The Sugar Quill
Author: Gryffinjack  Story: PASSAGES  Chapter: CHAPTER ONE - THE MORNING AFTER
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PASSAGES

PASSAGES

 

Author’s note: This story takes place immediately after Alkari’s excellent story, “Toast.”  If you have not already done so, you should read “Toast” prior to beginning this story.  Special thanks to Alkari for allowing me to borrow some of her characters, as well as to JKR for allowing us to play in her playground.

 

Thanks to the tireless efforts of my betas, Alkari, Luna, Mincot, Pelirroja, and Vargmoy, especially to Alkari and Mincot for the many long hours of discussion to shape and mould this chapter. 

 

CHAPTER ONE – THE MORNING AFTER

 

“Thank you, Remus. Toast would be fine.”  Albus Dumbledore said as he and Mad-Eye Moody stood staring at Remus through the smoke filled room.  Their expressions were studiedly neutral. Why are they staring at me like that?  “I expect that none of us have eaten since...” There was no need for him to say anymore; they all knew what he meant. Since Sirius died.

 

Remus Lupin got up quickly from his chair in the dark, empty kitchen of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.  The fire in the hearth had long since gone out, leaving nothing but cold grey ashes.  Although it was mid-morning, little light penetrated the thick cloud cover as rain dripped against the kitchen windows.  As he listened, Remus realised how dark it was in the kitchen and groped for a candle.

 

“Please, have a seat,” attempted Remus in his most polite voice as he started to prepare breakfast. Concentrate… don’t breathe so hard… we need cups, saucers, and plates. *CRASH!*  He jumped as one of the teacups shattered on the flagstone floor, and he barely retained his grip on the saucer. Concentrate! 

 

 “Reparo.” Rather than lifting the cup magically, Remus bent and picked the now fixed teacup off the floor with both hands and set it on the benchtop. 

 

Dumbledore and Moody stood there for what seemed an eternity, watching Remus, then looked at each other again and sat down.  Why are they looking at my shoulders? Blast!  The ashes and cinders from the fires!  He wiped the ashes quickly off of his shoulders and chest. The movement caused more grey ashes to dislodge themselves from his greying hair.  Remus brushed them out of his hair as well and the ashes snowed down upon his shoulders and the floor; he brushed his shoulders once again.

 

He regained his controlled demeanour and went quickly over to the teapot.  A quick tap of the teapot standing on the wooden workbench with his wand and instantly the smell of warm, mint tea filled the acrid air. Remus poured two cups of tea rather shakily, gave one to Moody, and took a sip out of the other one before setting it down on the kitchen table. What?  Now what did I do?  Moody and Dumbledore looked at each other as Moody handed the teacup to Dumbledore. Ah, I gave it to Moody. Of course it doesn’t go to Moody! You know he only drinks from his own flask!  Sure enough, Moody took out his hip flask and drew a long swig from it.

 

Dumbledore and Moody’s haggard appearance told of the long night they had spent, yet they still managed to look alert as they sat quietly waiting for breakfast.  Although Remus turned his back to them to continue preparing breakfast, he could still feel their eyes trained on him, following his every move as if that would tell them something about his emotional state.

 

“Interesting conversation I had this morning,” said Dumbledore slowly.  Remus paused at the unaccustomed note of hesitancy in the head of the Order’s voice.  “Phineas Nigellus told me that you had gone mad and that this house was so filled with smoke that it had even entered the room where his portrait hangs.  Alastor and I came here to see what was going on and to see if you were all right.  Indeed, the house does smell of smoke and the hallway is uncharacteristically silent.”

 

Remus flicked his wand once more to make the toast and orange marmalade appear.

 

“What happened, lad?” coaxed Moody in a surprisingly gentle voice.

 

 Remus’ arm froze for an instant, almost imperceptibly, as Moody said this. The toast and marmalade appeared on the table.  Although the toast was burnt, Remus placed it on the plates anyway.

 

Lad is it now?  What, am I a child? Remus could feel the anger start to build up in him.  He pushed it back, vaguely surprised at how much energy it took.  No, actually, he calls most people that, doesn’t he? He even calls… called… Sirius that.  Even after Sirius escaped Azkaban and first came back to this infernal house. Did Sirius get upset about it?  No, he took it in stride … no… he actually liked it.  Like when Moody had met him when we were getting the Order together again.

 

Remus paused, staring out the water-spattered window as he remembered that meeting...

 

 

 - “Welcome back, lad,” Moody had said as he shook Sirius’ hand.

