i. One Track Mind
Dorcas Walker knew she wanted to be an Auror when she was a little girl. She could remember the exact moment she’d decided it, too. Her parents had taken her to a Squib Rights demonstration in London; she had clung to her parents’ hands and stared, wide-eyed, at the crowds of cheering people that filled Diagon Alley. They’d had shimmering signs and magnified voices, and it had felt more magical and powerful than any trick Dorcas could imagine. Far more magical even than when her dad caught the tea kettle before it began whistling, or when her mum found her missing sock, always.
That feeling had stayed with her until they’d gone home and the Walkers had filtered into the kitchen, turning on the radio while they cooked dinner.
“—Reports of violence at a Squib Rights demonstration in Birmingham just coming in,” a grave voice said, interrupting a weird WWN special about haircare potions. “The death toll is unconfirmed so far, but estimates say that five have lost their lives… Many more lie wounded… Minister for Magic Eugenia Jenkins strongly condemns what she calls a pure-blood riot… Stay tuned for comment from Squib Rights organiser Idris Oakby—”
Her mother had dropped a spoon with a clatter and hurried to the wireless. Her father pulled Dorcas close.
“Dark magic is said to have been used on the crowds — Aurors are now pursuing those involved—”
“Dark magic?” Doe had repeated.
A shadow crossed her father’s face. “It’s the worst kind of magic. It’s pure evil, Dorcas — you stay away from anyone who says otherwise.”
She’d nodded. “What’s an Auror s’posed to do?”
“Stop people who use it.”
A simplistic answer, perhaps, but one that more than satisfied young Dorcas — and one that fuelled her ambitions for years. She was less naive about the role Aurors played now, and wasn’t so silly to believe that all of them were perfect. But Doe believed she could reform the less savoury parts of the department, if she could get there first.
Some of her classmates had been surprised when she’d expressed this desire aloud, finally, after Careers Advice in their fifth year. Doe supposed she saw the — misguided — logic in this. She was rather even-tempered and preferred to avoid conflict when she could. But of course, Aurors couldn’t be hotheads just because it was an intense job. That was ridiculous. Aurors ought to be sensible, have their heads on right — they ought to believe in justice, but they needed compassion as well, lest they grow far too unyielding.
She’d launched into this explanation the moment she’d sat down for her meeting with McGonagall, who had listened to the whole thing without interrupting.
“—and that’s why I think I could be a good Auror, basically,” she’d finished, a little out of breath.
McGonagall had smiled a little. “I didn’t need convincing, Miss Walker. You have the marks for it, after all. I only wanted to warn you, it’s not the easiest profession. It’s difficult even to enter it.”
Dorcas had nodded eagerly. “I know! Frank Longbottom is in training right now — I owled him at the start of the year to ask him what he thought I should do.”
“And what did he say?”
“Well, to study hard. And that he’d tell me how his training was going. At least, whatever parts he was allowed to tell me.” She made a face.
McGonagall had nodded slowly. “You seem to be thinking the right way. I am happy you’ve found your direction. Do remember, though, that you needn’t stick to something only because you’ve always wanted to do it.”
Dorcas had frowned. “But—”
“I’m not trying to dissuade you,” said McGonagall quickly. “I don’t think I could if I had any desire to. Keep it in mind.”
That hadn’t felt very auspicious, but Doe really did try to tell herself McGonagall was right. She didn’t want to commit too much to one career path. What if she did fail Auror training? And, well, she enjoyed learning other things too. That was why she was still taking Ancient Runes.
The memory of that meeting swam back to Doe as she sat in the library opposite Michael Meadowes. His head was bent over his parchment; he hadn’t looked up since they’d sat down and started working. But Doe’s mind had wandered far too frequently. She didn’t want to disturb him, but—
“Why can’t we do something fun?” she said, her voice pitched low for fear of Madam Pince.
Michael looked up, frowning. “Well, we get to go to Hogsmeade soon.”
“No, that’s not nearly soon enough… I mean, something fun, indoors, now.” She sat back, trying to find words for what she felt. “Do you know, I’ve just about given up everything I used to do for fun.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Like what?”
“Like… Ghoul Studies! I took it only because it sounded funny and I wanted to know more about it. And, I used to do Art as well. But who’s got time for that, now that we need to worry about N.E.W.T.s? We’re too old, so we’re supposed to be focused on the right things.”
“I know what you mean,” said Michael, sighing. “If Quidditch commentary required anything more than being at the matches, I would’ve stopped that too.”
