A/N: Well everyone, this is it. Thanks to all reviewers and people who sent me private messages. I hope this epilogue ties things up. A sequel is in my head, but it won't come out right away. You can still guess what it will be about if you really try though. Or maybe not, since the hints I put it are pretty minor, and happened very early on in the story, as early as the first chapter.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this story at least as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Epilogue: Remus Lupin and the Reversed Continuity
-August 29, 1988-
If he ever had to enter that large hall again, it would be too soon. Or, at least, that was what Remus John Lupin had thought back in July, upon reaching the end of that farce of a trial for he who used to be -and thank Merlin once again was- one of his best friends. Well, given the distinct absence of James Potter, was the best friend at this point.
Petigrew didn't even bear mentioning.
In hindsight, the werewolf figured it should have been obvious that if Sirius was going to do anything to get back at the Magical World for what they did to him, it would be in the hall with the GMP. It was just like him to want to one-up the ones that put him through the wringer, and what better place to do it but the same place they did it? Besides, after the GMP was installed (and subsequently thrashed and repaired), the Great Wizengamot Meeting Hall started to be used a lot more than before, despite its huge size.
Remus wondered if anyone knew that Sirius owned the patent for the GMP and made a killing off every Wizengamot session held there. Probably not. It wasn't like the members actually had to pay when attending meetings, and the ultimate fate of the public funds funneled into the maintenance of the Grand Hall wasn't really anyone's concern but that of the people handling finances and the Hall of Records. Only spectators had to pay visitors' fees, and no one really thought, much of where that money went. So without actually being faced with the documents showing Sirius as the beneficiary of 25% of all those Galleons, no one would think to ask anything.
Case in point, everyone assumed the Department of Mysteries developed the charms and runework, and believed the ministry owned the patents and, thus, got the lion's share of the money.
Once a marauder, always a marauder, Remus thought. Even the rat had lived up to that so-called slogan. His final act was essentially fooling everyone into thinking he was a martyred hero and getting an Order of Merlin (Third Class) awarded posthumously. Well, everyone had believed it except Regulus Black and a few others, all of whom, strangely enough, were part of the House of Black. The supposedly darkest house ever, barring the Malfoys who didn't really surpass them, only matched them in notoriety.
The irony of the ages, that's what it was.
It was actually a big surprise that no one ended up rubbing it in his face that, despite being as close as a brother to Sirius, he, Remus Lupin, had actually believed him guilty immediately, extenuating circumstances or no. After that initial confrontation that Regulus Black had engineered, back in the States, Remus had thought he'd have to fight tooth and nail to repair the bond, but the younger Black never really brought it up. He'd even assisted Sirius into sneaking back into the Ministry to meet with him –and hadn't that been a mind-blowing revelation, a couple of days later, to learn that he'd met a Sirius that was months older than the one he'd seen a few hours earlier.
Just a couple of days into that 2-month time loop where they stayed at Regulus Black's penthouse, Remus realized the relationship between the two Black brothers was as close as the one between Sirius and James had been. Remus would have had misgivings about it –thought Sirius was replacing James with him- but it would have been completely stupid. Regulus was his actual brother after all, and it wasn't like there was still any animosity left between he, Remus Lupin, and Regulus Black at that point.
Not just because the man had basically done better by Sirius than he himself had, but he'd also done better by James too. The things he set in motion, the security and failsafes around Harry Potter, the endless hours he'd invested into researching ways to get that dark intruder out (Remus' heart clenched at the thought of the soul shard), the fact that he risked life in Azkaban by creating such a breach in the statute of secrecy, just to have the Secret Service run surveillance in Little Whinging…
Really, he'd have had to be a right bastard to want to remain enemies with the younger wizard after all that. It felt right knowing that he'd cleared the air between the two of them even before he'd learned of it all. Before he even knew they'd be traveling back in time a ludicrous two months.
And hadn't that been hilarious in purpose. To go back in time 60 days just so they could get Harry acclimatized to his better life and, thus, render him able to properly enjoy the party scheduled for the second time his birthday came around, on the next-to-last day of the time loop.
It totally fit Sirius' modus operandi. Just like the not-grin currently on his face did. Not that Remus was looking, even if Sirius was right across from him, on the other side of the hall. The still undeclared Lord Black had taken residence in the spectator stands to the right of the entrance, while Remus himself had chosen the corresponding chair in the one on the left. And just to keep people perplexed, everyone else in the House of Black that was attending the Wizengamot Meeting (except Regulus who was probably invisibly hanging upside-down on the ceiling somewhere) was on the same side as Remus as well. Cassiopeia, Arcturus, Marius, Andromeda, Ted and even-
Pollux Black who'd just randomly snapped his fingers and voiced his gleeful excitement, as he seemed to do at random intervals. His intuition was just weird that way. Pollux Black who'd just adopted that look that told all nearby that they should brace themselves because he'd either gotten a ludicrously dangerous ("I prefer the word 'creative,' thank you very much!") idea, or a glorious epiphany that foretold the creation of the world's Eighth Wonder. The next words out of his mouth would determine which.
"Grandson is going to be so jealous!"
Remus had to look away in order to hide his snicker. So it was the latter, he thought with a wry grin he never was able to smother when it came to something like this. He supposed that meant he'd have to deal with a sulking Sirius for a day or two again. The duration would boil down, as it always did, to how much time Harry spent gushing over his great uncle's latest invention.
