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Of Sticks, Stones and Breaking Bones

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Remus Lupin didn’t set out to be a parent. Sure, he’d wondered about it idly when James had come to him looking positively green with anxiety, and he’d reassured his friend that no, no one’s ever ready, and yes, you’ll do fine. But it wasn’t until Harry was born that Remus realised he rather liked looking after James’s baby whenever he and Lily wanted some time to themselves.

“You’re the best, Loopy,” James slurred after he and Lily had returned from a family party. “Just the best, best Moony.” Lily tittered and wobbled on the spot slightly, both of them tipsy and sleep-deprived. It was a wonder Harry didn’t wake as they giggled above his cot, love sick with each other and their new-born. Remus was simply glad to share their moment, but it didn’t stop him from wondering.

On that night, when everything went to shit, Remus didn’t even know that three of his best friends were dead and the fourth was arrested. He didn’t know about it until a week later, when some wannabe-Death Eater had bragged about having once been to a party with him. Remus listened as the pack chatted excitedly around him and realised there was a reason why none of them had been contacted for a while, except for a small owl note.

The war was over. But the werewolves were still fighting. They didn’t care Voldemort was gone, they only hungered for the next fight, the next blood spilled. And no one had bothered to let Remus know that apparently his previous best friend was on his way to Azkaban for a heinous crime that had the rest of them laughing. No one had told him that he no longer had a cause to fight for.

After throwing up for an indeterminable amount of time, Remus told himself sternly to stop feeling sorry for himself. It was no good thinking of Lily, or of James, or of… Of other friends. Because there was something more important now, and he had a job to do. Lead in his stomach and with a heavy heart, he dusted off his address book and his résumé. It was time to wrestle himself a place in Harry’s life.

*

It was a few months until Remus had been teaching Harry long enough to be familiar with his ways. It had been a struggle to persuade the right people that he was a suitable candidate for their primary school, and being tasked with 25 other small children meant that he couldn’t give Harry his whole attention. For Remus though, it was as close as it got to guardianship without physically kidnapping him. It had been a long four years between that fateful night and Harry starting primary school, with many months spent chasing the Dursleys down, and Remus was not going to risk losing him again.

At first, they’d only exchanged a few words before Harry rushed back home, but gradually their conversations grew longer. The first time that Harry took him up on the offer of a cup of tea and a biscuit, Remus had to carefully restrain himself from dancing around his classroom like he was the six-year old. Harry went home after that first afternoon tea with a packet of biscuits stashed in one pocket, a new book in his rucksack, and a full belly.

More after-school meetings followed, and Remus grew to learn that they had a precious forty minutes between the end of school and when Petunia came home from Bingo. Dudley, luckily in Mr Trunch’s class and not Remus’s, didn’t blab to his parents due to him being more interested in what new squirt he can bully into sticking their head down the toilet. Remus learnt that Harry says no more words than he needs to, giving quiet, polite answers in class that show average intelligence but high perception and kindness.

One afternoon after the last bell had rung, Harry lagged behind, packing his things slowly and letting the others rush out first. Remus narrowed his eyes and waited until the last of his pupils had gone to the school bus.

“What’s up, chuck?”

“Nothing.” Harry scuffed his shoes and looks down.

“Well then, if it’s nothing, why don’t you come back to mine and we’ll have a cup of tea?” Remus finished clearing away the last of his teaching materials and reached for his briefcase. “I made some bara brith last night, it’s a type of tea bread, would you like to try some?”

“Yes, please.” Harry followed Remus as they left the school and headed around the corner towards his small, semi-detached cottage. It’s a little dilapidated and cold in the winter, but Remus couldn’t afford anything posher on his primary school teacher’s salary, and his neighbours were fairly decent. Muggle pay was poorer than a wizard salary, but they’re much better with sick leave and letting a substitute teacher take his classes once a month. He opened the door, and they settled in the sparse living room around cups of steaming tea and crumbling tea bread. Idly chatting about the various new books that Remus had seen in the school library, he noticed the reluctant responses above Harry’s usual reticence.

“Is there something on your mind, Harry?” Remus got up to pour himself a second cup of tea, and bided his time. Harry bit his lip.

“Can I…” Harry said carefully. “Stay here tonight?”

Heart breaking, Remus came back into the room and sat down slowly. “Oh Harry. Of course I’d like you to-”

“Great!” Harry broke into a grin.

“But it’s not that simple,” Remus finished, watching as Harry’s face fell. “I’m so sorry, my dear.”

“Not fair.”

“Life never is, I’m afraid.”

Harry broke into a sulk and picked at the rest of his cake as Remus wondered how to continue.

“Has something happened at home?” At Harry’s frown, Remus amended his words. “I mean, more than usual.” Harry shook his head. And then, in small words and fragmented sentences, Remus pieced together a story of hair dye, super-glue, and an orange salamander that just happened to appear in Petunia’s breakfast cereal. He couldn’t help the pride he felt at Harry’s innate magical ability, and resisted the urge to laugh out loud as Harry described Petunia’s scream. Served her right, he thought.

“Loud. Real loud.”

“I bet. Did her eyes go all round?”

“Yes!” Harry said enthusiastically. “I didn’t do it though.”

“I believe you.” At Remus’s words, Harry seemed to relax, and Remus took that as his cue to continue. “Sometimes, Harry, people will say things that aren’t true. They’ll say you’ve been bad, or done something wrong, and you actually haven’t.” Harry squirmed under his gaze. “It’s important that you always tell the truth, even if they don’t believe you.”

“Do you?”

Remus paused, choosing his words carefully. “I will always tell you the truth, my dear. However, I may not tell you everything that I know. Or we might be here all day, won’t we?” He chuckled in an attempt to lighten the mood, and Harry sniffed.

“Do you. Do you want me here?” Harry wouldn’t look him straight in the eye, and Remus knew he was afraid of the answer.

“Yes, Harry. Without a doubt. But I can’t.”

“You could.”

“Oh Harry.” Remus sighed and set down his plate. “It’s not that simple.”

“You said that. And why not?” Harry replied stubbornly. “If Chris can, can be adopted, why can’t I?” It was one of the longest sentences Remus had heard him say, to anyone, and it pained him to break his hopes.

“Well, for starters, you already have a family. It’s pretty hard to steal a small child, you know.” Remus smiled to add some levity to the situation, but it still played on his mind. Two years ago, when he’d got out of hiding and finally found Harry, the first thing he’d done was go to the Ministry. He didn’t go there to ask anyone about a court case, or to find out about the war and him, but instead to look through years and years of legislation regarding family ties formed by half-bloods. And it quickly became apparent that with James being dead, there was no one to verify his claim on Harry’s guardianship. He didn’t want to think about Harry as a possession, but for a few months he had to, as he worked his way through all the hoops and chains they wanted him to jump through.

It was never enough to say that James had been like family to him, and to know the certainty that Lily had said to him never them. If Harry chose to stay with his muggle family, as he had for the last six years, Remus would never destroy that. He merely wanted to present options, in case Lily had been right. As it turned out, he was laughed out the Ministry door, even with months of research and papers behind him, and Lily was ever, ever so right.

“You could,” Harry said with the petulance that only a six-year old could achieve, and Remus was drawn back to the present.

“I’m not sure the police would be in my favour. And even if you didn’t have a family, they wouldn’t let me adopt you.”

“Why not?” Harry repeated. “’Tisn’t fair!”

“No, it’s not. But Harry, you have to remember, most people only see things in boxes. When Chris talks about his new family, is there a mum and a dad? And a nice house, maybe a dog?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t have those things, Harry. They seem to be required in order to raise a child, and I’m in no fit state to do so.” He was sure his face was in some sort of twisted grimace, trying not to crush Harry too much, but the child wasn’t looking at him. Harry was staring at the bare walls of Remus’s living room, the books stacked on the wobbly bookcase in the corner, and the faint sound of cars going past from the open window. There was a silence as they nibbled on another slice of bread, and Harry spoke.

