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June 18, 1981

The final straw is when he trips over a rock by the side of the road; it’s from one of these low walls that may as well have been standing since the middle ages, stone stacked on top of  stone with nothing to hold it in place. This is not the first that has fallen in someone’s path, nor will it be the last, but right now this rock, the colour of the cloudy sky wreathed in lichen like a crocheted tablecloth, is the cruellest of them all. Remus is covered in thin red lines, all down his arms, his legs. One great gash on his shoulder, cutting right through scar tissue that had only just solidified into something permanent. His clothes were someone else’s until this morning, snatched from a washing line the other side of the parish. Now, torn at the knee. Both knees.

He sits, back to the wall, curls his grazed knees up to his chest, and cries into his hands. His palms are his reprieve: there’s no open skin for the tears to sting. He’s skin and bones after nights like these; he knows he eats, but never more than rabbits or maybe a deer, and he knows the physical exertion more than outweighs whatever he might gain. Some mornings it feels like he’s disappearing. Twenty-three and frail like an old man, sobbing like a child.

There’s someone else on the road. Remus knows he must have heard the footsteps coming when they were further away, the sound of fine flat soles on an uneven bed of gravel and leaves. But, like the wind in the trees, or a howl cutting across a quiet summer night, he has learnt to place this noise squarely in the background, until it grows close enough that it might be a threat. He looks up and he sees a young man coming towards him at a clip, and it dawns on Remus far too late that the fellow might try to talk to him. He scrambles to his feet, and the man shoots out an arm, catching his shoulder—the sore one, not that he’d be able to tell.

“Fuck,” Remus says, “fucking hell, that hurts.”

The man jerks his hand back. “Are you alright?”

Remus doesn’t know how to respond to that. Is he alright? Does he look alright, having a cry by the side of a road in the middle of nowhere? Remus isn’t even sure where he is, let alone whether or not he’s alright. Even if he did have an answer, Remus knows better than to offer it. He knows to hold his tongue around people like this.

“Just got a bit of a bruise there,” he says. Then, as an afterthought: “Sorry if I scared you. Been a long day.”

“It’s ten.”

In the morning. Right.

“Look,” the man says. He pauses a long while. There are birds singing and a light rain falling and not another person for miles around. He seems to take all of this in, as Remus does, before settling on the right words. “I don’t know how you got out here in your state, but it’s dangerous for you to be out wandering these parts alone. If you need a place to lie low, I live nearby.”

Ah, Remus thinks, the kindness of strangers, ever conditional.

The last person who had the misfortune to cross his path the morning after a full moon was a little old lady called Emily who put a blanket around his shoulders and invited him in for tea and cakes. Remus had sat dutifully in her living room and let himself be doted on. He drank the English breakfast and ate the orange cake and threw it all up in the celadon green ceramic toilet bowl half an hour later, while floral lace curtains bore down on him in judgement from a high window to a garden full of perennials. But if her beautiful house and beautiful garden screamed that this wreck of a man was out of place, Emily didn’t mind; said he was sick, said she was old and lonely and needed the company. Remus lasted five days before his funny turns and the nights he woke screaming became too much for her to bear, and she threw him back onto the streets without so much as a slice of orange cake for the road.

This was, what, somewhere near Worcester? Seven months ago. He wouldn’t have stayed longer than five days, really; tries not to let it bother him. Definitely would’ve had to leave before the next full moon. Now he’s further south, south of the Cotswolds even. He’s been in and out of national parks, living in bus shelters the rest of the time. He can make fire to keep himself warm, no problem. So long as he’s on his own, he’s no burden to anybody

Some days he wishes he’d gone north, to Scotland. Would’ve been worse in the winter, but at least there were whole tracts of country with not a soul to be found. He only picked south in case he ever wanted to get a bus to London, find a nightclub, shag someone he shouldn’t. Really bad decision on his part. Still hadn’t caught that bus.

“Thanks,” he says, “but I’m really quite alright.”

The man’s eyebrows shoot up. “Oh, yeah, so that’s why your bruise is bleeding where I grabbed you?”

Remus hadn’t even realised. “I can take care of it.”

“I’m sure you can,” the man says, a sort of perversely satisfied smile on his face, “but will you be able to do it as well as I can, with magic? Well, don’t look so shocked, you practically reek of it.”

“Awfully big gamble,” Remus says. He’s aiming for nonchalance; there’s panic beneath the surface. “You might just have broken the International Statute of Secrecy.”

“But now I know I didn’t.”

“What would you do if I were a Muggle? Patch me up and wipe my memory?”

The man shrugs. “They wouldn’t be able to pin a conviction on me. I’d just let you roam free and spend the rest of your life convinced that this entire encounter was a dream.”

If only.

His dilemma takes on a new form: Muggles think he’s strange but intolerable; a Wizard might think him dangerous. But if Remus stays one night, sneaks out the next morning… well, he might incidentally have stumbled into better care than he’s had for almost a year, than he might ever have again.

The man takes out a wand and waves away the blood seeping through whoever’s clothes Remus stole. “Let’s get you inside,” he says, “and I’ll see to that wound.”

The pain does not ebb, but at the sight of the clean shirt Remus almost smiles. “Show me the way.”

 


 

Smug-and-posh is called Sirius Black, they’re somewhere just north of Bath, and Remus is an idiot for letting himself get too close to highly populated areas. He really should’ve gone to Scotland.

Sirius leads him down the long road until they hit civilisation, or as close as you can get in this part of the country. It’s a small town with cottages so twee they’d surely put every other English idyll to shame, flower boxes out front, cobbled streets, the kind of place Agatha Christie would visit to plan a murder. Remus hopes like hell that this isn’t where Sirius lives; small towns are poison to strange people.

“Don’t recognise you from Hogwarts,” Sirius says. Remus is sure it’s meant to sound like idle, light conversation, but he can tell Sirius is confused.

He cuts in before Sirius can get any further: “What year were you?”

“Class of ‘78. Gryffindor.”

“I was ‘76,” Remus lies; he would’ve graduated two years ago too, if he’d been allowed to attend Hogwarts. He makes himself older because he figures the scars and the bags under his eyes are already doing most of the heavy lifting for him. And he knows enough about Hogwarts to make a guess and say, “In Ravenclaw.”

“See, there you go,” Sirius says. “Can’t say I ever talked to a Ravenclaw in my life.”

Remus forces a smile to fit his lips until Sirius looks back ahead, leading the way. They keep walking, thank god, until they’re outside the town. It stays cloudy, so the walk is not unpleasant, but Remus is still aching from all his wounds and it’s been almost an hour; he’s starting to wonder when they’ll hit wherever it is Sirius lives.

These roads are lined with the same sort of low wall that had undone him that morning. It seems so stupid, now, that something so mundane could drive him so mental. That’s how it always is, he supposes. Every inch becomes a mile when you’re scared of heights. Now that he’s further from the wolf, he can see the wall for a safety rail, the fields beyond for a lake he could drown in.

He probably should have expected that, to get to Sirius’ house, he’d have to wade out into the waters.

