Do Wizards Dream of Magical Sheep?
by Keelywolfe

Summary: An AU set during 'Half-Blood Prince'. Dead is dead, unless you're a wizard. Then things can get...complicated.

Notes: This story was written some time ago....hmmm, I'd have to say about four years now. But I'm trying to collect a lot of my stories in the same place and this seems like a decent spot to do it. Enjoy!

The scent of rubbish was what came to him first. The cloying green stench of rotting vegetables and the fouler stink of meat and other bits mingling into a swampy soup that drew him closer.

Almost there, then. His nails clicked roughly on the fractured cement, little more than a dark shape creeping between the yellowed pools of light beneath any streetlight that worked. Inside one house he could hear two people having a row, cursing and flinging furniture in the Muggle way. The other houses were quieter, either darkened completely or the flickering light of the telly wavering out of dirt-encrusted windows.

He paid them wary heed, a silent shadow on their street. Not for much longer, the absent number was close and he was tired, pausing only to lick at his worn, bloody paws, salt-copper and dirt mixing not unpleasantly on a tongue that was not, for the moment, human.

There was no drive leading to the house. He skirted a manhole, steam creeping upward from cracks in the metal. Just in front of the house that was not there, he sat on the sidewalk. His tail fanned behind him, flicking in almost a wag as he concentrated, imaging the peeling paint and dirty windows of twelve Grimmauld Place.

Nothing happened.

He whined, licking his chops and turning in a tight circle before sitting down again, staring with eerily intelligent canine eyes as he thought of a door that should be there, one that would open up to a shrieking hallway of portraits that would curse his birth.

Again, nothing.

The dog made a snuffling sound of fear and frustration, creeping closer on his belly. Several overflowing bags of rubbish lay open on the front porch to his left, their pungent odour nauseating and salivating to his hungry nose. Dirty children's toys mingled with broken beer bottles, one fractured bit digging into his already aching paws and he yipped, low and pained, digging at it furiously with his teeth.

Finally he was pressed against the rough bricks, matted fur catching. The only sounds were from the house across the way, its occupants still screeching their rage, and the telly in number eleven. The shadow of the dog shifted, lengthening and stretching until there was an entirely different shape pressed against the bricks.

He muttered words beneath his breath, fingers scraping the bricks as though he might prise them apart with his ragged nails. There was nothing revealed to his frantic touch. The bricks remained stubbornly where they were, unheeding to his rough whispers and angry pleadings.

A door creaked open and the man vanished, a large dog instead cowering in the rotten grass. Out onto the porch stepped a man, tossing another bag of rubbish into the monument already there. He lingered, the cherry-red glow of a cigarette flaring between his lips.

The dog began to creep away, choosing the direction of the broken fence rather than the sidewalk.

"Oi! Get out of here, you mutt!"

He scrambled away, too slow, yelping as a half-empty bottle connected with his backside. The gaps in the fence were barely big enough for a large dog to squeeze through, but he managed, limping along the sidewalk until he made it to an alley with no light at all.

More rubbish here, older, leaking its foul smell into the air. With his nose, he prodded the newest of his injuries, finding only bruises and no blood at all. The night was growing colder, March chill creeping through his fur and finding his bones. No matter; he allowed himself only a moment to curl into a ball, licking again at his injured feet before standing on them once again.

There was only one other place he could go then, and it would be a long journey on foot.

Whining a little, the only self-pity he would allow, he made his way down the street, pausing only to lap water from the cleanest looking puddle.

Then he vanished back into the darkness, heading north. He knew exactly where he needed to go.


Frost was still thick on the grasses and reeds surrounding the lake when the castle loomed into sight. Rarely had the rising turrets looked better to him than they did now as he padded wearily closer, taking care to stay hidden near the water's edge.

As exhausted as he was, there was little chance of him sneaking into the castle as this hour. At this point he was likely to stumble right into Filch's office by mistake and from there right into the delighted arms of the Ministry. Better to wait until dark, then, when he had had some rest.

A startled flock of birds burst from the concealing marshes. It was reflex by now to lunge for them, catching warm, feathered flesh between his teeth. Bones crunched and there was little of his humanity evident as he tore into the warm meat. In the two weeks it had taken him to travel to Hogwarts on foot he'd had little to eat, scrounging for small animals and in trash bins for whatever he could find.

The bird had been small but it satisfied some of the gnawing hunger in his gut. A long drink at the edge of the lake quenched his thirst, the water cold enough to feel like it cut at his mouth. With a weary sigh, Padfoot crept deeper into the brush until he found a spot that was dry and concealing. He curled into a ball, tucking his tail over his nose to keep it warm and was asleep before the sun finished cresting the horizon, melting away the velvety-ice coating the reeds.

