Written for throughadoor for the Remus/Sirius Shacking Up Sesa challenge.
Thanks for Halrloprillalar for beta.
September 1978. Sirius and Remus are given a mission.
A Glorious War
It didn't matter to Sirius that there were seven Death Eaters on the other side of the room, curses and counter-curses flying by in bright green and orange streaks. It was exhilarating. The room smelled of scorched carpet and draperies. Heat from a stunning spell winged past his left ear, and something tightened his chest and shook in his hand as he sent a spell back, catching the Death Eater across from him in the shoulder and sending him stumbling backward--he was pretty sure it was fear, but it was a wild, brilliant kind of fear.
James voiced a hex next to him as calmly as if reciting homework. His hair was matted with sweat and his glasses had slipped down his nose. Peter was somewhere in the far corner. Sirius heard his voice, a shriek, and a blast of something before his own Death Eater had recovered enough to attempt another spell. When he was able to look that direction again, Peter was still standing, his hair singed and crackling as if he'd just survived a mild lightning strike.
Sirius took one Death Eater out with a disarming spell, another one jumped in to take his place, and Sirius ducked behind a stuffed chair. Remus crouched behind another chair. Sirius grinned at him, but Remus just offered a grim look in return.
For the first time, Sirius considered the possibility that they were losing.
In the middle of the room three Death Eaters were immobilized, but Peter was struggling and even James was backed up to the wall, dodging spells with tired determination. Sirius worked his way over to him and dragged him behind a fallen bookcase during a brief cessation of attacking spells.
"How are we doing?" James asked, breathing hard but grinning.
"Brilliant, if you'd only pull your weight, Potter."
"I'm not the one hiding behind a bookcase," James said, but Sirius could tell he was tired. Sirius had never felt more tired in his life.
They heard a sharp cry. Peter. Sirius saw him fall, arms and legs rigid with a stunning spell. He looked at James. "I think we're in last stand territory."
"Well, Padfoot," James said. "It's been lovely knowing you. Thank you for getting us killed."
"Bound to happen sooner or later. You can stand, can't you? You're not completely useless?"
James threw him a dark look, pushed off of Sirius and jumped back in the middle of the room. A moment later Sirius left the scant protection of the bookcase--wand out, eyes searching for the nearest Death Eater, wondering if his mother would cry at his funeral. If she even came.
The back door exploded. Sirius ducked in surprise and shielded his eyes from the flash of light. When he opened them again, he saw spots--spots and the outline of several more wizards entering the room. Seven was bad enough, but this was unfair.
Except that the remaining Death Eaters were furiously turning on the newcomers, and he now recognized some of them: the Prewetts, Caradoc Dearborn, Alastor Moody. He thought he even saw Dumbledore for a moment.
Irritation quickly followed relief. Five more minutes and they would have had them; could have had them. Possibly.
Two Aurors Sirius didn't recognize set about restraining the disarmed and snarling wizards and took them bound from the room. The ones who had already been incapacitated were levitated like corpses behind them. The room was a mess of fallen books and overturned furniture, everything overshadowed by a thick smoky haze from a still-smoldering corner of the rug, until Fabian Prewett put it out with a quenching spell.
James had gone over to Peter.
"He's fine," James said, as Sirius crouched beside him. "Got the tail end of a furuncular." Peter moaned. James had propped his head up with a pillow. His face had broken out in large, seeping boils that pulsed open and shut like gaping mouths.
"Dumbledore's here," Sirius said, and James looked up. As if summoned by their attention, Dumbledore walked over to them, Remus trailing behind.
Dumbledore peered down at Peter. "Caradoc should have something to take care of that," he said sympathetically, and gestured for the wizard to join them.
Caradoc smeared a great amount of thick green paste over Peter's face. "Leave it on for an hour. Should do for most of it, though I wouldn't wonder if it didn't smart for a few days."
At the very least Sirius expected anger from Dumbledore, but the look the headmaster turned on him was unreadable. "Surprising how one happens to stumble upon a meeting of Death Eaters during a simple reconnaissance mission," Dumbledore said. "Quite by accident, it seems."
"No," Sirius said, not bothering to lie. "Not by accident."
"Hmm." Dumbledore's eyes changed--closer to anger, now--and Sirius flushed. He hated that. A result of his grandfather's complexion, his mother once told him contemptuously, as if it revealed some flaw or fault of character.
"You might want to regather your troops, Mr. Black," Dumbledore said coolly. He followed the remaining Order members out.
James grinned at Sirius when Dumbledore had left. "I believe you've been dismissed, Mr. Black."
Sirius didn't care. Whatever Dumbledore might think of him, they had just taken on a group of Death Eaters and emerged victorious, and now seven more of Voldemort's supporters were bound for Azkaban.
"We should help Peter home," Remus said, to none of them in particular. He hadn't yet said anything to Sirius, the set of his shoulders a mild reproof, but even that wasn't enough to dampen Sirius's mood.
"Of course," Sirius said, but he couldn't help the grin that forced its way up. "But first wine. At my new flat. We deserve a celebration."
He deserved a celebration.
James raised his glass. "To the most insane wizard I know. Here's hoping you're still alive for the wedding, because Lily will kill you herself if any of her seating arrangements are disturbed. And if you do meet the grisly end I'm sure you're destined for, let's also hope you don't take your friends with you."
Peter cheered through his mask of green paste. Remus raised an eyebrow over the rim of his glass. Sirius drained half his glass and put it down. Adrenaline still pounded through him. "Already an old married man, are you, Potter," he said, grinning. "Afraid of Evans--not that you ever weren't afraid of her, but you're making it rather official, aren't you?"
He ducked the shoe James threw at him, then levitated it back to hover above James's glass. It rocked back and forth above it threateningly. James batted it away. "Too tired for magic. How do you still have the energy?"
"Constant vigilance," Sirius said. Remus choked on his wine and Peter helpfully thumped him on the back.
"If you're quite done," Remus said, when he could breathe again, "could we at least have some acknowledgment of how bloody lucky we were?"
"Lucky! A few more minutes and we would have had them without the Order's help. Who squealed to them, anyway?" Sirius turned on Peter. "Don't tell me you lost your nerve, Wormtail."
Peter blinked. "I--"
"Don't be an arse," James interrupted. "I did."
"You did!" Sirius turned to him, amazed.
"'Course I did. You were being an idiot. We were all idiots to go along with it. I sent an owl to Dumbledore before we met you at the house. He wasn't too pleased, either."
"What's to be displeased about? We captured them, didn't we?"
