Remus was very, very still. “You would trust me?” he asked, finally. He looked like he might cry.
Harry nodded, praying he wouldn’t regret this, praying Remus honestly believed him, instead of just saying he did. Remus wouldn’t be able to tell anyone where Sirius was because of the Fidelius Charm, but he could still overwhelm Padfoot and drag him out.
Harry gestured for Remus to come closer - there was no way he would risk this being overheard - and breathed, “We’ve been living at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.”
Remus’ eyes widened. “You’re joking!” Harry shook his head. “And no one’s thought to look there since before you were taken because we all know how much he hated it...” Remus shook his head again. “I did consider- have you- your neighbour?”
“Our neighbours?” Harry asked puzzled. I’m pretty sure Snape said something about that when he visited.
“You don’t know?” Remus asked.
“Know what?” Harry asked.
“She’s dead,” Harry said. “She died in the war.”
Remus shook his head, smiling but said no more on the topic. “Number Twelve,” he continued thoughtfully. “That explains the Trace too... the Ministry wouldn’t detect as much as a sneeze because that old place is so heavily warded.”
“You’ve got no idea,” Harry muttered.
“Unbelievable,” Remus said. “I’d been wondering how Sirius was getting by without magic. Turns out he hasn’t been at all.” He smiled. “Thank you, Harry, for telling me.”
“You won’t say anything, will you?” Harry asked, nervous. He thought he trusted Remus, but it was still better that he didn’t know about the Fidelius Charm; Remus likely believed Harry had lied to Fudge when he mentioned it now that he knew Harry hadn’t taken the Veritaserum.
“No,” Remus assured him.
Remus stood. “I’ll go now. You might be home by tonight.”
Harry couldn’t stop the hopeful smile that plastered itself onto his face.
* * *
Remus slipped his robes off and stuffed them into his pocket before he left the reception area so that when he left the hospital, he was wearing a faded pair of jeans - he really did need new ones - and a worn shirt. No one gave him a second glance as he walked - seemingly out of thin air - to join the sea of muggles.
He ducked down a side alley beside a bookshop and, upon checking for any muggles, pulled his wand out and spun on the spot, focusing on the small park opposite Number Twelve where he, James and Peter had often met with Sirius during the holidays, and later, where they’d come so Sirius could meet with Regulus.
It looked just as he remembered it; a square of sparse grass surrounded by hedges and a rusty iron fence. He stepped out of a cluster of bushes, smoothed his robes and strode out and across the street.
He could see Number Twelve but he had to fight to keep it in his sight; his eyes tried to wander to the houses either side. That wasn’t a new security measure – Orion Black had put that up, along with several others in the summer after third year to try to stop James, Remus and Peter from visiting.
Remus headed up the worn stone steps. The door was black with a snake knocker, but neither looked as grimy as the rest of the house; he thought the door had been repainted, and the knocker polished.
Remus reached for the doorbell and thought better of it. He gave the door a push but it didn’t budge. He tapped it once with his wand, muttering, “Alohomora.” It swung open and Remus stepped into the black hallway. The door clicked shut behind him, making him jump. He summoned his Gryffindor courage and took a step forward. The floor creaked loudly.
The entire hallway lit up. Remus jumped and looked around for Sirius, or perhaps the housekeeper Harry had mentioned, but neither were there. It must be charmed, he thought, glancing at the walls. The house didn’t look quite as sinister in the warm orange light; the walls were green, not black, and the floor was no longer a bottomless pit, but dark floorboards. Remus took another tentative step forward.
When nothing happened, he took another and tried to remember the layout. He still had no idea where he was going by the time he reached the bottom of a staircase. There was another staircase off to his left but that was heading down. Remus frowned.
“Up we go, then,” he muttered. The stairs didn’t creak as he’d half expected them to and it occurred to him that Sirius - and possibly Harry - had done quite a bit of work to make the house liveable.
The first floor was quiet, as was the second and the third. Remus was beginning to wonder whether he should have checked downstairs first when he reached the fourth floor and heard voices coming out of a slightly ajar door.
He knocked quietly and pushed the door open. “Harry?” he heard someone say hoarsely. Sirius was struggling to get out of his bed, while an elderly house elf tried to push him back down. His hopeful, almost desperate expression faded when he saw Remus. The elf made a startled noise and stopped fighting Sirius; instead, its bloodshot eyes narrowed and it took a step toward Remus, hands raised menacingly.