The house is more of a mansion, really. More of a set piece from a horror story. Remus has never been in such a big or expensive-looking house in his life; it’s a bit smaller than how he’d always imagined Hogwarts to be, but not by much. It rises out of the fog as they trudge across the grass, daisies and wild carrot brushing their ankles. Remus knows this is magic. A house that only appears if you know you’re looking for it, if you have someone to gesture ahead and say, “Well, here we are.” But he’d never seen anything like this. Not in his magic.

“I suppose it’s too much to hope you live here alone,” Remus says.

Sirius turns over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised. “Why, you hiding from someone?”

“The opposite of that,” Remus says.

It’s not meant to make sense, but to stop any further questions; dutifully, Sirius doesn’t ask. Remus reckons he’d better keep his mouth shut from now on. He’s already said a little too much. And if Sirius is a Wizard, surely he’ll put it all together? The scars, the vagrancy, the morning after the full moon? Either he’s extraordinarily progressive, extraordinarily trusting, or extraordinarily stupid. Probably not progressive, not in a house like this: wood stained black and arched in gables over the rooms, glass-fronted cabinets packed with rare and expensive-looking curios, oil portraits on the walls moving between frames like they own the place—which each of them probably did, once. Probably not trusting, if he’s protecting this much wealth. But he doesn’t look stupid, either. Call that one a hunch.

The house is gapingly empty, like somebody’s cut through it with a knife. There’s no way Sirius could live here alone—at the very least, there would be house elves to do the upkeep—but still the place rattles with disuse, with cobwebs and dust, with open windows and doors swinging on their hinges. It smells like a cellar, even as they climb the stairs to more rooms, more open windows. There’s no hint that it’s abandoned, that Sirius is squatting here with some kind of renegade Wizard commune. His posh accent definitely says otherwise. The mansion is more like a doll’s house, discovered at the back of a cupboard and brought out for the children to play with it after decades of disuse.

“My room,” Sirius says, stopping at last at a firmly closed door. “You can stay for as long as you need. I’m not home often—just back for a little, ah, recreational espionage.”

“Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you should be telling me,” Remus says. He’s frantically trying to put the pieces together and coming up with nothing.

“You haven’t been living in a hedgerow for the past decade, have you?”

Might as well have been.

Sirius goes on: “Look, I’m not like my family, if that’s what’s spooking you. You Know Who is based elsewhere, he barely visits. And I’m… I’m working for some people whose heads are screwed on right. We look after people like you, who’ve been caught in the crossfire.”

Oh. Remus isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry: of course Sirius would assume he understood what any of this meant, if Remus were a Wizard, if he were part of magical society. But Remus is only a Wizard in the most tenuous sense of the word and he’s been kept away from their society for the good of pretty much everyone involved. If he’d gone to Hogwarts, maybe the name Sirius Black would mean something to him, or You Know Who, or even the people whose heads were screwed on right, whichever direction that was. If his father hadn’t pulled him aside age eleven and said, “Don’t you worry, Remus. If you don’t get a letter, that’s their problem, not yours. I’ll teach you all the magic you need to know.”

Which had gone to shit when Remus’ mother had become ill and his father had stopped teaching him to take care of her. Which made sense, and it was fine. Remus doesn’t miss it because he doesn’t know what there is to miss. It’s only times like now, when he’s a stranger in the establishment he ought to have been a part of, that it hits him how detached he really is. He doesn’t even know any other werewolves.

“Thanks,” Remus says. A nice, safe thanks. “I’m grateful for your help.”

He is, he is. He only wishes he could enjoy it for what it is, not spend the whole time he’s here scanning the hallways for escape routes.

“Get your shirt off,” Sirius says. “Let me have a look.”

The shirt is too big for him; most shirts are. He undoes the top button, warm flannel dropping away from skin, its presence sorely felt. The shirt’s picked up more blood at the shoulder. Remus only unbuttons it far enough that he can show Sirius his shoulder. That’s the pressing wound; the rest of them he can deal with himself.

Sirius gives a low whistle. “Did Death Eaters do this to you?”

When in doubt, better to avoid that line of questioning entirely. Remus says, “No.” He does not elaborate.

“Might’ve been, and you just didn’t know it,” Sirius says, bringing the tip of his wand up to the raw seam of Remus’ skin. “This part of the country in particular is swarming with them. Not all baddies wear a big black hood. You see a mark, on the forearm of the guy who did it? The left arm?”

“No,” Remus says again. “No mark.”

Sirius whispers a spell that Remus doesn’t quite catch, and his wound begins sewing itself back together. Remus bites down on his lip and holds his breath; it’s not so much painful as unfamiliar, a sensation that’s at once warm and cold running down his skin like

“Alright, but even if you’re not collateral,” Sirius says, “my people still look out for people like you.” He nods to himself like this is a line he’s practised, as opposed to an intrinsic instinct for nurture. Then his eyes snap up, sharp and grey and fixed right on Remus. “You’re not… ?”

“I’m not?”

Sirius grabs Remus’ left arm with too much force, too much when the spell is still fucking with his senses, and yanks up his shirtsleeve. He presses the tip of his wand to the scarred inside of Remus’ arm and hisses another spell. When nothing happens, Sirius slackens his grip. His sharp stare holds fast and Remus looks back, uncertain. He’s passed the test—why hasn’t Sirius let go of him?

“You don’t even know what I’m talking about.” Sirius sighs, and puts his wand away. He’s still cradling Remus’ arm in his other hand.  “The Death Eaters have marks on their left forearm, on the inside. Dark marks, they’re called. Big ugly tattoos, skulls, snakes, that sort of shit. I should’ve checked you for it when we first met, but I assumed—I didn’t think you were, but it’s protocol. We’ve got to check.”

So. Maybe a little trusting. Remus smiles, despite himself. He’s stopped trying to work out what it all means. Sirius’ careful attention may reek of artifice but it’s probably better than whoever the Death Eaters are; they can’t be all sunshine and tolerance with a name like that.

Sirius’ gaze flickers down to Remus’ arm again. “How about all these scars?”

“None of your business,” Remus says shortly. Muggles think he hurts himself. He always assumed Wizards would know the signs of a werewolf’s brief but frenzied appearances, the fights it gets into with other wolves, the harm it unwittingly inflicts upon itself. But apparently Wizards are just as stupid as anyone else. So long as they’ve been told someone is not like them, they’ll believe it. They’ll trust that.

“None of my business.” Sirius shrugs. “But I can help. I’m only staying here for another month or so. After that, you can come with me to my place in London, meet my friends; we keep a good stock of medical supplies, things that’ll help with this scarring…”

“Wait.” Remus shakes Sirius’ hand off him; no matter that he was sort of warming up to the idea of experiencing human contact again, after so long. “We barely know one another. I’m not following you to London. I’m not staying here for another month.”

Sirius gives him a significant look. “You’ll be safe here.”

He doesn’t get it, Remus thinks. Sirius has this idea that Remus is running away from something—and if these Death Eater people are as bad as they sound, it’s probably not such a terrible guess. The truth is that Remus is running away from something, but he’s been running and running for a year now and he’s slowly realised that the thing he thought he could escape was something he’d been carrying on his shoulders this entire time.

“There are worse places in the world to spend a month,” Sirius says, gentler. “I mean, yes, my family is on You Know Who’s side, but if I can bring myself to stay here for a month to keep tabs on them, then someone like you should have no problem with it.”

Remus nearly jumps out of his skin, one hand instinctively closing around the wand in his pocket. “Someone like me?”

