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The week passed as quickly for Harry as it did for Sirius, which was unexpected; suddenly given purpose, Harry devoured maps of the countryside and books about graveyards and English burial customs, spitting back information in admittedly disorderly but nevertheless interesting ways. There were frequent owls to and from Ron and Hermione, and Sirius often sent notes back with Remus which were shorter but usually more entertaining. Remus himself seemed alive again for really the first time since third year -- his eyes moved more quickly, he smiled more readily, and late into the evenings he sat and talked with Harry about anything that caught their fancy. On the nights Tonks joined in, she often had to give Remus a shove to get him into bed at a decent hour. It helped Harry, anyway, who still didn't sleep as well without Padfoot's reassuring warmth somewhere on the bed.

Sirius flourished in his new role as Tutor. Every day he had a different schedule and new students to meet, and he began to realise how confining his own House-snobbishness had been. Last year -- well, twenty years ago, but only last year for him -- he hadn't been interested in the other Houses and had been downright hostile to the Slytherins. Now he was required to treat all houses equally and he did so with a scrupulousness that told of some distant wrong done to him by a prejudiced professor.

He never had to do any reading he didn't want to and was never required to hand anything in. He learned more by sitting at a lesson with a Ravenclaw seventh year until she mastered a difficult extraction process for Potions than he would have in weeks' worth of class time. On Harry's orders he devoured the Hogwarts Library's section on famous wizarding burial rites and wrote them up in probably more organised fashion than Harry himself would have. He was in his element; Hogwarts was where he belonged, and the freedom of his position allowed him to pursue his education unhampered by professors. If he spent his first few nights curled up as Padfoot in a nest of quilts, that was only to be expected as part of his readjustment.

Thursday was supposed to be his evening off and he had been looking forward to it; this teaching thing was fun, but on a regular basis it became rather wearing. It was disheartening, then, to have run up to his office to fetch a book and then to hear a knock on his door.

"It's my evening -- oh, Moony!" he said, cheerfully. Remus stood in front of his office door, briefcase in one hand, smiling. "Want to come in? Didn't expect you by here."

"Well, you weren't in your rooms, so I thought I'd check," Remus answered. "I know it's supposed to be your night off, Padfoot, but I was wondering if you wanted to go down to Hogsmeade with me. I've got papers to mark, and if I go home I'll get distracted. Besides, if you help me I'll buy you a firewhiskey."

Sirius noticed that he was done up in the new, thick woolen cloak Tonks had talked him into buying; it was early for true chill to be setting in, but the night-time did have a bit of a bite to it already and Moony still moved slowly and achingly sometimes, though teaching seemed to help him immensely.

"Sure," he said, eager for a night away from school. "Let me get my cloak."

In short order the pair could be seen strolling across the grounds towards the path into Hogsmeade, Remus tall and slouch-shouldered in his brown cloak, Sirius a little shorter and more confident in his bright scarlet one. They didn't talk much as they walked, but then they often hadn't. Sirius was just happy to be out with Moony again, and Remus seemed to be distracted by the beauty of the grounds and the distant just-beginning-twilight. They made for the Three Broomsticks, where Sirius mentally catalogued the changes (Rosmerta was almost exactly the same, which he found oddly unsurprising) while Remus ordered a flagon of firewhiskey and a platter of chips.

"Now," Remus said, uncapping a bottle of red ink as they settled into a corner table, "the trick is to drink just enough firewhiskey that the awful spelling and horrifying grammatical errors sort of wash over you while remaining sober enough to follow the convoluted and torturous reasoning to its arguably logical conclusion."

"What are we marking?" Sirius asked, accepting a pile of rolled-up parchment scrolls and a quill.

"Fourth-year compositions on the three forms of Unforgiveable curse. You want to look for a brief discussion of each and then a few paragraphs about magical ethics and why any one, their choice, is considered unforgiveable while other hexes are not."

"Sounds easy enough," Sirius said, with all the innocence of untried youth on his brow. Remus thanked Rosmerta as she set down their food and poured out a healthy measure of firewhiskey from the flagon for each of them.

"You seem to be enjoying yourself," he remarked, as he began unrolling scrolls and flattening them into a single pile.

