by Victoria P.

Matins (sunrise)
"You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon." -- Psalm 91:13

Tonks tries to be careful, to be comforting, but the grief in the house is overwhelming. She cannot console Remus, cannot help Harry. Sirius is beyond her reach. She goes home to her mother, and together they cry for what they've lost.

The next time she is at number twelve Grimmauld Place, she sees sunlight spark off familiar red hair, but the face is different, broader, so freckled he's almost tan.

"You must be Charlie," she says, holding out a hand.

"Guilty as charged." He takes her hand and it's as if that spark now lights her veins. She feels herself flush -- a rare loss of control -- and he smiles.

"I'm Tonks," she says, feeling gauche.

"I know." He drapes a well-muscled arm over her shoulders, his warm hand brushing her, and leads her to the table.

It's as if the sun's returned after the long, cold night of mourning, and Tonks basks in his warmth.


Prime (during the first hour of daylight)
"They are like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; Its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers." -- Psalm 1:3

Neville has never been successful with girls. He didn't even snog Ginny Weasley when he took her to the Yule Ball; she was too busy staring at Harry and he was too busy stepping on her toes.

So he's startled when Luna calls out to him in Diagon Alley. They hadnít spoken much before that night in the Department of Mysteries, nor after, and he rarely hears from anyone over the summer.

But Gran is busy with her marketing, and he knows he'll be bored if he stays with her. "Go on with your little friend," she says, as if he's still six instead of almost sixteen.

He goes, and Luna takes his hand. She shares her ice cream with him, chattering about Pontoffel Pock and his magic piano. Neville has never heard of it, and when she pulls a brightly colored yet battered book out of her satchel, he realizes it's a Muggle story.

She doesn't ask much of him, just talks her vague talk about nothing in particular until they are in the dim shade next to the Leaky Cauldron. She leans back against the wall, hair gleaming pale against the red brick, and he feels his mouth go dry, his palms grow clammy.

"Neville," she says, and her eyes are focused on him, blue and clear and not vague at all.

She grabs a handful of his shirt and pulls; he follows without thought or hesitation. And they are kissing. Part of him wants to stand back and analyze the situation, because it's one he honestly thought he'd never experience, but her lips, still cold and tasting of chocolate and banana ice cream, are soft against his, and his brain stops working.

She opens beneath him, invites him in, and he slides his tongue against hers, so recently discussing nonsense and now this, this language he never even knew he could speak, let alone share. He can feel her smile against his lips. This is their first kiss, but he knows it won't be their last.


Terce (9am)
"Who among you loves life, takes delight in prosperous days? Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." -- Psalm 34:13-15

There are lies, Hermione knows, and there is truth.

This is truth, Ron's hands sliding over her shoulders, into her hair, his lips against her throat, both of them flushed and perspiring, nervous and happy and excited, warmth curling through her body like a cat stretching by the fire. She strokes his hair as his mouth moves lower, pushing her shirt out of the way drop kisses over her heart, which beats wildly.

She gasps when Harry joins him, wrapping arms around her from behind, his glasses cool against her heated skin. He kisses her temple, her jaw, her neck gently, as though she might startle and bolt from the bed they're lying on. Their clothes are in disarray as they become bolder with every kiss and lick and touch.

She remembers the first time Ron kissed her, awkwardness dissolving under the heat they always generate when they're together, finally putting lips and tongues to use other than arguing.

And then Harry, always welcome -- behind, before, between. Beside. Never a third wheel, a spare part. Whatever he needed, she and Ron would give.

Ron and Harry would never have suggested it, though they'd all been thinking it all summer. Comfort first, because Harry needed the press of warm bodies against him, the proof that not everyone he loves and who loves him is dead. She took the initiative, shy but determined, and the boys responded, lighting up like fireworks.

There were rumors long before there was truth -- this truth. They are his strength and he, their salvation.

Hermione shakes her head, long ago Sunday school lessons making that association uncomfortable. Ron pauses at her breast, poised to touch, fingers so close she can feel the heat coming off him.

She smiles and arches toward him. "It's all right. Just ... thinking too much, I suppose."

"Then Ron's not doing his job right," Harry whispers, and he nibbles and licks at her earlobe, making her shiver.

"Oi!" Ron says, taking mock offense, lips curling in a grin. He touches her gently, as if she might break, and sometimes the feelings are so overwhelming she thinks she might, but she knows Ron and Harry would put her back together again, because that's what they do.

This love she and her friends bear each other brings her a sense of peace and rightness to offset the gathering darkness.

It's something she never expected to find, and she's thankful for it every day.


