Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
1994 : Spring
He hid in the rotten wooden darkness shadowing a corner, and he didn’t have to wait long. Edgily he crouched there in his corner, his body tensing as he heard the first faint scratches of someone in the tunnel. Then the latch was turned, and the heavy silver door swung open, spilling the light of a hand-torch– no, a wand– onto the dust-streaked creaking floorboards.
He knew the scent before he knew the figure. Tall but hunched. Grey, but young. Remus Lupin stood leaning against the wall, his hand balled to a fist and pressed against his stomach as though he were ill. Sirius watched, unsure now that he was stuck in the Shack with Remus what he’d ever planned to do. At last Remus moved; he shoved away from the wall and crossed the floor, his robes kicking up dust in small clouds. He opened the battered, clawed chest of drawers, and began to undress.
Sirius felt the first piece of naked flesh like a punch to the chest. His eyes, so long accustomed to seeing in pitch black, sought out the forgotten lines of Remus’s body, flank and haunch and spine and shoulder. And though he had barely given a thought to sex in years, in years, an ache he barely remembered warmed faintly into his groin. It had been so long... Hazy. Remus hadn’t been the last lover... no, there’d been others– nameless, faceless now as they had probably been then... but Remus, yes. He remembered. The last time they’d made love– oh, he hadn’t thought of it in longer than he could imagine, but clear as if it had happened moments before he could see it, smell it, Remus looking up at him with burning eyes and seducing him.
He had stood. He hovered hesitating in the corner, but Remus had seen. Remus was still, thick fear in his scent, his muscles quivering tensely. ‘Who are you?’ he demanded.
His feet drew him forward of their own accord. The unravelled wool of his sock caught on a nail. His throat scratched, but he suppressed a cough.
‘Severus?’ Remus took a step toward him, then stopped. ‘You shouldn’t be here. It’s too close. I can already feel it–‘
Nothing hidden from his sight now. Ugly human flesh, dead– not all dead– not-human flesh. He remembered those scars. Couldn’t remember, could almost remember, if he’d given them to him.
Flames. He remembered flames.
He drew in a breath. He said, ‘Remus.’
The grey head came up. Eyes that looked white in the darkness searched for him, weak and distracted. ‘Not safe,’ he said.
Not safe. Moon rise. But his feet carried him forward. Remus flinched back, from moon or him he didn’t know, but he caught the man by the shoulders and pulled him in. His mouth felt empty until he had Remus’s mouth in it. Hands scrabbled to push him away, and anger flared. He punished the mouth under his with his teeth, and blood-taste leaked onto his tongue. He forced them to the floor, fighting the sharp elbows and scratching nails, and dug his knee into Remus’s stomach, twisted his arm and wrenched at the shoulder. ‘Hold still,’ he snarled.
Body shaking out of control. Moon light from the moulded boards over the window.
He couldn’t remember what to do, didn’t know what he was doing now. Inside Remus, hot. Moon was coming. He didn’t know if Remus came, but it had been so long. He exploded. He lay on top of Remus, hands clenched in his hair, claws ripping at his hair and he knew the moon was on them. He felt boneless. He rolled away, dust clinging to his palms and knees. He’d made a mess of Remus’s lower lip. Remus curled, letting go of his hair, and gasped. Sirius saw the fur starting in patches on his pale back. He levered himself to his feet unsteadily, grasping his trousers and hauling them up. He walked backward until he hit the door. Silver.
He closed his eyes, and formed the dog image in his mind. For once it did not come easily. But he held it, and forced himself into it, and he shook himself and crawled around the man-wolf to the bed. He slipped under it and lay on his belly.
If the wolf knew he was there, it ignored him. Sneezing at the dust, it chewed itself through the night, teeth flashing sometimes in the slats of thin light from the boarded window. And when dawn came, it became a man again, grey and red and barely breathing.
And the door opened.
Sirius crept forward on his stomach to watch from beneath the dragging hem of the bedclothes. A woman first. Her robe was black and her cap was white... a nurse, he didn’t know her. An old man, grey too, was Dumbledore. And another man. Wrapped in a dark cloak and his smell was strange, was bad, his head bare and his hair inky black and hanging lankly in his face.
‘His clothes are in the chest,’ the woman said, kneeling beside Remus, stretched out on the floor and dead to their presence. She laid a case beside him and drew out winding strips. Dumbledore fetched the clothes, and the nurse looked up at the third man. ‘When will the potion be ready, Severus?’
Snape stirred from his black-eyed staring. ‘Next week. If I’d known sooner he was coming–‘
‘Peace,’ said Dumbledore, and handed him Remus’s clothes. ‘Help me dress him, if you will.’
Sirius remained under the bed long after they had left. Would Remus remember? He had been stupid. Would Remus turn him in? Peter...
