Remus stepped out of the enchanted carriage and into the warm late June sunshine. He put down his battered suitcase and the empty grindylow tank. Then he stood motionless in the center of Hogsmeade, face tipped up to the sun, eyes closed, drinking in the warmth. He was weary and sore from last night's transformation, and the sun soothed his aching body. More importantly, it soothed his troubled conscience. In the shadowed confines of the carriage, he had berated himself for all of the ways he had betrayed his friend: pulling away from his friends in a misguided attempt to protect them, thus earning Sirius's mistrust; accepting Sirius's apparent guilt rather than trying harder to learn the truth; forgetting to drink the Wolfsbane Potion on the one night of the year he had ultimately needed it most, thus facilitating Peter's escape. But when he stepped into the warmth and the light, only pleasant thoughts echoed in his mind, "Sirius is innocent. Sirius is free. I have my friend again."
He would love to lie in a sunny field on the outskirts of town and sleep the day away, dreaming of the happy memories that had caused him pain for too long, but he could not. He had to leave Hogsmeade before knowledge about him passed from the school down to the village, before Hogsmeade became yet another place he was unwelcome. And more importantly, there was a place he needed to go, a service he could render his old friend.
Remus thought of Sirius's childhood home, a place he had last visited ten years ago, shortly after Sirius's mother had remarried. Robert Wallace was a good man, and he seemed to be exactly the person Maggie Black had needed in her life. However, he had made no secret of the fact that he mistrusted Remus. Remus had been Sirius's friend, the only friend Sirius hadn't murdered. It was sufficient reason for many to mistrust Remus. And Wallace had had his own personal bitter lesson in misplaced trust. Yet, whether Remus was welcome or not, it was the place he needed to go. Fixing the location in his mind, he picked up his things and disapparated.
The house was virtually unchanged. Navy blue shutters now instead of forest green. The bushes were larger, but the oak tree in which they had built a tree fort (accessible only by broomstick) still stood sentinel over the house. The sun shone here as warmly as it had in Hogsmeade. Remus decided to take it as a good omen.
Only after he knocked on the door did Remus realize that she might not be home. However, since he had no idea where else to look for her, he would just have to wait.
"I might get a chance to sleep in a sunny field after all," Remus thought as he looked at the field of long grass and wildflowers that bordered the garden. He smiled as he remembered running in that field with Sirius and his dogs, remembered watching with a mix of terror and admiration as James and Sirius flew high above that field and dared each other to take ever greater risks. A slight movement in the field caught his eye. "Trees aren't the only sentinels here." Remus pretended not to have noticed the young wizard watching the house and returned his attention to the door as he heard someone approach and open the door.
Only a few more lines around her eyes revealed that more than a day had passed since Remus had last seen Sirius's mother. "She doesn't seem to recognize me. Of course, I have aged a good bit, and she wasn't expecting me to appear on her doorstep after a decade away."
"Hello, Mrs. Wallace. It's nice to see you again. I know it's been a long time, but—"
"Remus? Remus, it is you!" A warm, welcoming smile lit her face when she recognized him, but it faltered almost instantly. She paled slightly and her pupils dilated—fear, an emotion Remus could recognize with ease, the ease of experience. She smiled again, deliberately this time, and reached out to take his hand and pull him inside. "Come in, come in. Call me Maggie. You're far too grown up not to. Let me get a good look at you. As skinny as ever." She continued to hold his hand and patted it with her other hand as she looked at him.
"Holding my hand—whatever she's afraid of, it isn't me."
She led Remus into the kitchen, speaking constantly as if she couldn't bear silence or didn't want him to speak. "Come into the kitchen. I was just writing some letters, and I like to work at the kitchen table. Desks are just too confining. You look famished. Don't they feed the professors at Hogwarts? Oh yes, I know you're teaching there now. I was so happy when I heard that. I remember that Sirius—Sirius always said you'd be a wonderful teacher if someone would give you a chance. Let me make you some tea and something to eat."
Remus had taken a seat at the kitchen table and watched Maggie fill a teapot with water. She looked away from him—deliberately perhaps—just before she mentioned Sirius's name.
"Actually, Sirius is the reason I'm here," Remus said as she turned back.