Remus quickly threw his wand down and held his hands up so that Sirius could see they were empty; if Harry was wrong, and Sirius actually was a murderer, then this was the stupidest thing he’d ever done.
“Kreacher,” Sirius said, picking up his own wand. He trained it on Remus.
“I’m a little disappointed, Sirius,” Remus said, trying to hide how nervous he was. “No hug. Not even a handshake to greet your old friend.” Sirius’ wand lowered a little, but not much.
“Old friend?” he asked weakly, managing to stand this time, though he held the bedpost for support. “Last time we saw each other, you didn’t want to be friends.” Remus frowned. “And, if memory serves, you greeted me in much the same way; with a wand.”
“Hypocrisy has always been something of a problem of mine,” Remus admitted. Sirius smiled faintly and lowered his wand; his arm was shaking and he could hardly hold it still. “You look awful.” And he did. The Sirius he’d seen in London a few months back hadn’t looked like he’d spent seven years of his life in Azkaban.
This one did; he was wearing rumpled, bloodstained, singed robes, he had a week’s worth of beard and his hair was matted. He was also pale, sweaty and his eyes were feverish. Remus also spotted bruises on his neck, like the ones Harry had had.
“What happened to you?”
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
“Delusional,” the elf croaked.
Sirius shot it a look. “Where’s Harry? Is he all right?” Sirius tried to look around Remus and swayed on his feet. He had to sit down on the bed. Remus tried to take a step toward him, concerned, but the elf made an angry noise and wouldn’t let him get any closer.
“Harry’s in St Mungo’s,” Remus said, backing away. Sirius lost what little colour he had. “He’s perfectly fine, though he wasn’t when he arrived at my cottage.”
Sirius’ pinched expression eased somewhat. “Why did he send you?”
“Who says he did?”
“You’d never have found me if he hadn’t,” Sirius said, with certainty. Remus wondered at that, but all curiosity on the matter left his mind when Sirius picked up his own wand again. Remus glanced at his own discarded wand. He had no intention of using it, but he felt bare without it. “Why are you here? Have you come to arrest me?”
“Put that down,” Remus said, nodding to Sirius’ shaking hand. Sirius frowned at him and tried to steady his hand. “No, I haven’t.”
“What?” Sirius said, lowering his wand again.
“I think Harry would be rather put out with me if I did.”
A ghost of a smile flitted across Sirius’ tired face. “He’s a good kid.”
Sirius gave him a curious look and then shook his head. “I know you didn’t want to hear it that day in London, but if you’re willing to listen I’ll tell you about-”
“Peter?” Remus asked.
Sirius’ mouth fell open. “You know?!” That seemed to be too much for Sirius’ already weak voice; he made a choking sound and cleared his throat several times. Finally, he looked back up at Remus, still seeming stunned.
“Close your mouth, Sirius, you look like a Dementor.”
Sirius’ mouth snapped shut. “Harry,” he said after a moment.
“Harry,” Remus agreed.
“I can’t believe you sat still long enough for him to explain,” Sirius said, chuckling.
His laughs turned into coughs and he had to sit down again. Remus watched him, concerned, and this time the elf was so busy forcing a hot mug into Sirius’ hands that Remus was able to approach the bed.
When Sirius had finished whatever was in the cup and stopped coughing, Remus said, “Of course I listened. You didn’t see his face; do you remember that look James used to get-”
“I remember every look James used to get,” Sirius said softly.
Remus smiled slightly. “The one where he had something important to say-”
“-where his jaw set and he wasn’t actually frowning but you just knew he felt like it?”
“The very same,” Remus said.
“When Harry does it, his eyes flash like Lily’s used to,” Sirius said
“I know,” Remus said.
“So you believe us- me?”
“Enough to come here and throw my wand away.” Remus said.
Sirius gave him a shrewd look. “Do you actually believe me, or are you just hoping?”
“I’m not used to anyone reading me so easily anymore,” Remus said, sitting down on the edge of Sirius’ bed. “And a bit of both, I think. It certainly makes sense; Peter was always busy, or away - he never got hurt on missions... When do you think he turned?”
“A year before? Maybe he never turned, and was always like that. I don’t know. Does it matter?”
“Not really,” Remus admitted. “I was just wondering.”
“I hate him,” Sirius whispered. Any doubts Remus still had about whether Sirius’ story was true or not evaporated with those three words, because in them was loathing, betrayal and buried much, much deeper, pain. Emotion that deep couldn’t be faked. “And I’m sorry.”
