Card Castles in a Summer Storm
Author’s Note ~
do, of course, belong to Queen JKR. Thank you to my beta, Zsenya, for her
continuous support. In this story I am playing around with the Marauders,
fusing together events of their past and present. Enjoy.
* * *
descended the stairs to the basement kitchen of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.
His footsteps echoed on the stone steps and the shadows clustered around him as
he reached the bottom. Once at the door, he felt blindly for the latch before
tugging it open with a jerk. It moaned as it swung back unevenly, knocking
against the rough stone wall with a clunk.
Lupin waved his
wand absently and a soft glow entered the room from the grimy lamps on the
wall. It was not enough to fill the place with warmth. Turning slowly, Lupin
shut the door behind him. He had to lift the door slightly in order for it to
fit back into place; he hadn’t noticed that on the way in.
It had begun to
rain heavily. He knew, despite there being no windows. He could hear it
dripping in the gaps between the walls. He could smell it in the damp draft
that whistled under the door. He could feel it in the thunder that shook the
house’s foundations. And he could sense it all around him.
into the room, Lupin almost laughed. It looked the same. Exactly as they had
left it. It was the same, in many ways. And it was completely different
as well. The pots, plates and goblets from dinner still lay unwashed in the
sink. The Daily Prophet was still unread on the work surface. The
fire at the far end of the room was still spitting sparks. The chairs still sat
squashed around the table. And on the table, the pack of Exploding Snap cards
that he and Tonks had been idly playing with merely hours before, still rested,
the game forever incomplete.
“I’m so bored.”
James presses his nose against the common room window. On the other side, cold
rain lashes sharply against the glass. “I hate storms.”
Sirius rids his
eyes of hair with an attractive flick of the head. “It shouldn’t rain in June,”
into his book and turns a page. Peter shuffles restlessly in his chair, his
hands writhing in his lap, looking between James and Sirius expectantly.
“We have to do
something,” James decides, tapping the window with his wand, as if willing the
rain to cease with a spell.
raining,” Peter points out.
“He knows that,
Wormtail, thank you,” Sirius says impatiently. “I think he meant we have to do
Peter blushes deeply.
Sirius smirks, managing to raise his eyebrows appealingly to a group of fourth
year girls on the other side of the room at the same time.
comments, Moony?” James asks.
says, looking up from his book, a finger marking his place.
drags his attention away from the window and leans across the table. “What –
can - we - do?” he asks.
splutters. “Moony, we’ve just finished our exams! This prefect stuff is having
a bad effect on you.”
Snap?” Peter squeaks.
Sirius says, “I think we’re a little beyond…”
James says, suddenly looking interested. “Exploding Snap could be a good idea.
With a few fun alterations…”
Remus looks up
from his reading. “What fun alterations?” he asks suspiciously, unable to avoid
the glint of the prefect badge on his chest.
“It should be
card castles, not Snap,” James begins.
they give better explosions,” continues Sirius.
should get ten Galleons from the other three players…”
“… and the
loser has to touch Snivellus’ hair.”
Sirius collapse into sniggers. Peter looks confused.
“So, are we
playing then?” he asks.
says. We’re competing.
Aren’t we, Moony?”
before shutting his book and placing it carefully on the table.
“I’ll get my
cards,” he says.
Lupin sat down at
the long wooden table and immediately stood up again. He walked around the kitchen
three times, noting the considerable change in temperature each time he passed
the fire. Then he leaned against the one part of the wall not covered by
hanging kitchen implements. But the sharp, jagged edges of the stone cut into
his back and he quickly resumed his journey around and around the room.
Above him Lupin
heard creaking footsteps. He looked up and saw grey dust fall from the ceiling.
Blinking rapidly, he ducked his head to protect his eyes. The creaking
continued. Lupin knew it was Kingsley Shacklebolt, pacing. He had only just
left Lupin alone. Kingsley was probably still in the house to keep an eye on
him. He needn’t have bothered. Lupin was too tired to do anything.
