Author's Notes: I wrote the attached fic for the 2009 RS_games. It's not only the longest fanfic I've ever written (and finished) but probably the plotiest. Note that it is NOT a WIP, the reason I'm posting in three parts is entirely due to length, and stylish breaking up to create a minute of suspense, etc.
:D Thanks for reading! Xx
These Young Lions
October 31st, 1981
Sirius coughs - smoke and anger catching in his throat to make his breaths sticky and difficult. His wand is slippery in his hands, and he can't tell whether it's wet from the rain, or from blood. If it is blood, he doesn't know whose. He thinks it might be his blood, because his thigh and his cheek and his shoulder sting sharply, but then again, it could just as easily be from the innocent woman who had, only a moment ago, been standing behind him.
He shifts form and, for a moment, he forgets himself, collapsing into a safer shell of animal instincts.
Padfoot is a dog, and a dog knows when to run.
It's strange, the way cities in Sirius's England are laid out. One moment, his claws scrape against the black bismuth of a Sainsbury's car park and the next he's through a tall wall of pines and he comes out on the other side he's in a flock of sheep, and he runs and he runs and then he's back among mirrored windows and women in short skirts with silver hoops through their ears standing in line for a club.
His shape shivers again, until he is a tall broken man, pulled inside out and wrenched apart.
His jacket is gone now. He cannot recall where he lost it. Perhaps when he was closing Lily's sightless dead eyes. Did he take it off to pillow her too-still head? Or did he bundle Harry in its folds before placing him in Hagrid's too-large hands? Maybe it was on the street with Peter, the rat, the rat--
He stops thinking. Instead, he Apparates twice, whichever direction will take him farther away and then he is a dog again and he runs. He's in a field now, cradled by pleasant green pastures. He flies past an old stone wall, a rickety gate; a man with a fishing pole who turns curiously to watch him as he passes.
When the panic constricting his lungs eases a little and he hurts too much to take another step, Padfoot folds in on himself and sleeps for an hour, cocooned in the dull, high grass, cast silver and black in the moonlight. When he wakes, he rolls onto his back, and shifts into humanity slowly, fitting each inch of his mind back into each inch of his skin, and rests.
Grief is shaking and hard in his chest, but at the same time he is thinking, Voldemort is dead. We're saved, we're free. He is also thinking, Everyone will think that I'm the traitor – I'm running for freedom. But the thought which stands prevalent in his mind is this: .
In the face of these facts, Sirius is helpless, though he vows to himself that Remus will learn the truth. One idea, though, crawls into the back of his mind and makes a home there:
Harry is being taken somewhere for protection and for a home. He goes through options logically, trying to push through the fog of pain and weariness in his mind. Harry could, he supposes, be taken to Hogwarts; or he could be taken to the Weasley's, or maybe even the home of another Order member.
Clearly, Remus is the best option-- he's even written into the Potters' will, but when they wrote that, they all knew it was more out of love than practicality; the law would never give a child (and certainly not one of such importance) to a werewolf. It strikes Sirius as funny in a terrible way that Harry Potter, with his soft milky smell and round baby toes, is now the Saviour of the Wizarding world. He is careful not to start laughing, because if he starts he won't stop.
Sirius thinks of what Dumbledore would decide was safest, and then the answer comes easily. Dumbledore would think of Old Magic, the Old Magic that would have kept Harry alive. Lily's magic.
He remembers discussing it with Lily. She'd asked him (a long time ago, when still pregnant with Harry) what she could possibly do to protect her family, and Sirius had - a little hesitantly, afraid for the dire situation that would need Old Magic - told her about the dustiest of tomes in the Black library, tomes which held things his family overlooked, but that he did not. The magic of love and passion was a part of a wizard or witches' blood. It was more powerful than dark or light because its only duty was existence.
If she had used blood magic, than Harry would have been taken to a family member. Dumbledore had no way of knowing that Remus was as close to family as Harry could, or maybe the word was should, get,
Sirius and James had preformed a ritual to become blood brothers in the summer of their sixth year and three years later, Remus effectively married in. Lily twisted vines around Sirius and Remus' pale, joined hands under the empty sky of a new moon, and whispered words to mean, family and forever.
If Dumbledore had known about these things, he might have tried harder put Harry in Remus's care, but of course, this was only another case to add to the long list in errors in judgement.
The only other option is Lily's sister, called Petal, or something equally idiotic, if Sirius remembers correctly.
Sirius had been to Lily's sister's house once for a disastrous dinner, which ended when, face covered in French onion soup, Vernon Dursely had physically pushed Sirius out of the door, screaming "And I'll never have you set foot in this door again, you disgusting fag!"
Remus, who, unlike poor Mr Dursley or Sirius (now guffawing on the ground), had a werewolf's strength (and was six hours away from changing into one) held Mr Dursley a few inches off the ground by his throat, and, eyes clear and yellow like dry white wine, had whispered very loudly, "If you ever touch him again, I will remove your liver through your nose."
James followed them out quickly, with a tearful Lily tucked protectively underneath his arm. "I just don't understand who you've become, Pet," she called behind her, "Or how you could ever marry a man like that."
In conclusion, Sirius can think of very few people who he dislikes more than the Durselys, and all of them are Death Eaters. It is absolutely not acceptable that Harry could be left there with no one who loves him to look after him. Sirius stands resolutely, surprised to find that he is very dizzy and Apparates again, this time to the backyard No. 4 Privet Drive.
Upon arrival he takes three shaky steps, looks down to find that he is, in fact, definitely bleeding, shifts into Padfoot, and passes out.
Mr John Excer
John Excer has lived at No. 7 Privet Drive for nearly ten years, and in all this time, he has never, even once, been awoken half-past six to find Mrs Petunia Dursely on his doorstep.
To be more specific, no Dursely has ever called on the Excer residence, which is not much of a surprise, really. John once attended the garden party of Cynthia Spruce at No. 8 Privet Drive in which he overheard Vernon and Petunia suggesting that John and his wife (who is now deceased, but, obviously, wasn't back then) were overly liberal poofter tree-huggers who ate nothing but rabbit food and gave their children disgusting amounts of self-righteous freedom.