The teapot slipped from her hands and crashed to the floor, drenching and darkening the hem of her robe. What color remaining in her face vanished, and she swayed slightly as she stood alone in the center of the kitchen. Remus leapt up and took her by the arm. He led her to a seat and sat beside her, watching closely.
"They caught him, didn't they," she whispered. "You came here to tell me that they caught him, that they did that to him." Remus suddenly understood the source of her fear at the front door. She had been dreading the news she believed he brought.
"No, no, that's not it at all," he assured her. "He's still safe."
"Thank God." Tears escaped her lashes and spilled down her cheeks. "I can't bear—please understand, Remus. I don't want anyone else to be hurt, but I can't bear what they'll do to him if he's caught."
Remus did understand. Ever since Sirius had escaped from Azkaban, Remus had wished fervently that Sirius would just run far, far away and disappear. Wished that he would stop endangering Harry. Wished that he would stop forcing Remus into the role of being Sirius's possible executioner. For Remus would have killed him—killed him rather than allowed him to destroy any more lives—killed him rather than turn him over to the Ministry and allowed the Dementors to have his soul. But now, all was changed.
"I saw Sirius last night; I talked to him." Maggie tensed at this. She sat so still that she appeared not even to breathe. "More importantly, I saw Peter Pettigrew last night."
"Peter is dead," Maggie said automatically.
Remus shook his head slowly. "No, Peter faked his own death. Peter blew up the street and killed those people. Peter framed Sirius. Sirius is innocent, Maggie. He is innocent. I just can't prove it yet."
She didn't visibly react. Remus waited as she absorbed the news.
"Peter was the Secret-Keeper," she said. It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes." Remus masked his surprise. "Has she always known that?"
"Everyone told me that Sirius was, but it was too hard to imagine Sirius betraying James. The only way it made sense to me was to believe that Peter had been the Secret-Keeper. I believed that was why Sirius had killed Peter."
Remus nodded. "You were right; Sirius could never betray James." Remus felt another wave of guilt that he had ever believed Sirius to be a traitor.
"He loved James so much. And the baby—Sirius's face just lit up whenever he spoke about Harry." As she spoke, her eyes were filled with the same love Remus had always seen in Sirius's eyes as he played with his infant godson.
"How did I ever, ever believe you could do that, Padfoot," Remus silently berated himself. "Harry saw Sirius and Peter too," Remus assured Maggie. "He knows the truth."
Maggie didn't seem to hear Remus. "Sirius always had a swift temper. I could believe that he'd kill Peter if Peter had betrayed James. James and Lily and Harry were so important to him; he loved them. I thought he killed Peter. Whether Sirius or Peter was the Secret-Keeper hardly seemed to matter. It wasn't the crime Sirius was convicted of, and I didn't want to speak ill of the dead." Remus nodded and stayed silent. She needed to tell him this, to confess that she had believed her son a murderer.
"But I could never explain why he killed those others, the ones standing near Peter. Sirius could have just killed Peter. The others—Robert said it proved that Sirius had no regard for human life, that it proved what everyone said about Sirius was true, that Sirius really was a Death Eater. And still I didn't believe it, not until I heard that he broke into Hogwarts to kill Harry. Then I finally believed."
"Peter was at Hogwarts. Sirius has been trying to protect Harry from Peter."
"How could I have believed that about my own son?"
"The same way I believed it about my best friend," Remus thought, but aloud he only said, "I believed it too, Maggie. Sirius understood."
"MAGGIE! Maggie, where are you?"
Robert Wallace's voice calling from the front of the house startled them both. Remus found himself glancing at the backdoor and contemplating a hasty retreat. Wallace's previous mistrust of Remus was nothing compared to how he'd feel when he learned what Remus had been telling his wife.
"I'm in the kitchen," she called to him. "We have company."
"Who—" He stopped in the doorway and stared at Remus. Remus stood and faced him, ready to leave when asked.
Maggie stood and held Remus's arm, as if to keep him from leaving. "Robert, you remember Remus Lupin, don't you? Sirius's friend."
"That was the wrong thing to say," Remus thought grimly.
"Get out." Wallace spoke calmly but very firmly. He didn't appear willing to debate this with his wife.
