"Why have we come here?" Sirius asks Remus, still keeping his voice low, though in the deserted night-time streets of Hogsmeade, especially on the edge of town, as they are, it's hardly necessary. He shivers a little, feeling sick– Apparating as Padfoot never sits right with his stomach.
"If the Aurors are out patrolling Privet Drive, and if they start getting all suspicious about what Andromeda and Ted are doing there, it'll draw attention away–we ought to break in to Hogwarts now. Also, if something goes wrong, Harry is well-protected with Kingsley around."
Sirius grins, and fights an odd and troubling urge to pet Remus, "You are very clever, Moony, m'dear."
Remus's teeth flash white in the dark. His shoulders are still tense and Sirius feels shaken, too; but it's distant, as though he left his fear in Padfoot's body. "Close call, eh?" Remus murmurs as he wedges one foot into the fence surrounding the house they've Apparated in front of. Sirius realises suddenly that it's the Shrieking Shack.
He's never seen the Shack from this angle before. By the time Sirius was old enough to go into Hogsmeade, he'd known its secret, and the idea of gawking at the house in which his best friend regularly attempted to rip himself to pieces was not at all appealing.
Remus finally makes it to the top of the fence; he balances there, waiting for Sirius, crouched low. Sirius starts to follow the path of footholds he'd used but Remus shakes his head. "Give me your hand," he says, "It'll be faster."
A little confused, Sirius reaches, and Remus grasps his hand and pulls him up easily.
"Aw, Moony; warn a guy when you're going to exercise your super werewolf powers on his person."
"Sorry," Remus says, unrepentantly. Sirius doesn't blame him for enjoying it a little, and he likes to see Remus using what graces being a werewolf allows. If he were Remus, he'd make the most of the few advantages.
The shack isn't easily broken into. In fact, it is spelled to be impossible to enter and if they were just some random gang of mischievous boys who had not spent much of their adolescent lives crawling through the cracks of this building, the task would have proved too difficult, but they are what is left of the Marauders and doing the impossible their business.
Sirius slides the very tip of his wand into the tiny gap between the front door and the frame, and he presses his lips almost to the wood, bracing his whole body against the door. He whispers to the hinges with words he made from the secrets of old books read by old light. The door makes one creaking sound of protest, and then releases its hold on the frame falling backwards. Sirius silenceos it just before it hits the ground, raising a storm of dust.
Inside, the walls are scarred, and Sirius avoids looking too closely at the claw marks in the armchairs, which are spilling rusty-stained cotton on the dusty floor.
Before they climb into the tunnel that leads to the Whomping Willow, Remus tugs on Sirius's coat pulling him to a stop. He looks uncomfortable and lost, like a man trapped inside a building with ceilings just slightly too low to stand. Sirius wants him out of the Shack. He wants him where Remus should be, in big airy rooms with linen curtains and a cloak of sunlight, or tucked between shelves of books in a library.
"Do you think that Pettigrew could have…." Remus trails off and looks around at the shadows and holes in the wall and the staircase, which Sirius hopes never to have reason to venture up again. Luckily, he doesn't believe he'll need to.
"No; Peter likes the shack less than you. He's afraid of it, I think. Besides, it'd be too much of an effort to get food here."
"Okay," Remus replies, relieved, but he doesn't let go of Sirius's coat. He takes his wand out of his pocket and taps it against the pulse point below Sirius's jaw. A curious sensation like a heavy blanket dropping over his head surprises Sirius.
"What's that for?" he asks, curiously.
"It's to take away your scent," he says softly, rubbing his nose, "We want to give Peter as little warning as possible. It's awful, to be honest. It creeps me out, looking at people and not being able to smell them. You smell especially distinct to me, er, so this feels really weird. Ugh."
He touches the wand to himself in the same place, and then nods. "Let's go, then."
The castle, when they enter through the hidden passage behind some begonias, is strangely quiet. This August, even Scotland has managed to muster enough good weather to make the indoors become stuffy and hot. Most of the paintings are sleeping, but twice they have to leap into a side corridor to avoid passing ghosts, who seem raucous and present in a way that neither of them had ever noticed when during the school year.
They reach Gryffindor tower, their first search destination, with little incident. They stand next to each other inspecting the sleeping portrait of the Fat Lady with trepidation. "Well…" Sirius whispers to Remus, "I guess you're going to have to turn on some of that old Moony charm." He turns promptly into Padfoot.
Remus coughs politely twice, but his efforts earn little more than a disturbed snuffle. "Excuse me, ma'am," he finally says, raising his voice.
The Fat Lady blinks her eyes open sleepily, and frowns upon sight of him. "What are you doing here? Term hasn't begun yet." Then she looks at him more closely. "Why, I recognize you. You aren't a student at all, Remus Lupin."
Remus smiles shyly, "Hello, how have you been?"
