A black dog, the size of a bear, sat on the curb outside 4 Privet Drive. In the gray dawn, its saucer-sized eyes seemed to glow, reflecting the orange light of a nearby street lamp. The casual observer, yawning and idly looking out their window to check the weather, would have been startled by the creature.
But Harry, who had barely slept from excitement, was not a casual observer, and, from his second-floor bedroom window, he recognized the dog immediately as his godfather, Sirius Black.
Harry sprung from his bed and dressed quickly. His trunk was already packed. He had, in fact, barely unpacked it since arriving at the Dursleys, two weeks before, so sure had he been that Peter Pettigrew’s trial would be over quickly, and Sirius would be able to take him in for the summer.
It had been a longer wait than he’d expected.
Then, yesterday afternoon, he’d received an owl bearing the short message:
Trial over. Pick you up tomorrow. -Sirius
Harry grabbed his trunk and Hedwig’s cage - she hooted at him chidingly - and rushed downstairs. He paused in the entryway to the kitchen, where the Dursleys were already awake. It was odd to see all three up so early, but then, Harry reflected, they probably just wanted to be sure he was actually leaving. None of them looked at him though; they just sat at the table, frowning over a meal of grapefruit wedges, which were a part of Dudley’s diet. It was hard for Harry not to grin. He didn’t know what he and Sirius would have for breakfast, but he knew it wasn’t going to be grapefruit.
“Well,” he said cheerfully. “I’m off.”
The Dursleys ignored him. Dudley scowled harder at his grapefruit.
Harry hesitated for a moment. He felt that there should be more to say. He didn’t know when he would see the Dursleys again. Perhaps never.
The Dursleys still said nothing. The TV set in their fridge nattered on with the morning news. Uncle Vernon prodded at his grapefruit. Hedwig hooted softly. Immediately, Uncle Vernon whipped his head up, his face contorted in a glare.
“Get that bloody bird out of the kitchen,” he snarled.
Harry bit down the urge to snap back that Hedwig wasn’t in the kitchen; she was in the hallway.
“All right,” he said coolly. “I will. Have a good summer then.”
He didn’t wait for a response. He just pulled his luggage out the front door and onto the dew-wet lawn. Padfoot bounded forward as soon as Harry stepped outside, a humanlike grin on his canine face. Then, suddenly, where the dog had been was a man, who met Harry halfway and grabbed him in a tight hug.
“Good morning, Harry,” said Sirius brightly, when he released Harry from the hug, though he kept both hands on Harry’s shoulders. He looked much better than he had when last Harry had seen him, on the night he had revealed himself and captured Peter Pettigrew. His hair was short and neat, and his face had fullness and color to it. He was no longer in the ragged robes he had escaped Azkaban in but new Muggle clothing.
“Morning,” said Harry, beaming. “When are we leaving?”
Sirius laughed. “As soon as our ride shows up.”
He scanned the street, and Harry looked with him. He knew Sirius had once owned a magical, flying motorbike – the same flying motorbike Hagrid had first taken Harry to Privet Drive in. He wondered if they would be leaving in that. It made a pleasing sense to Harry.
But the motorbike didn’t arrive. Instead, a very old and very worn Muggle car turned the corner, rattling terribly, and Sirius’s face lit up with a smile.
On a street as well-maintained as Privet Drive, a car as shabby as this one was almost as fantastical a sight as a flying motorbike. The car seemed patched together from pieces of other cars, and if it could be said to have a unifying color, that color would be rust. Harry had the feeling it was being held together by magic.
But he didn’t care about any of that, because behind the wheel of the car was Professor Lupin.
“Neither of you said anything!” cried Harry as Lupin got out of the car.
Sirius laughed again, and it was easy to see the man he had been in the pictures of Harry’s parents’ wedding.
“We weren’t sure it was going to work out, but Moony has kindly offered to take us in until I fix up my place.”
“It’s my pleasure, really,” said Lupin, smiling. Like Sirius, he looked much better than the last time Harry had seen him. His face had rounded out and gained color from his year at Hogwarts, but he seemed to have changed even more over just the past couple weeks: he stood straighter. He smiled more broadly. He looked younger.
“Ready to go, Harry?” asked Sirius.
Harry glanced back at the house. All three Dursleys stood in the front window, watching them with narrowed expressions. When they spotted him looking at them, they all flinched. He raised his hand to wave good-bye and saw with satisfaction that they all flinched again.
“Yes,” he said, dropping his hand as he turned back. He smiled. “Let’s go.”
“Order as much as you like, Harry,” advised Sirius, as they settled in. He put his arm along the back of the booth, behind Lupin. “My money’s just been sitting in a bank for thirteen years. I have a lot of spending to make up for.”
After three weeks of being forced to subsist on Dudley’s diet, it felt like a miracle. Harry ordered bacon and sausage and toast and eggs and beans and roasted potatoes. Sirius laughed, but ordered the same. Lupin, with a shake of his head, ordered tea and toast.
“What do you normally like to do over the summer, Harry?” asked Lupin, after their food arrived. Sirius, indiscreetly, dumped half his plate onto Lupin’s.
Harry hesitated before choosing to answer honestly.
“Normally I just try to keep out of Dudley’s way.”
Lupin looked thoughtful. “Well, I think we’ve already gotten that part taken care of.”
“We’ll figure out something, I’m sure,” said Sirius. He leaned across the table with a conspiratorial grin. “Now, I want to hear all about Moony as a professor. Moony only says he was all right, but I reckon he’s selling himself short.”
Harry looked at Lupin in surprise.
“All right? You were the best Defense Against the Dark Arts professor we ever had!”
“It’s not like I had much in the way of competition,” pointed out Lupin.
Harry shook his head and turned to Sirius.
“He was better than most of our other professors, too. Our first class, he took us to take care of a Boggart and….”
He filled Sirius in on the whole tale. Sirius roared with laughter when Harry relayed the part about Lupin sending a wad of gum hurtling into Peeves’ nose, and then laughed even harder at the part about Snape wearing Neville’s grandmother’s clothes.
“You always were sly,” said Sirius with a proud look at Lupin. He took a deep breath. “I just wish I’d been there to see it.”
“Yes, well,” said Lupin. He took a sip of his tea, but behind his teacup, Harry could see that he was smiling.
