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Paying the Ferryman

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What does Sirius remember about that night? Not much. He remembers snatches, little pinpricks of light that have shredded through his brain. Most vividly, he remembers the end. He remembers the part where he’d been locked inside Dumbledore’s office as if he was some kind of prisoner. Everyone else is rushing around, trying to fix things, trying to play the hero. Not Sirius. He’s cold, his belly chilled, his bones hollow, left to stare up at disapproving headmasters.

He’s left to watch the Aurors arriving in the early light. The sun rises against a pink-strewn sky, red bleeding tendrils through the clouds. Four of them go across the grounds, and two of them come back almost right away, something enshrouded in white hovering between the two of them. Sirius stares: Their faces are oddly pale, mouths pulled into stern lines. He watches as red begins to splotch the white sheet and he knows what’s under that sheet without being told. His knees go weak and his head spirals away. He digs his fingers into the windowsill in front of him and he forgets how to breathe. He's done this. He feels the words form in the back of his throat, trip across his tongue and crest over his lips. He had done this.

The second pair of Aurors come back then and they hold Remus in between them. He trips over his own feet, naked in the cold morning air. His scars paint an odd picture, jagged and criss-crossed against his body. There’s blood splashed across his face, two stark lines across his nose, drops smeared next to the left side of his mouth and across his chin. He doesn’t even fight the Aurors and some part of Sirius desperately wishes he would, because this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Sirius is surprised to find that he’s saying this over and over again.

Remus looks up just for an instant, amber eyes knowing. They find him easily, pin him in place. Sirius’ throat closes up. There’s no oxygen in his lungs, in his blood, in his brain. He’s about to pass out, but he remains rooted to the spot, keeps looking back until Remus is out of sight. Then he lets everything slip away.

And that’s all Sirius remembers of that night and even that is too much, fuck you very much.

Sirius surrenders after that. (Or maybe after James finds him later and pushes him, keeps pushing him. He pushes him until he goes down the flight of stairs curving down Dumbledore’s office, and even then he’s still screaming. Sirius isn’t even sure that he’s saying words, but he doesn’t understand them anyway. He can only take James’ anger, can only accept it mutely. His own voice is dead, somewhere far away. Maybe wherever the Aurors are processing Moony, getting ready to send him to Azkaban.)

Sirius surrenders to the whims of his family, because there’s no point in fighting anymore. This is what he is. He’s a murderer and he fits readily into the collection of crazed Blacks. He’s taken out of school that morning, his mother collecting him under the bloody sky while McGonagall looks reproachfully on.

He doesn’t go back to Hogwarts. All of his things are left there. He doesn’t hear from James Potter or Peter Pettigrew again. He doesn’t read Severus Snape’s obituary in the Daily Prophet and he doesn’t read about how Remus Lupin was abducted on his way to Azkaban and how no one knows what happened to him.

He goes to Durmstrang for a few months. He does well and he does terrible, depending on what mood strikes him. Sometimes he’s at the top of the class, mastering subject after subject, absorbing any dark spell that’s thrown at him. Sometimes he can’t be bothered to show up to class and spends hours outside staring up at trees, letting the cold air settle in his bones, letting it continue to freeze the rotted blood in his veins.

The moment he turns seventeen, he drops out of school. He agrees to his parents’ request and becomes engaged to Narcissa. He allows himself to be collected by the Dark Lord. He barely feels it when the Dark Mark is seared into the flesh of his arm, numbed as he is now. He stares at it with some kind of odd fascination.

(He remembers back in his second or third year after he’d had some explosive fight with his mother over being friends with James and Remus and Peter that she’d acidly told him that it didn’t matter if he wanted to find a new family. The world would only see him as a Black; they would see him for what he is and they would never trust him. It didn’t matter how far he ran, his blood would always claim him. Dimly, he knows she was right.)

When he fights, he fights recklessly, always at the front line. He flings curses out with wide throws of his arm, leaving his chest exposed. He always waits for the countercurses to hit him, to take him away. But they never do, and Sirius is left wondering why that is.

If anyone ever notices that there is one curse Sirius never throws, they never say anything.

He kneels in the circle, the same as the rest of them, silver mask in place, black robes shrouding him. He knows he’s the bookend to Bellatrix -- the pair of Blacks the Dark Lord had so desired. (And they always draw comparisons. Their tempers. Their nastiness. Their penchant for darkness. That Sirius Black, did you hear what did while he was in Hogwarts? Well, I heard …)

This is his life now, and he’s surrendered himself, let himself be imprisoned by it by the time he’s seventeen.

Or, at least, that’s what he thinks. He’s thrown off balance once more when he stands up at the end of a meeting and looks across the room and sees a face he knows. Greyback’s pack has joined them for a rare meeting, and toward the back of the motley group is a pair of amber eyes that see straight through him. His heart is in his throat, struggling to beat warm blood through his frigid veins again. He swallows it down.

He walks differently. His back too straight and with a lot of a motion in his hips, as if he’s aching to burst into a run with every step. It’s like he’s swallowed the moon and is perpetually balanced on the edge of the wolf now. There’s this awful scar on the left side of his neck that wasn’t there before. Deep and jagged, it curls just beneath his jaw and down toward where his throat is, and Sirius wonders how close he came to dying when he got that scar.

