As soon as Hermione returned with the address and a beaded purse of potions, the group snuck out to the street. Ron led the way through a puzzle of forgotten tunnels, causing the witch to ask how he knew the way. He posed proudly, freckles shocking in his wand light, making the young woman titter.
Remus grinned at their antics. Who was he to discourage the fun of a secret tunnel?
Relaxing into their journey, he considered the house they planned to call on. He couldn’t help expecting little good from their reception. And the werewolf doubted he could convince Harry’s friends to stay behind at the Ministry, while he ventured into shark-infested water alone.
Please, Snape was never that bad, he tried to think, and maybe it was true. Remus was hardly afraid of the man. But Remus wasn’t afraid of most beasts. That didn’t dispel their danger.
The possibility of the group of them scattered and cursed to bits wasn’t a fairy he could wish away. Snape made—something—with either Harry and Ginny’s help, or to the pair’s detriment. They all felt the fistful of singed pages communing in Hermione’s bag as they walked. None of the hallways Ron showed them stretched enough to diffuse their energy. The papers hummed, like they were singing.
It might not be as bad as all that, was all Remus could manage.
Soon, they clattered upwards in an elderly lift hardly more than a tin can and string. It jumped to a stop only mostly on the street, the trio stepping up into Muggle London.
Remus stumbled some on the dismount, chuckling self-consciously and glad for the few draughts he’d swallowed. Embarrassing though it was, they were keeping him afloat. He hoped the potions would keep working until—well, through whatever awaited them. What with the standard quality of Ministry potions, he would be glad if they lasted the trip north.
They elected to ride the Knight Bus under glamour a few minutes’ walk from the Ministry. With some debate, they disguised themselves as a grandfather and his grown grandchildren, Remus’s pained stoop lending to the illusion. They told the driver Swinton and rushed to a seat.
Finding the Saturday afternoon bus nearly full, they shared an armchair between them, clinging like wet cats to the upholstery as it slid around the swinging carriage.
Thankfully, as the pack of commuters thinned spinning around London, they were able to spread out. They huddled three chairs together, talking though they dropped words in gagging at the frequent, sudden stops. They spoke at arm’s length to avoid knocking heads at every screeching halt.
“I think we can taxi from—hurgh! I-I have some Muggle money.”
“Hermione, I think—ack! Dammit, Ron, your head’s a boulder!”
“I try and tell hi—ugh! Merlin, w—no, n.”
Eventually, and with great relief from its passengers, the ride smoothed out after Manchester City. They disembarked at Swinton, legs thoroughly jellied, and made noises about hailing a cab. Dipping into a side street, they turned themselves into mill workers under Hermione’s careful instruction. Soon, three perfectly plain women lingered on the curb, dressed in drab factory jumpsuits and fanning themselves with scarves given the muggy day.
Remus piled them all into a taxi that stunk of fried fish and aftershave. He rolled down a window, blaming a hot flash so he could fan himself, head hanging out the car. Thirty minutes later, they paid and found themselves outside of Yellowind Yawn, Cokeworth’s tiny town hall.
All around them, silver-headed couples in Muggle clothes smiled and waved, enjoying the afternoon. At first, Remus was sure they’d gotten lost. Nowhere he expected to end up could boast anyone enjoying anything. The trio stood out in their jumpsuits among the cyclists in bright Lycra and white-short wearing pedestrians in their tennis shoes and polos.
“Alright, so we found the Muggle part of town,” Ron reasoned, gesturing to an elderly couple biking past. “Kinda cheery for Snape, though, don’t you think?”
Remus threw out something like agreement, more engrossed with the address in his hand. Hermione’s script curled around a more suitably Snapeish street name: Spinner’s End , in lesser Cokeworth. She’d plucked the last known residence of the “deceased” from Births and Deaths records, and one could dream up the spindly black spider, weaving, on the book she pulled it from.
In this imagined scene, the witch brushed said spider off, unbothered. Similarly, in real time, Hermione dipped into the town hall to ask for directions, hopping on the balls of her feet. She left Remus and Ron to smile nervously at one another outside.
“It doesn’t quite seem like this has hit her yet,” said the werewolf, crinkling his brow.
“That’s just an act,” Ron confided, chewing dead skin off his lip while he people-watched.