Harry was ready to help Sirius with the money at the end – wizard adults rarely knew how Muggle money worked, in Harry’s experience, and Sirius, after twelve years in Azkaban would likely be particularly lost. But Sirius surprised him by offering his wad of bills to Lupin first. It seemed almost rote, like the way Ron immediately deferred to Harry or Hermione when it came to Muggle matters.
Lupin separated out some of the bills and handed the rest back to Sirius, then flagged down their waitress, a curly-haired girl who only looked a few years older than Harry. She paused as she took the cash and then lowered her voice, glancing around to make sure no one overhead them.
“I just wanted to say, I think you’re an adorable family,” she said.
Both Lupin and Sirius blushed. Harry grinned. Nobody had ever said anything like that on the rare occasions he’d been allowed out to a restaurant with the Dursleys.
“Thank you,” he said.
“My mother was a Muggle,” explained Lupin. He smiled wryly. “And sometimes it’s been easier to find work in the Muggle world than the wizarding one.”
“I could kill Snape,” he said.
“I’m very aware, Sirius,” said Lupin. He started the car with his wand, clearly eager to get off the topic of Snape. Sirius scowled more. He was staring at Lupin intently, to a degree that made Harry wonder if Sirius remembered he was here as well.
“Sirius has a point,” said Harry. “It’s not fair he got Professor Lupin sacked.”
“I resigned,” said Lupin. He had gone a bit white around his lips, and it occurred to Harry that, even after a year as having him as a professor, he’d never seen Lupin angry or annoyed with anyone – or at least not obviously. But he was definitely annoyed with Sirius.
“Under pressure!” said Sirius, nearly a shout.
“What are you doing now?” asked Harry quickly, trying to defuse the argument.
Lupin and Sirius glanced at each other.
“What I’ve always done,” said Lupin, after he and Sirius had communicated whatever it was. “Odd jobs. A bit of research and editing.”
“He’s very smart, our Moony,” said Sirius quietly, and Harry wasn’t quite sure who was he speaking to. He was staring out the window now, a stubborn set to his mouth.
The rest of the drive passed peacefully. They were soon in countryside, and Harry watched green hills and grazing sheep roll by the window. Gradually, the hills became taller and steeper, the landscape a little wilder. Mountains rose ahead of them, and the towns and barns they passed were fewer and farther apart. They were in the type of wilderness Harry associated with the landscape around Hogwarts, during the final stretch of the Hogwarts Express’s journey.
Finally, they arrived at Lupin’s. The car came to a gasping, shuddering halt in a gravel driveway. The house was a small, snug-looking, two-story building, with blue shutters and a blue door that looked like they hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in a long time. The front garden was overrun with shrubs and lilac bushes, and a small gate led to a back garden. A haphazard stone walkway led to the door.
“It’s small,” began Lupin.
“It’s amazing,” said Harry, already halfway out the car door. He pulled Hedwig’s cage out carefully behind him and let Sirius grab his trunk.
They walked into the house together. Unlike the Burrow, it was the same size on the inside as it looked on the outside. The floors were wooden and worn, but covered in rugs, and the furniture all looked old but comfortable. There were a lot of books, and Harry recognized several items from Lupin’s office when he had been a professor.
“You’ll be in my old room,” said Lupin. “It’s just upstairs. It shouldn’t smell too dusty.”
Harry nodded and raced up the stairs, eager to see his new room.
Lupin’s old room didn’t smell dusty, but it did smell like it had been aired out recently and hastily. The walls were whitewashed, and the floor was as worn and rug-covered as downstairs. A pile of quilts sat on one end of the small, wood-framed bed, and a bookcase stood by the head of the bed, a lamp on top of it marking it as a makeshift nightstand. A desk was pushed against the wall by the door, its drawers empty except for a few quills and rolls of parchment. It was a cozy space, but, except for the books on the bookshelf, there was little to show its previous occupant’s personality. Harry wondered if Lupin had taken everything down in anticipation of his arrival.
He set Hedwig’s cage on the floor and opened it for her. She hooted indignantly and flew to the windowsill above the bed. Harry opened the window for her and took in the view. He saw green hills, broken up by dark copses of trees. He caught the promising silver gleams of several creeks and streams. There wasn’t another dwelling in sight. Hedwig would have plenty of space in which to hunt, and Harry realized he might even have enough space to practice flying.
He got off the bed and bent down to examine the bookshelf. There were what looked like old school books – some of the titles Harry even recognized from his own classes – and dog-eared Muggle paperbacks and several wizarding history books and books dedicated to Dark creatures, though none, Harry noticed, explicitly about werewolves. He grabbed one book that looked interesting and flipped through it. The pages fell naturally to where a photograph was being used as a bookmark.
Four boys, a couple years older than him, waved merrily at him from within the photo. With a jolt, he recognized his father first, James’ thin face almost the mirror to Harry’s own. James was sitting on the desk in the very room Harry was currently in, though the desk had been pushed against a different wall then.
Lupin and Sirius both sat on the bed. Lupin was leaning against the headboard, and Sirius was leaning against the window. Their legs were a tangle under a large piece of parchment that spread across both their laps.
And Peter Pettigrew sat on the floor, his round, mousy face bright and happy, and several more lengths of parchment stacked beside him.
Harry stared at the four of them, and then he stared at the desk where his father had lounged some twenty years before.
“I hope it’s not too small,” said Lupin’s voice behind him, and Harry jerked to his feet and whirled around. Lupin stood in the doorway, Sirius just a step behind him, Harry’s trunk in hand.
“No!” he said quickly. “It’s brilliant. Really.”
Lupin looked curiously at the photograph in Harry’s hands.
“What is that?” he asked.
Harry showed them.
Sirius’s face darkened as he looked at Peter.
“I don’t like to think of him in Azkaban,” he said.
“If anyone deserves it…” began Lupin uncertainly. He trailed off.
“No one deserves it,” said Sirius.
Harry said nothing. It had been his decision not to let Lupin and Sirius kill Pettigrew, and he still felt like it was the right one – at least for their sake. But, after everything he’d learned about Dementors over the last year, he didn’t know if it were any better for Pettigrew.
They all stood there for a moment in silence, and then Sirius said quietly, “What year do you think this was?”
Lupin looked at the photo again, frowning thoughtfully.