"Well, it's nice not to have to write compositions myself," Sirius said.

"Are you enjoying teaching?"

"Reckon so. I like the first and second years. They try harder."

"They have further to go," Remus agreed. "You certainly seem popular with a particular subset of the school population."

"The sixth-years," Sirius groaned. "Every evening a gaggle of them congregate in the hallway and get in everyone's way while they dare each other to come flash their cleavage at me on the barest excuse."

"Shame you don't like cleavage. When I was sixteen I'd have done your job for free," Remus murmured. Sirius tensed slightly; the subject of sex hadn't come up since that first day after Remus awoke, and he was still unused to the idea that anyone would know. He was slowly acclimating to the fact that people discussed this sort of thing now, but that didn't mean he felt any more comfortable about it.

"Even...if I did," he managed, trying to seem as relaxed about the whole thing as Remus was, "They're just...annoying. The fifth and seventh years don't, you know. It's just the sixths."

"The fifths are all too shy and the sevenths are all studying for NEWTs already," Remus answered. "Besides, isn't Colin Creevey hanging around too?"

"But that's my point, isn't it? One more annoying...sixth...year..." Sirius paused. "You don't think he's..."

"I couldn't say. I know he doesn't seem very interested in the girls in his year. Or any other year. And he used to idolise Harry, so you're his type."

Sirius tried to recall Colin Creevey and came up with the mental image of a tall, shaggy-haired boy perpetually carrying a camera case as well as his Hogwarts bag. A bit on the uncouth side, but then so had Remus been, once upon a time.

Remus sipped his firewhiskey and dipped his quill in the inkpot, already bending to write notes in the margins of the first composition. Sirius firmly put aside his speculation on the older Creevey brother and watched Remus mark for a while, until he was confident he understood how it was done.

They worked in silence for the most part, steadily reducing both the level of the firewhiskey in the flagon and the height of the parchment stacked in front of them. Occasionally Remus shared a particularly awful turn of phrase and Sirius replied in kind, but for the most part it was like it had been at school: the comfortable silence of friends working to complete a not entirely enjoyable task.

When they left the pub, every paper marked and secured in Remus' briefcase, full night had fallen and the wind was definitely chilly. People hurried through the streets without spending much time looking at one another, and now Sirius realised that Remus had another reason for wanting a companion along with him. When others did look long enough to see who was walking down the road, they gave him a wide berth; some muttered epithets that Sirius was glad he couldn't fully hear. Remus didn't even bother to shrug. Perhaps he didn't hear them fully either, though he could hardly miss their intent.

But nobody was going to accost the pair of them together, and Sirius strutted just a little. Remus might not be his, not anymore, but he could still help protect him.

As they passed out of town Remus lit a small ball of green flame in the palm of his hand; they proceeded down the track to the main gate in silence again, warm and cheerful from the firewhiskey. They had completed a chore, spent a nice evening at the pub, and Sirius was with his Moony. Nothing else seemed to matter at the moment.

Until Moony stopped suddenly, grasping Sirius' cloak to stop him as well.

"Don't go any further," he said, taking his wand out of his pocket. "Lumos maximus!"

Immediately the flat, rather scrubby wilderness around them was lit by pale white light; Sirius scanned but didn't see anything. He glanced at Remus, whose nostrils twitched and flared as he inhaled.

"Fenrir," he said quietly. "He's been here."

"You can smell him?"

Remus nodded. Sirius followed his stare; there was a stone nearby with a large, wet stain on it. "He made sure I would," Remus said. Sirius felt a chilly pit open in his stomach. "He's not here now, though..."

"Is it a trap?"

"I don't know. Forward at half-time, Pads," Remus said softly. They moved towards the gate slowly, eyes darting across the landscape, entirely sober now. Sirius almost breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the gate itself; Hagrid's hut wasn't far beyond, and at this range the groundskeeper would hear them if they shouted.

Then he saw the gate itself.

The two stone boars that flanked the big wrought-iron gate were spattered with blood; wedged into one of the gaps in the gate itself was a knife with a note impaled on the tip.

"Is it human?" Sirius asked in a hushed whisper as Remus crouched to examine the spatters.