It occurred to Doe just then that Michael — hardworking, clever, dedicated Michael — probably had ambitions as fervent as hers. She had never thought to ask him.
Flushing a little, she said, “What… what are you studying so hard for? What d’you want to do after Hogwarts, I mean?”
“Research, I reckon — historical spell construction and linguistics. There’s tons of different traditions all around the world.” A small smile had snuck onto his face; Doe wasn’t sure he even noticed. “I’d love the travel, too.”
She coughed a little, looking away from him. She’d been staring.
“Hence the Ancient Runes,” she said.
“Yeah, hence the Ancient Runes. I wouldn’t deal with Anderberg unless i had to. You’re brave.” He grinned, and she rolled her eyes.
The conversation faded to comfortable silence. Michael looked deep in thought, though he hadn’t picked up his quill once more. Doe turned back to her essay, unable to hold in a small sigh. She’d stopped mid-sentence, and now she had no idea what she was trying to say. The wormwood infusion then— then what? Oh, bother.
“We should go paint,” said Michael suddenly.
Dorcas blinked. “Paint? What d’you mean?”
“It’s Saturday,” he said, as if that made things obvious. “The classrooms will all be empty. We can go do — Muggle Art, or magical Art?”
“You’re serious,” Dorcas said, taking in the manic grin he now wore. “Oh, Merlin, this is a ridiculous idea and we should be working…”
“You haven’t figured out what the — wormwood infusion does in the past twenty minutes,” he said, squinting at her parchment. “I think you need to give your brain a break.”
“The cheek of you,” she muttered, but she began packing her things. “All right, let’s go. Magical Art, though, because I want moving photographs of whatever shite you produce.”
ii. En Garde
The end of October always put the Hogwarts population in the grip of great paranoia. You see, Sirius Black’s birthday was November the third, and he was turning seventeen this year. The third was a Wednesday, but owing to the Quidditch match on Saturday — or, more accurately, the full moon that weekend — all partying had been postponed to the next weekend, after the Hogsmeade trip. With the safety valve set to release so far after Sirius’s actual birthday, the other students spent their days worrying about what awful prank the Marauders had thought up to celebrate the occasion.
Because there was always an awful prank.
The food had finally found all its targets, and the boys had — rather graciously, they thought — got rid of the last few items, since they had grown so badly mouldy. In between trying to trace the Slytherins’ nightly activities, the Marauders had indeed managed to plan something new. So everyone was right, really, to be anxious.
On Saturday morning, the four boys arrived in the Great Hall together, well after the start of breakfast. The moment they sat down, a spectacularly flashy fireworks display went off, red and gold sunbursts filling the enormous hall. All the students could do was hunker down and cover their ears until it had passed.
“That’s all?” someone said in the seconds of deafening silence that followed.
It was not all.
A horde of disembodied voices suddenly began to harmonise, like an unholy angelic choir, and launched into a song about Sirius’s noble deeds. Three minutes later, after he had been lauded for slaying a rogue dragon, inventing wands, and winning the Quidditch World Cup for England, the voices finally subsided. He hopped onto a bench and bowed. Some younger students did, in fact, clap.
“Are you pleased with yourselves?” Mary said to the snickering Marauders, rolling her eyes.
“Rather,” said James brightly.
“Well, I’m glad I was here for the show. Now I can go about without wondering what you have in store.” She turned back to her breakfast. The Marauders burst into laughter again.
What Mary did not know — but would soon find out — was that there was still more to this birthday trick. The fireworks and the choir magically followed Sirius around all day, sounding without warning whenever he walked into a new room. And of course, he made sure to roam the halls far more than he otherwise would have. Surely it would end before classes began again on Monday… but there was no such thing as surely when it came to the Marauders. Hogwarts resigned itself to a very noisy weekend indeed.
In the Art classroom, Doe and Michael peered at the canvas they had been working on.
“It’s supposed to be modern, sort of,” said Doe, frowning.
They had tried to artistically splatter the surface, using their wands to conjure up colour. But the magical paint worked rather like normal paint, and the reds and greens and blues were beginning to muddy together to become a flat brown.
“Modern shite, that’s for certain,” Michael said.
Dorcas laughed. “No, look, we can try and salvage it — you get that corner with green, and I’ll add some yellow here—” They raised their wands to the canvas once more.
They’d been at it for the better part of an hour, and Doe found she was quite enjoying it. Michael was a great study partner, but he was...fun to talk to about things other than Ancient Runes and how much homework they had. They might qualify as friends now.
She concentrated on the blotchy shape she was drawing. It had really been a while since she’d done this — anything from footsteps in the hall to Michael’s gaze on her threw off her focus. Damn, there she went again.