There’s a stubborn set to his shoulders that Sirius recognizes from himself. He stares at Remus’ hands, because he remembers how they used to always be covered in ink from his schoolwork. They’re not covered in ink anymore.

His hair curls into his face. It’s long and uncut. It’s still that perfect auburn brown, but there’s grey streaked along his temples -- grey in 16-year-old Moony’s hair. He doesn’t look 16. He looks years and years older, lines carved into the planes of his face. Of course, he doesn’t look like Moony at all. And that’s what manages to cut through Sirius’ brain: This isn’t his Moony.

I did this, he says to himself over and over again. I did this.

Bellatrix’s laughter is a constant companion in his life. She laughs at him as she tells him he’s been put in charge of managing the werewolves. They’ll all report to him now; he’ll be their messenger to the Dark Lord and he’ll give them their missions from the Dark Lord. She tells him this, fingernails digging into his arm, words curling into his ear, as Remus stands in front of him. Greyback’s messenger, because he’s apparently the only one who can be expected to deal with wizards.

His eyes are downcast and he doesn’t dare to meet either his or Bella’s gaze. Sirius’ insides are frozen solid once again -- a reminder that the other day was a fluke and that he doesn’t have a heart anymore. He sold it at a low price, given away readily to get rid of the pain it had caused him.

It’s strange how much so little time can change.

“Bow wolf,” Bella says indignantly, the line of her chin high and haughty. Her fingers dig more sharply into Sirius’ arm, pinning in him place. The lines of her smile go wicked.

Remus goes down to his knees without saying anything, without lifting his eyes. The set of his shoulders is still stubborn and his spine is still ramrod straight.

Sirius stares down at him, and he wonders where his voice went if it didn’t go with Remus.

They’re both everything the rumors always promised.

Remus reports to him in Grimmauld Place. At first his mother had thrown a fit that they had to open some of the wards to allow a werewolf to come through. Upon turning 17, Sirius became the head of the household, and she can’t argue with him beyond voicing simple displeasures. Bellatrix stands behind his decision, because it’s the Dark Lord’s will -- and because Grimmauld Place is a veritable trap for werewolves anyway.

The house is a trap for anyone who isn’t of their blood. There are curses in every corner, practically every object. There’s wolfsbane in the foundation of the house, silver inlaid into some of the doorknobs. Their ancestors have made a point of hunting creatures they deem unfit.

They meet in the drawing room because its the safest place Sirius can think of. Kreacher lurks in the corner of the room, ordered to watch by his mother. She refuses to be in the house at the time.

He watches as Remus enters the room. His motions are wary, wolf instincts on high alert. Sirius can practically imagine Moony’s ears pricking up, trained for any hint of sound. Remus was never wary in school.

The thought hits him hard, in the hollow his chest. Unbidden, he’s abruptly nervous. He can’t help but imagine what they would be doing if they were both still in Hogwarts, starting their seventh and final year. (There had been plenty of plans that had been hatched, a list of things they needed to do before graduating. There had been the map they had nearly completed; pranks that would never be pulled. Drinking competitions and parties that would never be carried out.)

There wouldn’t be this Remus who sat down on the seat across from him, face an unreadable mask.

Remus Remus Remus Moony, he wants to say. I didn’t mean to.

Remus is staring at the ring on his left hand -- the Black family crest; he had been given it on his 17th birthday when he had agreed to marry Narcissa and when he had agreed to become head of the family.

Abruptly, he realizes he’s supposed to start this meeting. He fumbles, reaches for the piece of parchment he has in his pocket that details where Greyback’s pack is supposed to go on the full moon. He should say this out loud, he knows; he shouldn’t leave a trail of evidence, but he still doesn’t trust his voice. He slides the paper onto the table between them. Remus reaches for it, his fingers scarred across the knuckles as if a knife was dragged there. He’s careful not to touch Sirius. When he has the directions, he gets up and leaves without being dismissed and Sirius doesn’t call him back.

He just stares, and there’s just a hint of the Remus he knew -- and he knows it’s only because Remus is in pain from the full moon that is approaching. He can see the drag of it in the way that Remus tries to bend his knees as little as possible because they’re stiff. He’s out the door and gone and Sirius sits back on the couch, looks at the Black family crest on his ring and listens to Kreacher mutter about dirty werewolves.

On the night of the full moon, he can’t sleep. He wanders around what is now his house like a ghost. There’s a phantom pain inside of him, and he thinks, just for the briefest of seconds about turning into Padfoot, but instantly rejects the idea. He had only tried once, just after everything happened, and he hadn’t been able to. His bones had ground together in all the wrong ways, and some fur had fallen off his body, but in the end, he had still just been himself. There had been no loyal dog to take his place. No simple mind to retreat into.

He sits back in the drawing room and stares at the moon as it climbs higher and higher into the sky. He wonders where Prongs and Wormtail are. He wonders if there are things that they do on the full moons -- if they talk at all about what happened or if they skate around the topic as much as they can. He wonders about the strength of James’ hate. He thinks it has to be quite strong, because James had loved him so much, and that kind of intensity had to feed into what James feels for him now.

