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Prelude: Of Hallows and Hollows

"Would you like to see your mother and father again? Together, we can bring them back. All I ask is for something in return...that's it, Harry. There is no good and evil. There is only power, and those who choose to seek it.

Together, we will do extraordinary things. Just give me the stone."

-Voldemort, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Film)


Barnaby Barnes was startled awake. He had been having the most lovely dream, one filled with elegant prose, lost love, and revenge. Yet his rival had all but taken the emerald green goblet to his lips when Barnaby's dream was replaced by the sight of a frightened elf.

"Beasy, wha' in merlin's name is wrong?" He groaned, bleary eyed.

The little house-elf was a dreadful sight, trembling terribly and chattering her teeth even through the late July heat. This wasn't unusual for the anxious creature, Barnaby had found that she was always afraid of one thing or another, but she didn't typically dare to enter his cottage at night, electing instead to sleep on her little cot outside.

"Mr. Barnaby, sir, it's the cemetery sir, oh! It's so dreadful!" His ears perked up at this. He had lived a comfortable, if underwhelming life as the cemetery's caretaker. It was a position he had inherited from his father, who inherited it from his father before him. The family cottage sat across from the graves, as it had done for centuries.

Having been raised across from the tombs, Barnaby didn't fear the dead. In fact, even found his grim little cottage peaceful. But the creatures that came with it could be a real nuisance.

"It's no' the gnomes again, is it? We've barely had a moment's peace-"

"No, sir, not them-oh it's so terrible sir-"

"Poltergeists, then? You needn't wake me for tha'."

"Come and see, sir, it's the graves, sir! Unearthed they is. There is, there is-people there." Her eyes bugged wide, as if expecting him to jump up in a similarly hysterical state. He elected to roll his eyes, instead.

"Unearthed? Sweet merlin, Beasy, you had me concerned. It's jus' the gnomes. They can wait until the morn."

"No sir, they is not gnomes, they is people!"

People? Now that had Barnaby's attention. Godric's Hollow had become a place of political contention after the fall of You-Know-Who. Once the Potters were buried, the stream of journalists had never seemed to end, with a pile of flowers so high on Lily Potter's grave, one would have thought she was Princess Di, herself.

But when the trampling of tourists and well-wishers had died down, they were replaced with attention of a malicious sort. Now that had been an annoyance. His reputation could have been destroyed if word of it had gotten out. At first, flowers had been tossed or burned. Then, the stones themselves were damaged, no doubt by followers of the dark lord that had escaped Azkaban by some means or another. One time, someone had managed to come up with a sort of graffiti spell that was damn near impossible to erase. Barnaby had to reach out to a curse-breaker for that one.

But each time, he had managed to address the problem before the media got wind of it, and each time, he had maintained the integrity of the family name. And he would be damned if today would be the day he slipped, overly hysterical house-elf or not.

He sighed deeply, grabbing his coat as he faltered with his shoes. Beasy placed them helpfully at his feet, looking back frantically towards the front door. While still groggy, Barnaby could now make out the distant bellows of ghosts and poltergeists. Most ghosts elected to haunt their homes, but the more lonely ones roamed about their graves with nowhere else to go. And Merlin, were they gossips. The dead tell no tales, be damned. With so little to do, any sort of uproar was likely to stir them up.

"I'm comin', I'm comin'. As needy as a new pup, you lot are." He grumbled, digging his wand out of his pocket.

As soon as the iron door swung open, Beasy darted behind him, clutching his calf desperately. He rolled his eyes and trudged onward into the fog.

On nights like this, he regretted his vocation. He had always dreamed of being a poet. In fact, the funeral lot records usually had some sort of iambic pentameter scribbled on the side. But there was a higher demand for caretakers than poets, especially in the magical world, so here he was, shuffling through midnight fog with a terrified house-elf clutching his leg.

"Hullo?" He offered into the fog, albeit it rather grumpily. "Who goes there?"

The bellows paused, and, like dogs coming to report a squirrel to their master, the ghosts began to swarm. Most drifted away as soon as they came, their short-term memory causing them to forget the subject of their alarm as soon as they had left it, but two or three of the fully formed ones circled him, nearly as hysterical as Beasy.

"You should have seen it-"

"He had some sort of ring-"

"It was so warm!"

"I hadn't felt warmth in ages-"

"Centuries, for me-"

"And it shone! Like a lighthouse, it was! So, so beautiful-"

"Enough!" Barnaby growled, his voice rumbling over those of the undead. All but one seemed to shrink away, the braver ghost crossing his arms in unamused contempt. "Stop yer yammerin' and tell me what this is abou'." Barnaby continued. "Is the fellow still here?"

"He's not only here," the ghost smirked, glaring at the caretaker. "He's dead."

Much to the ghost's delight, Barnaby stopped in his tracks, baffled.

"What do you mean, he's dead? He's one of you?"

"No, Barnes." The arrogant ghost seethed, pausing for dramatic effect. "He convulsed after using the ruddy ring. See for yourself." The ghost extended an arm theatrically, the more skittish ghosts beginning to float that way.

The normally stoic Barnaby Barnes suddenly found himself not wanting to take even a single step forward, to not even breathe, but he wasn't about to let that pompous arse get the best of him. He strode forward, as fast as one does with an elf dragging at your heel, and muttered a lumos to pierce through the fog ahead. He had barely crossed the first few rows before he swore.

They were leading him to the Potter graves. And there was someone, someone very much alive, shuffling there in the distance.

Damn that pompous, good for nothing, arrogant excuse for a ghost. If he wasn't already dead, Barnaby would have rattled his neck for putting him in this situation. Dead, his arse. He was tempted to have Beasy send for aurors, but if this was just another vandal, one leak or another would cause the affair to be the subject of Rita Skeeter's next article. And Barnaby was not going to let that happen.

Barnaby extended his wand, walking quietly as one can with an escort of screeching ghosts and a trembling elf at your heels. The figure miraculously didn't seem to notice, instead focused on…...digging?

Barnes found an indescribable anger bubbling within him. This wasn't mere vandalism. There was a deeper meaning to bodies being dug up in the magical community. Especially for graves as notable as the Potters. This wasn't just grave desecration, this was the dark arts.

"Lily!" The figure yelled, clawing at the earth with his bare hands. The closer Barnaby drew, the filthier the wizard became. He was covered front head to toe in mud, and as the fog dispelled, Barnaby could see why. The man was attempting to dig up Lily Potter….and James Potter's grave was already sloppily dug up, the coffin's lid busted wide open. "Lily! I'm here! Dammit, I'm here!"

"Stupefy!" Barnes uttered, but the other man had fast reflexes, rolling to the side as the spell slid past him. The man clasped his own wand desperately, holding it out towards Barnaby with great difficulty. He wavered as he stood, as if weak, and scrunched his eyes as if struggling to see the threat in the distance.

"Who's there?!" The man cried, his wand-hand shaking. His voice almost sounded like a cross between a sob and a plea, and it occurred to Barnes that the man really was practically blind.

"I shou' be askin' you the same question." Barnaby growled, circling the man. "I shou' put you down like the dog you are, disturbin' their graves like tha'."

"Their...their…?" The man asked in disbelief, widening his once scrunched eyes. Messy hair, drenched in mud, clung to his skin as the wizard began to giggle, half in hysteria, half in a sob. He was a madman, Barnaby reasoned, clenching his wand tighter.

The man managed to control himself, slumping as he did so. "Please. You have to help me. She's trapped down there. I have my wand, but she-she mustn't. I can't get her out, not by myself. My magic, I'm so drained, I can't-"

"Lily Potter's right where she needs to be, laddie. Now, I'll need ye to come with me-"

"No! Just listen!"

"Sir-"

"Just bloody listen, for merlin's sake! Can't you hear her?" The man was desperate now, struggling to stand as he begged. Mad, indeed. But perhaps not ill-intended. Something besides the dark arts sort, at least.

"Look, mate, I know you mean wel-" And that's when Barnaby heard it. A distant, muffled, but notably feminine scream.

A ghost's shriek has a different resonance to it than someone who's alive. It's not something the average witch or wizard would notice, but after years of his work, Barnaby knew well enough to recognize it. In fact, he knew the individual bellows and shrieks of his graveyard by ear. This wasn't one he recognized, and more importantly, it wasn't a scream of a ghost at all.

"People, sir." Beasy whispered. "They is people."

The scream was followed with several thuds, the distant sound of echoing wood. It was then that Barnaby noticed the scratch marks in the dug up coffin, the blackened scorch of a spell against its hinges. James Potter's coffin hadn't been opened from the outside, but the inside.

Barnes slowly turned to face the man, swallowing hard as he pictured him in glasses.

"Wha'….what's your name, lad?"

"James." The figure breathed desperately. "Now help me save my wife, please."

Barnaby had seen many things in his lifetime. He had seen the most beautiful of women bloated with their eyes bulging out, he had even spelled his own father's eyes shut all those years ago. And it was all normal to him. In fact, Barnaby Barnes supposed he was rather thick skinned. What would traumatize most people rolled off of him like water.

But he'd be damned if he didn't admit that for a moment, just a moment, he was absolutely baffled about what to do.

Instincts took over, and he did what the muddied man couldn't. He flicked his wrist, muttering a spell he had muttered a thousand times. The ground shook, almost two cubic meters of wet soil levitating eerily in front of Lily Potter's grave. He flicked his wrist again, the soil sloppily tossing itself to the side, and to his frustration, the casket along with it. A muffled scream sounded.

"Dammit." Barnaby muttered, rushing over to the casket. "Sorry, not used to a casket being in the groun' when I cast tha'." But James didn't seem to hear him, instead rushing over to the tossed casket.

"Lily?! Lily!"

"Alohamora!" Barnaby uttered, the casket's hinges blasting open. Barnaby stared at the sight, not sure what else he was expecting. Inside, a young red-headed woman sat up, her temple bruised and fingers bloodied. Scratchmarks lined the inside of the coffin door. Lily Potter.

Barnaby had attended their funeral. He had only been an assistant at the time, but he distinctly remembered it being a closed-casket. While the details of that night were never known, witnesses in Godric Hollow swore there had been an explosion. James Potters' body had remained intact, but Lily's….her face and body had been burned, not beyond recognition, but certainly beyond anything a glamour spell could hide.

Yet, the terrified woman before him looked exactly like photos published in the papers of when she had been alive and well.

"James." She rasped in surprise, as if equally surprised that the muddy man before them was alive. The couple embraced one another desperately, falling to the sodden ground as they did so. She was trembling, not only in shock, Barnaby realized, but in the same weak manner as James.

A slow, horrible realization came over Barnaby Barnes, and he let out a deep sigh, turning to the house-elf behind him.

"Beasy?" He asked, not certain he wanted to ask what he was about to ask. She looked at him with wide eyes, waiting.

"Yes, Mr. Barnes sir?"

"Send for the aurors. Tell them it's a matter of life and death, but they best be discrete if they know what's good for 'em."

She nodded rapidly, and disappearing with a pop, left Barnes alone with the two recently risen Potters.

While the couple seemed like they would never stop embracing, whispering one thing or another to each other, Lily finally turned to Barnes, looking around as something hit her.

"Where's Harry?" She asked in horror, her voice cracking. Barnaby blinked at the two.

"Er….wha's the last thing you remember?"

"We were attacked. Voldemort was there. He had….I swore, I thought he had killed you." She whispered, looking at her husband. "And I grabbed Harry, and I tried to apparate, but the wards….they must have put wards up…."

The night You-Know-Who was defeated. That's what she was remembering.

"We….we're in a graveyard, Lily. That's where we are. They….he hit me with the killing curse. I heard it. I remember it. We….we died, didn't we? That's why he's looking at us like we're both loony." The gears in James' mind were turning as he faced Barnes, looking for answers.

Barnes didn't even have answers for loved ones grieving for the dead, nevertheless the dead grieving for their lives.

"Well, aren't you going to tell them?" The flippant ghost floated forward. Barnes had the instinct to swing a punch at him, stopping before he made a fool of himself.

"You." Barnaby growled, his tempted wrist shaking. The smirk on the ghost's face just grew wider. Barnaby could see the other apparitions watching, heads cocked, in the distance. Damned gossips.

"Shame on you. Spinnin' yarns when you knew perfectly well wha' was waitin' for me."

"I wasn't spinning anything." The arrogant ghost retorted, crossing his arms. The other ghosts circled, chiming in.

"He didn't lie. He really didn't."

"It was the man in the turbin-"

"And that marvelous ring of his-"

"Shame he didn't come back as one of us, we could have asked him where he got it-"

"WHAT MAN!" Barnes bellowed, tired of their ramblings. The arrogant ghost rolled his eyes, pointing to just beyond the Potter graves.

"Thick as the fog, you are. Right over there."

Barnes walked past the newly exposed coffins, recasting a lumos to see what the ghosts were on about. He heard at least one of the Potters stumbling in an attempt to follow him. To Barnaby's surprise, the ghosts weren't lying. There, just around the corner, a body lay limp on the soil, its arm outstretched and the man's face still contorted in pain. An unwrapped headwrap was caught on a nearby bush, revealing the back of the wizard's head to be deformed and grotesque.

"Did you know him?" He turned to the Potters. Both of them shook their heads, baffled.

"No….no, I don't. Do you?"

"No. Why would….did he die to bring us back?"

"Perhaps he didn't do it willingly." Barnaby murmured thoughtfully.

"Most people don't die willingly." The arrogant ghost bemoaned, circling the body. "I should know. Poisoned goblet, in my case. An end so tragic, I could have written a ballad about it. You know, if I were alive." He murmured, glaring at the caretaker. "They never figured out who did it, although I have a few ideas."

Barnaby swallowed uncomfortably, digging his hands in his pockets.

"Quit yer yappin', Browne. Do you have anything else to tell us? Or are you going to string us along until the aurors get here?"

The ghost of John Browne smiled a translucent smile, obviously happy with the turn of events. "Oh, nothing much. But there is one thing."

"Yes?"

"The dead bloke wasn't alone; there was a boy with him. And-not just any boy." Browne paused dramatically, the fog growing thicker behind him.

"A boy with a lightning bolt scar."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter One: The Dead tell Tales

'The headstone....was made of white marble....and this made it easy to read, as it seemed to shine in the dark. Harry did not need to kneel or even approach very close to it to make out the words engraved upon it.'

'The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.'

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


 The last thing Kingsley Shacklebolt wanted to do was to walk into that cottage.

When a house-elf arrived to Headquarters in the middle of the night, carrying on about people rising from their graves at Godric's Hollow, the dispatcher had the good sense to floo him personally. The senior auror hadn't taken a midnight call in years, such time slots were usually reserved for under seasoned officers, but he had been thankful for her quick thinking. This was something he wanted to see to personally, even before he talked to Barnes.

There had been whispers of late, whispers that had divided the department. Whispers that the dark lord was back. Whispers that all started when Harry Potter began attending Hogwarts.

The ministry was denying everything of course, but Shacklebolt had his doubts. Old "imperiused" Death Eater families were stirring, and crime rates had been fluctuating rather oddly in the past year, along with an increase of traffic in Knockturn Alley. Nobody wanted to believe it. Nobody wanted to imagine it. Everyone wanted to believe that Dumbledore was growing senile and paranoid after living through two dark wizards in his lifetime. But the signs were there.

A rookie auror would have thought this was a mere vandalism case. But Shacklebolt knew exactly who was buried in that graveyard, and suspected that there was much, much more to the story.

But Merlin, why did he have to be right?

"Tonks, you've gone over securing crime scenes in class before, yeah?" He turned to the violet-haired teen. Not even finished with academy, the young woman had been allowed to work as an apprentice of sorts until she finished her credentials. He hadn't worked with her before, truth be told, but she seemed competent, if a bit green. Or ... purple, he supposed.

"Aye, sir." She nodded, seeming both disappointed and relieved all at once. Mr. Barnes looked at both of them expectantly, an eyebrow raised. The gruff man didn't look the least bit perturbed by the situation, as if claiming to have undead heroes in his house for tea was an everyday occurrence.

"Head back there, then. Nothing is to be moved, by the dead or the living. Understood? And Tonks?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Don't-trip over anything, alright? Just keep the ghosts and poltergeists away from the body until I get there."

The young woman nodded sheepishly, watching her step as she plodded down the trail. It would be a miracle if she didn't damage anything, but he needed someone at that crime scene and he wanted to-no, he needed to-lay eyes on what Mr. Barnes was claiming to be true.

"Well….do ye want to come on in, then? They don't bite. Quite reasonable, for inferni, I rather think." Barnes joked, a few teeth missing from his smile. Shacklebolt's own polite smile froze.

"You see a lot of inferni around these parts?" He asked seriously, beginning to follow the older man down the windy trail.

"No, but I'll be Merlin's uncle if that's not wha' I thought they were, when I first laid eyes on 'em." Barnes shook his head in amusement. "The ghosts kept rattlin' on abou' a dead man and a ring. And what do I come upon, but a very alive Mr. Potter. Didn't make sense, at first. Not quite certain it makes sense now."

"A ring?" Shacklebolt murmured.

"Yeah, funny, tho', never did see one on that turbin fella. Didn't see one on the Potters, either. They didn't even know who he was!"

Turban fellow?

It took everything within Shacklebolt for him to maintain his composure. Barnes seemed somewhat oblivious, but there was one well known, turban-wearing professor that Shacklebolt had personally led a manhunt for.

"What did he look like?" He asked, keeping his voice even.

"Hard to tell, be quite honest. Back of his head was all mangled and such, and I knew enough to not move 'im. Looked painful, whatever 'appened to him. Can't tell what did 'im in, but the ghosts seemed certain that some magic ring had something to do with it. Even said the ring felt warm." Barnes murmured, finally appearing a bit unsettled. He dug for his keys in his coat.

"Not sure if you're aware, detective, but ghosts don't feel warmth. They don't feel anything. And there's more. I….I didn't tell the Potters what it meant, but-" Barnes sucked in a breath as they approached the iron door. He glanced towards the home, lowering his voice as he glanced back at Shacklebolt." The ghosts were saying that the turban fellow wasn't alone. That a boy with a lightning bolt scar was with 'im."