“Sadly, I think our vision has exceeded our talents,” Doe said, leaving another, smaller splotch by the first one. “It’s honestly the biggest—”
And then a sudden cascade of bangs and crackles filled the room.
Doe whirled around — colour still flowing from her wand — to confront whatever had appeared. Michael cursed, following suit.
But it was...fireworks? And then a choir sang, “Sirius Orion Black! Sirius Orion Black he is seventeeeeeeeeen—”
“Oh my God,” Dorcas said. “Oh my God, I’m going to kill those boys.”
Michael was laughing — rather hysterically.
“What is it?” Doe turned towards him. But she saw it too — in reacting to the noises, they had turned their wands on each other, leaving strange discoloured patches on one another’s clothes. Michael’s blue shirt now had an enormous yellow streak across it, running over the side of his neck and his ear as well. Doe pressed a hand to her mouth.
“Oh, Merlin, I’m so sorry—”
“It’s all right, I got you too.”
There was indeed a series of green splotches on her blouse, Michael’s hand being more unsteady than hers.
“Well,” Doe said with a sigh, “I did want to take funny moving photos.”
With a sly smile, she flicked her wand and left a blue splatter across his cheek.
His jaw dropped. “Okay, you’ll regret that—”
That evening, students filtered down to the Great Hall for the Halloween Feast, chattering excitedly. They had mostly recovered from the horrors of random singing and firecrackers and were ready for the night’s entertainment now. Rumour had it that Dumbledore had contracted an operatic banshee to perform at the feast, which was both a fascinating and horrifying thought.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Germaine was saying as the girls came down the stairs to the Entrance Hall. “Banshees’ cries are supposed to kill you. That’s the whole point.”
Mary was shaking her head already. “Sure, and every vampire has an unquenchable thirst for human blood.”
“Again, that’s the whole point, Mare—”
“I’m saying, they still live in human society, don’t they? I’m sure they’ve figured out a way—”
“Don’t banshees perform with Celestina Warbeck?” said Dorcas thoughtfully. She had spent the late afternoon magically removing the paint from her clothes — a task that shouldn’t have been so hard, she thought, only since it was magical paint it had mixed itself up in all sorts of weird ways. The pink flowers on her blouse were stained slightly green.
“There you go,” Mary said triumphantly. “If they perform, then obviously they know how to do it without killing people.”
Germaine frowned. “Well, I don’t exactly want to find out…”
“Who’s that with McGonagall?” said Lily, her gaze fixed on the group of people by the enormous castle doors.
Their damp and windswept appearance clearly indicated they had just come in. Most of them were young, Lily thought, or they looked to be not much older than students themselves. One was Edgar Bones, she realised. The wizard was grinning as he spoke to McGonagall, gesticulating wildly. And there were other familiar faces as well.
“That’s Frank Longbottom,” said Doe, her face brightening. “And — Edgar Bones! Wait…”
Lily nodded slowly. “I think…they’re all Aurors. Or Aurors in training.” Belatedly she remembered the conversation between Sprout and McGonagall that she and Remus had overheard. So her guess had been right. “I think they’re here for us.”
“Us?” Mary repeated.
“Not us us,” said Doe. “Us as in Hogwarts. Right, Lily? They’re here to guard the school.”
Germaine’s eyes were wide. “No bloody way.”
“Well, what other explanation is there?”
Lily inched closer to the Aurors. Yes, Doe was right, there was Frank Longbottom, and his girlfriend Alice St. Martin… and Marlene McKinnon, a Gryffindor who’d been a year above Frank. Three other relatively young Aurors stood by the trainees she knew, along with a morose-looking wizard with an exceedingly pale face and a shock of fair hair. He was sniffing repeatedly, like he had a cold, or was just very unhappy with whatever McGonagall was saying to them. Lily thought he looked like the tragedy mask next to Edgar Bones’s cheerful face.
Standing a little to the side was a grizzled wizard some years older than Bones; his sharp gaze travelled over every inch of the Entrance Hall. He had a wooden leg, Lily realised; the base of it was just visible below the hem of his cloak.
Dorcas gave a little gasp and clutched Lily’s elbow. “That’s Alastor Moody!”
The name sounded familiar… “Who?” Lily said.
“He’s an Auror — he’s supposed to be one of the best. His whole family were Aurors before him. I can’t believe he’s here!”
Doe’s voice had risen a little above the murmur of conversation; others, too, seemed to recognise Moody and the other Aurors. The steady flow of bodies into the Great Hall had slowed until the students were quite blatantly gawking at the newcomers.
