The Sugar Quill
Author: Gryffinjack  Story: PASSAGES  Chapter: Chapter Two - In the Light of Day
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CHAPTER TWO –

CHAPTER TWO  - In the Light of Day

 

Thanks to all of my betas, Alkari, Luna, Mincot, Pelirroja, Seriously Sirius, and Vargmoy. You know your betas must be right and it’s time to change things when all six of them make the same criticism. 

 

As Remus went to the garden shed, the remaining beads from the morning’s rain glimmered so brightly that the noontime sun hurt his eyes.  He opened the door and soon found the item he sought – an old, rickety, dark green wheelbarrow.

 

Buckbeak was in the middle of the thick lawn, fanning his stormy grey wings in the warm sun, his beak turned longingly toward the sky.

 

“Enjoy getting out of that stuffy room, don’t you, boy?” Remus called to him as he approached, pushing the wheelbarrow.  “I wish I could let you fly.  Unfortunately, the Ministry still classifies you as a wanted hippogriff.  I’m afraid those gits will never understand that it was Draco Malfoy’s fault and not yours.”

 

Buckbeak turned his head and looked forlornly at Remus, who was busy checking that the wards were still set securely around Buckbeak to prevent his flight.  Remus cursed the necessity to do so.  Beaky deserved more than a caged existence.  Look where hiding in this blasted cage got Sirius. He turned abruptly away from Buckbeak and pushed the wheelbarrow through the open back door.

 

In contrast to the bright garden, the inside of the Black family house was dim and gloomy.  It took a couple of minutes for Remus’ eyes to adjust to the poor lighting as he navigated the shadowy passage and stood before his quarry – the row of house-elf heads mounted on the wall. They were all too visible now that Remus had cleared the smoke away with the habitus charm.  Kreacher’s relatives. The Black family’s trophy wall.  Once theirs, they never let you go.  He snorted as he pushed away the grim thought of Sirius’ head on a plaque on the wall in line with all the others.  

 

Remus firmly stopped in mid-thought; since Sirius’ death, he had had to use all his formidable mental discipline to push aside … certain thoughts.  Instead, he concentrated on the task at hand. 

 

Placing the wheelbarrow against the wall directly below the first gruesome head (who had been, he noted with sour amusement, named “Toady”), he pointed his wand at the plaque. “Desertium!”  Nothing happened.  Maybe the old hag used a simple spell on these just to outfox us.  Accio, Toady!”  But Toady’s head remained resolutely stuck on the wall.  Remus rubbed his stubbly chin thoughtfully with his finger, mentally running down every removal charm he had ever learnt.  After a few more tries, he was finally able to remove Toady’s remnants with the ancient Extirpatius spell.  It fell directly into the wheelbarrow, and although the tips of Toady’s bat-like ears stuck out of the wheelbarrow a bit, Remus ignored them.

 

As Remus worked his way down the long hall, the heads of Kritter, Goon, Vagrunt, Lackie, Grinch, and Brewt all soon met the same fate as Toady’s. The wall seemed much airier without the house-elf ornaments adorning it. It definitely felt more inviting, despite the shabby, peeling paint and the ever-present chill in the hallway. He pushed the house-elf mounded wheelbarrow outdoors into the garden shed and left it there, feeling a grim satisfaction as he closed the shed door.  Although he had decided to bury them, he felt tired and needed to rest. Their burial could wait another day, and meanwhile, they would be safe from rats in the shed. 

 

The mounting of the trophy heads on the wall had been an obnoxious practise in and of itself.  They had all reminded him of Kreacher and his treachery every time Remus had seen them.  Well, of course they would; they were his family and relatives; of course they would look alike.  He suddenly wondered whom Sirius would have resembled more, his mother or his father; he tried to picture them all together, but found it impossible to imagine.

 

Remus hastily removed the wards confining Buckbeak, grabbing Buckbeak’s lead before coming back inside.  “It’s one thing to let you outside for a bit, but I don’t want to risk anything unnecessarily.” Buckbeak squawked his displeasure at being back inside so soon.  “I know, I know.  You don’t want to be stuck back in here any more than I want to bring you here.”  Remus had a sudden flash of Sirius’ face; all the happiness and light from an afternoon spent gardening in the soft sun slowly leached away as he climbed the back of the stairs.

 

Remus shook himself and checked Buckbeak’s wounds with studied thoroughness.   I need to wash this room out somehow, he thought as he cleared away the old bandages and dressings.  Come to think of it, I still need to take a shower, too.

 

Has it really been only a day and one half since I showered last? He stood under the hot stream of water in the shower and let it pour over his face for several minutes, his closed eyes turned up to the streaming water, relaxing his muscles taut with pain and sorrow.

 

The clean scent of the soap filled the air as he began to cleanse his face and neck mechanically. No matter how hard I scrub, I still feel tainted right down to my bones.  Will this ache l never leave? Is this pain and guilt always going to haunt me? Perhaps if he stood there long enough under the rushing water, it would wash away the ache in his body, the exhaustion that penetrated so deeply into his bones.   Maybe it went too deep for that, he thought.  Maybe the water would wash him away instead wearing him down into droplets that would merge with the tears of his grief.

