A/N: It's not NT/RL, although the concept is discussed, and it's not HG/RL, although I know some people will interpret a certain scene that way – and that's fine, I guess, to each his own and have fun. Also not SB/RL. It's angst, not romance – how can I make Remus properly miserable if he's getting snogged? Come on, folks. *dryly*

            If the little trick at the end seems awkward, flame me and tell me to stop. I was imitating a similar style, a style that might not be worthy of the best form of flattery.

            To appease pre-readers, has been divided into three parts.

            OotP spoilers!

            But as most seemed to think Lupin would correspond with Harry in GoF – and that never happened – I'm leaving things open in here. He might be able to finish that letter; he might not.

Disclaimer: Expectancy is not purely original fiction (it's called fanfiction.net, after all), but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. I will return all characters in fairly decent condition. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment.

Expectancy

            'Where're we going?' That was Ginny, who was keeping close to Hermione, as if thinking that her presence was lending life to her friend.

            'Somewhere secluded from this,' Remus heard himself reply, kneeling next to the girls and scooping up Hermione.

            The last thing he had expected was for this to be greeted with outrage, but that's precisely what happened.

            'Where's Harry?' Ron asked. The countermeasures Remus had attempted to take for his bout with whatever-it-was only worked about half the time. It turned out he was as difficult in one half as the other. His face was extremely pale, and his freckles stuck out such in that sea of white that one could have counted them all individually – that, in fact, one was tempted to try.

            'I'm not entirely sure, but Dumbledore is going after him.' Keeping Harry nearby had proved impossible.

            'He ran off,' agreed Neville.

            Ginny stood up. 'We're not leaving just yet, not without Harry!'

            'Yes you are, if you want Hermione here' – Remus had to raise his voice as a horrible hex and explosion sounded, making some of them jump – 'to get healed.' He stood up, shifting her dead weight, assured as he found Neville had been right – she did have a pulse.

            At this Hermione's eyes fluttered open. 'Are you sure he's all right?' she demanded in a faint voice.

            That set them all off.

            'We can't just abandon him!'

            'Throughout the whole thing, he never did us!'

            'If you're suggesting there's something we can do that Dumbledore can't – ' Remus began.

            'He's going to be worried about Voldemort!'

            Remus scarcely registered surprise at Hermione's use of the name. For one, the rest were still arguing the issue.

            'Yeah, he bighd nod be able do worry aboud Harry – '

            Ginny chose not to speak, instead standing up and heading for the door, wand out.

            'Enough!' Remus's voice broke. It caused everyone to listen. 'Ginny, don't be ridiculous, you're going nowhere on that ankle. Harry will be fine. The rest of you are the ones I'm not so certain about, and we don't need any more casualties!'

            Not a word in reply. Everyone, including the usually daydreamy Ravenclaw girl, was staring at him, eyes rather wide.

            'Will Hermione be okay?' Ginny asked at last in a small voice.

            'Yes, once we heal her. Let's get going.'

            Remus never remembered a word of this conversation, nor the parade away from their makeshift battlefield.

            Things hadn't grown quieter but the noisiness had moved on, seemingly corridors away now. But as compared to the commotion just moments before it was terribly silent all of the sudden, even with the heavy gasps and breathing of the children.

            Did he have all of them? Except for Harry, and Dumbledore was after him, so it would be rather pointless to be concerned when he had – count them, Lupin – five other students on his hands, in varying degrees of hurt. That had been the plan – Moody had barked an order to him as they hurtled along.

            Sirius?

            I'm coming, Moony. Don't you think? There was a slight challenge in his words and expression, leaving room for Remus to offer encouragement or dissuade him. And Remus had merely nodded. There was no stopping Sirius when he had his mind set to something, and Sirius's low cover wasn't as important as the present task.

            Had he been about to say anything else? Perhaps he might have, but he couldn't remember what he was about to reply with when Moody cut in.

            Lupin – you know the kids, so first thing you worry about is rounding them up and making sure they're okay, understood? No rushing into duels, no worrying about the weapon, I want you looking after the kids.

            Another nod, and they had went on. He and Sirius had never exchanged another word.

            But to the task at hand, there were several problems. His memory was suddenly shot through with rather noticeable holes. Anything he knew about healing had simply fled his head. At that moment, someone could have snapped a question about the goblin rebellion of 1387 or the twelve uses of dragon's blood, and Remus, whose mind felt eerily clear and fine as glass, probably could have answered. But any healing spells – or even identification of wounds and hexes – were gone.

            Secondly, he couldn't remember the one girl's name. He knew her, remembered her, her voice, her quirks, and could distinctly recall grading one of her end-of-term essays. She was a Ravenclaw and would now be in fourth year. And he felt that he should remember her name, it was right there, and it had some sort of significance to him, but he couldn't quite work his mind around it.

            'Did anyone else come along with you?' he asked. He had gently placed Hermione Granger to sit against the wall, and had been spelling their corner to ensure that they were completely safe for the moment. 

            'You asked that already, Professor,' the Ravenclaw said in her consistently distant, dreamy sort of voice. 'Only Harry.'

            'Thank you, Luna.' Bing. That had popped from his mouth with no thought – Luna Lovegood, that was it – so perhaps his knowledge of healing had returned too. Goodness knew it looked as though some of them needed it.

            As if to illustrate the point, Ginny Weasley, who had limped along, fell next to Hermione with a slight groan that she had obviously been trying very hard not to let out. Remus knelt by the two of them, saying over his shoulder, 'Luna, it seems you only have some bruises and cuts.'

            'Oh, I'm fine.' Serenely as if they had merely been playing a game of Gobstones, one that she herself had won.

            'Good. How are you, boys?'

            Neville spoke through his slight wounds: 'Nod as bad as Herbione ad Ginny.'

            'Yeah,' Ron grimaced. 'Same as Luna. How're they?'

            'Accio desk!' Remus said in reply. 'If one of you could pull out a drawer and bring it over here. Ginny needs to elevate her foot… and then Hermione…'

            Hermione's face was screwed up in pain and quite pale. She shifted and tried to pull back hair that, while not quite as bushy as it had once been, had gotten very haphazard, knotty, and in the way. 'I'm sorry,' she said faintly, not able to keep slight panic from her voice, 'don't know which curse he used…'

            'That's fine, Hermione.' His voice was still calm and hard as diamonds, far from soothing. 'You'll be quite all right. Did it only hit you in the chest?'

            'Yes.'

            Ron had dragged over a drawer. 'Flip it over for you,' he said to Ginny.

            'Ever thoughtful, you are.' Ginny had lost a whole ankle, but no spirit.

            'Just a moment, Hermione.' Remus levitated her leg gently and cushioned the air around the drawer.

