The saloon is busy. As in the city around it, the tables are filled with people from every corner of the globe, of every nationality, speaking different languages, wearing different kinds of clothes, but all bearing one thing in common: they all want to be somewhere else -- anywhere but Casablanca.
Karl, the maitre'd, ambles through the main dining room, weaving his way expertly through the maze of tables, a tray balanced effortlessly on one hand. As he rounds the corner of the bar, a gentleman catches his arm and smiles at him. The lady beside him smiles as well, but more with her lips than her eyes.
"Sprechen sie Deutsches?" the man says genially.
"Here," Karl says in his thick German accent, "we prefer English."
"Of course," the gentleman replies, looking mildly surprised. "Could you tell us, is that Mister Black?"
Karl follows the stranger's gaze. In a corner, a man in a white tuxedo sits alone at a small table recessed in the shadows and set apart from the main dining area; his thick, wavy black hair and Roman profile gave him an imperial air. He is frowning at a chess board.
"Yes," Karl replies. "It is."
The lady flutters her eyelashes prettily. "Oh! Not the Mister Black -- the one that owns the café?"
"Are there so many?" Karl asks blandly.
"Would you invite him to drink with us?" the gentleman asks. He takes out a hundred franc note and a calling card and lays them on Karl's tray.
"I will invite him," Karl agrees, pocketing the money, "but he will not accept." The man looks taken aback but the lady only laughs.
"But surely, when you tell him who my husband is--"
"Madame, he never drinks with customers. Never."
She scowls, her pretty pretenses vanishing. "What makes a saloonkeeper so snobbish?"
Karl merely shrugs and continues on his way. Past the end of the bar, around a few more tables, he stops and passes a check and a whiskey to Mr. Black. Glancing at the check, Mr. Black casually scrawls, OK Sirius across the bottom and hands it back to Karl.
"There is a gentleman who wishes to buy you a drink," Karl says, passing Mr. Black the calling card. Sirius glances at it briefly and tears it in two.
"He has a very pretty wife."
"Bully for him."
Karl shrugs. "Also, there is a man in the casino who wishes to speak with you. His name is Pettigrew."
Sirius does not immediately answer. He frowns and moves a pawn forward on the chessboard.
"Are you winning?" Karl asks, a faint smile playing at his lips.
"Who can say?"
"But if you are playing against yourself...?"
"What does Pettigrew want? Does he owe us money?"
"Not that I know of," Karl says with a shrug. "He only wants to speak with you."
"Mmm..." Sirius says, taking a sip of his whiskey. Karl turns and walks away, knowing, as all good servants do, when he is no longer needed.
Sirius glances at the chessboard. One of the bishops is yawning, stretching its arms above its mitered head. "None of that," Sirius admonishes, shaking a finger at it. "Not with all these Muggles around." The bishop looks momentarily abashed before resuming its proper position.
With a heavy sigh, Sirius stands and makes his way across the main dining room to a tall set of doors in the back. He runs a hand through his thick, black hair and buttons his jacket. A heavy-set guard, one of the locals that Sirius employs, has detained a man trying to enter the casino. As Sirius passes, the guard glances at him. Sirius shakes his head almost imperceptibly, and the guard pushes the man towards the exit.
"You know, Sirius, if one didn't know better, one would think you'd been doing this all your life."
Sirius turns to see Pettigrew, a simpering, sycophantic lump of a man standing next to him, nursing a martini and clutching a small stack of chips in his pudgy hand.
"Oh? What makes you think I haven't?"
"Nothing. But when you first came to Casablanca, I thought..."
Sirius looks at him sharply. "You thought what?
Pettigrew starts at the words, but manages a smile. "What right do I have to think?" he replies, spreading his hands. Sirius does not answer. "Too bad about those two German couriers, isn't it?"
Sirius shrugs. "They got a lucky break. Yesterday, they were just two German clerks. Today, they're the Honored Dead."
"You are a very cynical person, Sirius, if you forgive me for saying so."
"I forgive you," Sirius says, quickly scrawling a signature on another a check brought to him by a waiter. He scans the room, refusing to look at his companion. "Now what do you want, Pettigrew?"
