OOO

Chapter Three: End of Exile

OOO

The next morning, I stopped at the bottom of the stairs to the hall and nearly laughed out loud. The noise was deafening. The picture of my mother, usually with its curtains neatly closed and silent, was openly screaming.

"—FILTHY HALF-BREEDS, BESMIRCHING THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS!!! MUDBLOODS! SCUM! CREATURES OF DIRT! FILTH! BY-PRODUCTS OF SCUM AND VILENESS!!! SLIME! MUCK!—" No one bothered to close the curtains.

"Does anyone want to close those idiotic curtains so that the Hag will shut up?" I shouted over the din, using my private nickname for her.

"She'll just rip them open again in this amount of noise!" Remus said. "Come into the kitchen! We'll possibly get some piece of quiet down there." I waded across the press of people, owls, cages, cats, trunks, brooms, cauldrons, and random Dark artifacts that had been left lying around and fell though the door that led to the stairs to the kitchen. It slammed behind me as someone was shoved into it. I wiped my hand across my forehead and entered the basement.

I sat down across from Remus, next to Harry. We were the only ones who had managed to get this far. Remus produced a stack of toast and Harry found some tea.

"How'd you sleep?" Harry asked me.

"Better than two nights ago," I said with a dog-like grin. "You?"

"Same."

"Wait—two nights ago—am I missing something?" Remus said through a bite of toast.

"Yeah…neither of us could sleep and we had a sort of unexpected rendezvous in here. Butterbeer is amazing at midnight." Harry explained. The three of us laughed, but stopped when we heard muffled explosions and bangs from above. We stared at the ceiling.

"Okay…?" Remus said.

"Somehow I find I do not want to investigate," Harry said, smiling.

"Aw, come on," I said. "You guys are no fun." I stood up and started toward the stairs. But before I even began to climb them, the door at the top burst open and a storm of sound hit me full force.

"AND DON'T YOU EVEN THINK OF COMING BACK UNTIL YOU'VE LEARNED SOME CONTROL! I DON'T BELIEVE YOU! YOU COULD HAVE KILLED SOMEONE!" There was a blast from a wand and Fred and George came flying, back end first, down the stairs. The door above slammed again and both Molly Weasley and my dear sweet mum fell silent.

There were a few moments of echoing silence as Fred and George stood carefully. One twin was rubbing his back, the other his shoulder—where they had landed.

"Hey, Sirius, mate," Fred said finally, scuffing his foot along the stone. "You might think about getting some softer floors."

"Yeah," George piped up. "These are a wee bit hard, especially if you keep tumbling down like we seem to be having so much help doing."

I think Harry started—it might have been Remus—but we were all laughing hysterically. It lasted a long time. We barely noticed when Ron and Hermione came in and sat down, staring at us. When we finally stopped, Harry had fallen out of his seat, George was hiccupping, Fred was crying, Remus was taking deep breaths to avoid passing out, and I was clutching the sharp pains in my sides.

"What was that all about?" Hermione said suspiciously. We looked at each other and burst out into a new fit of laughter, which we explained through. Ron let out a great "ha" of laughter when we had finished, and Hermione looked skeptical.

"I hardly find it all that funny," she said.

"You would have had to have been there Hermione," Remus explained. We all looked up as the door opened with another burst of sound, then closed again. Tonks entered.

"Is there, like, a brawl going on up there or something?" I asked as the Auror sat down.

"No—well, a verbal one," she said, running a weary hand through her bubble-gum pink hair. "Molly is just having a shouting match with your mum—they're trying to see who can screech loudest."

"What in Merlin's name possessed her to do that?" I asked, half rising out of my seat.

"No point in stopping her now—she's just gotten into her stride—poor Mundungus," Tonks said.

"Yes, but we have to leave," Remus commented. "It's almost eight and we've got to get to King's Cross early. Is Alastor here?"

"Mad-Eye? Yes, he's trying to get Molly to shut up."

"Well, then," I said, fake-cheerfully. "Let's step out into the upper, colder, danker, and much, much louder part of the world we know, shall we?" Slowly, the others stood, laughing. Once we all made our way up into the known world, Remus and I headed straight for my mum's portrait and managed, between the two of us, to get those darn curtains closed. Then, before she could get them open again, I transfigured the two curtains into one.

"Why didn't we think of that before?" Remus asked as we heard only muffled, quiet screams and oaths from the portrait that was madly trying to open the curtain again.

"No idea," I said. "Although, I'm sure she'll figure something out—eventually." Remus snorted and then his smile faded. "What are we going to do about Molly?"

"No idea," I said again, grinning. Remus' lips twitched.

"How can we get her to stop?"

"No idea."

"Sirius, stop. Think here….what can we do…Fred, George. Any ideas? Sirius?"

"No idea," Fred, George and I all said at exactly the same time. We suppressed laughter.

"I'm serious," Remus said.

"No," I said. "I am." Remus sighed exasperatedly as the twins and I laughed. "If you use that old joke one more time I'm going to—do you have any idea how old that is?"

"No idea," I said. Finally Remus gave up trying to hold it in. He began to laugh with the rest of us. "So, do we know how old that joke is?" I commented.

"No—well, yes. James and you came up with it in first year. So that's got to be somewhere around '71, so that's…uh, well a long time," Remus said, chuckling. "Let's get a move on, shall we?" he said, motioning toward the rest of the crazed hallway.

Everyone had finally shut up—it had taken more than a few golden firecrackers out of Remus' wand to get them all quiet. The party who was going to King's Cross was half on the pavement and half still in the hall when the owl flew in through the door. It landed on my shoulder and held out its leg. Remus gave me a quizzical look and I shrugged, baffled, taking the letter off.

