The End of the Beginning

By Marina

Chapter 17

November 8, 1981

The service was already underway by the time Giles walked into the crematorium chapel. The door squeaked faintly as he shut it behind him and a bony, long-necked woman with a high pile of blonde hair half-turned to glare angrily over her shoulder. Giles gave an apologetic smile and took the nearest seat, clutching his hat in his lap. The vicar, who had paused slightly in mid-sentence when Giles had entered, recovered himself and went on.

"...Turn from the wrong that we have thought and said and done,
and are mindful of all that we have failed to do..."

Giles was startled at how sparsely attended the service was. He had expected to see Dumbledore, but the Headmaster was nowhere in sight. There was Remus, sitting with his head bowed and his shoulders hunched. Next to him, Alastor Moody sat stiff-backed and very still in an ill-fitting black suit. A handful of vaguely familiar people, all looking ill at ease in their Muggle clothes, clustered in the two pews behind them.

On the other side of the room, conspicuously isolated from the wizard contingent, sat the blonde woman and a large, thick-necked man. The woman's face looked familiar, and after a while Giles placed her as the disapproving bridesmaid in James and Lily's wedding photo. This had to be the sister Remus had mentioned in his letter. Petunia, that was it. Petunia Dursley. She sat at the very edge of the pew in order to keep an eye on a double pushchair she'd parked in the aisle. Giles couldn't see into the pushchair from where he was sitting, but he assumed one of the occupants must be Harry.

"...Heal the memories of hurt and failure.
Give us the wisdom and grace to use aright
the time that is left to us here on earth..."

Someone had sent the most lavish flower arrangement Giles had ever seen: a heraldic design wrought from orchids, the colors so vibrant they seemed to glow. It looked so absurdly out of place against the cheap pine coffins, that Giles might've thought it had been misdirected on delivery if he hadn't recognized the design as the Hogwarts crest. The small scarlet and gold wreath beside it looked distinctly outclassed, as did the spray of lilies Giles himself had hastily ordered by phone before leaving Bucharest. Mrs. Dursley, Giles noticed, stared straight ahead most of the time, but every now and then she would shoot a quick, furtive glance at the flowers, as if she expected them to suddenly turn poisonous.

"...And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us..."

A plaintive whimper drifted from the pushchair, and was promptly drowned out by a second, much louder cry. Petunia Dursley's face went pale. She bent down and scooped a wriggling, blanket-wrapped bundle out of the pushchair. Giles caught a glimpse of pale hair and a chubby, bright-pink arm flailing violently in the air. It was an amazingly large baby. Mrs. Dursley actually required a supporting arm from her husband as she strained to her feet, teetering in ridiculously high heels. She aimed a defiant glare at the motley crowd across the aisle, as if somehow blaming them for her child's outburst.

"He's very sensitive," she announced to no one in particular and marched out of the chapel, her head held high and her back as straight as the weight in her arms allowed. There was a collective sigh of relief as the door swung shut behind her, cutting off the screams. The vicar returned to his rather perfunctory recitation of the 23rd Psalm, but Giles wasn't listening. His attention was focused on the pushchair left abandoned in the aisle. Mrs. Dursley had pushed it sideways as she was leaving the pew, and Giles could see Harry now, clutching an armful of blanket to his chest and making the familiar gulping noises that presaged a crying fit. Giles glanced at Vernon Dursley, but the man continued to stare straight ahead, motionless. Only the back of his neck, which had suffused from pink to maroon, gave any sign that he was at all aware of his nephew's distress. Giles hesitated briefly, then stood, shoved his hat in his pocket, and walked over to sit in the pew behind Dursley.

Harry blinked up at him with big green eyes that looked tired and lost. He's too young to understand, Giles told himself sternly. You're projecting He rocked the pushchair lightly with his foot and held out his hand for Harry to grasp. That finally attracted Dursley's attention; he turned around with a furious expression on his face. Giles glared back. From the corner of his eye, he could see Remus and Moody half-rising from their seats, clearly prepared to intercede if there was a row.

There was no row. Dursley hunched his shoulders and turned away. Harry, apparently comforted by a familiar presence, fell quiet. Remus and Moody sat back down, and the service continued in relative peace.

"Our days are like the grass;
we flourish like a flower of the field;
when the wind goes over it, it is gone
and its place will know it no more."

There were no hymns and no eulogy. The vicar recited the Nunc Dimittis as he drew a discreet curtain over the niche that held the coffins. The murmur of the closing prayers almost drowned out the soft whirr of the conveyor belt. As everyone rose from their seats, Giles adjusted his tie and forced himself to take a mild, polite tone as he introduced himself to Vernon Dursley.

