joined the Order straight out of school.
If we'd been older, we'd have thought about it and considered what it meant, but we were eighteen, and Dumbledore asked, and we said yes. James and I had done a few favours for the Prewett twins, and Remus had provided the names of werewolves he thought could be trusted to not follow Greyback. McGonagall vouched for us, and Peter came as part of the package.
James was thrilled, convinced it was just a matter of time before he would strike a decisive blow for the forces of goodness and Muggleborn girlfriends. I was looking forward to seriously annoying several of my relatives, and Remus just wanted to do the right thing.
Which meant that we were hopelessly unprepared.
It didn't really matter for the first year, it was still a guerrilla conflict in those days. We'd evacuate threatened families out to France and Italy; they'd burn down houses as a warning, or leave the house, but the occupants would be missing, never seen again. Remus said they were Disappeared.
The year after we left school, things changed. The first reports came in around Easter. A Muggle child torn to pieces by wild dogs, because who would suspect wolves in England? A witch's house collapsed in a freak accident, except she was an Auror on the trail of several Death Eaters and her house didn't so much collapse as was squashed. By May things had passed beyond rumour and into fact. Voldemort had brought giants and European werewolves into Britain.
The Obliviators were kept busy all through that year. An attack in Manchester became a deadly fire, the IRA was used freely as a cover – we'd have felt badly about that if they hadn't killed Mountbatten. In some ways it was lucky the Muggles were going mad anyway. Waves of violence had accompanied the election of the new Prime Minister, we hid our destruction amid it.
It was one thing to say giants, but another thing to fight against them. Remus and I had barely woken up when we heard Moody shouting at us from behind the firescreen on a mid-September morning.
I grabbed a towel, and ran to the Floo, where his head glimmered. 'The Bones house. Apparate there, bring your brooms. Wands at the ready, they're under attack. Constant vigilance!'
Remus already had his trousers on by the time I'd stood up. He threw me yesterday's jumper, and I pulled it on without a shirt. My jeans were beside my boots, and yesterday's socks were still there. I knew I'd regret the lack of an under-layer if there was a lot of flying involved, but speed, not comfort, ruled. Remus grabbed the booms while I pushed my hair back into a ponytail – I'd worked out by now that it helped to be able to see in a fight – and we were at the Bones's less than three minutes after Moody's call.
He could have warned us properly. It was sheer good luck that Remus Apparated us a little distance away – even where we landed the swing of a giant club missed us by only a few feet. We were on our brooms and in the air within seconds.
Above, an aerial ballet waged. We could see Gideon and Fabian Prewett closing in on a masked figure with their wands drawn. Caradoc Dearborn and Dorcas Meadowes flew around another. The Death Eaters were trying to avoid them at the same time as trying to cast light on the scene below.
And what a scene … three giants stamped across the Downs of Kent, tearing up verdant meadows and smashing hedgerows beneath their feet. Edgar Bones and his wife stood at the front of their farmhouse with Moody, Dumbledore, McGonagall and Marlene McKinnon. They cast spell after spell to hold the shield they had erected, but the sheer physical violence of the giants' assault was beginning to weary them; keeping their feet against the shake of every footfall was a struggle, and every few moments a Death Eater would run out of the early morning fog and attempt to break through by hex.
Remus shouted at me and we dived through the air to throw a Body-bind on one of those figures lurching towards the house. As we swung back up, Benjy Fenwick shouted to us and waved Remus alongside. He threw him a length of rope; it took me a moment to understand what they were doing, but when Benjy looped about the nearest giant's legs, I began to laugh. Remus made a fast pass, too, and the double loop pulled tight as the two of them flew in different directions. I sent a wave of compressed wind straight for it, enough to topple it away from the house and our people.
The giant fell, heavily, crushing small trees and a garden wall. As it toppled, it plucked at the air with its hands, but Benjy and Remus were too high, and Benjy was able to hit it full-on with an Incarcerous, binding its arms against its body.
Remus was already sweeping down to grab another length of rope from the yard and Charm it longer. I came up alongside him and we took down the next, tying it from its knees to its elbows, with Benjy helping it to fall.
A shout from Moody saw Remus drop suddenly down. As the morning sun began to burn off the fog, the Death Eaters had dropped their skirmishing tactics and were advancing en masse, save for two figures who held back. Remus cast a Confringo ahead of the attacking line, knocking several to the ground and showering the others with rocks and dirt.
I followed, leaping from my broom to fill the gap that Edgar Bones left as he ran back inside for his family. Marlene glanced in my direction. 'Hex to stop. Nothing gentle, they will be trying to kill you.'
There was barely time for a nod of acknowledgement before a combined assault rent what remained of the shield. With a shout the Death Eaters were upon us, and it was spell for spell. I Stupefied the first, but Marlene's shout saw me follow her lead and Confringo the next.
A few feet away a masked figure crashed heavily from the sky, and I could hear Caradoc laughing grimly above me. A quick glance saw the Prewetts and Dorcas closing in on the remaining giant. I felled another, tall Death Eater who had dodged Marlene's hex, and looked out to try and gain a sense of how the battle went.
Moody and Dumbledore had forced those before them into retreat, McGonagall was re-establishing the shield around the house, and Remus … Remus was being held by his forearms some twenty yards away by one of the two who had been at the back.
