Table of Contents and Summary So Far
"All right," Remus said, "I think it's set up well enough that whoever comes won't be able to see inside clearly enough to know it's a dog and not a werewolf, but well enough to know there's someone here."
Sirius checked cursorily around the decrepit old barn, then nodded. "It'll do. The Ministry really thinks this miserable place is a great boon to werewolf-kind?"
Remus shrugged. "It is. It's safe, and there are enough to spread out, and no one comes knocking. I can shore up the holes in the ceiling before I transform."
"But..." Sirius wrinkled his nose and jabbed his finger at moldy hay, infested by mice, and at a rancid-smelling rain barrel, and at any number of other signs that this place was not meant for habitation by humans.
"Well, no one is likely to be here before I turn. At least not out here in the country. They tried doing this sort of thing in the city, but there, even a miserable-looking metal bin--it's Expanded on the inside--ended up being used by the indigent."
"Are you joking?"
Remus looked off in the distance. "No. I've been close to indigent myself. I've taken old tool sheds, and storage bins, and been kicked out of them."
Sirius shook his head. "That's absurd. I'm giving you my vault key, dammit, I won't let--"
"I wouldn't have taken it when I needed it, and I don't need it anymore," Remus said firmly. "Dumbledore was furious about some of the places he found out I'd got to, and now he's helping me find some sorts of posts again."
"Well, you shouldn't have bloody well let him stop before. And Andromeda allowed it?"
"Andromeda tried to give me gold as well. I gave her the same answer I would have given you. I'm not going to live off the largess of wealthy friends."
"You prefer this?"
"Quite a lot, actually," Remus said, crossing his arms over his thin chest. He sighed. "Before we get into another row here, let's stop."
"And I never told you yesterday--too busy being a grump, as Dora puts it--but... thank you for coming and warning me."
Sirius nodded. "Remus?"
"You know how you feel about living off the largess of wealthy friends?"
"I think I just covered that."
"It's about how I feel about being thanked for being your friend."
Remus looked over his shoulder and smiled. "All right, then."
"And I know as well as Dora does what a miserable old grump you are."
"I'm not that old."
"You were a miserable old grump at eleven."
Remus laughed, then said, "I'd best go if I'm going to get that cave secured."
"Check in on Harry if you get a chance. He should be in Hogsmeade."
"Yes, Sirius, that'll do well in keeping up the ruse." He rolled his eyes extravagantly. "I'll do a Disillusioning Charm. If anything dastardly is happening, I'll send a Patronus."
"Fine. But I think it would do Harry good to see you."
Remus didn't answer this, just shrugged and headed off into the gray early afternoon. Sirius hoped he'd change his mind. Despite the fact that he hadn't written to Remus (and Remus had taken this as a personal insult, though he wouldn't admit it), Sirius thought Harry would just about explode with happiness to see him at the moment, and that would be enough, by itself, to cure Remus of his grumpiness, if not his lycanthropy.
Well, maybe they'd get lucky, and Harry would take it in his head to have a walk in the foothills, and accidentally stumble across the cave. That this would be a severe breach of his security during a Hogsmeade weekend seemed somehow less important to Sirius than the good it would do him.
"Or," Dora said an hour later, when she arrived to help him settle in and he shared this particular thought with her, "you could suggest it. 'You know, Harry, you might ask Lupin some of these things, quite an expert, you know...'"
"And if someone intercepts my communication? You don't think they'd immediately descend on anyone I happen to have mentioned in a positive light?"
Dora hissed through her teeth. "That's true. Dammit. Maybe Dumbledore should mention it. Or Mad-Eye. I could write to Mad-Eye and suggest it! He can't very well help Harry himself--he's a teacher--but I'll bet he could slip in a suggestion that Remus would be a good resource. I'll do that tomorrow morning."
"Sounds like it could work."
"That's that, then." She put her hands on her hips and looked around. "Well, I think it'll be comfortable enough to wait in. I'll be up near the main house when the moon rises."