“She always needs to feel like she’s doing something before this, kinda, panic sets in. I know she’s dead worried about Harry and Ginny, though—obviously.”
“Obviously,” Remus nodded, uncomfortable.
He wished again that the two had stayed in London waiting for news. It honestly did worse to his nerves to plan on managing these two, plus two more, potentially injured, all while staying upright and dodging Snape.
Buck up, he told himself. They’re hardly defenseless.
He glanced sidelong at Ron, but only saw his middle-aged disguise, groping the fabric of his suit. The young wizard fancied the look of neck to ankle canvas, apparently. Hermione returned after a few minutes with a brochure already unfolded and annotated.
“We need to head east for most of two miles,” she explained, borrowed frown lines deepening. “Then this main road tapers off into a bunch of abandoned houses that lead into forest. I think Snape’s house is around there. Here.”
She handed Ron the map to peruse, leaving Remus nothing to do with his hands while she rummaged through her purse. He at least noticed the curious looks of the cheery retirees and urged the group onwards. They walked through the town square, surrounded by a quaint little inn, a flower shop, a boutique. He found them seats in a gazebo and squinted at their lovely surrounds.
Is it odd to be even more put off, he wondered.
“I’d rather get on with it if we can. This place is creeping me out.” Remus was glad for Ron’s grumbled complaint.
“Yes, please,” he concurred.
“One second, let me—alright, everyone, take four.” Hermione juggled glass vials from her bag, each a finger’s width and length, and filled with foamy orange and clotted red potions.
“That’s one Invigoration Draught and one Blood Replenisher per person. Whoever finds Harry and Ginny first, send up a spark: green if they’re fine, and red if they’re hurt. Dose them, and meet back at Number Twelve.”
“I think, if we’re separated from our wands,” Ron added, digging into his own glamoured pockets.
He pulled out three small pouches, opening one to show them the fringed bottle cap inside. He distributed them, saying, “Made these before we left. They’ll Portkey straight to the Burrow soon as you touch them. My folks know if anyone besides us three shows up, to shoot first and call the Aurors.”
The knot in Remus’s stomach loosened some. They were prepared—hastily, but better than nothing.
“Let’s start east,” he suggested, leading them off the gazebo.
He tweaked his glamour to read as more middle class, sprouting a pastel cardigan around his waist and a sleek grey bob with powder-blue highlights. The others followed suit and blended more seamlessly then. He felt eyes sliding off of them as he spoke.
“Hermione, you have the map, so please lead us there. Ron, take the middle, and I’ll follow behind.”
And so they walked, dropping their disguises as the streets began to empty. The charm-riddled shops and detached houses wasted and cramped and leaned into the ghost town of Lesser Cokeworth. Cold stacks of the textile mill thorned the hill overlooking the neighborhoods, and as the houses rambled vaguely downward, and the forest shaded the roofs, Remus realized the end of town pooled at the bottom of a great slope into wilderness.
Nearly two miles later, like Hermione described, they met the dead end.
There were no more houses, nor anymore road. They didn’t encounter any charms or glamours to suggest they’d entered a hidden wizard village. They were, the three of them, simply alone at the end of a rubbish covered street. The eyes of the hollow houses watched as they loitered along the abrupt start of the woods.
“It’s like they just stopped building,” Hermione said quietly. Spinner’s End was a line of trees cutting off the street, unfathomably thick and dark given how sparsely it started and the brightness of the high noon sun.
Remus thought he heard groaning branches and bird song, but nothing moved up ahead. The general hush also reopened his ears to the humming. He’d lost the sound of Snape’s rituals at some point, overpowered by the chaos on the bus, his head stuck out of the cab, and the open town center. Now Hermione’s purse sang again, a soft, circling…
Hmm-Mmmmm-mmm, like a sommelier tasting a few, repeated notes.
“It has to be a spell. Think of the platform at King’s Cross. If we enter,” he reasoned. Remus broke their single file, which by then had gathered to an unhappy clump at the trees’ border. The werewolf took the lead, lifting a hand to warn the younger two back.
“We need a plan on how to enter safely,” Hermione cautioned, frowning forbiddingly. “Splitting up now seems dangerous, if that’s where Ginny is. We won’t be able to track each other from out here.” She stared ahead, twisting the strap of her bag in her hands. Remus could see her brain at work.
