The Sugar Quill
Author: Canis M. (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Fearsome Business  Chapter: Chapter Two: Room for a Dog
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Chapter 2: Room for a Dog

~ ~ ~

It was still early when Remus shuffled down the hallway, slipper-shod and sleep-blind as he always was before his morning cup of tea. In the entrance to the kitchen he halted, bracing himself against the doorframe. Pale curtains covered the window, a gauzy shield against outside eyes, and through them midsummer sunlight filtered. Muted light softened all the edges in the room, even the angled lines of the cupboards and the table where remnants of his midnight letter-writing lay.

On the floor where Padfoot had slept, Sirius was sitting, chin propped on one knee. His hair had been pulled back and tied, although several strands escaped their confinement to dangle around his unshaven jaw. He was frowning, and appeared to be examining his bare feet with profound intensity. It was the same look that had been directed at countless projects during their years at Hogwarts, a look that could cow even the most perverse magical conundrum into submission. Remus smiled to see it, and then was stricken by an overwhelming yawn.

Sirius raised his head at the sound. "Rats," he announced.

"What?"

"You asked me what I'd been eating, and that's the answer. Rats. I've been snapping up every one of the little wretches I could find. Just in case one of them happened to be--you know. Our mutual friend. But I never got that lucky." Sirius' mouth contorted. "Padfoot's breath must be rank. I'm surprised you didn't pass out from the stench. Oh, and I put the kettle on." This with a nod toward the stove, where the kettle was indeed perched, steam rising like a wraith from its spout.

Caught in the eddies of this sudden torrent, Remus felt unsure of his footing. "Padfoot doesn't smell," he said, wandering toward the kettle. "Not in a bad way, at least. And good morning."

"Ah," said Sirius. "Morning."

"I didn't mean for you to spend the night on the floor, you know. There's a sofa in the parlor."

"I slept very well, actually. Lovely rug." Sirius patted it, still showing no inclination to move.

Remus decided that the best course of action was to be as ordinary as possible. He rummaged for a pair of teacups and saucers, then gazed with some despair at the pantry. There wasn't even any bread for making toast. In the end he emptied out the tin of digestive biscuits and arranged them on a plate, which he set on the table after shoving aside his papers. "Did you tell Arabella you'd been eating rats?" he asked.

"She didn't ask. I think she might have guessed, though. She fed me as much as I could stomach, plus those herbal vitamin supplements she's so taken with. Kept saying I was deficient in all sorts of things. I told her I was well aware of that. And she was disgusted at the state of my hair. Thus--" Sirius waved vaguely in the direction of his head. "It's not quite the vulture's nest it once was, anyway." A pause. "Though I was hoping to borrow your shower. And some soap." He rubbed his bristly jawline with forefinger and thumb. "A lot of soap."

"Of course," said Remus. "As much as you like. But tea first." He brought a steaming cup to where Sirius sat, then stopped. He looked down. Sirius met his gaze expectantly, blue eyes nearly as bright as Padfoot's in their hollows. "There are chairs, you realize," Remus said. "And this marvelous invention called a 'table'."

"What, those wooden things over there?" Sirius glared at the furniture. "Arabella had them, and so did Fletcher. They're all the rage now, I suppose? A set in every household? That's the real trouble with spending time in prison--you fall behind in all the fashions--"

Clutching the cup, Remus did his best to keep from spilling tea as his shoulders quivered. He couldn't help laughing, any more than he could help the way his heart writhed within him. Here was this wreck of the man he'd once known, sitting on the floor in his kitchen, making light of years of imprisonment among Dementors. But perhaps he ought to be reassured by that. Only Sirius would be brazen enough to try to laugh at twelve years in Azkaban.

/Not a wreck,/ he told himself sternly. He carried the teacup to the table and set it on the placemat opposite his own.

"Come and sit," he said. "We can at least pretend to be civilized."

With a mutter and a mild grunt, Sirius clambered to his feet. Standing upright, he loomed like a precipice, blocking the light that drifted through the window, terribly tall and thin in his baggy Muggle t-shirt. He took a step toward the table, then paused.

"My feet," he said.

"What about them?"

"They don't hurt."