"No -- I'd smell if it was. Don't know what it is...probably big, to get this much out in a single go," Remus said. "Fenrir's supper, I think. Don't touch it."

"No fear," Sirius said. "Let's get the bloody hell out of this place, Moony."

Remus turned to the knife. "It's holding the gate shut. Might be a trap, but that's not Fenrir's style."

"Doesn't feel like it, either," Sirius said, passing his wand over it a few times.

"No, but it -- bastard," Remus swore. He'd put his hand out to grab the knife and it clattered to the ground; Remus pressed his fingers to his mouth, then shook his hand as if he'd burned himself. "Silver inlay on the handle. Sirius, please..."

"Right," Sirius said, picking up the dagger and plucking the note off its tip. The gates, no longer wedged shut, swung open eerily. They glanced at each other before passing through, closing the gates firmly behind them and making with all speed for the entrance to the school.

Once inside, they stopped under the first lit candelabra they came to and Remus held up his hand for examination. It was blistering already, red bands curving across the palm and fingers where he'd grasped the knife. Sirius lifted the knife itself to the light.

"Steel blade, stone handle," Remus said, noting the Sheffield stamp in one side of the blade. "It's had silver melted into cracks and chips in the stone -- clever lad. He might not be well-educated but Fenrir is no fool. He wanted to nip me."

"He'll get more than a nip in return, that I promise you," Sirius said, carefully tucking the knife into a pocket of his bag.

"Where's the note?"

"Here..." Sirius smoothed it flat on his palm. "Look, it's not addressed to you."

"McGonagall," Remus read. "See the handwriting, how uneven it is. He's written it himself."

"Should we open it?" Sirius asked.

"No -- we're meant to deliver it," Remus replied. "McGonagall's likely to be in her office still; I won't blame you if you don't come along, Pads."

"Catch me leaving now!" Sirius said heatedly. "When I find him I'll nail his bollocks to his -- "

"All right, let's stay calm," Remus chided gently.

They floocalled the headmistress from Remus' office and had an immediate reply; she asked them to come through, and in a matter of moments they were standing in the round office of the Headmistress as she turned the letter over in her fingers.

"It doesn't seem to have any traps built into it," she said finally. "May I see the dagger, Mr. Padfoot?"

Sirius offered up the knife reluctantly. He had privately promised himself he was going to use it to castrate Fenrir Greyback with. McGonagall examined it, then laid it next to the note on the desk. Cautiously, with wand drawn, she picked up a letter opener and unfolded the note.

For a second -- just long enough to see that the inner page was blank -- nothing happened. Then a rasping, horrible voice filled the room.

"Send the pack-traitor away from the school before the next moon," the voice growled, sending unpleasant chills down Sirius' spine like the screech of glass on glass, "or we find a child to replace him."

The blank sheet of parchment burst into flames and was quickly doused with a flick of McGonagall's wand. Sirius raised his head to look at Remus, who was white as a sheet. The scars on his face, not normally that noticeable, stood out lividly.

"What does it mean?" Sirius asked.

"If I don't quit -- if I'm not sacked -- Fenrir's going to take a child," Remus answered.

"Well," McGonagall said briskly. "I must say that this was not an angle I considered when I was preparing my defence of your hire, Remus."


On Friday morning the owls went out and the word began to circulate; Order Meeting, Saturday afternoon, Grimmauld Place. Ron and Hermione were floo'ing from Hogsmeade; Remus would escort them. Sirius demanded to be a part of it, and a really awe-inspiring row began to brew until Harry stepped in and said that he had other things to speak to Sirius about, and would Remus please bring him along. Remus, unusually quiet and subdued, agreed without question.

Harry wasn't told about Fenrir's note; no-one but Tonks was. Remus had agreed not to make a move until the meeting, at which point it could be discussed. So instead of fretting about Remus, Harry spent Friday fretting about how he was going to convince the Order to go scouring graveyards for an old metal cup. His promise to Dumbledore seemed to serve no purpose other than paranoia, but he meant to keep it as well he could, and paranoia couldn't hurt. One never knew when there was another Peter Pettigrew in their midst. Harry was coming to understand that Tonks was cleverer than she liked to let on and a little more ruthless; Sirius, he had deduced, was a sort of coal-miner's canary. If word broke about Sirius Black's return from the dead, they would know they had at best a dupe and at worst a spy within the Order.

