Table of Contents and Summary So Far
Sirius froze at the window, not sure what to do.
The Auror was obviously not there to interrogate Remus. They seemed to just be having a long, casual conversation, and it wasn't the first. When they began to clean up, they moved together in an easy, familiar way. When she bumped the table and knocked over a stack of boxes, he caught them with a practiced flick of the wand; when he brushed against her, she reached up and mussed his hair affectionately. There didn't seem to be any greater degree of... affection... but they were clearly old and comfortable friends.
Sirius took a few steps back from the window, his great paws making soft thumps on the stone, then sat back on his haunches. It had never occurred to him that Lupin might be close to an Auror, though they had both had friends in the division before. It had never, if he was going to be honest with himself, occurred to him that Lupin had made any close friends. Hiding a fugitive would be a strain on--
The door opened suddenly spilling candlelight out into the night, and the girl stepped out, still looking over her shoulder. She was carrying a large bowl of leftovers.
"Aren't you meant to be expelling the hogboon?" she said. "Thought the whole point was that your landlady didn't want to give him sacrifices anymore."
"It'll keep him quiet for the night," Remus called. "I'll get back to work on expelling him tomorrow."
The girl shook her head and rolled her eyes, then turned and gasped, dropping the bowl with a clang. She was staring directly at Sirius.
Remus came out. "What hap--" He froze, gulped, then said in a perfectly untroubled tone, "Oh, sorry. Dog's been coming around for scraps. I think he swam over from the next island."
Sirius admired the quick lie.
"Gave me a start," the girl said. "You ought to keep him, though. I've been telling you for years that you should get a pet."
The corners of Remus's mouth twitched. "Yes, well."
"Won't he eat what we leave for the hogboon?"
"Probably," Remus said. "I should bring him inside and feed him properly, so he doesn't."
Sirius wagged his tail eagerly, and fought not to actually nod.
"I'll see if I can get the sauce off some of the leftover chicken," the girl said and went back inside.
"Auror," Remus mouthed.
Sirius nodded and followed him in.
By the time they were in, the girl had poured chicken curry into a large bowl, and was pointing her wand at it with a dubious expression. "All right," she said. "Kitchen spells. I know this one. Pullus denudo."
The curry sauce, much to Sirius's disappointment, disappeared.
"It worked," she said, delighted.
"As it's a third year spell," Remus said dryly, "I would hope so. You just have a mental block about it, Dora."
It couldn't be...
But he looked at the young Auror again--bright eyes, high cheekbones, crazy hair color.
Andromeda's daughter, Nymphadora Tonks--always called Dora as a child--had already been able to change her hair color and face at will. But she was just a small child, only...
He did the math. He'd last seen her when she was eight. It had been thirteen years. She'd be twenty-one.
He looked up sharply at Remus, who nodded subtly.
Sirius looked at his paws miserably. He'd imagined Harry growing up year by year in Azkaban, so seeing him hadn't brought the time home to him; he'd looked almost exactly as Sirius had imagined he would. But Nymphadora... she was a little girl he'd once adored, but to whom he hadn't given much thought while he was in prison. Now here was a lovely young woman, and the child was gone, and the twelve years he'd lost seemed suddenly a deep and uncrossable chasm, one he would fall into if--
The bowl clanked down to the floor in front of him, and Dora buried her hands in his scruff. "Aren't you a good one?" she cooed. "But you're soaking wet and cold! Here." She waved her wand dried his fur--which was really only a bit damp from the grass--then gave him a wonderful warming charm. "Do you have a bowl for water?" she asked Remus.
Remus Conjured one and filled it with clean water, then pointed subtly over his shoulder at the glasses on the shelf and a bottle of mead on the counter. Sirius didn't care. He put his snout in the bowl of chicken and nearly inhaled it. He'd eaten less well over the past several years.
Dora sat beside him on the floor cross-legged, scratching behind his ears. It was comforting.
"Dora," Remus said, "don't you have shift?"
She checked her watch. "In forty minutes." She leaned over and kissed the top of Sirius's head. "You really should keep him. He's such a good dog!"
"He is," Remus said carefully. "And he's had a bit of a rough road. I wouldn't want to see it get any rougher."
"Which is why you ought to take him in," Dora said. "Honestly, Remus. If you have to think of it as a way to be self-sacrificing instead of self-serving, imagine the food you'll need to give up."