“You know,” Sirius says uncomfortably, “neutral.”

So he’s chosen for Remus, taken a side on his behalf in some unknowable conflict. It’s probably better this way; Remus doesn’t know what either side stands for, and if that means being judged for neutrality by a partisan then he’ll cope with it. He can’t feel moral outrage if he doesn’t know what the morals in question are—although he gets the impression that the ones who call themselves Death Eaters and have snakes tattooed on their arms are probably the baddies.

“Fine,” Remus says. His fingers slacken, but he’s sure Sirius saw the action. “I’ll stay a while. Might not last a month in an upscale establishment like this, but—thank you.”

The words feel foreign. Thank you. But Remus takes what he gets. He doesn’t look at slightly too open Sirius and his strangely shuttered family manor and think about what might be lurking in the corners. He says thank you and stays in warm rooms under a roof with no leaks and then, a month later, he leaves. He gets on with his life, or whatever this is.

 


 

July 18, 1981

Sirius never goes to the kennels. They have a man on staff to deal with the dogs—a Nott or a Rosier or something. It’s not work for an heir. Not that Sirius has ever been the perfect heir, but they trust him enough to let him stay with them while they repair to the country home for the summer, reingratiate himself into polite society, maybe prove his worth… that’s the idea, anyway, behind the afternoon he spent back in Dumbledore’s office feeling like a naughty schoolboy about to get scolded—but he’s twenty, and Dumbledore said to him, “How would you feel about keeping an eye on your family for us?” So here Sirius is, playing nice and sticking to the main rooms, the well-lit corridors, and now, apparently, to the kennels. He’d talked down to Remus where matters of neutrality were concerned, but can he really claim to be any different?

The dogs are kept behind bars. They bring them out for the hunt, or if they need to chase some Muggles off the property and the protective spells just aren’t up to the task. Even the most notoriously pure of purebloods know there are some things better done the hard way. Nothing harder than the teeth of something halfway to a wolf sinking into your flesh. No greater deterrent.

Sirius crouches by the bars of a solitary pen, containing the wildest of their dogs, curled up on a bed of hay at the back of the enclosure. The newest addition. Sirius really should have paid more attention in DADA. If he’d let them drill the signs of a werewolf into his brain, he might have worked it out sooner, he might never have got attached, and then they wouldn’t be in this mess at all. He wouldn’t be compromising an important mission for the Order by wandering out of the way and down to the kennels.

“Remus,” Sirius says, a hitch in his voice, “what are we going to do about this?”

He prepares to lose a hand for the sake of that fluffy fur

He reaches out a hand and brushes his knuckles against the cold iron. The wolf is quiet, solitary. There is nothing to suggest he might remember being human.

Sirius has only known Remus for a month, but he fancies that in that time they’d got to know each other well enough. He’d been kind of thick about it—just assuming Remus was one of them and telling him all about his mission as soon as they met, blinded by a pretty face and kind eyes. Every day since then has been Sirius trying to patch up the mistake he made by dragging Remus into the middle of it all. Sure, Remus needed patching up, but Sirius shouldn’t have pressured him into staying. He just shouldn’t have.

“I made a mistake.” Sirius says it out loud, in case Remus is in there to hear him. “I thought I knew better than you.”

That’s what Remus had been trying to tell him, wasn’t it? He shuts his eyes and he doesn’t see the wolf, doesn’t see the bars; he sees Remus with his tattered hiking bag over his shoulder, tradesman boots splotched with dew from the grass as he goes down the hill backwards, looking over Sirius’ shoulder at the manor. Inky blue sky, a scattering of stars, a chill wind. Remus’ brows drawn together in anger. All of this aglow: the light of the full moon.

Sirius is trying so, so hard. This is where he was born. He may as well have grown from the same soil as these blades of grass. These are the attitudes he inherited; those were all the years he spent shaking them off. He left. He stayed with the Potters first, then at the flat his uncle left him—another black sheep raised in the same paddocks—then with the Order, wherever they needed him. He left, but he never cut ties completely. When the Order asked him to make nice, go back to his ancestral lands and keep an eye on the family, he’d hesitated. If he went back, acted sympathetic, would he regress? Is it a defect of his birth, that this is the earth that’ll always claim him?

It certainly feels like that now. Sexy punk renegades with Muggle motorcycles don’t force their hospitality on handsome strangers; they certainly don’t offer shelter to someone vulnerable by inviting them into the only place more dangerous than the streets. That’s the kind of thing that stuck up posh boys with no idea of the real world do.

So he’s staying here for however long it takes. Regulus held the wand, but Sirius was the one who cast the spell.

He stands, and shuts his eyes. Somewhere buried there’s a happy memory. Summers with James, climbing the tallest trees and jumping into lakes, screaming the whole way down. Sneaking around Hogwarts with James and Peter, slipping out to Hogsmeade with aging spells on and smuggling lollies and firewhisky back to the castle. Before they cared about the war. Sirius finds the memory he needs on a bright winter day, the three of them enchanting snowballs to whizz around the Great Hall and drop in people’s soup. They’d been given a week of detentions, but that was de rigueur by that stage. It’s the sharp whistle of the snowballs and the laughter as people realise what’s going on that Sirius remembers now, as he whispers, “Expecto Patronum.”

A massive dog shoots out the tip of his wand. It’s weaker than usual, but it’s corporeal, silver-bright and grinning with its mouth full of teeth and silvery slobber. The wolf perks up and sticks his nose through the bars, eyes following the Patronus as it bounds around the room.

“Send this to Emmeline Vance,” Sirius says. He wishes it could be James, ever his point of contact, but with the Potters in hiding they’re not communicating with the Order at large on anything, let alone Sirius and his mission. Out here, Sirius is more a danger than an asset. That’s why he’d handed over the role of secret keeper to Peter, and why Emmeline’s been looking after him on this mission, following his updates about his handsome houseguest with good cheer.

Sirius waves his wand in the pattern that encodes a message in the Patronus, and says, “Houseguest is unwell. It’s complicated. Am staying here indefinitely. Think of all the intel, though.” That last part, as he hopes Emmeline will be able to guess, is more for Sirius’ own sake. When he’s done with the message, he stops making the pattern. The Patronus wags its tail and runs in a circle, before disappearing through the wall.

Back when Sirius had been doing low level magic like enchanting snowballs and putting on an aging spell in the mirror, he hadn’t even known how to cast a Patronus. Now he’s using it to send secure messages, because unlike owls, the incorporeal cannot be intercepted—they’ve tried. But when he was enchanting snowballs and aging himself, he wasn’t afraid of magic. He wasn’t afraid of what people can do with power.

Now he turns back to the wolf. In the wake of the Patronus’ departure, the wolf looks downcast, but docile. Sirius shuffles forward, grips one of the bars, and sticks his hand through. Almost right away, the wolf sticks his nose forward and nuzzles at Sirius’ hand. This isn’t the bloodthirsty snarling creature of last night’s rampage. Sirius can think of a hundred and one reasons why the wolf might’ve calmed down, but none of them sit right. This is more magic he doesn’t understand, but he’ll do what he always does, when he’s come up against a wall: find a way through it.

“If you’re in there—” He swallows. “I’ll get you back.”