 

            Sirius looked at Remus with smiling pale blue eyes.  Remus watched him extend his emaciated hand to Moody and shake the hand of the man he had worked with so many years ago. 

 

            “Thanks, Mad-Eye.  It’s good to be out of that hell-hole.”

 

            “I always had trouble believing you would do something like that. Not your style.  But all the evidence…” Moody trailed off, putting a hand on Sirius’ shoulder.

 

            “Yes, well… that’s the way Wormtail planned it.  Really… it’s all right, Mad-Eye,” Sirius said.  Remus knew that Sirius was pleased that Moody believed in him.

 

            Later that night, Remus and Sirius laughed about it.

 

            “Why does he always call me ‘lad’?” asked Sirius as they ate dinner.  “What am I - a collie?”

 

            “Well, a collie is fancy enough looking for you.  People do notice them and comment about how gorgeous they are.  Sounds just your style, Padfoot,” Remus teased.

 

            “Why, Moony, I am shocked!  Are you joining the masses now who think all I care about are my looks?  Which, you are quite right, are quite gorgeous,” Sirius quipped in turn.

 

            “Who, me?  Why, I never said that *I* thought you were drop dead gorgeous.  Don’t forget, I’ve seen you first thing in the morning with your hair all matted in front of your face and heard you grumbling and thrashing about in your sleep like a big bear.  Quite revolting, actually.”

 

            “As if you’re not revolting in the way you sleep so still.  I couldn’t even tell whether you were alive or not back in our dorm room at Hogwarts unless I put a mirror under your nose.  That’s when James would always say it was a good thing you were a werewolf instead of a vampire.”  Although Sirius laughed merrily at the memory, Remus saw a faint shadow cross Sirius’ face at the thought of James.

 

“Remus?” asked Dumbledore loudly.  What?  Oh… Dumbledore and Moody.  Right. “Focus! I can’t keep drifting off like that.” The two men were staring at him expectantly.

 

“I’m sorry, Albus.  What was the question again?”

 

“Alastor asked you what happened.  You wandered off for a moment.”

 

“Right, sorry.  What happened here.”  

 

Remus glanced down the length of the oak kitchen table. His eyes rested longer than was strictly necessary at the head of the table; there stood Sirius’ half-drunk goblet of wine, never to be finished. The heavily ornate Black family crest on the silver goblet shimmered garishly, even in this weak light.   He saw that Dumbledore was also now looking at Sirius’ goblet.

 

“That is not so easily explained, I’m afraid,” Remus replied softly as he turned his gaze to the remnants of last night’s fire.  They’ll think me quite mad.  Perhaps they are right.  Do I care?  He gave the thought careful consideration, but found his thoughts interrupted by Dumbledore’s voice.

 

Dumbledore tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. “I think it would be best if you explained from the beginning, Remus.”

 

“Yes … enlighten us.  We saw that pile of ashes where Mrs Black’s picture used to hang.  All the other paintings were grumbling about it.”  Moody took another swig from his flask before continuing. “What happened - and where is that blasted house-elf?” he growled, still shifting his magical eye about the room in a vain attempt to locate Kreacher the house elf.

 

“Hmmm… yes, well … ” Remus cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “Kreacher is dead. Burned to death by bolting into that painting of Sirius’ mother.”

 

Moody’s arm with the flask stopped half way to his mouth. “Burned to death?  In a painting?”

 

Dumbledore paused before he spoke.

 

“What do you mean? What precisely happened?” he asked, piercing Remus’ grey eyes with a sharp look. Unable to continue meeting Dumbledore’s eyes, Remus looked down at the frayed sleeves of his robes.  Sirius said I needed to mend these.  It always pained him to see the state of my robes. He’s been after me about them ever since our sixth year at Hogwarts. Once more, time dropped away…

 

-         - “Remus, please… you know my Uncle Alphard left me galleons of money.  It’s just sitting there at Gringott’s.  After what I almost did to you last year, James and I decided to get you some new robes.”

 

-    “Padfoot, …”

 

-         “Don’t ‘Padfoot’ me!  I know what you are going to say. I know your parents would get you some, but you’re too damn stubborn to ask them.  Please.  You should have some decent robes.  Next year is our last at Hogwarts and then we will be going out into the real world.  You need some decent robes if you are going to look your best on job interviews.”  A smile lit Sirius’ face.  “Besides, it’s awfully chilly out there and James and I want you to be able to come and see us play Quidditch for Gryffindor.”

 

“No, Sirius.  Thanks for the offer, but you know I cannot accept.  I’m lucky enough to even be here.  That is enough for me.”

