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The Other Side of Sorrow

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4 February, 1977 - 11 February, 1977

 

Something wasn’t right.

The first thing Remus knew, as his mind haltingly returned to him, was pain. So much bloody pain. Every joint seared with arthritic fire, the throbbing in his head pounded out each heartbeat, and his skin was riddled with the telltale prickle of flesh wounds recently treated by Pomfrey’s wand and salves. It had been a long time since a moon had left him in such a state, with the company of his packmates he usually didn’t get anything worse than a few shallow cuts or bruises from their races and play-fighting.

Remus’ sluggishly thudding heart dropped into the pit of his stomach with the realization. They didn’t come. It was the only explanation. If the Marauders had been there, even one of them, he would not be in such agony. The disappointment spread out from his chest like a drop of ink on wet parchment, bleeding into every corner of his being. Why hadn’t they come? Had they finally come to their senses, realized what a foolish waste it was to keep company with a Dark Creature like himself? No, don’t be a git, a voice in his head that sounded a little like Sirius told him. Of course not. They’d proven their loyalty many times over, of course. They probably just did something stupid and landed themselves in detention.

Yes, that had to be it. The Marauders weren’t notorious for getting into trouble by accident, after all. Remus willed himself to believe it, willed himself to relax and quit feeling sorry for himself as the pull of the moon lessened with the climbing sun. The haze of pain did not lessen, but the wolf-mind continued to recede, making room for his more reasonable, albeit weary, human mind to take over. It was a gradual shift with which Remus had grown very familiar in the past eleven years, and he ticked off the boxes of an internal checklist with each small change. His mind was already more rational, check. His stomach grumbled, check. Internal reminders about Prefect shifts and assignments began to crop up, check. The taste in his mouth was growing more and more objectionable, check.

His attention snagged on the last. It was not uncommon for him to come to the morning after a full moon with a foul taste in his mouth. Usually it was the dry-mouthed, stale taste of a tongue that had been lolling out as the wolf panted and ran. Sometimes it was the earthy taste and unwelcome texture of fur from Padfoot or Prongs. Occasionally, it was the pungent taste of animal droppings or some dead thing that had caught Moony’s attention on the forest floor. It had never been this, this salt-bitter taste that coated every tastebud, tickling inside his nose with its metallic tang. A terrific bolt of adrenaline shot through him like fire, as the wolf and the boy together identified the taste of blood.

It was then, as he made to bolt upright, that he realized he was under the effect of a full body-bind jinx.

His eyes shot open, but the rest of his body refused to move, as if weighed down by an impossibly heavy burden. The only part of him other than his eyes that responded was his tongue, sweeping impatiently against his teeth, repulsed by the feeling of gristle caught between them. The Hospital Wing was the same as always, for all he could tell with the starched curtain pulled around his bed. His eyes lingered longingly on the stoneware jug and cup on the bedside table that he knew would be full of cool, clean water, torturously out of reach of his frozen limbs. Instead he forced his throat to swallow, desperate to wash the taste from his mouth even as his stomach twisted, threatening to retch up its mysterious and grisly contents. His mind, so orderly only moments before was a panic of questions now, a discordant crescendo with the one word cutting through it like a metronome, who? Who? WHO? WHO?

And then, beyond the cacophony in his head, Remus heard the sound of the Hospital Wing door opening and shutting and the sound of hushed, solemn voices. He strained his ears to hear, “...put him down, Albus,” his heart lurched, “or at least lock him up.”

“I have no intention of letting that happen, Poppy, I assure you,” said Dumbledore, in a measured tone.

“But, Albus, surely the Ministry will--” Madam Pomfrey sounded almost frantic, and that scared Remus as much as anything. He had never before heard her sound anything but stern or calm or kindly.

“The Ministry will have to wait, at least for a moment longer, I’m afraid,” Dumbledore interrupted, his tone authoritative, “At least long enough for us to speak first with Mr Lupin. It concerns him a great deal, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

“Well, of course it does,” Madam Pomfrey said and Remus was almost relieved to hear some of the medi-witch’s usual stern tone, “But I must insist that we let the boy sleep.”

“And I would agree you with you, Poppy,” Dumbledore said amenably, “If he were not already awake, and no doubt rather cross with me for having left him restrained.” No sooner had the words been spoken than Remus felt the body-bind lift, and he shot upright, leaning over the side of the bed, retching on the floor with an undignified splat.

He heard the curtains being pulled aside behind him but he did not turn to look. His eyes were glued to the luridly red stain of his sick on the otherwise spotless marble floor. He was distantly aware that he was trembling but before he could even consider being embarrassed about it, he vomited violently once more, knowing from the sound that Madam Pomfrey or the Headmaster had summoned a basin to catch it. When his insides felt like they had been turned inside out and wrung thoroughly, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and drew his knees to his chest, indifferent to the pain that screamed through his aching body. He stared at the pinkish stain his mouth had left on his sleeve for a long moment before he forced himself to meet the light blue gaze that he felt resting upon him.

“Hello, Remus,” Dumbledore said, in a kind, even tone, “I’m sorry to find you so unwell.”

Remus blinked at him, dumbfounded. Unwell? What kind of word was that for his present state? Who gives a damn if I’m unwell, I’m a… a… he cringed at the thought, and said tremulously, “...P-professor?”

Dumbledore smiled wanly, “Ah. But of course, I shall refrain from offering sympathies that are unwanted, however much I might feel that they are deserved.”

Remus glanced at Madam Pomfrey, finding a look of something like pity upon her face. He felt angry tears prickle his eyes. Where was the retribution? The fear, the blame... even just disappointment would make more sense than this! He was not a sick or injured student in need of sympathy, he was a… a… He shut his eyes tight, trying to will away the tears but instead forcing them to roll down his cheeks, “Who?” he managed to force out through gritted teeth, “Who did I--?”

“I would remind you, Remus, that you did nothing wrong,” Dumbledore interrupted gently, and Remus opened his eyes but knew from the look on his headmaster’s weary old face that it would be a mistake to feel relief, “You know better than any that you are not your own master on the night of the full moon.”

“Oh, Albus, he’s going to find out,” Madam Pomfrey said impatiently, “You might as well tell him, and then you can lecture him on how to take it.”

Dumbledore almost smiled, but instead he sighed, a sigh that was very heavy with regret, “Very well,” Remus’ eyes darted back and forth between Madam Pomfrey and Dumbledore, before Dumbledore finally spoke, “Your classmate, a Slytherin sixth-year by the name of Severus Snape, entered the Shrieking Shack last night sometime after moonrise.”

The first thing Remus felt was a wash of relief that the name had not been Sirius Black, James Potter, or Peter Pettigrew but a millisecond later he berated himself for his selfishness. He glanced around as if to check the other beds in the Hospital Wing for the sight of that familiar greasy head on any of the pillows, but could not see past the curtain that still enclosed his bed most of the way, “He… is he…?”

Remus knew the answer instantly from the expression on Dumbledore’s face even before he spoke, “Mr Snape did not survive.”

Remus covered his face in his hands, his nails biting slightly into his forehead and cheeks as he tried in vain to un-hear this information, to un-know it, to un-know what he had done, what he was. This was it. He’d always feared that it was just a matter of time and now it had happened. He knew what the Ministry did to werewolves who didn’t mind their manners on the full moon. I deserve it. He was only grateful that the Marauders weren’t here to deny it, to decry his monsterhood, or defy his fate. That would have been too painful to bear. He swallowed thickly, lowering his legs and folding his hands in his lap to keep them from shaking, setting his shoulders back and raising his gaze back to Dumbledore’s almost defiantly. He may be a monster, and he may be doomed, but he was still a Gryffindor and he was going to meet his end with his head held high, “When is it?” he asked, in a brittle voice.

Dumbledore’s silvery eyebrows lifted ever-so-slightly, asking gently, “Pardon me, Remus, when is what exactly?”

The bravery in his own voice surprised even Remus, “My execution, sir.”

Madam Pomfrey gasped and grabbed the basin of viscera by Remus’ bedside, disappearing out the small gap in the curtain to dispose of it. Dumbledore’s face was not shocked, but weary, and Remus once again heard the hint of determination he had overheard when the headmaster first entered the Hospital Wing, “I don’t intend for there to be an execution at all, Mr Lupin.”

“Alright, then, my trial,” Remus amended, but Dumbledore shook his head, “Well, then, at least when am I leaving?”

“Leaving?” Dumbledore repeated politely.

“Leaving Hogwarts,” Remus explained, feeling frustration warring with the guilt and confusion and fear already rampant within him, “Surely I’m to be expelled!”

“Not while I hold my present authority as headmaster, Mr Lupin,” Dumbledore shook his head once sharply, “Hogwarts has already lost one student too many today.”

Remus’ stomach lurched and his anger suddenly flared, “But I killed him, Professor! I’ve never tried my hand at your job but I think that ought to warrant more than a bloody slap on the wrist!”

“I suggest you leave my job to me, then, Mr Lupin,” Dumbledore said sternly, and Remus’ anger faltered, “And I would remind you that you did not kill anyone. A dark creature merely did what is regrettably in its nature to do--”

“A dark creature who is me, Professor--”

“That’s quite enough, Mr Lupin,” Dumbledore held up one long hand and Remus’ protests died in his throat, “You--”

“Moony?” James’ groggy voice from outside the curtain silenced Dumbledore, who closed his eyes slowly as if wincing.

“J-James?” all of the anger and bravado went out of Remus at the sound of his friend’s voice sounding much too frail, “Professor, is that James?” Remus threw back his blankets and made to jump out of bed, halting as his stomach and joints complained, “What did I do to James, tell me?!” he demanded urgently, even if he couldn’t stand up just yet.

“‘M’alright, Moons,” James said in an unconvincing tone from the other side of the curtain.

“Mr Potter tried to follow Mr Snape,” Dumbledore explained, without opening his eyes, “But as you know, the Willow does not take very kindly to being approached.”

Normally, this understatement about the Whomping Willow’s temperament might have earned a wry smile from Remus, but he was too busy trying to piece together the events of the full moon. Why hadn’t James been able to get past the Willow when he knew about the secret knot in the roots and had gone past it loads of times?

“Daft o’ me, really,” James grumbled from the next bed, “Sending Wormy to fetch Dumbledore…”

Just then, Madam Pomfrey reappeared, twitching open the curtain that lay between James’ bed and Remus’. Dumbledore opened his eyes and regarded her and she said, a bit sharply, “It concerns them both and as Mr Potter is joining the conversation as it is…”

“As you say, Poppy,” Dumbledore said.

James looked horrible. His face was mottled with dark bruises, looking especially gruesome in contrast to the crisp white of his pillow. His spectacles lay on the bedside table between them but Remus could already see curved white line of a scar on his left temple where the Willow had no doubt driven the side of them into his skin. His left eye was swollen shut and his lip was busted but he still managed a weak smile at the sight of Remus, though it vanished so quickly, it was hard to say if it had been there at all. Remus felt a new bud of unease blossoming in his gut. That had not been pain that flashed across James’ features ever so quickly, it had been shame, “Prongs…?” Remus said faintly.

James’ good eye shot to Dumbledore, who sighed and the long fingers of one hand stroked his beard distractedly for a second before falling again to his side, “Remus, I have been made to understand that Mr Snape’s unfortunate arrival at the Shrieking Shack was more than a tragic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Remus’ blood turned to ice in his veins and his eyes sprang back to James, then back to Dumbledore, “He…” Remus ran his hand through his hair, uneasily, “I should have told you, headmaster, he’s been suspicious of my disappearances--”

“No one can say how much about your circumstances Mr Snape may have deduced,” the old wizard’s light blue eyes rested on Remus’ face again, melting with sympathy, “It pains me to tell you that Severus was told to go to the Shrieking Shack.”

“Told?” Remus blinked at the Headmaster, “That’s impossible, Professor. I mean, with all due respect, my--”

“Sirius,” James’ growl from the bed beside Remus’ was so fierce it very nearly didn’t register as a word. And then, suddenly, it did. Sirius, who sometimes took their pranks just a little too far. Sirius, who had nicknamed Remus ‘Moony’ and mentioned his ‘furry little problem’ a little too much to be safe. Sirius, whose shrew of a mother had finally burned him from the family tree when he got too mouthy at Christmas, electing his brother heir. Sirius, who had been a powderkeg all term, quicker than ever to hex anyone who looked at him wrong, who for the first time had been maybe living up to the infamous madness of the family that had rejected him. The ice in Remus’ veins turned recklessly to fire, anger storming through him frantically, fast as it could, desperate to drown out the heartbreak with which it competed. He couldn’t think of him as the Sirius who had come up with the plan to become Animagi, the Sirius who always had a joke or a chocolate frog at the ready, the Sirius who loved Muggle music even when the lyrics perplexed him, who moved through Remus’ thoughts with tempting, regal, animal grace. He clung to the anger, the anger that erased that Sirius in favor of the other, the anger that said “of course, he betrayed you, he’s always been a bit mad, a bit selfish, a bit cruel”.

Remus realized with a start that James had been talking, “...no sodding excuse, mind, I don’t give a rat’s arse what Sniv-- Severus said to him, he had no right--no bloody right--

“I do believe that will do, Mr Potter,” Dumbledore said evenly and James fell into a cross silence, his bruised brow still furrowed with passion.

“What about him?” Remus asked, his voice so quiet that for a second he doubted whether Dumbledore would have heard. He raised an eyebrow, “He… Sirius.... is… are you expelling him?”

The other eyebrow lifted to match the first, “I have told you already that I believe that Hogwarts has lost one student too many today,” Remus opened his mouth and James grumbled, but Dumbledore went on, in a tone that brooked no argument, “And I would remind you that we agreed that I am better suited to the post of Headmaster than you, and therefore it is up to me who is or is not expelled.”

“Headmaster--” was the only word Remus managed to get out before Dumbledore was again offering sympathies that Remus did not want or deserve, and excusing himself. Madame Pomfrey swooped in at once, asking both boys various questions about how they were feeling, administering a variety of potions, and finally watching them both swallow every drop of a sleeping draught before withdrawing to her office. The sun had only just cleared the horizon and brilliant morning sunlight bathed the Hospital Wing as a stifling silence gathered around the two sole occupants. Remus’ eyelids were beginning to grow heavy as James said, in a fractured voice, “I’m sorry, Remus. I-I tried to stop him, I…”

“Shut up, James,” Remus said flatly. Without looking at James, he knew the look he must have worn, as if he’d been slapped.

“Moony--”

“Don’t call me that,” Remus growled, hating the mark of the wolf in his voice. He couldn’t believe, in that moment, that he’d ever been so foolish to let them call him that. To make light of the thing that made him a monster. A killer, he thought, his mind gone too soft and sleepy to keep up holding the word at bay.

“Remus…” James mumbled, before a snore rose from his bed. His adrenaline gone, the strain of his transformations, and Pomfrey’s potent sleeping draught meant sleep was overcoming Remus quickly as well. Too quickly. He had so much to mull over, he wished he could lay here undisturbed and try to eke even a shred of sense from all of it, but he knew the medi-witch enough after six years in her care to know that she doled out those sleeping draughts as much to enforce mental rest as physical rest upon her charges. His mind brushed over the thought of Sirius again and flinched away from it as if burned, and he realized he was in no rush to think through any of it. Better not to think at all, he decided, and was asleep an instant later.

 

***

 

Sirius didn’t know the particulars of the story Dumbles had cooked up to explain the death of a student to the Ministry of Magic. Judging by the removal of the Whomping Willow from the Hogwarts grounds, he reckoned it was a safe assumption that he had pinned it on that bastard of a tree. The removal of the Willow was no small undertaking. On the contrary, it required the magic of several Hogwarts professors, Hagrid’s brawn, and the spellwork of several more Ministry personnel. It was quite the gorey spectacle, as a handful of witches and wizards repeatedly stunned the tree by prodding its Achilles heel of a root and while it was frozen, the other party of witches and wizards sawed and burned away as many boughs as they could before it began again to thrash and had to be stunned once more. It took hours, and drew quite a large audience, torn between relief and pity to see the violent tree reduced to an armless, gnarled trunk that swiveled and bent uselessly until it was torn up by its roots and carted away, still fighting.

Sirius watched numbly from the roof of Gryffindor Tower. The others were not about, he didn’t know if they were avoiding looking on purpose or if they just had better things to do. For all he knew they were under Prongs’ cloak, right in the front row. Or swiping chocolates from Honeyduke’s. Or on the bloody moon. It didn’t matter. He’d mourn the blasted tree alone, of course, now that he was someone who did everything alone. He took a drag off his cigarette, as an uncertain cheer went up through the mass of students down on the grounds as the last chunk of roots was torn from the ground. Sirius was much too high up to see if the underground tunnel was discernible in the turned soil. Maybe Dumbledore had sealed it up before the Ministry had even sent their gaggle of tree-trimmers. As he stubbed out his butt on the cold roof tiles beside him and tapped another cigarette from the crumpled pack, the last of the Ministry folks began making their way to Hogsmeade to Disapparate and the crowd dispersed, and all that was left was a jagged, dark scar marring the white of the snow-blanketed grounds.

There was a kind of poetry to it, Sirius reckoned, a kind of dark irony and symbolism that Remus would have eaten up if he’d encountered it in the pages of one of those melodramatic old Muggle novels. The whole mess of it, really, would have tickled Remus if it had been set on some blasted moors a few hundred years before. Betrayal and treachery, made for good reading, that. But it didn’t matter. His literary observations, however astute, would remain unappreciated, though; he might as well shout them into that damn hole in the ground as tell them to Remus, for all the response he was likely to get.

He scowled, his hand twitching involuntarily and snapping his cigarette in half. He regarded it for a second, still smoldering pointlessly between his fingers, before hurling it off the roof and lying back hard, not caring when his skull collided painfully with the tiles. It was only February and the sullen grey of the sky mirrored his mood. Can you still call it a mood if it’s a constant state of being? The sky was cold, and the roof was cold, and even the way the voice in his head spoke to him was cold. It was hard to believe that a couple days ago he’d been brimming with reckless uncontainable sparks, ready to set anything ablaze. But he had, hadn’t he? Not just anything, but everything. He’d never been one for moderation, he supposed wryly, but burning down everything had been a bit much even for him. And now there was just ashes, and solitude, and the cold of silence that had no prospect of being broken.

His fists clenched at his sides, fingernails biting into his palms. What the fuck was he doing trying to rationalize, trying to find some humor in it? A bit much? Someone was dead and everyone was gone and there was no use minimizing it. Sirius Black was no stranger to fucking up, but this really went far beyond fucking up. And that was the worst part, really. He agreed with them. He’d hoped for another chance, he’d pleaded for forgiveness, but when push came to shove, he didn’t think he deserved it any more than they did. He’d killed someone. Someone shitty, mind, but someone as good as innocent. But if he was really honest with himself, it wasn’t Sniv-- Severus dying that made him sick. It was what he’d done to Moony. Remus. Not Moony anymore. Not ever again.

Sirius’ insides gave the familiar twist at the thought of how much worse it might’ve been, if Dumbles hadn’t chosen to lie for Remus. He hadn’t been put down like a beast, thank Merlin. But Sirius had still done the one thing they’d all sworn never to do. Worse than that. He hadn’t just betrayed Moon-- Remus’ secret, he’d made him a killer.

If Remus would listen to him say only one thing, he knew what it would be. You’re not the monster, I am. His heart thundered painfully with the truth of it for a moment, his own monster-ness and Remus’ enduring goodness. He brimmed momentarily with amazement at all that Remus was, patient, and courageous, and cool under pressure, brilliant, warm, humble. And beautiful. A breathtaking contradiction made flesh, at once calloused and soft, vulnerable and inscrutable, unbreakable and yet incredibly fragile. He stamped on the butterflies swarming uselessly in his belly, even more useless now than they had already been. But Merlin’s beard, there was nothing he was more sure of than how completely Remus was not a monster, anything but a monster. He wished with all his might that Remus would hear him, believe him, forgive himself. But it was a futile train of thought. They all were. Why come up with things to say when you had no one to say them to?

The urge to shift into Padfoot was strong, as it had been since the full moon. Padfoot was a brilliant bloody dog, mind, but he couldn’t brood. It simply wasn’t in canine nature to dwell on the past. He knew that there was a sort of tail-between-his-legs shame that would have remained, but it would have been a blissful respite from the darkness of his human mind. And that was exactly why he couldn’t permit himself to transform. He didn’t deserve solace, least of all from the form of the dog that he had found in himself as a means of protecting Moony. Remus, you sod. The dog was Remus’ friend, and no friend of Remus’ had any business comforting Sirius anymore.

It had always only been a matter of time, hadn’t it? Regulus had said as much once, back when they still felt like there was anything to gain from fighting about. Back when they’d been brothers. Now his list of lost brothers was a few longer and he was like the bloody Whomping Willow, just a destructive thing that had overstayed its usefulness, watching its branches be torn away one by one. And only melodramatic bloody metaphors to keep him company. Cheers.

 

*** 

 

Growing up, James had always wished for siblings. Warm and loving as his parents were (and he would learn not to take that for granted), the Potter Estate had been a bit lonely as an only child. He was friendly with the house-elves, Mimzy and Poppet, but they weren’t really proper playmates for a precocious, mischievous wizarding child. He’d exhibited magic early and came from a Pureblood background to boot, so there’d never been much doubt about whether he’d be heading to Hogwarts in his eleventh September, and he’d practically been on the edge of his broom for years, devastated that every day could drag so.

But the years had passed, the letter had come, the spellbooks and cauldron and wand had been bought, and by the time he’d stepped foot on the Hogwarts Express, he felt like it owed him something for making him wait so long. After years of being deprived of fellow mischief-makers, it was no wonder he and Sirius had got on like a house on fire. He cringed to think of it now, the streak of chaotic brilliance, the detestation of expectations and the status quo, that had made Sirius Black such an irresistible best friend to him. Wasn’t it that same bored, reckless chaos that had gotten a boy killed and darkened the circles beneath Remus’ eyes?

“C’mon, Moony, you didn’t touch dinner,” Peter was saying, dropping a few chocolate frogs onto the parchment on which Remus was transcribing a translation for Ancient Runes.

“I’ve told you not to call me that, Pete,” Remus said stiffly, brushing the chocolates aside with only the quickest possible pause between scratches of his quill.

“Er, sorry,” Peter said, shooting James a pleading look.

“Right, er, what Worm means is--” James started, ruffling his hair uncertainly.

“I heard him just fine, thanks,” Remus snipped, before catching himself and taking a steadying breath, “Sorry, I just… thanks, Peter.”

“‘S’nothing,” Pete shrugged, producing another frog from his pocket and opening it for himself, as if that might tempt Remus into having one too. James had noticed too, of course, Remus had done little more than pick at his meals since the incident, moving food around his plate with his fork as if to fool them. Peter bit into the frog and glanced at the card, reading automatically, “Malodora Grymm. Hm, she doesn’t look like a hag to me.”

“She’s the one mucked about with the Beautification Potion and the Magic Mirror, isn’t she?” James said, vaguely recalling the cautionary tale he’d grown up with, like most wizarding kids.

“Oh, she’s the last card of the Hags set Padf--” James and Peter’s heads both shot up to watch Remus’ face grow even more ashen at his slip-up. They were frozen for a second and then James snatched the little card from Peter’s hand and decisively ripped it in two. A look of annoyance flickered across Wormtail’s face for an instant before he covered it with a smile for Remus’ sake. Remus gave James a smile that didn’t reach his eyes and promptly returned to his homework. They sat in silence for a few minutes and then Pete cleared his throat nervously, “I reckon I’ll drop by chess club for a game. Catch you lads later, yeah?”

Remus gave a barely perceptible shrug, James said goodbye to Peter for both of them. He watched him leave the Common Room and listened to Remus’ quill scratch across his parchment for a moment before saying, half to himself, “Isn’t that chess club a bunch of Slytherins?”

Remus shrugged, not looking up from his schoolwork, “Reckon there’s some Ravenclaws, too. Pranav Patil and Agatha Edgecombe were just talking about it in Herbology the other week.” James shrugged too, unsure what to say to that and silence reigned for another couple minutes before Remus muttered, “Also reckon we might lay off the Slytherin-bashing, eh?”

James’ eyes had wandered over to Lily Evans, who was looking forlornly out a frosty window, but they were drawn back to Remus by this. It had been a week and this was the first time Remus had even obliquely referred to the events of the full moon without James or Peter bringing it up. He considered Remus’ features, the slight pinch that had become typical on his brow, the thin line of his lips pressed grimly together, “Oi,” James said, gently, and Remus reluctantly looked up from his parchment, his eyes meeting James’ only briefly before resting somewhere above his left shoulder, “What happ-- Well, it doesn’t change most Slytherins being prats.”

“James--”

“No, listen to me,” James insisted, “Half of them, more maybe, are still falling all over themselves for this bloody Dark Lord bloke, eating it up every time the Prophet reports more dead muggles.”

“Alright, sure,” Remus brushed it off, “They still just had one of them get killed by a monster, that’s got to--”

“You’re not a monster, Moo--Remus.” James insisted.

Remus snorted, “Right. Well, if you say so, I guess I’m not. No need for the Shack anymore, I’m bloody cured.” he dotted an ‘i’ so hard he made an unsightly blotch of ink and swore under his breath.

“I never said that, but--” James began patiently.

“Right, James, yeah, I’ve already been through all your thoughts on the subject,” Remus said with a dismissive flick of his hand, “By your estimation, I’m not guilty of anything, Severus had it coming, and Sirius--”

“Quit putting words in my mouth, Remus,” James interrupted, trying not to get angry, knowing nothing that followed Sirius’ name could keep him anywhere in the vicinity of calm,  “I sure as shit wasn’t trying to say Snape deserved it.”

Remus glared in his direction without meeting his eyes for a moment, his jaw working angrily, “Right, well,” he turned his attention back to his work, “Can’t blame Pete for seeking company other than ours.”

James willed himself to relax a little, glancing back at Lily just as she wiped her right eye, “We’re no picnic.” he agreed, a bit sheepishly.

“Why don’t you go talk to her?” Remus asked after a few minutes and James realized he’d resumed staring at Lily.

“Pfft, as if she wants to talk to me.” he said, in a defeated tone.

Remus’ head shot up and he pinned James with a measuring look, actually meeting his eye this time. He looked shocked, as if he’d just stirred from a nap, “W-what?” he spluttered.

James lifted one eyebrow, “Evans,” he said, by way of explanation, “She hates my guts. Reckon she’s got enough bugging her without me going over there.”

“That...” Remus rubbed his forehead, leaving a smear of ink. He shook his head and said decisively, “That’s not right. It’s Lily, James, if you let that torch sputter out then… then…” he groaned in frustration with trying to articulate and James saw a flash of pain peek through a crack in the stony facade he’d been careful to maintain for days now, “I… don’t you think enough has changed?”

James smiled sadly, considered it, and gave a shrug of concession as he stood, “Fair enough, but if she jinxs me, let it be on your head for encouraging me.” Remus returned his sad smile and hunched once more over his Ancient Runes text.

Thus dismissed, James made his way over towards Lily. The table Remus was occupying was pretty near to the fire that perpetually roared merrily in the common room hearth, but the nearer James got to the outer wall, the more he could feel the late winter chill. It was that sort of stubborn February cold that dug in its fingernails and clung to your bones, trying to keep any thoughts of the coming spring from touching you.

Lily was the only person in this part of the common room, sitting right up beside one of the leaded glass windows with her knees drawn up and some muggle novel open to a page about two thirds of the way through, but forgotten in her hand. Her lustrous red hair was a bit dull and tied into an indifferent knot at the base of her neck and her pretty, freckled face was blotched with pink and a bit puffy from crying and wiping. James’ heart gave a sick throb of sympathy for her, wishing he could just draw her into his arms and soothe her without getting hexed. He cleared his throat when he stood over her, as she showed no signs of knowing he was there.

“Wuh-?” she startled from her thoughts, her puffy green eyes settling on him and giving away a little bit of disappointment, “Oh. W-what do you want, Potter?”

“I, er,” James scratched the back of his neck, cursing himself for approaching her at all, “Just wanted to… er, see how you were doing.”

Lily blinked at him and her brows drew together the slightest bit before she made her face impassive, “Oh, yeah, never been better.”

James held up his hands as if in surrender, “Look, if you don’t want to talk, I’ll get lost. I just…” he let the sentence fizzle out lamely.

To his surprise, Lily simply sighed and shrugged one shoulder, “Suit yourself.” she inclined her head in front of her a bit, indicating that he could sit, and he took the invitation a titch warily.

She turned her gaze back out the window and James looked too, and his heart sank when he realized her eyes were glued to the unsightly scar where the Whomping Willow had been, the soil looking black against the snow in the gloaming, “I’m sorry,” he said, softly, honestly.

Lily rested her forehead against the cold glass, “You’ve nothing to be sorry for.” James wished he could tell her that that wasn’t true. That, in actuality, he had loads to be sorry for. If he’d been just a little faster, if he’d been a little less careless, if he’d kept a closer eye on Sirius’ increasingly erratic behavior since Christmas, Severus might very well have been alive. Remus would still be Moony, still be grinning crookedly and balancing pranks with Prefect duties, still be casting furtive longing looks at Sirius when he thought no one was watching. Sirius and Remus wouldn’t both be killers, in one way or another, and James might be able to look forward to a future that consisted of more than walking on a tightrope made of eggshells, “No offense, Potter, but I never would have expected you to be so sorry to see Sev bite it.”

James jumped as if she’d struck him, as much because he hadn’t expected her to speak as because he was unused to Lily talking that way, “I, uh--”

“Sorry, sorry,” Lily said, sheepishly, running one hand down her face, “Of course, you didn’t want him dead, much as you disliked him.”

“I mean, no, I didn’t,” James said, not wanting to make her feel worse, wanting desperately to make her feel even the smallest bit better but with no idea how, “But can’t fault you for missing that, I certainly didn’t treat him like I was too happy to see him draw breath.”

Lily snorted, and to his surprise put on a not-all-that-bad impression of his voice, “ ‘It’s more the fact that he exiiiists, if you know what I mean,’ ” she plastered on an outrageous smirk and mimed mussing up her hair and James laughed despite himself.

“Alright, point taken, but I do not sound like that,” he protested.

“You actually really do,” she countered, as the imitative smirk faded into just the shadow of her own, natural smile before inverting into a frown, “And you did say that, you know.”

James nodded, ashamed, “I… yeah, I know I did. The day of our OWLs, yeah?” Lily nodded, and James took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “I always was a right prat to him, wasn’t I?”

“As I tried to tell you a couple million times, yes,” Lily agreed, a bit stiffly but then gave James a forgiving glance, “He was no angel, though. Least of all to you.”

“Nor to you, lately,” James pointed out tentatively. To his horror, tears welled up anew in Lily’s eyes.

“Th-that’s the thing, y’know,” she said tearfully, swiping at her eyes impatiently, “We were friends s-so long and even… even as bad as things got,” she gave another helpless shrug, “I always thought m-maybe, there was a… a possibility, however slim, mind, that… that he’d,” she threw up her hands, “Realize he was hanging ‘round a bunch of bleeding elitist twits and like… see the error of his ways or what-have-you and… and…”

That was it, she might hex him into next Tuesday, but he couldn’t take it anymore. James lurched forward and tugged her against his chest in a rather uncomfortable hug. To his surprise, she stiffened for only a second before going slack, burying her face against his shoulder and sobbing in earnest. He lifted a hand and cautiously patted her back, tempted to tell her it was all alright but resisting the easy, empty platitude, “There, there,” he managed, because it was what his mum always said, and then, “It… Lils, it’s perfectly natural to have… hoped for a chance to reconcile. You couldn’t have known time was… short.” she nodded against his chest and wailed softly. Gradually he became somewhat emboldened by the prolonged contact and wrapped his arms properly around her back. He felt Remus’ eyes on him and glanced his way, seeing a look that somewhat resembled the easy, crooked smile he’d seen a thousand times. He nodded and then returned to his work.

After a few minutes, Lily’s sobs gave way to hiccups and sniffles and she squirmed. James released her at once, not risking a second of unwanted contact when he knew how good she was with a wand. She gave him an apologetic watery smile and scrubbed at her eyes with her hands. She gave a small sad laugh that gave way to another fuller laugh. James quirked an eyebrow, “You called me Lils, you absolute prat. Long way from ‘OI EVANS’, eh?”

James felt his cheeks redden, “Surnames seemed a bit impersonal, yeah?” she laughed again, “Oi, lay off, I was trying to be sensitive.”

“Alright, alright,” she stood up a bit abruptly, grabbing her forgotten book from the floor, “Well, I think I’ve made quite enough of a fool of myself for one night. I’m to bed,” she smirked, “Ta, Jamie.” James’ cheeks grew hotter still, but he counted himself very fortunate to have somehow made it through that conversation without needing to head back to the Hospital Wing.

Chapter Text

13 April, 1979


“It is my understanding that the Dark Lord means to reach Minister Minchum directly,” Rookwood said in a tone of practiced nonchalance, “Our influence within the Ministry is growing--”

“Yeah, yeah,” Amycus Carrow waved a hand dismissively, using a tine of an elegantly wrought silver fork to pick at something between his teeth, “We know you’ve gotten yourself some pats on the head from the Dark Lord, you’ve only told us a thousand sodding times.”

“Your only concern,” Bellatrix said sharply, twitching her wand so that the fork was pulled from Carrow’s fingers and fell to the table as if by the force of a magnet, “Should be how better to serve our Master. And don’t let me see you wielding my fork that way again or I shall better acquaint it with your eye.

Sirius gave a calculated snicker at the jibe, making sure not to show just how much he’d love to see Carrow suffer. His cousin’s dark eyes flashed at him and she seemed pleased by the flash of cruelty in him, patting his arm, before turning back to the conversation at hand. Sirius expertly concealed his revulsion at her touch. He caught a look of resentment from Rodolphus, but he resented any scrap of approval Bellatrix awarded to anyone but himself and the Dark Lord. As if I bloody want it, he thought, the schooled look of impassivity never budging from his features. Looking the part was more than half the job.

So, it had come in handy after all, that pureblood upbringing. The name Black opened doors and that particular, straight-backed, haughty stance that his hag of a mother had drilled into him demanded respect. Sirius’ eyes landed on his distorted reflection on the silver goblet of wine by his hand, the inverted portrait of a smartly dressed Lordling with cold, pure blood. His glance travelled to Regulus, the same picture right-side-up, his dress robes crisp and dark, his back stiff so that he looked quite uncomfortable in his chair, his chin elevated as mummy dearest had taught them, to give the constant impression of looking-down-upon.

Feeling his brother’s gaze, Regulus eye’s snapped to his, the familiar grey. His eyes were rimmed with red, Sirius realized, as if he’d been forgoing sleep, the pupils small despite the dim candlelight. He seemed to be trying to convey something, with a twitch of the muscles in his jaw, and the slightest lift of one arched brow. Sirius didn’t know what it was and he knew better than to look at Regulus for too long, it was too likely to crack his careful facade.

Regulus was the hardest thing about Sirius’ time spent with the Death Eaters. He loathed the rest, he felt ill on the rare occasion he was in the Dark Lord’s presence, his ability to live with himself was chipped away at by every time he was powerless to intervene lest he blow his cover. But every second with Regulus he risked blowing his cover. He had known goodness in Regulus once and seeing him an obedient Death Eater was enough to send Sirius into a rage if he let it. He’d swallowed the bitter truth that he was doomed to lose every brother he’d ever known, but he might have lived with it better if he didn’t have to nod politely to them over war strategies.

It took a great deal of self-control to keep his face a blankly haughty mask as his thoughts turned towards James. He knew he must be a wreck. Dragon Pox, at their age? His parents had as good as been given a death sentence. His heart gave an aching twist in his chest at the thought of the Potters, so briefly and wonderfully his parents. He thought of the summers he’d spent there, almost felt the sunburn on his skin again as he remembered how Euphemia had tutted over him. And how when he’d tumbled through their fireplace, nerves still singing with the aftershock of a Cruciatus cast by his own mother, it hadn’t been a question, it had just been a matter of making room for another son. And now it had been years since he’d seen them and soon they would be dead.

He wondered if they’d asked James about him. Of course he would have made excuses about his living arrangements. Sirius remembered with excruciating clarity the way James had told him, in the horrible days after that moon, that he ought to find himself a flat with some of his Uncle Alphard’s inheritance, because he would not be welcomed back to the Potter Estate. His parents must have accepted Sirius moving out, but how had James excused his total disappearance, his absence even at James’ own wedding? Who had been best man, Peter? He almost snorted aloud and realized he’d let his thoughts wander dangerously, and pulled himself back to the present.

Dolohov and Avery were having a disagreement about which had cast the Blasting Curse that had decimated Benjy Fenwick, and Sirius wished he had not tuned back in. He might not have joined the bloody Order in the first place if he’d known old Dumbles would find him most useful plopped back into the nest of vipers he’d hardly escaped in the first place. But they needed someone on the inside, and who better than the prodigal son of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black, having seen the error of his blood traitorous ways? He’d slipped easily into their ranks and it was no surprise, he’d spent half his childhood feeling like an outsider made to fit in like a spy. He had gained their trust, he told himself, as his eyes slid over the faces of the dark witches and wizards around the table. He wondered, not for the first time, if Severus Snape would have sat among them. He felt sure that he would have. What a fine bloody joke it was; if Severus had lived to join the Dark Lord’s numbers, all the folks at the Order would think him better off dead. Sirius had simply caused his death too early for it to be heralded as good news.

“Sirius,” a quiet voice pulled Sirius back out of the dark spiral of thought. He blinked and realized the Death Eaters were gathering their cloaks and saying their farewells and Regulus was standing before him.

“Regulus,” Sirius said with a curt nod of dismissal, getting to his own feet and making for the door. One of the Lestrange house-elves appeared and handed him his lightweight spring cloak, the same dark slate grey as his robes. He flung it over his shoulders in the brisk, graceful motion he’d observed his father do countless times as a child and emerged into the night.

“Sirius!” he was a little startled to find Regulus still close behind him, the Lestrange’s disillusioned mansion wavering behind them and appearing to be an old church with a toppled steeple. He began to turn away from him again, but Regulus’ hand closed on his upper arm in a vice grip. Sirius regarded him coolly over his shoulder. Regulus was a hair shorter than him and had always been slight, though Sirius noted now that he seemed thinner than normal, a bit hollower in the cheeks and eyes, his robes draping wrong from thinner shoulders. His eyes were glued to Sirius and he chewed his lips anxiously before saying, “Please, I need to speak to you.”

Sirius was expected back at Headquarters, and he didn’t want to hear whatever new words their mother had sent Regulus to tell her. Only she had refused to accept his return. Sirius’ lip curled, “You can tell Mother to bugger off.” he said flatly.

“It’s nothing to do with Mother!” Regulus insisted as Sirius prised his arm free and strode several steps away to get past the Lestrange’s Anti-Apparition Ward, “Please, Sirius!” there was a hint of desperation in Regulus’ voice that pierced Sirius like a pin. He turned to look at him and realized Regulus’ sleepless eyes were wide and shining, as one of his hands snaked inside the neck of his robes.

Sirius crossed his arms, and said shortly, “Fine, I’ll bite. What?”

Regulus chewed his lip harder and the hand inside his robes seem to clutch at something, “Well…” he looked over his shoulder, nervously, at the run-down church, “It’s… it’s…”

The toe of Sirius’ gleaming shoe tapped the new spring grass impatiently, “Out with it, Reg.” he said, the old endearment slipping out.

“It’s…” he breathed deep through his nose and leaned closer, lowering his voice to a whisper, “To help your side.

Sirius blood ran cold and he felt his jaw drop before he quickly covered up his shock, “M-my side? You’ve gone round the bend, Regulus, I--”

I know a way to weaken him,” Regulus whispered, imploring, “A way to stop the Dark Lord!”

***

“We… really ought to be off, James,” Lily said carefully, as she gently mopped the brow of her sleeping father-in-law with a damp cloth. She glanced at her watch, “We’re already late.”

“Lils…” James said, softly, as he measured out a dose of potion for his mother, “Go without me. Please. I… I don’t know if I can leave them like this.”

“Nonsense,” Euphemia muttered, her feverish gaze leveled at James, “Don’t let us,” she coughed, “Keep you from your friends.”

“It’s alright, mum,” James soothed, tipping her potion carefully past her lips and offering her some water to wash it down. Lily smiled inwardly. This was the best part of James, in her humble opinion, the gentle part, the part compelled to give comfort. She’d never known this part of him existed until she’d been the one who needed it. She watched him settle his mother back against the pillows and any smile faded. It had only been a week since they’d taken ill, but the toll it was taking on them was already apparent. The flesh seemed to be melting away from their bones, leaving Euphemia’s kind, round face looking gaunt.

“Nonsense,” Euphemia said again, with a rattly yawn, “I fancy a quick kip, anyway. Won’t even know you’ve gone.”

“James, love, it’ll only be a few hours,” Lily said, reaching over to run her fingers through his messy hair, as if to tidy it.

James leaned into her touch and reluctantly agreed, “Alright, alright.” He leaned across to kiss his father’s cheek and then his mother’s, “We won’t be gone long, mum.”

“That’s a lad,” she said drowsily, and added as James got to his feet, “Oh, and do give my love to Sirius, dear.”

For a second James wobbled on his feet, looking as if the air had been sucked out of the room. Lily watched the look of gentle care on his features harden, before giving a non-committal, “Mm.”

“‘S’been much too long since he came ‘round…” Euphemia muttered, frowning as she slipped into sleep, “...Christmas…”

For a moment, there was silence, disturbed only by the rattling snores of James’ parents. James cleared his throat and said, a bit brusquely, “Well, let’s go, then.”

Lily got to her feet, leaving the rag by the bed with the potion bottles, compresses, and muggle pills. All things that might make her in-laws more comfortable but none of which would save them. She crossed the room to James, who was glaring into the wall above his parents’ headboard, and gently touched his arm. He looked down at her, his expression softening as their eyes met, “Lils…” he said.

“I know, Jamie,” she said, softly, wrapping her arms around his waist, feeling his arms enclose her.

They stood like that for a moment before he spoke, his breath hot through the hair at the top of her head, “I can’t believe she asked for Si-- him.”

Lily shrugged within the circle of his arms, “She’s not in her right mind,” she explained a bit weakly, “And… it’s not as though she knows.”

James stiffened slightly. He’d told her the truth of the events surrounding Severus’ death in their sixth year ages ago, only a couple months after it had happened. It had very nearly cost him their burgeoning romance, but ultimately Lily had settled for keeping Remus at arm’s length and Sirius farther still. They very seldom spoke of it, though. Lily knew there was a good deal of what that night had cost James that she would probably never understand. But when you boiled it down, they had both been stripped of their dearest friends.

Lily gave James one last squeeze and stepped out of his arms, reaching up to gently pat his cheek. He leaned down and kissed her, and she couldn’t help but smile into it, grateful for the way James’ kisses always came as somewhat of a surprise, even though he’d pined for her for six years and been in a relationship with her for two more. He dropped another kiss on her forehead before pulling away and saying, “We really ought to go, yeah?”

They made their way down to the grand entryway of the mansion. James insisted it wasn’t a mansion because of some technicality of number of bathrooms or something, but as someone who’d come up in a pleasant but modest muggle row house with only one bathroom, it was an ostentatious bloody mansion. It was tastefully decorated and homey, not gaudy or stuffy in the slightest, but a mansion all the same. With servants, Lily noted, making her point to herself in her head, as one of the Potter house-elves, Poppet appeared with a crack. She looked up at James and Lily owlishly with her huge yellow eyes and returned Lily’s smile, “Is Master James and Mistress Lily leaving? Shall Poppet fetch sir’s and ma’am’s cloaks?”

“Yes, Poppet,” James said with an indulgent smile. She disappeared and reappeared with their neatly folded cloaks in hand, “Listen, Poppet,” James said, crouching down as if addressing a child, “We’ll be coming right back in a few hours. But do you think you could please keep an eye on mum and dad till then, and come get me if anything happens?”

“Happens, sir?” Poppet repeated worriedly.

“If they seem in any distress, of any kind,” James said, “Will you do that for me?”

“Yes, Master James!” Poppet squeaked faithfully, “Poppet will be keeping an eye on Master Fleamont and Mistress Euphemia, sir!”

“And you can find me, if you need to?” James checked as he and Lily pulled on their cloaks.

“Poppet can do what Master James is asking, yes, sir!”

James grinned and the bat-eared little creature all but glowed. Lily felt almost like she was intruding, but she hustled James out the door all the same, bidding a polite farewell to Poppet and praying that her in-laws slept soundly until they could return.

 

***

 

Remus stared, unseeing, at the stinking pile of furs that Fenrir Greyback generously called a bed. They couldn’t have meant what I thought, he told himself again, in a deep corner of his mind where he was having a rather redundant conversation with himself, but who else would they refer to as Dumbledore’s rat? Of course, they may have meant rat euphemistically, he knew. If they’d said snitch, Remus certainly wouldn’t have been assuming a winged golden ball was betraying Order of the Phoenix secrets to Voldemort. But it was the way they’d said it, that condescending laugh in their tone, as if the object of the joke was punchline enough by virtue of existing. It was Peter’s curse and his gift, being seen as little more than a joke. Chronically underestimated by his teachers and peers. That’s how he’d gotten away with so many of their shenanigans at school. And Remus had seen Peter mocked that way enough at Hogwarts, never by James, but sometimes by Sirius. Certainly by the Slytherins, by Severus--

“Where have you gone to, pup?” Remus was torn roughly from his thoughts by a sharp tug on his hair. He fell back into the present, back into his body, and his senses were assaulted. The stink of Greyback’s cave choked him, blood, rank body odor, excrement, semen, sweat. The smell alone was enough to make him queasy, especially with his heightened senses only a day out from the full. Every inch of his body ached with the recent breaking and shuffling to fit the wolf inside the meager human vessel. Every savage thrust of Greyback’s created a domino effect of pain fanning out from his vulnerable backside up his spine. He whined as the pain engulfed him and Greyback gave a dark laugh, his fist tightening in Remus’ hair, “There he is!”

“Nngh, here.” Remus muttered pointlessly and Greyback laughed again.

“Dumbledore ruined you in that school,” Greyback growled, prosteletizing, “Werewolves weren’t made to lock up their minds.”

“I’m…sorry,” Remus gasped, hating how weak he was, as if he were any stranger to physical agony.

“We weren’t made to apologize either,” Greyback’s hand released his hair and wrapped around him to grab his jaw, pulling his head to the side and sinking his teeth into his shoulder. One filthy finger slipped into Remus’ mouth and without thinking he bit it fiercely. Greyback only laughed, “There’s the wolf!” he said triumphantly, a distorted image of a proud father.

No, Remus thought, the word coursing through his like fire, I’m not the wolf! With a new surge of adrenaline, he tried to throw off Greyback, but his sire only laughed. He shoved Remus’ shoulder, pressing his cheek against the foul bed of furs, his unforgiving thrusts growing closer together. Remus tried to remember what he’d been thinking about, tried to withdraw again from this disgusting cave, from the impending pleasure of the monster who’d robbed him of a normal life, but he couldn’t, not with his cheekbone bruising against the stone even through the furs. Greyback finished with something that grotesquely resembled a howl and finally rolled off of Remus, falling on the furs beside him panting.

Remus tried not to glare at him, but he failed. Greyback noticed and laughed, the sound wild. Remus looked away; Greyback’s laugh always made his skin crawl. It was animal, but not uncontrolled. Greyback didn’t fight the wolf in him, instead he had fitted it with a harness and held the reins with a confident hand.

“Ah, I know it is painful, pup,” Greyback said, in sympathetic tones, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times, the moons wouldn’t be so hard on you if you didn’t fight the wolf so bloody hard all the time.”

