Actions

Work Header

Mischief Managed

Chapter Text

Lupin Cottage, Early March of 1965

Only thirty minutes earlier, Remus John Lupin, a small yet gangly boy with a meek voice and tender amber eyes that sparkled so brightly, laid fast asleep in his bed. His tawny brown hair was splayed across the pillow, one hand clutched around his oh-so-special stuffed elephant he required be named Ellie (Lyall Lupin thought the toy was clearly a boy given the shade of blue it had been) while the other neared his face, thumb in his mouth. Hope Lupin knew that he was too old for such things. The boy had been growing, and fast, his pajamas now stretching to their limits as they tried to confine the young wizard.

Only thirty minutes earlier, Hope Lupin had been watching her son from the doorway, smiling despite herself because he'd been able to drift to sleep so effortlessly as he did every night. When she'd been pregnant, her biggest fear had been that her baby would fear the dark, shrink away from the night. But Remus had been an enigma – a beautiful, gentle enigma. Remus never made a fuss at bedtime, didn't mind when they power went out every so often, and he had no fear of monsters under the bed. In fact, he'd made his very own 'Nasty Monster Go Away Spray' that was ready to use, just in the cabinet of his bedside table. Hope never told him, but she was sure that rubbing alcohol and water didn't make for a good repellent.

Only thirty minutes earlier, Lyall Lupin, who'd so desperately wished people would simply call him John, had been mumbling to himself as he put up yet another protective ward on their home to ensure he and Hope had a good night's rest without worry. Another night of sleeping with their wands just under their pillows. Another night of wondering if, and when, their security spells would sound the alarm. Hope had half a mind to make little Remus sleep in their room, though Lyall had quickly extinguished that idea. We'd never get rest then, he reasoned. You know the bed is small enough as it is, love. He'll be alright. He's smart. However, deep down, Hope wanted to counter, he's barely five.

Only ten minutes earlier, Hope had been finishing her scrapbooking, glue and scissors scattered across the kitchen table as she pasted the final photograph on the booklet titled "R.J.L." Pictures among pictures – some actual photographs while others were some of their boy's drawings – were captured among the pages, colors clashing against colors. Every so often, maybe next to a photograph or on a small slip of parchment, Hope or Lyall would describe their day with Remus, the memory stuck in the pictures.

Today it was Remus's first trip into Wizarding London. His tawny hair and shimmering amber eyes were still so protuberant, even in ink, as they sauntered down the sidewalk. In his slim little hand was a smaller version of a wand. It was modeled after his father – cypress.

"Cypress wands," his father had said to him, "find their soul mates among the brave, the bold and the self-sacrificing: those who are unafraid to confront the shadows in their own and others' natures They'd bought him that "ruddy," as Lyall had called it begrudgingly as soon as his son took more of a liking to it rather than his own father, stuffed elephant. They'd bought him an assortment of jelly beans and boxed chocolate – because Remus had always been so fond of chocolate.

Only five minutes earlier, Lyall had awoken to the pitter-patter of feet down the hall. This, of course, had been a regular occurrence in the Lupin household – Remus found the need to relieve his bladder six times a night if it suited him. What had confused Lyall, though, was the pitter-patter of feet was much heavier this night in March, and they dragged every so often, stopping at doors for a moment, moving on, shuffling back and forth until finally – Finally – they had reached the door at the end of the hall. Hope had only just drifted to sleep beside him, her brown hair tucked neatly in her nightcap and arms clenched around her soft pillow. If only he'd had the nerve to wake her himself.

Perhaps that would've made the coming hour more bearable.

The five minutes soon slipped away and not much later, Lyall found himself desperately making phone calls to whomever would be awake at such an hour. The answer to that had been not a soul, not even his older brother, Thomas, who'd always been on the clock around this time of night.

Remus, face drenched in tears (both from his mother and his own) and blood, sputtered wildly as he tried to make room in his throat to cry. It had burned, dear God, had it burned. Fire ripped through every vein in his feeble body, mending his muscles together only to have every move he made tear them apart again. Searing pain scorched his shoulder, a gaping hole where Greyback's teeth had made themselves quite at home in the young boy's skin. Remus had seen very little of it after that, vision fading into tiny, clouded spots. Every so often he thought, maybe, he'd seen a flash of white, green, then red. Not long after, his mother had scooped him into her arms, her own crying masking the broken rage from his father.

"Hello, my little darling," she cried, stroking his face gently with her index finger. Perhaps her husband didn't know this, or perhaps he did and was only delaying the inevitable, but it would not be long before they'd need to see a healer of some sort. And, in seeing a healer, they'd need to explain the open wound spilling a generous amount of blood onto their new mahogany floors. And, when explaining, the Ministry would be notified. Hope knew that this must happen, as it happened with anyone in their situation. But, damn it, why did it have to become their situation.

"Don't," Lyall soon snapped, coming close to his wife's face, suddenly immune to her inaudible sobbing. "Don't you dare talk to him like that. He's not dying!" Hope shook her head violently, looking down as her dear, baby boy, her little Remus, clung to dear life.

"We have to take him to—"

"We are not taking him there," Lyall declared, quickly slipping on his shoes and searching for Hope's jacket. "They'll turn him over to the ministry, Hope, you know that. I'm not losing my son."

Finally regaining her ability to speak, Hope murmured, "He's my son, too, Lyall. He's my son! H-He needs… he needs a r-real… he needs help! He needs real help, Lyall! St. Mungo's can give him what he needs." But the man ignored her pleas, scooping his son, rather harshly, into his arms and making a break for the front door. Hope, finding something in her to move from their spot on the floor, brought herself to her feet. Looking down, she was horrified.

Blood. There was nothing but blood on her son's bedroom floors. Not only on the hardwood, but slowly absorbing into his yellow rug, staining the patterns and darkening the smiley faces. Examining it closely, she could see, if only a little, small scratches in the wood. It was as if someone had been clawing away at the –

"Fine," Lyall interrupted her thoughts, stopping her before she could jump to the dark conclusion. "We'll take him to St. Mungo's. But we have to hurry." Both of the Lupin's looked down at their son, the shell of who their son used to be. His pupils, what they could see through the blood clouding in his eyes, were dilated and he coughed viciously, blood dripping from his chin. He cried, silently begging whoever was listening for this pain to stop; whatever he had done, he was so terribly sorry and he would have never done it again, so long as this white-hot pain just stopped.

With a look of apprehension, fear, and defeat, the Lupin's held onto each other tightly as they apparated to St. Mungo's hospital.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

It had been several days now, at least in Remus's mind. Maybe it had been longer. It's much harder to tell when you haven't opened your eyes in quite a long time. The only thing that seemed to be burned in the back of the young Lupin's mind was this image of his mother, blood smeared on her fingertips as she whimpered above him. Her eyes, always so full of life, were vacant and uncertain, lip quivering as he had tried to tell her to stop crying. She looked so beautiful when she smiled; if only she could just smile again, then this would surely end.

It had to have been an awful dream. That was the conclusion that Remus Lupin had come to. He had only just turned five! If this is what came with becoming a man, Remus decided that he'd much rather stay a little boy forever, if that were the case. He wouldn't have minded much, though. Endless nights of baking cookies with Mum and playing Go-Fish with Dad, Saturday night movie marathons on Muggle Television, and walks in the park when Mum had finished her daily worked seemed like the life yet to be lived to a five year old Lupin. Who needed the responsibilities of growing up? Heck, if he were to grow up anymore he'd have to start worrying about bills, owning a house, having a job, keeping a wife, controlling little children of his own – that lifestyle surely didn't suit him at all. Suburbia was not his calling.

Remus wanted to live a life of adventure and marauding – causing mischief and mayhem with his trusty sidekick, whoever they were. He'd go traveling around the world, locking up Dark Creatures and bad wizards and witches. That would be a life worth living. Remus lived for the life of excitement. Seeing a whole new batch of people every other month, experiencing different food (not that Hope's cooking wasn't the best thing in the whole wide world), and getting to know different parts of the world intimately. Yeah, that's what Remus really wanted. And you know what else he wanted? He wanted some chocolate ice cream.

He wondered how much longer it would be until someone came in to wake him up; he'd never been afraid of the dark, but it was getting quite lonely and he was beginning to worry about his mother. She'd been awfully upset the last time he'd seen her. Her voice was cracking with controlled hysterics and her were puffy from wiping them too hard. And through all of this, she was still as gentle as she'd always been, her hands soft as they'd always been. No, Remus could do without the ice cream for now. At the moment, he only wanted his mother.

"Sir, you can't go in and see him yet. He isn't ready," the voice of a mysterious man rung in Remus's ears. "He's in a very fragile state, Mr. Lupin, and shouldn't be agitated. We were able to stabilize him, clean the wound, and seal it."

"Sounds to me like you fixed him up just fine, then, didn't you," his father barked, irritation evident even in Remus's sleep. His father always did get a bit uneasy in doctors' offices.

"It's not only that, Mr. Lupin," the unfamiliar voice continued, remaining calm and steady. "Remus has survived… an ordeal that very few children his age would have to go through –"

"That's because the other's died in the process," Lyall snapped. "So, you're telling me that I don't get to see my own son?"

There was a frustrated sigh, "I'm telling you, Mr. Lupin, that in your current state, you might upset your son." Remus's eyebrows knitted together lightly. He was not fragile! He was not delicate! It wasn't as if he were made of glass, was it? Is that what this mysterious man thought? He had no right, did he? Of course, he was a doctor… and doctors know what's best, didn't they? "If you'd just calm down –"

"Calm down?" Lyall shouted. Hope looked nervously at the floor. "You try remaining calm in my shoes. My son is a –" his voice was cut short by a strangled sob. He covered his mouth, hand trembling as he fought for the words to escape him. "My son is one of them. I want to see him. I want to see if he's changed. I want to see what the fucker did to him!"

As if sensing there would be no peace until Mr. Lupin saw his son, the Healer finally allowed him to slip in through the doorway. The room was quaint, smelling terribly of antiseptics and disinfectant charms. The fluorescent lighting did little to alleviate the pain in the Lupins' chests as they gazed upon their son.

Dark crescents were splotched underneath his eyes, bruised purple and red. The boy was already pale enough as it was, according to Lyall, and didn't need to be crammed inside of a bloody hospital room to wither. His skin looked like parchment, thin and ready to tear at the slightest touch. He wondered how different his son would be when standing on the opposite side of this door. Thick bandages were wrapped around his body tightly, concealing the wounds and helping to ease the sting fresh hair brought them. Lyall had thought there had only been one wound, but, judging by the looks of it, there had been more damage done to his boy.

His boy. This was still his boy, wasn't it? Still his little boy who was never afraid of the dark, always up for another round of Go-Fish, even if at eleven at night, always sneaking into Hope's purse in pursuit of a Hershey's kiss, always prancing around in a cape - Remus. He was still Remus.

What had Lyall expected? A vicious shell of a boy gnawing at wrist cuffs that chained him to the bed? Perhaps angry, amber eyes glaring holes into his skull, blaming him for who he'd become? In his mind, actually, Lyall was prepared to meet the wolf that his son was becoming. He was ready to meet the dark creature that now resided inside of Remus John Lupin, welcome it with open arms and rip it to shreds. He'd expected it to be staring right back at him as he entered the hospital room.

However, when met with the feeble little boy, with tawny brown hair and slim little hands clenched around that ruddy stuffed elephant, his heart splintered into a million little pieces. This was his son. This was the wolf. And Lyall had expected that they'd now be the same thing, the same entity – one being. But when he saw the sleeping figure slowly regain life, smiling up at him softly through the pain he knew still surged through his body, he was unable to hold such expectations.

This was Remus. Not the wolf.

Chapter Text

12 Grimmauld Place, Late January 1971

He had done it. Sirius Orion Black had finally done it. Of course, he'd 'done it' about six times since the Black's annual Christmas banquet. Actually, now that he had the time to think about it, he'd 'done' the impeccable 'it' since he found himself mobile. That meant creeping out of his baby crib deep in the morning to chew on Daddy's special quills or, maybe, ripping what little clothing their faithful house-elf, Kreacher (the despicable little thing), had left. Though, now that Sirius was older, he came to regret that latter decision. Watching the thing roam about the house with his raggedy, crowned jewels dangling mere centimeters above the cloth was much more frightening than any Black relative would ever be to Sirius.

Giving Kreacher any clothing at all meant that he'd be free from servitude, which is something Walburga would never advocate, let alone do. Even with her odd 'relationship' with it, she still knew its place; it was disgusting and ugly and horrid, she had to remind it every so often, but she… cared for it. In a way. Nevertheless, she was better than it. Of course, she was. He was a damn house elf! Despite this, a good spanking was in order for her oldest son simply to demonstrate 'the principles of being a courteous, young man' to his younger brother, Regulus. But the entire time his mother whipped him, even at eleven years old, Sirius, of course, found a way to make it entertaining for his little brother by making exaggerated facial expressions each time his mother's palm came in contact with his cheeks. Merlin knew the younger one was so easily influenced by the disrespectful bastard she'd birthed first (God help him if she figured out why). She was saved by the thought of that buffoon, Dumbledore, finally, after eleven long years, taking him away for schooling. It would be a reprieve to be celebrated.

This time, what had finally done it (supposedly), was the Doxies Sirius had 'come upon' on their trip to the filthy Diagon Alley. Sirius knew that his mother would give him some slap on the wrist and a lecture about living up the family name, perhaps swear at him a bit for being so dreadful, then send him on his merry, little way. He knew that the real trouble would only begin once he returned from school. Orion had taken to his study to finalize a few things before somehow managing to keep the family name afloat (apparently it didn't take much seeing as all his mother did was lounge around and scream at Kreacher and Sirius 25 hours of the day) and Walburga decided that this would be a lovely time to set Kreacher upon several different house tasks that would certainly include the fluffing of pillows and dusting.

Much to Sirius's, and Regulus's, amusement, the moment that Kreacher had removed a throw pillow to fluff it, a Doxy shot from between the cushion and latched onto the elf's nose. The house, which had been quiet most of the day (and this was not a regular occurrence), filled with shrill, horrified shouts from Kreacher and petrified hollers from the woman of the house. If it hadn't been for those two screamings so loud, it would have been painfully obvious to Orion that the culprit was his very own flesh and blood snickering behind the couch with his younger brother. Oh, but don't worry. It did not take his wife too long to figure this out; since he was 'mobile,' Sirius had been the root of frustrations in the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black.

Of course, his mother being overly sentimental with the thing, pitched a fit. This was not only because poor Kreacher just about had a terrible ordeal with the Doxy, because it was really quite simple to get it off if you used enough elbow grease, according to Sirius, but it was the emotional turmoil his poor mother had to endure as she thought life itself was going to end. Hell, it was the emotional turmoil (and Blacks should not have to endure emotional turmoil in the least) of raising that bastard child. Those weren't the exact words; Sirius had heard bits and pieces of the speech and slapped it all together in his own rendition. Time and time again, he'd heard it. From what he'd managed to gather he was shameful, humiliating, dishonorable, foolish, hebetudinous (he had to look that one up), obtuse – the list went on and on and, as he grew, he realized most of them had been synonyms to begin with.

There were two things very plain for the Blacks to see as the school year had approached. The first was that the only thing saving Sirius Orion Black was his inevitable placement in the Slytherin House. It was his only hope, according to his older cousin, Narcissa, who only ever responded to him when he called her 'Cissy.' Which was fine by Sirius seeing as though he didn't want to speak to her in the first place. He needed right minded people to shape him, mold him, and execute the proper mannerisms that an heir should exert. He'd have people such as his precious Cissy, the Malfoy bloke who looked much more like a porcelain doll rather than a boy, and some Avery boy whom Sirius had never heard of.

The second thing would be this: the house would be a much more serene place with him gone. Walburga never gave Sirius the pleasure of a maternal touch; she'd rather Kreacher and whatever other house-elf take care of her first born child. It was much easier that way. She would be able to focus on the fancy dinner parties and tea-parties women her age attended. Sirius wondered if she truly had friends or if, maybe, the only reason she hung around the pure-blooded families was because they're all inbred simpletons like she was. That was a very enticing ideology to adopt. Because, to Sirius, who would want to hang around with an old hag like that?

Not Sirius. He had much finer senses in companionship. He wanted people who would run with him, not for him. He wanted to travel across the globe, cavorting like a bloody moron with his sidekick and saving the damsels in distress. Battling fire-breathing dragons and thick headed trolls. Sirius's life was destined for great adventure; it had to have been. No. It was going to be. He wouldn't let some minger like his mother get in the way of that. And Regulus, his itty brother, would be beside him the whole way through. Just like brothers should be. No. Pure-blooded suburbia was not Sirius's calling.

He looked at himself that night in the mirror. He hadn't changed one bit. He looked the same as he always had. Chin held high? Check. Impassive, dull expression? Check. Air of superiority he obviously had by nature? Check. Ravishing, raven hair that spilt from the crown of his hair like liquid night? Check and Check. He was everything a Black should have been. Now, just swallow down the dark, crimson cloud of rage that bubbles inside of him every time he hears his mother's voice or looks in his father's direction and he'd have the impassiveness down pat. It's easy looking the part, but true Blacks saw right through those ones. It's what happened to Uncle Alphard. Poor Uncle Alphard. The bloke had been Sirius' favorite relative – the only one who knew how to breathe in fresh air without flaring their nostrils in disgust.

But Sirius was different. He felt different. Surely feelings warranted more than just physical appearances. However, he noted, Blacks are not supposed to feel. They are supposed to represent and honor the Ancient and Noble –

"Oh, for Merlin's sake," he mumbled. He just couldn't put it out there again. Represent and honor whatever it was his family stood for at this point. Pure-blooded ancestry, inbreeding, prejudice against anything that so much as breathed differently from those descending from aristocratic lineage – the Blacks stood for many things. Dark Arts, Dark Magic, Pure-Bloods, Ancient, Noble, infamy, and honor. But where is the honor in anything Walburga Black had taught him so far?

Of course, some of it had to be reasonable, yes? For instance, take Werewolves. Bloody disgusting creatures they were; killers. Cold blooded killers. They did nothing but pillage and take from wizards and muggles alike. It didn't matter what you owned, who you were, what blood ran through your veins – a Werewolf looks at you as dinner no matter what. They had no feelings, no course of thought (ha, similar to the Ancient and Noble – ah forget it, if he said it one more time he might sever his own tongue). Any dark creature, creatures that stood for blood and death, deserved the hatred they received. They deserved that fate.

However, looking in the mirror at himself, as he found himself doing quite often for an eleven year old (Jesus how long had he been brooding), his face faltered. He was shoveling this ideology down his throat and washed it down with cold logic. It was, in fact, logical. Of course he would fear and hate something that could so easily rip his life from his hands. Of course he would learn to hate a species that was full of nothing but degenerates…

But what about those who are bitten, not born, a small voice said in a small corner in the back of his mind, one that he'd done a successful job at ignoring for several years, betrayed his resolve. It made a fair point (however fair a point may be coming from voices inside your head, he might add). What about those who were human at first? Who had tasted sanity and life to begin with? What about the young wizards with a life ahead of them, with hopes and dreams just like Sirius? What about children – such as those who Greyback saw fit to attack. What about them?

In the words of Walburga Black, "They've done something to deserve such a horrid fate. Now shut your mouth and eat your food before it gets cold, ungrateful brat."

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Kings Cross Station, September 1st, 1971

It came as no surprise to Sirius that Walburga showed no signs of maternal affection as she bid him a quick, and curt, goodbye. He knew that there would be no sweet kisses all over his face, gentle hugs, or nudges of reassurance. From the moment he was born, actually, he'd been deprived of maternal love, and he wasn't sure he'd ever receive it. He wouldn't; not this late in life. The Black family does not show signs of emotional affection, let alone physical affection. It was unseemly and far to imprudent. Why should today have been any different? If anything, using that little bit of reasoning he'd seemed to have swallowed whole as a child, today would be a day to show all of these 'blood-traitors' and 'muggle-lovers' who really was the boss.

There was a disgusted scoff from beside him, his mother wiping her nose dutifully with her handkerchief, "Potters. I'd know that mess of hair all the way from the Black Library. Muggle-lovers, they are, Regulus." Sirius snuck a glance out of the corner of his eye at the family she'd been speaking of. The name sounded awfully familiar, like one of the families discussed over a cuppa or, maybe, a dinner table tangent about the downward spiral of blood purity. His mother was right; you could tell a Potter by his hair, and this one, no doubt, clearly had never been introduced to a brush a day in his life. The boy, no taller than Sirius, was tanned with wild, black hair ruffled in all directions, a pair of glasses drooping dangerously low on his nose. He looked, albeit, much like his father. They had the same boyish smiles, eyes twinkling with a hint of mischief. Sirius could recognize that twinkle from anywhere. He'd seen it in his reflection every so often.

His mother fussed at his robes, removing, what had appeared to be, a dung bomb from the right and a handful of Hiccough Sweets from the other. The boy, obviously not feeling very sorry, managed to pull a believable 'I didn't mean to do it' face. Either his mother actually gave him the benefit of the doubt, or, and Sirius thought this was much more tangible, she'd been through this ordeal enough to know that she'd never tame the boy and could only do so much before he acts on his own devices. She attempted to smooth the mass of curls atop his head, to no avail, settling to kiss his forehead sweetly.

Something tugged in Sirius's chest, a feeling quite foreign to him yet oddly familiar. It was a lurching into darkness as if a string was tugging absolutely nothing, yet everything at once. Suddenly hyperaware of everyone, a small plump boy with blonde hair and a mousy nose get fussed over, a girl with bright red hair squeeze her father till his eyeball popped out of his skull – even down to a boy who was far too tall for his age with long arms and robes to big pull his parents into a vice grip, Sirius was so sure passed as comforting. The string snapped and it all fell into his stomach, shamefully.

Walburga snapped him out of his reverie with a swat across the side of the head. "Did you hear me, Sirius?"

"No, mother," he droned, almost robotically. She huffed indignantly, wiping her hand off as if she'd touched something with a contagious disease.

"I told you, as I've said before, I expect nothing less of you than what has reigned before you," she growled, ignoring the looks of fascination her murmuring was receiving. "You know where you belong and you know what you must do when you get there. Top marks are the only acceptable ticket home, am I making myself perfectly clear?"

"When do you not," Sirius mumbled as she walked away with Regulus, not granting the brothers a chance at goodbye. Sirius mouthed a heartfelt 'I'll write to you,' which was only granted an apologetic smile. The smaller boy, not yet nine, managed a small wave before being jerked through the brick entrance from which they came. Sirius found himself watching the wall hoping, if, by some miracle, his brother would pop through, even if only for a second, and give him one of those meek hugs he could muster. Sirius always had to pretend that the little one was close to breaking his back, always worked well for the ego. One of those hugs, much to Sirius's chagrin, was needed right about now.

However, he wouldn't get it. And that was fine by him. He didn't need Walburga. Hell, he didn't want her. He'd make friends, wherever he was sorted (as he was almost positive he wouldn't be placed in Slytherin). He denied being placed in that ruddy excuse of a house. Who in Merlin's name would want to be there anyway? They're all stuffy and rude, noses turned up as if they've got dung bombs placed beneath each nostril. They saunter around the place as if they own it (when in all reality they won't once Sirius gets there). They're slimy and conniving. He'd rather sever his own tongue, never to speak of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black again than to be sorted into Slytherin.

As he boarded the train, he came behind the Potter boy. It would be easy to follow Walburga's orders, ignore the boy and shun him for his 'muggle-loving' tendencies. But that, of course, would have been far too easy for someone like Sirius. It would have been far too easy and much too obedient. Boys like him were born to get a ride out of Walburga. At least if he was going to be disowned, he goes out in style.

He hurried behind him, quick to catch him before slipping into an empty compartment, "Oi! I saw you earlier. With the dung bombs and the sweets. Don't tell me your mum scraped you clean?"

There was a devilish grin on Potter's face as he looked over his shoulder, "Why would you think that?"

Sirius gave a huff. "Well, I saw her take them from you." The boys entered a compartment with a single occupant, as their conversation, however brief, had lost them an empty compartment. It was nearing the time for the train to leave and the aisles were crowding. The boy on the far side of the compartment, out of reach from prying eyes, was curled in a loose ball, head resting against the wall as he laid in a restless sleep. Neither of the boys had much noticed him.

"But," Potter smirked, "did you see her hand them over to my father who, in turn, as it is his rightful duty to his son, handed them over to me?" And, with a dramatic flourish to rival even Sirius, a stash of pranking supplies materialized in front of his eyes. It wasn't only limited to Hiccough Sweets and dung bombs. There were those, Stink Pellets, Sugar Quills, and a single, lone Nose-Biting teacup. It was magnificent. It was glorious. It was the opportunity of a lifetime screaming in his shocked face. He could only imagine the uses of some of these pranks. He could see it now, sitting down with Professor Dumbledore only to have his nose chomped on by a teacup. "James."

Sirius was broken out of his trance by the Potter boy across from him who, clearly, had the same visions dancing around in his head. It was fate, they both considered it. It had to have been more than just coincidence. And so, with a gratifying smile on his face, Sirius extended his hand to grasp Potter's – James's.

"I'm Sirius," he stated proudly. "Sirius Black." James stared for a moment, head cocked slightly in interest.

"You mean the same Black as the Most Ancient –"

"Please," Sirius whined dramatically, which James enjoyed, "if I hear it one more time I think I might just roll over and die."

"Sod off," James snickered, gathering his things and slipping them back in his bag. Just as he did, a portly little boy, round and short, came up to the door with a timid, nearly nonexistent, smile on his face. His blonde hair was cut smoothly and it laid neatly on the top of his head. His clothing, clearly Muggle, was nice and pressed. Sirius and James looked at each other with youthful grins.

"M-may I sit in here… with… w-with you all," he stuttered, clearly nervous to be stuck in front of two, if not three, intimidating boys who were, by comparison, much larger than he was. Maybe not in wideness, but, even as he had been curled up, the boy in the corner was rather large, even if a bit on the skinny side. Oh, maybe this hadn't been a good idea at all. The compartment looked so empty at first until he saw the sleeping figure.

"Of course, of course," Sirius chorused. He moved aside, allowing room for the heavy boy to make his way through awkwardly. He huffed, taking the seat next to James. For a moment, the three boys eyed the largest one in the corner. Still, he slept, or he pretended to sleep for the sake of everyone else. James wondered who on earth could sleep on a day such as this when an entirely new world was about to be introduced to them in a matter of hours and new ideas and images would be presented to them. Who in the bloody hell would sleep on a day like this? Well, it was his loss. Sirius seemed quite amenable, and, if anything, the chubby one was amusing.

"I'm Peter P-Pettigrew," he chirped, seeming to relax when the verbal onslaught did not ensue after he sat down. Sirius laid back in his seat, lounging gracefully as only a Black could do. James slouched in his seat, clearly not worried, yet again, about how low his glasses were falling.

"James Potter."

"Sirius Black."

James frowned when Peter did not scoot to the edge of his seat upon learning their names; even Black was a prominent name in wizarding society. Anyone who was someone knew who the Blacks were. He eyed him suspiciously before looking over at Sirius.

"We're not quite sure who the mysterious brute is over there, but I'm sure he's quite agreeable when awake," James commented roughly, adjusting his glasses so they were better situated. Finally, thought Sirius. It was driving him up a damn wall.

The train jerked with a start, setting off towards Hogwarts at great speeds, eventually. The three boys quickly became accustomed to each other's company and, without much struggle at all, they'd bonded, Sirius and James more so than with Peter at all. This was simply because the small one seemed to nod and smile with them, hopping on whatever bandwagon they'd been pulling. Half-blood was written all over him, thought Sirius mildly. But what does that matter, said the small voice in the back of his mind. You know, for someone who was supposed to be working very hard at not being at all like a Black, he sure was thinking like one.

The rolling hills of England were soon replaced by the ever-expanding Scottish landscape. Sirius, soon bored with whatever it was the pair had been talking about, watched as nature whizzed past them. Unbothered, unmoving, but forever changing, he thought. It was mid-September, and, soon, autumn would be threatening the grassy slopes. Grass would soon die, blossoms would wither, and the heat would be washed out by chilled breezes. So, for now, he thought, he might as well enjoy what little of the outdoors he could experience.

Walburga never let him outside of the house much unless it was for formal events or shopping. Those were really the only reasons he needed to go out. Blacks did not possess friends, they maintained connections. They were not sociable people, at least they weren't supposed to be, and they made sure that everything came down to business. There was never time to dawdle, chit chat, or catch up, unless you'd been someone like Narcissa, who's brain capacity could only carry a conversation so far without malfunctioning.

Being outside of the city, outside of the House of Black, felt like the most pleasurable punch to the gut he could experience. It was beautiful – the world was beautiful. It wasn't separated like he was taught. He was almost positive that he saw it the same was as Peter had or James or, if he ever woke up, the sleeping boy next to him would. The grass was still thick and green, possibly wet with morning dew. The trees would still ruffle in the wind as the summer air whips through the plains. The sky would still stretch and stretch until it clashed with the ground, creating a lovely skyline. Yes. It was beautiful. And it was a pity he'd lived his whole life believing otherwise.

"…a bit strange. I mean, who sleeps on their first ride to Hogwarts," Peter muttered. Sirius's consciousness faded back into the conversation, eyes merely glancing at the other boys.

"His luggage," James pointed to the rack above them with a curious stare. "It says –"

"R.J. Lupin," the body beside Sirius suddenly breathed with life, stirring beneath all the robes that had nearly swallowed him whole. He sat up straight now, head turning from side to side to work the cricks out of his neck. Tawny hair fell over his forehead, down his neck, reaching to just above his shoulder. It would seem, now that Sirius noticed it, three out of four of them were sporting the 'rebellious long-hair' phase at the moment. "I'm sorry. I was a bit preoccupied during – er – introductions." He forced a smile. If Sirius caught it correctly, and he was almost certain he did, it looked almost painful. "Remus John Lupin."

James, who would appear to be a bit more apprehensive with Lupin than he had with Sirius, merely nodded when he spoke, "James Potter."

"Wonderful to meet you," Remus smiled kindly at James, either unaware or ignoring the gruffness he'd displayed.

Peter, of course, followed his lead with an impassive nod, or what could have passed for impassive. Sirius thought it looked more like an epileptic spasm. "Peter Pettigrew."

"A pleasure," he nodded back.

And then golden eyes laid upon Sirius, calm and expectant. They hadn't gazed at him with immodest curiosity or indiscreet fear. There was no hint of malice or wariness in the relaxed muscles over his face. The only abnormality that this boy beside him possessed was the physical appearance of death warmed up. He was pale, dark half-moons ringing his eyes and bloodshot eyes. It looked, to Sirius, as though he needed more than this train ride to rest up.

He realized, then, that it was his turn to speak. "Sirius Black."

"Pleasure to meet your—"

"Why are you so," James began, curiosity now taking a new strange form. He eyed Remus as if he were something under a microscope for a moment, something to be picked apart and examined before being labeled exactly. Sirius, though he wanted to do this as well, refrained. James waved his hand the air theatrically, clearly preening in Remus's naïve interest. "What's the word?"

Peter was the one who spoke first, "Uptight." Sirius shot a glare, for some reason or another, at the portly boy, but he didn't seem to care too much because James had nodded in agreement and that suited him well enough. Sirius crossed his arms in his seat, shaking his head and rolling his eyes with a forced grin.

"Forgive them, Remus," Sirius glowered at the pair across from him. "It is quite apparent that they either lack the mannerisms us commoners obtained at a kindergarten level or they're too stupid to tell what they are even if they danced the Macarena in front of them in a tutu."

Remus's nervous laughter filled the compartment. Though nervous and timid as it was, a bit more forceful than Peter's had been earlier, it was quite a nice sound. It wasn't airy and daft sounding (like Cissy) but it also wasn't forced into genuineness (such as Walburga when eating out with her sisters). No, this laughter reminded Sirius of something much closer to home that he'd wanted to leave buried back there.

"That's quite a load of codswallop," James interjected, feigning anger and an air of disrespect. "Who are you to call yourself a commoner? You were probably fed with a silver spoon till you were ten by your house-elves!"

Another nervous chuckle rolled from Remus's lips when he said, "I will say I've never had the pleasure of being fed with stainless steel cutlery, let alone silver." Sirius's eyebrows furrowed together tightly and he crossed his arms together harshly. It became evident, soon after he ceased contributing to the conversation, that he was pouting. Who were they to judge him? He was, after all, trying to be more like them, was he not? He could have very easily ignored Potter and went to find a more suitable compartment. He didn't have to speak to him. Not at all!

"Even if that's true," Remus continued with a weak grin, "it appears that his house-elves have better hand-eye coordination than our friend, Peter, over here. At least the majority of his food ends up in Sirius's mouth." And, sure enough, when they'd all looked to see for themselves, Peter's dress shirt DID have stains upon the front in all different shades and sizes. Some looked old and faded as others were vibrant, clearly new. James, whose wariness had somewhat evaporated, burst at the seams with laughter as Peter stuttered nervously, forcing himself to laugh along with them. Sirius's bad mood had vanished in an instant, the foulness soon replaced with howling laughter.

Perhaps this mysterious brute wouldn't be so bad after all.

Chapter Text

Lupin Cottage II, March 1971

It was an understood that the days following a transformation required peace and quiet in the Lupin Cottage. It was an understood that Remus was not to be bothered about trivial things, such as school work or his house chores, until he felt up to the task. It was an understood that neither Lyall nor Hope could ever dream of understanding the physical toll transformations took on their son, let alone the emotional, and, therefore, decided it was best to simply give him what he'd needed the days after the full moon.

During his first transformations, he'd wanted his parents by his side for the entirety of his recovery. Hope had managed to squeeze in beside him, careful not to brush the scratches, which eventually turned into nasty gashes, on his body. Lyall would create a makeshift bed on the floor of his sons room, wary of the dark stain in the wood a mere foot away from his face. They'd bring him Ellie and boxes full of his favorite chocolates – Lyall never understood how Muggle chocolates could ever compare to his wizarding chocolates but, after a quiet squabble, dropped the matter. If he felt up to it, and as he got older this seemed much better than lying in bed for days at a time with nothing but a stuffed animal and the ceiling for company, they'd turn on Muggle television for him in the family room. They'd watch all sorts of programs, some of which Lyall couldn't keep up with (God, he was getting old), but Hope was always there with the proper explanation.

After a transformation in early March, Remus found himself happily munching on crisps (courtesy of Lyall Lupin – don't tell your mother or she'll have a hernia), watching a program of Monty Python's Flying Circus in which the members of the sketch are shipwrecked mariners deciding who they were going to eat in order to survive. According to Hope, children shouldn't watch such things, it gives them ideas, she says. And he knew there was something underlying her words. Apprehension, maybe. Subliminal messages, maybe. But Remus liked this episode. He'd watched it several times. Deep down, he knew it was because it made him feel more human knowing that others just might eat a human to survive, though it was a stretch to feel the least bit included in the mundane world.

He was just about to throw another crisp in his mouth when his mother let out a yip of surprise, a dull thud sounding in the kitchen.

"Bloody birds," his father mumbled distantly, moving around the room for a moment before quietly taking his seat again. Remus had assumed another owl had come from the ministry. In fact, it wouldn't be a surprise seeing as the only mail they ever received by Owl was for his father. There had been a surge of attacks lately, similar to the ones that plagued the wizarding world when Remus was but a tyke, and Lyall's appearances at the Lupin Cottage were becoming scarce. There was a tight knot in the bottom of Remus's stomach, aching to sneak into the kitchen and eavesdrop on the low whispers now snaking around kitchen.

This was a common occurrence. Hope and Lyall were sworn into a life of secrecy six years ago. The moment they'd left St. Mungo's, their son lolling tiredly in Lyall's arms while clinging to his button up with whatever life was left in him, their lives would be altered forever. There were no more Christmas parties at Gwyneth's or surprise parties for Remus. There were no more trips into London with his parents or opportunities to add to Ellie's family. The scrapbooks were all stored in a box now tucked away in the attic, doomed to collect dust for the remainder of Remus's life because the memories, the moving images and the drawings, the painted hand prints and the scribbled writing, was all too much for his parents to bear. Life for the Lupin's, though it maintained some semblance of a normal life, would never be the same after that night in 1965.

And, in turn, Remus's life took the harshest turn left. Once a bubbly, sociable child with plenty of friends in their small town of Clovelly and a wild spirit to rival even that of Lyall Lupin, Remus was forced to seclude himself for the majority of his childhood. He'd attended a small school on the edge of town but was soon pulled from classes to be homeschooled. His monthly absences raised eyebrows, his ill condition afterwards raised even more questions, and soon enough, Hope and Lyall were confronted with worried instructors and family friends.

So they'd moved to Walters Ash, a town far from the prying eyes of Clovelly. It was easier this way, said Lyall. Remus was forced to forget friends and the few memories of the very first "Lupin Cottage," which wasn't all that bad seeing as though his new bedroom had clean, white carpet. Actually, little Remus, aside from losing a handful of schoolmates, didn't mind the move to Walters Ash. The house was quaint and lovely and smelled so much like lilac it made him fuzzy on the inside.

The forest surrounded their home, trees lining the backyard majestically with miles and miles of nothing but nature. This is where Remus felt most at home – nature. In the forest. These places are what soothed the beast inside him, clawing in his chest to run, eat, kill. There had been a shed in the backyard just as big as his bedroom, a very small shed indeed, where he'd transform each month.

There was no furniture in the shed. The window had been boarded, the pipes sealed with cement. The only way in was a small door which would be padlocked along with several other magical forces to keep the boy in. Lyall reinforced the walls with silver dusted steel, an extra precaution to ensure the wolf wouldn't try to break through the perimeter on a particularly rough night. And while it ripped his father apart on the inside, doing such things to ensure that his son, and the people around him, were protected, it had to be done. The Ministry would do much worse to Remus if he managed to escape during a transformation. It was thoughts like those – intrusive thoughts that reminded Lyall every now and then that while he might be able to separate the boy from the beast, many others could not – that allowed him to make these decisions.

Forcing his family to uproot themselves and relocate constantly if so much as a hair was out of place in the town, putting up security wards as a nightly routine since that fateful night in 1965, and making sure that every measure necessary had been ensued to make sure Remus Lupin's lycanthropy was concealed was an obligation. Remus Lupin, despite the pain in his mother's eyes when she watched him stare longingly at the town down the road, would have to be a child raised in solitude. It was a necessary precaution, according to his father. If anyone, and he meant anyone, found out about his condition, he'd be thrown to the Ministry. When that happened, he told his son, there was little that neither he nor his mother could do.

So, not only did Remus Lupin grow up in solitude. He also grew up in fear. While isolation felt bone-crushingly miserable, the nightmare that could have very well worked its way into reality weighed heavier on Remus's chest. It was not fear of who he was, as he'd come to tolerate the wolf inside of him. He would never be able to control him or reason with him, but he understood his patterns better than anything. There was no need to be afraid because he'd seen it himself hours after a transformation, and if that isn't traumatic, Hope wasn't sure anything was.

No. Remus was afraid of humans, more specifically, the Ministry and the power they held. They were, up until a certain point, the only thing stronger than his mother and father.

If spurts of sadness overcame his joy, he reminded himself that it is better to be sad than to be dead. If he felt deserted and abandoned, he reminded himself that the shed is better than Azkaban. If he ever felt as if he had no friends, he reminded himself that the dementors would surely make themselves quite friendly if they ever had the chance. If he ever felt white hot anger roiling in his veins, he reminded himself that the wolf would only make it worse the longer he stayed agitated.

Poor Remus Lupin, at only eleven years old, had been trained into fear, seclusion, and submission. However, that did not stop him from enjoying what little freedom he had at the Lupin Cottage. Gently setting down the bag of crisps, now half empty, he crept along the wall, listening intently to the quiet argument in the kitchen. It was Hope, to his dismay, who sounded reproachful.

"This isn't a chance for you to convince yourself he's normal, Lyall," she hissed, fiddling idly with a pan she'd scrubbed clean quite a while ago. His father was sitting at the dining room table, a letter clutched in his hand with neat, loopy handwriting.

"This is a chance for him to feel like one of us," Lyall pleaded. Hope's shoulders tensed at that, her fingers squeezing the sponge in, what appeared to be, anger. But Remus had never seen his mother angry before.

"He isn't one of you," she glowered. "He isn't one of me – he is his own… he is–" His mother struggled for the words, unable to articulate what she was trying to say without saying the hard cold truth. Even as a Muggle, she knew this.

"He's what, Hope," Lyall seethed, cocking his head to the side. "An animal?" Hope did not respond, turning to look at her husband with pure hatred in her eyes. Remus and his lycanthropy had been a sensitive topic sense the day it came to be; conversations about this topic nearly always ended in some sort of row and Remus's self-loathing growing tenfold. Because if he hadn't been in his room, if only he had been somewhere else in the house, then this wouldn't have happened. He wouldn't have ruined his parents' hopes and dreams and they'd still be a happy suburban family in Clovelly. His mother would still have her job and his father would still be a strong and powerful Auror.

"Don't speak of him that way," she muttered, anger splintered by a hint of brokenness. "You know I'm only trying to do what's best for him."

Lyall stood up, dropping the letter on the table, "By limiting him? By confining him to your Muggle boundaries?"

"My 'muggle boundaries' are the only thing protecting him from people such as your father," she snapped, wiping her hands on her apron. "My 'Muggle boundaries' are the only thing keeping him from facing the storm, Lyall. My boundaries are the only thing keeping him sane!"

Lyall let out a indignant scoff. "What a load of –"

"What is he doing," Hope shouted. "Right now. What is he doing?" Lyall stared at her for a moment, refusing to believe the notion she was throwing at him. Remus cowered in the shadows, afraid to make a sound if he left but afraid of his parents finding out that he'd been listening in on their conversation.

"Watching Monty Python," Lyall exhaled. Hope's frown upturned slightly.

"On a Muggle television," she whispered. "That seems to be his only saving grace after transformations. Movies! Television. It's the only thing that keeps him sane because at least on television there are people just as different as he is!" Lyall opened his mouth to speak but shut it quickly realizing that his wife was close to smacking him. "He hurts. I've seen it in his eyes. He's lonely and tired. We can only do so much for him. But, Lyall, if you wanted him to be a part of your world you should have exposed him sooner. You can't just throw him into Hogwarts and expect him to cavort around like you and Augustus did. He isn't like you, Lyall."

"He's exactly like me, everyone says so," Lyall stated defensively. "And besides, look! Dumbledore says that Remus's condition won't be an obstacle stopping him from getting the proper education. When has Dumbledore ever been wrong?"

But Hope ignored the second half of his utterance and raised her eyebrows, "He was like you until the world changed who he was and took everything from him, Lyall. What aren't you comprehending about this?"

But Remus hadn't been listening anymore. Hogwarts. That had been what the letter was discussing! Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Remus had the chance to become a true wizard. And this Dumbledore man, he knew about his lycanthropy and was willing to still educate him? His parents had told him that, because of his condition, he'd have to be homeschooled as a Muggle for the rest of his life and lead the life of an ordinary man. But this letter, this acceptance letter, was living proof that that wasn't the case! How could his mother not want him to go? In fact, he felt a little hurt. Why didn't she want him to be happy?

"…because he's fragile," Hope sighed, rubbing her forehead. Remus rolled his eyes; there they went again. Always calling him weak and delicate, unable to do the most minute of tasks because of what, a little transformation every month? But, then again, some of them left him immobile for hours on end. So, were they really so little? No. But that doesn't mean for one second he was unable to perform magic, at least according to Dumbledore.

Finding a small bubble of courage within him, he stepped out of the shadows, "I am not fragile." Both of the elder Lupins whirled on their feet to face the entrance of the kitchen, surprised to see Remus off the couch so soon after the full moon. Of course, he still looked feeble; his skin had begun to regain some of its natural coloring, which had remained pale considering he never left the house much. He'd been growing out his hair and, from the looks of it, hadn't thought to brush it in quite a while, but he didn't mind much. And the dark circles under his eyes, though very much still present, had begun to lessen in the days following his transformation. Hope noticed how he leaned against the doorframe weakly.

"No, of course, you're not, kiddo," his father smirked, coming to stand in front of him. There was a twinkle in his eye, one that he'd only seen every now and then, especially after the accident. "We've got a bit of a surprise for you, Remus. I know this will make you feel better." Turning around quickly, his father fetched the letter from the kitchen table. To make it feel much more official, he refolded it and stuck it back in the envelope from which it came.

On the front, it read:

Remus J. Lupin

The Second Lupin Cottage

Walters Ash, London

Excitement whizzed through Remus's body, replacing the hot anger he'd felt a moment ago with something entirely different. In fact, he hadn't felt like this since his last birthday when they'd agreed to take him to the beach for holidays. It hadn't felt as welcoming as the forest, but the salty breeze against his skin and the cool brush of ocean water in his toes was enough to alleviate some of the misery in his chest.

Something stopped Remus from pulling out the letter. What if this had all been a cruel joke? Would his parents do something like this to him? Get his hopes up, his biggest dream right in front of his face, only to rip it away from him in the blink of an eye? What if Dumbledore changed his mind from now until September? What if they decided that, actually, this was much more than they'd bargained for and, actually, they no longer wanted him to attend?

"Well," Lyall chirped happily. "Open it, Remus." Their son exchanged a worried glance with them, his eyes falling upon his mother the longest. She, too, seemed to share these apprehensions, and couldn't bear the thought of another shattered dream to collide with the ground. Not again. Not after things had finally started to settle.

With a deep breath, Remus read the letter.

HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore

(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,
Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mr. Lupin,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July. Upon your arrival, your Head of House will discuss with you the terms upon your stay at Hogwarts. Necessary precautions have been taken and we intend to ensure the safety of not only your fellow students, but you as well.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

There was a second page attached to letter with all of his supplies listed just as it said they would be. Remus caught sight of another slip of paper deep within his father's pockets. While it would have been an interesting conversation, he was far too busy dealing with the face splitting grin making itself quite comfortable on his face.

So, it was finally happening. One of Remus's dreams had finally come true. And, for the first time in quite some time, Remus felt slightly hopeful. He knew that he'd have to be careful, never let anyone close. In fact, over the months leading up to his departure, he was sure that he could recite his father's instructions by heart at this point. Over and over again, Lyall drilled it into his brain that he had to be on guard at all times. Of course he would be, he reassured him.

Of course he would be.

▬▬ι════════════════════ι▬▬

Hogwarts Express , September 1st, 1971

Remus wondered if he'd smelled. Maybe that was it? Did he look dangerous? Was it the scars on his neck that deterred people? A small blonde girl with bright blue eyes and bouncy pigtails had made a move to sit down but thought twice about it, moving on down the cart. He sighed despondently. That had been the third person who'd peered inside his compartment in hopes of finding a seat, taken one glance at him, and moved on.

He'd wished he'd had more time to say goodbye to his parents. Hope, being a Muggle, couldn't come all the way to the platform and, so, they had their own moment between platforms nine and ten. She'd told him how much she loved him, of course, stroking his long, tawny hair away from his face as she begged him to get a haircut when he returned for the holidays. He suddenly found himself aching for their affection after realizing that, in less than ten minutes, he would be without it for three months. He would be without the Muggle movie marathons, the pillow forts held up with his father's old brooms, and the early morning breakfasts at the Inn down the road. He'd be without them when the nightmares disturbed his sleep and without them when he suffered restless nights.

But what had scared him the most was being without them before and after transformations. He knew, at least from what his father had shared, there would be someone to look after him during his recovery – the school nurse, he believed. Had she known about his condition? Or would he blindly stumble into the Hospital Wing, bloody and battered, with no explanation about his condition once a month? He thought, after a moment, that seemed unlikely, as Werewolf injuries require special attention and potions, and she'd obviously need to know about his lycanthropy in order to treat him.

But it wouldn't be the same as his mother, humming the songs from her old records, or his father managing to soothingly ruffle his hair as he woke up. The school nurse wouldn't lay in bed with him as he quietly cried into his pillow, wouldn't understand that it wasn't just the physical pain that had brought him so much discomfort but the humiliation and self-loathing that came with being a disgusting creature like him. The self-hatred and the misery that accompanied his condition was an ailment that no potion or salve could cure, and he wondered how long it would take without his mother or his father for this separation to become unbearable.

Yet, the burning sensation in the corner of his eyes betrayed him. In an attempt to swallow the pity, the hatred, and the longing for lonely Lupin Cottage, Remus laid his head against the wall and closed his eyes. Perhaps willing himself to sleep on the matter would bring him more comfort. Sleeping had always helped at home.

I thought you weren't fragile, the wolf whispered to him, mocking his sentiments. But he couldn't even find the strength to answer it. Couldn't bring himself to defend the human in him, because it was rather pitiful. Remus couldn't even go away to the school of his dreams without whining about his mummy and daddy. Hadn't this been what he wanted in the first place? Independence and a chance to prove that he was more than just a creature to be hidden? Didn't he want to show his worried mother that, in fact, there was actually nothing to worry about. He was eleven, for crying out loud, and it was time he started acting like it.

After several moments of quiet, Remus had thought that the train ride to Hogwarts might be spent alone, but he was pleasantly (quite literally) surprised. The door was jerked open by a boy with tanned skin and unruly, raven hair. He had a devilish smile on his face, the corner of his mouth tugged back in what looked to be a half hearted attempt to whisper. He smelled of chocolate chip cookies (freshly baked) and, if he thought so, wood. There was something about the way this boy held himself that cried Alpha to Remus, however, he pushed that animalistic conclusion to the back of his mind as swiftly as possible. The wolf's interest, much to his distaste, was mildly interested.

Behind him, sharing that same sort of mischievous smirk, was a smaller boy who could've very well been the first boy's cousin. He had an olive skin that trickled with sweat, Remus suddenly became aware of how warm it had been outside, but the boy didn't seem to mind much so long as the waves of midnight black hair that barely touched his shoulders wasn't pasted to his forehead. He watched Remus with slight curiosity that soon turned into soft distaste (probably at the state of his robes, they were far too big), eyes a soft and milky shade of gray that glimmered in the light just outside of the window. This one smelled of book bindings and (Remus's senses hummed) something sweet. And it was this one who also screamed Alpha, and Remus found himself perplexed at their ability to be so easy going around each other.

Probably because they're human who aren't overly infatuated with titles and bonds like this, Remus spat at himself bitterly. But the wolf ignored him, taking more of an interest in the second boy than the first. He'd wanted to fend him off, to send him away, and act on accord of his human reactions. Yet, to his chagrin, the wolf and he depended on each other in a sense. The wolf had senses someone as naïve as Remus could never attain, and it helped him feel the boys out.

Through all of his thinking, though, he could hear them speaking. Another boy had made his way into the compartment, and he smelled strongly of straw and sugar cookies. The one with wild hair and glasses was named James Potter. He said his name in a way that made Remus's heart curl in on itself. Pride. He said his name with pride. It wasn't exactly arrogance, though he could sense there was some in him, but it was unabashed and unapologetic, and Remus, in that moment, envied him. Having already grabbed the attention of the group, already holding the conversational floor, and being able to maintain his sense of calmness through it all – it made Remus's insides curl in shame.

The one across from him was Peter Pettigrew, and he sounded more like Remus than James ever would. He stumbled and fell over almost all of his words, stepping back and apologizing every so often about his stuttering. Remus kept his mouth shut for this reason; his stutter made itself quite protuberant when around new people. He was quite sure they'd tease him had he spoken the same way Peter had, looked at him oddly because of the scars scattered across his neck and arms, and, most definitely, decide he was Loopy as all the other children in Walters Ash had.

Finally, the boy beside him spoke. His voice, in comparison with Potter's, was starkly different from the both of them. He had a gentle lilt in the way he spoke, almost sounding properly bored of the situation yet slyly interested in it at the same time. Clearly, he was much more dignified than either Potter or Pettigrew judging by the aristocratism tangled in his speech. Remus decided then that he'd much rather envy James than be afraid of Sirius, but there wasn't much he could do about the latter. If he was afraid at all, it was fear of Sirius.

Remus wondered if he should introduce himself, make himself present in the conversation. Each of them seemed kind enough, did they not? Especially when Peter had fumbled over his sentences for about ten minutes straight. Neither Potter nor Black had said a single word about it. He cursed himself silently, wishing he'd kept his eyes open and ready at the beginning of the trip. It would be much more difficult, now, joining mid-conversation as he'd been 'asleep' the entire train ride. They had hours to go, and listening to Peter ramble about his mother's sugar cookies was beginning to sound more like torture than silver.

"His luggage," James had pointed out quickly. Remus had taken this chance to stir beside Sirius, preparing himself for the onslaught as he rose from his position. "It says –"

"R.J. Lupin," he croaked, voice oddly dry. He managed to detangle himself from his robes, twisting the knots out of his neck with a loud and pleasant crack. Peter eyed him nervously, obviously intimidated by his size. Remus could understand why; the blonde was much smaller than any of the boys in the compartment and looked to have the upper body strength of a mouse. James's eyes were glued to his neck, watching every muscle surrounding his scar tense as he adjusted himself in the seat. Remus wouldn't lie to himself; he very much felt like disappearing the moment he had opened his mouth. Why? Because it was already happening. He could picture it now. Loopy Lupin, with his scars and pale skin, sunken eyes and pained smiles. And his good mood, the hopes for new friends, was slowly dissipating the longer James studied his figure. "I'm sorry. I was a bit preoccupied during – er – introductions." James had still been watching him carefully, calculating his next move.

What did you do when people didn't trust you? How could he not trust him already? He had hardly even spoken. Glancing at Peter, he noticed his apprehension as well. Sirius appeared impassive, making it rather difficult to tell if he was wary of Remus's presence as well. Oh, this was not going well at all, was it? Perhaps his mother was right. Perhaps this was a terrible idea and no one would accept him as he presented himself, let alone with his condition. He smiled bitterly to himself. "Remus John Lupin." His voice was small and meek, apologetic almost.

James, after a long silence, nodded. "James Potter." Remus looked up from his fingers with a hopeful glint in his eyes.

"Wonderful to meet you," he grinned, forcing the misery down his throat. The only way to make friends, he reminded himself, is getting out of your comfort zone.

Peter spoke next, not stuttering once as he mirrored James, "Peter Pettigrew." He seemed, though, much more open to the idea of Remus sitting with them than James had. In fact, if Remus was reading him correctly, he wasn't half as afraid of him as he was to begin with.

His smile widened, "A pleasure." Remus turned to face Sirius then, wondering if, perhaps, that emotionless stare had melted into something giving a hint to what he had been thinking of him. A smile? A frown? A glare, perhaps? Anything to give away his thoughts on Remus, because it would be much easier accepting that this was not his place than being fooled into thinking that, maybe, it was. He so desperately wanted the train ride to be over, to slip into his dormitory – don't even get him started on his anxieties regarding school – and disappear under the covers. Pitiful, he knew.

"Sirius Black."

Remus's eyes did the Lupin crinkle as he nodded, "Pleasure to meet your –"

James was quick to interrupt him, "Why are you so…" His slim hand waved here and there, fingers snapping impatiently as he tried to rake through his brain for the adjective. Strange. Weird. Lonely. Stupid. Boring. Remus silently created a list in his head of all the dreadful things he was sure to hear once the gears in Potter's head grinded hard enough. He'd heard it before; during the quiet arguments between his mother and father in the morning, sometimes only from his father when he'd had just a bit too much to drink, and other times from the children from Walters Ash. At times, these were the things Remus heard from himself, because he occasionally needed to remind himself that he was, in fact, an animal, and an animal shouldn't be so graced with pleasantries.

"Uptight," Peter finished his thought with a hopeful smile towards James direction. The latter nodded in agreement, taking in the sight of Remus again. Actually, now that Remus thought about it, he didn't like the way James looked at him at all. It was as if he was studying him through the bars of a cage in the Ministry, poking and prying until he bit back. He would wait until he found that tick to finally call the card he'd been waiting to pull from the start. Werewolves. They were vicious creatures ready to attack at the slightest provocation. And James was provoking Remus.

Had he expected himself to lunge at James, wrapping his fingers around his throat and strangling the life out of him only because he was unable to channel his inner wolf on a whim? Had he expected rage to rumble through his body and mingle within his thoughts and cloud his better judgement? Perhaps he was waiting for the same intrusive thoughts that consistently attacked Remus after a mistake to attack James. He breathed a sigh of relief when they didn't, and felt much better, ironically, when he'd been hurt more than angry that James did not take to him well.

The boy next to Remus stirred then, shaking his head distastefully before crossing his arms over his chest with a pained grimace. "Forgive them, Remus. It is quite apparent that they either lack the mannerisms us commoners obtained at a kindergarten level or they're too stupid to tell what they are even if they danced the Macarena in front of them in a tutu."

The idea of mannerisms having a solid form flitted across Remus's mind and took the form of his maternal Grandmother, Glenn, dancing the Macarena in a tutu. For the first time since leaving his mother on the platform between nine and ten, Remus let a small laugh pour out of his mouth. He was relieved, in the slightest, that one, maybe two, of them took to him, even if only a little. Truthfully, he'd only wanted to be liked, to feel the warmth from someone other than his parents who only had the obligation to love him after his accident because, if they did otherwise, they'd be seen as traitors to the Lupin family (excluding his Grandfather).

"That's quite a load of codswallop," James cried. Remus's laughter dimmed, only a tad, when he heard a hint of anger twisted within his exclamation. "Who are you to call yourself a commoner? You were probably fed with a silver spoon till you were ten by your house-elves!"

And it died. The laughter from Remus died in the form of an anxious chuckle. "I will say I've never had the pleasure of being fed from stainless steel cutlery, let alone silver." His attempt at comically relieving the situation had flatlined. Sirius was now glaring at the door, probably wishing he'd sat anywhere but in here, and James was staring moodily out the window, probably wishing Remus had never woken up.

He stared at the ground, ignoring the memories of silver specked doors and chains in a shed. He'd much rather focus on the fact that he'd started an argument already, and they hadn't even made it to the school yet. Of course, he would apologize to James because, honestly, he hadn't hurt his feelings when he'd called him uptight.

Liar, the wolf growled. Remus happily overlooked its voice. Why should it have hurt his feelings? He was uptight and formal and didn't act his age whatsoever, so James was right, wasn't he? Maybe he didn't mean it rudely, only meant it as an observation. That would seem more likely if it had come from maybe Peter or Sirius. It would appear that James was not Remus's biggest fan, it was evident, actually. However, something desperately clinging to whatever was left of this situation, Remus did the only thing he knew how to do well.

Deflection.

"Even if that's true," he murmured, eyeing Peter with a grin, "it appears that his house-elves have better hand-eye coordination than our friend, Peter, over here. At least the majority of his food ends up in Sirius's mouth."

Both brooding boys, temporarily distracted from their tantrums, glanced at Peter's shirt for the fraction of a second before bursting at the seems with laughter. There were plenty of stains on his button-up: faded brown, vibrant yellow, smeared green. Remus grimaced before falling into laughter at well, feeling a flare of guilt lash around in his stomach as Peter looked anywhere but at them. It was soon, though, replaced with belonging as James had clapped him on the shoulder heavily, telling him how clever he was. Whatever wariness the wolf sensed in James, it had vanished in the blink of an eye. Even Sirius's blank stares were absent the rest of the way to Hogwarts.

Perhaps Remus spoke too soon. Perhaps this was his dream coming true after all.

Chapter Text

The Great Hall, September 1st, 1971 (First Year)

Sirius had to admit this: the four founders really outdid themselves with this one. Upon arriving at Hogwarts, which was interesting in and of itself considering Remus had tripped himself over his robes into Peter which caused Peter to shove a poor red-headed girl over into the dirt, Sirius was impressed. Perhaps it was the elegant decor or the grand scheme of it all; or, maybe, he thought dryly, it's a nice change of scenery compared to Walburga and her dingy House of Black. Thinking about it, they could've sauntered into Azkaban and Sirius might have felt more welcomed.

A great man - and by great, Sirius meant huge - greeted them as they exited the train (poor Remus was as red as a cherry until they made it to the sorting ceremony), leading them to the shore of, what Sirius assumed was, the Black Lake. An impish smirk stretched across his face as soon as he took notice of the wobbly boats sitting just a few yards away. A plan was unraveling in his mind.

Ignoring Hagrid (that was the Oaf's name), Sirius leaned down to Peter's level, "I would be careful, if I were you. I heard that the Squid is liable to reach up and snatch anyone who shows signs of weakness as we pass over." The portly boy paled, fidgeting with his fingers nervously.

"W-what do y-y-you mean, weakness," he cried, not caring that Hagrid had already begun leading them down the bank. "Wait! We're going over the lake? I can't swim." James, who'd been trying to pay attention in the slightest with Remus, grinned over his shoulder.

"Of course we are," Sirius drawled. "We like to arrive in style, Peter. Just remember fidgeting, nervous sweats, chills, and clicking teeth – they're all just pheromones for the Squid."

Peter covered his face with his chubby hands and cried, "I don't even know what pheromones are!"

Remus glanced at the two taller boys then to Peter, whom he'd felt bad for since the moment he teased him on the train. Remus knew what it had felt like to be the butt of a joke you didn't understand. Hell, he knew what it was like and know exactly what the punchline was. It didn't matter; the end was all the same. The Werewolf hadn't said much since tripping on his robes, far too embarrassed to humiliate himself further. He had never been eloquent and articulate like his mother. He was all awkward, gangly limbs and uncomfortable stuttering.

"Four ter' a boat," Hagrid called out, voice booming over whatever small conversations may have been held. The four boys, Sirius noticed Remus hung towards the back in observation, made their way to the first boat.

"It's alright, Pete," James reassured him, clapping a hand on his shoulder in a friendly manner. "I'm sure it'll toss you back soon enough." This did nothing to soothe Peter's now frazzled nerves, and, if it hadn't been for Hagrid holding the boats in place as the students boarded them, he would've tipped them all over from the jerky movements he was making.

In an attempt to make him feel better, Remus said, "I think it would go for the leaner ones." The three of them looked at him oddly for a moment, caught by surprise that he had spoken so calmly. "You know, muscle tastes much better than fat."

James snickered, "I'd be surprised, then, if he'd taste anything on Sirius at all."

The Black heir whirled around to face James indignantly, "Well, at least I don't look like I've got broom sticks for arms, git."

"I'd much rather have stick arms than greasy hair," James retorted, seemingly unbothered by Sirius's insult. However, there was a complete opposite reaction in Sirius. In fact, he'd looked like he'd been stabbed, throwing himself over Remus dramatically and stroking his hair. He was making sounds closed to that of choked sobs, shaking his head in disbelief. A small chuckle left Remus, bitter as it was, because that was not at all a good impression of dry crying.

"Deceit," Sirius murmured. "Deceit and betrayal and we haven't even been sorted! And to think, I almost called you brother." He stuck his chin in the air, leaving Remus's lap and staring up at the castle in the distance in a brooding manner. Peter rolled his eyes, though one could tell he was finding all this extremely amusing. Remus did little to hide his amusement; James and Sirius were entertaining alone, he assumed, and this production multiplied when put in the same room.

"I would never call a Slytherin my brother," James shot back hotly. Sirius flipped his hair defiantly.

"If you must know," he quipped, "I plan on being sorted into Gryffindor, thank you very much."

Peter gaped at him, wide eyed and mouth dropped comically, "Y-you can't j-just choose your house, S-Sirius." But the mischievous grin had already found its home on his face again, his resistant pauses and nervous flickers in pools of gray lost in a sea of first years.

Sirius was almost positive he'd land in Gryffindor. Anywhere was better than Slytherin, only because that's exactly where Walburga and Orion wanted him the most. That's where everyone had expected him to be because there hadn't been a single member of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Sleezy Plonkers who hadn't been placed in Slytherin in all their years. He knew that being placed in Slytherin was like signing himself over to his inheritance that, at this point, he didn't even want. And, with that inheritance, came a handful of other responsibilities he hadn't felt up to take.

Sirius didn't even mind being in Ravenclaw, although he'd been told he would never be smart enough to get into a house like that by his nasty little cousin, Bellatrix. And that was exactly why she'd woken up with patches of her hair a comical shade of blue. And Hufflepuff was for pushovers according to Narcissa. But then again, Narcissa was the bint who'd taken the badger for a skunk for a good two terms, so what did she know? Gryffindor was where he belonged, he could simply feel it. That's where the heroes and the knights in shining armor were placed. That's where the good ones would be, he hoped. He'd never heard of a rotten egg coming from the Lion's den.

"All you have to do is ask," he pointed out arrogantly. Once each of the boats had been filled, they set across the water. "Besides, I'd fit right in. My mother says all Gryffindors are dense, foolhardy, and reckless."

James rolled his eyes and mumble, "You'd fit the bill."

Remus, though he would have never admitted it to his friends, was utterly entranced with Hogwarts. This was because James and Sirius had taken to gently rocking the boat back and forth in an attempt, which had been succeeding by the way, to nauseate Peter. None of them seemed at all interested in the castle or the lake, probably because they'd been expecting it the whole time. And while that may have been true, he let himself be quietly mesmerized. Not just by the castle looming in the distance, but the ever-expanding lake that reflected the night sky so seamlessly and the magnificent forest just on the other side of the lake.

He didn't mind that there was a flesh-eating squid swimming just beneath him, though if he were really using his logic it sounded more like some tall tale to scare the blubber off Peter. He didn't mind there were going to be miles and miles worth of walking to get to class because his wish had come true. This would be the life of adventure, and Sirius felt that same jolt of realization as they climbed the stairs towards a prim witch with a thin line instead of a mouth.

She cleared her throat impatiently as the four boys, mostly James and Sirius, elbowed their way to the front to get a better look at things. As he loomed in the back, Remus apologized to anyone in their path and offered a weak smile as some sort of truce. Everyone, except a small boy with pallor skin and a long, hooked nose, seemed to have forgiven and forgotten. He eyed Remus with a distasteful curiosity, as if he were a strange, exotic bug that'd he'd caught in a jar. He was quick to decide, after Remus had turned away, that he needed to be squashed.

"Good evening, young students," the woman finally spoke up. Remus caught up with the others, standing behind them quietly. Sirius and James were whispering to each other furiously about the enchantments all around them: the moving sets of armor, the House ghosts, the floating candles. Peter was eyeing the room behind her with a greater interest though, a niff of dinner catching in his nostrils. "Now, in a few moments, you will pass through these doors and join your classmates. But before you can take your seats you must be sorted into your houses. They are Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Now, while you are here, your house will be like your family. Your achievements will earn you house points. Any rule breaking—" Remus was almost positive she shot the three boys in front of her an intuitive, icy glare – "and you will lose points." Remus caught James send back a crafty wink and shook his head, denying himself the pleasure of a giggle. "At the end of the year, the house with the most points is presented the house cup."

There it was. The boyish nature that had been repressed deep inside Sirius Orion Black and sheltered by snobbish nobility. His eyes enlarged with wonder then narrowed as all the ideas flourished in his head. Peter leaned into their semi-circle, three heads poked together as they brewed up plans of trickery and camaraderie, triumphing at the end of the year over those groveling Slytherin (although Remus had never had such difficulties with them yet) and all others. Feeling a bit out of the loop, Remus looked down at his feet dismally.

"The sorting will begin in just a few moments," beamed McGonagall, disappearing within a set of large, oak doors. Childish whispers soon flooded the landing. A small girl with bronze skin and curly hair stood next to Remus quietly with her feet pointed inward, apparently finding the floor much more attractive than the group of students around them. The two of them, though surrounded by other children, had a large gap separating them from the other groups of students milling around them like busy body bees. It would have appeared that she, as well, didn't feel too included by her peers.

Something inside Remus jumped at the chance, though it wasn't the wolf this time that gave a stagger of self-assurance. It was Remus himself.

"I-I'm Remus," he gulped, turning to face the girl full on as they waited. She looked up at him, peering through thick, dark eyelashes rimming mocha brown eyes. Remus noticed that, while she did not look scared of him, she surely wasn't comfortable, but something also told him that this reaction would've been given had anyone just blurted out their name on a whim. She blinked a few times.

"Oh," she cooed, voice soft as a rainy April morning. "I'm Julienne." She held out her hand to him after they stood in what felt like an awkward, yet not necessarily uncomfortable, silence long enough. Making sure to be extra careful, Remus extended his own hand and grasped hers gently. Her skin was soft and warm, and Remus felt himself blush as his hands must've been calloused and sticky with sweat. However, if they were, she did not yank her hand away in disgust or angry manner.

There was something telling him that he was doing this all wrong. Not just making nice with Julienne but making nice with the boys as well. Lyall had been extremely specific in his instructions when telling Remus what and what not to do when he got to school. And the one thing on his list, the only thing, Hope felt like, his father cared about what that Remus was better alone. No one would understand him, accept him, or comfort him the way his parents had. They would be quick to turn him over to the Ministry and Remus John Lupin would be forever erased from history, erased from the lives of his family. Wiped clean from the earth. No child at Hogwarts could cope with the secret of lycanthropy; adults couldn't even do it.

And while this should have been enough to stop Remus from extending himself further, it was not. Lyall Lupin had forgotten to consider that Remus was an affectionate boy. He was tender and needy, not at all in the bad types of ways, and he needed reassurance from someone, every once in a while, that things in his life were okay. The boy had depended on his parents for the majority of his life; he fed off of their attention and their love. Coming to terms with not having it for the next great portion of his life leading up to adulthood was weighing heavy on Remus.

Did they do this on purpose? Did they become his crutches to teach him that having to rely on the support of others would prove detrimental? Would his mother do something like that to him? She'd been so dead set on convincing her son to stay home, promising him more time out, more time in, more time together – whatever it was that he had wanted or yearned for, if it was in her reach, she'd give it to him. Yet, all Remus had wanted was a life outside of Lupin Cottage. A life away from the shed and silver specked doors. He wanted free space to roam, adventures to seek out, and, above all, human connection.

Hope knew, sooner or later, Remus would come to find that the company of only her and Lyall would wear thin on Remus's patience. He'd come to miss his old friends, his old schoolmates, and the days where he'd been able to socialize like young boys should. Eventually, she knew, that Remus would begin to seek things out for himself. She was sure Lyall knew this as well and was sure he'd done his best to convince Remus that no one would ever do good on his part. No one would ever support Remus the way he and his mother had. No one. Not newfound friends, not girlfriends, not teachers, and not Dumbledore. And while Hope would've liked to think this was all for her baby Remus's sake, she knew in her heart that fear clutched her husband.

"Remus," Julienne repeated. The boy blinked, shaking tawny hair out of his face to look at the girl beside him. Her full lips pulled into a gentle smile, a single dimple in her right cheek deepening. "Are you alright? You don't look too well."

"It's the Lupin genes, I suppose," he muttered, more to himself than to anyone in particular. Remus never looked well. He was either always on the verge of dying or recovering from near-death-experiences, so it felt like. His skin was always a pasty shade of peach and his eyes always felt so sunken in his skull. He was sure he might as well have tattooed the crescents beneath his eyes, as they never fully went away. As a young boy, Remus had been thin and lanky, all arms and legs, just like his mother. But lycanthropy had taken a toll on his body, and his weight had always fluctuated.

Julienne giggled, shaking her head. "You're funny. Where do you want to be placed?" Remus's face went blank. Where had he wanted to be placed?

When reading up on Hogwarts: A History, he'd learned plenty about the houses. Each of them had their pros and cons, though he was neither here nor there for any of them.

Liar, the wolf growled. You want to be the hero, don't you?

Well, he'd always dreamed of it, hadn't he? Even in his potion-induced sleep, he'd been planning on his worldly adventures to save the damsel. Truth be told, Remus decided he didn't deserve to be in Gryffindor. He wasn't the heroic knight in shining armor, he was the beast that had kept the damsel locked in the tower. Actually, according to the many books on Werewolves psychology, he lacked the brain cells even for that. So, he was the beast who guarded the tower, killing any handsome man who came near. He wasn't brave or noble – and who could he have been loyal to when he had no friends?

"Probably Ravenclaw," he lied, forcing a smile down at her. She adjusted her headband quietly, thinking to herself for a moment.

"I'd like to think I'm a Hufflepuff," she admitted nervously. "Don't tell my brothers that, though."

Remus furrowed his eyebrows, "Why not?"

As she opened her mouth to speak, McGonagall had reappeared through the oak doorway, smile thinly spread on her face. Chatter ceased.

"We are ready for you now."

The Great Hall, as all four boys could describe it, was nothing less than magnificent. It stretched and stretched for what had seemed to be miles underneath a ceiling that mirrored the sky. Hundreds of candles lit the room, a fireplace on either side. Four long tables, filled with older students, occupied the room, and above each of these tables was a flag representative of each house: a lion for Gryffindor, a badger for Hufflepuff, a serpent for Slytherin, and an eagle for Ravenclaw. McGonagall led them to the front of the room where a three-legged stool awaited them with a derelict hat sitting on top.

James hung back with Remus for a moment, too astonished to keep up with Sirius' pace. "I knew it was great, mate, but this?" Remus only nodded in agreement, a smile playing at his lips. Who knew that James Potter could be stunned into silence, he thought amusedly. The group of students gathered around the stool and McGonagall.

"Your Headmaster wishes to share a few words with you before the ceremony," she snapped. Sirius wondered if she ever relaxed her face and what would happen to the tightness in her forehead when she did. A man sitting at the staff table with aggressively puce robes and half-moon spectacles sitting on the bridge of his nose stood up slowly. So, Sirius mused, this was Dumbledore. It explained a lot, really. Judging by the complex (nearly cartoonish, Sirius joked) pattern of constellations on his robes and the ridiculously long beard, the papers might have been right when they'd said he might have lost a few marbles on the train ride here.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," he smiled down at each of them warmly. "I have a few start of term notices I wish to announce. The Forbidden Forest has been deemed, believe it or not, forbidden, and no student, regardless of year or status, should find themselves roaming into it. We would also like to inform you that a new member of Hogwarts has made her grand entrance; we're now home to a Whomping Willow

, and I'm sure you know, as you've deduced from the name, she is not so friendly. I would advise all students to keep far from this tree as she becomes agitated when in the presence of others."

Quiet murmurs filled the room, though he paid no mind to them. "Also, our caretaker, Mr. Filch has asked me to remind you all that dung bombs are not to be considered classroom necessities." A stout man standing in the back of the Great Hall hmphed with triumph as a few faces fell disappointedly in the crowd of students. Bloody bastards, he thought. "He has also asked me to remind you that the magic is not to be performed out of classrooms. Thank you all." The man seated himself.

Wasting not a moment longer, McGonagall extended a rather long piece of parchment in front of her. "When I call your name, you will seat yourself on this stool, I will place the hat on your head, and you will be sorted into the corresponding houses. Once sorted, please seat yourselves at the designated tables behind you."

James and Sirius looked at each other excitedly, jostling each other roughly as they teased each other about placement. Earlier, Remus might have felt a bit dejected. He'd thought they'd really hit it off on the train, but perhaps they only felt obligated to speak to him considering he'd been forced to sit in the compartment with him.

Remus's heart rate quickened in his chest, thumping harshly into his skin. What if the hat did not sort Werewolves? What if it sounded an alarm that a dark creature resides in Hogwarts? What would the other students do? Dumbledore surely wouldn't put him through that whole ordeal just to prove a point, would he?

"Avery, Elijah."

"Slytherin!"

"Andrews, Peter."

"Hufflepuff!"

"Black, Sirius."

Silence. The applause ended, the whispers subsided, and there was nothing in the Great Hall in that moment, but silence. Anyone who was someone knew who he was, and they did not try to be discreet when staring at him. Some eyes held respect (that mainly came from the Slytherin section), others held contempt (as I'm sure you're able to guess where those glares came from), while others held slight curiosity. He wasn't like his cousins, some noted. Though, walking up to the sorting hat as if he was the Queen of England reminded them terribly of the rest of his family and their reputation, there was something odd about Sirius that not many could figure out.

McGonagall placed the hat upon Sirius's head, and his view of the Great Hall had been obstructed.

"Well," it cooed, "another Black to grace the confines of Hogwarts, I see. Tell me, how is sweet Walburga doing?"

Sirius audibly scoffed before thinking, "Interesting that you'd put sweet and Walburga in the same sentence."

"So, you are quite unusual, aren't you," the hat observed. Sirius crossed his legs uncomfortably. "Your mother would surely be pleased to see you join your cousins in the fine house of Slytherin… though, you had another house in mind, didn't you now, Mr. Black?"

"I don't belong in Slytherin, so don't even think about placing me there," Sirius decided with finality.

"Interesting that you might say that, Mr. Black. Hm… loyalty seems to run through your veins as water in a stream," the hat noted, more to itself than to Sirius. "Though you have quite the temper, quite the temper." Sirius frowned. "It would be a pity for all that cunning to go to waste, though. I believe that you've used it to your advantage at home… Yet, I also see that your courage makes up when handling the consequences. However, you've got quite the ambition to be something, to be someone."

"Could we, if you don't mind, speed this along. I'm starving and Peter will eat up all the Chocolate Frogs." Sirius had started to feel uncomfortable, now hyperaware that this bloody hat could read him like an open book.

"I suppose, if you're dead set on it, then," the hat sighed, though Sirius could've sworn there was a hint of amusement in its tone. "Good luck, and have fun in the house of –"

"Gryffindor!"

Sirius breathed a sigh of relief, not noticing that this exhale had been the only thing to cut through the thickest silence Hogwarts had ever encountered. Several people's jaws had dropped while others couldn't dare whisper to their neighbors because if they had even tried to sneak a comment, surely, someone would have heard them. The only people who managed to make a move had been Narcissa, who'd taken to snickering amongst her girly friends, and James, far off amongst the Gryffindors, cheering for him. His hands wrapped against each other loudly, echoing from wall to wall.

"Come on, then, don't dawdle," he shouted, smile broad on his face. Another pair of hands joined him, coming from much closer. Below him, Sirius caught sight of Remus, the boy from the train, also applauding him as McGonagall shooed him off of the stool. He'd said, "Congratulations, Sirius." His voice, though, was soon drowned out by a burst of applause from the table of Gryffindor. Cheers and hollers of joy filled his ears and he found that the apprehension that had threated to claw its way out of his throat was soon swallowed by smugness. Sirius took his seat beside James who'd managed to jostle him around like a rag doll before McGonagall read off the next name.

"Boman, Natalie."

"Ravenclaw!"

"Cresswell, Dirk."

"Gryffindor!"

"Evans, Lily."

It had been the girl whom Peter had shoved over. She seemed to have made a full recovery by now, giggling delightedly when making her way to the front of the room.

"Gryffindor!"

"Jerome, Julienne."

Remus, wanting her to stay if only a bit longer, squeezed her hand as she walked away, feeling a bit abandoned when her fingers had slipped from his. After the loss of contact, he'd felt awkwardly out of place in the midst of other students. She eased her way around Sirius, who'd made it especially difficult for her to edge around him without nearly tumbling over, and seated herself on the stool apprehensively. Several seconds passed by and, aside from Peter, she had been up there much longer than any other student. Beneath the brim of the hat, Remus could see her lips moving quickly and silently. He'd wanted to know what it was that the hat was saying to her. Perhaps she was trying to reason with it to put her in Hufflepuff; according to Sirius, you could do such a thing. In the end, the sorting had decided it was best she was placed in, "Hufflepuff!"

Julienne's shoulders slumped in relief, a relaxed smile playing at her lips. He couldn't help it; Remus broke out in joyous claps, denying himself the moment to be upset. If he was being honest, and the Wolf would remind him of this later, their chances of being sorted together were now cut in half. Surely the house for kind, gentle souls would turn Remus away. Helga Hufflepuff would most likely be ashamed of a dark creature tainting all of the good hearts in her house.

"Longbottom, Frank."

Remus noticed a short boy with curly brown hair make his way up to the chair. Once atop his head, the hat seemed to move in thought. It muttered to itself, though no one could hear it, before loudly announcing, "Gryffindor!" A round of applause erupted around Remus as Frank staggered to the Gryffindor table, admonishing in the praise from older students.

Finally, it was time for Remus to face the sorting hat. He'd been the only student left unsorted, sticking out like a sore thumb alone at the front of the room with his long legs and untamed hair. He looked up at McGonagall, cringing when he'd somehow managed to hear his name through the ringing in his ears mixed with the murmurs behind him. The moment he'd been waiting for was now sitting in front of his face, and all he'd wanted to do was run.

With wobbly legs, he climbed the stairs, stumbling a bit as he reached the top, and seated himself on the stool. Unlike the other students his legs did not dangle, and he could not swing them nervously. No, his feet were planted firmly on the ground, and a good thing too, because he felt as though he might have toppled over. The hat, soon afterward, was placed on his head.

"My, my, my," the hat purred. "This is something I've never encountered before. A magical creature being sorted into Hogwarts?"

"A dark creature," Remus corrected politely.

The sorting hat sighed, "Tsk Tsk, Mr. Lupin. I wouldn't be so hard on yourself; your potential is very great, I can tell." Remus fought back the blush creeping up his neck. "Very bright, I see, as well. You'd do quite well in Ravenclaw. Very curious and inquisitive, you are. The questions you seek would be easily answered there." A spark of hope fluttered in Remus's chest. "Though, I do believe they might find you out rather quickly. You have the impulse of a Gryffindor. No – not Ravenclaw. It was a nice thought."

"I do not have an impulse," Remus thought defensively. The hat sniggered.

"You just haven't found those to bring it out of you yet," it commented, unbothered. "You wouldn't do well in Slytherin at all. No – you are quite the selfless one, Remus. I doubt there will be a time when you value your ambitions over your friendships."

"I don't have any friends," Remus remembered miserably. It was true. Remus had only managed to get acquainted with four people who, so far, had barely noticed him after first encounters. He wasn't at all memorable or interesting like James and Sirius, nor had he been personable like Peter. And there was something about Julienne that was just likable. Remus possessed none of these traits. He was quiet and awkward, he never knew what to say, and if he did say something, he messed it up. His voice lacked volume, confidence, and aristocratic lilt, and his robes were too big to billow behind him. Well, Remus was just a mess, wasn't he?

"You wouldn't gain any in Slytherin," the hat sighed. "And if someone were to discover your condition… the prejudice might just crack what little self-confidence you have. So, I think we can both agree, not Slytherin, yes?" Remus, to everyone's bewilderment, nodded furiously. "That leaves us with two options. Hufflepuff and Gryffindor."

"Hufflepuff. Please, put me in Hufflepuff."

The hat paused for a moment. "You doubt your potential. Perhaps this is because it has been hidden from you for the greater half of your childhood, or maybe you've never been reinforced in the way you needed to be. You possess a great need for compassion and companionship, something I believe both houses could offer you. But I believe your values lay in Gryffindor."

Remus's anger flared inside his chest, making his ears go pink. "But I'm not brave! I'm not heroic or noble. I'm a dark creature – the thing that Gryffindors battle. I don't have any courage. I could never stand up to my parents or fight off bad guys or tell the pretty girl she's actually pretty… I'm afraid of myself and my shadow and what's inside of me." He took a long breath, wishing this process would just be over already. "I'm not brave."

There was a silence in Remus's head as his words repeated themselves. Memories replayed over and over in his head when he could have shown bravery. It all started when he cried in front of his mother, too afraid of dying to pull himself together. He'd shown her weakness then, and, for that, he would never forgive himself. He blinked away hot tears in his eyes, cursing himself for being such a pansy.

"There are infinite shades of Gryffindor bravery. Blink and you'll miss them, Remus."

And before Remus could get another word in, the hat declared, "Gryffindor!"

The sorting hat called out several names, but Remus only perked up upon a familiar surname.

"Pettigrew, Peter."

The boy received a supportive holler from James who'd made himself quite at home amongst the older Gryffindors already. Clearly, he'd been saving a seat for his two friends. A pang shot off in Remus's chest and, again, he'd found himself staring at the floor miserably. Suddenly, a warm hand had grasped his, squeezing gently and running a soft finger over his knuckles. Julienne, who must have been watching him from the side, offered a weak smile.

"Gryffindor!"

"Potter, James."

James sauntered forward, preening in the attention, clearly, as if he hadn't had enough of it at home, and hunkered down on the stool. Sirius cast a hopeful glance back at Remus, mouthing the words, "Fingers crossed." Awkwardly, Remus nodded his head and looked back towards the front of the room.

"Gryffindor!"

James received a copious amount of applause and a thorough noogie from his friends in the front. "As if that was a surprise, prat," Peter grinned, shoving him towards the tables.

Remus was glancing around anxiously, marking spots in the Great Hall that might make for a good escape.

Would the man from earlier – Remus thought his name was Hagrid – stop him from running?

"Snape, Severus."

The boy from earlier that Remus had seen, the one with the dark hair and long nose, shuffled through the group of students, careful not to come in close contact with anyone. He shot a nasty glare over his shoulder at Potter, who'd taken to murmuring lots of cruel taunts regarding Severus's hair. Greasy seemed to be the main punchline. Now that Remus took a look, it did look rather dingy.

It took no time at all. The hat declared, "Slytherin."

But Remus hadn't been listening. The words spun round in his head, mocking him as he mulled over the mystery in the hat's omnipetent voice.

Blink, and you'll miss them.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, 1971 (First Year)

Dinner had been a blur to Remus – a blur that he hadn't quite noticed until he was being corralled by the Gryffindor prefects, Ivan Strix and Naomi Ganders. No one really spoke to him at dinner, nor did he make any effort to speak to others. The only sense of the outside world he'd experienced was a pair of faded, steely eyes watching him every now and then. He didn't mind; Remus was always stared at. From his messy, tawny hair to the scars protruding from the collar of his jacket, even down to the way his legs stuck out from him like two long tree limbs – there was something interesting about Remus that made people want to stop, even if only for a second, and stare.

If it had been anyone else, it would've gotten tiresome. Even Remus found himself agitated at times when a sea of faces would all be trying their hardest not to look at him, to ignore the deathly glow of his skin and the tired lines tracing his face. They'd all done a poor job of trying, always furrowing their brows in concern, murmuring to each other endlessly. By the time Remus had made it to Hogwarts, he'd learn to tune it out and ignore it. It was for the best; if he'd responded the way he'd wanted to sometimes, channeling the inner wolf inside of him lashing out at anyone who so much as glanced in his direction, there'd be trouble. There was enough trouble as it was seeing as people constantly asked his parents, "Is he alright? Should he see a doctor? He looks ill." And it was always the same excuses. "No, ma'am. Poor John is just getting over the flu. No, sir. John here's just a bit tired – we've been out shopping all day. No, no, he's quite alright. I promise." All the inquisitive eyes and prying neighbors lead to Remus's isolation. The questions, eventually, became too much for his parents to maneuver. So, instead, they stopped letting him step away from the Lupin Cottage.

But Remus had never been alright. He was always tired, his limbs were always aching, and there always seemed to be the incessant nag of the Wolf as he tried to claw his way out of his throat at the minor inconveniences. If Remus had stubbed his toe, a low, guttural growl would sound from the back of his throat. If he'd dropped his plate on the floor, spilling his dinner everywhere, this burning anger would ripple through his body for a split second. God forbid he ever hear his parents discussing him. That was the instance that always brought the wolf to the surface. If they want a monster, I can give them a monster.

Though he was very capable of doing so, he'd never actually go through with that plan. He'd always hide himself away in the shed, leaving the beast to his own devices a single night of the month. That's the least he owed himself; a release of some sort because it was tiring being a good person. It gnawed at Remus, now that he was in the presence of other children, that his parents had taught him to be afraid of who he was instead of the wolf himself. It wasn't the lycanthropy that was the problem. No, it was Remus. And, because of this, he was taught to cower in a corner whether it be a full moon, half-moon, or a sliver as thin as his fingernail.

Who's to say that Remus didn't want to play pranks on his parents? Who's to say Remus didn't want his father to sneak him joke materials or a chocolate bar or a magazine to pass his time? Who's to say Remus didn't want to cry into his mother's chest, wail and sob until there was nothing left to pour out? Who's to say that Remus didn't want to scream and yell at the top of his lungs, cursing the day he ever step into his room on March 10th of 1965? Who's to say that Remus didn't, for once, want to be a normal boy?

Why was it always him? Why was it always Remus who had to give something up – his childhood home, his friends, his freedom, his humanity? Why was it always Remus who had to take the brunt of the blame during arguments? Why was it always Remus who stayed behind as his mother and father went out on their birthdays to celebrate themselves? Why was it always Remus who had to swallow his two cents that rose in his throat like bile? Why was it always Remus who had to smother dreams and bury hopes?

Because Remus was a werewolf. There was no wolf and there was no more Remus. They were, as he considered, one being. And treating himself any differently was going to make him dissociate and convince himself that there was a chance for him in the wizarding world. Oh, don't worry. The wolf only comes out to visit on full moons, but I come back right afterward; you've got nothing to fear. As if, he scoffed. People would look at him as if he were insane. It was bad enough as it was that they looked at him as a piece of dangerous garbage.

"What is wrong with you!" A voice snapped Remus out of his thoughts. In a way, he was thankful. He was treading into dark territory. It wasn't difficult at all to see over the heads of the group to find Sirius and James crossing their arms defiantly with haughty smirks plastered on their faces. Ivan Strix, the Gryffindor Prefect, was blowing smoke from the ears, nostrils flaring wildly as Naomi attempted to defuse the situation. "You could've caught my robe on fire!"

"But," Sirius cooed, "they didn't."

"And, anyway, I think it might have been an improvement to those tattered old hand-me-downs," James snickered, earning a chorus of giggles behind him. Remus furrowed his eyebrows tightly. Well, that wasn't very nice at all. He glanced down at his robes, noticing how large and bulky they'd been on his frame, then back towards the front of the group. "What are a few more holes going to do?"

"It's got to get worse before it gets better," Sirius declared dramatically. Ivan's eyes narrowed dangerously. There were only a few steps in between him and Sirius and James, and that gap was closed in the blink of an eye.

"Five points from Gryffindor each," he snarled, turning on his heel and continuing the journey to their dormitories. Both boys stood there, shocked till their faces turned blue. Remus couldn't help but feel they deserved it; what if a fire had started? He had the strange intuition that there weren't any fire extinguishers around, and none of the first years had any idea how to use a wand for the most part. At least he hadn't. Nervously, he looked around to see if any of the other students had been holding their wands. Thankfully, they'd all been empty-handed.

"You can't do that," James called angrily, stomping after him, Naomi, and the rest of the group. He roughly shouldered past Remus, who was pushed into the banister of the moving staircase. Remus wouldn't have minded much if only James had apologized; he knew that his anger wasn't directed at him, nor had he gone out of his way to push Remus, but something burned in his chest when he ignored his small whimper. Sirius, however, noticed and was quick to turn around with a mixed expression. "Who in the bloody hell would take points from their own house?"

"Something you may or may not learn, Potter," Naomi sighed calmly, "is that there is more to life than petty competitions and glory. There is a bigger picture when looking at the reason why we give and take house points."

"But we've got to win the House Cup," he cried. "It looks awesome, and think of all the –"

"We've got to get to the dormitories," Ivan barked, motioning for the students to follow him. Remus moved quietly, away from Sirius and away from James. He wasn't sure, anymore, if he'd wanted to be their friends. Peter had only sat there watching James as if he'd hung the moon and the stars while Sirius, putting it bluntly, had even encouraged James at first. Ivan hadn't done anything wrong when shouting at James, if you didn't count the shouting part in Remus's book. Anyone would've done the same; James must've been caught up in the attention, that had to be it.

But… that isn't an excuse. Remus hoped that he hadn't been paired with them, now, as they entered the hallway leading towards Gryffindor Tower. It wouldn't be long before they directed their anger at him, and he got enough of at that home.

"In order to reach the Common Room, a place where I'm sure you will find yourselves congregating as the years pass, you'll need to approach the portrait and tell her the password," Naomi walked up to a painting of a rather large woman with a crown of leaves on her head and a toga. "This year's password is Rasavada." And, like magic, the Fat Lady (who'd been doing her own rendition of "Ave Maria") swung open to reveal the most incredible living space Remus had ever seen.

The living area of the common room was just as large as the first floor of the Lupin Cottage, decorated in burgundy and Gold. The sofas were plush, large, and quite comfortable looking, and, to Remus's giddy excitement, were long enough so that he could stretch in front of the roaring fireplace to read a nice book. There was an area for Wizarding Chess and a small bookshelf for community books. Just outside the window was a view Remus's would come to love with every fiber of his being; nearly the entire campus was visible from where they were, covered in moonlight and dimming shadows. The sky was painted an onyx shade, stars splattered against the canvas and clouds dusting the moon.

"This is the Common Room," Naomi announced. "There is no curfew in this room. It's used to studying and socializing, mostly." She pointed to one side of the room. "Over there will be the bulletin board which tells you school notices, rules, and the calendar. If you need to know anything, check there first."

Ivan stopped at a set of two doors, "To your left will be the Boys' dormitories and to your right are the Girls'. This is where you'll stay, and it is also where your things have been put since dinner. You'll find that all of your belongings will be at the foot of your beds."

A small girl, Lily Evans, raised her hand. Naomi smiled and nodded. Lily said, "Are there any rules we need to know?" Many students had been making themselves at home in the Common Room, exploring various nooks and crannies, lying across the sofas and love seats.

Naomi and Ivan looked at each other before he spoke, "One rule we like to enforce is that your dormitory is your dormitory, meaning that we shouldn't find any students from rival houses in here or in your dorms."

Any hopes that Remus could visit Julienne or vice versa were crushed in an instant, leaving him feeling deflated and in dire need of a good night's rest.

"Also," Naomi chimed, "no boys in girls' dorms unless you're a Prefect during an emergency." While it would seem this would've been a rule to enforce, neither Prefect seemed to keen on expressing just how important it was that the students follow it.

"What if we really need something," James asked indignantly. Sirius scoffed, murmuring how no girl would want the likes of him anywhere near their rooms. Ivan and Naomi, including a few upperclassmen who'd been strolling to their dorms, gave each other an impish smirk. They only shrugged to James's question.

