Remus stared miserably up at the lamp hanging over his bed in the hospital wing, wishing he could just sleep. There was no part of his body that did not hurt, but this morning, his right shoulder was the worst of it. It did not feel broken, but he was fairly certain he had torn a muscle. His shoulder felt hot and swollen, and every time he moved, raw pain lanced down his arm and right side. And every time he drifted off, he moved.
Sheer exhaustion just after dawn had sent him into a fitful doze, shivering on the floorboards of the old house. He had even dreamed. The black dog had come to him -- had actually appeared for the first time in more than six years -- and sat before him, tongue lolling, wagging its plumed tail. Remus had knelt down and put his arms around its shaggy neck, burying his face in the thick, soft fur. The dog had licked his face once, then turned and trotted away into the swirling darkness that surrounded them, leaving Remus with a deep sense of loss. He wondered if he would ever see it again.
At sunrise, Madam Pomfrey, looking almost as exhausted as Remus felt, had come down to the Shrieking Shack -- as the citizens of Hogsmeade had taken to calling his safe house -- to tend his wounds and help him back to the castle. Remus had gritted his teeth against the pain as the floating stretcher bumped its way through the secret passage, out past the Whomping Willow, and through the early-morning autumn drizzle that turned everything a uniform shade of grey.
Remus had not slept since then. Madam Pomfrey had patched him up, and he probably could have asked her for something for his shoulder, but she was busy this morning, and he hadn't wanted to make any more demands on her time than necessary. There had been an outbreak of First Year Flu that week, and the matron had half a dozen other feverish, groaning patients to see to.
It was worse than Remus remembered. Over the summer, he had grown used to being with his family again. On those mornings, his bed was never far away, and he had had his mother, father and sister to care for him and keep him company. Now he had whatever few minutes the school matron could spare him and nothing to distract him from his misery. He hadn't even remembered to bring a book down to the hospital wing yet this year.
He wondered what his friends were doing, and whether they had missed him at all. He had sneaked away the previous evening after supper, without telling them that he was "going home" again. The deeper his friendship with his roommates grew, the more he hated having to lie to them. It had been bad enough the day before, telling them that he was "fine" every time they cast a worried look in his direction in Charms, History of Magic, and Potions, all of which had been complete disasters. At least today was Saturday, and he had not missed any classes.
The daylight hours passed in a reddish haze of pain, loneliness and exhaustion that seemed to last for weeks. When at last Madam Pomfrey poked her head in through the curtains and informed him that everyone was down at supper, and he could return to his dormitory, Remus reached for his robes, feeling about a thousand years old. The matron's brow creased in concern as he struggled to dress himself.
"Where does it hurt, lad?"
"My shoulder," he mumbled. "Think I tore something."
She pursed her lips. "Wait a tick. I'll get you something for it."
He stood, swaying, as her shoes tapped their way across the stone floor of the ward and back again. This time, when the curtains parted, she held a heavy stone jar in her hand.
"Murtlap ointment. Especially good for muscle pain," she told him. "Apply it to the affected area as soon as you get up to your room, and then again tonight, if you're awake. You might need it once more in the morning. Bring me back whatever's left when you have a minute tomorrow."
Remus thanked her and made his slow, laborious way up to Gryffindor tower, which was mercifully deserted. Once safely back in his dormitory, he went into the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face. Catching sight of himself in the mirror, he grimaced. His eyes were bloodshot and bruised-looking with exhaustion in the stark white of his face. Deciding he wasn't quite up to taking a shower, he stumbled to his bed, kicking off his shoes and shedding his robes onto the floor. Putting them away properly seemed like far too much trouble just at the moment.
The ointment was a pale blue and smelled strongly of wintergreen. Remus scooped out a liberal amount and rubbed it into his aching shoulder, but he could not quite reach the place on his back where the pain was worst. With a disgruntled sigh, he pulled his bed curtains closed, but sleep continued to taunt him from afar.
He reached for the copy of Pride and Prejudice on the nightstand, and opened it near the middle. He had read it so many times that it did not matter if he couldn't focus on the story. The familiar characters and scenes held the comfort of old friends. But reading proved more difficult than Remus had anticipated. With his right arm useless, he had to hold the heavy book in his left hand, and before long, that arm was aching, too, and he set the book aside again with a sigh.
