Fandom: Harry Potter, set the summer after Goblet of Fire (Harry's fourth year)
Rating: PG13... some smarmy moments and a few mentions of sex
Spoilers: read the third and fourth books at least
Disclaimer: J.K.R.'s characters and world, and Remus and Sirius belong to each other, obviously :-)
Summary: A trip to alert the 'old crowd' finds Remus and Sirius in Finland. After a long train ride and a cold afternoon walk in the snow they reach the house of an old friend, perhaps worse for the journey.
Comments: Yes please!
Remus sat, head back and turned against the seat, mouth slightly open as he slept. He looked awkward but peaceful and relaxed, as he was shaken and jerked about by the motion of the train. But, completely exhausted, he did not wake.
Sirius came down the isle, a hand on Remus' seat as he turned around it, shuffling into his seat between Remus and the window. He took a good look at the man, before lying a hand gently on the upper arm and shaking rather firmly as was needed, "Remus, wake up."
The man twitched and then yawned and stretched himself awake. "Sorry," he apologized through a forceful yawn. "Trains always put me to sleep." They had left on their journey the moment after Lupin's transformation ended and the man was worn out. And though Remus had been the one to apologize, it was Sirius who was sorry to have to wake him at all. He looked as though he could really use more rest.
Sirius pushed over half a sandwich wrapped in a napkin and a cup of yogurt without a spoon. "It's all I could manage. These muggle trains... no food outside the dining car and all that. But you need to eat. We've a long journey and our stop's in about twenty minutes." Famished, Remus polished off the sandwich in just a few bites, and drank the yogurt thankfully, handing the trash to Sirius to stuff in the window trash bag. Sirius dipped a finger into the container and licked off the rest of the yogurt before tossing it.
"Next stop, Kolari!" boomed a voice from the speakers. Sirius and Remus got to their feet and shuffled to the door to the car. The train was nearly deserted, as this was the last stop for the train in northern Finland. Sirius stood, arms wrapped over Remus' shoulders, hands locked against his chest, holding the man tightly as the train swayed and slowed. Remus nearly fell asleep again, leaning back against Sirius. But the noise of the stopping was quite loud and they headed out onto the platform to recover their one small knapsack as luggage. It was important to travel light, though the bag held much more than it seemed. They moved through customs quickly with fake muggle passports and nothing to declare. Then ducked into the bathroom nearest.
Remus splashed water on his face and dawned a thick fur cloak that was pulled from the small bag along with Sirius'. His reflection looked worried and stayed that way in the stationary muggle mirror. "You ready?" Remus asked, eyebrows raised.
Sirius shook his head and reached out, pulling Remus to him. He kissed the man strong on the lips, sensual, passionate as his arms squeezed in a hug. When he pulled back, he nodded. "Now I'm ready." And in a blink, a large black dog stood where the man had been. The dog reached up with a cold, wet nose and snuffled Remus' bare hand in reminder and assurance. Remus nodded, pulling a pair of gloves from his pockets before peaking out of the bathroom. Finding the area deserted, he motioned to Sirius and the two walked out, knapsack slung over Remus' shoulder.
The walk to the outskirts of Kittilä, a town to the north-east of Kolario, was slow-going and cold. Though technically late summer, it was so far north that it was still chilly, and in the late afternoon, it started snowing with a hard wind. Every so often, they ducked behind rocks or groves of trees so Remus could pull out his wand and perform a spell to project a map in mid-air and be sure they were going in the right direction. They walked as quickly as possible through rough, mountainous terrain. But they were both chilled thoroughly when they reached the halfway point.
The dog stopped a few times, head bowing with wet sneezes. "Ihshh! Ihsshhh!"
Concerned after a triple of sneezes, Remus pulled the dog back into a thick grove of trees. "You all right, Padfoot?"
The dog nodded, pawing at his nose. He quickly turned back into a man, and Sirius continued to rub his nose with his wrist. "Freezing," he growled. I'm closer to the cold ground than you are, on all fours at that. And this wind..." he trailed off, sniffling a moment, then, "heh-Ketchh! hep-Chishh!"
"Bless you," Remus said, pulling a handkerchief out from an inner pocket and handing it over for brief use. He put a hand on Sirius' forehead with a frown. "Not coming down with anything, are you?" The man had been fine on the train... then again, Remus had been asleep for most of the two-and-a-half day journey.
Sirius chucked, shaking his head. "Nah, not me." He clapped his chest. "I'm just fine apart from the cold and the wind. Nose running, that's all. You've been sniffling a lot yourself."
Remus bit his lip, staring at the man in doubt. "I wish we didn't have to travel like this."
