Pink Green Blue

The Final Stage by Permanent Accountficexchange

Rating: PG-13. Created: December 17th, 2007. Updated: December 17th, 2007. Read Reviews (5)
Disclaimer: Characters, the magical world, etc, is property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros, not the owner of this fic.

Merry Christmas, Kali!

 

The Final Stage

 

Halloween seems like the perfect holiday for 12 Grimmauld Place: dark, scary, haunting. Children should have been clutching their parents' hands as they walked by, glancing frightfully every so often at the looming house that, though it looked just like its neighbors, emitted a sense of evil that could not be manufactured. It was the type of place around which local ghost stories grew, stories of crazy old mothers, dead sons, and angry runaways.

Instead, the powerful leader of the light had hidden number 12, and only a select few could see it. Remus Lupin knew that in theory he should be thrilled about the privilege, the implied trust. Instead, he gripped the wrought iron railing so tightly he was surely denting it. He had carefully packed away all of his pain fourteen years before and had no desire to readdress it.

"Remus?" chirped a bright voice behind him. He'd barely turned before the purple-haired Tonks was beside him, bouncing on her toes and rubbing her arms. "What are you lingering out here for? It's freezing."

She scrambled up the stairs past him, stumbling a bit on the second to last and stubbing her toe. Hopping on one foot and cussing, she reached and opened the front door, sparing him one last exasperated look when she noticed he still hadn't moved.

"Let's go! I'm letting the cold air in," she said, jerking her head toward the house. He chuckled weakly and made his way into the ancient, noble House of Black.

"Where are you coming from?" Remus asked, letting the dark, heavy door shut behind him.

"I'm an Auror," she said, pulling off her jacket and tossing it at the coat stand. "We're very busy, important people these days."

"So you were on a meaningless errand for Fudge?" Remus asked.

"He had us staking out Dumbledore's brother in Hogsmeade!" she moaned. She waited for him to take off his coat and put it on the rack before walking to the kitchen. "I suppose you just ended your shift at the Department of Mysteries?"

He nodded wearily. Thinking about his task made him think of the prophecy, which made him think of Harry, which always made him think of James. James who, Remus had no doubt, had convinced Peter not to fear Remus when they found out he was a werewolf. Who had convinced Sirius that having a dangerous best friend would be the epitome of cool. James who had told Remus that of course they could become Animagi and that Remus should probably consider hexing himself for doubting James's abilities.

"You okay?" Tonks asked loudly. She was holding two glasses.

"Fine. It's been a long day," he said, leaning against the counter.

"What he means is that it's a completely shit day, and we both just want to drink a lot and forget it," Sirius said, walking into the kitchen with his hands shoved deep into his pockets. If it weren't for his scars and wrinkles, he could have passed for a sullen sixteen-year-old.

"Wotcher, cousin. You look as cheery as ever," Tonks said, turning to the sink to fill the glasses with water from the tap. She handed one to Remus and held the other with both hands.

"Go to hell," Sirius muttered, sinking into a chair in the adjoining dining room. Tonks just laughed and drank her water, turning her hair into wavy light blue. She went over to join him at the table, settling into one of the chairs and looking more comfortable than anyone had probably ever looked in this awful house.

"You could be more pleasant to your favorite relation," Tonks said lightly.

"You don't have much competition there," Sirius pointed out.

"I don't know about that." Tonks made her hair silver blonde and elongated her nose in an awful parody of Narcissa Malfoy's beauty.

"Stop being gross," Sirius said, wrinkling his nose. Tonks let her hair change back to the short, purple style that Remus always found so captivating. She winked at him boldly, and he turned away.

Sirius summoned a large decanter of brandy. Remus snatched it out of the air and walked to the table.

"This won't help," Remus said, setting it down as he lowered himself onto a chair.

"I'm cooped up in a house I swore I would burn to the ground rather than reoccupying. My only permanent company is a wretched, sniveling house-elf and a portrait of a woman who told me I should have died in the womb. I'm locked away like a bloody fugitive while you and my cousin's daughter risk your lives for the godson I should be protecting," Sirius growled, summoning the decanter again. "Brandy will most certainly help."

"To be fair," Remus said, "you actually are a fugitive."

Sirius ignored him in favor of conjuring three brandy glasses with spiraling crystal design, and Remus smiled. Sirius performed magic—especially Transfiguration—with the ease of the truly gifted. Remus was sure that half the reason McGonagall let James and him get away with so much in school was because she was in love with their magic.