"So." Arcturus Black inquired from the seat on the other side of the man. His eyes roamed across the hall with a feigned disinterested air, and his hands were on top of one another, balanced on the silver-transfigured dragon head that was the handle of his cane. "What is it this time? A hair plucking spell?" Remus had to force himself not to look in the same direction as the former Patriarch. He did not have faith in his ability to keep a straight face if it turned out that Arcturus really was looking at Dumbledore as he asked that question. "Ah, never you mind. That would make Lord Black gag. So that leaves only the possibility of a new episode in the gift-giving saga."
"Not a bad idea," Pollux said absently.
Marius, from next to Arcturus tapped his fingers against the left armrest of his chair a couple of times. "You, brother mine, have no compassion."
"Hush you," Pollux, still half-removed from reality, told his brother and cousin. "I'm visualizing something beyond your limited perception."
Which was only half in jest.
Remus sympathized with Sirius, he really did, but it didn't make the situation any less amusing. Sirius spent months upon months in time loops preparing Harry's new life (and fixing his own sanity), then two months treating the kid like he was made of glass while somehow not making it obvious he was coddling him, scared as he was of doing something wrong. He even pulled it off, getting Harry to unwind and accept his better life prospects, during those eight weeks living at Regulus' penthouse.
Then he'd proceeded to give Harry the best birthday party he could set up (family only though), and had delighted in his godson's happiness…
… only to feel completely sidelined two days later when they returned to Grimmauld Place and Pollux proceeded to totally make him feel like an amateur when he presented Harry with his belated birthday gift.
It had been perfect. A gleaming, smooth, pearl-white orb, 10 centimeters in diameter, which floated 1.5 meters in the air and projected an interactive map of the observed universe upon speaking the words "Embrace Eternity." It erased all visible evidence of your surroundings and left you standing in deep space, circled by stars, galaxies, gas giants and comets that you could zoom closer to and farther away from with a simple touch. It even muted all sound except speech. Remus still hadn't figured out how Pollux had managed to render the magic so selective.
Harry had absolutely loved it, and didn't allow it out of his immediate vicinity for a whole week afterwards. It even let holders stare at a universe from outside as it were.
Remus had actually been kind of annoyed with Pollux after a while, since he'd ended up being the one that had to pacify his peeved, constantly sullen friend during those days. It didn't help that, while he didn't gloat, Pollux didn't really try to hide the fact that he was pleased Harry preferred his gift over all others. It must have been the biggest hit to Sirius' pride in recent history. Even now, Harry activated it every night before going to sleep.
During one of Sirius' put-out rants, Remus thought he caught something about Pollux supposedly getting back at him for forgetting to invite him to Harry's birthday party.
Remus didn't think that was the reason Pollux did it. If it had been, he wouldn't have kept on inventing things and essentially giving Harry some sort of gift every other week. Sure, the man obviously loved this game of one-upmanship they'd entered, especially since Sirius had failed to win even once (clearly, making his grandson jealous was what Pollux derived amusement from). But there was no way Pollux' stream of ideas and -and here Remus had to sincerely admit- sheer magical genius would be so single-mindedly focused only on providing Harry with amazing presents that were equal parts toys and brain workout equipment.
Pollux was bound to start working on projects and inventions again, no question, after recovering from that condition that had prevented him from doing so over the past several decades. But there was definitely an underlying tactic here. All of it aimed at hooking Harry up on the wonders of the magical world, offsetting the bleak and grim view of it he'd been given at the onset. And as he did that, subtly encouraging Harry's interest in all magical topics, the old wizard spared some thought to giving Remus himself a part to play.
The werewolf never expected it, but he was grateful to the man. It was mostly owed to him that he'd managed to find a role in Harry's life after everything that happened. After he failed him so completely. It would have gotten Remus contemplative, had he the time to brood.
As it was, however, Remus didn't have time to reminisce anymore because the doors to the hall closed with an ominous bang, and the (not-so-)honorable Chief Warlock (Remus wondered how long he'd be able to hold onto that post) opened the session with three strikes of his gavel.
The court scribe stood up. "Quiet in the Hall! The time is now 10:00 A.M and this Regular Meeting of the Wizengamot is called to order on this day of August 29, 1988. Chief Warlock Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore presiding."
Lupin only half-listened to the proceedings. He wasn't interested in all the introductory steps and the motions the Wizengamot had to go through every time, outlining a recap of the previous session and the issues left unsolved. He was there just to see what would happen when the new Lord Black finally assumed his mantle officially. The notice of a new Lord's ascendance had been recorded on the Great Parchment as soon as it happened, all those months ago. No one knew who it was going to be, although the general consensus was that Regulus Black was it.
Remus, of course, knew better. And he was also interested in seeing how fast logic would fail his fellow wizards and witches when it was shown who it really was.
Ah, and finally the time came. The scribe stood and read. "On the morn of June 1st of this year, 1988, it was recorded by Great Parchment that a new Lord had arisen to the Headship of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. It is customary to invite him to take his seat before the session proceeds further."
"Very well," Dumbledore said blandly. Remus had to give him credit for not looking around for whoever it was. Sirius wasn't hiding, but he was wearing a pretty big over-robe to his official vestment, and he had his Lordship Crest disillusioned for good measure. "Lord Black, please step forward and take your seat."
In a move that could have seemed rehearsed, the entire hall looked at Remus Lupin. Or rather, the row where he was sitting next to everyone else. The werewolf wondered how many were thinking that Pollux would be the one stepping forward. Although the wizard did see that quite a few people were warily looking around in case the Black Phantom appeared out of nowhere.
