Innocence Lost and Found
Disclaimer: Not mine, etc.
Originally Posted: May 2001 (That means during the "three year summer" before the publication of OotP, HBP, and DH. This story begins at the end of GoF.)
Part 1: Stargazing
An insistent clattering against his front window drew Remus Lupin into the room. He paid the tawny owl which had come to deliver his copy of the Daily Prophet and dropped the paper onto a convenient table, intending to return to his previous task. As the paper unfolded itself, though, a headline caught his eye and he sank into a chair to devour the news immediately.
Dark Mark Spotted Above Wizarding Marketplace; Sirius Black Suspected
by Helena Jackson, special to the Daily Prophet
For nearly fourteen years, the wizarding world has been free from the pervasive fear once inspired by a dark wizard so powerful that most are still unable to pronounce his name. You-Know-Who and his supporters, known as Death Eaters, at one time committed unspeakable atrocities, with murder and torture not least among them, but the community's mood has been one of peace since the night that Harry Potter became the Boy Who Lived. However, this relative peace has been disrupted twice during the past two years. The first unnerving event, obviously, was the escape of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's right-hand man, Sirius Black, from Azkaban. More recently, the death of Hogwarts student Cedric Diggory has been attributed by several prominent wizards and witches, including eccentric Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, to Death Eaters and their leader. The majority of Ministry of Magic executives, as well as members of the population at large, have been loathe to accept this explanation for the tragic death of the Hufflepuff prefect. The controversy has now intensified.
At approximately three o'clock yesterday morning, the Dark Mark was spotted above the home of Peter and Gina Malley, both veterans of the first war against You-Know-Who. The bodies of the victims were found inside the house less than an hour later.
The Malleys . . . .
Remus skipped the paragraphs devoted to recounting the lives of the Malleys in his rush to see where Sirius figured into the equation.
Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, has himself declared that Black is the culprit in these grisly murders. "We are still doing everything in our power to recapture Black," he said in a prepared statement yesterday. "Obviously, our capabilities in this area have been lessened now that we may no longer remove the dementors from Azkaban. While Black was lying low he was especially difficult to track. Now that he is again showing his true colors, the process should be speeding up. Please remember that this tragedy is the work of one man, and do not panic."
Remus threw down the paper angrily. His disgust at Fudge's behavior was overwhelmed by his concern for Sirius. Dumbledore himself had sent Remus an owl over a week ago in which he had requested that he be on the lookout for his old friend. Although Remus was not looking forward to the work the two would be doing for their former Headmaster, he was very much looking forward to seeing Padfoot again. Sirius had not been far from his thoughts since their meeting in the infamous Shrieking Shack just over a year before. The realization that Sirius had been innocent of the crimes for which he had been imprisoned had been an enormous and not unpleasant shock. Its only affect on his day-to-day life, though, had been the development of his constant fear that Sirius would be recaptured, executed, or given a dementor's kiss.
It seemed that the hunt for Sirius had intensified once more. This time, though, the accusations leveled against him would have more important ramifications than causing distress for those who cared about him. If Fudge and the members of the Ministry who followed him were able to convince the wizarding community that Voldemort had not risen again, they would buy that much more time for Voldemort to increase his power.
He sighed. Unsure as to what to do next, he aimlessly began to straighten out the living room, doing so without magic to extend the amount of time that the mindless task would require.
The voice from the fire caught his attention.
"Headmaster." He moved to the source of the voice and knelt before it.
"Done any stargazing lately?"
"What?" Albus Dumbledore simply stared at his former pupil until understanding dawned, and, in spite of himself, Remus rolled his eyes. "I've been looking ever since my last discussion with you, but I haven't seen anything."
"Nothing? The star we discussed last time is exceptionally bright."
"As bright a star as there is, but I haven't been able to see it. It's been rather cloudy. Cloudy enough to be a cause for concern."
"Funny you should say that. I was reading the weather section of the Daily Prophet and I came to a similar conclusion."
"I believe that it's gotten to the point that it's affecting the community at large, and not just those of us who like to see the stars."
"I could not have said it better myself. The time has come to control this problem by any means necessary."
"The weather is a rather difficult thing to control, Headmaster," said Remus, forcing a laugh.
"Many things are difficult. They have a nasty habit of being the things worth doing."
"Keep your eye on the sky. Let me know when things change."
"And make certain to inform any interested parties of our new priorities."