But Sirius shook his head. "It's the best way, really. It's too far away to apparate accurately," not to mention that Sirius was out of practice having not done it since before Azkaban. "And we can't be tracked as easily as if we'd taken something like the Night Bus. And the muggles have no chance of recognizing me as a dog. I don't even know that word of my human outlawness has reached the muggles up here." He clapped the man on the shoulder. "Come on, we'd better get on. The snow seems to be turning to rain."
It was still chilly out as they continued walking, but not cold enough for rain to turn to snow. Sirius walked as close to Remus as possible without tripping the man up. His snuffling continued, a few sneezes every half an hour or so. Remus leaned over and rubbed the dog's head a number of times. And though Remus was growing concerned about Sirius, he knew there was nothing to be done until they reached their destination. And at that time, there would be a number of other things to be worried about instead.
It was late in the evening, just past dinnertime and halfway up a small mountain, when they reached a small barn-like castle. Shaped like a barn, it was made of stone, had turrets and towers here, and there and a drawbridge instead of a door. A drawbridge currently raised as they approached, leaving a deep, unjumpable and unscalable chasm between them and the castle. The wind was roaring something terrible, and it was snowing again as their altitude was enough to warrant a temperature drop. "All right, Padfoot?" Remus asked, needing to shout over the wind. The dog was shaking with cold, pressed against Remus' legs and hem of his cloak. But Padfoot nodded determinately. Remus pulled his wand out and touched it to his throat. Suddenly magnified, his voice called out. "Parkins? Are you home?"
There was a pause, then another loud voice echoed from the dwelling. "Remus Lupin? That you?"
Remus smiled, laughed. "And who else would it be?" If he was going to answer a question with a question...
The drawbridge lowered magically, and Remus tapped his neck again so his voice would return to normal. With the dog close against his side, they walked across the drawbridge and into the house. Brilliant warmth met them, making their hands, paws and faces sting as they adjusted to it.
A pudgy, round-faced man with bright red cheeks and a brown cloak waddled out from behind a corner as the drawbridge proceeded to close behind them. This was Jeori Parkins exactly as Remus remembered him, though perhaps a few pounds heavier and a few degrees happier. He came over and threw his arms around Remus in a tight hug. "So good it is to see you again! Not too cold, I hope?"
Remus shook his head and let the man remove his cloak, though still chilly. "Made excellent time, despite the weather. Isn't this supposed to be summer?"
The man laughed heartily and beckoned to follow him into a grand dining room where food sat at the center of the table, heated by a warm blue fire which ate away at nothing. "As I rarely leave, I do not know," he joked. "But my owls haven't run into much snow for ages." He bade Remus sit down across from him at the center of the long dining table. "Come, you must be starving. And your dog?"
Sirius was skulking just behind Remus, keeping out of attention as much as possible. And before Remus could reply, he sneezed again twice, wetly, pawing at his nose as he settled beneath Remus' chair at the table. "This is-" he paused for the briefest of seconds, considering names- "Snuffles," he decided upon the name Sirius used with Harry. Padfoot was not a well known nickname of course but the man had known them both a long while in their years after Hogwarts and it certainly did not hurt to be careful just in case he were to make an unwelcome connection.
"What a loyal dog he must be to accompany you all this way," he said, impressed, ducking under the table to get a good look at him. "Hello, Snuffles."
The dog wagged his tail. Remus smiled. "Yes, a very loyal and loving friend," he said knowingly.
The man got up from his seat and fixed a blanket in front of the fireplace for the dog, patting it and calling out for Snuffles. Then he took his own plate and loaded it with three chicken legs and a wheat biscuit. "I'm afraid I have no dog food. Will this do for now?" Sirius nuzzled the man's arm, circled around on the blanket twice, then settled in, immediately holding one chicken leg down on the plate while tearing meat from it. He wagged his tail happily and looked up at Remus with pale, pleased eyes that Remus supposed might not look so pleased if he had been given dog food.
"Yes, that will do nicely, thank you, Jeori." The dining room, though extravagant with everything from gorgeous china to giant floating chandelier, was quite small, only big enough really to hold a fireplace and a table that would comfortably seat eight. The castle was quite small in comparison with Hogwarts, but giant considering its use was not really for living in so much as housing the finest flock of owls in the world.
Remus ate hungrily, the warm food filling him, making him sleepy despite his many hour sleep on the train. Best to get down to business before he fell asleep in his pudding. "You got Dumbledore's message, then, Jeori?"
The plump man nodded. "I'd be happy to do anything I can to help, of course."
Remus nodded. "There are a number of anythings, but we can discuss the details in the morning. You're positioned well up here to keep an eye on a few things. And your owls, obviously, will be a grand help."
Remus shot a look at Sirius who, making sure Parkins wasn't looking, gave a nod, then closed his eyes and buried his black snout in the blankets. "Ihshh! Ishhh!" Remus winced, hoping Snuffles' sniffles weren't an indication of illness. It was the cold, the wind. Poor Sirius, needing to stay a dog while on their journey. Of course, anything was better than being a rat for over ten years. And Remus was indeed thankful for the company in whatever form Sirius was in.