 

The light in Sirius’ eyes went out as his face set.  He rolled his eyes and took out a large parcel from inside his robes.  “Here!” he said as he grabbed Remus’ hand and thrust the parcel into it forcefully.  “I am not taking ‘no” for an answer.  If you won’t take it for yourself, then do it for James and me.  We hate seeing you like that … especially when you don’t have to be.  I’d rather see you nice and warm than have a few extra coins in that vault.  You are important to us Remus and you deserve it. Consider it your Christmas present.  I don’t want to hear any more about it.” 

 

 

Ah, Sirius… you were always so thoughtful of everyone else.  Never thought about the consequences to you, did you? Several minutes passed while Remus continued to study his sleeves.  He looked up, only to find that Dumbledore’s eyes were still fixed on him, as were Moody’s. 

 

Right… the painting and Kreacher.  Remus finished the dregs of his now cold tea.  Odd how the tea remnants resembled the wasted, shrivelled canvass ashes of the portrait.  He poured himself another cup. “I burnt it,” he finally replied simply, staring steadily back at Dumbledore. The strong acrid smell of the burnt painting still filled his nostrils, nauseating him. 

 

Remus got up and started walking around the room slowly, going nowhere in particular, but pausing at the kitchen sink; it was still filled with dishes from last night’s dinner.  He ran his hand along the smooth marble counter top.  I have to wash those today. Wouldn’t want to have people hover over me because they think I’m too distraught to even wash dishes.  People.  Hopefully, nobody else will come by. Think I’ll do them without magic… help keep my mind off things. Remus wiped his hands on a nearby dishtowel and faced Dumbledore and Moody again.  I wonder if they know the full extent of my activities last night.

 

“You may also be interested in knowing that I also burnt that wretched tapestry. Did Phineas Nigellus mention that, too? Sirius deserves better than that abomination of pure-blood arrogance hanging like a monument.  He deserves better in his own house,” Remus said bitterly.  It will always be Sirius’ house, even though he did leave it to me.  It belongs to Sirius. 

 

“Sirius was cheated out of the life he should have had…He never would have spent all those years in Azkaban if someone had believed him… had more faith in him…I should… He could have… He suffered unnecessarily... right until the end.”  Remus could feel tears welling in his eyes, but managed to fight them.  That’s the last thing I need, for Dumbledore and Moody to see me like that.  Stay calm. Breathe.  “I didn’t do anything to help him during his life.  I allowed everyone to continue to call him rash, selfish, childish … later on… a mass murderer.  I was here alone and the whole house was mocking him.” His voice cracked.  “Someone should have helped him.” Remus lowered his eyes, unable to look at them any longer.  His teeth clenched together in anguish, overwhelming emotion clearly visible on his face.    I should have helped him.  I was supposedly the best friend he had left.  But instead, I did nothing… just like I always do.  If I only had him back…

 

Remus chanced a slight glance at Dumbledore.  Surely he knows it was my fault.  A small frown was forming on Dumbledore’s face as he leant back in his chair.  He was no longer looking at Remus, but down at his own hands instead.  Dumbledore’s eyes had a far away look.  What is he thinking about?  Can he not stand to look at me because of what I failed to do? 

 

Dumbledore said sadly, “I am quite aware that more should have been done for Sirius, Remus.  I understand how you feel.”

 

Oh, great.  Then he agrees I should have done more for Sirius.  He knows it was my fault Sirius is dead.

 

Moody looked tightly at Dumbledore, who did not return his glance.  “Go on, lad,” urged Moody quietly.  “What happened to the house-elf?”

 

Remus forced himself to breathe. He picked up a rather ornate ebony clock from the mantelpiece.  “Kreacher jumped into that infernal painting after dear Augusta Clementine Black and burnt to death.” A better ending than he deserved. Remus put the clock back down forcefully. Once again, he glanced at Sirius’ goblet. I wish you had been here to see it, Padfoot.  Remember all those times we dreamed of destroying that painting?  A loud silence filled the room.  Remus sat down again, picked up the salt shaker and fingered it absent-mindedly, before replacing it.   Dumbledore finally stopped looking at his hands and instead was now looking at Sirius’ goblet.

 

“Couldn’t you stop the elf?” Moody at last asked Remus.  “You must have seen what he was planning to do.”

 

Remus looked up at him incredulously and bolted up out of his seat and began pacing about the room.  “Couldn’t I have stopped him?  Of course I couldn’t stop him!”. I may be angry, but I’m certainly not unfeeling about another’s life! “Don’t you think I tried?  I was never fond of Kreacher, especially after what he did to Sirius, but I certainly did not wish him any harm!  Before I knew what he was doing, he had already somehow got into that painting and was running after Sirius’ mother.” 

