Remus had redirected the burst of sparks in time; he wrenched Sirius's hand until the wand fell from it, then seized him around the chest, pinning his arms to his sides. With Lupin's robe hooding him, he stumbled back in confusion. The two of them fell together, and Remus landed on his knees, still holding Sirius from behind. He reached around as far as he could, crushing his cheek against Sirius's back, squeezing his eyes shut with effort, and grasped one of the closures of the velvet robe. "Sirius! Take the robe off!"
He fought the clasp but couldn't unfasten it; the gold braid of the knot only swelled and tightened under his fingers, and when he tried to pull the fabric and tear it open, its strands scratched and bit into him---they had tangled around his hands like spider-web. "Sirius, the robe---ah!" As he tried to shout, cloth crept into his mouth. He opened his eyes; the braid had entrapped him here as well, looped around his face and neck, and it was pulling him in as the velvet began to swallow him with its dry liquid darkness. It closed around his head; it filled his mouth and choked him, stifling his cries. It sealed him off from every outside sound, except Mrs. Black's screams echoing up from the entry hall...
"THE BLOOD YOU BETRAYED WILL STAIN THE FLOOR OF THIS HOUSE!"
No! I won't let you! he cried in his mind, even as his chest heaved against the blackness and could not draw air; he couldn't breathe---couldn't let go--- Sirius is ours, not yours! I won't let you take him!
The harder he fought, the more tightly the gold braid wrapped his hands and the more deeply it pulled him into the smothering velvet. Sirius struggled in his arms. Attacking the fastenings of the robe was futile; they had snarled themselves into knots the size of fists, even as Lupin's bursting lungs seized his fingers up into useless claws. He was drowning; his heart pounded in his head. Somebody help me!
Then suddenly, without knowing how but certainly, he knew that he could get free if he stopped fighting the curse. If he gave up, it would let him go---but he couldn't give up, and he knew just as surely that if he didn't, he could win. He could save Sirius if he fought for it absolutely, if he was willing to give any price. I won't give up on you! I won't let them have you!
But if he didn't let go, he couldn't get free, couldn't breathe---his body burned; his chest was in cinders--- I'm going to die! No, please, not like this! Someone help me!
And yet through even that pain and fear, even stronger: I won't let you take him! His twelve years alone, Harry's years as an orphan... I won't let you take him away from us! Not again!
Even if it's a life you have to have... I won't let you take him...
"YOOOU! FILTH! MONGREL! HOW DARE YOU---!" Estelle Black howled in his ears louder than ever. "LET GO! . . . LET GO OR I'LL KILL YOU!"
Remus could barely even feel the knots in his hands anymore, but still he clawed at them blindly, with all his vanishing strength...
Sirius, I'm sorry... You are my family. I won't let you go...
Bill burst into the drawing room, sprinted to the dumbwaiter and threw it open. "Second floor!" he commanded; the car slid into place, and he wedged himself inside. With any luck, whoever laid the curse wouldn't have thought of this...
"Fourth floor!" He was carried upward with a metallic rumble, and came to rest in the dark. "Alohomora!" The door slid open with a hiss, and Bill threw himself over and tumbled out, rolling easily to his feet. Yes! This was the fourth floor hallway; the sitting room door stood ajar. As he dashed toward it, he saw the latch stained with blood, but nonetheless threw it open---
"Great Merlin's Rock!" he cried. Even in years as a cursebreaker Bill had never encountered such a sight. He could barely see Lupin or Sirius; the scene in front of the sitting room window looked more like a battle between their disembodied clothes. Lupin held Sirius from behind, pinning his arms to his sides, and Sirius struggled thus hindered to pull aside Lupin's old mended robe, which was draped over both of them---but where its folds fell over Sirius's back, the shape of Lupin that they revealed melted the two of them together at the shoulders. It looked like Remus had no head, and his body struggled sickeningly---as if he couldn't breathe! Bill dashed across the room and skirted around the two of them. Where could he take hold? How could he come at the curse without being sucked into it himself, as Lupin apparently had been?
