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November’s full moon fell on the tenth, which was Padfoot’s birthday. Padfoot hadn’t mentioned his birthday at all – Moony later wondered aloud to Harry that he didn’t want to turn thirty – but Moony had remembered it and so had Kreacher, who’d been the one to tell Harry.

Harry and Moony had arranged a trip to Diagon Alley a few days before, telling Padfoot that Moony was going to give Harry a grammar and spelling lesson at his cottage; that was something Padfoot was quite happy not to have any part in if Moony was willing to do it. Harry had had to have his appearance changed at Grimmauld however, because of the Trace, and then sneak out, all without Padfoot noticing. In the end, they’d had Kreacher set Mrs Black’s portrait off which distracted Padfoot while Harry and Moony left.

Diagon Alley was reasonably uneventful. With Christmas next month, it had been busy and so they’d been able to blend in easily. Moony’d spotted two of Lucius Malfoy’s searchers; one they had avoided entirely, and the other Moony had gone up to say hello to, introducing Harry as his nephew.

They’d chosen a few books, quite a few sweets – though not any chocolate – and then Harry had reluctantly picked out a few pranking items, knowing full well that he’d probably be the victim they were used on. They’d also ventured out into muggle London so Moony could peruse a pet shop.

“Keeping tradition alive,” Moony murmured as they made their way to the counter, carrying a box of dog biscuits – Harry had chosen those - a squeaky red ball and a jumper made to fit a dog. Harry had let Moony pay for those, since he had no muggle money, but had insisted on helping to pay for the things they bought in Diagon Alley.

They’d gone back to Moony’s by Floo, wrapped and hidden everything, and then – to Harry’s horror – he really had been subjected to a grammar and spelling lesson.

On the day of Padfoot’s birthday, Harry had helped Kreacher organise breakfast in bed and then Moony came over at lunchtime with the presents. For all that Padfoot had been secretive about his birthday, he’d been unbelievably excited to learn they’d bought him  presents; Harry thought he’d torn the wrapping paper off with more enthusiasm than even Dudley had ever managed.

Padfoot was pleased with the sweets and the books; one was an updated copy of Quidditch Through The Ages (since Padfoot was a little behind on the league after Azkaban) and the others were Producing Plants: An Advanced Guide (which Moony thought Padfoot would enjoy, though Harry couldn’t work out why) and Mind Games: Occlumency And Legillimency. Padfoot spent several minutes assessing each pranking item and was unnervingly quiet as he did so; Harry just knew he was planning something.

The dog-jumper and ball were received in good humour – Padfoot chuckled and transformed to try both out – but paused when he reached the biscuits.

“You got-” he said, looking at Moony.

“Harry picked those, actually,” Moony told him.

“You’re kidding,” Padfoot said, staring between them, the box still clenched tightly in one hand.

“I’m serious,” Moony told him. “Why?”

I’m Sirius,” Padfoot said and then hefted the box. “These are the ones Prongs always bought.”

“You’re kidding,” Moony said.

“I’m Sirius,” Padfoot said, winking. His expression changed remarkably quickly, from joking to sincere. “Thank you,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d get another box of these.”

“It’s all right,” Harry muttered, a little embarrassed that the present he’d chosen as a joke had turned out to have such a great sentimental value. Padfoot set the box down with the others and Harry made sure to remember the name so that he could get Padfoot another lot for Christmas.

Kreacher made them an early dinner – since Moony needed to get home before he started to transform – and afterward he brought out the vanilla cake he and Harry had spent the morning making. They sang happy birthday and gulped down a slice of cake each; Padfoot also had a few dog biscuits and coerced Harry into trying one. They were surprisingly tolerable, but Moony refused outright and got rather snappy when Padfoot tried to press the point.

When both Moony and Padfoot were gone, and Kreacher was downstairs cleaning the kitchen, Harry found himself alone and bored; his first full moon had been eventful – due to his kidnapping by Snape – and he’d been so exhausted on his second one – because they’d spent the day sorting through his parents’ things – that he’d gone straight to bed.

