Harry woke up in a bad mood. He’d spent the night tossing and turning, dreaming that that Padfoot really was a werewolf and that he’d tried to eat Snape while Moony, and to his even greater horror, James – who’d looked a lot like he usually did in the mirror – laughed cruelly. All the while, Snape’s voice had whispered, Black is a monster. He was capable of murder at the age of sixteen and your precious father was no better.
He’d spent the early hours of the morning sitting cross legged in bed – afraid to go back to sleep – with Hedwig perched on his knee, and climbed out of bed the moment he heard Kreacher moving across the landing.
Breakfast was a cheerful affair and Harry found his mood improving with each passing minute; Kreacher, having rested well the night before, cooked enough food to serve ten Dudleys. Padfoot’s health seemed to have improved dramtically overnight – though that worried Harry more than it comforted him – but Kreacher still shoved a steaming mug into his hand the moment he came downstairs.
“Slow news day,” Padfoot commented, glancing at the Prophet. “Some git’s made the front page for winning some Witch Weekly award.”
“It’s not Gilderoy Lockhart again?” Moony asked, accepting a cup of tea from Kreacher.
“Yeah, why?” Padfoot said. “Do you know him?”
“Yes, and so do you, Sirius. He was in Hufflpuff, remember? Our year.”
“He was?” Padfoot asked blankly. Harry reached for the butter and caught a glimpse of the handsome wizard on the front of the paper. Padfoot snapped his fingers. “He’s the one who fawned over Slughorn, isn’t he? Thank Merlin he didn’t make it to N.E.W.T. level or I would’ve had to drop the subject.” Moony smiled and added sugar to his tea. “I’m thinking of the right one, aren’t I?”
“How many other people do you know that fawned over Slughorn?” Moony asked wryly.
“Well, Lily,” Padfoot said. Harry’s head snapped up. “Except she didn’t care about him much, it was more that he liked her-”
“‘Didn’t care about him much?’” Moony repeated, looking stunned. “This is Lily we’re talking about here-”
“She liked him,” Padfoot said, flapping a hand, “but she didn’t like the attention, so they negated each other. Who else liked Slughorn...?”
“Snape?” Moony suggested. Harry glowered at him, because the name had sent his almost-forgotten dream rushing back to the forefront of his mind. Padfoot growled, sounding rather like his Animagus self.
“Bloody Snivellus,” Padfoot muttered, setting his mug down rather harder than was necessary. Kreacher heard the name and started smashing eggs against the side of the frying pan with vigor.
“Language, Sirius,” Moony said, glancing in Harry’s direction.
“He doesn’t like the git either,” Padfoot said dismissively. Harry snagged another piece of toast from the plate in the middle of the table and stood.
“Thanks for breakfast, Kreacher,” he said, and hurried up the stairs and out of the kitchen.
Padfoot came up half an hour later – Moony had gone to meet with Padfoot’s cousin’s daughter – and peered into Harry’s room. Harry was trying to see how high he could stack the Exploding Snap cards Dumbledore had given him. It wasn’t exactly calming, but the imminent danger of being burned was a pretty good distraction.
“Are you all right, kiddo?” Padfoot asked, leaning against the doorframe.
“Yeah, fine,” Harry said, carefully leaning two cards against each other. “Why?”
“You left rather abruptly,” Padfoot said. Harry could feel the grey stare but didn’t look up to meet it; it was easier to pretend to be distracted. The intensity of it was a little unnerving, though, and Harry had a sudden suspicion he was about to find out what had been bothering his godfather for the past few days – aside from the obvious Dementor’s Draught, of course.
“Yeah,” Harry said, “erm... bathroom.”
Padfoot’s expression cleared immediately. Harry felt a twinge of guilt but forced it away. Padfoot sniffed curiously. Harry winced and deliberately knocked over his tower, hoping the smoke would mask his scent. As he’d hoped, Padfoot wrinkled his nose and sneezed. Harry brushed soot off his hands and collected the reforming cards. Padfoot didn’t need to know he’d had a stupid dream. Snape was probably lying anyway. I bet he’d love the idea of me worrying about this.
Padfoot seemed to think for a moment and then, to Harry’s surprise, said, “Can I play?”
“Well, yeah,” Harry said, blinking.
Padfoot came in and sat down. They stared at each other for a few moments. “Er... What are we playing?”
Harry laughed. “Well, there’s the game I played with Dumbledore, or-”
“The one with the Bertie Bott’s?” Padfoot asked, grinning.