"Fine, I'm sure," she says, still looking a bit cross at having been woken, but more surprised to see Remus, "Whatever brings you here?"
"I'm looking for something," he says. "And I need a bit of a favour. I'm trying to save a friend, but I need to look around in the dorms."
The Fat Lady looks at him, her oil-paint gaze intense and prying. "Remus Lupin; I've always liked you; you can go in," she pauses, and then adds, defensively, "I wouldn't do this for anyone, and certainly not if there were students here."
"Thank you, ma'am," he says softly as the portrait-hole swings open.
"It's no trouble," she says from above his head, "Where has that Black boy…or that one with the terrible hair gotten too?" But Remus and Padfoot are already inside, and the portrait swings shut automatically before he can answer.
They start in the 7th years dorms and work their way backward. Sirius alternates between trying to sniff Peter out as Padfoot and casting searching spells, while Remus sets up a perimeter so nothing can leave the area, just in case Peter sees them before they see him. Then he searches by hand, and nose, lifting blankets and checking in drawers. They have a well-practised system; they've searched too many places not to be old hands at it.
It's strange, though; going through the rooms they grew up in with clinical hands. Each thrown back bed curtain seems to have another memory hidden behind it. Sirius finds himself distracted by the first bed he'd ever shared with Remus in the 6th year dorm, and the loose floorboards that he and James used to hide all contraband materials under.
They search the common room, and the girls' dorms as well, all to no avail. The sky is beginning to fade from navy to eggshell blue when they convene back in the 7th year dorm, having covered every inch of the tower with careful hands.
"This is going to take more than one night," Sirius says, sighing, as he drops his haul of misplaced found items on the bed nearest the window. "I kind of forgot how big this place is."
Remus nods in agreement, adding his bounty to the pile, "When you suggested Hogwarts…I'd been so sure…I suppose there are still a lot of places to cover, but…"
"If he was anywhere in the castle, it would be here. I know what you mean."
"Yeah. So, what have you got?"
Since they'd first begun looking for Peter, it's sort of been their game – to pick through the houses and then collect whatever out-of-place things they find, as a way of making each place a part of them.
"I've got six chocolate frog cards, a bag of muggle sweets, a chess piece, a rook to be exact, Eleanor Flavius's transfiguration homework, and a broken Sneakoscope," Sirius says, inspecting his treasure. "Might keep the Sneakoscope. I lost mine, but this one looks fixable."
Remus lists his items, "I've got a copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream, three empty bottles of nail varnish, a glove, and a photograph of the Weasleys."
"Ooh, lets see the last one." Sirius says, making childish grasping motions with his hands. Remus rolls his eyes but passes it over anyway.
The back of the photograph has "Property of Bill Weasley" printed in blocky capitals, and the other side is a recent picture of the whole family. They are posed in a wheat field.
Molly is looking very pregnant – that or she's put a watermelon under her dress; Arthur, standing at her side, has a boy about Harry's age propped on his shoulders, so tall that the very top of his carrot-coloured hair is cut off. The rest of the boys are ranged around in a semi-circle. Bill and Charlie, the two that Sirius remembers well enough, are side by side with matching toothy grins. A small, stoic boy stands in the shadow of Molly's skirt, and Sirius is distracted from him by the fact that the photograph has caught two identical faces wrestling a frog into the poor child's shorts.
"They'll be right terrors." Sirius grins, approving immediately.
"Poor Molly," Remus says, heartfelt. "I know what it's like to deal with that sort of trouble."
"Oh, Moony," Sirius sticks his tongue out at him, "You don't fool me, Mr 'whatever do you mean by crocodiles in the toilettes'."
"Well, I've fooled everyone else."
"Let's see it," Moony says, leaning forward to inspect it closely. "What do you suppose that kid--Percy, I think he's called--has got on his arm there? It looks like some animal trying to hide. I can't quite see in this light."
Sirius casts lumos silently, and squints at the picture, holding the glowing tip close enough to almost touch the paper. Moony's right, there is a small animal, with a long tail, trying to burrow into Percy's sleeve. It looks familiar. It looks like–
"RAT!" Sirius shouts, "My god, that's him. That's Pettigrew."
"No." Remus says, in disbelief, "You can't mean that he's…"
"Right in the midst of a whole family! And he always did love Mrs Weasley's cooking!"
"He could get everywhere through them; trusted Order members, should that ever be needed again. A trip in Arthur's briefcase away from the Ministry. Easy access to Hogwarts. The Burrow is even a familiar place for him. We've been to countless meetings out there," Remus claims, calculating quickly.
"Crafty bugger!" Sirius is shocked, and a little fearful for the Weasleys, unwilling accomplices to the person Sirius considers his least favourite in the world; but there is also some amount of adrenaline, and excitement flowing through his veins. There is no chance about it now. Peter Pettigrew is within his grasp.
