A/N: Disclaimers, etc. in previous chapters. All hail remuslives23, who helped me with this. Also, if you go to this story on my livejournal, (under 'dogsunderfoot'), you'll see beautiful artwork-5 beautiful paintings-done for this story by epithalanium002! (The picture of Remus and toddler Harry is positively enchanting!)
Things did not quite turn out the way that either Remus or Albus Dumbledore had expected. Upon passing through the oaken front doors of Hogwarts, Remus was reminded of happier times, when he believed he had three strong friends that would have done anything for him. The memories only served to mark the depths and lengths of Peter's betrayal, making Remus stumble and fall to his knees. "Why, Peter?" he whispered. "Why would you do this?"
It was easier to collapse onto the floor than face Dumbledore's sympathetic gaze. Exhaustion and grief took over, pulling him down into a comforting darkness.
He heard the humming and thought it sounded familiar. It was soothing and made him think of something relaxing—and of lavender oil. A moment later, he realised something warm and solid was snuggled against him. It was soft and comforting and... slightly wet?
He pried one eye open and looked down. A small boy was curled beside him on the bed, drooling around the fist that was he'd been chewing on in his sleep. When Remus looked past the sleeping toddler, he could see Lily sitting in a chair, gazing thoughtfully out of the window, and twirling a lock of hair around her finger.
"Lily?" His voice was hoarse and barely even audible, but she heard him and snapped her head around to look at him.
"Remus!" She leaned forward and grabbed his hand, obviously just restraining herself from throwing her arms around him and waking Harry. There were faint lines of stress shadowing her forehead and eyes. "Oh, gods, Remus, we were so worried!"
He blinked rapidly. "What...?" And then everything crashed down around him. His arm tightened involuntarily around Harry who muttered a complaint but shifted closer to Remus anyhow. "Where's James?"
"He's at the Ministry with the Headmaster, registering himself as an Animagus." She smiled ruefully. "Peter's capture has stirred up issues we never quite imagined."
Dread and anger ignited in Remus' chest. "Where is The Rat?"
"He's at the Ministry, too."
Remus wriggled into a sitting position, trying not to disturb Harry as he did. He was surprised at how good he felt, considering how tired and sore he'd been when he'd been put to bed only half-conscious. He didn't even remember putting on the pyjamas that he was now wearing.
"They didn't wait for me? They didn't need me to—?
"Your turn will be coming," Lily assured him, "but they couldn't wait any longer." She hesitated and then said, "You've been sleeping for two days."
"Two days?" Harry stirred and Remus lowered his voice slightly. "Lily, I couldn't—It can't have been two days!"
"You were so tired. The day after the full moon, and everything that happened after you left our home... You were exhausted, love."
"But... two days!" He started to push back the covers so he could get up, but Lily held out a hand to stop him.
"No, don't. You need to get your strength back."
Remus glared at her and slid one leg over the side of the bed. "I've been here too long. Sirius—"
She put a restraining hand on his leg. "We still don't know where he is, Remus."
Remus halted, grief carving out the pit in his stomach once again.
"There's nothing you can do right now," Lily said softly. Her green eyes filled with tears. "I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am about that."
He looked away from her, not wanting to see her tears because he was afraid he might succumb to a few of his own. He knew she was right, but the knowledge didn't make it any better. "I feel so helpless," he whispered. "Sirius is alive and I don't know where."
"Dumbledore is waiting to hear from his contact with the Death Eaters. He's had to tell James several times to be patient and wait."
Harry, missing Remus' warm presence, squirmed and whimpered. Both young adults reached over to touch the little boy reassuringly. As their hands brushed, Lily impulsively wrapped one arm around Remus' neck, pulling him into a tight embrace. "You've been so brave, Remus. We're so very proud of you."
"I haven't done anything—"
She made a sound that was meant to shut him up and negate his comment. He allowed himself to be silenced and focussed on the toddler who was coming fully awake, despite their efforts to soothe him back into sleep.
"Unca Mooey!" Chubby arms reached for him and he gathered Harry into his arms.
"James told him he had to protect you while you slept," Lily said, smiling.
"Yes, I can see where his drooling might save me from a Death Eater attack," Remus said wryly, examining the wet patch on his borrowed pyjama top.
She stood up abruptly and turned toward a small table in the corner of the room. "The house-elves have been bringing your meals up for you and leaving them, just in case you'd wake up. They just brought your lunch a small while ago."
He tried to ask questions while he ate, but Lily wouldn't answer any of them. By the shadows beneath her eyes, he suspected there were some unpleasant surprises awaiting him once his lunch was finished, though. When Harry had eaten the last crumb of the last piece of toast, Remus wasted no time in saying, "Tell me."
"Tell you what?"
"What have I missed?"
She sighed. "You wouldn't rather wait until James or Dumbledore are here?"
"No. Start with—The Rat."
Lily shrugged. "You were right. He's been the spy in the Order. He admitted everything to Moody and Dumbledore yesterday morning—with a little help from Veritaserum. Then they summoned us to come here and James verified the bit about becoming Animagi."
"Are we in trouble for that?"
"Well, you certainly aren't," Lily said. "You aren't an unregistered Animagus."
"They're willing to overlook James' and Sirius'—illegality—if they both contribute to some Ministry fund or another. Obviously, they have to register, which explains James' presence at the Ministry at this moment."
While she was talking, she was setting out some blocks for Harry to play with on the floor. The little boy inspected each block carefully before starting to stack them haphazardly. Remus lowered himself to the floor and began helping by firming up the foundations.
"And The Rat?" he asked, keeping his eyes on the brightly painted blocks.
"He'll be taken before the Wizengamot in a day or two, depending on how long it takes for them to get your side of the story." Lily paused a moment and then added, "They think he might be sentenced to Azkaban for ten years."
"Ten years?" Remus had to struggle to think impartially, to decide whether Peter's crimes would dictate ten years in Azkaban. iOnly/i ten years. He had to admit he didn't think Peter was guilty of actual murder—though he, no doubt, had given information that had resulted in the deaths of several people. Remus closed his eyes, wondering how many of the Order's losses had been because of Peter.
And if we don't find Sirius...
He refused to think of it.
Harry shoved the block fortress over with a gleeful squeal. He babbled something about the blocks falling down and then, if the tone of his voice was any indication, ordered Remus to rebuild the structure.