"It's from Dumbledore," I said with certain shock showing on my face. My eyes hardened. "If he's writing to tell me to stay inside one more time—"

But as I read the first few lines, my scowl disappeared and I began to grin:

Sirius,

I understand how hard it must be on you to be cooped up in Grimmauld Place. I know how much you dislike it. So therefore, I have an alternative route.

If you would like, you may accompany my students and their guard to King's Cross—in your other form. You may get on the train and come to Hogwarts. Please note that when you arrive, you will not take the carriages but shall rather run up to the castle and speak with me before the masses arrive. Be very careful not to be seen by anyone who knows about your special powers.

I know it is hard to remain invisible on the platform, but once on the train and at the Hogsmeade station, you must not be seen. Remember that…you must not be seen. If anyone knows you are here…

Be very careful, Sirius. Do not be seen.

Albus Dumbledore

I whooped and began to laugh. Remus stared at me and I tossed the letter to him. He smiled as he read it and laughed as well. Then suddenly, his face fell.

"What about me? And headquarters? Can you just leave us all behind?" he asked, bursting my bubble.

"Oh," I said. "Well…I don't know, I mean." My face fell too. Remus began to smile, then chuckle, then he burst into full blown laughter!

"Oh, I got you there, Padfoot old friend! I, for once, have hoodwinked you as you so often do to me! Ha!" he said with a whoop. Finally I understood that he had totally laid a joke on me. I began to laugh as well—Remus had always told me that one of my great characteristics was the ability to laugh at myself.

"Oh, you're so lucky!" he said, handing the letter back to me.

"Lucky!" I said. "I have to go face Lucius at the platform! You call that lucky?"

"Yeah, I do! It's better than chasing a mad vampire around Russia." I laughed and transformed eager to get to out of Grimmauld Place and back to Hogwarts.

OOO

"Renee, come on!" Margaret yelled up the stairs. "We'll be late!" Renee rushed down, dragging a trunk behind her.

"It's just like old times," she said. "When we used to go to Hogwarts. Every year, we went through the same thing…and I was always late!"

"Yes, you were," Meg said with a chuckle. "Lets go." Each grabbed her trunk and apparated to Platform Nine and Three Quarters. They got there early, and it was already crowded with students, animals, parents, trunks, cages, and anything else in the world. The two sisters made their slow way through the crowd toward the front of the train where there was a compartment before the prefect's ones that was reserved for teachers.

Quite suddenly, Meg dropped her trunk with a thud.

"Remus!" she shouted. A man of average height turned in her direction. He had short light brown hair and amber eyes. Meg ran over to him. "Remus, do you remember me?"

"Meg?" he said, disbelievingly. She nodded. "Oh, my God, Meg!" he caught her in a bear hug. "The last time I saw you we were at Lily and James' wedding! Oh, God, it's been too long."

It was Renee's turn to drop her trunk. She had just seen something that made her heart jump into her mouth. Directly behind Remus, romping around a boy with dark hair and glasses was a monstrous sized black dog.

"Sirius," she whispered. "Oh gods."

"Renee, are you all right?" Meg asked.

"Yes," she said, exhaling explosively as she realized she had been holding her breath. "Yes I'm fine." She quickly levitated the trunks onto the train and into the luggage racks. Meg stayed on the platform talking to Remus and the others.

Renee and Meg had been good friends with Lily and the Marauders when they were at school and after. But Meg had refused Remus' advances in favor of Mark, a handsome Ravenclaw (which was her House). But they had remained close friends because of Renee's connections with Sirius. Mark and Remus had even made a joke that Mark had stolen Meg right from under Remus' nose. Then it had all fallen apart when Mark, Lily and James had been killed, Sirius thrown in Azkaban, Renee and Meg in hiding and Remus totally devastated. But that was the past.

Meg stayed on the platform for a long while talking to Remus, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley (who had been a few years ahead of the Marauders), Tonks and Shaklebolt, the former two years behind, the latter two years ahead, and 'Mad-Eye' Moody, who had long graduated by the time they all had gotten there.

Finally the whistle blew and Meg hurried aboard into the compartment were Renee was waiting. Renee looked out the window searching for the black dog, but it had disappeared, along with the children. The adults who had come as the kids' guard were waving at the fifth compartment.

"Renee?" Meg asked. Her sister jumped. "Are you okay? You look pale." Renee said nothing but stood up and left the compartment as the train began to move. Meg did not follow her, knowing she was in one of her 'moods' when she preferred to be alone.

Renee made her way to the fifth compartment and opened the door. Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, and Harry Potter stared up at her from their seats. The dog was sprawled at Harry's feet.

"Excuse me," she said, staring at the dog and the students stared at her. "I'm sorry for the intrusion. Can one of you direct me to the train's lavatory?"

"Of course," Ginny said. "Straight down the train, that last compartment."

"Thank you," Renee said. "By the way, I'm Professor Eraque. I'll be teaching care of Magical Creatures for part of the year. Thank you again." Then she slowly drew away. The dog had sat bolt upright at the sound of her name. Now it scrutinized her as she withdrew. It seemed to wink as she closed the door.

She caught her breath and went back to her compartment. She sat down with a sigh and stared out of the window.

"Are you alright?" Meg asked.

"Yes," she said with a smile. "Yes, I'm wonderful." And she meant it. Because she was now positive that the black dog was Sirius Black. And if he was coming to Hogwarts, she was absolutely positive that it would be a fun and exciting year.