His nest of grassy weeds, barely-warm and not-quite-safe, Sirius slept and dreamt of food that came on plates and beds that held nothing more complicated than sheets.

It was a scent that woke him, as familiar as his own though he had not smelled it particularly often. The sun was high in the sky, lending some warmth to the cool air. It was April, he realized blearily, still tired and aching to the bones. Crawling out of his nest of dry weeds, Padfoot kept low to the ground and moved closer to that scent. A black dog was not well hidden in a tawny coloured fringe of plants but the smell was compelling, pulling him closer almost unwillingly.

Through the tall grasses, he could barely see the outline of people sitting not all that far way, on the edge of the lake where the reeds had been cleared away. Low to the ground, he crept closer, sniffing at the air and that clear scent that made him think green in the way only a dog could think of it, his nose telling him it was the smell of spring, layered beneath sweat and other scents that told him human.

"Come off it!" His ears perked up at the voice, again, familiar. "Why should he return it? The book's been dead useful."

"Useful for cheating!" A girl's voice, sharp with anger, "It's not fair to the rest of us, Harry, using the Prince's notes. I still think you should turn in it."

"Yeah, along with his map, and his invisibility cloak and--"

He didn't hear the rest of it, sounds dimming away to a distant hum at the back of his mind. Another boy, his hair black and mussed, was facing away from him. As his companions continued to squabble, he turned away to look out over the lake and a glint of light caught on the lenses of his glasses.

Blood need blood, death there must be death, blood, must have, must take, blood, yes, blood.

He could already taste it, slick and briny at the back of his throat as he lunged out through the bushes and towards the children, towards that boy, green eyes widening behind a layer of glass, white throat covered in fragile human flesh and his teeth would be yellowed and brutal against it.

Pain flared along his nerves, supernova bright and he heard his own yelp of pain, collapsing in the soft mud near the water. Again, green eyes, green, his hind legs refusing to work as he snarled and dragged himself on his front paws towards it, blood, there must be blood and the pain returned, sharper this time and darkness came with it.

Someone was slapping his face roughly. Sirius grunted out a protest, flinging out an arm to stop the abuse. It didn't work. Another, harsher slap came and along with it a voice.

"Wake up!" The voice commanded, deep and reverberating with power.

"Knock it off!" Sirius snarled, lashing out with a closed fist. It didn't connect with anything other than air. Another slap and Sirius jerked away, sitting up and blinking in the too-bright light. It stabbed at his eyes and he cried out in pain, slapping a hand over them, still seeing dancing skeletons of light behind his closed lids.

The sound of shuffling feet and breathing made him squint out from between his fingers. There was still some pain, not quite as bad, and a few moments later he was able to pull his hand away completely. His eyes were watering, the world about him washed in blurriness and Sirius thought perhaps he was still dreaming, his thoughts sluggish and thick.

"Wha--where am I?" Sirius looked about at the bewildering collection of items, an eclectic gathering of magical and muggle things surrounded by a dozen or so portraits of grim-faced witches and wizards peering down at him from on high. Behind a large and wildly cluttered desk sat another wizard, a living one and even with watery eyes, Sirius recognized the man with some relief.

"Dumbledore?" Sirius made to stand and three wands suddenly made their presence known against his throat. He looked around a bit wildly and found familiar faces around him, though their blurry expressions were not encouraging in the slightest. Snape, Minerva, and Tonks, her hair a rather depressing shade of drab brown, were looking down on him with bleak eyes and downturned mouths.

"Please," Dumbledore said, gesturing them away. They stepped back, though Sirius could feel their reluctance, their wands still at the ready. He rubbed his throat, wincing at the pressure he could still feel. The chair he was sitting in was hard and wooden, his aching muscles protesting the unexpected discomfort. This had to be a dream of some sort, he decided, muddled thoughts clinging to the hope. The chairs in Dumbledore's office were overstuffed and cushy, threatening to absorb first-years into their depths.

In this office he was the only one sitting in his uncomfortable chair, the others standing a bare step away from him. He couldn't see Dumbledore's chair, and this simply had to be a dream.

"Sirius," Dumbledore said, catching his faltering attention. He folded his hands on his desk, his expression disturbingly bland. "Your presence here is rather unexpected."

A bark of strangled laughter, from Tonks, although there was no humour in it. To him, it sounded more like a sob. Sirius looked from her to Dumbledore, and again, utterly lost. His head ached, a drilling throb at the temples and Sirius reached up to rub at it. Abruptly, three wands were again at his throat and this time Sirius had the presence of mind to flinch.