"Sirius," Remus broke in, "you were supposed to track them and report their names to the Order, not burst in on them like a one-man dueling squad."
"You were all there," Sirius said. "I don't remember any complaints then."
"Would it have made a difference?"
"Of course not." Sirius looked back and forth among the three of them. "Don't tell me you think I should have just passed the information to the Order? You do see how hopeless that would have been? How else could we catch them in the act?"
"What we caught them at--which wasn't much, other than defending themselves against four wizards fresh from their NEWTs--probably won't be enough to convict them."
"Come on, Moony." Sirius's hand tightened on his glass. "You know they're guilty."
"Of course they are. But that doesn't mean they'll be convicted of anything other than illegal congregation, which, quite frankly, is an immoral law."
"So now you're defending them--"
"Enough!" James held up his hand, but he was laughing. "Enough, you two, don't you think we had plenty of that in school? Me, I'm just glad we're still alive."
Remus, who had leaned forward in his seat, sat back with a shrug.
Sirius eyed James with disgust. "You really are an old married man."
"Yes," James said cheerfully. "Or soon to be." He put down his half-finished glass of wine. "Speaking of, I should be getting back. I told her we were helping you move." He looked around at the cramped flat, filled only with the couch and old armchair that had been left by the previous owner, and an antique rickety coffee table Sirius had found in the second-hand shop down the street. "Can't say I think much of the new place."
Sirius snorted. "I'm cultivating the ascetic lifestyle."
"Yes. Well." James stood up.
"Next time ask her to come along," Remus said. "We could have used her help."
"Yes," James said, grinning. "But she's not crazy."
With a loud crack of air, he Disapparated.
Arguments always made Peter uncomfortable, so Sirius wasn't surprised when he was next to stand. "I, er, should be going, too. I think the paste is beginning to set."
Sirius waved him away. The company, formed once again, now breaks apart. He'd been looking forward to a night with the Marauders. There had been so few opportunities since they'd left school. "Take heart, Peter. When the boys come back they will not be the same, for they'll have fought a just cause."
"What?" Peter's arms froze in pre-Apparition.
"Poetry, Wormtail," Sirius said, enjoying the bewildered look on Peter's face. Peter shrugged and Apparated. When the whoosh of air had passed, the room left in a not entirely unstrained silence, Remus was gazing at Sirius over the rim of his wineglass, amusement just noticeable in the line of his mouth.
Sirius settled back into his chair, draping one leg over the arm of it, shifting until he was comfortable. "I doubt he caught the irony." He summoned the wine bottle from the table with a wave of his wand. The bottle shook slightly mid-trip; he must be more tired than he thought. He plucked it from the air before pouring.
"James was right," Remus said. "Dumbledore's none too happy."
"Bother Dumbledore," Sirius said, sipping the wine. The bottle was one he'd nicked from his father's cellar at their last confrontation, and tasted all the sweeter for it. He wished James had stuck around, to finish off the bottle and help deflect Remus's well-meaning but unwelcome advice--he knew it was coming, like he'd known it had probably been James who'd contacted the Order, as much as he didn't like admitting it.
But Remus didn't offer advice, so maybe he didn't know much after all.
"I suppose we'll have to help you move after all, if only to keep up the pretense for Lily. Where are your things, anyway?"
"Still at the Potters'," Sirius grinned. "Let me store it when I moved out of the last place. As to the rest, I suspect my parents burned it all two years ago. Or given it to St. Mungo's for the children's charity wing. My mother enjoys donating to charity. Says it helps keep the poor content with their lot."
Sirius balanced his wine glass on his stomach, muttering a spell to keep it steady. The Potters were bringing his school trunk down next week, and a few other things. He'd promised to show them London, as they'd only been to Diagon Alley and the Ministry buildings. He wondered if he ought to brighten up his flat a little before they came, then decided they knew him well enough not to care.
Remus stood up as if to go, and Sirius felt the last bit of adrenaline drain from his body. They were all leaving. He never thought he would miss James's snoring in the bed next to his, or Peter waking them all with one of his nightmares, or the sight of Remus lying totally still in the sleep of the dead--and half the time they were convinced he was dead through some kind of freak, werewolf-related illness--until Peter would shake him awake and Remus would ask them why they were all standing over his bed staring at him.
"I'm just looking for something to eat," Remus said, as if reading Sirius's thoughts. He disappeared into the small kitchen and emerged a few minutes later with a sandwich. He stood in the kitchen doorway, taking bites from the sandwich.
"I realize that you don't particularly care what Dumbledore, or the Order, thinks of you, but they have their rules for a reason. And we're the youngest members. We won't get much more leeway."
Remus, Sirius thought, wasn't entirely right. He did care what Dumbledore thought of him. "They only let us join because they wanted James," he said. "And James wouldn't do it without us. If they want us out they'll find an excuse, whether or not we do anything to deserve it."
"Yes," Remus said. "But there's no sense making it easy for them." He finished the sandwich in two more quick bites, then retrieved his wand from the coffee table.
"You can stay," Sirius said offhandedly, not wanting Remus to know how much he didn't want to be left alone in this miserable little flat in large miserable London.
"Thanks," Remus said, "but I've got to get back. I'm, er, staying with a friend."
"A friend?" Sirius asked.
He was treated to the fascinating sight of Remus turning bright red. "Yes," Remus said, still red, but clearly not about to offer further details.
When Remus had gone, Sirius waved his wand at the glasses, some of them still full of wine, and levitated them into the kitchen. He heard a satisfying crash of glass in his already dish-filled sink. He needed to work on that washing-up charm.
The tiny bedroom next to the kitchen was still empty of anything aside from a large spiderweb and a former mouse's nest in one corner, so he spent most nights on the couch wrapped up in his school robes. With his last bit of energy he charmed the heavy drapes on the windows closed and put out the candles burning on the table--Lily had once tried to explain electricity to him, but most of the time he couldn't be bothered. Exhaustion pulled at his body; he felt bolted to the cushions of the couch.
He'd moved back to London because he'd lived there all his life, not counting Hogwarts, but something still felt off. The city was silent when it was supposed to be noisy, the sounds in the walls and foundations of his flat weren't the sounds he knew, as if the building were populated by ghosts. But ghosts he could understand. He'd already looked for them in the stairwells and cupboards and concluded that ghosts would have been too lonely surrounded by Muggles unwilling or unable to see them. He felt a little like that himself.
He didn't think Dumbledore would boot him from the Order--their numbers were few enough--but he didn't expect to be given another mission so soon, either. To Dumbledore's credit, this one was perhaps even more dull than the last.
"We need better stock," Remus said.