“For thinking you were the spy. For ever believing that you would do less for them than I would. For not telling you as soon as we made the swap.”
Remus inclined his head. “I’m sorry too, for thinking so poorly of you. And I’m sorry I never visited you, or wrote.” He swallowed. “Even if you were guilty, I owed you that much.”
“It’s all right,” Sirius said. “Oh, just so you know...” He pulled back both of his sleeves and though his forearms were bruised, he very obviously had not been Marked. Remus pulled back his own sleeves to show his scarred arms. Sirius nodded and then winced. For a moment, Remus thought we was about to be sick but he took a deep breath and accepted another drink from the elf. “I’m going to hate hot chocolate by the end of this,” Sirius muttered, staring at his cup with a wrinkled nose.
Remus opened his mouth to ask what had happened to him again - it didn’t look like any normal sickness - but he knew Sirius would just ignore the question.
“Friends?” he asked instead, holding out his hand.
“Brothers,” Sirius said, shaking Remus’ hand. Suddenly, he looked uncertain. “If-if you still-”
“Of course, Padfoot,” Remus said, rolling his eyes. He hugged Sirius - gently because of how frail he looked - and then pulled back. “You’re not contagious, are you?”
“Nah,” Sirius said. “It’s just food poisoning.” He glanced at the elf. “I don’t know how you did it.”
“Kreacher is spending months recovering, though Kreacher is not experienced like Master Sirius, and Kreacher is not knowing to have chocolate.”
“Months?” Sirius groaned. “I can’t spend months in bed!”
“You spent years in Azkaban,” Remus pointed out.
“I paced,” Sirius sighed. “Drove everyone mad - er, madder.”
“Still can’t go without your daily walk?”
Sirius shook his head. “I end up chewing the furniture.”
It would take time, Remus knew, until things went back to the way they’d been, but the ease with which they fell back into old patterns reassured him that the lack of James and Peter, and the seven - almost eight - years without contact had not ruined their friendship. The foundations were still there - corroded in places - but there. They could fix it.
Sirius pulled a box of Chocolate Frogs off of his bedside table, unwrapped one and stuffed it in his mouth. “Chocolate’s bad for dogs,” Remus said quietly.
Sirius grinned. “I’m already sick.” He tossed a sweet at Remus, who caught it reflexively.
“That and you have insides more stable than a cast iron cauldron,” he muttered, unwrapping the Frog.
“There is that,” Sirius agreed. He was quiet and then said, “So Harry’s in St Mungo’s?”
“Yes.” Remus glanced at his watch and swore. “He’s probably wondering where I am.”
“What ward in St Mungo’s?” Sirius asked casually.
“Queen Mauve’s Paediatric Ward on the fourth- I know that look,” Remus said warningly. “Sirius-”
Sirius quickly assumed an innocent expression that would probably have fooled anyone else. “What?”
“You can hardly stand,” Remus said.
Sirius frowned. “I’ll manage.”
“Don’t be thick,” Remus said bluntly.
“I can’t leave him there, Moony,” Sirius whispered.
“I’m not asking you to. I can have him home tonight if you’ll give me his wand.”
“You’d... you’d help?” Sirius asked.
“That’s why I’m here.”
“But the Ministry-”
“I don’t give a damn what the Ministry thinks.”
“Dumbledore, though? Surely he’s-”
“Dumbledore wants what’s best for Harry and that’s to have him happy and safe. The Ministry’s had little luck finding him here, so Voldemort certainly won’t be able to - if or when he returns - and from the way Harry’s been snapping at anyone who insults you, I’d say he rather enjoys your company, so that covers the happy part. Now... his wand?”
Before Sirius could say anything, the elf vanished. He reappeared only a second later - making Sirius wince again - cradling Harry’s wand to his chest.
“I’ll look after it,” Remus promised. Kreacher passed it over and bowed slightly before retreating back behind Sirius. Remus tucked it into his pocket and retrieved his own from the floor. “I should go.”
Sirius nodded. “Do you want me to see you out?”
Remus rolled his eyes. “Stay in bed, Sirius. I’ll be back in a while.”
Remus left the room as Kreacher forced another mug of hot chocolate into Sirius’ hands. I will get him to tell me what he and Harry were doing, he told himself. And then I’ll see if I can do something for those bruises. Remus let himself out of the house and shut the door with a wave of his wand. He had a definite spring in his step as he set off to the right, past Number Eleven, and realised he hadn’t felt this cheerful in years.