He did not follow them out. He slept in the bed, amid the dust and dried spider husks, but filth was nothing new to him. His dreams were wild, distorted. Sometimes the cat found him, would lie on his chest, warm, purring, clean his face and hands with a sandpaper tongue. He forgot how many days passed, when weeks blurred together; but he never forgot Peter.
No-one came with the next moon. The cat brought him fish from the kitchens and licked the grease from his fingers.
Safe a little longer. Get the rat, he crooned, stroked the cat’s bristly fur. Get me the Peter.
He slowly rubbed his hand along his thigh, scrubbing his damp palm against the thick fabric of his trousers. He sighed, and dropped his chin to his chest, rubbing the back of his neck.
The mushrooms looked innocently back at him, dull and stupid in their grey dirt. But he could feel the gate. The spell signature sawed along his nerves, harsh and discordant. The work of a fifteen year old wizard, he thought, and his lip curled. Remus had been, always was, a sloppy spell-caster.
The book was useless. He snapped it closed, tossed it among the others that had failed. Even a gate crafted by an adolescent was no simple matter, and it was old magic now... twenty years? He didn’t remember now when it had been done. But it wouldn’t pardon the unskilled mutterings of a Potions master. It was meant not to yield, and it wouldn’t.
But it had before. He didn’t know how. It had opened up and swallowed one man, and ejected him twelve years later more and less sane. He remembered the glint of green in eyes that were naturally grey, and could not suppress the tingle along his spine.
Remus had walked the courtyard at night, his hood thrown back from ragged grey curls, his white fingers trailing in the snow collected on the low stone walls. All washed out, paler than the castle ghosts, his pallid lips moving, muttering, speaking to someone only he could see. Not English; not all human, either.
He’d heard the language only infrequently. It had puzzled him until he’d remembered it. Cymric. And the eyes. The eyes had been green; he was sure of it, had stood only feet from him and the eyes had been green, and Remus had looked directly at him and seen something only faerie eyes could see.
The circle would not yield up its secrets.
Remus thanked him always so politely, so unfailingly polite about everything, for the monthly potion, reported great success, forgone the Shack, and Severus was proud. He’d tamed a werewolf; no other Master could claim that. It would earn him publication; it would earn him fame, a full ride to any job he wanted, a free pass into the greatest laboratories.
He did not report it. He taught his classes as if he had not discovered something powerful and wondrous. He ate his food though it was tasteless, slept in his bed– in the werewolf’s bed–
The spell singed his nerves, and he closed his eyes as mist crept around him and settled the Forest into night.
‘When they get near me–‘ Harry shrugged abruptly. His boyish voice husked in a mannish bass, hoarse with suppressed emotion. ‘I can hear Voldemort murdering my mum.’ He said it flatly.
Remus stared at him, fought the urge to touch him.
Harry finally looked up. ‘Why did they have to come to the match?’ he demanded.
He pursued his lips, occupied his hands with the broken latch of his briefcase. Surprising how little of James there was in this serious child. Strange Harry, the baby who never cried. ‘They’re getting hungry,’ he answered absently. Folded over the latch. ‘Dumbledore won’t let them into the school, so their supply of human prey has dried up... ‘ He lifted a shoulder in imitation of Harry’s shrug, and met the boy’s eyes, fierce but silent behind their thick lenses.
‘Azkaban must be terrible,’ Harry returned. His hands were hidden in the long sleeves of his robe. Remus imagined that his fists were clenched. But the face was young. The cheeks were round, the lips hesitating. The set of the spine begged for reassurance.
He murmured, ‘The fortress is set on a tiny island, way out to sea... but they don’t need walls and water to keep their prisoners in, not when they’re all trapped inside their own heads, incapable of a single cheerful thought.’ He offered the only comfort he could. ‘Most of them go mad within weeks.’
‘But Sirius Black escaped from them,’ the boy mused. ‘He got away...’
A spasm of his numb hand, and he lost the briefcase as he slid it from the desktop. He bent to catch it, his heart thumping. Harry stared, startled. ‘Yes,’ he managed, ‘Black... must have found a way to fight them. I wouldn’t have believe it possible.’ He fingered the latch, held both the handles tightly in one hand. ‘Dementors are supposed to drain a wizard of his powers if he is left with them too long.’
Harry’s eyes were as keen as Hermione’s on the verge of an idea. ‘*You* made that Dementor on the train back off,’ he noted.
‘There are– certain defences one can use,’ he replied carefully. ‘But there was only one Dementor on the train. The more there are, the more difficult it becomes to resist.’
He expected it, but it was fully Harry, and not his parents, who demanded, ‘Can you teach me?’ That hard eagerness, the solemn determination was all Harry.
That night over tea, Dumbledore expressed his doubts in a single burning glance. ‘I thought you were past breaking rules, young Mr Lupin.’
Minerva was staring at him in horror.
He examined the floating leaves in his ceramic glass to avoid their gazes. ‘It’s advanced, yes. But hardly illegal. And you can’t tell me he won’t find it useful.’