"You look exhausted, my friend," spoke Jeori, pouring a cup of tea for himself. "How about a cupa before I show you up to your room? It'll take the chill out of your bones." He had a bit of a Scandinavian accent, but it was with phrases like that that reminded Remus he had spent many of his years in London.
Remus nodded, not feeling cold at all, but pleasantly surprised when the warmth of the tea traveled as if through his very veins from head to toe. He grabbed a bowl and poured a good bit of tea into it, then levitated it over to Sirius who lapped it up eagerly, wagging his tail. "This is wonderful, thank you," Remus said, finishing off his tea with a strong intake of sugar that had settled to the bottom of the cup. Then, before he could contain himself, he yawned.
Jeori hopped up at once, magicing all the dishes to the kitchen. "I'm so sorry, you must have walked thirty or forty miles at least this afternoon. Let me show you up to bed." Jeori picked up the knapsack and waved his wand at the wall opposite the fireplace. The wall hopped obligingly to the side to reveal a narrow, circular staircase. It was just wide enough for Jeori who was slightly less wide than he was tall, and Remus followed close behind with Sirius right on his heels, thumping up the stairs on all fours. He felt Sirius nudge him reassuringly with his snout and noted that the dog's nose was warm, dry. Something unsteady settled in his stomach but he kept it to himself and continued climbing what was apparently one of the large towers. They stopped outside the first doorway along the passage.
"My room is two doors up," Jeori said, pointing further up the stairs, "if you need me for anything. The bathroom is between my room and this one." He opened the door to show a small, beautifully furnished room. There was a closed panel sleigh bed piled high with blankets and pillows, a roaring fire in the fireplace, a washbasin and mirror on top of a matching dresser with crystal pulls. There was a beautiful, handmade rug in the center of the room, and pictures of scenes on the wall, most of mountains and sunsets over seas with birds and clouds passing overhead and waves crashing on the shores. And there were candelabras floating in midair in each corner of the room which seemed to catch every nook and cranny with light. "It's not much..."
"It's perfect," Remus said, stepping into the room with a smile. "It's lovely. Thank you so much, Jeori."
The man ducked out and returned with an extra two blankets. "Afraid I don't have a dog bed either, but these are some of my fluffiest blankets. I hope Snuffles will be comfortable."
"I am certain he will be," Remus said, stifling a yawn as he watched Sirius lie down, tired, in front of the fire.
"Well, if there's nothing else... I'll bid you a good night. I've an owl who wakes me every morning with a few loud taps on my window and flies down through the rest of the house to the owlry. Shall I have her tap on your door for a wake-up call on the way?" Remus nodded, and thanked him, then shut the door behind and locked it.
He then set to work, performing a number of spells on the door and walls. Among them, a spell to lock the door to the outside from any magic spell, one to make an one-way hole in the wall if any movement outside was detected, and one to cover the mirror and keep it silent. There was also one to keep any sound, no matter how loud, inside the room so nothing at all could be heard outside. When he was certain they were protected and alone, he turned to Sirius.
Sirius was in the process of two more sneezes "Ihshh! Ishhhh!" He lifted a paw to his nose to rub, then suddenly became a man with his wrist pressed to the bottom of his nose. "heh-Keshhhh!" He sniffed strongly and shed his coat, then took the handkerchief Remus offered.
"Keep it, Love," Remus said, falling back onto the bed with a sigh. "You're sick," he muttered with what sounded like disappointment in his voice.
Sirius, nose buried in the handkerchief, shook his head. "No I'm not. It's just the cold air--"
With another sigh, "We've been inside an hour now. And you look pale."
Coughing back a few soft laughs, "I always look pale."
Remus pushed his arm beneath his head and tilted it up to look at Sirius. "Yeah, but you look the sick sort of pale." He really did, clammy and white, sunken pale eyes. Eyes which still had not lost the look Azkaban had given them. Maybe it was fatigue, but somehow Remus didn't think so and he reminded himself of the nose he'd felt in the stairway. "You can have the bed, I'll take the floor." With a great deal of effort, he pulled himself up off the squashy, comfy bed. He rubbed his eyes, crossing the small room, throwing Sirius' coat over the mirror for double protection. "You need to be warm and feel better." And he looked down at the fluffy blankets on the floor.
But Sirius grabbed hold of him, hands on his waist. "You make me warm," he whispered with a miserable sniffle. "You make me feel better."
Remus shook his head and tried to shake off Sirius as well. "Sirius--"
"We'll share," he insisted, surveying the bed. "We've slept in smaller beds than that." And he pulled Remus to him, hugging the man close with strong arms. "I promise I won't get you sick."