"A moment, if you will," Dumbledore said, a bite of impatience in his voice. "Let him gather himself so he can speak."

"Yes, thank you, I'll second that!" Sirius said hoarsely, sinking back into his chair as much as he could. He could feel the reluctance in the other wizards, as baffling as it was. Some bit of memory was coming back to him, the strange disappearance of Grimmauld Place, his long journey to Hogwarts. Something strange was going on, he knew that for certainly. Likely that was why the others seemed as jumpy as cats.

"Now, as I was saying. We--" Dumbledore hesitated uncharacteristically and Sirius could only blink at him, more confused that ever. What was going on here? "We weren't expecting to see you here at Hogwarts, Sirius. Perhaps you would care to explain?"

"I had to come here," Sirius said, slowly. His thoughts were still as slow as molasses poured through a strainer, and he thought he could feel half a dozen hexes still crawling over his skin. A Death Eater attack, perhaps? It seemed unlikely at Hogwarts of all places.

"Grimmauld place seems to have vanished permanently. I couldn't get in when I got back so I thought headquarters must have changed places." He shrugged, helplessly. "Hogwarts is the only place I could be certain to find you. Took me a bloody long time to walk here, too." He stretched, ignoring how the other wizards tensed when he raised his hands over his head. Muscles that had been too-long bent into dog shape were protesting the return to human.

Dropping his hands back in his lap, Sirius eyed the other wizards. If this was the new security procedures, he thought they were taking it a bit too far. Snape had always looked at him like something recently scraped from his boots, of course, but Minerva had never looked at him as she was now and certainly not Tonks, who looked as if she might be ill. Sirius shifted uncomfortably in his too-hard chair and met Dumbledore's gaze with his own, trying to fathom what would make them all look at him like they had.

Something with Peter, perhaps? Had something happened to make them doubt him again? A sick feeling twisted in his gut at the thought of Dumbledore turning him into the Ministry himself, sending him back to Azkaban.

No. Sirius took a deep breath, calming the panic growing in him. He'd given them no reason to doubt him, surely, and soon he'd understand what was happening.

"You walked here from London?" Dumbledore repeated slowly. "You didn't think to contact us by floo or to apparate closer?"

"You're asking me that?" Sirius asked, disbelieving. "After all your lectures about keeping hidden? Take the floo, he says, I might as well just walk right into the Ministry and ask them for my old cell back."

"And your attack on the students?" Came from his right from Snape. Sirius glared at the greasy bastard; of course he'd have something foul to say, tossing in an accusation about a...attack on the...what?

"What?" he repeated aloud, bewildered. "What are you talking about, attack on...the..." The sentence dwindled away, memory pushing through the cloud of hexes to remind him of blood and teeth, the smell of terror heavy in his nose and screams and..."What did I do?" he whispered, gripping the arms of the chair with bloodless fingers.

No one replied, their expressions even grimmer. Tonks was pale, her mousy brown hair seemed even lanker.

"You came back to Grimmauld place, you say," Dumbledore said finally, peering at him over the lenses of his half-moon glasses.

"Yes!" Sirius tore a hand through his hair. "I don't see what's so difficult about this. I went to Grimmauld place, only it wouldn't open up to me." Sirius frowned, remembering his anger and fear as he stood outside of where his childhood home should be. "It was the strangest thing."

"I see. And then you came to Hogwarts and attacked a group of students."

"I suppose I did," Sirius said, his lips moving numbly. "Are they all right? I...I didn't--"

"Physically, none of them are hurt," Dumbledore told him, ignoring a snort from Snape.

"Thank Merlin," Sirius tipped his head back to the ceiling, weak with relief. "I...I don't know what came over me. I just saw--"

"You saw Harry."

Sirius jerked, the colour of the world fading in front of his eyes to black and white. The snarls tearing from his throat could not be happening, brutal animal fury and there would be blood, torn flesh between his teeth, oh, yes...

The pain ripped through him like a dull knife and his screams were as human as his flesh. The stone floor was cold beneath his cheek and Sirius curled into himself, choking on moans and the taste of salt thick in his throat was nothing like blood.

A firm hand on his shoulder eased him up until he could sit, still dazed and ill. He looked up at Tonks, who was paler than ever and removed her hand from Sirius as quickly as she could.

"Sirius, don't try to stand until you feel ready," Dumbledore said, his voice quite testy, "I think a simple stun would be just as effective and as Tonks is the Auror, it should come from her."

"Albus, he's dangerous," Minerva's voice and that hurt as much as the hexes had.