"Whatever for?" Sirius tapped the grinning skull in front of him with his wand. It remained filthy and still grinning, but perhaps it was meant to. "I'd think this was quite enough to attract a few hedge wizards with delusions of being the next Death Eater."
East Wickham was the sort of village that showed up on Christmas cards and snow globes, populated almost entirely by the kind of dull Muggle that Remus seemed to find charming. They were currently in the only un-charming shop on High Street, which Sirius supposed was appropriate for a place selling magical items of the darker variety.
They'd taken down the boards that had covered the front windows and straightened the Gorlitz and Baumgardner, Archaic Supplies sign that hung above the door. A little light trickled in through the dirt-streaked glass.
When Sirius glanced back at Remus, he saw a middle-aged, rather portly man with wispy hair grown optimistically long. The man smiled, disturbingly like Remus. It was the only interesting thing about this mission. Sirius had never taken Polyjuice potion before outside of an unauthorized experiment in Potions class fifth year. So far the only side-effects were a slight headache and occasional disorientation when he looked down and saw the paunch protruding from his stomach and thick hair on the back of his hands. The previous owner was rather hairy in other places, too.
Other than that, Sirius opinion of their assignment hovered somewhere between low and despairing. Take note of who patrons the shop and what they buy. Report back to the Order. A fourth year at Hogwarts could have done it.
"They're only looking for names, Remus. Maybe a few family details, a sense of how dangerous any of these wizards really are--which I can tell you now: Not very. Wizards who want to join the ranks of Voldemort don't live in East bloody Wickham."
"Precisely why we need better stock. To attract a higher clientele."
It must be irritating to be so reasonable all the time. Sirius tossed the skull from the shelf he'd just cleaned to Remus. "Perhaps we can order more of these," he said. "I believe it used to be a werewolf."
Remus caught the skull and placed it on the counter, next to a rack of dog-eared and yellowed postcards. Its eye sockets pulled into a scowl.
Sirius turned back to the shelf in front of him, covered in the accumulated dust of at least a month and probably several more on top of that. Buried beneath it was the skull, an old harness decoration made of bronze molded into the curling form of a salamander, an assortment of glass stoppered jars and bottles with various substances inside: dried unicorn blood, the petrified forms of tiny spiders, and one human eye floating in some kind of preserving liquid. It swivelled in the liquid animatedly and fixed on Sirius when he lifted the jar.
"Anything interesting?" Remus said. Clouds of dust billowed behind the counter, adding to the scattered piles on the floor. They'd need some place to dump it soon. The back garden, perhaps. A few pounds of dirt wouldn't make much difference to the straggly weed growing up between the cracks in the paving tiles and old bathtub abandoned in one corner.
"No," Sirius said. "It's just like being at home."
He rescued more items from beneath their dusty layers as he made his way down the length of the wall. "If Dumbledore were really interested in using us for the Order, which we can probably both agree that he isn't, he could at least have sent us to the Ministry with Peter, or join in whatever James and Lily are doing." Galling, that was, not knowing. And James had been so smug about it.
"Horrible to be stuck here with me, I know," Remus said. "And to think you could be at your very own tiny desk in some obscure Ministry department, counting down the minutes to your next toilet break--and who knows, you could have your own set of Ministry-issue robes by now. I hear they buy them in bulk from some factory in America."
"Yes, but at least I would be clean."
"Speaking of, we should sweep for curses."
"I can attest to that already. You'll be happy to know that thus far, our stock is clean. Of curses, anyway." That wasn't entirely true, but he'd made sure that all the curses were benign. Relatively benign. If James had been there instead of Remus, he could have tested some of the more interesting ones. Then again, if James were there, quite a few would have already been tested on Sirius. There were advantages to working with Remus instead. "Though I'm sure anyone who shops here deserves the curses they get."
"Still, we don't want to pass anything along to anyone who might be unsuspecting."
"You realize we're not likely to pass on anything to anyone. No actual Death Eater, even if there were any in East Wickham, would come near any of this rubbish."
Remus's face was carefully neutral.
"So," Sirius sighed. "We need better stock."
"Yes," Remus said, his face lighting a bit. "Brilliant. I'll send a few owls to inquire. And I've been working on a spell. Advertising, you know."
Sirius had no idea Remus had such an affinity for shopkeeping. The middle-aged man-who-was-Remus emerged from behind the counter, muttering a few words under his breath. A stream of smoky green erupted from his wand, coalescing into the large image of a snake curling around a shrunken head. "I thought we could hang it above the shop. Muggles won't see it, or if they do, they'll just assume it's a bit of smoke in odd lighting."
Remus lowered his wand but the green specter remained. The snake coiled mesmerizingly and the head popped open its eyes and cackled at intervals. "Every so often you remind me how disturbed you really are," Sirius said.
"Thank you," said Remus.
The plastic hyena head above the shop door let out a high-pitched chortle. With a flick of Remus's wand, the green smoky visage between them dissipated into the air as the shop door opened and a tall man with short grey hair walked in. He was dressed in an ill-fitting Muggle suit, though not a cheap one, Sirius noted. The man's eyes, after shifting about the shop as if cataloguing the exact placement of each item and book, narrowed on Sirius.
"I see you've opened for business again," he said.
Sirius smiled, wondering if it looked ingratiating on Baumgardner's lips. "Bats' wings, eye of newt, elixir of leonine virility; whatever you should desire."
"That item I requested some time ago," the man said, giving Sirius a knowing look. Sirius, knowing nothing, smiled brightly.
"You'll have to forgive us," Remus said. "We're just now updating our records after, ah, our little incident. Just some friendly questioning by the Ministry, you understand, but it wouldn't do for them to get their hands on everything."
"I quite understand," the man said. "There was, in fact, some concern about your recent...incident. Some assurances that your records are kept strictly confidential...?"
"Our records are protected by tamper-proof security spells," Remus said. "The most up-to-date available, Goblin-certified."
"Very good," said the man. "Then I will allow you some time to consult your records and inquire after that item I ordered." He paused. "You have, I assume, spoken to Rockweiler?"
For some reason this struck Sirius as funny; he covered up his laugh with a cough, and shrugged under Remus's dark look.
"Not yet, I'm afraid," said Remus. "Is there something you'd like us to pass on to him?"
"Me?" The man looked surprised. "No, of course not. But you'll be speaking to him soon, I imagine. Only a short time now, you know. Preparations will need to be made." He hunched his shoulders in the suit as if he didn't particularly relish the thought of such preparations. "I will return here in two weeks for the item," he said, and left the shop.
