The Sugar Quill
Author: Alkari (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: ...That's What Little Boys are Made of  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Author’s Note:  I greatly admire the works of Thing1, and as you can see from the title, my story was inspired by her "Snips and Snails and Puppy Dogs Tails".   My thanks to her for providing Remus Lupin with such wonderful parents (and Mrs Noyes).  She has kindly allowed me to borrow them, particularly Mr Edmund Lupin.

Here Mr Lupin remembers how he and Mrs Lupin met Sirius Black for the first time.   The boys are twelve and it is the summer holidays after their first year at Hogwarts.

Disclaimer:   Naturally I do not own JK Rowling’s characters.  She invented them and the wonderful world of Hogwarts. I am just visiting her world for a while.

*  *  *

 

It was summer and Remus was coming home.   As we waited on Platform 9 and ¾ with the throng of other parents and relatives, Gwen and I found it hard to believe that a whole year had passed and that Remus had spent it at Hogwarts. A dream come true for all of us.   We watched eagerly as the Hogwarts Express drew to a halt, students spilling noisily out of every door, but we couldn’t see our son.  For a brief moment I was suddenly afraid that for some strange reason he had missed the train altogether, but then we saw him step carefully onto the platform and pull his trunk out of the carriage.  Some boys his age waved at him and called out: he waved back, but then saw us and his schoolfriends were forgotten. Next minute we were hugging each other fiercely, Gwen wiping away tears of joy.

He looked very tired, though that was to be expected with the full moon occurring immediately after his exams. We passed through the barrier and started across the crowded terminal, Remus carrying his owl cage while I managed his trunk.

"Here Moony! I owe you these. See you soon!"   I turned sharply and glimpsed a black-haired boy clap Remus on the back, thrust something into his hands, and just as suddenly disappear into the crowds around us. Remus stood staring after him for a moment, then turned and showed us his gift. A box of chocolate frogs. Remus adored chocolate. But "Moony"? What was that all about? I saw the expression on Remus’ face and decided not to ask just yet.

We made our way to Paddington, and joined the westbound express.  As it flashed through London’s outer suburbs we chatted about Remus’ year at school, asking him about the results of the recent exams.   Remus had done remarkably well in all his subjects, despite missing several days each month, and had ended the year in sixth place overall. He was quietly proud of his achievement, though vowed to "do much better" next year.

"I wish I enjoyed Potions a bit more though," he said ruefully. "It makes it much harder to study when you really don’t like the subject."  Then he grinned. "Anyway, at least Sirius and James beat Snape!"

"Snape - that’s the boy from Slytherin you don’t like?" I was trying to remember all the various names.

"Yes. He’s a bit of a bully, and we sometimes wonder whether he ever has a shower."

"Remus!" Gwen was shocked.

"Well he’s pretty disgusting, Mum. Anyway, he and his friends turned really nasty to Sirius early in the year when Sirius accidentally spilt some stuff and messed up our whole bench.  Sirius hexed his books later of course, but then he decided there was a better way to get even. So he told us he was going to beat Snape in every single subject and come top in Potions."

"And did he? Come top in Potions?"

"Of course! And James came second. Actually Sirius really enjoys Potions – he says its even better than Muggle chemistry. He told us he’s got books and a Muggle chemistry set at home and he loves playing around with all the stuff.   He said the books show you how to do all sorts of things, like how to make stuff explode, or smell, or glow in the dark. And you don’t need magic so you can do it in the holidays – so he’s going to try some of our potions ingredients in the chemistry set.  He thinks its going to be interesting!"

Sirius had featured frequently in Remus’ letters. So found myself contemplating just what sort of "interesting" effects might be achieved by combining Muggle chemistry and wizard potions.

"So how did all your friends do in their exams? Who came top in the year?"  Gwen had been a studious Ravenclaw.

"James and Sirius of course. Equal first." Remus sounded a little surprised she would even ask. "They’re really bright – first or second in everything.  People think they don’t do much work because they have so much fun, but they do – they’re just quiet about it." He paused, then gave a funny little smile. "I think that’s why some of the professors find it hard to get really cross with them, even when they do something awful – they’re both so quick and clever. They can always do things and answer the difficult questions. They just seem to – understand – magic." He sounded amused and even a little envious.    