Nervously, Pettigrew extracts a packet of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and fiddles with his matches. "You despise me, don't you?"
"If I gave you any thought, I probably would."
Pettigrew chuckles, pocketing his chips in order to light his cigarette.. He takes a few puffs before answering. "I expect you've noticed that there are a lot more wizards in Casablanca these days."
"Why should I have? They don't have 'W's emblazoned on their foreheads."
"But surely..." He lowers his voice to barely above a whisper. "Surely you have heard of a German wizard called Grindelwald?"
"Does he owe me money?" Sirius asks. "Did he have a good run on the wheel?"
Pettigrew squeaks out a forced laugh. "I should think not!"
"Then he's no concern of mine." Sirius turns to go, but Pettigrew reaches out and catches him by the arm. Sirius frowns down at the chubby fingers wrinkling his suit.
"Grindelwald is working with the Nazis," Pettigrew hisses directly into Sirius' ear. "He has told the Furher about our world. He is the one who created the spell which detects the use of any magic in the occupied territories."
Sirius wrenches his elbow out of Pettigrew's grasp glaring at him with contempt and distaste.
"No one can Apparate without his knowledge," Pettigrew continues, his beady eyes darting around the casino like insects looking for somewhere to land. "The Floo lines have been shut down. We are prisoners in the occupied countries just as the Muggles are." He takes another long, shuddering drag on his cigarette.
"Well," Sirius says at last. "At least that explains why you're here."
"You object to the kind of business I do? But think of all the poor wizards who must rot in this place if I don't help them. Through ways of my own, I provide them with exit visas. Is that so parasitic?"
"I don't mind a parasite," Sirius says bluntly. "I object to a cut-rate one."
Pettigrew shrugs, stubbing out his cigarette and reaching for another. "After tonight I'll be through with the whole business, and I'm leaving finally, this -- Casablanca."
"Who did you have to bribe for the visa -- yourself?" Sirius quips.
Pettigrew suddenly begins to smile, and it makes Sirius uneasy. "Oh no," Pettigrew says, relishing the words. "You see, after tonight, I will be a very rich man. I will be able to buy my way out of Casablanca at any time I wish." He begins fishing in his pocket again and produces a nondescript white envelope. He holds it out for Sirius, then pulls it back when Sirius reaches to take it.
"You know," he says thoughtfully as Sirius scowls at him, "I have many friends in Casablanca, but -- perhaps because you despise me -- you are the only one I trust." He hands the papers to Sirius.
As Sirius reads them, his eyes bulge. "I heard a rumor that those two German couriers were carrying letters of transit."
"Yes," Pettigrew says, smiling despite himself. "I heard that rumor too. Perhaps you are a little more impressed with me now, Sirius?"
"Why give these to me?"
"Keep them for me," Pettigrew replies, his tone becoming slightly desperate again. "Just for a few hours. You have a safe, no?" Sirius nods conservatively. "Keep them in your safe for me. You're the only one I trust."
"You're right, Pettigrew," Sirius says, slipping the envelope into his breast pocket. "I am a little more impressed with you..."
Remus is nervous. He has been so ever since they got off the plane, but it isn't the German soldiers that are setting him on edge, or the rough, dirty streets, or the unhealthy pallor of Lily's skin. He has been uneasy ever since James told him the name of the restaurant where they are to meet their contact.
"It's called the Dogstar Café. Supposed to be run by a Brit, if you can believe it. An ex-pat."
"Maybe they'll have fish and chips on the menu," Lily had joked. "What I wouldn't give for a decent fry up."
"It's the hormones," James had said to Remus with a grin, as he slung an arm around his wife. "Next thing you know she'll be craving gherkins and ice cream."
The Dogstar Café is everything they'd been promised, though Remus doubts very much that they serve fish and chips. He inhales the smoky, Moorish ambiance of a local establishment and looks around. Despite the palm fronds on the ceiling and sand on the floor, the arrangement of the tables, the vintage of the champagne on the menu, and the American jazz played on a piano in the next room all betray a distinctly western aesthetic.
Remus orders a whiskey and sits with his back to the wall, scanning the patrons anxiously.