The tiny Professor Flitwick tapped his chin thoughtfully, the fading sunlight from the window orange in his beard and spirally curls. ‘Potter’s not brilliant,’ he contributed bluntly. ‘But he’s quick. And he *is* the one most affected by the Dementors, Albus.’ Shyly, he pushed a new cup at McGonagall, thoughtfully supplying the sugar tongs as well.
Severus Snape spoke from the bookshelves, turning to face them, his black-wrapped figure rigid. ‘I am of the opinion,’ he said stiffly, ‘that Harry Potter knows entirely too much that he shouldn’t as it is. It is not the place of his teachers to supply him with ample opportunity to make mischief.’
‘It’s not mischief,’ Remus retorted. ‘He hears Voldemort murdering his mother. He’s desperate. Do you think it was easy for him to come to an adult for help? When have any of us ever done anything for him?’
Silence fell heavily. Minerva looked anywhere but at him; Dumbledore’s pale icy eyes met his. Severus turned away.
At last, the Headmaster asked, ‘I take it you have decided to grant his request, Remus?’
He dropped his eyes. ‘With your permission, sir.’
‘Unsupervised?’ Snape interrupted. ‘You can’t be serious.’
‘Either you trust your own potion or you don’t,’ he returned. ‘I’m no more dangerous than you are, and considerably less so, as concerns the peace of this school. Or shall you assign the students an essay on hunting down Dark Creatures, next?’
‘What’s this?’ The plump Professor Sprout blinked wide-eyed at them.
Snape held his eyes in a silent dare.
Dumbledore restored order by tapping the surface of his desk, and drawing their attention back to him. ‘Kindly visit my office, Remus, and we shall hash out between us what Harry ought and ought not to learn. And I believe in terms of supervision that a few reports now and then are plenty to keep us appraised.’
He bowed his head in acknowledgement.
Severus snorted his contempt of them all, and was ignored.
Madam Pomfrey stopped him with a touch on the arm while the others began to take their leave. Remus occupied himself stacking their used saucers and cups, work that a house-elf would be along to complete with far greater efficiency. Pomfrey moved to a seat beside him, smiling away his questioning glance.
When they were alone, she took his hand between hers and patted it. ‘Spend some time with me,’ she asked. ‘It’s so rare that I get to see my favourites once they leave Hogwarts.’
He was absurdly pleased with her admission, and couldn’t hide his schoolboy blush. ‘Surely not,’ he managed.
She took his cup back from the pile he’d made, and refilled it with tea. ‘I’m so pleased to see how you’ve grown. You hold your own with the professors, no doubting that.’
He accepted the tea. ‘I suppose so. As long as they let me, anyway.’
She smiled at that, and unpinned her wimple-like head scarf. He spent a moment admiring her hair, still lustrous and thick, though greying like his own, now. ‘You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known,’ he told her honestly.
Now it was Pomfrey who blushed. ‘Well, I suppose that confirms it. You’re not my pretty little first year anymore, are you?’
He laughed, suddenly relaxed. ‘I’m afraid not, ma’am. I haven’t been that in a long, long time.’
‘How’s your young man? The doctor?’
‘He’s well. Or at least, well, but angry at me.’ He shrugged away her sympathy. ‘It’s just that we’re far apart. But I’ve already told Dumbledore... I want to go home after this year.’
‘I thought you would,’ Pomfrey admitted. ‘I don’t think Albus truly expected you to come on permanently, Remus. And for myself, I was never gladder for you than when you told me you’d made a home for yourself with your family.’ She sat back in her chair, gazing at him. ‘It was a long journey,’ she observed softly.
He only nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But I think I may have reached my destination.’
The office was dim when he entered, his notes tucked under his arm. The door was unlatched, and he passed it without knocking. Lupin slept at the desk, his head pillowed on his arm, a wrist with stark bones extending fingers marked with ink stains and tiny cuts.
Severus dropped his folder to the desk. The sound wasn’t loud, but it woke the man. He raised his head quickly, and rubbed at his cheek. Wrinkles from his sleeve were printed into his skin.
‘We need to talk about the wolfsbane,’ Severus said.
The grey eyes focussed slowly. He sighed. ‘Please,’ he murmured. ‘Sit down...’ He gestured to a chair in the corner. Snape turned for it, but it came at Lupin’s beckon, appearing at his side with only a tiny whoof of air to announce its new location. Severus raised his eyebrows. ‘You don’t normally show off,’ he noted. Lupin hadn’t even bothered with a wand, and Severus wondered enviously if he could have done that himself.
‘Forgive me. I’m tired.’ Lupin cleared his throat, and watched as the other professor took his seat. ‘The wolfsbane?’
‘How long will you be here?’
The eyes turned downward, but it wasn’t coy. ‘Just the year,’ was the subdued reply.
He did not ask why. He could guess. ‘I won’t make the potion for you after you leave. You know that?’