 

The rage and sorrow suddenly overwhelmed him.  Dammit - Why didn’t I see this coming?  I should’ve known Sirius would go after Harry if he ever got the faintest inkling Harry was in danger.  I should’ve known that Harry would go after Sirius, too. I should’ve been faster …should’ve got between Sirius and Bellatrix.  I should have done something to stop him.   I should have seen what Kreacher was doing … I should have…

 

It was like ocean tides, he thought raggedly some time later, coming back to himself to find the shower water finally beginning to cool.  You could play in the shallows all your life, thinking the ocean safe, friendly, even beautiful; but then something like this happens, and all of a sudden, that ocean inside rises up and drowns you, mercilessly dragging you out into the depths where there is no light and no land.  He drew a deep shuddering breath.  The rough ocean wave had tumbled over him and dragged him down, but the wave passed.  For now.  Until I walk through this cold, empty, vile house alone … without …

 

He allowed himself another five minutes of feeling the water wrap him in warmth.  His eyes closed again as he steadied himself with a hand against the tile wall.  Slowly, he turned the shower off and dried himself, aware once again of his exhaustion.  He quickly performed the shaving spell and put on his boxers before returning to his bedroom.  Even though it was merely late afternoon, he crept into his soft, cool bed.  The tension drained from his exhausted body.   I couldn’t sleep at all last night… no wonder I am so exhausted.  All I want to do is sleep.  Sleep and forget the events of the last two days.  Just fall into a sweet oblivion and please, let it be a dreamless sleep.  Please, God, I never want to see Sirius fall through that veil again.

 

After tossing and turning for several hours, he awoke near midnight, having got his wish.  He vaguely remembered a dream of being twelve and spending a summer afternoon exploring the woods behind his house with Sirius. Remembering that only brought up memories he would rather not think of, if possible.  Finally, too tired to push them away, Remus decided to get up and check on Buckbeak.  Maybe some hot tea, too.  Hippogriff checked on and tea drunk, he returned wearily to his bed and spent a rather fitful night, eventually getting to sleep near dawn. Those dreams of that damned veil just don’t stop!

 

It was midmorning when Remus woke.  Once he had finally slept, he fell into a deep sleep.  The dreamless, weighted sleep brought only to those who have tasted either heavy grief or Snape’s sleeping draughts. His body felt sluggish and stiff and the thought of breakfast repelled him.  Must not have moved all night, he thought, as he tended to Buckbeak’s nearly healed wounds.  If only Kreacher hadn’t hurt Buckbeak.  Then Sirius would have been there when Harry … no!  Stop it! It doesn’t do any good! 

 

The air was stifling and the walls felt like they were closing in; Remus had to get out.  From the way Buckbeak was scratching at the hay on the floor, he was not the only one who felt that way. Remus grabbed a bucket full of dead rats and led Buckbeak into the garden to enjoy the warm sun.

 

Buckbeak had finished eating and was now resting on the lawn as Remus opened the shed slowly and selected a spade.  The work of digging a burial trench loosened his muscles somewhat, although he found that dull, foggy feeling difficult to shake.  As he tipped the first of the house-elf heads into the trench, he wondered whether elves had burial ceremonies. I could read a simple prayer for the dead at least … I could read it … for Sirius … If we only had his body, at least … even putting up a stone over an empty grave would help … something … James and Lily have memorials…

 

No.  No more.

 

He pushed the thoughts away, suddenly realising how often he did that and how much energy it took.  No wonder I’m so tired.

 

Buckbeak looked around the yard, craning his neck this way and that.  “I know, boy,” said Remus as he approached him, knelt on the soft lush grass, and began to pet him gently on the neck.  “I miss him, too.  But neither of us is going to see him again.”  He paused, and then made himself say it, slowly, deliberately.  “This time, I won’t get him back.”  Buckbeak turned his head to look at Remus.

 

“Last time, I thought I’d lost him for good.”  His voice trailed off.  Nobody ever escaped Azkaban. No one sentenced to a lifetime there ever leaves; even their bodies were buried there on the prison grounds rather than being shipped home. Once those prison wall closed around Sirius … though, in truth, Remus acknowledged bleakly, Sirius had in effect been lost to him the minute that Remus had finally understood what Sirius had done.  What Sirius had been reputed to have done. 

 

His face paled.  I killed him – last time – but I thought he had killed himself.  Remus shook himself and went firmly back to his grim task.  He set another head – Vagrunt – carefully in the trench. 

 

The unwanted memories washed over him …how his world had caved in and how nothing had made sense.  The more he tried to avoid the memories, the worse it became.  Once again he heard the sounds of death and destruction surround him. Remus shut his eyes tightly and tried to force himself not to think of how those infernal sounds constantly pounded in his eardrums. But all that did was bring back memories of many sleepless nights pacing and wondering what he could have done differently.

 

Blast!  He wiped the beads of sweat from his face and opened his eyes.  “ ‘What if’s’ constantly raced through my head like pelting raindrops.  Such confusion!  How Sirius of all people could have done such a thing … they were … my family.” Once again he felt the tremendous hole inside him, like all his insides were torn out.  He cringed as the memories and the current feelings were getting all mixed up. 

 

Remus tried to focus again on talking to Buckbeak.  That seemed to help a bit.  “I was numb … couldn’t feel anything.  All those people surrounding me, offering help… all I saw was my own pit of despair.  It felt like drowning.  Not even the transformations could match the gut wrenching agony of their deaths.”

 

As he began to fill the dirt in around Vagrunt’s chin, Remus found himself thinking of his life after Sirius’ imprisonment.  Flashes of memory: the shabby lodgings that grew shabbier over time; the look in Mrs Raeburn’s eyes when she told him that she could not employ a werewolf; the brittle and almost unconscious distance he kept between himself and others … the long hours of pushing away Sirius’ laughing face … Sirius falling…

 

 “I was determined that nobody would hurt me like that again. Transformations are horrible, yes, but I almost welcomed the physical pain to escape my misery.  But the anguish from losing any one of my greatest friends, let alone all of them at once, was more than I could bear.”

 

Poppy.  Remus absent-mindedly picked up the spade as he continued to speak“She always said I was reserved as a boy at Hogwarts,” he said as if Buckbeak would know what he was talking about.

 

“That was nothing compared to how I became after they all left me.  I knew the wizarding community.”  Who would want to be friends with a depressed werewolf?  Nobody wants to do much with a werewolf at all, let alone hear about a werewolf whose life has been an internal struggle.

