For Your Own Good
Turn, Turn, Turn
After making sure the boys were thoroughly absorbed in their favorite baseball-related pastimes (Henry keeping box score and Mal pointing out everything he was doing wrong), John turned to look directly at Ryan, who had his feet up on the empty seat in front of him and was cracking peanuts between his fingers as though he had no other care in the world.
After a few moments, Ryan started to fidget. After a few more, he turned to glare back at John. "Would you stop that?" he finally exploded.
"Thirty-eight seconds." John tapped his watch. "New personal best for you, Padfoot."
Ryan growled under his breath and flicked a peanut shell at his friend. "Mr. Padfoot would like to express his astonishment that he has not murdered Mr. Moony in his sleep long since."
"Mr. Moony thinks that the ladies of the household might have a few words to say about such pastimes," John returned readily. "But speaking of murder…"
"Ah, hell." Ryan sighed. "How'd I know it was coming around to that."
"Because of what my esteemed alter ego read in the newspaper over a week ago, and because you've been sleeping better ever since then, while Thea and Pearl have been worse." John helped himself to a handful of Ryan's peanuts. "So either the story was true and you're not dreaming any longer because there's nothing to dream about, or it was true and you're dreaming about some sort of blissful afterlife, or…"
"Yeah." Ryan rubbed two peanuts between his fingers, removing their papery coatings. "Or." Letting the papers fall to the ground, he popped the peanuts into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "See, I don't know how much good it'll do to tell you any of this," he said once he'd swallowed. "Are you going to remember it, or believe it if you do?"
"Maybe, maybe not." John shrugged. "But I can't see how it'll hurt."
"Famous last words if I ever heard them." Ryan picked up his plastic cup of beer and took a long drink from it. "All right, fine. Good news to start with: the other me wasn't as mad as I was afraid he was, and the stuff he was warning me about, I mostly got right on this side of things…"
Remus Lupin awakened just as dawn began to erase the stars from the sky, reaching for the dream journal he'd been keeping for several years almost before his eyes were fully open.
Similar story to one known from dreams, he scribbled rapidly, remembering with a small smile that it had been Aletha who had taught him the spell to magically link together his quill and inkwell years before. S replaced as Secret-Keeper by P, who was spy all along—S and P face off on Muggle street after J and L die—in dreams, S shot first, killing P, then immediately Disapparated to take H into hiding, but was eventually cleared despite that—in reality…
His quill slowed and stopped as he gazed down at the page. What he was about to write, as marvelous as it had sounded on a sunny afternoon at the baseball park with the boys cheering beside him, felt strange and unnatural with the wan light of early morning trickling through the windows of the remote cottage he called home.
"Just writing it down doesn't mean you believe it," he murmured aloud, and set his quill's tip on the page again.
In reality, P shot first, cut off own finger to leave traces, blew up street and killed twelve Muggles, changed forms and disappeared as rat—S got off spell too late, shocked by how neatly P had trapped him, then was overwhelmed by everything that had happened and could only laugh.
"Which is exactly what he always used to do when we were in our worst spots back at school, or afterwards, during the war." Remus jabbed the quill viciously into the page for the full stop. "But, of course, the Ministry types didn't know him, so they took the laughter for his having enjoyed killing all those people."
Why the difference between worlds? he wrote on a new line. R doesn't know, but thinks possibly because he had more to hope for, more to come back to—S let H go with RH, hadn't heard from A in weeks, thought I might be the spy so had been keeping away from me…
"Mr. Moony would like to inform Mr. Padfoot that he is an idiot," Remus muttered, setting the quill aside before he snapped it. "But then, assuming any of this is true, Mr. Padfoot has had plenty of time to absorb that thought quite thoroughly." Staring out the window at the trees which surrounded his cottage, he shook his head. "Which brings us to the real core of the matter. This all makes for a pretty little dream, but there's not a bit of it I can prove." He stopped, looking down at his hands, scarred here and there from his full moon nights and with a greyish stain along his right index finger where the quill had leaked a few drops. "Or is there?"