Sext (12 noon)
"May your love comfort me in accord with your promise" -- Psalm 119:76

When Penelope's owl arrives, asking him to come home for lunch, Percy has to force himself to concentrate on work for the rest of the morning.

Since he chose the Ministry over his family, since he was proved so incredibly wrong, he lives every moment waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Penelope to leave him, for Fudge to sack him, for black-hooded strangers to arrive at his door, wands flashing green fire, killing everyone he loves.

The minutes pass all too slowly, but eventually, noon arrives. Bells ring out from a nearby church as he makes his way home through the crowds of summer tourists, walking the few blocks instead of Apparating. The anticipation is bad, but still better than facing the reality that she's leaving him.

Finally, though, Gryffindor courage gathered round him like a cloak, he enters the small, cozy flat they share.

It amuses him sometimes, in a blackly comic way he doesn't think anyone in his family would believe he found amusing, that he of all people -- Perfect Prefect Percy -- is what some people would call living in sin. But it doesn't feel like a sin to have Penelope's bright smile and warm embrace before he sleeps at night and when he wakes up in the morning. It's the only warm, bright spot he has anymore.

He tenses and looks around, expecting to see her trunks packed and ready to go, her face set in grim lines, her eyes dark with disappointment. It is the only expression he sees outside their flat and he's become accustomed to it, though he'd hoped never to see it on her face.

Instead, he sees the table, lovingly set with their best china, inherited from her grandmother. The crisp white plates gleam in the sunlight; the blue flowers on the rims give the table a cheerful, spring-like feeling. The scent of chicken curry -- his favorite -- fills the air. He wonders when she had the time -- they left for work this morning at the same time, and he knows it's been busy at the Ministry Library lately.

Penelope is glowing, radiant, as she reaches out a hand and pulls him close. She kisses him and he basks in her love -- she has so much to give and he's so unworthy of it. He returns the kisses eagerly, trying to pour every iota of love he has for her into this urgent exchange of lips and tongues, this silent language that still leaves him breathless with awe.

Finally, reluctantly, she pulls back.

"I'm glad you could make it," she says, formality at odds with their passionate embrace.

"Your wish is my command," he says with a lightness he wouldn't have been capable of ten minutes earlier. However lightly he says it, it is still true. In her, he's found a loyalty deeper than House or Ministry -- one that reminds him of family, except Penelope is never disappointed when he doesn't make jokes or caper, and she supported him when he struck out on his own, no longer mindlessly following Dumbledore's every command.

"Please sit down."

He sits and she serves him rather than putting the food on the table; he wonders at the change, but when he rises to help, she just tells him to sit again. She's practically quivering with anxiety. He knows he's not the most sensitive man, but even he can feel it.

"Penelope," he says, after complimenting her cooking, "is something wrong?" He infuses his voice with gentleness, the way he used to speak to Ginny when she was very young and frightened. He feels a pang that even she has abandoned him, but no, he tells himself he won't regret his choice. If they can't see reason --

Penelope's voice breaks into his reverie. "... baby."

He blinks. "Excuse me? Did you just say--"

She takes his hand again, places it on her softly curved abdomen. "We're going to have a baby." Her eyes are lit with love and hopefulness, sparking similar emotions in his heart.

"Oh, Penelope." The words are a breath, a prayer, a plea for absolution, which she gives him freely when she allows him to pull her into his lap and press kisses to her face and neck. He doesn't care that they can't afford it, aren't married, are only nineteen, or that there's a war coming which he can't do a damn thing to prevent. His world has narrowed to Penelope and the tiny life inside her, curled up safe in his arms.

Pride is suddenly pointless. This is news worth sharing with the only people who mean anything, in the end. Mum will be thrilled, Dad, ecstatic. He allows himself the luxury of imagining the twins, Bill and Charlie and Ron as indulgent uncles, Ginny as a beaming aunt.

He misses them. He can admit it now.

"I was hoping we could tell your parents," she says at exactly the same moment he says, "We have to tell my parents."

She kisses him again, and lunch is forgotten; their celebration is so much more nourishing than food.

When he returns to work that afternoon, he stops by his father's office for the first time in over a year.

"Dad," he says hesitantly, unsure of his welcome.

His father looks up, eyes wary and shadowed.

"Would it be all right if I -- if we, I mean, Penelope and I -- if we visited you and Mum tonight?" His words tumble over themselves, his tongue stumbles over words, names so long unspoken.

"Would it be--" his father blinks, then beams. Shadows drop from his face, and he looks years younger, but still so old and worn to Percy's eyes, absence giving him objectivity he'd lacked formerly. "Why don't you come for dinner? I'll tell your mother."

And then he envelopes Percy in a bone-crushing hug that feels like home.