 

With an effort, Remus stopped, stood still, ran a hand through his hair, and finally sat down slowly.  “You should have heard him…,” he said bitterly.  “‘Mistress!  My Mistress!’  He didn’t care about anything except his foul mistress.  Heaven knows he didn’t care two knuts about Sirius.”  He brushed the hair from in front of his eyes. 

 

“I am quite certain that Kreacher and his dear mistress were glad to hear what had happened to Sirius,” he said quietly.  “I must have cast a very powerful spell, because the picture burned in no time at all.  There is no way I could reach into it and try to retrieve Kreacher.”  Even if I had wanted to. Sirius was right about that house-elf.  He was right about many things, but nobody listened to him.

 

Dumbledore at last raised his head.  “I understand how upset you were Remus… how upset… we all are.  That is one of the reasons for our being here this morning.  But, did you not stop to think that perhaps Andromeda or Nymphadora Tonks would have wanted the painting or the tapestry?”  He steepled his fingers together in front of his beard, his voice very pointed and finally said what had been on his and Moody’s minds since they arrived at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.

 

"Remus, what concerns us is the impulsiveness of your actions.  Did you not consider what may have happened to this house, our headquarters, or more importantly, to you?"

 

He must be joking!  Is he daft?  Andromeda or Tonks!  Why would they… he must know their names have been … isn’t he thinking straight?  Oh, that is rich!

 

“They were effectively as much eliminated from ‘The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’ as Sirius had been. They would hardly want a reminder of Sirius’ mother.”

 

Disturbed I reacted in such a manner… I’m supposed to stay calm when my best friend was just needlessly killed! A painting and a hideous old piece of cloth, that is concerning him? That hardly qualifies as impulsive!  I could rip a lot more than that to shreds if I wanted!

 

Nobody said anything.  The ticking from the ebony clock on the mantelpiece radiated through the room as second by agonisingly slow second passed by.  At last, Moody got to his feet and went over to the wireless.

 

“We should be able to get the news … The Ministry should be making announcements about now, I think.”  Moody tapped the wireless with his wand.

 

 I'm Henry the eighth I am

 Henry the eighth I am, I am

 I got married to the widow next door …

 

“What the devil is that?” cried Moody disgustedly looking at the wireless, as he quickly switched it to the WWN-CL.

 

Remus could not help laughing slightly to himself.  “That’s a Muggle station, Alastor.  Sirius always enjoyed torturing me with some of their music.”  Moody gave Remus an odd look.  “Well, he had to have something to do during all those months he was stuck here!  Sirius always found music very helpful for any situation.”

 

- -         It was a cold, chilly afternoon in January, shortly after Harry and the rest had gone back to Hogwarts.  Remus was busy at the table studying details about a witch and wizard he was to meet in Diagon Alley about them joining the Order while Sirius sat on a dark green leather chair, trying unsuccessfully to get Remus to put the parchment down and talk to him. 

 

- -         “Moony, put that thing down and talk to me, please.  You don’t know what it’s like being stuck here day after day in this hateful house while everyone else gets to go out.”

 

- -         “In a moment, Sirius.  Dumbledore wanted me to meet these people   immediately; we’ve lost some valuable people and the search for Voldemort and his followers is not going well.” 

 

- -         Sirius groaned exasperatedly and got up and paced the room.  “Why won’t Dumbledore let me help find Voldemort and his Death Eaters?  I’m not doing any good staying here.”

 

- -         “What are you talking about?  You are in all the meetings and you assist with whatever you can do from here.”

 

- -         Sirius balled his fists reflexively in frustration before opening them forcefully.  “You don’t get it.  I want to do more than sit here doing some menial paperwork. I can’t be of much help locked up in this place. How can Dumbledore expect me to stay here when Voldemort is getting inside Harry’s mind? I could be useful out there; I know I could! You know, I am seriously thinking of going out there on my own … and Dumbledore be damned!”

 

- -         Remus sighed before answering.  “We’ve been over this before, Padfoot. To begin with, the Ministry of Magic is still seeking you.  Not to mention that thanks to Peter, it is now highly probable that Voldemort knows not only of your animagus form, but also of your link to Harry. Dumbledore does not want to take the risk of Voldemort finding you and trying to use you to get to Harry or of the Ministry finding you and administering the kiss.”  Sirius opened his mouth to interrupt, but was cut off by Remus.  “Neither do I.  We are concerned about your safety. Now, please… let me finish this.”