For a moment, Shacklebolt felt nearly a ghost himself, all of the air having been sucked out of him.

"What did you say?" He repeated, his voice more of a growl than a whisper.

"Just wha' you heard me say. Now, I keep to myself, here. Don't get involved much with the papers, and all of tha'. But even I've heard bou' what happened to wee little Harry. And him appearing, a wizard dying, and his parents coming back from the dead? Sounds like blood magic to me."

"They're certain they saw him?" Shacklebolt demanded again, his eyes searching Barnes'. The man gave him an eerie feeling, but he didn't appear to be lying. Barnes met his gaze confidently.

"They are. None of 'em saw where he went to, but they swear they saw 'im with the turban fellow when he used his ring. And James Potter climbing out of the groun' soon after tha'."

Damn it.

Ghosts were notoriously unreliable witnesses, mixing up the events of their life and afterlife, but even when they were competent, they couldn't stand as witnesses in court. Older laws and such nonsense, too many cases of ghosts falsely blaming their deaths on their enemies in the days of yore.

But it couldn't be a coincidence. And if Quirrell was dead, where was Harry Potter?

The key rattled in the old knob, and the iron door swung open, revealing two startled, muddied people in its wake, both clenching tea mugs in surprise as they sat at a kitchen table. The male had the worst of it, it seemed, drenched from head to toe in topsoil. Without his glasses and trademark black hair, James Potter was almost unrecognizable. But the facial tics and body language were the same. And the woman beside him was undeniably Lily Potter.

"By Merlin. You haven't aged a day." Shacklebolt breathed, staring at the more recognizable of the two. And she hadn't. No one could claim that she had secretly been in hiding all these years. He had only met her a handful of times, but she was exactly how he remembered her. Exactly how the newspapers had shown her.

"Do…"She began, her voice hoarse. "Do I know you?"

"No…" he began, thankful for his ability to keep calm even as he grasped for the right words. James interrupted, his eyes growing wide.

"But I do." James muttered, his muddied eyebrows practically rising to his hairline. "That….that can't be right. Your uniform's all wrong. Shacklebolt's just a rookie. This is some sort of trick-" James started to stand, but wavered as he did so.

Shacklebolt raised his hands in the air, trying to ease the startled auror back down.

"You've been in that ground for a long time, James. I'm not a rookie anymore. Just sit down, and we'll talk about it, yeah?"

James reluctantly agreed, more out of physical necessity than choice. His wife squeezed his hand reassuringly, but the muddied wizard kept eyeing Shacklebolt distrustfully, and Kingsley couldn't say that he wasn't doing the same. People didn't just come back from the dead. It was as unheard of as surviving the killing curse. But it appeared the Potter family had a knack for both.

"You're...older." James started, gears beginning to turn. Shacklebolt nodded.

"How long do you think you've been buried in those graves?"

The couple looked at each other, both confused.

"I don't know." Mrs. Potter began, turning back to Kingsley. "It feels like yesterday, but….it also feels like I've woken from a very long dream."

"Or nightmare." James added morosely, eyeing the detective. Kingsley nodded sympathetically, taking a deep breath.

"I-I don't know if I'm the right person to tell you this. And St. Mungos will need to confirm that you are who you say you are, but….you two have been buried for over a decade. Nearly twelve years, in fact."

James Potter dropped his teacup, shattering it as it made contact with the wooden floor. The two Potters stared at him incredulously, as if expecting Shacklebolt to come out and tell them it was all a joke. But he met their gaze evenly.

"Merlin's beard." James Potter ran his hand through his muddied hair, the same way Shacklebolt had seen him do years prior. James blinked, looking at the scuff mark the broken porcelain had made on the hardwood floor.

"Er...I'm sorry, mister….I've already forgotten your name." He murmured in embarrassment. Barnes, still standing in the doorway, waved it off. With a poof, the previously hysterical house-elf appeared, unashamedly going underneath the visiting wizard's legs to reach the broken cup. "Barnaby Barnes, and not ter worry. That's what she's 'ere for."

"Thank you." Lily murmured to the house-elf, before looking back up at Kingsley. Her gaze changed in an instant, from soft appreciation to sharp demand. "If it's been over twelve years…..is Harry…?" Her throat caught as she spoke, but she didn't have to finish her question. Kingsley blinked, scrambling for an answer.

"He's…" he began, his mind flickering back to Barnaby's earlier words, "...alive. In fact, he was sorted into Gryffindor. Foolishly brave, some would say. Seems the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

The relief was tangible, the emotional weight visibly lifting from the witch's shoulders as she leaned back, her face in her hands. She dared to peak back up at him, tears streaming down her face. Her husband wasn't faring much better.

"I….he….how….?"

"I was hoping you could tell me. It's been a mystery to the wizarding world for the past decade. They even call him 'The Boy Who Lived'."

James Potter stared dumbly, still struggling to take it all in. "The boy who…? How did he escape? He's just a baby. If Voldemort….if he killed you…." He hiccupped, still visibly shaking.

But Lily Potter didn't seem surprised at all. Stunned, but not nearly as confused as her husband.

"I can't believe it...it worked. It really worked." She murmured, looking a bit in a daze. James turned to her, a strange expression flickering in his eyes.

"You can't believe what worked?"

"I…." She paused, her gaze switching between the three men in the room, as if she were not quite sure who to focus on. "When we were warding the house. I looked into some old magic. Very old magic. A blood ward."

"Lily...we talked about it, blood wards are dark-"

"Only because they involve sacrifices! But this one was different, it was-it didn't involve killing anyone else. It's based on a mother's sacrifice. It was only meant to be a preventative measure, if something ever happened to me."

"Lily…." James pleaded, his throat catching. "What did you do?"

"It wouldn't-it wouldn't explain any of this. It was just-if I died, it would protect Harry. That's all. My death would protect Harry. The grimoire never specified exactly how strong it was. What…..does anyone know what happened, exactly? How he survived?"

"No." Shacklebolt murmured, his mind whirring. "No, only that-after you two-there was an explosion. Harry was found alive, and You-Know-Who…."

"Wha' the auror is tryin' to say, is that your little 'Arry is credited with saving the whole wizarding world." Barnes interjected, shaking his head in disbelief. "Never found You-Know-Who's body of course, now that's a funeral I'm glad I didn't have to carry out, but he disappeared. Hasn't been seen since the day you two died. Your boy ended the whole bloody war."

You could hear a pin drop. In fact, the only sound in the entire cottage was Beasy popping out of the room with the broken cup.

"He….what?"

"Best we can tell, the killing curse You-Know-Who cast on Harry bounced back and hit the dark lord. And now, the world might finally know why." Shacklebolt murmured, scratching his chin. Suddenly, it hit him.

"Except they shouldn't. Barnes, not a word of this leaves this cottage, is that understood?"

"Why woul' I-"

"Not a word. I'll make you swear an unbreakable oath if I have to."

"That's not necessary. Not a peep from this graveyard, on my honor. It's no' like the dead talk, besides. And the ones that do, nobody believes 'em."

"Good. Because if word gets out, and I find it's through you, or any of your ghosts-than you will as good have murdered Harry yourself, understood?"

"Murdered?!" Both Potters exclaimed, James attempting to rise to his feet.

"Pardon my dramatic language, of course. But-your son has many enemies. Many of You-Know-Who's old followers, for one. I don't know anything about this blood ward of yours, but if anyone figures out what it is, then they're one step closer to using it against him."

"Assuming it still works." James muttered quietly. "I mean, we're here now, aren't we? Would us coming back to life null the ward?"

"I….I don't know. I mean, it's not like this has ever happened before." Lily remarked, pursing her lips. "And to be honest, I don't think that spell has been used in centuries." She stopped, turning back the Shacklebolt. "I….when can we see him? Harry, I mean."

Shacklebolt felt his heart freeze in his chest.

"Not yet, I'm afraid." He nearly stuttered, searching for an excuse. "I need to have a medic come and examine you, and I'd like to keep what you're wearing as evidence before you two get washed up."

"You're not taking us to St. Mungos? James asked, scrunching his nose. "We can still walk-"

"It's not your capability I'm worried about, Mr. Potter, so much as your privacy. If we go to St. Mungos now, you'll be in the morning paper, for sure. If we have one of their medics come here, we might be able to keep this contained for a while longer. Don't feel like you're dying, do you?" He joked, a twinkle in his eyes.

James laughed bitterly. "Been there, done that, I'm afraid." Shacklebolt stood to leave, but not even a second later, Barnes toppled over in the doorway, having been trampled over by a very junior apprentice.

If Shacklebolt could have torn out his hair, he would have.

"You won't believe this, sir-" Tonks blabbed, eyes as wide as the house-elf's had been an hour earlier.

"Tonks-"

"It's Quirrell, sir! Quirrell's the dead bloke! I looked to see if I could find Harry-"

"Tonks-"

"Couldn't find sight of 'im. But I did see footprints, a child's, in the mud-"

"Tonks-"

"It has to be him, he's been here, sir-"

"TONKS." He bellowed, slamming his fist down on the coffee table. Mrs. Potter's own teacup bounced off, shattering next to where her husband's had been only a few minutes prior. Kingsley closed his eyes, doing everything he could to maintain his composure. He looked at the green trainee, her eyes startled and her mouth agawk. Then he looked at the Potters.

He would never forget the look on their faces.

"Tonks," he began, his voice dangerously calm. "I need you to round up more aurors. Williamson and Carpenter, they can be trusted. Don't give them details, tell them it's by my request. You said you had a friend that just started work at St. Mungos? If she can be trusted, grab her, too. Don't tell anyone anything, and do not let them come here without you. Is that understood?"

"Yes sir." She said quietly, unable to look away from the two staring Potters.

"And Tonks?"

"Yes sir?"

"Next time I tell you to secure a crime scene-don't leave it."

"I-yes sir. Sorry, sir." She swallowed, nodding apologetically to the others in the room. She backed off, leaving Shacklebolt feeling like he had kicked a dog. When he turned to the Potters, the looks on their faces made him feel like he had kicked puppies, instead.

"He was here. And you knew." James said dangerously. Shacklebolt nodded wearily, sighing. Even Barnes seemed unnerved, looking away in embarrassment.

"...what aren't you telling us about Harry?" Dark, emerald eyes inquired after his. Angry eyes. A mother's eyes.

"I'm afraid... that Harry was kidnapped over a year ago, at the end of his first year at Hogwarts. And the man that kidnapped him…" Shacklebolt paused, letting his own gaze fall into the distant fog. "Is the man you found dead in the graveyard."

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Broken Teacups

Beasy was very frightened and very confused. Mr. Barnes was having more houseguests than Mr. Barnes had ever had before, and Beasy was not sure what Beasy should be doing.

Normally, Mr. Barnes was not having guests, not having media, and most certainly not having aurors. Mr. Barnes was very insistent on that, and Beasy wanted to make Mr. Barnes very happy.

Beasy had been in the Barnes family since Beasy's previous master had died without an heir. Master Barnes had serviced the funeral and taken pity on her. Master Barnes was Mr. Barnes's father, and was ever so nice and thoughtful, but he was a very different wizard from Mr. Barnes.

Master Barnes was a very talkative man, and always had lots of house guests. Master Barnes was very good at being kind and helping sad masters and mistresses, but Mr. Barnes focused more on staying in the cottage or caring for the dead. Beasy didn't like the dead. The ghosts played jokes on her and were always making messes for Beasy to clean up.

Mr. Barnes also had very strange rules about what Beasy shouldn't be bothered doing. Beasy wasn't to be calling Mr. Barnes "Master", for it reminded Mr. Barnes of his father. Beasy should not be cleaning the chimney except once a year. Mr. Barnes liked things to be a bit cluttered; Mr. Barnes thought it was homey. And while Beasy was bothered by this, Beasy wanted to please Mr. Barnes ever so much so there were things she would clean and things she would not.

But when Master Barnes was still alive, Master Barnes would not be having guests if the cottage was not clean. And Beasy still very much wanted the cottage to be spotless for their unexpected guests.

Beasy tried to be discrete. When Mr. Potter drug mud onto the floor, Beasy quietly vanished it before Mr. Barnes could notice. When teacups were dropped, Beasy was more than happy for an excuse to clean the floor once more. Beasy did not like thinking about the graveyard, or what she had seen in it. But Beasy did very much like cleaning. Beasy wanted to be a good elf, and good elves cleaned.

"You're repairing it?" Beasy jumped, not knowing that someone else was in the kitchen. Mrs. Potter was standing in the doorway, looking very weary and kind. Beasy very much liked Mrs. Potter. Mrs. Potter had been very kind to Beasy.

Beasy looked down. Dozens of shards were arranged in order on the kitchen's countertop. Beasy nodded enthusiastically.

"These cups were Mistress' Abigail's very favorite cups. Mistress Abigail would be wanting Beasy to fix them." Mistress Abigail was very much like Mrs. Potter. Mistress Abigail had been very kind, very pretty, and was always liking pretty things.

The porcelain was lined with hand-drawn emeralds and asphodels. Beasy muttered some words, and feeling her magic churn, held one of the cups in her tiny hands. The cup snapped together, leaving a zig zagged mark where magic had brought the largest shards together.

"I'm sorry." Mrs. Potter grimaced, looking wistful. "I didn't realize Mr. Barnes was married. Is she asleep, or…?"

"Oh no, missus. Mistress Abigail passed away many years ago." Beasy felt her voice trembling, and widened her eyes. "Mr. Barnes isn't liking to talk about Mistress Abigail since the mistress's passing. Beasy shouldn't have said nothing." Beasy suddenly had the desire to bang her head against the porcelain in guilt, but decided that would not be the right thing to do, either.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring up bad memories. Are the cups ruined?"

"Oh no, Mrs. Potter. They still work, see?" Beasy was happy to have something good to focus on. Beasy snapped her fingers, and the delicate cup filled to the brim, not one drop even peaking through the zig zagged mark. "Beasy likes fixing broken things."

Mrs. Potter seemed happy with this, but sad, too. Beasy wasn't sure what she had done wrong. Mrs. Potter picked up the fixed teacup, running her fingers over the mark.

"I thought you would have just vanished it."

"Oh no, Mrs. Potter. Mistress Abigail was loving these teacups. Beasy would never vanish them just because they were broken. They could never be being replaced."

This didn't seem the right thing to say either, because big fat tears were beginning to run down Mrs. Potter's cheeks. Mrs. Potter put down the cup, wrapping her arms around herself.

"Is Mrs. Potter cold?" Beasy inquired helpfully, but Mrs. Potter shook her head, clearing her throat.

"No, Beasy, but thank you. Just trying to find something to do while James finishes washing up, I suppose. The healer already cleared me."

"Beasy is being very glad that Mrs. Potter isn't hurt. Beasy was very afraid when the coffin was tossed aside."

"Thank you. Just banged up, nothing too terrible." Mrs. Potter remarked, still eyeing the teacup.

"It's hard to imagine that Harry would be attending Hogwarts, already. I just sang him to sleep last night, and now…. maybe he'll still want us, after all this time." She remarked, sadly. "Even if we are banged up and broken."

"Beasy is knowing so. Mr. Harry Potter was saying so."

Beasy was suddenly very aware of Mrs. Potter's attention. Mrs. Potter had seemed sad and wistful before, but Mrs. Potter's eyes were so sharp that Beasy thought she could see into Beasy's soul.

"What did you say?"

What did Beasy say? Beasy was suddenly frightened and unsure of saying anything.

"Beasy is sorry to be making Mrs. Potter sad, missus, Beasy was only trying to-"

"No, no. You're not in trouble, Beasy. What do you mean that Harry was 'saying so'?"

"Mr. Harry Potter was saying so in the graveyard, missus. Mr. Harry was saying he was wishing he could be meeting his parents." Beasy whimpered, still feeling very scared by the look in Mrs. Potter's eyes. For someone who was very kind, Mrs. Potter could be very scary, too.

"You saw Harry." Mrs. Potter repeated, her voice low. "In the graveyard."

Beasy nodded meekly in response, before shaking her head.

"Yes, I mean, no, Beasy doesn't like the graveyard. Beasy doesn't want to talk about the graveyard anymore, please missus. The graveyard is very dark and scary, and the ghosts are always teasing Beasy…."

"Beasy, please. This is very important. Who was Harry with? What did he say?"

Beasy trembled. Beasy didn't want to think about the graveyard. Beasy wanted to think about teacups and chimneys.

"It was dreadful, missus, please don't make poor Beasy talk about it, there was people there. They would have killed Beasy if they had been seeing her, Beasy is sure of it."

"Beasy, you loved Mistress Abigail, right? If you could go back and protect her, you would?" Beasy blinked.

"Of course, Mrs. Potter, missus."

"Harry is like my Abigail. Yesterday, he was crying in my arms, and now-and now-" Mrs. Potter was upset, Beasy could tell, "-now he's almost a teenager. I want to hold him, to comfort him, but I can't Beasy, because some very bad men have him. And I don't know why."

Beasy was quiet for a moment.

"Nobody would believe Beasy, missus. Not even Mrs. Potter."

"Please, Beasy. Just try me."

"Beasy was-Beasy was sleeping, but ghosts are very cold when they move through Beasy, so Beasy woke up. Beasy thought ghosts were playing tricks on Beasy, but Beasy heard voices, and when Beasy went to see….the turban man was talking to Mr. Harry. But Beasy wasn't just hearing the man in the turban, Beasy was hearing the man behind the turban." Beasy whispered in horror, expecting Mrs. Potter to reciprocate. But the young woman didn't understand what Beasy was meaning.

"Behind the turban?"

"The man in the turban was having two voices, missus. One was the man's, the other was another man's. Beasy saw the man in the turban use the ring. It hurt him, missus, oh, it was so dreadful! He shook all over and his hand shriveled! But the other man was still being alive. The other man, he-he-" Beasy squeaked, nearly dropping the fixed teacup before catching it with her magic. She trembled she shook. She cried. "Oh please, Mrs. Potter, Beasy doesn't want to ta-"

"What happened to the second man, Beasy?"

