ETA: Thanks to kokopelli20878 for the title suggestion!
Okay, whine over. ;)
When we last left our handsome (and/or beautiful) heroes, Dudley had been cured of his curse trigger, but was very traumatized by the experience of visiting St. Mungo's. Both Dora and Healer Mehadi Patil suggested Memory Charms, but Remus doesn't want to play with Dudley's memory. He seemed to be calmer after visiting Dora's flat and reading the Quibbler article. Dora was on her way over to make Wolfsbane Potion for Sunday, and was lobbying for a kiss, even though Remus told her he didn't trust himself if he started touching her.
Table of Contents and Summary So Far
Dora did without her kiss.
After she finished setting up the cauldron (Sirius watching the process with frank admiration), she lifted her eyebrows inquisitively, and Remus shook his head. "Oh, fine," she said, affecting an exaggerated air of annoyance. "In that case, Sirius can walk me upstairs and lock the door behind me." She turned her nose up. "This would be where you object."
"Oh, no, not that," Remus said.
"I don't want to be anywhere between of the pair of you anyway," Sirius said, smiling. "I might get caught in that Calf-Eye Curse you've both picked up."
"And which of us were you planning on making calf-eyes at?" Dora asked. "Your oldest friend or your cousin?"
"Well, given that it seems to be a two-person business, I was rather afraid I'd end up Cursed to Kreacher, as he's the only other half-sentient thing in the house."
Dora gave him a hug and a kiss goodbye, then headed up the stairs. Remus followed her.
"Sorry," she said, standing by the curtains that covered Mrs. Black's portrait and not looking remotely remorseful. "You spent all morning with your ex--"
"Two dinners does not make Mehadi my 'ex.'"
"I know." She grinned and blew him a kiss off her fingertips.
He caught it and tossed it back, some part of his mind thinking at it would be very easy to catch her in his arms and fold her into the curtains while he kissed her until neither of them could breathe--let Mrs. Black yell all she liked. "You should go," he said.
She shook her head. "Someday, you'll stop protecting me from the Big, Bad Wolf."
"Absolutely," Remus promised. "The day they cure lycanthropy, I'll never worry about it again."
She rolled her eyes and left.
Remus went back to the kitchen, where Sirius was looking at him with a bit of bedevilment in his eyes. "What's this business all about?"
"You're not kissing her close to transformation."
"Not that it's any of your business, but certain things are a bit... intense... this close to a full moon."
Sirius threw his head back and laughed. "You're blaming it on the moon?" He tipped his chair until it was leaning against the stone wall, howling laughter. "Mate," he said, wiping his eyes, "I think you need to set your sights a bit lower."
Remus didn't speak to him for the rest of the night, and refused to discuss that subject further in the morning, although Sirius had (almost) stopped laughing at him.
He left for St. Mungo's at four-thirty, and found Edward Holmes already chained in for his transformation. Holmes was less coherent this month than he'd been at his first transformation, and Remus was barely able to talk him out of hysterics while they waited. While the moon was high, the Wolf felt only disdain. There was no sense of a power struggle, because transformed, Holmes submitted instantly at the sound of a single snarl.
In the morning, Holmes was, for the first time, more or less uninjured. Remus himself again had a relatively peaceful transformation, and had even been able to catch an hour or two of sleep hanging off of the chains. Every joint in his body was flaring with the strain of having done so, but a few Healing Charms and Sirius's analgesic potion took care of it enough for him to make his way to work.
As usual, his students noticed that he wasn't well. Daniel Morse and Andrew Metcalf brought him lunch in his office that day, including soup from the school kitchen and some chocolates Andrew's mother had sent. When he got to his fifth form class, Paul Freehof was cleaning the blackboards for him so that he wouldn't need to stretch up and pull the upper board down, or across to wipe off the chalk from the morning classes.
"Thank you, Paul," he said.
Paul shrugged and took his seat.
