Remus returned to Grimmauld Place following the confrontation with the Dursleys. After an hour or so of wandering aimlessly from room to room he realised he needed to get away from the house for a while, and almost without thinking, he found himself at the pub that had been like a second home to James and Sirius during their Auror Days.
The Dragon's Rest was located in Knockturn Alley and had the sort of reputation that made the Hogs Head seem as innocuous as Florean Fortescue's ice cream parlour.
Remus ordered a Firewhiskey, found a table near the back wall and sat facing the room. Previous experience here had taught him that it was best to see the hexes coming at you rather than giving the locals target practice at your back. Looking around, he noticed few changes to the pub in the last fifteen years. The atmosphere was still thick with choking green smoke, but the smoke was not quite heavy enough to completely hide the assorted transactions taking place in the corners furthest from the doors. He was careful not to concentrate too closely on those doing business - over the years anyone who appeared too interested in the dealings in the corners tended to turn up in pieces scattered over an area of several miles. Remus was positive that that practice wouldn't have changed much, if at all, in the years since he was last there.
The regulars, almost without exception, wore hooded cloaks to try and hide their identity. He was slightly amused to note that even the barman had pulled his hood over his head. Despite the disguises, he thought he recognised a couple of locals, although it was best not to let them realise that.
The only new addition to the décor was a sign above the bar - "We survived the purge of '82", referring to the now infamous Auror raids that followed Voldemort's first fall. Over-enthusiastic Aurors had forcibly closed down many businesses in Knockturn Alley, but The Dragon's Rest had kept trading. Rumour suggested that certain people had been bribed, however several Ministry officials spent several frustrating months auditing the books and had given up trying to make any sense out of them.
For the first time in many years he gave serious thought to drinking himself into oblivion. But instead he'd spent most of the last hour staring into his Firewhiskey.
"I'd wondered where you'd gone." Kingsley slipped into the chair opposite Remus and looked around. "I wouldn't have thought to ever find you in a pub like this. I would've thought you've got more class."
"So how did you find me?" Remus asked disinterestedly.
Kingsley shrugged. "I remember coming here with James a couple of times," he answered.
Remus finally looked up from his drink. "This time a week ago …" he began, then stopped. "This time a week ago we were sitting down to supper at Grimmauld Place."
Kingsley sighed. "I know - I've been thinking the same thing. I'll just get myself a drink and then we can talk." He returned a few minutes later, and deliberately ignored the fairly intense negotiations taking place at the next table. "You do choose the most interesting places, you know."
Remus smiled. "Blame James and Sirius," he said. "They loved places like this, which meant I spent a fair amount of time drinking in dodgy pubs. Drinking's fine, but I wouldn't recommend ordering anything to eat."
Kingsley looked dubiously at his glass. "I'm assuming that the alcohol will kill any bugs," he said. He didn't sound convinced.
"So how are things at the Ministry?" Remus asked.
"It's absolute madness there, but we're not going to discuss that now," Kingsley told him. He leaned back in his seat. "You're very good at that."
Remus frowned. "At what?"
"Changing the subject away from yourself," Kingsley said. "It's not going to work this time."
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"You know exactly what I mean." Kingsley swirled the Firewhiskey in his glass then took a sip. "Mother of God, this stuff's foul," he grimaced. "Remus, we're worried about you - you've just lost your best friend again."
"I hate that word. It sounds as if Sirius is merely misplaced and will show up when we remember where we've put him. I appreciate the sentiment, Kingsley, but I need to deal with this by myself."
"Yes, and from what I've heard, it just about killed you last time when you tried to deal with it yourself."
Remus ran his hand over his face. "I'm not denying that it was a difficult time," he said slowly, "but …"
"But nothing," Kingsley interrupted. "Remus, you need to let go of Sirius."
Remus sighed. "I'm not sure I want to - not yet."
Kingsley nodded. "I know what you mean," he said softly. "It's easier said than done, isn't it?"
"Definitely," Remus answered, staring into his drink. He looked up. "I'm the last one left and this time …" He broke off. "It's permanent now."
Kingsley frowned. "I'm not quite sure what you mean by that."
"While Sirius was in Azkaban, he still existed. I certainly didn't have contact with him, but at least he was there. Now - now, there's not even a body that we can bury."
"What about Pettigrew? He's still alive."
"Not to me. Not after what he did. He's worse than dead now." He sipped his drink and grimaced at the taste. "Any news on his whereabouts?"
"Well, we know he wasn't at the Department of Mysteries last week," Kingsley answered. "My guess is he's wherever Voldemort is."
"Which is not Manchester," Remus said referring to another reported sighting mentioned in that morning's Prophet. Due to that story, Kingsley had spent most of the day trying to restore calm, and been unable to meet the Hogwarts Express with the rest of them.
"After today's wild goose chase, I can confirm that Voldemort is not in or anywhere near Manchester," Kingsley sighed. He leaned forward. "How are you? Really."
"I don't know. I suppose, to a certain extent, I'm angry." He closed his eyes. "It was all so pointless. Because we didn't tell Harry what he needed to know, Sirius is gone."