He hates these thoughts. He thought he had buried them all.

Sirius obsesses over where he sent Remus. He wonders what would happen if he would go there. Would he find Moony tearing out the throats of small children? Would Moony tear out his throat?
I did this, Sirius says out loud, his throat dusted with guilt. I made us this. The walls eat the words and not even the portraits on the floor above hear him.

Remus comes back two days later. There’s a deep gash above his left eyebrow that looks like it should have at least been sewn shut, if not attended to with magic. Instead, it stands out, garish, and Sirius wants to keep looking at it, but he doesn’t dare, because it’s too close to Remus’ eyes.

Remus doesn’t even sit down. He leaves a piece of parchment on the table and then he’s gone.

The second time they meet is the same. And then the third.

By the fourth time, Bellatrix is no longer laughing. Kreacher isn’t standing in the corner of the room anymore, although Walburga still refuses to be in the house when Remus is there. Sirius, for his part, experiences blinding panic minutes before Remus is supposed to arrive. He’d been so relieved at first to not have to directly confront what he’d done to Remus -- but suddenly he realizes that this might be it. There might not be anything beyond this. He might never see James nor Peter again, and it might just be this bridge between him and Remus. This taut silence time and time again.

And then he’s absolutely desperate. He wants Remus’ answer. He wants Remus to shout at him. He wants him to hit him or attack him or anything. Just some proof that they were best friends and he ruined both their lives. Maybe that’s why it was easier to take James’ intensity in the immediate aftermath. It was what he deserved and could never inflict on himself. But Remus’ indifference, the avoided glances, the perpetual silence -- he can’t have that be the rest of their lives together. Not when they’re on the wrong side of the war. Because of him.

When Remus enters the room, Sirius stares hard. He looks at the scar arching over Remus’ eye and the stubble that dusts along his jawline. He looks at the smudged darkness underneath his eyes, and he wills Remus to look back at him. Remus doesn’t. He lingers near the edge of the table and waits for Sirius to give him the next set of orders.

His heart is pounding in his ears. The sound is strange to him.

He reaches for Remus without thinking about it, his fingers curling along the underside of Remus’ wrist. The brief touch of skin on skin is enough to sear Sirius straight through. Remus jerks back almost instantly, acting as if he’s also been burned. He takes two steps backward before going still, muscles poised, ready to fight if he needs to.

“Remus,” Sirius says -- and he can’t even remember the last time he said his name out loud. Before everything, probably that evening, when he was saying that he’d meet up with him later. I’ll see you at the shack, Remus. See you in the morning. It’ll all be fine.

Remus finally looks at him -- finally -- but he’s looking at him as if he’s gone utterly insane, as if he doesn’t even know who he’s looking at. Sirius has made a study of all of Remus’ expressions. He knows what he looks like when he’s exhausted and when he’s concentrating so hard he can’t be bothered with anyone else in the room. He knows what he looks like in the early morning light of dawn when he’s just woken. In the hours after a full, when there’s still just a touch of wolf in him, but the pain is already starting to sear through. And in the last few weeks he’s become very familiar with the intent way that Remus doesn’t show anything -- a far more practiced mask than the one he had worn in school.

But the way that Remus looks at him now -- Sirius doesn’t know this one.

“I need to leave,” Remus says, his word clipped.

Four words, and they’re the only four Remus has addressed to him, so Sirius wants to worship them. The problem is that he can’t even think about adhering to them. He feels dazed, suckerpunched, and reaches for Remus again. Remus backs off another step, raising a hand sharply to get it out of Sirius’ reach. He looks as if he’s about to bare his teeth -- and he tries to piece the man in front of him together with his Moony. His prefect Moony, who had always been so patient with Peter when they were studying Ancient Runes and always so impatient with James and him when they were coming up with a prank that was too cruel. His Moony who had cried when they showed him that they could be Animagus.

“Give me the paper,” Remus insists, hand outstretched.

“No,” Sirius breathes back. He can feel his blood sluicing through his veins once again, and it’s practically painful, too warm for his own body. He rounds the side of the table, and crowds Remus. Remus stands firmly footed for an instant, his lips a thin line. There are hairline scars on his face that Sirius has never seen before -- and it’s only when it’s entirely obvious that Sirius isn’t going to relent, that they’re too close together that Remus takes a step back. He gets him up against the wall, and they’re right there. He feels like he’s burning alive, something grabbed hold of him, but Remus is still frozen, stalwart. He turns his head away from Sirius, stares across the room.

Sirius knows he’s there. He needs to claw down this wall. He grabs Remus’ shoulders, digs his fingers in too tight; it will bruise later.

“Tell me you don’t want to be here,” Sirius says, his voice barely recognizable, more snarl and whisper than he intended.

He might as well not be here. Remus doesn’t flinch. His face doesn’t even move. He continues to stare into the distant corner of the room.

“Tell me you hate me,” Sirius pleads. He yearns for that hatred, a balm to the terrifying notion that he might not have a place in Remus’ life anymore.

Remus continues to say nothing. His heart is agony, a roiling, living thing once again. It splatters blood along the inside of his ribs, bruised red fingerprints that begin to bloom.