            'There you are,' came another voice. Neville and Luna jumped, but the rest of them recognised it as Kingsley Shacklebolt. 'Looks like you have your hands a bit full, Remus; what say we take one of these injuries off your hands?' As he spoke, he knelt by Hermione and winced in sympathy. 'All right, Miss Granger, you're more than fine.'

            'So everyone keeps saying,' murmured Hermione.

            'Well, we'll get you to Madam Pomfrey, who'll stop speaking and start healing, unlike the rest of us ignorants,' Remus told her as he set Ginny's ankle. Kingsley remained with Hermione, attempting to clean the rather vicious wounds.

            'Moody will have a Portkey for us,' Kingsley announced to the room in general. 'We were in such a hurry; we'd have given it to you, Remus, if we had time to think of it.'

            'Oh good,' said Remus in a rather distant tone. Luna, Ron, and Neville seemed to have grown rather independent and were more interested in Remus telling them what to do rather than him doing it for him. And what's more, they were capable of doing it, same as they had managed through all of this without getting what amounted to scratches, considering the odds against them. 'And how's Harry?'

            'Potter's fine – Dumbledore sent him back to Hogwarts already.'

            'Good,' said Remus again. Moody entered next.

            'Shacklebolt, they're looking for you – you and Tonks will get the honours of public relations. The place is swarming with Ministry officials.'

            'I saw,' said Shacklebolt dryly. 'But they can wait a moment as we regroup. I only jump when it's needed.'

            Remus was slightly interested as to how the Ministry had known when to arrive, and why they had not been around to begin with, but in the end he wasn't interested enough to ask. 'It's activated by skin contact,' Remus recalled aloud, referring to the Portkey. 'And it will only be useful to us one time. Try to touch it all at once, but Hermione, make sure you of everyone touch it first if it's a miss.'

            Nod from Hermione, but the rest were in arms.

            'Whad's habening?'

            'You can't send us back to Hogwarts without – '

            'Oh yes we can,' Moody told them grimly, and they all promptly went silent.

            Remus put a hand on Neville's shoulder. 'We'll let you know what happened shortly.'

            'No they won't,' Ginny said, with a rebellious look at the Order members present, and Kingsley gave a slight grin.

            'Try us via owl,' Remus suggested, pulling the sleeve of his robe over his hand as he held the Portkey out. 'Everyone set, now? On three.'

            The children all managed to touch it at the same time, and instantly vanished from the room. 'That one goes to the hospital wing,' Moody said.

            Remus nodded. 'Good.'

            At this juncture Nymphadora Tonks bustled in. 'You sure are a lousy healer, Kingsley,' she said, rubbing her neck. 'Are all the kids all right now?'

            'All back at Hogwarts,' Remus replied, and with this caused everyone in the room to look at him. This fact didn't escape him as he put the desk back together and Banished it to its proper office. 'Everyone here all right?'

            Why wasn't anyone moving? Obviously the battle was over… but Moody had said the Ministry was looking for its two active Aurors who had been present at the scene… they all needed a touch of healing themselves, even Moody and Tonks, who had been healed once already.

            Then it came to him that they might be expecting him to go berserk about now. It was at this point that he noticed a small headache coming on.

            'Yeah,' Tonks nodded.

            'And the Death Eaters?' It was a perfunctory question, and everyone knew it.

            'Remus, why don't you get back to Grimmauld Place,' Tonks suggested, eyes worried.

            That finally punctured his own veil, the one that kept shrouding him from emotion. Now he was irritated. 'I'm fine, thank you, Tonks,' he said, with some cold dignity thrown in for good measure (which was rather destroyed by the slightly absurd sound of the address she insisted on).

            'Yeah, we see that, Lupin, but the Ministry's about now. We don't want to let them in on the Order, even though Fudge is talking about how he saw everything he's been denying… the rest of us are Aurors, or ex-Aurors. Alibis. You, to put it plain, are on their list of people they'd like to execute, and for you they could probably find a loophole to do it legally, too.'

            Moody's practical common sense could be brutal at times.

            'Have we used all the Portkeys?'

            'Nah, of course not – all the ones for Grimmauld Place are unused yet,' Tonks assured him. 'Here.'

            'Thanks.' Remus took it. The jerk of the Portkey's pull showed him clearly every bruise he had taken. He hadn't felt them before, but now, standing in front of Grimmauld Place, the small pains shot through him. Mostly they were from Harry. The boy had put up a violent fight to follow Sirius through the veil. Harry was probably also the reason that the full blow of grief hadn't hit him at the sight. There was one nanosecond of disbelief – and then instinct took over. Harry could not be allowed to go behind the veil as well.

            Harry. Was Harry all right? He hadn't been thinking as one who loved the boy back at the Ministry; he had been thinking as a Phoenix when he had temporarily lost control of his usual calm in front of the children – Harry's friends. The difference was considerable.

            Certainly Kingsley had said that Harry was back at Hogwarts, so physically, at least, Remus was not left in doubt. But inwardly? Remus briefly entertained thoughts of going there himself but withdrew as he began to pursue the idea seriously. There were plenty of small reasons not to, the first being that Remus couldn't do a thing so long as his own psyche was in limbo.

            Whatever he was doing, it was idiotic to stand out here on a Muggle street in full wizard attire, although he wanted to walk, the same as he had done that night fourteen years ago, Hallowe'en 1981 –

            But you can't, said a reasonable voice in his head. Not like that.

            'Fine,' he muttered, and, casting wizarding secrecy to the wind, pulled out his wand and used a Chameleon Charm. Now he could walk, and that's what he did, fully not caring if the Order was trying to contact him at Grimmauld Place for anything. There were other Phoenixes. He went on, seeing and sensing little if anything.

            *

            It was only when darkness descended that he shook his head, realising that he was quite a ways from Grimmauld Place, and that, indeed, someone might be looking for him. Another vague memory – or was it an instinct? – from that Hallowe'en: doing something was difficult, but idleness was hell.

            Just how far he had gone became apparent to him when he doubled back. By the time he was back at the now-familiar doorstep, he was finally feeling fatigue, and weariness was a blessing.

            He had remembered not to ring the doorbell, but all the same, Mrs Black's portrait was shrieking as he entered.

            Remus heard what she was saying, of course, but registered nothing. He closed the door, locked it, spelled it, warded it, all at a leisurely pace. He then turned and nodded courteously to Mrs Black, who kept ranting. Noting that there wasn't an exceedingly lot on the 'mutants' and 'abomination' vein of hers, he wondered if she had finally lost all her senses physically as well.

            The Chameleon Charm, Remus then remembered vaguely. He dispelled that as well and did not tuck his wand away again.

            'I've a headache,' he said calmly, for warning; he was not entirely insane and had some idea as to what he was about to do.

            BANG!