“Summer after fifth year,” he said. He tapped the photo. ”We didn’t start working on the Map until then.” He smiled. “In any case, I know it’s early, Harry, but any ideas on what you’d like for dinner?”
“Anything,” said Harry earnestly. He took the picture from Sirius’s hands. “Do you mind if I hold onto this? I’d like to put it up.”
Lupin looked at him in mild surprise.
“Of course,” he said. He hesitated. “I may have some other photos of your parents lying around, if you’d like to see those as well.”
“Yes,” said Harry with feeling. He grimaced. “Only, maybe not tonight.”
He didn’t know if he’d be able to take it.
He stuck the photo to the wall above his bed after Lupin and Sirius left. He considered, for a moment, cutting Peter out. But, Peter had been James’ friend, too. And at that point in their lives, none of them had any idea what was to come. He tried to think what might make him betray Hermione or Ron – or Hermione or Ron betray him – and he came up with nothing.
“I’ve been sleeping on the couch,” said Sirius easily. At Harry’s concerned look, he laughed. “It’s more comfortable than anywhere else I’ve slept the last thirteen years.”
“Yes,” said Lupin lightly. “Tea, Harry?”
Sure enough, when Harry came down the next morning, Padfoot was curled up on one end of the couch, a blanket rumpled beside him. His eyes opened as Harry stepped onto the squeaky final step.
“Sorry,” said Harry, as Padfoot transformed back into Sirius. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s all right,” said Sirius with a yawn. “Moony’s already been up ages. He’s out in the garden,” he added, as Harry looked around for him. “Ask him to come in for breakfast, will you?”
Harry nodded and went outside. It was already warm. Lupin was kneeling by some bushes hedged around the back porch, a trough in hand and a pile of weeds beside him.
“Professor Lupin – I mean.” Harry grimaced as Lupin looked up and quirked his eyebrows, amused. “Remus? Sirius says you should come in for breakfast.”
Lupin stood up and brushed the dirt off his trousers. He was wearing bright pink gardening gloves that looked like something Mrs. Weasley might wear and a broad-rimmed sunhat. He looked faintly ridiculous. But he also looked happy.
“Did he?” said Lupin. “How nice. I could get used to this.”
“Me, too,” said Harry smiling.
When he wasn’t with Harry or interrupting Lupin, Sirius busied himself with making repairs to Lupin’s house or working in the garden.
“It’s nice to be useful. It’s nice to be outside,” he explained to Harry when Harry asked if there were something he’d rather be doing. “I might try to get a job eventually, if anyone’ll have me. But for now it’s nice to just do this.”
“I hear Hogwarts is hiring,” said Lupin, joining Harry on the porch. “I could put in a good word for you with the headmaster.”
Sirius let out a bark of laughter.
In the afternoons, after lunch, if the weather was fine, Harry and Sirius explored the land surrounding Lupin’s house. Harry collected smooth river stones, and Sirius often ran on ahead as Padfoot, chasing small animals out of their burrows and splashing throughs streams.
Often, Sirius and Harry flew. On those days, the summer evenings seemed to last for a very long time, and they flew through an endless lilac light, until the first stars winked into view on the blue and dusky edge of the horizon.
“As good as your dad,” said Sirius, beaming, as Harry floated down one evening. “Maybe even better.”
Harry blushed with pride, and then grinned at Sirius.
“I just have a really good broom,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure even the best broom is only as good as the person flying it,” said Sirius. He clapped Harry on the shoulder and then started steering him inside. “At least I remember your dad saying something like that.”
Harry glanced up at him curiously.
“Did you ever play with him?” he asked. “On the Gryffindor Quidditch team, I mean.”
Sirius laughed, short and booming. “Merlin, no. I always had better things to do with my time than practice. And Prongs would have booted me off the team in a fortnight for insubordination. Moony played a couple times, though.”
Sirius nodded. “He’s a fair flyer, and he has a good eye. So Prongs made him sub on once or twice when one of their usual chasers was out.”
“How come he never properly joined?”
“Quidditch schedules don’t necessarily align with the moon’s,” said Sirius, and he sounded a bit wistful. But then he smiled again. “Also Moony doesn’t really care for Quidditch, even if he’s decent at it.”
“Doesn’t care for Quidditch?”
“Madness, isn’t it?” said Sirius. He shoved Harry through the front door. “But if you asked, I bet he’d be willing to help you practice, too.”
After supper, they listened to the radio or read or Sirius and Lupin reminisced. Harry liked those nights best, even if they were also painful.
“Oh, Sirius hated Lily at first,” said Lupin one evening, in response to a question of Harry’s. “I always thought he was jealous.”
“I wasn’t jealous,” scoffed Sirius. “I had – ”
He stopped abruptly, and both he and Lupin colored. Harry looked between them curiously, but neither seemed willing to explain. Lupin coughed delicately.
“In any case, I do think he was jealous of how much time James spent with her, especially after he became Head Boy.”
Sirius huffed and changed the subject, but Lupin caught Harry’s eye and smiled.
“Jealous,” he mouthed.
“Gran says thanks for the help with her arthritis,” said the girl, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. She looked at Harry and Sirius curiously, who both looked back with equal curiosity.
“Her gran’s arthritis?” said Sirius, raising an eyebrow after the girl had left.
“I have a bit of reputation for folk remedies,” said Lupin airily. He brought the basket to his face and inhaled deeply, then passed the basket to Harry. “That smells exactly like summer.”
Harry never got a better sense of what exactly it was Lupin did in return for the gifts, though it seemed like Sirius did and found it amusing. It kept them well-stocked in food, at least.
Lupin cooked simply and Sirius could manage eggs and tinned beans and toast. Harry, to his surprise, found he was a better cook than both of them.
"It makes sense," said Sirius. "Both Prongs and Lily cooked well. I think they're the only reason we didn't starve to death during the war."
Privately, Harry figured it had more to do with the fact Petunia regularly made him help in the kitchen, and if he were quiet and didn't muck anything up it was one of the few times he was treated with benign indifference rather than outright hostility. But it was nice to think maybe it was because of his parents, that that was something which connected him to them, like his hair and his eyes and the desk in Lupin’s old room.
"What did they cook?" asked Harry.
"Oh, all sorts of things," said Sirius. "Lily had quite a few cookbooks. James just improvised mostly."
