The Sugar Quill
Author: Athena Arena (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Unknown Witness  Chapter: Reunions and Ridicules
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Chapter 2: Reunions and Ridicules

Disclaimer: The universe of Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling, and is used here without her permission. I acknowledge that I have no rights to any cannon characters, settings or events mentioned. I have no intention and no desire to make profit from this piece, as the credit deserves to go to JK Rowling as she invented them and thus owns all rights to them. Not me. Got it? Good. But I own any original characters. I believe the BBC used to own One Man and his Dog, wonderful programme that is was, but I don't know what's happened to it now. (Televised sheepdog trials, in case you didn't know) I apologise for inaccuracies with the medical bits, but hey, I'm a historian, not a biologist.

 

***

 

Harry felt incredibly small, sitting in the back of the cab as it sped down toward Leicester Square, attempting a U-turn in order to do battle with the on-coming traffic of Charing Cross road. The cab driver was blabbering away in blissful ignorance, talking about the 'gas explosion' with the air of a war veteran.

'So yeah, all I heard was this huge bang and there was dust everywhere, like, and my last fare was screaming herself silly, the stupid cow. I just thought I'd drive up and have a bit of a gander, you know?' Harry didn't, but nodded absently instead. 'Yeah, well, I think I was right caught up in the aftermath, you know? Smoke everywhere, people screaming… I wonder if anybody kicked the bucket… Did you see any of it, mate?'

Harry frowned a little in the cab driver's rear-view mirror, wishing he'd just leave him to his own thoughts. The cab driver stared right back and didn't push the issue, dragging his eyes away from Harry's emerald stare and placing them firmly back on the road. The London traffic was doing its worst, the road ahead hideously blocked by black cabs and buses, the heaving commuters occasionally dashing between the bumpers as the cab driver drummed his fingers impatiently. It appeared that he was easily distracted.

'Blimey, that's a nasty scrape you've got yourself there, son!' he said, his eyes flicking up in the mirror to indicate he was talking about Harry's scar. 'How'd on earth you get that?'

'If I told you,' Harry said slowly, raising his head and staring hard in the mirror, his green eyes flashing, 'you'd never believe me.'

'Oh yeah?' chuckled the driver, arching an eyebrow. 'Why's that then?'

But Harry didn't give him a chance to hear the reply. He calmly opened the door to the cab, seeing the sign for the hospital just a few hundred feet up the road. The cab driver looked at him, flabbergasted. 'This'll do me good, thanks.'

'Oi! What about my fare?'

Harry had one foot on the pavement when he scrambled in his pocket and pulled out a galleon. He chucked it to the now rather bemused cab driver, who shook his head in astonishment as Harry stared at him expectantly. He held the coin up to the light, frowning.

'And what in the whole of Kensington and Chelsea is this supposed to be?'

Harry slammed the door and leaned back in through the window. 'Gold. Solid gold. I think you'd better go via the Treasury on the way to the taxi rank…'

And with that, Harry dashed off into the hoards of crowds heading up toward the hospital before the cab driver could put in a word of protest. As the driver pulled away, Harry could see him simply shake his head and put him down as a lost fare. The golden Galleon lay forgotten about on the cab floor.

***

The big, black, grim-like dog now pounded the pavement of Magnolia Crescent at such a rate that a passer-by would have sworn he was in a hurry. The beast allowed his tongue to hang out lazily, taking great, panting breaths as his run slowed to a plod, finally halting at the gate of number 25. He sat there for a moment, staring at the door with an inquisitive look on his face, while footsteps behind him grew louder and louder.

'Honestly Padfoot…' heaved the owner of the footsteps as he finally came to a stop by the monster's side. 'Are you trying to kill me? We're not sixteen anymore, thank Merlin…'

The dog made some form of gesture with its mouth that indicated a form of mischievous grin. He jumped up, somehow with his great blundering paws managed to open the little swing gate and padded softy up to the front door. The dog's companion seemed a little more apprehensive, walking up the path in slow, measured steps, as if the meeting that lay ahead of them was tinged with impending dread.

'If I remember right, doesn't the lovely Arabella have a thing for cats?'

Padfoot nodded slyly. His companion looked somewhere between mirth and annoyance.

