Hermione had promised that she'd finish what she'd started, and had been looking forward to doing just that. It was through no fault of her own that the morning following the full moon found that promise broken. When she had opened the door for Sirius at twenty-eight past seven on his return from Remus's he had kissed her on the cheek, said 'I'm so fucking late' and hurtled into the bedroom – returning in less than a minute, to where she still stood at the open door, weaving slightly as he tried to kiss her again, pull his Ministry robes on and get out the door all at once. Calling back up the stairs as he thundered down towards the street that his grandfather could 'suck it' and that he would be home straight after work.
This had not gone to plan either. Even though Sirius had come home right after work at six last night, he had also been asleep where he fell, face buried in the sofa and snoring loudly enough to annoy Staple-face through the wall, in the time it took for Hermione to make a cup of tea. It was only then that she added up how his last few days had been: it was Wednesday evening, and on Saturday morning he had gone camping with Frank, returning tired from three nights sleeping rough and keeping watch, only to spend a day at the office, then run off into the woods where he no doubt spent the whole of Tuesday night awake and running around with Remus. It was a wonder she hadn't opened the door to find him asleep in the hallway, really.
'Sirius,' Hermione said, as she shook his shoulder where he was still face down on the couch on Thursday morning.
For a moment she wondered if he had suffocated himself in the night, until he gave a mumbled groan and then said in a heavily muffled voice, 'If it's tomorrow I'm going to kill myself.'
'Please don't.' Hermione said.
'Fuuuck!' was his only reply. But then his stomach gave a vibrating gurgle and he asked meekly, 'Do I smell toast?'
'Yes,' Hermione said with a tiny laugh, 'it's right here.' How he could smell anything except sofa was beyond her.
He rolled onto his side, drowsy eyes lighting up as she held the plate out to him. She picked up the second marmite-smeared slice before he could get both of them; she had made them for herself after all. He hauled himself upright, looking very disgruntled about being awake, but a few bites of toast seemed to happy him up because after a moment, he half-smiled at her, and said thickly around his mouthful, 'Hermione, you're magnificent.'
'Thank you,' she said, as she stood in front of him munching her own piece of toast.
'What time is it?' he asked when he'd finished the piece and rested his head on the back of the sofa, closing his eyes once more.
'Five past seven.'
'Why didn't you wake me up last night? I'm sick of sleeping on my own couch.' He frowned, and with his eyes shut the expression made Hermione want to laugh.
'I did try,' she said holding in her giggle, 'but you weren't having a bar of it – and anyway then I would have had to give up my solitude.'
'Would that be so bad?' he mumbled, still looking like he was deciding whether or not he was going to be awake at all.
'With the way you were snoring last night, yes,' she said honestly. 'I could hear you with all the doors closed; I cast a silencing charm in the end.'
Suddenly his eyes snapped open and his arm shot out to seize her wrist, jerking her forward so she collapsed against him in a very unladylike straddling position, their faces very close together. His hands were on either side of her waist and he looked amused at her surprised expression. 'Well I wouldn't have been sleeping would I? So it wouldn't have been a problem,' he said cheekily, before brushing his lips against hers in a tender little kiss that was quite at odds with the wicked glint in his eyes.
'To be honest I don't think you would have been capable of anything but sleep last night,' Hermione said matching his teasing tone, even though she was slightly flustered by the abrupt change in mood.
'You're probably right.' He sighed, head tilting back against the sofa to look at her; he still looked worn out, his face darker under the eyes than usual, and the tiny line between his eyebrows suggesting he wasn't completely at ease, even though his fingers were tracing little idle shapes where they rested on her hips, distracting her from the teasing.
'How was Remus's, did you have fun?' she asked to help her focus.
'I actually did, though … Pettigrew was there,' he said. One set of tracing fingertips snuck beneath the hem of her t-shirt and continued their pattern-making against her skin, but she hardly noticed; his mention of Peter was quite enough to keep her mind on the conversation.
'What!' She had horrified visions of their plan falling apart completely because the walls of Remus's sitting room were now painted with rat guts.
'I know,' he said, 'but it wasn't that bad, it was kind of like the old days … Prongs and … well,' he shrugged, 'I can see how Pettigrew tricked us last time - he was so happy last night.'
'Sirius, I'm impressed,' Hermione said truthfully, and very relieved, 'I didn't think you'd be able to cope with that. Especially knowing your reaction last time you saw him.' She put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it slightly. 'Well done.'
'Moony did have to jinx me when Pettigrew first arrived,' Sirius admitted, the corner of his mouth turning up ruefully, 'but I got there in the end; apparently my newfound restraint extends to traitors as well as … you.'
'Restraint?' she asked with a skeptical look down at his wandering hand, which had been working its way farther and farther up her side as they talked.
He grinned and said with a succinct little nod, 'Yes, like how I'm going to go to work now instead of staying here.'
'I think that's priorities, rather than restraint,' she said, smiling at his apparent conviction.
His head fell back against the sofa again as he exhaled heavily. 'It's really really not.'
'How long have you been practicing this restraint then?' she asked amused, and quite flattered at the pained look on his face.
'Forever,' he grumbled, 'but it's going to come crashing down if I don't move,' and suiting actions to the last word, the hand that had been edging lightly over her ribs gripped her side firmly, and at the same time he slotted the other one under her legs and tipped her swiftly onto the sofa beside him.
He grinned as she tried to right herself, shoving her hair out of her face and sputtering in shock at the unceremonious turfing.
'Sorry,' he said smirking, and not looking sorry at all, 'but truly, crashing.' He leaned over and pressed his lips to her forehead as she glared at him, then he stood and looked down at her, clearly mocking her stern, unimpressed face with one of his own. 'Cheer up,' he said, before chuckling again as he left the room without another word. He returned after ten minutes, showered, shaved, and Ministry robed, with a grin at her still-annoyed expression. 'I know I'm something amazing but you'll just have to wait a while longer; priorities, as you say.'
