(Author's Note: Originally written for the Live Journal Harry/Ginny ficafest, and now retconned for your post-HBP reading enjoyment. The challenge was to base a story on Damien Rice's 'Hallelujah' and it was the hardest story I've ever had to write, with something like eight false starts before Remus offered his services. The pre-HBP version can be found athttp://www.livejournal.com/community/hpgw_ficafest/55954.html if you want to read it. Finally, thanks to the always awesome Aggiebell - ah, alliteration - for the beta-read and canon-catching.)
So here I am, the last of the four marauders. James, dead these last seventeen years. Sirius, gone for more than two years now. Hard to believe. Peter, of course, dead at his own hand. The same hand that has forever left its imprint on my lycanthropic skin.
It's a maudlin thought, but then, it's the time for maudlin thoughts. The war has been finished these last two weeks, and the heady glee that accompanied Harry's survival, and Voldemort's defeat, has sustained us all until now.
I suppose that I shouldn't say that I am the last of those marauders. Merely the last of that generation. Could I lay claim to training our successors? Perhaps. Certainly I did little to discourage Harry and his friends, Hermione Granger and Ron and Ginny Weasley. Why would I, after all? I know what it is to be lost and alone, and then to find that you have friends, friends who would never waver in their devotion.
Worthy successors, then, not least because Sirius, James, Peter and myself largely confined our trespasses to the Hogwarts grounds. Harry and his friends discovered the Chamber of Secrets, broke into the Ministry of Magic and travelled in time to save Sirius' life.
Successors? We were barely amateurs compared to them.
Gifted amateurs, though, and we had skills, when we put our mind to it. Skills that our modern-day counterparts lacked.
Matchmaking skills, for one.
So, when Sirius approached me in the summer before Harry's fifth year, his eyes twinkling, I had a feeling that Padfoot and Moody had another mission ahead of us.
"I think that Harry needs a girlfriend," Sirius said.
I eyed him carefully. Sirius tended to view his time in Azkaban as being a waste of twelve years of his life - I can hardly argue with that - and as a consequence he wanted to recapture that twelve years by cramming as much in as possible. He'd come up with one hair-brained scheme after the other since moving back into his old home, many of them involving Harry in some way.
"Is that so?" I asked.
"Definitely. You saw the look on his face. He's woebegone. He's depressed. He needs a good snog, Moony. We can't give him everything he needs - a girlfriend would help."
"Did you have anyone in mind?"
"I did, as a matter of fact," he beamed widely, the manic energy that seemed to alternate unpredictably with sombre melancholy as one of his few post-Azkaban moods evident in every movement. "He needs someone who understands what he's been through, someone who's brimming with passion, someone who won't put up with him being a miserable sack of bones, which, let's be honest, is what he is, Remus."
The energy left him so quickly that he seemed like a puppet with its strings cut. He dropped into a chair, slumped forwards with his elbows on his knees, staring at nothing.
"I'm not living up to my duties, Remus. I can't watch over him like a parent. I have to hand him over to Dumbledore, to the Weasleys, even to those worthless Muggles."
"I know, Sirius. I don't like it any more than you do. But he's happy with the Weasleys, and he's safe with Dumbledore-"
"Safe? He was nearly killed a few weeks ago, Moony."
"Could you have protected him?" I asked, mildly.
"No," Sirius said. "It's almost impossible."
"But you think having a girlfriend would cheer him up?" I asked. I felt sure that he wanted to be humoured, rather than pitied.
"Exactly!" Sirius bounced back up again. "Someone with passion, someone prepared to stand up for herself."
"I hope that you're not talking about Tonks," I said.
"No, don't worry, Moony," Sirius said, flashing his teeth in a wide grin. "I reckon she's a bit old for him, anyway," he added, almost as an afterthought. We both knew at the time that... But I digress.
"Ginny Weasley. Did you hear her tearing strips off Molly a few days ago? Very fiery personality there, and she's smart, too. Put them together and hallelujah, we have a normal boy with normal worries."
We stayed up late into the night discussing Harry, and whether or not Ginny would make a good girlfriend for him. Sirius dismissed her boyfriend of the time as a passing interest, and claimed that he saw interest in her.
