Part 10: Pronglet Fights Back (The Swimming not Drowning Prank)

4th January 1995

"She hates me." Harry muttered morosely into his oatmeal.

Sirius sighed heavily as he sat down at the table in their quarters at Hogwarts, his eyes glancing off the parchment by Harry's breakfast.

After a rather tense meeting on the day before with Hermione, Harry had been left simmering somewhere between annoyance and heartbreak. Hermione had ruthlessly pointed out that Harry couldn't expect to have everything go back to normal with a few apologetic words, not when he'd literally pushed her away, made decisions for her, and had taken his time in trying to make it right. She had accepted that the latter hadn't been completely Harry's fault since he'd been asleep most of New Year's Day with magical exhaustion and Sirius had kept him resting for a couple of days after that just to make sure his son was recovered. But she had been less forgiving about everything else. Harry had sent her a letter as a second attempt at getting her to forgive him; clearly it hadn't worked.

"She doesn't hate you." Sirius assured Harry.

He was fairly certain that Hermione loved Harry a great deal, both as his friend and his girlfriend. She was just teaching Harry a lesson by not allowing their relationship to resume until Harry could, in her words, prove he trusted her to make her own decisions. On one hand, Sirius could appreciate Hermione's viewpoint that Harry needed to understand making lone decisions about their relationship wasn't on; on the other hand, he couldn't bear to see Harry hurting in any way.

"The path of true love never runs smoothly." Sirius said brightly, trying to comfort Harry. "Look at your Mum and Dad."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "I don't think I want years of Hermione giving me the cold shoulder."

Sirius grimaced. "I don't think it'll be years?" He offered tentatively. "And besides," he waved at the letter by Harry's plate, "she is still being cordial, isn't she?"

Harry sighed and pushed the last of his oatmeal away. "Only because of the House thing."

Hermione had assured Harry and Sirius that she wouldn't make things difficult as far as the House of Black was concerned; she was still happy to be a daughter of the House and was committed to ensuring the safety and position of the House within the magical world.

"Still, the House thing means she's not going to ignore you." Sirius pointed out. "I'm also fairly certain I heard her tell you that she was still going to be your friend and help you with the second task, so…"

"So…" Harry murmured grumpily.

"So, all is not lost." Sirius pointed out as Dobby arrived with a traditional English breakfast. His stomach growled hungrily. "Faint heart never won fair lady, Pronglet. You're just going to have to win her back around."

Harry nodded slowly, a glint entering his green eyes in a way that was slightly worrying. "Ron and Neville are coming over later. Maybe they'll help me think of something."

Sirius couldn't help the nostalgic smile the look on Harry's face prompted. James had looked the same way trying to cook up scheme after scheme with the Marauders to win Lily over. It was good, Sirius thought, that Neville and Ron had forgiven Harry without too much fuss. Ron had been the easiest, his punch on Harry's arm had been accompanied by an exasperated "You plonker; don't do that again!" and that had been the end of it. Neville had settled for lecturing Harry for an hour about the history of fealty and their oaths, and having gained Harry's assurance that he understood pushing them away was not an acceptable way to protect people, Neville had nodded and said "Apology accepted." Sirius was pleased Harry had the full support of both boys, although the idea of them coming up with a plan to get Hermione back on board had all the hallmarks of an impending calamity.

"Try to stay out of trouble." Sirius advised dryly. "You really don't want Minnie upset with you."

Seeing her going to town on Dumbledore had been a pleasure. Sirius had ended up not having to say anything while Minnie dressed Dumbledore down for the sheer stupidity of not keeping Harry informed about Sirius's status when Remus had explicitly asked him to do so. Sirius had settled for standing there glowering while Dumbledore's face turned bright red under Minnie's blunt scolding.

Dumbledore's apology and subsequent promise to do better, Sirius had accepted with a large dose of salt. He and Harry had already given Dumbledore more chances than he deserved as far as Sirius was concerned; he wasn't getting another one.

What had Remus been thinking, Sirius thought again, scowling. They'd agreed they were going to do better than before and what had Moony done? He'd done the exact same stupid idiotic thing that Sirius had done so many years before. Moony was damned lucky that it had ended with Harry truly safe somewhere; that Wormtail had chosen to play with Harry's head instead of killing him.

"Are you ever going to talk to Moony again?" Harry asked bluntly breaking into Sirius's unhappy thoughts.

Sirius shot his son a pointed look to keep out of his festering anger at his old friend. "I've talked to Moony." He stabbed a sausage.

"You've sent him mail." Harry retorted. "That's not the same thing."

