Disclaimer: Anything Harry Potter-wise is JK Rowling. Not mine.
Pairing: SB/RL Slash, so be warned (yet again)
Notes: Done! Finally! (Good news is that I convinced my dad to fix the networking in our house—I can now get online whenever I want.) This chapter is unbeta'd (because that would delay posting several more days). If you spot a mistake, you get a prize. I'll think of something. I'll stop writing this note now, or I'll never stop.
Feedback is like chocolate…
THIS CHAPTER: Remus searches. Dumbledore apologizes. Sirius finds.
Warning: Remus's hallucinations are rather bloody…

Chapter 10

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

-e. e. cummings

The room was dark and smelled of mold. Remus knew every inch of the small enclosure after days of nothing to do but pace. There were no windows and no furniture. The only thing that broke the monotony of stone and mildew was a door. It was a sick grey and warped with age, but still held strong against any attempts to break it. He wondered if this was what Padfoot saw day after day in that horrible place, the fortress off the shore. And we shall have a kingdom by the sea. His chuckle echoed sharply off the walls.

He felt rather than heard the click of the lock and the scrape of the door opening. When he spun around to face the intruder, he was met with cold, cold eyes and crooked teeth. The man leered at him, and pulled out a whip. Frantic, Remus ran to the furthest wall. But the man was quick and the whip quicker. He felt the lashes across his skin, fire making its way down his back. One lash grazed the side of his face. Blood trickled down his cheek and dripped off his chin, splashing bright red against the slimy stone.

Remus felt a throbbing on his right arm, deeper and more painful than the lashes of the whip. The tattoo was smoldering, the smell of his burning skin making his head reel. The numbers flared red, then turned the deepest black. He scratched at his skin, trying to get the ink off, trying to ignore the pain from the whip and the laughter of the man. Remus watched in horror as the ink began to spread, inching its way up his arm like the long, reaching fingers of a demon.

This is not right, he thought. Something is terribly wrong. He screamed in desperation, but the man kept flicking the whip and the whip kept scoring his back. It was all a dream, then, he realized. All of it was some wicked dream. He had not brought Sirius back to life because Sirius was not dead. Sirius was in Azkaban while Remus was here and it was all some sort of twisted dream. Somewhere Harry was crying for his parents and Lily could not soothe him because Lily was dead and Sirius had betrayed them. He began to claw at the stone wall, trying to dig his way out of this room and away from the man with the whip, back to the dream which was sad and full of worry but oh so much better than this. He scraped and scraped at the wall, ignoring the pain and the blood and the way his fingernails were ripped out by the unforgiving stone. He had to get out, had to get to Sirius.

"Don't you see?" the man cackled. "Black is a Death Eater. He's as much of a monster as you are. Admit to it!" Fire on his back. It is all a lie. The black ink had reached his neck and slowly started squeezing. It can't be true! Crack of the whip, burning flesh. "Nothing but evil." Bloody fingers, nearly to the bone now, but still digging, still searching. "He betrayed everyone." But Sirius loves me…

And then the stone was crumbling, caving in. It blew into dust that filled his mouth and nose and he coughed until his throat was sore. Remus instantly recognized his surroundings as the Shrieking Shack. It creaked and swayed, protesting the intrusion. He was in the bedroom, the room with the least destroyed furniture but the most painful memories. His bones ached deeply like they did after every full moon. Chunks had been ripped out of the dresser and door, long thick claw marks that he had put there. Remus turned to the bed—the place where he had crawled to after transforming and spent long, painful minutes waiting for Madame Pomfrey to come attend his wounds, the place where his friends tried desperately to ease the pain of the one thing they could not fix.

His parents lay on the bed, facing each other as they often did in sleep, their hands entwined between them. But they were not sleeping. Their eyes were wide open, terror written across their faces. Both of their bodies were covered in gashes and large gaping wounds, only their faces remained untouched. Blood had soaked the entire bed and was dripping to the floor. Bile rose to Remus's throat when he recognized what creature could have made those injuries. Shaking in misery and already knowing what he would find, he slowly raised his hands to his face. His fingers still ran red, but it was not his own blood. No, he could smell the blood of his parents crusted under his fingernails.

Remus fell to his knees at the foot of the bed and vomited, the sight and smell of half-digested chunks of meat causing him to gag further and …Oh god, what have I done? He crawled his way to the side of the bed and knelt so that he could see their faces. His mother's hair was spilling across the pillows, glowing golden in the light of the sunrise. Remus's father had fallen in love with that hair, and was immensely proud when Remus, his only child, inherited it. He had not lived to see the grey that now marred it. Slowly, Remus extended his hand to brush a strand away from her face. As he pushed the hair away, blood from his fingers streaked across her pale forehead. The sight shattered the last bit of control he possessed. He remained kneeling at the side of the bed, his hands grasping at his mother's arm, as he howled his grief to the heavens.

He was uncertain of how long he stayed like that, but his parents' bodies were now cold and stiff. The sound of struggling reached his ears. Numbly, he went to the door to investigate. Remus could not walk far before the second floor hallway ended abruptly. Where stairs should have been, solid silver bars blocked his movement. A scream from the room below grabbed his attention. He could just make out a black creature, wild and enraged, leaping onto something hidden by the couch. At the same moment Remus realized that it was a werewolf, the couch was tipped over and he could view the entire living room.

Peter—poor, misguided Peter—was curled up in the corner farthest from the werewolf. Remus could smell the heavy stench of urine and knew without looking that Peter had wet himself. The man was absolutely frozen with fear. His eyes were wide and his mouth completely slack. In his right hand he held his wand, but did not make any motion to use it. The werewolf, meanwhile, was trying to attack something off to Remus's right. But James—oh, Prongs—was attempting to beat him away. With every blow James gave, he was bit or clawed in return. No matter how hard James tried, the wolf kept coming. He was growing weaker every second, Remus could tell. Slowly, Remus turned to his right to see what the werewolf was trying to attack. He barely made out the bright red hair laying in a pool of deeper red before looking away in horror. The sound of a baby crying pierced his heart.