"Can't you stay for a bit first?"
"Sure." She looked for a place to sit down, then just shrugged and sat on the floor. "Can't stay too long, in case whoever's coming happens to see two people in here, but I never mind a little time with you."
"Cheers," Sirius said. "So, what was the Durmstrang champion up to in Hogsmeade today?"
"Following Hermione Granger, but never quite catching up to her."
"Yeah... oh, right, we got a bit distracted after the Yule Ball. That's who his mystery date was."
"Harry's Hermione? I don't like that much at all, she's too close to him for a Durmstrang student to be nosing around."
"I really don't think there's anything to worry about. He just seems besotted."
"Well, he'd have to for the ruse to work! I'll wager Karkaroff put him up to it."
"If he did, he didn't look too happy about it succeeding so well. I saw him try to pull Viktor away about six times. I don't speak Russian--or maybe it's Bulgarian--but whatever he was saying didn't sound like 'Well done, now get in closer.'"
"Hmph." Sirius pushed a pile of hay into a rough chair and sat in it, scaring out a squeaking mouse. "Did you see Harry?"
"Not for very long, or from very close. I got the impression that Viktor was trying to catch Hermione away from him."
"Yes, highly suspicious, that. Imagine, trying to see your date without her friends." She gave a sarcastic tsk, tsk. "He seemed healthy. A rumor was going around that he and Hermione had got in a tiff with Rita Skeeter, so I'd expect some trouble on that front."
"Can't you arrest her for something?"
"Not in the sort of country I want to live in, unfortunately."
"Maybe I could bite her sometime."
"Sounds like a plan," Dora said amiably, then leaned forward. "For what it's worth, I didn't see anything questionable about Krum."
"Geography." She shrugged. "If every student at Durmstrang were a Dark Wizard, we'd be overrun by now. I don't like their curriculum any better than you do, but there are perfectly decent students there, just like there are charming examples of British humanity like my aunt Bellatrix at Hogwarts."
"Well, if you're going to be logical about it," Sirius sniffed.
Dora got to her feet, came over, and kissed his forehead. "I'd best get into place, in case our sneaky little friend comes early. Calm down about Krum."
"Oh, all right."
"I swear, you're as grumpy as Remus sometimes, and as paranoid as Mad-Eye to boot. You're lucky I love you."
"I know that," Sirius said, and smiled. "Believe me, I know it."
She smiled, then Disapparated.
Sirius positioned himself where he could see the moon--it wouldn't do to have a wolf in here before then--and watched. The sky seemed to darken forever, but finally, in a sudden leap, became dark. A breeze blew, and a cloud wafted away from the moon.
Sirius raised his wand, and it let loose a series of unearthly screams that he remembered all too well from his childhood--the sounds of nearly unbearable pain that had come from Remus every month, no matter how he tried to fight them. Listening to them again, even magically re-produced, Sirius felt a white hot hate for the miserable voice he'd heard in Hogsmeade, the man who'd done this, and who now felt, in some sadistic manner, that he owned Remus.
He transformed, and as the magical screams faded, he howled at the top of his lungs.
Nothing happened after.
He paced back and forth along the uneven floor, waiting, waiting...
And then, a scratching at the door.
He crouched down and growled.
"Here, you mangy thing," someone hissed. "Get out here, and let's have some fun."
Sirius raised the volume of his growl.
"Angry, are we? No wonder, trapped here, all alone... Well, we can fix that." The door blew in with a crazy rain of splinters, revealing a masked man in the moonlight. Sirius couldn't get a fix on his smell--it was covered up, bizarrely, by the strong reek of cabbages. "Let's have us lesson, professor," he said, and leveled his wand.
Sirius leaned back onto his haunches and leapt at the man, knocking him onto his back.
The man laughed, and raised his wand at Sirius's head. "So someone's cheating, is he? Well, let's see how he'll feel when he comes back to find one dead doggie waiting."