'You'll be bloody lucky,' Hermione muttered, and she almost meant it, smug twat that he was.
He swooped in for one last peck to her firmly closed lips, and she turned her face away so that he caught her cheek instead. He just sniggered and said, 'That, Granger, is called cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.' Sirius was still laughing quietly to himself as he headed for the door.
'Good lord,' Hermione snorted to herself in disbelief as the latch clicked shut behind him. How could anyone be so insanely confident? It was very unnerving.
Remus woke up Thursday morning in the Hogwarts hospital wing. He often spent a day or two following the full moon there, at Madam Pomfrey's invitation. She still liked to see him, and with seven years' practice at healing the wounds he inflicted on himself while he was a pupil she was very adept at fixing him up. There was the added benefit of not having to go to St Mungo's where while he might receive treatment, it was with fearful hands and a cold glare from the staff. A glare that clearly suggested it had been very irresponsible of him to become a werewolf in the first place, and how dare he use up their time each month with trifles like torn ligaments and deep gaping wounds, when there were human patients suffering from head colds to be attended to? Remus liked to avoid the hospital as much as possible. The Hogwarts matron's concerned tutting and kind words might make him feel like a little boy at times, but it was much preferable to the hostile atmosphere at St Mungo's.
With the Wolfsbane, Remus hardly needed to be there at all, but it would have worried Madam Pomfrey if he hadn't shown up, and even without significant damage to heal, sleeping the day away on Wednesday had been exactly what he wanted. Madam Pomfrey was pleased at his lack of injuries, though skeptical; he had told her vaguely that the wolf just hadn't been very angry for some reason, claimed more overall soreness and aches than he actually felt, and declined further examination. His only injury this month was a suspiciously antler-shaped graze across his shoulder, where a protective stag had intervened to stop the wolf chewing on a certain rat's tail, an action suggested to the wolf by a large black dog to ensure that the rat believed the wolf was his normal truculent, bitey self; the dog seemed to find it very entertaining when the rat squealed and spent most of the night trembling in a rabbit hole. Remus wasn't quite sure how he could explain having only one random injury, so had accepted a potion for bruising and one for sleeping, and hoped she wouldn't ask.
Madam Pomfrey released him Thursday morning, and he slipped out of the hospital wing to get on with his business. The real reason he was at Hogwarts was not the Matron's doctoring skills, but that Frederica had asked him to gather information on the Salem Institute for her. Frederica had not agreed to help with "Keep her here" yet, but Remus felt that she might, and if the Swiss woman said yes then they suddenly had a lot more time to come up with a final solution. Hermione would be fine hiding for another few months while they sorted it out, and a delay on her public appearance was really for the best because Dumbledore had given Remus some distressing information.
The Headmaster had heard through one of his sources – who Remus now knew was Snape – that the Death Eaters had been told to kill Hermione Fehr on sight if they came across her. Her sudden apparition out on the morning of Sirius's escape and failure to meet with them was an insult to their organization, and such rudeness seemed to warrant death in Voldemort's eyes. Disrespect was a feeble excuse to single someone out, since the general Death Eater Code of Ethics was to kill non-followers on sight anyway; Dumbledore suspected that it was a cover for some deeper reasons unknown. All motive aside, they were out to get her already, and if she was known to be involved in the death of Voldemort in two weeks time, then the hunt for Miss Fehr by leaderless and distraught Death Eaters would only intensify after Hallowe'en. Hermione would need to stay out of the public eye until they were all rounded up; knowing Hermione, Remus thought that delays in establishing her identity might be a more convincing reason for her to keep her head down than an amorphous threat.
When he spoke with Sirius, Remus had not gone into too much detail about Frederica's interest; he didn't want to get his friend's hopes up only to have them dashed away if Frederica said no, which was still a possibility. If they were going to do it right Lady Fehr would have to convince her brother and nephew to sign off on it, and agree to authorise a false documentation of Hermione's life, including a Swiss birth certificate and apparition license, and records of her tutoring until she had attended Salem. Hermione would also need written references from Faustus and his son Falco if she wanted to apply for a Ministry position in Britain; it would seem very odd for her not to have them considering a recommendation from the Senior Under-Secretary to the Swiss Chancellor, and one from the Head of the International Magical Relations Department would basically guarantee her a job. Because giving Hermione the ability to work was really the whole reason they were going to so much trouble in the first place, it was very important that they had everything in order.
Aside from Lady Fehr's problem of getting the family's support, the unexpected fly in the ointment was Hermione's paperwork from Salem; a foreign education had seemed a convenient lie at the time, but was now causing nothing but headaches. Frederica had worked in education for many years, but the European and American systems were very different from each other, and she had no contacts at Salem. Lady Fehr had set Remus the task of finding out as much as he could about the American way of schooling so that they would be able produce a believable record of Hermione's time there if it was necessary. Hogwarts was as likely as the bookstore to have useful information on educational systems, and frankly, he and Sirius had worn out their welcome at Flourish and Blotts.
After five hours spent hunched at a table in the staff reading room of the school library, even studious Remus had reached the end of his concentration. So he went about putting the books away, and filing his large sheaf of notes into the folder he was keeping track of all their plans in, helpfully labeled "KHH" by Sirius in case Remus was in danger of forgetting their goal. Remus couldn't help but grin at the paperwork, despite the strike-throughs of red ink crossing out bad ideas. The notes were mostly dense paragraphs of his own utilitarian hand, but there were also short additions in Sirius's significantly more loopy scrawl. These were more commentary than actual planning, along the lines of "Moony this is brilliant and will totally work, remember I am a genius." Or "You are so daft, stop worrying – of course I won't lock her up until we find a solution." Or "Are you sure we can't just smash the Timeturner?" The one that made him laugh however was six words scribbled after seven pages of their failed immigration idea – "I think my brain is melting." Remus had to admit that he agreed; the immigration waffle was difficult even for him to get his head around.
