I know it took forever, but I've been busy, and crazed, and in general a second semester Junior, and just -- well, forgive me, and give me lots of reviews, and who knows about the next Chapter, eh? Noodles to ALL my reviewers. You are all my dahlings.




Chapter XVI: Maman

Olive Hornby was indeed very beautiful, and she knew it. That made her even more beautiful, though Arabella disliked her and her type of beauty immensely, and did not respect any man who found himself taken with it. Olive had deep black eyes and wore expensive black eye makeup to accentuate their depths. Her lips were naturally full and a dark pink color and so she never wore any lipstick; this made her feel very proud of herself, and so she looked even more beautiful. Her hair was worn in a wavy blonde bob reminiscent of those 1930s Muggle movie stars. She had been married three times and was very rich because two of her three husbands had died, leaving her everything. The other she had left because of some to-do or another, and two months later he'd simply disappeared.

Arabella was of the mind that Olive Hornby was not to be trusted and was also incredibly obnoxious. The only reason Olive was remotely tolerable was because she was one, very intelligent, and two, a very gifted witch. Her charm, however, was revolting in its insincerity, and so Arabella was brusquely polite to her when contact was required, and ignored her completely the entire rest of the time.

Now, the sun was shining, and it agreed wonderfully with Olive's complexion. There was a sprinkle of freckles over the snub nose that was heralding the approach of a bright summer. Olive was yawning a good deal because the hour was early and the last two members of the meeting expected had not yet arrived at Hogwarts. Arabella wanted to scream. She was impatient enough without listening to Olive yawn every three minutes. It was almost unbearable to wait while being forced to listen to that sound over and over and over again.

"They're very late," Olive murmured, inspecting a perfectly manicured fingernail.

"So were you," Arabella pointed out testily. Dumbledore lifted a brow and coughed. Olive's lips quirked.

"They're more late," Olive pointed out smoothly, so that Arabella had to clench her hands in her lap to keep herself from snapping a retort.

"Patience, Olive," Minerva said, uncrossing her legs, crossing them again. "They will come. Mundungus was very determined, when he departed. I sincerely doubt he would allow himself to return empty-handed, much less not at all." The older woman pursed her lips. Basil St. Hemlock, who looked just as peeved as Arabella felt, nodded once. He would save all complaints for the ears that deserved to hear them: Mundungus's and Hector's. Noting this, Arabella found she felt grimly satisfied.

Olive leaned over, bridging the distance between her chair and Arabella's.

"Mundungus did leave in quite a mood," she said, eyes flashing. "It was very becoming." Arabella turned to snap out a response when the door swung open, Mundungus's hand upon the doorknob. Hector, small and tired stood beside him. Arabella wondered if Mundungus had physically dragged him all the way to Hogwarts. Really, one didn't put such things beyond Mundungus's determination. Arabella's eyes must have shown the question, for Mundungus shook his head barely, even as he took Hector's arm, leading him into the room.

"Why," Basil said, wryly, "so good of you to join us, both of you. Do please take your seats."

"Sorry," Mundungus said. Arabella made a hissing sound through her teeth. "Well, I am," he said. He moved his chair closer to Hector's, waited for Hector sit, and then settled down, himself. Only Arabella noticed that he was just as tired looking, just as drawn, as Hector was, if not more so.

"Thank you," Arabella said. It was quiet; only Hector and Mundungus heard it. Mundungus nodded.

"Right," Albus said, "enough of this. We have business that needs attending."

"We have had business that needed attending for a while now," Basil said. The comment was not as pointed towards Mundungus and Hector as it was towards Albus himself. The headmaster sighed, and folded his hands before him.

"Then let us speak of it," he said reprovingly. "Henry Potter has been killed."

"Aye, and others," Arabella said, "a good number of others, though none so openly and so unexpectedly as Henry."

"A good friend," Albus murmured, shaking his head, "a good friend, an unparalleled colleague. We shall miss him greatly." There was silence in the room for a moment, thick and tense. "But we must talk of our own actions."

"Or lack thereof." Minerva's voice and lips were tight. "We cannot let this go on any longer without fighting back, without taking the risks such action will entail. Our students' lives are in danger. The future is in danger."

"Yes," Dumbledore said. He turned his eyes to Hector. "We thank you, for your return."

"I thank you," Hector replied, cautiously, "for letting me." Mundungus touched his shoulder, and Hector strengthened himself. "I am ready now to do what you would ask of me." St. Hemlock nodded, his smile grim.

"We must know," he instructed, speaking Albus's mind, "what is being plotted against us. We must have this foresight. Only prepared with such knowledge can we prevent unnecessary deaths that without your help, would be inevitable." Hector nodded, and drew in a deep breath. "We have everything prepared," Basil went on, "everything you once used, and more. Of course, lodging shall be provided-"

"I believe," Mundungus interposed, "that Hector is to stay with me." Dumbledore peered at the young man over the rim of his glasses. Mundungus could have sworn the headmaster winked.

"Very well," Basil went on, "so long as he is looked after, and willing to help us, as once he did."

"I shall be," Hector promised. "I shall be." Arabella held her hands together, tight in her lap. The knuckles were white. Who knew what Mundungus and Hector had talked about on the trip to Hogwarts. Arabella only hoped that these feelings of Hector's would be strong enough to carry him through the times ahead.

"We have other matters to speak of?" Olive asked. She had her eyes on Mundungus, though she was clearly talking to Dumbledore. "Enough time has been wasted - both in preparation for this meeting and in simply waiting for it to begin. We must get down to business or, I fear, we may never." Sometimes, it was hard to admit when Olive Hornby spoke such simple sense. Arabella frowned, but nodded, just a slight bob of her head.

"Right you are, Olive," Dumbledore said. He pushed away from his desk and walked over to the bay window in his office. With one finger, he rubbed a smudge off the glass, and then let out a very soft sigh. "We have much to discuss," he said, "and there is much to be done."

Hector Karnaugh wanted to bury his face in his hands. He felt impotent, even with his wand, in this place. Beside him, Mundungus edged his chair closer. Dumbledore cleared his throat, and Hector firmed himself, ready to be sucked up into the whirlwind of all this madness yet again, though he had tried his hardest to escape it.

~*~

Mundungus's place was close to Hogwarts, quite close, but that was to be expected. It was neat, the furniture was sparse, and it smelled familiar, as if Hector had been imagining it all along.

"Well," Mundungus said, putting down their bags, "I don't know. I never really think of it is as home."

"It's nice," Hector protested. "It's very nice, I think." Mundungus might have blushed. One couldn't tell. Hector smiled a little.

"The guest bedroom is up the stairs, down the hall. Actually, 'Bella tends to stay in it a lot. You need to talk with 'Bella," Mundungus finished quickly, because he had to get it out there before Hector grew ready for it, wary of it. He had to say it while Hector was unprepared and therefore still listening. Hector's face hardened upon hearing it, and he leaned down to pick up his bags.

"Please, Mundungus. If Arabella wishes to speak with me then she may do so. I don't think I'm the one who hates her; it's rather the other way 'round, isn't it." Hector made for the stairs. Mundungus's voice stopped him.

"Oh, Hector, don't be an ass," Mundungus muttered, a frown in his voice. "You know very well that 'Bella doesn't hate you, nor does she hate me, though she has every reason to hate us both, and you know it." Mundungs ran his fingers through his hair, realizing for the first time how bloody tired he was. "Look. Maybe you should get some sleep. We'll have a nice breakfast and we'll talk about this all in the morning. It's a lot to adjust to."

"I miss my lover, Mundungus." Mundungus winced.

"Don't, Hector."

"I miss my own bed, Mundungus, it takes me a while to get used to sleeping in unfamiliar places and you know that well as I do. I shan't get a good night's sleep and I shall be irritable in the morning and we shall have such a row and it will not be pleasant. Perhaps we had better talk about it now?"