"This isn't something for you to worry about, Harry." Sirius said firmly. Yes, he and Remus were having a bit of a spat but it wasn't the first time in their friendship and he doubted it would be the last.

"But I do!" Harry blurted out, capturing Sirius's attention immediately.

Sirius frowned. "Harry…"

"It's just…" Harry squirmed under Sirius's concerned gaze, "I mean, Remus isn't to blame really when you think about it, and he couldn't have known what would happen, and I hate that you two aren't speaking and…"

Sirius held up a hand before Harry could continue. "Look, Pronglet…" he sighed and tried to organise his thoughts into something his son could understand, "I do realise what happened wasn't Moony's fault. Dumbledore should have given you the message that I had gone to the States for treatment, Trelawney's prophecy was unfortunate timing," or the result of too much eggnog, "and Peter is obviously smart and slimy enough that he was able to take advantage of the situation when you went to the hospital looking for me."

He knew those specific things couldn't be laid at Moony's door.

"But," he continued with a returning spark of anger at Moony, "the fact is that he didn't deliver the news about me to you himself. He promised me, Harry, that he would be there for you if anything happened to me and he wasn't."

And that was the top and bottom of why Sirius was mad at Moony - and why Moony himself was accepting of Sirius's ire.

Sirius was all far too aware that there was a danger that he wouldn't survive the upcoming fight with Voldemort. He knew he was a target, not only because of his relationship with Harry, but because of the power he wielded as Lord Black – power Voldemort had enviously coveted during the last war. He had to trust that the people he'd asked to take care of Harry would take care of Harry.

Of course, he'd received a scolding from Augusta, Richard, Amelia, Andy, Molly, and a number of others about giving Harry a bolthole instead of a list of people to go to for help. Sirius considered the various lectures he'd received with a touch of grumpiness. He had pointed out that when he'd given Harry the bolthole the only allies he'd had at the time had been Remus and the healers back at the clinic. He'd also pointed out that in the latest crisis Harry had been bound and determined to believe that contact with anyone was a bad thing and that it wouldn't have mattered if Sirius had told Harry to go to Augusta or Richard, or Andy, or whoever – Harry would still have bolted. But they had made their argument and there was now a list of who Harry should seek out in such an event in the future (and since Harry had apparently finally accepted that he wasn't to blame if people got hurt, Sirius was reasonably assured Harry would use it). Sirius had, however, refused to disclose where Harry's bolthole was; Privet Drive would remain his and Harry's secret.

"I just hate it when the two of you argue." Harry murmured, dragging Sirius back to the present and the breakfast table in their Hogwarts' quarters.

"We'll make up," Sirius reassured him again before waving a hand absently in the air, "just…not right this minute."

Harry snorted inelegantly but poked his letter morosely and Sirius figured he was safe from his son pushing him to talk with Remus for another few hours.

Dobby popped in suddenly beside Sirius, the Daily Prophet clutched in his hands as he hopped nervously from foot to foot.

"Dobby?" asked Harry hesitantly, picking up on the elf's distress.

"Story in the paper about Master Harry Potter's Mooey." Dobby said, pulling on an ear.

Sirius snatched the paper out of Dobby's hands, aware that Harry had shoved his chair back to run around to read the article over his shoulder. It was on the front page…

THE DANGEROUS PET WEREWOLF of BLACK AND POTTER: STEWARD'S HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

It is not a secret in political circles that the Steward for the Houses of Black and Potter, Remus Lupin, is a werewolf. What is not so commonly known is that Lupin has been reprimanded for unsafe behaviour – behaviour which led him to attack the hands that feed him!

In a document provided anonymously to the Daily Prophet, it is revealed that Lupin lost his place as Defence Professor at Hogwarts – an appointment that seriously brings into question Albus Dumbledore's capability as Headmaster – after attacking Black and Potter in his werewolf form at the end of the school year. So bad was the attack that a disciplinary note was added to his file after questioning by the Head of the DMLE herself.

However, it seems this werewolf was able to convince Lord Black, an old school friend, and the innocent Lord Potter that his attack was not something to worry about! They generously forgave him and allowed him a place within their family.

But worryingly it is rumoured that Lupin has been consorting with European werewolves to create his own werewolf army on the Continent – one that threatens the fabric of our wizarding world and which he intends to use as a coup d'etat against the very people who have given him sanctuary until now.

Perhaps with the rumblings that Black hasn't spoken with Lupin in days, the truth has finally emerged and this werewolf pet has been revealed for the pest he really is!

"Bloody Skeeter!" swore Sirius furiously, the paper crumpling in his hands.