Remus nodded good bye to Madam Pince and began the long trek down through the castle and out into the grounds for his appointment at the Hogshead. It wasn't a full Order meeting, but a team assignment. The information Frank Longbottom and Sirius had collected over the previous weekend had convinced Moody that it was time to act on the Pussycat Pilferers of Suffolk. According to the constricting rules placed upon the Aurors by the legislation committee of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, there was not enough evidence to warrant a Ministry arrest party. Fortunately the Order of the Phoenix were not bound by such silly laws as evidence - in the eyes of the Ministry they did not exist at all, and how do you regulate an imaginary organisation?
Remus turned down a side street in the village to reach the inn, with its decapitated boar-head signage creaking in the breeze. He hoped he was a little early; if he was the first one there he would be able to ask Dumbledore – again - for the Timeturner back, something he had been doing every time he saw the old wizard. Once it was safely back in Hermione's possession he would feel a lot better about having taken it in the first place. Ignoring the seedy looking patrons and the slightly goaty aroma of the tap room, Remus made his way to the bar. The wizened, grey haired Aberforth manned his post at the taps, by all accounts looking like he was cleaning; as filthy as the place was, Remus suspected it was just a clever ruse. Aberforth dipped his head in recognition as Remus approached. 'Lupin, what can I get you?'
'A Redcurrant Rum, no ice with a pink umbrella,' Remus said quietly. Aberforth was not entirely enthusiastic about hosting covert Order meetings in the basement room of his bar, and Remus often thought he made the passphrase drink order overly feminine on purpose to annoy someone – probably Moody, as it would hardly irritate the headmaster, and did more harm than good when Sirius or James was involved. The barman simply nodded and stepped aside as Remus crossed the dirty floor to the cellar door. The second password, "Fudge flies" unlocked the door; Remus closed and locked it behind him before descending the short set of stairs and following the lamp-lit passage to the meeting room.
The door was thick oak, hinged and braced with iron; he raised his fist to knock, but hesitated as he heard voices within. If it wasn't only two days after the full moon – when his hearing was still better than humans – he doubted he would have caught the muted tones at all. But it was, and he did.
'Albus, are you sure?' asked Alastor Moody's gravelly whisper.
There was a sigh before Dumbledore's voice answered, 'Not at all, but Nicolas is continuing to develop his hypothesis, he is confident he will reach a conclusion soon.'
'It's a big risk to take,' Moody said warily.
'I am aware of that,' Dumbledore replied calmly.
Silence, broken only by a tapping of wood on wood, was all that Remus could hear for a moment, and then Moody said grudgingly, 'You're right though, it's for the best.'
'Indeed.' Dumbledore's voice was soft, and almost regretful with the word.
It was quiet again with the continuing tapping beating out a thoughtful rhythm. 'Black will not be happy,' Moody growled, tone low like he was irritating himself with his own comment.
'He will understand,' Dumbledore said, though he sounded uncertain, 'it's much better to be safe.'
'And the girl,' Moody pushed on, 'she'll be devastated.' The tapping increased its pace for a few seconds and then, in a nearly petulant voice the Auror said, 'You're telling them, not me.'
Remus almost missed Dumbledore's next words of, 'We will wait until the day, let them be happy for now,' because his heart was thudding loudly in his ears. What did they mean - did Hermione have to go back? Why wouldn't they tell her?
'You're too soft Albus, they should know,' Moody said, echoing Remus's own thoughts.
'It could affect their determination – we need everything to go to plan,' Dumbledore said, and Remus felt the worry in him change to anger. Trust Dumbledore for that - the plan must come first.
What would happen if Hermione and Sirius knew that she was leaving? They wouldn't give up on the ambush or Horcrux destruction, Remus was sure about that. He even thought that Sirius, no matter how often he said Hermione was staying, was prepared deep down for it not to happen. Wouldn't it better for them to know it was coming? Or to let them be happy as Dumbledore said?
It was a little odd that Moody seemed to think it would worry Hermione more than Sirius. Remus wasn't aware that anyone knew that she and Sirius were anything more than close friends, but the older men on the other side of the door were talking like the pair were some tragic, love-struck couple who couldn't bear to be parted from each other. Even Remus thought that was a bit over the top; he might not be looking forward to spending twenty years in the company of a surly Padfoot while they waited for Hermione to return, but it wasn't the end of the world.
Moody was speaking again. 'Right. And the other one?'
'I will see to that this week,' Dumbledore assured the Auror.
Remus couldn't make heads or tails of this confusing exchange – the other what? - but he didn't have long to think about it because the continual tapping came to an abrupt stop and Moody asked, 'When are the others getting here?'
'Should be anytime,' Dumbledore said, and there were suddenly heavy, mismatched footfalls growing louder on the other side of the door.
Remus hastily knocked, and the door was pulled open immediately, 'Lupin,' Moody said, surveying him suspiciously, 'good. Did you bring Black?' He poked his grizzled head out into the corridor to look around.
'No, is he coming too?' Remus was confused; it was only coming up on five thirty and Sirius would still be at work. It sort of defeated the purpose of skipping out early only to come and meet your boss.
'Yes,' Moody said closing the door behind Remus, ' he and Longbottom will be our watch since they know the area, but it's better if I'm the only Auror doing the capturing – the higher-ups won't fire me for getting caught up in Order business.'
Remus sat at the table, head still filled with the previous conversation, and thinking that Sirius would no doubt be rather pissy that he had to come along just to be on watch duty. Not to mention leaving Hermione alone yet again. Still, they hadn't been on an Order mission together for months so Remus couldn't help but be a little excited. 'And Edgar, he's coming too?' Remus asked in an effort to push the overheard words from his mind. He couldn't do anything about it right now.