“I don’t care.”

“I do. You deserve somewhere a lot nicer than this old place.” Remus looked around at the blank walls and curling carpet. “Things will get better. I promise.” His words sounded empty, even to him, and Harry scowled.

“Promise?”

Remus thought of possible new clauses, contracts and exceptions to Muggle rules, citing child abuse and neglect, and sighed.

“Okay. I promise I’ll try. In the meantime, why don’t you try this one as a little bedtime reading?” He passed Harry a slim volume from the side table. “It was one of my favourites last year.” Harry looked at the dragon and Viking on the front cover and turned it over to read the blurb. He put it carefully in his bookbag, and Remus gave him the rest of the tea bread to take home with him.

*

Every night was spent elbows deep in paperwork, sorting out leaflets and documents. Every free lunch break was spent chasing up people from helplines, with their kind words and useless advice. It felt like he was chasing his tail, and yet there’s nothing else he can do. He’d given Harry his word, and he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if he hadn’t kept it.

Remus tried to remain patient though. He tried to bite his tongue at parent’s evening, when the Dursleys spent half an hour monopolising Dudley’s teacher, and five minutes rolling their eyes as Remus tried to explain that Harry is a pleasure to teach. He held back from intervening in the school yard when Harry is forced to share the same space as his cousin, obeying Harry’s wishes to leave them alone to sort out their differences. Remus would gladly exclude Dudley for a month if it would help, but Harry was adamant that he didn’t need any interference. He didn’t say anything when Harry came in each morning with scuffed knees and torn sleeves, when he didn’t have the right pencils and when his sandwiches weren’t fit for a chihuahua, let alone a growing child.

One Friday night, after a relaxed discussion about the various dragon stories that Harry had read recently, Remus walked Harry home to find a frantic Dursley household dragging various boxes and suitcases out of the house. He paused at the gate as Harry walked in, not knowing whether this had been planned or whether he should hang around to find out.

“Where have you been? You’re late,” Vernon snapped as Harry walked past. “Get in the car.”

Harry’s face lit up. “Holiday?” he asked.

“What? No, don’t be stupid. Get in.” Vernon shoved another bag in the boot of the car, and Remus bit his tongue.

“Someone got it in their bright little head that my respectable garage is not so respectable,” Vernon continued. “Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Now we gotta skedaddle before they get any other funny ideas. I’ve heard Germany is nice this time of year.”

“You’re leaving?” Remus couldn’t help interrupting, and Vernon scowled at him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. How long are you going for?”

“Indefinitely.”

“Oh.” Remus’s brain short-circuited and went into primary teacher mode. “Surely that’s disruptive for the children? I really think that-”

Vernon snorted and waggled a finger at him. “Now, none of this funny business with me, Mr. Loopy, we’re going. And if you don’t like it, then piss off.”

“But.” Harry looked desperately from one adult to another. “I don’t want to go.”

“We gotta. Get in the car.”

“No. I want to stay here!”

Remus’s mind was already cycling through the various pieces of paperwork that he’d have to sort out in order to get a transfer to whatever new primary school they were putting Harry in. He didn’t know a lot of German, but he was sure he’d learn. It would take a few weeks, months even, but he’d find him again. “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll come and see you.”

“No.” Backing away from the car and Vernon until he collided with Remus’s knees, Harry stumbled and sat down. “I want to stay here, with Mr. Lupin!”

“Don’t be stupid, he doesn’t want you.” Vernon slammed the boot shut.

Remus had an idea. An awfully stupid idea, but if there was a chance it would work, he had to try.

“Actually, I would. I was wondering, really, whether you would maybe, uh, consider letting Harry stay with me for the time being?” he said slowly. “I have experience in childcare, I can show my police checks and certificates if this is a concern, but he’s awfully interested in my books and I’d be happy to care for him. More than happy.”

Large eyes stared up at him in wonder, and Remus couldn’t help but lean down and pick Harry up. Unsettlingly light, he set him on one hip and turned back to the Dursleys. Petunia chose that moment to come out of the house with Dudley in tow, yanking a plastic tractor out of his hand and pushing him towards the car. Having heard Remus’s last few words, her lips pinched and she glanced at Vernon.

“I’m afraid we were told to keep him. And so we did.” She sniffed. “We fulfilled our obligation.”

“To the minimum extent.” Remus could barely keep the anger out of his voice. “You barely clothed and fed him, let alone cared for him. You never wanted him, and that’s no way to raise a child.”

“Well man, why the hell would we want him?” Vernon scoffed, and Remus felt something in the air quiver between Harry and his family. He took a risk and held Harry tightly with one hand, making a small hand incantation behind his back and out of sight of the Dursleys. Any latent magic in the air was revealed to him, showing a warm halo encircling himself and Harry, with a bright spark in next door’s garden which Remus guesses is a gnome. The last remnants of a thread of magic between Harry and his family trembled in the air and Remus watched as it snapped, dissolving into nothingness. Harry clutched him a little tighter, but Remus didn’t even blink as sticky hands found their way into his hair.

“The blood bond,” he said quietly, as if disbelieving himself. “It’s gone.”

“What’s gone?” Harry asked with a mumble.

“Nothing for you to worry about,” Remus replied, smiling down at him. “It’s going to be okay.” He steeled himself to face the Dursleys again, and found Vernon trying to ram the boot of the car shut as Petunia watched speculatively.

“Got to go, got to go,” Vernon said to himself, stuffing Dudley in the backseat as well. “For God’s sake Petunia, come on! Leave the goddamn boy, let’s go.”

Remus stepped forward. “I know it’s not much, but I would dearly like to take care of Harry.” His aunt nodded stiffly and didn’t look at the boy in Remus’ arms. “Do you, Petunia Dursely née evans, gift me, Remus Lupin, the guardianship of Harry James Potter until he reaches the age of eighteen?” Petunia nodded again, and Remus sighed. “I need to hear you say it. And sign here.” He extracted a hand from around Harry and adoption papers appeared in it, legal and bound by muggle government but summoned by magic.

“Yes.” She signed on the dotted lines and took Remus’ outstretched hand in a tentative shake, then quickly withdrew it. “Goodbye.”

“Petunia!” Vernon revved the car impatiently as Dudley started to whine about leaving his favourite video game behind, and Petunia quickly went to reassure him that the game didn’t matter, he’d have a new one in a few days. The car doors slammed shut, and Remus realised he had no idea if Harry would ever see his Aunt and Uncle again.

“Do you want to say goodbye?” he asked Harry mildly. Harry shifted his arms around Remus and freed one of them up to wave at Dudley’s back.

And so that was how Remus Lupin, certified werewolf and beloved teacher of six-year olds, found himself standing with a snotty six-year old on his hip as he watched the last of Harry’s family ride off into the sunset. Dudley’s frowning, pudgy face was pressed up against the back window, but Harry only waved goodbye with a floppy hand and started giggling to himself. Remus felt something rising in his chest, and it took him a moment to recognise the feeling as pure, unadulterated joy.

“Well then. Shall we go home?”

*

The first few months were tough, there was no pretending otherwise. It seemed to be harder for Remus than it was for Harry- Harry wasn’t homesick, or even talking about the last few years, but Remus knew that there were a few things that six-year olds weren’t meant to do. Like know how to cook a full English breakfast for one thing, without burning the pan. They weren’t meant to know how to take up as little space as possible, nor always be polite and never speak their mind.

It hit Remus especially hard on the first night when he’d brought Harry home, seeing how unsure the child was about having his own room. Remus’s cottage wasn’t big, but it did come with a bedroom, kitchen, sitting room and a small box room which he’d used as a makeshift office. With only one bed, he’d quickly changed the sheets and moved the majority of his possessions out of the bedroom. He’d have to pick up a new set of furniture for Harry at some point, but Remus’s old chest of drawers and desk would have to do for now. His own clothing piled in the box room, Remus knew he’d made the right decision when he’d hesitantly showed Harry his new room.

“For me?”