"It would be hard to forget to do that."
"I imagine it would. See that said parties remain inconspicuous for the time being."
Remus winced theatrically. "Couldn't I just try to change the weather?"
Dumbledore's laugh was interrupted by a sharp crack as someone, or something, violated the protective ward that covered the front door of the cottage Remus currently called home. Remus stood cautiously, wand in hand, heart thudding more from anticipation than from fear. He was quite sure he knew who, or what, had tried to enter his home without an invitation.
A quick look around the corner proved that he had been right.
"Yes," he called to the detached head in the fireplace.
The head smiled. "Good. Now if you'll excuse me--" his voice cut off rather suddenly, but Remus barely noticed.
"Finite Incantantem." Hastily, he removed the wards and crossed the threshold to kneel beside a large, black, whimpering dog. The dog looked at him with wounded eyes. "You'd rather I didn't use wards?"
The animal made no reply, which would have been ordinary behavior for an average dog but which was rather odd behavior for this one. "Sirius?" he whispered, his low tone in no way softening the intense urgency which flooded his voice. "Come on." The dog half-moaned. "Should I pick you up?" He had sometimes in the past had difficulty discerning how much trouble Sirius actually happened to be in and how much Sirius felt like being dramatic. A situation could become even more complicated when one considered that, sometimes, if Sirius was in a great deal of pain, he would claim to be fine. This last was not the case here.
The black dog did wearily climb to its feet, sparing just enough energy to give Remus a haughty sniff.
"Right," he responded with a relieved laugh. "Lecture me later." He held the door open for the bedraggled animal and quickly drew the curtains throughout the room. Such a precaution was most likely unnecessary, but considering the circumstances, extra caution was a very good idea. Besides, Remus had always considered himself to be the token voice of logic when he was around his Hogwarts friends, and there was no reason for him to relinquish that role now.
The dog had collapsed into a dingy black puddle on the floor when Remus turned back to him. "It's safe." His eyes locked with the pale blue eyes of the dog, and he held his gaze as the eyes darkened and became human. Sirius slowly rose from the crouch he had been in as the transformation completed. His human eyes were tired and shadowed, and he was painfully thin and dirty. His movements were stiff as he rose to a standing position, but he managed a smile nonetheless.
"Hi, Moony," was all he could find to say. Remus felt his stomach sink, and his own knees grew weak. Sirius had used his old nickname on written scraps of parchment delivered by an odd assortment of birds over the past year, but the verbalized word, spoken by that certain voice, was rather disconcerting. "Moony? You all right?"
Remus snapped out of his reverie. Sirius was not the one who was supposed to be asking that question. "Of course--"
"You look the color of the wall."
"That's not so different from normal."
"It's just surprising to see you," Remus interrupted smoothly, stepping closer to Sirius as if to hug him, but the other man backed away.
"I would have thought Dumbledore would have told you."
"Oh, I knew you were coming," Remus rushed to assure. "It's just surprising to see you anyway. If that makes sense. Sit down before you fall down."
Sirius shook his head. "No. There's dirt from Scotland and London and everywhere in between on my robes. That chair will never be the same." He stepped back from Remus' extended hand once more, but this time Remus, making good use of his werewolf reflexes, grabbed his friend anyway.
"If I sit down, I might fall asleep." Sirius forced his too-slight weight against Remus, fighting his direction in a movement reminiscent of many battles they had had in their respective alter-forms. That memory warmed Sirius, and his smile became less nervous and more bright. "You wouldn't get the joy of talking to me." Upon Sirius' use of the word "joy," both men's expressions changed to those of contrition. The task that awaited them had not a thing to do with joy.
"Stay awake long enough to eat something," said Remus, leaving the horror that had allowed the old friends to meet once more unmentioned. "You'll sleep better if you do."
"I don't think it's that much of a problem."
"Yeah, well, you'll eat or I'll shove something down your throat." These words, naturally, were spoken with a great deal of affection. "Any preferences?"
"Nothing with rats in it."
"I was all out of rats, anyway," Remus called over his shoulder.
Short moments later, Sirius was finishing his blessedly rat-free meal. He had at first attempted not to eat like the starving man that he was, but he had given in after a few bites and had inhaled the food. Almost immediately, his eyes began to slip closed.
"Come on." Remus pulled at his arm. "Bed."
"We have to talk," Sirius mumbled groggily. "Was there a sleeping potion in that?"