"That's a little simplistic, isn't it?"
"Maybe, but that's how I'm feeling at the moment." Remus slumped back against the back of his chair. "Intellectually, of course I know there's more to Sirius' death than that, but …" He sighed. " I don't know."
"It's all a mess," Kingsley agreed. "Still almost seems unreal."
"Really? It's all far too real for me," Remus commented bitterly. "Far too real."
"So who do you think is to blame for what happened last week?"
"To a certain extent, we're all to blame. Yes, we've all made mistakes throughout the last year, and it's a particularly harsh lesson that we've learned." He shrugged. "There's no one person to blame. As long as we've learnt something from all this, then that's all we can hope for."
"How was Kings Cross?" Kingsley asked.
Remus looked straight at him. "It went fine. The Dursleys received a friendly reminder about how to treat their nephew, that's all."
"Reminder or threat?" Kingsley asked dryly.
Remus shrugged. "That depends on your perspective, really."
Kingsley shook his head. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?"
Remus smiled, and for the first time in a long time, Kingsley understood exactly why he had fitted in so well with James and Sirius. "Trust me."
"Not bloody likely."
Little Whinging was a perfectly respectable sub division. In other words, a place where all houses looked the same and all residents has exactly the same standards on what was "normal".
Remus found it depressing, to say the least. We left Harry here to grow up, he thought, shaking his head. What on earth was Dumbledore thinking of?
Arabella Figg peered over his shoulder as he looked towards the end of Privet Drive. "It's that house there," she told him, pointing to the second house from the corner. "I think Harry's bedroom window is straight above the front door."
Remus squinted and thought he could see a thin figure silhouetted against the window. "I think he's sitting on the window sill," he said, "but from this distance, I can't be sure."
"Mr Tibbles told me that ever since Harry came home from school he's sat in that window for most of the day and night," Mrs Figg said vaguely.
Remus wasn't really prepared to ask Mrs Figg how she and her cats communicated. From past experience with Arabella Figg, he was fairly sure that the answer would be beyond his understanding. "Ah," he murmured. "I think I'll go and have a talk to Harry."
Mrs Figg caught his arm. "Remus, Dumbledore won't leave Harry here alone again as he did last summer?" she asked. "I don't think that would be good for him."
He shrugged. "Dumbledore always has his own agenda as regards Harry, but this year has taught him a fairly harsh lesson." Remus looked up at the window. "He must come back here every year for at least two weeks so that the Blood Protection can be renewed. Once that two week period is up, I'm going to arrange for him to go elsewhere for the rest of the holidays."
"Will he stay with you?"
"The choice will be his, but I'll make sure that he knows he's more than welcome to stay with us," Remus answered. "I'll go now and talk to Harry and the Dursleys and let you know what happens."
Remus crossed the road and briefly paused at Number Four's front door before he rang the doorbell. When the door opened he found himself facing the teenage boy that had been at Kings Cross with Mr and Mrs Dursley. "It's Dudley, isn't it?" he asked politely. "I wonder if I might have a word with Harry."
Dudley Dursley backed away from the door. "Mum!" he yelled.
"Mrs Dursley," Remus began as Petunia Dursley joined her son in the hall. "I'm…"
"I know who you are, freak!" she snarled. "I suppose you want to see the boy."
Remus was slightly taken aback by her attitude towards him. "I'd like to see Harry, yes," he said slowly. Behind Mrs Dursley, he saw Harry making his way downstairs. "Ah, there you are, Harry. I was wondering if you would like to go for a walk."
Harry shrugged. "If you like," he said listlessly.
Remus frowned. He knew, of course, that Sirius' death had upset Harry, but he wasn't expecting this apathy. "Well, let's go then," he said.
They wandered for a few streets and found a playground, where they sat down on a park bench. Remus frowned at the expression on Harry's face. "I'm not going to ask you how you are," he said quietly, "because I have a fairly good idea of how you're feeling at the moment."
Harry met his eyes then nodded. "I guess you do," he said. He looked over towards some shrubs. "That's where I first saw Sirius - although I didn't know it was him for a long time."
Remus smiled. "Was he Padfoot?"
"Yeah." Harry fell silent for a minute. "How do you cope with it, Professor Lupin?"
"I think, Harry, you can call me Remus. I'm not your teacher any more," Remus said gently. He sighed. "I cope because I must. I have no choice. Sometimes that means concentrating on each hour or even each second of each day until I realize I've made it to the end of the day." He leaned forward. "It'll never completely go away, Harry, but it will get easier, trust me."
"I don't want it to go away. I don't want to forget Sirius."
Remus gripped his shoulder. "You'll never forget him, Harry. I can assure you of that," he said. "In time, you'll remember the good things rather than the bad." He was silent for a few seconds. "How are the Dursleys treating you this summer?"
"Better than usual," Harry answered. "When can I leave?"
Remus raised an eyebrow. "If they're treating you better than they usually do, why are you so anxious to leave?"
"I - I don't belong here. I never really have, and since I started at Hogwarts, it's been even more uncomfortable," Harry muttered. "They don't want me here, and I don't want to be here."