It was nearly dark when we reached home and a misty drizzle chilled the air. Remus raced upstairs to his room and when I brought his trunk up, I found him sitting on his bed, staring around at the familiar furnishings while one hand absently stroked the old quilt beneath him. After tea he wandered through the house, just looking at things and occasionally touching items as though to reassure himself he really was home. He’d been very wary about what other people would think of him at Hogwarts, so had only taken one picture to school with him: the one taken three years ago with Gwen and me sitting under the crabapple tree in full bloom. When we went to say good night I noticed he’d put it back on his bedside table, and was curled up in bed with the quilt pulled up around him. He looked very young.

That old quilt. It had belonged to my mother when she was a child, and the blue and white squares were brightly embroidered with all manner of birds, animals and fantastic beasts. I remembered it on my bed when I was little: Mother had kept it all these years and then given it to Remus when he was three. He adored it, and when he was younger we had often made up bedtime stories about all the animals. Gwen had casually suggested he might like to take it to Hogwarts for his bed there, but he’d been quite horrified and thoroughly embarrassed at the suggestion. But he seemed peacefully happy to have it restored to him now. I wondered – a little wistfully - whether one day he would be able to pass it on to one of his own children.

Despite our pleasure at having Remus’ company once again, Gwen and I found the first week of the holidays unexpectedly difficult. Not that he was badly behaved – quite the contrary.  But in contrast to his earlier bright chatter in the train, he seemed unusually subdued, even when relating more about the last school year. His face would light up briefly as he told us of some prank or other (Sirius and James being frequently mentioned), then he would suddenly get a strange look, as though lost or unsure of himself, and he would change the subject or lapse into silence. I mentioned it to Gwen one evening as we sat in the garden.

"I know – I noticed it too. I’ve asked him once or twice, but he won’t say what’s wrong." She sighed. "And you know Remus – if he doesn’t want to talk, it’s about as easy to get information out of him as it is to rob Gringotts. I think we just have to wait a while."

I had to agree. Remus has always been very self-controlled. Even before he was bitten he preferred to work things through by himself, keeping everything firmly bottled up inside until he was ready to talk. Dealing with his condition has only made this trait more pronounced. 

Next morning we were all sitting at breakfast when a large brown owl swooped down and settled on the windowsill. A letter was tied to its leg.

"That’s James’ owl!" exclaimed Remus, hurrying to open the window and retrieve both bird and letter. His face became suddenly animated as he read, and he gave us each a bright smile when he finished.

"James says he’s sorry he had to leave so suddenly and not say good bye properly. But his father was late for a meeting and his mother had to collect some things in town, and now they’re off to Spain tomorrow for a few weeks. Hope he has a good time!" He gulped his milk and stood up. "Excuse me - I think I’ll write a note back to him before he leaves." He headed for his bedroom.

The following morning there were two more owls, both for Remus. The first had a funny postcard from Peter, travelling with his parents in the south of France before attending a family reunion near Nice. The food, he’d assured Remus, was "great". Remus smiled at us: Peter apparently loved his food and had a very sweet tooth.

The second letter was much longer, and proved to be from Sirius. We couldn’t help watching Remus’ face as he read it avidly. Once or twice he burst out laughing, and his eyes were sparkling when he finished. However, he said nothing about the contents except a slightly cryptic "He did get his new broomstick after all!" Next thing Remus had dashed up to his room, returning an hour later with a reply, which he fastened to the owl’s leg. He watched the bird disappear over the treetops.

He seemed more cheerful after those letters. Gwen and I were relieved: maybe he had just been missing the companionship of Hogwarts. Watching him go through physical torment every month was bad enough.  I sometimes thought it was even harder to watch his desperate loneliness.

The full moon came round again. Once more came the agony of shutting Remus in the shed I had built for him. I had recently enlarged it a little, and had left an old bed and another chair in there for him. I hoped it could somehow be easier for him now he was back in familiar surroundings at home, and that he might be able to just lie quietly at times. But I doubted he would be given that sort of peace.

I don’t think Gwen and I will ever, ever lose our feelings of anger, despair and utter helplessness as we prepare for these nights. As usual we hugged him closely before he walked calmly into that horrible little building. He didn’t look back – he never does – and after he shut the door I went round casting the necessary locking and silencing charms. When I had finished I put my arms round Gwen, holding her close, and we both stood silently in the garden watching as the moon rose.