McGonagall, of course, picked up on this immediately. “Stop staring, all of you,” she said brusquely. “Go on into the Great Hall. Our guests will be introduced to you shortly.”
“Oh, I won’t be staying, Minerva,” said Moody gruffly. “The others will head to the feast. I’ve words for Dumbledore.” He started towards the stairs; the press of students parted for him.
“Well,” McGonagall said, pitching her voice even louder, “go on! Let Mr. Moody through — Potter, Black, close your mouths, for goodness’s sake—”
But just as Alastor Moody reached the top of the staircase, and just as the students had begun to move into the dining hall again, and just as conversation had resumed, there was the now-familiar cacophony of fireworks.
“Oh, hell,” Germaine groaned. “Cover your ears and keep moving, come on—”
Except the sound was far from familiar to the Aurors. Shouts of alarm came from their group; Lily could see that several of them had drawn their wands and were looking about for the source of the sound.
The loudest reaction of all, though, came from Moody himself. With his wand out at the top of the stairs, he looked like he was the star of a dramatic stageplay.
“What the devil is that noise!” he roared, his voice audible even over the fireworks. “Show yourself, villain! Well? ”
Dorcas was muffling her shocked laughter with her fist. “Oh, Merlin…”
James and Sirius pushed past the girls, frantically making their way into the Great Hall. “Sorry, we really need to be inside right now, move, move—”
iii. Family Business, revisited
“Preemptive protection again?” Lily asked, leaning over Dorcas’s shoulder to peek at the Prophet.
“Oh, yeah,” said Sirius from across the table, his mouth full of toast. “Trust me, now that he’s got a slogan that’s alliterative, you’ll never hear the end of it.”
The slogan in question was Barty Crouch’s doing; it had been splashed across the papers every day now since the Aurors’ dramatic Halloween arrival at Hogwarts. Doe had expressed surprise at the fact that they had Aurors to spare — even trainees, who made up the bulk of the guard. But in Crouch’s very publicly-expressed view, the sacrifice of personnel was well worth it. He did not want to wait for something to happen at Hogwarts before students were, well, protected. Hence the name.
The average student didn’t feel the impact of this change, really, though it had only been a handful of days. The trainees were all two or fewer years out of Hogwarts, and even the most uptight of them did not seem like adults. Well, other than the man who, along with Bones, was in charge of the group. The unhappy wizard Lily had noticed that first night was Ethelbert Fawley, nephew of the man who was head of the Auror Office.
“Cushy posting, that,” Mary had commented, when the Gryffindors had gathered in the common room to discuss the new faces.
“Not if you’re an Auror,” Sirius pointed out, “and you want to be in the thick of things, but your uncle doesn’t want you to die so he sticks you with the babysitting job.” Mary had rolled her eyes. “And you’ve got a name like Ethelbert. Bless him.”
Now, Sirius looked up at the faculty table, where professors’ empty seats were filled by Fawley and a trainee he didn’t recognise. At least two Aurors were always in the Great Hall at mealtimes. The rest, he supposed, patrolled the hallways, though he couldn’t fathom how that was an efficient rotation. Hogwarts was a bloody big castle. They were bound to miss something. Hell, the Marauders had missed details on the map before.
He wasn’t sure how they would manage their usual nighttime activities now that there were more authorities to watch out for. True, they had the map, but they did not all fit under the Cloak anymore — even if Peter transformed, the other three of them had trouble being both quiet and unseen under it. Sirius reckoned they could take their chances running into Longbottom — and perhaps McKinnon too — but this was another obstacle to their nightly freedom they’d have to work around. Obstacles made him bloody impatient.
In any case, they would find out how it went that weekend. The full moon was coming up, and they’d need a way to sneak out after Remus.
Sirius took another enormous bite of toast. With one crumb-covered hand, he fished out the letters he’d received that morning — quite a chunk. The handwriting on the very first one stopped him short. Andromeda. He knew his cousin would have written about Alphard. Probably she would be on the same bloody talking point as his uncle — have you spoken to your brother, he never writes me, I’m worried…
He scowled and shoved the letters into his pocket. Regulus had his own notions of how the world worked. Sirius was certain, now, that he could do little to alter them — every time he thought of his brother, he remembered the godawful squealing noises they’d heard from outside the classroom, and he felt a little bit ill. Well, mostly he felt angry.
“Move,” a tight voice said at his shoulder; he turned around to see Mary Macdonald standing there, her expression stormy. “Well?” she snapped. “I said budge up, I’d like to eat my breakfast!”