 

- -         Sirius looked as if he were taking it personally.

 

- -         “Maybe Dumbledore doesn’t know everything, Moony.  Maybe I could be of some help instead of rotting away in this prison!  Please… talk to him about letting me help find them.  If Harry is involved, I need to help.”

 

- -         “Sorry, Padfoot.  There is nothing I can do.  It is for the best.”  Remus kept looking at his notes, although he kept rereading at the same part over and over again, not taking anything in.

 

- -         “Remus… we have known each other too long for you to treat me like this.  I am going mad here and I need to help.  Now, this is your last warning.  You know I can be very persuasive when I want to be.”

 

- -         Remus ignored the subtle note in Sirius’ voice and looked over the same portion of the notes once again.

 

- -         “Okay… don’t say I didn’t warn you,” sighed Sirius.  He pulled his wand out from his robes and flicked it easily at the wireless.  Loud, cheerful music instantly burst forth:

 

- -         I got married to the widow next door

 She's been married seven times before

                        And every one was an Henry (Henry)

                        She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam (no Sam)

                        I'm her eighth old man, I'm Henry

                        Henry the eighth I am

 

- -         “Padfoot, please!  There is nothing I can do!” pleaded Remus.  “You know I cannot stand that infernal Muggle song.” Sirius had been torturing him with an old Edwardian music-hall ditty, most recently sung by a Muggle group, Herman’s Hermits, since their days at Hogwarts. Remus flicked his own wand at the wireless and it instantly turned off.  However, the music continued as Sirius, glaring evilly at Remus, picked up where the song had left off in a loud boisterous voice:

 

- -          Second verse same as the first!

 

- -          I'm Henry the eighth I am

                        Henry the eighth I am, I am

                        I got married to the widow next door

                        She's been married seven times before

 And every one was an Henry (Henry)

                        She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam (no Sam)

                        I'm her eighth old man, I'm Henry

                        Henry the eighth I am

 

- -         Remus picked up the parchment with his notes and left the room headed for the study.  Unfortunately for him, Sirius was on his heels like a well-trained puppy:

 

            - -         I'm Henry the eighth I am

                        Henry the eighth I am, I am

                        I got married to the widow next door

                        She's been married seven times before

 And every one was an Henry (Henry)

                        She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam (no Sam)

                        I'm her eighth old man, I'm Henry

                        Henry the eighth I am

 

- -         At last, Remus had had enough.  “All right! I give up.  You win.  I’ll look at this later,” he said as he stuffed the parchment into a pocket.  “What do you want to discuss?”

 

- -         The mirth in Sirius’ face left.  He looked stone sober.  “How much danger is Harry really in?  Why can’t someone other than Snape teach him Occlumency?  I understand why Dumbledore won’t teach it to him, but surely someone else could. Staying here, day after day… I don’t get to hear as much about what is going on in the fight against Voldemort.  Everything is hidden from me, like I am a child who wouldn’t think first … who would act rashly.  Well, I’m not a child.  I can be trusted to know about Harry and not go off half-cocked and I can be trusted to go outside and not get caught.”

 

- -         Still looking deadly serious, he lowered his voice and spoke in slow measured words. “I stayed alive in that hell-hole, managed to escape, and stayed hidden for two years before Dumbledore locked me up here.  I know I can be of some use to the Order.  And I don’t care if something does happen to me, as long as I can help, especially if it helps to protect Harry.  I used to be an Auror, for crying out loud.  I know I can help rid the world of Voldemort.  The sooner we destroy Voldemort and his followers, the sooner the wizard world will be safe.”  Sirius’ normally pale blue eyes were now bright with intensity. “Remus, please.  Talk to Dumbledore for me.”

 

 

Remus was startled back into the present by the Headmaster’s voice.  “…then the Ministry is at last admitting the truth.” Dumbledore said as he leant forward in his chair again. “It is about time Cornelius saw reason. Unfortunately…”  Dumbledore stopped and looked sadly at Remus.  “Remus, we would like to continue with the Order’s business at this location. That is, if you have no objections.”

 

Dumbledore.  The thin smile vanished from Remus’ face.  I never did talk to him for Sirius.  I figured I had all the answers and that it wouldn’t do any good – figured it would be better for Sirius to be safe.

 

Dumbledore paused a moment and shifted in his chair, looking toward the silver goblet at the head of the table. “I know how difficult this must be for you, but …”

 

“Don’t give it another thought! I understand; Sirius would have wanted it that way and insisted we go forward with the Order’s work. As do I.  Please, continue, Albus.” Remus, too, found himself staring at that goblet.  Sirius would have done anything for the Order.  He was happy to at least be able to offer this house for its use. 