"Mm, well." Remus sipped his tea, and was grateful when the warm, reviving liquid at last began to oil the gears of his brain. "Sleep is an excellent tonic, isn't it?"

Sirius eyed him with evident suspicion, then sat down and reached for the waiting teacup.

"I believe Madam Pomfrey still advocates rest above all other cures," Remus added.

"She can advocate all she likes. My faith is in the healing power of food." When Sirius lowered his cup, Remus could see that he'd drunk half of it in one gulp. Soon the stack of biscuits was being demolished with equal speed.

"Speaking of food," said Remus, as he watched the biscuits disappear, "you'll have to decide--would you rather give me the news on a full stomach, or an empty one?" He took another drink. "If you want a proper breakfast, I'll need to go into the village for groceries."

For a moment Sirius said nothing. He rotated a biscuit in idle circles between his fingers. "Are you trying to put this off?" he asked.

Remus blinked. Caught in the act, he thought. "Maybe I am." He lowered his gaze. "I taught Cedric Diggory. I can still remember the essay he wrote on werewolves. There were two whole paragraphs devoted to prejudice and why it was unfair."

That much was true, as far as it went. If there were other reasons for his reluctance, he had no desire to contemplate them, let alone explain his balking. It would not do to admit any fear that Sirius had come here only to tell the story--that once it was told, the task would be done, and Sirius would have no reason to stay.

"I'm sorry." Roughly Sirius cleared his throat. "I know it's not...easy to hear. If it's all the same to you, though, I'd rather have done with it. It hasn't got any easier to tell." The blue eyes sought his. "I heard it straight from Harry."

Harry and Cedric. One boy who lived, one boy who died. Remus fought down the rising misery in his throat. Why children? he wondered, not for the first time. Was there some particular sport in it for Voldemort--in the destruction of unspoiled lives? Lily and James, himself and Sirius, even Peter--it seemed they'd been scarcely more than children when Voldemort had descended upon them. They'd thought themselves so worldly-wise, growing up in a dark time. He knew now exactly how young and naive they'd been.

There would be other children, too, between now and the end--others dead, others shattered, others led to commit heinous acts. Knowing that, knowing that he must do what he could to stand against it, how could he refuse to hear this, now?

Remus looked up, wishing that he might stretch a hand across the table and touch Sirius' fingers, just to be sure of his friend's presence for a little longer. He curled his palms around the teacup instead.

"All right," he said. "I'm listening."

~ ~ ~

At the heart of Little Hesket, in a room above the village store, Carolina Conniston sat at her white wicker desk, swinging her legs so that her toes tapped against the bedroom wall. She had to be careful of kicking too hard. If she made too much noise, someone in the study next door would be sure to object. But she couldn't suppress the motion: it helped her to concentrate on what she was writing, and what she was writing was of great significance indeed.

Pursing her lips, she surveyed the parchment in front of her. It was marked with only three lines so far, but they were inscribed as elegantly as her hand could manage. The parchment read:

My Birthday Wish List

by Carolina Elizabeth Conniston, age 8

1. A new chess set.

Because the black knights of the old set had mysteriously vanished. Her mother blamed her father, her father suspected Carolina, and Carolina disavowed all knowledge of the disappearance. If she were being quite honest with herself, she recalled that she and her friend Marcy Engle had last seen the missing knights in Marcy's garden. The chess pieces had been conscripted to serve as part of a dark army that was later routed by the forces of justice--forces which consisted mainly of herself, Marcy, and Marcy's cat. Since then, however, the knights had passed out of human ken, and Carolina felt she could hardly be blamed for their desertion.

After due consideration, she amended the listing to read:

1. A new Muggle chess set.

She didn't care for the brutality of wizard's chess, and the game was otherwise identical. There was some risk of her mother insisting on wizard's chess in a wizarding household, but it was worth a try, at least.

Second on the list was an item in high demand in Carolina's social circles.

2. A Charm Bracelet.

These were the latest fad: silver bracelets that held miniature charms, each of which could perform a small magical function. The quill charm, for instance, could actually write; the horse charm would gallop across a tabletop; the piano charm would play a tune. All of these could be endlessly clipped on, added, removed, and traded with friends. The swapping seemed to be the point of the whole business, really. Carolina was afroth with vexation that she'd been as yet unable to take part.