The white fingers splayed across the desk, a blunt nail scraping at a blot on the inside of the middle left. ‘I understand.’ Remus stood; he looked around rather vaguely, then walked to the window and threw open the shutters. A cool breeze swept the room, stirring loose papers and fluttering his rumbled green robes. He said, ‘I appreciate all you’ve done so far. I know you would have preferred– otherwise.’
He no longer knew. ‘I don’t refuse out of pride. Not much, anyway. You can’t keep taking it. You will die.’ He touched his folder, found little reassurance. ‘You... are dying.’
There was no answer, and his temper stirred. ‘How long have you known?’ he demanded.
Remus moved. He looked young, leaning against the wall with his hands hidden behind his back, his head tilted back. The light was kind. At last, he said, ‘I’ve got a Muggle doctor. He assures me that I’ve still got a number of years.’
‘Does Potter know who you are?’ he asked abruptly.
Lupin looked at him, startled. ‘No.’
‘Why haven’t you told him?’ He measured the reluctance he saw on the face, opposite; he sneered. ‘Are you afraid he won’t love you if he knows the truth?’
‘If in twelve years it had occurred to me to seek out his love, I’d have done it, thank you very much. I’m his friend as much as I would be the friend of any student.’
‘Black will come for him. You know it. Dumbledore set you here to kill him. When he comes for Potter, you’ll be standing directly in the path.’
‘Yes,’ Lupin answered very quietly. ‘If he comes.’
‘Malfoy and Black. That’s two murderers to your credit. That I know of, anyway,’ he added archly. ‘You weren’t exactly discrete.’
‘I think you ought to decide how much you really hate me, Sev.’ Lupin sighed. ‘It’s late. Will you stay?’
The flippant comment stung. It produced a sour taste on his tongue. ‘I’m not like you,’ he retorted, standing. ‘I only brought women to my bed.’
The grey gaze flickered. Remus looked away. ‘I know. I’m not asking– not asking for that.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Tell me about your lovers,’ he asked softly. ‘Please.’
‘Why do you want to hear that?’ he demanded.
‘Maybe I want to know you’re happy.’
He dropped the quill to the table. ‘You’re full of it. I don’t understand you. I don’t know who you are now. You’re the same, but– not. I want to know about the faeries.’ Frustrated, he halted himself, and forced his hands into stillness.
‘I hate the thought that you’re alone.’
Anger turned over in his stomach. Hate. Confusion. He stared at the window, to the black of night.
‘There was one,’ he whispered. ‘She was... special. Not because she was beautiful. But she was brave.’
Remus touched him. His hand was warm on Severus’s arm. ‘Who was she?’
It was spite, purely spite that made him say it. ‘Lily Potter.’
It was a blow, he saw with satisfaction. Remus was no longer touching him; his voice was tight with tension. ‘What?’
‘Oh, yes.’ He faced the man. ‘Why so upset, Lupin? You of all people scoff at adultery?’
He’d earned an actual flinch. ‘I didn’t know he was married.’
It was on the tip of his tongue to continue. He surprised himself by holding it back. Instead, he said, ‘It wasn’t an affair, so you don’t have to worry.’ He turned back to the desk, laid his hands flat on it. ‘It wasn’t even love. I haven’t even your excuse.’
It was a moment before the man replied, and his voice was subdued, at Severus’s back. ‘What was it, then?’
He remembered it with surprising lack of clarity. Her hair, her smell. ‘It was just a kiss.’
She’d come into his arms. He’d meant only to comfort her. Her mouth had turned up to his. And as she had started it, it had been her who pushed him away.
After the killing. The Muggle family, with the young son. He’d expected her pain. He’d expected her paleness, her agitation. She hadn’t cried– not her. But he’d held her nonetheless, and she fit more perfectly than any other woman had. His shoulders had pulled tense, fearful of spying eyes, terrified they knew, his so-called compatriots–
‘It was just once.’
She’d said nothing; not, I love my husband; not, I have a family. Not even– tell no-one. She hadn’t had to. He’d understood.
Lupin murmured, ‘She was amazing,’ and in those words there was nothing more than companionship. He felt grateful, and was glad to have finally confessed what had lain on his heart for twelve years, and never more heavily than since her son had come to his classroom.
He faced Remus. ‘I won’t be coming to your room anymore,’ he replied.
The grey eyes turned down. The slender shoulders slumped almost unnoticeably, but Severus noticed.
‘It’s too hard,’ he explained awkwardly. ‘There’s too much– history. I don’t know what to think about you. I don’t know what I’m feeling when I’m around you. And I have a life, Lupin. A whole life without you in it, except for these times when you come back and everything has to change. In all honesty, I don’t like change all that much, Remus.’
‘Yes,’ Lupin whispered. ‘I think that’s... best.’
At the door, the soft voice stopped him. ‘Sirius will come. I hate what he did. I won’t let him go without a fight.’
He didn’t know if he believed that. But he said, ‘Yes.’