Remus made a face. "Even you aren't worth concocting potions. I'll have you know that if there's a single cauldron in this house, it's down in the cellar beneath a properly thick layer of dust."
"Probably true. Listen, about Voldemort--"
"I know. We can do this when you're lucid."
"I'm lucid. We have to start now."
"You can tell me in your sleep, then."
"I do NOT talk in my sleep."
Remus raised an eyebrow.
"You and James made that up! I never said anything in my sleep."
Hands were held up in mock surrender. "I'm quite sure you didn't."
"Certainly nothing about Laurel Windsor."
His exclamation was cut short when he was ushered through a door and into a bedroom.
"What are we doing here?"
"YOU are going to sleep."
"You're awfully pushy."
"You'd be able to push back better if you weren't so tired."
"I'm not tired." Sirius' claim had grown from a desire not to force his friend to take care of him, to a playful game, to the petulant wish of a child not to be wrong.
"Isn't this a nice bed?" Remus changed the subject. "Comfortable… cool sheets… soft pillow…"
"Wasn't meant to be."
Remus snickered. "So good of you to say so." Stepping out of his shoes, but without bothering to remove his robes, Sirius collapsed into the bed. Remus was unsure as to whether he had fallen asleep instantly, or whether he had fainted, when his friend's eyes opened once more.
"Wait." He brought himself to a sitting position with no small amount of trouble.
"Padfoot. Just lie down."
"NO!" Eyes sparked with desperation. "Harry."
"What about Harry?"
"I haven't owled him since I left Hogwarts. I was traveling so fast, but he's used to me owling him almost every day. He knows what I'm doing, and he's probably scared on top of being miserable living in that godforsaken Muggle town--"
"I'll owl him. I'll owl him right now. I'll tell him that you're here and that you'll write back as soon as he does."
"Okay." Sirius' eyes closed, and he slumped to the bed once more. Remus watched him sadly for a moment before returning to his desk and the rolls of parchment that the Daily Prophet owl had torn him from little more than an hour before. Finding a clean scrap of parchment, he quickly composed a note to his former student.
Your godfather arrived at my home this morning. He will write you himself when this owl returns. We both hope that you are doing as well as can be expected given the circumstances.
I won't write more here, as the sooner this message arrives, the better for your peace of mind and ours.
At his whistle, a rather common-looking gray owl emerged from the trees which surrounded the house. Prior to his year spent teaching at Hogwarts, Remus had managed to remain somewhat estranged from the wizarding community at large. Such semi-antisocial behavior made his secret easier to keep. However, now the contacts that he had resumed while teaching Harry Potter, among other children of old classmates, made the concept of hiding out here, in this rural locale, without an owl, unthinkable.
Sighing, he attempted to force himself to return to his work.
Sirius burrowed his face more deeply into the sweet-smelling pillow. He did not at first realize how he had come to be in this situation. He wasn't hungry, and nothing hurt (he was quite sure that the bed in which he lay contained some sort of healing powers). Perhaps his mind had finally snapped, and he was mistaking the floor of a cave for a comfortable mattress. Alternatively, perhaps he had finally encountered a hit wizard or a wild animal and his body had been what had snapped. If heaven involved this level of comfort, he was certainly not disappointed.
Gradually, coherent thoughts came crawling back to him. He had made it. He was with Remus. In spite of himself, he allowed a groan to escape his lips. He had sauntered into the home of a friend he had seen just once in the past fourteen years and wound up joking with him as if they had never been apart. The reaction had been a nervous one, and Remus had been playing along-- he might even have started the game-- but Sirius found himself flipping through as much of their conversation as he could remember to discern if he had said anything offensive. He had made a reference to eating rats, which Remus had probably not picked up on; he had accused Remus of feeding him a sleeping potion; and he had called Remus pushy. Remus had said worse, hadn't he? He had certainly been nervous, too; otherwise, he would not have paled so thoroughly upon seeing Sirius. Did he look so bad?
He rose from the bed and glanced into a mirror, which responded by screaming.
It was entirely possible that he DID look that bad.
A hastily written note in familiar handwriting lay on the bureau beneath the mirror and informed him that Remus was off chasing a grindylow which had invaded a swimming pond belonging to a nearby farm. The note further encouraged him to make himself at home. He did not know how long ago the note had been left for him, but he showered as quickly as he could considering the amount of effort it actually took him to get clean.
