The Witch of the Westmoreland
By Anne B. Walsh
Sirius opened his mouth and closed it again. Peter got up and ducked past him. "It’s nice to meet you," he said, holding out his hand. "What’s your name?"
The woman beside Remus clasped his hand in hers. "I have never truly had one," she said shyly. "Our mother called us by words I do not think you would recognize as names, and to one another we have always been â€˜sister.’ But I suppose I must have a name if I am to go into the world."
"We can talk about it later," said Remus, smiling at her. "Among other things." He looked around at James and Lily. "Will you be the other two witnesses?"
Sirius got his mouth to work again. "Witnesses? Witnesses? Moony, don’t you think you’re going just a little fast?"
"Ordinarily, yes. But today..." Remus shook his head. "I’ve seen her heart, Padfoot, and she’s seen mine. She knows meâ€”she knows everything about meâ€”and she ran into my arms when she saw me. What does that tell you?"
Sirius sighed, capitulating. "She’s got good taste. And good sense. She may not actually be human, but she’s got taste and she’s got sense."
"We are as human as you," objected the Witch. "Why would you think otherwise?"
"Oh, I’m sorry. I assumed that people who can see the future and heal incurable curses and who live in a mystical enchanted valley that you have to reach on foggy paths you can only find when you’re tired would be something a little more exotic than human."
"No, we only use a different sort of magic than you do," said the brunette woman, laying her hand across Remus’ again. "One which owes a great deal to this place where we have been born, and our mother before us, and hers before her." She chuckled. "We may well have an ancestor who was not human, but her blood is thin in us now, for our fathers have been men who came here for healing as far as our stories reach back."
"That does make sense," said Lily. "And I’m just as glad. The Witch in the source we found was clearly some sort of faerie."
The Witch gave her a cool look. "It seems appropriate, considering your research partner."
Peter succumbed to a fit of coughing.
"If you don’t mind, I think we’d both like to get on with things," said Remus, his lips twitching suspiciously. "And you three need some sleep. Lily, I’m sorry to run out on you this way..."
"Don’t worry, I think I’ll find something to do." Lily smiled at the Witch, who inclined her head. "You can borrow my broom to go to your dad’s place when you’re ready. I’ll find another way home." She glanced at James. "Maybe I can take a turn having a stag-back ride."
"Only if you’re willing to use a Featherlight Charm." James arched his back, stretching. "I’m going to be sore for weeks."
"Are you saying I’m fat?" Remus asked.
"No, I’m saying I’m not used to carrying even a titch like you for most of two nights without any rest in between. Not that I wasn’t glad to do itâ€”especially since it was because of me you were under the damn curse in the first placeâ€”but that doesn’t change my back hurting."
The Witch sighed deeply. "I will heal you of your pain if you will cease talking about it," she said. "And if you will take up your place so that these two may be joined and proceed to the healing of your friend."
"Oh. Right." James took his place in the half-circle the other Marauders, Lily, and the Witch had formed around Remus and his intended. The two of them clasped hands, each holding a sprig of goldenrod flowers, and smiled into one another’s eyes for a long moment.
Remus broke the silence first. "From this day forth, my lady, I am yours, forsaking all others for you," he said formally. "My hands shall serve you, my wand defend you, my life hold you at its center, both now and for all time, and so I do swear."
"I am yours and none other’s, my lord, from this day on," his love answered him, her hair sparking golden in the sun. "My hands shall aid you, my magic guard you, my life be cloven unto yours, from this moment to the end of the world, and so I do swear."
"And so I do witness," said Lily softly, echoed by James and Peter a moment later. Sirius mumbled something which could have been agreement.
Remus blew gently on the flowers he held, as did his loveâ€”his wifeâ€”and a cloud of golden petals surrounded them, dying down after a moment to reveal that the Lupins were gone.
"Well, that’s one way to make an exit," said James, brushing a petal off his nose.
Peter yawned. "I don’t know about you," he said, "but Moony was right about me. I want some sleep. Can we put our tent up someplace?" he asked the Witch.
"Of course." The Witch waved towards a large tree. "Try the north side of the grandmother oak. You will have shade there, and quiet."
"Thanks." Peter scooped up the broom and made for the indicated tree, Sirius following.
"You, come here," said the Witch as James started after his friends. "Take your other form and stand still."
Lily giggled. James shot her a look, but she only smiled sweetly at him, and he sighed and changed forms. The Witch stepped to his side and began to stroke his back, and the pain from his overused muscles diminished, then disappeared.
Of course, it might just be that I can ignore it now because there’s someone else here too...
Lily had apparently been unable to resist the handsome stag who was her fiancÃ©, as she was rubbing around the base of his antlers. Prongs nibbled on her sleeve in appreciation, and she laughed and flicked his nose. "Stop that."
James resumed his human form and stretched. "Thanks," he said to the Witch. "You two be all right?"
"As I have survived most of twenty years without your presence, I think I shall endure one more day," the Witch said dryly.
Lily chuckled and pulled James close for a kiss. "Go on and sleep," she said when they were finished. "I’ll be fine."
James needed no more encouragement. Just the word "sleep" had started him yawning.
