Summary: Remus has been ordered to take Harry to Grimmauld Place, but he knows that Harry will not react well when he learns he has to spend the rest of the summer locked up in Sirius' house.
Notes: Beta-read by xmchriste, who did a great job. Thanks!
Two short rings of the bell. One minute.
Another two short rings. Another minute.
Remus Lupin is about to make his presence known for the third time when the door suddenly swings open, destabilising him.
An outsized man stands in front of him, his loud breathing quick and shallow, his face an odd shade of purple. Remus waits patiently as the man's eyes sweep up and down his frame, taking in the yellowing shirt, the dark blue patch on the knee of his jeans, the fraying threads of the overcoat bent in two over his forearm. His patience turns quickly into irritation at the offending gaze.
"What do you want?" the man snaps rudely. "I don't have time at this moment."
Remus tried to risk a glance into the house, but the man's massive profile is blocking the entrance. He only gets a glimpse of the floor, which seems to be spotted with something dark, before the man's hand on the inside of the door pushes forwards compulsively. A warning.
The tension between the two men stretches. When at last Remus feels it is about to reach its breaking point, he speaks, an empty smile crossing his lined features. "Good evening, Mr Dursley."
The man lifts his chin and narrows his eyes. Tiny beads of sweat roll down his thick moustache. "Do I know you?"
"We met each other last month, at King's Cross Sta-"
The door shuts with a cracking bang, stirring the air around Remus' head and stirring some locks of his hair. A click announces that the door is locked. A roar comes from inside, "I don't want to have anything to do with you lot! Get away from my house!"
Remus blinks once. Twice. He has been expecting a reaction like that, but didn't think he wouldn't have the tiniest chance to explain himself. He isn't sure what to do next. Should he force the door open? Break into the house and pull Harry out? Leave and come back the next day? Sneak inside at night? Give up?
Two short rings of the bell. Nothing happens. Remus isn't surprised.
He'll wait; it's a strategy that has proven effective several times for him. Leaning against the wall, he lets his eyes wander along Privet Drive – down the row of square houses, over wet pools of rainwater, up into the deep blue sky. The moon is almost full. Two more nights.
He slides down into a crouching position. Mud has stained the hem of his trousers. Remus looks to his side, another strategy forming in his mind. If he moves just a couple of feet to his left, he can hide into that hydrangea bush and take a peek inside through the window... No, the curtains are closed. He'll wait.
He looks up at the sky again, and the memory comes back, as he knew it would. He shouldn't have waited. He could have stopped it, stopped her, but he decided to wait for just a second longer. The muscles in his arms tighten as he remembers holding Harry back.
Harry. He seemed...strangely detached last time they met. Sad? Regretful? Remus shakes his head. Harry must be in deep pain; he loves Sirius, too. Not in the same way Remus does, but not less intensely for that. Harry, Remus thinks, feels strongly. But at King's Cross last month... At least he didn't seem angry. By now the consequences of the battle must have sunk in, however. Remus wonders how the boy feels. Then he wonders how he feels himself, and buries his emotions even deeper.
He waits in silence until the lights in number four are turned off. His legs are numb when he stands up. Reaching down, he buries his hand in the right pocket of his overcoat. The wool scrapes the back of his hand lightly as he feels around the wide opening, and for a moment he thinks it's not there, until his fingers meet cold, sanded wood.
The lock of the front door clicks and Remus' grip on his wand tightens instinctively as he jumps aside and crouches back down behind the bush.
The door opens, then closes. The mud and water on the ground splatter softly under invisible weight.
The splattering stops. "Professor Lupin?"
Remus stands up slowly, quietly. "I've come to pick you up," he whispers to the air in front of him. There is silence, and Remus waits.
"All right," Harry mutters finally.
"You'll need to collect your things. We'll be away for the rest of the summer."
When Harry speaks again, Remus has to strain his ears to listen. "I've already got my things with me."
Remus reaches out and takes a couple of steps forwards until his fingers meet soft, velvety fabric. Invisible fabric. He closes his hand around it and pulls, uncovering a miserable-looking boy with a caged owl in one hand and an overstuffed backpack in the other. The hem of his trouser legs are stained with both dried and fresh mud.