"I can give you hand with Harry if you like," he offered once the not-so-pleasantries were out of the way. "He knows me, and it would give you a chance to--"

"Stay away from my family, you freak!" Dursley's eyes were bloodshot, and his forehead was beaded with sweat. He came within an inch of running over Giles' feet as he ran from the chapel, thrusting the pushchair ahead of him like a battering ram to clear his way through the milling wizards in the aisle. Giles, left to stand uselessly in the pew, looked down with some bemusement at his charcoal suit, clean new shoes and Balliol tie.

"Freak?" he murmured in puzzlement.

"Guilt by association, I'm afraid." Remus crossed the aisle to stand next to Giles. He looked pale and exhausted, and there was an acid edge to his voice Giles didn't recall ever hearing before. "You came to the funeral, therefore you are a friend of James and Lily's, therefore... welcome to the freak show."

"Oh." Giles looked at the door through which Vernon Dursley had disappeared in such a hurry moments before. "Are we absolutely sure these people are related to Lily?"

"Unfortunately." Remus clasped his hands behind his back and turned his face up into the weak sunshine that filtered through the leaded glass windows. His jaw tensed for a few seconds, etching deep lines at the corners of his mouth, then relaxed again. "Thank you for coming," he said, sounding much more like usual self.

"I'm sorry I was late," Giles said. "I came as soon as I got your owl, but it's difficult to get out of Romania on short notice." He'd had to use all his Watcher connections to get his papers in order, and still ended up handing over all his cash to bribe a stone-faced customs officer at the airport in order to get on his plane.

"At least you're here." Remus' expression turned hard again. "Lily and James deserved better than this. But the Dursleys want nothing to do with the wizarding world, and Dumbledore is going along with their wishes, damned if I know why. Only a few of us were told where to come today."

"I was wondering about that." Giles headed for the exit, Remus quietly falling into step beside him. "I would've expected Dumbledore himself to be here, though."

"He was called away at the last moment. Emergency at the Ministry." Remus smiled a thin, humorless smile. "You'd think there would be fewer emergencies, with the war being over. But it seems there's a new one every five minutes. I think they're trying to make Dumbledore Minister of Magic, and he's trying to wriggle out of it. God knows where it all will end."

They walked outside, buttoning their coats and raising their collars against the chill November wind. Giles put his hat and gloves back on. Remus put his hands in his pockets. They stood on the yellowing patch of grass in front of the building and watched Vernon Dursley bundle his family into an oversized beige Volvo, throwing furtive glances over his shoulder all the while.

"Is anyone... Uhm..." Giles hesitated. "Is there to be a gathering of some sort?"

"Moody's place," Remus said. "I can Apparate you over if you'd like."

"You're not going?"

Remus huddled a little deeper into his coat. "I'm not in the mood for being in a crowd just now."

Giles looked around. The Dursleys had driven off. The remaining wizards were dispersing, disappearing behind trees and around corners. When the wind died down, Giles could hear them Disapparating. He looked over at Remus, who had begun to shiver in his too-thin coat, but still showed no inclination to move.

"I think I passed a pub a couple of streets away when I was driving here. Would you care to join me? It shouldn't be too crowded at this hour."

Remus shrugged listlessly. "I suppose I could do with a drink."

The pub was nearly empty. Giles and Remus took a table in the back and ordered two pints and a basket of chips. Neither man attempted conversation at first. Giles' mind was swarming with questions, but Remus looked in no condition to answer them. Remus had left his coat on, despite the fireplace at his back, and his movements when he lifted his glass or reached across the table for the tomato sauce were strangely deliberate, as if he was making a special effort to keep his hands from shaking. Giles tried to remember what phase the moon was in, but it wasn't something he was accustomed to keeping track of.

"Remus," he said finally, "are you going to be all right?"

"Eventually." Remus appeared preoccupied with the pattern of beer rings on the table top. "Things will become easier with time. Or so I'm told. By everyone. About ten times a day. Oh, and James and Lily didn't die in vain, and Peter will be remembered as a hero, and none of them would've wanted me to sit alone in my flat and brood. Everyone is in consensus on that, too. Finally, something the entire Wizarding world can agree on."

"I'm very sorry," Giles said. "Though I suppose everyone's been telling you that, too."

"Another common sentiment," Remus agreed. "But don't feel you have to be original on my account."

Giles' past conversations with Remus had consisted mostly of pleasant chats about academic subjects. He didn't know the man well enough to know how to deal with him in this brittle, embittered mood. So he sipped his beer and did his best to appear concerned and willing to listen, but not nosy or presumptuous. He must have succeeded, because after a while Remus abandoned his perusal of the table and looked up with a small, wry smile.

"I'm sorry, Giles. I didn't mean to take out my temper on you."

"That was hardly a temper tantrum," Giles said, "though you're certainly entitled to one."

"Don't tempt me." Remus lifted his glass and slammed it down again without actually drinking. Some of the beer splattered onto the table. "They sent him to Azkaban, you know. There wasn't even a trial."