"But I am irritable now," Mundungus muttered. There was minimal humor in his tones, though.

"Yes, quite true." Hector set his suitcase down on the bottom step of the staircase that led up to the second floor. He folded his arms over his chest. "And so, if we get into an argument now, I can blame it on you. It won't be so in the morning."

"Oh, nice," Mundungus muttered, but he was grinning now. "You always were like that. Too sneaky for anyone to do anything with."

"Yes, yes," Hector agreed, his smile small but real, "that really was me, and is me, all over." He pushed his hair out of his eyes, then sighed. "Merlin, Mundungus, it's only four thirty in the afternoon, why in God's name are you tired out now?"

"You're mixing your swear words," Mundungus said casually. "You tire me out, that's why. This has all tired me out. I don't like the idea of dying tomorrow just as much as you don't like the idea of me dying tomorrow, I'll have you know."

"Don't say things like that. I won't forgive you for them, won't even think about forgiveness." Mundungus frowned down at his shoes.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "You're as sensitive as ever." Hector fingered the banister's balustrade at his side, not sure why he felt so fidgety. His limbs ached and the thought of Arabella gave him a headache so severe he thought the great vein in his temple might burst out of his head and throttle him, just like that. Certainly, he was too tired to be fiddling with the top of the balustrade, but he was, indeed, doing just that. It took an actual attempt for Hector to still his hands.

"Well, what else did you expect?" Hector asked. Mundungus offered a little shrug in response.

"No, I expected as much," he replied. It occurred to him that the reason the air was so stale between them now was because Mundungus himself felt impossibly and terribly old. He coughed, to clean the air, to cut through the silence. It half worked. "Come on," Mundungus said, "I'll show you the room, and then, if you want, we can fight to your heart's content. We'll blame me, afterwards. C'mon." Mundungus crossed the distance between them and picked up Hector's suitcase. Hector rested a hand on Mundungus's forearm.

"Perhaps, before we have a good row, just like old times, you could show me around the house? I'd like a grand tour better than I'd like a grand headache." The tension in Mundungus's shoulders seemed to be soothed by those words.

"I think I'd like that better," Mundungus replied, starting up the stairs. "It's a rather nice place. I actually wish I could spend more time in it." It was Hector's turn to shrug.

"Well, perhaps you will, yet," he said. Mundungus didn't want to point out that it didn't really quite matter, if he wasn't spending that time in the house with Hector; and Mundungus didn't want to point out either that he'd chosen the house with Hector and Arabella in mind. He was going to have to knock two heads together, two very stubborn heads at that, in order to get them to put aside their anger. He knew them all too well. They'd hold onto it for years, if he wasn't careful, if he wasn't just as bloody stubborn.

"You would know," Mundungus said, feeling a little cheeky, "not me, isn't that right? Come on. The room's just this way."

~*~

They always wondered where the time went. So close to summer, now, only the edginess in their spirits, the restlessness of their bodies, saying that break was coming soon. Classes were an agony. The thought of summer was an agony. The thought of leaving one another was an agony. The idea of loss was yet too fresh in their minds that they could not let a friend leave their sight.

James had returned a little older, Sirius thought, not wiser but filled with more knowledge of the workings of the world. In a silent way, Remus had been the most comfort to the boy, when he had first returned. And this was because, Sirius realized, Remus knew what it was James had lost.

Remus put out a hand, touched James on the shoulder. James though it must have been one of the first times Remus had ever really touched him, willingly and simply. It meant a lot. James looked at Remus, half-confused.

"Remus?" he asked. Remus's eyes were dark and deep and somber. James understood, a little, why it was Sirius loved them so, looking into them then. Remus was so adult. Remus was so strong.

"Don't ever forget him," Remus said softly. "Your father. Always remember the things you loved. Don't forget him."

"I won't," James replied, swallowing. "Of course I won't."

"Because that's the only way you can manage it," Remus continued, softer, but gently, so gently. "That's the only way you can ever manage it."

James threw his arms around Remus then, and they had hugged, much to Lilly and Sirius's surprise, and Peter's outright shock. The first person James touched when he returned from that strange land - strange not because it was a place he did not know, but because it was a place he had known so, so well, and knew not at all any longer - was Remus. Lilly looked away, could not bear to see it.

Later, Sirius took Remus into his arms, and kissed his temple, and Remus felt soft but brittle.

"Thank you," Sirius said. "Thank you, Remus. Thank you." Sirius loved James like a brother and he loved Remus like Remus and it meant something, in a place he could not articulate with his words, that Remus had offered James such comfort.

He had done it a good deal for Sirius's sake, of course; but Remus did not know if he should tell Sirius that, and so he didn't.


As always, spring was a hungry season, filled with memories of snow and longing for the warmth of a truly hot day. Sirius spent time at James's side and at Remus's side and at Lily's side and even at Peter's side. Peter was not so charismatic as he might have been but he could tell a mean joke and he could, if he wished, brighten a room with some amount of laughter. It was self-deprecating, always, but Sirius never thought to question it. Such questions did not come to you in the spring.

Such questions as, "Remus?" on one cool night, up against a tree trunk, came easily, though, especially when the stars seemed so far away, and so unutterably cold.

"Sirius." The wind moved through Remus's hair, brushed it over his forehead. Sirius's fingers followed suit.

"So what was she like?"

"Mm?" Remus sighed, and leaned into the touch. Sirius had a way of taking all his words away from his lips. Sirius had a way of making Remus forget everything he'd ever read. It was disconcerting in its own way, and wonderful, too. Remus touched the back of Sirius's wrist, not catching Sirius's meaning.

"Your mother. What was she like?" Remus's fingers stilled. Then, he caught Sirius's wrist, gently, fingers wrapped around it.

"I don't know if I really want to talk about it," Remus admitted.

"Go on," Sirius coaxed, and Remus, unexpectedly, did.

"She was beautiful. My father loved her so much, so much." Sirius closed his eyes, felt the strength behind Remus's slim fingers. "I don't know," Remus went on, "sometimes, I can remember what she looks like. But only sometimes. Most others, I only remember her voice. She used to sing. She used to sing to me, arias. She had a very beautiful voice. My father says I have her eyes, her face - I have everything about her, I suppose." Sirius had opened his eyes again, had turned them upwards to the sky. It was easy to watch the stars - there were so many of them, it was impossible for there to be so many of them! - when he listened to Remus talk.

"I can't imagine what it's like," Sirius whispered. The stars heard him. He was sure of it. So did Remus.

"Not to remember your mother's face?" Sirius nodded, slowly. Remus touched the back of his wrist. "My father has pictures of her. Somewhere. I just don't want to look at them. I don't really want to see them."

"How is it for James, then? Christ, I knew his da. He was amazing. He was a real great guy." Remus let breath out between his teeth. "What did you tell James?" Remus shrugged.

"I don't really remember," he said. He kissed the back of Sirius's wrist. It was very gentlemanly, but Sirius could not find it within himself to really laugh.

"Of course you remember," the bigger boy challenged. Remus closed his eyes. His face and his hair and his sweater and his hands and oh his lips were all a splay of different shades of gray as Sirius watched him. "C'mon, Remus, I know you too well. Of course you remember," Sirius repeated.

"Yes," Remus said, "of course I do." He kissed the back of Sirius's hand. "Come on. Let's go inside. It's getting cold."

"Tell me, first. Tell me what you told James and then we can go inside." Something hooted in a tree up above.

"I told him something," Remus replied firmly, "I told him, not you, and if you want to know you can ask him. Besides," and here, Remus faltered, "I think it only makes sense, if you - if you've lost someone. I think."