Harry was waiting at Grimmauld Place to meet with everyone who knew about the horcruxes -- Remus, Tonks, Ron, Hermione, and Sirius -- to discuss his strategy for finding the cup.

Tonks was already at Grimmauld Place, it being her day off; Ron and Hermione appeared first, followed by Remus, with Sirius holding onto his arm. Hermione greeted Harry with a hug and Ron punched him in the shoulder by way of greeting. Sirius bounded up to say hello and uninhibitedly knocked Harry to the floor, wrestling with him until Harry cried peanuts.

"Whenever you're ready, Harry," Remus drawled. Sirius climbed off and offered Harry a hand up.

"Right...horcruxes," Harry said, as he and Sirius joined the others at the kitchen table. "I have a list and a plan."

Each one of them would take a single site: a tomb or monument to one of the Founders, the open field where Grindelwald had been destroyed, and the old family crypt of the Gaunts, which hadn't been used for nearly two hundred years. If the rest of the Order agreed, they would each take a companion with them for protection; if the others balked, they would have to double-up and go much more slowly. It would be slipped in, it was decided, at the end of Order Business, which Remus had said he had quite enough of to divert attention away from the quest.

Even as he said it, other Order members began to arrive; McGonagall and Kingsley first, then most of the Weasleys in a ginger-haired mass, then others in twos and threes. When a decent number of people were assembled (ten minutes past the appointed starting time) McGonagall stood and held up her hands for attention. Silence was rather slow in falling, and she had time to summon Remus to the front of the room as well before everyone was fully paying attention.

"We have," she said, "something of a grave problem, and an action which I feel requires our immediate reaction." She glanced at Remus. "Lupin, would you prefer...?"

He nodded, fidgeting somewhat uncomfortably. "On Thursday night, I encountered some...evidence of vandalism outside of Hogwarts. The boars at the gate had been smeared with -- what was it, Hagrid?"

"Sheep's blood," Hagrid supplied. "Aberforth tol' me 'e's missin' two lambs."

"It is almost certainly the doing of Fenrir Greyback and members of his pack. Along with the blood we found a knife with a silver-inlaid handle and this," he said, as McGonagall produced the charred remains of the parchment. "On opening it, we were informed that if I did not leave Hogwarts -- rather, if I was not sacked -- Fenrir would..." he ducked his head. "Choose a child and turn them. Intentionally and as a direct consequence of my defiance."

"Did you know about this?" Harry asked Sirius, who nodded.

"I was with him when he found it. He asked me not to tell."

"The Headmistress has convinced me not to resign before this meeting, in the rather unrealistic hope that another solution could be put forward," Remus continued. He wouldn't meet anyone's eyes.

"We know where he is," Kingsley said, slowly. "But we can't prove anything he's done, even if we could catch him. He knows the moors better than we, and he has better senses. He could track us. We couldn't track him."

"Remus could," Harry pointed out.

"It doesn't matter, if we can't do anything once we find him," Tonks said, frustration evident in her tone.

Harry glanced at Hermione and Ron, who were speaking to each other quietly. Finally, Ron put his hand up. Remus smiled a little at that.

"Yes, Ron?" he asked.

"Uhm..." Ron stood up, glancing around. "Hermione and I think we could do something about him."

"You do?" Remus asked, surprised.

"Yeah, well...not...legally," Ron added, giving Kingsley a nervous look. "I mean, we can't...tell you about it."

"You're not going to try hunting him down yourself, I hope," Molly said severely. "Don't be foolish, Ron."

"No...not exactly," Ron answered, flushing red. "But we -- Hermione and me -- we know a bit about surviving werewolves, don't we? Sorry, professor," he added. Remus waved off the apology. "It's just, you have to trust us. And not ask any questions."

"There's no point in putting you needlessly in danger," Remus replied.

"Got to be stopped sooner or later," Moody said.

"I can help," Bill said. Fleur clutched his arm tightly. "I can track almost as well as Remus can, and I don't Change."