Even now, we never sleep on those nights. How can we. How many times have we cried our hearts out in each other’s arms as we think of our wonderful boy, our beautiful Remus, and the horrors he endures so stoically. I think of the doctors we have visited, the "experts" and apothecaries we have asked, the books we have read. Nothing can be done it seems. Nothing at all. And perhaps the worst pain of all  is finding that most people don’t even want to help - they regard Remus and his kind as beasts and abominations. I wonder whether they would feel this way if one of their own family was afflicted, their own child perhaps.

A few months after Remus was bitten – he was only five - one eminent physician suggested that it would be kinder, all things considered, to have one of the Ministry experts quietly "put him out of his misery".   Sometimes parents in our situation did just that, he assured us. In white cold fury Gwen - yes, my gentle Gwen! - slapped him across the face, then dragged me out of the office before I could do something worse. After we’d put Remus to bed that night, we shut our bedroom door and cried till we had no more tears. When Gwen finally dropped into an exhausted sleep I slipped out into Remus’ room and sat beside his bed, just watching him sleep. He was no monster. He was my son: I loved him so very much.

Two years ago we settled here in Hazelmere, a quiet Devon village with a wonderful, sympathetic healer and apothecary, Mrs Noyes. She can’t cure Remus of course, but she is a tower of quiet strength and comfort. Each month she makes sure we have the necessary ointments and medicines and I knew she would be ready if we needed her assistance.

Remus was gashed and bleeding as usual the next morning when we let him out, but not as badly as I had feared. The effects of the transformation are always much worse when he is worried about something. We brought him inside and Gwen dressed his wounds whilst I made him some breakfast and his special herbal tea. We helped him into bed and he was sound asleep when I left for work. Mrs Noyes would come over later to see him.

The weather stayed fine and unusually warm: the garden looked a picture. Three days later Remus and Gwen went out after breakfast to pick flowers and herbs for Mrs Noyes.  I had brought some files home from the office, and working was in my study when the front doorbell rang.

I opened it and saw a boy of about Remus’ age standing there. He was skinny, with untidy black hair and deep blue eyes. At first sight he could have been taken for a Muggle, because he was dressed in Muggle jeans and a dark blue T shirt bearing a rather striking picture of a golden dragon. A blue jumper was rolled up and tied around his waist. But his left hand clutched a broomstick – a new Silver Arrow I noted with interest – and his boots appeared to be made of dragonhide. At his feet was a small package wrapped in brown paper.

"Mr Lupin?" he inquired politely.

"That’s right. How may I help you?"

He looked very relieved, held out his hand and smiled. "I’m Sirius Black. I’m a friend of Remus’ – you know, from Hogwarts. I wondered if he was here, and if I could see him."

"I’m a friend of Remus’ ..…" Such simple words, yet the phrase itself seemed somehow strange, and I felt myself staring at the boy for what seemed like minutes.  My face must have shown my confusion, for he frowned slightly and looked a bit uncertain. I collected myself, and hurriedly reached out to shake his hand, returning the smile. I thought I recognised the boy who’d given Remus the chocolate frogs.

"Good morning, Sirius – I’m sorry if I appeared a little startled.  Not many visitors find their way here. Yes, Remus is home – he’s out in the back garden. Come on in."

Sirius bent and picked up the package which he held out to me. "From the apothecary, for Mrs Lupin. I stopped to ask directions, and she asked me to bring this with me."

"Thank you. Come along, this way – you can put your broomstick with ours out here."

Sirius followed me through the house into the kitchen, propped his broomstick in the corner and hung his jumper on a nearby peg.   We went out onto the porch and saw Gwen and Remus walking up the back path, baskets full. "There they are. Looks like they’ve just finished, so they’ll be wanting some morning tea. I assume you eat chocolate cake?" He flashed me a cheeky grin, then let out a yell and waved madly.

"Hey Remus! Moony!"

Remus stopped in utter astonishment, his face a study in wonder and disbelief.

"Sirius! What on earth are you doing here?"

"Came to see you of course! I told you I would – didn’t you believe me?" Sirius leapt off the porch, bounded up to Gwen and Remus and I heard him introduce himself again.

When they arrived in the kitchen, Remus set his basket down near the sink and looked around at us. His eyes were alive, his expression one of delighted surprise and – strangely – hope. I glanced at the boys’ hands.