John had never thought that letting his children choose their own clothing or befriend the neighbours (who were from Bangladesh) was disgusting; nor did he think that 'poofter' was an accurate term to describe his wife and him(self), who had, as far as he knew, always engaged in sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex. Even were this not the case, he still wouldn't have approved of the term. If he had, on occasion hugged a tree, it was nobody's business.
But, as John Excer will come to learn, there is a first time for everything, and his commencing lesson arrives bright and early on Sunday, November the first.
John opens the door, yawning and blinking, dressed haphazardly in cotton pyjama bottoms and a paint splattered t-shirt. He rubs his eyes like a child, expecting to see Mrs Wutherford from across the road come to complain about the leaves from his maple blowing into her yard again.
Instead, he is met by Petunia Dursley, looking, in the weak autumn light, like a grape on the verge of becoming a raisin. Mr Dursely stands behind her, out on the pavement, the sour expression on his purple face clear evidence that he does not feel the Excer's brick path to be worthy of his sensible leather loafers.
Petunia is holding her hand away from her, and in it she clutches one end of a (very) mouldy rope. John follows the line to find that the other end connected to a very large black dog. The dog's shoulders are hunched together and his ears are flat and drooping; he holds one paw close to his body. The dog's fur is lustrous and well-groomed, but it has a fine grey dust like ash over the top, and in several places ragged gashes leak sluggish black blood. The dog's eyes are grey, sharp, and too intelligent.
"Christ!" John says, stepping out of the door and bending down to the dog's level, heedless of the damp grass. "Look at this guy! He must've been in a hell of a fight, poor thing."
The dog makes no move to resist when John presses his fingers near the wounds to inspect them. In fact, he doesn't move much at all, just stares sadly straight ahead.
"Is he alright? Where did you find him?"
"The animal isn't yours then?" Mrs Dursely says tightly.
"Well, no…" he replies, "My wife was allergic."
"Do you have any idea whose it is? We found it in the backyard this morning and. frankly, I don't have time for this mongrel. I've several other problems at the moment."
"No." John says, "I've never seen him before."
Mrs Dursley nods and then moves to turn away. When the dog doesn't follow immediately she tugs on the rope, hard. The dog makes a small, pained whimper in the back of his throat-- the sort of ashamed noise that comes from someone who hates to admit weakness. He wobbles slowly to all four paws and takes a few limping steps after her. John's heart nearly cracks at the pitiful sight.
He pushes his hand through his hair nervously, further ruffling it, and stands indecisively for only a moment before coming down the path to catch up with Mrs Dursely.
"Right, wait up a moment," he calls, adding nervously under his breath: "I am going to regret this."
Mrs Dursley stops and turns; the dog stops too, collapsing back into a heap on the ground.
"Listen, if, er, I'm sure it's a lot of trouble for you to go about finding the owner of this dog, but really, I don't mind. I could just take him; I'll just make up some signs."
Mrs Dursley doesn't even pause before handing over the rope. "Be careful," she says. "It bites."
The dog looks up at him as if to say, If you were me, wouldn't you bite her too? John catches himself nearly nodding in agreement.
John carefully nudges the dog back inside the house. Hannah, his eldest daughter, is standing at the bottom of the staircase in a pink nightdress and wool socks.
"Daddy, did we get a dog?" she asks, excitedly. It has been her greatest wish for as long as he can remember, but it wasn't possible until her mother died five months ago. John had promised they would get one, but the idea has seemed too final and terrifying. If they got a dog that meant his wife really wasn't coming back, and then how could he go on?
"Maybe," he replies. "This guy's lost his family, so we're going to see if we can bring him back to his home. If not, then we'll talk about keeping him."
She can barely contain her squeal of glee, and something eases in John's chest to see his child's now elusive smile.
"Go wake your sister, and we'll see about going to the vet. He's been a bit beat up."
"Was he bullied?" she asks quietly.
John contemplates this for a moment, and looks closely at the dog. There is something wild and fierce in his distant gaze and pointed nose. His eyes have shadows like a soldier's and nothing like those of a battered mutt. The dog looks loyal and regal and dangerous, and John suddenly thinks he doesn't know quite what he's gotten into.
"No," he says, "I don't think so." And he gently unties the rope from around the dog's neck.
Despite himself, Remus Lupin is a hopeful sort of man.
He doesn't mean to be; he tries to look at every situation with the most pessimistic of viewpoints; he does his best to always assume the worst, but he just doesn't have the knack for it.
When he was five and he became a monster and he was forced to watch his parents fall out of love with him, he tried to tell himself that his life was over--but he never could make himself believe it.
When he was eleven and standing on the steps to a castle that would teach him how to be great, hand in hand with three boys dreaming the same dream, he tried to tell himself that his secret would be discovered and his shimmering future would be crushed into powder, but he couldn't make himself believe that either.
When he was sixteen and he fell so hard for his best friend that he forgot how to breathe, he tried to tell himself that he was doomed to an existence as a greying bachelor with only his lonely heart for company – yet another thing he never really thought could be true.
He is twenty-three now, and fifty-six minutes ago there was a stranger with a Ministry ID standing on his doorstep telling him that his lover is a sick and evil traitor who has just killed all of his best friends and escaped into the night and that they will be inspecting his house and the Potters' ravaged home tomorrow.
Remus says, yes sir, of course sir, because he his hands shaking too much to argue and his clothes and skin feels so heavy and wrong that he wants to scream.
He tries to tell himself that Sirius never loved him, and that every word and whisper he's ever given to Remus was a lie and a small part of a great and dark plan; but, as always, he can't make himself believe it. He thinks it's a good thing he hasn't seen Sirius since the incident; because if he had-- if he opened the paper to Sirius's hysterical face above a sequence of numbers, the thin fractures of rage and anger and horror in Remus's carefully constructed shell of hope might blossom into a chasm. Luckily, in these moments, Sirius's crimes don't quite seem real.
Perhaps it is for this reason that at eleven o'clock in the morning he Apparates into James and Lily's broken home to look for a single sign that will tell him something other than the conclusion every bit of evidence seems to prove.
