A/N: Well, this fic crept up out of nowhere and surprised me! Never thought I'd be writing a bit of Remus… Hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did writing. Thanks to Alphie for the beta. As ever, JKR's characters and world, without whom I'd be very bored indeed!
Let's Face The Music
'There may be trouble ahead but while there's music and laughter and love and romance
Let's face the music and dance."
~ Irving Berlin
~ * ~
The timbers of the old house creaked and groaned as it was buffeted by the wild winds of autumn. The day was creeping on, shadows lengthening across the wooden floor as the sun curved round the large bay window of the living room. Leaves rustled, blown into energetic eddying swirls the length of the lane, more falling from the trees like silent tears. Time crept on, sunshine blending with shadows. And still the silent vigil was kept.
The young man sat alone, an unmoving figure in the twilight. Ashes lay grey and cold in the hearth beside him: no fire blazing despite the chill of the day. Only the steady ticking of the clock gave life to the place, a heart beating on even though there seemed to be nothing left to live for. Everything that had ever mattered to him had gone. And everyone.
He heaved in a shuddering sigh and ran a hand through his hair, not wanting to comprehend what had happened, yet the hollow feeling gnawing at the pit of his stomach told him it was true. They were dead.
The single word echoed in his mind chilling him to the core. He buried his head in his hands, the warmth of his forehead burned against his trembling fingers as he tried to make sense of it all. Why did it have to happen? Why?
He slammed his fist down on the small table beside him, his anger savagely fighting back the tears that threatened to fall. The framed photograph teetered on its edge for a moment before toppling forwards, glass shattering into tiny shards.
"Oh no! No!" he exclaimed, reaching for his wand and repairing the damage swiftly. His heart thudded fearfully; this picture was virtually all he had left of them now. What if it was ruined? He swept his fingers quickly across the mended glass, seeking the injuries he had caused, yet found none. "As good as new," a small voice said in his head. Misery surged inside him. If only he could have stopped it happening to them. He should have seen it coming; somehow.
Despite everything, a small smile tugged at his lips as he regarded the figures laughing together in the photograph. It seemed to have been taken a lifetime ago, but in reality it was only a couple of months. They'd been in this very room, all of them together. The smile wobbled as his long fingers touched the young man in the centre of the group, his black hair as untidy as ever, and his glasses perched crookedly on his nose. He was grinning adoringly at the pretty red-headed girl beside him, whilst his best friend levitated a bucket of water over them threatening to cool their ardour one way or another. He could remember the teasing so clearly. And then there was… He shut his eyes and shook his head. They were dead? This was a nightmare. It had to be.
The shadows deepened, shapes drifting round the room like ghosts. He gave a shaky laugh. It was almost like they were all there now, crouched around the fire just like they had been in the summer.
"James?" he croaked to the shadow in the chair opposite him, the lump in his throat burning painfully.
"Remus," James grinned wickedly across at him from the armchair, and threw another bottle of butterbeer at his stomach. "Come on, you can't get out of it that easily."
"OK, then," Remus sighed, knowing they'd never let it rest. He braced himself for the confession, "Kathleen Delaney."
There was a whoop of delight at having wormed his secret out of him at last.
"Delaney?" Sirius said, leaning forward with interest. "You mean that brunette in the year above us? The one with legs all the way up to her…"
"Sirius!" Lily threw a cushion at him. "She was really nice."
"I'll say she was," Sirius retorted shamelessly, flinging the cushion back and missing her by miles.
"And that is why Sirius doesn't play Chaser," Peter wheezed, his eyes twinkling merrily. "Mind you, Remus. I can't say I blame you for having a crush on her. She was absolutely gorgeous."
"It never got anywhere though," Remus chuckled at himself. "I sent her a Valentine's card once, but she thought it was from Anderson, you know, the Ravenclaw Keeper. That was that really. I fell over them snogging in the Restricted Section a couple of days later."
There was an exaggerated ‘Awww!' of mock-sympathy from his friends, and Remus rolled his eyes.
"We'd never have made it anyway," he chuckled. The others looked curiously at him, wondering what he meant. "She had an allergy to animal hairs," he explained with a casual shrug.