When the shop door had closed, Sirius laughed. "Do you suppose there's some sort of code we missed?"
"Perhaps," Remus said, a little distracted. "We should contact Dumbledore, though he did say the previous owners have been uncooperative. It certainly sounds as if something is going on." Remus pulled out a large ledger from behind the counter and flipped through the pages. "There's a notation in here for the dried feet of a two-toed sloth. Has to be ordered from Puntarenas. Maybe that's what he was talking about."
"Just give him some of the Cockatiel feet instead."
There was no sign of Rockweiler over the next week, but they had other customers: a youngish wizard who lived in the dumpster behind the Chinese take-away, if the smell was any indication, who bought two small bags of hellebore and one of the postcards. A witch asked after the petrified mandrake roots on the top shelf, then grabbed Sirius rather familiarly when he reached up to get it for her. She left her card with him: Potions and Gift Baskets for Every Occasion.
The shop was dingy and the flat above nearly unliveable, but Sirius was just glad to be away from his own dingy flat and out of London. The back room of the shop was tolerable once they cleared it out a bit; boxes filled with files and old bills were relegated to one wall, and underneath they'd found a couple of cracked-leather chairs. There was a small fireplace, too, which Remus had cleaned of ash one black-sooted day.
He stretched out in front of the fire, relieved to be back in his own skin again after a day spent as a paunchy shopkeeper. Across the fire Remus occupied one of the chairs, the ledger dragged in from the shop across his lap. Book-keeping, Sirius supposed.
"Anything to send to the Order yet?" Sirius asked.
"A bit," Remus said. "There's the hellebore, of course, and someone's bought all the ingredients necessary for a Shrinking Solution, but that's hardly a dark potion."
"Depends on what you're planning to shrink," Sirius said. "Do we even carry leech juice?"
"Second shelf," Remus said. "Behind the dried livers." He made another notation in the ledger then paused with his quill still raised. "I need to leave for a few days."
Sirius, who had begun to drowse a little--like an old man, he thought, but the fire was warm and comfortable enough that he didn't care--shook himself awake and propped himself on one elbow. "Your friend again? You couldn't take being away from each other more than a week?"
Remus didn't blush this time, but there was a look in his eyes that warned Sirius off. "That didn't work out."
"Moony," Sirius said, never one to be warned off, "you can't possibly think you're getting away with just that. Who was it? Anyone I know?"
"Possibly," Remus said.
"Someone from school? Bitsy Carmichael? Oh please don't tell me you were shacking up with Bitsy."
"Of course not," Remus said. "Her name is Bitsy. Besides, there was Transfiguration class that one time."
"The purple unicorn, I remember. So not Bitsy...someone else from school?"
"You might not remember him. He was two years ahead of us. Simon Stanwick."
Simon Stanwick. He remembered Simon. Beater for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. Was in a fight with the Slytherin Keeper one time at the Hog's Head, but it was generally agreed at the time that he was unfairly set upon, not to mention drunk. Sirius couldn't remember who'd won. Played on the Portree second team for a year after school, which is where Sirius's knowledge of him ended.
Simon Stanwick and Remus. Sirius tried to imagine the two of them even holding a conversation. What would they talk about? Remus hated Quidditch, or was at least indifferent to it. "I can't believe you're shagging Simon Stanwick."
"Have been shagging. And that's enough of this particular conversation," Remus said firmly. "Though I can tell you that I will not be visiting him this weekend."
"Then where--" Sirius said, then counted back the days. "Will you go to Hogwarts?"
Remus nodded. "The new Potions master thinks he may have had a breakthrough, wants me to test it. And if that doesn't work out...." He shrugged. "Well, there's always the Shack."
"I'll go with you," Sirius said. "Be like old times, out terrorizing the good folk of Hogsmeade. We still owe the centaurs, too, for last time--don't tell me you wouldn't just once like to catch them napping."
Remus smiled, but he seemed distracted. There were marks like smudged ash under his eyes and he was thinner, too. Simon Stanwick, Sirius thought. "Someone needs to stay here."
"I suppose there's that." Sirius thought about running through the Forbidden Forest as Padfoot; the rush of trees, stones and dirt on the pads of his feet. He'd gone out in London in his animagus form every once in a while, until someone called the RSPCA and he'd been chased through Regent's Park for two hours before finding a spot secluded enough to change back. "We can owl James, send a note to the Ministry for Peter...."
He knew he was just talking to fill in the silence, that even if James had wanted to go, his newfound sense of responsibility would prevent him. And Peter was far too devoted to the Order to risk jeopardizing his position in it.
"I'm thinking of leaving the Order."
Remus spoke as if he hadn't intended to say the words out loud, but now that they were out there he met Sirius's questioning look evenly.
"Some of them know," Remus said. "About--me. Dumbledore had to convince them to let me join in the first place, you know, and they're still suspicious. Most of the werewolves have gone over to Voldemort."
Sirius sat up. "You can't really care what Gideon Prewett or that idiot Podmore thinks of you."
"It's more than that. I just feel that my...usefulness...to the Order is limited." Remus smiled. "It's not just because of you that we're stuck taking notes on how many ounces of bats' wings are bought each day."
"Dumbledore trusts you. Far more than he trusts me."
"Yes," Remus said. "But he doesn't always have the final say. At least not officially."
"Dumbledore's unofficial powers are far more influential than anyone else's official ones. He'd never let you be pushed out of the Order."
"Sirius, perhaps I don't want to be simply tolerated. There must be other options--other ways to help fight Voldemort. Perhaps this isn't the only way. Don't you think about where you'll be in five years, where all of us will be?"
"I think we'll all be dead in five years and Voldemort will have taken over Britain."
A pause. "You don't believe that, do you?"
Sirius grinned at him. "No. Not on the good days, anyway." He settled back in front of the fire. "In five years James and Lily will be married, of course, and have three babies, all snot-nosed and wailing. Poor Lily will have lost her good looks. James will grow a paunch and steal sips of firewhisky when he think she's not looking. Peter will be the new Assistant to the Assistant Ministry Official in charge of Magical Transportation. You, of course, will take over this shop permanently and turn it into a gift shop selling chocolate frog keychains and those little ceramic figurines."
"I, of course, will die the early death of the tragic hero. You will all mourn at my funeral. Lily will wear her best hat and remark on how Hamlet I look in death. You will show up with red eyes and Simon Stanwick draped on your arm---"
"Sirius," Remus warned.
Sirius fell silent. The fire cracked and popped. "Did he know that you were a werewolf?"
Remus didn't answer, but Sirius didn't need him to.