"Go and wash both of you. Properly mind you – use the soap as well as the towel!" Even Remus needed reminding of that on occasions.

"So that’s young Sirius – the one that likes making things explode. When did he arrive?" Gwen asked with a smile, quietly setting out biscuits as well as the cake.

"A few moments ago. Just rang the front doorbell – he said he asked directions from Mrs Noyes. Oh, by the way, he brought that package out for you."

We were soon sitting at the kitchen table, and Gwen and I watched the boys tuck into the food as though starving. Boys of their age usually were.

Sirius cheerfully answered our questions about his holidays even as he and Remus ate steadily. His father was busy and away a lot, he explained, so he and his mother had gone to Cornwall for a few weeks to stay with her sister and family near Polruan.

There were five cousins but no one his age. The Muggle boys next door who’d played with him on previous visits had moved away, and clearly Sirius was lonely. Norman and Tony were the eldest cousins, aged eighteen and fifteen, but Norman had left school and now worked in the village. Tony, we heard, was "all right", but he had a lot of school assignments to do over summer and anyway preferred to spend all his spare time fishing. Which, according to Sirius, was the most boring thing on earth. He wasn’t interested in exploring along the cliffs or up through the woods: worse, he didn’t even like Quidditch! The other cousins were aged nine, eight and six, but they were all GIRLS! And what earthly use were they?

He had such an expression of mingled horror and disgust that the three of us burst out laughing.

"You might change your mind when you’re older Sirius," I chuckled. "They become much more interesting later on, and I must say they do have certain attractions." I glanced at Gwen in amusement. Under that untidy hair, Sirius was a very good-looking boy, and I had no doubt that in a few years’ time he would find that girls would become very interested in him.

Sirius eyed me. "Can’t see anything attractive about this lot," he said dubiously. "Mum says I have to be nice to them but I don’t see why - they never want to do anything fun. All they do is chatter and giggle and make a lot of useless noise." He sighed in frustration. "They don’t want to go exploring like pirates or treasure hunters. They won’t come sailing because they say I tip the boat over and they fall out. They don’t want to help with my experiments – hey Remus! Dad gave me a really good new chemistry book! – because some of the stuff smells bad. They got angry when my special blue beetles somehow got out and ran round the bathroom. And they nearly screamed the place down just because I found a really nice little pixie and put it in their bedroom."

"I see." I found myself smiling again, and in truth I felt rather sympathetic. Boys really needed to have friends their own age, ones who shared their interests. I thought of Remus.

"And Norman keeps bringing his stupid girlfriend home. You should see her -– blond hair, stinks of perfume and has really revolting long pink nails. I keep falling over them everywhere – I mean, I went down to get my broomstick yesterday afternoon and there they were, all kissing each other and carrying on behind the hedge near the shed. You should have seen them! Yuck!!" He paused. "And she didn’t have too many clothes on!"

Remus clearly saw what was coming. His eyes danced in anticipation. "That new water bomb?" he inquired rather hopefully.

"Better!" Sirius gave a truly wicked grin.

Remus was clearly considering the range of options that would be available to Sirius without magic. I found myself wondering about the chemistry set. "Spiders? Your beetles? No …….. maybe some Pongo’s Perfume Pellets? Or that rotten egg gas stuff you made?"

"Right idea – but better! Really revolting!" Rotten egg gas? – was that some Muggle concoction? I mentally shuddered: probably those poor girls had good reason to scream. I glanced at Gwen, who was looking on with obvious enjoyment.

Remus finally shook his head. "All right – I give up."

"I found this really big bucket of smelly fish stuff just inside the shed – you know, old fish heads, scraps, a few worms and all that….. Norman uses use some of it for bait……."

"You didn’t!"

Sirius was gleeful. "Oh, you should have heard them! They cleared out pretty quick! But she left some clothes ..… one of those silly bra things with all the straps ….. " He rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically.

"Mind you, there was an awful row when I got home of course. Mum yelled at me like anything, and Norman chased me all over the place and tried to hex me. Couldn’t catch me though! And Uncle Isaac and Tony were really mad about losing all the bait." At which point he and Remus exploded into laughter, Remus eventually choking on some crumbs which caused Sirius to pound him on the back with enthusiasm.

