The Sugar Quill
Author: Izhilzha (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Night's Candles  Chapter: Default
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NIGHT’S CANDLES

NIGHT’S CANDLES

 

by Izhilzha

 

~~~~~

 

Summary:  Sirius didn’t own much, not after so long in Azkaban and on the run.  But everything he left behind holds ghosts for Remus Lupin, once again the last of the Marauders.

 

~~~~~

 

He hadn’t brought a candle with him.  Somehow, he hadn’t expected the room to be dark.

 

Without speaking the incantation aloud, Remus raised one cupped hand and let it fill with flickering white fire.  His breath came harder for a few moments.  He welcomed the difficulty.  The shortness of breath.  The weariness that beat slowly behind his eyes.

 

Midnight chill seeped around his feet.  The flames cast a trembling pool of light, but could do nothing about the draft.  That, at least, was slightly more appropriate to the circumstances than Molly’s careful warming of the rooms and hallways below.

 

This was nothing but the shell of a house, left desolate by its one redeeming spirit.

 

“Do you honestly think anyone would want to haunt this place?”  Sirius was smirking.

 

“It’s old enough to have picked up a ghost or two by now, surely.”

 

“Ha.”  The laugh was half yawn as he stretched toward the ceiling.  “They must’ve had good sense, then, and cleared out as soon as my mum arrived.”

 

Remus gave his head one quick shake.  There was work to be done tonight, and indulging shadows would not make that any easier.

 

His handful of fire showed no candles on the desk near the doorway–only gutted stumps, burned completely out.  Remus took two hesitant steps inside, dropping the empty scrip he carried, and pausing to draw the door to behind him.  Another step, and the cool light picked out the tarnished silver of a candlestick on the night table.  This one had a nearly full length standing in it. 

 

Lupin balanced his cupped hand over the candle, then let the fire drip down between his fingers and catch at the wick.  Slowly the bleak white warmed to orange, with a core of gold, flinging  shadows across the bare walls and floor.

 

One hand flung the miniature down on the stone floor, the other pointed a dark wand dead at its center.  “Incendio!”  A gout of green flame leaped up.

 

Nothing much had changed in this room since Remus had last seen it.  It was spare, almost spartan, the product of a violent zeal to eradicate the past.

 

Remus used the tip of his wand to prod the smouldering remains of the incinerated portrait.  His question was quiet: “What was it?”

 

“Something no-one ever needed to see.”  Sirius’ eyes were narrowed, every line of face and body screwed tight with ancient anger.  “Just a personal piece of ‘toujours pur’ propaganda.”  With a flick of his wrist he Banished the remaining ashes, then turned and stalked out of the room. 

 

But Remus had seen the image before it burned completely.  The face was a remarkable likeness, from the dark hair and rich blue eyes to the cocky tilt to the chin that he remembered so well from their first year at Hogwarts.

 

The bed was not only stripped of its heavy canopies, but it had not been made, blankets thrown back haphazardly.  A shredded quilt was heaped in a far corner, and the musk of dog overwhelmed the other smells, of man and ink and candle smoke.

 

A wet nose shoved into his hand, a silent joke between friends . . . the good-natured prancing that was truly insolent coming from such a large dog . . . the shock of hearing that deep bark behind him.

 

Harry watching the romp with undisguised delight.

 

Remus made himself breathe deeply and ignore the scent.

 

He closed his fist, putting out the flames, then lifted the candlestick.  Before he could decide which way to turn, a fluttering edge of paper caught his eye.  A square of parchment clung to the wall beside the bed.  One unstuck corner trembled in the draft.

 

It was a sketch, not in ink–charcoal, perhaps, the edges fading into each other.  Flyaway dark hair, an open grin, and eyes drawn with close detail, ready to blink behind the invisible lenses.  James, was Remus’ first thought.  He set the candle down, drew his wand, and tapped the parchment lightly.  Finite Incantatum.”  It came away in his hand.

 

It sat oddly still, uncharmed and rough, drawn by fingers long out of practice.