"Robert! Remus has come all the way from Hogwarts to see me, and you are not going to order him out of our house."
"He was seen with Sirius last night," Wallace kept his eyes fixed on Remus although speaking to his wife. "I came home to tell you that one of the professors at Hogwarts saw Sirius and Remus together last night. They were with the Potter boy and two other students. My friend Bertie at the Ministry told me. He told me that Sirius was captured, but he escaped again. They think someone helped him escape this time."
Maggie's hand had clutched Remus's arm more tightly at the mention of Sirius's brief capture. She looked at Remus, eyes full of concern. "You aren't in trouble, are you?"
Remus smiled to reassure her. "No, Professor Dumbledore convinced the Ministry that I went outside to protect Harry and the other students, which was true. As for Sirius's escape, I have an excellent alibi."
"How excellent?" Wallace demanded.
Remus tried, unsuccessfully, to stop smiling. The smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. "At the time that Sirius escaped, I was running around in the Forbidden Forest on four paws. I would have been an useful accomplice if Sirius wanted to chase sheep, but not too useful for helping him escape from a locked room high in a tower." He looked back to Maggie again. "Have you heard of Wolfsbane Potion and what it does?"
She nodded. "I thought of you when I read about it."
"I've been taking it every month. That's why I foolishly thought it was safe for me to be at Hogwarts. But last night, when I saw on the—the arrival of two old friends—I forgot to take it. When I transformed last night, I was dangerous. Sirius protected Harry and his friends from me. That's why he was captured. That's why Peter escaped from Sirius and me. I'm so sorry; it's all my fault. We could've proven his innocence, but—it's all my fault."
Maggie smiled. "Sirius protected Harry." Nothing else he had said seemed to matter as much as those three words.
"Peter? Peter Pettigrew?" Wallace made no more pretence of trying to be calm. He advanced toward Remus, eyes narrowed, a flush darkening his face, and hands clenched into fists. "Have you been here telling my wife that same fairy tale about Pettigrew being alive that the students told? How dare you! GET OUT!" Remus pulled away from Maggie and picked up his things.
"Please stay, Remus," she asked. Then she addressed her husband. "I don't believe it's a fairy tale, Robert. I believe Remus. I never believed that Sirius could betray his best friends that way."
Wallace took another step forward and wrapped his arms around her. Sadness replaced anger in his voice. "Maggie, please don't torture yourself this way. It took you so long to accept the truth. I hate to see you go through all that pain again. I know how hard it is believe. I know I didn't want to believe what they told me about my daughter either, but all the evidence—she was a Death Eater. I've had to accept the truth. I thought you had too. Don't go back into that dark place of doubt."
Remus went to the backdoor but paused before leaving. "Maggie, I'm going to write to Sirius and apologize for allowing Peter to escape last night. I'll tell him that I spoke to you and that you believe he's innocent. But I'll also tell him to stay away from you until we have proof."
She nodded sadly. "The Ministry is watching our house," she said, but she fooled no one. It was true, but it was not the only reason Sirius had to stay away.
"We will prove it," Remus promised.
* * * * *
Maggie smiled as she began her walk home from town. It was a beautiful autumn day and she saw no reason to hurry home by apparition rather than enjoy the warm reds and golds brightening the trees around her.
"Autumn is definitely the prettiest season, Mum," she remembered a twelve year old Sirius saying with a mischievous grin. "The trees wear Gryffindor colors instead of Slytherin green."
"My proud little Gryffindor," she murmured with a smile. He, far more than the pleasant weather or the beautiful foliage, was the reason for her smile. Halloween was approaching, and for the first time in thirteen years she could look at the pumpkins and stereotypical witches decorating the homes of her Muggle neighbors and not feel overwhelming sorrow.
A movement in the shadow beside
Hollerith's Garage caught her eye, and she stopped to look more carefully. A large, black dog lay flat on the ground,
watching her alertly with pale eyes. It
was his wagging tail that had caught her eye as he lay almost invisible in the
shadow. She remembered seeing the same dog in an alley beside the butcher shop
when she had passed it earlier.
"Hello, Sweetie," she said in a soothing voice as she extended a hand for him to sniff. She waited patiently to see if he would come closer. "You aren't from around here, are you? I don't remember seeing you before today."