This time, he had nothing to do. He managed to spend an hour helping Kreacher; though Kreacher was used to Harry’s help in the kitchen by now, he still didn’t particularly like the idea, though he coped. When Harry mentioned wanting to cook something, however, Kreacher became rather distressed and shooed Harry out so that he could do it himself; Kreacher didn’t seem to understand that Harry was more interested in the process of cooking – which would take time – than in the outcome.

And so it was, that Harry found himself in the library, lying on the couch, staring at the roof.

I bet Padfoot and Moony are having fun, he thought, pushing his glasses up; they were trying to slide down his nose. I wonder what they do on full moons... do they sit around and bark at each other – can they understand each other? - or sleep, or go for walks...

Suddenly curious, Harry sat up and rolled off the couch.

A minute or so later, he was back in the library, clutching his mirror.

“Padfoot,” he said, and then pulled a face. His reflection pulled one back. “Oops. Er... Sirius Black.” The mirror shimmered and then Harry could see Moony’s garden and in the distance, his picket fence and the forest; Padfoot must have left it somewhere – probably leaning against the spare bedroom window if the view was any indication – where he would be able to see it from the garden.

Unfortunately, neither of them were in the garden. Harry’s face fell a little and he squinted at the forest, trying to make out shapes, but nothing presented itself to him. He let the image fade – it was clever, he thought, the way the mirror sensed its user’s intentions - and put the mirror on the table.

Disappointed, but thoughtful, Harry went back downstairs, hoping he could pester Kreacher into letting him help again.

*                      *                      *

Padfoot was late home the next morning. He Flooed home just after nine, when Harry was about to go through the fire himself to see what was going on. He was supporting a pale, semi-conscious Moony and sporting a set of painful looking cuts around his nose and mouth. Harry ran forward to help and together, they managed to get Moony into one of the chairs.

“Morning,” Padfoot said, touching a cut close to his eye. His hand came away bloody.

“Morning,” Harry said, hurrying over to the pantry. His hand closed around a bottle of Dittany.

“Oh, brilliant,” Padfoot said, spotting it. “Do you mind doing it? I can’t really see...” Harry unscrewed the bottle while Padfoot took a seat and tilted his head back. Harry sat on the table and carefully dripped Dittany into each of the cuts. It was obvious now, that they were bite marks.

“There,” he said, as the cuts hissed and closed over. One on the side of Padfoot’s nose left a scar but the rest healed seamlessly.

“Cheers, kiddo.”

“Is Moony-?”

“’M fine,” Moony groaned. Padfoot snorted.

“It was a bad transformation, both times,” he said to Harry.

“’M right here,” Moony muttered without opening his eyes. “Can hear you.”

“I know,” Padfoot said cheerfully. “And you’d hear me even if I whispered, so there’s really no point in pretending.” Moony mumbled something that Harry thought might have been a swear word. Padfoot looked confused – obviously he hadn’t understood it either – and then shrugged.

“Anyway, he only had a small graze on his shoulder because I got snappy when he did this-” Padfoot waved a hand at his healed face. “-and I healed that already.” Moony muttered something else and Padfoot chuckled. “I’ve dosed him with Comforting Concoctions and Painkilling Potions and a Cramp Cure but he’s still a bit drowsy.”

“Mmph,” Moony said. Harry smiled.

“I figure we’ll keep him here until he wakes up, and in the meantime, we can have breakfast-”

“Nnngh.”

“What?” Harry asked, bemused.

“He doesn’t want to eat,” Padfoot said. “But that’s too bad,” he added, poking Moony’s shoulder. Moony twitched and, several seconds later, lifted a hand to swat in Padfoot’s direction. “So, what’s for breakfast?”

Harry fetched the croissants he and Kreacher had made the night before and put them in the oven to warm up. The smell of cooking lured Kreacher downstairs and he sent Harry back to the table while he made tea and saw to the heating. Padfoot inhaled his breakfast and then coaxed Moony into eating a few bites of his croissant. Moony woke up a little and ate with a bit more enthusiasm when Kreacher set a plate of bacon and sausages down in front of him; Harry’d noticed he liked meat more when a full moon was approaching or had just been.