“For you. We’ll go to Dunelm tomorrow and you can choose a new duvet cover, I expect daisies aren’t quite to your taste.” Remus smiled as Harry gaped around, and yet Remus knew he deserved so much better. The wallpaper was a bit tatty, and the carpet threadbare, but Harry looked as if he’d won the lottery. He buried his head in Remus’s shirt and mumbled something which could almost be recognised as a thank you.

“You’re welcome, Harry.” Remus waved around the room. “All yours, I’ll finish moving the rest of my books out later on this week, not sure where I’m going to put them, but I’m sure we’ll find room.”

Harry bit his lip. “I like books.”

“Good! I wouldn’t have done my job if you didn’t. Now then, we’ve got a busy few days ahead of us, Waterstones and then Dunelm, and probably Marks and Spencer’s. I’m afraid we’ll have to go clothes shopping, you seem to have outgrown yours.”

“Dudley’s,” Harry said somewhat sagely, and Remus’s heart sank.

“Well, maybe this time you can pick your own clothes, how about that?” Harry gave him a tentative look, and plucked at his shirt.

“Okay.”

“Good.” Remus sighed. “Okay, it’s been a long day, let’s go to sleep, hmm? I don’t think I left too many monsters under the bed.” Harry giggled and Remus left the room to quickly transfigure a clean set of pyjamas into a significantly smaller pair. They’re a little bit threadbare, but they’re soft and warm and Harry puts them on with glee.

Later, Remus drew himself together to face someone else’s wrath. With a little creative liberty, he wrote a solemnly worded letter to Dumbledore, trying to convey how sorry he was that the blood charm had failed as the Dursleys had finally rejected him, and that is was his sad duty to care for the child as if he were his own. Remus didn’t think Dumbledore would be fooled, but it might help to pacify his anger. Only a few hours later the reply came, with three words and a signature.

So be it.

He wasn’t sure if that was a blessing, a curse, or just a steady resignation to Remus’s stubbornness, but he’d take anything that meant he wouldn’t have to fight the world to keep Harry. James and Lily’s Harry, who still slept tightly curled up in the corner of his bed, as if that was all the space he was allowed. Harry, who would spend the summer learning that Mr Lupin actually had a funny side to him when outside the classroom, and that any other activity was better than the two of them trying to learn primary school maths together. They were all that was left of the Marauder family, and Remus would give it up over his own cold body.

Remus was all too aware of the elephant in the room, but until Harry displayed some talent that couldn’t be explained or received his letter, Remus vowed not to mention the magical world that killed his parents. He could feel his wand, locked in his office desk for months to come, pulling him back, but it couldn’t be helped. He filed the paperwork with the Muggles too, citing the relevant clauses (and perhaps forging a few more signatures and dates, but who had to know that?), and before long there was no wiggle room for anyone to complain about them.

With no Dudley to bully him, Harry stayed at Remus’s school and they spent the first few months taking an inventory of the small cottage and things that they needed to change. Harry took great glee in following Remus around with a clipboard and ‘noting things down’ for him. He’d often end up with pages of scribbles and the occasional reminder to buy wallpaper, but Remus luckily had a good memory. Their first full weekend spent together was occupied by some DIY and a few happy hours slopping some paint around Remus’s old room. It turned out that Remus was terrible at anything practical that didn’t involve magic, and his attempts to put up some new curtains were laughable.

Not wanting to leave Harry in the dark for too long about his own background, Remus sat him down on a Sunday evening and started to talk about his own life. How Remus had grown up in a small village in Wales, and then, at the age of eleven, had been given the opportunity to go away to boarding school. He skipped the gory werewolf details, but confessed that he had been going through a tough time. Harry started to fidget, and Remus took a deep breath.

“But it was okay in the end. Because I met some wonderful people who would go on to be my best friends in the whole world, and they looked after me. And you know what, Harry?” Harry shook his head and scratched his shin. “One of them was your father.”

At Remus’s words, Harry’s eyes widened and he shot upright as if someone had shoved a rod down his spine. “What?”

“Yes, I knew your father. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but I couldn’t get your hopes up. You see my dear, I’ve known you since you were a wee baby.” Harry blinked a few times, and Remus hoped that they’d both be able to make it through this conversation without collapsing into two puddles of tears. “I loved your parents dearly, and Harry? I love you too, okay?”

Harry nodded shakily and Remus tugged him into a hug.

“Would you like to hear a bit more about them?” He felt enthusiastic nods coming from under his arm and he smiled. “Okay then. Your father was a bit of a troublemaker, let me tell you that…”

Remus had purposefully never left any wizarding photos of the Marauders out, just in case Harry had come around for tea, but that evening he picked through his school ones. There weren’t many taken with the Muggle camera that his Da had bought for him on his tenth birthday, but there were a few. It was with pride and sadness that he carefully slid them into old frames and hung them in the kitchen, Harry watching closely and pointing to various people.

“Who’s that?”

“I believe that’s the Longbottoms, Harry. They have a son about your age, I think, but I’m afraid I don’t know where they are at the minute, or you could go meet him,” Remus said. Liar, a small part of his brain whispered to him, but he pushed it far away.

“And him?”

“That was one of our teachers, Professor Slughorn. I seem to remember James thought it funny to put blue hair dye into the staff water tank, and we all played along.” He smiled, remembering James’s meticulous planning of the incident, and pointed to the photo. “I know it’s in black and white, but the reason he’s so mad is because he had grey hair before, and then it turned bright blue.”

“No!” Harry giggled excitedly and pointed to another person. “Did they have blue hair too?”

Remus felt something wedge itself between his ribs at the familiar sight, and took a tight breath. “I can’t remember, I’m afraid.”

Harry, for a small person who had spent most of his life in the shadows, had become too good at reading people. Remus braced himself for the inquisition as Harry stared at him carefully, but he never said a word. He just looked back at the photo of the laughing black haired man on James’s arm, and turned to the next person along.

“Who’s that?” he asked, and Remus felt the moment pass.

“Oh, that’s me,” he said, wincing a little at the outrageous mess that his fourteen-year-old self had been. “Don’t ever take fashion advice from me, Harry, promise me.”

“I won’t.” Harry studied another photo, taken in their dorm one weekend. It must have been just before quidditch practise, as Remus can remember throwing a pillow at James’s bed, threatening that if he didn’t quit whining and go out in the rain, there’d be no plotting of any kind for the foreseeable future.

“That’s your dad,” Remus said softly, pointing to the mop of hair on the bed. “He never liked mornings either.” Harry looked like he was practically drinking in Remus’s words, and he took pity on him. “Here. Take this one for your bedroom.”

Remus reached under the pile and shuffled the photos around a bit, until he found the one he was looking for. It was a bit tatty around the edges, being one of those photos Remus himself had stared at for a long time, and he passed it to Harry who took it reverently.

“Mine?”

“Yes, both your photo, and your parents.” Remus shuffled closer to Harry to look over his shoulder. “They’d been on a date to Hogs-, uh, Hogsdown, and your mum had persuaded your dad to go ice-skating. Or more like, pushed him out onto the ice. He fell flat on his face, of course.”

“Mum?” Harry frowned, as if the laughing, dancing figure of Lily Evans in the photo couldn’t possibly have done such a thing.

“Your mum was also quite the trickster, Harry,” Remus said. “You know, she was probably the only one in the school who could keep up with James. Together, they could have conquered the world.”

“Oh,” Harry said softly. He didn’t move, and Remus looked down to find the boy tightly squeezing his eyes shut, his fingers trembling around the photo.

“Oh, Harry.” Remus leant forward and drew him closer. “It’s okay to cry, you know.” There was no reply, only a shaking body in his arms and a steadily growing wet patch on his shoulder. They sat there for a while, Remus thinking of what James would make of this, and Harry wondering what might have been.

And if Remus too wept that night, well, no one had to know.

