The Witch of the Westmoreland
By Anne B. Walsh
That which is JKR's or Archie Fisher's is not mine. If you'd care to listen to the song, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqGv2l5bJr4
Lily Evans lay crumpled on a park bench under brown and gold leaves, sobbing, trying to forget the sight of Remus, lying so still and so pale in his bed at the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.
He took that curse for James. I know he did. And it would have hurt James terribly, just like it’s hurting Remus, but at least it wouldn’t have killed James within a month, and Remus it will...
Nearby, someone coughed diffidently. Lily looked up.
Severus Snape stood several feet away, half in shadow, his hands by his sides. "I hear Lupin is wounded," he said, his voice as cold and precise as ever. "May I know what curse it was?"
"As if you weren’t there." Lily threw the words at him, clenching her fists in anger at the invisible force killing her friend. "As if you didn’t see."
"I was there, but I did not see. I was... otherwise occupied at the time. May I know?"
Lily fought off another surge of tears. "Dumbledore says it’s called the Occasus Veneficius," she said, licking her lips and tasting salt. "It causes him pain if he does or handles magic. He can’t do any spells or stand to have any done on him, he can’t brew or drink any potions, he can’t even touch anything that’s under a charm. It hurts him even to live, because he’s technically a magical creature. And when the full moon comes, with that added to the stress of his usual transformation..."
"He will die," Severus finished for her.
"Yes." The monosyllable was all she trusted herself to say aloud, though her heart shrieked pain. Why, Remus, why you? You have so much to offer, so much to give those who see past what you are to who... you had friends already, and someday there would have been a girl, just one brave girl who could stand fast through all your self-doubts and torments... what a husband and father you would have made, if we could only have convinced you to keep trying...
"And because he cannot have magic done on him, there is no cure," Severus went on, his words striking cruelly into Lily’s heart. "At least, none that is known."
"None that Dumbledore knows. No." It was taking every scrap of control she had ever learned not to scream out her pain and loss at Severus, not to attack him as a representative of the side whose curse was even now killing Remus slowly. "Why do you ask?"
"Because there are tales," Severus said. "Tales of a healer witch who lives secluded, far from here. Tales that she can heal anything, short of death, and some say even that. But all the tales agree on one thing. She does not use magic as we know it."
Lily stared at her childhood friend, her heart beginning to race. "Tell me you know where she is," she said, the words half a plea. "Tell me you know how to find her."
Severus spoke carefully, as though he were hand-selecting every word. "I know how to find one who can find her. Or I think I do."
"Tell me." Lily leaned forward on the bench. "Please, Severus, tell me. I’ll take anything, even a chance, we can’t sit around and let him die..."
"It is very strange," Severus warned her. "Stranger even than usual, with magic."
"Strange I can handle. Remus dead, I can’t." Lily gripped the edge of the bench. "Tell me."
"Snape gave you this?" Sirius repeated, holding the parchment between two fingers as though it might be contaminated. "What makes you think it’s any good?"
"I don’t know whether it’s good or not. That’s why I want you to help me work it out." Lily gave him one of her famous looks. "If you think you’re up to it, O great and mighty Auror apprentice. And if you think your friend’s life is worth it."
"I didn’t say I wasn’t going to help." Sirius took proper hold of the parchment and began to read.
Peter and James appeared in the door. "Just got in," said Lily’s black-haired fiancÃ©, breezing over to collect a kiss. "Wormtail says you might have something to help Moony?"
"I don’t know for sure. Severus gave it to me."
"What?" James pulled back. "You’re trusting Moony’s life to Snivellus?"
"Nobody’s trusting anything to anyone right now," Lily said, her patience fading fast. "I want you twoâ€”you three," she corrected herself, smiling at Peter, "to help me figure out what it might mean, before we decide if it’s worth trying."
"Well, I hope you two are better at it than I am," said Sirius, dropping the parchment onto the low table in the middle of the room. "I can’t make sticks or twigs out of it."
Peter, who was closer, picked it up. "It’s like a riddle," he said, squinting at it. "Should I read it out loud?"
"Yes," said James, dropping into a chair. "Please," he added at Lily’s glare.
"He who is of the moon must seek the direction-giver mounted," Peter read in his slightly squeaky voice. "Followed by a bright star, with one above who casts a shadow, he must ride through the night and into the morning, passing by a place where are males with red hair, to seek a small one with great eyes who has much wisdom but often goes unheard."
"â€˜Of the moon’ sounds promising," said Sirius. "And bright star, we can do." He patted his own chest. "The rest of it... I dunno."
"Mounted," James mused. "D’you suppose he can be around us in..." He trailed off, guiltily.
"In what?" Lily asked, catching the sidelong glances the boys were shooting each other. "What aren’t you telling me?"
Peter glanced around, shut the door with his wand, and faced her squarely. "Don’t scream, please?" he said.
"Scream? Why would Iâ€”" Lily broke off with a gasp. Peter was gone. In his place sat a fat gray rat, which combed its whiskers busily, then exploded once more into her friend, grinning sheepishly at her.