The summer passed, and Christmas came and went. It became clear that Harry had other things on his mind. Certainly he seemed to pay no special interest to Ginny, as much as she seemed primed and ready to tear into him when he dropped into a Sirius-like 'fit of the sullens'. Ron and Hermione gave an interesting recount of Harry's forced remembrance of Ginny's experience with Tom Riddle, which had Sirius shooting me significant looks.
But by the following summer, I was in no mood to push Harry and Ginny together. Sirius was dead, and any hopes that I had of spending time with Harry were dashed when Dumbledore asked me to establish myself among the werewolves. What little time we had together that year was shared with the Weasleys and, to be honest, I had rather forgotten about Sirius' plans. And then, before his school year ended, Harry became committed to going to war, to ending the conflict as soon as possible. The deaths of Sirius, Dumbledore and his parents ate at him, and he seemed resolved to bringing an end to Voldemort's reign of terror as soon as possible.
This last year at times seemingly made a mockery of Harry's goal. There were a number of deaths, some of which were random, some otherwise. Harry hardened into a leader of men and a warrior, his Hogwarts education forgotten as he sought out the horcruxes and trained almost without pause for the moment at which he would draw his wand on Lord Voldemort.
During his sixth year, of course, and remarkably with no help from his elders and betters, Harry found the time to indulge in some snogging with Ginny. Talking to him after Dumbledore's death, when he had broken up with her in order to prevent her becoming a target, it was plain to see how much she had come to mean to him in a comparatively short time.
But Harry, being noble, self-sacrificing and all those other fine Gryffindor traits, withdrew from Ginny as though he were the tide and she the beach. He cut off all contact to her for a time - a period in which his devotion to training became almost obsessive - until Ron yelled at him and he at least began to talk to her. Ginny was known to be seeing other boys, although Tonks tells me that there was never any question of it becoming serious - she was Harry's girl, and who would dare try and interfere with that?
Well, apart from Harry, of course.
Which brings us to here and now.
I suppose he thinks that it'll all go away if he just ignores it. It's an understandable attitude, but one unlikely to come true. The press lay siege to the Burrow and Grimmauld Place almost constantly, and while Harry passes from one to the other at wholly irregular and unpredictable intervals, it takes no time for the media swarm to disperse from where he's left and reform where he's arrived.
Ron has been invaluable in all this. More than anyone, I think, he's matured in the last year. He's become a leader in his own right, wise beyond his years, and while not as silent as Harry, he's taciturn in his own fashion. Still, he has a ready eye for a humorous moment, and has learned to lie convincingly. As a bonus, he's grown into his body and towers over everyone and anyone. The reporters can't help but respect him, and yet some of the nonsense he comes out with must surely stretch even their threshold.
"Harry's coming to terms with the loss of his leg."
"His middle leg."
"His middle leg?"
"Yes. Harry had his privates removed by a below-the-belt hex from Voldemort. He's learning to go to the toilet without it right now."
Ron certainly knows how to make Harry smile. Arthur pulls him into conversations about Muggle appliances. Molly fusses, and cooks and cajoles. Hermione treats him as though he weren't stuck in a slump, finding jobs for him to apply for. So far, she's suggested Blast-Ended Skrewt farming and Hog's Head bartender, among others. I'm sure she's scouring the job ads now. Harry seems to appreciate it, and she makes him smile. Occasionally I think that I see some interest hinted at in his expression, but I know that he's not looking at the future yet, at least, not in terms of jobs.
Meanwhile, the twins have taken to setting traps for Harry throughout the house. He hasn't cast a spell since the day of Voldemort's defeat, and walks into the traps without a hint of suspicion, but I think that the twins' fun is spoilt somewhat by his near-total lack of reaction.
Bill has taken to bringing Fleur around for dinner on a fairly regular basis. Fleur fairly monopolises Harry's time when she is here - Minerva and I had them go on a mission for the Order separate from Harry's search for Voldemort's horcruxes. Unfortunately, it left behind some lasting effects that they only ever discuss between themselves. Nothing serious, I think, but not something that they feel they can discuss with those who weren't there.
Of course, it was a war. We were all there, at some point. But we all feel it differently.
Charlie appears often, too. He flirts incessantly with Tonks, claiming to hope that she will decide she prefers a younger man. I'm fairly certain that he's joking, but still... One day, the two of us may have to have a short discussion about this. When he's here, he does a lot to try and convince Harry that dragon-riding should be his future career. Harry listens politely enough, but I don't think that a dark forest in Romania is quite where he needs to be right now.