"We could go to Flourish and Blotts if you like, Harry," suggested Lupin. "They might have some cookbooks."
"And be stared at?" said Sirius.
"You used to rather fancy being stared at," said Lupin, with a teasing smile.
"Only by people who thought I was handsome," said Sirius, with a teasing smile back.
Lupin laughed and busied himself with setting the table.
"Though now that I think about it," he said, "I think most of Lily's cookbooks were Muggle ones. There's a Muggle bookstore a few towns over we could try."
They went the next day. It was a used bookstore, the kind Petunia and Vernon always passed with a sniff and a dark mutter about selling other people’s rubbish. Not that they were particularly fond of bookstores that sold new books, either. At least, Harry couldn’t remember a time either had stepped foot in one.
The bookstore had a damp but not unpleasant smell to it, and the only other person in it was a sleepy-looking old woman with a wart on her nose, who wouldn’t have looked out of place at the Leaky Cauldron. She nodded at Lupin as if she recognized him and then went back to the rather thick book she was reading.
The shelves were all close together and densely packed with books. It seemed a maze, but Lupin walked purposefully in one direction, and Sirius in another. After a second’s hesitation, Harry followed Sirius.
“Hold these for me, will you, Harry?” said Sirius, sweeping off an entire shelf’s worth of books and depositing them in Harry's arms.
Harry juggled the books around to hold them all, and, as he did, looked at one of the covers and burst into laughter. A shirtless man with long blond hair and tight black pants had one arm around the waist of a buxom brunette woman, who stared up at him with a panting, open red mouth.
“What is this?” he asked.
Sirius grinned. “Moony’s taste in books is much more highbrow than mine. I used to read these to annoy my mother, but then I got a bit addicted to them. Let’s see if I still am.”
Harry shook his head, still laughing a bit, and Sirius led them into another aisle and swept up another armful of books – all paperback mysteries this time.
“These are fun, too,” he told Harry. “I might even allow you to read some of these.”
Harry grinned at him. “I think I have enough to read just from the books Lupin already owns.”
Sirius laughed. “Careful, Harry, or you might end up learning something this summer, and I know for a fact your dad wouldn’t have wanted that.”
“Are you two done?” said Lupin, popping his head into the aisle. He held up two books. “Because I’ve found some copies of Lily’s old cookbooks.”
“Yes,” said Harry, still juggling Sirius’s romances. “Unless Sirius needs something else.”
He felt oddly sad. He wished he could know firsthand his mother’s cooking, his father’s idea of a proper summer, that he could just be staying with his parents’ friends for a couple days, that he’d be seeing his parents again soon. But even with that impossible wish, it was hard not to be happy now, too, in the pleasantly dilapidated bookstore, with Sirius and Lupin both lighthearted and laughing, and a pile of ridiculous books in his arms.
“These should last me for a while,” said Sirius with a breezy smile, and he sailed to the counter and paid for the lot.
"Ah," said Lupin, when he saw what book Harry was reading: a book about King Arthur, the same book Harry had picked up from the bookshelf that first day. "That's one of my favorites. My mother gave it to me the summer before I left for Hogwarts. She said if I were going to learn how to be a wizard, I should have a good example. I think I read it every summer for, well, for years."
Here and there Lupin had underlined certain lines and passages in different colored inks, which made Harry think the underlines had accumulated over the re-reads. If he could crack the code, it would be like a look into Lupin's past, to who he had been and what had resonated with him.
Near where Harry had found the photograph, Lupin had underlined in a strong hand:
Now, in their love, which was stronger, there were the seeds of hatred and fear and confusion growing at the same time: for love can exist with hatred, each preying on the other, and this is what gives it its greatest fury.
He read that, and he thought about the photo, those four, perennially happy boys, their doom forever a fixed distance away. They had all loved each other, once.
“He has a place in London,” explained Lupin one evening as he and Harry cooked. “I don’t think it’s fit for human habitation at the moment.”
“It wasn’t fit for human habitation when humans lived there,” said Sirius, sweeping in like a storm. He scowled, then shook his head, scattering raindrops.
Lupin sighed and waved his wand, and a warm breeze passed through the kitchen, drying Sirius and the floor.
“Thanks,” said Sirius curtly. He stomped to the table and sat down heavily.
“Was it that bad?” said Lupin, in a neutral tone. He was looking at the stove, not at Sirius.
Sirius just snorted. Harry looked between the two of them, waiting for either to say more. But neither did. Outside, the rain continued to beat on the windows. Lupin seemed focused on cooking, and Sirius glared out into the middle distance. Harry poured Sirius a cup of tea and brought it to him.
“What is your house like?” he asked. He figured he should know. He would be living there someday, though the thought made him sad. He liked living at Lupin’s. He’d like to come back here over the holidays.
Sirius’s gaze flicked to him, startled, as if he’d forgotten Harry were there. Sirius could be like that sometimes, Harry had realized. He wasn’t sure if it was something that Azkaban had done to Sirius or just how Sirius had always been.
“It’s my… family’s house. Grimmauld Place,” said Sirius, after a pause. He took the tea from Harry and sipped at it, then scowled again. “My cousin Narcissa is married to Lucius Malfoy, to give you a sense of what my family is like. Was like.”
That surprised Harry, and the surprise must have shown on his face because Sirius let out a bark of laughter.
“Padfoot ran away from home when he was sixteen,” said Lupin quietly. “Your grandparents took him in, Harry.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Harry.
“Your grandparents were good people,” said Sirius. “Naturally my parents hated them.”
“And that’s where we’re going to live once it’s fixed up?” said Harry skeptically. “Your parents’ old place?”
Sirius glanced at Lupin, but Lupin was still turned away, prodding at the soup.
“I suppose so,” said Sirius, and he looked away.
Severus Snape stood in the middle of the pathway, hunched and scowling. He held something in his hands that Harry couldn’t make out.
He leapt off the bed and ran downstairs, arriving at the foot of the staircase just as Lupin opened the door to Snape. Harry sat down on the steps and peered at them both through the balusters.
Snape stepped inside with a sniff of disdain. The rain had made his hair even more limp and plastered it to his head, showing off the shape of his skull. His hem was muddy.