'Yes, we three will go in, Black and Longbottom will guard in case of anti-disaps and such, and I want to cut down on the red tape so we'll be saying the Death Eaters we get turned themselves in to Black and Longbottom.'
Remus smiled, 'Sirius will like that, he's always whinging about the paperwork.'
Dumbledore chuckled, 'Yes, he always did have a disinclination where theory was involved.'
'Picked the wrong career then, didn't he?' Moody grouched.
'Professor, can I have it back now?' Remus asked suddenly and without preamble, knowing the Headmaster would understand exactly what 'it' was as Remus had posed the same question every time they had met. He really wanted to get the Timeturner back to Hermione, even if it was going to mean making Sirius very annoyed at him for enabling her to leave; the discussion he had eavesdropped on suggested that might be unavoidable, but with luck it wasn't necessary to have Hermione angry at him for stealing it from her. Remus didn't have a set plan of how he was going to switch it with the copy he had given her, but the first step would be to actually have the real one to swap it with.
Dumbledore looked surprised for a moment and then said, 'Why yes Remus, Nicolas has discovered all he can from it directly, and is happy to work from his notes for further insight.' The Headmaster took the bronze hourglass from his pocket and handed it to Remus.
'This is the real one?' Remus asked. He wouldn't put it past Dumbledore to try and pull and fast one. Like you did? He asked himself regretfully.
'Yes Remus. I made you a promise. Do try and get it back without her finding out – she is not a woman to be on the bad side of.'
Remus nodded as he remembered warning Sirius of the same thing - being burned alive by Fiendfyre would not be a pleasant way to die. 'What did you and Flamel find out?' he asked innocently, tucking the timeturner away in the inside pocket of his jacket.
'Nothing concrete yet, but we are hopeful to make some firm deductions before it is too late,' Dumbledore said.
There was a knocking at the door and Moody stood to answer it, leaving Remus to Dumbledore's unperturbed gaze. Remus was irritated at the lack of information, but tried to keep his face impassive. He didn't know what to do, but he would leave it for tonight - perhaps he could confront Dumbledore alone next week. He tried to set those thoughts aside for now, and stood up to greet Edgar Bones who had just entered the room.
Edgar was not the usual Order member - he was older than most of them, over forty, and always well turned out, rather than wearing the casual muggle or wizard attire most of them preferred or even Moody's severely practical fighting robes. In fact, Remus didn't think he'd ever seen him in robes, even though he was a pureblood. He generally looked like a muggle farmer dressed for a day in town: trousers and waistcoat sometimes a bowtie, and always a sports coat, always.
'Hello there Remus,' he said tipping his tweed flat cap at him, 'keeping well?'
'Very well Edgar, thanks,' Remus said. 'How are the boys?'
'The lads are well,' he said with a nod, taking a seat opposite Remus at the table. 'Graeme has just started at Hogwarts you know, he's a good boy, likes books. It will be Aaron we have to watch, he's starting next year - not quite so fond of structure is that one.'
'Are you talking about me?' Sirius and Frank had arrived; Sirius pulled the seat out beside Remus and sat down, grinning. 'I do hate structure.'
'No,' Remus laughed, 'we were taking about Edgar's boys; his eldest started at Hogwarts this term.'
'Right,' Sirius said, looking thoughtful for a second as though trying to remember something. 'Graeme?' he asked.
'Yes,' Edgar said, 'he was sorted into Ravenclaw much to our surprise - Boneses have been Hufflepuffs for quite a few generations now. But still, it never hurts to break the mould.'
'I know that firsthand,' Sirius said proudly. 'First non-Slytherin Black in centuries, I was.'
Frank, who had sat down next to Edgar, said, 'The number of times I wished they'd got you. Still I only had to try and keep you in line for two years.' He looked at Remus and said, 'Weren't you a prefect Lupin? How on earth did you cope with him and Potter?'
'Cope,' Sirius scoffed.
But Remus cut him off with a despondent shake of his head and said, 'Very poorly Longbottom, very poorly.'
Edgar and Frank both chortled and then Moody spoke up from the other end of the table where he had been speaking with Dumbledore, 'At least you could see the light at the end of the tunnel – I'm stuck with him until he drives me to an early retirement. Or grave,' he added with a look at Sirius.
Sirius just shrugged and said, 'The choice is yours old man.'
Moody glowered for a moment and then said, 'Right, listen up. We need to round up these Death Eaters in Suffolk. According to the witness statements Longbottom has collected, they have been in the same place for two nights now. Whatever they are doing out there is unusual and I want to put a stop to it before it becomes a problem, and before they move on. Bones, Lupin, and I will be going into the forest we think they're hiding in. Black and Longbottom, you'll be our back-up - but I don't really want to get you involved unless we need you.'
Remus looked at Sirius to see him frowning in Moody's direction; clearly he hadn't been told he wouldn't get to do any of the fun stuff.
The five men crouched together in a small circle, gathered together under trees at the edge of a dense forest near the Suffolk coast. The evening had darkened to night, and the breezes off the ocean smelled lightly of salt; it was pleasant enough, and quite mild for October, but Sirius thought he wouldn't be out here if he had a choice anyway.
'Alright,' Moody began, no doubt to go over the plan again. It was like he thought no one listened to him, or maybe he just liked talking. 'The thieving raids normally start about ten so we want find the camp when they're down to two men.' Moody looked at Sirius sternly, 'You're not to come in unless one of us sends you a patronus asking you to.'
'We know Moody, we'll wait here,' Frank said quickly, realising that Sirius was about to say something that would earn at least one of them a cane whacking. Sirius thought Frank was getting very good at recognising the signs, and seemed to know before he himself did half the time.
'So what,' Sirius said, undermining Frank's attempt to keep him safe from the walking-stick, 'we're all just going to sit around here until ten?'