"Moody says that Barty Crouch and Peter have both given names of people who the Ministry didn't know were Death Eaters. He said that it's surprising how much the two of them know, considering they're not very high up in the Death Eater ranks," Lily continued as Remus placed an arch on the tops of two columnar pieces, to Harry's delight.
Remus pondered Lily's words for a moment and then chuckled mirthlessly. "Peter was always observant. He would notice things about people and surprise us later with what he'd sussed out. He realised there was something going on between Sirius and me before James did."
Lily paused to pull a block out of Harry's mouth. "Barty Crouch—the father—is said to be taking all this quite badly. His wife has supposedly taken to her bed because of the stress. Mrs Pettigrew is maintaining that Peter's innocent and Sirius dragged him into Dark magic."
"No, she wouldn't believe The Rat would be capable of anything wrong," Remus reflected, thinking of comments that the woman had made the few times Remus had actually spent time with her. "She always thought James and Sirius were bad influences. She didn't know what to make of me, but I think she suspected I was a werewolf. She was always staring at my scars and told Peter that I was too quiet not to have very Dark secrets."
"She really won't like you now that it's well known that you captured both of them."
Remus felt every muscle in his body tighten and looked up at the young woman. "Lily, please tell me that's not true."
She shook her head. "We knew you wouldn't like it, but it couldn't be helped. Moody has tried to keep you out of it as much as possible, but, well, your name is on both of their capture reports..."
"He couldn't have bloody lied about it?" Remus moaned. "Gods. I don't need any scrutiny at this point in my life."
Lily suddenly smiled. "It might help you keep a job. Who would fire a hero, after all?"
Remus shot her a look of disgust then returned his attention to the blocks.
"I do have some bad news," Lily admitted hesitantly.
"I thought you might," he said, using a small Sticking charm to make a triangular-shaped block stand on its point.
"The Death Eaters that followed Barty Crouch to your flat—" She stopped, but he refused to look up at her. "There was a fire," she said finally.
He lowered his chin to his chest, letting the words echo in his head without trying to make any kind of meaning out of them. He didn't want to know or think about the extent of the damage that could have been done. It isn't the walls or the furniture; it's the books, the photos, the memories...
"No one was hurt or killed," Lily said, as if that was enough to make it all right.
It's the fact that it was our first home together...
"Is everything gone?" he asked, concentrating on the pyramid in his fingers. The wood grain could just barely be seen through the yellow paint and he followed the lines with his thumb.
We'd made love in every room...
"Yes," she replied.
The simple reply drove the breath out of his body with the force of a punch to the gut. His teeth ground together in helpless rage and frustration.
It wasn't enough that they took Sirius from me...
"They burned Peter's flat, too."
Satisfaction streaked through him as he glanced up at her. "Good to know they don't discriminate."
"Moody thinks they did it just in case there was some kind of evidence he might have that would convict some of the others."
"You and Sirius can stay with us until you find another place," Lily offered. "In fact, James and I insist on it."
Remus smiled tightly as Harry again knocked over the tower of blocks with a roar. "You just want a pair of live-in nannies."
"Was there any doubt of that?" she asked, picking up on his forced lightness.
His reply was forestalled when Harry rose and trotted to the door, telling his mother it was time to go see 'Haggid'.
"Sweetheart, I think we should stay with Uncle Moony right now, like Daddy wanted—"
"No, Lily, that's all right," Remus insisted. "In fact, I think I need a little time to think."
"Just a little time alone, Lily, is all I ask. Please."
She sighed, looking from Harry to Remus, then back again. "Hagrid promised to show him a unicorn foal..."
"Then, go," he urged. "It's not too often you see that. I'll be fine, Lily. Honestly."
She finally nodded and let Harry drag her out of the room.
Remus wasn't quite sure what to do once she was gone. A part of him wanted to cry like a child at the newest loss he'd suffered. Another part of him insisted that he get up and go to the Ministry immediately and kill Peter Pettigrew and Barty Crouch and every other Death Eater he encountered.
Instead, he gathered the blocks together and began to strategically and artfully arrange the pieces, using it as a way to distract himself from the fact that his life had tumbled into an ugly reality.
He took a shower and dressed in what he realised where the only clothes he had now.
At least they're clean, thanks to the house-elves.
He was going to have to do some shopping soon. He wasn't the clothes-horse that Sirius was, but he needed a little more than one of everything. He would have made a list of things he needed to replace, but he didn't even own a quill to do so. Yes, he knew the house-elves would have provided him with writing utensils, but the thought that he only owned the clothes on his back was psychologically paralysing.
He made his way down the corridor and seated himself in a deep windowsill that overlooked the courtyard. Several students were lounging outside in the atypically warm weather and Remus couldn't help but notice a small cluster of boys talking and carrying on at the far end of the courtyard.
That could have been us. We were so young, so naive. We believed we'd conquer evil and we'd make the world a better place. What happened, that we fell apart? Peter... I don't understand. Will we ever get an explanation?
He heard the scrape of a shoe against the stone floor, but didn't turn his head.
"Remus, it is good to see you up and about. How are you feeling?"
The young man started to say, "Fine," but changed his mind before the initial consonant sound escaped. "Confused," he admitted instead. "Angry. Frightened."
Dumbledore leaned against the window frame and peered out through the glass, taking in the scene. "Much has happened," he acknowledged, "and there is more to come."
"Is there any news about Sirius?" Remus wondered if he sounded hopeful or desperate when he asked that question.
"Not as yet," Dumbledore replied. "The Death Eaters are still actively looking for him, however, which gives me hope."
"You know that's rather depressing when the best you can say is that the other side doesn't know where he is either," Remus pointed out with more than a little sarcasm tinting his words.
"I know it is frustrating and upsetting. I would like to find him every bit as much as you do," the older man said reassuringly. "I am pursuing every avenue of enquiry I possibly can to find him for you, Remus. Do not doubt that."
Remus said nothing, letting his attention go back to the group of boys.
"I have come to see if you are ready to go to the Ministry," Dumbledore said. "The Aurors need to take your statement and ask you some questions."
"Ready? No. But I do want to get it over and done with."
"There's no time like the present then, if you wouldn't mind..."
"Bastards," James muttered.
"It's the way things are," Remus said with resignation, reaching into his pocket for a cigarette before belatedly remembering he didn't have any.
"They should be handing you a bloody medal, not questioning your loyalty to the Ministry."
"For all they know, I'm a disgruntled Death Eater with a secret agenda."
