October 31st, 1981Sirius Black
Sirius coughs - smoke and anger catching in his throat to make his breaths sticky and difficult. His wand is slippery in his hands, and he can’t tell whether it’s wet from the rain, or from blood. If it is blood, he doesn’t know whose. He thinks it might be his blood, because his thigh and his cheek and his shoulder sting sharply, but then again, it could just as easily be from the innocent woman who had, only a moment ago, been standing behind him.
He shifts form and, for a moment, he forgets himself, collapsing into a safer shell of animal instincts.
Padfoot is a dog, and a dog knows when to run.
It’s strange, the way cities in Sirius’s England are laid out. One moment, his claws scrape against the black bismuth of a Sainsbury’s car park and the next he’s through a tall wall of pines and he comes out on the other side he’s in a flock of sheep, and he runs and he runs and then he’s back among mirrored windows and women in short skirts with silver hoops through their ears standing in line for a club.
His shape shivers again, until he is a tall broken man, pulled inside out and wrenched apart.
His jacket is gone now. He cannot recall where he lost it. Perhaps when he was closing Lily’s sightless dead eyes. Did he take it off to pillow her too-still head? Or did he bundle Harry in its folds before placing him in Hagrid’s too-large hands? Maybe it was on the street with Peter, the rat, the rat--
He stops thinking. Instead, he Apparates twice, whichever direction will take him farther away and then he is a dog again and he runs. He’s in a field now, cradled by pleasant green pastures. He flies past an old stone wall, a rickety gate; a man with a fishing pole who turns curiously to watch him as he passes.
When the panic constricting his lungs eases a little and he hurts too much to take another step, Padfoot folds in on himself and sleeps for an hour, cocooned in the dull, high grass, cast silver and black in the moonlight. When he wakes, he rolls onto his back, and shifts into humanity slowly, fitting each inch of his mind back into each inch of his skin, and rests.
Grief is shaking and hard in his chest, but at the same time he is thinking, Voldemort is dead. We’re saved, we’re free. He is also thinking, Everyone will think that I’m the traitor – I’m running for freedom. But the thought which stands prevalent in his mind is this: RemushatesmeRemushatesmeRemushatesme.
In the face of these facts, Sirius is helpless, though he vows to himself that Remus will learn the truth. One idea, though, crawls into the back of his mind and makes a home there:
Harry is being taken somewhere for protection and for a home. He goes through options logically, trying to push through the fog of pain and weariness in his mind. Harry could, he supposes, be taken to Hogwarts; or he could be taken to the Weasley’s, or maybe even the home of another Order member.
Clearly, Remus is the best option-- he’s even written into the Potters’ will, but when they wrote that, they all knew it was more out of love than practicality; the law would never give a child (and certainly not one of such importance) to a werewolf. It strikes Sirius as funny in a terrible way that Harry Potter, with his soft milky smell and round baby toes, is now the Saviour of the Wizarding world. He is careful not to start laughing, because if he starts he won’t stop.
Sirius thinks of what Dumbledore would decide was safest, and then the answer comes easily. Dumbledore would think of Old Magic, the Old Magic that would have kept Harry alive. Lily’s magic.
He remembers discussing it with Lily. She’d asked him (a long time ago, when still pregnant with Harry) what she could possibly do to protect her family, and Sirius had - a little hesitantly, afraid for the dire situation that would need Old Magic - told her about the dustiest of tomes in the Black library, tomes which held things his family overlooked, but that he did not. The magic of love and passion was a part of a wizard or witches’ blood. It was more powerful than dark or light because its only duty was existence.
If she had used blood magic, than Harry would have been taken to a family member. Dumbledore had no way of knowing that Remus was as close to family as Harry could, or maybe the word was should, get,
Sirius and James had preformed a ritual to become blood brothers in the summer of their sixth year and three years later, Remus effectively married in. Lily twisted vines around Sirius and Remus’ pale, joined hands under the empty sky of a new moon, and whispered words to mean, family and forever.
If Dumbledore had known about these things, he might have tried harder put Harry in Remus’s care, but of course, this was only another case to add to the long list in errors in judgement.
The only other option is Lily’s sister, called Petal, or something equally idiotic, if Sirius remembers correctly.
Sirius had been to Lily’s sister’s house once for a disastrous dinner, which ended when, face covered in French onion soup, Vernon Dursely had physically pushed Sirius out of the door, screaming “And I’ll never have you set foot in this door again, you disgusting fag!”
Remus, who, unlike poor Mr Dursley or Sirius (now guffawing on the ground), had a werewolf’s strength (and was six hours away from changing into one) held Mr Dursley a few inches off the ground by his throat, and, eyes clear and yellow like dry white wine, had whispered very loudly, “If you ever touch him again, I will remove your liver through your nose.”
James followed them out quickly, with a tearful Lily tucked protectively underneath his arm. “I just don’t understand who you’ve become, Pet,” she called behind her, “Or how you could ever marry a man like that.”
In conclusion, Sirius can think of very few people who he dislikes more than the Durselys, and all of them are Death Eaters. It is absolutely not acceptable that Harry could be left there with no one who loves him to look after him. Sirius stands resolutely, surprised to find that he is very dizzy and Apparates again, this time to the backyard No. 4 Privet Drive.
Upon arrival he takes three shaky steps, looks down to find that he is, in fact, definitely bleeding, shifts into Padfoot, and passes out.
Mr John Excer
John Excer has lived at No. 7 Privet Drive for nearly ten years, and in all this time, he has never, even once, been awoken half-past six to find Mrs Petunia Dursely on his doorstep.
To be more specific, no Dursely has ever called on the Excer residence, which is not much of a surprise, really. John once attended the garden party of Cynthia Spruce at No. 8 Privet Drive in which he overheard Vernon and Petunia suggesting that John and his wife (who is now deceased, but, obviously, wasn’t back then) were overly liberal poofter tree-huggers who ate nothing but rabbit food and gave their children disgusting amounts of self-righteous freedom.
John had never thought that letting his children choose their own clothing or befriend the neighbours (who were from Bangladesh) was disgusting; nor did he think that ‘poofter’ was an accurate term to describe his wife and him(self), who had, as far as he knew, always engaged in sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex. Even were this not the case, he still wouldn’t have approved of the term. If he had, on occasion hugged a tree, it was nobody’s business.
But, as John Excer will come to learn, there is a first time for everything, and his commencing lesson arrives bright and early on Sunday, November the first.
John opens the door, yawning and blinking, dressed haphazardly in cotton pyjama bottoms and a paint splattered t-shirt. He rubs his eyes like a child, expecting to see Mrs Wutherford from across the road come to complain about the leaves from his maple blowing into her yard again.
Instead, he is met by Petunia Dursley, looking, in the weak autumn light, like a grape on the verge of becoming a raisin. Mr Dursely stands behind her, out on the pavement, the sour expression on his purple face clear evidence that he does not feel the Excer’s brick path to be worthy of his sensible leather loafers.
Petunia is holding her hand away from her, and in it she clutches one end of a (very) mouldy rope. John follows the line to find that the other end connected to a very large black dog. The dog’s shoulders are hunched together and his ears are flat and drooping; he holds one paw close to his body. The dog’s fur is lustrous and well-groomed, but it has a fine grey dust like ash over the top, and in several places ragged gashes leak sluggish black blood. The dog’s eyes are grey, sharp, and too intelligent.
“Christ!” John says, stepping out of the door and bending down to the dog’s level, heedless of the damp grass. “Look at this guy! He must’ve been in a hell of a fight, poor thing.”
The dog makes no move to resist when John presses his fingers near the wounds to inspect them. In fact, he doesn’t move much at all, just stares sadly straight ahead.
“Is he alright? Where did you find him?”
“The animal isn’t yours then?” Mrs Dursely says tightly.
“Well, no…” he replies, “My wife was allergic.”
“Do you have any idea whose it is? We found it in the backyard this morning and. frankly, I don’t have time for this mongrel. I’ve several other problems at the moment.”
“No.” John says, “I’ve never seen him before.”
Mrs Dursley nods and then moves to turn away. When the dog doesn’t follow immediately she tugs on the rope, hard. The dog makes a small, pained whimper in the back of his throat-- the sort of ashamed noise that comes from someone who hates to admit weakness. He wobbles slowly to all four paws and takes a few limping steps after her. John’s heart nearly cracks at the pitiful sight.
He pushes his hand through his hair nervously, further ruffling it, and stands indecisively for only a moment before coming down the path to catch up with Mrs Dursely.
“Right, wait up a moment,” he calls, adding nervously under his breath: “I am going to regret this.”
Mrs Dursley stops and turns; the dog stops too, collapsing back into a heap on the ground.
“Listen, if, er, I’m sure it’s a lot of trouble for you to go about finding the owner of this dog, but really, I don’t mind. I could just take him; I’ll just make up some signs.”
Mrs Dursley doesn’t even pause before handing over the rope. “Be careful,” she says. “It bites.”
The dog looks up at him as if to say, If you were me, wouldn’t you bite her too? John catches himself nearly nodding in agreement.
John carefully nudges the dog back inside the house. Hannah, his eldest daughter, is standing at the bottom of the staircase in a pink nightdress and wool socks.
“Daddy, did we get a dog?” she asks, excitedly. It has been her greatest wish for as long as he can remember, but it wasn’t possible until her mother died five months ago. John had promised they would get one, but the idea has seemed too final and terrifying. If they got a dog that meant his wife really wasn’t coming back, and then how could he go on?
“Maybe,” he replies. “This guy’s lost his family, so we’re going to see if we can bring him back to his home. If not, then we’ll talk about keeping him.”
She can barely contain her squeal of glee, and something eases in John’s chest to see his child’s now elusive smile.
“Go wake your sister, and we’ll see about going to the vet. He’s been a bit beat up.”
“Was he bullied?” she asks quietly.
John contemplates this for a moment, and looks closely at the dog. There is something wild and fierce in his distant gaze and pointed nose. His eyes have shadows like a soldier’s and nothing like those of a battered mutt. The dog looks loyal and regal and dangerous, and John suddenly thinks he doesn’t know quite what he’s gotten into.
“No,” he says, “I don’t think so.” And he gently unties the rope from around the dog’s neck.
Despite himself, Remus Lupin is a hopeful sort of man.
He doesn’t mean to be; he tries to look at every situation with the most pessimistic of viewpoints; he does his best to always assume the worst, but he just doesn’t have the knack for it.
When he was five and he became a monster and he was forced to watch his parents fall out of love with him, he tried to tell himself that his life was over--but he never could make himself believe it.
When he was eleven and standing on the steps to a castle that would teach him how to be great, hand in hand with three boys dreaming the same dream, he tried to tell himself that his secret would be discovered and his shimmering future would be crushed into powder, but he couldn’t make himself believe that either.
When he was sixteen and he fell so hard for his best friend that he forgot how to breathe, he tried to tell himself that he was doomed to an existence as a greying bachelor with only his lonely heart for company – yet another thing he never really thought could be true.
He is twenty-three now, and fifty-six minutes ago there was a stranger with a Ministry ID standing on his doorstep telling him that his lover is a sick and evil traitor who has just killed all of his best friends and escaped into the night and that they will be inspecting his house and the Potters’ ravaged home tomorrow.
Remus says, yes sir, of course sir, because he his hands shaking too much to argue and his clothes and skin feels so heavy and wrong that he wants to scream.
He tries to tell himself that Sirius never loved him, and that every word and whisper he’s ever given to Remus was a lie and a small part of a great and dark plan; but, as always, he can’t make himself believe it. He thinks it’s a good thing he hasn’t seen Sirius since the incident; because if he had-- if he opened the paper to Sirius’s hysterical face above a sequence of numbers, the thin fractures of rage and anger and horror in Remus’s carefully constructed shell of hope might blossom into a chasm. Luckily, in these moments, Sirius’s crimes don’t quite seem real.
Perhaps it is for this reason that at eleven o’clock in the morning he Apparates into James and Lily’s broken home to look for a single sign that will tell him something other than the conclusion every bit of evidence seems to prove.
The house is cold and dead inside. The rubble upstairs has been swept up, and downstairs the bodies have been cleared away; a faint shimmer of magical chalk outlines where they once lay. The crime scene is temporarily abandoned, everyone out to celebrate. They will return tomorrow to pick through Remus’s best friends’ lives like vultures. Remus skirts around the government anti-entry wards easily, concentrating on the magic rather than on his dark thoughts.
First, he sifts through the papers on the Potters’ desk; but nothing turns up, it’s just a jumble of old reports for the Order and a few bills. Harry’s vaccination schedule sits folded on one side, reminding him that Lily had wanted Harry to go to a Muggle primary school before Hogwarts so he would understand Muggles when he was older. He realises he doesn’t even know where Harry is, and resolves to find out as soon as this is finished.
Next, he tries Harry’s bedroom, but dark magic and very, very white magic is still hanging in the air, bright and heavy, and the magic inside him reacts violently too it, makes him gag; he turns away quickly and tries the master bedroom.
The wardrobe door is ajar, Lily’s flowery dresses peeking through like nervous children. Her slippers are abandoned on the floor, one overturned. The bed sheets have been thrown back haphazardly as if its occupants tugged free of the covers in a great hurry. A soft murmur of noise comes from the corner of the room, and for one moment, Remus’s stomach is in his throat; he’s terrified, but a second later he realises it’s just the clock radio turned to a rock station, an alarm call eternally missed.
He walks to the bedside, and that is when he sees the letter. It isn’t really a letter so much as a sheet of ripped notebook paper. A ballpoint pen lies uncapped next to it. He opens it gently. In James’s scrawling hand, one word is written in hasty capital letters across the page.
Remus drops the sheet of paper and Apparates away in the next second.
When Remus left Hogwarts, among the first orders of business was locating somewhere he could change safely at full moons. They moved around a couple of times, trying a desolate stretch of land near the fens and then some caves, but the pack settled finally on an abandoned farm in the Peaks district. The location was ideal because it was close enough to Apparate but far enough that it never shadowed Remus during the other days of each month. The barn was used as a base of sorts, and they stored clothes and medical supplies in the hayloft – the wolf couldn’t get up ladders.
Sirius had jokingly painted “The Wolf’s Lair” on the side of the barn shortly after they began using it, and it had been referred to thusly ever since.
Remus climbs into the hayloft quickly. When he gets to the top, he spots the first note’s counterpart. Sitting atop a box of McVittie’s digestive biscuits is a stark white envelope.
Remus opens it with shaking hands. When he slides the blank sheet from inside, he is confused only for one moment before whispering: “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”
Surprisingly it is Lily’s curly script that answers him. Let’s hope not. is the only reply.
Even through Remus’s grief, he answers it again with a smile. “I solemnly swear I am up to good.”
The letter appears suddenly, with none of the slow inky bloom of the map – it had been charmed for hasty practicality. It’s shorter than Remus thought something of such importance would be, but it is to-the-point. It makes the back of his throat hurt like tears, and its very, very Lily.
Dear Future Reader,
(whom I assume will either be Remus Lupin or perhaps Dumbledore)
If you have received this letter, I, and most likely my husband and son are dead, and the reason for this is the following:
Peter Pettigrew has betrayed the trust of my family, for it was he and not Sirius Black chosen to be my family’s Secret Keeper in October of 1981. If you are reading this, know that Sirius Black is an innocent, and should be protected.
If you are Remus Lupin, we love you, and go to him, because he loves you too.
Lily Evans Potter
Remus sinks to his knees on the barn floor clutching the paper to his chest like salvation and thinking thank god, thank god and also of too many ‘what ifs’. What if he hadn’t gone to find the letter before those men searched the house? or What if Sirius had been captured? and worst of all What if Sirius had been captured and no-one bothered to search the house and Remus hadn’t gone to find the letter and by now thought that Sirius really had betrayed them?
