Note: The title comes from Terry Pratchett's novel of the same name. It was a working title, but I couldn't think of anything else afterwards. I'm about as good at titles as I am at summaries.

James is something of a jerk, and Rowling's been very hazy on what lycanthropy is like in the HP world, so I've had to make up most of it. For the record: silver and wolfsbane are the only things that can really harm Remus. Anything else merely puts him out of action for a while.

Still for Banscylla, if she still goes by that name.

Finished 10/03/2002


Interesting Times

Sirius leaned forward in his seat and lazily tapped his fingers on one handlebar of his bike, watching the Muggles on the street below.

"Come on," he muttered. "Clear off already, why don't you?"

He'd let his bike hover just above James' rooftop. Every so often his mind would wander, and the back wheel would bump gently on the tiles.

Sirius' breath escaped from between his teeth in a soft hiss. "Come on."

The bike bumped the tiles again. It was starting to get on Sirius' nerves. He was almost ten minutes late, and it struck him as ridiculous that it should be because he was stuck on James' roof, unable to get down.

It was another few minutes before the street finally emptied. Sirius sighed and moved quickly, pushing his bike into the bushes once he was on the ground. The flying motorcycle was readily identifiable, and he couldn't afford to have it recognised.

I wouldn't use it if I could, but James isn't on the Floo Network anymore, and they've rigged it so that you can't even Apparate there. How much worse is it going to get?

He didn't know, and didn't want to guess. Just our luck, to be living in interesting times.

Sirius knocked on the door. "James? James -- it's me. Padfoot."

The lock gave way with a soft click. Sirius stayed where he was, wondering if James was planning on coming out to meet him. When it became relatively clear that he wasn't, Sirius let himself in.

He eventually found James at the sink, doing the dishes. "Hello, Prongs." Sirius couldn't help but grin at the sight of James in an apron, glasses stained with dishwashing suds and arms wet up to the elbows. "Sorry. I got held up."

He didn't want to say why; they had always had to pretend at normalcy for a few minutes before either of them got down to business. It was a way of keeping sane.

James straightened up and arranged dishes on the rack. He smiled briefly at Sirius. "I thought I heard you on the roof."

"Quite the housewife, aren't you? Where're Lily and Harry?"

"Out. Lily's stocking up. She brought Harry along for the ride."

Sirius frowned. It's happened, then.

James continued, speaking lightly. "Go to the living room, okay? I'll be done in a while."

"All right." Sirius slipped his flying jacket off and slung it over one arm, then walked into the living room and flopped down on the couch. He found himself staring at the photograph hanging over the mantelpiece.

It had been taken just after James' wedding. Usually James and Lily sat side by side, arms round each others' shoulders, but today James had caught Lily up in a kiss. Behind them, Peter stood to one side, blushing furiously. Sirius had wedged himself in between Remus and Peter. The photograph was a portrait shot, with hardly enough space for the three of them on top and, just before they'd taken it, Remus had volunteered to excuse himself.

Sirius smiled. Remus was still in the photograph, but only because Sirius had thrown one arm around him to keep him there. Both of them were laughing; Remus in embarrassment and Sirius in genuine amusement.

"Sorry, Sirius." James came in, untying his apron. He'd rinsed his glasses out.

"I'm fine."

"Er... want any tea?"

Tea? That was about all Sirius could take. "Stop that rubbish, Prongs. I didn't come here for a cup of tea."

James shrugged and draped the apron over the back of an armchair before he sat down. "I'm officially entering hiding, Sirius. Dumbledore had a talk with me. I think we're pretty certain of who -- "

" -- the spy is," Sirius finished impatiently. "I know. It's Snape, isn't it? I've always suspected -- "

"It's not Snape," James said. He spoke so quietly that Sirius blinked, stopped dead and listened. "It's Remus."

Sirius' reply was automatic. "Oh, right, that's very funny." It only dawned on him after he'd said it that the last thing James would do now was joke. Sirius thought it over for some time. Remus as a spy? That's impossible.

But isn't that the point of a spy? To seem impossible?

"You actually mean that, don't you?" Sirius finally asked.

James nodded. "The Langleys died last night. And you know only the four of us knew where they were."

Sirius frowned. That's still impossible.

But Remus lied about the whole lycanthropy business too. Now I can say that he was a lousy liar, but the fact remains that no matter how pathetic his lies were, he managed to keep it from us for more than a year.

"That kind of accusation is dangerous, James," Sirius said slowly, trying to reason it out. "I knew about the Langleys. And I've lost more than half of the wizarding families under my care, too. But I notice you haven't started to suspect me yet."

James was quiet for a while. "Sirius, have you seen Remus lately?"

"Actually -- come to think of it, no."