'And I suppose its oh-so-convenient that you can't turn up on her door step in your human form as you're playing the mass murderer on the run card? Hmm?' The man shook his head, a sly marauding smile spreading over his paled features as he finally rang the doorbell. 'Some things never change…'

'And by Merlin some things do…' interrupted the voice of the woman who opened the door. 'Remus! How are you, old boy? And what are you doing turning up on my door step at this ridiculous hour?'

Remus Lupin grinned hugely as he finally embraced his dear friend. 'Arabella Figg - long time no see, eh?'

'You've got that right!' the old lady grinned a grin so wide that it would cross international date lines. She glanced down at the dog. 'Got yourself a friend there, Remus?'

Padfoot sat up at the gesture, a little on edge. Remus noticed. 'Calm, boy,' he said, patting the dog's head and receiving an annoyed growl in return. 'This dog is part of the reason I'm here. How's the Muggle research going? I see you've got yourself a nice little disguise here…'

'Oh?' the old lady guffawed. 'You mean the Granny act? Yeah, fools them all the time…'

And at this point, she passed a hand across her face, omitting a shower of pink sparks as she did so, revealing her true face from behind the Persona charm. It was as if her hand ironed out the wrinkles in the old lady's face, revealing in its wake an expression that was so much more familiar to Remus Lupin and his hound-like friend. The hair colour altered like a stream of water, going from white to brown in one seamless swoop, the face ageing in reverse as the teeth straightened and the colour in the eyes became more vibrant than ever, going from misty grey to a deepening blue. As she finished, she sighed heavily.

'That looks much better,' said Remus with a grin. 'I can give you a proper welcome now…'

'Whoa!' cried Arabella, stepping back into the hallway of her perfectly ordinary semi-detached house and beckoning Remus and the dog to follow. They shut the door behind them. 'Don't even try it, mister. I've got your number. Up for a cuppa?' She called from the kitchen

'Yeah, a nice herbal tea would be great…'

'And what about your canine companion?'

Remus took a nervous intake of breath. 'He likes his Butterbeer a little on the warm side, if you remember rightly.'

He heard a clatter of broken china as Arabella looked at him, mouth wide in shock and surprise at the uttering on these words. It was then that Sirius chose to step into the light.

'We've got a bit of explaining to do.'

 

 

***

Claudia was suffering from writer's block again. Sitting in her conservatory with the Braille Writer on her lap, she screwed her face up in deep thought, attempting to extract the memory that had long ago been buried along with all the other nonsense she'd spouted along the years. In her stranger moments, Claudia always attempted to get her feelings down on paper. The little dots punched into the thick parchment like material would be fed into the colossal piece of machinery and used to form words of a language she would never be able to visualise. This was the biggest hurdle her injury had thrown at her - realising how much her world depended on the power of the written word. Whether it was just an article she doodled on a post it note at work, or the full-blown novel she knew would never be published, words had been her form of escapism. She could be an entirely different entity behind them and finally release herself from the dream world she existed in before she opened her eyes in the morning, ready to face the reality.

For now, that dream world became her real world. She would open her eyes in the morning, but would still be greeted with the same mist of non-existent colours she'd bid goodnight to the evening before. There had been only a few significant changes made to her lifestyle - the adaptation of documents at the busy London office, more home working, and so on - but they were all aimed at making reality accessible. Nevertheless, the ability to give in to her dream world and sit in front of the Braille Writer, day in day out, at times became too much to bear.

And when the dream world interrupted her reality, she knew of only one form of redemption. Get it out of her system and onto the script. She raised her fingers like a sword in front of her, her gaze remaining steady, emotionless, and began to type.

A little boy sat on the edge of the bed, unblinking at the sight of the fallen woman beside him. She sighed heavily, sensing his presence and reached out her hand…

She paused again, trying to recall the conversation that followed. It was those hazy hours after the 'gas explosion' that tended to inspire her most. It almost felt like her senses were in overdrive that day, compensating for the sudden disappearance of her sight by over emphasising everything else. She remembered the siren mostly. Despite being classed as walking wounded, she was still carefully removed from the crater quite early on in the proceedings, the police taking little notice of her defeated frame as the noisy ambulance carted her off to Accident and Emergency. She remembered the thumping in her head as the ambulance pounded the busy London streets, the flash that cost her vision so dearly replaying in her subconscious as she brought a hand to her brow and moaned piteously with the pain. Then the black that came with the silence as she slid into unexpected unconsciousness. Apparently it had all got too much.