Sirius scratches the wolf’s ears one last time, and stands to leave. He doesn’t look for any traces of humanity on the wolf’s face; he knows that if he sees them, he’ll feel worse about leaving than he already does. And he can’t afford to stay here any longer. His parents are hosting a banquet tonight, which the heir can’t afford to miss. Don’t want them getting suspicious.

 


 

June 23, 1981

In as much as Remus can settle anywhere, he settles in Sirius’ bedroom. It’s not a bedroom in the typical sense of the word; from one winding corridor stems another, and from there a south-facing living room, a tidy, tiled bathroom, and a room with a massive bed and a walk-in wardrobe. All of it belonging to Sirius.

“The House Elves don’t come to this part of the house anymore,” Sirius had said; a little disappointing, because Remus has always wanted to see a House Elf in the flesh. “Still, best keep to the bedroom. I’d say you could sleep in the living room, but you’ll be safer this way.”

Remus didn’t ask, Safe from what?

Cheerfully, as though he was pleased to have something to do, Sirius had said, “I’ll conjure you an extra bed.”

Now Remus has been there for almost a whole week, without so much as a glimpse of the world outside these walls. His wounds have long since healed; he has no excuse for staying.

He tells himself it’s because the bed that Sirius conjured for him is comfortable, and there’s no shortage of things to do, even confined to one room. Sirius brings Remus books to read when he’s alone, but that’s not often. It seems the family doesn’t expect much of Sirius, or at least that his keeping to himself is not out of the ordinary, so he only leaves Remus for meals. The company is nice, too. Remus finds it almost too easy to luxuriate; there’s warm food, there’s a roof over his head, there are books he’d never have a chance to get his hands on otherwise. He tries not to give into the incredulity, the part of him that refuses to believe such hospitality could come without a catch. He’s safe. He’ll stay here until the next full moon, and then he’ll move on, wander further south, somewhere sunnier.

That night, Sirius leaves to take dinner with his family, and comes back with a full meal, expertly smuggled from the kitchens. “You’re lucky I’m an expert at this,” Sirius says. “You ever sneak into the kitchens at Hogwarts?”

Remus has been working on his Hogwarts cover story. Sirius is curious, so Remus has had to fabricate an entire series of O.W.L.s, N.E.W.T.s, and lonely nights in the library. “Oh, no,” he says, “can’t say I ever did.”

“No wonder,” Sirius says. “You have that look about you, like you don’t eat enough. Or maybe you’re a junkie.”

“I’m not a junkie,” Remus says, laughing. He doesn’t point out that life on the streets will do that to you; cover story or not, he finds himself holding his tongue a lot around Sirius.

They stay up late, sitting on Sirius’ bed and playing cards—Muggle cards, though Remus was hoping for something authentically magical, like exploding snap—and they end up lying there, side by side, the cards strewn between them. Everything indicates that they’ll fall asleep that way. Remus is a little shocked by himself. There’s more than enough space that it hasn’t got weird, but he doesn’t know when he last spent so long being civil in someone else’s presence.

The room is pitch dark and the curtains are closed, shutting out the waning moon. Sirius is a chatterbox; he tells Remus stories about his life, escapades that come to a head in close scrapes with Death Eaters, interspersed with regular life in London, the pubs and gigs he’s been to. He talks about going out to clubs and, maybe it’s just that Remus is hyper-aware of these things, but he could swear that Sirius very deliberately uses gender-neutral words for his dance partners. They’re lying awfully close by one another. Remus wonders if this why Sirius was so instantly welcoming—like recognising like. But Remus isn’t going to be the one to make a move, not in a thousand years, and Sirius doesn’t go for it either; they keep a few inches apart, though the space between them feels as fragile as a house of cards.

 


June 24, 1981

Remus isn’t used to waking up comfortable. He doesn’t feel sore or cold through to his bones. The jack of diamonds is resting face up on his chest. He flicks it off and gets up, goes to shower. When he’s back, Sirius has brought him breakfast.

Later that day, Sirius is unexpectedly “called away on business,” leaving Remus alone indefinitely. Remus isn’t the sort of person to let it get to him, the gloom of the manor on these rainy summer days, nor the solitude. But after so long wandering, he can admit that the confinement is starting to do a number on him. He waits half an hour after Sirius is gone and then slips out, wand in hand.

He knows, from when he arrived, that the manor is vast. He made his way to Sirius’ room through these same halls, but Remus is not one for staying anywhere for long, learning his way around. Maybe with time, he could… but he doesn’t have the luxury of time here. He won’t go far. And if it’s just Sirius and his family rattling around in all this space, the chances he’ll run into anyone are low.

The last time Remus came this close to the magical world was when his father took him to get his wand. He was eleven—it had become apparent that he would not be able to attend Hogwarts, so in mid-September, when Diagon Alley was quiet, his father took him to Ollivander’s. The shop was only open for a few hours every weekday afternoon. Inside, it was smaller than Remus’ bedroom, cluttered like it too, and there was a fine layer of dust over every surface. Ollivander looked surprised to see anyone in there other than himself.

Remus remembers the shop very well, as he spent quite a bit of time there, but not Diagon Alley itself, not the architecture nor the atmosphere. None of it was anything like this, though. Really, Remus thinks, this is no different to any of the fancy houses he’s seen on telly, except that the portraits blink and squint at him from behind their cobwebs. The walls are panelled with dark wood and the floorboards groan beneath each footstep. There are plenty of windows, but the glass is old and warped. Every corridor is a perfect imitation of the last; Remus backtracks regularly and picks a new path, to avoid getting lost. He doesn’t think Sirius will be mad at him for straying, but you never know. He certainly barely knows Sirius.

He’s about to turn and go back to his prison, when he turns a corner and runs into Sirius.

“I’m sorry,” Remus says quickly, “I didn’t mean to—”

He stops. It’s not Sirius. It’s someone who looks like Sirius in almost every way; same height, same pasty skin, and same dark hair, though cut a little shorter and more sensibly. There are deep bags under his eyes but he’s still handsome. Despite this, there’s something guileless about him that Remus has never seen in Sirius, and it makes him look younger.

“Who the hell are you?” the Sirius lookalike asks. His fingers are turning white, gripping his wand. It’s not raised yet, but something in his glare says it very well could be.

Against his better judgement, Remus says, “A friend of Sirius’.” And hopes that this brother—he has to be a brother—isn’t one of those Death Eaters.

“From Hogwarts?” The brother narrows his eyes; his wand hand twitches. “I don’t recognise you.”

“No,” Remus says. “I’m older than Sirius. We didn’t start hanging out until after he graduated.”

The brother seems to be weighing up his options the same way Remus is, choosing his next words carefully so that this conversation doesn’t end in a duel. He doesn’t want to fight, Remus realises. He’s got that hard set in his eyes and he’s holding his wand in a combat stance but he doesn’t want to.

“I’m just visiting,” Remus adds. “I’ll be out of your hair soon.”

“Our parents don’t know you’re here. Do what you need to do and then go.”

“Absolutely.”

“Don’t make it so that I have to intervene.”

Remus gets the feeling they’re having a different conversation to the one he thinks they’re having. He feels like he’s inside of a tree, these wooden walls looming and closing in on him, sucking all the air out of the space. He only lasted five days. Now he’ll have to leave, find somewhere else to take shelter. Someone to shag, probably, to get all this tension out of his limbs.