Even though he knew with heavy certainty that it was too late, Remus beat at the bars holding him back. Disregarding the smell of silver-burned flesh, he tried to yank and bend and crush the bars, but to no avail. He screamed his throat raw trying to get James to turn into Prongs, or Peter to use his wand, or Sirius—where was Sirius?—to get that werewolf out of the Shack. None of them heard him. The deepest part of him growled, This is my pack, this is my territory—Get Out! The werewolf merely turned his burning red eyes towards Remus and laughed.

And laughed, and laughed as Remus rolled down the hill, tumbling and flopping about until he reached the bottom with a thump. The laughter continued to Remus's confusion, until he noticed the people surrounding him on all sides. They were all there—James and Lily, Peter and his parents, plus many more. He spotted McGonagall and Arthur Weasley, Mad-Eye Moody and Tonks, Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny. Behind him was the Hufflepuff he tutored his sixth year, the first (and only) girl he ever took to Hogsmeade, and one of Lily's roommates he was quite sure fancied Peter but was too shy to say anything.

"You're It, Remus," Daphne sang from the top of the hill. "Try to catch us, if you can."

"Catch us," Harry echoed with a laugh. "You have to catch us all."

And then they were running. Remus chuckled as he dashed after them, always a bit too far behind. There was nothing but hills in sight, no place to hide, but it was still unnaturally hard to catch anyone. It was the most fun he could remember having in a long while. The chilly air was burning in his lungs, though, so he decided to rest for a spell. As he lay panting on the grass, realization slowly seeped over him. Spell, he thought. Sirius… With renewed determination, Remus took off after the people. Finally he snagged Hermione by the edge of her sleeve.

"Sirius!" he shouted. "Where's Sirius?"

"That I can't tell you," she replied, "for he has lost himself and is no longer Sirius."

Remus grunted in frustration and ran after the next nearest person. His legs ached from all the running, but he was able to catch Peter. "Peter…" he panted. "Have you seen Padfoot?"

"Now that's not playing by the rules, Remus Lupin." Peter started laughing.

He continued his search. Soon after Peter had left him, he ran into his mother. A smear of blood still marred her forehead.

"I—I killed you," he stuttered. "I didn't mean to, but—I'm so sorry, and—"

"Hush, cherub," she whispered, and tweaked his nose. "You don't owe anyone anything, least of all an apology."


"Sirius will find you, if you let him." She kissed his forehead. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she scrutinized his face. With a satisfied nod, she let go and walked away. Remus sighed and ran on. At the dip between two hills, Remus pulled aside a familiar looking Gryffindor fifth year. With a gasp, he found himself looking into the eyes of his younger self.

"I need to find Sirius."

"You're silly. You've already found him." Young Remus's eyes sparkled with mischief. "I'm the one who needs to find him."

"But I need to speak to him. Where is he?" Remus snapped.

"Where are you? You need to catch us all, Moony."

He climbed to the top of the highest hill and searched as far as he could. The moon was high in the sky and cast deep shadows. Everywhere he looked there was no sign of Sirius. A sudden stinging pain across his arm made Remus jump. The stars were falling out of the heavens, rushing towards him. One by one they whooshed past him, speeding up until Remus was overwhelmed by the bright streaks. They were surprisingly cold when they brushed his skin. Stars that he took so much comfort in before, found so much warmth in, were stinging and slicing with a sharp chill. The sky broke into a thousand shards of glass, falling to the earth in a dazzling display of light and shredding at his skin.

And then silence. Everyone was staring at him. Remus looked at the sky and saw that the stars had returned to their places. But the moon—the moon was full and heavy, its bright light holding the promise of agony. He turned to the others and screamed at them to run away, but they still stood staring blankly at him. The moon was pulling at his bones, stretching his muscles. Just as he felt the first wave of pain rolling through his body, the earth tilted.

Ground that was once full of hills was now flat. Remus started to lose his balance against the slowly slanting land. He grasped at the grass, digging his fingers as deep into the soil as he could. People around him did nothing, merely falling down into darkness as they lost their footing. Soon Remus was clinging to the dirt wall, nothing but air below him. His fingers began to slide through the soil, unable to find any purchase against gravity.

With a strangled yell, Remus was falling, falling down into the dark abyss. He flailed about, trying to find something to grab hold of, but closing his hand on emptiness. Just when he thought that he would be falling for eternity, he landed in an ocean of water that was not water. The liquid oozed around him as he sank deeper into the sea. His arms moved sluggishly through the substance towards the surface, but he could not fight the pull that was dragging him down. As he sunk further, the liquid began to boil. His body was burning all over. Remus struggled harder and screamed for help as his skin began to blister. He watched in horror as his flesh began to melt off his bones.

The burning was so intense that he did not notice at first the arms wrapped protectively around his chest. The man behind him was holding him tightly, keeping him from struggling more. A familiar smell reached him, and he knew he finally found Sirius. Remus tried to turn in his arms to see his face, but Sirius clung tighter.

"Breathe with me," Sirius whispered into his ear.

Remus was scared, however. If he tried to breathe, the boiling water would enter his lungs and melt him from the inside. But having Sirius wrapped around him seemed to hold off the heat. The burning was no longer mind-numbing, and his skin—once he gathered enough courage to look—was firmly attached to his body. Closing his eyes, Remus sharply inhaled. Instead of choking as he had feared, he breathed in fresh air.

They were still sinking into the vastness of the ocean and everything was getting darker, but he found himself relaxing into the rolling currents. Sirius did not remove his arms or let Remus turn around. He could feel Sirius's heart beating steadily at his back. The panic that had filled him previously was beginning to dissipate. His breathing got deeper and stronger. As he slowly drifted off to sleep, he felt his heart ease its frantic thumping until it beat perfectly in time with Sirius's.

