Harry swallowed hard as he looked up at the house where his godfather had grown up. Remus put a hand on Harry's shoulder, squeezed it briefly. "Welcome back, Harry," he said quietly.
Harry stared at the house, unable to tear his eyes from it.
"Let's get inside," Moody growled, and the adults moved toward the house in unison. Harry tried to force his feet to move, but he felt as if someone had performed a Sticking Charm on them.
Remus' hand moved to lightly grip Harry's arm, and he tugged gently. Harry stumbled forward, feeling his stomach lurch as he did so. He was dimly aware of Arthur Weasley moving closer to him, and he felt a supportive arm at his waist. Moody was speaking again, but Harry couldn't seem to make his brain process what he was saying. All he could hear was Sirius' voice, as though it were echoing through the house before him and resounding in Harry's head.
"We'll see each other again," he said. "You are – truly your father's son, Harry…"
"Come on, you can do better than that!" he yelled, his voice echoing…
Harry stumbled again on the steps to the front door, and felt hands steadying him as the door with the shabby black paint materialized before him. Moody tapped the door once, and Harry heard the familiar loud, metallic clicks and a clattering as if a chain were moving behind the door, before it creaked open to admit them, and they silently moved into the hallway. The door closed, and Tonks lit the lamps on the walls. Harry glanced around, his heart hammering in his ears. Things were much cleaner and lighter than they'd been last summer, and there were no signs of the serpent-themed candelabras and lamps that had been there, either.
As if from a distance, he heard his name. "Harry… Harry… Harry!" A hand waved before his eyes, and he blinked quickly, startled.
He shook his head, trying to clear his senses, and saw Tonks smiling at him, her expression a mixture of concern and amusement.
"S-sorry," he stammered, forcing himself to focus on her. "What did you say?"
Tonks' smile softened, and she said quietly, "I asked if you were okay. You look a bit peaky."
Harry nodded. "I'm – I'm fine, just – I'm fine."
Tonks nodded, but the expression on her face indicated that she didn't entirely believe him. Mr. Weasley cleared his throat suddenly. "Well, I'd best be off to work now. See you later, Harry." He patted Harry's shoulder and moved toward the front door.
"Right," Moody added as he opened the door again. "Tonks. We're on duty." He jerked his head toward the doorway, and Tonks rolled her eyes, then winked at Harry.
"Coming, Mad-Eye. Right behind you," she moved toward the door as well, and the three exited quickly and quietly. Remus closed the door behind them, before tapping his wand against the door and all the locks immediately reengaged.
Harry was still lost in thought, staring down the hall without truly seeing it. Remus cleared his throat, drawing Harry's attention to focus on his former professor, and found that Remus was looking at him intently.
"I'll help you get settled," Remus said, and gently but firmly turned Harry toward the stairs. Harry nodded and followed, feeling his stomach clench at the mere thought of passing by Mrs. Black's portrait. But when they passed the moth-eaten curtains, Harry noticed that they seemed to be more solid somehow than they were before.
He paused, almost unwillingly. "Erm…" he began, gesturing toward the curtains, but not quite sure how to ask.
A grimly satisfied smile appeared on Remus' face. "No need to worry about her again, Harry. Dumbledore's taken care of her."
"He-he did? How?"
Remus turned toward the stairs again, and he jerked his head to indicate Harry should come along. Harry couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from the curtains, but he forced himself to follow Remus anyway. Remus explained as they made their way toward the room Harry had shared with Ron the previous summer. "After that night, when we returned here, she was in full-screech over some noise or other. Tonks and I hit her with a Stunner at the same time, and she went quiet for awhile. When Dumbledore showed up here some time later, he sealed her curtains closed, and put an Imperturbable Charm on them, as well as a permanent Silencing Charm. She won't be able to hear or be heard anytime soon."
"Thank goodness," Harry muttered, as Remus opened the door to the bedroom. Harry's eyes darted around the room. It somehow seemed more welcoming than before. There were a few Quidditch posters on the freshly-painted walls, and obviously-new, deep red coverlets on the beds. The dark curtains at the windows had been drawn back, and both the curtains and windows were now clean. His eyes fell on a familiar trunk at the end of the bed that had been Ron's, and he quickly looked at Remus. "Is Ron here?" he asked before he could stop himself.
Remus gave him a rather sympathetic glance as he removed Harry's belongings from his pockets. "Yes and no. The Weasleys are staying here, but Molly took Ron and Ginny out to do some errands this morning. They should be back before lunchtime." Remus turned back to Harry's possessions, and quickly re-sized them before levitating the trunk to the end of Harry's bed. "Shall I put Hedwig's cage by the window?" he asked, picking it up and moving toward the table by the window. Harry nodded unthinkingly, still looking about the room, but remaining in the doorway. Remus set down Hedwig's cage, then looked back at Harry. "You're allowed to enter, Harry. This is your room, you know."
