Anyway, Remus and Sirius are headed over to the next island to find out if the family that lives there is magical and connected to the Floo, as Sirius needs to respond to Harry's letter about being in the tournament. This is another area where canon has a breathtaking amount of time passing before Sirius can actually succeed in his quest, so there's time to kill here. Since R+S weren't sure if the family was magical, they decided to go over by boat (Sirius as a dog when they get there) rather than Apparating, and they've just arrived, in good spirits.
Table of Contents and Summary So Far
Remus guided the rowboat into a little cove, and Sirius jumped out onto (relatively) dry land, shaking himself as though he'd got wet, just for the good feel of it. He took a deep breath--the scent of the dead grass and wildflowers was strongest, even over the salty smell of the sea, and in the distance, he could smell peat smoke from a fireplace. He waited while Remus tethered the boat, then they climbed the low hill together. A cottage sat at the bottom of the far side, and two children were chasing one another in circles around it. One had a toy broomstick, and there was a rusty cauldron rotting beside a well.
"Looks like they're magical, anyway," Remus said.
The larger child, a skinny girl with white-blond pigtails, looked up in surprise. "Mither!" she called, then said something so thickly accented that Sirius couldn't catch all the words, though he gathered that she was announcing their presence, as a woman came out of the door, drying her hands on her apron. She frowned up at Remus, then signaled for them to come down the hill.
Remus led the way down, his hand extended. "Hello," he said. "I hope it's not a bother, but I'm staying on the next island--"
The woman gave a frustrated roll of the eyes. "Mary McAlister's island?"
"The very one," Remus answered with a smile, picking up a bit more of a lilt ("very" came out "verreh") than Sirius was used to from him, though, to be fair, he usually had a bit of the Scot in him when he came back from summer holidays, due to having spent the summer talking to his mother. It wasn't entirely alien. "She's got me working on that problem hogboon of hers."
"Calum McAlister, may he rot," the woman said, not at all unkindly. "If that hogboon got a portrait's worth of him after he died, you'll have your hands full." She stuck out her hand. "Dona Brodie," she said. "My big girl is Kirsty--she's ten--and the littler one is Elspeth."
"Remus Lupin," Remus said, shaking her hand.
Dona got a wary look in her eye. "I had a letter from a concerned Hogwarts parent last year, as Kirsty's getting close to the age for it. Seems I know your name. Werewolf, are you not?"
"I am," Remus answered evenly, "but the full moon's not for more than a week."
Dona silently evaluated him, then shrugged. "I'll thank you not to be visiting then."
"I may lock myself in with the hogboon," Remus told her. "It seems a good use for it."
She laughed, but Sirius thought a bit of coldness had seeped in. "Either that, or old Calum'd get to be even more of a pest. Was there something you needed? Kirsty, stop gaping at the man and take your sister inside."
Remus sagged a little. "Well," he said, "as it happens, I wanted to know if you were"--he pointed at the cauldron and the toy broomstick, which Kirsty had propped beside the door--"one of us, and I wondered if I might use your Floo connection. Miss McAlister hasn't got the island connected, and I needed to place a call. I'd pay you for the powder, of course."
"No need for it. Who knows what we might need from you come winter?" She sighed, and opened the door. "Can't say I welcome you entirely," she said. "I doubt anyone with children welcomes a werewolf at the door. But you've been gracious, and I see no reason not to help."
"Thank you," Remus muttered. "I assure you, I don't share Fenrir Greyback's interests."
"That's a name I'll not have spoken in my house."
"Madam Brodie," Remus said fervently, "I am quite happy to go along with that particular rule. Snuffles," he said to Sirius, "I don't think Mrs. Brodie will want you inside."
Dona waved it off. "I've no objection. The girls lost their dog last year; I'd imagine they'd like him." She led them into the house, a comfortable little place with a round rag rug on the floor and a comfortable mess in the living room. The girls were in the kitchen, playing with fashion dolls of the sort Dora had once had. The fireplace dominated the wall next to the stove.
"Will you need privacy?"
"No, not at all," Remus said. "I just need potion ingredients. I'm going to try an Ousting Effusion, and I need some Erumpent Essence."
"Have at it, then. Will you stay for lunch? I've got enough."
Remus smiled, looking genuinely pleased. "I'd be happy to."
"Well, then," Dona said, "Have at it."
Remus took a pinch of Floo Powder from a coffee can beside the fireplace, said, "Slug and Jiggers, Diagon Alley," and bent down to talk. Sirius wondered if he was actually bothering to order what he'd said he was ordering; the chance of Remus successfully brewing an Ousting Effusion was fairly slim.
The older girl--Kirsty--cooed at him, and he caught "'s yer name" in it somewhere. Dona said, "Mr. Lupin called him Snuffles."