The occupants of the cosy sitting room erupted into roars of laughter.
"Er, yes. I think that would cause a few problems," Sirius choked. "Can you imagine curling up with a girl to whisper sweet nothings in her ear, only for her to…" His laughter became too much and he clutched helplessly at his sides.
"Oh Remus, darling," James' voice lifted to a falsetto pitch and he slid out of the chair he was sharing with Lily winking quickly at her. He draped his arm affectionately around his friend and batted his eyelashes at him. "I've been wanting to tell you so much that I – I… a.. a.. atishoo!"
"Exactly," Remus laughed. "Bit of a passion killer. Do you mean you've never had that problem?"
"I'm far too cute for that," Sirius said with a grin, transforming quickly into the big shaggy dog. He settled his head on Lily's knee and looked up adoringly at her with pale blue eyes.
"Ahh! Padfoot's at it again," Peter chuckled.
"Oi! Get your own," James objected lazily.
"He's on a losing battle here," Lily laughed, ruffling the fur on the scruff of his neck and scratching vigorously behind his ear. "Sirius, you know I love you, but James is far better at those Bambi eyes than you are. Besides, there's only room for one animal in my life."
"Yeah," James added, with a mischievous glint in his eye. "I keep telling Harry to stop clawing the furniture, but will he listen?"
The shadows deepened, surrounding him with the weight of memories that ached in his heart. They had been so happy then, the four of them and Lily. Free from school at last, the future was theirs; or should have been. He still couldn't believe they were gone and that he'd never see them again. It felt almost like one of Sirius' practical jokes, and they were merely hidden somewhere, maybe under James' invisibility cloak watching him with bated breath before springing out and yelling, ‘Surprise!' and laughing at the expression of shock on his face. He listened, willing for it to be true with all his might. Please let it be true. Please. Yet the unpleasant sinking sensation gave the realisation that it could never be like that again.
The clock ticked relentlessly through the stillness, and the lump in this throat thickened. Peter, Lily and James were dead, Sirius was incarcerated in Azkaban for a fate worse than death, and he was left, alone with his world in shreds. The pain and knowledge of Sirius' betrayal was more than he could bear. The ache built to a fevered crescendo inside him making him want to howl out loud, shrieking his loss to the world through the dark night air.
It made no sense: no sense at all. He could just make out Sirius' smile on the summer photograph as he teased James about Lily. The two of them had been such friends, almost like brothers. Sirius was Harry's Godfather, for heaven's sake. His brow furrowed as he stared at the picture, trying to make the pieces fit. Sirius had always despised Voldemort and yet he had still gone over to the dark side? How had that happened, and why? He shook his head, not understanding at all.
And yet, there could be no doubt about it. Those poor Muggles had been blown apart because of Sirius', and then there was Peter… Remus swallowed painfully. Poor, poor Peter…
"Peter? What are you doing out here?"
"Came out for a bit of fresh air, Moony," Peter replied, leaning on the railings and drinking in the heady delights of that balmy summer evening. "You've no idea how good it is to get out of London for a change. It's nice out here, isn't it?"
"Still working too hard?" Remus asked cautiously, one ear open for what was going on inside the house. He didn't trust James and Sirius and inch after a few butterbeers. Last time they'd had a Transfiguration competition and it had taken over a week to catch all of his furniture and herd it back into the house. The coffee table still moo-ed when it felt neglected.
"Yeah," Peter admitted, turning to face his friend. His pallor startled Remus, and the dark circles beneath his eyes belied a severe lack of sleep. "I've got to, though," he confessed, glancing over his shoulder at the others in the house and smiling wistfully. "I'm not like those two, you know, brilliant at everything they do. It's easy for them. I don't have much talent, so I've got to work hard for my greatness and grab any opportunity I get."
"Greatness?" Remus laughed. "Sounds like you're going all Slytherin on us."
Peter shook his head, his eyes drifting back out across the garden.
"Moony, I would have thought that you, of all people, would know what it was like to try and fit in," he said quietly. "I'm only doing what has to be done, what anyone would do if they were in my shoes."
