The knife comes plunging back down, flashing in the dim light from distant streetlamps, but I catch North’s arm before the blade can meet its mark.

Still blank-faced, North thrashes his arm back and forth, trying to pull it out of my grasp. I cling tightly, feeling somewhat annoyed with myself for neglecting to exercise for all these years – a bit of muscle tone would come in handy right about now. Luckily, North doesn’t seem to be very coordinated. Barely knowing what I’m doing, I bring my knee up sharply into North’s groin. He bucks in pain, making a strange, whining noise like a dog whose tail has been stepped on.

I’m beyond pity now, beyond thought even – guided by pure instinct, I push North backwards into the wall of the building, smashing his head against it once, twice, three times, ignoring the awful smacking of his skull against the brick. North groans, closing his eyes, and the knife loosens in his hand. I snatch it away from him immediately, and bring my free elbow down hard on his neck, pinning him against the building.

“Mr. North,” I say hoarsely, panting. “Can you understand me?”

But there’s no sign of comprehension in his eyes. His eyes dart back and forth between my face and the knife, and his body twitches under my grasp. Clearly, he has no intention of giving up peacefully – he’s being driven by something deeper than anger.

“Right,” I mutter. I grab him by the throat and smash his head back against the wall again – this time, so hard that his eyes roll up in his skull, and he drops to the ground like a marionette cut from its strings. I step back, catching my breath. I’m safe for the moment, but I know it’s only a matter of time before North recovers consciousness and comes after me again. I could run upstairs for Remus, but North might disappear by the time we return.

Instead – still panting – I scoop up a handful of pebbles from the ground and squint up at the building, counting three windows up from the first floor of the building, and six windows across. My eyes land on the window that must be Remus’. I take aim, and then throw the rocks as hard as I can at the window.

I miss.

“Useless,” I grumble at myself, glancing at North’s unconscious form, and picking up some more pebbles. It takes me two more tries until I manage to make contact with Remus’ bedroom window – but, thanks I’m sure to Remus’ insomniac tendencies – the window slides open sheer seconds after the rocks hit their target.

“Remus, old boy,” I say wearily. “I seem to be in a bit of a spot.”

Minutes later, Remus and I are climbing up the staircase to the flat, North’s unconscious body hovering up the stairs ahead of us. I feel exhausted and yet somehow strangely triumphant - That’ll teach Remus for trying to keep me cooped up in the flat.

“And he didn’t even try to reply?” asks Remus again, his voice rather hoarse.

I shake my head. “I’m pretty sure he’s under the Imperius Curse. Although I s’pose he might just be really, really thick.”

“You’re calling him thick?” says Remus sharply, looking straight ahead up the staircase. “I can’t believe you let him lure you out into the alley without your wand.”

“I’m telling you, I had my wand!” I reply, wounded. I’ve never heard Remus speak to me so harshly before. “He Transfigured it or something – I’ve no idea how, he just turned it into a pile of dust!”

“Wands can’t be Transfigured,” says Remus, as we get off the staircase onto our landing and round the corner to our door. “Besides, none of that would have been a problem if you had just brought me with you, instead of running off on your own.”

“What, do you seriously think he would’ve just stuck around to chat if I’d brought you down with me?” I say defensively. “Remus, he was trying to get me on my own. I had to play his game, it was the only thing for it.”

“It wouldn’t seem like a game if you’d had your throat slit open,” Remus grumbles, ducking under North’s body to open the door. He disappears into the flat, bringing North bobbing along after him. Slumping my body against the corridor wall, I sigh, closing my eyes. I was hoping that Remus would rush downstairs and engulf me in his arms with a flurry of praise. Instead, he’s treating me like a misbehaving child.

Swallowing my pride, I brush the dust off of my robes and meekly enter the flat. In the sitting room, a disgruntled-looking Sirius is sitting up on the sofa, rubbing his eyes sleepily. North’s body is sprawled across the floor beside the coffee table, and Remus is pacing back and forth in front of an open window, having presumably just sent off an owl to somebody.

“Hello, you,” says Sirius, brightening as he sees me. “Glad to see you haven’t been brutally murdered.”

“Nice to know somebody cares,” I huff, stalking into the kitchen to pour myself a tumbler of Firewhisky. My hands are shaking slightly in the wake of my fight with North, and I have to pour slowly and carefully to avoid spilling any of the precious, precious liquor. I sit down at the kitchen table with my drink, and I’ve only gotten halfway through it when Alastor Moody bursts into the room, followed by a wary-looking Remus and a smirking Sirius.

“There’s my girl!” booms Moody, banging his fist down on the table. “I ought to give you a medal of honor.”

I raise my eyebrows incredulously at the excited flush on his face – apparently, Remus and Sirius have told him what’s happened. “That’s funny. I would’ve thought you’d be a bit more, er, furious.”

Moody settles into a chair, his arms crossed on the table, leaning forward conspiratorially. “If you had died, I’d be furious. But you’re alive and well, so that’s neither here nor there, eh?”