“It’s definitely a ward. Eurgh, I wish I knew more about Snape’s habits to try and crack them. This is way more advanced than his stores back at school—I mean, it would be, wouldn’t it…”
“I’ll go first,” Remus meant to say, instead forging ahead with a vague, ”Hm.” He nearly ran out of street, smelling grass, when the humming stopped abruptly. So did the birds’ tweeting and the creaking boughs. The woods ceased their swaying. Pointed silence pierced the hush.
He fell back, immediately on edge, breaking out in gooseflesh. It was like the street felt him and tensed.
Behind Remus, Ron cursed, and Hermione’s sneakers scuffed backwards on the cobblestone. The older wizard followed them in rescinding his handful of paces, assuring his tight grip on his wand by squeezing it until his knuckles popped.
His face prickled with the weight of invisible stares. He began to sweat, realizing they’d been spotted before they could even catch their bearings.
“What do we do?,” Hermione whispered. Remus went to shush Ron, hearing the inhale, but by the time he turned, palm out, the Auror already belted out:
His shout echoed up the empty street.
“What’re you doing?!,” Remus hissed.
Ron only shook his head, “We’ve already been made!,” cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted again.
“HARRY! GINNY, WHERE ARE YOU!?”
They all jumped when a round, pink and grey something puttered out of the woods. Remus eyed it as it tripped up to him on dirty, naked paws, and rubbed against his leg, rumbling. It looked like a piglet at first glance, until he really absorbed the ghastly paws and long, skinny tail. Of all things, a cat had shot out after them.
It—she, telling from her belly rolls—meowed again, blinking glossy, wasp yellow eyes. She licked her muzzle with a shockingly red tongue and shook herself. This made the tag on her collar rattle. Remus bent to read it.
It said simply, “C-A-T.”
“Oh! Is it—!”
“A trap?,” Ron cut in over his girlfriend. He shrugged at the witch in apology and stood between her and the cat.
Remus answered, frowning, “I’ll check what I can?,” and presented his wand. As soon as she saw it, the cat mewled once more and turned to saunter back into the trees.
“Wait, we—! Oh, really, you old man, it’s a bloody pet. It doesn’t speak English.” He let it go, set on reconvening by the town hall and reorganizing when he gasped.
As the cat came upon the forest’s edge, a pair of childish arms reached out to welcome it. They all gave various shouts of surprise. Remus surged forward again while the small, muddy hands pet the huge hairless ears, setting the wrinkly beast purring.
Whose child could be in the charmed forest swallowing this Muggle town? Was there a secret wizard village in Cokeworth, one even secret to other wizards? Could it be safe? If they could just speak to someone—.
But too quickly, the little hands scooped up the cat and both disappeared again in the foliage. And this time, when the tip of Remus’s shoe brushed the barrier, he was hit with a shuddering fear so sudden, sharp, and deep it made him cry out. It slid burning cold between his ribs. He’d literally felt stabbed by fear, such that he stumbled away, scrabbling at his chest.
He felt his companions’ hands on his back and shoulders, keeping him standing.
“Shit! Gods! Shit, shit!,” Remus hollered, pushing his hands into his robes, waiting for the wet, coppery tang to hit next, feeling for blood.
Nothing. He found nothing—rather, he was physically fine. No stab wound, no punctures at all, not even a scrape. He shook, gaping at the boundary still silent and watching.
“Bloody hell, are you okay!? What happened!?”
“Harry!,” he wheezed, voice breaking, never taking his eyes off the ward. He searched it until his gaze caught on one part where the watching might have thickened. “Ginny, Ha—! Who’s in there!? Give him back!”
Remus staggered into Ron and Hermione, throwing them back with all his weight. He pushed them, yelling for them to keep their distance as he frantically searched the tree line for the enemy. He didn’t want them anywhere near the ward. Whatever it kept in was obviously worse than the three people it wanted out.
“There’s something in there, s-something dangerous. I felt it! They aren’t safe!”
“Then we need to get them!,” Ron insisted, trying to muscle his way past. The werewolf latched onto the Auror’s robes and shoved him back, further and further, until the group stumbled away and up the street again.