“I…” have to, Remus almost said, but amended, “Can’t help it.”

“I know, pup,” Greyback said. The compassionate smile on his rugged face split and soured, and he tutted, “They tried to make a wolf into a wizard, the damn fools, and left you a sorry excuse for either.” That was the story Remus had used to get into Greyback’s pack, after all. Decrying Dumbledore’s attempts to train him to reject his werewolf nature and force him into the mold of wizard in which he didn’t quite fit. It worked like a charm for a few reasons. Greyback wanted all his “children” to join his pack, so he was disinclined to turn them away. And a werewolf that needed to learn to cast off the yokes of human society? Even better, Greyback was not only father, and alpha to his pack, but teacher and guide. Textbook cult leader, more like, Remus thought in his carefully guarded mind. But the best lies, after all, Remus knew from his Marauding days, had a seed of truth. Or in the case of his lie to Greyback, seeds. Enough seeds, in fact, that sometimes Remus found himself half-believing it.

In his seventh year, when he’d been all but friendless, with only his guilt to keep him company, and no future prospects to speak of, Dumbledore had reached out to him. He’d offered Remus private lessons, explained that he could teach him skills that would make him invaluable in the coming war. Remus had done something terrible, and he grabbed desperately at a chance at doing something good. Dumbledore had schooled him first in Occlumency and Legilimency, unsurprised to find him naturally adept at both. It made sense, Dumbledore had explained, from someone whose life had relied so much on keeping secrets and telling untruths. Remus had since learned that within a pack, werewolves kept their inner thoughts unguarded, allowing each other to come and go in their heads, all of their goals and fears and wants made collective. Remus opted out of this, of course, claiming that it was second nature to keep his mind closed, and in a way it was. He’d always had secrets to protect, even before he was a spy.  Dumbledore had also schooled Remus in the basics of wandless magic, anticipating that there may come a day when he might find himself without his wand. Again, Dumbledore was pleased, but unsurprised to find Remus capable. Werewolves, he’d explained, like house-elves or veela or most magical creatures, had magic all their own, different than a wizard’s magic and not as dependant on a wand as focal point. And they’d talked at length about magical resonances, the palpable footprint that magic left, the crackle, the ozone smell, the fetid smell of dark magic, the warmth, the chill, the different ways to sniff out magical sites and magical items. This, Dumbledore had explained, almost enviously, even as he tested Remus’ ability to sense magical traces he himself could not, was an art unavailable to mere humans.

Remus had always been studious and he had thrown himself into these studies with Dumbledore moreso even than he had with his normal classes. However, it wasn’t entirely untrue when he and Greyback spoke of how Dumbledore had made a blunder of his identity. Was he a werewolf who knew some fancy spells and had the embarrassing affectation of carrying a wand? Or was he a wizard, sound of mind every day of the month save one, who happened to be able to do some magic only a monster could master?

He was shocked from his thoughts by the back of Greyback’s hand and the taste of blood bursting over his tongue as his lip broke. He hissed, covering his mouth, and blinked up at Greyback, who was halfway through pulling on his robes. Ragged though they were, he managed to look feral and dignified, even after hitting someone. Why am I doomed to surround myself with repugnant people who can’t help but look dignified?Remus pushed the thought down, down and away, “Do get out of that head, pup. It is the only way, don’t you see, for you to be more than this half-thing that old fool made of you.” Before Remus could respond, Greyback gave him a winning smile, dazzling despite his discolored fanglike teeth, and left the cave. Being naked and aching in this place alone somehow struck Remus as even more vulgar. He pulled himself to his feet, finding his clothes and pulling them back on, eager for some shred of his humanity. Or human costume, as Greyback would say.

Greyback was fond of seeing himself as Remus’ teacher, too, teaching him to embrace the hunger, accept the pack sharing of minds, cast off his wand and his books and his threadbare robes and all the other things that let him fool himself into feeling human. And to Remus’ horror, he couldn’t deny that a lot of it felt good. The moons he’d spent running with the pack, sharing their canince thoughts and all drawing from the communal pool of their magic, had been some of the best he’d known, nearly as good as the nights he’d once spent with his first pack around the Shrieking Shack. Remus quite liked most of the other members of the pack, misguided as they were. He knew, he knew better than any human, what it meant to be classified as a dark creature, to hide his scars and live on the fringes of society and chain himself in basements when he had no better alternative. He hated Greyback, detested Voldemort, but he couldn’t hate the other wolves for following them, believing the lies of a better world, and a place in the new world Voldemort would establish. If things had been different for him, maybe he’d want it too, maybe he’d embrace the wolf. Greyback didn’t understand, of course, that Remus would much rather be a whole human than a whole wolf, given the choice. But of course, he hadn’t been given the choice. He hadn’t been given a choice in any of this. And so a half-thing he was, with a foot in both worlds, a hand in both sides of this abysmal war.

He slipped out of the cave and made for the trees. A couple of the werewolves greeted him with the easy comradery of roommates or siblings. Would they hate him if they knew he was a spy, a traitor, that he hated the special attention Greyback gave him? He didn’t want to Apparate within sight of his fellow werewolves, knowing the distrust some of them had for wizard magic, different from the innate wolf magic, the magic they hadn’t been given the opportunity to study and wield and call they own. They might not have minded being given a reason to distrust their Alpha’s favorite. Judging by the position of the sun near the horizon, he would be late to the meeting if he headed to Headquarters now. He wasn’t expected today. He couldn’t bear to spend another night warming Greyback’s bed, but he could go back to his seldom-occupied flat. His heart ached longingly at the thought of a shower and a cup of tea. But no. Remus stopped walking. Wasn’t there something he urgently needed to tell the Order?

“Blimey,” he said, as the shock hit him anew that there was a spy in the Order and it may well be Peter Pettigrew. My last friend, he noted dourly. He supposed there were others in the Order he might be able to count as friends, after a fashion. But Peter was the only one he thought might miss him if he were to become a ‘whole wolf’ and join the pack, properly. But then, if Peter was a traitor, perhaps not. He thought of James, something he normally tried not to do overly much. James had never stopped being his friend, but a distance had grown between them ever since he and Lily had become an item. It hurt, but he truly couldn’t blame either of them for not wanting much to do with him. But he had to tell them, even if he wasn’t sure, even if they wouldn’t want to hear it. A familiar barbed pain arced through his chest; betrayal had cost the Marauders too much already.

He spun in place, and vanished into thin air.

 

Chapter Text

13 April, 1979

 

After the stifling atmosphere of the Lestrange house, Order HQ felt practically like stepping into Zonko’s Joke Shop to Sirius. And that was saying something, considering its dreariness. Mad-Eye had offered his home up as Headquarters and with no one eager to volunteer their own as an alternative, Order’s home base had remained his strange brick house, furnished in the barest of utilitarian style and littered with all manner of Dark Detector. And it wasn’t just Sneak-O-Scopes, Foe-Glasses, and Secrecy Sensors for good ole Alastor, no, damn near everything beneath his roof had been enchanted to be as paranoid as its owner. At any given moment, a straight-backed wooden chair might sprout ropes from its arms and legs, only permitting your freedom once you had answered three questions of increasing obscurity to prove you were loyal. The stained mirror in the washroom by the kitchen had a habit of spouting survival advice, such as “Keep Patronus messages vague on details in case they are overheard!”, “Never hesitate in a duel!”, and, the ever helpful, “Constant vigilance!” There was not a pillow or blanket in the place, which was just as well since who could relax on a sofa that might at any moment accuse you of fraternizing with the enemy? So devoid was the house of creature comforts that Sirius might have wagered even on Moody’s bed being nothing but a bare wooden plank, as surely that suited a man who kept a house without any sugar or milk for tea. But Sirius still gladly would have taken it over the frosty, ancient luxuries of the typical Pureblood estates where he spent entirely too many evenings.

The tension in Sirius’ shoulders loosened only infinitesimally upon entering Headquarters, his hand clenched tight around the ornate golden locket stashed away beneath the folds of his elegant grey robes. He could have sworn it had a heartbeat of its own, pulsating thickly against his hand, reminding him weirdly of the way a thick, sludgy potion would burble and spit. It set his teeth on edge. Dumbledore, he reminded himself, impatiently, I need to tell Dumbledore.

He had no dear love for the old man, no patience for the kindly grandfather he affected while his sky-colored eyes impassively surveyed the chessboard of this war. But after all the excruciating hours of playing Death Eater for him, he’d be damned if he didn’t report the most useful intel he’d ever acquired. And unhinged as Regulus had sounded, trying to explain that the ostentatious piece of jewelry in his brother’s hand held the key to Voldemort’s undoing, Sirius wanted with all his heart and soul to believe it. He didn’t know the last time he’d had a shred of faith that they weren’t fighting a losing battle.

So enmeshed was he in these thoughts, he walked headlong into another man in the bare-walled corridor, bouncing off the broad chest. A hand shot out to steady him, catching his shoulder. His hand clenched tighter still around the locket in his pocket, compulsively. Sirius blinked up into the handsome face of Caradoc Dearborn, his straight white teeth flashing in a cocky smile, “Well met, Sirius,” he said in his playful brogue, “You might wanta watch where yer goin’, ‘fore one o’ Mad-Eye’s boobytraps does ye in.”

Sirius smiled at that, and Caradoc’s brown eyes glinted, “Right,” he said, glancing around with only somewhat feigned anxiety, “Wouldn’t want to tread on a floorboard wrong and end up trussed up like a pig.”

Caradoc took a step closer, his smile bending into a mischievous smirk, “‘Dunno…” his eyes slid over Sirius in his perfectly tailored robes, taking in the neatly kept goatee and the silken strands of black hair that had come free of the clasp at his nape and fallen into his eyes. He wet his lips, “I cannae say I would mind findin’ ye so and havin’ me way with ye.”

Sirius felt a flush color his neck and cheeks, a thrill running down his spine. It had been several months since his and Caradoc’s last tryst and he knew his nerves could probably use another. Dearborn was a good lad, a formidable wizard, and the only person Sirius could really count as a friend. He’d made the acquaintance of the Ravenclaw in Seventh Year in the Hog’s Head when he’d rather rudely thwarted Sirius’ plan of getting raging drunk and thrown out for brawling. Somehow the resulting argument had ended with a clumsy fuck in the alley, his first as it happened, after which he had cried like a baby and Caradoc soothed him until he’d come to his senses enough to get embarrassed. He’d threatened Caradoc to never breathe a word about his tears, he had promised and kept his word, and they’d somehow become friends and sometime-lovers. Part of Sirius very much would have liked to grab him and shove him against the wall, remind him that if anyone was ‘having his way’ it would be him. Merlin, he wouldn’t have minded a few minutes of lustful empty-headedness, but the locket throbbing in his hand demanded he focus. He gave Caradoc an apologetic smile and Caradoc shrugged unconcernedly and Sirius asked, “Have you seen Dumbledore? Is he here yet?”

Caradoc looked like he wanted to ask why, but Order members knew better than to inquire. The less everyone knew about each other’s missions, the safer they all would be if anyone were to fall under a Death Eater’s interrogating wand. Caradoc shook his head, “I havna seen him, no.” a bit of his curiosity slipped into his voice, “Is it urgent?”

Sirius shrugged, even though it was pretty urgent, “Urgent-ish,” he said, in a tone that did not invite further questions. Caradoc opened his mouth to respond when the front door, through which Sirius had entered moments before, swung in, allowing in a weird, wild smell of blood, and woods, and sweat. Sirius knew who had entered before he turned to look, his stomach squirming uneasily. You’re not supposed to be here!, he thought, irrational anger making the locket throb more hungrily in his hand. He was always careful not to be at Headquarters a week following full moon when the new arrival always was scheduled to check in, to avoid just such an encounter. But like any Order member, he was free to come and go at will and by some rotten twist of bad luck, he’d chosen today to show up.

When his eyes fell on Remus, Sirius realized he must have been pretty successful in avoiding him, allowing for months to go by without seeing him. And those months had taken their toll. The werewolf, quite frankly, looked like death. And it wasn’t just the familiar post-moon peakiness, though he could see the pinched look that meant his joints were screaming, and which had once signalled to him that a chocolate frog or two was needed. That was the least of it, honestly. Lupin’s clothes had always been second-hand, but the robes that hung off him now were so dirty that their original color was indistinguishable and where they had torn, he had not even bothered to carefully mend them as he once had. His hair had grown shaggy and a bit matted, the tawny color dull with dirt and, though it was too filthy to be sure, Sirius thought it was shot through with strands of grey. But it was his eyes that were the most different. The golden post-moon shade and the hate that sparked in them as they fell on Sirius were unsurprising, but they had a haunted, wild look that came as a shock, sending a wave of something like pity into Sirius’ gut before Lupin’s defenses sprang up. Suddenly the golden eyes were guarded and unreadable, and Sirius might as well have been trying to penetrate a veil of iron, “Black,” Remus said flatly, and it took Sirius a second to realize it had been a greeting, and not an observation of the dour atmosphere in the hall.

“Lupin,” Sirius responded, with a curt nod, feeling both thankful for and rebuffed by the cool barrier the werewolf had erected between them. For some reason, he heard his voice asking, without consulting him, as if it were any of his bloody business anymore, “Wasn’t too rough a moon, was it?”

Remus’ eyebrows shot up slightly, caught off guard for an instant before he answered stiffly, “Fine.” the gold eyes raked over Sirius and suddenly he felt quite over-dressed, like an imbecile mistakenly wearing a garish Halloween costume on October thirtieth, “And I trust your family reunion went swimmingly, yeah?” Lupin sneered.

The locket blazed in Sirius’ hand like a talisman, and he thought it would be quite nice to throttle the werewolf’s grimy neck with it. He forced himself to just shrug, pasting on an ironic smile, “Oh, you know, I--”

“Oy, didn’t ye have something urgent-ish to say to Dumbledore?” Caradoc interrupted, preventing any more sparring between the two. He’d long since given up on trying to get Sirius to explain why he had been mysteriously excommunicated from the once notoriously inseparable Marauders, but he seemed to think it best to prevent a fight. Sirius’ head snapped back to the door, still ajar behind Lupin, where Dumbledore stood. Tall and stately in a robe of glimmering violet, he surveyed the scene in the front hall with eyebrows slightly raised.

“Y-yes,” Sirius said, feeling at the moment a bit like he was fifteen again and caught by the Headmaster in the midst of planting dungbombs beneath the Slytherin table, “Albus,” he said, trying to bolster himself by the use of his given name, “Might I have a private word?”

“Certainly, Sirius,” the man said, and Sirius didn’t fail to note that as Lupin stepped aside to let him pass, the look he gave Dumbledore held as much reproach as deference before the look of studied blankness was replaced. Dumbledore laid a long-fingered hand on Sirius’ shoulder and said, “Come along, then.” and he steered him away from Caradoc and Lupin and down the hall towards the spare room that had become his de-facto office.

 

***

 

Remus watched Dumbledore’s receding back, noted the way his hand rested on Sirius’ shoulder as it had many times rested on his own. That touch that ought to lend comfort, but somehow felt too possessive, like an owner’s hand curled loosely in a leash, able to tug at any moment. How fitting for Sirius then,he thought, with a surge of cold satisfaction, glad that it wasn’t him at the moment.

Beside him there was the sound of a throat being cleared, and Remus realized Caradoc Dearborn still stood there. He was eyeing Remus a bit suspiciously, a bit curiously. And why not? He thought, having been made painfully aware of how mad he looked. Even though his news was urgent (he tried not to wonder what ‘urgent-ish’ news Sirius had had to share with Dumbledore), he found himself wishing he had opted to go round his flat first for a shower and a shave, and a cleaner set of robes. He’d almost forgotten what it had felt like, to stand beside Sirius Black in all his Pureblood perfection and be painfully aware of the comparison. If he’d thought it had been bad when they were fifteen and it was a matter of whose school robes were second-hand and whose were fitted just right, with the crisp black of newness, it was nothing to Sirius Black at nineteen, loathsomely beautiful in finery beside an unrecognizably filthy animal, sometimes known as Remus Lupin, “So…” Dearborn tried again, clearly at a loss for how to initiate a conversation with the unknown quantity that stood next to him.

Remus rolled his eyes, “Have you seen the Potters?” he asked Dearborn, in hopes of bypassing whatever stilted small talk the other man might have up his tight, muscle-hugging sleeves. He’d never had much to do with Dearborn at Hogwarts, but he’d been aware of him as one of the nigh-unbeatable Ravenclaw Beaters, a star of dueling club, and all around heartthrob. A shoe-in for the Order, he supposed, among the ranks of James and Sirius who had enjoyed similar notoriety at school. He had no reason to dislike Dearborn, he reminded himself, the knowledge of his and Sirius’ affair really was of no consequence to Remus, after all.

Dearborn shook his head, “Not here yet, s’pose something to do with James’ ma and da,” Remus blinked and Dearborn elaborated, “Dragon Pox. It’ll do ‘em in, everyone seems tae think.” Remus felt a twinge of sadness for James, and for his parents who had never shown him anything but kindness. He’d lost his own parents to the Death Eaters right out of school when magical and non-magical integrated families were first being targeted. He tried not to wonder when he was with Greyback if the werewolf had been the one to bring up the name of the Ministry wizard who had spoken out against his kind years before.

“I didn’t know,” Remus said, realizing he had been silent for a little too long and that Dearborn was looking at him strangely again. Blimey, he really was losing the knack for normal conversation, spending too much time with the pack. Most of the werewolves weren’t great conversationalists and Remus had to admit that he quite liked the absence of small talk when he was among them, only one or two of them ever even tried to strike up a chat. Dearborn opened his mouth, no doubt with some stupid pleasantry waiting on his tongue, but Remus cut him off with a brusque, “Pardon me.” and walked away. Choosing to come straight to Headquarters may have deprived him of a shower and change of clothes, but there was no reason he couldn’t help himself to a cup of tea, and the kitchen was often empty, considering it never boasted much in the way of refreshments.

No such luck, he noted, as he entered the kitchen to a familiar, “Wotcher, Remus!” Marlene McKinnon stood at the counter, pouring hot water over a teabag, “Spot of tea?” He nodded and without thinking, levitated a second mug down from the open cabinet without taking out his wand. Marlene set down the kettle and gaped at him, before grinning, “Bloody brilliant, mate.” Remus felt himself smiling back at the diminutive blonde as she turned back to drop a teabag into his mug and pour.

“Thanks,” he said as she handed it to him, just the act of holding a steaming mug in his hand making him feel a little less feral, “How’re you keeping?” he asked, hoping the question sounded natural. It wasn’t small talk, was it, if you actually wanted to know?

Marlene shrugged, leaning one hip against the cabinets, “Oh, you know. In one piece and so’s the family, so I can hardly complain. It’s a low bar, these days, that passes for ‘doing well’.” Remus took a sip of his tea, even though it burned his tongue, for want of something to do. He wasn’t sure what to say really. He supposed Marlene was right but he was a bit too out of touch with the national mood to comment. To his surprise, she busted into a wide grin, the same one he’d seen on her face often since they’d met after both being sorted into Gryffindor, “Order work’s been brilliant, though,” she said, her chest puffing out proudly, “I’ve a knack for saving Muggles, it seems, stopped three Death Eater house attacks and that’s just this week!”

Remus gave a genuinely impressed smile, “That is brilliant!” he said, grateful to know someone in the Order was doing work they could be proud of.

Just then he heard a familiar squeak behind him and a second later, Peter’s voice gave a surprised, “Remus!” and the shorter man was standing beside him, watery eyes blinking up at him from what seemed like an authentic smile.

“Hey, Pete.” Remus said, trying to sound normal.

“I wasn’t expecting you till next week!” he said, and either the pleasure in his voice was real or he was a better actor than Remus had ever realized. Seemingly unperturbed by the dirt and odor, Peter hugged Remus with a manful thump on the back, “It’s bloody good to see a friendly face, mate.” he said.

When he didn’t immediately let go of Remus, Marlene smirked and remarked, “Looks like you boys need the room to yourselves. I’d hate to intrude on this romantic reunion.”

“Sod off, Marls,” Peter said after her as she exited the room and struck up conversation with Emmeline Vance, and he released Remus, his twitchy nose a little pink. Remus tried to remember if his nose had always twitched like that, or if he should consider it a nervous tic, a giveaway that Peter was hiding something. It would be easy enough to see if Peter was hiding something, he knew.

Remus had more occasion to use Occlumency, shielding the contents of his mind all but perpetually to keep Greyback from suspecting his disloyalty, claiming it was an involuntary result of Dumbledore’s teaching methods. But he was no less capable a Legilimens, however seldom he got to use that particular skill. He reached for Peter’s mind, his thoughts like fingers ready to rifle through the cards of a rolodex. Peter’s watery eyes widened almost imperceptibly at the brush of Remus’s thoughts but just then they were interrupted by the sound of Alice Longbottom’s friendly voice in the hall chirping, “James! Lily! There you are!” giving Remus only an instant to draw back from Peter’s mind as the Potters appeared in the door to the kitchen.

*** 

 

“Remus!” the word exploded out of James in surprise, and he grinned at the unexpected sight of Remus standing with Peter in the kitchen. He crossed to him in two strides and clapped him on the back, “Cheers, mate!” Remus’ taut expression loosened, his mouth spreading of its own volition into an honest, crooked smile at James’ fond greeting.

“He’s not necessarily bearing good news,” Lily said a little tightly a few feet behind him in the doorway to the kitchen, and Remus’ smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared. James glanced back at her over his shoulder, seeing her brilliant green eyes look Remus up and down warily. She caught the admonishment in his look and softened slightly, “Er, I mean. Nothing personal, Remus, y’know,” she amended unconvincingly, “Just surprises aren’t what they used to be nowadays, yeah?”

“Sad, but true,” Remus agreed diplomatically, glancing at Peter.

“It’s still good to see you, mate,” Peter assured him, “Even if you’ve got rotten news.”

Remus stared at Peter, as if he didn’t believe him and James squeezed the werewolf’s shoulder where his hand still rested, “He’s right, Remus. It’s great to see you.” Remus gave James a small grateful smile and, despite the years and the considerable layer of grime in which he was presently coated, it made him look again just the way he had at twelve as they’d assured him repeatedly that the discovery of his condition made no difference to them because they were his friends.

The smile faded again, but his eyebrows lifted sensitively at the inner corners, “Dearborn mentioned your parents’ve taken ill,” he said, his tone gentle and his hand tentatively landing on James’ shoulder and mirroring the reassuring squeeze, “I’m so sorry, James. I’m gutted.”

James felt a surge of appreciation for Remus, having almost forgotten how bloody sincere he could be. It really had been too long, “Thanks,” he managed, a little surprised to find a lump in his throat.

“So, er,” Lily said, coming to stand beside James and laying a hand on his lower back, Remus withdrawing his hand at once, “What did we miss? You and Pete looked like you… it looked like maybe you’d asked him something?”

Remus blanched and stammered, “I, uh-uhm, I…”

Lily turned to Peter, her expression softening as it left Remus, “Pete?”

“I was looking for you, actually,” Remus said, with a quietly significant look at James. He stood up a little straighter, stubbornly resisting Lily’s  skeptical gaze. James tried to telepathically tell her to ease up, but even if she’d somehow heard him no doubt she would have ignored it. Remus met James’ eyes, intent and direct and said calmly, “I need to talk to you about… something,” his tone gave James a nostalgic ache for the days when he’d heard it often, when they’d been part of secretive meetings to strategize for pranks, not to strategize for reconnaissance and ambushes. Remus’ eyes flicked to Lily for the briefest instant, “Alone.”

James felt Lily’s body language bristle, protective and proud, beside him, but before she could protest, Frank Longbottom peeked his head in the door. His eyes glittered with curiosity as he said, “There you are! Albus has just asked a bunch of us to his office! C’mon, you three.” he indicated James, Lily, and Remus with a point of three fingers. They followed without question, leaving Peter standing in the kitchen alone.

Chapter Text

13 April, 1979

 

“What can I do for you, Sirius?” Dumbledore said, taking a seat behind the plain wooden table in what could only loosely be called an office, steepling his hands before him and gazing at Sirius evenly over his half-moon spectacles. His brow creased slightly, “You seem on edge.”

Sirius gave a harsh bark-like laugh, “That’s one way to put it, sir.”

Dumbledore canted his head very slightly to one side, “Perhaps you’d like to take a seat?”

Sirius ignored Dumbledore’s calm invitation, pacing from one end of the room to the other. He felt the old wizard’s eyes following him patiently, and it was enough to make his blood boil. He realized he suddenly felt much too hot and with fumbling fingers unfastened the much-too-tight neck clasp, tearing off the traveling cloak he’d forgotten he was wearing. His right hand was still glued to the locket burning in his pocket, and the other struggled to undo the buttons at his neck and his agitation mounted. He stopped in front of Dumbledore, turning on his heel to face him and said sharply, “I had a conversation with Regulus!”

“Ah,” Dumbledore’s lined face smiled sympathetically, “I see. No doubt anyone would be upset by--”

“I’m not bloody upset!” he nearly shouted, and then, noticing the irony, shut his eyes and drew a deep breath in through his nose.

“Sirius, I am aware that the assignment I have given you is a trying one,” Dumbledore explained in a gentle, even tone, “But I encourage you to stick with it. You are a unique asset to--”

“I’m not quitting,” Sirius interrupted testily, “Or, or asking to be bloody reassigned,” Dumbledore’s face betrayed a hint of relief, “I’m just… Regulus told me this absolutely mental theory and if he’s right, it’s…” he blew out a breath and his free hand clenched in a fist, rocking slightly in the air for emphasis, “Bollocks, I don’t know what to believe and I’m sick of not knowing what to believe, and, and of course, being bloody wrong could get people killed and” he scoffed a harsh laugh, “Well, it’s not like I have a great track record in that--”

“Sirius, would you mind telling me what you have in your pocket?” Dumbledore’s voice cut coolly through the heat of Sirius’ mounting fury and his eyes snapped open (when had he closed them?) to look at him.

“N-nothing,” Sirius lied automatically and then shook himself, “Not… not nothing. Something that… Well, that’s just the thing, Regulus, he, he told me this batshit story about horcruxes, which, I mean, I grew up surrounded by a lot of dark magic, mind you, but that’s some seriously dark magic and he, he gave me this…” he almost drew the locket out from his robes but his arm didn’t seem to want to obey him, “And he’s probably just barking mad, they say all the Blacks are, don’t they? And--”

“Sirius Black,” Dumbledore’s voice was not gentle this time, but firm and commanding, making Sirius feel suddenly small, “I must demand you give me the item that Regulus entrusted to you.”

No.” Sirius hissed softly, his eyes narrowing at Dumbledore and his other hand slipping into his cloak for his wand.

Expelliarmus,” Dumbledore said calmly, and Sirius’ wand soared into his hand. Sirius snarled and Dumbledore shrugged, “To prevent you doing anything you may regret, my dear boy. As you said yourself, you don’t have the best track record.”

Sirius flinched back as if he’d been struck, somehow hearing his own self-condemnation parroted back and validated by Dumbledore made it that much worse, and that much more real. The fight went out of him, replaced by plain and simple self-loathing, rising up around him like dark water. He hadn’t let it feel this way in years. “Headmaster...” he said, hating the pleading tone in his own voice, not even realizing he’d slipped back into the habit of addressing the man as if he were still a student.

“Give it to me, Sirius,” Dumbledore said sternly, but not unkindly, “I suspect it will make you feel much better to be rid of it.”

Like a dog with its tail between its legs, Sirius shuffled closer to the table, drew in a shaky breath and in a quick motion, like tearing off a plaster, pulled the locket from his robes and dropped it in front of Dumbledore. The instant his skin parted from the pulsating gold, the dark waters drained away and the off-kilter staccato of his heart calmed and he didn’t feel so hot and itchy that his skin might burn off if he didn’t just hit something already. He gasped, his mouth opening and closing like a fish and fell heavily into the seat Dumbledore had offered him before.

“Better?” he asked, his eyes not leaving the locket that lay untouched before him.

Sirius gave a weak affirmative ‘mm’ and then ran his hands down his face, “Yes, much. I… don’t recommend touching it if you can help it, Albus.”

“No, I’d really rather not…” he grumbled, stroking his beard as if deep in thought. Sirius sat politely for a moment, waiting for Dumbledore to articulate whatever he was pondering about. After a few long minutes, he did, “What do you know about horcruxes, Sirius?”

Sirius’ jaw dropped, “You mean…” his voice had cracked slightly and he swallowed, “You mean, you think it really is…? That Regulus…?”

Dumbledore nodded sagely, his eyes glued to the locket, “Yes,” he said, “Yes, in fact, I’d theorized that Voldemort may have created horcruxes myself, you see. And I’d tried to follow that hunch, but…” he fell silent again before looking back at Sirius, his sky blue eyes twinkling in a way that Sirius could have called hopeful or menacing, “We need to assemble a task force. The Order’s finest, I should think.”

 

***

 

When Dumbledore finally fell silent, folding his hands on the plain wooden table in front of him, all but one of the gathered Order members gaped at him silently. Remus did not. Although the incidentals of horcruxes were unfamiliar to him, and admittedly horrifying, he had no sooner entered the room than he had felt the same sickening hum of dark magic that he had sensed on Sirius in the hall. He hadn’t identified it as well then, mistaking it for no more than his hatred of its bearer. Now it was obvious. Though a glance in Sirius’ direction did stir that familiar old ember of anger to spark, it was distinctly different than the animal revulsion he felt when he looked at Dumbledore, who no doubt had taken possession of this horcrux.

Remus was pondering this new information along with everyone else in the room, though admittedly, it was distracting to have the stink of the thing so near. He was trying to ignore it, and he had just come around to the question of how one would go about destroying such a formidable piece of magic when his thoughts were interrupted by a deep Scottish brogue, “I knew ‘twould be something serious but I couldna have guessed that!” Remus’ eyes shot distastefully to Dearborn, tempted to say something, but Moody beat him to it.

“How did you know?” he growled suspiciously, pinning Dearborn with a piercing glare.

It was McGonagall who spoke up in response, “Oh, really, Alastor. Mr Dearborn knows sure and certain that Sirius is our spy among enemy ranks. And to have Albus summon our very finest after meeting privately with him, well,” she sniffed, failing to conceal how shaken she still was by Dumbledore’s explanation, “I daresay it was safe to assume somewhat dangerous was afoot.”

Moody grimaced while Dearborn looked ready to gloat, “Minerva, we cannot assume--”

“We cannot assume our friends to be our foes,” McGonagall interrupted crisply, “I quite agree.”

Remus’ stomach lurched at her words. Normally he might have found his old house head’s loyalty heartwarming but with the new suspicion of Peter gnawing at him, he couldn’t help wondering if Moody had it right. Then again, he couldn’t imagine readily trusting Dearborn of all people. Before he could say anything, James spoke up, his voice almost unrecognizable as the same one that had greeted Remus so happily in the kitchen, encouraging and kind. It was cold, wry, skeptical, “How do we know it’s true?” he said, crossing his arms, “If all we have is his word,” he said, jerking his chin in Sirius’ direction without looking at him, “I wouldn’t be so quick to trust it.”

“That’s uncalled--” Dearborn began but Remus cut across him.

“It’s real,” he said, and James spun to look at him, shocked to see him coming to Sirius’ defense, “Or if it’s not a horcrux, there’s some other seriously cursed object in here,” when a couple others turned to look at him, he shrugged and looked at the ceiling, “I could smell the dark magic from the hall.”

“Well, let’s see it then,” said James, his chin jutting defiantly. Remus wondered if he even knew he’d picked up that particular mannerism from Sirius himself. Dumbledore gave a small flick of his wand and an object floated off of the surface of his desk, jewelry of some kind, an old-looking golden pendant on a chain.

“If any of you doubt that this is indeed the dark object I say it is,” Dumbledore said evenly, “You need only touch it to feel its corrupting influence. Sirius can attest to that.”

I wonder if that’s why he made that comment about the moon, Remus wondered reflexively, before pushing the thought away, reminding himself that trying to parse out Sirius Black’s motives had only ever brought his frustration and misery. Lily spoke up for the first time since Dumbledore had finished his explanation of horcruxes, “Well, having it doesn’t do us much good. How do we destroy it?”

“A fine question,” Dumbledore said, favoring Lily with a smile, looking as if he’d like very much to reward her house points, “There may be other methods that would succeed, I suppose, but the only recorded methods of destroying a horcrux are Fiendfyre and Basilisk venom.”

The optimistic buzz that had been in the room, so slight it was hardly perceptible, was snuffed out and Alice muttered, “Oh, that makes it nice and easy.”

“Right then, let me jus’ fetch me pet Basilisk and he’ll sort it for ye in a jiff.” Dearborn joked darkly.

“No use calling him just yet, Doc,” Frank said, “Not when we’ve only got the one.” Everyone shifted uncomfortably, including Remus who couldn’t help sitting forward in his chair. He should have noticed but the miasma of dark magic was bloody distracting, “Or aren’t there more, Albus? You’ve been saying ‘horcruxes’, plural.”

Dumbledore hesitated but only for the second it took to glance at Sirius. Without really meaning to, Remus followed his gaze, finding Sirius looking quite pale, his grey eyes wide. Remus’ eyes snapped back to Dumbledore when he spoke, his voice tireder than Remus had heard it since that fateful morning in the Hospital Wing, “Yes, I’m afraid… Four, by my estimation.” There was an uneasy response from the assembled Order members, murmurs of ‘four!?’ around the room and McGonagall muttering ‘Oh, dear me,’, “Quite,” Dumbledore continued, agreeing with the shocked and appalled faces before him, “It is a long tale which I had a good deal of trouble piecing together,” he explained, “Tracking down accounts of Voldemort’s life and the lives of those who preceded him, you see, is a task complicated considerably by the fact that those who he surrounds himself with tend to find their way into early graves.”

“How do we know what we’re looking for?” James said, with the pragmatism that had made him so very excellent at staging pranks. He glanced at Remus, “No offense, mate, but we can’t just wander around having you sniff around for evil.” Remus couldn’t help the smile that quirked up one corner of his mouth and he shrugged, conceding the point. He’d rather not serve the role of bloodhound more than was strictly necessary, anyway.

“Well, we are not entirely in the dark,” Dumbledore said, in an almost reassuring tone, “I am relatively certain of what two of them are.” the mumblings around the room silenced, “One I believe to be a ring that once belonged to Voldemort’s grandfather, one Marvolo Gaunt, the location of which I suspect to be the site of that same Mr Gaunt’s home. There is also a golden, two-handled cup that allegedly belonged to Helga Hufflepuff, just as this locket,” he gestured to where it levitated still in plain view of everyone, “Allegedly belonged to Salazar Slytherin.”

That’s three…” Sirius mumbled, to himself, but Remus heard him.

“I do not know, but I suspect that the fourth may be an item that once belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw,” Dumbledore said.

“The lost diadem, I reckon,” Dearborn, the only Ravenclaw present in a room of Gryffindors, said.

Dumbledore inclined his head towards Dearborn, “It may well be,” he said, “Unencouraging as the adjective of ‘lost’ is in this circumstance. However,” Dumbledore let the locket rest once more upon the desk and touched his long silver beard with one hand, “It is possible that it may be a small black diary that Voldemort possessed in school. I personally doubt that so mundane an item would have seemed poetic enough for Voldemort, but it warrants mentioning as it was described to me quite insistently by one of his victims.”

Before anyone could ask how Dumbledore had questioned one of Voldemort’s victims, Lily spoke up,“We could use Fiendfyre,” she piped up thoughtfully, as if her rumination had held her back to a previous point in the conversation, “So long as it was very carefully and thoroughly contained, of course,” she added, not wishing to sound reckless, “We could wrap them up in loads of containment charms and protective spells and let the ‘Fyre burn itself out inside.” James beamed at Lily and looked like he was going to say something out loud about her brilliance, but Dumbledore spoke first.

“A good thought, Lily,” he said again with that hint of professorial pride, “And one we shall no doubt return to when Mr Dearborn’s Basilisk proves an unreliable approach,” he smiled wryly and Dearborn snorted, “But I believe that is enough for tonight. I do not wish to over-burden you with new information, we shall reconvene at the next meeting.” and with that they were dismissed, allowing Dumbledore to attend to other Order responsibilities. Just as they would have a year before upon leaving a particularly thought-provoking class lecture, they chattered about what had been said.

“Dunna know how we’re ta find Ravenclaw’s Diadem,” Dearborn was saying, “They’ve been calling it ‘lost’ as long as anyone can remember, I think.”

Before Remus could hear whatever it was that Alice said in response, James grabbed his arm. It wasn’t a rough or painful touch, but Remus flinched away from it as if it had been a hot poker. He’d grown un-accustomed to casual contact. James’ eyes were round behind his glasses when Remus met them and he winced, “Sorry, mate,” he said weakly, “You just surprised me.”

“Right,” James said, looking as if he wanted to ask something, that little crease forming between his brows that Remus knew meant he would lie in bed worrying about it later. James glanced at Lily, who was still engaged in discussion of the horcruxes with Dearborn and the Longbottoms, “What was it you wanted to tell me before, then?” he asked, “You seemed worried about something.”

Remus’ stomach churned and he automatically glanced around, looking for any signs of Peter or the rat. He’d nearly forgotten, in the influx of new and complex information, about his suspicions that his friend was a traitor. James’ hazel eyes were bright, alert, expectant, and he wished more than anything that he had some other piece of news for him, “Erm,” he said, going to run a hand through his hair but lowering it when he found his hair too matted to comb through, wishing yet again for that shower, “Well, it’s just a… a thought, a suspicion, I guess. Something, er, troubling I overheard.”

“Spit it out, M-- Remus,” James said, his eyes flickering away from Remus’ at the slip. A tingle had shot through Remus at the sound. It had been a long time since anyone had even almost called him that name.

He took a breath, and as requested, spit it out, “I heard some of the wolves talking about a spy, and I think it’s Pete.”

What?” Lily said, re-entering the conversation at just the most perfectly wrong moment as her previous conversation partners departed. Her green eyes blazed, the way they often had in school when she was telling James off for being the prat that he had most definitely been in those days. It was more intimidating than ever, “There’s no way,” she said firmly, with a resolute shake of her head, “He wouldn’t, hell, he couldn’t!

“He’s more capable than he seems, Lily,” Remus said, wondering how to possibly stand his ground without winding up hexed.

“Alright, so he is,” she said, “Why should I take your word for it? Based on your guess on something a couple werewolves supposedly said?”

Remus was tempted to walk away, to Disapparate from this place, if just to put distance between himself and the way she had just said ‘werewolves’. Well, he reminded himself bitterly, one murdered her friend. James had silenced a reluctant Lily with a firm ‘Lils’, but this had already gone exactly as he’d hoped it wouldn’t.

“I’m sure you’re being honest about what you heard,” James said carefully, trying to smooth over some of the damage, “But it is a lot to assume. Did they use his name?”

“They said ‘Dumbledore’s rat’,” Remus said, lowering his voice, hoping that would convince James as surely as it convinced him. Judging by how white his face went, it gave James the same sinking feeling in his gut; that something was wrong amongst the ruins of what had once been a pack. The instinct still remained, even if the pack was sundered.

“That could mean anyone,” Lily pointed out, although she seemed less sure of herself, and sounded more now like she was hoping he was wrong than like she was certain of it.

“Hmm,” James said, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, “How can we make absolutely sure? We could tail him, I reckon, but how do you sneak up on a rat? I mean, he’d know he was being followed, even if we used the cloak. Hm, maybe with a silencing charm--”

“You’re going at it the wrong way,” they all jumped when a fourth voice joined the conversation, uninvited. Sirius was standing nearby still, leaning against the wall with that absolutely obnoxious aristocratic grace of his. He’d obviously been listening to every word of their discussion, not just judging by his interjection, but by his apparent anger and shock. Perhaps not apparent, they were pretty subtle after all, but apparent to Remus, whose senses were keen and who once had known him well. The tiniest twitch at the corner of his lip, the darkening of the storm-grey eyes, the way his shoulders hunched the smallest hair higher than normal at the thought of mutiny within his pack. The same pack you betrayed, Remus thought coldly.

“Nobody asked you, Black,” Lily said, jumping in when James and Remus were both too appalled by the intrusion to find their tongues. They all had their roles and their boundaries, they all knew them, Sirius knew them, but here he was violating the first rule as if they had never stopped being on speaking terms in the first place.

He waved a hand dismissively, “If you don’t want my input, that’s just fine,” he said, feigning nonchalance that Remus knew he didn’t feel. He could feel his anger at Peter as surely as he could feel his own, “However,” he went on, his tone hardening, “I’d remind you that I know a thing about double-crossing, seeing as I’m doing it to the Dark Lord by, you know, being here at all.

“Fine, fine,” James said, impatient with Sirius’ theatrics, “Congratulations on not actually being a Death Eater, bit of a shock you’re not, really, consid--”

James,” Remus silenced him sharply before addressing Sirius, whose eyes flashed with fury at James’ comments, “What would you suggest we do about Peter?”

Sirius looked at Remus, but didn’t meet his eyes and said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “Just give him a bit of false information, say it to him and to him only. Doesn’t matter much what it is, but something the Dark Lord would want to know if it were true. Contrive some great big Order gathering, maybe. And if he is passing along Order secrets, it won’t be long before you or I will hear someone talking about it who could only have heard it from him.”

Remus thought hard for a second, staring at Sirius, whose eyes refused to look directly into his. He tried to find fault with the idea, some reason to reject it, to throw it in Sirius’ face, but he couldn’t. He looked to James and Lily, who were both a bit green around the gills but reluctantly nodded their agreement. If Peter was loyal, no harm would come of it. And if he wasn’t…

Well, Remus hoped for Peter’s own sake that he was.

 

Chapter Text

18 April, 1979

 

He knew Lily hadn’t washed her hair in a couple days, and he wondered sleepily how it was that it still smelled like honeysuckle. His sleepy breaths drew the scent in, filling the aching bits of his chest with comfort and summer-sweetness, and blew out warm against the crown of her head. James had no concept of how long they’d been there, cocooned together in half-asleep stasis, when the warm lump that was Lily giggled drowsily against his chest and said, “Make sure you get a good whiff, there, wouldn’t wanna leave a single hair un-sniffed.”

In answer, James nuzzled his face playfully against her head, mussing her hair and then sitting back with a sigh, “Ahhhh…” he peeked one eye open to look down at her, “Was it as good for you as it was for me?” Lily laughed and he grinned as he watched her try to tidy the red cloud of her hair with her hands before reaching for her wand from the side table. The table brought James crashing back down to consciousness, to reality, where there were brown glass bottles of medicinal potions and dry white Muggle pills and that sound like dry twigs rattling against a windowpane was the breathing of his ailing parents.

“Oh, Jamie,” Lily cooed sympathetically, seeing the look on his face, as she drew her wand through her hair, de-tangling and smoothing it. He straightened his glasses for something to do with his hands.

“This is bollocks,” James said, resisting the urge to look over at his parents’ bed from the armchair he and Lily shared. He wasn’t ready yet for the sight of how small they looked, like children in their parents’ overlarge bed after a nightmare. I’m supposed to be the child, he thought petulantly, knowing even as he thought it that it didn’t work that way. His parents had had him a bit later in life than was usual, he’d always sorta known, hadn’t he? Joked even, to cheer Sirius up about matters of disinheritance and parentage. He groaned at the thought, the memories of the Order meeting a couple days before returning to him, “Y’know,” he said, his voice shaking with something, “I hate Grasshopper Cake--”

“What?” Lily said, reeling from the non sequitur, “I mean, I know you do, but--”

“I hate it, but mum always used to make it when Pete came round. It’s his favorite,” he went on, “Hell, I think she even did this last Christmas, even though… he never came.” He could hear the way his voice had gone cold, suddenly wondering if there was more significance to that absence.

“...Do you really think…?” Lily said tentatively, though she was watching the sleeping forms in the bed.

“I don’t want to believe it, Lils,” James said, honestly, tugging her back against his chest and wrapping his arms around her, “I just dunno what to think.”

“I mean… I mean, it can’t be, can it?” she said, stubbornly, though she didn’t sound convinced, “He’d never betray us, we’re... family!”

“I’d’ve said the same about Sirius once,” James murmured, finding it strange to say Sirius’ name so casually. He felt Lily stiffen slightly against him and then soften.

“I’m sorry, Jamie,” she said, one hand rising to caress his cheek.

“What for?” he asked, leaning into the touch.

“You don’t deserve it,” she said, a sad, protective note in her voice as her thumb grazed his stubbly cheek, “Being let down, and, and betrayed by Sirius, and Remus, and now Pete.”

James’ hand lifted to cup the back of Lily’s, shaking his head, “Remus never betrayed me, Lils.”

Her green eyes snapped up to his, surprised, and he watched the thoughts move across her face, her teeth worrying her bottom lip, “I… I guess he hasn’t,” she amended carefully, “But he did push you away when--”

“He knew you didn’t want him around, I think, when you’d finally given me the time of day,” James said and Lily opened her mouth to protest, “It’s okay, love,” he went on, “I think he was relieved for the excuse, not that that was better but... He…” James frowned, thinking back on the Remus he’d known before the incident, “He always had trouble trusting himself with people, said he was a monster, and dangerous and--”

“He is dangerous,” Lily cut in, her brow creased, “He killed him.”

“I know, Lily, but he really wasn’t in his right mind,” he said, “He never, ever--”

“Have… do you think I’ve been too hard on him?” Lily asked in a small voice, burying her face in James’ shoulder.

He squeezed her and kissed the top of her head, “Not half as hard on him as I’m sure he’s been on himself.”

“I don’t mean to be cruel, or, or close-minded, I just…” Lily shuddered, “Think about… Severus and… how scared he must have been at the end, and I--”

“I’m sorry, Lily,” James said hoarsely against her hair, “If I’d only been faster…”

“Hush,” Lily said, her arms snaking around his neck, “It wasn’t your fault, it was--”

“Sirius, I know,” James cut in, almost sharply, “But if I’d been faster, we might have even forgiven Sirius. If, if crisis had been averted. We forgave Sirius all kinds of--”

“...Sirius..?” James’ voice died in his throat at the sound of his mother’s voice, croaking the name, hopefully. Lily sat up, wincing, “Sirius…?” James’ mum said again.

Lily slid out of James’ lap and he watched, frozen, as she went to soothe his mum. Just like the Grasshopper Cakes for Peter, he thought of all the Cherry Tarts mum had made. She’d made them for parties and gatherings, and sometimes with no occasion, and he thought of the disappointment she’d tried to hide from him when Sirius never showed up to stuff them in his mouth two at a time, spraying bits of pastry when he’d wax poetical about her recipe mid-chew. He felt guilty, suddenly, for how much he’d hidden from his parents. He ought to have trusted them with the knowledge of their Animagus forms, they wouldn’t have reported them to the Ministry for Merlin’s sake, they would have been proud. He should have given them answers about Sirius, not just let him be a ghost in their home, the son they lost. James realized he had gotten to his feet and followed Lily to the bed. His father was still asleep, he’d hardly woken in days, but his mother’s brown eyes found him, bright with fever and feeling, “James,” she said and he squeezed her hand, “Why… why hasn’t he…” a coughing fit took her and Lily repositioned her gently and gave her a drink of water.

“I’ll make sure he comes round,” James said, coming to the decision only as he heard his words out loud, “Sirius will come round soon, I promise.” When he glanced at Lily, he was glad to find her smiling, albeit a bit tightly. It didn’t mean he’d forgive him, he told himself, but he couldn’t keep anything else from mum. It was the right thing to do.