"Tell me anyway." Sirius's voice softened. Sitting up, he cupped Remus's cheek in one broad palm. "It meant a lot to him. I'd like to know. I mean, I guess, I can't be the best for him in every case, so I think I just, just want to know. What it is that meant so much to him. Because it meant so much to him, Moony." Remus sighed, deeply, and bowed his head.

"I told him not to forget the good things about his father," the smaller of the two answered finally. "That's all. It isn't much."

"Oh," Sirius said. He brushed his thumb along Remus's cheek. "That's all?"

"Because there was so much about my mother," Remus continued, a little impulsively, "so much about her that I'd like to remember, but it isn't - well, it isn't good. And I loved her. For a lot of my life, I loved her, so I shouldn't remember the minutes where I," Remus faltered. "Where I didn't," he finished finally. The owl above them hooted into the silence.

"I'm gonna figure it out one day," Sirius promised, as they walked back to the school, under the protection of the invisibility cloak. "I'm gonna figure out what to say to you just like you knew what to say to James."

"You don't need to," Remus replied, pressed up close to him in the night. It was empowering, to be held so close, to be invisible to even the stars. "You really don't need to."

"But knowing how to touch you isn't enough," Sirius chided, a little sadly. "It's just not enough." Remus thought perhaps they needed to learn these opposite skills from each other, but he was sure time and habit would hone them, not intentional practice.

"All right," Remus said, "but it's close."

They laughed, and that was all the night saw of them, before they curled up together in Remus's bed, and dreamt of forests and each other.

~*~

James watched Sirius pretend to smoke with a half-interested gaze. He was much more contemplative as of late, James was, and therefore much more quiet, also. Sirius wondered often if that was what adulthood meant, a quiet that settled over you, but then again, Sirius knew a hell of a lot of loud adults. The only thing Sirius could be really sure of was that James had changed, and though he still smiled he did not smile as much, nore as easily. It was almost like hanging around with Remus had been, at first: like beating our head against a wall to get a laugh.

"Voldemort killed my father," James said into the still spring afternoon. It was a favorite spot of theirs, where they lazed now, a little pool of sunlit water before them. Only water-skimmers disturbed the water's surface. "I asked my mum and she told me." Tightness constricted Sirius's heart and all he could do was blow smoke out his mouth in an O. "Voldemort killed my dad, and nobody's doing anything about it, Sirius."

"We will," Sirius promised. He stubbed his fag out forcefully in the wet dirt at his side.

"What can we do?" James questioned, eyes wild. "We're kids. We're just kids. We may be good at Quidditch and that's great fun, and we may be good at sneaking around, and that's great fun, too, but Sirius, it doesn't mean anything! We're not adults yet but we will be soon and it's this in-between feeling that I hate so much. I need to know I'll be able to do something. Even if I have to wait. I need to know that I'm waiting for a good reason. That's all." James closed his eyes and swallowed, his throat dry and tight.

"We oughta stop being kids, then," Sirius said, after James's breathing had calmed and his eyes had again fixed on Sirius, waiting for an answer to all his unspoken questions. "I mean. It's not so simple as that, I know, but we should - let's put our minds to something amazing to leave behind us."

"Are you trying a distraction tactic on me, Sirius Black?" James asked, lifting a brow. Sirius grinned, albeit weakly.

"Well, it's a good idea," Sirius offered. "It'll take a while to complete, and by the time we're done, you know, we'll be ready to do a whole lot of other things. I mean, for your da. To Voldemort." The name had always tasted foul, Sirius told himself. And oh, how he hated the sound of it now, how his anger filled him just thinking about it. "Because you don't have to worry, James," Sirius promised, "we're going to get whatever revenge we can. And it's gonna be some revenge, some great revenge, at that."

"You promise?" James asked, honest and small. "You promise you'll be there with me, and you'll help me?"

"Christ, James," Sirius muttered, leaning over to tousle James's already tousled hair, "you think I wouldn't for the life of me be next to you every bloody step of the bloody way?"

"Promise me," James said, "you have to promise me."

"I promise you," Sirius said. James offered Sirius his hand and Sirius took it in his own with grave solemnity.

"I do solemnly swear," James said, and nodded, once, as if he were sealing some implicit deal, in which they were brothers, partners and masterminds.

"You know," Sirius mused, "that's catchy. That has a nice ring to it." James ducked his head and grinned a little bit.

"You think? I mean, I think so, too. It does have a nice ring to it."

"A nice cadence," Sirius said, proudly. It was something Remus might have said, he thought. Anyway, it was one of those glorious words that sounded exactly the way one would expect them to, judging by their meaning.

"What are you talking about, you great git? Been reading the dictionary for fun and profit again, have you?" James cuffed Sirius on the cheek.

"Been talking to Remus Lupin, actually," Sirius returned, thwapping James's shoulder playfully in retaliation. "Close enough." They laughed a little and Sirius flopped back against the ground and flung one arm around James's shoulders.

"It's going to be all right, Sirius," James murmured.

"I know. It's going to be all right, James," Sirius promised.

Later, they walked back to Hogwarts itself in the cooling breeze, scuffing dirt beneath their heels, out of the path of their toes. It was getting on towards suppertime and Sirius heard, felt, his stomach growl in anticipation. Remus and Lilly and Peter would be saving them two seats in a few minutes. It felt comfortable thinking of the scene, before Sirius and James would arrive onto it, comfortable like looking at a postcard of faraway places you visited last summer.

"Something's up," James said, mostly to himself. "I don't know, can't you feel it?" But Sirius had stopped walking; he hadn't even heard the statement, or the question that followed it. James turned, and frowned, and let his eyes follow Sirius's gaze. Before them, standing very still, was a slight man. He had bright eyes, though, and an intelligent face, rather surprised, and in its own way rather happy.

"Hallo, Sirius," the man said. He lifted a hand, and waved.

"Hullo, Hector," Sirius replied, grinning faintly. "You on vacation or something?"

"More like the opposite, actually," Hector said. "I'm here on business, it would seem. And, hallo: James, is it?" Hector nodded towards James, who blinked.

"Oh," James said, "yes. Hello."

"We met a couple of summers ago," Hector said, "I think, when you and Sirius were so determined to succeed at something." Hector lifted a brow in Sirius direction and Sirius grinned sheepishly.

"Yes!" James exclaimed. "Right, you made really great scones. We had tea, in your house, a lot. When we, uhm, got frustrated. It was really great," James added.

"Why, thank you." Hector smiled.

"You're welcome," James replied, grinning a bit. James always was good with other people.

"I want you to meet Remus," Sirius spoke up quickly and suddenly, with no pause for a segue. "He'll be at the dining hall in about five minutes, would you mind?" Again, Hector smiled, though this time, it was apologetic.

"I'm sorry, I've a meeting to make," he murmured, rubbing the side of his own cheek with a thumb, "but I'll have Albus pass along an invitation to you - for you, and this famed Remus, and James, and anyone else, if you'd like. Hopefully, Mundungus will be around, and - well, in any case," Hector continued, almost hurriedly, "if all this is all right with you, that is." Sirius nodded eagerly.

"Of course," he agreed, "sure, that's fine. That's great, really." A relieved, almost young expression passed over Hector's face at the obvious enthusiasm in Sirius's voice and eyes. James nodded his agreement with Sirius's statement.

"If you're going to make those scones, count me in," James said cheerfully.

"I'll see the both of you before summer break, then," Hector assured, "though it's a busy time you've caught me at, which is quite unfortunate."

"Why are you here?" James asked impulsively. Hector did not answer at first, but trotted over to the bespectacled boy, and rested a hand on his left shoulder.