Remus shook with a laugh. That was the very last of his worries right now. "I'm not worried about that," he said, pulling out of the hug with a smile on his face. "Just thought you might enjoy the room. Having the bed to yourself. You need the sleep." Then, almost blushing. "You don't need me riding hard on that sexy rump of yours all night."
Sirius laughed back. "If you promise to hold me and keep me warm, I promise not to mind your cock, Love." He blushed back, a bit of color returning to his face. "And I'd let it have a proper go at me if we weren't down the hall from a wizard who could call dementors over to me in less than ten minutes. I'd rather not have dementors watching us shagging." He sniffed and backed a step or two away, holding his hand up to his face loosely. "heh-Keshh! Heh-Shahh! Huh...huh-Chishhh!" Then rubbed his nose with the handkerchief, sniffling more. "And if I didn't feel so bloody terrible."
After stripping down to undies and pulling on pajamas they'd packed, they slid into bed together. Remus waved his wand to extinguish the candles in the room but left the fire to keep them warm as they slept. Sirius slept on the inside, against the wall, nearly hidden from view completely amidst the blankets and with Remus sleeping on the outside, arm draped over him. Once together, the bed seemed much bigger than it looked with its gorgeous, sloping head and foot boards. And it took virtually no time at all for Sirius to fall asleep in Remus' protection.
* * *
"Is that your wand?" Sirius yawned, not bothering to open his eyes. "Or are you just happy to see me?"
Remus, waking too, laughed. "Both, I daresay." Remus had slept with his wand in hand all night, just in case there were any complications. But the only thing that had woken him up at night was Sirius turning from one side to the other then back again amidst soft, stuffy snores. The owl had woken them with three loud taps on the door. Remus turned and craned his head to see the snowy owl, through the revealed wall section, continue on its way down the stairs.
Remus pulled himself up and out of the warmth with a yawn and dressed in the cold of the room. The fire had gone out in the early hours of the morning and there were no windows to give morning's dawn worth of light. Remus lit one of the candelabras and stumbled around sleepily, much in need of his morning tea before he felt quite right.
Sirius, however, remained in bed. He pulled the blankets up to his chin, shivering, keeping his eyes closed. "heh-Keshhh! heh-Cheshhh!"
Remus quickly conjured up another handkerchief, this one with super absorbency, and handed it over, sitting beside him on the bed. "Bless you."
He nodded his thank you, clutching the handkerchief tightly against his face. "heh-Ketchoo! Hih-Kushhh!" Remus reached over, gently feeling the man's forehead, then pushing his long black hair from his face. "I wad to stay id bed," he whined through congestion.
Remus was hesitant. "It's just the sniffles, then?" he asked. "I could try to track down some medicine if you think that would help."
He shook his head, pushing it deeper into a pillow. Then he blew his nose strongly, sniffling. "I just want to stay in bed."
"You need food..." he tried.
"I'm not hungry." And Sirius not hungry, now Remus knew something was very wrong.
"We can apparate home," he suggested, only half believing the idea. "Or take a muggle plane. Or--"
"Or we can stay here and finish what Dumbledore sent us for." He seemed miserable and yet determined at the same time. "heh-Ketchoo! Hih-Keshhh!" He moaned, pulling blankets up to his eyes.
Remus pulled them back down to his chest. "Well then, you can't stay here all day." Remus blinked, and Sirius became a dog again, snuggled in the blankets. "Sirius!" Remus exclaimed, frustrated but giving a laugh just the same. "I need you with me when I tell him everything, in case something comes up, or in case I forget something." The dog looked up at him with hurt, silvery eyes. "But I do also want to visit the owlry before breakfast and bringing a dog in there is not a good idea. So, as long as you stay a dog, you can sleep in a little while longer. Join us downstairs for breakfast." The dog looked stern. "Yes, I know you're not hungry but you need food if you're going to get better and I want you with me when I talk with him, all right? You can curl up in front of the fire again." This seemed to satisfy Sirius, who nodded, snuffled with his nose against the blanket, and closed his eyes.
Remus cast a spell over the door on the way out, allowing only himself to open the door from the outside or Sirius from the inside. Then headed downward. Dishes piled high with foods floated from the kitchen into the dining room. Remus peered in to see Jeori there with wand in hand, ingredients flying through the air. "Good morning."
The plump man smiled, turning around. "And a good morning to you, Remus." Remus smiled and ducked as a platter of bacon went soaring over him. "You've got nice timing. I was just about to go over to feed the owls. Would you like to come along, then?" Remus said he would and Jeori left the rest of the breakfast to take care of itself.