Picking up the quill again, he added a line underneath what he had already written, recalling one of the facts which had led, in the world of his dreams, to the clearing of his friend's name in absentia.
P had the Dark Mark. S did not.
"And on Sirius, that would have been more obvious than on quite a lot of people." Remus regarded his quill-holding hand with a slight smile. "He tended to cast his spells with vigor. If he'd had anything on his left arm, we would have known about it." He sighed. "Though, of course, that doesn't prove anything. He could have argued that he shouldn't be Marked because the entire point was for him to be a spy, that is, secretly on their side…"
Dropping the quill back into the inkwell, he got to his feet. Arguing could-haves and might-have-beens would get him nowhere even faster than he was already rushing towards that destination.
"At least the dreams have been good for one thing." Remus picked up his wand from the bedside table and headed for the kitchen, turning on the light and bringing the kettle up to boil as he entered with two careless flicks. "'Chronic headaches' are as good a reason as any to miss a few days of work every month. It may mean I'm limited to the Muggle world, since most magical people would eventually realize my headache days lined up with full moons a little too neatly for their taste, but at least I've never starved." He opened the cupboard to locate tea and sugar, smiling one-sidedly. "Not physically, in any case."
Emotionally is another matter. Working by rote, he warmed the teapot, added the leaves, and Summoned the sputtering kettle. It can't be good for me to wake up every morning yearning for a wife and daughter who may well be figments of my imagination, and a son who would probably run screaming from me if we ever met in the waking world. How that particular portion of Sirius's family got mixed up in my dreams, I'll never know.
"Not that I'd mind doing Lucius Malfoy a bad turn or two. Or three, or four." Chuckling, Remus slid two slices of bread into the toaster and pushed the lever down. "My one regret in the dreams is that I never got the chance to see his face when he found out just exactly who had run off with his precious baby boy…"
"I ran those tests on the nursery you wanted," said the female Auror in the hallway outside the room, making no effort to keep her voice down. If anything, she was speaking more loudly than she needed to. "Sure enough, two children, two adults. Only one Apparition trace out, though. The man was Side-Alonging all three of them."
"Suppose she must've been a Muggle, then," the male Auror responded, in similarly heightened tones. "Anything strange about him? Unusual magic, Dark or Light?"
"A few odd resonances in his aura, so I tried a Bachle Analysis on a hunch." The witch's voice acquired almost a gloating tone, as though she were pleased with this result. "Came back positive. Whoever he was, he's a werewolf."
Lucius wrenched himself out of the dream in time to stifle his scream of disbelieving fury, a knack he'd learned through painful necessity over the last decade. Narcissa, with her usual acuity, had placed her finger directly on the central point of his nightmares, but he thought she did not fully comprehend their cause as he had come to do.
"Some part of me," he said aloud, using the sound of his voice to calm himself further, "feels guilty that I devoted myself to my own interests on that day of chaos, and thus saved so much from the wreck of our plans, when many of my colleagues and even my Master lost everything." Sitting up, he blotted sweat from his forehead with the corner of the sheet. "It would have been foolish to do anything else—I could hardly have saved them without incriminating myself, and my being punished along with them would have done no good to anyone—but still I feel that guilt, and these dreams are its result."
"Merlin's inkblots," said an amused voice from the corner of the room. "You've got a speck of decency left after all. Never would've thought it."
Lucius had jolted at the first word, and by the end of the final sentence had his wand in his hand, shedding light in the proper direction. "You," he said, staring in shock at the speaker. "You're dead."
"Yeah, so?" Sirius Black shrugged from the chair he was occupying in a comfortable slouch. "You're dreaming. Not as bad as your usual run, but still. Just a dream. Nothing to worry about." He waggled a hand in the air around his head. "Tomorrow morning, you'll barely remember I dropped by."