“So what do you do on full moons?” Harry asked, nibbling on a piece of his croissant.

“Run around in the forest, mostly,” Padfoot said.

“Wait for it to end,” Moony groaned, resting his head on his arms. “Wish to have never been born.”

“They aren’t that bad,” Padfoot said, rolling his eyes. “He’s just cranky,” he told Harry, who wasn’t sure if Moony was joking or not.

“I can hear you!”

“I know,” Padfoot said cheerfully. Moony groaned. Padfoot refilled their teacups. “Back at Hogwarts we used to explore the grounds and the village, but we’re a bit limited with space; if we go too far into Hurtwood, there’s a chance we might run into muggles and since it’s only me now... Well, we stay pretty close to home. It’s all pretty uneventful, really.”

“I almost bit your face off,” Moony said into the table.

“Details,” Padfoot said. Moony gave him a two-fingered salute. Harry sniggered into his teacup. “Why do you ask?” Padfoot asked, looking thoughtful.

“Just curious,” Harry lied. Padfoot arched an eyebrow.

“He’s lying,” Moony said. Harry shot him an irritated look but Moony was still resting his head on the table. Padfoot’s lips were twitching.

“Well?” he asked.

“I told you: I’m just-”

“Lies!” Moony groaned. Harry groaned too, and sank back into his chair.

“Fine,” Harry said reluctantly. “I was wondering if, maybe, I mean, you don’t have to, but-”

“Spit it out,” Padfoot said, looking entertained.

“Could you maybe teach me to be an Animagus?” Harry said, wincing.

“No!” Moony said, finally looking up again. He looked quite upset. “It was bad enough when Padfoot, Prongs and Wormtail did it. It’s too dangerous for you to be running around after me-”

“There’d be two of us,” Harry said, gesturing to Padfoot, who was still silent on the matter; that gave Harry hope, because the idea hadn’t been shot down straight away. “He’d be safer too-” He’d thought about this last night.

“Assuming you’re something big enough,” Moony said. “Padfoot, tell him it’s a dangerous idea.” Harry noticed he’d said it was a dangerous idea, not a bad one.

“The risk’s what makes it fun,” Padfoot murmured, and Moony fell silent. He was wearing an odd expression, now, one that Harry couldn’t decipher. “And if we taught him, it’ll be at least a year-”

“Year?” Moony asked. “It took you three!”

“We didn’t have a teacher,” Padfoot said. “We didn’t know what books were helpful – the library didn’t have the ones that were, remember?” Moony nodded reluctantly. “And then we didn’t know which method to use and-”

“You’ve made your point,” Moony said curtly.

“Is that a yes?” Harry asked hopefully.

“No,” Padfoot said. “It’s still incredibly complex magic, no matter what method you choose – well above anything you’re capable of yet. I think in a few years it’s probably a good idea – and Merlin knows it’s a damn useful skill to have – but right now... there’s no real reason not to, but there isn’t really a good reason to do it.” Harry nodded – he’d prepared for this.

“All right,” he said. Padfoot nodded and picked up his tea cup and Moony put his head back down onto his arms. “Then I’m calling in my favour.” Moony looked up, confused. Padfoot looked confused too, for a moment, but he eventually remembered the favour Harry was referring to.

He swore, rather loudly and then leaned back in his chair and said, “Bloody hell. As your guardian, I’m either doing something very right, or very wrong.”

“Wrong,” Moony said at once. Padfoot poked his tongue out. “And what favour?”

“When we first moved here,” Padfoot sighed, “there was a misunderstanding that led to me getting Harry to tell me everything about his aunt, uncle and cousin. He wasn’t keen on the idea so I told him that he could ask me something. I said it could be a question, a favour or anything else he wanted to ask.” He smiled at Harry, who grinned back.