Last of all--one must not be too greedy, so she'd limited herself to three requests--was the thing she longed for more than a roomful of charms and chess sets, more than anything else in the world.

3. A PUPPY.

She lifted her quill from the word, breathless and staring. She'd written it. She'd put it in ink. There was no taking it back now, even when she knew what the reception was likely to be. Still, the list was for her birthday--and shouldn't there be special dispensation for birthdays? Wasn't there at least a chance that her mother might relent?

Snatching up the parchment, she jumped out of her chair and dashed out of the bedroom, nearly upending a jar full of colored pencils in her haste. She whirled around the corner, hair flying, and burst through the door of the study.

"Dad!"

But the figure who flinched at her sudden intrusion was not her father. There was a hurried shuffling of papers on the desk before her mother stood, lips pinched tightly together, grey eyes gone sharp as iron filings.

"How many times do I have to tell you? When the door is closed, Carolina, you /knock./"

"Sorry, Mum." Carolina down looked at her shoes. "I forgot." She did forget, quite often, but it was a relatively new rule, and rules were difficult to remember to begin with.

Her mother sighed. She stepped out from behind the parchment-strewn desk, brushing her hands on her robe as though to wipe them of some taint. "Well, what is it?"

"My birthday list. I've finished it."

"Already?" Her mother's smile was wry. "You made short work of that."

"There are only three things on it," said Carolina, holding out the parchment to demonstrate.

Her mother took the sheet and scanned the list. Almost at once she began to shake her head.

"Darling, we've already talked about this. I won't have an animal in the house. I've an entire post office full of owls to look after as it is."

Carolina's chin lifted even as her hopes plummeted. "It's a Wish List," she insisted. "Not a What-I'm-Going-To-Get List. I'm allowed to write down the things I wish for, aren't I?

"Yes," her mother said, sighing once more. "You're allowed. And we'll discuss it again, but not right now. Why don't you go and see if your father needs any help in the shop? I've got to get downstairs and open up the office." She shooed Carolina back through the door, and Carolina knew that the conversation was over.

Heels dragging, she allowed her mother to escort her into the landing and toward the staircase, although she couldn't help casting wistful glances at her room as they went past. She'd hoped to have the rest of the morning free to spend as she pleased, and now she'd be lucky to escape by lunchtime. Fisting her hands, she thought again of the list that her mother now held: three wishes, and all that empty space below them on the page.

If there were no hope for a puppy, she ought to have been greedier, after all.

~ ~ ~

The tea in their cups had grown cold when Sirius fell silent. Remus felt drained and enervated, as he'd known he would. Images paraded through his mind in an obscene carnival: the Dark Lord risen; a monstrous serpent; Peter Pettigrew caressing his silver hand. Harry struggling, straining to hold a wand locked against its twin in the polar clash of Priori Incantatem. A ring of summoned shadows; the shades of Lily and James returning once more to defend their son.

Sirius was staring at the patch of light cast on the wooden floor, gazing into it as though it were itself a window. He had not taken another biscuit since he began to speak.

"So," Remus murmured. He had to clear his throat before he could continue. "What are we to do?"

"Wait." Sirius' lip curled, as if the word had left a foul taste in his mouth. "For now. I've been alerting everyone. Dumbledore said he'd be in contact."

To sit in a cottage and twiddle his thumbs while the enemy gathered forces and strength? Remus nearly sickened at the thought. But if the idea rankled on him, he knew it would be even more hateful to Sirius, who was likely to go rabid without a task to occupy him. Dumbledore must have known it, too, and accordingly chosen Padfoot for his errand.

"Well," said Remus at last, "I have to go into the village. I've a letter to post, and we need food. You can wait here, of course, but you're welcome to come if you like." At Sirius' look of incredulity, Remus waved a hand. "As Padfoot. I can give you the grand tour of Little Hesket."

Folding his arms, Sirius made a noncommittal rumble.

Remus thought for a moment, then rose to clear his cup and saucer from the table. "We could stop for lunch at the pub," he said.