Harry nodded and set down the stack of cards. “I’ve got some in my-”
“Accio,” Padfoot said, flicking his wand at the bedside table. “But don’t tell Moony or Kreacher we had sweets so soon after breakfast.” Harry nodded. There was a quiet banging noise from inside the drawer, as if the box of beans was trying to escape. A moment later, the drawer burst open with a bang and the beans shot toward them. Harry snagged them out of the air. Padfoot’s eyebrows rose as Harry set the beans on the carpet between them.
“What?” Harry asked. Padfoot stared at him for a moment and shook his head.
“Nothing.” Harry decided to drop the matter, since Padfoot had done the same for him before.
“You can start.” Padfoot grinned and reached for a card. One glue flavoured bean and one cinnamon one later, Padfoot cleared his throat. Harry looked up expectantly.
“So,” Padfoot said, not reaching for a card despite it being his turn.
He’s definitely about to say something important, Harry thought.
“I was thinking-” Harry had to swallow the smart comment he would usually have made because Padfoot didn’t look to be in the mood. “-that I might go out this afternoon, and you wouldn’t be able to come-”
“Where are you going?” Harry asked, seizing the topic change with interest.
“It’s been two weeks since the cave...” Padfoot said, still looking rather distant.
“Did you find something about Horcruxes?” Harry asked warily.
“No.” Padfoot frowned unhappily. “None of the books from Reg’s room had anything in them, so I’m going through the rest of the library now.” Harry wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he didn’t say anything. “This is about... Marlene.”
“What about her?” Harry asked curiously.
Padfoot took a deep breath and then words came rushing out. “It’s been two weeks and I think Marlene has probably calmed down by now, so I thought I might go and talk to her again.” Already, Padfoot looked as though he’d thrown off a large burden. Harry was pleased, and jealous at the same time, even though Padfoot had been worrying for a few days and Harry had only had a morning.
“Right,” Harry said. “So?”
“So this is something that really needs to be done. She should have calmed down a bit, but if I leave it much longer, it’ll be a much harder job than it needs to.”
“And?” Harry asked, still not sure what the problem was.
“And I have to go alone. You can’t come.”
Harry frowned at him. “Why not?”
“If it came to spells – which, with Marlene is always a possibility,” Padfoot said with a grimace, “then it could set the Trace off and bring the entire D.M.L.E. barging in. That’s the last thing we need, particularly since they know I own a house in the area.”
Harry could see a gaping flaw in that logic and didn’t hesitate to point it out: “But then Marlene will know, won’t she? Where to find us, I mean.”
“She might,” Padfoot said. “But hopefully she believes me enough that she won’t go running off to call the Aurors. I can explain the rest of it to her and then it won’t matter that she knows. Even then, she won’t be able to find us in here until you tell her the Secret.”
“Right,” Harry muttered.
“I’ve invited Moony back after he’s done with Nymphadora and he thinks he’ll be back in the early afternoon. He can watch you while I go out-”
“Well, yeah,” Padfoot said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I sort of thought that after Snape taking you, you might not want to be here by yourself-”
“No, I want to,” Harry said. Padfoot’s eyebrows arched. “I mean, Snape’s not likely to come back, is he? And Kreacher’s here.”
Padfoot’s face darkened. “Yes, because that worked so well last time.”
“It’ll be fine,” Harry hedged. “You should talk to her. If it works out, maybe she could – I dunno - come to dinner or something.”
Padfoot’s eyes brightened again. “You’re sure you don’t mind?”
“Not at all,” Harry said honestly, because right now, he thought he needed some time alone and while Kreacher was easy enough to keep busy, Padfoot was less so; he’d give Harry time alone if he asked for it, but then he’d want to know why and Harry couldn’t explain that, not yet. “You should go.”
Padfoot nodded seriously and then grinned, reaching for a card. “Why don’t we finish the game first, though?”
* * *
“Would you like a drink?” Remus asked as they claimed his usual table in the corner.
Nymphadora frowned at him and took the seat opposite. “You drink on duty?”
“I was going to suggest a butterbeer,” he said with a wry smile.
“Oh.” She flushed. “Well, I suppose if you’re having one...”
She stuck a hand into her pocket but Remus shook his head. “I’ll buy,” he said.
