The Witch of the Westmoreland
By Anne B. Walsh
Remus put a hand out to the wall to steady himself as the reality of the past few minutes began to sink in.
We just battled twenty Death Eaters. Plus Voldemort himself.
And we won. We’re alive.
A flash of pain as he looked over at the two limp, black-haired bodies near the center of the cellar.
He somehow doubted Walburga Black would take kindly to this news, evenâ€”or especiallyâ€”when she learned Sirius had died in a failed attempt to save Regulus.
But when you think about the odds we were up against, it’s a miracle we made it out with as few people dead as we did...
Sounds from behind him made him turn in time to see James offering Snape his hand. "I owe you," the blood-splattered Auror apprentice said. "You saved her life."
"I did not do it for you, Potter," Snape said sourly, pushing himself into a sitting position.
"I didn’t say you did."
Snape looked narrowly at James, then nodded and accepted the proffered hand.
Lily caught Remus’ eye and mouthed, Well, finally, wiping her brow exaggeratedly and drawing a smile from him.
There were certainly times it seemed they could have pursued that little rivalry even beyond the grave.
Movement from the far corner of the room caught his eye.
Perhaps not the best of metaphors at the moment.
Veri was standing up, her eyes on Sirius and Regulus, her face impassive. Evanie and Peri stood behind her, the Muggle girl blinking hard, Remus’ wife with her head bowed. She lifted it as Remus watched, and her brown eyes met Remus’ blue.
Can you still hear me? said her voice silently.
Remus blinked. That was you, then. During the fight.
Yes, I believe so. I have no idea if it will continue when we no longer have such intense need of it...
I can’t say I’d mind. Remus closed his eyes for a moment, trying to get used to the feel of Peri’s mind against his own. I like knowing where you are, being able to find you quickly. This is just a little more of that.
Indeed. Peri slid a mental caress along the link.
Remus reopened his eyes. Peter had crossed the room while he wasn’t looking, and was standing with Evanie now and holding her, her head resting on his shoulder as tears slid unacknowledged down his face. A little sniff came from Lily’s direction behind Remus, and he could feel Peri’s worry, both on her own part and for her sister.
But waitâ€”it’s only worry. She’s not grieving. I know she cared about Sirius, they were always telling bad jokes back and forth, and she liked Regulus, she’s been teasing me about being sorry she chose too soon...
What’s going on here?
Veri glided across the floor to the two scions of the House of Black and knelt beside them. Gently, she pulled Regulus free of Sirius’ embrace.
Regulus gasped in a breath and started coughing.
My God, Sirius made it in time, he must have taken the curse on himselfâ€”
"Veri?" The younger Black blinked up at the Witch, his voice thick and uncertain. "Did we win?"
"We did." Veri rested her hand on his cheek for a moment. "And you will live. You were struck by only a small portion of the curse."
"Butâ€”but I thoughtâ€”" Regulus half-turned to look over his shoulder, and his face went from confusion to horror. "No," he breathed, stretching out a hand towards his brother’s crumpled body, then letting it fall. "Noâ€”not for meâ€”please, not for meâ€”"
"You have nothing to fear," Veri said. "He made his choice freely and with full knowledge of what he did."
"But that doesn’t change what’s happened!" Regulus was shaking now, and Remus was sure the tremors in his voice were at least partly suppressed tears. "Going to it freely doesn’t make you any less dead!"
"Perhaps not." Veri pressed Regulus’ shoulder, then rose gracefully to her feet. "But other things may."
Behind Remus, Lily drew a long breath of understanding. Evanie stifled a gasp and whispered something to Peter, whose eyes brightened as he listened. Snape’s mutter might or might not have been, "Typical Black." James was staring at the three people in the center of the room as though the intensity of his gaze could bring about the outcome he desired.
Do you understand yet? Peri’s voice asked faintly in the back of Remus’ mind.
I think I might. Remus touched the appropriate memory, setting it going for them both to see. I think I just might.
Veri stepped deliberately around Sirius, singing softly in time with her footsteps.
"She said, ride with your brindled hound at heel, and your good grey hawk in hand..."
She knelt beside him and rolled him onto his back, caressing his cheek with her free hand and matching her song to the strokes. "There’s none... can harm... the knight... what’s lain..."
Color rose in Regulus’ cheeks, but his eyes were bright with disbelieving hope.