"He's not going to hurt anyone in here." That seemed to end whatever protests the others had been about to make. Sirius took a deep breath, another, and then heaved himself back into the hard-backed chair. Nausea curled low in his stomach, hunger and pain colliding.

"All right, then? Let's go back a bit shall we?" Dumbledore tapped his fingers on his desk, considering. "You came to Grimmauld Place and then to Hogwarts?"

"Yes," Sirius mumbled.

"From where?"

He frowned. "What?"

"From where," Dumbledore persisted. "You came to Grimmauld Place from where?"

"I--" Sirius started, "I was--" Words drifting away. He closed his eyes, trying to think but there was only blankness. "I don't know. There's...nothing there. I was--I was at Grimmauld place and then I wasn't and I was trying to get back and--nothing." He finished, looking at Dumbledore's grim face with horror. "What's happening?"

"I'm not sure," Dumbledore said quietly, "But this I do know. Not quite a year ago in the Department of Mysteries, you died, Sirius. We had a small service for you and mourned your death and, until today, we had no reason to believe you were anything but lost to us."

"But...I'm right here," he whispered.

"Yes, you can see why this is a problem. You also tried to murder Ha--" A low growl was already rising in Sirius throat and Dumbledore broke off, waving an impatient hand. "Yes, a very thorny problem. Unfortunately, until it is solved, we obviously cannot allow you to roam free. It's only the fact that your godson is well trained in repelling attacks that he survived."

"I attacked..." Sirius swallowed back the name, unfamiliar rage already rising in his throat at simply thinking it. He buried his face in his hands, a low moan choking out from his throat, "Oh, god."

The touch of a hand on his shoulder startled him and he flinched away violently, looking up into Tonks's face. Still too grim, eyes dark and wide in her pale face, but there was some concern there now, some measure of belief. "It's possible that this is a variation of the Imperius curse," she ventured unsteadily. "If...if it is, we should be able to find a way to break it. It might take some time, but--"

"If I may," Snape stepped forward, skirting Sirius's chair with a flick of his robes. "There is ample room in the dungeons for one--" his lips thinned. "--man, as it were."

"No," Sirius croaked out, barely loud enough to be heard. But Dumbledore was already shaking his head.

"No, the dungeons are hardly an appropriate place for someone who may be our comrade and certainly not as a long term solution. We don't know how long it will take us to discover what has happened to Sirius or," Dumbledore sighed heavily, "Or indeed if this is even him."

"I am Sirius," he rasped, low and desperate. No one seemed to notice.

"In any event, I have already made other arrangements. Remus?"

For the first time, Sirius noticed that Remus was standing quietly near the door. He stepped forward at Dumbledore's word, his expression unreadable and his eyes flickered only briefly to Sirius.

"You'll be staying with Remus, at his flat, for the moment. It is not Unplottable but it is well warded, and we will be placing additional wards on it." He peered at Sirius. "I do hope you will understand that for your protection and for H--others," he amended, "You will be unable to leave his flat, even if you are accompanied by another person. Only myself and one other will be able to escort you from it, and their identity will be a secret to all others but myself. Rest assured, it is not Remus."

Sirius nodded numbly.

"I do realize how difficult this will be for you," Dumbledore said and, for the first time, his voice was gentle. "But it is for the best. The only other option would be the dungeons, as Severus suggested."

"I understand," Sirius said, his voice a bare whisper.

"Fine. You shall remain here, under guard, I'm afraid, while the rest of us ward Remus's flat. Perhaps you'd like some rest?" A wave of his wand and his chair melted into a camp bed, the thin mattress infinitely more comfortable than the chair had been.

The weeks of travel with little sleep suddenly surged to the front and Sirius was already close to sleep when he curled up on it, barely hearing the others leaving, their words a jumbled murmur to his exhausted mind.

It seemed particularly useless to be back in London only a day after his long trek across the country. He wasn't entirely sure what part of London they were in, only that Remus's flat was minorly less shabby than Grimmauld place, the wallpaper not quite peeling away from the dampish walls. Heavy curtains were on every window and they resisted his attempts to pull them back. It left the flat in a gloomy sort of darkness that scoffed at attempts to brighten the rooms with lamps.

Only two bedrooms, one of which was an office that someone had seen fit to equip with a camp bed like the one he'd slept on in Dumbledore's office. The loo was worse, just about the size and shape of a postage stamp. He supposed it might be interesting to be able to shower while sitting on the toilet and it was certainly a step up from finding a convenient piece of shrubbery.

But he certainly understood why Remus had chosen to stay with him at Grimmauld place.