“I hate owing people,” she muttered. “It’s not like I can’t afford it; even trainees get six hundred galleons a month-”
“I think I should become an Auror,” Remus muttered, though he knew perfectly well that they’d never take him. Nymphadora laughed and pulled out three sickles. Remus’ heart sank as he stared at the little silver coins. “Are you certain?” he asked weakly. “I’d much rather pay than take your money.”
“I don’t like charity,” she said with a grin, pushing the coins into his hand.
Oww, Remus thought, forcing a smile onto his face. Oww, bloody oww! Remus took the money and went to order, all but throwing the coins at Tom when he got there.
“Dittany?” Remus asked between clenched teeth. Tom vanished beneath the counter for a moment and then popped up and pressed the bottle into Remus’ good hand. He poured it over the burn, which smoked and vanished. “Thank you,” he said, passing the bottle back.
Tom gave him a gummy smile and added something to the little piece of parchment he kept on how much he owed Remus; Remus tended to pay in galleons and since Tom knew about his condition, Tom counted that as advanced payment for the thing he ordered. He still had several ‘free’ drinks on his account. They chatted while Tom filled two mugs and Tom ribbed him about showing up with a girl, much to Remus’ embarrassment.
“It isn’t like that,” he said firmly, though his face felt rather hot. “She’s just a friend.” And then, because he wasn’t even sure that they were friends, added, “Colleague.”
The mention of colleagues turned the conversation to work and Remus wasn’t about to start getting into that with Tom – fond as he was of the old barman – so he deftly turned the conversation back on Tom and how business was. Tom talked cheerfully and passed the mugs over the counter. It was with some relief that Remus headed back to the table.
“Are you friends?” Nymphadora asked as he sat down again.
“I worked here for a few years,” Remus said, passing her butterbeer over. “Tom was friends with my father, arranged my first job.”
“You didn’t stay on?”
“I couldn’t. The war was happening. I had things to do, and while Tom’s neutral with everybody, most of the Death Eaters that came through knew perfectly well who I was.”
Nymphadora – midway through taking a sip of her drink – choked. “They did? How?”
“I went to school with them,” Remus said, knowing better than to mention the Order, or Peter. “And- Ah! This is one of ours.” He lifted a hand to wave Debbie over. She approached slowly, her dark eyes never on one person or place for more than a few seconds. They landed on Nymphadora, narrowed, and then met Remus’. He nodded to show her it was okay.
“Remus,” she said in a voice that wavered a little.
“Debbie,” he said with a warm smile. “How are you?”
“I’ve been... better,” she said, suddenly blinking away tears.
He reached out and squeezed her hand; she’d been bitten back in June and two nights ago had been her third full moon. The full moon was hard for any werewolf. For a middle-aged woman that had been a muggle until very recently, it was even harder. “Are you still able to work today?”
“Yes,” she said, twisting her hands in the material of her dress. “Yes, thank you.”
“Would you like a drink?”
“No, thank you,” she said, tucking a strand of blond hair behind her ear. “Where would you like me to look today, Remus?”
“Just locally, thank you, Debbie. And don’t overwork yourself.” She bobbed her head in a nod and was gone.
“Are you related?” Nymphadora asked at once.
“No,” Remus said, a little thrown by the question. “Why, do we look alike?”
“No,” Nymphadora said, frowning. “There’s just something about her...”
“We have a lot in common,” Remus told her. “She went through some fairly difficult things a few months back. I’ve been helping her quite a bit.” Nymphadora smiled. Her eyes scanned the pub, perhaps searching for more of the volunteers, when she stiffened. “Are you all right?” Remus asked, glancing around for whatever had upset her.
She didn’t have a chance to answer that question but the answer presented itself fairly quickly because Lucius Malfoy swept over to the table, flanked by his wife. Remus could see the two Malfoy boys wrestling with something small and brown a few feet away.
“Lupin,” Malfoy said, in what could only be described as a sneer. “Hard at work, I see.” His eyes flicked to the butterbeer in front of Remus.
“Mr Malfoy,” Nymphadora said, beaming.
“Tock,” he said, far more politely. “You’ve been treated well enough?” His eyes flicked to Remus again.
“Call me Theodora,” she said, still smiling. Narcissa gave her a sharp look and then turned to her children, who were still struggling. “And of course I have. Lupin here’s been a perfect gentleman.” Remus heard the subtle, mocking tone she adopted for those last two words and saw her roll her eyes. Malfoy seemed to like that, because he smirked and gave Remus a look that he would have interpreted to mean his time was limited even if he wasn’t in on the plan. Gently, Nymphadora kicked Remus under the table, as if to apologise. He kicked her back.