"Pub?"

"There's a brewery, too."

The pause was brief.

"I'll come."

Remus did not quite smile.

He still had to change his clothes, and Sirius wanted a shower before venturing out. By the time they left the cottage, the sun had hidden itself behind a thick bank of clouds. It took a twenty-minute trek to reach the village proper, but the slope of the winding path was gentle, and the damp freshness of the air dispelled some of the gloom that had settled on them while Sirius was telling his tale. The hillsides through which the path wove were green and gleaming, dotted with the wooly shapes of grazing Herdwick sheep.

Padfoot trotted along beside Remus, stepping high on the grass. His nose was lifted to catch the vagaries of scent borne by the breeze, and his tail waved with each stride. Already he looked better than he had the previous night, although his fur still wanted combing, and no amount of sleep would lessen his thinness.

Give me a few days, Remus thought. He had never been in the habit of prayer--he wasn't sure there were any gods who'd listen to a werewolf, and he'd always believed in self-reliance--but for a second he shut his eyes and offered a silent, directionless plea. A few days, a week. Only that. Not for his own sake, but for Sirius, who needed rest and care, and would find neither as long as he kept running. Let them have this space to breathe. If they were to fight, let them at least go into battle healed of the wounds they already bore.

When the path led them along a pasture occupied by dour-faced Swaledales, Padfoot's ears pricked. Remus shook his head.

"I hope you're not thinking of chasing them," he said. "A reputation for that is the last thing you need." Then he did manage a smile, just as the first houses of the village became visible. "And the last thing I need is a reputation for talking to dogs."

Padfoot made a gruff sound halfway between a huff and a snort. His eyes glowed with reproach as they turned on Remus.

"Ah well. I suppose they consider me an eccentric already, the way I play hermit up at the cottage. I'm afraid the locals don't really trust anyone who doesn't frequent the pub. Here, stop a moment. You can get quite a fine view from this spot."

He slowed, straying from the path toward the ridge of a small hillock. At the end of the ridge stood the remains of a dilapidated wooden fence, and Remus stepped up to lean against it. Padfoot reared, bracing his forepaws on the topmost beam. On his hind legs he stood nearly as tall as Remus, and together they looked out over the village.

"You see the green there." Remus pointed. "The houses on the near side of it are mostly wizarding. The far side's mostly Muggle, although there is some overlap. The pub's called the Bit and Bridle--it's the place with the red door. Clientele is fairly mixed, as far as I know. I've only stopped in once or twice. Up the hill from there is the brewery. Apparently it's quite well known in the area. I've seen them rolling the casks of ale down the hill to serve at the pub."

Padfoot blinked soulfully at him.

"Yes, all right. I can see I'm about to become famous in Little Hesket as the man who not only talks to dogs, but orders beer for them." Remus pointed to one more building. "There's the village shop. The owl post office is round the back. That's where we're going first."

They set off again, returning to the path. Padfoot's steps seemed even lighter than before as they entered the village, passing by the row of neat, dark-roofed houses.

When they approached the shop, Remus saw that a little girl of perhaps eight or nine years was standing outside, just in front of the window boxes. Her hair was red and furiously curly, and in one hand she held a large tin watering can. Instead of watering the petunias, however, she was peering deeply into them, her face almost touching the leaves.

At the sound of their footsteps she turned, wiping her freckled nose. Then her glance alighted on Padfoot, and her mouth formed a very small "o".

"Excuse me," she whispered.

"Yes?" Remus smiled at her.

"Is that your dog?"

Remus considered. Oh, for the conviction to say, "/Yes. Mine./" He glanced down at Padfoot. The dog's face was upturned, the bright eyes watching him.

"I'm looking after him for now," he said.

"What's his name?"

He answered without thinking. The word was out of his mouth before he could stop it, before he could invent a fitting alternative.

"Paddy."

At once he regretted it. That name was a piece of the past; he had no right to invoke it here and now. But at the same time an old warmth welled in him, filling a hollow place that had long lain empty. Padfoot quivered at his side, but made no sound.