He could remember
the evening so clearly. The laughing and drinking rang in his head as if he was
still surrounded by people. It was almost as if the last few hours hadn’t
happened. They were a blur, a dream, something Lupin was barely even able to
focus on. But as he looked around the gloomy, empty room he knew it had. Kingsley
was creaking above. Tonks was lying unconscious in St. Mungo’s. Moody
was prowling about somewhere, trying to catch anything that moved. And Sirius…
purposefully towards the sink and began to make tea. He wasn’t thirsty; the
thought of drinking anything made his feel weak with nausea. He just had to do
something. Anything. He waved his wand and the kettle began to boil. He
waited. It was only when he picked up the mug that he realised his hands were
shaking. They trembled so badly that when he tried to carry the tea to the
table, it spilled on his hand and he dropped it instinctively. The smash was so
loud in the empty room that Lupin’s heart thudded. He stared at the broken mug
for a full two minutes before repairing it with his wand and starting the tea
again. This time he took several deep breaths before he picked up the mug and
carried it successfully to the table. He wouldn’t drink it, he knew that. But
while it was there, steaming like one of Mundungus’ cigars, a little normality
Lupin’s eyes fell
once more to the Exploding Snap pack. There were many scorch marks in the table
from Tonk’s many Snap disasters. He pulled the pack towards him, shuffling them
absently. His hands had almost stopped shaking now; the feel of the cards
between his fingers seemed to soothe them. With a deep breath, Lupin began to
Sirius, Remus and Peter descend the boys’ staircase, each clutching a pack of
cards, a red-haired girl with an armful of books appears from the girls’.
Sirius looks gleeful.
“This is going
to make my victory even easier,” he hisses to Remus.
James, totally oblivious to their words, adjusting the collar of his robes and
ruffling his hair.
“Hi Evans,” he
calls with a casual nod of his head.
ignores him and settles herself in a seat on the other side of the common room
with a group of fifth year girls. James narrows his eyes as her companions
begin to giggle. Lily remains stony-faced.
Sirius says poking James in the back with his wand. “I want my thirty
play.” James sounds sulky. He then seems to hear what Sirius has said. “Hey,
there’s no way you’re going to win this, Padfoot!”
“Want to bet?”
doing that already?” Remus says hastily, sitting down at the table once more.
and Peter sit down with their backs to the window. James spends a good deal of
time positioning himself so that the other side of the common room is visible
from his seat.
finish five layers,” Sirius says, looking excited.
“Or last castle
left,” Remus points out.
that.” Sirius waves a casual hand. “Ready?”
Remus sits up
straighter, laying a hand on his cards. James nods, tearing his eyes from Lily.
perspiring with anticipation, bobs his head up and down.
unnoticed by the rest of the common room, falls upon the table. The four boys
work quickly, bent over their cards in silence. James’ glasses have slipped
down his nose. Sirius’ hair is in his eyes once more. Remus’ head is cocked to
one side. Peter’s tongue is sticking out in concentration. The first layer of
each castle is soon complete, though Peter frequently flinches away from his as
if expecting it to blow up any second. Sirius is first to start the second
layer and he looks at the others triumphantly.
Galleons to me, thirty Galleons to me, thirty Galleons to me…”
“Shut it, Padfoot,
that’s distracting,” James says.
distracting?” Sirius begins to blow on the foundations of James’ card castle.
as his castle goes up in smoke. James and Sirius stop trying to dismantle each
other’s and roar with laughter. Calmly, Remus extinguishes Peter’s smouldering
hair with a gush of water from his wand.
shouts with joy. “You loose! It’s Snivellus hair for you!”
“Just think of
all that grease,” James says with relish.
your fingers as you touch it,” Sirius adds.
pale at the prospect.
Lupin finished the
first layer of the card castle with ease. He had done it too many times before.
His fingers moved deftly and instinctively as if trained for this very purpose.