'Yes Black, do you have somewhere more important to be?' Moody said, readjusting his cane threateningly. Sirius didn't answer; Moody really was trying to keep him away from Hermione. But that wasn't why he was annoyed, not really. It was more that they were running out of time; he'd had no new ideas for "keep her here" in a week, and it was starting to worry him. 'I didn't think so.' Moody grunted.
Sirius sat in silence for the rest of Moody's briefing, picking at the grass beside him angrily. He didn't need to be here, it was two Death Eaters and some cats for Merlin's sake, so pointless. It was only when he'd ripped quite a substantial bald patch in the earth beside him that he noticed he was nearly alone; Frank, Edgar and Moody had moved off and were crowded around a map rolled out on the ground.
'Cheer up Pads,' Remus said, coming over to meet him, 'we've not been out for the Order together since March – that's fun isn't it?'
'Except we're still not are we?' Sirius grumbled, 'You get to go noisy crook catching and I have to stay here like a good boy with Franky.'
'Yeah but we're bringing the Death Eaters in under the Order so you won't have to do any paperwork,' Remus said, obviously looking for anything positive to shake Sirius's sullen mood.
'Yes I will,' Sirius said resigned, 'not as much granted, the turn-in forms are only four pages rather than the thirteen-page capture ones.'
'That why Moody's got you and Franky waiting here,' Remus said, 'so he can force the Death Eaters to "turn themselves in" to you.'
Sirius sighed. It was such a waste of time; any Auror could being doing this, so why did it have to be him? 'I know,' he muttered, 'it's just …'
'If this is about shagging you can just shut up,' Remus said warningly.
'No, it's not,' Sirius said, glad that it actually wasn't so he didn't feel too much of a twat, 'I mean fifteen days and no solution, and mate,' he sighed again, 'it's just fucked… don't worry, I'm just being a sad bastard.'
'Tell me about it,' Remus agreed with an sharp elbow into Sirius's side.
'What are you two ladies whispering about?' Frank asked, smiling down at them; he must have left the grown-ups and their confidential map party to look for entertainment.
'Shagging,' Remus said blithely, making Sirius chuckle under his breath despite his bad mood and sore ribs - the werewolf had pointy elbows.
'Each other?' Frank asked, sitting down on the grass with a little laugh at his own joke.
'Yes,' Sirius confirmed with a straight face.
'Good for you,' Frank said smiling widened as he waited for them to start laughing.
Sirius nearly did when Remus said, very sombrely, 'Thanks Franky, that means a lot,' but held it in.
Frank knew they were only kidding but he still looked confused. 'Franky? Not too keen on that to be honest.'
Remus shrugged and said in his still-serious voice, 'Sorry Franky.'
'What's with you two tonight?' Frank asked looking between the pair of them their deadpan faces seemed to unsettle him.
'Nothing,' they both answered in the monotone.
'I thought I was getting away from the boring duo coming over here, but at least they're talking about the mildly interesting topic of Edgar's eldest boy's latest Transfiguration marks.'
Remus snorted, 'Right.'
'Did you bring any cards Moony?' Sirius asked, deciding that he was only going to get more and more frustrated the longer he sat here with nothing to do.
'I did,' Remus confirmed flipping over the flap of his bag and starting to root around inside it.
Sirius looked at Frank. 'Poker, Longbottom?'
'We've nothing to bet,' Frank said, as Remus withdrew his trusty deck of cards. They were just muggle ones, but he carried them everywhere; the life of an Order member involved a lot of waiting around, and while Remus himself was happy to read, quite often it turned out that the light was too bad, or there were more people waiting together, or you were just a bit too keyed up for something as calm as a book.
'Hang on,' Remus said, rummaging in the bottom of his bag with his tongue between his teeth and his face screwed up slightly in concentration, 'Ah ha!' he exclaimed triumphantly as he pulled out a matchbook.
'Where'd you get that?' Sirius asked. Wizards as a general rule did not carry matches; there was no point when your wand lit fires much more effectively.
'This girl I know,' Remus said with a significant look at Sirius, 'she was staying in a hotel.'
'Oh right,' Sirius said quickly, annoyed that he hadn't found them himself; matches were great, like muggle magic. 'Neat, can I've a go?'
Remus shook his head. 'They're for betting.'
'I won't let them burn all the way,' Sirius wheedled with a grin, 'please? I haven't used matches in ages.' Frank laughed at the pair of them.
'Fine,' Remus said exasperatedly, trying not to smile. 'Child!' he added as he threw them at his easily-amused friend.
Sirius caught the little book and flipped it open. Tearing one of the matches loose he dragged it quickly across the striker, and burst into a pleased grin when it worked first time and the head gave a little hiss and burst into flame - it really was like magic. He shook it so that it went out and ripped another free, smiling smugly when he did it successfully twice in a row.
'Why are you so good with muggle stuff, Black?' Frank asked, looking just about as enthralled as Sirius was as he blew on the second match, and a little trickle of smoke furled in the air. It was so silly, just a bit of flame, but the fact that he had no idea how it worked made it quite fascinating.
Remus let out an odd noise of skepticism, and they both looked at him. 'Frank, are you kidding? He's useless at muggle stuff.'
'Not true,' Frank disagreed, 'he cooked us dinner every night when we were out here; it was very impressive.'
'You hear that Moony? ' Sirius gloated as he lit another match with a flourish, 'Impressive.'
'Purebloods,' Remus grumbled, 'I don't know how you survive.'
'With magic,' both Frank and Sirius replied; they looked at each other and burst out laughing as Remus rolled his eyes.
'Will you three keep it down!' Moody shot over at them.
Remus finally laughed when Sirius – a little carried away with his own cleverness at match lighting – managed to catch several of the loose, tattered threads at the knee of his jeans on fire, and Frank panicked and sent a large gush of water from his wand at Sirius's smouldering trouser leg. Sirius thought he might have been a bit overzealous on purpose, likely jealous of Sirius's excellent muggle skills.