The house is cold and dead inside. The rubble upstairs has been swept up, and downstairs the bodies have been cleared away; a faint shimmer of magical chalk outlines where they once lay. The crime scene is temporarily abandoned, everyone out to celebrate. They will return tomorrow to pick through Remus's best friends' lives like vultures. Remus skirts around the government anti-entry wards easily, concentrating on the magic rather than on his dark thoughts.
First, he sifts through the papers on the Potters' desk; but nothing turns up, it's just a jumble of old reports for the Order and a few bills. Harry's vaccination schedule sits folded on one side, reminding him that Lily had wanted Harry to go to a Muggle primary school before Hogwarts so he would understand Muggles when he was older. He realises he doesn't even know where Harry is, and resolves to find out as soon as this is finished.
Next, he tries Harry's bedroom, but dark magic and very, very white magic is still hanging in the air, bright and heavy, and the magic inside him reacts violently too it, makes him gag; he turns away quickly and tries the master bedroom.
The wardrobe door is ajar, Lily's flowery dresses peeking through like nervous children. Her slippers are abandoned on the floor, one overturned. The bed sheets have been thrown back haphazardly as if its occupants tugged free of the covers in a great hurry. A soft murmur of noise comes from the corner of the room, and for one moment, Remus's stomach is in his throat; he's terrified, but a second later he realises it's just the clock radio turned to a rock station, an alarm call eternally missed.
He walks to the bedside, and that is when he sees the letter. It isn't really a letter so much as a sheet of ripped notebook paper. A ballpoint pen lies uncapped next to it. He opens it gently. In James's scrawling hand, one word is written in hasty capital letters across the page.
Remus drops the sheet of paper and Apparates away in the next second.
When Remus left Hogwarts, among the first orders of business was locating somewhere he could change safely at full moons. They moved around a couple of times, trying a desolate stretch of land near the fens and then some caves, but the pack settled finally on an abandoned farm in the Peaks district. The location was ideal because it was close enough to Apparate but far enough that it never shadowed Remus during the other days of each month. The barn was used as a base of sorts, and they stored clothes and medical supplies in the hayloft – the wolf couldn't get up ladders.
Sirius had jokingly painted "The Wolf's Lair" on the side of the barn shortly after they began using it, and it had been referred to thusly ever since.
Remus climbs into the hayloft quickly. When he gets to the top, he spots the first note's counterpart. Sitting atop a box of McVittie's digestive biscuits is a stark white envelope.
Remus opens it with shaking hands. When he slides the blank sheet from inside, he is confused only for one moment before whispering: "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."
Surprisingly it is Lily's curly script that answers him. Let's hope not. is the only reply.
Even through Remus's grief, he answers it again with a smile. "I solemnly swear I amup to good."
The letter appears suddenly, with none of the slow inky bloom of the map – it had been charmed for hasty practicality. It's shorter than Remus thought something of such importance would be, but it is to-the-point. It makes the back of his throat hurt like tears, and its very, very Lily.
Dear Future Reader,
(whom I assume will either be Remus Lupin or perhaps Dumbledore)
If you have received this letter, I, and most likely my husband and son are dead, and the reason for this is the following:
Peter Pettigrew has betrayed the trust of my family, for it was he and not Sirius Black chosen to be my family's Secret Keeper in October of 1981. If you are reading this, know that Sirius Black is an innocent, and should be protected.
If you are Remus Lupin, we love you, and go to him, because he loves you too.
Lily Evans Potter
Remus sinks to his knees on the barn floor clutching the paper to his chest like salvation and thinking thank god, thank god and also of too many 'what ifs'. What if he hadn't gone to find the letter before those men searched the house? or What if Sirius had been captured? and worst of all What if Sirius had been captured and no-one bothered to search the house and Remus hadn't gone to find the letter and by now thought that Sirius really had betrayed them?
Remus sits on the floor of the barn for a long time, watching day leech from the sky in nearly imperceptible degrees through the missing boards in the ceiling and gulping deep breaths to heal the fractures in his hope, and he thinks about what he can do now.
The way he sees it, there are four options:
Give the letter to someone powerful that might believe it.
He disregards the first and last immediately. Many things, and not all of them nice, can be said about Remus Lupin; but claiming him to be a coward is not one of them. He measures his remaining thoughts carefully, but swiftly, as Marauders had raised each other to do.
He formulates a plan, and it goes something like this: he will go now, to talk to Dumbledore and ask him where is Harry is he safe can I see him. With a few well timed comments, he'll have a chance to judge Dumbledore's current thoughts concerning Sirius. If he seems sympathetic, Remus will give Dumbledore the letter. If not, then Remus will look for Sirius himself. There is the not-so-small chance that the letter had somehow been faked, post-event, or that the information is not current – perhaps written and provided for some previous scheme, but he would have to determine that upon sight of Sirius.
The important thing was to find Sirius, to know that he was safe, and they, together, could go from there.
At 3:03 in the morning on November the second, Sirius Black sneaks out of No. 7 Privet Drive, summoning up a grace and silence not seen since his early teenage years. The stakes are high because this time, if he is caught, it isn't just going to be six belt shaped bruises across his back and his mother's filthy-mouthed wrath for a few weeks but most likely his future, and perhaps his godson's.
Sirius Black likes to think that he is a good judge of character, and in his somewhat vast past experience he has been wrong on only one very notable occasion. Sirius has come to the conclusion that John Excer is a good man, a trustworthy man, and most importantly, a man that has not forgotten how to take the unexpected in his stride; but even so, Sirius doesn't expect any right-minded Muggle to ignore a tall, bruised vagabond in ripped clothes sneaking around his house at night.
He has important business to attend to – namely, discovering the current circumstances of his Harry. He walks down the block and then sneaks back into to a house, this time No. 4 Privet Drive. The house is quiet – all the lights switched off and the kitchen smelling faintly of lemon disinfectant. Sirius takes the stairs two at a time after casting a muffling spell just in case of squeaks. He opens one door, and then another and another and all expected members of the house are accounted for except the only one he cares about. He walks back downstairs and searches around.