Gwen made a muffled noise, then turned away and busied herself with the teapot. Her shoulders were shaking. I waited for their mirth to die down, trying – not very successfully – to keep a straight face. I wondered just what Sirius might have done with the girlfriend’s clothing, but it was probably wisest not to ask. 

"So you naturally decided that today it would be very – ah – prudent to visit Remus?" I did admire his sense of self-preservation - clearly he appreciated the need for what aurors term a "strategic withdrawal". Though Polruan to Hazelmere was a long flight for a boy his age.

"Yes. I really wanted to come sooner, but it was the full moon three nights ago." He turned to Remus and asked with gentle concern, "Are you feeling OK now?"

An ordinary, everyday question – have you got over your cold, is your leg better, has your headache gone. But my entire world shifted. He knew. How? When? Remus hasn’t said anything. Gwen’s smile vanished: she froze for a second, then looked at me in sudden appeal. I tried to compose myself, keeping what I trusted was a steady voice as I turned to face Sirius. I chose my words carefully.

"So you know about Remus," I said softly. "Did he tell you, or did you work it out for yourself?"

Sirius met my eyes steadily, his face suddenly very serious. "We worked it out," he said quietly. "James and me. Remus kept telling us all these stories, but they didn’t explain things. Like why he’d suddenly go all tired and moody every few weeks. And why he always came back looking so awful when it was his mother or his aunt or his cousin who were supposed to be sick. And he had all those cuts on his hands and arms, and horrible bruises he tried to hide." He stopped and glanced sideways at Remus before resuming.

"He was away so often. When he disappeared again right after he’d just come back from the Easter break we didn’t believe him. We knew he was lying to us, so there had to be something else. We started to watch him and do some thinking. And we worked it out, and we asked him – but we told him we knew anyway."

Remus said they were bright, those two.

"Lycanthropy is a very terrible condition Sirius." I kept my voice quiet, even, and my eyes held his. "Most people don’t understand it, they don’t even want to understand, and they hate and fear those who suffer from it. They say they are monsters, beasts." I paused. "There is no cure, there is nothing we can do – nothing at all. We’ve tried everything. And Remus IS dangerous as a werewolf, make no mistake about that. He could kill you easily if he gets loose at the full moon, or worse. Do you really understand what all this means? Do you have any idea at all what this does to Remus? What it means to us?"

Across the table Remus said nothing. Though he hadn’t moved, he seemed to have somehow crumpled inside. He was sitting stiff and silent like an animal caught in a trap, his whole body tense, eyes full of desperate, mute appeal. So this was what had been worrying him! Why hadn’t we thought of that? No wonder he hadn’t said anything. Because despite all his assurances of doing better next year, I knew just how afraid Remus would have been, and what he must be thinking. People knew – not just Dumbledore and some of the teachers, but fellow students, his friends, the boys from his dormitory. Could ever go back to Hogwarts again?  Maybe he shouldn’t even think of it. What would they say? Would they tell their parents? What parents would tolerate their sons having anything to do with a werewolf, let alone sharing a dormitory with him.  Perhaps after all this last year would prove to be just another fleeting dream, ending in another bitter rejection.

The long moment of silence was broken when Sirius pushed his chair back, and moved to stand behind Remus. He rested his hands on Remus’ shoulders and looked across at us.   His voice was firm.

"Remus is my friend. He’s our friend. James and me and Peter." He looked down, swallowed and then went on. "We don’t want to hurt him. We’re not going to say anything about it – not to anyone, not even our parents. We tried to make Remus understand ….. we told him it doesn’t matter, we’re his friends, we all really like him ……I mean he’s fun and he’s clever and we all have good times and we want to help him …."

His voice trailed off, and I saw his grip tighten on Remus’ shoulders. Then he looked back at me and continued with determination. "He didn’t talk to us much after we found out and told him we knew. James and I got really worried. We thought he might be scared because we knew and …… well, we got frightened he’d just go home and wouldn’t come back to Hogwarts. We were going to come here together, but then James had to go to Spain, so I told him I’d come and see Remus anyway." His eyes moved anxiously from me to Gwen, then back to me. "He will come back to school next term, won’t he? Please make him come back. Don’t let him run away."