“You’re learning quickly, I trust?” he asked.
“Oh, yes, sir!” she said eagerly.
“He doesn’t like the noise!” one of the Malfoy boys was saying to his mother. Remus had absolutely no idea which was which from appearance alone and didn’t think Malfoy would appreciate it if he started sniffing his sons... Now there’s an idea...he thought smothering a grin.
“I did tell you-”
“I promised Pansy I’d bring him,” one of them said, cutting in snottily.
“And if Hydrus gets to bring Bosworth, I should get to bring Roquefort,” the other – who had to be Draco, then – whined. Remus was amused; were they talking about cheese?
“Fine,” she said mildly. “Bring them with you, but if I see as much as a whisker between here and the cafe, I will not hesitate to send you back to the Manor. Am I understood?”
“Of course, Mother,” Hydrus said, sweet and smiling all of a sudden, as he stowed something in his pocket. “He’ll be good, I promise.” Draco gave her an equally sweet smile and nodded, patting his own pocket.
Malfoy noticed Remus looking at the boys and his polite expression – Nymphadora was saying something about she and Remus going to Norfolk (Remus had to hide a bewildered look) – froze in place. He, unlike his children and wife, were close enough that Remus could smell- was it fear?
“Narcissa, dear,” he said, holding up a pale hand to stop Nymphadora’s chatter, “take the boys ahead, would you? Tell the Parkinsons I’ll be along shortly.”
Of course, Remus thought scathingly. Wouldn’t want your children breathing the same air as me, would you, Malfoy? It wasn’t particularly surprising; Malfoy hadn’t used the Scrimgeour excuse since June, yet they were still holding meetings through the bars of the Manor gates.
“Of course,” Narcissa said calmly. “Miss Tock, Mr Lupin.” She gave her sons an imploring look.
“Goodbye,” Draco said in a polite, if frosty tone. Remus didn’t miss the sulky look he gave his mother.
“Goodbye,” Hydrus said in a sneering tone that he must have inherited from his father and then the three of them swept out with a swish of expensive robes.
Nymphadora and her uncle exchanged a few more words and then he sneered his goodbyes – just as his son had – and left the crowded pub.
“Idiot,” Nymphadora said, her voice lifting an octave as it reverted back to normal. “Sorry about the perfect gentleman thing,” she added hastily. “I just thought-”
“No offence taken,” Remus assured her. “You’re quite a good liar.”
“Er... thanks?” she said, looking unsure whether to be pleased by that comment or insulted.
She decided to take it as a compliment. “What do you mean quite good? I think I’m very good.”
Remus smiled at the teasing tone. “Modest too.” She grinned at that. “Unfortunately, I’ve met better.”
“Who?” she demanded at once.
“Why, me,” he said, taking a sip of his drink.
“You, eh?” she asked, not looking certain about whether he was joking or not. “How-”
Before she had a chance to form any of the questions she obviously wanted to ask, three people approached the table. Remus would have bet the contents of his Gringotts vault – which, admittedly, was not much - that they’d been waiting for Malfoy to leave.
The first was a boy Remus had known for several years now. Matthew Rosier been bitten by Greyback near the end of the war to punish his father for marrying a muggle. As a new werewolf at the time he’d received his Hogwarts letter, Matt had decided not to go and so his parents had paid Remus to teach him instead, although Remus would happily have done it for free.
The second was Arabella Figg, the Squib woman who’d been a part of the Order and who’d lived next door to Lily’s sister to keep an eye on Harry. As always, she smelled strongly of cats and mothballs but Remus found the scent oddly comforting, instead of repulsive.
The third was Dirk Cresswell, who, unlike Remus’ other helpers, had no trouble finding work and held a position in the Goblin Liason Office. He’d conveniently not mentioned that to Malfoy when he volunteered and so Malfoy - who had no idea that Dirk was a actually a very capable wizard - had judged him on his muggleborn blood status and the fact that he could only work weekends and shunted him into the muggle search.
“Where’s Deb?” Matt asked, glancing around. He had helped Remus a lot with integrating her into wizarding society and helping her cope with her lycanthropy, and was quite fond of the older woman.
“She’s already been and left.” Matt’s face fell. “Everyone, this is Theodora Tock. She’ll be working with us from now on.”
“Wo- Hello,” Nymphadora said, grinning at the others.
“Hi,” Matt said, flopping down in the seat next to Remus’. He gave her a charming smile. “I’m Matt.”