He shoves at Remus. Remus’ back hits the wall, his head cracking against it. And still there’s no response; Sirius begins to fear he killed Remus, too.

“Answer me, damnit!” Sirius screams, doesn’t even care that Regulus might be lurking on the upper floor. He begins to hit, in a flurry of fists and open-handed slaps. His fingers grab at whatever they can, snagging at the thin fabric of the shirt Remus wears. (He knows this shirt. Remus wore it the last time they went to Hogsmeade, because Sirius spilled Butterbeer all down the right side. There’s no stain anymore.)

Remus’ lower lip splits underneath his knuckles, and Sirius is so relieved to see that splash of blood, a delicate curl of red against too-pale skin. He inhales sharply: Remus is still alive.

He presses his mouth flat against Remus’, and even then that blood seems too cold. He pushes harder, aligning his body against Remus’. Yet, he’s still indifferent, eyes still fixated on some invisible point.

“We killed him,” Sirius cries against Remus’ mouth, the admission so quiet that he doesn’t even know if Remus can hear him.

But that -- that confession -- is what finally stirs Remus to action. He grabs Sirius roughly and suddenly, his hands hauling Sirius backward. He throws him with more strength than Sirius remembers. He crashes through the wooden table behind them and remains sprawled and disoriented among the splinters.

He looks up at Remus, who still stands flush against the wall, hands balled at his sides. There’s a flash of sharp gold in his eyes.

“It isn’t all about you, Sirius,” Remus says. He strides forward, grabs the paper out of Sirius’ pocket, and then is out the front door.

Sirius is still on the ground. His knees feel weak and he’s not sure if they’ll support him if he tries to stand. But he feels more alive than he has in a long time. He closes his eyes and listens to the too-loud sound of his breathing. He slides one hand under his shirt and presses it above where his heart is hammering in his chest. Remus said his name.

He half expects there to be another werewolf in his drawing room this time. But a few days later, after the job is done, it’s Remus again. Remus, who has a bruise high on his right cheek that Sirius knows he left there. He stares at it and shifts uncomfortably.

He hasn’t slept since the last time Remus was here. His mind feels oddly sharp, bursting free from the cocoon he’d wrapped it in for so long. He’s struggled to trace the line of events that have led him to this. His 15-year-old self is recoiling and screaming with utter madness. He claws at the Dark Mark on his arm, at the ring on his fingers; he aches for Remus. And he thinks, Remus has to be the same. Remus has to be in this same self-inflicted hibernation.

He wants Remus back, too.

He does all the things he knows Remus hates: sits in his haughtiest “I’m-Sirius-Black-and-I’m-the-selfishiest-fuck-you’ll-ever-meet” way; he fidgets; he even wears his hair in a way he distinctly remembers Remus rolling his eyes at.

Remus enters the room briskly, paper already in hand. He may be trying to play this off, but it’s clear that he wants to leave as quickly as possible. Sirius reaches for the paper as soon as it’s offered, fingers brushing along the underside of Remus’ wrist.

“Can’t read this word,” Sirius says, leaning back against the couch before Remus can manage to get out of the room.

“You didn’t need to read them, I thought,” Remus answers, obviously caught off guard for a moment. He sounds irritated, and Sirius revels in it. It takes effort not to smile.
Sirius shrugs and peers at Remus over the top of the paper. The mask is crumbling. He knows because he can see the way Remus is debating with himself, whether or not he should get closer to Sirius. He half hopes that Remus will chew on his lower lip the way he used to when he was taking an exam.

Finally, Remus edges closer. He rounds the back of the couch and looks down at whatever random word Sirius has selected. Instinctively, Sirius reaches for his wrist again, because he wants to feel Remus’ pulse thrumming beneath his touch.

Before his fingertips come anywhere close to Remus’ skin, Remus hits him. Sirius is thrown to the side of the couch, his ears ringing. He scrambles upward instantly, knees digging into the hard edges of the couch. He grabs for Remus. He wraps his fingers deftly around one of Remus’ wrists. Remus’ other hand jerks away; Remus jabs forward, trying to hit him in the throat, but Sirius pulls backward, bringing Remus toppling forward, over the couch.

They both go tumbling to the ground in a messy sprawl of limbs, thrown off balance by the other. Sirius’ chin bounces off the floor so hard that stars burst in front of his vision for a moment. It gives Remus the advantage, and he can feel Remus’ knee digging roughly just above his hip, a jab that makes a bruise bloom on the skin.

Remus is cursing -- actually cursing, calling Sirius every dirty word he must know -- the sounds so rough Sirius just wants to cry. He tries to anchor Remus with one arm, curling it above his waist. With the other, he pushes Remus' flyaway hair out of his face, trying to cradle that tender bruise he created.

At the same time, Remus hits him. The first blow is right underneath his ribs, leaving him winded. The second is to his face, breaking his nose. Blood flows freely over his face and still Sirius clings to Remus, trying not to let him leave.

“Tell me,” Sirius finds himself saying, over and over again, his tongue stuck in one of its loops.

“Tell you what, Sirius?” Remus asks, and Sirius has never, not once, heard him this angry before. He remembers how it felt when James pushed him down the stairs.