"Surprise," he said.
"Youâ€”how didâ€”" Suspicion burst into certainty in Lily’s mind, and she whirled on James and Sirius. "Show me," she commanded. "Now."
"I don’t know if he’ll fit," Sirius said, looking up at the ceiling. "I know I will..." He leaned forward and was suddenly a huge, bear-like black dog.
"Let me lie down," James said, suiting action to word. A moment later, Lily breathed wonder and crossed the room to caress the head of the liquid-eyed stag her love had become.
"How come I don’t get petted?" Sirius complained, resuming his human form.
James did the same. "Find your own girl, Padfoot," he said, pulling Lily close. "This one’s mine."
"That explains the nicknames," Lily said, kissing James on the cheek and extracting herself. "And it’s why you all stay in on full moonsâ€”you’re with Remus, aren’t you?"
"Yeah." James nodded. "And I was thinking. It’s only stuff with active charms on it that hurts him, right? Stuff that was conjured, or transfigured, he can touch?"
"I think so. Why?"
"Because this little puzzle we’ve got says he has to ride." James pointed. "And that can’t be on a broom, brooms are chock-full of magic. But what if it’s on me? We can fix me up with a saddle, Padfoot can run along behind to make sure Moony doesn’t fall..."
"â€˜One above who casts a shadow’ could be me," Peter volunteered unexpectedly. "I could take a broom and fly ahead, to make sure we don’t get lost."
"But that still leaves us with the original problem," said Sirius. "We don’t know where we’re going. Passing by a place with redheads? We’ve got one right here..."
"Won’t work," said James, perusing the parchment. "Says specifically â€˜males,’ and my lovely Tiger Lily is many things, but male is not one of them."
"Stop calling me that," said Lily without much rancor. "Red-haired males... Weasleys?"
The three Marauders looked at each other. "Should’ve thought of that," said Sirius. "Red hair and boys. Always boys. Don’t think there’s been a girl born to a Weasley in a hundred years."
"We’ll probably want the biggest family of them there is," James added, looking up. "Dumbledore would know, he knows everyone..."
Lily collected the parchment from James. "I’ll go tell Remus about this," she said. "He deserves to hear."
"I’ll see about getting a good broom," said Peter.
"And we’ll find Dumbledore and ask about Weasleys," said James, indicating himself and Sirius. "Let’s hurry, people, we’ve only got a week until full moon..."
The friends scattered.
Remus Lupin lay on his side on his bed, fully dressed, his eyes closed, his breathing deep and even despite the small stabs of pain that slid through his body with every movement.
I always knew I would die young. The only difference now is that I know the date. 16 September, 1978. I’ll start transforming as usual, the Occasus will take hold, and my body will shut down from pain overload. If not the first time, then surely the second.
His hand closed for a moment around the grip of his wand, then released it. He could hear the voice of Ollivander the wandmaker as clearly as the day he’d gone to the shop with his parents as an eleven-year-old. "Twelve and a quarter inches, rowan and phoenix feather, pliable..."
But I’ll never have a chance to use it again. Maybe I should leave it to James or Sirius, to use as a spare in case one of theirs gets broken...
He stroked the length of the wand, his fingers running up and down the polished wood. I only have three real regrets. Well, two and a half. Dad is the halfâ€”he’s been going by inches ever since Mum died, this will just hurry him along a little, and then we’ll all be together again. But I am sorry I’ll have to miss James and Lily’s wedding. And I’d always hoped I might find someone of my own one of these days...
He sighed deeply. It’s likely just as well. This way, there’ll never be a chance of my waking up the night after full moon to find I’ve killed the girl I love.
Because I’ll never wake up after a full moon again.
And I’ll never be in love.
Someone tapped quietly at his door.
"Come in," Remus called, rolling onto his back and sitting up, though not without a wince.
Lily opened the door, her eyes slightly bloodshot and the smell of tears about her, but alsoâ€”
Remus blinked. Why would Lily smell of hope?
"How are you at riding?" she asked without preamble, sitting down on the end of the bed.
"Riding what? Brooms?" Remus shook his head. "Decent but no better, and I can’t now anyway, you know thatâ€”"
"Yes, I do, and that isn’t what I meant. I meant animals. Horses and such. Have you ever been?"
"Not often," Remus said cautiously. "Why?"
"Because we might have the first step of something that could help you, but you have to be able to ride." Lily pulled a scroll from her pocket and spread it out on the bed. "Here, look at this."
Remus looked, and connections began to stir in the back of his mind. "Who gave this to you?" he asked.
"Oh, not you too." Lily sighed. "It was Severus, but I don’t think he’s trying to get us killedâ€”if that’s what he was after, he’d just have kidnapped me and set a trap for James and Sirius when they came after me..."
"That’s not why I asked." Remus tapped at various words on the parchment, trying to get his half-recognition to solidify. "Does Severus ever make you think of anything else? An animal, perhaps?"
"Maybe," Lily said shortly. "Why?"
The idea fractured and slid away. "Never mind." Remus read the lines through twice. "I take it â€˜he who is of the moon’ is me?"
