CATCHING UP by InFabula
Disclaimer: these wonderful characters belong to JK: I just borrowed them for a bit.
Chapter One DOGGED PURSUIT
It was mid-morning before he reached Remus's house. He padded down the dirty cobbled street, too intent on finding his friend to bother about what the passers-by might think. The sight of a big, scruffy dog on the loose was obviously a common one, however, as his presence was mostly ignored.
Sirius stopped in front of the tired-looking two-up, two-down terraced house. The paint on the door and windows was peeling and there was a pane of glass missing from the window at the top of the house which had been carefully boarded up from the inside. There were signs though that the occupant was trying to make up for the shortcomings of the building. There was a blaze of wild flowers in a vase on the front window-sill and in contrast to its neighbours, the door knocker was polished till it gleamed. No mistaking Remus's home, he thought grimly, he was still making the best of things.
He was about to paw the door and whine till Remus came but stopped in his tracks. A plump little witch with a basket of vegetables under her arm shooed him out of the way and knocked smartly at the door.
Giving her the hint of an impatient growl, he retreated to the other side of the street, sat down on his haunches and waited. The door opened and Remus appeared.
It was the first time Sirius had seen him since the Shrieking Shack and his first proper look at his old friend since he had been in Azkaban. The flecks of silver in his hair which had just started to show thirteen years ago, were now more pronounced: his face looked careworn and so much older than Sirius remembered. Older than his years, McGonagall had once called him: Sirius amended that mentally to old before his time. Only his eyes belied the world-weariness in his face. Even from where he sat among the busy flow of pedestrians, Sirius could see they were as alert and intense as ever and currently highly amused.
A smile had crooked Remus's mouth and he looked as if he were fighting to stop it widening into a grin. The witch was in full flow, loud enough for Sirius to hear:
"Dearie, you have to eat your greens up, didn't your mother always tell you? They're key to a growing lad like yourself, make you strong and hale and hearty - best thing you can do is have a nice healthy plate of vegetables for your dinner - set you up a treat for the day-"
She thrust the basket under Remus's nose which wrinkled a little. The produce was not at its freshest: the witch had picked up the stray vegetables left on the ground from the early morning market. Bruised tomatoes, a few wilted cabbages, straggly carrots and some rather scrawny potatoes.
Remus held up a hand to stop the patter, picked out a selection of the sad vegetables and disappeared inside. He reappeared and offered her a handful of Knuts which the witch accepted graciously.
The door closed and Sirius stood up, ready, but the witch still stood there, digging around in the pockets of her robes for something. The door opened again and Remus emerged, rolls of parchment bundled together neatly under one arm, his battered briefcase in his hand. He looked startled to see the witch still there.
"Wanted to give you this, dearie," she explained earnestly, thrusting a clump of dried heather at him. "Bring you lots of luck."
"Well, I can always find a use for luck," came the dry response. "Thank you."
He closed and locked his door, took the heather from her and hurried off down the street in the manner of someone who had an appointment to keep.
To Sirius's annoyance, the witch kept pace with him, babbling as they went about a variety of topics: it did not seem to worry her in the slightest that the conversation was one-sided. Sirius crossed the street and stalked the pair of them as they turned the corner into a more prosperous part of town.
After five minutes of pursuit, he made up his mind to simply barrel into them and pounce on Remus. He imagined the look on Remus's face: surprise and shock followed by recognition and a warm smile of welcome. Sirius suddenly found himself very hungry for that acknowledgement. It was one of the human dignities that he had not even noticed had been taken from him in Azkaban. The reason why he was there to see Remus did not lessen that hunger.
He readied himself to spring forward and in the same split-second, changed his mind. Two men loomed into Remus's path. The witch shrank away, muttering something about places to go and people to see. They let her leave: it was Remus they were interested in.
Sirius slunk down against the wall a few feet behind Remus. He recognised the men: Christie and Peabody. He had seen them visiting Azkaban and knew they were both employed by the Ministry although he was unclear as to their exact roles. Christie was as tall as Remus with a thin frame, his face pointed like a rat - Sirius stopped that thought in its tracks. Peabody was shorter and rather portly, his manner genial and charming: Sirius sensed that of the two, he was by far the more dangerous.
"Professor R J Lupin," Peabody greeted him. "What a pleasant surprise!"
"What do you want?" Remus's abrupt tone told Sirius volumes: it took a lot for his friend to be impolite.
Peabody tutted noisily. "Manners, Professor, manners. Mr Christie and myself were just on our way to call on you. Do you have a few moments?"
"Actually, I don't." Remus seemed to have recovered some of his composure. "I have a meeting at the Museum of Antiquities and I-"
"Why, let us escort you there, Professor," Peabody beamed. "We would be honoured, Mr Christie, wouldn't we?"
"Deeply," replied Christie in a thin, nasal voice. He took up a position at Remus's left shoulder and Peabody on his right. Sandwiched between them, Remus found he had little choice but to accept their company.
As the three men walked on, Sirius trotted behind, doing his best to remain unobtrusive. Luckily for him, none of the three glanced round.
"It's just a courtesy call, Professor," Peabody began. "We haven't seen you for a while and we wondered if any old friends had been in touch - a school reunion, maybe?"