"Who?" Giles asked, a moment before he remembered what Azkaban was. "Sirius?"

It was Sirius who had told him about the wizard prison, during one of the many evenings they'd spent at the Potters' house. Somewhere in the North Sea, he'd said. Inaccessible, Unplottable, and guarded by those Dementor creatures Giles remembered from his one visit to Auror Headquarters. The memory alone was enough to make him shudder. James had said it was even worse for wizards...

"No trial? Is that, uhm… normal for your government?"

"It's not unprecedented," Remus said grimly. "I understand Dumbledore tried to intervene, but even he's in no position to oppose Barty Crouch right now. And the Ministry, apparently, has more important business on its hands than dealing with protecting the legal rights of a traitor and mass murderer."

"But if there was a mistake..." Giles hesitated. "I mean, I've read your letter, and I suppose I have to take your word about the Fidelius spell, but I still can't believe that Sirius--"

"Don't," Remus said harshly.

Giles bit back an automatic apology and lapsed back into his earlier sympathetic silence. Remus bunched up his napkin and busied himself with mopping up the beer he'd spilled.

"I've been going through James and Lily's things," he said after a while, "and I've found a number of books that belong to you. If you'd like to come back with me from here, you can take them back."

"Oh, good," Giles said. "I was hoping somebody would find those."

They finished their drinks, retrieved Giles' rented car from the crematorium car park, and fought their way through a tangle of northbound traffic to London, where Remus had a tiny two-room flat in a bleak-looking street near Waterloo Station. He must've just moved in -- both rooms were filled with stacked boxes and trunks, and the only furniture was a bed. The walls were shedding flakes of dingy beige paint and the windows looked as if they hadn't been washed since the place was built.

"Sorry about the mess," Remus said. "I had to find a new place on short notice. Here." He conjured a chair and pushed it toward Giles. "Make yourself comfortable while I fetch your things."

He'd lived with Sirius, Giles remembered. Sirius had money. Remus, from the look of things, had a lot of books, some very old luggage and not much else. Had he been evicted from his previous home, or did he leave on his own to escape bad memories? Remus' shuttered expression discouraged questions and expressions of sympathy. Giles smiled politely and sat down.

Remus disappeared into the bedroom and reappeared a couple of minutes later with a large cardboard box in his arms.

"I hope there's nothing missing," he said. "I'm afraid some of the volumes are rather badly damaged. The house was completely wrecked, and then the Aurors stomped over everything like a herd of rampaging Hippogriffs before I could get anything back. But these are all the books from Godric's Hollow that looked as if they might be yours, plus a few from Peter's flat."

"Oh?" Giles frowned. "I don't think I've ever loaned any books to Peter. It was Lily who always wanted to do extra reading."

"Maybe Lily shared with him?" Remus suggested. "He only had three or four, anyway. I found them when I was helping his mother sort out his things."

"Has anyone been helping you?" Giles blurted out. Remus gave him a bland, stolid smile.

"I haven't needed any help, Giles."

There was no arguing with a lie that big. And Giles was in no position to object. He had nothing to offer except a shoulder to cry on, and Remus was clearly not interested in that. Giles took the box from him, muttered some generically polite expressions of thanks, and allowed Remus to escort him downstairs to the car.

Back in his room at the Heathrow Sheraton, he opened the box and made a quick examination of the top layer of books. Most were badly singed, their covers cracked or broken, but a few looked salvageable. Giles brushed the dust from a thick volume of Sumerian invocation spells, surprised at how undamaged it looked. When he cradled the book in his hand, it fell open. Giles looked down at the brittle, yellow-edged pages and felt something clench painfully in his chest.

It was the protective invocation he'd discussed with Lily three months before. Giles recognized the summoning runes immediately. And in the center of the diagram, soaked into the parchment, was a single bloody handprint.

James and Lily were dead. Harry, against all reason, was alive. Voldemort was gone. And according to Remus, no one in the Wizarding world had any explanation for what had happened. Giles' own hand shook as he placed it palm down on the page, completely covering the rust-colored print.

She did it. She really made it work.

He slammed the book shut, dropped it back into the box and closed the lid. It was all too much to deal with, just then. He would put the books into storage along with everything else he owned, and return to his assignment in Bucharest. There would be time to sort out his library when he got back.

Eight years later, after twelve different research assignments in six different countries, Giles finally returned to England for long enough to rent a flat and take his belongings out of storage. As he unpacked, he was mildly puzzled to find a handful of Ethan Rayne's nastier demonology grimoires mixed in with his own books. But he and Ethan had traded a lot of books over the years, and it wasn't too surprising if a few went astray here and there. Giles put the volumes aside with a mental note to make sure that Ethan never got his hands on them again, and gave it no further thought.

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