“Arabella Figg,” Arabella said kindly.
“You work at the Ministry, don’t you?” Nymphadora said, squinting at him.
Dirk smiled. “Yes, indeed, Miss Tock-”
“Theodora’s fine,” she said, far more naturally than she had with Malfoy.
Matt glanced at the pair of them and then leaned toward Remus. “How was yours, then?”
“The best one for a while,” Remus said honestly. “Yours?”
“Boring,” Matt said, scratching his arm, where Remus was sure he had a cut or bruise of some sort. “I had about an hour before the tranquilisers kicked in.” Matt’s mother Robin worked as a veterinarian and had access to animal medicines that Matt had been using effectively for several years.
Most werewolves wouldn’t dream of using muggle remedies; they had to be injected, not ingested like a potion and they also prolonged the recovery period in the days after the moon. Even now, Matt looked a little bleary-eyed, but he’d always said – and firmly – that it was worth it.
“You’re still using them, then?”
“We had to switch the type and up the dosage this time,” he said, shrugging. “Bloody wolf was getting resistant.” He scratched his arm again and yawned.
“May I?” Remus asked. Matt smiled gratefully and rolled up his sleeve. Remus vanished the dressing – Robin’s work, he was certain - with a tap of his wand and healed the cut with another tap. Matt wasn’t bad with Healing Charms but his mother liked to help and he let her, at least until his injuries bothered him too much.
“Cheers,” Matt said. His gaze flicked to Nymphadora, who was being regaled with a tale about one of Arabella’s many cats. “Is she...?” Remus shook his head. “Didn’t think so,” Matt said. “What’s her story, then?”
“Ask her yourself,” Remus told him, grinning.
“All right,” Matt said, lounging back in his chair. “Oi, Tock.” Nymphadora looked up curiously. “What’s your story, then?”
“What?” she asked, but Dirk and Arabella both grinned.
“Well, my Mother’s a muggle, Arabella here’s a Squib and so’s Debbie, who Remus said you met earlier, and Dirk’s muggleborn. Remus here’s just an all round nice person. What’d you do to insult the mighty Malfoy?”
“Muggleborn,” Nymphadora said, glancing at Remus who inclined his head slightly.
“I knew I liked you,” Dirk said, smiling at her. She smiled back.
Dirk left shortly after to patrol the area around King’s Cross Station but the other two ordered their own drinks and hung around, discussing Harry and Sirius for quite a while.
Eventually, Arabella left to catch a muggle bus that would take her around the city and let her keep an eye on things, and Matt slipped out to do rounds of the muggle street outside the Leaky Cauldron; one of Malfoy’s men was already set up in the corner, nursing a firewhiskey, his eyes flicking between the door and the fireplace, watching, but not really taking anything in. He was a few years older than Remus and not the brightest galleon in Gringotts, but that didn’t bother Remus at all anymore, now that he didn’t want Sirius caught.
“Where’ll we go?” Nymphadora asked as they set off down Charing Cross Road.
“We’ll just walk around the busier streets until lunchtime and then go back to the Leaky Cauldron and meet up with everyone again.”
“And then what?”
“Have lunch,” Remus said with a shrug. “Discuss anything suspicious and then designate duties and head out again.”
“What if Debbie or Arabella find Sirius? They can’t use magic to catch him, can they?”
“Neither are defenceless,” Remus assured her. Debbie was much stronger than she looked and Arabella’s handbag was heavy enough to knock someone as big as Hagrid out. “If they spot Sirius, they’ve got a piece of parchment that’s charmed to fly straight to me. That’s why I stay in the city. I can get the message quickly and Apparate straight there if I need to. They’ve also both got a Portkey that’ll take them home if they need it.”
“They’re all going to be furious with me when I take your job, aren’t they?” she sighed.
“No,” he said honestly. Well, Matt and Debbie might be, but Remus intended to tell them enough about what was going on to keep them happy. “They aren’t here for me. They’re here to find Harry.”
“If you’re sure...”
“I’m positive,” Remus said. “Now, mind you keep an eye out for any nine-year old boys.” Nymphadora instantly glanced around, as if she thought Harry might wander out of one of the shops. They walked in silence for a moment, with Nymphadora staring suspiciously at all children between the ages of seven and twelve – Mad-Eye would be proud, Remus thought. “Nym- Theodora,” he said. She glanced up at him. “You’re scaring people.”