Beasy lowered her head in defeat, trembling. "The other man was being smoke and flying away. Beasy told Mrs. Potter that nobody would believe Beasy. But Mr. Harry was wanting to stay, Mr. Harry told the smoke man that. But the smoke man was telling him to go back, that he be-that he be-oh! That he be killing Mr. and Mrs. Potter if Mr. Harry stayed."

Mrs. Potter blinked for a moment, before turning and walking out of the kitchen. Beasy was hearing Mrs. Potter calling for Mr. Potter. Beasy hummed uneasily to herself. Beasy wasn't sure if Mr. Barnes would approve of Beasy saying these things. Mr. Barnes was never wanting Beasy to say anything, for Mr. Barnes appreciated his privacy. But Mr. Barnes had also invited all of these people here. It was all so terribly confusing.

Beasy gathered the once broken teacups, and flicking her wrist, opened the cabinet door. All of Mistress Abigails' favorite silverware was being there, including the green goblets Mr. Barnes was never wanting her to put out. Beasy never understood why Mr. Barnes wanted things as such, but Beasy was understanding him more than most.

Mr. Barnes was seeming gruff, but Mistress Abigail's death was still hurting him, Beasy knew. Mr. Barnes was still dreaming about the mistress, still having Beasy put flowers on the mistress's grave. But Mr. Barnes was never going himself. Maybe Beasy should be vanishing broken cups. But Beasy was fixing them for the same reason Mr. Barnes wasn't being able to go to his wife's grave. Beasy couldn't be letting that piece of Mistress Abigail go.

Beasy peaked around the kitchen door nervously, watching as two aurors were stepping aside for Mrs. Potter. Beasy cast a quick charm, watching as their boots cleaned themselves. The sun was about to be rising, long shadows stretching across the windowsills. Perhaps Beasy could be making tea for the aurors.

Beasy returned to the kitchen, humming to herself as the emerald teacup glinted in the sunlight. Yes, Beasy would be making morning tea. The aurors would be needing their energy. Beasy was being a good house-elf

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Metamorphosis

"The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "...is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution." –Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


In the course of six hours, Nymphadora Tonks felt as if her life was changed forever.

There was so much to public service, so much more than auror academy could ever teach her. It was part of why the academy had begun the shadow program. It allowed trainees to receive a stipend to live on while they worked their way up, allowed for practical experience, and most importantly, allowed for aurors to handpick who they wanted to train and who they didn't.

While Tonks was rather certain that Shacklebolt would never want to work with her ever again after this, she felt simultaneously over the moon and as if she had aged ten years in a day. This was much better experience than fetching tea for superiors or rescuing kneazles from a tree. In fact, it was sheer luck that she had been on call that night, and that the dispatcher had put her with a senior auror rather than a junior one. It was also sheer luck that the dispatcher didn't know how personal this call would be for Tonks. If she had known, they might have taken her off the case before it had even begun.

"Oi, Tonks!" Williamson called, breaking her focus. "Look at this!"

She strode over to the body, still eyeing the perimeter. The ghosts had calmed some, the sunlight seeming to make them sleepy. One in particular had been rather pushy, however, bemoaning that his own supposed murder had never been solved. A quick check had confirmed that he had actually died of a Felix Felicis overdose years ago, and the caretaker had agreed that Browne was a bit of a crackpot. But the bitter ghost had refused to let the matter go, even threatening to possess the dead man's body if Tonks didn't listen to him.

She called him on his bluff, and he had sulked right back to his grave to take a nap. Ever since then, the other ghosts and magical creatures had seemed more tranquil, but Tonks wasn't going to let him slip past her when he woke back up.

"What's wrong?" She asked, noticing Williamson's own concerned expression.

"I was so focused on the lad's head, I didn't even look at his arm. Did you see this?" He pointed to the man's left hand. It looked like it had decayed and withered away, but by what magic she couldn't know.

"Yeah. The ghosts were saying he used some sort of magical ring. Can't tell if it's what brought back the Potters, if it's what killed 'im, or both."

"It doesn't make sense." Williamson insisted, tapping his foot impatiently. "What has Quirrell been doing for the past year? Why kidnap Harry and then just sacrifice yourself to bring the boys' parents back from the dead? And why wouldn't Harry stay to meet them?"

"And where did the ring go…?" Tonks murmured thoughtfully, examining Quirrell closely. The body had stiffened since her arrival, his last expressions and movements frozen in death. But his face had taken a turn for the worse, having paled, the blood pooling on the side he had fallen on. The sight of his pale skin and bulging eyes was unsettling, but Shacklebolt had forbidden them from covering the body, not wanting to contaminate the scene.

"Remember anything about him?" Williamson asked, the corner of his lips twitching in amusement. He seemed unphased by Quirrell's appearance, the man not being his first dead body. Tonks rolled her eyes.

"I'm not that young, thank you. He didn't teach at Hogwarts until after I graduated. I was schoolmates with Charlie Weasley, though. His younger brother was little Harry's best friend. The Weasleys said Quirrell was a nervous, stuttering wreck. Last person anyone would suspect to do something like this."

"Yeah, that's what all the papers were saying...must be how he got past Dumbledore, eh?" Williamson smiled before frowning. "Weasleys...aren't they the ones whose daughter was killed? Jenny, Winnie, something like that?"

"Ginny, yeah. That was Charlie's baby sister. Only daughter in the Weasley family for generations, too."

"The girls in that family must be as cursed as the DADA position, then."

"Maybe." Tonks muttered, shaking her head. "An imperius breaks after the caster dies, right? Maybe Quirrell was working with someone. He hardly seems the type to come up with this kind of plan by himself."

"You think Harry was imperiused?"

"If you were orphaned, wouldn't you do anything to see your parents again? If I were 'im, I would have stayed. I would have watched and made sure they really were alive."

"But if he were imperiused, why would Quirrell even bring him along?"

"Blood magic? I mean, that's what this has to be, right? A life for a life."

"A life for two lives." Williamson corrected furtively. "What little I know about blood magic, I thought it always required an even trade. But then again, none of this is even supposed to be possible. Bloody hell, we need an expert on this. I know Shacklebolt's trying to keep this under wraps, but as soon as he tells Scringemour, the Ministry will know about it, and as soon as the Ministry knows about it, it'll be in the Daily Prophet anyways."

Tonks bit her lip. "He's right, though. The longer we can keep it contained, the more we know that what we're finding hasn't been tampered with. Isn't Bill Weasley a curse-breaker? The Egyptians used blood wards. Maybe he could help."

"It's an idea." Williamson admitted, grimacing as he took a closer look at the shriveled hand. "But Shacklebolt won't like it. Arthur Weasley works for the ministry, and if their youngest son was Harry's best friend, there's no way the family's impartial."

"Especially if they think any of this has to do with Ginny's death." Tonks agreed bitterly, kicking a rock. But no sooner had she done so, then the sky lit up, the sun peeking in the distance. Tonks smiled, twirling her hair between two fingers. She watched in satisfaction as the strand changed colors, transitioning into an ombre of red and orange.

"To match the Weasley's?" Williamson joked, writing down some notes. Tonks shook her head.

"No, to match the sunrise."

"Oh, you're killing me, Tonks. Such a romantic, and here you are, working on becoming an auror."

"What's wrong with a romantic auror?"

"Won't last long in this line of work, you'll see. You stare at the nastiness in people too long, and you become a little nasty, yourself..." He cocked his head to the side, stopping suddenly. Tonks leaned over, spotting what he was looking at.

"The footprints? I saw them, too. I told Shacklebolt about them, but he, uh, was chewing me out about something else at the time. They have to be Harry's, don't you think?" But Williamson had gone quiet, instead carefully following the trail.

"I've heard muggles actually take shoe castings." Tonks prodded helpfully, following him. "We could prove it's him…."

"That's not what I'm looking at." Williamson murmured, his eyes following the trail. The footsteps continued off into the distance, leading to a small wooded area. Williamson followed them, and seeing the tracks stop beneath a trunk, looked up and whistled.

"Morganna's tits….he climbed the ruddy tree!"

Tonks approached the forested area herself, glancing around from tree to tree.

"He did watch them. He must have been hiding from them…. but...I don't see any other footprints."

"Exactly." Williamson murmured, his eyebrows furrowed. "Nobody up there, but no sign he ever climbed back down, on foot, at least. None of this makes sense."

"Maybe there was a portkey." Tonks murmured, looking around. She widened her eyes. "Or maybe the ring was the portkey. That would explain why it's gone."

"Yeah." Williamson agreed, although rather reluctantly. "I suppose." Williamson peered forward, watching as the tree limbs swayed. But as he took another step forward, a flock of ravens flew out of the oak, squawking at him angrily as they left in a huff. He shook his head, sighing as he turned.

They both turned just in time to see a very, very different-looking James Potter walking towards them, accompanied by a junior auror, Thomas Carpenter. Tonks nearly had to pick her jaw off the ground at the sight of the dark-haired man. Now cleaned of mud, he looked nearly identical to all the newspapers and books Tonks had seen over the years, just like his wife. The approaching wizard shrugged sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head with his hand.

"I'm, uh, kind of blind as a bat right now. You two haven't seen my glasses, have you?"

Tonks grimaced. She had, in fact.

"They're, uh, still in your coffin, mate. I think you might've been laying on 'em. They're in so many pieces, I don't even think a reparo could do the trick." That had to be the most surreal thing she'd ever said aloud.

"Aw, bloody hell. I can barely see a foot in front of me without them. Have we met, Mrs….?" Tonks blinked, confused, before Williamson broke out laughing.

"It's the same girl as before, mate. Tonks. She just changed her hair color."

"Oh." The man chuckled sheepishly. "Sorry 'bout that. Faces are still kind of blurry at the moment. Wait, you-changed your hair color?"

"Yeah, to 'match the sunrise'. She thinks it's 'romantic'." Williamson teased, elbowing her. She shook her head in pretend disgust, before turning to the confused Potter.

"I'm a Metamorphmagus. Ruddy useful in my disguise classes."

"Doesn't help prevent you from tripping over your feet, though." Williamson teased. James's expression turned thoughtful, a faint smile on his face.

"I've met a Metamorphagus before. She's just a little girl, though, my best mate's little cousin…" He smiled softly, and Tonks shifted uncomfortably. "I wonder if the clumsy thing is part of the condition. She's the same way, traipsing about. Cute, really."

Carpenter, who had been quiet until now, swore suddenly, drawing surprise from the onlookers.

"What?" Williamson asked, looking between them. Tonks shook her head at Carpenter, but thick as ever, he ignored her, looking at her pointedly. "Does Shacklebolt know?"

"Know what?" Williamson repeated, still confused.

"I barely even remember him, it doesn't affect my impartiality." She lowered her voice, uncomfortably aware that James Potter could still hear her.

"Will a court believe that? Merlin, Tonks. Black's your bloody cousin-"

"Wait…..Dora?" Realization came over James, who looked ready to fall over again. She swallowed, her pulse quickening as she tried to explain herself.

"The Blacks burned us off their family tree a long time ago. We're only family by blood, which if you remember, most of us are by some extension or another."

"You were….you were just a kid. Just a mischievous little kid…" James muttered, still baffled by the back and forth.

She swallowed hard, looking James in the eye. Shacklebolt really was going to kill her.

"Mr. Potter, believe me, I am here to help you. If anything, I'm honored to be here, fixing my cousin's mistakes. But if you feel uncomfortable or threatened by me in any way-"

"Threatened?" James asked incredulously. "Why would I feel threatened?"

Once again, Potter seemed very in the dark about something that seemed obvious to everyone else. Williamson cleared his throat, turning to James.

"She means with, uh, what happened with Sirius Black….if you feel uncomfortable working with her, we all understand."

"What do you mean, 'what happened with Sirius'?" James asked, baffled. Tonks suddenly found her shoes to be very interesting. It was a shame she couldn't wear sandals on the job. She rather liked changing the color of her toenails without muttering a single charm.

"He was your secret keeper." She reminded him gently, not able to look him in the eye. "He's the reason you died."

The sun had risen in the distance, cutting through the mist. Tonks suddenly felt as blind as Potter, sunbeams striking her in the eyes.

"Sirius wasn't our secret keeper…" James murmured in horror, an indescribable look in his eyes. He stumbled, leaning on the tree they had been examining. "Peter Pettigrew was."

Silence reigned.

Tonks had heard the story a thousand times. She had heard her mum crying in the night at least a dozen. Her favorite cousin, the only other one to rebel against their deatheater relatives, had betrayed the entire wizarding world, been solely responsible for the death of two heroes, dozens of muggles, and even would have been responsible for the death of an infant if it weren't for pure luck.

The story she had heard a thousand times, the mugshot she had scowled at a hundred times, the question she had been asked in interview after interview-

"That's impossible." Carpenter murmured. "Black-Black killed people. He killed Pettigrew-"

"After fighting with him in the street." Tonks finished, closing her eyes. The story had always been that Pettigrew had confronted an escaping Black. That nothing was left of Pettigrew but the odd finger or toe. But what if it was the other way around? What if-

"No." James muttered darkly, pushing himself upright. "It was Peter. We thought-when the deatheaters arrived, I thought they had gotten to him. Tortured him. Are you telling me everyone thought it was Sirius?

"He was your best friend." Tonks reminded him, her voice caught in her throat. "And a Black. Even Dumbledore condemned him."

James's wife had the ability to flash between a softness to a suppressed fury in a matter of seconds. But this was the first time Tonks had seen James do the same. He bristled, and she could almost see his messy hair stand straight in the air as he clenched his fists. What little magic he had whirred about, and if Tonks wasn't crazy, she would say that the wind grew stronger as it whipped through her newly auburn hair. James looked between the aurors, his jaw set.

"What happened to Sirius? Where is he?"

The sun continued to emerge, blinding Tonks even more. She was glad, however, for it gave her an excuse to look away. She couldn't say the answer aloud. None of them could.

Azkaban. Sirius Black was in Azkaban

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: The Rat Maze

"...then you should have died...died rather than betray your friends, as we would have done for you!"

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


There were many things Peter Pettigrew hated in this world, but Egypt had found its way to the top of his list. It was hot, the sand was itchy, and he didn't like it one bit.

Arthur Weasley had won some blasted award, one that involved the family having their picture taken in stereotypical Egyptian gear for the people back home to ooh and ahh at. It was supposed to be a "great honor" or something of the sort, but Peter didn't care. The Weasleys were as annoying as ever, but instead of being able to hide away under Ron's bed like usual, the rat had been forced to deal with their never ending bustle and chatter.

The one good thing about little Ginny Weasley's death was that Peter had some peace and quiet, at least for a time. But this little vacation had reinvigorated the family. While they certainly weren't their usual selves, they had grown quite obnoxious again, and the tight quarters and uncomfortable atmosphere didn't make matters better.

Upon their arrival, the once quiet Bill was now a never ending encyclopedia about this or that curse. All it took was the mere mention of these ancient muggle's traditions and Arthur was hooked. The twins were being childish, as usual, having used some spellwork to animate some sand castles and golems, much to the Egyptian warlocks' amusement. And Ron, well….

Even with the family's uplifted mood was one notable fact. Ronald Weasley was not uplifted in the slightest. The same boy that could never focus on one thing, that was usually bouncing from sibling to sibling and from broom to broom, had spent the past summer staring at walls and punching pillows. While the other members of the Weasley family had started to work through their grief, Ron had insisted on sulking all summer. It was all very disconcerting.

Something had happened down in those sewers when little Ginny died, Peter knew. Being a rat had its advantages, after all. There were rumors, ones Peter had heard in the Gryffindor common room, that Dumbledore had nearly caught the real perpetrator behind the Chamber of Secrets. But the wizarding world was content with pinning the crime on the now deceased Ginny Weasley, and with no proof of otherwise, that was what the ministry had concluded, as well.

Peter was just relieved that amid the accusations, Arthur Weasley hadn't lost his job, even if that same job forced the family to go on unwanted excursions such as this. Peter rather liked his life in the Burrow. He liked his anonymity, and being the plaything of Weasley child after Weasley child hadn't been such a terrible fate. After all, hadn't he been the Marauders' plaything, a lifetime ago?

But the disappearance of his best friend and the death of his sister had caused Ronald Weasley to both grow up and yet become more immature than ever. His sullen tantrums had affected his friendship with the Granger girl poorly at first, the Potter boy no longer able to serve as a mediator. But whatever happened in that chamber had bonded the two together again...even if Ron barely bothered with the girl's letters.

However, there was one letter that the boy had taken particular interest in that morning, a news clipping attached. Peter was almost excited to see the boy reading the Daily Prophet, doing something at least, until he saw what was on the cover. On the front page, was a frothing, head-shaking image of Sirius Black.

ESCAPE FROM AZKABAN.

Peter's little rodent heart froze, his whiskers quivering. For a moment he couldn't move, he couldn't even breathe. If he was able to whimper, he was sure he would have. Instead, he let out a little distressed squeak, hopping on Ron's shoulder.

"Oi! Scabbers!" Ron shifted his shoulders grumpily, trying to swipe Peter off. But Peter, quivering mess and all, remained, keeping his view of the newspaper. Granger had, in Hermione-like fashion, highlighted certain texts.

ESCAPE FROM AZKABAN.

"Sirius Black, possibly the most infamous prisoner ever to be held in Azkaban fortress, was found missing from his cell yesterday. "We are doing all we can to recapture Black," said the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, this morning, "and we beg the magical community to remain calm." Regardless, the magical community lives in fear of a massacre like that of twelve years ago, when Black murdered thirteen people with a single curse.

Black's mental health has reportedly been on the decline in recent years. In particular, he has been cited by prison guards for his obsession over Harry Potter's disappearance, muttering of urges to 'kill him' and absconding with stolen newspaper articles about the boy.

"He was my friend." Remus Lupin, a past friend of Black's has stated. "We all were. What happened is tragic, but he needs to be caught before he has the chance to hurt anyone else."

Lupin has recently been appointed as Hogwart's new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, a position that has remained empty since Gilderoy Lockheart's untimely death last spring.

Lupin refused any further comments.

It took every fiber of Peter's tiny little being to not fall off the boy's shoulder in a faint.