Next, he tried writing to Nat, hoping to push back some of his loneliness and misery by conjuring his sister, but he could barely grip the quill, and gave it up as a bad job after a few illegible scribbles.
He was just shoving his writing implements into the nightstand drawer when he heard footsteps pounding up the stairs. Quickly pulling the covers up over himself, Remus closed his eyes. His bed curtains were shut, but that didn't always stop his nosy roommates.
The door burst open to laughter. "-- the look on Evans' face when you said --" Sirius broke off. "It smells like mint in here." Remus could picture him standing in the doorway, eyes narrowed, nose wrinkled.
"Your Puff better not have eaten all my toothpaste again, Pete," said James darkly. "Last time, he was sick on my pillow."
A brief sound of rummaging accounted for all toothpaste and Peter's Puffskein, Constantine, and his roommates seemed to find the mysterious smell not worth investigating further. However, there was a tense moment when Sirius noticed Remus's robes on the floor.
"Lupin's back," observed his friend in a low voice.
Remus tried hard to even out his breathing, feigning sleep, his heart hammering too loudly to hear James's quiet reply. Why had he just left his robes lying there like that? Stupid. Any minute now, they would push back the curtains and -- But they didn't, and after a moment, their discussion returned to the adventures of the day.
It didn't sound as though Remus had missed much -- the high point seemed to have been something James had said to Lily that Sirius and Peter found utterly hilarious, and she clearly had not -- but their laughter and the sounds of their voices only made Remus feel lonelier. He half wished he could pull open the bed curtains, and reenter the part of his life that he was forced to step away from with every moon, but he did not want to invite awkward questions about how unwell he looked.
His friends might as well have been hundreds of miles away like his family for all the comfort they offered. Even Lily, his best friend, the only person to whom he had ever voluntarily confided his secret, had not come to visit him all day. Of course, he had asked her not to last year. He did not like people seeing him like that, and such visits might draw unwanted attention to him, but it still would have been nice to see a friendly face.
By midnight, the dormitory had grown dark and quiet, but still the throbbing ache in Remus's shoulder prevented him from sleeping. He wondered how long one could go without sleep before going mad. Not counting the few minutes of oblivion he had achieved that morning, he guessed he was now at around forty hours.
He found himself longing for his mother -- for her sure, strong hands to massage the Murtlap ointment into his shoulder -- for the low, soothing sound of her voice singing him to sleep as she had when he was small. Tears leaked down Remus's cheeks, and he sniffed more loudly than he had intended.
Somewhere across the room, bedsprings shifted, and a quiet voice said, "Remus?"
He froze. Someone was awake. One of his friend had heard him crying for his mother. For a twelve-year-old boy, there could be few experiences more humiliating.
"Are you ill or something?" whispered the voice. Sirius.
For several seconds, Remus contemplated not answering, but he knew his friend. Even if he pretended to sleep, Sirius would be over in a moment to check on him. Nosy was what he was.
"No," he whispered at last, cursing the congested sound of his voice. "I'm OK."
"No you're not. You can't bullshit a bullshitter, Remus." It was a phrase they had heard a Hufflepuff fifth year use earlier in the week, and Remus knew his friend must have been aching for an excuse to try it out ever since.
"I'm fine," he insisted. "Good night, Sirius."
With a muttered word, light bloomed somewhere in the room. Remus could see the faint glow of it through his bed curtains, could hear the soft shuffle of bare feet on the stone floor. The curtains parted, and Remus squinted in the glare of wandlight, belatedly recalling his damp cheeks and wiping them quickly on the bed sheet.
"Put that out, Sirius," he hissed. "You'll wake James and Pete."
"I will if you tell me what's wrong," said Sirius. "Budge over. The floor's freezing."
"It's nothing." Remus reluctantly scooted over to make room for his friend. "I'm just feeling a bit under the weather. I'll be fine in the morning."
Extinguishing his wand, Sirius climbed up onto the bed and stuck his cold feet under the covers, forcing Remus to retreat even farther.