As he came in front of them, he caught a glimpse of Lupin's hands amid the struggling cloth; one of his arms was bleeding freely. The gold braid of Sirius's robe had bound him thickly as ships' rigging, and still more glittering fibers snaked around his arms like living things even as they shrank from the touch of his blood.
---Lupin had asked them what Sirius was wearing! It was that robe! It was the crux of the curse; Remus had tried to pull it off of Sirius---was still trying to pull it off---and it was retaliating against him.
Just as Bill realised it, Sirius managed at last to get hold of the shabby robe over his head and pulled it forward by a sleeve, enough that it fell away, dragging wild strands of his hair forward over his face. Bill watched as Sirius looked down at it, at the sleeve in his hands with its layers of patches on the elbow, then down further to find Lupin's hands against his chest, still struggling helplessly with the golden closures. Through the tangled mass of braid, one could just see through here and there to Remus's skin, his fingers turning purple, the nails powdery blue---
"NO!" Sirius screamed. His hands flew to the clasps of the robe, over Lupin's hands, and at his touch the snaking golden strands melted back into the garment's decoration. The closures disentangled and popped open as he pulled at them in a panic. He leapt to his feet, tore the robe off his back, and flung it aside, spilling Lupin to the floor free of it.
Not even seeming to notice that he was left standing in only his shoes and underpants, Sirius dropped to his knees and shook Lupin by the shoulders, hauled him up from the floor in his arms and shook him again and slapped his cheek. "REMUS! MOONY! Say something!"
Remus panted for breath and coughed weakly. At the same time, Bill heard footsteps outside, and his mother dashed into the room.
"Oh, Morgan... Moony, are you all right?" Sirius pleaded, trembling himself. His face was completely open in a horror of concern, drained white, wide-eyed.
Lupin opened his eyes just a crack and looked at him blearily. "I will be... Because you're looking at me like..." He paused for a few breaths and weakly raised a hand to Sirius's face. "You're our Padfoot..." He leaned sideways with a trembling but wide smile and let his head rest against Sirius, who only stared and held him tightly.
"Let's get him downstairs, into bed," Molly said, rushing to stand over them.
Bill nodded. "Right. Here, let me take him..."
Sirius was clearly in no state to carry his friend, but only hesitantly let go. Molly waved her wand with the word "Alligo" and conjured a bandage on Lupin's bleeding arm, and Bill started to lift him up.
"Mmuh... my robe..." Lupin breathed, reaching for it. Sirius picked it up and handed it to him, but rather than holding it, he struggled to place it around Sirius's shoulders, so persistently that he threatened to tumble out of Bill's arms at any attempt to carry him away. Sirius got the idea and shrugged the robe on, and Remus relaxed with an air of contentment as Bill took him and carried him down the stairs.
They brought him into the Blue Room, Molly running ahead and lifting back the covers of Bill's own old bed so that they could lay him down. Sirius clasped his hand and stroked his hair; Bill had pulled off his shoes and was just tucking the blankets up around him when Molly suddenly gasped.
"Wait! If Remus is here, then no one's on guard at the Ministry!"
Bill started; she was right! Lupin had recognised the signs they all had missed and rushed back in time to save Sirius---an incredible gift, but if his absence opened the way for something worse to happen...
Bill turned toward Sirius's suddenly-steady voice and found him drawing a fine necklace chain from under Lupin's shirt. He held up the attached pendant in his hand; it was a little golden hourglass---a Time Turner.
"Our Moony thought of that," Sirius said, with a smile of honest pride.
Remus slept through most of the next day, waking only in snatches---enough for Molly to feed him some bread and chicken soup, enough to see other people standing over his bed. Once it was Ron and Hermione, once it was Albus, but every time he could feel something warm and heavy laying curled against him, and he could look downward and see the dark shape that he knew was a great black dog.
The following morning, Molly's breakfast bell woke him painlessly, and he sat up, stretched, and let his feet down over the side to sit on the edge of the bed.
Presently Sirius came into the room with a breakfast tray, wearing Lupin's robe over a shirt and trousers presumably borrowed from someone. "Oh, no, you don't," he scolded, setting the tray aside on one of the dressing tables. "You, down." He took Remus by the shoulders and pushed him down in bed again.