"But making you swallow another dose of Veritaserum—"
Remus' long fingers dug into his friend's arm, stopping him from saying anything further. "It's nothing," he said. "Don't make it more than it is." Trying to turn his friend's attention, he muttered, "I'd kill for a bloody smoke right now."
The door next to them was suddenly jerked open and they both jumped, startled.
"Damn stupid... of all the ridiculous..." There were many words being muttered by Alastor Moody, but there were only a few that were actually understood by the two young men waiting in the corridor. The Auror saw them there and stopped, his hand on the door knob. With a twisted smile, he slammed the door shut with a precise tug so that the glass set within it rattled ominously.
"They're finally convinced things happened just as you'd said, Lupin," Moody said. "Nothing for it but to believe you, considering they'd used Veritaserum on Pettigrew and Crouch and got the same story from all three of you."
"It wasn't right, what they did," James started to say loudly, indignantly.
Moody cut him off. "Be thankful they didn't put him in silver chains. They'd talked about it."
Remus didn't allow James to say anything else. He lurched to his feet and managed to slap a smile on his face. "Is there anything else that you need from me?"
"No, I think you're finished here. Go home, get some sleep..."
"I've just slept for almost two days," Remus complained.
"And you've just been questioned for seven hours. You look like hell," Moody pointed out rudely. "You've done your part. We've got the answers we need to put both of them away for a long time."
"Did—" James inhaled deeply before continuing, "—Peter say why he became a Death Eater?"
"No," Moody said, sounding regretful. "And I wish I had some idea to set your minds at ease." He glanced around quickly before adding gently, "It's a hard thing when you're betrayed by someone you trusted and were friends with. Nothing worse, really, and when it makes no sense..."
"It's too bad we can't just ask him," James commented thoughtfully.
Remus snorted humourlessly. "We wouldn't get an answer."
"How do you know? He might be so bloody proud of himself—"
"Peter has never been like that." Remus said, almost sharply. "He kept a lot of secrets from us, James. We had no idea what he was up to because he was so proud of himself that he was able to keep those secrets. He's more clever than we ever were, you realise."
"But that doesn't mean he wouldn't give us an explanation."
Remus was quiet for a moment before finally shrugging. "He has no reason to give us an explanation. If our friendship meant so little to him that he would betray us all to Voldemort, he won't care if we want to understand why he's done this."
Moody suddenly cleared his throat. "Do you want the chance to ask him anyhow?"
"How?" James asked.
Moody lifted his chin, gesturing to a point behind them. The two young men turned and then froze, seeing two Aurors escorting Peter Pettigrew through the hallway toward them.
Peter tried to stop, but one of the wizards shoved him roughly, making him stagger forward, narrowly missing Remus. Their eyes met for a moment and then Peter looked away from Remus' horrified gaze.
The Aurors kept the stocky man moving, until James took a deep breath and said, "Wait! Stop!"
Moody's order to halt echoed James' and the two Aurors did so, looking back over their shoulders to see what the problem was.
"I have a question for The Rat," James motioned toward the manacled man between the Aurors.
Peter slowly turned. "I already know what you're going to ask, James."
"Then tell me."
"You have no idea the power that the Dark Lord holds," Peter said softly. "You don't know the true extent of his grasp and his command."
"Then you should have told us!" James snarled. "You should have let us know so we can be better prepared to fight it!"
"You can't fight it!" Peter snapped back. "You're all just walking corpses. It's just a matter of time before the Dark Lord finds you, James—and Harry. And then his domination will truly begin."
"So you'd betray us, your friends, because you're afraid of standing up for what's right? I thought you were a Gryffindor!"
Peter smiled thinly. "You have no idea what you're talking about, James. When you can stand in the presence of the Dark Lord and tell him you don't know where your supposed best friends are because they don't trust you enough to tell you, you can talk to me about being brave." The smile faded into a vicious scowl. "And don't exaggerate the truth: you were never my friends."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" James demanded. "We were always friends, from the first night at Hogwarts!"
Peter laughed bitterly. "It was convenience and coincidence. There was never any actual friendship involved."
Anger surged out of the frustration and sadness that Remus had been feeling. How could Peter say they'd never been his friends? Had he not been part of their pranks? Had he not been included in the Map and the illicit trips to Hogsmeade? Hadn't they helped him occasionally—often—with essays and homework? Hadn't he been invited to their houses during the summer and other holidays? Hadn't they defended him in several battles against the Death Eaters?
His thoughts went back to the night of Sirius' memorial service, when Peter had invited himself over to Remus' flat to play chess. He'd subtly pumped Remus for information about the Secret Keeper. He'd questioned Remus' loyalty to the Order. And then, to top it all, he'd suggested that Sirius was alive, when Remus had been mourning his lover's loss.
He knew. He knew Sirius was alive, and he thought I knew. He was deliberately baiting me to see what kind of reaction he'd get from me.
He thought I knew and that he could find out where Sirius was so he could lead the Death Eaters to him... again... because it had to be Peter who'd told them where to find Sirius in the first place...
He didn't stop to consider the situation he was in. If he'd stopped to consider he was in the halls of the Ministry with three Aurors around him, he might have walked away. He might have even snapped off a Stinging Hex or something that would have been annoying and irritating but certainly never life-threatening. Unfortunately, the only thing he was truly aware of was that the bastard who'd taken Sirius away from him was iright there.../i
He felt the snarl rise from deep in his chest and he leaped forward, hands outstretched, ready to wrap his fingers around Peter's neck and snap it or twist it or...
Strong, Quidditch-conditioned arms grabbed him around the chest; Remus' impetus swung them around until they collided with the wall.
"No, Remus!" James said fiercely in his ear.
"I'm going to kill him!" Remus shouted, trying to twist in James' grip to get to Pettigrew.
"Get him out of here!" Moody ordered the Aurors, jabbing a finger toward their prisoner. He turned and shoved at Remus, hard, until he and James had the furious young man pinned against the wall.
Remus turned his head so he could watch Peter being pushed down the corridor. He was surprised to see that Peter was looking back at him.
"We would have died with you, Peter!" he yelled. "We would have died for you! Lying, traitorous rat!"
Peter's retort was clearly heard: "If it weren't for Sirius, you'd be where I am, Moony."
"What did he mean, you were never his friends?" Lily asked, handing Harry another small chocolate biscuit.
