Harry finished his dinner slowly. Though it was a glum and silent affair, he didn't want to leave Lupin sitting there by himself, staring off into space as he presently was.
"Er..." Harry cleared his throat, hoping Lupin would look up. Sometimes it was hard to get his attention. "Will you be going up soon?"
Lupin roused a little, seeming to remember the tea cup in his hand. He drained it, but didn't put it down, his hands encircling it as he stared seemingly without seeing at the tea leaves sticking to the bottom. "In a while," he said tonelessly.
Harry collected his empty dishes, leaving Lupin's nearly untouched plate in front of him. He washed up at the sink and put everything away, wrung out the dish towel and hung it up to dry over the stove, and leaned against the counter, staring at the back of Lupin's head. He wished for something to say.
There was nothing.
"Good night," he said finally, stifling a sigh.
Lupin didn't reply. Harry hadn't expected him to.
He walked through the gloomy, dark house, not bothering to light the oil lamps. It had been a while since he had refilled them, anyway.
Something caught his eye just as he reached the bottom of stairs. There, lying on the floor in front of the fireplace, was a lumpy package wrapped in brown paper and twine. He supposed it had been sent through the Floo, as things often were.
He picked it up. There was a white card stuck under a knot of twine, and he worked it loose.
For services rendered.
Harry turned the card over, but the back was blank.
He carried the package back to the kitchen, in case it was urgent that Lupin receive it.
Lupin was still sitting where Harry had last seen him, only a half-empty bottle of Firewhisky had replaced the tea cup in his hand. He didn't try to hide it. There was no sign that he noticed Harry come in.
"There was a package for you." Harry placed it on the edge of the table next to Lupin's elbow. "It must have come through the Floo, but I didn't hear anyone call today."
Lupin's glassy, bloodshot eyes shifted from the bottle to the package with no apparent interest. "Thank you, Harry."
"Good night," Harry said for the second time, turning reluctantly to leave. He hated when Lupin drank.
"Sweet dreams," Lupin said after him in a dreary monotone.
Yes, Harry thought. I wonder what those are like.
He trudged upstairs, washed his face and cleaned his teeth, stared into the mirror at the pale, skinny boy with a fading bruise where a jagged scar used to be, and got into bed. He spelled the lights off, put his wand and his glasses on the bedside table, and stared into the darkness until his eyes adjusted and he was able to make out the two picture frames facing him.
In one, his parents danced in endless circles, laughing and in love. In the other, Sirius had his arm thrown over Harry's shoulder, and he, too, was laughing, his eyes shining. But his face was turned from the camera, and his smile was for Lupin, who was sitting on Harry's other side with his lap full of Christmas gifts and crumpled wrapping paper.
He shut his eyes and waited for morning.
Harry came down the stairs, ready to make the morning rounds, which meant checking that the wards had held through the night and that no messages had arrived, and taking in the daily paper.
He stopped short at the realization that someone else was in the house. His wand was in his hand without conscious thought, but he lowered it the next moment.
Just Kingsley Shacklebolt.
He paused at the top of the stairs, just out of sight. It wasn't that he wanted to eavesdrop, but he knew barging in would stifle the conversation. He tended to have that effect. Shacklebolt was there for Lupin; Harry might as well leave them to talk in peace.
"No, thank you, Remus. I still have a few stops to make. Another time."
"Will you be at the Burrow, by any chance?"
"I will be, yes."
"In that case, would you mind taking a few things? Harry and I have set aside a box. I'm sure Molly will appreciate it..."
Harry recoiled. Lupin was giving away Sirius' things? And when had he asked for Harry's opinion?
"Thank you. I hope it isn't too much trouble."
"Of course not. Why, just about everyone's been sending things their way. Anyone who can..."
Harry was overcome with guilt. Of course. How stupid and selfish of him. He hadn't even thought of sending anything. There he was, with a Gringotts vault stuffed full of gold, and it hadn't occurred to him to send so much as a Knut to the people who had been like a second family to him. The few times he'd thought of the Weasleys, he'd quickly made himself think of something else. Arthur Weasley's blank, empty eyes haunted his dreams along with dozens of others. The Burrow was a burnt-out shell the last time he'd seen it, the Weasley children huddled around their mother while rain and ash fell from a leaden sky.
