He regretted his reaction almost immediately, but in Remus' defense, it was an exceptionally long day.
A prickle of anxiety had gripped the man's spine since leaving for the bank. He knew it well, of course, as the middle-aged werewolf had come up against enough unsympathetic loan officers to kill braver men.
It nearly killed him, having just recently been unable to afford food and shelter. Banks cared not for the downtrodden.
Luckily, Remus was blessed with Andromeda's grudging hospitality, and Hermione's glowing recommendation. He could share a home with his son. He now had the income for a monthly supply of Wolfsbane, with some Ministry assistance.
Thank Merlin for the mercy of witches.
Thus, he had spent the last hour operating on compassion and willpower, paying forward the kindness he owed. Besides, Harry needed him. Remus felt honest satisfaction in being present for the young man where he couldn't even a year earlier. The Potter family legacy? He wanted to help Harry find his place in it.
"Would you mind coming with me? To Gringotts?"
After all, what was a quick trip to the bank?
"An inventory of the Potter estate," indeed. The older man was no small bit curious when he offered to review the Potter fortune. His eyes had tripped down the parchment, growing wider to take it all in.
Manor houses, land, heirlooms, paintings, jewelry, gold-Christ, so much gold-were written out in looping, unassuming cursive. It was a prince's wish list. It was a poor man's wildest dream.
"James, you spoiled prick, you owned a small town in Caerphilly. Merlin's bloody balls, you'd never even been to Wales," Remus had laughed under his breath, a little slap-happy.
Forty minutes into their trip found him resigned to the facts of his world. James Potter had set Harry up for generations. The werewolf could live to a hundred and work till he sputtered and died, and still only provide Teddy with a sliver of a hair of Harry's fortune.
It was now even more of a mystery why, as a boy, the green-eyed wizard ran around in tatty shoes and clothes thrice his size. He'd had tents for shirts and belts you could wrap around him twice. Remus' robes had been mostly patches and even he was confused.
The answer was no clearer now, knowing that at twelve, Harry could buy Remus' life. Why the shabbiness?
"Lily's sister has a fair bit to answer for," he mused on the lift ride back underground. This time Hermione had heard him, while Harry was lost in his thoughts. She looked back at him in the close space and nodded with troubling gravity.
His anxiety hadn't needed the fuel, but he persevered. He tucked away his louder thoughts and focused on staying calm for the group. He was the oldest, and couldn’t let himself succumb to his nerves and drift very far away, as was his habit. He was there with them, present in the adventure.
The rather plain wooden box had been opened. He watched Harry pull out a decently large, wood-paneled book. He saw the back of it, and noted the detailed roots travelling across the grain, running under the young wizard's palm.
Remus returned the Potter inventory and took a step back, perceiving the entirety of his charge.
"What do you call your grandfather's brother?" Remus figured that the first page of the book was the Potter family tree.
"Great uncle. You'd be talking about your great uncle, Charlus, your grandfather Fleamont's younger brother."
Remus had never met the man, but Sirius once gossiped that James' uncle had been disowned for marrying a Black. Remus thought to direct Harry to Andromeda if the young wizard wanted to know more.
If anything, it might present a choice piece of irony. The woman was disowned by the Blacks for "marrying down," only for the Potters to turn up their noses at the same family for the same reason. It was only that the Black's despised Muggles,and the Potters despised wizards who despised Muggles.
Remus needed a flow chart to parse the web of outraged relatives writing each other off. So much of heritage work was just keeping the grudges straight.
He had to admit, Harry was a mirror image of James with his head tucked in a book. His late friend wasn't so much of a reader, admittedly, but looking down put Harry's hair on display. Those round glasses perched on the tip of his nose.
Remus took in the younger man's hunched lankiness and smiled, knowing his was a body almost settled. He saw in how Harry walked that he had begun owning his height and reeling in his limbs. The growth spurt that had overtaken the teen was finally coming under the will of the man.
"Twenty one," Remus heard Harry murmur. The boy probably didn't realize he was speaking aloud. "I'm older than he was when he died."
Remus' breath hitched, and he was immediately embarrassed by himself. Merlin, he was going to cry.