James made a disgusted sound deep in his throat. "Who knows? He's talking nonsense. Gods, to say that—"
"If I might make a comment?" Dumbledore gently interrupted. "It could be that Pettigrew might have become somewhat disillusioned or resentful of what had been happening around him. The fact that he referred to you as his 'supposed best friends' and then mentioning his lack of knowing where you were is very telling."
"But Remus didn't know where we were either!" James protested. "If you ask me, it was worse for Remus because it was his partner who was the Secret Keeper. "
"Yes, but Remus still had Sirius," the Headmaster pointed out.
"Pettigrew's been giving information to Voldemort for over a year," Moody suddenly growled. "It wasn't when Black became the Secret Keeper that Pettigrew suddenly turned on you—and us."
"True." Dumbledore conceded, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "Perhaps this is part of it then: Pettigrew had been part of a closely knit group of four, which could be easily paired off. When Lily was drawn into the group, it was no longer possible to split into two pairs. It was a pair and an awkward trio—especially when Sirius and Remus became involved. Now there were two pairs—and one lone individual."
"We included him whenever we did anything," James said, shaking his head. "He shouldn't have felt left out of anything. Trips to the pubs, dinners at our houses..."
"But we had our little inside jokes, James," Lily suddenly said, "and Remus and Sirius had theirs. The four of us made plenty of comments to one another about being in a committed relationship. Peter couldn't contribute to that. He didn't have what the four of us did."
Remus had been hunched over in his chair, with his face buried in his hands. He looked up at Lily's words and stared at her. "He would get quiet when we made jokes to compare which couple had the worst or best of anything. Sirius would get annoyed about it and say that Peter was pouting."
"But we never excluded him," James insisted. "He was still our friend, and we always treated him as such."
Lily and Remus exchanged glances and then looked at James.
"I can't believe Peter would hand us over to Voldemort because he was jealous," the dark-haired man continued. "It's so—so petty."
"People have turned on their friends for less," Moody said. "Jealousy will turn some people inside out and make their sanity disappear."
Remus cut James off abruptly. "The simple truth is that, unless Peter chooses to tell us specifically what it was that made him say 'yes' when the Death Eaters talked to him, we're never going to know. There have been several times when we couldn't follow Peter's logic for doing certain things—look how we reacted when he broke up with that Hufflepuff because she wanted to use us as her subjects for palm reading for her Divination project in sixth year."
"That was just stupid," James claimed. "She just needed us for the class. It's not like she wanted dates with us. He blew it completely out of proportion."
"And we made more than our share of comments about it," Remus said, regret starting to seep into his words. "As we did whenever he did other things that made no sense to us."
James sighed. He was scowling, but it seemed to be more in thought than in anger. "You didn't make nearly as many comments as Sirius and I did," he admitted finally, though it obviously pained him to admit as much.
"If we are to be honest about it," Remus contradicted gently, "it was mainly Sirius who teased Peter—somewhat cruelly, at times."
They were all quiet for a long moment.
"No wonder he led the Death Eaters to Sirius," James said sadly.
Moody suddenly cleared his throat. "Now that you've got that out of the way, I want to know what you think about the last thing that Pettigrew said to you, Lupin."
Remus rubbed one hand over his face. "I—don't know."
"How do you interpret his comment?" Dumbledore asked. "It is a rather ambiguous statement to make."
"It sounds as if he's saying that Black was the only thing keeping you from being a Death Eater," Moody commented, his eyes fixed piercingly on Remus.
The younger man shook his head. "Peter knows I'm loyal to the Order. He knows I wouldn't turn my back on all of you because Sirius is gone."
"Did he ever try to recruit you for Voldemort?"
"Nooo," Remus dragged the word out just a bit longer than necessary, making Moody turn more fully toward him. "He asked me after the memorial service if I was tired of fighting and if I would continue to fight. He never suggested I change sides."
"He didn't know what you were doing with the werewolf packs, did he?"
"Not that I know. But he knew a lot of things that I didn't. He knew Sirius was alive," he added after a moment's thought.
"Could he have meant that Sirius was somehow keeping the Death Eaters from coming after Remus?" James asked.
Remus shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I'm not that important, in the grand scheme of things. Sirius is obviously the best way to get to you, James. I'm—"
"You are the way to get to Black," Moody pointed out. "And now, with Black missing, you are next likely to be the Potters' Secret Keeper."
"I told Peter I wasn't."
Moody made a dismissive gesture, obviously disgusted with Remus' comment. "He knows you lie, though. You lied about being a werewolf when you were younger, you've kept the secret that they're Animagi, and I'll bet my good eye that you've lied about a bit more than that."
Remus said nothing, not willing to confirm or deny the Auror's words. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he would only incriminate himself further than he already had.
Lily suddenly surprised them all by saying, "You know, Peter could mean something more fundamental. He made that comment after he'd already said you'd never been his friends. Could he have been insinuating you'd have had no friends, Remus, if it hadn't been for Sirius?"
"Which means that Peter was never my friend, either?" Remus asked, his eyes widening.
"Well, that should be bloody obvious," muttered James.
"He's saying that you wouldn't have been my friend, either, you realise," Remus said, turning his gaze on James.
"That's rubbish," James said scornfully. "We're friends. We always have been. The Rat has a distorted idea of friendship if he couldn't see that. Don't start questioning that just because he fucked up."
"James," Lily murmured warningly, motioning to Harry, who was nestled in his mother's arms, but was watching the adults closely. "Language."
"Sorry." James didn't look repentant in the least. "But it's bloody ridiculous. Just because The Rat felt left out and lonely, he thinks Remus should feel that way, too? I'm not going to let that happen."
Remus sighed. "No one appreciates your friendship more than I, James. You and Sirius—and Peter—" the admission was made with great difficulty, "have done more for me than I can ever say. You became Animagi for me. You've kept me from being—" He stopped with a sharp inhalation. "Oh, gods. That's it."
"What's it?" Moody snapped.
Remus wasn't quite sure whether he wanted to laugh or cry at the sudden realisation. "If Sirius hadn't asked me to move in with him, I'd have no place of my own, or I'd be fighting to keep it. I know how difficult it is for others like me. If I hadn't had Sirius, there's a greater chance that I'd be living with one of the werewolf packs..."
"No," James said. "We wouldn't let you be there. Gods, Remus, I saw it and... You couldn't stay there."
"If I didn't have a job or a place to stay—" Remus broke off and swallowed hard. "When you've got nothing, you start believing that anything could make your life better. I've seen it happening in the packs. Who's to say that I wouldn't start believing Greyback and the others who claim that maybe Voldemort's got a plan of equality for the werewolves?"