Remus sits on the floor of the barn for a long time, watching day leech from the sky in nearly imperceptible degrees through the missing boards in the ceiling and gulping deep breaths to heal the fractures in his hope, and he thinks about what he can do now.
He can't just wait and do nothing. Many things, and not all of them nice, can be said about Remus Lupin; but claiming him to be a coward is not one of them. He could show someone who has power to do something, or he could take matters into his own hands like the Marauders raised each other to do.
He formulates a plan to go to talk to Dumbledore and ask him where is Harry is he safe can I see him. With a few well timed comments, he’ll have a chance to judge Dumbledore’s current thoughts concerning Sirius. If he seems sympathetic, Remus might give Dumbledore the letter. If not, then he'll look for Sirius himself. There is the not-so-small chance that the letter had somehow been faked, post-event, or that the information is not current – perhaps written and provided for some previous scheme, but he would have to deal with that later.
The important thing was to find Sirius, to know that he was safe, and they, together, could go from there.
At 3:03 in the morning on November the second, Sirius Black sneaks out of No. 7 Privet Drive, summoning up a grace and silence not seen since his early teenage years. The stakes are high because this time, if he is caught, it isn’t just going to be six belt shaped bruises across his back and his mother’s filthy-mouthed wrath for a few weeks but most likely his future, and perhaps his godson’s.
Sirius Black likes to think that he is a good judge of character, and in his somewhat vast past experience he has been wrong on only one very notable occasion. Sirius has come to the conclusion that John Excer is a good man, a trustworthy man, and most importantly, a man that has not forgotten how to take the unexpected in his stride; but even so, Sirius doesn’t expect any right-minded Muggle to ignore a tall, bruised vagabond in ripped clothes sneaking around his house at night.
He has important business to attend to – namely, discovering the current circumstances of his Harry. He walks down the block and then sneaks back into to a house, this time No. 4 Privet Drive. The house is quiet – all the lights switched off and the kitchen smelling faintly of lemon disinfectant. Sirius takes the stairs two at a time after casting a muffling spell just in case of squeaks. He opens one door, and then another and another and all expected members of the house are accounted for except the only one he cares about. He walks back downstairs and searches around.
He’s on his way into the kitchen when he a high voice to his right declares “Pa-foo!” Sirius swings his head around immediately, and has to stuff his fist in his mouth to stop himself from growling in anger. Harry’s chubby baby face stares at him from between the bars of his crib, his eyes like lanterns in the hushed light of the hallway windows. The crib has been manhandled into the cupboard under the staircase, only marginally bigger than Remus and his’ own cupboard at home, in which they store shoes, some Christmas decorations, and box of interesting cake tins.
He takes three long breaths to remind himself to be quiet and then another three to remind himself that the most important thing is to make sure Harry isn’t being actively injured in any way, and that he can’t help any more than that right away.
“Pa-foo?” Harry says again, uncertainly this time.
“Harry!” Sirius whisperers, plastering his brightest uncle smile over the angry-horrified scowl lingering underneath. “How’s it going?”
Harry opens his mouth for his usual squeal of excitement at finding someone he recognises that also plays with him and Sirius manages to clap his hand over Harry’s mouth just in time. Harry giggles into the lines of his palm.
“Are you doing okay Harry?”
Harry laughs again, and Sirius knows that asking Harry what life with the Dursleys has been like for the past three days is an exercise in futility. Instead, he casts a quick charm meant to flash if the recipient is unwell in any way. Nothing happens and Sirius breathes, relieved. If the Dursleys were a sick enough family to physically abuse a baby, then Sirius probably wouldn’t have been able to control himself.
Harry twists in his grip a little, and Sirius lets go of him, petting his downy hair. After a moment, he sings, because what else can he do – he sings something probably inappropriate as a lullaby - muggle rock music usually is, but Harry doesn’t seem to mind (he never has). Harry yawns sleepily and Sirius murmurs “Bye bye.”
It’s a mistake. Harry blinks his eyes open and then his bottom lip quivers. “No.” Then, as children do, his mouth opens and he begins to scream – a heartbreaking wail. Sirius aches to pick him up and rock him back to sleep but already an upstairs light is flicking on. “I’m sorry, Harry,” he says, voice suddenly rough.
He takes a few steps towards the door, but pauses. Footsteps sound in the hallway and he quickly casts the strongest disillusionment charm he knows. Among the dark and the coats, he is near enough invisible.
Vernon Dursley’s bellows-voice rises above Harry’s. “Petunia! Shut that boy up!” Sirius winces. There is the muffled sound of slippered feet on the stair well and then the horsy face of Petunia Dursley appears. She looks thin and tired, and her fluffy pink bathrobe is depressingly unattractive.
She approaches Harry’s crib with some trepidation and picks him up, holding him an arm’s length from her body. Sirius bites his lip, praying that she doesn’t harm him but also almost wishing she would so he might have reason to secret Harry away.
“Be quiet,” she says sharply. Harry continues to wail. Vernon calls out something rude and unintelligible down the stairs, and another minute passes to the sound of small screams. Any minute, Sirius figures, their brat will wake, and then Petunia will have a fiasco on her hands.
Finally, Petunia sighs, weary and exasperated, and pulls Harry closer to her, holds him more gently in the nest of her arms and rocks his wriggling body back and forth. “Okay,” she says softly, “There, there, Harry.”
Harry’s sobs subside and Sirius leans farther back into the coats, pushing his hand through his unwashed hair. This isn’t a permanent solution, Sirius reminds himself, but it could be worse. Petunia sets Harry back into his crib carefully and climbs back up the stairs. Sirius waits until the light flicks off again and then descends the brick pathway back onto the street.
Back in the now-familiar surroundings of No. 7, Sirius spends a few moments sitting on the sofa with his head between his hands, staring at the orange and olive patterned wallpaper across from him and breathing slowly, in and out of his nose. James once noted that Sirius often sat just that way when thinking, and since then, Sirius has adopted it as the only fashion in which to puzzle out whatever needs puzzling.
The way Sirius sees it, he has room for creative solutions, which is just the way he likes his problems – not that he likes any problems. He knows it will not be easy to regain trust in the wizarding world without turning himself in, and supplying evidence in his favour, but as far as Sirius recalls, evidence is in short supply. (He isn’t about to turn himself in, either.) Some part of him feels, albeit irrationally, that of only he could find Peter and wring the rat’s neck everything else would work out okay, but he needs help, he’s sure of that much. Sirius isn’t about to run off after Peter on his own – he won’t make the same mistake twice; not if he can help it.
What Sirius really needs is Remus, for two main reasons. He figures that it would help to have someone in Dumbledore and the remaining Order member’s good graces on his side, and the second being that he doesn’t really remember or want to remember how to function without Remus.
By the time the sun begins to edge the sky from black to grey to silver, Sirius knows (sort of) what he is going to do. He thinks that if he gains Mr Excer’s trust, and if they work out an understanding, Mr Excer could help him keep watch over Harry. Then, of course, he’ll go to Remus, with some argument and defence after he’s calmed down and had time to think about all the reasons Sirius would never, ever.
By the time John comes down the stairs to put the tea on, Sirius has shifted back into Padfoot and is curled on the couch into a tight black ball, his tongue protruding comically from between his teeth, pink and wet, the same colour as the six o’clock-in-the-morning sky.
John takes the girls to school and pats Padfoot’s head as he goes out the door, saying he’ll be back by that afternoon, possibly with a new dog bed, and he glances pointedly at the hairy spot on the couch Padfoot had been previously inhabiting.
Sirius spends the day as he sometimes imagined he’d live after he finished school, before he realised that he had a lover and a war which both needed some of his attention: he lies on the sofa watching last night’s repeat of Coronation Street, which Sirius finds particularly fascinating – a fact that Lily teased him for perpetually. Around twelve o’clock, Sirius showers. His cuts all sting, and the hot water makes his back ache before it starts to loosen the tension, but the water feels so good scouring away the days of hurt and grime that he remains there until he is close to falling asleep.
He searches the back of John’s wardrobe for some clothes John won’t notice missing, and is lucky enough to find a pair or tight, partially ripped trousers and a black t-shirt. Once dressed, he disposes of his old clothes, smelly and tattered as they are, dumping them in the bin outside, buried beneath a few crisp packets for camouflage.
He floats along in a detached haze until Mr Excer returns, enjoying each thing that happens in a separated compartment, thinking only forward. His whole mind feels bruised and used, and it is such a relief to pretend that his strange circumstances are only some kind of pleasant Order mission, and everything is just as it was before, that he barely tries to prevent himself from doing so.
Mr Excer, upon his return, is equipped with several new items for Padfoot: a wool bed patterned with paws, two red plastic bowls, and a collar, which reads – printed small across the stainless steel surface, Blackie . A phone number accompanied by a post-code mark the back side.
“The girls picked the name. I checked every pound and newspaper and place I could think of for reports of a missing dog in the area and nothing turned up, so I filed a report that you’ve been found if your owner comes looking and told the girls to expect you’ll be sticking around,” he says, absently, chattering on as he scratches underneath Padfoot’s chin. He is about to clip the new collar around the dog’s neck when his finger catches at something. He leans down to look closer.
The spell which directs attention away from the caramel coloured leather strap around Sirius’s neck so that people don’t glare at his indecency for wearing a collar in his day to day life does not hold up under close scrutiny, and Padfoot can practically see the clicking of Mr Excer’s thoughts, wondering why he hadn’t noticed it before.
Padfoot sits patiently while John fingers the leather, soft and supple from years of wear. John slides it around and moves to undo the buckle and remove it, but Padfoot growls, and pulls from John’s grip explosively.
“Er, sorry?” John says, holding his hands up, “What if I just clip the tag onto this collar.”
Padfoot warily returns to his place near enough John and swallows the low rumble in his chest. John looks surprised, which Sirius takes to mean he isn’t displaying very accurate dog behaviour, but he can’t bring himself to care. If he wants John to suspect that he is not an average dog, he’ll have to act not-average.
Sirius, for his part, is not entirely pleased to be wearing tags, but he’d rather remain on stable ground with Mr Excer. At least now, he thinks, cynically, if I do get lost, someone will know where to return me. The name they have picked is just amusing enough that it doesn’t bother him.
The rest of the night passes in a relaxed fashion. Millie, the younger of John’s daughters, brushes him and then tries to convince him to sit or jump for pieces of cheese, a game which Sirius had tried to get James or Remus to play with him on many occasions with little success, so he is happy to oblige.
John makes spaghetti Bolognese and ignores Padfoot when he stares at it with longing in his eyes, and then glares at his own dish of dried kibble in vehement contempt. Sirius has eaten kibble as a dog before, but spaghetti Bolognese is his very favourite.
When, finally, John tucks the girls into bed and comes back down the stairs to lock the door and turn off the lights, Sirius is once again sprawled lazily over the couch, ears flopping and eyes looking very sad and lonely. John pats him on the head and Sirius can tell from the look on his face that he is wondering, for perhaps the ninetieth time that day, what story “Blackie” is dragging around behind him.
“I bought you a bed,” John says, with a note of already-fond exasperation. “For a reason.”
Sirius pointedly does not move.
“Please?” John adds, changing tactics.
After another five minutes of this, John tries to push Padfoot off the couch to no avail. Finally, Sirius drags himself off, looking for all the world like movement is the most trying task ever given to man or dog. He stalks into the corner and then carefully drags the bed with him onto the couch, climbs into it, and then turns to look at John, turning his nose into the air, and thinking, Happy now? as loudly as possible.
John opens his mouth to reply, but can find no words, until he manages to squeak, “Resourceful thing, aren’t you.” Then he departs from the room on unsteady feet.
Mr John Excer
Millie and Hannah are already halfway to the swings by the time John enters the park; they look like small, bright flowers in their plastic raincoats and tall, leaf-green wellies. He readjusts the dog’s lead in his hand, and, at the sudden tension, the dog stops abruptly and refuses to move.
“Blackie,” he says, crossly. “Come along.” He tugs, but the dog really is quite large. He sighs dejectedly, supposing that there is perhaps a reason he’s never had a pet that did something more than swim in circles before now. “Let’s go, Blackie,” he repeats.
The dog raises one lip over his sharp white teeth, but it looks more like a parody of a growl than the real thing–the expression a man makes when he acts like a beast. John pinches the bridge of his nose thankful the girls are preoccupied with the playground so as not to see what he is about to do.
“Okay,” he says calmly, as if he were speaking to an unruly teenager; one of his students at Rivers Grammar School, perhaps. “Let’s make a deal. I am going to let you off this leash, but you have to come back when I call you. Swear you’ll come back.”
It’s an unreasonable thing to ask from a dog, but he can’t help but remember the dog’s strange compromise concerning the couch and the dog bed the night before; and, as if to punctuate his thoughts, Blackie barks once, sharply, and tugs at the lead again, as if to say, Alright, then; take it off already.
“You’re very weird.” John mumbles, unclipping the lead. “Would you like me to throw a stick?”
Blackie does not look at him, seemingly too busy sniffing around at the grass.
Mrs Figg, who had moved in down the lane not too long ago, appears from the copse of trees by the duck pond. “Good afternoon, John,” she says, smiling. She is pushing a basket filled with tins of cat food and a bag of sprouts. “How are the girls?”
“As well as can be expected,” he replies.
Mrs Figg smiles sadly. She pats his arm and says, in an almost conspiratorial fashion, “At least they still have a father…and at least they’re old enough to remember her.”
John is not sure he agrees, but he nods nonetheless; she seems to have formed her opinion through experience and he doesn’t want to pry. She continues away, and it is at that moment that John realises Blackie is nowhere to be found; but when he calls out, the dog pokes his scruffy black head out from under some bushes, and lopes over, body looking uncharacteristically lean and sleek–almost wolf-like.
“Well, it’s good to know you were paying attention before,” John says. Blackie only snorts in reply.
They walk for a while more, making a wide circle around the play structure so John can still watch the girls. Blackie’s claws click pleasantly on the path, though every now and then the sound disappears as he pads off into the grass to explore some interesting patch of grass.
Twenty or so minutes after John’s conversation with Mrs Figg, a man comes into view across the clearing. Blackie is busy with some lavender a little ways back, so John is alone as he spots the man; even the girls are temporarily out of his sight–hidden behind some trees.
The man is rake-thin and his shoulders are drawn in; he looks tired, defeated. His grey cable-knit jumper is threadbare, worn at the elbows; the knees of his jeans are frayed. His shoes are good, brown leather, and he has a rucksack with crumpled pieces of paper and (strangely) a quill pen sticking out from under the flap. He looks like a university student or perhaps a very young professor. It’s rare to come across anyone he hasn’t met before in the park, but aside from that, John is not quite sure what draws his attention to the man, except that he has a well–loved black leather jacket slung over his shoulder, all stuck through with patches and safety pins–the thought of this rumpled, scholarly man wearing it seems positively ludicrous. The only other thing to catch John’s eye are the scars across the man’s pale face.
John turns around, wondering once again where the dog has disappeared too. “Blackie!” he calls, turning in the opposite direction of the young man. Blackie bounds from the underbrush, tugging a stick behind him that could be considered a small tree.
Across the clearing, the young man looks up and John’s shout, and his eyes fix on Blackie. The blood drains from his face; he looks like a ghost. Slightly nervous, and without quite knowing why, John clips the lead onto Blackie, who is still distracted by smelling a slug stuck the trunk. The dog glances at him curiously and, almost as if he is following John’s gaze, turns to see the young man.
All of the lines in the dog’s body jump and shiver with tension. He stands still and straight, hesitantly tipping his nose up, scenting the man. Then, he barks once, sharp, a painful wounded noise, and tries to bolt away. The man changes direction, and begins walking toward them, quickly. John hadn’t really realized before, but the man is tall. He unfolds with each step–shoulders straightening, body covering the ground in graceful strides.