 

***

 

Sirius thought once you’d seen one Pureblood mausoleum of a house, you’d seen them all. And yet he couldn’t help but find Malfoy Manor especially uncomfortable. Not in the particulars, of course. By logical standards it was luxurious, but there was a pervasive coldness to its atmosphere, as if blood so pure would spoil at room temperature. Maybe it was all the marble, what was it with Purebloods and marble, anyhow? It all spoke of money and legacy and sophistication, and it was a bloody farce. All these supposed sophisticates had gathered here tonight because two of the younger recruits had proven themselves enough to earn the Mark. Sirius stood now with a small golden plate of canapés in hand that he couldn’t possibly dream of eating with the smell of branded flesh in his nose.

“What, no appetite, cousin?” Bellatrix asked, with a hardly-repressed cackle, as she appeared beside him.

Sirius glanced down at her sidelong, wondering absently at the way the Black family madness seemed to have eaten away more of her Black family beauty every time they regrettably came face to face. He gave her a joyless smile, curling a lip in distaste, “The refreshments are dreadful, don’t you think so?” he said.

“Oh, yes,” Bellatrix said, sidling closer with a judgmental glance at the small plate, “Cissy really must have a word with her house-elves.” Sirius regretted the lecture the guiltless elves might receive on his behalf, but he was as always amazed by how easily any of these maniacs could be distracted by even the smallest excuse to deride the state of the world, “And yet…” Bellatrix’s expression twisted into a knowing smirk, “I doubt your envy would allow you to stomach anything, even if it wasn’t this slop my sister’s served us.”

Maybe not so easily distracted, Sirius realized, but easy enough to see through. He contrived for his face to fall, grateful for the theatrical ease that honestly did make him well-suited for this detestable assignment. Bellatrix’s smile widened as her suspicions were rewarded by the dejected look on his face, “His Mark might prevent me from serving him as he requires.” Sirius said flatly, as if this was a mantra he had often repeated to himself.

“Or perhaaaps,” she said triumphantly, picking up a small tart from his plate and regarding it before dropping it in disgust, “He finds you lacking.”

“We cannot all be included in the Dark Lord’s inner circle, Bellatrix,” Sirius was amazed to find himself almost relieved to hear Lucius’ distinct drawl, he’d had about enough one-on-one time with his cousin to last a lifetime, “And those who are not,” he came up beside Sirius, one hand falling, unwelcome, upon his shoulder, “Still may serve him in valuable ways.”

“Fraternizing with mudbloods and worse?” Bellatrix said to her brother-in-law, giving a scoff of skepticism, “I don’t know how he stands it.”

“If it were not for those like Sirius here, willing to stomach such company,” Lucius said, as if to convince himself of so foul a need, “We would not know about this rally of Dumbledore’s.”

It took everything in Sirius not to stiffen, it would not do to let Lucius sense any unease in him. There it was, simple as anything. Proof. Dumbledore’s rat. There was no rally, of course, not if you asked anyone but Peter. Or, Sirius thought acidly, any of his Death Eater chums.

“I suppose you’re not in the old Muggle-lover’s inner circle either, cousin?” Bellatrix asked, one brow arching condescendingly, seeking justification for why Sirius had not know about this ‘rally’.

“I’m earning his trust,” Sirius said vaguely.

“You’ve quite a job cut out for you then, hm?” Lucius said with a smug laugh.

“Too right, Lucius,” Sirius didn’t trouble to hide the tightness of his voice, not when they were expecting and hoping to hear it. But it was high time to redirect the conversation, “I was unaware you were in any position to count yourself among the Dark Lord’s inner circle, though. But I must know, was the invitation embossed or engraved?”

“You’ve never been as funny as you think you are, Black,” Lucius sneered but his heart wasn’t in it. His pale eyes all but glowed with pride, and Sirius had no doubt that had there been an invitation, he would have been all too eager to brag about the paper stock, “I happen to have been entrusted with one of our Master’s most prized possessions, an honor he would never bestow upon the likes of you.”

“A blank diary,” Bellatrix mused with misty eyes, “I’d give my life to know its significance to the Dark Lord, what secrets are hidden in those pages.”

Sirius wanted to make a jibe about how her life was the toll she’d likely pay if she was foolish enough to ask him such a prying question, but his mouth was as dry as parchment. A dry rasp was all that escaped his throat, and Bellatrix and Lucius had already moved onto a new subject when he excused himself for a drink. As he slipped through the room of Death Eaters mingling and chatting as if it was normal for their very lives to be built on a foundation of bigotry and genocide, he wondered for what must be the millionth time if he were to draw his wand right now, just how many of them he might be able to take out before a flash of green light erased him. He reasoned that it would be quite a few, he’d been one the best duelers in their year at Hogwarts. It figured that his talents would be wasted on an assignment where he had to play nice, hardly what he was known for.

Voldemort’s diary, it was a truly absurd thought. It sounded like something James might have joked about at school, a dark-robed figure filling the pages of a diary with wet dreams and petty rivalries scrawled in pink ink. Could it really be a horcrux? Dumbledore had seemed to doubt it, but it could be. In this very house? He thought, wishing he had Lupin’s ability to sense dark magical objects. He tried, uselessly, to access some latent ability to read magical resonances. He could feel dark magic, of course, any wizard who wasn’t totally useless could feel magic in excess but it was more a vague uneasy awareness that there was evil here than anything he could use, like the scent trails he’d once been able to track as Padfoot. For a mad second, he considered slipping into Padfoot’s skin on the off chance he’d be able to track a horcrux as simply as a hare, but no. He’d shut that door with good reason and he had no right to open it.

He had to cross the entry hall to get to the refreshments, but once he had put some feet between himself and the crowd of Death Eaters, there was nothing that could have appealed to him more than the door. Sirius shot the door a longing look and nearly fell over when it opened, thinking for the briefest of moments that maybe he had accidentally opened it with magic. But then a moment later a slight, dark haired figure stood framed in the doorway, looking like death warmed over, “Regulus?” He exclaimed in shock at the sight of his brother. His eyes were huge and shot to Sirius frantically at the sound of his name. There was a cagey, frenetic look about him, not staying quite still. His robes were askew and he wore no travelling cloak, though the spring night was quite cool. Sirius crossed to him and lifted a hand to touch his pallid cheek, but thought it too intimate a gesture between them, and touched his shoulder instead, “What happened to you?”

Regulus blinked at him uncomprehending for a moment, “Nothing’s happened, Sirius.” he said, but his tone was strange, as though he were unsure. He made to walk by him, but Sirius held him in place, “What?” he asked, and Sirius was almost relieved to hear the haughty note in his voice.

“Are you mad? You can’t go in there like this!” Sirius hissed. The Death Eaters would notice his disheveled appearance and sleepless, haggard look in an instant, sniffing out weakness, and Regulus knew too much to risk being the object of an interrogation.

“Don’t you get it, Sirius,” he said,  “I don’t have a choice.” The pleading note reminded Sirius how young Regulus was. Sure, he was only a year older, but much as he’d often tried to deny it, Regulus was his little brother, and apparently there was a little part of him that still remembered a responsibility to protect him. Regulus shook off his hand, “You’re the one who’s always had the choices.”

“I made choices,” Sirius couldn’t help pointing out, “And besides, I bollocksed up most of them anyhow.” Sirius grabbed his cloak from the ornate hooks by the door with one hand and grabbed Regulus with the other, pulling him out the door.

“What are you--?!” Regulus hissed as the door shut behind them and Sirius dragged him past the high hedges. For a long moment there was only the sound of their feet tapping echoingly off the path, “Sirius, what the hell are you doing?!” Regulus tried again.

“Making the choice to save your ungrateful arse.” Sirius said as they passed through the ostentatious gate. He tightened his grip on Regulus’ wrist and Disapparated.

 

***

Regulus shut his eyes tightly against the familiar sensation of Side-Along Apparition, Sirius’ death grip on his wrist as crushing as those weird walls of time and space, constricting around him like a stiff rubber tube. And as always, it ended ungracefully, both of them stumbling upon landing, so much so that Regulus’ knees hit what felt like grass. He jumped quickly back to his feet, and his wand was in his hand. He couldn’t afford to be vulnerable. Not for a second, “What the hell, Sirius!” he shouted.

Sirius ran his fingers through his hair, the vain git, before saying, “I was saving you, you arse, they would have eaten you alive if you’d--”

“Yeah, well, I don’t recall asking you to play the hero.” Regulus snapped, looking around suspiciously. They were on a dark country lane and there was little to differentiate the landscape other than a squat, moldering tree stump.

Sirius rounded on him, “Well, if you’re too stupid to recognize mortal bloody peril when it comes knocking, it’s my responsibility to--”

“Oooooh Merlin’s balls, you are such a Gryffindor,” Regulus groaned, throwing up his hands but not loosening his grip on his wand, “Very well, you’ve done your heroic deed for the day, splendid work! But I am not some kind of damsel in distress and I can assure you I am not your responsibility.”

Sirius straightened his shoulders and pinned Regulus with an uncompromising look that he would have hated to know made him look a bit like their mother, “You made yourself my responsibility when you gave me that locket,” he said in a brittle, quiet voice, “You involved me. Now, I’m bloody involved and I get a say, and I say that you were not safe.”

“I know I wasn’t safe, Sirius,” Regulus said, hardly above a whisper, “I knew it the instant I second-guessed what the Dark Lord was up to, I knew it when I asked Kreacher to help me, I even knew it when I was raving like a lunatic from that vile fucking potion.” it was hard to tell in the low light, but Sirius’ face seemed to have grow paler, “Give me a little credit, I knew what I was signing on for. Why do you think I gave you the damned locket?”

“...you knew they’d kill you.” Sirius said, not a question.

“Yes, and I--”

“Now who’s the noble fucking idiot!” Sirius barked a laugh that made Regulus jump, “The hat made a mistake not putting you in Gryffindor, heroically falling on your sword like--”

“I didn’t have a choice, Sirius,” Regulus said grimly, “It was the only way--”

“Ya know, you keep saying you have no choices,” Sirius grabbed Regulus’ arm again and didn’t let him squirm away, “But I think you’re actually just too stupid to see that you’ve had choices and you’ve made choices all along. You don’t get to weasel out of the credit or the blame. No one does.” Regulus didn’t say anything, curiosity getting the better of him as Sirius pulled him towards the tree stump, “Not that I can totally fault you, mind,” Sirius amended, “Can’t imagine your brain was getting much oxygen all these years you’ve had your head shoved that far up your own arse. And with our banshee of a mother--”

Where are you taking me?” Regulus’ voice was no longer angry or strident, but frantic. It had suddenly struck him that following his maniac, impulsive brother who had forsaken him years ago across enemy lines might not be the kind of choice he should be using his newfound choice-making authority on. His vision tunneling as he tried in vain to tug his arm from his brother’s grip. Sirius must have heard the terror in his voice because he spun to look at him, ceasing to tap a pattern on the tree with his wand tip, he said something to Regulus but he couldn’t hear it through the rushing of blood in his ears. He was distantly aware of his legs giving out and then everything went black.

 

***

This ruddy war was making Lily question whether she really wanted to be a Healer. It had been her aspiration for years. Like most Muggleborns, she had been awed the first couple times she’d had cause to visit the Hospital Wing and had colds cured in minutes by Pepper-Up Potions, ankles sprained on vanishing stairs healed with a tap of Madam Pomfrey’s wand, disfigurements from ricocheting spells set to rights with a swish and a flick. Not that she’d ever been particularly prone to injury, and not that all magic didn’t shock and delight her as a firstie, but healing magic had truly seemed miraculous. Besides, she’d had a natural aptitude for potioneering and charmwork, the two skills most valued in a Healer, along with kindness and good sense. It has seemed like a perfect fit when she had been reading pamphlets and discussing course selection in McGonagall’s office over tea, but then the war started.

It was good to have a Healer, even just a trainee, in the Order, as evidenced by the shattered femur she was currently mending for a rather whiny Marlene McKinnon. And it had come in handy with James’ parents as well, of course. Her knowledge of magical and Muggle medicine was a great asset all around. But that was just the thing. She’d been cooped up by the Potters’ sickbed for a couple days and she’d contrived to stop by Headquarters to get away, foolish as that seemed now. I’m being selfish, she told herself, but prodded Marlene’s horribly bruised thigh perhaps a little too hard.

Bloody fucking buggering dragon-dung, Evans!!” Marlene cursed fluently, “To hell with magic! Just slap a cast on me and give me bedrest, Christ knows I deserve a vacation!”

“Sorry, Marls,” Lily apologized honestly, “It’s really almost there.” She ran her wand and her left hand over her friend’s thigh once more, triple-checking that there weren’t any bone shards she’d missed before grabbing one of the jars of potion she kept here and gently slathering it on, watching with satisfaction as the black and purple contusions began to clear up before her eyes. Never mind, perhaps it is still miraculous, “There you go, you big baby.”

“Thank you, Evans,” Marlene said, through a pout, though now that the pain was letting up, she was much more amicable.

“You do know her name’s Potter now, don’t you?” Alice put in, from where she and Frank sat beside a drowsing and slightly scuffed up Dorcas Meadowes, trying to find meaning in the encrypted message from an owl they’d intercepted. Lily didn’t have the heart to point out to them that it was most likely that, like most of the encrypted messages on their side, it had no information of import hidden amidst code words.

“Like hell it is, that Potter bloke’s just a cover story,” Marlene quipped, much more like herself now. She winked lasciviously at Lily, “She’ll always be my Evans.”

Before Lily could confirm or deny Marlene’s allegations regarding her secret sapphic tendencies, the door burst open and they were all on their feet, except Marlene, who nonetheless sat up bolt upright with her wand in hand. Five jaws dropped at the sight of a slightly disheveled but elegantly clad Sirius Black with what appeared to be a clone of himself unconscious in his arms and his face contorted with worry. Lily’s mind was piecing together some theory about Polyjuice Potion to explain his doppelganger when she was made to feel quite foolish by Alice’s exclamation of, “My word, is that Regulus?!”

Sirius nodded a bit frantically, using one foot to close the door behind him before coming into the quite-un-homey sitting room and laying Regulus gently atop one of the tables. He grabbed a nearby teacup and absently transfigured it into a pillow, sliding it carefully under his brother’s head. It was Frank who found his voice, “Erm, Sirius, mate,” he said, aiming at sounding casual, “I don’t mean to be insensitive to family matters, but mind telling us what you’re doing bringing a known Death Eater here?”

Alice elbowed him sharply in the ribs, “Is he alright, Sirius?”

“Uh, I think so?” Sirius said, tugging anxiously at his hair and leaning over his brother, “He’s been… under a lot of stress.”

“Most dark wizards are, I’d imagine,” said Moody gruffly from the stairs, his wooden leg thumping heavily against each step. Lily saw the blood drain from Sirius’ face and his jaw set before he turned to face the grizzled Auror.

“He’s defecting,” Sirius said, his back straight and chin jutting defiantly in a way that reminded Lily acutely of James. Before she knew what she was doing she was standing up, smoothing her corduroy skirt, and approaching the table where Regulus lay.

“Defecting, you say?” Moody asked skeptically, as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Sirius was not looking at him anymore, though, Lily could feel without looking that his eyes were glued to her as she checked Regulus pulse, pulled back his eyelid to assess the dilation of his pupil, and ran her wand fluidly through the air just above his body, “How do we know he’s not a spy?” Moody asked, peering down at the young man who so resembled Sirius.

“Merlin, Alastor, he’s the one who gave me the horcrux!” Sirius burst out, stepping purposefully so as to place himself between Moody and his brother, “He’s apparently been scared out of his wits, thinking he was going to be killed as a traitor any day!”

Moody made the mistake of agreeing that at least Regulus was bright enough to know betraying Voldemort was a death sentence, but Lily was only half listening, intent on yet another patient. Now that she was this close to him, no doubt closer than she ever had been in their years together at Hogwarts, she noticed that Regulus didn’t look quite so much like Sirius as he did at a glance. He was smaller, a good few inches shorter and not nearly so broad in the shoulders and chest. He wore his hair short and though it was the same silken black, where Sirius’ grew in a widow’s peak, Regulus’ did not. His brows were not as dark or as arched, his lips a bit fuller, his jaw a bit rounder. The overall effect was considerably less striking than Sirius, but considerably softer. Lily was pondering his face thoughtfully, having assessed that he was in perfectly fine health and not cursed, hexed, or jinxed, while Moody and Sirius argued, when Regulus’ eyes opened. They were the same startling storm-grey and they met hers for only a second before dilating in horror as he scrambled upright, knocking the transfigured pillow to the floor and nearly tumbling off the table himself.

“W-what are you going to do to me?” he stammered, reaching for his wand and growing paler still when he didn’t find it.

“Depends what you’re guilty of,” Moody rumbled but Sirius shot him a sharp look before moving back to his brother’s side.

“You’re alright, Reg,” he reassured him, “We’re going to help you.”

“H-help me?” Regulus’ brow creased, “B-but I was one of th-them!”

“We’re not them, kid,” Marlene said from the spot on the floor where Lily had healed her leg after she and Dorcas came in from the field, “If you’re actually done with that lot, we’re not going to hurt you or anything, as long as we know you’re serious.”

Regulus gaped at her for a speechless second before saying, with a shaky nod towards his brother, “No, he’s Sirius.”

A surprised laugh bubbled out of Lily. There had been a time she’d heard that blasted joke entirely too often, and she’d definitely never heard that or any other joke from Regulus. Sirius grinned at Regulus and, a bit cautiously, his eyes moved to Lily. There was a question there, for just a second, before he turned to Moody, “He’s done with them, Alastor, but if they realize he’s defected or, even worse, that he compromised that locket--”

“Fine, fine,” Moody grumbled, shocking everyone, before his face fell in disappointment, “This house is full of bleeding Dark Detectors and not a single sneak-o-scope has made a peep! It would have been ear-splitting if a Death Eater that meant us harm walked through that door!” he shook his head again at their inattentiveness to his safeguards, before turning around to stump back up the stairs.

“My wand…” Regulus said to Sirius, quietly, trying not to sound too worried and relief washed over his face as Sirius drew it from within his robes and returned it to him. He bent down to fetch the fallen pillow and slipped it under Regulus’ head, before thinking better of it and just tapping the table, transfiguring it into a cot. Regulus stared at his brother for a second, opening his mouth to speak, but Sirius shook his head and gave an understanding smile.

“Get some rest,” Sirius said, patting his shoulder, “Don’t let that charming first impression fool you, Moody’s gonna want to pick your brain tomorrow and he’s going to be thorough.” Regulus looked a little grey at the prospect, but nodded and closed his eyes obediently, and seconds later his breathing had the rhythm of sleep.

Lily’s mind was moving very fast. She’d spent so long rejecting Sirius out of hand as a traitor, as Severus’ killer, as selfish, and worst of all in her book, someone-who-hurt-James, that she’d forgotten. Not that she’d had much of a chance to know him well in their first five and a half years at school, since his Marauder antics had been wearisome to her, but she had known back then that beneath the swaggering, class-clown bullshit, there was goodness. She had forgotten it, but now she remembered, how he had stood up for his friends, and hovered dotingly around Lupin when he was ‘ill’, and comforted James the many times she had rejected his advances. Shame squirmed in her gut at the thought that she’d forgotten all of that on purpose. Hating him had been so much easier than considering that, maybe, possibly, there was a chance, that he had just made one really unthinkably terrible mistake.

She realized she was staring at him and, with a jolt, that he was staring back. His posture was nervous, tensed for the abuse he expected her to fling at him. She wished that James was here to help her know if she was being an idiot for doubting the grudge that had become second nature. James was so compassionate though, moreso than her, wouldn’t he have been moved by that display of fraternity? She thought of him, wracked with anticipatory grief at his parents’ bedside and before she knew it, against her better judgment, she was saying quickly, “Sirius, I think you ought to come round and see James’ parents. Maybe tomorrow after the horcrux meeting?”

His jaw dropped so far it made an audible pop, and she hoped it wasn’t bad enough to need to be looked at by a Healer. But then he grinned, and she hoped she’d made the right choice.

Chapter Text

19 April, 1979


Wayland Wilkes had left Hogwarts a few years before Remus started, by his reckoning. He had never known the bloke when he’d walked the corridors in Slytherin house colors, or when his hairline hadn’t yet begun to recede, or when he’d been afflicted by a pretty gnarly case of teenage acne, if the scars that littered his anxious face were any indication. Not knowing him didn’t really make this any easier for Remus. Due in part, perhaps, to the way Wayland Wilkes was weeping, tears dripping off the tip of his pockmarked nose. Due in part to the way he was being punished for underestimating lycanthropic sense of smell, having lied about the presence of his wife and child in the house. Due in part, greatly, to the fact that he had the good sense to be getting cold feet about Voldemort.

Well, bad sense, actually, in terms of self-preservation, but a good move ethically speaking.

Unlike many Purebloods, the Wilkes home was a modest two-story house, not an absurd sprawling manor furnished with icy austerity. Normal, Remus couldn’t help thinking, as if that was a word he had any right to define. He kept his sympathy for the man locked up tight as he watched him struggle against the two werewolves, Theo and Alrick, that restrained his arms, and gaze up in terror as Greyback loomed over him, all broad hulking shoulders and bright eyes and unkind, charming smile.

“P-p-please,” Wilkes was stammering, the sharp scent of animal fear rolling off him in waves, “J-j-just kill me.” Remus’ fists clenched tight, resisting the mad desire to tear Greyback away from the poor man.

Greyback barked a feral laugh, “You fool,” he crooned coolly, and gave the man a swift kick to the side, a rib breaking with an audible snap, “We’re here to remind you to keep your promises to the Dark Lord,” he reminded, smiling, unfazed at the man’s keen of pain, “If we ‘just killed you’,” he chuckled wryly, stroked his beard, “Why, he’d still be down a man and we can’t have that,” Greyback grinned, baring the yellow points of his teeth, “Your bitch and your whelp, however? I see no use they’d be to him alive.”

Wilkes’ eyes widened in terror, the whites flashing as he struggled harder against the dirty-nailed hands that gripped his arms, “No!” he protested, with renewed fervor, something akin to bravery suddenly squaring his shoulders, “Don’t you fucking touch them, you fucking mongrel! I’ll--”

It was the hairy back of Greyback’s hand that hit him this time, colliding with his mouth so hard that a dislodged tooth clattered bloodily to the floor, “Remus,” Greyback said, his eyes not leaving the man, “Go. I believe Mrs Wilkes and little miss Wilkes might need some looking after.” his head jerked in the direction of the upstairs bedroom where the woman and child were being detained.

Wayland Wilkes’ gaze flickered from Greyback to Remus. His eyes blazed with warning, with hate, “Don’ you fugging lay a figger--” he snarled, the corners of his words blunted by the missing eyetooth and the blood that poured down his chin. Remus had already turned away, so he didn’t know what Greyback had done to silence him, heard only the indistinct thud of flesh on flesh, followed by Greyback’s cold, genial laugh.

Remus was deeply grateful for an excuse to leave the room, even if it was under the guise of being deployed to go torture innocents. He silently took a steadying breath, his head gone light with revulsion and rebellion. He had never liked accompanying the wolves to put the fear of death into those with too little mettle or too much conscience to stand by Voldemort’s rising regime, but he had never struggled before to resist breaking character and rebelling against the unwarranted cruelty as much as he was tonight. Why in Merlin’s name was he having such a hard time going through the motions this time around? It was sick, of course, the way the pack served as Voldemort’s willing enforcers, perverse guard dogs, but there was nothing about it that ought to twist his gut, as if some new low had been reached tonight after months of the same.

Remus climbed the stairs as slowly as was reasonable, trying to find that store of werewolf instinct he had drawn upon over the past months to try and be convincing. It was weird accessing it at first, having always kept it under wraps with his ragtag pack of Marauders and even more deeply buried in all the hours he had to pass for human. Before he even reached the top of the stairs, Remus could hear the muffled sobs and the human heart in him twisted mutinously against his role.

“Hallo, Remus,” came the timid voice and Remus managed a polite smile for the werewolf standing guard at the door.

“Hey, Geri,” he said and she smiled thinly. She was one of the youngest in Greyback’s numbers, a rangy girl of fifteen. She still had that adolescent gangliness, limbs growing out of sync with the rest of her, her nose and mouth a little too grown-up in a still childlike face. He thought in a few years she might even be pretty, if you could look past the pale scars that patchworked her dark skin.

“H-how is it going?” she asked, inclining her heads towards the stairs he’d just ascended, failing to pass off her concern as bloodlust. Remus couldn’t help but love her a little for it, dangerous as it was to be such a bad actor amongst the likes of the pack. She had enough hierarchal disadvantage to overcome as it was, what with her age, her small stature, and the fact that she’d been bitten by one of Greyback’s followers, but not by the Alpha himself.

“They’ll let him live,” Remus said, filling his voice with reproach in case they were overheard, even as he offered her a reassuring smile. Her shoulders untensed the tiniest bit. Remus gestured at the door behind her, “Let me at them.” She all but scurried out of the way, although she looked grateful that it was him she was permitting past, knowing that he would not savage her charges the way another member of the pack might in his place, out of obedience to Greyback’s tutelage, or some skewed idea of vengeance on wizardkind.

Remus opened the door and concealed a cringe at the sight of Wilkes’ family. His wife sat on the floor, with their small daughter half drawn into her lap. The girl was about five, if Remus had to guess. Both were crying, and a small trickle of blood traced the side of the woman’s face from a cut that bisected her right eyebrow. At the sight of him, she clutched her child tighter and cowered, “Shut up, bitch!” Remus snarled as he shut the door behind him. He wandlessly cast a quick muffliato on the door before turning back to the woman. Curiosity warred with fear in her intelligent blue eyes, not expecting to see the contrite look on his face, “Listen to me,” he said urgently, crouching before her and hating the way she flinched away from him, “I’m not going to hurt you, but I need to make it look and sound like I have. Listen carefully.” The woman’s eyes lifted to his again, her lips shaped unspoken questions but she nodded without speaking, “You need to take your daughter and leave the country as soon as you can,” shock flashed in her eyes and her dry lips formed an ‘o’, but he didn’t pause, “If your husband doesn’t want to go, you leave without him, do you understand me?” very slowly she nodded, “Live amongst Muggles if you can, you’ll be much harder to find that way. The further, the better. Now,” he straightened up and lifted his wand, “I’m going to glamour you and your daughter so that you will appear to be injured, in case Greyback wants proof or your husband needs convincing, but it should not cause you any discomfort,” Mrs. Wilkes eyed his wand a bit distrustfully, but nodded once more all the same. Remus gave her a weak smile, “I’m also going to lift the charm on the door, and if you wouldn’t mind, er… crying and screaming a bit, I’d really appreciate it. Sells it better.” an almost imperceptible smile crossed the woman’s face and she nodded yet again, whispering something against the little girl’s hair.

Remus flicked his wand at the door and nodded at the Wilkeses. The girl started shrieking at once ‘no no no no no!’ and Remus cringed at her rather too convincing acting, beginning to perform the simple glamours upon the hostages as the mother howled ‘please! Please, have mercy! Please, not my Gwen!’ Remus’ grip on his wand faltered for a second, surprised by the woman’s Welsh lilt, reminded painfully of his own mother and the trials she had faced in her efforts to protect her own child. When he deemed the illusion of blood and bruises upon them to be satisfactory, he stowed his wand back in his sleeve. He leaned in close to the woman and this time, she did not pull back, “Please,” he breathed so that only she could hear, “Run away.”

Thank you,” she mouthed to him, running her fingers through the downy hair on her child’s head.

Remus turned away from them and left the room, met by a rather pale Geri in the hall. She put on a brave face, setting her jaw, and said very softly, “You didn’t really hurt them.”

Remus shrugged one shoulder, and Geri beamed at him, but before he could respond, Greyback’s voice travelled up to them, “Leaving!” he barked, a straightforward command that they knew better than to hesitate in obeying. As they made their way to the open front door, they both glanced into the parlor where Wayland lay in a crumpled heap, his survival only made evident by the rattling sound of his breathing. Remus was fairly sure from the familiar rasp that broken ribs was pressing against a lung, as his often had following especially difficult full moon transformations. Beside him, Geri gasped softly and they hurried out to their waiting packmates.

Of the five of them, only Greyback and Remus could Apparate. Remus took hold of Geri’s arm and Greyback roughly grabbed the two that had restrained Wilkes and they Side-Along’ed to the remote stretch of Yorkshire hills, dotted with caves and dug-outs, that served as home base. The space was dominated by a large willow tree, its dangling branches frothy with new chartreuse buds, its trunk cloven and badly scarred by a lightning strike some years in its past. Remus loved and hated the tree, admiring the poetry of it but detesting the reminder. When they appeared beneath the curtain of its branches, Geri gagged but did not retch, and Remus was a little impressed, Apparition being intensely uncomfortable especially for those unaccustomed to it, “You’ve a strong stomach,” he said to her amiably as Greyback made towards his cave without beckoning to Remus. Maybe, if he was lucky, he wouldn’t be summoned for a ‘private audience’ at all.

Geri gave him a toothy smile, “Must be all the scavenging,” she said, “I used to have a right dainty constitution.”

Remus grimaced. Geri had only been bitten a few years before, and thus had much more memory of her life as an uninfected human than most of the pack who, like Remus, had been infected by Greyback when they were still very small, “I suspect that hasn’t changed,” he managed to say lightly, “Nothing says dainty like becoming a ravening beast once monthly.”

Geri’s grin softened thoughtfully, “The way Gr-- our father,” she corrected, wrinkling her nose a little, “Talks, you’d think it was some great bloody boon to be a ravening beast. Like wizards have it all wrong and we should rule with our bloody teeth,” she said, scratching a blemish on her chin, and added fondly, “But not you, Remus.”

Remus cast a glance towards Greyback’s cave, weighing the merits of casting another Muffling Charm. It was unwise to speak out against Greyback’s dogma, but maybe Geri was too young to have learned that kind of tact. She should be able to gossip like a kid without being scared, he thought, with a wave of desire to protect Geri and so many members of the pack who in over their heads. Instead of a Muffling Charm, Remus opted instead to do it the old-fashioned way, turning and walking towards the stream where they got their water, Geri scrambling to follow beside him. Only when they reached the water did he respond, “I grew up among wizards, most of the pack didn’t have that luxury.”

“Huh, luxury,” Geri said, her skeptical almond-shaped eyes precisely the same amber shade that he knew his were, only a few days out from the full, and they searched his, liquid with commiseration and something like envy, “I did, too,” she said, “Come up with wizards,” and then shrugged, looking instead at the water, “At least, for the first ten years,” she smiled a bit wryly, “Wasn’t what I’d call a luxury. Just as well I got bit and mum and dad kicked me out after a few moons,” she said, “They might’ve done a year later anyway, when no Hogwarts letter came.”

This hadn’t occurred to Remus, having assumed all of the wolves had magic, even if most had never been taught how to properly wield it. Muggles didn’t usually survive being bitten, or else didn’t survive their first moon, “You’re a…?”

“Squib, yeah,” Geri said and quirked one eyebrow at him, “No need to look so sorry for me, as if that's the tragic thing, ha!” she shrugged, “It’s not like they’d’ve let me near a wand or a spellbook anyway once I got bit,” she fumbled with one of her shoulder-length box braids, “Best thing about the bite is it put some magic in my normy blood, innit?” Remus didn’t know what to say to that, but he was tempted to point out that if she’d been magical, surely Dumbledore would have made the same accommodations for her that he had made for him. Right? But he didn’t think that information would do her any good, and it would be telling too much about himself, besides. It was important to keep as much of his human life out of the pack as possible. He realized that Geri was smiling softly at him, even admiringly.

“What?” he asked, cocking his head.

“They let you near a wand and spellbooks,” she observed soundly, and his chest constricted, “Funny, that.”

“Funny?” Remus repeated stiffly.

“That they didn’t treat you like a beast,” she touched the back of his hand so lightly he almost didn’t feel it, “And, lo and behold, you’re not one. Like maybe it’s all this thinking we’re monsters, and being told we’re monsters that makes us want to start biting.”

Her fingers began to edge between his and with a shock, understanding clicked into place. He snatched back his hand, his brain racing to find the words to gently tell her that she was too young, that he was typically not inclined towards the fairer sex, that he had only ever wanted one person and that that had ended in heartbreak and disaster. But before he could say anything, Greyback called for him, as much in that weird internal way, on that wavelength only wolves could dial into, as with his voice. Without another word to Geri, he hurried in the direction of Greyback’s cave, almost grateful for the excuse to flee the conversation. Almost.


***


Caradoc Dearborn was talking excitedly with Moody about the particulars of the ambush they hoped to pull off in eleven days, taking advantage of the Death Eaters' misinformation. James barely caught a word of what they were saying past the ringing in his ears. How, Wormtail? Why? He had wanted so desperately to disbelieve it, to disprove it, even though there was some little vestigial pack voice in his head that had known it had the ring of truth the moment the accusation left Remus’ lips. Distantly, with a peculiar impartiality, James knew that he was in shock. His mind was calmly thumbing through his recent memories with Peter, trying to spot some hint of his disloyalty. There had been some distance, sure, fewer house-calls, but a war was on and that could have meant nothing. His mind sought further back, thoughts of the sandy-haired eleven-year old on the train who had surprised him with his unexpected comedic timing and the conspiratorial glint in his eye. Or the way his acne-spotted jaw had set with determination at fourteen, the last to master Animagus transformation but not for lack of dedication. And there was sixth-year Peter, who had held out for months, stubbornly trying to prevent Remus from withdrawing, trying to insist on joining him at the Shack regardless of the heightened security, trying to encourage anything more than a fleeting glare to bridge the yawning chasm between Remus and Sirius.

It was Sirius’ voice now, of all things, that cut through James’ thoughts, “...not a chance in hell, Reg,” he was saying in a stern voice that practically didn’t sound like him, “Don’t you understand, they cannot see you.”

Tuning back into the scene before him, James realized the rest of the horcrux task force were watching with equal curiosity and discomfort at the words the Black brothers were having. It had been disconcerting as hell to walk into the office at Order headquarters and see Regulus Black there, and James was grateful that Lily had caught his arm and reminded him before he’d had his wand out and a curse flung at the now-ex-Death Eater. Regulus had opened his mouth to argue with Sirius, apparently about joining the Order in their coming ambush but Dumbledore cut across him in the commanding Headmasterly tone that any Hogwarts alum quailed under, “I’m afraid it is imperative that Voldemort and his followers are kept in the dark as to your change of heart. Not only for your safety, but to ensure that Voldemort does not realize his horcruxes have been compromised.”

Regulus looked as though he wanted to argue, but he nodded stiffly and turned his gaze to the floor. He looked, James thought, exactly like teenaged Sirius grudgingly accepting a detention he felt was too severe. It sent a thrill of nostalgia stinging through James, all the more sore with the fact of Peter’s betrayal still fresh. He wondered if Lily sensed it, for she fidgeted uncomfortably in the chair beside him, and for a second he was almost angry at her again for the invitation she had extended to Sirius the previous night. It had been a long time since they’d had such a blistering row and shame instead of renewed anger flooded through James. He had already decided to have Sirius round, hadn’t he? Lily had done the hardest part for him, extending the olive branch he’d never allowed himself to consider, worried that in giving an inch of forgiveness he’d end up giving a mile. He took her hand in his and squeezed, choosing to be grateful and not bitter. He thought he heard her exhale in relief before she squeezed his hand back steadily.

“I, erm, that reminds me, er, there’s something more,” Sirius said, now that his brother seemed to have been suitably dissuaded, “I… believe Lucius Malfoy to be in possession of the diary you mentioned to us, Albus,” the old wizard’s crystal blue eyes widened behind his half-moon spectacles and James’ heart skipped a beat, “He referred to it as one of the Dark Lord’s most prized possessions. I… can’t say for sure if that means it’s a horcrux, but I think it’s worth investigating.”

“It most certainly is, my dear boy,” Dumbledore said, interlacing his fingers, “Perhaps I was wrong to discount Myrtle and doubt its importance.”

“Myrtle?” Alice cocked her head, “You don’t mean Moaning Myrtle, surely Albus!”

Albus smiled, “I do. I would wager my best woolen socks that Voldemort was responsible for Myrtle Warren’s death.” he turned his attention back to Sirius as Alice shrank slightly in her chair, “Did you see it, Sirius, or only hear Mr Malfoy talk about it?”

“Only heard about it, Albus,” Sirius said, his shoulders slumping as they tended to when he was at his wit’s end, “And to be honest with you, I’ve no idea if that’s gotten us any nearer to getting our hands on it, I wouldn’t know where to begin to look for it at Malfoy Manor, and they’d AK me if they caught me so much as peeking beneath a rug.”

“Hmm,” Dumbledore said, as if considering this, even as he turned his gaze towards Remus with that commanding inevitability only Dumbledore seemed to wield, No, James thought, “A sensitivity to magical resonances would streamline the process, I should think. Greatly simplify what otherwise might be a very risky wild demiguise chase.” James was selfishly thankful that it was not him on the receiving end of that look from Dumbledore, which belied that it was not a question so much as an order. Nonetheless, he was affronted on Remus' behalf. No, James thought again, in disbelief at Dumbledore’s nerve, he’s not really going to ask Sirius and Remus to work together. He knows what Sirius did! But as it turned out, that was exactly what he was asking, “Mr Lupin, I seem to recall you found the locket quite palpable, might you be able to apply the same sensitivity to finding the diary at Malfoy Manor?”

A muscle in Sirius’ jaw was twitching, and James got the impression he had clenched it shut mainly to prevent it from dropping at Dumbledore’s nerve. James glanced at Remus’ narrow back in his typically shabby robes, sure that he was about to protest. Again he was proven wrong, “Yes, Albus,” he said politely, if a little woodenly, “If it stinks anything like the locket, I won’t be able to miss it.”

“Splendid, then I believe there is the solution to your problem, Sirius,” Dumbledore turned back to him, seemingly unperturbed by the shock on Sirius’ face, his jaw having dropped at Lupin’s agreement despite his best efforts.

“Albus,” Sirius said, looking like he’d love to tell the old man that he was off his rocker, “If the Malfoys would distrust me looking around, I don’t think they’ll relish him snooping around.”

“Use my cloak,” James heard himself say, before he knew he'd thought it. All eyes turned to him, Sirius’ jaw dropping open this time. Dumbledore smiled beneficently and James swallowed, and reasoned, “I… I know they’ve both got the Death Eaters under the impression that they’re on their side but it’s bound to make them suspicious if the two of them start poking around together… right?”

“Quite well reasoned, James,” said Dumbledore, “And a rather generous offer of assistance, I should say.”

“Narcissa’s birthday,” Regulus spoke up again, though rather softly. He cleared his throat, “Th-they’re having a party for it in a few weeks. Easier to not be, erm, detected when there’s, y’know, loads of people about.”

“Well that’s settled,” Moody grumbled, “And Albus and I’ll be investigating the site where the ring should be. Unless anyone else’s got anything, I think that’s meeting adjourned.”

A couple chair legs scraped against the floor as people stood before Regulus spoke again, asking tentatively, “What… what about Pettigrew?”

“What about him?” Lily asked beside him, and James heard the scorn boiling in her tone.

“They’ll kill him,” Regulus said, shifting uneasily, “When they realize there was no rally.”

Let them,” Remus said, in a low, dangerous voice that made Regulus grow pale.

“But he’s your friend!” Sirius blurted out, immediately regretting saying it judging by his expression.

“No,” Remus said firmly, “He’s a traitor.”

Sirius flinched and averted his eyes, as Dumbledore weighed in, cutting the tension that had suddenly made the air in the office feel much too dense, “Rats are most adept at sensing danger,” he said, “I rather think Mr Pettigrew will conceal himself or flee long before he can answer for his crimes to anyone.” James had no idea if that was meant to be comforting, but if it was it had severely missed the mark.


***


I’d much rather kill him myself, Lily thought savagely, Before they can kill him or he can run away. Lily was very intelligent and she liked to think she was a decent judge of character, and she did not appreciate how much Peter Pettigrew had made a fool of her. She well knew that beneath the anger at his betrayal, there was hurt. He hadn’t just betrayed them personally, but he had betrayed the cause she had been so sure they all believed in with the same conviction. And she had welcomed him in her home, confided in him her thoughts, hell, a few days ago she had defended him. Anger warred in her head as the others filed out of the room, and she stood by James’ side. She realized he was fighting his own inner battle, against his own pride, and she squeezed his hand as they found themselves alone in the office with Sirius and his brother.

“You go on ahead to the flat,” he was saying to Regulus, casting uncertain glances their way, “I think I… erm, have something else to take care of.” Regulus didn’t argue with this, seeming eager to get away from the unfamiliar trappings of the Order, who were still skeptical about his trustworthiness. He left the room, no doubt heading for the door to get past the wards and Apparate back to the safety of solitude at Sirius’ flat. The two ex-Marauders and Lily stood for a long moment in frozen silence, as if in a Muggle snapshot, before James took a deep breath, mustered his considerable Gryffindor courage and released Lily’s hand to walk across the room and stand directly in front of the man who had been his counterpart before her.

“Shall we go then.” James said in an unyielding tone that really made it more of a direction than a question. Sirius opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something but James was already hurrying out of the room as Regulus had done a moment before, and Lily and Sirius followed close behind. As Lily shut the front door behind her, James disappeared with a crack. Lily’s stomach twinged, hoping again that she hadn’t made a mistake as she prepared to pivot on the spot, Disapparating after him.

Wait!” Sirius exclaimed and she froze, blinking at him as he shifted his weight uncomfortably, for once looking supremely uneasy in his own skin, “I, um, need to Side-Along,” he said, embarrassed and cautious, “If that’s okay. I’ve never been to yours.”

Lily blinked at him, feeling a little guilty for some reason as she explained, “Erm, actually they’re still at Potter Estate,” a flash of something stung flicked across his features, “It didn’t make… they’re in no condition to be moved, you see.”

He cleared his throat, “Oh, right, of course.” he was trying to put on a brave face, but Lily could see he was terrified to go back to the house in which he had once, however briefly, been welcomed like a son.

“It’s alright,” she said, trying not to sound impatient, offering her arm, “Hold on tight.”

Sirius’ grey eyes softened with gratitude and he closed his hand around her upper arm. An instant of suffocating pressure later and they were standing on the front step of the Potter Estate. At the distinct sound of Apparition, the door swung open to reveal a slightly harried looking James who Lily realized must have worried about her when she did not follow immediately behind. She considered scolding that he shouldn't have rushed away if he wanted her to keep up, but it wasn't the time, really, and she bit it back. Without hesitation, he ushered them inside. The door closed behind them before Sirius realized he was still clutching Lily’s arm and let go.

“Master Sirius, sir!” squeaked a voice by their knees and Lily looked down to see a tearfully beaming Poppet fling her skinny arms around Sirius’ legs, “Mistress Euphemia and Master Fleamont will be so thrilled to see Master Sirius, sir, come, come!”

Lily glanced at James as Sirius was dragged up the stairs by Poppet, who had completely forgotten in her excitement to take Lily or Sirius’ cloaks. James was chewing on his bottom lip, contrary emotions fighting in his warm hazel eyes. Lily pulled off her own cloak before taking his from his hands, drawing him out of his thoughts, “Go on,” she said gently, with a nod towards the stairs, “I’m right behind you, love.”

He nodded, bent down to kiss her cheek, took a deep breath to steel himself and then took off up the stairs after Sirius. Lily released a breath she hadn’t noticed herself holding and walked across the foolishly grand entry hall to stow their cloaks in the small coatroom by the door. She had rarely had occasion to come in here as Mimzy and Poppet were remarkably diligent most of the time. There was something sort of comforting about the little room, Lily realized, effectively padded as it was with many hangers of cloaks, jackets, and shawls. It was muffled and close and reminded her a little of her mum’s closet, where she had sometimes hid herself growing up when she was overwhelmed. She let herself think of Petunia for the first time in a long time and wondered if they, like Sirius and Regulus, might ever get a second chance at being siblings. She shook herself of the idle wish, blinking away the tears that had inconveniently sprung to her eyes, and hung up her and James’ cloaks. It wouldn’t do to leave Sirius and James with each other for too long without her there to keep them from dueling each other.

She hurried up the stairs to her in-laws’ bedroom but paused outside the partially ajar door at the sound of voices, mindful not to burst in at an inappropriate moment. She could hear the brittle old-parchment voice of Euphemia, but she couldn’t quite make out the words. Sirius spoke next, thickly saying, “Y-yeah, I… am looking forward to next term.” Lily leaned her forehead against the door frame and sighed a little, Euphemia had been less and less lucid the last couple days, more and more often living completely in her thoughts or saying things she might have said a few years ago.

“...so bright…” Lily caught a snippet, then a rattling cough, “...happy to have you… like a son.

She heard a choked noise that might have been a gasp from Sirius and then there was a silence in which he tried to respond, coming up with only a croak of, “...mum…” Several more minutes of silence passed, and Lily realized Euphemia had probably slipped back into the fevered sleep that had seldom abated. She was about to open the door, cautious to leave Sirius and James alone without the focus of his parents to distract them from their feud when Sirius spoke again, “James… thank you.” even with James obscured from her sight by the door, Lily knew the sad, conflicted grimace that must be on his face, the uncertain shrug of one shoulder, “No,” Sirius said, with feeling, “R-really, I… I never would’ve…” he sniffled, “I… don’t deserve to be here.”

“Yeah, well,” James said a little thickly, stubbornly, “I didn’t really do it for you.” Oh, so now you’re the one who did it, eh? Lily thought, equally stubbornly, but remained glued to the spot. So many unspoken things hung in the room beyond like a pendulum and she had no idea which way they would swing.

“It was Lily that did it,” Sirius pointed out, to Lily’s surprise, and she heard James actually snort a shocked laugh at the correction, “And I suspect she only did because she didn’t know what to make of me and Regulus.”

James took a second and then responded carefully, “Well… it’s good she did.”

Silence fell in the room again, a bit stifling, and Sirius crossed to the armchair where she and James had taken to napping. It was the only bit of the room she could see, and she watched as he hesitated before sitting, as if he was going to be shooed off the furniture like a dog with mud on his paws. He ran a hand uneasily through his hair and said, “I’m… sorry about Wormtail.”

Lily expected James to take issue with the old nickname, as he’d testily corrected Peter himself over the years for ‘Moony’s and ‘Prongs’es that had slipped into his speech by accident. He didn’t correct him, though, he just said more wearily than angrily, “I should’ve seen it sooner. I wonder how long he…” she knew James was the one whose hand was in his hair now, “I mean, he’s a… a bloody rat, for Godric’s sake!”

“He’s a bloody fool,” Sirius corrected acidly.

James gave a bitter laugh, “Hardly,” he said, his voice uncharacteristically cynical, “He’s always been brighter than he looked, reckon he’s just betting on the winning team.”

“Bullshit,” Sirius spat and Lily bit down on her lip, ready to enter the room if this were to turn into a row. But when Sirius went on his voice was hollow, not confrontational, “He’s a fool. All this time I…” he hesitated, as if suddenly second-guessing whether he should speak his mind, but then forged on, “I’ve been so bloody jealous of that rat for still having… for you and Lupin keeping him around. And I bloody well know I didn’t deserve… ugh, but now he’s gone and bollocksed it up too and that makes him as big a bloody idiot as me.”

A brief but excruciating pause followed before James surprised Lily a bit by saying, “He’s… Sirius, he’s much… what he’s done is much worse than… what you, er, did.”

Sirius scoffed, “Oh, now it’s possible for something to be worse than what I did?”

“Don’t get cute with me, you git,” James said, that resentment flashing in his voice again, “I’m not excusing what you fucking did. But what Peter’s done would’ve had--hell, probably already has had--a higher body count.” Lily’s stomach lurched at the words, true though they might be. How many of the losses among Order ranks might have been a result of Peter’s treachery? Would the Prewett twins still be cracking jokes and lightening the tension that hung over everything nowadays? Would Lily’s old roommate, the shy but courageous Mary McDonald still be in one piece?

