He Nearly Killed the Cat
The Best Case
By Anne B. Walsh
Neenie shook her head. "The bodies are gone," she said. "And our world was merged. That's what happens when either we or the RC's change so much in a particular world that its major identifying differences go away. Past a certain point, it can't maintain its integrity anymore, and it just…" She interlinked her fingers. "…merges with the next world down the line. The differences fade out of people's minds when they see it isn't true any longer, and they assume they imagined it or dreamed it."
"We don't do it—honestly, we can't—unless all the people in one world are basically the same, personality-wise, as the ones they're going to be merged with," Reynard added. "Same age, same shaping factors, same fundamental choices. Otherwise we're no better than the RC's, forcing people into lives they never wanted. And it's still not our favorite thing to do."
"It sounds to me like a Memory Charm," Remus said thoughtfully. "At least, in the sense of morality. You merge worlds to maintain people's sense of continuity, to keep them from having too many illusions shattered. Your adversaries do it for their own convenience, and to further their own goals."
"Exactly." Reynard spoke casually, but there was a bite under his tone. "We never like doing it, but we will if we have to. They enjoy it. They revel in it."
"But I'm glad Miss Eve and Miss Suzie arranged for it back home." Neenie's chin came up, and Remus saw with a pang that her eyes were bright with tears. "It's best for everyone that way. How would they explain it, finding the Den empty, finding some of their own children gone, with no trace, no magic, no bodies? Better for it to just be a passing fantasy, a bad dream. The Pack missing, the Pride taken away? No, you imagined it, you made it up. See, here they are, they're just fine. And life rolls on, and no one ever knows that it was real, that we're gone, that we'll never see them again…"
The next portion of Remus's errant thought chose this moment to show itself. He turned to his older self as Reynard offered Neenie a fresh corner of towel for her eyes. "What happened to you six months from now?" he asked, before realizing quite how ridiculous this sounded. "Sorry. My now. Halloween of '81."
"I knew what you meant. And that would be a great many things, but the most important to me personally was meeting my wife." The older Remus cupped his hands at chest level, and a statuette-sized figure rose from them. "She's Neenie's older sister as well as her guardian, and they look much alike."
"They certainly do." Remus studied the figure, watching the way the brown hair swung as the head turned back and forth, the curve of the lips in a secret smile.
"I… miss her. A great deal."
Which would sound banal, written down, but isn't at all. It's the tone, I think. Very calm, almost too calm, but with that hint of a catch there at the end of it. As if he won't let himself cry for her, because he's afraid that if he starts, he'll never stop.
Am I so wrong to want that for myself?
"What are you thinking of that you're afraid my cubs won't approve?" the older Remus asked, startling Remus into a jump.
"How did you—cubs?"
"A simple enough derivation. Werewolf, cubs." His older self smirked. "And if you're really going to try to lie to an older and sneakier version of yourself—"
Remus cut off his heated denial and reflected for a moment on the irony of himself winding him up.
Then he explained.
"I don't see any holes in it, though I have an admittedly limited view of the situation," his older self said when the whole thought had been laid out. "Neenie would be the true expert. Shall we run it past her?"
"Would you mind? She…" Remus trailed off, unable to accurately describe his reaction to the girl.
"I'd be more surprised if she didn't give you conflicting reactions." His older self looked thoughtful. "And now I have to wonder, if I'd been of her generation, or she of mine…"
"There's probably a story about that somewhere," said Remus, waving a hand at the starry landscape all around them. "Or a world where that happens, if you like that better."
"Probably." His older self chuckled. "Maybe someday I'll inspire Valentina Jett to write it for you, so you can see how it comes out."
"Thanks. I'd appreciate that."
Side by side, they approached the twins.
I should know better than to ever think I can't be surprised anymore.