He hadn't been back since. Ron's letters to him were short and hollow, and he hadn't been able to force himself to reply. He had put it off until he convinced himself that a reply after so long a silence would only be insulting.
And he hadn't thought to send so much as a Knut. Never mind that none of it would have happened if not for him. If they hadn't taken him in.
The front door shut, the heavy lock grating until it fell into place. Harry heard Lupin walk toward the stairs to the kitchen, his steps growing fainter.
And stopped short again when he heard music start up softly. Someone was humming.
Lupin was humming.
He was washing dishes, his head swaying gently to the old-fashioned tune. The radio, perched precariously atop a stack of newspapers, vibrated with life.
Harry stared at him, not understanding.
Lupin looked over his shoulder and smiled brightly. "Morning, Harry. Have a seat. I'll just finish up here and we'll have breakfast."
Harry sat heavily in the closest chair. He did not understand.
Gone the worn-out, pinched look Lupin had worn for months. Gone the ever-present creases on his forehead. When Lupin brought plates piled high with pancakes dripping syrup, there was a shine in his eyes that Harry had never seen there before.
"Eat up," Lupin said cheerily, "we have a long day ahead of us."
"Oh?" Harry asked cautiously.
Lupin didn't seem to have heard him. He was making short work of his food, seeming to enjoy every bite.
Harry ate. It was delicious. They hadn't had a proper meal since he'd arrived; Lupin would put down plates of bread and cold meat, and Harry hadn't felt up to changing that routine.
"Finished? Good. Now, how much money do you have, Harry?"
It was such an odd question that it took Harry a moment to answer. "About fifty galleons."
"Hmm. We'll have to get more," Lupin said, more to himself than to Harry.
Harry hadn't been out of Grimmauld Place in weeks. Not since Lupin had brought him there, delirious and hovering near death, following Voldemort's final attack. The idea of a visit to Gringotts was alien.
Lupin whisked away their empty plates and glasses, but left them sitting in the sink. He brought a packing box out from under the table. "Here, take this." He waited until Harry had done so. "This will sound a bit odd, but please do as I say."
Harry nodded without a word.
"Good boy." Lupin reached out and ruffled Harry's hair fondly. "I want you to go and pack anything that's terribly important to you. Anything you couldn't bear to lose. Don't bother with anything replaceable."
Harry nodded again. Questions swam across his brain, but he didn't say a word.
"Go on," Lupin said. He smiled encouragingly at Harry.
Harry went. He wrapped the photographs from his bedside table in his Invisibility Cloak, and the Cloak in his best robes. His photo album, with the Marauders' Map tucked between the pages. His first Hogwarts letter. His first birthday cards. The flute Hagrid had given him for Christmas. The model Firebolt from Tonks. He hesitated before adding Practical Defensive Magic and its Use Against the Dark Arts. He hesitated still more before wrapping the fragments of the broken two-way mirror in a Weasley sweater and tucking the lumpy bundle into a corner of the box.
He looked at what remained in his trunk. Chocolate Frog cards. Sneakoscope. Omnioculars. Letters, clothing, quills, books...
He heeded Lupin's instructions. He left them all.
Avoiding looking at Hedwig's empty cage in the corner, he took up the box and left the room.
Lupin was waiting for him. He had a box as well, and it was filled to brimming with books. The only valuable possessions Harry knew Lupin to still own.
He took the box from Harry. "We'll just send these along."
"Where?" Those were, after all, the things he could not bear to lose.
"Hogwarts, of course." Lupin was already sending his own box through the Floo. Harry's followed shortly. "Now, are you ready?"
Ready for what?
"Yes. Are we really going out?"
Is it safe? For me. For you. For random people in the street.
Lupin took Harry traveling cloak off the hook and swung it around Harry's shoulders playfully. "Out. Yes."
With Lupin carrying his own worn brown cloak draped carelessly over one arm, and Harry half-running to keep up with him, they left Grimmauld Place behind.
They Apparated to Diagon Alley, but not before Lupin looked Harry over critically and adjusted the hood of his cloak, effectively hiding most of Harry's face.
"Keep your head down," he said, in the same tone one might speak of the weather.
Their first stop was Gringotts.
"We'll need about four hundred galleons," Lupin told him. He wasn't going in with Harry. "Have them spell it so it won't be hard for you to carry."