            The curtains disappeared with a poof of sooty, black smoke, which was not the brightest of ideas, considering that now there was nothing to use to muffle Mrs Black's shrieks. But for the moment that was fine by Remus, who only wanted to destroy her portrait once and for all. He could, too; he felt it humming in his bones, particularly with his most recent spell. Emotion was always a terrific catalyst for magic, and Remus was chockfull of it. He knew very well that at that moment, between emotion, training, and his own natural power, almost any magical feat was within his grasp.

            She had temporarily quieted and then started on him. She was distraught, obviously having heard of events. Strange. Remus would have thought she had rejoiced.

            'Always disappointment, a disappointment in them all, it is my failure, both of them…'

            'Silencio!' Remus shouted, and his charm worked where hundreds of attempts over the past year had failed.

            Thank goodness.

            'You should have destroyed her,' someone spoke up. 'You well could have, and everyone would have thanked you for it.'

            Remus turned from Mrs Black's silent raging. Severus Snape met his gaze, dark eyes with a familiar glitter that only showed when he was feeling specific emotions.

            'No, as she's the only one left to feel pride for this wretched house, I think she should stay on damned bloody principles, so long as we don't need to listen to her,' said Remus in a perfectly mild tone. 'What are you here for?'

            Snape raised an eyebrow elegantly and then shrugged, a much more jerky movement. 'If you say so. I came to consult with someone. You'll do.'

            Remus followed him down into the kitchen numbly. Oddly enough, of everyone he had spoken with since Sirius's death, Snape was the easiest to deal with. Perhaps time was working its magical healing powers, or perhaps it was because he didn't care much for Snape either way, or perhaps because Snape was incapable of feeling any pity for him.

            'What do you make of this code, Lupin?' Snape handed him two sheets of parchment. 'There's an exact copy of it. The other is a listing of several translations, or attempts anyway.'

            'You're our best cipherer,' Remus commented absently, spreading both over the table and examining them.

            Snape scowled. 'Yes, I know, but unfortunately that's because I know how to look for clues, such as articles and the pronoun I. I can't find them on here – anything that might work reduces the rest to nonsense.'

            Remus saw his point. Any possible stand-alone Is, when inserted into the rest of the message, didn't create any known words. 'Not the typical twenty-six letter cipher,' he mused.

            'They rarely are,' Snape said impatiently. 'Those are far too easy to solve. Often they can have as many as a hundred characters, easily. But someone grew wise and decided to erase the focal points – perhaps they've noticed too many of their information leaked in this manner.' He began to pull them away, obviously through with Lupin and his Gryffindor mentality, but Remus held up a hand.

            'Hold on – I suppose there might be a double code, wherein then the letters must be rearranged?'

            'I've looked through that,' was the reply, with dangerous patience. 'I've run it through several charms of my own development. It doesn't fit any language I'm aware of.'

            'Then perhaps it's a mixture,' Remus said. 'I remember a code we had in school. We drew it bits of all sorts of languages.'

            Snape looked very irritated. He knew what 'we' referred to, and had an instinctive dislike for anything maudlin, or, as Remus had once muttered, anything that spoke of the speaker having a heart.

            'Yes, look – doesn't that make much the more sense when you translate that character as a J rather than an I, French-like? Yes, it does – and if that's really an st sound, as you hypothesised' – Remus pointed – 'then that word is quite possibly "just". Yes, if that's a U – then over here…' He glanced up at Snape and trailed off. 'Will everyone stop looking at me like that!' Remus snapped in spite of himself.

            'Yes… of course, right…' said Snape, unusually lacking in truculence. 'That merely hadn't occurred to me.'

            A sudden bustle of noise, and within seconds Tonks had appeared in the kitchen. She looked healed, but disheveled, and her eyes were narrowed.

            'Excuse me, Professor, but I think you'd best leave Remus alone for the moment – oh, what say, a week or so. We'll be happy to rub salt in his wounds for you.'

            Some things never changed. Comforting to know there was still an ostracised member of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black to display overprotective tendencies for him, mainly in regards to one Severus Snape.

            'It seems to me that Lupin would be quite able to tell me to leave if he so wished, Miss Tonks,' Snape replied.

            'Well, I'm not Remus, and I don't need to be polite about such things.'

            Snape had seemed almost – amused, at first, but at this his face had hardened in impatient disgust, and his voice drew a sharp edge to it. 'You have no idea, girl… it's still a game to you, isn't it? You have no idea of occurrences – true tragedies – that could make today look like a holiday – unlike you, Lupin is able to take such things in stride and consider priorities other than his own emotions – '

            Remus could have sworn that Snape was almost handing him a compliment.

            'Fine then,' Tonks cut in haughtily. 'I'm an immature cocky brat of an Auror and a rookie Phoenix. And I underestimated Remus's ability to deal with things. Why don't you just tell the Order at breakfast tomorrow and we'll call it even, all right?'

            Sirius must have spoken to her. No one else would have discussed that with her in such detail. Remus certainly hadn't.

            Then another instinct – belatedly, but better late than never – seized him. Possibly because it had developed later in life, it had taken time to avail itself. Argument, dissent. It was up to Remus to disfuse the situation.

            'I have an even better idea,' he said, tone deliberately bright, although whenever he reflected on Tonks's words he almost smiled at her. It was a dose of honey on what had been a bitter memory. 'It's late, it was a rather long day – let's sit down to a cup of cocoa and translate the Js in Severus's snatch of code, shall we?'

            Nonsense, the most of it, and he doubted anyone present could make a decent cup of cocoa even with an instant packet, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that he put a roadblock in the barbs. It wasn't altruistic of him, either – he didn't want to hear bickering and ugliness tonight; it was too much to shoulder.

            'Not for me,' Snape said chillingly, standing and rolling up his parchment. 'I'll slip aside and wait.' He was almost out of the kitchen when he inclined his head slightly to Remus. 'Thank you; you've been of help.'

            'Glad of it,' said Remus, a duller note in his tone. He glanced at Tonks. 'Why did we need to start that?'

            She shrugged, only a little sheepish. 'You know how he is; if he was going at you I wasn't going to let him get away with it.'

            Remus shrugged. 'He was in a good mood. Must've taken points off Gryffindor before leaving for here.' The thought came that he might be pleased instead that his old nemesis Black was gone. It made his stomach go cold.

            'Well, Molly's coming over a little later,' Tonks said, picking up on the bright tone that Remus had dropped. 'And she'll know how to make a cup of hot chocolate, I'm sure.'

            'What else needs to be done?' That was all he cared about. He didn't want to know what had happened after he'd left the Ministry, how soon Madam Pomfrey was healing the children, or if six out of the seven English and Irish Quidditch teams had abruptly gone on strike for an indefinite period of time. It didn't matter. Give him something to do or let him go to bed and lock the door, that was his mantra…

            'There's nothing, Remus,' she said gently. 'Are you all right?'