The owlry portion of his house was nothing like the owlry at Hogwarts. The Hogwarts owlry was always freezing, owing to the fact that there were no windows in the structure, so owls could fly in and out easily. But Jeori Parkins' owls were world renown and thus of a much higher caliber. A spell had been put on the windows to allow each to disappear momentarily as an owl approached it if the owl simply gave a call. Thus the place was warm, cozy. There were hundreds upon hundreds of perches, but the best owls got their own tree holes, which grew up from the ground. The ceiling and walls grew with the trees, keeping it all sealed and self contained. Mice ran around the floor freely, eating bites of grain, corn and seed husks that the owls dropped, not knowing that they were just as much for eating.
Jeori filled several troughs on one side which spun and filtered into owl feeding stations all around the barn. And he gave Remus a tour. "Those owls over there are my heavy lifters. Up to twenty times their own weight, though I have to use those special harnesses. These here are my fastest," he patted the head of a beautiful snowy owl with purple eyes. "They can make it here and back visiting every registered owlry in the world in four days or less. And they're all so clever, they can find anyone anywhere without an address. Oh... this one..." he held a hand of seeds out to a tiny barn owl, "can become invisible at will along with any letter she's carrying. Brilliant little angel." He strode through, across the dropping-strewn floor, pointing out others. Every owl had a specialty, and he knew each and every one by heart. There was one who flew best in heavy thunderstorms, one who ate very little and slept even less, one who had feathers the colors of leaves and dirt and could camouflage itself, one who laid golden galleons when fed special bugs, one who could deliver up to fifty newspapers to various destinations at one time, and a hundred more special owls.
Remus talked to him a bit was they walked. Briefly mentioning a few points Dumbledore wanted him to elaborate upon. A few points of fighting, of prevention, that he needed to be sure to say. Jeori engaged him in conversation as he worked, listening more than speaking but careful to take note of it all.
After being sure the owls were all accounted for, fed, and watered, they headed back to the dining room for breakfast, which was laid out properly on the table. "Sorry, it's not as grand as the famous English breakfasts where you come from. But I hope this will do?"
Remus nodded. "Delightful." He had suddenly realized how hungry he was. He helped himself to a stack of pancakes and poured berry syrup over them. As he took two cubes of sugar for his tea, his mind drifted upstairs to Sirius. Was the man all right? Was he awake? Was he going to join them for breakfast? He got up and walked toward the stairs.
And before Remus could call up for the dog, the great black blur of fur came through the passage, heading straight for the blankets still in front of the fireplace. "Good morning, Snuffles," he said with a smile, walking over and petting the dog's head most affectionately. The dog nodded, sniffling, and settled down on the blankets.
"Good morning," Jeori, too, bid him, bending down with a groan to give him a plate filled with several pieces of sausage, some strips of bacon, and a number of melon pieces that had been cut into fun pieces like stars and hearts. Remus gave him another platter of tea and scratched him reassuringly behind one ear. Sirius wagged his tail in thank you and nibbled on the breakfast a bit, still not really hungry.
Remus started back into discussion of Dumbledore's wishes as he finished off his own tea and begun on a biscuit. "So if you could perhaps find a legal excuse for monitoring all through mail... I know that there's a law against privacy invasion under our ministry of magic, but your government's got a bit of a loophole owing to problems in the past and the proximity of, well, certain people." He dug into an egg, sunny-side up and burst the full-moon-like yolk all over the whites. "Just keep us apprised of anything suspicious."
The man, usually bubbly and friendly looked not so stern but more contemplative. He took a moment to answer to this which had been proposed in less detail earlier that morning. "I can't monitor them all, but ones with destinations in the UK or this area of the world... I think I can manage that." He thought some more. "Yes, I think I can manage that. But ones just passing through to destinations on the other side of the world... outside Europe... or outside the middle east... that might be rather impossible."
Remus nodded. "I understand. Anything you can do for us, Parkins. In these times, any clues at all, anything that can be prevented rather than cleaned up afterwards. You understand." The man had left England for a reason. A reason which had involved his late wife. Too many memories. Too much pain. Too many families torn asunder from the works of the dark lord.
"The moment I find anything... I promise Dumbledore will be the first to know." He paused a minute. "In the greatest deal of secrecy of course. No need for anyone to reroute their mail..."
Nodding, "All off the record." He smiled. "In fact, outside Dumbledore's head I'm not at all sure there is a record." But there was trust, and Dumbledore at the core. Just like the core of a wand. Remus took a second helping of fruit, glancing over the Sirius who had finished nibbling and was nearly nodding off. But his pale eyes flashed and he made a nudging sort of movement to indicate for Remus to get on with it. "As for being a lookout..." he leaned forward a bit as if he could possibly be overheard. "Well... Durmstrang--"
But Jeori interrupted him sternly. "I cannot tell you where it is, Remus."