None (3 pm)
"Our mouths were filled with laughter; our tongues sang for joy." -- Psalm 126:2

Sometimes, Arthur comes home in the afternoons. Since the children are all out of the house, he's taken to Flooing in for a cup of tea, a bit of quiet in their increasingly hectic lives. Neither of them speaks of the real reason -- his fears for her safety and hers for his -- as he wraps her up in strong arms, and kisses her.

He may be balding and paunchy now, but his kiss still sends shivers down her spine, and Molly is grateful to whatever it was that made her change her mind all those years ago, and accept his invitation to Hogsmeade.

He was as mad for Muggle gimcrackery then as he is now, and the light in his eyes when he discovers some new contraption makes her weak in the knees.

She sees it too infrequently these days. His hair -- what's left of it -- is graying rapidly (they never speak of the coloring charms she uses to keep hers a vibrant red), and the skin beneath his eyes is too often dark with lack of sleep.

But today his eyes are bright, sparkling, and he picks her up and twirls her around.

"What?" she asks when he puts her down, dizzy and breathless. "What is it?"

"We're having a guest for dinner," he says, "one we haven't seen in a long while."

Her heart stops for a moment and she splays one hand across her chest to make sure she's still alive, still breathing.

She hasn't dared to hope, knows her loss is so minor compared to others' -- at least he's alive.

"Percy?" It comes out a whisper, barely disturbs the air between them.

Arthur's smile lights up the kitchen, his eyes bright with tears.

"Percy's coming home, love. He's coming home tonight."

They cling to each other for a long time, weeping with joy.

"Oh, and he's bringing Penelope," he adds. She nods and sniffles, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.

Finally, with a kiss to her forehead and a more lingering one to her lips, Arthur leaves. "Still have to work, you know," he says jauntily before stepping into the fireplace and Flooing back to his office.

For a moment, Molly stares at her homey old kitchen as if she's never seen it before; then she bustles into action, pointing her wand at the dishes, the pots, the pans, the mop.

Everything has to be perfect tonight.

Percy's coming home.


Vespers (evening)
"Behold, all generations will call me blessed" -- Magnificat

"Let down your hair," Albus says. Even after forty years, she feels a thrill when he touches her.

Minerva loosens the pins in her hair, lets it fall over her shoulders. It's a dark gray now, mostly, with some white creeping in.

He runs a hand through it, and she rubs against him, as if still in cat form. He massages her scalp with long, gentle fingers, and she closes her eyes, rests her head against his chest. The days are longer than ever, packed with so much to do she sometimes fears she will never get it all done, not if she lives as long as Merlin.

The ache in her neck, behind her eyes, is eased by Albus's gentle caress, and she sighs in pleasure.

She wants to discuss the children, but knows it is futile. Albus has lived most of his long life in the midst of one war or another. He doesn't quite understand that children are not soldiers, pawns in this game he plays with Tom.

"You are thinking of the children," he chides gently, but his hands continue their delicate work. She knows he's not using any sort of magic to divine her thoughts; they've had this conversation before, too many times to count.

More and more, she worries about Harry, about Hermione and Ron, the Weasleys, Neville and Luna, Draco Malfoy and the Slytherins, Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws.

She's watched the story play out before, in their parents' generation. She frets about Remus Lupin, grieving alone in the cold darkness of Grimmauld Place, and Severus Snape, brooding by the fire in his otherwise chilly office.

"Yes," she replies. "Always."

Albus summons her hairbrush and slowly works the knots from her hair, humming softly as she tries to come up with a new angle, a new way of looking at the problems facing them all. She knows he does the same, every day. It is second nature now, always lurking in the background while she prepares lesson plans, marks essays and deals with the day-to-day challenges of running a school.

But this is their world and they are bound to it in ways even she cannot always fathom. She dislikes the vague airy promises of the prophecy; she has always distrusted Divination, even when it's proved true.

"Let it go for now, Minerva," he whispers, lips brushing her ear gently, warm breath sending shivers down her spine.

She nods. She's so tired of fighting, of constantly being on the defensive. A burden shared is a burden halved, and together she and Albus carry the weight of their world, attempt to keep it off Harry's narrow shoulders, one day at a time. Their failures have been as spectacular as their victories, and while she thinks she should probably wish for things to be different, she cannot make herself do so, even if she still believed wishes could come true.

She turns into his kiss, parts her lips and breathes him in, the sweet-tart taste of Lemon Sherbets on his tongue familiar and beloved. All thought of the children, the school, the war, vanishes. There will be time enough to worry later.

She is thankful to have known this man, to have loved him and been loved by him, and whatever the night brings, she will stay by his side.