*

In just a few months they’d developed a night time routine, complete with whining about baths and soap, and a weekend ritual of going down into the town centre together to get the papers. Harry was fascinated by the news, especially when it had to be read to him, and Remus suspected he just liked the sound of someone else’s voice. His hypothesis was confirmed when Harry asked him to read the back of the shampoo bottle to him; even Remus wasn’t that passionate about soap. From that point on, he read every night until Harry fell asleep, and he wondered. Was this what James was supposed to have done? Would Lily approve, how her son is lying curled up under a werewolf’s duvet, surrounded by a Muggle world?

Of all the possible things to go wrong, Remus never thought that it would be the Muggle world that would be the first to try and take Harry away. The Dursleys would never protest or attempt to retrieve him, unless a large amount of money had passed hands, and he knew of no other living family on either side. And yet when Remus opened the front door one morning to a suited lady with paperwork in her hands, he couldn’t help a vague sense of oh, fuck.

“Hello, I’m Lorraine Kelly from the Child Health and Welfare department? May I come in please?”

“What’s this about?” Remus frowned, and she shifted the folders in her arms.

“We’re just doing a few check-ups following young…” Lorraine pulled a piece of paper out from somewhere, “Mr Potter’s adoption, nothing major.” She smiled. “Won’t take long. Are you Mr. Lupin?”

“Oh. Okay. Yes, that’s me. Come in, please, sorry, would you like a cup of tea? Coffee?” Remus was aware that he was blabbering and he couldn’t help it as he led Lorraine into the tiny kitchen. “I’m afraid Harry is still in bed, but I’m sure he’ll be down in a minute. He’s just learnt about lie-ins, and I’m already regretting it.”

“I’m fine, thank you. Although a glass of water would be lovely?” she said, peering around. Remus was suddenly aware of the things that he’d never paid any serious attention to before, like the black stains on the kitchen tiles, and the overflowing recycling bin. She set out a pile of paperwork on the table, and talked through several standard questionnaires with him. How was Harry adjusting? Was he sleeping well? A little upheaval is to be expected, was he missing his parents? Oh, of course. My apologies.

Remus made himself a cup of tea as a crutch, and sat stiffly as Lorraine idly chatted about milestone goals and adaption strategies for small children. He found himself listening to some of her advice, noting it away for future reference as Harry grew, and slowly began engaging her in conversation. Lorraine didn’t seem to be in a rush, and he took the opportunity to ask a few personal questions. He wondered aloud how best to deal with the residual trauma from both the Dursleys and losing his parents, and Lorraine recommended a few local therapists in case he needed them in the future.

There’s a sound on the stairs and Harry trundled down, yawning.

“Morning, Harry. Sleep well?”

Harry grunted in reply, and slouched around the table behind him to reach for his cereal. Remus bit down a smile. He was slowly letting go of the politeness drummed into him out of fear, and Remus was glad to see it go.

“Good. Uh, this is Lorraine by the way,” he said as she raised a hand in a small wave. “She’s a friend who’s just checking up on how you’re settling in and how we’re doing.” Harry finally looked up warily and eyeballed her.

Lorraine smiled. “Lovely to meet you, Harry. How are you?”

“Fine, thank you,” he said carefully and looked at Remus again. “You said I could stay with you.”

“What? Of course you can stay with me, what do you mean?” Remus’s heart jumped a little, and Harry glanced sideways at the strange woman again as he sidled closer to Remus.

“Perceptive lad, aren’t you?” Lorraine laughed and stood up. “You have nothing to worry about, Harry. My job is to make sure you’re happy, and if you’re happy here, I have no problem with that.”

Remus exhaled heavily. “Oh, thank god.” He reached for Harry’s hand and squeezed gently, and Harry buried his head in Remus’s shoulder.

“Well then. I don’t think there’s anything else I need to look at, seems all in order to me.” Lorraine smiled, and for the first time Remus believed it was genuine and not just politeness. “Just sign here and here for me, and you get a copy of this, I take this, and we’re done. Excellent!” Papers gathered up, she patted Harry on the head and he quickly mussed up his hair again. Remus smiled, remembering another time and another boy who equally hated having his hair being neat and orderly.

She paused by the door. “You know, there’s another boy around Harry’s age who lives nearby that I’ve been sent to check up on. Very similar story, actually. I can’t say anything of course, patient confidentiality, but I do believe you already know them, judging by those photos.” She nodded towards the kitchen wall.

“You mean…”

“Mm hmm.” She nodded and looked back to Harry. “It may be good for them to talk about it together, you never know.”

“Thank you. I’ll… Think about it and talk about it with them. See if they’re interested.” Lorraine smiled and headed back to her car, leaving Remus with a lot more to think about, and it wasn’t even noon yet.

True to his word, Remus did think about the other boy that had such a similar situation to Harry. The hospitalisation of the Longbottoms had hit the surviving wizarding community hard, and it was still a delicate subject to talk around. But if Neville was also on Lorraine’s rota, that meant they were within driving distance of one another.

But it also meant wizarding contact.

And a whole lot of confessions and secrets to be revealed.

Remus decided he’d wait until he’d explained further about the magical world. The only wizarding contact he currently kept in touch with was Mrs Figg, still stationed nearby where the Dursleys were once, as she hadn’t seen the point in continuing to monitor them when Harry was elsewhere. It had taken a little persuading on Harry’s part, but eventually all three of them reached a compromise for a night or two spent each month with Mrs Figg, while Remus had his badly-behaved rabbit problem. He passed it off as work commitments to both of them, but he knew by how Harry stared at him that he’s not fooled for a second.

No matter what Snape might have said or done, Remus would be forever grateful to him for teaching him grudgingly how to brew wolfsbane. Gritting his teeth while listening to snipes about his dead friends he could do, as long as it meant Harry could stay the night with Mrs Figg and he had the run of the cottage. The office was surprisingly sturdy, and with a few protective charms on Harry’s door, he never broke anything that was too important.

*

Since moving in with Remus, Harry had been surrounded by the latent magic, charms and protection of the cottage, and Remus couldn’t tell how many quirks of nature came from the building, Harry, or himself. Remus would love the boy no matter what, even if he could never hold a wand, but he did wonder. He swore to himself that at the first sign of unexplainable magical power he'd have a conversation with Harry. It was easy to get used to a muggle style of life, and for a year or so, they got along quite happily.

For Harrys seventh birthday, Remus asked where he wanted to go and whether he wanted a party. Turning down the offer of a gathering, Harry chose to go to the zoo, and Remus happily obliged. They had an enjoyable afternoon watching the penguins waddling past, and Harry stared wide-eyed at the elephants. With resignation to his fate as a man controlled by puppy-eyes, Remus bought a large fluffy elephant in the gift shop at vast expense, but it was worth it to later find it clutched tightly and taken everywhere that Harry could.

After lunch they explored the tropics and reptile house, and Remus turned around a little while later to find an empty space at his side, and had to backtrack to find where he’d lost Harry. He was still by the boa constrictor’s tank, pressed up against the glass, and Remus heard him chatting away to the snake. He watched them idly from a distance, wondering about what he should make for a birthday dinner, before a sudden shout shook him out his thoughts. There, out of its cage and sat in the middle of the reptile house was the rather large snake looking at the rather small boy. Harry smiled back at Remus as the screams grew louder around them, and the snake slithered off quickly. Remus could have sworn it gave Harry a nod, and he raced over to gather Harry up in his arms.

“Are you okay?” he asked urgently. “It didn’t hurt you, did it?”

“Don’t be silly,” Harry giggled. “He’d just had lunch.”

“You might have been lunch, love.” Remus shook his head and clutched Harry a little tighter. “I think that’s enough excitement for one day, Harry. Why don’t we get a piece of cake before heading home, hmm?”

The ride home was quiet, Harry staring out the windows as Remus herded them on and off the various buses. Oh boy. Remus heaved a sigh as he opened their front door, and wondered how best to break the news that he’d not been entirely truthful to Harry since the first day they’d met. He was not going to like this one bit.

“That was a funny thing that happened today, wasn’t it?”