So immersed everyone was in their staring at that side of the hall that Sirius had time to dislodge his over-robe and walk three levels down before people finally caught on to what was happening and snapped their heads back to gawp at him. A ripple of disbelief and astonishment washed through the room, and some witches even gasped at seeing the former convict so brazenly taking the floor.
Remus almost gave into the impulse to muffle his laughter by shoving his fist in his mouth, but he didn't want to disrupt the semblance of utter serenity that blanketed the seats that House Black's members had commandeered. The looks on everyone's faces were nearly too much. He thanked his many years of practice at keeping a straight face when being cornered for pranks by McGonagall.
Even Dumbledore looked pole-axed.
But no, Sirius wasn't about to leave it as is. He wanted to make an impression. So before anyone could actually gather the balls to actually voice their disbelief at a level above stupefied whispers, he pulled out his wand, already shining at the tip…
And stabbed himself in the left palm.
Smiling languidly, Sirius brushed his bleeding palm against the air in front of him, like a screen, and the blood spread as if he'd just wiped his hand over a pane of glass. And before anyone could screech about blood magic and how illegal or dangerous it was (thus setting themselves up for being made a fool of, since blood rituals were still very much used in various occasions, albeit not for something like this), the blood started shifting, as though being manipulated with a brush, stroke by stroke. Forming itself, shaping.
Changing color. Glimmering.
So that was what Sirius and Regulus had kept dodging questions about.
The crests of Potter and Black hovered in the air in front of Sirius, one a heraldry of fire and the other made of steel, with lightning crackling all over and through it. Ignoring the room entirely, the wizard bowed grandly to the House of Potter. The fire flared, surrendered shape and streaked around him before twisting upwards and dispersing, leaving a warm breeze behind, then even that was gone.
The man stood tall, then, and speared the remaining crest with his wand tip. "I, Sirius Orion Black, son of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Potter, Lord of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, hereby claim all rights and responsibilities entailed in the role of Paterfamilias." The Heraldry shimmered as his clear baritone entranced the public. "So decreed, so witnessed." The shield misted, forming the shape of a thunderbird that spread its wings wide, only to engulf Sirius in its wings completely, before dispersing with a thundering roar.
Let Magical Britain try and contest that after the WWN transmitted it all over the world. The Prophet was going to have a field week after this too, for that matter, Remus thought with glee he didn't even try to conceal.
Basking in the gaping maws of the respectable witches in wizards sharing the same room as him, Sirius bent his knees, then shot up, but didn't make the jump. Instead, thunder struck upward, erasing all evidence that the man had ever been there…
… for all of one instant before a second bolt came, descended this time, depositing Sirius Orion Black right in front of his high chair, up in the highest row, making the two men on either side of him yelp and shriek in their seats, Remus wasn't sure who did which.
Sirius allowed his wand to retreat into its holster, turned around and regally settled himself in his chair with an air that made it seem as though his act of overpowering the anti-transolcation wards was nothing special.
Everyone was staring at Sirius, and Dumbledore finally gathered himself. "… How?"
Whether he was asking about him being the Lord or the apparition, Remus couldn't tell, but he became sure the answer would have been the same when Sirius grinned unrepentingly and said. "Magic, obviously."
-August 20, 1988-
The fireplace flared green, allowing a certain werewolf to step into the main sitting room of a certain penthouse belonging to a certain wizard. Not one second later, Sirius walked out of the fire as well, lazily brushing off remnants of soot. By the look on his face, Lord Black was annoyed. Remus could understand why. His friend clearly wished he could have just blasted his way via thundering teleportation, or whatever his completely broken translocation skill was called that week. But Regulus had flatly told him that if he short-circuited the wiring in his house he'd better be ready to wake up covered in honey and feathers.
For a month.
Sirius would have called his bluff if his brother had not, in fact, also possessed an ability to get into any place at any time.
Regulus Black had actually shared his secret of ward-bypassing apparition, but it turned out that no one could emulate it because Regulus somehow managed to think two thoughts at once when he did it. As far as Remus knew, only James Potter would have managed to do the same, since he'd managed to somehow split his mind in two distinct but perfectly cooperative halves through Occlumency, even before he entered school. It was what allowed him to always "hear" everything, even while unconscious, and perfectly remember it, thus enabling him to get straight 'O's' in History of Magic despite always sleeping through the class.
It had been hard to come to terms with the fact that if Wormtail had delayed his betrayal by even one week, Regulus might have shared the trick with James upon their weekend meeting. But Sirius had been right when he said that James would not have used it and left Lily and Harry behind, since it relied on messing up a side-apparition, which wasn't healthy for the passengers.
Although knowing James, he'd have probably managed to try it with the snake bastard himself. It would have been glorious, to win by splinching the Dark Lord a new behind.
In the end, Sirius came up with an alternative, but he didn't share the secret with anyone. Remus honestly couldn't hold it against him.
"Okay," Sirius said, bringing Remus out of his recollections. "I'll check this floor. You go upstairs."
Right. If no one was coming to greet them, it meant Harry and Regulus were busy somewhere else in the penthouse.
Remus had been let in on the secret of Sirius being an Unspeakable (and hadn't that been an astonishing revelation, another one) and the werewolf now wondered how long Sirius would last before he snapped at Croaker and told him to stop using the Death Chamber Incident as an excuse to not give him the time turner he should own in order to carry out his duties.
As it was, being an Unspeakable actually cut into Sirius' own time now and kept him away from Harry on the days when he actually got called in for something or other, usually combat training for others in the department (the easy victory of Sirius and Regulus over so many Unspeakables at the same time was still a sore spot).