"I'm feeling much better today," he argued.
"No no, you need to get your rest today, because you're not going to get any tonight," Sirius told him. "And you won't want to be upright when you hear about this one."
"There were Dementors in Little Whinging last night," Sirius said. "They attacked Harry and his cousin."
Lupin gasped. "My goodness! Are they---?"
"No one was badly hurt. Dudley Dursley was worse for wear, but nothing a bit of chocolate won't cure, and Harry's fine. His health is fine at least; he was trying the Patronus Charm, and even though no Muggles would have seen it except his cousin, the Ministry's in a snit, wants to have him expelled. Albus had to go in there and throw his weight around to get a hearing."
Lupin sat up in bed again, against the headboard. He raised an eyebrow quizzically. "Who saw this happen? Is it possible they're just trumping something up?"
"Oh, there were really Dementors there, no doubt about that," Sirius said, fetching the breakfast tray and sitting down on the side of the bed. "Arabella saw them and drove them off. Pelted them with homemade biscuits, or so I hear."
That was Arabella for you, but a Dementor attack on Harry? We all knew those things would throw in with Voldemort sooner or later...
"As if that weren't enough," Sirius said, "Harry's uncle blamed him for what the Dementors did and nearly tossed him out on the street. Petunia put a stop to it. I was surprised; I wouldn't have given her that much credit. It certainly has thrown off Albus's figures as to how safe Harry is in that house, though."
"I should think so!"
"So, we're going to be casting the Fidelius Charm tonight," Sirius said, "and then you'll be leading a mission to go fetch Harry and bring him back here for the rest of the holiday." He offered a cup of tea with milk and sugar.
Remus sipped it, letting the news sink in, and then Sirius spoke again. "Of course we'll have to be a bit careful with the kids around the house, but we can put them up in here. I have been thinking I'll keep the master bedroom."
"If I stopped staying there now, it would be because I was afraid to. I'm not about to let Mum scare me out."
Remus nodded. He imagined Arabella wouldn't have phrased it so bitingly, but she probably would say that it was better not to succumb to such fear. "That might be best, yes."
A slight pause. "Of course, what happened with Harry isn't the only thing the Ministry has to be in a snit about. Seems night-before-last some lunatic broke into the Archives," Sirius remarked with a knowing smile. "Near as they could tell, nothing had been touched except one newspaper laid out on a reading table and the hinges taken off one of the doors. Once the Aurors had the crime scene Remembered and gave the all-clear, it was good as new in five minutes."
"Now, what sort of fiend would go into a place that's open to the public and not damage anything there at all?" Sirius wondered. "Obviously Kingsley's up against a very sick, criminal mind with this one. Poor fellow." He shook his head and clucked his tongue, grinning broadly.
"It is a noble job he does, isn't it?" Lupin said.
"Yes but... Well, it's hardly my place to say and I do appreciate him finding some clothes to lend me, but..." At a gesture from Sirius, Lupin took closer notice of what he was wearing under the patched robe: trousers with green and black vertical stripes, like the robe Shacklebolt had worn at dinner, and a blue shirt with lavendar plaid. "He ought to be out chasing a nice girl, not me," Sirius said under his breath. "This man needs help."
Lupin couldn't help but laugh. "I'm glad the others have been able to find some things for you."
Sirius nodded. "Bill brought some shirts this morning, said he could lend me a few sweaters, although he couldn't give them away; Arabella sent a list of measurements so she could make some things... And I did talk to Kingsley about getting into my vault. He didn't think he'd have any trouble doing that, so we shouldn't have any worries about money for some time. Molly said she'd look for some robes she could cover up for with school shopping for the kids."
"Kingsley must have been surprised to meet you," Lupin supposed. "That is, finding out you're not at all the person from the night he came to dinner."
"He was a little," Sirius said, then paused. A thoughtful frown came over his face. "That all seems like such a bad dream... The very thought that I almost... Moony, I'm sorry. If you had---"
"It's finished with now," Lupin interrupted him. "I'd do it all again to have you back."