And then there's the constant flow of well-wishers. The Lovegoods, the much-reduced Bones family, the Longbottoms, the Finnigans, the Diggorys... Anyone and everyone seems to have been here of late. It helps to dispel the sour old aura of this place, and bit by bit I honestly feel that we're winning our fight. This house will become a home. One day.
You know, the Blacks were all talented in their way, but those of Sirius' generation were quite exceptional. Andromeda was a genius, as smart a witch as any that I have ever met. Bellatrix was perhaps the most capable student of the Dark Arts since Tom Riddle himself - although thank Merlin she lacked his drive for power. Still, she was smart enough to escape capture at the end of the war when all around her fell. Narcissa was canny enough to serve as a Death Eater and never be suspected - almost the only one on whom suspicion never fell. How many deaths were because of her and the teams she sent out, I fear we shall never know.
Regulus Black was highly intelligent as well, but naive with it. He joined the Death Eaters without bothering to learn what they were truly about, but was smart enough to realise early on that he'd made the wrong choice, and brave enough to walk away and hurt Voldemort while he did so. Although Sirius only knew part of the story, you didn't have to look too hard to detect the bittersweet edge to his words on the rare occasions when he spoke of him. They were close as children, and Sirius would have liked to know that his brother gave his life, ultimately, to save Harry.
And then there was Sirius himself. He and Andromeda were great friends, and he strove to match or better his cousin Andi's accomplishments, quite apart from enjoying how much it wound Lily Evans up that he could beat her on any subject seemingly without effort. I'm not proud of how much delight the four of us took in that small fact - Lily worked very hard, after all. But Sirius was a genius as well, in his own manic way, and was always quick to pick up any subject he studied.
Who knew that he studied how to develop his Inner Eye, though?
Because, for all the hair-brained schemes that Sirius devised over that hot, long summer, one that has undoubtedly survived his passing was the plan to get Harry and Ginny together. Or, at least, back together.
Maybe Sirius left his godson something other than a broken mirror and a rotting old house.
I rather passed over Ginny earlier, but she's another person to whom Harry reacts, and it's a lot less hit-and-miss than with Ron or Hermione. You have to watch him closely, but the signs are unmistakable. Harry, wherever he is in this house, is aware of Ginny's presence, wherever she is in the house. Having a conversation with him, it's not uncommon to see him tune out and turn towards the door, a second before Ginny enters the room.
Of course, it's no secret how close the two of them became. And when everyone came together for the final battle, it was she who was the last one to leave him that night, his last line of defence as he worked his way through to Voldemort.
But that's nothing, really. Any one of us would have done the same. It just happened to be Ginny.
Providing him with the strength to go on, ordering him to leave her alone... I honestly think that only Ginny Weasley could have convinced Harry to walk away from the girl he loves.
And that, remarkable as it may sound, is the key. It's not just a crush, it's not a passing fancy. Harry Potter is in love with Ginny Weasley. And I rather think that Ginny is every bit as in love with Harry. There time apart has done nothing to dim the flames that burn within them.
So it's time to break out the old matchmaking skills, those old tricks that paired Peter off with Pandora Parkinson for a time, that saw Sirius entering a rumba contest with Jessica D'reve, and James...
Well, that was our great success story, although perhaps a story for another time. It took months, after all, and a full retelling would not be much shorter.
Harry and Ginny, on the other hand, only have one obstacle to overcome. Everyone.
It's totally understandable, I suppose. Harry's been through a terrifying experience, and Ginny almost as much so. Molly has co-opted the bedroom between Ron and Harry's room and that of Hermione and Ginny for herself and Arthur. It makes sense - she's a light sleeper, and if one of them should wander in the night, she can be up and about, heating up a glass of milk, ready to listen to any worries they may have.
Of course, it rather puts a crimp in any night-time trysts that a young man and woman may have planned. The Invisibility Cloak has yet to be woven that can get past Molly Weasley.