"What was that about a disciplinary note?" questioned Harry, pushing his glasses up his nose, worry in every nuance of his tone.

"I don't know." Sirius admitted.

The only time he knew Amelia had questioned Remus about the events at Hogwarts had been during the interview Remus had done at the start of the Summer – the interview to prove Sirius's innocence and push for Sirius getting custody of Harry, and – oh! That bloody idiotic werewolf!

"Remus had to tell Amelia about turning into a werewolf to explain Pettigrew getting away when he talked to her about what happened with me at Hogwarts." Sirius said tightly. "She must have put a note in his file then."

A flush of guilt ran over Harry's features matching the rush of guilt that stampeded through Sirius. As much as it wasn't their fault that Remus had changed into a werewolf after they'd left the Shack, who would have attacked them when all was said and done, it was through helping them that the events had led to formal action and the evidence that someone had given to Skeeter for her atrocious article.

"Bugger!" swore Sirius again. His mind raced with the political ramifications of Skeeter's article.

"We have to go see him!" Harry said urgently, pulling on Sirius's arm.

Sirius nodded, his previous ire at Remus pushed away under the immediate need to connect with his old friend and provide some reassurance that the article wasn't going to affect Remus's position in their lives.

They marched over to the floo and Sirius followed Harry through to the School House.

Tonks was pacing in her dressing gown in the front parlour. She turned and glared angrily at them, brandishing a rolled-up version of the paper like a weapon. "Where the hell have you two been? Have you any idea…"

"Nymphadora!" Andy's harsh scolding tone brought a halt to her daughter's diatribe before Sirius could yell at his young cousin for her disrespect. "That's enough!" She turned to Sirius with flashing grey eyes. "Although, where the hell have you been?!"

"We just got the paper!" Sirius snarled.

Andy had the grace to look abashed. She crossed her arms and nodded briskly. "He's in the kitchen."

Sirius stormed past her and through to the kitchen.

He paused in the doorway arrested by the sight of Remus sat at the table, head in his hands, the remnants of breakfast laid out in front of him. Sian was desperately trying to comfort Remus, a hand on Remus's shoulder patting him gently, her head close to his, whispering soothing words.

Sirius cleared his throat and Sian's head whipped up, her eyes flashing amber at him.

"What do…" Sian began heatedly.

"Leave." Sirius stated tersely. "Now, Sian."

She huffed but a quick glare at Sirius's implacable face had her gathering her dignity, sliding out of the table and stomping sulkily out of the room.

Harry gave Sirius a push and Sirius sighed. He took the space Sian had left while Harry slipped into a chair on the other side of Remus.

"You'll have my resignation immediately, of course." Remus croaked out without looking up.

Sirius and Harry exchanged a shocked and horrified look over the werewolf's head.

"Don't be stupid, Remus." Sirius snapped out.

Remus finally raised his head. "You can't possibly think my staying on as steward is a good idea after everything that has happened over the last few weeks and especially after today!"

Harry sent Sirius another silent look, pleading with him to fix it.

Sirius sighed heavily and grudgingly let go of his righteous anger. "You screwed up, Remus. I trusted you to be there for Harry and you weren't. But," he held up a hand when Remus went to speak, "you trusted Dumbledore and you had every right to think that everything would fine if you waited it out at the hospital for the rat to show again." He squirmed in his seat a little. "I can hardly condemn you for making the same mistake I made back in the day, even though I would have hoped you would have learned from my piss poor example."

"I should have." Remus sighed, dropping his hands onto the table. He looked over at Harry. "I am very sorry, Harry."

Harry gave a half-hearted shrug. "Dumbledore should have told me." He bit his lip. "And I should have talked to you when I saw you at the hospital instead of hiding. If I had…"

Remus reached over and patted his arm. "Maybe we all have a lesson to learn from what happened but don't blame yourself, Harry. You were let down by Professor Dumbledore and by me." He grimaced. "I can only promise that it won't happen again but…" he motioned in the direction of the newspaper Sirius still held, "unfortunately it seems that events have overtaken us."

"What's that got to do with anything?" Sirius asked dismissively, tossing the newspaper down. "It's a pile of crap."

Remus frowned heavily. "Sirius, you can't honestly believe that I can continue as your steward after such awful press?" He grimaced. "You need to do damage control and my resigning…"

"Who cares what they think?!" Harry blurted out angrily. "You're not leaving! I don't accept your resignation!"