"You wouldn't," Lily said firmly. "You know better. You know their promises are empty and evil."
"But if I were desperate?" Remus shrugged. "Maybe Peter's right. Maybe I would have done as he has."
"Remus." Dumbledore rose and went to sit in the chair next to Remus'. "There is more to you than what Pettigrew has ascribed to you. You have known discrimination and pain from those who are unsympathetic to your plight, and never have you felt that such a life was all that was left to you. You find the thought of becoming one of Voldemort's minions abhorrent. Perhaps, without friends, you would have found it more difficult to make your way in the world, but you are too good a man to submit to Voldemort's cruel intentions."
"Peter's underestimated you," James said with a mirthless grin. "He always has done. He was always surprised at the grades you got and your strength and your determination. Don't you dare let him make you think you're something that you aren't."
"I—I think I'm angry that he thinks so little of me," Remus finally admitted after a moment's thought. "How could he, after all this time?"
"He thinks so little of you and of James and of Sirius because he thinks so little of himself," Dumbledore said. "When one's character is so weak, it's easy to find the faults in others—even when goodness outshines all else."
Remus rubbed at his temple with his fingertips. "I suppose so. No. You're right. I know you are. It's just that..." His voice tapered off and he smiled half-heartedly. "I'm not thinking right. Everything that I thought was right last week has turned out to be so very wrong: Sirius isn't dead; Peter is a Death Eater... I think I'm going to question everything for a while."
James muttered an agreement and Remus got up and went over to his friend. "You, Lily, and Harry have been the only things holding me together in the past couple of days," he said. "Thank you for all you've done."
"It's what friends do, Moony," James said with a smile, throwing his arms around Remus in a snug embrace.
The next morning, Remus was awakened by a nearly frantic shaking.
"Sir must wake up!" a squeaky voice said.
Remus opened his eyes to blearily regard a house-elf in a Hogwarts tea towel pinned like a toga over his shoulder.
"The Headmaster says you must be waking up now!" the house-elf announced urgently.
"What's wrong?" Remus asked, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand, and sitting up.
"He is wanting me to give you this and be saying fifteen minutes."
The last vestiges of sleep fled instantly as Remus took a brown leather collar from the house-elf's thin fingers. His heart was thumping painfully in his chest as he looked at the ragged piece of parchment that accompanied the collar. In spidery, cramped writing was a simple phrase: "Tell the Wolf to fetch." Under that, written in familiar script, was: "Remus, the collar is the Key. Be cautious." A phoenix had been stamped on the parchment in blue ink, and, as Remus watched, it flew from the paper and disappeared in a small explosion of blue sparks. The initials "APWBD" glowed faintly for about three seconds before fading away.
"'Fetch'," he whispered, fingering the brown leather.
It could only mean one thing. He dressed quickly and then stood in front of the clock on the bedside table, watching it tick off the minutes while he turned the loop of leather in his fingers. It was a full minute before he expected it when he felt the odd, almost nauseating feeling of being hooked deep in his gut and pulled...
The Portkey deposited him in a copse of trees near a rickety shack in the middle of nowhere. Tucking the still-glowing collar in his pocket, he glanced around, assessing the situation.
He could see several farms on the gentle ridges surrounding him, but he doubted anyone would be looking in the direction of the shack. After all, it looked as if no one had given it any consideration recently. All the same, he Disillusioned himself before he stepped out of the shadow of the trees.
All was quiet. A few birds chirped above him, and somewhere nearby, he could hear the sound of a tractor.
It was as if Dumbledore had been standing next to him whispering the words in his ear. He waved his wand in several intricate designs, looking for the telltale signs of wards. A simple Muggle-repellant charm existed, but there was nothing alarming that Remus could see. Taking a deep breath, he moved closer to the building. There was no tingle of magic that accompanied wards or traps or warning charms, but he was perspiring lightly from tension by the time he reached the door.
The door swung open at his touch—he hadn't even turned the latch. He threw himself into a defensive crouch, bringing his wand up in readiness.
There was nothing.
"Homenum revelio," he barely murmured.
According to the spell, there was one person in the building. Another spell revealed a lack of wards or spells inside. It seemed safe, and while Remus hated to risk his safety—and Sirius'—on the simple appearance of safety, he didn't think he could waste any more time than he already had.
"Sirius?" he called softly as he crossed over the threshold.
He thought it might be a cabin for shepherds who needed to be close to their flocks during lambing season. There was a table and two chairs near a window and a mouse-gnawed armchair directly across from it. But in the corner was a small bedstead—and someone was in it.
Remus carefully placed one foot in front of the other and approached the bed. His heart was in his throat, making it impossible for him to swallow or to take a breath.
He ended the Disillusionment charm and threw himself on his knees beside the bed, unable to hold himself back any longer. "Sirius, wake up," he said, brushing the unkempt, matted hair out of his partner's face. He choked down a sob at the sight of a large barely healed scar that ran across Sirius' forehead. "Sirius? Can you hear me? Oh, gods, Sirius—" He leaned over and gently pressed his lips to the other man's temple, disregarding the dirt and rank odour that clung to the dark-haired man.
"Moony?" It was barely more than a breath of air.
"Yes, it's m—"
Sirius' hand moved, and Remus assumed Sirius was going to reach for him. He was shocked when Sirius shoved at him instead. "Go 'way," the injured man insisted weakly. "You're not him."
"He's dead," moaned Sirius, trying to writhe away from Remus. He groaned loudly and stopped moving, panting shallowly in pain.
"No, I'm not. I'm right here." Remus grabbed Sirius' hand, feeling his heart sink at how cold the fingers were.
"No. Saw it. Saw it," Sirius repeated, his eyes clenched shut tightly.
"Go 'way. He's dead."
Remus pressed his forehead to their clasped hands. He didn't know what had happened to Sirius, but obviously they'd used some horrible deception to try to break him.
How do I convince him I'm me?
Ever so softly, he said, "That night, Sirius, when we fought about my loyalty to you and the Order, do you remember? We said so many hurtful things to one another, things that we'd been thinking for months."
Sirius' eyes opened and he focussed on Remus' lips, as if what happened next would be determined by Remus' subsequent words. He seemed to be holding his breath.