"...with the Witch... of the Westmoreland..."
"Thass right," mumbled a slurred voice. "Public shervice â€˜nouncement." A hand rose, holding up a wobbly finger. "Shag y’girlfriend t’night..." The finger came down to point at Veri. "Life y’save might be yer own." Sirius giggled weakly. "D’we win?"
"We did indeed," Veri said, catching Sirius’ hand in hers and smiling at him tenderly. "And you, my marvelously foolish young knight, took enough of that Killing Curse on yourself that its effects were dissipated, and it killed neither you nor your brother."
Which makes an excellent story to tell the worldâ€”but I’d tend to think the same magic which can keep a werewolf human on the night of the full moon can easily make a wizard, if not proof against the Killing Curse, at least resistant to it...
Remus glanced at Peri, but she was showing no signs of having heard his thoughts.
She’s busy with watching them. Regulus, in a highly unusual show of emotion, was hugging Sirius and Veri both at once. Or maybe whatever link we have between us works only at times of great stress. Or when we’re not thinking about it consciously. Or between certain times on the clockâ€”
And why am I still thinking about this? What does it matter? We’re all alive and the war is over and it’s time to celebrate!
Judging by the noises now coming from the rest of his friends, they had reached this conclusion as well. James nearly bowled over the knot of Blacks at the center of the cellar, Peter wasn’t far behind, and Lily threw her arms around all of them, laughing and crying all at once. Evanie slipped behind Remus, giving him a quick hug, which he returned wholeheartedly.
Who says Muggles can’t help wizards fight? That was incredible.
Evanie released him and smiled, then started towards Snape, who was leaning against the wall with his brow furrowed. Someone twitched the robes over Remus’ elbow at this point, though, and he turned and scooped Peri into the biggest hug he’d ever given her, including the one after she’d agreed to marry him.
We’re aliveâ€”we’re both aliveâ€”we made it through a war together, and we’re going to start a family and watch them grow and make our world a better placeâ€”
A scrap of memory returned to him. "What is this good news you said you had for me?" he asked when his lips were free.
"Related to that which Lily is about to tell James." Peri gave him the mischief-maker’s smile he so loved on her. "Listen."
"James, I’m sorry I haven’t told you this already," Lily was saying, her bright head resting against James’ shoulder with no regard for the blood staining his robes. "It was just, with the war coming to a head and you out fighting every day and what happened to Peri... I’m sorry. But I’m ready to tell you now."
"Peri? What?" James glanced around at his friends, most of whom seemed as bewildered as he was, though Veri had a secret smile on her face and Evanie was covering a giggle. "What’s going on here, Lily?"
Lily caught James’ hand in hers and laid it on her lower stomach. "I’m pregnant," she said. "Due near the end of July."
"Youâ€”Iâ€”weâ€”" James stuttered.
"You have correctly identified the three necessities for creating a child," said Veri dryly. "Well done."
"Veri, be nice," Lily scolded. "He’s startled."
"I am not bloody startled! I’m just..." James looked down at his hand and what it was covering. "You’re sure?" he asked plaintively. "I mean, no mistakes or anything?"
"There is no mistake," Veri said, smiling warmly at him. "Congratulations, James. I think you will make a fine father."
Sirius laughed aloud. "Prongs gets to be a dad!" he caroled, grinning around at the group. "Can I be godfather, Prongs, can I, huh?"
"Of course you..." James trailed off, frowning in thought. "Can a kid have two godfathers?" he asked.
"I don’t see why not," said Lily. "But who..."
The obvious answer occurred to her and to Sirius at precisely the same instant, judging by their respective expressions of awed delight and horrified disgust. Peter pulled Evanie into a kiss, probably so he wouldn’t laugh in their faces, Remus thought. Regulus was leaning back against his hands, watching the scene unfold in front of him with a look of tolerant wonder, as though he had never imagined joining the other side of the war would be so very entertaining. Veri wore a similar smile, though hers was tinged with a warning for Sirius.
Here’s hoping he pays attention.
James looked over his shoulder. "You saved them both," he said to Snape, who seemed less than sure this was really happening to him. "Not that either of us knew it at the time, but you did. I think you deserve it."
Snape’s shoulders went back as he opened his mouth to reply. Evanie pulled free from her clinch with Peter and looked sharply at him, and he stopped before saying a word.
Interesting. Wonder what they could have talked about?