Dammit James, he lamented, observing his late friend's son. James' death wasn't the man's fault, of course, but still, it ached.
Remus pinched his nose and tried to push back tears. This was ridiculous. It was as if all his old hurts were flexing, testing the scar tissue sewing them shut. He apologized and tried to explain himself.
"No, I get it," Harry said to placate him, still holding himself closed and away from Remus. Right, the older man reigned in his emotions.
I'll just accept that this is a rough day, he swore to himself, pasting on a smile. Old ghosts will wail. There's nothing else for it.
His feelings were simply aggravated by the full moon two days away. The ride to the vault had played hell with his knees and his back. His bones already creaked with remembered breaking. His wrist bones had ground together where they were bent, holding up the scroll.
I'm exhausted, he reminded himself, from the frustrated corner of his mind that demanded rest.
But Remus, the greater mind, shushed his lesser grievances. He could hardly catch a coronary from entering a bank. And he hadn't. Instead, he walked away, fully intact. And so, he wouldn't fall apart from grief because his friends had died.
Not a single one was gone less than seven years.
Even Dora’s been gone for over four, he thought resolutely. He was an adult. He could handle this.
He nearly believed himself, too, when Hermione dragged in a squealing gasp. He startled, agreeing with Harry's annoyed, "What." The witch came hurrying up to Remus, face a mask of panic. He wasn't excited to see panic, but was too focused on wrestling his ghosts to really mind it.
This left him woefully unprepared.
She waved for his ear, cupping her hand around some word pushing at the back of her teeth. He had no qualms behind bending down, though his lower back complained.
Remus shared a look with Harry and shrugged, half-smiling until he heard her hiss, "An asterisk!"
His stomach dropped to his shoes.
For a moment, Remus wasn't in the room. All he heard where he went was the sound of blood rushing in his ears, and draining to his feet.
He looked to Hermione, hoping he misheard. No, he saw the worry lining her forehead. It was an asterisk, and it could only be by one name.
Not Harry, he thought, reeling. He must have whispered it aloud, as he saw the young witch's expression crumble.
This wasn't the face he wanted to see. He recalled the last time he saw James Potter, and craved an explanation. Remus had been standing across the man's living room, keeping distance from the infant in the new father's arms, despite its father's earnest invitations.
"Go on, shake his chubby little hand! I'll take it personally if you don't. Look, he's adorable, he's waving at you! 'Hullo there, worry-wolf, I'm Harry and I can't wait to-.'
"Oh, c'mon now, Moony. Get over here and coo at my damn baby! I'm begging you!"
I have to calm down, he coached himself. He looked at Harry and saw James, and made that enough.
"Might I see the book please, Harry?"
Harry handed it over warily, and then was distracted by something in the box. Remus balanced the book on his forearm and looked at the first page. Yes, it was a beautifully rendered family tree, with intricate leaves and delicate swirling bark. Each branch had a family crested placeholder for the name.
And there, right above "Harry James Potter*," was that asterisk, plain as day.
Remus froze, unsure of his next steps. He knew what an asterisk might mean, given his current line of work. He had a case on his desk now, in fact, involving a relative of such "special definition."
A muggleborn witch was abandoned by her family on the steps of the grand manor on the hill. The manor was rumored to be haunted by old vengeful spirits. However, it was actually inhabited by vampires who've held land in the area for centuries, the Familia Constantin.
The head of the Constantin adopted the human witch through an antiquated ritual, one that no longer fell under modern jurisprudence. Now, eighty years later, the old witch arrived to his office, wrinkled and white haired, asking what will become of her home.
Her vampire father and siblings had died in an uprising from the town. She'd outlived her adopted family, who had never turned her as were her wishes. She was now an old woman in danger of losing her home, as there existed no last will and testament, thanks to the shockingly short foresight of immortals.
Could Harry be like her? Remus stared at the asterisk, and thought on all the riches in the Potter vaults and on Harry as a child in ill-fitting shoes. Could he be left with nothing?
That's impossible, Remus thought to himself. He has Potter blood. He opened the Potter vaults!