"There is going to be some excitement in your café tonight, Sirius. We are going to arrest a murderer in your casino. A bit of entertainment for your guests."
Sirius accepts the cigarette that Renault offers him and toys with it, studying the French Prefet du Police.
"If you're thinking of warning him, don't put yourself out."
Sirius smiles wryly, tapping the cigarette on the bar. "I stick my neck out for nobody."
Renault smiles back. "A very wise foreign policy."
The two men stride casually across the dining room, watching Renault's men converge on the casino.
Renault clears his throat. "Sirius, there are many exit visas sold in this cafe, but we know that you've never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open."
"I thought it was because I let you win at roulette."
Renault smiles and inclines his head graciously. "That is another reason." He surveys the diners with interest, his hands clasped behind his back, rocking forwards and back on the balls of his feet. His excitement is almost palpable. "There is a man arrived in Casablanca on his way to America. He will offer a fortune to anyone who will furnish him with an exit visa."
With a bored air, Sirius strikes a match to light the cigarette he has been twiddling between his fingers. There are men like that in Casablanca by the dozens. "What's his name?"
Sirius starts and drops the match as it burns his fingers.
Renault raises an eyebrow at him. "You know him? Ah, but I should have known. He is a countryman of yours. And a resistance fighter."
"I've heard of him," Sirius replies, quickly regaining his composure and striking another match. "In fact, I heard he was dead."
"Yes I heard that too," Renault says, "on no less than four occasions. Seems the fellow has an uncanny ability for escaping from inescapable situations, like magic." Renault gives Sirius an ingratiating smile. "But he will not be able to escape from Casablanca. No one would be foolish enough to sell to him. At least, almost no one..."
Suddenly, the doors to the casino burst open and Pettigrew runs out waving a revolver spasmodically over his head. As one, the guests in his vicinity gasp. Several ladies scream.
Pettigrew runs towards him and Sirius notices that Renault has made himself scarce.
"Sirius!" Pettigrew shrieks, rushing headlong into him. "You've got to help me! Hide me!"
Sirius glances up at the gendarmes advancing on them and pushes Pettigrew away. "I stick my neck out for nobody," he repeats. From the shadows, Renault smiles at him.
Sirius is suddenly, desperately, in need of a drink.
"I don't think we should stay here," Remus says quietly as the waiter appears with their beverages.
"It's as safe a place as any," James observes wryly. They watch a man being noisily arrested by the French police, and Lily shivers
"Who are we meeting?" Lily asks in a hushed voice.
"A broker," James replies, taking her hand on top of the table. "I don't know his name. He's supposed to find us."
Remus tilts back his head and finishes his drink.
"Remus," Lily says suddenly, and he watches her hand tighten on James'.
There is a uniformed man approaching their table. His cap sits at a jaunty angle, and his face is jovial rather than menacing.
"Well, well," he says. "It is not often we have such distinguished visitors to our little corner of the world. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Captain Renault, Prefet du Police in Casablanca."
"James Potter," James says, offering his hand amiably to the French officer, "though I believe you've already deduced that. My wife, Lily."
Renault bows deeply. "Madame, I was informed you were the most beautiful woman ever to visit Casablanca. That is a gross understatement."
Lily blushes appropriately. "You're very kind," she says.
"And my cousin, Remus Lupin," James finishes. Remus is scowling at James for using their real names, but Renault does not even favor him with a glance; he is too busy flagging down the nearest waiter.
"A bottle of your best Champagne," he says gregariously, "and put it on my bill."
"Thank you," James objects, "but we couldn't..."
Renault waves his hand imperiously and draws a chair up to the table. "Nonsense. It is a little game we play. They put it on the bill. I tear up the bill. It is very convenient."
Remus shifts uncomfortably in his seat. The Frenchman's excess bothers him, reminds him too much of Paris, and of other things that already weigh heavily on his mind.
"Excuse me," he says quietly. Lily shoots him a brief smile, but the others do not seem to notice.
Plagued by memories, Remus wanders through the restaurant, past the bar, and into the room where the band is playing. A little dance floor has been erected, but no one is dancing. At the moment, the piano player is the only one on stage, and most of the patrons are oblivious to him.