"Much better," said the mirror in a relieved sort of a voice when he glanced into it again.
"Thanks," he told it.
"You're still too thin."
He decided that it would be bad form to tell his friend's mirror to shut the hell up.
"I'll work on it." First, though, he worked on cleaning up the room and his clothing as much as he could. When that duty was complete, he wandered through the small cottage, stopping with interest when he came to Remus' desk. Moony had obviously already begun the work they were to do together over the next short while. It mostly consisted of subtly contacting old allies and feeling out younger witches and wizards to see who sided with whom.
"We have a long way to go." Remus' voice interrupted his thoughts.
Sirius whirled around. "How…?"
"I don't walk into the wards. And there are a lot of silencing charms in here, for obvious reasons." Sirius nodded. "You look better."
"I feel better." Now the pauses began to become awkward. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." When the silence threatened to lengthen, Remus offered, "I sent your letter to Harry as soon as you fell asleep."
"How long ago was that?"
"About fourteen hours. If he sends a return owl, it will probably get here tomorrow morning with the Daily Prophet."
"Have they printed any exciting fabrications in the past few days?" Remus quite clearly winced. "What?" asked Sirius warily.
"It's good news, in a way," said Remus carefully.
"I could use some good news."
"Proving your innocence has become rather a high priority."
"It always was a priority for me."
"For me, too. But it's become a priority for the cause of light magic."
"Most of the supporters of light magic have no idea that I'm innocent."
"No. It seems that they're coming into danger because of that."
"Do you plan to stop beating around the bush any time soon?"
"Cornelius Fudge, in his infinite wisdom," the two friends shared a scowl, "has been blaming two deaths and an appearance of the Dark Mark on you. He wants to keep the public from panicking and believing that Voldemort really has returned."
Sirius did some creative swearing. In situations like these, his long years in Azkaban served him well.
"That was my thought, too," admitted Remus. "But I was speaking to Professor Dumbledore right before you arrived, and he suggests that we will simply have to make it plain that you were not responsible. I expect we'll be calling in some favors and making a few threats. If worst comes to worst, we might be able to have a spy come forward and testify that Peter's alive."
Sirius snorted. "Not likely."
"Do you know? Who Dumbledore's most important spy is?" He expected that this wasn't information to be flung around lightly, but Remus was Remus, and he had to tell someone.
Sirius resisted the urge to cradle the bombshell before he dropped it. "Severus Snape."
"WHAT?" Remus didn't often lose his composure, and Sirius smiled in spite of himself.
"The one and only."
"I had no idea."
"Neither did I. Seems he's good at his job."
"Was he a Death Eater?"
"Looks that way--"
"What?" Sirius was momentarily unbalanced by his friend's seeming non-sequiter.
"The owl. He's back." Remus muttered a spell and a window flew open, granting the owl entrance. A note was tied to his leg, but it was the same note Remus had addressed to Harry that morning.
"What's wrong with that bird?"
"He's never given me trouble before," Remus defended. "He's not the best, but he's still very smart."
"Then what's wrong with Harry?" Sirius' voice hit a level of worry that one who did not know him would not have believed possible.
"It could be nothing." Remus' statement convinced neither of them. "It could be that his aunt and uncle were out and he wasn't home--"
"So this 'smart' owl of yours didn't wait, or find him?"
Remus glanced at the owl. "Maybe he's having a bad day." A hoot of indignation greeted this suggestion. The owl then gave the two men his best approximation of an exasperated stare and fluttered to the window, darting aside when another, familiar owl arrived.
"That's Hedwig!" Sirius exclaimed, fairly ripping the beautiful bird from the air in his haste to find the letter. "This isn't Harry's handwriting."
Remus shook his head. "It's Hermione's. She borrows Harry's owl sometimes."
"Why is she writing to you?" asked Sirius, not distracted but still curious.
"She just has since I left off teaching her." Remus shrugged. "She's a Muggle born. I think she likes having a wizard who isn't exactly a professor or a friend's parent to talk to." He removed the letter completely and released Hedwig, who fluttered to sit on the window ledge beside his own owl.
"You're going to read that NOW?"
"She MAY know what's going on with Harry."
Sirius nearly flushed. "Sorry." Remus shrugged, and Sirius moved to read the letter over his friend's shoulder.
"Dear Professor Lupin," it began. "I need your help. Harry is in trouble…"