I have worked in the legal profession for nearly twenty years. The law is made up of words, they are the tools of my trade: the nuances of a delicate letter, the precision of contract terms, the presentation of a case in court, the preparation of a complex will. I pride myself on my composure, my ability to respond in appropriately measured terms and find the correct phrases for the most trying situations. And yet somehow I could not find a reply to these simple heartfelt words of a twelve-year-old boy. My mind was a whirling, confused kaleidoscope of thoughts and images.

And then I looked across at Remus. He had twisted in his seat to stare up at Sirius, and the expression on his face was one I had never seen before. A sort of wild hope and joy, as though a bright flower deep inside him had burst into bloom and changed him forever.

Gwen saw it too, and reached over to touch my hand.

She spoke softly. "We wondered what was wrong. Remus has been a little too quiet since he came home. Not that he’s ever really noisy," she smiled at her son, "just not talking to us about things like he used to. We knew he was worried about something."

Sirius was still looking down at Remus. "You really OK?" he asked softly. Remus gave the very slightest of nods: I saw Sirius punch him lightly on the arm, then resume his seat. He spoke brightly, as if embarrassed by this sudden display of emotion, and helped himself to a third piece of cake. "It’s better now we know -– he doesn’t have to pretend any more. It’ll be much easier. We can give him our notes from the lessons he misses, make sure we get his assignments, look after him and all that." He grinned reassuringly at Remus. "And make sure we don’t do things round the full moon."

I found I was breathing normally again.

"Do things? Does that include detentions?" asked Gwen, attempting to lighten the mood. We had actually been quite delighted to receive the first owl telling us that Remus had a detention for some prank involving stinkweed soap in the girls’ bathrooms. Clearly he was enjoying himself at school. I saw the boys exchange furtive glances.

"Well Mum, the professors decide when you actually do the detentions, so you can’t really plan for that." Remus obviously wasn’t quite sure how much to admit.

I studied the two of them. Sirius was undoubtedly a born mischief-maker but I knew Remus would participate with just as much enthusiasm. Despite his isolation from other children, he had a finely honed, subtle sense of humour, and he would need little encouragement to develop its more "practical" applications. And if James was anything like Sirius, we’d certainly be receiving more Hogwarts owls.  I thought back to my own happy schooldays.

"Well then," I said evenly, "you need to plan things carefully. It’s best not to get caught at all of course. I always found a good alibi was extremely helpful. Or a well-timed diversion. You should most certainly hide all the evidence. And try to at least appear innocent." I calmly finished my cup of tea while the boys regarded me in complete astonishment. Didn’t they think I had once been twelve?

Gwen had risen to put the dirty plates in the sink. She smiled at me over the boys’ heads, nodding slightly at Sirius, and I had no doubt she anticipated what I was about to do. "Did you tell your mother you were coming here Sirius?" He must have left Polruan very early, and I was a little concerned that Sirius’ family might be worried about him. Though perhaps his mother was used to sudden disappearances.

"Sort of. I left a note for her – told her I was visiting Remus and I’d be home before dark. I didn’t know if you were on the Floo network, which is why I flew here."

"I see. Yes, we’re on the network. Did you tell her where we lived?"

"Only that you were near Hazelmere."

"Hmm. Well, you’d better help clean up the table while I write your mother a letter which you can take to her."

The two boys exchanged worried glances. "Why are you writing to Mrs Black? Are you sending Sirius home then?" asked Remus. "Can’t he stay here just for today?"

"Of course he can stay today. But if you want him to stay with us any longer," I saw their faces light up, "I must ask permission properly. And he will need to get some clothes. I doubt if even dragon T shirts are immune to dirt!"

Sirius shot to his feet, eyes shining, almost quivering with eagerness. "You mean I can come and stay here with Remus? Really?"

"You mean it Dad? How long for?" Remus was grinning from ear to ear.

I mentally blessed the cousins. And Norman’s girlfriend. "Well, let’s see. How long are you supposed to be in Cornwall, Sirius?"

"Only another week – Mum says we have to be back home for a big dinner at the Ministry in the last week of July. Dad’s bringing home some important Ministry guests."

"I think I’d better ask if you can stay for at least a fortnight then. It might be easier for everyone if you avoided that dinner." I preferred not to think what a bored young Sirius might come up with to ‘welcome’ Ministry guests.