The daytime, as I have mentioned, is scarcely better. Although Molly is not always around - she seems to have made it her mission to disinfect the attic, although I'm fairly sure it would take an army of house-elves, or maybe a few sticks of dynamite - there are enough Order members, and Weasley family members, and assorted well-wishers in the house at any one time that, well, Harry never has a moment's privacy. From dawn 'til dusk he's surrounded by people worried that his near-silence denotes an approaching breakdown. Myself, I stay out of the way. If Harry is going to lose it, I don't want to be in the same room. Call me a coward, but there's something about the chance of the most powerful wizard of his age - let's call him what he is - losing control that makes me want to be somewhere safe.
Anyway, I think that Harry is going to lose it. Soon. But only if he doesn't get to spend a little time alone with Ginny.
I suppose the marauder in me rose to the challenge. How to get everyone else away and, more to the point, how to get the two of them alone and in the mood to confess their love for each other? Or at least have a damned good snog?
Hmmm... 'Harry, the world will end if you don't start snogging Ginny Weasley again?' Maybe not...
If they were alone, with nobody watching...
Ron and Hermione were actually fairly easy.
"Ron, I've got tickets for the Cannons game tonight. Do you want to go?"
"Good. Take Hermione."
"She was saying the other day that she wanted to go to a real match again."
"It doesn't sound like something she'd say..."
"No, she did," I lied, smiling that small teacher-smile that I used to inform my pupils that they were wrong but I was willing to help them.
"Skinny girl, bushy brown hair, reads a lot?"
"Yes, Ron. We both know Hermione. We're both thinking of the same girl. Now, are you going to ask her out tonight?"
"Ask her out?"
Ah. A definite note of panic in Ron's voice. Well, I can't pretend that I hadn't wondered, although I would have hoped that they'd have taken the plunge before now. Where was that famed Gryffindor courage?
"To the match, Ron. Quidditch. The Cannons, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah... The Cannons. Hang on a second, what about Harry?"
"There's only two tickets," I said. I had several, but Ron didn't need to know that. The others were in the section reserved for the fans of the visiting team, and I knew who they were going to.
"Okay, thanks," Ron said.
I handed him the tickets, and he looked reverentially at them as though I had just handed him lifetime tickets to Paradise. I'm a Tornadoes fan, myself.
"Remus, just the person. Be a dear and hold this, would you?"
Molly handed me a skein of wool, which I dutifully held up wrapped around my hands. She began to knit at a furious pace, and before my eyes a Weasley jumper began to take shape. I watched in fascination as her needles clicked and clattered at a furious pace, augmented by magic, perhaps, but with a skill and surety that could only have come from long practise.
"Did you want to speak to me?" Molly asked, the needles slowing fractionally as she looked up. Without looking, she fed a new colour into the maelstrom of whirring metal and wool, and a lion's head began to take shape in the middle of the jumper.
"Er," I said, still entranced. "Um... Yes, I did. Er." I gathered my thoughts and turned back to her. "Dinner. Yourself and Arthur. I'd like to treat you. Tonight."
Molly appeared taken aback. "Remus, are you sure?"
"Absolutely," I said, warming to my theme. "Molly, you have done a great deal for this house and this family, extended as it is far beyond those of your own clan. I would like to say 'thank you' and I thought that perhaps you and Arthur might enjoy some time alone."
"Well, it's very thoughtful of you, Remus," Molly said. "But I couldn't leave everyone to fend for themselves. Ron's a dear boy, but the last time he cooked I had to replace my entire set of saucepans. Hermione's a lovely girl, but she barely seems to know one end of a stove from the other. Ginny's never shown any interest in cookery, bless her. Harry... Oh, Remus, I couldn't leave Harry alone. But it's very sweet of you to offer. Perhaps another time?"
Molly heaved a small sigh at having to give up the chance to dress up and spend a little time alone with her husband.
"I won't hear of it," I said. "Molly, I spent twenty years living alone. I can certainly cook a meal or two, and you and Arthur deserve a little time alone." And Arthur certainly won't disagree with his wife when you tell him, which is why I came to you first. "Molly, Harry will one day soon have to fend for himself, without you. Perhaps we can see how he copes tonight."
"Good. There is a table booked for you at eight o'clock at La Belle Diablo. Don't be late."
"La Belle Diablo? Remus, that's--"
"Molly," I said, employing my Teacher's Voice of Authority. "My treat. Now, go and get Ginny. She can help you choose what to wear."