The 2-month time turner had been locked up somewhere only Sirius knew about. They'd decided to leave it be for a while, because using it more would be logistically challenged (they didn't have many other houses to live the same time over in) and made them rather paranoid that it would come to bite them in the behind somehow.
By now, Remus had climbed the stairs to the second floor. He still marveled at the windows. There were barely any walls, most of them were thick, reinforced glass that Regulus (and later Pollux) had enchanted the living stuffing out of. The werewolf spent a few moments admiring the twilight overlooking the town they were in. The panoramic view from that height was stunning.
Shaking himself, Remus internally prayed Sirius would not make the mistake of trying to get into Regulus' workshop without permission again, because the alarm was so loud and sharp that it hurt his sensitive hearing.
Speaking of hearing, the man actually could hear voices from the balcony, which meant the door was open (since it was sound-proof). Walking normally (which was still quite silent for him), he strained his ears to make out the talk. Once he could understand, he found himself slowing down, until he stopped in the doorway and listened to the discussion about concepts he couldn't even begin to find a context for.
"So basically," Harry frowned, stirring his melting ice cream with a small spoon. "Because the Astral plane is full of emotional muck, the signal from our ins… in-sub-stan-tial…?"
"Right, insubstantial bodies don't reach our physical one properly, so instead of knowing stuff we only get intuition."
Regulus hummed. "To a point. Most people have to live normal lives to balance their karma, but you are, essentially, correct. Ideally, the crystal cord, the cord connecting us to the higher plane of identity, would fully control and nourish our soul and physical body. The brain and seven-vortex axis –I'll have to explain that some other time- would only be used as an antenna, so to speak. Unfortunately, the crystal cord has to travel down, wavelength-wise, from the ethereal plane of identity through the mental, or psychic plane if you will, and then astral planes." Remus wondered why Regulus was explaining all this, seeing as how Harry was probably going to forget most of it. Then again, it wasn't like he was any less curious than Harry seemed to be. "Sadly, the astral plane, or the plane of emotion, is as you said, clogged with the emotional waste of billions of people. Thick like tar in some places, so the crystal cord is a bit strangled, for lack of a better term, and our spirit has to use almost all the cord's, er, internal space to keep us alive, by managing our bodily functions. Digestion, sight, hearing, calls of nature, etc.
"Ideally, there would be a constant exchange, we would upload our worthwhile experiences through the same cord, into our identity in the ethereal plane. Likewise, we would have access to all our past-life memories, and whatever experience we acquired in the higher planes, if any. But because there's not much chance for that while we're awake, we have to settle for storing memories in our brain instead, and leave the bulk of the exchange for the time we're asleep. That's why dreams happen, and why we need to sleep at all. It's also why we don't remember most dreams, or have access to anything beyond our lives here, because the spirit could never really download enough of its self in the brain for us to make sense of or use towards whatever goals we have in life. The brain is lauded for its information storing capacity, but truth is that compared to our spirit it's tiny. So we usually have to make do with intuition, the gut instinct that tells us what we should do or need to be doing. The other half of the constant exchange takes the form of ideas."
Well… that was an odd lecture that had come out completely out of nowhere. Or maybe not. Those two looked like they'd been out there for a while.
"… Sounds really complicated," Harry admitted sheepishly. "But… I think I get it."
"Good." Regulus eyed Harry rather intensely. "On that note, I believe your father was among the few who could maintain a stronger connection and did, in fact, have a fire spirit bound to him too."
Harry's face lit up. It was becoming more frequent these days. "A fire spirit? I thought you said he'd been one?"
Remus blinked. Say what?
"No, I said I believe he was an elemental. That he was of fire is just my assumption. It ties into our discussion about animagi being embodied elemental spirits that used animals for… observation purposes prior to becoming human… and still have the 'memory' of being such things. So they 'remember' what it was like to experience physical reality in that form."
Remus blinked again. Then another time. He almost blurted his disbelief… but then remembered that the way James' fire sometimes became a lion and how it behaved like a living creature. It was almost sentient.
Remus stayed in the doorway, unnoticed by Harry. He was fairly certain Regulus knew he was there. It was his ludicrously warded home after all. The werewolf could never completely dismiss his awe at how inquisitive and eager to learn Harry was, in spite of his earlier life. They didn't even have to plan lessons or any sort of schedule. They'd discovered that it worked better if they just answered Harry's questions and subtly touched on other subjects enough to keep his curiosity high while making it impossible for boredom to set in.
Pollux was a master of that actually. It was a benign form of manipulation, one that he'd admitted to. "And when he finally sees it for what it is, I'll consider my job done." Apparently, the old wizard wanted to ensure Harry grew up clever, not just well read and learned.
"Remus!" Harry called out, finally seeing him in the balcony door. The werewolf smiled. How long it had taken for the boy to go from Mister Lupin to his first name. He only wished Harry would call him Mooney at some point, but it was unlikely. The kid seemed to dislike nicknames on principle, and it wasn't even something he could blame on Regulus or, more likely, Pollux, because that had been one of Harry's small quirks since even before he left those animals that would probably merit a whole section to themselves on the list of dark creatures.
Remus deliberately steered his thoughts away from that train of thought. That way lay madness.
"I take it you finally noticed that he exists?" Regulus asked dryly, getting up from his chair. Harry did the same. "Leave it," the master of the house said when Harry made to pick up the tray with his ice cream cup. "I'll have Kreacher clean up later."
"Greetings, kind sirs," Remus drawled, sketching a bow. "I hope this eve finds you well."
"Is Sirius here too?" Harry asked impatiently.