The dog stood and walked toward her slowly, wagging his tail constantly. She was glad he seemed timid. He was even larger than she had first realized, and she would have been intimidated if he had moved toward her suddenly. She allowed him to sniff and lick her outstretched hand and then cautiously ran her other hand down his back.
"My goodness, but you're skinnier than you should be. I can feel your ribs under all that shaggy fur. My Sirius was always bringing home strays like you. His father would have let him keep them all, but I had a three dog maximum rule. Do you want to come home with me? You're as big as two or three dogs all by yourself, but since there are no other dogs currently in residence, I think it will be all right."
The enormous dog huffed as if in assent, and Maggie resumed walking home. She was pleased to see that he fell into step beside her as if he had been well trained as a puppy.
"We have a bit of a walk I'm afraid, but with your long legs it shouldn't be a problem. Our house is far from the center of the town on purpose, you see. Can't have the Muggles getting curious about the strange goings-on at our house. Not that there are any strange goings-on these days, but when Sirius was younger—flying his broomstick whenever he pleased, fireworks, trying to teach James how to howl at the moon—he was a handful." The dog huffed again. "You don't mind that I'm a witch, do you?" The dog seemed to shake his head and Maggie laughed.
"I'm glad you're so easy to talk to. Lately, you see, I've really wanted to talk to someone about Sirius, but I can't. I can talk to Robert, that's my husband—you'll like him—about anything else, but not Sirius. Ironic, actually, since Sirius is the reason I met Robert." The dog looked back over his shoulder at her, and Maggie laughed at the curious expression on his face. "You see, people told me that Sirius did some horrible things. I didn't want to believe them, but—" The dog stopped walking, turned and put his nose under her hand, and began licking her palm. She ruffled the fur between his ears with her free hand, and they both resumed walking.
"I knew you'd be easy to talk to. Anyway, it was the lowest and darkest time in my life. I was devastated when my husband Aeneas died, but I was able to accept it and move on. Aeneas died fighting for what we believed in, and I still had Sirius, our Sirius. But losing a child—oh, Sirius wasn't dead, but a life sentence in Azkaban—it's worse than death." The dog huffed his assent again.
"That's when Robert came into my life. You see, his daughter Mary had died two years earlier. She committed suicide rather than be captured by Aurors." The dog looked over his shoulder with that strangely curious expression he had. "Robert knew exactly what I'd soon be facing: friends and relatives treating me like a pariah and my grieving alone for a child that no one else seemed to believe worthy of grief. If he hadn't been a friend for me then— And now I know that Sirius is innocent. Sirius is innocent, but Mary was not. How can I talk to Robert about Sirius? I can't. I feel like I'm twisting the knife in his side every time I try."
The dog suddenly jumped up, putting his forepaws on her shoulders, and began licking her face. "O.K., O.K., enough kisses! I get the idea. You like me too." He stopped licking and just looked into her eyes for a few moments before dropping back to the ground and looking up at her expectantly.
"Well, we're almost home. You can see the house from here," she said as she gestured at a distant house standing alone at the end of the road. "First I'll feed you, then I'll give you bath, and then you can meet Robert tonight. Of course, to introduce you two properly, you'll need a name." The dog sneezed as he huffed again. "Snuffles! For that funny snuffling sound you make."
He wagged his tail again, licked her hand, and then ran full speed in the opposite direction from the house.
* * * * *
A week later, an unfamiliar owl delivered a brief note addressed to Maggie. She unrolled the torn scrap of parchment slowly. It had once been crumpled up as if discarded, but then someone had flattened and smoothed it with his hand. She gasped in surprise as she recognized handwriting that she had not seen in over a decade and had once believed she would never see again.
"Looking forward to meeting Robert, someday. I love you. –Snuffles"
Disclaimer: Remus, Sirius, Peter, and the sad situation they find themselves in are all the property of J.K. Rowling. My concept of Sirius's parents was initially inspired by "Black Shadow" by CLS.
Author's Note: If you want to read more stories with Sirius's parents, see CLS's "Black Shadow," and my stories "Werewolf on Trial" and "A Muggle-Born Wizard."