"That's what worries me about you," he said, then took a deep breath. "I keep thinking I should have known something was wrong, but I can't win that race. I've had to tell Molly a few dozen times that it's not her fault for pointing out what a git I was acting like and telling me to snap out of it, and after looking over that robe and not seeing anything wrong, Alastor's even further around the bend than usual, if you can imagine that. He and Bill spent some time yesterday taking the thing apart. Practically had to wrestle Kreacher for it---by the way, he's back to calling me 'Young Master,' and various other things that mustn't be repeated in mixed company.
"But near as they could tell, Dear Old Mummy enchanted it to react only to me. If I had run it through Alastor's whole gamut of tests myself, I could have detected it, but for anyone else, it would have been practically impossible. And of course, once I had it on, I couldn't properly think... I wouldn't have given Mum so much credit for subtlety, but apparently she realised it would put me onto her if I couldn't take the thing off when I wanted to. Thank heavens for that at least; that's the only reason you didn't have to..."
He trailed off and started again in another vein. "Even when I would take it off for awhile, everything it put in my head was still there, and I thought it had come from me. Trying to sort that out..." He shook his head. "I'd wind myself up so badly that it was more comfortable to put it on again, just to be closed-up and miserable and not fight it. If that was how Father felt all the time, I'm surprised it didn't get the best of him sooner."
Remus listened, sipping his tea and eating a slice of toast. "You're really not at all like him," he said.
"Although that reminds me..." Sirius said, more energy coming back into his voice. "I seem to remember you telling me about a dream you had, about the night I ran away from this house."
"Yes, I did..."
"I didn't think I'd ever talked about it to anyone but James, and yet the way you told me your dream is exactly the way I remember that night. Did I ever tell you about that, and then just forget?"
"If you did, I must have forgotten also," Remus said. "That it could just come to me in a dream seems impossible..."
"I mentioned it to Albus when he came to look in on you yesterday," Sirius said. "He said he had heard of such things happening before, very rarely, in cases where two people were very... 'psychically attuned' to each other...? He thought we should try playing at mind-reading like we used to do back in school, that with enough practice we might even be able to send messages to each other across distances."
Remus stared; Sirius looked at him sidelong and showed him a sly smile. "He's just being pragmatic, hoping someday the Order can use us for a wireless, you know. ...So what am I thinking right now?"
He closed his eyes and tried to find Sirius's voice in his mind. "You're thinking... That my talents for mischief are too good to let them go to waste as much as I do."
Sirius laughed. "I was thinking you should go back to sleep! But I should have been thinking what you said."
Lupin smiled, a little embarassed. Perhaps he had found his own inner Padfoot-and-Prongs again rather than the real Padfoot here in front of him. "Maybe I should have been thinking what you said, just to keep anyone from getting us confused."
"Don't even say it! That was much too good to go to waste."
Remus finished his tea and settled into bed again. Almost as soon as he closed his eyes, he heard that faint pop and felt Sirius as a dog curl up around his feet again. As he lay there, however, he found that he wasn't sleepy, so after awhile he drew his feet out from under Sirius slowly and carefully so as not to disturb him, got up, and walked barefoot across the blue-painted floor---they really should pour out the leftover paint sometime and track blue footprints around the house, he thought. After the previous day in bed, it felt good to get up and move, and the morning sun shone beautifully through the window. Turning, he noticed the parchment and ink from Albus laying on Bill's old writing desk next to Buckbeak's feather. He never had gotten around to writing the house-protection charms he'd planned on the first day they had come to the house.
Better late than never... He sat down at the desk, carefully cut a nib on the feather, took a sheet of parchment and opened the ink-bottle, then brushed his lip with the feather-end of the quill, thinking of what to write. Even as he leaned back, he was at too extreme an angle to read Arabella's tile, but he knew what it said. Maybe with a slight correction...
"Bless our Hearts, Bless this Home, Bless us All, Where'er we Roam."