            He barely refrained from sighing from sheer incredulity at the question. Yes, I'm the one who's still alive, thanks. 'Yes, I am,' he said, again in that distant but reasonable voice.

            Tonks hesitated, as if she wanted to say more, but just then they heard the front door open. She turned, pulling out her wand. 'So dark in here for our little party,' she murmured.

            'Tonks.'

            She turned.

            'What of you? Are you all right?' She hadn't known Sirius nearly as well as himself – no one alive had – but she had known him, and they had gotten along amiably, and they were related by blood.

            She gave him a bracing smile, tinted with pity (making him want to scream for the barest second), and said, 'I'm not exactly happy. For one, I'm stuck with therapy sessions at St Mungo's for three weeks now to deal with that piddling little jinx – '

            Moody and Kingsley had returned.

            'You know, for a house that's supposed to be abandoned, this place sure gets a lot of traffic,' Tonks greeted them, an old joke by now. 'How're things?'

            'As good as they were when you left fifteen minutes ago, girl,' Moody snapped, shaking off his cloak and throwing it on the back of a chair. 'I'd swear you'd think that things fall apart when you're gone…'

            'I'm sure they get much more boring,' Tonks said primly. 'Can anyone around here make hot chocolate, and if not when's Molly coming? Almost the whole crew's going to be here tonight… leaving off guard duty is going to free us up amazingly; we can all learn a new language…'

            'French,' Remus murmured. 'Keep up with the Death Eaters, anyway.'

            Another abrupt silence.

            'They are?' Tonks asked.

            'Yes, that's what Snape was showing me. They're dabbling with foreign languages to keep their ciphering as tricky as ever.'

            'We'll ask Molly to make it for us, but nicely,' Kingsley said, sitting down. 'But not too late; it's probably best for us to rest.'

            'You'll have at least two women in the house,' Tonks said warningly, 'so you'll have the whole day rehashed at least four times.'

            'Trust you for that,' Moody growled, taking a chair next to Remus and glancing at him questioningly. Remus nodded. 'Mind you, couldn't be worse than what the Ministry was getting into… such a political three-ring circus… makes me glad they pressured me to retire when they did, sorry for the two of you,' he nodded to Tonks and Kingsley.

            'But we're learning how to talk out of both corners of our mouths so well,' said Tonks, optimistically.

            'You haven't yet learned to put your foot in your mouth yet,' Kingsley shot, and a general smile circled the room.

            'It's against my blood; I can't fight all of my genes,' Tonks retorted, and then cut off abruptly.

            After a moment of silence, Remus stood up. Obviously no one was willing to discuss Sirius in front of him, and as it was on everyone's mind it was quite possibly his civic duty to free up their discussion. 'Sorry to be rude, but I'm quite tired, really… I think I'll wish you all good night.' He smiled at them all in turn. Yes, ladies and gentlemen of the Order, he was perfectly fine, couldn't they see? Certainly he had taken out just a bit of emotion out on Mrs Black, but what they didn't know would only help them, considering that Remus didn't think that Silencing Charm was ever coming off. Otherwise he was coping nicely. He was Lupin, after all; he was the good boy.

            He was also so very tired.

            After a chorus of good nights that were much more sweet and drawn-out than their normal brisk, matter-of-fact exchanges, Remus was free to do what he had wanted before – go to the room Sirius had saved for him, quite near his own, and lock the bloody door.

            And what exactly would they say, now that they could discuss Sirius freely? How many of them knew who Sirius had been before Azkaban had tried – and almost succeeded – in making a wreck of him? Few. Moody, Fletcher, Arabella, Diggle; most others were dead. Many current members of the Order thought – had thought, past tenses, now – Sirius unhinged, immature, possibly dangerous. Couldn't help liking him, most of them, but then again, with how sulky Sirius had been all year, many had been in frequent skirmishes with him.

            He remembered Harry, contacting them through the fireplace, clearly worked up and upset over what he had seen in Snape's Pensieve. Sirius hadn't entirely changed from his fifteen-year-old self; he had gained experience, certainly, but no chance for maturity. In that way it was grossly unfair. You couldn't expect anything better of a teenager, for heavens' sakes, and then he had adapted to the war so well, had fought hard and bravely, had learned so much, and yes, had dropped some of his old ways.

            James'd had Lily, and Remus'd had his lycanthropy, which, if nothing else, had made a man of him in much the same way Lily had James. What had Sirius? Sirius had gotten twelve years of living hell.

            And then – then, after out, on the run in terrible conditions for two more years, one of them still hardly sane, lonely, afraid, miserable, with nothing but a need for revenge for company. Rounding off with the last year, when his need to do something had been so denied, leaving him with nothing to do but dwell on dark memories and brood and worry.

            It'll pass, Sirius, he remembered telling Sirius. I know it's hard, being idle when you want to be useful – it's not even an emotion to be dealt with; it's brutal. But this will pass… you'll have your chances and plenty of them… Sirius had still been young, and the war still looked manageable. This place will look much better once you're preparing it for Harry… As soon as the Ministry sees Dumbledore is right about the war, they'll be all but forced to declare your innocence, too…

            Much good that would do him, now.

            For the first time, Remus felt the threat of a tear and promptly stood and used the adjacent bath to shower. It didn't make him feel better; it didn't help his headache; it didn't make him feel symbolically clean; it made him feel no more or less tired, restless, or awake.

            It was hygienic, though.

            Remus frowned as he came out, pulling a nightshirt over his head. He could have sworn twice over on the family Bible or his mother's grave or anything you liked that he had closed the door, locked it as well. But here it was ajar. From below in the kitchen he could hear the conversation, although the only words he could hear was Tonks telling someone – Fletcher, he suspected – that Kingsley had shown her all over again that day just what dueling really was, when done properly.

            'Kreacher!'

            Remus nearly tripped over him. Kreacher seemed to be trying his very hardest to not respond – his normal route whenever confronted by Remus – but didn't seem to be able to. And from what he was muttering, Remus pieced together a very bad picture of what his position in this whole miserable mess had been.

            'Did you open my door?' Remus asked.

            'Yes,' Kreacher replied unwillingly, with an alongside grumbling of how yes, he had, would have destroyed the filthy werewolf's whole room if possible, to find something to bring back to the last beacon for the family –

            'Well, if you'll leave I can lock it,' Remus said, forcedly calm. 'It's rather late.'

            To his surprise, he wasn't put up much of a battle, just some vile muttered remarks.

            Oh, death, where is thy sting? Sirius had snapped once at such mutterings, shortly before Christmas, days before the attack on Arthur Weasley, and Remus and Tonks, who were present to hear, had laughed.

            That wasn't the only remark Sirius had made that was almost eerie foreshadowing of things, although Remus had the idea that a lot of things could be taken for omens if you examined each and every conversation of someone after they died, especially when so many had been serious, as theirs had been – this one had been.