“Wasn’t my fault. He wanted to see the world,” said Harry with a pout.

“Hmm, I bet.” Remus chuckles to himself. “Do these things, uh, happen often? The ones you can’t explain, but you know are odd?”

Harry nodded. “There was another snake once. In the garden. Said it was cold. I put it in the sun.”

“That’s my boy.” Remus smiled out of pride at Harry’s kindness. “I don’t suppose there have been other things that maybe you’ve been told weren’t real? Maybe you said that something happened, and they said you were lying about it?”

Harry nodded, looking away.

“What if I told you that you were right?” Harry didn’t say a word, but Remus could tell he was listening. “Those things did happen, and it was because you made them happen.”

“What?”

Remus took a deep breath. “You’re a wizard, Harry. You can do magic. And so can I.”

“I’m a what?”

“A magical wizard,” Remus said with a grin. “I know it’s hard to believe, but when you’re eleven, you will go to the same school that I went to, and they’ll teach you how to control it and be a fantastic wizard.”

Harry sat very still as he absorbed this, then jumped up to dash to the kitchen. Remus followed him to find him stood on the counter, staring at the pictures on the wall.

“My dad was a, was a wizard?”

“And your mum. The best witch in her year, too.”

“Woah…” Harry’s jaw dropped open and Remus told him about Hogwarts, about owls and about the houses. He listened spellbound as Remus explained about the different types of spells he’d learn, and that the rest of the world had no idea that this existed. Then, with a heavy heart, he told Harry that his parents had not died in a car crash. In fact, they’d died when a bad wizard had bullied them into hiding, and they’d died protecting him. It was a lot of information for a small brain to take in, and Remus hesitated before saying any more about that night. No need to burden him with the knowledge of broken promises and bloody hands.

“Now Harry, I know it's a very cool thing, it's true, but we can't tell anyone about it, okay? Do you understand?”

Harry nodded solemnly and grabbed for Remus’s hand, who held it tightly. “Because the man who killed my parents wants to kill me.”

“Yes. No. Sort of?” Harry blinked up at him. “He may come back. And even if he doesn’t, a lot of people still like him and won’t like him being gone.”

“Okay.”

A bit disturbed at how quickly Harry had accepted this, Remus frowned. “Really?”

“Yeah. Wait?” Harry paused. “If you’re a wizard, do you have a wand? Do you do magic too?”

“Yes.” Remus smiled at the look on Harry’s face. “Would you like to see a little?”

It’s probably not a good idea to play around with magic while Harry is so underage, but for once Remus threw caution to the wind and showed off a few tricks. Conjuring up a few butterflies, Remus’s heart clenched at the awe in Harry’s eyes, and he’s reminded of the first time he saw the magic in the Great Hall. Harry can’t stop staring at the creatures Remus temporarily transfigures for his delight, and seemed fascinated by even the simple trail of sparks coming from the end of Remus’s wand. If this was how he behaved at seeing someone else do magic, Remus was counting down the days until Harry’s eleventh birthday when he could take him to Olivanders. He’d have a field day.

*

A few weeks after they'd been to the zoo, he was saying goodnight to Harry in bed when Harry mentioned there'd been a dog in the garden. He didn't think much of it, until Harry said it again the next night. Although the garden was dark, he could still make out a black dog shape near the hedge, and Remus's heart tightened. He made himself tell Harry to stay here, he's going to check the dog out. He put a placental charm on the boy subtly, linking it temporarily to his mind. If Harry stepped out his room, even just for a glass of water, Remus would know.

Harry’s correct. There was a dog in the garden, but Remus knew very well that this wasn’t the kind of dog you adopted and brought in to curl up at the end of your bed. Pushing thoughts of shared beds and memories to the back of his mind, Remus raised his wand again and chose to break the silence.

“If you harm a single hair on that boy’s head, I promise you that the Aurors won’t even find a scrap of you to bury.” Remus was proud of the way his voice didn’t shake, even if his insides were cracking in half. Sirius shifted and stood there by the hydrangeas, a slow frown spreading over his face.

“Why-”, Sirius tried to say as his voice broke, before hacking out a dry cough. “Why would I want to do that?”

“Beats me. How about for the same reason you killed Lily and James for no apparent reason?” And now Remus’s voice did shake, but from rage instead of fear. His wand was still, pointing at the man he’d once loved with every part of his soul. That didn’t matter now though; Harry was the most important thing, and he’d protect him no matter what. Standing facing Sirius however, all he felt was hollow.

The look on Sirius’s face Remus could only equate to desperation.

“Me? You think it was me that killed them?”

“Who else would it be, hmm? You can’t exactly blame You-Know-Who for finding them on his own.”

“Peter.” Sirius’s voice cracked. “It was the rat, not me Moony, it was never me.”

“How do you expect me to believe you?” Remus shook his head in disbelief. “When my, my, my boyfriend,” he spat out the word as if poisonous, “betrays our best friend and goes to Azkaban for it, what do you expect I’m going to think?”

“You can’t.” Sirius swayed slightly by the bushes, and Remus was struck by how thin he was. “I swear on my life. No, I swear on Harry’s life. I never betrayed James. How could I?”

Remus snorted derisively. “You don’t know Harry. You could be here to kill him for all I know.”

Sirius fell silent. “Do you remember that night? James and Lily were exhausted, we’d gone over for boardgames and they collapsed after one roll of the dice?”

“Don’t.”

“We held him in our arms together, Remus. I said my mother would have killed me to get herself some grandchildren, and you know what you said?”

“Stop it.”

Sirius continued regardless. “You said we could always adopt.” Sirius reached a hand up to Remus’s face, and Remus stepped back.

“Stop it,” he repeated. “I can’t, I can’t think right now.” He backed away and turned to the cottage, checking the bedroom window was still dark and that their neighbours weren’t spying. “Sirius, I…” He trailed off, having no words to fill the space between them.

“I know.” Avoiding his eye, Sirius glanced up at the house as well. “I know I’m a few years late, but I’m here now. Please? I just want to talk.”

Remus suddenly felt exhausted, the earth pulling at his bones, and he’s not even middle aged. Yet. At the rate Harry was finding his feet and prodding his boundaries, he’d be grey before thirty. It’s too late for this, and Harry’s always been an early riser. He pushed down the feeling in the bottom of his stomach, and invited Sirius into the cottage. Even without the history between them, if he was innocent, he was entitled to see his godson. Hell, he had got more of a claim to Harry than Remus had. He banished that thought, and boiled the kettle for a midnight cup of tea, wand still clutched tightly in his palm.

They spent the evening sat at the small kitchen table, tentatively talking about the last four years, never bridging the gap between them. Sirius refused to talk about the dementors and his stay, only elaborating on his escape and subsequent tracking down of Remus. It would have been worrying how fast Sirius had found them, if not for the reason that this was because he knew how Remus smelled. Although anyone could discover where the Dursleys once lived, only a few people could have identified the scent of a werewolf and tracked him down with a canine nose.

“Let me see him?” Sirius asked. “Just once. Then I’ll go.”

Reluctantly, Remus agreed. He persuaded Sirius to shift into dog form, just in case Harry woke up to find a strange man in the house during the night, and they crept upstairs. Standing outside Harry’s bedroom, he gently opened the door and they both peered in. Harry was curled up under the blankets, the top of his head a dark curly mess against the pillows.

“He’s fine.”

“He looks like him.” Sirius’s voice was hoarse.

“Sometimes,” Remus admitted. “But most of the time he’s just Harry.”

The door was halfway closed again when they heard a whimper from the bed and Sirius’s tail twitched. Half sobbing, Harry turned over, limbs clenching under the sheets. Sirius growled and made to walk towards him, but Remus clutched the scruff of his neck and held him back.