"And why have you…'dropped by'?" Lucius eyed his wife's late cousin dubiously. Except for the scattering of silver through his messy crop of dark hair and the thinness and pallor of his face, Black looked very much as Lucius remembered him. "You certainly don't appear to be a ghost."
"Don't know what I am." Black twirled his wand idly between two fingers of his left hand. "Don't much care, honestly. As for why I'm here, no real reason. Thought I'd say hello to some of the family while I had the chance, see how everyone's doing." He fanned his right hand lazily. "Hello, Lucius."
It must be a dream. No waking experience could match this level of surreality. "Hello." Lucius refrained from waving in return, instead using his wand to turn on the bedside lamps and putting out its light. "So, in your opinion, how am I doing?"
"Judging by that nightmare you were having when I got here?" Black shook his head. "Not so hot. How often do you have those? I'd guess pretty frequently, given you and Cissy are sleeping apart these days."
"That was a personal decision made between the two of us, which is none of your concern." Lucius tried for a tone of quelling superiority. Judging by the smirk on Black's face, it hadn't worked. "Neither, as it happens, are my dreams."
"Uh-huh." Black nodded. "Pretty damn frequently, then. Every night, or as near as makes no never mind. Pardon my colloquialisms, I've done a bit of dreaming of my own. Not much else to do in Azkaban." He glanced sidelong at Lucius. "As you'd know."
"Ah, but I know it only from my dreams." Lucius relaxed as the conversation moved into more comfortable territory. "You knew it from reality, inescapable reality, until finally it killed you. And I still live, well-respected, comfortable, and free."
"You so sure?" Black seemed intent on the twirling of his wand, his voice seemingly idle but with undertones of darkness. "Think about this again, Lucius. We've both of us spent very nearly ten years in Azkaban. I could be mistaken, but we may even have had the same cell. Which would be possible, you see, because only one of us was really there. The other one dreamed the whole thing. But now, here's the sixty-four-thousand Galleon question." He leaned forward, his wand finishing a twirl with its tip towards Lucius. "How do you know which one is which?"
"How do you know?" Black swirled his wand in lazy circles in time with his words. "How can you be certain, truly certain, that this is your reality? Seems to me it could just as easily be your mind's last desperate clutch at sanity, the only way you've got to escape from that worst-memories loop the dementors keep you in. Only if you're that delusional, to mistake a dream for reality, I'd say you're mad already, or getting close to it. In which case, I'd be doing you a favor if I did this—"
His wand whisked sideways once.
Lucius had no time to raise his own wand before his world spun, wobbled, then steadied into a new pattern.
Darkness surrounded him where he lay, together with a bone-deep chill and an indescribable, unmistakable stench. Sobs, shrieks, ravings, curses rose around him, a din that was never silent, day or night. Turning onto his side, he curled into himself. "A dream," he whispered, "this is only a dream…"
But waking, he knew from bitter experience, was many painful hours away.
Groaning, he covered his ears with his hands, but that only magnified the voices inside his head, as the cold surrounding him grew more intense.
"—Bachle Analysis on a hunch. Came back positive. Whoever he was, he's a werewolf."
"Werewolf? Really, now." The wizard sounded positively amused by this. "Bit of a shame, that. The kid'll probably be turned at the next full moon, assuming he survives it. Still, we can't spare anyone to track him down at this point, not with so many Death Eaters to bring in…"
Narcissa blinked awake, confused. The room was the wrong shape and size to be her bedroom (either of them), and her neck and shoulders ached terribly.
"Sleeping dangerously, Cissy?" inquired a voice from behind her.
Whirling around, Narcissa stared. "How did you get in here?" she demanded.
"New invention." Her cousin Sirius waved a hand towards the entrance to her sitting room in Malfoy Manor without moving from his lounging position on the sofa against one wall. "It's called a door. I really think it's going to catch on."