The Dogstar Café is perfect for seclusion and clandestine meetings. Booths are tucked into every dark corner, screens veil the view from every table, and flickering candles provide the only illumination. Remus leans against the wall and takes in the scenery, wondering vaguely if his suspicions could be true.
Glancing at the piano, he decides that there is one sure way to find out.
After ordering another whiskey from a passing waiter, he approaches the pianist and leans casually against the back of the old upright.
"Do you take requests?"
"Sure do. What d'you want to hear?"
"'As Time Goes By.'"
The pianist falters. "I don't know that one," he says, shifting his gaze away from Remus'. That is practically confirmation in itself.
"Perhaps I could remind you?" Remus suggests. He hums the chorus, reaching into his pocket and producing a few twenty franc notes. H e pushes them into the brandy glass sitting atop the piano. Reluctantly, the pianist takes up the tune.
"Sing it," Remus insists.
The pianist stops, looking past Remus towards the door. "I don't know the words," he says hastily. "Besides, I'm goin' on my break now." He stands up from the piano in such a rush that he almost knocks over the stool.
Slowly, Remus turns to look at the other door where the pianist had been staring. A figure is standing there, silhouetted against the brighter light coming from the main dining room, and Remus cannot make out his features. Before Remus can be certain, he turns quickly and walks away.
"This is an interesting café," James says amiably, searching for a neutral topic with the French gendarme.
"It is indeed," Renault agrees, "and Mister Black is an interesting man."
"Kind of you to say so," Sirius says, sauntering up to the table.
"Ah! Speak of the devil! Sirius, may I introduce you to the guest I mentioned earlier, Monsieur James Potter."
James stands and extends his hand, and Sirius shakes it. "This is a wonderful establishment," he says. "I congratulate you."
"And I congratulate you," Sirius replies.
James grins a bit sheepishly. "Thank you. I try."
"We all try," Sirius retorts. "You succeed."
"Won't you join us?" James asks, indicating Remus' vacated seat. "The Prefet has provided us with a very good wine."
"Ah no," Renault begins, "but Sirius never--"
"Thank you, I will," Sirius interjects, taking his place.
Renault stares at him, an eager smile on his face. "A precedent is being broken," he murmurs. "Could it be for the company of the lovely Madame Potter?"
"The Dogstar," Lily says, smiling at Sirius. "I should have guessed it would be you."
"But you know one another?" Renault exclaims, positively glowing with curiosity. "Why, Sirius! I am quite jealous."
"From Paris," Sirius replies. "La Belle Aurore."
"How nice of you to remember," Lily concedes. "But then, that was the day the Germans marched on Paris."
"Not an easy day to forget."
The group turns to look as Remus approaches the table, a fresh whiskey in his hand. "Excuse me," he says belatedly, "but I think we should be going. I've just learned that our friend has been... detained. He won't be able to meet us tonight."
James' expression grows hard. He nods.
"How disappointing," Renault says with an enormous grin, "but a wise decision, nonetheless. There is a curfew in Casablanca. It simply wouldn't do for the Prefet du Police to be caught out after hours. I would have to put myself under arrest."
As if on cue, one of Sirius' highly trained waiters approaches with the bill. Sirius deftly snatches it from the tray.
"Another precedent broken," Renault marvels, a glint in his eye.
Outside, they wait in the taxi queue. "What sort of a man is Sirius Black?" James asks, helping Lily into her coat.
"I really wouldn't know," she replies, glancing significantly at Remus before adding, "though we saw him quite often in Paris, didn't we Remus?"
"There's our cab," Remus says, stepping out into the street.
Sirius pours himself another whiskey and flinches slightly when the searchlight from the airport blazes momentarily through the slits in the shutters before moving on. The café is quiet, empty. He is alone.
Who are you, really, and what were you before? What did you do and what did you think?
We said, no questions.
Soft brown eyes, hair the color of wheat, greying at the temples before its time. The memories dance behind his eyes, just out of reach.
Why am I so lucky? Why should I find you waiting for me to come along? ... I'm sorry. I forgot we said no questions.
Well, only one answer can take care of all our questions.