Sirius had escaped? And was alive? Well, nobody would believe him. They couldn't possibly believe him. After all, he looked half out of his mind in that mugshot. In fact, perhaps the escape was for the best, it just cemented Black's reputation as a deranged death eater.

And there was no possible way he could know where Peter was, was there?

"Maybe…." Ron put down the paper grumpily, a dazed look in his eyes. "Maybe Black will find 'im. Maybe he'll kill Quirrell and that other boy, and then Harry could get away."

Ron's optimism was pure Gryffindor, for sure. Pettigrew didn't bother hiding rolling his eyes. The boy had never noticed such human expressions before, he wouldn't now.

"I used to envy him, you know." Ron said suddenly, sinking his head in his arms. "Harry, I mean. He was rich, famous, everything I ever dreamed of. I just wanted to stand out, you know? Make Mum and Dad proud." Ron's grumpiness slipped into grief, the boy petting Peter's head instead of shoving him off like before. Peter sighed, uncomfortably aware that the boy was wanting some sort of comfort from him.

"But now that he's gone, I get it. And I don't want it. Being the hero just means the people you care about get hurt." he murmured glumly, shaking. "They should have listened. The professors should have listened. But none of them did! They didn't believe us when we said someone was after the stone, and they didn't believe Hermione about the loo. They were going to send bloody Lockheart, of all people! If they had believed us, then Harry wouldn't be missing, and Ginny wouldn't be...she wouldn't be…" the boy buried his face in his shoulder, sniffling.

"Do you think Harry's still alive, Scabbers?" The boy asked weakly. Peter squeaked in response.

No. He didn't believe Harry was alive.

But the boy took his squeak to mean the opposite.

"Yeah. I think so, too. I mean, if anyone could survive it, it'd be Harry, right? An' if Quirrell was going to kill him, why didn't he do it before? Mione's right. There's somethin' more to all of this. There's got to be. But then why…." The ginger-haired boy trailed off, running his hand through his hair, almost reminiscent of his friend. "...why not Ginny? Why let Harry live but kill her?"

Well, Quirrell certainly didn't break back into Hogwarts and become the heir to Slytherin, for one. Even Peter knew that. Whoever killed Ginny Weasley wasn't the same person who took little Harry. But who? From the way young Ron had been acting, the two children and their haphazard professor had met someone else down in the pipes. Someone who wasn't Ginny, wasn't Malfoy, and most certainly wasn't Quirrell. So the question remained. Who?

"RONALD WEASLEY."

The matriarch's voice rumbled from outside the tent, but what would have once elicited an immediate response only resulted in a glum sigh. Mrs. Weasley had, in fact, been calling Ron several times over the past few minutes, but the boy had been too wrapped up in the article to care.

But wisely, the boy rose, Peter still on his shoulder, and exited the tent flap.

"Comin'." The boy grumbled as he walked. The tent seemingly shrunk behind them, the circus-sized living space reduced to a tiny campsite. Peter hissed in annoyance. The sun was bright, and the extra heat it brought was scorching his bald nose.

A wooden table next to the tent had been set, sandwiches strewn all over the serving plates. Peter allowed his nose to wander. The scent of swiss, cheddar, and was that….gruyère? wafted in his direction, immediately making up for the unpleasant atmosphere. The twins were already munching on theirs, as well as a disgruntled Percy, who eyed his youngest brother in annoyance. Percy had always reminded Peter of what Sirius Black and Remus Lupin would be like if they were mixed into the same person. Smart, self-righteous, and arrogant.

"Why can't I eat inside?" Ron grumbled, grabbing a sandwich and looking at it in distaste. Peter stretched away from the boy's shoulder and towards the sandwich, eyeing the cheese hungrily as bits of the sandwich crumbled onto the boy's shirt.

"Because your father and the rest of your brothers will be here in a few minutes, and we need to appreciate our time with them." Molly determined cheerfully, as if repeating a tired mantra. Appreciate our time with what's left of this family, she means, Peter snickered to himself.

Ron resigned himself to picking at his food, even offering a bit to Peter, which he took greedily. In his gloom, Ron had barely remembered to feed himself, nevertheless his pet rat. Peter would even dare to say that he had lost a few pounds over the last year.

But Peter's luxury was not to last. A young witch ran as fast as her legs would take her over to them, bumping into the table as she did so. His cheese bits went flying.

"I….have….never...been so glad….to see red hair….Weasley's?" The girl wheezed, her own bright orange hair sticking to her neck in a sweat. She wasn't dressed for Egyptian weather, instead donning heavier, English robes.

Molly wasn't the least bit fazed, offering a motherly smile to the young woman. "Why, yes, I'm Molly. You are….?"

"Tonks." The girl panted, still struggling to breathe. "Nymphadora Tonks." She rubbed the back of her neck, her eyes glancing over the bunch. The twins wriggled their eyebrows, Percy stood at attention, and Ron was caught mid-bite, his cheeks nearly as puffed out as Peter's.

Tonks? Where did Peter know that name…

"I'm-uh-am an old classmate of Charlie and Bill's. There's something I'd like Bill to look at. I've been looking everywhere for him. Would you know where I could find 'im?"

Molly blinked, examining the woman more closely. The younger witch shifted uneasily as she stood, her eyes darting around nervously.

"Why, is everything alright?"

"Oh, yes, quite fine. I just knew he was into curse breaking nowadays, and was in a bit of a rather urgent bind. I'm a trainee at the auror academy, you see." The woman mentioned hurriedly, as if that explained everything.

"Well, the rest of the boys should be here in a bit. Would you like a sandwich while you wait?" The woman looked reluctant, still panting from her hurry, but nodded in resignation, plopping down to their table with the grace of a giraffe.

Peter huffed, jumping off of Ron's shoulder and running down the boy's trousers. The forgotten cheese bits were by his boots, and Peter had no shame after a decade of being a rodent in consuming them from the ground. There were a few grains of sand lining the cheddar, but it still otherwise perfectly good cheese.

"Thank you. The, uh, investigation I'm a part of is taking a bit longer than I thought. Never did have breakfast. Or lunch." Tonks remarked, inhaling a sandwich. From below, Peter felt a bit bitter, the grainy morsels already down his throat. Even newcomers had more rights to scraps than he did.

"And you think our Bill can help? His field is rather specialized, dear, unless…." The Weasley matriarch trailed off, a sudden crack in her usually jolly demeanor. A strange look flickered in her eyes, one that Peter had seen the woman suppress since the beginning of this sorry excuse of a vacation.

"It wouldn't have anything to do with Ginny, would it?" The rest of the table froze at the mother's words, casting wary glances towards the newcomer. Tonks blinked stupidly for a moment, before turning several shades of red.

"Oh, no ma'am. Nothing like that at all. Different case, just started last night actually, I'm sorry if I indicated otherwise-"

"No." Mrs. Weasley breathed easier, resuming her cleaning. "You indicated nothing of the sort, of course. It's just hard to take off that lens at times, is all. Well, the rest of the boys are expected back any minu-"

"Is it about Harry?" The smallest redhead demanded, his eyes sharp. Tonks turned to Ron, the previous shade of crimson draining from her face. Even from the ground, Peter found himself at attention. Her lack of answer, followed by her unintelligible attempt at one, was the only answer he needed.

Yes. Yes it was.

But before the woman could explain herself properly, a raucous laughter in the distance came to her rescue, a quick glance telling Peter that Bill, Charlie, and Mr. Weasley had returned. Their laughter paused, however, obviously confused by the tense scene they had stumbled into. To Peter's annoyance, the table rocked above him, the woman bumping into it as she jumped out of her seat.

"Wotcher, Charlie! Long time no see." The witch greeted, rather relieved.

"Tonks? What are you doing here?" Charlie blinked, looking around as if his family held the answers. But even the twins were speechless, eyeing the clumsy woman as she stood.

"Funny story, really, well, perhaps not so funny…" She trailed off, clearing her throat. "There's a strange case I'm on, and your brother is really the only person I could think of that might have seen something like this curse before. I hate to barge into your family time like this-"

"An egyptian curse?" Bill asked incredulously, intrigued as he was befuddled.

"An old curse." Tonks admitted, glancing uncertainly at the other family members. "I know it's all rather sudden, but if I could just steal an hour of your time, I could explain much more when we get there-"

"You didn't answer the ruddy question." Ron complained, his voice darker than a child's had any right to be. Molly began to admonish the boy, but Ron continued, seething each word in a fashion that would have made Snivellus proud. "Is-it-about-Harry?"

Peter didn't need another awkward silence to tell him that it was.

Had Sirius found the Potter boy, then? The timing of the newspaper article and the young witch's arrival was uncanny, and Peter found himself rather shaken by the whole affair. The Weasleys had once offered him a boring but anonymous life, a strange sort of way to live out the rest of his days while keeping his head down from an unwanted past. But Ginny, Harry, and now this….Peter didn't feel safe at all, even underneath the picnic table, surrounded by sand and cheese, with all of the tension above his head and out of sight.

The young witch, after a moment of indecision, ignored Ron, electing to go after her original target instead.

"I know-I know you don't know me very well, you were two years ahead of us, but Charlie will vouch for me, I'm sure. And it is rather important…..would you come? Please, Bill?" After yet another awkward moment, the oldest Weasley nodded, smiling apologetically to his family.

Outside of Ginny, Bill had always been the meekest in the family, something Peter had never quite understood. The young wizard dressed rather informally, including a long hairstyle Molly had scolded him for over the years. But despite being somewhat of a rebel in that regard, Bill had otherwise been the perfect child. He was the mediator when fights broke out among the younger siblings, the one who went out of his way to entertain his family the moment they had arrived to this dreadful place. As the oldest, he held a presence without having to say anything at all, and went along with whatever was best for the family without so much of a complaint.

So of course bloody Bill would go along with this bloody witch he barely even knew. Especially if the situation was mysterious and she was battling her eyelashes enough. Because that's what Bill always did. Gone along with whatever was best for the group.

How Bill had managed to do that without being crushed under others' heels, Peter didn't know. If anything, he loathed the older boy's ability to be both complacent and "cool". It was something that Peter had never been able to achieve. Peter had gone along with everything James Potter and Sirius Black had ever asked him to do, and they still abandoned him after graduation. And then they had the gall to be shocked when he finally turned around and did what he wanted for the first time in his life.

The young witch was as excited as Sirius had always been back then, nodding enthusiastically as she smiled.

"Splendid, absolutely splendid! I'm afraid I might be a bit too exhausted to apparate safely. Had to stay up all night on this case, you see. Do you mind if we floo?"

Peter knew the answer without even looking. It was the answer he had always given, as well.

"Sure, no probl-"

"I mind." a voice butted in, a still very angry Ronald Weasley crossing his arms. "If Harry's involved, I'm coming, too." The boy insisted with a pout.

"You are most certainly not!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed, seeming to grow several inches taller. Peter winced, ducking uncessarily underneath the table. But his young master didn't seem intimidated in the slightest, as if experiencing a live howler was an everyday affair.

"It's auror business, and I'm under strict orders here, Mr. Weasley. I really can't say." The witch apologized sheepishly, glancing worriedly towards Bill. Bill nodded, and left with her hurriedly, no doubt intending to avoid a scene.

But Ronald Weasley always made a scene. He pushed back the table angrily-nearly ramming it into Peter as he did so-and stomped back to his tent, no doubt intending to remain cooped up again for the rest of the trip.

Peter sighed, watching with disinterest as the blown up witch deflated before his eyes. Molly had always been strong-willed, and she had always put on a good show. And while he certainly didn't want to get on her bad side, he knew something about her that her children didn't.

He knew how vulnerable, how child-like, and how utterly weak she had looked when she was making burial arrangements for her brothers, all those years ago. How quiet she had been when she watched them being lowered into the ground. And as much as she had wept for little Ginny-the look in her eyes had been different, then. An angry grief rather than a broken one.

Molly Weasley had been like Bill Weasley once, doing whatever was required of her without much of a fuss, and then life had changed her, and she had grown fiery because of it. Just as life had changed Peter.

Let the boy sulk. He wasn't Ron's keeper. He was just using the Weasleys for a simple life he was content to live. It wasn't quite as grand as a retirement to Spain or Italy, to be sure, but it was content, nonetheless. He-he wasn't-of course he wasn't-he was no longer the cowardly, snivelling sidekick Sirius Black had fatally believed him to be.

Peter hissed, feeling the dust around him scatter as wings flapped above him. He looked up, sighting a disgustingly familiar snowy owl flying away, a parchment clutched in her talons. That hadn't taken long, Peter mused, scowling at the bird. It was off to make its way to the Granger girl, no doubt, where it would be treated like a god. All the sweet meats and cheese a bird could ask for.

Peter pouted, rolling his eyes as he munched on a forgotten piece of bread. So what if Sirius came after him? Peter had always been smarter than the rest of them, even Lupin, always. They had just never believed in him enough to see it. If Peter kept his head down, Sirius couldn't possibly find him. Out of all the rats in Egypt, and out of all the rats in England, it would take a bloody miracle before Sirius showed up at his door.

"Well, that was rather dramatic." Fred snarked, taking a second sandwich.

"Oh, you should have seen him when our picture made it to the front page. Went ballistic. He should go into theatre, at this rate." Charlie joked half-heartedly, rubbing the back of his neck.

The front page? The family's picture had been in the Daily Prophet?

Oh, bugger it all.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: A Griffin among Ravens

"Greatness inspires envy, envy engenders spite, spite spawns lies."

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


Phineas Sayre found ministry work rather dull.

Most of the young wizard's days were spent running this errand or that errand, kissing up to his bosses, and filing all the necessary paperwork. His bosses were utterly foolish, the work rather dreary, and the overall hum and drum just utterly and loathingly predictable. But his attempts to put on a disgustingly charming persona during his summer job had worked-for whether it was his smarts or good looks, Phineas had been promoted to Junior Assistant to the Minister of Magic, and within only a few months, at that. Quite the achievement.

This usually meant he had the privilege of babysitting Minister Fudge's french bulldog, Patsy. But today, it meant privileged access to a highly confidential, top secret crime scene. And since Fudge was involved, this of course meant everyone already knew about it by the time Phineas arrived. While it hadn't hit the papers, it soon would, the tiny graveyard surrounded by reporters eager to sneak through the auror's barrier.

This was exactly why Sayre had been so interested in this position. Being one of the minister's assistants meant he could go wherever he wanted without people looking twice, and find out anything and everything without anyone so much as batting an eye. And for the time being, he was watching in fascination as Unspeakables readied Professor Quirrell's body for transport.

Unspeakables were never involved unless something really abnormal had happened. And "war heroes" rising from the dead while their children's kidnappers shriveled up like prunes was certainly abnormal.

"Oi! Phineas! Good to see ya mate, did you bring coffee?" Being the 'coffee and tea' guy had its advantages as well, such as being on a first-name basis with the aurors. Sayre suppressed the urge to roll his eyes, instead putting on a false cheer as he strode over to the auror.

"Should I have brought some firewhisky while I was at it?" He teased Williamson with a grin, pulling out a pumpkin juice flavored one and handing it to the taller man. Sayre fought the urge to sneer. He rather despised coffee, himself. It was too informal, too American, but not everyone could have proper upbringings, he supposed.

Williamson took a swig of his mug, closing his eyes as if Sayre had given him liquid ambrosia. "It'd be tempting, after the day I've had. The department ought to get this thing catered if they're going to take so long clearin' the scene."

"So it's true?" Sayre pressed, trying to seem nonchalant. "Are they here?"

Williamson took another gulp before pointing some distance away. Behind the scores of graves, a cottage stood in stark contrast to its grisly surroundings.

"Aye, Shacklebolt's got 'em sequestered away in the caretaker's home, fer now. I reckon they want to keep the Potters out of the limelight until the Unspeakables can figure out what's going on."

"What's the use?" Sayre asked, nodding towards the reporters. "It seems like the rest of the world already knows."

"That's only because Fudge's got rats in his office. No offense to you, of course. But most folks won't know until the morning news breaks."

"None taken." Sayre smiled, internally belittling the man. The ministry was full of its idiotic, unchecked beaurocracies, to be sure, but the man didn't seem to realize how hypocritical his actions were. Questioning the ministry's internal integrity while spilling his guts to the first minister's aid that gave him coffee. It was disgusting.

In the distance, a witch waved her hand at Sayre excitedly, walking over burial sites as she did so.

"Ms. Bagnold." He greeted with a slight bow, to which the witch giggled, looking in amusement between the auror and himself.

"It's Tris, silly. You're so formal, Phineas, I swear."

"That's how he made it this far so quickly. He knows how to kiss arse." Williamson murmured with a mischievous grin, taking another swig of his coffee. "And starting with Minister Bagnold's grandaughter isn't a bad idea." He wriggled his eyebrows pointedly at the young woman.

Sayre was caught off guard, which was something he couldn't say happened very often. Perhaps Williamson wasn't as big of an idiot as Sayre had thought.

Beatrice Bagnold pouted, the amused glint fading in her eyes. "Former minister." She corrected, obviously touchy about the subject. It didn't take long for the glint to return, and she chose to shove Williamson playfully. "Besides, I've worked with Phinnie longer than you, that's just the way he is."

Williamson smirked, raising an eyebrow at the ludicrous nickname. Sayre shrugged, raising his hands in the air.

"Guilty as charged. I'm a Pureblood through and through, I'm afraid. Formal to a fault." He drawled.

"Wait… I thought you were supposed to be off today?" Tris changed the subject, cocking her head to the side in confusion. She bit her lip as she eyed him, something Sayre found rather distasteful. The young witch flaunted her desires in an appallingly obvious manner. It was clear she hadn't inherited an ounce of her grandmother's political aptitude, as so far, all the ditz had managed to do was to ride on the coattails of her grandmother's career, all while claiming that she had achieved it on her own. And yet, without any namesake or connection, Phineas had gained the same title in mere months.

"I was supposed to look after my nephew today." He admitted irritably. "But he didn't show, and when I heard about all of this…..well…."

"I know, right? It's sooooo eerie. This is going down in the history books, for sure. Can you imagine it, Phineas? We'll be in history books!"