"Curfew is at ten o'clock and ends at six in the morning, though I doubt any of you will be jumping at the chance to wake up at the crack of dawn," Naomi chortled. "And, believe me when I say that the kitchen is much less intriguing than you would believe. Don't wander off into it, it disturbs the elves."

"No swimming in the black lake without supervision," Ivan cut in quickly. "I understand most of you have heard of our friendly squid, he'd do no harm no foul, but –" Peter shot Sirius and James a nasty look – "there are several other inhabitants of the lake that may not be so pleasant. Besides, it's freezing in there."

Remus's head was reeling with knowledge and anxieties, but the Prefects decided this would be a wonderful time to get all of the rules out of the way. They discussed uniforms, behavior, disciplining, attendance, usage of wands – Remus hardly had time to breathe at the rate they were going. It would've appeared that Ivan was much more absorbed in his role as a disciplinary figure than Naomi was, who took a more laidback approach when telling the first years the Do' s-and-Do-Nots. Still, to everyone's chagrin, they talked and talked for what felt like hours before finally, the dismissed the boys and girls into their dorm rooms for bed.

Ivan led the boys up to the first set of doors with one on the right and one on the left. Names had been engraved on golden plaques, lions prancing around the lettering proudly. "To my left will be Cress Dirkwell, Frank Longbottom, and Arthur Stebbins." The three boys, who'd obviously become quite chummy with each other, all hurried into their dorms. "To my right: Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, and James Potter."

In no time, the three boys, who, by this time, had become quite close and mischievous, shoved each other playfully into the room while Remus trailed behind them miserably. He ignored the look of confusion on Ivan's face and searched for his trunk – courtesy of Aunt Gwen. His was nearest to the window, which struck him as somewhat ironic seeing as that he'd be able to get a full view of the moon each night. There were four-poster beds for each of the boys, curtains of red and gold draped over the sides for privacy, and, just as the Prefects had said, their belongings had been sitting at the foot of their beds.

"I've never seen anything like it," Peter sighed in awe, taking a look out the window while removing his robes. "I mean, i-it's ginormous, innit?"

Remus knew, even though it pulled at his heart, Peter's words were not directed at him. The only one who had so much as glanced at him was Sirius, and that had been during the scene on the stairwell. Since then, however, he'd been much too absorbed in memorizing the layout of the school, noticing which portraits were where and just where certain offices were.

"Well, why wouldn't it be," asked James sarcastically. "Do you expect us to be shut up in a shed for the remainder of our academic careers?"

Remus, who'd just reached down to retrieve his trunk, stilled. His entire body, from head to toe, had gone rigid. Though none of the boys noticed, save one, Remus's mind went into turmoil. Vivid flashbacks of disturbing nights, blood-splattered against steel doors, urine dripping from the walls, and claw marks digging into the concrete were painting behind his closed eyelids. And, while the room was only filled with the chatter of the other boys, Remus's ears were clogged by deafening howls of pain. These were not cries any animal would make, but a human who's undergoing traumatic levels of agony. And they were not just any human, but distinct memories Remus's mind just could not distort.

Soon, the three boys noticed that Remus had been staring at the same spot on the floor for several minutes and worried, Sirius more so than the rest of them. James had been more worried about himself, though. He leaned over to Peter and whispered, "I don't like this git. Not one bit." Peter nodded fervently, coiling away from Remus's end of the room. James puffed out his chest. "Oi!" This did nothing, nothing but agitate Sirius. "Hey! I was talking to you." He sauntered over to Remus and shoved him harshly on the shoulder.

This seemed to have broken the trance mildly as Remus's eyes, once glassy and void, blinked rapidly. The taller boy stumbled a bit. Though, this did not satisfy James. He shoved him again. "What in the bloody hell is wrong with this kid," he snickered, looking back at Peter and Sirius for encouragement, only finding one pair of beady, approving eyes. Sirius, on the other hand, had his arms crossed firmly over his chest with a look of revulsion written clearly all over his face. "What? He's acting all loopy and… I don't know, strange."

He'd done it. Remus had done it this time. Already earned himself the nickname, already earned this disapproval of his dorm mates. But they didn't know! They couldn't possibly understand the reason behind his sudden moment of terror. They'd never comprehend the levels of torment and fear that ran rampant in the confines of his head. They're too bloody stupid and caught up in their lands of perfection! They'd never understand this; they'd never even try. Remus no longer cared if these three boys liked him, he no longer wished to like them either.

"Remus…"

Remus's head snapped up, mouth ready to shoot back some retort, some insult that he'd come up with on the spot, but he stopped himself. There was no point. No point in it at all. Boys such as they were, as he'd figured out and been reminded of several times already, were too wrapped up in their own land of fairy tales. No one else's burdens existed, nor did their story. Their judgments were the final call, and the only judgment they'd base their behavior on was first impressions. And Remus had messed it up.

He'd been on the verge of tears when Ivan Strix opened the door to their dorm, "Remus Lupin?" All three boys looked at the Werewolf warily, afraid that this new person might just throw in the towel and trigger a mental episode of sorts. But, instead, they were met with the calm, gentle voice they'd heard on the train.

"That's me," he uttered, hardly moving his mouth at all. His skin, despite it being very warm in their room, was trickling with cold sweats and he'd yet to still his trembling fingers. Ivan looked him up and down momentarily, eyes widening as Remus was sure, he'd taken account of his poor physical appearance, then cleared his throat while motioning Remus to follow. Wordlessly, and without much going through his mind (he'd had an idea what this was about), he followed the Prefect, shutting the door quietly behind him.

Sirius strode over to James furiously, shoving him hard by his shoulders so that he hit the beam of his bed.

"What's wrong with you," he admonished bitterly. "He was clearly upset." Peter, new to this form of confrontation, seated himself on his bed quietly and hoped he would not be dragged into this mess. James, despite his 'courage' earlier, drained of color.

"He was acting mental, Sirius, you saw him," he cried. "You can't blame me for it." Sirius scoffed, reminded too closely of his cousins in the moment to care about his anger.

"The hell I can't! You don't know what he's been through," Sirius replied, shaking his head in disappointment. He'd hoped that he and James could be close, like new brothers. He saw himself in this Potter boy – the rebellious attitude, wild spirit, disgusting sense of humor, and all. He saw the need to cause mayhem and the distaste for boring things in his eyes and heard the inner troublemaker in his voice.

"It's true," Peter squeaked, terribly bothered by this all and hoping they'd just go to sleep. "H-He's got s-sc-scars… on his neck, you know. A-And I saw some on his arms, too."

James, realization dawning on him, looked to the ground guiltily. He had completely forgotten the scar he'd been so dead set on staring at on the train, nor had he remembered the way Remus hardly ate anything at dinner. He was already so deathly thin; he figured the boy had more bone than gut. He always seemed so jumpy around loud noises and crowds, unknowingly fidgeting with the cuffs of his robes – which, need you mind, were three sizes too big for him – and chewing his bottom lip till it bled.

All of this whizzed over James Potter's head, and, when it was time it finally caught back up with him, it was too late.

Remus followed Ivan down the hallways, watching as many of the portrait's inhabitants were preparing for bed. A few house ghosts passed by them (Nearly Headless Nick was quite amenable, and even cheered Remus up with a few tricks) and they had the pleasure of avoiding the school's poltergeist, Peeves. McGonagall's office was not far from the common room, just down a flight of stairs and through a corridor. The Prefect was silent the entire way, never turning to face Remus or ask him about his journey. Incessant echoes of footsteps and his shallow breathing were the only thing to keep Remus company on the short trip.

Eventually, they stopped in front of her doorway, Ivan knocking politely.

"Come in," came a voice from the other side of the door, which had swung open gently for them to enter. Ivan let Remus walk in first. When he glanced at his surroundings nervously, he noted that every piece of furniture in the room was placed precisely. Not a single frill on the rug was pushed awkwardly, the books on the shelves were turned up straight and, most likely, sorted in a very specific manner, and the chairs all seemed to be facing each other exactly. To the right, in a small alcove, was a desk where Professor McGonagall was seated, primly sipping her tea.

She'd had her bun wound tightly in the back of her head, pulling the crow's feet tightly against her skin. She did not smile, but her face was warm in a way Remus had not felt since he'd left his mother. "You may leave now, Mister Strix. Thank you for your help." With a polite nod, the Prefect left, clicking the door shut behind him. It was time for Remus to feel the pressure of his condition and the guilt that soon followed; everything always had to be altered for him, things had to be changed for him, made special for him. His stomach twisted at the thought of disappointing the people who'd so kindly given him a chance at life.

"Good evening, P-Professor," Remus stuttered, rubbing the tips of his shoes together anxiously. For a moment, McGonagall only studied him, looking him over with expressionless eyes. He could see no judgment forming in the pools of her irises, nor could he sense any wariness coming from her. In fact, she almost, in a way Remus could only have noticed from living with his father, pity. And, in that sense, he began to shut down.

As if sensing this, McGonagall finally chimed in, "Good evening, Mr. Lupin. How was the journey to Hogwarts?" For a moment, Remus considered answering her truthfully, telling her that he hadn't quite liked the boys on the trains because they'd been bullies, or one of them had been while the other two followed blindly, and that he was even more upset at dinner because he couldn't touch any of the food considering that everything was placed upon silver platters with silver cutlery, and he didn't want to feel more like an animal than he already did by eating with his bare hands; they'd surely laugh at him then. Only, he was so hungry and wished that he'd been able to at least grab a roll before he left, but the tables had been cleared and it was too late to say anything.

Then there was James in their dorm room – the last person he'd want to be seeing more of than necessary. James was intimidating, but not scary. Remus was not scared of people like James. He was not scared of people like Peter. He was, though, slightly wary of people like Sirius. So, long story short: the train ride was horrid, the sorting ritual was rather strange, dinner was downright dreadful, he was very hungry, and he'd nearly gotten in a row without even taking off his tie. However, he felt like this all might overwhelm his Professor, so he settled with, "I'll get used to it."

The woman stared over her glasses at him, taking in his form, before summoning a tray of food. On it was food from that night's dinner and a goblet of apple juice. "Dumbledore and I noticed you hadn't eaten." Remus nodded slowly, looking down at his feet shamefully.

"Thank you very much. I hate being a bother, Professor," he mumbled. "It's just that I was afraid I-I might touch the silver, and my father forgot to pack me some cream for burns – it's different from most burn lotions, you see because –"

"I understand, Mr. Lupin," she smiled knowingly. Remus closed his mouth quickly and, with a silent nod, he began eating wordlessly. She watched him as he ate, contemplating Dumbledore's decision, contemplating his parents' decision. Contemplating many things as this small boy, who wasn't very small at all, who didn't speak much unless it was to apologize, ate a meal that he surely would've missed had it not been for Dumbledore's keen observation skills. When he'd finished, she whisked the tray away with a flick of her wand. "Now, feel any better?"

Remus, who'd been trying to hold in a belch, smiled and nodded. This had been the first time he'd smiled since he'd entered the room. Minerva noted that it felt forced as if it hadn't really made him feel better but, for the sake of her own nerves and worries, he'd say so. She leaned back in her chair, spine pin straight.

"To business then, I suppose," she quipped. Remus looked up at her, devoting his full attention to the next thing she said. "As I'm sure you're aware, Dumbledore has made some very special expectations for you, Mr. Lupin –" she saw Remus's guilty face and quickly continued – "and this is because he sees a great amount of potential in you. You've piqued his interest and, if I'm being honest, mine as well." Remus allowed himself to blush at this praise, not used to such complimented. "Because of this, he's opened up our doors to you, happily. However, because of your conditions, we'll need to make sure your condition is not revealed to the rest of the student body."

There it was again, the shame that Remus just could never escape. His condition. Who'd want to be in class with something that could turn around and rip their eyes out of their skull if they so much as breathed in the wrong way? He slumped in his chair, wishing the ground would open wide and swallow him whole. His condition. He forgot that this was a disease. A disease that everyone feared – they feared catching it and they feared ever crossing paths with someone who'd been infected.

"As you heard," she pressed on, "we've managed to plant a new tree on the grounds." Remus's misery was interrupted by confusion. How was a tree going to help him in this situation? "Madame Pomphrey, our nurse whom you will become very familiar with in your time here at Hogwarts, will escort you to our Whomping Willow on the night of your transformations –" Remus noted how she pushed through that word without gagging in disgust – " and lead you to a building known as the Shrieking Shack. This is a place that is considered to be the most haunted house in England, and you will be disturbing no one by being there."

Remus let that sink in for a moment. He'd have his own room – an entire shack – to transform. Apparently, it had been haunted. Which meant he could be as loud and reckless as he wanted to – the wolf would be especially angry the first few moons in such a new environment. He'd have a nurse to tend to him; it was this fact that made him rather uncomfortable.

He spoke gently, "I'm not sure… i-if Madame Pomphrey would want to see me… you know… after transformations, Professor. It's… it's awful."

McGonagall, showing one of the first signs of emotion, shifted uncomfortably before snapping, "I assure you, Mr. Lupin, she can handle this. You will be taken care of here. And, as for your condition, the teachers are aware of it and have expressed no disapproval. You will face no prejudice here so long as you keep this under wraps." He had no qualms with such an agreement. The only person he'd had the notion of letting in on his secret was Julienne, but he was pulled back to earth by the crushing reality that it was not her burden to bear. Not her secret to keep.

Remus laughed bitterly, "I have no one to tell, Professor." Her lip, thin as it was, trembled for a moment.

"Please report to Madame Pomphrey's an hour before the sun sets on the nights of your transformations. She will take you." Remus took this as his cue to leave, nodding slowly and heading for the door. McGonagall said nothing until he reached for the knob. "Mr. Lupin, I wouldn't be so quick to deem yourself unfit for friendship."

Remus said nothing, unmoved by her words, and left the office. His thoughts were empty as he meandered his way to his dormitory, keen on taking the longest way possible but very aware that curfew was looming. He'd rather not get in trouble his first night; he'd done enough already. He'd made James hate him, which was enough to cause ripple effects Remus was not prepared for. But none of that mattered. His full stomach and droopy eyelids stopped him from concocting too many intrusive thoughts on his way to bed.

When he entered his dorms, each of the other boys had appeared to have been fast asleep. He changed into his pajamas, not caring that they'd been getting too small on his gangly frame, and combing his hair out of his face. With a quiet sniffle, he fell onto the mattress, not caring to close the curtains around his sleeping form. It took maybe a minute for a dreamless sleep to fall over him, pulling him into oblivion he'd been craving since his condition came to be.

Sirius, who had not, in fact, been asleep, watched Remus as he tossed for only a moment, curling into a tight ball around something. Making sure no one heard him, he tiptoed across the room and peered over Remus's still body. There was a small, sad smile that fought its way onto his lips. There, enclosed in all of Remus's arms and legs, was a fluffy stuffed elephant with one eye missing. And, deciding that Remus did not deserve James's cruel insults in the morning, Sirius closed the curtains around the sleeping boy with tawny hair splayed across the burgundy sheets, ignoring the sense on content in his chest.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, September 1971 (First Year)

The first week of classes had flown by before any of the boys had realized, especially for Remus, who'd actually been enjoying himself quite a bit despite the circumstances. He'd always been the first one to wake up in the mornings and the first one to shower. Avoiding James was at the top of his to-do list since their petty squabble.

Remus had figured he was reading too far into it, that James probably wasn't as perturbed as he'd been acting (James hadn't acknowledged Remus's presence since that night and hardly granted him a second glance). Still, he found it difficult to remain around the trio much longer than a few minutes because things either ended up awkward and forced or Remus, in general, was left out of the loop.

It was better, he decided, that he just went about his business alone – as his father had told him to do. Perhaps this was the cold shoulder he'd been warned of. Should've listened to him in the first place and James probably wouldn't hate you.

But what did Remus care if anyone hated him?

Oh, you care, the wolf growled evilly.

Showering alone wasn't an issue for the Werewolf. It was uncomfortable enough as it was to have James and Sirius always trying to sneak a look at the scars poking out from his collar and sleeves. Peter was, on the other hand, very indiscreet and did not try to hide his nosiness, settling to stare at Remus in the common room and at the dinner table. To have all eyes on him during a shower would be enough to break him.

Besides, if he'd have to have an actual conversation with one of them, he might've just screamed. He was quick, however, to change immediately once he'd finished showering because the only one who seemed keen on waking up around a suitable hour was Sirius Black.

Their third morning of classes, Remus had made the dire mistake of examining himself in the mirror shirtless, just to assess how badly he'd been marred. Sometimes he did this, silently looking himself over in disgust, wincing at all the ugly blemishes scattered across his peachy skin. Each one seemed to hold a distant memory in the back of his head, one that he'd shoved there for a reason.

There were metallic abrasions going all over his chest (the wolf seemed to like this area the most) and jagged nail marks running down his arm. However, the scar that had bothered him the most had been the rather large, irritated wound making itself right at home on his shoulder.

He ran his fingers over the delicate skin, careful to only trace his fingers around the scar. Every so often, his mind would take him back to that night in 1965, reminding him of how stupid he had been, how naïve a child really could be. It reminded him of nothing but fear and agony, despite his brain doing a decent job of selectively blurring the morbid details. Though, it wasn't as crafty with the intrusive thoughts that barged in on his most vulnerable moments – moments like these when he'd stripped down to nothing but the minimum. Moments, when all Remus had wanted to do, was curl up in a ball and weep.

The door to the boys' bathroom opened slowly, Sirius sauntering through with droopy lids and a loud yawn. He paid no mind to the rigid figure in front of the mirrors, disappearing in one of the shower stalls indolently. Quickly, Remus dressed, ignoring the throbbing sensation of his heart hammering in his chest and the screaming voice in the back of his head telling him how stupid he was, yet again, for making the same stupid mistakes that always got him in trouble. It was the same careless mistakes he'd made that got him into the mess he was currently. He had to be more careful.

He slipped down to breakfast that week with no interruptions.

His first breakfast had been, initially, disappointing. He hadn't expected anyone to stride over to befriend him, especially not his roommates after the dispute the night before, but he also hadn't expected everyone to skirt around him tensely, refusing to look his way but not minding the prospect of muttering to their neighbors about just how bizarre he looked.

Looking down at himself, he did conclude he looked rather odd. He was much taller than the other boys – one girl had already mistaken him for a second year – and he never smiled. In fact, the only time anyone had seen him smile so far was at the Sorting Ceremony. Along with never smiling, he also never spoke, at least not to anyone who'd been around him thus far. Even at their first dinner, Remus ate alone and spoke to no one, settling on the fact that the wood tables were much more interesting than anything they'd been conversing about. Remus Lupin kept to himself, and, so far, no one had minded this fact. Not even Sirius Black, who'd been too absorbed in his game of Wizarding Chess to notice his roommate eating silently at the end of the table.

Remus, carefully gathering some food off of the breakfast platters, was startled when someone slammed their books down in front of him. In fact, he had been given such a fright he'd dropped his silverware, earning the annoyed glares from several surrounding students including a now suspicious-looking Sirius. Nervously looking up (perhaps someone had finally had enough of his odd behavior), he was pleasantly met with the beaming face of Julienne Jerome. She looked as happy as ever, clearly less apprehensive than when he'd first met her, with a broad smile and crinkled, coffee eyes. She huffed, several curls dangling in her face.

"Good morning, Remus Lupin," she sang, picking up his silverware for him and finishing his plate for him. Remus choked on his spit, not used to this sudden accent Julienne had thrown his way. She ignored him, settling on making his plate for him with a chipper smile on her bronze face. "How did you sleep, Rem?"

He stared, watching her put enough food on his plate to fill the bellies of everyone in the Great Hall, gulped, "It'll take some getting used to, that's for sure."

"Right," she scoffed, handing him back his fork and knife. He'd never seen so much food for one person in his life. There was a heaping pile of warm eggs, several slices of bacon, two whole pieces of buttered toast with marmalade to go along, a small dish of fried tomatoes, and three rather large fried sausages – all for him.

He wondered if she'd been planning to share with him. Remus would never be able to finish all that, not at all in thirty minutes at least. The boy was as scrawny as they came, but that was only because of the physical toll his lycanthropy had on him. According to his mother, he could eat like a horse, but the weight never seemed to stay on. "My roommates insisted on gossiping about James Potter last night. You'd think they were in love with him already."

Remus froze as he'd made a move to grab the salt and pepper shakers in front of his dish. He was instantly reminded of the altercation just hours before, the anger in his chest and the incessant jabbering of James as he tried to prove something to the other fellows around him. Trying to get a rise out of Remus, evoke some sort of exasperated response to prove just how loopy he was.

In that moment, as he sat across from Julienne, it wasn't exactly antipathy that danced in his mind, but it wasn't a welcoming emotion either. It wasn't rage or hatred or anything close to the likes of them. Remus wasn't sure he could ever hate someone, not even James for what he'd done – it was relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things. Rather, it was betrayal and hurt, emotions that were making themselves too comfortable in Remus's chest lately.

He'd been nice on the train to all three of them (save the jokes about Peter's poor shirt). He'd made them laugh, shared his chocolate, and accompanied them to the boats. But even as they rode across the lake together, he'd felt resigned. Wasn't it Remus who remained quiet the entire time? Wasn't it Remus who'd decided that it was better to say nothing at all, avoid them in fear that he'd ruin whatever semblance of friendship he'd managed to make so far?

It was.

So how upset could he actually be that the three boys had already grown much closer together than Remus could ever hope to be to a single person? Yet, what right did James have seeking some sort of argument? Actually, Remus thought in slight irritation, he'd done nothing at all to James. If anyone of them had the right to be mad it was Peter, not James. Not James whatsoever. He had no right to be upset with Remus, and for what? Not giving him the attention he'd wanted? Not feeding into his cruel jokes and taunts? Not laughing when he'd almost burnt a Prefects robes?

"Yeah," was all Remus said, though this did not deter Julienne in the slightest.

"I heard he was a proper jerk to the Prefects," she sighed, making herself a plate idly while glancing every so often to where James had been sitting. Still, his attention had been focused on the game in front of him, only slipping when he needed a bite to eat. "Honestly, who tries to burn a Prefect's robes?"

"I don't think he was meaning to do it," Remus, though every bone in his body pleaded him not to, defended James's actions. Because, if he was being quite frank, he was almost sure that James and Sirius's intentions had not been to set Ivan on fire. They'd probably gotten their hands on the Diabolical Dare Devils and thought it might be fun to get a rise out of someone before bed. Innocent pranks, as they'd discussed on the train. "I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of these jokes throughout the year."

Julienne smirked, "Maybe, it makes for good entertainment, though."

"If it isn't hurting someone, then of course," Remus chuckled. Then, as if suddenly slapped in the face and forced to swallow an entire vial of Pepper-Up Potion, he couldn't fight back the small smile on his lips.

Julienne was a Hufflepuff, and while this was rather disappointing there was something much better at play. Her table was, really, on the other side of the room. She'd clearly made friends since they'd last seen each other, he could gather as much from her personality now that she hadn't been petrified. And, regardless of all of the above, she'd come over to him. She'd left her House table, her possible friends, and decided that breakfast would best be spent with him. She'd made him a plate, made her own, and was attempting casual conversation even with everyone around them, excluding James and Sirius, looking at her as if she'd lost a few screws.

"Oh," she coughed, chewing her toast rapidly, "I'll be along! They're handing out schedules." Julienne threw her legs over the bench and raced over to her friends, not looking over her shoulder to see that Remus had been watching her with a tender twinkle in his eyes.

" Mr. Lupin," Naomi Ganders called, pacing over to where he'd been sitting. She sat down a roll of parchment beside his plate neatly. "This is your schedule. The professors understand if you run late the first few days."

"The castle is rather large," he interrupted absentmindedly, unfurling the parchment with a newfound curiosity.

Naomi sighed contently, "Yes, but it becomes home soon enough. If you have any questions, just find me or Ivan." She continued through the other students, ignoring the groans of agony as some of them looked over their classes for the year. However, Remus paid them no mind.

So, it was settled then. After the acceptance letter, the sorting, and the awful predicament he'd found himself in last night – in spite of his condition and every odd being stacked against him – he was going to be learning magic in less than twenty minutes. Even though his mother had doubted him, his father had (only sometimes) told him he'd only ever amount in the Muggle World, his wildest dream had come true. For the first time since the accident, Remus was proud to say that he was no longer just the wolf. He was now, officially, a wizard.

Julienne bounded over to him, just barely dodging a girl named Lily Evans as she, too, had been on her way to the area Remus had been sitting, and sat back down in her seat. Lily, looking slightly exasperated, turned away and sat back down with her friends.

"Sorry," she panted, taking a long gulp of her orange juice, "I got carried away. What've you got first?"

Remus had been too focused on his new title to even notice his schedule in his hands. He read through several times, memorizing room numbers and professor names.

"Looks like I've got Potions with Slughorn first period," he murmured.

"What," Julienne squealed, snatching his schedule excitedly to compare it to her own. Her eyes bounced from parchment to parchment wildly, her eyes widening in surprise and, what Remus assumed to be, happiness. "We've got some classes together, Rem!"

Giddiness washed over Remus for the second time since he'd stepped foot through the doors. Perhaps this year wasn't going to be terrible after all. It was quite negative to think that way, Remus was quite aware of this, but after the slight row with James and his condition getting in the way he was almost sure that he'd suffer more being here than actually enjoying himself. By the time breakfast was finished, however, the incident with James had been long forgotten to Remus. He was on his way out of the Hall with Julienne as she chatted animatedly about her family in Manchester, Remus felt a hand lay on his shoulder.

"Oi, Lupin," Sirius said casually. Remus halted stiffly, ignoring the nervous tug in his stomach as he and his new friend turned on their heels to face Sirius, James, and an anxious-looking Peter. "Walk with us to Potions, yeah?"

The offer, twenty-four hours ago, would've been quite tempting. Yet, there was something in the way Sirius glanced Julienne up and down with mild dislike and the glare James had seemed unable to remove from his face that made Remus waver. That, and he was actually enjoying Julienne's story of her grandmother's dentures falling into a blender on Easter Holidays.

Though, he couldn't deny the uplift in his mood now that the people who he'd thought had hated him were actually making an effort to be in his company. That had to count for something, didn't it? Especially coming from Sirius, the same boy who'd somewhat defended him on the way to Hogwarts and in their dormitory when James had…

Well, it was in the past now. Maybe not Sirius's actions, as Remus would always remember those small gestures of kindness offered to him in their early years, but James's outburst was nothing to hold against him anymore, even though something hidden in Remus's heart ached to hurt James just as badly. He denied this part of his heart that pleasure, walking with Julienne in silence their first day to Potions.

"I'm surprised you declined them," she admitted carefully. "They are your friends, aren't they?"

Would Remus consider those boys his friends? Certainly not James, not because he held some petty grudge but because that same kindness might not be extended towards Remus. He definitely didn't hate him, however, and didn't mind his company when he wasn't talking. When James did speak around Remus, which was seldom their first weeks attending Hogwarts, it was about all the money he had to spend on pranking materials – mentioning how much they could invest at Zonko's – or how brilliant of a flyer he was, how excited he was to try out for Quidditch.

Remus had once thought of playing for one of the school's Quidditch teams, but, upon his first lesson on a broom, he quickly decided against it. Perhaps it was how long his legs were or just how sweaty his palms became when suddenly launching into the air with nothing beneath you.

For people such as James and Sirius, flying came naturally. The swooped and soared, ignoring their instructor every so often as they managed to play hot potato with Peter's shoe – the last one with it was going to have to sleep with Peter's sock on his pillow. Yet, James hadn't been lying when he said he was an excellent flyer. He had no trouble at all yielding the broom, mounting, kicking off; it might as well have been that he'd been on a broom since he could walk. If Remus had been listening to James's stories in the common room, he might have known that this fact was fairly true.

On the other hand, for people such as Sirius, it wasn't a practiced talent. This was raw, natural talent on a broom. According to the boy, he'd never so much as touched a broom in his life; judging by the look of all of his belongings, and just how fancy it all appeared, Remus doubted that Sirius had to do much of anything growing up.

"Why fly when you could just floo," Peter asked quizzically, sprawling out on the grass to soak in the sun. Remus had been standing by awkwardly, shuffling the tips of his shoes together as so to busy himself and avoid eavesdropping.

"Floos are dirty and every other wizard who uses them leaves their germs behind," Sirius scolded. "Mother and Father apparated with me if we ever needed to go anywhere." There was something in Sirius's voice that Remus noticed, something that no one else seemed to be paying attention to. It was gone as quick as it came, but Remus would swear on everything he owned that he heard a generous amount of disdain when speaking the words Mother and Father.

He scrunched up his face in confusion, biting his nail idly. It never occurred to young Remus that some children, in fact, didn't like their parents for some reason or another. He'd never been in a situation that would give him the reason to dislike Lyall or Hope. They'd been nothing but attentive and understanding his entire life, even after the accident. His father, of course, had his moments; but those were only when his father had taken too many sips of rum. His mother, poor Hope, had taken it the worst in the beginning. However, she persevered for Remus, and that was enough to her son to ensure he'd never stop fighting for her either.

The two people in the world, he thought to himself, who had the most reason to lose all hope kept pushing for me. I owe it to them to never lose hope in them either.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Remus hadn't noticed the Lunar calendar until he found himself slipping in Defense Against the Dark Arts class on a Thursday. It had been the most boring lesson so far; perhaps that's why Remus had waited so long to mention his lethargy. He blamed it on the class, maybe he hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before. However, all of those inhibitions had been tossed right out of the window when he found himself unable to focus in on the world around him no matter how hard he'd tried.

"Is he alright," someone had asked. Whispers were beginning to fill the room, soon overpowering whatever lesson Professor Slade had been administering. Lily Evans was the first to notice Remus had been acting out of character. He hadn't spoken to Julienne at all during breakfast aside from a few weak nods and 'yeah's' given here and there. Then, in potions, he'd practically dropped an entire vial of Dittany in his cauldron. Everyone knew Remus was very careful when brewing his potions; he'd been the only one to create a perfect batch of Herbicide Potion so far. Julienne had even looked worried.

Then, in Herbology, he hadn't even tended to his plants – which was what brought Lily to the conclusion that something was definitely wrong. While she'd wanted to mention something to someone, she had little evidence that something was actually wrong aside from her gut. She was positive Professor McGonagall with just go with some eleven-year-olds gut feeling. But it had never led Lily astray thus far. Therefore, she'd decide to wait for one more period until she mentioned something to an adult. If Remus was ill, he needed to see the school's nurse immediately.

By the time they'd made it to Defense Against the Dark Arts, Lily was anxious. The dark splotches under his eyes were only getting worse by the minute and it would've seemed as though Remus was in a whole other dimension. He gave no response whatsoever to anything anyone said, not even Professor Slade who'd asked him several questions during the lesson seeing as Remus always answered questions.

Sirius, who'd noticed all of this as well, turned in his seat towards James and whispered, "I think something is wrong with Remus." His partner, chewing on a sugar quill, looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Your point," he muttered, looking towards the front of the room with disinterest written plainly on his face. Sirius deadpanned.

"We should help him."

"He's not our problem," James shrugged, paying no mind to Sirius's arctic glare. In fact, it was as if Sirius was hardly there at all any time Remus was mentioned. It was no secret that Potter wasn't a fan of Lupin. He displayed his feelings quite blatantly at the very mention of his name; he never acknowledged Remus's presence, nor did he grant him any sort of pleasantry when forced to interact with him. So far, the only thing that reminded James of Remus's existence was the fact he shared a room with him. If it hadn't been that way, it would've been much easier to purge the image of him out of his brain.

"I would help you," Sirius shot back hotly, glancing over his shoulder at Remus. The boy had been leaning on his propped up arm, internally screaming at himself to pay. Attention. Sirius had noticed that Remus's complexion was turning a murky shade of white – an unnatural white. A deathly shade of peach that made him look God awful. It wasn't only that; Remus hardly ate the days leading up to that lesson. Julienne had tried every so often, but the bint could hardly get through to him any better than a ghost. It was as if she wasn't even there some days.

"Yeah, I would help you too," James retorted coldly. "But you're my friend. Lupin isn't my—"

"Quiet," Professor Slade shouted. The murmuring ceased instantly, everyone facing the front of the room politely.

Professor Slade was a tall woman with dark, umber skin and striking hazel eyes. When Sirius had first seen her, he wondered if she'd been any taller than Hagrid; she very well could have been! But, unlike Hagrid, she was very slim and graceful, and she always managed to glide across the floor, similar to floating on air. Her curly hair, as Sirius had only ever seen it down once, had almost always been wrapped up in a pretty, patterned scarf of some sort. And, now that he thought about it, she never came into class with a mismatched outfit.

Their first day in class, she had introduced herself as an Auror off-duty, which, apparently meant, her time at Hogwarts was limited. James had seriously doubted her profession; she was too girly he said. According to Potter, no Auror would have manicured nails and satin scarves weaving around in their hair as some sort of fashion statement.

But this wasn't the time to think of such things!

Just as she'd opened her mouth to speak, there was a dull thud that echoed through the room. Every student flinched, not daring to look at the source. Professor Slade had, however, and didn't hide her initial shock. Sirius bravely glanced to his right and found that Remus's head had been pressed against the top of his desk, probably painfully. Thankfully (he'd let out a sigh of relief he hadn't even realized he'd been holding), there was no blood and Remus appeared to be breathing judging by the snorting noise coming out of his mouth.

"I'll take him to Madame Pomphrey," Lily Evans volunteered boldly, standing from her seat and making her way back to Remus's desk. Something inside Sirius flared, like an agitated flame, and it took everything inside of him to control it as he watched Lily, with some strenuous effort, pull Remus into a standing position against her body. Remus's head was bobbing back and forth, his mouth moving gently as he muttered, what Sirius assumed to be, feeble protests. And the more and more Lily seemed to hold Remus roughly, grabbing him tightly here and there to get a better angle, that flame was ignited again and again and again until it blazed brightly.

"Oh, Christ," he groaned, pushing Lily aside and easily wrapping Remus's arm around his shoulder and holding him up with all his weight. Despite being so thin, he had weighed a bit more than expected, and Sirius stumbled – if only for a moment. "I'm taking him."

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, September 1971 (First Year)

Carrying Remus across the school had seemed like such an act of nobility and courage that Sirius didn't care to think of just how far the Hospital Wing might have been from Professor Slade's classroom. He also didn't care to think of the flight of stairs he'd eventually have to climb with Remus, being half-conscious, leaning most of his body weight onto him.

"Peachy," Sirius sighed through gritted teeth, adjusting Remus on his shoulder before beginning the journey – one step at a time. As long as he moved slowly, very slowly, it wasn't as bad as he'd planned it to be. Lily would've never been able to carry this bloke on her shoulder ten feet down the hallway, let alone across the school and up a staircase. Who had she been to offer such a thing; why was she so stupid sometimes? And for what, to make some friend?

Everyone knew Remus only spoke to that stupid Hufflepuff with her curly hair and friendly smiles. He only ever ate breakfast with her, and if she wasn't there, well, Remus ate alone with his books and essays and whatever else he managed to snag that kept him busy. You know, Sirius was starting to think he was just a stuck-up prick. Never talking to anyone or looking anyone's direction. Did Lupin think he was better than any of them? The only person who ever stayed on their own was that sniveling little prat, Snape, that slunk around on his own in the hallways after that Evans bint.

But that was beside the point. All he ever did was talk to Janine and do his work. If he could do both, then he bloody well did! They walked to Potions together on Mondays and Fridays, even though Sirius had offered to walk Remus. He'd simply denied him. Remus legitimately denied Sirius when asked if he'd like to join his wonderful trio to Potions. And it wasn't as if they weren't going to the same place. Sirius's features hardened. He just wanted to be around Jeanette – whatever her name was. With her stupid brown eyes and ugly yellow tie. Made her look awfully washed out, it did.

"You… you don't…" Remus was mumbling beneath his breath idly, probably not realizing he was speaking at all. From what Sirius heard, it was nothing coherent and, therefore, decided to ignore it. Instead, he channeled all of his energy into wondering why on earth Josephine, out of every single person in that bloody school, had befriended Remus so easily. What was it about her? She smiled too much – even for Sirius. Well, then again, his mother had beat it into him that smiling was unnecessary and caused premature wrinkling. But even then – she was always smiling. Nobody has that bloody much to be happy about – you're eleven, for Christ sake.

Whenever Sirius had thrown a glare her way, or when he'd shouldered her on his way out of Potions, she'd smiled and murmured something kind under her breath. As if it were her own fault?

Sirius asked himself if maybe she was only acting this way for Remus; surely the kid would be upset if she reacted to Sirius. No one is that nice or patient or whatever the bloody hell she was. Even for a damn Hufflepuff, she was too soft. Not a single person on this earth is born with that type of attitude; it wasn't possible.

But then, Sirius wondered, what had it been about him that Remus didn't like. Memories of the train ride flashed as he blinked; he thought he'd made a good impression when defending him from James and Peter's stupidity – God knew it exuded from the both of them like a radioactive waste – and he'd tried inviting him to walk with them. He'd even tried to protect him from James that night in their dormitory when he'd had decided to transfigure into an asshat.

So, what was he doing wrong? Or, the better question was, what was wrong with him? Was it his hair? No. No, no, no – couldn't have been. It wasn't foul like that hook-nosed bastard in Slytherin. Did he smell? He spent ten galleons on shampoo and soap for the first semester, you'd best bet your arse that he didn't smell! Maybe it was his smile? Could he work on that? Could he appear more… friendly?

He sighed, finally at the top of the stairs and a mere corridor away from Madame Pomphrey's office.

"You know," Sirius huffed, now limping down the hall, "for a kid so skinny, you weigh an arse ton." He pulled on Remus's arm, adjusting his weight so his shoulder would have some relief. If his ears served him right, he could've sworn he heard a bemused chuckle and a spurt of warm air against the back of his ear.

"S'all the choc'late I eat," Remus muttered amusedly, barely able to form the sentence. Sirius laughed to himself, shaking his black hair out of his eyes. "For some… someone s-so cocky, you're a shriveled, ol' weakling."

"Shut up," he snapped, adding a small chuckle at the end when he saw a frown etch onto Remus's face. "I wouldn't have done it if I didn't want to. Besides, I think Slade was going to pitch a fit if you splattered blood on her new scarf."

"Sorry," was all Remus mumbled, resting his head against Sirius's. They remained silent for the remainder of their short journey, as Sirius had been much too absorbed in ignoring the warm sensation of Remus's skin against his own.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Sirius had been shooed out of the Hospital Wing as soon as he'd managed to get Remus situated on a bed for Madame Pomphrey. She reminded him that no one was to come and visit him for the next few days, no one at all. Not even Sirius himself. Well, the Black heir was quick to point out he had no need to visit Remus at all seeing as they weren't friends; it was simply his courteous duty to make sure he didn't disrupt the rest of class with his cries of woe. That comment seemed to have upset (and that's putting it likely) the nurse, and is probably what got him kicked out of the Wing so early.

Despite saying the opposite, Sirius wanted to at least be present with Remus and explain that he was, actually, alright, and people were worried about him, so expect some flowers or whatever the girls thought would make him feel better. He was almost sure that Lily Evans would be the first person at the Hospital Wing doors when lunch was finished; just for being a noble little princess, Sirius planned on omitting the part where Madame Pomphrey prohibited any visitors for Remus. He'd love to see her sulking in Transfiguration, all frowns and pouts.

The halls were crowded, students whispering to each other of Remus's condition. A few said that he'd been carrying whatever his mother had been induced with, but that hadn't made any sense at all to Sirius. How could he contract something he hasn't even been near for a month? Others said that not eating had finally taken its toll on the boy and he'd been suffering exhaustion. Now that was something Sirius could get behind. Remus looked like he'd hardly eaten a morsel his entire life; he'd heard somewhere that the stomach begins eating itself when deprived of food for too long. Were these the symptoms of starvation?

But why did any of that matter to him? Who was he to care for the boy when he never so much as glanced in his direction? He never spoke to Sirius or gave him any polite greeting or casual conversation unless he absolutely had to. And the only place he'd been forced to speak to Sirius was in Potions when Slughorn had paired them together, much to James's annoyance. So, worrying about Remus shouldn't have been high on Sirius's to-do list. Besides, he'd been a prick here lately anyway. But he'd not regret taking the boy to the Hospital Wing. He couldn't bring himself to. Even if Remus had been rude…

Sirius made it to lunch just in time to grab himself a quick bite to eat. He casually sauntered through the Great Hall, ignoring not one but two pairs of eyes that could've bored holes through his skull. Further down the table, Lily was watching him in mild annoyance, trying to pay attention to whatever Jenny, or whatever her name was, was trying to tell her. James, on the other hand, had no qualms with hiding his obvious offense. Sirius seated himself in his usual spot next to him anyways, piling his plate with enough food to tide himself over.

It had been several minutes of strained silence between the two boys before the tension was too much to handle. Though he wouldn't admit it, Sirius didn't like it when James had been put out with him.

"You know," Sirius drawled, indifference dripping from his words, "frowning like that causes premature wrinkling."

"I don't care," James growled, throwing a fork down in annoyance.

Sirius shrugged, "I would. You're already looking a bit shabby for an eleven-year-old." That earned a small chuckle from Peter, who'd done such a good job of remaining silent on the other side of the table that Sirius and James had forgotten he was there for a moment. Lily and Jemimah stalked past the three boys, the Hufflepuff not giving any one of them a second glance while Lily was quick to throw a nasty glare over her shoulder. That was particularly aimed for James. "Look at you, already such a lady's man."

"Would you cut it out," James scoffed. Sirius sighed heavily, dropping his cutlery and facing James with a determined look. He knew it wouldn't be easy convincing James to at least leave Remus alone. Not that James was eager to have many interactions with Lupin anyways. It wasn't in that regard that Sirius made this request; it was pointless to taunt and tease someone like Remus when he didn't even care. In fact, Sirius was sure that Remus was off floating in his own little world with images of Judy dancing between sugar quills. He didn't mind the three of them, nor should they him. They got on well enough on their own, and he seemed fine with that bint and Lily.

"I don't understand why you hate him so much," Sirius asked innocently, picking his fork back up and continuing to eat his tuna salad. "S'not like he's done anything bad to you. Maybe looked at you a little funny, but that's only 'cause you've got to get past your ugly face to see the real James."

James, finding the situation a bit more amusing now, punched Remus in the shoulder lightly. He didn't let it on, but he pondered Sirius's words for a moment, resting his head on his fist in deep thought. "I just don't get him."

Sirius scoffed, "Me neither. But that's not our concern, and we don't need to get him. We need to be worrying about this prank if it's going to work. Worrying about Lupin isn't going to get it done." James hunkered closer to Sirius as if he was about to relay top-secret information.

"Right," he whispered, laying out a parchment of materials. "So long as you keep kissing Slughorn's arse –" Sirius thwacked him across the head – "we'll be able to get the ingredients. Now, there's the matter of sneaking it into their cups. How will we manage that, eh?"

Peter picked his teeth for a moment, "We could sneak it into the morning pumpkin juice, you know, in the kitchens." James and Sirius nodded for a moment, looking at each other with impish grins. "It's just the matter of how we can sneak past all the elves. They're right obsessive over their food."

"No matter, I have the perfect solution for that," James waved off Peter's anxieties quickly with a lazy roll of the eyes. "But we only want it to affect the Hufflepuffs, right?"

"Exactly," Sirius affirmed. Peter's face screwed up.

"Why do we only want it to be them," he asked confusedly. Sirius too caught up in his schemes, faltered for a moment, fighting back the color rising to his ears. He hadn't quite thought of the excuse he'd give when they finally asked him his motives. Truth be told, he'd just wanted to wipe that bright, little smile off of Julia's face.

"Because," he coughed, returning to his meal, "it's more suspicious if we target the Slytherin's and the Ravenclaw kids will be smart enough to counter it before the fun kicks in." This seemed to satisfy both boys. With Remus long forgotten and their plan intact, the trio went about their days with a skip in their step, chins raised unusually high as they had quite a morning planned.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Madame Pomphrey had nursed Remus back to consciousness with just enough time to reach the shrieking shack before sundown. It had been quite the task, too. With not enough food in his stomach and his hydration levels so low, she'd wondered, if only for a moment, what might've happened had she left him in the infirmary for the night. Surely, his body wouldn't undergo the transformation in his current state. Would it? Could the wolf just override his body's natural functions, destroying what little health the boy had in order to present itself to the full moon? The thought disturbed her, though not for the reason many would think.

If it hadn't been for his waking up, she was sure she'd have to call for some assistance in bringing him to the shack. Despite her worries, she figured deep down that, regardless of Remus's physical state, the transformation would take place. Him waking up did not ease her anxieties, in fact, it heightened them.

Remus could hardly form coherent sentences at first, settling on a string of garbled phrases and mismatched words. His eyes rolled from side to side, to the back of his head, and to the floor for a few moments, his head lolling idly before he came to. There was a cold sweat breaking out on the surface of his skin, though when Madame Pomphrey took his temperature he was boiling. His teeth chattered, however, as if he were neck-deep in the Black Lake in mid-December.

Remus couldn't have felt worse. His limbs were heavy, and his bones ached. It was as if this was repayment for the way he'd denied the wolf satisfaction last transformation. For once, he'd controlled himself from tearing open more skin, creating deeper wounds. He'd reasoned with it, telling it that coming to school with fresh gashes would only draw attention, and while there was little you could do to subdue the wolf, the explanation and the willpower managed to settle him enough for the night.

This, however, was worse. At any moment, it felt as though his knees would give way and he'd have to pull himself into the shack. What humiliation that might be; for Madame Pomphrey to see him so broken, so weak – the thought churned his stomach. He wondered if this might have been some cruel form of mercy the ministry would show him. Perhaps, at the end of the tunnel, there would be officials to put him down, as they should've been. This school was no place for a dark creature; the Headmaster had gone out of his way to make it so, it wasn't right. He would've given no complaints had there been a silver axe to chop his neck. None whatsoever.

Anything to ease the ache.

"Now, Mr. Lupin," Madame Pomphrey murmured, leading him towards the newly planted Whomping Willow. He'd understood, now, why it was named so. Each large branch was curled into a fist of sorts, vines and limbs curled in together in one, tight clump. These clumps, as Madame Pomphrey approached, began to violently shake as if daring her to inch closer to its trunk. Carefully, the nurse prodded a knot with a stray branch. "In order to calm it, you've got to poke this knot. See it?" Remus nodded numbly. "Go ahead, I shall follow."

Remus noticed there was a small opening within the trunk of the tree, just large enough for a body to fit through. Lazily, he crawled through, ducking his head to avoid hitting it and started the journey to the shack. Not too long after, Madame Pomphrey had caught up to him, huffing quietly with her wand at the ready. Had she believed this place to be haunted as well? Dumbledore had assured him, along with McGonagall, that the hauntings were pure myth.

The tunnel to the shack was tight and dark, mud oozing from the cracks like clotted blood. There was a stench Remus couldn't exactly point out, though it wasn't soothing nor delightful. He hadn't expected to roam through a sunflower field with bumblebees and rainbows, of course. This was just a precaution to ensure that the wolf didn't hurt any students. So why would it be comfortable?

Remus liked to think he wouldn't have hurt anyone during a transformation. He'd like to believe that there was enough self-control and an inner compass to stop himself from attacking an innocent person. However, one mishap during a transformation was all he needed to convince himself he was a danger to society, Muggle and Wizard alike. He shivered at the thought, and it had suddenly gotten quite chilly.

Soon enough, they reached a small room. It resembled what might've been a drawing-room in another life. Perhaps a living room. Crumpled sheets covered in dust-covered most of the furniture, lick layers of mildew covering the floorboards. It was much bigger than he imagined, or perhaps he was just used to the confines of the shed. There was a staircase, which Madame Pomphrey had taken to climbing, that led to a small bedroom. It was more what Remus had expected.

Just a tad larger than his shed, and this was only because of the furniture taking up most of the space, the room was hidden beneath a blanket of dust and cobwebs. Across from the door was a bed of sorts, though Remus doubted there would be any sleep involved in his stays here, and a wardrobe beside it. He concluded that this is where he'd hang his clothes, to ensure the wolf didn't have too much fun ripping his things apart. There were a few other things here and there, small things that would surely become smaller the longer the wolf was cooped in the room, but he didn't allow himself to dwell. He was lucky, very lucky to have received such treatment.

"I will be back just before dawn to collect you," Madame Pomphrey murmured, though she had a distant quiver in her words. While she hadn't known him long, her worries for this boy were growing by the second. How could someone so young, so helpless and rather defenseless, fight off a creature so strong? Poppy had no opinions about his condition; she knew most of it was bigotry from the Ministry, and she had no time for such things. This boy was fighting a war he would never win. And it was only going to get worse.

With a despondent look in her eye and a reassuring nod, Madame Pomphrey disappeared through the hole in the wall, not to be seen again until morning.

For several hours, Remus waited. The telltale signs were occurring. Trembling hands, sweaty palms, aggressive and intrusive thoughts – thoughts of the wolf. He was angry tonight. Angry that he'd have to make this place his home after becoming so accustomed to the shed. This place would never compare. There was too much space, Remus thought anxiously. The damage he could do in such an open space was endless. Don't forget the furniture. That'd leave a mark in the morning.

There was so much to be angry about, though. Everything was making him angry. The longer he moped, the hotter he became and the more the blood rushed through his veins. He was angry at Sirius for being so hot and cold with him. Angry at James for the way he'd treated him since day one. Angry at Peter for always being a follower, a suck up to the one person who didn't deserve it. Angry at Dumbledore for keeping the silver damn platters, knowing well that Remus had difficulties gathering food. Angry at his parents for allowing him to continue living, not putting him down when they had the damn chance. Even at Julienne, for being so damn nice all the time when he didn't deserve it.

All these people were lucky. They got to live out their lives the way they wanted to. James would become a talented Quidditch player, no one would bat an eye at Sirius with his perfect smiles and wavy hair, Peter would do whatever the hell made James happy, and Julienne would go on to make the world a better place. They'd all get normal lives while he was stuck playing the role of a wild animal. He'd be lucky if Dumbledore allowed him a spot in the Forbidden Forest, the old bat. Did he even deserve that? Maybe he should make some noise tonight, remind everyone just what he was. Why deny it now? The damage had been done, there was no going back. Why not own it before the Ministry found him?

Finally, when the sun had dipped below the horizon and dark set upon the grounds, Remus undressed himself and prepared for one of the worst transformations yet. He lied down, pulling his knees to his chest and counting down from one thousand, eyebrows furrowed, and lips pulled into a dark frown. This was a trick his mother taught him when he was having trouble falling asleep when that was the only problem Remus seemed to have.

Soon enough, he lost track and drifted into a very disturbed and troubling night.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Madame Pomphrey had been prepared for the worst when approaching Remus's room the following morning. She had been expecting nothing less since she went to sleep the previous night. Dumbledore had told her just how awful transformations could be, how horrible the outcome would have been. And, since she'd had time to process, she thought that she could handle such a sight. She'd never been queasy around blood or needles, cringed at broken bones, or vomited at open wounds. She was, as McGonagall had said, one tough cookie. Nothing scared her, not in the medical field.

This had been her resolve when fetching Remus. She put on a brave face, took a deep breath, and took that leap of faith in hopes that there would be solid ground to catch her as she fell. However, that resolves began to crumble the deeper she traveled into the tunnel. The first thing to register was the smell. Now, Poppy Pomphrey was no stranger to foul smells; half of the elixirs she has to brew smell of arse. And those odors didn't bother her. However, this one was foul beyond any means. It was the scent of death emitting from the shrieking shack, and she nearly worried herself to death that Remus might not have made it through the night. But then, the scent of blood and urine prodded at her nostrils, and the contents of her stomach were churned.

Then it was the noises. She froze in her steps, wondering if the transformation hadn't completed. Sounds of struggle were muffled by closed doors and floorboards, but something was moving above her. As she inched closer, whimpers escaped through the cracks of the house. Not the whimpers of an animal, but those of a child.

Upon opening the door, Poppy Pomphrey, for the first time in her career as a school healer, had been brought to tears. The room she had prepared for Mr. Lupin was in ruin. Urine was splattered against the wall, smeared in haste with specks of blood. The only two pieces of furniture intact appeared to be the bed, which had been turned over on its side, and the wardrobe faithfully waiting in its original spot. Any other piece had been shattered, most likely used as weapons against himself. Claw marks dug through the floorboards; he'd tried to escape. She wondered if it was the wolf or Remus trying to break free. And then she spotted him, in the corner.

Laying on the floor in a bloody, crumpled heap was Remus Lupin. Tears broke through the traces of blood on his cheeks, snot mixed with blood dripped from the tip of his nose. His naked body, at first glance, appeared to be broken beyond all repair. Limbs were bent in ways they weren't meant to be, and a considerable amount of blood pooled around him. She'd seen his scars firsthand, some of them hadn't healed as nicely as others. And now she understood why. Deep gashes exposed wounded flesh, muscle and tissue protruding from the hole bitterly. He trembled, too afraid to move yet afraid, if he waited any longer, he might just fade away. The only thing he'd been able to do since the transformation was weep. For himself, the pain, and the trouble he caused others.

Gathering herself and her thoughts, Madame Pomphrey was able to secret Remus away in the Hospital Wing, devoting her time to him and him only as she mended the self-inflicted wounds he'd caused himself. She'd wondered if they'd heal, but reminded herself that they had before, and they would again. It was just a matter of time and much needed rest. There were no protests from Remus as she tended to him; his eyes were glued to the ceiling above him, silent tears streaming from his eyes. Every now and then he'd hiss or growl, though in no way did she remind him of a wild animal.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. The witch glanced at him, too distracted with his cut to pay him too much attention. "I'm sorry you had to see me that way."

She paused for a fraction of a second, sighing deeply before closing the wound, "Someone will need to take care of you Mr. Lupin. And I am glad it is me. Now, you need rest." She began walking away, head held high to keep her composure.

"Madame Pomphrey," Remus called weakly, his voice gravelly and tight. She turned to face him. "Would you tell Lily Evans and Julienne Jerome I'm alright. I know… they've worried themselves sick."

With a small, slightly uncomfortable smile, she nodded. Soon after this, Remus began collecting his thoughts in a dreamless sleep. It was much appreciated, for the bed in the shack was not as comfortable as he'd hoped it to be.

Chapter Text

Madame Pomphrey had been kind enough to allow Remus visitors on the weekend before his return to classes. Mending him had been more difficult than she'd planned it to be. The scars on his arms and legs were quick fixes and easily repaired. It was those on his chest and face that worried her. Similar to, what she assumed was, the bite mark, those from the chest up were a deep, irritated shade of pinkish red, as if the blood was begging to burst through the skin at any wrong move. Then there was the matter of his mental state.

In a meeting with his parents, both Mr. and Mrs. Lupin had told the school that Remus tended to be mentally distant after transformations. Hope assumed that this was because of the merging between boy and wolf, that he'd need time to discern between the two again and regain his sense of autonomy from the wolf. Lyall had suggested it might have been the trauma from transformations, claiming his son was never the same after them. Poppy tended to lean more towards Hope's inclination, as it would give a better explanation as to why Remus would hardly respond to sentences above an eight-year-old's comprehension.

What came as a shock to Madame Pomphrey was the number of gifts he'd received over the course of his stay in the Infirmary. McGonagall had mentioned once that Remus had been a sort of recluse, excluding the two lovely girls who checked on him most days. He'd only really befriended enough people to count on one hand, and hardly ever extended himself towards others. The thought made Poppy's heart droop; she was sure this was because of his Lycanthropy. Poor boy probably thought he was unfit for friendship, or perhaps he was afraid of his condition being found out. Maybe it was both. However, it did something to lift her spirits when she saw a young Hufflepuff hurry in the Infirmary with two boxes of chocolates and a book. Though, the book worried her. Remus didn't need to be studying.

She sent a kind smile towards Madame Pomphrey, "Good morning, ma'am. How is he holding?" She pulled up a chair beside Remus's bed quietly, adjusting the flowers and cards neatly so she could set down her own gifts. Madame Pomphrey had been cleaning one of the wounds as she came in, quick to cover it so the little girl couldn't see.

With a deep sigh, "He's been a very good patient."

"S'only cause I sleep most of the time," Remus mumbled, wincing as he sat up in his bed. He looked… well, to put it nicely, Remus looked worse for wear. His usually neat, at least as neat at Remus made it, tawny hair was wild and damp with sweat, his bottom lip tender from being chewed on, and his skin, as it had always been fair, was now an unhealthy shade of whitish blue. Yes, Remus Lupin had seen better days. Julienne was sure he'd felt better as well. She frowned.

"Maybe you should rest more," she offered. "I can visit dreckly, if you want?" Truth was, she didn't want to visit later because she was unsure if she'd manage to make him a plate for dinner in time. Madame Pomphrey was strict about visiting hours, especially with Remus. Whatever had happened to him, it was serious. And Julienne was going to find out whatever it was. She had the feeling Remus wouldn't be quick to share, he hardly was with personal matters. But that did not deter her. Not in the slightest.

Remus quickly shook his head, "No, no. I'm alright. Just sore, that's all." As if for the first time, he noticed the flowers and cards he'd received over the past few days and smiled warmly. Julienne noticed all sorts of names: her own, Lily Evans, Frank Longbottom, Peter Andrews – but none from the mischievous trio. Not that she found that surprising, but, in a way, she had. She would have at least thought Sirius, if no one else, would've sent something. Perhaps he didn't know; but everyone knew by now. She'd been quick to suggest people send him a "Get Well Soon Card" to lift his spirits. She knew Remus wasn't exactly friendly with everyone, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't get support.

Perking up, she smirked, "I brought your favorite." With an impish grin, Remus took the box of chocolates. They'd been Muggle chocolates; Buckeye's had been one of his favorite chocolates in the entire world. He couldn't remember the last time his mother had gotten it. In new haste, he tore open the packaging and popped a sweet in his mouth, melting at the flavor in joy.

"You don't know how long it's been," he groaned in delight. Julienne simply smiled, crossing her legs happily as she pulled out her book. Remus eyed it for a moment, finding it oddly familiar. "Is that a Muggle book?" Looking up, shocked to some extent, Julienne examined the cover fondly.

"Yes, it's this book called The Outsiders," she explained quickly, getting up and situating herself next to Remus carefully. He shivered at the warmness of her skin and her sudden proximity but gave no protests. She let him flip through the pages; it had been a new copy, clearly, because no one had broken the spine yet and the pages were kept intact. That, or she just took very good care of her belongings. Remus was suddenly interested by the names of the characters. He scrunched his face up.

"Ponyboy," he muttered confusedly. "Who names their kid after a horse?" Julienne laughed, taking the book from Remus with a gentle shake of her head. If Remus had been named after an animal, he would've secreted himself away for the rest of his life. His bad looks were enough as it was.

"They've all got strange names like that," she laughed. They spent an hour going through the book, pointing out all the strange things Muggles did that Wizards would never understand like guns and switchblades, wars and drafts. The Muggle World, though it collided with the Wizarding one, was an enigma to most wizards.

It was during this time that Remus found out Julienne was a half-blood, similar to plenty of the students in Hogwarts, but she'd grown up in a Muggle household similar to him. Her father was a wizard, and her mother the Muggle – very similar to him. Her mother worked as a secretary at a primary school while her father worked in the Ministry, specifically in the Magical Creatures department. Her two brothers were, in fact, in the Slytherin House, but were unlike the other students. They weren't refined and aristocratic like Narcissa Black and Lucius Malfoy. But, they held themselves to a higher degree, most certainly. Especially Jackson, the middle child.

"I've always wanted siblings," Remus murmured indolently. The box of chocolates was now nearing the point of emptiness and the large liter of pop was down to the last drop. Madame Pomphrey hadn't been back to see them in quite some time, probably because the sound of laughter and violent whispering assured her that he was being well attended to. She knew the boy needed company, and wondered if this was the only person who'd bother to see him. If she was, she was positive Mr. Lupin might not have minded. He seemed to be in good company.

"They're a pain, most of the time," she admitted bashfully. "Especially Jackson, ee's the middle child. He's always trying to be so hard on me, telling me I should've been in Slytherin and all."

Remus's face twisted in an odd sort of emotion, "I think you belong right where you are. You're too kind to be in Slytherin." Julienne laughed lightly, a sound that Remus had heard before in himself. This was the laughter that hid what traveled beneath a surface level. And, even though he was sure she hadn't planned on evaluating any further, he'd keep that in mind for their next chat.

"Not all Slytherin's are bad, y'know," she reasoned playfully. "My eldest brother, Jared, ee's a sweetheart. Ee's just clever and determined more than anything." Remus nodded to himself. Ambitious to the point he'd put himself before the people he loved? Ambitious to the point he'd abandon everything for a greater purpose? Money, fame, glory? What kind of nice person would be in that house?

He was then reminded of Sirius during their ride across the lake. He'd been going on and on about how he hadn't belonged in Slytherin, and Remus was beginning to wonder if this had been true. The Sorting Hat had told him that there are all different types of bravery; perhaps there was something Sirius was fighting on his own, like Remus fighting his Lycanthropy. James was brave and noble in any effort, Remus was sure. He also had the temper and the brashness most people associated with Gryffindor's.

But Sirius, from what Remus had gathered thus far, was different. No doubt he was irrational and reckless. For example, managing to slip slugs all over your potions Professor's classroom in exchange for ingredients was one way to have a bit of fun and get a free day in class. However, when you and your friends are the only ones who don't seem bothered by the low marks for the day AND you seem to know the exact places where the slugs aren't – well, you've gotten caught.

However, Sirius was more calculating that Peter or James. He planned accordingly, but, usually, let his impulse get the best of him. For example, he'd planned on turning the Slytherin Quidditch Team's broom bristles into snakes before their first game. That would've been lovely, had he not jumped the gun and gone down too early. Now, the team locks their things away every day after practice, meaning that no pranks will ever be made without difficulty. And, unlike James and Peter, Sirius didn't look guilty.

Peter, on the one hand, always looked remorseful because he was stammering like a madman and sweat beads almost always trickled down his forehead when authority figures approached him. He hardly ever looked people in the eye, and if that isn't a dead giveaway, Remus wasn't sure what could have been. James, on the other, looked guilty for another reason. He had this smug facial expression pasted onto his features after a good prank as if he knows something no one else knows. Perhaps the, 'I could never do such a thing' face worked on his mother, but some of their teachers were less convinced.

Sirius, however, looked… unimpressed. With everything. As if this wasn't to his standards. He'd been that way after every prank, and Remus assumed it was to keep up the act that Sirius didn't care enough about whatever their teachers had been doing to go out of his way to bother them. He'd kept up the nice façade that, if you leave me be then I'll do the same. Little did their professors know that he'd been behind every class disturbance since the year had started.

Remus, sometimes, wished he could participate. Wished he could be a part of their schemes and cavorting. Wished he'd been included since day one. Sure, he wouldn't be as close with Julienne, but there would always be this piece of longing inside of him.

"You seem upset," Julienne noted calmly, setting their wrappers in a waste bin quietly. Remus hadn't noticed, but the smile had faded from his lips, replaced with a stern frown. "What's on your mind?"

He sighed despondently, "I just don't understand why they don't like me." It was no secret who 'they' were. Julienne had wondered when this question would arise, for she could feel it swelling within him. It was bound to happen, and she was prepared for it when it came.

"I think James envies you," she responded in a matter-of-fact tone. "Sirius doesn't mind you, but, because James has a problem with you, he won't admit it openly. As for Pettigrew, I think he just doesn't want to be caught in the middle. They're just… boys."

Remus deadpanned, "I'm a boy." Julienne giggled.

"Ta," she said quickly. "I mean, they don't know how to act yet. Especially James, everyone knows that. You're not the only one ee's mean to, not that it would make you feel any better." She was right; it didn't. To know that someone else was being subjected to his strange forms of verbal cruelty was disturbing to Remus.

"Why do you think he's like that," he asked, his voice heavy. Julienne rose to her feet, suddenly aware of the time. She'd miss her next class if she idled too long. She collected her things in thought, trying to give Remus the best possible answer. The truth was, she didn't know. But she had an idea.

"I reckon ee's lonely," she sighed. "When you get like that, I guess any attention is better than no attention, yeah?" In her absence, Remus thought of her words. Had James truly been lonely? He had Peter and Sirius, had loads of other friends he was slowly gaining in his time at Hogwarts. It wasn't as if he wasn't likable when he wasn't being a complete git. Remus had heard him in his vulnerable moments in their dormitory; there were actual emotions under the mask he held over him.

Perhaps she was right. Perhaps James, like Remus, had been a victim of solitude. The only question left for Remus was this: why had James turned out the way he had, while Remus remained kind?

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, December 1971 (First Year)

He had done it. Sirius Orion Black had finally done it. Actually, now that he had time to think about it, he had "done" the immaculate "it" a total of three times during his stay at Hogwarts. Now, this revelation didn't surprise him at all seeing as though the shabby old Caretaker (Sirius hadn't caught his name in the midst of his rather chaotic schedule) dragged him to McGonagall's office three times a week by this point. Apparently, charming dust bunnies to trample behind the old school feline was 'out of bounds' and irresponsible.

"They're just dust bunnies," he shrugged, seeing no harm in what he'd done. "What's the cat going to do? Sneeze itself to death?"

"Mrs. Norris has severe allergies," Filch cried, though judging by the shade of red his neck was turning, the anger was yet to reach the surface. Sirius, now realizing that James and Peter had escaped under that damned invisibility cloak, sunk in his chair in defeat. There would be no way arguing out of this one. Filch had sauntered up beside him as he laughed carelessly at the cat whining around the courtyard. To say that he had been upset with Sirius was an understatement. One would think Sirius had slandered his family name. In the midst of all the chaos, they'd slipped out of the scene under James's invisibility cloak.

Was he going to thrash the two of them when he got his hands around their necks…

"How can a cat have allergies," Sirius asked suddenly, throwing a disgusted look at the animal sneezing repeatedly. Sirius hated cats, and always would. They were hairy and stuck up, always strutting around like they owned the place. When cleaning themselves, they had no qualms with spitting themselves back up in the form of hairballs. A shudder ran down Sirius's spine. And the hairless ones were no better. They reminded him of Kreacher, and the less he saw of that thing the better.

"How could a poxy excuse of a pillock like you gain entry to this school," Filch roared, raising his fist furiously. Sirius heeded him no attention, returning whatever was left of it to Professor McGonagall. She looked no more impressed than Sirius had expected her to, the poor excuse for lips now pressed into a menacing frown. An idle thought raced across his mind. Would Walburga have a hay day lecturing her on crow's feet. She certainly wasn't in danger of laugh lines.

"That's enough, Argus," she growled hotly, rising from her chair to tower over a meager Sirius. While he hated to admit this, Minerva McGonagall was unnerving. She carried herself well, Walburga would admire that, however, she was crisp in all fashions. Their professor was never overly sentimental or emotional, lacked the warmth that other teachers such as Sprout or Slade might have attained, and wore a face of such severity that Sirius was surely convinced she was on her way to a funeral. "Mr. Black, are you pleased with yourself?"

He raised an eyebrow, "Bearing in mind I performed a high-level charm as a twelve-year-old? I'm rather content."

The caretaker, clearly annoyed that McGonagall had not been more domineering, slurred, "I'll cane the bloody bastard myself." That earned a nasty scowl from the Witch, and he shriveled away shamefully. Sizing Sirius up, she moved around her desk, pulling out a pink slip of parchment and her finest quill. She was, obviously, not content.

"I'd expected more from a Black," she whispered truthfully, a hint of dissatisfaction leaking from her voice. "Your mother would be very disappointed in you, Mr. Black."

Sirius jeered, "I do everything my power to keep it that way, Professor." Though, he'd intended for the comment to keep out of her earshot, McGonagall perked up at his words, stilling the quill pressed against paper. There was no secret that Sirius Black was not the number one fan of his mother, let alone his entire family.

Narcissa had tried, and pathetically failed, to coerce Sirius into discussion during mealtimes and whenever she saw him in the hall. On her fourth, and final, attempt, Sirius sent her to Madame Pomphrey, who'd spend the remainder of her evening trying to shrink Narcissa's two front teeth to ordinary size. The howler he received from his mother had been vicious – at least it would've been to someone who hadn't been treated that way for the entirety of their childhood. For Sirius, this was just another Saturday morning, only this time it was almost as if his mother was down the hall. If someone could only slap him upside the head for dramatic effect then the scene would've been picture perfect.

"I am disappointed in you," she corrected herself, rolling up his detention slip and holding it out for him. It would have been easy to tell himself he didn't actually care whether or not this woman was disappointed in him, for he owed her nothing and shouldn't have had any expectations bestowed upon him just because of his family name. A professor shouldn't expect a first year to never get into trouble, especially someone as colorful as Sirius. Perhaps they should make lessons more enjoyable, then he'd cut the crap. For now, with no deterrent, he'd continue pulling his pranks, because who is she, with her detention slips and disappointed glances, to tell him he shouldn't enjoy himself at school?

It wasn't as if he'd get the freedom to do so at home. Not anymore, as if this fact was a change of scenery. It wasn't as if he'd ever found his time at Grimmauld Place pleasant. He was in for a rude awakening the moment the door shut behind him. He'd be an idiot to assume anything better for himself. Returning home for the winter holiday was like sending someone back to Azkaban for trial after being released on bail. There was no escaping it, and he'd been bracing himself for it since he stepped foot on the Hogwarts Express in September. However, now that the time was closing in, fear was sinking into his bones.

It was one thing being sorted into Gryffindor. While neither Orion nor Walburga were delighted in the slightest at this fact, they were going to have to put up with it. In one of the several howlers he'd received, there were threats of pulling him from Hogwarts and sending him straight to Durmstrang where he'd be put to better use than 'frolicking with the insolent swine of Gryffindor.' Of course, Sirius knew they'd never do such a thing; he wasn't sure what carried this notion, what supported this insight, but he just felt it, and his gut never led him astray thus far.

All of this could, eventually, be put aside. What wasn't going to put aside was his selection of friends. If he remembered correctly, and he knew well that he didn't seeing as though he'd drowned her out as often as possible, Walburga had been very specific in telling him to watch out for the Potters. They were, as she loved to say, 'Muggle Lovers,' and those sorts of people were a danger to the wizarding race as we knew it. Then he'd befriended a half-blood, one of inferior social status to put the cake topper on. Peter and James would be the death of Sirius Orion Black, for two very different reasons.

Peter Pettigrew was one of the things the Blacks despised. He was a half-blood, raised on Muggle standards, admitted to one of the finest wizarding schools in Europe without an inkling of his potential. He'd no idea how to pronounce incantations, which, Sirius eventually mentioned, most likely had Latin roots, nor did he know the proper usage of potions ingredients. Hell, Peter hardly knew where half of the crap came from, let alone how to use it. Don't remind Sirius of the time they'd shown him photos of Dragons; the boy nearly pissed himself. Peter Pettigrew was one thing the Blacks despised: ignorance of wizarding potential.

Then, there were those like James. Sadly, there weren't enough Potter families in the Sacred Twenty-Eight. Not anymore. Families such as those were a threat, according to Walburga, because they could do damage from within. James was a pure-blooded wizard, raised with nothing but the best, and knew what he was capable of by the time he used the potty. There was no ignorance, not the type Walburga disliked, and the potential James possessed was practically limitless. And he sharpened it. However, he was a 'Muggle Lover.' And, because of this, each of those capabilities was thrown out the window; it didn't matter how skilled he was at anything in the Wizarding World, according to Black tradition. If he didn't value blood, well, he didn't value magic. Magic is only as strong as the blood running through your veins; the purer, the better.

Befriending these two boys was at the top of the "Sirius Orion Black is a Disgrace to the Family Name and Here Is Why" list. It went against the tradition of the family and the standards they were trying so desperately to enforce. Had Sirius given a jot? Not at all. Honestly, he couldn't have cared less whether they were satisfied with his socializing or not. What worried him, despite his valiant efforts to dispose of these anxieties, were the repercussions of disobeying his father's words.

Walburga was nothing but empty threats and weak slaps, for the most part. Sure, she had a loud voice and venomous words, but she was easy to deal with and offered no great challenge to Sirius. Eventually, she'd tire herself from screaming and galivanting around the house and see herself to bed. Simple as that. She'd keep him from eating, perhaps set him about the house with a million more chores to ensure the blisters set in. But Sirius could handle this. Orion Black, however, was a force to be reckoned with, and would prove that to Sirius during his return from school.

Orion was a quiet man, mostly because Walburga spoke over everyone in the household, and spared little time for his family. He had important matters to attend to, such as social calls, business meetings, and such. According to Kreacher, he'd spent most of his time at the Ministry or at the Wizengamot on vocational visits. If it wasn't any of that, then he simply shut himself in his office, locking the doors and not making a reappearance until dinner time. At this point, he'd be ready for lack luster conversation about his day, the dark magic scene, and whatever else he'd managed to scrounge up in his dull idle time.

For many reasons, Sirius resented his father. Perhaps, it was because he showed a greater interest in his youngest son's life more so than his eldest, or because he took to Sirius so sternly as a child. For several years, Sirius had pushed memories of his father to the back of his mind, as many of them had ended the same way. He had the collection of scars to prove it. Orion was a stern, calloused man with no beating heart in his chest. He felt no remorse in his actions, not even when harming his own son. His very own flesh and blood. All for what? Playing too roughly with Regulus? Listening to Muggle music every now and then? Idling too long in Muggle London?

Sirius scoffed to himself, now wandering the halls of Hogwarts with hopes that, by some miraculous power, he'd be struck down on his way to his dormitory. If there was any almighty power above, and it had any inclination to listen to him, he was now begging that there might be a reason he didn't return home for this winter holiday.

Yes, he knew it. He was prolonging the inevitable. He'd surely have to see them for summer holiday. Three whole months in that God forsaken household with no one but Regulus for company. Not that he didn't love his own brother, but there was only so much you could get out of a nine-year-old at this point. Walburga would put him to great use, accompanying that wretched house-elf in chores or going without meals consistently till he could recite the reasons he was a disgraceful son by heart. There was no telling what his father had in plan for him, but Sirius was afraid.

Ripped from his thoughts, Sirius collided with another body on his way to the Gryffindor Tower. He stumbled away from them, sighing heavily at the mess on the floor. They'd both dropped their books, and, by the looks of it, were both first years. Lucky me, he droned.

"I am so sorry," she pleaded, quickly falling to her knees and making an attempt to discern one person's books from another's. Sirius recognized that sing-song voice from anywhere, and he nearly vomited at the sound. There was only one person who'd take to groveling so quickly. Throwing a critical glance at her, Sirius watched as Jasmine made two separate stacks for their books, careful not to look him in the eye.

"Oh, Jasmine," he sighed, disappointed. He'd thought it might have been someone interesting. As much as he would've liked to comment further, she'd been too absorbed in managing their books to pay him any attention. Thinking this was his best chance, he considered her silently.

She was different up close, and he wasn't quite sure if he liked that. She was almost adorable, in a childish sort of way, with soft features and the most stunning, almond-shaped eyes. They were a shade of brown Sirius hadn't seen before – gilt specks around the iris, almost a shade of gold if you looked at them long enough. Remus had golden eyes, a deep shade of amber. His were much brighter than hers, like molten honey. But that wasn't it about her appearance that made her so… likable. Though it killed him to say so, she radiated a sense of kindness that made him sick to his stomach. With her stupid yellow tie and fairytale essence.

Jenny finally looked up, picking up his books for him carefully.

"You didn't have to do that, Jasmine," he grumbled, opening his satchel and watching them slide in with ease along with the rest of his belongings. He'd decided he'd just call her Jasmine from now on seeing as though she never corrected him in the first place; he must've been close enough.

She huffed, plastering that same old grin on her pretty face. She'd had nice teeth, albeit a bit on the crooked side. There was a small gap between her two front teeth; one wouldn't have noticed it if you hadn't been searching for the faults in someone.

"No worries," she replied softly, bending down and shuffling her own books in her bag. Her once curly hair had been pulled back in intricate braids now spilling over her shoulder as she moved. Sirius's face twisted in confusion. How long did that take? He then noticed her accent and should have from the very start. Jasmine had to have been from West Country; only those from that part of the country spoke in such an uncivilized manner as if they'd never picked up a book in their lives and settled for cavemen talk. "Well, I'll be off, then."

"Hm," Sirius snickered, watching her skirt around him and make a break for the stairwell. She didn't seem intimidated by his presence, though she wasn't exactly jumping at the chance to keep him in company. He didn't mind that fact at all, however. The less he saw of her face, heard her voice, and whatever else, then all the better in his opinion. In fact, the bright idea sprung into his head. If he could just scare her out of his way, keeping close to Remus as much as possible, then she was bound to stay away. "Oi! Jasmine."

He took down the steps after her, dodging fellow students as they climbed the staircase and muttering no apologies as he went. The Hufflepuff had slowed her pace, coming to a stop at the entrance of the tower with a deep frown etched into her face. Sirius had never seen her features so calloused, so cold, before. Around Remus, she was typically the picture-perfect image of what Hufflepuff's were considered to be like – smiling, optimistic to the point of ignorance, and stupidly kind. What type of person misses their meals on the weekend to spend time with someone in the hospital wing? A stupid one, that's what kind.

"Julienne," she barked. Sirius came to a quick stop in front of her, raking his raven hair away from his face in confusion.

"What?"

"My name. It's not Jasmine," she clarified darkly. "It's Julienne." Sirius, now annoyed, rolled his eyes with his hands on his hips.

"Julienne, Jasmine – they're all the same," he mumbled, attempting to get on with the conversation, but she wasn't having it. She turned her body to face him then, looking him dead in the eye with the darkest of glowers.

"If you don' respect me enough to call me by my name, then don't talk to me at all," she growled. "Not like you'd know a shred of respect if it mooned you."

"Great, Julienne, I have a question for you," he quipped coolly. The Hufflepuff seemed set on dropping the conversation, clearly in no mood to talk with him any longer. Not that he blamed her. He was being quite rude, but, truth be told, he hadn't cared how he'd been acting. Every time she walked in the room he'd gotten this flare of agitation that never seemed to die; there were only so many times he could smother it before it burst out in full flames. "Why does Lupin like you so much?"

It'd been an answer burning his conscience for ages, now. Since September, he'd been trying, however subtly, to befriend Remus and none of his efforts were succeeding. It might as well have been if Sirius had never spoken in the first place. He respected his privacy, his space, never pried despite wanting to ask where he disappeared off too all the time. He carried him across the school, he protected him from James's insults and jeers, and he even went out of his way to send him some chocolates he probably shared with the minger in front of him. So, what was Sirius doing wrong?

Judging by the dumbstruck look on her face, that had been a stupid question to ask with obvious answers. Sirius wondered if she was satisfied knowing that she was able to wrap an insolent, little boy around her pinky finger. No doubt, she'd never notice if he were missing the way Sirius would. He did live with him, for Merlin's sake. Shared all of his classes with him. Who was she to presume she was better suited for him? Platonically, of course.

"Are you just about the daftest maggot to walk the school grounds," she cried, now visibly angry with her accent flowing from her mouth at full force. Sirius, not used to such a small person taking so violently to him, stepped back. "You got a lot of nerve, Mr. Black, to sit here and assume that I don't deserve Remus's friendship –"

Sirius threw his hands up defensively, "Now, I never said –"

She closed in on him, "It's what you implied! Unlike you, and the brainless berks you tag along with, I treat Remus well. I respect 'im, listen, comfort 'im, and I do the common nicety's any friend would do for 'nother." Sirius opened his mouth to speak but was silenced by her murderous scowl. "I won't put words into his mouth. Tisn't my place. But if you want to be friends with Remus, you got to go out of your way. Hate to break it to you, Mr. Black, but it isn't easy as 1, 2, 3."

Sirius, offended, scoffed, "Clearly."

"Don't you disrespect 'im," she snarled. "Ee been nothing but good to you, defending you and your friends every time someone speak ill on you." That had come to a surprise to him. Such a surprise that he found himself at a lack for words. Remus had… defended him. To Julienne? To others? Of course, Sirius needed no one to defend him. He was his own person, and he took the consequences of his actions as they came. There was no need for someone as delicate as Remus to stick his already wounded neck out for someone like him. Definitely not James.

"I'm not the one who bullies him," he shouted.

"You do nothing to stop James," she countered smoothly, and there hadn't exactly been a lie in what she said. "You sit there as if ee isn't doin' a thing, turning your cheek as he talks wrong on anyone who so much as breathes in the wrong direction. Your ignorance is just as bad as James's actions! Then you got the presumption that Remus would want to be your friend? An' they say you're bright for a Black." He decided to ignore that final remark. Sirius knew he could've done more for Remus when it came to James's unkindness. Ignoring him was one thing, and Sirius could put up with this, but it was the constant hostility and passive aggression that put every boy in Gryffindor Tower on edge. James went out of his way to display his dislike for Remus, and didn't hesitate to speak harshly on his behalf. So, when hearing that Remus had done the opposite for them, when they'd hardly deserved it, made Sirius recoil.

"Mind your own business," Sirius resolved darkly. He turned on his heel, stalking up the stairs towards the Gryffindor Tower with more anger than he'd been bottling in before his meeting with Jasmine. If that could've been possible. With detention for a week, scrubbing armor in the Slytherin dungeons, and a sudden drop in his mood, the final week at Hogwarts was going to be a nasty one.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Hogwarts had been beautiful on any given day of the year. Autumn, Winter, Spring – you name it. The castle was dignified and esteemed in one sense, but it yielded an ancient beauty not many places around the world did anymore. While all of this had been true, it was even more so during the winter holidays.

Enlarged Christmas trees were posted at the entrances, dazzling ornaments and twinkling fairies dancing between the branches and pinecones. Several turtle doves had made themselves at home as well, not hesitating to pick at the mistletoe dangling here or there. Enchanted snow had been summoned in some areas, dusting the floors and decorations with a thin layer of non-melting snow, setting the scene for a gorgeous winter wonderland. Professor Flitwick put his skill to use by charming several candy canes and sugar plums to dance around the suits of armor lining the hallways, spinning in clouds of nearly transparent white. Remus thought this was a lovely touch.

The Lupin's favorite place to be, however, would've easily been the library. The fires roared and the smell of ancient bindings couldn't have been more appreciated. Remus had always been a fan of literature, and while the Hogwarts's library didn't offer much in the means of fiction, there were enough volumes to last him seven years of school. There were rows upon rows of all types of books that took up Remus's free time.

Madame Pince, a middle-aged woman with impeccable posture and purse lips, was the librarian at Hogwarts, and had enjoyed Remus's company in the library thus far. Albeit, he did take up his own little corner, table piled high with books no one would attempt to understand at his academic level.

Remus found the solitude of the library almost therapeutic. There was only so much of his fellow Gryffindor's he could take before he had the urge to rip out his hair. He wasn't complaining of course. Frank Longbottom had been especially kind to him after his return from the hospital in October, offering him his notes from History of Magic and Transfiguration, while Cress Dirkwell caught him up on the rest. With them, he was able to catch himself back up to speed.

Grades were rather important to Remus, as they'd been the only thing that proved his worth to his Headmaster and his parents. Actually, they were the most important thing to Remus. The more he tended to his grades, the more he proved that their decision to send him away for schooling wasn't a mistake. He'd felt as though he'd been a bit of a burden on the school, what with his condition. They'd had to take extra precautions to make sure he didn't end up mauling half of the student body in their sleep, not that he'd had that urge as of yet. If anything, he simply wanted to roam. Be free. He hadn't had a single transformation where he'd been able to roam freely in all his years of being a Werewolf.

He wondered if, and his textbook was actually getting to that part, being able to wander would sedate the wolf, to a certain extent of course. Wide open space, fresh air, and the ability to stretch his legs might have worked wonders for the wolf's temper because God knew it had one. He was temperamental as of late, still getting used to the new shack and its smells. That and Remus had denied him the pleasure of completely destroying the shack. There was little reasoning with the wolf, so, therefore, it was pure coercion that tamed him. Negotiations, bargaining.

He'd been on his third book on Werewolves, and he'd learned more about himself in the course of four months than he had in his lifetime. These books, and there were only a few of them left, were, of course, elementary in their content, skipping over the foul details and nitty-gritty. He was sure this was just a precaution, and that the restricted section would contain the explicit content only older students could stomach.

He was unsure he wanted to read those volumes, however. Because with more vulgar content came the slander. Most of the volumes he'd read so far had leaned more towards the dislike of dark creatures, but by no means maligned them. They told the barren truth, maybe a few embellishments here and there for the sake of dramatics, but they were rudimentary at best. Perfect for a thirteen-year-old to read when studying Werewolves in school. According to Madame Pince, however, the restricted section contained books that delved into the deeper mechanics of magic, dark magic and creatures, history buried to be forgotten.

The section of the book in front of him was telling him the basic psychology of Werewolves in their human form.

Remus murmured aloud, "Werewolves are known to be aggressive even in human form. Those with Lycanthropy still latent can exhibit some supernatural traits which can be triggered by aggression, along with unusual physical strength for the person's given a size but they cannot fully transform." He scrunched up his face, befuddled at this description. Had Remus been aggressive? Had he neglected any of his friends on a daily basis? Surely, someone would have mentioned his odd behavior or unpredictable mood. Julienne, of course, would have said something, asked him if he were alright.

Remus didn't like to think he was violent or aggressive. In fact, he aimed to be the very opposite. It wasn't difficult to remain calm, although there were a select few people able to evoke certain responses from him. James, for instance, knew exactly how to strike certain chords in Remus that he didn't appreciate. He was suddenly in control of Remus, and he didn't take kindly to that. It was as if, with a flick of his wrist, he could send his mood spiraling downwards, uncontrollably, until Remus found himself in such a foul state.

But, then again, there were two people who were able to do the very opposite, without even trying. There was Julienne, who'd remained a resilient friend to Remus despite his apparent mood swings and disappearances. It had tugged on his heartstrings, keeping secrets from her. Being unable, and unwilling, to give her reasonable explanations as to why he disappeared for days on end or why his mood had been so horrid before and afterward was making him wonder if he was cut out for friendship. Weren't you supposed to be honest with your best friend, tell them everything? Remus was never one for keeping secrets. Though, he supposed he'd never had anyone to divulge his secrets to growing up. With this new companion, and the amount of trust she laid in him, was it right of him to keep such a large portion of his character hidden from her?

Then, of course, there was –

"Remus," someone said, voice oddly warm yet clipped. Looking up from his paragraphs, Remus locked eyes with Sirius Black, a fellow Gryffindor with whom he shared a dormitory. Considering it had been a Saturday, Sirius donned a crisp black button up shirt and pleated dress trousers. The top few buttons of his shirt had come undone, and, if it hadn't been for the Gryffindor tie dangling from his ironed collar, Remus could've assumed someone had died. Sirius's hair, he noted, had grown longer since they first arrived, now dipping past his shoulders in gentle waves. His foggy gray eyes examined him curiously, flicking down to the textbook in front of him. "What are you reading?"

Suddenly aware of his texts and the possible implications, Remus slammed his book shut, tucking it away under a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Sweat pricked the back of his neck, heart hammering against his ribcage. Now, Sirius Black was no idiot. In fact, he was one of the brightest students in their year, though he never applied himself much. Sirius did what Sirius did best – lounged. Assumed the role of indifferent aristocrat, too important to busy himself with the lowly tasks of a student unless absolutely necessary. However, Remus was aware that if he hadn't been more careful, people like Sirius would be able to put two and two together.

"Um, I – er," he stammered nervously, looking down at the sea of books. "I suppose I'm reading whatever the library has to offer." Sirius, still suspiciously eyeing the copy of The Seven Realms beneath the mountain of literature around the boy. He pulled out the seat across from Remus swiftly, taking a seat and propping his feet up on the table. Even his shoes had been polished to perfection, a glimmering silver buckle on the top of each. What Remus assumed to be the Black family crest had been branded on each buckle proudly, a statement. For someone who hated their family so much, he didn't mind galivanting with their pride on his clothing.

"You busy yourself too much with school," Sirius observed lazily, picking at a hangnail. Remus, unfamiliar with this type of proximity with him, shifted in his seat uncomfortably. "You're always reading or writing. Don't you have anything better to do with your time?"

It had been the question of the century for Remus. Truth was, there were many things he would've enjoyed doing with his spare time at Hogwarts. Roaming the castle grounds with his friends, sneaking into the kitchens for extra food deep into the night, giving Peeves a run for his money, and all those sorts of things would've been right up his alley. However, that had been for James's friend group, not Remus. So, he settled for learning as much as he could whenever he could. This was usually when Julienne was busy, and she seemed to be much more lately now that she had begun joining several of the school's clubs.

"Well," Remus sighed, idly fiddling with his quill, "I am joining some clubs soon, so that may take up most of my free time." That had been very true. Julienne insisted he put himself out there more, that she had no qualms being Remus's best friend but that he can't depend on her for human contact forever. It was wise and caring of her to think of him in the long run, but damn it, why did she actually enforce her words. The week following winter holiday, she was signing him up for several school clubs to make sure he 'involves himself in the real world.' Remus, if he may say so, would rather spend his time reading in the library, though he'd never say that to Julienne's face.

"I don't mean school related things," Sirius scoffed, looking at Remus with mild interest. "I mean, having fun on your own. With your friends." Remus's face fell.

He set down his quill, reminding himself that he did, in fact, have friends. Maybe the whole school wasn't clambering to be his buddy like they were with James or Sirius, but he had his group. In a way. There was Julienne, Frank, Cress, Peter, Amanda, Jared, Heidi, and Matilda. They'd all been quite civil with Remus, to the point he might have convinced himself they'd wanted to be his friend. Do they count? Of course, he only saw some of them in the library or during classes, but that shouldn't have been a deterrent, should it? He inwardly sighed, cursing his indecisiveness.

"You of all people should know I don't have many friends," Remus snickered bitterly. You see, Remus was a lonely soul. Ever since the accident in 1965, there was nothing but solitude waiting for him. He wasn't fit for friendship, no matter how many adults said otherwise, because the truth was that they had no idea how difficult it is keeping such a dangerous secret forever. They really hadn't a clue what it was like being in the shoes of Remus John Lupin, nor would they ever have one. They liked to think they understood the struggle and the burdens, but they wouldn't grasp the severity of it.

Anyone could read a book on werewolves and think they understood the shackles of Lycanthropy. You could study one, experiment with them, and observe them as much as you'd like, but you'd never come to grips with the weight of such a disease.

Not being able to tell the one person fighting on your side who you are, who they're fighting for, takes a beautiful piece out of the image of friendship. Not being able to enjoy the spoils of friendship or love, freedom or autonomy, really created a veil of gloom for Remus. He'd never be able to enjoy that, either. Not with others, at least. He supposed he could be free alone, roam the forests of foreign countries for the rest of his life, living off of whatever scurried across the soil. Wherever he ended up, he would be on his lonesome. For Remus was destined to be on his own, that was the only way to keep the people he cared for safe.

"You've got that girl, Julienne," Sirius was quick to point out, a subtle scowl making itself quite comfy at the mention of her name. Remus wasn't stupid; there was an obvious rift between Sirius and Julienne, they didn't hide it well. Whether it was the cold glances thrown over the shoulder or the mumbled insults as they passed each other, one could easily tell that neither one was quick to be in the other's vicinity.

"I don't deserve her," Remus chuckled. "She's too good to me."

Sirius shook his head, "What? Did she carry you across the school, too?" There was a hint of bitterness in his voice, a trace of hurt that was gone as quick as it came. Sirius had never been one ready to reveal emotions; there was no need. Yet, it was different with Remus. He wasn't sure how, and he definitely wasn't sure why, but Remus gave Sirius an odd sort of comfort he found in neither James nor Peter. Perhaps it was the gentleness of his voice, the unguarded light in his eyes. There had never been a glint of resentment or spite in his amber eyes when regarding Sirius, despite having every reason to think the opposite.

"Thank you," Remus blurted. "For doing that, by the way. I never got the chance." Sirius waved him off lazily, leaning back in his chair without a care in the world.

"Don't mention it," Sirius waved him off. "That's what friends are for."

Remus faltered at this, "F-friends?"

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, December 1971 (First Year)

When news broke out that the notorious Sirius Black – the roguish, brash, unruly Gryffindor with a fancy for sticking out like a sore thumb amongst his family legacy – had befriended Remus Lupin – the shy, nearly invisible student who'd taken a closer liking to schoolwork than his peers – James Potter was baffled to the point of annoyance. It hadn't been jealousy or envy that had blossomed in his chest when he'd caught wind of the rumor. Who was James to be jealous of when Sirius had pledged brotherhood with him? Who could overcome such a bond? Not some cowardly brown-nose, that's for sure. No, James had been overtaken by betrayal.

It started with his absences at breakfast, preferring to sit with Remus and Julienne rather than the two boys who'd been his best friends since the beginning of the year. It had been then that James felt betrayal rearing its ugly head in his chest, threatening to burst through his seams. It wasn't as if Peter wasn't enough company, but there was something missing without Sirius, a chasm unable to be filled. The conversation lulled to a pitiful halt on their final day at school, James too upset with everyone and everything to give another jot about Peter's Christmas wish list.

With a hooded gaze, James observed the three of them. Remus was smiling, a sight not often seen by those foreign to his company, and laughed at whatever Sirius had just said. Perhaps it had been a recycled joke that had already made its presence known to Peter and James; though it was petty and childish, it soothed the horrid feeling dropping into his stomach. Julienne, who'd made it no secret she wasn't a friend of Sirius's, had been smiling despite herself, shaking her head with her shoulders bobbing – a sign of stifled laughter. Sirius's ego needn't be fueled any more than it already had been; his head was three sizes too big after being in Peter's company all year.

And then there was Sirius, basking in the glory of attention. The corners of his mouth tugged in a reluctant smile as Julienne knocked him down to size gracefully, teasing him in an attempt to subdue the sneering aristocrat buried underneath whatever exterior he'd put up against the world. Despite not liking her, he sure seemed to warm up to her now that Remus had blessed him with his semblance of friendship. Friendship. Who would be friends with Remus?