"I can't believe I'm hearing this." Neenie gave a dubious look to the younger version of her Pack-father. "You want us to—"
"To merge me, yes. Or whatever you call it." He wobbled a hand back and forth in an I-don't-care gesture. "I leave this body for the use of my esteemed colleague here." A slight inclination of the head towards the washed-out figure of Moony as Neenie was used to seeing him, waiting patiently one pace back and to the left. "And you take my wayward soul and slide it into the body of the me who lives in your world, the one you came from, but at the time where I belong."
"I think I see how this adds up," said Fox, a bit of his lower lip caught in his teeth. "Not much was different between our worlds at the point where you are. Maybe a person or two, but you'll catch on to that."
"Absolutely." The younger Moony grinned, momentarily highlighting the resemblance between him and Fox. "I always was a fast learner."
"But your friends," Neenie protested. "They'll be dead, the way they would have been in your world without me—"
"I know it." Blue eyes closed over a momentary sheen of tears. "I'll miss them terribly. I'll always wish I could have done something. But realistically, I can't. I don't have your training, I don't know the things you know, and there's no time for you to teach me. If I'm going to go into this world, I have to play it as it flies. Which means, since there was no saving James and Lily the first time around…"
Neenie felt a breathless little laugh bubbling in her chest. "And here I thought saving them was a good thing."
"It was," said the older Moony, using the firm tone Neenie knew meant there would be no argument tolerated. "We'll discuss it further later. For now, since this young man seems set on his undoubtedly very foolish course of action…"
The younger Moony raised an eyebrow. The older Moony raised one back.
Fox muffled a fit of snickers in his towel.
The next morning, when James and Sirius arrived at Remus's home to check on him, they found the house deserted and a brief note lying on the kitchen table, beside a pile of neatly folded beach towels.
Dear Padfoot and Prongs,
The war's over and you have your own lives to live. I'm off to find mine, and wish you both all the happiness you deserve. Don't expect to see me back. My best to Lily and Harry.
P.S. The answer is 42. Now find the question.
"The answer is 42… what the hell?" Sirius dropped the note on top of the towels and looked at James. "You don't think the Death Eaters…"
"No, it's a Muggle thing, that and the towels. Lily likes it, she and Moony used to talk about it for hours." James traced the head of the Gryffindor lion on the uppermost towel thoughtfully. "It's just another way to say that he's off to look for the meaning of life."
"Well, whatever it is, I hope he finds it."
The next morning, Remus Lupin awakened with the feeling that he'd had a strange, terrifying, yet marvelous dream, that he'd glimpsed worlds beyond his own and peered into the future.
He forgot most of the details by his second cup of tea, helped along by the series of shocking developments that filled the pages of the Daily Prophet. The vague feeling of disquiet he felt when he saw that Sirius Black was being blamed for the deaths of James and Lily Potter, Peter Pettigrew, and twelve Muggles, he put down to anger and betrayal. Sirius had, after all, been his friend.
In later years, as the cubs of the Pack grew up around him, he once or twice experienced a slight jar when he looked into Hermione's face and saw hazel eyes rather than blue. Being a wise man, he declined to spend his time wondering why this was happening or what it might mean. He had more important things to do.
Kissing Danger, as always, ranked at the very top of this list.
The next morning, a man called John White sat beside a small fireplace, watching two scenes at once in the flames. On one side, his best friends read his farewell note and (though he knew they'd never think about it this way) brushed the complication that was him out of their lives with a faint sigh of relief. On the other, the young man he had once been prepared to face the hardest six months of his life.
To date, that is.
A simple gesture of wiping clean banished both sets of pictures from the fire, and he picked up a double handful of the flames, enjoying the humming warmth they sent through his hands and arms.
Strange that this power should change worlds with me, when my—he caught himself before thinking the forbidden word and instead shaped what he meant in the air with the fire—my transformative power did not.
"Thinking about Ani—dammit!"
"Anidammit? I don't believe I know that spell." John turned to grin at his son, who was scowling at him, hair still damp from the shower he'd heard going upstairs. "I didn't feel like breakfast yet. Come sit with me?"