John has to pull with all his weight to prevent Blackie from escaping his grasp. He wonders if he should run–it can’t possibly be a good sign that his dog is so terrified--but the man’s determined stare pins him in place; tawny and wise, like an owl’s. Blackie makes whimpering noises in the back of his throat that sounds nearly human.
“Sir!” the man says, once he is near enough to be heard, “Sir, please! I think that--” He pauses, slowing momentarily, thinking. “My dog,” he says at last, “I think that you have my dog, sir.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” John replies, testily. His hand aches where the leash is digging into it, as Blackie is still trying to scramble away.
“Please, sir. It’s very important. I…uh, lost my dog, and I’m nearly positive that that’s him.” He stops walking again and scrambles around in his book-bag, murmuring to himself. “Look,” he says after a moment. “I’ve a photograph.”
John closes the last few steps between them, and he has to tug the lead harshly to drag Blackie with him. The man looks a little askance when he does so, mumbling “He hates being on a lead” beneath his breath.
John inspects the picture. Sure enough, it is a photo of the young man, plus another man sporting a terrible haircut and glasses, throwing a stick; a dog quite identical to Blackie is frozen in the process of leaping to catch it.
“I’m sorry Mr –umm-”
“Lupin. Terribly sorry, I, uh, I’m Remus Lupin.” The man says, not taking his eyes off Blackie, who has not turned to look at him, near snarling in his effort to escape.
“What I mean to say, Mr Lupin, is that it isn’t impossible they are only similar looking dogs, and aside from that, he certainly doesn’t seem to be interested in going anywhere with you.” John knows he might be jumping to conclusions, but he can’t help but remember the state Blackie arrived in on his doorstep. There are few things he detests more than someone who would practice cruelty on any creature.
The man’s eyes become suddenly very sad and distant. He coughs nervously. “I, ah, I understand of course. May I please just check to see…see if it is him?”
John, no small part confused, and still half afraid, nods slowly. “How would you know?” he asks shortly.
Mr Lupin bends, and touches Blackie’s back with a gentle hand. The dog freezes instantly, and the lead slackens in John’s hand. “He’s got a mark, like a…well a bit like a tattoo. Like a phoenix,” he replies absently.
John leans in, curious. Sure enough, on the joint of the dog’s hind leg, right along the hipbone, there is a patch of white fur he hadn’t noticed before; the shape it takes is remarkably like bird--an elegant peacock, but with some additional grace and strange plumage.
He’s about to comment when, very suddenly Blackie springs into motion again, forcing John to again tighten the lead; but Blackie has already opened his jaw, revealing sharp canine teeth and, shockingly fast, he lunges to grab Mr Lupin’s hand.
Mr Lupin stills and, strangely, John can see that Blackie has not bitten down.
“Blackie!” He says, angrily, afraid to tug should it surprise the dog into tightening his grip. Blackie makes no move to let go.
Mr Lupin looks sadly at him. “You wouldn’t,” he says, “Padfoot? What could it help? Padfoot. You wouldn’t.” There is an uneasy weight behind his words, and John feels they have some hidden meaning.
The dog stares down Mr Lupin for one more moment and, very gently, he opens his mouth and allows the man to remove his hand. A peculiar look comes over Mr Lupin’s face, like fear and love and shock and triumph all rolled into one.
“You wouldn’t,” he says finally, a statement.
The dog shivers as the tension drops from his form, and he leans forward, nosing into the man’s chest, a soft keening noise tight in the back of his throat.
“Lily left a letter,” the man says to the dog, pushing his fingers into the softer fur around Blackie’s ears. “It could have been faked, but I didn’t think it was.” The tone in Mr Lupin’s voice makes John suddenly feel like an intruder – he senses he’s out of his depth. “But what do I do now? What do we do now? You’re coming home, right?”
The dog makes two deliberate soft noises, like quiet barking, and Mr Lupin watches curiously, but with the same look of confusion that John is sure is plastered across his own face. Blackie repeats the action, and a sudden expression of comprehension crosses the man’s face. “Why not?” he replies to the dog. John feels his eyebrows rising in disbelief.
“Excuse me, sir, but are you speaking with my dog, because I feel that this has reached a point where--”
Mr Lupin holds up his hand for quiet, and the dog barks once, high and sharp.
“I wouldn’t suggest it if I thought it was very dangerous,” Mr Lupin says to Blackie, “They’ve already searched me, they came this morning.”
The dog presses his nose against his thigh, leaving a wet print on Mr Lupin’s jeans.
“Dangerous? For me?” he asks, as if in clarification. “I don’t care.”
Blackie growls, and Mr Lupin sighs in response, “It’s all dangerous. Everything is dangerous now.”
The dog growls again, long and low.
“Then, what do I do?”
The dog makes another strange noise, and John has never really realised before, how many noises a dog can make. He’d always just thought of them as a sort of one sound animal – the bark. Of course it isn’t like that, not really.
Mr Lupin looks puzzled for a minute, speaking aloud; contemplative and half to himself. “I’m not quite sure… James is better--was better at this than me. Oh, oh.” John watches as a smile cracks across Mr Lupin’s face, and it changes him, giving him an odd edge of old beauty, like a prince in a fairytale, “Ready to run. Okay. I’ll be ready.”
Mr Lupin stands abruptly, murmuring something that John doesn’t quite catch at Blackie, before turning and sprinting back across the field from the direction he’d just come.
Right before he reaches the edge of the clearing, Mr Lupin pauses, “I’ll see you again soon, sir,” he calls, and then John glances away for a moment like he’s distracted, like there are colours caught in the corners of his vision (in the days after, he sometimes wondered what had made him look away). When he turns back, the man is gone.
Blackie, or as John supposes his name must be, Padfoot, has finally tugged free of the lead, but he hasn’t moved. He’s sitting, inky fur mussed and his ears flopping back. For a dog, he has an emotive face, and John sees there some counterpart expression to that of Mr Lupin.
“You are not a normal dog,” he says slowly. Padfoot looks up at John, and then, very deliberately, shakes his head in obvious agreement.
“Christ.” John says, swallowing thickly. “Right, then. Well, then. Okay. Is that man going to come back?”
A ‘yes’ from the dog.
“Is that…bad?” he asks, forcefully suspending whatever part of his brain that processes logic from thinking about the fact that he is having a conversation with a dog. Padfoot firmly shakes his head ‘no’.
He waits for a moment, fiddling with the buttons on his coat, before asking, carefully, “Would it have been better if this hadn’t happened? I mean, if I wasn’t…aware of whatever is going on, or if he hadn’t seen you here, or…” He trails away not knowing how to clarify.
Padfoot catches his eyes with a baleful intensity, and John understands his sentiment perfectly, because he is feeling exactly the same thing.
“Yeah…” he says, slowly, “I don’t know, either.”
Remus’s hands are shaking as he unlocks the front door to the house. His breath sounds so loud in his ears that he’s sure the neighbours will be over in a moment to tell him to keep it down. He itches to make a list, to know what he needs to get done. He itches for Sirius’s comforting skin, which is now too many miles removed from him again, and hidden away.
It was not an ideal meeting, to say the least. Sirius’s fear upon sight of him has left a shaken and bitter sting in the back of his throat. The sickening distance of Sirius, inches away and utterly unattainable. The presence of the well-meaning but oblivious man, whose compliance is now necessary for Sirius to maintain a safe house near to Harry. Having to speak in their awkward adolescent code, developed when Sirius had accidentally gotten stuck in Padfoot’s form for a week at the tail end of fifth year, and used after between James and Sirius to communicate on full moon nights. Not only is Remus out of practice, but the language does not extend far enough to form all the ideas and messages he has for Sirius.
Remus still hasn’t seen Harry; he is left to assume that Sirius has, as he can think of no other reason for Sirius to settle near Privet Drive. It is good to be part of a team of two again, to entrust someone else with a problem, and believe in that other person’s ability to solve it.
If Remus were living in an ideal world, he would now have only the duty of telling Dumbledore he’d found Sirius in a place he could hide out for a while, and Dumbledore would pull Ministry strings. But Remus Lupin does not live in an ideal world.
To say that the meeting with Dumbledore had not gone well would be an understatement. Dumbledore is a man willing to give second chances, and he is a man who believes in redemption, but he is also a man who knows his own mind, and who has lived for a long time in a world where most people assume that he knows best.
When Remus had begun to suggest there could have been some mistake in convicting Sirius of the crime, Dumbledore had, for a moment, looked at Remus with some great wealth of sorrow and knowing; then his face had darkened, and Remus remembered why people feared Dumbledore. He had said, in a voice like cold, cutting steel: “Remus Lupin, you should learn from this mistake and move on.”
Dumbledore’s eyes had been diamond hard-behind his spectacles when he had said, “You cannot change someone with blackness in their heart, and you may forgive them for it, but you cannot forget.”
Remus is not afraid of standing up for himself or his friends, but he is not an idiot, either.
So their remaining option, as it stands, is running from the very government and society that they have given everything but their lives to save. It isn’t fair, but Remus Lupin, of all people, knows that most things aren’t.
He thinks for a while about Sirius’s eyes in Padfoot’s black muzzled face, almost eager. Remus wonders for a moment where they will go, and how they can possibly just drop a whole life built from ground up – the only thing Remus has ever been proud of. But of course, Remus can and he will. He’ll run from Britain and Hogwarts and the Ministry, and live life on the roadside, shady motel to shady motel, for love of Sirius, and Sirius will do it for love of life.
First, he has to withdraw as much money from Gringott’s as possible. He has Sirius’s key, and when the Goblin takes him down to Sirius’s vault, he pretends to think aloud the whole way, talking at the uninterested Goblin – explaining how much he hates Sirius, and how it’s his own personal little revenge – pointlessly spending all Sirius’s money. It doesn’t matter that Sirius wouldn’t have cared even if Remus did plan to buy ninety platinum watches with the money, the important thing is the look that the Goblin gives him as he leaves, a kind of sideways pity. Exactly what he’d been hoping for.
He spends the last hours of light packing bags. It’s strangely like preparing for a camping trip--the kind they used to go on in the summers between. He folds lightweight clothes and a tent and stuffs all of it into the rucksacks. It doesn’t matter that the overstuffed hiking bags will look gaudy and ridiculous; they’re a sort of disguise, with Remus and Sirius still looking young enough to be naïve university students taking a gap year.
Around ten o’clock he thinks briefly about eating something, but it’s a vague and distant thought, and he’s so tired that he doesn’t even enter the kitchen. Instead, he lies on the bed, staring hollowly at the ceiling. He and Sirius haven’t slept in the same bed since the end of July –under the flimsy excuse that they might wake each other coming in from Order missions late at night. Separately, neither of them was under the illusion that there was any real reason further than the fact that sleeping next to someone you loved but couldn’t trust and wanted but wouldn’t touch made a man feel sick. They’d switched back and forth instead, spending one night in the bedroom and one night on the extra bed in the office alternately.
Tonight, even remembering this, the room feels huge and cold and desperately empty. Remus longs for the small movements and noises of a bed occupied by two. He wants body heat and his fingers to be tangled in long hair, and to wake at three o’clock in the morning, sweltering because Sirius has once again pushed all of the blankets onto him in his sleep. Needless to say, despite the feeling of heavy lead pressing down on Remus’s eyelids, he barely sleeps.
At half past seven, Remus watches the alarm clock as it goes off, eyes trained on the second hand as they have been for the last forty-five minutes. He reaches out slowly, liking the noise; bright and hard in the muted silence of the room.
He takes as long as possible in the shower, not even getting out when his skin wrinkles and the water begins to run colder. When he dresses, he does so carefully, putting on his favourite clothes and layering thoughtfully. As has become his habit of late, he swings Sirius’s leather jacket over his shoulder. It’s much to big for him, and he doesn’t really like wearing it, but he likes the smell, and the slick feel under his hands when he plays with the zipper while waiting in line for a coffee at the café around the corner from the house.
Mainly Remus thinks about one thing. He will find Sirius tonight, and whatever happens will happen then, so his last variable – the last unknown, is whether there is anyone to tell about Sirius’s innocence.
The idea of leaving with no single soul aware of the reasons for his absence seems wrong and repulsive. It is with much deliberation, sitting in the corner of a café with a cup of greasy black coffee and an untouched croissant, that he determines who needs to know that Sirius is not the black sheep of the Black family who lived up to his estranged family’s expectations. When he does decide, Remus smiles for the first time since the day before, with Padfoot’s nose pressed wet and safe against his chest.
Sirius never lived with Andromeda and Ted Tonks, but it wasn’t for a lack of hospitality or desire on either of their parts. Sirius had liked living with the Potters, of course; but Remus had always suspected that if it had been an option, he would have lived with the Tonkses. When other children had been raised on milk, Sirius Black had grown up on family loyalty. Sometimes it showed through in odd ways.
Andromeda, however, never received a veritable fortune from a beloved uncle like Sirius had, life as a disowned Black who married young to a farmer’s son and had a baby a prompt nine months later was rich in many ways, money was not among them, and by the time she’d finally had a life that could support the sudden addition of a teenage boy, Sirius had moved on, and found a home of his own.
Remus arrives just outside the cloakroom a few minutes past eleven. The door opens before he even rings the bell. Nymphadora’s violently chartreuse hair and a wide grin meet him.
“Remus!” she chirps excitedly, peering around him as if expecting someone else. “Did you bring Padfoot?”
Andromeda comes from the kitchen doorway just in time to catch Remus’s slightly soured grin – her face is shadowed with the same exhaustion as his own, and the curve of her mouth speaks of depression. He steps inside at Andromeda’s gesturing, closing the door behind him; he swings down to pick up Nymphadora at the same time. “You certainly are getting heavy, Nymphie.”
“Don’t call me Nymphie!” she protests, squirming in his grip. “And I’m too heavy to pick up now, anyway. Daddy can’t any more. He tried last week and he hurt his back.”
Remus chuckles a little, setting her back on her feet lightly. “Lucky for you, I’m very strong. Don’t you have school today?”
Nymphadora frowns, and then looks at her mother questioningly. Andromeda, who is drying her hands on a dish towel, replies to the glance by gesturing at the living room. “Remus and I need to talk.”
“Why do I have to leave?” she asks crossly, but follows the pointing finger with little further argument.
“The school suggested that we keep her at home…with…with, uh, with,” she glances towards the side-table and her fingers trace the headline. BLACK, STILL AT LARGE. She forces her gaze back up to Remus’s, “Because she could be a target.”
Remus grimaces. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” he says, uneasily. “What are…what do you think about all this?”
Andromeda scrutinises him with sharp dark eyes. Remus can feel her inspecting every edge of him, and she pauses at each visible scar, at his carefully patched trousers, at the tired line of his mouth, before settling on Sirius’s jacket, still thrown over his shoulder.
“I would never have believed this of Sirius.” She catches his eyes with the age-old aristocratic self-assurance all Blacks carry with them. “Never.”
Remus looks away, and tries to ignore the sudden bloom of courage in his blood. “I believe…I have reason to believe…that you were right not to.”
“What do you mean?” she asks, softly.
“What I mean is…I don’t think he did it either. I know he didn’t.”
“How?” she asks desperately, and he can see the hope written over the pain and doubt in the tense hunch of her shoulders.
He folds his hands over the letter in his pocket, and she leans forward, suddenly almost too close, “What happened?” she pleads, lending her silent support without question. Remus likes this about Andromeda; it is a type of loyalty that she and Sirius share.
“When they cast the protection spell to hide James and Lily and Harry, Pettigrew switched places with Sirius as secret-keeper.”
“Then that means he couldn’t have--”
“No. He couldn’t have.”
She looks up at him again, with the same direct regard as before, “And you’re really sure, Remus. I mean, completely?”
She breathes out a long sigh of relief, and Remus feels like he can see that she has just become pounds lighter.