After the antidote had been administered, they tried to move Remus into one of the bedrooms to recover. Whenever someone tried to touch him, however, he began to thrash about. Eventually they decided to put him on the couch in the drawing room, where he continued staring blankly into the distance. Healer Dulaney returned to St. Mungo's to help Kingsley gather evidence of Malific's malpractice. She wanted to stay and help, but Madame Pomfrey made it perfectly clear that she had looked after Remus since he had gotten his first wand, and Dulaney was to concentrate solely on putting that horrible man in Azkaban. Pomfrey was currently hovering over Remus, prepared for whatever should happen next.

Mrs. Weasley had shepherded the children off to their rooms, insisting that they at least try to get some sleep. Judging by the whispers and thumps coming from their rooms, Sirius knew sleep was the last thing on their minds. Molly had even tried suggesting that he get some rest as well, but the attempt was half-hearted and quickly cut short, and she joined the others in the kitchen. Sirius wanted to stay in the drawing room with Remus. It was his fault, after all, that Remus was in this state. Fighting for his sanity—his very life—simply because Sirius was too stubborn to die quietly. The irony was too much for his heart to handle.

Everyone walked about the house as silently as they could. It did not matter how much they tried, though. Sirius could still hear the whispers of voices echoing against the walls and the muffled shuffling of feet on worn carpet and wood. Their attempt at silence only irritated Sirius further—they were acting as if Remus was on his deathbed. His vigil was interrupted by a polite knocking.

"Can I have a word, Sirius?" Dumbledore asked from the door.

"Anything you have to say can be said here." Sirius looked pointedly at Remus. "I don't want to leave this room."

"Of course." Dumbledore sat across from him. Madame Pomfrey excused herself so that they could talk privately. For several minutes, Dumbledore merely stared into the fire while Sirius continued looking at the couch's occupant. Finally, he sighed deeply and turned to Sirius. "I would like to apologize, but I'm uncertain whether that will be enough for my errors."

A strange calm suddenly filled Sirius, and he responded in an uncharacteristically detached voice. "There is no need to apologize, sir. You were only acting in what you considered were the best interests of the Order, and of Remus."

"It is true that, based on the evidence given to me, I felt there were potential hazards for the Order. Remus appeared to be a danger to himself and others, and he holds too much important information in his head. I had to imagine the worst case scenario." The smallest of twinkles returned to his eyes. "Of course, this isn't the first time that I have been led astray by misleading evidence."

Sirius realized then that Dumbledore was apologizing for more than just recent events—he was referring to everything that had befallen them. "You are in a position of leadership. Often that requires you to make difficult decisions. I understand."

"I feel as if I have been explaining myself far too often lately. Too many mistakes…" Dumbledore trailed off. Sirius wondered briefly what else he had needed to apologize for, but quickly dismissed the thought. It wasn't his place to talk about blaming one's self. He almost did not catch Dumbledore's next statement, it was so quiet and distant. "There were other reasons for me to question Remus's sanity."

"Like what?" Sirius asked after a few moments of silence. Dumbledore looked up sharply at him, but his eyes focused somewhere beyond him.

"Has Remus told you about how he spent the first few years after you were arrested?" Sirius nodded. "Good. I'm glad he has confided in you. I'm sure he mentioned how long it took for him to recover."

"Almost a whole year. But I don't understand…"

"I do not expect you to. You were not there." At Sirius's stricken look, he quickly added, "That was not an accusation, Sirius. The events that occurred were beyond your control. But I was the one who saw him in that cell, I was the one who watched as he slowly mended. Remus was—not himself. I do not think there is any other way to say it. At first he was entirely locked in his own mind. He did not speak or respond to others. As he began to emerge from that state, his speech was scattered and unintelligible."

Sirius turned his gaze to the fire. No matter what Remus or Dumbledore told him, he was to blame for most of what happened. He should have never doubted Remus.

"Eventually he was able to converse normally," Dumbledore continued. "However, his mind was still in 1981. He would ask about James and Lily, whether he could visit them soon. He talked to them, he talked to you—despite the fact you were obviously not there, and regardless of how many times we explained what had happened. The healers told me it was a combination of intense grief and torture. Remus could not accept what had happened—to him and to the ones he held dear—so he blocked it out of his mind."

Remus began to whimper. He quieted moments later, so Sirius did not call for Poppy. Dumbledore sighed softly as he looked at the werewolf.

"So when you fell beyond the veil, I was wary of Remus's reaction. It was obvious that he—cared for you a great deal. I was uncertain as to whether such a blow would create the same reaction. And then I found out that he had been talking to air again, and assumed it did. Obviously, I was not watching close enough. What I did not account for was your stubbornness, or Remus's conviction, or the large capacity for believing that only children possess. And for that, I apologize."

Sirius responded with the same detached voice. "Everyone makes mistakes, sir. No one could have expected my return."

"When can I look forward to your response, and not what Remus would have you say?" Dumbledore asked with a knowing smile. Sirius felt himself smiling in return.

"As soon as everything is back to normal, I will be wanting a word with you. About many things."

"Ah, yes. I assume part of it is Harry's living situation?"

"Naturally. I can assure you I will be quite upset. There may even be yelling."

Dumbledore rose slowly from his chair. "I cannot wait. I must return to Hogwarts now. Alastor has been told to inform me of any changes in the situation." As he stood in the doorway, he turned his gaze once more onto Remus. "He will find his way back to us."

"How can you be so certain?"

"Because he is not alone in this." Dumbledore looked at Sirius. "He never was."

Without any more explanation, he left. Sirius sat for a while, staring into the fire. Remus began to whimper again, but this time did not show signs of stopping. He rushed to the couch to see if he could offer some comfort, only to find blood dripping down Remus's right arm.

"Madame Pomfrey!" Remus was scratching forcefully at his forearm. Sirius was prying his hand away when Poppy rushed into the room. Without a word, she began to wipe away the blood and wave her wand over the wound.

"Can you sedate him somehow?" Sirius asked, once Remus had calmed down again. "It's just some scratches right now, but he might hurt himself more next time."