Sirius did as she’d asked, his own thoughts momentarily on hold. “Merlin, what’s got you in such a mood?” Lily and Dorcas were also watching Mary with undisguised concern.
“Don’t — want — to talk about it!” Mary said, punctuating her words by stabbing a knife into a grapefruit.
“Are you sure?” said Doe.
Sirius decided not to say anything else; he sat by her in silence as she hacked at her fruit and muttered under her breath about fucking men who are worthless and Ravenclaws are s’posed to be smart—
“What have you done?” said a male voice from behind him.
Sirius sighed. “Mate, she’s as angry as a Hippogriff right now, so I wouldn’t press the point if I were you—” But when he turned around, he realised the boy wasn’t there to talk to Mary at all.
It was Regulus, two spots of colour high in his cheeks. A letter was clutched tightly in one fist; he was breathing heavily.
“You didn’t have to run all the way,” Sirius said mildly.
“Don’t turn this into a joke!” Regulus shook the crumped-up parchment at him.
Sirius put his hands up in surrender. “I honestly have no idea what you’re on about. Oh, unless — this isn’t about your little duelling club, is it?”
“What’s going on?” James was right behind Regulus, his brow furrowed; Remus was behind him.
“Glad your posse is here for this,” spat Regulus.
“Fan club,” corrected James, dropping to the bench beside Sirius. “That’s the term we prefer.”
Regulus ignored him, looking back at Sirius. “Didn’t you read your post?”
“Not yet.” They were starting to attract an audience, Sirius realised; it was fairly early in the breakfast hour, and students hadn’t yet started to trickle out towards their classes.
Regulus’s laugh was a single, sharp ha. “She blasted you off the tree.”
This statement was rather opaque to the hushed Great Hall. But the magnitude of Regulus’s words was made clear by the immediate reaction on James and Remus’s faces. There was no doubt, in their minds, who she was.
For his part, Sirius still looked perfectly calm.
“Did she?” He picked up another piece of toast and began to butter it too.
It was clear that his nonchalance was making an already-frantic Regulus furious.
“Yeah, she fucking did!”
If the Great Hall had been quiet before, it fell utterly silent at Regulus’s shout.
“Hmm,” Sirius said. “Interesting. Did she say why? So I can pass on the advice to future generations of Blacks that might be worth a damn.”
Something dangerous flashed in Regulus’s eyes; James, watching carefully, prepared to jump to his feet and keep the boy away from his friend.
“Read your letters,” was all Regulus said.
Sirius shrugged and pulled out the stash of letters he’d tucked away. He could look at Andromeda’s later, he didn’t suppose that was why Regulus was so worked up. The next was an unfamiliar, blocky script, stamped with a Ministry logo. That seems important.
He tore it open, still working at his own leisurely pace. He intended to read the entire thing, very slowly — perhaps aloud, dramatically — but as he skimmed it he went still. ...reading of your uncle Alphard’s will...the entire contents of his Gringotts vault...to you alone… Wordlessly Sirius handed the letter to James and Remus.
“Merlin,” Remus mumbled; James swore.
“She knows,” Regulus said, “she knows you’re going to take the money and run — she knows — she said he’s got heirlooms in there, and — and things that ought to belong to the family — she blasted him off the tree too — but this was what you wanted all along, wasn’t it! You asked Alphard to give you enough to break away. Finally.”
Sirius met his brother’s gaze. “You give me too much credit. I never asked him for anything. He told me he’d leave me some money — certainly not this much.” Then he let himself smile. “I wish I’d thought of this sooner. I could’ve asked Alphard to give me a few Galleons and made a big song and dance about running away, and she’d have let me leave long ago.”
Sirius raised his glass of water towards his friends. “Cheers, I’m an orphan now.”
James snorted. “Don’t be thick. You’re just as much of an orphan as I am. C’mon, if you don’t live with us, Mum and Dad will disown me.”
“Well, thanks to Alphard I’ve got enough to live on.”
“Don’t. Be. Thick.” James rolled his eyes. “You’re coming home for Christmas.”
And Sirius grinned. He was really, really fucking done with them all. It felt — incredible.
“Aren’t you — aren’t you upset?” Regulus burst out.
Sirius started; he had forgotten his brother was still standing there.
“Christ, why would I be?” he said, chuckling. “You said it yourself. This is what I’ve always wanted.”
Regulus’s shock hardened into cold rage. “Fuck you,” he said, very quietly, and he swept out of the Great Hall.