I was writing a short letter to Mrs Black when something occurred to me. If Norman was there when Sirius arrived and was hell-bent on vengeance, our young monkey might find himself in difficulties. And it would certainly be much easier to explain matters to Mrs Black in person.

"I think I’ll come with you Sirius," I said. "After all, you’re not allowed to use magic in the holidays, so you may need some assistance if cousin Norman is still around. Where are we going?"

"Trelay House."

"Right. Come along, the fireplace is in here. You’d better go first." I ushered him into the next

room.

*

We emerged into a large, comfortably furnished room with wide windows that overlooked a sheltered cove. Sirius was already calling for his mother, and almost immediately a pretty dark haired woman dressed in soft yellow robes appeared in the far doorway.

"Sirius!" Then she saw me. "Is anything wrong? Has something happened?"

Sirius introduced us, and I swiftly explained the reason for my visit. Anne Black looked very surprised and extremely relieved. "That’s very kind of you," she said. "But two weeks is a long time – well, certainly where Sirius is concerned! And after yesterday’s little episode," she frowned at her son, "well, I am surprised I didn’t have to remove quite a few hexes this morning." Clearly Sirius’ early departure had been a wise move.

"Mum, please let me go! Please! Remus and I will have a really good time."

His mother gave him a long penetrating look, then turned back to me. "Are you sure you know what you’re doing?" she asked, but I saw her eyes were twinkling a little.

I smiled.

"Very well." She turned to Sirius. "If the Lupins are brave enough to put up with you, I think it’s a really excellent idea. Go and pack. You’d better take everything if you are going for two weeks. And there’s some clean shirts and underwear for you in the laundry." Sirius was already at the door. "Get the laundry NOW Sirius! or you’ll forget it."

He disappeared with a joyful whoop and Anne Black gestured me to a seat. I declined tea, and we were chatting pleasantly about Hogwarts and our respective offspring when an older boy appeared and was introduced as Norman. He was stocky, with fair hair and a square face, and an air of some self-importance about him.

"Did I hear Sirius just now?" he asked, in a tone that boded no good. I did not like the look on his face.

"Yes Norman, and he’s just packing." Anne Black sounded cheerful. "The Lupins have kindly invited Sirius to stay with them for two weeks - their son Remus is a friend from Hogwarts." She smiled rather pointedly at him. "I think it’s a very good suggestion, don’t you?" Norman looked a little mollified, but his glare returned when Sirius finally appeared in the doorway with a guitar and suitcase.

"Good riddance!" he growled, and took an angry swipe at the boy’s head. "As far as I am concerned you can go permanently!" Sirius evaded him with practised ease – though I noticed he contrived to bang his suitcase very hard into Norman’s legs in the process - and planted himself near the fireplace.

"Got everything, dear?" Sirius nodded. "Right then, I’ll say good bye." Anne gave him a hug, then put a hand on his shoulder and looked down at him sternly. "Sirius, remember you are a guest. Enjoy yourself, but please at least try to avoid getting into too much trouble. Otherwise I’m sure you will be sent home again and ….."

Her instructions were interrupted by shrill screams from upstairs. The younger cousins I assumed.

"Mum! Help! Oh no – Mum!!"

I heard several small explosions, another boy’s angry voice, more shrieks.

"Help Mum! – it’s everywhere! It stinks! "

"Mum there are blue beetles all over the place! And there’s spiders in my bed!"

There was the sound of running footsteps, a woman’s voice, more shrieks.

Before anyone else could react, I spun round, tossed some powder into the fire, and shoved the culprit and his guitar into the flames.

"GO! LUPIN LODGE! RIGHT NOW!" With a quick shout of "Bye Mum!" he vanished.

I took a deep breath, and turned to say good bye to Anne Black in what I hoped was a suitably polite and reassuring manner. "Don’t worry – we’ll look after him!"   I seized the suitcase and followed Sirius with what might be considered rather unseemly haste.

*

Two perfectly innocent faces greeted me. However, I said nothing and just sent them upstairs to unpack. About ten minutes later a small herd of elephants thundered downstairs again and the back door slammed. They reappeared for lunch, chatting away happily and demolishing sandwiches as though unfed for a fortnight.  How strange and wonderful it was to have the kitchen filled with noise and boyish laughter.  As soon as the table was cleared they set off across the meadow to explore.