“Anything,” Sirius begs.

Remus finally pulls back and looks at him. There’s a quiet pattern of Sirius’ blood dotting his face. But he looks more like himself, eyebrows drawn together in confusion, a flash of blatant hurt in his eyes.

Sirius is afraid of letting Remus get too far away again. He pushes up and kisses Remus messily again. His tongue instantly pulls over the still-torn flesh of his lower lip. He does this again and again until he tastes blood. Remus lets out a quietly agonized sound and then lets him in. Sirius takes full advantage. He grasps more tightly at Remus and licks inside Remus’ mouth. Finally, Remus pushes up against him instead of pulling away. Both of his hands encircle Sirius’ upper arms, tight enough to bruise. He relishes every promise that something of this encounter will remain.

He pushes his fingers through Remus’ hair time and time again. It’s coarser than he remembers. He lets his fingertips trace over the new scars on Remus’ face, although he’s unwilling to break the kiss. His hand slides down the side of Remus’ neck, feeling the raised tissue of the scar there. His hands fly down after that, pushing up the hem of Remus’ shirt, feeling at the warmth of his flesh. And it is blissfully warm -- warmer than anything Sirius has ever felt before. This is the familiar Remus-fire he’s come to remember, stoked by his own touch.

Remus’ hands are just as frenzied as Sirius’. He grabs Sirius at the waist and pulls him up as he begins to grind down, their hips aligning. Sirius gasps aloud into Remus’ mouth and is frantic to keep up with the crazed pace. He parts his legs, lets his knees fit in against Remus’ side. He swears he tastes a growl echo up the back of Remus’ throat. He swallows it, twines his arm around Remus, and huffs out a heavy breath.

He keeps his eyes open the entire time, because he’s so desperate to watch Remus, to see anything he can of him. His brain is sparking in disbelief, that he’s being allowed to touch so much of Remus again. Remus’ hair is in his face, sticking to his forehead, wild in a way that absolutely suits him.

Sirius runs his fingers along the back of Remus’ neck and then presses their foreheads together for a moment. He closes his eyes then, just for an instant, so that he can listen to the way that Remus’ breathing is rough, to the sound of fabric on fabric as they continue to rock together. Remus keeps making choked off noises in the back of his throat.

Sirius tenses his knees and bucks his up, an uneven burst of motion that is apparently too much for both of them. Remus grabs roughly at Sirius’ hips and pins him down and just pushes and pushes as they both tip over the edge, coming within seconds of each other.

“Moony,” Sirius gasps the word into Remus’ ear.

Sirius’ head hits the floor as he is left dazed. He blinks several times, trying to clear his vision as he stares up at Remus. There’s a flush high on Remus’ cheeks that Sirius has only seen several times before -- and never fully understood until this moment.

However, Remus barely stays still. Instead, he lets go of Sirius. He stretches forward, reaching past Sirius. Sirius twists, trying to see what Remus is doing; Remus presses a hand back down on his chest and it’s only then that Sirius realizes that Remus had been grabbing the paper he had delivered. Sirius stares down at where it’s pinned against him.

Remus says nothing, but gets up, pushing himself up unevenly and is out the door before Sirius has even managed to push himself up to one elbow.

He takes a burning hex hard during the next fight. He has his wand out, but he’s not even trying to pretend to fight. He doesn’t cast a single curse -- and when he sees Gideon Prewett, he actually stops moving. He stands frozen to the spot, and nearly says out loud, What the hell am I doing here.

Gideon sees him. And he doesn’t know if it’s even remotely possible that Gideon could recognize him with the mask on, but he swears that he does all the same. The spell hits him just right of center and sears right through the black of his robes and eats its way up his skin. It burns him, extinguishing the bruise Remus left.

He lies stunned on his back, in the filth of the alleyway, until Bellatrix comes and picks him up. In those precious minutes, where he wonders if he’s going to die, he tries to sort out what he’s going to do when James eventually shows up as an Order member.

Remus stands in the doorway to the drawing room. Sirius can see the indecision on his face. In the corners of the room, the shadows of their 14-year-old selves gather, staring, wondering what it is that has built the distance between the two of them. Sirius doesn’t know how to tell them that it has to do with the magic he accepted on his left arm and the blood he forced down Remus’ throat. He figures they won’t believe him anyway.

Remus’ step is sure as soon as he begins moving, and he doesn’t stand near the table or take a seat across from Sirius, but instead comes straight to the couch. He pushes Sirius’ shirt out of the way and stares at the barely-healed skin. Sirius flinches away, pain ricocheting up too-raw nerves. Remus sighs.

Sirius wishes Remus would lecture him, tell him that he’s not taking proper care of himself. Because he hasn’t been. He barely did anything besides collapse in his own bed after the battle.

When Remus doesn’t say anything, Sirius reaches tentatively upward. He slides his hand along Remus’ neck, braces his thumb against the underside of Remus’ jaw. He kisses his lips gently, a question. Remus kisses him back, just as slow.

This is more what he always imagined kissing Moony would be like. Remus’ fingers are quietly explorative, sliding through his hair, rounding down his shoulders. They undo button after button, but are wary of the burn mark on his side.