“No, not now,” he hissed urgently as Sirius whined and looked up at him. “I know, I know. But imagine what he’d think if he woke up to find a strange dog in the middle of his bed? He’d be terrified.” Sirius acquiesced and relaxed under Remus’s hands, giving the occasional whine under his breath as they headed back to the kitchen table. Sirius shifted back into a human form and sat down heavily.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing. It’s just a nightmare.” Remus didn’t say that they were almost every night, and that Harry had taken to coming into the office to curl up under Remus’s arm. He was always gone by the morning, as if fearing retribution for seeking comfort, and it broke Remus’s heart to feel his fear.

“Children shouldn’t have dreams like that.”

“Harry’s gone through a lot, for any child. We’ve got to remember that. Hell, Sirius, it took months before he’d say more than yes sir to me.” Remus shook his head. “Got to give him time.”

Sirius slumped back in a chair and put his head in his hands. They fell into silence, and Remus picked at slow healing scratch on his arm.

“You think…” Sirius ventured a few words. “You think he’d like to see me?”

Remus remained quiet for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, he would. He’s always asking questions about them, and you knew James better than anyone. But I think it might depend on whether you killed them or not.”

“Still undecided?” Sirius raised his eyebrows.

“No. But it will take a while for my head to catch up with my heart.”

“Oh.”

“Be patient, Sirius. I can’t… I can’t just leap back into things as if this hasn’t happened.” Remus gestured upstairs and Sirius bit his lip. “It hasn’t been plain sailing on this end, either.”

“For the best, though?”

“Oh, for sure. I have no qualms in admitting Harry is the most important thing in my life, much more so than you, and I would not hesitate to kill you for him,” Remus said frankly. “But if you want to stick around for the Remus Lupin freak show, I’m not going to stop you. Just… Be patient.”

“I will be. Promise. And well, I’ll be going then. It must be past my curfew. You know what the guards get like,” Sirius said with a grin that didn’t quite match his eyes. “See you around, Moony.”

Remus knew he was going to regret this. He watched from the table as Sirius carefully rinsed his cup in the sink and headed towards the door, shifting into Padfoot after opening it a crack. Before he could slip out, Remus called after him.

“Wait.” The dog turned slowly and cocked his head. “You can sleep on the sofa. No disturbing Harry, no magic in the house, and especially no sudden declarations of love. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.” Padfoot’s tail started to wag vigorously and his entire back end shifted from side to side. He wound himself around Remus’s legs and Remus couldn’t help smiling at the dopey look on the dog’s face, all wide eyes and gazing at Remus with adoration. It was always easier to talk to him in dog form, and Remus wondered what that said about him.

“We can talk about it in the morning, if you like. I won’t force you to be anything you’re not, but either we stick with one form or we tell Harry the truth. The lad has had enough upheaval as it is.” He left Sirius ensconced on the sofa, and went to try and get some sleep. It didn’t seem like he got any rest, but Remus woke in the morning to find a dog on the sofa and Harry happily running a hand through his coat.

*

Sirius slotted into Remus’s life as if he’d never left. After seeing how delighted Harry was at having a pet, Remus couldn’t bring himself to kick him out again, and during the day Padfoot stayed by Harry’s side. The black coat covered up most of Sirius’s various scabs and scars, but the first time that Harry remarked how he could feel the dog’s ribs made Remus jump. Most of their talking is done at night, or when Harry’s at school and Remus doesn’t have a class to teach. It’s hesitant and slow, each relearning how the other ticks, and occasionally prodding at an old wound that hasn’t healed yet, leaving both of them restless and snappy. Having the dog around did help at the full moon, and Remus couldn’t pretend that he wasn’t waking up with fewer bites and scratches.

Harry quickly realised that Padfoot was a clever dog, and not what he seemed. When Sirius responded to human chatter and complex commands, Remus realised they’d have to tell Harry sometime. Luckily, Sirius agreed to let Remus do the talking. Knowing Harry’s track record with adults, they guessed he’d spend a few weeks getting used to the new situation, and possibly then Sirius could start to talk to Harry about his parents.

Much to their surprise, Harry nodded sagely at Remus’s suggestion that they needed to have a talk, and pointed to Padfoot under the breakfast table.

“Yes. He’s a man.”

Remus spluttered. “Uh, yeah, that’s uh, that’s true. How?” Lost for words, he looked stricken at Padfoot, who shifted back to a human, and looked sheepishly at Harry.

“Hi,” Sirius said.

“Hello.” Harry continued to butter his toast and looked up. “Jam, please?”

Wordlessly, Sirius passed him the pot of jam and pulled out a chair to sit down next to him.

“You’re not… Scared?”

“Why? Are you going to take me away?” Harry narrowed his eyes at Sirius, who’s jaw dropped.

“No! Of course not. I’m just... Well. Isn’t it a bit weird to have your dog turn into a man?”

“Not really. Remus said magic can turn you into different things.”

“That’s true,” Sirius acknowledged. “But well, there’s something else we’d like to tell you too. I’m…” he trailed off, and Remus finished his words for him.

“He’s your godfather, Harry.”

Harry crunched another piece of toast and considered them both. “You said that. Monday night.”

“Oh. Right.” Sometimes Remus forgot that Harry was used to avoiding being seen, then he’s sadly reminded. “Why didn’t you say anything?” he asked gently.

Harry shrugged. “You already knew. He’s in the photos.”

“Of course,” Remus said. “You know that we love you very much, right Harry?”

Harry hummed. “Yeah. Can I have another bit of toast?”

“Sure.” Remus and Sirius sat back and watched as Harry continued to eat breakfast, non-plussed at the revelation that his godfather was a dog and that they were now a three-person family. Remus glanced at Sirius, who was staring at Harry in bewilderment, and thought to himself that maybe Harry had known for a while.

Over the coming days, Harry slowly started to ask Sirius questions. They started out as little things, related to his homework or what they were having for dinner that night. Sirius, who had always had a bad case of verbal diarrhoea, talks carefully and surely, biding his time and answering truthfully. The first night that Harry didn’t creep into Remus’s bed after having a nightmare, Remus went to check on him in the morning. At the sight of Harry curled up around a sleeping dog, Remus realised his warning to Sirius that Harry may be slow to open up to him was unfounded. He couldn’t help feeling a twinge of jealousy that Sirius had settled in so quickly and quietly, but then appeased himself that this was a sign that Harry was adjusting well.

Once Harry and Remus’s school broke up for the summer holidays, all three of them had too much time on their hands. Despite the warm summer rain, Remus would send the other two out together for a walk to avoid both the dog and Harry being cooped up for too long in the small cottage, and they’d return plastered with mud and beaming from another adventure. Both Harry and Sirius had a penchant for dirt and disasters, bringing into the cottage what felt like half the puddles in England, and Remus started to regret letting them both out of his sight.

Every night, they talked. They made contingency plans, for each other and for Harry. And slowly, Remus started to believe that Sirius was telling the truth. It helped that this felt natural, that Harry had accepted both Remus and Sirius into his life without a second thought, and that Sirius was true to his word and patient.

Sirius was fighting with peeling a garlic clove when Remus realised how much he’d missed him. He was muttering over the skin, stabbing it carefully with a knife to no avail, and Remus smiled at the familiar sight of Sirius cooking in his kitchen. The hurt of losing him came pouring back to Remus, and his breath hitched as it filled his lungs. But there was something else to it now, a softness to the sharper edges that suggested actually, this might be okay. We could get through this, together.

Wrapping an arm around Sirius’s waist, Remus pressed a gentle kiss on his shoulder blade, and Sirius stilled.

“I’ve missed you,” Remus said, leaning on him. Sirius put the garlic and knife down carefully.

“I’ve missed you too.” He turned slowly and lifted a hand, gently brushing a curl off Remus’s forehead. “You okay?”

“Not really. I’m sorry.”

Sirius shrugged. “Nothing to apologise for.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

Remus huffed. “You’re meant to say it back.”

“You mean you don’t know it already?” Sirius laughed as Remus huffed in exasperation, and he leant forward to press his forehead to Remus’s. The last few years fell away as they breathed quietly together, until Remus tilted his head to press his lips to Sirius’s, fitting together as perfectly as they both remembered it. The kiss turned more heated, and Sirius pulled Remus against him with a groan. Drawing back but not letting go of Remus’s waist, Sirius brushed a finger against Remus’s lips and enjoyed the sight of his mussed-up hair and half-closed eyes.