"I'd be willing to go along," Harry added. "I make good bait."

"I think it would be wiser if I simply resigned," Remus said.

"You don't want to, do you?" Harry asked.

"No! Of course not. But unless you kill him, you won't stop him, and I won't have people dying over a job I've left before and could leave again."

"I won't accept your resignation," McGonagall said firmly.

"If I leave, you won't have a choice."

"Yes I will. I'll dock your pay and won't hire another professor."

"Sirius can -- "

"No. The children will go to class and amuse themselves without a professor, if you refuse to show."

"Tis cowardly to run, lad," Moody agreed. "You know it."

"Doesn't..." Harry hesitated, then plunged onward. "Doesn't Fenrir do it anyway? I mean, if you leave he might not this moon -- but he will the next. And with you gone from the school, it's that much easier for him to get in. There'd be no point, except to teach him that bullying works."

"If the Prophet found out -- "

"I think I could keep it out," said a young man named Schoebel, a new recruit to the Order. He was an under-editor at the Prophet and hated his job with a passion. "He'd have to go through me to get an interview -- I'm supposed to sort out the nutcases from the real news. I could hold him off for a month or two, unless he tried something drastic."

"I don't think he'd even think of it," Hermione said.

"Ron, Hermione," McGonagall said, "How certain are you that you can stop him?"

Ron glanced at Hermione, who stood. "We have an even chance," she said. "I don't think it's that dangerous. With Bill and Harry along, even if we..." she clearly struggled even saying the word, ", we'll be able to get out safely. He can't Apparate."

"He knows a lot about werewolves from being one," Ron said, "But he doesn't know anything he hasn't seen personally. That's a lot, really."

"How do you -- " Remus began, but Ron continued without stopping.

"If we can find him now, we can watch where he goes and what he does. We'll know where he's likely to try and attack."

"Not much trouble," Moody grunted. "Standard surveillance detail. Don't even have to use the Order."

"How much time do we have?" Hermione asked Remus. He sighed.

"The full is on the sixteenth. Ten days."

"Loads of time," she said.

"And we don't technically need your permission," Ron said. "You can't actually stop us."

"Dangerous words, Mr. Weasley," McGonagall warned. Molly glared at her as if it was Molly's right alone to chastise her child.

"He's right, though," Harry said. "If they don't come with me, Bill and I could always go alone."

Remus had stopped even trying to interject; it was clear this argument had gone far beyond his control.

"Stay until the full moon. If we haven't solved the problem, we'll take the blame," Hermione said.

"It's not that simple," Remus answered.

"Make it that simple. Trust us and stay. Anyway, we have other stuff to talk about too," Hermione said, turning to Harry. "If you want to look after us, we need chaperones for research trips. Nobody's supposed to travel alone and we can cut our time in half if we don't double up with each other. We need volunteers."

"Six," Harry said. "One chaperone each for Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, and me. Never more than two or three hours at a time."

"I don't think we can spare that many Aurors without someone noticing," Kingsley said. "Scrimgeour keeps a close watch on where we go and what we do."

"I can go," Moody said. "Wouldn't be left behind, matter of fact."

"If yeh need me..." Hagrid said, and Harry nodded.

"Ees eet intrigue?" Fleur asked.

"," Harry said.

"Ees alright. I will go. Bill too, oui?"

"Long as Ron doesn't draw Fleur," Bill said, winking at his brother. "George is game, aren't you, George?"

"Sure," George answered. "And that's five."

"I'll make six," Augustus Pye said.

"That's settled then," Harry said. "Anyone else have anything they need to bring up?"

There didn't appear to be anything immediately forthcoming, so they formally dissolved the meeting and left everyone to wander off and find their own tea, it being just barely four o'clock. McGonagall returned speedily to Hogwarts, where she had marking to do; Tonks took a rather stunned Remus back to the cottage and Bill sent Fleur ahead with Molly and Arthur, lingering to confer with Ron and Hermione about Fenrir. Sirius remained also, foraging in the kitchen pantry for snackfood.

"Do you actually know what you're going to do?" Harry asked Ron, who grinned.