Sirius crept closer, sniffing the air nervously, crouching low to the grass. He hovered beside the corduroy tower, wondering if he should sneak under it, or dare to be visible and have a chance at seeing the game going on over his head.
No-one was near. The smell of the students was far above. All would be concentrating on the game, not on a dog, a small blotch of black far below on the grass. No-one would look for a dog.
There. Under the wall. Inside the wooden ring, slinking on his belly forward. Heard the applause. Cheers. Announcer cried, ‘Potter’s really putting it through the paces now... Firebolt’s going to the be broom of choice for the national teams this year...’
Paces. The broom. His stomach did a flop.
He stepped a paw up onto a shelf of rough board, and began to climb an awkward staircase. His limbs rebelled as he neared the top, nervous of discovery... no-one would look for a dog... and then fresh air brushed his nose, ruffled the fur of his crown, and if he stretched his neck he could see the players on their brooms, swooping expertly and effortlessly across the blue stretch of sky.
He sought out the Seeker in Gryffindor scarlet. Still in the air, watching quietly, strength and edge harnessed in his careful search. Looks like James up there, he thought, and his heart squeezed in his chest. But James had always moved, had always floated slowly, the head turning at every quick movement. Not his son. Harry.
Black in the corner of his vision. He looked. Boys, creeping in the wooden structure. Giggling. Long black robes, with hoods. One held a skeleton’s hand, and as Sirius watched, fit it at the edge of his sleeve.
Even in the dim light, even knowing they were only boys, he shuddered. Dementors. Looked like Dementors. He dropped from his post, slid backwards into a shadow.
The boys conferred in heated whispers. The thin one balanced his foot on another’s leg, and pushed himself over the edge. He leaned back to pull his companions after him.
His ears, straining from his tension, heard the shout even above the noise on the pitch. ‘*Expecto patronum!* in a voice thunderous and strong. He resumed his position, head over the edge of the pitch.
Saw the boys. Saw professors racing down, pouring onto the green. Dumbledore, grey hair and vivid green robes. McGonagall– he remembered the hats. Another. Remus.
Should go. Shouldn’t wait for someone to see him. He whined, then cut himself off.
Remus turned. Sharp ears, near the moon. His eyes searched. Sirius cowered. Remus lifted a hand to his mouth, thoughtfully– where he’d been bit, that Sirius had done to him; Sirius jumped lightly down from his perch and sprinted for safety beneath one of the towers.
Harry’s landing drew Remus away from contemplation of the stands. Perhaps it had only been his imagination, anyway. He stirred himself to move, leaving McGonagall to scold the boys, and wove through the crowd of children until he reached Harry’s side.
‘That was quite some Patronus,’ he quietly congratulated the boy.
Harry’s face was flushed with excitement. He actually gripped Remus’s arm, and despite himself, Remus was pleased at the contact. ‘The Dementors didn’t affect me at all!’ Harry was saying. ‘I didn’t feel a thing!’
Dumbledore, coming toward them, caught Remus’s eyes. He smiled, and raised an eyebrow. Wind blew his bare hair crazily, making him look like a wicked old fiend.
He looked back to Harry. ‘That would be because they... weren’t Dementors,’ he said slowly. ‘Come with me?’ He led the boy by a touch on the shoulder, and the other students let them pass. Dumbledore caught them up just as they reached McGonagall’s side.
Harry couldn’t hide an almost silent noise of delight when he saw Draco Malfoy and his chubby friends scrambling, flinching, from their Dementor robes, tripping over the skeleton hands they’d filched. Remus watched him, and smiled himself.
The Weasley twins called Harry away. The Gryffindor Seeker flashed a brilliant smile at Lupin, and turned and ran away, light and athletic over the green stretch.
Dumbledore’s arms were serenely folded against his chest when Lupin looked back. ‘He’s a good lad,’ he murmured.
He cleared his throat. ‘Yes.’
‘You’re welcome to stay. You know that.’
He was already shaking his head. ‘I can’t. What’s more, I’m not sure I want to.’ Severus stood at the edge of the group, watching him. ‘This place and I... don’t mix.’
The Headmaster shrugged philosophically. ‘I suppose I must accept your decision.’ He turned his eyes, twinkling behind their half-moon lenses, to Malfoy, who scowled as Goyle tried to help Crabbe to his feet. ‘Minerva seems to be regaining her nerves, but I think I will ask you to handle their detention nonetheless. Are you up to the challenge?’
Remus could almost have called his smile a smirk. ‘I might think you had a cruel streak.’
Dumbledore’s mirth faded. ‘You have to face the boy sometime. Don’t let yourself be crippled by the past.’
He gazed at Draco. There were no visions of the infant he had been, not after all this time. And, to be fair, few enough of his father.
‘Do you resent me very much, Remus?’ The old eyes were clear as ice.
He looked up. ‘No,’ he replied at last. ‘You’ve been too great a friend to me, when I least deserved it.’ He rubbed his throat through the fraying wool of his scarf. ‘I suppose it’s myself I resent.’