Sirius imagined a sniveling, watery-eyed Simon Stanwick. He hoped the Slytherin Keeper had won. "You're not leaving the Order any time soon, are you?"
Remus relaxed his grip on the arm of the chair. "No. Not any time soon."
"Good," said Sirius. "Because I have no idea what any of those notations you make in that book of yours mean. We'd be out of business within a week."
Life as a shopkeeper, Sirius decided, held the same appeal as first-year Herbology without even the possibility of interesting plant tentacles. He woke each morning, unlocked the shop door, and sat in the back room with tea and a copy of The Daily Prophet, delivered by a grey-eared owl who pecked insistently at the window when Sirius overslept. The rest of the morning he pottered about the shop, straightening any bottles that might have been shifted or placed on the wrong shelf by careless customers. Afternoons were spent largely in the back room, reading through Gorlitz's collection of Dark Arts books. He found out eleven ways to induce the Living Death.
He missed Remus. They'd fallen into a routine of sorts; the two rooms in the flat were small and cramped, but when Sirius couldn't sleep he could change into Padfoot and sleep at the foot of Remus's bed. James always kicked in his sleep, but Remus slept soundly. There were arguments over the loo in the morning and where to get take-away at night, but they were comfortable, familiar arguments, just in new forms.
He almost looked forward to the customers. He didn't have many. He had no idea how Gorlitz and Baumgardner had stayed in business, because no one in East Wickham or the surrounding areas seemed to really want any dark magical items. Perhaps it was seasonal.
He'd nearly forgotten about Rockweiler until he came into the shop, the day Remus was due back.
Sirius knew it was him before he'd even spoken. He looked like a Rockweiler: short and a little stocky, hair cut close to his head, an angry and unsettled look of perpetual disappointment in his eyes.
"Oxman said you'd opened for business again."
Sirius set aside his quill. He was tracking their few orders and sales on whatever scraps of paper he found available. They were scattered along the counter, in the drawer of the ancient register, and wherever else he thought Remus would find them. "Open and fully stocked."
Rockweiler picked up one of the postcards from the counter rack, gave it a blank once-over, and put it down again. "The meeting's tonight."
Sirius found himself the subject of a decidedly unfriendly stare. "Oxman trusts you for some reason," Rockweiler said. "I don't. I think you'd sell us out to the Ministry."
Sirius picked up his quill again and pretended to be writing a note to Gorlitz. "Why would we do that? It would only hurt business."
"We'll know soon enough, won't we? Seven o'clock. Same place as what was agreed upon."
Rockweiler was the type to kick dogs in the street, Sirius decided. "My memory's not what it used to be. That would be...?"
"Oxman's." Rockweiler glared at him. "Trust me, you'll not be able to fool the company we'll be receiving."
Sirius's hand tightened on the quill. "Sounds as if we're better off not going at all."
"Oh, you'll be there. Important to test one's loyalties, don't you think?" He turned to leave, and Sirius plucked the postcard Rockweiler had been looking at earlier and handed it to him.
"A souvenir." Rockweiler glared down at it, put it in his pocket, and strode out of the shop.
Sirius put down the quill. If he was in luck, the owl Remus had sent was still in the back garden eating the seeds Sirius had left for him in payment. He locked the shop door with a flick of his wand and flipped the door sign to CLOSED.
The owl was still there. It had eaten the seeds and was perched on the edge of the abandoned bathtub, cleaning its feathers with sharp strokes of its beak. Sirius wondered if the post was slow today or if the owl was just skiving off work for a few hours.
"I need you to find a wizard named Oxman, lives in this village. No, I don't have a letter for him," he said, as the owl stared at him and chirped. "No, he doesn't have a letter for me. I just need to know where he lives."
The owl went back to cleaning its feathers.
Sirius wondered how one went about bribing an owl. "The flat is full of mice. You could have a fly around, see what you find. We've seen nests everywhere, they're breeding, have practically taken over the place."
The owl looked interested, if it was possible to tell with an owl. It chirped again.
"Oxman," Sirius said firmly. "You can have the mice after."
The owl appeared to be contemplating this. After a minute it took off in flurry of feathers. Some of the smaller ones drifted to the ground. Sirius couldn't tell which direction it flew. It could just be going back to Hogwarts, though Sirius thought it had been too interested in the mice.
An hour later, however, the owl tapped at the window of the back room, something fluttering in its beak. Sirius opened the window and took the something carefully. It was a strip of paper ripped from what had probably be an envelope at one time. Sirius turned it over and read: Mr. Vorhees Oxman, 47 Willoughby Ct., East Wickham. In Mr. Oxman's post box there was now a pile of shredded mail, Sirius was sure.
He pocketed the slip of paper. "Go on, then. Through the door, up the stairs. Enjoy yourself." The owl chirped and fluttered away through the back room and up the stairs. Sirius heard a hoot and a few squeaks, and the startled scurry of mouse feet.
When Remus Apparated into the room not long after, Sirius glanced up from the small table in the back, where he'd lined up their remaining doses of Polyjuice. Remus looked as if he'd been dragged through the Hogwarts' lake then dried in a wind tunnel. "Are you all right?" Sirius said, a little alarmed.
"I'm fine," Remus said. "The, er, potion didn't work out."
"Oh." Sirius found himself at a loss for anything to say. It was as if Remus had aged five years in the few days he'd been gone. The bones of his face stood out in appalling clarity.
"Really, I'm fine," Remus said, smiling a little at Sirius's expression. "The transformation was just a little more difficult this time, that's all. Nothing some sleep won't fix."
Remus, who had been heading for the stairs to the flat, stopped short. "Why am I suddenly filled with dread for what you're going to say?"
"Possibly because I'm about to tell you there's an owl upstairs clearing out our mouse problem, so it may not be the quietest place at the moment."
Remus studied him. "No, that's not it. There's more."
Sirius told Remus what Rockweiler had said. He didn't tell Remus he'd given Rockweiler a cursed postcard. He pulled out the slip of paper with Oxman's address on it.
"No," Remus said.
"Remus," Sirius said reasonably, "We can find out in one night who the dark wizards are in this village, and probably the surrounding ones as well. The Order will want to know who they are. It's why we're here in the first place."
"So we pass the information on to them now and let them decide what to do with it. Going to secret meetings isn't part of our mission."
"Who's to say it isn't? Aren't we supposed to be undercover? If we don't show up, it's all for nothing, anyway."
"We don't know anything about the situation. Anything could be waiting for us at that house."
"Remus, that's the point. We'll never know otherwise. Dumbledore may believe we're not ready for anything more than sending endless reports, but I don't think the Order has that luxury. We're not exactly overflowing with resources."