He shuts his eyes against the memory of the kiss that followed.
Nothing can stop them now. Wednesday, Thursday, at the latest, they'll be in Paris.
Sirius, they'll find out your past. It won't be safe for you here.
I'm on their blacklist already, their roll of honor. But you and Lily won't be safe. Not once they know... Drink up. Henri wants us to finish this bottle and then three more. He says he'll water his garden with champagne before he'll let the Germans drink it.
Takes the sting out of being occupied...
A door slams and Sirius jumps, spilling his drink. A smile creeps over his face like a slow gin fizz.
"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, he walks into mine."
"I wouldn't have come if I'd known that you were here. Believe me, Sirius. It's true."
"It's funny. Your voice, it hasn't changed. I can still hear it: 'Sirius, I'll go with you any place. We'll get on a train together and never stop.'" He turns at last to look at the figure standing in his café.
Remus is wearing a light coloured trench coat and hat against the night air, and the shadows hide his face.
"Please don't," he says calmly. "I can understand how you feel."
Sirius scowls, turning back to his drink. He reaches for the bottle and sloshes another measure into his glass. "You understand how I feel," he repeats hollowly. "How long was it we had, Remus?"
"I didn't count the days."
"Well I did. Every one of them. Mostly, I remember the last one, the wow finish: a guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face, because his insides had been kicked out."
Remus approaches him cautiously, taking off his hat and setting it on the table between them. Sirius makes the mistake of looking up and thinks his heart will break.
"Can I tell you a story, Sirius?"
"Does it have a wow finish?"
"I don't know the finish yet," Remus says, drawing out the chair across from Sirius with painful slowness.
Sirius shrugs. "Go on and tell it. Maybe one will come to you as you go along."
Sirius looks up sharply. "You?"
At that, Remus actually laughs, the lines softening around his mouth, and the delicate skin crinkling around his eyes. "Good lord, no," he blurts. "It's James'."
"Well bully for them," Sirius grumbles. "It's a hell of a time to fall in love."
Remus watches him for a moment. "You know about Grindelwald," he says finally. "You know about the Order, about our work--"
"As much as you would tell me," Sirius counters. "We said no questions, remember?"
Remus pales slightly in the dim light of the café. "There's a prophecy," he says at last.
"There usually is."
"About Lily and James' child. It's been predicted that the baby will have the power to defeat Grindelwald." He glances up and meets Sirius' eyes directly for the first time.
"You don't actually believe that."
"I won't have a chance to find out if the child is never born," Remus replies solemnly. "Lily and James have to get away from here. To America."
Sirius snorts into his drink. "It would take a miracle to get James Potter out of Casablanca. And the Germans have outlawed miracles."
"I think not," Remus says calmly. Sirius looks up and is momentarily perplexed before he realises that Remus is pointing a wand at him. He laughs his short, bark-like laugh.
"Put that thing away. We both know you can't use magic here. As soon as you do, the Gestapo will be breaking down your door, and as soon as they find out what you are..." Remus' nostrils flare. Sirius regrets saying the words the moment they leave his lips, but he cannot call them back. He shrugs. "Well."
"I know you have the letters of transit," Remus says, lowering his wand. "Our broker saw Pettigrew give them to you for safekeeping just before he was arrested."
Sirius shrugs. "I deduced as much. It seems that as long as I have those letters, I'll never be lonely."
"You can ask any price you want," Remus says flatly, "but I must have those three letters."
"There are only two."
Remus starts. "There -- there were supposed to be three..." His face falls.
Sirius shrugs, feigning indifference. "What will you do when they're gone?"
Remus stands abruptly and wanders towards the bar. Sirius reaches out absently and strokes the felt of Remus' hat with the tips of his fingers.
"I won't bother you, if that's what you're asking," Remus says finally. He whirls around suddenly, facing Sirius with a look of desperation on his face. "This isn't about me. Look, I know you blame me for leaving you in Paris, but I had to get Lily out! We would have been recognized if we'd gone with you."
He takes a step towards Sirius' table, his eyes glinting as the search light flashes over him. "Can't you understand what it's like to fight for a cause? Or are you too jaded and drunk even for that."