 

Dumbledore nodded.  “You may recall, Alastor, that a few days ago we approved Remus’ recommendation that Portia Plummer be given greater clearance within the Order. I was thinking of assigning her along with Elphias Doge over the next few days, to guard Nymphadora during her recovery at St. Mungo’s.. I doubt that Bellatrix Lestrange would attempt to attack her niece right now; however, we cannot afford to lose another of the Order’s most trusted members… Sirius was…”  Dumbledore trailed off.  “This is of the utmost importance now; we need to help galvanise the Ministry’s forces in our fight against Lord Voldemort.”

 

Moody and Remus nodded their heads slightly in agreement. Thank goodness Tonks is being protected.  Sirius would not be pleased if anything happened to his cousin.

 

“Alastor,” continued Dumbledore, as Remus tried to shake off his recurring memories of Sirius and focus. “… you and Kingsley will be in charge of updating all of the Aurors and co-ordinating the Order’s plans with those of the Ministry. This includes the handling of the captured Death Eaters. After listening to that report from the Ministry on the wireless just now, it seems that Cornelius is finally willing to cooperate.”

 

“He bloody well better,” grunted Moody under his breath.  I couldn’t agree more. Sirius would still be alive if Fudge hadn’t hidden his head in the sand.

 

Remus knew from years of experience that at any other time, Dumbledore’s eyes would have twinkled at Moody’s comment.  Right now, they looked rather flat and dull.  It suddenly struck him.  Dumbledore must be upset over Sirius’ death, too.

 

“Severus will, of course, continue to ascertain vital information regarding Voldemort’s and the Death Eaters’ plans in light of these events.” Remus scoffed at the thought of Snape.  I’ll bet he’s glad Sirius is gone.  He finally beat Sirius at something.  Wonder if he will finally be easier on Harry.  Harry!

 

“What about Harry?” Remus asked Dumbledore pointedly. “Surely he will be able to come here now.  I mean, he cannot very well be expected to stay at Hogwarts and then return to his aunt’s house.”  Oh, Petunia and that husband would be so sympathetic if they learnt of Sirius’ death.  I can just see her horsey face and that purple walrus’ face of his… beaming as they thought of one less convict… one less wizard. They’d be harder on Harry then ever before, now that they wouldn’t have to fear any reprisals from Sirius.

 

Dumbledore seemed startled by Remus’ interruption.  He frowned with obvious regret. “Alas, Remus, that is precisely what Harry must do. Harry Potter, as you well know, is best protected at Hogwarts and at Petunia Dursley’s house. He will not be coming here, at least not until near the end of the summer.”

 

This can’t be!  Careful… try to sound normal… He sat down and took a deep breath before beginning in a carefully measured voice that still managed to sound a bit clipped. “I realise that his protection is paramount, Albus.  We all know that.” 

 

Remus was absent-mindedly playing with the napkin he still had in his hands from his toast, turning it over and over in his hands.  “But there are other things that are important to Harry then mere ‘physical’ protection.  Surely, he must be allowed some time to grieve with those who understand and… care.   Sirius may have had his problems, but Harry looked upon him almost like a father. He cannot deal with this completely on his own.  Harry needs ‘other’ protection, not just physical.  It is important to Harry’s well being.”

 

Remus stood up again and cleared the table, the dishes rattling as he brought them to the sink.  “I realise that I have stayed mostly out of Harry’s life.”  He’s James’ son; how could I have done that for so long? “Initially, I kept my distance in accordance with your instructions, Albus.” He piled the dishes into the sink quite noisily.  “I couldn’t very well get close to him when I was his professor.  I had to keep my distance - propriety required that there be certain boundaries.”

 

Remus wiped his hands on a towel before continuing.  “Sirius and Harry needed to get to know each other.   You know how much Sirius adored Harry when he was a baby – he never stopped loving him. And Harry needed his godfather.  It was so important for both of them to forge a strong relationship. So, I stayed in the background, encouraging Harry to get to know his godfather and bond with him.”

 

And in the meantime, my own relationship with Harry remained undeveloped. Sirius deserved that chance after being deprived of that relationship for so many years. Despite all that, I made it a point to follow what was happening with Harry; I always cared about him.

 

Remus took the hand towel and folded it and refolded it before placing it back in its spot.  Now that Sirius is … gone… “I am sure both James and Sirius would want me to be there for Harry.”  And to have a close relationship with him. Truth be told, I want that very much as well.