The others hadn't stayed very long, Tonks, Minerva, and Dumbledore. For some reason, Snape had chosen to remain at the school with the students. Really, Sirius couldn't imagine why the ugly git had decided not to join them, unless he already knew the others wouldn't be staying long enough to add any torment to his confinement. They had only stayed to accompany him on the trip and to cast a few additional spells on him now that he was here that still itched on his skin, shivery feel of something crawling over him.

He did wonder how they'd gotten authorization for a portkey, though, without explaining what it was for. Seemed the Ministry was getting a bit lax. He wished he'd known that before he'd walked to Scotland.

Remus was in the kitchen, making tea in the Muggle fashion. It seemed a strange thing, but perhaps he wasn't allowed to do magic around Sirius. Could even be the wards didn't allow it. Certainly no one had told Sirius their limits.

Leaning against the entryway, Sirius watched him add a small plate of biscuits to the tray. He shook his head; setting up a tray for tea, complete with a dish of sugar cubes and a small milk pitcher when he knew full well that Sirius took his tea plain. Plainly, Remus had gone barmy in the last few months.

Off to the side, there was a plate of sandwiches with the crusts still attached, another testament to Remus's probable insanity.

At least the kitchen was large enough for two people. Possibly just one and a half but neither he nor Remus would make more than half a bite for a dragon. He tried not to see the startled wariness in Remus's look when he stepped in next to him.

"Here, let me help." He took the butter knife from Remus's lax hand and added a fair dollop of mustard to the pathetic amount already on the bread. Remus stepped back and let him, rescuing the tea pot just as it started to whistle.

"I didn't think you liked to cook," Remus offered, slowly.

"Hunger makes chefs of us all," Sirius told him airily, "Though I wouldn't call ham and swiss on rye cooking, exactly." He tossed the butter knife aside in frustration, yellowish specks of mustard dotting the ancient, if serviceable, countertop. "That's useless, where do you keep your other knives?"

There were several likely looking drawers. One revealed towels, one of which Sirius snagged and tossed on the mustard-smeared counter. Another was full of basic tableware and the last refused to open, remaining stubbornly closed.

"This one's stuck," Sirius frowned, yanking on it hard enough that the handle groaned.

"Let me." Remus reached around him and pulled it open easily, extracting just the sort of knife Sirius had been looking for. He handed it over with a small shrug. "It just seemed wise to keep the...ah...sharper utensils away from you right now."

Sirius gave him a sour smile, turning back to the sandwiches. "Suppose they're afraid of me attacking you now."

"I've never been afraid of you, Sirius." Quietly, too close behind him.

"Then who--" Sirius blinked with dawning awareness, carefully cutting the crusts from the bread before adding his sandwiches to the tray. He didn't suppose he could blame them; after a barely-remembered attack on his...his godson, his mind supplied, helpfully skirting the name, there was no telling what else he might do, willingly or no. He kept his voice low and subdued as he said, "I suppose there is that."

He looked over his shoulder. Remus was standing so close they were almost nose to nose. "I think for today I can keep from slitting my wrists long enough to finish this, though, if that's all right?"

It earned him a wry smile. "Of course."

Tea was awkward, if nibbling at sandwiches with an old friend who thought you'd been dead and were now sort of, well, evil could be called anything as milky as awkward.

Remus seemed quite intent on stirring his tea to death, adding cube after cube of sugar and staring into the syrupy depths as if studying a peculiar new branch of divination. The tea was lukewarm by the time Sirius worked up the nerve to ask what had been bothering him since he'd woken in Dumbledore's office that afternoon.

"What's been happening with Voldemort? I mean, who...who else is dead?" he stumbled over the question, gulping down the last dregs of cooling tea in his cup before splashing it full again.

"I can't say." Remus didn't look at him.

"What do you mean you can't...can you at least tell me what's been happening since I got myself dead? Or how about telling me HOW I got dead?" Hysteria was a thin squeal in the back of his head because it had been Dumbledore who'd told him, Dumbledore who couldn't possibly have been wrong about it and yet, somehow he was, had to be because Sirius was here and alive and eating sandwiches made with old, rubbery cheese.

"I'm not allowed to tell you anything about the war," Remus set his cup on its saucer, spreading his hands apologetically. "If there is some link between you and Voldemort, we can't afford to let him in on our plans. As for how you died," he stopped, pressing a hand to his forehead in a gesture Sirius recognized as one he'd made all too often himself. Despair.

"It was very difficult for all of us when you died, Sirius," Remus's voice was a low whisper, eyes still hidden by his upraised hand. "There was no real violence in it, no blood. You were simply gone."

"The killing curse." Sirius murmured, remembering James and Lily, their bodies untouched and cold, their eyes empty.