"Sure you will. And next month, you'll go away and come back again and disturb my beauty sleep blubbing into your pillow," he teased, sighing theatrically and flopping onto his back. "I'll be old and wrinkled before my time, and you'll be to blame, Lupin."
"My mother --"
"Is ill. You have to go home and see her. Tell me another. The 'my mother is ill' excuse only works on Pete and the very gullible."
"But --" Remus clutched at the lie woven to protect him.
"I wonder," Sirius mused, and Remus could just see his eyes gleaming in the darkness, "why it seems like your mum always needs to see you on the night of the full moon?"
Remus froze. No. If Sirius knew that the lie was a lie, Remus might lose his friends. But if Sirius had guessed the truth, Remus had lost everything. He was finished. He would be sent home tomorrow, his wand taken away and snapped in half.
"See, I have this theory," Sirius continued, oblivious to Remus's distress. "It's not your mum who's ill. It's you."
"I'm fine!" Remus said again, a little too quickly, a little too loudly. Cold sweat prickled his skin as panic twisted in his guts.
"Come off it, Lupin." Sirius's voice was smug. A chill ran down Remus's spine as he wondered whether the boy who had been his friend still held a wand. "Illness and absences around the full moon. Moodiness. Lying. And you know I've seen the scars. Unless you've got a really unfriendly pet you haven't mentioned, I'm pretty sure you're a werewolf."
All the blood left Remus's face as the accusation lashed through the air. He felt lightheaded. "That -- that's mad," he said, trying to make his voice sound scornful. If he could only get Sirius to doubt his guesswork -- "You think Dumbledore would ever let --?"
"Did you think you could hide it from us forever? C'mon, Moony! I guessed ages ago."
There was a smile in Sirius's voice that chilled Remus to the bone. What will he do to me? Weak as he was, there was no way he could get to his own wand in time. Sirius was a pure-blood, however hard he struggled against it, and some prejudices ran deep. Remus knew better than to expect anything but violence.
"Remus?" A hand on his chest.
He panicked. Throwing himself backwards out of bed, he thrashed against the tangle of drapes, and ran for the bathroom. Remus fell to his knees beside the toilet, and was violently sick, retching up what little he had eaten that day. He clung to the porcelain bowl, trembling, as dark spots swam before his eyes. If he fainted, he would be at Sirius's mercy.
Dimly, he heard the sound of running water, and then there was a cool hand on the back of his neck and a glass of water before him.
"It's OK." The voice sounded very far away. "Nothing bad is going to happen. I said I've known for ages, didn't I?"
Slowly, hands shaking, Remus reached for the glass of water and rinsed his mouth. He didn't know what to think or believe, but maybe -- just maybe -- he was not in immediate danger. He could not think of a good reason why Sirius would bring him water if he meant to attack him. He sagged back onto the tiled floor, eyes closed, as his pounding heart began to slow.
"All right?" asked Sirius. His fingers brushed the back of Remus's neck, and he felt a treacherous urge to relax into the soothing touch. "D'you want to go see Pomfrey?"
Remus shook his head, eyes still closed. He didn't want to see the matron, and he wasn't ready to face Sirius yet, either.
"Right, then. Back to bed?"
Sirius helped him to his feet and across the dark dormitory where, mercifully, James and Peter were still snoring. As Remus collapsed, weak-kneed, onto the bed, his shoulder gave a painful throb, forcing the air out between his teeth in a sharp hiss.
"You OK?" whispered Sirius, climbing up beside him.
"Yeah," Remus mumbled. "I just -- tore a muscle in my shoulder last night."
"Can I get you anything for it?"
Remus blinked at the unexpected question. "Pomfrey gave me some ointment. It's on the nightstand."
"This?" asked Sirius, reaching for the stone jar.
Hesitantly, Remus unbuttoned the top button of his pyjama shirt and pushed it back off his shoulder, but the muscle had swollen even more in the intervening hours, and the reach to apply the soothing ointment was more painful and awkward than ever. When Remus winced, Sirius picked up the jar.
"Turn around," he said. "I'll do it."