Harry started saying something, but there was a shuffling of paper, and he trailed off. Remus busied himself with thoughts of the Constantin witch, imagining Harry in her place.
As it were, there remained too many missing elements. James had no reason to hide an adoption, if that was their intention from the start.
But Remus remembered Lily's pregnancy. He remembered her looking on enviously, nursing gillywater, while Sirius, Frank, and the Prewett twins drank themselves under the floorboards.
He pictured the night Lily and James had broken the news. They were terrified, but beaming, one of Lily's hands in James'. The other curved on her stomach, protecting it. Was that real? Was she really pregnant? Well, she had to be! If not, why the ruse?
And where would Harry have gotten Potter blood, if not from a Potter?
Remus pulled his head from the book, neck tense. Harry stood in front of him, shell-shocked, with pages of thin-edged paper clenched in his shaking fists. Remus held his gaze, thinking they were both in the same headspace.
Their feet couldn't hit the ground, being caught up in the rug pulled from under them.
"Harry, this mark…," Remus didn't know what to say.
He had to explain, but it was as if he'd never learned a word of English.
"Am I adopted?," Harry asked. Lost for words, the older man looked to his coworker.
Hermione looked up at him from her feet. She wore sensible shoes, for reasonable young women, so of course she would know what to say. She bit her lip and gestured at him, deferring to his expertise.
Great, he bemoaned, turning back to Harry. The younger wizard sprouted a look of such horrid pain, equal parts denial, betrayal, and outrage.
Remus had to say something, he knew it, he felt it in his creaky bones. If he said nothing, Harry would run, and they wouldn't see the boy again for Merlin knew how long. Remus couldn't let that happen.
He had to be strong. He had to be present. He had to be kind.
Remus shook the stone from his legs and, stiff kneed, came closer to his best friend's son. Because regardless of any mark on a page, Harry was James' son, Sirius' godson, Teddy's godfather, and Remus' young, scared ex-student. He couldn't leave the boy to tremble in silence, shaking himself to pieces.
"Harry," Remus said carefully, placing his hands on the young man's shoulders, "I'm...I'm here. Breathe, I'm right here. It's okay."
"No, it's not!," Harry spat back. His hands rushed up and Remus flinched, turning away.
He jerked back around, mortified, only to see Harry rip off his glasses to scrub at his leaking eyes. The young wizard didn't seem to notice Remus' reaction. The older man sighed, unsure of why he expected to be hit.
Today needs to end soon, said his exhausted inner voice. His conscience agreed, feeling the grip on his tongue loosen.
"I know, there has to be a mistake," Remus said, although he really shouldn't have.
He saw this kind of reaction all the time in Creature Heritage. People found out that they were half-goblin, quarter-Veela, or three-eighths merperson six days out of seven.
He was just suddenly so tired, and wanted this one thing not to be true. Just, not Harry, never Harry. The boy had weathered enough storms. Let him rest.
"This isn't what I wanted! This can't be right!" The werewolf pet Harry's shoulders, dragging his eyes back to the edges of his face. The feeling there was so real, Remus would do anything not to see it.
He tried to distract himself by returning the Potter register. The papers in Harry's fists were slammed onto the desk, creased but legible. He read the first line of two sheets.
Merry Charing-Claire, that name…,Remus chewed on the name for a second, then saw other key words. "Blooded," and "birth mother," fell in with his reflexive knowledge of chaos.
A blood adoption would make sense, Remus realized. He paused his absent patting of Harry's shoulder, and relaxed into his last reserve of grown-up instincts, his academic mind.
Said mind chugged through the numb shock and broken open memories, bringing him facts. Blood rituals were not unheard of in pureblood families without heirs. It made Harry a Potter by right, Lily and James' son by blood.
It was perhaps a little Dark, more so than a family lock on a vault.
He looked to Harry fully now, armored with a fragile, clinical lens. He searched for outside traits that might have gone unaccounted for. Blood rituals weren't perfect. They were a strange, druid thing Remus had never witnessed, that involved invoking old family gods, appealing to one's ancestors, and trading blood for blood.