“Oh. Oh.” Andromeda closes the space between them, gathering Remus up into her arms like his mother used to when he was very small, all tight and warm and smelling of lavender and bread. “Sirius had nothing to do with it?”
Remus shakes his head against her shoulder, “I can’t prove it though. Lily left me a note, just in case something like this should happen, but it wouldn’t have been hard to fake.”
“It’s alright, I believe you. As long as you’re sure that Sirius didn’t-”
“I’ve seen him,” Remus whispers. “He didn’t.”
“And he’s okay?”
“I think so.”
“Thank you for telling me.” Andromeda replies, softly, leaning back and holding Remus at arms length, the way relatives do when they haven’t seen him for too long, judging growth and the shape of a changing face. “It’s terrible thinking you’re the only good person to ever come out of a family, because you start to worry you’re wrong in thinking even that.”
“I’ve got to leave now; we’ve got to leave.”
“I figured,” she says, smiling bittersweetly, “Now I’m going to have to pay for child care for Nymphadora.”
Remus laughs a little, and though it sounds pale and nervous, it rings true enough that Andromeda returns it.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” she asks, patting his arm gently. Remus shakes his head.
“I’m leaving tonight. But I’ll try to send word when I can.”
“Please do,” she replies firmly, and she doesn’t let him leave until he’s had at least three biscuits.
On the six o’clock news, right after Big Ben tolls his placid evening greeting, Sirius Black becomes an infamous household name for the British people. Though the disaster was broadcast the morning after the event, the Muggle police haven’t seen fit to release his name or any details until today. He wonders if this is how long it took for the Ministry of Magic to give the Muggle government the information, or if this is just the way Muggles deal with things. In addition to all the British news, he is reported on briefly in America, France, Germany, Spain, and suddenly, it doesn’t seem like there is a single safe harbour on Earth left for him.
He consoles himself by thinking that it’s unlikely the inhabitants of yurts in Mongolia will ever hear of his name; it’s a cynical comfort, as loose and distant as clouds.
John turns the television off after the third repetition of the story, after the third replaying of the footage of the burning street–post event, after the third showing of Sirius’ own grainy image. His hair is shorter in the media photograph, the thin crinkles around his eyes a little less noticeable. He doesn’t remember it being taken, though he recognises the face he is pulling. It’s a typical James-just-told-a-really-bad-joke look, but the flat line of his mouth and exasperated eyes are out of context. In stark black and white; he looks sinister.
“It’s a tragedy, what happened to those people,” John says to Padfoot as he steams broccoli for dinner, John has taken well to owning a dog that understands him, and Sirius suspects that he never grew out of that stage of childhood in which you could believe that your pets lead double lives. “But heaven knows, there is enough tragedy in the world to go around that we don’t have to pick at the scab. Such a strange crime to commit, too; they say it was like terrorism, but with no motivation. I suppose it’s not a very classy thought, but sometimes I wonder about what happens in those sort of murdering peoples’ lives that drives them to do the terrible things they do.”
Sirius watches the blank screen for a few moments after the picture cuts out, seeing himself, still there, as an after effect like staring at a light for too long. Cast in shadows of grey and taken out of context, and for a single second, he almost believes himself to be guilty too.
After they finish dinner, the girls go upstairs to play dress-up and John reads the newspaper. Sirius watches the sickly-sweet display of domestic family life with a removed amusement. When John begins to nod over his paper an hour later, Padfoot nudges at his foot until he wakes. He looks around for a minute, muzzily, reminding Sirius of morning-Remus, all cloudy eyes and stretching. He scratches Padfoot’s head mutely, then stumbles upstairs to bed.
Padfoot curls into a ball on the braided rug by the front door. He doesn’t have any idea when Remus might be coming, but he trusts that it won’t be too long. He misses Moony; it’s been about four days now, since he last saw Moony properly, and a much longer time if he counts in those weeks of aching distrust before Halloween night.
He wonders what he will say to Remus, when they have the inevitable discussion concerning the lethal shards their relationship has been in. And yet, at the same time, he doesn’t want to have to think about it. He never stopped loving Moony, and he trusts him now. He wishes he could believe that was enough for either of them.
Despite this, sitting in the dark, silent house, watching the unmoving door, Sirius is mostly concerned with thoughts of Moony’s laugh when Sirius does something stupid for the sole purpose of extracting that bone-shakingly exquisite sound from Remus’s pale throat; or, the thoughtful face he makes when he presses his fingerprints into the skin on the underside of Sirius’s wrists; the way he smells while he’s reading: a stingingly lovely mix of old parchment, skin, linen, and binding glue.
He contemplates this last thought with such intensity that when the real thing is suddenly apparent to Padfoot’s acute nose, he’s convinced it’s only his imagination, but then Moony is standing in the shadow of the staircase, his eyes like twin stars, entering on silent footsteps through the back door. His breathing is a little harsh, and he almost looks surprised to see Padfoot sitting on the doorstep.
“This is the third house I’ve broken into,” Remus says with a wry grin, and suddenly Padfoot’s black and white vision is not enough, and he must see Remus in all the shades of muted colour the late hour will allow. His form shivers as he builds himself into a man.
The two of them stand still in the hall for a moment, the distance between them much wider that Sirius could have imagined, a great gulf filled in with the tatters of dreams they had that will now never come true, and with weeks of barely concealed lies and with hands grasping for the touch of each other in separate rooms, barricaded by their own insistent loneliness.
And then the space crumbles apart, and they are only two men who are younger than they think, and in love. They collide like base elements, reactive and chemical–mouths, hands, chests meeting, toes stepping on toes and eyelashes sticking together. Remus pulls Sirius’s lower lip into his mouth, bruising, distilling them into a singular truth of togetherness. Sirius folds Remus into his arms, tighter and tighter until Remus whimpers for lack of oxygen.
“I’m so sorry—” Sirius begins.
Remus cuts him off immediately with, “No, I’m sorry, I should never have even thought—”
“I was such an idiot for listening to Peter when he said you were—”
“I had no good reason for—”
“I regret so much of—”
“I shouldn’t have pushed you to tell me about—”
They snap their mouths shut, both of them suddenly very aware that they aren’t going to get anywhere this way.
“I was wrong,” Remus finally says, holding Sirius pinned in place with the intensity of his stare, “We were both wrong.”
“I know. But it isn’t going to happen again. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen, but we have to get over it.” Some piece of Sirius wants grand words and grand gestures, and either of them, or both of them to drop to their knees and plead, but part of the reason he loves Remus is that he would never be impressed by it, and even if Sirius could give him castles or filigree gold in apology, he wouldn’t. That isn’t how they work; that isn’t how they are. Instead he settles for “I promise you, it won’t happen again. Will that be enough?”
“If my promise is enough, then yours is enough.” Remus leans his forehead against Sirius’s chest, and whispers into his collarbone, “We’ll make it be enough.”
They sit at John’s kitchen table with their heads close together. Sirius explains Apparating away from Peter when he heard Ministry sirens, and then being found by Mrs Dursley the next morning, and the Excers’ kindness and somewhat surprising sort-of-belief in magic. Remus replies with the story of finding Lily’s letter in the lair, and of talking to Dumbledore, and of spotting Sirius on his way to see Harry.
“We need to find a way to prove your innocence, Sirius. I agree that Harry shouldn’t stay with the Dursleys but, frankly, it’s going to make life for all of us too difficult if we steal him out from under the Dumbledore’s nose.”
Sirius wants to argue; but Remus is right, of course, and he knows it, “We’ll have to go searching for Peter. Or maybe, we could find some of the other Death Eaters I’m sure have disappeared since Voldemort’s death…we could get one who’s seen Peter at a Death Eater gathering…. But I’m not just leaving Harry as is; they keep him under the stairs, Moony. I can’t leave him like that.”
Remus looks thoughtful for a moment, tapping his wand idly against the table. “This John Excer. How far do you think we could trust him?”
Sirius considers the question carefully. He has known the man for less than a week; a random Muggle whose only connection to them was through the fact that he happened to live on the same street as his best friend’s wife’s sister. “Pretty far,” Sirius declares decisively. He likes John. He likes spontaneous people with good judgement. He likes people who like animals. He likes people who are good with their children. He likes Muggles who believe in magic.
“I think we should have a chat with the Dursleys,” Remus says.
“An intimidating kind?” Sirius asks, waiting with a sort of patience he has learned to develop from many years of watching Remus invent plans. Remus is, and always has been, an idea man.
“Exactly that kind.” Remus pauses, smiling a little, “And, maybe then, we could suggest a child minder for them. If we arranged something, like Harry could visit here, we could also come and meet with him, perhaps once a week or every other week, and in between, we’ll be on the run, looking for Peter, and moving about so the Ministry doesn’t get wind of us.” He stops and starts again. “Do you think Mr Excer would…help us?”
Sirius contemplates. “I honestly don’t know. Why should he care? I mean, I think he’s the sort of person that would help, but he doesn’t know us from Adam,” he sighs, and some of the confidence melts out of his form. “James would know what to do.”
Sirius catches the edge of Remus’s expression, one that says, You’re right, he would know what to do. This is the worst thing ever. But by the time their eyes have met, his face is fixed into some self-assured grimace.
“This could work--but he has to help. It’d be a good way to keep in contact with the wizarding world while we’re laying low, if we have Andromeda leave us messages here.”
“You spoke to Andy?” Sirius asks, remembering yet again why Remus is clearly the best person alive.
Remus nods, “I thought it’d be important to you, and to her.”
The corners of Sirius’s mouth collect up into a dizzyingly private smile, and he leans forward and presses a dry, gentle kiss to the corner of Remus’s mouth.
That same moment, the dining room lights flick on to illuminate John Excer’s shocked and terrified face.
“Who the fuck are you?!” he shouts. He’s holding a cricket bat in one hand, and though his face is painted in an expression straight out of a horror film, his hands aren’t shaking. Then, his eyes light on Remus’s face.
“Mr Lupin?” he asks, clearly floored.
Mr John Excer
It only takes John a moment to recognize the other inhabitant of the table as mass murderer Sirius Black. They don’t look like any criminals John has seen before, with their lips still too red from kissing, and the slow fall of daft grins into an exchange of nervous glances. Sirius Black still has one hand curled around the back of Mr Lupin’s neck, and he seems to realise this at the same time John does and snatches it hastily away.
Mr Lupin looks about as threatening as he had in the park--which is to say, not very. He’s wearing nicer jeans and a short sleeve t-shirt layered over longer sleeves. The cuffs are torn, presumably from regular picking at the threads. Sirius Black is, John recognises uncomfortably, wearing his own clothes.
“We can explain,” Black says, “I’m not, I mean he’s not, I mean, we aren’t going to hurt you or anyone. We aren’t criminals-”
“No?” John asks, “So then I’m wrong in thinking that you’re Sirius Black.” He edges forward, firming his grip around the cricket bat.
Mr Lupin quickly jumps to answer, “He is, but you have to understand, he’s never killed an innocent person in his life. He never would. There was a mistake, he’s been framed for the crime.”
“Yes, you see,” Black’s voice clamours over the top of Mr Lupin’s to continue the explanation, “We’re not exactly ordinary people, we’ve been fighting against a…an evil person. And he was defeated, but our friends were killed in the process by our other friend – or we thought he was our friend, and then when I went to avenge them he ran away, and then--”
“You’re making very little sense, Padfoot.” Mr Lupin whispers, but John hears anyway, and feels his eyebrows shoot into his hairline. He selects his reply carefully, trying to decide how best to continue the conversation. If he just took a few more steps he’d be close enough to pick up the telephone.
“Please tell me Padfoot is a common name wherever you are from.”
“I’m from Cheshire,” Mr Lupin says crossly, but John’s eyes are fixed on Black, who looks pointedly sheepish.
“Oh damn, right then,” he mumbles, and then his whole figure shimmers, like John is looking at him through a heat mirage, and when his vision clears there is a familiar black dog looking at him through wary eyes.
Mr Lupin smacks his forehead with one palm. “For Circe’s sake, Pads. Haven’t you ever heard of testing the waters?”
Perhaps John had guessed that his life was never going to be the same several months before the appearance of a beaten up black dog on his doorstep. If he is going to be very honest with himself, he’s known that the world wasn’t what he’d thought since the day his wife died, or as he would come to remember it as in the future: the day he met Lily Potter for the first and last time.
On the day his wife died, it was raining in typical British summer fashion, a little muggy and humid with dense low clouds that were likely to clear off by afternoon and return by nightfall.
The Excers were not great fans of travelling, but with two daughters at impressionable ages, John and his wife believed in exposing them to the world, and it was with this reasoning that they found themselves on the banks of the Thames where it ran near Whitehall, watching the stirring of an old city both too large and too small for itself.
The explosion caught everyone by surprise.
Summer meant that the city was full to the brim, and as the smoke and dust began to settle, the tall black cloaked figures in the midst of the riverside rubble were more petrifying and nightmarish than John had previously thought the idea of sudden terrorism on a London holiday could inspire.
It was hard to see, with the rain and the dust making everything muddy and the screams so loud that it was hard to think. John clutched his daughters’ small fingers, one in each hand, and his wife was there at his side, with Millie’s other hand clasped in hers.
“Oh, god, oh god,” she was crying, and John was running, tugging the girls after him and his wife right there, still close enough to touch, but there were too many people in the same frenzy as they were, and the air was now cluttered with bright bolts of coloured light, which were beautiful in a deadly way as they caught people in the crowd between the shoulders or clipped an arm, sending them crashing to the ground.
John pulled his family into the shadow of a tall tree and tucked his daughters under the stone bench cemented into the street. He hunched down next to them, folding his wife into the corner of his arms. It was still near impossible to see what was going on, but John had sharp eyes and he caught sight of the police force in arrival. They looked just as lost as the mobs of shrieking civilians.
Then there were brighter flashes of light–golden this time–and suddenly more people in cloaks had appeared. They were not in dark colours, but most of them in pale shades of sky blue or cream, some with phoenixes emblazoned on their backs. The amount of flashes of terrible light doubled, but the number of people collapsing in screams halved.
John was so busy trying to determine what was happening that he didn’t see the figure in the black cloak come upon their hiding place until it was too late. It was impossible to tell even the gender of the figure, but it hardly mattered. The mask was a cruel parody of a face framed by wild locks of dark hair and John’s wife whimpered and huddled in, closer to his side.
“Why are you doing this?” John asked desperately.
The response was an arc of green light, brilliantly hued, from the thin stick the figure clutched in one long-fingered hand. Chilling laughter followed as John felt his wife stiffen and then go suddenly limp in his hands.
“What?” he cried, “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
“I killed her, obviously. Who next? Is that your children I see there?” the figure said, voice muffled from the mask and hard to distinguish, save the coldness.
One moment he was lost and helpless, and then there was a crack and the woman was there.
Her hair was the colour of flames and her cloak the colour of holly berries. She appeared between John and the horrible figure with her body taunt and defensive. She seemed like a goddess, to John, vengeful and vivid. The figure took a step back and wordlessly they began some strange duel of colours. It was like being trapped in a greenhouse of prisms, if each rainbow was a tangible and fatally sharp dagger.
It was difficult to understand exactly what was happening, but even to John, it was apparent that the red-headed woman was winning. For every flash or twist the dark figure could produce, she shot three, with twice the furious passion.
Finally, the cloaked figure fell backwards, and the woman stood over the form, obscuring the silhouette, with her stick just touching her forehead. “You’re getting very fast, Evans,” the figure said, breathing shakily.
“It’s Potter now, Black-- or Lestrange rather,” she said fiercely, and spit out another word that John didn’t understand, only it was too late, because the figure touched a pendant around her neck and flashed out of existence.
The woman cursed, and then glanced around quickly for any further imminent threats. “Where do you live?” she said, shouting over the din.