"Your father was Henry Potter, wasn't he?" James swallowed thickly and managed somehow to nod. "The resemblance is very striking, and very moving, also," Hector continued, sighing softly. "I am so sorry, so sorry, for your loss." Hector gathered himself up to move on, but paused, looking down, and spoke again. "That is why I am here. Oh, make of that what you will, for Albus will use you soon enough, and you will know, then. Use you and protect you, of course. Heavens. I'll see you, then." A tired smile paused on his lips, and then he hurried off.

"Well," James murmured, after he had disappeared entirely, shaking his head a bit to clear the spell of Hector's words from his mind, "what d'you suppose that meant, then? It certainly meant something. Here because of my father?" Wrapping his arms around himself, James started off towards the building once more. Sirius hurried his usual pace to keep up with the other boy, trying to piece together the meanings behind Hector's cryptic words, as well.

"It sounds like Albus has something going on," Sirius replied, thoughtfully, "d'you want to ask him about it? Figure out what he's up to? If he'll tell us, that is." James shook his head slowly.

"I don't think so," he answered after a long pause, "no, let's just go get supper. I'm half bloody starved."

"Well, if that's what you want."

"Yes, it's what I want," James assured his friend. "We'll know soon enough, I think. The way Dumbledore looks at me sometimes, and what Hector said - well, we'll know, I think. That's all. I'll race you?" Sirius's eyes flashed, hungry for a chance to be a child again, and with a whoop of excitement, he was off. Strangling a cry of protest at this new injustice, James streaked off after the bigger boy in the settling afternoon, speckled with the prospect of dusk.

~*~

"All right, I know you're in there, open up," Arabella commanded, arms crossed over her chest. The door and doorknob seemed rattled and persuaded both by her tone of voice, but whoever was behind the door obviously was not. "Oh for heaven's sake," Arabella snapped out, feeling like a fool, talking to the damn door, "Hector, I'll break the door down if you don't open up. We need to talk and we're blood well going to, so don't make this harder than it already is for me." Silence. "Hector." Silence again. "Hector!"

"Oh, Christ," Hector grumbled, swinging the door open, "if we must. Do come in, Arabella; Mundungus and I were just sitting down to tea, and then you knocked, and then Mundungus threatened me with the tea pot until I came to answer the door, and now I'm here and you're here; and would you like a scone? They're freshly made."

"Did you make them, or did Mundungus?" Arabella asked warily. Because I don't for a second trust Mundungus's baking, but I remember your scones clear as yesterday, and fondly, at that." Hector found himself smiling, as he stepped backwards to let Arabella walk in. He closed the door behind her, though he carefully kept his distance.

"Let me take your jacket. I made them, yes."

"Are they the walnut scones?" As Arabella shrugged out of her jacket Hector took it, and then hung it up on one of the pegs by the door. The smell of freshly baked scones brought back too many memories, all of them too wonderful to be anything but painful now. Though it was warm, Arabella shivered.

"The walnut scones, actually, yes," Hector murmured, taking her hand. "I think, they were your favorite?" Some time, pinched quality came over Arabella's features, and she gave Hector's hand a little squeeze.

"Well, yes," she murmured, "they were."

"Are they still?" We might as well find out. I haven't made them in a while, but I think they've come out all right. I suppose you'll be the best judge, if any." Arabella stood there and looked sideways at Hector, who was trying his best to look at her straight on. It would have been so easy for one of them to move forward and end this terrible distance.

"It's been such a long time, Hector," Arabella broke the silence finally. "I think that now is as good a time as ever for me to forgive you."

"Please," Hector murmured, "because I can offer no more valid apologies, and it seems that we are getting nowhere being awkward with one another."

"You left us," Arabella said quietly, "and I loved you so. I didn't even know you were going to leave. Just walked in to dinner and Mundungus looked like someone had shot him in the stomach two seconds before, and there it was; you'd left us all. I forgive you, Hector. Merlin, but I hated you so; Merlin, but it would have been so much easier if I really had." Hector touched her cheek, patted her hair helplessly. "I forgive you, though. Hector, Hector." Arabella moved forward, awkward, and Hector wrapped his arms around her shoulders, awkward, but after that it fit and felt right, really right. Arabella held on to the back of Hector's neck. With a little sigh, Hector pressed his cheek against Arabella's and it felt good, like absolution. Arabella smelled like thyme and grass. Hector laughed, though it sounded more like a sob than anything else, and released the relief in him that way. If he didn't release it somehow, he was sure he might explode.

"He left us." Later, after dinner, after neither of them had touched their food; the silence between their bodies terrible and devastating. Arabella felt like crying. In fact, Arabella was about to cry. She ground the heel of her palm into her eye and tried to steady her swimming vision, to no avail. Instead, she licked her lips and stared up at the ceiling. She was going to cry and all she could think about was being alone, physically alone, so that emotionally she could feel protected in that tangible solitude.

"It would seem he did." If ever a man looked like the walking dead, it was Mundungus. He'd only just realized something, and while the knowledge that, had Hector stayed, it would have forever gone unrealized was simply not comforting enough. Ever since he had known Mundungus's left had hand stayed clenched tight in a fist, as if the tensed muscles and the fingernails against the flesh of his palm were a grounding force, were keeping him at the same time from drowning in a wave of agony and despair. "I didn't even know anything. Minerva told me and I looked at her and I told her she was a crazy old bat, because that much was blatantly obvious. What would Hector need to leave for, and all that? You know. You know, of course you know." Mundungus swallowed, could not bring himself to look at Arabella. Arabella had told him once, in the privacy of a youthful night, that she was in love and Mundungus, brow furrowed, had discovered without needing to ask that it was Hector Arabella was in love with. "I'm sorry, 'Bella. Merlin, 'Bella, I'm so sorry."

"Don't you leave me," Arabella hissed, voice brittle and her whole body brittle, too. "Promise not to leave me. Promise to stay with me. I can't lose you too. I can't bear it. I'm not a nice person, Mundungus, I can't make friends easily. I can't make friends at all. Why the fuck would he leave, I hate him." Mundungus reached over and took her hand, kissed it. "You didn't love him like I did," Arabella whispered. She was quiet, so quiet. "You didn't love him the way I did. You couldn't have." Mundungus had bowed his head at that. Silent. "Oh gods, what do we do, now that he's gone? What in Merlin's name are we going to do?"


"Shall we have scones, then? Comfort food, I believe it's called. And Mundungus will be waiting." Hector ran his fingers through Arabella's hair. Arabella kissed his cheek. "It's been a long time since the three of us had scones, hasn't it, 'Bella. Come on. We should-Mundungus is waiting, and-we shouldn't drive him crazy," Hector finished quickly. Arabella patted the cheek she had kissed, and nodded.

"Yes, of course; he's on the edge of his seat by now, I'm sure. Let's go then, dear. I never could resist those bloody scones."

"Marry me, Mundungus."

"What?"

"I said, marry me. Will you?" Arabella's eyes were bright flecks of light and her face was beautiful, so beautiful, when it was determined so adamantly and so intensely. "I can't imagine marrying anyone else," she explained, when Mundungus simply blinked dumbly at her, "because I don't know anyone better than I know you, after all." There was Hector, but Hector had gone, a good few months ago. It was a late night and they were a little drunk together, a little drunk and a little lonely.

"Are you in love with me?" Mundungus's brow furrowed. He was so good to look at, Arabella thought, and good looking, too. He looked familiar, even if you didn't know him, and devoted and he had great eyes, a great jaw-line. Arabella wondered to herself if that was why Hector had adored, had loved, him so. Fuck, but it hurt to think on that, now, now that Hector was gone and there was no way to ever really ask him - well, ask him a whole lot of things.

"I love you," Arabella answered, after a very long time of pausing to think, "I love you very much, in fact."

"But you're not in love with me. You're in love with Hector." Arabella winced. "I know. We're not supposed to talk about him. But it's true. Why are you asking me this?" Mundungus was a little more sober than Arabella was, and he felt nervous. Things were too complicated now that Hector was gone. There was no one to keep the two remaining really grounded, or even sane, in certain ways.