"Harry…"

"And neither do I." Sirius cut in before Remus could marshal an argument for Harry's outburst. "Do you honestly think I hadn't considered the possibility that at some point the press would react badly to the idea that a werewolf holds one of the most important positions for two powerful Houses within our society? Not to mention the whole providing sanctuary thing for the rest of the British pack? Do you think I haven't planned for this particular day already?"

"Well…" Remus mumbled sheepishly. He pushed a hand through his hair. "When you put it like that."

"So, firstly," Sirius said, focusing on the problem they faced, "why didn't you tell me you'd received a warning, Moony?"

He knew Remus had registered the use of his Marauder name and knew that Remus knew that it meant Sirius really did forgive him because Remus's shoulders dropped a touch, tension eking out of him.

"Because it wasn't important." Remus argued succinctly. "Your name needed to be cleared and Harry needed you to be his guardian." It was his turn to gesture for silence, preventing Harry and Sirius from speaking with a simple raised finger. "And truthfully, I deserved it." His cheeks turned red. "I was monumentally stupid that night. I completely forgot my Wolfsbane and if you hadn't been able to turn into Padfoot to run me off, I could have hurt you all very, very badly."

Sirius harrumphed. "You'd probably have just gone for Snape." It was only a partial joke.

Remus chided him with a soft tut. "Not the point." He shrugged. "Amelia was very kind about the whole thing. She could have had me arrested but she appreciated it was an accident. She had to uphold the law and make a record of it but that was it."

"So how did Skeeter get her hands on it?" Harry wondered out loud.

Sirius pointed at his son. "An excellent question, Pronglet."

"A very excellent question." Amelia's dry tone had them all looking over at the doorway. She strode in and took the remaining seat at the table. "I wanted to come over and apologise immediately, Remus. Your file is meant to be confidential. I have an Auror investigating."

"Well, I have two suspects in mind." Sirius growled.

"Wenlock and Diggory?" Amelia nodded. "Me too." She waved a hand at Sirius. "But I doubt Wenlock was behind it. He's far too prissy to get his hands dirty."

"But not beyond using Diggory to do it."

Amelia nodded unhappily. "Amos has been a good friend for a number of years. It's not going to be easy if it is him."

Harry slumped back in his chair. "Merlin. Can you imagine what it's going to be like for Cedric?"

"We don't know for certain it is them." Remus protested weakly.

"Oh, it is them." Amelia contradicted him. "The second report on the Creatures bill goes in front of the Wizengamot tomorrow with the overview of the new legislature proposal. What better way to push for another overturn of the Committee reviewing the laws if it's biggest proponent is discredited thanks to bad publicity."

"That's cheating!" Harry said hotly.

"Welcome to the wonderful world of dirty politics." Sirius said dryly. "There are cheats everywhere, Harry, not just on the Quidditch pitch."

"I do have a concern for your safety, Remus." Amelia turned to him. "Regardless that the article is a load of nonsense, there is a fair amount of anti-werewolf feeling out there and this paints a target on you."

"I already had a target on me." Remus countered. "I'll be fine."

Sirius hid the wince he wanted to make at the reminder that Remus was being hunted by Greyback.

"I'd prefer to have Tonks provide you with a discreet escort until we can contain this." Amelia shot back.

"You're that worried?" interjected Sirius before Remus could refuse.

Amelia nodded briskly. "I am. This type of thing stirs up mob behaviour." She spread her hands. "Look at what happened over that disgusting article about Hagrid on Boxing Day."

"Missed it." Sirius reminded her.

"It was bad." Remus said quietly. "Skeeter revealed Hagrid is half-giant. There are rumours a number of the villagers from Hogsmeade went to Hogwarts to demand Dumbledore fire him because they didn't want him around."

"That's awful!" Harry said. He frowned. "Is this why Dumbledore had Trelawney looking after me? He was taking care of people wanting Hagrid to leave?"

"Partly." Remus admitted.

"It doesn't negate the fact that Dumbledore should have just told you the truth about my whereabouts and condition." Sirius said quickly, anticipating that Harry was about to excuse Dumbledore's decision given the situation with Hagrid. He decided a slight diversion was in order. "How did Skeeter find that out anyway?"

"I assume she must have eavesdropped on them in the garden at Hogwarts the night of the Ball." Remus said. "I remember seeing her on the map near to where Hagrid was sitting with the Madame Maxime."

"Really?" Amelia said. "I'm certain I overheard Maxime telling Dumbledore that they were alone. She was taking him to task about security and privacy. I can't blame her."

There was a moment of silence while they all considered Hogwarts' wobbly security.

Sirius sighed. "If Tonks can stay with Remus as an escort that would be great, Amelia."