Dumbledore laid a hand on his shoulder. ‘You’re a good lad, Remus Lupin. I’ll tell Argus to arrange a detention for the boys.’
‘No.’ He dredged up a smile. ‘I’ll take them. It’s been on my mind to run down some Red Caps from the Forest. They might as well do something useful.’
Severus met his eyes, and turned away.
Remus gazed at Sirius. He hesitated; Harry’s fear was rolling off in waves. He reached out toward Sirius, touched his filthy hand.
They lowered their wands together.
King of Man, he thought, with a little awe. Arawn himself had never looked so majestic as Sirius did in that moment. Sirius’s eyes were turned down, black with passion. His sunken chest heaved; his dirty, scabbed fingers were clenched nearly white. But he lowered his wand, and as Remus watched, the hate seeped away, leaving only the thin shoulders, straight and strong, and... tears, disappearing through the grime into the wild black beard. Twelve years’ survival on hatred, and for the wish of a boy, even a special boy, he gave it up.
Sirius looked up, straight at Harry, oblivious to Remus’s silent study. ‘You’re the only person who has the right to decide,’ he said hoarsely. ‘But think... think what he did...’
Harry scrubbed a hand across his forehead, wiping away sweat. ‘He can go to Azkaban,’ he repeated. He looked directly back at Sirius, the look of a young man of strength. Compassion was in his eyes, in the set of his mouth, and it was compassion for Sirius Black as much as for Peter Pettigrew. ‘If anyone deserves that place, he does.’
Remus looked to Harry. He remembered a very different voice, stubborn and sullen. ‘*He deserves it. For some things...*’ And for a moment, he felt pride swelling in his chest. James, he thought; James, you’d be so proud of your son.
He sighed. ‘Please stand aside, Harry.’
The green eyes flicked to him. Harry didn’t move.
‘I’m only going to restrain him,’ he promised. ‘That’s all. I swear.’ Gently.
Harry nodded once, sharply. His hand trembled as he wiped his temple again. When he stepped aside, it was with relief. Remus brushed his shoulder, and turned to the shuddering wreck that was Peter.
He bent to secure his magical ropes, testing their hold. Peter could not meet his eyes. ‘You should have stayed dead, Petey,’ he whispered.
Peter looked at him then, mutely.
They walked together, not quite silent; little stutters of speech broke out as they shook off the tension, minute after minute. He walked beside Peter, with Ron grim and pale with pain. Hermione glanced back frequently, and once, smiled tremulously at him. He smiled back.
Peter, beside him, was silent. He stumbled as he walked, and his head was bowed. He shook with occasional, dry, sobs.
Sirius spoke suddenly at the head of the line. ‘You know what this means?’
It was addressed to Harry, who looked solemnly up at him. ‘You’re free.’
Sirius managed a rusty smile. ‘Yes. But I’m also... I don’t know if anyone ever told you–‘ His voice hitched. ‘I’m you’re godfather.’
Harry glanced back at Remus. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I knew that.’
Sirius coughed to clear his throat. ‘I’ll understand, of course, if you want to stay with your aunt and uncle. But– well– think about it. Once my name’s cleared... if you wanted...’
‘Live with you?’ Harry exclaimed. Hermione laughed nervously as his voice broke. ‘Leave the Dursleys? Have you got a home? When can I move in?’ Ron grinned, beside Peter.
Moonlight, standing beneath the branches of the tree. He had forgotten. It bent him double. Vomit rose in his throat, and he clenched his jaw against the swift onset of pain. Moon.
Ron made a noise of horror. He reached out, saw his own hand– paw– claws. The smell of his own blood assaulted him.
Heavy dog slammed into his side. He snarled, turned to bite; was bound by human-cloth and human-metal. He wrenched at it. The dog hit him again, growling, and its teeth were in his fur, ripping him, shoving pulling heaving. He tried to bite, snapped his jaws on empty air. Dog drove him toward trees, away from the humans, away from the meat. He broke from the metal, and he ran.
He was wet.
He lifted a clumsy hand to wipe his face. He lay on his side, curled loosely. There was blood in his mouth, but he knew the taste was his own.
A warm heavy weight settled over his back. ‘Here now,’ a rumbling voice murmured. ‘You rest easy, Professor Lupin. Let me see tha’ hand of yours.’
Blanket. No– coat. Stiff hair coat. His vision was bleary, marred by tears. He blinked them away, stared up at the dark, massive form that crouched over him.
‘All righ’, Professor?’
‘Hagrid,’ he croaked, and his throat ached.
The groundskeeper patted him gently on the shoulder, and began to wrap a thick blue handkerchief around his blooded hand. ‘Looks broken,’ he noted. ‘Let’s get you back to the grounds. No sense stayin’ in the Forest.’