"I would if I could. I'm afraid anything I might try will just create more problems." Pomfrey finished inspecting the arm. The cuts had closed up nicely and would disappear entirely in a few minutes.

"What do you mean? You can't do anything?" he asked sharply. His earlier detachment was being slowly burned away.

She looked crossly at him. "His body is currently oversaturated with two rather powerful potions, Mr. Black, one of which is a sedation potion—plus there's the antidote. Any more magic, specifically anything for calming, might interfere with the healing process."

"Might interfere. Surely there must be something you can do."

"Mr. Black, I assure you that I am doing everything I can for him—"

"It's not enough! Clearly he's in pain—and don't tell me he can't handle any more spells, since you just performed a bit of magic on him."

Tonks entered the drawing room hesitantly, her eyebrows raised at all the yelling.

"If you're implying that you know more than a qualified healer about the delicate balance of healing magic, potions, and the human body, then I suggest you take a walk!" Madame Pomfrey had drawn herself up to her full height and was pointing imperiously to the door. Sirius felt twelve years old again, and about to be kicked out of the hospital wing for the first time.

"And what about Remus?" he asked petulantly. "You'll need someone else here in case he acts up again."

"I'm sure Ms. Tonks can lend a hand." Tonks started at the mention of her name. Sirius glowered at her, and she shrunk back slightly.

As Sirius walked reluctantly to the door, he saw Pomfrey lean over to stroke Remus's hair. "Poor boy," she whispered. "I wonder what got you so terrified that you'd hurt yourself…"

Black numbers against pale skin and Remus's distraught face rushed through his mind. "He's being haunted by his worst memories."

Poppy looked up at his voice, and her face softened slightly. "You can't do anything else here, Sirius. Please, get some rest."

The door flew open with little resistance. Since Pomfrey had kicked him out, Sirius had been pacing from room to room in an attempt to calm his nerves. Somehow, he had wandered near his—their—bedroom to the sitting room across the hall. It was a useless little room that they had barely spared a second glance when first sweeping through Grimmauld. Another useless room in this useless house of a useless family, Sirius thought bitterly.

There were two chairs facing a small fireplace. Between them was a table, ideal for chess games. Several bottles of expensive liquors stood on a counter next to the door. With a slightly shaky hand, he poured himself a glass of brandy, the one Muggle thing that his father actually approved of, and then lit a small fire in the fireplace. Before he could take a drink, however, Sirius spotted the table in the far corner. It was supporting an antique gramophone that Remus had brought last summer. He walked over to it and noticed a vinyl labeled 'Beethoven's Seventh Symphony' already on the turntable—the second movement, Remus's favorite. With a simple flick of his wand, Sirius had the sound amplified throughout the entire house.

The first chord struck, echoing against the walls, along the stairways, and in the empty place inside his heart. Sirius could picture the others in the house pausing in their activities or standing in doorways and looking up, trying to find the source of the music. He could picture them closing their eyes and just listening. It was important, somehow, that he had them hear this—this small piece of the man he loved.

Sirius turned around to face the room, noticing for the first time all the other traces Remus left behind. Books were lining the mantle of the fireplace. His father's old metal chess set was replaced with Remus's soft wooden one. A shaggy brown carpet lay in front of the hearth, and a well-worn blanket was draped over one of the chairs. Sirius could imagine Remus sitting here relaxing, listening to music, reading, and sipping tea on a quite afternoon. At some point over the course of the previous year, Remus had fought against the house and made it a home, however sinister Grimmauld tried to be.

Sirius wondered if this was what it was like for Remus after he died—discovering small signs of him at every turn. With a gasp that was not quite a sob, Sirius flung his glass across the room. It hit the wall with a satisfying shatter, and he returned to the table by the door. One by one, he threw the bottles and glasses.

"Is this what you wanted?" he shouted over the music at the house, at his parents, at life. "Is this the only way we could ever be together—finding each other only to be wrenched apart again?"

He continued throwing his father's finest decanters, not caring where they hit or how much noise he made.

"Is this how I am to spend the rest of my life? Always useless, always putting those around me in danger?" Sirius laughed hollowly as one bottle smashed into the fire and exploded, the brief rush of flames not quite large enough to escape the grate, but hot enough to beat at his cheeks.

"Well, you've won!" he threw his head back and stretched his arms out, continuing to shout. "I give up—life will never be easy and I will never be happy. Do you hear that? You won!"

He ran across the hallway to their bedroom, flinging the door open. With a large brush of his arms, he swept the pictures from the dresser onto the floor. They're all pointless, he thought. Poison. Showing me what I once had but can never have again. As he moved to sweep off the rest of the frames, he stepped on something that crunched in protest. Looking down, he froze.

Remus smiled up at him from over seventeen years ago. He was seated in only his pajama bottoms at the old sagging piano they had found and added to their first flat. It was a joke in the beginning, to add something 'classy' to their messy little home, but slowly it became one of their prize pieces of furniture. Remus had charmed it to play some of their favorite songs, and they spent many evenings curled up on the couch, talking about their days, and listening to the music. In the picture, Remus was fiddling around on the keyboard, occasionally glancing up at the camera and smiling—a fully open smile that he rarely displayed. The sunlight was hitting his skin in such a way that made him glow. He had not even protested at having his picture taken. To Sirius, he was breathtaking.

Sirius could not remember exactly when the picture was taken, but the truth of it stabbed his heart. Once upon a time, Remus had felt relaxed around him. To expose himself so much—physically and emotionally—with complete ease, that was something that Sirius missed dearly. Ever since Azkaban, Remus had never quite opened up to such an extent. Like the glass of the picture frame, things had become cracked. But the truth was, Sirius now realized, it was mostly his fault.

He had been irritable and distant. He became a ghost, haunting the place of his own nightmares. The house smothered him and his separation from Harry scared him, and he took it out on Remus. They would fight over the smallest things. Looking back on it, Sirius could remember several times when Remus had tried to help him, get him to heal. And he had just pushed him away. He couldn't understand it. For the last year of his life, he had been horrible to Remus. However, his lover still risked everything to save him.

