I only once asked Remus what it was like. We were nearly done with school, and the afternoons had turned from frantic revision to idleness. We told each other things, things that couples shared, because this thing between us had been more than two schoolboys finding release and we had slowly admitted it.
So he heard the stories of my mother, and Sirius Who Could Have Been Such A Good Boy But Chose To Disappoint. And I confessed to him that I actually did think they were right on one thing and that Muggles were stupid and dangerous with their stupidity, but even allowing for that, I thought they ought to be protected from our kind. And he told me about the kindness of his parents and the sadness of having only them, and then not them.
'But you found us before they went,' I reminded him. And he agreed that had made the difference.
And after we had talked about everything else, when the only things left to learn were incidental or embarrassing, I could no longer stop myself from asking.
He shook his head. 'I can't tell you.'
'Of course you can. If you can tell anyone, you can tell me. I'm a dog in my other life, we're related.'
He laughed, but did not allow that I might be right. 'You might understand about the world of scent and the primacy of what is happening at the very instant of now, but dogs are half-human. I could never explain the pack to you.'
'You won't like it. I don't.'
'It doesn't matter. It's part of you, but it's not all of you. You don't like my slovenliness.'
'Hardly the same degree of flaw.'
'No, my mess irritates you daily.'
'Idiot.' He sighed, and I knew I had won.
'It's a yearning,' he said, slowly. 'Even though I've spent almost every full moon alone or with you three, since I was turned, at each one I crave the company of those like me. To join in their howls and be a part of the intimacy of shared language, shared intent. To run with them, become something more by giving my individuality to the whole. Every time that I have met another werewolf, some small part of me cries to stay with them. Even if I know they're killers rather than victims. Even if it's Greyback.'
'Merlin,' I breathed.
'I told you you wouldn't like it.'
'I know.' He gave me a weak smile. 'I manage to resist. You, Prongs and Wormtail are sufficiently distracting.'
'Me most of all, I should hope.'
'Absolutely. You most of all.'
I held onto him, and told him, 'Good, because I wouldn't let you go.'
'Dearest Sirius,' he whispered, smiling as he kissed me. 'I'm not entirely certain you could stop me.'
Lily never believed it was him. 'How can you even suspect him?' she railed at me. 'I thought you loved him?'
'I do!' I insisted. 'It's not his fault!'
Benjy and the McKinnons had been only the start. Dorcas Meadowes was next, AK-ed in her conservatory not five hours after an Order meeting had broken up in her kitchen. Moody said it was Voldemort, though how he knew he wouldn't say. With her had gone the Giant Sleep potion – neither she nor Marlene had never found the time to teach it to anyone else during the hard fighting days, nor thought they'd need to afterwards.
A week after that, the disaster that had long followed Edgar Bones and his family caught them. He and his wife held the Death Eaters at bay while the children escaped out the back, we found their little bodies half a mile from the house, still holding hands
With every death, suspicion grew among those of us who were left. The idea of a traitor was no longer Moody and Dumbledore's innate paranoia, it was obvious fact. I knew that some of them suspected me, which was logical, my family connections were reason enough. Some looked at James, and muttered that the entire desperate need to hide scenario was a ruse to keep him safe while the rest of us were hunted down one by one.
Frank Longbottom called everyone on it at the first Order meeting held at the Prewetts'. 'If we turn on each other, who'll be left? We need to trust those closest to us! We have enough enemies!'
It was enough to propel him to the top of most peoples' lists for that week.
But Lily refused to believe me when I told her it was Remus. 'I know him, he's good, gentle, kind!'
'He is,' James assured her. 'But he's a werewolf. They might have a hold over him against his will.'
'If that was true, Remus would let them kill him, not the rest of us. I'd stake my life on that.'
James couldn't ask the obvious question, so I did. 'And Harry's?'
She hesitated for a moment, before nodding. 'Yes. And yours, and James's.'
James kissed her. 'You're right, of course.'
'I hope so,' was the best I could offer.
I watched him like a hawk through September. We spent most of the month at home or at the Prewetts', waiting, waiting for the next attack, every night relieved and nervous that it hadn't come. I had forgotten the deep-bone horror of guerrilla tactics, and began to yearn ridiculously for the days of open warfare, when at least we could all see the enemy.