"Well, then," Remus says, decisively. "It looks like we'll be paying a visit to the Weasley's in the morning. But I think we ought to speak with Andromeda and Ted again; we'll need a plan, just in case it's not as easy as walking in and picking him up.
Sirius 'hmms' in agreement, "Do you think it's safe to go back to John's now, then?"
Remus considers for a moment, "Probably. If John told Kingsley the story about Lily saving him, than he might have considered that connection enough. And Andy probably said she just wanted to see Harry too. We'll go in disillusioned just in case."
"Shall we go then?" Sirius asks.
"Most definitely." Remus replies, cordially, "Oh, except…" He pulls out his wand and taps Sirius on his throat again, and then repeats the gesture on himself. He breathes a sigh of relief.
"That's much better," Remus murmurs, and presses his face briefly into Sirius's neck, gulping in a lungful of good Sirius-scented air.
"You're a freak," Sirius says, feeling oddly pleased.
"And you love it," Remus mouths against his pulse-point.
There are still lights on in the Excers' house, casting butter yellow squares on the black-green grass, fading as the sky lightens. Remus and Sirius pop into the garden, muffling each other's cracks of Apparition with quick silencing spells. Remus opens the back door soundlessly and Sirius casts muffliato to help noisy footsteps.
Sirius eases out into the hallway with aching care and waits for the discolouration of air that he knows is Remus.
Then the living room door opens suddenly, and Kingsley steps out. Remus and Sirius freeze, and Sirius wishes distantly that they could just have a break of luck once in a while.
As if in answer to his silent prayer, Kingsley doesn't even look up at them, he just walks down the hall and into the kitchen. On his way back, he is carrying a bag of crisps, and he says, off-handed, "I know you're there."
They remain still and silent. Kingsley stops, and turns to look at them, eyes resting on the shivers in the air, like heat waves, which betray their location.
"No, really. Remus. Sirius. I know you're there."
"Fuck," Sirius says, with feeling. He and Remus drop their disillusionment charms in the same moment, and raise their wands, duelling ready. "This sucks."
Moony remains silent and grim-faced, watching Kingsley for signs of what spell he might cast first. The living room door swings open again and Andromeda's voice calls out, "Mr Shacklebolt, be a dear and get us a glass of water too."
"You can put down your wands," Kingsley says, "Mrs Tonks explained. Mr Excer showed me your letter from Lily, and the confession slips from the Death Eaters you've seen. It's too bad you didn't catch them and send them back, you know. We've been looking for two of those guys for ages." He pauses and watches them with an amused smirk, "I was never entirely convinced, you know. The Ministry has been casting you in a terrible light, Sirius, but it's only because pretty much everyone that's ever met you seems a little hesitant about the whole thing. They've got to work extra hard. I'm glad to see you too, Remus. No-one had any idea where you'd disappeared too."
"Sirius and I were travelling," Remus says with distant surprise.
"Well, I do see that now."
"Kingsley?" Andromeda's voice floats out into the hallway, questioning, "Where have you gone?"
"I've found two trespassers," he grins at them–his teeth are starkly white against his dark skin. Slowly, Sirius returns his wand to his pocket, and shares a silent-conversation-heavy look with Remus. Kingsley claps them both on the back and leads them into the living room.
"Sirius! Remus!" Andromeda smiles, and stands up to hug them. "We didn't expect you back so soon. We were just discussing where you might have gone."
"Been to Hogwarts," Sirius replies gruffly.
"And we found something very interesting there."
"You broke in to Hogwarts?" Kingsley asks, looking a bit awed. "God help us all if you had been an evil bastard, Black."
Sirius and Remus return his apprising gaze with matching wolfish expressions.
"What did you find?" asks Ted from the sofa.
"We know where Peter Pettigrew is."
Kingsley alters his expression to shock. "How did you…?"
"Bill Weasley left us a gift. Peter's the middle kid, Percy's, pet."
"His pet?" Kingsley questions.
"He's an animagus," Remus says. Sirius notices his care not to look at Sirius, which he takes to mean that if at all possible, they'll keep Padfoot a secret, just in case.
"An animagus?" Kingsley, the poor man, looks overwhelmed, an unusual expression on his normally secure and in-control face.
"A rat, to be exact," Sirius supplies quickly, hoping to steer away from why or how Peter, a mediocre student at best, and none too creative, had managed such a feat.
"If you catch him," John, who had been sitting in the armchair surveying the company he now kept with a confused pride, speaks quietly, "You'll have to be acquitted."
"That's the hope."
Arthur has always been a man who appreciates a good surprise. It surprises him that Muggles can come up with such interesting things– clever things wizards would never have invented. He's surprised every time Molly comes to him with her hands pressed over her stomach and a pleased smile, telling him they'll have to build another room off the side of the Burrow, because the Weasley family was about to gain another member. He had been surprised when Bill had returned home with a note from McGonagall saying he was being slotted into the third year runes class because he had a knack for picking out old writing.