"Now, wait a moment…" Remus began.

"No, Moony." Sirius said strictly. "Greyback can't get to you easily but a mob can. Tonks is a good choice being a daughter of the House, it keeps it within the family."

Remus glared at Sirius.

"Moreover, it's probably not safe to keep your guest here." Amelia said.

"Sian?" blinked Remus, taken aback, before the real threat of a mob bent on hurting a werewolf sank in a moment later. "No. It's probably not safe." He agreed. "This place is well protected but…"

"But it would be better if she were elsewhere." Amelia said crisply.

"There's no reason why she shouldn't head to the sanctuary." Sirius said. "I admit it's useful having her here for intelligence on Greyback but she could provide that through a floo connection or over a mirror."

Remus sighed but gave a nod of acquiescence that had Sirius letting out a slow breath of relief at not having to argue about it.

Amelia got up from the table. "I should head back and see what the investigation is doing."

"I'll be in contact later." Sirius said. "I'm going to call a meeting of the Potter alliance; we'll need to discuss strategy for the Wizengamot. Harry, you should return to Hogwarts…"

"No." Harry said so firmly Sirius's eyebrow rose in surprise making Harry blush. "It's just…this is my fight, Padfoot. Remus is the steward for the House of Potter and this is an attack on my political agenda. I should be at the meeting."

Sirius leaned over and ruffled his hair. "Well said, Pronglet." He glanced at Remus and motioned toward the door. "Why don't you walk Amelia to the floo?"

Harry nodded a touch unhappily but Sirius figured that Harry understood he needed a moment alone with Remus.

"It's going to be brutal." Remus said as soon as Harry and Amelia were out of earshot. "Are you sure he should…"

"He'll stand up." Sirius said simply.

Regardless of his romance troubles, Harry seemed more settled in his skin. Sirius suspected some of it was down to Harry finally meeting Lily and James. A touch of envy and jealousy spiked sharply in his gut but he shook it off quickly. He was raising Harry; got to live with him, see him grow into a fine young man. James and Lily were gone but if talking to their ghosts had helped Harry even a little bit in facing up to his destiny, how could Sirius think of it as anything but a good thing? And hadn't Harry admitted he loved Sirius?

Sirius felt himself settle into his own skin with that final thought. "I talked with James and Lily."

Remus stared at him. "What?"

"I found Harry at the cemetery with the Resurrection stone talking with James and Lily." Sirius explained quietly.

"Dear Merlin." Remus breathed out thinly. "Were they…are they…"

"They looked exactly like they always did." Sirius said, grief churning through him as always but it was tempered by the knowledge of seeing them. "They forgave me, Moony." He shook his head. "I never realised how much I needed them to until…"

Remus clasped his hand on top of the table. "It was never your fault, Sirius."

"I let them down, Moony."

There was a hushed silence.

"And I let you down." Remus said regretfully.

Sirius sighed. "We have to stop making the same mistakes, Remus. Lily and James told Harry that he's stronger with his friends than without. The Marauders…we were stronger together. We are stronger together."

"So…" Remus said tentatively.

"So I really do forgive you." Sirius said sincerely.

"Thank you." Remus said. He wiped a hand over his face, hiding suspiciously shiny eyes. "I just wish that Skeeter hadn't gotten hold of that note."

Sirius squeezed the hand that was clasping his own. "We're brothers, Moony. You, me and Prongs. We didn't run when you told us as teenagers, and Harry and I – we're not running now. Now, come on. Let's find our youngest Marauder and work out how we're going to prank the pants off Wenlock."

Remus gave a huff of laughter. "I hope you don't mean that literally."

Sirius's eyes gleamed with mischief. "Well, now that you mention it…" he slapped Remus on the shoulder as the other man chuckled and felt his own equilibrium return with a vengeance.

Wenlock was going to deeply regret taking on the Marauders.

o-O-o

The fire in the parlour was down to a dull ember.

Remus sipped the whiskey he had poured out and dropped his head back against the cushion of the sofa. Tonks switched on the wireless and sat down beside him but didn't say anything for which he was eternally grateful.

There was a blast of music before the sound faded and the tones of the radio host echoed through the room.

"This is Malcolm Mitherington, reporting on today's extraordinary news from the steps of the Ministry where I have the Minister himself here with me to make a statement!"

Remus snorted. He remembered Malcolm as a rather pompous Hufflepuff in the same year as Sirius's brother.

"Minister," Malcolm continued, "what can you tell us about the werewolf Lupin and what will happen now?"