"That is not what I meant." Narcissa took a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves. "You are dead, Sirius."
"You know, you're the second person tonight to tell me that. One more person says so, I'm going to start to get worried." Sirius grinned at the look on Narcissa's face. "Don't fuss, Cissy. You're dreaming, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to drop in and say hi. It's been a while. How've you been? You and Lucius, and your kid, what's his name. I never could remember it." He chuckled reminiscently. "Merlin's cot, that was funny, that one time—oh, you weren't there. Never mind."
"Astounding." Narcissa sat back in her chair, regarding her cousin in wonder. "Even death hasn't changed you."
"Why should it?" Sirius shrugged. "Dying's easy. Living, now, living is hard. Especially living through Azkaban. But I had my secret weapons." His smile turned momentarily wicked before vanishing entirely as he sat up, fixing her gaze with his. "Looks like you did too, Cissy. You really shouldn't fall asleep with your secrets on display."
"What are you talking about?" Narcissa drew herself up indignantly, ignoring the stir of fear behind her ribs. "What secrets? What do you think I have ever done that the whole world may not know?"
"The whole world's one thing. Lucius is another." Sirius glanced in the direction of the bedrooms. "And I think he might have a few questions if he saw this."
He lifted his right hand. Between two fingers he held a small Muggle-style photograph.
Narcissa tightened her hands around the arms of her chair as the room swung dizzily around her. "That is mine," she said in a voice which sounded nothing like her own. "Give it back to me."
"Gladly." Sirius wafted it into the air with his wand and floated it across the distance between them into her lap. "But you need to be a little more careful, Cissy. I don't think you got this far by taking stupid chances. Fortunately for you, the only person who came along this time is yours truly, but inquiring cousins want to know. Who is that mysterious girl, anyway, and what's a pair of eyes an awful lot like yours doing in that strong little face with all that dark hair?" His voice gentled. "I do have to say, she looks like a sweetheart. What is she, eight? Nine?"
"She will be nine next week." Narcissa looked once more at the photograph, her usual rush of longing for its original welling up in her heart, before she slid it safely away in one of her desk drawers and locked it with the charm which would respond only to her. "And you are right about one thing. She is very sweet indeed." Despite herself, she smiled. "I have heard it said that children who are conceived as a result of love potions, rather than natural love and desire between their parents, are born unable to love anyone, even themselves. If the reverse is also true, perhaps it explains a few things about my Cassandra."
"Cassandra." Sirius nodded slowly. "Invoking a bit of mythology, are you? She's true, but you're hoping no one ever believes it. And if she's nine next week…" He paused, tapping his fingers against the back of his other hand. "That's what I thought. Nine years plus nine months back from right now puts us round about a very particular Halloween." He looked up at her, his eyes neither condemning nor mocking but understanding, even sympathetic. "You were scared, weren't you? Scared right out of your mind, because nothing in the way we grew up ever prepared you for the possibility that your side of things might lose."
"It cut the ground from under my feet." Narcissa shut her eyes, letting her mind rove back through the years to the breathless terror of those days and nights. "The world was falling to pieces around me, and I was not sure whether I more feared the thought that I might myself be arrested or that Lucius might be. Dementors would have been terrible enough, but the gloating pity of my peers might well have been worse. In either case, I was prepared." Without opening her eyes, she cupped her hand by her side, as if to hold a vial. "Three doses. One for each of us. It is a woman's work, after all, to defend her family's honor."
"We can argue that one another time," said Sirius after a pause of several seconds. "Especially since you never got that far. But now I have to ask. Why didn't you?"
"Because I dreamed, one night, that I had." Opening her eyes, Narcissa looked levelly at her cousin. "That Lucius had been discovered in possession of Death Eater paraphernalia, that he had been arrested and removed from the house before I ever had a chance to come near him, and that Draco on the very same night had vanished, spirited away from his nursery by a person or persons unknown. What else, I thought in my dream, was left to me but death? And so I took the poison, and lay down on my bed, and closed my eyes. Only to open them again not in the next world but in this one, although in a place completely strange to me, and under a torrent of abuse from the furious young wizard who had brewed the proper antidote in time to save me."