He's on his way into the kitchen when he a high voice to his right declares "Pa-foo!" Sirius swings his head around immediately, and has to stuff his fist in his mouth to stop himself from growling in anger. Harry's chubby baby face stares at him from between the bars of his crib, his eyes like lanterns in the hushed light of the hallway windows. The crib has been manhandled into the cupboard under the staircase, only marginally bigger than Remus and his' own cupboard at home, in which they store shoes, some Christmas decorations, and box of interesting cake tins.
He takes three long breaths to remind himself to be quiet and then another three to remind himself that the most important thing is to make sure Harry isn't being actively injured in any way, and that he can't help any more than that right away.
"Pa-foo?" Harry says again, uncertainly this time.
"Harry!" Sirius whisperers, plastering his brightest uncle smile over the angry-horrified scowl lingering underneath. "How's it going?"
Harry opens his mouth for his usual squeal of excitement at finding someone he recognises that also plays with him and Sirius manages to clap his hand over Harry's mouth just in time. Harry giggles into the lines of his palm.
"Are you doing okay Harry?"
Harry laughs again, and Sirius knows that asking Harry what life with the Dursleys has been like for the past three days is an exercise in futility. Instead, he casts a quick charm meant to flash if the recipient is unwell in any way. Nothing happens and Sirius breathes, relieved. If the Dursleys were a sick enough family to physically abuse a baby, then Sirius probably wouldn't have been able to control himself.
Harry twists in his grip a little, and Sirius lets go of him, petting his downy hair. After a moment, he sings, because what else can he do – he sings something probably inappropriate as a lullaby - muggle rock music usually is, but Harry doesn't seem to mind (he never has). Harry yawns sleepily and Sirius murmurs "Bye bye."
It's a mistake. Harry blinks his eyes open and then his bottom lip quivers. "No." Then, as children do, his mouth opens and he begins to scream – a heartbreaking wail. Sirius aches to pick him up and rock him back to sleep but already an upstairs light is flicking on. "I'm sorry, Harry," he says, voice suddenly rough.
He takes a few steps towards the door, but pauses. Footsteps sound in the hallway and he quickly casts the strongest disillusionment charm he knows. Among the dark and the coats, he is near enough invisible.
Vernon Dursley's bellows-voice rises above Harry's. "Petunia! Shut that boy up!" Sirius winces. There is the muffled sound of slippered feet on the stair well and then the horsy face of Petunia Dursley appears. She looks thin and tired, and her fluffy pink bathrobe is depressingly unattractive.
She approaches Harry's crib with some trepidation and picks him up, holding him an arm's length from her body. Sirius bites his lip, praying that she doesn't harm him but also almost wishing she would so he might have reason to secret Harry away.
"Be quiet," she says sharply. Harry continues to wail. Vernon calls out something rude and unintelligible down the stairs, and another minute passes to the sound of small screams. Any minute, Sirius figures, their brat will wake, and then Petunia will have a fiasco on her hands.
Finally, Petunia sighs, weary and exasperated, and pulls Harry closer to her, holds him more gently in the nest of her arms and rocks his wriggling body back and forth. "Okay," she says softly, "There, there, Harry."
Harry's sobs subside and Sirius leans farther back into the coats, pushing his hand through his unwashed hair. This isn't a permanent solution, Sirius reminds himself, but it could be worse. Petunia sets Harry back into his crib carefully and climbs back up the stairs. Sirius waits until the light flicks off again and then descends the brick pathway back onto the street.
Back in the now-familiar surroundings of No. 7, Sirius spends a few moments sitting on the sofa with his head between his hands, staring at the orange and olive patterned wallpaper across from him and breathing slowly, in and out of his nose. James once noted that Sirius often sat just that way when thinking, and since then, Sirius has adopted it as the only fashion in which to puzzle out whatever needs puzzling.
The way Sirius sees it, he has room for creative solutions, which is just the way he likes his problems – not that he likes any problems. He knows it will not be easy to regain trust in the wizarding world without turning himself in, and supplying evidence in his favour, but as far as Sirius recalls, evidence is in short supply. (He isn't about to turn himself in, either.) Some part of him feels, albeit irrationally, that of only he could find Peter and wring the rat's neck everything else would work out okay, but he needs help, he's sure of that much. Sirius isn't about to run off after Peter on his own – he won't make the same mistake twice; not if he can help it.
What Sirius really needs is Remus, for two main reasons. He figures that it would help to have someone in Dumbledore and the remaining Order member's good graces on his side, and the second being that he doesn't really remember or want to remember how to function without Remus.
By the time the sun begins to edge the sky from black to grey to silver, Sirius knows (sort of) what he is going to do. He thinks that if he gains Mr Excer's trust, and if they work out an understanding, Mr Excer could help him keep watch over Harry. Then, of course, he'll go to Remus, with some argument and defence after he's calmed down and had time to think about all the reasons Sirius would never, ever.
By the time John comes down the stairs to put the tea on, Sirius has shifted back into Padfoot and is curled on the couch into a tight black ball, his tongue protruding comically from between his teeth, pink and wet, the same colour as the six o'clock-in-the-morning sky.
John takes the girls to school and pats Padfoot's head as he goes out the door, saying he'll be back by that afternoon, possibly with a new dog bed, and he glances pointedly at the hairy spot on the couch Padfoot had been previously inhabiting.
Sirius spends the day as he sometimes imagined he'd live after he finished school, before he realised that he had a lover and a war which both needed some of his attention: he lies on the sofa watching last night's repeat of Coronation Street, which Sirius finds particularly fascinating – a fact that Lily teased him for perpetually. Around twelve o'clock, Sirius showers. His cuts all sting, and the hot water makes his back ache before it starts to loosen the tension, but the water feels so good scouring away the days of hurt and grime that he remains there until he is close to falling asleep.
He searches the back of John's wardrobe for some clothes John won't notice missing, and is lucky enough to find a pair or tight, partially ripped trousers and a black t-shirt. Once dressed, he disposes of his old clothes, smelly and tattered as they are, dumping them in the bin outside, buried beneath a few crisp packets for camouflage.