And when you add on knowing Moony’s not going to die after allâ€”and that he finally found someone, that he got married todayâ€”
"How’d Lily know what Moony’d need?" Sirius asked as James arrived at the tent, which his friends had rigged while he was with the Witch.
"Dunno. Maybe that source she was talking about told her he’d have to fall in love for the healing to work."
"Or maybe he has to do something else," said Peter, half-turning from the rope he was tightening to give his friends the benefit of his wiggling eyebrows. "And you know Moony. He’d never consider doing that unless they were married, not even if she offered."
"The more fool, he." Sirius yawned massively, sitting down on the grass beside the oak tree. "And the more fool, I, if I don’t get in there before I keel over. Coming, you two?"
"No, that’s what Moony’s doing," James quipped, making Peter snicker.
The three Marauders clambered into their tent, trying to outdo one another in yawn size all the way. Peter crawled into his sleeping bag as he was, and started snoring almost before his head hit the ground. Sirius pulled his shoes off before he collapsed, and James found enough energy to tuck his glasses into one of his own shoes, shut the tent flap with his wand, and set an Imperturbable Charm on it.
There. Now we could sleep through anything.
Though as tired as he was feeling, he might have done so anyway.
The cave beneath the lake was warm and dark, perfect for sleep. Or for other things, but that had been for earlier. This was for now.
"None shall harm you any longer, my love," the woman whispered, running her hands through the hair of the sleeping man who had braved ridicule and pain to seek her out and make her his own. "We have been as one, and thus I can protect you from all ill."
She set to work, humming to herself as she did. Her magic had shown her not only the curses under which her love had labored, but those who had set the curses upon him, and she was already devising fitting revenges.
His earliest attacker was only a tool, he can wait until later, but the one who ordered that attack, yes, he should be destroyed as soon as can be... and the one who threw this curse that brought us together, I think we owe him some gratitude, so we shall wait to destroy him... yes, wait...
She giggled aloud. Wait, and strike all the worse when the proper time comes, for such is the way of the prankster, and what my love is, I must learn to be as well...
"Two different men won the right to my mother’s healing power a year apart," the Witch told Lily as they sat in the sun by the lake. "Thus we were conceived and born, my sister and I."
"Thank you, I was wondering a bit about that. Are there often pairs of you here?"
"Not terribly often, and usually a second daughter will leave here to marry into the line of those who direct seekers to us and keep us appraised of the way the world proceeds outside our valley." The Witch leaned back, basking. "That family can use wands, as our direct line cannot, but they have also a little of our innate power of seeing beyond. It has led to their having a reputation for strangeness, but they seem to enjoy it. My sister, though, felt no need to go, and now we see why. I am glad she remained. Your friend is a good man and deserves his life."
"Yes, Remus is something special. If I had any sense, I’d have fallen for him instead of James, but I suppose emotions don’t have to be sensible." Lily brushed her hair out of her eyes. "If you don’t mind my asking, what were these things your mother called you, the ones that don’t count as names?"
The Witch laughed. "She used to call me â€˜truthful one,’" she said. "Because I could never tell a lie, not even to save myself a scolding. And my sister does not know the meaning of fear, so Mother called her â€˜danger-seeker.’"
"Well, that one I think I’ll leave to Remus, but there are names that mean â€˜truth.’ You could take one of them." Lily smiled. "If you’re really interested in what you’ve been hinting at."
"It seems that it would benefit us both." The Witch returned her smile. "Us all, I should say. Including those not yet born."
"And we must think about them," Lily murmured, looking out over the water. "For if we do not, who will?"
"Indeed." The Witch plucked a flower from the grass and blew on it, loosing a cloud of gold. "Do you have a preference?"
"I think I’d like to start with a boy. You?"
"A girl first of all, to take up my mantle when I am gone. And my sister cannot make up her mind, so she will take whichever comes to her."
"Why not twins?" Lily chuckled. "Remus loves children, and that would give us a new foursome to match the old one..."
"I am not incapable of love," Sirius muttered to himself as he finished his turn in the tent’s tiny bathroom the next morning. "I can love other people. I love lots of other people. Prongs and Moony and Wormtail and Lily and..."
He shook his head. "Point is, I’m not incapable of love just because I like myself. Why shouldn’t I like myself? I’m a pretty good person to be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t love other people. I can even make other people love me back, if I try hard enough."
Looking up, he met his own eyes in the mirror, and a wicked smile spread over his features. "I bet if I try really, really hard..."
"I’m going to prove to you that I can love," Sirius announced to the Witch when he met up with her by the lakeshore. "Someone other than myself, I mean."
"Prove away," the Witch said in a bored tone.
"Well, if you say so." Sirius walked up to her, put an arm around her shoulders and one around her waist, pulled her towards him, and kissed her.
A slap across the face sent him staggering backwards. "Good for you," he mumbled through a swelling lip. "You remembered which side you hit yesterday, and got the other one today."
"You are an uncouth barbarian," the Witch said sternly. "Go away."
"No. I said I was going to prove to you that I could love, and I will."
"There is no need to prove that you love me."