Sirius pulls him down onto the couch, and they curl closely together, hiding from Grimmauld Place, from the world together. Sirius made sure to send everyone else out this time, and as much of a trap as Grimmauld Place is, he’s certain he can keep Remus safe.

Each action is a reintroduction. Sirius kisses every scar he comes across, and their fingers are perpetually tangled, holding tight to one another. Remus slows when he comes across the Dark Mark imprinted on Sirius’ skin. The room seems to grow too hot as Remus’ fingertips carefully trace the edges of the tattoo without ever touching it.

“Sirius,” Remus says, soft enough that it’s barely audible. Remus looks up at him, eyes searching.

It’s strange that it’s then that Sirius thinks they’re them again. Moony and Padfoot -- Remus and Sirius. Both woken up from whatever bad dream they’ve been wandering through, both shaking off the last confinements of a too-long winter.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Sirius says in a strangled voice. His throat is betraying him, spilling out more secrets he’d promised to silence. He feels tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. Fear is a familiar wave inside of him, swirling about his heart.

“I know,” Remus murmurs. He pushes aside Sirius’ hair and presses a kiss to his forehead. “I want you to start taking care of yourself again, you understand?”

“We aren’t supposed to be here,” Sirius protests. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”

“I know,” Remus says. “I know.”

The next time Remus comes back, he has two pieces of paper. He tucks both into the underside of Sirius’ hand, squeezes his knuckles, and then disappears back out the front door.

They meet outside Grimmauld Place. They’re both damn good at disguises now, and they meet in the upstairs room of every seedy inn they both know. They spend hours in sunlit rooms filled with dust. They curl tight together on sheets that are tattered and stained and hold each other as if the whole world is falling apart around them. Because it is.

Sirius finds every cut and bruise Remus bears and kisses them in the rare moments Remus falls asleep beside him. He remembers the way he had worried over Remus not eating enough, not sleeping enough during school. It’s like that, but worse. He watches the way Remus’ skin seems too thin for him, the way he seems to be more injuries than whole skin.

He knows Remus does the same to him when he sleeps, finds the patterns of curses and hexes that ring around his body. (The return attacks have finally started finding him with a strange intensity, as if time has sped up over the last few months, warning him that the sand has almost filled the hour glass.)

“It’s not like we were ever going to just be regular members of the Order,” Remus whispers against his shoulder one late evening.

Sirius runs his fingertips down Remus’ back and they agree to continue not talking about about the future that won’t happen. He agrees silently with Remus, content to throw away the future where they both would have tried and tried to fight for what was right but with questioned loyalties the entire time.

They work their way slowly backward instead, swapping stories about their adventures at Hogwarts. Sirius finds that, on the afternoons, when they manage to actually start talking, he can’t stop. He’ll recount tale after tale until Remus finally laughs. He counts each of these laughs as a victory, savoring the forgotten laugh lines that reappear on Remus’ face.

There’s one chapter they always skip. Neither of them are brave enough to turn that page yet, even though that’s the pivotal one. That’s the one that’s rewritten them both. They always just linger in the safe, happy moments of Hogwarts.

In the last seconds that they’re together, when they just hold each other’s hands and don’t dare to speak, Sirius always wishes, with everything he has in him, that it could just be like this. He wants these stolen moments to be their lives. Fuck the pack and fuck a lifetime of service or death.

He’s late. Remus John Lupin has never been late once in his life -- except for the three times that Sirius grabbed him on the way to class and made him late just to get him flustered. But he was supposed to be at Grimmauld Place nearly twenty minutes ago and still Sirius hasn’t heard anything.

He sits in the drawing room and stares at the clock, listening to his heart beat in tandem with each tick of the second hand. He’s forgotten what this was like -- this aching need to protect something, this insistent press to try and make everything right. It had been easier to give this up. Simpler. But the direct inverse of everything he’s always been.

He hears the door creak open and he can’t help but get on his feet. He pauses once he’s up, listens to the sound in the front hall. It’s not the soft, almost not-there sound of Remus’ footsteps. There’s the click-click of heels. Sirius freezes.

Bellatrix turns into the room, eyebrow arched. She pushes Remus in front of her, and she has a stiletto blade in her hand, poised just at Remus’ throat. The skin is already raw from the promised threat of silver. They’re both looking at Sirius.

Sirius stops breathing. His heart stops entirely, missing beat after beat. He can’t lose him again, he realizes. He won’t survive it this time. He focuses on Remus’ face, which is still calm and tranquil. It’s that impenetrable mask that took so long for Sirius to peel back.

He schools his own face to look to be a mirror image of Remus’ even though it’s taking everything in him not to explode in a fit of rage and just curse Bella. He doesn’t want to think; he wants to react. But he knows the price he’ll have to pay for that.

Bellatrix smiles, her lips wicked thin.

She maneuvers Remus into the chair across from Sirius and sits him down. One hand digs into Remus’ shoulder, the other still elegantly holding the blade. Remus has to lift his chin a little to keep it from piercing his skin.

“Cousin,” Bellatrix says simply.

Sirius sinks back down into the couch, trying to keep his posture easy. His cousin may unpredictable and crazed, but she is keenly intelligent. He wonders if she’s sorted out what he and Remus have been up to. If that’s the case, all the lies in the world won’t be enough to save him or Remus. He itches to wrap his fingers around his wand.