 

Wormtail’s tiny, painstaking letters gave each person their own true name on the Map.  Moony spent days in the library’s small section on map-charming, and most of the written spellwork was his.  Prongs and Padfoot spent long nights out of bed and out of bounds, and it was Padfoot who put the final touches on each recognizable Hogwarts fixture, from the one-eyed witch to the stone gryphon guarding the headmaster’s study.

 

The eyes of the image caught Remus’ gaze again, and he tipped the drawing for a better look.

He had never seen those almond shapes behind his friend’s glasses.  Reflected in them, yes.  They were Lily’s. 

 

Only once had he seen Harry like this, as proud and exuberant as James had been, hair blown wild from the broom, wand out with absolute authority. But he had never heard Padfoot mention being at that particular Quidditch match.  Surely, it would have come up when they discussed Harry’s Patronus.

 

Harry struggled to pull away from Remus’ arms around him, shouting.

 

His fingers had crumpled the edge of the parchment.  Remus smoothed the wrinkles away, and laid the sketch on the night table.

 

It did not take long to shake out and fold the bedclothes, piling them neatly in the center of the mattress.  One wardrobe door hung open.  There was nothing inside except for three spare robes, all black, and a gap in the false floor where someone had ripped out the lid of a cubbyhole.  Remus added the robes to the pile on the bed.  Molly would find something to do with them.

 

“I won’t be beholden.”  Sirius leveled his wand at them.  “Touch those robes and you’re dead.”

 

The heap of green, blue, and silver silk behind him continued to burn.

 

“Merlin’s beard,” James said, but he was grinning.  That’s a statement, all right.  Too bad they’re not actually here to see it.”

 

Remus placed the candle on the floor next to one heavily-carved bedstead leg, then knelt stiffly to peer underneath.  The space below was crowded with nothing more sinister than darkness and assorted dust mice.  Close to one edge, within easy reach of the bed’s occupant, was a small stack of letters and a book. 

 

The book belonged to Remus.  He had put it away one November, long before, and not looked at it again until the day he left his position at Hogwarts.

 

A year after that, Sirius had found it and, apparently, brought it with him. 

 

The plain buff cover glimmered faintly as Remus opened it.  He paged through it, not lingering on any of the familiar photographs, not sure what he was looking for until his fingers paused on four laughing figures, firewhiskies in hand.  Even if he had not remembered that day, the Head Boy badge on James’ robes would have marked it late in seventh year. 

 

As it was, Remus could recall the precise way his left shoulder had ached that evening.  They were all busy as end of term neared: James with his duties, and with Lily; Sirius plotting his new life outside Hogwarts; Remus himself only a day past full moon.  Peter had made himself scarce, studying for his last set of exams. 

 

Peter pushed Remus ahead of him down the dormitory stairs.  The common room was empty, except for the other Marauders.  “Go on, then.”  As they came through the door, Peter flicked his wand.  Boldly colored lights scattered about the room, and a bottle of firewhiskey with four glasses appeared on the table.  Sirius hooted gleefully.

 

Peter ostentatiously poured them each a generous measure and handed the glasses round.

 

“What’s the occasion?”  James asked suspiciously.

 

“Anything to get you away from that redhead.”  Sirius smirked.  “Can’t you leave her alone for one evening?”

 

“Mischief, of course.”   Peter grinned shyly and held up his glass.  “But first: to the Marauders.”

 

“Moony.”  James saluted Remus.

 

Remus turned his gratitude on Peter.  “Wormtail.”

 

“Padfoot.”  Peter half bowed.

 

Sirius sat back and put both feet up on the table before turning to James.  “Prongs.”

 

They all drank together, a cup of remembrance and of anticipation.

 

Remus swallowed hard.  The figures in the photograph laughed, leaned together for the picture, Sirius clapped James on the shoulder.  Then it began again.  Remus thumbed through the rest of the album, and was puzzled to find that all the pictures containing Peter were still intact.  He would not have put it past Sirius (or perhaps even himself) to enact justice in effigy.

 

The folded parchments, neatly stacked, were letters from Harry. 

 

Remus tucked them inside the photograph album without reading more than the creases deep from folding and refolding, the edges ragged from long carrying in the pocket of a robe, the oily marks of fingers that had gone too long without soap.  After a moment’s hesitation, he took them to the small scrip he had dropped near the door.  The book lay lonely within, folds of the scrip falling softly over it, hiding its solitude.

