The black dog sprawled by the side of the gate in front of the Rosier house, its dusty coat blending into the shadow of the elm tree that leaned over the garden fence. From a distance it appeared to be asleep, shaggy head resting peacefully on neatly folded paws, but its ears twitched alertly, and from time to time one pale eye would open to survey the road and the sky above it. When a small black speck appeared against the clouds, the dog lifted its head. When the speck resolved itself into the silhouette of a robed wizard straddling a broom, the dog rose up into a crouch and coiled itself to spring. When the wizard's feet touched the cobblestone path in front of the gate, the dog let loose a raucous volley of barking and sprang.
Evan Rosier was clearly unprepared to find himself bowled over and pinned to the ground by a slavering black beast. He shrieked. He flailed his arms. He tried to go for his wand, but froze when massive, drool-flecked jaws closed around his wrist. The dog growled, a low, rumbling sound that seemed to shake the ground beneath it, and drooled liberally down Rosier's sleeve. Then it planted its hind feet on Rosier's stomach and leaped, sailing over the road in a wide arc to disappear into a thicket of mulberry bushes on the other side.
Rosier lay in the dirt for a minute or so before climbing to his feet. His hair was sticking out wildly in all directions, and his robes were torn and mud-stained. He brushed himself off with shaking hands, picked up his fallen broom, and limped into the house. The dog crouched behind a boulder to watch him go. After a couple of minutes it crept out from its hiding place, crossed the road again, and ran off into the trees behind the house.
There was no clear path, but the dog ran with a purposeful air, eyes and nose totally focused on its destination. After about a quarter of a mile, the trees thinned out to form a small, sheltered clearing. A rough campsite filled most of the open space, with two sleeping bags laid out on either side of a banked fire. There was a scrying glass on a tripod next to the fire, and a small Muggle portable radio playing barely-audible jazz interspersed with bursts of static. A thin young man in shabby robes sat cross-legged on one of the bags, sorting through some papers in his lap. He looked up with an exasperated frown as the dog bounded into the clearing.
"One of these days, Padfoot, you're going to take that slavering monster routine of yours a step too far, and some perfectly innocent wizard is going to hex you thinking you're a Grim."
The dog gave a soft bark that turned into a smothered laugh half-way through. Sirius Black, human again, sprawled on the other sleeping bag.
"They'll have to be a hell of a lot quicker on the draw than Rosier." He sat up and combed his fingers through his hair, dislodging some stray leaves and twigs. "Besides, if that bastard's innocent, I'll eat my second-best hat." He smiled, but Remus' expression remained grave.
"I mean it, Sirius. You need to tone down the act. People are jumping at shadows these days. Death Eaters are throwing Unforgivables at anything that looks at them cross-eyed, and ordinary wizards and witches aren't much better."
"It's always been like that," Sirius grumbled. Remus shook his head.
"It's been worse this past year. Ever since Crouch took over Magic Law Enforcement. We have to be more careful now. You have to be more careful."
"You're no fun anymore," Sirius muttered. He'd felt quite cheerful when he'd run into the campsite as Padfoot a minute ago, but Remus' lecturing tone was rapidly spoiling his mood. He pulled off his boots and made a big show of fluffing the sleeping bag around his feet, hoping that the activity would make his silence seem industrious rather than sulky.
It wasn't as if "the act," as Remus called it, was just there for his personal amusement. It served a purpose. They had it down to a science, rehearsed and performed hundreds of times over the past four years. Whenever a spot of burglary was required, Remus would go in while Padfoot kept lookout. If anyone turned up, Padfoot would pounce and bark. The noise served to alert Remus, and the pouncing was certainly fun, but that wasn't the point. The point was, people who had been vigorously pounced on by a giant black dog tended to become discombobulated. They entered their houses shaky and distracted, anxious to wash and to change their clothes, and not at all inclined to notice if the pile of papers on their desk had been moved half an inch to the left, or a drawer was slightly open, or the ward on the back door showed signs of having been deactivated and then reset again. It was a good act. It had always worked. It still worked. Nothing had changed, except...
Except Remus himself.
Sirius had first noticed it three or four months before, but once he'd started thinking about it, he had seen the signs going back at least a year. Remus had always been reticent around strangers, and with good reason, too, but now he wore that same cautiously blank facade around his friends. Oh, he still chatted and made jokes and acted more or less like his usual self -- except that somehow, any conversation about Remus quickly turned into a conversation about something else. Sirius knew every half-way interesting thing that had ever happened to Peter, he probably knew more about James than anyone except Lily, but he had absolutely no idea what was going on in Remus' life anymore -- and he lived with the man.
And then, in February, Remus had put a stop to their monthly outings, citing new Ministry procedures. Registered werewolves had always been required to have a "containment area," certified for safety and regularly inspected, where they would confine themselves during full moon nights. Those who couldn't afford their own had to present themselves at official "support centers" to spend the night caged under the watchful eyes of Registry officials. Remus' area was a tin-roofed brick shed behind the house he shared with Sirius, with an iron door and a barred window. Lily had done the reinforcing spells herself; a Hungarian Horntail couldn't have broken out of there. The inspectors had been very impressed.