“I won’t,” he says.

Sirius’ brother steps to one side and, without letting their eyes meet, Remus steps forward, continues the way he was going. He gets a few metres and pauses. On the floor of the hallway, the path that Sirius’ brother has just vacated, there’s a scrap of parchment. Remus picks it up and turns around, but Sirius’ brother is already gone, and Remus is not about to call out.

Telling himself it’s just a momentary lapse of self control, he unfolds the parchment.

29th, 5pm, High Wycombe station. Thanks again. CD

Remus isn’t surprised that, if this really is a war like Sirius says it is, people are sneaking around and writing secret letters to one another. He shouldn’t have read this. He shouldn’t have it. So when he’s back in Sirius’ room, he’ll shove it in his backpack, and then get out of here. His backpack lies open at the foot of the bed and his clothes are scattered around it; Remus’ Muggle trousers sitting on top of one of Sirius’ poncy robes. There’s a Persian rug beneath the bed, red and gold hangings to brighten the dark walls.

Remus is going to miss it.

 


 

July 21, 1981

Regulus has been making himself scarce since it happened, and may well he do, because if Sirius ran into him any sooner he’d have likely socked his brother in the face. As it is, he’s taken some time to cool down, think about what he did and didn’t do and could’ve done better. He’s spent hours in the kennels, sitting in penitent silence—it’s a borderline self-flagellatory endeavour, because it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem at hand, but it does make Sirius feel a little better, and that’s enough, for now.

And when he’s done cooling off, he goes looking for Regulus. Sirius doesn’t remember the last time he sought his brother out. When they were kids, Regulus would trail after him, copying his mannerisms, always one second away from getting out a bit of parchment and taking notes. They were so close in age that Sirius had never really thought it mattered, but he supposed that for Regulus, being the younger brother was a sore point. No wonder Regulus stuck to the straight and narrow: there’s no reassurance for the spare, only the hope that his family approves of his choices enough to continue to support him. And if the heir should be sorted into the wrong house, go off the rails… well, then, who better to take his place than the son who’s been perfect all along? Sirius can’t pinpoint precisely when Regulus stopped trying to be him and started trying to be better than him. But it stuck.

“You have some nerve,” Regulus says, though he opens the door anyway, and lets Sirius into his quarters.

“For what?”

Regulus laughs, unhinged. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days. “For bringing a werewolf into our home? For thinking you could get away with coming back here at all, when it’s so obvious you’re working for the—”

“None of that is any of your business,” Sirius snaps.

“The Order is my business.” Whether he knows it or not, Regulus’ right hand flies to his left forearm, scratching at his sleeve. “The werewolf is everyone’s business. Is he registered?”

“How the hell should I know? I just…” Just found him sounds stupid, though it’s the plain truth. Sirius settles on: “Friends don’t ask friends that kind of question. I’m not a narc.”

“You’re a bloody fool, is what you are.”

Sirius paces the room. Everything about this space is so indistinctly Regulus. If he ever had a personality, he never let it show. The room could be any other room in the house. Regulus wants anyone who dares trespass to know that he’s the perfect son. Waiting, should the heir wish to make himself spare.

Regulus watches Sirius walk and doesn’t say a thing. On some level, he must know that they’re in this mess together.

“It’s our fault,” Sirius says at last, “that he’s stuck like this. The least you can do is help me turn him back.”

Regulus shakes his head. “I can’t.”

“I’m not asking.”

“And I’m not conceding. Yes, alright, I cast the spell. But how was I meant to know it’d do that?” Regulus throws his hands up. “He’s your guest. You fix him. Or take him to the Order, get your friends to do it. Doubt you could perform that kind of magic on your own.”

“They’re your friends too,” Sirius says; Regulus flinches, but doesn’t deny it. “Anyway, much as I hate to admit it, I wouldn’t even know where to start, breaking this curse. Do you?”

“No. I’d’ve done it, if I did.”

“But you’re still not going to help me find it.”

“Also no.”

Sirius stops walking at last. Regulus has a point: why doesn’t he just take Remus to the Order? Nobody had taken particular note of the arrival of a new wolf in the kennels, so they wouldn’t notice him leaving. The problem is more the strange position that werewolves occupy in society. Theoretically, all good radicals know that the systemic discrimination against werewolves is unwarranted and needs to stop. On the other hand, most of the notable voices in the werewolf community are now siding with Voldemort; Sirius has stopped trying to puzzle that one out. The Order will be suspicious of Remus, perhaps rightly. Perhaps Sirius ought to have been suspicious, too. If he’d found a wolf by the roadside, he might’ve been. But he hadn’t. He’d found an injured young man with only a backpack to his name. He’d seen someone handsome and he’d dived right in, heart before head.

“Fine,” Sirius says. He exhales the world like it might rid him of all the bad air between himself and Regulus. It doesn’t, of course, but at least he tried. “Don’t help.”

“I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I’m busy.”

“Right, with your—”

“With things I can’t tell you about,” Regulus says pointedly. “But if I were you, I wouldn’t ask anymore questions.”

“Alright, I get it. I’ll go looking on my own. But then I need you to keep watch on Remus. Keep him safe, see that nobody confuses him for the other dogs.”

For the first time in the conversation, Regulus hesitates. He softens, the hard set of his shoulders relaxing into a gentle curve. “It’s better for you to stay here. You’re the heir, you’re the one they want around.”

“So you’ll go?”

Regulus sucks in a breath. “Yes, alright. I’ll look. No promises.”

“No promises,” Sirius agrees. It’s the most productive conversation they’ve had in years.

Not defeated, but winded, the wounded forces retreat. Sirius goes to the kennels. He won’t leave it all to Regulus, he’ll keep looking for a spell to break the curse. Later, he tells himself. It would be easier at Hogwarts is another thing he tells himself, with the vast library, with James by his side as they crouch under the Invisibility Cloak in the Restricted Section, careful not to touch the pages as they trace the words of the next spell they’re going to try.

He’s made a start at looking his family’s library. They never let him stay for long—there’s always a House Elf popping up to request his urgent presence somewhere else. It’s never urgent. It’s just that Sirius is not trusted, even now, with any of this knowledge. They’re right not to trust him; right according to their morals. Sirius only wishes they would let this one thing slide. Anyway, he doesn’t think he’ll find the answer in the library. If there’s a specific spell, no conservative wizard would want to use it. Why, when you’ve defanged a dark creature, would you ever want to give them back that power?

 


 

July 1, 1981

There’s no moon in the sky, and Remus is still living in Sirius’ bedroom.

There’ve been no incidents since his run-in with Sirius’ brother, who he now knows is called Regulus, though Sirius never found out about the encounter. Remus almost told him; he’d wanted Sirius to give him a bollocking for it. He would feel vindicated if Sirius were to kick him out: see, he’d think, I’m no good. I place a curse over every roof I shelter beneath. But would it really make him feel better, or would it just be security? Remus is used to thinking that he’s cruel, untrustworthy. His parents tried their best to convince him otherwise but at the end of the day a wolf is a wolf is a wolf. He’s safe—happy, even—thinking of himself as a danger to everyone around him. It would be a leap of faith to consider that this may not be the whole truth.