Remus stared at him. He would never have asked it. Sirius had already been a better friend that night than Remus had any right to expect. But for him to voluntarily offer to touch him -- to help him -- was unimaginable. Slowly, consumed by disbelief, Remus turned.
A hand coated in cool cream slid over his shoulder, and Remus groaned as instant relief spread in its wake. Sirius's fingers were deft and sure, gently but firmly massaging the ointment into the inflamed muscle.
"How -- how long have you known?" Remus asked after a moment.
"Last spring. James, too," he added as an obvious afterthought.
Remus jerked. "He -- what? James knows, too?"
"Yeah," said Sirius as he continued to work the cream into his skin. "We found out by accident when we broke into Pomfrey's office with the Prewetts."
"The Prewetts?" groaned Remus as Sirius dug his thumbs hard into the torn muscle. "Does anyone not know?"
"Shhh," Sirius whispered. "The Prewetts don't know anything. Well, they saw all the books on werewolves Pomfrey had, but they don't know it's you, so it's only me and James. We never even told Pete."
"What did James say when you found out?"
"He was a tit about it at first," Sirius admitted. "Remember how he was before Easter?"
"Oh." Remus had wondered what that had been about. "Does he hate me, then?"
"He got over it," said Sirius. "I didn't even have to hex him."
Remus didn't understand. Most wizards would never learn to accept someone like him, and they certainly wouldn't just "get over it". "But -- if you knew, then why -- not even Pete --?"
Sirius's hand stilled on his greasy shoulder. "We're your friends, all right? It's what friends do -- look out for each other and keep each other's secrets. Anyway, James said not to tell you we knew because it was right before exams."
Remus opened his mouth, but a sudden lump in his throat prevented any words from emerging. His eyes stung. Surely Sirius had somehow failed to understand the situation. Either that, or he was raving. He couldn't actually mean the things he had said. And yet, here he was, unafraid, touching Remus without any sign of disgust, calling him "friend" and claiming he had known his secret even when he had slept beside him at the Potters' house -- even during that awful scene in the Black family sitting room -- and had never once divulged it or thrown that knowledge back in Remus's face. Either he was mad, or he was a better friend than Remus had dared to hope for.
"Is this a dream?" Perhaps he would wake up tomorrow and everything would be back to normal. The thought saddened him. He so wanted it to be real -- for this to be his friend's reaction to learning his secret -- for his world not to end after all if he was found out.
Sirius laughed softly and pinched him just above the elbow. Remus jumped.
"You really don't hate me?"
"We don't hate you," Sirius assured him. "Really. I think it's kind of cool."
"It's not 'cool'," said Remus bitterly as Sirius tugged his pyjamas back up over his shoulder and returned the jar of ointment to the nightstand. "It's about the furthest thing from 'cool' there is."
"No," said Sirius, nestling down on the pillows and pulling the bedclothes up over himself. "The furthest thing from 'cool' is definitely Snivellus. You've got nothing to worry about."
Remus smiled reluctantly and slid under the covers beside his friend. "I guess I was an idiot, hoping no one would figure it out."
Remus contemplated the dark outline of his friend. He couldn't believe that James and Sirius had known for six whole months without letting on. Peter still didn't know, and Remus had never suspected a thing. They had kept his secret this long. Maybe they could be trusted to keep it long enough for Remus to sit his OWLs. Or even -- he dared to think -- his NEWTs. But he had to be certain that they understood what was at stake.
"Promise me you won't tell anyone?" he said urgently. "Dumbledore knows, and Madam Pomfrey. If you and James know, that's all right. Pete, too, maybe. But if anyone else ever finds out, I'm done for. I won't be able to go to Hogwarts anymore. I'll have to go home, and I'll never be a proper wizard."
"Your secret's safe with me," Sirius promised. "But --"
"But what?" Remus was still wary.
Sirius hesitated. "What's it like?"
There was an eagerness in his voice than made Remus squirm uncomfortably. He wrapped his arms protectively around himself. "You don't want to know."
"No, I do," Sirius insisted.
Remus turned away, and was silent for a long moment. He didn't want to talk about it. It was bad enough living it, and he was exhausted. But the truth might be the only thing capable of shocking Sirius into taking his secret and his promise to keep it seriously.