Nymphadora jumped and gave a mother and her son an apologetic look. “Oops.”
“Look,” he encouraged, “but don’t stare. Or glower. Or whatever it is you were doing.”
“Right,” she muttered, the roots of her hair flashing pink for a moment before she seemed to notice and controlled the urge. “So how’ve you been?”
“Since yesterday?” Remus asked, chuckling. She flushed but pressed on.
“Was your friend all right?”
“Fine,” Remus said, “thank you.” Before she could ask any more on the matter, he said, “What did you cover in the Program yesterday?”
“Sidekicks,” she said, flashing something small and gold at him before it vanished into her pocket again. “They’re brilliant. I can’t remember what the acronym stands for but it’s like a watch, a muggle phone and a compass all at once.”
“You’re enjoying it, then?”
“We haven’t done much, yet. I think I’ve spent more time with you than I have in Ministry lessons, but yeah, so far it’s pretty good.”
“Have you got a good group?”
She shrugged. “A few gits, but there are always a few of those. Florence and Melvin are great and I thought Ben was all right but he turned out to be a bit of a prat-”
“He started sprouting rubbish about Slytherins being evil and Gryffindors always being the good guys.”
“No, not always,” he sighed, thinking of Peter. “And I’ve known a few good Slytherins, but I’ve also known some rather horrible ones.”
“So you think Slytherins are evil too?” Nymphadora asked, bristling. Her hair was still brown but had a distinct reddish tinge to it.
“When I was at school, I hated them,” Remus said honestly. “Lucius Malfoy, Samuel Avery, Evan Rosier, Bellatrix Black – well Lestrange, now... can you blame me?” Nymphadora winced at that last name but her expression was set. “At the same time, I knew your mother. I knew Regulus Black and Emmeline Vance – brilliant people, the three of them.”
“You know Professor Vance?” Remus blinked, having forgotten Emmeline would have taught Nymphadora. Then he nodded. “But you still think Slytherins are mostly-”
“I think that Slytherins are more likely to be drawn in by offers of power than others because they’re ambitious and have good self-preservation instincts,” Remus told her calmly. “If I was in school again, I can’t say I would have treated the lot I was in with any better, but that doesn’t mean I’m proud of it.” She was still watching him with a mulish expression.
“I’d have thought you would understand where I’m coming from.”
“I do. Very much so. You don’t know me well enough yet to understand that I have a very deep, ingrained hate of prejudice. I have always done my best to trust people until I’m given a reason not to. Unfortunately, when I was in school, I was given those reasons and responded in kind.”
“Why did you have to respond at all?” she asked. “Why not just leave them alone?” He smiled sadly. It was a nice solution, but a naive one.
“For the same reason you’ve just argued with me about Slytherins.” He smiled to show her that he didn’t view that as offensive, but she didn’t smile back. “Belief,” he told her. “Voldemort and his followers were spreading one set of beliefs. I had a different set, one that I believed in strongly enough to fight for, to die for even. One that I wouldn’t abandon, even if it was dangerous – that’s the Gryffindor in me, I suppose.”
“I suppose so,” she agreed, with a smile and something in her eyes that he eventually identified as awe. It made him uncomfortable. “And Moody shares your convictions, doesn’t he?”
“Some,” Remus agreed carefully. “Why?”
“You aren’t an Auror, but you’ve had his training. It makes sense if you fought together.” Remus nodded reluctantly.
“I can see why Mad-Eye chose you.”
“McKinnon said that too,” Nymphadora said, frowning. “I don’t get it.”
“You’ve got a good set of morals and you’ve got a brain that you use. If you’ve got those, you’re set. With Mad-Eye at least.” She flushed. “And did you say McKinnon?”
“Do you know-” She shook her head. “You must have, because she knew Sirius...”
“Marlene McKinnon?” Remus pressed.
“Her first name’s Marlene?” Nymphadora asked.
“It is if we’re talking about the same person,” Remus said, his heart racing. “What does she look like? How did you meet her?”
“She’s a trainee, too. And... she’s tall,” Nymphadora said thoughtfully. “Brown hair and eyes. She- Oh! Come with me!” She grabbed his arm and towed him into a side alley. She tripped on a beer bottle and grabbed Remus for support. “Oops,” she said brightly. “Sorry! She looks like this,” she said, changing before his eyes. The face before him did indeed belong to Marlene.