"I love you, I do, and I've never spent more time with one man in my life," Arabella answered. It was true. She'd spent a good few months more with Mundungus than she had with Hector. "Marry me, Mundungus."

"When, 'Bella?"

"Tomorrow. Let's get married tomorrow." Arabella touched Mundungus's cheek, and smiled faintly. It was rough. She wondered what it would be like to kiss him. "Let's do it. We'd have a good go at it."

"I think we'd kill each other, 'Bella. I think we'd kill each other right after the honeymoon." Arabella ran her fingers over Mundungus's cheek and he shivered.

"But just think about the honeymoon," she said. "Marry me."

"Yes," Mundungus said. "Of course. Yes."


Arabella draped one arm over Hector's shoulders. It was indeed good, better than good, to have him back.

"And you haven't changed the recipe?" Arabella questioned, as they made their way towards the kitchen, where Mundungus waited for them.

"Not at all," Hector assured her, "when you find something that works, why ever would you change it?" His eyes crinkled in the corners as he smiled. It was the most beautiful expression Arabella Figg had ever seen.

"It's good to have you back, Hector," she said, and smiled at Mundungus, who looked up when they came in.

"Isn't it, though," Mundungus agreed. "The scones are getting cold."

"A travesty," Hector mourned, "come on, before they get colder, and I have to make an entire other batch, just so we can have them fresh." Mundungus stood and pulled out a chair for Arabella to sit in, all of them around the kitchen table, and Hector went to get a third plate. Whoever thought up that stupid saying - "Two's company, three's a crowd" - hadn't known them, certainly enough. Mundungus feel a great weight lift from his shoulders. They were still selfish, really; the world was about to crumble around their ears, and they were eating scones together, prepared to be truly, honestly happy despite everything. The world, however, had almost ruined them. Of course, they couldn't crawl into bed with each other every night, that much was clear, and there was so much time that had been lost. Mundungus knew Hector felt the pang of that loss just as acutely as the other two did, though Hector himself had managed to move on better than Mundungus had, or even Arabella. At the thought of that young man - "I miss my lover, Mundungus." -- Mundungus frowned a little, to himself.

Merlin help him, but things would get complicated.

But when Hector put a scone on his plate, it seemed as if they were almost children again, children who knew more, knew enough to discard their knowledge, in order to savor the sweetness of a sweet day.

~*~

Dear Papa,

I'll be coming home soon, as school is almost over; that much, I know you know. I'm sorry I haven't written to you in a very long while, but so much has happened, that I don't believe I've had any time to. James's father was killed two months ago today; James says, it has to do with a war that's coming. I don't know what that means, but I suppose James would know better than I. I should have written to tell you sooner, but all of us were, as you can imagine, so very shocked, that I'm not sure I would have been able to even write so much down.

James himself has changed, because of it. Of course, he would; anyone would. He loved his father very much, he says, and he's lucky. He has wonderful things to remember. I wish I could tell him everything, everything that I remember, but I don't remember much, anymore. It's all very gray. I would try to tell him, if I thought I could remember enough to be of help.

But papa - I haven't thought of her death in a long time, and we have never between us talked about it. It seems strange, and yet somehow not so strange, that we haven't. I don't think we should. That's why I'm writing this letter: I need to talk to you about it, but I don't think I could, just speaking. Writing is so much easier for this sort of thing. All I have to do is get up the courage to post this, rather than actually bring words to my mouth on the spot.

I don't remember what she looks like, anymore. She was beautiful. I know she was beautiful, but I can't put features to that beauty. I can only really remember her voice. (I think I want to sing, sometimes; but then I remember her singing, and I'm not sure if I can. I sang for Sirius once and said he liked it, but I can't imagine singing for anyone else. I especially can't imagine singing in French.)

Mostly, I think I was wondering if you still had pictures of her, if you thought it better for me to forget her entirely or remember, know that I know what little I do know, about myself. I seem to remember that we looked very much alike. I wonder if we still do; ever since James came back to Hogwarts after the funeral, I find myself wondering about that more and more. It's a nagging, terrible question: and so what if I do look like her, and so what if I don't? Either way, I don't know what I'm looking for, what answer it is I hope to get, from you or from her picture or from some scent of the past that will explain everything to me.

Do you think she was trying to kill me?

No, no; that is a stupid question. I'm sorry I asked it. If you hadn't thought she was going to then what happened would not have happened, I suppose. I'm sorry I asked it, really. (Not so sorry to rewrite this letter, to make sure you never read it. Not so sorry as all that. I feel very transparent writing this letter, papa; transparent, and young.)

In any case, I'll be home soon. A lot has happened, too much to write down. Shall we have fish and chips the first night I get back? Sirius has gotten me to eat more at meals and so I think I'll order a large side of chips rather than a medium. I've missed them. One of the only things they don't have here is fish and chips, I think. They have almost everything else.

Love,

Remus

PS: Should I bring back any more Chocolate Frogs, or would you prefer a plain sort of chocolate, instead? There's some very good fudge to be found in Hogsmeade, and most of it is quite normal. (I would be getting you the normal sort.)


~*~

"It's a nice house," Lilly said thoughtfully, as the group of five approached the door. "A nice area, too."

"Really close to Hogwarts, actually," James murmured, brow furrowing, darkening, for a moment, in thought. Lilly peered over at him.

"Something the matter?" she queried.

"What?" James blinked himself out of his reverie. "Oh, no, nothing's the matter at all. It's just, you know, convenient. That's all. Ring the bell?" Sirius looked at James when Lilly turned back towards the doorbell, and gave it a ring. It was a nice Sunday and James Potter was obviously thinking exactly what Sirius Black was thinking: that it was unusually close to the school itself, and wasn't that funny, that Hector was here on business, and staying in this carefully situated house? Maybe he's going to be a teacher, Sirius thought to himself, though it didn't seem very likely. He was cut off from musing further on the matter when the door swung open, and Hector appeared in the doorway.

"Oh, wonderful," the man said, "you all came. I take it you're Lilly, and you, are Remus?" He nodded to each as he spoke their names, and they nodded back, Remus's eyes moving to rest on Sirius for a moment, wondering how Hector knew so very much about them as to recognize them so easily. "And you're Peter," Hector went on, "nice to see you again, very nice. Do come in, I've made scones, the cinnamon ones that you liked best, James, I believe, and you as well, Peter?" When the two grinned back at the man, he seemed quite pleased; he stepped back and let them file in one by one before he closed the door, locked it. Remus had the odd feeling that of the five, Hector was paying closest attention to him, and he stuck close to Sirius as they were ushered into the dining room. A plate piled high with fresh scones sat on the table, and there were seven places set.

"Seven?" Remus asked, immediately, turning to look at Hector.

"A good friend of mine shall be joining us; Mundungus Fletcher," Hector explained, seeming oddly pleased that it was Remus who had asked this question. "But he is notoriously late, and so you had all better eat while everything's still hot. How do you like your tea?"

"I resent that implication," a new voice said, as a taller, broader man came into the dining room, arms folded across his chest, a half-chiding look on his face. "Already prejudicing your friends against me; now that's cruelty, I tell you, if I ever saw it."

"Do be quiet, Mundungus; have a scone, or something. As I was asking, how do you like your tea?"

"Uhm," Lilly said, "two sugars, and cream."

"Admirable," the man named Mundungus said, sitting. He was quite the presence in a small room, Remus noticed.

"One sugar, and cream," Peter said.

"Three sugars," Sirius said, grinning, "and cream as well, but you know that."

"Yes, yes, I do," Hector replied, and he returned the grin. Remus, who was watching Mundungus, noted how the big man's eyes lit up at that, though he kept quiet about it. "Now; James, I don't remember how you take it, and Remus?"