He Disapparated at the end of the street and found himself in the same alley - by the bookstore - that he’d left from. Remus patted his pockets to check he still had both wands and then he approached the ugly dummy in the window of Purge and Dowse Ltd. “I’m here to visit Harry Potter.”
The dummy nodded slightly and Remus strode through the glass into the St Mungo’s reception area, where he was immediately intercepted by Mad-Eye Moody. “Lupin,” the grizzled Auror said.
“Mad-Eye,” Remus said, smiling as he passed over his wand.
The Auror’s scarred mouth twitched. “Here to see the boy?”
“Some Ministry witch was talking to him earlier,” Mad-Eye said, passing the wand back. “Sounds like they’re moving him in the morning.”
Not if I have anything to do with it. Remus’ eyebrows climbed. “Where?”
“Back to the muggles,” Mad-Eye said. “Apparently the kid wasn’t too happy. The Healers called Dumbledore in. He’s with him now, asked me to send you up.”
Remus said a quick goodbye and headed to the nearest lift. As he waited for it, he thought it probably would have been quicker to take the stairs. He turned away just as the doors opened. Rolling his eyes, he stepped inside and jabbed the button for the fourth floor.
It stopped twice - once on the first floor and once on the third to admit a Healer in lime green robes and a witch in black - Remus nodded a hello to Mary MacDonald and her sister Susan who usually treated him if he had a bad full moon - and then stepped out into the fourth floor corridor and took the first set of double doors on the left into another corridor, labelled Queen Mauve’s Paediatric Ward.
The walls were covered with unicorns and dragons, and painted pixies followed his progress down the hall, pulling funny faces. Remus knew it reasonably well; his mother had been a Healer - she’d quit after he was bitten - and was able to fix him from home most times, but occasionally she’d brought him here.
His room had been down the right side hall which a sign proclaimed was for Creature Induced Injuries, while Harry was being kept in a room at the end of the General Admissions corridor. After the Aurors had checked his wand, Remus stepped into the room and was met by a rather bizarre sight; the contents of Harry’s dinner tray had been ignored and placed on his bedside table while the tray itself rested on Harry’s knees, between him and Dumbledore, and had a rather complex looking card tower on it.
The ends of Dumbledore’s beard were blackened and Harry’s nose was covered in soot.
As Remus shut the door, the tower exploded and Harry burst out laughing. “Was that you or me?” Dumbledore asked.
“I... er... I’m not sure,” Harry said.
“Both take a bean then,” Dumbledore said brightly.
There was a rustle and then Harry put something in his mouth and made a face. “Dirt,” he said.
Dumbledore was slower about choosing his. “I do hope this is strawberry,” he said. “I myself happened across a vomit flavoured one in my youth and lost my liking for them.” There was a pause and then Dumbledore reached for a tissue and spat something into it. “Now I remember why; raw meat.”
“My sentiments exactly, dear boy. You may start the next one.” Remus cleared his throat as Harry picked up a card. Both looked up rather guiltily, apparently noticing Remus for the first time. “Ah, Remus!” Dumbledore exclaimed. “Bertie Botts Every Flavour Bean?”
“No, thank you,” Remus said with a smile. “I had an unfortunate experience with an earthworm flavoured one a few years back...”
“Dudley made me eat a worm once,” Harry said, pulling a face. Dumbledore watched him with interest, eyes twinkling. He shrugged. “It wasn’t as bad as you’d think.”
“Sirius could always eat anything too,” Remus said, remembering to swap his smile for a grimace at the last moment.
Something in Harry’s eyes dimmed and for a moment his mind was obviously not in his little hospital room. Dumbledore glanced at Remus, worried, and Remus shrugged back.
“Yeah,” Harry said with a fake laugh. He hastily placed a card down and said, “Your turn, Professor.”
Dumbledore added another card. “This will have to be my last game, dear boy. Minerva was unhappy that I left at all.”
“Sorry,” Harry said.
“I don’t mind in the least,” Dumbledore assured him.
“Thank you, sir.”
Dumbledore smiled to acknowledge the gratitude and then waved a hand at the foundations of their card-tower. “I believe it’s your turn, Harry.” Harry nodded, his face scrunched up with concentration as he set a card atop Dumbledore’s and waited for a few moments. They continued exchanging cards and the tower took shape again.
Remus was struck by nostalgia, and remembered James and Sirius having regular games of Exploding Snap, or using the cards to build towers, and as they grew, models of the Shrieking Shack or Gringotts Bank. Somewhere at home he had a photograph of the small scale Hogwarts they’d built early in seventh year.