It doesn’t matter, anyway, whether Sirius kicks him out now or later. On the next full moon, Remus will leave. And that will be that.

Even though Sirius doesn’t know about the Regulus altercation, it still feels like he’s been keeping tighter tabs on Remus since then. He’s been going out less—he doesn’t look pleased about it, either, whatever the reasons. Every time he comes back from a meal with his family the bags under his eyes are a shade darker. He writes letters but doesn’t send them.

Remus certainly feels like he’s caught in the middle of a war. He just wishes he knew what it was about. Some days he comes close to cracking and asking Sirius, but that would mean giving away his upbringing, and from there it’s too easy a leap to giving away what he is.

It’s late at night, the curtains are open; there’s half a moon in the sky. Sirius is at his desk. “One minute longer,” he says. “I need to finish this…”

“Take your time.” Remus is sitting up in the bed, reading one of Sirius’ books on defense against the Dark Arts. The inside cover says that it’s O.W.L. level, but it’s already well beyond anything Remus’ father taught him. “I can wait.”

“I’ve done a lot of…” Distracted, Sirius writes something else down. “Making you wait.”

That’s rather the nature of it, though, isn’t it. Remus straightens the ribbon between the pages of his book but doesn’t shut it yet. “You’re not obliged to keep me entertained. The fact that you’d let a stranger stay is more than enough kindness for one day.”

Sirius laughs. He sets his quill down and turns around. “I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, but I’d say we’re more than strangers by now, wouldn’t you?”

“Not quite the point I was making.”

“So? Was it sarcasm?”

“I was being earnest. It really is an unusual display of altruism.” Especially for someone in his position.

“You shouldn’t give me too much credit,” Sirius says, though he puffs up his chest at the compliment anyway. “I would’ve helped you either way, but I only asked you to stay because you’re so handsome.”

The way he says those words, it could easily be a joke. Remus has heard it before—from strangers in clubs, from his mother, his grandmother—and these kind of platitudes have never really landed for him. Strangers say hey, handsome because it’s the fastest way to get a shag; Remus is not immune to flattery, so it works, too. Family say aren’t you looking handsome because they have to. Friends, as he and Sirius are, do not call one another handsome without reason. Not that Remus has had many friends to compare. Friends probably don’t share a bed every night either. The one that Sirius conjured has long since been turned back into an armchair.

Swallowing, Remus says, “I don’t know about that.”

“You might not think so,” Sirius says, “but these things are subjective.”

Sirius gets up from his desk. Remus folds his book shut.

The windows rattle and fly open; a stag the colour of moonlight dashes into the room and takes up residence at the foot of Sirius’ bed. Remus pulls the book to his chest and scoots back against the headboard, but Sirius doesn’t seem shocked by the stag’s appearance. Disappointed, maybe. Remus might have room for disappointment if his heart could stop beating so fast and all this nervous tension could leave his limbs.

Then, the stag opens its mouth, and speaks: “I know, I know, you can lecture me later.”

Remus ought not be shocked by a talking animal—theoretically, he’s always known it’s possible, but he’s never seen one in the flesh. Or ectoplasm. Or whatever this is made of. Sirius doesn’t try to interrupt its speech, nor does the stag seem to pay much heed to either of them; Remus gets the idea that this isn’t a sentient emissary, but some kind of magical telegram.

“We’re all safe,” the stag continues. “I was only out for a few hours. We got a tip-off that whoever’s been leaking our secrets was having a little rendez-vous with another Death Eater, so Wormtail and I went off in pursuit. They didn’t show, so that makes me wonder. It was Dearborn who passed on the lead. All I’m saying is, keep an ear out. Obviously you can’t reply, but… hope you’re staying safe out there. See you soon.”

The stag, its message sent, begins to fade.

“Fuck.” Sirius kicks at the edge of the carpet; it falls back down with a soft thwap. “Caradoc Dearborn. Who’d have thought.”

CD. Remus looks away. “It’s probably not my place, but…”

He can feel Sirius’ eyes on him.

“What?”

“I went walking around the house the other day. Um, when you were out. I ran into your brother.” Remus stays on the bed but reaches off the edge and into his bag, leaning against the edge. He finds the parchment note tucked at the bottom. “He dropped this.”

Sirius crawls onto the bed, kneeling opposite Remus, and reads.

“So it is Dearborn.” Remus meets his eyes at last; Sirius looks defeated. “I’m not mad at you for leaving my quarters, if that’s what you’re worried about. I just wish you’d told me sooner.”

“Sorry,” Remus says. “But don’t you think… the note says thanks. Don’t you think it sounds like Regulus is the one helping your man, not the other way around?”

“It does.” Sirius blinks, reading over the letter again and again, making sense of it. “So Dearborn isn’t the leak, and Regulus is on our side?”

Our side. Remus should have told Sirius earlier; then it really could have been our side, not just Sirius and his cause and Remus still trying to make sense of it all. He smiles at Sirius, trying to let that smile convey how sorry he is for the delay. “Yes.”

“Dearborn’s life could be in danger,” Sirius says. “I have to send a Patronus.”

“That was a Patronus?”

There are more pressing matters, but Remus is curious. He’s read about the Patronus charm but never seen one, and he’s definitely never done it himself. The requirement of one brilliantly happy memory rather precludes him from trying. He’s always known that homeschooling was never any substitute for Hogwarts; now the shame of lagging behind is like a candle inside his chest, a slow burn to consume him from the inside out.

Sirius gives him a funny look and says, “I guess you didn’t do Defence for your N.E.W.T.s?”

Remus loosens his death grip on the textbook and turns the cover towards Sirius. “What do you think?”

“I thought you said you did.”

Shit, had he? Remus’ mind functions best when he’s stressed, when he’s exposed to the elements, when he’s always running away from something. Safe, he’s been complacent. He didn’t even bother to memorise the lie he told Sirius about his past.

“Remus,” Sirius says, almost too gently, “did you go to Hogwarts at all?”

“No,” Remus says. He sticks his fingers between the pages of the textbook; if this is the last time he comes into contact with magic outside his own flesh, he wants to remember how it feels.

“There’s no shame in it, if you didn’t… for whatever reason…”

The paper is fragile, old. The ink stands out even to the touch. The book sits face-up in his lap; Remus reads the words Practical Defensive Magic: A First Course over and over again. Quietly, he says, “There is.”

“No,” Sirius says.

Another hand closes around the edge of the textbook. Remus looks up. Their eyes meet as Sirius pulls the textbook away, places it down to one side. His hand comes back to rest on Remus’ knee. He moves closer.

“What about—” Remus stammers, “what about that Patronus you have to send?”

Sirius laughs. “Prongs—my mate who sent it—he’s in no position to act right away. We have time.”

They have time, they would have a little time still. Two more weeks of this. Remus keeps meticulous count. Two more weeks and then he leaves. What’s to stop him making the most of this?

Sirius leans in. Remus shuts his eyes. He only opens them again when he’s certain that this is reality: Sirius kissing him slowly, his hand moving up Remus’ thigh, this huge room and the two of them taking up as little space as possible. Sirius’ gaze catches on his and they reach a silent understanding, a mutual agreement to open the gates on the desperation of the last weeks.