"Unless you know someone with a stronger relation to the moon than yourself. James volunteered to be your mountâ€”yes, I know about them now," she said testily when Remus gaped at her, "and I think they’re wonderful and stupid and it’s a miracle none of them got caught between forms, especially Peter, I don’t know how he remembers which end of his wand to hold some days, but anyway, James has said you can ride on his back, and Sirius will be the bright star following, and Peter will fly out ahead to cast the shadow..."
Remus saw her face shut down. "And I stay home," she finished, sitting back. "There’s no place for me. No part I can take. I’ve done what I’m meant to doâ€”brought you thisâ€”and now I’m finished, aren’t I? I can just stay home like a good little girl and not worry my head, because the big strong wizards will take care of everything?"
"I don’t know." Remus looked down at the parchment again. "He must seek the direction-giver," he read aloud. "That sounds as though this is only the first step of something bigger. Something more. And I thought I recognized it earlierâ€”it’s garbled, confused, but I’ve seen something like this before..." Instinctively, he reached for his wand, then released it with a frustrated sigh. "I keep doing that. It’s as though I don’t want to remember."
"Who would?" Lily asked softly, touching his hand. "Remus, if I haven’t said it yet, thank you. I know you knocked James out of the way of that curse, took it on yourself, and I’m almost afraid to ask this question, but why?"
"I don’t know." Remus stroked the back end of his wand, thinking over the question. "Perhaps, ultimately, it was because of you. Because he’s the only one of us who’s been lucky in love so far, and you’ve put up with your boyfriend’s three tag-alongs astoundingly well. And there again, I know very well what James is like when he’s hurt, and I wanted to save you from that."
Lily chuckled. "I have to deal with it sometime, you know."
"Save him from it, too, of course," Remus went on, barely hearing her. "He’s my friend, one of the only true friends I’ve ever had, and I wish I could shield you all from every ill that comes your way..."
His fingers closed around his wand again, half-drawing it before he stopped. Why am I intent on causing myself pain? Or is it something else?
He looked at his wand, then back at the parchment, and the idea he’d had earlier moved in his mind once more. "Lily, do you have anything to write with?"
"I can." Lily stood up and crossed the room, returning a moment later with a quill and ink. "Try these. If they hurt, I’ll get real ones."
Remus tapped a finger against the quill. "Perfectly fine. It’s active magic that does it, not magic that’s already over and done with." Loading the quill, he added a few phrases to the top of the parchment. "And I think I know what you can do. It’s even something you’re good at."
"Research these." Remus pointed at the words he’d written. "In combination with all this, or other ways to say it. This is all drawing from one source, I’m sure of it, and there’s more to that source than what we have here. If you can find it, we’ll have some way to check whatever we find at the other end of this road." He swung his legs out of bed and stood up experimentally. "When we find it."
When, not if. Because it seems I’m not as hardened to the thought of my own death as I believed I was. If this really can help me, if it’s possible I could live beyond age eighteen and a half...
But there’s a long way to go yet, and not much time.
"And we will find it," Lily said, standing as well and first clasping his shoulders, then hugging him. "We’re not losing you yet. You have to be around to help Sirius write his speech for the wedding, for one thing. You know all the best stories."
Remus smiled. "Mostly because I was usually the only one sober enough to remember what happened."
"Yes, why is it that you don’t drink much?"
"Well, with my furry little problem, losing control is hardly my idea of a good time..."
By the time the other three Marauders returned, Lily and Remus had packed overnight bags for all of them, Lily putting an Undetectable Expansion Charm on a small broom-mountable holdall so that Wormtail could carry all four bags. Frank Longbottom had dug out one of the Order’s four-man tents for them to use if they were gone longer than one night, and Alice had given Lily a small book of field survival hints to tuck inside the holdall as well.
"Any luck?" Remus asked his friends, looking up from the stash of chocolate he was packing for himself.
Peter patted the gleaming broom he carried over his shoulder. "Fabian’s letting me borrow his," he said.
"For a twenty-Galleon security deposit," said James, grinning.
Sirius unrolled the scroll in his hand, revealing a map of the south of England with a dotted line marked in red. "Dumbledore says the biggest Weasley family lives here," he said, pointing at a small X beside the line. "Five kids, all boysâ€”their mum’s Gideon and Fabian’s sister, actually, and Gideon was able to sketch the house for me, so we’ll know it when we see it. From where we are, going past them means going north."
"They’re not too far, either," James added. "We can probably get there in one night if we leave here at sunset, but it’s your party, Moony. What d’you want to do?"
"Stay alive," Remus said dryly, making the other Marauders and Lily laugh. "And as strange and crazy as it seems, this is a chance to do that, when I didn’t think there was any. I say we try it."
"After you eat," said Lily, picking up the bags from the bed and tossing them to her fiancÃ© and his friends. "And after you check those for completeness, and get a nap if you can. And we still have to get a saddle sorted out for you, James."
"If I didn’t know what was going on here, that would sound so wrong," Sirius muttered.
Lily smacked him on her way to the door.