He was timid and meek, the very opposite of what a proper Gryffindor should've been. If it weren't for that, he made every attempt to apologize for the slenderest of responsibilities. While this might have been seen as decent in some sense, it agitated James. The Potter went out of his way to be impolite, shouldering him in the hallways or intentionally snubbing his greetings – all of these were efforts to get him to just detonate. Any normal Gryffindor wouldn't stand idle to abuses like these. So why was Remus? Was he too good for James? Did he think himself above his house members? If Remus didn't symbolize his house, then why did the Sorting Hat even put him there?

Sirius looked happy, and that made James the very opposite. Had he looked like this when in the company of James and Peter? Had he managed such a lighthearted, unruly exterior – laughing until his sides ached and his cheeks were an appalling shade of red. Oh, what could have been so amusing? It wasn't as if Remus had any character to add to the discussion, and Julienne hadn't been speaking enough to say something that amusing. Peter, who'd been stuffing his face with a slice of cheesecake, threw his stare towards the three further down the table.

"We could go sit with them, you know," he offered delicately. "I-I know that—well I don't know for a fact, but I-I think that it bothers you Sirius is—well, you know, he's –"

"You're rambling, Peter," James scoffed, exhausted. No classes had been scheduled that day. It was breakfast then off to the Hogwarts express for everyone returning home for the holidays. The school had been kind enough to bestow a wonderful farewell breakfast for the students filled with pies and tarts of all sorts, eggnog filling their bellies before returning home. Though he loved Hogwarts, James was eager to return home. He'd missed his parents sorely and would be much more comfortable in a room of his own, alone.

"I think that Sirius being gone bothers you… a bit more than you'd like to say," Peter finally squeaked. James looked up at him, fighting the burn in his eyes and the heat rushing into his ears. He'd been quite clear when articulating his contempt for Sirius's withdrawal, though it wasn't as if he wasn't around at all. They'd still play exploding snaps and wizarding chess in the common room instead of studying most nights, and Sirius had even helped James with his final essay for History of Magic. They'd spent their final night planning home pranks, and Sirius had promised to write them.

"He can do what he wants," James snapped, his voice unsympathetic and unforgiving. Peter, who'd always been sensitive for his age, recoiled from James, looking down at his plate. His appetite had suddenly left him. James either didn't notice or, perhaps, he didn't care. Whether he wanted to say so or not, James was hurt. Beyond the betrayal and the lack of common decency regarding Sirius's new friendship, there was nothing but hurt.

Sirius had been the first true friend James considered. Not that he didn't receive love from his mother and father – there'd never been a lack of attention. However, with Sirius, he felt as though he didn't have to put on a 'good boy' act, hiding his mischievous nature and expected inclinations to find trouble. He didn't have to chide his dry humor or lighten up with rough housing. No, with Sirius and Peter, James had never felt more at home with himself. So, when that had left, James felt contempt. He'd felt alone.

James was, for the umpteenth time in his lifetime, lonely.

Whatever it was that possessed him to move, he cursed it. The year wouldn't get any better if he spent it sulking and whining over some boy. Remus was forgettable enough anyways, he reassured himself, so it won't be that hard sticking himself in the conversation. He'd be ignored before he knew it. Giving Peter a nod, the two boys scooted themselves further along the table until they reached the company of Julienne, Remus, and Sirius, who'd all been consumed in a conversation regarding Saint Nicholas.

"All I'm saying is that I've never seen him before," Sirius explained hotly, glaring half heartedly at Julienne, who'd taken no caution to his glower. If anything, she piped up to take him head on.

"Probably because you're the most misbehaved child in all of Europe," she shot back. "I'd be surprised if he even knows your address." Remus, mouth full of pudding, chuckled warmly.

"I'm sure he'd give him hell for tracking soot through the living room," Remus added. Sirius, now on the losing end of the argument, pouted. Remus took pity on him, patting his shoulder awkwardly before spooning more pudding into his mouth. "Don't worry. He'll bring you silver spoons this year to make up for the absences."

James, who'd been trying to find a good place to jump in, couldn't bite back the snicker that jumped out of his throat. He threw the table for a loop, each of them shooting him a look of worry as he laughed loudly. Memories of their first train ride flashed behind his eyelids, an argument with Sirius reminding him of the beginning. It hadn't been so difficult then to like Remus, but perhaps this was because there was less of a threat. To be honest, James merely saw him as a train buddy rather than anyone to permanently make his way into his life. He hardly regarded the taller boy as being a Gryffindor, but the Hat saw something. There was no taking it back now.

"Git," Sirius mumbled, slouching in his seat. Julienne rolled her eyes, snatching up a chocolate strawberry and eyeing Peter with kind eyes.

"What are you doing for Christmas, James," Remus asked politely, though his voice was cautious as ever. It had been the first time in quite some time that he'd addressed Potter directly, afraid of inciting another altercation that might not have been subdued so quickly. James, absorbed in pushing his pie around his plate, looked up blankly.

"Oh, the usual," he sighed. "Opening mountains of presents in hopes of a new broomstick. Mum and Dad have promised to get me one for ages, but I've yet to see it."

"Not like you can use it here anyway," Sirius pointed out boldly.

"Yeah, but there's no harm in practicing for next year," James bit back. It was clear to some that this banter was normal between the two boys; their friendship was different from others. They could be hollering at one another, but they were acutely aware of boundaries very early on. If Sirius dared venture into this territory, it was because he was fully aware it wouldn't upset James.

This was because he was Sirius. It was easy for him to poke and prod with little consequence, excluding Julienne who'd fought off plenty of his questions over the course of their breakfast. There was something about his presence that eased tension and lured you into comfortable terrain. Remus found it quite easy to open up to him on a surface level – purely a surface level. He was wary not to tread into murky waters; Sirius was quick to catch on, and it would be dangerous if he let him any closer than arm's length.

"What about you, Sirius," Julienne cooed, leaning on her elbow while playing with Remus's hair. It had grown over the course of their first semester, and he couldn't wait for his mother to cut it again. Everyone – everyone being Frank, Julienne, and Sirius – had expressed how fond they were of his long mane, begging him to continue letting it grow. He had to admit that it didn't do him any injustices, and it was quick to cover the scars on his neck.

Sirius shrugged coldly, suddenly shutting down, when he said, "Whatever Walburga and Orion decide, I suppose."

Remus wasn't daft. There was more than just Walburga and Orion awaiting Sirius at home. Perhaps it was reprimand, punishment, for the things he'd been doing at school. Several times, Sirius had been called into McGonagall's office for jokes and pranks taken too far. Remus's favorite had definitely been the origami swan charmed to give cheaters paper cuts with its wings. Slade had been quite fond of it as well. Sirius, however, had never seemed bothered by these callings. In fact, he looked forward to them. So, how could he be more afraid of his parents than the people liable to expel him?

It was very easy to put together for Remus, but he did not comment.

"You'll have my owls to keep you in good spirits," Remus offered kindly. The topic of Sirius's family, even to James, had been a touchy one. Hardly ever did he readily offer any information regarding his relationship or home status unless it was to address how much he truly hated them – his mother especially. She seemed to go out of her way to make him miserable, and, at times, succeeded.

However, a bonus of having friends such as James and Peter was that they easily distracted him from his pitiful thoughts of a better life and more loving parents. They'd become his family, and so had Remus. Jeanette was still on the fence, naturally. She was amusing and clever, but still that damn smile had been begging for a good smack.

"Mine, too," Peter perked up, now finished with his pie. He wiped the crumbs from his face eagerly. "My mum said I can send gifts to you all. So, be on the look-out."

"You really think I won't be pestering you," James chided smoothly, taking a bite of pie and smirking. "What kind of little brother would I be if I didn't aggravate you?"

Sirius narrowed his eyes, "You play the role of impudent, undeveloped sibling so well." Remus laughed.

"Be careful," Julienne teased, "I don't think he can process words of that caliber yet." James shook his head, the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"Yes, and you play the role of ominous, matured brother flawlessly, Sirius," Remus commented playfully, gathering his things. Sirius stiffened.

"Where are you off to," he asked, a hint of uneasiness lacing his words. Julienne had begun packing her things, too.

Remus sighed, "I've put off packing for the longest. If I'm going to snag a compartment for us I'll need my things, won't I?" With a disappointed frown, Sirius nodded. Julienne begged their pardon, joining up with a few of her Hufflepuff friends before the journey home. Remus then shifted his gaze to James. "Would you like to sit with us?"

For a moment, and only a moment, James considered saying no. Not because he'd felt as though he were intruding or that he didn't belong. It wasn't because he'd felt like a burden in the company of Remus and Sirius, even Julienne when she chimed in. It wasn't due to the fact he'd come to despise the very name Remus Lupin, or at least he'd thought he had. No, none of this could be attributed to his near declination.

James had considered rejecting Remus on the grounds that it had felt too natural in his company. He'd assumed from the very beginning of the year that Remus was just some sniveling, stuck up prat with his nose crammed in a book, convincing himself he was smarter than the rest of them. He'd always been a know-it-all in lessons, a teacher's pet. He strode around as if he were better than them, at times, with his chin raised high and an impudent smile on his scarred face. He lacked the common traits of his fellow Gryffindors – boldness, bravery, and chivalry – and hardly had any personality to make up for this. From the very start, James was intent on believing that there was nothing to see within Remus Lupin.

However, this wasn't the case. Remus had been… amusing, to say the least, and not in the least cautious to join their thoughtless banter, scolding them playfully and teasing them as if he were in their ranks. For a second, James could've been persuaded that he was. It fit, almost, like a puzzle piece. Though Remus didn't look the part, he managed to blend well within the small confines of their trio. Regarding loyalty, well, he didn't waver when bringing Julienne in the mix, did he? Even though James was sure Sirius expressed his dislike for her; James had never been clear on his aversion for her to begin with. She seemed well enough, though she reminded James a bit of the Evans girl.

Perhaps there was a bit more to Remus than James had thought, and, perhaps, he'd been a bit harsh on him. Honestly, had he actually been 'loopy,' or had it just been James trying to show off to Sirius – the heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black? He thought for a moment. What was there to show off for? Hadn't Sirius been the one to approach James on the train? Hadn't he shown an interest in James on his own accord? He sighed to himself, fighting a battle within his head.

There was truly a part of him that disagreed with Remus. On some level, there was something off about him, and James had yet to put his finger on it. He could've reasoned with his paranoia. He doesn't sneak off to do illegal trade, his aunt is sick. But how much longer could an aunt be sick until she either dies or gets better?

But the better part, the part that had convinced him to accept the offer, had gotten the better of him.

"Sounds fine to me," James finally breathed, offering a weak grin for Remus. Whether or not he noticed the trepidation in James's face, he did not know, but Remus returned the gesture, waving graciously to his other companions, and set off to pack for home. When he'd gone, the breath returned to James's lungs and he felt the circulation finally course through his body once more.

Sirius had settled for the brooding antics, moodily poking at Remus's unfinished pie until it was nothing but mushy crust and tart. Peter, who paid no mind to this, slid the plate in front of him and began round four of breakfast. This was normal for Peter, and the other two regarded him lightly.

"That was generous of you," Sirius nodded curtly towards James, officially acknowledging his presence and the weight of his previous actions. The last time he'd spoken with him, he'd been quick to admonish the sight of Remus Lupin. Now he was agreeing to share a compartment with him on the train ride home? "Who are you and what have you done with James Potter?"

James, whose smile had quickly vanished, blinked before muttering, "You wanted me to be nice to the bloke, well, here I am. Happy?"

"Happy? No," Sirius admitted darkly. "Disturbed? Quite so." James lowered his eyebrows threateningly, to which Sirius threw up his hands. "All I'm saying is that the James I know wouldn't have backed down so easily."

Peter raised an impish eyebrow, concealing his grin beneath a mask of cream, "Maybe he realized Loony Lupin isn't so Loony after all, huh?" It was Peter's turn to receive the glower, to which he recoiled slightly.

Sirius, however, was not deterred in the slightest.

"I told you he was alright," he jeered. "But no! James Potter's gut always serves him right, does it not?"

"Served you right when you almost got caught sneaking into the kitchens," James mumbled bitterly, in no mood to be taunted anymore. Sirius scooted closer to him, resting an innocent face on his shoulder.

"That's beside the point," he disregarded the memory. "Admit it. You grew fond of Remus in an instant."

"We barely even spoke," James cried, "get your head out of your arse. I don't even know him."

A devilish smirk spread across the young aristocrat's face.

"Which gives you all the more reason to write to him over Christmas holidays," he aggressively suggested, jostling James in his seat harshly. James bit back a retort, not allowing his embarrassment the pleasure of a blush.

"What would I even say," he groaned, now aware that he'd encouraged Sirius's antics and would no longer see the end of it. If he had it his way, James was sure Sirius would ask to proofread the letters before sending them to Lupin. Why had he agreed with Peter to move down the table? Now they had a giddy Sirius Black, practically bursting with delight, and a stuffed Peter who could also burst at the seams with custard and pies.

"My dear Remus," Peter began in a soft, sing-song voice.

"I write with sincerity when I say I have misjudged you, darling," Sirius joined in, throwing his hair over his shoulder dramatically.

"You have shown me kindness I have never received by inviting me to share a compartment with you," Peter chortled, watching the way Sirius threw himself over James like a damsel in distress.

"Oh, my dear Remus, forgive me for my foolish ways," Sirius cried theatrically. "I now know the folly of my actions and wish to make it up to you. I offer my heart, to you, dear Remus."

Peter concluded their ensemble, "In hopes that you find it in yours to forgive such a languisher like me. With much love, James Potter."

James looked between his friends, disgust purely in his eyes. He truly did befriend the biggest morons in the world. However, none of that mattered much because, despite his nervousness, they'd made him smile.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

When Remus had considered never befriending a soul at Hogwarts, he clearly hadn't imagined the companionship of his roommates. John Lupin would have his throat if he knew just how close he'd grown with Julienne, but that had been one girl. This was three boys, all of which were nosier than the neighbor down the block – Miss Cecil. She was an older woman, in her late fifties, with curly white hair and glasses the size of magnifying glasses. Hope had always said they were perfect for all the snooping she did.

Peter was inquisitive on a surface level. You could give him a shallow answer to one of his many questions, make up easy excuses for the scarring all over his body, and lie your way out of the monthly disappearances and he'd never bat an eyelash. Of course, this did not stop the onslaught of further questions – prying questions – about the lies and excuses, making Remus weave a more complex story than he could've ever dreamed of creating. Though no one gave him credit for it, Peter had been smarter than he looked. Being so transparent, he caught onto things that no one else seemed to notice nor care about.

For instance, the way Sirius had brooded in Remus's hour-long absence. He'd noticed it the moment he'd set upon destroying a perfectly edible piece of pie. Of course, Peter hadn't intended to observe Sirius in that way, but could only ignore Sirius's odd glances at the doorway for so long. There were the envious glances thrown at Julienne when she'd made Remus laugh loudly – particularly when she'd made him laugh louder than Sirius had – or when she'd managed to snag his attention for a moment longer than Sirius had.

However, Peter could notice anything in the world and still not put two and two together. Sirius could've tattooed the words "I yearn the attention of Remus John Lupin" on his forehead and it might've taken him a few moments to process what he actually meant by that.

James, on the other hand, was able to do what Peter wasn't, and that was process. He had a way of grasping a situation and have full comprehension of it in a matter of seconds. It was like second nature to the boy. His fault lied in the fact he was easily distracted. Remus had noted in the time they spent on the train that if your lies began to grow in scheme and adventure then James was quick to forget the folly of a mess up moments before. It appeared as though James had been, and probably always would be, a sucker for escapades. There was nothing wrong with this, though. It just meant that he was easily sidetracked, which could've been a good thing for Remus if his secret was beginning to slip.

Then there was Sirius, who'd been observant and focused to an unnatural degree. He seemed to ease in and out of conversation often, choosing to speak at very specific times and listen during others. In this case, he much more preferred to hear Remus speak, and it did not matter about what. He could've gone on about the Muggle invention of the online game The Oregon Trail for all Sirius had cared, it still would not have daunted his unabashed devotion to the words that left his mouth.

Another thing about Sirius that may or may not have made Remus more hesitant was his ability to multi-task. Not in the sense of patting your head and rubbing your stomach, rather he could focus on your words, your facial expressions, and your body language as if you were the only thing in his realm. His attention for you was devout in all shapes and forms; a ballerina could be dancing the Funky Chicken, yet he'd never look away.

It disturbed Remus. It was easy to lead James and Peter down different paths. Sirius? Not so much. He was too calculating and far too prying to let things slide or simply forget. Remus had the feeling that memories to Sirius were stored in some mental filing cabinet with alphabetical, color coded order.

"Don't you think it would make more sense for your parents to get the Broomstick on your birthday," Peter had been attempting to reason with James about the broomstick he'd so desperately been wanting. "I mean, that way, it's newer."

"But won't he need to practice on it," Remus added curiously. "Do brooms take time getting used to?"

James threw his hands up graciously, "Thank you! A man who understands. Yes, they do take time getting used to, and if I'm trying out for Quidditch next year, I've got to be on top of my game."

Sirius gave a soft snort in his seat, never looking up from his magazine. "For someone who thinks of themselves as a Quidditch God, you should be able to master any broom in the nick of time, wouldn't you say so?"

James narrowed his eyes at Sirius – more at his body than his face seeing as though it had been hidden behind a magazine. Much to Remus's amusement, James began making faces at an unaware Remus from sticking his tongue out to crossing his eyes. There was no point in trying to hide his enjoyment, either, so Remus decided it would be best to let his chuckles mingle in the air with no apprehension.

"You know, they say if you make faces for too long then it'll stick that way, right," Sirius cautioned mockingly. He looked over the top of his magazine lazily. "Though, I do suppose it might do you some good. Perhaps then the girls won't trample each other running away."

James halted, looking utterly offended.

"They do not run away," he shrieked. "Just the other day I received a love note in my notebook!"

"Oh, look at you," Sirius sang, "attracting the throng of prepubescent girlies. Run with your flock, lad. Be free." With a graceful wave of the hand, Sirius, once again, lapsed into silence. Remus had never been in more amusing company. Well, he hadn't been in any company until his time at Hogwarts, and found that he quite enjoyed his new way of life.

From eating breakfast with Julienne and Sirius, to studying with his new scholar group – Remus had found it quite easy to mingle with the rest of Hogwarts after being forced out of his comfort zone. Now, he'd been quite timid at first, rather bleak and too humble. When McGonagall had mentioned his opinion of himself when it came to friendship, he'd hardly believed her at first.

Who'd want to befriend a monster like him? Who'd want to befriend a loser like him? Whether in human or wolf form, Remus had considered himself undesirable by any standard. He hadn't been personable like Peter, handsome like James, or wonderfully rebellious like Sirius. He hadn't been friendly like Julienne or outgoing like Lily. He was none of them, and he never would be. Yet, somehow, they'd all come to like Remus on some level. If he didn't have some attractive trait then surely they wouldn't be there, would they?

When it all first happened, he thought it a trick. It might've been James's doing. Sirius approaching Remus in the library, offering his friendship? For days, he had been wary. However, when he noticed the rift between the two boys who'd been sworn to the closest of bonds he felt a mixture of pride and guilt.

Pride because he'd managed to get the infamous Sirius Black to take an interest in him, even if only on some surface level or shallow curiosity. Though, Remus doubted Sirius spent his time with the smallest of curiosities. He seemed more like the 'go big or go home' type. Pride because he'd been able to keep up their friendship without Sirius seeming bored or unfocused on the conversation. He'd actually been quite a nice partner during Potions, offered his help whenever he could and always carried his weight.

Guilt because he'd caused a chasm to grow between two boys who'd grown so close together in a matter of months. Remus had never believed in many things, but he was a firm believer in fate. Whatever power mustered enough courage to say, "These two people, they are destined to be a part of each other's lives," deserved to have a hat tipped to them. It takes more than just simple frays to take them off each other's course, and Remus, however happy he might have been, so desperately did not want to be their first fray. Thankfully, at the end of the day, it was clear they would lean back into each other. He supposed all friends have their moments.

Friends. He actually could say he had friends. At first, he was content with Julienne. She was sweet, understanding, and respectful, and while he valued this most in regards to his condition, he felt challenged by the boys in a way he never would've thought. They were unabashed in their likes and dislikes – James and Sirius especially – and their curiosities always managed to end up in adventures. They didn't mind his quiet company, nor did they mind his dry humor in the moments he did speak up. Sirius had seemed to practically jump at the chance to bicker with him, not necessarily inciting an argument, rather poking and prodding at Remus till he got a reaction.

But, that was Sirius. Always knew how to poke and prod. He had been quite intrusive to begin with, always insisting they accompany each other places and eat with each other. The only moments Remus ever got to himself was when he'd managed to escape to the loo here and there. To begin with, Sirius had been like an overbearing caretaker, afraid to step away in fear that something might go awry in their absence.

Little did Sirius know Remus wouldn't dare run. Especially not from him.

"I'd like a new jacket for Christmas," Peter sighed dreamily. "Mine's all ragged now; see! S'got lots of holes." True to his word, Peter was able to stick three of his chummy fingers through a hole in his pocket, wriggling them playfully like worms on a rainy day. "What about you, Lupin? What do you expect?"

To be truthful, Remus never expected much on holidays. He knew that money at home had been rather tight ever since his father's demotion. There was only so much Muggle money his mother brought in; whatever savings they had left went towards his treatment at St. Mungo's those years ago in March. There was very little to the Lupin name. A cottage, a car, and a small amount of money along with whatever possessions his parents claimed. He didn't mind this, however. If he was lucky, he'd be able to spend the holidays with his father. Hopefully.

"I'd like some books," he admitted bashfully. "I'm no good on a broom, and my Mum wouldn't like me practicing potions at home. So, I'd like books to keep me busy."

Peter twisted his face in confusion, "But aren't books boring?"

James snickered, "You're one to talk! You almost pissed yourself over a pair of trousers the other day." Peter's face turned a comical shade of pink, his mouth ajar as he tried to retort.

"I've never had pleated pants, alright," he cried defensively, crossing his arms like a child. "Can't a man get a bit frazzled over fashion?"

"Oh," James smirked evilly, "I'm sure you and Sirius both would go giddy over a shopping spree."

At this, Sirius poked his head over the magazine.

"I remind you of a ponce, eh," he spat. Remus blushed, not used to this territory of banter.

"Maybe you do, yeah," James grinned. For a moment, there was an unbroken silence as long as Peter was wide. It was thick with tension and unspoken truths that not a single one of them were quite aware of. In all honesty, it was a test of sorts. A battle between Sirius and James. What the winner received, neither was sure. Perhaps it was a lure of sorts, a bait, put out by James to see if Sirius might respond. Why he would've wanted this, he was unsure of himself. If he had any expectations, then he was sorely disappointed.

Sirius shrugged half-heartedly, "If being a fag means having a decent sense of fashion then so be it." Remus flinched at the word. Fag. He'd heard it used before, and not in such a playful way it had been just then. He pushed memories into his stomach, daring them to come out in the privacy of his own room. Still, the putrid burn of a word he hadn't even uttered on his tongue forced Remus into a silence that was not broken until they neared Kings Cross Station.

Sirius had been prepared for his arrival, not even bothering to change out of his nice dress robes. Had he appeared in shabbier attire it would've made his holiday all the worse. Walburga would be testing him the moment he stepped off the platform, reminding him every second that it could very well be the last bright day he'd see in weeks. If that was no incentive to behave, he wasn't sure what could've been.

Despite telling the boys otherwise, there would be no letters from Sirius over the holidays. There would be no exchanging of gifts or fireside chats with his family members after a long day of socializing. Time spent with Regulus would be short and sweet, if only for the younger boy to shut his trap about missing his brother. Sirius would be quite lucky if he saw the break of dawn from his bedroom his first day back, though he expected much less.

There was a storm waiting for Sirius, and there was nothing more he could do than brace for it.

Their goodbyes were curt, for none of them really thought they'd be missing the other too much with their constant letters. Even James had promised to keep in contact with Remus. The latter had asked him to send word if he received his broomstick, a chivalrous thought if you asked Sirius. But, then again, no one had. He stuck behind the others, watching each one return to their family.

Peter ran into the arms of a stout woman with wheat blonde hair and dull blue eyes. She wore tattered robes, much like Remus's he noted ironically, though Peter didn't seem to mind much as he held her close. She kissed his forehead sweetly, probably telling him just how much she'd missed him over the course of the last few months. Perhaps receiving a new jacket would be nice for Peter, perhaps that was all he could expect.

James was reunited with Mr. and Mrs. Potter not long after. Whether it was the wild black hair or the long, graceful red hair that gave them away, Sirius was unsure. James held his mother close, speaking a million miles an hour of all the trouble he'd stayed out of (Sirius was sure he was omitting the finer details) and of his impeccable grades that semester. Mr. Potter beamed smugly, ruffling the already unruly curls of James and, no doubt, expressing just how proud he'd been of his son.

Something tugged in Sirius's chest, and he looked away. It did not take him but a moment to catch sight of Remus. He stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the other students with his tall stature and tawny hair. He carefully approached a man who could've rivaled Professor Slade in height, though he was just as broad and intimidating as an Auror should've been. In all respects, he was different from Remus. His face had hardened and his eyes almost unfeeling until he'd greeted his son. His hair was cropped short against his scalp, a dark shade of brown, and his eyes were an empty shade of green. Different from Remus in the respect that, however small it had been, there was still a breath of life inside of Remus.

He watched the three of them, hidden within clouds of steam and hugging families, and smiled bitterly. He should've been happy for them, for all of them. But he wasn't. Jealousy was rearing it's ugly head all around Sirius, begging him to make a comment – even if he was the only one to hear it.

"Sirius," Walburga shouted. She'd spotted him. He'd been standing there like an idiot for God knows how long, doing nothing but miserably watching his friends live out the life of his dreams. Loving parents, warm greetings home, and the hope of a good Christmas. Despite all of this, however, he could've never regretted being sorted into Gryffindor. He wouldn't allow his fear to do such a thing to him. With a new resolve, he approached his mother, never giving a second thought to the too-tight grip around his bicep and the uncomfortable tug of his bellybutton as they apparated home.

The first thing he'd seen when he gathered his senses was Orion Black standing in front of the fire place, pipe dangling from his lips, and he didn't look too delighted upon his arrival.

Chapter Text

Dear Sirius,

I'm not sure when you'll receive this. I am not used to sending owls; my father usually does so. But I hope it gets to you before Christmas. I wanted to tell you I did what you said. I completely forgot how in love with jellybeans my mother is. I can't even describe her face when she took a handful of the Bertie Botts beans. Comedy gold, oh comrade. I'm excited for the holidays this year, but I wish I could see you and Julienne. Oh, you might not know who that is. I believe you call her a variety of things such as Jasmine, Jenny, and Jemimah. The last one is her favorite, says it reminds her of a woman on a pancake box. Whichever pen name suits you; she says she hates to admit that she misses your company. I'd be a liar to say I didn't, too. Anyways, I hope everything is well on Grimmauld Place. Write back soon, and Happy Christmas!

-R.J.L.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Dear Remus,

I wanted to write and tell you that I hope your holidays are going well, and that I hope you get the books that you wanted. I think you might have been right when telling Sirius St. Nicholas has never visited his house. He hasn't been a good friend in writing me. Git. Probably too busy cavorting with that little brother of his to pay any of us some attention. I reckon he'll get a fat sack of coal. I wonder if he's gone through with his plan to slip laxatives in his mother's tea? I suppose she deserves it. Peter wants to tell you Happy Christmas. Write soon.

-James P.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

James,

Thanks for the letter, and I'll be sending Peter one soon as well. My holidays have been loads of fun. Mum took me to the Muggle Cinemas to watch a holiday film, but my Dad couldn't come. Says he's got lots of hours at work waiting to be taken. It's alright. I know he misses us. Tonight is the decider of whether or not Sirius receives a gift from Father Christmas, though I doubt he's been as innocent as he leads everyone to think he is. I'm thinking of sending him a gift, just to cheer him up. He hasn't answered any of my letters yet. Do you think he's alright?

-R.J.L.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Rem,

I hope your stay at home is going well. I've had to prepare for all of my family, or I would've written sooner. I've missed you dearly, and, perhaps, Sirius a bit. Only because his idiocy makes for good entertainment. The holidays are always hectic in my household. I've got family coming in from all over the world. Cousins from America, some from Ireland, and I think a few aunts from Scotland as well. My parents have quite a few siblings. I think the Americans talk funny, and they open their mouths so wide when they speak. Perhaps we all just mumble. Anyways, I wanted to tell you that I've got a new harp for Christmas. Oh, I doubt you even knew I played. We'll talk about it back at school. I can't wait to play for you one day. I think you'd like the sound of it. What did you get?

With love, Julienne

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Lupin,

He hasn't answered any of my owls either. He's probably off frolicking in luxury London with Regulus. Don't worry, he'll write back soon. My mum said if any of you would like to visit during the summer holidays, she'd be delighted to have you. I know my house isn't that big, but we've got these Muggle inventions called Blow Up Mattresses. They're like beds that you enlarge, but they're full of air! Crazy, isn't it?

-Peter

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Sirius,

I hope you're doing alright. The boys are concerned about you. Even Julienne says she misses you, and that's saying something. It's odd not having you around, but I guess that's cause you've been living with me for the past few months. I hope you find comfort in the pranks Remus is pulling at home. I see you've sunk your claws into his innocent soul, you monster. What have you created!? By the time we return, he might be a carbon copy of us both. What will we do then? Write back with haste. We're worried about you.

-James P.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Julie,

I think I like this new nickname of yours. Julie. It has quite the ring to it. I hope your cousins didn't get on your nerves too badly. I have one, her name is Jessica. My mum says she thinks she takes crack with all the energy she has, whatever that is. I can only handle her for minutes at a time. I received a bookcase and SEVEN NEW BOOKS. One of them is a first edition, I can't believe my mum got ahold of it. I'll bring it to school; I think you'll like it. You play the harp? What is there that you can't do?

-R.J.L.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Rem,

Don't ever call me Julie in front of Sirius. He's only just stopped calling me Jasmine and he might get all confused again. Don't tire his braincells. Also, I cannot swim.

With love, Julienne

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Lupin,

You'll never guess what I got for Christmas! Not only did Mum buy me a jacket for Muggle wear, but she managed to get me new dress robes. I couldn't be happier. She's gotten me a new sweater as well, so you can't make anymore jokes about my stains. I'll be throwing that one out immediately. Of course, I got a few other things – but none of them are noteworthy. Tell me, did you get what you wanted? Write with haste.

-Peter

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Sirius,

I GOT THE BROOM! THE NIMBUS 1700! MY FATHER FINALLY BOUGHT IT FOR ME. I can't wait to tell Peter, he'll shit himself. I wish you'd come over and take it for a ride. Ask your parents to visit.

-James P.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Sirius,

Have I done something to upset you? You haven't responded to any of my letters. I know I'm annoying, but sheesh. You'd think you'd tell me to shut up. Hurry up and answer, git.

-James P.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Sirius,

As the great and powerful Jemimah, I'm writing to tell you that you're upsetting your friends by ignoring their letters. For some reason, they've all got an attachment to you and seek your attention. I'll never understand it seeing as though I can hardly fit in the room with you and your fat head. But that's beside the point. Stop worrying them and at least send something proving you're alive. It would be such a hassle consoling three grief stricken eleven-year-old's for the remainder of my year, and my work would never be finished. I hope you're alright.

With concern, Julienne

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Sirius,

I hope you're doing alright. I'm worried about you. You're not even responding to James. I mean, I hardly thought you'd respond to me, but him? Something is wrong. If you're in trouble, tell us.

-Peter

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Sirius,

Do I have to devise some escape plan because I will. I know how nasty your mother can be, well, my parents told me how nasty she can be. If she's hurting you, I'll give her the worst Bat-Bogey hex she's ever seen. Yeah, I'd risk getting caught by the Ministry for you, slimey git, so answer.

-James P.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Sirius,

I'm not sure if you're alright. Judging by your silence, you aren't. Tomorrow we return from school, and you'd better be on that train or else I'm shoving my foot straight up your arse until your scrotum droops from your nose.

-James P.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Rem,

Don't worry. He's a fighter.

With love, Julienne.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

To Sireiss frends,

Sireis has ben en truble fer Chrismus and has not ben owt of his rum. Mum sed he has ben bad at skool and must be punishd. Kreechr brings him food and watr, so I kno hes aliv. Don't wory. I heer him curs at him and tel mum he hates her, so he mst be ok. Ples stop riting. It onlee makes it wrs.

-regulus

Chapter Text

Hogwarts Express, January 1972 (First Year)

The soles of his feet had been burning. Every step he took a jolt of fiery, white pain ran through his calves and into the crevasses of his spine. If he stopped moving, he let the pressure ware down on the wounds, forcing the deep gashes in his skin to close on account of gravity and allowing the blood to clot. However, if he moved, he alleviated some of the incessant stinging that accompanied his newest punishment. It was an inner battle to decide. Should he stay put, both feet firmly planted to the ground in hopes that his skin would somehow magically mend, and the agony would be lifted from his shoulders or should he bounce like a circus animal from the platform into his compartment as if he were performing for all of London?

James would surely get a kick out of the latter.

With each passing moment next to his mother, as she'd forced him to walk from one end of the platform to the other with a heavy bag of belongings to weigh down each step forward, Sirius could feel his heart pump thick, black hatred into every last nerve ending in his body.

It was easy to hate her. Walburga Black was the epitome of everything Sirius could possibly hate on the earth. He could go down the list of things that made the bile rise in his throat from her unwashed hair to her disgusting morale, but he'd done that enough over the holiday break that he'd probably be able to recite each reason as if it had been Proverbs 4:23. In fact, Sirius would not be so kind as to greet his friends in his usual chipper voice considering he'd lost it quite early on the winter holidays. Screaming in your mother's face just how much you despise her wears out the vocal chords.

Approaching the train, he did not stop. He did not glance over his shoulder, not even for his brother who'd called his name in vain. He did not pause on account of the white, hot pain shooting up the back of his legs or the tenderness of his palms. He did not apologize when shouldering his peers – they needed to learn to mind him anyway. Sirius Black had no qualms in forgetting that the pathetic excuse that hardly considered herself a mother was standing in the midst of all the Muggle loving bastards she'd hated.

Anger. It had been the only thing coursing through his veins for the past two weeks. From going hungry for days on end to succumbing to dehydration, being locked in a dark room with no sense of time or daylight to soaking in a bathtub to ease an ache, Sirius had little enjoyed the 'quality time' Walburga and Orion made for him in the winter of '71.

He hated them. He hated them with everything he had. They'd ruined his Christmas, ruined his life. They always managed to rear their ugly heads in every direction, knocking over anything Sirius attempted to build on his own accord. No matter what he'd done, they'd never been happy with his accomplishments. He could kill every muggle born in London and Walburga would ask why he didn't go to the States. Orion, with his pathetic silences and perturbed glances. He had no backbone. He was nothing but a flimsy light weight. He was no father to Sirius. Never had been. Never will be.

And the boys. None of them wrote. Not a single letter did Sirius receive. While this had angered him too, there was something he denied that sat right underneath that anger. Had they forgotten about him? Too busy enjoying Remus's company? They sure seemed besotted with him on the train ride home, they did. Especially James, who could have sworn up and down Truly Lane that he'd loathed Remus John Lupin, and would have done anything to prove so. Peter, who was just as independent as he was slim, watched Remus all starry eyed as if he'd hung the moon and the stars. He wondered if they'd written each other, sharing their stories of Christmas days and pranks with each other while Sirius rotted away in his bed.

The fucking assholes. He hated them, too. Maybe not with every fiber of his being. But close to it. He hated them for not writing, for forgetting him when he needed them most. But, he especially hated Remus.

James was always so busy either looking at himself in a mirror or daydreaming about Quidditch to pay anyone any attention that Sirius could have expected something like this from him. He convinced himself that he must've gotten that broom he'd wanted and, therefore, spent the entirety of his break practicing, and had no time to write. It didn't exactly explain the absences before Christmas day, but it satisfied the black mirth in his heart.

And Peter. It wasn't as if he did anything without James's say so. And if James hadn't written, then neither would he. The follower, Peter was. Sirius couldn't mad at him. What if he hadn't known how to use the owl service? That chance was slim to none. Peter, as dense as he'd been, was more acquainted with the Wizarding world than Remus. So, Sirius just justified Peter's silence with James's ability to lead him by a string everywhere he went. Without a shepherd, the flock is lost.

He hated Remus because he'd expected… more. There had always been more from Remus. Whether it had been time or attention, patience or kindness, Remus gave Sirius more than James or Peter had ever tried to. When Sirius was being difficult, and he almost always was (he wasn't afraid to admit it), Remus understood. Empathized. Compensated. If Sirius hadn't wanted to speak to Remus, he was content in their silence. If Sirius wanted to do nothing but talk, Remus was content in their conversation. If Sirius felt like teasing Remus about the way his feet pointed inward when he walked, then Remus would gladly return the favor by pointing out that Sirius was slightly cross eyed.

When they'd parted, he'd expected words of encouragement from him. Something to reassure him that his Christmas holiday wouldn't be miserable, that he missed him, that he'd pulled the Bertie Botts Bean prank on his mother and it went swimmingly – anything. Sirius could have gotten anything from Remus, but he hadn't. Remus hadn't sent a single word in two, nearly three, weeks. And that was what had angered Sirius to the point of seeing nothing but red.

He shoved his way through the different compartments, trying to find an empty space to sit and sleep. Walburga scarcely allowed him time to rest during his final week at home; she'd been kind enough to let the house chores pile up for him and Kreacher to handle. From scrubbing floors to polishing silver, Sirius was now officially qualified as a handmaid.

Stepping forward, finally spotting an empty seat, Sirius made a reach for the compartment handle when a pair of long, pale arms threw themselves around his body. He was engulfed in a bundle of robes and sweater sleeves, the scent of chocolate and leather bindings attacking his nostrils. Attack was a strong word. It felt more like an abrupt greeting, an impromptu welcome to a place you've not been in quite a long time. He could feel the racing beat of a heart, thumping wildly beneath a chest, and the withered gasps of air leaking from parted lips. He forced a frown on his face, ignoring the cool gust of exhaled air against his scalp as Remus held him for what felt like centuries.

Pulling away, Remus looked him up and down wildly, "I thought something happened to you."

Remus, somehow, had gotten thinner and paler over the break, though the dark bruises under his eyes had lightened. His tawny hair had grown past his ears, brushing over the skin on his forehead. There were no new scars from what Sirius could see, so whatever had been ailing him previously that year seemed to have ceased. Remembering his own wounds, he smoothly turned his palms against his robes with a gentle smirk.

For someone he hated so much, the sight of Remus and his embrace had allowed his insides to unfurl, letting the great black mass of hatred and rage leak from his body. His pulse slowed to a steady thump and the warning sirens sounding in his head lowered in volume. Yes, for someone he hated so much, he really didn't mind being in his company. Not at all.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Sirius was quiet for much of the train ride, settling on taking light naps here and there instead of joining any attempt at conversation. He was unusually pensive and vague if he answered any questions about his holiday, sometimes opting to not say anything at all. If it were his choice, he would've ignored the matter completely. If they didn't care over the break, why should they now? What difference could they make at this point, and why should he allow them to try? It was obvious they didn't consider him important enough to write to, even though James was nearly a brother to him, and he did his best to convince himself that they weren't important enough either.

However, they were. He relied upon them for entertainment at the least, he told himself. Peter was idle entertainment, like watching a rat in a maze looking for cheese. James was chummy entertainment, the mischievous kind that almost always ended up in a detention slip and polishing armor on a Saturday night. Remus was intellectual entertainment, able to keep up with Sirius's quick and witty banter with equal, if not more, brute force. To Sirius, Remus was like a book of crossword puzzles – interacting with him so much to keep him on his toes.

Yes, this was all they were. Nothing more than something to pass the time. Sirius didn't need friends. It wasn't as though he had any during his childhood. The only companion he could recollect in any of his memories was his little brother, Regulus, and they hardly spent any time together thanks to his wretched mother. They devised pranks, though Sirius was the only one brave enough to go through with them, and discussed what life outside Grimmauld Place might have been like. They wondered what their lives might have been had they been Muggles or Half-bloods. But, most of all, they promised each other never to leave one another behind.

And even that little brat had abandoned him over the holidays. Rationally, Sirius knew that Walburga did her very best to keep Regulus from visiting Sirius. She must've taken him out to Wizarding London or enticed him with all sorts of presents – Regulus was easily distracted by toys of all sorts. How could it have been his fault that Walburga's schemes got the better of him; he'd only been nine.

But what excuses did his so-called friends have? A broom? Muggle activities? A sick aunt? What did any of that matter? How did they come before a friend, a brother? Sirius's uncle, his name had been Alphard, had been sick before, and he never let it come between him and Regulus. Though, he was sure this was because Orion seldom let his brother interact with his nephews. Sirius hardly knew Alphard by this point, but was thoroughly convinced he was much better than his brother. Sirius had never let any of his presents come before Regulus, though Sirius didn't get very many presents that resulted in much fun. Most Christmas's consisted of books about the Dark Arts or old artifacts that had collected dust in the attic.

He tried to shut these thoughts out, deny himself the pleasure of wallowing in his self-pity. So they didn't write. So they didn't even ask him if he was alright on the train ride back to school. So none of them even seemed concerned about his well-being. It didn't matter, and it didn't upset him. They weren't important enough to Sirius to upset him.

Remus inched closer to Sirius, leaning in close as Peter and James indulged themselves in a game of wizarding chess and a conversation about the newest Quidditch team to join the league.

"I got a letter from your brother," he whispered. Sirius stiffened, clenching his fists painfully. The little brat. What right did he have? Writing to his friends and not telling him. "I know something happened. Is that why you couldn't write to us?"

"I'm fine," Sirius hissed through clenched teeth, fingernails digging into the barely healed abrasions on his palms.

"That isn't what I asked, Sirius," Remus reminded him calmly. For an eleven-year-old, Sirius noticed bitterly, he seemed unperturbed by Sirius's coldness. He rolled his eyes to himself, ignoring the urge to cross his arms like a child.

"Don't worry about it," Sirius sighed, curling into a tight ball with his back to Remus in attempt to shut down the conversation. He no longer wanted to broach the subject. For the entirety of his holiday he'd been dreaming about this conversation, as he knew it would've happened – or he'd hoped it might have. He'd awaited the moment that his companions sparked an interest in his whereabouts or showed they'd actually been in some state of unease in his absence. So far, it had only been Remus.

"I'm going to worry about it, because I'm worried about you," Remus reasoned with him quietly. "But I won't force you to tell me. If you ever need to talk about it, I'm here." With a quiet sigh, he leaned back against his seat and opened a book. He'd always been reading, no matter the time of day. If he'd been in the library, he was reading. At the dinner table, he read. In their dorms and common room, he'd read. The amount of books Remus Lupin seemed to have obtained must've been illegal at this point; no one read as much as he did, not even the Ravenclaws. Perhaps that's where he was meant to be.

A spark of bitterness flared in Sirius's chest, causing him to sit up and look at each and every one of his friends, "If you were all so concerned about me, then why didn't you write? Why didn't you ask me if I was alright?" His voice raised harshly. "If you were my friends, you would've done something!"

Peter recoiled from Sirius's shamefully, picking his fingernails to avoid eye contact. James watched the chess board rattle as they passed through the mountains, deep in thought. Remus was the only one to look at him with neither shame nor pity, rather bewilderment. Sirius's heart slammed in his chest, anger now rearing its head left and right. His anger was able to mask what he truly felt, what was eating away at him the moment his mother had told him.

"See," she cackled. "Not a single letter in the post for you. I told you making friends with inferior would bring you nothing. They don't care about you, Sirius, they only want you for your money and glory."

He had tuned her out by then, denying every word she'd said. Not a single letter in the post? Not one? Not even a note? They weren't inferior! He could argue that all day, but it would be to no avail. Might as well let that ship sail, as there would be no deterring it. But they cared, did they not? They'd promised to write, promised to check in. They wouldn't do something like that. They were his friends. But as the days rolled by and his mother brought him proof that, indeed, not a single letter had come from his three companions, his heart withered.

They don't care about you, Sirius.

He waited for them, gave them a chance to redeem themselves in a matter of seconds. If they cared, they'd say so. If they didn't, then their silence gave Sirius an ultimatum. Remus looked at James and Peter, as if expecting them to say something, and looked quite disappointed that they remained silent. He sighed despondently, looking back into Sirius's eyes with enough sincerity to drown in.

"We all wrote to you, Sirius," he explained carefully. "When I'd pulled the prank on my mother, you were the first one I wrote to because I knew you'd been proud. But you didn't answer. James wrote to you and Peter wrote to you – we all wrote. You never responded. Then, yesterday, all of our letters were returned to us with a letter from your little brother saying you'd gotten in trouble with your Mum –"

"She's no mother of mine," Sirius interrupted harshly. Remus nodded in understanding.

"With Walburga, then, and that our letters made it all the worse for you." By this point, both James and Peter had been fishing through their carry ons, and had pulled out wads of envelopes. Each one had Sirius's name on the front, some stating urgency while others had all sorts of stickers and jokes that he'd clearly find amusing.

"We were right worried about you, mate," Peter piped up, finally. "At first, we thought you just didn't feel like talking."

James chimed in, "And we wanted to give you your space. But eventually it got fishy."

Sirius withered in shame, though suspicion had been still been slightly evident in his eyes. He reached across from him, taking one of the letters from James's heap of envelopes and read it carefully. It had been true; the date was in the corner. However, his paranoia reminded him that they could've easily written these the night before in some pathetic attempt to trick Sirius into believing they still cared.

"You got the broom," he exhaled, some of the anger alleviated. James nodded timidly. "Does it fly well."

"Yeah," was all James said, scratching the back of his head awkwardly. Peter glanced around, unsure.

So, the voice in Sirius's head chided harshly, you've made a fool of yourself. Good going. They'll never like you the same way again.

"We don't blame you for being upset," Remus, as if reading his thoughts, smoothed over casually. "I was hurt that you didn't respond to me. I thought…" He bowed his head, embarrassed at the thought.

Sirius looked up from his lap with a dark look in his eyes, "You thought I was different." Remus nodded. "I didn't write because my mother clearly intercepted your letters. If I had gotten them, I would've convinced Regulus to send a response, but even he didn't tell me that you'd tried." He turned to face the window again, a brooding stare settling in on his sharp features. He remained quiet until they arrived at Hogwarts.

The boys understood that this was the best apology they were going to receive, and were not upset at all by the attempt. Sirius was difficult and hard to read, and it was even more difficult to get him to open up. All of the boys had jumped to conclusions, Remus concluded, and owed each other more respect and more trust. If they were going to get through the next six years as friends, comrades, and companions, then they were going to have to try harder not to jump at each other's throats in the heat of the moment.

With Sirius's temper, James's brashness, Peter's anxiety, and Remus's caution, it was going to be a challenge. One hell of a challenge.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Hogwarts, April 1972

Several months had passed, and the boys were as good as new by Easter Holiday. James and Sirius had returned to their usual chumminess, opting to tease each other about the Christmas fiasco instead of actually addressing the matter. While Remus thought this wasn't the right way to handle it, and that they were prolonging an argument (he'd seen his parents do the exact same thing), he let them be. Their relationship was different from the one they shared with Remus. In the short time those two boys had become acquainted with one another, their bond was tighter than any other brotherly relationship Remus had seen.

They trusted each other, sure, but their trust ran deep. Deeper than anything. And Remus admired that. No one had trusted him with their life before, or the risk of being sent to detention for the umpteenth time in a single term. No one trusted him with secrets never told or confessions late at night when everyone was supposed to be asleep. Remus had the decency to, of course, tune them out. James's secrets were not Remus's, and it would be rude to listen in on something not meant for him. Remus wasn't the "go to" for support. He had plenty of advice to give his companions, specifically for staying out of trouble long enough to get some schoolwork done, but that was never taken seriously.

Remus convinced himself that this was because he'd only just been admitted to their trio – which had become a quartet (sometimes a quintet if you included Julienne, though she preferred her Hufflepuff friends) – and it would take time to build trust. Especially when one of them had loathed the very sight of you until recently. For quite a while, he'd felt as though James only spoke to Remus for Sirius's sake, to make him happy. Of course, Peter only spoke to Remus in the beginning because his other two friends did. None of them, excluding Sirius, had overextended themselves to begin with.

But Remus was okay with this. The most important thing, he realized, was that they'd tried. Whether it was only for Sirius or not, they'd made some attempt to be kind and consider Remus in the things they did. Such as their first prank of the second term. Charming Valentine's Hearts to indefinitely stick to the belongings of both teachers and students seemed like the brightest ideas Peter had come up with. Thankfully, Remus knew the incantation despite it being a third-year spell.

"Looks like all that reading does come in handy," James snickered, watching as several students and faculty took their seats in the Great Hall. The boys did their best to remain unmoved by the idea of hearts plastered to the rumps of several people, but when they watched as McGonagall made her way to class with Cupid singing on her behind, they couldn't manage any longer.

Several minutes of a lecture and subdued laughter passed before they managed to scrape by with only three nights of detention with Filch, which was much better than the alternative. Slughorn had been trying to get in good with Sirius since the beginning of the year, and the boy would rather stuff Blast Ended Skrewts into his ears than hear another round of flattery from his Professor.

April had been a harsh month. Not on the boys, but the entire school. Storms raged on around Hogwarts, making nearly every outdoor activity impossible to get to. Herbology club, Quidditch, Dueling club, and Care of Magical Creatures had all been put on hold indefinitely, as it was a mystery as to how long these storms would last. Winds howled angrily, spitting severe rain pellets against the glass windows.

Remus and Sirius had been waiting for James and Peter in the library. Professor Binns had assigned an essay over the Werewolf Code of Conduct, which, Remus noted, had been a complete and utter failure seeing as not a single werewolf presented themselves on the day of signage. Each of the lessons surrounding this essay had been an utter bore to every other first year; who could blame them? It wasn't the same as it was in Defense Against the Dark Arts. There, they'd learned the nitty gritty about lycanthropy from the initial bite to how to kill a werewolf on sight, according to a third year. Remus doubted this, yet a tight knot developed in the pit of his stomach.

Sirius groaned theatrically, throwing his book down with a resounding crack that earned a glare from Madame Pince. Upon seeing Remus's apologetic stare, she returned to her inventory clipboard.

"I say we start without them," Sirius decided, pulling out his parchment and preparing his quill. The idea sounded appealing; the other two boys had been nearly an hour late, and this essay had to be finished in two days' time. Remus knew that he'd be unable to do it the following day; it was time for his transformation, meaning he'd have to turn his finished product in the next morning or have it dreadfully late. And the latter would simply not do. He didn't want to give any of his teachers a reason to dislike him any more than they might have already.

"Alright," Remus breathed, beginning his essay with precision and focus. Sirius had begun writing as well, and, for a while, it might have been that they were both utilizing the time they had wisely. Two rolls of parchment were due on Friday, and Remus wanted to be sure they were filled to the brim. Sirius doubted there was enough to write about to fill two pieces of parchment, but would turn to Remus should the need arise.

An hour into their writing and Remus was nearly finished. One scroll had been written on from top to bottom in handwriting so small Sirius had to squint in order to read it. He was on his fifth paragraph on the second roll of parchment when Sirius spoke next.

"It still hurts to walk," he murmured. Remus stilled his quill, staring at the unfinished sentence. "I'd expected them to heal like my hands did, but… they didn't." Sirius stared down at the palms of his hands distractedly, tracing over the slight scars with his eyes.

By now, the abrasions had turned a shade of silver, metallic and sparkling in the light if he angled them just right. It had been much worse before Madame Pomphrey took a look at them, but there was only so much her salves could do. Walburga had done the job, and she'd made sure she'd done it properly. It was her intent to ensure that Sirius learned a lesson that would stick with him, and, he sadly admitted, it had.

"Is there anything I can do," Remus asked timidly. He peeked through the curtain of tawny hair which had now grown past his shoulders. Sirius, from what he'd gathered, knew Mrs. Lupin would pitch a fit when her son returned home, telling him that it was absolutely necessary for him to cut his hair all in spite of Remus's attempts to convince her it was the trend. His eyes were clouded by caution and confusion, two emotions that didn't blend well in pools of amber. Remus had always been cautious, but seldom did Sirius ever see him confused.

"Not really," he conceded darkly. He placed his palms flat on the table, deciding that he'd just have to finish his essay later. "It's not like you have anything stronger than Pomphrey."

"I might," Remus pointed out eagerly. Too eagerly. He settled back in his seat as casually as he could, trying to appear much calmer and more poised as Sirius had always been. Even in this mood, he'd been dignified and proper. Controlled and dignified. The Blacks must have drilled it into his brain; Remus could almost hear them telling Sirius just how important his image was, especially to his peers. He cringed. "Why do they do it?"

Sirius was quite for a moment before asking, "Why do they do it?" For a moment, Remus was baffled. He'd thought that Sirius, brooding as he always had been when it rained, was repeating his question for himself rather than for Remus. That he was pondering what to say next, gathering some semblance of an explanation that satisfied his concern. However, it was when Sirius nodded his head towards the silver scar poking out of Remus's jumper that he flinched.

Being around the boys after Christmas holiday had felt natural. It had felt as though they'd known each other a lifetime and then some. Remus still didn't like showering with them or changing in the same room. He continued to where jumpers and jackets, even when the temperature called for billowy button ups. He still combed his hair to hide his neck, and it had taken everything in James and Sirius to ignore such behavior. But their curiosity had gotten the best of them. They knew if James had asked, Remus would shut down. However, perhaps with Sirius, it would be easier.

Remus awkwardly rubbed his knuckles, "No one does this to me."

"Oh, so, the air attacks you, then," Sirius scoffed, attempting to ease the ever-growing tension in Remus's shoulder. But it had done the exact opposite, leading Remus to withdraw even more. Sirius, inwardly panicking, racked his brain for an escape, a solution. He no longer cared if he got the information, he only wanted Remus to feel comfortable again. "I didn't mean it like that. I just worry about you."

"I'm fine," Remus snapped, more harshly than he intended. Sirius smiled wryly.

"That sounds familiar," he commented absently, more to himself than anyone else. "If you're allowed to be concerned for me, I should be allowed to do the same. I mean, we're friends, aren't we?"

"Of course we're friends," Remus responded defensively. But we're not brothers. We aren't close like family. You don't tell me your secrets. You don't trust me.

"Then you should trust me," Sirius finished. "Friends are supposed to trust each other."

Remus forced his shoulders to relax when he said, "My Mum tells me trust is a two-way street."

Sirius stilled, leaning his chair forward so that all four legs were firmly planted against the floor. A dark expression had settled on his aristocratic features, gray eyes muddied with bemusement. What Remus had said struck a chord within Sirius, a chord that had only been struck once. It had been earlier that year, in the confines of his room with only a glass of water and a few stale biscuits from Christmas morning. It was when he questioned his friendship, not because of the others but because of himself. He seldom traveled this road, and was unsure if he wanted to once more.

"You think I don't trust you," Sirius muttered dryly, denying himself an unamused chuckle. He watched as Remus bowed his head in shame, curling his arms around himself in an attempt to swallow himself whole. He'd known the feeling, known it all too well. Wishing that a gaping hole in the earth would crack open, allowing you to fall miles and miles to no end because you're so embarrassed of a thought that had escaped. He leaned against the table. "It isn't that I don't trust you."

"And it isn't that I don't trust you," Remus admitted frustratedly. But that was a lie. In some ways. How could he trust that Sirius wouldn't despise him for who he was? Who's to say that he wouldn't be disgusted with his condition and turn him away the same way James had in their first term? What if this friendship, this bond that had come to be in a matter of months, would be enough to hold them together? Even his own parents had grown distant with him, the two people who'd been there since day one, the two people who were supposed to care about him regardless of the stakes. How was Sirius any better?

He grew up in blood purity and prejudice, according to some. Julienne said that the Black family had to be one of the most narrow-minded families in the Wizarding world. They valued ancestry and purity over all else, and practiced the Dark Arts firmly. Which meant that Sirius had likely read all about Remus's kind and had been taught to loath them.

Yet, so far, Sirius had been nothing like the Black family or even the Malfoys. He'd not cared that Remus had a muggle mother or that James came from 'bastard parents.' He was ecstatic to be placed in Gryffindor, the House that his family had most affronted with. He seemed indifferent to most discrimination, caring more about loyalty and fun than most anything else the Blacks could shove down his throat. In more ways than one, Sirius had been the poster child for everything the Blacks stood against. But would Remus's lycanthropy push that boundary?

He didn't want to test that, not this early in their friendship. The Christmas dilemma proved just how fragile Sirius was when it came to their friendship, with all of them. Even James. Remus couldn't compare to James, he never would. His friendship with Sirius was all the weaker. No, it wasn't time to reveal his condition, and it might never be.

"My family believes that negative reinforcement is the only way to teach their children," Sirius drawled, clearly trying to go for the impassive 'this doesn't affect me' look. He raked his hair out of his face, pulling out some of the dead ends lazily. Remus bit back a chuckle; for someone who spent so much money on high end shampoos, it was hard to believe that he'd even be in the running for dead ends. "I knew it was coming the moment I was sorted into Gryffindor. They detest that house the most."

"Why," Remus allowed his perplexed tone to come through. Sirius laughed.

"They're full of Muggle Loving Bastards like James," he explained. "Half-bloods. Fool hardy showoffs that nearly kill themselves for glory. We're all brash and cocky, settling for fame rather than power. We're less tolerant of weird people, which might be a pro to my mother, but that means we are less tolerant of those with differing principles. My mother once said, and I quote, that Gryffindor students are merely worthless carbon copies of Slytherin, lacking the necessary intelligence and grace of their rivals, end quote."

"That sounds a bit harsh," Remus commented nervously. Walburga Black was a woman, judging by this description, Remus had never wanted to cross. If she hated Remus for his blood purity, he surely wouldn't want her knowing –

"You think this is bad," Sirius chortled, "you should hear her opinions on Giants and Werewolves."

Remus paled, though he was sure this went unnoticed as he was generally pale and most everyone was used to it by this point.

"What does she say about them," Remus asked, but he was unsure he wanted to hear the answer. Actually, he was quite sure he didn't want to hear the answer because, no doubt, Sirius might agree with his mother that Werewolves are disgusting, vile creatures in dire need of extinguishing. And Remus couldn't bear the thought of Sirius thinking so low of him.

Sirius merely shrugged with a dry smirk, the curve in his lips not reaching his eyes or his tone, "I don't think school is an appropriate setting to discuss my family's view on dark creatures."

Thankful, Remus untensed.

"That still doesn't give her the right to hurt you," he said in concern, turning back to their conversation at hand. "So what? You're in Gryffindor. I'm sure you could be much worse off, like dead or gravely injured."

Once again, a dark look covered Sirius's face that was cleverly masked by poise and indifference, "I think she'd much rather that."

Chapter Text

London, July 1972

For the first time in years, Sirius Orion Black hadn't done it. In the 12 years he'd walked the earth, it wasn't him who had roused the house at three in the morning, nor had it been him who'd pulled another Doxy prank on Kreacher. Again. It hadn't been him to insert ink into Walburga's black licorice jellybeans, but it had been his idea, and it wasn't him who'd mixed in paint thinner with their cream. It was a miracle in the House of Black. For the first time in twelve years, Walburga had something to do other than scold her eldest son. She found herself bored within days of this extraordinary occurrence.

Orion had taken this as a sign of Sirius's maturity coming into play. He'd spent nearly a year cavorting with the Potter boy and two other impudent brats, and that must've been long enough for him to realize that he needed to shape up. No infamous wizard, or any wizard with a high reputation, would be seen in the likes of those Gryffindor bastards. It was shameful enough that's where his son had been sorted, the least he could do was associate with his cousins from Slytherin.

It was because of his parent's new resolve that he'd been forced to accompany his cousins Narcissa, Bellatrix, and Andromeda to a small gathering of young men and women cheering on Lucius Malfoy's attempts at courtship, Andromeda being the only one who looked just as miserable as Sirius. If that were even possible.

Cissy had been going on and on about her possible engagement to Lucius Malfoy, a Slytherin bloke in his sixth year with her. According to many of her guests, they were a match made in heaven. Both pure-blooded aristocrats with many perks of an advantageous marriage such as large inheritances and an even larger domain to call their own. Malfoy Manor. They'd be the talk of high society for months on end, and no doubt Sirius would be hearing about it from his mother to no end. He doubted it be as simple as that. Lucius hardly looked accommodating, let alone affectionate, even towards the woman people thought he loved. Key word: thought.

To the common eye, Lucius was attentive enough. He waited on Narcissa's beck and call, bringing her a new glass of port whenever her glass was nearing the cusp of emptiness, filling her plate with jaffa cakes and biscuits she loved (she made it no secret which ones she loved judging by the way she shoveled them down her throat), and he'd managed to jump around the gathering like a baboon in the circus. Yet another puppet for the Black family, Sirius thought. And to think he might have been spared had it not been for Bellatrix playing match maker.

But there was a vacancy in his eyes that lacked the warmth and tenderness any fool in love would harbor. He did not steal starry eyed glances at her when she wasn't looking, nor did he smile despite himself when that cackle she passed as laughter filled the room. There was no blush that crept up his neck when she kissed his cheek for photographs, in fact, he looked a bit pained. If this was what Sirius was heading for, he thought he might throw himself off a bridge. Had it always been like this for them? Was this what marriage was? Was it not for love or affection?

Everyone had been very well convinced that, as soon as they graduated their final year, Narcissa and Lucius would be married and riding off into the pure-blooded sunset with some whoreson in the making – Sirius was the only one to give their unborn child this nickname. He had the inclination that their child would be some sneery, hook nosed prat who looked too much like his father for his own good. No doubt he'd mooch off the Malfoy name and boast about the money he stood upon, as most wealthy families seemed to be doing, and he'd utilize his blood status wherever he went. He'd be just like his pathetic father and probably the same simpleton as his mother, who could hardly count to thirteen without using her fingers.

With a depressed sigh, Sirius snatched a glass of champagne from an idle tray and knocked it back. Gatherings like this were tiresome. Most of it consisted of women chattering away like animals about tapestry or dining cloths, sometimes a new dress that had come in from the tailors. They'd ask, do I look fat? And the answer for some of them was almost always no; Sirius wanted to scream at them, shout that they only fished for compliments to compensate for whatever it was they lacked in life. Surely it hadn't been money. Almost every single one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight possessed enough gold to last them six lifetimes. Perhaps it was company? Love? Friendship? Connection?

He watched as Orion and Walburga surveyed the room, whispering to one another carefully. He could hear his mother now, gossiping about her niece, Andromeda, and the possible relation she had with some Muggle-born man, Tonks. It'd been the latest juicy news of the summer, and it was what took up most of the dinner time conversation. Of course, none of it was about whether or not Andromeda had been happy or how the relationship had actually been going. No, most of it was about how much of a traitor she'd been and how Salazar Slytherin would be rolling over in his grave at the very thought of someone as superior as her marrying beneath her station.

Orion, as per usual, merely nodded in agreement as Walburga spoke. She'd managed to look half decent for this specific occasion, most likely to impress the Malfoy family. A joining such as this only happened so often. It was hard to find pure-blooded families which weren't already related. Hell, Sirius doubted if, somewhere up the line, the Malfoy's and the Black's hadn't already intermingled.

For the most part, the Black family married for blood purity, which meant there was a revolting amount of inbreeding that made Sirius queasy. For example, his very own parents had been cousins – they were both quick to point out they were second cousins, but it was all the same to Sirius. Orion, to Sirius's disgust, had also been twenty-one years older than his wretched mother, marrying her at the ripe age of sixteen when he had been thirty-seven. According to Walburga, this had been normal. Quite normal. He was sickened by the idea that he'd been the child of some repulsive, perverse incestual relationship to the point he sometimes was appalled by the very image of himself.

But who's to say marrying for love was any better? He'd never seen many people do so. His parents, and most of his family, were so crack-brained about blood purity that it might not have ever occurred to them that love and fondness were legitimate emotions and there was nothing wrong with feeling them. It wouldn't kill them to treat there son with a bit of decency every now and then. However, Sirius was now a Muggle Lover, according to Bella, and should've been put down immediately.

Suddenly, Orion stepped beside his son with his arms crossed over his chest defiantly. Sirius relished in the fact he looked nothing like his father. Unlike his father, Sirius was quite charming and had a lovely smile on his face given the opportunity. Orion, on the other hand, had steely features that were almost always frozen in a withering state of anger and disgust. His mustache covered his top lip, but that did not stop him from curling it in distaste every now and then to the inferior, and he'd managed to grow enough hair to sweep across the top of his head. Sirius favored his mother, which wasn't any better. If he had it his way, he'd look like none of them. Not his mother nor his father, not his lunatic cousin, Bellatrix, or insolent Cissy. Sirius Black would be autonomous.

Orion plucked the glass out of Sirius's hand, setting it down on the table beside him with a dull thud, and looked down his nose at him.

"You should be socializing," he pointed out coldly, returning his gaze to the throng of family members. Sirius could hear bits and pieces of conversation, and he had no intentions of joining in any time soon. Narcissa's honeymoon, O.W.L.'s, and how much of a disappointment Andromeda had been were things of little interest to Sirius, and he'd much rather spend his time daydreaming of returning to Hogwarts or polishing his mother's china for the millionth time so far into the summer.

"Heirs don't socialize," Sirius sighed apathetically, "we remind everyone we're above their idle conversations. If someone wants to speak to me, they will come to me."

Sirius had been trained in the art of becoming an heir at an early age, and he knew that Orion's comment had been a test. From his earliest memory, the only lesson they'd managed to drill into his head had been that he was better. It didn't matter if it had been the Queen of England herself. Sirius was the heir to the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black – an heir to the wealthiest and most powerful family within the Sacred Twenty-Eight. His fortune was beyond comprehension and the influence he had in the Wizarding Community alone was enough to put any Muggle-Lover to shame, according to his mother.

No pressure.

Orion, pleased with this response, merely hummed in satisfaction.

"I would like to discuss something with you, Father," Sirius admitted, a hint of apprehension in his voice.

Though he had no qualms detesting his father to the general public, Sirius was no idiot. Orion Black was a cruel man, and made that much clear to his son not even seven months prior. He would go to great lengths to prove a point, bringing you to the cusp of breaking, before he ever let you walk away with the inclination that disrespect was tolerated. Even with his own flesh and blood, he did not mind beating his point in. The scars on the soles of his feet and heels of his palms were enough of a reminder, and were thorough proof that, whoever you are to Orion Black, he was your superior. There was no hesitation to squash you beneath his heel had you gotten in his way.

"What is it," he snapped, but not in a harsh way. This had been his strange way of showing an interest in Sirius's life every now and then. He'd bark orders and demand answers, grunting in response and returning to life as he knew it without another look back.

Sirius took a deep breath, "I'd like to join the Quidditch team."

There. He'd said it, gotten it out of the way. James had been the one to devise the scheme, though it hadn't really been a scheme at all. Both of the boys were major fans of the sport, James more than Sirius of course. The former had practically soaked in broom polish for half of his life and could fly the field with his eyes closed. This latest venture had been a way to bond together. Remus had all of his clubs to attend and Peter found solace in watching James do whatever it was he wanted, so that left James and Sirius to entertain themselves, and what a better way to do that than to play Quidditch.

It was a rough sport, and neither boy minded getting rough with other people. They were especially quick to torment their rivals – any player wearing green on the field. It was James's lifelong dream to watch Jackson Jerome eat turf. He absolutely loathed the sight of Julienne's brother, who'd taken to making any Gryffindor player awfully miserable during the game. No one could deny, Jackson was an excellent seeker. He played his cards well and was strategic in his moves. Despite his hatred for him, James admired Jackson to an extent.

Orion pondered Sirius's request for a moment, absently scanning the crowd for something unknown. Sirius hadn't gotten his hopes up. For starters, neither one of his parents were keen on letting him do anything that might deter his attention from his grades. He slacked enough as it was, though he claimed the schoolwork was easy and unchallenging. The next was that anything that supported the Gryffindor team was prohibited. These were Walburga's words. If he so much as brought an object colored red into the room, she'd lecture him on his impudence and inability to bring good fortune to their family. By the time he'd returned to school, he'd practically recited to himself how ungrateful he'd been for the entirety of his life.

With that in mind, he'd expected a solid no. Even with the vast silence that stretched between him and his father, distancing them from each other as they'd always been distant, he'd prepared himself for the blow. He'd have to watch James from the stands with Peter and Remus, which wasn't an awful alternative. However, he loved flying. He loved soaring through the air, no limitations or restraints, and screaming with the wind. During their first year, their flight lessons had been the only time he'd truly felt free, unshackled from his family name. The air didn't care who he was and the sky was uncaring for the fortune behind his name. His broomstick was his only means for survival, and, for what felt like the only time in his life, he'd felt alive.

"I think it might be good for you," Orion stated dimly. "Your mother will be disappointed."

They both watched as his mother spoke with her sister fervently, whispering about God knows what with a sneer plastered on her features. Dear God, did Sirius hate looking like her. He had a shade of her eyes, which were a faded hue of blue that narrowly escaped gray. They had the same Roman nose, angular and long, with plump lips and an attractive cupid's bow. Both had midnight black hair, long and luxurious, though Walburga's was pin straight while Sirius had volume and waves.

"She's always disappointed in me," Sirius murmured in an attempt to dismiss this. "What will this change?" While he'd wanted so badly to remain apathetic to his mother's disdain, the tremble in his voice betrayed his intentions.

Living without the love of a mother had begun to wear down on the twelve-year-old. His life was merely beginning, and he'd had no guidance from either one of his parents that seemed healthy. All he'd gotten so far were screaming matches and horsewhipping sessions until early in the morning. The difference between him and a horse was that the latter had resilient skin while Sirius was, as he hated to admit it, delicate. It took scarcely four lashes before his skin split open in agony, and this did not stop his mother from continuing. She had no remorse, not a single bit of guilt when pouring the salt on the floor for Sirius to mount.

Was this motherly love? Was this tough love? Was this any type of love at all? Sirius knew for a fact Euphemia Potter treated James as if he were a prince, treating him with kindness and gentility Sirius could have only dreamed of. Walburga never stroked his hair or kissed his forehead, nor did she ever reassure him when he doubted himself. There were no late-night conversations about the most complex of concepts, nor were there words of wisdom exchanged. Perhaps Sirius had been dealt a bad deck of cards, or maybe he did something in a past life to deserve such a love as this.

He became aware of the tenderness in his feet and shifted his weight.

"Do you blame her," Orion asked, genuinely curious to know his son's opinion. This was not an event that occurred often, and Sirius took his time when devising an answer.

If he were being plain, he would have told him: yes, I do blame her. I blame her for each and every grievance I've endured in my lifetime. The trauma, the scars, the unhealthy coping mechanisms. All of it. And he did. He despised her for it. She'd trained him to flinch at raised hands and ignore the feelings blossoming in his chest. She taught him to shut down at the slightest threat and prepare for a fight – because any time someone disagreed with you, you were supposed to fight back. Blacks knew better than anyone, and would prove so on any given chance. It had become an instinct to expect a punishment at the slightest of faults, from dropping a spoon to not making up your bed the right way. Salt frightened him, and the sound of cracking whips made his skin crawl. Yes. He blamed her.

"I would if I was a disgrace to the family name," he growled, angry at his own words. Angry at himself for backing down. Angry at the world for dealing him these cards. Angry at his father for asking such questions. Angry at his mother for treating him so cruelly. Angry at Regulus for being the perfect son. Angry at Kreacher for nearly worshipping Walburga. Sirius Orion Black was filled to the brim with betrayal and anger that he felt it spilling over the edge.

"What makes you a disgrace, Sirius," Orion asked, amusement evident in his tone. Sirius's jaw clenched, a slight tick making itself known. This road had been traveled far too often, and Sirius was tempted to turn around and walk away. But he wasn't stupid; walking away now meant a punishment so harsh he wouldn't be able to walk for weeks. He took a deep breath, cooling the scorching heat in his lungs and forcing the lump out of his throat.

"My very existence," he confessed to his chagrin. "My personality, my inability to comprehend simple concepts and ideas, and my lack of acknowledgment to the way the world works. My unruly behavior and my brashness. My temper and my venom laced words. My pathetic attempts to be courageous and bold without using my head. Being sorted into Gryffindor. Associating with inferior half-breeds –" he choked on his words, tasting nothing but poison on his tongue "—and my dire need for human connection. I am a disgrace, and all Mother is doing is reminding me so I can better myself."

His father considered him for a moment, observing the way he held his head high and proudly, as if these words were embraced as a brother with open arms. The tick in his jaw loosened, and his eyes were empty.

He leaned down to his son's level.

"You're spineless," he hissed with contempt, stalking away from him without another word.

Sirius had never been one for crying. The last time he could see himself crying was when he'd fallen down the stairs at the age of six. He had been playing hide-and-go-seek with Regulus, and had heard a ruckus coming from the cellar. Of course, with his foolhardy ways, he made an attempt to bound down the stairwell and catch his brother in the act, missing an entire step and tumbling down the rest gracelessly. He'd never cried harder. His head had a nasty gash and a bone in his arm had been protruding from the skin painfully. Blood trickled from his nose like water and there was nothing but darkness engulfing him. It took hours before Kreacher found him, alerting Walburga who merely gave him Skele-Gro and sent him to his room. He cried more, then. But for different reasons.

Six years later and Sirius had never found another reason to cry. Not until that day. Spineless. He was spineless to his own father. Watching his mother and withering at every disgusted glance she sent his way, Sirius came to the realization that he was not loved. Not by his family, not by anyone.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Lupin Cottage, August 1972

Lupin Cottage was situated deep in the valley of Walter's Ash, a borough just to the north of London with nothing but rolling hills of green and deep meadows with blooming flowers. It was a quiet alcove deep within the valley, the only disturbances being the birds chirping madly at dawn and the echoing chaos from Lupin Cottage. Lyall Lupin thought this had been the perfect place for his family, specifically for Remus whose transformations needed the most privacy. The shed wasn't enough to keep his secret under wraps; they'd needed a remote location. The expanse of Walter's Ash had been ideal.

During the summers, the meadow grass would grow to reach Remus's armpits, swaying gently in the English breeze. The weeping willow, not far from his home, had switches that danced among each other gracefully, blossoms of tulips and petunias surrounding its trunk.

Julienne had taken quite the liking to his home, however small it was. The children spent most of their mornings in the meadow, picking flowers and playing games with each other without a single care in the world. Rain had not dampened their spirits, and a shade of cobalt blue stretched across the sky, dusted only by fluffy clouds and dotted with flocks of birds. Lupin Cottage awaited them, not too far from their usual spot, with ivy vines creeping up the stone walls, blooms of white blossoming in the heat. It was beautiful. One of the most beautiful things she'd ever seen.

Remus had convinced his parents – it was more like convincing Hope to convince Lyall – to allow Julienne a single week's stay at Lupin Cottage, as he'd missed her gravely in their time apart and had wanted the both of them to meet the person who'd lifted his spirits most of the year at Hogwarts. Lyall, as expected, initially gave her the cold shoulder. He was still apprehensive of allowing people so close to Remus, so close to his secrets and demons, but upon hearing the laughter and the joy in his voice after a single year at school, he could not deny his son this simple pleasure.

Hope, on the other hand, adored her. From baking cakes with her to discussing their soap operas, Hope and Julienne had managed to grow much closer in a week than Remus could have ever hoped for. It must've been nice for his mother to have another girl in the house; he'd heard once that she'd wanted another child, specifically a daughter, but after the accident, his father just couldn't endure another child. He'd been too afraid to take that risk, and his mother suffered.

Not that she didn't adore Remus. But it was different having a daughter, having someone whom she could relate to on a much more personal level than Remus, who'd been closed off for the majority of his childhood. Julienne was as open as any one of Remus's books, and paid no attention to Lyall's initial gruffness. By the time her stay had ended, it might as well have been as if she'd been adopted into the family.

On her final day, they spent their time under the weeping willow, Remus absently pushing her in the swing as she read to him.

"It is a miserable thing how I cannot seem to fall in love with myself," she read softly, wind whispering gently. "Selfish as it may sound coming from my own clumsy tongue, but that is where romance starts, isn't it? Inside one's own soul? Rippling out from bones to every piece of skin one has had trouble falling in love with?"

Remus recoiled at these words, folding in on himself as he tried not to heed what she was saying. Remus loved himself, did he not? He was happy, was he not? Happy with his life, his family, his friends, and himself? What exactly was happiness? Could he ask Julienne questions such as this, would she even understand?

"We have blemishes and we carry scars," she continued, not able to see Remus glancing at the metallic grazes peeking out from the cuff of his jumper. They'd healed well over the course of his summer, as the wolf had not been so enraged of late. "We are tarnished, tainted, and decorated with filth; but beneath the dust, the dirt, their lives always diamonds, and behind the cloudy night, lives always, a sea of endless stars."

She closed the book gently, staring out at the ever expanding terrain with a brooding gaze. Her eyes held something familiar yet so foreign to Remus that an unknown chord struck within him. Something told him that she would understand where exactly he was coming from, but he was afraid.

Why had he always been so afraid? What was there to be afraid of? There was nothing holding him back from speaking, nothing to stop him from spilling every last thought and tragedy from his mind. It would've relieved the burden on his shoulders, lightening his load ever so slightly. He'd walk around with much less of a weight, and Julienne would understand because she was simply Julienne.

She was wise and kind, understanding and patient to an extent Remus had never encountered. She listened intently to every worry that poured from your lips, not caring if she might have struggled to keep her head above water. She wouldn't judge him, wouldn't shun him. She never did. He'd told her things before. His insecurities and his worst nightmares. He'd told her of the pain he'd endured his first term at school and the isolation he'd been forced into. There were even times she consoled him in his grief. Though he never told her, she comforted him when he grieved over his loss. Loss of light and his loss of hope.

There was nothing to hope for, it seemed, after being infected with Lycanthropy. There would never be a job in the Ministry, or teaching at Hogwarts. There would never be marrying a witch or a wizard for love or for any type of tender affection, because he did not earn such affections so easily. There would be no hope for a normal life, months going on without interruption. Suburban life was not an option, and while he'd detested it as a child, it was a seemly alternative to what he'd been subjected to.

Remus would've much rather spent his time trapped within a white picket fence than a shed once a month, tearing his flesh apart in hopes that he'd reach into his chest a rip his heart from his body.

What a melancholy thing to think.

There were times when he felt selfish for thinking this way, scolding himself for allowing such intrusive thoughts to cloud his better judgement. The truth was that he was much better off than he could have been. Of course, this was because his condition was a well-kept secret and each of his friends assumed he'd been as normal as any one of them. They'd never guess what he went through each month, and he'd no intention to clue them in. Sometimes, he reasoned, ignorance is bliss, and, in his case, this was especially true.

But he cursed himself for being so harsh. Life truly could have been worse. It could have been unbearable. Yet it wasn't. He had his friends and his parents, even his tiresome cousin, Jessica. There was hope for an education that many of his kind would never receive, and he could always get a Muggle job. Of course, he'd be rejected in the wizarding community, but he'd never lived life as a wizard until he went to school. How hard could it be? There were teaching jobs at Muggle institutions – he could be a professor at university – and there were a plethora of excuses he could make up for his monthly absences.

Perhaps there was a bit of hope.

As for the scars and the blemishes, there was only secrecy to get rid of those. Long sleeved shirts and jackets. The school robes did a well enough job to keep his legs hidden, and the boys always respected his privacy. Every now and then, Sirius would ask a question. Who did that to you was a reoccurring conversation that never ended up in a clear question. Nearly every time, Sirius left with more questions than he came with, but it threw him off his trail and lead him astray long enough for Remus to collect himself.

"What is happiness," Remus pondered. It was meant as a rhetorical question, but Julienne seemed keen on answering.

"I think it's being content with yourself and the things in your life," she sighed, closing her eyes and relishing in the sun peaking through the branches. Summer had been kind to Walter's Ash. It was never unbearably hot, and the sun was almost always shining. "I think it's hard to be completely happy, but not impossible."

"Why do you say that," he asked in a bemused tone. It was simple enough, so it seemed. Peter was happy with friendship, James was happy with attention, Sirius was happy with… well, Remus wasn't exactly sure what made Sirius happy, but he could guess it had something to do with his three, sometimes four, friends, and Remus was happy with his life. All the pieces were present.

"You have to be content with yourself first," she explained. "And that means you've got to accept who you are and all the baggage that comes with you. A lot of people have a hard time with that part."

Remus furrowed his eyebrows, "Do you have a hard time with that? I mean, you seem happy with yourself."

Julienne was quiet for a moment, so quiet that Remus could've sworn she'd disappeared. It was true. Julienne seemed to be one of the happiest people in all of Hogwarts. Hardly ever was there a smile not on her face, and she greeted people with not just politeness but a genuine sense of kindness that was found seldom in this world. There were all sorts of things about her that implied she was content with who she was from the way she defended herself to the way she accepted each of her flaws.

She eventually replied, "I have a hard time coming to grips with the fact not everyone will like me. My personality isn't for everyone, I get that, but sometimes I wonder, what's wrong with me? What is it about me that makes people turn away? Then I start to doubt myself and my accomplishments and come up with a list of everything I wish I could change about myself." That sounded awfully familiar. "So, I'm not happy with myself. 'Cause if I was, then I wouldn't give a jot about what people thought of me. I'd be content with all my friends. But I'm not."

Remus could've taken offense to this, asking why he hadn't been enough. But he knew this ran deeper, much deeper, than only him. Julienne was lonely. Perhaps her other friends didn't try to reach past a surface level, content with her good nature and polite greetings and nothing more. Maybe it was a sense of failure she felt in not gaining the acceptance from everyone in school.

"I guess I'm not happy either," Remus conceded despondently, laying his head on her shoulder. She pressed her cheek against his fondly.

"Yeah, but you will be," she admitted with a smile. "Sirius will make sure of it."

Remus frowned, but the thought threatened to make him smile. Sirius was a good friend. His letters never failed to bring a smile to Remus's face, especially think ink filled jellybean fiasco. He managed to be a support beam when even his life was crumbling, and Remus tried his very hardest to do the same. It was a difficult task getting his friend to open up to him, but slowly it was happening.

Remus would make sure he returned the favor to Sirius, because Merlin knew he deserved it, no matter how big of a prat he might have been. Because, despite all the pranks and mischievous schemes he pulled on Remus, he was his prat, and he'd be stuck with him until their final year at Hogwarts.

With James, Peter, and Julienne, that didn't seem quite so bad. Now, if only he could make Sirius forget the sticking charm. If one more pair of Peter's underwear had been charmed to his robes, he might just scream.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, September 1972 (Second Year)

Remus watched Sirius quietly from his seat at the dining table for several nights upon returning to school. He'd been different. Different in a way Remus couldn't explain. From his lingering stares to his unprovoked silences, there was an air surrounding Sirius that made Remus's skin crawl. Not from disgust, of course. There were very few things in this world that disgusted Remus because who was he to judge. Once a month he transformed into a foul beast with bloodthirst and mania. He'd seen blood-stained walls and inhaled the scent of urine, marked territory, for eight years. Who, exactly, was he to judge?

And who was he to be upset with Sirius's silence? Could a boy not take a moment to himself, collect his thoughts and gather himself? Was it so strange that Sirius might need to take a break from his own personality? The thought, as tempting as it was to believe, was folly. Sirius loved himself too much to disregard who he was, and it would've been fine if the moment lasted only a moment. But hours turned into days which, in turn, became weeks, and Remus found that this profound change in character was spilling into October, Sirius's favorite time of year.

It hadn't been his silence that bothered him the most; Remus could be content in a world of silence as long as his friends were there. It had been the void that swallowed their friendship, vacant stares and empty promises. Lagging behind the group on their way to classes and pushing his food around his plate. What had frightened his three companions was the fact that he no longer participated in their antics, their trademarked pranks. Sirius hardly ever turned down a good meal, similar to Peter, but his appetite had fled him. Not even Quidditch try-outs had lifted his spirits. The news of James becoming Gryffindor's chaser and he, himself, becoming a beater seemed to have no effect on this mood.

If Remus didn't know any better, he might have called this depression, and he'd seen in himself enough to know that was exactly what Sirius was slipping into.

Remus would have involved himself more in Sirius's situation, been there as that support beam he needed in his life, but even things for Remus were turning murky. His condition was beginning to take a toll on him, as well. His moods, as they always had, turned sour a day or two before transformations, and this was a normal occurrence Remus had become accustomed to. However, it was when his tolerance began heading south weeks before the full moon that he took a notice.

His three friends had always been rowdy and participated in tomfoolery, and he'd be lying if he told someone he didn't join in every now and then. But as September melted into October, he found himself thoroughly agitated with any idea Peter or James had suggested. From swapping the Slytherin robes for frilly, lace ball gowns to clogging the girls' toilets to upset Moaning Myrtle, Remus was put out with it all, and Sirius seemed to share this inclination. James and Peter, offended at this attitude, pulled their pranks alone, which was fine to the other two.

Remus had also been suffering from the intrusive thoughts of the wolf much more often than normal. Self-deprecating as ever, his own conscience had become much crueler of late, attacking his largest insecurities and cornering him in moments of vulnerability. It was no anomaly that the wolf became restless the closer the full moon was, but it had been nearly three weeks away and it was as if anything Remus did prodded a scorching fire poker into its back, angering it to no end.

It began with the smaller things, his scars for instance. Whenever he caught a glimpse of him, a sense of self-contempt rushed over him. He was different from everyone else. None of them had scars the way he did; their skin was delicate and blemish free. He, on the other hand, was beaten and battered, mauled to the point of no repair. His skin was covered from head to toe with ugly, scabbed gashes and metallic abrasions that disgusted him. From the pink scar on his neck down to the last scratch on his ankle, Remus began to despise the look of himself; he no longer looked at himself in the mirror unless absolutely necessary.

The sweaters weren't cutting it anymore. He'd been growing out of them since June, and his mother had been too busy to buy him anymore. This meant that he relied on his robes to conceal his blemishes, and even that was becoming an issue. The problem with his robes had been that the sleeves were too loose to stay around his wrists. With the slightest movements, they scooted up his forearm until they reached the bend of his elbow. If it hadn't been for the sanctuary of his last sweater, there would be more uncomfortable dinner time interrogations from a brooding Sirius.

The mornings were beginning to bother him. More than bother him. Anger him, and anger wasn't an emotion Remus felt often. It was much more difficult to avoid the boys now that their schedules had been rearranged. The boys required more shower time, Peter insisted he needed to tame the mountain of hair on his head, and Remus hogging the stalls was a heated debate in the start of the term. They'd decided that Remus could take the far stall, secreting himself away till the others had finished, and hurry to catch breakfast in time. No matter how much he'd trusted them, even Sirius, he could not and would not let them see.

The wolf had done its job, and it had done it well. If it couldn't draw the blood from powerless, innocent victims, it would turn on itself. And, because of this, Remus was left with enough battle wounds to last him a lifetime. However, he would much rather this alternative than harm bystanders. He'd take attacking his own flesh till the day he died than to kill another person, no matter their faults. It wasn't in Remus to do such a thing, and, if he'd had more control over his inner demon, he might have been able to convince him to do the same. Yet, the wolf was not so easily controlled nor convinced, and he struggled to keep him in check.

This became a reoccurring problem when he'd been more prone to outbursts and moodshifts. Already that year, he'd made Julienne cry once. She'd only been trying to help; Remus had fallen behind in Potions. For the majority of class, he merely watched the wall. Sirius didn't comment any, settling on doing his work alone rather than trying to convince his partner to engage in his schoolwork. He didn't complete his homework, nor did he finish an essay. Slughorn had called him into his office, offering him a chance to catch himself back up as long as he turned in his missing work, and Julienne had offered to help.

What had he done? Shout at her. He shouted at her for assuming he was dense enough to need help, that it was his intellect that threatened his academic success. It wasn't that he didn't understand, because he did. In fact, he, Sirius, and James were the only ones in the entire classroom who understood the directions. He just didn't care. Not about school, not about his work, and not about himself, because what was the point? If it was all going towards him living the life of a Muggle, why waste his time in a school for wizards.

Julienne had walked away, tears in her eyes and her lip trembling. Remus couldn't even be bothered to feel bad. Not to begin with. She shouldn't have approached him with her assumptions; he was a prime example of a student. His entire first year he'd participated in several clubs, engaged in each lesson regardless of his lack of energy or willpower. He was a pupil, and he didn't need some brown-nose Hufflepuff presuming anything else.

That had been his initial resolve. However, three weeks later, he found himself alone in the library, so used to spending these hours with his companions, and he felt secluded. It was the night of his full moon and he had nothing to take the edge off.

Not a conversation, not a game of chess, not even a glass of pumpkin juice to share with Peter. It wasn't anyone's fault but his own, and he knew that. But it was much easier denying this fact for his own conscience. He pointed the finger at anyone else but himself; that pill was easier to swallow. They're just bad friends, he tried to reason, and you tried your hardest to put up with them.

James was a self-centered bastard with his head so far up his ass he couldn't hear anything going on in the outside world. Peter was too oblivious to notice that he had his own freewill, and there was nothing wrong with exercising it for someone other than James. Sirius was a stuck-up brat who thought too highly of himself, prancing around the school as if he practically deserved a trophy for being an aristocrat. While Julienne was kind, she was annoying. Her chipper personality and constant smiles were just to compensate the fact that hardly anyone truly liked her. They simply liked the benefits of her friendship.

The wolf forced this mantra into his brain, repeated it over and over again in an attempt to make it stick. It would be easier coexisting in that school if he isolated himself. He didn't deserve friendship, and they didn't deserve his secret. Perhaps he was bothered by Sirius's silence. Perhaps he was still angry with James and his gruff personality. Perhaps he was annoyed by Peter worshipping the ground Sirius and James walked on. Maybe Remus wasn't as good as swallowing those pills as he thought. It was all becoming too much, and his head was filled with opinions like these he couldn't even coerce himself to believe.

He would never believe those things about his friends. No matter how hard the wolf wanted him to. They were too good to him, and he not good enough.

Something constricted in his chest, his heart shifting into a state of unease. He sensed something, though he wasn't sure what is was. A person? A presence? An omen? His pulse quickened, but not in an alarming way. His senses screamed exhilaration, delight, and contentment, and he couldn't figure out why. He tried breathing techniques, the ones he used to force himself to sleep before a transformation, but it was to no avail. It only heightened, though he couldn't say he hated the feeling.

A loud thud sounded in front of him, the scent of summer rain and book bindings engulfing him, and a body dropped into the seat. Looking up from his untouched book, Remus stared as Sirius removed his textbook and parchment from his satchel. He was still different; there was no trace of cheerfulness in his eyes, and no ghost of a smile was apparent on his lips. He was neutral. Above everything Remus had ever seen in Sirius, this mood was as balanced as he'd ever seen him.

As much as he hated to admit it, Sirius wore his heart on his sleeve. He was a passionate young man with a raging heart and valiant efforts. His morals and belief were the only thing that breathed inside of him, and they were the only things, at times, that kept him going. There was very little that Sirius could hide; his eyes gave him away. With all the defenses Sirius had put up, nothing he could have done would guard his eyes. Whether it be happiness, sadness, anger, betrayal – all Remus need do was look into the pool of fog and ash and it would have been revealed. To see that there was nothing that day concerned him.

It made his heart hurt.

"Julienne told me you're failing Potions," he announced drearily. "Don't get me wrong, you were dreadful in it when you studied, but your marks are pitiful this year."

"Gee, thanks," Remus growled.

"A pleasure," Sirius chirped matter-of-factly.

Annoyance was not a word Remus associated with Sirius very often. There were things he did that irritated him; Sirius's biggest flaw was that he never knew when to stop. Whether it be jokes, taunting, or arguments, he struggled to shut his mouth or control himself. Remus supposed this was because, at home, he needed to assert himself to survive, and only extremes worked for Mr. and Mrs. Black. But his friends were not his parents, and Sirius shouldn't get away with some of the shenanigans he pulled. Yet, Remus could never stay angry with him, and this was because he knew where this behavior came from; he couldn't blame him.

"Get your book out," Sirius commanded. Remus, not wanting an argument in front of Madame Pince, did as he was told and gathered his materials. There had been a few times when he witnessed an argument between Sirius and James, and he was in no hurry to subject himself to the wrath of Sirius Orion Black just yet. He was sure he wouldn't be able to stomach some of the things that came out of Sirius's mouth, no matter how many times he apologized; he knew what to say in order to hit you where it hurts, and Remus doubted he would be any different with him. "What are you struggling with?"

Remus answered honestly, "Nothing."

Sirius deadpanned.

"Then why are your grades bollocks."

"Because I don't –"

"Yes, you do," Sirius interrupted harshly. His eyes were narrowed at Remus. "You do care, and you know you care. You've just got something in your head trying to convince you none of this matters. Well, I'll tell you right now that it does."

If only you knew, he wanted to say. If only he'd known the truth behind Remus's disappearances, the truth behind these mood swings and outbursts. If only he could comprehend the hatred and contempt he held for his very existence some days. If there was a way for Remus to explain what had been going on in his head for eight years without coming off as a complete nutter, he would have taken the opportunity in a heartbeat. He was sick of hiding. Sick of recoiling. Sick of flinching. Sick of being sick. Tired of being tired. He was utterly put out with his condition, but there was no way to say this without giving himself away.

If only you knew I was a werewolf.

Sirius slammed his hand down on the table, "What is wrong with you?"

Remus flinched away from him, "Don't yell at me."

"Yeah," Sirius challenged, "then don't lie to me."

"I haven't lied to you," Remus cried defensively. Sirius let out a dry chuckle.

"You tell me you're fine, and you clearly aren't," he hissed. "You've got scars all over you, and I notice the new ones every month. You hate taking showers with us, you cower in the corner whenever we get near you in the bathroom – as if any of us would judge you –"

"I was judged," Remus countered. "My very first night, I was deemed 'Loony Lupin,' if you don't recall."