Molly seemed so taken aback that she just nodded, and without further ado, bustled out of the drawing room. I was left alone, feeling rather good about myself, until I realised that I had no way to escape from the wool without leaving it all knotted and twisted.
Some time later - how's the saying go? I can face down a pack of Death Eaters, but a ball of wool... - I found Hermione in the library.
"Hermione, I'd like you to go to the Quidditch match with Ron tonight."
"Tonight?" She looked up from the job section of that morning's Prophet. "Oh, I can't, Remus. I have so much to do."
"Nothing that won't wait until tomorrow," I said. "And Ron really wants you to go."
"He does?" she asked, the faintest hint of pink to her cheeks. Ah.
"Very much so. He said he was really looking forward to an evening with you.
"So, you'll go?"
"The Quaffle will be chucked at eight o'clock," I announced. "I imagine Ron will come and find you soon."
"Yes?" I replied, guilelessly. Hermione was the one person who I thought might see through my plan.
"Does Ron really want me to go with him?"
"Oh yes," I replied, with a definite nod of my head. "He seemed very enthusiastic." Well, it is a Cannons game...
I smiled, and left her to her thoughts. She was absently shredding the Prophet as I shut the library door.
Ginny and Harry were easy. I simply told them that dinner was at eight. Easy.
Fred and George, frankly, are a law unto themselves, and anyone setting out to take them on could do worse than to give up immediately and settle for a quiet, easy life fighting mer-people underwater without breathing apparatus.
"You want us to go to the match tonight?"
"The same match for which you've procured tickets for our brother Charles-"
"-and our friend Tonks-"
"-and, or so I hear, young Ronny and our dear Miss Granger-"
"-at great expense-"
"-and effort, don't forget effort-
"-perish the thought-"
"-which rather leads us to wonder-"
"-what's the plan?"
"What plan?" I asked, as flatly as I could. Of course, it didn't work. Fred and George have such long experience of lying that they can spot a fellow plotter and conspirator at ten paces. Possibly more.
"Why are you getting everyone out of the house tonight, Mr. Moony?"
"I'm treating everyone so that I can have a quiet night in my own house without any disturbances," I said, giving them a pointed stare that may as well have been water off a grindylow's back. The twins were about as likely to be embarrassed about their often-explosive experiments as I was about being a member of the Order.
"Not that we don't appreciate the offer-"
"-but we have plans of our own-"
"-twins, in fact-"
"-just finished at Hogwarts-"
"Enough! Look, I'll shout you a meal at La Belle Diablo if you go to the match tonight, alright?"
"For two people each."
"We don't do everything together, after all."
"Not always, anyway."
"Fine, fine," I said, wondering exactly how they were going to tell the female twins apart. I couldn't tell Fred and George apart, after all, and I'd had training from the Order about being observant. Possibly it's because of their manner as well. Very... distracting.
"Just go," I ordered. "You've got seats just behind Charlie and Tonks, alright?"
"Is that so?"
"-and only if-"
"-one wanted to ensure that dear Charles-"
"-and the much admired Miss Nymphadora-"
"-didn't become too comfortable around one another."
I stared at the counter of the shop, fighting a short internal battle.
"I'll pay for your taxis as well," I said.
"Deal!" they said, together.
Well, I'm much too old to be fighting duels for a young woman's affections, after all.
And that left... no-one.
Amazingly, I'd managed to arrange the entire evening without a hitch. No Weasleys, no veelas - Bill and Fleur were in France - no Tonks, no Order members - Minerva had helped arrange that, no questions asked - and, once I got the cooking done, no me. I had a date with the local cinema and a showing of an old Muggle film, Some Like It Hot. I like a good farce, from time to time.
So, by half-seven everyone else was gone, the spaghetti was bubbling, the meat was simmering, the sauce was on a low heat and the bread smelt good enough that I was tempted to stay and enjoy it myself, but I forced myself to cover it over and leave the kitchen, only groaning slightly as I shut the door. Part of being a werewolf is an enhanced sense of smell around the full-moon, and walking away from that bread was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
But, resolute, I walked to the cloakroom and grabbed my coat. I paused as the massed ranks of the house's residents - well, Harry and Ginny - clattered past me at top speed, undoubtedly summoned by the smell of the food. If I say so myself, I did a good job. I wanted to yell at Harry that he should do me proud, but of course he had no idea that I had been plotting against him. Or should that be for him?