We slept from dawn to lunch, and saw only people from the Order, exchanging news, receiving patrol areas, muttering with suspicions and sightings. James and Lily were on the end of firecalls and letters. Harry was climbing like a monkey, and could say broom now, too.
Mostly, we saw each other. Flying over the homes of those we thought would be targetted next, checking wards, grumbling at each other when we forgot basic things like milk and bog roll. But most of the time we spent fucking. Long hours like never before with each of us enveloped in the other. Remus told me it was a response to stress, and that when the war was over, he was going to find us jobs doing something incredibly dangerous.
And every time, every panting breath, I thought, this is enough, this will keep you with me. This will keep you from them.
Full moon was in the early hours of the 14th, we Apparated out of London to the Cornish moors, where one could run about and howl at the moon without comment, and, for the most part, without risk to domestic animals.
As always, I changed before he did. I watched him this time, that shift between forms that always felt like a sneeze to me, looked like a scream for him. I was ready to follow him, wherever he went. Ready to protect him, whatever he did. I would keep him safe, keep him whole.
He shook out his hair, with that shudder of vigour that only canines can perfect, and looked to me, tongue lolling. He came and stood in front of me, holding his head quizically, as though he could smell the fact that I had betrayed him in my mind.
Canines have no real sense of time, only then and now, and the now is so enormous that sometimes the then is forgotten. So we might have stood like that for a minute, or for an hour. It ended with me whimpering gently at him, until he came to me and licked my muzzle and I licked his.
We danced across the moors freely, snapping at moths, picking up sticks and dropping them at each other's paws. It was as though we were young and carefree and utterly happy again. When the moon set, we shifted back, and we went home and fell into bed and I told him that I loved him.
He laughed and teased me, and I flipped him underneath me and told him that I wasn't joking, and his laugh caught in his throat and he gripped me tightly against his chest.
'Never go,' he whispered.
'I won't,' I promised. 'You stay, too.'
And many hours later, I whispered to him when I wasn't sure he could hear me. 'No mattter what, I'd always forgive you.'
The peace lasted nearly another month. We were eating dinner when the Floo roared into life one night and Moody shouted, 'Prewetts', now!' at us.
We arrived in time to help Moody take down the two wizards he was battling, but not in time to save Fabian or Gideon. With the Death Eaters tied firmly and bleeding freely we looked around at the devastation of the Prewett lads' home. Another three Death Eaters lay dead or unconscious. In the middle of them were the Prewetts, pale and still and wrong. Remus rushed outside and threw up. I stared at the twins. I'd never seen them quiet before. Their faces wore frowns, but not despair. I realised that they had died at the same time, and felt oddly comforted.
'They fought like heroes,' Moody told me. He repeated it to every Order member who arrived, softly and gently to Arthur Weasley, and to Molly, who held onto his arm and did not cry and who alternated between looking as though she wished she were dead and looking as though she wished to kill.
Remus and I slipped away in the middle of it all and went to Godric's Hollow. Lily opened the door, and had obviously been crying.
'You know,' Remus acknowledged.
'Their poor family!' Lily cried, hugging us both.
Harry was still awake upstairs, so she took Remus up to see him. It's funny, they say that animals and children have an instinct for the uncanny, but I don't think that can be true, or, if it is, then it is not an instinct for fear. I never met a dog or cat that didn't like Remus, and as for children, Harry and Dora both would have happily stolen him.
James watched them go upstairs, my Remus and his Lily. He looked at me, hard. 'You're wrong,' he told me.
I shrugged. I wanted to be wrong.
'Dumbledore called just before you arrived,' he said. 'He wants us to put a Fidelius charm on the house. Says that things have grown worse, Voldemort has an idea of where we're staying.'
'Someone is feeding him information!' I hissed.
'Not Moony!' he replied, low and fast.
I rubbed my hands over my face, trying to clear my mind of all the things that stopped me from seeing clearly. 'I don't know anymore …'
'Padfoot,' James pulled my hands away. 'It's not him. And it's not you. And it's not me, and it's not Lily. We're the same as we always were. We will get through these times.'
I stood up and pulled him to me and hugged him in a way that I hadn't since we were fourteen and the whole hugging thing grew embarrassing.
'If anything happened to any of you …'
'It won't. We'll all be fine. Peter, too.'