"We all are," Remus said softly. "I don't think the situation with Voldemort is making things easy for any of us."
"No," Peter agreed, sighing to himself once more. "No, it's not."
There was a lull in the conversation, the evening birdsong wafting from the grove of nearby ash trees lightening the air. A sudden booming noise and a roar of male laughter from within rent the calmness of the night air. Remus straightened up quickly and shook his head despairingly.
"Are you coming back in to give me a hand because I think James has just turned Sirius into a pink dragon or something?" he laughed. "I don't think the living room is flame proof."
They hurried back into the house to find Lily in mid-torrent, scolding her husband and his best friend, and it was easy to see why. Harry was perched on her hip, wailing copiously after having been rudely awoken from his night's sleep by a recent explosion that had clearly taken place on the badly singed hearthrug. Her dark red hair swirled around her, glinting furiously in the candlelight. Remus exchanged grins with Peter. They didn't need to do a thing when Lily was on the warpath.
"Honestly James, it's not fair on Harry," she said angrily, holding her son to her and trying to soothe him. "It's all very well having a laugh but you've got to take your responsibilities seriously as well."
"I do!" he protested, leaping to his feet. He reached out a clumsy hand and stroked Harry's messy black hair, a mirror image of his own, and smiled guiltily at Lily. "Sorry," he muttered. "I'll sort it out."
Harry's cries slowly subsided and he cuddled into his mother, a sleepy thumb questing for his mouth. The heavy lashes began to droop at once.
"Doesn't he look just like James after a few butterbeers?" Peter laughed beneath his breath. Remus had to fight to keep a straight face. There was more than an uncanny resemblance.
"I'll take him to back to bed," James whispered, lifting his son gently and disappearing up the stairs.
Harry. How he'd survived that curse…? Remus shook his head slowly. That poor kid: barely more than a year old with both of his parents dead. Lily and James had adored him from the very moment they'd known he was on the way. Remus could remember the night in the Leaky Cauldron when a madly blushing James had proudly confessed that he was going to be a father. Nothing had ever removed that particular grin from his face; Harry had certainly been loved.
The darkness filled the room now, inky-black and somehow comforting. Remus knew all too well what it was like to be an orphan; his own parents had died during his school years. Harry had no one. He wanted, more than anything, to offer this little boy a home with him, to care for James and Lily's son the way they would have wanted him to. He needed Harry now as much as Harry needed him. The tears stung painfully. It was impossible, and he knew it. The Ministry would never allowed it; a werewolf caring for a fully human child. What if he bit the child? What would he do with a baby when he was in his non-human form? He didn't know; he didn't care about the details, all he wanted was to give Harry a home. He was all he had left. But Harry had relatives to take care of him…
He couldn't even repay what he owed to James. He had never known what true friendship was until he had started at Hogwarts, and even then he had braced himself for the pain of the inevitable rejection when Sirius, James and Peter discovered his terrible secret. He had never actually believed that anyone could like him because of what he was. The monster he became each month, when the moon swelled in her opulent fullness, terrified him. He hated the change: the agonising twisting of innards and limbs as he transformed, fighting and struggling against himself and his fate. The sub-human thirst for blood revolted his rational mind. No one could tolerate a creature like him.
"Don't be so bloody stupid," James' voice echoed across the years. "OK, so you're a werewolf. I'd still prefer to be sharing a dormitory with you than with Snape."
That was friendship indeed. Remus smiled wistfully to himself remembering the wonderful times running through the coolness of the Forbidden Forest with Padfoot, Prongs and little Wormtail somewhere underfoot. The glorious camaraderie of the Marauders gave him a real life: the pranks, inventions, detentions and laughter of those carefree years. The laughter that they'd continued until the very end was now all snuffed out like a candle, and with it all his hopes.
Sirius was fiddling with the radio knobs trying to get a decent reception on the Wizarding Wireless Network and failing dismally, whilst the rest of them lounged around the fire, chattering away. The world around them was becoming ever more dangerous as Voldemort's grip across the wizarding world tightened and began to squeeze. Reality was never far away, each new copy of The Daily Prophet seemed to contain a longer obituary column than the last. All of them had experienced personal losses lately, yet all of them were determined to fight on.