When Arthur opens the front door of the Burrow at eleven thirty in the morning to find Remus Lupin on his doorstep and a huge dog perched at his feet, he is certainly very surprised; but he's not sure whether this surprise is a blessing or a curse. The dog has an open, friendly face, and his fur is lush and thick. Remus settles one hand on top of its head, as if to keep it in place.
Lupin himself does not look anything like the person Arthur remembers from Order meetings in these last months before Voldemort's downfall. The Remus of those dark times had been pale and painfully thin; permanent dark circles were imprinted beneath his eyes, and his hair had, overnight it seemed, decided to melt from teak to greying brown.
This Remus is taller than Arthur had thought - perhaps the way he carries himself, with some confidence, has made him a larger person. He wears dark jeans and a Muggle T-shirt with a dusty dark grey cloak over top, travel-worn around the hem; but he fills them nicely, and the quality of the fabric looks better than he's ever seen Remus wear. His hair cannot retreat in the greying front, of course, but instead of hanging limp, it's longish and healthy around his ears, palm sugar shot through with silver. There is a new scar along the line of his chin, but it only serves to make him look roguish.
The most notable change is in expression. Remus of the previous year had deadness behind his eyes, and a defeated turn of his mouth. There is still some sadness lurking in the shadows of his face, but the set of his chin is firm, his head tilted as if trying to prevent a smile.
"Hello, Arthur." Remus says, politely. Even his voice seems changed, of a richer timbre.
"Remus Lupin?" Arthur asks, stricken.
"Everyone thinks you're dead," Arthur chokes. But it is a foolish thing to say–Remus looks about as far from dead as Arthur's ever seen. He can't prevent his mouth from running off anyway, "There's rumours, saying you killed yourself, or Black got you; you just…poof…disappeared."
"Been on the road," Remus says, grinning sharply. "Freelance curse-breaker."
"Oh," Arthur mumbles. "But why are you here?"
"I have a friend to see," Remus replies, and then the smile sharpens further, until Arthur feels he could cut himself on the dangerous edges of it. "May I come in?"
"Er." There is a moment in which Arthur hesitates, caught in Remus's barbed grin and the bright white teeth of his dog, their tall and sudden other-worldliness, and then he remembers that this is Remus Lupin, a man whom Arthur has, on previous occasions, trusted with his own life, and those of his family. He nods shortly, and opens the door wider, "Of, course, of course, old chap; let me just tell Molly to put on the kettle."
Remus follows inside, the dog at his heels with no sign of command. When Arthur shows Remus into the living room, the dog stops and sits at his feet again; it looks tense and nervous, all the lines of its black body vibrating with energy.
"Beautiful dog, that is," Arthur remarks.
Remus laughs a little, and then pats the dog's head with tender hands, "Yes, I suppose so. He gets a big head if I tell him too often."
Arthur leaves him standing in the living room, studying the more recent photographs on the wall and mantle place, new additions since the last time he'd come to the Burrow.
"Molly," Arthur says, voice low, as he enters the kitchen, "You'll never guess who is standing in our living room."
"It wasn't Dedalus?" she asks, drying a large ceramic vase as she surveys the line of dishes cleaning themselves. "He said he might pop 'round–he can't do a hat-mending charm properly, and I said I'd show him."
"It's Remus Lupin. Remus Lupin is in the living room."
"No," she gasps, putting the case down gingerly, and flicking her eyes to his in surprise. "I thought he was…"
"No; it's him, alright. I cast an identity charm on him in the hallway. Just in case."
"Well, I'll be dammed. He must be in a terrible state, missing for a year. I'll get some biscuits; oh, poor dear."
"That's the other thing, Molly: he looks fine. Better than I've seen him since, I don't know, maybe his 6th year of Hogwarts, when we first spoke about bringing that lot into the Order. He looks a little sad. But good."
"Well, what does he want?"
"Says he's 'here about a friend' or some such business."
"Whatever could he mean by that?" Molly asks, but Arthur is interrupted from answering by Percy coming in through the door. Percy inspects them with contemplative five-going-on-six year old eyes, magnified by his perfectly circular glasses.
"What's goin' on?" he asks, the seriousness of his expression mocked by the faint whistle in his speech created by his missing front tooth. Scabbers the rat perches on his shoulder, cleaning his nose fastidiously.
"We've just had a visitor," Arthur says, "Perhaps he'd like to say hello to you. In the living room."
"Are you jus' trying to make me go 'way?" Percy questions.
"Maybe," Molly says, smiling to him, "But go along anyway."
Percy glares at them, but leaves the room nonetheless.
"Well," Arthur says, folding his arms across his chest, "I don't know what they're doing. Remus doesn't look like a madman but, frankly, I'm a little wary. He's been through too much to just come away the same."
"That poor man," Molly sighs.