But Remus shook his head. "Of course not. Wouldn't ask you to." Jeori had gone to Durnstrang many years ago before graduating and moving to London. "But Karakaroff, well, he's gone into hiding. And you're more inclined to hear anything being, well, closer. Any rumors, any anything, drop us an owl." He finished his fruit. "And for that matter, the teachings there under Karkaroff. Not that all students go bad," he said with a smile toward his friend. "But they do stress the dark arts much more than Hogwarts, or most other institutions for that matter. And if there's a following building by trained students, it'll be here. And again, you'd be much more inclined to hear of it." He pulled out a hand and counted on his fingers. "Karkaroff, dark wizards and witches, giants, vampires, anything. You're well positioned, near but out of the way."
The man nodded. "Certainly. Any hint and I'll send Olaf. He's my fastest and most accurate, despite the terrible name. Bred him from a Romanian and a Norwegian and didn't get a chance to change it before it stuck."
Sirius, suddenly, sneezed again. This time, five rather powerful sneezes, then buried his nose in the blankets immediately after to quiet his sniffling and rub at his nose.
It was enough to attract anyone's attention, let alone a man who worked with animals for a living. "Snuffles, you all right?"
The dog, pretending not to understand, did not nod or bark, but continued to wag his tail as if not in misery at all.
Jeori turned to Remus with concern in his eyes. "Is he ill?"
Reluctantly, Remus nodded. "He's got a bit of a sniffle from our journey yesterday, I think. Nothing that won't work itself out. No need to worry." Remus was one to talk, feeling more worried now than ever.
Trying to be helpful, "I can call a vet over, we can go into town and visit one."
But Remus shook his head of course. "No, thanks but I'm sure he'll be all right. It's really just a sniffle." Sirius sneezed again, burying his face deeper into the blanket with a bit of a whine that luckily only Remus seemed to notice. "Besides, we're leaving early this afternoon to get a night train out." He paused. "If that's still all right with you?"
The man smiled, the worry forgotten. "Of course, of course, my friend. But you're most welcome here any time for as long as you need." This time he lowered his voice. "And for that matter, if any of the others need a safe place to stay for a night or two in this part of the world... all right? You tell Dumbledore that."
Remus thanked him again and helped clean up the breakfast dishes by levitating them into the kitchen and summoning sudsy water in the sink for them to soak a while. "There are four trains this afternoon and evening, so we'll be able to get out whenever we get there today." He was suddenly frustrated with himself for saying 'we' so much. Most people don't consider pets to be equals as traveling companions. But Jeori understood animals well enough not to suspect anything apparently.
Concerned about Sirius, Remus excused himself for a little while in need of writing a brief general letter to Dumbledore as to his getting to Parkins' place without a hitch. He headed upstairs and Sirius followed at his heels not quite as quickly as he had the night before.
Remus opened the door, let the dog pass, then closed and locked it with a spell. He heard Sirius sneeze again. "Ihhshhhh! heh-Keshhhh!" Confused at the variety of sound, Remus turned to find Sirius the man standing right behind.
With a sigh, "Sirius, I've only just closed the door. What if you'd been seen transforming? Take more care next time, Love."
But Sirius, a look pure fear on his face, was too stunned to reply. He was frozen a moment, staring forward into nothingness as if searching for an answer to some unknown question.
"Siri?" Remus asked softly, cautiously. "You all right?"
His voice was straight, monotone. "I didn't change on purpose."
Remus narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?" And ushered the man over to the bed. He felt the man's forehead, nice and cool.
"I suddenly transformed, lost form. It's happened a few times before, because of the dementors. They could be forceful, and sometimes I hadn't the energy to continue in dog form." He paused. "Happened at Hogwarts with Harry and Hermione when they surrounded us. I couldn't keep form. Couldn't do anything. But it was never as quick as that. Completely impossible to... resist." He closed his eyes. "Hang on..." And, holding a hand to his face, "heh-KEHshhh! Ihhshhh! heh-Chishh! Huh-Ketchh!"
This time Remus stared in fear. The man had transformed into a dog, then back into a man in just a few seconds. "Tell me you're just having me on," he begged, pushing the man flat back onto bed and covering him with a blanket as he shivered and sniffled.
But Sirius shook his head. "I couldn't help it. Just happ... happened." And he had to sneeze again. He turned to the side, muffling it in the pillow. "heh-Chishh! Her-Ketchhh!" When he had finished, the dog lay there in bed, head buried in a pillow.
"Oh, Sirius..." Remus sighed, patting the dog's head which became a man's shortly after on purpose. "This is not good."
"It's whed I sdeeze," Sirius explained, stuffed up now. Remus retrieved a handkerchief and bade him blow his nose. "Thanks. I just seem to lose control." And there was a flush to his pale cheeks. "I think it's this cold."
Remus agreed. "This is bad," he clarified. "What if you have to sneeze when we're around Jeori? Or on the train on the way home?"
