Five adjectives that may overlap but aren't synonyms: nice, kind, loving, safe, fair. Five more: calculating, menacing, evil, savage, cruel.
Vernon's sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be? What did James Potter do for a living?
Warnings for SLYTHERIN. I'm sorry, did you think he was nice?
And Sirius's mouth. (And monologuing. Well, the Evil Overlord list wasn't out yet, and Slytherins don't watch Bond films...)
Chapter art (yeah, you know where):
Platform 9 3/4, one last time
Brand New Key
Sunday, June 18, 1978
"Lupin!" The lanky Gryff turned as Evan caught up with him. He really had gotten indecorously tall.
"Away from your pack?" Sirius asked snidely. He wasn't away from his, but Potter and Pettigrew were a few steps away, being fussed over by parents who'd come to meet them on Father's Day at King's Cross one last time.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Evan said with an unapologetic smile, "I was under the impression you wanted to be done with us, Siri. Lupin, a word?"
"We'll be right here," Lupin told Sirius reassuringly, and stepped aside with Evan. "Can I help you with something, Evan?"
Assuming familiarity was a terrible habit of his. Evan had long since decided to give him the credit of doing it on purpose to be irritating. "Oh, no," he said. "I just wanted a word before we all go off. We were prefects together for a bit, after all."
"I wasn't much of one," Lupin muttered.
"No," Evan agreed, and let the silence toll for a moment. "It was a difficult position you were in," he allowed. "Snape had a few people he had to keep happy himself; I know how it is."
Lupin gave a mirthless chuckle. "You don't know the half of it."
"That wouldn't surprise me." He gave that, too, its due in quiet, and then asked, "Are you back with your parents, or will you be staying with my cousin?"
"We're all staying together," Lupin said, trying hard to avoid giving Evan information about his private life that would in no way have been news. Even to people in, say, Ecuador. Or circling Alpha Centauri. He was reserved, but Sirius was, er, not, and even he wasn't as subtle with his eyes or where he leaned as he might have thought he was. "For a while, anyway. Jamie will probably need his own place soon enough. You three?"
"Narcissa's going home until her wedding, poor kid." He'd seen what her mother had been like planning Bella's wedding. This one was likely to be worse.
Bella was the firstborn, glorious and much beloved, but since Bella's wedding Aunt Dru had lost her middle child to exile, and Narcissa was her baby. More, Narcissa was the most like her: the only one of her girls she really felt was carrying on the Rosier House, heart and style into a new name and family. And even more than that, while Bella's in-laws had argued (nearly begged) for restraint and a countrified, rustic, hearty sort of style that made all the Blacks twitch but was tasteful in its own way, lively and restful at once, Abraxas Malfoy did not know the meaning of either taste or restraint.
"I don't think," he started, and decided to give up, because it was hopeless. Lupin was going to call Spike by his name whatever Evan did, and it was just too absurd if Evan was the only one being formal. "I don't think Severus would appreciate my telling any of you anything about his living arrangements."
Lupin nodded silently. The reason that Evan was talking to him was because, of the four of them, he was the only one who knew, understood, and would admit that he deserved that piece of blunt discourtesy. After a long moment that Evan didn't try to make less awkward for him, he rallied. "Do you know what you'll be doing?"
"Oh, I was always going to paint for the family firm, if I was good enough," Evan said, shrugging. He had some intensive months of final training coming up, the brushwork and the spellwork, but Spike wouldn't let him try any charms he wasn't ready for. Certainly not any of the dangerous ones that mediated between spirit and paint. He had an instinct for mind magic. "Severus has an apprenticeship. Some arcane research do. He says it's going to be terribly difficult; I don't know when I've seen him so excited." He was so excited he'd he wasn't even making dry Sword of Damocles jokes about his supervisor's name, which was frankly jaw-dropping.
"I'm glad," Lupin said sincerely. It wasn't enough to make Evan sorry. At all.
"Nothing yet," Lupin said with a little smile and shrug. "No Professor Slughorn to arrange early job interviews for us, after all."
"No," Evan agreed, and added, "There could have been, you know. He was inclined to support most of you, to begin with." Lupin looked down again. Evan sighed, and shrugged himself. "Well, I just wanted to give you this," he said, handing over a package. "It would have been more fitting to give it to you last week, but you were ill, I think?"
"Yes," Lupin agreed, justly astounded and suspicious. He took the package and opened it, saying, "Well, this is very kind of you, Evan, I don't know what to say."