I didn't stop to think. Charged in, wand drawn, a curse on my lips. Remus shouted 'No!', and I was mid-Crucio when I was tackled to the ground, bodily. My assailant kneed me in the ribs as he stood, and ran towards Lupin. I groped for my wand, and had drawn enough breath for a hex but with a shout of 'Leave him!' the Death Eater lunged forward, grabbed his accomplice and Disapparated.
Remus was beside me in an instant. 'Sit still!' he barked, feeling down my torso for cracks. He wasn't hurt. He was fine. I pulled him down, his lips against mine, felt them curve up in a smile. 'Idiot,' he muttered, then sprang up, standing over me with his wand drawn. He threw a Protego to his right, but the Death Eater was running past, not towards us. A few seconds later, he reached down, pulled me to my feet and held me tightly to his side.
McGonagall and Moody moved out to make sure the giants were secure. Dumbledore went inside to collect the Bones family, but the rest of us gathered outside around Marlene, taking breaths, laughing, relieved and surprised to be all alive.
'Did you recognise anyone?' Dorcas asked urgently. 'Are any of them left?'
We looked about, but those who had fallen had been caught up in the evacuation, only the giants left behind.
Dumbledore ushered the Boneses out towards us. 'Remus, Sirius, take them to Headquarters, keep them safe.'
Remus picked up the littlest and held his hand out for Edgar's oldest girl. Mrs Bones handed me the two boys, and Edgar wrapped his arms around her. We Apparated swiftly, wanting to take them away from the battleground that had been their home. Once at Headquarters – Dorcas Meadowe's comfortable stone cottage – Edgar sat the kids down and he and his wife set about jollying them up while Remus and I made tea and cocoa.
'Are you sure you're all right?' he asked me quietly.
'A few bruises. You?'
'I know that voice,' I muttered. 'When that Death Eater shouted at you, I've heard it before.'
Remus frowned at me. 'It's hard to tell underneath the masks. I think they have a Charm to disguise their speech.'
I shook my head. 'I'm certain I've heard it before.'
'Rosier?' he suggested. 'Lucius? He was the right height.'
'Merlin knows he'd be happy to get a knee in, but would probably draw the line at AK-ing me.'
'Exactly. Could well have been him. Do you think we ought to tell Dumbledore?'
I shrugged. 'Is there any point?'
Remus smiled wryly. Lucius was so tightly in with the Ministry that all of the Order's suspicions had been met with headshaking and fearful glances, even in the Auror division.
There was a rattle at the door, and Remus and I ran from the kitchen, wands drawn, to meet Edgar coming in the other direction. We paused in the hallway, each with a hex on his lips, and probably scared ten years off the life of Peter, who swung the door open carelessly, then froze.
'It's all right,' Remus said. 'Come in Peter, you missed all the excitement.'
'Where were you?' Edgar barked at him.
Peter cowered. Remus stepped forward and led him in, away from the doorway. 'What Edgar means is, there was an attack at his place this morning. Didn't Moody try to reach you?'
'I've not been home. I went round to see you two and you weren't there, so I thought you might be here.'
Remus chuckled. 'Why Peter Pettigrew, did you spend the evening chatting up a young lady?'
Peter grinned and blushed at him, and failed entirely to hear my muttered ' … aka copping off with your left hand.' Which was just as well, because that was cruel.
'Come on in, there's tea, I'll make some toast.'
Most of the Order was back by the time the toast was made. Not half an hour ago we had been fighting for our lives; now we drank tea and exchanged news about what Lily and James had said in postcards sent from their honeymoon.
'We have a safehouse that will fit all of you,' Dumbledore assured Mrs Bones. 'We'll make sure we bring everything, the children's toys, the pets. It will be an adventure.'
'Stronger wards, Edgar,' Moody enjoined. 'We need to hide you properly. You're a target.'
'Look at the two of you,' Caradoc teased Remus and me. 'Running to each other's defence. Oh to have a fair-haired hero standing above me, Black, it makes my maidenly heart fairly beat a tattoo.'
'Nothing maidenly about your heart, Dearborn,' Gideon announced, dropping into the seat beside him. 'From what my uncles tell me you were a right pantsman back in the day.'
'Girls were less fussy then,' Caradoc smiled.
Remus smiled tightly. 'I was fine, you know.'
'He had you by the wand arm,' I reminded him.
'And I had him by his! Besides, who ended up hurt?'
'Barely a bruise. Trust me, I have no intention of dying in this war.'
Remus's face drew in tightly. 'You'd better stay alive, Sirius."
I was going to make a joke, but my breath was caught and no words would come.
Remus saw, he patted my shoulder in mock dismissal. 'Without you or James, I'd be out on the streets,' he sighed.
I tried to laugh it off. 'Peter would take you in. There's room at his mum's for you, too.'
Peter looked up, surprised. 'What? Oh, yes, of course.'
I felt a moment of guilt then, because Peter looked so startled by the whole exchange, as though it had never occurred to him that any of us would have to turn to him in need.
I felt sorry for him, and I decided that I would make a serious effort to be nicer, or at least involve him more. I'd find a way for him to feel special, and needed, even if he wasn't, really.