Harry felt his face heat up. "Sorry," he muttered, and moved further into the room. "It just looks – different," he said quietly.
Remus nodded. "Sirius insisted on decorating it after Christmas. He wanted it to be a room that was truly yours, whenever you were here."
Harry sat down on the edge of his bed, and swallowed against the lump that had appeared in his throat at the mention of his godfather. He blinked rapidly for a long moment; almost reluctantly, he looked at the Quidditch posters again, then at the other changes in the room. "It looks like something he'd do," he murmured, his voice thick with emotion.
Remus sat beside him on the bed. "Yes, it does. I'm sure he'd have done even more, if he'd been able to go shopping more easily."
Harry stared down at his hands. "It must've been awful for him to be cooped up here." He paused, then added, "He must've been pretty miserable most of the time. I-I tried to tell him not to come back – to stay safe on that island, wherever he was – but he wouldn't stay away."
"No, he never would have done that. His greatest joy in life was being near you."
Harry's vision blurred again. "If he'd stayed away, he…" He trailed off, unable to voice the thought.
Remus shook his head. "He'd have been truly wretched then, Harry. Sirius was never one to stay away from things that were dangerous; he'd have sooner cut off his own arm than do that. And, most especially, he'd never have stayed away if he thought for even one moment that he could help you. You were more important to him than anything else in the world."
"He'd still be here if it weren't for me!" Harry protested hoarsely, standing up abruptly and pacing toward the window. "I should've known, I should've thought, I –" He cut himself off and leaned his forehead against the windowpane. "It shouldn't've happened," he whispered.
Harry heard the bed creak softly as Remus stood and came toward him. He lay a gentle hand on Harry's shoulder. "It's not your fault. You mustn't blame yourself. You did the best you could at the time, Harry. Just like Sirius did. Both of you were willing to do anything in your power for the other. It could just as easily have been you, sacrificing yourself to help him." Remus' voice was quiet, caring, comforting, but Harry miserably shook his head in mute argument. He couldn't force his voice to work, and he clenched his eyes shut, trying to push away the unbidden tears. Remus' other hand came to rest on Harry's shoulders as well, and he squeezed warmly. They stood for several moments, silently, as Harry fought to control his emotions.
Remus broke the silence. "I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. I didn't have breakfast this morning, either. Shall we go see what's in the kitchen?"
Harry wasn't particularly hungry, but he nodded, glad of an excuse to leave this room, and the discussion, behind. Remus strolled out the door, and Harry took a moment to wipe his eyes on his shirtsleeves before following.
Just as Remus started to push open the door to the kitchen, Harry suddenly remembered something he'd meant to ask. "Remus, wait… is… Kreacher's not in there, is he?"
Remus gave another of those grim smiles. "No, he's not, and he won't be. We won't be bothered by him again, either."
"Dumbledore?" Harry guessed.
Remus shook his head. "Moody. He Obliviated Kreacher and sent him to live with any relative who'd take him."
"Obliviated him?" Harry followed as Remus went through the doorway. "I didn't know that could be done to elves. I mean, with their own magic and all."
Remus gave him a knowing look. "Most people wouldn't be able to do it to an elf, no. Moody's not most people."
Harry snorted. "That's for sure, he's –oof!" He grunted as something solid hit him in the stomach.
"Harry Potter!" squeaked a voice, from somewhere near Harry's mid-section. He looked down at the top of a knitted cap.
"Yes, Harry Potter, sir! Dobby has come here while Hogwarts is having a holiday. Professor Dumbledore says that Dobby is to be helping here until he needs Dobby at Hogwarts again."
"Oh, um… that's… that's great, Dobby," Harry stammered, quickly looking around the room to see if anyone else was watching him converse with the hat that was still embedded in his shirtfront. Remus was watching them with a bemused expression on his face, but the room was otherwise deserted.
"Dobby had heard that Harry Potter was arriving today. Dobby has prepared all of Harry Potter's favorite foods for breakfast, but Dobby didn't want to disturb Harry Potter and the Professor." Dobby was blathering as he finally unwrapped himself from Harry and began to steer Harry toward the table. "Harry Potter must sit down and eat. Harry's Wheezy's mother told Dobby to make certain Harry Potter ate properly," he added, as if that settled the matter.
