Warnings: Violence, a little gore.
Summary: AU diverging in PoA, Remus spends the full moon after Halloween in the Shrieking Shack and has an unwelcome visitor.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and co. are the creation of J. K. Rowling, not me.
Author notes: Rowling's universe sometimes seems to be ruled by Murphy's Law, where the worst that can happen, does happen. So while I feel she would never be so kind as to write anything like this, I wanted to write it, just because I wanted to see it and make it plausible. Here's hoping I've come close. One of the lines is stolen and adapted from Tamora Pierce's 'Alanna,' one of my favourite books, even over Harry Potter. Ducks flying tomatoes. Chocolate if you know which. Feedback and concrit are very welcome. The first is like candy and the second helps me make better fic for you! 14,058 words total.
Changes, Part 1
The full moon fell just a few days after Sirius' attack on the Fat Lady.
Remus was unaccustomed to remaining angry for extended periods of time. It was not a feeling he was comfortable with. The wolf became more violent when he was troubled, requiring him to keep a tight rein on his emotions at all times. Over the years it had become habit, but sometimes an incident like this occurred and there was nothing he could do but lock himself away, make sure he could reach a healer in the morning, and hope he'd be alive to do so. Suppressing the feelings didn't help, either; he had to deal with them one way or another, because if he simply shoved them away, they would resurface while the wolf was free, fuelling its rage and resulting in him getting ripped to shreds for lack of other prey.
The wolfsbane potion made it possible to spend the full moon in his office, safe from damaging people, things, himself; but after the Welcome feast, these first classes with Harry, meeting him again at last after so many years, teaching him, and then Sirius' attack a few days ago… it was too much.
The wolf was so much more dangerous when he was even a little bit troubled or restless. He'd tested Severus' potion the full moon before school started, because he had to be sure it would work, and since then it had worked, but he was far from confident it would tonight. Maybe later, after he'd been using it for a while, he would feel comfortable staying in his less secure office in this state, but now he sat naked on a battered and mouldy chair in a decrepit place that had for a large part of his childhood been his own personal hell. Remembering the exceptions to that hell brought up people, faces he desperately wanted to bury, and he began to regret coming to this place, saturated as it was with memories. Some of them burned like bile in his throat, bitter betrayal making him want to scream until he almost welcomed the rising of the moon, giving him another, less painful reason to do so.
Coarse wolf hairs forced their way up through his skin, burning as they grew. He was being pulled in all directions, crushed in others until his body caved, cracked, dislocated, bled and healed. His brain was remoulding itself to fit a different skull when he saw the trap door move. He felt another scream escape him, despair - thinking he was hallucinating, thinking the potion had gone wrong. Then the wooden door lifted the rest of the way, and a long-familiar but bedraggled form heaved itself out of the tunnel and trotted in his direction, soaking wet, canine eyes watching him cautiously.
He screamed again, this time in anger, the scream changing in his stretching throat, modulating into an agonized howl as the last bit of the change shuddered over him and he launched himself in an attack on his oldest friend.
Padfoot dodged, narrowly avoiding the wolf's snapping jaws and skittered a little on the splintered wood, catching himself and avoiding the other's enraged eyes, avoiding the challenge meeting them would send. He had to stay on the defensive; the last thing he wanted to do tonight was hurt Remus. They circled, the dog at a disadvantage; not meeting the wolf's maddened gaze meant each attack was half a beat slower in registering, each attack came that much closer to ripping his throat out and spilling his lifeblood in the dust. A fat lot of good he'd do Harry dead.
Staying on the defensive meant he conserved some of his energy though, and it was enough. Enough to wait out the wolf, enough to maybe survive the night. The wolf had incredible strength, yes, and vast reserves, but if he could get him to use them up, maybe he'd have a chance. Just maybe, and maybe was all he needed.