It helped that the cards were old and worn, tarnished by fingerprints and
coffee stains, mucky and faded in appearance. They stuck together better that
Lupin thought of
the past. They had been so very young then. So very, very young. They hadn’t
had any concept of danger. They hadn’t thought about what would happen to them.
What they would each become. Perhaps he should have been more suspicious of
Peter. Perhaps he should have been kinder. Perhaps…
He shook his head,
trying to rid it of things that could have been. This was the present.
He wondered where Peter was now, what he was doing. He wondered whether his old
friend had heard about Sirius yet. Would he mourn? Would he laugh like the rest
of the Death Eaters? Would he feel the same stab of guilt that Lupin felt every
time he thought of Wormtail himself? No. Of course not. He would feel relieved.
The tea had
stopped steaming now and Lupin felt the side of the mug. It was lukewarm.
Self-consciously, he tugged his threadbare coat further over his shoulders
finding a fresh tear in the sleeve as he did so. He fingered the frayed edge,
running a finger down the rip and feeling his equally tattered jumper
underneath. He should get a new coat. Molly was always eyeing this one
distrustfully as if it was one of Arthur’s bewitched Muggle objects and might
suddenly jump at her. He could get a new one, if he really wanted to. But
something about it was very comforting now. He sunk further into its depths,
suddenly feeling very vulnerable.
couldn’t think of anything else to do, Lupin began the second layer of his
says. “Let’s get on with this. I want my Galleons before Saturday’s Hogsmede
lucky,” James snorts. “The money’s mine, Padfoot.”
James, Sirius and Remus continue to build. Remus is noticeably behind the
others, taking a great deal of time placing each individual card. Peter’s
attention is utterly devoted to the competition, his watery eyes flitting
between James and Sirius’ progress, his hair still smoking slightly at the
Sirius says, carelessly flicking his next card onto the castle, “what do you
think Snivellus is going to do to you when you grab his head?”
definitely curse you something rotten,” James says seriously.
“Do you think
so?” Peter whispers, wide-eyed.
Sirius agrees. “Maybe jelly legs?”
Peter asks fearfully.
“Your body sort
of locks and hits the floor like this,” James says, slamming his hand down on
the desk, making the three castles wobble precariously.
his head back and barks with loud laughter. Remus chuckles into his castle.
says an annoyed voice.
look up. Remus and Peter’s faces are impassive. James is suddenly alert. Sirius
“I wonder if
you could keep the noise down,” Lily says, hugging a Charms book to her chest.
“I’m trying to read.”
his arms up into the air. “What is wrong with everyone?” he asks. “The exams
were over last week!”
is distracting,” Lily continues, as if she hasn’t heard him.
“Could you go
to the library?” Remus asks softly.
Lily says, her expression almost pleasant.
keep quiet, Evans,” James says, stretching out in his seat.
surprised. So does Lily.
says, flashing her a winning smile. “If you come to Hogsmede with me this
contorts into a scowl. “I’ve told you before, Potter,” she says. “I will not
spend a minute longer in your company than I have to. You’re so…”
Good-looking? Talented?” James suggests.
“You’re a lazy,
conceited, arrogant louse, James Potter!”
She turns on
her heel and marches across the common room.
“What is wrong
with her?” James asks. He leans forward to peer at her retreating form and his
elbow knocks his card castle.
As the smoke
clears, James removes his glasses and wipes the soot from them with his sleeve.
Sirius looks beside himself with glee and rubs his hands together delightedly.
“This game is
mine,” he calls.
excited. Remus quietly continues building. James barely seems to have
registered the explosion.
“Why do you
like her anyway?” Sirius asks him, examining Remus’ castle carefully.
murmurs. “She’s interesting… spiky…”
mate,” Sirius laughs, clapping him on the back, “you have about as much chance
with her as Wormtail here has of escaping his forfeit with Snivellus in one
piece. You and she will never happen.”