"And he adores you now," Sirius replied hotly. "You can't hold it against him forever!"

"I'm not holding it against him," Remus stuttered. Sirius raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, you're not? Then why don't you trust us?"

Remus slapped his hands over his face in frustration, "What don't you understand, Sirius? I've told you already, it isn't that I don't trust you. It's just… I can't explain it."

"As much as Jemimah tells you I don't have the braincells for it, I think I can follow," he teased, though he had not lost the darkness in his expression. "So, try me."

Remus thought for a moment. Would it have been so hard to tell him? What would he think? What were the consequences of revealing his condition? Worst case scenario, Sirius reviled him and exposed his secret to the entire student body, which would most likely lead to Remus's expulsion. The Ministry would snap his wand, he'd go on living life in secrecy, and there would be no such thing as Wizardry to Remus John Lupin again. He'd lose his closest friends, Julienne, too, for he had treated her terribly of late, and there would be nothing for him but a life of desertion and loneliness.

"I don't know where to begin," Remus whispered shamefully, rubbing his wrists. Sirius, who'd been observing him carefully, leaned against the table.

"When I ask you these questions, I want you to be honest with me," he ordered gently. His voice had relaxed, taking on a cautious yet tender tone. He was no longer angry, nor was Remus with him. The tightness in his chest loosened, but the knot in his stomach never eased. He merely nodded, afraid that he might just break the flood gates with a single utterance. "Do your parents hurt you?"

Remus's straightened his back quickly, "Merlin, no! My parents are good people. They would never hurt me."

Sirius's frown lifted slightly, as if this were the best news he'd received in months.

"Then who does," he continued. As easy as this seamed in retrospect, coming close to divulging his secret, even to someone who was closer to him than anyone ever before, was a challenge. There were all the possibilities in the world for this situation. It could have gone up, down, left, or right, none of them leading to a happy ending. Sirius came from the Black family, and these people did not look kindly upon those afflicted with Lycanthropy; their son was bound to have the same opinions. But, then again, Sirius had been a conundrum.

"I do," he admitted. Sirius opened his mouth, the expression of incredulity taking over every fine feature on his face, when Remus held up his hand. "I get angry sometimes, and I take things too far. I'm fine. Move on."

Sirius wanted to fight back, to take this topic further, but it would've only lead to Remus shutting down. This had been the first time he'd ever discussed these scars with Sirius – most likely the first time he'd discussed it with anyone. Scaring him away might have meant sealing that door forever.

"Where do you go once a month," Sirius pressed. Remus stiffened.

"Away," was all he said, much to Sirius's annoyance.

"I said don't lie," he snapped.

"It's not a lie," Remus defended his answer swiftly. "You never told me to be specific."

"Where exactly do you go," Sirius rephrased this time, staring into golden pools with an intensity Remus had never seen before. He faltered.

"I –"

"No, you don't," Sirius barked. "If you visit your aunt, uncle, mother, or whoever else, they're hurting you while you're away. No one goes to the nurse once a month unless it's a girl for pain relieving potions for their cramps. Unless you have a menstrual cycle?"

Hot blood rushed to Remus's cheeks, and he scratched his neck awkwardly, "No."

"No, your family doesn't hurt you? No, you don't visit family? Or, no, you don't have a menstrual cycle," Sirius teased. Remus furrowed his brows.

"No to all of them," he chided. Sirius chuckled, showing the first "positive" emotion in their conversation. In fact, it had been the first time Remus had witnessed him smile all year. The sound of his laugh had soothed the knot in his stomach; he missed it. They used to laugh so often, even over the stupidest of things. That summer had changed him, and not for the better. "If you get to ask questions then so do I."

Sirius tilted his chair back on the rear legs, reclining in a lazy sort of way when he said, "Shoot."

Remus paused. It was easier than he thought; Sirius was just as willing to open up about his scars as Remus, if not less than. The topic of his family had been exclusively closed off since the making of their friendship. It was touchy. He did not mention it, and no one asked. The scars on his hands were not up for discussion, and not a single soul dare asked him what had been bothering him since their return. It was a known; if Sirius wanted to speak on it then he would. Otherwise, don't bring it up. Unless, of course, you wanted an argument or public humiliation.

"Why did your parents do that to you," Remus asked. "And don't give me the negative reinforcement explanation. I mean, specifically, what made them do it?"

Sirius was silent for a moment, staring out the window with his typical moody gaze. He'd grown over the summer, and so had his hair. Remus knew this was his way of challenging his mother, who'd been, apparently, old fashioned and would rather Sirius go bald than wear his hair long and wild. He loved his hair, probably valued it more than anything else on his body aside from his face. His cheeks had lost some of their baby fat, taking on a more angular structure than before. He had roman features; high cheekbones and a strong jawline, a long, proud nose, and pursed lips. Needless to say, he was maturing. Compared to Remus, he was a Prince charming, and other girls were beginning to notice.

"I keep myself alive to spite my mother," Sirius admitted sadly. "For the most part, she does it because I'm a disgrace. I'm the very opposite of what she wanted me to be." Sadly. Sadness had never taken residence in Sirius's voice. At most, he sounded defeated, but never sad. He wasted no time on being melancholy; there was too much to be thankful for. His hair, his friends, his good looks, his flying skills, his brains, his brawn – Sirius could go on for weeks. He never let himself get down. Why waste a breath moping when you could spend it making life better? That's not to say that Sirius wasn't theatrical; he loved relishing in attention from his companions, especially Remus. He was the only one who entertained his dramatics.

"Is she really that grieved by your existence," Remus asked softly. He couldn't imagine a mother loathing a child as much as Mrs. Black loathed Sirius. Hope adored her son, treated him better than he could have ever dreamed after his accident when she had every right in the world to disown him.

"I don't think she's grieved by me," he admitted softly, a tremble in his voice betraying his resolve. "I think there is nothing but deep, dark, passionate hatred inside of her for me, my friends, Muggles, half-bloods – anything not part of the Sacred Twenty-Eight. Hatred for everyone. Everyone except that wretched house-elf and her youngest son." Sirius mentioned that last part with a hint of derision and bitterness.

Lately, he hadn't been one for looking too jolly. Often, there was a frown etched on his face and his eyebrows were knitted firmly together. His expression was somber or dark, eyes clouded by thoughts unshared. It had grown even worse with this confession.

"Well, it's her loss," Remus announced proudly. He shut his book and forced Sirius to look at him, to see the assurance in his eyes. He had never been one for sentiments, not with others his age. For the majority of his childhood, Remus was isolated and never learned how to handle the emotions of other children, and Sirius was an anomaly among every other student in Hogwarts.

Handling Sirius was like handling a magical creature you'd never encountered. You didn't know what angered it, soothed it, frightened it. You didn't even know the name of it, making it entirely impossible to research in books. Dealing with Sirius was playing an instrument by ear, and it would take quite some time for Remus to perfect it. Yet he didn't mind.

If words could explain it, he would have gladly told Sirius every reason why he adored him. He was his close friend! He was like a brother by now, like family. But he simply couldn't. Remus was never good with words. There were a million floating around in his head, begging to slip from his mouth, but he couldn't do it.

"Stop it, Rem," Sirius sighed, rubbing his forehead tiredly and pushing his friend away. But Remus paid him no attention, grabbing his wrist.

"You stop it," he hissed, offended. Sirius faltered, glancing from Remus's grip on him to his eyes in astonishment. "You're brilliant; one of the most brilliant wizards I've ever seen. You're not only smart, but you're clever."

"All of us know you're the brains of the operation," Sirius drawled. Remus tightened his fingers around Sirius, a gesture to show him this was no laughing matter. He would have no more of this – the self-contempt, the misery, and the deprecation. He'd had enough of it. Hogwarts seemed to be the only place where Sirius could enjoy himself, and, like Julienne had said, it was left to Remus and his other friends to make this place a home again. Even if it took all year, he would make sure he saw his best friend smile once more. At the stupidest things.

"That doesn't matter! You're more than just that," he breathed. "You're loyal. Loyal to the point of stupidity. You're so bloody brave and you've got a thirst for adventure that I sometimes envy. But then I remember that you don't use your head and thank God that I was blessed with a sliver of common sense." Sirius smiled despite himself. A thump pounded against Remus's ribcage. "Everyone adores you, even the stuck-up prats in green. We look up to you more than you think, and I understand the lack of love from your mother is something that will never be replaced. I would never expect you to get over that."

Sirius interrupted him, "Then what do you expect from me, eh?"

"I expect you to give yourself more credit," he barked, not caring if Madame Pince was listening in, not caring if they were earning stares. It was time to settle this. If they were going to go back to the way things were – when there were no frowns or depressed episodes – then he would have to remind Sirius who he was.

"Ironic that you'd be telling me that," Sirius noted absently, looking at Remus in a strange way. He tilted his head to the side, observing the boy across from him very carefully.

When Remus regarded Sirius as an enigma, he meant it. He was a puzzle of one thousand, miniature pieces, and he never knew where to start with him. When asked anything personal, there was only a vague piece of information that left Remus very little to work with. The subject of family was never broached despite it being, in Remus's opinion, the crux of his despairs. He carried himself as an heir to a noble family should, though he hated that title. Sirius was an enigma, a catch 22, and the perfect image of irony if Remus had ever seen one.

Nothing about Sirius was as it seemed, and it had taken Remus a year to get this far. He wondered how long it might take him to crack him open completely, to catch a glimpse of the real boy, the real soul of Sirius Black. Vague as he was, and as easily as he avoided prying eyes, Sirius was an open book. It was apparent to Remus that he tried to hide this behind the mask his family had taught him to wear, and while his aristocratic lounging was lovely to look at, it compensated for something greater. That mask, the longer he was away his family, was cracking.

"Why do you leave once a month," Sirius asked again suddenly, voice taking on a different tone from earlier. When he'd asked the question minutes ago, it was almost accusatory. He was demanding an answer, cornering Remus and busting down doors until he found an answer. He was clearly hurt that Remus would not (more like could not) tell him the truth, and Remus couldn't bear the look on his friend's face. But it was for his own good.

"Sirius, I can't –"

"I want to hear you say it."

Remus stilled.

I want to hear you say it. As in, I already know, and I want my suspicions to be confirmed. I want to hear you say it, as in, you've betrayed me by keeping this from me. I want to hear you say it, as in, you've lied to me for a year, kept this disgusting secret from me and now I want the proof. I want to hear you say it, as in, if you tell me this now, I have evidence that will see you to the Ministry to be put down. As you should have been eight years ago.

Sweat prickled Remus's body, his mouth suddenly dry. He tried again and again to swallow, to relieve his throat, but he just couldn't. The thought of losing his friends, not only Sirius, was heartbreaking. He'd imagined it several times, dreamt of it, and forced himself not to weep over the thought. He'd assumed he'd be able to keep this condition a secret forever, convinced himself it wouldn't be so hard had he kept to himself the way he was supposed to do.

But Remus never listened! The Sorting Hat had been right. He was impulsive. He jumped into these friendships without even considering the consequences. Two of the brightest wizards in his school were his roommates. He could've lived with this. They wouldn't have cared about his disappearances had he just turned them away as he'd planned. However, Sirius dug his way under his skin, dragging Peter and James along with him, and he didn't mind it at all.

Whether his impulse was lethal or not, his time at Hogwarts had been the only time he felt loved by people with no obligation towards him. Julienne, James, Peter, Sirius – all of them – had no ties with him, no relations whatsoever that required them to be with him. If they wanted to, they could have walked away without a moment's hesitation and never looked back. And yet, they didn't. They remained by his side through all of his mood swings and disappearances. How stupid had he been to believe they would not have noticed the obvious.

The disappearances. The scars. The hospital visits. The burns from silver. The agitation close to the full moon. Everything. Remus had not been an exception. He was a Werewolf, and he would behave as any Werewolf might. It was all adding up to Sirius, and he most definitely had discussed it with James because the two were inseparable.

The jig was up, and Remus had been caught. Yet, something inside of him told him there was still hope. Sirius hadn't looked at him in revulsion, nor did he sound angry. Deceived was a word better fitting to his expression. And, despite this, Remus's natural instincts kicked in, suddenly aware of the hour.

He collected his things quickly, not caring how awfully he crammed them into his satchel. Parchment was ripping and quills were being bent, but that was no matter. There was more at stake.

"Where are you going," Sirius demanded. Remus gave him no answer, breaking out in a run towards the Whomping Willow. Madame Pomphrey needn't escort him tonight. He knew the way. He knew it like the back of his palm. He dashed through corridors, knocking shoulders with peers, and bounded across the castle grounds at unnerving speeds.

How could he have been so senseless? To think they wouldn't put it all together. He cursed himself from the library to the shack, swearing to God if he spared him this one time he'd never do wrong again. Perhaps Sirius was following him, of course he was. Sirius never left well enough alone. He was Sirius Black, for Christ's sake. He'd have to warn him, tell him to leave and never come back. Tell him that they were no longer friends, and he understood that, but this was no time for arguments.

If he'd hurt his friend, Remus might not live with himself. He'd only hurt two people over the course of his condition. Himself, which was a given, and his father. He'd tried spending the night with him in the shed during one of the first transformations, hoping that he'd be able to soothe his son. It had been one of the most idiotic ideas of his life, and he came to regret it as soon as the transformation had been complete. It was his good fortune Remus hadn't taken his hand off.

Soon enough, he heard the patter of feet behind him as he made it to the Whomping Willow. Desperately he searched for a spare branch, a twig – anything to prod the knot before Sirius got too close. In the distance he heard him shouting, begging him to stop for just a moment, but he ignored him. He hadn't even cared to look at the time. If he had, he would have noticed the sun had already begun to dip beyond the horizon and the midnight sky was coming into view. If he squinted, he could see the constellations.

"Remus," Sirius shouted angrily. "Stop bloody running!"

That was the thing. It shouldn't have Remus running. He wasn't the one in danger. Sure, it was painful transforming. Perhaps, it was one of the most agonizing things he'd ever endure. It pulled him apart and shoved him back together again over and over again, and he wasn't sure if he'd ever make it through. At times, he'd wished the wolf would just put him out of his misery, but then he remembered that the wolf wanted to live. It wanted to roam. It wanted to be free, and it never would be. So, instead, it made Remus suffer to the best of its abilities.

But, if given the chance, it would not hesitate to inflict that damage on Sirius, no matter how much Remus cared for him. In fact, for the little intelligence the wolf had, it might have used that as an incentive. Losing a friend would do much more damage to Remus than any gash would.

"Stop," he growled at himself, poking the knot of the tree violently.

"Remus!"

The Whomping Willow's branches shuddered violently, aiming themselves at an approaching Sirius. Either he didn't notice or didn't care, and he continued his pursuit behind Remus. The latter climbed through the opening in the trunk, shaking his head as he begged the wolf to spare him just three more minutes. That was all he needed; he'd do anything for them. One minute to make it to the shack, another to barricade himself in the bedroom, and the final minute to prepare himself for the worst transformation of that year.

He knew that the summer was too good to be true, and cursed himself, yet again, for getting his hopes up. The wolf would not spare him these precious minutes, and he would not go easy on him. If Sirius wanted to follow him, then it'd gladly let him. It rolled with delight as it sensed the boy's companion hot on his trail. Foolhardy and brash, he was. Always had been, and it would be his undoing.

Remus bounded up the stairs, pleading with the Lord above to deter Sirius, to give some distraction to ensure he was safe. He did not trust himself to stop, to turn around and give an explanation. If Sirius knew, then he would know it was a full moon and what was bound to occur. Then again, Sirius might not care. He could be under the notion that Remus might have a bit of his common sense intact, but he wouldn't. He would hurt him not because he wanted to – God knows he'd do anything to keep his friends safe – but because he had no control.

He made it to the bedroom, slamming the door shut and pushing the wardrobe in front of the door as quickly as he could. Sirius made it just a moment too late, and began pounding violently on the door.

"Stop running from me, you idiot," he shouted. "I just want to talk."

Remus felt it, felt it in his bones. They were growing, and they were growing quick. He had very little time, and the hair sprouting all over his body was the telltale sign that things might go down hill.

"I c-can't talk, Sirius," he cried, pain shooting through his calves. His knees buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor. There was no use in trying to strip his clothes – there was no time. "You have to go!"

"I'm not leaving you," Sirius threatened. "I'm staying with you; you can't do this alone."

Remus, on some other day, might have been warmed at such a gesture. If only this declaration had been made an hour before, when the sun was still high and the moon so far away, Remus might have been able to crack a smile. Yet, it wasn't so. He didn't care about Sirius's opinions; he could love or hate him for all he cared. He would not allow himself to hurt him. He couldn't.

"I. Will. Kill. You," he breathed, voice taking on an animalistic growl. A pained cry echoed throughout the shack as Remus's nail beds budded talons – claws – long enough to tear through a body. They were thick and black, strong like bone but sharp as a blade. He clenched his fists, ignoring the searing pain in his palms.

"You wouldn't," Sirius gasped. "Expulso!" The wardrobe was blown away from the door, still in one piece but on its side. As for the door, it was a lost cause. Bits and pieces still hung from the hinges pitifully, but that had been the least of their worries.

Sirius had never seen a Werewolf before, let alone a transformation. But from the way Remus's body was bending, he concluded it was nothing he'd ever want to experience. From the blood dripping from his palms to the lengthening of each and every bone in his body, Remus appeared to be in agonizing pain, and it hurt Sirius.

Remus tried his hardest to remain in one piece, denying the wolf full entry into his senses. He forced the tears to stay in their ducts for just one more minute. Sirius needed to leave, and he didn't want to go to extremes. He would not be Walburga. Despite this resolve, and the internal pleas with his better judgment, his body shook. It roiled with pain, the last of Remus being swallowed by a beast. His jaw broke, allowing a howl of pain to roll from his tongue. Sirius flinched.

"Please," Remus begged, nearly incomprehensible through rows of jagged teeth and loose bones. "Just go."

Sirius watched for a moment, an expression that was unreadable to the likes of this monster. Remus stayed put, however, when Sirius backed away from him slowly, not making a single movement till he could no longer feel his presence. It had been the only time Remus exercised control over his second form, and he might have been proud of himself in another life.

His transformation continued until he was consumed by white fury, destroying everything in his wake from dusk until dawn. Through it all, however, buried deep down beyond the rage and turmoil of a wolf denied his victim, Remus found comfort in the lingering scent of leather book bindings and summer rain.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, September 1972 (Second Year)

For new werewolves, the first few years are crucial for their development and discipline. The demon strain that causes lycanthropy causes various changes, such as waves of uncontrollable aggression, inability to control rage, suicidal anger, and despair, especially among those with no support from a pack. When overwhelmed, many of them turn violent—against others or against themselves, leading to a high suicide rate and a high rate of domestic violence.

He paused. Had he overwhelmed him? Had he pressured him? Were his words too much for Remus, especially right before a full moon? Were transformations always so… violent? Sirius thumbed to the index, running his finger over a faded page until he found the 'P' section. He flipped to page four-hundred-sixty-seven.

Many werewolves, like vampires and other Dark Creatures, belong to a group: in their case, a pack. Wolves naturally organize themselves into packs to maintain stability and assist with hunting.

There were paragraphs among paragraphs talking about things that meant nothing to Sirius – chatter about Alpha's and Beta's, things Sirius didn't rightly understand because Remus wasn't animalistic. He was human, at least for the majority of his life. He didn't belong to a pack. There was no "eat or be eaten" mentality in his friend, none that he had witnessed. These books in the library were implying that Remus was a dog, nothing more and nothing less. He was incompetent and feral, worthy of nothing the basic world could provide. These books made him sick. Besides, he hadn't found what he was looking for in them and were no longer of use to him. He made a move to shove one volume back on the shelf when he knocked another down. He heaved a dramatic sigh.

He was tempted to just leave it. Madame Pince would eventually find it and put it in its proper place, and Sirius needed to get to his dorm to grab a blanket and other things before Filch started his rounds. Of course, he could always use James's invisibility cloak, but it would weigh down his load. Sirius had managed to calm the tremors in his body to dull thuds every now and then, provoked only by the mental image of Remus crying in pain. The memory was fresh, and he could relive it as much as he wanted to. However, he decided the only thing he could do, and stay alive in the meantime, was to wait. Wait, research, and prepare.

Charging headfirst back into that shack would get him killed. Remus had been right when he told him he'd been hardheaded those weeks ago. Honestly, he thought to himself, could you get any dumber?

He'd known since August that Remus had been infected with something. He couldn't say for sure it had been Lycanthropy, as he hadn't shown all the symptoms. Yet, something was off.

For instance, he did get in a mood just before full moons, but Sirius would never go as far to say Remus was aggressive, only a bit more irritable than usual. There were no uncontrollable fits of rage or murderous outbursts. If anything, Remus displayed a sense of reservation, isolating himself from the others. He never jumped at the chance to rip anyone's throat out, contrary to what those rubbish books were telling him.

Another sign that troubled Sirius was Remus's health. The boy looked like he was on the verge of death nine times out of ten, dark circles rimming his eyes and the dips of his cheeks hollowing. Now, Remus had never been portly – nowhere near to Peter Pettigrew or even lean like James. No, Remus was skin and bone. Marred skin and battered bones. He tried eating, tried getting something nutritious in his body, but nothing worked. Sirius concluded that his body rejected it. For what reason? He did not know. However, he did know that Remus looked as if he would faint from malnutrition any other day.

But what truly clued Sirius in on a discrepancy was the monthly departures. During their first weeks at Hogwarts, it was a believable story. No one knew much of the Lupin family, only that his father worked in the Ministry, and his mother was a Muggle. Aside from those two facts, the rest of the world had been oblivious to the life of Remus John Lupin. No one doubted that his Aunt Gwen had been sick, nor had they doubted that his mother was in dire need of her son's attention. For the first term.

James and Peter went about their business as usual, neither one being as taken with Remus as Sirius had been. Not at that point, at least. It was after the Christmas fiasco that Sirius noticed the monthly disappearances, all happening around the same time. He looked, first, at the dates, and there were no obvious connections. His disappearances were close, yes, but still scattered. Sometimes he left on a Monday, on another month, a Wednesday. He might have even mixed it up a bit and leave on a Sunday!

However, the unfinished essay on the Werewolf Code of Conduct, and Remus's thorough interest in the subject, lead Sirius into some serious digging. He resisted the urge to kick himself in the face for that pun.

He marked the days, at least the ones he could remember, when Remus would leave. He noted when he began feeling 'ill' and how long it had been before he returned. It typically took him three days to return to class, and not a single teacher batted an eyelash. If Sirius had been missing from at least one lesson, Minnie would sound the alarm and send an entire brigade of Filch's in search for him before he set the school on fire. However, when Remus, the pupil, went missing for half a week, it was seen as a typical occurrence.

Sirius studied his calendar during the summer, as he spent most of it in his room. Regulus had been the one to mention something about a full moon two weeks before Sirius had returned from school, something about how you could see it shining from the drawing room. Well, two weeks earlier, Remus had disappeared from the face of the Earth, yet again.

Accusing your best friend of Lycanthropy was heavy. You didn't walk around the Wizarding Community with such allegations. It wasn't the same as calling someone a half-breed or a mudblood. Implying that someone might be a Dark Creature – or worse, an unregistered Dark Creature – could be the end of the world for some. For a child, as Remus was still a child, his entire world would have crashed before his eyes. The Ministry would confiscate his wand, pull him from Hogwarts, register him as a Dark Creature, and ensure that the rest of his life was full of misery and rejection.

There would be no socialization with other witches and wizards, as many of them were either afraid of Werewolves or loathed their very existence. Several of their kind shared his mother's opinions on those infected with Lycanthropy and fully supported the bills to persecute any Dark Creature, Werewolves in specific, wizards come in contact with. Walburga had been quick to safeguard her tonics and tinctures, knowing that silver bullets did no harm to Werewolves.

"The trick, Reggie, is in the Wolfsbane," she cooed to her son, stroking his cheek tenderly. Sirius curled his lip in disgust, revolted by his mother implanting seeds of prejudice in a ten-year-old. Speaking to him as if he hadn't an inkling of intelligence. "On the one hand, just a tad will do a beast some good. However, we don't want that, do we?" Regulus shook his head, a mop of black waves falling over his forehead. Walburga pushed them out of his eyes with a tender, yet cold, smile. "But, the way Mummy does it, the potion gets the job done. The beasts go bye-bye, never to bother us again!"

People such as his mother sickened Sirius. Those too blinded by prejudice and blood purity too look past infections such as Lycanthropy. Yes, it was mortifying. Yes, they were monsters. Yes, they could be murderous.

But Remus was no monster. Remus had been kind. He'd been gentle and attentive. He smiled and laughed as any other boy would, and he felt emotions as any human might. He had no urge to murder his friends, nor did he want to ransack entire villages. His Lycanthropy only ran so deep, and it did not take over him entirely. Whatever those books said, Sirius paid them no attention. He left the library with his own opinions of Werewolves, ones that would make Walburga Black nauseous.

James and Peter were asleep by the time he returned to their dorm, which was just fine by him. He, as well, needed some shut-eye before returning to the Whomping Willow in the morning. He climbed into his bed, finding it hard to drift into sleep with so much going on in his head.

Remus had been a Werewolf. The proof was there; he'd seen it himself. He'd watched the beginnings of a transformation, witnessed the breaking of bones and skin – human turning into a monster. He hadn't believed it possible and had instead believed that perhaps Werewolves were myths on some irrational level used to scare Sirius and Regulus into submission to Walburga and her ideology. Yet, Remus was evidence. These nightmares were a reality. But, worst of all, they were Remus's reality.

Sirius, who kept his curtains open, looked at the empty, four-poster bed beside him. Remus should have been there that night, hypothetically, had he not been bitten. Although it had been an ungodly hour, he'd surely be up reading a book by his candle, not bothering to cast Lumos instead saying it "wastes wand energy he could use for more beneficial things." Sirius had thought their magical abilities a blessing, and that they should utilize them whenever possible. Remus, on the other hand, was a minimalist and rather humble, and rarely used magic if he hadn't the need to.

Upon his comforter had been an open book, facing downwards to hold his page. Sirius summoned it quietly, careful not to wake the others. The cover read Howl and Other Poems by a man named Alan Giannis. Ironic, he thought dryly. He thumbed through the pages, noting underlined stanzas that mostly had to do with heartbreak and loneliness.

One poem read:

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.

His heart withered. Remus was too naïve for his own good. To think that Remus could think he hated him. He was frightened, yes, but not of his friend. Regardless of what he became once a month, Sirius recognized that this boy, this dense, self-loathing, nervous boy, was a friend. He'd never been a threat to Sirius, not even in the library today so close to a transformation.

His demeanor had been different. His eyes were bloodshot and a bit carnal, full of an energy Sirius had never encountered in him before, and he was jumpy beyond all belief. He flinched when Sirius moved, eyes darting every which way, and Sirius doubted if Remus even noticed it himself.

There was a moment when Remus took ahold of his wrist, gripping it passionately. Well, he must have meant it in passion when in all reality it hurt. It legitimately was hurting Sirius, but he'd been too wrapped up in the moment to comment. He was disturbed in the library, different from his usual calm behavior. He was… He was something else. Frenetic. As if his words were desperate.

You stop it. You're more than just that! I envy you. I expect you to give yourself more credit. I can't. You have to go. I will kill you. Please.

Remus's voice echoed in Sirius's head as sleep claimed him from beginning to end on perpetual replay. He'd gain no rest tonight, but he'd be prepared in the morning.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

The morning after a transformation was always the worst. One would think it was the transformation itself, but no. Not to Remus. At least he hadn't been in a state of mind to feel the damage the wolf had done at the moment, as he was sure that agony could not compare to the aftermath. Thankfully, he did not have to compare the two. He was unconscious for most of the night, more so in mentality than physical awareness.

In the moment, he was not present, not as Remus. He had no control, no autonomy, and no say in what the wolf wanted to do. For several hours, his feral instincts kicked in and the monster he became took full control over his actions. Despite this, he'd remember in the morning, as if the wolf was showcasing his actions to Remus proudly.

"Look at how I pissed on your bed," it was likely to say, mocking his sentiments. It knew that bed was the only place Remus found comfort in the shack. Taking it away was like taking away a support beam for him. It did it on purpose, whether it realized it or not. Remus tried not to give it too much credit, owing much of its behavior to his own intrusive thoughts. He'd figured that Lycanthropy feeds off of negative energy and, at times, Remus had plenty of it. He supposed the wolf wallowed in it, soaking it all in before transformations like it was go-go juice of some sort.

Remus had woken up in a crumpled heap, as per usual, in the corner of the room, far away from the door. The wardrobe had been placed back in the frame of the door, probably some makeshift barricade he'd made subconsciously so he couldn't get out. But what exactly had happened to the door? He saw bits and pieces of splintered wood lying around the room, but it was hard to distinguish the door from the other pieces of furniture. He'd have to tell Professor McGonagall to take out the rest of the furniture; they were like toys to the wolf. Perhaps he was like a dog, finding the simplest of entertainment in side tables and rocking chairs.

His back pained him the most that morning, but it was not broken. He'd endured that tragedy once, and he'd try his hardest never to again. Silently, he assessed the damage from his position. A burning sensation ran through his chest, dull pain throbbing from his shoulder to his abdomen. The heaviness in his eyelids stopped him from catching a glimpse of himself, and he thought that this may have been for the better. Bones were still moving back into place with soft crackles here and there, and he winced each time a joint connected. He'd never get used to the toe-curling sounds.

Upon trying to sit up, he realized that three large gashed had been torn across his chest. He needn't open his eyes to feel that. They stung badly. Worse than any other wound on him. Judging by the chirping of birds, he'd slept much longer than usual. Madame Pomphrey would have been in earlier, but she wasn't. Remus became uneasy. She always came. Never failed to come. Not even when she'd been busy. What had kept her this time?

Looking to his left, Remus found a shred of his jacket and drew the conclusion that other bits and pieces of his clothes were elsewhere around the room. Great. He'd have to walk up the Infirmary with a piss stained sheet draped over him. The morning was turning out to be lovely. Ignoring the stream of blood down his stomach and the ever-aching pains in his spine, he climbed to his feet shakily. But his knees buckled beneath him, causing him to fall to the floor with a dull thud.

Memories of Sirius were beginning to cloud his better judgement. It didn't take him long to remember what had actually transpired the night before. Sirius had witnessed him in his second form, Remus as the monster he was. Revulsion was clear on his face, he backed away in fear. Remus made the impulsive move to tell him he'd kill him, when in all actuality he'd kill himself before ever laying a hand on his friends. Sirius must've despised him at this point, and Remus did not blame him.

Whether or not it was for his own good, Remus had betrayed his trust. Sirius valued loyalty over many things in his life. He valued it over blood-purity (something Remus seriously lacked), ambition, and intelligence. His friends were prime examples. Peter had never been the sharpest tool in the shed, nor had he been ambitious to any extreme, but he was steadfast. James was bright, but not exactly clever in the way Sirius had been, but he'd been faithful thus far. And Remus had been none of the things a true Gryffindor had been, but he'd tried his hardest to remain by Sirius's side.

By keeping this secret from him, he'd thrown his friendship away. Sirius had most likely notified authorities by this point, even though he despised the Ministry for being power hungry and corrupt. He might have hated doing it, because on some level he did care for Remus, but he did not want people to be hurt, and Remus could have hurt him last night. It was proof that Remus was a danger to anyone near him.

Despite trying his hardest, a stifled sob fought its way out of his throat. He choked on cries, unable to hold back any longer, and he did not fight it this time. He wept for several reasons. Losing a friend. Losing hope. Losing courage to fight a condition he'd never beat. Losing an education when that's all he'd ever wanted. Losing his freedom. Everything. In just a matter of hours, he could have lost everything.

His heart leapt in his chest, pounding pleasurably against sore ribs. One of them must've been broken. He held his chest in pain, trying to coax his heart into stability. The blood in his heart rushed to his face and he couldn't deny the feeling of comfort followed closely by safety, though home had never exactly been safe to him. To have these two senses come together as one was not a common occurrence. He sighed. The anxiety leaked from his body, seemingly from the abrasions on his chest and neck, and he felt the air rush back into his lungs.

A knock sounded on the door. He flinched, not at the person, but at the sound, forcing his eyes to adjust to the morning light. Something told him who it was, he didn't have to guess. But that didn't mean he wasn't surprised to find him standing there. Or, half of him standing there.

Sirius Black stood behind a battered, old wardrobe with an invisibility cloak draped around his body. The only part of him Remus could make out was from the collarbones up, his face scrunched up in pain. If only he'd known the agony Remus had felt. The Werewolf couldn't be bothered to hide any longer, not necessarily unabashed in his naked glory, rather too tired to fight the fear.

"You look –"

"I feel like it too," Remus murmured, sitting up as much as he could despite his battle wounds. Sirius, who seemed to be just as nervous as Remus, gently pushed the wardrobe out of his way. The invisibility cloak fell from his shoulders, revealing that he'd still been in his pajamas and night slippers. In his arms were a pair of Remus's tattered pajamas and a pair of socks to keep his toes warm. The shack was chilly; Sirius must've noticed this, too.

There was an insurmountable amount of space between them, placed carefully by Sirius, who dared not stray too close to his friend. Remus thought this was because of his condition, because of the revolting transformation he was exposed to hours before. It was the general reaction when finding out someone was infected with Lycanthropy, but there was something deep down telling him to wait it out.

Sirius inched closer, "Can… Is there anything I can do?"

Remus, who had forgotten he'd been crying, stifled a sob upon hearing his voice. He brought him comfort, a type of comfort Remus never thought he'd be blessed with again. Sirius Black was an enigma, going from cold and abrasive to timid and meek in just a twelve-hour period. He'd never seen him so unsure of himself or doubtful of his next move. Sirius always knew what to do, and, for the first time, he was lost.

Remus heaved a heavy sigh, "Would you help me dress?"

Accepting this invitation to move closer, Sirius dropped to his knees beside his friend and carefully slipped him into his clothes, trying his hardest not to stare at the gashes on his chest or the bruises coloring his cheeks. This was normal to him, he thought. How awful it was that something this horrifying, something this traumatic, was a regular occurrence for him. To think that a boy like Remus, who'd done nothing to deserve this, was condemned to a life of brokenness served as a constant reminder to Sirius that the world was cruel, and the world was unfair.

"I was worried about you," Sirius murmured. Buttoning his shirt to hide the bloody wounds ripping across his skin. He shivered. He couldn't imagine the pain his friend had been through.

"I'm fine," Remus sniffled, pulling his pants on as quickly as possible. Not because he was embarrassed of his body anymore, because what was the point in that. Sirius had now seen it all, scars and blemishes, and he'd witnessed the bare bones of who Remus was, but because he was ashamed. These two emotions were easily conflated, but Remus did not confuse himself.

To be embarrassed was to presume Remus gave a jot what Sirius thought of him in those moments. In a way, he did; but he was not worried that there were any ill-feelings towards him. Sirius would not have come if that were the case. To be ashamed would be admitting that Remus thought low of himself. His opinions, in the end, were all that mattered, weren't they? He was disgusting and pathetic, the proof was in the way he looked, his condition, and his pitiful crying fit. Sirius might not have seen this quite yet, most likely blinded by incompetence – platonic love. But he'd come to his senses.

"I didn't ask if you were fine," Sirius mentioned, helping Remus to his feet. He held him up with most of his weight hooking Remus's arm around his neck. He smiled wryly. "Déjà vu." His voice was quiet, somber even, as if he were afraid to speak. Remus, whose heart had now slowed and the skin on his neck heated to a slow burn, rolled his eyes.

"At least this time you're strong enough to carry my fat arse," he taunted, not worrying himself over any of the details yet. He was tired – exhausted. Once he was rested and mended, he would need to have a conversation with Sirius that dealt with this revelation. It would decide the fate of their friendship and the course of action they would take in moving forward. For now, he was only bothered by Sirius's whining from the Willow to the infirmary about how he wasn't a weakling and how he had, in fact, been working out over the summer. "Anything you say, mate. Anything you say."

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, October 1972 (Second Year)

"Send it back," Sirius demanded. Remus dipped his spoon into the cold, lumpy soup dejectedly, arms still sore from the transformation. His friend refused to leave his side after stowing him from the Willow to the Hospital Wing, never shutting up about how Remus couldn't possibly be so heavy if he only consisted of skin and bone. When Madame Pomphrey tried to shoo him away, he argued that Remus needed a tremendous amount of moral support seeing as she wasn't there to help him; this specific argument seemed to make the most sense to her, and she did not make further comment. As long as he stayed quiet and attentive, as any visitor should, he could stay with his friend.

"I'm not sending it back, Sirius," Remus groaned. He pushed the tray away from him, in no mood to eat. His stomach had rejected anything he tried to consume; whether it be soup, crackers, fruit, bread – not a single thing stayed in his stomach. Though his insides begged for something to eat, they recoiled in disgust when he tried. Soon enough, he might just give up.

"It looks like troll snot," Sirius deadpanned. He was still in his pajamas from the morning after the full moon, and Remus had never seen his friend so disheveled. His hair was a mess, pulled back in a loose bun at the nape of his neck, and stray strands hung near his cheeks. There were light circles around his eyes as he only slept a few hours each night. He didn't want to be asleep should something happen; Remus thought he worried too much. He'd lowered himself to leaving only to get meals from the kitchen, always bringing back hunks of chocolate – the only thing Remus seemed able to consume.

"As if you know what troll snot looks like," Remus sneered, now playing with the mushy soup.

"You'd be surprised what Walburga keeps in her study," Sirius pointed out dryly. It was no use. The consistency combined with the putrid smell had chased off any appetite Remus had left in him, and he concluded he'd much rather inhale another bar of dark chocolate before subjecting himself to the torture of swallowing whatever it was that was in front of him. "Just ask for something else, Rem!"

"Poppy has done enough for me," he shot back, digging under his pillow. He pulled out a bar of wrapped dark chocolate, courtesy of James and Peter, of course. They sent their regards with Sirius, as Madame Pomphrey did not allow any visitors to trouble Remus, no matter how long they begged. She hardly wanted Sirius in the room with him; he had the habit of riling Remus up when he needed rest, but she couldn't deny it was a sight for sore eyes to see Remus smile so soon after a full moon.

"Oh, so you're on a first name basis now," Sirius smirked impishly.

"No," Remus shrieked, fighting the blush creeping up his neck. "We – I, er. I just – She –"

Sirius broke out in laughter, tossing his head back carelessly. Despite himself, Remus laughed, too. Though it pained him to do so, not in an emotional sense rather a physical one, he couldn't help it, and found that Sirius's company was working wonders for his mood. It had turned out that he did, in fact, break a rib or two, and the tightness in his chest worsened when he laughed. But he couldn't help it, not when Sirius teased him so.

Typically, depression followed close behind transformations. He took on a self-contemptuous, gloomy attitude and wallowed in his desolation. It was normal, and he got over it soon enough. That didn't mean it wasn't dreadful when it happened, but he had learned to suck it up for a week until it faded away. However, with Sirius close by, that wave of unhappy thoughts never hit him, never swallowed him whole. The deprecating thoughts didn't dare touch him as Sirius was quick to pull him out of that cycle.

They did not mention his condition, skirting around the delicate topic as if had been a three headed dog. It was much easier ignoring it, pretending it never happened. Remus was in the hospital after a prank gone wrong, or something along those lines, and Sirius was doing his best to nurse him back to good health. Perhaps he'd been an idiot and tried riding James's new broom and smashed into a tree; Remus was a terrible flyer. Anything but Lycanthropy. It didn't happen to people like Remus – good people.

Sirius did not seem to mind Remus's company after the dilemma, of course. He'd already formed his opinion, and he did not care. Well, he did care on some level. Not in the way Remus clearly thought. He wasn't disgusted with the sight of him nor did he wish to see his friend subjected to any methods of torture some prejudiced wizards might have in mind for Werewolves. There was slight fear in him, as there would be in any young wizard whose best friend turned out to be a Lycanthrope. He was nervous, but not worried. He would never go back into that shack during a transformation, for Remus might not be able to control himself the next time. In that case, Sirius promised himself, and secretly Remus, that there would be no next time.

But Sirius was concerned for other reasons. What might James think? He wasn't nearly as prejudiced as one pure blood might have been. He had his opinions, of course, and there wasn't anything too terribly wrong with them. But to have a Werewolf in such close proximity? To sleep in the same room with one? To have class and meals with one? James had never been good with trusting outsiders. It had taken him this long to even consider Remus a close friend, and that trust might be shattered with any blunt force. So, would this be their undoing?

"You're brooding," Remus murmured cautiously, because he knew there was only one thing to be brooding over. His condition. It was an elephant in the room, and eventually it would need to be addressed. He sighed despondently. "We'll have to talk about it sooner or later."

"I know," Sirius sighed, shifting in his chair. He pulled his knees close to his chest and rested his chin atop them. The life of two boys without a care in the world except their next adventure seemed like the life Sirius had dreamed of. They'd travel the world, explore abandoned ruins, and capture Dark Wizards like that stupid Voldemort berk. They'd meet beautiful women along the way, marry them, and live their lives to the fullest. Not a day would pass when they wouldn't laugh together, share a pint of butterbeer, and reminisce on their times at school together – happy that things hadn't changed, that they hadn't changed. They'd be just as close, just as inseparable as he and James had been.

It wouldn't be suburbia. It wouldn't be fantasy. It would be their reality.

Could've been. But wouldn't be. No matter how hard Sirius might have wanted it to be.

"I had just turned five," Remus whispered. Sirius lifted his gaze, settling it on Remus with his full attention. His friend had never been the best with words, he stumbled over them quite often and never knew how to properly communicate his feelings. They were more alike than unalike. "My father was an Auror at the time, and we'd been celebrating my birthday. It was the first time they'd let me out of the house in several weeks. Told me we had to be extra careful."

"Careful of what," Sirius asked eagerly, but he was careful not to sound demanding. Remus simply shrugged.

"I'd gotten up to use the bathroom," he continued somberly. "And I saw someone at the end of the hallway looking into my bedroom. I never got a good look at his face. One second he was a few feet away from me then boom. I was on the ground, blood pouring out of my neck, and he was gone."

Remus seemed so empty as he spoke. Sirius would have assumed this would be emotional for him, and perhaps it was deep down. But it looked as though Remus was trying as hard as he could to subdue any emotion reactions.

"When you take a bite victim to St. Mungo's, you have two options," Remus exhaled. "Put them down –" Sirius tensed "—or tag them."

Sirius scrunched his face in bewilderment, "What do you mean, tag them?"

Remus sighed, shaking his head with an unamused smile stretched across his face.

"Just a way for them to treat us like animals, I guess," he growled, furrowing his eyebrows darkly. Sirius scooted his chair closer to Remus's bedside, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders.

"I don't think you're an animal," he admitted bashfully. "I mean, yeah, you… change once a month, but it's only temporary."

"No, it isn't," Remus replied hotly. "I'll never get rid of this disease; I'm stuck with it. Forever. All because I went to take a piss."

"No," Sirius admonished. "You don't know what could have happened had you stayed in your room. He might have killed you!"

"Sometimes I think that would be better –"

Sirius grabbed Remus chin aggressively, turning his head so that he looked him dead in the eyes. A fire ignited deep within the pit of his stomach, spreading through his veins and warming his body. He hated when Remus said such things about himself – hated it. Reviled it. He wanted to do anything to stop it.

"Don't you ever say that," he barked. "Ever. Do you understand me?" A storm brewed in his eyes, a dangerous storm that Remus had never wanted to be caught in. He felt his cheeks flush as Sirius's face was a mere inches from his, fingers still clasped around his chin so that he could not break eye contact. All Remus could manage was a nod, at a loss for words. "You told me to give more credit to myself, yeah? Do the fucking same."

"Don't say that word," Remus corrected him on reflex, unaware that there was a time and a place for such corrections. Sirius dangerously lowered his brows, a threat. A warning. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize," Sirius muttered. "I shouldn't have said that. I just… I can't believe you think so low of yourself. You go on and on about me and James all day, but have you ever looked in the mirror?"

"Yeah, and all I see is some ugly, scrawny kid covered in scars and bruises," Remus whined, covering his face in shame. "I'll never look like you or James, or even Peter! I've got all these –" he looked down at his arms with a look of revulsion – "constant reminders on me, and I'll never get rid of them. Salves don't help, potions don't work, and I can't tell you how many creams that have only made it worse."

Tears threatened to spill from his eyes, and he did all he could not to look Sirius in the eyes. All his wears were laid bare in front of the one of the only people who know Remus. Not the pupil, not the timid brown-nose, not the book worm, not the know-it-all – no. Sirius knew the true Remus, even the part he'd tried so hard to keep hidden.

"I don't think you're ugly," Sirius admitted casually. "Sure, the scars are a bit off putting, but I think they make you look intimidating and tough."

"I am far from these things, and you know that."

"Still, it's a nice thought," Sirius snapped playfully.

It hadn't been planned to end up this way, and Remus found himself lucky that Sirius wasn't nearly as bothered by his condition as he thought he'd be. To be truthful, he'd anticipated rejection, and would have understood. Wizards and Werewolves do not intermingle, and many would rather keep it that way. Coming from his home – from The Ancient and Noble House of Black with all its vices and limited virtues – it would have come to no surprise (though he would've been lying if he said he'd not been disappointed) for Sirius to turn him away. Maybe not turn him in, hand him over to the Ministry, but shun him, shunt him into seclusion and solitude.

He'd hoped he'd never half to tell anyone, not even James, Peter, or Sirius, about his Lycanthropy. Hypothetically, in a perfect world, there would be no need to tell them because he wouldn't have been infected. There would have been no need to move Clovelly, and Remus would have had all the friends in the world. The Christmas parties and the scrapbooks would be very well attended to, and his personality wouldn't have dulled. He'd be bubbly and ecstatic the way he used to be, bursting at the seems with innocent curiosity and purity.

Yet it hadn't been a perfect world. On the contrary, it had been close to the opposite, and he had to make do with what he had. In his not so perfect world – the world where he battled this disease – it was his plan to be distant and isolated. James, Peter, and Sirius wouldn't have gotten close to him in the first place because he was loony and stuck up. If he'd kept his distance as he'd plan, kept his spine and his resolve, then that hypothetical situation might have been kept in tact.

But, the truth of the matter, was that Remus was unable to compose himself when offered the fruits of friendship. There was a situation in his hands now that he had to deal with, even though he'd been on the verge of a solution. He'd try thinking of resolutions in which he'd be able to keep those he cared for – his closest friends – dear to his heart while simultaneously keeping them at arm's length. The only way he'd be able to do that was lie, and Remus had never been a good liar.

He supposed, now that this outcome had played out, his exposure was inevitable. If it hadn't been Sirius to catch on then, no doubt, James would. Especially now that the four of them had grown closer. They paid more attention to him now, observed his behavior, noted his absences, and made sure to ask all the right questions. Without even meaning to, though sometimes he asked himself if he'd done this unconsciously, he lead them straight to the truth.

Sirius sighed, breaking Remus from his reverie. He stretched his knees out, propping his feet up next to Remus's arms. For a moment, they sat in silence, neither one saying a word but exchanging something they hadn't meant to.

"Take off my socks," Sirius quipped. Remus scoffed to himself.

"I'm not taking off your bloody socks," he chortled, clearly thinking this was some sort of attempt at comic relief. In Remus's mind, Sirius was going to ask for a foot massage or for a toenail clipping of some sort. However, when his friend remained in all seriousness, he frowned.

"Take them off," he repeated, this time more firmly.

Sirius was not a boy Remus crossed often, but this was because he had never been given the reason to. For the most part, he respected Remus's privacy and went about his day as sassy as ever, not giving a jot or two about anyone aside from his group of friends. On good days, he might be interested in Julienne or Lily Evans. He never pried much, though that habit was cut there lately by sharp questions and stinging realities.

Remus had seen Sirius when he was angry, and never wanted to be in the way of his wrath. He decided an argument over a pair of socks was not worth the loss of company and obeyed Sirius's request. He used the tips of his fingers to carefully remove the clothing, finding a shocking image.

Discolored and swollen, scars traced along the bottom of Sirius's foot like trails with abrupt ends. From the sole of his foot all the way to his toes, barely healed wounds covered his skin. Some had been metallic, similar to the abrasions that had covered Remus's arms, while others were a shade of brownish-purple – fresh. This had been done recently, and Remus's skin crawled.

Some were only surface level, barely making a scratch. They'd gone easy on him at first. Others were deep and left his skin enflamed. Remus unconsciously ran his fingers over one. It was on his left foot, starting from his Achilles tendon and stopping just at the balls of his feet. It had been the longest, most puffy wound to grace Sirius's feet; Remus could only imagine the pain. Actually, he needn't imagine too long. He wondered if it were similar to the wolf's claws, if, on some sick and twisted level, there pain was on an even playing field.

"When she's finished, she makes me stand on salt," Sirius commented nonchalantly, as if this were routine for him. Remus could assume it was; he was the embodiment, apparently, of everything his mother hated.

A brash Gryffindor who had not been as prejudiced as everyone made him out to be. Foolhardy and impulsive, never using his head for a single moment. He'd been one of the most uncouth boys any teacher had put up with, and gave everyone a run for their money. He loved the idea of Muggle relations, and did not mind them whatsoever. He even found an interest in their lifestyles. Yes, Walburga Black must truly hate her son, for a mother who remotely cared for her child would never subject them to these things.

"I hate her," Remus muttered absently, tenderly stroking Sirius's ankle. Heat rushed to Sirius's cheeks, but he ignored this, settling to look out the window instead.

"We share the same sentiments then," he retorted. "She's done much worse."

"What could be worse than this," Remus cried, wondering how Sirius could be so calm, so unbothered by this abuse.

He merely shrugged, "You can be hit, slapped, punched, thrown and whipped. Outside heals and fades away. I'll get over all of these."

"Will you," Remus whispered. There had been times when Remus wondered if he'd ever be able to look at himself in the mirror without flinching, recoiling away from the boy who stared back at him. No matter how long he tried, how hard he tried, they'd always be there. The wolf would never go away; as soon as some started to heal, it'd be there once again to make fresh reminders. Eventually, Sirius would escape his parents, but Remus seriously doubted if it would be as easy as that. Those things, the images and the pain, might not have been temporary, no matter how much Sirius downplayed this.

"I won't give my mother enough power over me to affect my future," Sirius admonished lightly. "That implies I give a shit about her."

"Language."

"Shit, sorry," Sirius stuttered. A troubled frown was threatened by a smirk.

"Now you're just doing it on purpose," Remus chided him.

"That's a shitty thing to assume," Sirius gasped, easing back into his theatrics.

"You're foul."

"True," he revealed a devilish smile, "but I make up for it with my good looks and enthusiasm."

Remus shook his head, trying to keep his resolve, "Doesn't make you any less vulgar."

"But you'd never want me any other way."

If only Sirius knew how much this was true.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, October 1972 (Second Year)

Sirius had been overwhelmed with joy when Poppy (the woman Remus insisted Sirius call Madame Pomphrey) released his friend from her care. Three days and likely thirteen pounds of chocolate later, it was the pair trudging up the stairs of the Gryffindor tower with nothing but their bickering slicing through the silence. Well, Remus was trudging. His legs were heavy, somehow exhausted after lounging in a bed for three days. Sirius, on the other hand, was leaping and bounding everywhere like he was on some sort of drug.

"Oh, come on, slowpoke," he cried, tugging on Remus's arm impatiently. Sirius had been in some sort of mood ever since he returned from breakfast that Sunday morning. He seemed happier, more chipper than ever. He teased Remus endlessly and showered him in friendly praise. In fact, it would've appeared that Sirius had every intent on making Remus smile for the entirety of the day. No one would have minded; Remus needed to smile more.

"Stop whining and let me take my time," Remus barked, though there was no harshness in his tone. It felt to him as if he were an old father with an errant three-year-old being tugged around a toy store without his morning cup of coffee. He made attempts to soothe Sirius's energy by promising him more one-on-one time, taking trips with him to the kitchens for more chocolate, and attending their first Quidditch game that upcoming Wednesday – as if he weren't planning on it already.

"You're acting like a grandfather, old man," Sirius groaned, dropping Remus's hand and racing up the staircase.

"You're older than me," he jeered.

"Then act your age," Sirius challenged, that impish smirk stretching across his flushed face.

Remus liked this change of attitude, especially after the nature of their conversation the day prior. Sirius's revelation, the scars and trauma, had weighed heavy on Remus's heart, and he tried coming up with ways to heal his friend, to get him out of his current situation. Not many ideas came to mind aside from kidnapping and harboring a fugitive-runaway, which might have been a capital offense to the Ministry; he certainly didn't need any more attention from them.

Sirius waited for his friend at the Portrait hole, saying the password excitedly, "Catawampus!"

The Fat Lady swung open, revealing their common room. Oddly, Remus felt more at home than ever amongst the scarlet and gold. It was warm, as it always had been, and smelled strongly of cake. He'd been unable to eat for most of his time in the Hospital Wing, and the prospect of a proper meal suddenly called to him. Lily Evans, a red-headed girl in the same year as him, smiled at him as he passed her.

"Hi, Remus," she crooned. She'd always been quite nice to Remus, never staring at his scars or commenting on the shabbiness of his robes. It had been her and Julienne who extended themselves his first year, clearly not giving a jot if anyone else liked him or not. If he remembered correctly, she was the one who'd sent him the singing cards and acid pops after one of his hospital visits.

"Hullo, Lily," he stopped beside her, offering a gentle smile. Stacks of parchment and open books surrounded her, scribbled runes on one with potions equations on the other. It all looked foreign to him, and he scrunched up his nose in distaste. "I don't see how you do it all. Runes?"

"I don't know why I took the class," she admitted bashfully. "But it looks good on final reports."

"Hats to you," Remus chuckled, ignoring Sirius from where he stood. The former pouted dramatically, letting out a theatrical sigh as Remus conversed with the girl.

Lily Evans and Sirius Black had an odd relationship, just as he and Julienne. On some days, the only thing that linked them was Remus. They each seemed to share the same fondness for him, joining together to ensure he was getting the proper care and attention. However, this was the thing that set them apart. At least, set him and Evans apart. Julienne had her times with Remus on their walks to potions and during their study sessions in the library. Sirius and the ginger bint, on the other hand, frequently bickered with one another during and after classes about whether or not Remus wanted their company.

The Lupin boy never gave either one an answer, enjoying his time with both of them equally. Well, not equally. It would be a lie if he told himself he felt just as comfortable with Lily as he did with Sirius. A big, fat, blatant, ugly lie. While Lily was nice, Remus didn't exactly want nice. People were nice to him all the time. They sent strained smiles and awkward waves his way, clearly forcing uncomfortable conversations with him if the need arose. But, most of all, they looked at him with pity. Lily pitied him, and he didn't want that.

Sirius, James, and Peter did the exact opposite of this. They approached them with their loud, rowdy, uncouth, disorganized, and boyish manner without a single inhibition. They toppled over one another to snatch Remus for a tutoring lesson, to show them a new card they collected from their chocolate frog packages. James now found it absolutely necessary to teach Remus all the bones and structure of Quidditch from the basics any average joe would understand down to the knuts and bolts like strategic maneuvers which Remus couldn't pronounce. While some people would find this maddening, because James seemed to only eat, speak, and breathe Quidditch, Remus found it endearing.

Looking back on things, it seemed surreal. If someone had told Remus he'd be spending his Saturdays on the Quidditch pitch happily, and willingly, watching Sirius Black and James Potter practice their skills on a broom with Peter Pettigrew by his side eating some of his chocolate he would have laughed in their face saying they're the loopy one. If they'd told him that his roommates would become more than just roommates, rather best friends, he would've walked away in confusion. The idea that the boy who loathed the very sight of him enjoyed his company now more than ever wasn't possible to Remus only a year ago.

But, clearly, circumstances change, and he was glad for that.

He bid Lily a goodbye, wishing her luck on her essays and homework, and accompanied a dejected Sirius up to the dormitory.

"Pouting doesn't suit you," he pointed out with an impish smirk. Sirius remained silent, arms crossed tightly over his chest. "Are you upset with me?"

"No," Sirius quipped. He stopped in front of their door, blocking Remus from entering. "Wait here."

Before Remus could get a word in, Sirius had slipped in the room and slammed the door in his face, quick to lock the door behind him to ensure their privacy. Remus sighed heavily, leaning against the wall and trying to get a listen in on what they'd been saying.

"What do you mean you lost it," Sirius hissed angrily. The shuffling of feet sounded through the room.

"I swear it was here a second ago, Sirius," Peter cried quietly, "I swear it!"

He could hear a low growl come from Sirius, and James snicker from the corner.

"Did you check in his–" James began.

"I swear to God, Peter, if you put it in his trunk to hide it, and I find it in there, I'm going to string you up on the Whomping Willow myself," Sirius declared hotly, stomping from one side of the room to the other. With the crack of a trunk opening and a loud smack, Remus couldn't hold in the laughter, and neither could James. "Okay, okay! Get into position – no, Peter, you don't – WHAT ARE YOU DOING!"

"What if I break it," Peter whined. James let out a loud guffaw, clearly entertained by whatever he was seeing. Remus could only wish he could be blessed with the image himself.

"Yeah, well, maybe if you hadn't eaten half of the bloody –"

"James had some, too," Peter accused.

"How dare you," James gasped. "I would never!"

"It was your idea!"

"Was not!"

"Was, too."

"Was not."

"Was, too," Peter squeaked, though this time more firmly.

"I'll come over there and hex the buttons off your trousers," James threatened.

"Fine by me. I needed a new pair anyway," Peter said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Sirius sighed, "Look, just, stop. Get on it, Peter, and shush. James, hold it up straight or I'll shatter your kneecaps."

"Is that a –"

"Yes, it's a bloody threat, now shut the hell up," Sirius shouted. Silence rang through the room, and Remus was red with quiet laughter. "I'm going to let him in."

In an attempt to compose himself, Remus straightened his posture and, tried to, keep a straight face. He prepared himself for several things. One such thing was Peter's underwear stuck to various points in the room, socks dangling from his four-poster bed, or, even worse, Remus's clothing strung everywhere in the room. A shiver ran down his spine. What had Peter momentarily lost?

Sirius, upon opening the door, smiled brightly at him. For a moment, he was all Remus could focus on. His messy black hair dangling over his shoulders, grey eyes wide with anticipation, and red cheeks, probably from reprimanding his friends. His smile seemed so genuine, so proud of his surprise, and Remus found himself smiling back at him.

So often that year had Sirius looked troubled; downcast stares and vacant responses. The personality had leaked out of him during the summer, and now Remus had some clue as to why this was. Now that he'd known, it was hard not to flash glances at the palms of his hands whenever Sirius wasn't looking, unconsciously making sure no more appeared. However, he would not allow himself to take pity on his friend. Sirius would hate it just as much as he did.

Behind him, Peter and James were holding up a banner with silk lions running left and right around the words Welcome to the Loopy Bin! One year ago, he might have found this insulting, but now, he found it quite endearing. Not that he would find comfort in an old remark that once hit him where it hurt, rather they implied that they were all, in fact, a bit uncouth but it didn't matter much at all at the end of the day because they were each happy with each other.

Remus smirked at James, who'd been holding his end much lower than Peters most likely on purpose.

"Welcome home," he shouted merrily, sending a shower of red and gold sparks across the room to hit Sirius in the behind. The latter yelped in pain, fumbling into Remus's arms clumsily. "S'what you get for being a berk!"

"Now to fulfill my threat," Sirius howled angrily, wand at the ready. Bright sparks of shimmering gold flew from the tip of his wand, landing right at James's knees and sending him toppling over onto Peter. They all screamed, a mangled pile of limbs and wands.

Remus, laughing to himself now, looked at the surprise they'd put together.

They'd brought up two, small chess tables from the common room and covered them in, what appeared to be, curtains. Of course, they were supposed to look like tablecloths, but Remus could recognize their drapes from anywhere. There was a burnt spot on one where Peter had tried to hex Sirius after charming the buttons on his jacket to grow and shrink at random. Though, it was no matter. On the tabletops were small platters of food – specifically Remus's favorite food.

There absolutely had to be chocolate, and it was clear they didn't hesitate to stock up on that. Bars upon bars of dark chocolate were laid out, Chocolate frogs hopping on top wildly. Finger sandwiches took up another plate. Some had been cucumber (this had been Sirius's favorite, and he most likely put up a proper fight to have them there) while others were tuna fish. He could imagine James whining like a child at the smell. A bowl of crisps was simply begging to be eaten, and, just as he'd smelled, a cake sitting right in the middle.

It was clear, now, to Remus that whatever Peter and James had eaten was, in fact, the cake. What had once been a two-layer, circular cake with frothy, brown frosting (must've been chocolate) and three large candles in the shape of witch fingers was now shaped to be a crescent moon; how fitting. One of the candles was leaning dangerously to the left and dripped wax onto the platter while the others waited happily to blow out. On the top, in bright red icing, was written Feel Better Lupin.

The smile never faded.

"Who decided the cake should be brown," he asked smugly, "because they need to be Stupefied."

The three other boys, who'd engaged in a rather intense wrestling match, froze in place. Peter's legs had been bent in questionable angles while Sirius was rubbing James's face into his armpit aggressively. Through muffled protest, James cried 'Uncle' several times to no avail.

"See, James," Sirius shrieked, throwing his face away from him and clambering to his feet. He brushed himself off, tucking his hair behind his ear and regaining some of his dignity. "I told you it looked like a bloody turd."

"So vulgar," Remus gasped halfheartedly.

"Yeah, well he wanted it to be gray," James sneered, pulling Peter to his feet. The portly boy hurried over to the table, making plates for each of his friends with a soft smile. "Who the hell ices a cake gray?"

"Someone who's obsessed with their own eye color," Peter snickered. "I'm sure he'd look in the mirror all day if we let him."

Remus wondered why they didn't give Peter much credit. Sure, he was meek and timid, and there really wasn't much of a difference between him or Remus on certain days, but he always seemed to care about his mates. He blindly followed Sirius and James, as many other boys did as well, sure, but his loyalty never wavered. He'd been a great foundation for each of them, always giving support and advice to the best of his ability. However, some say he managed to fall in the background. Remus, in a way, felt a bit sorry for him. It was clear that Peter was sometimes trampled over; perhaps he shared something in common with Remus?

"I'm not the one who ate half a turd," Sirius pointed out arrogantly. "Don't snap at me, James. Don't worry. What goes in, must come out."

"Sirius, be quiet," Remus warned, taking a bite of dark chocolate.

"Be quiet yourself, Remus," Sirius retorted quickly.

With an eyeroll, Remus took his plate from Peter. He knew he shouldn't have been eating so much chocolate. In fact, it had been the only thing he consumed for three days with the exception of pumpkin juice and Skele-Gro. By now, he might as well have been pissing chocolate, according to the vulgar mind of Sirius Orion Black. Always has his head out of the gutter, clearly. Peter must've been thinking along the same lines as Remus, and he piled his plate with more finger sandwiches and carrot sticks.

"Sirius insisted on giving you vegetables instead of sweets," James groaned, flopping onto his bed.

"Just because you don't look after your body doesn't mean you must subject the rest of us to your life of piggishness," Sirius crooned, stroking his hair out of his face. "Don't complain when you've got a gut the size of three quaffles."

Remus opened his mouth to reply but closed it just as quickly, knowing this argument was better watched than engaged in. Several minutes of bickering went on for what felt like seconds, Remus only being drawn out of his reverie by Sirius haphazardly asking for his two cents which hardly ever meant a thing in the grand scheme of things. Both boys went back and forth from the color of the cake to whether or not James's broom would be able to hold him up during the next Quidditch match. Remus didn't really care what they argued about, to be frank. He simply soaked in the atmosphere, relishing in the comfort of his second home.

There was Peter on his bed, gnawing on a celery stick reluctantly, spitting it out immediately afterwards and replacing it with a crisp. Remus would have to get him on a better diet. His blonde hair, once cropped close to his scalp, had grown much longer now. But that didn't quite matter to Remus. Peter smiled much more often nowadays. He supposed their first year was full of unnecessary tension and was sure that Peter once made the comment that he'd felt stuck in the middle. Now, with it all past them, he was able to be free to think and speak, which must've lifted his burden.

There was James, now spinning on his stool with his wand pointed at Sirius's face, occasionally, ready to fire back if given the need. He hadn't been much different from who he was their first year. James was still a spit fire and an excellent dueler; he'd had much practice on the boys in their dormitories despite Ivan Strix's multiple reprimands. He particularly loved testing his new defense tactics on Sirius. His love for Quidditch had only intensified now that he'd gotten the chance to play, and he never stopped plotting his schemes against the school. Of course, he and Sirius were practically conjoined at the hips, as they always had been, and hardly went anywhere without him.

Then there was Sirius. There was so much to be said about him that Remus couldn't quite put it all together. He hadn't known how to feel about him their first year, and he certainly wasn't the same. There were days when he reverted back to his dignified, aristocratic ways – the attitude that now reminded Remus of the boy his mother wanted him to be. Then there were days like this when he was untamed and free to be whomever he liked. He taunted and jested like a boy his age should, and he was free to think and say as he pleased – a treasure not given to him at home. Upon the newest revelation, Remus worried more now than he had been his first year, and the same went for Sirius for Remus.

Their friendship was odd. It was unlike Sirius's friendship with James, and he wasn't sure why that was. With James, he seemed chummy like the boys on Muggle television. It would appear as if they were brothers for life, inseparable and bonded in a way that no one would intercede. For a while, Remus had wanted that, yearned for that connection. He'd seen it so much within his peers, and envy reared its ugly head in his chest every now and then at the sight of Sirius warming up to James and Peter more than him.

But, then he realized, there were moments with Sirius that Remus was sure he hadn't shared with the other boys. Remus had noticed that, while it was nice to have those congenial relationships every now and then, it was hard to be yourself. Not that Sirius had to hide who he was from his best friends; rather, it was difficult to be defenseless.

Whether he wanted to admit it or not, James was harsh. Similar to Sirius, he had a tough time stopping the words from leaving his mouth when he wasn't thinking. The joking, teasing, and taunting was alright on surface levels, but it makes it all the more trying to get Sirius to open up about something somber. Remus was sure that Sirius was hesitant to delve into the sordid details of his life with James and Peter because, so far into their friendship, it was only the congenial, brotherly affection. As far as Remus was concerned, he'd been the only person to know the smallest piece of information on Sirius's home life. How could he know if they'd take him seriously?

With Remus, there was no hiding. No need to. They'd been nice to each other, if not kind. They were intimate – intimate in a platonic way, of course! The entrails of their conversations ran a bit deeper than the common mealtime discussions in the Great Hall. In Remus's case, he didn't feel the need to put many guards up with Sirius, and he had the notion that the feeling was mutual. He'd always take Sirius's concern with respect and delicacy, never doubting him. Yes, he was a bit dramatic and, yes, he exaggerated some circumstances. However, in matters such as his home life, Remus would never doubt a word he said. Did Sirius doubt that the others wouldn't as well?

Their night went well into the morning despite each of them knowing that they had classes the next morning. The highlight of his night had been Peter shoving a handful of Pepper Imps into his mouth and belching balls of fires for hours on end. Even when he'd fallen asleep, tiny sparks would dance from his nose every so often. Sirius had also managed to summon an entire bottle of Gillywater in which he then coerced Remus to chug. Of course, some of the contents came pouring from his nose, but he didn't mind. He'd earned a bit of money considering they placed a bet on whether or not he could get through it without vomiting.

Sirius had been the first to fall asleep, draping his body across Remus's bed while saying it was 'the most comfortable bed in the room.' Remus wondered how he'd come to that conclusion seeing as though he'd never slept in the bed before, but decided to save that question for later. Peter followed soon after, not minding if his pillow got scorched throughout the night. James shut his curtains for him, shaking his head to himself.

It was only him and Remus left, then, to clean up the mess left behind.

"I think Sirius did this on purpose," he snickered, piling their banner into his trunk.

"He's clever like that," Remus sighed. "Scourgify." The bowls and platters were cleared of crumbs and oil, and Remus neatly stacked them in a pile. Not long after, the room had been cleared and all traces of a 'party' had been removed. It was as if nothing had ever been amiss.

Remus looked at his bed longingly, sighing in defeat as Sirius's sleeping form rolled over on some sort of pillow. It was a faded blue color, which had confused Remus because his pillow had been gold. He moved across the room quietly, not wanting to wake anyone with squeaky floorboards, but froze as he neared the bed.

Just under Sirius's arm had been his old, ruddy stuffed elephant. Ellie. Her ears, no matter how much his father swore it had been a him, were still a faded shade of blue, a new patch sewn in where a hole had torn through. The eyes, of course, were dangling by a thread or two, and the trunk had been twisted beyond all repair from his tossing and turning. Even from a distance, he could smell his home. Lupin Cottage. Lilac and baby powder. His mother. His father. It was all there.

If he closed his eyes, he could picture the Cottage. So small in comparison to the expanse of the valley, a small dot within miles and miles of meadows and fields. The walls outside his window were covered in vines and morning glory's, a bird's nest just on his windowsill every spring.

The carpet in the living room had an orange stain from his father spilling his orange soda during a horror movie marathon; for a man who'd been unafraid of anything, he sure was jumpy during Psycho. Hope had been so upset; not over the stain. No, no. She was more upset that Lyall had allowed their seven-year-old to watch a horror film at two in the morning.

The kitchen was such an ugly shade of yellow – sunshine yellow as his mother would happily call it – with a faded black stain just above the stove where Lyall and his son had attempted a Mother's Day breakfast for Hope. When putting a wizard and a ten-year-old in charge of Muggle contraptions, don't get your hopes up. It'll end in disaster.

The staircase had little paper men strung up between the banisters, weaving in and out of each rail. They were all colors differently, and Remus had gone through the trouble of giving each of them names. He'd told his parents that he wanted the pictures against the wall to have some company.

"We sent an owl to your parents," James murmured awkwardly. "Your mom said that it would make you feel better."

Remus, upon opening his eyes, found that Sirius had curled around Ellie tightly, cocooning her in his arms against his chest protectively. He didn't have it in him to slip her out of his grasp, so he left them be.

"It did," Remus admitted. James sat down on the edge of his bed, rubbing the back of his neck.

He hadn't changed. He might have been a spit fire, an excellent dueler, and the best second year Chaser Gryffindor had – but he was still God awful at communicating.

"How come you were in the hospital wing," he asked bravely. It had obviously been a question burning inside of him for quite some time. He said it with confidence, yet slight hesitation that made his voice waver.

"I got hurt," Remus began in an attempt to be vague, but lost the heart to do so. It hadn't been his perfect world, nor would it ever be, and in this one he would have to make things the best he could. If he didn't tell James then Sirius eventually would. Not that Remus thought Sirius would betray him, but he understood the loyalty he showed to all of his friends, and making him keep a secret as grand as this was unfair. He looked at James, gathering all the courage he could muster. "I have something to tell you."

"Yeah?"

The moment had come. With Sirius, it had been thrust upon him and there was no chance to turn back. There was no way out with Sirius, and he was forced to tackle the situation head on. The stakes had been higher, the risks much stronger. Now, with James, there was a point of return, and he could easily walk away from it if he wanted to. A small part of him did. It was the easy way out, for now. But there was a difference between easy and right, and if Remus truly wanted to be James's friend he would have to do what was right.

"I-I…" he stuttered. "I just wanted to tell you that I- well, I'm –"

"It's alright, mate," James reassured him roughly, not meeting his stare. "I don't judge you."

Remus let out a sigh of relief. Another burden lifted off his shoulders. He had the feeling James might have been a bit more open to the idea of his condition than Sirius, but to know that both of them were accepting him with open arms made his heart race.

"Thank Merlin," he groaned. "I didn't want to keep it from you, you know. I didn't want to keep who I am a secret anymore."

"Yeah, no, I totally get that," James muttered, scratching the back of his neck. "I mean, it isn't like you… had a choice, right?"

"Well, I think if I had the choice to pick between being a human and a Werewolf I'd go for the human one," Remus laughed. James deadpanned.

"Wait, you're a Werewolf?"

Remus's smile faltered, the air catching in his throat.

"Yeah," he drawled. "That's what you were talking about, right?"

James stuttered to himself a minute, turning a comical shade of pink and avoiding any and all eye contact with Remus for several seconds. Remus watched in mild amusement, curious yet frightened.

"No, no, no – I mean, yeah. That's what I – look, mate, I don't care what you are. You're still my friend."

Remus smiled to himself, shuffling his feet together.

"Thanks, James."

"Don't mention it."

Remus glanced back at Sirius with an endearing smirk.

"I suppose I'll be sleeping in Sirius's bed?"

"Unless you'd like to wake up to his putrid morning breath and the theatrical migraines, I would assume so."

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, October 1973 (Third Year)

What had been a beautifully devised plan to hex the Slytherin Prefects hair into serpents (they thought the likeness would suit them best) turned into a terrible fiasco that earned Sirius and James three nights of detention with Slughorn – the aforementioned's worst nightmare. Slughorn had been Sirius's least favorite teacher thus far, mostly because the old man would choke himself on the ingredients in his cabinet just to earn the praise of the Black Family Name. He treated Sirius better than most students, flattered him whenever possible, and hardly ever reprimanded him.

Sirius used this to his advantage quite often. From extending due dates to slacking on busywork, down to the nitty-gritty of weaseling out of detention for the third time in a week, Sirius played his cards well with Slughorn. Of course, these slips were made with an empty promise to put in a good word or two with the great and mighty Orion (sometimes Sirius wondered just how important his father was considering he never left his office) and, perhaps if she's in a good mood, Walburga. Little did pudgy Horace know that Sirius had no true inclination to look either one of his relatives in the face, let alone hold a full conversation with them about a teacher who did nothing but annoy him.

But he didn't say this to Horace, not even as he was skipping out of the dungeons with an impish smirk on his olive toned face, bidding goodbye to poor James as he cleaned out only his third cauldron. There were some things that people didn't need to know, and this was for his own good. Slughorn didn't seem like the type to handle rejection well, especially rejection from an estimable family in Wizarding London with enough money to buy his position out tenfold. With that in mind, and not a worry in the world, Sirius took off in search of his good friend Remus.

There were only a handful of places the Werewolf could be on a Tuesday night: the library or the common room. His clubs only met on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Julienne had several other things to be doing on this night than worry about Remus's Transfiguration essay. There was no reason to go bothering Remus on one of his only free nights; a boy needed his personal space. That's, at least, what Sirius had drilled into her head.

Those two had been close. Too close, if Sirius might say so. Honestly, going everywhere and being conjoined at the hip isn't quite attractive, though Remus might just look attractive doing anything. He'd look much better, however, if he were fringed at Sirius's hip, and not Julienne's. Why?

Sirius didn't exactly have an answer for that question despite asking himself several times already that year. All he knew was that seeing them together nine times out of ten made his skin crawl in ways he wasn't fond of. From potions to study buddy sessions to rambling around the castle together, laughing and twiddling away like idiots – if they spent any more time together Sirius thought he might just explode. Besides, she had her Hufflepuff friends and Remus had his Gryffindor pals. Who better to be his friends than the boys?

All he'd needed was Sirius, Peter, and James. So, why weren't they good enough for him? What did Julienne have that they lacked? The simple answer would probably be tenderness and the touch of a woman. Remus had always been, as James put it, a bit on the sensitive side, so, perhaps, Julienne's soft nature appealed to Remus in a way that his companions couldn't. Nevertheless, Sirius was getting relatively tired of wondering why Julienne was better than him.

He'd made a move to climb the stairs towards the Gryffindor tower when he'd heard a familiar chuckle, a low, guttural sounds that Remus made whenever he was trying his hardest to keep quiet. Soundlessly, Sirius tiptoed towards the sound of muffled conversation and secreted giggles.

"I think it looks quite nice on you," Julienne squeaked timidly. Sirius rolled his eyes, pressing himself flat against the wall to avoid exposure; everyone knew that Remus could pull off a potato sack if he pleased. Those robes, in fact, were a perfect example of shabby clothing on a divine being and anyone who said otherwise was subject to Sirius's fists in their eyes.

"I'm sure others would go to great lengths to prove otherwise," Remus muttered insecurely. Sirius felt something hot and feral rear its ugly head in his chest; he hated it when Remus spoke so poorly of himself, and no matter what he'd said to his friend, Sirius couldn't seem to get him to stop. Though, this was much better than wishing himself dead. Yes, Sirius would much rather this than suicidal rambling. However, when had his friends ever made him feel ugly?

He paused.

When had his friends genuinely told him he was ugly? Remus must've known they meant it all in good fun. If Sirius had a galleon for every time he'd truly believed Remus was ugly he'd be a broke man.

Remus was all legs and arms, which didn't bother Sirius in the slightest. It meant that whenever James had hidden Sirius's books on top of high furniture, Remus could use his limbs to get them down. Sirius knew he hated how tall he was (he was now on the brink of 5 feet and seven inches) and complained daily that he'd be just as tall as Hagrid and would likely be subjected to not only Werewolf prejudice but that of Giants as well. Many of the boys teased him for his height, which earned them a nasty hex from either one of his three friends, if not all of them, but the ladies were beginning to swoon. James told his tall friend that those brutes were simply jealous, and Sirius was inclined to agree. It wasn't his fault they were midgets.

Besides that, he had a mop of luscious tawny hair that shimmered like gold on good days and always felt soft between Sirius's fingertips. Not that he always played with Remus hair – that would be girly, and Sirius was not girly! Apparently his parents had been demanding that he cut it in the coming weeks, something about looking like a proper gentleman, but Sirius believed they could shove that notion where the sun didn't shine because Remus looked great with long hair. Besides, anyone with a brain and the secret his friend kept would know that his long hair covered the rather impertinent scar on his neck from his attacker – the crux of most of his insecurities.

His eyes, much to his chagrin, were a dazzling shade of gold – almost like two amber stones gazing around lazily. Sirius would sometimes find himself watching their reflections. Sometimes words would dance in his irises while other times the flames of the common room fire would flicker in and out of transparency. Remus hated his eyes; he claimed they reminded him of the Wolf. Well, just between you and Sirius, he loved them. All he had were cloudy gray eyes full of distaste and contempt for anyone other than his clique of friends. Remus, on the other hand, had crown jewels in his skull.

He should be more appreciative of himself. Peter was chubby and stout, Sirius was short and thin, and James was in the middle of being lopsided and lame, probably from flailing himself off of his broom once a month.

"Well, I don't care what others think about you," she whispered seductively. Sirius felt his heart pounding in his chest wildly, fiercely, slamming against his ribcage almost painfully. If he dared poke his head out, if only for a moment, he risked getting caught in the act. The act of what? If things were heading in the direction he assumed they were, then he'd be watching a disgusting snogging session between two of his so-called friends, and that was nothing he wanted to be a part of.

He reasoned with himself that, if it were truly that disgusting, he could have, and would have, just walked away. There were no obligations holding him to that spot, and there was nothing forcing him to listen to a conversation that made his stomach roil with displeasure. So, he asked himself, why was he still there? To find out if Julienne was a snake just as he'd expected? To find out if Remus had a secret girlfriend – if he did, Sirius was going to ring him by his neck. Maybe it was to get some sick satisfaction in knowing Remus would never do anything with that bint.

Yes. It was that satisfaction, the ache to hear him reject her pretty little act.

The aforementioned chuckled awkwardly, a sound that proud twisted pleasure to Sirius's reeling emotions. Her seductress role wasn't going as planned; Remus was too smart to be seduced by some pathetic Hufflepuff's attempts, too smart and too polite. There wasn't a space on Remus's agenda for snogging in a corridor after curfew, and Sirius knew that fact was eating away at Remus's inner morale.

"We'll talk about this more tomorrow, love," Julienne announced with finality. "I've got to get back before the Prefect's start making their rounds." With a small, almost inaudible kiss, Julienne skipped off through the corridor, disappearing around the corner. If she noticed Sirius, and he doubted she did, she ignored him completely. Sirius had wished she had the guts to look him in the eye, to face him like a man, despite the fact that she wasn't a man. But if she was bold enough to snog his best friend, then she was smart enough to catch his fists with her face.

Putting her chapped lips all over his best friend, thinking she had the right to seduce him into corners of the castle for some cut-rate conversation with little to no substance, was downright disrespectful to Remus and frazzled Sirius's nerves beyond belief. He was never frazzled! No one could frazzle the pompous Sirius Black – he was above petty rousing. He was above getting worked up over things out of his control. Who was she to agitate him, to get a rise out of him in a place he wasn't even aware could rise?

If she'd kissed him on the cheek he could live with her presence another day, so long as she never ventured to do so again. Remus didn't like that sort of contact; he hardly allowed Sirius to lay his head on his lap! Why should she get to slobber all over him like a slag? No, those were nasty thoughts, Sirius chided himself. A kiss on the cheek is far better than a kiss on the lips, and it was easier to fool himself into thinking it was that way than anything else.

If they kissed, Remus would tell him. Remus told him everything, as best friends should. There was nothing to hide in their relationship; he knew his darkest secret in the world, kissing Julienne couldn't have been worse. Would it annoy Sirius beyond repair? Yes, of course it would. Why? Because Remus deserved much better. Not that Julienne wasn't a suitable match because, if you're looking at it from another's perspective, they were perfect together.

Perhaps that's what was eating away at Sirius's insides, specifically his heart.

If you looked at it from any other place, they were a match made in heaven. Both of them were studious, kind-hearted, gentle souls with an appeal towards the softer lifestyle. Some called them goody-two-shoes and others regarded them as sweethearts, Sirius was inclined to believe his best mate was a sweetheart to an annoying extent. They had similar tastes in literature, and both of them had Muggle backgrounds, and this meant that they'd bond over things such as (Sirius thought it was called) Televisions and Phonophones, whatever those were.

Yes, Sirius thought dejectedly, he could hear the wedding bells and the impudent snogging already.

"You can come out, Sirius," Remus called gently. The heart, the same heart withering in its place just moments ago, leapt into Sirius's throat, causing him to choke on a cough. He whirled out from behind the corner, pointing an accusatory finger in Remus's direction.

"How," he demanded, stomping over to his friend angrily. Angry because of what? Julienne? His secret keeping? His ability to know Sirius was eavesdropping? Take your pick.

Remus's back was facing his friend, arms folded calmly over his chest. "I just knew."

"How can you just know," Sirius cried, standing next to his friend with a huff. "I was being silent as a mouse!"

Remus snorted, "I just –"

"If you say I just knew one more time, I'll shove my fists up your nose," Sirius threatened darkly, looking away from the taller boy. He knew he shouldn't have been this upset, seeing as though Remus could be with whomever he wanted to be whenever he wanted to be with them. Nothing was holding him back. In fact, it was completely normal, according to James, for boys to have "crushes" on the ladies at this age. If that were the case, then why wasn't Sirius interested in any of the girls his age? Why had they just irritated him to the point where he wanted to tear his beautiful hair out of his pretty, little head?

"Good," Remus sighed, "then you can get rid of this blasted stuffy nose I have. Now, stop being in such a foul mood."

It was difficult to stay mad at Remus. Not that Sirius was a softie, because he wasn't. Not in the slightest. He considered himself one of the most brutal Gryffindors to walk the halls. He was cold and harsh with a fist of steel, and he wasn't afraid of a thing. Except germs. He was deathly afraid of anything coming out of the body and landing on him. He shivered.

Putting all that aside, however, he was as brave as they came. He was best mates with a bloody werewolf, for Merlin's sake! Of course, no one but the boys knew this, and it was in everyone's best interest if it stayed that way. He dealt with his mother and father, and he hadn't cried the last time Walburga whipped the bottom of his feet; there was progress being made on Grimmauld Place. Though, he supposed he deserved it after sticking up those rather vulgar posters of Muggle women – courtesy of James Potter. At least they didn't move, he tried reasoning with his mother. He wouldn't be able to sleep if he heard them moaning and groaning all night, and neither would she.

But, Sirius had to admit, there was a soft place in his heart for his boys. Yes, he called them his boys. He was the eldest, of course! He had to be the one to take care of them; who else would?

Remus, he thought, and that seemed more realistic. Who was the one to get them out of trouble left and right? Remus. Who was the one who planned the escape routes after pranks? Remus. Who was the brains behind each of their operations, and whose plans got them out of trouble more times than Sirius could count on his fingers and toes? Remus and Remus. So, if he were being honest with himself, it was Remus who took care of them.

In a twisted way, the softest place in his heart was, in fact, for Remus. He'd been, what James called, the tortured cinnamon roll of the group. He was the tender hearted, the soft handed, and endearing member of the group that was disgustingly optimistic and kind; sometimes his kindness made the others want to vomit, especially when regarding their rival house. He was all of this when he had every reason not to be; he was all of this when research had "proven" he couldn't be.

And while they didn't want to admit this to him, there was hardly a life outside of Hogwarts that their friend would have. Not with his condition. Remus could come up at the top of their graduating class – he probably would – and still the wizarding community would do more than throw a withered bone in his direction. This fact angered his friends, but it was the reality they were stuck with. They'd have to make the best of his years now, when they truly mattered, and deal with the rest when they crossed that bridge.

The pair climbed the stairs to the Gryffindor tower in silence, though Sirius mind was reeling with suspicions and thoughts. Had he had some sort of demented crush on Jemimah? If so, was he planning on telling him? Would he tell the entire group?

Something didn't sit well in Sirius when thinking about the two of them together. Whether it was the hand holding, the snogging, the secret giggles and cuddling – it could be any of it. But he reasoned with himself that it was purely because he'd start spending more time with Julienne than with his mates, and that his appearances would become so scarce that he'd drift away from the group entirely. That thought, that crippling thought, was what he believed to be the root of his fear.

But Sirius Black is never afraid!

"Hobbledehoy," Remus muttered, clearly deep in thought as well. They entered without a word, throwing weak smiles at their peers as they went to their dorms. Lily Evans had taken quite the liking to Remus throughout the year, though they were only a month in at this time. They spoke often to one another and didn't mind reading in silence every now and then. Since when did Remus become such a lady's man?

"Hi, Sirius," someone cooed dreamily. As it happened so often, Sirius had learned to ignore this. Now that he'd grown a few inches along with his hair, girls were beginning to take an interest in him. This might have also been because the Halloween Ball was coming soon – a week from that day – and several girls in Gryffindor were without a date. That left their choice of James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, and Dirk Cresswell. Frank Longbottom had the courage to ask Alice Fortescue and Arthur Stebbins asked a Gryffindor just a year below them.

Sirius claimed he was above things such as this, above asking girls to accompany him to an evening he could use for the best of pranks and mischief, and his friends, or so he thought, shared the same sentiments. James had asked Lily Evans to go with him upon the announcement of the ball.

"I'll just ask casually," he claimed nervously.

"How casual are your dress robes, idiot," Sirius had chided with annoyance.

Of course, as everyone thought she would, Lily was quick to reject James, claiming she needed a boy who was on her level of maturity. No one could say they blamed her. James spent most of his time getting in all sorts of trouble and getting on the nerves of Professors; half of their school was surprised he hadn't been expelled yet.

Peter was too anxious to ask anyone to go, though he mentioned taking a girl from Hufflepuff at one point. Sirius had been too distracted by his game of exploding snaps to pay him any attention. He hardly expected anyone to go with Peter – not that he wasn't a catch. However, when you smell like cheese and put so much oil in your hair it looks like oven grease, who would honestly want to go with you. Sirius predicted that, if he stood to lose a few pounds and found an alternative method to fix his hair, the ladies would be throwing themselves upon him. Just a prediction, though, of course, and he would not be held responsible if it did not come true.

Remus didn't mention the Ball much, shrugging indifferently to the prospect of taking a girl with him. He didn't seem too caught up in the commotion of dating just yet, much to Sirius's relief, though the situation with Julienne was making his blood boil.

It hit him, then, as they prepared to enter their dorm.

Remus was taking Julienne. Remus was taking Julienne Je-fucking-rome to the Halloween Ball.

"You bloody bas—" Sirius begun, but was cut short by the door yanking open.

James stood their in his glory, messy hair and glasses askew, and let out a sigh of relief upon seeing his friends.

"I've got an idea," he breathed impishly. Taking their arms, he pulled them in their room quickly, not forgetting to lock the door, and cast a silencing charm over the key hole; a precautionary measure, he claimed, to ensure no one would eavesdrop on their conversation. It must've been important. James hardly ever thought that far ahead, Sirius thought.

"What's this all about," Remus asked innocently, tiredly removing his shoes and socks by his bed. Sirius watched him, eyes full of rage, and was tempted to open his mouth again. Julienne, really? No wonder she'd been all starry eyed and hippity hopped out of the corridor.

Wait.

Did she have a crush on Remus? Normal friends didn't do that when asked to a ball. They nonchalantly accepted and took it as a cordial outing. Nothing important, nothing to go all but skipping to your fucking dormitory. Nothing to kiss Remus over. Friends don't kiss friends. Friends don't hide in corridors and have secret conversations. No, no they do not.

More importantly, did Remus have a crush on her?

"Remmy," James smirked, throwing himself on the taller boy's bed. "What's the one thing you hate during transformations?"

Sirius rolled his eyes, "Oh, I don't know, maybe the entire ordeal?"

"Shut up, I was asking Remus," James hissed, taking note of his friend's foul mood. Sirius's mood shifts had been happening quite often that year, and it was beginning to take a toll on James's patience. There was only so much of his foul attitude he could put up with. "Remember you told us how you afraid of being alone during transformations?"

Suspicious, Remus nodded.

"Well, we did some research," Peter emerged from his own bed, a thick book lying in his arms. "Get a load of this: Without any humans nearby to attack, or other animals to occupy it, the werewolf will attack itself out of frustration."

This was common knowledge, at least to Remus, and he didn't look too surprised in the slightest at this revelation. Sirius, on the other hand, felt queasy.

While he acted as if it didn't bother him, Remus's affliction got under his skin in ways he wasn't sure was possible. He loved Remus as a friend, and would have done anything for him given the opportunity. He wanted nothing more than for him to lead a normal life as a wizard, and tried his hardest to ensure that he felt accepted in their friend group.

Yet, despite all of this, when affronted with the cold, hard facts of Lycanthropy, Sirius choked up. Whether it had been the prejudice embedded in his system or the fear of something happening to his loved ones, when faced with the fact that, once a month, his best mate turned into a monster, Sirius had been chilled to the bone. How could someone like Remus become such a thing? Was the world that unfair?

Sirius had tried convincing himself that it didn't, in fact, bother him whatsoever. Why would it? Remus had never been threatening or harsh towards him. Sure, he called him names, but it was all-in good-natured fun. But the high of being let in on such a big secret was wearing off, and he was unsure how he'd be able to stomach it as they grew closer. It was one thing having to deal with an acquaintance with such a disease, however, it was completely different when someone you cared about was infected.

At times, he felt sick to his stomach after Remus's transformations. The scars, the blood, the bruises – everything made his stomach upset. The days leading up to transformations made him uncomfortable; it was now impossible to ignore the signs. The lack of appetite, the fatigue, and the irritability. What they took for Remus just being in a foul mood now had meaning, and Sirius couldn't help but become clammy in the days close to the Full Moon.

Could they blame him? Werewolves, whether they wanted to believe or not, could be blood thirsty animals with a drive to do nothing but kill. This had been proven! Look at Fenrir Greyback; he was an absolute maniac. Sirius wondered if he were only a wizard. Would he be able to maim and kill so many with only a wand as a weapon? No. But when you have a transformation on your side that creates a deadly magical creature, he supposed one would have the ability to inflict much more damage.

Remus turned in on himself when he had nothing better to distract him, which, to Sirius, meant that, if given the opportunity, Remus would murder anything in sight. Even his friends.

"Don't you see," James shrieked. "Listen."

Peter approached Remus hopefully.

"A wolf is unlikely to attack a human except under exceptional circumstances. The werewolf, however, targets humans almost exclusively and poses very little danger to any other creature," he read carefully.

Remus deadpanned.

"Gee, thanks for the reminder," he snapped, yanking his robes off and throwing them to the side. Sirius facepalmed, mentally cursing the other two for saying such things. What had they been planning? To ruin Remus's good mood after his little rendezvous with his girlfriend. The thought made Sirius's insides roil.

"No, that's not what we meant, you berk," James groaned. "Remus, don't you see? Werewolves target humans. Humans exclusively."

"Yeah, I get it," Remus huffed, good mood immediately extinguished. "I want to kill every student on campus once a month, I know."

"Reminds me a bit of Lily Evans when she –" A shoe slammed against Sirius's face with brute force.

"Don't talk about her like that," James and Remus growled in unison.

Putting on the theatrics, Sirius covered his nose, "You broke it! My precious sniffer – you broke my fucking nose!"

Peter snorted, clearly trying to hide his amusement within the pages of his book as Sirius wailed dramatically. He fell to the floor in a crumpled heap, rocking back and forth like a madman.

"No, Remus," Peter finally chuckled. "It means you wouldn't attack an animal. For some odd reason, an animal can occupy you, so you don't, you know, aim for other things."

With Sirius still on the ground, screaming bloody murder, Remus pulled out his wand, murmuring a quick Episkey to shut him up. A quiet crack and a squeal echoed throughout the room; James was thankful he put a silencing charm on their room, otherwise Ivan Strix might just come and hex them into oblivion.

"What are you planning on doing then, buying me a dog so I can chase its tail," Remus snorted, obviously not convinced by their offer. He couldn't see where all of this was leading to; he hardly wanted to put another living creature in the room with him, animal or not, in fear that it might have just met the end of days with him.

James rolled his eyes, "Who can transform into an animal?"

Peter and Sirius muttered a quick, "Remus," in unison, though Sirius's voice was muffled by groans of discomfort and whining.

"No, you idiots, Minnie!"

"Everyone knows she's an Animagus –" Remus clamped his mouth shut quickly. Sirius froze. So, finally, James could smirk with satisfaction knowing that it went through their thick skulls. Sirius had to be honest with himself, the idea was wonderful, at least to his impulsive Gryffindor genes. If it was true that Werewolves are simply occupied by animals, then they could, possibly, register themselves as Animagi.