I laughed. 'Peter's always fine. He keeps his head so far below the firing line that the centipedes are scared.'
James chuckled. 'Harsh, but not inaccurate. Listen, serious for a moment, I need a favour. I need a Secret Keeper.'
'Yes,' I told him. 'Of course.' And then my brain feverishly caught up with my mouth, and I corrected myself. 'No, I'm a bad choice …'
'Don't be an idiot, you're the best choice I have. There's no one but Lily that I trust more, and even then she's only equal. I've already told her and Dumbledore you'll say yes.'
'I'm a Black, I've been a target before and I will be again. They don't hesitate to Imperius people.'
James looked at me sideways. 'You're afraid of Remus,' he accused.
'For,' I corrected him. 'I'm afraid for Remus. If he learned it from me, and was responsible for your deaths, what would it do to his soul?'
'Shut up, you know what I mean.'
He punched me in the shoulder, which was James for I understand, and I love you, and I love him, too. 'Fine. I'll ask Moody. I'd like to meet the Death Eater who could Imperius him.'
I laughed, but I had a better idea. 'Ask Wormtail. No one would ever suspect him of knowing anything important.'
Looking back, what amazes me is that someone as stupid as me could live long enough to make it to almost twenty-two.
Lily and James went deeper into hiding. The full moon that month was on a Tuesday, and we went to Cornwall again, happy to have found somewhere out of the way and alone. Except we weren't alone.
In the distance a chorus of howls shivered through the air and I tensed, ready to bring him down and sit on him if I had to rather than let him join them. He saw me, ready to pounce or run in chase, and he came at me, fangs bared. I refused to back down: no matter what, I was keeping him with me. But before I could jump, he had leapt at me, twisting mid-air to barrel into my side and bring me to the ground. He dropped on top of me, pushing me into the warm, damp earth, and held me there until the sound of the wolves had disappeared into the distance.
Then he let me up, licked my muzzle, and brought me a stick, as though this was normal.
We didn't speak of it the next day. I was never really sure how much he remembered after a full moon, sometimes he seemed to recall it all, other times nothing. And I never thought to ask if that was wilful.
But I do remember that those last weeks were spent in fear. Fear for him, for us, for James and Lily. Some nights I lay awake listening to him breathe, imagining how I would feel if he stopped.
We were meant to spend Halloween with James and Lily at a secure location. Remus had a costume picked out, he was going as Rowena Ravenclaw crossdressing. I'm sorry to say he thought this was hilarious. At lunch we received an Owl that said the party was off, Dumbledore had said it was too dangerous. In a way, I was relieved. No one needed to see Remus wearing a Saxon tunic and a tiara.
We stayed home, and Remus chased me around the house threatening to play hide the tiara. I'd just managed to settle him down with the promise of tea when the Floo roared into life and James's head appeared.
'Would you not do that?' I asked, testily. 'It's not safe!'
He stuck his tongue out. 'Won't be more than a moment. Have you seen Peter?'
'Not for a couple of days, why?'
James's face looked worried through the flames. 'We had a big chat yesterday, he seemed very nervous, and I've been trying to reach him since lunchtime to check he was all right. I can't find him, anywhere.'
I pulled a face.
James laughed. 'I know, I'm sorry. But if anything happens to him, it's our fault, isn't it? Just try not to be ambushed by Death Eaters this time, yeah?
I smiled. 'I'll keep looking until I find him.'
'Good Padfoot, knew I could count on you.'
'I expect payment in beer.'
He grinned and waved as he stepped out of the flames. That's how we left each other, smiling.
Remus came into the kitchen, looking for his tea. 'Who was that?' he asked.
I should have told him. But I said, 'Moody, wants me to go out and check on something.'
'Want me to come?'
I shook my head. 'I'm not sure what's out there tonight, and one can move faster than two. Promise me you'll stay here.'
He promised. I kissed him.
I thought I was keeping him out of it, keeping him safe. I thought that I would be back in an hour or two. He was right to call me an idiot, all the NEWT O's in the world didn't change that.
I rode my bike to Peter's house, looking out for him along the way. It was quiet and still, though, looking in, things seemed disrupted. I felt my stomach turn and quickly rode to his mother's. She hadn't seen him.
'Are you sure?' I asked, frantic.