"Oh, not at all," Evan said, smiling with a shade of compassion, although not regret. "Not kind at all. But I'm not a cruel man, I hope."
Lupin looked at him, and then between him and the rather elderly book he was now holding. Its title read So You Want To Sell By Owl! "I don't understand."
"Your lot are all innovative types, aren't you?" Evan asked. "You make things. Charmed objects and suchlike."
"Well," Evan said, and tapped the book, "this will be a help to you." He smiled, not unsympathetically. "Because I wouldn't rely on any of those job interviews panning out, Lupin. I really wouldn't. Not for any of you."
It turned out, to Evan's muted delight, that Lupin went still in much the same way Severus did: a clear fight-or-flight freeze. Sirius hadn't been looking at them, but his head turned at once and he prowled up maternally. Slowly, Lupin asked, "And why would that be?"
Evan raised his eyebrows at them. "Surely you knew, two years ago, that you'd crossed a line?" Lupin was silent. Sirius started to say something, but his friend's hand on his arm stopped him.
Evan went on in a reasonable, explaining tone. "Right in front of some of the best-connected kids in the wizarding world, you—well, yes, I know, you just sat and watched, Lupin. But the collective you exercised your collective psychopathic whims on someone those kids knew would dive in front of a killing curse for them without blinking, and die without regret in the middle of telling them how annoying they were. Some of them had nightmares for months just from hearing about it. You were still equal opportunity hexers back then, of course, so some of them were purely afraid you might get that bad with just anyone. Either way, quite a lot of nightmares."
Dealing with these had been a far more burdensome chore than he would have expected. They'd kept flying into his dormitory that last week and for a while in September, white-eyed. Even the girls, sometimes. That was probably mostly because Spike didn't live in Narcissa's room, but also partly because while Evan reacted badly to being woken up, Narcissa reacted badly less blearily. With, in fact, very sharp and pointy magic. Spike had taken over for him quickly. Being crossly shepherded back to bed, scolded all the way, seemed to reassure them more than the cocoa had. Severus had been thrown and bewildered by all the summer mail, Narcissa had said. It had, apparently, been 'sweet,' but a bit sad.
"They knew they couldn't have gotten between you and him," he went on, "and they knew he would have skinned them alive for trying. But they weren't happy, Lupin. None of us were. It made them angrier that it was one of ours, of course, but I'm not sure how much it mattered that they were angry. See, even the ones who never liked him any more than you did were disgusted. Insulted, too, but the disgust is more important here."
He resettled his weight a little, shrugged again with a broad stroke of helplessness. "And then, you know, you hid that you never stopped from Evans, but not from the people who didn't talk to her. Not from our people. That's two years of Slytherin—I did mention that these are some of the best-connected witches and wizards in the world, did I?"
Lupin didn't nod; his face was frozen. Sirius, it was sort of amazing, was growling, very quietly, so far under his breath it was more felt than heard.
"Oh, good. Two years of Slytherin watching you, and writing home that no, you still hadn't learned how human beings behave, you still didn't take rules or authority seriously. You still had a monomania about tormenting a nameless, penniless wizard your families could have chewed up and spat out in a heartbeat if there'd been anything really wrong with him. That's like beating your elf, Sirius, that's despicable. And when he showed enough strength and connections you couldn't violate him in public again—"
"That's not what happened!" Sirius burst out. "We didn't know that potion had worked!"
"Madam Pomfrey disagrees with you, Siri," Evan said coolly, because he had a lifetime of experience in translating Sirian outbursts into nearly-sense. "What does it matter what sex he was at the time? Or at all? There are things one does, and things people who are fit to be let out in public absolutely never do under any circumstances. I suppose you thought you were safe enough, knowing Severus is a stiffnecked idiot who doesn't even tell the mediwitch when someone's trying to kill him or otherwise making his life a misery, let alone his friends."
"I did not try to kill him!" Sirius yelled, clenching his fists. He was a scatterbrain, but not stupid. Certainly not stupid enough to go for his holster in the middle of the station, with wands and scattered trunks and edgy cats everywhere. "It was an accident; I was drunk! I went for help the second I realized!"
"Sirius," Lupin hissed urgently.
Evan could see how his cousin felt about Lupin, drawing attention away from him by defending himself so loudly. It was good he had someone he wanted to protect, but Sirius had run through his lifetime's supply of mercy already. Besides, it was far too late for what he said to Evan to matter.