"Same as Lilly," James answered easily.

"The same as Lilly, as well," Remus replied, folding his napkin over his lap. Hector nodded, once.

"I'll be right back," he told them, "don't let Mundungus eat all the scones, then, just smack his hand if he takes more than two." Mundungus laughed a little and Sirius grinned, reaching out a hand for Mundungus to shake.

"I'm Sirius," he said, "it's really great to meet you."

"A pleasure," Mundungus replied, equally cheerful. "How d'you know Hector, then? He's not the sort who gets around, really."

"He lives right near me," Sirius explained, biting unceremoniously into a scone as he spoke, "with, uhm, Damon, you know him? I've never met him, I don't think."

"I know him," Mundungus said. He looked away, and only Remus, again, caught his expression; this time, though the smile had faded from his lips. Remus was curious, quite curious, though he had never been made curious by the emotions and the troubles of others before. "So, as I seemed to have missed all the introductions, who is everybody, again?"

"This is Remus Lupin," Sirius said, pointing, "and Peter Pettigrew, and that's Lilly Evans, and that idiot's James Potter; don't talk to him, he's sort of, you know, affected, in the head. A sad thing, really, but his mum dropped him on the head when he was a little boy and he's just never been the same about things since." Sirius shrugged, looking very mournful indeed. "But, what can you do?" he asked, perking up immediately, as he went back to his scone.

"Eat a scone, it'd seem," James muttered, leaning across the table to smack the back of Sirius's head.

"Ow!" Sirius said.

"Now, boys," Lilly murmured demurely, tasting her scone, her eyes lighting up, "manners, manners. What would your mums say, then, hmm?"

"Mine'd hit me like James just did," Sirius answered, this time seeming really mournful. Both Mundungus and Remus laughed a little, at that.

"All right," Hector said, struggling with a tray as he re-entered the room, "I can't for the life of me remember who got what, so I believe I'll just have to set this all down, be a terrible host, and have you serve yourselves; is that all right?"

"Here," Mundungus said, standing quickly, "I'll help with that." His big hands took hold of the tray, and the two of them set it down on the table, by the scones. Seven cups of tea, two small pitchers of cream, and a sugar bowl. It was a very nice tea set; Remus remembered such things, little details, not because he found them important, but mostly because he caught hold of them while not looking at other people straight on.

"Thank you," Hector said. Sirius immediately liked the bigger man. It was something about the way he treated Hector Karnaugh, but it was just the way Sirius thought Hector should be treated, and that was good enough for Sirius to like a guy. Mundungus rested a hand for a moment on Hector's shoulder, waited for Hector to sit down before he himself sat once more. The quiet way with which Hector received the kindnesses felt like intrusion, to watch. Sirius looked away.

"D'you want a scone, Remus?" he asked, turning to face the boy on his left.

"Oh," Remus said, and then nodded, smiling slightly. "Yes, please." Further dialogue stopped then, as they ate until they were near bursting, drank their tea only when they paused in eating their scones. In fact, close to the only things said were compliments paid to Hector for his wonderful baking, who did not eat, but rather drank his tea, and basked in the warmth these almost-children brought into his house. It was carefree, the laughter and the pleasure they indulged in. This was the way, Hector thought, he should have been protected when he was a child; and it made him desperately sad to know he would not be able to keep these four young men and this one young woman safe for more than an afternoon.

~*~

"So," Hector said, folding his hands in his lap as he leaned back in the couch, sighing a little. Mundungus had taken Lilly, James, Sirius and Peter out into the back to see the garden, and it seemed Remus had sensed Hector's desire to speak with him; he had told the others he would be right out to join them shortly. Now, he sat on the opposite end of the couch from Hector, one leg tucked up beneath him so he could face the man.

"So," the small boy said, tilting his head to the side. Hector sensed immediately that the boy didn't play social games; perhaps, he didn't know how, or perhaps he simply didn't see fit to. It didn't matter. Hector liked him.

"How long have you known Sirius?" Hector asked, seizing on that to be his first question. Remus smiled a little to himself before answering.

"Oh," he said, "oh, a very long while, I think. No; no, it was before we'd even been sorted, our first day. Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. He punched a boy in my defense, I believe, though it was really that he wanted to punch a boy for any reason. Why d'you ask?"

"It's a lovely story, I knew it would be." Hector's eyes flashed with a brightness that made Remus smile in return.

"It is nice, in its own way," he agreed, "isn't it."

"He talks about you a great deal. You see, I live not forty feet away from him, and in the summers, he seems to be rather a-a restless spirit, I think you could call it. He tends to talk a lot about you, if he's in the mood for talking." Remus found to his surprise that such talk was making him blush. "Well, you can't really be surprised that you're practically the only thing he talks about," Hector said, softer, "can you? Or are you like me, doomed to be oblivious until the end of your days?" The two of them laughed, though the sound of the laughter was a little tinny and a little sad. "It would seem so. I knew I liked you for a reason." Remus shrugged, movements quiet and unassuming.

"You seem very, very nice," he said, "and I am glad to meet you. Sirius can go off about things; though, rarely, when he's with me, does he go off about me, you see. Not, not that I doubt him, or anything he does say." With another little shrug, Remus settled himself back comfortably against the couch. "I'm sure you know what I mean."

"Yes. I think, I do." Hector smiled reassuringly. "Remus Lupin is quite a name, you know. French, is it?"

"Mm." Remus nodded. "Yes, it is French." Hector nodded, thoughtful.

"Yes, I'd thought so. I think Sirius might have told me, but I wasn't quite sure if he had or not. My memory, perhaps, isn't what it used to be?" A little smile at the corner of Remus's mouth showed he knew Hector was joking. Hector relaxed, and went on. "So you've known Sirius nearing six years, now?"

"It seems rather shorter than I think, when other people say it," Remus mused. "But it feels like I don't remember anything before he came along." Another blush crept onto Remus's cheeks. "Sorry," he said quickly, "I'm talking to much."

"You hardly talked at all before, it's all right; quite, quite. In fact, I rather like it. You have a good deal to say, I should think. You read a lot?"

"A-lot, yes. Quite a lot, how did you know?" Hector grinned, and Remus took that to mean: Sirius, again. Of course. It made Remus slightly proud and slightly, just slightly, bunched up inside, to know Sirius spent all his summers talking about him. It was in fact a very good thing to know, like a secret that wasn't exactly a secret, but was so wonderful to store as one, anyway.

"Sirius told me, as much, but I assumed, just by hearing you speak. Do you want to be a writer, then?"

"Oh, no," Remus answered immediately, as if the question were absurd. "Words are only wonderful when there is something behind them. I don't have that - facility - with which authors put syllables and emotions together. I prefer to read, that's all," Remus finished, licking his lips. "That's all," he repeated, shyly.

"I don't know," Hector said carefully, "you might make a very good essayist."

"D'you think, really?"

"Yes. Or a teacher, perhaps. I think you could make things very-very lucid, for students. Whom, might I be so bold to ask, do you read? No, wait; let me guess, first." For a while, Hector was silent, his brow furrowed just slightly as he thought. "Let me see; let me think," he continued at last, as Remus watched him think, "you read Shakespeare, of course, and you like Hamlet. Yes?" Remus nodded, blinking widely.

"Did Sirius tell you that?" he asked, wonderingly.

"What? Oh, no, he didn't. It just seems you would like Hamlet. I like Hamlet." Hector smiled, feeling slightly sheepish. "Who else, then? Sometimes I do this with people; I really shouldn't. I've been told it rather puts others off."

"It doesn't," Remus replied, pensively, "well, at least, not me. But - I don't know. I've read an awful lot, and a lot of it rather awful. A lot of it wonderful, though."