He floats along in a detached haze until Mr Excer returns, enjoying each thing that happens in a separated compartment, thinking only forward. His whole mind feels bruised and used, and it is such a relief to pretend that his strange circumstances are only some kind of pleasant Order mission, and everything is just as it was before, that he barely tries to prevent himself from doing so.
Mr Excer, upon his return, is equipped with several new items for Padfoot: a wool bed patterned with paws, two red plastic bowls, and a collar, which reads – printed small across the stainless steel surface, Blackie . A phone number accompanied by a post-code mark the back side.
"The girls picked the name. I checked every pound and newspaper and place I could think of for reports of a missing dog in the area and nothing turned up, so I filed a report that you've been found if your owner comes looking and told the girls to expect you'll be sticking around," he says, absently, chattering on as he scratches underneath Padfoot's chin. He is about to clip the new collar around the dog's neck when his finger catches at something. He leans down to look closer.
The spell which directs attention away from the caramel coloured leather strap around Sirius's neck so that people don't glare at his indecency for wearing a collar in his day to day life does not hold up under close scrutiny, and Padfoot can practically see the clicking of Mr Excer's thoughts, wondering why he hadn't noticed it before.
Padfoot sits patiently while John fingers the leather, soft and supple from years of wear. John slides it around and moves to undo the buckle and remove it, but Padfoot growls, and pulls from John's grip explosively.
"Er, sorry?" John says, holding his hands up, "What if I just clip the tag onto this collar."
Padfoot warily returns to his place near enough John and swallows the low rumble in his chest. John looks surprised, which Sirius takes to mean he isn't displaying very accurate dog behaviour, but he can't bring himself to care. If he wants John to suspect that he is not an average dog, he'll have to act not-average.
Sirius, for his part, is not entirely pleased to be wearing tags, but he'd rather remain on stable ground with Mr Excer. At least now, he thinks, cynically, if I do get lost, someone will know where to return me. The name they have picked is just amusing enough that it doesn't bother him.
The rest of the night passes in a relaxed fashion. Millie, the younger of John's daughters, brushes him and then tries to convince him to sit or jump for pieces of cheese, a game which Sirius had tried to get James or Remus to play with him on many occasions with little success, so he is happy to oblige.
John makes spaghetti Bolognese and ignores Padfoot when he stares at it with longing in his eyes, and then glares at his own dish of dried kibble in vehement contempt. Sirius has eaten kibble as a dog before, but spaghetti Bolognese is his very favourite.
When, finally, John tucks the girls into bed and comes back down the stairs to lock the door and turn off the lights, Sirius is once again sprawled lazily over the couch, ears flopping and eyes looking very sad and lonely. John pats him on the head and Sirius can tell from the look on his face that he is wondering, for perhaps the ninetieth time that day, what story "Blackie" is dragging around behind him.
"I bought you a bed," John says, with a note of already-fond exasperation. "For a reason."
Sirius pointedly does not move.
"Please?" John adds, changing tactics.
After another five minutes of this, John tries to push Padfoot off the couch to no avail. Finally, Sirius drags himself off, looking for all the world like movement is the most trying task ever given to man or dog. He stalks into the corner and then carefully drags the bed with him onto the couch, climbs into it, and then turns to look at John, turning his nose into the air, and thinking, Happy now? as loudly as possible.
John opens his mouth to reply, but can find no words, until he manages to squeak, "Resourceful thing, aren't you." Then he departs from the room on unsteady feet.
Mr John Excer
Millie and Hannah are already halfway to the swings by the time John enters the park; they look like small, bright flowers in their plastic raincoats and tall, leaf-green wellies. He readjusts the dog's lead in his hand, and, at the sudden tension, the dog stops abruptly and refuses to move.
"Blackie," he says, crossly. "Come along." He tugs, but the dog really is quite large. He sighs dejectedly, supposing that there is perhaps a reason he's never had a pet that did something more than swim in circles before now. "Let's go, Blackie," he repeats.
The dog raises one lip over his sharp white teeth, but it looks more like a parody of a growl than the real thing–the expression a man makes when he acts like a beast. John pinches the bridge of his nose thankful the girls are preoccupied with the playground so as not to see what he is about to do.
"Okay," he says calmly, as if he were speaking to an unruly teenager; one of his students at Rivers Grammar School, perhaps. "Let's make a deal. I am going to let you off this leash, but you have to come back when I call you. Swear you'll come back."
It's an unreasonable thing to ask from a dog, but he can't help but remember the dog's strange compromise concerning the couch and the dog bed the night before; and, as if to punctuate his thoughts, Blackie barks once, sharply, and tugs at the lead again, as if to say, Alright, then; take it off already.
"You're very weird." John mumbles, unclipping the lead. "Would you like me to throw a stick?"
Blackie does not look at him, seemingly too busy sniffing around at the grass.
Mrs Figg, who had moved in down the lane not too long ago, appears from the copse of trees by the duck pond. "Good afternoon, John," she says, smiling. She is pushing a basket filled with tins of cat food and a bag of sprouts. "How are the girls?"
"As well as can be expected," he replies.
Mrs Figg smiles sadly. She pats his arm and says, in an almost conspiratorial fashion, "At least they still have a father…and at least they're old enough to remember her."
John is not sure he agrees, but he nods nonetheless; she seems to have formed her opinion through experience and he doesn't want to pry. She continues away, and it is at that moment that John realises Blackie is nowhere to be found; but when he calls out, the dog pokes his scruffy black head out from under some bushes, and lopes over, body looking uncharacteristically lean and sleek–almost wolf-like.
"Well, it's good to know you were paying attention before," John says. Blackie only snorts in reply.
They walk for a while more, making a wide circle around the play structure so John can still watch the girls. Blackie's claws click pleasantly on the path, though every now and then the sound disappears as he pads off into the grass to explore some interesting patch of grass.
Twenty or so minutes after John's conversation with Mrs Figg, a man comes into view across the clearing. Blackie is busy with some lavender a little ways back, so John is alone as he spots the man; even the girls are temporarily out of his sight–hidden behind some trees.