Remus sat on the edge of the desk and looked out at their faces. Piers Polkiss was still looking surly, but most of them seemed friendly now, even though he was starting to put them through some rather rigorous preparations for their upcoming exams. He narrowed his eyes. "Where is Dudley?"
"Mr. Baden sent him to the nurse," Piers said. "He came over funny this morning."
"I'll e-mail his assignment to him," Remus said, trying not to sound as concerned as he was. "Did it seem to be a serious illness?"
Piers shrugged. "Just came over funny, is all."
"It's exams," Stephen Wells suggested. "Just nerves."
The other boys seemed to concur with this opinion.
Paul nodded. "Right. I heard that the year before we got here, a boy went completely mad before exams and they found him sitting in his room eating his textbooks with mustard and pickles."
"I heard he was running around starkers on the playing fields," Piers said.
"No," Stephen said. "He was just going up and down the corridors, writing his notes on all of the walls. They had to paint it all over, of course."
Remus sighed. School was school--there were always stories about someone who was there just before anyone in the room arrived. "Would a member of the history club like to explain the concept of an 'urban legend,' which Mr. Fitz discussed at our last meeting?" he asked.
There was an outcry of protest that this was true, but eventually, they realized that no one at all was able to produce a name of the student or of any acquaintance who had actually seen any of this, and they were able to have a reasonably good review session before getting on to the day's new material.
After class, he went to Dudley's residence, but there was no answer at his dormitory. A note on his message board said that he was at the infirmary. Remus went to see him, but the school nurse said he was asleep. She concurred with the idea that it was a case of pre-exam nerves. "Mr. Dursley, if I know him," she said dryly, "is not prepared."
Remus was fairly certain that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the GCSEs; in fact, he would be surprised if Dudley remembered they were approaching at all.
"You need to do a Memory Charm," Dora said over a very late dinner at Grimmauld Place that night. "Dudley can't handle this."
"Dudley needs to learn to handle it," Remus said. "The magical world isn't going anywhere, and whether he likes it or not, he's involved."
Sirius shrugged, monumentally unconcerned about Dudley. "I'm with Remus. Let him suffer. He's made Harry's life difficult enough."
"That's not exactly what I said, Sirius."
"I spoke to Kingsley about it," Dora said. "He's really quite good at Memory Charms. They're a specialty of his, and he could target very specific memories..."
"Remus, will you at least talk to him? He was going to come over tonight, but Fudge called him off with Dawlish on some sort of business at the last minute."
"I don't doubt Kingsley's abilities..." Remus sighed. "I'll talk to him, Dora. But I don't think it's a good idea. All of this business at Smeltings is my responsibility, at least until the end of the school year."
Dora toyed with her baked potato, then sighed. "I met the ladies for book group this morning," she said. "I told them that my former employer has been asking me to come back to work."
Sirius frowned at her. "Why on Earth would you do that?"
"In case we need to make an exit. Leave the flat and all." She sounded pained.
"Why should you do that?" Sirius asked. "Won't Dudley still need looking after?"
"I'm not going to keep Joe's job while he's fit to hold it," Remus said. "There should be some other way to look after Dudley after the summer. The lies we're telling can only hold up for so long."
"You're lying about your names and your ages. So what?"
"And our history. And where we are in our lives." Dora bit her lip. "And things could... change. There could be... you know, things that I can't explain in terms of our cover story." She was looking carefully at her fingers as she said this, and did not elaborate on what catastrophe she was anticipating.
They ate in silence for awhile, and Sirius pulled up a box of old family things he'd been going through. He pawed through it one handed. "I found something here," he said. "On Bella and Rodo. His family owns--"
But what Rodolphus Lestrange's family owned, they never found out.
There was a flash of fire at the hearth, burning down out of midair in the shape of a man and a bird. The flames faded and solidified, beginning with a great scarlet phoenix, and ending with the robes of Albus Dumbledore.
"Ah," Dumbledore said, smiling pleasantly. "I'm glad a few of you are here. I have no intention of staying long, but certain events have transpired of which you all should be aware."