Lupin checked his
watch. He hadn’t noticed before, but the glass was smashed. It must have been
the fight. A wide gash split the face although Lupin could just about see the
hands underneath. It was past midnight. He felt faintly surprised although he
didn’t have any idea of what time it felt like. It didn’t really feel like time
at all, not anymore.
How strange it
was, to think of Lily separately from James. She seemed such a part of James
now. How odd to remember that she once couldn’t stand the sight of him.
Thinking of them a dull ache throbbed in his chest. It seized him at certain moments,
quite unpredictably, throwing him slightly off balance. But time was healing.
It didn’t make it better, but it made it easier. Lupin liked to think of them
both, happy and young and smiling. They hadn’t changed these last fifteen
Harry had though.
Harry had changed a lot. He was so much like them, so much their son. But then
a part of him was not like them at all. There was a darkness about him, a
cloaked place beyond his eyes. Those eyes that had seen far too much for a
fifteen year old boy.
with difficulty and ran a hand through his hair. He wondered if it had grown
greyer these last few months. He wasn’t in the habit of studying himself in a
mirror anymore, but he strongly suspected that it had. His hand slid down his
prematurely lined face to his chin where he felt the irregularity of unkempt
stubble. He wasn’t like Lily and James. He had let himself go to seed over
time. His chin also felt unnaturally sharp. He supposed he must have grown a
lot thinner lately, despite Molly’s cooking. While he had never been a picture
of perfect health, the last few months had been so filled with worry and
uncertainty that it had taken its toll on all of them physically, himself
His hand left his
face and fell to the table with a soft thump. Now that he had grown used to the
room around him, he noticed that it was actually quite noisy. The rain
continued, unabated, hurling itself onto and into Grimmauld Place. The clunking
ticks of the Grandfather clock on the floor above carried easily through the
gaps in the stone and the wood. Even the tap which he had unsuccessfully
squeezed off when making the tea dripped loudly and regularly. There was also a
new sound, a tiny scrabbling noise in the corner of the room. Lupin wondered
whether it was a mouse; they had found a few in the dust-filled rooms.
listening and turned his attention back to his cards. The third layer of the
castle needed completing.
standing up now, doing a half dance, as he tosses cards haphazardly onto his
card castle. There is absolutely no care to his work. Remus is still building
slowly. He has only just begun his third layer, but seems unfazed by Sirius’
blatant belief in his own construction skills. Peter is watching Sirius avidly,
nodding whenever Sirius observes loudly how sturdy his castle is looking.
James, on the other hand, pays absolutely no attention. He is slumped forward
on the desk, his chin resting on his folded arms, his eyes narrowing as he
“I think I’ll spend
all my money in Zonko’s,” Sirius says thoughtfully. “Well, except for a
commiseration drink in the Three Broomsticks for you three,” he adds.
“You might not
win,” Remus points out.
with laughter once more. Peter titters nervously.
“I’m not very
intimidated by that,” he says, indicating Remus’ castle with a sweep of his
arm. “You’re way behind me. I might go to Honeydukes before Zonko’s,” he
continues. “Better stock up for the end of year party.”
“What end of
year party?” Remus asks. He fingers his prefect badge.
“The one Prongs
and I are organising,” Sirius says with a grin. “Common room, next Saturday
night, with as much as we can steal from the kitchens. It’s going to be better
than the Quidditch one, isn’t it, Prongs?”
James’ brow is
furrowed in thought. Sirius nudges him.
“Our party is
going to be better than the other week’s, isn’t it?”
“Do you think
it’s my glasses she doesn’t like?” James wonders. Sirius rolls his eyes to the
“I could probably
do a spell to fix that,” James continues. He pushes his glasses up into the
depths of his black hair and points his wand at his eyes. Remus quickly slides
the wand from James’ grip and lays it on the table.
“It’s not your
eyes that need fixing,” Sirius says, giving James a supportive clap on the
back. “It’s your brain. You might as well ask out McGonagall.”
his glasses from his hair and slips them back up his nose. He resumes his
position on the desk, grabs his wand once more and begins to blast small holes
in the wood.