Remus leads the way across the front garden, with Harry obediently at his heels. There's an eerie light about the deserted street, a mix of bright, natural moonlight and a misty yellow glow cast by the street lamps.
Harry doesn't say anything. He doesn't ask where they are going, or why they are going. And Remus doesn't volunteer any information; he'll wait until Harry decides to talk.
The boy stands very still with his head hanging low, chin close to his chest, as Remus pulls his wand out from his pocket and holds it up above his head, his right arm forming a forty-five-degrees angle with his body.
There is a sudden bang and Remus screws up his face against the blinding light that passes him by. Screeching, a big violet three-decked bus comes to a stop beside him.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus," starts loudly a young, pimple-faced man as he leaps out of the bus, "emergency transport for the stranded wi-"
"Yes, thank you, Stan," interrupts Remus, and turns around to take the backpack and cage from Harry's hands before giving the boy his invisibility cloak back.
"Mr Lupin, 'Arry," Stan greets them brightly, catching Harry's things as they are handed to him. "Nice to see you again tonight, sir. An' 'Arry, a pleasure to meet you again too, 'course." He gets back onto the bus and hauls the things in, then indicates Harry and Remus to follow him with a gesture of his arm.
Remus looks behind him and waits until Harry lifts his head up. "Come, let's go," he instructs the boy quietly. As soon as they get onto the bus, Remus grabs a bed post with one hand and Harry's arm with the other. The abrupt movement of the vehicle makes Harry lose his balance for a moment, but Remus is holding him tight and he doesn't let go until they are both able to stand by themselves.
"I've put your fings under that bed," says the young conductor, so quickly that Remus has to concentrate to understand him, as he points at a brass bedstead behind him. "You can use the one to the right, too."
"Thank you," answers Remus, then turns his head around and murmurs a polite greeting to the driver.
"Back to London, Mr Lupin?" the conductor asks.
Remus nods as he fishes into the pocket of his overcoat for a tinkling leather pouch. "Two to number thirty, Grimmauld Place, please," he says, handing it to the young man. He buries his hand in his pocket once more, takes out four shiny sickles and holds them out. "And two mugs of hot chocolate."
"Righto," says Stan, taking the money from Remus' hands.
Remus walks to his assigned bed and lets his own weight pull him down onto it. Harry follows more slowly, sits down on the bed to the right and rests his head against the wood-panelled wall of the bus.
"Are you tired, Harry?" Remus pretends not to know the answer. "After you've had some hot chocolate, I'll ask Stan to put out the candle in that bracket." A nod to the general direction of the upper half of the wall should be enough to indicate Harry which candle he's talking about. Remus is tired, too.
An approaching violet-clad form catches Remus' eye. "'Ere's the 'ot chocolate." The conductor hands a smoking cup to Harry and another one to Remus.
"Thank you, Stan. Would you mind if I put out the candle later?"
"Not at all, Mr Lupin." He's already leaving them alone as he adds, "You can put out any candles you want."
Remus looks around the bus. They are almost at the back, and no other bed is occupied. He waits for Harry to speak, but Harry just sips slowly at his hot chocolate, looking down at the floor. Better this way. Remus raises the mug to his lips and takes a big gulp, feeling the liquid burn his mouth, tongue and throat. He thinks he can feel it warm his stomach, too.
"Why are we going there?"
The unexpected question startles Remus, and it takes him a moment to realise what Harry means. "It's still Headquarters," he explains in a whisper. Harry doesn't ask further.
After what seems an eternity, Harry puts his empty mug down on the floor, pulls off his trainers without untying them and lies down on his side, facing away from Remus, clutching his father's cloak to his chest. Remus directs a spell at the nearest candle and, when the space around them darkens, crosses his arms and legs on the bed and rests his back against the wood-panelled wall, wand still clutched tightly. His eyes flutter closed as the world around him fades away.
He's pulled back to consciousness by a nasal voice. "Grimmauld Place, Mr Lupin, 'Arry."
Remus smoothes his shirt with the palms of his hands before standing up and grabbing his overcoat. "Took quite some time," he comments sleepily.
"Only an hour an' a 'alf." Stan is already pulling Harry's things from under the bed and carrying them up the narrow corridor.