"Poets? Playwrights? Novelists?"

"Edna St. Vincent Millay. Shakespeare, as you said. Faulkner." Remus rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Just off the top of my head, though."

"Commendable," Hector told him, "quite commendable." Remus paused, toying with the hem of his sleeve, which he found was very easy to do when he was talking with anyone other than Sirius. "Is something the matter?"

"What? Oh, no; I just feel that I ought to talk with you about Sirius, if he talks with you about me." Blushing again, Remus wondered why it was he found it so hard to talk with people, really talk with them. At home, Etienne tended not to talk much at all, but then again, conversation had never come easily to the two of them. He'd inherited that trait from his father, that awkwardness of speech, because Dalila Lupin, he remembered in bits and pieces and in dreams, talked easy and fast and simply, like the sound of a cool stream. Without any trouble at all, Remus could conjure the sound of her voice; it filled the silence with laughter and with comfort. He wondered at the memory of that voice now, though, and kept it close to him, all at once. Remus took his own advice as best as he could.

"What would you like to talk about, then? About Sirius, of course; what aspect of Sirius are you keen on, at the moment?"

"Every aspect," Remus answered truthfully. "I don't know why I'm talking so much, really. I don't normally. I shouldn't, even; I should go out, and join the others, in the garden."

"Stay for a little while longer? Let's talk about Sirius," Hector encouraged, feeling as if he were baiting a skittish, wild animal, offering out food in a steady palm, trying to bring out its confidence. Remus did seem to be warming to him, though; Hector got the feeling the boy, almost a young man now, did not talk this way with anyone at all, save for perhaps Sirius, and it was comforting. Hector needed to know, for some unexplained reason, the extent to which this Remus Lupin could love. Already he knew the grander gestures of Sirius's heart; the smaller, more delicate ones, too. Already he knew the way Sirius felt, and wondered if he could guide the two towards each other in a way no one had ever done for him, and for-

"All right," Remus acquiesced, "yes. Sirius. Let's talk about Sirius." Hector realized that Remus could probably talk about Sirius all day, if he were given the chance. That made Hector smile. "I don't know what to say other than that he's my best friend, and that his family hates me, and that my father knows he's the best thing in my life. Has Sirius told you everything? About us?"

"Certain things," Hector said, and then, on impulse, knowing it might explain a good many things, "his family hates me, as well, you see."

"Oh," Remus said, eyes alight with understanding, "oh. I had thought that was it. That was why they hated me. Does Sirius know? He didn't, when I was visiting his family. He didn't even begin to understand the silence, when I came into a room."

"He's beginning to understand," Hector said gravely, "yes. Which is why it's rather important to me that you don't ever let him face what he will have to alone. You won't, will you?" Remus bowed his head, and for a moment, seemed very small. For a moment, Hector worried. Then Remus lifted his head again and fixed his eyes on Hector's, something gold in them, something bright, and something so strong Hector found himself feeling weak-kneed. That such a small creature could possess such inner strength so well-masked seemed impossible to Hector: and Hector had seen things in his lifetime that most men would find much harder to believe.

"I hope you never have to ask me that question again," Remus said soberly, "because I would do for him all that he would ask of me and all that he would not have the heart to ask of me, and all that he would not know he needed to ask of me." Hector drew in a shaky breath.

"He is right," Hector said quietly, "to speak of you as he does."

"Thank you," Remus murmured, "that means a lot to me."

"We all live worrying we are not right or we are not enough or we are not - dare I say it? - worthy, but don't let that come in the way of mutual happiness, Remus. And I believe, we are both expected, in the garden, are we not?" Remus blinked.

"Oh," he said, and stood hurriedly, "oh, yes, we are."

"It's a very nice garden - after you - or so people say. Mundungus looks after it well. Are you a gardener, Remus?"

"No," Remus said, a little sadly, "I have an apartment with my father; there's no garden, not even a little window box for flowers. Though, I think that's best. I'm not sure. It's a very gray place, though." Hector watched the small boy as he spoke, and found he could understand why Sirius was enchanted so but such a seemingly unnoticeable creature. There was a power to his words that was so fey and so bewitching that one forgot he was yet a child.

"What I'd like to do for the rest of my life," Hector confided in him, "is let the world go to rot, and tend to a garden that was all my own. So long as I had a place to grow my flowers and my herbs, I'd be quite satisfied."

"I think," Remus replied, "I know exactly what you mean." And, though Remus Lupin had never attempted gardening in all his life, he did.

~*~

Dear Remus,

It is strange that after so many years you are bringing up the subject of your mother. I had thought you would do so sooner than this and, when you did not, I had assumed that you would not bring her up at all. Perhaps I should have known you better. Perhaps, it was just wishful thinking; as Dalila is quite a topic to address, especially in such a form. I shall attempt to do so, of course, for your sake.

Firstly, however, do give James Potter my deepest condolences. It is a terrible thing to lose a parent so young in life, and under such circumstances. I am sure that you and Sirius shall give him whatever strength you can, and I am sure that you know well enough to be patient. You cannot recover from such unexpected grief as you can recover from even the gravest of illnesses. It is, indeed, as I know you know, impossible. Some of us take longer than others to recuperate. Some of us simply do not recuperate at all. Death changes us. Be patient with him, though I know you, and I trust your good judgement, perhaps better than I do my own.

On to speak of Dalila. My wife. Your mother. It is strange that I should speak of her now, write about her after so much time has passed. Either I shall make this very brief or perhaps inappropriately long, but either way, I apologize, for everything. Certain things I should have foreseen. Do not close your eyes to the truth of matters for the sake of love, Remus; in the end, that is little comfort, most especially when it has been lost.

To tell you about her - to answer your questions - I must give some history of her, and of us. Forgive me that, and entertain the notion also that perhaps it is necessary for me, to tell someone. I can think of no one other than you that I trust deeply enough and respect so entirely, as to unburden myself of that cross I yet bear for her.

We married very young. It is unwise to marry when you are very young. She looked just as you do now, though perhaps smaller, and her hair was always in a long braid. (It is impossible for me to imagine not remembering this. I think, I remember it far too well for health and good humor, and envy you, that it should not haunt you the same way as it does me.) And, indeed, you were with us before a year was passed. She loved you very deeply, I could see that much. From the moment you were in our lives it was only you she saw. She was more devoted and faithful a mother than she was a lover or a wife, and you were the center of her life. (I do not tell you this to ease your heart. I tell you because it is the truth, and I would bestow upon you no other legacy than that.)

The full moon pattern became quite clear to me soon enough, though not soon enough to give me credit, and certainly not late enough for that, either. I had my suspicions. I was foolish, and I never asked, though I do not think she would speak to me of it, or tell me the truth of the matter, even if I had approached her. She was secretive, kept you in the embrace of all her secrets.

If I had known earlier, Remus, I would not have let her take you. I did not think she would ever harm you, as she loved you so clearly. The moon made her mad. In answer to the question you told me I should not, indeed, answer: she did not wish to kill you. Nor, do I think, was she trying to, in the end. Perhaps, she wanted you as all her own. Perhaps - and this is a theory which, over time, I have come to accept - it cannot be rationalized, as she was nearly a beast, and then entirely one, and incapable of rational thinking, herself. She did not mean to kill you, Remus. She loved you too dearly to lose you.

I have pictures of her still.

Now, however, I feel as if I write too much, and so, for your sake - for your benefit, as I feel it would benefit you - I have enclosed a few of these pictures, and they are yours to keep, to remember her or, if you so will, to forget her by. It is best I do not keep them. The resemblance between you both is striking enough, without such tangible reminders. of it.

Love,

Etienne.