"Worse than that," Remus said hoarsely. "And Harry took it very--"

The rush of blood in his ears blocked out his words, a wash of hot, crimson rage that swept away reason into a snarl already rising deep from within. It vanished into hot pain just as quickly, his own voice yelping out and it wondered dimly if that had been aloud or just in his head as he sank into blackness.

He came back to himself lying on the floor, his sweaty cheek pressed against the icy wooden panels. Carefully, Sirius pushed up until he could manage to sit. There was a blanket over his legs and he drew it up, huddling under it like a child, shaking with cold that felt like it was biting deeper into his bones with every passing moment.

He flinched as Remus appeared in front of him, crouching down. There was a cup in his hands, fresh steam rising. "Here. You'll feel better."

His fingers felt too large and numb, but Sirius managed to take a sip. It was minty and sweet, some potion he didn't recognize and the last shivery cold inside him eased.

Remus watched him with calm eyes, his hands hanging loosely between his knees. "I'm sorry, that spell was a touch more forceful than needed. I'm afraid you took me a little off-guard." It won't happen again, unspoken and taut between them.

"Why are you doing this?" Sirius asked abruptly, setting the empty cup aside. "Why are you bothering? All you lot think....again...that I'm on the other side. Why are you risking yourself, letting me stay here?"

Remus stood, picking up the cup and setting it on the table. "I'm not letting you stay. We're essentially imprisoning you."

"Ta for the reminder," Sirius muttered. "But why you? You're no Auror, Remus."

"I was the only one who would," Remus said quietly. "And I couldn't let you go to the dungeon. Not after Azkaban."

His laugh was ugly to his own ears, a sharp bark that held no humour. "Appreciate that."

"No, I don't think you do. My lack of faith cost you twelve years already. Even if I'm wrong now, well," Remus shrugged, gathering the remnants of their tea onto the tray. "Perhaps I deserve what it would get me."

"So instead of letting me be jailed, you're going to be my jailer?"

Remus gave him a small smile, carrying the tray to the kitchen before calling back to him, "I suppose it doesn't make much sense. But then, the dungeon doesn't have indoor plumbing."

True enough.

When he woke the next morning and shuffled into the kitchen, Remus was gone. There was a covered plate on the table, bangers and mash that were still hot, and a piece of parchment tucked under the edge, his name written in Remus's cramped handwriting.


I'll be gone for a day or so,
doing some work for the Order.

Your meals will be taken care of,

you needn't worry about that.

Please, feel free to help yourself to

anything in the house.

I'll return as soon as I can.


He poked at the food disinterestedly. Alone for the next day or so, then, unless someone else decided to drop by to keep him company and he had his doubts that would happen.

Even though the clock pointed to nearly noon, the little light creeping around the shades didn't make the room seem any less dismally dark. Sirius went about the small flat and turned on every light in it, noting with little interest that Remus had electricity. It made him wonder again exactly where in London they were; had to be a Muggle building of some sort.

Wandering back into the kitchen, he opened the fridge and peered at the meagre contents with no small dismay. If this was what Remus considered taking care of the meals, he must be living on sandwiches and wrinkled little potatoes with hairs poking out of them. He did find some eggs in the door that seemed fresh enough and decided they'd make a decent addition to breakfast.

Only the stove didn't seem to agree. He toyed with the handles, trying to get a flame, any flame, with no success. A peek inside showed him that the pilot wasn't lit and there wasn't a whiff of gas.

Lovely. That meant the Order had decided cooking his own meals would be a hazard to the wizarding community. At least there was a bottle of milk in there next to the eggs, and a quick survey of the cupboards found him a few boxes of Muggle-style cereal.

It was a step up from birds and rats, anyway.

The plate of food was still warm and he resigned himself to eat it now as it was the last hot food he could expect for the next few days. He left the dirty dishes in the sink and inspected the flat a little closer.

Remus didn't have a telly, only an elderly radio that only picked up two stations, both of them of the easy listening variety. Books, he had, overflowing shelves of them in the sitting room and trailing into both bedrooms. There was even a small shelf above the toilet.

None on spellcasting and large holes in the library finished that particular mystery. No magic, no reading about magic. No newspapers.

No company.

At least on his last incarceration he'd had a fellow exile and as poor as Buckbeak had been at conversation, he'd been alive. He wondered where Buckbeak was now, hoped he was still safe and perhaps free. At least one of them should be.