 

Buckbeak was momentarily startled as some stray dirt from Remus’ intense digging landed at his feet. “Sorry, boy,” Remus said apologetically.

 

“When Albus got in touch with me, I was shocked about Sirius’ escape.  But from somewhere deep inside of me came a bit of hope that he would find me and tell me that everyone was wrong.  That he had not killed them all.” Remus scoffed at himself as he tossed another shovelful of dirt aside. Well, it seemed a ludicrous hope at the time.

 

Once again, his mind was back at Hogwarts... 

 

Remus’ friends were all gone and he was no longer a child. He was a professor now.  There would be no more Slytherin baiting or midnight strolls with wands at the ready.  He was back in his office laughing silently to himself, having just run up the stairs from the Slytherin dungeons after charming Snape’s class book early one morning before breakfast so it erased all marks made by students that week. All marks were erased – good and bad, so he would not be able to reconstruct which students had received the poor marks. James would have been proud of him for adding that memory charm so Snape wouldn’t remember any of the grades.  Not a single student got a poor mark that week, not even Neville.

 

He laughed silently to himself at the memory as he came back to the present.  “He deserved those pranks!  The way he treated Harry!  I had to do something that would make James proud.

 

“Harry … I wanted so desperately to be able to say something to him, but I couldn’t.  There is a fine line not to be crossed; professors cannot have personal relationships with students.  So I kept quiet about James during all those Patronus lessons.”  Remus paused, then shook his head.  “Who am I kidding?  I was terrified of answering questions about James and Lily; I didn’t know if I could stay in control and think about them again.”

 

Remus shovelled the black dirt on top of yet another house-elf head. How many were there? 

 

“And when Harry mentioned Sirius’ name … it was with such hatred. A part of me wanted to defend Sirius, but I did nothing.”

 

A thought struck him. “Maybe you knew Sirius even then.”  He looked expectantly at Buckbeak.

 

But there was no answer.  Buckbeak may have been listening to Remus, but he was not a good conversationalist.

 

“That night at the Shrieking Shack … that wretched place I’d hoped never to set foot in again. Seeing Sirius and what Azkaban had done to him ... One of the happiest moments of my life was when Sirius confirmed his innocence. That knot I’d been carrying around in the pit of my stomach for all those long years dissolved … his name was going to be cleared,” Remus said, a broad smile lighting up his face.  But then the smile suddenly vanished.

 

“Then the lycanthropy got in the way again … fouled everything up, as usual. Sirius was caught …at least the two of you escaped, no thanks to me.”

 

A frown creased Remus’ forehead. I still kick myself!  Why didn’t I take that blasted potion?  It was entirely my fault!  Sirius would’ve been free if it hadn’t been for me… Snape must’ve been so pleased with himself, that foul blast-ended skrewt! At least I knew Sirius was innocent and was free, even though the Ministry was still after his blood...  But I could contact him… I had him back.

 

“That night when he turned up on my doorstep and said Dumbledore had sent him … so many things to catch up on. All the old times with James and Lily… and Fiona.”   Remus paused for a couple of minutes and sighed as he patted the rich black dirt over the last of the house-elves.  “Fiona … He really loved her, you know.”

 

Remus threw the spade into the now empty wheelbarrow angrily.  “But now to have him snatched away from us.  To lose him again ... forever.  He won’t come back.  He can’t.  How I wish I were wrong … how I wish there were a way to get him back from beyond that damned veil!”  He paused for a moment and spat out in disgust, “Listen to me …I sound like Harry with his naïve hopes, refusing to accept the truth.  Sirius is gone.  He’s left us.”

 

Remus balled his hands into fists.  The muscles in his face tightened and the veins in his neck strained.  “He left you …he left me … he left Harry …all because he had to taunt Bellatrix.   All because of that damned evil family of his.  Why couldn’t he just end it with her?  Why’d he have to ask her if that was the best she could do?  What did he expect she would do? His cockiness is what got him killed, you know!

 

“That same cockiness that made him do something foolish like go to the train as Snuffles,” he spat out bitterly before taking a deep breath and continuing.  “That idiot!  He was always so reckless!  Always thought he knew best. He never thought what it would be like to lose him again.  To have him back only for him to die!” he exploded, kicking the wheelbarrow so forcefully it turned over.

 

Remus was breathing quite hard now and could feel the tears welling up inside him as he stared at the spinning wheel of the fallen wheelbarrow.  “Peter’s made his choice.  Sirius is with James and Lily.  And I’m stuck here trying to pick up the pieces!  Stuck with his house, his hippogriff, and an enormous gash growing larger in my heart.” He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to regain control of himself.

 

“Everyone is so used to seeing me in such a calm controlled temper.  Yet I cannot for the life of me control these wild emotions.  How do I go on without any hope?  What do I say to Harry?  What’s Harry going to expect of me?  Is he going to want to even talk with me, let along share his feelings, fears, hopes and dreams?  I know I wouldn’t if I were in his boots.”

 

Remus looked around.  Buckbeak was looking at him, his head slightly tilted.  “Listen to me, talking like this… as if it changes anything.  A right nut case you are, Lupin!  Ready to be chucked into St. Mungo’s.”

 

He took a deep breath and put the wheelbarrow and spade in the shed.  “Got to pull myself together.  Sirius is dead; he’s gone and nothing I say or do is going to change that.  Even if he could come back, he wouldn’t want a life like this, being stuck here day after day, slowly rotting away like the house he was living in.  He’d want to be out there helping us in the field.  We’ve got to find and destroy Voldemort for him, for all of us.  I’ve got you to look after, and Harry, if he lets me.”  He paused.  “Come on, let’s go inside.” 

