Longmoore Street, London

January 15, 1982

Remus Lupin agonized over seeing Sirius Black again for 26 days.

Sometimes he imagined it going something like this: "Moony you absolute cad, where've you been? You abandoned me! You abandoned us! You abandoned Harry! What have you even been doing while James was being murdered and Peter being suspicious and I've been having my soul sucked out?"

Other times he imagined it more like this: "Moony there's been a terrible mistake and you're the only one who can help me- what's taken you so long? Oh, you've been trying to figure out what really happened? Can't fault you there then mate."

When Remus was feeling particularly positive (precisely once every other week, not that he'd been counting), he had dared to hope it would go something like this: "What do you mean this was a terrible idea for a joke? I got the whole wizarding world in on it just to pull one past you, mate- see, Moony, I've been keeping Prongs and Lily and Harry and Wormy in the closet, and everything can go back to normal now!"

Not once during those 26 days had Remus ever, ever, imagined that Sirius would bodily throw himself through his Uncle Alphard's front door like some kind of oversized cannon ball and into Remus's rather stiff embrace.

Not once during his entire life had Remus ever, ever imagined there would be a day that Sirius Black would wipe fat tears and snot all over his shoulder while wailing, "Merlin, Remus, I'm so sorry! It's all my fault, and I'm sorry! I'm so, so, so, so sorry!"

And yet, there they were.

As Remus awkwardly patted one of his dearest friends on the back (it's hard to use your arms when someone is squeezing the dickens out of you), Alphard Black popped his head out the door and sighed heavily at his nephew's antics. "Mr. Lupin, I presume? Don't mind the lad, he's just come from a rather intense mind healing session upstairs, and they tend to make him rather emotional. Rather more emotional, I should say, which is quite something when one considers our family- but do come in, would you?"

Heaving a still clinging and sobbing Sirius up by his armpits after a bit of careful wiggling (and making a mental note to at least appreciate the strength that the wolf lent him throughout the month), Remus stuttered for only a moment before, resigned, following Alphard Black into his front parlor.

"I rather expected security checks," Remus said hesitantly as he settled both himself and Sirius onto a couch patterned in- are those tiny American flags?

Alphard breezed a hand through the air dismissively as he opened the side board and revealed several bottles of expensive looking bourbon. "Oh, we like to have a little bit of fun with security around here. My house elf ensured that they'll all be locked in the attic until noon. Drink?"

Alarmed, Remus looked straight up. "Sir, won't they report the instance? Could Padfoot be sent back to-,"

"Perhaps they would if they remembered it. I've been drugging their tea, of course, and they are firmly under the impression that they've had the most respectful time possible in my home." Alphard grinned like a particularly mischievous child when Remus gaped at him, holding out a highball with a single block of ice and a rather generously poured five fingers of brandy. "Best have that drink, boyo. It can only get more interesting from here."

Alphard was right- it did indeed only get more interesting from there. After Sirius finally calmed down (a solid twenty minutes of sobbing and two glasses of brandy later), the three men had spent nearly two hours comparing their own versions of the events leading up to- and following- October 31st.

"Merlin, what a mess," Sirius buried his head in his hands, long dark curls curtaining his face. "I'd practically be grateful for Aunt Cass's case board right about now."

"Better the case board than her barmy thrice accursed house elf," the ex-Quodpot player muttered petulantly into his drink, eyes firmly affixed on the ceiling as his nephew snickered at his distress.

(Alphard's initial amusement at Pip's attitude had quite rapidly dissipated. As if teaching Alphard's own once fiercely loyal Quod to restrict his sugar intake as a punishment for the whole 'family-elf-not-personal-elf' debacle hadn't been enough, Pip the Pipsqueak had then lightly poisoned his food- just enough for him to lose a day in the toilets- as punishment for not sending a progress report on Sirius' health on time.)

"So House Black has allied with Professor Flitwick- and Professor McGonagall as well," Remus mused, ignoring the two Blacks' grumbling completely, "And Dumbledore is after something- for the Greater Good, I'm sure he would say. Something which requires guardianship of the Prongslet, and which he is apparently willing to go through ridiculous lengths to acquire. Or achieve. Or destroy. Whatever the objective may be."

"On the nose as usual, Moony."

"I may be reaching here-,"

"Moony, you've never reached blindly for an idea in your life."

"- but I have a feeling this was not triggered by Prongs and Lily being…. Gone. It was Dumbledore who wanted them to go into hiding in the first place, right?"

Sirius squirmed, large stormy eyes resembling those of a kicked puppy. "And that's why everything is my fault, Remus- it was me who said you might have fallen for the werewolf pack ideology and betrayed us- I mean I know how hard you were looking for work and how many times you'd been snubbed or fired and I knew how much you hate your furry little problem, and-,"

"Shut up about it already, Padfoot. I thought you were the spy for just as many stupid reasons, and it sounds like Peter was encouraging us both." A brief flash of rage, genuine, bone-deep rage, darted across the werewolf's features. "And James was telling us we were both being idiots the whole time. He really was the best of us."

Sirius' eyes dropped to the carpet, a tiny smile quirking his lips upward. "Yeah, he was."