That is when Percy Weasley screams. A child screaming is not always a terrifying sound. Sometimes, screaming adults are worse, as one wonders what horrors could make a full-grown man into a shivering coward. But when infused with real terror, there is nothing more chilling than the cries of a five-year old boy.
Arthur sprints into the living room with Molly only half a step behind them, a kitchen knife in one hand and a wand in the other.
Percy stands in the corner of the room, sobbing, but looking thankfully uninjured, so Arthur quickly turns his attention to the scene in the middle of the room. Remus's hands are clutched around Scabbers's tiny rodent head, and the expression of his face is of murderous fury. The dog at his feet has his hackles completely raised and a growl like a storm rests in his throat. His teeth are only inches from the rat.
"What is going on here?" Molly shrieks.
That is when the rat begins to change. His movement from animal to human is not as smooth and effortless as the few Animagi Arthur has seen; instead of the shimmering air and sudden appearance of another form, it's almost possible to see the limbs growing and stretching. It makes Arthur feel a little sick.
Peter Pettigrew looks as different from the last time Arthur saw him (in a human body, anyway) as Remus; but his change is not for the better. His skin looks greasy and too red, and his fingernails are long, claw-like, and yellow. Peter had always had a cherub's sweet and innocent face, but it is drawn into a terrible smirk – half coward, half maniac.
Remus seems to have been expecting this sudden change, and so even though he is forced to drop Peter, his long, elegant fingers encircle Peter's neck.
"Oh god," Molly cries, running to the corner to wrap her arms protectively around Percy who has abandoned his tears for a silence that betrays more fear than any commotion ever could.
"But…you're dead," Arthur hears himself saying, distantly, like listening to a conversation through a glass pressed to the wall.
Remus pulls his wand hand up; but in that same movement, Peter pulls something from his pocket–a silver knife. The handle is bone white and the blade has some sort of pattern inscribed on the surface. Peter runs the flat of the blade against Remus's arm - Remus hisses, and his eyes brighten with pain as he drops his wand. The air clogs with the nauseating smell of burning flesh. Peter quickly pulls the knife up and rests the point just at Remus's throat. His eyes flash up empty and sick, and he curves his mouth into a twisted sneer.
Arthur is at the point of thinking nothing he ever sees will shock him again, and then the black dog, who'd been about to leap at Peter's leg, jaws open, blooms into Sirius Black. Arthur is literally dumbfounded; his lungs are no longer functioning, and his jaw is not capable of movement.
Sirius's wand is out, and his face is carved in lines of stark fury and desperation, "Let him go, Pettigrew. If you hurt another single hair on Moony, there won't be any of you left for the Aurors when they get here. Arthur's seen you're alive. I have a witness, I won't need a body."
"Hollow promises, Padfoot. You aren't going to risk hurting me. I'll kill him before you're even close. Drop your wand."
"I'll kill you, Peter. You fucking disgusting rat bastard. Murderous little shit. Traitor! You're…you're…" Sirius's hands are shaking with fury –his skin and speech are not enough to contain or convey the magnitude of his hatred. He slides into a duelling stance, and the tip of his wand flares gold, but the spark dies as Peter touches the knife to Remus's skin, and Remus makes a tiny noise, swallowing and trying to draw his head back, straining tightly.
"Drop. Your. Wand." Peter growls.
"Sirius," Remus whispers, "You have to go."
Sirius looks about as close to tears as Arthur has ever seen him, "Fuck. Shit. Damn. Why couldn't this be easy?" He stops and fixes his eyes on Remus's, dark and wild. "Okay. Okay. Love you."
And then Sirius disappears, the crack of Apparition loud and hot in the small living room.
Peter laughs, a black, broken sound like kicking mouldering leaves, "Well, Moony, seems as though not much has changed, eh? Still taking falls for ol' Padfoot. Still forgiving him for getting you just about killed; and he's still running away, isn't he?"
Remus doesn't reply – he doesn't even look at Peter. He blinks his eyes closed, and breathes out slowly through his nose. Peter looks a little frustrated at not getting a reaction, and so he puts a bit of pressure on the dagger point. A single red bead of blood trickles down Remus's neck and soaks into the collar of his shirt, but not so much as a muscle twitches on his face.
"Okay," Peter says, turning away in disgust, "If Molly and Arthur could please put their wands on the ground, that'd be very nice. Then I'm going to walk to the front door, which Percy is going to so kindly open for me, and he will take my wand out of my pocket and give it to me, so I can Apparate away. How does that sound to everyone?"
Arthur struggles through the honey-thick fear that has been making his mind into a soup of unknowns for some kind of solution. Nothing. Nothing.
"Wands?" Peter says, impatiently.
The second they drop them on the floor, the Aurors come.
It all happens nearly too fast for Arthur to follow, and the whole Auror department is in his house in what seems to be only a few seconds.