It was all supposed to be for show, of course. The shed had stood empty for years while Moony and Padfoot (and, on increasingly rare occasions, Wormtail and Prongs) Apparated to a new remote location every month to run free under the moon. But at the start of the year, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement took over the Werewolf Registry. A few weeks later, Barty Crouch had announced a new policy of surprise inspections, designed to make sure that all werewolves were, in fact, locked inside the containment units at full moon. Remus had to start complying with the rules. Sirius understood that. What he couldn't understand was Remus' steadfast refusal to allow Padfoot into the shed. They'd had a long and loud argument about it, their first real fight since the night Sirius had sent Snape to the Shrieking Shack five years before.
They'd developed a new routine for full moon nights. Remus, pale and preternaturally calm, would lock himself in at sundown. Sirius would transform, so that the wolf wouldn't smell human prey outside, and curl up by the door for the night. He never heard what was happening inside the shed -- Lily's Soundproofing charms were as efficient as everything else she ever did -- but Padfoot's sensitive nose would pick up the smell of blood, growing thicker and more cloying as the night wore on. In the morning he would change back, unspell the locks, and drag Remus' unconscious body into the house to recuperate.
The experience always left him a mental wreck, a weakness made all the more galling by the fact that Remus, the real victim, was so perfectly stoic about it. Sirius dealt with it as best he could. He was rapidly becoming an expert in healing spells and cleaning charms. But he had never felt so useless in his entire life. And Remus refused to talk about it, refused to change the arrangements in any way, refused to let Sirius write a letter of protest to the Werewolf Services Division.
"Don't bring your name to their attention," he'd said, and then refused to explain what he meant by that.
He'd tried to accept the silences as Remus' way of coping. It wasn't his own way -- Sirius Black never did anything silently if he could help it -- but if it worked, then who was he to criticize? But then in April, Remus joined a support group. At least that's what it sounded like, though he'd stared blankly when Sirius used the term. A support group. For werewolves. He'd go to meetings once or twice a month, and come back looking thoughtful, and chat about the weather. He wouldn't say what the group was like, or who was in it, or what they talked about, or whether or not it helped. Confidentiality issues, he said. All members were sworn not to discuss group business with outsiders.
Outsiders. Meaning Sirius. Sirius, who could be counted on to charm bloodstains from brick and cement every month, to heal bite marks without leaving a scar, to mend torn robes and broken bones… but who didn't, apparently, count as support.
"Huh? What?" Sirius looked up with a start to find Remus watching him with a concerned expression. "I'm sorry, I was just..."
"Thinking." Sirius forced a smile. "Were you saying something?"
"I was asking if you wanted to take a look." Remus held out some parchment sheets covered in small, dense writing. "I copied these from a book Rosier had in a secret drawer in his desk. Do you recognize any of these spells?"
"No." Sirius stared at the top sheet, feeling increasingly appalled. "Shit. That is definitely not part of the standard Hogwarts curriculum. Durmstrang, maybe… How much do you want to bet it's on the Ministry's list of proscribed books?"
"No bets." Remus smiled sourly. "Have you looked at the list recently? Half the books we own are on it."
"We sure as hell don't own anything like this."
"True. I think Dumbledore will be very interested in seeing this."
"Not to mention Crouch," Sirius said excitedly. "Do you think the Aurors can get a warrant out of it?"
Alastor Moody had been fighting for approval to detain Evan Rosier for questioning, with no success. Rosier was a friend of Lucius Malfoy, and the Malfoys still had enough pull at the Ministry to keep their friends from being officially harassed. That was where Sirius and Remus came in. Their job was to harass people unofficially.
"I don't know," said Remus. "I wouldn't want to count on it. Everyone owns proscribed books -- you can hardly help it, with the list changing every month. Besides, we want to get him arrested, not fined. And for that, we'd better get something more incriminating."
"I suppose so…" Sirius sighed. "Why can't Death Eaters ever be cooperative? 'Dear diary: went to Malfoy Manor last night. Performed unspeakable Dark rituals and licked Lord Voldemort's boots.' Is that too much to ask, just once?"
Remus actually smiled at that, and Sirius' spirits lifted a little. "No such luck, I'm afraid, but he did have some letters hidden in the same drawer as the book. I tried to make copies, but they had some sort of charm on them to prevent it. I want to come back again and see if I can break it."
That sounded promising. "Did you read them?"
"Only a couple. I didn't want to stand there too long. Innocuous-looking stuff, all of it, but I think it's in code. Why would Genevieve LeStrange be writing to Rosier about a shopping trip to Paris?"
Sirius shrugged, smirking. "She wants his advice on the latest lingerie styles?"
Remus shrugged "If it's a code, we'll work it out later. In the meantime, back to the fun stuff." He gestured toward the scrying glass, which was showing a slightly foggy image of Rosier's house. It looked quiet enough. The kitchen light was on, and the unshuttered window revealed a fuzzy shape that was presumably Rosier. He appeared to be making tea.