"I'm not fighting for anything any more," Sirius replies, getting to his feet. "I'm the only Cause I'm interested in."
In a sudden burst of movement, Remus pulls a small revolver from his pocket and points it at Sirius. "The wand didn't mean anything to you," he says. "Perhaps this will. Get me the letters of transit."
Sirius shrugs. "I don't have to. They're right here."
"Put them on the table."
"No. Look, I'll make this easy for you. Go ahead and shoot. Then we'll both get what we want."
For a moment, Remus' expression remains set, and Sirius wonders if he is actually capable of shooting. Then his resolve is shaken and his arm lowers. An expression of utter sadness crosses Remus' face.
"We meant something to each other once," he says, taking another step towards Sirius. "In Paris, we--"
"I wouldn't bring up Paris if I were you," Sirius replies softly, matching his steps. "It's poor salesmanship."
"Sirius, I..." He takes another step. "I tried to stay away. I thought that I would never see you again, that you were gone from my life."
Sirius takes the final step, and they are facing one another, mere inches apart.
"I missed, you," Remus whispers, his hand drifting up towards Sirius' face without ever touching. "My bright star in all this darkness..."
Sirius knows it is the whiskey that makes him do it, but he doesn't care. Snatching Remus' hand out of the air, he pulls him into a kiss. Their lips meet and it is as though the intervening time had never happened, as though the slide of tongues could erase the pain, as though the heat and hitch of breath could wipe away the memories.
"He said he was going to the resistance meeting ahead of you, so he could check things out."
"Bollocks. He should have stayed here -- with you."
Lily runs her fingertips down the side of her husband's face, feeling the scratch of stubble beneath her fingers. "I'll be fine. It's you they want here. The Muggles--"
James laughs scornfully. "They think I'm some sort of resistance fighter."
"Well, aren't you?"
"Not in their war."
Lily sighs. "We can't go on thinking that way, drawing distinctions between us and them. Our war. Their war." She wraps her arms around herself and shivers. "It's all the same madness in the end."
James moves around behind her and covers her arms with his. For a moment, they just stand there, lost in the warmth and comfort of each other.
"Be careful," she whispers when she feels him pulling away.
"You too," he says, turning her around to face him. "The fate of the world rests on your belly." They laugh softly for a moment, though it is no more than the truth, and his fingers splay across her still-flat stomach when they kiss.
Sirius has sobered up. In fact, everything is clear and sharp, like broken glass. He takes a long drag from his cigarette and turns away from the window to take in his private apartment. He is still shocked by what he sees. That is Remus sitting on the sofa across the room, Remus he still tastes on his lips, Remus...
"It's still a story without an ending," he says quietly, watching the long, deft fingers moving from button to button. "What happens now?"
"Now?" Remus says. His voice sounds detached. He stands and approaches Sirius. His movements are no longer wary but sure, familiar. He leans next to Sirius against the window, one arm wrapping instinctively around Sirius' waist, his fingers plucking the cigarette from Sirius' hands. "I don't know," he admits, taking a deep pull from the cigarette. "I know that I'll never have the strength to leave you again."
Their eyes lock for a moment, but it's not enough. Sirius has to press.
"And James? Lily?"
"You'll help them now, won't you? You'll see that they get out?" Sirius hears the desperate note in his voice. "Then they'll have the baby in safety; it's all that they've been living for."
"All except one. They won't have you."
Remus turns away, heading back for the sofa and sitting to don his shoes.
"What do they have on you?" Sirius demands. "Why this fierce loyalty to them?" And not to me he doesn't add.
"James is my cousin," Remus replies softly, not looking up at Sirius. "We were like brothers growing up, and he and Lily..." He pauses, staring at the floor. "They've always been very good to me.
"He told me to look out for Lily when he left to go on missions. Then, in Paris, we received word that he'd been shot. That was right before I met you."
Sirius nods, remembering those first days; Lily had been like a ghost.
"We got word that he was still alive the day the Germans invaded," Remus continues. "I had to get Lily to him; she would have tried to go on her own if I hadn't taken her. And I couldn't..." His voice trails off and he looks up at Sirius. "I didn't think you would understand why you couldn't come with us."