The girl gazed at the dog with a tumultuous mixture of longing and admiration. Then the door to the shop swung open, and out stepped a sturdy, pink-faced man with a friendly, lumbering gait: the store's owner, Mr. Conniston. He wore a Muggle shirt and trousers, but fixed to his belt was a wizard's wand.

"Why, if it isn't Mr. Lupin!" the other man exclaimed. "Good God, is that beast yours? I didn't know you kept a dog."

"Showed up on my doorstep, the great scraggly thing. I hadn't the heart to turn him away."

"It's lucky for him he didn't stop here. A monster like that? My wife would have run him off with her broom. None too fond of dogs, that one." Mr. Conniston chuckled. "Of course, her hands are more than full with the owls. But an animal ought to be good company for you, up there at the cottage. Now, have you met my daughter?" He waved a broad hand in the direction of the little girl. "Carolina, come and say a proper hello."

"I don't believe I've had the pleasure," said Remus. He bent as Carolina set down her watering can and came forward. "Hello there." They shook hands. "I'm Remus Lupin. I live in the cottage up by the tarn."

"Pleased to meet you." She had barely withdrawn her fingers from his when she asked, "May I pet him?"

Remus looked into the girl's hopeful face, then at Padfoot, who was sitting perfectly still at his side, the picture of good behavior. "Let's see if he's agreeable, shall we?" he said. "Paddy, do you mind?"

A vast black paw scraped the ground once, and the furry head lowered. Carolina looked awestruck. Remus nodded. "Go ahead," he said. Solemnly Carolina held out her palm for the dog's inspection. Padfoot sniffed, then wagged his tail once. Carolina stroked his head with reverent hands and began to speak to him in a low, confidential voice.

"Now there's a clever animal," said Mr. Conniston. "Running loose, was he? I wonder where he came from. Clearly he's well-trained."

"Oh," murmured Remus, "I don't know about that. He seems to rather enjoy getting into mischief."

"Well, as long as he doesn't start worrying sheep."

Padfoot sneezed.

"He's a very good dog," said Carolina suddenly. "I'm absolutely sure of it."

Mr. Conniston chuckled and reached down to pat his daughter on the top of her curly head. "She's going through a bit of a phase these days, I'm afraid. Carolina, have you watered the flowers yet?"

"There was a snail in them!" Carolina frowned up at her father, who apparently did not realize the import of the matter. "I was only looking at it. I was going to take it somewhere else so it wouldn't drown."

"A snail. I see." Mr. Conniston grinned at Remus with the conspiratorial amusement of a fellow grown-up. Carolina continued to frown.

"I think that was very charitable of you, Carolina," Remus said. "We're just stopping to post a letter, but we'll be back later to do some shopping," he told Mr. Conniston. "First we're going over to the pub for a bite."

"Excellent! You'll want to try the lamb stew, then, it's first-rate. And you'd better have a pint to go with it." Leaning down, Mr. Conniston ruffled Padfoot's fur. "And perhaps a bit of roast beef for you, eh lad? You could stand to put some meat on those bones." Padfoot suffered the treatment, but stood up and shook himself as Mr. Conniston stepped away, ushering Carolina with him. "Clementia's just round the corner, she'll take care of that letter for you."

"Thank you." Remus waved goodbye to the little girl, who also waved, although the gesture seemed to be directed mainly at Padfoot.

They went around the side of the building, and the entrance to the post office came into view. From the open window beside the door emerged a flapping noise, followed by the swift, feathery bullet of an Express Owl shooting skyward. As he pulled the letter to Dumbledore from his pocket, Remus glanced down slyly at his companion.

"Still a hit with the ladies, I see."

Padfoot sneezed again.

~ ~ ~

His arms ached from carrying the groceries. Halfway up to the cottage he'd halted, deposited his burdens in the middle of the path, pulled out his wand, and used /Mobilivictus/, wondering why on earth he hadn't done it sooner. Of course, in a mixed village like Little Hesket, it was best not to be too overt with one's magic. The Muggle locals managed to overlook, explain away, or politely ignore most of the wizardry that went on in their neighbors' houses, but grocery bags levitating up the side of a fell would be pushing the limit. Padfoot, meanwhile, had been bounding around him, tongue lolling cheekily all the while.