“Your walkway could use some repairs, Lupin,” he said icily, and then he shifted what he was holding – a goblet, Harry could see now – to one hand and took out his wand with his other. He pointed his wand at himself, and the mud shot off his robe and splattered across Lupin’s entryway. Harry stood with a disgruntled shout. Snape’s glance flicked to him, and, if anything, his gaze became even colder.
“So it is true,” he said.
“Yes,” said Lupin. He took the goblet from Snape. The potion inside it steamed faintly. It must be the Wolfsbane Potion, Harry realized. He’d forgotten the moon was soon, even though he had seen it, two nights before, hanging fat and silver in the purple dusk as he and Sirius flew.
“Thank you for this, Severus,” continued Lupin mildly. “And for the note on my walkway. I always appreciate your observations. You’re welcome to floo next time, if you’d prefer.”
Harry sat back down. He scowled at Snape, fairly certain Snape couldn’t make out his expression very well at this angle. He wondered if Sirius knew Snape were here. He doubted Sirius would be happy if he did.
Snape’s lips curled in a familiar sneer. But he said nothing else as Lupin drank the potion and then handed the goblet back. With a curt nod, Snape turned to go.
Harry stood up again.
“Aren’t you going to clean that up, professor?” he said, pointing at the mud still splattered across the floor.
Snape laughed, a slimy, chilly noise, then smiled at Lupin unpleasantly. “I see your parenting leaves as much to be desired as your teaching.”
“He’s a great teacher!” said Harry. He leapt down the last couple steps to face Snape. Lupin moved swiftly, so that he was suddenly in between them.
“Thank you, Severus,” he said firmly, directing Snape towards the door. “I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
Snape slammed the door shut behind him. Lupin sighed, his shoulders dropping. He surveyed the mud in the entryway and then lifted his wand in a sweeping motion, washing it all away.
Snape showed up every day for the next three days, though never when Sirius was around. It seemed they were coordinating things so as to not run into each other. Sometimes that meant Sirius was away on family business, and sometimes that meant he and Harry spent the day far away from Lupin’s, either flying or exploring the woods.
He caught Sirius and Lupin arguing one evening, after he and Sirius had returned from a day’s hike. Harry was up to his knees in mud and went up to shower. As he came down the stairs, he froze as he heard Sirius say, voice raised, “You could just let me try!”
Harry sank down onto the step and listened closely for Lupin’s answer.
“And if it doesn’t work, Sirius? When was the last time you made something that complicated?”
“I can do it, Moony.”
Lupin’s response was too quiet to hear, and then Harry heard footsteps and a door open and close. He peeked over the bannister. Lupin and Sirius were both gone. They must have heard him, Harry thought, and moved the argument into Lupin’s room.
He went back upstairs.
Sirius must have won the argument, because the next day, Sirius didn’t go out, and Snape arrived early, a small cauldron and a black bag in hand.
“We have a cauldron, Snape,” said Sirius forebodingly, his arms crossed over his chest.
Snape smiled thinly. “Perhaps I’m wrong, but I doubt Lupin could afford the quality of cauldron needed for this potion.”
“Perhaps,” said Lupin quickly, loud enough to cover whatever Sirius had opened his mouth to say. “Regardless, I appreciate your offer to help Sirius with the potion, Severus.”
Both Sirius and Snape grimace at this. Lupin looked between them, and if he were nervous at all, it didn’t show on his face. Instead, he turned to Harry and smiled.
“Harry, I have some errands to run in town, if you wouldn’t mind coming with me?”
“Er…” Harry looked between Sirius and Snape. They both ignored him. It was odd to see Snape hate someone more than he hated Harry, but Harry didn’t think he’d be able to help by sticking around. He shrugged.
“All right,” he said.
Lupin nodded and ushered him out. “Let’s just pray the house is still standing by the time we get back,” he muttered as the door closed behind them.
He made himself a cup of tea and settled on the couch with a letter from Hermione and his still unfinished History of Magic essay. A half hour passed, and then the door to Lupin’s room opened, and Sirius stepped out.
“Oh,” said Harry. “You are here.”
Sirius froze and looked at him.
“You’re up early,” he said.
Harry shrugged. Hedwig had woken him earlier than usual. She’d been gone for several days, delivering letters to Hermione and Ron, and Harry had been too awake to go back to sleep.
Sirius cleared his throat and came to sit next to Harry.
“Moony’s feeling a little under the weather,” he said. “He always does right before the full moon. I, uh. Was just checking on him.”
He paused. Harry got the sense Sirius wanted to say more, and so he waited for Sirius to say it. But, after a moment, Sirius shook his head, as if clearing an errant thought, and picked up Harry’s essay. He seemed to skim it disinterestedly, his eyes skipping down the parchment. Then, with a sigh, he put it away and stood up.
“Are you nervous?” asked Harry.
“About the potion working.”
“Oh.” Sirius laughed weakly. He ran his hand through his hair. “I suppose. I wouldn’t be surprised if Snivellus told me something wrong to deliberately botch it.”
“It’ll work,” said Harry firmly. He was certain a man who had helped create the Marauder’s Map, who had escaped Azkaban and evaded the Ministry and the dementors for a year, who had been his father’s best friend, could handle something as simple as a potion.
Sirius smiled tensely.
“Thank you for the vote of confidence.” He paused. “But whether or not it works, you’ll be staying with the Weasleys tonight.”
Harry frowned at him.
“I don’t mind staying here,” he said. “It’s what my dad would do, right?”
“It is,” said Lupin. “But Prongs wasn’t exactly known for his wisdom, Harry.”
Sirius and Harry both looked up, startled. Lupin had walked out of his room too quietly for either to hear. He looked very pale and weak, and there were dark bags under his eyes. Sirius quickly helped him into the armchair.
Harry looked to Sirius in appeal, but Sirius shook his head and placed one of his hands on Lupin’s shoulder and squeezed softly.
“Sorry, Harry. But Moony and I actually agree on this point.”
“I appreciate the solidarity though,” said Lupin. He reached up and covered Sirius’s hand with his own. “But I’ll manage fine with Padfoot.”
“Well…” she said slowly. “You might as well as get some rest anyway. I won’t send you back to…” She paused, clearly uncertain how to refer to Lupin and Sirius. “I won’t send you back ill.”