 

That afternoon, Remus got rid of the troll umbrella stand from the front hall.  Never did care much for trolls.  He also cleaned the scorch marks and ashes from the burning of the tapestry and Mrs Black’s picture.  That old hag!  After that, he trudged downstairs to the kitchen to clean up in there.  Blast!  The dishes! How could I have forgot to wash them?   His step became brisk and determined as he walked over to the sink, pushing his sleeves back up.  He’d wash them by hand – he needed to keep doing something.  Heavens, the place is a mess! He turned to make sure he had not missed anything.

 

His face paled as his eyes fell upon a silver goblet still on the table.  Sirius.

 

A knock at the front door pulled him from his thoughts.  Just what I do not need – visitors.  With a sigh, he dragged himself upstairs and opened the door. Mundungus Fletcher.

 

Mundungus quickly came inside, removed his worn hat from his ginger hair, and nodded briefly.  He looked sadly at Remus with his watery, red eyes.

 

“Remus.”  The warm, sickly sweet odour of firewhiskey was overpowering.  Remus winced slightly as he took two small steps backwards.

 

“Hello, Mundungus.”  Remus motioned him toward the kitchen. 

 

Mundungus caught his breath just as he turned to go down the flight of stairs to the kitchen.

 

“Bloody hell!  Must’ve had more of this than I thought! Wha’ happened to all those nasty house-elves that were on that wall?  Never really cared for ’em meself other than the one with the big ears … rather fond I was of that one, reminded me of me grandmum.”  He moved to take a closer look.  “Aye, they’re gone all right.  Thought it must’ve been too much a good thing at first for them devils to be gone,” he said, reaching inside his robes, grabbing his flask of firewhiskey and saluting the bare wall.

 

“Yes, well…hmm-mmm…” Remus cleared his throat.  “I’ve done a bit of house cleaning.”

 

Mundungus nodded quietly, still staring at the bare wall.  Then his eyes lit up and he gave a well-practised smile as he pointed at it and began to speak with an air of a used broom salesman.  “Ye know, I know where I can get me hands on some top of the line mirrors and fancy paintings for ye to fancy this place up.  Dirt cheap.  Ye can’t turn down an excellent opportunity like that.”

 

Remus choked a laugh barely managing to turn it into a cough instead.

 

“Thank you, no.  Perhaps another time.”  Last thing I want to do now is purchase some stolen mirrors and paintings.

 

Mundungus stared at the wall a bit longer.  “Right.  Well, maybe later.”  He turned his full attention to Remus. “I’ve been to the Alley.  Heard what happened.”

 

“I see.”  The question is which Alley – Diagon or Knockturn.  “I’m sure The Daily Prophet is reporting all the details now that the Ministry has been forced to admit the truth,” Remus said bitterly as he led the way back down to the kitchen.

 

“Look ‘ere … I’m sorry about Sirius.  Always gave me a fair shake.  Never looked down at me because of me um… associates.  I know some of the Order don’t approve of me, but not Sirius. Always welcomed me at the dinner table, he did.”  Mundungus looked down at the table before him, his pouchy eyes resting on Sirius’ ornate silver goblet.

 

Remus snatched the goblet and began to wash it rather quickly.  It can’t stay there forever. The light in the kitchen was getting fainter as the sun began to set.  He felt Mundungus’ eyes on him. 

 

“Yes?”  He said as he turned to face the dishevelled man before him.

 

Mundungus fidgeted as he cleared his throat.  “Remus, I don’t mean to be nosing about your business, but umm… when’s the last time you ate?  You look rather pale, mate.”

 

“Ate?  I’m eating.  Why I ate only …. ”  When the devil did I eat last?  It couldn’t have been yesterday!  That toast with Dumbledore and Moody.  “Don’t worry about me.  I ate some toast earlier.”  Remus felt the back of his neck growing warmer.  Now that Mundungus had mentioned it, he did feel a knot of hunger in his stomach.

 

“Right, mate. Then you must’ve eaten just enough toast for a flobberworm.  C’mon.  I’ll fix you something to eat.  Could do wiv’ a bit of something meself.”  Mundungus got up, sauntered over to the pantry on his bandied legs, and started rummaging around.

 

“No, really, Mundungus… I’m fine.  Look, I can fix something for both of us.”  Remus said as he hastily dried his hands and went to the pantry, pulling out the ingredients to make pumpkin pancakes. I must be the polite host.  Besides, I’ve had the misfortune of tasting his cooking.  Three days in St. Mungo’s.

 

“Well, if you insist, Remus.  Never was much of a cook anyway.”  Mundungus seemed satisfied that he was going to get fed and sat back down at the table and waited.  A few minutes passed as Remus started the ingredients to mixing themselves together. Sirius’ old recipe he got from Fiona.


“’Ere, lad.”  Mundungus fished in a pocket inside his robes and took something small out.  “Thought you or Harry Potter should have this.”  He pushed the item toward Remus, who finished drying his hands before coming back to the table.  He picked up the item and examined it.  It was Sirius’ old pocket watch.  He opened the golden lid and read the inscription:

 

Padfoot,

 

No matter how much time has passed, the four of us will always be there for each other.

 

Moony, Wormtail, and Prongs

 

The back of Remus’ throat went dry.  Incapable of speech, he looked quizzically at Mundungus as he felt for the chair and sat down. Finally, he managed to speak, though it was barely audible.  “We gave this to him that Christmas he finally left his infernal family. I don’t mean any offence, but … why would Sirius have given this to you?”

 

“Surprised he gave it to me, are ye?  So was I.  Lemme tell ye how I came by it.”

 

“Yes, please do,” gulped a puzzled Remus.