Remus looks to his side and sees Harry standing up. Waiting? He doesn't look sleepy. In fact, he looks like he hasn't had a decent night's sleep in a long time. And truth be told, neither has Remus. The short hour and a half that the trip lasted seemed five times longer to his sleep-deprived mind.
He leads the way to the front of the bus. Harry follows silently. Once again he grabs the boy's arm and a bedpost, but when the bus comes to an abrupt stop this time, Harry is prepared and his feet never leave the floor.
"Hope you've 'ad a pleasant trip," Stan says, leaping out of the bus and placing the backpack and Hedwig's cage on the pavement outside number thirty, Grimmauld Place. Remus and Harry descend the steps unhurriedly and move to the side so Stan can get back onto the bus. He waves to them from the door. "If you are ever in need of the Knigh' Bus again, just 'old out your wand!"
"Thank you, Stan," Remus answers, and adds more loudly to be heard on the bus, "And Ernie."
"Right, yor welcome. Bye!"
The violet bus leaves with a bang that doesn't seem as loud as the one it made at Privet Drive. Remus takes the cloak from Harry's hand slowly, as if asking for permission. Harry lets him take it, then picks up his things before Remus pulls it over them both. He should have done that before getting down from the bus, he realises.
They walk in silence down the street. A couple of yards down, all the street lamps are out. As they approach number eleven, someone comes up to them from the shadows.
"Moody," Remus whispers as a greeting.
"Everything all right?" the older man asks, as a black door surrounded by dirty walls with grimy windows on them appears out of nowhere.
"Yes." Remus doesn't elaborate; instead, he takes out his wand to tap the door once. A string of various metallic sounds ensues before the door creaks open.
"Quick, get inside," Moody instructs, his magical eye spinning wildly in its socket. The three of them enter the house and Remus closes the door before shedding off the invisibility cloak, uncovering Harry and himself.
The gas lamps are on. Remus watches as Harry looks around, his eyes landing on the empty section of wall where Mrs Black's portrait should be.
"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?" Moody asks.
Remus' attention snaps back to the other man. "We'll be all right. Dumbledore said he wanted you back as soon as we had arrived."
Both of Moody's eyes are fixed on Remus now, looking at him appraisingly. "I'd better be going, then," he says finally.
Remus moves towards the door behind Moody, and locks it after the man exits. And he waits. He wants to turn around and look at Harry, but not just yet. It must be painful for the boy. It was painful for Remus himself the first few times he came back to Grimmauld Place, but by now he's managed to push the strongest emotions to the back of his mind and heart. "I'll show you your room," he says, in a much hoarser voice than he has intended.
He can hear Harry walking to the foot of the stairs, pausing and waiting for him to lead the way. Remus turns and walks up to him with quick pace, taking the backpack from the boy's hand. He steps on the staircases firmly as he goes up.
Soon they reach the fourth floor. Remus opens a door to a dimly lit room with one bed in it. He places Harry's backpack on the floor by the door and turns around. "This will be your room, Harry," he says. "Mine is the other one on this floor. The third door is the bathroom. Wash up and unpack, I'll be downstairs making some tea. All right?"
Harry nods, and Remus leaves him alone. He goes up to the fifth floor to check on Buckbeak—who still looks rather depressed—and then goes back down to the basement. He's tired, so he puts his overcoat on the back of a chair before sitting down on it, reaching down to take his wand from the pocket and using different spells to make the tea without having to stand up.
The kettle stirs slightly with the movement of boiling water inside. The sound is too loud in the thick silence. Remus tries and fails to recall if silence in this house felt as heavy when Sirius was around. Yet he does recall moments of silence, some in this very kitchen, with Sirius sitting next to him by the head of the table, toying with his food, deep in thought. Remus would watch him, follow every movement of his fork, of his eyes, taking in all the changes Azkaban had caused in his face, in his body.
His thoughts are interrupted by the door opening. Remus looks up to see Harry standing on the threshold, waiting.
Remus' smile is weak and void as he stands up. "Ah, Harry," he says softly, afraid of breaking the silence. "Sit down, the water is ready." He turns around to fetch the kettle and mugs. "Sugar? Milk?"
"Sugar, please," Harry's voice comes from behind him, low.