Harry took a seat at the table across from Remus, who had already poured them both cups of tea from the pot on the table. Dobby seemed to think it was his personal mission to feed Harry, and in only a few short moments, the table was spread with more food than Harry had seen since he'd left Hogwarts. Aunt Petunia had fed him this summer, but even without Dudley's diet, there would never be this amount of food at the Dursleys' table.
Remus' mouth was twitching as if he was fighting against laughing out loud, and Harry was desperately attempting the same as Dobby flitted about, filling both their plates with food. "Is there anything else Harry Potter needs? Professor?" Dobby asked finally, seeming to be satisfied that nothing else would fit onto either plate for the time being.
Dobby nodded. "Very well, sirs. Just call Dobby if you needs anything." And with a loud crack, he disappeared.
Remus shook his head, grinning at Harry. "Well, at least he's cheerful."
Harry laughed as he began to tuck in to the delicious-looking pile of food before him. "Definitely. How long has he been here?"
Remus shrugged as he salted his eggs. "A few weeks. Molly's been quite busy, too, and we all felt that she shouldn't try to run this whole house and her own, as well as everything else she does." He gave Harry another half-smile. "You know how she is."
Harry nodded, his mouth too full of toast to answer.
They ate in companionable silence for a while, and Harry discovered that he was hungrier than he'd thought, once he'd started eating the small feast Dobby had prepared.
Remus refilled his own teacup, and asked, "More?" as he nodded toward Harry's almost-empty one.
Harry nodded and held up his cup. "Yes, please." Remus filled it nearly to the brim, then set the teapot aside.
"Have you made any progress on your summer homework?" Remus asked, quite casually, but Harry could see his eyes twinkling.
"Haven't touched it," he deadpanned, just to see Remus' reaction.
An eyebrow rose. "Should I have Hermione set up a lesson timetable for you?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "She would, too," he muttered, and Remus grinned. "But no, actually, I'm finished with it."
"All of it?" Harry nodded smugly. "Anything you want me to look at for you?"
Harry started to decline the offer, purely on instinct, but caught himself. "Now that you mention it… um, yeah, would you? I've done it, but… I don't know if I was thinking clearly when I did some of it."
Remus nodded. "That's understandable. I'll go over it with you later, all right?"
Harry nodded and drained the last of his tea. "Thanks," he murmured.
Remus finished his tea and said quietly, "I need to talk to you about some things. I thought it might be best if we did it before everyone gets back."
Harry looked up, already worried. "Is something wrong?"
Remus shook his head. "Not 'wrong', no." He paused, then sighed. "We need to discuss some of the things from Sirius' will – that sort of thing."
"Would you rather do it here, or go elsewhere?"
"I don't care," Harry mumbled, looking intently down at the table.
"Let's go into the drawing room. At least it's a more comfortable place to sit."
Harry nodded numbly, and followed Remus into the other room.
Remus sat on the sofa, and nodded for Harry to sit beside him. Harry sank onto the seat and stared down at the worn carpet on the floor. Remus sighed quietly. "I know this isn't easy for either of us, but there are some things you need to know. Sirius thought about you constantly, Harry. In the last year, especially, he and I talked a lot about you. Things that we hoped for you, and ways we might be able to help you. And one thing we agreed on: regardless of anything that might happen, you needed to know that you're not alone, and that we would do our best to make certain that you were included on decisions and discussions that concerned you. There have been too many things that were done 'for your own good'," Remus' tone made the quotation marks around that phrase obvious, "and that has to stop. You need to be told as much as you can be, and you need to know that you're not fighting your battles alone." Remus paused and ran a hand through his hair. "And yet… I know that telling you these things doesn't mean a whole lot, after everything you've been through. You're going to have to believe what I'm saying."
Harry nodded, almost absent-mindedly. He appreciated what Remus was trying to say, but it was hard to believe that things would be significantly different in the future. "Part of what I need to let you know involves the monetary decisions for Sirius' estate. The majority of it is yours now, and will be held in trust for you until you're of age. He left some of the money to Tonks, the Weasley family… and me," Remus said. "I'll be glad to go over those details with you, if you want to know."
Harry shook his head. "No, that's – that's okay; I really don't care about that," he said, still staring downward. He hadn't noticed that hole in his left shoe before… maybe he could buy a new pair of trainers before school started again….
"Harry…" Remus drew his attention again, albeit reluctantly. "There are some things that you do need to know about, and you need to make some decisions, before the will can be finalized." He paused, and waited until Harry looked at him. "Sirius wanted you to have input regarding who would be your guardian, or guardians. He left me in charge of making certain that what you and he wished would be carried out."
Harry swallowed against the growing tightness in his throat. This is so real… so… final – the thought kept echoing in his brain. "W-what do I need to do?" he whispered.