 

“’Bout two years ago, I met Sirius in Hogsmeade. Scrounging in some dustbins he was.  Found ’im there behind a store late at night.  Didn’t see me approach.  He must’ve nicked everything he wanted from in there, ’cause he came out and turned into the biggest black brute of a dog I’ve ever seen.  Still, it weren’t much.  He looked powerfully thin, ’specially for such a large animal.  His ribs were sticking clean through his sides.  I could even see his hips.   Worst of all, I could see his heartbeat through his furry neck.  Turned me stomach, it did.”  Mundungus winced at the memory.  The thought of Sirius like that reminded Remus of how Sirius looked at the Shrieking Shack.

 

“Why didn’t you turn Sirius in to the authorities?”  Remus asked.

 

Mundungus guffawed.  “Me?  Go to the Ministry? Think they would take anything I said seriously?”  He sobered up.  “’Sides, I felt right sorry for the chap.  Couldn’t ’ave turned him in even if I wanted to.  And I didn’t want to – never did sit right with me that he could do such a thing.  Ministry’s not perfect, ye know… don’t trust ’em to always get the right man… seen ’em make too many mistakes during me life.”  He shook himself slightly, as if to rid himself of an unpleasant memory.

 

“Anyway, I’d been having a bit of Ogden’s that night, so I didn’t believe me eyes at first – kind of like just now with those house-elf heads.  But the brute was still there in front of me.  I went over and offered him the heel of a loaf of bread I still had on me. I put the firewhiskey down to get the bread out of my pocket. Shocked he was to see me at first, but he took it after sniffing me careful-like so’s he could see I meant him no harm. After that, he scampered off right quick.  I watched him a bit and then I left. 

 

“Weren’t ’till later when I remembered I was supposed to see Arabella Figg the next day that I realised that I’d left the firewhiskey behind.  I always need a stiff drink after seeing her albums of her ruddy cats.  But, no, I’d left it behind.  Me, leaving something so important on the ground for anyone to find!  Well, I went back to get it, but it was gone.  Such a waste!  I looked around carefully, but all I saw were four of the biggest paw prints I ever did see.  I knew it were ’im.  So I followed the tracks all the way back to a cave far out of town.”

 

Those caves.  How many times did we investigate them on full moon nights?  Wormtail was always taunting us that he could get in when we couldn’t.  Poor Prongs always had it roughest with those hooves of his – slipping and sliding on the rocks – and his big antlers getting in the way and preventing him from entering the caves with smaller openings.

 

“… watching for ’im and always made sure to have some food on me.”  Right… Mundungus … the watch.  Remus pulled his chair closer to the table and tried to pay closer attention.  “I felt right sorry for ’im.  I know wha’ it’s like to be down on me luck and to be hiding.  Whenever I saw ’im nearby, I always gave ’im some food.  He took it quickly at first.  As time went on, he grew a little more trusting, even though I always felt like he was giving me the once over.  But he seemed to really be grateful for me help.  I never did let on as how I knew it was ’im.

 

“I didn’t see ’im for a while.  So, I took me chances and went up to that cave I knew he was hiding in.  He was there, all right, but in his human form.  He was shaking with fever and didn’t have proper blankets or anything.  I told ’im I’d be right back with some medicines and blankets.  He knew I didn’t have two knuts to pinch together, and neither did he.  He insisted that I take the watch and use it to get what I needed.

 

“Must’ve been really touched with the fever to trust me with a solid gold watch!  I tried to refuse, but he insisted.  So, I took the watch so I could get going.  He was in a bad way and needed help.”

 

“Didn’t you think to go to Dumbledore?  He knew Sirius was innocent!”  Remus said in disbelief as he got up to stop the ingredients before the batter got too rubbery and placed the pan on one of the rings on the old cooker.

 

“Of course I did!  What do you take me for, a bloody fool?” cried Mundungus indignantly. 

 

Remus started melting the butter in the pan as he thought of how Mundungus had gone off on a business venture when he was supposed to be guarding Harry last summer at Privet Drive.

 

“I went to Dumbledore straight away.  Course, I didn’t know he knew ’bout Sirius back then, so’s I made out it was an acquaintance of mine, you see.  Dumbledore gave me wha’ I needed straight off.  He even offered to have Madam Pomfrey come out, but I said ‘no’ since Sirius was wanted by the Ministry. 

 

Poppy would have known what to do!  She would have got in touch with me.  I know she would.  She used to think the world of Sirius.

 

“I offered Dumbledore some of me own money for the medicines, but he’d have none of it.  I knew that watch must be really important for Sirius to have it on ’im.  Still don’t know how he got it back after his escape from Azkaban.”

 

He got it because I owled it to him after I left Hogwarts,” Remus added quietly, almost to himself.I knew how much it meant to him and thought he would like to have it near him while he was still avoiding the Ministry – to remind him that his friends were always with him.”  That I wouldn’t desert him again.

 

“Huh.  So that’s how it were.  Anyway,” continued Mundungus, “I thought ’bout selling it.  Had a good deal on dragon’s teeth I could’ve used the galleons for.  Right tempting offer it was!  But I didn’t.  Wouldn’t sell nothing that meant so much to a bloke.  So I kept it for ’im until he got better.  Later on, when I went to give it back to ’im, he was gone and I’d no way of reaching ’im.  Poor bloke.”

 

“Then why didn’t you give it to me?” asked Remus in astonishment as he made the pancakes.  “You knew what close friends we had been.”

 

“That’s the point.  I knew wha’ close friends you had been.  Last I heard from Dumbledore before last summer, ye still were refusing to talk about Sirius. So I figgered ye wouldn’t want nothin’ to remind ye of ’im. Then Sirius came and found me one night on Dumbledore’s orders and we all came here.  I tried to give it back to ’im.  But he said he didn’t want anything of his in this ruddy house.  Better for at least something of his to be free.  He told me not to sell it to use on any of me business ventures or he would ’ave my hide.  But he said that with a wicked smile on his face.  He knew I wouldn’t.  He was one of the few people what trusted me.  Always happy to see me, he was.”