"Exactly."

Sirius stared. "I don't see your point."

"Padfoot, how dense are you? He's avoiding all of us. When I do see him, he won't talk. And he's looking terrible these days. Even at new moon. His hands shake, Sirius." James shook his head. "It's not normal even for Moony."

Sirius scowled. The certainty in James' manner irked him. Before today, Remus was a trusted friend. Now he talks as though the last decade or so means nothing.

Am I going to think like that, too?

He pushed away the last vague threads of suspicion angrily. "Caesar's lean and hungry officials. Is that what it's come to?"

"But Caesar was right." James' voice was grim. "That's the capper. You haven't seen him, Sirius. People look like that when they've had one Cruciatus Curse too many."

"Nearly all of us have been caught at one time or another," Sirius pointed out. "Sometimes they let us out. Sometimes they don't."

"Remus' been let out too many times."

"You'd rather he was dead?" Sirius' cheeks were starting to blotch red.

"There's got to be a reason why he isn't!"

"You -- " Sirius stopped himself, realising that he was shouting. For a moment his gaze was dragged back to the photograph on the wall.

Impossible.

He swallowed and tried to regain his calm. "James, I trust Remus. He'd never do that."

James shook his head again. "I don't want to argue either. Just be careful, okay?" He paused and changed the subject. "Actually, I wanted to ask if you'd be Secret-Keeper for me and Lily. Dumbledore gave me a Fidelius Charm."

"To help keep Remus out?" Sirius shot back. He flung his jacket back over his shoulders. "Is that all? Then I'm leaving."

He jerked at the door handle. It refused to give. "Damn it, James, I want to get out of here!"

"Fine." James' voice was still calm.

Sirius tried the door again, refusing to give him the satisfaction of looking back. This time, it opened. "Goodbye, James."

"Sirius -- "

Sirius slammed the door.

He'd made it almost halfway across the lawn before he finally turned. James was on the doorstep, blinking a little in the strong afternoon light. "James, you bloody idiot, get back in that house!"

"Just checking," James finally said softly. "Goodbye, Sirius." He started walking back to the house, in such a leisurely fashion that it was almost a stroll.

Despite himself, Sirius waited till he heard the lock click shut before he left.

.

Some distance away, Remus Lupin let out a cry that came close to a low whimper.

"If you're determined to break the record for longest time spent without screaming, Lupin, you've already done it." The voice was calm and matter-of-fact, almost musing. Remus couldn't see his face, and was half-glad for it. He'd never get out alive if they thought he could identify a Death Eater.

"Then again, maybe werewolves feel pain differently."

Remus said nothing. Partly because he didn't want to, but mostly because he couldn't. He knelt on cold stone, tied like a horse on a loose rein. He couldn't straighten up for the pain, could hardly move at all, and the result was that his full weight now rested on the cords crossing his chest and waist, binding his wrists and choking his throat.

"You'd be amazed at how rare a full werewolf is, Remus Lupin. You're a fully-fledged Dark Creature, and they already suspect you. Why don't you just come over and have done with it? Doesn't that make sense? Where is James Potter now?"

They'd asked him that almost every other day for a month now. There was no use in informing the Ministry, which was already stretched for manpower. The only thing it would accomplish was worry a lot of people.

But it amused him a little that he was probably causing a lot of trouble for the Death Eater in charge of interrogating him. Veritaserum didn't work; Remus dosed himself with the counterpotion daily. They couldn't keep him for longer than a day, because Albus Dumbledore took a very personal interest in the welfare of those belonging to his elite order, especially when it came to disappearances. Nor could they kill him, because he was too valuable as a potential ally to lose. And so the Death Eaters had resorted to physical torture, pure and simple.

Werewolves didn't die easily. And that simply meant that there were just so many other methods they could use to hurt him. But he still hadn't broken yet, and wasn't planning on ever breaking.

"The Dark Lord likes some strength in his minions. But you're pushing the line of tolerance, Lupin -- "

Do I care?

" -- and I begin to think that more drastic measures should be taken. I believe you are familiar with the Cruciatus Curse?"

He talked the way a teacher talked to students. Remus drew himself upright on sheer spite, swallowed hard and dragged a voice out of nowhere.

He smiled up at the hooded figure. "Of course, sir. You demonstrate it every time I'm here."

The man laughed drily. Remus held the smile with grim determination. "Very well, then. Crucio!"

Remus jerked against the cords.

There were ways of resisting the Cruciatus Curse, just as there were ways to resist the Imperius Curse. Remus fought to keep his mind on top, counting seconds off in his head.

Thirty seconds. Forty. Fifty. One minute.

Most Death Eaters didn't last past two minutes. The spell sapped almost as much energy from the caster as it did from the victim.