“Should have known you’d made some stupid deal,” Moony muttered. Harry hid another smile; there was no venom behind it, it was just Moony being grumpy for the sake of being grumpy. Padfoot didn’t seem offended either and Harry supposed he was used to post-full-moon-Moony. “So you’re teaching him?” Moony asked flatly, but he didn’t look angry, just worried.

“I’m a man of my word,” Padfoot said. Oddly, this made Moony grin.

“Then you should be extremely grateful it’s this he’s asking for.”

“Why?” Padfoot and Harry asked together.

“Padfoot, you promised him anything. It’s not an Unbreakable Vow, but there are still quite a few things he could have asked you to overlook or help him with without being unreasonable.”

“Point taken,” Padfoot said.

“I should hope so,” Moony said, and Harry coughed to hide a laugh.

“All right, kiddo,” Padfoot said. “I’ll make you a deal.”

“What deal?”

“I’ll honour the favour – no changing it or saving it now,” he added hastily. Moony laughed – his head was back down – and Padfoot pulled a face at him. “I’ll help you, regardless of when you start learning,” he said. Harry beamed. “But, if you want to start learning now, you’re funding it. You have to buy everything. If you put this off for a couple of years, until you’re eleven, I’ll buy everything you think you need.”

Harry thought for a moment. When Padfoot put it that way, it was tempting to wait. But, then again, if he started learning now, it’d cost him, sure, but he’d still have help and he could well be an Animagus by the time he was eleven.

“So if I learn now, I have to pay,” Harry clarified. Padfoot nodded. “Using my own money?”

“That’s sort of implied, yes. And I’ll know if you take anything from our stashes,” he warned.

“I wouldn’t steal it!” Harry said indignantly. He thought a moment longer and then grinned as a thought occurred to him.

“What?” Padfoot asked warily; Harry was still grinning.

“I’ll pay,” Harry said.

“Of course you will,” Padfoot sighed. “And might I ask how? You get a galleon a week in pocket money and yes, we’ve been here a while now, but books on Animagi don’t come cheap and the books you’ll need to understand the books on Animagi don’t come cheap either.”

“And you’ve been spending some of it,” Moony muttered.

“It won’t be a problem,” Harry assured them both.

“All right,” Padfoot said with a smug look; he thought he’d won. Harry knew better. “Get dressed and we’ll take you down to Diagon Alley and we’ll see how far you can get with thirty galleons.”

We’re not taking him anywhere, Padfoot,” Moony grumbled as Harry stood up. “You can go book-shopping to your heart’s content. I am going home.”

“Is Moonbeam tired?” Padfoot asked in a baby-voice. “Poor little-”

“Sirius, I swear to Godric if you finish that sentence, I really will bite your face off.”

*                        *                         *

“I’m an idiot,” Padfoot groaned as Harry stepped into his vault and scooped a handful of galleons into a small leather pouch.

“You forgot about this, didn’t you?” Harry said, gesturing at the vault his parents had left for him.

“Idiot,” Padfoot repeated, pretending to bang his forehead on the stone walls. “And you’re too smart for your own good.”

“I’ll have to be if I’m going to have any luck with this,” Harry said, brushing a strand of brown hair out of his face; today, he was a short boy with brown hair and brown eyes.

“James and Lily are probably laughing at me, right now,” Padfoot whispered, with a wary look at Gurbock, who made no sign that he’d heard.

Fifteen minutes later they found themselves in Florish and Blotts, browsing through the dusty shelves for the books they were after. Padfoot pulled Brew Or Bewitch: The Animagus Choice off of a shelf and passed it to Harry.

“If you want to use the spell method,” Padfoot said, “you’re going to need to learn Latin.”

“Which one did you do?”

“Spell method,” Padfoot said. “But we used the potion one at the start because we couldn’t get the damn meditation process to work.”

“But you don’t know Latin,” Harry said, remembering an old conversation.

“Nope.”

“Then how-”

“James learned enough to help us out. You don’t need to be fluent or anything, but you do need to be able to translate a paragraph properly.”