Harry nodded and left for Ron’s bedroom. He sprawled out on Ron’s bed and watched the moon rise full and complacent over the Burrow. Lupin would be fully transformed by now. He wondered if the transformation still hurt, or if the Wolfsbane Potion took care of that, too. It was odd; he hadn't been this nervous over the last full moon. He hadn't thought about it.
The door opened, and Harry glanced over as Ron came in.
“Mum never lets me out of helping with clean up,” groused Ron.
Harry shrugged at him apologetically.
"How do you think they're doing?" he asked, looking back out the window.
"He took the potion, didn't he?" said Ron pragmatically. He sat on the edge of the bed, beside Harry. “And he has Sirius with him, and they said it helped to have another animal around. Lupin’s probably doing better than he has in a while, if that’s the case.”
"Yeah..." said Harry. He didn’t mention that Sirius had been the one to make the potion.
"So they're probably just... doing what we're doing, but not human."
Harry tried to picture them: a dog and a wolf, relaxing together in Lupin's bedroom. But he could remember too vividly the deep scratches on the walls of the Shrieking Shack, the broken furniture, how years later, the whole place still radiated fear and pain.
“Do you ever worry about your parents?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Ron, after a thoughtful pause. “When Dad’s in trouble at work, or when they fight, or when Mum’s really stressed about money or something Fred and George have done. It’s only natural.”
“Right,” said Harry, sitting up. He tugged at his hair. “I know they’ll be all right. I just…”
Ron nodded sympathetically and patted Harry’s arm.
“They will. And, here, I know what’ll cheer you up.” He grinned. “I’m not really supposed to say anything yet, but… Dad’s got tickets to the Quidditch World Cup final, and he already said you could come.”
"How is he?" asked Harry immediately. “Did the potion work?”
“He’s fine, and yes,” said Sirius curtly. “It was a much easier transformation than it used to be."
“So why are you angry?” asked Harry.
Sirius looked at him, startled.
“I’m not. I’m just.” He paused, and then laughed abruptly. “I guess I am angry.”
Harry gave him a patient look, but Sirius shook his head.
“I’m not angry at you,” he said, clapping Harry on the back. “Now come on. Let’s get home before Remus kills himself trying to be self-sufficient.”
On one of those occasions, Lupin cleared his throat as Harry turned on the faucet for a glass of water. Harry looked at him curiously.
“Padfoot and I have been discussing it, Harry, and if you’d like, Hermione and Ron would be welcome to visit for a bit. Maybe we could even have a birthday party for you.”
Harry looked at them in amazement. “I’ve never had a birthday party before.”
His birthday, he realized with a start, was in only a few days. He was used to not expecting anything for it, so it hadn’t occurred to him that this year might be different. But he didn’t even know what to ask for. He knew he didn’t want the kind of birthday Dudley always had.
Lupin stepped away from Sirius and smiled at Harry kindly.
“Give it some thought. It doesn’t have to be big if you don’t want it to be.”
“I think,” said Harry slowly, looking between them, “that a birthday party could be fun.”
“Oh, I wish we’d had more notice!” said Mrs. Weasley as she enveloped Harry in acrushing hug. “There wasn’t nearly enough time to get everything prepared.”
“Honestly this is more than enough,” said Harry, laughing. He led everyone outside, to where Sirius and Lupin had already set up one table, several strings of lights, and a large, dragon-shaped balloon.
“By the way,” said Harry to Fred and George. He pointed to Lupin and Sirius. “They helped make the Map you gave me last year. They’re Moony and Padfoot.”
“What?” cried George. He and Fred both looked agog. “You're telling me they’re Moony and Padfoot? Moony and Padfoot are our favorite professor slash werewolf and an infamous but wrongfully convicted mass murderer?” George pressed his hand to his face in awe. “Fred, you may need to catch me. I'm feeling rather faint all of the sudden.”
Harry grinned and left them to their shock.
Hagrid arrived next with McGonagall. Harry felt nervous around McGonagall at first, but after a crisp, “Happy Birthday, Potter,” she was far more interested in talking to Sirius. Harry caught snippets of their conversation – McGonagall was interrogating Sirius on being an Animagus. A small, proud smile played at her lips.
“I’m ‘fraid Dumbledore can’t make it,” said Hagrid. “Big things are afoot at Hogwarts this year.” He winked. “But you didn’t hear that from me. He asked me to give you this though, and this one’s from me.”
Harry took two wrapped packages from Hagrid carefully. The last birthday present Harry had received from Hagrid had been a book that bit, so he was a little wary. Dumbledore’s was wrapped neatly, in purple paper and silver ribbon, and Hagrid’s less neatly in what looked like old Daily Prophet newsprint. To his relief, it didn’t give any indication that it was about to bite him.
“Thank you!” he said. “And thank you for coming. How’s Buckbeak?”
“Well,” said Hagrid. “Very well, thanks t’ what you and Hermione did for him.” His eyes already looked a bit misty, and he clapped Harry on the shoulder, hard enough to make Harry’s spine ache. “I can’t tell ye how much it means to me t’ see you happy like this.”
“It’s been really nice,” said Harry, though it felt too small a thing to say. He gestured at Hagrid with the gifts. “I’m going to put these with the rest.”
Neville came, too, with his grandmother. Harry took one look at her, and then he and Ron both had to duck under the table, breathless from laughter.
“Thanks so much for inviting me, Harry,” said Neville earnestly, when Harry popped back up. “You know it was my birthday yesterday.”
“Was it?” said Harry. “It should be a joint party then. I reckon we can change the cake.”
Neville turned bright pink.
“Oh, no. You don’t have to - I didn’t mean.”
“We should do it!” said Harry earnestly. “I’d like to.”
He liked sharing his birthday better. He wasn’t sure how he felt with everyone’s attention being just on him.
The evening turning gently into a soft, indigo night. The adults all became looser and more giggly. Even McGonagall was laughing, sitting on the porch next to Neville’s grandmother, each a bit pink-cheeked, and their eyes wicked and gleaming. Harry ducked down when he had to cross their path.
“Oh, Harry!” called Molly. “Find your godparents! We’re ready to serve the cake.”
Harry nodded and went inside to look for them; it had been awhile, he realized, since he’d seen either Lupin or Sirius. Ron and Hermione went with him. Neville was deep in conversation with Fred and George, a fact that Harry found mildly worrisome.