"Oh, really?" Sirius propped his feet on the end of the couch, grinning. "This I have to hear."
"He wanted to know what right I thought I had to take my own life, when so many lives more valuable than mine had been lost already. What right I had to add to the death toll from this war for no better reason than cowardice. And when I countered with the tale of my losses, he laughed at me." A bit of the fiery fury she had felt at the time resonated through Narcissa, but she had come over the years to see the humor in the situation as well, dark as it might be. "He said that if I had only bothered to wait a few hours, I would have learned that my son was safe and well, and that if I had any mind worth mentioning, I would have seen years ago that Lucius was not worth my time. And thus began the first of many spectacular quarrels between us."
"Which turned into something else, if that photo's any indication." Sirius frowned. "But no, you're talking about dreams here. How'd it happen in reality?"
"The reality grew from the dreams." Narcissa massaged the corner of her forehead wearily. "I spent my days half-awake at best, drifting about the house, as Lucius did his best to convince the fools at the Ministry that he had been an unwilling participant in everything, or had never been in the places they mentioned at all. To which I often testified, perjuring myself hopelessly in the process, and receiving from my husband not so much as a word of thanks." She shook her head. "Which brought me to the understanding that my unwilling dream-host was far more right than I wanted him to be. And so, one night, I dressed in Muggle clothing and sought out the house where my dreams had him living, hoping to find it empty, or him otherwise occupied."
"But it wasn't, and he wasn't." Sirius held up a hand to stop her before she could continue. "That's all I need to know, Cissy, trust me. Even that much is causing mental scarring already. You came, you saw, you conquered each other, and then?"
"And then, I left." Narcissa shrugged one shoulder. "I returned here, and we have treated one another ever since with the politeness proper to our social standings. In this world. In the dreams…" She sighed, letting her longing show, as she had so seldom been able to do. "In the dreams, we continued to learn about one another. To argue about all those things which our backgrounds and experiences meant we saw differently. But more and more, the arguments turned playful. Sometimes they led us into further intimacy, and at other times to simple childish silliness. I can still remember the first time I heard him truly laugh. He was as surprised by it as I was." Shyly, she glanced over at her cousin. "It was on that night that I told him my news."
"In the dreams, you told him. And he was happy to hear it, and you've lasted this long." Sirius waited for her affirming nod before going on. "Does he know it happened here too?"
"He does not." Narcissa shut her eyes wearily. "Only my sister knows. My sister, and her husband, and her husband's cousins who have acted as my daughter's foster parents since her birth. And yes, before you ask, they are Muggles." Into the darkness, she smiled. "What better way to ensure Lucius will never find her?"
"So you and 'Dromeda made it up. I'd always hoped you could." The springs of the sofa squeaked as Sirius changed position. "You know your son's been carrying on with her daughter. So to speak."
"Know?" Narcissa chuckled. "I arranged it, Sirius, as soon as I realized where Draco's inclinations lay. The petty scufflings for power among the children who should have been his peers amused him, but he showed no desire to join in. Instead he spent his time flying, or digging in a corner of the gardens, or trying out the musical instrument which was his first purchase with his own pocket money." She opened her eyes to look over at her cousin, who was shooting colored smoke rings from his wand at the ceiling. "That, most of all, told me the true desires of his heart, for it took him well over a month to be able to coax anything other than horrible squawks from that little pipe, but he persevered until he had it mastered."
"I'd tend to agree that says Badger more than Snake." Sirius fired a black arrow through a golden-yellow heart. "And if you'd been back in touch with 'Dromeda, you'd have known where her Dora had been Sorted. So you…what? Left the unexpurgated family tree lying around?"