He looked a little nervous. "I can hold them back. I can keep from sneezing for a while." But already it looked as if he had to sneeze. He rubbed two fingers beneath his nose, then scrubbed his whole nose with the flat of his palm. But his nose twitched and breath hitched. He pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth and pinched his nose shut, holding his breath. But it was no use. He shook in bed at the force. "heh-KEHshhhhh! Keh-Chushhh!" And again, he became a dog, realizing it with a bit of a whine. He buried his black nose into his furry side as he panted. Then, "Ihshhh! Ihhshhh!" And he was a man again, looking weak, frustrated, ill.
Remus rubbed his head, bent and kissed his cheek. "You've got a bad cold, Sirius. You can't keep from sneezing for the next day and a half. And it's even more difficult to keep from sneezing when you're a dog." What were they going to do? It would be either deal with Sirius being seen by a wizard who would instantly recognize him and summon dementors for them both... or deal with muggles who would see him transform, scream in suspicious terror, and have ministry of magic officials swooping down from the sky to take them both to Azkaban. "Do we stay or do we go? Which is safer?" Either way, it seemed to have the same ending.
"We've enough to spring for a... private cabin on the train. We can draw the... curtains..." he paused, holding his hand up, at the ready. "heh-Ketchhh! Heh-Chishh!" He stayed in proper form, sniffling. "I might be sick for a week, can't hide me up here for that long, and Dumbledore'll be needing us back in the country sooner than that."
Remus made to reply that they would leave as soon as possible when "Remus?" There was a knock on the door and Sirius purposefully transformed into a dog and pulled the blankets up over his head as he sniffled and rubbed at his nose. A see-through circle in the door showed Jeori Parkins standing at the door with paper in his hand. "I've a letter for you."
Remus strode to the door with a deep breath and opened it. He took the letter with a warm thank you, trying to cover his worry. It had a Hogwarts seal upon it and it took him several tries to pry it open to read: Wanted to be sure you reached your destination all right. Send word when you are able. Thank you and be safe, Albus Dumbledore. Attempting to look disappointed, Remus gave the perfect excuse to Jeori. "It's Dumbledore. I need to head back immediately." He furrowed his brow and looked sorry. In truth, he was sorry not to be able to stay long. It had been over ten years since he had seen his friend. "I'm so sorry."
But Jeori didn't seem to mind. "I'll pack you and Snuffles some food and drink for your trip and meet you downstairs in the hall, all right?"
A loud sneeze sounded from the bed. "Ihh-Shhhh! Heh-Kehshoo!"
Frozen as Jeori looked toward the noise, Remus tried to think of an excuse to explain the large bulge beneath the covers. But an instant later, Sirius the dog's nose was poking out as he rolled in the blankets and wagged his tail as if he'd just been moving the whole time. And Jeori looked sympathetically over before he waddled off down the stairs.
With the door locked, Sirius transformed again and then changed into the warmest clothes they had packed. Remus gave him a hat and gloves in addition. Meanwhile, Remus wrote a brief note to Dumbledore explaining they had arrived, spoke, found all well, and were leaving. Remus picked up the tiny knapsack which was nearly feather light despite its many contents. And the two of them headed downstairs, Sirius's tail wagging supportively.
The goodbyes were short but none the less sentimental. Remus thanked him for the hospitality, promised to visit again soon, and exchanged his letter to be mailed for the food and drink which included leftover chicken wings and a thermos of hot tea.
The walk back was slightly better than the walk there. For one, once they had reached the base of the mountain it was neither raining nor snowing and the temperature was cool but not cold. And the feeling of extreme wind dying away made them both feel warmer as they walked on.
Sirius sneezed frequently, sometimes turning back into a man, other times remaining as a dog. Each time, Remus grew nervous and checked to be sure no one was anywhere to see. Once he was nearly spotted sneezing as a pair of muggles on a double bicycle came riding through. But he didn't transform from the sneezes until his third sneeze, at which point the couple had already passed and were too far back to catch a glimpse of a man turning back into a dog. Remus kept a handkerchief out for him; they quickly learned that if he kept his nose blown between sniffles he sneezed much less. But it was quite a sight, to see Remus squatting down, petting the dog's head, and holding a handkerchief up to the black dog's nose. One muggle happened to spot this and laughed, but Remus forced a laugh back, waved, and hurried on.
After a while, Sirius began to walk more slowly, once nearly nodding off while walking. Remus tried some food to keep his energy level up, but as Sirius wasn't really hungry from being sick, it didn't work so well. So, finally, Remus pulled out a thin blanket and, after bewitching it to be feather light along with any of its contents, wrapped it around Sirius. Then he lifted the dog into his arms effortlessly.
They traveled steadily, but carrying a dozing Sirius in his arms was awkward and slowed him down a bit more than he'd expected. Even covered with fur and asleep, the dog looked ill. His mouth was open, perhaps because his nose was stuffy, and his tongue hung out. In truth he looked more dead than sick, but as he snuffled every so often, Remus was sure the wizard was not dead.