“Damn,” Harry said.

“Bad luck, kiddo,” Padfoot said, and passed him an enormous book called Polish your Pronunciation and Gild your Grammar. Harry also grabbed an English to Latin Dictionary. Padfoot added A Guide to Major Animal Families and their Characteristics to Harry’s pile.

“I can’t find Embracing Your Inner Beast,” Padfoot said after another half an hour of walking around the shop.

“Do we need it?”

“Hello, there!”

“Hi,” Harry mumbled.

“Can I help you, gentlemen?” asked a wizard with a badge that proclaimed him ‘Store Manager’.

“Yes, actually,” Padfoot said. “I’m looking for a book called Embracing Your Inner Beast.

Embracing Your Inner Beast...” the Manager murmured, before his blue eyes brightened. “I know the one.”

“Do you have it?” Padfoot asked.

“Do we have it?” the Manager asked, looking insulted. “Of course we do!”

“Brilliant,” Padfoot said, smiling at Harry over his shoulder. “I’d like that, and the four of those, then, thanks.”

“I’m not permitted to just hand out copies of that particular text,” the Manager said. “If you fill out the application form, we can get a copy to you as soon as it’s approved, or you can drop by the Improper Use Of Magic Office and pick one up in person. It covers complex magic-”

“And this one doesn’t?” Padfoot asked, gesturing to Brew Or Bewitch.

“That one covers the procedure only, and talks about the advantages and disadvantages associated with each of the methods,” the Manager said importantly. “The one you’re after actually provides you with information that enables you to apply the procedures and begin the transformation process. With it, you could become an Animagus.”

“That’s sort of the point,” Padfoot said, rolling his eyes.

“The Ministry uses the book to monitor anyone who’s attempting to transform. With that information, they can check in on those practicing to make sure that they’re going about it in a safe and legal manner.”

Uh oh, Harry thought.

“Right,” Padfoot said. “I’ll pick it up after work tomorrow then.”

“Very good, sir. Are you still after those four?”

The Manager took the books from Harry – whose arms were beginning to ache – and led them to the counter. While he was ahead, Harry slipped his money bag into Padfoot’s hand, and Padfoot used it to pay.

“So what do we do?” Harry muttered, as they left the shop clutching two wrapped books each.

“Peter ended up with our old copy, since he was the last to manage it, so that’s out,” Padfoot muttered, leading the way down the street. “Going to the Ministry’s out of the question. They do wand checks and magical signature analysis if you register and there’s no way I’m risking that... There’s one place we could try...”

“Where?”

Padfoot tipped a shoulder at a dark space between two shops. A sign there said, Knockturn Alley. Harry could just make out people moving in the dim light.

“They’ve got a bookshop, I think,” Padfoot said. “Walpole’s. The Ministry’s been trying to shut it down for years – since before I started Hogwarts - but somehow it stays open...”

“Would they have the book?”

“Probably,” Padfoot admitted. “I’ve never been there myself but the fact that the Ministry wants to restrict access to it probably means that Walpole wants to share it with everyone.”

“So are we going?”

Padfoot glanced around and tugged Harry into a corner. He shrunk the book parcels with a tap of his wand and shoved them into one of his pockets. He then rapped Harry on the head with his wand and started to mutter under his breath. Harry felt himself stretching upward until he was tall – nearly Padfoot’s height – and a beard itched on his chin.

“Weird,” he said, looking at one of his enormous hands. His voice was deep and a little croaky.

“Kids don’t go down there,” Padfoot explained, turning his wand on himself; he made his hair black again, and streaked it with silver. “Except for maybe Death Eater kids. Stay close to me – don’t wander, don’t talk to anyone. Let me handle it. All right?”

“Erm... sure.”

“Keep your wand out.” Harry took a tentative step after him and almost fell. Padfoot managed to steady him and then tapped him once more. Harry’s beard turned silver instead of brown. “Keep a hand on my shoulder to help you walk. You can be my father.”

Together, they made their way off of the main street and down into Knockturn Alley.