For now though, Moony's speed was harrowing, but in the midst of the fight Padfoot felt something change. Sirius didn't know it, but the potion was fast losing the battle with the wolf, the rage fuelled the wolf in its fight against the potent ingredients holding it in check in Remus' mind. In the space of a minute, the potion had lost and the wolf could no longer remember reason or why or how he came to be here, circling the dog and searching for a lethal opening. Neither had yet been marked, but both were tiring. Padfoot was weighed down with all the rainwater in his coat. He'd shaken it out when he'd entered the tunnel, but his fur still held much of it in, plastering it against his skin and filling the room with wet-dog smell.
In the deepest part of his mind, beyond the betrayal, before the years in grieving hurt solitude, something told Remus that the dog was a friend, and the wolf recognized Padfoot.
At the same time, in a different, shallower part, rage had turned to hunger; hunger for prey and the hunt. He stopped, confused and uncertain while the dog watched him warily - not his eyes still, but his muscles, looking for any hint of the bunching that came before a lunge. The wolf had been without companions these many years, and that deepest part was growling at him now, insistent in its claim.
One hesitant step, cautious legs stiff in a habit picked up from running with, of all things, a stag. Two, and he was close enough to examine the dog, to sniff his face and breathe in the almost-forgotten scent. A moment, and his plumed tail waved; once, twice. Decision made, he bestowed his greeting in the form of a wet canine tongue. Reassured, the dog panted, catching his breath before running after his friend, who tore about the Shack in a frenzy, searching for a way out.
The night would be long and he was already spent, but he welcomed it as he dreaded the morning.
Whether he wanted it to or not, morning came. At first light, before the sun even showed above the horizon, its rays outshone the moon, still present in the sky and stole its power. Not that either could be seen through the storm that crashed outside, tearing and smashing at the fragile-looking building. The wolf had exhausted himself hours ago, curling up in a tight ball on the floor in sleep. Padfoot watched him through the night, nose on his paws, stretched out along the worn floor, thinking and waiting. He was tired, but he couldn't sleep, not if he wished to be awake when the sun rose.
In fifth year when he'd first mastered the animagus transformation, he'd had trouble hanging on to human thoughts or considering anything remotely long-term while in dog form, but it wasn't as difficult now when he really wanted to. He sighed, he didn't want to think about these things, but he had to. The slight noise woke the wolf, who opened one eye sleepily, then lifted his head, ears pricked towards the east and the rising sun. The change this time was easier, but still painful to watch. Remus would not appreciate him of all people watching; he probably hated him. But watch he did, because he couldn't afford to turn his back on one who thought him a murderer. That hurt, still hurt, even now. They had been close, very close years before and Sirius knew exactly when his friend's sanity would return. He disliked doing this to Moony; if he didn't already want him dead, he would now.
The agonizing change he'd witnessed last night reversed itself and when Remus' face was human again, Sirius changed also, his own painless transition an unintentional mockery. Remus was still shaking from his, curled in the dust, oblivious to all else. Hesitant, Sirius crouched beside him began rubbing circles into his back in an attempt to soothe. Occasionally a shudder would run over the werewolf and he would twitch, his body readjusting to being human again. Shaking his head at himself, Sirius hauled him up and gathered him into his arms from behind. The effort took more out of him than it should have, but not as much as it could. His friend weighed even less than he had when he'd seen him last. He made a face - the years had not been kind to either of them. Remus would hate him for this too, but Sirius knew from long experience that he wouldn't come out of his pain-induced daze for quite a while yet.
He had no way of knowing about the Wolfsbane potion.
But not so bad; not so bad as it's been anyway. Sirius was cradling him from behind, his arms wrapped around Remus' bare chest and murmuring assurances in a soft voice that was his and not his; it was over, he was going to be all right. He was almost drowned out by the storm battering the shack as if demanding entry. The little building might have looked fragile from the outside, but Remus knew it was solidly held together with magic and tight as a drum. He cracked his eyes open slowly, relieved to find secure warmth at his back and looked down at the arms holding him.
Dirty. That wasn't unusual after the full moon; he himself was filthy and bloodstained.
Skeletal, in tattered sleeves.
He was not seventeen anymore, this wasn't the Padfoot he knew, this was the man responsible for the death of his friends… holding him. Sirius really i was /i crazy. Fear made him tense, and his mind raced.