Three hours and twenty two hands of poker later, Remus followed Moody and Edgar's path through the close-growing trees of the young forest. Unlike the twisted gnarled trunks of the ancient trees in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts these ones were straight, and quite orderly. It was different, too, from the glen where he and his friends had spent the first full moons after Hogwarts; the undergrowth in the glen seemed to take on a life of its own, snaking up the oaks and ash as though determined to strangle them and win possession of the highland valley. Here near the sea, the ground cover was much lower, and seemed happy to let the trees be in charge for a while longer. Young was of course a relative term when it came to forests, but without the tangles of underbrush or contortions of old growth, the groves seemed almost organised.
They had been walking through the neatly-arranged forest for long enough that Remus had begun to catalogue the species of flora they were passing to keep himself occupied, when Moody came to an abrupt halt in front of him. 'Lupin,' he said in a hushed growl, 'what can you hear?'
Remus listened; he knew this was why Moody had asked for him specifically to come along tonight; wolf ears were useful when approaching the unknown. There was nothing for a moment, then an unsettling scraping registered. It sent a pricking tingle up his spine that radiated across the skin of his back, making him want to shudder. It was not very far away, but it was magically concealed. Then another noise – one he was quite sure he didn't need his heightened senses for – a strangled caw of a disgruntled animal came from a point to the east. Remus looked at Moody. 'Well, there's that.'
Moody nodded, having heard the noise too. 'Anything else?'
'Whatever made that sound…' Remus thought for a moment - the scraping… 'it's got claws, and it's restrained.'
'And not very happy about it I would guess,' Edgar put in.
'I think you might be right,' Remus said.
'Right,' Moody said leading them in the direction of the caw. Remus was perplexed; he knew a reasonable amount about magical creatures, but that was not a sound he recognised at all.
Moody stopped suddenly again ten minutes later, but this time Remus knew why. The air had thickened around them briefly as they walked, and then with one more step, the animalistic whining became easily heard; they must have just passed through the concealment charm. Peering through the branches, Remus understood why he had not identified the call - he had never seen a dragon in real life.
Crouching and tethered to one of the wider trunks in a small clearing was a scaled, orangey-red lizard. Not large by dragon standards, only a meter and a half at the shoulders. Its head – which was framed by a mane of sinister-looking gold spikes – looked too large for its body, an adolescent Remus deduced. Still, it was a sodding dragon. Moody and Edgar had looks of surprise on their faces as they turned to Remus.
'What are Death Eaters doing with a dragon?' Edgar asked in an awed voice.
'Buggered if I know,' Moody muttered.
Remus wasn't really listening as the other two began to expound on theories for Voldemort supporters to be travelling with a dragon across the English countryside; he was too busy taking in the confusing scene before him. The young dragon was at one edge of the gap in the trees, tied securely around its neck with multiple tethers, and heavy leather straps ran around its body to bind its wings. On the other side of the open space – no doubt outside firebreath range – was a ramshackle shelter made from canvas that was pegged to the ground and held up by three tall posts, with the forth corner of the fabric fastened to the closest branch of a fledgling oak. Next to this meagre cover was a stack of crates piled four across and three high that walled the tent off from what looked like a rubbish heap; feathers and empty bottles littered the ground, along with broken bits of wood that looked like they came from smashed crates, strips of ripped leather, and other scraps of general refuse that could be expected at a campsite.
Remus scanned the area again. There was a large cauldron beneath the hasty cover, and now that he looked closely Remus could see flames at its base, hidden from first glance by a strategic bank of soil that circled it. He focused on the dark interior created by the canvas, peering at the two bundled shapes there, bundled human shapes.
Both Moody and Edgar must have seen the residents of the campsite too, because Edgar said, 'We should come in from the other side, between the shelter and the supply crates. We'll be able to stun them before they even know we're there.'
Moody grunted, 'Good thinking Bones, let's go.'
They skirted around the edge of the clearing – the long way, so as not to get in the reach of the grouchy dragon and a sudden fiery death – and crept into the gap between the wall created by the wooden boxes and the rough fabric. Edgar bent down and tried to lift the corner of the canvas in order to stun the Death Eaters from behind, but it wouldn't budge, magically sealed to the earthy forest floor. They took a few more steps up the enclosed space and it was only then that Remus realised he'd made a bad assumption. The scratching sound was not coming from the dragon tethered across the clearing, but from the crates that he had assumed contained supplies, or possibly stolen goods.
Remus ran his eyes over the crates nervously. They all seemed to be about the same size, just standard square wooden shipping boxes almost a meter high, though there was one that was painted red; it was stacked along with the rest, but obviously contained something important, though not, perhaps, the source of the noise. Moody was looking at crates too, and he met Remus's eyes with a confused expression, but didn't say anything as there were two drowsy Death Eaters not five feet away, only separated from them by a thin fabric barrier.
Edgar, who had led the way into the gap did not seem to have noticed the noise. He glanced quickly back at Moody when he reached the edge of the shelter wall, looking for the order to act. Moody gave a sharp nod and Edgar sent a silent stunner into the Death Eaters sleeping quarters. At that same moment, however, the teenage dragon decided it would like to draw attention to itself once more, and let out a shriek that echoed around the open space. Edgar's stunner when awry as he jumped in fright, hastily backing out of view of the Death Eaters who would no doubt be awake now.
Remus whispered 'Muffliato' in the hope of keeping their presence here a secret; they retreated a little as they heard the Death Eaters grumbling about the noisy dragon, but seemingly unaware of the stunner that had shot past them. The Order members were still, and waiting for the moment to strike. The scratching coming from the boxes was disturbing Remus as they stood in silence; he hated the idea that there was an animal trapped and frightened inside the dark wooden prison. He nudged Moody with his elbow and looked pointedly at the nearest crate.