 

Remus smiled thinly. “He’s not the only one.  I like seeing you, too.” Although not just now.

 

“I weren’t talking about ye, Remus.”  Mundungus shifted in his seat and said with disgust. “It’s Snape and Molly Weasley and lots of other witches and wizards who’d rather not be in me company ’cause of me associates and all.  But not Sirius.  He never looked down on me.  Dumbledore neither.  Always appreciated the information I brung ’im, even when others didn’t.” 

 

“Well some people cannot see that we need your … special talents.” Remus said tactfully as he served the pumpkin pancakes and sat down.

 

“Right you are, lad!” Mundungus wheezed with pride as he stuffed a forkful of pancake into his mouth with gusto.  As always, Mudundgus ate like he didn’t know where his next meal was coming from. “It’s not so easy as people think to hear about the things people don’t want ye to hear.  Takes cunning and talent.”  He stabbed more pancake heartily with his fork and smiled.

 

“Indeed,” said Remus with a pleasant smile as he forced a bit of pancake into his mouth with little enthusiasm.

 

“Sirius and I used to swap stories about how to get information and certain … commodities … that are difficult to come by,” said Mundungus lazily.  “I’ll never forget ’im telling me how he used to pretend to be a sad dog with no home to beg some food.  He used to try to beg round back where the house-elves were, hoping they’d feel sorry for ’im.”  Mundungus gave a great big guffaw of a laugh.  “They did, too.  While he was there, he’d nick some newspapers to try to get information on Harry and You-Know-Who.”

 

“Sirius always was good at uncovering information.  It was one of his strong suits as an Auror,” said Remus, smirking slightly at the memory of Sirius’ creativity.

 

Mundungus rambled slowly on.  There was no stopping him once he was in the throws of a good story. “There was this one time back in Hogsmeade that we both spotted somebody throwing a Daily Prophet in a trash bin,” said Mundungus.  He took a swig from his flask and leaned closer to Remus.  Oh, that nasty breath! 

 

“He was in dog form, course.  He couldn’t speak. He looks at me, and I looks at ’im and we both start walking quickly to the bin with that there paper in it.  Pretty soon, we’re both running.  Weren’t much of a contest, me against a big brute like ’im.  He ran away with the paper.  Next time I saw ’im, wouldn’t ye know he laid that paper down at me feet!”  Mundungus gave a great laugh as he finished with a swaggering flourish of his flask.  “Had tooth marks and dog slobber on it, but it was the same paper.  That was Sirius for ye.”  Mundungus sprayed Remus with a bit of firewhiskey as he laughed through the ending of his tale.

 

Despite the unsolicited shower from Mundungus, a bit of warmth spread inside Remus as he heard this story.  Sirius had never told it to him, but it was so like him.

 

They finished eating the pancakes.  It actually felt better to have some food in his stomach.  At last, Mundungus left and Remus took care of Buckbeak before settling in the drawing room to think some more.

 

It was nearly nine in the evening when he crept back down to his room, lit a candle, and sat in the leather chair looking out the window at the fog closing in around the world outside.  He alternated between pleasant memories of Sirius and feelings of anger and sadness at his loss.  When the candle had burnt all the way down and extinguished itself, Remus took no notice.  He remained in his chair, lost in thought.

 

Remus could hear Sirius singing some Muggle tune.

 

Oh, what a beautiful mornin',

Oh, what a beautiful day,

I got a beautiful feelin'

Ev'rything's goin' my way.

Oh, what a beautiful day.   

 

Why was Remus hearing this?  He was still upstairs, tucked neatly in his bed.  Just then, he felt something odd in his right ear and reached up with his fingers to see what it was.

 

An extendable ear.  Sirius.  Another annoying Muggle song. He pulled it out of his ear and followed the thin flesh coloured string with his eyes.  It led out the door.  He moved the bedcovers aside, got out of bed and followed the string, winding it up in his hand as he went.  Down the long passage it led, past Sirius’ messy room, past the one Harry and Ron had used, and still it continued.  On and on he followed it, eventually down the stairs and into the bright cool kitchen.

 

There were already orange juice and tea on the kitchen table, which was covered with a floor length white tablecloth.  The table was set with the best Black family china and silverware.  And there were… flowers on the table in a crystal vase. Over on the marble benchtop, Remus saw the toast and orange marmalade, waiting to be brought to the table.

 

And there was Sirius.  What was he wearing?  A huge preposterous white fluffy hat of some sort was on his head and a large white apron covered his torso.  He wielded a spatula in his right hand as he stood in front of a pan on the cooker, making eggs.  He was still singing.

 

All the sounds of the earth are like music,

All the sounds of the earth are like music,

The breeze is so busy it don't miss a tree,

And a ol' weepin' willer is laughin' at me!

 

Sirius turned to face Remus, a huge smile lighting up his face as he sung to him.

 

Oh, what a beautiful mornin',

Oh, what a beautiful day,

I got a beautiful feelin'

Ev'rything's goin' my way.

Oh, what a beautiful day.   

 

Padfoot? You feeling all right?”  Remus asked disbelievingly as he grabbed the end of the extendable ear hovering right in front of Sirius’ mouth.

 

“Splendid, splendid!” said Sirius, his eyes dancing.

 

“What’s with all this?  The fancy china and all?  Singing?  You haven’t acted like this since we’ve been in this house.”

 

“Moony, I was just thinking that you and I need to try to cheer up.   I’m tired of feeling depressed day after day.  And you don’t look much better, mate.  Going around silently, not telling me everything.  I know there’s plenty of danger out there.  But it’s almost Christmas and maybe Dumbledore will let Harry come here for the holidays!  That’s what I was thinking of this morning as I woke up.  So, I wanted to get everything ready, just in case.”

 

Remus shook his head with a smile.  “Padfoot, you are amazing. Everything you have been through, you still can have as much fun as a child at times.”