The first thing that Harry noticed was the smell; it was a cold, mouldy sort of odour and seemed to permeate the entire street. The second thing was the lack of shoppers. There were plenty of people around, but they weren’t walking the streets; they were lingering in the doorways of shops, and in little alcoves. One woman was holding a box of what looked alarmingly like dried, human ears.

Harry shuddered and moved as close to Padfoot as he could without walking into him. Harry only tripped once, and was instantly surrounded by people trying to help him.

“Back off,” Padfoot warned, raising his wand. Several ugly woman and an old man stepped back, murmuring about just wanting to help. “Just wanted to help yourselves to his money bag, you mean,” Padfoot growled. “This way, Father,” he said. It took Harry a moment to realise Padfoot was addressing him. He gripped his wand and followed, holding Padfoot’s shoulder for support.

Walpole’s was a dingy little shop that Harry would have walked right past if Padfoot hadn’t pointed it out. It was wedged between an impressive looking apothecary and a shop that sold illegal and exotic animals; Harry thought he could see a large green dragon’s egg in the window, and a rather scary looking creature that was a mix between a bird and a lizard.

Walpole’s was lit by oil lamps which cast sinister shadows on the shelves. The floor was creaky, pale wood and the shelves were full of dark, leather bound books, not unlike those in the library at Grimmauld Place. It was much darker than Flourish and Blott’s.

“Wait here,” Padfoot said, stopping beside a wall; Harry figured he could lean on it because he still felt a little wobbly on his feet. “I’ll buy it and then we’ll go. Do not leave the shop.”

“Okay,” Harry whispered back. Padfoot vanished between two rickety shelves.

“Can I help you with something?” A tall woman glided out from behind a shelf, startling Harry. She had a high, almost musical voice with a strong Irish accent and her long, dark hair trailed on the floor behind her. Her most stand-out feature, however, was her face. She looked like Padfoot had when Harry’d first met him; skeletal, with sunken eyes and waxy skin that was orange in the lamp-light.

“Er...” Harry said, tearing his eyes away from her. “Er... no. I’m just- Oh, here it is.” He grabbed a book off the shelf and held it up. “I’ve been looking for this one for ages.”

“I see,” the woman purred. “Is that all you’re after today?”

“Yes- no. My... er... son’s just-”

“Do I make you nervous?” she asked, looking sour all of a sudden.

“You?” Harry asked, too puzzled by the question to be nervous about lying. “No. Why?” Her face cleared and she gave him a small smile.

“Merely curious. I know I am not as desirable as my French cousins.”

“French...?”

“The Veela,” she said, shaking her head. Her dark hair rippled down her back and stirred a little dust on the shop floor. “They are more beautiful, yes?”

“I’ve never seen one,” Harry said honestly, though he thought she was probably right; she was no beauty to look at, but she did seem nice. She gave him another small smile.

“What is your name?”

“Har- Harold.” She considered him for a moment and then held out a hand. Harry tucked the book under his elbow so that he could shake it. The handshake was a bit clumsy because Harry wasn’t used to his large hands, but she seemed to appreciate the gesture. “What’s yours?” Harry asked.

“Keira,” she said slowly, tilting her head to examine him better. Harry shifted.

“Got it!” Padfoot exclaimed, emerging from behind a shelf. He paused and paled a little when he saw her. She, oddly, had done the same. Harry glanced between them. “Are you ready to go, Father?” Padfoot asked.

“Er... sure,” Harry said. Keira gave him an uncertain smile.

“Allow me to show you gentlemen to the counter.” She turned and swept down one of the aisles.

“Are you all right?” Padfoot hissed.

“Fine,” Harry said. “Why?” Padfoot just shook his head. “Oh, we have to buy this.” Harry passed Padfoot the book he’d picked off the shelf.

“What’s this?” Padfoot muttered out of the side of his mouth.

“I’ll explain later.”