"But what if I want to love you?" Sirius put on his best hopeful puppy look. "What if I think you’re beautiful and smart and special and I want to love you and have you love me back?"
The Witch folded her arms. "Learn to show kindness to all," she said. "Especially those you think are lesser than yourself. And I do not mean to patronize themâ€”be truly kind, or do nothing. When you have learned that, then come seeking my love. Without it, do not trouble yourself."
She turned on her heel and started away.
"I don’t think I know how," Sirius admitted under his breath.
"You do not know how to be kind?"
She’s got good ears. "Not exactly. I know what’s kind and what’s mean, at least in general terms, but I’m never sure what I should do in any given situation. And half the time, when I try something, it turns out wrong. Actually a lot more than half."
The Witch turned back, and her expression was softer than Sirius had yet seen. "Now with that, I may be able to give you help. Comeâ€”we shall practice together."
Sirius followed her, grinning to himself when her back was turned.
Who says self-improvement lessons have to be boring?
Remus and the newly-named Peri Lupin (Peri, as she proudly informed everyone, being short for Pericula, a feminization of the Latin word for â€˜danger’) left the valley that day at noon aboard Lily’s broom, bound for Remus’ father’s house in Surrey. James, Lily, and Peter left later in the day, walking to the mouth of the valley with Sirius and the Witch, who thought she might follow her sister’s lead and call herself Veri, short for Veritas.
"You realize Moody’s not going to believe me when I tell him why you’re taking a leave of absence," James said to Sirius, shaking his friend’s hand goodbye.
"Tell him to come have a look for himself. The door’s always open."
"Because there is no door," said Veri with a heavy sigh. "Is he always thus?"
"Always," Peter confirmed. "You’ll get used to it."
"That is what I fear." Veri’s lips quirked as she regarded Sirius. "Nevertheless, there would be merit in taming such a one..."
Sirius looked nervously at his friends. Lily and Peter laughed, and James shrugged his shoulders. "Happens to the best of us, Padfoot," he said. "We’ll send you a wedding invitation when we get the day nailed down."
"I’ll be there." Sirius glanced at Veri. "And I might even bring a guest."
"Only if you have completed your task by that day," Veri reminded him. "I will leave my home for nothing less than proven and tested love."
With cheerful goodbyes, they parted, the three who were leaving Apparating out from that spot, the two who remained walking slowly back into the valley.
"So what exactly do you mean by â€˜proven and tested?’" Sirius asked halfway down the slope.
"Oh, that is easy." The smile on Veri’s face should have been setting off every Dark Detector for miles. "I shall simply find what it is you hate most to do, and set you to it endlessly until you give up this foolish quest for my heart."
Nice try, lady, but I’m not giving up. Sirius squared his shoulders. You haven’t seen stubborn until you’ve seen Sirius Orion Black going after something he really wants!
"Show me the work," he said.
Veri’s smile lost a bit of its edge, but the look she gave him from the corner of her eye bordered on admiring.
Merlin’s bloody pants, I might actually pull this off...
Remus and Peri returned to Headquarters on the sixteenth, and spent most of the day redecorating his room to suit both their tastes, taking frequent breaks to introduce Peri to the rest of the Order. As the afternoon turned to evening, Peri discovered the kitchen, and immediately donned an apron and began chopping onions. Gideon Prewett, emerging from the pantry with a bowl of flour, eyed the interloper in his territory a bit warily, but Remus winked at him and he left her alone.
"Moony, there you are," said James, coming in from the hall. "I’ve been looking all over for you. Isn’t it getting a bit late?"
"Late for what? Dinner? That isn’t my fault." Remus didn’t look up from the parchments he was sorting through at the kitchen table. "Blame the cook. Or should I say, the cooks."
"Those who blame the cooks get nothing to eat," said Peri, wiping her streaming eyes with the back of her hand and lobbing a root end of onion at Remus. He caught it and threw it back.
"Moony, I’m trying not to be obvious here," James said out of the corner of his mouth. "But I can’t believe you forgot what tonight is."
"What tonight is?" Remus glanced at the calendar. "You mean Peri’s first night here?"
"No, I do not meanâ€”" James’ shoulders sagged. "You’re taking the piss, aren’t you?"
"What was your first clue?" Remus chuckled at his friend’s expression. "Prongs, calm down. It’s under control."
"Under control? You, tonight?"
"Yes. Under control, me, tonight." Remus looked over his shoulder at Peri. "Did you ever see that source material Lily and Dumbledore found?"
"Yeah, Lily showed it to me. Why?"
"Do you remember the last two lines?"
Remus scribbled a sentence on a scrap of parchment and pushed it over to James. "Read."
James read. His eyebrows went up. "Does that mean..."
"Peri seems to think it does, and she’s the one planning on sharing my bed tonight."
"Well, then." James handed his friend the parchment back. "Congratulations are most definitely in order."
"Thank you." Remus made a notation on one of his scrolls.
The tale says that no one can harm the one who wins the Witch’s healing. And a werewolf transformation does plenty of harm.
He smiled at Peri, who was now frying her onions in a small skillet.
Some days you just get more than you deserve.