Reynard loped across the room and sat down beside his father, watching the flames shape themselves from human to lion and back again. "It's to do with bodies and souls again," he said, leaning his head against John's shoulder as though he were a much younger boy. "We retain our magic, because we have that in our souls, and any skill we had learned or obtained that was purely magical, we ought to still have as well. But our… transformations had a bodily aspect to them, with all those spells and the potion that we had to take, so we've lost that for now."
"For now?" John gave in to the temptation to run his fingers through the waves of Reynard's hair, letting the seemingly idle gesture say everything he knew his words never could.
"Mmmm." Reynard's eyes were half-closed, his voice going dreamy. "Miss Eve has a supply of that potion, that one-ingredient-away-from-done way you can keep it. She started a dose brewing to the finish for me, and she said she would make it a double just in case the first one got spoiled, but now I'm not so sure…"
"That is good news." John returned all except a palmful of the flames to the fireplace and began to work with that amount, molding his material into the two shapes he had seen in his mind.
The magic of this place seems more personal than the sort I'm used to. Lucky for me, I can keep my preferred weapon and power-source… He chuckled under his breath, sliding the first part of his project onto its proper finger. …close at hand. And the rest of it… He fastened the second portion around his neck and tucked it under the simple black T-shirt he was wearing with his jeans. Near to my heart. As will be the person it represents, until we find her again.
"Good mor—oh, I'm sorry." Neenie lowered her voice as she came around the corner and saw her brother's head on her father's shoulder. "Did you sleep well?"
"I slept very well, thank you." John stroked a spot at the corner of Reynard's jaw, making him twitch and mumble something. "This one seems to be tired of me already."
"I said," Reynard grumbled, opening one eye, "I'm not asleep, I'm just relaxed."
"So you always snore when you're relaxing?" Neenie had her arms crossed.
"I was not snoring!" Reynard sat upright in indignation. "Dad would've told me—Dad, was I snoring?"
John pretended to consider this for several long moments, until he judged Reynard's temper to be rising in earnest. "I didn't hear any snoring," he said. "But then, I'm not as young as I was yesterday. My hearing may be going."
Reynard shot him a glare and stalked out of the room, still complaining under his breath. "…as young as he was yesterday…well, whose fault is that? No law says what age you have to be in Outer Time…just felt funny with us being close to his age…"
Neenie covered a giggle and came to sit where Reynard had been. "Dad," she murmured, nestling her head into the same place on John's shoulder. "D-Dad." Another giggle. "I tried saying the other thing, could you tell? The spell works perfectly. Just a little stammer, a slip of the tongue, and no one would ever know it's because there's something we're not allowed to say."
"I'm glad you thought of it," John agreed. As the Reality Cops are definitely not welcome in this little corner of Outer Time, and it would be the outside of ridiculous to have them called here by the inappropriate use of my childhood nickname by my own children.
"Dad," Neenie said again, with deep satisfaction. "It sounds so strange… and at the same time, it sounds exactly right."
"It most certainly does." John slid his arm around his daughter and exhaled a quiet sigh of contentment. For this moment, even with so many of their loved ones still missing, he had everything he needed.
How many men can say that?
After breakfast, they clustered around one end of the long table, Fox's scribbled list of initials under all three of their hands.
"We're just looking to see who's together in which world," Neenie said for the third time, twisting the hem of her gray shirt between her fingers. "We're not looking at which world yet, or even when in time. Just to find the pairings. Or triplings, I guess, since they'll have to have one with three because I wasn't there. We're all right with that?"
"Easy, Kitten." John stroked a soothing hand across her back. "If you tense up, you'll make this harder. We need a free flow of power among all of us or we might get twisted results."
"Sorry, I'm sorry. It's just…"
"Just what?" Reynard leaned one elbow on the table and propped his chin in his hand. "Just that you've been thinking of us as gone for the better part of two years, and now, suddenly, here we are, live and in person?"
"Well. That might be part of it."
"Because we can always leave if that would help…" Reynard started to get up.