            I think Tonks likes you, Moony, Sirius had said with a knowledgeable air, a rather satisfied one too.

            Considering the alternative, that's a relief.

            No, seriously – don't change the subject, you sneaky underhand Slytherin.

            Ah, I'm wounded.

            I really think she does.

            And Remus had rolled his eyes skyward. Nice to know some things don't change. Sirius Black is still the authority on all things feminine.

            A pause, and then Sirius, So what do you think?

            Think?

            About Tonks.

            Remus had sighed. What do I think about Tonks. Let's see. I think she's a very good Auror, a decent duelist, has a flippant but amusing sense of humour, is as mouthy as you ever were, and is admirably comfortable in her own skin. That said, I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not proposing to her.

            Well, I live in hope, Sirius had said. At least you had more than a bit to say about her.

            We're in the midst of a war, was Remus's dry reply. Why the sudden interest in matchmaking?

            It's not just idle matchmaking. I've thought about this and I've listened to what Tonks has to say about men – and you, yes, if it comes to that.

            Obviously not what I have to say about women and Tonks, if it comes to that. Remus imitated the last five words rather sharply. He didn't want a very good working relationship spoiled by Sirius sticking ideas into his head.

            I don't like the thought of something happening and you being completely alone again, Sirius had said soberly.

            Soberly enough for Remus to at least take him – and the topic – seriously. You and Harry. That's enough for me.

            But if something were to happen? Sirius persisted. That's not enough for you, that's nearly everything for you.

            How very modest of you, teased Remus, but it was entirely true. Those were the two most important people in his life and without them he had very little love or caring or affection to go around.

            Remus! I'm trying to be serious. Sirius had frowned darkly.

            Remus had conceded quickly. All right. We'll be serious.

            Which brings us back to Tonks, Sirius had said triumphantly, suddenly much more cheery.

            Sirius. Very patiently. I believe she's twenty-three?

            That's right, Sirius agreed, and, heading off his next comment, and you're, what, thirty-five? So hard to remember. A joke, of course, as they were the same age.

            Simple arithmetic, Padfoot. Three from five is two, move to the tens column –

            Yeah, yeah, twelve, I know. Think about it; together you've a combined life expectancy of two hundred and thirty years. What's twelve years?

            Twelve years was the amount of time Sirius had been in Azkaban and that he, Remus, had spent devoid. It hadn't seemed a particularly short amount of time.

            Twelve years is a generation.

            Oh, come on, you know how much of a codgy old professor you sound like? Sirius had been very amused.

            Just the point. And Tonks is a bright girl with much more energy, enthusiasm, potential, and spirit than should be wasted on said codgy professor, Remus had responded, pokerfaced.

            She'll mature, Moony, Sirius had said quietly. We all did during the war. So will she.

            There had been a long silence.

            One hundred ninety, had been Remus's out-of-the-blue comment.

            Sirius had startled. Beg pardon?

            One hundred ninety. Sirius hadn't caught on to it, what Remus was saying to ensure that his friend knew that this conversation was dead closed. The largest combined life expectancy we could hope for. One-hundred twenty for a healthy witch – twenty more years if especially so. Seventy at most for a werewolf with wizard blood.

            Comprehension had dawned. Yes, Sirius, Remus had thought pointedly. A hint, I do declare!

            But that's only if you don't survive that long, Sirius had said dismissively. We did that research, for the Animagi, remember that one girl who lived to be almost three hundred? And the other case, too; he lived a regular number of years –

            The woman was bitten when she was in her late forties; the man, when he was around a hundred, Remus had said patiently. That's a very large difference, between fifty and six; that's about forty-four years of the transformation taking its toll.

            Well, if you're going to be so bloody occupied with arithmetic, then I'll just stop trying to make sure you're happy, Remus! Sirius had snapped, a sudden explosion of temper, standing up and eyes blazing – and haunted.

            Remus had jumped up as well and caught him in a fierce embrace, and for a long moment nothing was said; Sirius was tense, then, sighing, had relaxed in Remus's arms.

            Sorry, he said gruffly.

            Me too.

            Then, and now too, Remus had silently hoped that no, indeed; he didn't want to live quite that long. As a boy, seventy had seemed an incredibly short number of years, and no one had given him the least flicker of hope for anything more. Now… now seventy seemed like a while, too, even when he was halfway to it. But he could live them, even enjoy them.

            Three hundred, though? May he not be one of the 'fortunate' of his species.

            Remus had released Sirius.

            Just don't deny that it's possible, get a little optimism.

            Well, that just means that she would die before me, and there you are again, Remus had replied in a tone of finality, somewhat incredulous to hear Sirius lecturing him on optimism.

            But then again, it was only recently roles had been reversed, hadn't it? Remus reflected. There had been a time when he perfectly deserved his nickname; Sirius assured him that he hadn't been a complete downer ('d'you think we'd've put up with you if you had always been so depressing!') but he'd certainly had a knack for adding a dash of melancholy to the group. In retrospect, it probably wasn't so bad a thing – certainly had James and Sirius been given any more encouragement than they'd already had things would have gotten out of hand, so his touch of pessimism had really most likely saved them from expulsion at least once.

            Now things were the opposite, and it was – had been – no longer Sirius being the one to keep things light, but Remus.

            In addition to friend, Sirius had a way of being a constant thorn in his side – as had James and Peter, too, often. But all the same, even when at his limits of patience (and beyond) he had loved them, and Sirius all the more over the past two years. You didn't necessarily have to like someone to love them, he knew that, although the latter very often inspired a strong former. And no matter his frustration and the enormity of their rows, always they'd be there when Remus most needed them. Sirius especially. No matter what else Sirius had on his busy agenda, when Remus returned to their dormitory from the hospital wing, still rather dazed and exhausted, Sirius would be there. As Padfoot.

            Sirius had always liked being in his alterform, because no matter what, after a while his friends would absently start petting him. Dogs were simply touchable was the bottom line of it. And Sirius's presence was good enough, but as a dog there had always been greater freedom when Remus needed that sort of comfort; they would fall asleep together, Remus clinging to Padfoot. He had never felt properly healed until then.

            Remus realised he'd been pacing, that it was almost midnight, and that tomorrow was another day of battle.

            But the idea of rest, for a while, was ludicrous. Remus couldn't lie down for more than mere seconds before impatiently getting up again. Tired, yes, but sleepy, no. And unable to stand still. He would stare out the window for only moments before pacing again, and then finally something outside would catch his eye again and the routine started again. He couldn't stop thinking… remembering…

            Sighing in frustration, Remus sat on the edge of the bed, head in hands. If Snape was still here… Remus knew he always had Sleeping Potions on him; Snape was perpetually afflicted from insomnia… and he'd gladly swallow his pride if he could have some for himself.