It was an awful lot of money, but the goblin at the desk showed no interest. In no time, Harry was rejoining Lupin, a bulging sack weighing down his pocket despite the spell.
"To the book shop," Lupin said. He made it sound like they were off on some grand adventure.
But they walked right past Flourish & Blott's, and then past Obscurus Books. Lupin was walking confidently, and Harry didn't question him.
They stopped in front of a small shop that Harry had never taken notice of before, but which on closer look was, in fact, a book shop.
"Can't go in with you, Harry," Lupin said, still lightly, though his eyes hardened as he motioned to a small printed sign in the window.
Harry didn't need to ask what Act 512 was. He nodded, trying to keep his expression neutral.
"In the back will be a case with some dodgy-looking books. Look for one with a blue cover with silver edges. It'll be sixty galleons or so. Don't bother haggling, and don't answer any questions if anyone wants to know what you want with it. Clear?"
"I'll be right here in case there's any trouble."
Harry nodded again, and tried not to look back as he opened the door and went into the dimly lit, musty shop.
He found the book with no trouble, and purchased it from a bored-looking teenage clerk who didn't so much as glance at the book twice, and didn't seem to recognize Harry, who hadn't lowered his hood.
Lupin was clearly delighted to hear this, though he said nothing before taking the book from Harry and stowing it in an inside pocket of his robes. He smiled at Harry with approval. "The Apothecary next." And they were off.
Harry purchased twelve vials of dragon blood, nearly emptying his money bag.
"Good," Lupin said. He smiled his approving smile again, and Harry's heart did another happy somersault. "Now, are you ready for a little adventure?"
"Sure," Harry said recklessly. He was starting to enjoy their weird little shopping spree. He knew he shouldn't. There was something ominous about being told to pack up your dearest belongings, being taken to a place you knew wasn't safe for you to go, and being instructed to purchase hundreds of galleons worth of things you didn't have any use for.
"I'll need fifty galleons."
Harry was left with only a few coins.
Lupin led him into Knockturn Alley, his footsteps sure and unwary. He held open a door and bid Harry inside a stuffy, candle-lit shop.
Once Harry's eyes adjusted to the flickering light, he began to make out all sorts of odd items on the shelves. Shrunken heads. Animals parts. Crystals. Stones with odd carvings, delicate silver instruments, clocks and watches with hands that told everything but time...
Lupin leaned close to Harry's ear. "Pretend to look around for a bit. Not too long; mind, we don't have a lot of time. Then join me at the counter."
Harry circled the shop slowly, trying to keep his eyes on Lupin, who had asked to see some jewelry from a glass display.
When he came up to the counter, Lupin held up a small ring with a sparkling, milky stone that seemed to be all colors at once. "What do you think, Harry?"
Harry had no idea what this was about, but he could guess what Lupin wanted. "Oh, yes, it's lovely."
"We'll take it," Lupin told the squat, balding man behind the counter.
The ring was wrapped in pink tissue paper and they left the store.
"In here, Harry." Lupin pulled him into a narrow crevice between two buildings. He gave him the pink parcel. "Take it out for me, will you? Bloody thing had to be silver..." He blew on his fingers, which Harry noticed were reddened.
Harry took the ring out.
"Toss it for me."
Harry looked at him with a slight frown, but Lupin was twirling his wand with such a boyish grin that Harry couldn't refuse.
The ring flew up, spinning as Lupin's spell hit it, and with a ping the stone shot out of its setting. Lupin snatched it out of the air and rubbed it on his sleeve, looking pleased.
"Grab the ring, will you?"
Harry picked up and pocketed the slightly dented silver ring, which looked rather forlorn missing its stone.
"Next stop," Lupin said lightly, pushing Harry gently back onto the paved street.
They stopped before a shop advertising antiques, but rather than enter it, Lupin drew Harry to the side.
"You'll be staying out here. Now, if you think you're in any danger, I want you to come right inside. Otherwise, just wait for me. I may be a while."
Harry leaned against the wall and watched Lupin go in. The minutes trickled by.
"Coming through - oomph, 'scuse me, ma'am - make way -"
Harry turned with a sick stomach, and there was Mundungus Fletcher making his way through the crowd, weighed down by what looked like all the furniture one might need to start up housekeeping.