 

Dumbledore and Moody kept their eyes carefully trained upon Remus as he spoke.  Probably watching me to see if I can be trusted. After a moment, Dumbledore replied “I know, Remus…” Remus started to protest again.  “… I know.”  Dumbledore said with finality.  No arguing with him when he looks like that. “But he will have Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley to lean on during the remainder of term. After that, he must go where he is best protected, and that is with his mother’s blood relatives.  I have informed him this morning of the connection between himself and Voldemort.  He knows he must go back to his relatives.  This is especially vital now until we are able to determine exactly what Kreacher told Narcissa and until Harry is able to learn Occlumency.”

 

 “Right.  That protection did so much to help Harry when those Dementors attacked him on Privet Drive last summer.  Just like keeping Sirius here all year for his protection kept him safe.  Harry nearly got taken by Dementors, and Sirius now gone,” Remus crossed his arms as he looked away from Professor Dumbledore. “There’s more to being a ‘family’ than mere physical protection,” he grumbled bitterly.  Sirius would be livid.  I have failed Sirius and Harry yet again.

 

Remus stole a quick glance at Dumbledore and found that although the Headmaster was looking sharply at him, there seemed to be pain behind his eyes.  The clock on the mantelpiece continued ticking off the passing time.   When did Dumbledore start to look so old?  I had not noticed before.  “Harry Potter must go to his aunt’s house for the summer.  The protection from his blood-relative may not be able to protect him from everything, but it is the best protection we can offer him.”  Dumbledore took off his glasses and cleaned them slowly before continuing.  “No protection can guarantee anyone’s safety.  Not even the safety of old friends well trained in protecting themselves.”  He put his glasses back on.

 

The clock struck the hour and chimed a little tune.  “Harry is still a boy… he needs family much more than mere physical protection, especially at a time like this,”  Remus said gently but firmly.   He had now turned to face Dumbledore once again.    

 

Dumbledore sighed deeply and stroked his beard. The clock had finished chiming and had resumed its constant ticking.  “Perhaps I have not considered his mental well-being sufficiently.   You are right; maybe he could come here for the second half of the summer.” 

 

Remus closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief.  Thank goodness!  Sirius, we have a chance to help him!      

 

“Look at it this way, Lupin,” added Moody. “It will give you a chance to finish…uh … redecorating this place before the boy gets here at the end of the summer.”

 

Remus managed a small wry smile at the thought of thoroughly removing all dark objects from Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.  I’ve wanted to do that since I was a boy and first discovered what kind of horrible place Sirius lived in. The idea is tempting.  But still… Harry…

 

“I am sure Harry would prefer to be here even in the current state of this house. Besides, as much as I would like to redecorate this monstrosity, Alastor, I am sure I could be more useful to the Order doing things other than selecting new paintings and tapestries for the walls,” said Remus urgently, almost pleadingly.

 

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow and began to stroke his long beard thoughtfully. Surely he was not taking Moody’s idea seriously! It was preposterous.

 

“Albus, no,” Remus began slowly. Dumbledore looked at him carefully. “You cannot expect me to sit here while Bellatrix… I mean Voldemort and his Death Eaters are still about.”

 

A shiver ran up and down Remus’ spine. Was that not exactly what Sirius had been saying all these months? How vividly Remus remembered Sirius’ pleas to be allowed to help. What an eerie case of déjà vu.  Sirius uttered the exact line I just said. So this is what Sirius had felt like. Caged and useless.  Damn, Sirius!  How could I not have known?

 

Dumbledore’s tired voice brought him out of his own thoughts. What was he saying?

 

“No, Remus. I do not expect you to sit here redecorating this house. You are far too valuable for that. You will be working with me to co-ordinate the information Severus is able to gather with the combined efforts of Kingsley, Alastor, and the Ministry.”  Thank goodness.  Last thing I want to do is to sit here going over Sirius’ death over and over again in my mind. “Additionally, you, Nymphadora, and Portia will be involved in assessing all new recruits to the Order. I expect many that we have approached in the past will be more than happy to assist us now.” Portia.  I don’t think she has seen Sirius since Azkaban.  And now it is too late.  I wonder if she has heard yet.  God, I am so tired.

 

 “However,” continued Dumbledore pointedly, “I do expect you to take the next few days off for yourself and to settle Sirius’ affairs - until Nymphadora has recovered from her injuries.  You need this time, Remus. As you know, he has left this house to you. He has also left you in charge of administering his estate.” I don’t want to administer his estate.  I want Sirius back.