Fuck, was his first thought. His second was that he needed to get a message to Sirius immediately, just in case he got impatient and left before Remus returned. I can’t send a Patronus in case Nymphadora sees... or if Sirius is somewhere that people might see him... I’ll have to go myself... skip lunch. His eyes narrowed at the thought; his stomach was beginning to rumble now but they weren’t due back at the Leaky Cauldron for another hour, yet. Maybe I can have something at Grimmauld...
Just then, Nymphadora pointed out a little, fluffy dog that a Muggle had coloured bubblegum pink. Poor creature, Remus thought, looking at it. It reminded him of something James and Sirius had once done to Mrs Norris, and also of something he and James had once done to Sirius when he fell asleep as Padfoot. If Sirius could see it, he’d probably subject us all to a spiel on canine rights. Or laugh. Remus eyed the dog again and chuckled. Yes, he’d laugh.
He and Nymphadora continued through London chatting amicably, although Remus found himself distracted with worry over Marlene and Sirius.
“Are you all right?” Nymphadora asked, her eyes scanning his face. He could smell concern wafting off of her. Remus hesitated, wondering whether he should make an excuse and leave, or whether he should just be patient and leave later, from the pub.
“I-” Her eyes widened and she shoved a hand into her pocket.
“It’s burning,” she said wonderingly. “Can I-”
“Go ahead,” Remus said.
“Wait here,” she told him, and went to stand a few yards away. She put the thing she’d dubbed a Sidekick to her mouth and whispered something Remus didn’t catch and then Mad-Eye’s voice boomed out of it.
“What attacked you in Brighton?” Several muggles paused to stare and Nymphadora hastily pressed the Sidekick to her ear the way Remus had seen muggles do with the small, portable telephones they carried.
“A post box,” she said, looking bewildered.
“Are you alone?!” Nymphadora winced and held the thing at an arm’s length. Remus was sure her ears were ringing.
“You know,” she said, “for a man who’s so obsessed with secrecy, you’re awfully loud. Like a pureblood using a telephone,” she muttered, catching Remus’ eye. He grinned, remembering the story James had told him about using the telephone at the Evans’ house the first time he stayed there.
“Answer the question!”
She jumped. “Lupin’s here, but I am otherwise.”
It was quiet and then Mad-Eye said, “There was a boy here.”
“Because the boy was looking for you,” Mad-Eye’s voice said.
“Williams, he said his name was. Do you know him?”
“Keith?” she asked incredulously. “Keith was at the Ministry? What did he want?”
“He wanted you! Weren’t you listening?”
“What did he want with me?” Nymphadora asked patiently. Remus was impressed. He’d probably have shouted by now.
“To talk to you. Something about you not returning an owl last night,” Mad-Eye said gruffly. Nymphadora grimaced.
“What did you tell him?”
“Told him whatever he wanted wasn’t any of my business, and where you were wasn’t any of his.”
Nymphadora winced. “How’d that go?”
“He got stroppy,” Mad-Eye said cheerfully. “So I sent him away.”
“To look you.” Mad-Eye’s voice was quite... well, mad. He sounded as though he might start giggling at any moment.
“Where’s he meeting us?” Nymphadora asked, resigned. She threw Remus an apologetic look. Remus shrugged to show he didn’t mind, but took a step back. Talking to Mad-Eye was always delicate, but after a while, people learned to navigate their way through conversations. Nymphadora was still inexperienced, but Remus was not and knew she’d just made a mistake. What was coming would be loud.
“Meeting you!” Mad-Eye roared. Nymphadora squeaked and dropped her Sidekick. Several muggles looked over. “He’s not meeting you anywhere!”
“But- you said-” Nymphadora looked at Remus for help. He just shrugged.
“He could be lying about knowing you! He might be a spy sent by Malfoy! The boy could be an impostor! Constant vigilance! None of my spells picked anything up, but Polyjuice can’t be detected without a saliva sample and I couldn’t risk him getting suspicious-”
Nymphadora groaned. “But I do know him. He’s not a spy-”
“You can’t know that! He could be tailing you as we speak. Are there any boys of your age nearby? Best get your wand out, just in case. Now, there’s a Cloaking Charm that-” She covered her face with her hand and let out a slow breath that was a sigh and a growl mixed together and then snapped the device shut. Remus stared at her, amazed.
“I have to go,” she said. “I’m really, really sorry about this, but-”
“It’s fine,” Remus said with a wry grin. “I know what he’s like.”
“I’m with Moody tomorrow and Mond-”
“I only do mornings on those days anyway,” Remus said. “I’ll owl you about Tuesday, if you’d like?”