The man is rake-thin and his shoulders are drawn in; he looks tired, defeated. His grey cable-knit jumper is threadbare, worn at the elbows; the knees of his jeans are frayed. His shoes are good, brown leather, and he has a rucksack with crumpled pieces of paper and (strangely) a quill pen sticking out from under the flap. He looks like a university student or perhaps a very young professor. It's rare to come across anyone he hasn't met before in the park, but aside from that, John is not quite sure what draws his attention to the man, except that he has a well–loved black leather jacket slung over his shoulder, all stuck through with patches and safety pins–the thought of this rumpled, scholarly man wearing it seems positively ludicrous. The only other thing to catch John's eye are the scars across the man's pale face.
John turns around, wondering once again where the dog has disappeared too. "Blackie!" he calls, turning in the opposite direction of the young man. Blackie bounds from the underbrush, tugging a stick behind him that could be considered a small tree.
Across the clearing, the young man looks up and John's shout, and his eyes fix on Blackie. The blood drains from his face; he looks like a ghost. Slightly nervous, and without quite knowing why, John clips the lead onto Blackie, who is still distracted by smelling a slug stuck the trunk. The dog glances at him curiously and, almost as if he is following John's gaze, turns to see the young man.
All of the lines in the dog's body jump and shiver with tension. He stands still and straight, hesitantly tipping his nose up, scenting the man. Then, he barks once, sharp, a painful wounded noise, and tries to bolt away. The man changes direction, and begins walking toward them, quickly. John hadn't really realized before, but the man is tall. He unfolds with each step–shoulders straightening, body covering the ground in graceful strides.
John has to pull with all his weight to prevent Blackie from escaping his grasp. He wonders if he should run–it can't possibly be a good sign that his dog is so terrified--but the man's determined stare pins him in place; tawny and wise, like an owl's. Blackie makes whimpering noises in the back of his throat that sounds nearly human.
"Sir!" the man says, once he is near enough to be heard, "Sir, please! I think that--" He pauses, slowing momentarily, thinking. "My dog," he says at last, "I think that you have my dog, sir."
"I don't know what you mean," John replies, testily. His hand aches where the leash is digging into it, as Blackie is still trying to scramble away.
"Please, sir. It's very important. I…uh, lost my dog, and I'm nearly positive that that's him." He stops walking again and scrambles around in his book-bag, murmuring to himself. "Look," he says after a moment. "I've a photograph."
John closes the last few steps between them, and he has to tug the lead harshly to drag Blackie with him. The man looks a little askance when he does so, mumbling "He hates being on a lead" beneath his breath.
John inspects the picture. Sure enough, it is a photo of the young man, plus another man sporting a terrible haircut and glasses, throwing a stick; a dog quite identical to Blackie is frozen in the process of leaping to catch it.
"I'm sorry Mr –umm-"
"Lupin. Terribly sorry, I, uh, I'm Remus Lupin." The man says, not taking his eyes off Blackie, who has not turned to look at him, near snarling in his effort to escape.
"What I mean to say, Mr Lupin, is that it isn't impossible they are only similar looking dogs, and aside from that, he certainly doesn't seem to be interested in going anywhere with you." John knows he might be jumping to conclusions, but he can't help but remember the state Blackie arrived in on his doorstep. There are few things he detests more than someone who would practice cruelty on any creature.
The man's eyes become suddenly very sad and distant. He coughs nervously. "I, ah, I understand of course. May I please just check to see…see if it is him?"
John, no small part confused, and still half afraid, nods slowly. "How would you know?" he asks shortly.
Mr Lupin bends, and touches Blackie's back with a gentle hand. The dog freezes instantly, and the lead slackens in John's hand. "He's got a mark, like a…well a bit like a tattoo. Like a phoenix," he replies absently.
John leans in, curious. Sure enough, on the joint of the dog's hind leg, right along the hipbone, there is a patch of white fur he hadn't noticed before; the shape it takes is remarkably like bird--an elegant peacock, but with some additional grace and strange plumage.
He's about to comment when, very suddenly Blackie springs into motion again, forcing John to again tighten the lead; but Blackie has already opened his jaw, revealing sharp canine teeth and, shockingly fast, he lunges to grab Mr Lupin's hand.
Mr Lupin stills and, strangely, John can see that Blackie has not bitten down.
"Blackie!" He says, angrily, afraid to tug should it surprise the dog into tightening his grip. Blackie makes no move to let go.
Mr Lupin looks sadly at him. "You wouldn't," he says, "Padfoot? What could it help? Padfoot. You wouldn't." There is an uneasy weight behind his words, and John feels they have some hidden meaning.
The dog stares down Mr Lupin for one more moment and, very gently, he opens his mouth and allows the man to remove his hand. A peculiar look comes over Mr Lupin's face, like fear and love and shock and triumph all rolled into one.
"You wouldn't," he says finally, a statement.
The dog shivers as the tension drops from his form, and he leans forward, nosing into the man's chest, a soft keening noise tight in the back of his throat.
"Lily left a letter," the man says to the dog, pushing his fingers into the softer fur around Blackie's ears. "It could have been faked, but I didn't think it was." The tone in Mr Lupin's voice makes John suddenly feel like an intruder – he senses he's out of his depth. "But what do I do now? What do we do now? You're coming home, right?"
The dog makes two deliberate soft noises, like quiet barking, and Mr Lupin watches curiously, but with the same look of confusion that John is sure is plastered across his own face. Blackie repeats the action, and a sudden expression of comprehension crosses the man's face. "Why not?" he replies to the dog. John feels his eyebrows rising in disbelief.
"Excuse me, sir, but are you speaking with my dog, because I feel that this has reached a point where--"
Mr Lupin holds up his hand for quiet, and the dog barks once, high and sharp.
"I wouldn't suggest it if I thought it was very dangerous," Mr Lupin says to Blackie, "They've already searched me, they came this morning."
The dog presses his nose against his thigh, leaving a wet print on Mr Lupin's jeans.
"Dangerous? For me?" he asks, as if in clarification. "I don't care."
Blackie growls, and Mr Lupin sighs in response, "It's all dangerous. Everything is dangerous now."
The dog growls again, long and low.
"Then, what do I do?"
The dog makes another strange noise, and John has never really realised before, how many noises a dog can make. He'd always just thought of them as a sort of one sound animal – the bark. Of course it isn't like that, not really.