“What are you doing, Bella?” he asks. He can see Remus’ eyes flit up to meet his.

“Solving a mystery,” Bellatrix answers. She raises the hand holding the blade and Remus is forced to look up at the ceiling. His throat looks vulnerable. His Adam’s apple bobs once, then twice. Sirius wonders again how he got the scar on the side of his neck.

“Isn’t this your pet?” Bella hisses although she’s still smiling. She presses down on Remus’ shoulder and the muscles of his neck go taut. Sirius purposefully tries not to look. His brain is trying to keep up, screaming at him to keep calm. If Bellatrix is asking, she doesn’t know. She’s goading him -- she’s looking for something --

“What?” Sirius asks.

“Your wolf from Hogwarts,” Bellatrix explains. “You’re just going to sit there and watch me skin him?” She thrusts her hand into Remus’ hair, pulls his head all the way back and slides the flat side of the blade along his throat.

Everything inside of Sirius coils tight. This agony just watching. This is the worst thing he can think of -- just being forced to watch and do nothing, all over again. He bites down hard on the inside of his cheek until he can taste the heat of his blood.

“Hogwarts was a long time ago,” he says flatly -- and he doesn’t think he’s ever said anything so true.

“Ah,” Bellatrix says. And he can’t tell if she believes him or not -- can’t --

She presses the blade in just a little, and a bead of red wells up along the silver surface. It hangs there and then slides down the front of Remus’ throat. Sirius is staring, but he’s pinned himself to the couch, imagining the hard gaze of Remus’ amber eyes.

Whatever it is Bellatrix has been searching for, she apparently hasn’t found. He watches her mouth go flat, eyebrows draw closer together again. She releases Remus who reaches a slow hand up to his throat. The knife disappears.

“See you at dinner then,” Bellatrix says, as if the whole scene was nothing out of the ordinary, which, in their family, Sirius supposes it isn’t. She disapparates, and Sirius waits, a precious second after second, until he’s sure she isn’t come back. Then he tears across the room as fast as he possibly can. He collapses to his knees in front of Remus, hand frantically searching out the small cut she left on his throat.

“Are you all right?” he asks.

“I’m fine,” Remus answers reassuringly.

“We need to leave,” Sirius says in the next breath, tugging at Remus’ hand with his own. They can’t do this anymore, Sirius realizes too clearly. He doesn’t want to die as a Death Eater. He wants to get out. He wants to be with Remus, and he knows it’s difficult -- maybe impossible -- to get away from the Dark Lord, but it’s him and Remus, so he thinks, together, they can definitely do it. They can find another country to hide out in. Remus has always been unerringly good at picking up other languages. They can make a home away from this stupid war and just protect each other.

“Sirius,” Remus says imploringly.

“Let’s go,” Sirius rambles. He stands even as he continues to speak, but holds onto Remus’ hand. “Right now. You need anything you want to bring with? Where should we go?”

“Sirius,” Remus says, louder this time. He stands up as well, but his hold on Sirius’ hand tightens. “I can’t leave.”

Sirius scoffs.

“You think it’s going to be any easier for me? We’ll figure it out, Moons.”

“I don’t want to leave,” Remus clarifies.

That shuts Sirius up. He stares at Remus as if he’s never seen him before, because he can’t fathom what Remus means by that. That he wants to stay? Obviously, that’s absolutely ridiculous.

“You want to stay here and kill people for the Dark Lord?” Sirius bites off without thinking.

The mask goes up instantly. Remus recoils from him, letting go of his hand.

“Remus,” Sirius begs, going after him again.

“Do you ever think about what you say at all?” Remus asks, face turned away from him. “Or is that what you think about me? Oh, since he’s killed Snape, it’s just easy to murder people now?”

It’s the first time either of them has dared to mention Snape. Sirius feels stunned, a blow delivered sharply between his ribs. He’s off balance, and he can’t find himself again. He always runs too hot or too cold, and he knows he’s going to muck this up in the same way.

“You know it’s not,” Sirius says, unable to mask the anger in his voice.

“So, it’s just that you never think then?” Remus challenges. “It was just an accident that you told him how to find me?”

“Yes,” Sirius insists, knowing it’s the wrong answer. He takes a step closer to Remus even though he can feel how volatile the air is between them.

“And you just want me to be angry with you?” Remus presses. “You want me to give you good hit and we’re square? We’re best mates again?”

“Yes,” Sirius says again, even though he’s begging this time. He doesn’t know which he’s wanted more since he saw Remus -- forgiveness or forgetfulness. He wants to go forward or backward, but he just doesn’t want things to stay as they are.

“Oh, Sirius,” Remus says. He presses a hand over his heart. “We’re not in school anymore. That’s not how you pay for things now.” Remus pulls away and then walks around him, leaving Sirius behind.

At the next meeting, he doesn’t take his eyes off Remus who doesn’t look at him once. Sirius has never believed in something as petty as fate. Fate would have cast him into Slytherin. But he thinks that he was destined to meet Remus Lupin. Remus who opened him up to so many of the possibilities of the world -- cruelty and happiness in equal turn. No bad lesson has been without its turn of good.