Sirius tried reading a bit, some Muggle book about werewolves and it was amusing enough, reading the nonsense bits. It was a wonder Muggles could survive at all, thinking the way they did. Silver bullets, indeed. The book couldn't quite hold his interest, the darkened room and dull crooning of the radio conspiring to put him to sleep. More than once, he jerked his head up as it drifted down to his chest until he finally surrendered, curling up on Remus's lumpy sofa and napping away the afternoon.

When he woke, the clock declared it evening and, he wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water, not wanting to waste his milk on mere drinking. There on the table, another plate was waiting for him. Three veg and a pork chop, laid out with ruler-straight precision. No knife.

Lovely, he was on some sort of meals-on-brooms programme. They probably thought he was some barmy old wizard with three teeth and a bladder problem.

He'd been a beggar long enough now to know better than to be a chooser, and ate every bit of it, even though carrots weren't his favourite and peas rated up with rats. The bone he wrapped up and saved, just in case Padfoot needed to work off some frustrations.

Sirius had a feeling he might.

The small pile of dishes were washed and set aside to drain, not out of a particular desire for tidiness but just in case his next meal would require them. After that, the bit of light around the curtains had dimmed enough to excuse going to bed, and he did, changing into the single pair of pyjamas he found in the small bundle of his clothes that were stowed beneath his bed, and he slept soundly on the thin mattress.

And that was how he spent the first day.

The second day he spent wanking.

He did it in his room at first, just after he woke up. Neatly and quietly, like he was back at school and three other boys were sleeping nearby. No reason not to, after all. He'd woken up to it and it seemed a shame to waste it. At Azkaban, he'd been too sick and exhausted to think much about it and life on the run hadn't left him much time for it. At Grimmauld Place there was always Kreacher to think of; even when he'd been alone there he'd never beenalone.

Came in his own hand, gasping just a little and it was good the way a wank should be. Relaxing. He took the time to wash his hands in the loo before he went to check the status of the kitchen. This morning was the fried eggs he'd craved the day before and a small mountain of bacon. A little greasy but still warm and he ate every bit.

The second time was in the shower. Listening to the old pipes groan like a ghoul was trapped in them, the water tainted with rust and boiling hot. He ducked his head under the stream of hot water and jerked himself hard, hands soap-slippery and water pouring over him like lava, and this was better, something he needed.

Afterward, he leaned against the tiles, their coolness brutal against his nearly-scalded skin and he stayed there until the hot water ran out, chased away by the icy needles of wetness.

He was sitting on the old sofa the third time, and surely he couldn't be the only person who'd had a wank on it. Old as it was, it might have once sat in Dumbledore's childhood home, although the thought of him sprawled on it with his trousers down to his ankles was enough to give him a pause.

Not enough of one to stop him, a tattered copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover on one knee. It wasn't particularly satisfying but it did help him fall asleep, trousers barely fastened and a dirty towel on the floor next to him.

The last time he did it on Remus's bed.

Wasn't his fault, really. Remus hadn't locked the door and it was a nice bed, big and comfy with hanging curtains that reminded him of Hogwarts. He did have the decency to pull back the coverlet but when he came, he let it spatter on the sheets, not particularly caring that Remus would be able to smell it when he came back. Better'n the bastard deserved, living in a flat with a crap radio and the dirtiest book older than both of them together.

Wasn't like there was anyone to stop him. No one to stop him, no one would walk in on him. It would serve Remus right to come home to dirty sheets, wouldn't it.

But he washed the dishes before he went to sleep, in his own bed.

Four times in one day was decent for a man his age, he decided, even one that hadn't spent the better years of his life having his soul shredded by dementors.

It didn't help him sleep this time.

By the third day, he'd decided he was going insane.

Seemed like if anyone should know, it would be him. He'd brushed past madness more times than he'd cared to count. His entire childhood at Grimmauld place seemed like prep for a few decades of making macaroni art at St. Mungo's. Azkaban had been the worst, sticky tar-black coldness eating away at his sanity, echoing thoughts of his innocence letting him cling by his fingernails.

Innocence. A lost comfort, that.

The night before, he'd had a dream, of being a dog and Harry trapped beneath him, blood bubbling from his torn throat as he tried to scream.

He'd woken screaming himself, his sheets soaked through with sweat.

Unable to fall asleep, even though the clocks informed him it was barely past three, he'd crept into Remus's room, noting the locks lining the jamb that he hadn't seen before. A neat dozen, Muggle-style and magic, all of them unlocked. But then, it wasn't other people that Remus usually needed to keep out.

Almost turned himself into Padfoot, practically a reflex to night time terrors, and then recalled the blood, the terror his godson's eyes and curled up instead as a human, breathing in Remus's scent on the pillow with his pitiful excuse of a sense of smell and tried to remember that he wasn't the only person left in the world.