Remus frowns disapprovingly at this. Sirius sniggers.

“Moody, what Aislin did was completely reckless,” says Remus, stepping forward. In the light of the kitchen I can see how pale and troubled his face is. “She purposefully put herself into harm’s way. She was practically begging to be murdered.”

“Well, she’s not murdered, is she?” says Moody, waving his hand dismissively at Remus. I frown, not sure whether I should find his complete lack of concern for my safety empowering or concerning. He turns back to me. “So, you say North’s been Imperiused, eh? Well, we’re having him taken off to St. Mungo’s – we’ll see what they have to say in the morning. And this business with your wand…very interesting.”

“I feel like I’ve lost an arm,” I say, sighing into my glass. “I s’pose I’ll go to Ollivander’s tomorrow and see about getting a new one. But it’ll never be quite the same.”

“I’ll go for you,” says Remus automatically. “If North has been under the Imperius Curse all this time, then the real murderer must still be at large in London.”

“Absolutely not,” I snap. “I’m not having any more of this seclusion nonsense. Go on, Moody, tell him I’m allowed to go outside.”

“I think O’Keefe has proven she’s capable of taking care of herself,” says Moody, nodding proudly. I grin triumphantly, mentally storing away the knowledge that all it really takes to earn Moody’s approval is a bit of street-fighting with a Squib. “Mind, she should take someone with her if she’s going into Diagon Alley without a wand, so as to avoid an untimely death. Noted?”

“Noted,” I reply, raising my glass. “I don’t s’pose this’d be enough to get me back on the case, then?”

“Not a chance,” says Moody. “Sorry, lass. People’re still angry about the other murders – I get about ten Howlers each week insisting I resign. But it’s progress, eh? When this case is closed, I’m sure you’ll be able to consult for us again.”

Moody sticks around to talk business for a little while, and then returns to the Ministry – apparently, he’s taken to sleeping in his office these days. Sirius slouches back off to the sitting room to get some sleep, leaving Remus and me alone in the kitchen, the tension like a physical wall between us.

“Er…” I say, staring up at him, unable to decide what I should say. I’m not willing to apologize, but I can’t stand the idea of Remus being genuinely angry at me.

Remus turns away from me, leaning against the kitchen counter and gazing silently through the window. The moon is a slim, bright crescent in the sky – plenty of time until the next full moon. Sighing, I decide to give him some space. Hopefully the whole thing will blow over in a few weeks, and our friendship will go back go normal. I stand up, walking my empty glass over to the sink, and turn the faucet on to rinse it out.

I reach for the sponge and bar of dish soap, resigned in the absence of my wand to cleaning my glass the Muggle way – but suddenly there are footsteps behind me, and a low, sad groan, and then Remus’ arms are thrown around my waist.

“Remus?” I say, somewhat breathlessly, my glass slipping out of my hand, clattering into the basin. He doesn’t reply. His arms are wrapped tightly around me, his face buried in the side of my neck, the force of his body pressing my waist into the edge of the counter. I turn off the faucet and dry my hands hastily on my nightdress. “You alright?”

“He could have killed you,” he says after a few moments, loosening his grip slightly, and drawing his head back.

Softening, I turn around to hug him properly, wrapping one arm around his neck, and using the other hand to rub comforting circles across his upper back, which is surprisingly broad and sturdy under my fingers. It feels nice to be warmly wrapped up in his arms, to rest my head against his chest. “I’m fine, you big git,” I tell him, smiling. He laughs into my hair, and the feeling of his breath hot against the side of my neck sends a strange, hot feeling racing through me. I inhale sharply, caught between the thrill of his touch, which is suddenly surging with electricity, and the sensation of panic that’s rising in my head.

This is Remus, I remind myself firmly – and, after a moment, the leaping flames in me die down to a low flicker. I tell myself hastily that it didn't mean anything, that that's just the way that bodies react, sometimes, when they're smashed that close together.

“You should get some sleep,” I tell him, drawing my arms back to my sides.

“Yeah,” says Remus. He lets go of me, his face a bit pink, and shoots a quick glance at the door to the sitting room. He smiles at me meekly. “Er, sorry.”

“Don’t be,” I say quickly. “Good night, Remus.”

“Night, Aislin,” he says.

The next morning, I walk out into the sitting room to find Sirius awake and half-dressed, fastening up his robes. The visible sliver of bare chest is obtrusively bandage-free.

“Good news,” says Remus, turning to smile at me. “Our patient’s all fixed up.”

“Don’t call me your patient,” says Sirius, rolling his eyes. “But yeah, I’m shoving off after breakfast, so feast your eyes while you can, love.”

“As if,” I say – but I’m grinning, and the truth is that I’m going to miss him. As much as he gets on my nerves, I feel most like myself when I’m with him, even when we’re bickering nonsensically. It’ll be strange to go back to living alone with Remus, especially after what happened last night. My heart leaps at the thought of Remus with his arms around me, pressing me into the counter, and I quickly banish the thought. “Well, what would you like for your last meal?”