One minute twenty. Twenty-five. Thirty, thirty-five.

Remus bit down on his lip and tasted blood.

Two minutes. Two minutes ten. Twenty. Thirty. Thirty-five, forty, forty-five. Fifty.

He hadn't made a single noise yet. It was a point of pride. But there was only so much pride could take.

Three minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty. Twenty-five.

Most of the victims didn't last past four minutes. Remus' breath caught as the cord pressing against his throat sliced cleanly through his skin.

Four minutes twenty.

"Very nice, Lupin. You're doing very well." His voice wasn't even breathless yet. Remus began to wonder if Voldemort himself had taken over the interrogation.

Five minutes. Five. Ten.

To hell with pride -- I can't take it anymore, I can't --

At six minutes thirty-five Remus Lupin threw back his head and screamed.

.

Sirius pulled up outside the London apartment building where Remus lived. He noticed that there were a number of rent advertisements in the windows. The tenants had probably started wondering if the air-raid shelter in the basement was haunted.

James is right. I really haven't seen him for a long while.

It reassured him to know that he was more worried for Remus' safety than suspicious of his loyalties. He was half-afraid that he might prove as changeable as James, or as changeable as James said Remus was.

He leaned against the wall to wait for the lift, plucking a little uncomfortably at the collar of his white dress shirt, left untucked and the top few buttons undone. He'd never quite adjusted to Muggle clothing.

Or perhaps it's just your own nerves.

The lift door opened. Sirius glanced up.

What he saw would give him nightmares for the next few nights.

Remus lay slumped in the corner of the lift. As far as Sirius could tell, he wasn't breathing. His clothing was stained with blood, and nearly every square inch of visible skin was webbed with thin trickles of red.

It reminded Sirius horribly of shattered porcelain.

He entered the lift, pressed the button for Remus' level, then bent down. Remus' hands were cold, and Sirius couldn't find a pulse. The gashes in his throat and wrists were deep, glistening with blood. Sirius sat back weakly and spoke in a low mutter, "Remus, you can't be dead."

The door opened on the fifth floor. Sirius sat still for a moment, then recovered, picked up Remus' limp body, and ran.

He managed to kick open the door of Remus' apartment, which surprised him. The state of the apartment surprised him even more. Remus was meticulous by nature. This didn't fit the image at all.

What am I doing thinking this, now of all times?

Sirius laid Remus out on the bed and checked again for signs. This time he found a distinct pulse and Remus was breathing, if shallowly. Sirius stepped back and tried to slow his own breathing. He'll be fine in a while. You know he'll be fine in a while.

"Oh, Moony. What happened to you?" He spoke in a whisper, but it sounded loud in the silent apartment.

Everything's falling apart. James, Remus, perhaps even me. We've got to get out of this soon, or it'll destroy all of us.

He stared at Remus' pale features, then at the paperwork-strewn study.

Interesting times getting a bit too interesting for you, Sirius Black?

Sirius shook his head. It can't be Remus. Look at him. He couldn't have told if they had to do that to him.

But Lord Voldemort doesn't like weak servants, does he? Remus would have got a few blasts out of sheer contempt, even if he had told.

I've known him for years. But how much does that count for? How easily do people change?

He'd thought he understood James till that afternoon. And he'd thought he understood Remus, but he couldn't possibly have, if he had had to carry on this mental debate.

If it came to that, he wasn't even particularly sure that he understood himself, now.

Sirius caught a glimpse of motion out of the corner of his eye, and turned back to see Remus shifting uneasily in his sleep. "Remus?"

He took a step closer. Remus was starting to twitch violently. "Remus, wake up!"

Sirius caught him by the shoulders and shook. Remus screamed at the contact and lashed out, throwing Sirius back. By the time Sirius had pulled himself upright, Remus was sitting up in bed watching him. He was still shaking. "Sirius?"

"I'm fine," Sirius said shortly. He dusted his robes off. "Moony, what happened to you?"

Remus shut his eyes. "Nothing."

"Death Eaters?"

Sirius saw Remus shudder before he nodded.

"Cruciatus?" Sirius spoke softly.

Again the shudder. Remus opened his eyes. "Sirius, don't ask."

Sirius frowned at him, detecting the faint edge in his voice. "You're a mess, Remus. How can you expect me not to ask?"

Remus stared down at his bloodstained clothes, seemingly noticing for the first time. "I'll be all right soon. Werewolves heal fast."

"And thank goodness for that. You were technically dead when I found you." Sirius sat down beside Remus. "What did they want to know? James?"

A pause. Remus answered the other question, the one that Sirius hadn't put into words. "Did you think I would tell?"