He was particularly proud of that last point. It also happened to be true, and he knew that Remus knew it as well. And Remus was worn down already. Remus hugged his arms to his chest. "If I said no, you would still go."
"Yes," Sirius said.
The walk to 47 Willoughby Court was a chilly one. At some point the days had slipped into October and the nights were colder and the sky clearer, showing a range of stars that Sirius was sure had never existed in London. East Wickham at night was almost tolerable; its picturesque streets and houses built just so were bound in shadows, and chimneys sat like gargoyles on the roofs.
A kind of wildness pulsed through him, unexpected but welcome; he wanted to be Padfoot, barking at the neighbors or just running through the streets, faster until he'd circled the entire village.
"Turn down this lane," Remus said, reading the map under the light of a street lamp and the waning moon. Sirius wished he could share a little of what he was feeling, and that Remus would understand.
"You've remembered the extra Polyjuice?"
"Yes," Sirius said. "You've asked me twice. We won't even stay long enough to need it. A quick tour of the room, listen in on some conversations, make an excuse to leave or just slip out the back. They'll be too busy to notice us."
"Hm," Remus said skeptically, but he was past trying to dissuade him.
It wasn't long until they reached the house. It was at the end of a cul-de-sac, houses painted white with black shutters like eyes peering down at them, the front doors large and coldly unlit. A rose garden grew in front of number 47. Each petal was perfectly displayed. Sirius resisted the urge to pick one.
Oxman answered the door. "Excellent! You've arrived." He ushered them into the house, which was brightly lit and almost comfortable. He offered to take their cloaks, but Sirius had the Polyjuice in his inside pocket and declined. He looked around. A fire burned in the other room. Several wizards and witches stood in clusters, chatting as if it were the office Christmas party.
"Come in," Oxman said. He was dressed in rich velvet robes the color of smoke, which fit him much better than the Muggle suit. "Have some punch."
"Er," Remus said.
"I'll introduce you to Bruella," Oxman continued, as he guided them into the room.
Oxman left them with a strikingly handsome witch. Grey-streaked hair was piled on top of her head, topped by an elaborate headdress of black feathers.
"Gorlitz and Baumgardner," she said, drawing the names out curiously. "Very familiar. Are you sure we don't know one another?"
Remus cleared his throat. "We run the shop on High Street."
"Ah, yes. How interesting." Bruella looked anything but interested, sipping her punch, bright orange smoke drifting over the edge of the glass. "Ox's parties are always so dull," she said. "Oh look, there's Bockerbee." She waved him over.
Bockerbee was only slightly older than they were. Sirius thought he might have been at Hogwarts but couldn't place him. His face was flushed and he held an extra glass of punch in his hand that he thrust in the direction of Sirius, who took it cautiously. "You'll never guess who's here."
"I'd rather not," Bruella said. "I despise guessing. Besides, Ox has already told me that he will be here."
"Voldemort?" Remus said.
Bruella looked him strangely. "The Dark Lord? Of course not. How perfectly ghastly."
"But one of them," Bockerbee said, in a voice of barely-restrained excitement. "The Dark Lord's man. He's here to gather support. We'll soon be able to prove our loyalty."
"Do stop going on like that," said Bruella, but she was interrupted by the chime of glass near the fireplace. Conversation in the room dwindled to a few murmurs, attention focusing on the man standing next to the mantle.
Sirius nudged Remus. "Rockweiler," he mouthed.
"Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed company," Rockweiler said, still looking as disgruntled as Sirius remembered. "We are truly honored today." He gestured to a slight, dark man who stood a few feet away, slumped demeanor indicating boredom and impatience at Rockweiler's posturing. But he straightened at the invitation to stand next to him by the fire. The flames illuminated a young face with sharp cheekbones under a stylish cut of black hair.
Sirius gripped the glass in his hand until he could almost hear the glass creak. Something tightened in his chest. The man standing with Rockweiler was Regulus.
"We need to get out of here," Remus hissed in his ear.
Sirius heard him but was unable to move. He watched his brother, entranced--the way Regulus scanned the party's guests with thinly veiled contempt, a familiar look in his eyes that Sirius had always loathed and tried berate out of him with mockery and insults when they were younger, but which had only been encouraged in Slytherin House.
Remus was tugging his arm, and finally Sirius stumbled back a step, ducking along with Remus behind a pair of stout wizards who peered back at them curiously.
"The door," Remus said, glancing back as if to judge the distance.
"I should have known," Sirius said "The stupid git. Do they even realize he's still in school?"
"We haven't time." Remus inched back, pulling Sirius along with him. They weren't drawing attention, not yet, though a few wizards and witches in their near vicinity gave them strange looks. They were closer to the door, now, only a few steps away.
"Baumgardner," they heard, and Rockweiler was standing in front of them, Regulus at his side.
This close to his brother, Sirius felt his anger build and almost boil over despite Remus's sharp look.
"You'll want to meet our honored guest, I'm sure," said Rockweiler.
Regulus, however, just looked impatient. "The Dark Lord didn't send me here to socialize."
"You must find this very tedious," Sirius said. "Serving as your master's lackey."
He heard Remus's soft intake of breath, and then Regulus's eyes narrowed on him. "Do I know you?"
"Simple suppliers," Rockweiler said hastily, possibly alarmed by this unexpected challenge to his guest. "Beneath your attention." He tried to draw Regulus away.
"Far beneath your attention," Sirius said. "Or that of your Lord's."
Regulus ignored Rockweiler, his gaze fixed on Sirius. "I do know you," he said. "That smirk...." He stilled, face hardening. "Rockweiler," he said sharply. "This man is a blood traitor."
Remus pulled out his wand, but Rockweiler had responded to Regulus's command and plucked Remus's wand away. He restrained him with a hand over his mouth before Remus could utter a spell.
Sirius hadn't moved, his eyes still locked with his brother's.
"Do you have a place to hold them?" Regulus asked Oxman, who had arrived in response to the commotion.
"Er, yes," Oxman said. His gaze passed over the group uneasily, hands smoothing the grey velvet of his robes in a nervous gesture. "I suppose there's the cellar."
"Lock both of them in it," Regulus said. "It won't take long for the potion to wear off."
"Potion?" Oxman appeared even more confused. "Not that I would question you or the one you serve...but do you know them?"
"Yes," said Regulus, eyeing Sirius like a dog would a long-withheld dinner. "I know him very well."