He wrote it in the iridescent green ink as many times as it would fit on a sheet of parchment, little by little, as his bandaged arm still ached. When he was finished, he carefully tore the parchment to bits, each copy of the verse on a separate scrap. He put one apiece in drawers of the writing desk and the two dressing tables, and started out to put more of them in other rooms, but as he opened the door and heard the warm, welcoming sound of the others moving around and talking in the near distance, a soft questioning whine called him back. The noise of the tearing paper and the drawers must have woken Sirius, who now looked up at him, perhaps reproachfully---of course, Sirius's dog form had the kind of face that always looked a bit reproachful in a kindly sort of way.
"Don't worry, Padfoot. I'm not going to overexert myself."
Suddenly the Weasley Twins were standing in front of him. "What did you just say?" they asked in chorus.
"Oh, I was just talking to Sirius."
"But you didn't say 'Sirius'---" "You said . . ."
Remus blinked at them, then gave a nonchalant wave of his hand. "Oh, 'Padfoot.' Old school nickname..."
Sirius turned human again to sit on the bed. "Right. I'm Padfoot; he's Moony."
Fred and George's eyes grew very round. "And there wouldn't by any chance have been..." "...A Wormtail and a Prongs...?"
Remus looked past them to Sirius. "Only a guess, mind," he said, "but I think I know where Harry got our map."
Immediately the twins seized Remus from either side in a violent double-hug. As they dropped to one knee in unison and began theatrically kissing his hands, he looked up at Sirius in befuddlement. His friend returned him a laugh that twelve years of Azkaban had somehow failed to touch, and at that, Moony broke into a smile and let himself simply enjoy the attention.
As best I can recall, the curse of the robe was the original story idea around which "Hand-me-Downs" formed. By now, though, I've stared at the story so long I am utterly unable to grasp the mystery element; of course every clue I put in sticks right out at me, and it's gotten to the point that I can't imagine being just a reader anymore. I hadn't initially realised that the story would turn out so long---but then, the plot hinges on a character going through a strange-yet-believable psychological change, not exactly the kind of thing that can be brought off in ten pages. I did love being able to ramble and get so much in. I think a lot of the charm of the HP novels is that they're so packed with tidbits about the cast and setting (a "milieu-driven" element to the story), and I hope I partake in that charm a bit myself.
Although that does get into a "devil in the details": as mentioned at the outset, this is an A/U (I did my best to hold to canon through GoF, scavenged OotP for inspirations and choice bits, and haven't read HBP); I think most of the divergences are pretty self-explanatory, but they're also like a hundred little things scattered throughout. For one, I wrote my own rules about Remus's transformation---in canon it appears to be only one night, but for me that neither works like I want nor makes very much sense. Other things the canon had never been too clear on and I invented my own specifics, such as the working of the Wolfsbane Potion (I took it "letting Remus keep his mind" quite literally), and also the descriptions of Snuffles are based on my theory that he's a Newfoundland. What threatens to be more confusing are all the things taken from canon book 5 but altered---like Mrs. Black's this-time-much-more-personal vendetta. Actually, if I can get off my duff and get it written, this does continue into an alternate book 5 (with eventual musings for an alternate 6 and 7), which I mention here because, while the incident with the Dementors in Chapter 1 does stay, it didn't quite go the same---hence my heavily-retooled Arabella pelting the Dementors with homemade biscuits as referenced here.
And of course, the Sirius backstory dream sequence! It is one of my favorite parts; must say a bit about it. Taking and running with what we learned about his family in book 5, I tried to portray the young Sirius as both a courageous and even heroic survivor of this dysfunctional situation, and also a horrid little brat---because I think he truly was both. Abusive childhoods might be a bit cliche, but I think it works in his case, and I tried to portray it as unique and believable; Sirius's father, the one who actually hit him, was not evil or even malicious, just hellaciously messed up. I myself find what it was that set him off rather poignant and tragic, showing that he did love his son and just didn't know how to deal with him---as I facetiously summarize it, "How could you think that I would ever hurt you? I'll beat you senseless if you say that!" Also to note that while young Sirius was certainly not nice to the servants, he was the only member of the family who addressed them by name. (Frankly in the denoument of OotP, I don't know where Albus got off claiming Sirius just ignored Kreacher and didn't give him much thought; you read the same book I did, right? Sirius hated that little monster, and who can really blame him? So the moral is, be nice to house-elves even if they want you dead, because racism is bad, but feel free to take the werewolf completely for granted.)