Mr Lupin looks puzzled for a minute, speaking aloud; contemplative and half to himself. "I'm not quite sure… James is better--was better at this than me. Oh, oh." John watches as a smile cracks across Mr Lupin's face, and it changes him, giving him an odd edge of old beauty, like a prince in a fairytale, "Ready to run. Okay. I'll be ready."
Mr Lupin stands abruptly, murmuring something that John doesn't quite catch at Blackie, before turning and sprinting back across the field from the direction he'd just come.
Right before he reaches the edge of the clearing, Mr Lupin pauses, "I'll see you again soon, sir," he calls, and then John glances away for a moment like he's distracted, like there are colours caught in the corners of his vision (in the days after, he sometimes wondered what had made him look away). When he turns back, the man is gone.
Blackie, or as John supposes his name must be, Padfoot, has finally tugged free of the lead, but he hasn't moved. He's sitting, inky fur mussed and his ears flopping back. For a dog, he has an emotive face, and John sees there some counterpart expression to that of Mr Lupin.
"You are not a normal dog," he says slowly. Padfoot looks up at John, and then, very deliberately, shakes his head in obvious agreement.
"Christ." John says, swallowing thickly. "Right, then. Well, then. Okay. Is that man going to come back?"
A 'yes' from the dog.
"Is that…bad?" he asks, forcefully suspending whatever part of his brain that processes logic from thinking about the fact that he is having a conversation with a dog. Padfoot firmly shakes his head 'no'.
He waits for a moment, fiddling with the buttons on his coat, before asking, carefully, "Would it have been better if this hadn't happened? I mean, if I wasn't…aware of whatever is going on, or if he hadn't seen you here, or…" He trails away not knowing how to clarify.
Padfoot catches his eyes with a baleful intensity, and John understands his sentiment perfectly, because he is feeling exactly the same thing.
"Yeah…" he says, slowly, "I don't know, either."
Remus's hands are shaking as he unlocks the front door to the house. His breath sounds so loud in his ears that he's sure the neighbours will be over in a moment to tell him to keep it down. He itches to make a list, to know what he needs to get done. He itches for Sirius's comforting skin, which is now too many miles removed from him again, and hidden away.
It was not an ideal meeting, to say the least. Sirius's fear upon sight of him has left a shaken and bitter sting in the back of his throat. The sickening distance of Sirius, inches away and utterly unattainable. The presence of the well-meaning but oblivious man, whose compliance is now necessary for Sirius to maintain a safe house near to Harry. Having to speak in their awkward adolescent code, developed when Sirius had accidentally gotten stuck in Padfoot's form for a week at the tail end of fifth year, and used after between James and Sirius to communicate on full moon nights. Not only is Remus out of practice, but the language does not extend far enough to form all the ideas and messages he has for Sirius.
Remus still hasn't seen Harry; he is left to assume that Sirius has, as he can think of no other reason for Sirius to settle near Privet Drive. It is good to be part of a team of two again, to entrust someone else with a problem, and believe in that other person's ability to solve it.
If Remus were living in an ideal world, he would now have only the duty of telling Dumbledore he'd found Sirius in a place he could hide out for a while, and Dumbledore would pull Ministry strings. But Remus Lupin does not live in an ideal world.
To say that the meeting with Dumbledore had not gone well would be an understatement. Dumbledore is a man willing to give second chances, and he is a man who believes in redemption, but he is also a man who knows his own mind, and who has lived for a long time in a world where most people assume that he knows best.
When Remus had begun to suggest there could have been some mistake in convicting Sirius of the crime, Dumbledore had, for a moment, looked at Remus with some great wealth of sorrow and knowing; then his face had darkened, and Remus remembered why people feared Dumbledore. He had said, in a voice like cold, cutting steel: "Remus Lupin, you should learn from this mistake and move on."
Dumbledore's eyes had been diamond hard-behind his spectacles when he had said, "You cannot change someone with blackness in their heart, and you may forgive them for it, but you cannot forget."
Remus is not afraid of standing up for himself or his friends, but he is not an idiot, either.
So their remaining option, as it stands, is running from the very government and society that they have given everything but their lives to save. It isn't fair, but Remus Lupin, of all people, knows that most things aren't.
He thinks for a while about Sirius's eyes in Padfoot's black muzzled face, almost eager. Remus wonders for a moment where they will go, and how they can possibly just drop a whole life built from ground up – the only thing Remus has ever been proud of. But of course, Remus can and he will. He'll run from Britain and Hogwarts and the Ministry, and live life on the roadside, shady motel to shady motel, for love of Sirius, and Sirius will do it for love of life.
First, he has to withdraw as much money from Gringott's as possible. He has Sirius's key, and when the Goblin takes him down to Sirius's vault, he pretends to think aloud the whole way, talking at the uninterested Goblin – explaining how much he hates Sirius, and how it's his own personal little revenge – pointlessly spending all Sirius's money. It doesn't matter that Sirius wouldn't have cared even if Remus did plan to buy ninety platinum watches with the money, the important thing is the look that the Goblin gives him as he leaves, a kind of sideways pity. Exactly what he'd been hoping for.
He spends the last hours of light packing bags. It's strangely like preparing for a camping trip--the kind they used to go on in the summers between. He folds lightweight clothes and a tent and stuffs all of it into the rucksacks. It doesn't matter that the overstuffed hiking bags will look gaudy and ridiculous; they're a sort of disguise, with Remus and Sirius still looking young enough to be naïve university students taking a gap year.
Around ten o'clock he thinks briefly about eating something, but it's a vague and distant thought, and he's so tired that he doesn't even enter the kitchen. Instead, he lies on the bed, staring hollowly at the ceiling. He and Sirius haven't slept in the same bed since the end of July –under the flimsy excuse that they might wake each other coming in from Order missions late at night. Separately, neither of them was under the illusion that there was any real reason further than the fact that sleeping next to someone you loved but couldn't trust and wanted but wouldn't touch made a man feel sick. They'd switched back and forth instead, spending one night in the bedroom and one night on the extra bed in the office alternately.