Sirius watched him, trying to read Remus' expression. There was nothing in his face apart from simple exhaustion. "No."

Remus yawned softly. "Thank you for bringing me back, Sirius."

James was right. He's trying to close himself off. "Moony -- " Sirius fought for words. "You're a mess. This place is a mess. You haven't even got a charm on your door."

Unless, of course, you know you don't need one.

"It wore off. I forgot to replace it."

"You're a lousy liar, Remus."

"If you don't believe me, so be it." Remus shook his head. It had been the truth. He hadn't got much done at all the past few weeks. It was all he could do just to report at the Ministry every day.

I could tell him. But what good would that do? He'll try to get the Death Eaters off my back. And onto his.

So far Sirius had managed to hold his own, because the Death Eaters felt that Moony was a better bet. Remus didn't know how much longer they were going to think that.

They'd got him to scream. That was an achievement. The next few weeks would be spent trying to get him to break, properly.

But for now they would concentrate on Remus, and Sirius was safe. Peter was safe. And, above all, James and Lily and Harry were safe.

Werewolves don't die easily. But humans do. I can't risk that.

The thought of Sirius in his position was horrific. But Sirius would not have been in his position. If the Cruciatus Curse had been cast on him for more than five or six minutes, Sirius would, very simply, be dead.

Remus didn't even want to think about what might happen to Peter Pettigrew.

"Sirius, I'm tired. Give me some slack, okay?"

But Sirius had caught the tension in his face during the long pause. "Moony, please. Something's wrong."

"Nothing more than the usual. Sirius, please. Just leave me alone."

Sirius sighed softly. "All right. Maybe I'll check back tomorrow. Be careful, all right?"

Remus nodded. Sirius stood to leave.

"Sirius?"

He turned. "Hm?"

Remus got up and gripped his shoulder. "Sirius? Don't go sticking your neck out for me, all right? I'm not worth that."

Sirius gently pushed his hand away. "I'm not going to make a promise I might break."

Remus shook his head. "Things are different for me. They won't kill me, not yet."

Sirius blinked. "What are you saying?"

Remus realised his mistake. "Nothing. Goodbye, Sirius. I'll let you out."

"Don't." Sirius pushed him back towards the bed. "You look like you could do with some rest."

"I -- all right."

Sirius gave him a quick smile before he left. Remus lay staring at the ceiling for a long time afterwards.

.

"They won't kill me, not yet."

What the hell did he mean by that?

Sirius sat at his desk, glaring at the photographs on the shelves. They were mostly of the four of them, James and Remus and Peter and himself, taken back in their school days. But there was one which had been taken just months before.

It was oddly stationary. James and Sirius at centre, and Remus and Peter at the sides. Only James and Sirius were smiling, and even then not particularly cheerfully.

Once we confirm the identity of the spy, it'll all be over.

Remus said things were different for him. How? Why is it so important, here and now, for me to keep my head down?

"Don't go sticking your neck out for me, all right? I'm not worth that."

Why not? Or was he just trying to protect me?

Sirius found himself becoming more and more confused. I don't want to believe it. But I'm afraid I'll have to.

There was a tapping on his window. Sirius turned to see a brown owl sitting on the windowsill. "Oh." He raised the window. "Sorry."

The owl hooted, a shade reproachfully, then stuck out a foot for him to remove the message.

"Thanks." He untied the little roll of parchment and smoothed it out.

Sirius -

I'm sorry about this afternoon. If you really trust Remus, I'll ask him to keep the Fidelius Charm for me.

Yours, James

Sirius wanted to crumple up the parchment and swear. Instead, he settled for just swearing. Send me on a guilt trip, will you? Why don't I just say yes, and see what happens?

It had its appeal. But that kind of thing could result in James' death, and Sirius couldn't afford that.

And that means that I believe Remus is guilty.

Eventually he turned to the owl. "Sorry. Stick around, will you? I'm going to reply pretty soon."

He turned over the piece of parchment, dipped his quill, then paused. It was quite a while before he finally wrote:

James,

Don't play games with your life. I'll be your Secret-Keeper.

- Sirius

He waved the parchment to dry the ink, then turned to the owl. "Here you go." He rolled it up and tied it to the owl's leg. "Back to James Potter, okay?" Sirius watched the owl fly off. It was only when it was completely out of sight that he lowered the window.

Well. That's that. The words had a terrible finality.

He'd betrayed Remus, he knew that much, and he hated himself for it. God, I'm sorry, Remus. But it's that or risk James' life. What would you do, in my place?

But he didn't know, because he no longer knew Remus.

Sirius turned to glance at the photographs, and then gently picked them all up and placed them in a drawer.

Out of sight and out of mind.

He pushed the drawer shut and locked it.


End