"The charm needs you to remain in your aunt's house for a minimum of fourteen nights, Harry," Remus said. "I'd very much like it if, once the fourteen nights are up, you come and stay with me for the rest of the holidays. If you wish to stay with the Weasleys or Grimmauld Place, I'm not going to take offence."
Harry shrugged. "I like being with the Weasleys, but they're very…" he paused, trying to find the right word. "I'm just not sure I can cope with them at the moment." He shuddered. "As for going back to Grimmauld Place - no way." He nodded. "I'd like to stay with you, if that's OK."
Remus smiled. "Of course it is," he said.
Harry did some fast calculations. "That would be the day after the full moon," he said.
Remus nodded. "That's correct. If I'm not able to come, someone from the Order will come here for you."
"That'll go down well with Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia," Harry muttered. "After the other day."
"Weren't they happy?" Remus asked quickly.
"They're never happy with me," Harry answered, "but they're ignoring me at the moment." His lips twisted into something resembling a smile. "It's actually better when they're in this mood."
Remus wasn't sure how to respond to that comment. "Right," he managed finally.
"So where do you live, anyway?"
"Hmm? Oh, in Wales," Remus replied. "Between the mountains and the sea. It's a lovely, peaceful place that I hope you'll like."
"Well, peaceful has to be good for a start," Harry muttered.
For the next two weeks Harry ticked off another day on his calendar as he did when he was counting down the days till he returned to school. On the night before he was due to leave, he sat on his windowsill and stared at the moon, thinking of what would happen the next day.
Remus had written to him every day since their talk in the playground and had reassured him that someone would definitely come and get him the next day should the transformation be difficult.
He had written back to Remus, of course; short, meaningless letters that conveyed little of how he was feeling. Harry knew from the tone of Remus' letters that his former teacher was worried about him, but he was determined to keep Remus at a distance. After all, the people that Harry was closest to always ended up getting hurt in some way - or worse.
The Dursleys were still ignoring him, for the most part, although Aunt Petunia had asked him that morning when he was leaving. She offered to help him pack when Harry answered her. He politely declined her offer.
Remus wasn't his only correspondent. Ron and Hermione had also been writing to Harry every day. Hermione had sent him a book on Occlumency which he was struggling to read. Truth be told, it was something that he read only because he knew he had to learn how to block Voldemort from his mind - the book was even more boring than Slinkhart's Defence Against the Dark Arts textbook from last year.
Ron's letters alternated between lengthy descriptions of the Cannons' latest game - it appeared that they were winning for a change - and very brief notes where he tried not to mention what happened three weeks ago. By deliberately avoiding the subject, Ron made Sirius' death even more real - if such a thing was possible.
Harry stared at the moon and wondered how Remus was. Typically, his letters had given little away, but Harry knew that he had to be hurting. Remus was better at hiding his feelings than Harry was.
For the first time Harry thought about how it must have felt for Remus to lose everyone in the space of a day. At a time when the rest of the Wizarding world must have been celebrating the destruction of Voldemort, he must have been devastated. Watching Cedric be murdered was bad enough; seeing Sirius disappear behind the veil was infinitely more horrific than that. Harry didn't know how Remus had managed to stay sane after it appeared that three of his best friends had been murdered by the fourth.
He wasn't sure he could cope anymore. But neither could he allow anyone close to him. After all, the people closest to him died.
Remus knocked on the front door around the middle of the next morning. Harry couldn't help but notice that he didn't look well, but Remus quickly brushed aside Harry's concerns. "It was a rough transformation compared to the last few years, but I'm not surprised by that given the events of the last month," Remus said calmly.
They took Harry's trunk outside. "How are we going to get to your house?" Harry asked curiously.
"We'll take the Knight Bus," Remus told him. "It's not ideal, of course, but it's better than taking a trunk through the Floo Network - and I'm afraid I'm not able to double Apparate you and the trunk at the moment."
Harry was a little surprised to hear this. "What about the Muggles? There's no way that someone won't notice the Knight Bus - it's not exactly hard to miss."
"The Knight Bus is charmed so that Muggles can't see it, Harry," Remus explained. "In fact, although they know we're here, they're really not paying attention to us."
Harry shook his head. "I'll never get used to this."
Remus laughed. "Yes, you will," he said.
"Sometimes I wonder," Harry said wryly. "There's always something that I don't know."
Remus looked at him as he reached for his wand. "Trust me, Harry, as you get older you'll learn that there will always be something that you don't know." He summoned the Knight Bus.
Harry looked around and was surprised to see that none of the residents of Privet Drive appeared to notice anything out of the ordinary, although he wasn't quite sure how they missed seeing it. Bright purple triple decker buses were not exactly a commonplace sight in the Muggle world, after all.
Thankfully, the bus was almost empty and they were at Remus' home in next to no time.
"I hate travelling in the Knight Bus," Harry said as he stumbled down the bus steps.
Remus smiled sympathetically. "It's not my favourite way to travel, either," he admitted as he pushed open the gate. "Welcome to Spinners End, Harry."