Running—he was running away. They needed weapons, shields, reinforcements. They shouldn’t have come alone.
Harry followed Freddy into the small bedroom, his brother sighing at the dozen empty tanks.
“See? Must’ve escaped. Dammit.”
He’d felt compelled to trail the man upstairs after walking through the wreckage.
Everyone had come to around the same time, Harry first and the rest in quick succession. The sun was high in the yard, although blocked by the towering trees that seemed to overtake the square of land. Snape had slunk off into the bushes, Grace and Zed not far behind, all of them deathly quiet.
Laney resolved to wait for them on the back step, stroking—something. She must’ve found it in the woods. Unsure if it was rightly a cat, as it seemed terribly ill having lost all its hair, he left the girl to it and went with Ginny and Freddy inside.
A breeze cooled the stuffy hall. Sunlight streamed in from around the corner, which they took with a gasp. The destruction Harry and Laney had witnessed had torn the living room up and out. Spinner’s End spewed onto the sidewalk: a television smashed on the curb; the beige book pulp soaking in a few measly puddles; charred couch stuffing; and the innards of Laney’s grey console strewn among broken bricks.
“Fuck...what...,” Freddy breathed, hands going to his head.
“Was this the hit men or the Malfoys?,” Ginny mumbled.
Harry gestured, “Mrs. Malfoy,” and put on a hideous scowl, miming rapid-fire casting. They started at a crash of glass. Freddy backed away, boots crunching debris.
“And Snape let her in the house?,” Ginny retorted, aghast.
“Maybe they made up?,” he offered, brushing soot from the destroyed coffee table. Something fluttered off of it, and he saw the blackened glob of photo paper dusty with ash. “Aw, no…Ginny, the pictures...”
“No!” His mother’s angry shout sounded from outside.
With the open air living room, they could hear the conversation as it strode from around the side. Snape’s low clip was indecipherable, compared to Grace’s response: “It bloody better! It was self-fuckin’-defense!”
He ambled over the splinters and gravel to listen. As they came closer, he could hear the end of Snape’s answer: “—any trace, so there is nothing they can do without admitting to rogue Aurors. Potter’s influence can handle the rest.”
Harry glanced at Ginny, who stared worriedly back at him. He asked, “Aurors?,” and got back her baffled shrug. He stepped out into the open, snatching a peek of a bony hand with split, jagged nails.
“Because I can’t get caught up in killin’ cops. I’ll never get out, and with this—Christ, look at this mess.”
“You won’t be implicated. How could you.” Snape and Zed came into view, holding a portrait between them. The latter stopped to lean its face against the house and brush grass off of it.
“Rev, the fuckin’ house!” She swept an arm over their ruined things incredulously.
“Yes, I have eyes. I can see it.”
The nothing Grace said after overwhelmed the otherwise quiet afternoon.
This was when Freddy turned for upstairs, and Harry gravitated to him, flushing self-consciously. He felt like a duckling padding after its mother, but what could he do? The man’s impressive frame, dressed in all black, was deeply comforting. He was more solid than the house’s walls at this point, and after having only him and the unfeeling moon in that nothing, Harry preferred to stick close by.
While he hovered, watching Freddy poke through all of his tanks, he thought unexpectedly of Snape. Maybe it was his brother’s solemn expression as he turned over hide after empty hide. Or looking up, and recognizing the burns from games of shooting flies from Snape’s memories—that could’ve done it. He also suspected it was seeing the man fall silent circling the house.
The tight shoulders swimming in those rumpled, oversized clothes; the burn on his gaunt cheek; and the careful way he looked at no one. Harry thought Snape resembled him around when the Dursleys fled Privet Drive—feeling no good and guilty.
How does it feel being bad luck, he couldn’t help smirking, before the smile fell and became an awkward, heart sore reach, like-to-like.
He looked to the doorway and saw Snape standing there, holding Harry’s book. Alarmed, Harry reached for it. Snape slapped his hands away, scowling down at the Potter register, flipping the pages with a pestered thwip. The ends of his tangled hair trailed over the embossed sides, dropping leaves and twiggy bits when he shook his head, frustrated.
“Here,” the thin man snapped, slamming it shut with a puff of ash. He hacked and tossed it on the desk, giving Harry the stink eye.