Harry was the one who caused it to explode this time as he tried to balance a card atop another one. He let out a yelp as it combusted beneath his fingers and then picked a bean from the box Dumbledore offered. Harry surveyed the little green bean, and looking slightly more apprehensive than he had the time before, put it in his mouth. He relaxed a moment later and said, “Mint.”
Dumbledore smiled and swept the cards into a pile with a wave of his hand. He set the box of beans on top. “You may keep these,” he said kindly, passing them to Harry.
“Like- like a present?” Harry asked, staring at him, stunned.
“Are you not accustomed to presents?” Dumbledore asked, frowning.
“Padfoot’s the only one who’s ever-” he cut off, flushing. Remus curled his hands into fists and then shoved them in his pockets.
Dumbledore’s frown deepened. “I see. Perhaps I’ll have a word with Petunia about that when we drop you home in the morning.”
“No, please don’t. Sir. They-” Harry seemed to think better of what he was about to say and closed his mouth.
“We’ll speak more in the morning,” Dumbledore said after a moment. He shook Harry’s hand and said, “Remus, a quick word?” Remus followed the Headmaster out of the hospital room, feeling as if he was fifteen again and in trouble. Surely he doesn’t know what I’m planning... “I trust Alastor found you?”
“Yes, sir,” Remus said carefully. “He said Harry didn’t take the news of moving terribly well.”
“It is often hard to take news well when you’re being shouted at,” Dumbledore sighed, “although that news would have been hard to hear regardless of who it came from.”
“He’s all right about it now?”
“Perhaps not, but he’s accepted it.” Remus didn’t say anything. “I had hoped you might accompany us in the morning,” Dumbledore continued.
“Harry has come to trust you. He will be far more willing to participate if you are there.”
“So you’re using me to make him go along with it?” Remus asked.
“I’d merely hoped you’d make what will be a difficult situation easier by providing a modicum of familiarity,” Dumbledore said gently.
That made Remus feel a little better. “Difficult situation?”
“Harry is fond of his godfather,” Dumbledore said, frowning slightly, “and not, if I am correct, of his Aunt, Uncle and cousin.”
“I got that impression too,” Remus said.
“I also believe that the feeling is mutual and as such, I have not informed Petunia.”
“You’re just going to show up?”
“I feel that might be best,” Dumbledore said unhappily. “I do not wish to believe the worst, but were I to give them warning, they may make excuses or simply not be home when we drop by. We cannot afford to take that chance because it may give Sirius an opportunity to take Harry back.” Privately, Remus didn’t think Sirius was in any state to take anyone back, but he didn’t say so. “I also intend to speak to Petunia about the possibility of you having Harry for weekends. That will be easier if you are present, I believe.”
“Why now?” Remus asked and he didn’t have to fake his slightly bitter tone.
“Because he has been exposed to our world,” Dumbledore said with a quiet sigh. “Admittedly rather sooner and rather more abruptly than I had hoped but that cannot be changed. I do not think he would take it well if we were to tear all of that away in the space of a few hours.”
“Are you willing to take on the responsibility?”
“Yes, sir,” Remus said.
“Splendid,” Dumbledore said, beaming. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
“Nine will do,” Dumbledore told him. He set off down the corridor, his bright orange hat almost brushing the ceiling.
Remus swallowed, feeling a little guilty for what he was about to do and then pushed that down. If Dumbledore knew the truth, he wouldn’t mind. Merlin, he’d probably help me! Remus laughed quietly - the Aurors on guard gave him odd looks - and stepped back into Harry’s room, closing the door behind him.
“Did you get it?” Harry asked excitedly. Remus pulled out the wand and passed it over. “Thanks.” Harry tucked it out of sight, under his pillow and then glanced up at Remus apprehensively. “Did you... was Padfoot home?”
“He was.” Harry’s face lit up with relief. Then he frowned slightly. “I was perfectly civil, Harry,” Remus added.
Harry’s expression cleared. “He’s still at home, then?”
“He’s not really in any condition to be moving,” Remus said.
“What’s wrong with him?” Harry demanded, looking more like James in that moment than Remus had ever seen.
“Shh,” Remus said, glancing at the door.
Harry looked mortified by his mistake. “Sorry! Is he hurt?”
“A few cuts and bruises,” Remus said. Harry’s expression flickered. “He claims to have food poisoning as well, but that’s probably from all the chocolate he seems to have been eatin- Harry?” Harry had gone very pale and worry was wafting off him in waves.