Remus takes everything back to the table and sits down before pouring tea in two cups and pushing the sugar pot towards Harry, who is sitting in front of him. "Tomorrow's your birthday," he says casually, looking for a topic of conversation that would lighten up the boy.
Harry looks up, slight surprise showing on his face. "It is," he agrees, after seeming to ponder on the fact for a bit.
Remus returns his gaze to the task at hand, deliberately taking his time to pour some milk into his cup of tea. "Is there anything you want?"
"Sugar's fine, thanks."
His eyes are drawn back to Harry's face, and he blinks. "I meant for your birthday."
Harry lifts his chin, and their gazes meet for a moment. "No, not really. Thanks," he says, before hiding behind his cup. Whether he is thanking him for the tea or the offer to buy him a present, Remus doesn't know.
Heavy silence fills the room once again, and Remus waits for Harry to break it, not knowing how to do that himself. But Harry seems to be lost in deep thought. Remus watches him, the movement of his spoon as he stirs his tea, his eyes as he blinks slowly, every change in his face and body since they last met. The silence only gets heavier.
"Dumbledore thinks you should stay here until school starts again," he says at last. He knows Harry won't be happy about that. "I think he might be feeling a bit...never mind. He – ah – seems to believe your aunt and uncle's house is no longer a safe place for you to stay. You spend too much time on the streets, he says."
"I'm not wanted in that house."
"You are wanted here," Remus reassures him, his voice weak.
Harry drops his head, and Remus can see through the boy's fringe that he is blinking repeatedly. "Is there going to be a lot of movement in the house this summer?" Harry asks, his voice almost cracking at times. Almost.
Remus sniffs. "Actually," he says slightly louder as he straightens up in his chair, "we are waiting for the Death Eaters to prepare their next move. They've escaped Azkaban, by the way, but I'm sure you knew that would happen. They'll be keeping most of the Order in one mission or other for a while. It's going to be you and me most of the time, I'm afraid." He manages a weak, empty smile, but gets none in return.
"Will I be allowed to go out?" Harry stares at him intently, and Remus wishes he could remain silent and not answer him.
"Dumbledore says you shouldn't," he confesses slowly, his gaze dropping to his lap. A strong feeling of guilt engulfs him at Harry's grimace.
"Of course." The boy's voice is bitter.
"I'll talk to him about it again, though," Remus says quickly. "I'm sure he won't deny you a trip or two to Diagon Alley. And you need to get your books before school starts."
No reply. Naturally.
Remus pours more tea into Harry's cup and watches as the boy adds three spoons of sugar, then he pours some for himself.
"How about you?" Harry asks.
"You say most of the members of the Order are on a mission. How about you?"
"I was sent to pick you up," Remus answers, as if that were sufficient explanation.
"Won't you be sent on a mission, too?"
"I'll stay with you here, Harry."
"I can take care of myself, you know." He stirs his tea vigorously, spilling some onto the plate. "Why can't anyone see that?"
Remus is tempted to reach out and put his hand on Harry's shoulder, but decides against it. "Everyone sees that, Harry. We just want to help you."
"You think I can't stay in this house on my own."
"I don't think that."
"Then why are you staying?"
"I want to stay with you, Harry." It is the truth, that much he was certain. He takes a deep breath. "Would you rather I went away?"
Harry seems taken aback by the question, and blinks a few times. "No."
Things would be all right, then. Remus sips at his tea, and after a moment Harry does the same. Silence isn't as heavy now as it was half an hour before. Remus wants it to remain uninterrupted.
"So, what's next? We'll just stay here all day long, every day until school starts again?"
Remus lets out an inaudible sigh. "I don't know," he says, hiding the truth somewhere deep inside of him. "I'm still waiting for the Headmaster to tell me."
"We'll just stay here all day long, every day until school starts again," Harry says, sounding very convinced of the truthfulness of his statement.
"We'll have things to do, Harry. I can help you with your studies, if you want."
"I don't want to study."
Remus ignores that comment. "Have you finished your summer homework?"
Remus is sure the boy is lying. "Good. Perhaps we could practise some spells, then. What do you say?"
"I said I don't want to study." Harry's voice is louder now, angrier. "I don't want to practise anything. I just want..."