He couldn't imagine James in his Quidditch tees and Lily in her Muggle jeans and flats, going in for ancient blood rites.
But then he thought again of Lily's hand on her stomach, and the bright, endangered smile splitting her face. She had been aglow. She had loved the idea of being a mother. If something horrible had happened, and there was an opportunity to fix it...
Oh, Lily, Remus mourned. He was so very tired. His body hurt, and he needed sleep.
"So, what, I'm not really their son!?"
Remus came back to himself, and felt Harry shaking in his hand. He looked down at the younger man from high up in the clouds, where he'd stood with his thoughts. From there, he noticed some things for the first time.
Harry's eyes, the same vibrant, emerald green they'd always been, were shaped differently without his glasses. And while the shape of Harry's eyes were affected by the hard rubbing and puffiness, they were still fundamentally distinct.
They had Lily Potter's color, yes, and he would need a photograph to be sure, her eyes had been large, and round. Doe-like, if just for the size, which made her Patronus so spot on. James had teased her for that.
Remus let go of Harry's shoulder and brought his hand to his own, thudding chest. Harry's eyes were almond-shaped.
"Remus? Harry, are you alright?" The werewolf shuffled aside, letting Hermione lay hands on her friend.
His heart knocked against his ribs and he needed to steady himself. The werewolf stood back and looked for other little secrets. They were so subtle, but there: Harry had James' nose, but nobody's mouth; Lily's chin but a stranger's cheeks. His hair was wild, but curled where James' stood straight in all directions.
He took somewhat after his grandmother Euphemia, around his ears. His eyes were an enigma.
These were tiny differences. Overall, with the hair and the glasses, and without a doubt, his bright, green eyes, Harry looked enough like his parents to claim a relation. But like Remus knew, ancient adoptions weren't perfect.
Most of his resemblance was in his expressions. When he smiled, he looked like James. When he cried, no one came to mind.
Remus looked to the desk and found a sketch of a woman. She seemed strikingly familiar, although he couldn't place her. He picked up the sketch, and from his high-up place, held it up by Harry's face.
"Remus! I can't believe you'd-how insensitive!," Hermione huffed, appalled by his poor manners.
His gaze flicked to hers and back, comparing the two faces. He found more points of similarity here than between Harry and his memories.
Similar hair, same mouth, similar cheeks...same eyes. Remus read the line of text at the bottom of the sketch. Something clicked when he saw the name Grace. He suddenly heard Sirius' voice in his head.
"Oh, she's brilliant, Moony, look at her. I paid almost nothing for this poster, which is a crime, because have you ever seen a woman like this in all your sad, teenage life?
"The Muggle contraption she's on is called a motorcycle, yeah? I asked Evans. No, I didn't show it to her, gods! James would flay me alive. Yes, I reckon I'd still be the most handsome of you lot, but it's the principle of the thing.
"Ugh, look at her tattoo, Moony, isn't it ace? I'm getting covered in tattoos as soon as I can sneak into London. Figure you wanna come with? You can get a full moon on your arse, and never be under-dressed again.
"Aw, don't be boring! Do it! You can get one like Gracie here, to cover up your-oops. Sorry…"
"You look like a lesbian pin-up girl," Remus blurted out, pointing from Harry to the woman in the sketch.
For a beat, both young witch and wizard looked at him, mouths agape. Hermione recovered first:
"Professor Lupin!," she squeaked, blushing up to the roots of her hair. Harry said nothing, just stared, gaping and puffy-eyed, absolutely stunned. Remus, tongue-tied, held the sketch out for Harry to take and made to apologize.
"I have no idea what came over me," he started, then, again, was caught up on the difference in his eyes. The same cloud feeling came over him, and he continued, "Gods, your birth mother had strong features. Good on her."
Yes, Remus regretted his words almost immediately. However, in his defense, it had been an obscenely long day.
August 20th 2002: Daugavpils, Latvia
Severus despised the trip back from England with every fiber of his being. Existing as a man consumed by hatred, and factually guilty of murder, it wasn't much to say that if his commute were a man, he would beat him bloody and mutilate his corpse.
