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The Shine and Strange Romance of Time

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Remus threw the first letter away.

He recognised the writing and the seal and he wanted nothing to do with them. The Order, and the man who led them, had cost him his friends and his lover and left him with little more than nightmares. He had paid the price for Voldemort’s fall. He was not interested in the politics of the aftermath.

He spent that day painstakingly filling in a job application only to discover, on the final page, a demand for a blood sample. He screwed it up and it joined Dumbledore’s letter in the fire.

He should never have returned to England. He should have paid more heed to the rumours in the Dark Arts community, the half-approving murmurs about the tightening of the Werewolf Code. He should have worried more about the travel restrictions. He had, he had to admit, been over-confident about the job prospects for a self-employed Defence expert. It didn’t seem to matter how many articles he had published or how respected he was among the international community. They wanted references.

And blood tests.

Dumbledore would know that. Which meant, as always, he was bargaining from a position of power. Remus didn’t want to know.

It was getting dark. Sighing, he lit a candle and went to close the curtains. There was a small, grey park below his window where the children from the estate gathered. The little ones were there by day, hard and belligerent until something caught their attention and they lapsed into heedless excitement. The older ones would come out later to hunch on the swings, sullen and vulnerable with their cheap cider and cigarettes. Some of them were Harry’s age. He hoped Harry didn’t look so lost.

There was a girl down there now, throwing a frisbee for her dog. Remus watched them for a while and smiled. It had taken years but his heart no longer clenched every time he saw a black dog.

Someone called the girl in and she went dashing away, the dog bounding at her side. Remus sighed and pulled the curtains across.

He needed to change some money so he had enough Muggle coins for the electricity meter. For now, he would read by candlelight. He was used to it.

He should go up into the city tomorrow. There was a branch of Gringott’s in Candlemass Close and he could pick up a copy of the Prophet and Wizarding Work. He could even play Muggle tourist and wander around the Old Town for a while. He had nothing better to do and he might need to start investigating the Muggle job market soon.

It was strange to be able to read in peace. He still instinctively guarded his book from the inevitable interruption. It took an effort to force his shaking shoulders to relax. The Ministry facilities were not particularly sophisticated and they seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in evicting him and his fellow sufferers as soon as the morning came. He wished they’d get round to processing his application to spend the moon in the Glasgow facility. The journey back from London after each transformation was increasingly painful and shockingly expensive. He wished he could afford to Floo but the commercial prices were worse than the train.

He sighed again and pushed memories and grievances away. He wanted to finish his book. He had a lively correspondence going on with an old acquaintance in Christchurch about the idiocy of this man Lockhart. Their record was the discovery of sixteen theoretical and twenty technical errors in a single page. He thought the most recent effusion might beat that.

There was a rumour something had happened to Lockhart. It was little more than a snigger and a lifted eyebrow when his name was mentioned. Nobody seemed to know the details.

The next chapter was headed, The Virtues of the Voluptuous Veela. Remus grinned and curled up to read. This should be entertaining.

~#~

He was in Edinburgh early the next morning, before most of the tourists had stirred. It was drizzling as he got off the bus. He pulled his coat around him and spared a sympathetic grin for two shivering girls who’d assumed that August in Edinburgh was warm enough for sleeveless tops. Sirius would have swooped on them and dragged them off to buy jumpers they probably couldn’t afford, flirting all the way. Pete would have stopped and commiserated, trying not to stare at their breasts. James would have offered one of them his coat and bought them a cup of tea each to keep them out of the rain.

Remus kept walking.

He was still stiff from the moon but as he crossed Waverley Bridge and made his way up into town he felt his muscles ease a little. Exercise had always helped. He wondered if any progress had been made on making the Wolfsbane Potion commercially available. That would be worth penury.

Candlemass Close was opposite St Giles’ Cathedral, a stump of a close that seemed to be, like so many of the ancient wynds, blocked by the newer buildings just behind the High Street. Remus slipped in and tapped his wand against the whitewashed wall. It shivered and blurred and he stepped through the veil into Candlemass Close.

Treacherously steep and narrow, it ran down towards the station. Between the tall buildings he could glimpse the New Town beyond the railway. Shops were crammed along its length and busy witches had to turn sideways to edge past each other. Smoky lamps hung across the close, lighting the lower levels where the buildings were fourteen stories high. Owls flapped through, perching on windowsills and lines and sellers were already calling out their wares, though it was not busy.

Remus strode down the close, trying not to slip on the wet cobbles. He was so intent on keeping his balance that it didn’t register for a moment when he heard someone say, “Sirius Black.”

He turned swiftly and slipped. A fat witch caught him before he went sliding away to the bottom of the Close.

“There, there, lad. Mind your feet.”

“Sirius Black?” he said and could hear his voice shake. “Someone said-”

“A terrible thing,” she said, shaking her head. “Terrible.”

“Is he dead?” Remus asked, his mouth dry. That would be the last irony, to hear the news like this.

“Dead? No, though he should be, the foul murderer. He’s escaped.”