"You're a fucking genius," Sirius screamed, jumping to his feet and engulfing James in a wind crushing embrace. "We've figured it out!"

"Peter and I figured it out," James corrected hotly, though the offense was clearly not taken. "You were too busy snooping out to find Rem –"

Sirius clapped his hand over his friend's mouth before another word could be uttered, laughing nervously. His eyes did not stray to Remus's side of the room, though not because he was a wuss. If he wanted to look Remus in the eye, then he would. It would just be awkward for Remus, and that is why he didn't look. Sirius wouldn't want to make him uncomfortable with his gorgeous, brooding stares and impish smirks.

"This is a great plan, and I commemorate you for thinking beyond your caliber –" James glared at him while Peter huffed crossly – "but have you forgotten you must register as an Animagus after much practice and determination. The process for becoming an Animagi is brutal, and I don't know if you're ready. We're literally learning about this in McGonagall's –" Silence. "That's where you got the idea."

James gave a triumphant smirk, "See, I do listen!"

Remus rubbed his forehead, pinching the bridge of his nose, "You can't just choose one day to become an Animagi. It takes loads of practice and skills we don't have yet."

"Which," Peter cut in smoothly, "we are going to pay extra attention this term to the lessons Minnie teaches us."

"Stop calling her Minnie, it's disrespectful," Remus muttered distantly, though the hint of a smile played at his lips.

"I'll stop calling her Minnie when she stops calling me a Marauder," James protested, taking the book from Peter and thumbing through the pages.

"Wait, she calls you that, too," Sirius interjected, confused.

"She calls me a Marauder, too," Peter groaned, obviously put out that he doesn't have a single thing to boast about for himself.

"Ew," Remus grimaced, "how I loathe to be associated with the worst troublemakers in this school's history."

"Who hath given us such a title," Sirius waved his hand ceremoniously. "I must thank them."

"McGonagall," Remus stated blandly.

"You're simply mad that you're a Marauder, just like us," Peter stuck his tongue out childishly at his mate, pulling him in a headlock Remus could have easily escaped. For the moment, he enjoyed their ways. Sirius watched with a smile, glancing once at James whose head was buried in a book.

"And he wouldn't want it any other way," Sirius announced.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, October 1973 (Third Year)

Sirius felt a swift knock in the ribs followed by James's hot breath in his ear, "Stop pouting."

Offended, he stuck his chin up, "I am not pouting."

However, if he were being quite honest with himself, and Sirius truly needed to be more often, he was definitely pouting. In fact, he was sure this was the brattiest tantrum he'd thrown yet that year. He'd been doing it since he found Remus in the common room mingling with the ladies in his costume, and the costume itself was earning drooling stares left and right. Apparently, Lily Evans had convinced him traipsing around in an angel costume was the perfect route for his friend, and everyone else was inclined to agree.

Sirius was inclined to agree, and that made him angry.

If it hadn't suited him so well – flowy white satin and a charmed halo over his head, grand wings flapping behind him and a ridiculous smile on his stupid little face – Sirius would have been perfectly fine with whatever it was Remus wanted to be. He could have been a mummy, zombie – hell, he could have been Frankenstein for all Sirius cared, though he was sure Remus could pull off whatever he wanted.

What had been eating away at him the most, nevertheless, was the thought that the stupid bint, Julienne, was going to correspond with his costume in some way, and they would most assuredly be the most talked about "couple" in their year.

Sirius shivered. Couple. Remus and Julienne as a couple. The very idea of that sent unwelcomed tremors through his body. Not that he would be bothered by anything else but the fact that his friend was becoming pussy-whipped over some Hufflepuff. Why couldn't he have at least picked a girl in his House? Marlene McKinnon was a nice girl, very plain, though, and hardly ever spoke to anyone but Lily Evans. Although, that probably wouldn't have been a problem for Remus seeing as though he was the bachelor of the damn century.

There was Dorca Meadowes, though she was a year below them and, according to others, a spitfire. While their personalities might have clashed, he could see Remus bending to the will of such a beautiful woman with enough will power to crush a lung.

Anybody but Julienne. Literally, anyone else in the bloody school – excluding the Slytherins – would have been a better pairing for Remus. But no. He never listened to anything Sirius said. No one ever listened to anything Sirius said, except, at times, Peter, but Peter was a suck up, and anything he did for Sirius was immediately disqualified as someone listening.

"You are pouting, and I'm not sure what about," James groaned. Peter had been caught up in the bathroom, something about his hair not sitting right, and so the trio, the original trio, was going to be awfully late to the ball.

"I swear," Sirius grumbled, "if all of the good food is gone because his fat arse is fixing his hair I'm going to kill him."

James gave Sirius a warning glance, "Don't talk about him like that just because you're in a petty mood."

"I'm not in a petty mood," Sirius barked, carding his fingers through his hair roughly. He was in a petty mood, and he knew he was, but there was little he could do about it now. Remus was off in search of Julienne with the rest of their Gryffindor friends and Sirius was stuck with Peter bloody Pettigrew and James fucking Potter. On any other occasion, he wouldn't have minded. However, he had to ask himself what made this occasion any different from the rest. They were his best mates, and always had been, so what had agitated him to the brink of insanity?

Julienne Joanna Je-fucking-rome, that's what, with her stupid little face and ugly smiles. Why did she smile all the time? If Sirius had his way, he'd make sure to knock all her pearly whites out, then she wouldn't have that little grin all over the place. Speaking of smiling, how did she make Remus grin from ear to ear all the time? What did she say to him? Sirius was quite sure Remus's sense of humor had a bit of an acquired taste, and he only found certain things funny in a particular context. Ha. Bet Julienne didn't know that!

And for God's sake, why did she have to be beautiful. Sirius wasn't attracted to her in the slightest. In fact, every time he saw her freckled face he'd wanted to stomp on it. Stomp on it till her goddamn brains were splattered all over the asphalt. But then, Remus would sure be mad at him, so he refrained from living out these fantasies. The moment he'd catch a glimpse of her angel costume he vowed to vomit just for theatrical effect. Yet, there was no denying that she was, in fact, a beautiful young woman with appealing traits to any straight young man.

Sirius paled.

"Is this about Remus," James asked, taking a seat on the staircase.

"Why would you assume that," Sirius crossed his arms over his chest defiantly. He hated how James could be so understanding at times. On some days, he just wanted to shake him by the shoulders and scream in his face, be an arsehole; I don't deserve such treatment! It was honestly frightening how one second he was a fun loving, quick-tempered little bastard with a venomous tongue then the next it was like he was your fucking good-natured uncle that visits when your parents are arguing. Not that Sirius would know how such a thing felt.

"Because you've been glaring daggers into the back of his head since he got dressed," James chortled. Damn him. Curse his ability to read Sirius so well. Damn him to hell! Could a boy not get by with sulking in this God forsaken school? Honestly, when could he ever get his peace?! "I understand if you don't want to talk about it, but, just know, I'm not going to like crucify you for it."

"No," Sirius drawled. "You'll rat me out to the Romans so they can do it for you, sneaky git."

"I thought you were the one with the cunning Slytherin qualities, Sirius," James pointed out dryly, scratching his arm weakly. His friend looked out over the common room, giving a defeated sigh once he realized his so-called friend was out of the room. "Come on, Sirius. Talk to me."

Looking down at James, Sirius considered him for a moment. One moment: a brash Gryffindor with arrogance and a temper roaring in his chest to the point of idiocy. A boy with his foot caught in the door, one half in a world of wizardry and Quidditch and school, while the other half was just trying to figure out how this "friendship" thing worked. And then the next moment: an understanding, gentle soul – much like Remus – with the uncanny talent of seeing right through his best friend's façade. Yes, damn James Potter.

Sirius plunked down beside him dramatically, throwing his braid over his shoulder, "I just… I feel like… Okay, here me out, yeah?" James nodded once, giving Sirius his utmost attention. "I feel like I'm losing Rem. Not in a physical sense, yeah? 'Coz we hang out all the time and we study together; shit, I'm his potions partner. But, lately, it just feels like he's not in it, you know?"

James thought for a moment, chewing his bottom lip.

"I know that I don't control him, and he's allowed to have friends other than us, but it feels like he's starting to like everyone else more than us."

"You mean more than you," James commented quietly. Sirius looked at him, clearly offended. "Not to burst your bubble, mate, but you're right. I guess we don't control Rem, and it sucks to feel that way, don't get me wrong, but I think it's good that he's making friends. I bet he's felt like he can't given his circumstances."

Sirius furrowed his brows together, "How do you mean?"

James gave him a you're an idiot face, pointing out the window at the half crescent moon.

"Oh."

"Yeah, dumb arse," James chuckled. "Rem said once that he didn't have friends growing up."

"When did he say that," Sirius gasped. He never remembered Remus saying anything like that. Perhaps it was because he was too busy looking at him, or maybe he was playing a game of exploding snaps? Was it something he only told James, and, if so, why did he only tell James? Not even two years ago he was at Remus's neck, and now they're the best of friends? Sirius's mood seemed to go lower than before.

"You really need to get your head out of your arse, Sirius," James sighed, now taking on an irritated tone. "You say you don't want to lose him as a friend, but you don't even listen to him."

"I do listen to him," Sirius shot back hotly.

"Oh, yeah? What's his favorite color?"

Sirius snickered; the most basic of questions. Remus had told him one night in the infirmary following a transformation. It was hard to forget those nights; it was hard to forget any moments with Remus, at least for Sirius.

"Purple," he stated quietly. "But not the strong kind of purple like plum or eggplant. Those are ugly. I guess he said it was more like a lavender o-or periwinkle. Maybe orchid – well, jut anything that isn't too dark, really. He likes the way the sky gets at sundown. You know, when everything is a pastel shade – lavender, cantaloupe, and blush. Yeah, those shades."

He cut himself short; he was rambling, and James hated when people rambled. Sirius thought it was because he didn't have enough braincells to keep up.

James snorted, "Leave it to you to know the exact shades of purple."

"Those aren't just purple, uncultured swine," Sirius fired, irritated.

He blushed profusely, tucking his head into the bend of his arm. James didn't need to know the reason behind why he knew these colors or their shades; he'd only make fun of Sirius, and he didn't want another onslaught that night. If only he could tell him his secret, the one he'd hidden from everyone except a certain Angel slash Werewolf. Ha. Fat chance of that happening; James would never let Sirius be if he told him, and would make him the center of all taunting for years to come. So, with that in mind, Sirius bit back a retort that most assuredly expose him.

"All I'm saying is," James huffed, "you've got to let Remus – shit, I don't know – blossom? I don't know if that's the right word. Sounds kind of poncey to me, but you get the point." Sirius didn't get the point, yet didn't respond. "He's got to explore the world before it shuts him out. Let him have his girlfriend, or multiple girlfriends in the coming future. I mean, you'd think you'd want that for him, don't you think?"

Was it wrong of him to disagree? These girls, the ones at Hogwarts, they weren't Remus's type. Most of them weren't, at least to Sirius. Of course, one would wonder how Sirius knew Remus's type, and who was he to make such a judgement? He wasn't Remus, and, as stated now several times, he did not control his friend. Whatever decisions he made were up to him, especially now that they were each going on fourteen-years-old. It was natural, and Sirius working himself up over it would only give him premature wrinkles; that was something he would not let happen.

"I don't want to lose him," Sirius whispered, pressing his lips firmly against his forearm.

"Then stop acting like a berk towards him and be happy that he's happy," James laughed, clearly not reading into Sirius's tone too well.

Sirius hated to say so, and had done everything in his power to avoid this epiphany of sorts, but he'd grown close to Remus. He'd grown close to each and every one of them, called them brothers, and had leaned on them for support since their second year at Hogwarts. Sirius hated admitting this to himself, and would rather die before telling anyone else this realization. James would merely taunt him, Peter would stutter awkwardly, and God only knows how Remus would respond.

Sirius wasn't bred to rely on others. There was no maternal or paternal affection growing up, and he had learned to depend solely on himself, as he is the only one in this world he can trust. Inside and out, he knew himself. Others can leave. They can lie, cheat, steal, and break you down if you're weak enough to let them, and Sirius swore he'd never let anyone close enough to do just those things. Yet, here he was, nearly pissing himself because his best mate isn't breathing his same air anymore.

Weakling.

"I want him to be happy with me," he muttered, more to himself than James really, but the latter easily heard him.

He laughed harshly, "You sound like a fag when you say it like that."

Whatever had been warmly blossoming in his chest – perhaps it was a newfound love and trust in James – was quickly snuffed and replaced with the cold and harsh Ancient and Noble Black exterior. He straightened his posture and steeled his features, a talent he had been hoping to train out of himself. You know what they say; old habits die hard. It was stupid to think he could have a civilized conversation with a thirteen-year-old like James. He had been the one with his head up his arse, and Sirius doubted there would come a day when it wouldn't be like that.

James was the embodiment of masculinity, and, some days, Sirius despised this because it was borderline toxic. Quidditch this and hot girls that, all the same shit over and over again. If it wasn't staring at pretty girls throughout meals or showing off on the Quidditch field, then it was fantasizing about some model he'd seen in a magazine and going into vivid detail about her… extremities. And if it was neither of those, then it was the snide comments sprinkled in conversation.

You sound so gay.

Look at you, poncey boy.

Would Lily think I look like a pansy in this?

Sirius cringed. He cringed and cringed and cringed some more. Wasn't it normal to take an interest in beautiful women? James did it, Peter did it, and Frank Longbottom was practically drooling over the Fortescue girl. Even Remus was (supposedly) smitten with Julienne Jerome. So why hadn't Sirius done it? Late bloomer? He found Dorca Meadowes attractive in a way. She was exotic looking with rich, copper skin and curly, ebony hair. She took a liking to Sirius, but, then again, several girls had that year.

But she wasn't drop dead gorgeous. Maybe to someone else she might have been. However, to Sirius, she was just like any other girl he'd seen thus far: plain.

The posters sent to his room at Grimmauld Place were a great change of scenery, but Sirius found out they weren't the best to look at after a few days, and quickly became disinterested. There's only so much clad women he can take before he wanted to rip his hair out; he cursed himself for putting them up with a permanent sticking charm. Perhaps he could convince Orion to put another layer of wallpaper up to cover them. He was sure James could ogle at them day and night given the chance; that wasn't Sirius's forte, and it never had been.

His tastes were more refined and matured.

"Says the one who can't even get a girl to look his way," Sirius barked, clambering to his feet. "And stop calling me a faggot before I shove my fucking boot up your ass."

James faltered, staring after Sirius as he descended the steps and made his way to the Great Hall. Alone. That hadn't gone as planned. With a sigh, he waited for Peter.

The hallways were decorated with genuine cobwebs and spiders – the girls were screaming their heads off down the hallway. The House Ghosts were having an absolute ball, and Peeves was in his prime. It had been the perfect night to cause mayhem. Sirius had an idea of what he wanted to do when the day began, however, when the time came, he wasn't in the mood. In fact, he wasn't in the mood to do much of anything anymore except slump over in a chair and watch the rest of the school have fun.

Bats flapped their wings as they soared through the air, squeaking in the most annoying way possible as they weaved in and out of students. Flitwick outdid himself this year. The decorations were wonderful, and Sirius might have appreciated them more if he hadn't felt so foul.

Entering the Great Hall, he hadn't even noticed that he'd immediately went searching for his friend. It didn't take much time to find him; his wings were just about the largest thing in the room. Remus had been by the snack bar, eating a piece of chocolate bark with almonds posing as fingernails. Lily was by his side, twiddling with a stray lock of hair in her pixie costume; it suited her. Remus looked absorbed in whatever it had been that she was saying, and he hadn't noticed Julienne approaching from the dancefloor.

It was a shocker, to say the least, when he found out that they had, in fact, coordinated their costumes but not in the way others had expected. Decked out from head to toe in red and black was Julienne, acting as some demonic presence in the room and grinning from ear to ear as Remus smiled her way. Sirius huffed; demonic is one way to describe her. There was little he could do from that side of the room but stare as their mouths moved in inaudible conversation.

Without another breath, Sirius found himself an empty table and pouted once again. He seriously needed to stop, it was becoming a dirty habit of his. He was sure that it didn't suit him at all, but then again anything suited him, and the world would just have to get used to this mood because it didn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Not with Julienne leeching on Remus's arm like a nasty little parasite, throwing her head back with laughter at yet another joke. It probably wasn't even that funny.

The night carried on, and eventually James and Peter made their entrance. Sirius said very little to them, deciding he'd rather sit back and sulk than join the party. Neither one of his friends made much of a protest; they detested him when he was in this type of mood. Disappearing into the crowd, they did not make themselves known to Sirius until later that night in their dormitory. That was completely fine to Sirius. It wasn't as if he'd wanted to see them in the first place.

No, the only person he'd wanted to see hadn't even noticed he was in the room yet. In fact, he probably didn't even care. That made sense, didn't it? He was too busy enjoying his time with his friends – his new friends – and was likely to be enjoying their company much more often. It didn't help that Sirius had been a bit of a jerk to Remus in the past week, but he couldn't help it. How would you react if you'd been losing your best friend? Most people had the common decency to start up a conversation. Most people were normal and understood that it was okay to have several friends. However, Sirius lacked common decency and he wasn't at all normal.

With that in mind, at nearly eleven o'clock at night, he made a move to return to his dormitory and settle in for a good night's rest. It wasn't as if he was doing anything in that room but wallow in his self-pity anyway. Without saying a word to his friends, Sirius exited the room, head hung in defeat.

Not even thirty seconds out of the room, he heard the rhythmic thump of feet behind him. It was most likely James or Peter, not that either one of them were in a good place to talk to him right now. He was put out with him, and they were surly put out with him, especially considering how terribly he'd been treating them in the past week. All because he was – he swallowed – jealous. Yes, he could admit it.

Sirius was jealous of Julienne, and it killed him on the inside. Sirius Orion Black was never jealous. Not where people could see. Did he sometimes envy his brother? Occasionally. Did he envy James? In a twisted way, most definitely. Did he envy Peter? No. Not in the slightest. What about Remus? No, not at all. He was envious of those Remus surrounded himself with. Why? Because, if Sirius could do it, he'd be the one with Remus.

If he told James this, he would most assuredly be a gay little ponce with too much time on his hands. In light of that, even with James approaching, he wouldn't say anything. Nothing at all. Even if he was his best friend in the whole wide world. It didn't matter because, if Sirius told him these truths he'd buried, he would most likely never speak to him again. Who would want to room with a faggot? Not the great almighty James Fleamont Potter. Not at all.

"James would you please just fu—"

Sirius pivoted on his heel to face James but was met with a satin robe engulfing his face. A pair of long, skinny arms wrapped around his body, enveloping him in the warmest embrace he'd felt in months, and he simply melted. There was only one person who hugged him this way – who held him so intimately – and it was this person he was supposed to be angry with beyond all repair. He laid his head on his chest; Remus had always been so much taller than Sirius. There was no point in complaining anymore. In fact, it was comforting in an odd way to be the smaller one. He felt, in some demented way, protected this way.

Ironic. The most lethal beast in the wizarding world providing a sense of comfort to a prejudiced aristocrat. Oh, how the world loved to play games.

"You're upset," Remus commented distantly, rubbing Sirius's back gently. With one hand, he massaged his skin gently, working out little knots here and there that Sirius had acquired from the sleepless nights. With the other, he allowed his fingers to play with the end of the raven braid spilling from his scalp. Sirius smelled like sugar and smoke – Remus would chide him later about this. Now was no time for reprimanding. Not when he felt so bad. "And you've been in my sweets again."

Sirius tensed, "Oh, Remus, I couldn't help myself! You know my cravings when I'm in a bad mood; the only savior I have is a bon bon."

Remus couldn't hold in the snicker of slight amusement, pulling away from Sirius slowly to look down at him. He could say that, despite the dark brooding look his friend always gave off, he made a lovely Robin Hood-esque rogue. Remus wasn't ignorant, and knew that Sirius would have no idea who this was. So, he saved the comment for himself. Putting all that aside, it was wonderful to interact with his friend again after a week of near silence.

"Whatever makes you happy," Remus snorted, pulling Sirius by the arm towards the courtyard. The latter sent a longing stare towards the Gryffindor tower, promising his return soon. His four-poster bed just seemed to cry in sorrow, and Sirius might have as well. It was late, his bones hurt, and his head was pounding. Sleep would be his only salvation, and this git was taking him away from this.

Yet, as per usual, there was no way to be completely angry with this alternative; hadn't he missed Remus's company? So, who was he to complain when he willingly entered his life again? Not Sirius. He allowed himself to be mildly annoyed simply because they were on their way to the Black Lake.

At this ungodly hour?! Remus was going to drown him. That would be the only rational conclusion. Oh, God. He'd had enough of Sirius's foul mood, and was going to put an end to it once and for all. If God had been listening, and if He had been real, then Sirius prayed to the heavens above that he be spared. He swore that he'd do his best to be a serving individual and do nothing but spread love, butterflies, and acceptance into the world. He'd be His servant. That's what his parents said they had to be. Wait. Sirius was no man's servant! Wait. God isn't a man.

There was no time for rambling. Just hear him out, he pleaded, and save me this once and I'll try – keyword try – my hardest to be the best man I can be.

"Calm down," Remus snorted. "I just want some alone time with you. I'm not going to drown you."

Sirius frowned, "Can I ask you a dumb question?"

Remus threw a lazy glance over his shoulder at him, clearly giving his famous you're an idiot gaze to Sirius. "Better than anyone else I know."

You know what, he was getting pretty sick of these "looks," if he may say so. If anything, they should be looking at James that way. Sirius was in no way an idiot; he just lacked common sense, which is completely different than being an idiot. No. Sirius was not an idiot. Unless he was around Remus, then he was a complete fool.

"Do you read minds? Is that one of your wolfy powers? Mind reading," Sirius continued as if he hadn't heard him.

"No, Sirius," Remus drawled, coming to a stop at the edge of the lake. "You just like to dramatically jump to conclusions because you –"

Sirius pointed a finger at Remus, "Don't you say it."

"Are."

"I'm warning you, Remmy. I'll drown you right here, right now."

There was a long pause.

"A drama queen."

Sirius hollered harshly, throwing himself at Remus with all his might. For a moment, Remus considered catching him, letting his head butt unceremoniously into his ribcage and give him this moment. His shining glory. But, his amusement got the better of him, and Remus side stepped just in time to miss Sirius. The latter flew into the lake water, flailing his arms theatrically as he floated on his stomach.

The water was freezing, but, as usual, the Lake was always freezing, but Remus held no pity for Sirius. It was what he deserved after being a proper jerk to him for the past week. He'd be fine; if things got ugly he would gladly carry him to the common room. Only if things got ugly.

"I'm dying," Sirius screamed, flapping frantically in water that was no more than four feet deep. "Remus, save me! You have to save me." Water flowed into his mouth, his hair was sopping wet, and he might as well kiss that costume goodbye. It was rather funny watching it; Remus had to be honest with himself. He was sure that this noble aristocrat had never stepped foot in unsanitized water.

"Stand up, Sirius," Remus laughed, clutching his stomach.

For several minutes, and Remus did not exaggerate when he considered Sirius paddling like a dog for minutes on end, his friend laid in the water in an attempt to tug on Remus's heartstrings. He chattered his teeth, clenched his fists, and coughed pitifully every so often just to grab his friend's attention. He did look rather pathetic, thought Remus, and he was tempted to go in and save him. However, he reminded himself that the water was shallow, and Sirius was only trying to pull him in with him for revenge. That's how Sirius's mind worked; Remus was getting to smart for his own good.

Finally, when he realized that Remus was making no move to help him, Sirius stood up and stomped to shore, throwing his jacket off with a hmph.

"Oh, come on, Sirius," Remus wheezed. "It can't be that bad."

No answer. Instead, Sirius seated himself on a patch of dying grass and began removing articles of clothing. He only stripped down to his undershirt and pants, leaving the rest to dry beside him.

"All the bad things happen to me," Sirius croaked, flopping on his back with a dull thud. Remus took up the spot next to him, hugging his knees to his chest and considering his friend for a moment. In any other circumstance, a circumstance specifically where Sirius was drenched in lake water, he'd look astounding. His black hair sprawled behind him like the shadows of tree branches and his skin shimmering with moisture. His long eyelashes fluttered over the apples of his flushed cheeks, and every now and then milky eyes regarded him hotly.

Remus inhaled sharply, "Sometimes the reason good things aren't happening to you is because you are the good thing that's happening to someone else."

Sirius was, in fact, the good thing happening to Remus, and he doubted Sirius even knew that. Despite his cold attitude lately, Sirius had always been a sort of rock. That isn't to say that this rock of his wasn't unsteady at times. But there was always the comforting thought that, nine times out of ten, it would be there.

It was shaky ground with James; they were still figuring each other out. No doubt there was brotherly love for one another, and Remus wouldn't hesitate for one moment to help James out in his hour of need. However, it was the smaller, more intimate, things that were still being worked out. The small talk, the big talk, the deep conversations, or anything else that was remotely emotional.

With Sirius, it had always felt natural in a way. No matter the circumstance, they drifted towards each other and fell into a pattern – their pattern. Exclusive to their relationship, and it would never compare to anything else. Not with James, Peter, even Julienne. There was something enthralling about the other that neither boy could explain. In a way, they didn't rightly want to explain it in fear that it would ruin whatever it was with unnecessary labels and titles.

Remus had never honestly felt awkward around Sirius, at least not after their first hours with one another. After that, being with him had felt as if he'd always been with him. No bumps, no inhibitions, and no reservations. Remus could just be with Sirius. The feeling was mutual. With all of his tantrums, attitudes, and callousness, there was no judgement from Remus's end; Sirius would be forever thankful.

He could ramble on about a million shades and tints, about different mediums and canvases, and there would never be a beat in time that Sirius felt patronized or poncey.

Through all of his nerdy rambling, his insecurities, his darkest secret, Remus felt at home with his friend. He could go on a thousand tangents about astronomy or his poetry, even when Sirius clearly didn't understand a word Remus had been saying.

Never in their friendship had Remus felt this impossible. Sirius was never one to back away from Remus, and Remus would never be one to reject Sirius. It had been a wonderful change in routine for both boys as unconditional acceptance had never been a familiar face in their lives.

To meet someone who, even on a remote level buried deep down, related to you was a breath of fresh air. To spend your time with someone who never grew bored of your company, never found themselves agitated with your idiotic rambling, who always found happiness in your happiness, and accepted you with your vices and virtues – these things are not found often.

It was evident to both of them, whether they acknowledged it or not, this fact was true. Whether they knew then or not, they had been given the stars, and this happens only once. What they did with those stars was up to them, and they would make these decisions in due time. They were too young and stupid to know what to do with themselves let alone these feelings welling up inside of them. If anything, they ripped them apart, snuffed them out, trying to cure themselves of unknown territory and foreign emotions. They were afraid, and rightly so.

That night set something inside of them on fire. It was a small inkling of passion that had been shoved deep down and covered with nothing but rejection and hurt.

Remus felt it when watching Sirius lay in the grass, raven hair splayed out beneath him and olive skin damp with lake water. He felt it. He didn't know what exactly to do with it, and what thirteen-year-old boy would? What was he supposed to do with all of this? Declare it? Hide it? Ignore it? How could he do anything with something he'd been oblivious to? How could he do anything with something he couldn't even distinguish.

Sirius felt it when peeking up at Remus through long lashes, amber eyes watching the Black water lap against the shore and hollowed chest rising and falling silently. He felt it. Even he didn't know what to feel, and he was the master at understanding any emotion that saw fit to bombard his senses. What would an almost fourteen-year-old boy do with such information anyway? It wasn't as if he could do much. What was there to do? Talk? Think? Do? Do what? Think about what? Say what? How could he do anything with something that was bound to go awry? And how could he do anything with something he wasn't even sure of?

Both boys were sure, however, that they were trying their very hardest not to act how they felt, and, so they found, they were doing a very good job.

Chapter Text

Lupin Cottage, December 1973 (Third Year)

Remus woke with a jolt, hyper-aware of the world around him all too soon. There was a dryness in his throat that, no matter how hard he swallowed, decided it wanted to stay. His now shoulder-length hair was knotted from twisting a turning, in dire need of a good washing. The sheets around him were tangled between his long legs, fisted in his clammy hands. There was another bad dream. He felt the ache in his bones; the Full Moon was tonight - Christmas Eve. How lovely.

As he adjusted, he could hear the rumble of a row just below him in the kitchen. Hope and Lyall always had their arguments in the kitchen. It was a seemingly sacred place where their harsh words were unleashed and encouraged. Every argument Remus could remember was in the mornings in the kitchen, and they always stopped as soon as they heard Remus's feet hit the floor. It meant he had woken up and, therefore, would be able to hear them.

This morning, however, he decided he would not slide out of bed so soon. The topic at hand seemed rather interesting. Painful, yet interesting.

"This has been the fifth Christmas, Lyall," Hope shouted angrily. Remus had never heard her so upset. Sure, she and his father had their moments, but it had never gotten as bad as this. He'd only heard a snippet to understand that Lyall had done something terribly wrong to get this sort of rising out of his wife. "Your son needs you."

"He's a man. He doesn't need me," his father fired back, attempting to sound as nonchalant as possible. Remus was not fooled, and he doubted his mother was either. In any other circumstance, Remus might have felt a bit of pride blossoming in his chest. The man who hardly regarded him anymore looking at him as an equal instead of an inferior – how Remus lived for the day. Yet, in this context, it made him want to wither.

"He isn't even fourteen yet," Hope screamed. She had a valid point. "You can't keep ignoring it, Lyall. It's who he is, who he's always been."

"My son was not born a monster," he growled. Remus heard the echo of heels pacing the linoleum floors anxiously. His mother always had a nasty habit of chewing her nails while walking to and fro nervously; it was a habit passed on to her son. Idly, Remus chewed on a hangnail, ignoring the black mass of anger swelling in his chest.

I am not a monster.

"No, he wasn't," Hope snorted, "and he still isn't. He's our son, Lyall, our baby boy. You only have so many more years with him before he'll move away, get a life of his own."

There was a derisive snicker, so soft that Remus barely caught it. "What life, Hope? What life could Remus possibly have in the Wizarding World? He's a goddamn beast. What upstanding company would want an animal to work for them, eh? The zoo, maybe. Perhaps we could send him to a circus for the kiddies to prod him with sticks and throw popcorn at him."

"Don't talk about him like that," his mother cried, but his father pressed on.

"Oh, I forgot, he's liable to rip through the cage and maim every last human within a fifty-mile radius!"

"Lyall," Hope gasped, shocked at his words.

Remus found himself smiling dryly, unamused at best. There was truth in what his father was saying, there was no denying that. Sooner or later, Remus would have to accept that, in this life, there was no foreseeable future for him, and it was in his best interests not to go and get his hopes up. No reputable business would hire him, and, from what he understood, Hogwarts wasn't in need of any Professors any time soon. Perhaps he could work at a Muggle shop of some sort and earn his way that way. He shivered. The life of a Muggle. A life without the Marauders.

Putting all of it aside, there was a conversation that was needing to be had about what Remus was going to do with himself after graduating from Hogwarts. This was in just over three years, and, so far, he'd come up with zilch to do. A bookkeeper? An archaeologist? A stripper? All of the above? The cost of living in London was ridiculous, and Remus would rather throw himself from a bridge than seclude himself in Walter's Ash longer than need be.

Not that he didn't love his parents, and not that he didn't adore Hope. She was his shining star in a sea of darkness. Her letters lifted his spirits and her optimism is what got him through his first year at Hogwarts. At times, he wondered if he appreciated her enough. There were days when she never crossed his mind, and sometimes those days went into weeks. Life at school had been so fast paced and action packed that Remus hardly had any time to reminisce at all. If anyone deserved his thoughts, however, it was her.

Hope sacrificed most of her normalcy for Lyall when they married. She'd been a Muggle working for some insurance company, young and inexperienced with an eye for a better life. When meeting her husband, she saw that adventure in him and was smitten in an instance. A wizard for a husband. How much grander could life become? Magic, dragons, elves, and a thousand other faunas that interested her beyond belief. That thirst for adventure and escapades were quenched. For a moment. There was only so close she could get, of course, and Lyall's work as an Auror became more demanding soon after their marriage.

The adventure Hope once sought out turned into late night anxieties; wondering if her husband would return home from a job or if, somewhere, he lied in an alleyway bleeding to death. Arguments ensued about his line of work and the dangers that came along with it. Lyall, being the type of man he was, never backed down from the challenge; he reminded Remus a bit of James in that category. Brash to the point of stupidity.

Remus came along, Hope's little bundle of joy, and a sense of purpose was bestowed on her. She quit her job at the insurance company to become a full-time mother; they hardly used Muggle money as it was. There was, of course, a savings account for her son if the need arose, and he was guaranteed financial stability if he wanted to live the life of a Muggle.

It would appear that was his only choice, and was secretly grateful his mother thought ahead. But could she have foreseen the Werewolf attack? Not in a million years. Nothing could have prepared her for that night.

"Now all we need is for him to come out as a cross-dressing tonk and the seal is set," Lyall barked, throwing himself in a kitchen chair and opening the Daily Prophet.

Remus withered beneath his sheets, deciding today would best be spent in bed. At least until his father left for work. Everyone in the house was on edge, and provoking anyone wouldn't be the best idea. Besides, Remus's head had been aching beyond belief and his bottle of water was too far from reach. He settled on curling in a ball, hugging his pillow to his chest for comfort and thinking of better times. Thinking of his friends. Ignoring the feelings, ignoring whatever it was with Sirius all those months ago since Sirius seemed deadest on doing just that.

James and Peter were out on a trip together, something about visiting Paris to see one of the Potter relatives. Sirius would've accompanied had his parents agreed, but Remus had the feeling they weren't inclined to do so. Worries crept in his mind as he wondered about his friend. Were his parents treating him alright? Was he being mistreated yet again? The palms of his hands were only just healing over, and Remus felt as if he would punch a wall if any more appeared by the time they returned to school.

He had every reason in the world to not care. That wasn't true, though. No matter how cold Sirius was to him before Christmas break, it didn't overcome the love Remus had for him. Platonic love. Complete and utter brotherly love. Love that Sirius seemed to be lessening as the days went by. Why was it that Remus was always at the receiving ends of Sirius's mood shifts? Only two letters had come in so far on the break. One from James and Peter while the other was from Sirius. A fifteen worded letter that communicated he was doing just fine. He sighed, moving on to the topic at hand.

Sirius would try his hardest to hide these scars from Remus by tucking them in his robes or finding idle objects to occupy his palms, and it would work if Sirius didn't get distracted so easily by James and their cavorting. If Sirius had been abused over the break, it would only take a method of distraction to find out.

Remus had hoped that his friend would be open with him and readily give up this information. There was very little they hid from each other; they valued transparency above many things in their friendship. Then again, Remus wasn't James. Remus would never be James, and perhaps that was what held Sirius back. As much as he liked to convince himself things were different, Sirius told James everything, or it appeared that way. There was total truth between the boys, and Remus envied that. Could Sirius not feel the same way about him?

He frowned.

He doubted Sirius reciprocated any of the feelings he had over the past two months, and it was beginning to make him sick. Friends don't think of friends like that. More importantly, boys don't think about boys that way. It wasn't right, according to his father, who would rather be thrown in front of a bus instead of a train than have his only child be a daffodil. Anything but that. Being gay to Lyall meant becoming the laughingstock of the Ministry. Being gay to Hope meant no grandchildren. Being gay to the boys meant the inevitable, incredibly awkward remainder of their academic career that would result in the end of their friendship as Remus knew it.

To be without the boys meant to be on his own again. Sure, he had Lily, Julienne, Frank, and Dirk, but none of them were like the boys. His boys. They were reckless and impulsive beyond comprehension and never thought a single step ahead of them. James was an arrogant prick with a knack for speaking before he thought. Sirius was a melodramatic hothead with the inability to control his emotions. And Peter? Oh, Peter. There was nothing truly wrong with Peter other than his incessant need to go through all of Remus's chocolates at the worst possible times.

This was Remus's dysfunctional, FUBAR family. These conniving, little turds that he'd somehow come to tolerate despite having every reason to ring them by their necks. These annoying prats were actually not so annoying, at least not all the time – they had their moments as he was sure he did as well. These boys had somehow breathed life back into Remus John Lupin. Brothers, they were to him. Without them, his time at Hogwarts would be dramatically worse off. Like he said, Julienne was wonderful, but there was only so much Julienne he could take.

How nice could a person be? Make fun of his hair, taunt him about the way his feet point inward, and shake him by the shoulders when he's being a flaker! Wrestle with him by the Black Lake and race him to classes for sickles he didn't even have. Jump from bed to bed, waking up everyone in their hallway while chanting "Rumble, rumble, my stomach doth grumble!" Live a little.

He'd spent his whole life either shut in a cottage or locked in a shed. His childhood was wasted away with Monty Python and orange soda. His time at Hogwarts made him feel like he'd hit some sort of redo button, something that gave him another shot at happiness. Those little brats brought him happiness. To lose them, all because he preferred boys over girls, was a death sentence in some sense.

Besides, he didn't like boys. At all. Not in the slightest. Julienne was beautiful. She had lovely… Well, she had pretty eyes. Yes! Her eyes. Like two bowls of… hot chocolate? No, hot chocolate wasn't dark enough. When Sirius made, it though, it was rich and frothy – not frothy in a disgusting way, but just enough thickness to liquid ratio. Whatever it was – he made it perfectly.

Yet, that wasn't the point. Julienne kissed him. It was a nice kiss. Yes, very nice. Her lips were soft. Were lips supposed to be soft? He supposed it was better than chapped lips; those must be painful. He cringed. She tasted like cherries, and Remus wasn't a fan of cherries. They were too sweet. Did Julienne taste to sweet? Is that why he rubbed his mouth so aggressively after she left?

That was the only explanation. Julienne was a lovely kisser. She was gentle and attentive, and she didn't force her tongue down his throat. That was a plus. Would they kiss more often now that he'd allowed it once? Would she make any more moves on him like hand holding? Wait. Would she want to be his girlfriend?

Remus had never had a girlfriend. He didn't want a girlfriend. Oh, why did he have to be such a terrible pushover. He hadn't even wanted to kiss her. It didn't matter if she'd tasted like cherries or unicorn piss, the result would've been the same. He felt nothing. Absolutely nothing whatsoever when their lips collided. The only thing he'd felt was uncomfortable. He'd make it a point to never kiss anyone again.

His head was throbbing; time for a mental break. He silenced these thoughts, allowing himself to slowly drift into a light sleep.

Kissing. Who kisses their best friend? What if Remus had kissed James or Sirius? He cringed. James would've clocked him in the jaw before he got the chance and would never speak to him again. No, kissing James was not on his to-do list. What about Sirius? Would he throw hands? They were practically always with each other. Whether it was lying in the same bed while Remus read his books or Sirius taking a nap with his head on Remus's lap – the two always seemed to be in some sort of physical contact. Not that Remus was complaining.

Sirius had good skin; it was always soft and smelled like rain. The nice rain in the spring that brought out the scent of flowers. Don't tell Sirius Remus thought he smelled like flowers. He'd scrub himself raw with musky body wash for days on end. Besides, whatever he smelled like, he always smelled lovely. It was nice to run his fingers over unmaimed skin. It was like a baby's bottom, and the only reason Remus knows that is because he'd babysat his cousin Jessica.

Sirius had such soft hair, he did. Like satin amongst Remus's fingertips. It was long and voluminous and was the pride and joy of Sirius Black. How could anyone blame him? The only person who had hair even remotely close to Sirius was James – but Remus didn't care about James's hair. Because it wasn't James's hair he played with.

He buried his face in his pillow. He was such a girl! Why did it matter what any of his mates' hair or skin or whatever the fuck else felt like?! He should care about Julienne and what she feels like.

He punched his pillow over and over again, cursing himself for these thoughts. No one but a ponce would think like this, and Remus was not a ponce. He just found himself over joyous in Sirius's company. Or when Sirius hugged him. Or when Sirius laid his head in his lap for his cat naps. Or when – None of that matters!

None of it. Why? Because Remus wasn't gay. He had a completely friendly, platonic – if not brotherly – relationship with ALL three of his friends.

Yeah. That was a good thought.

Sure, was all the wolf murmured.

"Shut up."

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

12 Grimmauld Place, December 1973

Leave it to Walburga to spoil Regulus. Leave it to Walburga to shower Regulus with maternal affection (if she even had any in her body). Leave it to Walburga fucking Black to completely ignore Sirius as he was trying to ask her a reasonable question that she might have had an interest in. Honestly, he wondered why he even bothered with her at times. Perhaps it was this ridiculous notion that he could, on some twisted level, earn her affections. He frowned; why would he want that? This was the woman that tortured him for shits and giggles. She could shove it up her –

"Play it again, Reggie," Walburga crooned in some pathetic attempt to sound nurturing. Regulus, who'd been plunking at a piano for God knows how long, smiled warmly (Sirius could gag) and began tapping the keys. If he heard Mozart one more time, he would slam the piano hood on his skull till he saw stars.

The summer before last, Walburga had taken it upon herself to engage her youngest son a piano instructor. Ever since, Sirius hadn't had a quiet moment to himself over the holidays. If it wasn't Mozart it was Chopin. At least Mozart sounded remotely happy. Every time he heard Waltz in C Sharp Minor he wanted to crawl into bed to smother himself. God forbid Regulus play the damn Funeral March. Though, he supposed Chopin more suited the mood at Grimmauld place.

Regulus's fingers danced over keys, and, at this point, it sounded as if he were slamming random keys to make some semblance of a melody. Perhaps Sirius wasn't musically inclined, and he was an uncultured pig; he was sure Walburga would think so if he voiced these thoughts. He kept them to himself, reluctantly.

He came around the drawing room, taking the seat next to his poor mother and watched her as she swayed gently from side to side. When she was like this – docile to say the least – she didn't seem quite so bad. Sure, her features were still harsh and there was that impassive frown on her face, but at least her eyes were shut. That way she couldn't fully sneer at her eldest son – the disappointment.

Because she was "unwell," Walburga had left her long black hair down to spill over her shoulders lazily. It was odd to see her in anything but her restricting funeral attire and expensive jewelry, let alone her greasy hair not done up in some "interesting" bun. Sirius snickered to himself; Walburga couldn't pull of anything if she tried.

A hard hand thwacked Sirius on the side of his head.

"Don't interrupt your brother," she hissed harshly. Sirius's smile faded as his eyes drifted to his younger brother. There he was, in all his perfect glory.

Much smaller than his brother, Regulus was a pale boy, skinny boy who resembled his father more than his mother in all ways but one. Unlike his father's clouded gray storms, Regulus had a pair of bright blue eyes that gazed proudly at his mother when he played. He and Orion had the same chestnut hair that swooped nicely across the tops of their heads, though Regulus had grown his out just enough to put in a neat ponytail at the back of his head. Both the father and son were thin as a rail with bones as fingers, which helped "Reggie" play piano immensely seeing as though he could reach keys far apart.

He had been sorted into Slytherin that year, much to his parents' joy. At least one of their boys was doing something correctly. He'd immediately taken up with most of the sniveling shitheads that Slytherin provided, a boy named Severus Snape in specific. The only memory Sirius had of the boy was his greasy hair and James's incessant need to pester him if seen in the hallways. Sirius hadn't been too bothered with him for the first half-term. He'd been too angry with his sorting to give a damn about anything his brother did.

Hell, he'd been too angry with his existence in general to give a damn about anything he did. The perfect son was what he'd always been. All because he took after the Dark Arts and the impudent prejudiced views of the Black Family Tree. All because he'd sucked up to Mummy and Daddy for the entirety of his life. All because he'd just been perfect the moment he'd exited Walburga's disgusting womb. Sirius sighed.

It took a total four minutes for his brother to finish, and Walburga clapped politely as he finished.

"It was wonderful, darling," she began, "but I think you missed a few notes in measure 189 and 243. Come, I'll mark it for you so you can refine them."

With a graceful hand, his mother began annotating Regulus's sheet music, sweetly telling him how wonderful he was playing and that she was excited to hear him at a recital. A recital was a gathering of pure-blooded aristocrats who gave a jot about what the Blacks thought of them, and they'd do anything to please them. Even if that meant coming to their bastard child's piano recital.

"Walburga," Sirius huffed impatiently. "I need a few galleons."

His mother ignored him for a moment, listening to Regulus's rambling about his recital, before she looked at him with distaste.

"What would you need my money for, brat," she snapped. "To buy more posters, huh? Perhaps you'd like merchandise for your lovely Hogwarts House?"

"While those seem entirely wonderful investments," he growled, "I need to buy more paints, and I'm almost out of canvas."

She curled her lip nastily, "Why is that any concern of mine?"

"It's the only way to keep me from setting myself on fire," he drawled, crossing his arms over his chest defiantly.

"I think I'd much rather you did," she snarled angrily, clearly offended that he'd risk burning down their sacred home for his own benefit. She pondered for a moment, looking her son up and down with contempt.

"I would like to confirm that I don't really care about what you would rather me do," he sighed carelessly, "as you don't seem to care about me in general."

"Where did we go wrong with you," she thought aloud, softening her features for a fraction of a second. In that fraction, Sirius thought that, perhaps, there was a hint of love for her child that had somehow managed to escape. That, in all actuality, she merely wanted the best for him, and that this was some fucked up way to show it. He wasn't sure why he allowed himself to believe such ludicrous thoughts because there was no way they could possible be true. Walburga was a hollow shell of nothing, and she proved this within the next thirty seconds.

"If you do, I won't bother you," Sirius offered genuinely. He thought this would be appealing considering the alternative would be to return to his life of incessant pranking and nuisance. He would like to think that the sweet gestures Regulus received would be turned upon him if he'd only just been a better son. Perhaps if he hadn't been so bold and reckless, rather submissive and docile like his father, then his mother would show him something emotional. However, it wasn't who Sirius was, and he would never be that way. That is something he got from his mother.

He'd rather die for what he believed in than live a life full of denial and submission.

"Oh, that's likely," she snorted, moving away from Regulus back to the couch. "You'll receive nothing from my purse. Ask your father, I'm sure he's inclined to indulge your ridiculous avocations."

Anger reared its head in Sirius chest, and he spoke before he thought, "That's rather interesting coming from the one swooning over her son slamming his chubby little hand all over a priceless piano."

Walburga didn't move. She stayed seated gracefully on her couch, looking at the ring on her finger with boredom. It was ironic how, even knowing that he was about to be punished, he didn't regret saying the thing he did. In fact, the more he spoke out of turn lately the more satisfaction he got. Punish him all they liked – it wouldn't stop him. They can't beat whatever it was inside of him out. He wouldn't let them, not when he'd come so far.

With a dramatic sigh, Sirius came around in front of his mother and fell to his knees. She looked down at him for a moment, considering him with apparent disgust. Where did she go wrong with me? He didn't dwell long on this thought, watching as Walburga pulled out her favorite switch from the side table with a smirk.

"If you wanted to do this more often, you should just ask instead of acting like an impudent brat," she cooed sweetly. "It would save your breath and save me the dramatics."

There was a certain response Sirius could have given, but it would've only earned him more hits, and that was something he was in no hurry to receive. Instead, he looked her dead in the eye, showing no mercy or regret. He would not cry, nor would he flinch. Showing weakness feeds into her evilness, he learned, and it would only encourage her to do this more often. Eventually, she would have to get bored and quit it. The older he got, the more he would be able to fight back. For now, he'd take it like a man.

Before he could do anything, she wacked his hand harshly. Blood was drawn on the first lash, yet he was numb to the pain. Not because he'd gotten used to it, but because she'd hit him so bloody hard his nerves couldn't even register the pain. She hit him again and again, not holding back this time, until his palms were nothing but a bloody, wounded mess. She cleaned the rod with a spare rag, not caring if blood dripped on the floor. Dramatic, Sirius thought.

"Go to your room," she ordered blankly. "And don't come out."

"Why ever would I," Sirius sang nicely, clambering to his feet. Behind him, Regulus found that his sheet music was much more interesting than the commotion beside him, and dared not look his mother in the eye. He hated when she was in such a mood. He only perked up when he saw Sirius climbing the stairs proudly, holding his head high with his fists clenched at his sides. Blood poured between his fingers, inevitably leaving a trail behind him. But Kreacher would clean it later.

Upon entering his room, Sirius let out a sigh of defeat, cradling his poor hands to his chest.

"Shit," he whispered, voice shaking. He swore to himself he would not cry, and he thought an oath would be enough to stop the tears. "Shit, shit, shit."

Tremors raced through his arms; this was better than the feet. This way, there would be no pressure on him so long as he stayed in his room. That is what she wanted, anyways. He had no qualms with this. He'd order Kreacher to bring him his meals and make sure to stay out of the way.

Why he'd expected this break to go smoother than the rest was beyond him, and he'd do well to ensure he'd never make that mistake again.

It hurt. It really hurt. But that wasn't what had killed him.

With this new abrasion, and without any creams to heal him, he wouldn't be able to write to his friends. He wouldn't be able to answer Remus.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, February 1974 (Third Year)

Remus had been training himself to avoid Julienne for weeks now, and he had done a splendid job of convincing himself that he was doing a wonderful job. For the majority of February, he was able to escape her company by giving feeble excuses or, generally, just not showing up. Normally, he would have felt guilty.

She hadn't done anything wrong, at least not in the eye of the general beholder. Weren't they a couple? Don't couples "hang out" and spend time with one another. Frank Longbottom devoted most of his time to Alice Fortescue. James was practically obsessed with Lily Evans by this point. God knows what Sirius did in his spare time – if he had any to begin with. Even Peter was smitten over some girl named Edwina.

Why wasn't Remus fawning over Julienne? Oh, that's right, because he had no romantic interest in her whatsoever while she, on the other hand, seemed to be falling for him by the minute. That's at least what Lily had said, and Lily was someone to be taken seriously. She knew what she was talking about especially since she was a friend of Julienne's.

Remus dearly wished he could feel some guilt over abandoning her time and time again, and, if this had happened before October, he just might have. She was sweet and kind and had done everything world for Remus thus far. However, he couldn't bring himself to harbor the same feelings. He genuinely loved her. Loved her with everything he had. But it was the same feelings he had for James – simply friendly, and it didn't feel like that was going to change any time soon. Not when whatever it was inside of him was flaring hotly.

Taking yet another chance to ignore Julienne, though it was more like he was avoiding the inevitable confrontation that would occur had he ever the courage to face her again, he made his way towards the Gryffindor Tower. His classes had gone by agonizingly slow that day as his mind had been on something of a more serious nature.

In order for the Animagus potion to take full effect, the consumers must soak a leaf of Mandrake every morning. Not every other morning, not some mornings, not even the third morning of Wednesday that month – the potion called for the soaking to take place every morning leading up to the consumption of the potion. Not to mention, the potion also required a lock of hair from the soon-to-be Animagus. Peter and James seemed to have no problem with this requisite. Sirius, on the other hand, had nearly refused on the grounds that his hair was far too precious to waste on a potion. Eventually, he'd convinced him to sacrifice a single lock of raven hair and the potion brewing commenced.

"Recumbentibus," he grumbled, too busy flipping through the fresh pages of his poetry book. A gift, it was, from Julienne that Christmas. It had been the latest edition of Howl and Other Poems by an American man, Allen Ginsberg. So far, Remus had read about sex, drugs, drinking, suicide, and, above all, love. Reading about such things made his skin crawl; it made him uncomfortable, and that is why he loved it so much.

Reading a book that evokes no emotional, or even an intellectual, response is hardly worth reading at all. If it doesn't make you think, feel, or wonder then you're reading the wrong book. So far, every book Julienne had given him had made him do one or all of those things.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.

He thought of his father, though he wasn't, per se, a part of Remus's generation. He thought of all the rows, the late-night drinking, the early hour disappearances, and the desperate need to live a life that made it easy to avoid Lupin Cottage. Clinging to a dying career in hopes he could salvage whatever was left of Lyall Lupin – the Lyall Lupin before the incident. Ignoring his son as it was much easier to do that than face your worst nightmare head on; they said Gryffindor's had courage. Perhaps Remus took after his father in more ways than one.

Who hiccupped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to pierce them with a sword.

He felt his mother's pain. He felt the tightness in her cheeks as she braved a smile for just a moment too long. He felt the vacancy in her lungs as she tried her hardest to laugh at the old jokes he made or another repeated episode of Monty Python. He felt the sting in his eyes and the ache in the back of his throat when Lyall shouted, when he ranted and raved about the 'good old days' and the relief of the bedroom door closing behind his final words. He felt the fractures in her heart as Remus left his home to return to school.

Who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up and were forced to open antique stores where they thought they were growing old and cried.

And Remus wondered if this was a life he would be condemned to. He wondered if there was anything destined after Hogwarts other than misery and regret. Misery because, obviously, his time as a gallivanting Wizard would be over in four years time. Regret for not acting on every little whim that fluttered in the pit of his stomach. Regret for his uncontrollable bladder. Regret for treating his friends as bratty children. Regret for not opening up to them more, telling them what had truly been going on inside of him. Misery and regret. Misery was tied to each of these things. He'd wept in misery during, and he'd suffer in misery as they concluded.

He shook his head. Brooding had never been the best pass time for Remus. His thoughts always traveled into dark corners or dirty broom closets. The common room was warm and filled with hearty laughter. Students were stationed here and there, as per usual, and they each went about their days as if nothing was amiss. In all honesty, nothing really was. Remus was simply dramatizing again; Sirius was rubbing off on him.

"And so I said to them," Sirius hollered from the front of the room, "there are things that are false in this world. For example: time. Money. Love. Government. All of these things are fake propaganda that the Ministry put together to distract you from the truth."

He held his breath in some attempt at a dramatic pause, stormy eyes scanning the crowd for a trembling lip or a look of confusion. A crowd of kids had gathered around him and he, himself, had been hoisted up on a stepping stool to tower over the crowd. His flowing hair had been pulled back in a tight ponytail, and Remus could've sworn a ticking vein would soon burst had he screamed any louder.

"What's real then," Frank Longbottom asked quizzically. Sirius let an impish smirk betray his resolve.

"The Chupacabra."

"Oh, for the love of all that is Holy," Remus mumbled, turning on his heel and making a break for the dormitories.

Of all the people in the world Sirius had wanted to associate with that term, Remus was the last one. Ever since their return, his friend had taken a cold nature towards him. The chip on his shoulder, in fact, seemed to be much heavier than a mere pebble. In Potions, he did not speak to Remus unless absolutely necessary and, to top it off, he had refused to tutor Remus which meant that he was without any aid to pass the class. Of course, he could have always turned to Julienne. That was the sensible thing to do, however Remus did not consider it an option anymore.

Remus, yet again, was left wondering what it was he did wrong, and he found himself uncomfortably in this position quite often those days. Whether it was subtle passive aggression or blatantly ignoring him, Sirius made it known whether or not Remus was in his good graces. As of their return from Christmas Holiday, it would've appeared that Remus had fallen from that pedestal.

There was a wild guess he could've taken. That night on the bank of the Black Lake. It was becoming like a festering sore on Remus's side. A bulbous, fiery, irritated sore that only seemed to be worsening the longer he ignored it. Usually, these things went away the longer you denied their existence so long as you did nothing more to agitate it, and Remus had been under the impression he was doing just that. However, he soon realized that ignoring it was only making it worse, and he was just about out of options regarding some sort of solution.

As of that moment, he'd wanted to avoid a confrontation with Sirius at all costs. Why? He wasn't exactly sure. He wasn't necessarily afraid of his companion, per se, but Sirius was a spitfire, similar to James, and knew exactly what to say to make it hurt. That festering wound didn't need anything else to add to his agony.

No matter what he'd felt at the Lake or over his holiday, Remus would rather stuff it all down his throat than bring it up with anyone. Not James or Peter, definitely not Sirius or Julienne, and, if he truly wanted to avoid conflict, he'd withhold his troubles from Lily as well. No one needed to know. It wasn't there business to begin with. Sirius didn't need to know because he'd made it clear he didn't want to know.

Remus knew how to take the hint.

Amidst all of his thinking, he hadn't noticed that several pairs of eyes had landed on him. He looked up from his book.

"I'm sorry, what," he stuttered, gulping nervously. A sly grin spread on Sirius's face and Remus knew immediately he was up to no good. This was the smile he offered to Severus before administering the final blow of a prank. The same smile he offered Narcissa before some rude comment about her wit or her hair. The same smile that communicated to Remus he was about to be humiliated.

It would have made sense to walk away; he owed Sirius nothing, technically speaking. As friends, of course, this was a different scenario, and Remus felt as if he owed everything to Sirius as he was the one who offered him the warm cup of friendship in Remus's time of need. It would've made sense, even, to say nothing at all. Sometimes silence is the best response to someone like Sirius; it hit him harder than any spell ever could.

Yet, Remus's better judgment seemed to leak from his body as the words poured from Sirius lips.

"You know all about monsters, don't you," he crooned dangerously. "I was just telling our friends –"

"Your friends," Remus corrected coldly. Half of those students barely spoke to him; he was sure some of them were only looking at him for the first time.

Sirius tutted, "Now, Remmy, don't be rude. These people are awaiting an explanation."

"An explanation for what," he demanded, now feeling that festering sore thumping painfully.

"Sirius, that's enough," Peter mumbled, trying his hardest to deescalate the situation. There was only one place this could lead, and he knew it would be ugly when they got there.

"Monsters," Sirius clarified politely. "I said that you knew all about them, you see. Always got your head stuck in a book or your hand raised in the air, so I assumed you'd read about these things. You know, the Chupacabra, Vampires, Elves…"

Remus sent him a warning glance, ignoring the tremors running through his arms.

"Sirius," James hissed, standing from his seat.

"Werewolves," Sirius continued gently. Remus's jaw, now clenched furiously, ticked. He held his fists at his side, not caring if he was fracturing the spine of his newest book.

Sirius had a side to him that not many had the pleasure of knowing. Deep down under the exterior of a snooty aristocrat lied a boy who'd lived in nothing but turmoil and regret. He'd been abused by the people meant to protect him and had been abandoned when he needed them most. Despite this, however, a part of his personality was capable of feeling. Surprisingly, there was a part of Sirius that could show empathy towards others. He tried his hardest to ignore this part of him, and Remus attributed this knack to Sirius's parents, and did his very best to act otherwise. But Remus knew better. He knew underneath the façade he paraded around for everyone to see, Sirius was just a kicked wolf trying to bare its teeth.

Ironic.

He watched Sirius for a moment, contemplating a response that would shut him up as that was all he'd wanted in the world that very moment, and a million things swirled in his mind that might have just humiliated him in front of his peers. But, unlike Sirius, Remus didn't act on such urges. He didn't stoop so low when kicked. He simply got back up and trudged onwards. If he acted on his instincts, he would've given Sirius the reaction he wanted; he wouldn't do that, so he returned to his dormitory.

Humiliation wasn't a stranger to Remus. Lyall made it a point to undermine his son every now and then to assure he'd been humbled by the experience of being a Werewolf. If he got too cocky, he'd end up like Greyback, and that was something Lyall wouldn't accept. Even to those who were unaware of his condition, Remus was an outlander. He didn't exactly belong anywhere, at least he felt this way. Whether it was his hair, his eyes, his feet, or his scars, there were fingers pointed at him from every direction. That was humiliation enough.

He gently shut the door behind him, throwing himself onto the bed tiredly and returning to his reading. It satisfied him for a moment, but he became reckless soon after. It had only been five o'clock, and his appetite had fled him. He decided, then, to do some writing of his own. Seating himself at his desk with a bit of parchment and a quill, he began. He tried his hardest to write his feelings – the whirling anger and sinking despair rearing its ugly head in his chest – but it was to no avail. The words would never come out correctly; he sounded to distant or too sappy, too inexperienced to do any good. He'd never be able to do himself justice.

In the end, he decided to just spill. Not in the form of his beloved poetry or a novella or anything of that manner. He just emptied himself; spilled everything onto his parchment and hope that it amounted to something worthy of, one day, reading. He wrote for an hour, divulging his secrets, his wants, his needs, and his hopes. He let that paper know him – the true him – in just fifty-seven minutes. By the time he'd been interrupted, he was on his final inch of parchment.

"Honestly, Pete, I think you could swallow the entire table if we left you long enough," James howled, rolling into the room with Peter under his arm. Sirius was following close behind, a smirk still on his face but his hands dug deeply within his pockets.

They came to a halt quietly, noticing Remus hunched over his desk scribbling away. He hadn't seemed to notice, or maybe he didn't care, that they had entered the room.

"Hey, Rem," Peter squeaked, earning only a grunt in response. Peter looked at James anxiously, and, soon, the only two people in their dormitory had been Remus and Sirius.

The latter flopped on his bed unceremoniously, staring at the ceiling with vacant eyes, "What on earth could you possibly be writing at such an hour?"

"It's only half past six," Remus pointed out darkly, his jaw clenching tightly. He heard a quiet crack in his quill and reached for another one.

"You're always reading or writing," Sirius drawled, rolling onto his stomach with a dramatic sigh.

"Some of us like to be productive," was all Remus said. With a nod, Sirius rose to his feet and came up behind his companion. His hands were planted firmly in his pockets, but he made a move to look at the words scrawled on paper. Remus hastily rolled up the parchment. "Piss off, would you?"

Sirius threw his hands up, "Sorry. I was just curious."

"Well, find something else to occupy your time because I've no patience left for you."

"What's crawled up your arse and died?"

Remus whirled on his heel to tower over his friend.

"You hurt me, Sirius," Remus finally spoke, not tearing his gaze away from Sirius. "You tried humiliating me in front of your friends for attention."

"It was just a joke," Sirius cried. "Nothing to get hurt over, Remmy, don't be such a baby about it."

Remus lowered his brow, "When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't, Sirius."

"I wasn't deciding anything!"

"I'm not here to argue with you," Remus growled. "I've got enough arguments at home to last me a lifetime; I don't want to add you to the list."

"Why not?"

Remus scoffed incredulously, "Are you daft?"

"A bit," Sirius shrugged indifferently, making an attempt to lighten the mood. It did little to soothe Remus's nerves.

"Can you ever go three months without acting like you hate me all over again," Remus exclaimed. "I never know where I stand with you! One moment, we're the best of friends and the world is pure and wonderful. I turn my head for one moment and there you are, draped all over me with your lazy smirks and dreamy eyes. And when I look back, you've got this disgusted look written all over your face whenever you look at me."

"I'm not disgusted with you, Remus," Sirius shouted.

"Then who are you disgusted with?!"

Sirius's face had turned a deep shade of red, a mixture of anger, anxiety, and shame on his face when he screamed, "Myself!"

Remus faltered.

"I'm disgusted with myself, Remus. I don't think that's a phenomenon to you, though."

Remus couldn't hide the hurt that time. His eyes burned and his voice cracked when he spoke next, "Fuck you."

Sirius chuckled derisively, "If only you knew."

With an indifferent eyeroll, Sirius sauntered out of the room with a look that read he was no longer invested in the conversation at hand.

Before he exited, he said, "By the way. You're a Werewolf not a Swear-wolf; watch your language."

He shut the door behind him, leaving Remus to himself.

Neither one of them had been thinking much about what they said. Everything inside of them had been building up to that very moment, that moment in the common room being a catalyst, and the dams fractured. The moment at the Black Lake, the feelings that accompanied the memory, and anything else that had been boiling over in the past months had finally slipped from their grasps.

Everything just spilled.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, March 1974 (Third Year)

Sirius and James had a knack for exploring Hogwarts. It had been this way since their first year together. So far, they'd discovered seven secret passageways, owing their shortcut to the Shrieking Shack to Remus, and found it much easier to evade Filch and his ruddy cat. As of that March, their favorite passageway, by far, had been the one that took them to the kitchens. Growing boys had equally growing appetites, and they found themselves in dire need of midnight snacks the longer they spent their time at Hogwarts.

Sirius and James had a knack for getting into trouble. If it wasn't the pranks, then it was the disruptive behavior. Now called the Marauders by the faculty and staff, the four boys – though Remus, lately, hadn't been partaking in their mischief as usual – had been infamous for their rowdy, rambunctious, and aggressively amenable behavior with one another. However, because Remus had once again begun keeping to himself, they found it rather difficult to get out of trouble. Without their mastermind, they were like sheep without a shepherd, so to speak. They didn't exactly know where to go or how to get back to the pen.

Sirius and James had a knack for playing a bit rough on the Quidditch field. The upcoming game – the final game of the season – had been around the corner, and, to Remus's relief, the pair found themselves absent their other friends' company as they spent the remainder of their free time practicing. It was the most anticipated game of the year; the game that decided who won the Quidditch finals. Gryffindor versus Slytherin.

The day of the game, Sirius and James had slept in. Their captain had them practicing till eight o'clock in the evening, with only a small break for dinner, and this left them little time to finish their essays and homework. Who would've blamed them for taking more time to rest up before the game?

Their captain. Ivan Strix. Head boy. One of James Potter's rivals. To think that there could be the rivalry between two boys of the same house was beyond anyone else. All they knew was that the pair hated each other, and James was petitioning to become Quidditch Captain once Strix had graduated. James supposed he was still sore about the robe incident his first year and told everyone he could 'sod off.'

Sleepily, James and Sirius trifled through the Great Hall, their eyes brimmed with sleep and yawns filling their mouths. Peter awaited them cheerfully, filling their empty plates with all of their favorite dishes. Sausages, eggs, bacon, toast, marmalade, and potatoes. Remember! Growing boys need lots of food, at least that's what his mother had said. Perhaps that's why he'd gone through three pairs of trousers that year already. He stared down at his stomach, shrugged, and continued eating.

Remus was sitting across from Peter, a distant and wary look in his eyes, and he sipped his tea and read his book gingerly. He ignored the presence of Sirius entirely, and only gave James a slight nod of acknowledgment. Sirius, in turn, scowled at the cover as if it had been the thing to cause Remus's gruffness. This type of behavior had become quite common between the two boys after the incident in the common room. There was no bad blood between James, Remus, and Peter; they'd been just fine with each other. His relationship with Sirius, however, was turning sour by the minute.

James yawned, "Pe', you comi' who da game?"

Peter stopped chewing, raising a quizzical brow.

"Pete, are you coming to the game," Remus clarified dully, turning a page quietly. Sirius was still staring at Remus with hot eyes, nostrils flaring silently. If looks could kill, Allen Ginsberg would've dropped dead. James, noticing this, prodded him with his fork. "Staring is rude, Sirius."

Shocked, everyone faltered. For the first time in nearly a month, Remus had acknowledged Sirius in a polite manner. Not that Remus was never impolite, but this response was much better than the alternative: blatantly ignoring him. James considered that Remus might've been giving Sirius a taste of his own medicine – Remus was crafty like that – and the message was clearly received if he was reading this correctly. Perhaps this rift would mend soon, and they'd be back to the way things were.

They were such pansies.

"I wasn't –"

"You've been staring at me since I nodded at James," Remus drawled, turning a page lazily. "You can't get things past me; you should know this by now."

Pouting, Sirius crossed his arms.

"Pouting neither helps you nor does it suit you."

"Hey," Sirius exclaimed, clearly offended. His ears turned a comical shade of pink. "Why should you be worried about what suits me and doesn't suit me?"

"I never said I was worried about it, I only pointed it out," Remus clarified indignantly.

"Well, if you weren't worried then you wouldn't have noticed," Sirius smirked triumphantly.

"Or," Remus finally peeked over the edge of his book. A transformation was nearing. His skin was deathly pale. "You've paraded yourself around like a peacock all year and it would be difficult not to notice how awful you look with your chest puffed out like a testosterone-filled gorilla looking for his mate."

Sirius just stared. James snickered into his coffee, poking and prodding at the soggy eggs in his dish.

"Not only did I not understand a word you said, but I also don't care," Sirius declared with a huff, turning his attention towards his food. They ate in comfortable silence, as it was much more comfortable now that Sirius and Remus were on speaking terms, however hostile those words might've been. It was much better than one of them getting up and moving to avoid one another in James's opinion.

He spoke too soon. Remus bookmarked his page, took a final sip of tea, and rose from the bench. Swinging his legs over, he sauntered out of the room without another glance over his shoulder.

"Remus," Sirius called. "Are you coming to the game?"

Remus called out, "If it'll help you sleep at night."

 

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

 

Potter Manor, May 1974

The boys had won the championship and brought pride to their house. Remus attended the game, as he would've done anyway whether he was still upset with Sirius or not, and was overwhelmed with pride in his two companions. If it hadn't been for James and his reckless attempt at The Sabryn Steal during the last few moments of the game, surely Slytherin would've won. Not because they had more points. No. James's idiotic move knocked the Slytherin Seeker off of his broom, which gave Ivan enough time to catch the Snitch, which won Gryffindor the game.

A party ensued in the dorms not long after this game, and three of the boys spent the entirety of their night drinking butterbeer – Ivan wouldn't allow the consumption of Firewhiskey under his watch – and singing songs with their mates till three in the morning. Remus found that he wasn't much of a party animal, and roamed the castle after Sirius managed to dangle from the chandelier from a Gryffindor flag.

It was that night in March that he finally decided that he'd spent fourteen long years on this earth never saying anything worth hearing. This was no moment of self-deprecation. This was a moment of realization. Out of all the times he could've spoken for himself, for his beliefs, or for whatever reason he might've fancied, he remained quiet. Whether it was to avoid confrontation or because he simply didn't know what to say, Remus often found himself silent in situations that required action.

The action required that night was approaching Julienne and giving her a proper explanation of his absences. The conversation itself went much better than he'd expected, or, at least, he hoped so considering he didn't remember half of what he told her. It was a blur; he stuttered and stumbled over his words, and he remembered her smiling for a moment. She wasn't angry, she didn't seem angry. She'd hugged him when they arrived at King's Cross, told him she would write, and had actually followed through with the promise. There was no passive aggression, no cold shoulder.

No resentment.

There was evident heartache, and who could blame her for that. He'd gone and ignored her for months on end and had done, to the best of his ability, one of the absolute worst things you could do to another person. If anything, he was no better than Sirius in those months. The distance without explanation, the absences, the unmet glances – he made Julienne feel the way he had once felt. The guilt that hadn't been there before suddenly came full force. It came when he saw her bright brown eyes gloss over and reddened. It came when her voice cracked and her hug shortened.

Yet, despite his cold attitude towards her, she did not hate him, and she did not reflect his awful behavior. She just… moved on. Not emotionally. Not from whatever feelings she held for him. They would remain for some time. Remus was sure another boy, someone much more accommodating and kinder, would swoon her and wipe all these memories from her conscience. He'd love her the way girls like her are supposed to be loved. He wouldn't avoid her, and he certainly wouldn't put her in such a compromising position.

He also wouldn't find boys attractive. That would be a very distinguishable difference between Remus and whoever decides to swoop Julienne off of her feet like the princess she was.

Now, if only he could get this treatment from everyone.

That summer, the boys had decided they would spend the first month in each other's company at James's house in York, England; if Remus thought he'd had enough of his companions during school, he hadn't seen anything yet.

Instead of having his father drive him all the way to York from Lupin Cottage, the Potter's apparated to Remus's home to pick him up. The Potters looked oddly at home in such a quaint establishment. They were much older than the Lupins being in their early sixties by now, and looked as though they should be the ones spending their retirement in an old cottage. Their appearances didn't reflect their energy, however.

Mrs. Potter, who insisted on being called Euphemia, was essentially James with the opposite genitalia. Same hair, although it was blonde, and the same green eyes. Both had lanky builds, though James was trying his hardest to get rid of this trait, and the same toothy grin that hinted at mischievousness. Their mannerisms mirrored one another down to the way they sniffled between their sentences, and seeing them side by side in such close proximity made Remus uncomfortable. He wondered if he shared this likeness with Hope or Lyall.

Mr. Potter was a tall man with grey streaks coursing through his hair and a pair of spectacles resting on the bridge of his nose; perhaps all the men in the family were cursed with poor eyesight. He was a man with few words, yet ever so witty when he did speak, and was much tamer than his counterparts. Don't let that fool you, however. It was obvious that James adopted his sense of trickery from his father; that glint in their eye couldn't be mistaken.

Both of James's parents were wonderful people with generous, patient hearts. Hope got along very well with Mr. Potter, who had taken a cup of tea with her in the lounge as Remus packed his trunk. There were conversations of a missing Lyall that didn't last long, or Remus didn't listen long enough to hear anything noteworthy, and conversations of the boys' school year thus far. Hope had been pleased with Remus's grades that year, though she was a bit disappointed with his Potions' grade. Without Julienne or Sirius to help him, his marks seemed to slowly sink.

James, so far, had surprisingly gotten some of the highest marks in his class. Next year, that would truly matter as it would show teachers whether or not he was worthy of taking N.E.W.T. level classes; Remus was almost positive he would. He and Sirius both were exceptionally bright young men that hid behind their toxic masculinity far too often for their own good. That was Remus's personal opinion, of course, and this didn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. It was their prerogative, and Remus chiding them about this wouldn't do him any good.

After collecting Peter from his home in Manchester, the Potter's made a stop at Grimmauld Place.

Remus had never seen Sirius's childhood home before, and, to his surprise, it had looked nothing like he'd expected it to. In his mind, 12 Grimmauld Place was a dusty manor tucked away in the farthest corner of the English expanse. It was a place no one heard the cries of Sirius. A place where sunlight dared not to spill. It was black paneling with black shingles, and gargoyles were posted on just about every corner of the building. The dark curtains were drawn over the window, and, just as its owners, Grimmauld Place would look somber and uninviting.

He faltered, realizing that it was an ordinary place save for a few eccentric modifications. It was a townhouse in a district in London that was gated. That seemed to portray the mild concern of safety for their children at least, though Remus doubted Sirius ever got to play outside with the other children. The brick was faded red and the paneling was white. The only darkness displayed was the black door with a serpent as a knocker.

Fitting, he thought to himself.

Mr. Potter, who'd just about had to pin James down by his arms, nodded towards Euphemia. Remus got the odd impression that the Potter's and the Black's were not strangers. She knocked on the door heavily, refusing to use the ironic knocker. Serves Walburga right. They stood there for a moment, Remus's eyes wandering here and there, till he locked on a plant. Its blooms were a tint of purple, a wonderful shade of lavender, that appealed to his eye a great deal. He reached his hand out lucidly, wanting to pluck one for himself.

The door opened, and Remus pulled his hand back. Standing before the Potters, a Pettigrew, and a Lupin had been a skeletal like creature with bat-like ears and angry eyes. It wore only a tea towel, and, thinking back on Sirius's stories, it really had just only covered his… appendages. Euphemia opened her mouth to speak but was cut off by a loud thump behind the elf.

"Begone, filthy creature," Sirius hissed, kicking Kreacher away from the door hastily. Behind him, the halls were filled with shouting. The voice was definitely from a woman. It was a shrill, utterly dreadful sound that almost matched that of a fork on a dinner plate or, perhaps, nails on a chalkboard.

"Don't you dare leave this house, Sirius," she screamed, coming to the front door with a look of pure hatred in her eyes. It did not lessen when faced with Euphemia and Fleamont Potter. In fact, it might have worsened. "Euphemia."

"Walburga," Mrs. Potter nodded curtly, turning to her husband nonchalantly. Mr. Potter cleared his throat quietly, offering a tight smile to the woman in the doorway.

"Good morning, Mrs. Black," he began politely.

"How good could a morning be with that impudent brat running amuck in my house," she growled, throwing a thin finger in the direction of Sirius. The Black heir had taken his stance beside Remus, almost putting himself behind him. Remus doubted he'd make a good shield for whatever curse Walburga threw his way, but if it soothed Sirius it would just have to do.

"Kids," Mr. Potter chortled. "They can be a handful, can't they?" Walburga deadpanned. "Right… Well, Euphemia and I just wanted to extend an invitation to your son, Sirius, for a few weeks of his summer holiday to celebrate James and Remus's belated birthdays."

Walburga's brow lowered, "Why should their birthdays be any concern of Sirius's?"

Euphemia coughed, "Look, Walburga, we know Sirius can be a handful, and we don't mind taking him off your hands for a few weeks, is all. It would mean the world to James if you would just spare him this time. I promise, we'll bring him back in good shape."

"I'm sure that's the last thing she wants," Sirius muttered under his breath, but only Remus heard him. The latter felt a chill run down his spine.

Sirius had told some stories of his mother over the years, and none of them could ever do the woman justice. What could have been a beautiful young woman had been replaced by a vulgar, spiteful, and bitter witch who seemed to have never learnt to smile. Her hair was pulled so tightly away from her face Remus thought her forehead might have split, and her dress could've been from the 1800's and not a shade darker. Either her favorite color was Black, or she was taking this family obsession way too seriously.

She looked the Potter's up and down one last time before nodding quickly and slamming the door in their face. Everyone turned to face Sirius, wondering if this was a regular occurrence, to which he just shrugged.

It was better than a declination.

ιι

If Mr. and Mrs. Potter had wanted any more children after James, their minds had been changed after spending a week with four rowdy boys. Euphemia had always told her husband how much she adored children, how she couldn't wait to see James have companions in his life. She'd finally gotten her wish, and she'd enjoyed it the first few days. Now, however, she was floating around her kitchen with silverware flying against her bloated body and was seriously second guessing having those boys in a room with her husband for more than five minutes.

In the hallway, Fleamont was snickering with the boys, watching as Euphemia tried her hardest to reach her wand. However, it was wood instead of metal and was very difficult to reach when she seemed to gravitate towards the ceiling.

"Fleamont Henry Potter," Euphemia screamed, "I'm going to rip you limb from limb when I get down from here!"

James and the boys snuck off, far away from the kitchen, and collected themselves. Dinner was to be served in a mere ten minutes, but they all knew that the spell would take much longer to wear off if Mr. Potter didn't undo it any time soon. James knew his father, and he knew that he'd milk this situation as long as possible to ensure lots of memories. They regrouped in the drawing room, a massive parlor with several couches and a fireplace. Because of the awful heat that summer, no fire was lit. If anything, they'd charmed it shut so that the cool air wouldn't be sucked out the chimney.

James swung his feet from the couch.

"You know," he began, "Minnie is going to start looking for new Prefects soon."

"'Spose she'll be looking at one of us, then," Peter added in, trying his hardest to maintain a poker face. Sirius, who'd been seated next to Remus, laid his head on the back of the couch.

"Why would Minnie want any of us to be Prefects," he scoffed. "I mean, don't we break all the rules? 'Cept Remus, of course."

Offended, Remus felt the tips of his ears warm, "Hey, I break the rules!"

Sirius lazily shifted his face to stare up at Remus, "Oh, yeah? Give an example. I'm eager to hear how you've been a rebel, my good man."

"I… I-I… Well," Remus stuttered, scratching the nape of his neck anxiously. "I yelled in the library one day."

The three boys laughed their hearts how, howling and whooping like the wild animals they were.

"Alright, give us an example that doesn't involve Peter dropping a copy of A Full History of the Goblin Revolutions on your head, Remmy," James guffawed, slapping his knee despite the blush creeping all over Remus's body.

"Shut up," he snapped, now bashful. "Fine! I guess I don't get in trouble."

"Exactly," Sirius sighed dreamily, wiping a tear from his eye. "You go to class, study, and write stuff down. Like a nerd."

"Writing stuff down is nerdy," Remus questioned incredulously. "I suppose it's better than forgetting it."

"Hey, hey, hey," Sirius held up his hands defensively. "Don't blame me for being the cool one."

Remus simply rolled his eyes, preferring to pout on his end of the couch until Euphemia called them in for dinner. Peter was the first one to jump to his feet, racing into the dining room with more speed than James's new broom. James followed after him, allowing himself to fall behind for Peter's pride, but Sirius held no prisoners. He bounded forward with all his energy, pushing past both James and Peter to make it to the table first. He slid into his chair gracefully, ignoring a glaring Peter making his way around the table.

Reminding himself that he and Sirius were still on thin ice, Remus decided it was best he sit across the table this time around instead of beside him. He edged into his seat, looking down at the full plate in front of him. He hadn't realized how hungry he'd actually been until he reached the table. After saying grace, the four boys began eating as if they'd never eaten before.

There was idle talk here and there about trivial things – Quidditch, the Ministry, more Quidditch, and next years classes. Remus didn't say much; his mind was full of things that weren't appropriate to discuss with your best mate's parents at the dinner table. Things like his father, his mother, his feelings, and the absence of some feelings. These were topics best divulged to his newfound diary.

Instead of bottling everything up inside of him, Remus had taken to writing as an outlet. It came easy to him, and reading new books on poetry every week made it easier for him to communicate what he was feeling without feeling like such an anomaly. It made his heart rest easier knowing that he was not the only one out there with such intrusive thoughts. Thoughts on love, hate, bitterness, loneliness, boys, and fears. There were many out there like him. But there were none he related to more than Ginsberg.

His diary had almost been full. Parts of it was poetry. They weren't pages worth, just a few stanzas here and there. Other pages held detailed accounts of his emotions. Anger, sadness, betrayal, loneliness, and happiness. Guilt, greed, laziness, and passion. Everything Remus had been ignoring suddenly stared back at him unabashed, and he wasn't quite sure how to feel about that anymore.

In his mind, it was like static. It never cut off. It buzzed in the background of everyday life to the point he wanted to drill holes inside of his head to let the noise escape. But when it was written down, he had to face these intrusions. He had to look at the way he painted them, the way he wrote them, the way he communicated them. It wasn't easy doing that, and some days he'd rather he just shut the diary after writing to give himself a break.

Days after the transformations were difficult to read. They were full of self-contempt and rage, bitterness and fury. It was as if remnants of the wolf were clinging to his quill; he didn't reread these quite often. No, these thoughts were best spilled and cleaned before they made too much of a mess. No use crying over it.

However, he could go back time and time again to a single page.

You looked at me like you always looked at me but there was something in the corner of your eye that brought a sting to my heart, like it skipped a beat and my breath lost its balance. I could swear something changed in the air, like I saw you differently now, deeper maybe. And then you touched my hand and I could swear I lost my sight because you were all that I could see, and I smiled because I knew that I had begun falling for you but then my heart skipped again, because what if you don't feel the same?

It was painful to read that. It tore him open and left him vulnerable. Writing that poem was as if the passion and dread had stripped him of his clothes and left him nothing but a blade of grass to hide himself. It was difficult coming to terms with what he wrote. Initially, he just let it flow from his mind; he didn't pay attention to the words or their meaning, he let his mind take him to the place he dared not venture on his own.

That's where it led him. That single page with shaky lettering and jagged punctuation. Sirius had tried taking a peek at it in February, but he quickly covered it up.

Looking at Sirius across from him, watching the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed or the way his cheeks got red when Euphemia called him honey, was like a hungry man clinging to the empty wrappers of food. Remus wasn't starving yet; there was still enough time to evade starvation. If he dug himself out of this hole he'd made, he would be fine. Watching Sirius smile, hearing his laugh, and feeling the brush of his foot against Remus's toes made things inside of him coil.

In fear. In passion. In anything that had been stuffed down his throat to hide.

Sirius had been the first person to look at Remus for who he was. Not his scars, his robes, his long arms and legs, or his feet. No, Sirius looked at Remus John Lupin – the awkward young man who had initially found his books much more entertaining than the people around him. The Gryffindor who had the uncanny talent to ignore his Gryffindor impulses and keep his lot out of trouble. The young man who was terrible with public speaking but amazing with supportive speeches in private. The friend who'd give anything in the world to see his companions smile. The weirdo who writes poetry at three in the morning by candlelight.

That's who Sirius saw.

That's who he was looking at. This tall boy with tawny hair and golden eyes. His crooked smile that communicated all the warmth and tenderness that made Sirius's icy heart thaw. The way he'd duck his head when Fleamont complimented his charms or the way he'd blush after hearing praise about his marks – it ignited a kindling Sirius had thought he put out.

But this was Remus he was talking about. Remmy. Rem Rem. Wolfy. Moony. He wasn't sure when he'd begun calling Remus that, but he thought it was fitting. Moony. The boy who'd never given a jot about Sirius's blood status or wealth. He saw a young man fighting for what he believed in, no matter the price. A boy with a thirst for adventure that would most likely never be quenched, but this was perfectly alright as it would make for an interesting retirement. The boy who painted sunsets and oceans at midnight to avoid arguments with his mother. The boy who would never tell any of his friends he painted, though Remus thought it admirable. Brave Sirius Black against the world, and he had three others by his side.

That's who Remus saw.

So, if they saw each other as equals with as much compassion and understanding as the other then why was it so difficult to converge. Every moment felt like a battle. They'd inch closer and closer together until they met. Not even arm's length away, and a force would send the spiraling away from each other again. It seemed impossible for them to live in a world where they coexisted as anything but friends.

But Sirius never liked limits, nor did he like fate. If he'd listened to fate, then he would've been a cock-sucking-prejudiced bastard, and only one of those insults was possibly true.

ιι

Remus couldn't sleep, and the words were not flowing out of him anymore. He'd written all he could write. His wrist needed a break. Thinking about so many things, processing so many thoughts, had become tiring. It was nice to know what he was feeling and to have the ability to control it, but it wore down on him.

At times, he'd wished he could be oblivious to the world and his emotions. It would be much easier to live that way. In that case, he'd never have to worry about the sadness associated with Lupin Cottage or the anger associated with the wolf. He'd never have to think about the anxiety accompanied with Sirius's sporadic mood shifts or the wavering trust of James. It would be like sitting in a boat with only the current to take you where you need to go. That type of life was appealing.

But it wasn't for Remus. He'd much rather be aware that whatever he was feeling was manageable than just scraping by.

He felt Sirius enter his room, but said nothing. He heard the soft patter of feet against the carpeted floors and the soft murmur of his breath through his nose. He was hyperaware of everything that was Sirius from the way he smelled like James's shower gel down to the ruffle of cotton pajamas against his skin. He tensed when he felt a hand slide up his spine. It was cold.

"Hullo," Remus murmured distantly, watching the stars as if they would fall from the sky. He felt fingertips moving their way up the base of his neck, carding through his hair peacefully. The pads of Sirius's fingers grazed against Remus's scalp, and he massaged his temples with grace. Remus pressed his cheek against Sirius's stomach, ignoring the way his warmth made his stomach jolt. Sirius decided to say nothing at all for the moment, letting his hands roam freely through Remus's hair.

It felt like decades. The time they spent in silence seemed to carry on for years without interruption, and neither of them minded. Their company was soothing, and they wanted nothing more than to freeze that moment and relive it over and over again. The anger and resentment from the previous months seemed to wash away as Sirius ran his fingers along Remus's jaw.

It was a gesture. A silent apology. Sirius had never been great with words of empathy, and apologies were not his forte. At least spoken apologies weren't. If he'd do this every time he upset Remus, the latter wouldn't complain. Remus didn't mind that his body betrayed him; the tips of his ears warmed, and his steady pulse quickened.

"Rem," Sirius whispered.

"Hm?"

"Am I selfish," Sirius asked quietly. His voice was different from all the other times they had spoken alone. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, Sirius was a guarded individual and had every right to be so. His mother betrayed his trust time and time again, using pain and neglect to communicate extremes. He'd never spoken much about his father, but no better could be expected from him either. Lord knows what else he'd been through; Remus never judged him for defending himself even in the slightest.

That night, however, it was different. He was different. They were different. The world wasn't. In fact, not much had actually changed. They'd never explained what they felt to one another, never talked about their feelings much either. They went about their lives with one another hoping that their contact wouldn't end in an argument, regretting their words whenever it did. They drifted back to one another whether they wanted to or not. They always came back to each other. Always.

"What do you mean?"

"Is it selfish of me to be the only one to want you," he sighed, slipping his fingers back into tawny waves.

Remus had no response, he only listened to the hollow whistle of breath in Sirius's lungs in sync with the rhythm of his heart.

"To be the only one to hold you, feel your touch."

Remus pressed his face into Sirius's stomach, inhaling the scent of summer rain. Not even James's body wash could ruin that. Sirius wrapped his arms around Remus to the best of his ability and held him. He held him in his arms the way he'd been wanting to, smiled to himself when it brought more satisfaction and joy to him than he could've ever imagined. He relished in his touch, the way he was always so damn gentle with everything as if it were a bird with a broken wing.

Remus's kindness would get him killed one day. Remus's heart would get him killed one day.

But, Sirius wondered, if he were the one to hold it, then he could protect it.

Chapter Text

Hope Elizabeth Howell, the youngest of four children, was born in 1926 to a First World War veteran and a librarian in the city of Wales. She weighed seven pounds and three ounces with thin wisps of copper hair on the crown of her head. All babies are born with blue eyes, according to her mother, but none such as Hope had sapphires as she. Thick layers of lashes batted against her cheeks as she coughed or cried or hiccupped. She never cried much, not unless she missed the touch of her mother and father, and was the only baby of Helen and Timothy Howell to be this way. Her sister, Gwyneth, was the complete opposite.

By the time Hope was five, her skin was dotted with freckles and her eyes had only grown more vibrant. What had once been thin wisps had poured into long curls, and, for a girl so young, she was all arms and legs. In primary school, she had many friends. Betty and Margaret accompanied her home every Thursday afternoon for joint piano practice, and Virginia and Ruth never missed a Friday crochet lessons from Helen. Her grades were impeccable; the teachers adored her. Gwyneth looked down on her little sister with disdain, as she was everything she wasn't.

The Great Slump, the Americans recognized it as the Great Depression, began when Hope had just turned four, and life as she knew it began to change. Her father's pension checks ceased in the mail, and the library was forced to offer only volunteer work as the economy could no longer fund "unnecessary programs" such as libraries or other small public organizations. Now without an income, the family was forced to reach into their savings account for only the essentials: food, water, and electricity. Hope had only two pairs of shoes in primary school. Dress shoes that were only worn for outings, and a pair of her brother, Edward's, old, brown Goodyear stitch downs. When a hole ran through the sole, it was best if she stuffed it with newspapers and went on with her day.

When the Second World War had begun, Hope's brothers, George and Edward, had been drafted as soldiers and shipped to the front lines immediately. There was no time to say goodbye. Wounded during the first war, Timothy Howell was forced to remain in Wales with his wife and daughters as a baker, earning only 24 pounds a week. With little money and even less food on the table, Hope's elder sister was forced to search for employment. After a year, she was undertaken as a tailor's assistant with 0.24 pounds an hour to her name. It wasn't much, but it was more than nothing.

Hope had turned 16 and decided that a life in poverty and fear was no life at all, and she decided to forego her secondary schooling and join the British army as a nurse in 1943. After attending a flimsy form of nursing school and undergoing training, Hope was stationed in France at the end of 1943 and remained there for the rest of the war. Her main posting was in Normandy, and she received several soldiers in her months as a new nurse.

However, nothing could have prepared her for the chaos of D-Day. So used to being in a tent in the city of Normandy, the journey to the coast was long and tedious. On her way, she saw several soldiers preparing themselves for an attack they knew they would lose. Some prayed while others cried to their confidants, and there were some who looked unphased. But Hope knew better than that. She knew that the traumas of war were inhibiting their true reactions to what would come to be known as D-Day.

The images an eighteen-year-old Hope Howell was exposed to were bloody and hectic. There was a buzz in the back of her mind for most of the days, and the actions she exerted were out of habit instead of conscious decision. Most of her patients died. Some from blood loss, others from shock. There was a boy, no older than twenty, had been carried in by his comrades in a tattered Nazi flag. It had been the only thing they could find, and Hope was fully aware how each of them resented themselves for resorting to this. The boy, however, didn't care what had carried him in, as he was far too busy screaming in agony.

Hope deduced from their chaotic stories and his external wounds that he'd been in range of a landmine, and a rather large chunk of his calf had cut open and an artery had been severed from flying debris. There were cuts and sores all over his face and neck, some stinging from the saltwater of the ocean while others were still dirty from the mud. This hadn't been the worst Hope had seen, but it definitely wasn't a walk in the park.

After two long hours of suturing and disinfecting, and an additional half hour of sedating, Hope was able to stabilize him and send him off to the infirmary where a licensed medical doctor could further examine his injuries. The truth of the matter had been, the nurses were only there to make things easier on the doctors – clean up the wounds and stabilize the men long enough so that they could get there work done. Hope, while she resented this, understood.

Another year of maimed and murdered men and the war finally concluded. Hope returned home with a horrific case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but pension checks and other means of economic stability that would help her family land on their feet. While she had been gone, her mother had passed away; dysentery was the killer. According to Gwyneth, their city had been under attack by the Nazi Germans, and several means of food and water had been destroyed. Families resorted to drinking out of the River Wye, which had been contaminated. The Germans had been throwing deceased prisoners of war into the river for weeks, tying cinder blocks to their ankles to weigh them down.

Hundreds had died. Women, children, and men, all alike. Hope had learned two things during the war. The first had been nothing quite brings out the zest for life in a person like the thought of their impending death. Those men on the shores of Normandy were animals. Good, young gentlemen on the way there had morphed into bloodthirsty murderers. It didn't matter where they came from, what they did before, what their name had been – war brought out the demons everyone had been fighting, and it let them roam wild even if only for a moment.

The second thing she had learned was that winning this war meant not a damn thing to the soldier that is dead. She wondered sometimes why they fought and why they continued. She even wondered why she continued. There were hundreds of men who could've never been saved. They were missing parts of their bodies, their entrails were dangling from a gash in their stomach, blood poured out of their mouths like water from the River Thames – these men, she knew, would never make it, but she tried anyway. Even if it meant using the last bit of her supplies that could've saved the next man down the line.

The men on D-Day – most of them knew they wouldn't make it. The President and the PM had both projected a 75% casualty rate. Most of those men, if not more, were in that percentage, and they knew they were. However, that didn't stop them from fighting till their last breath. If they knew they were going to die then why keep trying?

She figured out the answer on her flight back to Wales. She joined the war in the first place for her family. She lied on her application to nursing school, lied during her interview with the British Army, lied to generals and lieutenants when asked her age. Why? Her family needed her. She was not so different from these soldiers in this regard: they continued fighting for those back home. If they were going to die, they were going to die in hopes that their death would bring freedom and justice to those they love.