Sirius knew the moment Remus became aware of his surroundings, far earlier than he'd expected. Mentally, he cursed himself for seven kinds of a fool. He hadn't expected it so soon, he was supposed to be on his guard by the time it happened, and he had no idea what to do or say now. He felt Remus stiffen, and waited, afraid to move. Everything depended on Remus' perception.
So Sirius was crazy.
Remus forced himself to exhale slowly and take stock of his situation. Soreness, bruises, some splinters, but very little blood, exhausted.
Small wonder he'd thought he was a student again; aside from the two moons before this under the Wolfsbane's influence, he hadn't gotten off so easily after a full moon since… Bitter anger flooded him and he shoved it away, continuing his assessment. He felt better than he normally did after a transformation, but he was in no shape to take anyone on, even a half-starved Azkaban escapee. He resisted the urge to snort; it wasn't difficult; he didn't feel much like laughing at the moment. His wand was locked in the cupboard with his clothes on the far side of the room, where the wolf couldn't get to them, and now neither could he.
So Sirius was crazy.
Good, he reasoned furiously, he could use that. His conscience told him it was not an honourable thing to do, but cold logic overruled; if he didn't get to his wand, he could very well die within the hour. He hadn't cared much before, but now he had Harry to look out for, he couldn't go getting himself killed. No strength, no wand - he needed more information and an excuse to break the stalemate. Holding the bitterness from his voice by an act of will, he took a deep breath.
Sirius stopped murmuring and almost sighed in relief at being able to drop the farce. He could feel Remus inhaling, preparing to speak.
"Padfoot, what are you doing?" His voice wasn't bitter or angry, merely curious, as if Sirius hadn't been there for him mornings after the full moon since he'd found out his terrible secret… when he could. He wondered at the lack of anger in his tone and fumbled for an answer like a child caught doing something extremely foolish.
"I… had to talk to you." He managed at last, sounding sheepish, the words rasping in his throat. Silence as Remus pondered this. Oh please don't let him think I'm here to hurt him, he begged. Of course he does, he answered himself. What else is he supposed to think?
"All right," Remus said calmly, "but I can't see you." He'd expected the distrust, but it still hurt, and his emotions were not as stable as they'd been twelve years ago. This was Remus though, and if anyone understood, he would - eventually. Or not. He hoped he would, for all their sakes.
Sirius let go of Remus and watched the other man slowly sit up, not bothering to hide his soreness. He'd given up on such things a very long time ago when they were still in school, and he wasn't one to go back, even if he hated him now. Sirius knew he was sore, was always sore the morning after: what would be the point? Pride, maybe, but Remus had never put too much stock in that, nor in bitterness. Sirius, however, did see the furious colour rising in his face and felt embarrassment for his friend.
Padfoot, you can be a real git sometimes, you know? He's not gone to get his things because he thinks you won't let him, never mind he's in no shape to be moving. Still berating himself, he rose to walk to the cupboard and retrieve them, his steps raising small puffs of dust across the wooden floor. He's not Snivellus; he's not going to hit you in the back. His wand. He'll have put his wand in the cupboard, he mused. Isn't this awkward. I can't give him his wand before I tell him what I've come to, and I can't not. If I don't give him his wand, he's got no reason to listen to me or believe me, if I do, he doesn't have to listen to me, he could kill me.
Sirius was experiencing a vague sense of déjà vu. In second year he'd had to convince Remus that he didn't hate him for his lycanthropy and wasn't going to do horrible things to him because he knew. This time, it wasn't Remus' secret, school career, friendships and possibly his life at stake; it was his own life, Harry's, and Merlin knew how many others. If he failed, Peter would still be loose and would get Harry. Harry was not only his godson, though that was most important to him, he was also the hope of the wizarding world. He'd only been out of Azkaban for a few months, but he'd been able to figure out that much just from stolen newspapers and conversations eavesdropped on in dog form.
The hinges squeaked loudly over the wind when he opened the cupboard, and he pulled out the items, still debating with himself. A frown creased his face as he picked them up, noting the patches and frayed edges on the neatly folded garments. Turning back with them in hand, he saw Remus hadn't moved from where he sat but was watching him with a wariness that distressed him, although this too he had expected. He reined in the distress; he'd made far too many decisions based on his feelings, and he wasn't too happy with where they'd gotten him.