"Perhaps a footnote. But it'll still be more interesting than the goblin rebellions." He mused with a smirk. In the distance, two figures exited the cottage and headed in their direction, causing Sayre to clench his teeth. Just what he needed, more idiots to navigate through. He was growing weary of the small talk; he wanted to see the corpse before the Unspeakables hauled it away.

It appeared the two newcomers intended on doing the same, looking rather flushed as they, just as carelessly as Baggold, traipsed through the graves. Some of the lingering ghosts grumbled, unhappy with their homes being disturbed. The closer they walked, the clearer their features became. One was a young witch with rather false looking auburn hair, dressed in an auror uniform. The woman was rather haphazard as she walked, which contrasted with her befuddled companion's purposeful strides.

A Weasley, Sayre realized, smirking at the realization. The lad had that look about him. Poor, rundown clothes, long, scraggly hair. The pale face, the rosacea ridden cheeks, the red mane atop of the man's head. It all just oozed of a Weasley. He didn't even have to devise an excuse to walk over to the pair, as Williamson did it for him, Sayre following at the auror's heels.

"Oi, Tonks! The lad brought drinks, if ye want any!" The witch stopped rather suddenly, causing her acquaintance to run comically into her. The two recovered, and the witch offered an embarrassed grin.

"Oh? Got any Earl Grey?"

"Of course." Sayre defended. "As any proper wizard would."

"Do proper wizards bring doughnuts, too?" Williamson joked, but then sharpened up in shock as he took in his colleague's companion. The girl looked sheepish once again, and Sayre had the distinct impression that her Weasley companion had not been approved to be on the scene.

"So…...do you remember that idea I had?" The witch asked. Williamson's eyes were wide, indicating that he had, in fact, remembered. He let out a long whistle.

"Did you run that by Shacklebolt?"

"He's covered up with Scringemour and Fudge right now. It'll just take a few minutes, and Bill will find out tomorrow, anyways ..."

"It's your career." The older auror shrugged, taking another swig of his coffee. Sayre handed over the tea to the young woman, watching the interaction with great interest. "I won't say anything, but I won't deny it if they ask me, either." Williamson said flatly.

Weasley looked even more bewildered than before, and a bit horrified by the direction the discussion was taking.

"That's why we had to sneak through the cottage? So your boss wouldn't see I was here? Tonks, I appreciate you reaching out to me for whatever this is, I do, but if this is illegal-"

"It's not." She interrupted, eyeing the Unspeakables as if she weren't sure, herself. "And it wasn't to sneak you past Shacklebolt, it was so you wouldn't see….um….well I mean…."

"So you wouldn't see the other part of the story that's going to hit the front page tomorrow." Williamson grumbled, watching the trainee warily. Realization dawned on Weasley's face.

"So….this is about Harry Potter?"

"It's about Quirrell, to be exact." Tonks clarified. "He's dead, and I was hoping you could help identify the curse that did him in."

Weasley stared rather stupidly at the impulsive girl. If it weren't for the girl's black and yellow striped scarf, Sayre would have pegged them both right then and there as Gryffindors.

"Quirrell is dead." Weasley began, searching the group's faces for answers. "He's dead, and we're in a graveyard about to identify the curse that was used to kill him, is that right?" Tonks nodded matter of factly, as if dragging in unrelated civilians into murder scenes was an everyday occurence. Weasley sighed deeply, digging his hands in his pockets.

"Alright then, let's have at it. Mind you, I specialize in Egyptian curses, not-oh." Weasley stopped, the group finding themselves at the crime scene faster than the redhead had expected.

Quirrell was a pathetic sight, Sayre mused, examining the body as closely as the Unspeakables would allow. Half of his face was sunken in, eaten away and necrotic. Whatever had done that would be a useful curse in a duel. The back of the man's head was grotesque, and while part of it was eaten away, he could make out something almost resembling a death mask molded into the professor's shaved head. The smell was ... unpleasant, to say the least. Insects of all kinds had come to lay their claim, adding to the revulsion. Sayre found himself swatting away an indigo coloured beetle that had landed on his shoulder. Yet he wasn't alone in his morbid fascination. While Baggold shied away from the scene in disgust, Weasley drew closer, his eyes widening as he did so.

"Well blimey." The redhead uttered in disbelief. "I have seen this before. It's bloody Incan."

One of the Unspeakables startled at that, pretending not to listen. The fools, Sayre seethed. Unspeakables had a reputation for being "all knowing" and "mysterious", but the truth was that the majority were scarcely more educated than their auror counterparts. The difference mostly who had the right connections in the ministry, not necessarily any sort of intellect.

But Weasley was intelligent, if annoyingly brash. He examined Quirrell closely, turning his head at an angle to see as much as he could without touching the body. To Sayre's surprise, the Unspeakables didn't correct him, instead watching in interest. To steal the man's observations afterwards, no doubt, Sayre mused.

But Weasley was oblivious, instead enraptured in the pattern the necrotic curse had taken.

"Did this start in his hand?" The redhead asked, looking up at the female auror. She blushed, nodding.

"We think so. The only witnesses we have are ghosts." She said slowly, careful not to divulge too much information. It was silly of the girl to bother, everyone would know by morning.

"Does anyone know where the ring went, then?" Sayre asked, exasperated with the unnecessary intrigue. Williamson turned sharply, nearly dropping the coffee in his hands.

"No... and how the bloody hell did you know about that?" He asked, the others' widening their eyes. At the mention of a ring, Weasley turned his attention back to the hand, seeming pleased with himself as he identified the originally cursed finger.

"Like you said." Sayre shrugged, smirking mischievously. "Rats."

Williamson let out a string of unpleasant words at this, and Sayre once again had to refrain from rolling his eyes at the auror's lack of control. Weasley was nodding, however, standing back up.

"I was actually going to suggest an amulet, but a ring makes more sense, given how rotted the hand is." Weasley murmured, a glazed look in his eye. "Have you heard of the brothrops asper?" He asked the group, watching their reactions.

Sayre struggled to keep his composure. He had, in fact. But how had Weasley? The others were unsurprisingly clueless, and Sayre feigned ignorance, forcing the curse breaker to elaborate.

"It's a type of snake. Their venom causes this kind of reaction. Incan priests would often curse sacred garments or artefacts to affect anyone who touched them to be afflicted by it. It was a way to establish their superiority over the Incan muggles, to prove they were all powerful priests touched by the 'gods' or such rubbish. There aren't many people other than South American curse-breakers that are even familiar with it. Whoever did this knows quite a bit about ancient magic."

The Tonks girl was over the moon at his response, and even the Unspeakables had raised their eyebrows. She pressed on, disgustingly eager as she spoke.

"The Incan warlocks….or this curse, to be precise. Was it ever involved with bringing the dead back to life? Or any rituals of the kind?"

Weasley was understandably dumbfounded by this, much to Sayre's relief.

"Back to….life? No, I mean, Incans had mummies like the Egyptians, and shared similar obsessions with the afterlife, but outside of Cadmus Peverell himself, nobody's ever figured out how to do anything of the sort." He joked uneasily, uncomfortable with the group's stare.

"What about blood magic?" Tonks annoyingly pressed on. "Incans were big on sacrifices, yeah? Did they believe they could resurrect anyone by human sacrifice?"

"What? No, no, I mean, there is evidence that their priests were performing blood magic, but nothing about resurrections. Look, Egyptians are really my specialty, but both of them were focused on the afterlife, not in bringing people back from the dead. They believed that by mummifying themselves, dying alongside their servants, animals, and the like, that they were allowing themselves to live indefinitely in the afterlife. There's even a theory that the magical amulets we've been finding in their tombs actually contain a piece of the mummy's souls. So they could live on forever, so to speak."

Horcruxes. The man was speaking of horcruxes.

Damn it all to hell.

But Tonks seemed disappointed in the ginger's answer, missing the weight of the man's words. The ginger narrowed his eyes, building up the courage to say something.

"Now it's time you give me some answers, Tonks." The lad said quietly, a force to contend with. "My brother is going to be miserable if he thinks I've withheld something from him-have you found Harry? Is he….is he dead, too? You said it yourself, it's going to be in the news tomorrow, anyways."

The Tonks girl backtracked as fast as she could muster, aware of the series of eyes upon her.

"Oh no! At least, I don't think so. That's what's so puzzling about it all. He has…. there has to be someone other than Quirrell involved. Harry had all the reasons in the world to run away after Quirrell died, but he didn't, he stayed with his abductors. Or at least, that's what I think, nothing is really certain ...and I really can't say more without telling you things I'm not supposed to. You, uh, weren't exactly approved to be here."

"I got that." Weasley said dryly, a weary smile on his lips.

So the aurors knew that Harry Potter had been here, Sayre mused. After looking over the scene once more, he quickly spotted why. Portions of the ground had shielding charms protecting them, an attempt to keep evidence from being disturbed. Peering through, he could see footprints the size of a child's leading away from the scene and towards trees bordering the property.

"So...the survivors-" Sayre started pointedly, eyeing Weasley as he did so. "- what's going to happen to them?"

"After Fudge and Scringemour are done preening over them, they'll have to find a safehouse, I imagine. The problem is-" Williamson admitted, afraid to divulge too much in front of the clueless member of their party, "-the witness protection program has been non-existent for years. Hasn't been much of a need for it since the end of the War."

"I thought you said the only witnesses were ghosts?" Weasley asked, furrowing his eyebrows. Tonks smiled sheepishly.

"Yeah…. it's a long story. Listen, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this-"

"That's your way of saying that you're not going to tell me anything." Weasley snarked.

"-aaaaannnnd you're right. I mean, I would love to, I really would. Listen, if I don't get fired for this, would you mind if I talk to you about it again? You're the first person anyone's brought in that even had a clue to what this curse was. Did it have a name?"

Weasley sighed, digging his wand out of his pocket. "I'm not familiar with the incantation. In fact, I don't even know if there's a known way to break it. I'll ask around in the community, I'm sure more senior curse-breakers will know. I'll owl you, yeah?"

"Yeah. That would be brilliant, thank you, Bill. Really brilliant. Er…. are you ok to apparate, or...?"

"I won't get you in trouble by going back through the floo, if that's what you're asking." Bill teased, a strange look coming over his face. He turned to the Unspeakables, a question in his eyes. "Um….I don't… there aren't any anti-apparition wards up, did you know that? After I leave, you should probably ...someone should probably set that up. I've seen reporters do lousier things then popping in and out of crime scenes to get a scoop."

Tonks's eyes grew impossibly wide, and Sayre found himself reluctantly commending the pureblood for his common sense. Sayre smirked as the Unspeakables straightened, once again pretending not to overhear as they took in the lad's words.

"I will. And thanks so much, Bill, you're great. You're really great."

"Don't mention it. Nice to meet everyone. Good day."

With a few words and a pop, the redhead was gone, leaving Sayre alone with the idiots. Amusingly, he felt wards go up soon after, the spells still fresh from the Unspeakables' lips. It was the only words they had even spoken since Sayre had arrived.

Things soon returned to normal after that. Tonks was practically bouncing with each step, which was a rather dangerous thing for the young witch, but had the sense to withhold her discovery from Shacklebolt until he was free of Scringemour and Fudge. Tris continued her flirting and Williamson unashamedly took a second coffee. Sayre made himself useful, restraining a sneer and instead plastering a charismatic grin on his face as he went from person to person.

The aurors didn't even prevent the young assistant from offering tea to the Potters, something Sayre thought utterly foolish. With a quick charm or even a bit of arsenic, the Potters would have returned to their graves instead of merely offering him weary words of gratitude.

The house-elf was staring at him as he offered up tea. She was staring at all of them, waiting for the moment to sweep underfoot and clean something, but she seemed focused on him, and was almost...terrified. House-elves had never liked him, he mused. It was as if they recognized the true potential of the magic underneath his facade. They were stupid creatures, but they did astoundingly different sense over their magics than humans. But Sayre didn't care. Nobody listened to elves, and it wasn't like she had anything of import to report about him, besides.

He listened to Fudge puff up his chest and Scringemour follow along like the lost puppy he was, stuck between the role of an auror and a politician. In the end, they idiotically came to the very conclusion Sayre thought they would, to let the Potters stay with friends for the time being. Not a safehouse, not even bloody Hogwarts. Friends. The Potters seemed relieved to find a place to stay, any place to stay, which was to be expected after having been awake since whatever godforsaken hour they had been resurrected. They had appeared disgustingly weak as well, shaky in their movements. It made Sayre wonder how either one of them had ever presented a threat against the Dark Lord.

In the end, Sayre had made his presence known, the minister was appreciative of his attentiveness, the Potters had flooed off to whatever designated spot they had been stuck in, and the Unspeakables had hauled what was left of Quirrell away. The graveyard's undertaker had seemed particularly amused by this, as corpses usually made their way to the cemetery, not the other way around. Sayre enjoyed the irony, himself.

Being somewhat invisible had its advantages. He managed to stay at the scene long after the Unspeakables and aurors had departed, when the moon was high and the crickets chirping. Even the reporters had scurried off, no doubt hurriedly writing the morning's headlines. The ghosts seemed to accept his presence begrudgingly, sleepy from the most activity they had experienced in years. After a while, they didn't even seem to notice he was there. Which is exactly what the young minister's assistant intended.

Nobody noticed Phineas Sayre unless they were looking for their tea or coffee, and Phineas was perfectly content with this. Because that meant nobody was noticing him now.

The Unspeakables' wards and enchantments had dispelled hours ago, leaving the Potter boy's footprints barely visible in the mud. An oak tree as old as the graveyard itself was waiting at the end of the muddy footsteps, its branches bare save for a few nesting crows. Sayre leaned against the tree's trunk, smirking.

"You know, I imagine whatever great wizard was powerful enough to raise people from the dead, could also undo such a tedious mercy." He snarled, looking up into the swaying leaves. A branch creaked slightly, betraying its occupant. Sayre rolled his eyes.

"You were supposed to meet me at the bus stop." He accused stonily to the air, shaking his head in disgust.

The tree itself seemed to pause, but the ravens cawed, flying away as a thud sounded at Sayre's feet. Sayre glared at the sight, unimpressed. A detached head appeared suddenly on the ground, a pained grimace on its face. Dark feathers fell and soon the boy's entire body was revealed, along with the invisibility cloak he carried.

"I just wanted to see them." The boy whispered, his eyes downcast. "Just to make sure they were ok."

"And in doing so, disobeyed the Dark Lord's orders..." Sayre glared, watching the boy closely. A ring was clasped tightly in the boy's hand, its dark stone barely visible in the shadows. "You could have been seen."

"But I wasn't." The boy replied hotly, finally meeting his counterpart's gaze. Ever the Gryffindor, he was still prideful, something the Dark Lord hadn't yet broken. Still, Sayre was unimpressed. This was the Boy-Who-Lived? The Dark Lord's own Waterloo?

The boy had the gall to eye the older wizard up.

"Voldem-" The boy paused, correcting himself, "I mean the Dark Lord. He...he told me to meet a 'Tom Riddle'...but those aurors called you 'Phineas'." He murmured, accusation in his eyes. Sayre smirked at this.

"If you were raised properly, you would recognize the importance behind names. Phineas might sound silly to a mudblood, but it means the mouth of a snake. I thought it rather appropriate."

Pulling out his wand, Sayre muttered a spell. His glamours dispelled, changing his appearance in the moonlight. His chin was more defined, his hair darkened and his nose sharper. Despite this, he still cut an attractive appearance, he knew. He had made sure to keep the alterations small, as to not draw attention from more seasoned wizards, but just enough to prevent recognition among senior death eaters. He was no longer Phineas Sayre, the up and coming ministry boy, but instead the name he had longed to put behind him.

"I am Tom Riddle, you fool. And unless we want to threaten your parents over each annoying rebellion of yours, it's time you made that unbreakable vow."

The boy shrunk back, looking up at the transformed Riddle in disbelief. Tom grinned snidely.

"Happy birthday, Harry Potter.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: The Dead in the Night

"My transformations in those days were — were terrible. It is very painful to turn into a werewolf. I was separated from humans to bite, so I bit and scratched myself instead. The villagers heard the noise and the screaming and thought they were hearing particularly violent spirits."

-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


Remus Lupin was one of the worst people Dumbledore could have picked for the DADA position. Sadly, he was also one of the best.

Remus wondered idly whether the curse on the DADA position had been made up by the headmaster for his own sake. A Voldemort sympathizer? A useless celebrity? Remus knew that Albus was desperate, but he thought Hogwarts would have done a more thorough background check on his applicants. And even as desperate as Remus himself was for the position, he couldn't see his own employment ending well.

But he wanted it to. The hopeful part of him, the part he thought had died years ago in Godric's Hollow, had even tried to rationalize it. His years at Hogwarts had been the happiest of his life. And he had been able to hide his lycanthropy at Hogwarts better than he ever had as an adult. The idea to hide his condition again, to teach others, and to be treated as an equal was completely appealing.

But nothing good in Remus's life ever lasted.

His childhood friends were dead or traitorous. Peter? Dead. James and Lily? Dead. Parents? Dead. Sirius? A murderer, and half out of his mind. Harry? Kidnapped. And Remus had never kept any romantic relationships for very long, unable to stand the thought of burdening someone with the nature of his condition. He almost had once…. Marlene McKinnon. And then she had died too, along with the rest of her family.

He had never been able to keep a job, either, or at least one that bothered to check the werewolf registry. Finding a place that was willing to rent to him was difficult as well, especially when finding rent money each month was a challenge.

If the position at Hogwarts did work out, he was tempted to let his lease expire. Along with an unbeatable benefits package, he would access to lodgings far superior than this squalor. His landlord, in an effort to squeeze every ounce of gold out of a galleon, had converted the apartment's boiler room into a tenancy without making any effort to make the space actually livable. While Remus had managed to develop a series of cooling spells, the infestation of flitterbies that settled in before his arrival were unstoppable, as they had been drawn to the boiler's heat.

