Table of Contents and Summary So Far
Albus Dumbledore looked down at the black surface of the lake far below. Some students--almost certainly the Weasley twins and Lee Jordan--had snuck quite a distance down the bank, and were setting off fireworks. This was strictly against school rules, and Dumbledore hoped they'd thought to invite guests from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons.
Reflected in the window, he could see the silvery light of his Pensieve. He'd barely used it for ten years, but lately, it had seemed necessary again.
There were things Harry would need to understand one day, and if Albus meant to teach those things, he would need to more fully explore them himself. Eventually, he would need to find a way to let Harry in--a direct invitation, he felt, would be met with puzzlement and lack of engagement--but not yet. Not until he had a sense of what was happening.
So many scattered truths and fractured lives, so many people each holding a piece of a puzzle and believing it to be whole. But how to join them, to bring them back together...
He shook his head and turned back to his desk. He prodded the Pensieve with his wand, and Sirius Black rose from the mist, a boy with slightly wild eyes, almost truly rendered in the silvery substance. Another stir brought up Regulus Black--a thinner, more nervous duplicate of his brother. The two circled one another, back to back, then sank back into the basin. Another prod brought up their mother and father--Walburga, beautiful and hot-tempered; Orion, three years behind her in school, in awe of her, or perhaps superstitious dread, at least when he'd been Albus's student. Walburga had once tormented a young half-blood orphan called Tom Riddle. Tom had retaliated then by humiliating Orion, two years younger than he was, and Walburga had got a month's detention over her own payback for this, which had destroyed several of Tom's essays and spoiled his perfect marks for the term. Albus didn't know the details of what had stopped this Slytherin in-fighting, nor did Horace Slughorn, but both suspected that Walburga's younger brother Alphard--her first bullying victim and one of her last--had slipped a Calming Draught into her pumpkin juice. Tom, of course, was simply better at biding his time. Dumbledore doubted that Tom Riddle had forgotten any slight in his life, and the shattered ruins of Walburga Black's family undoubtedly pleased him, whether he'd personally engineered it or not.
There was a rap at the door and Albus waved his wand to open it. Minerva McGonagall came in with a bottle of port. Albus Conjured two glasses, and they sat down without saying anything. It was an old, comfortable routine.
"Bugga Black?" Minerva asked, looking at the Pensieve with distaste but not much surprise. The two girls had been in the same year, and had loathed one another on sight. "It's probably good that Alastor isn't here tonight. He'd curse your Pensieve just to be on the safe side."
Albus smiled. "Yes, I imagine he might."
Minerva took a sip of her port, then set the glass down thoughtfully. "Albus, this business with the Triwizard Tournament--it's setting half the school against Harry, and Gryffindor against the other houses."
"There's nothing to be done for it, Minerva; it's a magical contract. Whoever hoodwinked the Goblet knew that."
"I don't like this business."
"Nor do I."
"I feel half-blind here. There are things outside these walls that are moving, but we can't compromise--"
"I know, Minerva." Albus set down his glass. "We need eyes on the outside, and we need a safe place to gather information. Hogwarts is the safest place to keep information, of course, but it's not an entirely inconspicuous place for outsiders to come and share it, even this year."
"Our old headquarters..."
But Albus was already shaking his head. "Too many of the protections were combined in James and Lily's home. The night it was destroyed, so were most of our protections there. I thought at the time that Fidelius was too limiting, too prohibitive for others to bring in new members to the Order. It seemed important that more than one person could reveal our location to those who needed immediate shelter. Now, we've lost the security of the place."
Minerva considered this. "Is it time to call them together again?"
"I don't know," Albus admitted. "Since it became clear that Lord Voldemort was seeking the Philosopher's Stone, I've considered it. That was one of the reasons I wanted Lupin here last year, and is certainly why I called Alastor this year." He thought of bringing up the problem of Sirius Black as well--the rather large issue of hiding a fugitive from the law--but Minerva knew nothing of the truth of what had happened. Was it time to tell her? Had there been a reason not to? "We'll wait and watch," he finally said. "And as long as Harry is within our reach, we'll protect him."
"Come on now, Dennis," Colin said. "We can get around this way."
Dennis struggled over a pile of rocks, and Colin caught his hand to steady him on the other side. They'd followed the Weasley twins out forty minutes ago, and they still hadn't quite got a good angle on the magical fireworks. Dennis wanted to send a wizarding picture of them back to Dad, and he wanted to take it himself this time. Colin had promised to teach him how to develop it properly.
"We're almost at the gate, aren't we?" Dennis asked. "I could take a picture of that as well."
"It doesn't really do anything," Colin said. "And the Dementors aren't there this year, so there's nothing to see..."
But Dennis was already heading off down the road toward the gate. He'd come across the lake and not got a proper glimpse of it yet.
Dennis stopped abruptly just short of the gate and pointed, eyes wide. In the night, they heard a soft grunt of pain.
Colin squinted into the shadows. Lying on the far side of the gate was a wooden peg, heavy and splintered... "It's Professor Moody!" he said, and ran ahead, not worrying about losing house points. If a fellow lost his leg, that wasn't the sort of thing you snuck away at to avoid a bit of humiliation. "Professor Moody?" he called. "Are you all right?"
The next grunt was startled, and Colin saw an arm jerk up. It looked like Moody was sitting with his back to the far side of the gate.
"Who is it?" he growled. His voice sounded strange and thick.