And that was where this conversation she was currently trying to put to paper came from. She wasn't sure if it was real at all, or whether her brain had simply picked it out of thin air to explain the hours of darkness that came after the explosion and the weirdness that preceded it. She remembered being stirred by a voice, young in its tones but with an underlying air of someone who had a wealth of experience in the dark. It was a voice tinged with a form of sympathy she had never had bestowed on her before or since. It almost understood. She felt like she'd heard it a million times after, in her dreams and most recently manifesting itself in that heart-wrenching scream that had pierced her soul all the way back in June. It was so hard to remember when she wasn't sure whether it was real. She'd lacked a concept of real ever since. Seeing at that time, for her, had been believing.

What did the voice say? Why had it been so reassuring in those dark hours? Was it simply another dream or part of a bigger illustration? Claudia ripped the paper out of the Braille Writer in frustration, screamed and threw it across the room until she heard it rebound off the glass panel of the conservatory. What did this all mean? Why couldn't she just be normal and not go through the actions of the day like a victim of the Gulf War Syndrome? And would she find out before she lost any grip she might have still had on reality? She let her head sink into her hands, feeling the occasional unseen wrinkle on her face with her familiar fingertips, tracing the lines they made with an ever deepening sense of gloom. She had a sense that things were changing. And that was something she'd never be able to capture in words.

***

The hospital was in the midst of chaos. Harry walked silently in, totally unchallenged by the small collection of Policemen who were talking to various witnesses. These people, he noted, along with their cuts and bruises had on their faces a look of dazed tranquillity. Some poor police Sergeant was trying to get a name out of one man, who was relaying with starling confidence that he was the one and only Father Christmas. Harry then noticed one uncomfortable-looking individual slipping what looked suspiciously like a wand into the pocket of his jacket. The Ministry Obliviators were on the job. Harry instantly pushed his hair further down across his scar, feeling a little nervous as an Obliviator slinked past, not giving the teenager a second glance as he stepped through the double doors and toward the wards. He may have technically only been 15 months old, but Harry didn't want to take any chances. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket, tapped it once with his wand and quietly transfigured it into a cap to cover his trademark hair. There. Easy. Shoving it over his unruly mop and tucking what was left behind his ears, he quickly glanced around before following in the Obliviators footsteps. He was through the double doors and into the ward before the head matron even looked up.

Harry wasn't a stranger to hospitals. Far from. Even growing up with the Dursleys, his accident-prone mannerisms - not to mention the roughness of Dudley's 'play-fighting' - had awarded him a rather interesting set of doctor's notes. Broken arms, nosebleeds, a badly twisted ankle form the notorious school kitchen roof incident... the list was endless. His time at Hogwarts had so far proved no different. He couldn't recall a time when he hadn't spent a significant part of the summer term locked up in the infirmary with some form of malady or other. If it wasn't Dementors or Basilisks, there was always something or someone vying for his blood. But there was something about the scene that lay before him that made his stomach churn. He'd obviously stepped into some form of waiting area, as he saw a man sitting in a chair, head hanging low in astonishment and grief as he gripped the pathetic excuse for hospital coffee in a shaking hand. Harry lurked by the door for a minute, feeling incredibly intrusive as the stranger sipped his drink slowly, appearing to savour what little flavour the brown coloured liquid contained. The man looked a little uncomfortable in his elderly jeans, shifting in his seat as he set down his drink and returned his hands deep into his pockets. His face remained staring at the floor as Harry attempted to pass him. He was just feet away when the stranger let out a small but audible sob from the dark recess of his throat, a sound that twisted a knot in Harry's' chest so tight, he couldn't help but stop.

'Sir?' he asked tentatively, pausing at the man's side. He got no reaction. 'Are you all right? Do you want me to get you anything?'

At this the man looked up, his eyes revealed as a little red and puffy, as if only today he had allowed the outpour of grief he'd been feeling for an eternity to empty itself upon the cold, white-tiled floor. He gazed up at Harry for an instant, before looking back at his feet.

'No, son, I'm all right, I'm…' then he paused, shivered almost, and looked back up at Harry. His eyes were wide and suddenly alert, blue and seemingly watery at whatever loss he had to face. But what the stranger next said shook Harry beyond belief.

'Merlin's ghost!' he muttered, rubbing his eyes absently as if he was truly losing his grip on reality. 'James? Is that you?'