With a groan, Harry pushed away from the wall and hurried into the shop.
Lupin was at the counter, haggling over what looked a somewhat like a time-turner set in an intricate gold sphere with crystals around a thicker outer rim.
"Six-hundred galleons. My final offer. I don't believe you will get a better one any time soon. Six-hundred and thirty... honestly, if you want to hold out over thirty galleons..."
The shop keeper grumbled under his breath, but Lupin's face relaxed, telling Harry that he had been successful. Indeed, the shop keeper was drawing up a receipt.
Lupin took it. "I will need a box, if you please."
Then he noticed Harry behind him, and his brow furrowed. "Something wrong?"
"Dung," Harry said shortly. "Coming in here, I think."
Lupin whirled around to look through the grimy window, and, indeed, Mundungus was approaching the shop, swaying under his bulky load.
"Bloody f-" Lupin cut himself off, ending in a hiss. "Stay here Harry - No, wait..." He signed the receipt quickly and handed it to Harry. "Take my purchase as soon as it's ready, and go out the back. You'll find yourself in Diagon Alley again."
With that, Lupin walked out of the shop and quickly intercepted Mundungus, appearing to strike up a friendly conversation. Mundungus was looking rather irritated.
The shop keeper had been eyeing Harry, one hand lying protectively over a box.
Harry looked down at the receipt. Six hundred galleons, from Lupin's personal vault. Lupin couldn't possibly have that kind of money, or, if he did, it was all he had in the world. If he didn't, and he was trying to rip this man off...
"Uh, would you mind drawing up another receipt? I would like to pay for the purchase... As a gift for my friend, you know?"
The man scowled at him.
"I'll pay the original asking price," Harry said quickly, noticing out of the corner of his eye that Lupin had lost his grip on Mundungus' arm and was looking a bit desperate.
The shop keeper smiled a very ugly, crooked smile, and drew up a receipt. Harry signed it, crumpling the old one and stuffing it into his pocket. He took the box, checked that the gold thing was inside, and asked to be shown to the back door.
In the sunshine of Diagon Alley, he leaned against the mossy, warm wall of the shop and gulped the fresh air.
Maybe a bit too much adventure. All sorts of feelings were being stirred up.
Lupin rejoined him momentarily, praised him for his quick thinking, and led him rather hurriedly toward Gringotts.
"All right, Harry. Look at me." Lupin had him by the shoulders, and his amber eyes looked deep into Harry's. "I need you to do something that I know will sound absolutely mad to you, but it simply must be done. I'm going to tell you why, but we don't have a lot of time for questions. Listen -" Lupin took a deep breath. "I wanted to protect you from all of this, but you know how it's been. There're things happening right now, which I can't explain properly, but the gist of it is that in a few days the Ministry'll be making a decision about who will be responsible for you until you're of age. This is a problem, obviously. We can't control the outcome. I've decided to act preemptively..."
Harry nodded, because that seemed like the thing to do.
"Here's what I want you to do. Go in there, and sign over Sirius' vault to Tonks. She's family, so they shouldn't think it odd. Then -" Lupin's grip on Harry tightened. "I want you to take a thousand galleons - that's the limit for a single transaction - from your own vault, and then split the rest between Bill and Molly. Clear?"
Harry blinked at him. It wasn't clear at all... but it was the Weasleys. And Sirius should have left his money to his family, rather than to Harry, anyway. "Yes, I understand."
Lupin smiled down at him, giving him the strength to do what was asked of him, and gave him a push toward the entrance.
They had Apparated to a narrow street, soon joining with a crowd of hurrying Muggles. Harry couldn't tell what language was being spoken. They had Apparated so many times in quick succession that the squeezing, pinching sensation lingered even minutes later, making him gasp out short shallow breaths.
"Where are we?"
Lupin shook his head. "Not here, or right now, Harry."
Harry couldn't help noticing that Lupin was walking with even more confidence now, a spring in his step. A smile was playing in the corner of his lips.
An oddly wary feeling started stirring again in the pit of Harry's stomach.
"Here we are," Lupin said suddenly, stopping short in front of an iron gate set in an ivy-covered wall. Beyond it, Harry could see a rather dilapidated brick building. "In we go."
Harry followed him along a weedy path, until they stopped out of sight of the road and the building's main entrance, under the cover of some overgrown willows.