The world seemed very cold then, cold and bright and pure. He could see the sun on the roofs of the New Town and the pale distant glint of the Firth of Forth. Even his breath seemed like ice.

The fat witch said something to him and he shook his head, staring out across the shoppers below to the sea.

Somewhere out there, in the wild waters of the North Sea, a fortress stood upon a rock, dark and terrible. He thought of it every time he saw the sea.

There was a the beating on wings and a sigh of feathers and an owl hovered before him, proffering a letter. He took it and marvelled that his hands could be so cold and calm.

The seal was Hogwarts’ and the writing Dumbledore’s.

He threw that one away too.

~#~

The letters kept coming.

Remus told himself he didn’t mind, that they were useful for lighting the gas. He’d never liked the long matches he needed to start the hob here. It felt too like burning someone’s wand.

He’d watched them burn Sirius’, after they broke it.

He had started watching for black dogs again and found himself faintly disappointed that none of them rose into a ragged man, bright with murderous rage.

He applied for a job at the bookseller’s in Candlemass Close and was rejected for being over-qualified. He finished an article on the false correlation between Dementors and rusalki. With a certain relish, he wrote a precise denunciation of every error in Break with a Banshee. When he discovered that Lockhart was in St Mungo’s, he decided not to send it. It wasn’t fair to kick a man when he was down.

…unless he really deserves it, Sirius would have said. C’mon, Moony. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t kick You-Know-Who in his bits if you could.

I don’t think that would be my first priority, no, he’d said dryly and Sirius had laughed and barrelled into him, sending yet another book flying.

Sirius Black, mass murderer of harmless tomes.

Sirius Black, mass murderer.

On the tenth of August, Dumbledore started sending multiple letters.

Remus shaped them into a careful pile and transfigured them into a rug. His floors were cold and the papery feel of it was welcome first thing in the morning.

By the fifteenth he had rugs in every room, three new blankets and a rather wonky papier-mâché teapot (he’d been dreaming about running through a sunlight forest, stag, dog and rat at his side, when the owls dropped that day’s load on his head).

He didn’t intend to cooperate. Whatever Dumbledore wanted, it was because of Sirius. He wasn’t walking back into that world again. Maybe it was cowardly. He preferred to think it was wise. He wouldn’t cut his own wrists open, not while he was human. Why should he tear his heart open for Dumbledore?

He spent the night of the sixteenth, the dark of the moon, on Arthur’s Seat, where he could see the stars. If he stared straight up and didn’t listen to the echoes of the city below he could pretend he was on the Astronomy Tower, lingering after a class. He drank far too much cheap whiskey and waited for the black dog to come for him. He was shocked to find himself unmolested the next morning and stumbled home, tear-stained and hungover. Typical. Bloody typical. He was always the one apart.

On the evening of the seventeenth Dumbledore came in person.

Remus knew he’d lost. Even if he didn’t eat any of those bloody sweets, even if he didn’t share salt with the man, even if he said no, Dumbledore would win. He considered squeezing out the window and running down the fire-escape but it would have been both immature and undignified. He’d always been good at accepting unpleasant circumstances with equanimity.

“Remus,” Dumbledore said, smiling. “May I come in?”

“Of course,” Remus said through gritted teeth. “Tea, Albus? With lemon?”

“Delightful, dear boy,” Albus said and seated himself in Remus’ best chair. He looked around at the scattered rugs and twinkled. “I see you got my letters.”

“Sugar?” Remus said mildly and dug out some biscuits.

“Only three teaspoons, please. You mustn’t put yourself to any trouble.”

Remus put the plate of biscuits on the table and returned for the wicker tray he had put the teapot on. Dumbledore was examining the biscuits in delight.

“Edinburgh shortbread,” he exclaimed.

“It came from Sainsburys.”

Dumbledore fixed him with a reproachful look and Remus felt all of fourteen again. “That may be so, dear boy, but a Sainsburys in Edinburgh, nonetheless. Now, from my prior knowledge of you and the evidence to hand, I think it is safe to assume you have not opened any of my letters?”

“I didn’t feel the need,” Remus said and blew on his tea.

“Ah, but the need is mine. I do, after all, have a vacancy to fill.”

Remus would not ask though the part of his brain that wasn’t sure where next month’s rent would come from, squeaked, A job?

“I have been writing,” Dumbledore said, “to offer you the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor for the next academic year.”

“No,” said Remus.

“Now don’t be hasty, my boy.”

“No.”

“Perhaps you would care to hear my reasons. You are, of course, eminently suitable for the position.”

“I don’t teach.”

“Remus, you are a highly regarded researcher in your field and I have fond memories of your ability to tutor students in your own Hogwarts days. Frankly, after some of the recent candidates, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the subject or an ability to teach would be welcome. Both is unprecedented.”

“I fear you underestimate your staff, Albus.”

“Not at all.” He took another shortbread finger. “These are frightfully good. Would you care for another?”

They’re my biscuits, Remus thought but shook his head.