Don’t get comfortable, Remus thinks, but what he says is, “How the hell did it take us this long?”, and Sirius laughs and kisses him harder, and Remus lets his eyes fall closed again.

 


 

August 4, 1981

Sirius spends longer and longer in the kennels each time. He knows that, were anyone to find him here, he’d have some explaining to do. He could bluff his way around it once, maybe even twice. A third time would become suspicious. But what else can he do? He screwed up. He can’t leave Remus here alone.

He’s had weeks, now, to dwell on it. His guilt comes and goes in cycles. Today he doesn’t feel like he deserves this; Remus certainly doesn’t. But some days Sirius resents that he’s stuck here at the manor when he could be out there catching Death Eaters, finding their traitor, keeping James and Lily and baby Harry out of harm’s way. He resents that his failure to listen to Remus has got them both stuck here.

It’s early; beyond the house, fog rolls down the hills, pearly against the light blue and pink glow of dawn breaking. It’s cold in here, the bars are cold, and still Sirius sits with his knees pressed right up against them, and pulled close to his chest at the other side. The wolf is at the other end of his cell, keeping his distance. Sirius doesn’t blame him. Some days Sirius thinks he’ll take the wolf for a walk, but every time he opens the doors the wolf shies away, like he’s scared of what’ll happen to him, where he’ll be taken.

Sirius sticks his hand through the bars; the wolf stays back.

He sighs. “I know. But Remus—”

The wolf rises slowly to his feet.

“I’m scared too,” Sirius says, pulling himself even closer to the bars. “I’m scared that if I stay here much longer I’ll become like my parents again. I never—I committed myself to the cause, but I never got so far away that I couldn’t come back. But being back here just makes me feel like I should’ve torn myself away long ago. And I’m scared of what I did to you. Not of you, but. Being with you. I’m scared because you’re not supposed to fall so hard, so fast.”

The wolf regards him, inscrutable.

As far as Sirius knows, the wolf doesn’t understand this: “You make me want to fight back, even more than I’ve already done.”

Or this: “I don’t care that you’re a werewolf. I would spend every full moon by your side.”

Or even: “I’ve never been in love before.”

Behind him, Regulus clears his throat. “Are you finished?”

Sirius jumps up, and the wolf startles, reeling back to the far wall.

“I spoke to someone,” Regulus says. “Knockturn Alley. Don’t know her name, but… someone who knows about these things. Someone discreet.”

Up close, the bags under Regulus’ eyes are deeper than when Sirius last saw him. He must have been awake all night for this; Sirius is unbelievably grateful. “And?”

“Everything about a werewolf—” Regulus shoots an anxious look over Sirius’ shoulder, “—is tied to the moon. The same way the full moon makes their body work differently, it also changes how magic works on them. And a partial eclipse changes the moon. It was the perfect storm of conditions for an utterly normal spell to go spectacularly wrong.”

“Shit,” Sirius says. That definitely wasn’t in the N.E.W.T. Defence curriculum. “So how do we fix it? We don’t need another partial eclipse, do we?”

“No, just another full moon. You need to perform Finite the moment darkness falls—that’ll stop the effects of the spell from keeping him as a wolf. Then he’ll spend the rest of the night doing whatever it is a werewolf does, and by the morning he’ll be himself again. But the timing is crucial, Sirius—”

“Alright, alright. If you don’t trust me, why don’t you just cast the spell yourself?”

Regulus looks down at his feet. “I have to go and do something. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

“Putting your life on the line for the cause,” Sirius says. “How noble.”

“You don’t know which cause it is.”

“I can guess.”

“I’m not going to tell you anything more; you’re the first person they’ll come after, if this goes wrong.” Regulus meets Sirius’ eyes in a way that feels significant, though of course, Sirius doesn’t know enough to say why. “I don’t know who your leak is. The higher-ups don’t trust me with that sort of information. I only hope you find out in time.”

Sirius goes cold. “In time for what?”

“See you, Sirius,” Regulus says. “Good luck with the wolf.”

 


 

July 17, 1981

It’s the evening of the full moon, and Remus is lying in bed with Sirius. He should have left long before now. He’ll be transforming soon. This is a bad idea. These thoughts play on a loop in his mind; but at the back of his mind, because Sirius is a more than adequate distraction from reality.

Sirius traces Remus’ scars with his smooth fingers, skirting the one on Remus’ shoulder, still new and a little raw. It must be cooling down outside; the day had been warm but pleasant, close enough to the midsummer Remus always imagined when he first started his pilgrimage outside. In here it’s still just as warm, beneath the sheets of Sirius’ bed, the two of them pressed close together.

“Wish I could just run away with you,” Sirius says.

“And why can’t you?” Remus asks, though he should know better.

“A couple more days. They just want me to stay a few more days, to keep tabs on some of the comings and goings… especially now that we’ve really started to focus on finding the leak. Once I get word that my job here is done, I’m taking you back to London with me.”

It hurts to imagine, but Remus says it anyway: “Tell me about London.”

“My flat is pretty small,” Sirius says. He props himself up just so Remus can see him wiggle his eyebrows. “We’d have to share a bed.”

“What a hardship.”

“I know. But it’s a nice part of town, there are grocery stores nearby, a couple of good pubs… some nights, you can go out walking among the Muggles and forget that there’s a war on at all. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

Remus nods. Swallows. Doesn’t think he can say any more.

Sirius doesn’t pick up on the tension. He climbs out of bed and walks to the window, stretching. “No moon yet,” he says. “Must still be rising.”

“It’s a partial eclipse tonight,” Remus says. He bites his tongue. Stupid.

“How d’you know that? You one of those people who memorises the phases of the moon?”

Remus plays it off as a joke: “And the positions of the stars. You know, like a normal person.”

“Oh, am I not normal?” Sirius laughs. “You should have warned me…”

Remus laughs along. His chest is tight. This is starting to feel like now or never; he gets out of bed too, finds his clothes scattered on the floor and begins to get dressed.

“Aw, Remus,” Sirius says. There’s still amusement in his tone. He hasn’t figured it out. “You’re not coming back to bed?”

Remus doesn’t reply. He pulls on his socks, then his shoes.

Evenly, Sirius asks, “Where are you going?”

“Er, I’m…” Remus looks anywhere but at Sirius. Anywhere else. “I have to go. Go out.”

“Just tonight?”

Remus considers lying. “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe for a while. There’s something I have to do.”

“Right, because that’s not vague at all,” Sirius says, his voice rising with panic. “I thought you weren’t involved in any of this.”

“It’s nothing to do with the war,” Remus snaps. “Sorry. I… I’m sorry. I just have to…”

His bag is still by the foot of Sirius’ bed, where he left it on that first day. He starts packing, throwing what few clothes he has into the bag, not bothering to fold. He’s spread himself out all across Sirius’ bedroom; he’s almost sure he’ll leave things behind in his haste, but that’s the least of what should worry him right now. It’s getting darker outside. The moon will be out soon.

Sirius doesn’t try to physically bar Remus from leaving, but he does follow him out, like an eager dog trailing his heels. He doesn’t stop asking questions: where are you going, why are you doing this? Remus doesn’t give Sirius any answers. He knows it’s abrupt, but that’s his own fault for leaving this to the very last minute. He just had to do it the way that would hurt both of them the most.