            Before he could convince himself to at least attempt to find Snape, however, footsteps and clatter revealed the presence of someone heading for his room. The security he had felt with the lock was a sham, after all – they would open for a member of the Order who felt need and no malicious intent… as Molly Weasley, who opened the door, apparently did.

            'Remus,' she said, bustling in. Remus lifted his head and looked up, eyes protesting at the sudden influx of light. But she closed the door with the back of her foot (a mother's talent, the mother of Fred and George Weasley no less, he thought, with a very weak smile) and hurried in, placing something on the nightstand before going to him. 'Oh, Remus…'

            'Molly.'

            She enveloped him in a hug, and Remus felt himself return it needily. Touch had seemed to set off a mental fire. His defences abruptly fled; he started shaking almost uncontrollably and felt as though he would shatter in her arms, and he knew that soon he would start crying, if she didn't leave, and possibly even if she did.

            'That's right, dear, that's all right…'  she said into his shoulder. 'Have you been up here alone, really…'

            Her words washed over him without lingual meaning. Remus felt like one of her children. Soon she would be saying that it was all right, crying was good for growing boys, and he could hear her say it in his mind, and the whole miniature scene struck him as so ridiculous that he did start crying, feeling slightly hysterical.

            And it wasn't really about Sirius now; it was about himself, Remus Lupin, who felt empty – but if there had been anything where there was now a hole, it would be terrible loss and grief. He bit his lip – they released, Remus with a shuddering sigh –

            'Look,' said Molly, who also seemed teary eyed, which was nice for pride at least. 'Brought you some cocoa; they said it was your idea to begin with…'

            Remus laughed shakily and held it equally so, hands not quite steady. 'Molly, you're wonderful.'

            'No – it's nothing – cocoa, honestly…' She also gave one of those sighs that seemed laden with unshed tears. 'After Sirius…'

            'Didn't expect you,' Remus murmured, 'not after your – disagreements…'

            'Oh, those! Good grief, Remus… of course we disagreed – and he was childish at times, you can't deny that…' Molly wiped her left eye with her sleeve. 'Don't you think I ever wanted this – '

            'No, never!' said Remus hurriedly, wondering why he said such stupid things.

            ' – poor dear boy – oh, you certainly couldn't help but love Sirius – and even if I hadn't,' she said, attempting a brisk tone which failed as her eyes fell on him, 'after all you've done this year – comforting a silly old woman – '

            'I don't recognise that as you, Molly, and I refuse to let you talk of yourself that way,' Remus said, his contradiction coming out in his best schoolteacher voice without thinking. 'And this hot chocolate is excellent.'

            They shared another of those gruesomely inane, unsteady laughs.

            'Well, in any case, you've been a regular' – she dabbed at her eye again – 'pillar of strength ever since this whole mess began – I'm so sorry, Remus.'

            'So am I, Molly.' For Sirius.

            But he felt less empty.

            'Are you staying up here, dear?… we're rather worried about you downstairs – some people would like to speak with you, Arthur and – '

            'Tomorrow,' Remus said wearily. 'Tonight – no, I'm afraid not.' Trying to be discrete and failing, he attempted Molly's tear-wiping maneuver. They had stopped, but he wasn't able to keep the ones that were there from falling.

            'You'll drink all of that – sleep better tonight,' Molly ordered, unscientific but somehow with plenty of conviction in her voice.

            'All right, Molly. Thank you.' He attempted another smile that failed but not so badly as the first, and after Molly thoughtfully relocked the door it was only another hour before he fell asleep.

            He awoke the next morning, with no blessed second of unconsciousness or ignorance of events of the day before. It did take him a moment to realise that sunlight was streaming and beaming in through the window. The clock read eleven.

            Remus hopped up and hurried, unable to believe he had slept quite that long and rather ashamed of it.

            'There you are up,' Kingsley said, the door opening easily for him as for Molly (Remus had to glare at the offending piece of wood before nodding to Kingsley). 'You were dead to the world for quite some time.' He gave a very slight wince at his own use of the word 'dead'.

            Remus shook his head and smiled at him. 'I'm very sorry – and it not even the week after the full moon. You could have woken me.'

            'And have Mad-Eye shouting at us? No, his orders are to let you alone – actually, he says you have a choice of sleeping until lunch or letting one of us taking over for you tonight.'

            Now Remus frowned. 'Tyrant,' he muttered, not without affection.

            'I don't agree with him myself,' Kingsley shrugged. 'Not about the until lunch part.'

            'Where is he now?'

            'Out,' said Kingsley briefly, as laconic as such affaires within the Order dictated outside their headquarters and as became habit even within.

            'Kindly tell him I slept until lunch. Quite close enough, anyway.'

            'Agreed. Will do.'

            *

            The next few days were like a very slow healing of immediate damages. Remus fluxuated between numbness and so many emotions that he felt ready to burst – or to do something wild and rash, things he might not have done even in his adolescence and knew very well he'd best not do then. He laughed rather often and knew some of the others thought it was a deliberate attempt to be cheerful. As to whether they were right he couldn't say.

            All he did know was that he felt a compulsive need to be busy and occupied when he was awake, and when he needed to rest he needed to be so exhausted that it came easily. He began to talk of starting an herb garden so that the Order would have at least a rough supply of ingredients, in case of emergency, and it was difficult to tell if the approving response were sincere affirmatives or if they were humouring him. He started it anyway, in between persistently pursuing his usual Order duties and helping Snape decode the new cipher.

            Of course, the next full moon helped this cause amazingly, the occupation-and-then-exhaustion bit. It was a violent night, however, more so than usual, and Remus was unconscious come morning. Tonks finally unspelled the dungeon to reach him and immediately ran for help – a little blood always looked like a lot, and there was a lot to begin with.

            After a while, however, numbness lost more and more ground. His appetite, which he thought had taken a permanent wing south, wound up returning – Molly Weasley's cooking did that to a man. And things began to take on the characteristics of worrisome and amusing again. Unfortunately there was a great deal more of the former than the latter, mourning aside. But in the end it wound up being the crux of the matter, why it was so much easier to deal with. Hallowe'en '81 had devastated him for many reasons – a greater, more complicated, less clean tragedy, and he'd been younger then, and there was the taint of betrayal and confusion involved. Most of all, however, he had been left terribly empty-handed and idle. There was nothing to occupy him, and what significantly less work the Order had been doing, everyone had considered it prudent to keep him out of things. It was so much easier to bear this time around, with work to be done.

            None of the children wrote him, as Remus had rather hoped they would. Quite probably they had heard what they wanted to know from Harry, who had probably been told everything he hadn't figured out for himself.

            Remus had begun to seriously consider the problem of Harry. Not a problem, necessarily, but at least consideration of what he might be able to do (if anything) to help him. Sirius had named him next-of-kin, and, since Sirius had been the last of the Blacks, that meant Remus had also become master of Grimmauld Place – which at least explained why Kreacher had obeyed him that night in the matter of his room and door.