“You’re so lucky to get to spend the summer with Professor Lupin,” said Hermione, as they walked into the kitchen. “He - Oh!”
Hermione sprang back abruptly, her face pink. Harry peered around her, just in time to catch Sirius and Lupin leaping apart, faces as flushed as Hermione’s. Lupin’s hair was disheveled, and Sirius was laughing.
“Is everything all right?” asked Harry slowly. He glanced back at Hermione. She was still bright pink, and she wouldn’t look at Lupin or Sirius.
“Everything’s wonderful, Harry,” said Sirius, very loudly. Lupin gave him a despairing look, but then started to laugh, hard and hysterical. He clutched at the counter.
“Merlin, Padfoot,” he wheezed.
“Er,” said Harry. “We just came in to tell you we’re about to have the cake.”
“Oh!” said Sirius brightly. “Cake. Excellent. Yes. Let’s go. Have that cake!” He started laughing again, harder this time, and he and Lupin both grabbed at each other as they dissolved into giggles and slumped slowly to the floor.
Ron laughed awkwardly. “We’ll just… see you both out there,” he said, and then he backed out, pulling Harry and Hermione with him.
"What do you reckon that was about?" he asked, bemused, once they were all back outside.
Harry shrugged. "Too much wine?"
Hermione said nothing. She had a thoughtful look on her face.
“What were they even doing?” Ron asked, turning towards Hermione.
Hermione flushed again.
“Oh,” she said, a little high and airy. “I couldn't really tell. Sirius’s back was turned, and he was standing in front of Professor Lupin…”
She trailed off, very pointedly looking at neither of them.
“That doesn't seem that strange,” said Harry, nonplussed. “I’ve caught them like that loads of times.”
“I'm sure it wasn't strange!” squeaked Hermione. “Oh, look! Is that Ginny? I've been meaning to talk to her all evening.”
And with that, Hermione sped off.
Ron shrugged at Harry, an expression on his face that said he was just as mystified as Harry was.
“Come on now, Harry,” said Molly, interrupting them. “You, too, Neville,” she added quickly. “The cake’s ready.”
She set a gigantic, wobbling cake down on a table. It was covered in candles, and their tiny flames flickered gently in the warm, dark night.
Harry sat at the table beside Neville, who looked a bit embarrassed. Harry grinned at him.
“I’m not really used to this either,” he confided, and then he looked up as everyone gathered around and joined in song. He spotted Sirius and Lupin in the back, both still disheveled, both still laughing, but both looking at him fondly, too. There wasn’t a gift, he thought, that could compare to this.
The party broke up gradually after the cake was eaten. Harry was grateful that Neville’s presence meant the presents were discreetly smuggled inside so there would be no awkwardness, and which also meant Harry wouldn’t have to perform the uncomfortable ritual of opening them in front of an audience.
Only Ron and Hermione remained at the end of the party. They had both received permission from their parents to stay with Harry for the next few days.
“I could sleep on the couch,” said Hermione hesitantly, as they finished cleaning and came inside. Harry realized they’d never actually discussed sleeping arrangements. He’d just assumed Sirius and Lupin had figured it out.
“But that’s where Sirius sleeps,” said Harry.
There was an odd pause as Sirius and Lupin looked at each other.
“Right,” said Lupin, coloring. He cleared his throat and brought his hands together briskly. “I think it’s all right if Hermione shares with you and Ron, Harry. As long as you think you’ll have enough space.”
Ron and Harry both looked at her blankly.
“What do you mean?” asked Ron.
Hermione twisted a strand of hair around her finger.
“Just, I don’t know. They seem very happy around each other. Professor Lupin’s much happier than we saw him all last year.”
“Well, yeah,” said Harry, even more confused now. “He got one of his best friends back.”
Ron nodded his agreement, and Hermione huffed.
“I should have known you two would be dense about it,” she said crossly.
“Hermione,” snapped Ron. “If you’re trying to say something, just say it. You’re being a bloody know-it-all.”
“I think they’re… together,” she said. “I think they were, you know.” She lowered her voice. “Snogging. When we walked in on them.”
Ron scoffed. “You’ve been reading too many of Sirius’s novels,” he said.
Privately, Harry agreed.
She scowled at them. “Would you have believed me last year if I’d told you Professor Lupin was a werewolf?”
Ron and Harry both hesitated.
“Well, no,” said Ron eventually. “But that's because that's really an awful thing to accuse someone of being. But this is, I mean it's unusual, but it’s not… It’s not being a werewolf.”
“So why not believe me now? Honestly, you both have the observational skills of a flobberworm.”
“That's not true!” protested Ron. “I observe loads of things.”
“Well, there’s…” Ron looked around wildly. His eyes landed on Harry and then lit up. “There's the fact Harry’s gotten taller!” He grinned. “Or you've gotten shorter, Hermione.”
“I have not!”
But if it weren’t just friendly, if they were together, as Hermione had said, would Harry mind? No, he thought immediately. If they made each other happy, that was all that mattered. Once, on a trip to London, Harry recalled that Uncle Vernon had made a low, nasty comment about two men holding hands, and Petunia had hastily pulled Dudley closer to her. Harry had thought the two men a little unusual, but hardly the most unusual people he’d ever seen, and, besides, anything the Dursleys disapproved of so strongly was fine with him. He’d smiled at them to be friendly, and been rewarded with two warm and surprised smiles back.
But surely that meant Lupin and Sirius weren’t together. They could trust Harry not to judge them. Surely they wouldn’t resort to hiding and sneaking around in their own home.
That settled it for him, and he pushed the subject from his mind. However, the night after Ron and Hermione left, he slept fitfully. It was odd being in his room without the two of them. Eventually, he gave up on sleep and went downstairs for a glass of for water. Padfoot wasn’t on the couch. Harry coughed on the threshold to the kitchen, and, hearing nothing, walked in. He had half-filled his glass when he heard Sirius speak hoarsely.
“I know what I want, Remus.”
Harry nearly jumped, and he turned quickly. But there was no one else in the room with him. He realized that the voice had come from outside. The back window had been left open. He crept over, just in time to hear Lupin respond. Harry had to strain to hear him.
“It’s not about what we want, Sirius.”