“It’s late,” he said with raised eyebrows. “Maybe we should…” He trailed off, nosing Remus’s neck, and Remus laughed.

“Go to bed?”

“Well, now you mention it.”

“Hmm.” Remus hummed under his breath and Sirius licked a line up his jaw. “Alright, you’ve ah, convinced me.”

They stumbled up the small stairs and almost toppled over a bookcase, Remus shushing Sirius with a grin. Finally getting to the old office, Remus frowned.

“It’s a bit small, I know,” Remus said, looking at the bed stuffed into the small space, with just enough room to turn around but not enough for two people standing. “I never really need a lot of space, Harry needed it more. But now it looks a bit stupid.”

Sirius pushed him back towards the bed. “Good thing we’re not going to be upright then, hmm?”

Remus laughed. “You’re such a dog.”

“I know, you love it.” Nuzzling the side of Remus’s neck, Sirius kept prodding him back until his knees hit the bedframe and they collapsed on top. “You’re too selfless, Moony. You gave him everything.”

Remus sighed under him. “I can’t give him what he wants though. He’ll never know them, Sirius. I can’t give him that.”

“None of us can. They’re gone. There’s nothing we can do about that.” Sirius shook in his arms, and Remus realised with a start that he was weeping.

“Come here.” Dragging Sirius towards him, Remus ran a hand down the side of his face and gently brushed away his tears. Sirius shivered at the contact, and Remus reached up to cup his whole face in his hands. Legs intertwined, Sirius reached for Remus’s trouser buckle, and Remus stopped him gently. “Not tonight, love. Tonight, we’re just going to talk.” As Sirius’s breath hitched again, Remus slowly stroked a hand up and down his spine and gently pulled him upright. “Come on. Get changed, let’s go to bed.”

Stumbling into pyjamas and under the sheets, they held each other tightly as the buried sorrow rose to the surface of their minds. The memories came pouring out of them, deep and wretched but tinged with a forgotten joy, each confirming the other’s tears with their own. There would be plenty of time to learn each other’s bodies again. For tonight, Remus let them both grieve for Harry, and the friends they have lost.

*

Remus never set out to be a parent, but he did admit that Harry needed one. He also never set out to adopt more than one child, but sometimes life threw things at you, and as Sirius would say, ya gotta deal. It had been a quiet few months, Harry settling in well to his new year at school and Sirius starting his exoneration process slowly. Remus often mused that it would be good when they could both go out together, but for now he remained in dog form when they left the cottage. Sirius often went out by himself or with Harry when both were getting antsy, and Remus wanted to give him enough space to come and go as he pleased. After going out on one of his evening jaunts, the front door dog-flap banged, and Sirius stormed into the kitchen, shifting as he went. Remus looked up from scanning through a recipe book at the table and quickly took his wand out.

“What is it? Is it Peter? You-Know-Who?”

“What? No, no, it’s all fine, don’t worry – but do you know who I’ve just seen going past Tesco? Bloody grandmother Longbottom! I know you mentioned they may be close, but on our road?”

“It’s a small world,” Remus noted, stashing his wand away again. “The social services lady mentioned she was seeing him as well, you know.”

“And you know who else was with her?” Sirius continued, not taking in a word Remus was saying.

“The boy?”

“The boy,” Sirius confirmed. “Harry’s age and cute as a button. She was dragging him all over the place, he obviously didn’t want to be there.”

“That’s children for you.” Remus shrugged. “We once went to the beach and the entire time he complained he wanted to go home. Then the next day, asked when we were going again.”

“Still.” Sirius sniffed. “Do you think he’s alright? No parents around, and I doubt he’s seeing any other wizarding friends. We could organise a playdate or something, I’m sure?”

Remus hummed. “Now Harry knows a bit more about the world, I don’t see why not? Neville would have to come over here though, we can’t risk Harry being tracked back here.”

“Very true.”

Later that night, they asked Harry about whether he’d like to meet someone else his age from the wizarding world, and he lit up, asking a thousand and one questions in the space of five minutes. While he still remembered, Remus sent an owl to Neville’s grandmother explaining their situation and that although the utmost secrecy was needed, would Neville perhaps like to come over for dinner one night? A date was agreed upon, and soon enough Harry was vibrating with excitement by the door, looking forward to meeting someone else who knew about magic.

“Your aunt’s a bit scary,” Harry said frankly to Neville as the door closed behind her and her hat. Remus stifled a laugh as Neville turned to Harry with wide eyes.

“Yeah,” he breathed out slowly. “She is.”

“Do you wanna…” Harry frowned. “Build something? I got a Lego set? Remus got me one.” At Neville’s nod, the two of them quickly went upstairs to Harry’s room, and by the time Remus called them down to dinner, they had successfully strewn the whole box of Lego across the floor and under every cupboard. Remus knew he’d be stepping on bricks for the coming weeks, and accepted his fate. Sirius, in dog form, stayed in the kitchen and let himself be petted by both children, eyes bunching up in pleasure as Harry gently scratched him behind the ears.

At dinner, the conversation turns to the wizarding world, and Remus was happy to answer a few questions while dishing out the lasagne. He snuck Sirius a few potato wedges under the table, but stopped when Harry started doing the same, and he had to remind himself that he was the responsible adult here and not at the Hogwarts dining hall stashing food away for Sirius anymore.

“Can you do magic then?” Harry asked in awe.

“Nah. They keep trying, but not yet. Uncle Albert once dropped me in the sea, but that didn’t work either. They had to get the coastguard to fish me out.” Neville munched another mouthful of lasagne. “And then there’s the dungeon incident, but I’m not meant to talk about that.”

Sirius whined under the table, and Remus felt a nudge under his leg. Wanting to acknowledge what Neville had said without being sceptical, Remus struggles to find the right words. “Right. That sounds tricky, doesn’t it Harry?”

Harry nodded in agreement. “Yeah, mine used to lock me in my cupboard, but now I’m here and it’s much better.”

Remus bit his tongue as Neville nodded faster back at him.

“Mm hmm, I once got seven stitches from the time he put me on a broom and sent it up real high.” Neville continued to eat, and Sirius bumped against Remus’s leg again. “I like school though. They do chips on a Friday.”

“Mine do too!” Harry glanced at Remus, knowing he disapproved of their fast-food Fridays. “They’re really good,” he whispered not-too-quietly. “We get sticky toffee pudding sometimes as well.”

“My uncle says I’m not allowed pudding until I can levitate his frog,” Neville said morosely.

“That’s stupid,” Harry said, and Remus tutted at him. “Sorry. I meant, that’s silly. Everyone should have pudding. Can we have some now? Please?” Harry looked at Remus and he’s struck by how confident he’s grown in such a short time.

“Once you’ve finished your dinner.” Remus would normally hesitate to give in straight away, but he felt he could hardly say no tonight. “Harry baked it earlier, you’ll have to tell him what it’s like,” he said to Neville. They gobbled down the rest of their peas, and Remus cleared the table before bringing through the cake.

“Wow.” Neville’s eyes grew round at the sight of the chocolate cake. “That’s wicked.”

“Maybe you could stay here and eat the rest of it later? I’ve got room in my room?” Harry looked expectantly up at Remus and Neville’s eyes bulged.

“I dunno, I couldn’t-”

“Maybe a sleepover sometime, hmm?” Remus broke in to Neville’s relief. “You could stay the night and see where we go from there, hmm?” He packed away some cake for Neville to take home with him, and floo’d Neville’s grandmother to say he was ready to be picked up. Harry protested and pointed out that he’d be happy to sleep on the sofa, they could even have a sleepover that night, but Remus stuck to his guns and assured them both that they could have another one soon. After Neville was collected by his severe looking grandmother and Remus had politely waved them off, Harry immediately asked when he could come around again. Sirius shifted back into human form, and gave Remus a Look with a capital L.