He had never loathed the creatures before. They were harmless moths, a pretty shade of orange that glowed and hummed as they flapped about. But they were everywhere in Remus's apartment, their constant hums keeping him up throughout the night. If Remus went to get a bagel? Flitterbies in his cabinet. If Remus went to use the restroom? Flitterbies in the toilet. Flitterbies on his toothbrush. Flitterbies on his comb. Flitterbies everywhere.

The one-room apartment didn't even have a loo until he spent his own money and spellwork "renovating" one. And as a place that was willing to turn a blind eye to werewolf occupants, the landlord also turned a blind eye to known criminals, which left Remus with all sorts of interesting neighbors.

And yet, Remus was still afraid to let the place go. Because if something did happen and he lost his employment with Hogwarts, it would be incredibly difficult to find another place to live. He loathed the idea of becoming like some of his brethren, living like wildmen in the woods. He had done enough of that during his spying days, and he wasn't eager to return to it.

And, perhaps most importantly, the boiler room was surprisingly the best place he could have picked for his own transformations.

Since the room was never intended to be livable, the floors, the walls, everything was made of steel. Which meant that while the place could hurt him, as evidenced by the burns and bruises he occasionally woke up with after his transformations, his wolf side couldn't damage the a hefty bit of spellwork and warding, he had proofed the place to prevent his escape, for those dreaded months where couldn't dig up enough money to buy wolfsbane potions.

Which was yet another ironic benefit included with Hogwarts. He had a world renown potions' master available to brew Wolfsbane for free. Remus had idly wondered whether Severus Snape would be tempted to use too much aconite "on accident", but it was a risk Remus was willing to take, given Severus's surprising loyalty to Dumbledore. And he would like to believe that, as adults, they would be able to put their pasts behind them.

Remus sighed at the thought, looking at the pile of papers that had accumulated on his desk. He should have been focusing on finishing his class syllabus instead of letting his anxieties get the best of him. He grabbed a quill and dipped it into a bit of ink, intending to start again. But the room turned a shade of green and the fireplace roared briefly behind him, causing the flutterbies to shriek. He turned, startled.

Nobody had entered, it was a "knock", so to speak, so he could grant or deny any visitors access. But Remus didn't know anyone that would want to visit him, especially at this hour. Having just recovered from a transformation, Remus could sense the waxing moon as easily as he felt its lingering ache in his bones.

Swallowing, the newly appointed professor rose, casting a spell as he walked towards the floo. The fireplace flashed, a face peering back at him through the green flames.

Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Now that was a face he hadn't seen in a long time. They had occasionally run into one another during the War, although Shacklebolt was just a rookie auror then, not even a member of the Order. To be honest, Remus barely knew the man. Remus had reported his findings among the werewolves to a contact or to Albus directly, having little to do with the aurors or the Order directly. It was one of the many reasons that James and Sirius had come to lose their trust in Remus towards the end, although Remus supposed Sirius's distrust had merely been a ruse, a way to pin the blame on Remus rather than himself.

"Ah, Remus Lupin, yes? It's been quite some time. I apologize for intruding at such an hour."

"That's quite alright, although I have to admit I'm a bit puzzled. I had myself convinced that you had flooed the wrong chimney." Remus chuckled, offering an uneasy smile. "Would you like to meet somewhere? I would recommend my apartment, but it's not quite-er-suitable for visitors."

Shacklebolt winced at this, apparently having intended on exactly that.

"I've seen worse, I assure you, and the matter is rather urgent. May I come in?"

Remus nodded, but realizing the movement might be a bit obscured by the flames, said as such.

"Good." Shacklebolt smiled, relieved. Shacklebolt's face disappeared, and the flames roared once more, this time the man's full figure walking through the soot. The wizard coughed, wheezing as he breathed something that didn't agree with him. Remus had to stifle his horror as the auror spat out a flitterby, looking rather aghast at the insect remains in his guest's hands.

"Er….told you. Sorry, got a nasty infestation of them. Good thing Hogwarts didn't hire me for the Magical Creatures position, yeah?" Remus joked, conjuring a set of chairs for them to sit in. "How can I help you, Auror Shacklebolt?"

Attempting to compose himself, Shacklebolt chose to remain standing, although he looked ready to collapse in exhaustion. The senior auror appeared as if he hadn't slept or eaten properly in days, and it suddenly occurred to Remus why. Sirius's escape. Of course. That had to be what Shacklebolt wanted to speak about, but what more could the auror ask him that hadn't been asked before? And why so urgent? Shacklebolt looked around inquisitively, muttering a spell under his breath that Remus recognized as a diagnostic spell.

What, did the wizard think that Remus was harboring a known fugitive? That Sirius was tucked up the chimney somewhere? For such a formal man, Shacklebolt was being rather rude. Remus straightened, keeping his voice level as he raised an eyebrow at his visitor.

"Are you going to tell me what this is about, Kingsley? If it's Black, I'm afraid I don't know anyt-"

"Oh Merlin, no." The auror murmured wearily, still scoping out his surroundings. "Although he could have saved us all the trouble and waited a few more days before breaking out. He's my task for tomorrow, I'm afraid."

"Then what's your task for today?" Remus countered, growing more annoyed by the minute. Shacklebolt swallowed, finally meeting the werewolf in the eye.

"How secure are your wards?" The man asked bluntly, still dodging his questions.

"We're in the bowels of Diagon Alley. If they weren't strong, I'd be dead."

"Mmm. It might not be a five star hotel, but it'll do. It's certainly the last place those bloody reporters will think to look." Shacklebolt murmured to himself more than anyone. Remus blinked in response.

"Reporters…. what on earth are you on about?"

"Look, I wish I had the proper time to ease you into this, but we're in a bit of a time crunch, here. Quirinus Quirrell was found dead at Godric's Hollow." Shacklebolt murmured, watching Remus to make sure he understood the significance of the place.

Remus's heart plummeted. He did, better than most. "He…..at the house? He was at the Potter house?"

"No, no. He was…. well, he was at their graves." Remus scowled at this, his blood beginning to boil.

"And what was he doing there?" The newly appointed professor spat, clenching his fists. Shacklebolt had expected his reaction it seemed, finally taking the seat Remus had offered. Remus was familiar with the auror's stance. It was the stance he himself had often taken when informing people of a family member's death. Lupin closed his eyes, praying he wasn't right.

"Did he...did he kill Harry?"

"No." Shacklebolt responded quickly, and the werewolf's eyes shot back open, sharpening. Shacklebolt swallowed, offering a weary smile. "Quite the opposite."

Another possibility dawned on Lupin. Shacklebolt had been talking of wards and hotels, it couldn't possibly be….he intended for Remus to house….?

"Is he safe, then? You've…..you're intending to keep Harry here?" He asked incredulously.

Shacklebolt slumped further, once again shaking his head.

"Then spit it out, man. Just say it. Why are you here? What did Quirrell do?" Shacklebolt bowed his head at the question, and then raised it slowly, meeting Remus in the eye.

"He resurrected James and Lily Potter." The man said, without blinking, without a single waver in his voice. He said it as simply as someone would have remarked on the weather.

"That's….that's not possible."

"It isn't. But that's what he did, and they've been cooped up in the cemetery's cottage for the last day while we've been trying to decide what to do with them. They're exhausted and need somewhere to keep their heads down when this hits the papers tomorrow morning."

Remus felt like he was in some sort of horrid dream, the auror's words as surreal as they were infuriating.

"I don't know who you think Quirrell brought out of those graves, but it's not-it can't be- James and Lily." Remus said, a dangerous edge to his voice. His mind was pulling him dozens of ways. Quirrell's stuttering persona had been a facade, of course, but to make the Potters into inferi? To die trying? And nearly a year after Harry's abduction? What….and why…..

James had been Remus's friend. No, it had been more than that, James had been his brother. James and Sirius were always closest to one another, it was true, but the Marauders had spent over a decade together. Housed in the same rooms, pulling the same pranks. James had become an animagus for Remus, and Remus had risked his life for James a few times, himself. To think that someone would desecrate his grave, or Lily's….

"I've seen them with my own eyes. We've tested their blood. They know things no one else could know. It's them, Mr. Lupin. And they're coming here."

As if on queue, the fireplace flashed in the distance, two faces peering through the emerald flames. Two faces that took Remus's breath away.

"Just talk to them. I didn't believe it myself, not until I laid eyes on 'em." The weary auror pleaded, his professional voice succumbing to a more informal accent. The bags under his eyes made it look like the auror was the one claiming to have risen from the grave.

Remus nodded briskly, and rising, began to walk towards the floo. But as he moved, he felt as if he was walking through water, the world slowing around him as his ears rang. Remus took a deep breath, willing himself to calm down. Freezing in emergencies only got people killed. He had to focus.

But as he stepped in front of the fireplace, all thoughts of calm and focus went out the window.

They looked exactly as he remembered them, even through the flames. They hadn't aged a day. James was missing his distinctive glasses and squinted as Remus drew close. But Lily's mouth took the shape an 'o' as she took in the newly appointed professor. What did Remus look like to them, now? He had always prided himself on his neatness, on his organization, but life had been hard on him, and the transformations were forever taking their toll.

"Hello, Remus." She said gently, nudging her spouse. James' eyebrows shot up into his messy hairline, the young adult looking like an old man as he struggled to see.

"Hello, Lily. James." He nodded curtly, his voice cracking as he did so. He was barely able to choke out the appropriate spell. For a moment they were gone, and Remus wondered if this all wasn't just a dream, but the flames roared, the flitterbies screeching, and Lily's figure emerged, soon followed by James's.

Remus swallowed and, forcing back tears, held his wand out at the couple.

"Who dyed Sirius's hair green in our fifth year?"

It was the only question he could think of that Black wouldn't know the answer to. Padfoot had been surprisingly enraged by the prank, having just had a nasty row with his younger brother, so the other marauders had kept quiet about that particular affair. Black had blamed the whole thing on Regulus, much to his friends' relief.

"Er….me?" James muttered, taking in his friend's appearance. Remus nearly collapsed on the spot, his heart feeling like it was stopping in his chest. But James was fingering his own wand, looking uncertain.

"Now it's my turn. Why did you lie about where you were the night the McKinnons were killed?"

The question struck Remus hard, and cast him back to over a decade ago. He let a sad smile flit over his lips.

"I forgot ...we didn't part on such good terms, did we?" James shook his head in response, teary-eyed even as he looked ready to collapse.

"No mate, er….we didn't."

"I was spying for Dumbledore." Remus said suddenly, lowering his wand. Shacklebolt shifted uneasily behind him, aware that this wasn't a conversation he was supposed to hear. "That's why I was living with Greyback's pack. I heard they were planning an attack, but I didn't know where, or who, and by the time I got there, they…. they were torturing her, James."

Remus's relationship with Marlene had always been complicated, but his feelings for her had been well known. She had fancied him, too, even going out with him once or twice to Hogsmede during their Hogwarts days, but Remus had broken it off before things went too far. She was lovely, far too lovely to be stuck with the likes of him. She had been destined for greater things until he came along. But breaking things off hadn't saved her, it seemed.

Because nothing good in Remus's life ever lasted.

Remus holstered his wand shakily, slumping into the chair he had hastily conjured. It felt ready to buckle under his weight, and he felt ready to let it. He stared at the two incredulously, before conjuring a cheap couch for them to sit in. James sat down slowly, as if he wasn't sure whether he could trust the words Remus was saying. It was laughable, to relive that part of his past. After over a decade of being in society, of living in such a way that even the ministry couldn't find any fault in him, and to be suspected of deatheater activity or leanings again … it really brought him back, for better or worse.

And it was the best proof there was that this was actually James and not an imposter.

Against his best judgement, Remus rose to his feet, and before his old friend had so much as a chance to react, embraced him for everything he was worth.

James was stiff, still suspicious, and somewhat shocked. It had to be odd for him, Remus realized, but Remus didn't care. This was James. He walked the same, he talked the same, he even smelled the same. Suddenly Remus was a teenager all over again, vulnerable, overwhelmed, and bewildered to have a group of friends that would risk their lives to transform with him on the full moon. After a moment, the other man relaxed, returning the tight hug, and Remus found that they were both sniffling back tears into each other's shoulders.

Remus withdrew first, wiping his eyes on his robes as he made his way back to his chair.

"You saw her die." James said wearily, his voice sounding far away. Remus nodded. Lily was nodding along with him, tearful herself. She had never suspected him as much as James did, Remus knew. She had just gone along with the others' suspicions, her drive to protect her young stronger than any need to defend Remus, something he couldn't fault her for, especially given the circumstances.

Remus was tempted to leave it at that. It was all James needed to know, really. That would have been enough to placate him. But it wasn't the whole truth.

"I'm the one that killed her." He admitted in a whisper, harshly aware of their eyes upon him. Shacklebolt cleared his throat uncomfortably, looking away.

"Marlene, she….she had lost so much blood, and Greyback ...they weren't going to let her live, they were just toying with her. The rest of the Mckinnons were already dead by the time I arrived, and the werewolves were…. they were planning to…. I killed her before they could…." He couldn't say it. He couldn't say it, but the others seemed to understand, regardless.

"Why didn't you just say so." James cried out in exasperation. "Merlin, Remus. I didn't want to believe Sirius, I didn't. But you wouldn't tell us what was going on, but when we found their bodies and there was evidence that you were there that night; what were we supposed to believe?"

Remus swallowed and shrugged, his hands trembling. "If I had told you, you would have told Black. And if you told Black, my cover would have been blown. Marlene would have died for nothing."

Shacklebolt winced at this, and James rose from his seat in a fit of anger, looking like he wanted to desperately punch something. The flitterbies twittered uneasily. Remus could almost swear the room was growing hotter, his cooling charms disturbed by the magic encircling the man. The reality of the situation dawned on Remus, and his eyes widened. If this was real… if this was James and Lily, and they had been bloody resurrected… what would that do to their magical stores? And yet…. what James had to say was even more ludicrous than talk of resurrections and blood magic.

"Sirius. Wasn't. A. Fucking. DEATHEATER." James ran his hands through his hair, sitting back down in an exasperated huff. He nearly missed the chair, but was steadied by Lily, who appeared deep in thought.

"Peter was our secret keeper, not Sirius." She explained quietly. "Sirius is innocent."

No...no, it wasn't possible. It couldn't be possible. Remus had seen what Black had become, a crazed lunatic that rivaled even his infamous Aunt Bellatrix's rantings. He had read the witness statements from the night he had killed those muggles. He couldn't be innocent.

"That….that can't be…." Remus was stuttering now. "...why?"

"It was Sirius's idea." James muttered, rubbing his eyes. "Nobody would suspect Peter, he said. That way, even if they got ahold of Sirius, or tortured him…. or used Regulus against him…. we would be safe. That was the plan."

And as much as it went against everything Remus had come to believe, it made a twisted sort of sense. Some of the accounts had claimed that Peter was the one that went after a fleeing Black, and that their duel had ended in a bloodbath. And as much as Remus had wanted to believe that of his dead friend, bravery had never been in Wormtail's nature.

But Sirius impulsively going after a traitorous friend in a rage, not caring who got hurt along the way…..that was in his nature. And yet, Remus could scarcely wrap his head around it.

"Shite." He murmured, leaning back in his chair. James nodded, mirroring his words. The four of them sat in silence for a moment, before a horrible realization dawned on Remus. He looked back towards the auror, a question on the tip of his lips.

"What about Harry? If Quirrell's dead…. and they're alive, where-?"

"The graveyard's house-elf saw him." Lily answered for Shacklebolt, sorrow apparent in her face. "Harry was with Quirrell when he died. It sounds like... it sounds like Voldemort is using us as leverage to keep Harry in line."

"But Voldemort's dead." Remus whispered, not believing it even as he said it. There was the possibility of course, that Quirrell was just a lingering fanatic that saw his chance at kidnapping The-Boy-Who-Lived and took it. But even when he wasn't stuttering, Quirrell wasn't a leader. Someone else had to have directed him.

"The back of Quirrell's head was deformed. According to Mrs. Potter's sources-" Shacklebolt started, his eyes flickering uncertainly to the redheaded woman.

"Beasy." Lily informed him, matter-of-factly.

-according to Beasy, a face, or a 'smoke man', was talking to Harry from the back of Quirrell's head. It seems...it seems possible that even without his body, You-Know-Who has found a way to exist in spirit, at least. Not that Fudge was willing to listen to such a theory..."

"The turban." Remus marveled, realization glinting in his eyes. It was the one defining feature of the otherwise forgettable man. There wasn't a single Daily Prophet photo where the fugitive professor wasn't wearing it. "He hid Voldemort…. behind a turban?"

"Is it so hard to believe?" Lily pressed, her eyebrows raised. "We've seen death eaters do crazier things."

"When Harry was kidnapped, part of me suspected …" the werewolf trailed off for a moment, deep in thought. "...but the rest of the wizarding world isn't going to agree. I know the War is fresh in your minds, but for the rest of us, Voldemort has been gone for a very, very long time. There haven't even been so much as terrorist attacks since."

"Aye, you're right." Shacklebolt agreed quietly, casting a look in their direction. "And the Ministry's already using Quirrell as the scapegoat in all of this. If you want to get anything done...you might want to talk Dumbledore into reinstigating that Order of his...he might get some new members out of it, at the rate things are going." He said pointedly.

"The bloody Order. World's best kept secret." James remarked bitterly, shaking his head.

Shacklebolt sighed agreeably, rising from his chair.

"You lot did more during the war than the Ministry ever did. And I don't think that's changed. There are others out there, others like me that would be interested. Just...think about mentioning it to Albus, would you?" Shacklebolt murmured, looking around warily as if afraid of being heard.

"Aye, I will."

"In the meantime, I believe it's time for me to finally hit the cot. Lupin, keep an eye on your floo, Merlin knows when the Ministry is going to want to talk to them again. If anything unusual happens, and I mean anything, you can floo to my place, yeah? I'm the lead on this, so I'll probably have some reporters stalking my door, but safety outweighs privacy. If you need anything, you know where I am." He said, offering Remus a piece of paper with an address. Remus nodded, tucking it in his pocket.

Shacklebolt offered them a curt nod, and taking a handful of floo powder, said his goodbyes. The fire roared green and the auror was gone. Remus half expected James and Lily to disappear as well, mirages themselves, but they were still there, slumped tiredly in their chairs.