"Ah, yes, the glamour and excitement of surveillance work." Sirius stifled a yawn and burrowed deeper into his sleeping bag. "Wake me up if he does anything interesting, will you?"
Three days later, Rosier still hadn't done anything interesting, but he had at least left the house long enough for Remus to work out a way to copy his letters. Armed with the collected evidence, Sirius and Remus packed up their campsite and Apparated to the small village in the Cotswolds where Albus Dumbledore made his home away from Hogwarts.
They arrived just as Mundungus Fletcher was leaving. The older man looked thin and haggard. He leaned heavily on a cane and favored his left leg as he limped down the steps. He nodded at Sirius cordially enough, but the glare he aimed at Remus was startlingly and inexplicably hostile. Fletcher had always seemed to like Remus in the past.
Sirius bristled, but Remus showed no reaction. Nor did he say anything about it while Albus ushered them into his parlor and plied them with tea and sandwiches. Finally, Sirius' patience snapped.
"All right, Albus, what's the matter with Fletcher? That look he gave Remus at the door should've been classified as an Unforgivable."
"You're exaggerating," Remus said softly. Sirius ignored him, looking straight at Albus until the old man sighed and put down his cup.
"Try to be patient with Mundungus, Sirius. He's just come back from a month in the Channel Islands."
"Oh?" Sirius sat up a little straighter, concerned despite his irritation. The Channel Islands were not a good place for a wizard to be. Voldemort was rumored to have a base on an unplottable island near Sark. "What was he doing there?"
"Investigating an unusually high concentration of beasts and monsters in the area." Dumbledore's face was grave. "Hags, vampires, erklings, trolls, kelpies… there were even rumors of some quintapeds being seen on one of the beaches, though I'm glad to say those turned out to be unfounded. It appears that Voldemort has found a way to summon and control Dark creatures from a distance. Mundungus thinks it's a variation of the Imperius curse."
"But what does it have to do with-- oh." Sirius clenched his fists as the implication sank in. "Remus is not a Dark creature."
"Of course not," Dumbledore said gently. "But Mundungus has had a difficult time. Give him a few days to calm down."
Sirius wanted to say that having a difficult time was no excuse for suddenly turning on one's friends, but before he could get a word out, Remus jumped in with the report on Rosier, and the opportunity was lost.
The subject didn't come up again until that evening, when Sirius and Remus were home again, settled down in the living room with a couple of beers and a game of wizard chess. Remus played an unusually sloppy game: giving up pieces for no gain, missing obvious opportunities, staring at the board for minutes at a time only to make an apparently random move. Sirius, accustomed to having to batter his way through an impenetrable defense, found himself flailing as all his usual strategies collapsed for lack of resistance.
"Remus, you know you can't do that, don't you?"
"Move that knight. You'll put yourself in check."
"Hmm?" Remus blinked at the white horseman in his hand as if he'd never seen it before. "Oh. Right. Sorry." He put the knight back down and hunched over the board while his long-suffering pieces twitched and fidgeted. After nearly a minute of deliberation, he nudged one of his three remaining pawns. The little ivory soldier looked confused, but obediently marched into the next square.
Sirius gave an exasperated sigh. "All right, Remus, what's the matter?"
"Nothing." Suddenly, Remus was staring at the board in front of him with more focused attention than he had given it since the game began. "Why do you ask?"
"You're woolgathering. This isn't like you."
"I'm not woolgathering, I'm thinking."
"Not about chess, you're not." Sirius leaned forward and tipped over his king, who fell over with an indignant squeal and kicked his little red-lacquered legs in the air. "There. I forfeit. You win. Now talk to me."
Remus looked at him with bland, patient eyes. "About what?"
Sirius felt very proud of himself for not throwing the chess board across the room. "It's Fletcher, isn't it?" he growled. "Come on, Remus, what do you care what the old sod thinks? We all know he's full of shit."
"Is he?" Remus lowered his gaze back to the board, where the assorted pieces were reassembling themselves and grumpily trudging back into their box. His shoulders were set at an unnaturally straight angle, and his hands were clasped together tightly in his lap. "What if he's right? If Voldemort can really Imperio Dark creatures from a distance--"
"You're not a Dark creature!" Sirius tried not to shout, he really did, but this was just too much. "Except for one night a month, and then you're locked up in a brick box with me guarding the door. You're safe."
"Can you be sure?" Remus did not relax. "Some people say there's no such thing as being a monster part-time. They say the wolf is always there, even when it's not visible."
"Yeah, well." Sirius shrugged. "Some people are bigoted morons."
"But can you be sure they're wrong? Would you bet your life on it?"
"What about somebody else's life?"
It was such a tiny hesitation. Not even a second. Most people would never have noticed it. But Remus always noticed everything.
"See?" he said, and there was something in his voice that sounded almost glad, as if he was actually relieved to have his fears confirmed. "You don't know either."
"Moony--" Sirius began, but Remus pushed his chair back and stood up.
"Not now, Sirius. I'm tired. We'll talk tomorrow, all right?" He nearly ran from the room.
Sirius sat there and watched him go, and knew that when tomorrow came around, neither one of them would say a word about it.
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