Sirius says. “You might knock down Moony’s castle.”
fine, Padfoot,” Remus says smiling.
“Do you know
what I really want to buy with your money?” Sirius says to no one in
particular. “Those new things in Honeydukes. The bug things? What are they
“Are mice bugs,
Wormtail?” Sirius asks coldly. “No, the brown things. You know, the insect
Clusters,” Remus says.
it. Cockroach Clusters.” Sirius savours the name. “Do you think they’re really
cockroaches? Because if they are, you know who could do with a large dose of
them in his morning tea?”
James hisses with pleasure.
encouraged by James’ attention being diverted from Lily, Sirius continues
brilliant!” he cries. “There he’ll be, his greasy head bent over some book on
the Dark Arts. He takes a casual sip of his tea and…” Sirius breaks off, doing
an impression of someone choking violently. James and Peter laugh.
I know you put this in my tea,” James says, standing up and adopting Snape’s
characteristic sneer. “And I’m going to make you so sorry that you will
apologise to me on bended knee!” He draws his wand with a mock flourish and
points it at Sirius.
“Not so fast
Mr. Snape!” Sirius says, adopting a high, girlish voice. “You will not curse
members of my house. Detention!”
“But Professor McGonagall,
they put Cockroach Clusters in my tea!” James protests through peals of
nonsense!” Sirius squeaks, still pretending to be McGonagall. “What absolute
rubbish!” He begins to wave his arms around wildly in pretend anger. “I’ll take
ten points from Slytherin for trying to curse Potter and Black and ten for…”
the flame at his elbow and scowls at the remains of his castle.
Lupin put his head
in his hands. His fingers clawed at his face as if he hoped that this would
somehow exorcise the memories. When this failed, he knocked his head against
the palm of his hands several times but to no avail. So he stayed perfectly
still, his eyes closed behind his fingers, his breathing ragged.
Sirius had truly
left. If he had been here, he would not have left Lupin in this state without
cracking a joke and nudging him into laughter. Yet because of foolish bravery
and brilliant recklessness Sirius wasn’t there anymore. Lupin had lost him, all
over again. And it wasn’t easier than the first time. In many ways it was
harder, because Lupin couldn’t even pretend to hate him, couldn’t even pretend
that he had deserved what he had received. Not this time. Sirius had paid the
price of his life for protecting the son of his friend that he had lost so many
years ago. And now Lupin had lost Sirius as well.
and James and Lily’s deaths were scars that Lupin carried around with him. He
was constantly reminded of the injury their loss had done him, because he saw
them in everything he did. It twinged when he remembered them and sometimes it
stung a little too. But the pain was fading, leaving behind only memories.
Sirius’ death however was raw. It grasped at him so tightly that he could
barely breathe. Just hours ago the feeling had been so strong that he had been
in shock. He had been numb. But now the wound was messy and throbbing and Lupin’s
whole body seemed to explode with pain.
A bubble rose up
from Lupin’s chest and settled at the back of his throat. He tried to swallow
and failed. He tried again and still the bubble would not move. Deciding to
ignore it Lupin began to concentrate on regulating his breathing. But the
bubble was growing and growing and growing. When it finally popped Lupin
choked. As a wolf he had howled before, as a boy he had sobbed before, and as a
man he had sighed before. But this noise was somewhere in between all three. It
wasn’t crying; Lupin had forgotten how to do that. It wasn’t wailing or
moaning, for they were voluntary noises of distress. It was just choking, again
and again and again.
The sound echoed
through the kitchen. The patter of the rain, the ticking of the clock, the
dripping of the tap all faded into obscurity next to a lone man’s grief. As
suddenly as he had started, Lupin was abruptly silent. He brought his head from
his hands so swiftly that his neck made a small clicking noise.