 

Sirius laughed back and sent the toast and marmalade over to the table with an easy flick of his wand.

 

Remus started spreading the marmalade on the toast for them as Sirius finished up with the eggs and served them with a dramatic presentation.

 

“You know,” said Remus guardedly, “ he isn’t likely to let Harry come here.  He’s better protected at Hogwarts.”

 

“Doesn’t seem so safe to me with that Umbridge woman about.”  Sirius growled.

 

“No, she is not one to be trifled with; I have unfortunately felt her sting in my lack of employment.”  Remus said resignedly, then his voice took on a more gentle tone as he looked Sirius directly in the eyes.  “But there are other dangers around and you know it.”

 

“True.  And who better to protect him from them than his own godfather here in a place that is unplottable?” replied Sirius as if trying to convince himself as much as Remus. Sirius’ eyes darkened and his voice lowered so slightly that only Remus would notice the difference.  “Besides, don’t spoil my good mood.  Let me try to dream a little.  You mind?”

 

Remus smiled a little to himself; he owed Sirius that much at the very least.  “No, certainly not.  You’re right.  Sorry.”

 

“Good.  Then let’s start planning on how we can get a giant Christmas tree in this place without anyone knowing about it!”  The air lightened immediately.

 

“As long as it doesn’t involve a foray into the Forbidden Forest, you’re on.”

 

Breakfast continued with plans of trees, fairy lights, and many other wonderful dreams, being discussed, none more wonderful than imagining having with Harry there for Christmas.  It was a glorious morning.

 

 

Remus awoke tangled in his bed linens.  Although the sun was shining brightly into his bedchamber, there was no smell of eggs and no bustle in the kitchen.  No singing.  The present was stark and bare.

 

Sirius had something beautiful in this house after all.  He got his Christmas with Harry as he had wished, thank goodness.  It wasn’t all bad.

 

Remus rose and led Buckbeak into the garden for a while.  Once outside, Remus sat in the garden and stared at the large stone statue of Salazar Slytherin.  How could Sirius have been part of this family?  It never made any sense.

 

Why was Sirius dead while Bellatrix was still alive?  Where is the justice in that?  How could Fudge have been so blind?  Why didn’t Dumbledore see that Sirius and Harry needed more than physical safety to keep them alive?  To be really alive, you need warmth, love, and people around you who can give you those things without hesitation. Why didn’t I do something to help Sirius?  I was supposed to be his best friend, yet I did nothing.  Nothing. 

 

I never did anything.  Why didn’t I even go to see him at Azkaban to hear his side of the story?  Why did I accept the Ministry’s and Dumbledore’s word? He was all that was left … and I did not even give him a chance to try to explain.  How stupid I was!  All those years wasted!  And now he’s gone.  Forever.

 

He’s really gone.  He’s not coming back.  Strange how distant a memory he already seems.

 

It was late afternoon before Remus thought about going back inside. 

 

He managed to remember to eat a small meal that night, although his thoughts of that afternoon kept echoing in his head.

 

Wearily he trudged to bed.  Sleep came more easily to him that night as his mind started to accept the inevitable truth about Sirius’ death. 

 

Remus found himself back in the garden the next morning. “Four days.  Sirius has been dead four days already. It seems like an eternity.  Yet, it seems like he is still alive … like I will see him as soon as I enter the next room.  What is time? It has no meaning.  He was alive, then as good as dead, then alive again, and then dead again,” Remus pondered aloud as he set the wards around Buckbeak.  Sirius wasn’t the first loss he had suffered, but losing Sirius a second time was different than the others.

 

“James was alive and then he died.  Yet he lives on in Harry.  I see more and more of James in Harry as he gets older.  Or maybe it’s that as James got older, he caught up to Harry in maturity.”

 

He sat on the granite bench.  The back of the bench was carved to resemble two entwined elaborate snakes whose heads made up the arm rests.  Remus cupped his chin in his hands as his elbows rested on his knees.  A gentle breeze blew through his hair.

 

“Peter was alive, but then we thought him dead, but now he lives again, but is as good as dead as far as we were concerned.”  He shook his head.  These circular thoughts were just too much.

 

It doesn’t make any sense.

 

“And I … I was alive and then I thought myself dead when I received the bite.  Then I came alive again at Hogwarts… then I died when I thought they were all dead… and then I started to live again back at Hogwarts with teaching, Harry, and then Sirius, and now…  and now…”

 

And now what?  Good question, Lupin.  Now, what’s the answer?

 

Remus straightened up slowly as the answer dawned on him.

 

I don’t know.  I have no idea what the answer is.

 

The early morning breeze brought with it the rich smells of the grass, oak tree, and the warm dirt.  Smells of life.  Yet, Remus felt oddly detached from it all.

 

He sat and tried to think, but his thoughts were still so full of Sirius that it was impossible for him to think clearly.  Eventually, he gave up and brought Buckbeak back inside to his room and fed him a couple of extra rats for good measure.

 

Just as he contemplated whether it was worth it to make breakfast for himself, a knock on the door caught him by surprise.  Who could that be?  Nobody’s supposed to be here until tomorrow.

 

“Good morning, Remus,” Arthur said once Remus had shut the front door behind him.  Remus took Arthur’s hat and cloak and hung them up for him.

 

“Good morning, Arthur.  I wasn’t expecting to see you until tomorrow.”

 

“Yes… well … um …” Arthur started before giving up on trying to explain.  Instead, he thrust a covered crock at Remus.

 

“This is from Molly.  She said she doubted you had eaten one square meal since … well, you know… and that I was to be certain to stop by on my way to the Ministry and give you this.  You know Molly… always feels better if she’s helping.”

 

Remus took the crock, feeling slightly stunned.

 

“Please be sure to thank her for me.”  Remus led the way into the kitchen to put the crock away.  “May I get your something?  Tea? Something to eat?”