"A toast," Sirius said, holding up his glass and sending the others at Tonks and Remus so quickly that they needed to catch them to avoid being hit in the head. "To being locked up."

Tonks scoffed. "That's an awful toast."

Remus chuckled, and Sirius shot him an accusing glare, to which he shrugged. "It was an awful toast."

"The point of a toast is to be short. The words don't matter," Sirius said.

"Words matter the most," Tonks said.

"To what, then, would you like to toast?" Sirius asked, looking irritated that he wasn't drinking already.

Tonks smiled and rested her elbows on the table, fingers wrapped tightly around the fragile glass. "Let me think."

"Learning to become an Animagus took less time than this," Sirius said, swirling his glass and watching the liquid spin.

"Ha. Ha," Tonks said, waving a hand and spilling some of her alcohol. She thought a moment more. "Oh! I know! To warm feet and dry hair in the coming cold. My Grandma Tonks used to say that."

Remus and Sirius exchanged a look, but raised their glasses dutifully and repeated, "To warm feet and dry hair in the coming cold."

But while Sirius drained his glass in one go, Remus set his down on the table without touching it. Sirius, being Sirius, noticed immediately.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"I don't drink tonight," Remus said, staring down at the brown liquid.

"Rule #47, Moony," Sirius snapped. It had been such a very long time since Remus had let himself think about his school days that it took a moment to recognize his friend's reference. He shook his head and took a sip. Sirius looked mildly assuaged.

"What was that about?" Tonks asked curiously.

"Marauders never let a brother drink alone," Remus recited. "Stupid thing. We made rules when we were kids."

"Signed in blood!" Sirius added with unnecessary enthusiasm. Remus rolled his eyes. He hadn't liked the idea when he was twelve, and he wasn't about to like the idea more when he was thirty-five. But he hadn't been able to turn down his friends after rule #1: ´┐ŻBe friends forever. Even with stupid werewolves who think that you're too much of a pansy to keep them around.'

"Why do you think we put up with your ridiculous toast?" Sirius asked, pouring himself some more brandy. "Rule #171: Marauders always approve female toasts, no matter how stupid they sound."

Tonks laughed. "That's a great rule."

"That one wasn't our fault," Remus said. "Lily made it up. Said we'd never get ourselves laid if we carried on like normal in front of girls."

Sirius clinked glasses with Tonks and they both finished the rest of their drinks. Remus knew that if Molly Weasley stopped in, she'd have told them all off for the amount of alcohol that they were clearly about to consume. Lily would have laughed and joined them, drinking them all under the table until James secretly began pouring her double and vanishing his own drinks.

Remus drank the rest of his brandy and slid his glass over to join the two Sirius was already refilling

"So you weren't all natural lady killers?" Tonks asked teasingly.

"We didn't have time for girls," Sirius said, pushing the full glasses back to their owners. "They ruined the fun."

Remus wrapped his fingers around the cool glass. "He's lying. He adored Lily."

"She wasn't a girl. She was Prong's girl," Sirius said. And that had made all the difference. No one had been surprised when James started talking obsessively about Lily Evans. He was the crown prince of Gryffindor and anyone with eyes saw that Lily was born to rule the world. It had been like a Shakespearean tragedy, watching how high two talented, wonderful people could ascend before they were brought down in the ruins of their ancestral home by those whom they trusted.

Remus drained his glass. "I've spent enough years mourning them."

"Well, you've never done it with me. Mourn some more," Sirius said, sliding the decanter across the polished surface toward Remus.

"They saved the world, Sirius," Remus said. It had taken him years to move past the betrayal and grief he felt, but Remus had finally come to accept what had happened in 1981. Sirius, though, had been locked away in prison, unable to move through the haunting memories of brotherhood; painful reminders of friends who were killed; and angry, drunken fits. Unlike Remus, he could not yet accept the good that had come from them losing their best friends. "They saved the world, and would not want us to lounge around here mourning them."

Sirius scowled at his glass.

"James," Remus went on, "would transfigure you into a lizard if he saw you being this self-pitying."

"If he were here, I wouldn't be," Sirius said. Guilt-ridden. Pathetic. So totally unlike the boy of fifteen who had careened through the halls and rooms of Hogwarts like a jinxed broom trying to buck its rider.