            Kreacher was an ever-present thorn that they couldn't discard for the same reasons. Still, Remus sometimes could barely look at him, after hearing a full account of the plot from Dumbledore. He had to however, as the only one with any control left over him. And he had pieced together a compromise, allowing Kreacher to keep the topmost floor to honour the Black family. However, he firmly ordered Kreacher to not leave the premises.

            The point, however, was that a materialistic side, at least, had some options. Sirius had left it open with his blessing for Harry to also come into the Black inheritance once he became of age. Remus wasn't sure if Harry's feelings for the place mirrored Sirius. If so, he mightn't want anything to do with it – but if he was more clearheaded about it, it was really an excellent house, especially for a young wizard who wanted to start a family. Remus wasn't quite sure where he fit into this picture and told himself he wouldn't care – he had the cottage in Bethany, after all.

            As to the other side of things, and the much more immediate issues, Remus felt helpless. He had been working on a letter to send to Harry, to see if they could correspond over the summer. It was extremely hard coming. Because, when you came right down to it, Remus didn't know the first thing about that sort of relationship with an adolescent. Sirius might have considered him the resident expert-in-authority on children in general and Harry in particular, due to his experience on the other side of the desk in general and that one year at Hogwarts in particular, but in truth he knew very little. He had done some tutoring and teaching, as much as he could considering his status as a wizard and lack of education as a Muggle, but he was too reserved and aloof to have learned this sort of thing.

            What he knew about children was how to get them to memorise multiplication and introduce them to Dark Creatures, including but far from limited to himself, to set homework and exams and then to mark them, and that was about it.

            No, Remus corrected himself: that was a conclusion built on a sense of grief-stricken self-pity. To be honest, he was quite a capable teacher. He knew how to grab his students' attention and then how to hold it. He knew how to make potentially boring topics at least tolerable. He had a pretty good idea of how to motivate and to reprimand them effectively. He knew how to catch potential troublemakers in the act. He could feel sympathy for them and understand the basics of their adolescence, hormone-wild minds. He knew how to create the sort of class that was interesting and nonthreatening in addition to educational, so that his pupils wouldn't note their schedules and groan that oh, they had Lupin's class at such-and-such a period and the bloody hell had they done to deserve that? 

            But Sirius had known more about him with none of that experience at all in regards to how to bond with a fifteen-year-old boy, from the looks of it. Remus could barely manage to heal children under his care physically – Shrieking Shack and the Ministry as cases-in-point. And he had no idea how to help heal the bruised emotions of a boy who had suffered that great a loss, who had lost a father, brother, and friend in one great blow.

            He had an obligation to try, and he would, he would write that letter today or die (whether or not he would send it being another issue) – and he wanted to. But how was he to do that with his own emotions in turmoil? Especially when he was an expert in repressing with emotions, but beyond that hadn't the first clue as to how to deal with them, come to terms with them. So Harry was angry and volatile, reports from Hogwarts said? Well, then, perhaps he was coming to terms in a much better, healthier way than Remus, but Remus only knew one way that had served him almost without fail for his whole life. And while Remus knew he was a young man, quite young by wizarding standards, he didn't feel it; he felt as though he had lived much longer than thirty-five years.

            As Hogwarts drew to a close, however, Remus had at least one epiphany. He ran it by appropriate members of the Order, the ones who had, after all, heard Sirius rant at great length about the conditions Harry was under at the Dursleys' – who had watched it all themselves, the summer before.

            'I'm impressed – threatening and manipulation; you sound like a Slytherin,' said Moody, who, as a Slytherin alumnus, said this as a compliment. 'But why do I seem to be taking the active role?'

            'Because you're the most suitably intimidating, Mad-Eye,' Remus said casually, with a light, easy smile that had not appeared since Sirius's death.

            'Hmph. I'll think about it.'

            'But if you don't I will,' Tonks warned him, 'and you know I'll just make a mess of things. Even though' – she started metamorphosing as she spoke – 'I'm sure I can at least become suitably terrifying, as Remus suggested.' Her head turned into that of a giant snake's for emphasis.

            'I think the Muggles might notice something,' Molly frowned, and a general laugh followed this understatement.

            At the station Remus's eye observed nearly every student, most of whom he remembered, but a few in particular and then, once he found him, one in particular. Harry looked for all intents and purposes no different than he had the day they had rushed to the Ministry – Harry with the purpose of saving Sirius's life.

            He should have threatened Snape to continue the Occlemency, Remus reflected, like Sirius had so eagerly suggested. Not that it was Snape's fault, or his, or Harry's – but indirect blame laid on them, if only because it could be prevented. He wouldn't bring that up unless Harry did, however – no point in giving the boy something new to worry about. Molly reached Harry first in an embrace, and Remus felt a stab of jealousy – and then let it pass. Molly had become a surrogate mother for Harry.

            '… oh, and Harry, how are you?'

            'Fine,' said Harry, as insincerely as anyone would have said. Even more insincerely than Remus had replied to similar questions.

            Remus eyed the group. They were all here, ready – Tonks, Molly, Arthur, and Moody. Remus also wouldn't put it past Fred and George to have overheard with those magical ears of theirs and have plans to add a little touch to the upcoming conversation.

            'Hello, Harry,' Remus greeted him quietly.

            'Hi,' replied Harry. 'I didn't expect…' Good, Remus reflected, now get used to it, Harry, you're not to be left alone, '… what are you all doing here?'

            This, at least, was a bit that wasn't tricky. Remus couldn't help a slight feeling, an old one, satisfaction at mischief and mayhem for a good cause, and it probably showed. 'Well, we thought we might have a little chat with your aunt and uncle before letting them take you home.'

            'I dunno if that's a good idea,' Harry said instantly, almost in one breath. Not offending his aunt and uncle any more than necessary at the start of summer was the gospel according to Harry, all right, and Remus inwardly sighed to realise that. It should never have been like this.

            'Oh, I think it is,' said Moody, of whom no one had any doubt would, in fact, actually follow through once the moment arrived. 'That'll be them, Potter?' He pointed without looking behind him, something they all took for granted. Remus glanced over his shoulder, however, at the thin, pinched woman, so unlike Lily, and Dursley, who was really almost beyond Remus's powers of belief, a character out of a fairy tale or a very biting satire. And then that child… Who looked as fearful and shocked at Harry's crowd as his parents. Two fists wasn't much against the wicked force and evil of magic, Remus supposed.

            'Ah, Harry!' Arthur had been temporarily distracted by his two most convenient and favourite Muggles – Mr and Mrs Granger. 'Well – shall we do it, then?'

            Harry was looking apprehensive, but there was a glint in his eyes of some emotion Remus couldn't identify.

            'Yeah, I reckon so, Arthur,' Moody said, giving the go-ahead.