We all fight for causes, whether they're universally supported or not. There is a fire in each of us, she realized, and to fight for someone else's fire, even when your own may be doused, in the name of love and family was something much braver than anything else she could come up with. Hope Elizabeth Howell earned no medals, no national recognition. She did her job the best she could and returned home with nothing but nightmares and breakdowns on her back. She only had a single pair of shoes left.

But she went home knowing that she'd done her duty to her family, if not her country.

The funeral had already commenced, and her father had resorted to drinking. Edward and George had been separated during postings; very few letters had come from them over the years. The last thing they'd received in regard to George had been a telegram from his commanding officer, Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay, in 1940 stating that George had fallen in the line of duty during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

In 1946, Edward returned home missing three fingers – not all on the same hand – and a blind eye, not to mention about thirteen other scars from bullets and explosions. His war stories were interesting and, more often than not, took a comical twist; Hope knew that this was some form of a coping mechanism, and she didn't blame her brother at all for distracting from the more morbid details from war. George's death impacted him the hardest, and he eventually turned to alcohol for comfort.

In her absence, Gwyneth had gotten married Charles Hammond, a veteran from war posted in Wales in 1941. Born in Marseille, Charles joined the war at age 20 and had been stationed in England not long after.

It was quite the love story, that was for sure. At least, Gwyneth had described it as her own personal love story. Whatever had been the case, Hope was thankful that her sister had found someone to keep her company. After Helen's death, with only a drinking Timothy to keep her company, she was sure that the war had been quite hard on her sister.

Charles was a kind, handsome gentleman with dark brown hair and smoldering blue eyes. He smiled at everything and was, at times, disgustingly optimistic about any given situation. His sense of humor had been perfect for the Howell family, and he came around just enough to actually grow on Hope. He owned his own plane, courtesy of his Lieutenant father, and took the girls flying quite often. The three grew inseparable in the years to come, and the newfound Hammonds offered Hope an opportunity to escape Wales when extending their ticket to London.

Four years later, in 1949, Hope managed to find a job with an insurance company in London, earning enough money to rent her own flat and purchase her very first car – a champagne convertible Chrysler Imperial. Having never driven before, Charles offered to give her driving lessons. The Hammond's owned a vacation house in the British countryside in a town known as Clovelly, and this is where her lessons commenced.

According to Charles, after several attempts at training a twenty-two-year-old woman on how to drive, Hope was unteachable. She couldn't manage the stick shift or the clutch, and she always slammed the brakes too hard. Her hands wouldn't stop perspiring long enough for her to grasp the wheel, and she cut her turns far too sharply to be considered safe. Three weeks and many arguments later, Charles decided that, perhaps, a gentler approach would work better on a woman like Hope.

She was unlike his wife. Gwyn was hardboiled and rough on the edges. She was a "no nonsense" type of woman, who ruled their home with an iron fist. She got down in the dirt of their gardens, under the hoods of their cars when the engine wouldn't run, and she knew her way with tools unlike any woman Charles had seen. She wasn't cruel or harsh – there were moments that she softened up for a slightly emotional conversation every now and then. Gwyn didn't talk often about her feelings, and getting something out of her was like trying to pry a clam open for pearls.

Hope, on the other hand, was as open and ever expanding as the sky. Her thirst for adventure and of trying new things made life in London much more bearable each day.

If Charles walked then Hope would run. If he made a trip into the city with the girls then Hope was determined to go sight seeing places they'd been at least ten times already, just for the hell of it. Beaches, in Hope's eyes, weren't just for tanning but for exploring, and the ocean was as welcoming as you allowed it to be. Money was just a capitalistic concept to cage in English citizens, and it is only an object that should not determine your happiness.

It didn't matter, in the end, because the materials fade away. Money, houses, cars, clothes, jewelry – they were only things at the end of the day. They break or wear down. They don't last. They'll eventually run out. But people and connections, love and admiration, last us lifetimes.

That was a lesson Charles learned from his sister-in-law. Learning to love the world not for its things but for its opportunities.

She was many things, but, most of all, Hope was gentle. Being in the war and being married to Gwyneth were two things of similar natures. Taking orders and obeying commands were constant actions; breaking your resolves could not be tolerated in some circumstances, and living life to the fullest, as Hope would've done, was only reckless and brash. In those small, infrequent moments of intimacy that he shared with Gwyneth, he only found himself yearning for more.

Perhaps it was selfish to expect so much of a woman who'd been given so little by the fates. Life for the Howell sisters had never been easy, nor would it ever be. Life after a war, and life after loss, is not easily lived. To have braved both war and loss was not a feat worth ignoring, and, in some ways, Hope had more of Charles's respect than his very own wife did.

That was where it began. Those feelings. Feelings that men in his position should not be feeling. Being married to a woman who'd given him nothing but respect and patience, though it wore thin quite often, was not a place many his age were at. Most of them were in the ground. Some of them were stuck in foreign cities, not a sickle to their names and not a single memory of who they were before. Ashamed of himself, he tried his hardest to fend off such things.

Gwyneth was a wonderful wife. She cooked, cleaned, organized, and maintained a steady job that elevated their status within their tightly knit community. Hope was a flight risk. She was neither here nor there about anything in the world, and the clothes off her back could be ripped off and she'd still go on with the soles on her feet as if nothing had been the matter. Having a job, to Hope, was like having a hobby, and she didn't find it quite necessary to lead a happy life. These things, and many more, were common dinner table topics that her elder sister brought up from time to time.

"She's oblivious and naïve," Gwyneth hissed. "She'll hit rock bottom and will be completely unaware how she got there."

But Charles never listened. Those things that Gwyneth chided were the things that he admired. War, more times than not, left people broken. Seeing death repeat itself, plucking souls like petals from a wilting rose, grows weary and tiresome. Many give up on hope and faith along the way, and Charles was in no position to judge. The majority of his regiment, when stationed in Poland, had been slaughtered by the Nazis, and he'd stood by guarding his own life instead of fighting for others. He'd given up on his own ability to save not only himself, but also others.

Hope, apparently, had not given up quite so easily. She found something to smile about each day, even those that he yelled at her for her inability to drive straight. Even when she was down to her last pound and the rent was due in less than a week. Even when her brother's death anniversary passed each year, and her mother's after that. Even when her visits to Wales ended in nothing but tragedy and tears. Hope did not give up.

Maybe that was the difference between the sisters. Gwyn had given up quite some time ago. Losing a mother and brother weighed to heavily on her heart. Losing her home, her photos, her memories, and more to the enemy had broken her back and left her for dead. There was nothing to hope for because, in Gwyn's mind, everything came to a bloody end. To hope for the better was creating nothing but naïve fantasies. To dream of happiness, whether it be with herself or somebody else, was nothing but a whimsical idea mounted on nothing but falsities.

There was nothing to live for anymore to Gwyneth. Not even her husband.

Hope had every reason to live, but the biggest and most important reason had been for herself.

Charles had told Hope he loved her during a Christmas party in 1954. Gwyneth was famous for her house parties regardless of the occasion, but her Christmas parties, by far, were the most popular. Her decorating skills and baking were phenomenal; no one could deny this. Charles had taken enough cooking classes from Hope over the years to know how to maintain a boiling pot for no more than five minutes.

Hope had just turned twenty-eight and had been, for several years, the most sought-after bachelorette in their London neighborhood. Several young men had been trying to entice her under the mistletoe since the commencement of the party, and Charles couldn't blame them.

Her smile lit up a room and her laughter was as tender as a turtledove's coos. A striking difference from a broad, harsh Gwyneth, Hope Lupin was a feather in comparison to a talon. Her peachy skin shimmered and her rosy lips had been wet with wine – her drink of choice. As she passed you, your nose was tickled with the scent of her perfume and it took everything in the men not to swoon.

With long, wavy copper hair and bright blue eyes, Hope Howell was a wanted woman. She was all arms and legs with a slim waist and delicate wrists. On her fingers were small rings here and there, some with jewels and some without. She had long fingernails with shiny coats of red and green – she loved that time of year. Charles noticed she'd been wearing a bracelet on her left wrist – a Pandora bracelet he'd given her for her birthday two years ago. He smiled.

Charles caught himself staring at her often that night, from the corner of rooms or at the dinner table as their colleagues and friends chatted about trivial things such as television programs or the economy. Hope nodded and smiled; she'd always been quiet around Gwyneth's friends. Perhaps she didn't feel as welcomed. Gwyn chose friends similar to herself, and to say that the sisters had their differences was an understatement at times. However, if ever addressed, she smiled politely and answered in her sing-song voice to the best of her ability. Charles hardly heard a word she said, though. It was all white noise.

When he told her, she didn't seem shocked in the slightest. In fact, she seemed relieved. For the next four and a half years, Charles Hammond and Hope Howell engaged in an affair, and did their best to keep it under wraps. That venture had been successful. Her sister had been too caught up in her latest business venture to notice her husband's change of habit or the discrepancies in his schedule there lately. His absences were easily smoothed over by weak excuses, and the entire ordeal went underneath Gwyneth's pointed nose.

To say that Hope loved Charles was a bit of a stretch. In all the years that she'd known him, she'd only felt lustful towards him. She figured out early on that she'd been fond of the attention that he'd given her – the affection, the tender touches, and the soft, gentle kisses in the cover of night. After spending twenty-eight long years on earth without the touch of a partner had finally taken its toll on a young Hope Howell, and she clung to the love that Charles had offered in a heartbeat.

The betrayal of her sister hadn't bothered Hope much in the beginning. In her mind, and this was a selfish notion, Hope had deserved a break. She spent her youth in poverty and war, without another person to keep her any sort of company after her discharge, and had led a very lonely life until that Christmas night in 1954. Charles came of his own accord; she hadn't sought after him in the slightest. What they had was natural, and it was unstoppable for years. It had never been guilt that stopped their arrangement.

It had been Lyall Lupin. Hope had been held up at work on a Friday night in 1959. Carlton, her boss, asked her to rearrange a few invoices. A few turned out to be over two hundred unopened cases, and they required assignments. This venture took up an extra two hours of her time; it hadn't been the time that bothered her. Hope enjoyed her job very much so. It had been the rain. Hope's hair never agreed with the rain; it tangled and matted, but, most of all, it frizzed. It would take ten hairdryers to undo the mess her walk home was about to take.

After locking up and setting out, she ran to her car. Her reliable Imperial named June. Well, June had decided to become rather difficult that night and chose not to start, which meant that her owner would be walking to her flat at nine o'clock at night in the rain. Wonderful. Hope decided to take the shortcut home. The shortcut was indeed short, but it required cutting through several alleyways and neighborhoods. She didn't mind; it was much better than walking for 45 minutes. Cut the trip in half.

She started upon her journey, ducking in alleyways and taking shelter under doorways when the raindrops pelted too hard. She'd made it halfway to her home and was on her way to the last alley of the night. So far, she'd traveled undisturbed. The most she'd gotten in regard to terror that night had been an opossum jumping from a trash heap on Mason Way. Besides, it took much more than a robber to scare Hope Howell.

That was until she came face to face with the boy. Not any boy. This was a boy she had treated during the war – a civilian caught in the crossfire in a small neighborhood in Normandy. At least, she thought she had treated his injuries – a fractured arm and orbital socket, splintered ribs, and a broken ankle. Not to mention the variety of external wounds scattered around his body. However, it had been like all that hard work was undone in a matter of moments, and the boy who'd once walked away from a hospital in Normandy as healthy as a horse had been condemned to such agony again.

Crying, he crawled towards Hope with bloody fingernails digging into the asphalt. He begged her to end his pain, to put him out of his misery. The blood had drained from her body like water, and her fingertips trembled. She'd thought she'd put such maladies behind her after her move to London. Hope had been under the impression that she'd seen her fair share of injuries during the war, and would not be subjected to such torture again. Life had a funny way of twisting fate.

Unsure of what to do, Hope screamed bloody murder. It had seemed reasonable at the time. What could she have done without any type of medical supplies to help the boy? What was she to do without any clean equipment? The only rational thing to do was to scream for help and hope to God almighty that someone would get the message.

And they had. A large, burly man with damp brown hair and concerned eyes stumbled upon her, grasping her by the shoulders tightly. He asked her to close her eyes, and, at first, she refused upon the grounds that the boy needed medical attention. He would die without it. But he did not let up. Again and again he asked her to just shut her eyes for a moment, just for a single moment, until he shouted at her. It hadn't been what he wanted to do. He'd wanted to be gentle with her; yelling at pretty women in alleyways was not on his to-do list. However, it got her to do as he said.

This man, she found out later, was a Wizard. Not the type they showed you in the movie theatres, not like the one in Oz. Though, he did have a wand and a slight stubble that very well could've grown into a beard. By the time she'd opened her eyes, the boy was gone along with any traces he'd been there in the first place. For weeks she considered herself crazy, and even wondered if she should've been admitted. It had been years since a nightmare that vivid.

The man she met on the street had begun showing up in her life more and more often, to the point she wondered if she should hire some sort of escort to take her around town. But, after weeks of skirting around her, he introduced himself as Lyall Lupin, and even explained that the boy she had seen was not, in fact, a boy at all. It was known as a Boggart, a magical creature that takes the shape of a person's greatest fear.

Of course, Hope hadn't believed him at first. Who in the bloody hell would have? Wizards and magic didn't exist in reality, and only a psycho would take a fellow psycho seriously. But Lyall persisted. For weeks, he followed her, asked her on dates, and bought her dinner from time to time. He'd been different from Charles. In all actuality, Charles was a movie screen husband. He was lovely to look at, smelled wonderful, and acted as the perfect partner to Hope in all ways. They got along well, the sex was wondrous, and hardly a thing was amiss aside from the fact he was a married man.

Lyall… Lyall was attractive. Lyall was dreamy. But Lyall was real. He had wrinkles in the corners of his eyes and laugh lines around his mouth. There were scars here and there from "missions," as he called them, as an Auror. He couldn't cook to save his life, and the man never wore matching socks. He forgot things here and there during their time together, but was always quick to correct himself. He made mistakes. He tripped over himself. His sense of humor was dark and dry, a very acquired taste of humor in that day and age.

But he was real. He was attainable. He made Hope feel as though life wasn't one drama on the television for everyone to view. He gave her a quiet life, free of scandals and arguments. He even taught her how to drive stick better than Charles ever did.

Not even a year after meeting one another, Lyall and Hope married one another in a small chapel in Wales. The couple moved Gwyneth's vacation home in Clovelly – considered a small wedding gift from Charles – and were prepared to weather their days together as middle aged hermits.

Working for the Ministry meant that Lyall was gone quite often after their honeymoon. He always returned freshly maimed or injured in some way, and it worried Hope. It reminded her of years she'd tried her hardest to forget. The honeymoon phase lasted less than a month, and arguments over Lyall's occupation took up most of their time. They loved each other with everything they had, anyone could've seen that. And this is why it was so hard for Hope to let her husband wander out into danger.

Life took a turn when Hope found out she was pregnant. Both Lyall and his wife agreed that children weren't in the picture – not with his job. They didn't have much money to their name, as Lyall earned wizarding money and Hope earned a meager sum from her job with the new insurance agency. Ends were met, but they were not met easily. Bringing a child into the picture made things much more difficult for the couple.

Remus John Lupin, an only child, was born in March of 1960 to a Second World War nurse and a Wizard in the small town of Clovelly. He weighed seven pounds and nine ounces with thin wisps of tawny hair on the crown of his head. All babies are born with blue eyes, according to her mother, and for a moment Hope thought her son might just adopt her sapphires. But not long after his birth, there was a night he fell asleep in his oversized crib and woke with the most dazzling pair of amber eyes either one of his parents had ever seen. Thick layers of lashes batted against his cheeks as he coughed or cried or hiccupped. He never cried much, just like his mother. He only grew fussy when hungry or lonely, and the latter was not experienced often by the young boy.

He was loved. Remus was loved by two lonely souls brought together. Many considered him the final coating in Hope and Lyall's marriage – the coat that finally set them. That boy brought those two together more than anyone had seen before. With all of their hearts, they took care of their baby and loved him with everything they had. The struggles they faced alone were suddenly washing away as their child grew older. Just as his mother, he grew to be all arms and legs with bright copper hair and crooked smiles.

Then it happened. Lyall had been working on a case involving Werewolf attacks for several months with no leads; he was about to be dropped from the case. Hope had her worries when dealing with dark creatures. Fenrir Greyback was feared among the English citizens. Whether or not Muggles knew of his condition or not was of no matter. His name was known to both worlds as a murderer.

Lyall voiced his opinions on Werewolves quite often to his wife, but it was these remarks that cost him. He'd had an outburst in the Ministry which lost him a suspect and a case. Not a day after the explosion, his dealings with Werewolf attacks ceased and he was put on the Bogeyman case.

"Vile, soulless, repulsive creatures that deserve a horrid death."

That's what the prophet had said, and Hope could hear her husband saying such a thing. In that same article, it entailed that Fenrir had also escaped Ministry custody and disappeared in Western London. It was then that the precautions at the first Lupin Cottage took place. Protective wards were put up by Lyall himself, and an alarm would sound should there be an intruder.

Fenrir must've been one hell of a Werewolf because not a single alarm had registered the night of the attack.

Only thirty minutes earlier, Remus John Lupin, a small, skinny boy with a meek voice and tender amber eyes that sparkled so brightly, laid fast asleep in his bed. His tawny brown hair was splayed across the pillow, one hand clutched around his oh-so-special stuffed elephant he required be named Ellie (Lyall Lupin thought the toy was clearly a boy given the shade of blue it had been) while the other neared his face, thumb in his mouth. Hope Lupin knew that he was too old for such things.

Only thirty minutes earlier, Hope Lupin had been watching her son from the doorway, smiling despite herself because he'd been able to drift to sleep so effortlessly as he did every night. When she'd been pregnant, her biggest fear had been that her baby would fear the dark, shrink away from the night. But Remus had been an enigma – a beautiful, gentle enigma. Remus never made a fuss at bedtime, didn't mind when they power went out every so often, and he had no fear of monsters under the bed. In fact, he'd made his very own 'Nasty Monster Go Away Spray' that was ready to use, just in the cabinet of his bedside table. Hope never told him, but she was sure that rubbing alcohol and water didn't make for a good repellent.

Only thirty minutes earlier, Lyall Lupin, who'd so desperately wished people would simply call him John, had been mumbling to himself as he put up yet another protective ward on their home to ensure he and Hope had a good night's rest without worry. Another night of sleeping with his wand just under their pillows. Another night of wondering if, and when, their security spells would sound the alarm.

Hope had half a mind to make little Remus sleep in their room, though Lyall had quickly extinguished that idea. We'd never get rest then, he reasoned. You know the bed is small enough as it is, love. He'll be alright. He's smart. However, deep down, Hope wanted to counter, he's barely five.

Only ten minutes earlier, Hope had been finishing her scrapbooking, glue and scissors scattered across the kitchen table as she pasted the final photograph on the booklet titled "R.J.L." Pictures among pictures – some actual photographs while others were some of their boy's drawings – were captured among the pages, colors clashing against colors. Every so often, maybe next to a photograph or on a small slip of parchment, Hope or Lyall would describe their day with Remus, the memory stuck in the pictures.

It was like War all over again. The crash of the lamp in the hallways and the shattering of their bay window just in front of the staircase. Lyall's shouting, the pound of his feet down the stairs as he made an attempt to confront Fenrir. Remus. Remus lying on the ground, tremors racking his body and blood pooling around him from the gash in his neck.

There were things Hope could handle that many could not. Blood, gore, bones, and death were all things she could stomach. Entrails didn't bother her, and open wounds weren't a hassle. Yet, when you're looking down at the only thing you could say you're proud of and witnessing all those things a normal person would be terrified of afflict them, something in you snaps. Watching her son's face, wet with tears and blood, scrunch up in pain, choking on blood as he tried to cry out – it made something die in Hope.

She lived for her son. He was her hope. Looking back on it, it was a blur. One moment she was preparing to say goodbye and the next Lyall was shouting at a healer in St. Mungo's. Life was awfully funny. It reminded her that death isn't very particular in who it takes, and would much rather get on with it unless it's looking for entertainment. It didn't matter if Remus was only a child who'd done nothing terrible in this life, just how it didn't matter if those millions of soldiers were fighting for the greater good.

Death loaded a revolver with a single bullet, spun the cylinder, and fired in any direction until the bullet left the barrel. It wasn't choosy in who it hit, so long as it hit something. It was quick to remind her of this.

"Are you ready, Mrs. Lupin," Augustus Corden asked.

This had been Lyall's partner in crime for twenty years; the pair went back to Hogwarts. Acting not only as a colleague, but also as a best friend, Augustus was able to convince the supervisor over the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures to allow Remus's registration to take place in private and for Corden himself to administer the registration. He was young and unlike many of the other captured Werewolves in Britain. Hudson allowed it on the grounds that it be done quickly. Several of the office workers were uncomfortable being in such close proximity with Remus despite him only being fourteen.

Hope nodded silently, intimidated by this new world. Corden had come over for dinner quite often, and even visited on holidays. It wasn't him that had frightened Hope. It had been the large vile of unknown liquid and a machine that looked similar to a carpet stapler sitting on a tray on Corden's desk. She shifted uncomfortably behind Lyall.

Remus took a seat on the couch on the far side of the room. Corden must've asked him to remove his jacket and shirt, but Hope wasn't worried about that.

"Lyall," she whispered. Her husband gazed over his shoulder at her. "What is going to do with that?"

Lyall remained impassive, "It's a device used to tag Werewolves. Helps us keep up with them."

"We don't need to keep up with him, Lyall," she growled, clenching her fists at her sides. "He rarely leaves the house."

"It's harmless, Hope," Lyall reassured her, but his tone was anything but comforting. He sounded resigned and cold – the business side of Lyall that Hope resented. "It'll be over in a matter of seconds."

"Alright, Remus," Corden sighed, putting on a pair of gloves and taking the glass vial in his hand. "This is Wolfsbane." Hope and Remus tensed. "I know what you're thinking. 'This could kill me.'"

"You read my mind," Hope hissed, taking a protective step towards her son. Lyall swiftly took a hold of her arm and yanked her back harshly. His warning glare told her to tread lightly, a notion she thought he could shove up his arse.

"In small dosages, it's harmless," Corden explained, taking the cork out. "All this does is loosen and weaken your skin so the tagger doesn't do too much damage. We want the barcode to be visible, so we've got to make sure it lasts. You don't want to come back and do this again, do you?" Remus shook his head slowly. "Good. Bottoms up."

Corden held out the vial to Remus expectantly, and the younger boy took it. Hope felt a mixture of anger and terror flood her body. Lyall had once told her the Ministry used wolfsbane to capture and kill rogue Werewolves; could this have been a setup? Could Lyall feel this way about her son so harshly? Remus tipped his head back and gulped down the liquid, instantly coughing up a fit.

Corden acted swiftly, pinning Remus to the couch as he writhed in pain and discomfort. His choking only grew louder as Corden's knee was pressed firmly against his back.

"Lyall, hand me the tagger," he ordered harshly. Without hesitation, Lyall handed over the lethal looking device and watched as Corden pressed it firmly against the base of Remus's neck.

Hope wondered what it felt like. There was a soft click followed by Remus's screams. For the second time since the war, Hope had felt hopeless. She felt lost in a world going too fast. She was defenseless in this room, and there was no likely way she'd get past Lyall and Corden to help her child. It was all she could do to compose herself while watching her son – her only child – weep in agony as a barcode suddenly singed into his skin.

RJL-239-7-12-74

Remus John Lupin, the 239th Werewolf registered on the twelfth of July in 1974.

Life had an odd sense of humor. It was almost as if Remus was a prisoner of war to the Ministry of Magic, and this was one of its preferred forms of torture.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, September 1974 (Fourth Year)

Though it was difficult with his new tag and a burning hatred for everything that moved, life moved on for Remus Lupin, and, before he could say wolfsbane, it was time to return to Hogwarts for his fourth year. He tried to worry himself with the trivial things most students did just days before their return for the next term, like gathering enough money to pay for this year's books or adjusting his robes in hopes that they'd finally reach past his calves.

For a while, it seemed to work. There were no thoughts of the aching tag on the back of his neck or the resentment towards his father burning in his chest. There were no inhibitions regarding his latest episode with Sirius, and he sure wasn't worried about facing Julienne again after their split.

But this was in the beginning, of course, and, as all good things do, this resolve came to an end. As his inevitable return inched closer, he felt those nagging tics eating away at his peace of mind, especially since his father had decided to spend some quality time with his freshly registered son. With one wall being thoroughly rammed by the person he'd hated most in the world, the others were beginning to crumble.

Lyall thought that he'd accompanied Remus to Diagon Alley that year, a pleasure Remus typically enjoyed with his best of friends, and had made all efforts to buy Remus's forgiveness, if it wasn't painfully obvious.

From new dress robes to a brand-new cauldron, Remus was prepared for his fourth year. There was no doubt about that. He'd gotten new parchment, a better set of quills and ink, fresh books, and a shiny telescope for Astronomy. On the bright side, he could finally dedicate his old cauldron to their Animagus potion.

So far, they'd had to restart six times, and if Remus thought his patience had worn thin before then he was in for a nice treat with this ordeal. If it wasn't Peter forgetting the Mandrake leaves then it was James leaving his vial in the sunlight. The only person who seemed to be taking this prospect half-seriously was, no pun intended, Sirius. He'd been on time each and every morning, dedicated a lock of his precious hair to his potion, perfected his vial's hiding place, and had even purchased a Wizarding Almanac to predict when their next lightning storm would be.

It would've appeared that the only productive thing James and Peter had done was volunteer the idea.

Sirius, however, was the only one over the summer who could not complete the tasks, and the boys were expecting such a setback. According to a very messy letter, Walburga refused to allow Sirius access to a cauldron, let alone her sacred potions. Remus would've rather wait for the entirety of their break and start all over again than to have Sirius stick his neck out for something that might not have even worked.

With that in mind, the boys did some research about the methods used to calm Werewolves during their transformations over their holiday. Courtesy of the lovely Potter library, James had found that burning a bundle of wolfsbane, in the way one might burn sage, might have a sedating effect on the Werewolf. However, this method might've also had the complete opposite reaction, and by the time Madame Pomfrey found him in the morning, he'd be lying dead on the floor of the shrieking shack with a puffy face and purple fingers. Remus politely declined.

Peter persisted that the only way to keep a transformation under control was to have another party in the room with Remus. This party, once again, would need to be an animal of some sort considering the Wolf would target a human if given the chance. But Remus, again, politely declined. There was no need risking an innocent life in the hopes his transformations would lessen in agony; he could tolerate it.

Remus had shown them his shack during his downtime, explaining the putrid stench and the wrecked rooms. James, in a shocking turn of events, seemed quite interested in the "lair" of the beast. Peter seemed quite terrified, and Remus wondered if he thought about backing out of their latest venture. Sirius had remained impassive as always, glancing around with that glazed look in his eyes. As per usual when something wasn't to his liking, he enjoyed his own silence with his chin held high, lips pursed. Neutrality seemed to be Sirius's best friend.

Only months ago, in the Potter's guest bedroom, Sirius was anything except neutral. His hands were attentive, and his arms were open and accepting. A common occurrence when being a friend of Sirius's, if you're Remus of course, is that you're never quite sure where you lie in his world. On which side of the line, he always asked himself, would he land on? Friendly? Cordial? Something in between? Something more entirely?

Remus didn't like thinking about that moment much. If he did, it led him down roads he was rather hesitant to travel. Roads that, if his father knew he traveled down, would get him into nothing but trouble, disownment, and rejection. Roads that were filled with uncertainties and Sirius's ever-fluctuating moods. Roads that were threatened by several factors Remus couldn't name on all of his fingers and toes.

It was better to put it aside now, accept that whatever happened had happened, and move on from it. If he could move past being tagged by the Ministry then he could certainly move past an oddly intimate moment with his best friend. Labeling it like a heart to heart, Remus pushed the night to the back of his mind and locked it under several keys until he lost count. Besides, Remus was too young to think of love, let alone love with another boy. He also doubted Sirius could love anyone. It wasn't in his makeup. But topics such as this were no longer open for discussion.

There were much more important matters at hand, such as perfecting that damn potion.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

"I think I might just throw myself off of the Astronomy tower if Walburga forces me to go to such a stupid wedding," Sirius grumbled, hands gripping his satchel till his knuckles turned white. The boys had been on their way to Potions, their third class of the day, and Peter had already been whining about lunch while James fawned over his latest achievement.

Sirius, as he always seemed to be, was in a mood over this or that. If it wasn't the wedding then it was Regulus being sorted into Slytherin. If it wasn't his brother than it was James becoming Captain of the Quidditch team, meaning there would be less time for cavorting and pranks.

"You could at least pretend you're happy for them," Remus pointed out, nose buried in his new copy of Daddy by Sylvia Path. His face twisted in discomfort, and he licked his thumb to turn the page.

"The only day anyone will be happy for me is when I'm being lowered into a six-foot hole in the ground," Sirius moaned. With an eyeroll, Remus clapped his book shut and glared at the side of Sirius's gigantic head. Leave it to the heir to casually throw himself against a wall crying 'woe is me.'

It was becoming gradually problematic to put up with Sirius that year; for whatever reason, his theatrics were getting the best of him, yet again, and Remus was expected to go along with it simply because it was 'just how Sirius acted.' To put it civilly, Remus would've seriously appreciated if his friend would just slip on his big boy pants and grow the hell up.

There were plenty of things in this world Remus would've loved to evade. People, crowds, attention, bad marks, full moons – life could be so partial. But what would grumbling do? Nothing, he'd wanted to say. Bitching about it to the only people who'll give you the time of day not only worsens your own moods but puts a damper on theirs. Whether James and Peter shared this sentiment was a mystery to Remus, and he questioned whether or not he was valid in feeling this way.

It rubbed him the wrong way when the only reason Sirius opened his mouth was to carp or bark out orders. Of course, some of the things he whirred on and on about were very reasonable. The popular topic of that term had been Walburga, who's harshness only sharpened as Sirius grew older and more unruly. His defiance had certainly earned him some specialized attention over the holiday; he made that much clear.

But to say something as cruel as he did just ground against Remus's gears a bit too hard that time.

"Stop being dramatic," he snapped in a severe tone, voice lowered. "I would be terribly depressed."

Sirius waved a dismissive hand, "But you're always terribly depressed, so that doesn't count."

"How am I always terribly depressed?"

"You're always reading those alarming poems," Peter pointed out lightly. Remus scowled.

"They are not alarming!"

"Then what are you reading now," James asked with that oh-so innocent voice of his, not daring to reveal the sneer on his smug face. Peter turned his head, awaiting an answer, as Sirius continued to brood on his forlorn.

Blood shot through Remus's body, flushing his cheeks and ears, and he hid the book from plain view.

"It's nothing," he whispered, and he cast his eyes to the floor, trekking his way to Potions.

Arriving at Potions, Remus was downcast. The year had been going terribly so far. Each of his friends seemed to be in such foul moods. Hell, he had been in such a foul mood. He'd spent the entirety of his year silently resenting Sirius, envying James, and harping on Peter's health. In fact, he'd been so busy worrying himself with everything else that hadn't even noticed that his seat had been occupied by Frank Longbottom. Startled, he jumped back.

"Frank," he questioned. "What are you –"

"Good morning, boys," Slughorn called, lively as ever.

Whether he wanted to admit it or not, anyone who was someone knew that their Potions professor was practically bursting at the seams with joy. Not only had he been invited to the "wedding of the century" but he'd also been gifted the next Heir of the Ancient and Noble House of Black. One was better than none. Because of this, their lessons were sure to be filled with extra credit and rather fascinating jokes that only he found amusing.

Remus much preferred it this way, even if it meant Sirius was to suffer. The only bad marks Remus had received during his years at Hogwarts were those in Potions. Transfigurations, Divination, Defense Against the Dark Arts – you name it and Remus could produce top marks for you. However, set a cauldron in front of him with a variety of potions and he could hardly make lemonade. He was humiliated by his grade, as even Peter managed to get satisfactory marks in the class without trying too hard while he struggled left and right.

His only saving grace had been Sirius, who was nearly a master at the practice. Perhaps it had been Walburga's pagan genes coming to life within him, but Sirius was an expert with anything having to do with a tincture of some sort. Being his partner meant that Remus was tutored throughout the lessons, and this agreement had been the only reason he'd passed so far.

"What's all this about," Sirius growled bluntly. It was very apparent he was not too fond of this fresh idea, and he had no trouble communicating it with everyone else.

Slughorn's eyes squinted with happiness as he lumbered across the room, "I've done a bit of – er – rearranging if you will. Wanted to – er – how would I put this… Shake it up! Yes. I wanted to shake it up. Erm, Mister Black, you'll be seated with Miss Jerome over there."

Sirius deadpanned.

"Mister Potter, you'll be paired with Frank Longbottom."

Shoulders stiff and eyes wary, James shuffled past Sirius to his seat near the front – the place he dreaded the most. Sitting in the front meant there would be no easy way to charm slugs or tip over potions without being caught. It was apparent there would be no nonsense from the Marauders this year in view of Slughorn effectively unraveling their ranks.

"Mister Pettigrew, if you'll please make your way over to Mister Andrews?"

Sirius opened his mouth to speak, ignoring the way Peter mumbled obscenities under his breath.

"Horace –"

"And Mister Lupin, ah, you'll be paired with the lovely Miss Evans."

James's head practically swiveled off of its axis, his mouth dropped so low Slughorn and his potbelly could certainly have made themselves quite at home. Sirius, glowering from his seat in the back of the room, watched Remus as he made his way to his table. Lily flashed a bright, friendly smile, red hair pulled back in two neat braids.

"Hullo, Lily," Remus murmured, pulling out his parchment and quill.

He managed to look half excited to be her partner, as she'd been such a lovely friend thus far. However, it was a bit problematic to keep some semblance of composure as two of his closest friends threw daggers in his back with their eyes.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, September 1974 (Fourth Year)

Twenty minutes into their Potions exercise, Remus had ruined two pairs of fairy wings, dropped a few spoonsful of Doxy eggs, and had even gone as far to overheat their potion, causing them to start all over again and fall behind the rest of the class. Such an embarrassment would have never occurred had their Professor not decided to shuffle their seats that particular year, Sirius thought bitterly.

Pouting would solve nothing, but the Marauders couldn't help but wallow in their sulkiness as they were forced to survive without each other for forty-five minutes of their day. The boys had been so accustomed to each other's company, that this particular period seemed to drag on and on. They watched the clock, eyes wide and jaws clenched, willing the hands to move towards the end of the block just a bit faster than normal.

Sirius hardly spoke to Julienne, though she didn't seem to mind this anyway, and James had been too busy glaring at the back of Remus's head to listen to a word Frank had said. Peter had been handling this change better than those two, working with Andrews with his minimum effort, but that was much better than what his other two companions were putting in. It would appear impossible to three of them to get through a simple Girding Potion in the last thirty minutes of class, but, even as he struggled to meet the standards of the exercise, Remus was quite enjoying himself in the change of company.

"Rem, don't forget the Doxy eggs this time," Lily mentioned, voice breaking a comfortable silence. Remus had finally gotten to step nine of the process – the farthest they'd come in the entirety of their venture – and he carefully measured his ingredients. Having such large hands and fingers made tasks such as this rather difficult; Lily was much better suited to the tediousness of Potions. Her hands, so pale and delicate, were steady and sure, always knowing what to grab. She was never aggressive with her stirring or clumsy with her Doxy eggs as Remus, and he could imagine what a disaster it could have been if she had been. He could see why Slughorn took kindly to her.

Even though she had been a near expert at Potions, she slowed her pace for Remus. He was absolutely positive she would have been done ten minutes earlier had he not been such a clumsy oaf, and he couldn't help but feel a bit ashamed. However, she didn't seem to mind him at all. She laughed with him, cheeks squishing her deep, green eyes together, and encouraged him, which was much more than Sirius had ever done in their three years as Potions partners.

To put it simply, it was a delightful change of scenery to have this new partner, and Remus felt as though he'd already improved his Potions skills being with Lily in thirty minutes than he ever had during Sirius's three-hour lectures in the library.

With a steady hand, Remus tipped the final measure of Doxy eggs into the potion, watching as Lily flicked a few Dragonfly thoraxes into the mix.

"You're quite good at this," he pointed out, tawny hair drooping over his eyes. It was a wonder he didn't singe it off; it had been growing at an alarming rate already.

Lily tilted her head to the side in thought, "I wouldn't say good."

"I'd say bloody brilliant," he laughed, watching as she stirred their broth. It turned a shade of cardinal red, bubbles fizzing out around the rims, signaling the next step. Remus took to his notes; Slughorn made sure to speak very clearly this lecture. "Let's see here. Now we've got to heat until it turns blue."

Lily nodded, dulling the flames beneath the cauldron to a flicker. Other students seemed to be struggling with this specific step, too busy with chitter chatter to notice that their potions had turned from crimson to mariner to near black. The students were taking advantage of Slughorn's peppy mood; it was the beginning of the year, of course, and everyone insisted on catching up with one another instead of focusing on a silly little potion. Besides, with Frank Longbottom and James starting over for the fourth time, it was unlikely each pair of partners would be finishing today.

Lily watched as Remus pressed himself against his table, resting his chin upon his fist. It was clear he'd been deep in thought; he always frowned when he'd been in his own head. The crease between his brows would deepen, and the wrinkles in his chin would pull taut. In those moments of silence, he didn't mind if a draft had been blowing a strand of hair in his eye or that the bubbles were popping onto his parchment.

"Are you alright, Remus," she asked suddenly, tilting her head as she gazed upon her partner. He remained unmoved, glancing at her for only a moment until he replaced his gaze on Sirius's back.

If he were being honest, and a good friend, the answer could have simply been no. He was not at all 'alright.' He'd need the standard of what 'alright' meant to Lily.

He was alive, for starters. He woke up that morning a healthy young man with privileges many don't, with a pair of shoes under his feet and a monolithic, enchanted rood over his head. He had several friends who nattered away at him in the morning, pulling him away from his intrusive thoughts, and bothered him beyond belief. He had a wonderful breakfast, a warm cup of coffee, and the opportunity his kind never received.

In those ways, he was perfectly alright. For some people, those factors were all it took for them to deem their life alright. They were simple people with simple lives, and there were times Remus prayed to his God that, one day, he would be one of them.

However, Remus wasn't simple, and his life was far from normal. The back of his neck burned like Hell Almighty. He'd eventually caved and applied the cream sent from Corden, yet it did little to sate the dull throb. Upon this discovery, and much to his later regret, Remus threw it away thinking that it didn't help. By the time he'd arrived at Hogwarts, the tag was giving him an agonizing amount of trouble and pain.

The cotton of his pillow irritated the barcode and his shampoo might as well have been sulfuric acid. The tags of his clothes were dulled razor blades swinging back and forth as he walked. He swore on everything Holy that the silver plating in the Great Hall did something to agitate the back of his neck seeing as though every mealtime had been one great pain in his arse; it itched and ached, no matter how much of his salves he'd applied minutes or hours before.

To put the topper on the cake, he'd been three seconds away from chopping every last strand of hair off of his head; it had been the greatest nuisance of all.

Remus's plan had been to avoid any interrogation about the barcode by keeping his hair long to cover it. He didn't need James or Peter, Sirius especially, prattling on about some silly tag the Ministry administered. While they meant well, those boys could be a bit much for Remus. Then again, he couldn't deny their FUBAR ways brought him some comfort. Whatever the case may have been, their emotions, whether they liked to admit or not, were intense in ways that Remus didn't understand. In a way he couldn't understand.

It could've been called passion or determination, possibly an intense brotherly love that engulfed their little group to the ends of the earth. James would've gone ballistic, ranting and raving about the corruption of the Ministry and their prejudiced practices. Peter would have looked at Remus with pity – the worst thing you could possibly offer a hormonal fourteen-year-old boy in his times of angst and rebellion. There wasn't much Peter could do, as James would be shouting at the top of his lungs until Finnick Batts, the latest Head Boy, barged in with a detention slip.

God knows what Sirius would have done. Remus bet he could flip a coin; heads on Sirius throwing a temper tantrum, practically unravelling at the seams learning of the misfortunes that had befallen his closest friend, tails on remaining impassive and sulky, refusing to let anyone know he'd been bothered by what he heard for "the sake of the group," because, obviously, someone needed to keep a level head in the midst of such a dilemma.

It was best if this problem were kept under wraps until they grew up. All four of them. The others needed to learn to control their reactions while Remus surely needed to work on his communication skills, as Lily had been staring at him for several minutes awaiting a response to her earlier question.

Remus cleared his throat, looking away from the dark waves spilling from the crown of Sirius's head, "I'm fine."

"I know you're close with them," she soothed gently, "and I know we haven't spoken much, but I'm always here to listen if you need me to be."

He gave a swift nod, turning his attention to their now blue potion.

In a way, it would be nice speaking to Lily about such things. She seemed sweet enough, and she reminded him an awful lot like Julienne, just with a quicker temper.

Things were still a bit muddled with Julienne at the moment, as she hadn't spoken to him much since the term had begun. She'd assured him it had nothing to do with him, rather issues at home that were bleeding onto her mood. On that note, he could relate. A shudder ran down his spine at the thought of his father. With that being said, he respected that she needed space.

However, in giving her space he'd lost a shoulder to lean on that wasn't constantly within a ten-foot radius of him. He loved the boys, adored them with all their dysfunctionality and disorganization. From their heroics to their dramatics, even down to Sirius's irritating theatrics, there was something about them that just kept him going. But it was nice having a girl to talk to.

Almost any girl in Hogwarts could be gentler than the Marauders, including Dorca Meadowes, and even she could sit down and have a halfway civilized conversation that didn't revolve around breasts and Quidditch.

Perhaps it was Julienne's hobbies that made her so easy to talk to. Their current bond had been over poetry; she had been the one to introduce him to it. It became a salvation for him, a safe haven, and he'd always be grateful for such a thing. They spoke about politics, art, literature, and philosophy; there were doors that were opened with Julienne, doors Remus felt as if the boys were just to small to reach at the moment.

Could he find that in Lily? It was a remote possibility; one that he was inclined to embark on if need be. She'd offered, hadn't she? Lily appeared to be the type of person who didn't exactly extend her invitations to every wizard in sight. A prime example would've been James; she practically loathed the very sight of him and took every chance took every chance he provided to her to tell him such. In that regard, Remus was sure that Lily had meant what she said when offering a shoulder to cry on, and he felt as if that had been the only thing he needed that term.

By the time class had concluded, Lily and Remus had been one out of three pairs to complete a decent Girding Potion. Sirius and Julienne had been the first while Peter and Andrews had been the last. Nobody bothered to listen to Slughorn as he nattered on about next lesson, a few comments about his upcoming absences for the Malfoy wedding thrown in for good measure.

The grandfather clock in the corner of the room let out a shrill chime, jerking Remus from his stupor harshly. He blinked, managing to flash Lily a weak smile as she fled the room with Alice Fortescue and Marlene McKinnon for lunch. Julienne wasn't far behind them, curly hair hanging around her face as a curtain to hide her from prying eyes. Remus rose from his seat, stretching his arms over his head with a satisfying and resounding crack, with the sensation of a displeased Sirius swelling in his chest. His presence grew nearer the longer he dawdled, but Remus supposed the onslaught would come sooner or later.

"That period was absolutely horrific," he announced, voice and chin raised defiantly. Peter and James mumbled their inclinations to agree, trifling behind with pouty frowns and annoyance etched into their boyish features. Though, as if never hearing a word, Remus continued his trek to the Great Hall; rumor had it that there had been chicken fingers that day, and there wasn't a bone in his body that could pass up chicken in any form.

Sirius pressed on, "Mark me," he declared, "I would've thrown myself out of a window had I been goaded to spend another moment with that –"

Remus swiveled on his heel, giving Sirius a dark look – a silent warning. They might not have been on the best of terms, and their recent endeavors to rekindle their friendship might have gone awry due to extraneous circumstances, but Remus wouldn't stoop to listening to Sirius prattle on about his folly misfortunes or his acidic words just because he was pouting.

His friend seemed to receive the message loud and clear, snapping his jaw shut with a tick and replacing his gaze ahead of him. There were no protests from the others as well, the group settling on a pleasant lunch to lighten the mood.

The dining hall had been fairly occupied by upper classmen, some chattering about the new term while others were cramming in for a surprise test, courtesy of their latest DADA professor. Some had been too busy tending to Professor Sprouts latest assignment – Chinese Chomping Cabbage. The boys didn't even want to delve into the details of that job judging by Naomi Watts's clear frustrations. If the Head Girl was struggling, they didn't even want to imagine how worse off they'd be.

The beginning of the 1974 term had been wearisome, to put it flippantly. Teachers were quite keen on testing previous knowledge with surprise practical's and short response, and full length, essays. Charms required an overview of the material covered thus far in an eight-inch essay with correct annotations and citations. Remus completed his essay with nine and a half inches on the third night of the assignment, pushing for the boys to just get it out of the way. Sirius obliged, barely meeting the eight-inch mark, but with an ample amount of content in his essay, and James was close to that as well. Peter, however, had another four inches to go, and didn't seem too worried about finishing it any time soon.

Their Divination teacher, an old loon by the name of Alora Lehmann, required them to keep dream journals as their first assignment. One could imagine how seriously the boys were taking such an endeavor. Eighty percent of their written material had rather been fantasies than actual dreams they were having; most people doubted they had enough brain cells to have the slightest inkling of an imagination while conscious, let alone being asleep.

Defense Against the Dark Arts had been especially tiresome so far, as their Professor was an old man – far too old to be in business, according to Sirius – with no ability to hear or see anything out of a five-foot vicinity. He shuffled from one side of the room to the other with a wobbly cane – a can that looked to be a mere week older than the man himself – and foggy spectacles that were pleading to be cleaned. Their textbooks were outdated, and his practices were even more ancient. Sirius bet his entire inheritance that the old bat had been born a century ahead of Dumbledore, and would croak by Christmas.

With all that in mind, Remus had been dying to get his hands on a decent meal and downtime. What with all of these assignments and brooding companions, it had been a trying three weeks. He dashed for his usual spot at the Gryffindor table, ignoring the plights and pleas from his friends to slow down and save a tender or two for them, and began piling his plate with food. Chicken, mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and biscuits was a fine way to break his day in half. A spot of tea would've hit the spot.

The remaining Marauders slumped in their designated seats, Peter beside James and Sirius propped up next to Remus, and weakly loaded their plates.

"Perhaps you'd be more awake if you hadn't spent the majority of your night cramming obscenities into your charms essays," Remus pointed out, voice uncharacteristically high and smug. Sirius glared daggers into the table while James yawned unceremoniously. "Or! Better yet, maybe if you'd actually worked on the essays when they were, oh, I don't know, assigned, then you'd be able to enjoy such a delightful lunch in ignorant bliss as I!"

The crease in Sirius's forehead suddenly deepened, "Shut up, Lupin."

For whatever reason that Remus could not point out, the flare in his chest told him that there was no real malice in Sirius's words, only exhaustion and hunger. They ate with quiet conversation, most of it between Sirius and James about their upcoming match against Hufflepuff and the tactics they'd need to perfect by the time it came about.

Becoming the captain of the Gryffindor team had been the best thing for James since he'd become friends with the Marauders. It had given him a sense of purpose and, moreover, responsibility. Remus was sure that growing up with Fleamont and Euphemia as parents was equivalent to having free reign over your own childhood with little to no consequences to deal with. Not that it had been a bad thing for James. In fact, it was blatantly obvious he had a happy, though somewhat isolated, childhood with plenty of pleasant, giddy memories to last him a lifetime.

Coming to school hadn't been a deterrent for his rather colorful personality. If anything, it had emboldened him. His pranks could now spread across an array of victims from students to teachers, down to that sniveling Argus Filch and his hellspawn he considered a pet. With Sirius, Remus, and Peter egging him on at every turn, his bright and eager need to show off was ignited. Detention was far too common, yet they never seemed to learn a lesson or mind scrubbing armor for a week. They only despised cleaning the toilets, and that almost always ended up in a water duel and soaked robes.

However, as soon as his rival, Ivan Strix, had graduated, James leaped for the position of Captain, and he deserved it. He practically breathed, spoke, and ate Quidditch. There had to be at least one mention of the league in a single day, and his subscription to Flying Weekly was, in Sirius's opinion, the best investment he'd ever endorsed. The posters on his wall, always zooming here and there, were the talk of the night.

Being Captain meant he was responsible for the team, not just his position. It was up to him to map out game plans, set up strategies, occasionally send his friends to spy on the "enemy" with the help of an old invisibility cloak, of course. And what kind of Captain would he be if he didn't play to the best of his ability as equals with his crew instead of superior? James was a natural-born leader, and this newfound achievement was proof.

A slick voice rang through the hall, however quiet and sleazy it might have been, "Black, I have a question for you."

Sirius stilled, hand gripped surreptitiously around his wand within his robes, and merely glanced in the direction of Severus.

"If you've come to ask me my brand of shampoo, mark me, you came just in time," he purred, lip curling in twisted satisfaction. "I'm not sure those… waves could last much longer."

Clearly unimpressed and, though this wasn't as evident, affronted, Severus straightened his posture, "What's it like being a disowned Gryffindor prat, a detention seeking delinquent with your ridiculous, haphazardly, arrogant friends?"

The boys bristled at his implications, fingers inching towards their only weapons in this situation. The only one quick enough with words to battle Severus was Sirius, and he seemed quite taken up with his chicken tenders to respond to such banter. James was quick with a hex, Peter had been quick with distractions, and Remus was quite the excuse making Connoisseur. Together they made a marvelous offense team, but, without Sirius's go ahead, they were defenseless. Remus felt a guttural growl itch in his throat when Severus reached out towards Sirius's shoulder and instinctively snatched his wrist.

"Don't touch him," he warned, voice dangerously low.

Severus yanked his hand away in disgust, rubbing the skin raw where Remus had grabbed him. It was like watching a hyena attack a lion's den without thinking through his plan, and the panic began to set in. He glanced at his surroundings, carefully trekking backwards with his mouth ajar. Approaching a single, seemingly unarmed, buffoon was one feat Severus assumed he could tackle quite easily. Approaching four, on edge, buffoons in the middle of the Great Hall was another one entirely.

"Hmph," he scoffed, crossing his arms across his chest disrespectfully, "but I bet I'll be able to keep your precious little brother in good company. Without you there to muck everything up with your insolence and impulsivity, Regulus will finally have the role model, eldest brother to look up to, now won't he?"

Sirius stiffened, vice grip on his goblet turning his knuckles an ill shade of white. Of all the territories, James thought, for Severus to traverse into today, he chose the worst one. In leu of this, James settled down on the bench, now sure that Sirius could, in fact, handle this himself.

Remus was, however, wasn't so sure about this anymore. Regulus was a touchy topic to delve into with Sirius at the moment, and the type of reaction Severus was wishing to illicit from him was going to explode tenfold in his face. Remus ached to soothe Sirius, whom he could feel swelling with unleashed anger by the second.

But, by the time Remus had gathered the courage to place a placating hand on his companion's shoulder, Sirius had been out of his seat with his wand pressed deeply into Severus's neck, skin pressured beneath the tip of his wand. If had been possible, and Remus doubted it was, Severus would have paled, skin prickling with tension and regret, as Sirius gazed down his nose at him, disgust and annoyance now too pronounced. The Slytherin writhed in Sirius's grip, thrashing from left to right in a feeble attempt to free himself and run, but it was in vain.

"Talk about my brother again, and I'll scalp you myself," Sirius threatened, and, judging by his tone, it was more of a promise than anything.

A sneer burst through the mask of fear on Severus's face, and he smirked, "What's got your wand in a knot, huh? A pity your mother doesn't think more of you, then perhaps your itty, bitty brother would've followed in your pathetic footsteps."

"It is a tragedy," Sirius snickered, unbothered with any details of his mother. Remus thought that ship had sailed sometime over this last summer and wouldn't broach the topic anytime soon now that Severus had peeled that scab off. "Perhaps if your mother had kept her legs shut to some simpleton Muggle, then she'd have spared the rest of us from her cowardly bastard child."

Remus tensed, uncomfortable with Sirius's newfound cruelty. He'd never been one to bash Muggles or their trade, settling on inquisitive yet simultaneously mild disinterest in them. Even that had been surprising given his upbringing, and Remus knew that such ideologies wouldn't have just swam out him in in a mere three years.

Yet, hearing such things voiced out loud sent a cold shiver down Remus's spine and reminded him too much of the way his father looked down upon him with pity, shame, and mockery.

"Let go of me, bastard!"

"Or what," Sirius challenged, a forbidding smirk stretching his features. A dark glint in his eyes frightened even James, who'd reckoned this had gone far enough. The taunting was a silly thing that he'd take part of any day, especially when said taunting was aimed at Snivellus. Whatever territory Sirius had traveled into, however, was something entirely different, and he wanted no part in it.

"Sirius, let him go," he advised coolly, sure that, at least in the beginning, he wouldn't listen to reason. Severus had awoken a hidden part of Sirius that not even he dared speak of. This had been the years of torment and neglect unfurling at the seams right before their very eyes. There weren't many things that allowed a channel for this energy, but Severus was looking like an attractive target. "You know that Regulus has no time for him, Sirius."

Sirius remained silent, unlocking his fingers and watching Severus fall to the floor with a dull thud. People had been watching, some heads turning to watch the disagreement unfold, and whispers began to grow louder. Frantic to escape, Severus crawled to his feet and fled as fast as he could, ducking through the crowd of students who'd already begun laughing.

That was until a hex caught him in the back of the head, sending him toppling over.

"Statim Sine Coma," Sirius had shouted, watching a burst of pinkish light hurdle towards the boy. He joined in the chorus of laughter, not minding the angry glares from Remus or the wand pointed in his direction.

No, he was far too occupied in watching the greasy locks of Severus Snape wither and drop like flies to the floor. Boney, white hands reached up, desperately piling hair on top of hair in an attempt to stick it back in, but it was no use. In a matter of ten seconds, every last bit of hair had fallen from Severus blocky skull.

Laughter rang through the Great Hall as fingers pointed in his direction, a flood of taunting and teasing pouring from their mouths. He'd never been so humiliated in his life, Severus had. Not in a million years. He scowled one last time, turning on his heel and darting from the room.

"You know he's gone to fetch a Professor," Remus acknowledged hotly, never tearing his gaze from a flippant Sirius.

The latter took his seat at the table, munching on asparagus and potatoes with his eyes fluttering shut.

"Let them come," he shouted, raising his hands in the air with a triumphant smile. "I have won! They could suspend me for all I care, and I would still be quite proud of myself."

"Well, I'm not at all impressed," Remus grumbled, a newfound dislike for Sirius budding in his chest as he watched him eat with that smug expression etched in every feature.

"I'm surprised," Sirius crooned, taking a bite of a biscuit. "It usually doesn't take much to impress you these days."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean," Remus gawked, turning to face his so-called friend dead on.

Sirius hardly noticed him, giving a proud wink at a group of Gryffindor girls further along the table who'd been giggling furiously since the demise of Severus.

Who was he to be proud of what he'd done? Teasing Severus every now and then about his hair or his nose was something Remus could go along with. In a way, he deserved it. It wasn't as if he'd been the victim; he teased and taunted right back. In fact, more often than not, he approached the Marauders. He even went out of his way to provoke Sirius and James. Therefore, it was safe to say that a hex or two was allowed.

Sirius, today, had gone out of line. Remus understood that certain topics were to remain unspoken of, and Severus had crossed a line as well. Yet, to perform a curse that, Remus was almost positive, had no reversal or counter charm was cruel. Performing it as an act in front of a third of the student body was beyond cruel. The topic of Regulus couldn't have been that serious, could it? Then again, he'd been in a foul mood since Potions.

Whatever the case may have been, the look on McGonagall's face as she entered the Great Hall told Remus that she wouldn't care for whatever excuse Sirius could fabricate.

"Mr. Black," she hissed, "I am very disappointed in you."

Sirius tilted his head in mild interest, "I'm sure plenty of folks would be inclined to agree with you."

Remus gave Sirius a hard thwack to the head, "Don't be disrespectful."

"So," McGonagall gazed upon the four boys, thin lips pursed in disapproval, "I suppose two will take the toilets and two will take the dungeons."

Peter and James gaped, jaws dropped in disbelief.

"I didn't do anything, Professor," James pleaded. "I've got to finish a Charms essay tonight!"

"Please, Professor," Peter cried, clasping his hands together for effect.

Sirius remained unmoved, expecting such a punishment and welcoming it with open arms.

"Doing nothing in the vicinity of bullying is just as awful as the act itself," she admonished, looking down her nose at Remus. She shook her head at him in disbelief. "I am awfully disappointed in you, Mr.Lupin, as I'd expected more from a student like you."

Remus opened his mouth, ready to spill the details and an avid apology, but realizing it wouldn't change a thing. All in all, she'd been quite right. Remus had been to nervous to intercept Sirius in his bad mood earlier, and he'd been too much of a coward to interfere when he'd been a plain bully. He'd the perfect opportunity to disarm Sirius, but he hesitated.

Did he hesitate for Severus, knowing that, in some capacity, he deserved what he'd gotten? Did he hesitate because he was afraid of Sirius? Afraid that he'd turn and unleash his anger on Remus instead of Severus? Did he hesitate because he doubted his own abilities in stopping such a brilliant young wizard?

The answer was unclear.

All he could do was be thankful that the next three nights would go by without too many worries as he'd finished all of that bloody schoolwork on time.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, September 1974 (Fourth Year)

"Remus, not speaking to me isn't going to solve our problems," Sirius rebuked, affronted that his companion had yet to utter a word on their second night of detention.

It did little to break the strained and uncomfortable silence echoing through the corridor, and Sirius hated this.

Remus wished he were angry. He wished the blood rushing through his veins was boiling with fury, warming the top of his head to the tips of his toes. It made the most sense, in retrospect. In fact, it was perfectly obvious that Sirius deserved Remus's pent up rage. It always seemed to go swell the other way around. Deep down he might have been, but that would have taken plenty of digging and acknowledgment he hadn't been patient enough to forego.

Remus didn't understand. He didn't understand himself, nor did he understand Sirius. At times, he didn't want to. Yes, it might have helped to have an inkling of comprehension as to why Sirius did the things he did so that he might conjure up a miracle to stop it. But, then again, life was never that easy. At least not for Remus it wasn't. It might have been a blessing sent from the Almighty had Remus finally come to terms with the bone-crushing reality that, at least it appeared to be, Sirius could have run him over with a car and there would still be a sliver of forgiveness left for Remus to shed.

He supposed it was because he depended on Sirius, and it wasn't difficult for him to accept this truth. It was blatantly obvious. If he'd been lonely, Sirius schedule might as well have been tattooed on his palm; he remembered the most minute details of his day. If he'd been feeling bored, run to Sirius for some cheap entertainment like a fair game of chess or a challenging wrestling match. If he'd been sad, leave it to Sirius to summon something out of his sleeve to put his worries to rest.

It had been like that for years, and Remus was unsure he wanted it any other way. Despite his temper tantrums, mood swings, and lash outs, Sirius was quite comforting to Remus. They understood each other, so it seemed, on a level not many could. It was quite astounding, actually, to realize just how much a part of him Sirius was. It hadn't only been a friendship, but a bond. A deep running bond that Remus just couldn't shake.

There'd been plenty of times it had been tested, situations that nearly proved how awful Sirius could be. Just last Christmas, Sirius had humiliated Remus in front of his peers, nattering on about monsters and Werewolves, striking coals that were clearly hot to Remus. It had always been Remus defending himself, defending James and Peter, defending Sirius.

He'd always been sticking his neck out for his friends, dropping off opportunities for his friends, settling for the bare minimum for his friends. Since befriending his companions, there were more detentions on Remus's rap sheet than accidents in Potions. The pranks, the cavorting or, as McGonagall phrased it, the Maraudering – all of it had amounted to what, exactly? If he hadn't, though, he'd have been at the receiving end of Sirius's obnoxious wrath, stuck hearing him prattle about the unjustness of the entire ordeal and just how little Remus must think of them to abandon them.

This all, of course, was a surface level observation. This is what the naked eye could sense.

There were things about Sirius that not many knew; things that made up for all of these "transgressions."

As Sirius rambled on about the unfairness of their detention sentence and just how unnecessary his silence was, Remus mused about the miracles fabricated up for the sake of their friendship.

He smirked to himself, reminded of their first train ride together.

"Forgive them, Remus. It is quite apparent that they either lack the mannerisms us commoners obtained at a kindergarten level or they're too stupid to tell what they are, even if they dance the macarena in front of them in a tutu."

Sirius might have been a callous young man, a bit rough around the edges and cold at times. He might have come off as dismissive or passive, appearing uninterested with you and anything having to do with your existence. He might have deflected his hurt or projected his inner demons onto anything with a pair of legs. All this may have been true, yes. Yet, he'd been a good person.

From the mundane such as holding doors for Remus, helping him carry his books from the library, and always making sure his curtain was shut tightly during showers to things of a more intimate nature such as discussing the meaning of life for the traumatized, listening to his rambling about literature and history, making plans to runaway – Sirius gave Remus more than he could thank him for. A shoulder to lean or cry on, a partner in crime to complete his clever marauding, and a half to complete his whole, in an odd way.

It was difficult to stay angry with a boy like Sirius because Remus had learned to love him with all his vices and virtues already; the same way he'd come to love James and Peter, despite all of their dysfunctionalities. It was difficult to stay angry with a boy like Sirius because Remus had become strangely dependent on their relationship. It was difficult to stay angry with a boy like Sirius simply because he was himself. There was no other way Remus could've asked him to be. There were a few rough spots that needed touching up and a couple of bad habits that needed to be squashed, but he wasn't completely irredeemable.

"… and don't get me wrong, I think he completely deserved what he got," Sirius snickered, rubbing a dull spot especially hard, "but I do think I am a thorough idiot."

The tension that had engulfed them before had begun to fade as Remus's annoyance deadened to a low hum, his weak smiles lightening the mood and making it much easier for Sirius to ramble.

Gray eyes scanned marred features, searching for a hint of malice or anger; he was relieved when he found none.

"If you're waiting for me to disagree with you, it's going to be a long night," Remus murmured absently.

Musing or not, Remus was still peeved about Sirius's behavior lately. There were only so many excuses he could make up for him before he began to expect a deserved apology.

It was painfully apparent to Remus that much of Sirius's troublesome tics were coming from his life at home, and Remus wished he could hold on to that excuse for the remainder of the year. The situation with Walburga was a tricky one and figuring out how to navigate the ever-shifting moods of her son was even harder. He knew that there were some things Sirius couldn't help, such as the impassiveness and calloused behavior; it was obviously a coping mechanism. However, the tantrums and the anger projecting were coming out of hand.

"What's got you in a mood," Sirius questioned, tone laced with genuine confusion.

At times like this, Remus wanted to smash his skull into a wall. Sirius, however bright he may have been, was blatantly oblivious to the consequences of his actions. His voice sounded quite unlike him, missing its usual aristocratic lilt and confidence. This boy sounded unsure and troubled, subdued in a way Sirius had not been made to be.

Remus, now finished with the third plaque, rested against the wall.

"I wish you knew how you made me feel," Remus admitted bashfully, pushing the rising knot back into his stomach.

Sirius furrowed his brows, "What do you mean?"

"I mean," Remus rubbed his face, grimacing when the polish grazed his lips, "I wish you knew how often you hurt my feelings or embarrass me."

"Is it when I pull pranks," Sirius asked, "because I can stop. Don't get me wrong, it'll be hard to convince James but I –"

"No, no, no," Remus rephrased, "it isn't that. I love that; it's what makes school bearable." There was a pause, Sirius patiently allowing Remus to process his thoughts. They had enough time to kill; detention lasted another hour and a half, and they had two more days to finish the job. "Sometimes when you're upset, you take it out on me. I'm not quite sure why because I'd like to think I'm a good friend to you."

"You are!" Sirius gasped, affronted. He crossed his arms.

Remus remained calm, "Then why don't you act like it? Why do you always go hot and cold with me? You never do it to James or Peter."

"That's because they're different. They're easy."

"Oh, so, I'm not easy," Remus chuckled, amused at the smoothness of this apprehensive Sirius. His friend stuttered for a moment, clearly needing someone to come and rescue him from his own shame. Sirius had always been a spitfire, always quick and good with words. T0 see someone who'd always been so casual and collected falling apart at the seams was simultaneously entertaining and cagey.

"I didn't say that," Sirius defended himself quickly, locking up the doors and shutting down. Remus noticed this, and his smile faded.

"I know," he sighed, closing his eyes with a soft tsk. "You're not easy for me if I'm being quite frank."

"You're never frank," Sirius pointed out, coming to sit beside his friend. They looked so out of place.

A gawky Gryffindor with sandy blonde hair, deep amber eyes, and a lopsided grin that bared a few of his crooked, white teeth paired with a suave counterpart that nearly fawned over his own raven hair and milky gray eyes. One fumbled over his own two feet and every other word that came out of his mouth while the other lounged gracefully like a passive house cat on a summer morning. Remus was all arms and legs, just as his mother, and Sirius was all slick words and seductive winks.

Polar opposites, yet here they were – shoulder to shoulder, not daring to look at one another, in the Hogwarts trophy room at seven o'clock at night. Somehow they came together and made it work with a little help from James, Peter, and the occasional Julienne. Perhaps a bit of help came from God because Remus knew Sirius needed it.

"Enjoy it while it lasts," Remus teased, nudging Sirius's ankle with the tip of his foot.

A warmness spread through his body, content reaching the very tips of his toes. No, it would do him no good to be angry with Sirius. He was sure he received enough of that at home. What Sirius needed was a rock, and if Remus could be that for him then he would.

"You're not like James," Sirius admitted awkwardly. "Everything is very straightforward with him."

"He's James," Remus snickered. "He might as well be a straight line."

Sirius laughed a bit himself, "Yes, I suppose you're right."

"What would that make you and me, then," Remus challenged playfully, pressing himself closer to Sirius as if to push the answer out of him.

Sirius was still for a moment, eyes knit tightly with his shoulders tensed. Being this close to Remus wasn't some sort of an anomaly; it happened quite often. They'd lay together, sit together, wrestle together. Yet, something felt off. Whether it was in the way Remus smiled just a bit too softly or the way his hand brushed over Sirius's knuckles as they joked with each other. That thing inside of him, the feeling he'd gotten just a year ago, came back full force like a punch to the gut.

"I don't know," he faltered, moving away with a jerk. His hand recoiled, placed firmly in his lap and out of reach from Remus. Where it belonged. Where it would be safe. Where it wouldn't do anything stupid. His friend didn't seem to notice, sitting up straight. Change of subject, then. "You know… I don't mean to treat you that way."

"I know you don't."

A pause.

The trepidation in Sirius's voice was heavy as he spoke, "I'm sorry."

Remus merely smiled with a nod, a weight on his chest lifted.

"I know you are."

"I don't… It's… I think…"

Sirius tripped over his own words, searching for the right thing to say and never finding it. Remus never interrupted him, giving him the opportunity to catch himself just this one time and land on his feet. The answer was right there on the tip of his tongue; all he needed to do was take the step he'd not dare take just yet. Apologies had never been Sirius's forte anyway.

"It's hard to control how I feel," he murmured, shame lacing his words. "I just get so angry. So, so angry. Sometimes for no reason at all. James just ignores it, and Peter will just run away. You're the only one who ever responds."

Remus snorted, "Maybe I should just charm your lips shut so you can think before you speak."

"Sod off," Sirius thwacked Remus across the knee.

"You'd probably burn the school down if I left you to your own devices for too long."

Sirius smiled at that, glad to know that Remus wasn't truly upset with him. He deserved it, though.

"Do you forgive me," Sirius whispered, afraid to receive an answer. "I know I say awful things, and sometimes the things I do are even worse. You don't deserve it. You never do." Remus didn't give one for quite a while, and the silence sent a shiver down. Worried that his words weren't enough, Sirius continued.

"After I found out you were… you know… you, I felt as if I had to protect you."

"From what," Remus murmured, running steady fingers through his hair.

"Everything."

"I don't need protecting, you know," Remus verbalized plainly, peeking at an anxious Sirius from under his long lashes. "I'm quite capable of handling myself."

"I know you are," Sirius snapped, unable to hide his annoyance. "It's because I care about you. More than I should some days."

"Do me a favor then, yeah," Remus snickered, "and stop showing your love through obnoxious tantrums and public humiliation. That's a start."

Sirius blushed, "I don't intend to."

"Doesn't matter if you do or don't Sirius," Remus sat up, stretching his nimble arms over his head. "What matters is that you do something about it. What's done is done, and there's nothing that dwelling can do about it. We've just got to keep going."

There was silence.

"So… you forgive me?"

After so many issues in their friendship, Sirius had half expected his lot to walk out on him. Metaphorically speaking, of course, seeing as though they shared a room with one another and had practically identical schedules. Of course, he'd pout without them, try to make new friends by crossing rickety bridges he'd already burnt with his obnoxious attitude.

"Yeah," Remus cooed. "Yeah, I forgive you."

Sirius slumped in relief, hand falling from his lap. He looked down to find that it had found itself perfectly at home on top of Remus's, their fingers lightly intertwined with each other. A burst of energy racked through Sirius's body, sending the hairs on his arms on end.

"Rem…"

"Hm?"

"You read romance shit a lot," Sirius acknowledged half-heartedly, enduring the light kick to the ankle and a slightly unamused Remus. He'd expected to be scorned for his language, but it had appeared Remus was far too content to mention it. "How do you know if you're in love?"

It had been a burning question within him for weeks. The unknown, the uncertainties that accompanied every turn, and the apprehension following his every single move were driving him up a wall. He wanted to know if this was love. If these feelings – the jealousy, the intermittent flashes of need, the desire to be near, the warmness as they touched – were what Remus considered love, then, perhaps, it had been true. Sirius needed to know if this was normal. If what he'd been feeling would go away. He needed to know how to make it go away.

There was no room for love in his life. None at all. Between Walburga, Orion, and Regulus, not to mention Bellatrix and Narcissa at his heels, there was little time for his own sanity to be soothed, let alone an entirely different individual to be taken care of. Besides, Sirius wasn't well acquainted with love, and he never had been. There were no positive examples of what he should or shouldn't be doing in his life, just as there were no discussions on how to handle these rapid flashes of emotion raging through his body because Sirius was not supposed to have such wants and desires.

He was an heir. Heirs reproduce. They don't frolic with lovers or cuddle on rainy mornings. They don't watch as their heart smiles, laughs, or cries. There wasn't enough time to discuss art or politics or literature. The day didn't allow for a cup of tea in silence, just to enjoy each other's company. This wasn't in his makeup, yet here he was, wondering if maybe, just maybe, love was budding in his heart.

Life had such an odd sense of humor.

"Are you asking the general or my specifics," he clarified, voice strained and face tense.

"I think your specifics would make it more interesting," Sirius chortled, pressing his cheek against Remus's shoulder. "Since you just implied you're in love."

He felt Remus shift beneath him for a moment; a tickle in his throat was the only thing that poked the silence of the corridor. Dangerous territory, Sirius noted.

"You got me there," Remus admitted, voice cracking. "Well, erm, I suppose it's hard to define. Everyone is different, you know?" Sirius nodded, smiling to himself as the smell of chocolate and library encased him. "I guess I realized it when the arguments scared me more than they used to. When I first met them, we bickered and bantered, yeah, but lately it's different. You start to feel as if it might be the end of everything, so you dance around your words more than normal, and insults burn your throat. Metaphysically speaking, of course."

"I've no idea what that means," Sirius murmured absently, fingers intertwined with Remus's tightly.

Remus laughed lightly, "It's too long to explain. Anyways, it started with the eyes. One day you're just looking at them, and they're no different from anyone else's eyes because who the bloody hell would notice someone's eyes from across the room. It seemed stupid, really. They're so small and hardly noticeable. But then one day it changed. All I wanted to do was look at them, experience them, and remember them. Every time they look at me, it literally feels like… I don't know how to explain it. It sounds dumb, actually."

"What color are their eyes," Sirius interrupted, genuinely interested in who this mysterious lover of Remus's was and avoiding the inevitable shut down on its way. Remus fumbled over his words often, however, Sirius didn't want him to think these things, even though they'd been about someone else entirely, were stupid. Jealousy awoke in his chest, charring the insides of his ribs, edging dangerously close to his heart.

Remus shifted, "Don't worry about it." Well, whether Remus wanted him to or not, Sirius was going to worry himself to death over the color of this mysterious lover's eyes. "Then it was their laugh. It was annoying at first. Like a cocky snicker or a sneer, you know? Wanted to hex it right off their face some days. But ever since we started growing up, it's changed. In a good way, of course. It sounds happy more often than not. Genuine. Before, it was like they'd laugh because everyone else was or it seemed the right time to. Now? Every time I hear it, I memorize it."

"Why?"

"Because one day I might not hear it again."

"That's depressing," Sirius pointed out bitterly, angry at himself for not being as poetically in love as Remus had been.

"Love is depressing," Remus replied dryly. "Their voice was annoying, too. Had an 'I'm better than you' ring to it when we first became friends. Probably thought they were, as well. Now it's like my favorite song. I could hear it over and over again, and I'd never become bored of it or wish to hear something else. I could hear them complain every day or throw half-hearted insults at me or even talk about the thirty shades of freaking blue under the sun for all I care. Just as long as I heard their voice. Unless, of course, they turn into an asshat again. Then I'd like to glue their mouth shut."

Sirius chuckled into the fabric of Remus's robes, feeling the warmth between their palms heighten. Remus was treading into murky waters, and Sirius could sense the apprehension to move any further. If he didn't know any better, he'd say that this mystery lover was much more familiar to him than he thought, but he wouldn't push Remus any more than he'd want to go. Jealousy was doused with pure joy, the smile unable to hide itself and the snitches in his stomach roaming wildly.

"The last thing was their smile," Remus sighed in a dazed stupor, thinking to himself of all the things he'd come to love in three years. "They make my palms sweat and my lungs shrivel up and die, some days."

"All of this told you that you were in love," Sirius probed, studying Remus as he was busy daydreaming.

From his hair down to the very last beauty mark on his cheek, Sirius began memorizing the very minute details of Remus Lupin. In their conversation, a startling truth made itself known. There would be a day when they'd be separated by chance or fate, and it would be the very last time he'd ever see Remus. When that day came, Sirius found it absolutely necessary to remember him how he'd been that night – starry eyes and love-struck smile, the dimples in his cheeks deep and the laugh lines growing longer as the years went on. He hadn't given a damn about his hair; it fell over his forehead and nearly hid his golden specked eyes from view.

"No," Remus confessed. "I don't think it's love. Love is a strong word. I'd like to think I 'like' them a bit more than I should. I think it could be love one day, though, with enough attention and care."

Sirius, stunned at his revelation, didn't notice the way Remus tightened his grasp on his hand, knuckles turning white. He hadn't noticed him turn his head, waking from his daydream, to return the glossy stares or the hidden smiles.

It all became quite clear to Sirius in that moment of deep thought.

There was a day he'd woken up and things had felt different. The world spun differently, his heart thudded in a differing rhythm, and the thoughts that muddled his common sense were no longer focused on marauding. Jealousy of Julienne and Lily. Anger. Hatred. Spite. They were all doing the work of the Black Heir, masking what was begging to be known.

Sirius, however strong or weak this had been, liked Remus. Not in the way he liked Peter or James. Not the way he liked Lily or Julienne, on some strange level. But something else entirely. It had been festering beneath the exterior of the heir, budding and blossoming out of sight. He'd felt it and acknowledged it quite often, but failed to truly open his eyes to it.

It made the most sense, didn't it? All the things Remus had mentioned, all of the signs and the red flags – had Sirius simply buried them out of fear? Fear of what? Retribution? Rejection? Abandonment? Fear of losing everything he'd worked so hard to earn? Fear of becoming too much of a disappointment?

He decided, then, that he wouldn't be ruled by fear. Not for that night, at least. He could come to regret his decision in the morning when Remus refused to speak to him. He'd regret it once he'd been ratted out to his friends and shunned for the remainder of his school years. He'd regret it later, but not now. He'd spent his entire life ruled by survival.

It was finally time he did something for the hell of it. Something for himself. Something for his happiness and his heart because God knew he deserved it.

He sat up then, balancing on his knees with his palms on either side of Remus's face.

"What are you doing," Remus asked nervously, plastering a smile on his face to feign comfortability when in all reality terror raked his insides.

The light from the torches around them flickered with intensity, and Sirius's breath caught for a moment. Remus's eyes were wide and wild, a burning shade of gold, beneath the wisps of tawny hair. There was no one to catch them, no one to interrupt. Peter wouldn't barge in with food and James wouldn't natter on about the Quidditch game. Frank and Cress and whoever the hell else were all upstairs eating dinner, and, if Sirius's gut served him right, he was sure Filch wouldn't dare stoop to the trophy room during a meal.

There was nothing preventing him from closing the gap. No one to make him second guess, no whispers to worry Remus, and no one to point fingers and gossip about the poncey things they'd partaken in – the hand holding, deep conversations, and lingering stares. It was painfully evident to Sirius now that he'd taken a breath of refreshing air, and he'd suddenly realized that he'd wanted to kiss Remus with a burning passion now more than ever before.

He was rubbish at kissing, and he knew Remus would be as well, but it didn't matter because the rush of the thrill was humming in his ears and tinting his cheeks. He didn't give a jot if it had been the worst kiss in Hogwarts History or a bloody spit exchange. The want for Remus, for just a chaste kiss, a simple peck, was killing him. Sirius didn't expect sparks and fireworks, no orchestral music to follow up. No matter how dazed he'd been, how fueled by hormones and need he'd been, he retained some common sense. The longer he waited, however, the more it diminished.

"What are you doing," Remus repeated, eyes peering from Sirius's eyes to his lips. He was nervous and tense, his shoulders drawn up to his bloody ears and his breath heavy and ragged. He'd kissed Julienne before, but this was different. This was more. It meant much more, held much more weight than anything with Julienne had ever held.

Sirius swallowed as Remus repeated his question, ready to bridge the gap. If this had been his first kiss, then he'd better make it worth it.

Without realizing it, as he'd only done it to get a better look at Sirius's face, Remus tilted his head just enough for Sirius to lightly press his lips against Remus's, cool and damp and perfect.

Remus inhaled sharply, eyes widening a mile and unsure of where to lay his hands before deciding pressing them into Sirius's shoulders was the best option. Obviously, that was the only choice to push him away. It made the most sense. Yet, three seconds had gone by, plenty of time to push Sirius away, and he hadn't yet. He could feel the ragged breath flowing out of Sirius's nose on his cheeks, the soft flutter of his eyelashes against his own, and found that his current situation could've been much worse.

But then it hit him that they were, in fact, supposed to be cleaning, that they were, in fact, in detention, and that Filch, McGonagall, or, even worse, James or Peter might come waltzing in to catch them in the act. All of those possibilities, however, were eclipsed by the fact that it hadn't been Julienne or Lily to kiss him.

Of all the humans under the sun, it had been Sirius Orion Black – his best friend who just so happened to be a boy. Horror trumped any happiness he might have felt during that kiss, snuffing that tiny light of hope inside of his chest. It was all wrong, not supposed to be that way. Thoughts jumbled and pushed into one another, clouding his better judgment.

"You're going to run now, aren't you," Sirius quizzed blankly, the hint of a smile tracing his refined features. Remus, unable to look him in the eye, nodded fractionally. "Don't trip on the way out."

With a swift movement, Sirius removed himself from the vicinity of Remus and watched as he fumbled his way to the door. Quick to keep his word to Sirius, he caught himself on the frame before face planting into the stone floor and escaped to Gryffindor Tower.

This surely complicated things.

Chapter Text

Lupin Cottage, December 1974

Whether or not he opened his eyes didn't matter, the scene remained the same. Darkness. Nothing but cold, harsh darkness and the trickle of dripping water from the corner. Not a shred of light spilled out from the bottom of doors or the panes of windows; the room didn't even have any. It reminded him an awful lot of the shed in Walter's Ash. Concrete floors, the scent of bloody urine, and the chill of silence.

His hands were tied behind his back, rope pulled painfully taut around his skin. It cut into his wrists, digging in as he tried to free himself. He twisted and pulled, straining to break his bonds. He knew, by then, it only made things worse. The slickness of blood dampened his palms.

It wasn't supposed to happen like this, he felt. Something had gone wrong. One moment they're planning to save the day, rescue a friend, and stop the war, and the next thing Remus knew he'd been tied to a chair in this bloody room with not a soul to cry for help for. It was all fouled up, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do to fix it. Shame and the burden of failure weighed heavily on his chest, only interrupted by the smoothness of a serpentine voice.

"Keep this one alive," it purred.

Remus shuddered, suddenly aware of the proximity and coolness of lifeless breath on his neck. The hairs on his body stood on end, high alert senses now his powerhouse. The presence near him only strengthened, making his insides roil in discomfort and tension.

"Oh, Remus Lupin," it whispered, lips brushing against his ear. His movements were not his own, unable to jerk away or recoil from the frigid touch. "Such a delicate one you've always been."

"I am not delicate," Remus spat, fire blazing in his chest.

A soft snicker resounded across the room, taking delight in his discomfort, "Tsk tsk, don't make such a fuss, dear boy. You've much more to worry about than a mere adjective."

Remus stilled, clenching his fists till his own nails drew blood, "Who are you?" Silence echoed in response. "Show me your face, coward!"

A hand slid around his neck, grasping him tightly and cutting off the flow of oxygen. His legs kicked out from beneath him, desperately hoping to soothe the pain creeping up his throat.

"If you search deep enough, you'll find yourself, young Lupin. Come to me when you've realized your potential in this waging war."

Stars bubbled in front of his eyes, wild colors and shapes whizzing around his head. Remus could feel the pressure building in his face, cheeks tinting a light shade of purple.

Remus woke with a whimper, legs frantically pushing him towards the head of the bed. The air rushed back into his lungs as he heaved deep, laborious breaths, his skin and sheets damp with sweat. Tremors raked through his body, his fingertips dancing with tension. The room was still quite dark, only a fraction of morning light spilling into the window. Dawn had just begun. Remus was thankful. Though he wouldn't admit it to anyone, he wasn't sure how he'd fare in the dark.

He moved to sit on the edge of his bed, rubbing his face to rid himself of the nightmare. It'd been quite some time since having one so vivid. Every detail was etched into his memory; the type of chair, the rhythmic pitter-patter of the leaky pipe, and the serpent-like voice were all engrained inside of his skull. The voice was unfamiliar, yet strangely felt known. But it was all the same; it made him extremely uncomfortable in his own skin.

He wasn't sure what had made him more uncomfortable; the circumstances this elder Remus found himself in or the implications made by the mystery man. That voice. Even in consciousness, Remus shuddered at the memory. Cold and resigned, yet oddly friendly and welcoming. He wasn't sure he wanted to go waltzing into the arms of this entity, let alone seek them out.

It didn't make any sense, the dream. The room was foreign, he'd sounded much older and, if his senses didn't betray him, afraid. There were no windows, no doors, yet the mystery man had entered. He had been alone, yet he spoke, in the beginning, as if there were others with him. Something, nonetheless, stuck out to Remus.

The man had said something about Remus finding himself, and, when he did, to come and find him. It was like a glitch for him, and so many questions were buzzing around in his head, all of them circling around the meaning of this dream. Out of everything that a murderer could've said to him, why be so vague and mysterious? Was it a calling? Was it a premonition? Why did it begin now?

A harsh thud against the door jerked Remus from his stupor.

"Wake up," Lyall called, the sternness in his voice leaving no room for whining. "I've got to show you something."

Lyall had been oddly close with Remus that Christmas. That wasn't to say that the pair were back to their old cavorting, sneaking crisps into the living room or going through Hope's old vinyl's. It hadn't been the days before the attack, and Remus was certain it never would be again. His only hope had been to cling on the bits and pieces his father would toss out every now and then. That holiday, for example, had been a breath of fresh air and a punch to the gut. Remus had become painfully aware of how little his father seemed to be present.

When he was around, Lyall was a man of few words. He had always been a reserved man, not one for speaking. His brother, Thomas, claimed he'd simply been shy. Remus claimed his father was simply ruthless. Lyall had told Remus once that he only spoke when his words meant something and that any man who prattled on about whatever else was a fool.

"Words are meant to mean something, Remus," he explained thoughtfully, "not to fill the silence."

Conversations with his father were almost always abrupt and tense, leaning a bit too far on the professional side. At every encounter, Remus felt as if he were being interrogated rather than having a casual chat over a cuppa and jaffa cakes.

He supposed this was the downside of having a hard-boiled Auror as a father, a man who'd seen the darkness of the world and all that inhabit it. What could he expect from someone who only expected the worse?

It was better, he decided, to just lower expectations. As long as they were undeniably low then he needn't worry over disappointments. The absences and the gruff conversations would blow over, and Remus wouldn't feel that sting of pain when eyeing the Potter's perfect family.

"Low expectations," he mumbled to himself, trifling towards the bathroom with sleep weighing heavily on his shoulders.

He looked at himself in the mirror, assessing the damage of the week before. It had been a difficult transformation; the wolf had been agitated. It didn't like it much when Remus was in too good of a mood to be bothered placating it. Remus could take a guess as to why. He blushed at the memory.

Three months later and that kiss had been the only anomaly to plague Remus's thoughts. It hadn't been anything like Julienne; not in the slightest. She was chaste and warm and her lips, damn it, they tasted like cherries, and Remus did not like cherries all too well. She was gentle and sweet, much like her lip balm, and Remus should've been smitten with this, but he wasn't.

Sirius was cool and soft, lacking the flavor of cheap Chapstick. It was short and a bit rough; their noses bumped together clumsily, and the hotness of Sirius's breath burned his cheeks, but it was these things that made it all the more exhilarating. The swiftness of Sirius's movements, how raw and unadulterated it had been – just the two of them during detention, stuck in a trophy room for another hour and a half. Yes, the kiss, however hasty and juvenile it had been, was beyond all Holy classification.

Every second of it, three months later, was fresh on his mind, and he despised himself for it – for idolizing it, placing it on a pedestal. But none of that mattered because he'd never felt more alive. He could remember how it felt, replay it to himself for comfort.

The rapid pace of his pulse, the sharp, almost redundant, intakes of air, the sweat accumulating on his palms and forehead – all of it made that moment beyond grasp. Everything within him suddenly fell into place, every nerve ending burst with satisfaction, and the lung crushing truth came raining down from the sky on Remus.

He had to be. There couldn't be much denying it now. Boys don't enjoy kissing boys. They didn't obsess over it like some school girl, memorize each and every second to replay in their head, relive it thousands of times in the confines of their own bed. It wasn't natural, according to Lyall. Then again, it wasn't as if Remus was all that normal, to begin with. However, it didn't matter to Remus, at least at the time, if it was normal or natural or anything else.

It had been a moment that belonged to him and him alone, sharing it with one of the only people he gave a jot about. It didn't belong to his peers, his mother or his father, those blasted Slytherin blokes who kept stealing his books. It didn't belong to the animal that infected him. That single moment in time belonged to Remus and Sirius. He could hold it close without shame or denial, roll and wallow in the chasteness of the moment without prying eyes upon him.

The world as he knew it came to a sputtering halt, and he didn't dare speak of it. Not to James or Peter. Not Lily or Julienne. Not even Sirius himself. Remus refused to pen his thoughts, feelings, or hopes; he denied himself the pleasure. No one could know of the night in the trophy room. Not a soul.

If Peter, let alone James, found out then their posse would certainly crumble. If a Slytherin were to catch wind of the kiss, Sirius's reputation would be shattered. If Julienne knew, Remus could only imagine the betrayal.

Remus would be a traitor.

It wouldn't be the same as before. Their first year, it had been when Remus sided with Sirius during a Quidditch debate instead of James, who considered himself the expert at the time. Remus could handle that. He could handle being the traitor their second year when Remus refused to tell McGonagall of his hand in a prank, earning himself a week free of detentions. He could even handle last year when he'd dished out the largest heap of betrayal in the prank wars between the Marauders and Frank's crew.

Being a gender traitor? A tonk? A faggot? A pansy and a ponce?

Remus couldn't take that.

This secret would be best kept in the confines of Remus's head, doomed to repeat itself. He supposed it was the shock that made him afraid despite every bone in his body reminding him that what had passed between them was, generally, a good thing. Perhaps it had been the fear of rejection as well. Months later and it was still processing that the infamous, suave, casanova Sirius Black had the audacity to kiss a bloke like Remus.

A bloke like Remus.

Remus.

Sirius Black kissed Remus.

And Remus liked it. He kissed another boy; his lips touched another boy's lips, and he'd liked it. He more than liked it. He'd come to love it. Though, with these feelings of joy came feelings of fear. Would things be the same? Would Sirius shut down?

His friendship with Sirius took an odd turn. As promised, the shifts in mood and public humiliation ceased, along with the obnoxious attitude and sass back Sirius had been prone to. In fact, Sirius hardly spoke to Remus at all anymore. It wasn't as before when the spite and jealousy were written plainly on his forehead in ink. He was different; calm, almost. There were no storms in his eyes, no bludgers in his words. The moments they shared were enjoyed in comfortable, eased silences, where the company was much preferred to a conversation.

The subtle touches did not go unnoticed by Remus. The lingering fingertips and the soft, yet nearly missed, caress every now and then when no one looked. The way he carded his fingers through Remus's hair had been more tender than ever before, fingertips softly rubbing circles into his scalp. His voice was kinder; he spoke more gently to Remus, held more patience.

Gone was bratty Sirius Black, replaced by his smooth, affectionate counterpart that wordlessly wooed Remus. This boy was kind and thoughtful; he watched his words more carefully not only when around Remus and Remus alone, but also around the company of others. Sirius had a nasty habit of showing out that was being doused by the second; it was a lovely change of scenery.

He had his moments, as Sirius always would. Every now and then, a minute tantrum would be thrown and his friends would fend back the fire; it would be over Severus, more or less, or his relationship with Regulus, which Remus understood entirely. Remus, upon their conversation in the trophy room, understood the root of this behavior better than he had before, and this realization made it much easier to pick him apart.

He decided that, despite having three good options, Sirius didn't talk much about his feelings. He nattered on about his problems, yes. He dived into great details his plan of running away from home if Walburga allowed Regulus near a piano, yes. On some occasions, he'd found it absolutely necessary to describe the hours of torture revolving around the Malfoy wedding to prove just how chaotic women were.

If his friends allowed him to, Remus was quite sure that Sirius would only open his mouth to complain or announce an idiotic plan that inevitably leads to disaster. Just the other day, before their break began, Sirius had a brilliant idea.

"Do you think I could fit 15 marshmallows in my mouth, Rem?"

Remus had told him, "You're a hazard to society."

And James, acting as gasoline as he always did, challenged Sirius with, "And a coward. Do 20."

Soon after, Sirius was choking to death on his fifth jumbo marshmallow and grasping for the Holy Ghost.

Trivial moments such as those were helpful as they distracted him from brooding. As he grew older and Walburga more stern, it was evident the pleasure needed during adolescence was lacking for Sirius. Hardly ever did he get to enjoy his holidays; summers were, indeed, torture, and it was not always about the wedding. The scars on his hands were beginning to multiply, some not even fully healed after weeks. Remus could only imagine the soles of his feet.

If it were up to Remus, he'd stow Sirius away in the dead of night, never looking back at the black mass of Grimmauld Place. It was a shadow that loomed over Sirius, and the sooner he escaped the better off he would be. There'd been talk of running away before, conversations held about the options he had, but Remus hardly ever took them seriously until his second year. The same year Sirius willingly revealed the bottoms of his feet to him, unabashed and voluntary. It was evident then that these plans were not just the banter of young, brash boys.

Remus then wondered what Walburga and Orion Black would do if they'd known what their son had done, what he'd wanted to do. Were Wizards homophobic? Lyall considered himself a right leaner, tending to edge closer to the conservatives rather than the progressives. He thought this revolution of love and empowerment was nothing but a political scheme for the leftists to assert their power over capitalism. Gays were unnatural, end of the story. No if's, and's, or but's about it.

If their views on sexuality were anything close to their views on blood purity or aligned with Lyall Lupin on any level, Remus vowed to pray for Sirius in the coming weeks.

He would also vow to pray for himself, as Lyall never wanted to speak to Remus unless it was serious.

Remus dressed while brushing his teeth; he held a certain amount of pride in being a wonderful multi-tasker. If Sirius could manage to pat his head and rub his belly at the same time then Remus would most certainly award him a sticker for effort. He slipped on his Chuck's, careful to tie them this time so as to avoid flailing down the stairs, and snatched his jacket. It grew quite unpleasant in Walter's Ash around this time of year.

He slipped out of his room, easing the door shut with a soft click. His mother had been up far into the night, crunching some numbers and sorting out bills. He knew she'd want her sleep this morning. Besides, the sun hadn't even risen above the horizon yet. Even if he was doomed to an early morning trip with Lyall, Remus wouldn't force his mother to pull away from sleep.

Lyall was waiting by the front door, eyes cast out the window and looking sulky as ever. The curls of chestnut hair were beginning to recede and thin, leaving a small bald spot on the very top of his head. Frown lines dug into his ruddy skin, leaving a trail of solemnness on his face with each expression he made, however limited that number may have been. His arms were crossed over his chest defiantly as if daring Remus to protest this trip; he could've lightened up a bit, Remus thought bitterly.

"I'm ready," Remus murmured, refusing to look his father in the eye.

Wordlessly, Lyall left the house, striding towards the shed. A shiver raked through Remus's body, and visions of a more unpleasant nature clouded his imagination. Of all the places to explore on a freezing cold morning, Lyall decided that the shed was the perfect location. Remus couldn't hide the grimace, his blood pressure creeping higher and higher the closer they came. Lyall spared a look over his shoulder, shaking his head with a scoff.