Anyway, with nary a wave to see me off, the kitchen door banged behind them. I reached inside my coat and pulled out the finishing touch - a sign that I was planning to hang on the front door reading 'Headquarters of the Dolores Umbridge Appreciation Society' which should have driven off any casual callers. Smiling to myself, I opened the front door-
-and stared along the wand and into the eyes of Bellatrix Black Lestrange
"Oh, it's the werewolf," she spat as I stood frozen in surprise. Still, my mind was whirring even as my limbs refused to move. Bellatrix had disappeared after the final battle, but she'd been reported hurt - broken bones, cuts, a concussion - and she'd not been seen at any wizarding hospital since then. By her appearance, I rather suspected that she hadn't been to a Muggle hospital, either. Not that she was likely to have done, of course.
"Just as well," she said, awakening me from my reverie. "I have to kill you tonight."
She rolled her eyes, as though I was suffering from terminal stupidity.
"This is my home, you fool. I am the last Black, and I will take it - over your dead body, and that of the Potter boy."
I stared at her in bemusement. Certainly she was capable of defeating me in a duel, but Harry?
"You think you can beat Harry?"
"I won't have to. I saw how he protected the Weasley child! The fool is too much in love to think of anything but her. I'll make him sign over the deeds to my house, and then kill them both anyway.
Well. I was glad to know that I hadn't imagined things. Even Bellatrix thought that Harry was in love with Ginny.
I waved the sign vaguely.
"You see, we're getting rid of it," I said. "Otherwise, we could probably let you have it."
She snatched at the sign, scowling as her eyes flickered across it. I'd done quite a thorough job - there were opening hours, rules of entry and even a sub-headquarters to which all mail was directed: Number Four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.
Well, I thought that it was appropriate.
Anyway, with Bellatrix momentarily distracted, I took the opportunity to draw my own wand and point it at her.
"Drop your wand," I ordered, but the Teacher's Voice of Authority is more effective with fourteen year olds who don't yet know the Unforgivable curses.
"Reducto!" she yelled, without a pause. I barely ducked as the spell blasted over my head and cracked into the ceiling, causing the plaster to crack and fall down in great lumps. Sighing - I was already going grey anyway, and plaster is the very devil itself to wash out of your hair - I grabbed her wand and yanked her inside, slamming the door behind her. Fortunately, Mrs. Black's portrait had long since been removed in a concentrated effort involving a powerful witch, curse-breaker, a dragon-rider, a pair of Ministry officials, two joke-shop owners, a Hogwarts Head Boy and a seventh child - or the Weasleys, to you and I, so we were at least spared her wailing.
Anyway, Bellatrix used her momentum to drive her left fist into my jaw. I saw stars, and remembered that she'd never been afraid of a fist-fight at school. As I slumped backwards, I wondered exactly who she was to ruin my carefully laid plans.
Rising up, I swung my arm around and unleashed a powerful Stunner at her back. She staggered forwards, but barely seemed fazed. Smirking, she turned around and pulled aside her cloak to reveal a dragon-skin vest, a highly illegal but very powerful form of light-weight armour.
Sighing, I dived at her, my own fist pulled back until I was in range, when I lashed out and caught her on the point of the jaw. She stumbled back, crashing into the coatstand and smashing it in two while I cursed and clutched at my hand, remembering - not for the first time in my life, but certainly for the first time since I left Hogwarts - that the jaw bone is rather stronger than the bones in your fingers.
Bellatrix spat a tooth at me - hah! - and waved her wand. I ducked, just avoiding the ropes that would have encircled me. From the floor, I waved my wand, but not at her.
"Colloportus! Muffliato!" I enunciated, smiling slightly as the spells struck the distant kitchen door.
Bellatrix, with no concerns about who might overhear us and decide to interrupt their romantic evening to help, took the opportunity to fire a Stunner of her own at me. I dived to one side, feeling my knees protest as the spell blew a hole in the stairs. It was only three nights since the full moon, and my body was still feeling rather the worse for wear.
"This house is mine, Lupin," Bellatrix snarled.
"You're doing a good job of destroying it," I said mildly, pushing myself to my feet. "That's one hallway wrecked already, and you've only been here two minutes. Can we go up to the third-floor landing, next? It's this horrible violet colour, and could do with-"
I ducked. She'd tried to set me on fire.