 

He went back to pick up the candlestick and made a careful circuit of the room.  The flame flickered in the draft of his movement, but there were no openings or niches to be investigated.  No more sketches adorned the walls (or ceiling).  The floor had not been swept in a while, but on the whole the room was clean.

 

The desk was the last unexplored item.  Sirius had never been a man for long letters, and what else would he use the desk and inkwell for?  A will, Lupin’s mind whispered, and while finding such a paper would make some things easier....

 

“James wrote a letter, once.”  Sirius was staring moodily into the fire, a nearly empty bottle dangling from his long fingers.

 

Remus, helping himself to leftovers from the meal earlier, glanced at the bottle.  “Did he?”  Even when drunk, Sirius rarely spoke of James without reason.

 

“He didn’t tell Lily.  She was still carrying Harry.” 

 

Remus smiled.  The image of round-bellied Lily Potter had long ago lost any hint of sorrow.

 

Sirius gazed into another night, one without room for a smile.  “Just in case.  In case he was the one who didn’t make it.”  His chuckle was forced and dry.  “And he didn’t need it, after all.”

 

Candlelight twisted the carvings around the edges of the drawers, and glittered from flat scales on the coiled serpent handles. 

 

The drawers moved smoothly–Remus could feel the strength of the ancient woodcarver’s charms.  They were empty, except for the right-hand one, which held a sheaf of unmarked parchment and a single new quill.

 

The desktop was littered, with barely enough space to set the candle down.  A neat pyramid of rolled parchments occupied one corner.  Several flat sheets were haphazardly flung across each other, with a quill resting on top.  A crumpled cloth sprawled across another corner.

 

Remus lifted the top roll; it was sealed.  The typical counter-charm did not work.  Remus tapped the parchment again.  “Remus Lupin commands you to unseal yourself.” It didn’t budge.  After a moment’s thought, he tried, “Padfoot.”

 

The scroll remained taut in his hand.

 

“Mischief managed.”

 

The parchment loosened to fill his fist.  Remus used two free fingers of his wand hand to unroll the first few inches. 

 

“Harry,

The twins arrived tonight, unexpectedly.  Dumbledore was quite strict with them–at least while Molly was in the room.  The moment she left, he got that gleam in his eye, and made them tell the whole story again.  I wish I’d been there to see it.  James and I didn’t manage anything quite that dramatic, not at school.  Though there was the time we tried to sneak a boggart into the Slytherin common room.  We were fourth years, and still did not realize what kind of wards they were using....”

 

Remus let the parchment spring back together.  He stood for a long still moment, staring down at the rest of the pile.  Silently, he laid down the scroll he held and reached for another.

 

“Mischief managed” did not unseal this one.  Remus frowned at it, then turned it over slowly, inspecting it.  A tiny ink smudge at one edge drew his gaze–a paw print.  He tried “Padfoot,” then “Moony,” but the scroll did not even twitch.  Then he thought of the letters under the bed.

 

“Snuffles.”

 

“I’m not advising you to become an Animagus, Harry, since you have enough to worry about, but Moony and I were talking today and I thought you might like to hear about the first time we actually tried to transform.  It’s good you have a friend like Hermione.  James and I planned to surprise Moony, and we kept the whole project a secret.  I don’t know how we managed to stay in one piece without Moony’s patience.  Luck, I suppose.

 

Note number one: nothing ever works exactly the way the books say it will.

 

James, Peter, and I, twelve years’ habit of thought corrected automatically.  He held that breath for a few seconds, then dropped the scroll back on the stack.  He stood, just looking, for a while, then tentatively picked up a third scroll.  The minute sketch was difficult to decipher.  Remus finally decided it was a cauldron, with a crying baby’s face on one side.

 

The scroll weighed suddenly heavy in his fingers.  Hastily Remus replaced it with its fellows, then leaned on the edge of the desk and stood there, head bowed.  The silence of the house pressed around him, clouding the dim flame. 

 

There would be time enough to solve riddles later. 