Alphard cleared his throat, quite desperate to avoid a second round of his nephew's theatrical wailing. "Why did Dumbledore want the Potters to go into hiding in the first place? They fell off the face of the earth ages before they were, erm, well-"

Sirius snorted. "Murdered, Uncle, you can say it. Merlin, I can't believe we let that dodgy old man keep so many secrets. Or that we let Prongs and Lily keep them for him. If we had just-,"

Shaken from his thoughts, Remus raised his hands in the air to shrug uncertainly. "Dumbledore's plans for the Potters- that's the first question we need to answer, isn't it? Figure out what Dumbledore was originally planning, and what he wants now with Harry. We'll likely be able to answer a lot of other questions about what happened to our friends- to our family- from there."

"And of course I'm bloody useless right now, locked in the house- Merlin, I never should have set off after that bloody rat-"

"Wait a minute," Bright amber eyes narrowed, and a very slow smile spread across Remus' face. It was a smile that his own mother would have described as terrifying, and that Minerva McGonagall would have taken to mean some absolutely clever but horrible plot was afoot. "That's the ticket."

"What is?"

"The rat. Wormtail- no, not Wormtail, Pettigrew. My dad heard that aside from one supposed trump card, the prosecution of your case- and we can assume that Bertie was hand picked by Dumbledore- is relying on Pettigrew's finger to convict you. If we find Pettigrew alive though…"

"We prove it wasn't me. And then I can force the will to be read, and then we get Harry and bring him home, and then we- But, Moony, how in the hell are we going to find a rat? He could be anywhere by now, rats blend in in every major city around the world! And we obviously didn't know the slippery bastard even half as well as we thought."

Remus glanced between Alphard and Sirius consideringly before raising his glass in an impromptu salute. "Well, it's a good thing the Black family isn't adverse to a little grey magic now and then, isn't it?"

Longmoore Street, London

January 16, 1982

Alphard raised a brow at the fiercely dressed woman on his front porch. "So, should I call you Aunt Aggie? Auntie Ag? Madam Auntie?"

Agnes Granger rolled her eyes heavenward, straightening one cuff of her blazer with two delicately pinched fingers . "My sister-in-law hasn't sent me enough wine to deal with more than one deranged wizard, young man."

Tickled pink by this positively dry return, Alphard raised his brandy glass in mock salute. "Fortunately, Madam Auntie Aggie, I have plenty of wine in my own cellar. I brought back an entire vineyard's worth from California when I moved home."

"American wine?"

"I'll have you know that it's quite the trend these days, Aunt Madam Aggie! In fact, I purchased a positively delightful little-,"

"Who's here?" Sirius Black's head appeared in the gap between Alphard and the door, the point of his scruffy chin connecting with his Uncle's shoulder and making the ex-Quodpot player wince. "Ah! My dear great-aunt Agnes, an absolute delight to see you. And a positively stunning display, if I do say so myself."

Agnes glanced from one face to the other, a deep breath preventing her eye from twitching as she took in their respectively earnest and amused expressions. "Young man, you don't have to pay flattery to your own barrister- Predominantly because Cassiopeia has already done it for you in this case, but the fact remains that most consider it bad form."

"You wound me, Madam- I am as sincere as the day is long. Is that not a custom Yves St. Laurent design?" Stepping back from the door with a particularly affronted expression affixed on features that rather reminded Agnes of her husband's younger self, Sirius huffed.

"Don't mind dear Madam Aunt Ag here- I'm afraid I've already ruffled her feathers with my wine choice. Be a good lad and go ask Quod about tea while I add our favorite solicitor to the wards."

Saluting sharply, the previous Black heir trotted off down the hall.

"Muggle fashion and muggle motorcycles- they're his greatest loves. Well, besides his own hair. And those friends he talks about constantly. And vexing his mother- not that Wally matters anymore," Alphard mused softly as his ward disappeared.

Agnes did not miss the small smile tugging the corner of his lip. "He's looking much healthier than he was when we met."

"The mind healer team that Cassiopeia and Andromeda put together have worked wonders- so has his potions regimen." A poignant pause. "That child has a long way to go."

"He's fortunate to have an entire family prepared to support him down his path- I would doubt he expected it."

Alphard snorted. "Madam Auntie Agnes the QC, I hardly think any of us could have. If you would be so kind as to offer your hand? You might feel a brief prick, I'm afraid- but Amelia Bones has been lecturing me from the fireplace on recording all legal visits perfectly for the court."

"As she should," Agnes nodded approvingly as she glanced disinterestedly at the tiny drop of blood welling up from her pinky finger and dropping onto the thick piece of vellum in Alphard's hand. "The prosecution will likely fight dirty, if the preliminary choices of the Wizengamot are anything to judge by."

Gesturing his aunt forward and towards the parlor that Sirius was likely already waiting in, Alphard's brow creased. "You're concerned about this?"

Agnes' sudden snort of laughter carried down the hallway as she levelled her fierce gaze in her nephew's direction. "Concerned? Of course not. I'm going to crush them into dust."

"Then by all means, right this way Madam Auntie Arse Kicker."