The afternoon passed very peacefully, and when I finished the files I wandered out to join Gwen as she prepared dinner. Roast chicken – it was Remus’ favourite, especially with lots of gravy and Gwen’s crispy potatoes. And there was a large apple crumble for dessert. Directing dishes into cupboards with her wand, she happened to glance out the kitchen window.

"Ah - Edmund. They’re home." There was a rather strange note in Gwen’s voice as she pointed towards the back gate.

We stood at the back door and calmly surveyed the twin apparitions who arrived in front of us.  Like me, Remus is generally neat and tidy, and in fact he can be quite fastidious about some things. He had certainly managed to get less mud in his hair than Sirius, but that really wasn’t saying much. They were soaked to the skin, utterly filthy from head to toe, and neither could stop laughing.

We listened to a garbled tale about crawling through hedges to watch fox cubs playing…. how Sirius had slipped down a steep bank into the stream when they were looking for an imp that was supposed to live there and how this turned into a really great mud slide …. how they’d gone further downstream and found an old willow tree with a thick branch that stretched out over a deep pool …... so they’d dared each other to climb along it …… and they wanted to go back tomorrow with some rope so they could make a swing and jump right out into the deepest part and ……

Gwen sighed and muttered under her breath that she’d probably need stronger cleaning spells than those provided by Mrs Beeton (chapter five in the Everyday Book of Useful Household Charms). She summoned two large towels, ordering the boys to strip completely before setting foot in the house, and to leave their boots right outside, thank you.  I couldn’t help smiling at the two happy faces, though I did suggest that perhaps they could be more suitably attired for swimming in future. But yes, I thought I had a good length of rope they could use tomorrow.  Gwen banished the clothes to the laundry and marched the explorers off to the bathroom.  I wondered about our supply of soap.

Dinner was most enjoyable, and the boys had seconds of everything.   Jokes flew back and forth and our conversation ranged far and wide. I began to realise that beneath all the mischief and high spirits there was far more to young Sirius than most would suspect: we had seen a glimpse of it earlier in the day when he spoke about Remus. He had a lively intelligence and was keenly interested in astronomy, history and mythology (wizard and Muggle). He was fascinated by Muggle machinery and science, which explained the chemistry kit. He played piano as well as guitar ("though not very well yet, Mrs Lupin"). He loved animals and wished his parents would let him have a dog – and he really wanted a hippogriff when he grew up.

Like Remus, he enjoyed reading, though their tastes differed slightly. Tales of adventure and exploration were Sirius’ preferred choice – everything from wizard classics such as "Phoenix Mountain", "Broomsticks over Africa" and "Hunt for the Red Dragon" (his favourite) to Muggle books such as "Treasure Island", "Huckleberry Finn" and "Swallows and Amazons". I remembered them all from my own childhood. But he hadn’t discovered Kipling yet, one of my favourite Muggle authors - I promised I would lend him "Kim". Though I did find myself wondering whether a further introduction to the world of Stalky, Beetle and M’Turk would be in Hogwarts’ best interests ……

The day’s activities had taken their toll, and though they played a few games of cards after dinner, neither boy objected when Gwen suggested an early night. We went up to say good night, and I watched as Gwen hugged Sirius too. "I’m so glad you came to stay with us, dear," she said softly to him, "I know you and Remus will have a wonderful time."

After she left I sat on the bed beside Sirius, thinking over the day’s events.  It was Remus’ reactions that I remembered most vividly - his surprise and happiness at seeing Sirius, his delight when I suggested that he should stay, how he had smiled and laughed and had so much fun.  But perhaps most of all, that look of utter joy when he realised that Sirius really cared for him, that this was someone who knew him for what he was and accepted him. A friend.

I looked across at Remus, already half asleep, then turned back to Sirius.
"True friends are very special people Sirius," I said at last, reaching out and ruffling his rumpled black hair. "I’m glad we rescued you from those girls. Sleep tight – and tomorrow I’ll show you the best knot to use for that swing."

"Good night Mr Lupin." He really had a beautiful smile.

"Good night Sirius."

I extinguished the light and went down the hall to our bedroom. Gwen came and put her arms round me. We kissed gently and stood quietly together for several minutes. It was a long time since we had both felt so utterly happy.

"How long did you say he was staying?" she murmured finally.

"Two weeks."

Blessed woman! She leant back and burst out laughing.

___________________

  

 

 

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