Keira showed them to a woman at the counter. Like Keira, she was no beauty; she had a hairy chin, a large wart on her forehead and squinty blue eyes. She gave them a welcoming smile, though, and Harry thought she seemed friendly enough too.

“Odd choice,” she murmured, looking at the titles. The book Harry had picked up was Secrets Of The Darkest Art. He flushed and Padfoot gave him an odd look. “It’s a galleon each for those.” Harry passed the coins over and Keira gave him another curious glance. He looked back at her, confused. “Wrap those for me, dear, would you?” the woman asked.

“Yes, Madam Walpole,” Keira murmured. They exchanged places behind the counter and the Madam Walpole gave her a fond smile before going off to return books to their shelves. Padfoot watched Keira’s every move, looking interested.

“Do I make you nervous?” she asked Padfoot in the same sour tone as she had used with Harry.

“A little,” he said, shrugging, “but you seem all right so far.” Keira surprised Harry by smiling faintly.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” she said.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“No magic can hide my face,” she said, waving a slender hand over her cheeks. “And so, no one can hide their face from me. Do you understand?”

“No,” Harry said.

“Yes,” Padfoot said, and swore. She smiled again and passed their wrapped books over the counter. Padfoot tapped them with his wand and tucked them into his pocket with the others. He kept his wand out, pointed at her, though. Harry made a small noise of protest, but Padfoot shook his head. Keira glanced at the wand and then at Padfoot’s face.

“Not all prisoners are guilty,” she said, “just as not all banshees are evil.” Padfoot cocked his head and then lowered his wand.

“I see,” he said.

“See what?” Harry dared to ask. Neither answered him. Keira led them to the door; Harry held onto Padfoot again. Moments before she opened it, she turned and gave them another one of her smiles.

“Thank you,” she said, glancing at Padfoot before her eyes came to rest on Harry. “Thank you for not being nervous.”

“Er... you’re welcome,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “It was nice to meet you,” he added.

“It was nice to meet you too, Harry,” she said, smiling. “Perhaps you will come back one day.”

“Thanks,” Padfoot said to her. She opened the door and bowed them out. Only when they were out on the street again, did Harry realise she’d called him Harry and not Harold. He turned around, half expecting to see her standing there with a wand levelled. Instead, Keira smiled again and vanished into the shadowy depths of the shop. “So, Secrets Of The Darkest Art? Something you want to tell me about?”

“She wanted to know why I was standing around and I just grabbed it off of the shelf,” Harry muttered. “Sorry, okay?”

Padfoot’s shoulder shook under Harry’s hand as he laughed. Harry pulled a face at the back of Padfoot’s head and they made their way back to the Leaky Cauldron so that they could Floo home.

*                    *                    *

Remus had assumed his standard, post-full-moon position, lying on his couch, staring at the roof. As was also becoming standard, he was disturbed.

He’d been dozing when he’d heard the window creak. Assuming it was just Strix, he’d settled back in, but then he’d heard a thump and footsteps.

“Yes, Dora?” he asked, and the footsteps stopped.

“How’d you know it was me?”

“Only you and Mad-Eye come in through the window and I couldn’t hear his leg.”

“Fair enough,” she said, moving into his line of sight; she tripped on her feet as she did so, and landed clumsily on the couch opposite his.

“Why did you use the window, by the way?” he asked.

“Mad-Eye’s orders. Keep you on your toes. Are you all right? You’re pale...”

“Tired,” Remus said. “And if you don’t mind me saying, you look rather pale yourself.” She scrunched up her face and forced colour into her cheeks.

“Better?”

“Honestly?” he asked. She nodded. “You look sunburned.” Her hair flashed pink and the pink in her cheeks faded to a healthier shade. “I thought you had the Program this afternoon.”

“We went to Azkaban this morning,” she said quietly. Her hair turned a dull grey and her face went a chalky colour. “They gave us the rest of the day to recover.”

“Is it that bad?” Remus asked.

“It’s freezing out there, and it’s windy and oh, Remus, it’s the most horrible place I’ve ever been! I thought I was going to go mad and I was only there for a few hours! There’s no colour at all! Everything’s grey!” She paused suddenly. “You’ve never been?”