Yes, the Marauders had been four brothers, but James and Sirius had been something apart. Something special. It wasn't just that they lived together during the holiday, though that was part of it. From the first moment they'd met on the train and agreed to sneak into the conductor's car to see if he was real, James Potter and Sirius Black were inseparable. It had been as if they had waited their whole lives to find each other and come alive.

"Then let's make this a party," Tonks said, making both men look at her like she was insane. If ever there were a house ill suited for a party, it was Grimmauld Place.

"Rule four," Remus said after a moment. "A party can happen anywhere a Marauder is."

"I'm starting to like these rules of yours," Tonks said, jumping up, knocking over her large heavy chair in the process. She shot orange streamers out of her wand, transfigured things into fake pumpkins. Remus added a skeleton in the corner while Sirius just watched them. Mrs. Black was probably rolling in her grave over this sight.

"This is the best you two can do?" Sirius asked. "Pathetic."

"Stop being a wet blanket. It's festive," Tonks said, conjuring a crumpled little Halloween hat and putting it on Sirius's head. He rolled his eyes upward and looked rather embarrassed about the whole thing.

"Yes, Padfoot, do stop trying to ruin the fun," Remus said with a smirk.

Sirius scowled, though he didn't quite have the desired effect while wearing the orange hat with a silhouette of a cat on it. "I never ruin the fun. I am the fun."

"Apparently not, wet blanket," Remus said, standing to grab one of the multitudes of food baskets that Molly always left in the kitchen, insisting that even if she weren't there, the house ought to be stocked with things to eat. When he came back, Tonks had apparently finished her decorations and was having a competition with Sirius to see who could manipulate the smoke from the candles into a scarier figure.

"I was eight," Tonks said, making the smoke look like a crazed fairy. "I remember my mum screaming when she saw The Prophet. My grandparents were all gone. My mum's family didn't matter, except when they sent the occasional Howler or death threat, so I couldn't imagine who could have died to make her so upset. Didn't even cross my mind that something good might have happened, let alone that Voldemort was gone."

Tonks was thirteen years younger than Remus, and sometimes that made him feel incredibly old. But other times, times like this, it made him feel like they could understand each other perfectly. A werewolf bit him when he was six and transformed him overnight into an adult. She was born into a world where newspapers ran the obituaries on the front page and her aunts considered her an abomination, where childhood was sacrificed in the name of safety. For all that Sirius and Remus had in common through their years of school and pranks and secrets, Remus and Tonks, though separated by a decade, shared a childhood.

"I found out in a letter from Dumbledore," Remus said, remembering that Halloween night. He was sure he still had it somewhere. Perhaps at his parents' old house.

Neither Remus nor Tonks needed Sirius to relate his story: feeling uneasy, checking on Pettigrew, seeing the Potter's cottage in ruins. Remus had lost three friends that night in one fell swoop, and yet could not imagine what Sirius had felt when he saw James's lifeless body.

"Here. Eat," Remus said, putting food on a little plate and passing it to Sirius. Sirius ran one long finger along the rim of the porcelain plate, but did not touch the food. Wax trailed down the side of the orange candle and splashed onto the table, where Sirius pressed his thumb against it.

"If you don't want Molly's cooking, I'll take it," Tonks said, reaching over and dragging the plate toward her. Remus wondered if she ever talked to her mother about Sirius growing up, but did not want to ask. The young woman went to the kitchen to collect a spoon or fork, but a resounding crash and tinkling of silverware hitting the floor let Remus knew that she would be cleaning up for a little while.

"It's my fault they died," Sirius said, and Remus knew that his friend should not have any more to drink.

"It's Voldemort's fault," Remus said, dragging his eyes from the kitchen doorway to his old friend. There were lines on Sirius's face, crevices in his once-perfect skin.

"Voldemort didn't betray them."

"Nor did you, Padfoot." Remus looked up at the Italian ceilings. "Peter did. Little Peter, whom we all assumed would adore you and James until the end of the world, no matter how we treated him."

Peter had been their brother, and they would have died for him, as they told him in the Shrieking Shack two years before, but that didn't mean he hadn't irritated them sometimes growing up. He had a tendency to make not-very funny jokes, and then repeat them when no one laughed, as if it would be funnier the second time. They had ignored or teased him in response. There were other quirks of his that had grated on Sirius's nerves especially, but that was the one Remus most clearly remembered.