 

Dumbledore reached inside his velvety purple robes and retrieved a key, which he handed to Remus. “Here is the key to Sirius’ vault – number 711,” he said briskly, but with a note of sadness. After a moment’s hesitation, he handed the key to Remus.  “Naturally, you may wish Nymphadora and her mother to accompany you to Sirius’ vault. I know you do not like to speak of your pain, but I know how much Sirius meant to you... to all of us.” I don’t want to talk about this.  I don’t want to think about it. If only I had…

 

Remus shifted slightly in his seat and rubbed his hand along the scratchy stubble on his face. Damn!  I forgot to shave this morning!

 

“I also expect that you really do want to do some redecorating around here... finish getting rid of the dark objects, brighten things up, and so forth. Molly, Arthur, and their family will be joining you here once term is over at Hogwarts.”  Great.  Just what I do not want – a house full of people hovering over me and trying to make me feel better.  Molly better stay clear of me.  Last thing I need is her trying to mother me, especially after the way she treated Sirius.  I want to be left alone.

 

I have written to Hermione Granger’s parents; she will be a guest at this house over the summer as well,” continued Dumbledore. “Those closest to Harry are more at risk now than ever before. Voldemort knows they are not mere bystanders.  Unfortunately, Lord Voldemort is back with many supporters and he knows he can influence Harry’s mind. Without question he will be after those Harry loves the most.  Thus, they must be protected.”

 

Blast!  He’s right.  The last thing I feel like is a house full of people who cannot possibly understand. I wanted to be alone. No, I want to find Bellatrix. I want… it does not matter what I want. What matters is … Sirius. He would be feeding Beaky his lunch about now.  Beaky!  His wounds!

 

“Gentlemen, if you will excuse me, I have an injured hippogriff to attend to,” said Remus in his most polite voice as he rose from the table.  And after that, I desperately need a shower and a shave.  Moody and Dumbledore followed suit and the three of them left the kitchen and went back up the stairs to the hall.  Out of habit, they all became extremely quiet as they entered the hall, just as they had done when the picture of Mrs Black hung upon the wall.

 

“We shall meet again four days hence.” Dumbledore extended his hand to Remus, as did Moody. “At that time, we shall have a gathering of our senior members. Let us say after dinner. In the meantime, I suggest you use your time for your own personal needs.”

 

 Remus nodded slightly as he closed the door gently behind Dumbledore and Moody; then he closed his eyes softly and leaned against the door. It was quiet, except for the murmurs “Unnatural creature” and similar comments from the paintings in the hall. He walked down the passage past where the heads of the former house-elves of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black hung on the wall. Those were the next things he would rid this place of.  This very morning.

 

Up the stairs he went, the only sound was the echo of his own footsteps. He went past the rooms that had been occupied by the Weasleys, Hermione, and Harry last summer. The rooms will soon be alive with noise again.  Just what I do not need.  Molly Weasley.  Trying to comfort me and say she didn’t mean to treat Sirius like that.  That she really liked him.  I know she was worried about her children and Harry, but there was no need for her to treat Sirius like that.

 

He continued down the passage and up another flight of stairs. Here was the room Sirius had been using as his bedchamber. Without even opening the door, Remus could smell the lingering scent of his old friend. Sirius.  He inhaled deeply.  That scent is unmistakable.  If only I could keep that scent alive in my mind forever, then you would never be far away. Slowly, he walked past the room. He did not have the strength to enter it just yet. 

 

Up another staircase with faded rugs. At last, he found himself in Sirius’ mother’s room with Buckbeak, his only companion in the huge house. Buckbeak seemed excited when Remus first opened the door, but then seemed disappointed when he saw it was not Sirius.  Remus went over to him and gently stroked his beak and then the soft feathers on his neck. Buckbeak had learnt over the past year to trust Remus, despite his being a werewolf.

 

Remus got out the salves and bandages for Buckbeak’s wounds and began to treat them.  His eyes watered a bit as he looked into Buckbeak’s golden eyes.

 

“Well, Beaky, it looks like it’s just you and me for the next few days,” he said softly in a choked up voice.  After I shower and shave, we’ll go out in the garden for a while.  Would you like that?  I promise I’ll bring you the biggest rats I can find.  Remember how Sirius used to enjoy feeding you rats?  He always named them all ‘Wormtail’ … said he could dream.  I know I can never replace Sirius, but I promise I will take good care of you and keep you safe. It won’t be the same around here, though. Nothing ever will be again. We both are going to have to help each other now. Sirius is dead.”

//
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