“Privet Drive. In Little Whinging…Surrey.”
The woman looked surprised. “I have family there,” she said as she grabbed his arm, and then reached out to gather up his daughters on her other arm. They were sobbing - their faces streaked with tears.
“What-” John began, but in the next second he was being squeezed into a thin tube of darkness, folding inside out and twisted upside down and his sentence was choked off, lost in the space between worlds.
When he could breath again, he was on the street outside his house. The boneless form of his wife was still clutched in his arms, and his daughters were kneeling in the street, covered in ashes, arms clutched around each other. The red-haired woman was swaying where she stood, looking close to passing out.
John laid his wife down as gently as possible and stumbled to his feet, just in time to catch the woman as she fell.
“Fuck,” she said from his arms. “It is not at all easy to Apparate four people. Oh, uh oh, maybe you should let go of me-”
“What do you mean?” he asked, and the woman promptly threw-up, narrowly missing his shoes.
She climbed out of his arms, and turned, noticing the lifeless form of his wife. “Oh no,” she said, voice hollow, “I am so sorry.”
“But-” John turned, “But it was just light.”
“It was a curse, the killing curse. Magic.”
“I’m so sorry,” she repeated, “I’m Lily. Lily Potter. Which house is yours?”
He pointed down the street, eyes still fixed on his wife’s body. “I don’t understand.”
The woman – Lily -- put her arm around Hannah and used the other to pick up Millie, balancing the child on her hip in a practised motion.
Numbly, John picked up his wife’s body and followed Lily to his house. He started to fumble for the keys, but the woman merely tapped against the handle and the door swung open. He laid his wife on the sofa, and collapsed onto the floor beside her. Lily settled Millie into his arms and Hannah dropped down next to him.
“Can I ask for your names please?” Lily asked gently, crouching next to them.
“John Excer,” he whispered brokenly. “And Camille and Hannah.”
“Okay, and where were you staying in London–so I can bring your bags back? I need to know your wife’s name, too, so I can report in the death to the, eh, government.”
He replied to each of her careful questions in a dead voice. Minutes passed, and John felt so cold and far away that he barely started when a large translucent wolf leapt suddenly through the window.
“They’ve just gotten backup, Lily. We need you,” a breathless voice said through the wolf.
Lily stood up quickly. “I’ll be there in a minute, Sirius,” she said to it, and then a sudden gust of wind carried it off. She bent forward, her hair falling in her face. Her bottle green eyes caught his; they were hot and bright and sad. “I’m so sorry; this shouldn’t be your battle.”
John believed her. There was nothing of the insincere distance that he’d seen from past dealings with Authorities. In a strange way, he was more awed by the genuine grief and pain she had for him, a stranger, than by her surrealism.
“I have to make you forget this, now,” she said, quietly, pressing the tip of her stick (a wand?) to his forehead.
“No,” he said, the first words with emotion he’d spoken since he’d screamed at the cloaked figure, “No. I want to remember how she died. I need to remember her.”
Lily hesitated for a moment, biting her lip in indecisiveness. Finally she nodded. “Okay,” she said. “Goodbye.”
And she cracked out of existence.
It is these memories that occupy John Excer’s mind as he stands in his dining room, looking at his dog, who is also a man, who became a dog, and the mysterious stranger placing a protective hand on the dog’s tall shoulders.
“Listen,” Mr Lupin says quietly. “I’m sorry about this, but we need your help. I know that it might take you some time to get used to, but we don’t have time. The two of us, we’re magic. Wizards…like in stories. And in our world, which overlaps with yours a bit, there was a man called Voldemort who was very evil. We were working to stop him and then–”
“I know,” John says suddenly.
“What?” Mr Lupin asks.
“I know. My wife…I’m not completely sure, but I’m pretty sure she was killed by that evil wizard of yours. Or at least some follower. Someone called Lestrange.”
Man and dog alike gape at him, and he is glad to finally have the upper hand in shocking news.
“We were in London, on holiday, in early summer. There was some kind of strange terrorist attack. A woman saved us. I think…” He pauses, as he remembers details. Events click into place, completing more of the puzzle in front of him. “You know her. She had a phoenix on her cloak, and you have one on your hip and you spoke to her when she brought us back home. It was some magic. But she called it Sirius. Her name was Lily Potter.”
Mr Lupin and Sirius Black’s faces both crumpled, and John tried not to think of what it meant. Mr Lupin opened his mouth to reply, but it took a moment for sound to come out, “Lily is…she was…she’s…” He paused, and drew a breath, “The traitor – that’s why we’re here. She’s…dead.”
“Oh.” John says, feeling suddenly and strangely crushed. “But she saved us. In June.”
“The Battle of the Thames.” Mr Lupin says quietly, not even noticing when Padfoot reformes into Sirius Black. “I remember her telling me about it. I wasn’t there, Padfoot. I was meeting with a Pack in North Wales. Do you remember? You got the scar on your shoulder in that fight.”
Sirius Black laughs humourlessly. “Yeah, I remember. I remember I was so mad at you for missing that fight, Moony. Dumbledore said you were doing translations for him. You came back with scars too. I believed you when you said you ran into a biting book. Fucking hell, that was stupid of me.”
“I shouldn’t have lied. We’d never listened to teachers before.”
They smile at each other, with grim twists of the mouth; the hurt doesn’t last long, and it comes out cleaner that John imagines they intended. He’s a school-teacher, and he has learned to read between the lines, or to find a story in a story, and this one is the kind that ends with a happily ever after, he’s almost positive. Even so, John wishes that he knew what they were talking about.
Sirius Black returns his attention to John. “Well, it’s a small world, isn’t it? We certainly are a bunch of Dickensian coincidences.”
John nods in agreement. He realises that he’s still clutching the cricket bat, and so sets it against the wall and picks at the stray threads on the hem of his pyjama shirt nervously.
“I’m going to make some tea,” John says. “And you are going to explain exactly what you’re doing in my house, and why I shouldn’t be on the phone with the police telling them about the mass murderer, and about this wizarding world business. And also, what exactly you think you need my help for. But I will tell you now: I’m probably going to help you, because of your friend saving my life.”
Mr Lupin grins again, wolfish and clever. “Well, Mr Excer, I appreciate a man who asks the right questions. Please, call me Remus,” he holds out his hand to shake.
John takes it without thinking and, not for the first time in the last week, wonders at what point he lost his sanity; and, also, what he has gotten himself into.
March 19th, 1982
Sirius and Remus arrive an hour before the Dursleys are due to drop Harry off for his weekly visit. They usually only manage to make every other week, but on the off chance that the two wizards do appear, and because the girls love having the baby around to dress up and coo at, Harry comes to the Excers’ every Saturday.
Also, John worries that Harry is still having trouble saying some words he should know, though phrases like “Shut up” have been newly added to his vocabulary, and it leads John to believe that the Dursleys aren’t caring for Harry properly.
Remus appears first, knocking politely on the back door. His hair is cut badly, choppy and a little uneven around the ears, and John remarks upon it as he comes inside - he had just been letting it grow longer.
“Dragon,” he says. “Werewolves are mostly fireproof; unfortunately, our hair is not.”
John winces, opens his mouth, about to say tell me about dragons, are there really dragons? but he feels silly and child-like, and so he closes his mouth with a snap. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Remus notices and guesses his thoughts.
“We were in Romania; they’ve quite a collection of natural and also some man-made hatcheries out there. It’s quite an amazing thing; we got to see a hatching – it was the dragonet that coughed a few flames at me–and the grounds were wild. Just miles and miles of hot sand with eggs in all amazing patterns and colours–colours I’ve never seen before, and bonfires built around–some of them won’t hatch unless their exposed to live flame. We just thought it’d be interesting. No real reason for going. Sirius bought a dragon-skin coat. He’s quite pleased with it.”
“Dragon-skin? Do they-”
“No, no.” Remus corrects hurriedly. “Some breeds shed. You can buy dragon-hide, but it’s black market stuff.”
“Where is Sirius, anyway? Harry’s due in a few minutes.”
“We Apparated – er, jumped into a train station by accident. Sirius got distracted. He’ll be along in a few.”
John nods, and finishes setting the tea tray. Hannah appears in the doorway a moment later. “Moony!” she says, delighted. She hugs him tightly, and Remus looks a little embarrassed by the affection but ruffles his hand through her hair nonetheless. She steps away and tugs her at the bows on her dress shyly. John watches as Remus pretends not to notice her eyeing his bag in anticipation.
After a few amusing moments of this, she says, hesitantly, “Moony, have you got-”
“PRESENTS!” Sirius Black yells tracking mud into the recently-cleaned kitchen floor, looking just as excited to be handing gifts out as John’s daughters are to receive them. Millie skids into the kitchen on small stocking feet with a gap-toothed grin.
John watches the two men with sharp eyes. After five months, it’s hard to imagine life without them; John now counts them among his best friends, traipsing in and out of the back door and John’s small normal life like they have the secrets to everything on the other side of John’s garden fence.
The magic of having fugitive wizards making his kitchen their home base is undeniably interesting, but it’s also a source of eternal worries.
It isn’t that he’s afraid of being found out; he has faith enough that Remus and Sirius could escape fast enough; as for himself, it wouldn’t be too difficult to say that Remus and Sirius had lied or tricked him into helping. No -- John worries about the men themselves. John has always been a worrier. He’s a bit of a mother hen in that way.
John remembers the first few times they’d come back to visit, still nervous of John; and, in accordance with a story John doesn’t know all the words to, nervous around each other. They hadn’t yet got the hang of travelling, and they’d collapsed into his living room in the night. He’d come downstairs some time in the early hours of the morning and found them passed out on the sofa, still fully dressed, long limbs entangled.
They’d been underfed and exhausted and their explanations of travels laced with hopelessness and disappointment. Clearly, it had been a jarring realisation for them – that it wasn’t going to be easy to prove Sirius’s innocence.
They still look worn around the edges. Tired, a little grungy from too long without an appropriate place to sleep, but John can see they have improved vastly. Grief is a little farther removed from them now, and he knows that they’ve stopped going on every excursion with the desperate intention of finding some kind of proof. They are travellers; and, oddly, it suits them.
John grins fondly as Sirius carefully removes objects wrapped in yards of silk from Remus’s messenger bag – they’d forgone the bulky backpacks when John had curiously asked if there wasn’t some way to magically store a large amount of items in a small space and they’d groaned at each other, remarking upon their forgetfulness.
“For the lovely Hannah…” Sirius says, and pauses to build tension, “The eggshell of a real dragon.” He pulls something round wrapped in a red scarf from the bag. Hannah carefully pulls the fabric away to reveal a large oval object, with a cracked back, presumably where the animal had escaped. It is opalescent greenish and pink, like an abalone shell, but as thick and hard as marble and perfectly smooth.
“And for the enchanting Camille…” Sirius pulls out another round item, this one wrapped in blue. “Fireflies.” Millie takes the object from its scarf to find a glass jar with no apparent way to be opened. Inside are five bright pinpoints of reddish-purple light, which buzz back and forth like insects.
“They’re not alive, so don’t worry about feeding them,” Sirius says, by way of explanation to John. “It’s what dragons sneeze.”
“You’re kidding me,” John exclaims, staring at the little flames inside the glass bubble.
“Not all breeds,” Remus says, “Mainly smaller; it’s a self-defence of sorts.”
John shakes his head in the kind of disbelief that is now second nature to him.
“Any word from Andy, lately?” Sirius asks, plucking an apple from the basket on the counter.
“She dropped in this morning with a letter to give you,” John says, going to the desk in the corner of the room and retrieving the thick vellum envelope.
The girls hug Remus and Sirius again, and then begin chattering to them about their past two weeks, describing spelling test grades and Millie’s newly-missing tooth.
John answers the door when Mrs Dursely comes with Harry, as neither Remus nor Sirius can always be trusted to be civil. There had been one notable incident a few weeks ago when Vernon had brought the child and Sirius had received him–remarks had been made that ended up with Harry squalling and Remus holding Vernon against the door, his feet only just touching the ground, face very close to Vernon’s plum skin. Remus had whispered, “I’ve warned you once.” His teeth had looked strikingly sharp and John, who’d never before connected the idea of ‘werewolf’ with ‘Remus Lupin’, suddenly understood.
Vernon had nodded his head vigorously and practically run down the path away from the house. John didn’t approve of the violence; and it had scared him a bit, too, seeing the usually peaceful and reserved Remus so suddenly sharp and wild, eyes too yellow and nearly vibrating with anger.
Sirius had grumbled “I can handle my own fights, thank-you-very-much” upon shutting the door, and bouncing Harry gently on his hip until he calmed.
In what John assumed was a rare display of public affection, Remus had leaned forward to press a line of three kisses across Sirius’s neck – the last and longest in the vulnerable soft spot just beneath his ear. John barely caught his whisper of “But I like fighting for you.”
Some parts of John were glad that they weren’t often physical in front of him. John was a free-thinking man, but he’d never been around gay people before, and sometimes he caught himself getting a little nervous about it. In that moment, though, he’d wanted nothing more than to have a camera, and capture that singular moment of family – Remus curling one arm protectively around Sirius’s lower back, the other reaching to brush Harry’s hair from his face; and, with a secret kind of smile, cradling them safely.
August 28th , 1982Remus Lupin
The sheets are clean and smooth around Remus’s body when he wakes. He lays with his eyes closed, breathing in the smells of Parisian mornings. He can taste the steam from Sirius’s shower when he opens his mouth, wet and hot at the back of his throat. There are pastries on the table, and coffee, which means Sirius has already been out this morning.
Remus rolls over. A single bandage pulls at his stomach as he stretches, and his muscles feel sore and tired but, as far as mornings after the full moon go, there have been few better. They had spent the night in a vineyard in the South of France; Remus only remembers the sunrise as if he is seeing through a veil - hazy flashes of Sirius’s arms collecting his boneless form under the lightening edges of a morning sky; then the familiar squeeze of Apparition; being propped against a column in the reception of the hotel.
Still, without opening his eyes–a little unwilling to let go of the last whispers of sleep folded across his skin like wings--Remus listens as Sirius shuts off the water, then to Sirius slightly off-key singing.
He opens the bathroom door towelling his back absently. The whistling cuts off abruptly.
“Don’t think I don’t know you’re awake Mr Moony. I can tell the difference between a sleeping smile and an awake one. We’re going to see the Eiffel Tower today, proper tourists. None of this backwater hiking-through-dusty-towns business.”
“Yes sir,” Remus replies scratchily, squeaking when he yawns, like a dog.
“How do you feel?” Sirius asks, a little more softly.
“Good.” Remus’s eyes finally blink open. The room is all shades of cream and white, and the four-poster bed has gauzy curtains. Sirius is leaning against the wardrobe, studying Remus with a strangely awed expression on his face. He’s wearing only a towel, loose around his hips, and his hair is India ink black, wet and sticking to his neck. They’ve taken to charming it pale in big cities, and Remus has forgotten how dark it is. The scene is nearly too idyllic to be real. “Really good.”
Remus sits up as Sirius lets the towel slide to the ground and crosses the room, slipping into the bed on his knees just behind Remus. He presses his mouth to the back of Remus’s neck and then bends, and kisses again, and again, with just a hint of teeth, in a line down Remus’s back. He places one final open mouthed, sucking kiss on the silvery line of Registry numbers tattooed into Remus’s shoulder and Remus arches into his mouth.
Sirius pulls away and Remus makes a rumbling noise of protest.
“No, no, I’m all clean now, and you’re all sore. Later.”
“Did I just hear Sirius Black turn down sex?”
“Non!” Sirius declares, standing up to dig through their leather messenger bag in search of clothes. “You just heard Sirius Black postponing sex. Il ya une très grande différence.”
“I’ll have the shirt with the tree on it, please,” Remus says, yawing again.