Despite his best efforts, Remus found himself unable to muster a convincing glare. "Next time I'm going to hitch you to a cart," he groaned. "God knows you're big enough to pull one."

The overcast sky had grown heavy, and just as they reached the cottage, a drizzling rain started to fall. With a wave of his wand, Remus hurried to send the groceries wafting through the front door. Padfoot galloped into the house ahead of him, and by the time Remus had shut the door and locked it, Sirius was leading the floating bags down the hallway to the kitchen. Like obedient ducklings they trundled after him, until Sirius stopped and began to unload them from the air onto the kitchen table.

"I'll haul a cart any day you like--if I can stop for a pint of that Borrans Bitter," he said, his movements avid and quick. "That was quality stuff."

While he was privately dubious of canine taste in beer, Remus merely smiled. "I'm glad you approve."

"I don't see why you don't go more often. It seems like a bloody good pub. Pity they had no apple crumble left. I could've done with some pudding."

"I bought biscuits, if you want some. Chocolate."

"Really?" Sirius poked a hand into the heap of bags, rustling as he searched.

"They're in there somewhere." Remus sank into his chair, staring at the mound of food on the table. He could have lasted for weeks on it, eating alone. Then again, there was a chance he would wind up doing exactly that. He looked across the table at Sirius, who was bent over the groceries, hair falling over furrowed brows. The pose struck some chord of remembrance in Remus; for an instant he was recalled to another kitchen, a flat in London, this man, another time. In the wake of that came a formless wave of loss, and he had to steel himself against it, firming his resolve to speak.

"I know you'll probably be off soon," he said, "but you'd better help me eat all of this before you go."

The rustling stopped. Sirius lifted his head.

"Go?"

The word prickled with questions like spines. Remus felt his mouth go dry. Neutral--he must say something neutral, something that would neither pressure nor alarm. He licked his lips. "I thought you were Dumbledore's messenger."

"I was, but...I've been to everyone else already."

"Oh." Remus wondered what, if anything, he ought to make of that. Sirius, meanwhile, had found the biscuits. He lifted the packet from the bag and turned it over in his hands.

"Dumbledore said--" he paused. "He said I ought to lie low here for a while. He seemed to think it would be safe."

Remus resolved to write another letter to the Headmaster, one that would consist entirely of /thank you, thank you, thank you./

"Well, the hunt for you is likely to drop a bit in priority, I'd expect," he said. "In light of recent events."

"That's what I was thinking." Sirius drew breath. "So I thought--if you didn't mind--I might impose for a while. If you've room for a dog."

For a moment Remus could not speak, only sit mute as warm, slow relief opened up within him, together with a peace that was wholly at odds with the news of Voldemort's return. As he watched, Sirius broke into the packet of biscuits, then glanced up. Dark hair hung down over one eye, but the other was trained on Remus with shrouded apprehension.

"That depends," Remus said.

The other man tensed.

Remus understood the wild wariness in his old friend's gaze. He leaned forward over the edge of the table, keeping his expression earnest. "Is he house-trained?"

Blinking, Sirius opened his mouth and closed it. He repeated the sequence again, only to stop and cover the lower half of his face with his hand. It was a moment before Remus realized that the shaking of his shoulders was laughter. There was almost no sound at all.

"You'll have to pull your weight around the house, of course," Remus said, sitting back in his chair. It was not only relief that was spreading, unfurling, leaping in his belly--it was something very like joy. He would have his few days, it seemed. He might even have his week and more. "I've been trying to create order from chaos in the garden, but I think chaos is winning."

"Right," said Sirius, his voice slightly muffled. "I'm good with chaos."

"Good at causing it, you mean." Remus stretched his arm across the table, palm up. "I'll have one of those."

The biscuit was placed solidly in his hand. "No one better."

They looked at each other. Remus could only hope that he wasn't smiling too foolishly. "It's no imposition, Padfoot," he said, with a little shake of his head. "I was hoping you'd stay."

"Thanks." Sirius took a biscuit for himself and raised it to his lips. It did not entirely hide his grin. "I was hoping you'd let me."

~ ~ ~

//
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