She is right. Severus inclined his head to Evanie, using the small motion to bring himself some measure of calm. I am no proud princess, to strike at Lily for the sake of hurting Potter. Ironic that he should call her â€˜Tiger Lily’ when I made that same choice, the lady or the tiger, long sinceâ€”I would far rather see her alive and with another than dead or hurt because of me.
And Potter is thoughtless but not, in this instance, cruel. He is truly grateful to me for saving Lily’s life, and that of their child. This offer is an attempt to honor me, not to mock me for what I will never have.
Let me see if I cannot find a way to satisfy all parties.
"Thank you," he said, mustering a sincere tone for the words. "But I doubt I would be able to provide your child with a good home should something happen to his parents, and that is a godfather’s first duty. I think..."
Lily was beaming at him, her eyes shining with the overflowing joy which had first drawn him to her as a child. He had to swallow against a tight throat before he could go on. "I think it would serve better if I were simply a friend of the family. Which I do hope to be."
"Sounds like a plan," said Potter, grinning. "Maybe we’ll name him after you instead, what say?"
Severus raised an eyebrow. "I say it might well merit you a citation for child abuse. Especially given the disrespectful nicknames so easily derived from it. As you well know."
Potter and Black both winced. "Point taken," Potter said. "We’ll work something out."
So we will. Severus returned the smile Lily directed at him before she turned to mediate Potter and Black’s loud discussion of what Potter’s son should actually be named. So we will indeed.
He made his way to the cellar steps to sit down, musing on the odd twists and turns of a world in which he could think of himself, James Potter, and Sirius Black as "we".
A better world, perhaps, than others I could imagine.
I look forward to seeing what it can become.
"Merlin’s beard," Remus muttered. "Snape can smile. Who’d have thought."
"Stop that." Peri swatted at his ear. "I thought you wanted to hear my news."
"I do." Remus lifted his wife from the ground and carried her to the marble-topped counter, setting her on its top and leaning against the angle where Peter had fought. "You said it was related to Lily’s..." A sudden thought occurred to him. "You mean you’reâ€”"
Peri silenced him with two fingers over his mouth. "You recall our daughter’s death," she murmured.
Remus nodded, biting back his tears. She wouldn’t bring it up unless there was a reason.
"What I could not find a way to tell you at the time was that although her body died, her soul did not depart this world."
"What?" Remus blinked. "You mean she’s a ghost?"
"No, not a ghost." Peri took his hand in hers, tracing a design on his skin with her forefinger. "Though most of her magic is directed towards that of wanded spells, she shares some small portion of my talent for healing the soul. With that and my own magic, as well as our close blood relation, she was able to find refuge within me. She has been with me these past months, seeing through my eyes and hearing through my ears, both of us postponing the inevitable."
"The inevitable," Remus repeated, not sure he liked what he was hearing.
"Such an arrangement, by its nature, could not last." Peri’s eyes were still downcast. "If she had been a grown woman, even a girl of six or seven, her soul would have had enough integrity to retain its identity within mine for a longer period, but she was unborn when she died and her soul was not yet strong. If I could find her no body of her own, my soul would eventually overwhelm and destroy hers, unless I sent her on to whatever waits beyond this world."
"We could have found her a body," Remus said, unable to keep quiet. "We could have transfiguredâ€”or Veri could have made her one, couldn’t she? Used the proper raw materials, which I know are available, to create one in the usual way? And then you could have transplanted her soul into that!"
Peri met his eyes. "We are forbidden from any great use of our powers, Veritas and I, to benefit only ourselves or our own people, save in the ways of our ancestors. My sister has the power you name, as do I, but we could not use it unless we had some other who would benefit from it." Her smile suddenly flashed out. "And we found that one tonight. Or, should I say, those two."
"Two?" Remus glanced down at Peri’s midriff, but it was as delicately curved as ever. "What do you mean, two?"
"A woman of the Death Eaters and her unborn child." Peri stroked a hand along her belly musingly, as though remembering what it had felt like to cradle a life within. "She feared for his life should she be exposed to dementors. For his salvation, she gave us the information we returned with, the knowledge that Voldemort would attack us here tonight." She looked up at Remus, her smile broadening. "Thus my sister and I have a debt owing to her, that we must shortly go forth and pay. And when we return, I too shall be with child. Or perhaps I should say with children."