Self-consciously he brushed a coat sleeve over his face. The rough material
made his tired eyes sting painfully. Lupin looked behind him to the door as if
expecting to see a crowd of people witnessing his breakdown. No one was there.
He was still alone.
With this in mind,
he picked up the last few cards of the pack, and decided to finish his card
“I’m the only
one left,” Remus says. “Looks like I’ve won.”
has become rather petulant.
thirty Galleons to me, please. Ten from each of you.”
“You know it’s
not all about winning,” Sirius tells him. “It’s about taking part. I wouldn’t
have demanded the money if I had won.”
“yeah right” into his hand.
have!” Sirius protests. “To be honest, I think it’s quite greedy of you,
Peter’s nose is
twitching. He looks between Sirius and Remus awkwardly as if unable to decide
who to side with. He looks to James for help.
technically Moony didn’t win,” James says thoughtfully.
entertained. He folds his arms waiting for James’ explanation.
Prongs,” Sirius says. “We have to cough up.”
necessarily, Padfoot. You said the winner was the one who completed five layers
of his castle. Moony’s only on his fourth layer.”
“But I said it
could also be the last castle standing,” Remus points out. “And Padfoot
“Yes but it
wasn’t officially decided as a rule,” James insists.
Remus raises an
“Ah ha!” Sirius
cries, turning to Remus victoriously. “You haven’t won!”
“But I still
could,” Remus says. He picks a card off the top of the deck lying on the table
and continues to construct his card castle. The other three boys exchange a
weary glance and slump back into their chairs. With painful precision, Remus
slowly finishes his fourth layer and moves onto his fifth. The minutes tick by.
“This is so
boring,” James says irritably.
Sirius, who has
given up watching Remus and moved back onto the fourth year Gryffindor girls,
glances behind him.
stopped raining!” he exclaims.
Rays of bright
sunshine are blazing through the common room window and onto the boys’ backs.
The grounds of Hogwarts sparkle with fallen rain and the sky has turned a
something outside,” James decides.
finished,” Remus says.
James takes a
swipe at the castle. It doesn’t move. Leaning forwards he prods it hard.
“I think - you
have - now, Moony,” splutters Sirius, shaking with laughter as James struggles
to wipe the voluminous amounts of soot from his face and hair.
“Come on, let’s
get out of here,” James mutters with a fleeting look at Lily, who is still
reading, oblivious to the commotion.
He grabs Peter
and a sniggering Sirius and pushes them towards the portrait hole, his hand in
Sirius asks, still laughing.
“Where are you
“To find Snivellus,
of course. Wormtail has a forfeit to do.”
an involuntary squeaking sound.
“I might stay
here,” Remus says carefully.
wave and clamber out of the portrait hole, talking excitedly. Remus watches
them go, picks up his book once more, and continues to read.
finished. He felt much calmer now. His card castle stood completed, five layers
high, a magnificently delicate landmark in the dark stone kitchen. He leant
back in his seat, folded his arms and surveyed his handiwork. It was so solid
that it did not even quiver in the drafty room. And it didn’t emit so much as a
puff of smoke. This was probably because the pack was so old, he reasoned. They
tended to lose their magic after a while. And Tonks had almost certainly worn
it out with all of her Exploding Snap catastrophes.
He looked away
from the card castle and into the darkness. The fire had completely burnt out
now and the old lamps were offering only a feeble glow. His eyes unfocused and,
for a second, he could see his three friends, leaning over his castle, laughing
“He – he was
taking over everywhere… Wh-what was there to be gained by refusing him?”
Harry and go! It’s Him!”
“Come on, you
can do better than that!”
He blinked again
and they vanished.
Words he had said
to a desperate boy only hours ago echoed in his head. Words he had found
himself saying, because they were what he should have been saying, came back to
him. Words that he didn’t even remember thinking, but he had somehow voiced,
suddenly made sense. He needed them now.
you can do, Moony,” he said aloud. “Nothing. They’re gone…”
brought a hand through the cards in front of him and, without a sound, his
* * *