"A valiant effort," I allowed, waving my wand at the sparks that had fallen on the wallpaper and fanning them with a puff of wind. "What next?"
Bellatrix's wand spat acid at me - something I'd not seen before. But I was able to throw myself backwards and only banged my head on the floor, while the acid ate through the wall behind me, and slowly burned an ever-increasing hole that revealed the drawing-room beyond.
"You're rusty, Bella," I said, side-stepping around a mound of plaster as the wall began to smoulder. "Weren't you the best, once upon a time?"
"Still good enough for you!" she hissed. "Avada Kedavra!"
I'd been waiting for this. A Death Eater prefers to kill painfully, where possible, but if necessary will do so quickly. I waved my wand and a chunk of plaster leapt up into the air, intercepting the Killing Curse and bursting into flames. The burning wreckage dropped to the floor, where it ignited the carpet. Bellatrix and I stood either side of the flames, eying one another speculatively as the old house began to burn with some enthusiasm. A small part of me rather thought that Sirius would have enjoyed seeing it happen.
A rather larger part of me thought that it might be an idea to finish the fight and put the flames out before-
There was a creaking sound above us, and our gazes were drawn upwards. The wall to our side was ablaze now, and weakening by the second. As it was a load-bearing wall, and as the ceiling had been weakened, the floor above was beginning to sag.
I looked back at Bellatrix, who was wavering on the spot. Clearly our little fight had taken it out of her. I was grateful that she'd decided to try and take this place when she was injured. If she'd been fully fit, about the most that I could have hoped for was a decent showing and a quick death.
"Well, as the new mistress of the house, allow me to give you the grand tour," I said, brightly, feeling rather overcome by the adrenaline in my veins. "This," I waved my wand, and ropes sprung out to encircle her, "is the entrance hall. And this is the master bedroom. Diffindo!"
I waved my wand at the ceiling and dived out of the way. The spell struck the weakened material with a crack, and I watched as what happened next seemed to play out in slow-motion.
The ceiling came apart, collapsing downwards.
Bellatrix burst free from her ropes, having employed a Severing Charm.
Mr. and Mrs. Black's heavy, emperor-size bed came crashing through the ceiling, directly on top of their niece.
The wardrobe followed.
And then the vanity table.
And the chest of drawers.
And the three-piece suite, although one of the chairs landed nearer me than her.
And finally the full-length mirror, which shattered on top of the heap.
I breathed the smoky air for a few moments, and then stood up, and began putting out the fires. Then I sat down on one of the chairs and waited for everyone to come back. It wouldn't be long, would it?
Then I remembered that I'd just sent everyone off to have a very enjoyable night - maybe not Charlie - on me. They wouldn't be back for hours.
Duelling really takes it out of me. Especially so near to a full moon...
I snapped awake and upright, nearly cracking my head on a dangerously sagging timber.
"What on earth happened here?"
I stared at the group in front of me. Molly was furious, Arthur was concerned, Hermione looked to be in shock, while Ron was poking in disgust at the area where Bellatrix had been standing. Tonks was beside him, looking alternately at whatever was left of Sirius' cousin and whatever was left of me. Charlie looked furious - he appeared to have had a large tankard of Butterbeer Mauve tipped over him, by the colour of his skin and clothes - while Fred and George were apparently delighted by the carnage.
I smiled, even as I swayed dazedly on the spot.
"How you can smile at a moment like this," Molly began. "I should have known! You're as bad as any child, Remus. We leave you alone for one evening-"
"Mum-" Ron tried to cut in, as he poked around some more, but Molly was off and running now.
"-and come home to find the house blown up! What were you thinking? Or were you thinking at all?"
I let her go on. Apparently completely un-noticed by anyone but me, the kitchen door had swung open, and Harry and Ginny were standing in the doorway, but only for a moment. Seeing that whatever was going on didn't seem to concern him, Harry took Ginny's hand and pulled her back inside. I rather thought that I heard a muffled locking charm as the door clicked shut.
My smiled widened, which seemed to disconcert Molly slightly. But I didn't really notice. My attention was on a closed door, and what I had to assume was going on behind it. Unbidden, Sirius came to my mind.
This one's for you, Padfoot, I thought. Hallelujah.