“Yes, please,” she said and then winced. “Uh oh,” she said, glancing at her Sidekick, which Remus thought was probably burning again.
“Go,” Remus advised. She hurried down an alley – stumbled once and caught herself on a bin – and then he heard the telltale pop of her Disapparating.
Remus checked his watch and nodded to himself. He had twenty minutes until he was due to meet the others. He could Apparate to Grimmauld, warn Sirius and then come back in time for lunch. He slid his wand out of his pocket and walked down the side street Nymphadora had just used. He walked until there were no muggles in sight – either in the mouth of the alley, in the alley itself, or looking out of windows that overlooked the alley – and then turned on the spot.
As was becoming habit, he Apparated into the bushes in the park opposite Grimmauld, but this time - instead of walking straight out - walked to the far left gate and around, approaching from Number Eleven’s side. If Marlene saw him, he could always claim he was on patrol, but he’d rather avoid being seen by her altogether, if he could manage it.
As a result, he didn’t loiter on the doorstep, but simply let himself inside. It was rude, but given the circumstances, he could make an exception. The floorboards creaked as he stepped into the hallway, and he heard quiet feet move upstairs. A moment later, a messy black head peeked over the banister of the fourth floor landing, and then ducked out of sight again.
“Harry?” Remus called. Green eyes and a wand slowly moved over again, and then Harry blinked.
“Moony,” he said, sounding surprised. “Padfoot said you were going to be out until after lunch.”
“Where is Padfoot?” Remus asked, dreading the answer.
“Out,” Harry said. “He went to Marlene’s.”
“Already?” Remus asked, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach. “How long ago?”
“I dunno. An hour and a bit, maybe?” He could already be in Azkaban for all we know, Remus thought, closing his eyes for a moment. There was a loud pop in front of him and then Harry was standing right there. Remus blinked, startled, though he’d seen Harry Apparate before. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
“Marlene’s an Auror. Well, a trainee, but-”
“But then Padfoot...” Remus thought Harry might be sick. “We’ve got to do something!”
“Harry,” Remus said. Harry, who was already halfway to the door, stopped. “There’s nothing you can do for him right now.”
“But- I have to- It’s my fault-” Remus would want to know more about that later, but there wasn’t time for it now; Harry was still heading for the door.
“What would Sirius say if you set off the Trace and got yourself caught?”
“That it was a bloody inconvenience,” Harry said, sounding remarkably like Sirius as he did so. His hand, which had been reaching for the handle, dropped back to his side.
“Language,” Remus corrected absently. “But yes.” His mind was working again, spitting out a plan as it had used to do for pranks at school. “I want you and Kreacher to make this place look like it did when you first moved in.”
“How’s that supposed to he-”
“Think, Harry,” he said, his worry manifesting itself as impatience. “They’ll come looking here – they’d be stupid not to – and if they find it tidy, with the pantry stocked, beds made and the walls painted, they’ll know you’ve been here.”
“Right,” Harry muttered.
“You have ten minutes,” Remus said, holding Harry’s eyes, “to do as much as you can, and then you need to leave. Kreacher needs to stay, and pretend he’s been here alone the whole time.”
“Leave?” Harry asked, looking aghast. “But- Where-”
“My cottage. Apparate there – that won’t set off the Trace because you’ll be leaving from here – and find somewhere to hide. Do not use magic after that. If they find you there, Apparate to Hogsmeade. There’s a shop there called Honeydukes-”
“Yeah, I know,” Harry said.
“One of us will meet you there. If we’re not there by seven o’clock tonight, find Snape.” Harry’s face scrunched up and Remus got a whiff of dislike and was it... fear? “Harry.”
“Yeah, all right,” he said, but he didn’t look happy about it. It was a very James-ish look. “Will you get Padfoot?”
“I’ll do what I can.” Remus hugged him, aware that this could possibly be the last time he ever saw Harry – unless someone decided to let Harry visit him and Sirius in Azkaban, which was highly unlikely – and then gripped his wand firmly and headed for the door. “Ten minutes!” he called over his shoulder.
“Kreacher!” he heard Harry shout.
Please don’t be too late, please don’t be too late, Remus chanted. He reached the door and cast several Appearance Altering Charms before he stepped out and blinked in the daylight. I certainly won’t make it back in time for lunch, he thought, shutting the door. He ran toward Number Thirteen. Please don’t be too late, please...