He was being carried. For someone so large, Hagrid was very gentle. The rumbling thunder of his low voice was a comfort. ‘Remember when you were jus’ a lad. Carried you m’self more’n’ once... Rest easy, Lupin. You jes’ rest.’
He slept against the thick warm chest.
Remus Lupin was standing by one of the bay windows when Dumbledore allowed him admittance. His stance was a quiet one, hands linked behind the back, feet spread evenly. But his jaw was clenched, a muscle jumping in his cheek. Severus grimly noted that, and almost missed the grave look he was receiving from Dumbledore.
‘Sit,’ the old man said. He gestured to one of the tall-backed chairs. ‘Please.’
‘I prefer to stand,’ he replied cooly.
Dumbledore removed his spectacles, and levelled a long look at his former student.
Severus chose to sit, but he sat straight-backed, staring stonily ahead.
The Headmaster idly sifted through items on his desk, his eyes drifting away from the teachers. At last, his voice a casual murmur, he said, ‘I have heard many explanations this past night. I believe I would now like one to account for this morning.’
‘In the face of your refusal to accept the fact that Remus is a danger to the school, I took matters into my own hands,’ Severus answered neutrally.
Dumbledore glanced up. ‘I would be within my rights to ask for your resignation.’
He only nodded. ‘Ask for it, then. You’ll never find anyone as skilled as I am to replace me.’
‘Unfortunately, you have already left me in such a position in the case of the Dark Arts Defence position.’ The old man sighed.
‘I did what I knew was right. The students have a right to know.’
Lupin spoke from the window, drawing his gaze. ‘Balls,’ he said softly.
‘I must agree.’ Dumbledore laid his hands in his lap, leaned back in his chair. ‘This was a personal matter. And you made it a matter for the entire school to share.’
‘I’ve kept his secret since we were fifteen years old,’ he retorted, breaking his own self-imposed composure. ‘I should have told it then. How many times must he come *near* to killing before you’ll open your eyes, Albus?’
‘Your concern is noted.’ The Headmaster’s gaze was cool, and disbelieving.
He didn’t back down. ‘I don’t say this out of anger or jealousy, Albus. I don’t say it because I believe Lupin is maliciously preying on the students. I say it because Potter, Weasley, and Granger could be dead or worse right now.’ He looked at Lupin. ‘Not to mention myself and Black. And Sirius Black doesn’t need any new way to hurt Harry.’
Lupin met his gaze. After a moment, he nodded, resigned, and turned back to the window.
‘Well,’ Dumbledore said at last. ‘It seems that both of you have already been punished.’
Remus spoke to Severus without turning. ‘We’ve forgiven each other quite a bit, in our time,’ he murmured. ‘I wish you might have forgiven me for Sirius.’
He stood, brushing the skirt of his robe. ‘It’s not him. It’s you. Whether he really killed James and Lily– I think he did. But you don’t. I’ve faced humiliation and death for you. And you brought Black within feet of Potter. You’re either deathly naive, Lupin, or you’ve become what the rest of us have.’ He waited for a response, and got none. Dumbledore gazed on, and did not interfere.
‘Were you really with the faeries?’ he persisted. ‘I’d actually started to believe it. No. No, I do believe it. I think you’re mad, Remus. Human or not, whatever happened in Annwn unbalanced you. Maybe you weren’t in league with Black all along, maybe you thought you knew something we didn’t. But perhaps you were just using Hogwarts, waiting for your chance. Did you help him escape? Or was it merely an opportunity?’
‘I left Voldemort,’ Lupin said quietly. ‘You know that.’
‘I know.’ His throat was dry, and he swallowed with difficulty. ‘But did you leave Black?’
Dumbledore stood abruptly. ‘No-one in this room is free of regrets. But I will not suffer unfounded accusations.’ He sighed. ‘Remus had planned on leaving the school. I am sorry, my boy, but I think it must be sooner than you’d planned.’
‘And Black?’ Severus asked.
‘Time will prove or disprove Sirius’s innocence. In the meantime, the Ministry are responsible for him, and not Hogwarts. We will occupy ourselves with teaching, and nothing more.’ Dumbledore indicated the door. ‘I’m afraid I must ask you both to depart. I have a number of letters to answer. Remus, I will have a carriage brought around. I will owl you at the first opportunity.’
Lupin bowed slightly. ‘Sir.’ He met Severus’s eyes as he turned. His mouth opened, but nothing emerged. His eyes dropped, and he walked past without a word.
Severus passed Harry Potter on the way to the dungeons; the boy was breathless from running, and dishevelled. Harry spared him one searing glance, and nothing more.
Harry stood beside the carriage, a hand on the door. Wind tossed his dark hair, sometimes revealing, sometimes concealing, his scar. His face was pale and serious as he watched Remus load his suitcase and secure it in the back.
‘Will you ever come back?’ he asked.
Remus wiped his forehead; the weakness of the transformation had not entirely left him. He gazed down at his student. ‘No,’ he replied, at length. ‘I doubt it. But I should like to remain your friend.’