Harry glanced at Remus. “You can smell it, can’t you?”
“You sniff,” Harry said. “I don’t think you realise you do it, but you do.”
“Most people don’t notice.”
“Most people don’t live with dog-men.”
Remus smiled and, with the ease of experience, twisted the topic. “True... Speaking of dog-men, yours is eager to see you.” Harry’s face brightened again and the last of Remus’ guilt for plotting to break him out faded; anything that made a nine-year old look that happy - and didn’t involve explosives - couldn’t be a bad thing.
“You should go, then,” Harry said after a moment.
“Oh?” Remus asked.
“So they don’t suspect you.” Remus smiled slightly. “I mean, if you leave and five minutes later I’m not here, it’ll be pretty obvious what happened. If you go now, though, you can go home and be there when they start asking questions.”
“And what do you suggest I answer with?”
“You’re the Marauder,” Harry said, shrugging. “Padfoot says you can talk your way out of anything.”
“Almost anything,” Remus said. Harry lifted an eyebrow. “James and Sirius were always been good at seeing through me.” Or smelling, more like, but I could usually do the same... Smelling lies generally required a conscious effort though, unless the person was a bad liar. The better they were, the harder it was to pick up on, which made it easy to miss what was actually being said. There was no point knowing someone was lying if one didn’t know what they were lying about. As a result, Remus relied on his ears and eyes if he could.
“I bet they were,” Harry said, with a small smile that made Remus wonder what stories Sirius had told him. He didn’t ask. “I suppose it’s a good thing it’s not either of them you’ve got to convince.”
“A very good thing,” Remus agreed, smiling. He shifted in his chair. “Where will I meet you, then?”
“I told your godfather I’d bring you home,” Remus said, raising an eyebrow. “You don’t expect me to leave you wandering around London on your own, do you?”
“Hopefully I won’t need to wander at all,” Harry said, rather ambiguously. “But all right...”
* * *
“You’re late,” Harry said, startling Remus; Remus, as planned, had gone home and stayed there for several hours after arranging to meet Harry at nine. It was probably only a few minutes past, but Harry had been dying to get inside and see his godfather. Remus said he said he had food poisoning... I’ll bet my wand he’s still sick from that awful potion. Harry thought, with an anxious glance toward Number Twelve.
“Dumbledore came to my cottage to tell me you’d vanished,” Remus said. “No one saw or heard anything, apparently,” he added, looking a little impressed. “The hospital masked the Trace and the wards erased the magic you left there; it’s bad for the patients, apparently. Fudge was furious. And, all they found was a tea-stained sheet under the bed.”
“Oh, that,” Harry said, shifting under Remus’ scrutiny.
“Yes, that. I wondered where you were putting it.” Harry quirked his lips but couldn’t manage a proper smile now that they were so close to home and he didn’t know what to expect of Padfoot. Remus had mentioned he was sick, but how badly? “Dumbledore found it funny, I think.”
Guilt squirmed in his stomach. “He was at St Mungo’s again?”
“Yes,” Remus said, making a face. “He doesn’t seem able to stay at Hogwarts today; he’s at the Ministry now, I think.”
“Does he think you’re at home?”
Remus shook his head. “I told him I’d be patrolling London tonight.” He shook his head again and muttered, “I still can’t believe I lied to him.”
“Sorry,” Harry said. “It’s my faul-”
“I chose this willingly,” Remus said gently. “It’s more that I can’t believe he believed me; the only secret I’ve ever been able to keep from him is the Animagus secret and that’s not really mine.”
“What do you mean?” Harry asked. “You’re a wolf, aren’t you?”
“And Dumbledore knows,” Harry said, frowning, “so that doesn’t make any sense-”
Remus’ expression closed over completely. “Sirius is probably worried sick,” he said, glancing at his watch. All thoughts of wolves and Dumbledore fled. “Ready?” Remus asked, noticing Harry’s hopeful face. Harry walked beside Remus, hoping no one was looking, or - if they were - that they didn’t notice he was wearing his hospital pyjamas.
He was just about to burst with- not excitement, he didn’t think, but something; it seemed to take them forever to cross the road and walk up Grimmauld’s front steps, but he didn’t dare run in case anyone was watching.