Regulus had looked exactly as he had four months ago, the last time Sirius saw him. His aura of satisfaction, however--close to triumph when he'd closed and locked the cellar door on them-- was new. Sirius wondered if it came from being in Voldemort's inner circle. If Regulus was in Voldemort's inner circle, that is, and hadn't just been sent to placate these second- rate dark wizards from East Wickham. Despite his apparent satisfaction, there was still hunger in Regulus's face. He wanted more.
Remus was by the cellar door, feeling along the cracks of the door and testing the hinges, which all looked very solid. "We're not getting out this way," he said finally. "And there are spells placed on the house to prevent Apparating." He went back to sit next to Sirius on a stack of piled bags that proved to be cat food upon further inspection.
"He's got the Polyjuice," Sirius said. "He took our cloaks, and the extra bottles are inside mine. And my wand."
Remus nodded. "How much longer, do you think?"
"An hour if we're lucky. Even with the double dosage, our days as Gorlitz and Baumgardner are numbered."
Remus leaned back against the cellar wall, which was cold and typically damp, the rough stone barely daubed over. He seemed almost serene, Sirius thought, though it was harder to read Remus's expressions on Gorlitz's face.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said.
Remus looked at him. "No, you're not," he said, but it wasn't an accusation.
"I'm sorry I let him get to me. We could have bluffed it out."
Remus shrugged. "I'm surprised he was able to recognize you at all. Polyjuice is nearly foolproof as a disguise. And he may be bluffing himself. He didn't identify you by name."
"He knows it's me," Sirius said, more sure of that than anything. "And he has only an hour to wait to be certain."
He looked around the small, cramped space of the cellar. Despite its general gloominess, it was what one would expect in the house of a well-to-do wizard: an old potions' cauldron lay abandoned in one corner with several copies of The Daily Prophet stacked inside. The top one was from 1945. There were a few boxes as well. Sirius crossed over to them and sifted through the jumble of glass beakers, a clock that no longer worked, a set of old china, and an antique but rusted tea pot, but there was nothing there that they could use.
He almost felt sorry for Oxman. He doubted the man had any idea what he was getting into.
He sat back down next to Remus. "I thought this was why we were assigned this mission together, so you could stop me from doing such bloody stupid things."
"No." Remus smiled. "Dumbledore knows better than to think I have any influence over you."
"I care what you think," Sirius said. "I just don't always think you're right."
"Would you have listened to James?"
Sirius leaned back against the wall. "Most of the time James isn't any more right than you are," he said, grinning a little. "But he's usually more persuasive."
Sirius brought his knees to his chest. The cellar was blastingly cold, though his shoulder was warm where it rested against Remus's. "So if Dumbledore didn't arrange for us to work together on this mission, who did?"
"I asked him," Remus said.
Remus didn't look at him. "Why do you think," he said lightly.
Simon Stanwick, Sirius thought, the name rushing unwelcome to his head like a spell gone awry and unpredictable between them. Certain things slipped into place; others became suddenly mysterious.
"You can't be surprised," Remus said. "I didn't think I was being particularly subtle."
Sirius stood to move his legs in the closeness of the cellar air, settling again by the far wall. "How do you---" he cleared his throat. "How do you know something like that? Is it only because I know what you are? That you don't need to pretend?"
"This isn't really the time to talk about this."
"Yes, it is. And you're the one who brought it up, by the way. How did you expect me to react?"
Remus didn't say anything. Even in the poor light of the cellar, there was tension in Remus's face--obscured by the less familiar features of Gorlitz but still there and recognizably Remus by anyone who knew him.
What they should be doing was working out a way to get out of this mess. But Remus was hunched inside himself and Sirius couldn't see a way out, in any case. Soon Regulus would return with his coterie of dark wizards, the Polyjuice would have worn off, and there'd be a Dark Mark in the sky that night above East Wickham.
Sirius shifted on the dirt floor of the cellar, and Remus's eyes flicked to him before moving away again. "Didn't you think about what would happen if it didn't work out?" Sirius asked. "Would we just never see each other again, the way you dropped Stanwick?"
"No," Remus said tiredly. "I didn't think that far ahead. Sirius, I think the Polyjuice is wearing off."
Sirius looked down at his hands. The skin on the back of them rippled, dark hair shrinking inward before disappearing into a plane of smoother, younger skin. The rest of his body was contorting as well, bones and skin rearranging themselves in shifts and bulges, until his clothes hung loosely and Sirius reached up to feel the contours of his own face.
He glanced over at Remus, who was his self again as well. "That was quicker than I expected."
"The potion may have been weakened," Remus said. "It's been several weeks since it was made."
As if Regulus had timed it perfectly, though Sirius was inclined to think it was just impatience, the cellar door opened. His brother's body filled up the entirety of the narrow door, shielding them from whoever would follow him in--but to Sirius's surprise, Regulus was alone and closed the door behind him.
Regulus's wand was pointed at Sirius, his eyes bright, cheeks flushed. "I knew it."
"Oh, put that away," Sirius said. "You never could hold your own against me. Besides, shouldn't you be in class? You wouldn't want to get detention."
"You arrogant bastard." Regulus's hand was white-knuckled on his wand.
"I wouldn't go about impugning my legitimacy if I were you. Rumors like that have a tendency to bleed over to other familiy members, or didn't your Slytherin mates ever tell you that?"
"They told me more than you ever could," Regulus said. Sirius wondered if he'd follow through with a spell, and mentally braced himself for it. But then Regulus relaxed his grip on his wand. "But that happens to be irrelevant at the moment. What is relevant is that you've been caught spying. The Dark Lord doesn't appreciate spies who aren't his own."
Remus had been quiet so far, eyes slipping back and forth between Sirius and his brother. Together they could possibly overwhelm Regulus before he could get a spell off, since he was stupid enough to have come in here alone. Remus caught his eye, asked the question, but Sirius shook his head.
"What are you going to do now, Regulus? You'll have to turn us over to Voldemort."
Regulus wet his lips. "Do you think that I won't?"
Sirius thought it very likely that he would. Regulus had always been susceptible to bullying; he wouldn't be able to resist the combined tactics of Voldemort's followers. "I don't know."
Regulus fingered his wand uncertainly. It was almost worse than his blind, stupid anger; he looked vulnerable and ten again, the last time they'd been able to hold a civil conversation with each other. "It's very easy to call them. They could be here almost immediately."
Sirius grabbed Regulus's wrist before his brother could pull away. He yanked up the sleeve of his robe to reveal a mark the color of dark, sluggish blood on Regulus's skin. "Regulus, how could you be so stupid."
Regulus pulled away and did throw a spell at him then, which Sirius was able to duck only at the last minute. It crashed against the cellar wall and melted in a vat of smoldering stone. Sirius straightened. His hands were shaking.