Sirius does not admit that he still does not.
Suddenly, a door slams downstairs, and Karl begins shrieking for Mr. Black. Sirius presses a finger to his lips and points to a side door.
"Go out the back way," he whispers. "You can't be seen here. You can't be connected to me or those letters."
For a moment, Remus looks pained, then he nods, disappearing out the side door.
"Mr. Black!" Karl exclaims as Sirius descends the stairs from his apartments into the café. "It is Mr. Potter -- he has been shot!"
Sirius quickens his pace.
"They ambushed us at the meeting, Mr. Black!" Karl continues, flustered. "I would not have brought him here, but I did not know where else--"
"That's fine, Karl," Sirius says calmly, spying James, still upright, shrugging off his overcoat. "You did the right thing. Get us some bandages." Karl nods and scurries away to do as he is told.
James has peeled off his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves. He is examining a deep scratch on his bicep with a sort of detached fascination. When he looks up, however, his first question is not about his injury.
"Is he here?"
"Don't play me for a fool, Black. He wasn't at the meeting, and there's something between the two of you."
Sirius sits down in the seat opposite him as he considers his answer. "No, he's not here."
"But he was," James surmises. "He came to ask you for the letters of transit."
"Word travels fast."
James gives him a sharp look. "I know my cousin."
At that moment, Karl appears with a first aid kit and a basin of water. Sirius dismisses him, and Karl leaves, gratefully. The next few minutes are devoted to patching up the injured hero.
"Don't you sometimes wonder if it's worth all this? I mean, what you're fighting for."
James chuckles. "You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die."
"And what if it does?" Sirius retorts. "It'll be out of its misery."
James gives him a searching look, a thin smile beginning to spread across his face. "Do you know how you sound, Mr. Black? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart. Each of us has a destiny -- for good or for evil."
"I don't believe in good and evil," Sirius replies, tying off the bandage.
James flexes his arm experimentally and then begins rolling down his sleeve. "Thank you."
"The least I could do. Under the circumstances."
Suddenly, James' face splits into a grin. "You don't like me," he observes.
"I don't know you," Sirius replies.
"And yet," James counters, "I think you blame me for something of which I knew nothing at the time." Sirius opens his mouth to reply, but James holds up a hand. "Don't bother denying it. I won't. But if you won't give those letters to me, I hope you will think about giving them to Remus."
Sirius blinks as the searchlight momentarily blinds him. "To Remus?"
"He is in much more danger here than we are," James says with a sigh. "Grindelwald is a madman. He's catching -- torturing -- everyone he can, everyone who's--" he breaks off, unable, unwilling to say the words. "And now, with his spell to detect magic -- even the involuntary kind -- it's simpler for him than ever." James shrugs. "We've been on the move. A couple of these past few months I was sure they were after us, but they never caught up."
Sirius can feel the floor falling out from beneath him, even as James stands.
"Remus won't survive if he doesn't get out of Grindelwald's grasp. And the only way out is through you, Mr. Black." He leans over, placing his hands flat on the table in front of Sirius. "I can protect my wife here if I have to. I cannot protect Remus."
Lily is still awake when he returns, but James has not yet come back from the meeting. Unable to bear her questioning stare, Remus confesses where he has been and who he has seen. Lily is both happy and sad for him by turns.
Together they wait and watch.
By the time the moon has set, Lily has practically driven herself mad with worry. A knock on the door brings a messenger, and the message is simple:
James is with me. We have a deal. Bring Lily to the airport at dawn for the first plane to Lisbon.
The hangar is empty. It is too early for more than the barest skeleton crew to be on duty to ready the first plane.
Sirius watches as a taxi pulls up to the gate, and Remus gets out, opening the door for Lily. The early morning sunlight glints gold in his hair before he dons his hat.
Catching sight of her husband across the tarmac, Lily breaks into a run, her long red hair streaming out behind her like a banner. Remus' approach is more subdued, but his expression is no less hopeful as his eyes meet Sirius'. Sirius hears James grunt when his wife tackles him with a hug.