The first man appears silently. It's Kingsley Shacklebolt, with some sort of technique for silent apparation. He blinks into existence only inches behind Peter, and in one smooth motion, his large arms grab Peter's. Peter shrieks, dropping his hold on Remus and the dagger. Remus sags, his breath coming out in a huge gasp. Sirius appears next, taking two giant steps to catch Remus as he crashes to the floor.
Arthur strides to the corner and drops to his knees, gathering Percy and Molly into a protective embrace, and when he turns back, Remus is enfolded in Sirius's arms, dry eyed but shivering. Sirius holds him like he plans never to let go again, and presses his lips to the top of Remus's hair again and again.
"Goodness," Molly says, watching them, and Arthur manages a shaky laugh. The sudden in-flux of people, with more cracks of Apparition every second, quickly fills the living room and soon enough there are men and women standing in the front garden or peering in from the hallway.
Moody and Kingsley handle Peter, who isn't stupid enough to be fighting, but still seems confused at having been caught. A man cuffs him to a collection of faintly glimmering spell-chains. No one has any sympathy for Peter.
In contrast, most people seem to be constantly turning to look at Sirius looking sheepish and guilty, some people come up to them and try to apologize, but they all seem mixed up and insincere. After a couple minutes of this, Remus lifts his head from the crook of Sirius's neck. He slides his uninjured arm over Sirius's shoulder – the other held in close to his chest, and begins to glare with strangely dangerous eyes at anyone who dares approach them. Sirius stands up, supporting Remus partially, and yells, "Great, you all feel bad! Now fuck off."
When Dumbledore arrives, maybe twenty minutes later, Molly has already ensconced herself in the kitchen brewing a steady stream of tea. She has Bill, called home from where he was playing across the meadow, setting cookies on a tray. The children have all been collected into a corner under the watchful eye of Andromeda.
Sirius and Remus are sitting almost on each other's laps at the kitchen table. If Arthur hadn't known they were together before now, he wouldn't have any doubts at this point. They receive a few looks, but neither seem to notice or care. Some part of Arthur wants to applaud them for their audacity.
Under Dumbledore's instruction, the house is methodically, though gently, searched for any signs of communication with other Death Eaters or objects of a dark persuasion. They confiscate one Weasley family heirloom, a cursed doorstop shaped like a hedgehog, but find nothing that Peter could have, or would have used.
By five o'clock, the Ministry is no longer in occupation of the Burrow; Arthur and Molly are standing in the corner of the kitchen, talking quietly; and, as if in mirror to them, Sirius and Remus are doing them same on the other side of the room, their heads inclined into one another's and their hands shaping the air in front of them, catching fingers into each other's expressive gestures.
Andromeda, with the aid of Bill and Nymphadora, is organising some sort of confusing game with the children, which seems to involve sitting in a circle and cheering a lot. Arthur loves his kids with every inch of his heart; even so, he can't help the sense of relief at entrusting them to someone else, temporarily. He doesn't know Andromeda very well, but anyone can see, just looking at her, that she's a mother, through and through.
Dumbledore sweeps into the kitchen then, closing the door behind him, and spreading his arms wide, as if collecting them all into an airy embrace. "Moody has just gone," he says, "So that's the last of it. Sirius, the official documents for your pardon will arrive in the morning."
Sirius nods his head once, coolly, but Arthur's eyes are sharp enough to catch the release of anxiety from his neck and shoulders, and his brilliant smile as he turns his head to Remus. Remus returns it.
"So, I do believe some celebrations are in order," Dumbledore declares, twinkling at them. He waves his wand and a bottle of champagne drops out of the air into his other hand. Molly pats Arthur on the arm, and then bustles back over to the oven, which he is sure contains some delightful casserole.
Remus coughs quietly, and steps forward a little, "Sir, may we speak about Harry first?"
Dumbledore inclines his head graciously, "Yes," he says, "What about him?"
"We'd like to go get him," Remus says, "He's with a friend, and Ted Tonks. We wanted a wizard's protection, too, in addition to Lily's…should Peter escape. But we'd like him with us now."
Dumbledore frowns, and sets the champagne bottle on the table. Arthur can tell from his pointed expression that there is about to be some sort of Conversation. He turns to help Molly with getting a stack of dishes down, and fakes disinterest.
He can't see their expressions, but he can picture them perfectly: Dumbledore with an affable smile that hides a steely resolve and self-assurance; Sirius looking haughty, chin pulled up proudly; and Remus behind him, expressionless to anyone who didn't know him--but to those who did, the turn of his mouth would display unflinching support of Sirius's words.
"That house is horrible. Those people are horrible. You don't understand, Professor– it took him twice as long to learn to walk as most kids, and they don't dress him properly or encourage him–never!" Sirius cries.
"You wouldn't know that any better than I," Dumbledore replies, evenly.
"That's what you think; jolly good protection by the way– Remus and I have been visiting with him every other week since we left! No one ever noticed!"