Crouching next to Remus, he silently offered him the clothing, keeping the wand and averting his gaze while his friend dressed. When the soft rustle of worn fabric stopped, he turned back and met the slightly puzzled expression with an intense one of his own.
"I need you to listen to me," he said, still holding the wand. He would extract no promises, could not. Remus looked up at him, his eyes glittering with suppressed anger. He'd held the wand well away; Moony could be very fast, especially around the full moon, even tired as he was. Now he pressed the polished wooden hilt into Remus' palm and sat back on his bare feet, waiting to see what his old friend would do.
Moody had taught them both, James and Sirius as aurors-in-training and Remus also, because to train one Marauder was to train another, werewolf or not. The mangled Slytherin had stumped and growled about the Ministry's prejudiced regulations, but in the end was unable to change any of them. The Ministry had spurned a great ally when it rejected Moony and alienated two of its brightest in the process. They hadn't quit, no - they were Gryffindor, they didn't quit! But they became estranged.
Working for the Order with Peter in their off time, they made a seamless team until the day someone spread the rumour of an intelligence leak. Fingers pointed, confidences were held close, and communication between the Order and the Ministry dried and shrivelled to nothing but mistrust and at times almost outright hostility. Therefore, when Sirius was found in the middle of a busy street laughing his head off, surrounded by dead and injured Muggles, Bartemius Crouch hadn't looked further but put him away without a trial faster than owls could fly.
Sirius knew Remus would feel honour-bound not to hex him, at least not right away, but he could see their mentor's words running behind his guarded expression. "Honour is a liability when fighting Death Eaters; it will only get you and your charges killed. You've brains, boys! Use them."
They were both exhausted, Remus more than he, but Sirius was a close second; he hadn't been eating a great deal, even since his escape, and being on the run meant safe places to sleep weren't easy to find. Remus' fingers curled around the wand, and he favoured Sirius with a sceptical look before settling that hand in his lap. The anger had deflated a little, changing to wary caution, but Sirius sensed he'd relaxed, just a fraction. He allowed himself to also, rocking back off his heels to sit across from him on the hard floor.
He had never planned things in this manner before, not with the meticulousness born of having absolutely nothing else to do. Some of the factors were new, like the where and how and the article. He'd had a lot of time to think about this conversation, he'd just never thought he'd get the opportunity. He knew he was rash, had been cautioned against it by Moody and others over and over again. He knew he could easily lose his head and ruin the whole thing. This was too important. He stared at his hands in his lap, his position unconsciously mirroring Remus' and then forced himself to look up, meeting the suspicious gaze. Even when furious with him, Remus had an effect on him that made him just a bit more rational, which was a good thing; because he needed all the rationality he could get right now.
"I'm so afraid I won't be able to finish once I start." He wanted to close his eyes so that he could steady his voice, but he couldn't; he needed Remus to believe him. "I was not the secret keeper." The immediate derisive response wasn't the one he was hoping for.
"You expect me to believe that?" Remus asked scathingly, crossing his arms over his chest. Sirius flinched as the wand moved with his hand, then relaxed again when it resettled, watching Remus' brow furrow into a hard stare. When had Moony become so cynical? Of course - he winced and bowed his head: when James and Lily died.
"No," he whispered, "but I had to tell you." The silence produced by one person was the thickest he'd ever felt, contrasting sharply with the noise of the storm. He reached inside his robe, slowly, so as not to startle Remus and pulled out the precious newspaper article that had motivated him to attempt escape, something no one else had ever succeeded in, and handed it over. Remus hesitated before taking it, as if he didn't want to hear anything more, but unfolded his arms and accepted the clipping, scanning the text before looking up.
"What about the Weasleys?" he asked coldly, with a hint of dread only Sirius could have heard.