He leaves the way he came. Down that long, sloping hill towards the main road. He remembers a field across the way; he’ll do it there, and if he kills a sheep or two then a sheep or two will just have to die. The sun is setting, turning the leaves on the trees autumnal orange in anticipation of the next season. The sky is clear. The moon is rising; the eclipse starting. When it’s dark, Remus will transform into the wolf.

He turns around, still walking, backwards downhill and careful not to trip. Sirius is following him.

“Go away, Sirius,” he says.

“After all this? I promised you a few more days until London, can’t you wait that long?”

“It’s nothing to do with you,” Remus says, “or London. This has been—your hospitality has been almost too much for me. Just go away.”

“No,” Sirius says. “Not until you tell me why you’ve had this sudden change of heart.”

Remus is about to answer, when he sees a blur of a figure tumbling down the hill towards them. It’s someone running—as he comes closer, Remus can make out Regulus, Sirius’ double in almost every way, even his furious, frantic gait.

“What are you doing here?” Regulus demands, wand raised. “I thought you said you weren’t coming back?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Remus says, “I’m on my way out now.”

“No, he’s not,” Sirius says.

Remus doesn’t stop walking. Frustrated, he says, “Yes, I am. You don’t get to tell me what I’m doing.”

“He’s spying,” Regulus says. “He’s spying on us. You can’t keep letting him come here.”

“I’m not doing anything of the sort,” Remus tries, but he can’t get a word in. They’re not paying attention to him. He’s the centrepiece of this argument, and they’re still following him, but it’s clear what this is really about.

“I’m the heir,” Sirius says. “I can invite whoever I want.”

Regulus says, “You’re probably running around with the Order, though, aren’t you? Some heir.”

“Oh, and you’re so devoted to the cause?”

“I’m not the one who’s letting potential spies into our—”

“Could both of you,” Remus shouts, “just leave me alone?”

There’s so much he wants to say. That he’s autonomous, he can make his own decisions about coming and going. That he doesn’t want to get caught up in the crossfire of the brothers’ dispute. That the sun is setting, and if they don’t fuck off right now he’s going to turn into a wolf and kill them both.

Of course, he doesn’t get a chance, because the sun sets, and the full moon begins to hide itself behind a partial eclipse.

Remus can never talk while he transforms. The pain is too great. But there are always a few moments of lucidity, where he can see and feel everything as his human self. He sees Sirius, now, his frown fading to comprehension. He sees Regulus raising his wand, hears him say, “Petrificus Totalus—”

 


 

August 15, 1981

Sirius lets the wolf out of its cage.

Sunset looms over the manor’s grounds, the dark sky vying with daylight, and winning. The days are long; Sirius feels like he’s been waiting for this forever. It’s still warm but his fingers are cold, cooler still against the metal of the bars down here in the kennels, where only a little light ever finds its way. He rubs his hands together and blows on his fingers.

“Tonight’s the night, Remus,” he says. “Regulus is sorry he couldn’t be here to see you off.”

It’s not clear whether or not the wolf appreciates his joke.

Sirius says, “Well, come on then.”

With Sirius leading, the wolf follows him out onto the grassy slopes, and beyond towards the forest. They’re well away from the main road now. There’s open space enough for the wolf to run free without anyone paying it any notice—there are always wolves in the forest.

The sky grows darker and the wolf remains calm by Sirius’ side. They wait. Not long now.

If Sirius were to cast a Patronus now—he imagines telling James, I’ll be done here soon, and then I’ll come to visit, I’ll bring a friend—he knows where he’d start looking for memories. Never thought he’d find a single one of those at the family home, but here he is, and he’s proved it to himself: he is untethered from his roots. He can be here and still be himself and still be happy. And when he’s done with this place he’ll cut every last one of his ties. Let them disinherit him. See if he cares.

There’s another memory, too. Late nights in fifth and sixth year, he and James pushing the limit of their ambition; having conquered the castle, now focused on conquering every spell there is, even the hardest. Peter joins them too, though he needs help. They’ve mastered the Patronus. What next, after conjuring, but becoming?

Night falls.

Finite Incantatem,” Sirius says, and when the wolf howls, he joins in.

 


 

August 16, 1981

Remus opens his eyes to a pale sky, low clouds, a light rain falling. It feels different on his skin. Good different. His skin. He reaches up a hand—not a paw—and touches his face, makes tracks through the raindrops with his damp fingers.

He’s warm. He’s fully clothed. He’s human.

“Morning,” Sirius says, his voice both too close and too far. When Remus twists to face the source of the sound, there’s no pain in his neck. There’s Sirius, sitting up against a tree at the edge of the forest, exhausted but smiling. Remus’ backpack is resting by his side. In the other direction, he can just about make out the manor atop the hill, far away and cloaked in fog.

Slowly, Remus sits. He barely recognises his own body. If he hurt himself overnight, there are no open wounds. His shoulder is a little stiff, but that’s it.

“I’ve never felt so good after a full moon,” he says, wondering. “What did you do to me?”

Taken aback, Sirius says, “I didn’t do anything. I patched you up this morning, but that’s it.”

“Maybe it’s because I spent a month getting used to it,” Remus says. He manages a hollow laugh at the thought: of course that’s the only thing that could make his transformation easier.

And it wouldn’t be the only good thing to come of the last month. With all this time he’s had to himself, he’s had space to think, to get used to the fact that someone cares enough about him to want him around, with no judgement. He hadn’t left home because his parents hated him—far from it, but things were hard with his mother’s illness, his father’s problems at work, and Remus knew they needed some breathing room just as much as he needed to get away from the house where he’d spent his entire life.

So maybe there’s a place for him in the magical world, after all this. Whether negligence or deliberate oversight, the letter that never came was meant to seal his fate. It was meant to say: society doesn’t want you. Participate, if you must, at the fringes.

And here he is. At the beating heart.

He gives Sirius a cautionary frown. “Not to say that I’d want to be stuck like that again.”

“Certainly not,” Sirius says. “And it may have been more than having a month to get used to it. You of all people, I think I can trust with this: I’m an unregistered Animagus. A dog, to be exact, and I ran around with you for most of last night. Maybe the company helps?”

Remus takes a moment to get his head around this; Sirius is nonchalant, but it’s still a lot to take in at once. Least of all the fact that Sirius is still here, though he has no obligation to stay. “Yeah, maybe.”

Sirius goes on: “So if you were wondering what’s been happening since the last full moon, basically Regulus cast a full-body bind on you, and because of the partial eclipse you—”

“I know,” Remus says. Sheepishly, he admits, “I was lucid the entire month, once that night was over. I couldn’t say anything, obviously, but I heard everything.”

“Including the part where I said I was in love with you?” Sirius asks, with not a trace of embarrassment.

“Yes, including that part,” Remus says, laughing. He tucks his knees beneath him and shuffles closer, taking Sirius’ face in his hands. “You’d really stay with me?”

“Come back to London with me. Find out.”

This has none of the precariousness of an errant lifestyle, and yet all of the uncertainty. Remus can think of a dozen problems with the idea, off the top of his head, ways it could all go horribly wrong. But he can also number the ways it could be right. Somewhere in this tangle of threads, one might lead to a future where he doesn’t have to run, or hide.

“I’d like that,” he says, and leans in.