“Don’t tell Sirius about this, James, promise me,” Sirius heard Remus saying as he hopped the last few steps up the chilly tower top. The murky light from the windows and the emptiness of the room made distinct the motions of him pressing his collar sharply between his fingers so it fell back into its neatly starched fold. James was standing a few paces away, his face stony. Only he turned to look at Sirius when he appeared.
“Don't tell me what?” Sirius asked, looking between the two of them.
“Sirius, mate!” James said, full of fake joviality. Sirius could see the way he was holding his shoulders tensed, his classic tell. James approached and dropped a hand onto Sirius’ shoulder but he shrugged it off. He wasn't going to play along, not when Moony was doing that thing where he held his elbows in towards his chest and kept his spine straight enough that he flattened out into something less noticeable.
“Don't tell me what?” he said again, sharper this time. He looked between them, fingers curling around his wand tight enough that the little runes pressed marks into his skin. Remus’ father had come to collect him inexplicably on Friday and he’d been out of sorts from the moment he came back. It was like being back in first year, when Remus had done his best to blend silently, watchfully, into the furniture.
“Padfoot, I think you should let this one go,” James murmured, turned almost so as to shield Moony from their conversation. Sirius stared at him from under heavy brows, remembering months of James acting as mediator, loyalty caught between the two. The high violin screech of can't be trusted reared up in the back of Sirius’ mind but he brushed it away.
A sudden sinking feeling dripped down over him... the way they’d been positioned when he’d spotted them on the map.
“What were you two doing up here?” he demanded.
“Just thinking,” Remus said absently, as if very far away from them, from this conversation. He was still looking out the window into the mist.
“What about?” Sirius bit, surprised at how hot his anger was flaring.
“Sirius-” James warned.
“No, James, I wont,” he flung up his hands, sending his scowl over to Remus, still poker faced. “You’ve been creeping around again and, and-”
Remus’ sigh filled the silence he’d left, choked by his own frustration. “James, I think I’d better talk to Sirius.”
After a moment of looking between them, James nodded, “Alright.” He gave Sirius a hard look before tripping off down the stairs.
The two of them stood in silence until the sound of his footsteps receded. Even then, it took a long moment before Sirius could find his voice to say, “What’s going on, Rem?”
“James got a new broom for his coming of age. I got a registry tattoo on my neck.”
A sinking feeling settled in the base of Sirius’ stomach. That was where he’d been.
Remus turned his back to him and pulled down the neck of his shirt. Sure enough, just above the knob of his spine sat three fat black numbers, swollen and malevolent in Remus’ skin: 389. The bastards had placed it so as to be barely covered by the collar of a shirt and he knew he would never see Remus in a t-shirt again. Remus flicked his collar back up and dipped one of his fine pale hands inside his robe. He pulled out a letter with a broken Ministry seal and held it out to him wordlessly.
Sirius opened it slowly, like it was a howler. When the flourish of a charmed quill caught his eye he scanned frantically over the page for whatever it was he was supposed to find.
Duty to your country, your fellow wizards
Dangers of your affliction Best for the future
Considerations Right choice
He lowered the letter. Remus was looking sightlessly out the window and Sirius had not felt this afraid in a long while. He could see it in his mind’s eye, the long drop from this tower, could hear the wind whipping at robes and the crunch of bones shattering as they collided with the lower rooves and then the cobbles below.
“Moony-” he said, desperate but Remus was placid as ever, the damned bastard, neck still twisted away. He wanted to pull him away from the window, clutch him but that would be childish and selfish he knew.
“Moony-” he said, hoarse, pleading.
“Well it’s not as if I’ve ever thought about it,” he said, mildly, as if he’d been talking about breakfast or socks or something stupid, meaningless.
Before he could even think of a reply Remus continued, tracing the tiny diamond panes of that made up the window with his finger.
“I guess this was just, I don’t know... it made it all real. It’s all come to a head and then the people at the ministry are always keen to remind you how much of a hazard you are. One nurse even asked me if I was really selfish enough to put my family through this.” He dropped his hand. “In some ways, this is the worst place I could have come to. I couldn’t change it for the world of course but-”
Sirius held his breath, watching, marvelling at the utter absence of emotion in Remus’ voice.
“You helped me realise that, with the... when you sent Snape down to the Willow. I’m a danger to everyone. In the real world, the outside world, everything is going to change Sirius and not for the better. I’m a beast and I’d almost forgotten it.”
His stomach rolled with revulsion, at himself and at the world for giving Remus this life, forcing him into a corner where it was easier to play the role allotted to him than try to be more. This was why he’d had to rage against his family’s little quirks because they grew into things like this. All that raging didn’t matter, it seemed, because even after all he’d done to escape the Old Black Values, he’d somehow fulfilled them anyway. The fact that his greatest shame had only contributed to whatever was eating Remus up made him feel small and very much like running.
Yet despite all that, he said, “I love you.”
Remus turned to him, wide eyed,“What?”
“I love you,” Sirius said fiercely, whatever this feeling was burning him up, bubbling through his veins. “I love you and if the stupidest mistake I ever made was making you feel like you shouldn’t... be here then I’ll never forgive myself, I promise.”
“You- you can’t be,” Remus said, shocked out of his stupor.
“It’s true. Its true and I’m sorry,” he offered, defiantly. Though why he felt the need to defy this coldness in Remus like this, he couldn't say.
“Please don’t go. I’ll be a selfish bastard but please, for me.”
A flash of condescension swept over Remus’ face and Sirius couldn't bear it. He reached for Remus and clutched him to him though he was rigid in surprise.
“Fuck the Ministry, fuck the Registry, fuck the moon. You are more than just a werewolf,” he said fervently. “You’re a swotty git, a chocoholic and a fucking mastermind. I won’t let you just be another name on the their file Moony, they don't deserve you.”
Remus relaxed into his hold and sighed. It tickled Sirius’ neck. “I’m tired Pads.”
“I’m tired of fighting to be Remus Lupin instead of just another werewolf.”
“I’ll fight for you, let me. You lock yourself up in the library and drown yourself in disgustingly milky tea and anyone who has a problem with it can fucking come talk to me and I’m a good dueller.”
Remus laughed hollowly against his shoulder and there were tears audible in it.
“Let me help Remus.”
“You can’t be my bodyguard forever,” he muttered.
“Course I can, With all the money I have from my uncle, I’ll never have to work again and you know what they say about idle hands.”
This finally got a little snort of laughter out of Remus and Sirius let go of the breath he’d been holding ever since James had left.
“Couldn’t let you loose on the world, they’re not ready,” Remus huffed.
“I need you to keep me in line, Moony. James gets distracted by redheads. He’s unreliable,” Sirius said, surprising himself at the sudden gentleness. It was somehow more of a confession than his earlier I love you.
From the clutch of his hand around his back, Sirius could feel Remus’ breaths getting shallower and shallower. He gripped him, still waiting. At last, Remus said, gasping, “They use silver in the ink, Padfoot, silver fillings,” and started to cry, almost noiselessly in that horrible way he’d perfected.
Sirius closed his eyes against the wave of rage that overtook him and released it. He let Remus hiccup into his shoulder, running hopefully soothing hands across his back and shoulders until the shaking subsided. He pressed a kiss to his temple, traitorous heart pounding all the while and held him until the shaking abated too.
“I want to be so much more than this,” Remus confessed, into his jumper.
Gently, gently, Sirius peeled away far enough to see his face. Remus glanced warily at him from red rimmed eyes.
“You will be,” Sirius told him, his thumb rubbing along a scar on his cheek. “I know it.”