"I did, and complained once or twice within Draco's hearing about such an unworthy recipient of our great-grandfather's Metamorphmagic as my sister's daughter Nymphadora. Which, as I suspected, piqued Draco's interest, and he enlisted Dobby's help to send her one of the more delightful notes I have ever been privileged to read." Narcissa smiled. "'Dear Cousin Nymphadora, my mother says you can make your hair change colors. I tried to make my hair change colors and it only worked a very little bit. Can you teach me how to make it work more than a very little bit? Please write back. Your cousin, Draco.'"
Sirius laughed aloud, swirling his wand to dissipate the smoke. "Merlin's bootlaces, that sounds just like him. What was he, six?"
"I believe so. And Nymphadora was a third year, which meant that they were indeed able to meet, during one of her Hogsmeade days. She intrigued him, he charmed her, and they have been corresponding regularly, and meeting as often as they have the chance, ever since. Which relieves me on several levels, because not only does it mean my son has someone in his life who encourages his best tendencies rather than his worst, but…"
"But?" Sirius prompted when Narcissa sat silent for several seconds.
"You know my husband, Sirius." Narcissa turned her wedding ring on her finger. "Both as a human being, and as a product of the world we were all three raised in. What would he do if he discovered I had borne another man's child? Especially that man?"
"I know what he'd want to do, and Lucius was never noted for curbing his impulses, not when he thought he could get away with it." Sirius scowled. "Why did you marry him, Cissy? Because they told you they ought to?"
"No, I was in love with him, at first. Or rather, I was in love with the position I would gain by wedding him, and with the glamorous image of him. The ice-lord, cold and remote, but still with a human heart, which could be reached and warmed by my love." Narcissa let her hands fall into her lap. "I know better now. Lucius is capable of love, certainly, but it is all given to colder things than he is himself. To the furtherance of his family line, to his personal ambition and pride, and to the Master he has chosen to serve. So I stay here to protect my children, each in their own way, and do my truest living in my dreams."
"Don't we all." Sirius smiled, his eyes far away. "Where are you tonight, in your dreams?"
"At the seaside. Cassandra loves the sea." The memories rose up soft and warm in Narcissa's mind, making her ache with longing, and she closed her eyes once more to see them clearly. "Her father rented a boat for us yesterday, as a surprise, and we sailed out along the coastline and talked about the mysterious world beneath the waves. Cassie wants to learn about the technology that Muggles use to study the depths of the oceans, then improve upon it with magic, so that she can become the greatest oceanographer either world has ever known, and learn every secret the seas have to hide."
"I hope she does." The sofa squeaked again, emitting the sound it made when its occupant stood up. "And I hope her mother gets what she wants too."
"I will." Narcissa yawned. "As soon as I fall asleep." She laughed sleepily. "Though how can I, when I am already dreaming?"
"Try this," her cousin's voice suggested, and the soft rush of air that meant an expertly cast spell washed over her.
With a little sigh of contentment, Narcissa Malfoy let go of herself, reaching eagerly towards the world where she bore neither of those names any longer, and never stopped to wonder how she could have been bespelled into her beloved dreams by the semblance of one who was dead.
In a wood-paneled bedroom overlooking green lawns, a broad bed dipped once, then settled. Its human occupant made a small noise of confusion, reached out a hand, and grunted in satisfaction as his fingers encountered fur. "Night, 'Rion," he muttered, subsiding back into sleep.
Thirty silent seconds passed.
"Good night, kid," a voice whispered into the darkness. "See you on the other side."
Then all was quiet at Malfoy Manor once more.
As is my usual style, answering questions and raising more at the same time. Hope you're enjoying! Next chapter is almost undoubtedly the train ride to Hogwarts, so hang in there and we'll see what we shall see!
If you're wondering, the two Aurors about whom Lucius is dreaming in the middle of the chapter are indeed Frank and Alice Longbottom, and their fate in the alterworld is related to that night. More about them next time as well!