While I love the HP novels, I do love them in a somewhat critical way, and while I was mostly trying to make a story that was as good as I could make it on its own terms, there are elements of protest-fic here. I told you from the start that I was a book 5 atheist, and I set out to explore or treat more obviously things I've felt the books glossed over or winked at a bit too much. For example, all the trouble Remus had at the Ministry; the books portray the Wizard world and particularly the Ministry of Magic as Rock Stupid about such things, but in OotP, Remus's experience of this racism was boiled down to "can't get a job"---which I can't think begins to cover it. As a werewolf, you're seen as not quite human, and you're infectious (although you're not likely to just up and bite someone they still freak out)---you're not just unemployable, you're a leper, a pariah that no one wants to touch. (See also the little moment with Molly; I try to be fair to her, but she does sometimes represent conventional wisdom with all its blemishes, and even liking and respecting Remus, it's another thing again to have a werewolf touch you---but she tries, as does Arthur, who got tongue-tied introducing Remus out of genuine desire to show kindness and respect.)
Also my treatment of Albus. I certainly didn't want to vilify him, but I did want to show him as human and capable of mistakes. This may almost seem out of character with the books, but to some extent I pin it on the viewpoint of my story here, too; sort of like "this is how Albus looks to an adult", albeit an adult who wishes Dumbledore was as perfect as he used to seem when they were young. Remus has rather hero-worshipped Dumbledore all his life, but as an adult comes to realise that the Headmaster doesn't necessarily know better than him, and that he has to think for himself and make his own decisions---with Sirius there as a healthy bad influence encouraging the revelation. I love Lupin, but he does desperately need a bad influence, and I have wished that canon would show more of his not-so-tamed side; "Moony wasn't only the Marauders' conscience, you know."
More to the point of muddying up Dumbledore's character is the tension between him and Sirius and the issues underlying it. Did Dumbledore have the right to take Harry? Did he send Hagrid that night because Hagrid was the only one so blindly loyal as to take an orphaned baby away from their godparent? Why didn't he find out back then that Sirius was innocent?Frankly at this point I'm not so sure, Sirius is definitely not sure---and I don't think Albus is sure either. He has his issues with this regard which lead him to behave not villainously but not entirely nobly either, and he knows it. In that one scene in his office, Fawkes was playing the voice of his truer and better nature, but even for Albus, it's not so easy to follow his better nature always. That's perhaps a major plot thread in this story that's left unresolved, and it continues into the alternate book 5 (see above note re: my duff).
Something else I often don't find enough of in the books for my taste is love---not as in I want more 'shipping, but just beautifully mundane interpersonal warmth. The novels give lip service to love being the greatest magic, but the plot and the characters' day-to-day interactions don't always bear this out. Especially outside of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, at times the way the characters relate to each other seems almost to take on a sort of impersonal, almost gamishly pragmatic quality. In the canon, after their profound reunion and backstory dump, we really never saw Sirius and Remus display much emotion or attachment toward each other. When Sirius was reunited with Harry in GoF, he wagged his tail once, arguably about the food. I'm not saying that the characters should be constantly gushing with emotion or that the books turn them all into stone-hearted chessmen, but for a story purportedly about the power of love, I've always wanted to see more. Here, I've tried to suffuse my own 'fic with warmth, to portray the characters really in community with each other. (And at the extreme end, there's slash here for those who want it, although you don't have to take any if you don't care to. )
This is where the title of the story refers to such a crucial element, as the characters' constant support of each other through service and generosity weaves its own magic. Perhaps not as profound as "to lay down your life for a friend" (although that was in here too), but that sense of community, of mutual caring, giving of oneself in time and effort, consideration, happiness together, in a hundred little ways forms a powerful foundation of love, and I feel that those things too must touch that ultimate magic.
And maybe that isn't just fiction.