"It's -- terrible," Remus began softly. "You can't possibly imagine. I'm always watching the moon, knowing what's coming, and there's nothing I can do about it. Because I'm going to change. My body's going to turn itself practically inside out, and a monster's going to take over, and it's going to want to hunt and kill the people I care about. It's hungry for blood. So I lock myself away somewhere safe, to protect people, but I can't protect myself.
"The transformations -- I can feel my bones change shape, grinding and snapping. It hurts so much all I can do is scream and scream, but nothing can stop it or make it hurt less. And then the monster's there, and I'm locked away in a corner of its mind. I can see what it's doing and sense what it's feeling, but I have no control. It can smell people nearby, and on its own skin. When it can't get to them, it tears itself half to pieces, biting and scratching, and I wake up covered in blood the next morning, too weak to move or do anything to help myself."
Remus had never spoken so plainly about his transformations to anyone, but weariness had lowered his defences.
"I was six when I was bitten. I didn't know anything about werewolves, but I learned fast. You'd think the pain would be the worst of it, but it's not. I'm always scared I'm going to hurt someone. I have nightmares about my parents and my sister, dead, covered in blood, with their throats ripped open." He did not mention that of late, such dreams had come to include Sirius and his other friends from Hogwarts, bodies still, eyes sightless and staring.
"I worry all the time that someone will find out what I am. I see how they look at me when they know. I'm a disgusting thing that people hate, and I want to scream at them that it's not my fault, but I know what would happen if I met them in the wrong place at the wrong time. They're right to be afraid.
"My dad lost his job because of what I am. I hated myself for that. It messed up all our lives. We were always having to move and hide and lie. I didn't think I could ever go to school or have friends or stay in one place for very long."
His chest felt tight, and he took a deep, shuddering breath. "Mum and Dad and Nat have been great about it, though. One time, when I lost a finger --"
Sirius jerked and made an inarticulate sound of horror. "You what?!"
Remus shrugged, half sitting up, and winced as his shoulder twinged. "Sorry. It happens sometimes --"
But Sirius was turning away, scrabbling on the nightstand for his wand. "Lumos." He sat up, grabbing Remus's hands. "Which one?" he demanded.
Reluctantly, Remus spread his hands in the wandlight, and showed Sirius the jagged scars at the base of two of his fingers. "It's usually just toes," he told his friend. "And not more than once a year or so."
"Slytherin's arse, Remus," Sirius breathed, shaking his head.
"It's not hard to reattach them with magic. If you can find them, that is. But one time, they couldn't. Mum was going spare while Dad patched me up. Nat went down into the cellar to look for it. She was seven," he added softly. "She cried when she couldn't find it. Dad ended up having to buy a really expensive potion so I could re-grow it."
Sirius looked queasy. He extinguished his wand and flopped back down.
"Told you you didn't want to hear about it," said Remus, settling wearily against the pillows. He felt strangely light and peaceful after his whispered confession.
Tentative fingers brushed against Remus's knuckles. "I -- I don't know --"
"It's OK." He was touched that Sirius wanted to offer comfort even when Remus knew there was none to be had. "I'm used to it. And it's better, knowing I've got friends."
"Yeah," said Sirius. "Me and James -- we'll find a way to make it better. Maybe we'll be the first to find a cure for werewolfishness."
"Lycanthropy," Remus yawned. "It's called 'lycanthropy'. And you won't find one."
"We can look. We can get Pete to help, and --"
"Could you maybe -- not tell Pete just yet? And -- don't tell James that I know you know, either. I need to think about things, and I'd rather not have to answer a load of questions straight away."
"Thanks," mumbled Remus, eyelids fluttering closed. "Didn't want to lie to you."
"Didn't think you did it for fun," said Sirius, burrowing deeper under the blankets. "Now can I get my beauty sleep, Moony?"
Remus grimaced, but did not open his eyes. "Please don't ever call me that again, Sirius."
The last thing Remus heard before he drifted into sleep was the amused voice of the best friend he had ever known saying, "I swear it on my honour as a Black."