It was more than that, too. Sirius was not a dense man, no matter how he appeared sometimes. Although he had endured the Dementors of Azkaban for twelve excruciatingly long years, he recognized that Remus had also been through hell. Remus had lived through countless full moons of pure agony, plus the harsh life of an outcast. He had survived torture that nearly broke him. And yet, the man was not swallowed up in bitterness. Hadn't he just seen the proof that Remus was stronger than all of that? He refused to be beaten down by Grimmauld's gloomy atmosphere.

So what's wrong with me? Sirius thought. Perhaps—perhaps that was the real effect of the Dementors. They sucked out all the happy thoughts, leaving nothing but the worst memories, but it was after he was away from their presence that he felt the extent of their reach. The negativity that they fed on seeped into every aspect of his life. Of course he felt caged in while confined to this house. But it was just a house. Any bad memories he associated with it were in the past, the people long dead. Even his frustration at being useless was pointless. It was all irrelevant. Remus was evidence that all he needed was the comfort of connections—his relationships with Harry and Remus, even with the other Order members. Sirius had let the past consume him, while Remus had accepted the past and moved on.

Without paying much attention to where he was headed, Sirius left the room and began to walk through the house. He found himself standing at the door to his father's old bedroom. Sirius had not been there since they first set up Grimmauld for headquarters. In those days, he felt the walls closing in around him, and his father's room represented the worst of everything he despised. But Remus was downstairs fighting for his life. The least he could do was face down his demons. For Remus. It was time to stop running.

The doors opened swiftly with a silent command from Sirius. Air rushed out, heavy with dust and mildew. He had not let Molly extend her cleaning campaign to this room—there were too many potential dangers to non-Blacks, and he was far too reluctant to enter to help out—so it was much the same as the last time he had been inside. The wood furniture was extremely fine quality and had not suffered much from age and neglect. Cobwebs covered the crevasses of the curtains surrounding the finest bed in the Black household, making its natural grandeur ominous. He could picture his father sitting at the writing table, giving young Sirius one of his lectures on blood purity and upholding the family name—or worse, lapsing into a disappointed silence. Like his previous venture into this room, his breathing became labored and the walls seemed to loom closer. The wardrobe leered at him and the bed was whispering dark secrets.

And then he looked down at the picture of Remus that he still had clutched in one hand. He thought of Remus's smile, and the wonderful past few weeks they spent traveling the world. As he gently traced Remus's face, one finger snagged on the cracked glass and began to bleed. He watched disconnectedly as the blood welled up on his fingertip. When the first drop of red hit the floor, Sirius's mind suddenly became clearer than it had been in a long while. Glancing around the room, he saw that the furniture was just lumps of wood. The walls were actually slightly buckled and warped, with water stains down the corners. Colors were faded and fabrics torn. It was just a room again—a mere object once inhabited by a pathetic old man.

What was it that Remus had told him that night in Germany? He was a Black, and he could not deny it. But he was also Sirius, and he was Padfoot. Remus's lover and Harry's godfather. A powerful wizard and a member of the Order of the Phoenix. The only Gryffindor in a den full of Slytherins. Sirius drew in a deep breath. If Remus could accept every part of him, then so could he. He was Sirius Black—the last member of the Black family, and its last chance at redemption. Through dying, he had been given the chance to regain his life. He would not waste it. The Master of the House of Black had returned, and nothing was going to be the same again.

He threw back his head and laughed. It had only been a few minutes since his tantrum in the sitting room, and the music was still echoing loudly throughout the house. The drums that were in the climax of the piece vibrated in his chest, but it was a pale imitation to his heart, which now seemed to be bursting with life and energy. He was not fully recovered, not by any means. There would be days, he knew, that he would see nothing but bleakness and hopelessness. But he had the knowledge of peace now.

Gently, he placed Remus's picture on his father's desk. It stood proud and alone among the dust, a simple act of defiance against his dark memories. As if sensing that Sirius could not be intimidated, the house's magic shifted and realigned. The house could no longer fight back against him. He could feel it deep in his bones. He was not struggling in the grips of Grimmauld. Sirius owned this place.

Leaving his father's room, he headed down the hallway towards the stairs. If he stretched his arms out, his fingers could graze the walls on either side of him. Moldy green wallpaper that had resisted every previous attempt to remove it now ripped and tore away at his slightest touch—strips of blank wall trailed behind him. On the stairs, he paused at the house-elf heads. The special Permanent Sticking Charms gave way under the touch of the last Black. He ripped the heads off the wall and Banished them to the basement, where they would be disposed of later. Sirius was still defiant towards his ancestry, but he had gained acceptance, and with acceptance came control. Grimmauld could challenge him no more.

"Sirius?" Harry was standing at the top of the stairs, a questioning look on his face. The other children stood behind him. "What's going on?"

"How did you get those nasty things off the wall?" Molly asked from the kitchen doorway. "Was that you causing all that racket upstairs?"

"Remus was right!" he exclaimed. He practically skipped down to the middle of the hallway, under the silver serpent chandelier. A quick flick of his wand changed it to shining, golden vines, and it stayed that way. "I mean, he's always right—but this time he was really right—and I finally listened."

Harry walked down the stairs and stood in front of him. "What are you talking about?"

"He was trying to tell me all last year and I just ignored him, but it worked." Sirius grasped Harry's shoulders and bent to look in his eyes. "Remember this, Harry," he said seriously. "The past is a part of you, but it does not control you."

"I—" Harry was cut off by shouts from down the hall.