Harry peeked out the window. Sirius and Lupin were standing on the porch, their backs turned to the window. Sirius held a lit cigarette in his hand, and Harry watched the red, lit movement of it as Sirius passed it to Lupin. His nose twitched at the smell. He felt a little guilty eavesdropping, but that guilt evaporated the second Sirius spoke next.
“What are you talking about? Harry loves it here.”
They were talking about him.
“Harry is fourteen,” said Lupin curtly. He took a quick breath of the cigarette and passed it back.
“So?” said Sirius, with an explosive huff of air. “Moony – think what James and Lily would have wanted.”
“How dare you bring James and Lily into this?” said Lupin. His back went rigid with fury, but Harry thought Sirius had a point. “Harry doesn’t deserve to live with a werewolf!”
“Harry deserves to be raised by people who love him!” bellowed Sirius.
“Be quiet, Sirius!”
Sirius glowered at Lupin, and in a lower voice, that was no less furious for its diminished volume, said, “And you don’t deserve to live alone, Moony. Not when you have people who love you.”
“I did it for thirteen years,” said Lupin, in a cold, hollow kind of voice. “What do you think will happen when word gets out Harry Potter lives with a werewolf? What do you think the Ministry will do? What do you think they’ll do to Arthur if they found out he knew and didn’t say anything? No, Sirius. I won’t have it. This has been fun, but you have to realize it can’t be like this forever.”
“Why not? It doesn’t matter to me that you’re a werewolf! It doesn’t matter to Harry!”
“There are more people than just you and – ”
“It doesn’t matter to anyone important!” exploded Sirius. Lupin tried to shush him, but Sirius spoke over him. He waved his hand as he spoke, making angry, red zigzags with the cigarette. “I didn’t escape from bloody Azkaban just so you could shut me out with your bloody werewolf complex!” He grabbed Lupin by the arm and pulled him closer. His face was in profile to the window now, and Harry could see a wild, desperate look in it.
“I love you,” said Sirius. “And we can make this work. I don’t want to be apart from you anymore.”
“I love you, too, Sirius,” said Lupin plaintively. “You know that, but – ”
Sirius kissed him. Lupin, after a split-second, kissed back. He seemed to sway into Sirius, and his hand came up to grab Sirius by the upper arm. Harry ducked down beneath the windowsill, his cheeks burning. He had never seen anyone kiss like that outside the movies. But beneath the wave of embarrassment, he felt a stab of annoyance that Hermione had been right. And then he felt even more annoyed at Lupin and Sirius. This was all more dramatic than it needed to be.
Quietly, he went back up to his room.
“Does Sirius always run off when he’s angry?” he asked mildly, as he handed Lupin a dish to dry.
“Sirius isn’t angry,” said Lupin, after a brief pause.
“Only,” said Harry, still mild, “he seemed pretty angry last night when I heard you two arguing.”
Slowly, Lupin lowered his wand, and the dish he was drying fell gently onto the counter.
“I told him not to shout,” he said evenly, but his face had gone suddenly tense.
Harry shook his head.
“It wasn’t him shouting. I came down for a glass of water, and I overheard you.”
“Oh,” said Lupin. His expression didn’t change.
Harry looked up at him. The morning light slid into the kitchen at an angle and caught the gray in Lupin’s hair, making him seem even older and more vulnerable than usual. Harry felt a sudden, painful fondness.
“You could have asked me. You both could have asked me,” said Harry. “Cuz Sirius is right. I do love it here. I want to stay here. And if you and Sirius are… happy together, I don’t want to be why you have to be separated.”
He loved Lupin, and he loved Sirius, and he loved this place he’d come to think of as their home. He didn’t want to leave it.
“It’s not that simple, Harry,” he said gently.
“Do you want us to stay?” asked Harry, a sudden, horrible thought occurring to him. Maybe Lupin didn’t want them here at all, and that was why he was so reluctant.
Lupin stared at him, astonished.
“Of course I do, Harry. More than anything.”
“Then why can’t we?”
Lupin turned his face away. Harry watched his shoulders for some sign of what he felt.
“It’s funny,” said Lupin, and his voice was calm. But then, if he were calm, why wouldn’t Lupin look at him? “I was so scared of what your father would think when he found out Sirius and I were together. Which was rather silly, I know. He’d taken in stride the fact that I was a werewolf. But…”
“But I suppose I’ve never managed to stop living in fear.” Lupin sighed, and Harry saw his shoulders slump. Then, Lupin looked at him. “It should stop surprising me how much you’re like your parents, Harry.”
“Do you think Sirius was right? That they’d want me to live with you and him?”
“Yes,” said Lupin. He laid his hands flat on the counter and leaned forward slightly, resting his weight there, and then rocked back, his hands flexing with the movement. He took a deep breath.
Harry nodded. “Because they’d want me to happy. And I reckon because they’d want you and Sirius to be happy, too.”
Lupin let out a short, startled laugh, and then pressed one hand to his face.
“All right,” he said. “All right. I can see I’m outnumbered.”
Then, he smiled, wistful and bemused, but happy beneath that, definitely happy.
“You mean it?” he said, still staring at Lupin.
“Yes,” said Lupin. “I want you both to stay. Here. With me.”
“And you don’t have to hide that you’re together,” called Harry from over the armchair.
Sirius and Lupin both looked at him.
“We weren’t hiding anything, exactly,” said Sirius, with an uncharacteristic blush. “We were figuring things out.”
“And have you?” asked Harry. “Figured things out?”
Sirius looked at Lupin once more. There was a question in his eyes. Lupin looked back at him, even and clear, and then he took Sirius’s hand in his.
“Yes,” he said, still looking at Sirius. “I think we have.”
“Good,” said Harry. He smiled at them both. They stood framed in the doorway, a dusky light upon them. Harry thought about the boys in the photograph, and everything that faced them, everything that had brought them back, to this house, to this point. They had loved each other once, and now they loved each other again.
And now they were Harry’s family, too. There was a whole future of summers and Christmases ahead of them, a future of road trips in Lupin’s old, shambling car, of hikes and flights and dinners and photographs of their own. Harry had never been able to picture more than a year or two into the future, but he could picture years and years now, and what he envisioned filled him with a tremendous hope.
They would be happy, he thought. That was for sure.
“Welcome home, Sirius,” he said. “We’re making a roast for dinner.”
And then he settled back down onto the chair and re-opened his book.