-Harry dashed past him and disappeared down the glass-framed hallway-
"… downstairs." Clearly, the boy wizard was well past the point where he bothered with manners outside formal functions.
"Just don't run down the stairs!" Regulus called after him.
Remus turned to look at him as they both walked into the house at a steadier pace. "Has he done it again?"
"Thankfully no," Regulus said with a long-suffering air. "But it's not like that one time was all that long ago."
'That one time' was when Harry was walking backwards in front of Sirius and got excited about something and jumped back, only to reach past the edge of the uppermost step and take a tumble. Fortunately, he'd only hit the stairs once before the portkey on his clothing kicked in and whisked him to the safety of his bed. He hadn't broken anything but he did have a big bruise on his back and a healthy fear of stairs and tall places for a couple of weeks after that.
He wasn't afraid to take a leap when he was still a few steps away from the bottom though, not if it meant he got to hug Sirius around the waist.
Not for the first time, Remus had to wonder why Sirius felt threatened and jealous of Pollux and his gifts when Harry acted the way he did just at the mention of his godfather's name.
-August 12, 1988-
It had started with something totally innocuous. Insofar as Pollux Black's behavior could be innocuous anyway.
It was on one of the days when the old wizard came over to have dinner with the three living in Grimmauld place (Sirius, Regulus and Harry) and Remus who had an open invitation he was more than glad to capitalize on whenever he felt like it. He was between jobs after moving back into Britain, and he wanted to last for as long as possible before he inevitably caved to Sirius' demands to move in Grimmauld Place and start researching spells and enchantments for him.
Remus suspected his old friend and Pollux were plotting on roping him into the job of research assistant that would eventually carry on the war hero's work after the older man died, however many years away it was. He had no proof though.
It could also have still been Sirius' ongoing efforts to get Harry and Remus to actually befriend each other. Remus was still "Mr. Lupin" to him and their conversations were stilted and awkward. Primarily because the werewolf was hard-pressed to find a role he could actually play in Harry's life, beyond that of casual acquaintance. Sirius was the parent substitute, Regulus had the awesome uncle post, Marius was the grandparent everyone looked up to, Pollux was the eccentric old guy, even Arcturus was the aloof distant relation whenever he not-so-reluctantly let himself be dragged over to Grimmauld Place by his remaining cousin.
It had gotten a bit easier after a bit of storytelling about the Marauder school years, but not by much. So Remus felt rather stand-offish in most settings. And stuck.
And then it all changed, and something innocuous became something life-altering.
They were half-way through the second course when Pollux snapped his fingers and cried out. "That's it!" And produced a self-inking quill out of nowhere… only to proceed to start writing runes on a napkin and seemingly ignore everyone else.
And the food. That too.
Now that he was healthy again, Pollux was always researching some new gizmo, ward or enchantment. And he seemed to get the best ideas at the strangest times. Regulus had explained it once, saying that great ideas come easiest after you've exhausted your intellect thinking of a problem and then relaxed for a while. Apparently, Pollux was most relaxed during meals and youngster-watching (where youngster meant everyone at least 10 years younger than him, so basically everyone that he interacted with).
Hearing him produce shouts of realization like a mad scientist became normal one week after the final time jump elapsed.
Back to the present, they were still using a round table for small family meals, and it so happened that this time Harry was between Sirius and Pollux himself, so he had a clear view of what his great uncle was writing down. Remus could swear that the kid looked fascinated and wondered how long his interest would last. Runes weren't the easiest subject to get into even for third years, unless they had a leaning towards it, and languages in general.
As it turned out, Harry was very fascinated indeed. And when he started asking questions and Pollux, still drawing the rune pentagon (he was on the third napkin-turned-puzzle-piece) actually answered instead of failing to hear as usual, Remus got suspicious.
"They're beautiful," Harry murmured at one point, staring at the symbols.
Lupin's suspicions grew later when Pollux began to animatedly answer a frankly clumsily-worded question on the boy's part but also got up from the table, gathered up the napkins and proceeded to leave the room, still talking, thus prompting Harry to forget all about his own meal and follow, just to make sure he didn't miss anything of the explanation.
One thing led to another, and sometime later Pollux was arranging the napkins in a pentagon on the ground in the yellow room (one of the many bedrooms on the upper floors) with Harry standing near the door, with Remus also nearby, and the other two nowhere in the vicinity for some reason.
"Listen up, boy" Pollux suddenly said, making Harry straighten even though he didn't look in the kid's direction. "Magic isn't a miracle." He adjusted the position of one of the napkin rune circle parts from where he knelt on the floor. "Magic is not sentient either, and not exactly alive. And the reason for that it's because it was created by man."
Remus blinked. Then blinked again.
The old wizard stood and walked over to Harry. "See, this is something that few people actually believe or know about anymore. Magic is an entity on the psychic plane." He got on one knee in front of the boy wizard. "Regulus would probably liken it to a piece of software, with the physical world and us as the hardware. But we're also the users. You, though, just need to know that it's everywhere and connected to everything. Like a blanket of fog covering the Earth." He pulled out his wand and performed a nonverbal summoning charm. "And our wands are like access keys that let us send commands, which Magic carries out for us."
"This is something I've never heard before," Remus mused openly, and dubiously.
"It's mostly lost knowledge," Pollus said, briefly looking from Harry to Remus as he stood. "But us old families have it, though not many of us still believe it. Sirius knows this as well, only unlike Arcturus or our forebears he didn't choose to spend ages denying it." A stack of scrolls came flying through the door, the ones he'd summoned earlier. "He's very receptive to these truths actually, including that Family Magic, no matter what spoken commands we use, and whether or not the word 'magic' figures into them, is not really magic at all."