Ignoring all the turning heads, he rolled smoothly over Siri's protests, cold and gentle. "It happens that we didn't need telling, not being blind. Or mute. There have been quite a lot of parents and grandparents and friends of families hearing steadily, over the years, that you four have behaved irresponsibly and unspeakably as often as you could get away with, with relish. And that when you knew you couldn't strut about hexing anyone you felt like anymore without hurting yourselves, you only learned about not strutting, not about not doing it. You just got more underhanded and tightened your focus to the one victim with no family to speak for him. I don't imagine there are a great many people who'll want employees like that."
Silence, again. Lupin's was bottomless and grey, but Sirius looked like he was ready to leap for Evan's throat.
He therefore turned back to Lupin. "My cousin Alf left Sirius enough to live on if he's careful—convenient, that, but it's not good manners to find out who'd been visiting him before he died, so I don't know."
Uncle Orion, rating a son over a brother? Aunt Walburga, unable to kill her child's future as summarily as she had her heir's? He saw Sirius going grey in his periphery. Surely he'd thought of it himself? Probably he'd just been trying not to.
"And of course the Potters are rolling in it. Marrying him will make Evans look to many like a collaborator or brain-dead, I'm afraid, even with Slughorn over the moon for her. But it'll also mean she won't need a job. And Pettigrew didn't have any obvious authority or power, so he may be able to find some work if he shows that he's completely obsequious and wouldn't say boo to an employer any more than he could to your friends."
Lupin was looking at him in a muted blankness, as if Evan were an old, old nightmare made real. He shrugged, not unkindly. "I'm afraid it may be worst for you. Not quite fair, maybe, but there you are. That's why I'm giving you the book. It was a terrible position you were in, I know," he said again. He wasn't sorry (at all), but he did mean it. "Even if I don't know the half of it. You were trapped, I appreciate. You ought to have a chance."
"You've been planning this for two years," Sirius said, flat with murder, "had all your little ghouls spying on us, and you didn't say anything."
"Nobody had to spy on what you flaunted," Evan reminded him, just as flat. "You shocked the breath out of a lot of little kids. You scared them, Sirius. You really scared them. They wrote home for advice and reassurance and Should I Go To Beauxbatons Next Year, and got told to keep writing."
Partly and in some cases mostly by Evan and Narcissa, but who knew? It could be useful later to look like Evan had only been the bearer of the message.
"You disgusted older kids you'd made sure to make enemies of, what did you think would happen, a brawl? Wands at dawn? We're not you. And yes, Siri, I did say something," Evan told him, tilting his head with a little sigh. "It went against the grain, but you're family. I told you it was a good idea to be aware of what you didn't know."
"And what the BLOODY SODDING FUCK was that supposed to mean?!"
"For starters," Evan looked at him, flat-eyed again (very nearly a Spike expression), "it was an invitation to ask what it meant. Now you finally have, it meant Severus doesn't hide behind his friends: he hides his friends behind him. There's only so long a fellow—or a House—can put up with that."
He took a breath. This might be a bad idea and might be overkill, but it had been boiling in him for years and he was doing it. "And it meant one more thing, Padfoot. We have nicknames in Slytherin, too, did you know? The prefects give them out, when you've shown who you are."
"So you've got nicknames, big—"
"Mine is Fer-de-lance," Evan cut him off, smiling pleasantly with Black ice eyes. "Has been since second year. That's the viper that strikes without warning. The lance-head doesn't want a fight. Really tries to avoid it, Sirius. But if you will keep on stirring up trouble, if you follow when it tries to walk away, a leg rotting off is about the best you can hope for.
"Oh, do excuse me," he added, trying not to light up too obviously as his hawkish new flatmate's impatient waving, now graduated to eleven arms (including an impeccably casual Malfoy one, four belonging to two rather giddy Blacks, and all of Evan's parents'), finally got his attention. Reggie must not have seen Sirius or he wouldn't be so giggly. He hoped Sirius wouldn't turn and wreck his brother's day; Reg's chances of getting the Head Boy badge were significantly better than one in four, and Sirius was sure to be tiresome about it. "I seem to be wanted. I am walking away now."
Because it really might be useful, someday, to seem to have been only the bearer of bad news, rather than the author of the trap. Siri would wonder and wonder and wonder and fume and doubt, because he wasn't stupid, but that line gave Ev plausible deniability. With a little wave of his own, he added, "Have a good summer, you two."
"YOU THINK—!" Sirius started, starting towards him.
Evan slipped in under one gorilla arm and over the other, cut him off with a hug. That usually worked. Siri didn't know what to do if you didn't fight back. "I'm glad you've got someone to howl over," Ev told his hair quietly, and meant it. "And I expect you can find me if you want to be friends," he added with a rueful sigh, leaning into his cousin's neck with his eyes closed for what he fully expected would be the last time.