“That’s wildly over-simplifying, mate,” Sirius said, the sarcastic endearment dripping from his tongue like molasses.

“Maybe,” James conceded, “But worst case scenario, your stupid stunt might’ve cost, oh, three? Maybe four lives?” Lily nearly gagged, but James went on, his voice growing colder still, “But Peter? What he’s doing? He didn’t just betray a couple people who thought they were his friends, he very well could have wound up giving Voldemort the information he needed to win this war. And I don’t need to tell you how many scores of people are going to die if that bastard wins this thing, you spend enough time around his lackies to know sodding well what a bloodbath that would be.”

“James…” Sirius said, very softly.

“I might hate you, Sirius,” James said, sounding less than convincing, less than convinced, and then laughed humorlessly, “Fuck, much as I want to hate you, we both know bloody well that I don’t. But Wormtail?” she heard a sound that could only be James-- her sweet, forgiving, annoyingly heroic James-- literally spitting on the floor, “Wormtail is dead to me.”

 

Chapter Text

10 May, 1979

 

It had been nearly a month since Regulus had first come to Sirius’ flat and he was beginning to doubt that he’d ever get used to it. It was just as well mother couldn’t see it as its contents would horrify her. It wasn’t too small, but it was furnished in the most bizarre mix of Muggle and wizarding styles. Posters of Quidditch teams shared wall space with posters of Muggle musicians, and the mantle’s customary floo powder was housed in a can left over from Muggle coffee. The leather jacket Sirius wished he had more occasions to wear hung on the coatrack by the door, and Regulus had caught him casting it longing, borderline apologetic glances a few times as he pulled on fine dress robes instead.

He was reluctantly pulling on some such robes at present, of a none too traditional garnet red. An ember of jealousy flickered in Regulus’ gut. Not that he had any great desire to go to Malfoy Manor in Sirius’ stead, but didn’t he have the right? He had stolen a horcrux, for Merlin’s sake, he had taken the information to Dumbledore, it wasn’t fair that now he was tasked with hiding in Sirius’ flat all day. Ought he, just this once, be the hero? Regulus tried not to glare at Sirius and his stupid robes, and returned to flicking absently through Sirius’ formidable record collection. He didn’t know what to make of any of it, really. He’d never been too interested even in wizarding music, but if it might take his mind off being shunted to the side by history, it was worth a go. A surprised smile lit Sirius’ face, “Finally ready to listen to some real music, Reg?”

Regulus shrugged, “Anything to break up the monotony,” he replied drily.

Sirius frowned as he came over to rifle through some of the sleeves of records on the shelf, “I’m sorry, I’d hate being cooped up here, too, but--”

“As if you’d stand for it,” Regulus scoffed, “You couldn’t stay out of the action if your life depended on it!”

Regulus watched Sirius’ mouth open, as if to protest, and then he shrugged, “You’re probably right.” A silence fell somewhat heavily over the two brothers, like a blanket. They’d spent their whole lives telling themselves and being told by their parents and peers how very different they were. That Regulus was loyal while Sirius was a traitor, that Regulus was weak where Sirius was strong, that they had each other to compete with in all things. There was a time, when they were really small, that they’d known better. That their friendship had been unfazed by their alleged differences. But that was a long time ago, and it was strange and unbalancing to remember after years that they weren’t all too different when you got down to it. Regulus was often cautious where Sirius was bold, of course, there were things like that, and of course they had been in different Hogwarts houses but sitting in this flat together, it was becoming harder to remember why everyone had been so convinced that they were unalike. And that made living with other things harder.

“I’m sorry,” Regulus said softly, suddenly. The words had been percolating in his head for weeks, in all honesty, for years. Focusing on his impatience with being cooped up apparently wasn’t enough to distract him, as he’d hoped.

“What for?” Sirius asked, as he collected a few carefully chosen records from the shelves and piles.

“For not standing up for you,” he said, swallowed thickly and added, “With mum.”

Sirius stiffened, and shrugged, “‘S’fine.”

“It’s not,” Regulus said, “I should have protected you. I was only thinking of myself.”

“So was I, Reg,” Sirius said. He plucked another record from the shelf and handed the small curated pile to Regulus, “Start with these ones.” he advised, with a smile.

“Sirius…” Regulus said, taking the records without looking at them.

“Thanks,” Sirius said, finally meeting his brother’s eyes, “Really. For apologizing. But it’s all right. We were both just trying to survive in that evil bloody house.”

Regulus allowed himself a small shrug of concession, “Fair enough, but I was a rather shit brother.”

“Like I wasn’t,” Sirius ruffled Regulus’ hair the way he used to when they were kids and snorted when Regulus batted his hand away, “I’m just glad we’re both out of there. And I’m glad you’re on the right side of this war.”

“Shame I’m not allowed to fight in it,” Regulus muttered as Sirius made for the door, either not hearing it or ignoring it.

“I’ve got to run, shall I give your love to our darling cousins?” Sirius asked as he opened the door.

“Just don’t get yourself killed,” Regulus said, trying to make the words light.

“Righto.” Sirius said, and the door shut behind him. Regulus watched the door until he heard the crack of Apparition outside. His eyes fell down to the stack of records in his hands, examining the motionless Muggle photograph on the sleeve on top, the blue-clad blonde figure challenging him with his direct gaze, the streetlamp above him casting an eerie glow over the automobiles and cardboard boxes, gleaming off the wet sidewalk. Regulus drew the vinyl disc from the sleeve and hoped it might answer some of his questions.


***

 

When Remus had learned that Narcissa Malfoy’s birthday was to be celebrated only a couple days following the May full moon, a seed of worry had been planted in his gut. Not just worry over what a hugely dangerous risk this mission would be, nor over the painful promise that every moon held. It wasn’t even a response to the fact that this would be the first time he and Sirius were alone together since they were sixteen, though of that he was keenly aware and trepidatious. No, he was worried because the plan to infiltrate Malfoy Manor was hugely important and time sensitive and extricating himself from Greyback’s company was never an easy task.

He’d been right to worry, of course, and was already behind schedule.

With all this worry making its home in his head, it had been an especially difficult moon, so much so that even two days on, his muscles and bones still screamed with moon-weariness under the onslaught of Greyback’s carnal demands. He tried to let his mind wander, tried to withdraw into his thoughts to avoid the agony and the shame, as he often had, but the hurt kept drawing him back. His mouth tasted like blood, so tightly were his teeth clamped on his tongue, refusing to give Greyback the satisfaction of hearing so much as a whimper of protest.

He didn’t need to be told again that he made his transformations so painful for himself by clinging to his human mind until the last possible second. He knew. Once, on one of the first moons that he had run with Greyback’s pack, after a year of spending every moon alone, Remus’ curiosity had gotten the better of him and he had taken his maker’s advice. When the maddening silver disc of the moon had cleared the horizon, he had set aside the hate and resentment he felt for it and opened himself to it like a lover. Instead of digging in his heels and clinging to the slipping rope of his sanity, he had yielded to the insistence of the wolf inside. When the moon at last conceded to the rising sun, blood-red and melting, Remus had returned to his body, whole and unharmed, a bit weary from sleeplessness but otherwise good as new. When Greyback, triumphant in this proof that he’d been right, had taken him, a horror that was still new to Remus then, there had been only the pain of revulsion and the discomfort of Greyback’s rough hands and insistent hips. Unlike now, when it seemed every last cell in his body had barbs, rubbing and tearing and stabbing at each other inside him on a molecular level.

But he chose the pain. Torturous though it was, it was still better. Pain was nothing to Remus, a near-constant companion from so young an age that it was like an old friend. He didn’t quite welcome it, but he knew he deserved it, and that was nearly the same thing. And it was better than facing the proof that he was just an animal, a monster, a dark creature. Better than living with that absence of pain that said with every unencumbered beat of his heart I am not a human, I am a beast. It was nothing Remus had not suspected, after all, it was something he’d always dreaded and he had had it confirmed before Greyback. He always seemed to remember, inexplicably, how brilliant and clear and indifferent the morning sun had been in the Hospital Wing that day, when Dumbledore had fulfilled all his worst fears of being a monster, of being dangerous. Confirmed that his humanity was a lie he told himself to cope, but that the wolf would always win.

It wasn’t a lie he could let go of, though. To let go of it would be to give up on living, and Remus had seen enough of war to be able admit to himself that he feared death. And even if he hadn’t, he had a responsibility to survive. There was no one else that could do his work for the Order of the Phoenix and though he’d had no luck dissuading the wolves from believing Voldemort’s empty promises or following him, and very little luck acquiring valuable information from the werewolves, low as they were in the chain of command, he was never one to abandon a task half-completed. Not when the fate of the wizarding world may depend on him, not when Dumbledore had asked it.

Crouched here in this stinking cave, ravaged by the same creature who had stolen from him any chance at a normal life, he could hate Dumbledore for treating him like just another pawn. But hate him though he may, he knew he could never repay his debt to the man who had taken a chance on allowing him to attend Hogwarts, had tried to protect him from discovery, had tried to prevent him from doing anyone harm, had allowed him a few years of really feeling human through the sham of his doomed human friendships. Of course it hadn’t lasted, but he could no more deny Dumbledore than he could stop clinging to his human charade.

Daring to emerge from the relative safety of his innermost thoughts, Remus turned his focus to the present. The returning smell, Greyback’s animal pants hot and rancid against his cheek, the bone-rattling pain that exploded through his body with each slam of his hips, was enough to make Remus’ gorge rise, his teeth releasing his tongue and a sound somewhere between a sob and a retch escaping him. He glanced without turning his head towards the mouth of the cave, and anxiety cut into him like a needle at the sight of the sky past the trees, the sun long-vanished and the last pinks of sunset bruising into the purplish black of night.

I have to get out of here, he thought urgently, Sirius needs my help. It was a sick cosmic joke, in a way, the ease with which those words formed in his head. It was like muscle memory, like hearing a song he’d forgotten and finding the words on his tongue. How many times had he thought urgently to himself Sirius needs my help, impatient to slip away from Prefect rounds or Madam Pomfrey’s doting or detention because some prank, or adolescent heartache, or upcoming test was weighing on Sirius and only Remus had the ability to help? He remembered with a sharp nostalgia how he had loved the feeling of being necessary to Sirius, of offering him some kind of assistance that no one else could give. And this was even more important, this was crucial, this was a matter of life or death. Remus squeezed his eyes shut, steeling himself, and resolved to speed things up with Greyback. Desperate times.

He un-froze his aching muscles and pressed back against Greyback’s pelvis, an involuntary groan of pain leaving him. Greyback laughed and rumbled against his cheek, “You want it.” Remus absolutely, unequivocally, indubitably did not want it. But as much as it turned his stomach and made his rage ratchet from a simmer to a boil, he continued to meet Greyback’s savage thrusts. He was unable to bite back the moans of pain as he helped in the violation of his own battered body, but he knew it was working, was sickened to feel the quickening in Greyback’s body as his climax approached. His sharp teeth gnawed and bit at Remus’ shoulder and neck and he shuddered with disgust. Finally, biting the side of Remus’ neck hard enough that a couple points broke skin, he spilled inside Remus and rolled off of him panting.

Remus drew in a few measured breaths, suppressing the urge to attack the werewolf beside him on the furs. He wanted to feel the snap of bones under his fists, he wanted to smell the sharp pheromone tang of his mammalian fear, he wanted to bite until he tasted blood. In his last pack, he had been the alpha and the wolf reared angrily. With a shiver of disgust at himself, he silenced the internal voice of the monster he tried so hard not to be. He was surprised to hear a snore and opened one eye, relieved to find Greyback fast asleep beside him, naked and hairy and damp with perspiration, the red of blood visible on a few teeth in his open snoring mouth. For a second, Remus indulged the fantasy of putting his wandtip in that defenseless mouth and saying the words he knew but had never spoken, avada kedavra, pouring certain death into the same mouth that had changed the little boy he had been into a dark creature. But he needed to keep his cover intact, and more importantly, he needed to get the hell out of here right now and help Sirius.

He ignored the pain and jumped to his feet. He put on his clothes quickly, eagerly gulping the night air as he escaped the suffocating smell of the cave, and the still fouler tortures of Greyback’s touch. He couldn’t get away fast enough. Not troubling to flee into the cover of the woods, he Disapparated, his trembling fingers still buttoning his threadbare shirt.

 

***

 

It was the strangest goddamn thing, Sirius thought, that standing under James Potter’s invisibility cloak felt so natural. It should feel strange to him, shouldn’t it, after over two years without so much as seeing it, without even so much as a look from its owner that was not tinged with scorn? But it felt normal and familiar, the same as it always had. He told himself that was a good omen because they were going to need all the luck they could get tonight.

That was if Remus ever decided to show up in the first place. Sirius was well aware that he had no hope of finding any horcruxes without Lupin’s help. They’d agreed to meet in the dense copse of pines across the street from the Malfoy’s front gate at sundown, and the darkness of night was quickly falling and there was still no sign of him. The moon was rising, only a thin sliver of shadow darkening its right face. He averted his gaze from the moon, turning over in his hands the small journal that would serve as decoy in the event of their success, and wondered if perhaps Remus had been badly injured by his transformations two days before. An ache bloomed irrationally in his chest. Just as he was beginning to scold himself in his head, reminding himself for the millionth time that he no longer had any right to worry about Remus Lupin, the hush of the woods was interrupted by a familiar crack.

Sirius actually smelled him before he saw him, his nose wrinkling automatically. His back was to Sirius, shoulders hunched. Remus tended to be less than fresh following time among the pack and some of that Sirius understood. Scent was an important language among canines, one in which he used to be fluent. But this was worse and different than the ripe, wild smell he would expect. He had smelled it before, but he had never had the opportunity to really pay this much attention, not in the company of other Order members, not without being invisible. He had just identified the smell as being a mix of those associated with sex, sweat and semen and the dark private parts of the body, when Remus turned around, no doubt looking for him. Sirius expected the werewolf’s strong sense of smell to signal his exact location, but after Remus’ eyes passed right over him, he figured the wind must not be blowing in the right direction, or maybe he just couldn’t smell beyond his own stink of sex and wild.

Sirius was about to draw off the cloak and reveal himself, when something in Remus’ bearing made him hesitate. The amber eyes that had passed over him had that familiar unnatural brightness, as if they glowed with some inner light, as if the part of the moon that had grown dark now dwelt inside his skull. And even in the dim of the forest with the moon gaining height, it was easy to see that those eyes were wide, flitting nervously, and, he realized with a jolt, gleaming with unshed tears. His heart lurched weirdly in his chest, unsteady and off-balance, almost like jumping to his feet when one of his legs has fallen asleep.

That was a sight he’d not seen in a long time, Remus on the verge of tears. It had been familiar to him once, something he had been trusted with once. Sirius’ jaw dropped within the protection of the cloak as Remus’ walls came down, thinking himself to be alone. The change in demeanor was instantaneous as he went from imposing and world-hardened (albeit smelly and likely achey) werewolf to trembling, wilting nineteen-year-old before Sirius’ very eyes. His hands had been fumbling at his front but they now fell limp at his sides, and Sirius realized he had been buttoning his shirt. It hung open to his navel and Sirius winced at the sight of scars that he didn’t recognize, scars that had been acquired in the last two years. For a few seconds, Remus stood perfectly still, not moving and yet somehow seeming to curl inwards on himself.

And then his shoulders shook and Sirius was possessed of a mad desire to close the few feet between them and wrap Remus in his arms. A longing he thought he had buried deep enough to quash suddenly yawned open in the pit of his stomach, a hollow need to hold Remus like he used to on the morning after the full or when school, or simply existing in his own head got to be too much. Drying his tears and speaking comforting words, and saying stupid shit until he had dragged a reluctant wet laugh from his friend. And after he had managed that small victory, a laugh, however reluctant, Remus would give him that look. Part-scolding, part-grateful, part-bashful, and part- some indefinable fondness he’d never quite been able to name. I want to be looked at that way again, Sirius knew, with a desperation that threatened to shatter all the constructed stoicism and distance between them. Before he gave it another thought he had whipped off James’ cloak and said, as gently as he possibly could, “Remus?”

Just as quickly as Remus’ walls had come down, they sprang up again. When he lifted his head to look at Sirius, his eyes were shuttered, his shoulders squared. Sirius would have been tempted to think he had imagined the entire thing, were it not for the tracks of tears on the other man’s face, gleaming silver in the moonlight. Remus’ eyes flicked down to the shimmering fabric bunched in Sirius’ hand, recognizing the cloak he had gotten just as much use out of at school. He opened his mouth, eyes narrowing, but Sirius cut him off before he could speak, handing the werewolf something from his pocket. He took the stoppered glass bottle and looked at Sirius questioningly, and Sirius explained, “Healing potion,” glad his voice did not betray the muddled depths of emotion he’d just fallen into, “Lily thought it might be a good idea, just in case. And she makes a healing potion with a kick, of course.”

Sirius’ fairly successful attempt at nonchalance might have been miscalculated, he realized, as Remus’ brows lifted disbelievingly, “Since when are you and Lily chums?” His free hand twitched towards Sirius’ legs and he calmly said, “Locomotor mortis,” and Sirius felt his legs lock in place as if glued to the spot.

“What the fu--?” he began, but Remus talked over him.

“Oh, quiet, I’m just making sure you’re you,” he said tersely, and looked thoughtful for a second before asking, “What did you say at Christmas dinner during our sixth year that your parents took umbrage at?”

Of course, Moody had trained them all to ask questions to verify identities, but to be perfectly honest, it was a precaution Order members too often skipped. Granted, Sirius was more shocked by the specific question than by being asked a question in general. He was reluctant to answer, “You know bloody well that it’s me, Lupin.”

“And I’ll know it better if you answer the damn question.”

He clearly wasn’t letting up, always was stubborn, so Sirius shut his eyes and recounted, “When my mother mentioned me making a suitable wedding match, I told her I reckoned I’d find a nice Muggle bloke at a pub and spend every last knut in our vault spoiling him rotten.”

“And when you tried to leave to make a dramatic exit, your mum hit you in the back with the Cruciatus Curse,” Lupin said calmly, unjinxing Sirius’ legs still without touching his wand.

“That doesn’t prove you’re you at all,” Sirius said, pouting a bit at the whole exercise, and brushing off his crisply pressed pants as if he’s fallen, “I reckon the hag told that story to half the Death Eaters.”

Remus shrugged, turning the bottle of potion over in his hand, “Fine, ask a question, then. But aren’t we already behind schedule?”

“I don’t need to prove you’re Remus Lupin when you’re being such a tosser, and doing wandless magic to boot,” Sirius crossed his arms and said a bit loftily, “And don’t take this the wrong way, but the smell kinda gives away the shacking up with werewolves thing.”

Don’t,” Remus snarled, his eyes flashing at Sirius so menacingly he almost took a step back, “You don’t get to lecture me about the unsavory shit I’ve got to do undercover, not when I’m sure your responsibilities aren’t s--

“Whoa, whoa, who was fucking lecturing?” Sirius said, making his tone light but cursing his word choice. He hadn't really meant shagging 'shacking up'. The hollow pit in his stomach gnawed angrily at this confirmation that the smell he’d detected on the werewolf was definitely sex, and judging by the murderous look on his face, not sex he was too thrilled to be having. Sirius made a helpless placating gesture, hunching his shoulders and averting his gaze, and said, “I’m not trying to lecture you or be an arse, it’s just a matter of security. You’re fucking rank and an invisibility cloak--even James’--can’t fool people’s noses.”

Lupin was silent for a second before he began muttering cleansing and de-odorizing spells. His voice sounding slightly perplexed, and Sirius cautiously peeked at him through his eyelashes, recognizing even as he did the submissive canine posture he’d slipped into as second nature. It hadn’t been uncommon for canine power dynamics to bleed into their human interactions in the old days, but it had been such a long time. It felt almost like a gesture from another life, and he thought longingly, a better life.

Chapter Text

10 May, 1979

 

Remus had not meant to lose his temper, but his fuse was always so much shorter near to the full, and he was on edge. He drank the healing potion Sirius had brought for him, feeling some of the testiness lifting almost immediately, as some of the physical pain abated. Sirius was still pretending not to look at him, so he cleared his throat to get his attention before asking, “Do I still smell like a rank werewolf?”

Sirius had the decency to look a bit contrite as he stepped nearer, sniffing. There was a time, Remus remembered with excruciating clarity, that that look of contrition would have earned a reassuring ‘s’alright, Padfoot’ from him and a nudge or a hug. The muscles in his palms twitched with an absurd urge to reach out and touch Sirius, to assure him it was forgotten, and forgiven. You stopped forgiving him, he reminded himself, though it sounded more stupid than convincing. But then Sirius was stepping back again and nodding, “You smell quite undetectable.”

“No need for flattery,” Remus ribbed, without thinking, feeling an unexpected sense of relief at the sight of Sirius’ lips twitching into a brief smile. When was the last time he’d stood this close to him without a scowl on his face? They really were perfect lips when they weren’t scowling.

And why in Merlin’s name are you looking at Sirius Black’s lips? He demanded of himself, he betrayed your secret, he made you a killer, he broke up the Marauders, he’s insane. The litany of reminders unspooled in his head as it had every time he’d thought of Sirius with even a modicum of admiration. It didn’t incense him this time, as it often had, not with Sirius just a few steps ahead of him, alone beneath the fragrant pines. Sirius held out one hand and Remus accepted the proffered cloak, glad for something to do with his hands, his eyes, his voice, “So, what’s the plan exactly?” he asked, businesslike, “Am I just going to put this on and wander? Do you reckon we should stick together?”

“Stay close to me,” Sirius said, without hesitation and Remus’ stomach gave a rebel flutter, “I know no one’s managed to outsmart the cloak yet but there’s a first time for everything and--”

“Right, yeah, I’d rather that first time not be when I’m alone surrounded by a hundred Death Eaters in dress robes, thanks.” Remus said, a bit surprised by the smile he felt tugging up one corner of his mouth, more surprised still that a somewhat morbid sarcastic joke had come so easily after so long keeping to himself and approaching Order work with solemnity. Without standing on ceremony, Sirius turned around gesturing with his hand for Remus to follow, which he did, throwing the cloak over him as they emerged from the trees onto the street. Imposing wrought iron gates stood in front of them and there was no need for Remus to ask if that was the place. Sirius glanced behind him out of habit to see if Remus was still there before rolling his eyes at he realized his mistake. Remus gently tapped between his shoulder-blades through the cloak to signal his presence. Sirius’ lips twitched again but didn’t actually curve into a smile, and Remus realized he was actually a little disappointed when they didn’t.

He pushed the thought aside and was about to whisper to Sirius, asking how they were to get in, assuming the gate was enchanted in some way. Before he got the thought out, however, there were a couple cracks somewhere nearby. A moment later a wand light illuminated, revealing the portly figure of Garek Goyle, with his simpering wife Marybeth on his arm. His face didn’t reveal anything as he caught sight of Sirius and called a greeting. From some other Death Eater, Remus might have attributed this inscrutability to well-bred manners or skill at Occlumency, but in Goyle’s case it had more to do with the fact that his face and comprehension skills were on par with a rock. Still, he attempted a Pureblood sneer as he held up his left forearm to the gate and it swung open to admit them. The same sort of sneer could turn blood to ice or make it boil from a Malfoy, for example, or of course from a Black, but from a Goyle it just appeared that he had tasted something unpleasant. To his credit, Sirius’ shoulders drooped, as though he would count himself lucky to have Voldemort’s foul symbol branded onto his flesh, and Goyle looked smug.

The Manor boasted considerable grounds, but even out under the star-strewn sky it felt like one had already entered a stuffy old-money house. The slate underfoot tapped uninvitingly under their steps (which might have made Remus nervous about being discovered had they been walking beside two people with more than seven brain cells between them), the hedges were high enough to be claustrophobic and pruned into such neat and sharp-edged walls that they were hardly recognizable as bushes. The couple peacocks that strutted imperiously across their path seemed more like baubles than living creatures, and the closer they got to it, the more the austere facade of the house itself loomed.

Instead of looking at it, Remus turned his attention to Sirius’ back in front of him, the perfect fit of his dress robes, one cuff of which Remus suspected was probably worth all the clothing he owned. The weather was warm enough finally to travel sans cloak and Remus let himself admire, from a purely aesthetic perspective, of course, how impeccably Sirius’ robes fit him. The cut was not flamboyant, or the traditional cumbersome flowing cut many older wizards favored, but a bit fashionable and somewhat resembling a Muggle tailcoat, though, as was typical in wizarding clothing, the tailor had been a little more generous with the amount of fabric and the number of buttons, pleats, and gathers. If it hadn’t been for the deep garnet red, it might not have been terribly out of place on a particularly eccentric Muggle.

Remus wondered at this. Sirius’ assignment was to blend in, of course, to seem to be a true Death Eater, if not an especially important one. And yet, there were ways in which he simply could not play the role given to him, most namely that Sirius Black was not a man who could endure blending in. He never could at school, where he had felt compelled to show off his magical aptitude in every classroom, or execute unnecessarily tricky maneuvers on his broom when he should have been minding the bludgers, or assert his desire to put his signature on every prank, even though it ensured detentions that might’ve been otherwise avoided. And presently, blending in might have meant wearing traditional robes in the more classic black or grey, but Sirius just couldn’t quite bring himself not to show off in some little way. It ought to have annoyed Remus, and yet, under the cloak he was smiling with admiration of the other man’s gall, just as he had when Sirius had excelled at spellwork, and flying, and constructing the perfect prank.

He reminded himself sharply that it was just one Black’s ‘perfect’ pranks that might have cost him everything, had cost Severus Snape his life. Before he could spiral down that rabbit hole, they had reached the door, but before anyone could knock, it had swung open. For a second, Remus thought it was bewitched to open on its own before he saw a house-elf with huge green eyes, long pointed ears, and a nose as skinny and long as a pencil. Goyle and his wife shoved past the creature as if he were not even there, but Sirius favored the elf with a smile and said, “Good evening, Dobby.”

“Good evening, Mr Sirius Black, sir,” the elf said in the overly courteous manner of its race, though the huge eyes gleamed with a hint of genuine pleasure to see Sirius on the doorstep. His gaze lingered for the briefest of moments on the place directly behind Sirius that Remus occupied but the elf made no comment before he disappeared abruptly with a pop, likely answering a summons from one of the hosts elsewhere in the party.

“You still with me?” Sirius asked, almost without making a sound.

“Yes,” Remus breathed, the tiniest ruffle of a couple hairs at the back of Sirius’ head the only sign of his presence.

“Well, then,” Sirius whispered, sounding like he might be a little nervous as well, “Unto the breach, and all that, I s’pose.”

Were the party being hosted in nearly any other home in the British Isles, it would have been crowded, but the sheer amount of space the Malfoys had kept it from being too claustrophobic. Remus was very grateful for this, as he realized he would have been quickly found out had he tried to follow Sirius into a denser press of bodies. But as Sirius entered properly into the unpredictably mingling crowds, Remus found himself terrified that someone would bump into him, that he’d be on the receiving end of a killing curse before he could even react. His chest bumped into Sirius’ back a couple times in his eagerness to not be separated or discovered, and after the third time, Sirius said under his breath, “Am I not walking fast enough for you?”

Remus exhaled an approximation of a laugh out his nose, and this time he thought his breath on the back of Sirius’ neck seemed to cause an involuntary shiver and he reminded himself to breathe more carefully before saying, “Just in the wrong direction.”

Sirius’ shoulder twitched as they approached the drinks table. Remus wasn’t sure but he was pretty sure that Sirius had almost turned to face him, but this time caught himself. He let a sour-faced old witch pass in front of him before hissing to Remus, “You mean we’re moving away from the diary? Can you really--?”

“Not yet,” Remus interrupted, feeling a little guilty for getting Sirius’ hopes up when he suspected the night had only just begun, “I just meant I’d rather we were heading out the door.”

Sirius snorted a laugh softly and said, “You and me both.” They had reached the table, which was laden with intricately spouting fountains of wine and punch and butterbeer, decanters of spirits that changed color, and a precarious but impressive tower of cut crystal glasses. Sirius carefully removed a glass from near the top of the tower and filled it from the fountain of red wine. Remus had never been much for drinking, but he found himself wishing like never before for the steadying anchor of a cup in his hand and the liquid courage of something strong on his tongue. Sirius rotated so that his lower back rested against the edge of the drinks table, and Remus moved to stand close in front of him to avoid being an obstacle to anyone that might come over for a drink. He was glad he was invisible, surely if they could both see each other, standing so close would have been uncomfortable. As it was, Remus found himself sort of forgiving Sirius for staying under the cloak and watching him in the woods, he saw the appeal now. It had been a long time since he had had the chance to look at Sirius without having a resentful stare thrown back at him like a javelin.

Sirius looked bloody cool, and it was annoying.

It wasn’t that Remus wasn’t used to it, even with a couple years of not looking at Sirius as freely as this, he’d have to have been blind to not see that. He was at handsome as he’d ever been, moreso even, not the aching, just-bloomed perfection he’d had as a teenager, but something rather more sophisticated and yet also more animal. But Sirius’ coolness had never been a result of his beauty, but rather in spite of it. Regulus looked nearly the same, and yet, without the rebellion writ large in every muscle the effect wasn’t there. Surely it was what prevented Sirius was climbing the Death Eater ranks, where knowing one's station was key to advancing it. Remus tried to find the source of that coolness, which, not that it mattered, so eluded him even though he was a dark bloody creature. It was in the casual elegance of the hair that fell around the sharp bones of Sirius’ face, in the way he held his perfect Pureblood posture as if it was rebellious rather than obedient, the way his grey eyes threatened wildness from within a contrastingly genteel face. Remus made a point to try and ignore the almost challenging cant of his hips, but considering the sullen pout that was never far from Sirius’ generous lips wasn’t a damn sight better. Then right before his eyes, white teeth pressed nervously against Sirius’ yielding bottom lip and he nearly leapt back as if burnt, as Sirius said, eyes directed to his right, “Do you get the sense someone’s watching us?”

“Not really,” Remus said softly, but his voice quivered. Sirius’ eyes shot to the front, not expecting Remus to be standing in that direction and looked around searchingly a few inches below Remus’ face, as if he’d be able to glean something from seeing him. Remus was truly grateful he couldn’t, unsure that he’d be able to school his expression to hide the way a voice in his head was currently scolding him. Fortunately, before Sirius could ask anything, one of the older Death Eaters, Nott, was beside them, fetching drinks for himself with two younger companions, whom Remus did not recognize. They eavesdropped, though Sirius kept his eyes trained right through Remus towards the center of the room where a few people were dancing.

“...from the beginning he didn’t have what it takes,” Nott was saying, as if his assessments were uncontestable, “Waywood Wilkes didn’t have the backbone, I tell you, that the Dark Lord’s new world will lean on!”

“Wayland,” corrected one of the younger Death Eaters, looking about as pale as Remus suddenly felt.

“Eh?” Nott asked after a sip of firewhisky.

“W-Wayland,” the man said again, “You called him Waywood, but, sir, his name was--”

“Well, he’s no use of a name anymore, now has he?” Nott said, smiling into the drink in his hand.

The younger man hesitated before conceding, “...I reckon you’re right, sir.”

“Of course, he is,” the other young Death Eater chimed in, unctuously, “He’s been with our Master since the very beginning, isn’t that right, sir?”

Nott shrugged smugly at the praise, but then his expression soured, “I only regret that Wilkens’ wife ran off,” there was a splash of unexpected warmth in Remus’ chest, realizing that the woman had taken his warning to heart, “Never got the sense she was as Pure as they said she was, she had that air about her, eh? Like she must’ve had a Mudblood or a couple Squibs in her background they didn’t want anyone to know about.”

“I’m sure it’s as you say, sir,” the more zealous young man said, as they moved away from the drinks table again, while the other hung back for a moment, still looking like he wanted to point out that Nott had gotten Wilkes’ name wrong a second time.



***

 

“C’mon,” Sirius hissed to the empty air where he suspected Remus to be standing, once Nott, Blanton, and Snyde had left earshot, “If you don’t smell it in here, there’s no use hanging around.”

“Right,” Remus agreed, a little to the right of where Sirius had expected him to be. It was a weird way to have a conversation. He tried to keep his strides short as he made his way across the room towards the door back to the corridor, nervous that Remus might be separated from him if he walked too fast. He was about to check that he was still there as they left the room, but before he could an arm slipped uninvited into his.

“Dearest cousin,” Bellatrix said, her voice devoid of affection as Sirius made an immense effort not to show how repugnant he found her touch, “Arrived fashionably late, yes? I might have guessed.”

“I wouldn’t miss Narcissa’s birthday,” Sirius said, a little flatly, wishing he had any way of knowing Remus had not fallen behind. Of course, if he’d been discovered, Sirius would know, but it made him nervous all the same.

“And yet,” Bellatrix said, swirling the drink in her hand a little too roughly, a couple drops dribbling through the carved exterior and onto her fingers, “Your baby brother feels no such compunction?”

“He’s taken ill, actually,” Sirius lied easily, seeing Euphemia Potter wasted to skin and bones in his head as he added, “Dragon Pox.”

“Well, that’s unhappy news indeed.” said Albrecht Avery, appearing beside them with Barnabas Mulciber, their respective sons skulking behind them.

“Think he’ll be better before Dumbledore’s rally?” Brent Mulciber asked Sirius, a bloodthirsty smile on his heavy-browed face, “‘D be a shame if Reg didn’t get to give the Muggle-lovers what for.”

“It would be,” Sirius agreed, always finding it strange that Brent and Ernst didn’t seem to hold it against him that he and the Marauders had pranked them mercilessly in school, though they might have just been too stupid to make the connection.

“You’re not infectious, are you, Black?” Ernst said, taking a worried step back, his father putting a protective hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bellatrix said, her fingertips digging into Sirius’ arm as she drew herself up to her full height. She wasn’t particularly tall, but it had an intimidating effect nonetheless, “You liaise with filth like vampires and werewolves for the Dark Lord, Avery, and yet now you fear infection?”

“It is important work that young Ernst does, Bellatrix,” Mulciber jumped to the defense of his friend’s son, “Do you question our Master’s choice of allies?”

Bellatrix scoffed, unperturbed by the question, “Oh, please,” she said, her grip on Sirius’ arm thankfully loosening, “To be an ally one has to be at least nearly an equal!” she took a gulp of her drink and gestured dismissively with the glass, “The Dark Lord is wise to make use of all resources available to him. But it will be a relief when they’re no longer needed and we can rid the world of such vermin.”

An angry gasp sounded just above Sirius’ left ear, and he felt a wash of relief at the sign that the werewolf was still with him. Then he realized Bellatrix had turned a curious eye on him, having heard the gasp and assumed he was the source. He smoothly disentangled his arm from hers, “I- erm, you’ll have to excuse me, I’ve only just realized I... haven’t wished a happy birthday to my dear cousin.”

Bella’s dark eyes searched his for a second before she shrugged, pointing past them and saying, “I only just left her in the library. She was showing Travers a book on Muggle witch hunts, if I’m not mistaken.”

Sirius murmured his thanks and hurried off in the direction she’d indicated. There were fewer people in this part of the house and when he deemed them away from prying ears, Remus said softly, “I’m sorry about that.”

Sirius brushed it off with a flick of one hand, “Don’t be. Wound up getting me away from Bellatrix, so I can’t fault you.”

“I don’t know how you stand it,” Remus’ voice said from the empty space beside him, sounding a little pitying and a little impressed, “You used to hex her just for eating lunch in the Great Hall at the same time as you.”

Sirius considered not saying it, but was unable to keep himself from pointing out, “And you used to want to kill Fenrir Greyback.”

“I still do,” Remus shot back, without hesitation.

“Well, and I still want to hex Bella,” Sirius countered, as they came up to the door of the library.

Even more imposing than the one he’d grown up with at Grimmauld Place, it was huge. All dark wood shelving that stretched straight to the high ceiling, every inch crammed with books, several freestanding hutches of cubby-holes, filled with crumbling old scrolls of parchment and various artifacts. It was a good thing the room turned out to be empty, too, because the bookish Remus didn’t manage to restrain a reverent mutter of, “Holy shiiiiiit.”

Sirius snorted at that, knowing the hungry dazed look that must be on the werewolf’s face without seeing it. He surveyed the room and put his hands on his hips, asking, “Smell any bits of Volde-soul?”

Remus huffed and probably rolled his eyes, “You can do better,” but before Sirius tried to improve upon his wordplay, he added, “But no, it’s not in here.”

“Just as well,” Sirius pointed out, “Finding the right book in here would be a bit of a needle, haystack, sorta situation.”

Sirius was already turning on his heel to leave the room when Remus said, “Oi, wait,” unexpectedly from the center of the library, “...I still want to look around.”

“Merlin, you bleeding bookworm,” he scoffed, disbelieving, “I don’t care how much the books are flirting with you, we can’t afford to be mucking--”

Shut up,” Remus hissed, his voice coming now from the far corner of the room.

“Remus, we really--”

“I feel it, you daft sod!” he interrupted, “It’s bloody here!”

Sirius rushed towards the direction of his voice, even as he tried to point out, “But didn’t you just say--”

“There must be a hidden passage or something,” Remus’ voice said and Sirius watched a few books around eye level be pulled out and then pressed back onto their shelves by an invisible hand. Before Sirius could figure out a diplomatic way to point out that hidden passageways were right up their street, a whisper of revelio! had a roughly door-shaped portion of the bookshelf swinging obediently open. He peered through it into a tidy windowless room, an office of sorts, with an ornate desk and several shelves and wooden filing cabinets. He jumped back slightly on reflex when Remus appeared, seemingly out of thin air, within the room.

“Is it here?” he asked, his heart pounding in his breast. Remus nodded, pivoting on the spot to look around the room, and Sirius realized he looked a little queasy, “You alright?”

“Fine,” he said, less than convincing with the way his nose wrinkled and his face went from white as a sheet to a slight green tinge, “This one’s… cruder. It’s disgusting.”

“What do you mean ‘cruder’?” Sirius asked as his eyes scanned the books and files on the shelves, looking for the small leather diary Dumbledore had told them to look for.

“I think…” Remus opened the top drawer of the desk, carefully poking around, “I… can’t be sure, of course, but I think he made this one first.” Sirius looked at him over his shoulder, the shabbily-dressed ashen werewolf looking quite out of place at the ostentatious desk, “It’s… sort of messy? Pungent? Like…” he shook his head, searching for an analogy as he rifled through a different drawer, “Like when someone tries to cook the Muggle way for the first time and they, like, well, they manage it, but it’s a little burnt and a little over-seasoned and they’ve made a mess of the whole kitchen.” he rolled his eyes at himself, “Never mind, that probably doesn’t make--holyshitI’vefoundit!

Sirius was at his side in an instant. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, considering he’d been given a physical description of the object, but he was still underwhelmed by how normal it looked. It was peeking up at them from beneath the false bottom of the second to last drawer of the desk. Remus stiffened as Sirius reached in and extracted it. He had been braced this time, waiting, to see if it would tingle and pulse and shorten his fuse as the locket had, but as he fanned through the blank pages there was really nothing about it to differentiate it from any normal diary, the stamp of the year 1942 faded slightly on its nondescript black leather cover. A smudge of ink on the first page caught his eye and he softly said, “Who’s T. M. Riddle?”

“D-dunno,” Remus said a bit shakily, “Reckon he had a name before he started calling himself ‘Lord’ anything, though.”

Sirius cringed and it struck him full-force suddenly. Even if the diary looked and felt normal, it was still a piece of Voldemort that he held in his hands. He felt sick with hate and anger at the thought of all the death and fearmongering, tempted to drop the book and put a great distance between himself and it. Instead, he drew the decoy from within his robes, tapped it with his wand a few times to perform the minor transfigurations to make it indistinguishable from the real thing, at least to the naked eye. And not to a werewolf, he figured, as he handed the fake diary to Remus, who carefully placed it exactly where he’d found the real thing, slotting the false bottom back down to cover it, arranging the bits and bobs in the drawer to be in the right place. Reluctantly, Sirius slipped the horcrux into the inside pocket of his robes that the decoy had inhabited, just as someone appeared in the doorway.

“What in the name of Merl--” was all Lucius Malfoy managed to say before Remus, wide-eyed, thrust a palm in his directions and hissed, “Confundo!” A fog seemed to fall over Lucius’ pointed features and he stared blankly at them, “Sirius Black…?” he said dully.

“You had just invited me in here to show me, er,” Sirius cast around for an object of interest before landing on the mounted house-elf head he’d averted his eyes from before now, “This fine specimen here. Said it reminded you of my mum’s collection.”

An involuntary eugh of distaste escaped Remus, but the Confunded Lucius accepted this story out of hand, “Ah, yes. Dibble was a good elf, if only her whelp Dobby took after her more,” his lip curled out of habit, “Useless thing.”

“E-even the best bloodline isn’t perfect, Lucius.” Sirius said as Remus slipped the cloak back over him, garnering no reaction from Lucius.

As Sirius ushered him towards the door, Lucius surprised him by putting an arm around him amiably, almost conspiratorially, “We used to say that to comfort your parents about you, you know,” he said and Sirius forced a smile that was likely more of a grimace, “We were wrong, of course. Perhaps Dobby will prove his worth, too.”

“Hope so.” Sirius managed curtly as he shut the hidden doorway and they made their way across the library and into the corridor. When they reached the hall, Remus’ disembodied voice said, “You left the party to make a quick trip to the loo and you need to hurry back to toast your wife’s good health.”

“Oh, that’s right!” Lucius exclaimed gratefully, turning on his heel and making haste back towards the party proper.

A hand grabbed Sirius’ firmly, and he realized he had been frozen, trembling slightly with anger and fear and adrenaline at the near-miss, “C’mon,” Remus insisted and a second later, Sirius blinked to find himself underneath the cloak with Remus standing right against him, pupils blown wide with his own shock, “We’ve got to get the bloody hell out of here, no more hobnobbing.” Sirius nobbed mutely and let Remus steer him back the way they’d come. With both of them under it, the hem of the cloak only just brushed the gleaming marble floors so they couldn’t go too quickly or take long strides without risking their feet being exposed. Sirius’ dress robes seemed rather too warm now, with his blood pumping madly in his veins and Remus’ body warmth and his trapped beneath the shimmering fabric. Maybe as a result of his own near-panic, Sirius realized that Remus was no longer scentless as he had been immediately upon scourgify-ing himself amongst the pines. He smelled like leaves, like autumn, like Earl Grey, and chocolate, and the spines of musty old books. His mind was too jumbled with urgency to question how in the world Remus Lupin could smell like all those things naturally, he was just filled with a nostalgia so intense it might have been a third person under the cloak with them.

By the time they reached the front door, toasts were being made in the room where the dancing and the over-the-top drinks table had been, and no eyes were on the door. They slipped out undetected and once the door shut behind them, they tore into a run. Their feet clapped echoingly on the slates and Remus cast a wandless muffliato, though it was unlikely anyone would hear over the party. It would have looked utterly bizarre had anyone looked, the air swirling where the cloak flapped around two sets of legs making a mad dash towards the front gate, one in shabby corduroys and holey oxford shoes, the other clad in particularly tailored dress trousers of a deep red hue. Odd as it would have looked, it felt divine-- obeying the instinct to flee, the dark hedges blurred to either side and the moonlight casting their weird shadows jouncing ahead of them, heart pumping blood reliably to the muscles of his legs, Remus’ hand still locked with his in a reassuringly familiar, if clammy, grip.

The instant they cleared the gate, Sirius felt himself being tugged along with Remus’ Apparition. The familiar tight, breathless squeeze closed around him before spilling them on the lush country lane with the stump that concealed the entrance to the Moody house. Sirius took a great gulp of air and then relief was pouring out of him in a celebratory rush, “We did it! We bloody well fucking did it!” He might have been aware that it looked foolish, jumping up and down in his excitement, had Remus not been mirroring him exactly.

“Jesus fuck!” Remus laughed, a grin splitting his face as he tugged Sirius into a hug, the cloak still tangled around their shoulders, “I can’t believe we made it out of there! MERLIN!”

“You were bloody brilliant!” Sirius gushed against his shoulder, before pulling back to grin at him. Merlin, but it felt stunning to see Remus laughing with wild abandon like this, “When-- I, Merlin, I thought we were bloody goners when Lucius showed up but of course, you had it handled, I mean, PFFT, who needs a wand anyway, not our Moony, I’ll tell you that m--” His brain caught up with his mouth the same moment that the smile vanished from Remus’ face, his tongue stopping mid-word as if petrified. It was like a bucket of cold water being thrown over them and they leapt apart, faces drawn with embarrassment, awareness dawning suddenly of the leaden weight of adrenaline crash, the inside of both their heads ringing deafeningly with admonishments to themselves for getting carried away. They made a point not to let their eyes meet the rest of the night.

 

Chapter Text

13 May, 1979

Remus couldn’t believe there had been times that he had managed to sleep in Greyback’s cave. He tried to give himself some reasonable excuse; those nights had been tinged with the exhaustion of the moon, after all; those nights had been the ones when the alpha’s brutality was more than routine; those nights had been crucial in earning the older werewolf’s trust. He wasn’t fooled, though. The fact of the matter was, he’d been asleep. Not only physically asleep in that foul pit that Greyback called home, but he’d been asleep. Mentally, or emotionally, or maybe spiritually. He wasn’t sure which, hell, maybe all of them. In truth, though he’d hated every minute with Greyback, he simply hadn’t cared.

So he was miserable, he’d thought, what did that matter?

In the scheme of the war, in the tangle of Albus Dumbledore’s chess plays, in the eyes of the indifferent universe, what did it matter if he, Remus Lupin, was unhappy with his lot? It didn’t, he’d reasoned, and that had been enough. It wasn’t as though unhappiness was new to him.

But for some reason, it had started to matter to him again. He may be a walking oxymoron, a bookish monster, a gentle murderer, a lone wolf in the largest pack in living memory. But, he wondered for the first time in Merlin-knew-how-long, why should any of that mean his misery was acceptable? Even if it was unavoidable, which he knew it to be, that didn’t mean he had to take it lying down, without a word of complaint. It didn’t mean he had to like it, even he deserved it, and even if there was no way to fix it.

In short, Remus had been asleep and now he had woken up.

The grass was soft beneath his bare feet as he wandered a little further from Greyback’s cave. He wouldn’t be able to get away from his scent, no, that was all over the pack’s territory, but every inch he put between them made the air in his chest feel a little bit cleaner. May had finally really taken hold, the night warm and clear and dewy, and for the first time in months he was not too cold in his thin-worn clothes. A memory came, unbidden, of a garishly scarlet-wrapped parcel pressed into his hands with a casual ‘happy birthday’ --as if the gift hadn’t cost more than his wand-- a very fine jumper pouring out of it silkenly. It had been fair isle of grey, and tan, and olive green, close woven cashmere, soft and light to the touch, but even in his hands he’d known it would be warm. He had tried to give it back, embarrassed to accept something so nice. But Sirius had insisted, first bashfully and then imperiously, until Remus had no choice but to accept it. And it had been his favorite, so much so that he’d magically enlarged it after his growth spurt at fifteen, not willing to imagine his winters without it. He almost smiled at the thought, until he remembered how he’d worn it to the Shrieking Shack under the watchful eye of McGonagall the first moon after his worst nightmare came true, hoping that the wolf would tear it to shreds in the night. It was the first time the wolf had done what he wanted it to do.