 

Remus brought his scrip to the desk.  The stack of scrolls–letters, stories–nearly filled it.  He renewed the sealing charm on the two he had opened, using the same words, and added them as well.  There were still the loose sheets of parchment.  Remus picked up the quill that lay across them.  Its nib was blunted from use and dark with caked ink.  He put it in the drawer next to the new quill, then pushed aside the cloth that was draped over a corner of the desk.

 

His fingers brushed cold glass. 

 

The mirror was as broad as his palm, square, clear, and framed in narrow strips of wood.  Remus picked it up, then sat in the chair before the desk.  In the single candle flame, his reflection stared back at him, shadowed and undefined.

 

Sirius flattened himself against the wall and bent to peer around the corner.  Assured of no immediate threat, he drew back, next to Remus, and pulled a small mirror from the inside of his robes.  His whisper seemed loud in the twilit quiet.  “James.  How’s it look?”

 

Something moved in the mirror, but Remus was at the wrong angle to see what.  James’ whisper was lower than Sirius’.  “Clearer than we thought.  Come up the west staircase, but don’t make a noise.  Filch went through there a minute ago.”

 

“On our way.”  Sirius pocketed the mirror, checked the corridor again, and stepped quietly out towards the stairs.  He took about five steps before he realized Remus hadn’t moved.  “Come on, Moony.  This is no time to go prefect on us.”  After another second, he turned and padded for the stairs, knowing that Moony would follow.

 

Remus opened his mouth, hesitated, then spoke.  “Harry.”  Nothing happened, but the word had been hoarse, perhaps too rough for this spell.  He cleared his throat.  “Harry Potter.”

 

The mirror remained dark and cold.  The cloth had not been wrapped around it, but thrown across it, a motion of secrecy in haste.  Like the quill full of ink, dropped on the parchment instead of cleaned and laid aside.  The mirror must have been dark then, too.

 

Remus smoothed the cloth out on the desktop, then laid the mirror down.  He told himself the pause before folding soft edges over the dull reflection was simply because he was tired.  Because he was tired, he moved slowly, wrapping the glass snug, and tucking it well between the scrolls.  He had to be careful not to let it break.

 

Remus reached for the last sheets of parchment, intending to shuffle and find the first page.  But his eye was caught by a streak of ink.

 

It isn’t fair that a Death Eater, a master of Dark Arts, should be teaching under Albus Dumbledore, while one of the most trustworthy men I know is forever barred from doing so.  It wasn’t fair that Snape should be free to run around poking his long nose into our private affairs, when Remus had to be locked up every month.

 

Although I guess I wasn’t really thinking about Re_”

 

The letter trailed into a startled smudge, where the quill had been dropped, and the writer had not returned to clean up his mess.

 

Inked words blurred in the candle’s dim flicker.  Remus tried to rub the darkness from his eyes, but it would not clear.  He needed to read this.  Needed to see if he should put it with the others, even unfinished.  Needed to see if–

 

Why? 

 

The question was slow, weighted, a painfully dull thud behind his breastbone.  Why should he be in any hurry?  There was nothing for him to see here but streaks of ink on drab parchment.  Not a will or any other sort of legal document. 

 

Nothing important.

 

Remus sat in the dimness, listening to the silence of the house, and to his own heart beating.  Then he rubbed his eyes once more and sorted through the pages that had lain on the desk until he found the one headed “Dear Harry.”

 

Dumbledore’s hand was gentle under his chin, but he couldn’t bring himself to look up.  Something tight was happening with his throat.  He forced himself to speak around it.  “Headmaster, I... I want step down from my position as prefect.”

 

The Headmaster’s voice was low, reassuring.  “Remus, you are not responsible for what happened.  You followed the rules.”

 

“Sir, please, I....”  But now he really was choking.

 

Dumbledore’s hands squeezed his shoulders.  “No.  Remus, I need you right where you are.”  He waited until Remus nodded.  “Thank you.  Would you like to stay here for a while?”

 

The weight was intolerable.  “No thank you sir, I-“

 

“-am going.  Harry is MY godson, Moony.  Not Molly’s or Dumbledore’s or yours.  MINE.”  Sirius crossed his arms, mouth set stubbornly, and glared at him.