Moody nodded and said in a barely discernible voice, 'Check it, might be dangerous.'
Remus vanished the iron nails that held the top of the crate down and lifted the lid a fraction. His breath caught in his throat. Inside were two large cracked eggshells, and amongst the fractured pieces sat a pair of dragon hatchlings. Edgar's face paled as he followed Remus's gesture to look into the crate, and Moody's wiry eyebrows shot up. 'Merlin' he muttered.
Then a voice rumbled out clearly from behind the shelter wall, 'Is it nearly eleven? Wilkes and Vistrim will be back soon - hope they got something decent, I'm sick of porridge.'
Remus met Moody's dark eyes for a moment; there were four death eaters on this camping trip, not three.
'I think there's some of those biscuits left, go have a look,' said a second voice, an impatient-sounding man.
All three Order members spun to face the tent as the sound of one of the Death Eaters moving underneath the scanty cover reached them. They began to back quickly away, wands trained on the place where the biscuit-hunting Death Eater would appear as he came out of the shelter.
As they retreated there was a vicious snarl from the restrained dragon, followed by a torrent of flame that lit the clearing brightly for a second. All three of the sneakers started in fright, and Remus saw Edgar's tweed elbow collide with the red painted crate as he backed away, eyes focused forward, ready for the Death Eater's appearance.
The red box jolted slightly at the contact, then – without warning – the air was rent by a loud and violent explosion. The tent, the trees, and even the ground, vibrated with the force of the blast. Remus threw his arms up over his face as splintered wood from the crates flew in every direction; something heavy crashed into Remus's right arm knocking his wand from his grip as he stumbled at the impact. The dragon across the clearing was howling, and there were agonised cries coming from all sides that tore at Remus when he realised the pair of baby dragons were not the only of the creatures kept in the now-destroyed crates.
Remus could barely see through the haze of flying dirt, smoke, and wooden shrapnel as he ducked to the ground. Registering a grunt of pain from his left, he squinted and saw Moody crawling towards him awkwardly, head held at an unnatural angle. Remus's hands were skittering across the dirt trying to find his wand amongst the wreckage, trying to focus among the hideous pained calls of the animals around him, and his heart was pounding in his ears. What the hell had happened?
'Lupin,' Moody said unsteadily, 'get to Bones – we have to get out of here.'
Remus looked at Moody again and his stomach churned. There was foot-long deadly sharp splinter skewering his eye, and blood pouring freely from the socket. 'Moody,' Remus croaked in shock.
'Get to Bones,' Moody said again, voice still shaky, 'I'll send for the boys.'
Remus shuffled on hands and knees through the disaster, wondering where the Death Eaters were and if they were hurt. Hopefully, he thought. The dust was so thick he was hidden well enough as he crawled along; his left foot was tingling oddly but he ignored it. Averting his eyes as best he could from the mangled, flailing bodies of dragon hatchlings, and trying not to hear the agonised mewling they were making, he scuttled quickly over the smashed remains of the crate pile. What the hell had been in that painted box? Dynamite? Was it there for security? To destroy the evidence of illegal dragon breeding?
Remus finally reached the place where Edgar lay, covered in broken chunks of timber. He was lying very still, unnervingly so, but he groaned when Remus shifted a large partial crate from his lower body. If Remus thought Moody's facial injury, or mutilated dragon young were bad, Edgar's condition was a hundred times worse.
His trouser leg had been torn away and there was a huge, gaping trench in his flesh running from thigh to abdomen. It was so deep Remus could see the thin yellowish layer of fat that coated the muscle. The werewolf retched slightly at the sight, then with shaking hands he felt for a pulse at the man's neck - he was sure he'd heard Edgar groan. A light, unsteady fluttering beneath the skin of Edgar's throat met his touch, but Remus couldn't be sure if it really was from Edgar or his own trembling fingers.
Then there was a blunt, hard object pressing in the side of Remus's own neck and a threatening voice said 'He's not long for this world, and neither are you, scum.'
The frightened shaking within Remus turned in an instant to thudding fury. A snarl shook his chest as the animal he kept locked deep inside made itself known. He was wandless, but not defenceless. Remus kept his crouch low and spun on his heels, his arm shooting out to snag the Death Eater behind the knees and send him crashing to the ground.
A sudden flash of red cut through the air above him, and a voice he knew in an instant shouted, 'Moony!' Sirius and Frank had arrived.
The Death Eater he had knocked horizontal was struggling hard against the werewolf's unbreakable grip; Remus clambered over the man's body to keep him pinned and force the wand to point away from him. It snapped when its owner's hand was wrenched sharply into the earth. Remus drew back his right fist and smashed it with all the force he possessed, into the Death Eater's nose, driving upwards and feeling the impact shudder up his arm. The Death Eater's eyes rolled back and blood spurted from his face beneath Remus's fingers as his body went limp.
'It's the Order, summon the others!' shouted an unfamiliar voice.
Remus looked up to see two more cloaked men closing in on him quickly, wands drawn. He staggered to his feet, wiping his bloody hand on his jeans; his left foot was numb, and he stumbled, and then someone was propping him up with a strong arm around his shoulders. 'Moony, we've got it,' said Sirius in his ear, 'go back and help Moody.' Sirius spun him around, pushing him back in the direction he had left the old Auror, and Remus caught his expression – a grim set to his mouth, brows contracted, but grey eyes dancing with excitement. It was this that made Remus do as he was told; this was the look of Sirius in control, and wandless or not Remus knew he would be safe with his friend guarding him and the injured Moody.
Remus fell to his knees to move more quickly – his foot still didn't work properly – and Frank thundered past, saying hastily to Sirius, 'I'll call, Black! Let's give 'em a go!'