Harry suddenly found breathing a very necessary body function, but one that was impossible to carry out. He stepped back as if electrified. 'Erm, no, er, sorry.' He managed to stutter, suddenly realising who he was addressing. 'You've got me mixed up with someone else…'

'Yes, I suppose I did,' said Remus Lupin, who went back to staring at the floor despondently. 'Sorry, it's just you bare a startling resemblance to a friend of mine who recently - ' he closed his eyes to stop a fresh flood of tears. ' - Passed on.'

'I'm sorry,' Harry found himself saying, pulling up a pew next to his future Hogwarts professor. 'Do you want to talk about it?'

Remus looked up, a little surprised, showing on his face a similar sort of turmoil that was currently taking place in the back of Harry's mind. He knew he was wasting time. He knew that someone, somewhere, within the Victorian walls that made up the formidable hospital held all the answers to exactly what he want to know. But right now, right in front of him, was someone who could answer everything else.

Remus sighed as he ran a weathered hand through his honey brown hair, yet to be flicked with the smattering of grey Harry was more acquainted with. 'He died about a week ago. And his wife. Best people in the world, I'd known them all my life…' he trailed off and picked up his coffee cup again. 'I don't know why I'm telling you this…'

'It helps to talk,' Harry said instantly, not wishing to lose out on the opportunity of gaining first hand memory. 'I may just be some random teenager, but I'm a good listener.'

Remus looked at him, a little suspicious. Harry glazed absently at the coffee cup Remus was once again gripping, not making eye contact so to prevent any further revelations. Silence gripped them both as they lost themselves in their individual thoughts, one blissfully unaware of the other's close connection. Remus sighed again.

'James and Lily. They died in a… in a…' Remus paused, mistaking Harry for a Muggle, and cleared his throat. 'In a car accident. Head on smash. They didn't have a chance. Left a little baby behind too, little Harry. He's not even 18 months, bless him. He's got his mother's eyes.'

Harry became suddenly enthralled by his shoelaces. 'I'm sorry…' he managed to muffle before needing to stop to prevent the trickle of his own tears. Remus patted him gently on the back, smiling fondly to himself.

'Are you positive you're not James re-incarnated?' he said with a chuckle. 'Just like him, that was. Always apologising even if he'd had nothing to do with it. But that's ignoring the fact that most of the time he did…' Remus trickled off into his own memory again, an odd trait in a person so young, but he soon pulled himself back to reality.

'And then there's all this…'

'All what?' Harry said inquisitively, although he knew perfectly well what was to be spoken.

'You must have heard that gas explosion, down near Covent Garden.' Harry nodded sullenly. 'Another friend of mine - Peter - he was caught up in it. Hardly anything of him left. Literally. One finger, I think they said.' At this, Remus choked. 'This has been one hell of a week… James, Lily, Peter… and Sirius… I haven't got anything left.'

As Remus bit down hard on his lip, the youthful look upon his weary face dissolving in tears that should never have graced it. Harry rose, more determined than ever. He removed his cap, ran a hand through his untidy black hair and stared at Remus, resolute. Remus glanced up.

'Don't give up yet. Things are never what they seem. There's always something out to surprise us, catch us out, shake our belief system to the ground and seem to squash our very existence into nothing. But never believe that things won't change. There are people out there who care about you, Professor Lupin. There always will be. Don't lose the faith.'

Then Harry made the fastest of exits, swooping out of the chair and through the double doors at the other end of the corridor before Remus could react.

Remus sat there for a full minute before what the strange boy had said sunk in. In that most hazy of moments, it seemed to make sense. Later, when Remus would recall the meeting that at times became lost in the midst of chaos and grief that forever marred the late autumn of that fateful year, he acknowledged the boy as his voice of reason. The resemblance to James. The fact he somehow knew his name - and why exactly did he call him Professor? Did he know something he didn't? And then there were those piercing green eyes that had the ability to expose a soul for all it was worth and wrap it back up in a golden thread. If he hadn't already felt like insanity was settling in, he would have sworn the boy was a Potter, some form of guardian angel sent down from above to knock some sense into him. He downed the remnants of his God-awful coffee, shook the encounter to the back of his mind and grabbed his coat to face the brunt of London's on-coming chill.

***

Harry felt as if he'd been at the hospital for hours, absently searching the wards for recent intake of casualties who may have been the one he was looking for. He was amazed by how unfazed the nurses were by his presence, some simply staring right though him as if he didn't exist. Harry figured there must have been more to this little jaunt of time travel than he had first banked on. Whoever had put the charm on that hourglass did a pretty fine job.