Several times Sirius woke, sneezing. And several times he turned from dog to man and back again in Remus' arms. When it happened, he hugged the man tightly, reassuringly to him. Sirius gave him a thankful, exhausted look and usually blew his nose and turned back into a dog, snuggling against Remus' cloak.
They reached the train station in the early evening, though it was still bright out from the summer hours. Sirius had resumed his spot, strolling along by Remus' side. And Remus checked the bathroom they'd used before, then they went in, locking the door behind them.
Sirius transformed in one of the stalls just in case, and came out, blowing his nose as thoroughly as possible on some toilet tissue. "The nap did me good," he said, looking far worse in the mirror than he had the last time he was there. "But I'll be happy when I get in a private compart-ment." His breathing hitched and he clamped the toilet tissue wad to his nose and mouth. "huhh-CHUFF! Heh-CHEFF!" The sneezes were strong but didn't cause anything to happen except for him to lurch forward into the counter. Remus pulled strands of jet black hair out of Sirius' handsome face. Sirius made a basket into the trashcan with the toilet tissue, smiling. "Ten points for Gryf..." Sirius started to say, but instead, "H-hang on... think there's more." He breathed deeply as if panting. "her-Chushh! huh-Chishhh!" Hand over nose and mouth. "heh-Chishh!" He turned into a dog, still sneezing. "Ihshhh!" Then back into human form for a final, "huh-CHISHHH!" Then Remus patted his back as he righted himself, blowing his nose. When Sirius had regained his breath, he sighed. "Good to get those out here, anyway. I'll try not to sneeze again for a while." He looked determined, no matter how skeptical he felt about this statement.
"I'll rest easily when we're in private as well," Remus said, though worried about the cost slightly. Sirius typically paid for everything, having not used much of his money for the last ten years. And Remus, who rarely had a job let alone a well-paying one, usually let him. But that didn't mean he didn't feel slightly guilty about it.
They went out into the station, reflected as to their luck when they regarded the timetable, bought tickets, and passed through customs as quickly as possible. Sirius managed to hold back all sneezes that crept upon him except for one, which again thankfully did no damage aside from making Sirius tell the customs official his final destination was the country of 'Eglad'.
As ticket-holders for private cabins, they were among the very few to be directed onto the train first. They hurried in, trying not to be noticed by everyone. Their cabin was in the last car, and surrounded by empty ones on all sides luckily. The train attendant went over mealtimes and pointed out the drink stand at the front of the car. Once he was gone, the door locked, and the curtains drawn and rather reinforced by a spell or two, they both relaxed.
Sirius took out one of Remus' handkerchief and blew his nose gingerly into it, wincing miserably, closing his eyes.
"How're you feeling?" Remus asked, concernedly.
Sirius shook his head. "Truthfully, Love, not well at all," he replied, not bothering to open his eyes. But he pulled his legs up onto the seat beside him and tried to curl up in the tiny seat to lie down. Frustrated as his head slid off the shelf he was using as a pillow, he opened his eyes. "I dunno how you sleep so well on these trains."
Remus stood up, pushed up the table, and pulled down the bottom bed. Soon, Sirius was curled up on the bunk, head against a real pillow, sheets, one blanket, and his coat piled over him for warmth. Remus sat beside, stroking the man's head gently. But it didn't seem to make him feel much better, as he coughed and sniffled and groaned with a pain in his head when the train started up with shakes and thumps.
"heh-Keshhh! huh-Chishh!" he sneezed, and moaned again.
So Remus pulled off his cloak, draped it over Sirius as well, then carefully got into the bed along with him as well. It was skinny but a simple spell widened it so it was a bit more comfortable. He spooned the man from behind once again, draping a protective arm around his side to his chest, then pressed his other hand and wand on the man's forehead to act as a cool compress for the headache.
"heh-Chishhh! Ihshhh! Ihh-Shhhh!" He sneezed himself back into dog form beneath the blankets, and whined, pawing at his nose a moment before forcing himself back into his own form. "I feel bad," he corrected his answer with a sniffle. "This ruddy cold."
Remus nodded, kissing the man on the cheek. "You've a long ride home, a few station changes along the way, but a long ride in private." The motion of the train was making him tired already. "And I'll be right here with you, of course. Don't you worry, Padfoot. I love you in whichever form you're in." Sirius smiled, closing his eyes again. And fell asleep just after Remus did to the vicious rocking of the train which, when sick, was comparable to the night bus. Of course, this train didn't have hot chocolate, four-posters, or toothbrushes, but it also didn't have several handfuls of people who could call for his head in an instant. So for the moment, he was safe in Remus' hold and able to sleep properly, despite the hard bulge in his back from the man behind him.