Crawling as fast as he could, iron nails and jagged shards of wood jabbing into his palms and kneecaps as he went, Remus's mind was whirring - chickens and brandy … baby dragon food … the awful noises, it was all making sense, except … cats? … dragons could eat cats, but it wasn't a preferred choice of nourishment … and why would Death Eaters have dragons in the first place?
The grizzled Auror was slumped against a tree trunk when Remus reached him, further back from the explosion site than he had been before. Remus's brain lost its moment of clarity at the sight: Moody's peg leg was missing, and he still had the unfortunately large splinter of crate protruding from the place his eye should have been, and there was sticky, dark blood covering most of his face. He was smiling widely, though, and Remus, fuzzy with shock, fear and that frightening wolfish rage, almost laughed at the incongruent image – one should not be smiling when one's head is a giant shish-kabob. Moody's good eye was fixed behind Remus, where he was obviously seeing something that made him very happy.
Remus turned, and knew what it was at once. On the other side of the bomb site, Sirius and Frank were back to back, their wands flashing, colourful bolts of light ricocheting in every direction. The reinforcements must have arrived because there were five Death Eaters fighting the pair of Aurors now, surrounding them. It was impressive to watch, and it made Remus realise how well the two men knew each other; their movements seemed coordinated, and almost relaxed, both taking a quarter step to their right every few seconds as they continued to block curses and hexes from the scrambling, weaving, panicking Death Eaters, so that they were revolving and constantly covered while presenting a new challenge to Voldemort's supporters with every turn.
The challenge was not needed for long however, because Frank suddenly called, 'Fifty two!' and in what was obviously an orchestrated move, Sirius dropped to a crouch, spinning as he did so, with his wand slicing the air and sending a barrage of stunners in the direction opposite of that he had been facing. Frank had turned too, performing the same sweeping cut with his wand in the empty space created by Sirius's hasty ducking. As one, the five Death Eaters collapsed backwards onto the dirt with a grim thud of finality.
Moody chuckled beside Remus, who raised his eyebrows at him. 'It's nice to know they pay attention,' the old Auror said by way of explanation.
Sirius was standing again and pounding Frank on the back when Remus looked over at them again, and he couldn't help but join Moody in amusement when he heard his friend say with a bark of laughter, 'Shit mate, could you have waited any longer?'
Frank shook his head, but he was smiling, 'Black, it's only sporting to let them think they stand a chance.'
A roar form the adolescent, still-chained dragon interrupted the pair, and they seemed to realise this was not the time for congratulating each other. They hurried back down the gap, Frank stopping next to Edgar, and Sirius coming to Remus and Moody. He squatted down in front of Remus, face still lit with the slightly manic grin of success in battle, commenting, 'Nice punch."
'Thanks,' Remus said with a huff, 'I lost my wand, it's in there somewhere.' He tilted his head towards the disaster zone.
'I figured, you don't normally resort to the wolfman unless you have no other choice.' Sirius said with a nod, 'How's your ankle?'
'Fine?' Remus looked down at it in confusion; his left foot was twisted on an odd angle, and as he saw this a hot throbbing pain shot up his leg, like his brain had only just realised it was hurt at all. 'Fuck,' he hissed, 'maybe not fine.'
'That's what I thought,' Sirius said grimly. He held out his wand, 'Here, bind it up, you're much better at that than me, I'll probably make it worse.'
Remus took the wand and said, 'Ferula,' with a grunt of pain as the bandages appeared, pulling his ankle into alignment with a grinding clunk as they tightened around it.
Sirius looked over at Moody. 'How're you doing, old man?'
'Not bad Black,' he muttered, 'though this is a bit of a hassle.' He pointed to the chunk of wood extending from his face.
'Mungo's then?' Sirius asked, torn between disgust at the sight, and humour at Moody's blasé attitude.
'We'll have to take Edgar, he's really bad,' Remus said.
'He's dead,' said Frank's low voice. All four men were silent for a moment; Remus, Sirius and Moody all knew that Bones was supposed to have died months ago but that wasn't really much comfort when faced with the reality. 'So is the one you punched,' Frank continued, unease at the loss of a comrade still very obvious in his voice, 'I can't tell who it is though, that must have been some hit.'
He looked at Remus who felt his stomach twist uncomfortably; he had killed someone with his bare hands, struck them so hard they were unrecognisable. Even if it was a Death Eater, it felt so much more like murder than using a wand. Frank was still talking as guilt for behaving like an animal bubbled inside Remus. 'We need to get the Regulation and Control chaps down here,' he said, and for a horrible moment Remus thought Frank meant for him; to arrest the werewolf who had murdered a human. But then he added, 'What the hell were they doing with dragons?' and Remus relaxed slightly.
'I don't know,' Sirius said pensively to Frank, 'they're worth a bit - do you think they were selling?'
Suddenly Moody grunted, 'Why are we sitting around talking? Black, Longbottom, take those Death Eaters in – and the dead one - lock them up downstairs but don't tell anyone they're there, and don't do the forms either, they can wait till tomorrow. While you're there, tell the Regulation lot to get out here and clean up this mess. I'm going to St Mungo's to get this sorted out,' he waved in the direction of his face as though it was a scratch and not a near-lobotomy. 'Lupin, you can come along with me and bring Edgar. I already sent a patronus to Dumbledore, he'll meet us there.'
The three young men looked at each other; they all clearly had the same thought running through their heads. How on earth was Moody able to think so rationally with a huge bit of wood sticking out of his face?
'Okay, Moody,' Remus said, 'I just need to get my wand.' Moody grunted and leaned back against the tree trunk once more. 'Accio wand' Remus said, waving Sirius's in the direction of the wreckage. There was a slight shifting in the pile and then narrow splinters of wood came soaring towards them. Remus felt his heart sink as he recognised the handle of his precious wand amongst these shards.
It had been shattered. His miraculous wand - the tool that he'd never thought he would allowed to own, let alone be permitted to learn to use properly - was in five separate pieces in his lap.