“It doesn’t even fit you. The shoulders are too broad.”
They go about dressing in companionable silence. Remus finishes before Sirius, who is busy poking at his hair with his wand in the toilette.
“I don’t like being a blond. It makes me look like Narcissa.”
Remus shrugs, and though Sirius can’t see him, he is fairly sure he knows Remus’s sentiments of the subject anyway. Remus leans over the railing on the window down to the street below. There is a bakery, a shoe store, and a news stand, all with amusingly stereotypical French people bustling about. The hotel is just as stunning on the outside as the inside, and if Remus cranes his neck he can just see Montmartre, with the gleaming white dome of the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur like a particularly lovely wedding cake atop the hill.
“This is a nice hotel,” Remus says, absently, “I feel a bit like a kept woman here, whisked off for a European honeymoon.”
“It would be a more convincing story if we hadn’t just tortured a partially mad Death Eater for a confession saying that he recognised our traitorous ex-friend as a follower of Voldemort, Moony,” Sirius calls from the mirror.
“Dolohov killed Marlene McKinnon, you know.”
“I’m not saying it wasn’t true - his confession, or that he didn’t deserve it. I’m just saying that, in general, the world would be wonky if people were making use of relashio and cursed daggers on their honeymoons.”
“Besides,” Sirius continues, “You’d make a more convincing kept woman if you hadn’t just earned 200 galleons breaking all those awful wards on that French duchess’s dungeons.”
Sirius comes out of the toilette just in time to catch the tail end of Moony’s pleased grin. Remus tries to make himself scowl, but he can’t – he’s got a terrible weak spot for being successful.
They’re standing on the street a ways down from the Arc de Triomphe in a crush of other tourists, all gawking and staring at the monument. Remus tugs them away from the crowds and down a side street. He uses his perfect French to charm their way into a tiny local café, and they sit at the tin table with coffees, their knees touching pleasantly.
“I’ve been thinking,” Sirius begins, “What if we went to Beauxbatons? I still don’t think Peter would have run to somewhere completely unfamiliar, but I can’t think of anywhere else to look. We’ve searched pretty much every single place we know he’s been. We’ve even been to that garage he worked in for the week he was dating the Muggle girl, Wendy.”
Remus nods in agreement, “And the holiday home in Wales,” he adds. “That poor woman who owns it now - she thought we were trying to murder her.”
“Well anyway, I’ve never seen Beauxbatons; but it is a magical school--it might feel familiar to him…” Sirius pauses to take a gulp of coffee and then, suddenly, his eyes widen and he sprays his mouthful out across the table in his sudden haste to speak, “Hogwarts!” he shouts, “Why haven’t we looked in Hogwarts. For fuck’s sake, that should’ve been the first place.”
“But – so close to Dumbledore-”
“Peter Pettigrew could be sitting in a cage on Dumbledore’s desk and he’d never know. He’s a rat, Moony.”
“Merlin,” Remus says, quietly, “You know, you could be right. And all the work he did getting into small places when we were making the map…he’s probably the only person on Earth who knows the castle better than we do.”
They sit in silence for a moment, imagining all the terrible things Peter could have gotten up too having the run of the school. Remus feels a little guilty, as it’s partially his fault. He doesn’t think he was wrong not to tell Dumbledore about Sirius, but it does mean he’s not aware of the danger Peter could present.
“How do we get in?” he wonders aloud.
“The same way I’ll bet Peter did,” Sirius answers him solemnly, “Through the Shack.”
If they have learned one thing in the past almost-a-year, it’s that jumping into the middle of some big new plan without thinking about it first is stupid and usually ends in near-death. Remus finds it funny that being on the run has made Sirius more thoughtful and less compulsive. Sometimes, he isn’t completely sure if this is a lesson Sirius learned through experience, or maybe he’s just finally growing up.
The thing to remember is that a few weeks is not going to change anything, and so they stay in Paris, eating at a different ridiculously expensive restaurant every night for a week, leisurely planning with old trial versions of the Marauder’s map.
Soon enough, it’s off to the Excers’ to see Harry again. Andromeda comes around while they’re there and cuts Sirius and Remus’s hair with a sort of motherly persuasion and charm she usually uses to get them to do what she wants.
It’s so nice to have the whole group–their own strange, puzzled-together family– that Andromeda stays over in the guest bedroom, and brings Nymphadora and Ted along. Remus calls the Dursleys to tell them to wait to pick up Harry until the next morning.
Nymphadora gets on swimmingly with Hannah and Millie; they eagerly compare souvenirs they’ve received from Remus and Sirius, the adults standing around in the kitchen, Harry hanging on Sirius’s arm, looking up every now and then to comment stoically on their conversation, giving sage two-year-old advice.
Around ten o’clock, the children go to bed, and everyone moves to the living room. Sirius and Remus share one armchair and Ted nods off against Andromeda’s shoulder. It’s weirdly like being a teenager in the dorms again–having exhausted the serious subject of their plan to sneak into Hogwarts, which commences in the morning, they are left with the other topics–things that responsible adults, as they have become, rarely discuss.
“So, John,” Sirius says lazily, his head tipped onto Remus’s shoulder, eyes fixed on some point of invisible interest near the ceiling, “Have you been courting any young ladies recently?”
“What century do you think you live in, Pads?” Remus says, glancing down at him fondly.
John blushes, “Well, there is this teacher. She’s a long-term cover for the Maths department.”
“Is there, now?” Remus says.
That is when the door bell rings.
Perhaps if it hadn’t been months since Sirius had bothered with any disguise more extensive than a different hair colour and still no one even looked at him twice, or perhaps if the whole lot of them were even just a little less pleased with the world and feeling safe and happy…perhaps if they weren’t tired and just ever so slightly tipsy on French wine Remus and Sirius had brought with them as a treat– then maybe they wouldn’t have been quite as careless, as forgetful, as stupid as they were.
But they are that stupid, and Remus and Sirius don’t even move as John gets to his feet slowly, calling “What a strange time for visitors,” as he shuffles out of the room.
“It’s probably just that arse Vernon coming round to ask us for money for Harry again–as if they spend anything at all on him. We buy his clothes, we buy him toys…” Sirius continues on his rant until Remus muffles him with one hand.
“It’s not the Dursleys,” Remus says, face going paper white, as his nose turns up to scent the air. “Fuck. Fuck, we have to go. Turn into Padfoot right now, Sirius.”
Sirius looks at him with a growing sense of terror clawing at the inside of his chest. He leaps out of the seat, and throws himself forward, hitting the ground on four black paws. Andromeda shakes Ted awake, and upon seeing her scared face, he sits forward alertly.
In the hallway, Remus hears John saying, “Well, I think it’s awfully late to be checking the metre, but I suppose you can come in.”
And then they’re trapped.
Putting wards on the house to prevent Apparating directly in or out was one of the first protective spells Remus cast on the house, and now it’s backfired. The only way to get to the garden and away is the hallway, which is now occupied by Kingsley Shacklebolt, and all his excellent Order and Auror training.
They could fight their way out, but they’re so close to finding Peter and ending this whole mess that Remus can almost taste it. They’ve made it this far without hurting a single innocent wizard. They have broken no laws except for not turning Sirius in. If they have to hurt Kingsley to escape, they’ll lose the right to eventually return with clean names.
As a dog, Padfoot can smell Remus’s terrified sweat and feel him shaking very slightly. He presses his nose into the back of Remus’s leg, hiding his face.
“What is it?” Andromeda whispers.
“Kingsley Shacklebolt,” Remus replies. “Probably making some neighbourhood inspections; I’d be surprised if Dumbledore didn’t order them regularly.”
In the hallway, there is a shout of surprise – John’s, it sounds like, and then he yells, “Rem-”
But before he can even finish the warning, his voice cuts off. There is a thump as his body hits the floor, and then Remus’s sharp ears catch Kingsley mutter to himself: “I don’t like this idea of stunning people to search their house.”
There is some more movement, and Kingsley grunts, and then there is another thump, perhaps the sound of John being propped up against the wall, and then some ruffling of fabric, presumably the shaking out of robes.
It is silent for a moment, and Remus decides to draw his wand. He feels Padfoot crouched, tense by his side, and the sound of Kingsley’s steps up the staircase is apparent, thick Auror boots stomping away. They reach the top of the steps, and Remus hears one of the bedroom doors open.
“Now!” he whispers, “I’m so sorry to leave you with this mess, Andy,” he says quickly, and sprints from the living room, down the hall, and out the back door, not even closing it should it make more noise.
He puts one hand on Padfoot’s neck, and together they pop out of existence. The last thing he hears is Kingsley’s surprised yell of “What the hell is Harry Potter doing in this house?”
“Why have we come here?” Sirius asks Remus, still keeping his voice low, though in the deserted night-time streets of Hogsmeade, especially on the edge of town, as they are, it’s hardly necessary. He shivers a little, feeling sick– Apparating as Padfoot never sits right with his stomach.
“If the Aurors are out patrolling Privet Drive, and if they start getting all suspicious about what Andromeda and Ted are doing there, it’ll draw attention away–we ought to break in to Hogwarts now. Also, if something goes wrong, Harry is well-protected with Kingsley around.”
Sirius grins, and fights an odd and troubling urge to pet Remus, “You are very clever, Moony, m’dear.”
Remus’s teeth flash white in the dark. His shoulders are still tense and Sirius feels shaken, too; but it’s distant, as though he left his fear in Padfoot’s body. “Close call, eh?” Remus murmurs as he wedges one foot into the fence surrounding the house they’ve Apparated in front of. Sirius realises suddenly that it’s the Shrieking Shack.
He’s never seen the Shack from this angle before. By the time Sirius was old enough to go into Hogsmeade, he’d known its secret, and the idea of gawking at the house in which his best friend regularly attempted to rip himself to pieces was not at all appealing.
Remus finally makes it to the top of the fence; he balances there, waiting for Sirius, crouched low. Sirius starts to follow the path of footholds he’d used but Remus shakes his head. “Give me your hand,” he says, “It’ll be faster.”
A little confused, Sirius reaches, and Remus grasps his hand and pulls him up easily.
“Aw, Moony; warn a guy when you’re going to exercise your super werewolf powers on his person.”
“Sorry,” Remus says, unrepentantly. Sirius doesn’t blame him for enjoying it a little, and he likes to see Remus using what graces being a werewolf allows. If he were Remus, he’d make the most of the few advantages.
The shack isn’t easily broken into. In fact, it is spelled to be impossible to enter and if they were just some random gang of mischievous boys who had not spent much of their adolescent lives crawling through the cracks of this building, the task would have proved too difficult, but they are what is left of the Marauders and doing the impossible their business.
Sirius slides the very tip of his wand into the tiny gap between the front door and the frame, and he presses his lips almost to the wood, bracing his whole body against the door. He whispers to the hinges with words he made from the secrets of old books read by old light. The door makes one creaking sound of protest, and then releases its hold on the frame falling backwards. Sirius silenceos it just before it hits the ground, raising a storm of dust.
Inside, the walls are scarred, and Sirius avoids looking too closely at the claw marks in the armchairs, which are spilling rusty-stained cotton on the dusty floor.
Before they climb into the tunnel that leads to the Whomping Willow, Remus tugs on Sirius’s coat pulling him to a stop. He looks uncomfortable and lost, like a man trapped inside a building with ceilings just slightly too low to stand. Sirius wants him out of the Shack. He wants him where Remus should be, in big airy rooms with linen curtains and a cloak of sunlight, or tucked between shelves of books in a library.
“Do you think that Pettigrew could have….” Remus trails off and looks around at the shadows and holes in the wall and the staircase, which Sirius hopes never to have reason to venture up again. Luckily, he doesn’t believe he’ll need to.
“No; Peter likes the shack less than you. He’s afraid of it, I think. Besides, it’d be too much of an effort to get food here.”
“Okay,” Remus replies, relieved, but he doesn’t let go of Sirius’s coat. He takes his wand out of his pocket and taps it against the pulse point below Sirius’s jaw. A curious sensation like a heavy blanket dropping over his head surprises Sirius.
“What’s that for?” he asks, curiously.
“It’s to take away your scent,” he says softly, rubbing his nose, “We want to give Peter as little warning as possible. It’s awful, to be honest. It creeps me out, looking at people and not being able to smell them. You smell especially distinct to me, er, so this feels really weird. Ugh.”
He touches the wand to himself in the same place, and then nods. “Let’s go, then.”
The castle, when they enter through the hidden passage behind some begonias, is strangely quiet. This August, even Scotland has managed to muster enough good weather to make the indoors become stuffy and hot. Most of the paintings are sleeping, but twice they have to leap into a side corridor to avoid passing ghosts, who seem raucous and present in a way that neither of them had ever noticed when during the school year.
They reach Gryffindor tower, their first search destination, with little incident. They stand next to each other inspecting the sleeping portrait of the Fat Lady with trepidation. “Well…” Sirius whispers to Remus, “I guess you’re going to have to turn on some of that old Moony charm.” He turns promptly into Padfoot.
Remus coughs politely twice, but his efforts earn little more than a disturbed snuffle. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he finally says, raising his voice.
The Fat Lady blinks her eyes open sleepily, and frowns upon sight of him. “What are you doing here? Term hasn’t begun yet.” Then she looks at him more closely. “Why, I recognize you. You aren’t a student at all, Remus Lupin.”
Remus smiles shyly, “Hello, how have you been?”
“Fine, I’m sure,” she says, still looking a bit cross at having been woken, but more surprised to see Remus, “Whatever brings you here?”
“I’m looking for something,” he says. “And I need a bit of a favour. I’m trying to save a friend, but I need to look around in the dorms.”
The Fat Lady looks at him, her oil-paint gaze intense and prying. “Remus Lupin; I’ve always liked you; you can go in,” she pauses, and then adds, defensively, “I wouldn’t do this for anyone, and certainly not if there were students here.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he says softly as the portrait-hole swings open.
“It’s no trouble,” she says from above his head, “Where has that Black boy…or that one with the terrible hair gotten too?” But Remus and Padfoot are already inside, and the portrait swings shut automatically before he can answer.
They start in the 7th years dorms and work their way backward. Sirius alternates between trying to sniff Peter out as Padfoot and casting searching spells, while Remus sets up a perimeter so nothing can leave the area, just in case Peter sees them before they see him. Then he searches by hand, and nose, lifting blankets and checking in drawers. They have a well-practised system; they’ve searched too many places not to be old hands at it.
It’s strange, though; going through the rooms they grew up in with clinical hands. Each thrown back bed curtain seems to have another memory hidden behind it. Sirius finds himself distracted by the first bed he’d ever shared with Remus in the 6th year dorm, and the loose floorboards that he and James used to hide all contraband materials under.
They search the common room, and the girls’ dorms as well, all to no avail. The sky is beginning to fade from navy to eggshell blue when they convene back in the 7th year dorm, having covered every inch of the tower with careful hands.
“This is going to take more than one night,” Sirius says, sighing, as he drops his haul of misplaced found items on the bed nearest the window. “I kind of forgot how big this place is.”
Remus nods in agreement, adding his bounty to the pile, “When you suggested Hogwarts…I’d been so sure…I suppose there are still a lot of places to cover, but…”
“If he was anywhere in the castle, it would be here. I know what you mean.”
“Yeah. So, what have you got?”
Since they’d first begun looking for Peter, it’s sort of been their game – to pick through the houses and then collect whatever out-of-place things they find, as a way of making each place a part of them.
“I’ve got six chocolate frog cards, a bag of muggle sweets, a chess piece, a rook to be exact, Eleanor Flavius’s transfiguration homework, and a broken Sneakoscope,” Sirius says, inspecting his treasure. “Might keep the Sneakoscope. I lost mine, but this one looks fixable.”
Remus lists his items, “I’ve got a copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, three empty bottles of nail varnish, a glove, and a photograph of the Weasleys.”