“Be grateful. Whatever charms are on it kept it intact. It seems your gaudy Potter ancestors are taking better care of it than you.”
“Thanks,” Harry grumbled, embarrassed for having forgotten about it. He picked it up and wiped the grit from it by way of apology. Hadn’t he last left the book on the same table as the photos? Snape must’ve pulled it from the rubble to bring it here.
He eyed the man. He now only held a wand in the fold of his arms, which seemed off.
“Where’s the other one, the Prince book?”
Snape’s fingers twitched and curled into fists.
“Burned,” the wizard bit out.
Harry let his mouth mold around, “Sorry,” but the word was caught in the traffic through his chest. From the hard, closed lines of Snape’s shoulders, if the younger man showed—anything, really—it might mean a fight.
“Well, least you got another.”
Freddy pushed his way out the door with a mumbled apology, and squeezing Snape’s shoulder as he passed. It was more condolence than Harry could fathom in a second-long exchange. Snape didn’t react much. Harry shifted his weight, making the floor groan. The older man just frowned at the squeaky floor, ran his black gaze over the room, and stalked off.
“Downstairs,” was thrown his way.
“Alright,” Harry nodded, waiting until the stairs went quiet.
The whole household crowded on the front walk. The oldest of them pointed and muttered furiously, while Ginny held Laney by the shirt, the girl squeezing the cat to her chest. Fred barked something and jogged up the road. He spun, waving his arms like he’d done in the dark, prompting Grace to step off the curb, shouting nonsense. Zed and Snape hung back, passing a lighter between them.
“What’s going on?”
“I haven’t seen it yet, but your sister says she hears people. She yelled at them to get back, but I guess they can’t hear us,” Ginny explained.
She motioned with her wand and as she said it, Zed put her hand to her mouth. She coughed a cloud of pale blue smoke and sauntered down the street after Freddy and Grace. Snape went with. The young couple snagged Laney by a pink sleeve each when she tried to give chase.
“I want to see, too,” the girl whined in her own way, which was very softly, head butting against their arms. “Is it more killers?.”
“Why would you want to see that,” groused Harry. Ginny tugged her toward the house. The ten-year-old wiggled free, swearing when she dropped the cat.
“Dammit!” Laney broke out across the pavement.
“Oi! Don’t say that!”
Both girls took off. Harry spelled Laney’s bare feet as she ran, charming them clean and vanishing debris. They upset the cat stopped to groom itself as they dashed past. It yowled and shot away.
He wandered farther out. There he saw everyone else lined up and blocking the road, Ginny and Laney running up from behind. The cat slipped through Snape’s ankles, and though the man dipped down to grab it, it seemed to get away.
Snape just straightened, holding the line. And Harry just knew there’d be trouble from the way his head rolled up and stayed held high and the rest of him locked into place.
“ Potter,” Snape said disdainfully. Harry felt his glower despite him facing away. “I am disgusted .”
“Not more of this shit!?,” Freddy pressed.
“He reeks, ” Zed complained nasally, like she’d pinched her nose. “Christ, what is that.”
Then the line of them jolted, and they all went quiet, Harry included, Ginny and Laney freezing.
“Ron!?,” blurted the Weasley witch. Then she threw wide-eyed panic Harry’s way. “Snape!”
“Potter!,” said dark wizard hollered. “Did you bring us all of bloody England! Come here and turn them away!”
Ginny stretched onto her tiptoes to look over Grace’s head. Harry jogged as she came down, nodding, pulling at her lip. “Yeah, it’s him—him, Hermione, and Remus.”
“Who are they,” Grace asked subdued. “They have wands, Zeddie. They want …?”
A scarred hand rubbed her arm, and the woman held it, looking to her eldest, face taut. Then she glanced back at Harry and his breath caught. The deep, burgeoning sadness welled up and he couldn’t figure why, as it’d come on so suddenly. He simply handed Ginny the registry still under his arm, needing to free his hands. He wasn’t sure what he’d do, he just needed them open.
He suddenly felt put to sea and needed to hold on.
Grace hooked an arm around his waist and squeezed him so tightly, he squeaked. Her other arm flew up and now he was being crushed into her. His mother breathed something and kept wrapping, until Harry flashed too warm. His eyes stung and over her shoulder he saw his friends and his father’s friend just a few feet ahead.