Sirius tilted the parchment up and pointed to the picture, to the rat with the mangled paw on the boy's shoulder. Remus' hands, normally so controlled, began to shake, and Sirius saw him glance up at the date in the corner of the unyellowed parchment, just to be sure. He could almost hear the cogs spinning in his friend's head; saw the hint of horror dawning in his eyes. Some would say that all rats looked alike, but never the Marauders.
"Peter was the secret keeper, Remus. We switched." He grimaced. "I did try to kill him, but I failed. He cut off that finger and killed all those Muggles himself."
Remus buried his face in his hands; the wand clattered to the floor and rolled, neither of them following its progress. Sirius reached out hesitantly to touch his shoulder; as if afraid he'd be hexed on contact. Remus shuddered at the touch, but didn't pull away or dive for his wand. Instead he looked up and tried unsuccessfully to smile, his expression heartsick.
"You thought I was the spy, didn't you?" he asked, "That's why you didn't tell me."
"Yes," Sirius replied, twelve years of regret and shame written on his features. "I've wanted so long to tell you how sorry I am. It's my fault Lily and James are gone, I persuaded them to change to Peter at the last moment, persuaded them to use him as Secret-Keeper instead of me... I'm to blame, I know it..." His eyes had become unfocused and guilt-ridden, Remus cut him off.
"No." Sirius looked at him in surprise; gentle Moony had never cut people off and it was enough to shock him into listening. "Peter, not you, betrayed James and Lily." He continued fiercely, even though he was still getting used to the idea himself, "It was a mistake to trust him, yes, but that doesn't make you responsible any more than me." His nauseated expression warred with quiet joy on his face and lost. "Padfoot," the nickname struck a chord in him upon hearing it, "I thought I'd lost both you and Peter." Remus swallowed and said almost in a whisper, "I was so angry, and now I find I've got one of you back. You were dead, as far as I was concerned, and then you had the absolute nerve to break out of Azkaban." His voice was shaking now. "I should have been so happy."
Sirius hadn't thought about it that way, he hadn't been able to even consider it since arriving on Azkaban. Oh, he'd had inklings of it, in bouts of fury against Peter's image in his head, but to hear it from Remus, put so simply and with such conviction… it was overwhelming in the very least.
A moment later Sirius found himself being drawn into a crushing hug and held. Flooded with relief so sweet that it hurt, something inside him was singing and he couldn't make out the words, but he didn't care because at one time he had known them all by heart. It was almost unrecognizable; over the years he'd completely forgotten what it sounded like - the memory had been stolen from him but was now being replaced. It was rushing in until he felt fit to burst and it overflowed, tracing tracks down his cheeks and shaking him to his very core.
Sirius ran skeletal hands over scarred wood and fidgeted. "Who will believe us?" he asked. Remus looked at him in question and he grimaced. "Nobody knows Peter is an animagus except you and me." Remus closed his eyes briefly; Sirius snorted and made a face. "We guarded our secrets too carefully, Moony."
They had moved to an upstairs room with a big four-poster bed where Remus usually slept off the exhaustion of the Change. The door to this room he kept closed so the wolf didn't destroy it, but it hadn't worked every time; there were some score-marks on the walls and furniture, but not so many as the shambles downstairs. Now he was curled up on the dusty counterpane, Sirius sitting on the edge watching him.
Remus thought for a minute and then replied slowly, "What do you bet Dumbledore guessed?" he asked. "You three showing up at the infirmary every morning after the full moons, and then suddenly in fifth year I start getting off with less injuries." He grinned, exposing razor-sharp pointed canines he never let anyone else see. "And don't forget all the pranks we played using those new talents. Some weren't quite as discreet as we thought they were."
"But if he knew, why didn't he tell the aurors?" Sirius asked, puzzled. Remus shrugged,
"No idea. Who knows how Dumbledore's mind works? He's never been one to put all his cards on the table." Sirius gave him a sharp look.
"Why didn't you tell?" he asked. Remus picked at some dust balls, rolling them between his fingers while he considered the question.
"Nothing noble, Padfoot. Sheer cowardice in fact." He made a face, self-disgust flashing across his features. "Dumbledore admitted me to Hogwarts when no other headmaster would have done so. It would have meant admitting that I'd betrayed his trust while we were at school, admitting that I'd led others along with me… and his trust has meant everything to me."