"My dear Malcolm, and faithful Wizarding Wireless listeners of course, I fear this article today has become something of a mountain when it is in fact simply a molehill." Fudge's smooth politicking slid through the airwaves like honey.

"So Lupin didn't attack Lord Potter and Lord Black at Hogwarts at the end of the school year in June?" Malcolm inquired sharply.

Fudge gave a small cough. "Uh, no – that is to say, Remus Lupin did admit that on the full moon in question, in trying to apprehend Peter Pettigrew and understand the truth behind Lord Black's situation, he had forgotten to take his Wolfsbane and did turn into his werewolf form when he was in the open."

"And he attacked them." Malcolm insisted.

"Oh no, my dear fellow!" Fudge said cheerfully. "On the contrary, Lord Black was able to divert him and Lupin chased after the fleeing Pettigrew. No harm befell Lord Potter and Lord Black from Mister Lupin's actions that night."

"I see."

Remus chuckled dryly because it was evident Malcolm didn't see.

"Obviously, when Director Bones investigated the situation with Lord Black at the beginning of the Summer, the truth about the evening at Hogwarts came out in her interview with Mister Lupin and as per protocol, a note was added to his Creature file." Fudge continued when Malcolm remained silent. "All completely above board and normal process." He gave a tsking sound. "What has not been above board is leaking this confidential note to the press and I will assure you and the listening public that the DMLE will thoroughly investigate how this happened!"

"Surely it doesn't matter though?" Malcolm argued. "Lupin is a werewolf and doesn't have the same right to privacy! Surely this was in the public's interest to know! Lupin is dangerous!"

"Ah, well, let's examine those three statements, shall we?" Fudge sounded almost gleeful.

Tonks shot Remus a questioning look and he smiled weakly back at her.

"Firstly, the law that stated werewolves did not have the same right to privacy as wizards and witches was suspended by the authority of the Wizengamot following the decision to review the Creature laws. At the present time, werewolves do hold the same right to privacy and it is completely illegal to reveal details of Ministerial files containing any private information related to them." Fudge explained.

Remus breathed out. It had been a shock to him earlier in the day to realise that whoever had leaked the information would face criminal charges for their action.

"Secondly," Fudge said, "the matter was uncovered in the course of a separate investigation and Mister Lupin's actions were examined by the Director of the DMLE herself and found to be accidental and non-criminal. There were extenuating emotional circumstances surrounding the event which provide some mitigation to Mister Lupin forgetting the Wolfsbane and the impact coming out into the open would have upon him. Furthermore, all parties involved bar Pettigrew have come forward today to state their support for Mister Lupin."

"I think Professor Severus Snape might disagree." Malcolm argued. "He did advocate to have Lupin removed from the Hogwarts' staff."

"On the contrary, Professor Snape has contacted me personally to express his dismay that Lupin's record has been besmirched by this incident." Fudge countered calmly.

Remus's eyes widened with shock and he almost dropped his drink.

"Professor Snape has had time to consider the incident and admits his immediate reaction was driven from a personal phobia rather than sound logic and his knowledge of Lupin's character." Fudge said. "Which brings us nearly onto your third point that Lupin is dangerous. Outside of the full moon, Remus Lupin is a very intelligent and gifted wizard who Lords Black and Potter count as a friend as well as their steward. He is dangerous on the nights of the full moon but Lord Black provides Wolfsbane as part of their agreement and Mister Lupin usually spends the time alone in one of the Black properties."

Malcolm cleared his throat. "What about the rumours he is building a werewolf army?"

Fudge laughed lightly. "Dear me, no! Mister Lupin was identified as an Alpha by his counterparts in Europe and has undertaken that duty seriously with the support of his Lords. They are simply providing a sanctuary to any in the pack run by Fenrir Greyback, a very dangerous werewolf who is a wanted criminal not least for his act in biting a four year old boy who grew up to be Mister Lupin."

"Lupin was four when he was turned?" Malcolm sounded shocked and Remus carefully avoided making eye contact with Tonks.

"Yes, it was very tragic." Fudge said with just enough sincerity to be believable. "Greyback had tried to blackmail Lupin's father into a deal and when he wouldn't kowtow, Greyback took his revenge by biting the son. Lupin deserves our compassion not the diatribe of unremitting intolerance and hatred typified by today's newspaper article. I adore Rita but on this occasion she has it very wrong."

Remus waved his wand at the wireless and switched it off abruptly.

"Well, that was a positive defence." Tonks said brightly.

Remus snorted and rubbed his free hand over his face. "I really don't want to talk about it." He knew the second stage of Sirius's and Harry's plan involved the Wizengamot the next day and he really didn't want to think about that.