"Snuffles!" Kirsty said. She spoke to him more slowly than she'd spoken to her mother, and Sirius caught more of it. "Aren't you cute?" She scratched his scruff vigorously and kissed his face. "Aren't you then? Are you a good doggie? Good dog!"
Elspeth came over to join them, and Sirius let himself enjoy being toppled under their affections while Remus had his entirely non-essential conversation. Elspeth dug under the sofa and pulled out a dusty rope with a knot in it, and by the time Remus had finished, the girls had engaged Sirius in a good game of tug-of-war (he was careful not to pull too hard, as he was large enough to fling either of them across the room if he put real effort into it).
"I do appreciate the use of your fireplace," Sirius heard Remus say. "The owls keep being blown off course here."
"You'll learn to expect that if you stay here long," Dona said, and there was a clank as she set down cutlery on the table. "Girls, get yourselves cleaned up, and we'll have lunch."
The girls protested for a moment, but let go of the rope. Each one patted Sirius a few times, then they disappeared into what he took for their room.
Sirius took the rope over to the sofa and put it as close to where they'd got it from as wouldn't be suspicious, then he padded over to the table, where Remus was helping Dona set out bowls and plates.
"...which is why I don't get off-island very often," Dona said. "There's no need for it, really, but it gets a bit dreary now and then."
"I've noticed that, with the shorter days," Remus said. "But the auroras are nice at night."
"I got bored with those a long time ago."
Remus smiled. "Not to pry, but your husband...?"
"Dougie got too close to that"--she glanced at the children's door, then hissed--"to that prison. He was out in the boat, fishing, and it was foggy, and he must have got too close to those guards. The boat came back with him in it, but he wasn't in his body."
Remus frowned at him. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Brodie. I didn't mean to bring up such a thing."
She sniffed and started slicing a loaf of fresh bread. "We're used to it now, much as we wouldn't like to be. He's at St. Mungo's down in London. We go visit him on his birthday--that's coming up. The twenty-second. Not that he knows any better. The girls barely remember him. I think they think of it as a chance to see the city more than their father." She finished the bread and Summoned over a cauldron of soup. "I suppose I don't help. I take them to shows and go shopping in Diagon Alley that day as well. I can't help thinking Dougie wouldn't want us to dwell on it, but it still feels wrong, if you ken."
"I do," Remus said. He looked around, very obviously casting about for a change of subject. "So... what do you do here?"
"A little of this, a little of that," Dona said. "The Ministry paid us a fat settlement to keep quiet, and I didn't turn it down, so we're all right. What about you? Have you hired yourself out as a hogboon fighter, now that you're not at Hogwarts?"
"Something along that line."
"Is the pay good?"
"Hmph, with Mary McAlister, I don't doubt it. Be careful, or she'll pay you whatever she does pay in leprechaun gold."
"I'll keep it in mind," Remus said.
The door opened and the girls came out, not looking at all cleaner than they had been before, though Dona didn't say anything. They sat down and Dona said a quick grace--pausing every third word to scold Elspeth for trying to feed Sirius under the table before they'd even started to eat--then they tucked in.
The girls took over the conversation during lunch. They were excited about their upcoming trip to London--as Dona had noted, they seemed to barely acknowledge why they were actually going. They would be there late, as they were going to see a special show on the Muggle stage (Kirsty was delighted about this, as she said that she didn't want to go to Hogwarts and become just a witch, she wanted to become a famous dancer and actress), and Elspeth announced happily that she would be up quite a long time after her bedtime. Sirius wasn't sure if they were speaking more slowly or he was picking it up better through the accent, but by the time they started clearing the table, he was catching everything. Kirsty was about to go into quite a soliloquy about the horrors of maths that her mother was forcing her to do in the afternoon, but Dona held up her hand and said, "Mr. Lupin doesn't need to hear about that."
Remus, who looked like he was about to jump in and help, deflated a bit. "I'll help you clean up," he offered.
"No need," Dona said, waving her wand indifferently at the table. "Now, as nice as it's been to have a guest, I do need to get to the girls' maths..."
"Yes, of course," Remus said. "We'll go straight away."
"Could Snuffles come back to play?" Elspeth asked, burying her nose in Sirius's fur. "I like him."
"It's not easy for dog to swim the channel alone," Dona said.
Remus sighed. Apparently, Dona's need for company had finally been overridden by the thought of having a werewolf in her home. "Well, then," he said. "It's been lovely to meet you. If you need anything..."
"I'll not hesitate," Dona said, but Sirius had a feeling that she'd find several other sources of help first.
Remus said his good-byes, and the children walked them down to the boat. As they were in a clearly magical environment, Remus just waved his wand and sent the boat back to his own island, then put an arm around Sirius's neck--offering the other for Sirius to bite onto for Side-Along--waved to the children, and Apparated both of them back home.