Remus smiled. "When it was over, I was waiting for you to say I was an arse or that you were sorry. I thought you might even suggest we go into the bedroom so you could fuck my brains out. Instead, you asked me if I was hungry. We walked down to that pub on the corner and had ham sandwiches. After that, we went to the park and looked at the stars."
He leaned over and whispered, "It was the first time you said you loved me."
Sirius' fingers gripped Remus' very tightly. "How—?
"It's me. I don't know what they've done to make you think otherwise, but it's me. And I'm going to take you home—" Remus stopped abruptly, remembering that their flat was a pile of burnt timbers and ash. "I have to get you out of here, get you somewhere safe..."
"Moony—" Sirius pulled his shaky hand away to touch Remus' cheek. "It is you."
Remus' hands moved of their volition, dancing softly across Sirius' shoulders and head, his thumb stroking the chin and jaw that were now fully bearded, his fingers tracing the scar across the forehead. He wanted to lie down, stretch himself full length beside the Animagus and just feel the warmth, the solidity that had been missing for over two weeks.
"I've missed you so bloody much," he whispered fiercely, his eyes intent on the other man's grey eyes. "I didn't know where you were. I thought you were dead, too."
"Dead wouldn't... feel... this bad."
Tears sprang to Remus' eyes, but he blinked them away: he couldn't turn into a bawling mess now. "Can't feel so bad, Padfoot, if you're making terrible jokes like that."
"Really you," Sirius slurred. "No symp'thy." His eyes slipped closed and he sucked in a deep, shuddering breath.
Do I dare move him? What injuries has he suffered?
As good as Remus had become with simple healing spells—for his own benefit, mainly—he wasn't very good at diagnostic charms. He had never regretted that as much as he did now. "I have to get you out of here," he told Sirius again. "Where are you hurt?"
Sirius huffed in what Remus realised was an attempt at sarcastic laughter. "All hurts."
"Leg's broke... an' ribs... an'—" He broke off, coughing, though it was little more than a groaning wheeze.
Remus winced. There'd be no way of getting Sirius out of here with a minimal amount of pain. "Fuck, Padfoot, it's going to hurt, but I don't know what else to do." He began to wrap the thin blanket more securely around Sirius's sides. "I don't know how much time we have."
I could make a stretcher and—
There was a noise outside the building and Remus looked quickly toward the open door.
What was that?
"We've got to get out of here," he breathed in Sirius' ear.
The Animagus gripped Remus' sleeve. "Don' let 'em... get us." The plea was fervent and almost shocking. Sirius sounded terrified.
"No," Remus said. "I won't."
"Kill me... if y' can't... get us—"
"Shut up, Sirius," Remus whispered sharply. He started to ease one arm under Sirius' back but stopped when the man whimpered loudly.
Remus shot another glance at the door. Someone or something was out there. His brain sorted through possibilities and discarded them just as quickly until he shook his head, knowing there was only one thing to do. "Forgive me, Padfoot," he muttered, raising his wand. "Stupefy."
Remus Apparated to the front gates at Hogwarts. The stone boars looked down at him and his burden and immediately the barred gates popped open. He muttered his thanks to them as he walked past them, relieved that he didn't have to ask for admittance.
Further proof that Dumbledore was expecting him came in the form of Hagrid, who seemingly came from nowhere when Remus was still halfway to the castle.
"There y' are, Lupin. Headmaster said tha'—Bloody hell! Is tha' Sirius Black?"
"It is," Remus said gravely.
"I'll carry 'im, if—"
"No. I've got him." Remus adjusted his grip just a tad so that Sirius' head lay more firmly against his chest and nodded curtly. "If you'd walk with me, though, and make sure no one gets in my way..."
They encountered few students, as most of the children were in classes, and what few they did meet stepped aside hurriedly upon seeing Hagrid's purposeful strides. Madame Pomfrey was waiting for them at the top of the staircase that would take them into the hospital wing.
She led them into a small room at the back of one of the large wardrooms, and as soon as Remus laid Sirius on the bed, she started a series of diagnostic charms. She didn't try to send Remus out of the room, probably knowing he'd never go. She'd dealt with Sirius' obstinacy often enough when the boys were in their seventh year and their relationship had shifted into something other than just friendship. They'd been inseparable, and there'd been many times that she'd come in to check on Remus after the full moons to find Sirius snuggled beside him on the bed or curled on a chair nearby.
"Will he be all right?" Remus asked quietly after several minutes of tense silence.
"He's had a few healing potions already," she said, sounding almost confused. "There is evidence of wounds and internal injuries that have healed or are healing. If it weren't for those potions, he might be dead now."
Remus closed his eyes, feeling his chest constrict tightly at the confirmation of things he'd thought, felt, and suspected. He'd known the Death Eaters wouldn't have been gentle with Sirius, which had been why it had been easy to believe that Sirius was dead. Now that he had fetched Sirius back to safety, though, Pomfrey's words made Remus realise all over again what he could have lost.
When the matron bustled off to get potions that Sirius would need, Remus slid the chair over to the side of the bed and took Sirius' slack hand in his. Now that they were in a safe place, he couldn't stop staring at Sirius, noticing the hurts and the feverish pink spots on the thin, pale cheeks.
He didn't say anything. He knew Sirius couldn't hear him and what was needed to be said would wait until Sirius was awake and feeling marginally better. So, he just sat and let his eyes drink Sirius in, letting the other man's presence pour over and through him until he was nearly breathless with relief and concern—and love.
Sirius slowly forced one eye open and then the other. The ceiling looked familiar; the scent of the room was familiar; maybe even more importantly, the man beside Sirius' bed was very familiar.
Remus had fallen asleep in the chair next to the bed, but his face was buried in his folded arms on the edge of Sirius' bed. The Animagus couldn't help but stare, thinking about the many times in their lives when their positions had been reversed. At another time, then or yet to come, Sirius might have considered startling Remus into wakefulness with a sharp push or a loud noise. Now, however…
He'd thought he would never see Remus again. He'd thought death would separate them—no, ihad/i separated them. He'd dreamed of being with Remus; he'd longed to feel his lover's touch, to hear his voice, to belong to the blue-eyed man all over again. Tears filled his eyes as he reached out to gently stroke the sandy-brown hair.
For a moment, Remus seemed to lean into the touch, muttering something softly. And then Sirius heard the sharp intake of breath and saw the man's muscles tense. He could only watch in wide-eyed wonder as Remus brought his head up and jerked back so violently that the chair he'd been precariously perched on tipped under the sudden movement.