"It's the Creeveys," Colin answered. "Colin and Dennis. Do you need help?"
"You're past curfew." A hand reached out and grabbed the wooden leg, and a moment later, Moody himself appeared around the gate, magical eye roaming about. Colin wondered briefly why he'd needed to ask who they were, since the eye could see around corners, then realized that, of course, he hadn't had time to memorize everyone's name and face yet. He'd have no reason to know them. Moody narrowed his eyes at them, then said, "Reckon we've caught each other here."
"Sir?" Dennis said, shaking.
"I'll tell you what," Moody said, giving them a wink. He sounded quite drunk, actually, though he didn't smell like liquor. "I won't mention your little Bonfire Night excursion, and you don't mention mine. Not exactly proper for a teacher who can't keep his own leg attached to fault you for seeing a firework or two."
Dennis laughed. "Don't worry, sir. We've helped our Aunt Primsy with worse than this."
Moody joined the laughter heartily, and led them back up to the castle, telling them ribald stories that Colin didn't think he'd have told students sober. It was fun, in a strange way, but Colin still felt acutely uncomfortable, as he had when he'd found a magazine his father's workshop that he didn't think he was meant to have seen (not that this had stopped him from leafing through it thoroughly).
They lost no points that night, nor did anyone else hear of Mad-Eye Moody's Bonfire Night binge.
By ten o'clock, there was no danger of a surprise visit from an Auror. Dora hadn't told Remus as much, but she had mentioned that they were on a skeleton crew during night hours, and it seemed unlikely that they'd waste Aurors on fishing expeditions. So far, it had proved to be right, and he was tired of trying to carry on a conversation with a dog, so he said, "Oh, for God's sake, Sirius, transform."
The great black dog lay down and rolled over, and when the roll was complete, he was Sirius again, a foolish grin on his face, basking in the heat of the bonfire. "You're sure they're not spying on you from the sky?"
"They haven't hired the hogboon to report on you?"
"The hogboon knows who's not exactly putting a full effort into expulsion." Remus poured a glass of firewhiskey and gave it to Sirius, who raised it without making a toast and downed it. He supposed he should be putting more effort into the expulsion he'd agreed to do, but it was difficult to muster enthusiasm for the task when success carried no bonus and meant that the landlady would sell the island out from under him. As she'd had no success for ten years, he didn't think she'd question a few more months.
"Why does it put up with you, anyway? I thought they were ancestral guards."
Remus shrugged. "Some vague, distant connection on Mum's side. Which means she wasn't quite as Muggle-born as she thought she was--only a wizard can put himself into a hogboon."
"I'd give good odds that a lot of Muggle-borns are descended from disowned Squibs," Sirius said.
"They've never found any evidence of it if they are. And not every family disowns its Squibs."
"True. That could be one of the perks of being born into the Noble and Most Ancient..." He held up his glass. "To the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black," he said, and drank. A grimace crossed his face to match whatever memory had come. "Don't let me do that again," he said.
"And how do you propose I stop you?"
"Good point." Sirius sat forward. "How am I going to talk to Harry, Remus? Sending owls back and forth is absurd, and there are some things he needs to know. I was thinking about calling him by Floo. I'd have to make sure he's alone in the common room."
"I'm not on the Floo Network," Remus said. "I don't suppose you've still got the keys to your parents' home--God knows no one else can get in there."
"No," Sirius said.
Remus supposed it had been too much to hope for--the old place would have been a nearly perfect place to hide, but if Sirius could get in, he probably would have thought of it already. It wouldn't be a happy memory, but for Harry's sake, Remus was quite sure that Sirius would risk facing the ghosts of the Blacks--his own personal hogboons. "All right," he said. "I think the people on the next island are magical. I'm not sure, so we should take the boat over to investigate rather than Apparating. If they're out, maybe we could use their fireplace."
"Can we go tomorrow?"
"If your head isn't hurting you too much."
Sirius relaxed with a smile and looked up at the auroras, which were twisting across the sky like ropes tonight. "It's not so bad up here in the country," he said, then sat up. "What was that?"
Remus strained to hear. Over the wind, he could hear, very faintly, the bleating of sheep on the neighboring island, but nothing else. "What was what?"
"That high-pitched whining sound. I think it's on the next island."
Remus rolled his eyes, realizing that he had already heard what Sirius had. "Sheep," he said. "City boy."
Sirius laughed, and Remus wasn't entirely sure whether it was relief at having his fear allayed or amusement at having successfully fooled Remus into thinking he really didn't know what the sound was. "So, talk to me. You made friends with my cousin. Who else have you made, er, friends with?"
He waggled his eyebrows obscenely on the word "friends," and Remus shook his head wearily. "Well," he said, "I had a torrid affair with a lovely young starlet a few years ago, but I was afraid she was just after my money."
"A perfectly reasonable fear, of course."
"And there was a madcap business with an heiress from New York, but I think she just wanted to attach herself to my reputation."
"And don't tell me--the Greek Quidditch star was only interested in your looks."
"You know my trials and tribulations well, Sirius."
"What, you're not going to ask me?"
Remus calculated how the joke would go over in this mood, then went ahead and said, "I know--it must have been a real wrench to walk away from that ravishingly beautiful Dementor..."
Sirius's laughter rose, high and free, with the sparks of the bonfire, across the lines of the aurora, fading into the stars above the North Sea.