Harry blinked in astonishment.
And Remus did the same. "What can you mean by that?"
"I mean that Family Magic is, in truth, just reality manipulation carried out by the ascended hierarch of our House. The sort of power all House Heads should strive to achieve during their life." Pollux went over to a table and set the scrolls down on it, smiling wryly at the werewolf. "No wandless magic is truly magic. I doubt Regulus and Sirius realize just how remarkable they are for the wandless feats they can achieve. Wandless 'magic' is when you yourself impose your will upon reality to cause an effect, instead of asking Magic to do it for you. Learning to do this is actually the whole reason Magic was created in the first place. What we use it for… well, admittedly we've come up with quite a few useful things, complex methods to ensure recurring, constant effects, but we're actually dependent on magic instead of it being a mere tool."
"You're rambling," Remus deadpanned. He'd learned long ago that the old man needed to be told that. Pollux had actually told them to cut him off when he got too wordy.
"Right," the white-haired one said sheepishly. "Basically, Magic is an entity, a remnant really, of Atlantis." Well, that was a shock. "It was conceived, made by those eligible for Ascension, so that people could use a focus and words to observe an effect, feel it, know it, in order to duplicate it through simple understanding of the process and force of will. Ultimately, it was a means to an end, the end being mastery over the physical reality."
Well, it sounded really grand put that way.
Pollux focused on an enraptured Harry again. "These ancient runes, they're what's left of the written language of the now gone Atlantis. Norse runes, Egyptian hieroglyphs, they're just off-shots, just like incantations are remnants or offshoots of the spoken Atlantean tongue. Magic is self-updating, to an extent, so it can understand some of their functions and combinations, based on the concepts and general consensus that history and human opinion form in the mental, or psychic, plane of the world. Concepts can be assimilated by Magic. But ultimately, only knowing the ancient language of Atlantis can you perform magical feats to the greatest possible extent."
Remus was amazed at how attentive Harry was, even as he wondered how come Sirius and Regulus weren't making an appearance. The kid had even walked to a chair and sat down to listen.
"This," Pollux waved his hand over his improvised napkin rune construct parts. "Is pretty advanced, and I'm not going to explain anything now that I'm working, and I won't claim I'd be a good or patient teacher." He took a scroll, walked to the middle of the room and began to write on it after setting it on the floor. "But I'm guessing you're going to say you don't care and intend to keep watching and asking questions and taking whatever I have to offer and figuring it out yourself anyway, right?"
Harry took his turn to look embarrassed. "I'll read on it! And I promise I'll stay out of the way!" He hastened to reassure him.
"Denied." Pollux deadpanned. "I tend to browbeat anyone nearby into making themselves useful –get me that scroll and quill will you?- so unless you want to be too busy and exhausted to learn, you'll stay away." Harry had, of course, delivered the requested materials as instructed, making Pollux blink. "Oh folly! I'm already doing it, see? No offense but I doubt Sirius would take well to the idea of me making you work for me. Child labor and all."
"No buts." Pollux cut him off, sternly looking him in the eye from where he was still –strategically, Remus suspected- kneeling on the ground. "This can be either boring and exhausting or dangerous. Even if you're serious this moment, I'm not sure you will be two days from now-" he raised a hand to prevent protests "-and either way you need a foundation before you could possibly do anything but get in the way and, Merlin forbid, hurt. So unless Remus there would be willing to actually put his teaching expertise to work and instruct you in this, you'll have to wait until Hogwarts like everyone else."
And when Harry turned big, green, pleading eyes on him, Remus mused in fascination that those wire-rimmed glasses should be able to at least marginally lessen the effect.
And then it hit him, what all of this was. Why Sirius didn't tell Harry to stay behind at the table and finish his food. Why neither Sirius nor Regulus told the boy to not bother Pollux. Why neither of those two was here to be offered as teachers instead of him. Why this wasn't the first time Pollux started to sketch runes within Harry's vicinity.
They'd conspired to get Harry interested in the subject, and magic in general, as a way to give Remus a role and finally allow him and Harry to bond over something.
Feeling overwhelmed but somehow not showing his gratitude openly, he replied in as level a voice as he could manage. "This is third year material and while I'm sure we'll work a light schedule you'll still need to study hard. And we might have to go through some of the other subjects too. Are you sure you're up for it?"
"Yes!" And then Harry, wonderful, full-of-surprises Harry, glomped him.
Remus forced himself not to cry.
It was Pollux that spared him from having to speak up again in what would surely have been a thicker voice than normal. "Don't expect to learn everything he has to teach any time soon though, kid." The older wizard acted as though he was totally focused on his runework. "You've got a long way to go, and I won't accept anything less than the best for you." Harry pulled back and looked away, blushing. "Which means Remus will be working with me to get up to speed on what Hogwarts didn't teach him."
Remus stared, feeling oddly betrayed, and the smug glint in the older man's brief glance didn't make him feel any less manipulated.
He'd just been corralled into accepting the "research post" and becoming Pollux's assistant (apprentice?) like Sirius and the old man had been not so subtly trying to convince him to do for over a month.
Remus sighed in resigned bemusement.
Those thoughtful but oh so manipulative bastards.
-August 1, 1988-
Remus John Lupin stared at the door. Stupidly, he knew, but he couldn't help himself.
After a while, he glanced at the ramrod straight, stiff posture of one Regulus Arcturus Black, who was standing on the other side of the room, blank gaze fixed on the view of the night outside the window.
