( Part 1: Remus waits, Sirius makes things up, and James and Lily both try to make the best of a bad situation. )
1st August: Lammas
The breeze from the south carried the smell of bonfires, the sounds of celebration, and if Remus closed his eyes, he would swear he felt the heat from the fires adding colour to his cheeks.
He envied the Muggles in this hamlet, who believed that life still turned predictably with the seasons, for whom these rituals of blessing and thanks provided some illusion of protection against the unknown future.
No word from anyone since Sirius' birthday. He'd said he wanted some peaceful, quiet time at home, and he did, but the waiting was beginning to drive him a little mad.
A soft flutter was all the warning he had before an owl swooped down and dropped two letters on his head. The brown and black bird settled on his shoulder and hooted softly, nipping his ear and begging rather assertively.
"Cheeky bugger," Remus said, with a laugh as he pulled the scrolls out of their ties.
The first parchment was blank. It was the one for which he'd been waiting.
He pulled out his wand and, tapping the parchment, whispered, "Chocolate Frog."
"It's a wonder the old codger has any teeth at all," he muttered as Dumbledore's elegant script spread across the parchment. Coordinates and, Meet here tomorrow morning, half nine, for further instruction. Prepare to be gone for several days, let him know the waiting was over.
The second was the one for which he'd been hoping. It started with, I miss you, and he had to read it over three times, smiling more broadly each time. He hadn't been certain it would come.
The last time he had seen Sirius, they had argued. It wasn't a screaming, swearing argument. It was quiet and civilised and that alone made it seem grave enough that Remus had left before it was finished. If Sirius was going to break up with him, he didn't plan to be there.
When can you get away? Or can I come there? If you can come, I'm at Prongs.' The flat was starting to get too quiet.
Remus winced at the subtle reference to one of the issues that had been the genesis of the argument.
So, let me know if we can get together.
I'm still waiting. Heard nothing. You?
Lily's coming and Prongs is unbearable. Miss you. Write.
He could almost hear Sirius' voice, tentative, comforting, letting him know they were all right, and his smile spread from his lips to his cheeks to his eyes.
He now regretted the first letter – a mission of several days would mean just that much longer until he could make up with Sirius.
"Stay still," he said to the fidgeting owl perching on his shoulder. "Come inside for a treat and I'll have a letter for you to take."
I miss you too. I'm off for a bit – you know. Tell Prongs, 'Hello.' I'll be in touch as soon as possible.
He paused, thinking of all the things he wanted to say, all the ways he could sign it. In the end, he went with a simple 'M.' The rest, he could say in person, if he ever worked up the nerve.
Remus hastily threw a couple of shirts and extra pants, maps, and his quill into his Dad's old rucksack and searched his brain for the appropriate lie for his mother.
He found her in the back garden, pulling potatoes, a miniature mimic of the larger harvest going on amongst their neighbours.
He envisioned himself walking up to her and telling her the truth about his life, about the Order and about Sirius, as Sirius wished. He tried to make it happen in his mind, but all he could see were looks of intense worry and deep disappointment , and then he could hear her voice calling out to Dad, and his mind went blank.
The argument with Sirius had run through his mind so many times, it was beginning to take on a life of its own.
“I can’t, Sirius.”
"You don’t get it.”
"I get that you would rather be apart than face your parents.”
“That’s bollocks, Sirius, and you know it. It’s more complicated than that.”
“I don’t know it, Remus. It’s simple. I want to live together, but not as flat mates, not as friends. We tell Peter and the Potters and your Mum and Dad before we do it. It’s the only way to make it mean what it means.
"I can’t. I can’t do that to my Mum and Dad. They’ve spent the past fourteen years worrying that I won’t make it to adulthood, and if I do, that I won’t have any kind of a life. I can’t tell them I’ve actually chosen another reason to be shunned. Before you say it, I know I didn’t choose this, but that’s the way they’ll see it, and I did choose you. They can’t take it and I can’t take losing them. If I alienate them and something happens between us, or to one of us, well, I just can’t risk it.
“I think you underestimate all of us. I’m not going anywhere.”
"You can’t promise that, Sirius.”
They’d gone around in circles, always coming back to the same stand-off, and finally, they’d just stopped. With a kiss on the cheek, Sirius had said that he’d see him around.
Remus considered his mother, crouched and smudged with dirt, in her garden that was the envy of the neighbors and one of the more predictable things in her life. He tried, he really tried, to imagine telling her that he was in a secret resistance organization and that he wanted to move in with his lover, Sirius Black.