"Twins," Remus breathed, finding a smile on his own face without conscious effort.
"Indeed." Peri leaned forward and joined her smile to his.
I’m going to be a father after allâ€”our little girl is alive, and she’ll have a brotherâ€”a rescue child, who would have died otherwiseâ€”
"Wait," he said, pulling back. "There aren’t many women among the Death Eaters. And not a lot of those have children..."
Peri chuckled. "I saw in your mind at our joining the face of the one who cast the curse on you," she said. "I assume he lost his mask in the fight. He will very shortly have lost his child as well." She batted her eyelashes. "Poor him."
Remus burst out laughing.
Now that will be a story to tell the little ones in years to come.
How Lucius Malfoy, by being too impatient to throw a curse, accidentally saved the world.
She fled over broken and rocky ground, clutching her child to her chest, not daring to look behind for fear she would see her enemies gaining. Faceless, voiceless, silently they glided behind her, their darkness and chill reaching out to envelop her, and her son wailed with fear in her arms as she ran.
They will have us soon enough. I will not let it be one second sooner than it must.
Anger rose in her heart, shoving back the cold for a few precious seconds, anger at those who had led her to betray her husband and her Master, then broken their promise to her.
But no, not to meâ€”they never made a promise for meâ€”
She glanced down. Terrified yet trusting gray eyes met hers, as her son lifted his face from her robes for a moment to look at her. Her mind had made him a baby of a year’s age, for no reason she could fathom, but dreams had never been notable for their logic.
It was for his sake I handed over Lucius’ letter, the letter that told me the Dark Lord was so far from angry with us that he planned to allow us to help him strike his enemies in their own stronghold. And no sooner had I done so than Aurors broke down my sister’s door, and those who had promised me help fled before them, abandoning my child to his fate...
She tripped on a projecting rock and fell, flinging out an arm to catch herself and save her son the shock. He cried out in any case, clinging to her all the tighter.
I can run no more. My strength is gone.
Awkwardly, she shoved herself halfway upright, then bent her head and arms around her child, shielding him as best she could with her own body. Dream though this might be, as easily as she knew they could overpower her, she would still fight to the last second for his lifeâ€”
"Begone!" cried a woman’s strong voice, and silver light flashed, driving back the darkness. "Leave this place while still you can!"
"Your power avails you nothing against us," added a second voice, also feminine. "Depart and do not dare to return!"
I know those voices.
Though I heard them only once, still I know those voices.
Could it beâ€”
Footsteps beside her, and the rustling of robes. "I am so sorry we have come later than we thought," said the second voice, as a hand reached out to touch her arm. "Are you hurt? The boy?"
"We are both well, thank you." Narcissa raised her head to see the lighter-skinned of the Witchesâ€”Pericula, she thoughtâ€”kneeling beside her, smiling at her. She held a child in her arms as Narcissa did herself, a curly-haired girl who seemed curious about the boy now peering over Narcissa’s arm at her. "Why have you come here?"
"To pay our debt," said Veritas, appearing behind her sister. "Your information was quite correct, and the war is now ended. We would be beyond ungracious if we did not fulfill what we had promised, with such an outcome."
Narcissa shut her eyes against tears of shame and relief. They have come after all. You will live, my son, and grow strong and happy, far away from darkness and fear and the horrors of war.
She kissed him on the forehead. "Go well, my child," she said softly. "I love you."
"Mama," the boy proclaimed, hugging her around the neck.
A warmth rose in Narcissa’s heart that seemed untouchable. Not even handing her son to Pericula and watching his face change, take on lines very like the little girl’s and Pericula’s own, could hurt her now.
But the dementors will, when I return to reality...
"They need not," said Veritas very softly behind her. "My power is with the body, and yours is already taxed to its limit fighting for your child’s life. You could battle to save yourself, or you could decide to fight no more. The choice is yours."
"I think there is little enough chance of any life worth living for me after this," Narcissa said dryly. "I shall take my chances in the next."
"Then your way lies there," said Pericula, nodding towards a range of hills in the distance, which Narcissa could now make out by the light of what appeared to be dawn. The dementors who had pursued her this far were nowhere to be seen. "And we wish you all the best."
"As I do to you." Narcissa smiled one last time at her son and his twin sister. "All of you."
Rising, she began to walk towards the hills, her feet growing lighter with every step.
She did not look back.