 

It might have been only habit, only native caution, that made Remus insist.  “You need to stay here.  Someone has to alert the other members of the Order when they report in.  We’ll need–“

 

“–more people, Moony.”  He turned and took the stairs two at a time; Remus could hear him urging them to get going as he followed more slowly.  That weight kept building inside him.  It must be worry for Harry–if they got to him in time, if he was all right, if they could contain this, it would go away.

 

Remus stepped up into the hallway–

 

–and someone slammed into him, knocking him to the floor.  Running footsteps faded.  The body on him swore, then got up off him. 

 

Sirius.  He reached down and pulled Remus to his feet.  Not sure why he did so, Remus grabbed Sirius’ wrist to keep him from running after the footsteps.

 

Of course, he frowned and tried to pull away.  “Moony, let go!  He’s getting away!”

 

“Don’t,” was all Remus could find to say.

 

“Dammit, you know they’ll go after James next.  Let go, Remus!”  Sirius jerked free, then turned and ran.

 

A hand on Remus’ shoulder jolted him.  “Remus?”  It was Peter’s voice.  Thank Merlin, Remus thought, and turned around.

 

There was no one there.

 

“Remus!”  It was James this time, and again, no one was there.  He spun around, looking, and looking, and....

 

“Remus.”

 

He started awake, drawing in a sharp breath before he realized that the voice was a woman’s, and that the warm hand on his shoulder was hers.  Remus took another breath to settle some of the tension from his body before he tried to speak.  “Molly?”  He opened his eyes; light was filtering into the room.  “What is it?

 

“Were you sleeping like that all night?” she asked, bending over him.

 

Remus realized that his head was pillowed on one arm, his cheek against the smoothness of parchment and wood.  Slowly he lifted his head and sat up, feeling his spine crack along its whole length.  “I’m all right.”

 

“You don’t look it.  I’m sure Harry will understand if you stay here and rest.”  Molly had made her way to the bedstead, and now picked something up off the night table.  She turned towards Remus and held the parchment out for him to see.  “Is this Harry?”

 

It was the charcoal sketch.  In early morning light, the lines were rougher, less defined, but the pride and pure energy still showed through.  “Yes,” Remus said.  He held out tentative fingers.  “May I?”

 

Molly seemed to hesitate in her turn, but it was only a few seconds before she handed the sketch to him.  And for once, she didn’t speak, just turned to gather up the pile of bedclothes.  “Thank you,” he said.

 

Molly paused in the doorway.  Her voice was unexpectedly gentle.  “There’s breakfast downstairs, but you’d best hurry or there’ll be none left.”

 

Her footsteps receded down the hallway, leaving no echoes behind in the room that was even emptier in the grey of early morning than it had been in the colorless dark.  Slowly Remus collected the parchments that still lay scattered on the desk, rolling them tightly together and sealing them with a whispered word: “Unfinished.”  He could not remember having read more than the letter’s salutation, and there was no time now.

 

The scrip still sat on the floor beside the chair.  Remus rose stiffly, and slung it over his left shoulder.  There was nothing else to see.  Even the desk was bare now.  And still he stood there, wrapped in cool air, in pale light, in silence. 

 

Something trembled in the corner of Remus’ vision. The candle he had set on the desk had burned down during the night.  As he watched, the tiny round flame flickered in the draft from the open door, once, twice, and extinguished itself in a puddle of melted wax.  After a moment, a wisp of smoke trailed up endlessly into the air.

 

Remus drew a deep breath.  Every scent in it--cooling wax, shed fur, human dust–tasted stale, ghosts of what they had been the night before.  His long sigh was nearly soundless.

 

Something crinkled between his fingers.  Remus looked down to see the sketch clenched in his right hand.  He sighed again, this time aloud, and adjusted the scrip hanging from his shoulder.  Then he turned and walked from the room, one hand on the scrip, the other cradling that piece of parchment close to his chest. 

 

His footsteps faltered once, just outside the door, and then kept going.  Behind him, the candle’s smoke faded away into nothing.

 

~~~~~

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