The time jumped two hours forward from England to Latvia, and this was felt near instantaneously via Portkey overseas. Upon arriving in Riga, and dry heaving in an alley, Severus had to run to catch the evening train to his haunt in Daugavpils, which lasted nearly three hours.
He spent the trip unable hold down anything. It was a stinking, bilious wash for both the dry chicken sandwich he wasted his money on, and the water from the tap in the train bathroom.
Not to mention, the conductor cared nothing for his disdain of public transportation. The sharp tick of the ticket punch bounced around his skull.
Severus' only option thereafter was to wrap himself in his transfigured black coat and chase sleep. And sleep, like all things except misery, evaded him.
At ten at night, he stumbled from the train station, nauseated and night blind, wishing for death. He shambled to a nearby parking lot, and hunted down his dented trash can of a car. He finally found it, after ten minutes of crouching down to read license plates.
Severus stabbed his key into the door, unlocking the car and throwing his body in the driver's seat.
He then spent a few minutes, panting, stomach roiling, head thrown back against the headrest.
He had a splitting headache from the Portkey hurtling him through time zones. He squeezed his eyes shut until he saw stars and blinked them open. It was fully dark in the lot, with only a few cars besides his own.
"Fuck," he growled, draping an arm over his eyes. Dry, stale breath coated his tongue, which he scraped off on his teeth. Severus gagged. His whole, dehydrated mouth tasted disgusting, and his head was throbbing.
He really shouldn't be driving, but also couldn't risk Apparition. Splinching himself would hardly improve his night, unless he lucked out and left his head behind. Severus slid his arm aside and looked around his car, noting the dishwater beige upholstery torn up to reveal the dark, yellow cushion. He considered spending the night there.
He had bought the banged up, black car incredibly used. It was still in use, in fact, when he'd approached the owner.
It had been parked under a bridge and Severus had offered the driver a couple hundred dollars—no, not for that—to take the vehicle off his hands, no questions asked. The disheveled and suspiciously stained man had scrambled out, hauled a foul smelling suitcase from the trunk, and tried to shake Severus' hand.
He was promptly rebuffed and took his payment, fading into the night.
Severus had spelled away all the nasty implications from the piece of junk and drove off. Given the condition he'd gotten it, he expected it to last him a year at best. That was four years ago.
Now, the old can rattled more than ran, but it still saved him walks in the rain, and might finally be his bed for the night.
Bringing back the seat, Severus spelled the interior warm and layered a few Notice-Me-Nots to protect him from curious visitors. Then rolling over, he closed his eyes and dared sleep closer, praying sleep was as bold as he was haggard.
The ex-spy dozed for a few hours in his car, before being stirred to partial wakefulness by chirping birds. Groggy, he tried to open his eyes and found he couldn't.
Oh, damn, he swore internally, having lost all ability to curse aloud. Not only had sleep been bold, but it had been spiteful.
He was bound by sleep paralysis. This wasn't unheard of after his long excursions. It was why, alongside being risky, exhausting, and expensive, he only did it once a year.
Severus tried to remain calm, berating himself.
I'm so bloody tired, I should've known, he chastised. Lucius Malfoy isn't worth all of this.
He tried not to panic, knowing it would only make his episode worse.
He put all his efforts into trying to move something, anything, before he was truly set upon by fear, as his body remembered his months trapped in the manor, unable to move, airways closing in the dead of night from a mortal terror no one knew to free him from, as he was unable to scream for night after night except for in a constant roar in his own mind—
Severus managed to wiggle a toe. The temporary paralysis lifted, relief spreading from his feet upwards. He drew in great gulps of stuffy air, fixing his fingers to roll down the windows and let more in. Sweating, he jammed the key into the ignition and twisted.
It was still dark when his dented 1995 Opel Astra peeled out of the parking lot. It glanced off the curb, and sped down the empty street. In the rush to lock himself into the safety of his apartment, Severus didn't take note of the lot he left behind.
He didn't see the robed figure approaching his car, growing nearer just as it flew off. From halfway down the road, he couldn't hear the figure curse, turn on his heel, and crack away.