"What do you want, Harry?" Remus asks, his voice thick with sincere concern.
Harry stands up with such force that his chair falls back, hitting the floor with a loud thump. "Why do you even bother asking? No one ever cares what I want."
Remus stands up too, instinctively. Something like vague fear tenses his body. "Of course we care, Harry. We all want the best for you."
"No! You just want me to survive to kill Voldemort, that's all." A shaky sob escapes his lips, and before Remus can say another word, he bolts for the door, disappearing through it.
"Harry- Harry!" He runs after him, climbing the stairs two steps at a time, and finds him crossing the entrance hall. Two large steps carry him across the hall in time to grab Harry's arm before the boy has time to run out of reach.
Harry struggles fiercely against the strong grip, and Remus puts his hand on the banister of the stairs for support, finding it hard to keep the boy in place.
"Let go!" Harry screams, his desperate tone and the brightness of his eyes forcing Remus' fingers to loosen up around his arm. He releases his hold completely, his hand falling to the side, and waits for Harry to run away.
But Harry does not.
"You can't give me what I want," he whispers, evidently trying to hold back sobs and tears.
Remus finds himself swallowing to work loose the lump in his throat. He knows perfectly well what Harry wants, for it's the same he does. "No, I can't, Harry. I wish I could, but I can't." His voice fails him, so he speaks no further. He doesn't know what to say, anyway.
They don't look into each other's eyes, but they don't walk away, either. Harry's presence is the only thing that keeps Remus' knees from giving way – or perhaps it's the cause of their weakness.
"Do you? Care, I mean." Remus looks up and opens his mouth to utter an automatic reply, but Harry interrupts him. "Don't lie to me, please. Just tell me the truth. Tell me you don't care."
"I won't tell you I don't care, Harry. You've asked me not to lie to you."
Harry looks at him, his moist eyes narrowed in disbelief. "Why?"
Remus pauses for a moment before replying, certain of what Harry expects as an answer, knowing his honest reply won't be enough for the boy because he's expecting another one. Intense guilt grips his insides once again as he wishes he could do something to ease Harry's feelings of betrayal. "You are an exceptional person, Harry. You're brave and kind, loyal to your friends and always willing to help anyone who needs you. You're smart and perseverant, never giving up. Your soul is still pure despite all the evil around you. You have a contagious love for life." His lips stretch ever so slightly into an effortless smile. "And you are my friend."
Harry shakes his head, a tiny movement that almost goes unnoticed by Remus.
"You don't believe me, Harry?"
"I do," he says. "I can't stand thinking you are lying."
"I'd never lie to you. Never." Remus pauses for a second, quickly gathering the courage to say his next words. But when he opens his mouth, his courage dissolves like a sandcastle in the wind.
"I don't want you to die," Harry blurts out suddenly. Remus blinks once, twice. "I never- I never thought Sirius...I don't want anyone else to die."
"I promise you I'll try my very best to stay alive," Remus says, and means it, marvelling at how one can get strength to rebuild their will to live out of a despairing fifteen-year-old.
"I promise you, too," Harry says, letting Remus know he believes Remus cares.
Remus bends his neck back, looking at the ceiling and blinking rapidly, clearing his vision. "It's late."
"How about we go to sleep, hm?"
"Yes, I'm tired."
They walk up the stairs in comfortable silence, taking their time to reach the fourth floor. Remus waits for Harry to enter his room and close the door behind him before going to prepare for bed himself.
The room feels cold as he walks in, even though the weather is warm. Remus undresses slowly, leaving his clothes carefully on a chair so that they won't be all wrinkled tomorrow. He stands in front of the mirror, naked, bending forward slightly to take a closer look at his face. He looks different. Before he can take a good look at the new wrinkles and strands of grey hair he has acquired in the past month, though, his image turns away from him, shaking its head. Remus thinks Sirius would shake his head, too, and smile.
He pulls on an old shirt, wondering if it's Sirius', since he can't remember buying it himself. His feet move heavily, carrying him to the too-big bed with lazy steps; he lifts the covers and lies down underneath, close to the edge of the bed.
Harry will be fine, Remus is certain. It'll take time, but Harry will be fine. Remus will be fine, too, because he'll keep waiting for Sirius to come back. And he knows Harry will, too.