Tonight, even remembering this, the room feels huge and cold and desperately empty. Remus longs for the small movements and noises of a bed occupied by two. He wants body heat and his fingers to be tangled in long hair, and to wake at three o'clock in the morning, sweltering because Sirius has once again pushed all of the blankets onto him in his sleep. Needless to say, despite the feeling of heavy lead pressing down on Remus's eyelids, he barely sleeps.
At half past seven, Remus watches the alarm clock as it goes off, eyes trained on the second hand as they have been for the last forty-five minutes. He reaches out slowly, liking the noise; bright and hard in the muted silence of the room.
He takes as long as possible in the shower, not even getting out when his skin wrinkles and the water begins to run colder. When he dresses, he does so carefully, putting on his favourite clothes and layering thoughtfully. As has become his habit of late, he swings Sirius's leather jacket over his shoulder. It's much to big for him, and he doesn't really like wearing it, but he likes the smell, and the slick feel under his hands when he plays with the zipper while waiting in line for a coffee at the café around the corner from the house.
Mainly Remus thinks about one thing. He will find Sirius tonight, and whatever happens will happen then, so his last variable – the last unknown, is whether there is anyone to tell about Sirius's innocence.
The idea of leaving with no single soul aware of the reasons for his absence seems wrong and repulsive. It is with much deliberation, sitting in the corner of a café with a cup of greasy black coffee and an untouched croissant, that he determines who needs to know that Sirius is not the black sheep of the Black family who lived up to his estranged family's expectations. When he does decide, Remus smiles for the first time since the day before, with Padfoot's nose pressed wet and safe against his chest.
Sirius never lived with Andromeda and Ted Tonks, but it wasn't for a lack of hospitality or desire on either of their parts. Sirius had liked living with the Potters, of course; but Remus had always suspected that if it had been an option, he would have lived with the Tonkses. When other children had been raised on milk, Sirius Black had grown up on family loyalty. Sometimes it showed through in odd ways.
Andromeda, however, never received a veritable fortune from a beloved uncle like Sirius had, life as a disowned Black who married young to a farmer's son and had a baby a prompt nine months later was rich in many ways, money was not among them, and by the time she'd finally had a life that could support the sudden addition of a teenage boy, Sirius had moved on, and found a home of his own.
Remus arrives just outside the cloakroom a few minutes past eleven. The door opens before he even rings the bell. Nymphadora's violently chartreuse hair and a wide grin meet him.
"Remus!" she chirps excitedly, peering around him as if expecting someone else. "Did you bring Padfoot?"
Andromeda comes from the kitchen doorway just in time to catch Remus's slightly soured grin – her face is shadowed with the same exhaustion as his own, and the curve of her mouth speaks of depression. He steps inside at Andromeda's gesturing, closing the door behind him; he swings down to pick up Nymphadora at the same time. "You certainly are getting heavy, Nymphie."
"Don't call me Nymphie!" she protests, squirming in his grip. "And I'm too heavy to pick up now, anyway. Daddy can't any more. He tried last week and he hurt his back."
Remus chuckles a little, setting her back on her feet lightly. "Lucky for you, I'm very strong. Don't you have school today?"
Nymphadora frowns, and then looks at her mother questioningly. Andromeda, who is drying her hands on a dish towel, replies to the glance by gesturing at the living room. "Remus and I need to talk."
"Why do I have to leave?" she asks crossly, but follows the pointing finger with little further argument.
"The school suggested that we keep her at home…with…with, uh, with," she glances towards the side-table and her fingers trace the headline. BLACK, STILL AT LARGE. She forces her gaze back up to Remus's, "Because she could be a target."
Remus grimaces. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about," he says, uneasily. "What are…what do you think about all this?"
Andromeda scrutinises him with sharp dark eyes. Remus can feel her inspecting every edge of him, and she pauses at each visible scar, at his carefully patched trousers, at the tired line of his mouth, before settling on Sirius's jacket, still thrown over his shoulder.
"I would never have believed this of Sirius." She catches his eyes with the age-old aristocratic self-assurance all Blacks carry with them. "Never."
Remus looks away, and tries to ignore the sudden bloom of courage in his blood. "I believe…I have reason to believe…that you were right not to."
"What do you mean?" she asks, softly.
"What I mean is…I don't think he did it either. I know he didn't."
"How?" she asks desperately, and he can see the hope written over the pain and doubt in the tense hunch of her shoulders.
He folds his hands over the letter in his pocket, and she leans forward, suddenly almost too close, "What happened?" she pleads, lending her silent support without question. Remus likes this about Andromeda; it is a type of loyalty that she and Sirius share.
"When they cast the protection spell to hide James and Lily and Harry, Pettigrew switched places with Sirius as secret-keeper."
"Then that means he couldn't have--"
"No. He couldn't have."
She looks up at him again, with the same direct regard as before, "And you're really sure, Remus. I mean, completely?"
She breathes out a long sigh of relief, and Remus feels like he can see that she has just become pounds lighter.
"Oh. Oh." Andromeda closes the space between them, gathering Remus up into her arms like his mother used to when he was very small, all tight and warm and smelling of lavender and bread. "Sirius had nothing to do with it?"
Remus shakes his head against her shoulder, "I can't prove it though. Lily left me a note, just in case something like this should happen, but it wouldn't have been hard to fake."
"It's alright, I believe you. As long as you're sure that Sirius didn't-"
"I've seen him," Remus whispers. "He didn't."
"And he's okay?"
"I think so."
"Thank you for telling me." Andromeda replies, softly, leaning back and holding Remus at arms length, the way relatives do when they haven't seen him for too long, judging growth and the shape of a changing face. "It's terrible thinking you're the only good person to ever come out of a family, because you start to worry you're wrong in thinking even that."
"I've got to leave now; we've got to leave."
"I figured," she says, smiling bittersweetly, "Now I'm going to have to pay for child care for Nymphadora."
Remus laughs a little, and though it sounds pale and nervous, it rings true enough that Andromeda returns it.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asks, patting his arm gently. Remus shakes his head.
"I'm leaving tonight. But I'll try to send word when I can."
"Please do," she replies firmly, and she doesn't let him leave until he's had at least three biscuits.
To be continued…