The ache in Remus's bones returned. Conjuring furniture wasn't as easy as it seemed, and it took a great deal of magic to pull off. If it had been easy, then every witch and wizard would be living like kings on luxurious beds, instead of digging around for half-used furniture as he often did. But even fresh off a full moon, Remus managed a few sleeping bags, even adding a room divider to give the two a little privacy. James was shaky as he walked, Remus noticed, and Lily didn't even have her wand. He would have to ask Shacklebolt to send an eye healer and devise some plan to sneak Lily into Ollivander's. The two of them being blind and stripped of their magic didn't bode well for anyone. He was tempted to take a whack at conjuring the glasses himself, but the lenses were infamous for their complexity, a specialist in transfiguration being required in order to get the correct prescription.

As wound up as James had been, both he and Lily fell asleep quickly, not seeming to care about their dim, uncomfortable surroundings. Remus had to force himself to stop staring. He held his breath at each rise of their chests, nearly convinced that they would die or disappear in the night.

Remus had always distanced himself from the people he loved, in some vain effort to protect them from the never ending woes that followed him. But in the end, Marlene had died all the same, her eyes shining with betrayal as his wand met her forehead.

Remus was going to finish the damned syllabus. He was going to take the position at Hogwarts, and he was going to protect James and Lily Potter with every fiber of his being. The moon had risen for all of them, regardless of his attempts to prevent it. So even if everything good in Remus's life slipped through his fingers, he wasn't about to let it go without a fight. Not anymore. Not when James and Lily Potter were alive and sleeping in his apartment.

The flitterbies hummed their approval, one landing on his pillow as he closed his eyes. Even with his eyes shut, he could see their orange glow, and for once in the past year, was utterly grateful for it.

For when he slept, he dreamt in orange rather than green. He dreamt of classrooms and boggarts with funny hats, of children's laughter. He dreamt of a phoenix and a glint in Dumbledore's eye. And perhaps it was merely the flitterbies's influence, but he dreamt of a woman with auburn hair. But by the time he had woken, her hair had turned into a lovely shade of violet, and he couldn't for the life of him remember what her name had been.


Author's Note: To clarify once again, this story begins in what WOULD HAVE BEEN the beginning of Harry's 3rd year. He has been missing for over a year, ever since the end of Sorcerer's Stone.

As usual, I'm not completely content with this chapter, I really wanted a hugely emotional, 'running in slow motion' reunion scene. But since James was convinced that Remus was the traitor before his death, they both need to earn each other's trust back, first.

Also, while the McKinnons' deaths are canon, Remus's involvement and his relationship with Marlene is purely headcanon. I needed to fill in the blanks on exactly why Sirius and James were so convinced Remus was the traitor, so I took some liberties. It's also my understanding that Shacklebolt only joined the Order shortly before the events of the 5th book, hence why he's in the 'recruiting' stage right now.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: Forsaken Kneazles

"Harry - you're a great wizard, you know." "I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him. "Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things - friendship and bravery and - oh Harry - be careful!"

- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


Hermione Granger was absolutely beside herself with worry.

She had been so incredibly excited when Professor McGonagall had approved her request to use a time turner for the upcoming school year, and even more incredibly excited when her professor had personally submitted the application paperwork to the Department of Mysteries. Imagine it, the opportunity to take every elective! Oh, the things she could've learned! And she could've possibly earned more OWLS and NEWTS than anyone ever had before, which would have certainly given her an edge after graduation.

But her excitement had been for naught. A big fat rejection letter with the Ministry's seal landed on her desk, the owl looking rather apologetic as he delivered it. Hermione had bawled for hours, with Hedwig looking on in concern. She imagined that the poor owl had never been used to such drama in its life at Privet Drive. It made Hermione feel altogether silly, but she cried all the same.

This meant that Hermione would be forced to give up at least two electives. Muggle Studies had been the obvious first choice, although she had wanted the class for its insights into what wizards thought about the muggle world. Divination had been the reluctant second choice, and mostly because of rumors in the academic community that Professor Trelawney was a bit of a crackpot in her field.

Hermione had already bought the textbooks for the classes, much to her parents' chagrin, but this didn't bother her in the least. Ron was taking divination and Ernie Macmillan was taking muggle studies, she knew. Between the two of them, she could still follow along outside of class. She had already read the textbooks, after all, so most of the work was already done. But she would still miss out on class discussions, teacher insights, and so much more...

But academic worries aside, what bothered her most throughout the summer had been how isolated she felt. She was segregated from any wizarding news, with only the Daily Prophet and Ron's scarce letters to rely on. Certainly nothing that explained what had happened to 'Tom Riddle' after his escape from the Chamber of Secrets, or what exactly had happened at Godric's Hollow over the summer. If what the papers were saying were true...and Harry's parents were alive, it would be the first time in wizarding history of any confirmed resurrections. It would be groundbreaking.

The Auror Office was actually considering suing Rita Skeeter, much to Hermione's amusement. The reporter had broken the case wide open, claiming to have insider knowledge about the "Aztec curse that brought the Potters back to life". Rita's work had always been poorly sourced and outlandishly exaggerated in the past, so Hermione was rather surprised to find out from Ron that her claims were partially true. Bill had been consulted during the investigation, but he insisted that it was an Incan curse, not Aztec, and that while it killed Quirrell, it wasn't what resurrected the Potters. And the rubbish Rita was spewing about Lily Potter and the Fountain of Youth was completely unfounded.

But the question still remained. Why would Quirrell resurrect the Potters? How did he do it? Why would he do it now, nearly a year later? Where was Harry? And with Professor Quirrell dead, why wasn't he free? Hermione had the sinking feeling that she knew why. It was the very thing Dumbledore had indicated at the end of her first and second year. Voldemort was alive and gaining power, even if the rest of the wizarding world refused to see it. And Harry was with him.

"Oh, it's not so bad, 'Mione. You're still taking one more elective than everyone else." Ron assured her, kicking a rock as he walked alongside her. The Weasley's had been kind enough to invite her to do some last minute shopping in Hogsmede before they headed off to school the next day, and Hermione had been eager to take them up on their offer.

"Only the Gryffindors, Ron. Most of the Ravenclaws take three electives, too." She sulked, tempted to kick a rock alongside him. She had filled him in on the details of the sordid affair, needing someone to confide in after her attempt had flopped.

"I mean, it makes sense. They've never leased a time turner to students for classes before, have they? You were bloody crazy for trying, if you ask me."

"They have, actually." Hermione corrected. "They usually only make an exception for one Hogwarts student at a time, but they've recalled the leases this year. Professor McGonnogall said there was some sort of break-in at the Department of Mysteries over the summer."

"Really? I hadn't heard tha'. Dad hasn't said anything about it.."

"I think Harry's parents have been overshadowing it in the news." She admitted softly, comforting herself that she had been rejected due to rotten luck and not due to any lack of qualifications.

Ron grew sullen at the mention of Harry, much to Hermione's displeasure. She never knew what to say around the redhead anymore. The slightest thing would set him off, and without Harry to translate ... their friendship had been rocky, at best.

But Hermione had seen a side to Ron that no one else had. Only months ago, she had seen the same abrasive boy tenderly cradling his sister's body, rocking as he sobbed. Ron might be stubborn, and insufferable, and argumentative, and-well-just absolutely exasperating, but he was also good. And he was the only person in the world that understood what she was going through, at least when it came to Harry.

"Oi, do you mind if we stop by Diagon Alley? I've been needing some rat tonic for Scabbers. Magical Menagerie should have some." Ron blinked rapidly, the thought suddenly occurring to him. On queue, Scabbers peaked out of his pocket, sniffing the air in interest. A bakery was baking fresh bread nearby, she noted.

"That's fine. You really should take better care of him, Ronald. He could run off into the streets, you know." She scolded, watching as the rat strained towards the smell of rye.

"I do! I'm not mistreating 'im or nothin, he's just so old. He's been in the family since Percy started school, did you know tha'? He's been off-colour since our trip to Egypt, got me a bit worried to be right honest."

"He's always off-colour." Hermione smiled, following him knowingly as they walked. A good person, indeed.

Hermione couldn't say that she wasn't just as concerned about Hedwig. She had never had a pet before, and she wasn't even sure if her parents would let her keep the owl in the beginning. It didn't help that Hedwig had been utterly awful when she first arrived, destroying any blankets or clothes she could find, clawing desperately at the windows. It was obvious that she was confused and missed Harry, which had broken Hermione's heart even more. But Hedwig had slowly warmed up to her new owner, mostly due to a long 'talk' she had with the bird after she had kept Hermione up all night with her screeching. The logical part of Hermione knew that Hedwig couldn't possibly understand what the young witch was telling her, yet the snowy owl had somehow understood that Harry was missing, that Hermione was looking for him, and that Hermione intended to take care of her until her former master returned.

Giving Hedwig a job seemed to help, and with the Daily Prophet and her numerous letters, Hermione had more than enough work to give her. But one particular job seemed to affect the bird more than any other. The letter she had written to Harry.

It was a vain hope, Hermione knew, but owls were profound for their ability to deliver letters to undeliverable locations. She had plotted for hours on what to say, but in the end, it didn't matter.

A week after Hermione had sent it, Hedwig had returned with her feathers wilted, and absolutely depressed. The letter was still in her talons, crumpled and unopened. Feeling guilty for asking the owl of such a thing, Hermione had comforted Hedwig that night, as best as she knew how to comfort the owl, and Hedwig had been passive and obedient ever since.

As they reached their destination, Hermione eyed the numerous fancy owl cages in the store display. Perhaps she couldn't afford something that nice, but her parents had given her some birthday money to use. Something to cheer Hedwig up, at least.

Magical Menagerie wasn't a particularly inviting store. As she entered, Hermione felt rather cramped, the tiny space forcing her to press awkwardly against Ron. The cages were smelly and unkempt, and the organization rather cluttered. There were cats of every colour, a noisy cage of ravens, a basket of funny custard-coloured furballs that were humming loudly, and, on the counter, a vast cage of sleek black rats which were playing some sort of skipping game using their long bald tails. Below them, a series of potions and hamster wheels were cluttered about, and Ron nearly knocked her over as he reached for them.

In the corner, alone and scowling, a golden cat looked up at her, a strange expression in its eyes. He was a gorgeous beast, reminding her of a tiny bow-legged lion. The saleswoman noticed Hermione's interest almost immediately, offering her a crooked smile.

"Been 'ere for some time, that one has. Nobody's ever wanted him before."

Hermione wanted him. There was intelligence in his eyes. He wasn't conventionally beautiful or what the rest of the wizarding world expected of him, something Hermione could empathize with. Yet even locked in that cage, he was content with being whoever he wanted to be. But an owl screeched behind her, reminding Hermione that she already had other obligations. Students could only have one pet at Hogwarts, and there was no way Hermione's mum was going to agree to look after the creature.

Hermione put her hand on the cage, offering her fingers for the cat to smell as she looked at him longingly.

"I want you." She comforted the feline, hoping he could understand her. "If I could bring you with me, I would." The cat bowed its head, although whether out of boredom or respect, Hermione couldn't tell for sure.

Hermione was soon glad to be out of that place, with its claustrophobic atmosphere and that cat's sad eyes. She had bought some sort of owl toy instead, a colorful hanging contraption that she hoped would keep Hedwig busy. Ron's attempts to offer Scabbers the rat tonic went unrewarded, with him announcing he would just have to sneak it into the rat's food. Scabbers squeaked at this, seeming disgusted by the idea. To Scabbers' credit, the tonic didn't smell very nice, although Hermione had seen the rat eating nastier things.

Without any more books, clothes, or accessories to buy, but with time to spare before they were supposed to rejoin Mrs. Weasley, they decided to wait at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour across the street. Mr. Fortescue himself seemed very kind, with a friendly smile and a silly mustache. Ron immediately went for the new Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Ice Cream, while she had decided on the more sensible cherry and vanilla flavors. Her decision was rewarded when Ron's first bite was met with a foul, scrunched up face.

"Told you." She smirked, taking a scoop of her own.

Ron's ice cream was a rather clever idea, she supposed. Topped with crushed jelly beans, the ice cream itself was charmed like the infamous beans, so that every bite was different no matter where you scooped it from. He had offered to let her try his, but she politely declined. She never liked playing the odds.

"I wish I could buy Hedwig a proper cage." Hermione murmured, eyeing her surroundings. The parlour wasn't particularly busy, with only two other people seated a couple booths down. "She's calmed down over the summer, but I still hate to keep her cooped up in that tiny contraption.

Ron blinked, confused.

"Most owl cages are that size. What's wrong with it?"

"Even canaries get bigger cages than that in the muggle world, Ron." She murmured, thinking wistfully back to the cages in the windowsill. They had seemed so...pureblood in design, with gilded trims and roses or snakes wrapped around their corners. Pureblood seemed to mean the same thing as old money here, although Ron was certainly an exception to that rule.

"Well, this isn't the muggle world." Ron grumbled, wincing as he took another bite of his ice cream. "Owls 'ere are used to it. And they get plenty of exercise sending letters!"

"I suppose." Hermione bit her lip, watching Ron cross his arms. She had more to say on the subject, but he had been so defensive lately that she decided to let the matter go, instead letting her eyes wander. There was something awfully familiar about the man in that booth, although she couldn't quite place what.

And then it hit her. She widened her eyes, elbowing Ron.

"That's Professor Lupin!" She whispered excitedly, Ron seeming rather nonplussed as he took another bite of his ice cream.

"Who?"

"The new DADA professor. I knew I recognized him from somewhere. His picture was in the paper. He was friends with Sirius Black."

"They're letting that nutter's friend teach us?" Ron blinked worriedly, beginning to turn around. Hermione reached out quickly, stopping him.

"Don't! It's rude to stare, Ron."

"You're the one starin', not me." Ron rolled his eyes, straining once more. Scabbers, who had previously been picking at a bit of ice cream Ron had left out for him, let out a distressed squeak, burying himself in Ron's pocket as the redhead moved. Hermione rolled her eyes, taking a bite of her ice cream and ducking her head, hoping Ron wasn't noticed. He might be loyal and brave and good, but he was certainly not stealthy. Ron let out a huff and returned to his nearly finished dessert.

"Doesn't look tha' impressive to me. But anything's better than Lockhart."

"We shouldn't speak ill of the dead." She murmured, looking away.

"We shouldn't speak ill of people you had bloody crushes on, you mean. He was a ruddy fraud and I'm glad he died.. He tried to obliviate me. And he would have, too, if it weren't for you." Ron retorted.

Hermione closed her eyes at the thought of it. She had tried to put that day behind her, to not hear the pipes hissing or that terrible boy's voice every time she went to use the bathroom. But Ron had been the opposite, always wanting to talk about it, never wanting to let his anger go.

"He's dead because of me." She whispered, not able to look him in the eye.

"He's dead because of that Tom guy. And you know what? He bloody deserved it!" Ron had raised his voice, catching Professor Lupin's attention. Across from the professor, a woman peered over her shoulder, nearly as obvious in her staring as Ron had been just moments before. Her hair was an unnatural shade of blonde, and the witch seemed unusually uncomfortable in her outfit. But her eyes….they were familiar, although Hermione couldn't pinpoint why.

"Shh!" Hermione hushed him, glancing back towards the couple, who had returned to their conversation. The woman was holding a wand in the air, the two of them examining it like one would a new toy. A rectangular box was on the table, Ollivander's name embedded on the side in gold. A new wand? It was odd for a woman her age, but not unheard of. Wands were lost or broken from time to time, after all.

"Lockhart still deserved it." Ron grumbled, his ears turning pink. Hermione shook her head, turning her attention back to her companion.

"We forced him to go with us. I held him at wandpoint, Ron. That boy might've killed him, but Lockhart's dead because of me."

"An' I suppose Harry being missing is our fault too, is that it?!" Ron exclaimed, dropping his spoon in his anger. Hermione closed her eyes, fighting back tears. She couldn't form the words. But she couldn't look Ron in the eye, either.

Ron widened his eyes, and then started shaking his head rapidly as he scowled.

"I can't believe-you-"

"We disobeyed the teachers, Ron. The stone would have been safe if we had just stayed out of it. But instead we meddled, and Quirrell, he-he-we were so foolish-we were so convinced it was Snape-"

"It's not our fault, it's Harry's!" Ron's chin wavered. Wiping a tear away, the boy started gathering his things, Scabbers squeaking at the sudden movement.

"Wh-wh-"

"He's the one that left us. You heard the news, 'Mione. If Quirrell's dead, where's Harry? Why isn't he with his parents? It's because he chose to go with Quirrell, with You-Know-Who, don't you bloody see that?"

Hermione blinked stupidly, suddenly feeling like their usual roles had reversed. The redhead's words dawned on her, beginning to make a horrifying sort of sense.

"We've been thinking all this time that Harry was hurt, or kidnapped, or even dead, but if his parents are alive…. you know what Harry saw in that ruddy mirror? The one from our first year, that showed us what we wanted the most? He always saw his parents. He'd do anything to get them back, even go with that stupid traitor. We both almost died trying to stop You-Know-Who from getting that stone, 'Mione. And Harry just-he just-didn't care."

"You...you don't have any proof. You don't have anything but a hunch that he made a-a-a deal."

Ron scrunched his nose at that, looking down at his ice cream resentfully. "Maybe. Look, I'm not hungry anymore, can we just go?" He wasn't really asking, instead gathering his things and rising from the table. Hermione closed her eyes wearily, a headache forming from being on the receiving end of one of Ron's moods. She nodded, following the redhead as he fled the parlour.

She had nearly made it out the door before she noticed the look Mr. Fortescue was giving them. She glanced back at the mess they had left behind, the nearly empty Bertie Bott's ice cream and her almost untouched cherry. Wincing, she returned to the table, gathering the dishes to turn them into the collection tray at the front counter.