Even Dumbledore cannot hold back a small sound of surprise. Arthur, who has always been steadfastly loyal to Dumbledore, finds himself suddenly on the side of Remus and Sirius. Dumbledore says, stiffly, "That house is safe for him; Voldemort could return. Disappearance is not the same as death–what happened here today is surely a lesson in that."
"Fine. But we can keep him safe; I'm James's blood; his aunt was my mother's cousin. I know it's tentative, but we've done a blood spell, and you know as well as I do–that's practically deeper magic than Harry's protective spell."
"Only a few people know that he's with the Dursleys; you'll be under public eye now. Reporters will have your every escapade on the front cover of the Daily Prophet; if the child goes with you, he'll never lead a normal life."
"You think living in a cupboard is a normal life? I'm his godfather and I want the right that James and Lily gave to me. I'm his godfather."
Arthur can practically feel Dumbledore's glare through the fabric of his shirt. He looks over to the children, who have been distracted from their game and are watching the adults in the corner with wide-eyed, rapt attention.
"I won't entrust one child to another, Mr Black. The fit you're displaying is certainly not–"
"He isn't yours to entrust, sir. May I speak with you for a moment in the next room? We'll be right back, Pads." Remus's voice is deceptively quiet. There is some undercurrent of an almost animalistic rumble that sends shivers down Arthur's spine. He turns to look, and Remus is following Dumbledore out into the hallway. Both their heads are bowed.
"Well," Andromeda says, cheerily, clapping her hands together and laughing nervously, "Wasn't that exciting. Let's see, whose turn is it?"
The children all look away slowly. The older, sheepishly, and the twins, specifically, looking like they'd rather follow the show on their stubby little legs. Arthur might have joined them, if he'd been that sort of man. Instead, he moves to sit at the table where Sirius has just collapsed tiredly into a chair.
"Alright?" Arthur asks, carefully. Sirius looks up at him with a grim smile.
"Exhausted," Sirius says, "Moony is too. And he hasn't let anyone touch his burn yet."
"Couldn't you just heal it?"
Sirius shakes his head darkly, "Wouldn't work."
"Was the blade spelled?"
Sirius shrugs, "Something like that."
They sit in silence for a moment. Arthur studies Sirius carefully. In the same way that Remus looks like a new and healthier person, Sirius does not look like a man who's been on the run from the Ministry for a year; he does look worn out, and the same sadness that Remus has is settled around his eyes; but otherwise he is strikingly handsome–his hair a little too long for the current fashion, thick and coal-black. His skin is clear as milk, except for at his nose where it is peeling slightly–evidence of a gentle sunburn.
"For what it's worth," Arthur says finally, "I think you should have Harry. I remember him, from when Lily brought him 'round to that Christmas party. He was a happy baby. He liked all of you, like he was everyone's baby, not just the Potters'."
Sirius smiles, a distant and reminiscing look falling across his face, "James and Lily – they made a good kid." He glances at the closed hallway door; there is no audible sound from the other side. "I know we'll get Harry. Moony is mad now…so…. We can't let him stay like he is now, no matter what, it's as simple as that," Sirius picks as his nails a little sadly, "The thing is, I've always been Dumbledore's man. And now…well, we're not really on his good side, I don't think."
Arthur is trying to think of a reply when the door opens again and, after a moment, Remus and Dumbledore enter. Remus has a vague little grin, one that betrays none of his thoughts. Dumbledore, on the other hand, looks…Arthur has never seen anything even close to it before…Dumbledore looks chastened.
He crosses the room back to Sirius and glances away, out the window for a moment, before refocusing the entire intensity of his blue gaze on Sirius, who matches it.
"Sirius," he says, softly, "I'm sorry I did not trust you enough. I believed too easily in your betrayal. I am a powerful wizard, and a wise one, but sometimes I can make mistakes."
Sirius opens his mouth to reply, but instead what comes out is a laugh. He stands up and claps Dumbledore on the back. "Oh man," he says, through his guffaws, "Moony must've been angrier than I thought. Well, apology accepted."
Dumbledore has the grace not to look flustered; in fact, he smiles a little, and even lets a small chuckle escape. "Concerning Harry," he says, "We will, of course, need to discuss further protection, and how to handle the reporters, and I'd like to meet this Muggle, Mr Excer, at some point. He sounds like an interesting man; but I think, for now, maybe it's best if you all just have some rest. Even an old man like me can appreciate that sometimes happiness is worth more than safety."
Sirius nods, still grinning widely. He turns to call to Molly across the room, "Whatever you're making smells like heaven, Molly-my-dear, but I have a godson to collect." He pats Dumbledore on the back one more time, "Thank you, Sir. We'll pop 'round next week or thereabouts."