It only made the werewolf stare back at the door, in equal parts annoyed and astonished by how brusquely Sirius had pushed them in the same room and informed them that they would "deal with their differences now or else!" before locking them in. The werewolf fleetingly considered trying to force his way out, but he dismissed the thought. The angry red shimmer that had passed over the door upon closing implied rather unfortunate consequences if the attempt was to be made.
Clearly, Sirius expected he and his brother to make peace in the one hour left before the time jump was to be accomplished. Somehow.
With a defeated sigh, the slightly older wizard turned to behold the room's other occupant. Inwardly, he was actually surprised the man was still there. Unlike himself, Regulus Black possessed an easy means of escaping the situation. Then again Sirius knew this as well, and the mere fact that Regulus had not disapparated as soon as the door was shut made it clear he was willing to give it a shot, if only for the sake of Sirius and a certain 8-year-old.
So ultimately the only one whose willingness to move past things, the one who was being tested, was him, Remus realized.
Or maybe he was just overthinking things and this really was just Sirius being Sirius.
Either way, it changed little.
As if detecting his internal decision to move things along, Regulus Black turned to behold him. He had his full, famous black attire on, not a crease or hair out of place. A noble countenance in a total contrast to his own, semi-shabby robes. Remus thought back to the war and how brief the Black Phantom's appearances always seemed to be. But now he realized that Regulus Black really must have devoted most of his time towards being a third front all on his own. There was no other way to explain why he only seemed comfortable in that particular disguise, why he always seemed to wear a variation of it. No other explanation besides the idea that it was not all a disguise anymore.
As Slytherin as the wizard was, there were certain things that even the best masks couldn't hide.
Remus thought back to Regulus Black's sudden visit to his temporary home in America and confirmed his internal conclusion, the one he'd reached after the trial that had occurred not two days before. After finding it impossible that the one who'd done all that in the memories of the past could possibly have delivered words so cruel and brutal just for the hell of it.
Oh, Remus was sure the underlying anger and disappointment in that cruel speech had been heartfelt, at least on some level, but the delivery… and the fact that the visit happened at all.
He knew what to say. "Back in fifth year, after Snape tried to barge in on me during the full moon, James didn't speak to Sirius for two weeks straight."
Regulus shifted his weight from one foot to the other, but otherwise did not react.
"At least, he didn't speak to him for that long after he gave him a tongue-lashing worse than any McGonagall had ever given us. He didn't mince words. After we finally escaped from the Headmaster's office, he grabbed Sirius by an arm, sat him on the nearest bed in our dorm and spent half an hour flatly laying everything down, about how stupid he'd been, how badly it could have ended, that Sirius would not have just gotten Snape killed but invited execution on me for it –that was the part that hit your brother hardest- and how it didn't matter that Snape had probably planned for it all to end up with us in trouble because Sirius should have known better and seen through it."
Still no verbal answer. Black just inclined his head, silently conveying that he should continue.
Remus considered the possibility that Regulus already knew what he was getting at. "In the following days, after I recovered from the transformation, I gave Sirius the cold shoulder as well, but not for as long. My anger and disappointment gave way to the bafflement that James was angrier with Sirius than I was, and didn't seem inclined to forgive him despite their history of never staying mad at each other for more than a day. After a week of that, I cornered him alone in an empty classroom and demanded to know what he was doing, not because I'd forgiven Sirius myself but because their continued enmity just didn't make any sense. You know what he told me?"
"He said that part of it was that Sirius had done what a Slytherin would have done, but what was worse was that he'd set up Snape for some serious physical consequences, possibly even a brutal death. It was what Snape would have done. It was what Snape had done, trying to set me up for expulsion or worse, and I told James so. But James said what Sirius had done was worse, potentially ending with my execution. But he also said that, ultimately, his reason for his dismissive treatment of Sirius was different.
"James told me that it was killing him, to forcefully make the anger towards him fester, even temporarily, but he didn't think Sirius would actually take anything of what happened to heart if there weren't some actual consequences to live through, especially after Dumbledore had essentially taken their side. Because Sirius'… upbringing… had left him with some seriously skewed morals.
"So James willingly put himself through the guilt of making Sirius feel miserable, just to make sure Sirius himself felt guilt over what happened. Because if he did, next time he wouldn't so easily falter, and so he wouldn't actually cause someone's death and have to grieve a fallen friend, to wallow in guilt and self-loathing for real.
"Ultimately, they made up and, after a while, James slipped and actually explained the same things to Sirius himself. He was too much of a Gryffindor to not spill the beans eventually." Remus paused and regarded the young, formidable wizard in front of him. "But that's not something anyone could ever say about you, is it?"
Regulus Black crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Personally, I feel the Hogwarts Houses do nothing but segregate us far too young and force our development according to the unwritten rules of four severely restricted and psychologically harmful archetypes."
Remus was silent, uncertain if he should go ahead and ask, but eventually, he took the leap. He, too, was a result of that psychological segregation, a Gryffindor. "Do you think you managed to undo the damage that upbringing did to yourself."
Remus blinked, wondering if perhaps Regulus was being too harsh on himself. That fearless, instant admission was such a Gryffindor thing to say. Then again, maybe it was part of some other plan, a word play that had yet to start. "Do you think you ever will?"
"Doubtful, but possible."
"So you're trying your best to do it, but haven't done it yet," Remus asserted. "Which means my assumption of the real nature of your visit is likely accurate. You know what I mean, don't you?"