“Ooh, lets see the last one.” Sirius says, making childish grasping motions with his hands. Remus rolls his eyes but passes it over anyway.
The back of the photograph has “Property of Bill Weasley” printed in blocky capitals, and the other side is a recent picture of the whole family. They are posed in a wheat field.
Molly is looking very pregnant – that or she’s put a watermelon under her dress; Arthur, standing at her side, has a boy about Harry’s age propped on his shoulders, so tall that the very top of his carrot-coloured hair is cut off. The rest of the boys are ranged around in a semi-circle. Bill and Charlie, the two that Sirius remembers well enough, are side by side with matching toothy grins. A small, stoic boy stands in the shadow of Molly’s skirt, and Sirius is distracted from him by the fact that the photograph has caught two identical faces wrestling a frog into the poor child’s shorts.
“They’ll be right terrors.” Sirius grins, approving immediately.
“Poor Molly,” Remus says, heartfelt. “I know what it’s like to deal with that sort of trouble.”
“Oh, Moony,” Sirius sticks his tongue out at him, “You don’t fool me, Mr ‘whatever do you mean by crocodiles in the toilettes’.”
“Well, I’ve fooled everyone else.”
“Let’s see it,” Moony says, leaning forward to inspect it closely. “What do you suppose that kid--Percy, I think he’s called--has got on his arm there? It looks like some animal trying to hide. I can’t quite see in this light.”
Sirius casts lumos silently, and squints at the picture, holding the glowing tip close enough to almost touch the paper. Moony’s right, there is a small animal, with a long tail, trying to burrow into Percy’s sleeve. It looks familiar. It looks like–
“RAT!” Sirius shouts, “My god, that’s him. That’s Pettigrew.”
“No.” Remus says, in disbelief, “You can’t mean that he’s…”
“Right in the midst of a whole family! And he always did love Mrs Weasley’s cooking!”
“He could get everywhere through them; trusted Order members, should that ever be needed again. A trip in Arthur’s briefcase away from the Ministry. Easy access to Hogwarts. The Burrow is even a familiar place for him. We’ve been to countless meetings out there,” Remus claims, calculating quickly.
“Crafty bugger!” Sirius is shocked, and a little fearful for the Weasleys, unwilling accomplices to the person Sirius considers his least favourite in the world; but there is also some amount of adrenaline, and excitement flowing through his veins. There is no chance about it now. Peter Pettigrew is within his grasp.
“Well, then,” Remus says, decisively. “It looks like we’ll be paying a visit to the Weasley’s in the morning. But I think we ought to speak with Andromeda and Ted again; we’ll need a plan, just in case it’s not as easy as walking in and picking him up.
Sirius ‘hmms’ in agreement, “Do you think it’s safe to go back to John’s now, then?”
Remus considers for a moment, “Probably. If John told Kingsley the story about Lily saving him, than he might have considered that connection enough. And Andy probably said she just wanted to see Harry too. We’ll go in disillusioned just in case.”
“Shall we go then?” Sirius asks.
“Most definitely.” Remus replies, cordially, “Oh, except…” He pulls out his wand and taps Sirius on his throat again, and then repeats the gesture on himself. He breathes a sigh of relief.
“That’s much better,” Remus murmurs, and presses his face briefly into Sirius’s neck, gulping in a lungful of good Sirius-scented air.
“You’re a freak,” Sirius says, feeling oddly pleased.
“And you love it,” Remus mouths against his pulse-point.
There are still lights on in the Excers’ house, casting butter yellow squares on the black-green grass, fading as the sky lightens. Remus and Sirius pop into the garden, muffling each other’s cracks of Apparition with quick silencing spells. Remus opens the back door soundlessly and Sirius casts muffliato to help noisy footsteps.
Sirius eases out into the hallway with aching care and waits for the discolouration of air that he knows is Remus.
Then the living room door opens suddenly, and Kingsley steps out. Remus and Sirius freeze, and Sirius wishes distantly that they could just have a break of luck once in a while.
As if in answer to his silent prayer, Kingsley doesn’t even look up at them, he just walks down the hall and into the kitchen. On his way back, he is carrying a bag of crisps, and he says, off-handed, “I know you’re there.”
They remain still and silent. Kingsley stops, and turns to look at them, eyes resting on the shivers in the air, like heat waves, which betray their location.
“No, really. Remus. Sirius. I know you’re there.”
“Fuck,” Sirius says, with feeling. He and Remus drop their disillusionment charms in the same moment, and raise their wands, duelling ready. “This sucks.”
Moony remains silent and grim-faced, watching Kingsley for signs of what spell he might cast first. The living room door swings open again and Andromeda’s voice calls out, “Mr Shacklebolt, be a dear and get us a glass of water too.”
“You can put down your wands,” Kingsley says, “Mrs Tonks explained. Mr Excer showed me your letter from Lily, and the confession slips from the Death Eaters you’ve seen. It’s too bad you didn’t catch them and send them back, you know. We’ve been looking for two of those guys for ages.” He pauses and watches them with an amused smirk, “I was never entirely convinced, you know. The Ministry has been casting you in a terrible light, Sirius, but it’s only because pretty much everyone that’s ever met you seems a little hesitant about the whole thing. They’ve got to work extra hard. I’m glad to see you too, Remus. No-one had any idea where you’d disappeared too.”
“Sirius and I were travelling,” Remus says with distant surprise.
“Well, I do see that now.”
“Kingsley?” Andromeda’s voice floats out into the hallway, questioning, “Where have you gone?”
“I’ve found two trespassers,” he grins at them–his teeth are starkly white against his dark skin. Slowly, Sirius returns his wand to his pocket, and shares a silent-conversation-heavy look with Remus. Kingsley claps them both on the back and leads them into the living room.
“Sirius! Remus!” Andromeda smiles, and stands up to hug them. “We didn’t expect you back so soon. We were just discussing where you might have gone.”
“Been to Hogwarts,” Sirius replies gruffly.
“And we found something very interesting there.”
“You broke in to Hogwarts?” Kingsley asks, looking a bit awed. “God help us all if you had been an evil bastard, Black.”
Sirius and Remus return his apprising gaze with matching wolfish expressions.
“What did you find?” asks Ted from the sofa.
“We know where Peter Pettigrew is.”
Kingsley alters his expression to shock. “How did you…?”
“Bill Weasley left us a gift. Peter’s the middle kid, Percy’s, pet.”
“His pet?” Kingsley questions.
“He’s an animagus,” Remus says. Sirius notices his care not to look at Sirius, which he takes to mean that if at all possible, they’ll keep Padfoot a secret, just in case.
“An animagus?” Kingsley, the poor man, looks overwhelmed, an unusual expression on his normally secure and in-control face.
“A rat, to be exact,” Sirius supplies quickly, hoping to steer away from why or how Peter, a mediocre student at best, and none too creative, had managed such a feat.
“If you catch him,” John, who had been sitting in the armchair surveying the company he now kept with a confused pride, speaks quietly, “You’ll have to be acquitted.”
“That’s the hope.”
Arthur has always been a man who appreciates a good surprise. It surprises him that Muggles can come up with such interesting things– clever things wizards would never have invented. He’s surprised every time Molly comes to him with her hands pressed over her stomach and a pleased smile, telling him they’ll have to build another room off the side of the Burrow, because the Weasley family was about to gain another member. He had been surprised when Bill had returned home with a note from McGonagall saying he was being slotted into the third year runes class because he had a knack for picking out old writing.
When Arthur opens the front door of the Burrow at eleven thirty in the morning to find Remus Lupin on his doorstep and a huge dog perched at his feet, he is certainly very surprised; but he’s not sure whether this surprise is a blessing or a curse. The dog has an open, friendly face, and his fur is lush and thick. Remus settles one hand on top of its head, as if to keep it in place.
Lupin himself does not look anything like the person Arthur remembers from Order meetings in these last months before Voldemort’s downfall. The Remus of those dark times had been pale and painfully thin; permanent dark circles were imprinted beneath his eyes, and his hair had, overnight it seemed, decided to melt from teak to greying brown.
This Remus is taller than Arthur had thought - perhaps the way he carries himself, with some confidence, has made him a larger person. He wears dark jeans and a Muggle T-shirt with a dusty dark grey cloak over top, travel-worn around the hem; but he fills them nicely, and the quality of the fabric looks better than he’s ever seen Remus wear. His hair cannot retreat in the greying front, of course, but instead of hanging limp, it’s longish and healthy around his ears, palm sugar shot through with silver. There is a new scar along the line of his chin, but it only serves to make him look roguish.
The most notable change is in expression. Remus of the previous year had deadness behind his eyes, and a defeated turn of his mouth. There is still some sadness lurking in the shadows of his face, but the set of his chin is firm, his head tilted as if trying to prevent a smile.
“Hello, Arthur.” Remus says, politely. Even his voice seems changed, of a richer timbre.
“Remus Lupin?” Arthur asks, stricken.
“Everyone thinks you’re dead,” Arthur chokes. But it is a foolish thing to say–Remus looks about as far from dead as Arthur’s ever seen. He can’t prevent his mouth from running off anyway, “There’s rumours, saying you killed yourself, or Black got you; you just…poof…disappeared.”
“Been on the road,” Remus says, grinning sharply. “Freelance curse-breaker.”
“Oh,” Arthur mumbles. “But why are you here?”
“I have a friend to see,” Remus replies, and then the smile sharpens further, until Arthur feels he could cut himself on the dangerous edges of it. “May I come in?”
“Er.” There is a moment in which Arthur hesitates, caught in Remus’s barbed grin and the bright white teeth of his dog, their tall and sudden other-worldliness, and then he remembers that this is Remus Lupin, a man whom Arthur has, on previous occasions, trusted with his own life, and those of his family. He nods shortly, and opens the door wider, “Of, course, of course, old chap; let me just tell Molly to put on the kettle.”
Remus follows inside, the dog at his heels with no sign of command. When Arthur shows Remus into the living room, the dog stops and sits at his feet again; it looks tense and nervous, all the lines of its black body vibrating with energy.
“Beautiful dog, that is,” Arthur remarks.
Remus laughs a little, and then pats the dog’s head with tender hands, “Yes, I suppose so. He gets a big head if I tell him too often.”
Arthur leaves him standing in the living room, studying the more recent photographs on the wall and mantle place, new additions since the last time he’d come to the Burrow.
“Molly,” Arthur says, voice low, as he enters the kitchen, “You’ll never guess who is standing in our living room.”
“It wasn’t Dedalus?” she asks, drying a large ceramic vase as she surveys the line of dishes cleaning themselves. “He said he might pop ‘round–he can’t do a hat-mending charm properly, and I said I’d show him.”
“It’s Remus Lupin. Remus Lupin is in the living room.”
“No,” she gasps, putting the case down gingerly, and flicking her eyes to his in surprise. “I thought he was…”
“No; it’s him, alright. I cast an identity charm on him in the hallway. Just in case.”
“Well, I’ll be dammed. He must be in a terrible state, missing for a year. I’ll get some biscuits; oh, poor dear.”
“That’s the other thing, Molly: he looks fine. Better than I’ve seen him since, I don’t know, maybe his 6th year of Hogwarts, when we first spoke about bringing that lot into the Order. He looks a little sad. But good.”
“Well, what does he want?”
“Says he’s ‘here about a friend’ or some such business.”
“Whatever could he mean by that?” Molly asks, but Arthur is interrupted from answering by Percy coming in through the door. Percy inspects them with contemplative five-going-on-six year old eyes, magnified by his perfectly circular glasses.
“What’s goin’ on?” he asks, the seriousness of his expression mocked by the faint whistle in his speech created by his missing front tooth. Scabbers the rat perches on his shoulder, cleaning his nose fastidiously.
“We’ve just had a visitor,” Arthur says, “Perhaps he’d like to say hello to you. In the living room.”
“Are you jus’ trying to make me go ‘way?” Percy questions.
“Maybe,” Molly says, smiling to him, “But go along anyway.”
Percy glares at them, but leaves the room nonetheless.
“Well,” Arthur says, folding his arms across his chest, “I don’t know what they’re doing. Remus doesn’t look like a madman but, frankly, I’m a little wary. He’s been through too much to just come away the same.”
“That poor man,” Molly sighs.
That is when Percy Weasley screams. A child screaming is not always a terrifying sound. Sometimes, screaming adults are worse, as one wonders what horrors could make a full-grown man into a shivering coward. But when infused with real terror, there is nothing more chilling than the cries of a five-year old boy.
Arthur sprints into the living room with Molly only half a step behind them, a kitchen knife in one hand and a wand in the other.
Percy stands in the corner of the room, sobbing, but looking thankfully uninjured, so Arthur quickly turns his attention to the scene in the middle of the room. Remus’s hands are clutched around Scabbers’s tiny rodent head, and the expression of his face is of murderous fury. The dog at his feet has his hackles completely raised and a growl like a storm rests in his throat. His teeth are only inches from the rat.
“What is going on here?” Molly shrieks.
That is when the rat begins to change. His movement from animal to human is not as smooth and effortless as the few Animagi Arthur has seen; instead of the shimmering air and sudden appearance of another form, it’s almost possible to see the limbs growing and stretching. It makes Arthur feel a little sick.
Peter Pettigrew looks as different from the last time Arthur saw him (in a human body, anyway) as Remus; but his change is not for the better. His skin looks greasy and too red, and his fingernails are long, claw-like, and yellow. Peter had always had a cherub’s sweet and innocent face, but it is drawn into a terrible smirk – half coward, half maniac.
Remus seems to have been expecting this sudden change, and so even though he is forced to drop Peter, his long, elegant fingers encircle Peter’s neck.
“Oh god,” Molly cries, running to the corner to wrap her arms protectively around Percy who has abandoned his tears for a silence that betrays more fear than any commotion ever could.
“But…you’re dead,” Arthur hears himself saying, distantly, like listening to a conversation through a glass pressed to the wall.
Remus pulls his wand hand up; but in that same movement, Peter pulls something from his pocket–a silver knife. The handle is bone white and the blade has some sort of pattern inscribed on the surface. Peter runs the flat of the blade against Remus’s arm - Remus hisses, and his eyes brighten with pain as he drops his wand. The air clogs with the nauseating smell of burning flesh. Peter quickly pulls the knife up and rests the point just at Remus’s throat. His eyes flash up empty and sick, and he curves his mouth into a twisted sneer.
Arthur is at the point of thinking nothing he ever sees will shock him again, and then the black dog, who’d been about to leap at Peter’s leg, jaws open, blooms into Sirius Black. Arthur is literally dumbfounded; his lungs are no longer functioning, and his jaw is not capable of movement.
Sirius’s wand is out, and his face is carved in lines of stark fury and desperation, “Let him go, Pettigrew. If you hurt another single hair on Moony, there won’t be any of you left for the Aurors when they get here. Arthur’s seen you’re alive. I have a witness, I won’t need a body.”
“Hollow promises, Padfoot. You aren’t going to risk hurting me. I’ll kill him before you’re even close. Drop your wand.”
“I’ll kill you, Peter. You fucking disgusting rat bastard. Murderous little shit. Traitor! You’re…you’re…” Sirius’s hands are shaking with fury –his skin and speech are not enough to contain or convey the magnitude of his hatred. He slides into a duelling stance, and the tip of his wand flares gold, but the spark dies as Peter touches the knife to Remus’s skin, and Remus makes a tiny noise, swallowing and trying to draw his head back, straining tightly.
“Drop. Your. Wand.” Peter growls.
“Sirius,” Remus whispers, “You have to go.”
Sirius looks about as close to tears as Arthur has ever seen him, “Fuck. Shit. Damn. Why couldn’t this be easy?” He stops and fixes his eyes on Remus’s, dark and wild. “Okay. Okay. Love you.”