 

“Tea perhaps,” Arthur said uncomfortably.  “Actually … I have another reason for my visit.  You see, the Ministry is investigating what happened that night and is having everyone who was involved fill out detailed reports.  I thought I’d spare you going down there; I brought the papers with me.  I can pick them up tomorrow evening at the meeting.  Kingsley and I thought it would be best this way.  Good man, Kingsley.  He managed to get Fudge to agree.”

 

For the second time in two minutes, Remus was stunned – not by the report that he had to complete; he had expected that.  He was touched by the thoughtfulness of Arthur and Kingsley and their ability to convince Fudge of anything reasonable.

 

“Thank you, Arthur.  Truly,” he said quietly, his mouth dry.  “That will make it much more … bearable.  Please, have a seat,” he motioned.

 

Arthur sat down at the table and pulled the papers out of his pocket as Remus began preparing the tea.   

 

“I would ask how you are, but I have a fairly good idea,” said Arthur, a clear note of sympathy in his voice.

 

Remus cocked his eyebrow at Arthur sceptically as he set the tea down just a little too hastily.  “Do you?”

 

“I think so.  You did not know me really back at the time of the first war against You-Know-Who, but my family, like many others, was … touched.”  Arthur’s looked pointedly at Remus as he continued in a sad voice.  “I had three older brothers.  Edward went into service with the International Confederation of Magic and lives abroad. Andrew is a teacher at the Borealis Academy for Young Witches and Wizards in Essex.  He always enjoyed teaching the little ones.  My other brother, Charles, had been an Auror with the Ministry back when you lot were first starting at Hogwarts. In fact, he was my twin.  He was one of the first to openly oppose You-Know-Who and he paid for it with his life.  The look of abject terror on his face is something my parents never recovered. He was only twenty-three; no parent, no sibling expects to lose a loved one at twenty-three.” 

 

“My lord, Arthur.  I had no idea; I am so sorry,” Remus said in astonishment. 

 

“Yes.  It is not something that I enjoy telling people.  I could not understand how my twin brother, who had played with Quidditch with me that Christmas and given me a brand new Muggle ten-speed cybicle for my Muggle collection, could all of a sudden be dead.  He was so bright and happy all the time, at least he was around me.  I couldn’t understand that I would never see him again because some monster had decided he of all people was the enemy and destroyed him. And so he was gone.”  Arthur was staring into the vacant space before him.

 

Remus moved about the room, eventually fumbling with the teapot as he got more tea.   Damn.  Arthur’s own twin brother.  “I’m sorry, Arthur.  I don’t know what to say.”

“There is nothing to say; there never is, and that is something of the point.  It happened a long time ago.  All our friends and relatives came to pay their respects.  They all brought food for us and said how sorry they were.  They kept coming over in droves those first few days, hovering over us, always asking us how we felt; they had no idea.  Oh, sure, some of them had experienced deaths of family or friends before, but not from something sudden like this when the person had been fighting to make the wizarding world free of a monster like You-Know-Who.”  Even after all these years, the anger and bitterness still resounded in Arthur’s voice.  It was something Remus had never heard in Arthur’s voice before. 

 

“When someone who is older dies, we expect it.  We prepare ourselves for it, but that wasn’t the case with Charles.  Oh, sure, I knew his work was dangerous and could lead to his death, but that was an abstract idea.  It wasn’t real, not to me. Of all my brothers, Charles was the one I was closest to.  He is the only one who really understood me.  He didn’t think me odd for liking Muggle things; to the contrary, he encouraged me.  He was the one who got me my very first Muggle light bulb, which I still treasure it to this day.  Charles and I had all sorts of secrets; we understood what the other was thinking without verbal communication.  I have never been able to have that connection of thought with anyone else, not even Molly.”

 

Remus sat down and looked down at his teacup for a few minutes.  Finally he spoke barely above a whisper.  “So you understand.  I’ve been experiencing those feelings, too.  I was there and saw him die, but I still have trouble accepting it.  I am so… “  His voice trailed off.

 

“Lost?  Confused?  Feeling alone?  Guilty that you should’ve done something to prevent his death or make his life better?” 

 

Remus looked up at him, a bit surprised to hear his own thoughts voiced.

 

Arthur smiled kindly at him for a moment before his face softened and took on a sympathetic and understanding air.  “I felt all those things, too,” he continued softly.  “As well as anger toward my brother for dying and leaving me alone. Yes, it’s all right to feel that, too – you just forget.  All I wanted to do was to be left alone.  I didn’t feel like I belonged with everyone else anymore.  I felt separated.  Eventually, the pain lessened and I was able to move on.  Molly and I named our next son after my brother to honour him and so he would never be forgotten, but I would never forget him anyway.  He lives on in my memories and has helped shape who I am and what I do today.”

 

Remus fingered the teacup again, trying to work through what Arthur had been telling him.  His eyebrows were knitted together.  He could feel Arthur’s eyes on him.

 

“You think about it, Remus.  Time will help.  Tomorrow, Tonks and that Portia will be coming here in the morning.  Talk to Tonks.  You’re both grieving.  Later on, when we’re at the meeting, I‘ll try to keep Molly away from you.  Even though she means well, she tends to be a bit smothering when she sees someone in pain. I know what she was like when Charles died and it would be best if you had less to do with her until you’re feeling stronger.”

 

Arthur moved the Ministry papers toward Remus, who picked them up without looking and turned them over slowly in his fingers.  Arthur rose and put a hand on Remus’ shoulder.

 

“Talk to Tonks and try to remember how much Sirius lived.  His life may have been short and he definitely suffered a great deal, but he lived his life to its fullest.  He did not waste it.” 

 

Remus nodded, his eyes still cast down.

 

“I’ll let myself out.”

 

//
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