Remus reached into his pocket for his wand so that he could open the front door but he was too slow and Harry’s wand was already in his hand. He rapped it on the door like he’d seen Padfoot do, feeling safe to use magic now that he was inside the Fidelius Charm and protected by the house’s wards. Nothing happened. Irritated he tapped it again and whether he’d done it right that time or it was his desperation responding, the door swung open slowly.
Harry gave it an impatient push and burst into the hallway so quickly the floorboard didn’t have time to make its usual loud creak and merely chirped, though it went off again for Remus who followed him in at a much more sedate pace. The lamps flared to life.
“... can walk. I’m not crippled-” he heard Padfoot saying impatiently from somewhere down the hall. There was a pause and then, “Harry?”
“Padfoot!” Harry shouted, running forward. There was a loud crash from down in the kitchen and loud footsteps and then Harry collided with his godfather midway down the kitchen stairs.
“Thank Merlin,” Padfoot said hoarsely, hugging him. He pulled back, looking Harry over for injuries and seemed happy enough. Harry was doing the same and was not at all pleased with what he saw - or felt for that matter; Padfoot was much thinner than he’d been a week ago.
“What happened to you?” Harry asked, staring at his Godfather’s hollow cheeks, faded bruises and straggly beard.
Padfoot’s laughed half-heartedly. “The undead. Except for this one,” he added, pointing to his cheek. “This one’s from Marlene.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know the neighbours,” Remus said to Harry, approaching a little hesitantly.
“She lives next door?” Harry asked. Padfoot grinned.
“Is she in on this-” Remus gestured around the house, “-too?”
“I told her just about everything except the Animagus secret and where we’ve been living,” Padfoot said ruefully, “so I should think so. Once she cools down, at least. She was... er... unhappy when I left-” He rubbed the bruise without seeming to think about it, “-but she’ll be fine in a week or two.”
“And what in Godric’s name do you mean the undead?!” Remus asked suddenly.
“It was a joke,” Padfoot said, not looking at Harry.
Remus pursed his lips. “Sirius Orion-”
“Your middle name’s Orion?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” Padfoot said in a somewhat amused, somewhat exasperated tone. “And I expect you’ll be hearing it a lot now that Moony’s around.”
“Why? Do you say it often?” Harry asked Remus.
“Only when I’m in trouble,” Padfoot muttered and then doubled over coughing.
So yes, Harry thought.
“Where’s the nearest seat?” Remus asked.
“Dunno. The kitchen, probably,” Harry said, nodding down the stairs.
“Come on,” Remus said, manoeuvring Harry out of the way so he could help a still-coughing Padfoot. Harry trailed behind, worried.
Kreacher was in the kitchen when they entered, righting a chair that Padfoot had obviously knocked over in his hurry to get to Harry and mopping what appeared to be spilt hot chocolate. The table was still covered in sweets from Padfoot and Harry’s visit to Honeydukes just over a week ago.
Kreacher paused when they walked in, taking in Padfoot with an exasperated expression, Remus with a curious one and Harry with a smile. Harry smiled back and almost sat down in the chair next to the one Remus had just forced Padfoot into, but when he spotted the hot chocolate on the stove, headed there instead. He filled a cup and set it down in front of Padfoot who scowled at him but drank.
“Would you like one?” Harry asked Remus.
“Yes, thank you,” Remus said. Harry filled two silver teacups and set one down in front of Remus and kept another for himself. Remus made a face at the teacup and made no move to take it. Padfoot chuckled quietly. Remus eyed the sweets on the table. “No wonder you’re sick,” he said. “There is such a thing as too much sugar.” He eyed the cup in Padfoot’s thin hands.
“This is my first one since you left this afternoon,” Padfoot said, sipping at his drink.
“Oh?” Remus asked, glancing at the sponge in Kreacher’s hand.
“I didn’t even get a mouthful of that one,” Padfoot said. Remus sighed. “What’s in your pocket, kiddo?” Harry looked down, remembering for the first time, that his pyjama pocket had the Exploding Snap set and Bertie Botts Beans from Dumbledore. He pulled them out and showed them to Padfoot, cheerfully explaining the rules of the game. Padfoot smiled. “We’ll have to play sometime. I used to be quite the cardsman.”
“That’s not a word,” Remus said with a grin.
“Find a better word to describe it, then,” Padfoot told him, grinning back.
“Pyrotechnic?” Remus suggested. He reached for the tea cup without seeming to think about it and then pulled back at the last second.
“Git,” Padfoot said.
Padfoot’s eyes narrowed. “So we’re playing this game, are we?”
Remus grinned. “No, let’s not.”