Remus sighed, dropping to sit on the damp grass. Unbidden thoughts of Sirius had been mocking him all night. If he was being honest with himself, it was longer than that, ever since their mission to Malfoy Manor. Even he, after so much practice, couldn’t lie to himself well enough to pretend that that hadn’t been the night he’d woken up. He couldn’t say for sure what his moment of waking had been. Had it been the fleeting look of bleeding heart sympathy in Sirius’ eyes when he’d emerged from thin air under the pine trees, as Remus staggered under the weight of his burdens, thinking his weakness unseen? Or had it been when he allowed himself to admire Sirius in all his surly, gorgeous glory with the Malfoys’ fountain of wine like cascading rubies behind him? Or had it perhaps been that sheer stupid thrill of being alive that they’d both felt, which for one shining moment had erased everything outside of it?

Well, that wasn’t totally accurate. That moment hadn’t erased everything. It had existed in unity with every rush of lunatic victory they had ever shared. Every manic grin when a prank went off without a hitch, every swell of pride when one of them would get a spell just right on the first try in class. Every spark he’d felt in his belly when Sirius’ shirt would ride up and he’d glimpse a strip of smooth perfect skin, or when Sirius would sling an arm over his shoulders and press him fondly to his side, or when Sirius would reassure him of his humanity and his goodness, his grey eyes giving the impression that he and Remus were the only people on the entire planet. The rush of success the other night existed in simultaneity, on that same higher plane, with every time Sirius had made Remus feel weightless and whole and euphoric. It was the same plane he had trespassed on on those nights at Hogwarts when the yearning was too much and he had allowed himself to imagine touching Sirius the way he wanted to, spilling himself in his hand and across his sheets and trying to hold on to that plane where bliss resided. It was a plane he had eschewed for a long time. Remus groaned as he flopped onto his back, one arm flung over his eyes, as if to shield them from the sight of those memories.

What in Merlin’s name is wrong with you? He tried to remind himself how much he hated Sirius but the list of reasons that had stoked the flames of his anger for so long seemed to have diminished potency. He betrayed me. But even that did nothing but make him wonder about Sirius’ reasons. Sirius had tried to explain himself back then, in the days following the moon, but of course Remus had not listened, shouting at him until he backed down, pushing him roughly away, sealing locked doors magically against him, even going so far as to cast a fed up silencio or two. There was no excuse, he’d said, and in truth, he had been afraid that Sirius’ contrition and charms might wear him down into forgiveness and he didn’t want to risk it. Sirius hadn’t deserved forgiveness, as surely as Remus hadn’t deserved friendship.

That last was the only part he found himself still sure of. It had taken two years but he had finally started to doubt whether he’d been right about Sirius, but it was just as well because he’d been right about himself. Sirius, and James too for that matter, were better off without him. It had been nice, better than nice, the most wonderful coming-home feeling, to have such marvelous friends for a little while but it had been unfair to them. The risks they’d once undertaken for him, it just didn’t make any sense. He would always be a drain, a danger, a liability and even Sirius, who had done something as callous and stupid as telling Severus Snape about the Willow, deserved better.

Of course, he knew he’d always thought Sirius deserved better than him. Thoughts he’d long kept locked in a box seemed to insist on slipping free now, and he remembered. Remembered how he had tried to talk himself out of all the things he’d found himself wanting and hoping for from Sirius. The kisses narrowly avoided, the confessions unspoken and burning a hole in his tongue. He remembered with painful clarity the razor sharpness of that adolescent desire, the suffocating humid throes of sexual awakening. Who wouldn’t have longed for Sirius, so whole where Remus himself was, as Greyback said, a half-thing; so beautiful where Remus was plain; so vivid and colorful and impulsive, seeing through Remus’ cautious exterior to the adventurous Marauder he’d never dared to be before Hogwarts. Of course he’d idolized him, adored him, but even if Snape had never learned what he’d learned, it had been foolishness.

Back then he’d told himself so on the assumption that just because girls couldn’t keep their eyes and hands off Sirius, that Sirius would eventually be unable to keep away from them. As it turned out, he’d been wrong in that regard. When Remus had received James’ letter that Christmas, detailing Sirius’ dramatic exit from Grimmauld Place, he had read and re-read it, unable to resist a thrill of hope at Sirius’ threat to find a ‘Muggle bloke’. It had kept him up all night, torn between being sure Sirius had just said what would incense his mother the most and hoping beyond hope that there was one less barrier between the world they lived in and the shining promise of a world where Sirius could maybe, possibly, perhaps want him too, even a little. But there were so many barriers greater than sexual tastes, reasons bigger than that that it could never be, not least among them that Sirius deserved a human as lover. Remus wondered if there was a world where he’d been human and good enough, where Sirius hadn’t sealed Severus’ fate in a moment of rash Black cruelty, where there was no Voldemort and no war and no Dumbledore calling in favors, and was struck by just how powerfully he might have loved that beautiful, impossible git if he’d only been fortunate enough to have been the Remus born in that world and not in his own.

He felt a soft thump in the grass beside him, and only emerged from his thoughts just fast enough to identify the scent before Geri’s voice would have clued him in, “Alright, Remus?”

Remus drew his arm from his eyes, looking up at the young girl who sat beside him, her thin arms hugging her knees, the scars on her dark skin seeming especially silvery in the moonlight. Recently, he’d observed that Geri had struck up friendships with a couple of the other members of the pack. She had grown nearly inseparable from Rudina, a young woman who Remus avoided due to her striking similarity to Lily Potter, which was as much a result of her keen wit and hot temper as her red hair. She had also grown sort of close with a bloke named Ernie, tall, honest-faced fellow, leery of Greyback’s teachings. Remus considered lying, evading the question. She had friends now, she didn’t really need him, did she? But she smiled at him gently and it had been so long since he’d let himself have a friend, so he relented. He sighed, “Been better, to tell you the truth.”

“Mm,” Geri nodded thoughtfully, looking at the large scarred willow tree, “Sickle for ‘em?”

Remus shrugged, “It’s my problem, Geri, really.”

“Ah,” she said sagely, “Girl troubles?” she asked, trying to sound casual. Remus scoffed a laugh before he could hold it back and Geri looked at him sidelong, “...boy troubles, then?”

“Bit of an over-simplification,” he said, with a twitch of one shoulder, “But I suppose you could call it that.”

Geri was quiet for a moment before asking carefully, “Er, alpha got you down?”

Remus sat up, supported on his elbows, shaking his head and quite sure it’d be kinder not to let her closer to him. He had considerably higher rank in the pack than she and friendly as they were, she would not have dared to disobey a direct order if he’d told her to get lost. But he wanted someone to talk to, “No,” he sighed, “Not him.”

She laid down on the grass, rolling onto her side to give him her full attention. The easiness of the gesture reminded him of the few occasions in the Gryffindor dormitory when Sirius had crawled into his bed and they’d spoken frankly behind a silencing charm of things they’d only joke about during the day. Sirius’ feelings about his family, Remus’ fears about job prospects after school, the times they worried Prongs might have gone too far in an asinine attempt to win Lily’s affection. Remus crossed his arms behind his head and Geri asked, in a voice soft with disbelief and girlish romance, “...a human, then?”

Remus snorted and nodded, “Yes, among other things.”

She sighed, “Wow,” she said, “I wouldn’t think… I mean, a human with one of us?”

“Well, he’s not exactly with me,” he said, “Not really…at all.”

“Oooh,” Remus looked over to see Geri nodding solemnly, “Well, I reckon that’s the problem then.”

“Who said there was a problem?” Remus countered, a little defensively.

“Well, no one, I guess,” she admitted, with something like a sly smile, “But you’re out here mooning over him instead--”

Remus gave a surprised laugh, “Did you just make a bloody moon pun?”

Geri giggled but raised one eyebrow archly, “So what if I did? There might as well be a few perks to this werewolf business, and I say joking rights ought to be one of them!”

Remus felt a genuine smile stretching across his face. Hadn’t he made the same observation to the Marauders any number of times? So what if he was a monster, who ever said that monsters couldn’t have a sense of humor? He realized he was laughing and Geri was eyeing him almost studiously, “What?” he asked, his voice still catching slightly on the laughter.

She shrugged, “Nothin’. Just… that’s new. The, like… smiling.” she gestured at him vaguely, “Dunno if those boy troubles of yours are ‘s’bad as you think.”

Remus raised one eyebrow at her. She was wrong, of course, but it didn’t really matter. Sirius was a headache, but when had he ever been otherwise? Any chance he might have had before everything went to shit was certainly gone now, after a couple years of blame and war and everything else. Not that that was something he even wanted. Obviously. But he’d woken up, and that was a start.


***


Just after they’d called Mimzy for afternoon tea, James’ father had slipped properly into the coma he’d been flirting with for days. The sensor Lily had placed on him changed from dull orange to red and James cried out, rushing to his father’s side, as if shaking him would be enough and he’d sit up and ask for the Prophet. The charms Lily had placed on him would aid his respiration but, as she told a desperate James, only a miracle would wake him up again, weak as he had grown, “So, what, Lils?” he’d demanded, eyes flashing, “Am I just supposed to let him die?”

“James, please, I’m not trying to be cruel, but…” she’d avoided his eyes, watching the Muggle thermometer she held in his mother’s mouth.

“But, what?”

“But, well, he’s going to, whether you let him or not.” Lily had forced her eyes away from the critically high temperature reading on the thermometer, summoning all her Gryffindor courage to look her husband in the eye. He was much too pale, “I’m not an expert, but I don’t suspect they’ll make it through the night.”

She’d watched the emotions play across his open face--frustration, fury, desperation, anguish--his hazel eyes flitting between her and the elderly couple wasting away in the bed, “We’ll call an expert, then,” he said defiantly, after some minutes, “I’ll go to Mungo’s and--”

“Jamie, we took them to Mungo’s first thing!” Lily protested, “You know what they said!” When they’d had the best Healers available look over the Potters, it had been their advice to let them die in the comfort of their own home rather than the cold unfamiliarity of the hospital where they risked infecting other compromised patients.

James’ expression hardened, “I’ve never known you to give up so easy, Lily.” he said, coldly.

“Give up?!” Lily discarded the thermometer on the bedside table with a clatter, feeling her anger rise up to meet him, just as it always had in school, “You’ve got to be bloody kidding me, James Potter! I have been by their side, doing everything I could for them for weeks! I was happy to do it, hard as it's been, but I'll be damned if I’m going to stand here and let you throw a tantrum and blame me for them being ill and--”

“Fuck, I’m not throwing a tantrum!” James protested, in a tone that Lily thought rather proved the opposite, “Just, everything is bollocks! Pete’s a snitch and Voldemort’s got bits of himself hidden Merlin-knows-where and everyone’s acting like mum and dad are already dead!” he punctuated the last word with a solid kick to the leg of his parents bed, making the potion bottles and water glasses on the side tables rattle.

“I know it’s hard, love,” Lily said, wearily, trying for consolation although she quite wanted to scold him for kicking the bed, “But--”

“It’s not hard, Lily, it’s bullshit,” James interrupted, beginning to pace and tugging at his hopelessly messy hair, “What’s even the point! It’s not like we’re going to win and he’s just--”

“Shut it!” Lily said, sharply. She’d never admit it but it terrified her whenever James expressed even the smallest doubt in their cause. He was the most glass-half-full type of person she’d ever met and it frankly freaked her out when he seemed to see the glass as empty. If he couldn't hold onto hope, who in the world could?, “He’s not going to win. We’re going to win and you’re going to pull yourself together.”

James gave a groan of frustration, “I don’t want to pull myself together! I’m so sick of having to have it together! I want to, I want--”

“What do you want?” Lily asked impatiently and was surprised to see tears well in his eyes. Oh. The answer suddenly clear. He wanted to blow off steam, he wanted to forget about it all for a while, he wanted to do something stupid with his friends. He wants the Marauders, she knew, unsure how in Merlin's name she could help with that. 

To her surprise, James found an answer that suited him better. His eyes flared as he ground out the words, “I want to kill them.”

“What?” she gaped, “Them?”

“The Death Eaters! Voldemort! Every last stinking one of them!” he threw up his hands, “They’re only people after all, if I could just--” he stopped dead at the unmistakable sound of someone Apparating outside. He started towards the door behind Lily, crossing the room in two strides but she stopped him with a hand laid on his chest. He blinked at her.

“I’ll see who it is,” she said, trying not to let him see how shaken she was by his words, “You just...stay here.” He looked like he wanted to argue, but he nodded once and made no attempt to follow her as she left the room.

What the fuck, she thought to herself as she hurried down the ornate front stair that led down to the entry hall. She knew James was under a lot of stress, of course, she knew that. She couldn’t imagine having the grief of losing his parents on top of everything. She tried not to think of her own parents, whom she hadn’t seen since Tuney’s debacle of a wedding to that oaf Vernon, and who were much safer without her around. But even with all the strain of the war and impending grief, James had still scared her. She didn’t know the last time she’d seen him like that, she suspected she never had. It reminded her a little of the way he used to be in school, before Remus had killed Severus, when he’d relished no small bit of cruelty in his pranks. But even that, that had ultimately always been for a laugh, unkind as it could be. Lily had never known James to want to kill before. When she reached the door, Mimzy was already there, having a disagreement of some sort with a man he didn’t recognize. Without hesitation, Lily's wand was trained on the stranger's face, “Who are you? What business do you have here?”

“Lily!” the eyes met hers and although she was sure she’d never seen the curly-haired man before in her life, she recognized something about him, “It’s Sirius Black. Polyjuice.”

“Sirius?” Lily asked, although she realized now that it was Sirius’ distinctive aristocratic bearing, out of place on the nondescript features, the defiant set of the jaw that was unmistakably him even worn on a weak-chinned face. Worry arced through her sharply, “Polyjuice? Why? What is it? What’s going on?”

“The rally--er, ambush,” he stammered, “You and James were supposed to rendezvous with me and Caradoc, but--”

“Merlin, I forgot,” Lily said, looking over her shoulder towards the stairs.

“Right, I, uh, figured,” when she looked back, Sirius’ gaze had followed hers, “Figured his folks must be having a bad go of it, or you’d have been there. And we were going to just leave you to skive off but,” he swallowed, “We need as many as we can get. There’s more of them than we expected.”

Lily’s heart gave a squirm of fear but then suspicion took its place, “...shouldn’t you have known that? Isn’t it your job to know what the Death Eaters are planning?”

Sirius winced and nodded, “Yeah, it is, but I… to be honest, I’ve been sidetracked by Lupin,” he grew paler still, backtracking, “I mean, not Lupin, but the mission, the mission I had with Lupin with, at the Malfoys--UGH,” he interrupted himself and met her eyes directly, “There’s no time for this, we need to go fight.”

“Sirius, I,” Lily took a few steps closer to him, “James is in no condition.”

“What?” Sirius’ eyes widened in concern, “Did he catch the Dragon Pox? Is he--”

“He’s healthy, he’s just…” she bit her lip, “He’s angry, he’s… he’s grieving and not himself and dropped into a fight right now? He’d be reckless.”

Sirius grimaced, “I understand,” he said, and Lily thought a little coldly that if anyone ought to understand, it would be Sirius, “Can you at least come? You’re a better dueler than him by half.”

Lily snorted, surprised by the compliment, and then chewed her lip again, “I dunno, he won’t be keen on being left out, or my being in danger--”

“He knows full well you can protect yourself,” Sirius said, shifting his weight on the doorstep, clearly impatient to get going.

“Let me think of what to tell him,” Lily tried hard to come up with an excuse, “I just don’t want him rushing in there like an idiot, this isn’t some silly Hogwarts duel after--”

“You think I don’t know that!?” both Lily’s and Sirius’ heads whirled at James’ voice, finding him standing at the bottom of the stairs, every line of his body tense, his face livid, clearly having overheard enough, “I don’t need to be babysat!”

“Jamie, it’s not that--”

“Lily, stay here and keep an eye on mum and dad,” James said curtly, slipping out the door though Sirius tried to grab him. He addressed Sirius, already pulling out his wand, “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to kick some Death Eater arse!” He spun on his heel and Disapparated.

“Oh dear,” Mimzy whispered by their knees.

“Fuck,” Sirius muttered, starting back out the door to Apparate beyond the wards. Lily caught his arm and he turned to look down at her.

“I wish I could come, but I really ought to stay here and monitor them. They… don’t have long...” a flinch crossed the unfamiliar features of Sirius’ borrowed face quickly but then his eyes widened as Lily’s grip tightened and she pulled him nearer, her wandtip against his neck surprising him, “You fucking bring him home in one piece, you understand me?” Sirius nodded and she pressed her wand harder against him, feeling it move in her hand when his Adam’s apple bobbed uneasily beneath it, “Bring. Him. Home.”

“I swear, Lily,” he said solemnly and disappeared the instant she released him.

After they stood for a few silent moments at the open door, Mimzy said carefully, “Would miss Lily still like some tea?”

Lily shut the door and leaned her forehead against it, “I think perhaps something a little stronger, ta.”

 

Chapter Text

13 May, 1979


This was why Sirius hated Apparating while using a Polyjuice Potion, it was hard enough to keep one’s composure without the discomfort of being in the wrong body. He wiped the sick from his mouth with the back of his sleeve and tried to be grateful that no one had cursed him in this moment of weakness. Just one of the dangers of this plan, along with the possibility of one of the Death Eaters somehow recognizing him despite his disguise. Polyjuice was not infallible after all, it couldn’t disguise posture or mannerisms, and the duration of its effects were variable. He was nigh on the best dueler that the Order had though, and he knew with some pride that they needed him in this fight, risks be damned.

The location of the alleged rally was an obscure little forest in the north, chosen for its distance from any major Muggle or Wizarding settlements. It was still colder here than it was round the Potter Estate in Devonshire, and Sirius shivered despite himself as he followed the nearby sounds and flashing colored light of battle. He really hoped James hadn’t managed to get himself killed in the minute or two he’d delayed. If he had, Sirius might as well let a Death Eater off him here directly, as they would no doubt show more mercy than Lily would.

Sirius reached the clearing in the trees where the fight had already broken out and his jaw dropped. When he’d been here only moments before with Caradoc, there had been six Death Eaters, and that was enough cause to call for backup, but since he’d been gone their numbers had more than doubled. All of them were masked, but nevertheless identifiable to him by height, cloak, voice, and gait, having so miserably spent many hours around dinner tables and parlors with them. They were darting and dodging and whirling about, outnumbering the Order members who were doing their damnedest to keep up in the chaotic dance. Sirius smiled inwardly a little, his wand hand itching to join in, to throw off the upper hand the Death Eaters seemed so very confident in. As a spy, it had been far too bloody long since he’d had license to hex the lot of them. Then his eyes found James, careless to the spells that narrowly missed him, cornering a maskless Death Eater in fine, dark robes. Not emerging from the cover of the trees, Sirius quickly made his way towards them, trying to identify the Death Eater he didn’t recognize.

“...not lying, please, James!” the stranger was saying at he got closer.

“Ha! You expect me to believe that?” James hurled a spell at the other man, hitting his leg as he dodged.

“Ow, fuck!” the man said, and something in the voice chilled Sirius, “I bloody defected, you Gryffindor idiot!” OH.

Sirius burst out of the trees, wand trained on James, but eyes on his adversary, “Seriously, Reg, we fucking told you not to come!” He really thought they’d been making some progress in mending their busted up relationship.

Any doubt in his mind that the stranger was his brother, under Polyjuice like himself, was banished by the familiar scowl, “As if you’d ever miss a battle like this!”

“If I’d been ordered to--,” he cut himself off, dodging a ball of purple light. Suddenly there was no time for talking as the Carrows and the Snydes had surrounded them. Almost as second nature, Sirius found himself back to back with the only two people he’d ever called brother. It gave him an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, but it wouldn’t do to dwell on it now, so he gave himself to the dance. He wasn’t even sure if he was speaking incantations for half the jinxes and curses that issued from his wandtip, a proper duel always made him feel somewhat like he was possessed. Little more than a vessel, or rather, a conduit, channeling magic from the aether, down his right arm, and out his wand.  At the same time, it was when he felt most in sync with himself, when the ‘self’ seemed to fade into the background, and instinct and action took over. He laughed at the thought. The sight of his laughter must have unsettled Hazel Snyde, for she hesitated for a second, long enough that a curse from James hit her square in the chest.

The circle of Death Eaters around them broke ranks as Nester Snyde let his guard down to inspect his unconscious wife. Sirius turned very briefly to Regulus and shoved him towards the trees with a whispered ‘go!’ His brother’s unfamiliar face was damp with sweat and there was blood in his tawny mustache. He opened his mouth to protest but then acquiesced, his shoulders slumping as he twisted away into thin air.

Well, that’s one sorted, he thought, turning back to James only to find that James was not behind him. The exchange with Regulus had only lasted a few seconds but in that time, James had tore off across the clearing and was making a beeline for the Lestranges. Lovely. Sirius groaned and took off after him. He only made it a couple of strides before he faltered, a spell grazing his temple painfully, “What do we have here?” Ernst said, appearing before him with Brent Mulciber and Michael Martin, all of them undoubtedly sporting shit-eating grins behind their masks, “Don’t think I know you?”

“Funny, I’d know your ugly mug anywhere, Avery,” Sirius said, hitting Martin's shoulder with a mild blasting curse. He did not have time for their bleeding trio act right now. Sure, they’d had some good times trading dungbombs and bat-bogey hexes at Hogwarts but James apparently was going after his death wish with all he had if he meant to take on Bella, and that was just more pressing. Mulciber had dropped to his knees at his friend’s side and he distractedly threw a spell after Sirius, which he easily deflected.

Thank Merlin, he caught up to James before he got quite to Bellatrix, who was having the time of her life, it seemed, simultaneously dueling Emmeline, Frank, and Alice. Sirius grabbed James’ arm, yanking him out of the way of a stray stunner McGonagall had deflected in her duel with Blanton and Malfoy. Without looking away from them, she hissed at Sirius, “Get him out of here!” in just the same tone she might have used catching them in the corridors after curfew.

“On it, Professor!” he called back as he darted out of the path of a sickly pink spell cast by Barty Crouch. He flawlessly tossed stunners and shields up as he tugged James back towards the treeline, before rounding on him and saying, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Wrong with me?” James snarled, tearing his arm from Sirius’ grip, “What’s wrong with you?! You’re not my keeper, you--” he tried to push past Sirius back into the fray, but Sirius caught him, pinning him against a tree.

“I swore to Lily, so I am,” James’ glare faltered slightly, “Yeah, mate, Lily. Remember her? Love of your life and shit since you were twelve, now your lady wife? Reckon she might mind if you came home in pieces? Yeah, well, I promised--”

James actually spit on the ground, “Your promises aren’t worth shit, mate.” the last word’s sarcasm stung like a whip and Sirius recoiled just enough for James to slip by him. He swore to himself and spun around, diving back into the clearing again. There were a few bodies on the ground now, though Sirius did not have the time to identify which side they belonged to. There was only a pool of blood on the dry leaves where Michael Martin had lain. Before he could locate James, someone pushed him, a shield charm springing up in front of them and a ball of green light ricocheting into the woods. He looked up at Caradoc as he hit Narcissa Malfoy with a stunner and she fell bonelessly to the ground.

“Ye betta watch ye self, mate,” he said, patting Sirius’ shoulder with a charming grin.

“Thanks,” he said with a tight smile, spotting James over Caradoc’s shoulder and taking off without another word. He’d make sure to thank him properly later. As he sprinted towards James, he couldn’t help but admire the other man’s dueling style. Like many Death Eaters, the main influence to Sirius' dueling style was the tedious dance lessons Pureblood mothers like his own tended to strong-arm their complaining sons through. It resulted in an ever straight-backed stance, fluid and flamboyant, and which looked rather foolish on those not favored by innate grace. But James was an athlete, through and through, would probably be playing Quidditch professionally if there wasn’t a war on, and you could see it in his dueling stance. He was all precision and strength and utility, each spell landing just where he aimed, his feet planted solidly, his brow determined. But with the fire blazing in his eyes like that, he honestly might have passed for a Black at present.

Sirius came up beside him, hitting Edwin Watts with a body-bind and then turning back to James, who whined, “Hey, I had it covered!”

“Yeah, well, thought I’d help out,” Sirius said impatiently, “C’mon, we’re going home.”

“Like hell we are!” James said and actually grinned at him. It struck him that, though they’d never really investigated their tangled pureblood lineages, with a manic grin like that, it wasn’t just that he could pass for a Black, but that James must have Black blood in there somewhere, “You can run if you want, but being put in Gryffindor actually meant something to me.”

If it hadn’t been so damn hurtful, Sirius would have scoffed at it. It was one thing to be teased about it by the Death Eaters while he was undercover, but it was something entirely different coming from James. James made to run off again, but Sirius yanked him back sharply by the back of his robes, a ball of fire whizzing close enough by him to singe his fringe, “It meant the world to me, as you fucking know,” he growled into James ear before releasing him, “You self-righteous git.”

Something darkened in James eyes as he looked at Sirius, the fingers of his free hand lifting up to touch the burnt ends of his hair. He said, “Sirius, I--” before interrupting himself with a “Stupefy!”, wand pointed past Sirius’ shoulder. Sirius whirled just as Alecto Carrow hit the ground behind him, wand still clutched in her hand. Amycus was coming at them with a roar a second later. He followed his sister’s lead, hurling balls of fire at Sirius and James, one of which searingly grazed Sirius’ thigh, filling his nostrils with the smell of burnt fabric and flesh. James stepped in front of him, advancing on Amycus and easily brushing away the rest of his attacks, until the Death Eater apparently grew too frustrated, grabbed his sister and Disapparated away.

When another duel did not instantly befall them, Sirius looked around, realizing that between the Death Eaters that had fallen, dead or unconscious, to the ground and those that had fled, only a few remained. Barnabas Mulciber, Bellatrix, and Rodolphus were fighting rather hopelessly against McGonagall, the Longbottoms, and Marlene, “C’mon, if we can capture any of them, it’ll--” Sirius started towards them, ignoring the pain from his thigh, but was interrupted by the resounding crack of them Disapparating as one.

“Oh, damn!” McGonagall cried in uncharacteristic frustration, as Marlene and Frank shouted rather more vulgar swears at the empty space their quarry had occupied. For a second, they all just stood, catching their breath, before the bleak work of identifying the bodies on the ground began. James studiously said nothing beside Sirius as they took the wands from the unconscious Snydes before magicking manacles onto them. They looked up when Alice cried out, “No!” Sirius’ limbs were feeling heavy now, his thigh a blur of agony, his mind a bit sluggish, and he wasn’t entirely sure how he’d arrived at Alice’s side, looking down at the open and lifeless eyes of Emmeline Vance. With a twinge of many feelings in his chest, he realized he’d never learned much more about her than that she’d snogged Peter at an end-of-term party in Gryffindor Tower once, sneaking in despite being a Hufflepuff herself.

“I’m afraid we’ve lost Edgar as well,” McGonagall said, dabbing her eyes with a tartan handkerchief, her tears making clean tracks down the dust on her face. Two Death Eaters, Blanton and Watts, turned out to be dead, too, but it was cold comfort. It was impossible to say if either side had ‘won’ the day, but it certainly didn’t feel like much of a victory. Frank and Sturgis had acquired injuries of varying severity and McGonagall sent them straight to Headquarters before turning to James. Before she could ask, James was answering, “We’ll send Lily along to see to the injured, but my parents shouldn’t be left alone.”

She nodded, very nearly smiling as her eyes drifted from James to Sirius, “As many headaches as the pair of you have caused me in the past, I cannot deny it is a pleasure to see you once more working as a team.” she patted their shoulders before turning back to the others and proceeding to delegate tasks. Marlene and Alice would take Emmeline and Edgar’s remains to their families, and McGonagall would escort the detained Snydes to the Ministry. James had just turned to Sirius and opened his mouth to speak when Sirius had a sensation like being hit by a galloping hippogriff, “Has anyone seen Caradoc?” he asked, his voice edged with worry.

They set about searching the area, to locate an unconscious or hiding Caradoc. Or dead, Sirius’ mind reminded him so-very-helpfully with each minute that passed. At least ten minutes had gone by when McGonagall found a wand that Sirius, with a sinking heart, identified as Caradoc’s. It had grown quite dark now and McGonagall dismissed them, opting instead to send a proper search party in daylight the following day. She Disapparated with the still unconscious Snydes and left James and Sirius standing alone in the clearing, pockmarked as it was with scorch-marks, scuffs, and splashes of blood.

Sirius was trying very hard to keep guilt at bay and not to believe the worst. It was possible that Caradoc would still turn up, wasn’t it? Wandless Apparition wasn’t common, but it was possible. And even if he had been captured by the Dark Lord’s forces, he was a formidable wizard and might escape. Or he might already be dead. Sirius turned his wand over in his hand, admiring the carving that bordered the grip end. He wished he had not been so dismissive of Caradoc’s help earlier, wished he had let him send a Patronus to the Potters when they didn’t show up instead of rushing off to get them himself. It had been too long since he’d properly enjoyed his only friend’s company, how many months? He realized James was speaking.

“...to come back with me. If, if you want, that is,” he was stammering, embarrassed by his earlier recklessness, “I’m, erm, alive, so I reckon Lily won’t kill you on sight.” Sirius nodded mutely and James reached out to him. To his surprise, he did not impersonally grip his shoulder, but took his hand, lacing their fingers and giving an encouraging squeeze before tugging them through space back to the Potters’ front door.

 

***

 

James reckoned Lily must be pleased that he was still alive, though you wouldn’t know it from the way she greeted him back. He had hoped to fall into her arms, showered in thankful kisses at his intact return. But no such luck. He was reminded just how much Lily was not going to play the part of pining wartime wife, wringing her hands and praying for his safety. No, in true Lily fashion, she was in a towering rage when he and Sirius appeared on their doorstep, angry to have been impotently sitting at home and not in the thick of the fight, and angrier still at James’ stupid behavior. He haltingly explained to her that she was needed at Headquarters to tend to the wounded and she muttered furiously to herself about something called a ‘Florence nightingale’ before slamming the front door and Disapparating away.

Sirius and James stood in the entry hall and glanced sidelong at each other. James wasn’t sure when Sirius’ Polyjuice had begun to wear off, but he was himself again and James was struck for a moment by how unchanged he was. The irreverent shadow of a smirk and unapologetic posture had not changed in the slightest since their many shared punishments at Hogwarts. They might have been in McGonagall’s office, being dealt a lecture about disappointment and a week’s detentions, were it not for their scorched robes and the dirt and blood. He hadn’t noticed in the mindlessness of battle and his own fury that Sirius was injured, but sure enough the left side of his face was awash with drying blood and there was a hole burned through his right pant-leg where a nasty-looking burn was blistered and weeping, “Poppet,” James said, his voice hoarse from shouting over the din of battle, the house-elf instantly appearing before him, “Sirius and I are going to go up to my parent’s rooms. We’ll need you to see to our wounds and if you wouldn’t mind fetching some clean clothes,” Sirius started to protest but James talked over him, “He should fit all right into my things, I think.”

“Right away, Master James, sir!” Poppet chirped, smiling at Sirius as she vanished again with a pop.

“Can you get up the stairs okay with that leg?” James asked and Sirius nodded, but limped and hissed just making it towards the bottom step, “Like hell you can,” James rolled his eyes, grabbing Sirius’ arm and draping it over his shoulder despite his protestations, helping him up the staircase that had never seemed quite so long. At last they made it to his parents’ room, and Sirius gasped at the sight of them, “I know…” James agreed, transfiguring the armchair he and Lily had all but lived in lately into a small love-seat that he and Sirius could both occupy.

Sirius sat heavily on it, wincing at the pain, his eyes never leaving the Potters, “Blimey, I… I didn’t think they could get any thinner than they were when I came round…”

“Lily doesn’t think they’ll make it through the night,” James said softly, sitting next to Sirius as weariness radiated out from his bones. Poppet appeared before them, carrying a pile of neatly folded garments with a tray of medical supplies balanced precariously on top. She set the clothes down beside the two wizards on the love-seat, and moved towards James but he shook his head, “See to him first, please, Poppet, he’s hurt worse than I am.”

“Not for lack of trying,” Sirius quipped, a bit hesitantly, as Poppet nodded and obeyed, taking a clean rag and dousing it in essence of dittany, “It’s lucky for you Lily made me swear, if I wasn’t so scared of her they’d be scraping you off the forest floor about now,” Poppet squeaked in horror and Sirius cringed, “Sorry, Poppet.” Poppet nodded and smiled, beginning to dab dittany onto Sirius’ burn. He groaned at the pain, small wisps of smoke rising from the fresh skin growing back over the wound.

“Er, thanks for that, by the way,” James said, running his hand through his hair self-consciously, feeling the brittle ends where it had been singed.

“Thank Lily,” Sirius dismissed, through gritted teeth as Poppet continued her ministrations.

James stared at him for a second, the tendon bulging in his neck as he bit back the pain, fighting so hard to cover up the vulnerability of being wounded. He’d always tried that, tried so hard to cover up his hurt, tried for his own version of the cool decorum he’d been raised to value. But he’d always been absolute shite at it. Try as he might to be otherwise, Sirius was a bit of an open book, so much so that it was a wonder to James that he seemed to be a passable spy. Sirius’ pain had always been a bit of a public affair among the Marauders, culminating in sixth year when his parents had finally disowned him once and for all, leaving his friends, his chosen family, to hover around him, by turns ignoring, making excuses for, or trying in vain to heal the gaping, agonizing wound that Sirius had become. And then that wound had bled too much, staining everything, leaving Severus dead, his blood on Remus’ hands, leaving Peter to find new friends in the dungeons, leaving Lily crying on James’ own shoulder, and he realized with a new clarity, leaving Sirius completely alone and wounded worse than ever.

I shouldn’t forgive him, James told himself, even as he reached over to take Sirius’ hand again. Sirius’ eyes flashed at him, wide and doubting, the sclera too white in his dirty face, and made to pull away, but James held on. Sirius’ fingers tightened convulsively, clenching with the pain of the burn that Poppet was finally finishing with mending and a whine escaped him. James felt something shift in his chest for his friend--the best friend he’d ever had, flawed and reckless and dangerous though he might be, his partner in crime, his brother, his other half--and knew that it wasn’t a matter of whether he should forgive anything. He already had.

“Sirius,” he said softly, as Sirius leaned down to let Poppet clean and heal the small cut on his temple, “I… We… I think it’s enough already.”

“Enough of what already?” Sirius asked, his fingers loosening cautiously in James’ grasp, his expression hidden by Poppet’s hand.

“You know what,” James said, as Poppet withdrew and their eyes met again, Sirius’ guarded and uncertain. James swallowed, “Enough fighting,” Sirius frowned, “Enough of this feud nonsense.”

Sirius’ eyes widened again, as Poppet moved over to James, healing a wound he hadn’t even noticed he’d gotten on his shoulder, “Y-you’re barmy,” he said, “‘S just the exhaustion going to your head. Better just to shut it, probably.”

James shook his head and looked down at the strands of reddish hair on top of the house-elf’s head, “No,” he said, a little shakily, “No, I’m dead sure of it. It’s enough. I’m... not saying you didn’t fuck up, mind,” James said, his eyes flicking back to Sirius’ dirty and aghast face, “You fucked up everything. But I reckon I’ve punished you enough.”

“But Remus--” Sirius began.

“I don’t speak for Remus,” James interrupted, “He’ll likely hate you forever and that’s his prerogative,” Sirius nodded grimly, and James’ voice gained strength, “But you definitely saved my skin tonight and that counts for something,” Sirius opened his mouth to protest but James pressed on, “And don’t you dare say it was just for Lily, we both know you weren’t about to let me get myself killed.”

Sirius’ eyes searched James’ face and he shook his head, “Of course not, I…” his voice was quiet, but achingly sincere, “I’d never let anything happen to you. I-I hate that I… that--”

“I know, Padfoot,” James said gently, surprised by how familiar and welcome the old name felt on his lips. Tears sprang to Sirius’ grey eyes and he looked away, his hand trembling in James’ own. James squeezed, “I… All I’m saying is, we… er, you and I, we’re square. With the world like this,” James shuddered at the thought of Edgar Bones and Emmeline Vance, eyes vacant and staring, their families receiving the news everyone dreaded, “It… Merlin, Sirius, it doesn’t make sense to hate each other when we’re on the same bloody side.”

“I don’t hate you,” Sirius said softly, shaking his head and looking over at the shallow rise and fall of James’ mum’s chest, avoiding James’ eyes, “I never bloody hated you, I--”

“I never hated you either, you idiot,” James said, surprised to find his voice thick. Sirius’ eyes shot back to him at that. James smiled weakly, “I wanted to, you know, and I hated what you did--I still hate what you did, but--”

“I hate what I did, too,” Sirius said darkly, “You’ve no idea.”

Poppet discarded the rags on the tray she’d brought, and set to portioning out doses of healing potion, and James’ free hand clasped Sirius’ shoulder, so that they were facing each other, “We agree then,” he said and Sirius nodded, the hope in his eyes unsure and flickering, “Enough’s enough already, and I say it’s high time for a truce.”

Sirius couldn’t seem to keep the smile at bay for another second and it suddenly split his face, making him look to James, despite the dirt and soot and the years, just like the boy he’d met on the Hogwarts Express. He gave a watery laugh and said, “I… I couldn’t agree more… Prongs.”

If their hands hadn’t already been linked, James might have gone for a handshake to manfully seal the deal, but as it was they fell instead into a clumsy boyish hug, laughing and crying a bit madly, patting each other on the back and ruffling each other’s gritty hair in a wash of stupid relief. At some point they let go of each other, changing into their clean clothes with a wave of their wands, too bone-tired to do it manually. Unasked, Mimzy showed up with tea and food, making Sirius and James realize how starved they were. Both house-elves lingered on the periphery and James caught them exchanging tearful grins at seeing Sirius and James sitting so near, telling each other stories they’d missed in the over two years of their prickly feud. This second wind at the joy of reunion wore off eventually and they sat in strangely comfortable silence, Sirius’ head resting on James’ shoulder as if nothing had ever changed, each of them dozing occasionally. When Euphemia and Fleamont passed away, within minutes of each other in the small hours of the morning, it was with both of their sons at their bedside.

 

Chapter Text

1 June, 1979

 

The garden had been a bit of a controversy in the fall. Geri’s new friends, Ernie and his girlfriend, Rudina, had suggested it. The pack had always relied on hunting, foraging, and a good bit of nicking from the nearest towns in the past. For his part, Remus was well adjusted to hunger and lived with the pack no more than a quarter of the time, so he had not weighed in, only taken mental notes on the ongoing debate as if it were crucial to the war effort. Some of the pack had resisted the idea, declaring that it was not in the nature of the wolf to cultivate plants, that twisting nature into a more palatable shape stank of mankind. Good sense had won out in the end, or if not sense, than the promise of fuller bellies in the spring, and by Halloween a sizable plot of land to the east of the stream had been sown with seeds and bulbs and watered with werewolf sweat.

During the long, bleak winter months, most of the pack had forgotten about the garden debate, or, in some cases, had so little understanding of agriculture that they assumed the lack of yield meant it had failed. But before all of the snow had even thawed away, eager curls of green had sprung up in crooked rows, promising better fed days ahead. Geri had grinned at Remus, her almond-shaped eyes bright with pride, “Squib, my arse,” she’d declared, reverently stroking one tender new leaf, fragile and perfect as a kitten’s ear, “If this ain’t doing magic, I don’t know what is!”

Remus had smiled at her indulgently, unable to help himself, even in spite of the diligent isolation he had still maintained months before. He hadn’t been able to help it; Geri had reminded him so intensely of his mother in that moment. Hope Lupin’s garden had flourished year after year, even when the spring crunched with frost or the winters lacked in rain and snow. Every May, like clockwork, the stalwart little seedlings would shoot up and the yard would be an explosion of fruitful bounty straight through until winter. At about ten years of age, by which time Remus had exhibited plenty of magic (apart from having survived five years of full moons, something few bitten Muggles could have done), he had chewed a sweet pea thoughtfully and asked his mum how she cultivated such a prosperous garden without magic.

“Who says I do it without magic, cariad?” she’d twinkled at him cheekily, waving the dirt-stained stake she was using to prop up a tomato plant weighed down by fat fruit, “We don’t all of us need wands to get results!”

June had come to the pack’s little corner of Yorkshire, and brought with it a harvest the likes of which Hope herself would have found impressive. Remus had no sooner walked over from the grove of trees he favored for Apparating than Geri was grabbing his hand and tugging him to the garden and slinging a crudely hand-woven basket over his arm. He hadn’t bothered to protest, finding himself smiling at her contagious enthusiasm.

Although, the garden idea could be attributed to Ernie and Rudina, Remus found that they were not in charge. Ernie’s athletic shoulders could be easily seen through the green stalks, the copper gleam of sun off Rudina’s head by his side contrasting with the plants around her. But they were not the ones giving orders. That task had fallen to (or more likely been claimed by) one of the older werewolves in the pack, a formidable woman with a riot of steel-grey curls and a white scar over one eye. Her name was Ulva, Remus learned, when she introduced herself tersely before directing him to the corner of the garden where his help was needed. He had obeyed without question, feeling a bit like he was back in one of McGonagall’s transfiguration lessons and he best not risk house points by mucking about.

When Remus reached the indicated row, he had found a young woman of short stature fussing over broad bean stalks, “Hullo,” he’d greeted, not wanting to surprise her.

“Oh, hello!” she’d said, giving him a gap-toothed smile, “Aren’t these lovely?!” she’d brandished a handful of thick bean pods at him. He’d nodded politely and she’d introduced herself as Freki, saying the name with a bright Bristolian slant. He hadn’t been bothered as she prattled on, lavishing affection on the plants and laughing at her own jokes. Remus smirked to himself as he coaxed pretty pink radishes from the soil with his fingers, thinking to himself that Helga herself probably hadn’t been such a Hufflepuff as this werewolf, Freki.

Freki and Remus stripped through their row and moved onto the next, “Oi, careful where you step!” a woman was scolding, trying to salvage a couple stalks of asparagus that had been trampled by a werewolf Remus knew to be named Randall. Greyback had often brought him along when they’d been called upon to keep Voldemort’s followers in line, valuing his obedient nature and the fact that he was too dim-witted to question his alpha’s orders.

“‘M’sorry, Channa,” he said, with meaning, backing away from the asparagus and crushing a crisp spring cabbage with his heel, wincing at the sound.

“Oh, my days,” Channa said, running a mahogany hand through her unruly black hair, “Like a troll in a tea room! Don’t move a muscle!” she caught Randall’s arm before he could damage anything else, his foot threateningly close to another cabbage, “Go to Ulva and tell her you’re a bloody nuisance and I am not your nanny!” she prodded him in the back, and he ambled off in Ulva’s direction, leaving Channa to huff an annoyed breath from her hooked nose at the sound of something vegetal crunching under his receding steps.

“You don’t have to be so hard on him, Chan,” Freki said mildly, laying a hand on Channa’s shoulder.

Channa sighed, shrugged, some of the tension falling from her frame, “There is no room for ineptitude,” she said, not unkindly, “The sooner he learns, the safer he will be,” she added, a bit acidly, “And the more food we will have free of bootprints.

Freki applied herself to a new audience in Channa, determined to get her mind off Randall’s incompetence, and soon enough she was laughing musically at Freki’s conversation. The two women’s voices made a pleasant enough complement to the hypnotic snap-fwump rhythm of each asparagus spear breaking and being deposited in his basket. Mum’s asparagus was always ready for picking by June first, too, he recalled, the first bunch often poached in butter with supper that same night. One of his da’s favorites. The asparagus yield had been quite respectable two years ago, too, when he’d stood outside the blue-shuttered cottage and trained his eyes on the garden to keep from looking at the green serpent writhing through a skull in the sky.

The asparagus spears had poked up from the ground, just blushed with violet at their shy petals, like so many obelisks in a cemetery. It was a strangely morbid thought to have about asparagus, he’d told himself, not hearing the stammering words of comfort Peter had been feeding him. He’d hardly heard him, surveying the lanky broad bean stalks laden with long thick bean pods that had made him squirm as a child when da likened them to goblins’ fingers. The baby spinach leaves had been verdant and glossy, easy for him to tell apart from the pink-veined radish greens and the broad, fan-shaped potato leaves.

Mum had been planning to pick that day, he knew, as she always did on the first if weather permitted. Her favorite wicker basket, the one that at fourteen he’d charmed to remain light no matter how much she filled it, sat expectantly by the door with her stained gardening gloves and her yellow-handled shears. The blades had gone awfully dull, he knew, and contemplated sharpening them with a quick exacuo! so that she wouldn’t aggravate the arthritis she was pretending not to develop in her wrists.

Remus had been standing a little too far away to be confident in his aim, so he’d taken a step forward, but Peter had caught his arm, “Er, mate,” he’d cautioned, “You probably don’t want to see what’s in there, I reckon? Best to wait for the Aurors to get here, yeah?”

Oh, right,he’d thought, nodding mutely. It would be silly to sharpen mum’s shears, wouldn’t it, now that they weren’t going to be getting used by anyone, arthritic or not. He didn’t take another step, but his eyes no longer lingered on the garden. It was the first, if not the last, time he saw the Dark Mark in person and not printed in the Prophet. Remus hadn’t been sure why, but it had surprised him that it was green. It had always looked grey in the photographs, and seemed more fitting. Sure, green was Slytherin’s color and all, the color of the Killing Curse itself, but it shouldn’t be. It was also the color of life, of the growing things in mum’s garden, the color of Sirius’ grass-stained palms after playing fetch as Padfoot.

Remus had been furious with himself at the time for having that thought, he remembered. It seemed silly now, to have salted his own wounds with reproach for his own thoughts when his brain had been straining to encompass so much new and shocking grief. But the wounds made by Sirius’ betrayal had been newer then, he reminded himself, and grief had been much less familiar. It was an old friend now, standing faithfully by his side even as Pete had done that awful morning.

Pete was the wound that was fresh now, Remus mused, reaching for a discarded set of shears to cut some of the tougher necks of sweet peas. He imagined absently that perhaps it was Peter’s neck between the blades, but there was no satisfaction in the thought. He was angry, aghast even, but he had seen enough of war to see no satisfaction in death. He’d much rather answers. Why had Peter done it? Had he been coerced, or threatened, bribed, or blackmailed? Or had he merely been weak-willed and drawn by the thrall of the biggest bully in the schoolyard?

Or, perhaps even more than ‘why’, the word that niggled at Remus’ mind like a splinter; ‘when’? When had Peter’s loyalties shifted? When had Peter turned cloak, so to speak, and in doing so, turned his back on his friends? Remus felt a twinge of guilt, knowing that he, too, had turned his back on his friends, in a sense, but whether it was right or wrong to distance those relationships, at least he knew he had never betrayed them. But he wondered, though no answer would have brought him peace, if on the day that his parents had died whether his only comfort had come from a traitor. Peter had been the one who sent him word, Peter had gotten to the cottage first. Was it a coincidence, he wondered, a vestige of the old pack connection as he’d assumed, or was the reason far more insidious? He had been so grateful for Pete’s presence, for Pete’s solicitude and tact, for the way Pete had not drawn attention to the tears that had scalded his cheeks with salt. If he’d taken Peter’s wand, though, and been suspicious enough to see what the last spell it had cast had been, would he have still seen Peter as a friend, or might he have saved the lot of them years of trouble?

“Agh!” Remus yelped in surprise, as the shears slipped in his hand, slicing the palm of his opposite hand and not the stalk it had been holding steady. He stared at it, uselessly, and thought with pointless abstract clarity that the Gryffindor red of blood, just like green of leaves and Killing Curses, marked both life and death. Then a broad hand was closing over his and he looked up to see Ernie’s pleasant but scarred face tense with concentration. He felt his hand tingling and when Ernie released him, his skin was still wet with blood but the wound was gone. He blinked at him.

“Alright?” Ernie asked, with a kind smile, and Remus chastised himself internally for thinking of wandless magic as a skill unique to him. Among normal witches and wizards it was indeed uncommon, but not so among werewolves, especially those who had been denied proper magical training.