He knew he had royally screwed up trusting that Dumbledore would follow Remus's instruction to tell Harry about Sirius; trusting that Dumbledore wouldn't just assume that he knew best and do his own thing. And he'd let his own want to get the rat get in the way of taking care of Harry the same way Sirius had done all those years before. Well, Sirius had learned and smartened up his act where Harry was concerned and so would Remus. He took a deep gulp of the Scotch. He had to do better at putting Harry first, Remus mused, especially given the support Harry was giving him.

The meeting at the Potter alliance had been as brutal as he had anticipated. The room had been hostile at the beginning – too many had too ingrained prejudices about werewolves regardless of their liberal views for it not to be. A couple of them had gone so far as to recommend that Harry and Sirius ditch Remus but they had been quickly silenced by Harry's blunt statement that Remus was staying.

There was something different about Harry, Remus mused. Sirius might have chaired the meeting – ensuring there was direction to the discussion and that everyone had their say – but it was Harry who'd led; who'd made it clear that he was going to stand beside Remus and the wider agenda Harry wanted for werewolves. Harry hadn't faltered under the glares of the older men and the arguments they marshalled. Instead, Harry had simply cleared his throat and tersely explained Sirius's plan of how they were going to deal with the press and the Wizengamot. After which, the alliance members had all gone away happy.

Remus swirled the amber liquid in his glass. Somehow Harry had taken on the mantle of leader while he'd been in hiding. But why wouldn't he, Remus thought with sudden insight. Harry had believed for a short time that Sirius was dead; that Harry alone was going to have to lead, to battle evil and find the power to defeat Voldemort. For those brief days, Harry hadn't had Sirius to lean on, to lead the alliance and lead the battle for him. And somehow his old friend had realised that because Sirius was allowing Harry to lead.

It was…disconcerting.

"Something on your mind?" Tonks asked, breaking into his train of thought.

Remus simply glanced at her incredulously.

Tonks flushed and her hair cycled from pink to green and back again. "I know; stupid question after everything today."

"Actually, I was thinking about something specific to do with Harry." Remus admitted. "He seems to have changed, don't you think? Become more authoritative?"

Tonks changed position to look at him fully, her elbow on the back of the sofa as she propped up her head on her hand, her legs tucked underneath her. "Maybe." She admitted. "He was pretty forceful at the alliance meeting but I wondered if that was something he and Sirius had worked out as a strategy."

Remus shook his head. "No…" he sighed, "I think being on his own to deal with his grief at losing Sirius…it changed him."

Tonks bit her lip. "I guess we really don't know what happened to Harry during the days he was alone – what he went through." She reached for his glass and he let her have it. She sipped and made a face at the harsh spirit. "I'm more surprised that Sirius is letting him take so much of a lead."

Remus nodded slowly, understanding Tonks's view. Sirius was so protective of Harry, it was surprising that his old friend had allowed Harry to step forward in the way he had. But his mind skipped over Sirius's mention of seeing James and Lily, how he'd found Harry talking with them (and ignored how his belly churned with envy again). Perhaps Harry's newfound leadership had something to do with that and Sirius would never presume to interfere with something that James or Lily had said or done. He sighed. "I don't think it's easy for Sirius but he trusts Harry."

"He trusts you too." Tonks said quietly.

His lips twisted wryly, knowing she was just trying to make him feel better about the days of silence after Sirius's return from the States. "He had every right to be angry with me, Tonks. I let him down; I let Harry down."

"You trusted Dumbledore." Tonks argued. "Most people would say that's a good thing."

"But it isn't." Remus replied without thinking.

Tonks's eyes went wide, a dazed disbelief written all over her face. "Remus…"

He snagged his drink back. "Dumbledore has continually let Harry down in the choices he's made for Harry, Tonks. You had to have realised that from everything that Sirius has told you and your parents since reinstituting the House last Summer."

"I guess…" Tonks sighed and pulled her knees up to her chest, "it's still hard to believe that Dumbledore is fallible, you know? That he can make a wrong choice?"

"I know." Remus said softly. Such was Dumbledore's reputation and legend. It was difficult to let go of the old ingrained belief that Dumbledore was right; that he knew everything; that his decision was the best; that he could be trusted above and beyond all others. And despite all Remus knew about Dumbledore's actions and his mistakes, it was still difficult. It had been so easy to turn to Dumbledore after Sirius had been sent to the Valley clinic, to ask him to speak to Harry. He rubbed his forehead again.