"I'll try to keep that in mind."
Dora petted Sirius quietly for a few minutes, then sighed deeply. "I really don't want to go to work," she said. "They still think I let him go."
Remus kept his face carefully blank, but Sirius could see the awkwardness creeping into his stance. "I thought Kingsley Shacklebolt took care of that."
"Oh, he reminded them that Sirius has got away from all of us, but that doesn't stop them from whispering. You know the Black family--loyal to one another at all costs. The fact that Aunt Narcissa tried to block me from being trained seems to have escaped their notice." She frowned up at Remus. "What's wrong? And don't say 'nothing,' because you look like a crowd of fifth years has been practicing Stunning Spells on you."
He gave her an appraising look, then said, "Nothing I can really talk to you about."
She hissed angrily and slapped her hand on the floor. "Oh, honestly, Remus, what do you think I..." She stopped. "Oh. The Black case."
"You believe the children that Snape said were Confunded, don't you? You think he's innocent."
"I think you can live without the conflict of interest that my answer would likely give you. You can't do anything about it."
Her hand stopped moving in Sirius's ruff, and she stood up quickly. "You know, Remus," she said. "Maybe I should decide what I can and can't live without. Just for fun." She picked up a battered old book bag, still covered with quill doodles that Sirius supposed dated back to Hogwarts, and went to the door. "I have to get to work," she said. "Call me if you ever decide there's something you can talk about."
She slammed the door and was gone. Sirius moved to transform, but Remus held up his hand.
The door opened again, and Dora leaned in. "I'm sorry," she said. "I really..." She rolled her eyes and went to Remus, who was still sitting down. "I do want to talk about this," she said, then leaned over and kissed the bridge of his nose. "But I'll wait until you're ready to tell me."
"It's not that," Remus said. "But... thank you. I do want to talk to you about it. But not while there's nothing you can do."
She nodded in a resigned way, then went back to the door. "You really should keep the dog," she said before leaving. "It's not good to be alone." Then she closed the door again and went out into the night.
Remus watched warily for a few minutes, then nodded. "She's gone," he said.
Sirius transformed and sat on a moth-eaten armchair. "That's my cousin Dora?"
"Yes. I'm sorry, Sirius, I want to tell her everything, but she can't do anything about it, and it would just tear her up."
"She already has her doubts..."
"She's not entirely certain of her doubts." Remus shook his head. "She was fourteen when she found out I was a werewolf. Andromeda and Ted always knew, of course, but I hadn't got around to telling Dora yet. She found out on her own."
"Was she angry at you for not telling her?"
"No. But she managed to end up in detention for most of the next term for getting into duels and fights with anyone who said the slightest negative thing about werewolves. Reminds me of someone else whose name I can't quite remember." Sirius grinned dutifully. Remus rubbed his forehead. "The Ministry isn't Hogwarts. If she does that at work, she'll lose her job, and it won't do you a bit of good." He stood up wearily. "Come on. She brought enough to keep me in curry for the next year. Have some real food, served on an actual plate with genuine cutlery."
Sirius didn't follow him into the kitchen. His mind was still gnawing at the idea that the young woman he'd noticed was really little Dora. "She's grown up," he said.
"What?" Remus called from the kitchen.
"Dora. She grew up while I was in there."
Remus brought out a steaming plate and handed it to Sirius without answering. Along one side, he'd propped a fork and a wholly unnecessary knife and spoon. "Are you all right?"
"Who else don't I know anymore?"
Remus sat down on the sofa and gave Sirius a long look, then smiled feebly. "Well, there's Dumbledore. These days, he's all-knowing and wise. And Minerva McGonagall has got to be quite strict with her classes. Mad-Eye's becoming paranoid, convinced there's a curse around every corner. Arabella Figg is raising kneazles. Old Dung turned out to be a thief, and Severus Snape, shockingly, is unpleasant and abrasive."
Sirius was surprised into a laugh. "Next, you'll tell me that Hagrid's taken a liking to monsters."
"Well, I didn't want to shock you, but as long as you've brought it up..."
They laughed, and Remus Summoned the mead. Just as Sirius was about to tip back his glass, something started tapping on the window. Beyond it, bright white against the night sky, was a tired and angry looking snowy owl, a piece of parchment tied to one leg.