'Positive. Is something wrong?'
'If you see him, tell him I need to hear from him, will you do that?'
She promised, and I left her worrying on her doorstep.
I tried his favourite pubs, the brothel I'd seen him outside of once, the park. Nothing. I went back to his house, trying to find a clue.
And I realised that Remus hadn't come close when he'd called me an idiot. The disorder wasn't random or a sign of any struggle: there was nothing of value left in the house, all Peter's favourite clothing was gone.
And even then it took me a minute. I wondered why he thought it was necessary for him to run away when all of us wanted to keep him safe for James and Lily's sake.
And when I realised the truth, I couldn't move for a moment, because I had to fight down the wave of nausea that threatened to burst from me. Then I was back onto the bike and riding, flying, at speeds it couldn't do alone.
The garden at Godric's Hollow looked the same. Roses, shrubs, and that pretty gate. But the door was hanging off its hinges. I pulled out my wand and ran in, already knowing – it was too quiet for any hope – but needing to see.
James was in the front of the house, bare-handed, his hair a little damp from his shower, and looking determined. But ninety degrees wrong. His legs were a little way apart, as though he was taking a step, but the floor held him, and his eyes were dulled. I dropped down beside his body, wanting to shake him into wakefulness. Instead I closed his eyes, and drew his lips down over his teeth. Beneath my hand, his flesh was already cooling.
A pulse of rage ran through me, but sorrow overwhelmed it. Sorrow and duty, there was more to be done.
I walked upstairs slowly. In a way, I knew this would be worse. The door to the nursery was filled with a pile of clothes. A few feet away Lily's body stretched, almost gracefully, her hair a blaze of colour in the nightlight-lit room. A bundle beside her had to be Harry, tiny and still. I turned on the light, planning to arrange them with dignity. The bundle moved.
He was curled against his mother, trying to keep her warm, or wake her from the stillness that had ended all her vibrancy. A sob caught in my throat as I bent down and picked him up. He curled against my chest and began to go to sleep, his little face tear-stained, a cut on his forehead.
I held him to me, and promised him that I would protect him. He hiccoughed, and wiped his runny nose against my jacket before dropping off. I moved to pick up the clothes in the doorway to wipe it away, and then stopped, and stared. I knew this robe. I knew its cut, I knew its ostentatious sleeve length. And it wasn't empty, as I had thought.
I looked at Harry in wonder. 'I think your mum killed Voldemort,' I whispered. He slept on.
I heard a noise from downstairs and pulled out my wand, but the hello that sung out was familiar, and I went down the stairs and found Rubeus Hagrid.
'They're dead, Hagrid,' I told him. 'Both of them. Only Harry left. I'm going to take him home, let him get some sleep.'
He looked at me as though I was speaking rubbish, even though James's body was three yards from him. 'Dead? James and Lily? How?'
I spoke gently. 'Voldemort found them. He killed them, but I think Lily killed him.'
He shook his head and blew his nose on an enormous red handkerchief. 'Wha' 'bout little Harry?'
'He's here, Hagrid,' I reminded him.
'Only, Dumbledore said I should take Harry to him.'
My rage reappeared and made a swift and decisive case to me. 'I should take him,' I argued.
'Dumbledore was very firm – I'm supposed to take Harry to him, says he has it worked so he'll be totally safe at his Aunt Petunia's.'
And so I gave in to my anger, though Hagrid never saw it. I kissed Harry's head, and passed him, still asleep, to Rubeus. 'Keep him safe till I come for him,' I told him.
Then I gave him the keys to the bike. 'Take this, I won't be needing it.'
'Yer bike? Are you sure?'
I nodded. 'You need some way of transporting Harry. Hang on.'
I picked up his little carry cot that lived by the door and walked around the house until I found his favourite blankets. I was going to add toys, but decided that I'd just pick them all up for him later rather than try and choose one or two now. 'You can pop him into this and strap the whole lot in the sidecar,' I told him, then bundled Harry and popped him in the basket myself to make sure.
'Where're you going, Sirius?' Hagrid asked me suddenly. 'Ye're not coming with us?'