"Ouch! Fuck!" Remus yelled as his backside hit the floor—and the chair landed on his shoulder. Awareness flooded into the young man's eyes a moment later. Sirius could tell that he was thinking of what he wanted to say, wondering what he ishould/i say. He finally settled for "You scared the bloody shit out of me, Sirius!"
Before Sirius could make the comment that he'd been very deliberately trying not to do that very thing, Remus scrambled to his knees and grabbed Sirius' hand. "I was so scared," he whispered.
"I was, too," Sirius admitted, with a short bark of laughter. His ribs chose that moment to remind him that they weren't completely healed and he winced. But then Remus' fingers were stroking his hand, making him forget about the ache. "I thought you were dead."
Remus smiled lopsidedly, moving to perch himself on the edge of the bed. "I thought you were, too."
"They killed you," Sirius said a little more insistently, his fingers wrapping around Remus' wrist and squeezing tightly, as if it would help to make the man's presence even more real. "Right in front of me."
"It wasn't me." Remus combed his fingers through Sirius' raven locks, letting his thumb caress Sirius' cheek.
"It was so real. How did they do that?"
"Magic," Remus replied simply.
"It looked like you. It sounded like you."
A shudder suddenly rocked Remus' body at the same time as realization exploded in his eyes. "Shit!" He looked away from Sirius' enquiring eyes, running his hand over his hair in obvious frustration. "Peter."
From somewhere deep inside Sirius, a memory emerged. No, not a memory; it was more like a long-forgotten nightmare.
"Please tell them, Sirius! Don't let Remus die!"
"Don't you hear him screaming?"
"I thought you loved him."
It was so real, yet Sirius couldn't remember anything about Peter being there before that—or after that last accusatory sentence. "Remus, where's Peter?"
The blue eyes closed, and pain spread itself across the other man's face. "Oh, gods, Sirius."
"Was he there? With me?"
Remus' chuckle was as bitter as Sirius had ever heard. "He might have been. Oh, fuck, he probably was…" He pulled his hands away from Sirius, and let them dangle between his knees, doubling over as if he were in pain.
"Is Peter all right?"
Remus' high-pitched laugh sent chills down Sirius' spine, making him dread the answer. "Peter is in Azkaban." Before Sirius could deny the possibility of such a statement, Remus raised his head and looked him straight in the eyes. "He's a Death Eater."
"No. He was—"
"He's a bloody traitor," Remus said, the hint of a snarl accompanying the words. "He knew you were alive and didn't tell me. He helped arrange for Death Eaters to come to our flat after the full moon to attack me. When that didn't happen, they burned it to the ground."
Sirius sucked in a sharp breath. "Our flat—burned—?"
Remus looked down at his fingers, which were tightly interlaced. "I had hoped to tell you in a much different way, but yes. Everything's gone."
Sirius covered his face with his hands. Our photos, our books, our clothes…
Remus went on, talking quickly as if rushing through it all would help him get through it—or maybe help Sirius through it. "He told Voldemort everything about us: the fact that you and James are Animagi, the fact that we're lovers, the fact that I'm a werewolf…"
"Bloody hell!" Sirius whispered. "Is there anything he didn't tell?"
"Probably not." Remus reached for Sirius again, pulling his hands down from his face and holding them tightly. "We can assume that Voldemort knows everything that we've done or said." He swallowed hard. "Considering Peter is the sneaky rat that he is, I would assume he took one of my hairs and they used it in Polyjuice Potion. The poor son of a bitch that you thought was me probably had no idea he was playing a part in some horrible charade."
"To make me think that you were being tortured and killed—"
"But you didn't break. You didn't tell where James and Lily and Harry were."
Sirius scoffed. "Of course, I didn't." Sudden realization struck him that he'd just admitted that he'd deliberately let Remus die. "Moony, I didn't want to keep my silence. I wanted to tell them." He fisted Remus' sleeve. "I couldn't bear it. It was awful. I heard you screaming in my nightmares after that night, and there was nothing I could do."
"No," Remus contradicted, his eyes blazing. "It wasn't nothing. It was everything. You did what you had to do."
"You were right, Padfoot. You had to keep them safe. I am nothing, the Order is nothing; our purpose is nothing without Harry."
"But I lost you," Sirius whispered. "And then I wanted to die. I tried to, actually, but…" He stopped abruptly and his tone because lighter, almost laughing. "There was a Death Eater who wouldn't let me die. He kept sneaking Healing potions in to me. He was the one who finally managed to sneak me out of the place."
"I've had some time to think," Remus said quietly. "I think Dumbledore has a spy in the Death Eaters. The man who helped you was more than likely that man."
Sirius didn't say anything for a moment. "Well, isn't this a bloody fine mess."
Their eyes met and Remus offered a tentative half-smile. "If it makes you feel any better, I've told you the worst of it all."
Sirius blinked. Remus had, within five minutes of their waking up, revealed that their lives were open books to the Death Eaters, they had no home, and one of their best friends was a traitor. Nearly hysterical laughter bubbled up from within him. "Trust you, Moony, to be able to understate the fact that our lives are shit."
Remus chuckled. Then he leaned forward and pressed his lips to Sirius' forehead. "But you're alive, Sirius, and I have you back."
Sirius let his hand slide up Remus' arm and over the broad shoulder to tickle the soft skin on the side of Remus' neck. "Then we have everything we need."
"It bloody hurts!"
"Well, of course, it bloody hurts. Your hip joint is fucked up and your femur was shattered in two places."
"Is there an ounce of compassion inside you at all?" Sirius grumbled.
"Sirius, I have had bones broken and joints pulled apart so often that—"
"Yeah, yeah. Werewolf. I get it." Sirius took in a deep breath and took another step forward.
"We're almost there," Remus reassured him.
"Is it just me, or did Dumbledore pick the most inconvenient spot for us to meet? Bloody effing stairs and—"
"Would you shut it, Padfoot?" Remus huffed, though he smiled affectionately. "You broke your ankle in that stunt off the Astronomy Tower and had to hobble around for a week, and you did it with far less complaint."
"I didn't hurt as badly as I do now," Sirius complained, hopping down another few stairs.
"That's a sign you're getting old," Remus sighed, looking up at him from the landing right below him. He grinned mischievously. "It's just a matter of time before you start whining when I suggest we spice things up with those silk cords—"
"Maybe the gods strike you with lightning for suggesting such a thing." Sirius placed a hand on his partner's shoulder to help himself down to the landing. "And, since you've mentioned it, add that to the list of things we need to replace." He leaned over to snatch a kiss from Remus.