Remus was almost on them, unseeingly determined. Harry actually recoiled without meaning to, not wanting the man, needing him gone. And he suffered a shove of gratitude and guilt when Zed struck out, growling, “Back up!,” pushing Remus away.
He heard Ginny’s voice crack, “No, please, it’s okay,” and that was all for it. He found his own arms and hugged his mother, shaking, his face buried in her shoulder while she buried hers in his hair. It wasn’t a moment Harry consciously meant to have. He didn’t think either of them meant to cling as they did.
It was more so that the mourning he saw in her just then accompanied his strange, lifelong grief. At any moment, without warning, Harry would find himself attending a funeral of undone wishes.
There he’d bury the things other children had that he learned to live without—handmade lunches, weekend outings, birthday wishes, summery family photos. And he’d leave his wishes flowers and move on, then hear a child crying on the platform or have Mrs. Weasley brush back his fringe. And in a snap, he was there again, at the graveside he carried inside him, covering his childish wants in dirt, so small and alone.
She saw that with eyes shaped just like his. She was there with him. She had her own, child-sized grave. And he couldn’t help it. He clung. He clung to her like the kid he was and tried his best not to cry.
“They can’t,” Grace croaked, rocking him. “They can’t take you.”
“They won’t! They can’t anyway, they won’t,” Ginny promised. “They’ll never keep him away, not even if they wanted to. Harry comes back, always, every time.”
“Who’s in there!? Give him back!”
Remus’s obvious terror pulled Harry from his spell. He unwrapped, making Grace squeeze tighter. Remus went on and Harry felt his mother coil, as if growing angry, hateful even. The young man cupped her ears, like she’d done his cheeks the day before, and didn’t move again. She laid her head on his chest and he held still, letting her recover.
“For fuck’s sake, just turn them away and come back! It isn’t brain surgery!”
Harry looked at Snape from under his fringe, really looked, while consoling his distraught mother. The family’s house stop behind them, wrecked. All of the man’s things were laid out with everyone else’s, so little of it salvageable. His ex-professor, the former triple spy, once so domineering and hideous and spiteful, stood there in loose Muggle clothes with a burn on his face, covered in dust and mud and leaves, glaring fiercely.
And Harry could only match his glare, thinking the man looked about as strung together as Harry felt. They were all hard eyes and slumped shoulders; snarling hair and dirt-smeared cheeks; run through and aching and Harry with his mum, with everything really, and Snape with, what?
“I didn’t think you’d want me back, Snape,” he tried.
Freddy sighed, “Rev, chill,” and nudged the other man to keep quiet. He rolled his eyes and motioned at Harry as if to say, “Alright, on with it.”
Remus and the others retreated now. By whatever measure, they knew something watched them, but Harry and the others were fully cloaked. It was kind of a trip. They were hidden within spitting distance of Harry’s three, war-tested friends, seemingly desperate to find them. All because of wards Snape had slapped together, they were safe.
Whatever we made is stronger than Fiendfyre, he recalled, regaining some confidence. Hermione would die to see it. And she’d love to meet Grace.
Ron and Freddy would get right along, he went on, taking a deep breath when his mother finally let go. He met Ginny’s worried gaze and made to look alright.
“Okay, okay,” Grace sniffled, giving him space, but only so much. She looped her arm with his. She looped the other around Laney who stuck by her hip.
Puffing up her chest, the woman braved the street again, blinked and asked, “Now, where the hell are they goin’?”
“Can we drop the,” Harry indicated their invisible wall, “so they can see us?”
“Who are you asking,” Snape grumbled, digging in his ear.
“Uh, everyone?” He gauged the group’s reactions. They were all loosely in agreement, counting Zed, who saw she was outvoted and gave her sour attention to her cigarette.
He gave another quick peek at Snape, expecting the man to protest or vanish. “Um.”
“You aren’t leaving?,” Harry asked.
“They’re at my house, Potter. I’m sure you let slip that I’m alive. Just drop the stupid wards.”
“Well, then.” He checked everyone over one last time and set his jaw, willing them into view.
“Wait! Stop, stop! There he is!”