Geri appeared beside him, her arm looping protectively over his shoulders, as if the shears might take it upon themselves to give attacking him another go, “Remus!” she exclaimed, “You’ve gotta stop getting lost in that head of yours, mate,” she rapped her knuckles against his head affectionately but her eyes grew wide again with worry at the tears that stood in his eyes, “Oi, does it still hurt? What’s wrong?”

“My parents have been dead two years,” he said, surprising himself with his own honesty. What was the last time he’d been too mixed up to dissemble?

“All werewolves are orphans,” Channa had said, again speaking unkind words in a way that was not unkind, but consoling, offering him the solidarity of a fellow outcast.

Freki elbowed her in the ribs and said in a decisive way, “All the more reason to look out for each other.” Remus smiled.

 

***

 

When Sirius banged through the doorway into the flat, Regulus was cooking. Or, well, attempting to cook as the case happened to be. He never would have thought something as simple as preparing food for human consumption could pose so many challenges, not after years of paying attention in Potions lessons and countless hours spent hanging ‘round the kitchen with Kreacher. Kreacher had always made it look quite easy, not that Regulus had been there to learn. It was simply the best way to slip by without notice at Grimmauld Place, while Sirius’ wayward nonsense took up all of mother’s attention. Besides which, there had always been choice tidbits in it for him, exchanged with a conspiratorial smile from the adoring elf.

Regulus missed Kreacher, having always taken him for granted, a fixture of Grimmauld Place since before he’d even been born. He dispassionately prodded the burnt mass in the pan with a spoon, missing Kreacher’s cooking nearly as much as his company. Sirius would never have fathomed missing anything of their childhood home, and Regulus found himself envying Sirius for yet another reason.

“Merlin’s soiled pants,” Sirius’ voice sounded from the next room, a bit muffled, and Regulus assumed he had his nose tucked into his elbow, “What the bloody hell is that smell?

“They were eggs once,” Regulus responded drily as Sirius appeared in the entry to the kitchen. There was a nick on Sirius’ right cheek that didn’t appear to be dire but was bleeding generously, staining the neck of his robes, and he looked a bit singed around the edges. Regulus couldn’t help frowning, “I thought you merely scouting?”

Sirius crossed the room, “Yeah. Dumbles couldn’t just take my word that they’ve been meeting at The Cloak and Dagger, had to waste manpower scouting it out,” he shrugged, “Just as well, I reckon, we detained Michael Martin so that’s one less bastard against us,” he didn’t comment further on how a scouting mission had turned into enough of a fight to sustain small injuries or capture Regulus’ old dorm mate, instead poking the contents of the pan with his finger and asking, “What dark magic did you do to my eggs, Reg?”

“No dark magic,” Regulus said, his annoyance tinging his voice, “I just cooked them.”

Sirius gave him a considering look, “No,” he said, slowly, “I’m not sure what you’ve done to them but it certainly can’t be called cooking.”

Regulus gestured broadly, frustrated, and vanished the shameful attempt at food. The wretched sulfurous smell still lingered in the air, but at least they didn’t have to look at it anymore, “I don’t know what I could’ve done wrong,” he defended, “I mean, it can’t be hard, even Muggles do it.”

Sirius looked at him sharply and the atmosphere in the room changed, no sign of fraternal conviviality in Sirius’ eyes as he studied him, crossing his arms, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, I didn’t mean it, Sirius,” Regulus backpedaled but Sirius shook his head.

“Look, I get it,” he said, surprising Regulus a little, having half expected shouting, “I used to say rubbish like that too, back in First Year before my mates got through to me that I was being a bigoted little berk.”

“I’m not--” he began.

“No, I know, doesn’t matter,” Sirius said, “What you mean doesn’t matter if you still act like a prat.”

Regulus hated when Sirius was right. In lieu of conceding his error, he simply crossed his arms and grumbled to the floor tiles, “Our parents are bloody monstrous.”

Sirius gave a short laugh like a bark, “How right you are,” he said, going to the odd Muggle icebox and retrieving raw, unspoilt eggs, “I always hoped you’d come around.” He said that last as if it was a joke, but it landed perhaps rather closer to sincere than he’d intended.

Regulus watched in silence as Sirius cooked, trying to take notes in his head as if it were a lesson, even though Sirius was not instructing. The pan wasn’t as hot as he’d heated it, and Sirius had added a generous knob of butter before the eggs. He couldn’t help wondering when Sirius had learned. Certainly he’d never learned from Kreacher, probably not until sometime after he’d been burned from the tree. But he’d been cast out by his friends for some reason not too long after he had left home, so likely not from them either. Not that you’d have known that, from how much time he was spending with James Potter again, ever since the “rally” ambush.

Regulus stomach squirmed, partly as a result of the increasingly appetizing smell of the food, but mostly at the thought of the “rally”. He knew Sirius’ Ravenclaw friend--the one he had allegedly been shagging at school, per the jibes from Regulus’ housemates--still had not turned up, he knew Sirius had helped the Potters sort the funerary arrangements for James’ parents, he knew he himself had done precisely no good by being at the rally. Stubbornly, he’d been holding onto the words, indignant that he kept finding himself in a position to offer them, but suddenly there they were, spoken into the quiet kitchen, “I’m sorry.”

“Really, Reg,” Sirius said, distractedly, “It’s alright. We all say something a little off color now and then, just mind it.”

“No, not for that,” Regulus said, shifting his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other. The tiles were a bit chilly through his socks; it was odd being permitted to walk around indoors without shoes or proper robes on, it would have meant a thrashing back home. Sirius was looking at him, had turned so that he was facing him, “For, erm, the “rally”.”

Sirius’ expression darkened, but only for an instant before he cleared his features. How the bloody hell is he a spy? Regulus wondered, not for the first time, “No need to--”

“No, I’m sorry,” Regulus insisted, “I shouldn’t have been there, of course. I just,” he ran a frustrated hand through his hair, “Want to do something, you know?”

Sirius laughed humorlessly, “You know who you’re talking to, right? Of course I bloody know.”

“Right, but you act when you’re fed up with inaction!” Regulus scoffed at himself, “I was a useless Death Eater, and I’m shaping up to be just as useless at fighting him!”

“You’re joking, right?” Sirius’ eyes narrowed at Regulus and then he threw up his hands, smiling a bit incredulously, “You gave us the key to stopping him! Mate, you gave us part of his bloody soul!” Sirius punched his shoulder, “You could sit back and twiddle your thumbs for the rest of this and you’d still be the most instrumental person in this whole sodding war!”

Regulus waved a hand dismissively, “Hardly,” he said, “Whoever actually destroys them, kills him, they’ll be a hero. If I’m remembered at all, it’ll be as a turncoat.”

“I doubt it,” Sirius said, “Unless he wins. And he’s not going to win,” Sirius’ voice was steely, “Not on my watch.”

“Always such a bloody Gryffindor,” Regulus grimaced.

“Damn right I am, mate,” Sirius said, unhesitatingly, “Through and through.”

James Potter might as well have been in the room with them, for how clearly Regulus could hear him clapping Sirius on the back. Proud. Brave. All but unswerving in his heroism, if you allowed for some prattishness at school. Saying something calming to Sirius that only they could hear, or conspiring on some prank, or giving him a bed and a roof and an escape route, slinging his arm around Sirius’ shoulders in a show of inconceivably easy brotherly acceptance. Selfish though it had been, Regulus had been happy when Sirius’ replacement brother had rejected him for some unknown slight back at school. It wasn’t fair, after all. He was actually his brother, and he’d been left to languish in that house with only Kreacher for company and all the weight of their parents’ towering expectations. At fifteen. Of course, he’d taken the Mark, which prickled now as if with frustration beneath his left sleeve. And why, a voice in his mind asked, loaded with all the entitlement he’d been raised with, was he always the one apologizing?

“Go on, then,” Sirius said, and Regulus realized he had been studying him.

“It’s nothing,” Regulus said automatically, and Sirius rolled his eyes.

“Oh, come off it,” he crossed his arms, “Our poker faces may have worked okay at Death Eater tea parties, but I can see through yours just as surely as you can see through mine,” he canted his head to one side, expectantly, “Out with it.”

“I don’t want to fight with you,” Regulus said, wearily.

“Well, then, I reckon you should start talking.”

Regulus sighed, tried for a second to find a tactful way to word things and then, deeming none available, said rather than asked, “You and Potter are mates again.”

Something flared in Sirius’ eyes, something Regulus had seen all too often during their schooldays when his brother’s choice of friends had come under scrutiny, “What of it?” he demanded, testily, “What does James have to do with you?”

“I was your brother first!” the words were out of Regulus’ mouth before he could even consider whether they ought to be voiced, “So it’s always had to do with me.”

“Reg--” Sirius began, hesitant.

“You made it clear a long time ago you’d rather have him as your brother, and that’s--fine,” Regulus’ feelings were getting away from him and he discovered that he meant it only as he heard himself say, brokenly, “I just reckoned I might have a little time of being brothers before he came and, and bloody whisked you away again!”

The words hung in the air between them with the smell of burnt eggs and then Sirius said, softly, “You can have two brothers, you git.” Regulus determinedly avoided his eyes, and Sirius sighed, “Look, Reg, I never wanted to lose you before. But you were aligned with mum and dad, and the Slytherins, and the Death Eaters, and,” he groaned, “I mean, I guess I can’t blame you, alone in that bloody house, but I was stupid and I did blame you back then.” He stopped himself again, taking a step nearer to Regulus and placing a hand on his shoulder, “I’m not going anywhere, you idiot, I only just got you back from those evil maniacs.”

Regulus chanced a glance up at him and said leadingly, “And James.”

“Is my mate, and my brother, and I’m bloody chuffed to have him back, too.” He shook Regulus’ shoulders once and grinned sheepishly, “I’m sorry,” he said, “I should’ve said that ages ago. I went too long without either of you prats, and I’d like not to screw any of this up again.”

Despite himself, Regulus smiled up at his brother. There were a few hundred things he might have said, but as it was they had spoken frankly of their feelings for far longer than their tightlaced Pureblood upbringing allowed for. So instead, he changed the subject, pointing out plainly, “You’ve burnt the eggs.”

Sirius vanished the evidence with an off-hand flick of his wand and left the room, calling over his shoulder, “Muggle place on the corner has brilliant take-away. Who wants eggs anyway, when there’s curry to be had?”

Regulus smiled privately at the empty kitchen as the door shut behind Sirius, and for the first time in Merlin-knew-how-long, dared to hope.

 

Chapter Text

18 June, 1979

 

“I know we all grow weary of war,” Dumbledore said somberly, “But it is at times like this that we must keep sight of what it is that we are fighting for.” His own weariness was etched plainly on his face as he addressed the task force he’d assembled to hunt down Voldemort’s horcruxes. Moody and McGonagall stood to either side of him and, though McGonagall’s eyes with red-rimmed, she stood tall. To Sirius’ right, James was attempting to quietly soothe Lily, who somehow still had tears left to shed. Sitting next to them was still a bit strange to Sirius, especially with Regulus on his other side. Who ever would have imagined that? About a month had passed since James had called the truce he hadn't dared to hope for in a long time. Strange as it was, he was grateful for the comfort of their proximity, even if his own grief was of a quieter variety.

Only the night before, the Dark Mark had appeared above the McKinnon house in Derby and upon investigation Aurors had found what they always found beneath that god-forsaken skull. Dead, all of them dead, Marlene’s Muggle dad and witch mum, Marlene herself, and even her little sister, too small to have yet had the chance to show any signs of magic. Lily had hardly stopped crying for a minute since she’d heard the news, or so James said. It was so severe that James had insisted she Side-Along to Headquarters, worried that she’d Splinch herself if she tried to Apparate under such distress. They’d shared a dorm, Sirius reminded himself, after all, Lily, Marlene, Mary, and Dorcas. For seven years. They’d never quite reached Marauder levels of codependency, but they’d all been close. Marlene had always been his favorite back in school, for her quick wit and snark, and he'd often wondered back then why it wasn't she that James was besotted with. He'd always been fond of Dorcas, as well, his fellow Beater for a time, and just as sarcastic as Marlene, but prickly where Marlene was soft and inviting. To his knowledge, Dorcas had stayed home with her grief rather than face these Order. Sirius glanced over at Alice and Frank. Though their eyes were dry, their hands were linked and Alice’s grip was like a vice, he’d guess, judging by the blisteringly white hue of her knuckles.

Morale was flagging, and Sirius feared a pep talk from Dumbledore would hardly be enough. They’d lost Edgar and Emmeline at the rally ambush. There had been no Dark Mark hovering over the charred remains of Prudence Whitmore's house a couple weeks before, but there was no question what had happened. No accidental fire could have taken down a witch like Pru. Caradoc had still not turned up, information that made Sirius’ gut twist whenever he remembered it, and it had been over a month since anyone, Order or Death Eater, had seen Peter Pettigrew. The only good news (apart from having been welcomed back into James’ life and the slow work of rebuilding his relationship with Reg, which, admittedly, was good news that really could not be overstated) that there had been was that Dumbledore and Moody had succeeded in retrieving another of the Dark Lord’s horcruxes. A ring, they said, though Sirius had not personally laid eyes on it.

Dumbledore had all of the horcruxes they'd tracked down at Hogwarts, where he reckoned they would be safest. This ring, the locket from Regulus, and the diary that he and Remus had stolen out from under Lucius Malfoy’s pointed nose. Across the room, Remus was looking unwell, his skin ashen and expression pinched, the bruise-dark shadows beneath his eyes looking that much more purple in contrast to the peculiar golden brightness of his irises. It was impossible for Sirius to say how much of Remus’ wan look was a result of weariness with war and how much was the usual peakiness of the full moon that would be rising that night. He wasn’t really aware when his gaze had drifted over to Remus, sitting gingerly in one of Moody’s untenably uncomfortable wooden chairs on account of the moon-ache that always suffused his limbs at this time of the month. The memory of a couple inexpert adolescent massages on moon-days in school crept into Sirius’ thoughts, massages that ended in shoving and tickling and bashful laughter and never the way Sirius' hormone-lousy imagination had hoped they might. Likely feeling his gaze, Remus’ eyes left Dumbledore and swiveled to meet Sirius’, molten and aching and curious, and Sirius thanked Merlin he nearly matched Remus as an Occlumens.

They both shifted uncomfortably and turned their attention back to Dumbledore, “...horcruxes must remain our priority,” he was saying, the long fingers of one hand carding through his silver beard, “Eager though I may be to destroy those that are already in our possession, I dare not. It may well be that Lord Voldemort will feel or otherwise sense the destruction of those parts of his soul that he has divorced from the whole, and we cannot risk alerting him to our mission. The element of surprise, as it were,” he said, spreading his hands, “May be our only advantage.”

“Have you any suspicions as to where the remaining horcruxes may be, Albus?” McGonagall asked, a hint of something in her voice that may have been hope but was more likely something nearer to desperation.

Dumbledore scratched his chin, “I suspect,” he began and everyone leaned a little closer, “that he may have hidden one at Hogwarts, but I cannot be sure.”

“Certainly if there were a part of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named at Hogwarts, we would have found it!” McGonagall exclaimed, one hand flying to her chest involuntarily.

“Not necessarily,” Moody intoned a bit grimly, “The castle has many secrets.”

“Indeed, Alastor, but…” McGonagall looked again at Dumbledore, “No one knows the school better than you, surely, Albus.”

Dumbledore smiled and shrugged slightly, “While I appreciate your confidence in me, Minerva, I have scoured every potential hiding place I could think of and found nothing.”

“It must be hidden elsewhere, then,” McGonagall said with a sense of finality, “Not at Hogwarts.” Dumbledore looked singularly unconvinced.

“I...suppose you’ve checked the Room of Requirement?” All eyes turned to Alice, who had spoken up a bit unexpectedly. Sirius’ stomach flipped at the thought of the room, but no one else showed any sign of understanding.

“Pardon me, Alice,” Dumbledore said, tilting his head to one side and folding his hands politely, “But I am unfamiliar with such a room.”

Alice blushed and glanced at Frank, “Er,” she said, “On the seventh floor, across from the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, there’s a, um, hidden chamber.”

“I see,” Dumbledore said, “A room of requirement, you call it. Would you mind explaining?”

“Well, er, it was me that found it, Albus,” Frank said, swooping in to save his wife from her apparent embarrassment, “Y’see, you have to pace in front of the door thinking about what you need a room for and when the door appears, whatever you need is inside,” Dumbledore gestured for Frank to elaborate and the back of his neck grew quite pink, “Er, like, in my and Alice’s case, we’d think, you know, something like, er ‘I need a place to snog in private’ or, ahem, something and, er, when the door popped up it’d have a cozy little room with like a fireplace and a cozy little settee or bed or what-have-you.”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled at that and Sirius thought he might be resisting the urge to chuckle, “Ah, yes. I see. So it is your supposition that should someone need a place to hide an object they did not wish to be found, your room of requirement might provide such a place?”

“I’m quite sure of it, headmaster,” Frank said, Alice nodding beside him, slipping by accident as they all sometimes did, back into the habit of addressing Dumbledore or McGonagall as if they were still at school.

“Blimey,” James said, thoughts no doubt on their magnificent map, “How did we never find that?” Where he sat miserably several feet away, Remus smiled wryly and gave a shrug, looking as stunned as James by their oversight.

Sirius’ stomach twisted tighter still. He’d thought the same thing, after all, the first time Caradoc had brought him to the room of requirement. The Marauders had explored the castle and grounds so thoroughly in making the map, it seemed impossible that they had missed something so cool. Of course, at the time, that thought had only sharpened his anger to a razor’s edge. How dare Caradoc rub it in his face, he’d thought. Caradoc, ever patient with him, hadn’t questioned it, only gladly given in to Sirius’ rough hands and searing kisses on a settee that Sirius now realized had probably served Alice and Frank similarly. Only he imagined their teenage trysts had been of a very different sort, probably lots of sweet nothings and steamy, tentative touches. There had been none of that between him and Caradoc, maybe a little in the last year or so but certainly not at Hogwarts. No, it had been furious and ungentle, Sirius trying desperately to pour all of his pain and loathing and loneliness into Caradoc’s fit young body, anything to chase just a moment’s pleasure, a moment’s silence in his head. And Merlin’s pants, Caradoc had been so bloody understanding and accepting of it, seldom prying into the reason behind his Gryffindor lover’s mercurial moods, welcoming the roughness of their lovemaking eagerly, and holding Sirius after when his pain would rush back in and the tears would come.

He wondered, not for the first time, if Caradoc had been in love with him. He’d never dared ask, too frightened that the answer might cost him the only friendship he’d had left. As for Sirius, he’d never been in love with Caradoc, though he had loved him dearly, words unable to ever encompass how grateful he was for his companionship. And what had become of him? Strapping, handsome, jovial Caradoc with his willing, freckled flesh that Sirius had selfishly wished had had a good many more scars to make pretending a little easier. He was quick to laugh and affable, slow to anger, and devilishly good with a wand, but wherever he was he was without his wand. Sirius hoped he was okay. Sirius hoped he would turn up with a crazy story. Sirius hoped he wasn’t in love with him, and if he was, he hoped he’d get a chance to apologize for the myriad ways he’d let him down and taken advantage of his goodness.

He was drawn out of his thoughts by Alice and Frank getting to their feet and leaving, having been dismissed by Dumbledore, he was fairly sure, to go scour the room of requirement for a fragment of the Dark Lord’s sundered soul. Everyone else was standing up to leave and Sirius watched as Dumbledore beckoned to Remus, asking him to stay behind, asking for a private word before he returned to Greyback’s pack. Sirius’ stomach, apparently most preoccupied with tying itself into knots on this particular afternoon, tangled in an entirely different way than it had at the thought of the still unaccounted for Caradoc or their teenage assignations. No, Remus warranted a different kind of knot, tighter and woven irrevocably with the vestigial pack mentality that still stirred in his subconscious.

He’d never liked the idea of Remus with the werewolves when he’d allowed himself to dwell on it, least of all with Greyback, who Remus had sworn vengeance on in a fit of strident teenage rage. And why not, when Greyback had taken so much from him, and from so many other children? But ever since the night of Narcissa’s birthday party, when Sirius had watched from under James’ cloak as Remus, stinking of sex and blood, had trembled and wept like a child, it had moved far beyond the territory of ‘not liking’ it. He hated it. He detested it. It made him sick to think of that monster anywhere near Remus, much less touching Remus.

“Oi, mate, you alright?” James’ face filled his vision suddenly, obscuring the view he’d had of Remus leaning a bit too heavily on Dumbledore’s desk.

“F-fine,” Sirius managed, unconvincingly, watching as Lily and James exchanged a look. He turned on his heel, hoping that he might follow his brother’s example and flee before the awkward social part of Order meetings. Maybe if he hurried out of the room, he might escape the as yet unspoken questions he could almost already hear, but no such luck. No sooner did they cross the threshold out of the makeshift office, before they were tugging him into the hall, cornering him against the wall, and each crossing their arms over their chests in an eerily similar stance. Shit.

***

 

Sirius coughed nervously, “Er, was there something you wanted?”

Lily narrowed her eyes at him. She was finally starting to get used to Sirius’ re-entry into James’ inner circle, but it was still very new. Needless to say, her jaw had nearly hit the floor when she’d returned to the Potter Estate from a tough morning patching up the Order members injured at the ambush to find Sirius in James’ over-long clothes, both of them slumped together and snoring beside the Potters, finally at rest. She’d slipped off to bed herself, leaving yelling at James for the following day. And yell she had. They had fought in circles for a while until they had forgotten what exactly they were fighting about and wound up falling into bed together, a tangle of anger, forgiveness, and relief at mortal peril thwarted. Sirius had helped immensely in planning the funeral, small affair though it was, a task that James had been much too distracted by grief to be any help with. She had first noticed something was amiss when Sirius asked whether Remus would be in attendance for the third time, but when she mentioned it to James he had said it was probably just that he was hoping for a friendly reconciliation with Remus as well.

But that wasn't it, she was now quite certain. Well, surely he did long for a reconciliation, but there was more to it than that. Several nights before, Sirius had come to dinner and she had made a point to mention Remus a few times, watching for Sirius' reactions. He was a good liar, a good actor, she thought, which must be what made him an effectual enough double agent, but he had tells nonetheless and she saw them. When asked again as they readied for bed, James finally confessed that he'd gotten the sense back at Hogwarts, before Severus' death, that Sirius and Remus both carried some sort of infatuation with each other. He'd noticed lingering looks and unnecessary brushes of hands on backs and both boys behaving even more protectively towards each other than they ever had. He tried to tell her it had probably been nothing, he'd been a dumb kid and probably just didn't understand what he was seeing, but once it had occurred to Lily, everything seemed to make a different sort of sense.

Sirius was entirely too interested in what Remus had gotten up to in the last two years. He persisted in trying to casually ask questions about how Remus had dealt with the stress of NEWTs or the death of his parents or what his full moons had been like after security was tightened and his friends were not accompanying him. Maybe it was natural for anyone to wonder these things, having been such close friends before, but there was something in his hangdog expression when he asked, as if his tail was tucked tightly between his legs. But what really gave him away was the look he got whenever Remus' work with Greyback's pack came up. Gone was the dog sorry for soiling the carpet, and he became a fierce guard-dog from head to foot. It sometimes only lasted a second before he schooled his expression back to passivity or made his shoulders relax, but Lily saw it and it was all the proof she needed to stand by her theory.

“Um, Lils,” James said uncertainly at Sirius' question, “Was there something we wanted?”

Lily rolled her eyes, “Honestly...” she pinned Sirius with her best Prefect stare, “What's going on with you and Remus?” she asked, intentionally vague.

As expected, Sirius' tells went off so clearly that there might have been a neon sign flashing over his head. His shoulders stiffened and his jaw worked and he tried to even out his voice before saying, “There's nothing going on with me and Remus.”

“Are you quite sure?” Lily asked, taking a step closer to him, “You seem to have gotten a bit worked up about something just now,” she gestured back towards the room, “You know, when Dumbledore pulled him aside to talk about Greyback.”

Sirius' eyes flashed at the name and one nostril flared, “Well, we all hate Greyback.”

“'Course we do, mate,” James chimed in, patting Sirius' shoulder, apparently sensing Lily's need for a good cop to her bad cop, “He's awful. But Remus can take care of himself, can't he? He has done.”

“Of course, he can, that's not the point!” Sirius burst out, exasperated.

“What is the point, mate?” James asked, trying for gentle but stern, and Lily thought succeeding. She couldn't help thinking that that particular ability would come in handy if their future offspring happened to be half so spirited and precocious as they themselves had been.

Sirius hesitated, looking into James' eyes and then slumped against the wall, giving in, “Prongs,” he said, taking every excuse to use the old nickname again, “It's just not right,” James raised an eyebrow, “When we went to Malfoy Manor, he'd just come from Greyback and he was...” Sirius hesitated, swallowed, “All roughed up, like. I dunno what good is even coming of him being our spy in the werewolves and what Greyback does to him, it's just--”

“Don't you suppose it's up to Remus?” Lily interjected and Sirius' eyes shot to her, narrowing, “I mean, no offense, but you don't really have the right, do you?”

“Lily,” James frowned at her, but Sirius shrugged.

“She's right. I have less claim to Remus than any of you,” He sounded defeated as he said it but then he straightened his shoulders and tossed his hair back defiantly, “But I have more claim too.”

“How the hell do you reason that?” James said, and Lily detected a tinge of real anger in his tone.

“Well, not claim exactly,” Sirius amended and then ran his hands through his hair saying in a rush, “'S'just no one knows better than me what bollocks it is to actually lose Remus, and I've only just sort of got him back in my life at all and I-I, well,” he groaned as his words ran out, looking down at his shiny leather shoes as he said, “I just don't like him going with them without backup.”

They were silent for a moment, and Lily almost felt bad for having gotten them into this conversation at all. What could she do, after all? Sirius had a point, of course, Remus' work with the werewolves was dangerous. She pushed away the habitual thought of how dangerous he himself was, trying to focus on Sirius' perspective. What could they do, though? Dumbledore's orders were notoriously thankless, and he wasn't likely to hear them out if they were to complain that Remus was being put in too much danger, especially not when Remus himself didn't seem to argue. She was drawn out of her thoughts by James giggling, which seemed horribly inappropriate for the present moment. She looked at him, saw that it was nervous laughter, as he shifted his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other, “Jamie,” she said, “What is it?”

“I've an idea,” he said, his laughter disappearing as suddenly as it had occurred, and his expression folding in with embarrassment, “It's probably stupid.”

“What is it, Prongs?” Sirius asked.

“Well, erm,” James didn't meet Sirius' eyes, “If you... no, I guess... do you still by any chance have your old two way mirror?”

Sirius' breath caught, and by way of an answer, he reached into his back pocket, extracting a small square mirror with an old-fashioned frame. He smiled at James and said a little thickly, “Never left home without it.”

To Lily's surprise, James reached into his robes and withdrew an identical mirror from an inside pocket, “Me neither, Pads.” Not for the first time since Sirius' reentry to their lives, Lily was astonished to observe the bond between the two. She'd always sort of known at school that whatever held the Marauders together was powerful, but she'd scorned it mostly. And she'd mistakenly thought it had been broken by Sirius' fatal mistake in sixth year. Watching them now, though, she couldn't believe how wrong she'd been and felt a twinge of something like jealousy as she watched the two men have an entire conversation without words, as easily as if they'd been wordlessly planning pranks in Potions class the day before.

“...grows late, I daresay you had better be off,” they heard Dumbledore's voice, as the door to the office creaked open around the corner from them.

“Have a good evening,” Remus said flatly back to him, just before coming into view. He froze at the sight of the three of them, his eyes widening ever so slightly at the identical mirrors in James and Sirius' hands. He had no doubt noted the renewed closeness between the two men and although he had made no complaint to James, Lily thought he must take some issue with it. It had been solidarity with him, after all, that had caused them to stop being friends in the first place. Remus made to walk by them, but James sidestepped into his path, blocking him. Remus peered at him skeptically, “Yes, James?” he said, a bit impatiently.

James opened his mouth but didn't seem to have the faintest clue of what to say, and Sirius cut in, lurching away from the wall a bit too suddenly, making Remus' shoulders tighten defensively. He extended his mirror to Remus like an olive branch, “Take this. Please. With you, I mean.” he said haltingly.

Remus stared at the mirror as if he'd never in his life laid eyes on such an object, before lifting his eyes to meet Sirius', his expression neutral, “Why?”

“Er,” Sirius looked down at the mirror, “In case you need us.”

“I don't need you,” Remus said dispassionately, his face unreadable. Sirius shrank from him, recoiling from the words as obviously as a dog would cower from a kick. Lily watched as Remus' mask-like expression cracked, the scarred brow furrowing as if regretting what he'd said, inclining his head, “I don't mean...” he started to correct himself, one hand moving an inch towards Sirius' shoulder before falling to his side and curling into a fist, “It's just bullying some Death Eaters and a full moon with the pack. I can handle it.”

“We know you can,” James said reassuringly, “We just figured... well...”

“In case of emergency,” Sirius explained, holding up the mirror imploringly, “With the way things are going, Marlene and Caradoc and...” Sirius' words trailed off, and Lily wondered if he ached for the loss of his friend the same way she ached for hers. Was it better to have your friend be a body under the Dark Mark, or an unclaimed wand and an empty space? Caradoc's absence left room for hope, or reunion, but wasn't that crueler in a way, when the chances he was still alive drew slimmer and slimmer every day?

“I'm not them,” Remus said vaguely, trying again to walk past James and Sirius and groaning when they stood their ground, “Lads, listen, I appreciate the... concern and all, but I really have to be off. If I'm late they might ask too many questions.”

“Just take it, dammit!” Sirius said, shoving the mirror into Remus' hands and turning on his heel and storming off. Lily couldn't help rolling her eyes at the theatrics he unfortunately was apparently never going to outgrow.

“What's his problem?” Remus asked in a tone of annoyance that didn't convince Lily.

“He's...” James glanced in the direction Sirius had gone, “Just worried about you, Remus.”

“Worried about me...” Remus echoed tonelessly. He looked down at the mirror in his hands, turning it over to consider the tarnished silver back and then again the slightly foggy face of it. Then, shaking his head slightly, he stowed the mirror in his back pocket and nodded to Lily and James, bidding a rushed farewell before hurrying off to Disapparate. After a moment's silence, James looked over at Lily, eyebrows lifted slightly.

“Blimey,” he said softly, “Reckon you were right about them.”

“Of course I was.” Lily said, and took his hand.

 

Chapter Text

18 June, 1979



It was well into the afternoon, later than it should have been, when Remus appeared out of thin air with a crack in front of the fine house gone somewhat to seed. Its edges seemed strangely blurred, an effect Remus knew to be the result of recently damaged disillusionment charms. It was the home of the Blythe family and Remus hoped for their sake, pointlessly, that they had fled. He knew that they hadn't by the smell of blood he could detect already on the air. They'd started without him, then.

Remus was glad his mother could not see him, walking up to the door of these strangers' home and opening it without so much as knocking. She'd taught him better manners than that. Then again, he thought, she also taught me not to go along with torturing people, so she might have bigger concerns than my manners if she could see all this. Better mum than dad, though, he reckoned. His father had fought the reality of Remus’ lycanthropy with every approach available to him, after all--medicine Muggle, Magical, and Veterinary, hypnotism, relocation, every manner of restraint and tranquilizer even conceivable to apply to a child, not to mention the rigorous training in acting normal and guarding secrets. And when all that failed, good old-fashioned, homegrown denial had gotten dad far enough. If he weren't already dead, then knowing Remus was working with the wolves, with Greyback himself, and Merlin forbid learning the extent of that “work”, surely would have killed him.

The second the door opened, Remus' senses were overwhelmed. A foul stench of freshly spilled blood, metallic, too vibrant, crowded his nostrils, every hair standing at attention up his arms and on the back of his neck, “Remus!” Greyback's voice called from one of the front rooms, no doubt smelling him upon his entry. The inner wolf whined and scratched, wanting to leave this dark place of blood and deception, wanting to run with his real pack, wanting to tear the throat from the hated alpha. He forced himself to take a deep breath through his mouth, the smell still awful, trying to keep the wolf calm. It was harder since waking up, always harder to do the closer the full was, besides, and it was only a few hours away.

His feet carried him automatically towards the source of Greyback's voice, but he tried to focus on the slight weight of Sirius' two way mirror in his pocket. It had been warm when it was handed to him, as if it had rested in Sirius' own pocket all day, separated from his skin by only a pocket lining. Remus swallowed hard, thinking about the skin of Sirius' bum or hip right now probably wouldn't help to soothe the wolf, only to redirect its agitation. It wouldn't do to appear agitated.

Upon entering the parlor room where the wolves were congregated around their prey, any other thoughts were banished from Remus' mind. There were a lot of them, about ten, more than there usually were for a routine task like spooking some purebloods with cold feet, and several of them looked ill at ease, including Geri’s friend Ernie. But with an uneasy shudder, Remus realized that intimidation was not at all what they were here to do, as he had believed. Mr Blythe lay unmistakably dead at Greyback's feet, blood still pulsing weakly from his torn throat to soak the oriental rug underfoot. Two of the other wolves were tussling on the ground, and Remus realized with a sick shock, that they were savaging a woman, presumably Mrs. Blythe. They weren't intimidating anyone; it was an execution. A grisly, indulgent one, but an execution nonetheless.

“You and you,” Greyback said imperiously, gesturing one yellow-nailed finger towards Geri and another at the gangly simple-minded werewolf, Rolf, “Search the house.” His other hand tightly gripped the back of a boy's neck like the scruff of a kitten. He could be no older than nine, cowering and silently crying with his eyes glued to the corpse that Remus assumed had been his father. Geri and Rolf nodded, and left the room, Geri giving Remus' hand a covert squeeze as she passed him. Merlin, but he grew more and more grateful for her kindness. Greyback's eyes landed on Remus and he grinned, “There you are, pup. I began to doubt whether you'd come.”

“Like I'd miss this?” Remus said drily.

“Quite,” Greyback agreed amiably, stroking his beard, conducting a pleasant businesslike conversation as two of his lackies lost interest in the now-dead Mrs Blythe. Their hands were dark with blood and the one nearer to Remus looked decidedly queasy, shaken. Remus commanded himself not to be sick, as Greyback went on, “Well, it is a very good thing you came. I've a present for you.”

“Oh?” Remus said, trying to sound calm and interested, when in fact Greyback's favor had been little more than a curse to him thus far.

“I do, little pup,” Greyback gestured towards Remus with his free hand, the gesture of his fingers elegant despite their filthy claws, “You poor wayward thing, you have struggled to let the wolf rule you, brainwashed as you are by that old fool, Dumbledore. And it pains me, as it would pain any father, to see you trying to be a man, to be something that by nature you are not. And so I asked myself,” he was clearly relishing the drama of his little monologue, and a couple of the other werewolves hung on his every word like a sermon, “'Fenrir, what is the best way to learn to be a wolf?' and then it came to me!” he laughed and Remus' blood ran cold, watching as Greyback dragged the trembling young boy to his feet, not releasing him but nudging him to take a step towards Remus. The boy’s face paled beneath the sheen of his tears and he whined as his father's blood soaked through his socks, “For you, pup,” Greyback said magnanimously, as if he'd presented Remus with an expensive bottle of wine, “To have tonight. Once you've tasted human blood, and in so doing elevated a mere human to a wolf, you will at last be free of your doubt, broken free of the shackles those wizards gave you.”

It took every ounce of Remus' strength to conceal what he was feeling, to keep from retching or railing against Greyback's alleged generosity. But even as he rejected the sickening sentiment, a cruel little voice in his head reminded him you’ve already tasted human blood, drawing up the dreadful taste that had filled his mouth the morning after the full moon that had ruined everything, the gruesome red when he'd sicked up the bit of Severus Snape that had been in his belly. Tasting human blood had not been enough to make him accept the wolf as his true nature. But killing, or worse, infecting the terrified child before him would certainly make him far less human and he would never, not in a million years, allow that to happen. He'd play this bloody role for Dumbledore, but he would not do that. Not if it would bring down Voldemort and the end the war, not if it would bring Snape back and erase his sin, not if it would restore his parents to life, not if it would somehow return the Marauders to the family they had been at fifteen, no, not for anything. He would not take from another child all that Greyback had taken from him.

He was trying to figure out what to possibly say to seem grateful for this opportunity, how to keep any of his immense loathing from seeping into his words, when a distraction came in the form of a series of shouts and bangs overhead. Several of the other wolves present tore up the stairs and he and Greyback listened as a scuffle ensued. Remus felt sorry for whoever they had found, hoped it wasn't a child, and then he heard Rolf cry out triumphantly, “Got you, you stinking rat!” and his blood ran cold.

Since the foyer, Remus had made a point to breathe through his mouth to avoid the dizzying smell of blood. But now he steeled himself and drew a deep breath through his nose. It was hard to find underneath the smell of carnage, but sure enough he detected the unmistakable scent he knew to belong to Peter Pettigrew, one he'd come to know well in the years since they chose their beds in the Gryffindor first year boys' dormitory. Dumbledore's rat.

Annoyed by being upstaged, Greyback scowled as the other werewolves re-entered the room, Rolf gripping the squirming rat tightly in his hands, “We'll have to take him to the Dark Lord,” Greyback said, as if that were as mundane as anything, “Everyone's on strict orders to bring him the rat.”

“Where is he?” Rolf asked, wide eyed.

Greyback looked like he wanted to slap him, “I have not been entrusted with his whereabouts, you dolt. We will take him to the Death Eaters and they shall call him.”

“Where are the Death Eaters, though?” Rolf asked. Remus almost groaned out loud, wondering why the fool didn't keep his questions to himself.

“Yeah, I can't Apparate,” another werewolf, Fillian, piped up. The others chimed in the same thing, and Remus realized how uneasy most of them were with plans changing at the last minute, with Greyback seeming unsure what course to take. His decisiveness was a great part of his appeal and efficacy as a leader. Remus could feel tempers rising, and with the moon only a few hours away it was a recipe for disaster.

“The Lestrange house isn't far from here,” Remus said, cutting off some of the tension, earning several blank or distrusting looks, “Near enough to walk, I think. It's made to look like a falling down church.”

“Oh! Aye, I saw that!” chirped one werewolf.

“Is just down the lane!” added another, Randall.

“Yes, very well, we're going on a little field trip,” Greyback said bleakly, sullen to have been interrupted. He didn't blink before sending a body-bind at the child, who fell rigid in the puddle of his father's blood. Greyback made for the door and everyone fell into step behind him. Remus hesitated, wondering if he could get away with sending a Patronus message to Moody or Dumbledore, alerting them to the situation at the Blythe house but then Geri grabbed his arm and pulled him.

“Wait,” he hissed at Geri. To hell with Dumbledore, this was a higher priority, an answer to some ethical authority that compelled him more than Dumbledore's close-handed chess moves. It might blow his cover but he couldn't leave the wretched child like that. Maybe before, when he'd been essentially sleepwalking, but not now that he’d woken up. Wordlessly he released the boy from the body-bind and the child scrambled up and away from his father's body and from Remus. His eyes turned to Remus, huge and distrusting.

“Please don't bite me,” the child said, in a surprisingly firm voice, “I don't want to be like them.” his gaze flicked towards the front door out of which the werewolves had just left.

“Neither do I,” Remus said and the boy looked like he almost might have smiled or inquired if he hadn't been so scared, but instead he eyed Remus warily. Smart kid. Remus nodded towards the large carved fireplace set in the wall on the other side of the parlor, the jar of green powder no wizarding household was without, “You best not linger here. Do you know how to use floo powder?” the boy nodded, “Floo to the Ministry of Magic, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and make sure to speak perfectly clearly.” Before the boy could nod again, Remus turned and hurried out of the house with Geri one step behind.

They didn't speak for a moment, walking briskly to close the gap between them and their packmates, but then Geri whispered in a rush, as though she couldn't keep it in an instant longer, “That was wonderful of you!”

Remus scoffed, “Only common decency.”

“Not all that common,” she pointed out, “Ruddy heroic if you ask me.”

“Yeah, well,” Remus wouldn't be congratulated for refraining from killing a kid, “Your standards for heroism might be too low.”

“How can you say that!” she punched his shoulder, “You saved that kid's life!”

Remus shot her a look, “Maybe,” he admitted, “If he doesn't arse up flooing for help.”

Geri rolled her eyes and actually laughed under her breath, “Oh, just admit that you did something good, Remus, Christ!”

Remus smiled at her, but only for a second, as the church with the toppled steeple loomed up before them. Peter was squeaking wildly and furiously trying to escape Rolf's grip, but to no avail. It wiped the smile from Remus' face so completely, he could hardly believe he'd ever smiled in his life. He watched as Greyback, strutting as though he were some sort of prodigal son, walked up to the door and rapped it with his knuckles. It was quiet for a moment and then a voice said, seemingly within his own head, “You have no business here, wolf.”

Greyback sneered and said importantly, “I have something that is of great interest to the Dark Lord,” there was silence in which he waited for the weirdly amplified voice of Rodolphus to ask what that could be, but it didn't come, so he elaborated on his own, “The traitor Peter Pettigrew.”

Remus thought it peculiar, for a moment, that Greyback should call Peter a traitor. Surely it was Dumbledore he had betrayed, Dumbledore and James and Lily and himself. But, the door opened, revealing a large and icily lavish interior that could not possibly have fit inside the church ruin. And of course, Remus realized, Peter had failed Voldemort. He had been found out as a double agent and was therefore responsible for the ambush, for the loss of Watts and Blanton and the capture of the Snydes. He had failed and whereas the Marauders had always forgiven Peter's small clumsy cruelties and foibles, failure was equal to treason in the Dark Lord's eyes.

The instant Remus stepped over the threshold into the Lestrange house, he knew the horcrux was there.

It was just as it had been with the diary at Malfoy Manor, the feeling like a cold hand trailing up his spine, the smell like ozone and sulphur and fetid waste making him almost wish for the smell of the Blythes’ blood again. An overwhelming sense of imbalance and wrongness nibbled at the edges of his mind and he wondered how the other werewolves around him were so unaffected. True, they had not had their skills honed by Dumbledore, like a promising spearhead being sharpened, but they had the same raw abilities that Remus had had at seventeen before his private lessons had begun.

 Remus tried to look around subtly, painfully aware of how out of place the filthy and ragtag werewolves looked in the austere and spotless entry hall of the Lestrange's home. His eyes scanned the many shelves and hutches that displayed dark and decorative items, repeatedly drawn back to a glimpse of bright gold, peeking past an intricately carved human skull. It might be the cup of Hufflepuff that Dumbledore had described but he couldn't be sure.

Rodolphus regarded them with curled lip as a harassed looking house-elf scrambled off to fetch Bellatrix at his curt command. A moment later she came tearing into the room, eyes wild, and her full lips cracked into a mad grin at the sight of the rat wriggling in Rolf's hands, “There he is!” she squealed, as if playing peek-a-boo with an infant, in an unsettling baby voice, “There's our widdle wat!” Peter seemed to shrink even smaller as Bellatrix reached for her wand, “Hominum revelio!” she said and Rolf leapt back as Peter reverted to his human form, kneeling on the floor, every inch of him vibrating with the nervous terror of a rodent.

Without giving himself a moment to doubt himself, Remus shot forward, grabbing one of Peter's arms as Rolf followed suit and grabbed the other. He was glad he did, because no one questioned it and with Peter's fleshy arm clutched bitingly tight in his hand, he was much more likely to be able to manipulate the situation. His heart however, protested, floundering against his ribs like a caught Snitch. And from here, he had a better view of the shelf of dark objects, enough that he could see a sliver more of the golden object, and his heart leapt at the sight of a carved badger. That is it, I'm sure of it.

“I need you to cause a distraction,” Remus breathed directly into Peter's ear, as Rodolphus and Bellatrix began to bicker about which of them ought to use their Dark Mark brand to summon Voldemort and thereby get the credit. His money was on Bellatrix winning, personally.

“Why should I?” Peter had the nerve to whisper.

“Because I'll let you go, Wormtail,” Remus said, intentionally wielding the power behind the old name. It had the desired effect, Peter went slack against him and Remus could feel the shorter man’s gaze striving towards him but he continued to stare ahead as Bellatrix pressed her wandtip to the Mark on her forearm.

“Moony, I--”

“Shut up,” Remus hissed, “I'm not... not your friend. But if you'll help me, I'll give you a chance to run away like the rat you are.”

Peter stiffened again, but nodded almost imperceptibly. With Voldemort called they did not have much time. Remus wandlessly and wordlessly cast an Imperius on Rolf, surprising himself with his own lack of hesitation, feeling guilty for misusing the man even as he manipulated his insides like prodding a chess piece into action. It was such a tiny thing, but huge. Remus pushed the thoughts and the guilt aside, there was no time for moral quandary right now. He watched as Rolf's hands obediently loosened on Peter's arm and he slackened his own grip.

A second later, Peter the man was gone and the rat was back, squeaking loudly and scampering across the room and directly up Bellatrix's flowing dark skirts. Remus almost laughed at the Marauderly antics of it, immensely higher though the stakes were. Chaos broke out as Bellatrix shrieked, her and Rodolphus trying to pull aside the ample folds of her skirts and hex the rat without hitting her. The werewolves converged on the Lestranges, as if to help, but it didn’t have the desired effect. Intimidated by the pack of wolves surrounding them, misunderstanding their intent, the Lestranges did not hesitate to protect themselves. The wolves scattered, suddenly dodging curses and calls of “mongrel” and “beast”. Somehow, a fight was breaking out amongst allies and Remus took his chance, sprinting across the room, snatching the two-handled golden cup from the shelf and dropping it in an inner pocket of his robes where it gave a faint clink against Sirius' mirror in his back pocket. Without thinking, he spun to Disapparate, only to feel himself tugged back by the wards as they began to shriek like banshees, alerting the Lestranges to someone coming or going.

If it had been chaos before, it gave way now to utter pandemonium. Animagi could not Apparate while in their animal form, as Remus well knew, but most present would not know that and so the general assumption was that Peter had tried to Disapparate. The efforts to slow him down and capture him escalated and as Remus spun and pelted for the door, his heart gave a rebel lurch with the knowledge that his once-friend was unlikely to survive long enough to escape. But Voldemort was coming, and he had part of his soul in his pocket, and the moon was mere hours away, and Greyback might realize he'd helped the boy he was meant to infect, and every fiber of his being was telling him to run. And with the wolf so much nearer to control that normal, he obeyed his instinct and ran.

He didn't get terribly far, though. He only made it a few strides past the door when sharp fingers clamped down on his arm, nails breaking through the skin. He wandlessly threw Greyback back off of him, “Get off me!” he snarled without holding back.

Greyback laughed, his eyes callous and bright, “And where are you off to in such a hurry, pup?” he grabbed Remus’ other arm and twisted it painfully behind his back, the other rising towards his throat. Before Remus could answer or cast Greyback off again, someone else entered the fray with a fierce, shrill, “No!

Remus’ stomach did a somersault as he saw Greyback stumble, not quite thrown to the ground but thrown off balance by a panting Geri, who pounced again but was dodged, “No!” Remus echoed, more stern that his would-be savior, “Geri, get the hell out of here!”

“He was going to hurt you!” she cried.

“Then let him!” Remus snarled, pushing her back with a wave of his hand, wanting to put as much distance between her and Greyback as possible.

“Oh, now I see,” Greyback laughed, stalking towards Geri again, “Your little girlfriend, is it? I prefer them young, too, as you must recall, but I wouldn't have thought you the type, pup.” Remus' stomach turned over again and he opened his mouth to argue but Greyback talked over him, “No wonder your heart's not in it when I fuck you, then, if it's little girls you like.” Hardly before the words had left his mouth, he had catapulted himself onto Geri and they hit the ground hard, the smell of blood filling the air too suddenly.