“Soon, Harry. If Neville wants to too, of course.” Remus reassured Harry that he’d be happy for them to have a sleepover here, and ushered him slowly upstairs to get ready for bed. Once Harry was falling asleep, Remus came down to have a conversation with Sirius.

Sirius stood with his arms folded, propped up by the sink and staring at the floor. Remus walked over and slowly took his hand.

“You heard that too, then?” Sirius asked in a low voice.

“Yeah.”

“Moony, you can’t expect me to do nothing. The poor boy’s barely a child, forced to be a dancing monkey for his own damn family!”

“They can’t accept he might be a squib.”

“That’s ridiculous. You should love him no matter. What, they’d rather have a dead child than a muggle one?”

“Seems to be the case.” Remus breathed out slowly, and Sirius glared back at him. “I don’t like it any more than you do, love.” The endearment slipped out by accident, and luckily seemed to go unnoticed by Sirius.

“Maybe we should pay them a visit sometime,” Sirius said ominously. “See if there’s any truth to the matter.”

“You know what? I actually think we should.”

Sirius looked up in shock. “Really?”

“I don’t see why not. I’ve already done this once already, and it might just be a child being dramatic. But there’s no hurt in checking it out,” Remus pondered aloud.

“Yes! Of course, that’s great, yes,” Sirius said, stammering over his words. “We could go over to suggest a sleepover. Can reassure ourselves at the same time.”

“Sounds good.” Remus breathed out slowly. “And Sirius? No biting.”

*

It wasn’t as bad as it had first seemed. For most of the week, Neville stayed with his grandmother, who although cared for him deeply, couldn’t give him the freedom and energy that a small child needs to breath and to live. Several days a month however, his uncle appeared to stay with them, and that was where things got tricky. Over the several following sleepovers, Remus and Sirius slowly gained a picture of life with the Longbottoms, and it certainly wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

Slowly and surely by prior design, their sleepovers started becoming weekend stays. The new excitement of having someone else to talk to quickly wore off from the children, but they remained friendly and often read together late into the night. Harry showed Neville his muggle books which Remus had first got for him while he’d still been at the Dursleys, and Neville brought over various magical fairy stories and fables. Before they made any permanent moves, Remus and Sirius sat Harry down to a solemn conversation and asked him whether he minded sharing his room more often. Of course Harry didn’t mind at all, but he did stipulate that maybe the Lego set was a little small for them, and maybe they’d like the new Death star kit for Christmas. Remus laughed and told him that they’d think about it.

When Neville next came to stay, there’s a small bed in the opposite corner of Harry’s room, with a new set of sheets and a little chest of drawers beside it. The children got used to the new routine faster than Remus and Sirius did, and with a little Lego bribery, Neville swore to keep Sirius’s secret. It helped that Sirius also liked building space ships, and an adult was especially handy for all the fiddly bits that small hands struggle with.

Checking to make sure they were going to bed one night, Remus tapped lightly on the bedroom door and pushed it open. There were various books abandoned on the covers, both children snoring lightly and slobbering over their pillows. Padfoot whined and jumped off of Harry’s bed, and Remus watched as Harry turned over, toppling several paperbacks off the covers. Remus reached in to turn the light off, and Sirius slunk out quietly before shifting back. They stand there for a moment, considering the rare silence, until Neville snuffled into a corner and Remus closed the door.

Sirius turned to Remus with wide eyes. “I want one.”

“You’ve just got two, dear, we can’t afford another one until you can get a human-paying job.”

“Don’t care. I want another.”

“I don’t believe it,” Remus said with a smile. “You’re soft.”

“I am not!” Sirius replied indignantly. “Fuck right off, I’m a hardened criminal. Got the record to prove it too.”

“Soft.” Elbowing Sirius lightly in the ribs, Remus felt a hand snake around his side and pull him in. Sirius pressed a light kiss against Remus’s scalp, and sighed against him.

“They’re cute though, right?”

“Very cute,” Remus admitted. “But I think we should get these two to Hogwarts before we think about a baby, love, I’m worn out enough as it is.”

Sirius gaped at him, before swiftly leaning down to press his lips to Remus’s. Remus moaned and curled his hands through Sirius’s hair, tugging him downwards.

“You’re a great dad,” Sirius murmured against Remus’s lips. Remus hummed in agreement and smiled.

“And you’d make a great husband.” Remus’s eyes shot open and he winced. “Shit. I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”

“Oh.” Sirius blinked a few times. “Is that official then?”

“Would you like it to be?”

“You haven’t asked yet.”

“I didn’t know, I was going to have a conversation – oh, bugger it, Sirius Black, will you make this werewolf the happiest one in the world and marry me?”

“Oh, fuck yes.” Arms suddenly full of enthusiastic wizard, Remus laughed himself silly and peppered Sirius’s face with kisses, each of them refusing to brush away their tears. It’s only when they heard the boys stirring that they dragged each other away and back to their office, bumping into what felt like every wall in the house on the way.

*

Far in the future, when Harry returned from Hogwarts in the holidays, he occasionally brought a friend with him. The Lupin household became known throughout the Gryffindor common room to be one that always welcomed you with open arms, no matter what your situation was. The semi-detached cottage, much too cramped with just the four of them, merged with the one next door in a feat of magic and a little real estate bribery, and Sirius greatly enjoyed knocking through the separating walls with a sledgehammer. They still kept the office, but he used the extra bedrooms to keep his books in when they weren’t occupied, and finally Remus got a proper desk where he could prepare his lesson plans. The kitchen table grew to fit more chairs, and he often found himself late at night going through paperwork with a student in need of a proof reader or an advisor.

Remus knew he must have done something right when one Christmas he found two students that he had never met on his doorstep, a blond teenager and a pug-faced girl. The blonde spoke stiffly and confessed nothing, protesting that he was fine and didn’t need anything thank you very much, but the girl dragged him in and told him and Sirius that frankly, he had nowhere to go. It was common knowledge around Hogwarts that Harry would stick up for anyone, and he’d earnt several black eyes doing so. If Harry said his folks would accept you, you remembered it. Loving a man was not so much a crime in the wizarding world, but it was something that you could easily get disinherited for, no matter who your family were.

“We’re going to need another extension,” Sirius muttered as they watched Harry give them sheets to kip down on the couch. “I mean, now it’s Slytherins? What’s next, a hippogriff?”

“Don’t give Harry ideas, he and Hermione are already protesting over Buckbeak,” Remus groaned. “We taught him well.”

“That we did. We’re also going to need a bigger turkey for Christmas dinner.”

“We’ve still got a few days. Neville’s due back tomorrow, let’s see how many more waifs and strays turn up, hmm? I think Harry mentioned Ron and Hermione are coming over at New Year too.”

Sirius gasped. “Moony, a turducken. We could legitimately get a turducken.”

“We are not getting a turducken,” Remus groaned. “Help me out here, Harry, any idea how many we’re expecting?”

“Uh, maybe one of the Patils? Seamus for sure, and I’ve heard rumours about Dean, he might be fine but I’ve offered him a place to sleep just in case.” Harry scratched the back of his head in thought. “That okay?”

“Of courses, you know it is.” Remus was already rethinking his grocery list. “Any vegetarians? Allergens?”

“Don’t think so. Draco?”

“Nah.”

“Yeah, we’re good.” Harry chucked another pillow over to the Slytherins, and laughed when it hit Draco in the face. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Soo…” Sirius drew the word out and wound an arm around Remus’s waist, watching as Harry gave them a few house rules and more importantly, a kitchen tour. “Turducken?”

Remus resigned himself to not winning this battle, and pressed a kiss to Sirius’s jaw. “Turducken.”

It’s a full house during the holidays, with every space used and no bed left unslept in. It’s chaos, elbow to elbow in the kitchen, waking up to find the coffee has disappeared and there’s no bacon left, but Remus wouldn’t have it any other way.