He doesn’t know if anyone can really know Remus, but he knows damn well that Remus wouldn’t have surrendered and just decide to go along with Greyback’s pack with the hell of it. He has more quiet strength than anyone Sirius has ever seen.

He realizes with astonishingly clarity as he gets up from knees that all those times he thought he was saving Remus, Remus was always the one saving him.

And that’s exactly what’s going to happen again.

Remus shows up on time, the cut from Bellatrix a small scab on the plane of his throat. He mutely accepts the paper from Sirius, who desperately wants to reach him. Moony, he wants to say, I don’t want to run anymore. I don’t want to run from what I did.

But he keeps his own mask in place, doesn’t fidget or grab Remus. He lets him walk right back out the door. He holds his breath and listens to the thrumming of his heart before he hastily turns into Padfoot. The transformation is neater than he expected, reminiscent of the first time he’d found himself on four paws. He longs to be able to run around, relish in the prospect of being him again, but he doesn’t have time. He’s on a mission.

He picks up Remus’ scent and follows him down the street. It’s a longer trips than he expects. Remus can’t go anywhere with magic now, so it’s all on foot. Yet, it takes Sirius off guard when Remus picks up a newspaper and disappears without warning.

A portkey.

He panics for an instant, rushing down the street after Remus in a frenzy fur. He shoves his nose against the ground, where the paper had been. He smells Remus mostly, but there’s a strange conglomeration of smells, all woven together and competing for attention. He sniffs desperately, and abruptly there’s a trace of something familiar. Hidden underneath all those layers is something that feels like coming home.

Hogwarts.

Padfoot’s spine goes straight. He checks only momentarily to make sure that no one was watching him before turning back into himself. He’s dedicated to following Remus and something in his gut knows where they’re going. He apparates to Hogsmeade and then walks the rest of the way.

It’s the end of winter and Sirius really isn’t dressed warmly enough for this walk even though the snow is starting to melt. He wonders what James did for the holidays before he can stop himself. He wonders what James told his parents about why Sirius wasn’t coming back with him. James is probably preparing for graduation, maybe still intent on pursuing the Quidditch career he’d so recklessly longed for. But maybe not. Maybe he’s given that up for the more noble career of Auror.
Usually these thoughts are jagged shards, puncturing through his insides. He lets them quell the nerves that threaten to overwhelm. They’re small injuries compared to the thought of what he’s walking into.

He stops just outside the Shack and stares up at it. He expects to feel more pain than he does. He can’t forget that this is where Snape died. This is where he sent him to die, and he knows that it must have been brutal, that the scene must have carved its way into the Shack itself. He doesn’t know how much Remus remembers or how much James saw. And he’s scared that he’ll know too much of it when he enters the Shack again.

But mostly he remembers everything that came before that. He remembers the first time they became Animagus here, and the first moon they’d spent with Moony when it had only been Padfoot who had been able to get Moony to calm down. He remembers the watery mornings that had happened when Remus had been so weak, but he’d still been whole. There had been the parties the four of them had held on the nights when they were able to sneak away from the school. There had been the time he had been so smashed he’d fallen through a weak spot in the floor and woken up the next morning with a spectacular black eye.

All of the good memories here probably led to the bad, but he can’t regret those earlier ones.
Swallowing hard, Sirius pushes open one of their entrances. He can feel that there are magical wards set up around this place, but they part to let him enter. He ducks underneath a beam and is suddenly inside the dusty, spider-laden Shack. It looks worse than he remembers it. There’s less furniture and more gouges in the walls.

He hears a creak from upstairs and knows that’s where Remus is going to be. He doesn’t take any care to be quiet. He heads up the stairs, boots thudding heavily.

Remus stands up from where he’s seated on the bed. He’s still holding the piece of paper Sirius gave him, and it’s difficult to tell if he’s surprised or not to see him.

“You’re meeting with Dumbledore,” Sirius says, mostly because he needs Remus to confirm his suspicions. Remus nods and finally all of his mask seems stripped away. He looks younger -- almost the same as he did when Sirius first told him they knew he was a werewolf.

Sirius crosses the room and holds his hand out. Remus reaches back almost instantly, twining his fingers tightly with Sirius’.

“I know it doesn’t change what happened,” Remus says, voice raw. “But I think it’s the only thing I can do that’s remotely right anymore.”

“Remus,” Sirius says. He wraps his arms tightly around Remus and feels Remus grab him right back, paper crinkling against his neck. He shuts his eyes and relishes in the feel of Remus, open, against him.

“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Remus confesses. “I didn’t want to at first. I never thought you’d -- And then I didn’t know how to keep it all in if I told you.”

“I’m sorry,” Sirius says.

“I know, Sirius,” Remus answers and smiles sadly up at him.

“I did wonder how long it would take you to show, Mr. Black.”

Sirius looks up, over Remus’ shoulder, and takes in the sight of Dumbledore coming up the steps.

“I’m not as punctual as Remus, sir,” Sirius manages to say. “But I’m ready now.” He pivots to face Dumbledore, still holding tight to Remus’ hand. He’s not willing to let go this time.