Remus distantly heard his cries of 'no!' as he tried desperately magically, and then with uselessly scrabbling fingers to pull Greyback off of Geri, but he did not release her until Remus was agonizingly certain it was too late. She'd stopped fighting and screaming and Remus wanted very badly not to look at her, but he did anyway, knowing he would never forget the bloody ruin of her face and throat and chest. He rounded on Greyback with a growl, for once in his life happy to let the wolf take over, as the man in him curled inwards to a chorus of shame and guilt. He would kill him, he was going to bloody kill him. Greyback smiled at him calmly, relishing the blood he licked from his lips and filthy teeth.

Remus lunged at him with a shout, his hands finding Greyback’s beefy neck, and felt the tugging, twisting squeeze of Side-Along Disapparition. He tried to pull away, knowing that in the process he may well Splinch himself. As he twisted, there appeared an unmistakable dark-robed figure in the road. Remus’ eyes widened in recognition in the instant before he was torn from the spot, dragged through space to Greyback's cave.

 

 

Chapter Text

18 June, 1979

 

James was watching Sirius. It was hard not to when he was pacing back and forth as if he meant to carve a rut into the floor of the spare room at Headquarters in which they were loitering. Sirius had insisted they stay in case there was any news from the werewolves, and though James had tried to assure him that it was unnecessary, Sirius' will had won out. Lily had gone home, expressing her condolences for James' evening, which would no doubt be spent drinking tea without milk or sugar and trying to manage Sirius'... whatever it was he was doing. It wasn't the sort of tantrum he had been prone to at Hogwarts, not quite, but perhaps a different breed of one? At least he had finally stopped staring forsakenly at James' two way mirror, had slipped it into his back pocket, where his hand only occasionally strayed as if to make sure it was still there. His hands tugged at his long black hair and James wondered as he had many times before at the way that Sirius' hair seemed to fall even more perfectly after being mussed, whereas his own was hopelessly messy no matter what he did to it. He took a sip of his plain tea, Sirius kicked the leg of an end table, and James couldn't stand it anymore, “Will you cut it out, Pads.”

Sirius' expression softened a little, a month on and the comfort of using their old names again had not dulled in the slightest. He managed to stop pacing long enough to say, “Something isn't right, James, can't you feel it?”

James frowned and concentrated, trying to see if he sensed anything amiss. He felt an inexplicable pack-mind twinge of worry about Remus, too, but saying that would do no good. And, frankly, everything felt amiss. People were fearing to send their children to Hogwarts, wanting to keep them close as if danger was something they could avoid by hiding under their quilts. Marlene and Caradoc, two of the Order's finest, were gone. His parents were gone and he was an orphan. He shrugged at Sirius, “Nothing's been right for a while, has it?”

Sirius rolled his eyes and shrugged, resumed pacing, “I know. But it's not just the war.”

“It's Remus.” James said, because Sirius wouldn't. Sirius looked over his shoulder at him, their eyes meeting, and nodded grimly. James ran his own fingers through his hair, not caring if he made a mess of it, “He's made it through lots of moons without us, Padfoot.”

Sirius winced and a whine actually escaped him, “He shouldn't have had to!”

James shook his head, “No, he shouldn't. But tonight’s no different, I reckon, and he'll make it through this one, too.”

“Just not knowing--it's torture! And fucking Greyback, he--” Sirius broke off, kicking the table again, and this time a rope sprung from beneath it, quickly lassoing him around the knees and knocking him bodily to the floor.

James flicked his wand at the ropes and they reluctantly withdrew, flicking Sirius' knee as if in warning, “Will you come sit like a bloody person, before Moody's house is thoroughly convinced you're a spy?”

“I am a spy.” Sirius pointed out, with the shadow of a smirk, before acquiescing, getting to his feet only to and drop down heavily beside James on the scratchy sofa. He rested the back of his head against the wall behind them and stared at the brownish water stains on the ceiling. James regarded him for a minute, took a sip of his tea, which had gone cold, and just asked the question that was on his mind, never having been one for beating around the bush.

“How long have you fancied Remus?” The question seemed to hit Sirius like an electric shock, he jumped so violently he cracked his head against the wall and nearly wobbled off the sofa. His eyes were very round and his lips opened and closed a few times, trying to find the right response.

“I don’t--” Sirius began frantically, but quieted when James clasped his shoulder reassuringly.

“It doesn't bother me or anything, Pads, I'm just curious.”

Sirius' expression calmed the tiniest bit when he realized either that James wasn’t gearing up to scold him or that there was no use denying the veracity of his claim. He sighed and seemed to deflate a little, slumping against the hard cushions and tucking his chin against his chest, “Long time,” he mumbled, “Since school, I reckon, since... before.”

James nodded and squeezed his shoulder, “Wish you'd told me then. 'Course, I’d sorta suspected it but...”

Sirius looked at him sideways, “Wish you'd told me. What’ve I ever known about love? ” he snorted, “I had no idea what the hell I was feeling, and I was such an angry, stupid bloody git back then, I just...” he shrugged.

James concealed his surprise at the use of the word ‘love’. He hadn't expected Sirius to admit it, much less confess to feeling more than he’d been accused of. He kept that to himself and pointed out, “Remus wasn't any better about it, and he was never a particularly angry or stupid git.” At that, Sirius turned to him properly.

“What do you mean?” he asked carefully.

“Oh, c'mon, Padfoot,” James put his tea down, ignoring the side table’s growl of displeasure, and swiveled slightly in his seat to face Sirius, “He had it bad for you, maybe not me-for-Lily bad, but not everyone can measure up to that pinnacle of--”

“Oh, get on with it, she couldn't stand you back then. Pinnacle, my arse,” his heart clearly wasn't in it, gears moving visibly behind the smoke grey of his eyes. They lifted to James' gaze again, “You mean it, though?”

He nodded, “Well, yeah, you were always trying so hard to get a pat on the head from each other, bloody canines.” Sirius smiled a little, but his eyes remained forlorn. James cautiously soldiered on, “I reckon he might still now, feel that way, I mean, but he keeps everything locked up even tighter now that he used to. I couldn’t say.”

“Merlin's fucking beard, he better make it through this moon alright,” Sirius said, a new fierce determination lacing his words, “If he-- We need to just talk about-- I swear if he--”

“Sirius, he'll be okay,” James said, willing himself to believe it, “And he's got your mirror, so if anything goes sideways he--” James' words fell off at the sound of a commotion in the front hall. Both men leapt to their feet to investigate.

Kingsley Shacklebolt stood in the front hall, with a few Order members hanging about. He was looking a bit more harried than was like him, usually all cool composure. Moody hobbled quickly past the door James and Sirius stood in, “What is it, Shacklebolt?” he said without preamble.

“The Blythes are dead, except their son Marcus,” he said, “He stumbled out of a Ministry floo covered in blood and hysterical.”

“The Blythes stand with the enemy,” Moody said, unmoved, “A dead Death Eater is a good Death Eater. What else?”

“Once we got him calmed down enough to talk sense, he said it was the werewolves killed his parents, and... judging by their wounds he's told us the truth,” Sirius and James exchanged a look, and James saw the desperate brightness of the need to act igniting in Sirius' eyes, but they said nothing, not daring to miss a word of Kingsley's news.

“The moon’s not up yet,” Moody pointed out, but Kingsley just shook his head with a significant look, “Greyback, then, the animal.”

“It would appear so,” Kingsley replied, but he was frowning uncertainly.

“Get to it, man, how does this concern the Order,” Moody insisted, “The enemy fighting amongst themselves is good for us!”

“Yes, well, Marcus Blythe also told us the pack found ‘a rat’,” James' breath caught and he heard Sirius' do the same beside him, “He reported that they took the rat to the Lestranges, though I daresay he didn’t know quite what it meant,” Sirius swore under his breath, “We have never been able to penetrate the protective enchantments placed on that house, but tonight we found them already greatly damaged.”

“The Lestranges!” Moody said, his tone brightening into something zealous and eager, “Did we get them?”

Kingsley shook his head, “Unfortunately not, there was no sign of them within. Only several already dead, some of Greyback's pack as well as... Peter Pettigrew.”

Moody said something about Peter's death, good riddance and all that, but James did not hear it. It was good riddance, he supposed, traitor that his old friend had turned out to be, but he couldn't seem to summon any joy at the news of Wormtail's death. Stupidly he’d hoped for some confrontation, to demand Peter answer for his crimes, to have him admit that he’d chosen his Slytherin friends over them and explain whether it was out of weakness or malice. None of that could ever be now. He felt a hollow pang, something like the sound of blowing into an empty bottle, in his chest, at the thought of Peter dead in a dark Pureblood house, after some altercation with Greyback and Death Eaters. He couldn't dwell on it now, though. Not with Sirius an inch away from him, positively vibrating with hardly contained fear and rage. With some effort, James dragged him back into the room and shut the door.

“Prongs!” he exclaimed breathlessly, with great urgency, as if James hadn't just heard everything he'd heard, “Moony!”

“I know, mate,” James said, no time now to bother correcting the name, “But we have to keep our heads!” he gripped his shoulders desperately, as if that could convince him to be cautious.

“He said there are dead werewolves!” Sirius' eyes blazed, “ Several !”

“He would have said Remus if he was one of them, wouldn't he?” James said, but that didn't seem to comfort Sirius any.

“We can't leave it to the Ministry!” Sirius pushed James off, his voice pitching up, reckless heroism coming off him in waves,  “They'll think he's just another of Greyback's, they'll put him down , they'll--”

“Dumbledore wouldn't let that happen,” James insisted, remembering the conversation he'd overheard through a haze of medicinal potions a couple years prior, remembering how resolutely Dumbledore had claimed that Remus was not to blame for Snape's death, for the wolf's actions. How firm he had been in saying that Remus would not be made to pay for what the wolf had done.

Fuck Dumbledore!” Sirius snarled, anger snapping in his gaze, “He doesn't care what happens to Remus! He wouldn't have him going to Greyback to self-flagellate and, and be raped and--” Sirius' diatribe stopped abruptly, “Did you hear that?” he hissed.

“Hear... what?” James asked, thrown off a little by the sudden shift and by Sirius' accusation. A guilty, anxious feeling bubbled in him at the thought of Remus suffering, and how little he had ever examined Remus' circumstances. He’d known, of course, that Remus did not relish his time with the pack, with having to consort with Greyback, but he’d been very private about all that (as with everything else) and James hadn’t pried. Is that what happens when Remus is with the wolves? Is that what ‘consorting with Greyback’ consists of? He felt ill at the mere thought. But then he heard it, a muffled mumbling from somewhere inside the room with them. They listened hard and then it came again, “ Sirius.

Sirius nearly jumped out of his skin scrambling to get the mirror out of his pocket. The tone had been sort of weird and off, in a way James couldn't quite place, but it had definitely been Remus' voice saying Sirius' name. Sirius fumbled the mirror in his eagerness, but James caught it before it hit the ground, just as Remus' voice said, sort of thick and hysterical, “ I Sirius lee,” Sirius made a befuddled face at James, who just pushed a finger to his lips before lifting the mirror to look into it.

It was hard to tell what he was looking at at first. The image was moving and the mirror enchantments were not really designed for this... whatever this was. A stone wall, he thought, and then a willow tree silhouetted against brilliantly golden sun, then with a jolt he recognized Remus. Or part of him anyway, the view was obscured by another person and all he could make out was Remus' arm, the shabby robes and the scars on the forearm, the rope tight around the wrist sending a thrill of fear down his spine, “...a Sirius problem,” Remus was saying, in a wobbly, strained tone, “I seriously need help.”

James might have chuckled as it clicked and he realized the clever way Remus had managed to covertly beckon to them, but his breath caught as the image blurred chaotically with a smacking sound. They were talking, too, but it was impossible to make out. Now all they could see was part of the other person's thigh, a filthy hand with sharp, blood-caked nails returning to their side. Just as James realized the smacking sound must have been Remus being struck, the image blurred again as the attacker delivered a swift kick. Sirius hissed as if the foot had collided with his own ribs, “Where are they? James, please, where are they, you've got to know!”

“...you piece of shit! ” the man who must be Greyback growled and Remus’ hollow, hopeless laugh could be heard. James lowered the mirror somewhat, hoping their voices would not be heard on the other end. He racked his mind, and nodded, “Yes, I... he told me in-in the beginning. When he first started going there. Told me about that tree.” He hadn’t been supposed to tell anyone that, probably, but they’d all been so new to the Order then. Even Remus, who had kept James further than arm’s length by that point hadn’t been able to live with keeping it all locked in his head. What James didn't tell Sirius, but what Remus had said then, had gone along the lines of how much he hated the tree that dominated the pack’s camp, because it served as a reminder of the Whomping Willow and what he had done, what Sirius had done.

I'm going to kill you, you know! Fight me! ” Greyback cried from the mirror and Sirius growled.

“Tell me you can fucking get us there, Prongsie,” Sirius demanded, already dragging James from the room and towards the front door so they could Apparate outside the wards. James focused on the town name Remus had mentioned over a year ago, the tree the mirror had shown and that Remus had described. He felt almost confident that he could do it without Splinching them both into fragments. It was damn risky. But what other choice did they have? Moony was in trouble.

James nodded stiffly as they cleared the wards and held fast to Sirius' arm. He steeled himself, and focused-- destination, determination, deliberation-- and dived bravely, stupidly, into the unknown with Padfoot, just like old times.

 

***

 

Moonrise came as an excruciating shock to Remus’ system. He had barely an instant to take in the stench of Greyback’s cave when his bones burst into flame, his skull shatteringly re-arranging, his skin flayed from his flesh by sprouting fur and claws. The fur was taking longer than usual to grow, torturing every pore as it went. Only it still... was not? He couldn't open his eyes, for fear that the pain of his too tight skull might force his eyeballs right out of his head, but something wasn't right. The fur should be there by now, the bones should be clicking into their new arrangement, his mind should be fading into the background of the wolf's instincts. The change took only minutes but surely this agony had gone on for hours, perhaps days. Years? Had this pain even 'begun' or had it just always existed?

Then it was gone, and it was as if a flaming sword had been withdrawn from him. He could feel the clammy fibers of the fur beneath his cheek and he opened his eyes cautiously. Afternoon sun sliced into the cave in a golden shaft and he blinked at it uncomprehending for a second, almost wishing for the moon, because that would make sense. Then Greyback laughed behind him and he felt the point of the alpha’s seldom used wand jab between his shoulder blades and understanding came as he realized the stink of Dark Magic hung like a mist around them. Not transformation, Cruciatus.

“I would not try to move, mutt,” Greyback advised as ropes sprang from thin air, coiling tightly around Remus’ ankles and wrists, securing him mercilessly to the floor on his back. He heard the growl issuing from his own throat, the wolf complaining about being bound and helpless, forced into the inherently submissive belly-up position. Greyback gave a cruel chuckle, his face coming into view, “Tell me, why is it your wolf only bares his teeth when I've got you pinned beneath me?”

“Fuck you,” Remus spat, because they were the only words in his head, maybe the only words that existed. His body still trembled with the shock of the Cruciatus Curse and his head was still swimming with the sight of Geri’s mangled face, all as the moon throbbed achingly in his bones.

“Oh, I might,” Greyback said, offhand, “But not until you answer some questions.” He reached one hand down as if to stroke Remus' cheek but he snapped his teeth at him. Greyback laughed again, “I’m curious about a few things, you see, and I think you could educate me,” Remus just glared at him, “How did you know the location and disguise of the Lestrange house, I wonder?” Remus scolded himself internally for such a stupid mistake, but said nothing. Greyback searched his eyes for a long moment, and then said in a tone of decisive disappointment, “You're still Dumbledore's lapdog.”

Angry and primal as Remus’ mind was, it remained firmly locked and he knew that Greyback had not read the proof within, so he shook his head fiercely, “No,” he growled, “I hate that bastard!” there was enough truth in it that it could hardly be called a lie.

“Maybe so,” Greyback said, his hand resting on Remus' throat so that his pulse jumped furiously against his fingers. He tried to squirm away but he only tightened his grip. His voice darkened to a growl, the charade of magnanimous mentor gone, “But you're not mine,” his filthy nails broke into Remus' skin and he dragged his hand down his chest, tearing shirt and skin, “Are you, pup ?” Remus nodded, feeling useless as he tried to find a suitable lie in his pain-addled head, Greyback’s scowl darkened, “You lying little shit, you’ve been his spy all along! And to think I would have made you a prince of beasts! But it all makes sense,” he gently trailed his fingers along Remus’ stomach through the torn fabric, spreading his blood on his skin, “Your impenetrable mind wasn’t Dumbledore’s brainwashing, then, it was just you shutting me out!” He barked a laugh, humorless, “Just another spy,” Greyback spat out, disgusted. Remus’ heart was racing and Greyback glanced at his chest, no doubt hearing it, “What do you have to say for yourself, pup? Hm?”

Remus tried to summon the magic to unwind his bonds, but the ropes hardly twitched at his wrists in response. Frustration and fear were chewing their way in from the edges of his mind, and he fought the ropes that bound him, nearly frantic, but it was useless. He fell still, his chest heaving beneath the red stripes of his blood, “You're a monster.” he spat.

Greyback laughed again, “So are you, you fool,” he licked the blood from his fingers, “But still as sweet as when first I tasted you,” Remus' blood was like fire, he wanted so desperately to claw out Greyback's golden eyes, “Do you remember, pup? Oh, the way you cried,” he tutted, nostalgic, “You must have thought I was killing you.”

“I wish you had,” Remus snapped, hating the heartsick crack of his voice. He had, he recalled, thought he was dying as a child, on that fateful night. Little had he known then what a mercy death would have been.

“Oh, I’m going to kill you,” the blood-sticky hand closed again around Remus’ throat, the moon tugging hard on the blood in both of their veins, making everything seem over-saturated and heavy. Remus felt drunk on moon and pain, as Greyback stopped the flow of blood to his head, “You have so much potential, Remus,” Greyback said, almost mournfully, leaning in close, his breath sour and hot on Remus' face. He watched, though the edges of his vision were growing dark and soft, as Greyback's anger mounted, tears of fury making his golden eyes caustic and bright, “You are such a magnificent wolf! You could rival even me if you'd only stop rejecting the gift I gave you! Why must you fucking resist it?

Despite the pressure of Greyback's hand on his neck, Remus managed to spit a considerable glob of saliva onto Greyback's face. The alpha wolf howled in fury and with a jab of his wand he filled Remus again with the pain worse than transformation, far worse than dying, nearly worse than heartbreak. As his eyes screwed shut and his mouth locked open in a scream he hardly heard, he couldn't believe that it was to Sirius that his thoughts strayed. He did not doubt for a second Greyback’s promise to kill him, once he'd had enough of prolonging the pain of it. Under the serrated moonlight he’d transform, if he made it that long, and he'd never change back, he'd never see morning, and idiotically he bemoaned that that meant he'd never see Sirius. As agony coated his every cell like lava, he lamented, why had he been so fucking stubborn? Why hadn't he just forgiven him? All this time he could have been seeing him, maybe, maybe even kissing him or touching him instead of trying with all of his might to hate him! Now he was going to die having never even so much as tried to kiss him, having never told him he was forgiven, having never made things right. The pain arced too high for even thoughts of Sirius to remain and they burned off into ash, into the blinding white anguish that erased everything.

And then it withdrew again, a dry rasping sob emerging from his chest with it. He was shaking uncontrollably and he managed to will his eyes open a slit to glare up at Greyback, “Pain...” he heard himself say, his throat rasping like sandpaper and sounding a world away from the pounding in his ears, “Is nothing to me.”

Greyback swiped one hand at the tatters of Remus' shirt and a second later his teeth clamped down on the ugly detestable scar, the oldest one, the bite mark a hand-span above his left hip. Untransformed, his jaw was too small to slot into the marks he'd made all those years before, but his teeth broke skin and the pain of it was unique, sharpened by shame and a lifetime's hate. Remus screamed and it sounded pathetic to him. Greyback sat back up and a second later Remus' ears were ringing and pain radiated from his cheekbone as he blinked at the sun sinking behind the willow through the mouth of the cave. He realized Greyback had back-handed him when he looked over and saw him flexing his fingers, “'Pain is nothing to me',” he scoffed, “Fuck, Remus, but you’re tiresome! Must you always be so serious?”

Remus opened his mouth to hurl back a barbed retort when an idea occurred to him. It was stupid, it couldnt work, but it was all he had. He shifted his hips, groaning as if in discomfort at his impotence, relieved to feel Hufflepuff's cup still in his robes and Sirius' mirror still in his back pocket. He dug deep into the store of magic deep down, like a well run shallow in drought, and summoned a surge of wandless magic that he hoped Greyback wouldn't recognize. With his mind he tugged the mirror from his pocket so that it rested in the hollow between the ground and the small of his back, “Serious?” he repeated, as he dragged the mirror with his thoughts, hard work with his magic hobbled by so much pain, “Yes, serious . Of course I have to be serious all the time, someone has to be serious to balance out a clown like you.”

He wasn't really paying attention to what he was saying, he was focused on saying the word 'serious' as much as he could, directing it at the mirror as much as possible as he dragged it unseen down under his leg and up to float shakily behind Greyback. If this worked, he would never again roll his eyes at Sirius or James making a dumb joke with the play on words that Sirius' name lent itself to. He just hoped the blasted mirror didn't have a sense of grammar. Greyback was glaring down at him, “Oh, dear, I can’t have broken you already,” he grumbled, “What are you on about?”

“I seriously have no idea,” Remus said, hoping Greyback would not notice the small silver mirror rotating slowly in the air behind his shoulder. At this angle Remus couldn't see whether James or Sirius were peering out of it, but desperate and stupid as the idea was, it was the only meager chance he had, “I have a serious problem. I seriously need help.” he rambled on.

Greyback smacked him again, and the mirror lurched downwards but he managed to keep it from hitting the ground, even as his own blood filled his mouth, “Stop it,” Greyback growled impatiently, kicking his side where he felt the sickly snap of rib breaking, “Trying to be sane is a man's problem, not a wolf's, you piece of shit!”

Remus laughed hollowly at that, “You can't be serious ,” he managed feebly through the pain.

“What are you laughing about?” Greyback's frustration filled the cave, erratic and flammable, “I'm going to kill you, you know! Fight me!

Seriously always thought I'd be killed for being too much of a wolf, not too much of a man,” the haze of endorphins was beginning to get to him, the weariness of mind and body, the moon heavy like syrup in his veins, the horror at his stupid idea not working seeming almost like someone else’s problem. And of course, it hadn't worked. This was really going to be the end, and after all the times he'd wished for it, how odd for that to hurt, how odd to realize he was afraid.

Suddenly the torture of the Cruciatus was tearing through him again, reducing everything to blazing white, flames and blades marching across every nerve. Pain had defined the unmerciful cycles of his life, so why wouldn’t it define the inevitability of his death? He heard a crack somewhere far away, abstract thoughts tangling as he wondered if Severus’ bones snapping beneath his jaws had sounded like breaking glass, and felt absurd remorse for having broken Sirius' mirror. Broken everything. I’m so sorry. He entreated as everything grew dark.

Chapter Text

18 June, 1979



It was a rocky Apparition, depositing them roughly on soft wild grass, grown tall and leggy already in the first weeks of summer heat. A horrible surge of adrenaline ran through Sirius at the sound of the screams that immediately landed on their ears. The screams were hoarse, so near they seemed to wobble tangibly in the air, the voice failing weakly. And worst of all, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, definitely Remus. He jumped to his feet, ignoring the nauseous tug in his guts, whirling around in search of the screams’ origin.

They were beneath a massive willow tree, sheltered under the leafy dome of its hanging, weepy branches. Sirius’ eyes passed over the deep gouge scarred into its trunk by a long-ago lightning strike, over the caves that dotted the grassy hills and the dirty golden-eyed faces that peered out of them, over the stream that had the audacity to babble happily as if Remus wasn’t in pain. As if that wasn’t a cosmic error, as if that shouldn’t cause everything good and normal to cease until it was fixed and Remus was okay. Like crosshairs his ears and eyes located a larger cave mouth on the opposite hill face and he knew with a sick, instinctive canine certainty that it was Greyback’s cave and that it was in there that Remus was suffering.

Before he knew it, willow tendrils were smacking his face and shoulders as he took off in a run, his feet flying beneath him to close the short distance between him and Remus, with James close on his heels.

The glimpses through the mirror had not prepared him for what he found within and he skidded to a stop. The smell inside was unbelievably foul, like death and sex and excrement, and the frightened anger smoldering behind his ribs ratcheted hotter still when he recognized some part of the stench as the smell that he’d made Remus scourgify off before entering Malfoy Manor. Greyback’s broad back was to them, clothed in a dirt-caked coat made from some unidentifiable hide, his shoulders tensed as he pointed a gnarled wand at a thrashing Remus. The mirror lay on the floor in front of Sirius, a single crack diagonally bisecting its face and James bent and picked it up quickly. Sirius hardly saw him do it, his eyes glued in horror to the way Remus contorted against the ropes that bound him, his screams gone so hoarse now they were little more than a creaking hiss. Every muscle in his body screamed to make it stop, the knowledge of the Cruciatus indelibly seared in his own flesh, sympathizing down to his basest  cells. And it was Remus; better that the wand had been turned on him.

Unhesitating, James and Sirius directed their wands at Greyback as one, and shouted at the same time. “Stupefy!” Sirius cried, channeling all his mortal rage down his wand arm, as James’ cry of “Expelliarmus!” rang beside him. Greyback’s wand soared from his hand, but he was fast, leaping clear of Sirius’ Stupefyand facing them, moving with inhuman agility.

Sirius watched in dismay as the evaded ball of red light hit Remus instead. The aim wasn’t direct, thank Merlin, but it made contact with his shoulder and his body tensed again before falling limp. Sirius wanted to run to his side, but his attention was immediately brought back to the other werewolf in the cave at James’ shout of, “Protego!

Greyback’s horrible clawed hands, both of them stained with blood, scrabbled against James’ shield and Sirius pointed his wand at Greyback again, and this time his aim was true, “Incarcerous!” he spat and thin, strong ropes coiled themselves around Greyback and he fell to his knees.

“More of Dumbledore’s pets!” he snarled and Sirius realized his beard was also covered in drying blood, and the thought that it might be Remus’ set his fury to a full towering blaze, “Sent you to die too, has he? I’ll relish your--”

Langlock!” James interrupted and Greyback fell silent, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. James turned to Sirius, “C’mon, we need to get Remus out of here.” he said.

He was right. Absolutely, undeniably, empirically right. It wasn’t that Sirius didn’t know it, didn't agree, didn't see reason. He did, he saw it. He had been accused of blind rages, of seeing red, he'd even used the excuse himself. The truth was, he was never blind in these moments, he saw too much. Because here was Fenrir Greyback, rival to so much that was good and decent, danger to what ought to be safe, stain on the name of werewolf. Remus’ sworn enemy, the monster who had attacked Remus when he was only a tiny defenseless child, the reason Remus had appeared that day smelling of sex and pain, his thin shoulders racked with tears. The reason the Remus Sirius met at school was used to friendlessness, was distrusting of his own nature, was rattled monthly by a living nightmare inside his own blood. Greyback had caused so much pain, children, so many of them, and here he was, foul and hateful beast that he was, and Sirius saw it all and… wouldn’t it be only fair to hurt him a little? Just a bit?

Wouldn't it be wrong not to?

Sirius watched raptly as his wandtip nudged Greyback’s scowling brow and crisply spoke the incantation for a stinging hex, making painful stinging boils break out across his face. Merlin, but that was satisfying, seeing the pain bubble directly from his wand, “I should fucking kill you.” he said, buoyed up by Greyback’s muffled sounds of pain, distantly aware of a smile inexplicably touching his lips.

“Christ, Padfoot,” he distantly heard James say, occupied with untying Remus somewhere behind him.

“Do you know,” Sirius asked, crouching down so that he and Greyback were eye-to-eye, the golden eyes glaring at him impassively, patiently. It was the same gold as Remus’ around  a full moon, but so different, cold as real, metal gold, cold as his parents tainted gold, while Remus’ was warm as embers glowing in the Common Room hearth, as afternoon sun through autumn leaves. Sirius trailed his wand down Greyback’s face, down his throat, prodding the center of his chest, “Do you have any idea how much I’m going to hurt you before I--”

He was cut off by Greyback’s forehead hitting his own with dizzying force. He wobbled and Greyback lunged at him, having managed to loosen his bonds enough while Sirius rhapsodized to break free. The air was knocked out of Sirius as the full weight of the werewolf landed on him, the golden eyes shining too bright in the brilliant amber of afternoon giving way to sunset. Pinned against the clammy, muscle heat of Greyback in this cave, a surge of hate on Remus’ behalf ripped through him. His wand hand was still pinned between their chests, though, and he grinned up at Greyback as he jabbed it hard into his sternum and whispered, “Confringo.” The blasting curse threw Greyback off of him, a bloody wound gaping on his chest from the explosive blast. Sirius brushed himself off as he stood, and when Greyback’s hand strayed near the wound on his chest, “Diffindo!” he flicked his wand, cutting the back of the hand as if slapping the wrist of a child reaching for a biscuit without permission.

Padfoot!” This time he looked up as James tugged on his arm. How many times had he tried to get his attention? He wasn’t sure. Remus had been untied but remained unconscious behind James, propped doll-like against the wall. Sirius forced himself to look away from Remus and meet James’ troubled hazel eyes, “It’s almost fucking moonrise,” he said, in a tone kept even by sheer force, “And these caves are full of werewolves and Remus is the only one who even sort of considers us friends. Even as animals, we’d be done for and he,” his eyes flicked back at Remus and he swallowed, “We need to get him out of--AGH!

Wounded though he was, Greyback had made another desperate lunge, his jaws locking around James’ bicep, his clawed fingers tearing clumsily at the arm, shredding robes and skin and sinew. James’ cry of pain and surprise cut through Sirius like a knife and he couldn’t have told what spell he used to knock Greyback off yet again, onky to realize as he advanced on the inert wolf that he in fact had simply kicked him, “You’re going to regret--” he began before James cast an impatient and somewhat clumsy body-bind at Greyback and firmly grabbed the back of Sirius’ neck with his good arm, forcing him to look him directly in the eye.

Sirius,” he said firmly, pupils blown wide behind his glasses with pain and urgency, “You’re better than this! Now are you going to stand here and imitate Bellatrix until he wolfs out and tears you apart,” he jerked his head at Greyback, “Or are you going to fucking focus and help me save Moony?”

Sirius felt a wave of guilt rise in him. Part of him wanted to insist James take it back, he wasn’t being like Bellatrix, Greyback deserved it. But that wasn’t the point. How could he have let his anger get the better of him? His stupid reckless anger was what had fucked up everything that had mattered to him, everything that had made him less like a Black, in the first place! The same vicious temper on a different full moon. He looked away from Greyback, over James’ bloody shoulder at Remus, too pale, too motionless, too bloodstained, “Remus.” he said softly, by way of an answer.

“‘S’what I thought,” James said, and stepped back, gesturing with his uninjured arm for Sirius to go to Remus, “I dunno if we can Apparate from in here, just grab him and let’s get the fuck away from this fucking place.”

Obediently, practically feeling his tail between his legs, Sirius went to Remus, trying to push down the surges of guilt and worry that fought in his chest, easily overcoming the anger that had seemed all-powerful an instant before. As he gathered Remus up in his arms, it struck him how light he was. Too light. Even tall as he was, in Sirius’ arms, he seemed very small. As they hurried together from the cave, Sirius felt Remus’ shallow breaths on his skin and couldn’t help but cling tighter to the man cradled in his arms. His heart threatened to burst out of his chest when Remus pressed his clammy face weakly against the side of his neck and gave a cracked sigh that sounded an awful lot like, “Padfoot…

 

***

 

“What the hell were you thinking bringing him here?!” Lily scolded, as she drew back each of Remus’ eyelids in turn, watching the sluggish dilation of his pupils. At the stony look on James’ face she rolled her eyes, “Oh, shut it, I’m happy to help Remus, but I mean the sun is setting!

“But he’s a wreck!” Sirius pleaded, hovering annoyingly close at her side, over Remus, “He can’t transform like this! Can’t you do anything?”

Lily snorted, “I didn’t realize mending broken ribs and healing gashes wasn’t ‘doing anything’,” she snipped, “And as for transforming like this, I’m no lycanthropy expert but I don’t think he’ll have much of a choice in the matter.”

Remus had hardly stirred since James and Sirius had appeared on the doorstep. He’d moaned faintly as she’d set his broken ribs and given a few weak squirms on the dining table where he’d been lain, but other than that he was practically unresponsive. “I’m sorry, Lily,” Sirius grumbled, surprising her a little, “I know you’re doing your best, I just…”

“I know,” she said, forgiving despite herself. She was really getting tired of this Healer crap, though, truth be told. It was too much, being responsible for the survival of her friends and colleagues daily. What she wouldn’t give to just stand over a cauldron again, minding some potions without life or death outcomes. She liked helping people, she truly did, but she’d underestimated how much of oneself had to be given up in this sort of constant service of others.

But her heart did continue to ache for them just the same. She laid a hand on Sirius’ shoulder, “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know what else I can do for him. There’s not really anything I can do for the after-effects of crucio. And,” she bit her lip, wishing she didn’t have to point this out again, “This really isn’t a safe place for him to transform. There’s loads of Muggles in town and there isn’t really anywhere in the house secured properly and…”

“It’s okay, Lils,” James said from the dining table chair where he sat by Remus’ feet, his arm still untended apart from some murtlap essence she’d insisted he let Poppet smear on it, while he insisted that she see to Remus first, “We…” he hesitated, staring at a scuff on Remus’ shoe and avoiding both Lily and Sirius’ eyes, “Maybe we could take him to the… Shrieking Shack?” his tongue seemed reluctant to form the words and he cringed after saying them.

Lily’s heart lurched into her throat at the thought of Remus transforming in  that place where… Beside her, Sirius gave a whine in the back of his throat, considered it for a second and punched the tabletop, “Dammit,” he said, “Reckon it’s the best option, but…” he sighed.

“C’mon, mate,” James said, standing up and glancing uneasily towards the nearest window, at the pink of the sky outside, “Time’s a-wasting and--”

“James Fleamont Potter, are you mad?” Lily demanded, drawing herself to her full height and pointing back at the seat of the chair James had just vacated, “You aren’t going anywhere, do you hear me?”

James paled and cast a pleading look at Sirius, but Sirius shook his head, “Lily’s right, Prongs,” Lily’s jaw almost dropped, never having expected to hear the words ‘Lily’s right’ leave Sirius’ lips. She watched as he tentatively brushed a few strands of hair away from the bruise on Remus’ cheek, before drawing his hand back guiltily, “I, er, reckon he and I might… Er, well, this is a long time coming, you know? Just the two of us, the full moon, the Shack?”

Lily thought Sirius sounded a bit vague and melodramatic but James nodded solemnly, and Sirius carefully lifted Remus off the table again, turning towards the door. Lily hurried to open the front door for him and just as he was about to step outside, James skidded into the entry hall, clutching his hurt arm. He pinned Sirius with a flinty uncompromising look and said firmly, “You bloody better take care of him.”

Sirius drew in a choked breath and nodded, took a few steps out the door and twisted away with a crack. Lily sighed and shut the door, turning back to James, “C’mon, let’s see to that arm.”

James winced down at it as he followed her back to the table, “Can you make me pretty again?” he asked, though his heart really wasn’t in it.

“Better than pretty,” she said, tapping her wand gently around the outermost corners of the wound, doing him the courtesy of playing along with the banter, pretending not to worry what the night ahead held for Sirius and Remus, “You’ll have a wicked scar, Potter.”

 

***

 

As Sirius kicked in the boarded back door of the Shrieking Shack, after blindly, desperately casting every countercharm he could think of to chip away at the spelled protections, with Remus slung unceremoniously over his shoulder, he reminded himself to ask Remus or Prongs or someone what the protocol for Remus’ full moons had been after Snape’s death. He hadn’t been in the know at the time, naturally, but he doubted that it had consisted of kicking in doors and butchering the spellwork on a monthly basis. There wasn’t much time to dwell on it at present, as Remus could already be felt trembling against him. He always trembled before moonrise, often scratching at himself absently or even eagerly, as if the wolf couldn’t stand a moment more in the offensive human skin that confined it. He set him down as gently as he could, propped against the peeling wallpaper, and set to quickly repairing the door, casting a few extra concealment charms while he was at it.

The sun had sunk almost entirely behind the horizon, though the Shack’s boarded windows only afforded glimpses at slivers of purple, darkening rapidly towards the bruise blue of night. Even as Sirius placed charm after charm on the mended door, he knew he was wasting time, knew he was delaying. It was strange, so so many times he had longed to change into Padfoot, to sink into the simplicity of dog thought, to relish those powerful canine senses. And yet now, when he absolutely had to, when his life depended on it, he found that he was actually afraid to.

He forced himself to stow his wand, to step away from the door. His eyes strayed around the interior of the Shack. It was bizarre to be here again, the creaking grey-ness of the old house as suffocating and eerie as ever. Sirius’ eyes were drawn like a magnet to the trap door, the one that they had used so many times after the interminable crouched journey through the Whomping Willow tunnel before the moon, or slipped through achy and weary but smiling conspiratorially the morning after. It had been bolted shut. Sirius had half-expected to see a grisly bloodstain there, a signifier as to precisely where Snape had met his end. He had hoped for it in a way, wished to see some proof of the horrible thing he’d done. There was no stain, no damning scratches in the worn wooden planks of the floor, just the bolted door and the knowledge of his own mistake.

A groan drew his eyes back to Remus, shaking violently now and scratching with limp and ineffectual fingers against his arms and just-episkey-ed chest. No light was visible through the cracks between the boards on the windows and he knew that in moments Remus would break open, the transformation unzipping along his spine and unleashing his most dangerous and unpredictable shade. Sirius could delay no longer. He took a deep breath and slipped into the dogskin.

Some of his fear had been that maybe he wouldn’t remember how to do it, wouldn’t be able to do it, but as it turned out, there was no need for that. He slipped into Padfoot as easily and comfortably as one might slip into their coziest, most worn pajamas. The complexities of guilt and fear and worry simplified as the spectrum of his color vision narrowed. What did it matter to him what part he played in the story of the war, of wizardkind, of humanity itself? What did it matter what his cosmic role was? Such things had no meaning to the dog. The guilt morphed into an overwhelming tail-between-legs shame because he had hurt, he was bad. Everything else dissipated except for pack and protect. His alpha was hurting, his alpha trembled and cried out. He wanted to go to him, he had wanted to go to him for. So. Long. But he knew there was danger, too. He waited.

It was hard for the dog to watch as shudders racked the thin body that rested against the wall. Remus leapt onto all fours convulsively, panting and crying as his stomach spasmed visibly with the pain of the organs rearranging inside. He finally screamed and his eyes, incandescent, flew open, as his fingers split, cleaved by the claws growing there. The back claws shredded his shoes as the bones of his legs snapped and his joints grinded, the muscles tangling as they took the shape of strong hind legs. The hind paws clawed restlessly at the wood as the rib cage expanded, clothes disintegrating to shreds as his body twisted and changed. Fur sprouted up in random patches from his scarred skin, his newly grown tail looking naked and strange before the fur covered it. For some reason, the head was always last, Sirius remembered this, remembered wishing selfishly that he didn’t have to see all that pain on Remus’still quite human face. Padfoot cowered but stood his ground as the human screams gave way at long last to howls.

The wolf howled for a long time, in anger, in pain, in triumph, before he finally lowered his muzzle. His panting disrupted two years worth of dust from the floor, rising in dramatic plumes around him. His huge tawny-furred shoulders rose and fell, the powerful chest filling itself with the Shack’s musty air. Suddenly, the wolf stopped, grew as still as a statue, its breaths coming silent and careful. Its hackles rose, fur bristled, and with great purpose it lifted its head. The wolf sniffed, scenting Padfoot on the air and then the shrewd golden eyes found Sirius’. The wolf's eyes narrowed and it bared its fearsome teeth in a slow growl that made Sirius' blood run cold.

 

Chapter Text

 

18 June, 1979 - 19 June, 1979


The wolf would know that scent anywhere. The packmate turned traitor, the dog.

What was he doing here, in the wolf’s territory? The dog’s ears tucked back, flat against his skull, as the wolf advanced. The wolf neither fully remembered nor fully understood just why he hated the dog so much but he did. He wanted to tear him, eat him, make him hurt as he had hurt.

He pounced but the dog was fast and the wolf’s jaws snapped shut on thin air, claws tangling in thick black fur but not reaching the bloody give of flesh. He pounced again, but still the dog evaded him. He howled in frustration, the house shook. The dog showed his eye-whites, turned and ran, clambering up rickety stairs, and the wolf’s rage rose as he realized now where he was. Back in the old cage. Where the bad thing had happened.

The wolf raced up the stairs after the dog, easily outpacing him, and lunged. They skidded into the wall, stale dust showering down and covering their coats. And finally he had the dog and he felt warm blood on his paws where claws had driven home. The dog squirmed beneath him, dodging the snapcrunch of the wolf’s powerful jaws by swiping his face away with a paw. And then pain shot through the wolf’s belly as the dog used his hind paws to kick him off and back. The dog got its legs under it again and faced the wolf, breath coming fast and posture defensive. Every fiber of the wolf’s being was a growl and the dog’s silver eyes blinked.

A second later the dog’s back hit the wooden floor again, fur snagging in the scratches the wolf had made there in the past. The wolf snarled and snapped atop the dog but never managed more than a mouthful of hair. It was infuriating; he wanted blood. He was so hungry.

The dog nearly managed to wriggle so that he was on top, but the wolf arched, easily flipping them back, slamming the dog bodily into the floor and making a floorboard crack. The dog whimpered, its liquid eyes staring up at the snarling wolf. But then, the dog did something unexpected. He lowered his gaze submissively. He drew his legs nearer to his body and turned his head to the side, baring his scruffy neck to the wolf. The wolf could smell and practically feel the heat of his pulse against his nose, but he hesitated. The dog knew he was alpha.

After a moment, the dog swiveled its head, keeping its eyes lowered as it very cautiously licked the wolf’s chin. The dog was sorry.

Something shifted within the wolf. This changed everything. He had never really wanted the dog’s blood, he had only wanted to make the dog sorry. But the dog was sorry, and the dog knew to submit to him, and yes, hadn’t the dog been his friend first? Involuntarily, the wolf’s tail stuttered an uncertain wag. Sensing the change in his adversary’s demeanor, the dog lifted its gaze again and gave a tentative yip. The wolf’s snarl gave way to a lolling-tongued grin and with a bark, the dog had playfully flipped them again. They growled and barked and bit, not hard enough to break skin, rolling around on the dusty landing and wrestling until the dog slipped out from beneath the wolf and went tearing down the stairs again, barking over its shoulder and taunting the wolf to give chase. He did.

The wolf didn’t have the boundless energy he normally had when he was free, and a foggy memory of pain was the only explanation he had. When he tired, he traipsed up to the bedroom. He had not gone in here in a long time. He passed many packless moons in this prison, but he had not gone in that room since his last moon with the rat and the stag. Before the bad thing. He padded over to the ragged mattress, long ago tugged off the bed by the stag or the dog and laid heavily on his side. His mind was not made to question, but the pain in him seemed to have come too early. The dog stood in the door and his tail was between his legs again. He whined. The wolf gave a small bark, calling the dog, and he hesitated only a second before coming in and joining him on the mattress, and they fell asleep, weary from running and wrestling all over the decrepit house, with dawn a few hours away...

 

***

 

Remus came to reluctantly, ripped by force from sleep, as his body was wracked with the throes of transformation. He’d never been able to tell whether changing into or back from the wolf was worse; the change to was followed by the oblivion of wolf-mind, giving him a rare break from being him, but the change back meant a whole month until he had to face the wolf again. The pain was terrible, it was always terrible, but he was too tired to do more than let it shudder shatteringly through him. As he lay panting, returned to his own body, it dawned on him that the pain he was feeling was not that of injuries, not the concentrated pain of broken bones or slashed skin or busted organs.

He hadn’t been with Greyback’s pack, he could tell that much just by smell, but whenever he passed the moon alone he came to with countless injuries that the trapped wolf had inflicted on itself, the only prey it could reach. But that seemed not to be the case. He was on what might be a bed, or well, some of him was at least, his bare feet and left arm dangled off to brush a worn wooden floor. Something was eerily familiar about the feel of the wood, and he sniffed at the air. Must, dust, mildew, hints of old and new blood, Sirius.

His eyes shot open, the early morning light stinging. Sure enough, his nose had been right, and the large black dog lay inches from him, snuffling deeply in sleep. Remus glanced around, heart skipping, half expecting to find a teenage James and Peter readying to nip back to the castle for a few hours sleep before breakfast. Maybe for the first time he had dreamed through a full moon and had simply had a disturbing dream of war and isolation! But they were not there. He did, however, discover himself in fact to be in the bedroom of the Shrieking Shack.

What the fuck happened last night? Remus’ head was pounding, throbbing in time with the off-kilter speeding of his heart, and he screwed his eyes shut, wracking his brain, disjointed snatches of memory returning to him. Geri tackling Greyback with all the headstrong, brave idiocy of a Gryffindor. Geri, an unrecognizably torn body, her spirit and spark snuffed out. Greyback’s bloody fingers around his gnarled wand, around Remus’ throat. A terrified rat scrambling across marble. The golden cup with the badger. Memories, both hazy and razor-keen, of pain.

“Remus?” His eyes shot open again and the dog was gone. Sirius lay on his side before him in its place, propped up on one elbow, the other hand reaching for him hesitantly, “Are you… erm, how are you feeling?”

“Like death,” Remus croaked, finding his throat dry and hoarse. He shut his eyes again, swallowed to try futilely to soothe his throat, and added after a beat, “If death were... very confused.” Sirius gave a snort that approximated a laugh but he was not smiling when Remus opened one eye to peer at him and asked, “Why are you here, Sirius? Why am I here?”

Sirius scratched his head, looking away, “Greyback… did a number on you. Prongs and I didn’t think you were in any state to transform alone.”

“You and…?” Remus’ mind dredged up the memory of a glint of silver over Greyback’s shoulder and he almost laughed, “The mirror! No bloody--honestly, you mean, that actually worked?”

Sirius smiled back tightly and shrugged, “Guess some good finally came of my folks giving me such a dumb fucking name.” His gaze broke away from Remus’ and silence fell over them  awkwardly.

Remus considered telling Sirius to leave. He probably should, and if he did, Sirius probably would go without dissent. He watched the fringed shadows of Sirius’ eyelashes move on his cheek as Sirius studiously looked everywhere but at Remus’ face. He didn’t actually want him to leave. Remus dimly remembered, through the fog of all the pain he’d been in, bemoaning all the time he’d wasted being angry and righteous and stubbornly alone. That was crazy, though, wasn’t it? It had surely been no more than the desperate lament of a man facing death.

But no, it hadn’t been. In fact, it might have been the sanest thing he’d thought in years. Remus noticed he was trembling and he couldn’t for the life of him have said how much of it was a result of his transformations, how much Greyback’s torture, how much was just a result of the terrible fear that swam in his stomach as he gathered together his courage. He had put this off, denied it, avoided it so long. Too long, maybe. Remus forced himself not to back down and though his arm shook badly, he reached out, his fingertips grazing Sirius’ cheek.