"You have to stop blaming yourself for what happened." Tonks said bluntly, guessing his thoughts fairly accurately. "It wasn't your fault."

Remus gave a huff of disagreement but didn't speak.

Tonks set her glass down and shifted closer to him. She placed her hand on his arm and stroked downwards, soothing him before tangling their fingers together. "Do you think Harry and Sirius would have forgiven you if you'd done something so terrible?"

She had a point.

A small point.

But a point nevertheless.

Harry and Sirius had forgiven him, and he had gotten the impression from Harry that there was nothing to forgive. Remus sighed. Maybe Tonks was right. He told her so.

"So if they are going to let it go, are you going to let it go?" Tonks pressed.

And ultimately there was no choice. Remus would not let Harry or Sirius down again and to do that he needed to remain strong and face the next few days as though he wasn't bothered by the press and the snide remarks at being outed to the whole of England.

"I guess I will." Remus said softly. He squeezed her hand and made to let go as he got to his feet.

She kept hold of him and scrambled to stand. "Remus."

Before he could protest, her lips were on his and he responded automatically, sinking into the comfort of the kiss, of being wanted. But he had just enough sense to pull away when she went to deepen the kiss further.

"Tonks…"

And it felt so wrong to call her by her surname and yet he didn't want to call her by a name she hated.

"Dora." Remus substituted and felt a rush of warmth as her face lit up at his choice of nickname.

"Remus." She breathed his name eagerly and leaned forward again.

He quickly placed his hands on her shoulders, halting her. "Dora, we can't do this."

"Sure we can." Tonks argued. "You're a consenting adult; I'm a consenting adult. Sian's gone and we have the house to ourselves…"

"Tonks."

The use of her surname had her stilling.

"This is a bad idea." Remus said quietly. "I'm…not at my best and you…you're my protection detail."

Tonks frowned slightly. "Remus, we're friends, aren't we?"

"Of course." He was quick to reassure her. "And that's why this is a bad idea. Honestly I don't know what you see in me! I'm far too old for you and there's that fact that I'm a werewolf."

"I don't think you're that old." Tonks' hair cycled to a bright blue. "You're a charming, funny and smart guy, Remus. I like that. I'm attracted to that. As far as the lycanthropy goes…well, it's never mattered to you I'm a metamorph, so why should I care that you have a furry problem once a month?"

Remus couldn't do anything but stare at her.

"I know I'm not the girl you would want to be with long term, Remus, and that's fine," she raised her hand to stop him protesting, "but you're a good friend; someone I trust and I like you." She shrugged. "I'd like us to be friends with benefits. You've had those in the past, I know you have, and so have I. You can't tell me you haven't thought about us."

Remus shifted away from her and paced a couple of steps, his mind racing almost as fast as his heart. "I do like you, Dora." He conceded. "But this is very complicated…no!" He said firmly when she would have interrupted. "I'm the steward of your House. Sirius would have every right to fire me if we started something without asking for his permission."

Tonks made a face at that and he could understand; the whole thought of having to ask Sirius if he could have an arrangement with To – Dora – was excruciating.

"So we'll ask him." Tonks said bluntly.

"We'd also have to agree that if we stopped being friends with benefits, we'd remain friends and civil." Remus hurried out as a counter-argument.

"If Harry and Hermione have managed it, I'm sure we will." Tonks agreed eventually.

It was hardly a ringing endorsement and Remus wondered for a moment when he'd stopped arguing against getting involved with Tonks and started negotiating terms.

"So, you'll speak with Sirius?" Tonks asked blithely unaware it seemed about Remus's confusion.

"We should sleep on it." Remus said. "If in the cold light of day we feel the same then…I'll talk with Sirius."

And he had no idea if he was hoping for Tonks to change her mind or not.

He shook himself. "I should head up."

"Let me come with you." Tonks said, stepping into his path. "Just to sleep, I promise."

Remus sighed and looked away but she closed the gap between them and placed her hand on his cheek, forcing him to meet her gaze.

"Hey, no funny stuff." She reiterated. "But I don't like the idea of you being alone after today and…I want to be there for you, Remus; as your friend."

Remus felt torn. On one hand, he knew it was the height of stupidity not to turn her away; to reassure her he was fine and go up to his bed alone…but on the other hand, he yearned for the comfort of pack; of snuggling into another warm body and knowing he belonged somewhere.

He sighed and held out his hand.

Tonks smiled, her face lighting up with delight at his capitulation.

But as her hand slid into his and she tugged him towards the stairs, Remus couldn't help shake the notion he was doing the wrong thing.