He'd lost count of how many people he had spoken to, but he was hedging his bets that he'd examined every avenue contained in the corridors of Charing Cross hospital. He'd be lucky to find another victim of the explosion that was functioning effectively enough to tell the difference between a dog and a rat.

Harry wandered up to one last room, darker than the others, and peered through the glass. He pressed his nose right up against the surface as he looked in, cooling his scar on the frosted glass as he observed a young woman curled up tightly in a ball with her back to the window. She wasn't moving - Harry could only just make out her shoulders gently falling with each breath, each one slightly out of sync with the previous. She was crying. Her hair, luxurious mahogany curls, was crawling across the pillow like a sea of spiders and beginning to tangle, like a well groomed beauty gone to seed overnight. Harry was captivated for an instant by this wild form, like an animal kept in a zoo feeling restrained by whatever injury had been bestowed upon her. Harry shook his head sadly.

He was about to back away when the ward sister caught up with him, gently tapping him on the shoulder as he finally drew away his gaze. 'You can go talk to her, if you like.' She smiled, obviously mistaking Harry for a friend or relative. He looked at her, eyebrows raised in a figure of disbelief as she nodded reassuringly and then stalked off toward the nurse's station. Harry turned to look through the window again. The woman hadn't moved, but her breathing had become a little more regular. Taking the deepest of breaths, he pushed against the door and entered.

Harry could've sworn that the hideous smell of anti-septic that formed the main scent of a hospital was more poignant in this room. Harry's stomach churned for the umpteenth time that day as he finally released his breath, satisfied that no one was going to stop him as he perched quietly at the woman's beside. He leant back against the plastic covers and stared on, thinking, and allowed the darkness to engulf and calm him after the chaos of the day.

After a while, he stood up, paced to the end of the bed, and began to flick through the doctor's notes. Typically written in an untidy scrawl that was worse that Ron's, he couldn't make out a word in the moonlight the room had descended into. Apprehensively, he returned to his seat at the near side of the bed and leaned over to flick on the light. The bulb glowed ominously, the light that flooded from it illuminating the room immensely, but failing to stir its now dozing occupant. Harry frowned a little at the lack of her reaction, but soon turned his attention to her notes.

'Claudia Darlington,' he whispered out loud, quietly as if any unwelcome noise would expel all peace and tranquillity that seemed to exist in this room alone. 'Age: 25. Accelerated macular degeneration caused by…' Then he paused, frowning further at the notes but not because they scrawl had become illegible. 'Entities unknown. Patient complains of burning pain behind eyes due to light over-exposure. Vision response zero. Recommended over-night supervision and pain immobilisers. Admission date and time, 2/11/81, 11:30 am.' And in brackets, quietly noted in the corner of the admission slip, were the words 'Covent Garden Gas Explosion.'

Harry gulped. This was it. Victim number thirty-six. The one the Ministry failed to account for. Yet despite the answers to his queries lying right there in front if him, he could not compel himself to disturb her slumber. If she really hadn't been memory charmed, then the pure bafflement that would be dominating her mind must have been soul crushing. Magic for Muggles was an element of fiction, used to manipulate the mind into wonderful tales of fantasy that enthralled their imaginations into wishing it were real. And to only be introduced to the darker end of the tale would be enough to disturb even the most steady of rocks.

Suddenly, the woman, Claudia, stirred a little and rolled over onto her back, facing the ceiling with a blank expression on her face. Harry gasped. Her face lacked any form of colour at all, cast in a shade of ghastly white compared to what it may have held the previous morning. Bandages had been cruelly taped across her eyes, its their holdings wrapped tightly around her head pushing the skin back against her skull, leaving a little indentation where the dressing had slipped. He couldn't tell whether she was asleep or awake, her restraints unfairly destroying her right to show her level of consciousness.

'Hello?' she whispered suddenly into the darkened air, timidly as if she was a stranger to the sound of her own voice. 'Is there someone there? I can feel you're there…'

'Yes,' Harry found himself saying, pulling his chair closer to her bed. 'Hey there.'

Claudia smiled, a little amused. 'I haven't got the faintest who you are.'

'That's not important right now,' said Harry, suddenly feeling compelled to take hold of her hand and give it a reassuring squeeze. He could feel the magic in her, and he was sure she could do the same. He paused for a moment. 'Can you guess?'