"Quickly," Sirius says, pulling them into the shadow of the hangar, out of sight. "You mustn't be seen. I have the letters with the names already filled out." He holds them out, and James accepts them, handing one sheaf of papers to Lily, and the second to Remus.
Remus stares at him, dumbfounded, wrenching his eyes away just long enough to read the name printed on the paper in a familiar, scrawling hand.
"Why is my name on the letter?" he demands, turning his gaze to Sirius.
"James?" Lily says, her voice breaking.
"Come on," James says quietly, leading his wife towards the plane.
"Why my name, Sirius?" Remus repeats, his voice hard and angry.
"Because you're getting on that plane."
"I don't understand," Remus growls. "What about James? What happened to our deal?"
Sirius shrugs. "I made a new deal. James is staying here in Casablanca."
"No, Sirius. No. What's happened to you? Last night..."
"Last night, we said a great many things," Sirius says. "And then James got himself shot, and he and I said some more things." He looks deep into Remus' eyes, trying to read them, trying to memorise them. "Did you think he wouldn't tell me about Grindelwald, Remus? About what you have to face?"
"I know what I have to face, but the world doesn't need another werewolf, and it does need James and Lily and their baby."
"Lily is getting on the plane whether you do or not," Sirius reminds him. "Are you going to make her go alone?"
Remus does not immediately answer. Before he can gather his wits, however, a long black car pulls into view with the Nazi flags fluttering visibly in the predawn light.
"The Gestapo!" James hisses, jogging back from the plane, clutching his injured arm. Lily, her face red and tear stained, watches from the hatch of the plane.
"Go!" Sirius pleads with Remus, but Remus is struck dumb, watching the approaching car.
"Achtung!" a tall man shouts, exiting the vehicle. Three more men scramble out of the car.
"Get on the plane, Remus!" James implores. Uncertainly, Remus takes a step towards it.
"Halt!" the Nazi officer cries again, this time in English. "You are under arr--"
Remus and James stare as the Officer and the other three soldiers began to slow and suddenly freeze in their tracks. Slowly, their gazes shift to Sirius, standing, legs apart, with his wand pointed at the Nazis.
"I suspected you were a sentimentalist," James says with a grin.
"Say goodbye to your wife," Sirius growls. "The plane leaves soon."
Remus stares at him, unable to speak. So Sirius speaks for him.
"If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with her, you'll regret it."
"Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life."
Remus sags visibly, and Sirius knows he has won. "What about us?"
Sirius smiles his crooked smile, reaching out to touch Remus' arm. "We'll always have Paris. We didn't have -- we -- we'd lost it until you came to Casablanca." He looks deep into the other man's eyes. "We got it back last night."
"When I said I would never leave you..." Remus begins, but he is at a loss for words.
"And you never will," Sirius finishes for him.
Suddenly, abruptly, Remus pushes Sirius up against the wall of the hangar, into the shadows, and kisses him fiercely, as though he may never again have the chance. "This war will be over someday," he whispers. "And when it is, I'll find you."
Sirius starts to protest, but Remus kisses him silent. "I found you in Casablanca, after all."
Sirius feels his face melt into a smile, an unaccustomed expression, and it feels strange. It feels even stranger to continue to smile when Remus gets onto the plane, wrapping the tearful Lily in his arms, stranger still to be smiling as the plane takes off, disappearing into the morning light.
He and James are left standing on the tarmac, staring into the rapidly lightening sky. When James walks back towards Sirius, he spits spectacularly on the Nazi officer, still frozen with his comrades by Sirius' spell.
"Well, Black, you're not only a sentimentalist -- you've become a patriot."
"It seemed like a good time to start."
James throws back his head and laughs. Sirius likes the sound, and finds that the smile is still on his face. "I think perhaps you're right," James says, slinging an arm around Sirius' shoulders.
"It might be a good idea for you to disappear from Casablanca for a while," James suggests as they walk back towards the car. "There's a free French garrison over at Brazzaville. I could get my contacts to arrange passage for you."
"I could use a trip," Sirius muses.
"Then it's settled. I'll contact someone today about our travel arrangements."
"Our travel arrangements?"
"Of course. We patriots have to stick together, Black."
"Potter, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship..."