Dumbledore snapped the shortbread in half. “Are you a supposed expert who has, in fact, faked all of his most famous exploits with the aid of little more than a gift for memory charms?”

“No,” said Remus and bit back a grin. That explained Lockhart, then.

“Are you possessed by Lord Voldemort?”

“No. What?

“Poor Quirinus,” Dumbledore murmured. “You understand why his fate has not been made widely known.”

“Voldemort’s gone,” Remus said, clenching his hands around his mug. “Harry. And Lily – he’s dead.”

“No,” Dumbledore said. “He was never dead. He’s been watching and waiting for his chance to return. I have, of late, given serious consideration to the revival of the Order. I do not think the hour has yet come. You understand the seriousness of the matter, though?”

“I do,” Remus said and put his cup down. There was tea all over his hands and he wiped them on his trousers, pressing his hands against the soft cloth. “I assume you are concerned about Black’s escape?”

“Remus.”

“And you wish me to act as bait, to draw him to Hogwarts instead of to his lord’s side? A little reckless, perhaps, Headmaster.”

“Sirius Black is already on his way to Hogwarts,” Dumbledore said quietly.

Remus looked up.

Dumbledore met his gaze soberly. “The Ministry believe, and I am forced to agree, having heard their evidence, that Black is hunting for Harry.”

Harry? He felt the furious jealousy flash through him and then was ashamed.

“Harry,” he said thoughtfully.

“About to enter his third year with us,” Dumbledore said. “He has a gift for finding trouble.”

“Inevitably,” Remus murmured. James had always said, indignantly, It isn’t my fault trouble finds me, professor! It had never kept him out of detention.

“The Dementors of Azkaban will be guarding the school until Black is caught.”

“What? Professor, you know what they are!”

“I do,” Dumbledore said. “The Ministry insist. I will not permit them into my school, however. I have assured Cornelius Fudge that I would provide adequate precautions within the school. Please do not make me go back on my word.”

“I could never stop Sirius from doing anything,” Remus said and could not hide the bitterness.

“I’m not asking you to stop him. I’m asking you to help us guard against him. It did not escape my notice that you and your friends had an unparalleled knowledge of Hogwarts, possibly even superior to my own. You know how Black might use that knowledge.”

“I do,” Remus said reluctantly. He could feel ideas pressing at him, ways to block and confuse, secrets doorways to seal. Beyond that were other thoughts, ideas on what to teach and how, on how to ensure the children could protect themselves, if indeed Voldemort was returning.

And Harry. He couldn’t imagine it. Harry in his third year, a teenager. When he tried to visualise it all he could see was the baby he’d last seen, draped in a uniform too big for him and batting at the fluffy Snitch he’d bought him for his first birthday.

Sirius had adored him. He was all that could pull him out of his black mood, at the end.

Of course, he had thought Sirius loved James and Lily too. He had thought he loved him.

But they were all dead because of Sirius and he still didn’t understand it. He never would.

“There is also the matter of my condition,” he said carefully. “I am required to attend a secure facility at the full moon. In London. That would be a considerable inconvenience in a teacher.”

Now Dumbledore twinkled and Remus knew, with a sinking heart, that he had found some way around the problem, that he would once again be so far in the old man’s debt that he couldn’t slip quietly away.

“As for that, my dear boy, Severus has assured me he is able to brew the Wolfsbane Potion for you. I believe he considers it an interesting challenge. Of course, you’d have to straighten things out with the Ministry but you could go down there for the next moon and catch the Hogwarts Express up afterwards. It would save you the cost of the Floo.”

“Severus Snape?” Remus repeated as he thought Wolfsbane? Wolfsbane.

“Severus has been with us for some years now.”

“Of course,” Remus said vaguely. The Wolfsbane Potion? Trust Dumbledore to wait until he was on the verge of agreeing until he waved the prize before him.

Without thinking about it, he cleared up the empty plate. Standing in the little kitchen, he stared out of the window. The girl and her dog were out again and as he watched the dog leapt up and caught the frisbee. He charged back to the girl and she ran to meet him, cheering. For a moment it seemed that they were not surrounded by concrete towers but trees grey in the mist.

Sirius was not coming for him, in passion or in hate.

He could feel Dumbledore standing in the doorway, watching him.

“Remus?”

Truth was his last defence.

“If Sirius tries to kill me,” he said, watching the girl crouch down beside the dog, “I don’t think I would try to stop him.”

“I see,” Dumbledore said. “And if he tried to kill Harry?”

It’s not our war, Sirius had said once, pacing across the flat. It’s nothing to do with us! It makes no difference if we live or die. This war is for them – for Harry and the Weasley kids and all the rest of them. Their lives will be worth living if we win. It’s too late for us. Let us die. I’d die for Harry. And he had whirled and glared at Remus, challenging him. Wouldn’t you?

He’d said yes although he didn’t think Sirius had believed him.

He wondered where that man had gone, the one he loved. He wondered where they’d both gone, those ardent boys who thought they were men.

“Remus?”

“I’d stop him,” he said quietly and drew the curtains closed. “Somehow. I assume you have the contract with you?”