And then Sirius disappears, the crack of Apparition loud and hot in the small living room.
Peter laughs, a black, broken sound like kicking mouldering leaves, “Well, Moony, seems as though not much has changed, eh? Still taking falls for ol’ Padfoot. Still forgiving him for getting you just about killed; and he’s still running away, isn’t he?”
Remus doesn’t reply – he doesn’t even look at Peter. He blinks his eyes closed, and breathes out slowly through his nose. Peter looks a little frustrated at not getting a reaction, and so he puts a bit of pressure on the dagger point. A single red bead of blood trickles down Remus’s neck and soaks into the collar of his shirt, but not so much as a muscle twitches on his face.
“Okay,” Peter says, turning away in disgust, “If Molly and Arthur could please put their wands on the ground, that’d be very nice. Then I’m going to walk to the front door, which Percy is going to so kindly open for me, and he will take my wand out of my pocket and give it to me, so I can Apparate away. How does that sound to everyone?”
Arthur struggles through the honey-thick fear that has been making his mind into a soup of unknowns for some kind of solution. Nothing. Nothing.
“Wands?” Peter says, impatiently.
The second they drop them on the floor, the Aurors come.
It all happens nearly too fast for Arthur to follow, and the whole Auror department is in his house in what seems to be only a few seconds.
The first man appears silently. It’s Kingsley Shacklebolt, with some sort of technique for silent apparation. He blinks into existence only inches behind Peter, and in one smooth motion, his large arms grab Peter’s. Peter shrieks, dropping his hold on Remus and the dagger. Remus sags, his breath coming out in a huge gasp. Sirius appears next, taking two giant steps to catch Remus as he crashes to the floor.
Arthur strides to the corner and drops to his knees, gathering Percy and Molly into a protective embrace, and when he turns back, Remus is enfolded in Sirius’s arms, dry eyed but shivering. Sirius holds him like he plans never to let go again, and presses his lips to the top of Remus’s hair again and again.
“Goodness,” Molly says, watching them, and Arthur manages a shaky laugh. The sudden in-flux of people, with more cracks of Apparition every second, quickly fills the living room and soon enough there are men and women standing in the front garden or peering in from the hallway.
Moody and Kingsley handle Peter, who isn’t stupid enough to be fighting, but still seems confused at having been caught. A man cuffs him to a collection of faintly glimmering spell-chains. No one has any sympathy for Peter.
In contrast, most people seem to be constantly turning to look at Sirius looking sheepish and guilty, some people come up to them and try to apologize, but they all seem mixed up and insincere. After a couple minutes of this, Remus lifts his head from the crook of Sirius’s neck. He slides his uninjured arm over Sirius’s shoulder – the other held in close to his chest, and begins to glare with strangely dangerous eyes at anyone who dares approach them. Sirius stands up, supporting Remus partially, and yells, “Great, you all feel bad! Now fuck off.”
When Dumbledore arrives, maybe twenty minutes later, Molly has already ensconced herself in the kitchen brewing a steady stream of tea. She has Bill, called home from where he was playing across the meadow, setting cookies on a tray. The children have all been collected into a corner under the watchful eye of Andromeda.
Sirius and Remus are sitting almost on each other’s laps at the kitchen table. If Arthur hadn’t known they were together before now, he wouldn’t have any doubts at this point. They receive a few looks, but neither seem to notice or care. Some part of Arthur wants to applaud them for their audacity.
Under Dumbledore’s instruction, the house is methodically, though gently, searched for any signs of communication with other Death Eaters or objects of a dark persuasion. They confiscate one Weasley family heirloom, a cursed doorstop shaped like a hedgehog, but find nothing that Peter could have, or would have used.
By five o’clock, the Ministry is no longer in occupation of the Burrow; Arthur and Molly are standing in the corner of the kitchen, talking quietly; and, as if in mirror to them, Sirius and Remus are doing them same on the other side of the room, their heads inclined into one another’s and their hands shaping the air in front of them, catching fingers into each other’s expressive gestures.
Andromeda, with the aid of Bill and Nymphadora, is organising some sort of confusing game with the children, which seems to involve sitting in a circle and cheering a lot. Arthur loves his kids with every inch of his heart; even so, he can’t help the sense of relief at entrusting them to someone else, temporarily. He doesn’t know Andromeda very well, but anyone can see, just looking at her, that she’s a mother, through and through.
Dumbledore sweeps into the kitchen then, closing the door behind him, and spreading his arms wide, as if collecting them all into an airy embrace. “Moody has just gone,” he says, “So that’s the last of it. Sirius, the official documents for your pardon will arrive in the morning.”
Sirius nods his head once, coolly, but Arthur’s eyes are sharp enough to catch the release of anxiety from his neck and shoulders, and his brilliant smile as he turns his head to Remus. Remus returns it.
“So, I do believe some celebrations are in order,” Dumbledore declares, twinkling at them. He waves his wand and a bottle of champagne drops out of the air into his other hand. Molly pats Arthur on the arm, and then bustles back over to the oven, which he is sure contains some delightful casserole.
Remus coughs quietly, and steps forward a little, “Sir, may we speak about Harry first?”
Dumbledore inclines his head graciously, “Yes,” he says, “What about him?”
“We’d like to go get him,” Remus says, “He’s with a friend, and Ted Tonks. We wanted a wizard’s protection, too, in addition to Lily’s…should Peter escape. But we’d like him with us now.”
Dumbledore frowns, and sets the champagne bottle on the table. Arthur can tell from his pointed expression that there is about to be some sort of Conversation. He turns to help Molly with getting a stack of dishes down, and fakes disinterest.
He can’t see their expressions, but he can picture them perfectly: Dumbledore with an affable smile that hides a steely resolve and self-assurance; Sirius looking haughty, chin pulled up proudly; and Remus behind him, expressionless to anyone who didn’t know him--but to those who did, the turn of his mouth would display unflinching support of Sirius’s words.
“That house is horrible. Those people are horrible. You don’t understand, Professor– it took him twice as long to learn to walk as most kids, and they don’t dress him properly or encourage him–never!” Sirius cries.
“You wouldn’t know that any better than I,” Dumbledore replies, evenly.
“That’s what you think; jolly good protection by the way– Remus and I have been visiting with him every other week since we left! No one ever noticed!”
Even Dumbledore cannot hold back a small sound of surprise. Arthur, who has always been steadfastly loyal to Dumbledore, finds himself suddenly on the side of Remus and Sirius. Dumbledore says, stiffly, “That house is safe for him; Voldemort could return. Disappearance is not the same as death–what happened here today is surely a lesson in that.”
“Fine. But we can keep him safe; I’m James’s blood; his aunt was my mother’s cousin. I know it’s tentative, but we’ve done a blood spell, and you know as well as I do–that’s practically deeper magic than Harry’s protective spell.”
“Only a few people know that he’s with the Dursleys; you’ll be under public eye now. Reporters will have your every escapade on the front cover of the Daily Prophet; if the child goes with you, he’ll never lead a normal life.”
“You think living in a cupboard is a normal life? I’m his godfather and I want the right that James and Lily gave to me. I’m his godfather.”
Arthur can practically feel Dumbledore’s glare through the fabric of his shirt. He looks over to the children, who have been distracted from their game and are watching the adults in the corner with wide-eyed, rapt attention.
“I won’t entrust one child to another, Mr Black. The fit you’re displaying is certainly not–”
“He isn’t yours to entrust, sir. May I speak with you for a moment in the next room? We’ll be right back, Pads.” Remus’s voice is deceptively quiet. There is some undercurrent of an almost animalistic rumble that sends shivers down Arthur’s spine. He turns to look, and Remus is following Dumbledore out into the hallway. Both their heads are bowed.
“Well,” Andromeda says, cheerily, clapping her hands together and laughing nervously, “Wasn’t that exciting. Let’s see, whose turn is it?”
The children all look away slowly. The older, sheepishly, and the twins, specifically, looking like they’d rather follow the show on their stubby little legs. Arthur might have joined them, if he’d been that sort of man. Instead, he moves to sit at the table where Sirius has just collapsed tiredly into a chair.
“Alright?” Arthur asks, carefully. Sirius looks up at him with a grim smile.
“Exhausted,” Sirius says, “Moony is too. And he hasn’t let anyone touch his burn yet.”
“Couldn’t you just heal it?”
Sirius shakes his head darkly, “Wouldn’t work.”
“Was the blade spelled?”
Sirius shrugs, “Something like that.”
They sit in silence for a moment. Arthur studies Sirius carefully. In the same way that Remus looks like a new and healthier person, Sirius does not look like a man who’s been on the run from the Ministry for a year; he does look worn out, and the same sadness that Remus has is settled around his eyes; but otherwise he is strikingly handsome–his hair a little too long for the current fashion, thick and coal-black. His skin is clear as milk, except for at his nose where it is peeling slightly–evidence of a gentle sunburn.
“For what it’s worth,” Arthur says finally, “I think you should have Harry. I remember him, from when Lily brought him ‘round to that Christmas party. He was a happy baby. He liked all of you, like he was everyone’s baby, not just the Potters’.”
Sirius smiles, a distant and reminiscing look falling across his face, “James and Lily – they made a good kid.” He glances at the closed hallway door; there is no audible sound from the other side. “I know we’ll get Harry. Moony is mad now…so…. We can’t let him stay like he is now, no matter what, it’s as simple as that,” Sirius picks as his nails a little sadly, “The thing is, I’ve always been Dumbledore’s man. And now…well, we’re not really on his good side, I don’t think.”
Arthur is trying to think of a reply when the door opens again and, after a moment, Remus and Dumbledore enter. Remus has a vague little grin, one that betrays none of his thoughts. Dumbledore, on the other hand, looks…Arthur has never seen anything even close to it before…Dumbledore looks chastened.
He crosses the room back to Sirius and glances away, out the window for a moment, before refocusing the entire intensity of his blue gaze on Sirius, who matches it.
“Sirius,” he says, softly, “I’m sorry I did not trust you enough. I believed too easily in your betrayal. I am a powerful wizard, and a wise one, but sometimes I can make mistakes.”
Sirius opens his mouth to reply, but instead what comes out is a laugh. He stands up and claps Dumbledore on the back. “Oh man,” he says, through his guffaws, “Moony must’ve been angrier than I thought. Well, apology accepted.”
Dumbledore has the grace not to look flustered; in fact, he smiles a little, and even lets a small chuckle escape. “Concerning Harry,” he says, “We will, of course, need to discuss further protection, and how to handle the reporters, and I’d like to meet this Muggle, Mr Excer, at some point. He sounds like an interesting man; but I think, for now, maybe it’s best if you all just have some rest. Even an old man like me can appreciate that sometimes happiness is worth more than safety.”
Sirius nods, still grinning widely. He turns to call to Molly across the room, “Whatever you’re making smells like heaven, Molly-my-dear, but I have a godson to collect.” He pats Dumbledore on the back one more time, “Thank you, Sir. We’ll pop ‘round next week or thereabouts.”
Then he lopes from the room. Remus smiles sardonically at Arthur. “Thank you, Molly, Arthur, and I’m really sorry about bringing this issue here.” He turns to wave to Andromeda, “We’ll probably be at John’s tomorrow, if you’d like to stop by. Harry’s got some things stored there. Thank you for everything; I’ll tell Ted you’re over here.”
Remus follows Sirius out the door.
“What a day,” Arthur says, breathing out a lungful of air. And no one can argue with that.
Home is dusty and has an unloved smell about it, like dead flowers and old ashes; but the lights work just as well as ever, with the bulb in the entrance fizzing a little before blooming golden and friendly.
They’d bought the house on Alice St., which was in the most South-Westerly part of Leeds, for several reasons. The first is the Georgian basement, an attribute Remus insisted on should some emergency occur in which he was stuck at home during a full-moon. The second is the large back garden–Sirius harbours a secret love for gardening that Remus had only discovered when he’d gone out into the yard to check that the Muggle washing machine was still draining properly even after being exposed to Sirius’s frustrated hexing, and discovered Sirius surreptitiously planting runner beans. The last reason is that it is beautiful, tall and old with a healthy wealth of red and green ivy embracing the red brick exterior. The upstairs picture windows still have original lead-paned glass, bubble thick with irregularities, and utterly charming.
Harry sneezes sleepily when Sirius carries him inside, whispering comfortingly to him. “What do you think?” he asks the boy, lifting him up over his shoulder, “Look like home?”
“Okay,” Harry replies, yawning.
They’ll have to look up some proper cleaning charms in the morning, Remus decides, but for now he follows Sirius upstairs. Remus spells the dust off the single bed in the office and then takes extra pillows from the hall closet to line the edge so Harry doesn’t fall off if he rolls in his sleep.
“We’ll move the piano, and all the books into the box room,” Remus whispers, and Harry mumbles hazily and relinquishes his grasp on Sirius’s shirt, “Then he’ll have a proper bedroom.”
Sirius nods, and flashes his teeth, brilliantly white in the dark room. Remus cracks the window open to start the process of airing everything out, and then walks back down stairs, eliminating the chance of a take-away. He’s a little hungry but, upon inspection, he finds the phone line has been disconnected. He discovers a can of tomato soup in the back of one cupboard, and by the time Sirius is back downstairs, he’s set two steaming bowls on the table. At the last second, in a fit of romanticism, he lights a candle. When Sirius comes in, he sees Remus looking at the candle with hesitation, as though he might change his mind and put it away.
Sirius laughs quietly, and hugs Remus from behind, his arms sliding underneath Remus’s, squeezing tightly. He presses his face to the back of his neck, and huffs, breath hot and soft on Remus’s bare skin.
“Oh, Moony. What have we gotten ourselves into this time?” he whispers.
Remus turns in Sirius’s arms, and settles his hands on Sirius’s waist, “Something good.”
“You would say that. You secretly wanted us to have lots of kids, I’ll bet.”
Remus grins and tips his head back to accept Sirius’s chaste kiss. “It’s good to be home,” he murmurs against Sirius’s mouth.
“Looks just the same,” he replies, “Do you remember the inside when we bought it; all the bare floorboards and empty space, and the woman in B&Q who helped us get paint and then tried to call security after I kept trying to get the tins open and see the colours?”
“I learned an important lesson from B&Q.”
“Sirius Black should never be allowed in a room with a rotator saw.”
Sirius hums softly, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, and then asks, “Soup?”
Remus wakes with Sirius pressed against his back, and sun too bright through the window. Harry’s small face is peeking at him over the edge of the bed.
“Morning Moony,” he says brightly, “Juice?”
Remus groans and drops his head back onto the bed. Sirius wiggles next to him – a sure sign he’s starting to wake up but trying his best not to.
“Juice?” Harry repeats. Remus rolls over and stares at the ceiling, drawing in a long breath, then he untangles himself from the sheets and Sirius’s legs, and Sirius growls in protest, catching one hand on Remus’s ankle as Remus moves to crawl off the bed.
“Harry is looking for a juice fix, Padfoot,” Remus says, coughing to clear his throat from morning stickiness.
“Mmm,” Sirius mumbles into his pillow, “Be down ina min’…”
Remus shakes his head and pulls on the jeans he’d abandoned on the floor the night before, and lifts Harry into his arms, “You are a juice junkie, Mr Potter,” he says, ruffling Harry’s morning hair, an even more terrifying beast of dark locks than usual, if that were possible.
“Yes. I like juice,” Harry says, agreeably, wrapping his arms around Remus’s neck.
Remus adjusts Harry more comfortably in his arms. For the first time since Sirius awkwardly knocked their mouths together in the green tree-dappled light behind the Potter’s broom shed in the summer between their fifth and sixth years, Remus feels the sunshine-hot feeling blossoming in his chest is justified.
“I think,” he whispers to Harry, like the best kind of secret, “That we are going to be okay.”
There are tunnels through the stone
Where weaker hearts have made a home