            The twins shoved Ron along, and Hermione had caught on and slid out of her mother's grip. Probably not a bad idea – Mad-Eye might grow a bit overenthusiastic if there weren't children around for him to worry about being in the line of fire, and Harry didn't really count in that respect.

            The Dursleys looked as though most of their nightmares had come true as the lot of them went over. Had they not spoken to them after them seeing this, then the Dursleys might take this anger out on Harry. Remus felt Moody's eye on him and gave a very set face, mentally telling Moody to not allow that to happen, and Moody nodded almost imperceptibly.

            'Good afternoon,' said Arthur, sounded as though he were quite pleased to met old acquaintances. 'You might remember me, my name's Arthur Weasley.'

            Judging from Vernon Dursley's glare and the interesting colour his face turned, doubtless he did remember. Something was afoot there…

            'We thought we'd just have a few words with you about Harry,' Arthur continued, smiling.

            'Yeah – about how he's treated when he's at your place.' Moody's voice was lower and more gravelly than ever. Dudley seemed to shrink. Remus simply mentally applauded the use of the word place as opposed to home.

            Dursley chose to reply to Moody, which Remus had figured would most likely would happen – with that bowler hat, a symbol of safety to him, from what Remus had heard of Vernon Dursley. 'I am not aware that it is any of your business what goes on in my house – '

            Moody growled, 'I expect what you're not aware of would fill several books, Dursley.'

            Tonks decided to speak up, and Remus saw unholy pleasure in her eye at making Petunia, who already seemed physically in pain because of Tonks's bright pink hair, squirm further in discomfort at being addressed by this atrocious woman. 'Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, if we find out you've been horrible to Harry – '

            ' – and make no mistake, we'll hear about it,' Remus interjected in his most pleasant, baiting tone.

            'Yes,' Arthur said, hitting upon the worst imaginable crime he could think of at the drop of a hat, 'even if you won't let Harry use the fellytone – '

            'Telephone,' hissed Hermione, who looked desperately amused and equally uncomfortable at this emotion in this particular situation.

            'Yeah, if we get any hint that Potter's been mistreated in any way, you'll have to answer to us.'

            Unfortunately, that bowler hat was doing more harm than good. Dursley couldn't quite be intimidated by a man wearing it, but that was all right, because Remus knew that soon Moody would ban secrecy to the iciest netherhells shortly. It was plain to all who had spent enough time with him – even Hermione, who looked apprehensive, and Ron, who looked eager for the moment. Harry just seemed in a dazed state only broken by his sharp, hidden grin.

            'Are you threatening me, sir?' Dursley demanded, going for volume so that others would overhear. Safety in numbers was the Dursley motto.

            But Dursley didn't know whom he was talking to.

            'Yes, I am,' Moody replied, sounding quite pleased that Dursley understood the situation, possibly based on the poor opinions of his intelligence he'd been fed.

            'And do I look like the kind of man who can be intimidated?' Dursley was filled with bravado, but Moody knew how to deal with that.

            'Well…' Moody pushed back his bowler hat, revealing the magical eye he was known for. Dursley took a huge step backward, recoiling, and smacked into a luggage trolley. Moody smiled at this reaction. 'Yes, I'd have to say you do, Dursley.' He turned to Harry, who looked incredulous. 'So, Potter… give us a shout if you need us. If we don't hear from you for three days in a row, we'll send someone along…'

            Petunia whimpered.

            All in all, everyone was quite certain that they would be following all previously made suggestions to a T to avoid such a fate.

            Harry was still in that state as everyone wished him farewell, his eyes crinkling as he looked up – to avoid the light in his eyes? Hold back tears? But he left, apparently leading out the Dursleys, stride straightbacked and painfully unafraid.

            Remus let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.

            The bustling around for the rest of their departures ensured. The Grangers came over, looking quite wary. Her father watched her say her goodbyes to Ron, Ginny, and the twins – her mother looked intently at the adults who had obviously been having unpleasant words with Harry's guardians, uncertain that she approved.

            'Ready, Hermione?' Mr Granger asked.

            Hermione turned slightly, having finished goodbyes, and then gave a sideways glance that Remus caught. 'Just a moment, Dad.'

            The Grangers exchanged a glance, Mrs Granger's quizzical which Mr Granger gave a shrug to. She had Hermione's sharp eyes and mind; he had her looks and a free-and-easy grace that reminded Remus of Tonks – or, of course, Sirius.

            These thoughts had distracted him from Hermione herself, who had come over to him, hesitation etched on her face before she reached out and quickly embraced him. Remus was dumbfounded.

            She looked very awkward. 'It's – I – just…' She took a deep breath and gave him a too-knowing, too-understanding look that spoke Sirius's name better than any word. 'You take care, Professor.'

            'You, too, Hermione,' said Remus, touched.

            'Th – Thanks for, you know, at the Ministry, the healing, watching us.'

            Remus put a hand on her shoulder. 'We'll see you this summer, Hermione.'

            'Yes,' she said, composure regained, and when they shook hands Hermione tightened her grip for just a moment.

            A girl of fifteen or sixteen had glued his soul back together in thirty seconds of bravery. 'Goodbye.'

            'Goodbye.'

            'I really like those kids,' Tonks said appreciatively, coming from behind him. 'Come on, wave the Weasleys farewell – huh, look, they're throwing coupons out to any classmate they can recognise, the twins are.'

            The Weasleys departed, home to the Burrow – for how long? A day, perhaps, before coming back to Grimmauld Place, which had almost become their second home, under very terrible circumstances indeed? Molly, exasperatedly, pulled back Fred's hand. Entrepreneurs or no, Molly would take some time warming up to such bland prankstering. They filed into a taxi with a rather alarmed-looking driver.

            'And now,' said Moody, rather needlessly, as the three of them found themselves alone and with an emptying station, 'we'd best get going.'

            'Probably so,' agreed Tonks casually. 'You were great, Moody, did you see that Dursley fellow when he saw your eye? – hey, look what that guy over there's doing, with his fingers.'

            'It's probably his telephone number,' said Remus Lupin, last who embraced the memory of a certain something long ago, the werewolf still called 'Professor' by his former students, wryly.

            'Oh, yeah, probably is,' said Auror Tonks, exile from the family of Black, who would rather everyone forgot her first name. 'How would that work, though? Don't even know his name…'

            'You would if you went over there and asked,' Mad-Eye Moody, ex-Auror and current second-in-command of the Order of the Phoenix, said over his shoulder, leading them two of them out.

            Tonks glanced at the young Muggle man, who had a streak of blue in his own hair, grinned, and shook her head. 'I've enough to do without you, honeychild,' she muttered.

            'You've just said a mouthful, woman,' Moody said. 'We all do.'

            Remus nodded, rather absently, because he was mentally writing a letter.

End