"Get ahold of yourself, boy," he demanded, coming to a stop just outside the doors. Remus, albeit stumbling a bit, made it to the clearing just before the shed's doors.

He didn't need to have a look inside to know the condition it had been left in. The walls were wearing thin, and the door needed to be replaced. The Wolf hadn't been so careful. In fact, it was even more destructive than it ever had been at Hogwarts.

Lyall most likely brought Remus out here to clean up his own mess – the urine, blood, and feces no one else wanted to hose out. He didn't understand why his father insisted on cleaning it every time, especially the urine. It was meant to be a mark of territory and cleaning it off only meant more would be spread around next time for precautionary measures. But Lyall never listened to the advice of his son and went about things his own way.

"Take hold of my arm and don't let go," he snapped, voice as sentimental as ever. Remus hesitated. "Come on, boy, we don't have all day."

Remus had never apparated before and knew that one day – if allowed – he'd be able to take an exam to obtain an Apparation license. Uncle Tom spoke often of apparating as if it were as easy as making a telephone call. Sirius and James, on the other hand, told horrific stories of Splinchings and deaths recorded in books. The story of Alphard Black, Sirius's uncle, Splinching his right ear off during an apparition to Grimmauld Place.

Not wanting to anger his father, Remus grasped the fabric of Lyall's leather jacket and closed his eyes.

Remus had hoped it would be like flying – a bit unnerving but a bearable journey nonetheless. He could handle flying. James had taught him the basics, like how to steer and control the levels. Remus didn't mind flying. Not in the slightest.

Yet he was sorely mistaken. Remus felt a bone-crushing weight on every edge of his body, compressing him and pulling him apart like taffy in a stretcher. The air was snatched from his lungs and a pressure built up behind his eye sockets so that every blink was as pungent and painful as a stab wound. He dared not let go of the leather jacket, fearing that he might just get lost in that whirlwind of chaos. He was going to be sick – he knew he would either piss himself or vomit.

But as soon as it had started, it ended. Firm-ground touched the soles of Remus's feet and the world came into focus. Lyall, unphased, shuffled away from his son and trekked forward, not bothering to ask if Remus was okay. These were things he would learn to adapt to, no doubt. Coddling him now would only distract him from progress. Once Remus felt his stomach settle and his nerves relax, he gazed up at the sight before him.

It was an old building, most likely a small, abandoned theater. The sign where shows and acts were once displayed now remained barren and untouched, stray letters dangling by a thread. The ticket booth was boarded up and the main entrance appeared sealed from the inside.

Something felt off in the pit off Remus's stomach, the part of him that always served him right. This place was not friendly, nor did it seem as welcoming as Lupin Cottage or even the Shrieking Shack. This theatre gave him the odd sensation that he did not belong, that he was an intruder on foreign territory. The hairs on his arms raised and the goosebumps along with them. He didn't like it here. Not one bit.

Lyall, either unaware of his son's discomfort or indifferent to it, pressed onward, heading into an alleyway in silence. Feeling as if he should, Remus quickened his pace to follow. The alley was no more comforting than the entrance; trash and filth littered the path. Street mice darted from can to can of garbage, sewage water wetting the bottoms of his Chuck's. He suddenly wished he'd worn his boots; his socks were uncomfortably damp.

Lyall stopped at what appeared to be a side entrance – an emergency exit.

"Won't an alarm sound off if you open it," he asked, only trying to be helpful.

Lyall thought for a moment, chewing at his bottom lip before revealing his wand, "This place has been empty for quite a while. Alohamora."

A quiet click sounded from the other side, and Lyall gave a swift kick to open the door. Dust and debris rained down from the doorway, but his father paid no mind to it. He stepped through, unbothered by the mess.

Remus followed, scanning his surroundings. They appeared to be in what was once a storage room. Boxes upon boxes were stacked on each other, film reels spilling from open cases. Old Muggle Posters were rolled up in cans, some splayed open for the eye to see. A Clockwork Orange. Gel Carter. Performance. Remus would've loved to take these home for safekeeping; it wasn't as if they were being put to use in a place like this. If his father was correct, he hardly assumed someone had been in the theatre in years.

Lyall moved on and Remus followed close behind. This was a place one could easily find themselves lost in, and spending the night in an ancient, abandoned theatre was not a good build-up to Christmas.

The halls were simple and straight, though the stairwells were much like those at Hogwarts minus the ability to move.

"This place," Lyall finally spoke, "it belonged to a pack of Werewolves in the early sixties."

Remus frowned. He didn't like the way his father said Werewolves. He didn't like it at all. As if it left a sour taste in his mouth, like fresh garlic. It was too strong and pungent, made the eyes water.

"Why did they leave," Remus asked, now paying closer attention to the minute details.

"The Ministry conducted a raid to find their leader," Lyall sighed, reaching the balconies. Remus came beside him, only an inch or two shorter than his father. "There were a series of attacks and we had the prime suspect in our grasp."

Remus's brows furrowed, "So why didn't you catch him?"

"Oh, I did," Lyall scoffed, a hint of vindictiveness in his tone. "Just lacked the proper evidence to detain him for long."

Remus nodded, looking down at the floor below. Empty water jugs and food packages laid around the seats, collecting dust and dirt. Old blankets and thin pillows were thrown over seats and the stage.

"Your Mum always told me I was the best demon hunter," Lyall smirked, carding a hand through thinning hair. Remus forced a nostalgic smile. "She thinks Boggarts and such are demons, of course. Never had much of a clue about the Wizarding World like I wanted her to."

"She knows more now, though, right?"

Lyall picked at a hangnail idly, staring out at the opened stage, "I suppose so."

He suddenly patted his pockets, shoving fingers through the holes until he found what he was looking for. Remus watched his father, a man who denounced anything that took your time on this Earth away, as he pulled a cigarette from its pouch and a lighter from his breast pocket. Sticking the butt in his mouth, he gripped it firmly between his teeth, the lighter clicking several times before ever lighting.

"Don't tell your mother," he warned, taking in a long drag. The smoke drained from his nose. "She'd have me strung up on the fireplace."

"She just worries about you," Remus admitted, uncomfortable in this territory with his father. Neither one of them had been overly sentimental with one another, and conversations veering into emotion land was not something Remus enjoyed doing. It almost always ended with Lyall calling his own son a daffodil, and Remus wasn't in the mood for it that morning.

"She worries about you, too, boy," Lyall pointed out, almost smiling at his own words. "But you're nearly grown now, I tell her. You've got to start thinking for yourself."

Remus merely shrugged, not very inclined to agree with him.

Lyall inhaled deeply, "I worried about you for a while."

"What made you stop," Remus finally asked, letting his emotions get the better of him for once.

He wanted to hear him say it. The accident. The bite. That night. His condition. That's what made him stop worrying. If the bite didn't kill him then pressure from the Ministry and rejection from society would. He wanted to hear the words come out of his father's mouth for once instead of having to interpret the smallest things from silence and facial expressions.

"You know, you're more like your mother than me," Lyall whispered, taking a drag with a somber look in his eye. Remus faltered. "Nothing phases the two of you until you're at your wit's end. Somehow, you end up micromanaging all your worries and problems like machines. Ends up working nine times out of ten until you forget about that one little thing." He gestured with his two fingers. "One thing, and, eventually, it blows right up in your face."

Remus rolled his eyes, "The point being?"

Lyall shifted his weight, turning to face his son and look him straight in the eyes as he said, "You never let your condition be that one overlooked thing."

Remus frowned, "I-I mean. There's nothing I can do about it… so why go and make a fuss over it?"

"Don't you want a cure?"

Remus leaned on the banister. "There's not much I can do as an uneducated, inexperienced, underaged wizard."

"You can always do something to make it easier," Lyall snapped, though he clearly wasn't annoyed.

Remus felt a flare of agitation in his chest and couldn't stop the words from flowing.

"Just because I don't tell you things doesn't mean they aren't happening, you know," Remus quipped, voice cold and reserved.

He wished it were as easy to talk to his father about his plans as it was to speak to his mother or the boys. With his father, it felt as though he were talking to a lounging lion, its curiosity mildly piqued. He never knew when Lyall would pounce, or if he ever would.

"I wish you'd tell me things more often."

"You're never really around to make that happen," Remus murmured. "So, I don't really get the chance."

Lyall paused, and Remus hoped he was letting that truth sink in. Perhaps the relationship was mendable. He knew he should've kept expectations low, as that's the safest bet with men like Lyall, but he couldn't help for a fraction of his day that his own father realized his wrongdoings.

"Does this place make you feel anything, Remus," Lyall finally asked, his curiosity now piqued.

Remus, visibly disappointed, turned away from his father. He felt as if there'd been some ulterior motive behind this trip in the beginning and had been right about it. Low expectations. Should've kept them. That flare in his heart was snuffed and his mood dampened. Lyall didn't mention his son by his first name much in recent years, referring to him as boy more often than not. If his gut served him right, it told him he was trying to butter him up for something. He was unsure he wanted to know what.

"It gives me the heebie-jeebies, yeah," Remus laughed awkwardly, fisting his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "I don't like it."

Lyall nodded fractionally, clapping his son on the back.

"There's a war out there, boy," he declared. "And you're going to have to pick a side sooner or later. I'd like to know you'll do what's best, eh? For your old man?"

Remus wanted to tell him yes because what good son wouldn't do what their father wanted? But then he was reminded of all the absences, the late-night arguments, the derogative remarks, and the steeled conversations. He remembered all of the times he needed a man to guide him, a father to lead him on the best path, and that Lyall had never been there. What did Remus care if Lyall was happy or not? What did he care if the right thing didn't make Lyall happy?

But all he did was nod in agreement, the discomfort and edge never settling in his stomach till he was back on Lupin soil.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, September 1975

It was imperative that he not be seen. On every account available, Remus John Lupin needed to remain unseen and unheard of until that meeting had been finished. Not a single soul could find out – not even Lily Evans. With his hood up and his chin down, Remus trifled through the trolleys, desperately searching for the carriage. If it hadn't been for the barrage of Gryffindor Quidditch players, Remus might have been on time. James nearly spotted him, but Naomi Ganders, a seventh year, had distracted him long enough for Remus to slip past unnoticed.

Being early really meant being punctual while arriving on time meant being late. Remus had never made it a habit to be late to anything of importance, and everything was of importance when related to Hogwarts. His record couldn't afford it, and, if he were being completely honest, his reputation with Minnie and Dumbledore couldn't afford it. Not after their five years cavorting around the castle like lunatics. No, everything that year had been far too important. Classes, clubs, revisions, and Prefect meetings included.

That summer, Remus received a shiny red badge with a silver 'P' stamped proudly on the front by owl in the early hours of the morning. It came as a shock to begin with. He'd been deemed a Prefect by Minnie much to his surprise. But how could that have been possible? It was no secret he'd been the mastermind behind much of the Marauder's schemes; she knew just as well as anyone else in the castle. In fact, there'd been several instances where he'd admitted to charming paper birds to chase the Slytherin's to their dormitories.

Remus couldn't stomach the thought of this new responsibility on his shoulder. Patrolling, handing out punishments, awarding and deducting points, the almighty prefects' bathroom – what would it all mean?

Of course, he'd be a traitor at first. He could already hear the betrayal in Sirius's voice. Becoming a prefect was just as well as declaring himself the enemy of the Marauders' in the beginning. Becoming a prefect was the same as standing with Severus Snape against his friends. There was no returning from announcing this to the boys, and he questioned whether or not he would. His initial thought had been to decline the position. His loyalties resided with his pals, and their loyalties were tethered to mischief and plotting. Decorum hadn't been in their genetic makeup, excluding Sirius on a few occasions. On the other hand, however, he knew that once he escorted the First Years and patrolled the hallways with a shiny, silver badge, the boys would find out.

Declining would be rude, he concluded, as becoming a Prefect was an honor that not many were granted. His mother and father had been quite proud of him, too, which made his heart a bit warmer than it usually was. With that in mind, he slipped inside of the Prefect carriage just as the Head Boys and Girls began speaking.

A few eyes looked him over causing his cheeks to heat and his ears to pinken. Remus figured he wouldn't know very many people in the carriage; he didn't mingle much with the Ravenclaws, and the Slytherins were appalled by his very existence. The Gryffindors greeted him tenderly, clapping him on the back and extending their congratulations. Naomi managed to send a proud smirk his way before speaking up. There were a few faces from Hufflepuff he recognized, Julienne being one of them, and his exterior relaxed. He shuffled through the crowd, finding himself overwhelmed with joy upon finding the seat beside her empty.

She smiled at him, "Good morning."

"Good morning, Julie," he whispered, looking up at the eight heads of houses. "Did I miss anything?"

She pressed her shoulder against his tenderly, a sign of affection and assurance, "No, they just finished introductions."

He gulped, hands clammy and trembling, and tried to refrain from fidgeting too much. It felt odd to be near Julienne again after nearly a year of cordial nods and tense conversation. Their relationship had taken a toll after their split, though Remus didn't consider it much of a split considering they were never official.

During their fourth year, the only interaction they'd had was between classes and occasionally in the hallways. They no longer studied together or took walks around the lake discussing poetry; they hardly looked each other in the eye. In the beginning, it hurt. But, as the year went on and as Remus grew up a bit more, he realized this was part of the process. She'd made herself scarce, and, in an odd way, Remus felt it did their friendship some good. Perhaps she'd healed over the course of that year and it was finally time to reconcile. He hoped. James had encouraged him to speak to her, and he was glad he had some of that Gryffindor courage in the carriage.

Despite feeling as though their time apart was needed, he'd missed her. Lily was a wonderful young lady, and they'd grown quite close during their time together in potions and charms. The letters over holidays and the trips to Hogsmeade together were cherished. But she would never be Julienne. It was like comparing James to Sirius.

No one could be Sirius.

Remus faltered, the blood rushing to his nose and cheeks.

Lily Evans had appeared suddenly as the Slytherin's discussed their obligations. She slid in the seat across from Julienne, smiling kindly.

Remus wondered how he'd ended up in such a situation. Remus Lupin: awkward, tall, and pale with freckles and scars littering his skin only hidden by messy wisps of blonde hair befriended by two of the prettiest, sweetest girls that Hogwarts had to offer. Oh, how many boys would've killed to be in his shoes presently.

James, for instance, would've happily killed anyone who stood in the way of his everlasting love for Miss Lily Evans. He'd been swooning over her since he finally got his glasses cleaned third year and had been showing his affections in the form of love letters and singing flowers. Of course, these efforts were returned with polite declinations and, on rare occasions, a few verbal insults or a slap to the face. Remus wondered why she'd been so adamant on refusing one of the most popular, richest boys to roam Hogwarts. Who wouldn't want to date James Potter?

Julienne nudged him in the ribs.

"Rem," she urged. "You'll catch flies."

Lily giggled with her, tucking a strand of fiery hair behind her ear. The debriefing ended, and the fifth-year prefects allowed to return to the compartments for the remainder of the ride on the terms that they'd escort the first years to the castle. It didn't seem like such a terrible trade off. Really, Remus hardly heard a word they'd said. He swore he caught the importance of their roles, and, if he ever needed trouble, he could easily just mooch off of Lily. That had been their ritual in Potions, and he didn't see why it couldn't extend to their duties as Prefects.

Julienne departed after a quick goodbye, promising Remus and Lily she'd stop by the Gryffindor table during the feast for a chat. She seemed in quite the hurry to leave the meeting, and, if Remus's eyes didn't deceive him for once, he could have sworn he saw a splotch of pinkish-purple peeking out of her collar. He didn't have time to question her, though he didn't feel like it was his place at all to ask her such personal questions after their hiatus, before she'd disappeared, leaving him with Lily.

"So, would you care to explain this new 'necromancer' look you've got going on for me," she teased, pulling the hood of his jacket down to reveal his face. "No, no, no – can I guess?" She didn't wait for him to respond. "You're hiding from them, aren't you?"

"Have you met James Potter and Sirius Black," Remus exclaimed, dodging a paper airplane whizzing through the hallway. "Better yet, have you been with them in the same room before?" Lily laughed. "Of course I'm hiding from them. I'll be labeled a traitor the moment they set eyes on the badge and I'll be shunned."

"Honestly," she groaned, stepping past a batch of first years playing exploding snap, "how you can tolerate James is beyond me."

Remus shrugged, the corner of his mouth tugged upward, "Why James in particular?"

A blush crept up Lily's neck, turning the tips of her ears pink, "No reason. He just seems like the worst of the pair."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really," she snapped, opening the door to her compartment gracefully. She pivoted to look Remus in the eye, an icy glare taking over her features. "James Fleamont Potter is the most insufferable, reckless, offhand, improper, conniving, vulgar nails-for-brains wizard I've ever had the displeasure of knowing. It isn't my fault he's got the mental capacity of a nugget!"

"Chicken nuggets?" a voice chirped from behind Remus's large figure. He stepped aside, revealing a love-struck James with a bundle of flowers in one hand and a card in the other. Sirius traipsed not far behind, tugging a reluctant Peter away from the candy trolley. "I think that's the kindest thing you've ever said to me, Lily."

Remus bit back a chuckle, sending a rather rueful apologetic smile towards Lily. She frowned, curling her lip.

"You're so –"

"Dashing, intelligent, brave," James began listing off.

"Spontaneous, daring, considerate," Sirius added hopefully, leaning against Remus's lanky frame.

Peter piped up, "Resilient, handsome?"

"Handsome is the same as dashing, idiot," Sirius admonished quietly, elbowing his friend in the ribs as Lily glared at the three.

"How about slapdash and uncouth," Remus suggested, grabbing Sirius and James by their arms and leading them further along the hallway. "I'll see you tonight, Lily!"

Face twisted and lip curled, Lily merely nodded at Remus and disappeared within the confines of her compartment. Remus actually found it quite interesting how quickly Lily's demeanor changed when faced with an enamored James Potter. He found it even more interesting that, despite her grandest efforts, she never could seem to sound genuine in her declarations of spite towards him. If only she could manage to keep that rueful smile in check. Something told Remus that Lily's annoyance was, to her disdain, rather surface level. More than she wanted it to be, perhaps.

Love was horrifically ironic and cruel.

As Remus searched for an empty compartment, James flailed wildly in his grasp. Flower petals scattered throughout the hallway and the card had been long since abandoned.

"Remus," he cried, stumbling as his friend tossed him into an empty chamber. "That was my one chance! How could you? How could you interfere with Cupid himself?"

Remus, who'd cautiously removed his badge in the chaos of James's courting, took his usual seat beside Sirius next to the window, crossing his legs with a satisfied grin.

"Honestly, I think it went quite well compared to your other attempts," Remus offered lightly.

Sirius hummed in agreement, sprawling across not only his own seat but also Remus's lap. Remus could feel the warmth of Sirius through his turtleneck, the soft thud of his heart against his fingertips. Sirius played with the cuff of his sweater, watching Remus drift into a haze of ignorant bliss as the train started off. A soft sigh left Remus's lips and he smiled. He'd missed this.

In truth, he'd missed Sirius and every piece of baggage that came with him. He'd missed the sound of his voice, the feeling of his hair in his fingers, and the smell of rain and cologne. He missed the sensation of comfort and joy that practically leaped out of his throat whenever he'd come near him, and the feeling of relief when he'd stay. Remus even missed his comical theatrics, the little temper tantrums when his hair clearly did not want to cooperate.

He truly missed him.

He glanced down at his lap to find that Sirius had been eyeing him closely, thin creases stretching across his forehead as he frowned.

"What," Remus murmured, voice hidden beneath the rather loud debate between James and Peter over the The Ballycastle Bats Quidditch team and their landslide at the World Cup.

Sirius shrugged, reaching up and tugging on a strand of Remus ponytail, "Nothing."

"Enjoying the view," Remus teased, swatting his hand away.

"Maybe."

Remus smiled at the offhand comment, taking Sirius's hand in his own. He examined it. The bright red scars had faded into dull, blush abrasions that shone in the light every now and then. He noticed that, while they hadn't appeared to look any worse, he could hardly consider them better. His heart clenched, and he thought for a moment.

Looking at him hurt. Looking at Sirius like this, unperturbed and close enough to happy, made something inside him shrink. Perhaps it was because, every now and then, Remus was reminded that these moments were offered very seldom in Sirius's life, or maybe it was because, whether he wanted to see it or not, those scars loved to prove troublesome.

But while looking at him hurt occasionally, it also made him oddly warm and fuzzy. By the time Remus had pulled himself out of his own thoughts, Sirius had intertwined their fingers tightly, his knuckles now white. Neither one of them had bothered joining the ongoing discussion about the World Cup, nor did they seem inclined to. If Remus had his way, then the entirety of the train ride would be spent just like that. Hands clasped, Sirius's warmth bleeding into his own, and everyone else too distracted to notice just how fixated on each other the two boys were.

Sirius pressed his lips to the back of Remus's hand, not bothered with the strange look granted from Peter or the side eye from James either. Something jolted inside of Remus, leaving him feeling like a giddy teenaged girl. His heart went from a dull thud to a rapid pound and the tenseness in his shoulders returned.

"How was your summer," Sirius asked, cocking his head to the side to get a better view of Remus. As he spoke, Remus could feel the movement of his lips on his skin. Every letter felt different – invigorating, almost. When James described the feeling of snitches in his stomach, Remus didn't think it was like this. Not at all this intense. Did he feel this way whenever Lily merely looked at him? Was it strange that Remus felt this way holding hands with the boy who, thus far, had only been his best friend? Was it odd that Peter and James weren't doing this?

But, if Remus was being quite honest with himself, he didn't rightly care if it had been odd or not.

Remus sighed heavily, "Could have been worse."

"Which means it could have equally been better," Sirius chimed, letting their hands rest on his chest again.

"It could have been, yes," Remus admitted bashfully.

Truth be told, Remus's summer had been filled with many things, none of them exactly pleasant. From awkward, early morning fishing trips with Lyall to unsolvable sexual frustration, Remus found that with each passing day agony grew exponentially. Yet, three minutes in the company of the Marauders and the torture seemed to dissolve.

"But it's better now," Sirius smirked, tightening his grip on Remus's hand, glancing over at their friends with a hint of mischief in his eyes. Remus merely nodded, his brain seeming to check out of the conversation as it was rather occupied with admiring his friend instead of functioning properly. Rather than respond verbally, as any normal person would do, he found that returning the subtle gestures of affection spoke much louder than anything he could've stammered. The brushing of the knuckles, tracing odd shapes into his skin, and letting his lips plant chaste kisses over the marred palms were all loud messages sent through a channel. Judging by the nervous energy radiating from Sirius, he was sure he got them.

They thought they were being discreet, that their touches were hardly noticeable and went past James's and Peter's eyes easily. They figured no one even bothered to pay them a bit of attention, as Sirius and Remus, as of late, had always been in their own little world. The loudness of the debate and the hum of the locomotive covered their whispers, the pucker of lips against wrists and palms. And even if they weren't, it would've appeared they didn't mind the odd stares.

"I missed this," Remus announced, more to Sirius than anyone else. Hearing his own words, he clarified himself. "I missed all of this."

Sirius spared a glance at the other two boys, now placing bets on the new Quidditch season with money Peter didn't have. He missed it, too. Grimmauld Place was dark and cold, not a hint of happiness or content. The halls were narrow and serpentine, so different from the world just on the outside. Life with the Marauders proved a breath of fresh air after being held beneath the water's surface. He so desperately needed that breath. Truly, he desperately needed a certain someone. But he wouldn't openly admit that. Not at all.

He raised his chin in mock defiance, "So, you didn't miss me?" He hmphed in an attempt to break free of Remus's fingers. The latter didn't budge, instead pulling his hand to his mouth.

"Of course, I missed you, git," he breathed, a hint of annoyance in his voice. "How could I not?"

"Oh, so you didn't miss me," Peter accused, his voice affronted and defensive.

Two pairs of eyes were locked on them, one looking quite peeved while the other was clearly amused. So much for being inconspicuous. Sirius remained stationary, however, a defiant look in his eye. Remus, though, felt shame course through his veins like water in a stream. The way Peter looked at him made his skin crawl. It reminded him of the way Lyall glanced at him every now and then.

"I didn't miss you, disruptive bastard," Sirius growled, successfully pulling away from Remus.

"Peter, cut him some slack," James chided, too calmly for Remus's comfort. "It's obvious the honeymooners have some separation anxiety."

"Fuck off," Sirius hissed, moving as far away from Remus as humanly possible. Remus did the same, scooting to the far corner of his seat and pressing his forehead to the glass window.

Why did they have to ruin everything? Just a few moments of peace with Sirius; that was all Remus had wanted – to hold his hand, feel the warmth of his skin and the softness of his breath. Damn, was he a lovesick puppy dog? Was he turning into James? What were all these feelings accumulating for Sirius, and how did he want to handle him? A good start would be to not be ridiculed by his close friends. He would've deeply appreciated that.

"Don't get so touchy," James warned, turning his attention back to his gambling journal. "It'll wreck the romantic mood and you two will go back to denying your love for one another."

"The hell is that supposed to mean," Sirius challenged, brow lowered dangerously. Remus noticed out of the corner of his eye something clasped in his fist. A wand, specifically. He tensed.

The accusation James was making was a large step. Larger than any one of the boys had made so far. It was simple to dance around the obvious. It added together nicely; the subtle, and not-so-subtle, touches, the lingering stares, and the words of affection scattered through casual conversation. Sprawling out on one another in plain view, planting chaste kisses all over their bodies – it was evident to Sirius and Remus. It was painfully clear to James. Peter had a bit of catching on to do judging by his suspiciousness. There was no more dancing around it now, was there?

"I'm just saying," James snickered, "you two get on really well."

"Yeah, jackass, that's what happens when you're best friends," Sirius growled.

"Sirius," Remus sighed, placing a gentle hand over his, "don't get so worked up."

"Yes, Sirius, listen to your boyfriend," Peter taunted, evidently picking up on the tension in the room.

Remus felt a fit of coughs threatening to make themselves present, a heaviness in his chest weighing down his lungs. It was easier accepting his… feelings for Sirius – as feelings was the only logical thing to call whatever it had been manifesting inside of him – to himself. In the confines of his room over the summer, the hypersexual dreams, and daydreams, and the sudden quaffles in his stomach over the mere presence of him was a clear enough sign. There was more than just platonic love, but Remus was unsure if it was love at all. These thoughts were dealt with much more simply on his own. Adding a snarky James and an affronted Peter to the mix, not even knowing where Sirius stood in the matter, only jumbled up everything he'd only just started sorting out.

"I'm not his boyfriend," Remus pointed out offhandedly, removing his hand from Sirius's and shoving it in his pocket.

The good mood had been ruined, and now it was time for him to sulk. There was no way he could tell them about his new position now. Things were far too muddled to talk about something as serious as being a Prefect.

Just as Sirius opened his mouth to speak, a mop of red hair poked into the compartment, bright green eyes flitting over four moody teenagers.

"What died in here," Lily asked, her face scrunched in confusion.

"Happiness," Remus mumbled, frowning at his reflection.

"Don't be so overdramatic," James suggested, turning his attention to Lily at the door. "What is it you need, my munchkin."

"You're lucky there's a Prefect in here, or I'd hex those atrocities you called eyebrows off your forehead," she barked harshly.

Remus felt his heart plunge. James's grin grew tenfold. Sirius blanked. Peter merely blinked.

"I knew you'd get Prefect, darling," James squealed, breaking the silence by clapping his hands like an excited toddler. "I'm so proud!"

Lily's cheeks turned bright pink, eyes cast downward at the floor, "Erm… Thanks… thanks, I guess." Her stare settled on Remus. "Naomi wanted me to tell you that you need to be first off the train to lead the first years."

He'd already accepted defeat by then, so Remus nodded his head slowly. Lily left, sparing a look at James before she did.

Silence hung in the air like a noose, at least that's how heavily it weighed on Remus's shoulders. The boys had never been prone to silence before, at least not during the train rides. He feared the moment they did finally decide to open their mouths. Would there be admonishment? Betrayal? Perhaps he was overthinking the whole ordeal; he had the tendency to do so.

"Well, what are you waiting for," Peter cried, tone peculiarly eager, "Show us the badge, berk!"

"What," Remus stammered.

James grinned impishly, sharing an oh-so familiar look with Sirius. Remus knew that look. He'd seen it a million times before. They always seemed to flash that smile when a plan was brewing in their little, hollow heads. A plan that meant no good.

They were always up to no good.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, October 1975 (Fifth Year)

“I don’t need you coddling me, Sirius,” Regulus swore beneath his breath, pulling his bag close to his chest and hurrying towards the dungeons.

His elder brother stalked close behind him, same haughty expression his mother wore when something wasn’t going as planned. Same scolding tone whenever Regulus wanted to do something for himself. Same finicky attitude when he brushed them aside. Regulus wondered if either one of them would ever open their eyes long enough to realize how painfully similar they were to one another. He wouldn’t dare utter that thought aloud around either one of them, no matter how obvious it had been to everyone else.

“I’m not coddling you,” Sirius whined, pulling Regulus to a grinding halt. “I just don’t think you need to be having study sessions with Snivellus.”

Regulus scowled, “I can make my own friends without you bossing me around like mother.”

His brother looked quite affronted yet particularly smug when Regulus didn’t correct Sirius’s historic nickname.

Truth be told, Regulus hadn’t been on his way to study with Severus. He and Snape hadn’t spoken to one another since the school year started. In fact, he had gone out of his way to ensure that fact. The rift from their previous interaction still ran deep, apparently. If Severus wasn’t willing to put the facts in front of his nose, Regulus wanted nothing to do with him.

Lily Evans was a snot-nosed mud-blood, nothing more and nothing less. Severus’s infatuation with her was beyond Regulus’s comprehension, and he wasn’t inclined to look deeper into it. A voice eerily familiar to him reminded him that she didn’t deserve his precious braincells, but something in him begged for an explanation.

It had to have been based solely on beauty, as she was quite dazzling even for a mud-blood. But she was also cheeky, touchy, and far too stubborn for her own good. She partook in that insufferable prank war with Sirius’s neanderthals; his Mother would tell him she was the furthest thing from a proper young lady. No respectable woman would associate with such riff raff as James Potter. But, then again, she was just his type.

Voicing such opinions to Severus seemed to have struck a nerve; a tightly wound and irritated nerve. To say things, truthful things, at least truthful to the average pure blood, was like driving a knife through Severus’s heart. He would not speak to Regulus, not even when he’d made attempts to repair their already distant friendship with letters and inquiries.

This rift did not bother Regulus so much that he missed Severus. They had never been particularly close despite Severus saying otherwise. Anyone with a brain could have worked out he only said those things to Sirius to get under his skin; apparently his own brother lacked a brain.

Perhaps he had been better sorted into Gryffindor after all.

In a way, Severus had been a mentor of sorts. He tutored him, taught him the layout of the castle, lent him old books despite Regulus being very capable of buying his own, and, on the off chance he hadn’t been with Lily, they’d occasionally take lunch together. Their “friendship” didn’t exactly extend past that surface, and neither one of them seemed inclined to do anything about that. Regulus would do just fine without him; if he wanted to have a lovesick puppy dog as a mentor he would’ve gladly taken James Potter. At least he knows what he’s doing in Defense.

“I’m not bossing you around,” Sirius challenged, knitting his brows together tightly. Regulus seemed to have nudged a touchy area. “I’m only trying to help you.”

“Well, do me a favor and stop it,” Regulus sneered, jerking away from Sirius and disappearing down the corridor. He looked over his shoulder, not an ounce of remorse in his body. “I don’t need help, especially from you.”

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

No matter how hard Sirius tried, his bad mood would not lift. The upcoming Quidditch tryouts, the Halloween ball, the lightning storm brewing outside the girls’ lavatory window – none of it was riling up his spirits the way he so desperately needed them to. If anything, they annoyed him. James wouldn’t shut up about being captain again, he could already feel Peter stalking after Edwina Rogue again, and this damned potion wouldn’t work.

They were three uneducated, inexperienced wizards who woke up and decided to become unregistered Animagi for the sake of their Werewolf companion. It was, of course, going toward a charitable cause; Sirius would do most anything to ease Remus’s pain. If being the idiot he was born to be was the way to do it, then so be it.

Remus had cracked down during their fourth year. If they wanted this potion to work then they were going to have to put effort into it. That meant soaking mandrake leaves in their mouths not a day or two out of the week. No. Remus woke them up with a hex to the arse and nearly forced the leaves into their mouths every day. By the time summer came around, the three boys slept with their hands behind their backs as a reflex.

Sirius wanted to try his hardest regardless. The older Remus got, the more taxing his transformations were. Sirius could tell it was school was coming with more difficulties, and his abilities to concentrate and micromanage were slimming. He had read somewhere that this change was natural as Werewolves mature into adults; their habits and schedules would be thrown off balance as they adapt to adulthood, and transformations would grow in discomfort. But Sirius wanted to ensure that he played his role in their friendship. He wanted to make sure he made this experience called life a bearable one for Remus.

Which meant holing up in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom before a transformation until James perfected what Remus had begun earlier that morning even though this taxing headache and bubbling irritability was getting the worst of him.

“Do you think it’ll work,” Peter squeaked, chewing his nails nervously.

“Asking for the tenth time isn’t going to change his answer, Pete,” Sirius groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

James worked in silence, reading Remus’s notes painstakingly slow.

“You know,” Peter began, positioning himself to face Sirius, “I saw something on Lupin’s desk this morning.”

“Uh huh,” Sirius uttered blankly, studying the dirt under his fingernails as if it were the next best thing to sliced bread.

“It looks like some sort of map,” he continued. “Well, I thought it was. I was looking over his shoulder when I saw it, but when I went back it was empty. Like he’d never been writing on it.”

Sirius frowned, “Why were you snooping in his things?”

No one should ever go through Remus’s things; he enjoyed his privacy. He deserved it, didn’t he? What right did Peter have in traipsing around his side of the room over a slip of parchment?

“I dunno,” Peter shrugged. “Looked really cool, I suppose. You know how meticulous Remus can be.”

“He isn’t meticulous,” Sirius snapped, now scowling at Peter from under the sink. James didn’t seem to be paying either one them the slightest attention.

Within the next few moments, lightning would strike. He’d been timing the storm; Divination had proven to be much more helpful when their teacher seemed interested in anything other than dream journals. Tracking lightning and thunder became his summer holiday hobby when he’d read that the autumn of 1975 would be full of wind gusts and thunderstorms. Perfect for the completion of their three-year-old potion.

“Don’t go through his things,” Sirius warned Peter.

Peter grimaced, “You go through his things all the time!”

“That’s because he asks me to bring him things, dummy.”

“No,” Peter sneered. “You just think you’re special ‘cause he likes you the most.”

James, facing away from the spectacle, rolled his eyes.

The topic of a paired Remus and Sirius was never spoken of. Whenever it had been, it led to arguments and weeklong grudges. Sirius seemed more temperamental about it than Remus, however, and James assumed this was because he’d been buried deeper in the closet than Remus. That being said, he would naturally be defensive of such a thing.

Nonetheless, James was curious. What friend wouldn’t be? How long had he known? He supposed since the Halloween Ball during their third
year. It seemed like ages ago when Sirius was just dripping with pure spite and jealousy. Ages since it was plain as day that he only disliked Julienne because of her closeness with Remus. Eons since they’d embraced in the hallway in a way lovers do after weeks apart.

Sirius didn’t hug James like that, and that was one of the many puzzle pieces he’d eventually put together. He didn’t hold his hands or wrists, didn’t lay in his bed and listen to him read his books, nor did he take naps in James’s lap. Whatever was going on between Remus and Sirius, it amounted to more than what they had with the rest of them.

And even though James was happy Sirius could think outside of his own little world for once, his heart clenched.

“You’re just mad because I’m special,” Sirius snickered.

“Damn right, you are,” Peter guffawed, throwing a wad of damp toilet tissue at Sirius’s face.

Behind James, a wrestling match ensued. Leave it to the Marauders to roll around on a bathroom floor together. Perhaps these were things Lily had been deterred by, James wondered.

“When you two are finished molesting each other,” James called, eyes fixated on the storm brewing outside, “I’d like to talk with you.”

Sirius, overpowered by the hefty Peter, huffed in defeat as Peter laughed.

“You two know the risks of this,” James asked, sounding, for the first time, a bit worried. “I mean, if Remus didn’t get this right, we could be stuck in a mutant form for the rest of our lives.”

Peter stared at the floor bashfully, now becoming aware of the sacrifices they were making for a single boy. This choice was heavy; it hadn’t been like everything else they’d decided up to that point. A reckless adventure here and a practical joke there never hurt anyone. It at least didn’t gravelly injure anyone. There weren’t legal risks or, on normal occasions, health risks. Even if the potion did work, what if Remus attacked them anyway? They didn’t know their forms; they were walking in blind.

“I wouldn’t mind being a Centaur,” Sirius declared proudly, stuffing his hands in his pockets. Though his voice held an edge of uncertainty. “What if I’m not a horse, though? Or what if the wrong end doesn’t transform?”

Peter and James scowled at him, James saying, “Anyways…”

“I’m ready,” Peter stated firmly. “Remus needs me.”

James felt a smile, however small it had been, bud on his face. Here Peter was now, about to illegally drink a potion which would turn him into an unknown animal, perhaps magical or non-magical, and would then actively seek out a carnivorous Werewolf on school grounds. Imagine telling an eleven-year-old Peter Pettigrew what he’d been up to all those years with the Marauders; he would’ve pissed himself.

“You think we’d back out now,” Sirius questioned, genuinely confused. “After he nearly choked me to death with putrid mandrake leaves for an entire school year?”

“Honestly,” Peter sighed, “he couldn’t have been that menacing, Sirius.”

James and Sirius, shocked, turned toward Peter when James asked, “Have you ever been yelled at by Remus before?”

“Rem doesn’t scare me,” Peter scoffed, clearly amused by the thought of an angry Remus.

Sirius raised his eyebrows, “I take that as a no.”

Their conversation was cut short by a clap of thunder, lightning flashing across the sky. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius swore he saw Peter jump a few inches. The vials in front of them, each designated specifically, turning a bright shade of crimson. James thumbed through the pages of Remus’s journal, scanning words and paragraph long explanations that could have easily summed up what was happening in a sentence or two. Leave it to Remus to overexplain in states of urgencies.

Peter took a shaky breath, “Are you scared?”

James fiddled with his sleeve, fingers fidgeting with loose strings and lint. Sirius knew the answer James refused to voice. He knew that, in asking that very question, Peter was only seeking company in his own fears. And deep down, Sirius knew that this overcompensation regarding his confidence was just some silly front to convince himself that there were no inhibitions.

Would this even help Remus? Would it soothe his pain? What were the statistics – the likelihood of this entire fiasco going according to plan?
But these truths were buried deep beneath a surface he was unable to break at the time, so he saddled up and pushed onward. Remus would be transforming any minute, and he didn’t intend on leaving him to his own devices all night.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Remus didn’t want to wake up. He didn’t want to think. He didn’t want to move. The thought of opening his eyes pained him so badly that he decided to sit in voluntary darkness till Madame Pomfrey decided to show up. Everything hurt, though this wasn’t unusual. Every muscle was on fire, every bone crying bloody murder. There were a few lesions here and there that leaked crimson droplets; there might have been a nasty gash on his chest. Transformations were cruel, and they wouldn’t be getting better any time soon.

He inhaled deeply, ruffling at the scent of dying pine and soil. There was a warmth spreading across his face; the sun was particularly ruthless that morning. The Shack was usually a wonderful host and hid Remus from morning’s rays. He hated when his recovery process was interrupted by sunlight or birds. He groaned, now too awake to even consider dozing back off. The heat from the sun and the dampness pressing into his side was proving to be too much of a nuisance. It took every ounce of energy the wolf left him to take a peek.

He shot into a sitting position, ignoring the white-hot pain jolting through his body.

Remus found himself in the middle of the forest, leaves drooping from their branches and swaying in the autumn breeze. Gone was the tiny Shrieking Shack, replaced by the expansion of oak trees and serpentine roots. He noticed the dampness beneath him had only been soil, and the warmth spreading over his face had been, in fact, the disruptive morning beams. There was no hustle and bustle of castle life nearby, at least none that he could hear. How had he escaped the shack?

Terror wracked through his body; had he attacked someone? Was the blood on his body his very own, or had it been a victim’s? Tremors trekked from the tip of his head down to the tips of his toes, his skin paling and heart plunging. He forced himself to remember anything from the transformation. A sound, a smell, or even a flicker of movement that might have interested him for a fraction of a second. Nothing came to mind, no matter how much he willed it to be different.

In a way, he decided, it was good. If the wolf managed to attack a human Remus was sure it would’ve enjoyed rubbing it in his face or keeping some sort of memento to remind itself of its first capture. It was ferally ironic in that sense, but Remus hated giving it more credit than it warranted. He tried calming himself, swearing that if he’d been a murderer he would remember. One doesn’t just rip a human being in half and feast on its entrails and throws the memory in the garbage. It festers in its conscience.

There was a tingling sensation in his stomach that climbed into his chest. It reminded him of snitches in his stomach, soft and gently tickling everything they touched. However, he also became hyperaware of the situation he’d been in. How would a student react to finding a naked Remus Lupin, battered and bloody, in the middle of the Forbidden Forest? Would they report him? Taunt him? Beat him some more? He was in no condition to fend for himself; he could hardly stand on his own.

Then it heated. The sensation of snitches quickly averted to comfort and relief, like cool ocean water washing over him, and he had the faintest notion that Sirius was close by. There was no mistaking that feeling. He’d know it like a shot in the dark. Yet, Sirius shouldn’t have been in the Forbidden Forest so early in the morning; he hardly woke up on time for classes. Nervousness poked at his insides.

Remus glanced from left to right, searching for his eyes or maybe his hair. He could nearly smell him and that wonderful cologne he’d been buying that made him smell straight out of a Hollywood movie, and he made a move to stand when a twig snapped in the distance.

“Sirius,” he called, more so out of fear than hope. If it had been anything, he willed, let it be him.

A great, black mass of hair pranced from behind a tree and Remus faltered. A dog in the forbidden forest? It must have been from the village; there was no explanation. Centaurs didn’t own animals of this kind – domesticable animals. Besides, this dog seemed able to handle itself quite well judging by the way it circled Remus in a way that reminded him of scrutiny. It had floppy ears and a long snout that huffed indignantly? Not to mention the impossible amount of hair all over it. Remus sighed distantly, simultaneously relieved and disappointed that it had only been this massive stray dog.

Remus smiled softly, despite this disappointment.

“Come here, pupper,” he called, whistling to grab its attention. “Come on. Here, boy!”

It cocked its head to the side, apparently narrowing its eyes in annoyance. Remus frowned. He’d never been glared at by a dog before. On instinct, he snapped his fingers at it in hopes that would come near to him; he’d never really gotten close to one before.
Instead of edging closer to a wounded Remus, it planted its butt firmly on the ground with another huff. Perhaps Remus was beginning to imagine things; the transformation was a bit rough. He didn’t think dogs could huff or glare, they certainly didn’t narrow their eyes at someone for simply calling them. Of course, it was natural for dogs to be a bit wary around new humans, but the massive one in front of him appeared to be going out of his way to keep its distance.

“Come here, you great furball,” Remus whined, falling onto his back with a sigh of defeat.

Not even mother nature wanted to get near to him in his current state, and he didn’t blame her. He knew he didn’t smell the finest after transformations, and wallowing in wet dirt probably wasn’t helping his case either. If a stray dog couldn’t stand to be near him then who was Remus to judge?

Remus felt hot breath splaying across his forehead and a wetness on his temple. The dog now stood over him, gazing down at him with inquisitive gray eyes and, Remus swore it was, a lolling smile. Did dogs smile? Could they loll? He would be sure to ask Poppy for a psychological evaluation; the transformations were really starting to take a toll.

“I didn’t even hear you come over here,” Remus murmured, reaching up and scratching behind its ear. “Must’ve been the pads on your feet or something.”

As if responding, it placed its paw on his forehead, whining softly. There was a scuttle and a soft squeak, a soft weight scurrying across Remus’s body. He looked down, a pair of bright blue eyes staring back at him. Whiskers tickled his chin, a wet nose sniffing him.
It took Remus a moment to find out that it had been a rat, and a rather large rat at that rate. Typically, he would have screamed; rats were nasty little creatures that carried all sorts of diseases and germs, and having one crawling all over your open wounds isn’t the best way to spend a Friday morning in October. Its claws were cold, and he could feel it breathing on his skin; the whiskers were poking in his gashes, and God knew how many viruses were now coursing through his bloodstream. He groaned.

A fuzzy, fat rat with bright, blue eyes and a furry ball of fur with milky, gray eyes were now keeping Remus company until he found the strength to trek back to the Shrieking Shack. He closed his eyes and inhaled, the scent of slightly damp dog and straw gushing in the air.
Perhaps they could help him come up with some sort of excuse before Poppy blew a fuse or maybe lead him back to the school. The dog seemed more inclined to help him; it wouldn’t stop licking the side of his face, but something inside Remus couldn’t bear to make it stop.

He didn’t want to hurt its feelings.

Behind him, there was the crackling of twigs and leaves beneath heavy footsteps. Neither the dog nor the rat seemed to bother by the movement despite Remus’s newfound apprehension. Nevertheless, he kept his eyes shut. The mentality of “if I can’t see it, it can’t see me” seemed rather attractive. From Hagrid’s creatures roaming about to loose Centaurs, Remus wondered what had come to tear him to shreds.

Fang, perhaps? No, he’d more likely nibble on one of his fingers than do any lasting damage. Fang might as well have been a teacup Yorkie; he was all bark and no bite. Maybe a Thestral or a troll? Whatever it had been, Remus hoped it’d make his death quick. The morning sun was really starting to irritate his rather sensitive skin.

On a whim, he opened his eyes just a smidge – just enough to catch a glimpse of the creature towering above him.

It was a beautiful stag with serpentine, ivory antlers that looked like they could rip you apart with a simple nod of its head. It’s eyes, bright and amused, were a shade of brown that nearly missed the green mark. In a way, Remus thought, they were quite similar to James’s eyes. It even had that little speck of dark brown in the left eye near the pupil that Lily always made fun. Remus wished he had some sort of camera; that way he could show James his natural doppelganger.

Actually, if Remus looked at each of those animals, they had something in common with each of his best friends. The stag and its eyes were an explanation enough. The dog and Sirius shared the same translucent pair of gray eyes and morbid amount of nearly jet-black hair. Remus thought it was unfair to compare Peter’s weight with the rat’s, as most rats were fat in the first place, but its eyes were the same as his as well. Remus was beginning to see an odd trend.

He reached up and patted the stag on the chest, smiling at the warmth beneath his fingertips.

“I suppose you three are friends then,” Remus mused, intrigued by these animals more and more by the second.

The dog barked proudly, placing the pads of its feet on Remus’s chest. Remus truly did enjoy the company of the dog; it was awfully familiar and comforting. It seemed to reciprocate the gesture; it hadn’t left his side since strolling up beside him all those minutes ago. The stag tilted its head as if debating his choices – the rat or the dog – before nudging Remus’s shoulder. It had been bleeding quite a bit since he’d woken up and moved around; Madame Pomfrey would have a hay day with his recovery this time.

“You’re an odd trio,” he pointed out offhandedly, letting his hand fall to his side and shutting his eyes.

The journey back to the Shack would surely be a gruesome one. Hopefully, his room would still be intact. The school had been kind enough to replace the mattress on the bed; the old one wreaked of urine and blood. Madame Pomfrey insisted that Remus’s transformation conditions were comfortable enough to ensure no viral infection would kill him before he graduated.

“Don’t you think we’re an odd quartet?” James?

Remus opened his eyes to find a smug looking James Potter hovering above him where the stag once stood, hazel eyes and mischievous smirk all in place.

“If you’d let Sirius eat me earlier then no, you would have been a trio!”

Peter hobbled up to his feet, shaking off dry leaves and dirt from an old sweater. He appeared a bit more disheveled and flustered than James, most likely because of his short-lived, near death experience earlier that day; Remus would have to hear that story.

“You tasted like arse sweat. I would never have eaten you.”

Remus felt something bud in his stomach at the sound of Sirius’s voice and smiled. There they were, three uneducated, inexperienced wizards who could now call themselves Animagi, standing in front of Remus with bright, confident smiles on each one of their faces. This meant that the potion had been successful. This meant that they had made it through the night. This meant that their theory had been true.

“How was it,” Peter asked, pulling off his jumper and sliding it over Remus’s lanky frame.

“I don’t remember much,” he admitted bashfully. “It’ll come around here sooner or later.” He paused, looking at the ground. There was a question that needed answering. “Did I… did I hurt someone?”

The other boys looked amongst one another, hoping that one would take the lead for that particular question, and Remus withered.

“We all had to partake in watching you shit every once in a while,” Sirius admitted, “but that’s about as bad as it got.”

Peter snickered, “Yeah, we called you Moony for the rest of the night.”

“You mean, you called him Moony for the rest of the night,” James piped up, slipping an arm around Remus and gently pulling him to his feet.

“No, James, I must admit it was rather catchy,” Sirius declared, coming around the other side of Remus and linking an arm around him protectively. “Why do we always find ourselves in this situation, Moony.”

“Shut up, before you wear it out,” James snapped.

“You’re just mad you’ve got prongs jabbed in your forehead!”

“Yeah, well, at least I’m not padfooted!”

“That isn’t even a word, Sirius,” Remus exclaimed.

“I’ve got a worm for a tail,” Peter shrieked. “James is this great, big deer and Sirius is an intimidating mutt, and what am I? A fucking rat!”

Remus smiled to himself, much more comforted by the lull of their arguing than the looming castle just paces ahead of them. Whether it be over their new nicknames or events that had occurred during the Full Moon, Remus didn’t care. All he knew was that the smell of Peter’s old sweater had never been more relieving, and, for once, Sirius could manage to carry Remus’s fat arse back to the Shrieking Shack without complaining.

“Thank you,” he said plainly, looking at each of them with considerate eyes.

He had the boy with a worm as a tail, a boy with prongs in his forehead, and a pad footed best friend.

What more could he have asked for?

Well, a nice cup of tea and a chocolate bar might have helped.

Chapter Text

12 Grimmauld Place, December 1975

Walburga Alvah Black. That’s what was written across her portrait frame in the north hallway. According to Orion’s library, her name descended from German lineage, meaning “ruler of the fortress.” Suiting, Sirius thought. She fulfilled that role quite well in his sixteen agonizing years on the planet. From bossing Kreacher around to whipping the pads of his fingers off, Walburga ran her house like a military base. However, Sirius thought her middle name revealed her true nature. Alvah. It was Hebrew, believe it or not, and it meant “evil.” He could imagine Walburga and her cruelty in much more vivid detail than her ability to run a household while her husband rummaged away in his office.

She’d been stuffing her face with black pudding and stewed potatoes, not letting herself get a breath in before filling up on the next spoonful. For the first time in what Sirius considered a lifetime, Walburga had dressed up for an occasion. Of course, that occasion was to bless the newly wed couple, Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy, and accommodate her other little niece, Bella.

By dress up, Sirius meant that she’d managed to look half decent. Though he wondered why Walburga always saw fit to dress for a funeral. It was Christmas Eve, for Christ’s sake. He looked up at the sky, sending a silent apology to the Big Man in the clouds. She had a floor length, three layered dress that was just as black as night, lace dawning upon the cuffs and neckline. He was sure that the prayer beads dangling from her wrist were more antique than anything else in that God forsaken house – he grimaced – and the crucifixion necklace was, honestly, a nice touch.

Sirius noticed that his cousin, Bellatrix, dawned similar attire. She decided that a simple black dress and leather corset was the perfect attire to celebrate their Lord and Savior that holiday evening, not bothering to remove her rather grotesque rings and other jewels that would most definitely make a Holy man uncomfortable. Bella had always been a bit unorthodox in her fashion; a bit more racy is what James would call it. Perhaps she considered it attractive. Hey, Sirius thought, to each his own.

Besides, Sirius wasn’t one to talk. He considered ugly, orange sweaters and khaki pants on a tall and lanky Gryffindor quite attractive. Hell, he considered anything on Moony attractive from sweaters to dress robes, even his boxers. But Sirius wouldn’t delve into that territory. He was Christian enough to respect Jesus on his own birthday night. He settled in his seat, pushing away thoughts of Remus and his skin, his breath, his laughter, his smile – everything that had to do with him. Thoughts like those were far too lewd for Christmas. Far, far too lewd.

Which was exactly what tempted his imagination to conjure more scenarios of Remus in different scandalous attire.
Get a grip, he scolded himself. You’re acting like a horny teenager.

But he was a horny teenager. A horny teenager who already missed Moony like no tomorrow and couldn’t wait to hop back on the train and fist his fingers into his long, tawny –

“Sirius,” Uncle Alphard nudged his nephew harshly, jerking him from his reverie.

Sirius blinked, focusing in on the world around him. The Malfoy’s were staring intently at their cousin, appearing quite peeved as they must’ve been asking him all sorts of questions because he was just that interesting. But it was better than hearing his puny little brother rant and rave about measures and preludes.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” he sighed, snatching his cup and knocking back quite a bit of eggnog. “My mind is somewhere else.”

“Clearly,” Regulus muttered, shoving a forkful of beans into his mouth.

Sirius administered a hard kick to the shins from under the table, “At least it’s not up my –”

“Cissy was just wondering how Quidditch was going,” Uncle Alphard cut him off swiftly, chuckling nervously to defuse a roiling Walburga.
“Lucius told me you were a rather decent beater.”

Sirius spared a glance at the latest addition to the family, noticing the permanent grimace he’d seemed to become accustomed to whenever in the direct vicinity of Walburga. If anyone had been checked out of the conversation, it had been Lucius. He didn’t speak much unless it was Narcissa, which was completely fine in Sirius’s book. The less of them the better, but if he had to be in a room with all of them then it had better be in silence. Besides, Lucius’s voice was highly annoying, much like his wife’s.

“I was at one point, yes,” Sirius admitted, crossing his legs.

“Was,” Narcissa squawked. “What do you mean, was?”

Sirius narrowed his eyes at her, “Maybe some of us retained our tutoring, however, I’ll refresh your memory, Cissy.” She glared at him. “Was is both the first- and third-person singular past of be. To be something, yes? But I wouldn’t say something as bumbling as, I be a good beater. No, I’ve moved past that, unlike some of us. I would say, I am a good beater. But since I no longer am a beater, I would simply say at one point I had been. Which means, the correct grammar would be to say that I was.”

A thrumming silence followed his tangent, Alphard merely smirking into his napkin than giving any remark.

Sirius: one point. The Black-Malfoy Family: zero.

“A smart one, he is,” Lucius spat, clearly not telling the full truth.

Well, if Sirius were concerned, and he wasn’t, then he would tell that babbling idiot to shove it where the sun doesn’t fucking shine because out of every bint he could have married he chose Narcissa Black – the oaf. On a good day, she might have been able to spell Salazar Slytherin without writing it down, but that’s after sounding it out letter by letter two minutes prior. Sirius was smart, Remus said so, and that was all he needed in the world. Validation from someone as persnickety as Lucius Malfoy wasn’t worth a single note of the Black family fortune.

“Yes, well, that’s what happens when you pay attention during lessons instead of hexing half of your hair black.”

Walburga gasped, used to this type of behavior from Sirius but not in public. He’d never spoken so out of turn. Perhaps he did behind the safety of his room, but never to a relative’s face. Her blood curled.

Bellatrix cut in, “Honestly, Aunt Walburga, you’ve raised him so much like yourself.”

“He knows nothing, yet thinks he knows everything,” Narcissa growled, narrowing her eyes at her baby cousin. Sirius regarded her as a little kitten missing its front teeth; harmless.

Alphard, tired of the hostility, raised his cup, “I’d say he’d make a wonderful political leader!”

Sirius rolled his eyes, “I’d rather lock myself in a room with my mother, Narcissa, and Bellatrix at once with no means of suicide.”

Lucius, who must’ve shared this single sentiment with a young Sirius, hid his grin with a mouthful of cabbage. There was no telling what had been brewing in his wife’s brain, and it had been better just to remain under the radar rather than stir the pot. He kept to himself, and he would continue to do so until dinner concluded. However, based on the rate of conversation it would be a long night.

“Disrespectful brat,” Walburga hissed, crumpling her napkin and throwing it on the table. “I rue the day you were born. Embarrassing me in front of my family! What on earth is wrong with you?”

Alphard leaned back in his seat, “If there’s something wrong with the bitch, then there’s bound to be something wrong with the pup.”

Even Orion cracked a coy smile.

This Christmas was going to hell. Sirius sent his dearest apologies to Jesus and his family, but there was no use in trying to remain a good Christian that night. He wanted to blow his brains out if he heard Narcissa shriek at his obscenities one more time.

“Alphard,” Narcissa wailed. “How could you?”

Her brother raised his hands in mock surrender, “I was only teasing Cissy, I promise.”

Sirius, whether he meant to or not, knew deep down that there wasn’t a single ounce of remorse in his uncle’s body, and he admired him even more than he had before. Sirius had never been opposed to his uncle; during his childhood, he would drop by every now and then with shiny gists and lots of chocolates to fatten up his nephew. In fact, he’d gotten his very first Nose Biting Teacup from Alphard at the ripe age of seven. He claimed Sirius needed to build character; it built something, for sure.

Regulus, peeved, settled his gaze on her older brother, “Look at what you’ve done, Sirius.”

“No, itty brother,” Sirius chided, grinning from ear to ear. “This is the Black family in its natural habitat. Observe the bumbling baboons, now. Take notes!”

Regulus raised his chin defiantly, “You’re foul.”
“And you’re ignorant.”

There was no use in trying to hide their comments, the shouting from further along the table smothered any hope at a normal conversation. Walburga had been admonishing her brother, Narcissa and Bellatrix joining in every now and then with their one cent, because Sirius knew they lacked the brain cell for another. Their voices were raised much higher than any normal conversation might allow, but he had to remind himself that this was far from a normal Christmas dinner. From shouting at Narcissa to shouting at Alphard, Sirius basked in the glory of chaos he ignited.

Next time they’d think twice before interrupting thoughts of Remus.

“Ignorance,” Orion commented offhandedly, not bothering to know if anyone had been listening to a word he said, “the root and stem of all evil.”

“Sirius must be the ignorant one, I suppose,” Regulus sneered, throwing his silverware down.

Orion was a hunter, and this was his bait. Named after the constellation, his tactics were similar to the Greek Mythology behind his name. He, as his wife, lived up to his reputation. If Sirius had reveled in the attention, basked in the flattery, there would be some backhanded insult to knock him down to size; public humiliation had always been one of Orion’s mastered skills. The man knew how to make a fool of anyone. Especially Sirius.

But Sirius, now interested in this conversation with his family, huffed his chest and feigned confidence. Bellatrix, who’d checked out of the theatrics thus far, suddenly tuned in, her brows knitting together tightly.

“You would be surprised how you two measure up to one another,” Orion conceded, wiping the corners of his mouth and pushing away an
empty plate.

“Orion,” Walburga warned, voice dangerously low.

“Walburga,” he replied, uninterested in anything she had to say. She might have been the ruler of this house, but Orion’s word was the final word. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. Ever.

“The Dark Lord once told me what the mind doesn't understand, it worships or fears,” Bellatrix purred, licking her lips as she watched her little cousin squirm under her gaze.

“Thank you for giving me the proper information to categorize you, Bella,” Sirius cooed, waving a dismissive hand toward his cousin.

“Sirius,” his mother snapped, “go to your room.”

He blanched, “What?”

“He’d be quite interested in your son, Auntie Walburga,” Bellatrix hummed, wand now twirling between her skeletal fingers. But no one had been listening to her aside from Orion. Walburga had stiffened, her silverware long forgotten, and dark, gray eyes landed on her niece.

“Enough, Bella,” she hissed. “The dinn—”

“How is Thomas these days, Bellatrix,” Orion interrupted his wife coolly, crossing his arms across his chest lazily. Walburga scoffed, affronted by her husband’s coyness. “Last I heard from him was back in my school days. He was much younger then, I suppose. He’s been busy as of late, hasn’t he?”

“We don’t call him Thomas anymore,” Bellatrix corrected her uncle, feigning respect as best she could.

There was no love lost between Orion and any of his wife’s relatives. He disliked Bellatrix the most, however, and made no move to hide this distaste. He considered her, as many others did as well, a flight risk. She’d been a raving lunatic since her adolescence, according to Orion, and should have been disciplined much more harshly than Druella could ever think of. No, Orion did not like Bellatrix at all.

“I suppose he thinks himself much too powerful for such a mundane name, doesn’t he,” Orion questioned. Bellatrix made a guttural sound, one that oddly reminded Sirius of Remus when the full moon approached.

“You know what his preferred name is, Uncle.”

“I said go to your room, Sirius,” Walburga repeated. “And don’t even think about coming out.”

Rage made Sirius’s toes curl within his shoes, skin pulled taut over his knuckles as he seethed.

“Why am I being punished when Regulus was the –”

“Don’t you bring your brother into this,” she shouted hysterically. “Reggie, honey, please go up to your room.”

“Why the fuck should I not bring him into this,” he screamed back, not caring if all of London could hear him. “All you ever do is protect perfect little Reggie from everything. What about me, eh? What about your first son?”

“You were a mistake! A bitter, repugnant mistake that I should have smothered the moment your blinked,” she barked. “You’re disrespectful and vulgar, and you insist on living to spite me – you always have!”

“I spite you?” Sirius couldn’t believe his ears. A jolt of fury flashed through him and whatever sense of control he’d ever learned to harbor had been tossed out the window. He stood from his chair, not caring that it fell over. “You hate me. You’ve always hated me, so just admit it.”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” she scoffed. “I don’t hate you. You don’t matter enough for me to hate you. Now, I’ll say it one more time. Go. To. Your. Room.”

Sirius quieted, the anger lulling to a low hum in his ears and the snitches turning to deadened quaffles. He’d always had the notion that
Walburga didn’t care much for him. The lack of love, affection, and niceties. The bitterness and the spite combined with her unusual forms of discipline. For the longest time, he’d tried to convince himself that there was a small part of Walburga Alvah Black that might have held some hope for her own some. Just the tiniest bit of care. She’d never told him outright that he didn’t matter. Not until that night.

“Then I suppose it doesn’t matter that I’m friends with a shit-ton of Muggle loving bastards, right,” he snickered. “Or what about the house elves I’ve befriended? How about the Muggle-born girl my best friend is in love with?”

Bellatrix bared her teeth, a sign Sirius should’ve taken to heart.

“Enough,” his mother ordered. “To your room!”

“What about me joining the Potter’s every Easter instead of coming home to this… this bloody nightmare of a home, eh?”

Regulus looked around the table nervously, gauging the faces of his guests to figure out what was to be done in a situation like this. He’d never seen his brother so angry. Never in all his life.

“This family is manic,” he declared. “You’re all absolutely insane! You worship dark magic and holler about blood purity.”

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Bellatrix seethed.

Sirius sputtered, “Right? You wouldn’t know right from wrong if a Death Eater spelled it out in the sky?”

Lucius dabbed the corners of his mouth, sending a wary glance towards his new uncle-in-law. Orion, now mildly interested, ignored his glances.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” she growled. “Your parents must have taught you that there are—”

“The world is not split down the middle,” Sirius howled, now furious that his cousin could be so blind. He once managed to think that it had only been a contained incident, that, perhaps, it was only his mother and father who’d been as crazed about blood-purity. But Bellatrix and the others were proving him wrong. This hadn’t been a quarantined epidemic. It was spreading like wildfire. “Believe it or not, there is more to life than Death Eaters and Muggles.”

“Fool,” Lucius barked. “Of course you, with your bloody Gryffindor insolence, would give humanity more credit than it deserves. You’d be surprised just how black and white reality is.”

“As if you would fucking know what the world consists of,” Sirius snorted. “You’ve been too busy trying to shove your tongue down poor Cissy’s throat or up that Voldemort’s ar—"

Bellatrix screeched, “Shut your mouth! You dare speak his name with your worthless lips. How dare you defame it with your Muggle loving tongue —”

Before Sirius could do anything about it, her wand had been drawn and a curse muttered so fast that her thin lips didn’t move an inch.
Blinding red light lit up the Black family dining room, drowning whatever flames had flickered from their candle wicks; Narcissa may have screamed and, perhaps, Walburga cried out of fear.

Sirius had never been tortured before. Not really, when he had the chance to think about it. Sure, Walburga and Orion took pleasure in throttling their son – sometimes just for shits and giggles. They didn’t mind when he was in discomfort or distress, in fact, he believed they thrived from that fact. He went without meals some nights and would be forced to remain in his room for an indefinite amount of time. He’d even been subjected to Regulus’s piano playing. But that hadn’t been torture.

Bellatrix performing the Crucio on her baby cousin had been. There was nothing more or less to say other than the curse had been pure torture. It had been, initially, overwhelming. Every nerve ending was being burned by tiny daggers. The pain consumed him, every inch of his body, until he forgot his own name, forgot the date, and forgot where the hell he was. He could distantly imagine knives slicing every part of his body, even parts he’d never known existed. There was nothing to do but scream and hope it ended, pray that Jesus might forgive him for thinking of Remus in that way, and scream some more. He felt as if all the blood were rushing to his head, that his eyes were most definitely going to burst out of his skull.

It couldn’t have ended sooner. Even after his cousin had lowered her wand, a fiery sensation ran up and down his body. Tremors crawled up his spine and through his bones; he couldn’t stop convulsing. Sirius wished he could just fold up on himself bit by bit. Piece by piece until he disappeared under the stares of the Black-Malfoy family. Parts of him wished she’d just killed him, but another part, the part he may dare say controlled his urges, was glad she’d cursed him. It affirmed his beliefs, his longstanding opinion on his distant family.

He concluded he was not entitled to any opinion, because that would make him ignorant. He was entitled to this informed, experienced opinion with solid evidence backing it up. His family was made up of absolute dark magic worshipping lunatics who’d do anything to enforce their prejudiced opinions. The evidence was within Bellatrix. It was in his father’s merciless eyes. It was in Lucius’s sneer. It was in Narcissa’s denial. It was even in Regulus, torn down the middle between helping his brother or risk getting cursed himself.

“Besmirch his name again and I’ll make you wish I’d killed you,” Bellatrix roared, disappearing out the front door.

Alphard took the chance to fall to his knees beside a wounded Sirius, who, really, hadn’t truly been wounded at all. The worst part about the Unforgivable’s is that they feign injury or competence. Crucio left no abrasions, The Killing Curse left no trace, and Imperio was an illusion. The pain his nephew had been feeling was all a delusion, a hallucination.

“Siri… Sirius,” Regulus stammered, clambering out of his chair and crawling to his brother.

Regulus was young and impressionable. He was malleable and vulnerable. He was just Regulus, thrown in the midst of this chaotic and downright insane family. Sirius could’ve lied and said that it was an annoyance having his baby brother mollycoddle him in a moment of weakness. What sixteen-year-old boy would need his thirteen-year-old brother to carry him to his room with his uncle? It was Sirius who needed to be there for Regulus, not the other way around.

But the effects of the curse were too strong, and the presence of Reggie far too calming. He missed his brother, and he missed him dearly. It weighed heavy on his heart that this was the only way to bring them together those days.

He felt the plushness of his mattress against his spine, the warm fabric of Remus’s quilt on his skin. They’d carried him all the way to his room. Somewhere in the hallway, Kreacher was wailing about putting Walburga at risk, that Bellatrix was a danger to the home. Sirius had the inclination to agree with Kreacher.

Regulus meddled with Sirius’s clothes, changing him into what felt like a pair of sweatpants and James’s Chudley Cannons sweater. He didn’t have to open his eyes to know that it was an ugly shade of orange, but it couldn’t be worse than Remus’s God-awful Christmas jumper.

Yet, on some twisted level, Sirius wished it had been the Christmas sweater. In fact, he almost called Regulus back into his bedroom and ordered him to search through his closet until he found it. Sure, it had been color blocked to hell, and the reindeer were all crooked. Yes, they now joked that it was a sweater commemorating Prongs, the deer wonder. And yes, it smelled like the library and, maybe, some chocolate, but those were all the things that made it so damn appealing.

Through this thought process, Sirius could hear bits and pieces of an argument ensuing downstairs, most likely in the drawing room. Walburga’s voice could be heard over her brother’s, shouting about one thing or another. Sirius presumed it was that he might have knocked over the port on her pearly white table cloths, or perhaps he’d streaked across her freshly polished floor. She’d be up in a moment to complain about it; he decided not to use his energy trying to figure out what had gotten her so upset. The only conclusion was that Sirius had done something. Sirius always did something.

“Y-You can’t just do that,” Regulus cried. “He’s my brother!”

Footsteps were echoing throughout the hallways. Regulus’s voice and Walburga’s screeching grew louder.

“I will not see my nephew subjected to such treatment,” Alphard crooned. “Get out of my way, Walburga.”

“You don’t just get to waltz into my home and make decisions for my son,” Walburga howled.

Sirius tried sitting up on his bed, but the blood merely rushed back to his ears and the ringing begun. Too tired. Must sleep.

“… doesn’t matter to you, anyway,” Alphard must’ve pointed out here or there, somewhere in there. He made a good point, Sirius thought vaguely. She said it herself.

There was a tug at his heart. So, it had been true, then. Walburga truly denounced his existence that much. He didn’t matter to her. Never did. The puzzle pieces that he’d hid from himself came into plain view, and he was forced to look reality in the face. Perhaps it truly was as black and white as Lucius claimed it had been. For a mother to repulse one son and adore the other. What had Sirius done?

“That… that doesn’t have anything t-to do with this,” Walburga barked. “He is my son, not yours. It isn’t my fault you never married a worthy mate.”

“I’m not a dog, Walburga, I don’t breed,” her brother bit back. “And, I’ll have you know, I’ve two daughters of my own.”

“Since when!”

“Just because I don’t update you on my life doesn’t mean that it isn’t in motion,” he retorted.

There was a dull thud in Sirius’s room and the click of his closet door. Alphard must’ve been getting Remus’s sweater for him; the man could read minds!

“What are their names,” Walburga asked, trying to veer her own brother off course. It did little to sway him. Sirius could hear his clothes flopping in a suitcase. Where were they going? St. Mungo’s? The curse couldn’t have been that bad, could it? Was Bellatrix just that strong?

“So you can size them up and categorize them as you’ve done with your own sons? No, thank you,” Alphard snickered.

Sirius felt the bed dip beside him. Alphard’s cologne always smelled lovely, like water. Water, of course, didn’t have a particular smell. It smelled… watery. But, if it had had a distinct smell, he would describe Uncle Alphard, who always smelled fresh and cool like the ocean. He was also very warm. When he pulled Sirius into a standing position, the heat from his skin felt like a heating pad of sorts. It was very comforting.

“Where are you even taking him,” Regulus pleaded. “He can’t make the apparition back to France. He’ll get splinched.”

Alphard chuckled, pulling Sirius along, “I see you’ve been paying attention in school. Attaboy.”

“I won’t allow this! You can’t take my son away from me.”

“Or what?”

Sirius snickered in spite of the situation he found himself in. What could Walburga do this time? Hex her own brother? Hex her child? Hex the other for getting in the way? Of course she could do all of that, and Sirius didn’t doubt that the temptation wasn’t a fleeting possibility in that twisted little head of hers. However, of all the things he knew of Uncle Alphard, being an impeccable dueler was one of them, and, if there was truly no love lost between the brother and sister, Alphard would surely disarm her before she even got the chance to grasp her wand.

When Walburga gave no answer, Alphard pressed on. Regulus protested here and there, following his brother until they reached the threshold of 12 Grimmauld Place. In Sirius’s chest, there was a tug. It had come to this? Running away from home? More like being carried away from home, but it was all the same. Did he want to leave Regulus with Walburga? Deep down, he knew his brother wouldn’t face the abuse he had, and there wasn’t much to worry about seeing as though his brother was the beacon of perfection in his mother’s eyes. So what was there to fret over?

Regulus sputtered for a moment, unsure of what to say. What could he have said? Don’t go?

Alphard patted Sirius’s cheek, “Where are we going?”

Well, there was only one place to go, Sirius thought.

Home.

Chapter Text

Potter Manor, December 1975

Sirius adored libraries. He hated reading.

He adored the smell of old parchment mixed with Euphemia’s perfume. He hated memorizing line after line of tedious information for school.

Sirius adored the crackle of the broken spine, the splintering beneath his fingers. He hated when James decided folding the top corners was a sufficient substitute for a bookmark.

He adored watching Remus’s amber eyes flicker from word to word, scanning paragraph upon paragraph. He hated when he was too engrossed in his poetry to pay him any attention.

He loved their library. He hated how much it reminded him of Remus.

Sirius adored the Potter’s. He hated their pity.

“I understand if you don’t feel comfortable taking him in, given the circumstances,” Alphard conceded, watching the fire crackle behind the hearth.

Fleamont, hair wild and glasses askew, offered a glass of water to his guest, “Sirius is welcome here. He always has been.”
Euphemia strode in then, a small tray balanced on her right hand and a warm towel folded in her left. She tended to Sirius silently, dabbing the sweat from his forehead and neck, tucking away damp strands of hair. Sirius allowed her, mumbling incoherent apologies every now and then for barging in so unexpectedly.

“Yes, but,” Alphard took a long gulp of water, “not in this context.”

Euphemia, affronted, glowered at Alphard, “Sirius is always welcome here. It’s been like a second home to him.”

Alphard threw his hands up in defense, “I don’t mean to offend, Mrs. Potter. I was only saying that there’s certain baggage coming along with this particular visit.”

Fleamont, who’d been fairly quiet since their arrival save for the pleasantries and general responses, moved to sit in the old, red armchair. He raked his messy gray hair away from his face, rings catching in curls effectively along the way. He wore a troubled expression, confusion laced with unease – concern could have been a great word.

“Does his Mother know he’s here,” he asked softly.

“I think she’ll figure it out in the morning,” Alphard admitted. He promised himself he would only offer the Potter’s the truth so that they were best prepared to face an enraged Walburga whenever she decided to show her twisted little face. Alphard could hardly imagine the Potter’s facing his sister; light magic against dark, family pinned against family. He could only hope she’d at least try to remain civil; the Potter’s didn’t ask for this. Though, they sure weren’t denying it either.

“What did they do to him,” Euphemia asked, examining Sirius’s hands.

His nephew watched her quietly, brows knitted together, with pained frown etched into his features. He looked, almost, afraid to draw his hand away. Afraid that it might spark more conflict if he had. In that case, he let her look. It was quite the conversation starter.

“My niece decided it was best to…” Alphard’s words failed him. He took one look at his nephew, who’d been recoiling from Mrs. Potter’s touch since she began tending to him, and sighed. “I think this conversation would be better discussed in your study.”

The two men disappeared down the hallway, Euphemia following not long after. Sirius could only guess it was to discuss the events that took place only an hour ago at Grimmauld Place.

Alphard had decided the Potter’s Manor was a suitable place to hide away for the time being. He promised his nephew that, when things died down, there would be a serious conversation about Sirius’s wellbeing at Grimmauld Place. Sirius doubted anything would settle any time soon given Walburga’s temper and Bellatrix’s acute rage. Orion would clearly think he was a coward from running away from home, and, in a way, Sirius might have agreed with him. Regulus was a blabbering mess and, eventually, his mother would convince him that
Sirius’s actions were unforgivable.

Sirius sunk in the armchair. He wished that it would swallow him whole. He wished he could melt away in front of the fireplace, out of James’s reach, and never return. There were many times that Sirius had claimed he would throw himself off the astronomy tower. Naturally, he was inclined to say so again.

James hadn’t spoken much since Sirius’s initial arrival, neither had Fleamont. Euphemia fussed over his injuries, mollycoddling him in a way he had never been mollycoddled. He felt oddly uncomfortable under her gaze, deep brown eyes and gentle hands tending to his every need. Had he eaten enough? Was there any pain lingering? Did he feel nauseous at all? Perhaps he should lay down for the night, she’d suggested. There was a spare bedroom at the end of the hallway near James.

Sirius wasn’t in the mood for sleeping. His body was screaming exhaustion, and he’d most definitely felt fatigued, but, no matter how hard he tried, sleep evaded him. That’s when he found himself wandering around the Potter’s massive house on the English countryside.

Sirius had always assumed that Grimmauld Place was the prime abode for wealthy aristocrats. It was spacious enough for his family with a bit of wiggle room left. Most of the space was taken up by dark artifacts and that bloody piano Regulus had been gifted on his tenth birthday. Some of Walburga’s potion’s equipment took up the kitchen, but their home had always been comfortable. Yes, it was dark and dank, there always seemed to be a draft coming from the cracks in the walls. Yes, there was no such thing as hot water, which was absolutely terrible for his luscious hair. But it was his house. He’d lived in it for 16 years.

However, even when first visiting Potter Manor in Wales three years before, there was something different. Externally, he could come up with a concrete list of everything that made it better. It was warm, smelled like fresh cookies, and had buckets upon buckets of light pouring through floor to ceiling windows. Their curtains were a deep red with golden curtain ties as wide as Sirius’s wrist. Artwork – real artwork – lined their hallways. Van Gough, Monet, Dali, and Kahlo stared back at him as he wandered. Starry night shimmered in the moonlight. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening danced in his irises. The carpet was flush between his toes, and the furniture was like clouds.

Something else, however, struck him. It wasn’t just the warmth of the air, the plushness of the carpet, or the artwork that touched him. It was the photographs of James as a baby hung on the ice box. Yes, the Potter’s had a running ice box for whatever reason. It was the artwork he had made as a toddler hanging just as high as Warhol’s pieces. It was the scattered toys he’d never picked up in the west wing, and the flowers Euphemia tended to just outside the kitchen window. It was an array of hair tonics Fleamont worked on in his workshop and his glasses always askew.

This was home.

James finished composing a letter, hiding it from Sirius’s eyes as he handed it to his owl, Flamma. The only reason he was named so was because his wing had caught fire after a baby James performed a bit of accidental magic. Since then, he’d become the family owl, always spoiled and tended to. The Potter’s were quite good at doing that.

“... one’s important, so hurry,” James whispered, opening the window.

A chill swept through the library and the flames before Sirius flickered. Flamma disappeared into the winter snow, a dark anomaly in the
midst of snowflakes. James shut the window quickly, hurrying back over to sit in front of his friend.

“Will you ever tell me what happened,” he murmured, almost afraid to look at his friend.

Sirius had been silent since they entered the library, ignoring James’s attempts at conversation. There was nothing to say. Revealing the truth of that night meant Bellatrix would end up locked in Azkaban for the rest of her life; his mother would never forgive him. He didn’t need her to hate him anymore than she already did. She could pull him from Hogwarts, send him to Durmstrang, and never write again.

He’d be without James and Remus. Without Julienne and Peter. He shivered.

“Sirius, you can talk to me, you know,” James urged, putting a comforting hand on Sirius’s knee. “About anything...”

Sirius shifted underneath his touch, moving out of his reach. He was in no mood to be stroked like a kitten. James sighed heavily.

Sirius looked at his friend, a rueful smile on his face as he feigned sarcasm, “Anything?”

“We could talk about art,” James began. “Or school? I know you don’t like it much. We could talk about... erm... I don’t know. Remus?”

Sirius scoffed, “What would you want to talk about Moony for?”

James’s cheeks reddened.

“I just thought it might make you feel better.”

“No,” Sirius frowned. “Tell me about Lily.”

James, bemused, looked at his friend and asked, “Why?”

“Just do it, berk.”

James looked at his hands for a moment, contemplating all the things he could say about her. Sirius knew that look; he’d seen it in the mirror. Words fail you often, but they fail the most when there aren’t enough to describe the raw emotions present for a single person. Like when you loathe the very existence of your family, or when you’re absolutely infatuated with your roommate.

“I wish she would notice me,” James admitted softly.

“Oh,” Sirius sniggered, “she notices you.”

“No, not like that,” James snapped. “I mean, I wish she would notice all the good things I do instead of when I’m being... when I’m... I’m
being...”

“Annoying?”

“No.”

“A nuisance.”

“No.”

“Yourself?”

“Y- No!”

Sirius couldn’t help but laugh to himself, stomach clenching in discomfort for a moment.

“When I’m being goofy,” James said. “She only notices when I’m being a Marauder. She never shows up when I’m acting mature.”

Sirius rubbed his arm, “What’s the difference?”

“Well, I know I act like I don’t care about my grades, but I do. And I am God awful about subtlety --”

“Amen.”

“-- but I wish that didn’t matter. I try so hard to be better. I want people to know that I’m not this spoiled rotten brat who can only spell Quidditch. I want to be an Auror. I want to travel the world. I want her to know there’s more to me than what I put out there.”

“The only way for that to happen is to change the way you present yourself,” Sirius affirmed. “But don’t do it for her. Do it for you.”

James simply nodded, and they remained silent for a while – an hour maybe, and Sirius was completely comfortable with that. It gave him time to reflect on what had happened, what might happen because of it. It was Sirius who’d broken the silence, voice heavy.

“Do you think I’m a good person,” Sirius muttered, fiddling with the cuff of the sweater James leant him.

“I think you’re human,” James said. “Which is better, anyway. I mean, good people are boring. All they do is good things. Humans make mistakes, which is what makes life interesting.”

“Yeah, but what if those mistakes hurt people,” Sirius asked, rolling his eyes at James’s ability to make the situation seem much smaller than it is.

“If they love you, they love you because you’re you, not just based on your ability to do good things,” he smirked. Sirius withered.

Sirius opened his mouth to speak when the fireplace roared in front of him. Orange flames burst into green light, and Sirius jumped back in fright. He opened his mouth to scream when two bodies emerged from the hearth. Both were extremely tall, though one was broad and the other ridiculously lanky. Soon, after the flames dulled, Remus Lupin and his father appeared.

Lyall quietly wiped himself off. Remus, on the other hand, flung himself onto Sirius, watery eyes and trembling lip. The news from James’s couldn’t have come quicker; he came as fast as possible.

Sirius let his eyes flutter shut, returning the embrace with as much passion as he could. He shivered as Remus’s hands fisted in his hair, his breath warm against the nape of his neck; his fingertips were chilly against his scalp, but he couldn’t have cared less. He’d still felt tense from earlier, all the coddling from Euphemia, but this was different. This was Remus, and he’d never get tired of him.

Sirius’s hair acted as a curtain, hiding his affections from prying eyes. They sat like that for minutes, Remus whispering apologies into Sirius’s skin, lips pecking secretly. Goose bumps raised on his arms, the hair raising as well. It frightened him just how much control Remus had over him; a mere touch made him melt like butter, but he couldn’t force himself to care. Remus came to him. He showed up when he needed him most. His heart could burst.

Lyall cleared his throat behind them. Remus made to move away, his skin heating, but Sirius clung to him.

“Don’t go,” he whimpered.

He’d never felt so desperate and weak, but he needed Remus to stay with him. He knew it was inappropriate to be acting like an abandoned child in front of Remus’s father, and this behavior would likely result in consequences for Remus. But he couldn’t stop himself. He couldn’t be alone. The wall he’d built since entering the threshold of Potter Manor was crumbling the longer Remus was there, and if he left he knew he’d fall into shambles. James, thankfully, took the hint and escorted Mister Lupin to his father’s study, leaving Remus and Sirius in each other’s company.

Remus pushed his forehead against Sirius’s, not caring if his breath wrought of sleep or if the corners of his eyes were crusty. His hair had been a mess and he knew he smelled like chocolate, but none of that mattered now that he was here. Sirius needed him, and he promised himself that he would be there. Always.

Sirius had never been one to cry. He was dramatic and histrionic. His threats to throw himself from the astronomy tower were consistent yet never taken seriously. But he had a resolve that never wavered. As Remus watched him through his lashes, his heart splintered. This boy, broken and battered, was tired. Not just physically. Metaphysically, though Remus would be sure to explain its meaning before telling Sirius that.

Sirius looked weary. His eyes were swollen, and his lips etched as a frown. His hair was wild and his hands trembling. He held onto Remus for dear life, afraid that if he let go he’d never see him again. The world around them seemed to dissolve. The Potter Manor, the shelves upon shelves of books, the four adults just rooms away, James, Walburga, Grimmauld Place – it didn’t matter.

On a whim, Remus pressed his lips to Sirius’s. His were cool and chapped against Sirius’s warm and wet ones, the contrast sending a shiver through his body. He felt different this time. When Remus had first been kissed by Sirius, it was chaste and hasty. They were both young and inexperienced, and it wasn’t that anything had changed in that category. Remus hadn’t been kissing anyone since then and had the inclination that Sirius hadn’t either. Yet, this time, they were more familiar with one another. Perhaps, it was that they were still young and stupid, reckless and uncouth, but not so much as strangers anymore.

“Sirius,” Remus murmured, pressing his palms against Sirius’s face.

He looked at him, hoping he hadn’t overstepped. Sirius was speechless. There were so many things he wanted to tell him.

Don’t ever go, he wanted to say. Stay with me in this room, wrapped around me like your shitty sweaters until the fire goes out. Stay with me, weep with me, sing with me, read with me, paint with me, experience the highest highs and lowest lows with me. Be the feeling that wraps around my heart. Be the one thing in this world I love too much. Tell me you feel the same. Tell me you love my eyes the way I love yours or maybe tell me that you love the way I paint the sunsets the way you describe them to me. Don’t ever go. Just don’t go because it’s you. In a thousand lifetimes, in a hundred ways, it’s you. It will always be you.

But he just couldn’t articulate it. Just like James with Lily, Remus was the one thing that made Sirius’s words fail. There weren’t enough in the English language to do him justice. Not enough to describe his eyes or his laugh or just how fast Sirius’s heart raced when he kissed him.

The only way he could communicate was through touch. He pulled Remus closer, plunging himself into the kiss and forgetting about all the things he couldn’t do. He forced himself to realize that this was real – Remus was real – and the things happening were truly happening. Remus even tightened his hold on Sirius, willing himself to maintain composure. His skin was warm, his hands were soft, and Sirius found himself intoxicated by the sensations Remus was giving him. From the snitches in his stomach to the goosebumps layering his arms, there was nothing that could have taken that moment from Sirius.

Remus softly moved his lips against Sirius’s, brushing his fingertips against the curves of his jaw. It was gentle. It was slow. It was passionate. It was tender. It was so many things that Sirius wished he could write down. He found it harder to maintain his dignity as he smiled. Remus did as well.

“Remus,” Sirius sighed, pulling Remus to sprawl across his body.

It took a moment for the boys to situate themselves, finally deciding that it would be much better for Sirius to lay on top of Remus given their size difference. Besides, they clicked together like puzzle pieces then, legs and arms intertwined gracefully between each other. Remus took to stroking Sirius’s hair away from his face, his warm breath brushing against Sirius’s forehead like a summer breeze. He really did smell like chocolate, Sirius thought.

“Would you like me to read to you,” Remus offered softly, looking down at him with tender eyes. Sirius nodded silently. “Accio –”

“No,” Sirius interrupted. “Read me something of your’s.”

Remus hesitated. His poems, of late, were not what they used to be. They were filled with something he couldn’t exactly explain. But there was something in Sirius’s voice that he just couldn’t deny. He thought of the last one he wrote.

He whispered in his ear, “The first day I met you, I was an awkward, eleven-year-old transitioning into a new world with these fantasies of the love I would find and the friends I would make. But the first day I met you, it was a morning in September of 1972, and I still remember the smell of the autumn air that morning. When I felt a hand on my face and a chin on my shoulder I panicked a bit, but then I saw your face and it all drifted away. I could have drowned in your eyes. I had never imagined boys in Quidditch looking the way you did then.

‘The first day I met you,” Remus paused. Sirius was watching him expectantly, tears brimming his eyes. “The first day I met you, my heart leapt into my chest and your hand touched mine and your eyes met mine and I felt snitched. I wrote it off as platonic, brotherly affection but now it’s been –” he counted quietly for a moment – “Three years, three months, three weeks, a single day, and nineteen hours and every time I see you my stomach flips the same way it did the first day I met you.”

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, November 1976 (Sixth Year)

"Come on, Sirius, stay with us!"

Sirius returned James's pleading frown with a half-hearted shrug of his own. The crowd behind his friend seemed to join in a jubilee of whining, begging the birthday boy to stay and enjoy his party. In a way, he thought, they reminded him of Flitwick's singing toads.

Truth be told, Sirius would've rather been anywhere else but the Gryffindor common room. Peter's stomach had been disagreeing with the copious amounts of Fire Whiskey he'd downed around ten o'clock in front of a group of fourth year girls while James was too busy showing off for Lily to be bothered with anything else. Dorcas Meadowes was bumping and grinding on an awkward Marlene McKinnon, and Frank Longbottom was holding Alice Fortescue so tightly her eyes might have popped out of her skull.

Sirius knew that it wasn't just about his birthday that night. The Quidditch team had won their first match against Hufflepuff – against Amos Diggory, one of the best seventh year players known to Hogwarts.

That being said, it was mere coincidence that Sirius's birthday fell on that day. James thought of the idea last minute, using Remus's latest Marauder's trinket to sneak into the kitchens for snacks of all sorts. A birthday cake was included, of course, but Sirius had yet to grab a slice. Actually, his appetite had been waning all day. He was sure by the time he got to the refreshment table, there would be little left for him.

Yes. He would've rather been anywhere else but there, and that spoke volumes to him. For once, being the center of attention had not been on his to-do list. Sirius wanted to slip upstairs into Remus's sweater and sweatpants – the ones that he'd stolen in September before it got too cold – and sketch in his notebook with nothing but a candle lighting the room. Sirius frowned; Remus's minimalistic attitude had been rubbing off on him.

"I'm alright, lads," Sirius reassured them, saluting them tiredly. "I'm going to retire for the night."

James cried out loudly, "But it's your birthday, Pad—"

"I know it's my birthday," Sirius shot back hotly, ignoring the odd look he received from Lily nearby. "I'm just pooped. Alchemy is killing me."

James, always hard to convince, deepened his frown.

"Wouldn't you say a party is the perfect way to de-stress, mate," he questioned, looking at Lily for backup.

She perked up, "You do have a heavy workload this year, Sirius. Letting loose tonight wouldn't hurt, you know."

"Honestly, guys, I appreciate the thought," Sirius admitted bashfully.

He raked his fingers through his hair, frustrated with everyone. It wasn't easy telling James and Lily that their efforts at a birthday party were futile simply because one of the most important people to him decided to take rounds. Why did he do that? Because James bloody Potter wanted to swoon Lily. Damn Remus and his considerate heart; it wasn't as if those two didn't have classes together. Then again, so did he and Remus. The difference was that Sirius needed Remus, whether anyone else knew that or not. He knew it, and he'd accepted it by that point. He was past the phase of grinning and bearing it.

Genuinely, and honestly, Sirius enjoyed his time with Remus. In fact, he was tempted to just waltz out of the common room and search for him. However, that would upset James, who'd already been acting like a needy child towards Sirius that year.

So, how the hell do you tell dear Lily Evans and brilliant James Potter to sod off so you can glower in his bed until Remus returns?

Remus would tell him to be truthful.

Sirius stared down at the two of them from the stairs, chewing his lip nervously, "Look, guys, I just…"

His words failed him. There would be no easy way saying it. Lily, ever so intuitive as she was, clung to James's arm with a small smile.

"Come on, love," she murmured, nodding goodnight to Sirius.

"But Lily," James whimpered.

"Leave him be," she insisted.

James protested for a moment, pulling back to fight Sirius on his decision, but Lily's soothing voice and warm hands were too strong. The two of them disappeared in the sea of faces, and Sirius quietly returned to his dormitory to do exactly what Remus would not want him to do: sulk.

Changing into that ugly Christmas sweater that smelled like Remus and those baggy sweatpants he'd still not noticed were missing after a nice, hot shower, Sirius crawled into his bed. His hair kept falling in his face – a drawback that came with armpit length hair – so he pulled it up in a tight bun, ignoring the sting on his scalp. He melted into the mattress, letting Euphemia's afghan quilt smother him in warmth.

In an odd way, it was much more comfortable than his bed at Potter Manor; it felt more like his own. He hadn't been intruding at Hogwarts. Sirius was a student, a person meant to be there. His placement with the Potter's was not purposeful, nor should it have been permanent. In his time with his new family, he'd felt more of a burden than an addition to the family, and that had more to do with himself than anything they did.

Euphemia and Fleamont had been kind enough to take him shopping for new clothes; Walburga burned most of his belongings after the trial in April of 1976, according to Regulus. She'd left his room alone for the most part, only attempting to take down those drab posters of Muggle women and motorcycles. She must've forgotten the permanent sticking charm is just that – permanent. They also redecorated the guest room to his liking, buying new furniture or transfiguring the old ones. Fleamont had even donated an old record player to accent his room, teaching Sirius the ins and outs of his first Muggle device.

Despite their generosity, Sirius felt, to put it bluntly, uneasy. It wasn't that Euphemia threatened to hex his heart out of his throat, and Fleamont didn't use the saltshaker as an intimidation tactic. James was faithful to the point of stupidity some days; to his naked eye, not a thing was out of place with his new family. Yet, deep down, a part of him had blossomed in fear around them.

They were picture perfect in every way, and Sirius was not. He was loud and rowdy, quite vulgar but not as bad as Remus, actually. He sometimes forgot that the Potter's didn't own any house elves, which meant that he was responsible for cleaning up after himself. He got angry some days, though angry might have been an understatement. Sirius had become so accustomed to taking his anger out on Kreacher or, if he were feeling particularly bold, his very own mother that coming face to face with the rather docile Potter's was nerve wracking.

All his pent up, negative energy left him feeling flawed and undeserving of their kindness, so returning to Hogwarts and being around those he could easily "blend" within put his worries to rest.