He felt Claudia rub his hand between her fingers, each nail delicately painted red but interspersed with dust and debris. He allowed her hand to move slowly up the sleeve of his shirt, and didn't even wince as she began to feel the features of his face. The expression on her own face was hard to read: Slightly dazed but ever so intrigued by what Harry was offering her as her hand continued to wander. She traced his chin line, beginning to square with his on-going maturity, and he felt the natural progression as the finger arched past his ear and settled over his scar. There she paused; her finger lingering for an instant before she suddenly yanked it away as if it were burning.

'You're… you're one of them,' she spat out nervously. Harry sensed her tightening up.

'What do you mean Claudia,' he said in reply. 'One of them?'

'One of them… like the men in the quad. I can feel it.'

'Can you tell me their names?'

Harry knew he was pushing it. But there was a sudden sense of desperation that had attached itself to his heart, bullying him to ask the questions necessary for the cause.

'Sirius,' she said, as confidently as she would state her own name. Harry felt his heart sink. Did she believe he did it? Had she not seen anything? But then…

'He didn't do it.'

'Do what?' Harry whispered, barely able to believe it.

'He didn't blow up the quad. There was another man there. Small. Round. Rat-like.' She paused and shuddered involuntarily. 'He did it. Sirius is innocent.'

Harry breathed a huge sigh of relief, the nerves that had been building up inside him flowing out with the tide. But he knew that wouldn't be enough to convince the jury. He had to get the full picture in all its illustrated glory. He gulped again.

'Claudia, could you tell me what happened?'

She paused herself, and turned to face him in the dark. In the half-light of the lamp she looked like a formidable force, someone who, in full capacity of their abilities, you would never dare to cross. The contrast of her hair with her rapidly paling face made her look increasingly powerful. And with the information she was holding, Harry thought she knew it.

'Why should I tell you?' she suddenly snapped, a flash of anger passing across her frowned expression. 'You're just a little boy. You don't know anything. You don't even know me.' She suddenly sat up, agitated, and started fumbling around in the dark. 'I'm going to call one of the nurses and…'

But Harry was too quick for her. As she reached out for the call button, he grabbed her arm in a vice-like grip and tightened his hold with cold fingers. She turned and gave him an ice like stare as she used her other hand to trace his scar again.

'You want to know why?' Harry said, his voice more bitter than he'd ever felt it. He didn't know where the words were coming from, but he was so desperate he needed to shock. 'You want to know why I want to catch my parent's killer?'

She froze at this statement, and lowered her arm from its position poised to summon help. He instantly released her, the offending limb falling to the bed as if robbed of all energy and emotion. Harry could feel her eyes upon him, defeating that sensual boundary the spell had created and demanding answers just as he was. He sat back in the chair again and sighed.

'The rounded man in the quad,' he said slowly, 'was responsible for the death of my parents. He betrayed them. They were murdered on his information. His name is Peter Pettigrew.'

The thoughts were going round and round in Claudia's head, as Harry was able to make out a dawning of a possibility on her weary face. She then spoke hoarsely.

'Your parents…' she stuttered, 'Lily and James?'

Harry hung his head, letting the silence do the talking. She began to whisper to herself, muttering ideas over and over out loud, but barely audible to Harry's straining ears. She suddenly sat up defiantly, ready to talk. Harry gazed at her expectantly as she spoke.

'I was sitting in the quad. There was a dog, a big, black, soppy beast. He seemed to be watching for something. And then when I turned away the dog wasn't there.' She breathed heavily, thinking hard, back past the blaze of blinding light to retrieve the last of her visual memories. 'There was a man instead - tall, dark, pale eyes - he knew what he was doing. He'd spotted the round-faced man - Pettigrew, did you say? - on the other side of the quad. I saw them having words. The dark haired man was angry, so, so angry…' Harry could sense by the state of her voice that tears were screaming to escape her. But they were shut away behind the bandages, restrained by the material she now clawed at frantically with her curled up fingers. She moaned quietly in frustration.

'Here,' said Harry softly, leaning forward to undo the clasp at the side of her head. He unwound the dressing slowly, agonisingly, until all that remained were the pads concealing her eyes. He reached up to peel them off, but she batted his hand away as she reached to do it herself. Harry could make out what looked like burns across her eyelids and under her lower lashes, although she kept them closed and screwed up in a kind of self imposed agony for the rest of the tragic tale. She held the bandages in her hands.