"Oh." Sirius muttered, looking strangely disappointed.
"Hey!" Remus responded indignantly, but it was ruined by a yawn. Then - "Oh," he said, his eyes widening.
Sirius smiled softly and said, "When I was in Azkaban, Padfoot was all that kept me from going mad. If anyone had known, they would have kept me from Changing."
Remus had been aware of this possibility, somewhere in the back of his head, but had refused to acknowledge it until now. James and Sirius had made necessary trips to Azkaban as Aurors, and the stories they'd brought back had been chilling in the very least. Twelve years ago Remus hadn't been able to even consciously consider giving his former friend over to the Dementors' full reach, no matter what he was supposed to have done.
But his eyelids were falling closed and much as he wanted to continue the long-overdue conversation, he found he couldn't stay awake. The emotional upheaval coupled with the Change had left him more tired than he'd been in a very long time. He felt safe, oddly enough. This in the presence of someone whom an hour ago he'd thought was set on killing him!
"Merlin," he mumbled, trying to stifle a yawn, "Snape's going to butcher my classes."
"Snape?" Sirius asked, surprised.
"Mm-hm. Wish I could've… just cancelled them for today." Sleep caught up with him then, and Sirius had to puzzle over the implications of the words on his own. Eventually he gave up and took the other side of the bed, hoping he'd be able to sleep.
It was late afternoon when Remus woke, muscles stiff and aching in every joint. Sirius was pacing across the floor at the far end of the room. He pulled on his fingers and made odd gestures, muttering to himself, his eyes focused elsewhere. For a moment he felt a flash of fear before memory returned, bringing with it a sense of disorientation. He'd almost expected Sirius to go haring off while he was asleep. He most certainly would have when they were in school. But he wasn't the same boy he'd known in school; that was made more apparent with every agitated step his friend took. Five to one wall, five back to the other. There was more space on either end, but Sirius seemed to be stuck in a pattern. Trying not to groan as his body protested, Remus rolled to his feet and intercepted him, grabbing his upper arms and holding him still. Sirius stumbled to a sudden stop, then stiffened in his grip, his eyes growing huge in his skull and rolling a little before his gaze returned from 'elsewhere,' fastening on Remus' face, which was slightly grey.
"Moony?" he asked, uncertain. Remus smiled shakily and released him. Sirius blinked, then wrapped his arms around his torso, shuddering.
"Stay with me, Padfoot." he implored. "We have a lot to do."
Sirius nodded, but said with a small smile, "I've got through the worst part already, Moony."
"We've got to figure out how to get you into the castle."
"Oh, that's easy." He grinned, heading for the door. "I just walk in."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Walk… in?"
"Mm-hm. As a dog. The portraits looked at me a little funny, but they didn't run screaming 'Sirius Black!' and give me away."
"What?" Sirius asked from the landing. Remus hadn't moved. He turned around and saw his friend still standing in the room, looking sheepish. "Remus?"
"I… I'm a fool, Sirius."
"I just… I assumed you used dark arts you learned from Voldemort to get into the castle." There was silence for a minute, then,
"Oh." He seemed to ponder this, then said, "Well, I wasn't." And turned toward the stairs. This time Remus slowly followed him down, avoiding the spot where the banister was smashed into splintery bits. They were almost to the trap door when he stopped and said,
"We can't now, its still daylight." Sirius snorted.
"No-one watches during the day, Moony. If they see you coming in with a strange dog at night, however, they will certainly be suspicious.
"They'll be suspicious if they see me with a strange dog during the day, Padfoot."
"They won't see us; we can use the passage we found seventh year."
"We'd still have to get across the grounds, and the passage doesn't go into Dumbledore's office. What if Snape found us? He will certainly remember being haunted by that Grim in sixth year."
Sirius stopped in the act of pulling up the trapdoor. "That's right; you said he was 'going to butcher your classes.' What did that mean?"
"He's here, Sirius," Remus said heavily. "He's teaching here as well."