Compline (midnight)
"Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong; Most of them are sorrow and toil; they pass quickly, we are all but gone." -- Psalm 90:10

The nights are the hardest. He hates that the cliché is true, but realizes it wouldn't be a cliché if there weren't some truth in it.

When Sirius was taken from him the first time, he filled the nights with drinking and sex, and empty, impotent rage at everything he'd lost. The world celebrated while he mourned dead friends and a traitorous lover. Back then, the days were more difficult -- the quick flash of messy black or fiery red hair at the corner of his eye, a man with bright eyes and an eager smile walking down the street -- he'd seen James and Lily and Sirius everywhere he went.

Now, he looks avidly for Peter, spends his days tracking the rat and the rat's master. His nights are spent alone, drinking tea in echoing silence in a house that hates him; the last vestiges of Black blood and magic it craves are lost to it.

He doesn't need to look for James and Lily -- they are present for him in Harry. They meet every few weeks, anger and resentment simmering between them, unspoken, though Remus is sure it will explode soon. He is not used to sharing his grief; he treasures it, keeps it to himself, unwilling to share, a jealous lover with a harsh, uncaring mistress.

But if his grief is old and well-guarded, the jagged edges worn smooth by time, Harry's is newly-minted and sharp, angry and focused out at the world. It will cut them both if he's not careful. He knows Dumbledore wants him to guide the boy, channel his anger in an appropriate direction, train him up to fulfill the destiny Remus isn't even sure he believes in. Remus isn't sure he believes in destiny at all; they've all made choices and had to live -- and die -- with them.

Sirius mocked the idea that they were all bound up in some grander fate, that there was some sort of master plan. James had needed to believe in the big picture, and Peter had been guided by James, or so they'd thought. Remus had never believed in anything except the ability of life to kick him when he was already down, and to keep taking away what little he'd been given and replace it with anger, grief and emptiness. But he thinks he may have found faith at last, if only in the fact that Sirius came back to him before he left for good.

Sirius would want him to fight beside Harry against whatever fate has planned, because Sirius's whole life was a struggle against the forces of destiny. Lily would want him to protect her son, and James would want him to teach Harry to do the right thing, something Harry already knows instinctively.

As he sips his tea and steels himself for a trip upstairs to his empty bed, Remus knows he has only one lesson to impart -- he will teach the Boy Who Lived how to survive.


Vigils (3am)
"Before a watch passes in the night, you have brought them to their end; They disappear like sleep at dawn; they are like grass that dies." -- Psalm 90:4- 5

Snape has learned to appreciate some items of Muggle provenance. The scotch in his glass is the finest single malt he's found, and he's tasted them all. This is one art where Muggles have outstripped wizards, and occasionally he thinks he will chuck it all to go live among the Muggles in the Highlands and learn the secrets of making whisky.

Drinking firewhisky, even Ogden's Old, is akin to swilling petrol after the fine, smooth taste of the Macallan.

He absently swirls the liquid in the glass, noting how the color is warmed by the dying flames on the hearth. He stares at the fire, which reminds him, even now, of the Lily's hair. He always wondered if it would burn like fire if he touched it, but never had the opportunity to find out.

Lily Evans was another Muggle creation he loved in spite of himself. He's loved since, or at least touched and been touched physically, but on these nights when he keeps his silent vigil, he remembers her and lets his mind wander where it will. It always returns to her; the lessons he remembers best are the ones he never entirely grasped, and Lily was always just out of his reach.

He takes a drink, refusing to become maudlin at this late date. Instead, he raises his glass, toasting the fire. He has watched over the son the way he could not over the mother; she would never have accepted it, even if Potter hadn't been around. And once again, he is left to do the job, as Potter and Black failed, and Lupin is useless.

He keeps his watch by night, alone. Sleep is fleeting -- for lesser men, he tells himself, though that lie is worn thin; he is as relentlessly hard on himself as he is on everyone else, and rarely believes his own lies. It is the nightmares that keep him awake, with only the hiss and crackle of the fire and the wind rattling the casements to keep him company.

He has no doubt he will die before this second war is over; he wouldn't go so far as to say he welcomes it, but he is not afraid anymore. He has learned that there are worse things than death.

Shame, guilt, dishonor, the never-ending sting of failure, prodding him to take ever more dangerous risks in his service to Dumbledore.

He knows the old man only keeps him around because he is useful; he can think of few better things to be. He doesn't believe in sin, so he is not working for atonement. There will be no redemption after death -- these are foolish Muggle notions built from the same fear of death that drives Voldemort.

The irony of this shared delusion is not lost on him.

He rises from his chair with a shiver -- the dampness is pervasive down here - - and extinguishes the last of the fire.

He has classes to teach and has wasted enough time in idle self-examination.

Another night has passed, and his vigil is over.


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