'I can sense his emotions even now, like nothing I'd ever felt before. He felt upset more than anything else. He had his own grief to deal with, and this was his chosen method. He was vengeful. But he never got his wish. The round man was unusually devious. He pushed Sirius away from him, stumbled into the middle of the crossroads, and started accusing him. Screaming like a mad man. He hadn't even been provoked. He wailed 'Lily and James, Sirius! How could you!' but then behind his back, he had this stick, long, black, polished with white tips. He muttered something in Latin - I didn't understand it. And all I can remember after that is the light. The light, the burning, the…' she looked down in her lap for a moment, and appeared to be concentrating deeply, her head almost shaking with the effort. Harry could make out her eyelids flickering in the darkened gloom of the room, as if each had their own stupendous weight to hold. But then she looked up.

Harry wouldn't have been able to say anything, even if he wanted to. Claudia's eyes were wide open now, and were the most mystical sight he'd ever encountered. All colour was now absent from the irises, which had sunken into the snowy white of the rest of the eye, ice-like but trapped within by her long, dark lashes. They were piercing and emotionless, like never ending glaciers of ice winding their way across her gaze, ever to block it with the fading of the colour. They were tragically beautiful. However, she looked as if she would faint with the effort of keeping them open, so Harry quietly picked up the pads from her open hands and covered them up again. He began to wind the bandage back round her head and was not met with a single protest. It was as if the effort of telling the tale had drained Claudia of the power of speech. Finishing the length and fastening it with a flourish, he gently lowered her back down into the bed and stood back for a moment, just watching her silent form. Her breathing was steady now, sleepy even. She'd played her role, for now.

'Thank you…' he whispered. He quietly slipped the front page of the doctor's notes into the pocket of his jacket and was just about to open the door when she spoke again.

'What were they?' she muttered through the darkness before unconsciousness enveloped her again. 'What are you? Wands and spells and transformations…'

Harry wandered slowly over to the bed and took her hand again. 'You'll find out in due course, Claudia,' he whispered. 'And then you'll be in the middle of it. Magic has its way of coming through to you. I'm magic, they are magic. You too are magic in your own way. Enjoy your ignorance - there's going to be a real battle ahead, and you'll need all the energy you have to get through it.'

And then he was gone.

Years afterwards, it was widely acknowledged that Claudia could recall very little in the hours after the accident. She reported being vaguely aware of having a visitor, a young boy with reassuring words, yet hinting at the fact that more was still to come. And - she mentioned this to no one - she never really understood how she came into the possession of a long black rod of wood. It was there at her beside when she first came into the hospital, which for now she rolled over and clutched unknowingly in her sleep. She was unaware of the power it held within. It just became something that was always there.

***

Arabella calmed down tremendously once she had a large scotch in her hand. Listening to Sirius' tale, she absently swirled the golden liquid around in her glass, letting it glide gently across the ice melting it in the process, which Remus secretly thought to himself as being a complete waste of a quality tonic. Sirius had spoken at great length before silence engulfed him, the legend spun, and she downed her drink in one inelegant gulp.

'You expect me to believe this little fantasy, do you?' she said quietly, raising one eyebrow out of the suspicion that she had a convicted murderer now sprawled across her flower patterned settee. She stood up and put her drink to rest on the side table. 'After all these years, you come waltzing back in here without a care in the world like One Man and his Dog and expect me to welcome you with arms wide open? Do you?'

Sirius hung his head low like a naughty schoolboy, while Remus looked at her, mouth slightly agape. 'What are you saying, Arabella? You don't believe us?'

'What I'm saying…' she said sharply, striding over to the cabinet, removing a piece of parchment and pouring a few more drinks. 'Is that it's damn lucky I received this notification from Dumbledore the other day, which confirms what you've just recalled word for word.' She held the incriminating document aloft, smirking. 'It was nice to see you squirm though.'

'Why you little…' flushed Remus, colour actually creeping into his face as Sirius doubled over laughing. He couldn't help but join in. 'Always the wind up merchant, aren't you?'

'Hey, it keeps me sane…' she replied, screwing the lid back on the Scotch bottle and handing a glass to Remus. 'Here, looks like you're in more need of it than me.'