“No. Why?”

“You’re so... worldly... I just assumed -”

“You assumed I’d gone to satisfy my curiosity?” he asked, smiling. Her hair was pink again, and she nodded. “It’s flattering that you think I’m so adventurous,” he said. She grinned. “But no, unfortunately – or fortunately, really – I’ve never been to, or had any desire to visit Azkaban.”

“Well, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Neither would Sirius, Remus thought.

“Noted,” he said and then glanced at her pale face again. “Would you like some chocolate? It helps.”

“Mad-Eye gave me some,” she said, shaking her head.

“How much?” Remus asked. He took an inconspicuous sniff and then sneezed; she smelled like death, if that was possible, and also, very faintly of chocolate, indicating that – while she’d had some – it probably hadn’t been much. He was surprised at Mad-Eye, who was usually generous with remedies of any sort.

“A whole block.”

“Did you eat it all?” he asked shrewdly.

“Well, I sort of shared it,” she said sheepishly. “Ben and Melvin only needed a bit but McKinnon and Florence found it pretty tough...”

“And so, being the good Hufflepuff you are, you shared,” Remus surmised. “So I repeat, would you like some?”

She gave him a guilty, slightly pleading smile which Remus took to mean yes. He Summoned – because he didn’t feel like moving – a block of Honeydukes’ best and offered it to her. She offered to pay for it, but Remus refused – even more adamantly than he might have because she was offering sickles again and he was not in the mood. She finished – admittedly, he helped a fair bit – the whole block in a few minutes and he was amused to notice her hair had changed from grey to a rich brown.

“So,” he said, crushing the foil into a ball, “did you come for my chocolate or is there something else I can help you with?”

“The chocolate,” she said, grinning, and then sobered. “Actually, I wanted to see if you were all right.”

“I’m fine,” he said automatically. “Why wouldn’t I be?” Unfortunately, his voice chose that moment to struggle.

“You tell me,” she said, narrowing her eyes. Then she sighed. “It’s just that you’ve missed a few days with the search lately and I thought, since I had the afternoon off... If it’s none of my business, that’s fine, but I thought  I should make sure you were all right.”

Remus felt mild irritation at being babied, but it was weak in comparison to how touched he was; he could count on two hands the number of people who had ever expressed such genuine concern for him. He could count on one hand those that were still alive. In fact, he was touched enough to share several half-truths.

“On Halloween,” he said, noticing that she looked surprised that he was offering the information, “I was visiting Lily and James. It’s always a hard day for me... I wouldn’t have been much use searching at all, I’m afraid.” She gave him a sad look.

“And then yesterday I wasn’t feeling well so I thought I’d better not push it and I’m glad I didn’t. I had a pretty uncomfortable night, to be honest. I think I’m on the mend though.” She smiled. “I’m almost positive it’s a twenty-four hour thing.” As in, twenty four hours a day, every day. But she doesn’t need to know that.

“And the one about a month ago?” she asked gently.

“Something similar,” he said. “I’ve been stressed about Harry and Sirius-” Which was not, technically a lie. “-so that probably hasn’t helped, but it’s all right, really.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help-”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” he said smiling.

“Speaking of assisted recovery and everything,” she said a moment later, “have you heard from Matt? Is he-”

“He’ll be back next week,” Remus told her. She looked relieved.

“Good,” she said. “It’s been so quiet without him around... Did you know?” Remus knew exactly what she was talking about.

“Yes,” he said, watching her carefully. “Does it worry you?”

“No,” she said thoughtfully. He believed that she believed that but thought time would tell whether it was true or not. “I just...” She cocked her head. “Did it surprise you when you found out?”

“I don’t really remember,” Remus said, because that was the easiest answer.

“It surprised me,” she admitted. “He didn’t seem like the type, or... I don’t know, I just didn’t see it coming.”

“It’s always the last ones you expect,” Remus told her, because he couldn’t help himself.

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