Sirius ran to the drawing room at top speed, uncertain as to what he would find. He quickly took in the scene from the doorway. Remus was off the couch and stumbling around the room. Madame Pomfrey and Tonks were trying to grab hold of him, but they were easily flung away. It appeared as if Remus were searching blindly for something. His flailing arms knocked over one of the chairs and had swept everything off the coffee table. As he turned towards the fireplace, Sirius was able to sneak up behind him. He pinned Remus's arms to his sides and lifted him slightly off the ground. However, Remus was kicking fiercely and quickly overbalanced them. With a painful thump, Sirius found himself sitting on the floor, Remus securely between his legs and against his chest. Poppy ran forward, her wand brandished.

"The antidote has fully kicked in—he's trying to fight it." She tapped Remus's forehead with the tip of her wand. "His temperature has gotten worse."

Remus continued to struggle in Sirius's hold. It took all of Sirius's strength just to keep him in his arms. "C'mon, Moony. Fight the hallucinations, not the potion."

"Someone get me some water," Pomfrey ordered the people gathered at the entrance. "We can't let him get dehydrated." Molly hurried towards the kitchen. "Merlin, he can't breathe!"

Sirius finally noticed the wheezing and gasping, and the tense muscles in his chest and back. Poppy was desperately trying to think of spells that would not interfere with the antidote, firing them off as soon as she thought of them.

"It's ok, Remus. I'm right here. I've got you," Sirius began whispering into his ear as Madame Pomfrey continued her work. He hoped that Remus could hear him. "You can't give up yet. I've got plans for us—big plans. Remember that house in the country you wanted? I'm going to buy it. There will be a large yard full of flowers and perfect for stargazing, and we can spend hours just laying in the sun."

Poppy began wiping Remus's forehead with a damp towel. "I've done all I can," she told Sirius. "It's up to him now."

He tightened his hold on him. "We'll spend summers there. And maybe—I was just thinking we could spend winter in Grimmauld. Fix it up to be a real home. Mum would just love that. It's close to Diagon Ally, and we can visit London whenever we want. Or maybe we can just find a flat like when we left school." The wheezing turned to silent mouthing and the seizures increased.

"He's turning blue!" Hermione shrieked. "Why can't you fix him? Someone fix him!"

Sirius's voice came faster and more desperately. "And we can buy a shop in Diagon Ally. Remember that idea? I'm not sure what we'd sell anymore, but—oh, love, just breathe. Come on, deep breaths, nice and slow. Breathe with me, love…"

Remus stiffened suddenly, a slight gurgling coming from his throat. And then, with a weak cough, he collapsed limply into Sirius's arms. Everyone in the room was silent as Madame Pomfrey checked him.

"Is he—is he ok?" Tonks asked, her eyes full of fear. But Sirius could feel the slight rise and fall of Remus's chest, and the weak but steady beating of his heart. Looking down into his face, Sirius could tell that he was sleeping now. The first light of dawn was fighting its way through the dirty glass window and into his face. Has it only been a few hours? he thought. It feels like another decade has passed me by.

Poppy looked up at the others with a large grin on her face. "The fever's broken."

The first time Remus woke up, Harry thought it was a trick of his imagination. He and Sirius had been throwing Every Flavor Beans at each other and talking about Quidditch. When he happened to glance over at the bed, Remus's golden eyes were staring intently at him and a small smile graced his face. By the time he had told Sirius, however, Remus had drifted off to sleep again. Sirius had been extraordinarily merry for the rest of the day—he had even swept Mrs. Weasley into an impromptu waltz in the kitchen.

The second time that Remus woke up, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny were also witnesses. They had all been gathered in the bedroom, discussing the best secret passages at Hogwarts and their possible uses for mischief—much to Hermione's displeasure. Sirius had left the room briefly to get something to eat. Ginny was browsing the many pictures placed around the room with Harry while Ron and Hermione were arguing again, when Remus suddenly sat up. He mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like, "Monkey's uncle," before lying back down and looking sleepily around the room. When his eyes landed on Harry, he said, "'M hungry."

They had all remained motionless at his unexpected alertness, until Ginny came to her senses and ran from the room bellowing for Sirius. The next few minutes were rather chaotic between Sirius's excited energy, Mrs. Weasley bringing tray-loads of food, and four rather chatty teenagers. Remus merely blinked sleepily at them and smiled stupidly.

"—and McGonagall swore up and down that the spell—"

"I knew something was slimy about that healer from the beginning—"

"—weren't breathing."

"Padfoot?" Remus's voice was quiet and slightly slurred. Everyone stopped talking. Sirius sat in the chair by the bed and grabbed Remus's hand. "The man said—" His face contorted in concentration. "And I couldn't find you—and there was so much blood—" Remus's breathing got faster.

"Hush, Moony. It's all over. You're safe now."

"Harry, where's Harry?"

Harry stepped forward hesitantly. "I'm right here, Remus."

Remus smiled and extended his hand, his fingers brushing Harry's cheeks. Harry and Sirius shared a confused look. But Remus only tweaked his nose and continued to smile the same goofy grin.

"Do you want something to eat, Remus?" Mrs. Weasley asked.

"No—" he yawned "Tha's ok." Slowly his eyes began to close, only to shoot open again suddenly. "Sirius!"

"Yes, love?"

"Don't—don't you dare talk about leaving me again. Don't you dare. Or I'll—I'll kill you and won't bring you back." Ginny snorted and Mrs. Weasley frowned at her. But Remus was asleep already and did not hear it.

"He sounds drunk." Ron chuckled.

"No, that's not a drunk Moony. Drunk Moony is so much more fun." Sirius smirked. "I should show you sometime."

"No you will not," Mrs. Weasley said with an exasperated sigh. "I suppose that all those potions are still affecting him a bit."

"Probably. I'll get Poppy to come look at him again, though. I want to make sure that his brain isn't permanently addled."

Madame Pomfrey came and left with news that Remus was, indeed, still working the potions out of his system. She claimed he would be completely awake by supper time, his mind completely whole. So when Remus woke for the third time, they were prepared. Sirius had a tray of food placed on the bedside table, and he and Harry remained in the bedroom all evening. The others left them alone on the idea that Remus would want to hear what happened from family.