I shook my head. 'I have something very important to do,' I muttered, and Apparated away before he could ask what and I could be tempted to tell him that I was off to kill my schoolmate. I went first to London. I knew the Death Eaters would be desperate to find their leader, and guessed that some of them would descend on the centre of the Southern Wizarding community for information. I found no leads, so went to Hogsmeade, where I drew another blank.
I Apparated to every place I could remember us having been. Battle, Manchester, Worcester, Birmingham, Gloucester … he was nowhere. I was tired, the sun was well up, and I desperately needed breakfast, but I didn't stop. And then it struck me where he'd be.
I'd known all along if I'd bothered to think about it. 'Keep somewhere close to your base of power to use as a rallying point if things go wrong,' my father had taught me in our tactics lessons when I was a boy. 'Sometimes it's too dangerous to return to your headquarters, but you need a place where your troops can gather that's close to your major resources. Cities are good choices because you can disperse easily if the enemy approaches.'
He'd gone on to tell me that the days when wizards needed to use this sort of information were long gone, but I knew that Lucius and Bella, and many other Death Eaters, would have absorbed the same advice at their fathers' knees.
I paused to find an Owlery, and sent a message by the fastest Owl they had to Remus: Meet me in Salisbury.
I wanted him there, by my side. He need never know that I had thought it was him, the proper order could be restored. I waited for a few minutes, then followed my guess.
It was luck that saw me Apparate to the Market. Peter was there, wandering aimlessly down the busy street, deep in thought. I strode up behind him and took his wand arm. 'Interesting thing, betrayal,' I told him. 'I'm told it burns from the inside. Is that true, Peter? Are you burning from the inside?'
'Sirius,' he gulped out. 'I'm … I was … It's not what you think.'
'I think you led Voldemort to James and Lily and now they're dead.'
'Dead? James and Lily?' he stuttered with horror. And I have to tell you, he was quite the actor. But not good enough to overcome the truth.
I gripped his arm hard enough to bruise. 'Remus is coming,' I hissed.
'I don't understand,' he wailed, looking up at me pleadingly. 'I thought you were my friends!'
'James and Lily are dead!' I repeated, shaking him.
His face shifted then, feebleness replaced by slyness. A visage of fear was painted on top. 'You don't understand,' he wailed, loudly. 'He was going to kill me!'
'Then you should have died to save your friends, just as we'd have died to save you!' I screamed at him.
Muggles stopped and looked at us. One of them glared at me, looking meaningly at my hand on Peter's arm. 'You right, mate?' he asked Peter.
'He's right,' I barked, wishing Remus would appear.
Peter looked about him, wildly, I could see something happening behind his watery eyes. 'You'd have died?' he asked.
'I'd have died before I betrayed any of you!' I told him.
'Liar!' he hissed. 'You might have died for them, but you'd never have done it for me!'
He turned in my hands and bit me on the wrist. Surprised, I let go of him. He ran a little distance up the street, then turned back to face me. I had my wand at the ready, but could not overcome my hesitation – it was still Peter.
'Why do you want me dead, Sirius?' he screamed.
I drew in a deep breath to answer him.
And then the world blew apart into a gale of heat and shrapnel and noise. Somehow I kept my feet, and when, in the seconds after, Aurors appeared on the streets, I was the first thing they saw, holding my wand, covered in dirt, and dripping with blood. In front of me a huge hole rent the road, and bodies and parts of bodies were scattered across the street.
They disarmed me before my ears stopped ringing. Two of them grabbed me and held my arms behind me while another drove his fist into my face.
'Wait! You have it all wrong!' I tried to tell them, but they were shouting an arrest order and Obliviators were streaming in, and no-one was listening to anything I had to say. But I wasn't worried. I know you won't believe me, but I thought it would all be made right, as soon as Remus arrived.
And at almost that exact moment, a flood of clarity and hope welled up within me as my eyes made out a figure on the far street corner.
He was there, on the kerb, away from the Aurors, away from the smoke and the blood. Clean and thin and still. And for one absurd second I still believed all would be right. I called out to him, and his eyes found me. He saw the Aurors holding me, saw the blood streaming from my nose, saw the hands empty of wand or weapon. And he smiled, nodded. His lips mouthed the word 'Good'. And then he was gone.
They said that there on the street, in the midst of all that carnage, with everything destroyed and Aurors kicking me as they dragged me away, I was laughing fit to burst. And I think that must be true, because, really, what else was left?