Remus' eyes were shining with compassion. "Sirius suggested – if you were agreeable – that I be your primary guardian, and Molly and Arthur would be somewhat like 'secondary guardians', for times when I'm unavailable."
"W-would that make you my godfather now?"
Remus' mouth quirked into a sad half-smile. "Not legally, but if you'd like for me to be, I'd think we could work something out." Before Harry could respond, though, he continued, "You don't have to decide about any of this immediately – you can take a few days to think about things. I know this is a lot to take in at once, but I wanted you to know that you have a say in what happens. No one is going to be allowed to make the decision for you."
Harry nodded, determinedly looking at a hole in the knee of his jeans, even though his vision had blurred. He startled when Remus' hand landed on his shoulder, and Remus took advantage of his surprise by sliding one finger under Harry's chin, coaxing him to look up and meet Remus' eyes. "You're not alone, Harry," he said quietly.
Harry ducked his head again, trying to force himself to focus on what they'd been talking about, and not let himself be overwhelmed by the emotions that threatened to take control whenever he had to think about Sirius. "Thanks," he muttered hoarsely, blinking quickly.
Even without looking at Remus directly, he knew his friend nodded. "Erm… is there anything else I need to know, or do, or - or something?"
"No, that's all. Do you have any questions?"
Harry wracked his brain, trying to think clearly enough to process what he needed to do. They sat in silence for several moments, and Harry found himself thinking that – especially after all the time spent at the Dursleys' – it was incredibly nice to just be with Remus, someone he knew understood how much he missed Sirius, someone he trusted in almost the same way as he'd trusted Sirius. He thought about what Remus had said about being his guardian, and about how horribly, totally final it made things seem. He was again struck by that feeling of how his life had been divided into the time with Sirius as a part of it, and the time now that Sirius was no longer here. An indescribable sense of longing washed over him. Being with Remus was nice, but somehow, it made him even more aware of the aching emptiness where Sirius had been.
And yet… he couldn't imagine anyone else besides Remus even attempting to fill the part in his life where Sirius had been. As much as he cared about Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and appreciated all they'd done for him, it just wasn't the same as what he'd felt with Sirius.
He knew what his decision was.
"Um…" Harry began hesitantly, "I've thought about what you asked. I want you to. I mean, if you want to – to be my guardian."
He could feel the understanding in Remus' gaze, even though he still couldn't bring himself to look at Remus directly. "It would be my honor, Harry. And my pleasure."
"Do I… do I need to – I dunno – do anything… about it?"
"No, I'll take care of getting things filed appropriately. Dumbledore's still working on getting some things cleared up in regard to the estate, overall, but he knows that the guardianship is your decision."
At the mention of the headmaster, Harry felt his stomach clench, as the memories of that night in the old wizard's office flooded his mind. "Is he – is he okay with that? I mean, he's not going to try to change things or something, is he?"
"No, he won't. And Molly knows it's your decision, too." Harry could hear the grin in Remus' voice, and he couldn't help but grin in response.
"Do I want to know how that discussion went?" he asked, looking at Remus for the first time, and seeing that his friend's eyes were glinting mischievously.
Remus chuckled. "Actually, it went rather well. I told her that it was something Sirius and I had discussed, and Arthur agreed with me. So that pretty much ended any arguments before they could begin."
Harry shook his head, doubtful that it had been quite so easy at the time. "Does this mean I can be in the Order now?" he asked, without stopping to think.
Remus eyed him appraisingly. "You know that can't happen until you're of age. It does mean that I will keep you as informed as I can, though. There will be times, I'm certain, when you will want to know things that can't be divulged, but I will be as honest and open with you as I can safely be." Remus paused, then looked pointedly at Harry. "In return, I'll ask that you talk to me if you have questions or concerns, and not put yourself in greater danger unnecessarily. Is that a fair deal?"
Harry squirmed slightly. He knew Remus wasn't blaming him for things that had happened before, but he also knew that Remus expected him to make some changes, as well. "Okay," he said after a moment's contemplation. "Fair deal."
"Promise?" Remus prompted.
Harry nodded. "Promise." He paused, then said, "You too?"
Remus locked his gaze with Harry's. "I will do everything in my power to help you, Harry. I promise."
A/N: The italicized lines that are "resounding in Harry's head" near the beginning of the chapter are direct quotes from PoA and OotP, just in case it's not apparent.
Many thanks to Michael and Chele for providing valuable input, and to Allie for her superb betaing! :-) Knowing me, I won't get another chapter posted before Christmas, etc., comes around, so Happy Holidays, y'all!