What Ron said bothered her, not only because was the idea of it horrifying, but also because it made sense. She couldn't fathom why she hadn't thought of it before. The first time she had ever met Harry in the train, he had been wide eyed and generous, ecstatic to make his new friends happy with an assortment of candies and treats. She had gathered over their brief friendship that he barely had any friends before Hogwarts, and that his cousin was never nice to him. It was why he was so good at standing up to Malfoy, but was also why he was so eager to please. Why Harry craved and yet was wary of authority figures.

So had he gone along with Quirrell willingly? And did Hermione think less of him, if he had? She pursed her lips as she placed the dirty dishes on the counter, not sure of her own answer.

"Excuse me, miss?" Hermione nearly jumped out of her own skin as she turned, the blonde woman accompanying Professor Lupin now standing behind her. The witch's eyes were desperate, almost longing, something Hermione was surprised to see on the adult.

"Oh, yes?" Hermione nearly stuttered, feeling a bit cornered against the counter. Behind the woman, Professor Lupin seemed torn, eyeing the woman uncertainly.

"I couldn't help but overhear ...but did you say...did you say that you were friends with Harry Potter?"

"I….uh…." Hermione stuttered, puzzled as she watched the two adults warily. She wondered briefly if the woman was a reporter, but the look in the witch's eyes told Hermione that this was more personal than that.

"She's a bit spellbound by the celebrity aspect of it." Professor Lupin explained suddenly, offering Hermione an apologetic smile. The man offered his hand, which Hermione shook in relief.

"Remus Lupin. If you're a Hogwarts student, we might be seeing a bit of each other this year."

"We will! Tomorrow in fact, if you're going by train." Hermione nodded. "I'm Hermione Granger, third year Gryffindor. So is my friend, Ron, actually. I should probably ...I should probably go before he leaves me here." She murmured in embarrassment. On queue, the sullen redhead opened the door he had barged out of, an annoyed look on his face.

"'Mione, you comin' or not?" Her oblivious friend didn't even notice her conversation, his eyes watching the streets rather than the parlour.

"Coming!" She said hurriedly, nodding politely to Professor Lupin and his friend. "It was nice to meet you, professor. And you too, miss." She remarked, following Ron hurriedly.

The sun blinded her as the door swung behind her, confounding her as much as the strange encounter had. Once her vision adjusted, she spotted a particularly agitated Ron trying to force the rat tonic down Scabbers' throat.

"Ron!" She exclaimed, watching in horror as he shook the little creature. But the look in Ron's eyes was fearful, not angry. Scabbers sputtered, squeaking terribly as he choked down the liquid.

"I could have sworn he was having a heart attack, 'Mione! His nose was seized up and he was all stiff."

"Did you...did you feed him any ice cream?" She asked uncertainly, watching the rat sputter.

"No! I told you, he's been sick. And something in there had him in fits." He remarked worriedly, stroking the rat's head in concern.

Hermione bit her lip, casting a look back towards the parlour. Through the storefront's glass, emerald green eyes met hers, the blonde woman from before looking nearly ready to cry. Professor Lupin looked forlorn, as if he didn't know how to comfort her. Something had that woman in fits, too. Hermione looked away, sighing deeply.

It wasn't until the next day, riding in silence on the train, that Hermione would finally figure out who the woman reminded her of.

Harry. The woman had looked like Harry.

 

Chapter Text


Chapter Eight: Distractions

"There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class. As such, I don't expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science and exact art that is potion-making. However, for those select few w ho possess the predisposition, I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death."

― J.K. Rowling , Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


Severus Snape was in a mood so foul that even the dementors had stayed away from him, looking for happier victims to suck dry.

Despite the recent news that Black might actually be innocent, the brainless prat was still a wanted felon and Fudge had insisted on having dementors patrol Hogwarts' premises until he was found. The Ministry had not warned Dumbledore of their intent for the dementors to board the Hogwarts Express, however, nor had Dumbledore approved them to do so. And yet they had, another infuriating example of the type of idiocy public funding had bound the school to.

By the time Severus had ascertained the reason behind the distant screams on the far side of the train, Lupin had already annoyingly come to the students' rescue. The werewolf's patronus was formidable, Snape supposed, even if it took an eyerollingly predictable form. Snape and Minerva had finished off what Lupin's translucent wolf hadn't, but not before Snape had spotted exactly which cabin Lupin had been seated in. Granger and Weasley peeked nervously out the train's door, their faces various shades of green from the dementors' influence. The man had been on the job for all of a few hours, and he had already worked out who Potters' friends had been.

Damn him.

Out of the Marauders, Severus had admittedly loathed Remus Lupin the least. Black and Potter had always been the instigators, with Lupin observing in the background and Pettigrew following the lot around like a lost puppy dog. But no matter what Black or Potter did, who they bullied, or how far their pranks went, Lupin continued to support them, something Snape found himself unable to forgive the man for. Especially after a certain incident with the shrieking shack.

Lupin had barely been able to look Severus in the eye since then, even decades later, but it didn't endear Snape to the man. If anything, the events of that night had proved that Lupin was every bit as dangerous and vile as his friends. And yet here he was, taking the position the Snape had coveted for so long. The DADA.

The only good part about Lupin's employment was the arrangements for his monthly activities. Severus would be allowed to substitute for the other wizard, which was more than Snape had been able to do before. Albus had explained his reasoning for his actions before, but the potions master tired of hearing it. The headmaster believed the DADA curse was more than just a rumor, and didn't want to risk one of his best professors to it. But Snape understood Albus's true fear. He didn't want to lose his spy. Not with another war on the horizon.

As foul of a mood as Snape found himself in, he was glad for the distraction, at least. His summer had been unfruitful, with no sightings of Riddle. Retired death eaters all seemed to be just as in the dark and anxious as he was to figure out exactly what was going on. And if he were distracted, he would be less likely to think about her. Although he was beginning to want to tear those distractions' throats out.

"You take that back!"

"Why don't you make me, Weasley? Don't have Potty boy or ickle Ginny do your dirty work anymore, do yo-"

Snape grit his teeth as he approached the scene, his nose twitching in annoyance as a stunner whizzed by. His godson was being rather un-Slytherin, picking fights when he should be plotting from the shadows. And Weasley had been nothing but a flurry of fists since Potter's disappearance, uncaring whether he was outnumbered three to one. The fools.

"Detention, both of you. And fifteen points from Gryffindor for that stunner, Mr. Weasley." He growled, both students and their observers drawing back from Snape's presence.

Granger looked predictably peeved at her redheaded friend, dragging him away from the scene even as Draco looked interested in pursuing them. Snape hadn't failed to notice the tension between the two groups at the Sorting feast. The Gryffindors were still convinced in Ginny Weasley's innocence, while the Slytherins were preening that the murderer had been revealed to be one of their opponents.

"You're smarter than that." Snape raised an eyebrow at his godson, watching the blond with vague interest. Draco had was spoiled, childish even, but he was no fool. Draco turned, offering his professor a snide smile. But as Severus narrowed his eyes, Draco straightened, swallowing hard. Severus sneered and continued on his way. For a boy so quick to puff out his chest, Draco had pureblood propriety instilled in him, at least.

It wasn't long before Severus found himself in front of the ever familiar gargoyle, which stared at him condescendingly.

"Gingersnaps." He muttered, the gargoyle still watching warily as it revealed its entrance. Severus swore the thing had never liked him, as lifeless as it appeared to be.

"Ah, Severus. I heard you had a hand in resolving our dementor problem on the train." The headmaster greeted amicably, as if the dementors were simply a minor pest. Underneath the elderly man's mirth, they both knew they were much more than that.

Severus huffed, crossing his arms as he raised an eyebrow at the headmaster.

"They seemed drawn to Potter's friends. Lupin dealt with most of them before Minerva or I arrived." He scowled, watching as the headmaster stroked his beard in thought.

"Perhaps it wasn't Mr. Weasley or Ms. Granger they were occupied with. Professor Lupin seemed a great deal happier since I've seen him last. He's been catching up with James quite a bit over the last month, it would seem." The headmaster baited, gauging Severus's reaction.

Severus had lied to the Dark Lord's face on many occasions. So much as the wrong twitch could have given him away or caused the Dark Lord to succumb to paranoia. But he'd be damned if his eye wasn't twitching uncontrollably now.

"Perhaps." Snape murmured. Albus wanted him to say more, he knew, but he wasn't about to give into the nosy headmaster's demands.

"Have you spoken to them?" He asked instead, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

"Briefly." Albus admitted, his eyes gazing towards his office's floo. "They are….miraculously….exactly as they appear to be. Their magical stores are understandably unstable, but they are otherwise every bit James and Lily Potter."

"I held her body, Albus." Snape spat, clenching his fists. "What was left of it."

Which is exactly why when the news had broken out, Snape had been consumed in a fiery rage. The idea of inferi, imposters, or anything of the sort stealing her form and using her name had been infuriating. The fact that the normally all-knowing Albus had been equally in the dark at the time had been even more so. This was not news they could afford to be blindsided by, not now. Not with a basilisk's corpse rotting a few hundred feet below.

"Indeed. And yet, outside bouts of magical exhaustion, they are both in perfect health. James has even been cleared of his Quidditch scars." Albus murmured, looking as if he were solving a simple puzzle and not pondering upon the inner workings of dark magic.

"Of course he's worried about his bloody scars being gone." Severus huffed, tapping his foot impatiently. "Any news from the Unspeakables?"

"Little, I'm afraid. The incantation that killed Quirrell was identified, and they believe it was cast on this 'magical ring' the ghosts mentioned. But the curse itself had nothing to do with resurrections, just with the man's death. They don't think he managed it by blood magic, even given the circumstances."

"So how do you think the fool accomplished it?" Snape asked, narrowing his eyes. Dumbledore offered a grim smile. Albus had the annoying tendency to withhold information. The elder man hid behind amusing smiles and vague sayings, dealing with matters indirectly. To most, this was part of his all-knowing, all-wise appeal, but the reality was that it was a liability. Information was a better defense than any shield or charm. And Albus often left his allies unguarded.

"What is the muggle saying? 'Speak of the devil, and he shall appear?' I'm almost afraid to say it." The headmaster admitted, suddenly looking every bit of his years. Snape furrowed his eyebrows, puzzled.

"The sorcerer's stone couldn't have done thi-"

"Not the sorcerer's stone, Severus. The resurrection stone." Dumbledore corrected wearily, folding his hands. Severus stilled, trying to make sense of what Dumbledore was saying.

"The….the resurrection stone is a myth. A faerie tale."

"As are invisibility cloaks. And yet, one has been passed down through the Potter family for centuries." Dumbledore said grimly, sighing deeply.

Snape blinked at the implications, at just exactly what Dumbledore was insinuating. The Deathly Hallows were little more than myth, and while invisibility cloaks were extraordinarily rare, the idea that Potter's was the one from legend and that Dumbledore had put it into an eleven-year-old's hands was preposterous. But if it were true….

"You think he wants to become the Master of Death." Snape stated rather than asked. Dumbledore nodded, fidgeting with his wand. The headmaster seemed unusually nervous, his eyes glazed in a way Snape only saw when the older man was thinking back to times of war. There was a reason why Voldemort's motivations bothered Albus so.

"I believe he is obsessed with it. With death, at least." Albus said heavily. "No spell can reawaken the dead…. and yet, James and Lily are very much alive. The resurrection stone is the only myth that implies anything of the sort. And in Voldemort's hands…."

Snape nodded briskly, suddenly finding it difficult to swallow.

"Assuming your theory is true, that would mean that he already has two of the three hallows. If Potter took the cloak with him, that is."

"Ms. Granger confirmed that he still had it at their parting. The third hallow will remain safe for now, but the implications of the sort of power Voldemort is gathering, and so quickly…. is rather alarming." Dumbledore admitted wearily. Snape blinked at the knowledge. Dumbledore had confirmation that the Elder Wand existed? And knew of its location? Snape's eyes narrowed. The last artefact Dumbledore claimed was safe had ended up in the Dark Lord's hands within the year. He bit his tongue, deciding it was a topic destined for another time.

"His attentions seem scattered, at least." Snape grimaced. "I trust you heard about the break-in at the Department of Ministries?"

"I did. Voldemort is after the prophecy, it would seem. But given the circumstances….I'm not sure that they were successful in their attempts. The prophecy was found shattered during the culprit's escape, along with dozens of others."

Snape narrowed his eyes, scowling. "We'll know soon enough." He murmured coldly. Dumbledore caught the icy implication behind his words.

"Yes. I suspect the same.….if they learned of its full contents before its destruction….."

"Then Potter is as good as dead." Snape said bluntly, raising an eyebrow. "Once the Dark Lord assures himself that the events of that night won't repeat themselves, he'll get rid of the boy."

Dumbledore looked several years older in that moment. Which was an impressive feat, as the wizard had seemed elderly for as long as Severus Snape had known him.

"Do you recall the moral of the story? Of the three brothers and the deathly hallows?" Dumbledore asked softly, his eyes glazed.

"I didn't recall there being a moral." Snape snorted. In truth, he barely remembered the story at all.

"The brother who desired power, wanted the most powerful wand in the world. But his throat was slit by someone who desired the power for himself. The brother who desired the resurrection stone wanted to bring his loved one back to life. But he hung himself after realizing that she was merely a ghost of herself, cold and lifeless. But the brother who desired the invisibility cloak….he lived into his old age, because while he wore the cloak, Death could never find him. The Invisibility Cloak accepts Harry as its owner. Perhaps he will survive this, yet." Dumbledore murmured, lost in thought. Snape narrowed his eyes pointedly at the man.

"Are you sure Potter's the third brother, and not the second?" Snape questioned, raising an eyebrow. "The boy never wanted to be invisible. He basked in the attention. But he did want his parents back." Dumbledore had no answer for that, instead still staring blankly at his wand, turning it from side to side, deep in thought. Severus sighed.

"There is some good news, at least." He murmured, fruitlessly offering up what shred of optimism he had left. "Several Albanian potion masters have gone missing. It's causing potion shortgages throughout the country, and even in some of the neighboring countries. Greece, in particular."

"I believe our definition of 'good news' differs, Severus." Albus offered kindly, reflecting upon the meaning of Snape's words.

"If the Dark Lord were drinking the Elixir of Life…." Snape murmured, watching the realization glitter in Dumbledore's eyes.

"Then he would have his body back by now. And yet, we've heard no such news. You believe Voldemort is behind these abductions?"

"I'm sure of it. The Elixir of Life is difficult to produce, even for a Potions Master. Flamel is one of the few to have mastered it. From an unwilling or imperioed participant, it would be nearly impossible. And it would require a lifelong attachment to the potion, wouldn't prevent aging….it is possible that the Dark Lord's attempts to use the sorcerer's stone have been in vain. He may be losing his interest or turning to other options."

"Such as the Deathly Hallows."

"Such as the Deathly Hallows." Severus agreed quietly. Dumbledore stroked his beard, lost in thought. Snape eyed Fawkes in the corner. The bird had molted since Snape had last seen him, appearing much smaller and youthful than he had been before. Embers burned at the bird's feet, and the bird stared at him knowingly.

Dumbledore spoke, his voice curious. "Have you…. have you heard anything about Peter?"

Snape stopped, taking a moment before he realized who the elderly man was referring to.

"Pettigrew? No. The man was a coward. If what the Potters are saying is true, and they were foolish enough to pick him as their secret keeper, I wouldn't be surprised if their location was simply tortured out of the man. But despite Potter's unyielding faith in him, I'm not entirely convinced in Black's so called 'innocence', either. Someone was a spy for the Dark Lord, and Black hasn't popped up for a reunion since the news of the Potters' resurrection broke."

"Indeed... and you're certain that you never saw either of them among Voldemort's followers?"

"Never their faces. But our identities were obscured for a reason. Even from each other, at times. It's possible they were there."

"And it's possible that they weren't."

Severus scowled at the headmaster's optimism, his eyes narrowing. "In either case, Black's unclear motivations only means that he's more dangerous than before. If he really is on a warpath to find the Potter boy, where would he even begin to look?" Severus huffed, tiring of the conversation. He edged towards the exit, eager to leave.

Between his duties as the head of Slytherin House, the abundance of Wolfsbane that needed preparing, and his various letters to send out to old contacts, the potions professor had scarcely time to sleep in the last few weeks, nevertheless outline his class syllabus. And that wasn't mentioning the small petition some annoyingly ambitious 7th years had put together, wanting him to offer an alchemy class. While Severus was intrigued by the idea, it simply wasn't possible. Being the sole Potions professor for hundreds of students was strenuous enough without bringing in more advanced, niche classes. And if there was anything Dumbledore excelled at, it was trapping unknowing victims into a long-winded conversation where he learned everything and they learned nothing. And yet…

"Albus?" He asked softly, a portrait eyeing him warily as he stood in the headmaster's entryway. The headmaster turned his attention to the Potions Master once more.

"Yes, Severus?"

"As much…." He found himself amiss for words, choosing them carefully as he continued. "As much as we both have reasons to be relieved at their resurrections, there is still something we would do well to remember." He said slowly, watching the headmaster's reaction before continuing.

"You and I both know that the Dark Lord is not a man to keep his promises. If Voldemort rose two of his enemies back from the dead, he would have had his own reasons for doing so. Something other than merely fulfilling the wishes of a thirteen-year-old boy." Dumbledore's eyes darkened at Severus's words, and he nodded grimly before returning to his paperwork.

Severus left as quickly as he had entered, the gargoyle glaring at him on his way out. In the distance, he could make out the sounds of newly emboldened prefects attempting crowd control as they led a group of first years. He sneered at the sight, at Dumbledore's fumbling choices. The headmaster had a tendency to chose those he thought had potential, not those who had demonstrated any sort of actual leadership. The results were usually mediocre, at best. None of the prefects were ever as efficient as Li…..

He stopped himself before he finished the thought. The mere mention of her name pained him. To relive her death all over again, to see her face on every newspaper, to hear it whispered in the halls….it was more than Severus could bare.

"Professor! Professor! Longbottom's got himself stuck in the loo! Some seventh year Slytherin barred him in-" The yappy student barely had the chance to finish before Snape strode forth angrily, his robes rustling behind him.

No, Severus Snape didn't have time for distractions. Yet he would seek them out, nonetheless.