"He was a rat," Sirius said, attempting humor. "Maybe we should have guessed from that."

No, Remus thought. Because while they had seen the value in Peter, it had never really occurred to them that Voldemort might too.

"We always joked that he got his Animagus form because he was so unnoticeable," Remus remembered.

"If I were an Animagus," Tonks said, reentering the room with a spoon in hand, "I'd want to be a goat."

Even Sirius smiled. "Loud, annoying, eats anything. Sounds like you."

"Goats can climb the highest mountains," Tonks said, sitting again and poking at her food. "Higher than anything other than a bird, and I don't think I'd trust myself to fly."

"Is that true?" Sirius asked Remus, who shrugged.

"Goats are sure-footed, which means it's probably not your form," Remus said to Tonks, who rolled her eyes. "I'd imagine you as a fish of some kind."

Tonks pulled a face, and Sirius snorted as he said, "This is why you never got laid in school."

"What use would it be to be a fish?" Tonks asked. "I'd transform and die!"

"But in water, you'd glide," Remus said, ignoring Sirius's patronizing look. "I always wanted to know what it was like to swim in the ocean, in complete control."

"Well, that might be nice." Tonks went back to her food. "Maybe I'll try being an Animagus sometime."

"If you want lessons, I'm here," Sirius said, sipping his brandy. "Always right here."

Tonks reminded Remus of Sirius as she threw a roll at his head without pausing between bites of chicken. "I would never trust you to teach me. You'd probably make me permanently tattoo something vulgar on my forehead as a prank."

"Only if you wanted," Sirius said. "Perhaps something about you and our resident werewolf?"

Cutting off Tonks's reply, Remus said, "No."

Sirius flicked his wand at the candle, and they all watched it transform into a wax miniature of Remus, who chirped in quick succession, "I'm boring. I'm boring. I'm boring."

Remus laughed and transfigured the brandy bottle into a glass miniature of Sirius. When the little guy moved, the brandy inside him swooshed around.

"I'm drunk and cranky," Sirius's replica said, shimmying his bum back and forth. "And boring."

Mini Remus tried to punch Mini Sirius, only to have its wax hand break off.

"Damn," Sirius said, reverting both little guys to their original forms.

"Remus: 545. Sirius: 4," Remus said happily.

"Technically, the little version of Remus was the one who lost," Tonks pointed out. "So shouldn't that count against you?"

"That is why you are my favorite relation," Sirius said, laughing. It had been a long time since Remus had heard him laugh that way: contagiously, like he did at school, without a hint of bitterness. It made him smile.

Tonks grinned. "I knew it."

Sirius shook his head and looked at Remus across from him.

"Who would have thought it'd be us, huh?" Sirius asked, leaning back in his chair. "Out of all the Marauders. Padfoot and Moony, and my Metamorphmagus cousin."

It seemed surreal to Remus, too, having one of his best friends in front of him again after all of those years thinking they were all gone forever. It made him feel complete, though he'd never say that aloud. Sirius would call him a poof and never stop harassing him about it. Tonks took his hand under the table, out of sight. Remus glanced over, but she just nodded her head at him and looked slightly embarrassed. He tightened his hold.

"Now about this party," Remus said, summoning a deck of cards from the living room. "We're going to need a lot more alcohol and probably some games to make it more official."

Sirius's entire face lit up. "That's more like it."

Remus had to let go of Tonks's hand to deal the cards, but she didn't complain. It seemed that competitiveness was one of the Black family traits she had inherited as she conjured chips and began betting in earnest after a couple of hands.

"Raise," she said, putting a large red chip in the middle of the table.

"Re-raise," Sirius said, pushing in a fourth of his chips. Remus folded and leaned back to enjoy the show.

"I call," Tonks said, adding the chips and laying down her cards face up to show her three of a kind.

"Too bad, loser!" Sirius shouted, jubilantly tossing his Full House onto the table. Remus sipped his brandy and ignored their shouting match as each accused the other of cheating. Down the hall, the portrait of Mrs. Black was silent and Kreacher was nowhere to be seen. Outside, Muggle children and their parents were dressed up as fairies and princesses and things they could never be, passing by this row of homes without ever thinking it was odd that the addresses jumped from number 11 to 13. And in the house they could not see, the one that leant itself to ghost stories, two broken men and one transient woman were finally, truly where they most wanted to be.

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