We end up sitting around the kitchen table, feasting on egg sandwiches, sliced apples, and pumpkin juice.

“I can’t believe they’re sending you straight back out again,” says Remus, shaking his head disapprovingly. “You’ve only just recovered.”

“Look mate, if you don’t stop worrying every time somebody moves a finger, you’ll start to go bald,” says Sirius through a bite of sandwich. “I’m perfectly fit to travel, and Emmeline can’t manage it alone. Makes perfect sense for me to go with her.”

“I’m not going to go bald,” mutters Remus into his pumpkin juice. He empties his glass, and then stands up, magicking his dishes over to the sink. “Well, I’m off to the Ministry for a few hours to get the scoop on North. Stay safe, Sirius. And Aislin – d’you want to pop over to Ollivander’s when I get back, and find you a new wand?”

“Yeah, okay,” I say, eager to hear the Healers’ verdict on North. Smiling at Sirius and me, Remus exits the kitchen, leaving the two of us alone together.

“I s’pose you’ll be away for a while,” I say after a minute of silence.

“Yeah,” says Sirius, staring at me, a bright, ferocious fire burning in his eyes. I stare back at him, taking in all his effortless elegance. Over the course of his stay in our flat, he’s lost the dark circles under his eyes, gained a bit of much-needed weight, and had a decent shave. As a result, he looks healthier and happier than I’ve seen him since the Potters’ wedding. Looking at him now, I know that if and when I see him again, he’ll be back to his usual unkempt gauntness.

We clean up our breakfast things in silence. I’d like to provoke him into a silly argument with some sort of sarcastic comment, but I can’t think of anything good. Mostly I’m just trying to soak as much of his glory as possible, in anticipation of the eventual moment when he’ll disappear from the fireplace. When the dishes are done, we walk back out into the sitting room, and stand in front of the fireplace, staring at each other.

“Can–” I want to say Can you just promise me you’ll come back? But the words sound too melodramatic even in my head, and I know he’d just take the mickey out of me for trying to be serious. Still, looking into the obscure gray depths of his eyes, I can’t shake the thought that this might be the last time I see him. I want to reach out and touch him*, to be swept into a kiss as raw and passionate as last night’s – but somehow any of these gestures would make the danger seem more real. Instead, I take a step back from him, crossing my arms, and smile.

“Go on, then. Get out of here,” I tell him. “Go save the world.”

Sirius smiles back down at me, and for a moment there’s a fiery look in his eyes, leaping bright and furious. Anticlimactically, I can’t tell if this look is mean to reflect solemnity or sarcasm. Before I can figure it out, Sirius has ducked into the fireplace, winking at me, and vanished, consumed by the leaping green flames, the smoke, and the shadows.

“You were right,” says Remus, the moment he steps out of the fireplace. “North was under a pretty powerful Imperius Curse. No way to trace a Dark curse like that, unfortunately, but Moody’s going to have some of the Aurors talk to him this evening, and see if he can tell them anything useful.”

“I wish I could have a crack at him,” I say ruefully, looking up at the piece of parchment in my hands. It’s a letter from Barnabus, just a quick message: Aislin – Party at my flat tonight. Stop by and fill me in on your investigation. Barny. “Feel like going to a party tonight?” I ask Remus, raising my eyebrows at him hopefully. “Our dear friend Barnabus has been kind enough to invite us.”

Remus looks quizzical. “I thought you hated Barnabus.”

“’Hate’ is a bit strong,” I reply thoughtfully. “Although I s’pose if I ever had the opportunity, I’d happily frame him for murder or push him off the edge of a cliff.”

“But you want to go to his party?”

“Might as well,” I say, shrugging. “What else are we going to do tonight? Sit around playing Gobstones?”

“I s’pose you’re right,” he says, though the look on face says that he would be more than happy to sit around play Gobstones all night. “I’ll see if James and Peter want to tag along. D’you still want to stop at Ollivanders, though?”

“Yeah, I’d probably better,” I say, pulling myself to my feet. “I’ll go put on something respectable, and then we can be off.”

Remus and I spend the afternoon strolling pleasantly through Diagon Alley, treating ourselves to ice cream and new robes. I buy myself a new wand from Ollivander’s, and – though it’s not quite as spry as my old one, and will no doubt take some getting used to – I’m pleased to find that it’s fairly obedient. After stopping off at the flat to unload our new purchases, we head to the Leaky Cauldron to meet up with James, Lily, Alice, and Peter for what promises to be an interesting night.

A/N: Bit of a curve-ball there with the Remus/Aislin! Chapters 21 and 22 are written and ready to be submitted as soon as the queue permits. Shadowplay should end up at about 25 total chapters, plus and epilogue.

As always, thanks for reading/reviewing!

*Shout-out to Depeche Mode.

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