Then he lopes from the room. Remus smiles sardonically at Arthur. "Thank you, Molly, Arthur, and I'm really sorry about bringing this issue here." He turns to wave to Andromeda, "We'll probably be at John's tomorrow, if you'd like to stop by. Harry's got some things stored there. Thank you for everything; I'll tell Ted you're over here."
Remus follows Sirius out the door.
"What a day," Arthur says, breathing out a lungful of air. And no one can argue with that.
Home is dusty and has an unloved smell about it, like dead flowers and old ashes; but the lights work just as well as ever, with the bulb in the entrance fizzing a little before blooming golden and friendly.
They'd bought the house on Alice St., which was in the most South-Westerly part of Leeds, for several reasons. The first is the Georgian basement, an attribute Remus insisted on should some emergency occur in which he was stuck at home during a full-moon. The second is the large back garden–Sirius harbours a secret love for gardening that Remus had only discovered when he'd gone out into the yard to check that the Muggle washing machine was still draining properly even after being exposed to Sirius's frustrated hexing, and discovered Sirius surreptitiously planting runner beans. The last reason is that it is beautiful, tall and old with a healthy wealth of red and green ivy embracing the red brick exterior. The upstairs picture windows still have original lead-paned glass, bubble thick with irregularities, and utterly charming.
Harry sneezes sleepily when Sirius carries him inside, whispering comfortingly to him. "What do you think?" he asks the boy, lifting him up over his shoulder, "Look like home?"
"Okay," Harry replies, yawning.
They'll have to look up some proper cleaning charms in the morning, Remus decides, but for now he follows Sirius upstairs. Remus spells the dust off the single bed in the office and then takes extra pillows from the hall closet to line the edge so Harry doesn't fall off if he rolls in his sleep.
"We'll move the piano, and all the books into the box room," Remus whispers, and Harry mumbles hazily and relinquishes his grasp on Sirius's shirt, "Then he'll have a proper bedroom."
Sirius nods, and flashes his teeth, brilliantly white in the dark room. Remus cracks the window open to start the process of airing everything out, and then walks back down stairs, eliminating the chance of a take-away. He's a little hungry but, upon inspection, he finds the phone line has been disconnected. He discovers a can of tomato soup in the back of one cupboard, and by the time Sirius is back downstairs, he's set two steaming bowls on the table. At the last second, in a fit of romanticism, he lights a candle. When Sirius comes in, he sees Remus looking at the candle with hesitation, as though he might change his mind and put it away.
Sirius laughs quietly, and hugs Remus from behind, his arms sliding underneath Remus's, squeezing tightly. He presses his face to the back of his neck, and huffs, breath hot and soft on Remus's bare skin.
"Oh, Moony. What have we gotten ourselves into this time?" he whispers.
Remus turns in Sirius's arms, and settles his hands on Sirius's waist, "Something good."
"You would say that. You secretly wanted us to have lots of kids, I'll bet."
Remus grins and tips his head back to accept Sirius's chaste kiss. "It's good to be home," he murmurs against Sirius's mouth.
"Looks just the same," he replies, "Do you remember the inside when we bought it; all the bare floorboards and empty space, and the woman in B&Q who helped us get paint and then tried to call security after I kept trying to get the tins open and see the colours?"
"I learned an important lesson from B&Q."
"Sirius Black should never be allowed in a room with a rotator saw."
Sirius hums softly, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, and then asks, "Soup?"
Remus wakes with Sirius pressed against his back, and sun too bright through the window. Harry's small face is peeking at him over the edge of the bed.
"Morning Moony," he says brightly, "Juice?"
Remus groans and drops his head back onto the bed. Sirius wiggles next to him – a sure sign he's starting to wake up but trying his best not to.
"Juice?" Harry repeats. Remus rolls over and stares at the ceiling, drawing in a long breath, then he untangles himself from the sheets and Sirius's legs, and Sirius growls in protest, catching one hand on Remus's ankle as Remus moves to crawl off the bed.
"Harry is looking for a juice fix, Padfoot," Remus says, coughing to clear his throat from morning stickiness.
"Mmm," Sirius mumbles into his pillow, "Be down ina min'…"
Remus shakes his head and pulls on the jeans he'd abandoned on the floor the night before, and lifts Harry into his arms, "You are a juice junkie, Mr Potter," he says, ruffling Harry's morning hair, an even more terrifying beast of dark locks than usual, if that were possible.
"Yes. I like juice," Harry says, agreeably, wrapping his arms around Remus's neck.
Remus adjusts Harry more comfortably in his arms. For the first time since Sirius awkwardly knocked their mouths together in the green tree-dappled light behind the Potter's broom shed in the summer between their fifth and sixth years, Remus feels the sunshine-hot feeling blossoming in his chest is justified.
"I think," he whispers to Harry, like the best kind of secret, "That we are going to be okay."
You don't know if it's true
Or if to believe in you
There are tunnels through the stone
Where weaker hearts have made a home