They finished their slow progression down the main stairway and turned toward the Staff Room doors. Just as they neared the door, James suddenly emerged from the room. "Hey! There you two are!"
"Give us a minute," Sirius snapped. "Some of us are injured, you know."
James and Remus exchanged smiles.
"Don't patronise me," groused Sirius.
"What are you going to do? Kick me in the arse?" James asked. "Club me over the head with your cane?"
"Fucker," Sirius mumbled as he pushed his way past the other man and into the Staff Room.
James put a hand on Remus' arm, preventing him from following his lover. "How is he?" he enquired quietly.
Remus took a deep breath. "He has nightmares—terrible ones—but that's to be expected, I'm told. Certainly understandable, considering what they did to him."
"You know you're still welcome to come and stay with us."
"I know. We appreciate the offer, truly," Remus said with a smile.
"You can't stay here at Hogwarts indefinitely."
"No, we can't," Remus agreed. "We've got a plan, though."
Remus hesitated and then led James by the arm into the Great Hall, where they sat down across from each other at the Gryffindor table.
"Albus wanted us to meet you here to tell you what we'd decided. Sirius and I just wanted to go to yours, but considering the state of Sirius' leg... We wanted to tell you in person, just you and us, but—"
James smiled and reached across the table to touch Remus' arm. "Moony, you're rambling. Just tell me."
Remus smiled back and ran a hand over his head. "Sorry. I think I'm a little nervous—but I'm excited, too. It's a bit overwhelming, though—"
James did laugh then. "Gods, Remus! Would you just tell me?"
"Sirius needs to find a place to hide. He can't stay in England. The Death Eaters found him within a matter of weeks. I have to hide, too. They know about our relationship. They know they can use me to get to Sirius. Not to mention I'm also a Secret Keeper. It's not safe for me here, either."
The black-haired man sighed, and if sighs had a tone, Remus supposed this one hinted at resignation. "Where will you two go?"
"We have nothing here but you and Lily. Our flat is ashes, as well as everything we owned. We've decided it's a good time to travel. We're going to buy one of those magical tents and travel until we can come back without endangering Harry—or until it's time for us to make a definitive move against Voldemort."
James cupped his chin in his hand and tapped the table with his other hand. "Let's see... France and Greece for you. Italy and Germany for Sirius."
"And maybe Egypt and Norway, just for fun," Remus said with a smile.
"I think I envy you." James shrugged at Remus' disbelieving stare. "I'm starting to feel a little claustrophobic at home. To think of being free to go where you want, when you want..."
"It won't be all fun. Albus wants us to investigate some rumours and gather information, so really, our path will be somewhat directed by that. We'll have to rely on a lot of spells. We'll need to disguise ourselves often, and we'll have to mask the presence of our tent every night—we won't be able to stay in the same place two nights in a row. And, let's not forget, I'll be alone with Sirius."
James chuckled. "It could be that you'll have it more difficult than I do."
"That's what I'm beginning to wonder. Or maybe Sirius will. It's been a fortnight since my last cigarette and I'm going to try to break the habit altogether."
"Thank all the gods I won't be there for that, then."
The two men grinned at each other. Then James reached over and took Remus' hand in his. "You're doing this for my son, Moony, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate that."
"As Lily pointed out to me a few weeks ago, we're family. There's nothing we wouldn't do for you, Lily, or Harry."
The fingers gripping Remus' tightened a little. "We'll expect postcards." The wet glistening in James' eyes said more.
Remus was able to interpret it. "We'll miss you, too."
The man looked up from the fish he was gutting. "Yes?" he demanded in heavily accented English.
"I wondered if you had some fish that you'd care to part with for a few lei."
The man's eyebrows rose as he cast a doubtful look over the man in front of him. Tall and thin, dressed in khaki trousers with a long, black leather coat that came to his knees and sturdy walking boots... He looked out of place in this small, Romanian seaside town, though not particularly dangerous, even if a long, recently healed scar lined his left cheek. The black dog at his side, however, was another story.
"He doesn't bite," the stranger said, seeing the man's eyes flick to the beast. "He's actually very friendly."
As if he knew what his master was saying, the dog wagged his tail and tilted his head in a beseeching way.
Despite himself, the fisherman smiled. He did have a soft spot for dogs. "I get you fish."
The tall man touched the brim of his fedora in thanks. "Padfoot and I will wait right here for you."
The fisherman's wife saw him wrapping the fish in newspaper and peered out the window at the Englishman. "He's too skinny, Mihai. Give him some bread, too."
"You'd have us giving all our food away," the man grumbled. Still, he picked up the half a loaf that was still on the table.
The young man had removed his hat, letting the stiff wind ruffle his sandy-brown hair as he knelt with his arm around his dog. They were both looking out over the sea, and the fisherman thought he heard the stranger talking to the dog. It seemed a strange thing to do, the fisherman thought, talking to an animal. Still, the young man was alone in a strange country. The dog was obviously a companion more than a pet.
They bargained quickly for the fish and then the young man hoisted a worn rucksack over his shoulders.
"You are a long way from home," the fisherman said.
The young man smiled. "Home is where the heart is," he replied in near-fluent Romanian. He put one hand on his heart and the other on the dog's head. "And I've got mine with me."
The dog nosed at his master's leg and then looked at the fisherman with a gleam in his eye that spoke as eloquently as any human words could: He's mine and I'm his. What more could we want?
The Romanian fisherman thought about the strange pair that night when the wind brought in a particularly violent thunderstorm. Had they found shelter? He could almost envision them, the young man's arms around the dog, huddling beneath a pine tree's boughs in scant protection from the driving rain...
Not far away, a small, nondescript blue tent stood firm against the battering wind. Inside, oblivious to the storm, two young men lay entwined together, breathing rapidly and sweating lightly from their love-making.
Grey eyes glittered in the scant light. "All right, then, Moony?"
"Perfect," was the soft reply. It was times like this when Remus was most conscious of what he'd almost lost forever. Remembering the bitter and draining darkness of grief, he combed his fingers through black, silky hair. "Thankful."
Sirius didn't have to ask what he meant: they'd had that conversation when the answer had first been given months before. Instead of saying anything in return, he pressed his lips gently to his lover's. He could feel Remus' smile beneath the kiss.
Love was a joyous, exhilarating thing.