"Here, let me," Lily exclaimed, suddenly irritated by the crackle of static beside her left ear. She leaned over, and tapped the old-fashioned wireless with her wand, and lively music began to play clearly. "Much better," she beamed.
"Typical of a woman to take the easy way out," Sirius teased. "Don't you know the joy is in learning to operate the machine itself, rather than in the end result?"
"I know a few nice charms that could make the music come out of your ears instead of the wireless," Lily said raising her eyebrow and waving her wand vaguely in his direction. "Maybe you'd prefer that, Mr Black?"
"She's got you there," James laughed, leaning back against the chair. "She would as well."
The radio crackled and hissed when the music broke off abruptly and the eminent voice of Aeleric Booth flowed lightly across the airwaves. All five of them tensed. This interruption could only mean one thing.
"Further violent deaths have been reported this afternoon from Death Eater attacks in the small Gloucestershire village of Minchinhampton. Three wizarding families are believed to have been murdered, including the Auror, Stephen Forth…"
The news bulletin continued, spreading more terrible revelations around the stunned listeners. Forth had been only a few years above them in Gryffindor House: a popular student then, and a vital key in the resistance against Voldemort. Remus found himself glancing at James, to discover his friend had turned ghostly white, and Lily had reached for his hand.
"James?" Remus broke through the silence, his voice suddenly low and anxious.
"I worked with him," James said briefly, running a shaking hand through his hair. He pulled Lily to him and buried her in a hug, neither of them moving or speaking further.
The other three exchanged uneasy glances. Voldemort really did seem to be selecting strategic victims now. How long would it be before he turned his attention to the Potters? They had been lucky to escape his attention thus far, but it couldn't last.
"What are you going to do, James?" Sirius' voice was strained.
There was no immediate reply, James simply looked steadily at his wife, an unspoken conversation passing between them.
"James, this is bloody important!" Sirius burst out. "It could be you next. All three of you! We've got to be prepared."
James turned to him and nodded soberly, the music blaring away in the background.
"We will be," he said quietly. There was a pause and then a mischievous grin spread across his face as he conjured the empty butterbeer bottles into mid air, clinking them together as added percussion to the music. "But we're never going to give in to him. We're going to keep going the way we always have," he grinned suddenly, pulling Lily to her feet and restoring a sense of normalcy.
"I don't think snogging will scare the Dark Lord away," Remus remarked with a grin.
"Depends on if he's allergic to animal hairs or not," Sirius teased. "I mean, there's got to be a reason why his eyes are so red. I say it's an allergy." Remus groaned inwardly. They were never going to let him forget that one.
"Let's face the music and dance!" James laughed, fitting his actions to his words. He twirled Lily round in his arms, sending her hair flying around in a whirl of flame. She laughed as she danced with him, happiness glowing through her emerald eyes, living as if there were no tomorrow.
Remus sighed heavily to himself as he straightened from his chair, stretching stiffened limbs. Lily and James had managed it, having fun and living their lives until the very end. That was something to be grateful for. But now, after that final conflict, everything had changed. Voldemort was gone. The world was in tatters much as his life was, and needed to be rebuilt. He couldn't sit here and waste away pining over what might have been. It hurt so much, but he had to get a grip somehow. He had to do something. He had to try. They were dead. Gone. But he could still do some good.
"Let's face the music and dance."
Suddenly, he found himself upstairs, numbly flinging some possessions into a suitcase: robes, books, and finally he carefully wrapped that picture of the four of them and Lily in a towel and placed it protectively on top. The fastenings were snapped shut. He seized the case in his hand and let out a shuddering sigh.
Glancing around him, he crept back through the darkness, silently bidding his home farewell. The clock ticked on relentlessly. The inky shadows in the living room seemed to nod encouragingly at him; his memories smiled.
"Goodbye," he whispered, his voice cracking as a single tear fell, burning down his cheek.
With his battered old suitcase in hand he closed the door on the ghosts in his memories and trudged heavily up the lane. Alone.