"Fox!" Neenie's outraged shriek had John wincing back. "Don't you dare!"
"Not daring. Sitting down. Shutting up." Reynard suited action to word three times, swiping a finger across his lips for the third.
"If you two are quite finished," John said mildly, "we might want to get started with this. I think it will settle all our minds if we have some idea of the scope of the task in front of us."
"Ready when you are," Fox said, extending his hand to Neenie. She took it in her left, and with her right made one of her flowing, runic gestures. John cupped his hands around his twins' clasped ones and drew on the power in the wide gold band engraved with a design of stylized flames that he had materialized for himself earlier that morning.
"Pack together, Pride forever." Neenie swallowed once before continuing. "Where once were many, now are few, but strength we still command. Show us the pairs of those who share our lives, our hearts, our hand."
Very good. She declares our power, telling anything that might be listening not to take us lightly just because there are only three of us, and states exactly what she wants, invoking the original Pack-oath to make sure she gets the people she's after and no one else. We should be seeing results in—
John frowned. Had those lines been on the list of initials before?
No, I don't believe they were.
"It looks like we have our answer," he announced, and both twins jumped. "A bit deeply into our spellcasting, are we?"
"I haven't done it like this before." Fox slid his hand out of the three-way clasp. "And I still haven't decided how I will do it on my own from now on. Though I'm starting to get an idea. I like what you did," he said to his father, indicating the wedding band.
"Oh, Dad, it's beautiful." Neenie sniffled once. "Though it does make me miss… and why am I crying about it and not looking at the list that will tell me more about where I can find her?"
Three brown heads bent over the single sheet of paper.
"Wait," Fox said dubiously, tapping his fingers against one pair of initials. "What are they doing in the same world? I thought we agreed the RC's would want to break up as many pairs as possible, not leave them together."
"I know." Neenie's brow furrowed. "And these three? That can't be right. We must have done it wrong. Either I asked for the wrong information or someone is trying to steer us wrong deliberately…"
"Not necessarily." John kept his voice light, casual, and was delighted to see that he had not lost his knack of cutting through the twins' wrangling without having to shout.
Though it is a bit disconcerting having two pairs of eyes that look just like mine staring back at me.
"You and your friends worked out a lot of good things, and I look forward to meeting them so I can thank them in person," he said. "And I know I taught you never to underestimate an enemy. Now I'm going to teach you the next lesson. Don't overestimate them either. Just because you've thought of what you would do in their place, doesn't mean that's what they did."
"But—" two voices protested in unison. John sat back and let them argue themselves to a standstill, which took a surprisingly short period of time.
"Why don't we assume this list is good until we get evidence to the contrary?" Reynard said at last, sliding it into the middle of the table. "We were never going to use it as anything except a preliminary battle plan anyway. Now we've got it, and it's not what we expected. So… we'll adjust. It's what we do."
Neenie looked as though she wanted to resume the discussion, but John's slight headshake kept her mouth closed, though not without a sulky look.
Sulky is good. Sulky is normal. She'll sulk a few minutes, then go off by herself and brood, and be back when she's ready to be a human being again.
Or possibly a cat.
"So what shall we do while we're getting used to each other again?" he asked. "Fox, you said you had an idea for your own type of magic. I had one for you, and I wouldn't be too surprised if they were similar…"
One domain north, the woman who had not always been called Eve turned away from her cauldron, breaking the scrying spell she had cast on the surface of the liquid within.
The potion she was brewing was not one which would react well to tears.
No, this does not mean she's Danger in disguise, or anything of the sort. She's somewhat jealous that they've found each other, that's all. Plus she once cared very much about John and is happy for him.
Apologies for the late, and somewhat short, postâ€”I will just point out that it is still Wednesday! Next time, we find out what was unexpected on the list, discover some of the hidden motives behind the RC's, and run into the snags without which no story would be complete! See you all on Friday!
Oh yes, and extra reader points (and a spoiler, if desired) to anyone who can figure out without being told how Fox might decide to do his magic now.