Harry was worried that he'd act 'drunk' again, but Remus's eyes were completely clear when he finally woke up. He glanced from Sirius's anxious face to Harry's concerned one before running his hand through his hair and sighing.

"So. What glorious misadventure befell me this time?" Harry handed him a glass of water to soothe his throat, which sounded dry and scratchy.

"How much do you remember?" Sirius wiped his brow with a wet cloth.

"I recall being in a hospital. But then I was here and performing the spell." Remus sat up abruptly, knocking Sirius's hand aside. "Harry! Can you see him? Did it work?"

"It worked perfectly, Remus." Harry offered a small smile. "Best birthday present I've ever gotten. Thanks."

"You're welcome, I guess. I'm a bit confused, however. How come I'm the one in a bed convalescing? And why is my memory fuzzy? The graphorn wound wasn't that bad."

Sirius chuckled. "Well, now I know you're fine. 'Convalescing'?"

"Sirius, what happened?" Remus's voice was absolutely sober.

Harry decided that he should start the explanation. Sirius was looking anywhere but at Remus. "You tumbled into the kitchen with a bleeding arm. They whisked you away to St. Mungo's for treatment, but they kept you there for 'observation'."

"Because they thought I was crazy."

"Right. Well, the healer working on you was—he was—"

"A right bastard that deserves to have his heart ripped out with a spoon," Sirius interrupted. His eyes were bright with anger. "He decided to make you insane beyond help so that he could kill you off. The Ministry should kill him—he's the monster."

"How did he try that? I don't remember much from the hospital."

"Potions," Harry answered. "They muddled your mind. Made you see things."

"But how was I able to get here to complete the spell?"

Harry fidgeted. "I sort of—broke you out." Remus turned shocked eyes onto him. "Well, I didn't actually break you out. I just—gave you the information to do so." He felt the heat rising to his cheeks.

"Harry James Potter. That was a very Marauder thing to do. I'm not sure if I approve." Remus turned to Sirius. "Was it executed well, Mr. Padfoot?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Moony." Sirius chuckled. "Masterfully. Right under McGonagall's nose, too."

"Alternate plans?"

"Definitely lacking."


"A little sloppy. Could have used some more pizzazz."

Harry felt a grin come to his face. "Hey, the plan was simple and effective. And from what I hear, you caused quite a riot when you left. Dumbledore had to go in and smooth things over with security. By the way, Hal sends his greetings."

"Who? Never mind. Perhaps I'll let this one slide, then. But Mr. Padfoot, our Harry has been woefully undereducated. We should work on that."

"Noted." Sirius's face became somber again. "Without Harry, things would have fallen apart completely."

Remus picked at the blankets. "So I came here, and performed the spell. And it worked."

"Yes. But by that time, the potions had kicked in. You were actually lost in your own mind."

"How ironic." He gave a humorless laugh.

"We were able to fix it, though," Harry interrupted. Things were getting a little too gloomy for his liking. "You were given an antidote. You're healthy, and Sirius is alive. Perfect."

"Not so fast, Harry." Remus turned to Sirius. "We couldn't have gotten away completely unscathed. These potions—any lingering effects?"

"Possible side effects include sleeplessness, scattered thoughts, and most probably an overdose of mothering—those female-types just can't wait to get their paws on you." Sirius winked at Remus. "Apparently a vulnerable male brings out all the crazy maternal instincts in force. I nearly had to chase Molly away with a broom."

"He really means that they played tug-o-war with your dinner," Harry added, "and he only won because Mrs. Weasley had to stop Fred from blowing us all up." With a smirk, he glanced at Sirius. "That man is worse than all those 'female-types' combined. The Mother of all mother hens."

"Now, I must protest at the blatant insult to my character and manhood—"

"Manhood?" He looked at Remus. "He put daisies by your bed!"

"They brighten the place up a bit—add some character to the drab décor." Sirius paused once he realized what he was saying. "Hey, that was low—"

"I always had to come up here to talk to him. He never came downstairs," Harry continued.

"For the record, I did not ignore my godson, evil little git that he is. We—we played chess! And talked—about stuff. Godfatherly stuff."

"Yeah, right. It was nothing but 'Remus this' and 'Remus that' and 'Did you know that Remus can tie a cherry stem into a knot with his tongue?'"

"C'mon! His tongue is very flexible. That's a very useful skill to have." Sirius winked sexily at Remus.

Harry blanched. "That was something I did not want to know. Anyway, he's been doing nothing but hovering over you every day." He wrinkled his nose. "I don't even think he's taken time for a shower."

"Oh, that's a complete lie and you know it! Slander!"

"Well, Padfoot," Remus finally spoke up. He sniffed the air. "You do smell a bit like sweaty feet." He sniffed again. "And perhaps raw sewage."

Harry shared a chuckle with Remus while Sirius huffed. Color was beginning to return to Remus's cheeks, and Harry thought that his former professor looked a lot younger when he laughed. He was quite certain that none of them had smiled this much in ages.

"I'll have you know, Mr. Lupin," Sirius continued, mockingly solemn, "that you have been lying in a bed for four days. If it hadn't been for my most excellent Freshening and Cleansing Spells, you would also smell like rotten eggs. And I have showered." He stuck his tongue out at Harry.

"Has it really been four days?" Remus asked, his joviality suddenly gone.

Sirius's face became truly somber. "Aye. Some of the longest four days of my life."

"We knew you were going to be fine once the fever broke," Harry added, "but it was still worrisome to see you unconscious day after day."

"Seriously, now. Are there going to be any repercussions? For either of us?" Remus's face was cautiously blank, but Harry could see the worry in his eyes. His godfather took Remus's hand and kissed it. He suddenly felt like an intruder, and opted to remain silent while Sirius explained everything.

"Madame Pomfrey has researched everything she could on the subject. Florence Dulaney got everything she could from St. Mungo's. Unfortunately, no one has ever really written on it. But from what they gathered, there will be some long term effects."

"Like what?"