Black gazed at him, but Remus privately felt the younger man actually had to put some effort into keeping his face impassive. "I have suspicions, but they are reliant on a rather high likelihood that you aren't all Gryffindor anymore yourself."
Lupin gave a weak smile. "Those cruel, heart-shattering words you hurled at me… They hurt, greatly, but not just because they were actually said. But because many are probably exactly what James would have said to me if he'd suddenly come back from the dead and learned how utterly I'd failed his son and brother." Regulus Black didn't even twitch at the way he described the relationship between his two friends. "And while I'm not sure how much you care about Harry, I know enough to see you love Sirius as much as James did."
Silence. It wasn't strained, and it wasn't companionable either. It was just silence.
Remus thought it was unnerving, how quiet the other man could be. "What you did to me was basically what James did to Sirius, all that long ago, wasn't it."
"Some," Regulus admitted. "I am not exaggerating that it was among the worst experiences of my life. The reasons for me feeling that way might not coincide with the ones you suspect, however."
Which meant that Regulus probably felt bad afterwards, but not because of guilt. At least, not guilt over having made him, Remus, feel horrible, but the one stemming from the fact that he'd deliberately set off to emotionally bludgeon his brother's remaining best friend. Maybe Black had even felt sick at the thought that his brother's remaining best friend was a traitor twice over. Even Remus admitted to himself that a life that left someone in such a situation was lamentable.
"I'm not glad you did it. It made me feel like the worst scum of the Earth, and the feeling only got worse once the trial ended. But I understand why you did it."
"I will not apologize." Black said curtly, his face narrow-eyed and slightly guarded. "Perhaps in the future, if I am proven wrong about your character. Admittedly, some of this might be just out of petty pride, but the thing about pride is that you seldom notice it before others bring it to your attention."
Which was a wordless challenge to see if Remus felt he was in any position to point it out. He wasn't. Sirius might disagree, but he wasn't there to say so. "I suppose that's true." A reply that was at once noncommittal and challenging. A reply that opened the door for another topic he wasn't sure he'd be able to broach. "And I suppose the same can be said about undeserved guilt and shame."
Regulus Black blinked. Then blinked again. He was as rattled as Remus had ever seen him. "That was an obvious lead-in, but I am unsure towards what."
Remus had spent hours upon hours wondering how to broach this topic, but he decided to just get it out at this point, so he just blurted "Sirius thinks it was for the best that he got sent to Azkaban."
Astonishment and disbelief shattered Regulus Black's façade so suddenly that it would have been funny if the topic wasn't so wretched. "What did you say?"
Remus winced and looked at the door, fearing Sirius would just appear out of nowhere and tell him to shut it. Glad he was wrong, the werewolf beheld the wizard again. "I admit to… voicing my misgivings in Sirius' presence about how you refused to go to Dumbledore with your findings, all these years." Remus paused, waiting for an explosion that never came. Then again, Regulus Black probably expected him to throw it in his face as he'd done to him with Harry and Sirius' hellish lives, all those weeks ago. So, that he wasn't doing it must have actually surprised him enough to allow him to finish. "And he said that whatever your reasons were, whether just distrust of Dumbledore or whatever else, he thinks it was for the best that you never did."
The younger wizard wasn't even trying to hide his confusion. "Why… how on Earth could he say such a thing? To think… spending time in Azkaban of all places was a good thing? Does he think the so-called revelations the Dementors forced on him were worth the damage to everything else?" Remus noticed the reluctance to imply anything about Sirius' sanity. He could relate. "Merlin's beard…" The younger wizard pressed held onto the bridge of his nose in frustration.
"That was part of it," Remus confirmed, hesitantly. "But the main reason. Well, he said that he's glad about how things turned out now. Because if he'd received proper treatment back then, he's sure Dumbledore would have just persuaded him to let him do what he thought was best, through whatever means, and Harry would still have ended up with Vernon and Petunia. And even if he got visiting rights he didn't think things would have turned out in any good way. He didn't exactly explain himself well. Or maybe I was just too shocked by what he was saying to listen properly-"
"As if that could have happened!" Regulus Black exploded, raising his voice. It was so surreal, to see that calm shattered, that Remus clammed up. "As if I'd have just let him go ahead and throw away his happiness, his life like that! At the whim of a deluded old man!"
"I told him as much," Remus spoke up, surprising the other one into silence. "But it's… well, it's not that he didn't expect himself to trust you back then. Grief… makes us do stupid things. And well, ultimately I don't think that's the problem. Sirius… I don't think the he of now trusts the himself of back then to have done the right thing in regards to all this, even with your influence. And I think he's glad all this made it clear how far from perfect Dumbledore is, even though he hates that Harry had to suffer because of it."
Regulus looked at him long and hard. "Well… I suppose the time for my apology might come sooner than I had expected."
Silence fell again, and this time it was of a different sort. The type that allies fostered when both are trying to come up with part of a solution to a difficult dilemma.
Finally, Regulus Black huffed and set his face into a frown. "Well. I suppose our next order of business is to make him understand how stupid he's being. Honestly, does he think I would have let things lie and not made sure he saw Dumbledore and everything else for what it was?"
Remus couldn't help it. He burst out laughing. Part of that was exactly how he felt himself, but the second half… that certainty that he was right, that almost arrogant self-assurance was such a… such a…
"Well, I'm glad one of us is amused," Black deadpanned.
Remus opened his mouth, only to start laughing silly again. Forcing his lungs under control, he heaved a deep breath. "Sorry… It's just… That was such a James Potter thing to say."
Regulus Black's eyebrow twitched.