"Mum, I'm going camping with the lads," he said casually. "Be back in a few days."
"First I've heard of it," she responded, squinting at him against the sun.
"Right, well, it was spur of the moment."
"Remus Lupin, you are lying," she accused. She placed the back of one gloved hand on her hip, looking just as she had when she’d caught him at mischief as a child. "Going off with that girl of yours again? You should bring her home sometime."
"Leave it, please, Mum?" he implored, letting her believe she'd sussed him out. It wasn't the lie he'd intended to tell, but it was as good as, really.
2nd August: There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other. - Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone
James and Sirius looked irritatingly calm, lounging about in the Potter's front room, rucksacks and sleeping bags stacked by the front door as if they were going on a camping holiday. Lily sat next to James on the couch, her hand in his, a hundred questions in her head.
Sirius sighed dramatically and slowly hoisted himself out of the chair by the fire. "I'll leave you two lovebirds so you can have a proper farewell," he said, grinning over his shoulder as he sauntered away. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Thanks a lot, mate, that doesn't leave us much," James called to him.
"What was that about?" Lily asked, hearing the irritation leak into her voice. She huffed when James just shook his head. The private jokes and unspoken conversation didn't ordinarily bother her, except when she knew she was the topic. She was feeling tetchy and she knew it, but she just couldn't shake it yet. She had just arrived and James was getting ready to leave and she'd been called in to work on her day off. She felt more than entitled to a spot of irritability. "You can't tell me anything?" Lily snapped.
"I don't know anything. I don't even know who all's going, apart from Sirius. Come on, Lily, we've only a few minutes," James said in a soothing voice.
She was being cajoled and her foul mood struggled for its footing, but James had stepped closer and his hands were running along her shoulders and arms, leaving tingling trails.
Lily turned up her face to kiss his warm mouth, sighing as he opened to her. James' kisses, after all, were infinitely more satisfying than nurturing a sulk.
The lift at the Ministry smelled of damp clothes and there were puddles on the floor despite the fact that everyone used Impervious Charms to repel rain. Apparently a deluge like today's was beyond the power of magic, a fact that Lily found strangely comforting.
She stepped reluctantly from the lift and prepared for a day of sorting files and keeping her ears open, her current assignment for the Order. The position was a good one for getting up to speed with Ministry protocol, for learning more about magical creatures and beings, and for keeping an eye on the shifting political winds. But today, with the feel of James' mouth and hands still warm on her body, she would rather be almost anywhere else. And when she pushed open the door to the inner office and saw the terrifying piles of folders on nearly every available surface in the office, she understood why she'd been owled on her day off.
"Morning, Lily. You were called in as well?" Frank called out and he zipped across the hallway to greet her, the castors on his chair whirring on the highly polished floor. A laugh popped out of her mouth at the impish look on his face - his behavior was enough, these days, to get a warning for misuse of ministry property.
Working near Frank was one of the perks of the job, he was pleasant and kind and an all-round good sort. He'd helped her get her interview and had assured her that this was a plum assignment for someone just out of school. He almost had her convinced that it was somewhere a right-minded person could do some good.
"Morning, Frank," she replied, as she took off her wet cloak. She lingered in the doorway a moment longer, her back to her own office, and smiled at the sight of him, poised and ready to race off again in his chair. "Where's Alice today?"
He shrugged and a tense look crossed his face. "She's been out for three days," he said quietly.
"Oh," Lily said. The business of the Order was still so new to her that it sometimes seemed unreal. For a moment, she had been able to forget that James and Sirius were really not off camping. "I'm sure she'll be home soon."
"I'm sure she will," Frank said with forced cheerfulness. "Want to nip 'round to the café at lunch?"
"Yeah, thanks," she said and then added in a whisper, "I hate this. How do you stand it?"
"I live in the bright moments and keep thinking of the future," he said evenly. "That, and I suppose, now that I know what's out there, it's less frightening to be doing something about it than not."
Lily stepped to the stack of files and began separating them into piles to be returned to storage. It was mind-numbing work, made more unpleasant by the fact that she felt as if she were peering into peoples' knicker drawers just by seeing the names written on the tabs. So, she concentrated on earlier this morning with James, the prospect of lunch with Frank, and a future in which the files she sorted would not include one full of personal information about one of her best friends. On to Part 2