"Not yet," Ron said. "But you're not the only one who can come up with plans. Did you think I did when you stood up with us?"

"No," Harry replied. "Never stopped me backing you yet."

"I have some ideas," Hermione said.

"Like what?" Ron asked.

"Well..." Hermione shrugged. "If it's self-defence it isn't murder."

Harry, Ron, Sirius, and Bill all stared at her, surprised.

"Remus is giving a few of the Ravenclaws and me some special NEWT tutoring," Hermione said calmly. "Do you know how rare it is to have a Dark Arts professor who knows what he's doing? I'm not going to risk that because some barbarian thinks all werewolves should be as illiterate as he is."

"Better you than me, mate," Bill whispered to Ron. Hermione glared at them.

"I'll need a few days to make plans," she continued, "but we'll be in touch, Bill. Can you talk to Moody about setting a watch on Greyback?"

"Sure thing. Reckon I'll go make sure mum and Fleur aren't shouting again," Bill said, rising and ducking into the floo. "The Burrow!"

"Now," Hermione said, all business, "Are we actually ready to go looking for horcruces?"

"The Great Horcrux Hunt," Ron said glumly.

"Well, I am," Harry said. "Ron, I really do think it might be best if you didn't take Fleur."

"Nobody said I was going to!" Ron said defensively. Hermione huffed. "I never asked for her! I never said a word!"

"I think we'd better send her with Tonks," Harry said.

"There's a Laurel and Hardy film in the making," Hermione muttered.

"Remus can go with Moody, he knows how to handle him," Harry continued. "I might as well take Hagrid; he's huge, and half the charms we know don't work on him."

"I'll go with the Pye chap," Sirius volunteered. Harry glanced at him, narrowed his eyes, nodded, and turned to Ron.

"That leaves you two with Bill and George."

"If you give me George I shall kill him," Hermione said.

"Sorry, Ron," Harry said.

"S'fine," Ron said resignedly. "I just need to remember not to eat anything he offers me."

"Do we even know what we're looking for?" Sirius said, tipping his chair back on two legs.

"I dunno. I think we'll know when we see it. Places you could hide a cup, I suppose. Anything that looks out of place. Ask people if they've noticed...weird things."

"Right," Ron said with a sigh. "We ought to get back -- I have plays to work on before tomorrow's tryouts."

"Captaining duties?" Harry asked.

"It's a dog's life," Ron answered.

"Weasley is our king," Harry grinned. "Good to see you two."

"Hogwarts isn't the same without you, Harry," Hermione said, kissing him on the cheek. "Come on, Sirius."

"Nah -- I'm staying at Fourteen Back tonight," Sirius said. "You go on. I'll be there if anyone needs me."

Ron and Hermione held hands as they stepped into the floo. Harry was torn between smiling and gagging.

"Are you really staying tonight?" Harry asked, tidying up the scattered maps and papers he'd been consulting.

"If it's all right. Sorry I didn't ask, but if I had Hermione might have got stroppy and ratted me to McGonagall," Sirius said.

"Course it is. Why wouldn't it be? Just didn't think you'd want to bunk out with us when you've your own place at Hogwarts."

"Well..." Sirius picked up a sheet of parchment and rolled it tight, absently. "It's a bit...I mean, I like Hogwarts and all, but..."

"It's a lot quieter without you around," Harry said in unspoken agreement. "Bed seems a lot bigger."

"Yeah, well, I make a lot of noise and hog the quilts," Sirius answered lightly. "Ready to go, then?"

When they emerged into the living room of Fourteen Back, Harry set his bag down on the couch and stretched. Flooing always gave him a shoulder cramp; probably the tension of keeping his elbows tucked tightly against his body after his first abortive trip landed him in Knockturn by mistake. They could hear Remus and Tonks talking in the kitchen and the apparent sound of dinner being prepared. Outside, Bowman was swearing at a newly-discovered colony of garden gnomes. The chair sent up a puff of dust when Harry flopped into it.

Sirius stood on the hideous braided rag-rug in front of the hearth and inhaled deeply the smell of dust, rosemary, onions in a pan in the kitchen, and Harry's overly-fragrant trainers.

"Home," he sighed blissfully.

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