Harry gave him a lopsided grin. ‘I’d like that too.’
The driver appeared, signalling the glass tank was safely stowed. Remus nodded briefly, and the man began to climb up to his seat. Remus glanced at his pocket watch, and tucked it back into his shirt. ‘I should be leaving now, if we plan to make it to Durham by evening.’
Harry nodded, and opened the door for him politely.
He thought, James would have spared Peter, exactly as you did. Lily– I don’t know. But she’d have been proud of you, nonetheless.
He said, ‘My master once told me that the day would come when I’d have to choose between my friends and myself. He said– he said that I would be hurt, and wronged, and that I would want to do the selfish thing. He warned me to choose rightly. I almost didn’t, last night. I would have killed Peter.’ He touched Harry’s arm, looked down at the frowning forehead, the subdued eyes. ‘You made the right choice, Harry,’ he added softly. ‘You made the right choice for all of us. And I’m thankful.’
The lines in the forehead eased, a little. Harry smiled. ‘Thank you, Professor.’
The ruins were damp, the fire almost burnt out. Remus eyed with distaste the small pile of bones, nudged them with the toe of his boot. Rats.
The dog shifted in sleep, scratched his ear with a hind paw. Remus dropped his pack, and said, ‘If you’re this easy to sneak up on, you’ll be caught before the month is out.’
The dog’s eyes flew open, and a moment later, the thickset brown form blurred. Sirius Black sat up, scratching his ear. ‘No-one else would have made it past the wards,’ he said hoarsely.
‘I’m flattered.’ He scrubbed his hands on his robe, then bent to feed sticks to the fire, blowing on it to build it back up. ‘You look horrible,’ he added.
‘You’re not much better. You fall into a mud pool?’
‘You may have noticed it’s raining out.’ He drew his pack toward him, and removed a thermos. He drank, and tossed it to Sirius. ‘Do you plan to stay here?’
‘Only for a little longer.’ Sirius stood, and joined him beside the fire. ‘Did Dumbledore send you? How’s Harry?’
‘He was fine when I left. Going home to Lily’s kith.’ The fire needed dry tinder, which he wasn’t likely to find outside. He sighed, and sat, shedding his cloak and running his fingers through his hair, shaking it out.
Sirius said, ‘I don’t know if I mentioned, in the Shack. I missed you.’
He looked up across the fire. ‘You didn’t. I think I’m glad.’
Sirius reached out his hand. Remus hesitated; then he took it. Warm, square, familiar, and not.
He said, ‘You need to shave.’
Sirius dropped his hand. ‘I haven’t shaved in twelve years. Now doesn’t seem to be the time to start.’
‘You’ll feel more human.’ Remus cleared his throat, and turned to dig in his bag. ‘I packed you things, before I left Durham. I know I have a razor in here somewhere. Do you have a bowl? To hold water.’
‘I can rig something.’ The man seemed amused by his earnestness, subtly uncomfortable. He walked awkwardly, unused to his own legs, and came back with a broken coffee mug. He stood in the jagged stone archway, holding it out into the rain to fill.
Remus came to stand beside him, holding the razor and a bar of soap. ‘Are– are you ready?’
Sirius looked at him. ‘Yes.’
They sat among the fallen stones, and Remus rubbed the soap between his palms to make lather. Sirius was silent as Remus shaved him, and when Remus brought him out into the rain to wash his hair, he didn’t protest. Remus cut it carefully, inexpertly, knowing it didn’t matter. ‘You have the longest hair I’ve ever seen,’ he murmured, shaking off a handful of scraggly black hairs. ‘Except on Dumbledore.’
‘He’d be pleased to know he’s still setting trends.’ Sirius managed a smile. ‘I’d offer you food, but I don’t think you’d eat it.’
He recalled the bones. ‘No. I have fruit. It will do you good.’
‘Fruit...’ An extraordinary expression came over Sirius’s face, and Remus felt his breath catch. ‘I remember fruit.’
When night was falling on them, Sirius asked, ‘Where will you go from here?’
Remus spread out his cloak beside the fire, and stretched over it. ‘After Peter,’ he replied, and settled on his side.
The dark head came up. ‘You know where he is?’
‘Albus suggested it. He thinks that Peter might make contact with me, now that we know he’s alive.’
Sirius wove a hand through the air. ‘I’ll come with you.’
He shook his head, exhaustion already creeping over him. ‘No. You need to be near Harry. Protect him.’
‘You were his teacher.’
‘That doesn’t mean anything. He’ll love you. I saw it in his face.’ His eyes were drooping closed, and he let them. ‘He’s gorgeous, isn’t he? God, but I was so proud of him...’
Sirius’s hand moved through his hair, but he barely felt it. ‘I know.’
Remus was alone when he woke in the morning, and the ruined church was empty of all signs of its former occupant. He kicked the fire pit apart, and left without looking back.
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