The young ones blew past him and ran down the street, shouting Harry’s name. The indomitable forest faded, revealing more than just the boy and his girlfriend. A handful of other people stood around them, holding them hostage.
The cluster of bedraggled strangers closed ranks around Harry and Ginny as Hermione and Ron hurtled toward them. Shouting, arms and hands coming up, Harry saying, “Now hold on! One second!” and Remus, shocked still, watched one man tower over all of them and unleash a massive wingspan. One, thick arm barred Hermione from taking another step closer.
The witch yelped, surprised, and a girl darted around her, clutching the naked cat. It must’ve been the child whose hands he’d seen, but as Remus had this thought, more people moved. Two women folded around Harry, one blocked by the other in a filthy sweatshirt, shoving Ron to the ground.
At the ginger’s shocked grunt, the werewolf surged into action. He pulled his wand, a Stunner at the ready. Then he saw Harry awash with panic, fighting to throw his body in the way.
“Don’t!,” the boy pleaded. “Remus, they’re my family!”
And just like that, the scuffle ended. Hermione had already stopped to gawk at the giant man grinning down at her. He simply eased her away from the child clutching his leg. And loosed a thunderous laugh that punched the hideous fear from Remus’s gut.
“Harry, you got all these people willin’ to fight for ya scrawny arse! That’s a riot, that is! S’gotta be mum’s curls. Hullo, miss! Don’t mean to get rough.”
Hermione protested, “No, you’re fine! We were—! Christ, are you really Harry’s family? Well, obviously, you must be, but—!”
Remus slowed to a hobble, massaging a stitch in his side. There was no danger? These people, they must’ve been the other names on the map. He scanned the crowd for someone he recognized, counting Harry and Ginny. The child looked startlingly like Harry, if a bit younger.
The sweatshirt woman moved and Ron scrambled to his feet, matching her glare for glare. He looked down, presumably at the second woman, and cried out, “Her! The motorbike lady! Harry, mate, it’s your mum!”
“Heh, yeah, Ron, I mean, I know.”
“Merlin, you look just alike! You—er, sorry, ma’am. Nice to meet you.”
“Yes! It’s an honor to meet you, truly!,” Hermione said, mussing and flattening her bushy hair. “Oh, god, you must think us absolutely barbaric! We’re Harry’s friends, you see, I don’t know if he’s mentioned us.
“We...what...lord, what’s happened here?”
Remus had realized it as well. The last house on the block was in part badly destroyed. It looked victim to a terrible fire, blackened and scooped out. Seeing the state of everyone—soot smudged and exhausted—it seemed hardly the time for handsome introductions. It had been quite some time since he’d seen a family so in need of food, a warm bed, and sleep.
He approached kindly, stashing his wand with a hurried apology. “Please forgive the rudeness. If I’d known—we expected something different in coming here.”
He scanned the group for the danger he’d come dreading. Snape must’ve fled before the wards fell. Remus saw a few people sharing his likeness, but not the man himself.
His gaze lingered on one wasted man in a brown shirt and jeans, thinking he could be Snape’s brother. They looked terribly similar, like the giant jovial fellow next to him.
I didn’t know Snape had brothers, he thought, smiling his sorry.
The man froze, caught absently finger combing rubbish from his hair. He sneered at Remus—hm.
No, couldn’t be, he decided. He could never accuse Snape of looking so vulnerable.
“Forgive the presumption, also, but this. If something’s happened, please, we won’t hesitate to help. The man who did this, he—.”
“What are you on about, Lupin.”
“I,” he started, and promptly stopped. The man in the brown shirt crossed his arms and drew himself up to full height. Remus gave him a once over, searching from head to toe.
Bruised, sleepless eyes, black as the night. Wild, stringy hair. Crooked, yellow teeth. Thinner and browner and more dirt-streaked, but: Severus Snape quirked a brow.
“Merlin, man, you look terrible.”
“Y—thank you for your opinion.”
“You’re welcome,” he breathed, stunned. Snape, looking like that: human, real, in ruin. It was unconscionable. “Harry, Snape is in fact your...family?”
“Er.” It seemed even the Boy-Who-Lived wasn’t that brave. “Cousin—right?” The older woman beside the boy nodded. “Yeah...yeah, I guess. Maybe. We’re still working that out.”