"Listen to yourself. The Dark Lord, or whatever ridiculous name he's calling himself, will eat you alive. Do our parents even know what you're doing?"
Another spell, another crash against the stone. Dust flew up in a cloud of white. "Of course they do. I'm not the embarrassment of the family. They're proud of the work I'm doing."
"That's because they're monsters."
Anger twisted Regulus's face. He raised his wand, and Sirius didn't think he'd be able to duck this one. "Crucio."
The pain was worse than their first aborted attempts at the Animagus spell. It was worse than anything. It was like a white, burning light, a sun that engulfed him. He couldn't think through it. He couldn't move his arms to fend it off, though he was vaguely aware that he was jerking uncontrollably on the hard ground of the cellar. It was like trying to escape something inside him that ate through his heart and bones with a relentless hunger.
Then the pain was gone. He could still feel it twitching in his fingers and legs. His throat felt as if he'd swallowed a burning sword. He wondered if he'd screamed.
He realized that Remus's arms were wrapped around his chest and that Regulus was crouched down in a corner of the cellar. He looked young and pale and almost frightened.
"You always were an idiot, Regulus," Sirius said. It came out in a croak. Remus's arms tightened around him and he could feel Remus's face next to his, hair scratching Sirius's cheek. Remus's hands and arms were white with red marks where he'd gripped them.
Still huddled in the corner, Regulus pulled at the edge of his robe, rubbing his fingers absently on the cloth. "This is what the Sorting Hat said would happen."
Sirius closed his eyes. He still felt a bit dizzy. "What are you talking about?"
"It said one day I would hold you in my power instead of the other way around."
"I think it was being ironical." Remus stiffened against him, but didn't say anything.
Eyes flashing, Regulus's wand jerked in his hand. "Do you have any idea how much I hate you?"
"Yes," said Sirius. "I think we established that when you were ten. But you should still let us go."
"I can't let you go."
"Yes, you can. You have the Polyjuice. Let us have it, tell your friends that it was a mistake, and we'll disappear."
"It's always so easy for you," Regulus said. "You have no idea."
"No," Sirius said. "But I haven't let myself be bullied into something so stupid, either."
Regulus stared up at him angrily. "Here," he said. He stood and crossed over to them, and held out two bottles. The Polyjuice.
Sirius sat up and took them. He couldn't believe Regulus would actually just let them go. "Regulus--" he said, but he didn't know how to say the words with any sincerity. He wished his parents had been the least affectionate with them so he would know how it was all supposed to work. "You shouldn't be here, either. Go back to Hogwarts. Or go back with me--I have a flat, you can stay there--"
Regulus turned away. "You don't even mean that. Why would you say it? You know I'd never go with you, anyway."
The locked up the shop and Apparated back to Sirius's flat.
It was cold and dark. Remus found some candles and lighted them, placing two on the ancient coffee table. Sirius sought out the comfort of the chair. It seemed ages since he'd last sat in it.
"I can go if you'd rather," Remus said.
Sirius shook his head. They'd taken enough of the Polyjuice to get out of the house and walk back to the shop before Apparating, and the effects had since faded. He stared at the candles and the shadows they cast on Remus's face, shaped like the imprint of a hand. He would be happy never to take that particular potion again.
He fit his hand over the shadowy imprint, brushing his fingers over Remus's skin. "I don't want to talk about Regulus," Sirius said.
Remus pulled Sirius's hand from his face, but he didn't let go of it. He threaded his fingers through Sirius's. "We don't have to talk about Regulus. We can talk about--I don't know. The fact that Dumbledore will never trust us with another mission."
Sirius laughed. Something loosened inside him. He rubbed his thumb against Remus's, leaned in, and kissed him. Remus's lips were warm. With his other hand he traced the faint line of scars that stretched across Remus's neck and jaw.
After a moment, Remus pulled away. He didn't look particularly happy.
"Perhaps I just needed to get used to the idea," Sirius said.
"There's hardly been time," Remus said wryly.
"Then perhaps I've always been used to it, and just didn't know it."
Remus smiled a little. "You're a liar," he said, but he kissed him back. Remus was hesitant at first so Sirius bit his lip and pushed until Remus grabbed the back of Sirius's head to keep it steady while he kissed him properly. They ended up on the floor. Remus rested his head in the cradle of his elbow, studying Sirius bemusedly. "You were jealous of him, weren't you."
Sirius had managed to half-unbutton what had once been Gorlitz's shirt. "Who?"
"A bit sure of yourself, are you, Lupin." Sirius released two more buttons. Scars spread across Remus's chest like an artist's sketch. Some were white and some were red and puckered at the edges.
"No," Remus said. He rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. "I wouldn't, you know, 'drop you like I did Stanwick'. If that's what worries you."
"And here I thought we were just going to have sex."
Remus looked at him. "We can do that, too." He smiled a little. "I don't suppose we could get something to eat first."
Sirius thought he'd rather have sex, but he was hungry, too. "There's fish and chips at the corner."
Sirius rooted through his trunk brought down by the Potters and found two pairs of trousers, a jumper, and a favorite shirt he thought he'd lost three years ago. It was a little tight on him, so he gave it to Remus. It was tight on him, too, but Remus didn't seem to mind.
It was a cold walk down to the corner, but the shop was warm and bright, and the smell of fried batter permeated everything. There were two small tables in the corner by the window. They took their food to one of them.
Remus reached for the vinegar.
"Revolting," Sirius said, as Remus soaked his food in it. His chips were practically dripping.
"Yes," Remus agreed, and ate a chip. There were still smudges under his eyes, but there was a restful look there as well. "We still have to get the rest of our things from the shop."
"We should notify the Order, I suppose." Sirius burned his mouth on a bite of fish. "They can pass the information on to the Ministry."
"I, ah, already did," Remus said. "Before we left the shop. I didn't say anything about Regulus."
Sirius picked at his chips. "It would probably do him some good to be locked up for a bit."
"The Ministry hasn't been kind to Death Eaters," Remus said. "Not that they should," he added, at Sirius's look. "Besides, he might still turn around."
"I doubt it," Sirius said.
Remus finished his chips and began to eat Sirius's. Sirius rescued a few of them. "Now that our cover is at the very least strained," Remus said, "I'll need a place to stay."
"Sure. You can sleep on the couch."
Remus gave him a reproachful look.
"It's where I sleep. You'll have noticed I don't have a bed."
"Hm." Remus finished Sirius's chips and licked his fingers. "I think I saw a furniture shop down the road."