“You know I’d win,” Padfoot said happily.
“Would not,” Remus said, amused.
“He would,” Harry said a little apologetically. “He and his mother have had loads of practice since we moved in.”
“I thought she was-”
“Dead?” Padfoot said. “Yes, she is, thank Merlin. She’s got a portrait though.” Padfoot said, glanced at Harry. Padfoot’s eyes sometimes seemed a little empty - an after-effect of Azkaban, Harry knew - but they seemed livelier than they had been in a while - despite his sickness - and that happiness looked like it might be there to stay. “A rather unhappy portrait, at the moment.”
Harry grinned sheepishly. “Er...” Padfoot watched him expectantly. “After... er... Kreacher and I got back and you weren’t with us... I... er... yeah.” He glanced at Remus, not sure how much to say in front of him.
“Accidental?” Padfoot asked.
“Dunno,” Harry admitted. “It wasn’t deliberate, if that’s what you mean. She can join Kreacher in his cupboard.”
“There was a Permanent Sticking Charm on that.”
“Not anymore,” Harry said with a shrug.
“Keeping secrets, are we?” Remus asked, amused.
“Maybe. If we’re talking about secrets, though, what about you being a wolf?” Harry asked.
Padfoot choked on nothing in particular. Remus glanced over at him and then back to Harry. “What about being a wolf, Harry?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” Harry admitted. “It’s just... strange. You changed the subject at St Mungo’s and again in the park.”
Padfoot laughed into his silver teacup. Remus turned on him, exasperated. “I can’t believe you didn’t-”
“Yes, but it’s not mine to-”
“I know,” Remus sighed. “Thank you, I suppose, but now-”
Padfoot scowled. “He won’t-”
“How would you know?”
“How would you?” Remus countered.
“Because I’ve been living with him. And neither James or Lily were bothered at all. I mean, if he was Snivellus’ spawn then maybe, but-”
“I’m going to leave you to talk,” Harry decided, knowing when he was needed and when he wasn’t.
“Where are you going?” Padfoot asked, surprised.
He was going to try to figure out what they were hiding with this wolf business. “I’m going to... er... clean my room.”
He headed for the stairs and made it up about two when Padfoot and Remus both shouted, “NO!” Padfoot’s shout, admittedly, was weaker than Remus’, but it still startled Harry.
Padfoot looked mildly amused. “Whenever James was going to do something incredibly stupid or dangerous - more often than not we were with him,” he added, jerking his head at Remus, “he’d tell Charlus and Dorea-”
“Your grandparents, Harry-”
“He knows who his grandparents are, Moony,” Padfoot said, rolling his eyes. Harry grinned. “Anyway, cleaning his room was always his excuse.”
“Always,” Remus added, for effect.
“You mean you don’t trust me?” Harry asked, his lips twitching; despite the time apart, Padfoot and Remus seemed to have fallen into the easy camaraderie that that Padfoot had always described with a wistful tone.
“Never trust a Potter who says he’s going to clean his room,” Padfoot and Remus recited, before Padfoot said, “James was so tidy that he never had to clean anyway and you’re so messy that you’d never bother to clean.”
“I really am going to clean my room,” Harry lied.
Neither seemed to believe him. “If I hear one explosion, or one scream of pain...” Padfoot said warningly.
“Then your duty as godfather will be fulfilled and it’ll be the proudest day of your life,” Remus told Padfoot, snorting.
Padfoot opened his mouth and closed it again. “Point.” He turned back to Harry. “I don’t know what you’re planning but please try not to make too much mess because I’m in no state to clean.” He eyed Kreacher who was rummaging through the cupboards.
“And be careful,” Remus added. Padfoot tried to conceal a laugh in a cough. “What?”
Padfoot muttered something that made Remus scowl, but Harry didn’t hear what it was. “You’ve been warned,” Padfoot called after Harry, who took the stairs, two at a time, laughing. Harry, now on the ground floor, hung around at the top of the staircase. Listening at doors or the tops of staircases was a rather unfortunate, incurable habit he’d picked up at the Dursleys, but it had certainly come in useful lately.
“Your drink’s going to go cold, Moony,” Padfoot said.
“Oh, shut up.” Remus laughed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was a sabotage attempt.”
“But you do.”
“Yes. Turns out your mother just had poor taste in tea sets.”
“My mother had poor taste in everything.”
They both chuckled - Padfoot’s turned into coughs - and Harry, who had no idea what they were prattling on about, shrugged and continued on his way upstairs.