Sirius was built like a Greek statue, and he still smelled like bergamot and spices and sun-warmed fur, nothing at all like malice or pain. Ev had missed him, and probably still would, when it occurred to him to, and wasn't terribly fussed about it anymore. Just for now, though. One last breath, one last wallow in I love you, you stupid, thoughtless, selfish, short-fuse firecracker, we were kids together.
"Fr—You—You just, and—!"
"I did say 'if'," Evan reminded him mildly, with just a glint of steel, and ambled back to his life with a sad little shrug-and-smile.
"What did they want?" asked his life suspiciously. It was something of a Greek chorus, although Severus and Lucius were the only ones blunt enough ask out loud. The nice thing about that was that he knew Spike was perfectly capable of asking with a subtly raised eyebrow like a normal person, was only rude and obvious when he felt like it or wanted to make a point. Which made him fun rather than embarrassing. Evan did not understand Narcissa's life-choices, really, but she seemed confident in them.
Blithely, he speculated, "Oh, blood, I expect."
Spike glared down the platform and said ominously, "We're out of school, I don't have to muck about with half-a—" he glanced at Ev's mum, and almost smoothly finished, "hearted wards letting rabid erumpents galumph about damaging my things anymore." He slung his arm around Evan's shoulders, and tried to get the other one around Reg's and Narcissa's waists at the same time, which even his spider-arms were not long enough for. Just in case some idiot needed his meaning underlined, of course, his dire expression said.
"Merlin forfend," Ev agreed gravely, and tried to poke him in the ticklish bit but was fended off without effort. Rats.
"I am not a thing," Narcissa declared with mock-affront.
"You're the most precious thing," Lucius started cooing, which at least got Severus off of her at speed, gagging. Reggie snickered.
"Got the key?" Ev asked.
Spike pulled a little envelope from out of one of his seven thousand invisible pockets. "If I don't," he said, dark eyes glinting, "the landlord will know exactly what hit her."
"That's the way, dear," Ev's mum said approvingly, and then complained to his dad, "I don't see why I can't have a guard dog. Evvie's is lovely."
"I'm allergic, Cal," Dad said patiently, "and the travel would be hard on it, and we have Linkin."
Reg looked between Mum and Severus's undisturbed face for a minute, and then whispered anxiously, "Spike, you're not...?"
"You know house elves can take your face off by snapping their fingers and stop your heart by blinking if you attack their people, yes?"
Reg blinked. Evan did, too, a little. One did know these things, but generally thought of one's elf as the bossyboots who used to tuck one in at night and was starting to show signs of needing arthritis cream.
"No, not offended," Spike elaborated dryly, and started walking. "Come on, I want to unpack. And then I want about a million curtains; half the flat's windows look out onto Diagon."
Thanks again to wanderinginthoughtspace for her beta and britpicking, and to everyone who's shown support by reviewing, favoriting, or anythinging so far—and now as you read this! Reviews are welcomed and hoped for and all encouragement is loved, however long after posting it's been.
I hope you'll stick around, Reader: this fic was just backstory. Kind of accidental backstory, actually... But now we're gonna get into it. Roll up your sleeves, slip into your cloak, and slap that dagger on your belt. This is war, people—pick a side! What the hell, pick three!
Continued Mayday 1980 in Valley of the Shadow.
Canon support: Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn't have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband...
...proves only that no one had successfully explained the respectability of any job James had in terms Vernon could understand, of course. On the other hand, 'works in a hospital/in government/for the bank/at a school,' 'is a policeman,' 'works in/runs a shop,' and 'financier/gentleman of leisure living on his income' are Wizarding careers that he could have been made to understand, and I'm actually having trouble thinking of any that do not, in fact, have muggle equivalents, broadly speaking. Even the DoM could have been glossed over as R&D or 'he's a sort of scientist, works for the Ministry, it's classified.'
Self-employed, though? Especially if it were a start-up, employing only a handful of close friends, which he was being fairly half-assed about to a businessman's eye (the war being higher priority than sales)? That'd look like good-for-nothing to the cement-headed director of a serious and successful manufacturing firm. Which Grunnings was well and truly on its way to being, if it wasn't already, judging from Dudley's pile o' presents (HE HAD A VIDEOCAMERA THEY KNEW HE WAS GOING TO BREAK IN '91 WTF), and it probably was: The Dursleys had everything they wanted.