Sirius's blood froze. Instinctively, he wanted to turn and run but he made himself go on.
"Do you mean Sirius Black?" Remus was obviously not in the mood to play games. "I have no idea where he is."
Please don't turn around, Moony, whatever you do, Sirius prayed.
"Now we know you saw him last year," Peabody continued pleasantly. "There seems to be a little confusion over exactly what happened, but there was a suggestion that you may have helped him-"
"I answered the Ministry's questions at the time," Remus stopped just short of snapping. "As I said then, someone whom I thought I knew, whom I trusted like a brother was responsible for the death of one of my closest friends and his wife and deprived another of his chance for a happy life. That's the truth, Mr Peabody. The last thing I would ever want to do is help that person. If I ever see that person again I am much more likely to kill him."
His voice rang with steely resolution and Peabody raised his eyebrows. Even Sirius, who realised Remus meant Peter rather than himself, felt a shiver of apprehension: Moony made an implacable enemy.
Turning yet another corner, they walked on for a moment in silence until Remus came to a standstill.
"This is the Museum, gentlemen," Remus announced. "If you'll excuse me-"
"Certainly, Professor," Peabody smiled. He clasped Remus's right hand between his two palms and shook it vigorously. "Mr Christie and I must be on our way too."
He let go and the pair stood back, waiting for Remus to go into the Museum. Remus looked down at his hand as if he had a strong desire to wipe it on his robes then nodded curtly at both of them, turned on his heel and entered the building.
Sirius saw the smile slide from Peabody's face in an instant. He stared unblinking after Remus then pursed his lips and turned to his colleague. "Another time. Let's go."
Sirius watched them walk up the street and realised he had been holding his breath. He let it out slowly. He looked at the Museum entrance and grimaced: dogs would not be welcome. He put his big front paws up on the left-hand window-sill and peered in at a small room lined with books.
To his delight, he saw Remus in deep conversation with a man who looked like the curator. He gave a few small barks to try and attract Remus's attention but decided with exasperation that the windows were securely sound-proofed.
The curator was poring excitedly over the rolls of parchment Remus had been carrying which were now spread out across his desk. He was nodding enthusiastically as he read and Sirius guessed that Remus had undertaken some translation or research.
As the man rolled up the parchment, Remus said something. The curator's body language changed immediately. He stiffened up, walked round behind his desk and sat down. He started to talk, waving his hand expansively around the room. Remus let him finish and then spoke again.
This time, the curator shook his head firmly and folded his arms. Remus gave a slight shrug and started to gather the rolls of parchment together. The curator's hand shot out, gripping his arm. Remus stopped and looked at him. Sirius saw the man wilt under the intensity of that gaze and sympathised: he remembered how that look felt.
The curator dug into his pocket and produced a Galleon. He dropped the coin into Remus's palm: Remus simply studied it then lifted his eyes to the curator. The man tried to hold his gaze but to no avail: he sprang to his feet, thrust a second Galleon into Remus's palm and then walked to the door and threw it open. Remus nodded a goodbye and left.
Sirius dropped to the pavement ready to greet his friend. Suddenly, from nowhere, came a loud squeal, "Ooh! A doggy!" and a pair of arms was flung around his neck.
Panicked, Sirius started to struggle but found himself surrounded by a handful of children. The pair of arms belonged to a young girl of about nine who had a vice-like grip. Another slightly older girl knelt down and threw her arms around his body, squeezing his ribs painfully hard. A third girl, this time about six, smacked him repeatedly on the shoulder.
Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw Remus disappearing up the street oblivious to the scene behind him. He fought to extricate himself from the children but they hung on like limpets. Something cold ran down Sirius's back and he twisted his head over his shoulder in time to see the lump of ice-cream slide down his fur. He glared angrily at the little boy who had dropped it by accident but the child was busy screaming his dismay at the top of his lungs and ignored him.
"It's a doggy, Nanny Roberts," the first girl announced to a breathless middle-aged witch who had arrived, panting hard. "Can we take him home? I'm sure Mummy and Daddy won't mind."
"We could call him Sparkle," breathed the second girl, continuing to hug him fiercely.
"No, Amelia," said the first girl crossly, "his name is Angel."
"Jell-jell," repeated the six-year-old solemnly. "Love Jell-jell." Sirius suddenly realised that the smacks she was administering were meant to be strokes: it did not stop him wincing.
"You could call him Smell," said a boy of about fourteen who looked positively fed-up at having to be seen with the girls in public. He glanced down moodily at Sirius. "Stupid dog," he said and then slumped against the wall.
"Amelia, Lydia, we really can't take the doggy home. He may have fleas…he may have diseases…" Nanny Roberts' voice trailed off as she looked uncertainly at Sirius.
He did his best to look like as unsavoury as possible then gave a sudden yelp: someone had stamped on his tail. He did not need to look round to know it was the older boy.
Enough! Sirius gave a threatening growl which was sufficient to make Amelia let go. He growled again more loudly and Lydia straightened up. He curled his lip and showed his teeth. Mesmerised, the girls backed away, eyes wide. Spotting his chance for freedom, Sirius took it and ran full pelt up the street after Remus.
Amelia looked furiously at her older brother. "It's your fault, Crispin," she scolded. "Sparkle knew you called him smelly."