Remus smiled and accepted the glass gratefully, finally sitting back and relaxing a little. The three friends sat in silence, each indulging in their own thoughts of the tale passed before them. It was obvious Arabella wasn't used to being out of persona, and the toll the spell had taken was apparent. Wrinkles remained in her hands, still a little shaky like a woman twice her age as she continued to grip her glass and sigh heavily. Then the thought occurred that they had all aged, in some way or other. Sirius looked ready to fall asleep right there among the home-knitted settee throws. His face had regained much of the shape lost in his years at Azkaban but the haunted look still remained. It chilled Remus to look at him sometimes, especially in moments of rage or doubt, when the emotionless existence he occupied in his prison took over his face like a shadow of a darker past. This image wasn't helped by the fact that he continued to wear his hair in its longer state, a little scrappy round the ears like some sort of loveable rogue, which Remus supposed was the look that Sirius was after. However, the reassuring twinkle of the marauder of his youth still lingered in his sunken eyes, taking every opportunity to rear its ugly head. And it wasn't as if the years hadn't beaten Remus down at all - quite the contrary. His light brown locks had been edged with silver for a while now, the monthly insomnia being non-negotiable and having even more impact in his middle age. He was fully aware of the gaunt expression he wore and the reaction it received, often sympathetic, as if he was in a constant state of mourning. That wasn't exactly the case. He was merely holding on tight to all he had left.

'So, Dumbledore wants to get the Secret Seven back into action, does he?' said Arabella, breaking the silence.

'You always had a way with words, didn't you Babs?' smirked Sirius, ducking to avoid the cushion she now banished in his general direction.

'I wasn't good at charms for nothing!' she muttered before Remus could get to the point.

'I think our dear old Headmaster has decided it's ripe to resurrect the Order, considering current events...' he said officially, finishing his drink with a professional air.

'Ah yes, dear Harry,' she said, looking down at her delicately clad feet.

'How's he holding up?' asked Remus.

'I'm honestly not sure,' said Arabella regretfully. 'You know how hard it was for me to negotiate my way in there to begin with? It's just so lucky this post with the Ministry came up at the same time.'

'Sorry Babs,' interrupted Sirius, curiosity plastered all over his face, 'please remind this old dog exactly what you're doing dressed as a 1930's reject?'

She smiled in reply. 'Muggle observing. Examine the latest trends, what's hot and what's not, you know, keeping tabs on things from a civilian point of view…'

'… As an old biddy?'

'I pulled the short straw. It's fascinating stuff. Beats any lecture from Professor Stafford hands down. Anyway,' she returned to addressing the original inquiry, 'it meant I could keep an eye on Harry, but it was horrible, I'll tell you that. I couldn't tell him anything because of his stupid guardians - they're the biggest pair of Muggles this side of the Atlantic and would have burned me at the stake if they really knew the deal. Since Harry started at Hogwarts, they've been shutting him up like the family secret. He's lucky to see the light of day sometimes. Occasionally he's over but I haven't wanted to blow my cover. Nearly came unstuck the other day though…' she continued, going off on a tangent. 'Petunia had left him with me when she was going up to the craft shop to get some material to make Dudley's knickerbockers when I got that owl from Dumbledore. I had to shut the poor beast up in the central heating cupboard until he went home. Just told the boy that the boiler was on the brink.'

'You know,' said Remus slowly, 'he'll find out sooner or later.'

'But if I'm going back to help out Dumbledore, that simply won't be an issue,' she said, a sly grin edging over her features. 'Old Mrs Figg can have a little accident…'

'Oh now Arabella, that's just plain nasty…'

'I know.'

She grinned as Remus and Sirius rolled their eyes. For a moment, they could have been back in the Gryffindor common room, sipping at a stolen supply of Butterbeer got with a little help from Prongs and the gang, the fire gently lilting in the corner as they let the end of the day wash over them. However with every action and word there were horrible reminders of those missing from their number. Remus smiled grimly to himself just as the shrill ring of the telephone brought them all back to reality.

'Excuse me a sec,' said Arabella over its scream, ignoring the fact that the sound had made Remus jump right out of his skin and Sirius almost fall onto the floor in mirth. She was back almost instantly.

'Well, that was short and sweet,' said Sirius, beginning to smile. But that expression soon faded when he was met with the rare appearance of a serious look from Arabella.

'What's wrong?' whispered Remus.

'That was Petunia on the phone,' she replied quietly. 'It's Harry. He's gone AWOL.'

 

//
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