"Thank you for trusting me thus far, Harry, it meant a great deal to me." He dug into his pocket and took out the small stone, holding it between two fingers and allowing it to catch the sunlight. "Look at this, Harry."
Harry looked. The colors were swirling.
"That's right," Lupin murmured. He reached for Harry's glasses, and Harry's vision blurred. "Closer..." His hand cupped the back of Harry's head and guided him. The stone slowly came into focus again.
The stone was changing color. What was milky, opalescent white was now a moody, muddy green... a bright green... an emerald green just like...
Just like Harry's eyes.
"Good," Lupin said, taking the stone away and returning Harry's glasses to him. "Have you got the ring, still?"
Harry, feeling a little lightheaded, fished the ring out of his pocket and offered it to Lupin.
"No, you hold it." With a wave of his wand, Lupin had attached the green stone to the ring, where it fit as thought it had never been removed. "Now, put it on, let me see how it fits."
It fit Harry's index finger with difficulty. Oddly, Lupin looked pleased.
"This is it, then..." Lupin was looking down at him, holding Harry with his eyes as well as once more by the shoulders.
Harry thought once again how oddly bright Lupin's eyes were, as thought lit by an inner fire.
"I'm afraid I'm going to ask you to trust me again. Can you do that?"
Harry did. He couldn't not. He ignored the warning whispers in his head and nodded.
"I'm going to leave you here." Lupin's grip tightened to still Harry's involuntary twitch. "Yes, Harry. I'm going to leave you here, where you will be safe until Sirius can come for you."
Harry's mouth fell open in a silent Oh.
Because he finally understood.
Lupin was insane. Somewhere between losing Sirius, losing Dumbledore, losing half the Order and almost losing Harry, and having one too many anti-werewolf acts passed against him, Lupin had lost his mind.
It wasn't that odd, really. Harry had seen it happen in far shorter time to others who had suffered far less.
He was going to struggle, but he had lost a moment; that one moment while that awful realization had washed over him. Then it was too late. There was a slender chain around his neck, and Lupin was spinning the gold sphere, the tiny hourglass in its center tumbling over and over itself.
The world was whirling around him in a blur of green that used to be ivy and willow and grass, and all he could see clearly were Lupin's eyes, which had never left his.
The eyes that had been dulled by pain and grief for months now looked alive once more, and Harry's one thought was that perhaps it would be best for Lupin this way. At least he could believe the impossible. Harry had to live with the unchangeable truth.
The world stopped spinning. There was something terribly wrong.
He thought perhaps he had fallen to his knees, which certainly would have been reasonable given his dizziness, because Lupin's face was suddenly so far above him.
Lupin had pocketed the gold instrument, and his wand flicked lightly over Harry, just touching the top of his head. Harry felt some tugging, and looked away from Lupin to see the sleeves of his jumper shrinking to fit him.
He frowned. It hadn't been too big for him.
He realized what was wrong while Lupin was taking his hand in his own large, calloused one and leading him up the porch steps and through a heavy door into a brightly lit entrance hall.
He had shrunk. But more than that - he was a child again. Skinny, knobby-kneed... a child.
His brain refused to work and he stumbled after Lupin, his legs carrying him on auto-pilot.
"Sit," Lupin said, propelling him onto a hard bench along the wall. "Let me take care of this."
A woman had come through a door, wiping her hands on her apron and bringing with her a smell of baking bread and ripe fruit.
"Ya mogu vam pomoch?" she asked, smiling at Harry but looking at Lupin. Harry hadn't understood a single word she said.
Lupin had his wand in his hand, held just out of sight at his side. It flicked once, twice... Harry lost count.
"Ochen horosho," the woman said, her face unnaturally slack. "Kohechno vozmeom malchika."
He turned to Harry, kneeling in front of him.
"Harry..." he said softly, "I know you must be frightened." He leaned close, placing a kiss on top of Harry's head. "Someone will come for you," he whispered. "I pray to every god I know it will be Sirius."
And then he left him.
Harry, his face still frozen in that same shocked Oh, was alone.
Translation: "May I help you?" she asked, smiling at Harry but looking at Lupin. Harry hadn't understood a single word she said . . . . "Very well," the woman said, her face unnaturally slack. "Of course we will take the boy."