Sirius jumped back and Remus withdraw his hand as if burnt, apologies tumbling clumsily from his mouth, “Sorry, I, erm, fuck, I’m sorry, just forget I, erm, fuck fuck, sorry, Sirius, you probably ought to--”

It took Remus a sluggish moment to puzzle out why he’d stopped speaking, maybe all the shame of that miscalculated action had been the last blow his enfeebled body could take and he’d finally died. But he didn’t feel dead, in fact, he noticed he felt decidedly alive. And then he realized why, finally managing to wrap his sluggish mind around the fact of Sirius’ hands on either side of his face and Sirius’ lips crushed against his own. He didn’t pause to register his awe at the oh so characteristic Sirius Black boldness of such a move, he simply let his mind quiet and kissed him back.

Sirius’ neat goatee rasped against Remus’ stubble but his lips were softer than Remus had ever dared imagine. The tip of Sirius’ tongue (his tongue!) ran along Remus’ lower lip and he opened to him. Their tongues slid against each other and Remus groaned, feeling the sweet electric slide of it travel, thick as molasses and sweeter by half, all the way down his spine to his groin. But that shocked him out of his trance with the realization that he was as naked as the day he had been born, and he broke the kiss with a gasp.

He opened his eyes to find Sirius staring back at him, grey eyes darkly smoldering but his elegant brows curved with apprehension. He wet his lips and prompted, “I probably ought to what?”

Go. That’s what Remus had been intending to say, at least. That Sirius should go. Only then Sirius had kissed him and it had been only seconds but Remus already missed the press of Sirius’ lips. He swallowed thickly, and said decisively, “Stay. You ought to stay.” The unsure look on Sirius’ face relaxed a bit and he smiled, in a way that was sweet and hesitant and hopeful, and Merlin, he was bloody beautiful. Remus had almost found the courage to tug him into another kiss when Sirius turned away--Remus flinched involuntarily at the slight--patting his pockets until he found his wand and withdrew it.

“Remus,” Sirius said gently, reassuringly, “I just want to mend your wounds.” Remus was about to argue that he was uninjured, but then he felt the telltale tingle of episkey along his jaw and realized Sirius meant the small scrapes and cuts that usually didn’t even warrant his notice. There was another on his shoulder and Remus shivered under Sirius’ trailing wandtip. Sirius noticed the goosebumps rising on his skin and their eyes were drawn together again like magnets. He couldn’t possibly look away, watching Sirius’ pupils dilate as his wand moved lower, Remus’ belly twitching with the tingling, slightly ticklish sensation as Sirius’ wand knit shut the scrapes the dog had made there at some point the night before. Remus’ cock twitched as the wand moved lower, and it bumped against Sirius’ knuckles and they both gasped, the small point of contact as blinding as a flashbang.

Sirius’ eyes moved downward and Remus watched his white teeth worry his lower lip as, wand still cradled loosely in his hand, he trailed the backs of his fingers lightly along the underside of Remus’ cock. It was beyond, it was madness, it was bloody brilliant. Remus’ body obeyed him in a jerky start, grabbing the back of Sirius’ neck and pulling him into another kiss. Sirius matched his kisses with enthusiasm, opening to him with an eagerness that twisted the arousal in Remus’ belly so tight it nearly verged on nausea. When Sirius discarded his wand and wrapped his fingers around Remus instead, Remus wondered if maybe the Cruciatus had driven him round the bend and this was all a vivid hallucination. If it was, he decided, he quite liked being mad.

Remus was someone who had always prided himself on staying in control. He didn’t feel he had a choice. He never let the wolf take over without a fight, his temper seldom got the better of him, he did what he had to do and as was expected of him. But for the first time in years, he gave in. He let the years of longing and anger take over, his aching fingers fumbling gracelessly with Sirius’ shirt, even popping off a couple buttons, so that his hands could roam greedily over skin so unblemished it bordered on absurd. His teeth and lips and tongue hungrily explored Sirius’ mouth, his hips jutting up and thrusting into Sirius’ hand. He could feel Sirius’ erection straining through the other man’s trousers and he pressed his thigh against it, delighting in the way Sirius moaned directly into his mouth. Yes, he thought he’d like to subsist on a diet of Sirius’ moans alone. Remus’ hand squeezed between them, clumsily dragging down the zip of Sirius’ fly and pulling him free. He relished the hot weight of Sirius’ cock in his hand, as as the sound Sirius made on his tongue, and he felt giddy with feeling it after imagining it so much and then fighting so hard not to imagine it. The pain of his body was forgotten, leaving only dizzy need in its wake.

He almost growled in protest when Sirius broke the kiss, opening his eyes to watch, hypnotized, as Sirius put his fingers in his mouth and withdrew them wet-shining. It was captivatingly erotic even if he was unsure what he was seeing. They brushed against Remus’ balls before the wet fingers nudged further back and just like that pleasure seemed a distant memory as panic sliced through Remus like ice. He distantly knew, as if seeing from outside himself, that he’d pushed Sirius roughly away, that the languid open heat of his body had gone rigid, that he was shaking his head. His nose suddenly seemed to burn with the foul smell of Greyback’s cave, his inner muscles remembering the bruising savage thrusts, the unwelcome wetness dribbling out of him obscenely. Remus’ ears were ringing but he still managed to make out Sirius saying, “...know, Remus, I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to h-hurt you, if you don’t want--”

“Not there,” Remus croaked, sounding desperate and petulant and whiny to himself, and unable to stop the words from coming, “Not, Greyback’s… he... like that, and, and you, Merlin, Sirius, you deserve better than to… What he’s... You deserve better than me, broken and a bloody monster and Greyback--” his breath caught, his voice pitched up, hysterical, “I wanted to kill him but I let him, every time I-I laid there and I let him and I can’t let you, not when you, you--”

“What the hell makes you think I deserve better ?” Sirius interrupted, looking astonished, even affronted. He was a little pale, but he looked relieved when Remus did not flinch away from his hand on his chin, hardly touching him. Remus opened his mouth but Sirius shook his head and talked over him, “I want this. I want you… if you’ll have me.” He rolled onto his back and averted his eyes, and it took Remus’ addled mind a few seconds to realize he was displaying the something like the submissive demeanor he would in dog form.

Remus stared at him for a second and then pulled himself up, ignoring his screaming muscles, and staring still. How could this really be possible? Sirius was whole and so unbearably beautiful, while he couldn’t even sit up without his arms shaking, while it took only an amorous brush of fingers to send him into hysterics. Sirius had betrayed him, broken his confidence, fulfilled his fears of what the monster in him was capable of, had tried to get him killed. How could he now roll over, say he didn’t deserve him, say he… wanted him? It was all too much, too tangled, and it didn’t make any sense at all, none of it. But Merlin, Remus was weak. Sirius was so beautiful and he felt so good and Remus had missed him so much and he was so near, and when would he ever get another chance to get even half so close as this to that higher plane of acceptance and bliss that he’d once associated so inextricably with Sirius? He was weak, and so he leaned over him and he kissed him.

The kiss was gentler this time, some of the desperate fever having receded, for a long time just a careful dance of closed lips. Sirius sighed in relief into Remus when Remus’ tongue explored him. He wanted to chart every corner, the crenellation of every tooth, thinking absurdly of the satisfaction of charting the Marauder’s Map that he hadn’t seen in years. He remembered the thrill of discovering the castle’s hidden secrets and committing them to paper. He wanted to commit all of Sirius’ secret places to memory, to a map in his head that he might refer to when this all came crashing to pieces. His hand glided from Sirius’ shoulder (where he wandlessly, wordlessly healed scratches from the wolf’s claws) down his ribs and the firm muscles of his belly. He smiled at Sirius’ responsiveness as he squirmed beneath the touch. He clumsily undid Sirius’ last remaining shirt buttons and stubbornly did not break the kiss as he shed it. They reluctantly parted, as Remus helped wriggle Sirius out of his tight trousers and Sirius took the chance to mumble inanely, “You’re not broken.” There was a scar on Sirius’ right knee from a Quidditch injury in their fourth year that Remus had forgotten, and like a meticulous cartographer, he added it to his mental map of Sirius. And resumed kissing him.

The kiss grew not quite so gentle, as Sirius’ hands tugged at his hair and grabbed at his shoulders and Sirius’ hips lifted off the ratty old mattress, eager for contact. He could clearly see the outline of Sirius’ erection through his pants as well as a small wet patch that he had a strong impulse to suck clean. Reminding himself this was likely the only chance he’d ever get, and that he had already thrown caution to the winds, Remus broke the kiss and dropped his face to Sirius’ groin, glancing up at him as he sucked the wetness from the fabric. It was bitter and salty and sweet and Sirius’ cheeks tinged even pinker at the sight and the feel of his tongue through the fabric and Remus committed it all to memory.

Sirius groaned as Remus mouthed at the bulge in his pants, writhing in ecstatic torture for a few moments before moaning, “Remus, please.”

A thrill went through Remus at the sound of Sirius begging, actually begging, for him. His head felt light and fizzy and his cock jumped impatiently. He nipped at Sirius’ hip as he impatiently dragged the offending article away, transfixed by Sirius’ cock inches in front of him. It was not so much a conscious decision as it was obeying a force of gravity when Remus licked up the underside, feeling the pulse, and took it into his mouth. It was heavy on his tongue and it tasted like Sirius’ familiar scent and he heard himself groan around it, as Sirius’ hips jerked up towards him, seeking friction. Remus’ hand found the base and he stroked it, his tongue sweeping across the head, until Sirius’ pleas grew incoherent and he could stand his own denial no longer. His cock was almost painfully hard against the mattress and he needed to be inside him now.

He sat back on his heels and tugged Sirius closer, throwing his legs over his shoulders as if he’d done this many times. He hadn’t. He tried not to think about the fact that outside his imagination he’d never done this, not like this, not in this role, not on his own terms, not with someone he wanted. One hand continued to stroke Sirius absently, drawing tempting moans from him, and the other hand strayed down, and he muttered an incantation he’d only ever used on himself before. Sirius whined at the feeling of the wandless lubrication spell, and pressed back against Remus’ fingers, purring as they entered him.

Merlin, but he was gorgeous, writhing wantonly, his beauty incongruous on this bare musty mattress in this sad grey void of a house, his cheeks flush and hair thrown into perfect disorder. Remus’ heart beat wildly in his throat as he watched the infinitesimal expressions tensing and relaxing on Sirius’ face as his fingers sank in and out of the unbelievable softness of his arse. His own thighs were trembling, the weariness from the previous night threatening him, as he aligned himself, stroking some of the lubricant onto himself. Sirius must have felt the nudge from the head of Remus’ cock because he began he made a sound Remus never wanted to forget and began to sigh, “Please, Remus, please.” It sent that brand new thrill through Remus every time he said it. Remus could more easily have disobeyed an Imperius than deny Sirius just then, and he watched transfixed as he slid inside inch by inch. A moan escaped his open mouth and one of Sirius’ hands found his face, cupping his cheek gently, their eyes locking, “Remus…” he said again, reverent.

Sirius moved his hips against Remus and suddenly Remus understood. So this is what bodies are for! Cursed and broken as his was, Remus had never really appreciated his body. It had always just been a deeply flawed machine he used to carry his brain around. But, now, suddenly it served an important and exquisite purpose. It could feel like this, it could make Sirius make that sound, it spoke the same language that Sirius’ perfect body did and that must mean, at least in this one little way, that it was at least adjacent to perfection. Remus began moving inside Sirius in earnest, disbelieving when each thrust felt better than the last, helpless to hold back the gasps and moans that escaped him as the divine wet tightness of Sirius yielded to him. Feeling Sirius’ cock twitching in his hand, he began to pump it faster and tighter and Sirius keened. His black hair was a halo of disarray on the mattress, his grey eyes lidded and gleaming, his cheeks stained wine-dark, lips wet and red and open. He was perfect, looked perfect, and Merlin, somehow he felt even better. Sirius squeezed his eyes shut, his body gripping Remus tighter, and he hissed, “If you k-keep that up, you’re going to make me cum.”

Remus swore as the words and the delicious feeling of Sirius’ body drew his own orgasm dangerously near. He spit on Sirius’ cock, embracing the vulgarity of it, lubricating his hand so that he could stroke him still more vigorously. Sirius yelped and Remus bit the hand that still held the side of his face, Sirius’ fingertips digging into his cheek in response, “Cum for me then.” he growled against Sirius’ palm, hardly recognizing his own voice.

And Sirius did. His cum spilled over Remus’ hand and splashed his own stomach and his arse milked Remus’ cock as he cried out in blind ecstasy, “Moony!”

Remus had never come so hard in his life. The desperate solitary ejaculations to the fantasy of this, hidden in the dark behind Silencing Charms had been intense, but they were nothing to this, hardly a shadow of the real thing. His spine was a bolt of lightning, his entire being a surge of pleasure so divine it would have surely blinded him had he not shut his eyes. He screamed hoarsely as his hands tightened convulsively on Sirius’ flesh, his hips stuttering against him as he emptied years of longing and loneliness into Sirius’ yielding body, his heart rattling such an off-tempo staccato that he must be dying. Even if he was, it would be worth it, to have had this just the once.

His breath was coming so hard and fast, he didn’t notice he was crying until Sirius’ thumb brushed a tear from his cheek. This was always the downside to the high of letting himself dream about Sirius; being so damn high meant there was that much further for him to plummet back to reality. And he wasn’t just falling, he was crumbling, wax wings melting away with the last tremors of pleasure. Sickly embarrassment opened behind his ribs but there was no helping it. His over-tired legs gave out and he fell to the side of Sirius, his softening cock slipping from him, and his pain-wracked muscles claiming their pound of flesh at last as he curled in on himself and the shame of his tears. Merlin, I would go and ruin this one good thing. But for some reason, Sirius was wrapping him in his arms. Remus knew he should push him away, but his body lacked the strength, even if his will had somehow had it.

“Shit, Remus, I’m sorry, I-I shouldn’t have…” Sirius was saying, voice shaky, and oh, it hurt to hear it, “After the moon and Greyback--” Remus shuddered, stiffening at the name, “Shit, shit, sorry.” Sirius said apologetically, his grip around Remus loosening as he made to sit up, “Bugger, I’m making it worse, I should go--”

“No!” Remus managed, taking great gulps of air to try and speak, sounding pathetic but at this point the damage was done anyway, “Please. Don’t. Please, don’t go.”

Sirius almost smiled, his mouth going sort of soft, “Okay,” he agreed, enfolding Remus in his arms again, “If you want.” Remus nodded, his face pressed against Sirius, feeling embarrassed and like a foolish child but not able to care at the moment. Sirius exhaled something like a laugh from his nose and one of his hands found Remus’ hair and began stroking it, and Remus focused on the one pleasant sensation over the pain everywhere else, and his sobs petered out even as his thoughts tangled tighter into a Gordian knot of fear and hurt.

After a period of silence, Sirius said softly, lips pressed to Remus’ head, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that,” Remus shuddered as the cold slice of disappointment carved out the space inside his ribs like a dull blade. There it is, then, he thought, rejection. But Sirius went on, his voice bitter, “I took advantage of you, a-after everything I--”

“Took advantage of me?” Remus interrupted, the words interrupting even the gravitational pull of his own panic. He pulled his face from Sirius’ chest to peer into his face, “How in the--?”

“Remus, you’ve just been through hell!” Sirius explained, his eyes blazing, “The moon’s hard enough on you, but Gr-- and the Cruciatus too? We couldn’t even wake you up last night, and we didn’t know how many times or, or what else, or how prolonged, and--”

“Three times, I think,” Remus recounted flatly, “Or at least three’s where I lost count.”

Sirius looked almost like he wanted to cry, Remus realized, as the storm-grey eyes searched his, “Exactly. After all that, you were… compromised. I mean to say, I don’t think you could’ve walked away on your own in this state, and, and you might not even be in your right mind, seeing as normally you can barely stand to say five words togeth--”

“I’ve wanted this for ages,” Remus confessed, and saying the words out loud hurt, as if he’d flayed them off his body, dug them out of somewhere deep inside him where they’d grown quite at home. Sirius blinked at him, and he shut his eyes, elaborating, “I’ve wanted you for ages, you prat.” He heard Sirius’ breath catch and opened one eye and tried to gauge the dumbfounded look on his face.

“...Really?” a smile hovered at the corners of Sirius’ lips.

Remus nodded, “Compromised or not, you didn’t do anything I haven’t wanted you to do since I was about fourteen.”

“It was still wrong,” Sirius insisted, though he looked like he wanted to believe it, to accept the absolution. Then his expression faltered and he looked to the side, “And I did do that one thing you didn’t like. I should have stopped after--”

Remus felt himself flush, a little embarrassed about the way he’d panicked at the tentative brush of Sirius’ fingers on his arse, “That wasn’t…” he shook his head, interrupting, “It’s not that I wouldn’t, or… er, it’s not that that isn’t something I’ve wanted you to do, it’s just…”

“Greyback,” Sirius said gently, looking like he half-expected Remus to devolve into sobs again at the name. Instead he just nodded. Sirius looked thoughtful for a second and then asked, his fingers toying with Remus’ hair again, “Is it an alpha wolf thing?”

Remus frowned, he’d never actually thought about it that way, “Maybe,” he said, “I don’t honestly know. I’ve, er, only had… only with him before and he always…”

“But you’re the alpha with me.” Sirius said, a confident fact rather than a question. The words sent a shiver through Remus, similar to the thrill he’d felt each time Sirius had said ‘please’, and if his physical resources hadn’t been beyond depleted, he was pretty sure he would have gotten hard again. No, more than that, he would have pushed Sirius down into the bed and shown him just how right he was. Sirius watched some of that line of thought play in his expression, seemed to understand, and one corner of his mouth quirked in a smirk, “Logistics aside, I’ve wanted this for ages, too.”

It sent a bright pop of elation through Remus for a second before his mind had to go and mess it up by trying to figure out where ‘ages’ fell on the troubled timeline of his and Sirius’ friendship. He averted his eyes again, asking in what he hoped sounded like a normal conversational tone, “Since before Snape’s death?”

Sirius winced and nodded, “I… didn’t really come to terms with it back then, but, yeah. Yeah.”

A silence fell between them and Sirius unwound his arms from around Remus. So he already…? When he…? Remus hadn’t quite forgotten he was naked, but without Sirius holding him, he suddenly really felt naked. Unprotected. Exposed, “Where are my clothes?”

Sirius sat up rather abruptly, turning his back to Remus. Remus stared at his back, the sculptural form of his wing-like shoulderblades, the poetic curve of his spine, all covered by an expanse of unmarred alabaster skin. It nearly took his breath away, “So that’s it, then?” Sirius asked, and his voice cracked like glass, threatening to sharpen and cut.

“What?” Remus asked, his own voice sharpening as he propped himself up on his elbows, “I just fancy getting dressed, and I’d like to make sure that horcrux is still in my pocket.”

“Horcrux!?” Sirius exclaimed, jumping up and pulling on his own pants, looking down at Remus, astonished. The word seemed to have wiped from his mind all the things that still needed saying though Remus was almost glad for the respite, “Why didn’t you say something!?”

Remus’ irritation hadn’t entirely abated though, and his tone was still stern as he said, “Oh, between the torture and loss of consciousness, the being a wolf and the shagging, I was kinda busy, Pads.” Sirius blinked at him, and it took a second for him to realize why, but before he could backpedal, Sirius was hurrying from the room, calling over his shoulder that he’d fetch him his clothes from downstairs. He hadn’t meant to say it. But why shouldn’t he? Sirius had called him Moony, and he hadn’t corrected him or scolded him. No, in fact, instead he’d had the most mind-bending orgasm of his life. Did it really matter all that much, now that they were apparently operating outside the parameters of any and all expectations and norms they’d ever had?

What the bloody hell are you doing? He asked himself, the first truly clear thought making itself heard now that Sirius’ persuasive and mind-addling presence was removed. Sure, under the Cruciatus, feeling quite like he was on the brink of madness or death, he’d wanted to tell Sirius he was forgiven and try to make amends and snog and all that. They’d snogged, that was for sure, but where did that leave the forgiveness and the amends? As if it was thinking reasonably that caused it and not the several consecutive hours of various pains and strains, Remus realized his head was throbbing and put it out of his mind, telling himself he’d give it a proper think when he didn’t have a headache.

Sirius came back into the room just then with a pile of shredded fabric that Remus recognized as the remains of his robes. He groaned involuntarily and Sirius gave him an apologetic smile, “Sorry, mate, I didn’t really have time to get you out of your clothes.” Remus smirked by way of response, and watched as Sirius set Hufflepuff’s cup aside, dangling from one finger as if to minimize his contact with it, and then set about casting mending charms. He was a very skilled wizard, but this wasn’t really his area of expertise and it was apparent. Remus could normally have done it with ease, but his magic felt right now like a well run dryer than dry, parched. He could feel Sirius’ magic, feel the sickening aura of the horcrux, feel the enchantments Dumbledore had cast on the Shack some time before his first moon here and then more after Snape’s death. He even detected some Sirius seemed to have cast, though they were somewhat sloppier than his magic typically was. He tried to drink them in, even though that was not quite how it worked, and he didn’t properly have the strength to do it. Just as well, he reasoned, he didn’t really want the energy coming off the horcrux or the Shack, they were dark magics stained with blood and he was better off weak.

And then something occurred to him.

“We should do it here.” He said, his irritation forgotten.

Sirius looked around at the room, eyes lingering on the crumpled dusty bedding, “I think we just did,” he said slyly, and actually winked at Remus.

Remus didn’t want to dignify it with a laugh, but he couldn’t help but snort at it, even as he shook his head and explained, “No, not that. This is where we should destroy the horcruxes once we’ve tracked down the last one.”

Sirius’ smirk faded and he looked like he was mulling it over as he helped Remus into ill-fitting and poorly-mended robes. He remained silent as he helped Remus down the stairs, as he tried to steer them towards the door, and Remus realized he’d never left the way Remus had come and gone after the Willow’s removal. Remus pointed towards the pantry door in the perpetually barren kitchen. Sirius watched curiously as Remus lay his palm on the door and said clearly, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” He heard Sirius gasp as the door opened, not onto a pantry but onto the Shack’s overgrown yard. It wasn’t until after they’d stepped carefully out of it, until after Remus sealed it with a ‘Mischief managed’, the opening closing up into a nondescript bit of moldering siding, and after they’d begun to make their way towards Hogwarts that Sirius spoke, “Nice bit of magic, that.”

“Dumbledore’s spellwork, not mine,” Remus said, as if there could have been any mistaking it. Surely even a non-werewolf could sense the elegance of Dumbledore’s magic; Remus’ own was remarkable in its own right but it had none of the architectural grace of Dumbledore’s. His voice bittersweet as he added, “I only supplied the passwords.”

It was still very early in the morning, still watery-pale and misty, and most of Hogsmeade was asleep. Remus’ stomach grumbled at the smell of the first bread loaves and pastries of the day baking in old Mr Banbury’s ovens in The Tart and Trifle, but other than that the town was not yet stirring. He focused on putting one foot in front of the other, his badly-mended shoes and the cobbled streets posing a bit of a challenge, while Sirius’ arm slung around his back all but kept him upright. As they were reaching the end of high street, Sirius spoke up again, “I like your idea,” he said, and Remus stopped walking to look down at him properly. He had a serious look on his face, his jaw set, “Of burning the horcruxes in the Shack,” Remus nodded and resumed walking. They made it another few steps before Sirius added, “It’s sorta like a horcrux, in a way.”

Remus thought about the first moon after Severus’ death. Entering the Shack with a solitary night ahead of him, the stain of his crime there even after he’d scoured the mark from the floor. How much of his own blood had been spilt there? How much of Sirius’, James’, Peter’s? How many screams had those enchanted walls absorbed? Burning the Shack wouldn’t erase any of it, of course, Remus had no illusions about that, but it would certainly feel good to watch it burn.

 

Chapter Text

19 June, 1979



They spent the rest of the walk to Hogwarts in companionable silence. Sirius could tell that Remus was trying not to lean too hard on his arm. As if that would bother him? He had half a mind to just pick Remus up and carry him as he had the previous night, but he didn’t think that would be too well received. He’d learned a long time ago that Remus would show weakness only if and when it suited him, and he’d let Sirius see more today than ever before. It wouldn’t do to be greedy.

Merlin, though, he weighed next to nothing, it seemed to Sirius. Had he weighed more the last time Sirius had helped him following a full moon? He tried to recall the weight of Remus at sixteen, but all his mind conjured was a memory of Remus’ face shouting in the stairwell to their old dorm, preferable only to the weeks of quietly simmering fury, of stubborn refusal to so much as glance at Sirius when he’d tried to apologize and explain. Sirius stumbled, but managed to regain his balance before he fell and pulled Remus with him.

“Alright, Padfoot?” Remus asked, and he said it as though it were perfectly normal, as if he’d never stopped saying it. His eyes were a little guarded, but hearing it was still like a balm.

Sirius smiled, his worries receding for the time being to the back of his mind, “Fine. Reckon all-nighters take more of a toll than they did when I was fifteen.”

Remus snorted his agreement as they passed through the Hogwarts gate, flanked by its vigilant winged boars of stone. It was strange in itself to be back, not least of all because it looked exactly the same. Term hadn’t started yet, so there were no students gadding about on the lawn, but that didn’t seem amiss, teenagers not being known to be early risers anyway. Somehow the lack of unfamiliar faces made it easier to imagine they’d stepped back in time, that a teenaged Prongs might come ambling out in his Quidditch kit any moment, headed for the pitch to get in some laps before breakfast. Part of Sirius wished they had stepped back in time, wished he’d walked into a proper do-over from the start. But he seemed to be getting a second chance of some sort, against all odds, and he reminded himself that that alone was more than he’d ever dared hope for.

“Blimey,” Remus muttered, softly, and Sirius followed his gaze. Oh, right. There was one thing missing that certainly proved that they had not traveled back in time to their school days. Remus’ eyes were glued to the spot where the Whomping Willow had once stood, the air empty now where its boughs had thrashed. Sirius remembered vividly watching the men and women from the Ministry tear it up, while he chain-smoked on the roof of Gryffindor Tower as he’d spent much of sixth and seventh year doing. It had left a dark wound of turned earth in the white snow, where the soil had remained naked and sere for the remainder of their time at school, a harsh and unfriendly reminder to Sirius each time he saw it.

To Sirius’ surprise, it was not so now. Grass and wildflowers had taken root, and though the growth was still more sparse than the area surrounding, they were there. Like a wound knitting itself and healing on its own, like a scar fading over time. Sirius had been resisting the desire to look at Remus every couple minutes, but he let himself now, and found a reflection of his own bemusedly hopeful expression on his exhausted face.

They must have looked a sight wandering into the Hospital Wing a few minutes later, unannounced and unexpected. Madam Pomfrey looked up from her morning tea and very nearly spat out her mouthful in shock, “Remus!?” she exclaimed, “What are-- why, the moon, of course, Poppy, what else? Come along, come along, let’s get you into a bed!” Sirius didn’t think he’d ever seen the medi-witch so frazzled as she slung Remus’ free arm over her shoulders and led him to the bed by the windows he had spent so many mornings in recovering from full moons in his youth. As they settled him on the bed, she turned her attention to Sirius, the look of maternal concern on her face hardening considerably, “Mr Black,” she said stiffly, “You don’t look as though you need medical attention.”

“No, er, perhaps just a rest,” he answered nervously, feeling quite like he was thirteen again and being shoo-ed from his friend’s bedside.

“Poppy, it’s fine,” Remus said, looking and sounding quite grateful to be in a proper bed, “He saved my life last night.”

“Did he?” she said, sounding skeptical but softening slightly in addressing Remus, who nodded, “Very well,” she said, with a shrug, “I’ve plenty of empty beds, I suppose you might as well use one, Mr Black.”

“Thank you, Madam Pomfrey,” Sirius said, as the witch bustled away. He seated himself on the edge of the bed beside Remus’, wishing instead that he could join him, wrap his arms around him again. After the morning in bed, and supporting his weight for the walk through Hogsmeade, it felt strange not to have Remus against him. Their eyes met and Remus favored him with a small smile before his eyes fell shut. When Madam Pomfrey returned only moments later with a tray of healing potions and tea, she found both Sirius and Remus fast asleep, and left them to rest for a while before notifying Dumbledore of their unexpected guests...

 

***

It was the afternoon when Sirius woke, and judging by the light it was well on its way to evening. The honeyed pre-dusk light fell across Remus’ sleeping face at an angle, and Sirius allowed himself to stare. He looked much younger in his sleep, the tension around his eyes and mouth relaxed, his lips parted slightly. The way the light struck his eyelashes, they didn’t look brown, but bright gold, quivering ever so slightly as his eyes moved beneath his lids, watching some dream or other. It illuminated him just so that the grooves and ridges of his scars were hard to distinguish, softened. He breathed evenly, deeply, his exhales stirring the overgrown, prematurely greying hair that fell across his cheek.

He was beautiful. Sirius had always found him beautiful, even with the scars, even when the scars had been angry new scabs. Not so much despite the scars as in honor of them, his admiration bearing witness to the suffering Remus’ body withstood month after month. He was beautiful even when the dark bags under his eyes were hollowest, when the tense set of his jaw could have dislodged a molar or two. He’d been beautiful when his lips bent in a crooked smirk and his eyes glowed with the thrill of a prank. And Merlin knew he was beautiful as a wolf, his fur tawny and lustrous, majestic and wild with magic. He’d even been beautiful at sixteen, believing himself a murderous beast, his stoic profile betraying no hint that he even heard the pleas that the blame was not his, but Sirius’.

And he’d been beautiful that morning, in the Shack, by turns beautiful in his fragility, and breathtaking in his strength. Something tightened in Sirius’ gut at the thought of Remus’ face above him, the cracking-plaster ceiling behind, the moon still brilliant in his eyes, his expression wavering between the commanding snarl of a predator and the aching passion of a man shattered by need. Sirius shivered.

He sat up suddenly. He had just made up his mind to swing his legs out of bed and take the two strides to Remus’ bed, crawl under the covers and put his arms around him when the door to the Hospital Wing opened. It didn’t swing open dramatically, in fact it opened in a rather sedate manner, but Albus Dumbledore didn’t need to do anything theatrically to make a dramatic entrance. There was a certain understated drama that just sort of followed the tosser around. Resent him though he may, Sirius could not deny the warlock’s commanding presence. He just strode into the Hospital Wing, gave a polite nod of greeting to Madam Pomfrey, and turned his inscrutable blue gaze to the beds that Remus and Sirius occupied. He smiled genially and said Remus’ name, as if it were a perfectly usual thing to address someone while they slept.

Remus jolted awake and scrambled into a seated position, and Padfoot growled protectively in Sirius’ chest at seeing Remus disturbed. Remus’ brow furrowed deeply as he blinked at Dumbledore, at the Hospital Wing bed. Suddenly his face grew quite as white as the crisp bedsheets, and he stammered out, “P-Professor, I, Severus, is-is he--?”

“Moony,” Sirius said firmly, even as the understanding of Remus’ confusion twisted like a knife in his gut. He hadn’t seen him that fateful morning, of course, had been kept well away from him under the withering gaze of a very disappointed McGonagall, but he knew in his bones that Remus had found himself in that memory.

Remus’ head turned to look at him so fast his neck made a sick pop. He looked confused to see Sirius there, and his expression betrayed some of the seething anger of that betrayal, as if it had been fresh, “Where’s James?” he asked, his eyes scanning the beds.

“At home, I reckon, with Lily,” Sirius said, calmly, watching understanding dawn on Remus as his eyes raked over Sirius and his words penetrated. His eyes widened and he covered his face with his hands and groaned. Sirius asked, trying not to sound as nervous as he was, “You alright, mate?”

Remus nodded and peeked out from between his fingers at Sirius. Sirius tried to hold back a smirk. Oh, he’s remembered what we got up to this morning, then. Remus’ cheeks were distinctly pinker than normal when he turned his attention to Dumbledore, “Ahem, pardon me, Albus,” he said, “Good morning.”

Dumbledore went on smiling, “Good afternoon, Remus, Sirius,” he folded his hands over his beard, “You’ll forgive me for being so direct, I hope, but what circumstances have led you to end up here this morning? Of course, the doors of Hogwarts are always open to you, but I would be remiss--”

“Oh!” Remus interrupted, uncharacteristically, suddenly fumbling in his robes under his blankets, “I found another horcrux!” he exclaimed, producing the small, exquisitely wrought golden cup from his pocket.

Dumbledore seemed to forget his interrogation for a moment, his eyes widening almost hungrily, a rare break in his typically impenetrable facade, “Hufflepuff’s cup! Why, well done, my dear boy,” he said, taking the proffered item from Remus’ hands and examining it, “Where did you find it?”

“It had been entrusted to the Lestranges,” Remus said, and the hairs on the back of Sirius’ neck bristled. So he had been there with the wolves.

“Tell me,” Dumbledore said, taking a seat in a wooden chair at Remus’ bedside that surely had not been there an instant before. Sirius took this moment to cross to Remus’ bed as he had intended to, though he refrained from wrapping his arms around him. Instead he sat at the foot of the bed, trying to let the spot where their knees rested against each other suffice for contact for the time being, “Leave nothing out.” Dumbledore added, glancing at Sirius, at their knees touching through the blanket, at the cup, and back at Remus’ face.

And Remus told him, though it would not be totally accurate to say that he left nothing out. He explained how he had arrived at the Blythe residence to find Mr and Mrs Blythe already dead, but he did not mention that he was running late because James and Sirius had insisted he take the two-way mirror. He explained that he had advised Marcus Blythe to floo to the Ministry after the werewolves had discovered Wormtail hiding in the Blythe house, confessing that he had suggested the Lestrange house, forgetting that it might seem amiss for him to know its whereabouts. Sirius had the sense that he was holding back some details about the events at the Lestranges’, but Remus’ life had required him to become very adept at telling lies of omission, so Sirius couldn’t guess at what more may have happened than what he said. Peter had made a break for it, a fight had broken out, he had snatched the horcrux, and Greyback had caught him before he could get away.

Remus avoided Dumbledore’s gaze uncomfortably as he told him that he’d blown his cover with the werewolves, “Go on,” Dumbledore had said, coolly, and Sirius had wondered hardly for the first time how he possibly slept at night. Remus faltered his way through what Sirius suspected was a severely abridged account of what had transpired between him and Greyback, though it was still enough to make Sirius’ blood boil. Remus said that he had sent a Patronus to Sirius, and Sirius made a mental note to ask him why he was keeping the mirrors to himself. Then he realized Remus’ amber eyes and Dumbledore’s blue ones had landed on him, “Yes?” he asked.

“Er, well,” Remus shifted uneasily, pressing his leg against Sirius’ more firmly, “I… don’t remember much of what happened after that. Greyback accused me of being loyal to Dumbledore and used the Cruciatus Curse on me a couple times, but after that’s…” he chanced a few seconds of eye contact before looking away again, “A bit foggy.”

Sirius was happy to take over, quickly explaining how James and he had gone to Remus’ aid together, and made a pit stop at the Potter Estate for some healing spells from a sensibly distressed Lily, before he and Remus had headed to the Shrieking Shack before moonrise.

“Both of you?” Dumbledore asked, peering at Sirius over his half-moon spectacles.

He glanced at Remus who favored him with one of those tiny, subtle Moony smiles he hadn’t gotten in many years. The sort he used to get in class when he’d caused some sort of disruption and Remus wanted him to know that even if he wasn’t joining in, he thought it was brilliant. Or when James would be going on, waxing lyrical about Lily, and their eyes would meet, and they’d share a silent look, knowing they were both resisting giving voice to the same punchline. Or when werewolves or Animagi, or secret passageways, or any number of things would be brought up by a professor and that shining thread of having a secret would sing between them like a plucked harp. They hadn’t shared a secret smile in so long and it felt so good that it even softened the blow of losing the secret itself, “Er, well, you might as well know, Albus. Pettigrew wasn’t the only Animagi.” Dumbledore raised his silvery brows, urging Sirius to go on, “I am, too. I turn into a dog, though, much better than a rat, don’t you think?”

“Somehow I doubt that James Potter could have resisted joining you, then.” Dumbledore prompted.

“He turns into a stag,” Remus said, “Though he was injured by Greyback last night and stayed back with Lily.”

“I see,” Dumbledore nodded, and stroked his beard. It surprised Sirius that he didn’t ask if James was alright, he must really be distracted. How much he actually cared might be debatable, but he was usually careful to maintain the appearance of caring. He appeared perfectly calm, but Sirius realized he might be angry. Dumbledore might not much like when other people were the ones with secrets, “So, Sirius, you traveled to Hogsmeade with Remus and passed the full moon with him in your Animagus form, correct?”

“Yes, Headmaster,” Sirius said, kicking himself for slipping into the habit of addressing Dumbledore so politely. He had noticed he was hungry and he knew that that meant Remus must be starving and he would much rather they be eating or snogging or sleeping than continuing to have this conversation, “It’s why we learned in the first place, to make his full moon transformations easier on him by keeping him company.”

“A noble yen,” Dumbledore said, continuing to stroke his beard thoughtfully with one hand while the other still turned the horcrux over absently. It was some time before he stood up and said, “Well, I thank you both for your candor and patience. I would be pleased if you’d come down and join us for supper in the Great Hall in about an hour’s time.”

By way of answer, Remus’ stomach complained loudly. With a shade of embarrassment in his voice he said, “Yes, I’d like the chance to catch up with some of my old professors.”

“We also have the Longbottoms and Miss Meadowes with us,” Dumbledore explained lightly, “And your brother, Sirius. They have been scouring the Room of Requirement in search of Ravenclaw’s Diadem. I daresay it would go faster with your abilities, though, Remus,” Remus pasted on a smile and Sirius realized suddenly how much he must hate playing bloodhound for the Order. A rush of guilt about their night at Malfoy Manor swept through him and he placed a bracing hand on Remus’ shoulder. Remus gave him a grateful smile and he grinned back, quite forgetting that Dumbledore was still watching them, “Anyway,” the older wizard said, with a distinct twinkle, “I hope you two will indeed feel up to leaving bed.” On that oblique note, he turned to leave, and Sirius could have sworn he heard a chuckle.

***

 

Much as Remus would have liked to stay in the Hospital Wing, hiding in bed with Sirius, the post-moon hunger that twisted in his belly would not have allowed him to forgo a proper Hogwarts feast. And quite the feast it was, too. It was smaller in quantity than a typical Hogwarts feast, filling only one table as it was feeding only the Hogwarts faculty that remained there over the summer months and the handful of Order members. Less servings, but just as rich and varied as on any other day. There was golden roast chicken, juicy beef Wellington, ropes of crisp sausage links that made a satisfying snap when his teeth pierced the casing, and flaky fried fish with exquisite chips. There was chicken and mushroom pie and a lovely lamb pie redolent with rosemary and wine. There were bread rolls, and Yorkshire puddings, carrots in a syrupy glaze, mushy peas, tureens of steaming baked beans, and every imaginable kind of potato from sweet to roast to mash. Remus hadn’t eaten in well over twenty-four hours, and a bloody draining twenty-four hours they’d been, and he hadn’t had half so delicious or plentiful a meal since his last night at Hogwarts seventh year. The gravy flowed, and he sampled everything.

So focused was he on testing the limits of his plate and his stomach, it wasn’t until the main course was cleared away and pudding took its place that Remus realized he had not been keeping up with the conversation. Sirius was engaged in a discussion with the Longbottoms, recounting a story which might have been about dating and might have been about Quidditch, Remus could not deduce for sure having missed the exposition. As he filled his plate with millionaire shortbread, treacle tart, and profiteroles with both caramel and custard, Dumbledore remarked amiably, “You look as though you are feeling a good deal better than this afternoon, Remus.”

He was sitting diagonally across from Remus at the table everyone was sharing. Sirius sat to his Remus’ right with the Longbottoms across from them, and McGonagall sat to his left with Regulus across from her. Regulus had been previously engaged in discussion with Dumbledore and Dorcas Meadowes, looking supremely uncomfortable, and looked quite relieved that Dumbledore’s attention had been directed elsewhere. Remus nodded by way of response, “Yes, Albus, thank you. Nothing some Hogwarts dining couldn’t fix.”

Dumbledore smiled, helping himself to some spotted dick, “Well reasoned, my dear boy, I’m afraid I take the house-elves’ expertise too much for granted. They are truly remarkable,” Regulus’ expression grew appreciative at that, as if Dumbledore had moved up in his estimation for some reason for saying that.

“Albus tells me,” McGonagall said in a hushed voice, primly stirring a cup of tea beside him, “That you have acquired Hufflepuff’s cup?”

“That’s right,” Remus said, shifting a bit under her gaze. Somehow it still gave him the impression that he might be in for a detention. And besides, it wasn’t as though he’d done anything too impressive to get the horcrux in the first place, it had really been a matter of luck and a little bit of recklessness that had nearly cost him his life.

“Excellent,” she tutted proudly and patted his hand where it rested by his knife and spoon, “I always was proud to have you in my house, you know,” she hesitated and smiled almost conspiratorially, “When you weren’t getting into trouble, that is.”

“Well,” he said archly, savoring a bite of treacle tart, “I didn’t exactly get the horcrux without breaking a few rules. Running with werewolves, and what have you.”

McGonagall smiled and opened her mouth to banter back, but unfortunately Regulus interrupted, “How will we destroy them?”

“Pardon me?” Remus said, nibbling the millionaire shortbread.

“The horcruxes,” Regulus hissed, and his grey eyes flickered with an impatience for action that was eerily like Sirius. His eyes were browner than Sirius’, more of a stony taupe than his brother’s mercurial storm-grey, “I’m confident that the diadem is somewhere in the castle, and almost certainly in the Room of Requirement, but collecting them isn’t enough. Once you have them all, how are you going to get rid of them?”

“We shall destroy them with Fiendfyre,” Dumbledore replied calmly, “I have been brushing up on my containment charms in preparation. One cannot be too careful with Fiendfyre, as they say.”

“Sirius and I had an idea about that, actually,” Remus said, and Sirius’ head turned, joining the conversation at the sound of his name.

“Hm? What idea?” he asked.

“Yes, Remus, do go on,” Dumbledore prompted.

“Well, er,” Remus felt a bit on the spot now, with all of them waiting expectantly, “Containment charms, protective fields, shield enchantments, they’re all much easier to cast, and more effective, when you’ve an object or structure for them to adhere to,” Dumbledore nodded, McGonagall looked proud and curious, “So, er, Sirius and I had the idea that maybe we could use, erm, the Shrieking Shack.” Regulus blinked in confusion, and Remus realized he didn’t likely know the story behind the Shack and it must have sounded like a very random choice to want to use the allegedly haunted house in town.

“‘Scuse you, Moony,” Sirius said through a bite of Chelsea bun, “But that idea was all yours, and I’ll not be saddled with the credit for it.”

“It is an interesting suggestion, surely,” Dumbledore said, considering it, “It would likely be a quicker thing, and safer, to reinforce an existing container such as a house,” his clear blue eyes searched Remus’, “I don’t suppose the Shrieking Shack would be missed.”

“No,” Remus replied, a hair more fiercely than he’d intended, “I think the world would be well shot of it.” Under the table, Sirius’ hand squeezed his knee reassuringly, and a wave of gratitude overtook the spike of his resentment.

“Very well,” Dumbledore said, as he speared a bite of pudding with his fork, “The Shrieking Shack, indeed.”

They did not linger over pudding. Remus started yawning before his plate of samplings was even clean and when Sirius suggested that it might be time to go back to sleep, he did not protest. It had not felt so strange to sit beside him in the Great Hall, maybe because he’d been focused on his food, or maybe because it wasn’t nearly so strange as sharing a table as peers with Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Regulus. Upon leaving the hall, however, some of the peculiarity of their situation seemed to hang between them like some waterlogged thing tugging heavily on a clothesline, so that Remus found himself very focused on whether there was too much or too little distance between them to keep it balanced.

The halls were completely empty, save for the occasional ghost wafting distractedly by only to disappear into a wall. Their footsteps rang out of time on the flagstones, and Remus made a note to himself to make an attempt at salvaging his shoes as they were making his feet ache badly, haphazardly mended as they had been. They were on the sixth floor, about to start on the stairs that would take them to the corridor where the Fat Lady’s portrait hung when Remus stopped short, with a muttered swear.

“Remus?” Sirius asked, stopping and turning to look at him. He turned a little too fast, a little too urgently, and Remus squirmed under the concern in his gaze, “Are you alright?”

“‘M’fine,” Remus said, with a dismissive wave of his hand, turning on his heel, “This just isn’t the way to the Hospital Wing.”

“Oh,” Sirius laughed nervously, “True enough,” They walked in silence for a few minutes, headed back down staircase after staircase to the Hospital Wing on the second floor. Sirius broke the silence on the fourth floor, asking, “Do you reckon they’d care if we slept in Gryffindor Tower? It’s not as if there are any students in there.”

“I’d prefer not to,” Remus said, a little stiffly. Wasn’t it obvious that Gryffindor Tower might bring back some complicated memories? He didn’t know why he was so irritated, suddenly so uncomfortable in Sirius’ presence. His joints still ached from the moon, pain weighing like ballast on his limbs, and he experienced the occasional spasm or nerve prickle that he figured he could attribute to Greyback’s curses. He hurt, in short, and walking half the castle wasn’t helping. He ought to be happy, right? Only then, Geri's blindly gazing eyes and gaping throat and the absence where a nose had been flashed in his mind, and he recalled that, oh yes, of course, he had no bloody right to be happy when her death had been on his behalf. But then, there was plenty to celebrate too, there was only one horcrux left to find, the Shrieking Shack was going to burn, his tenure as undercover werewolf had ended, and he’d made love with Sirius bloody Black that very morning. Only it wasn’t love they’d made, was it? Come to think of it, what in the seven hells was it? Was it friendship? Was it desire? Was it just a particular cocktail of endorphins and full moon lunacy?

No, not the latter. I’ve wanted this for ages, too, he’d said. He had said that, so it wasn’t just a fluke, just a freak outcome of their bodies being in a bed together under a jumble of extenuating circumstances. But what, were they friends again, now, just like that? After being so committed to trying to be strangers? Were they lovers? Oh, Merlin, were they going to do that again? The very prospect filled Remus will a mix of mouth-watering anticipation and dread.

When they reached the Hospital Wing, Remus realized that Sirius hadn’t made any further attempts at conversation. His mouth was set in a straight line, his brow creased with thought. Madam Pomfrey had laid out crisply folded sets of pajamas on the beds they’d slept in that afternoon and Remus’ bedside boasted a row of familiar medicinal potions. Honestly, Remus was eager for the blissful respite of Poppy’s potent Dreamless Sleep, but absurd as it was across the gulf of years and shifting concerns, came the memory of hearing some of the Gryffindor girls in simpler days talking about how one and one’s beau ‘should never go to bed angry.’ He didn’t think Sirius could be called his ‘beau’, but dread and anger and confusion aside, he’d rather they remain nearer to friends than to strangers. So, he reached out and brushed his arm, “Hey.”

“Hm?” Sirius said, disturbed from his thoughts. His expectant expression was so doglike, Remus might have laughed.

“Erm, nothing,” he said instead, almost losing his nerve for a few long seconds, “I just, er, I’m sorry,” he said, with a general hand gesture, “That this is weird, that I’m so bloody…” he took a steadying breath, “I’m glad you’re here,” he settled on, discovering its veracity as he said it, “Even if it’s weird, I’m glad.”

Sirius smile had started out small and tentative, and grew with amusement at Remus’ fumbling words, then cracked into a grin as he’d finally made his point, “I’m glad too, you wanker,” he said, and started changing into the pajamas. Remus averted his eyes and changed, too. He climbed back into the bed after only a few hours out of it with relish, drank down his potions and sank into the downy pillows. He let his gaze stray to Sirius again, but his back was turned. Luckily, Poppy’s potion took effect before he could begin to wonder if that was a cause to worry.