He especially felt comfortable around Remus, but their time alone with one another was scarce that year. Minnie had decided to up Remus's patrolling hours at night, making it rather difficult for him to study in his friends' company. Instead, he was forced to do so during meals and class breaks. Out of the four of them, Remus and James had taken on the most N.E.W.T. level courses. Sirius wasn't surprised; both of them felt they had something to prove. Well, Remus was just

scholarly like that while James wanted to impress Lily.

Sirius, actually, had been quite busy himself. He studied during the day, practiced dueling in the afternoons with James whenever he didn't have Quidditch, and even managed to connect a bit with Lily Evans during dinner. He and Peter always met up on Thursday nights to practice their charms skills; Peter was a master. They were busy boys now, he thought.

Maybe this was a part of growing up? Slowly drifting away from each other, towards responsibilities and hobbies that actually showed something for themselves. Maybe it was learning to live without each other for a day and a half, or only speaking in the mornings, in passing, or at the dinner table. If it were, Sirius thought, then he didn't want it.

What a way to spend his birthday; pondering the somewhat inevitable breakup of his friend group. What would he do on his own? Sirius didn't have many skills, at least he didn't think so. He was alright at dueling, but James always accented him. Potions was an option, but it wouldn't be the same without Remus fumbling with everything in a five-foot radius. What about charms? No, Peter always helped him with all of that mess. Damn, he thought. He was really useless without them. Figures.

He settled on forcing himself to sleep, hoping that by the time he woke up the party would be over, and the common room would quiet itself.

His heart clenched at the thought of no more Marauders. No more maps or secret passageways. No more running through the Forbidden Forest with Remus or protecting him from himself when he was at his lowest. No more chess drabble with Peter or chatting away about his favorite sweater. No more Quidditch jabbering with James or pillow forts in the library. All of that would go away, and, with it, some of Sirius's happiness.

"This sucks," he mumbled, burying his face into his pillow.

Sirius drifted in and out of sleep for an hour or two, tossing and turning in his sheets restlessly. His heart felt tight and heavy in his chest, clenching and unclenching as those thoughts danced around in his head. However hard he tried, he just couldn't shake that feeling – the feeling of depressing realization that he was powerless to stop time and fate. Thoughts like that made it especially hard to sleep, he conceded, and tried even harder then to drift off.

Sometime later, when he'd finally lost count of how many minutes had gone by, the door to their dormitory creaked open. Sirius was sure it was James or Peter drunkenly rambling in and wished he'd shut his curtains sooner. Light footsteps padded across the room, so quietly that Sirius couldn't exactly tell where they were coming from. He shuffled under his covers, feigning sleep as best as he could. As long as they left him alone, he'd be fine; Sirius wasn't in the mood for babysitting.

For a few moments, there was nothing but the ruffle of robes and sweater vests to fill the silence. If it were James or Peter, they were doing a damn good job of keeping themselves quiet as they changed. A trunk opened, followed by the sound of more rustling and muffled curses. Sirius needed to do a better job of identifying his friends if he were going to keep them together because he was absolutely pathetic at it without hearing their voices.

The room fell silent, and Sirius was only aware of his own breath. They'd fallen asleep.

"So that's where my sweats have gone," Remus chortled, dipping the edge of Sirius's bed with his weight.

Sirius opened his mouth to speak but found himself speechless when Remus's body pressed up against his back, his arm stretching around Sirius's body and tugging him closer. Through the fabric of his sweater, Sirius knew that Remus was shirtless; he could feel it by the heat radiating against his back. Instinctively, Sirius jerked the curtains taut.

"Ashamed," Remus teased, squeezing a vexed Sirius.

"No," he responded darkly. "Just don't want Prongs or Wormtail ruining the moment with their drunken stupidity."

Remus's fingers traced intangible patterns on Sirius's stomach, soothing the knot that had made itself quite at home. A pair of lips pressed soft kisses to the nape of his neck, shockwaves rattling through his body at alarming rates.

"I never knew Peter could drink that much," Remus snickered.

"You'd be surprised what a boy would do for an attractive girl," Sirius glowered.

"I've never done much for them," Remus shrugged, reaching his palm up the hem of Sirius's sweater – his sweater, really, but he knew he wasn't getting it back any time soon. "Then again, never found them attractive, per se."

"Oh, yeah," Sirius sneered. "What about Julie?"

Remus was quiet for a moment, and Sirius regretted pulling that one out of the bag. They'd agreed to move past those years – the bickering, the foolhardy jealousy, and the brazen spite.

Third year was a dark place for Sirius; he wasn't proud of his behavior. Remus claimed that all he could do was improve from here on out, be a better man for himself and those he loved. Well, in his own opinion, Sirius was doing terribly so far.

"Never found her attractive in that way," Remus sighed, loosening his grip on Sirius. "She's pretty, yeah, kind of like how Lily is pretty, or Dorcas. But I was never attracted to her."

Sirius frowned, "Then why'd you kiss her?"

"Felt like it was the right thing to do in the moment, to be honest. Didn't want to leave her hanging, didn't want to break her heart. So, I just did what I thought was best."

"But not what was best for yourself," Sirius pointed out.

"I thought it would be good for me," Remus bit harshly. "I didn't want to be like this."

Sirius rolled over to face Remus abruptly, brows knitted together in a tight scowl.

"What do you mean, like this," he asked.

"I didn't mean it like that, Padfoot," Remus groaned.

He pushed his hair out of his face tiredly, rubbing his eyes in hopes that sleep would evade him for just a moment longer. Sirius didn't like that look in his eyes – the look of abandoning hope. No. Abandoning that conversation, which was even worse only because Moony was the master at a good, old fashioned silent treatment.

"What did you mean, then," Sirius barked. Remus paused. "Oh, don't hold back on me now. It isn't as if I haven't practically poured myself into you for the past year and a half."

"Sirius, calm down," Remus urged, sitting up in the bed. "I just meant that—"

"I know what you meant," Sirius snapped, shooting up like a bat out of hell. "You meant that you didn't want to be with me because I'm some –"

"Shut the fuck up for a moment, Padfoot," Remus shouted, face turning a shade of red to rival Peter. "Damn it." He placed his head in his hands for a moment, collecting his thoughts as Sirius stared in astonishment.

"Just be honest with me," Sirius pleaded.

Remus glared at him, "Yeah, well, that's pretty fucking hard when you're hurtling a million and one accusations at me, Sirius, so excuse the hell out of me if I don't quite feel like opening up to you at the moment."

Sirius frowned at himself, taking a breath. Attacking Moony like that wasn't fair; he hadn't even gotten a word out before Sirius lunged at his throat. Perhaps he did mean something different, and maybe Sirius was just jumping to conclusions to avoid the seemingly inevitable. A guy like Remus wouldn't ever want to be with a guy like Sirius – not for long, anyways. No one stayed with Sirius very long.

"I didn't want to like boys," Remus huffed, pushing the sheets off of him.

Sirius grasped his wrist tightly, pulling him back into his body and holding him. Despite the efforts,

Remus shoved Sirius away and opened the curtains to sit on the edge of the bed.

"My family is… they're old fashioned, to put it lightly," Remus continued, head buried in his palms. "A friend of mine, back in Clovelly, told his mum that I was pretty one day. We were around eight or nine, I think."

Sirius placed a hand on Remus's naked back, rubbing circles into his shoulder blades, "You are pretty."

"I guess," Remus shrugged indifferently. "Anyways, his Dad found out and told mine. Wasn't a pretty night for either of us."

Sirius's hands stilled, "What… what happened?"

Sirius hated to think of what could've happened only because he'd heard stories of Lyall Lupin and his temper. He wasn't the kindest father; Sirius related on that level with Remus. Lyall, however, was different from Orion. He was brash and ill-tempered with a foul mouth. He didn't conceal his contempt well, according to Remus, and wasn't afraid to tell you what he thought. At least Orion could shut the hell up.

Remus inhaled sharply, "For starters, I wasn't allowed to play with him anymore, which was a given." Sirius nodded, knowing that Remus could merely sense it. "My Dad lectured me for an hour or so, talking about how the boy's dad raised him to be a batty boy and how the father himself was probably a steamer in disguise."

"That's a bit harsh for an eight-year-old to hear, don't you think?"

"Very much so," Remus agreed. "My mom said the same, but I think it was only to make me feel better."

"That's sweet of her," Sirius moved closer to Remus letting his chin rest on his shoulder.

"He threated to castrate me if I ever thought a boy was pretty," Remus murmured. Sirius, shocked at his bluntness, sputtered. "Said that I didn't deserve a pair if I wasn't going to put them to use."

"Who the hell says something like that," Sirius demanded.

Remus smirked, "Parents like yours and mine." Sirius deadpanned. "S'true." Remus chuckled. "I'm sure your parents have said worse to you about things like that. I can't imagine Walburga was content with the idea of some bloke balls deep in her eldest son."

"When you put it like that, no I don't think she would've," Sirius smiled, ruffling Remus's hair.

The tension between them was spliced, and Sirius couldn't have been more thankful. He made a note to work on his temper from there on out; Moony didn't deserve that. He never deserved the attitude Sirius could throw at him. Remus was trying his best, as per usual, and Sirius needed to acknowledge that more often. It was the least he could do after all they'd been through. Besides, weren't you supposed to, like, worship the person you might have had a slight infatuation with? He was shit at the whole "relationship" thing, he assumed.

He frowned. Moony deserved better. Maybe he should've just stayed out of Julienne's way?

"Oh, what's got you all depressed now," Remus asked, wrapping a protective arm around Sirius and pulling him down to sprawl across his lap.

His fingers fiddled with the hair tie keeping Sirius's hair out of his face, but Sirius couldn't be bothered to tell him to knock it off. A wave of black hair fell into Remus's fingers, damp with water yet moist with that damn expensive conditioner Sirius swore he needed. He stared up at Remus, admiring the way the corner of his mouth quirked up into that cheeky little grin that always charmed Minnie. Admiring the way his eyes flickered over his own face, memorizing every last feature.

Every time I hear it, I memorize it because one day I might not hear it again.

Sirius wondered if, when he caught Remus staring at him the way he was just then, it was Remus's way of memorizing Sirius. He wondered if he had to constantly look into his eyes to perfect the description of gray, or if he noticed the little acne scar just below his lip from where he picked at it despite Remus telling him not to. Did he see the beauty mark under his eye, or the prickle of a mustache begging to grow out? Did Remus see the dimples that deepened whenever he said something dumb to Sirius? The scar on his neck from Peter throwing a chess piece at him?

What did Remus see that he had to memorize so much?

"You're pretty," Remus whispered, running his fingers over Sirius's forehead.

Heat burst in Sirius's cheeks, but he couldn't bring himself to look away from Remus.

If Sirius had it his way – his sappy, hopeless romantic way – they would've stayed like that forever. Sirius stretched across Remus's lap, eyes scanning over every inch of his perfect little face, Remus's hands dancing over his scalp, and heart content. They'd always be in that small niche in time – almost in love but too scared to close that gap, dancing around the words they wanted to say because that was much simpler and far more entertaining. Peter would be stupidly wooing some fourth year and James would be convincing Lily to accepting a date to Hogsmeade. Their little world would be intact forever.

If he had it his way.

"I don't want things to change," Sirius whispered, his voice small and meek. He looked up at Remus, searching for an answer to this predicament. Remus was smart; he had to know of some charm or a potion that could freeze that very moment and keep it on repeat perpetually. He just had to.

"Change is… scary," Remus sighed, moving one hand to cup Sirius's face. It was a small gesture, but it felt comforting in the most ridiculous way. "But it's good. It gives us a chance to make ourselves into better people. No offense, but if James stayed the way he was last year or even the year before that, Lily wouldn't give him a second glance. If Peter were the same, then I'm sure he would've never joined a charms club or start to lose weight. If I stayed the same, I would only have one friend. Maybe not even that. I wouldn't have you guys or Lily. I'd be alone."

Sirius looked down at his hands bashfully, "And what about me?"

"What about you, love?"

Sirius's stomach twirled at the sentiment, "Have I changed?"

Remus brushed his thumb over Sirius's cheek, looking down at him with tender eyes and a warm sort of smile. That smile that always assured the boys things would be okay. That smile that told Sirius that he would be okay. That smile.

"If we were characters in a book, you would be my favorite," Remus admitted. "When you read a book, there are dynamic characters and there are static characters." Sirius's face scrunched up in confusion, trying to keep up with this literary jargon of Remus's. "It means there are characters who stay the same the whole way through, and there are characters who develop."

Sirius's mouth formed an O shape and he nodded.

Remus murmured, "I like characters who change. It means that they're learning. Learning from mistakes, from others' mistakes, and from general life lessons."

"You'd think I'd stop putting newts in Snivellus's panties if I learned from all those detentions," Sirius snickered, unable to bite back the comment.

"But," Remus laughed reluctantly, "that's a part of who you are. Just because you grow doesn't mean you're not still you."

"I'll always be me," Sirius declared. "Mark me, there will always be a bit of Sirius within me."

"If you're insinuating that becoming a better person means that you can't still be mischievous and cunning and stupid beyond belief –"

Sirius glared at Remus playfully, shoving his hand away from his cheek.

"Oh, sod off," he growled.

Remus merely replaced his hand, squeezing Sirius's cheeks till his lips puckered.

"If you're insinuating that, then you're wrong," Remus decided. "Because you're a good person, no matter how much trouble you may get in." He placed a chaste kiss on Sirius's lips, ignoring the whimper when he pulled away.

Sirius reached up, locking his fingers around Remus's neck, and pulled him down for another. Remus drew in a sharp breath through his nose, still not accustomed to kissing Sirius fucking Black of all people. Sirius managed to sit up, straddling Remus's waist eagerly. He felt a pair of cold hands snake up his sweater, nails softly running over his skin. Every nerve ending jolted to life leaving his fingers trembling as he fought to keep Remus's hair out of his bloody way.

Remus pulled away for a moment, stunned that they'd been so bold to snog that way with the curtains open. He didn't have much time to contemplate that thought further before he leaned into Sirius once again, reconnecting their lips. They were trembling worse than ever, so used to each other yet on such foreign territory.

It was different in the confines of a dormitory. Exchanging swift, chaste kisses behind suits of armor during detention, or in the cranny of the fourth-floor corridor after Sirius followed him throughout the castle during a patrol shift were one thing. They were quick, and there was no time to be shameful. In the dorm, it was as if the world moved differently. Each touch, each tug of hair, was deliberate and agonizingly slow. The air was warm and moist, their breath not making it any better.

Sirius was on fire; every inch of his skin tingled with delight, with this sense of pleasure he'd only felt with Remus before, and he didn't want it to end. He wanted to be consumed by it. Unable to help himself, he caught Remus's lower lip between his own. Without words, he wanted Remus to know how happy this made him, how much he'd wanted this single moment to themselves. In reciprocation, Remus readily opened his lips for Sirius. For the first time in those moments together, there was a moment of no hesitation. Sirius took no time to slide his tongue against Remus's in content.

Sure, it had taken them nearly two years to get that far, to openly kiss one another without fearing James or Peter would walk in on them and shun them in disgust. It had taken nearly two years for them to come to their senses and realize that it was in each other's company that they felt the most comfortable. It took nearly two years for Sirius to realize that he didn't give a damn if anyone didn't like it; all he wanted was for the moments with Remus, from the snogging to the laughing and even the bickering, to replay forever.

Damn it, he hated how sappy love made him.

Sirius broke away; the need for air overpowered whatever affections had betrayed his earlier resolve. Remus seemed to share this thought, breathing ragged and sharp. Sirius wondered if Remus felt the same – if he felt his heart leap into his throat at the mere mention of Sirius's name. He wondered if that kiss had sealed the inhibitions that lurked in the shadows. He wondered if there was a chance in hell if Remus might be falling into that same trap. In a way, he hoped not. Remus stilled deserved better.

"Come on, love," Remus pulled Sirius so that they laid beside one another, puffs of air blowing against their skin as they caught their breath. "Try and get some rest."

Sirius felt hotness in the back of his eyes and a lump swell in his throat, "You're too good to me."

Remus only responded by pressing his lips to the crown of Sirius's head.

It did nothing but reassure Sirius's earlier comment and thoughts. He truly did not deserve the kindness of Remus Lupin. That mantra repeated itself as he watched him drift into a content sleep.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, January 1977 (Sixth Year)

Remus was warm. No. He was beyond warm. He was morbidly hot. His nightshirt clung to his sweat riddled skin, and wisps of his hair gripped the back of his neck. Every breath he took felt like watered-down oxygen, heavy in his lungs. The odor – the rancid stench – of charcoal and acid fulminated in the air, prying open his nostrils and assaulting his senses; he grimaced. He was barefooted, the soles of his feet bumping against pebbles and debris.

He was in the room again – the dark, windowless room. He’d been there several times, of course, only in his dreams. With every sequence, something new was discovered, and these nightmares became more of a puzzle than a nuisance. An edged pipe to break the bindings or a nightshirt to keep out the chill. Once free of his bondage, he was able to remove the handkerchief that was wrapped around his eyes.

There was an elaborate setup to these dreams; he wondered if his mind was testing him. There was nothing that wasn’t there for no reason. A bloodied night shirt, a jagged, rusted pipe that leaked water, and a small, hand-held piece of scrap metal easily made into a shiv. Once one part of the puzzle had been solved, Remus moved to the next.

The serpent like voice hadn’t visited since that morning in 1974, not even for the cordial “hello.” At first, Remus would wait. He sat, waiting like a pig for slaughter, for a year until he realized that the stranger wouldn’t be making any reappearances and soon decided that, if these dreams were going to be so damn repetitive, he might as well get to exploring.

Something in him, though, beckoned him upstairs. He noticed in this particular dream something he hadn’t before. On the far-left wall was a small door, just big enough for someone as skinny as him to crawl through. The latch, however, was broiling hot. Droplets of sweat pelted against the rusted metal, sizzling and popping as it evaporated.

This was the only way out, Remus decided. He had to get out. His brain was screaming, “Get out. Get out. Get out now. Get out of here. This place is bad.” The place gave him the heebie-jeebies, and, with the way his adrenaline was pumping, his gut instincts might have been right.

But how to get the damn door open. How do you open sweltering, padded doors?

Footsteps echoed behind him, slow and deliberate. With each patter of leaking water, the clicking of heels bounced off of the walls. Remus’s arm hairs stood on end, the goosebumps rising not shortly after. His insides roiled with tension and fear – something deep down telling him that this was all wrong, that this was not the place to be – to get that damn door open now!

Without thinking, he grasped for the handle and yanked as hard as his body could allow. Pain reared through his arms, the skin on his palms sizzling as he cried out in pain. It couldn’t have been worse than the tag, he thought, but it was a close second. He gripped his left wrist, grinding his teeth to bear the pain. Had to get the door opened. Had to. Just had to. The footsteps were inching closer by the second, the tension in his stomach tightening like a knot. He grabbed for the handle again with his right hand, not hesitating to yelp in agony.

Tremors ran through his body, up and down his arms and through his core. He could barely hold his hands up, too afraid to see the sight of marred flesh. He swore under his breath; there was no way he could open the door now. He was stuck in a room – a terribly frightening room – with death nearing him by the second.

“Remus,” they said quietly. He dared not look up. “Remus.” He buried his face in his knees, praying to the almighty. “Remus!”

“No,” he screamed. “Don’t touch me! Don’t you fucking touch me!”

“Moony!”

Remus was jolted awake by a hard slap to the face, the sting spreading across his cheek. He blinked several times, adjusting to the dim lighting and smoky atmosphere. It was bloody sweltering in the room despite it being mid-January; he noticed a dream journal in front of him, reality slipping back into place. They were in Divination. Him, Peter, James, and Sirius. Of course they were in Divination; leave it to Lehmann to keep six fires going along with a candle at each table. Remus quickly wiped his face with his robes, ignoring the six eyes trained on him with uncertainty.

“I’m – I think,” he stuttered, unsure of what to tell them. Had he disrupted the class mid-nightmare? “Who the fuck hit me?"
Peter looked away with abashed eyes and red ears, discreetly rubbing the palm of his hand as James snorted into his fist.

“Mr.Lupin,” Lehmann hummed, scurrying from the other side of the room to stand in front of the quartet, “you’ve just given us a splendid segue into the next chapter. Dream interpretation!”

But Remus wasn’t listening. He was too busy calming his racing heart and trembling hands. He swallowed thickly, leaning forward to hide himself from prying eyes. Prickly waves of terror washed over him; what had he said out loud? None of that mattered. Who was behind him in the dream? Remus was finding it difficult to think in his current circumstance; Sirius’s apprehensive stare made the hair on the back of his neck stand, and James laying a motherly hand on his shoulder made him want to shrink.

“You alright, mate,” James muttered. Julienne, who’d been seated at a table with Alice and Lily just a few feet away, listened intently with the others.

Remus shook his head, “I – I don’t… I don’t know.”

James didn’t respond immediately, hopefully dodging any more questions from their professor. Using Remus in his current state as some sort of example for the class sounded something Lehmann was keen on, but, then again, wasn’t she supposed to read energy well? Could she tell that his friend was distressed? Sirius scooted closer to Remus, inconspicuously placing his hand atop of Remus’s as a weight. The tremors softened, and Remus felt the blood rushing to his head again.

“What was it about,” Sirius asked quietly, running the pad of his thumb over Remus’s knuckles.

“Don’t answer that,” James urged. “Not right now.”

Sirius shot a glare at James despite knowing he was right.

Remus’s head was swimming with fears. Who’d been speaking to him? Why was the only exit nearly impossible to access? What did all of this mean? Was it some sort of omen – would he be trapped in a basement in the near future with no way out? All of these questions seemed to be perfect for a qualified “seer,” didn’t they? Surely Lehmann would understand and be able to interpret whatever the fuck it was going on in his head?

Professor Lehmann pulled her shawls tight about her with slightly trembling hands and surveyed the class through her hugely magnifying lenses.

“We shall be continuing our study of prophetic dreams today,” she said in her usual mystic tones. “Divide into pairs, please, and interpret each other’s latest nighttime visions with the aid of the Oracle.” Sirius immediately clung to Remus, daring James to argue. “Mr. Lupin, I’d like to speak with you privately.” Wriggling a thin, ringed finger at him, she summoned him to her small sitting table.

“You don’t have to tell her,” James pointed out in an attempt to be helpful.

“I’m sure she’ll natter on about it if I don’t,” Remus sighed, pushing himself off of the ground and striding towards his professor.

Knowing how he towered over her small and bony body, Remus sat cross legged at her sitting table, looking at the array of… decorations she seemed to have. A half-burnt stalk of sage, a lavender crystal ball, a necklace with the “evil eye” dangling from a chain, and books upon books with odd looking runes and scriptures in Latin not even he could decipher. Muggles would call this dark magic, he thought, but it was really just the old-fashioned stuff that Lehmann pulled out as sort of nutty Professor proof.

“I couldn’t help but notice you were dreaming during my lesson,” she began.

“I know, and I’m very sorry Professor,” Remus muttered. “I usually get enough sleep in the hospital wing, but I was cramming for mid-term exams and –”

Lehmann waved a dismissive hand, her bracelets bouncing off of one another, “That is of no concern to me, my boy. Though I am glad you’re the least bit concerned about your grades unlike others in this class.” She spared a glance at Dirk as he balanced a quill over his crystal ball. “I am, however, interested in what it was you were so… disturbed by. By the looks of it, your visions were of a rather malevolent nature; it truly reflected in your body language even in this realm.”

“Because consciousness and dreams are two different realms,” Remus questioned skeptically.

“Of course they are, Mr. Lupin! How do you expect your conscience to come up with the outlandish while focalizing on what you already know to be true,” she argued, thinking she’d come up with a valid point. But Remus’s mind was already spinning on wheels at a million miles per hour. His temples vibrated painfully, and his gut told him to run. “What was it you were so frightened of, my dear boy.”

Remus felt quite awkward talking to, of all Professors, Lehmann about these nightmares. He hadn’t even told the Marauders of them; he shut his curtains, casted a silencing charm, and hoped to God none of them decided to interrupt his sleeping. It wasn’t as if he didn’t trust them, rather that things had been going so well lately. Everything had been going so well. Remus didn’t want to drag anyone down with his baggage during such happy days; Lord knew that Sirius needed some positivity after the fiasco with his family just a year ago.

Where could he begin? The first dream. He remembered it vaguely; so many had come after it. He remembered the room, the leaky pipe, and the guttural feeling that nothing was right or good in that place, and the only reason he remembered those things was because they were important components in everything that followed after that morning. Would Lehmann look at him as if he were crazy? Would he tell her about the mark? That mark he saw every few blinks after just waking up? A skull and a snake – only it wasn’t just that. The snake was protruding from the mouth of the skull like some sort of tongue.

Yeah, even Lehmann would think he was barking mad.

“I dunno,” he stammered. “They’re not important, really.”

“Now, now, Mr. Lupin, don’t be modest,” she teased, clearly thinking that this nightmare was of the mundane sort. Remus assumed she probably thought he’d dreamt of going to class naked or having thrown up in his girlfriend’s mouth. “Dream interpretation is a most important means of divining the future.”

“I’m not keen on whatever was going on in my head to manifest itself in reality,” Remus scoffed, not meaning to sound as standoffish as he had. Lehmann nodded.

“Yes, but, my dear, if we could intercept these disturbances then, perhaps, we could stop them from being such a nuisance,” she offered. “I don’t typically intervene with the inner eye of my students; not everyone is gifted with the ability of such vivid dreaming as you seem to be.” Her eyes wandered to Peter, noting the way he chewed his lip as he tried his very hardest to reference the book in his busy work. “However, if these dreams are truly becoming a hassle, I would not mind directing you to resources that may prove to be helpful in your journey towards more peaceful slumber.”

Remus perked up, “Actually, I would deeply appreciate that, Professor.”

She smiled, not her usual mystical smirk, but a genuine smile, “Tell me, then, what it is that’s been haunting your dreams.”

Remus inhaled, forcing the words to spill. He told her the contents of the dreams, beginning with the one in 1974. He recounted the basement, the puzzle, the clues, and the impending sense of doom that weighed him down in his sleep. She asked him questions about the voice to which he simply shrugged; who’s voice could it have been? He didn’t know. There was not a single soul who sounded that cold. He thought, for a brief moment, if it could have been his father, but not even he could feign heartlessness that well.

“Oh,” he snapped his fingers, “there’s this symbol that always pops up when I wake up.”

Lehmann raised an inquisitive brow, “Would you mind drawing it for me, my dear?”

She slid over her most eccentric quill – it appeared to be plucked from a peacock – and a spare piece of parchment. Remus was no artist, but, hopefully, he’d learned a thing or two from Sirius’s idle doodling in History. Closing his eyes, he imagined the image burned into his eyelids for the past three years. It was always the same; unmoving yet calculating. He felt as if it were watching him sleep, but not to guard him. Intimidate him.

When he finished, he politely laid his quill beside the parchment.

“I know it’s not drawn very well,” Remus scratched the back of his head awkwardly, trying his hardest to remain confident in his ability to at least draw a line and a skull. “I mean, I’ve seen it almost every night since then, so you’d think I –”

Lehmann fell out of her arm chair, scurrying away from Remus as if he’d been the plague. The attention of the class quickly fell upon the two of them, many on the edge of their seats. It wasn’t odd to see Lehmann lose her wits over some tea leaf reading or perhaps a tarot card interpretation. The strange thing was, this time, she seemed to be more afraid of Remus than anything.

Remus’s pleading eyes met James’s, begging him to just do something, but what could he do? Before anyone could move another muscle, Lehmann began digging through her drawers and bags, desperately searching her things.

“What did you say to her,” Peter asked, hopping out of his chair and rushing over to Remus.

“I don’t – I don’t know,” he sputtered, watching as she finally found whatever it was she needed. “I told her my dreams and I drew her a symbol; that’s all, I swear!”

Lehmann uncapped a small vial, dousing her fingers in oil and smudging it over her forehead as she mumbled incoherent incantations to herself. Her eyes were locked on the parchment in front of her, fingertips grasping the evil eye as though her life depended on it.

“Oh, this is ridiculous,” Lily scoffed, making her way down to the boys with Julienne on her heels.

“Is everything alright,” Julienne asked, rubbing Remus’s arm gently. He grabbed her wrist tightly, wishing he hadn’t come over here after all. He didn’t notice the sour look Sirius shot their way.

“I just drew that, and she lost it,” he whispered, pointing toward the parchment on the table.

Julienne reached through, picking it up and staring at it. It looked like some mediocre drawing; nothing special really. Sure, it looked a bit medieval, and, yes, rather daunting, but it was nothing to get too worked up over, at least not to them.

“The Dark Mark,” Lehmann finally spoke, voice wavering. “It’s the image of the Dark Lord.”

Remus scrunched his face in confusion, “Who?”

The faces of those around him seemed to fall in dread, excluding Lily. James gulped, looking at Sirius with concerned eyes. Remus had never heard such an expression. A dark lord? Sounded a bit comical if you asked him. Though, judging by the grave looks of those around him, he assumed the others wouldn’t be inclined to agree.

“Voldemort,” Sirius sighed, turning to Remus.

“Who’s Voldemort?”

“Some unhinged wizard dead set on taking over the world,” James supplied, voice tired. “My parents have talked about him a bit; really wonky dude, mate.”

“He’s horrible,” Julienne mumbled. “I heard he murdered his own family.”

“He’s done much worse,” James hissed. The classroom fell into despondent silence while absorbing James’s words. “Don’t fall into his deception. He’s just a coward relying on magic. He’ll never be anything more than that.”

“Don’t,” Lily warned him, gripping his forearm tightly. “I mean, I know he can’t hear us… but I don’t like jinxing things.”

Remus felt as if a door had slammed into his face. All of the information soaking into his brain made him queasy; so it was Voldemort talking to him? In that dream, the very first dream, it had been this man – the Dark Lord they called him – who’d called him delicate. That serpent like voice had told him to search deep within himself and to find something. Remus still hadn’t stumbled upon what it was he was supposed to find, exactly, and that very voice told him to find them once he had. What did any of this mean?

Only one person would know.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

McGonagall peered over her spectacle at the five students in front of her: Remus Lupin as he chewed his already too short finger nails, Sirius Black as he fiddled with the end of his braid nervously, James Potter glaring forward with the burn of determination in his eyes, Peter Pettigrew eyeing the biscuit tray and the fire with comfort, and, the new addition, Miss Lily Evans trying to calm Mr. Potter with a gentle stroke of her hand.

“Why is it always you four,” she asked, pinching the bridge of her nose in feigned annoyance.

“You know that life would be awfully dull without us,” James snickered.

Dull was an interesting choice of words, she thought dryly. Minerva didn’t get paid enough for the things she endured. This was more up Albus’s alley.

“So,” she cleared her throat, setting down her parchment, “you mean to tell me that Professor Lehmann has decided you’ve been in direct contact with Tom Riddle via dreams and prophecies based on your own memory, incoherent dream sequences that you just so happen to remember, and some obscure drawing pulled from said dreams and/or prophecies?”

Remus blanched, “Well, Professor, when you put it like that it sounds –”

“Ludicrous,” she deadpanned. “Indeed it does, Mr. Lupin. My question for you, however, is how seriously are we going to take Syb – Professor Lehmann?”

“Not to be rude, Minnie,” Sirius began, ignoring the indignant scoff from McGonagall, “but Lehmann has actually been fairly decent at predicting things. Like, back in third year she told me that there would be a break in my familial tree, and look at it now. I’ll probably be the first one without a cousin for my wife and an inbred child!”

An awkward silence fell upon the room, McGonagall’s mouth ajar as she tried to find some sort of response to Sirius’s heavy revelation. Even Remus, who’d been used to Sirius’s nonchalant attitude towards his recent family endeavors, swallowed thickly. Lily must not have been aware of their current dynamic as she didn’t hide her surprise very well.

Sirius bashfully peered up at Remus, “Too s—”

“Too soon,” Remus affirmed.

McGonagall raised her eyebrows, wafted with sentimentalism far too early in the day, “Well, needless to say, I wouldn’t take whatever she had told you very lightly, Mr. Lupin. Lehmann is fickle.”

“What do you mean by that,” James asked coyly, taking a biscuit for himself knowing she wouldn’t object. They were his favorite anyway – jaffa cakes.

“I simply mean that claiming you have some sort of conceptual, inner eye is far different from claiming that you have discernable, applicable, concrete knowledge about the linkage between a young wizard and a supposedly rising Dark Lord, Mr. Potter, and I highly doubt that Alora Lehmann has the latter.”

“Preach,” Lily muttered beneath her breath.

Remus frowned; he wasn’t a fan of Divination, and, at times, Lehmann’s mystic and vague responses got on his nerves. Yet, she was still a good teacher. She was… well, she wasn’t practical. Maybe not in the conventional way. For her practice, at least, she was. She was thorough and always made sure you understood. She enjoyed teaching, as being a “seer” was a passion. In a way, Lehmann made a perfectly suitable teacher. It was only that her tactics might have been overshot. Just a smidge.

“Well, Professor Toebeans,” Sirius began.

“Mr. Black, I’ll have you scrubbing toilets for the rest of the term if you continue to call me that,” McGonagall warned.

“But you do have toes shaped like beans!”

“And you are also my problem child that is constantly seeking asylum in my office instead of his books, but I do not call you that,” she countered hotly, but Sirius missed the point entirely.

He grasped his chest, a blissful and heartfelt smile on his face, “You think of me as one of your own? Minnie!”

“For Merlin’s sake,” she groaned. “Mr. Black, please get a hold of yourself.”

Lily, itching to get to the point before she exploded, “Professor, Remus has something to show you. Something he saw in his dreams.”
Remus nodded, pulling out the cursed parchment and handing it to his professor. With thin fingers, she took it from him, examining it through her spectacles with dismay.

Minerva McGonagall was a steeled woman with very little room for emotive expressions. James joked that it was because of her disdain, pursed lips or the scowl she always wore. But Remus regarded her with a dignified air. She was professional to a T, and he admired her for that. Some teachers chose favorites and didn’t hide it very well. It was clear, to him at least, that even though the Marauders were her favorite, she would go to her grave without ever openly revealing so.

“Where have you seen this before, Mr. Lupin,” she asked quickly.

“Just in the dream,” he answered, looking down at his feet.

“You’ve never seen this mark before,” she questioned apprehensively. “Not in passing? On the front page of the prophet? Does your father not work in the Ministry?”

Remus, confused, slowly replied, “I mean, he doesn’t tell me anything going on. Says I should focus on school at the moment, then worry about the adult things later.”

McGonagall paused for a moment, then said, “That you should, Remus. That you should.”

Sirius perched his chin on her desk, looking up at her with wide, interested eyes.

“So, what’s it mean, Minnie,” he asked excitedly. “Is this another adventure?”

“No,” she barked, causing Sirius to flinch. Actually, causing everyone to flinch. She softened her expression, even offering an apologetic glance to Sirius. “This is not something to be explored further by any of you, am I making myself clear? If I find out that any of you have pursued this further, I will have no choice but to punish you.”

Everyone nodded. Everyone except for James and Sirius. What a surprise.

Chapter Text

London, June 1977

London was always dreadful in the summer. The air was thick, and the wind hardly ever blessed the masses with a breeze. The air was heavy with humidity, and Remus felt his usually billowing shirt dampened against his skin; he really did hate the summer. Sweaty bodies brushed against each other as regular people made their way about the city, some of them cursing the Gods for making it so bloody hot. Of course, Sirius was one of those people, not that Remus blamed him.

Spending an hour jogging the streets of London was taxing, to say the least, in 32-degree weather. The Americans said it felt closer to 100 – which was something the boys could hop on board with. It might have been sweltering, it might have been exhausting, and Remus just might have had to throw away that sweater considering how drenched in sweat it was, but, according to their leader, James Potter, this adventure was worth the torture. Remus had a bone to pick with that mentality. James was used to practicing in the heat, the rain, the cold, and anything else. Remus detested any form of physical activity.

"Mark me," Sirius cried, "I'm going to melt!"

James ignored his whining, pressing on through the crowd. He'd barely said more than a sentence since they lost the Potter's in the Underground. Well, James had lost them in the Underground considering it was starkly different from King's Cross; Remus had to remember that two out of the four of them didn't even know what a rubber duck was. Even Peter, who'd grown up somewhat Muggle, was unfamiliar and, if he dared say so, a bit afraid of the tubes. Remus had ridden them whenever they visited the city, which wasn't too often, but often enough for him to understand the process.

"If Remus had been leading us, we'd still be following them," Peter chided. "He's a damn giant."

"Yeah, and they'd probably fucking see him, Peter," James hissed, not hiding his frustrations very well.

The heat made them all moody. Maybe not Remus; the hot just made him feel icky. But it was ever so clear that the mischievous, excited James who'd sprung on the lot of them at six in the morning had all but curled up and died, now replaced with this temperamental, moody boy who barked orders and pushed strangers.

"I'm just saying," Peter muttered. "I doubt we'll ever find them. Do you even know how big London is?"

James rolled his eyes, choosing not to answer Peter's question. Of course, he knew how big London was. Sure, his parents could have been anywhere. A pub, an ice cream shop, a tailor – anywhere. The likelihood of them finding them now – almost an hour after they'd lost them in the Underground – was slim to none. James was taking a leap of faith by leading them to the Leaky Cauldron.

He also just wanted a drink and hadn't thought to bring any Muggle money. But they didn't have to know that. They did not need to know that his plan actually wasn't going according to the plan because that would've made Sirius angry, Peter dejected, and Remus hopeless.

They couldn't lose hope. Not yet. Even though the chance was slim, the chance was there regardless. They'd come all the way from Wales – cramped up under the invisibility cloak for an hour – and been subjected to the relentless waves of summer heat. If they gave up now, that would all be for nothing. Remus wouldn't know what was going on with his dreams, Peter would be a nervous wreck, and Sirius would do something even more dangerous and outlandish to find a solution to the problem that might have alerted McGonagall.

That was the last thing they needed.

"Moony," Sirius crooned, nudging Remus's shoulder with his sweaty forehead. Remus couldn't be bothered to natter on about it.

"Yes, love," he replied, his tone mimicking that of a parent coddling their child.

"I'm terribly thirsty."

Remus draped an arm over Sirius, not caring if it made the warmth on his skin increasingly worse, "We're going to stop soon, Pads." He urged them closer to James. "Hey, Prongs, do you think we could stop for a drink or something? Pads is -"

"Complaining," James cut Remus off sharply. "We're all tired and thirsty and ready to go home, but he doesn't get special treatment."

Remus frowned slightly, taken back by James's attitude, "I wasn't saying -"

"No," James turned around to face Remus. "You don't even have to say it."

"James," Peter whisper-yelled, suddenly aware of the attention they were drawing. "Let's do this somewhere else."

"No, Pete, I don't want to do this somewhere else," James snarled.

"What are you on about now," Sirius drawled, that impassive, glazed look that irked Remus beyond belief now in place.

James glared at Sirius for a moment, looking him up and down and sizing him up. They got like this quite often nowadays. Sirius would prattle away at James for his investment in Lily while James would almost always have something to say about the amount of time Sirius spent with Remus. James would argue with Sirius over whether or not he should study with Remus and Sirius would insult James for following Lily around like a lost puppy. The two of them were constantly at each other's throats – one always ready to attack the other; it was no way to live.

James had never got onto Remus until that afternoon in London. Now, it wasn't to the extent that he'd shouted at Sirius. This was child's play. Remus didn't want to test the waters anymore, but it would've appeared that this was an argument waiting to happen; he hated to say it, but the boys needed to have it out. It was the only way tensions would settle.

"You're just upset you're not the center of attention, aren't you," Sirius sneered. "Hate to break it to you, Jimbo, but the center of my world is not you. Shocking, I know."

"I never fucking expected it to be," James fired back. "I simply expected my best mate to show more loyalty to our friendship rather than following his prick around, but I guess I didn't lower my expectations enough for that, did I?"

Sirius snickered, "James, honestly, I live to surprise. Regarding myself, if the bar hasn't been set at rock bottom then you're destined to be disappointed."

"Stop talking about yourself like that," Peter cut in swiftly.

"Stay out of this, Peter," James warned, taking a threatening step toward Sirius. "It isn't our fault he's got such a low self-concept. I guess not even his boyfriend could fix that for him."

Sirius's turned a deep shade of red, and Remus could feel the knot in his chest tightening. He'd only seen Sirius mad twice before. At least that mad. Sure, he threw petty tantrums and pissy fits once a week. But to be in a fit of rage? Not unheard of, rather rare.

"Now, you leave Remus out of this," he glowered. "Some of us were raised with decency and respectability."

James scoffed, "You give a lot of merit to that freakshow you call a family."

"And you give a lot of credit to a family who'd rather work on potions and sew quilts rather than spend time with their spoilt brat."

James paled, and Remus realized they'd both crossed lines they couldn't uncross. Families were out of the question; you just didn't bring them up. Sirius's past held too much pain and sorrow to even begin to unpack at their age; Joycelin was lucky if she could get him to talk about his little brother on a good day. James's past held too much solitude to be considered healthy. The Potter's were good people, but they were also busy people. They were adventurers and jacks of all trades. They loved acquiring new skills and making discoveries. They thought James would be the next adventure.

Remus stepped in between the two of them, pressing a hand on their chests to push them apart.

"Look -"

"How dare you speak on their name like that," James murmured, shoving Remus away from him. He stumbled, twisting his ankle in a way that made him wince. Wasn't broken, at least. "They took you in. Adopted you. Saved you from practically being killed by your own cousin!" Sirius never removed his glare from James, daring him to continue. But James was not scared of Sirius. Never had been, and he wouldn't start today. "They've treated you like fucking family, like a son, Sirius. You're just a vindictive, cowardly shithead, you are. Got it from your fucking Mum, did you? Could she not beat that out of you?"

That was the final straw. Before Remus could process the movement, Sirius raised his hand to prepare a punch. Quidditch trained him to be swift and tactile, and Remus knew that the blow would prove powerful. Blame it on his true shades of Gryffindor, maybe on his pacifist ways, but he couldn't let Sirius go through with it. If Remus knew him well, and he was almost positive that he did, Sirius would come to regret the punch later and stoop into a sour, dwelling mood that would put off their adventure any further.

Without thinking much more on the matter, Remus shoved James out of the way just as Sirius's fist came down. At first there wasn't much feeling, but then a hotness spread across his face, his eyes watering. He couldn't tell, really, if it was just his body reacting to – what he assumed was – a broken nose, or if the pain had registered in his tear ducts before anything else. He blinked back the tears, blood already pouring out of his nose onto his sweater.

"Oh my God," a woman howled, cueing the bystanders to form a small circle around the boys.

Strangers asked if he was okay, already sending sour looks toward Sirius, some asking if the police needed to be called.

James assured them that they were fine, just got in a bit of an argument, but the woman wasn't buying it. Remus and Peter left it to James to sort the matter out; Sirius watched in astonishment as Remus clambered to his feet.

"Re- Remus I'm... Remus I'm so sorry," he stammered, making a move to embrace Remus, bloody, broken nose and all, before Peter took a protective step in front of him.

"Oh, right you are," he growled. "You wouldn't even have to be sorry if you'd just kept your bloody cool!"

"It was an accident," Sirius pleaded. "I didn't mean to hit him."

Remus took a handkerchief someone passed him; he couldn't even thank them. Blood poured into his mouth, the taste of iron covering his taste buds. He hated that – the taste of blood. It reminded him of transformations, and those were the last things he wanted to be reminded of currently. He made an attempt to plug his nostrils, wincing in undeniable pain. Yeah. It was really fucking broken. Honestly, Sirius could go fuck himself.

"You shouldn't have been throwing punches in the first place, you asshole," Peter exclaimed. He turned on his heel, taking Remus by the arm gently. "Come on, Moony. Let's go." When Sirius and James made to follow, Peter pounced on them. "No. You aren't coming with us."

Sirius grimaced, "He needs me! It's not like you know -"

"Contrary to your beliefs," Peter barked, a hint of pain lacing his words, "I am a part of this group. I've been here for six years, Sirius. I think I can tell when Remus needs me and when he doesn't; you're not the only fucking friend he has. So back the hell off."

Remus was shocked, to say the least, at this side of Peter. He was typically a rather passive bloke, rarely got into any scuffles with the boys. He preferred to remain neutral in most conflicts that were above the pacifist line, and Remus didn't blame him. Arguments in their dormitory could get heated. There were matters that not even Remus wanted to get involved in. Ones like theirs today was an example, and he regretted it immensely.

James seemed to understand, a look of guilt plastered all over his features. It was selective, like Sirius's. Remus knew that it would be a while before Sirius admitted to himself, alone, that he might have stepped out of line. Might have. It would be even longer before he issued a half-apology, one which James would immediately accept simply because the two of them hated being on terms like this.

Remus could see that, despite still being extremely angry, James regretted the disagreement. It was the way they worked. They argued like brothers, nearly strangling each other. Then they ignored each other, pretended the other was never even born. After that, by some fucking miracle, one of them ended up cracking under the pressure. It was usually James, because James was truly a baby at heart and hated the boys being upset with him. Sirius always apologized eventually. Eventually. Which was worth something, in James's eyes.

"Fuck you, Peter," Sirius spat, "I'm not leaving until Remus says so. Besides, he doesn't want me to leave, do you, Remus?"

Remus paled. He hated being put in the middle, especially by Sirius. A part of him wanted him to come because... well, just because. That part of him felt the incessant need to be with Sirius at all times because, without him, Remus felt half full. In a city full of judgmental strangers that loved to stare at his marred face, Sirius tugging on the sleeves of his sweater and complaining about the heat was about the only thing in the world that calmed his nerves. Yes, this was the part of Remus's mushy brain that loved to romanticize his flaws, but could you blame him?

But then, Remus was reminded that Sirius just punched him in the face. Sure, he didn't mean to. He was actually aiming for James, but that didn't make it any better. Remus detested violence with every fiber of his being. He grew up with violence and hatred, and now that it was time for him to build a life of his own, he wanted a world without it. Sirius was dangerous. Not to Remus, and not always to James, but to himself. He needed to sort out the whirlwind of emotions inside of him before Remus could consider having a proper conversation with him.

But how could he communicate that without Sirius taking it the wrong way? Sirius was sensitive. He was touch starved and jumpy, taking the slightest change in tone like a stab to the kidney. Every movement was calculated to ensure he didn't do anything to lose Remus, and it wasn't healthy. It dawned on Remus, then, as he watched Sirius's triumphant smirk deflate in the silence, that whatever it was between them wasn't exactly healthy. Maybe he did need space? No. Maybe Sirius needed space.

"Pads," Remus sighed, blood spattering a bit as he spoke, "I think it would be best to just... take a break, you know? Just for a bit."

No one could mistake the implications in his wording. Not even Peter. Remus wasn't just speaking about for the day. He wasn't saying that he needed to get cleaned up and readied for the rest of their sleuthing. Sirius knew exactly what he meant, and his heart withered.

"Oh," he said.

Remus nodded, giving Peter a pleading look. He didn't want to stay in that situation longer than necessary; it reminded him, oddly, of breaking up with Julienne. But they weren't breaking up. Can you even break up with someone you weren't even exclusively seeing? That didn't matter, because he wasn't ending it. He just needed some time to process the fact that Sirius, in his fit of rage, broke Remus's nose.

Peter steer Remus away from a dejected looking Sirius and a conflicted James, ignoring the call of the crowd behind them. They walked and walked, the blazing sun not feeling the slightest remorse for Remus and his nose; waves of heat simmered above the pavement. He got odd stares every now and then, usually from women or children. A young boy pointed and laughed, and Remus couldn't find the strength to scold him.

"Can I ask a question," Peter asked suddenly.

"Shoot," Remus grunted.

The pain had dulled to a low throb, his temples pulsing every few seconds against the sunlight or the rev of a car engine. He hated this feeling; it reminded him of the mornings after. They always ended like this – a vacant, hollow feeling in his chest as his mind reeled with the aftermath of a scuffle, throbbing sensations in places he didn't even know could throb, and irritation. Not with anyone else, but with himself.

"Why do you defend him," Peter asked. "I get it, we're all best mates, and I would do anything for you and James... but I wouldn't for Sirius."

Remus paused his thoughts, absorbing the words that Peter had just said. It was no secret that Sirius didn't always treat Peter the way he deserved to be treated. More often than not, he was there to be a nuisance, according to Sirius. The only thing he was good for was standing lookout because he couldn't not make a dire mistake. Remus didn't see Peter like that. In fact, he saw a lot of his nervousness in him, and admired him for not thinking twice about Sirius's attitude.

Five years ago, James and Sirius were bullies. Well, James was the bully; Sirius could be considered one for going along with it, but Remus regarded that more as a bystander. He'd almost let James scare him away with his taunts and mean-spirited jests. But Peter was different. He still cared for Sirius, or at least he acted like he still cared about him. Up until then.

"Sirius," Remus began, but cut himself short. He fumbled a moment over his words, his surroundings becoming familiar. They were nearing the entrance to Diagon Alley. "What I have with Sirius is... different."

"I could see that, yeah," Peter shrugged, appearing unconvinced. "But he's so mean, all the time. He complains all the time. He takes his anger out on everyone else all the time. How can you begin to be okay with that?"

"I'm not okay with it, Peter," Remus assured. "I've had conversations with him about it. People like him? They're different. Trauma does a lot to people."

Peter screwed up his face, "What's trauma?"

"It's when someone goes through something disturbing or distressful," Remus explained, watching as Peter tapped the brick wall with his wand. "Sometimes, if it's bad enough, the scars left aren't just physical, but also emotional and psychological. I think that's why he acts the way he acts." Peter opened his mouth to speak. "And before you say it, I'm not saying it's an excuse. But it's an explanation. I'd rather know that he's not doing it for no reason."

They stepped through the opening, welcoming the cool breeze of Diagon Alley. Wizards bustled here and there, chatting wildly about this and that. Children ran around from shop to shop, some buying candy while other's bought books. It was that time of the year again. For the Marauders, it was the last time it would ever be "that time of the year again." Something ticked in Remus's chest.

"Still," Peter grumbled. "Doesn't mean he can be a berk to us."

"I know," Remus clapped Peter on the back. "He'll learn. That's why he's going to see Slade."

Peter merely nodded, holding the door to the Leaky Cauldron open for Sirius. For the most part, the pub was empty. A few patrons hung around in the afternoon, but it picked up speed around five o'clock. Remus was thankful they'd be gone before rush hour. They took a seat in a booth far from the rest of the world, ordering two butterbeers.

"D'ya want me to fix that for you," Peter gestured to the crumpled heap that was once his nose. Remus nodded gratefully. "Episkey."

Remus yelped, bones cracking right back into place. He always hated that part, but it was better than Poppy's Skele-Gro. Remus would endure another fractured nose rather than drink that piss ever again. Peter hummed in satisfaction.

That's when he heard them. The Potter's. He heard Euphemia's heels clack against the hardwood floor, her nervous laughter as Albus Dumbledore – wait, Albus Dumbledore? - tried to soothe her nerves.

"Fucking hell," Remus hissed, ducking for cover just as Fleamont's eyes surveyed the room. Careful man, he was. Always so bloody careful. He was almost sure he'd been spotted when Euphemia didn't laugh again, and he started to panic. What would he do if they were found? How could he explain that they'd done exactly what they were told not to do, left Potter manor and followed them around burning London to uncover whatever it was that McGonagall tried so hard to cover up in January? You can't. There's no way to talk yourself out of that.

"They're gone," he heard Peter's voice, but didn't find his body to pair it with. Remus looked under the table, around the table, behind the booth, and couldn't find him.

"Wormtail," he whisper-yelled. "Bloody fuck, Wormtail, where are you?"

"Look down, mate," Peter snickered.

Just barely reaching half of his shoe length, Peter Pettigrew, alternatively known as Wormtail, was on the floor. Only, he was a rat. A fat, blue eyed, sandy brown rat. Had he not been speaking to Remus, who was more astonished he could understand him, he would've kicked him across the country. But he knew better.

"Why can I understand you," he whispered, trying to maintain some composure.

"Not sure, actually," Peter said, and Remus could almost see the shrug that would've accompanied it. "When we go with you for full moons, we can talk to one another. Maybe it's like that?"

Remus was on sensory overload, not sure how to take any of this information anymore. So, he could talk to the boys whilst they were in their Animagus form and the Potter's, out of every family in London, just so happened to be having a super-secret meeting in the Leaky Cauldron with their headmaster.

Maybe God was on their side.

"I've an idea," Remus mumbled into his cup, "but you're not going to like it."

Peter groaned, "Why is it always me?"

Three minutes later, with what felt likes miles of scurrying through shoes and broken peanuts, Peter had managed to locate the room where the meeting was being held. Thankfully, the Leaky Cauldron had plenty of mice before him, a system already running through the walls. He situated himself in an opening, screwing up his face as he tried his hardest to listen to their words. Remus was depending on him; he couldn't fail.

"I think we can all agree that it's in the boys' best interest to finish their education before alluding any of what follows today," McGonagall suggested.

"Agreed," said a rather unfamiliar, rough voice. "Remus is depending on this education to get him a decent job."

Ah, Peter thought, Mr. Lupin.

"We're all in support of Remus, Mr. Lupin," Fleamont reassured him.

"Let's get to business," Alastor Moody demanded. "Tom Riddle moves fast, and if we're to be a step ahead of him, then we've got to be five steps ahead of him. The only way to do that is to not dawdle."

"For starters, how could we be sure it's Riddle communicating with Remus," Fleamont asked. "It could very well be Malfoy or, perhaps, another skilled Oculemens."

"That is, Fleamont, a very good point," Dumbledore offered. "In Alora's report, she wrote that, in Remus's dream, the speaker never revealed himself."

"So," Lyall scoffed, "how can we be sure it's even one of them?"

"Forgive me, Mr. Lupin, but you of all people should understand the severity of this situation," McGonagall barked.

"I don't doubt the severity, I doubt the evidence," Lyall stated. "Remus is imaginative. He loves literature and all kinds of stories. He gets a bit feverish after transformations."

"According to my dates, Mr. Lupin, Remus's transformation had been over two weeks ago," Pomphrey informed the table. "And, if I may be frank, Remus bounces back rather quickly these days."

"On to the point," Alastor growled, "we know that, for sure, Riddle is involved. Your son drew the Dark Mark himself, and, unless you've been sharing Ministry classified information with your son over breakfast, I'd bet my good eye that he didn't just stumble upon that in his studies."

Peter liked this man. He got to the point, much like he wished he could.

"We know that Remus's dreams have been occurring since his fourth year," Dumbledore sighed. "In these dreams, he's typically given a task. If he fails to complete them, he is tormented by a faceless, nameless figure."

"So," Lyall shrugged, not bothering to hide his distress, "what can we do about it?"

There was a long pause, a pause that made Peter uneasy. Dumbledore and McGonagall always had an answer. They always know what to do in a situation. They were old and wise, and Peter admired them for that. So, when they didn't have an answer for Lyall Lupin and his son, Peter's mousy stomach dropped. Things weren't looking too good, and he wondered what details he might have to tweak for the Marauder's sake.

Moody slammed a fist on the table, "We fight it from the inside. Fight fire with fire."

What even?

"I don't think subjecting a child to -"

"Minerva, he's no longer a child," Fleamont muttered. "If Riddle doesn't consider him a child, rather a target, then we have to act on those same terms."

Peter pondered this for a moment, and came to this conclusion: their final year was going to be devoid of joy and devoid of pranks if Moody got his way. And, if history really did repeat itself, then Moody was going to get his way.

Chapter Text

Lupin Cottage, July 1977

By some miracle, all four of the Marauders managed to squeeze into Remus's room. However, there was little room to spare. They swore it was no trouble, that they'd been used to the close quarters after all those nights sneaking down into the kitchens under the safety of the cloak. They'd been used to cramming themselves into broom closets to elude Filch or Minnie, or Remus being shoved into little niches in corridors to snog Sirius in the middle of his rounds. In fact, they said they preferred the close quarters considering the nature of their conversation. Sure, they were used to it, but it didn't stop Remus's embarrassment from blowing up in his face.

James's room was the size of a classroom at Hogwarts. There were Quidditch tokens on every possible shelf in the room, large gallery windows that let the light spill in on summer mornings, and a large fireplace to keep him warm in the winter. He had signed brooms, toys of all sorts he hadn't played with in years, and a million other odd things that made James's room, well, James's room.

Remus had never seen Sirius's room at Grimmauld Place for himself, but he imagined it being as grand and luxurious as the marvel himself. He could see the posters, both Muggle and Wizarding, and the limited-edition art supplies scattered across the floor. He could see the old artifacts his uncle had been gifting him since the entire ordeal with his cousin, Bella. There would be old paintings of his on the wall, ready for his picky scrutiny and his egotistical praise. His broom, the one he only ever used to humor James when he was in some mood or another.

Peter's room was smaller than Sirius's or James's, but there was still quite a difference between his and Remus's. He took on a more Muggle approach to decorating than the rest of them, similar to Remus. He supposed that he and Peter got along because of their similar upbringing – the Muggle upbringing. They had similar band posters up, rooted for the same football teams. Well, really, they just related better, even if Remus was still a bit further behind than even Peter. They related because neither came from money and neither of them were quite as infamous as the Potter's or the Black's. To put it simply, they were just plain. Not much to compare to.

Remus couldn't help but feel a bit ashamed of his own room despite millions of protests from the Marauders. James and Sirius took a hard liking to it seeing as though they'd never come in contact with half of the Muggle related items Remus had like a television, a digital alarm clock, a radio, and his walkman.

James pointed, "Who is he?"

Remus looked up at the Queen poster. Well, it was more like a Freddie Mercury poster now that he looked at it.

"He's a singer," he informed them. "Really popular among Muggles."

Sirius's eyebrows knitted together tightly, "What on God's green earth is he wearing?"

If he was referring to the sparkling spandex leotard Mercury sported quite often, Remus could only snicker. Even though he pretended to be some sort of macho-libre, Sirius probably adored Mercury's attire more than he loved his own. Sirius was just outlandish like that. He was exuberant and flamboyant beyond all belief and adored loud colors like neon purple and shimmering silver. Remus was positive that, if he told Sirius the name of the clothing, he'd be sporting one around Hogwarts in a month.

Going against his better judgement – more like he wanted to laugh his arse off to Sirius prancing around in a sparkling leotard – Remus said with a rueful smile, "It's called a leotard. Everyone wears them nowadays. Helps them dance and exercise."

James grimaced at the image of his father dancing in something that tight and that... transparent.

"He's got really good records," Peter beamed, looking at Remus. "D'ya hear their latest release?"

Remus grinned, "Mum came back from the Vinyl store about a week ago. Have you heard it?"

"No, I wanted to wait for you."

"No fucking way. I wanted to wait for you!"

James and Sirius glanced in between the two of them, confused and amused all together about the exchange. James was proud that they got along so well; he knew that there could be moments where the bond between him and Sirius was rather... exclusive. It was no secret that they could easily create third and, at times, fourth wheels. They had a way of speaking to each other, a way of connecting, that shut the world out some days whether it be with inside jokes, vacation stories, or conversations about their summer holiday together. Sometimes they'd play pranks – just the two of them. Some days they'd just go out to the pitch and fly, not because they wanted to get some practicing in, but just because the world seemed to be closing in on the both of them. They'd felt that way a lot lately, actually.

They'd all felt that way.

So, to see that Remus and Peter had someone to confide in, even if it was some obscure Muggle singer he'd never heard of, James's heart warmed. Peter deserved to have a friend, and Remus deserved to have someone who didn't blast his heart to shards every week.

They dabbled in music for a while, Peter and Remus knowing every word to every song they played on the radio. James and Sirius couldn't understand how a big plastic box simply needed another mini plastic box to be put inside of it, and then, somehow, music came out. It wasn't just one song. One of the little boxes had twenty songs on it! You could adjust the volume, the bass, and anything else you could dream of! Muggles sure were inventive. It took a few tries to get Sirius on board; he seemed wary to trust something that... new. Then again, hadn't Walburger, the wicked witch of the west, trained Sirius to detest anything with Muggle ties?

Dinner was easy enough – in the beginning. Mrs. Lupin had made Sunday roast for the boys and Lyall, who just so happened to have the weekend off. Conversation between the boys and Mrs. Lupin flowed easily. She asked them all sorts of questions Remus never had the information to answer. Things like the properties of potions or mind-reading. Every now and then, Lyall would pull a face at his wife when asking a question that seemed a bit comical. It wasn't like when Fleamont teased Euphemia about his job. No, Lyall seemed serious about his disdain, annoyed that she didn't understand his world. Annoyed that she was asking children these things instead of him. He would, every so often, voice his opinion about one thing or another, typically politics and juvenile things.

James noticed that Lyall's eyes would flit between Remus and Sirius as they spoke to one another; they weren't being discreet, exactly. As per usual, they were off in their own little world. They might have been on some sort of 'break,' but even James could see the obvious pull between the two of them. In the way they smiled at one another as they whispered stupid, trivial things or how, if you just so happened to glance under the table, their knees were pressed tightly against each other. Sometimes, Sirius would pick at Remus's untouched food, cueing him to take another bite because he needed to eat instead of talk to everyone else. Remus would bump his shoulder against Sirius's when he made some crude joke under his breath and laugh about it secretly.

But, if you weren't looking for anything, there was something... warm about them. Something welcoming. Like an elderly couple in a diner or some picket fence neighborhood with hydrangeas lining the walkway. James could see it because he'd lived with them for the past six years of his life; he knew their subtle language because he'd learned it. They radiated affection. They breathed life into the room. They breathed something into each other that fueled them. If one smiled, well, expect the other to as well. James and Sirius's bond was one thing. Brothers for life, as they said. However, there was something much different, something stronger, in the bond between Sirius and Remus. Something unconditional. Something that, no matter what came in between them, always revived itself.

It was beautiful, really, and James envied them. Their world was far from perfect, and it would never reach that standard, but it was genuine. It was sincere. It was raw, unadulterated, and unconditional. There were few relationships in this world that were those things. Nevertheless, James knew that he wanted it with Lily – wanted that same fire that Remus and Sirius had always had. He wondered, sometimes, if he could steal it away from them for himself and apply it to him and Lily, but disowned the idea after realizing Sirius would rather die than lose whatever he had with Remus – the dramatic little twit.

Yeah. He envied them. With everything he had. Because it was beautiful.

If you didn't have a brain, then you could simply see two friends that touched too much but were close. But, on the off chance that you did have one, there was more underneath anything that they did. James noticed, with apprehension, Lyall had a brain. A quick one.

Lyall cleared his throat, interrupting a quiet conversation between Remus and Sirius on the other side of the table, "So, Sirius, what is it you're planning on doing after Hogwarts? You strike me as a Ministry man."

Sirius scoffed, sipping his ginger ale with a dismissive look, "Ministry is corrupt, Mr. Lupin."

"Everything's a bit corrupt, wouldn't you agree," Lyall countered smoothly.

"Well, a cruel, power hungry government doesn't particularly help the matter."

Lyall paused for a beat, considering the answer, "You're just like Remus, you know." He smiled bitterly. "Too optimistic."

"Actually, sir, we're the exact opposite," Sirius pointed out dryly, ignoring the hard kick to his ankle. "According to the boys at this table, I'm rather dark and gloomy on a good day. I have no faith or trust in the government, and I think that it takes every opportunity to make the lives of their citizens terrible. What's optimistic about that?"

Mrs. Lupin snickered, "He got you, Lyall."

"Hope," Lyall hissed. The smile faded from her face as quick as it came, her eyes averting to the leftover roast on her plate. Remus hated when she got that look in her eyes – defeated and deflated. Lyall turned his attention back to an impassive Sirius. "What do you propose we do about the corruption, then, Sirius? You can't expect the government to hand over its power to the people."

James piped up, "Isn't that a democracy, though?"

Sirius smirked, "You misunderstand me, Mr. Lupin. I never said that it was the power that corrupted the Ministry. I said they were power hungry, yes, but its fear that's corrupted your world. Fear of losing. Fear of revelation and vulnerability. When you're afraid of these things, you'd do anything to reinforce your power. However, the Ministry has been losing that over the years – it's all over the Prophet. So, in order to climb back to the top of the political and societal food chain, they'll do anything to obtain that power over the people again.

'Things like extortion, bribery, and murder. Things like slavery and exiling. You know, the whole shebang. These things are what I detest about the Ministry. You all cut corners and take home little prizes to make you all feel like you've done good for the people when, in all actuality, you've done good for people like Walburga and Orion. People like the Potter's. The top 1% of wizards – you know, the pure-blood fanatics. If that's who you're finghting for, you've got the wrong demographic."

The room fell quiet after his tangent, tension weighing heavy on everyone's shoulders. Lyall couldn't have been bothered with granting that speech a response and went back to eating in silence. Peter managed to restart his conversation with Mrs. Lupin over sweaters and great shops in Muggle London while James exchanged worried glances with Remus.

He didn't like the look on his father's face. Not one bit. It reminded him of a wounded predator. Remus saw him get like that once in a fight with his brother-in-law – after Remus's tag had been renewed by the Ministry a few years back – and it didn't end well for anyone involved. He hated to imagine Sirius caught in the brutal attack his father might have administered; Lyall wasn't a fan of being showed up in his own home. Plus, if they were going to get any information about the meetings going on, they needed to keep the stakes low. Sirius wasn't exactly helping that.

"So, boys, tell me," Mrs. Lupin cooed, "does Remus really not have a girlfriend, or is he just embarrassed to tell us?"

Shocked, Remus choked on his tea. Sirius's hand shot up to rub his back, out of pure instinct, of course. He massaged gentle circles into his spine, hoping to soothe whatever attack he'd just had. Probably a panic attack, but he'd worry about that later.

No one knew how to respond to the question initially, because, well, in a way, Remus did have someone. Maybe not a girlfriend, exactly, and not really a boyfriend. They all silently agreed that mentioning the latter part was out of the question. None of them really took Lyall as an overly accepting man, and, judging by the stories Remus had told every now and then, he didn't seem like the liberal type.

James nervously glanced at Remus, who'd lost all the color in his cheeks.

"Er," Peter muttered, voice oddly high and strained.

Sirius rolled his eyes, "Oh, come now, Remus here is a regular Casanova!"

That set of words pulled a laugh – more like a bark – out of Lyall, who'd remained indifferent for the majority of the night. He slapped the table, silverware jingling frenetically against the top, and looked around at everyone's faces. Remus hid his shame behind a napkin; there was no way this conversation was salvageable.

"My son," he guffawed. "A Casanova? You've got the wrong family. Remus can hardly speak to the girls up the street – won't even give one of them a second glance."

"Yes, well, his tastes are more refined to the dignified type, if you will," Sirius lied.

Remus was interested in one person and one person alone, and they were far from dignified. They were crude, vulgar, incompetent, brash, and stupid. If he had enough braincells or energy to lengthen the list, he wouldn't hesitate.

"What's she like," Hope gleamed. "Is she in Gryffindor?"

Before Sirius could entertain this shitfest further, Remus cried, "Mother, please! Can we not? You know, at the dinner table? I'm trying to enjoy my last summer."

His mother reached over, placing a placating, delicate hand on his, "Oh, I know, darling. You just seem so reclused on your holidays. So lonely."

"I promise, I'm far from it."

Which wasn't exactly a lie. He wrote to and visited Julienne quite often, actually. He'd attended her violin recital with the boys a week ago; she was wonderful. It wasn't like he didn't write the boys. In fact, they were in correspondence quite often now with this new set of events. They demanded Remus keep track of his dreams in a journal, much to his chagrin, and try to piece it all together. If they heard their parents talking about Tom Riddle, they were at their desk with a quill in an instant. Peter would come over to listen to music or play on their newest computer machine.

Then there were the more private moments. The moments when Remus found himself waking up feeling particularly odd and flustered, hot and heavy and tense all over. The moments with daydreams, wet dreams, and anything in between that jostled something in his stomach. Those moments in the shower with just him, his cock, and his imagination to run wild. Yeah, he enjoyed those mornings and midnight wanking sessions quite a lot. He loved it even more when he had some of those steamy letters Sirius would write just to wind him up.

No. They were on a break. Breaks included space, not imagining Sirius's warm, wet mouth wrapped around him at the crack of dawn. Breaks meant that he worked on himself, not perfecting the jerk of his wrist to –

He jerked himself – NO – pulled himself from his thoughts, willing the heat in his stomach to simmer to appropriate temperatures. The table was not the place for a hard on, more importantly, being next to Sirius was not the place to get a hard on. Knowing his vulgar, socially inept self, he would reach under the table and do something about it. He crossed his legs, ignoring the prickle in his cock as it rubbed against his thigh.

Not. Right. Now.

"We keep him busy, Mrs. Lupin," Sirius reassured her warmly. "We send him crosswords and reading spectacles to burn the days away in his room."

"I'm sure that's likely," Lyall growled, more to himself than anyone really, but he said it loud enough for the entire table to make out just enough to piece it all together.

Remus flushed, because it was obvious Sirius was lying for Mrs. Lupin's sake and Lyall saw right through that. But how far, exactly, did he see? If he had x-ray vision, Remus was royally and utterly fucked.

"I'm going to clear the table," Remus announced loudly, gathering up everyone's plates and excusing himself – a bit too eagerly – to the kitchen.

After setting everything in the sink, he braced the countertop until his fingers tingled and his knuckles were white. How stupid could he have been, inviting someone as exuberant and bold as Sirius fucking Black over for a cordial, family friendly weekend. He was out of his bloody mind thinking he could go two days without even hinting at those feelings in his chest and in his groin. Remus doubted he could go much longer without some release, but he was in a sticky situation. On the one hand, he could always escape in the shower. Then again, it was pressed right against the guest room where Peter and James would be staying. Fuck Peter and his blasted hearing, and fuck James with his super senses.

He wondered if he could sneak up to his room early and release himself before Sirius retired himself. It was risky, and he wasn't sure if he'd perfected the cleaning spell for human fluids just yet (thank God for the Potter's library). Someone could walk right in on him, cock in hand, and it would be over. He shuddered at the memory of 1975's summer; his mother had walked in on him and never looked at him the same again. If she'd read his thoughts, he was positive he'd be sent to some Catholic school in France, never to see his friends again.

There was no way to do this. Remus was stuck in close quarters with Sirius Black, of all the fucking people, with no way to relieve himself of the knot in his stomach or the tight pull in his prick.

"You know, lying is bad for your psyche," someone teased from the doorway. Remus didn't have to think too hard about it; he was all too familiar with that tug at his heart strings. "Especially to your poor, poor mother. Shame on you."

Sirius.

"Yes, well, I had to excuse myself before I slit my throat," he replied dryly. "Those moments will haunt my dreams for the remainder of my short and pitiful life."

Sirius snickered, crossing the kitchen with dishes in his hands as well. He stood beside Remus, not nearly as tall or thin, and leaned against the counter. Remus sensed something was different that weekend. The energy between them was charged differently. It was intense and warm, a feeling he'd not ever gotten used to. He was sure he would never get used to it only because it came back stronger every time. It would hit him like a sack of bricks some days.

He once felt that rush of energy when Sirius was painting. He wasn't doing anything special, really. His hair was pulled back in one of those elaborate braids Lily had taught him when she claimed his hair was just "unacceptably uncouth." Remus's sweatshirt was draped around his smaller frame like a blanket, and his basketball shorts reflected the afternoon light. It was odd because Sirius had purple paint on his face and hands; it reminded Remus a bit of a toddler with finger-paints, but, at the same, like a modern Van Gough or DaVinci.

That was the first time it happened. It snuck up on him, silent and sure. One moment he was lounging in his bed, writing poetry for the millionth time, and he shifted, not expecting the brisk wisp of pleasure to shoot up into his stomach. He hadn't ever felt that rush before, at least not as intensely. All from looking at Sirius, in Remus's sweatshirt, painting the sky after it rains.

It was bloody horrible.

It happened for every reason under the sun afterwards, some of them so fucking stupid. If they laid together, their knees touched, their arms pressed together, or they hugged? You bet your sweet arse Remus's prick jostled to life. It took him ages to figure out how to calm it, and only succeeded when imagining McGonagall in a leotard. He shuddered at the thought.

"Everything alright," Sirius questioned, reaching over and brushing a strand of hair out of Remus's eyes. "You seem bothered."

Remus sighed. Is it better to speak or die? Either way, he was going to die either of embarrassment or from suffering forever. How to choose?

He turned around, back pressed against the sink, "A lot going on in my head, to be completely honest."

"Humor me."

Remus felt his ears go hot and he spoke rapidly, "It's nothing."

"Oh," Sirius raised a casual brow, looking thoroughly unconvinced. "Then why are you acting like a crack addicted squirrel every time I just so much as -" as he moved to hold Remus's hand, Remus pinned it down to the counter, hard.

He refused to look Sirius in the eye, knowing there'd be nothing but a confirmation of everything. Sirius drove him up a Goddamn wall every second of every day. It didn't matter what he did, how he did it, or when he did it. Remus drowned in him and loved every second of it. Jerking off didn't do anything for him anymore, only left him wanting for more and more each time. He was going mad, he was.

But he shouldn't have been. He should have been protecting those boundaries he'd set up since June, respecting Sirius as he worked on his temper, damn it. He should've been mature about this, not some horny teenager. They needed to talk about things, set things up. They couldn't keep going like this. They'd crumble if they did.

"Look at me, Moony," Sirius whispered, breath hot on his skin. He let his finger trail up to Remus's jawline. "Look. At. Me."

Remus's heart leapt in his throat at the demand, worrying that someone might hear. To avoid that disaster, he forced his gaze on Sirius's face. He could feel the thump in his throat, that tightness in his groin pull taut, as it dawned on him that Sirius was going through the exact same motions. He felt it, too; he wanted this, too. The only difference was that he was planning on doing something about it.

God, Remus was a coward.

"What if," he began to say, voice trailing off because they both knew he didn't exactly care if anyone came in or heard or cared, for that matter. He honestly, for the first time, didn't care much. There was the Gryffindor spirit.

Neither one of them knew who moved first, only that their lips met so intensely that it was borderline violent. One of Sirius's hands twisted a handful of Remus's shirt in his hand as one of Remus's dug into Sirius's arse, nails both painful and satisfying. They're kissing – that's the only thing that registered in either of their minds. That, and the flavor of peppermint tea in the fucking summer. It's nothing like their kiss at Potter manor – slow and deliberate and gentle – and it is nothing like their kiss in the privacy of their dormitory. It was rough and passionate, hungry and all too fast to grasp. It was a far cry from desperate and lonely, but all too close to needy and agonizing.

Sirius gasped into Remus's mouth and Remus used this as an advantage to take control. Quickly, and a little too loudly, he pressed Sirius's back against the sink and bore down on him as he leaned into his body. Sirius buckled under the weight, but a swift hold of Remus's arm corrects that. They pressed against each other tightly, taking away any space that might have lingered in between.

Too soon – way too fucking soon – Remus felt Sirius's hips rolling against him, and gasps.

"Jesus, fuck," Remus choked out. "Sirius. Pads, that-"

He never finished his sentence, Sirius's mouth capturing his lips before he can draw some unwanted attention from the drawing room. His movements told Remus to, "Shut the fuck up," and it didn't take any rocket science to figure that out; Remus didn't mind.

He used his fingers to curl around Sirius's wrist as he nipped the skin at Remus's neck. It was tender and warm. Not the nipping, but the skin. Each tug of skin, the feeling of teeth against his neck, was like a shot of electricity, and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. Sirius traced his tongue along his earlobe and underneath his jawline, the hollows of his throat while he was at it.

Remus tasted wonderful, like sweat and sugar. He wanted him to know just how much he was enjoying himself, how he'd wanted this for months on end. All the trivial little things Remus did were driving him insane, and this was the only sensible way to tell him – by driving him insane right back. Remus, enjoying the friction against his groin, hummed against Sirius's lips. One of his hands moved to slip into the waistband of Sirius's pants when a sound echoed from the doorway.

In the blink of an eye, they ripped apart, hair flying and shirts catching on one another. Remus quickly busied himself with washing the dishes that should've been done minutes ago, but thoughts fracture his mind. How long had they been kissing? Who was at the doorway? What would the gates of Hell look like, because that's where he'd be ending up if it had been Lyall just behind his back. If he thought Sirius made his heart race, well, the mystery voyeur put that to the test. A panic attack was coming on, but it would look too suspicious if he turned around with swollen, wet lips and a half-undone shirt.

"Oh, Peter," Sirius sighed, partly relieved. "You should announce yourself more, you little creep."

Remus's heart settled back to its original position and the adrenaline slowed. He thanked God, again, for saving his poncey, horny skin.

"Erm," Peter squeaked. "I, er... Mrs. Lupin wanted – wanted you to, er, put the leftovers... in..."

"The fridge, yes, Peter, we understand, now scuttle along," Sirius barked, now in a sour mood.

Remus couldn't find it in him to be bothered by their interruption. He could just imagine it then - his hand wrapped around Sirius's throbbing cock, lips on the brink of a moan, and his conservative and clearly homophobic Auror of a father walking in on that.

If that had been the case, Tom Riddle would've been the least of Remus's worries. Still, he wondered what would've happened if it had only been them, alone, in Lupin Cottage.

Just Remus and Sirius to run wild. Well, and their vulgar imaginations.

Chapter Text

Lupin Cottage, July 1977

Remus glanced at the clock in his room. Ten minutes past twelve. On holidays, his father was usually working; he made a point to avoid spending time with Remus, so it seemed. Why this summer had to be different, Remus could not figure out. Out of all the weekends, Lyall chose that one. Remus was thankful for many things in his life – a house, an education, and friends – but there were some of God's blessings that he could easily mistake as a curse.

If they were going to snoop in Lyall's office, they'd have to be awake. At least two of them, Remus being essential. Someone would have to be a lookout, and, if worse came to worse, someone would have to help him. If Lyall decided to pull an all-nighter, they were fucked. Those weren't uncommon, especially now that he'd been involved with Dumbledore and the others to figure out what on earth was going on with Remus's dreams. His father spent more and more time in his study, which meant there was more to be explored by the Marauders. If he would just go the fuck to sleep, Remus thought bitterly.

Sirius's sleeping figure stirred beside him.

Oh, and there was that matter, of course.

For starters, Remus's head was still reeling from their encounter in the kitchen, and he couldn't get it to stop. Thoughts flitted through his conscience, sending his heart rate skyrocketing. Was his hard-on showing when he returned to the dining room? Could his mother see how swollen his lips were? More importantly, did Lyall noticed the wrinkles in his shirt where Sirius had fisted it? Hope was one thing to Remus. He was sure he could spin some sort of lie to elude her on what had happened.

But his father? The trained, specializing Auror with at least twenty years of investigating under his belt? Not a chance. Not even one percent. Not point zero one percent. The likelihood of successfully lying to Lyall Lupin was slim to none; he knew his son, whether Remus liked it or not. He knew what made Remus tick, how to get under his skin, and, most of all, how to make him guilty enough to crack.

Should Remus have been guilty? He glanced down at his lap, unable to ignore his cock building up under the sheets.

According to the Bible, yes. "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." Leviticus 20:30. He knew that one well. According to most men in England, he should have been guilty. To most Priests, nuns, and devout Christians, yeah, he was an abomination.

However, when he looked over at a sleeping Sirius, he couldn't find an ounce of shame lingering in his blood. If liking Sirius was a sin, then so be it because every second with him was worth it. He was sure that if James and Lily's love was an abomination, they'd walk through fire for one another. Well, maybe not just yet. Actually, maybe not Lily just yet, but James surely would. Then again, he'd loved Lily since their fourth year.

How long had Remus... loved Sirius? Was it love? Was it worthy of such a weighted word? He rubbed his face, purging such sappy shit out of his brain at such an ungodly hour because he needed to fucking focus. He needed to get his fucking shit together. They needed to get into Lyall's office, copy his files, and get the information they needed to solve this problem from the inside, just like Moody had said. To do this, he would need a clear head. To have a clear head, he needed sleep. And in order to sleep, he would need to shut out all the intrusive thoughts that were screaming in his face.

The urge to punch a wall was strong in that moment. Sexual tension, legitimate tension, and familial tension was not good on his nerves. He could fix one of them with a solid five minutes to himself, but he would risk waking Sirius up with his movements. It would be rude, not to mention weird, to jerk off with a sleeping dude right next to you.

"Fucking hell," Remus groaned quietly, resisting the urge to touch himself.

It was getting out of hand. Seriously, out of hand.

Sirius jostled beside him, propping his sleepy head up with his fists.

He yawned, "What's the problem?"

"N-Nothing," Remus uttered quickly, propping his leg up to hide his erection. "Go back to sleep."

For a moment, he expected some protest. It was Sirius he was talking to, albeit, but he complied, pulling the duvet over his shoulders and curling against Remus's body for warmth. He sputtered quietly, heart slowing to a heavy, pronounced, and painful thud.

Maybe it was a part of his condition, but Remus could see every little detail on Sirius even in the dark. The permanent dimple in his left cheek, that pesky acne scar below his lip, the beauty mark under his right eye, and the absence of a mustache. He could point out every little wisp of blue in his jaded eyes, begging to stand out amongst the gray. He could see strands of mahogany mixed in with raven curls. He could see everything. Everything he'd come to love, no matter how weighted the word had been.

God, he was turning into James.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered as an offhand comment, knowing that Sirius was too sleepy to really catch what he said. Remus reached up and cupped Sirius's face, stroking his warm cheeks. "You drive me up a wall, you know?"

"So much for letting me sleep," Sirius chided with a yawn, and Remus flushed.

"I could be quiet," he admitted, averting his eyes from Sirius's.

"It was my God given gift, you know," Sirius avoided Remus's offer, picking up Remus's hands and fiddling with them. "If I can't drive you mad, then I'd be stuck with James, whose patience is about as thin as my father's hair."

Remus bit back a laugh – a laugh that would've drawn some attention. Sirius chuckled under his breath, the coolness of Remus's room waking him up more and more by the minute. They sat like that for a while, enjoying the silence. They could hear the television on in the guest room along with a quiet conversation between James and Peter.

"Thin walls," Sirius noted absently, eyes tracing Remus's body. Remus could tell sleep hung heavy on his frame; he was probably only staying up to keep Remus company, which was a nice thought. But one of them needed to get sleep, and it had ought to be Sirius, otherwise he'd be in a foul mood in the morning. He spared a glance at Sirius.

"Go to bed. I'll wake you when it's time.

▬▬ι══════════════ι▬▬

Except Remus didn't wake Sirius. He didn't wake James or Peter either. It struck him, as he was fixated on a scratch on the wall in wait, that if they were to be discovered as a group, the damage inflicted would've been much worse than if Remus, alone, had been caught. He'd been seen in his father's office before; it wasn't exactly unheard of, rather quite uncommon.

Lyall wasn't fond of strangers, and, the truth of the matter was, the Marauders were strangers to him. He'd only heard stories at the table or through letters. Of course, he was familiar with the Potter's, but not James. He didn't know Peter, though he seemed indifferent to the lad altogether. Sirius? It was evident, at least to Remus, Lyall was not fond of him. Not in the slightest.

That being said, Remus decided that venturing into the office alone was the best course of action. The only downfall of this plan was that the search would last much longer as he, and he alone, would be sifting through mountains of files and desk drawers in hopes of stumbling across something – anything – that pertained to whatever the hell was going on inside his head.

God knew how many files his father had. There could've been hundreds – thousands – of files and subfiles collecting dust in their designated drawer. What was the likelihood of Remus even having a file in his father's office? Slim? Slimmer than slim? Now that he was on his way down the hall, padding across the throw rug soundlessly, they had a better chance of discovering something at the Potter's. Wasn't Fleamont meticulous? Moreover, didn't Fleamont actually care about Remus's wellbeing?

Doubt crept through Remus's bones, and he second guessed the entire mission. He was risking the already thoroughly unstable trust between him and his father, and for what? The hope that they'd be able to make sense of some nightmares? Were they just nightmares? Was there more to it? This was when he had to swallow those anxieties; the only way to find out was to read those damned files.

Lyall always kept his office door ajar; it helped keep the room ventilated and cool. However, whenever they managed to snag a guest or two, he kept the door shut. Remus screwed his eyes shut, praying to God there was no need to actually lock the door. More importantly, let there be no wards or protection charms. Remus was confident in his ability to perform a weak Alohamora. Any seventh-year wizard should have been; however, his confidence in his ability to crack wards and protective charms waivered. That was definitely up James's alley.

He sighed.

"Fingers crossed," he mumbled, more to God than anyone else.

If there was ever a time he needed Him thus far, it was then.

With a flick of his wand and a whispered, "Alohamora," Remus awaited the quiet click of the lock.

He waited. And waited.

"Damn it," he hissed under his breath.

His father must've cast an anti-unlocking charm. God knew what other precautions he'd put up; Remus thought, to his bitter chagrin, that his father really laid no trust in his own son or his choice of companions.

Remus sighed, realizing how limited his options were at that moment. Really, there were only three. The first? Go back to bed and convince the boys that this escapade of discovery and battle was just outrageous and lucid – it would never truly work out. Tell them that they should leave it to the adults simply because they knew better. That would've been the easiest, and the safest. But they would've never agreed to that; stubborn bastards.

The second option was to wait it out. Lyall would obviously unlock the door sooner or later, wouldn't he? Remus knew the boys wouldn't roll well with the levels of uncertainty and unknown that came along with that plan; they needed assurance, and hoping that Lyall decided to lift the wards on his office wasn't an idea that had that.

The last, and only option Remus knew they'd agree with, was to sneak into his parents' bedroom and find the key itself. Sure, it risked his scalp and spine, and, yes, his father would beat him to a bloody pulp having mistaken him for some intruder. But, somehow, the idiots would rationalize this plan, telling Remus that some plan was better than waiting like sitting ducks or running with their tails tucked. They'd probably tell him that this was their only options – they loved extremes.

Without even consulting them, because he knew what their answer would be, Remus tip toed down the hallway, nudging the door to Lyall and Hope's room open with his socked foot.

The room was pitch black, but that did not deter Remus in the slightest. After all of those late-night adventures to the Slytherin dormitories and the kitchens, he might as well have had night vision. He padded across the carpeted floor, hoping that it masked his heavy footing. They were asleep, thank God. Hope was curled on her side, clearly hogging all of the comforter in her fetal position, while Lyall lay flat on his back, one arm thrown over his stomach in mock relaxation. Remus knew better. He knew that the slightest bump in the night would send sparks flying; he had to be careful.

He first moved to the night stand, searching its contents. He left disgusted and horrified; his father's preference in condoms was not an answer to any of his burning questions. His mother didn't have much of anything in her drawer – a locket, some old letters, and a photo album Remus had never seen before. He'd investigate that at a later date.

His next search was under the bed; Lyall was smarter than that, Remus was very much aware, but he was also infamous for hiding things in plain sight. Of course, Remus considered trying the keys on his father's keychain; that should've been the very first attempt at opening the office. However, he knew there were only four keys on the chain. One to the house, one to his office in the Ministry, one to the shed, and one to the basement. Unless the chain was glamoured, Remus didn't want to waste time by trying each of the keys.

He spent fifteen minutes searching before realizing this was going to be much more difficult than just "hidden in plain sight." Lyall was a paranoid, top-notch, government trained official. Even if the paranoia hadn't been a factor, Lyall was trained to do any task well and to the best of his abilities. This meant that the key – the key he so desperately needed – was somewhere in that room, and he couldn't find it.

This meant that he was letting his friends down. Whether they were aware of it or not at the moment, they were counting on him to find this key. They were counting on him to get into that office and find the files. If he let them down, well, he was indirectly letting himself down, and that just wouldn't do. He couldn't disappoint them.

He thought for a while in the corner of the room, watching the rise and fall of his father's chest. If he were Lyall – though he was thankful he wasn't - where would he have put the key? Under a drawer? No, too much of a hassle to free. Perhaps in a sock? With Hope's cleaning and laundry skills, there wasn't a doubt in Remus's mind she would've stumbled upon it. On top of the door frame? On the one hand, Remus didn't pride his father for his creativity, but Remus could've easily reached that, essentially eliminating the element of secrecy.

Then it hit him.

The element of secrecy. That was what his father prided himself in. Remus needed to think as if he were his father. If he were trying to hide a key from his six-foot four-inch son and wife – perhaps a guest or two – then where would he put the key?

Hope cleaned their room. She vacuumed, did the laundry, made the bed, and she dusted. She polished the dressers, but she never could dust the ceiling fan because, well, she was so small, and all of the dusters could never reach high enough.

Remus's eyes flitted toward the ceiling fan above their bed, and a light bulb lit. The key had to be up there; it made perfect sense. The only problem was figuring out how to snatch the key from the blade before one of the Lupin's woke up. He glanced at their clock.

3:51.

Lyall would be going for a morning jog at 4:30, which would've been a good time to jump on the bed, grab the key, and make a break for the office. However, Lyall would most likely cut his run short due to their company; he'd be on his toes till they left. There was only one moment to do it, and that moment was now.

Carefully, he snuck to the edge of the bed, peering down at their sleeping figures. Remus considered casting Accio, but the thought occurred to him that the key was most likely secured with tape or a charm of some sort to keep it from falling when the fan was turned on. Lyall thought two steps ahead like that. On a whim, he silently reached his arm above his head, fingers splayed across the top of the blade.

He patted frantically, willing his fingers to meet a cool hunk of metal to get the bloody job done. It wasn't there. He internally groaned; four more blades to go. On the third try, thank God almighty, he found the key. Just as he thought it had been, Lyall had taped it down on the blade with extra-strength duct tape. After freeing it, Remus all but dashed out of the room, gently pulling the door behind him. He made sure not to close it all the way; his father would surely notice in the morning.

Silently celebrating, Remus entered the office. It felt different from before; it had managed to grow colder, more distant that he'd ever imagined. In a way, it felt detached from the rest of their home, like an island in the midst of the sea. The desk, pressed against the far wall just in front of the window, was clear; the utilities decorating its surface mimicking the perfection of McGonagall's desk. Snooping would be difficult. Remus didn't doubt that anything left out of place wouldn't go unnoticed, and an interrogation would ensue in the morning, if not a scalping.

He wandered for a moment, glancing at the blank walls and empty shelves. At the Potter's, Fleamont's office was covered from top to bottom with memorabilia, photos, and drawings. Old articles from the Prophet, photo's at Quidditch tournaments with James, and old postcards from his youth. His shelves were littered with collectibles and trinkets of every kind, and his desk was always a mess. Some project or another, of course.

They were quite different, Remus mused.

Lyall – cold, calculating, and meticulous little man with a withered heart and unruly temper. His office was devoid of the idea that there was a world outside of his job. Unmatched temperament and harsh words. He was all bark and a bit of bite. Remus feared him.

Fleamont - warm, placid, and tedious man with a heart the size of England and such quick wit that even James was put to the test. His office was a giant memory, filled to the brim of any and everything he'd ever come across that made him smile. Unmatched scrabble score and unprecedented dueling skills. Remus respected him.

How different they were indeed.

Remus fished through drawers, coming across several files that looked rather interesting. A scandal with the Minister, foreign relations, and top-secret, most wanted lists. If the boys were here, they'd spend the rest of the morning just scanning through files in hopes that they'd find some manageable adventure to start the year off right. They'd be caught, no doubt, and hexed on the spot, but none of that mattered.

Remus needed to find his file before he lost any more time to reminiscing.

He spent an hour, maybe more, delving into drawers and boxes. He searched by name, date, region, severity, and anything in between and, still, came up empty handed. There were no files dedicated to Remus Lupin and his childish nightmares, and Remus should've known that was the case. His father didn't even keep his Father's Day cards; why would he maintain a file for Remus's dreams? He wouldn't. Remus's heart withered.

Dejected and defeated, Remus began reorganizing the files he'd butchered thus far. He replaced them – neatly – where he found them. Why should he care if his father had a file or not? It didn't prove anything he didn't already know. So what? So fucking what? Even if he'd had the file, it would've changed nothing. Dumbledore would've forced the file on his father for the sake of conformity, more likely, and Lyall would've set it aside indifferently. Why? Lyall didn't care. At least not about his own son, and Remus didn't mind.

He didn't mind. Why should he?

Remus returned the key haphazardly. He would deal with the consequences if need be. Not a fiber within him really gave a jot if he endured a lecture or a slap upside the head. He wished he did because at least then there would be some part of him that gave a jot about Lyall and his character. A part of him would care about the already crumbling relationship between him and his father. But he just couldn't.

Remus climbed into bed with Sirius after setting a locking charm on the door; he couldn't be bothered to go to dinner, and something told him Sirius would let himself out in the morning. Curling in a ball against Sirius's chest, willing himself to sleep, Remus shut out the intrusive thoughts.

Sleep fell upon him, and he had no dreams that night.

Chapter Text

Fields of Walter's Ash, July 1977

The Wolf was calm that night in July, hair billowing in the summer breeze and teeth bared, not in warning or aggression, rather an ugly and twisted smile.

It had never smiled before – ever. It was always angsty and raging, stuck within the walls it's pathetic human had built.

"It's for my own good," it warned. "People will be safer this way," it reasoned.

But the Wolf didn't care for reason. It didn't care for the human's whining and crying all night either. No, it did not want that. It wanted to be free – in the trees. Here it was – now – in grass. The wildflowers bloomed – they smelled like dirt. The Wolf liked dirt. It came from the earth, her skin. They were long and stringy in its claws, heavy with dead from being plucked. But it liked them. Like earth's freckles, the wildflowers. Freckles that smell like dirt.

It liked the dirt. It wallowed in the mud, happy to feel the coolness of her on its fur. Earth. It loved the earth – the trees, the leaves, and the wildflowers. The birds were annoying, much like its human. Always twittering about this or that; the food or the rain, they chirped about. About their young or their mate. About this or that – the wolf did not care, for it did not chirp. It howled.

It only howled about what mattered – the moon. The moon and its stars. Earth's eye. If it hid under the tree, the eye could not see him. A game! It would peek through leaves and dance on wind, and find it! Eye could always find – it was good at looking. The Wolf was good at looking, too.

It could see the Eye in water and on the skin of the earth. Blue. The eye was blue tha