"You'll have nightmares, intense ones. Frequently. Poppy said something about your relaxed consciousness and susceptibility to the hallucinations, but she's looking into some kind of potion to stop you from experiencing them too often."

Remus's gave a resigned sigh. "What else?"

"The only other thing that they came up with was a possible diminished capacity for focusing intently on something. A wandering mind." Sirius smiled slightly. "You'll become more like me."

"So that's it then. Not too bad."

"Not too bad? Remus," Sirius leaned forward, "you could have lost your mind, you could have died from the antidote—"

"And you did die, Padfoot. But you're alive now, and that's all that matters. Which reminds me, are there any long term effects for you?"

"Well, you said that there shouldn't be, and you combed through that spell for hours so you should know. Poppy gave me a clean bill of health, too. She said my only problem was a bad diet. She's determined to make me fat by Halloween."

Remus placed a hand on his forehead and closed his eyes. Harry looked quizzically at Sirius, but he merely smiled in reassurance. Finally, he opened his eyes and turned to Harry. "How are you doing? And the others?"

"I'm fine. I'm almost done my homework. Hermione's angry at Ron, though. She's under the impression that since Ron liked your book, there's a scholar somewhere inside him and he should read more. Honestly, Ron just liked the adventures you described. It was more fiction than facts for him."

"I suspected as much. At least I got him somewhat interested in reading."

"Everyone else is fine as well. Especially now that the house isn't as depressing."

At Remus's puzzled look, Sirius spoke up. "I made some changes while you were asleep. Took the house-elf heads down. And transfigured some of the more sinister furnishings."

"Don't forget your mum," Harry added with a grin.

"Ah, yes. That was a moment to treasure." Sirius smiled contentedly. "She started screeching again, so I took her down. I wanted to burn it, but it didn't seem right to set fire to something that could talk. She's in the attic right now."

"Wait one moment!" Remus interrupted. "How did you get past the Sticking Charms? How—"

"It's complicated. But basically, I finally listened to you. I now have complete authority over this house."

"You can tell me the details some other time. My head is starting to hurt." Remus reached for the tray of food. "I'm hungry enough to eat a hippogriff."

"Do you want us to stay?" Harry asked.

"Yes, please. I enjoy the company."

As Remus dug into his dinner, Sirius told him all the latest gossip in the wizarding world, including rumors of a re-trial for that dangerous mass murderer Sirius Black. Occasionally, Harry would contribute some information, but mostly he was content to just listen and watch. He noticed the small gestures between Remus and Sirius that he had missed before—the brush of hands, the glances, the smiles. Sirius was nearly glowing from the inside, and Remus looked entirely at ease. Envy started to boil in his stomach, but he stopped it quickly. Catching a wink from Sirius, Harry felt himself calming. I don't need to be jealous of that, he thought. Remus tweaked Harry's nose at the punch-line of some joke. I'm part of it.

In a corner of London inside a house no one could see, Remus Lupin woke with a gasp. The sheets on the bed were tangled and the air still rang with silent screams. He sat up and stared in horror at his hands, mesmerized by something only he was witness to. Only a few seconds had passed before a glass of water was placed in those hands. His eyes still out of focus, Remus looked up into clear grey eyes and a worried face. The man placed his warm, solid hands over Remus's to steady the glass and bring it to his lips.

"Drink, love." Remus drank. The hands took the glass away. "Now take a deep breath." Remus inhaled.

The bed shifted as the man—Sirius—climbed in next to him. Gentle hands rubbed soothing circles over his back.

"Your name is Remus Lupin, and you're the most handsome wizard I have ever seen," Sirius—friend, lover—murmured in his ear. "You are currently in Grimmauld Place, lying on top a respectable Black family bed after a very pleasurable evening on top a disreputable Black. I'm here, I'm real, and I love you."

Remus's thoughts began to focus, though he was still shivering uncontrollably.

"Harry's safe at Hogwarts, though quite possibly incurring the wrath of McGonagall as we speak," Sirius continued, still rubbing his back. "The wards have not been tampered with, the Order has not sent out any alerts, and the full moon is fifteen days away—although you were howling quite admirably earlier. Are you back with me, yet?"

Remus exhaled slowly. He glanced sideways at Sirius. "I'm not handsome."

Sirius let go of a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. This would be one of the better nights. "Would you prefer pretty? Because I can definitely picture you as pretty."

"Prat." The shivering was slowly subsiding. "You know," he contemplated, "it was slightly over a year ago that our roles were reversed. You were the one with nightmares."

"Mmhmm." Sirius kissed his shoulder. "But you were able to soothe them all away."

"Are you going to get all sappy on me, Padfoot?" Remus lay back down with a smile on his face.

"Me? Sappy?" Sirius scoffed. "Never." He curled up behind Remus. Ever since the potion-induced hallucinations, they found that Remus slept better with Sirius pressed against his back. "Good night, my autumn sunrise, my bookish prince, my pretty werewolf of hot lovin'…"

"Good night, you—you silly puppy," Remus interrupted. He yawned and burrowed deeper into the blankets. "Love you, Sirius." He mumbled into his pillow.

Sirius stroked hair away from Remus's face. Merlin, how he loved that hair, including the streaks of grey. "I love you, too, Remus." He continued rubbing his hand up and down Remus's side until all of the shivering had stopped. Wrapping his arm around his chest, Sirius closed his eyes and sighed. Things were not perfect, but they were still doing just fine.

During the day, Remus looked out for Sirius. He made sure that Sirius did not give in to despair or anxiety. Azkaban would always have its mark on him, but he was getting better. At night—at night it was Remus that needed comfort and protection from his demons. And Sirius was always ready to provide that comfort. Just before Remus drifted off to sleep, he whispered again.

"'M glad I found you."

Sirius inhaled his lover's scent and pulled the thin body closer. Remus's breathing was deep and even, indicating that he had finally fallen asleep.

"I'm glad, too, Moony," Sirius whispered. "I'm glad, too."