PS: I would love some of the fudge, and perhaps, if we are feeling particularly daring, those Chocolate Frogs again for, though I do not much enjoy the idea of my food moving about in my mouth as I eat it, the chocolate was indeed very good. Besides, I should feel less of an old man chasing my food, I think, than I should if it were sitting docilely before me on my place. I love you, Remus.


~*~

Remus folded the letter and went back to the envelope. Frowning in thought and perhaps a nervous anticipation, he tapped out the three pictures that his father had sent along with the letter - which, of course, Remus had read twice, and now felt entirely too numb over. The pictures themselves were old, two of them black and white and one in full and glorious color. For a while, Remus looked at them, stared at them really, without even focusing on the shapes. He did not know if he could look her in the eye. He did not know what on earth he would do if he found the resemblance as great as his father told him it was. Of all fates the world and its mechanisms had to offer, Remus could not bear the one he saw all too clearly. Remus refused to be in any way like his mother.

"What's that you have, Remus?" Sirius draped himself over the back of Remus's desk chair and Remus started a bit, eyes widening. "Oh, sorry," Sirius said quickly, sheepish, "didn't mean to startle you." His eyes darkened, worried, at how pale Remus was. "Oi, is everything all right? Nothing's wrong, is it? Has something happened?"

"No," Remus replied, swallowing, trying to shove a lump of sadness down in his throat. "No, nothing's the matter. My father sent me pictures. Photographs - of my mother. That's all. He says I look just like her, so I can't look at them. Not yet. Do you want to?" Sirius side, and pulled up a chair close to Remus's side, flopping himself down into it. He rested an arm on Remus's shoulder and his chin on that arm, pausing to think.

"I don't know," Sirius said, "how 'bout we look at the pictures together, or something? D'you want that?" Remus toyed with the hand Sirius rested on his thigh, and then he nodded.

"All right. Yes, actually. Yes. Let's," he decided, face pained. He leaned forward a little, glad for the warmth of Sirius's breath at his neck, and picked the three photographs up, holding them so that both he and Sirius could see them.

The first was a small black and white snapshot of a small girl with unruly hair. She wore boy's trousers and a sailor shirt. If it weren't for the smile to her lips, carefree and wild, Sirius would have mistaken her for Remus himself, when Remus was that age. Their eyes were exactly the same, large and round and depthless, possessing some greater knowledge to which the general populace of the world were not privy.

"She looks like me," Remus said, very gravely, "doesn't she."

"It's the eyes," Sirius agreed, nodding. "But she does. I mean, a lot. Your da's right." Remus swallowed.

"The next one," he murmured hurriedly, "let's just look at the next." He set the first photograph face down on his desk, and held up the second.

It was larger than the first, and the girl in the previous picture was captured here as a young woman. The smile and the eyes were the same. She looked to be about twenty, a laughing, vivid twenty, wanting colors, Sirius thought, not a grayscale. He licked his lips, and kissed Remus's cheek. Remus, however, was paying attention to the picture, studying the young woman's features. She had Remus's snub nose, the shape of his lips, his chin, and still his eyes, those dark, glorious eyes.

"What does my father see," Remus asked himself, the words barely heard, "when he looks at me?" For a while, Sirius puzzled as to how he might best answer this question, and then he sighed, kissing Remus's cheek again. He found he was unable to tell Remus anything. He barely knew Etienne Ibert; and he certainly never knew Dalila Lupin. What advice could he give, what judgements could he make? "Do you think it's possible for him to see me?" Remus asked.

"Of course," Sirius answered immediately. "Of course it's possible. Who else would he see? You're Remus. Besides," Sirius added, thoughtful, now, "there's something really different about the way her features are, in her face. I can't explain it more than that, but d'you know what I'm saying?"

"I'm not sure," Remus admitted.

"Well," Sirius said, trying, because he could sense this was rather important, "well, I don't know how to explain it, really. Just she smiles a lot differently than you do. You can see it. She smiles so other people will look at her, I think. You don't smile like that; you've never smiled like that. And her hair, too, it's longer and wilder. And she holds her head at an angle, to match with her smile." Sirius blinked. "Her smile's crooked. Your smile isn't." Remus had that half-smile. It wasn't crooked. It was lopsided. There was an incredible difference.

Remus let out a sigh of relief.

"Thank you, Sirius," he said, and kissed Sirius on the cheek in return. He set the second picture down with more ease than he had the first.

The third was in color. It was that young woman, obviously a little older, and a young boy on her lap. The two of them were laughing.

"My father took this picture," Remus said. "I remember this, I think."

The boy and the mother looked more alike there than they did, picture to young man. Sirius had never seen such a carefree expression on Remus's face. Sirius could barely remember any time when Remus had looked so simply happy. It didn't look like Remus's face, this boy's, Sirius realized, in the same way Dalila's face did not look like Remus's: there was too little understanding of the world, and too much caprice, in the lines of those mouths.

"You used to look like her," Sirius said, "a lot, but now, you don't, as much. Now you're different."

"She really knew how to smile," Remus said helplessly, "didn't she. Look at that smile, it's wonderful."

"I like yours better," Sirius answered truthfully, "I like yours much better. It seems like she gives hers away too freely. Yours are," Sirius struggled for the word, "well, they mean more, anyway." He touched Remus's cheek. "You okay, Remus? Are you all right?" Remus was simply looking at the third and last picture, holding it in a shaky hand, looking a little lost and a little more at a loss for words. Sirius watched him worriedly. "Oi, Moony, c'mon, answer me. You all right?"

"What?" Remus blinked himself out of a reverie he should not have allowed himself to fall into, and then nodded, apologetically. "Yes. I'm fine. I didn't mean to worry you. No, I just - you're right. We used to look very much alike."

"But you don't as much anymore," Sirius added, brow furrowing. "That's the answer to your question, I think. No, I know that's the answer to your question. I don't think your da sees her in you as much as you'd think. You're not really alike at all. Expressions make resemblance just as much as features do." Remus lowered his hand, and the photograph, to the desk.

"Thank you, Sirius," he murmured.

"You're welcome." Sirius kissed his cheek again. "Come on. Come have some lunch. And then James and I are going to play a little Quidditch, you know, one on one, 'cause it's probably the last chance we'll have to do that, before we're off for the summer. You in?"

"Mm," Remus said. "I'll come along and watch. I've an essay to write, though, so don't keep me out for too long."

"Oh, you wouldn't let us keep you out for too long and you know it," Sirius muttered, mussing Remus's hair. Remus laughed, very lightly, and Sirius cupped his face in both hands, kissing him on the lips. "It won't be the same if you're not there just for a little while," Sirius said, more sober as he pulled away just slightly, "and I'm starving, so let's go." Remus smiled half-sidedly at him, and nodded, tucking a stray lock of dark hair behind one of the bigger boy's ears.

"Right," Remus said, "lunch. Definitely. Let me just put these away," he added, pointing to the pictures, "and I'll be right down, all right?"

"Right," Sirius said, "I'll see you there. Don't keep me waiting. I can only be a gentleman for so long."

"Mm," Remus returned, voice wry. "All of two seconds. Go on, start without me; but I'll be right down, so you needn't worry." Saluting, Sirius stood and was gone a few moments later, leaving Remus alone with the photographs. He gathered them up into a neat pile, not looking at them again - he didn't think he would be able to face her, without Sirius beside him, keeping him strong. Sliding all three of them back into the envelope, he took out his quill, and wrote a quite reply.

Papa -

Merci. Je sais que tu as fait et je comprends que tu as veut maitnent. Je pense que je sais aussi qu'elle a veut.

Elle n'a pas sourit comme moi.

Elle avait tres belle.

Toujours,

Ton Remus







TRANSLATIONS



Papa -

Thank you. I know what you have done and I understand what you wanted now. I think that I know also what she wanted.

She did not smile like I do.

She was very beautiful.

Always,

Your Remus.