When he woke the next morning, the barest gleam of sunlight creeping in from around the shades, he nearly didn't bother getting up.

His breakfast plate was already on the table, cheery and warm. He could smell it was porridge, probably with a small pitcher of cream with flecks of cinnamon floating in it and a dish of sugar.

He walked past it and into the front hall, stared at the plain brown door that led outside. The entire world was on the other side of it, going on with their lives. All those in the Order, his...his godson and the boy's friends. They'd be in class, he thought, unless it was Saturday, and he realized he had no idea what the day was. Days weren't for him, sensible little boxes on calendars that told a person what they should do on that day. Days or nights, time didn't matter except for bowls of porridge against chops.

There was another door in the hallway. Opening it revealed a small collection of coats and boots, set together in an orderly way. Sirius stared at them, tweed and rubbers and an umbrella in the corner and then he stepped inside, pulling the door shut behind him. Curled into a ball on the floor and stared at the darkness around him.

He spent the entire day in a closet or maybe it was longer than that. He was already in a prison, and he suddenly felt the need for it to be tighter, closer, the darkness strangling him. He sat in the dark, hands over his ears as he slowly rocked, banging his head against the wooden wall behind him, heard the dull echo of it in his skull.


He startled awake, scrambling back from the light flooding in from the open door, boots kicked aside as he tried to get back into the darkness. A hand on his arm was worse, unable to hide from that and it made him blink, looking up into the shadow of Remus Lupin's concerned face.

"Come on, now, up we go." Sirius obeyed with reluctance, stumbling to his feet and following Remus out to the kitchen. The curtains were cracked open, sunlight pouring in to fill the shabby little room to the brim with light that Sirius had to squint against.

Hands pushed him gently into a chair and he sat obediently, sipping warm tea when a cup was set into his hands.

Remus was sitting across from him, his own cup untouched in front of him.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Course," Sirius said distantly. The tea felt good on his parched throat, soothing.

"It's were in the closet."

"Yeah," Sirius agreed. There was a plate of chocolate biscuits on the table and he helped himself to one, chewing absently.

"Was...did someone come here?" He could hear Remus's confusion as he struggled to understand. Nearly made him laugh but the sun coming in from the side window was lovely and warm, and Sirius tipped his head back a bit to feel it better.

"Was I hiding, do you mean?" Sirius asked finally and now he could laugh. Honestly, in the closet of all places. No wonder Remus was worried. "Yes, I was hiding, but there was no one here but me. I just wanted there," he said decisively. It wasn't like any other explanation he could conjure would make any more sense.

Remus was staring at him, worry plain on his face. Well, that was fine then, everyone already thought he was mad. Might as well confirm it now and get it over with.

"I'll be here for a few days now," Remus told him slowly, like he was talking to a not-particularly-bright child.

"S'fine," Sirius mumbled, chewing on another biscuit. He finished his tea and left Remus to his own, wandering out into the sunlit sitting room to find a book he could nap over.

Remus was there for a week, all told, although the full moon fell in the middle of it and he was useless to chat with the days just before and after. He spent the night locked tight in his room, silent after the first burst of screams, the light peeking out from under the door was dim enough to be the glow from the fireplace. Sirius dragged his blanket into the hallway spent the night on the floor outside the room, more human than Remus could ever be, listening with pathetic rounded ears. Strained to hear anything, every shuffling movement of a werewolf with a human mind plodding clumsily around the room.

When he woke, his joints ached from the hard floor and there was another blanket layered over his own that smelled like dog.

It was always quiet in the flat, though, more so than Grimmauld place with its rotting curtains and rubbish, no Kreacher to ghost in from room to room and slap him again with the reminder of how he'd been hated.

Here there was only Remus and books, meals that arrived at specific hours, two plates instead of one, and tea that Remus made himself. One day, he helped Remus fold his laundry, blandly folding socks along with the freshly laundered sheets that he had seen Remus strip from his bed without so much as a glance in Sirius's direction.

A week of idle conversations and the Jane Austin oeuvre before Remus left again and Sirius was alone.

Remus was gone for four days this time. On the morning of the third day, Sirius transformed willingly for the first time since he'd arrived here and leisurely tore up every shoe in Remus's closet, the pleasant taste of leather shifting to bitter on his human tongue. He might have pissed on the bed if he hadn't taken to sleeping in it at night, warm scent of another animal keeping his nightmares from devouring him.

It wasn't like Remus seemed to care; he could hardly avoid seeing the rumpled sheets. When he stepped out of the fireplace this time, he only seemed relieved that Sirius wasn't hiding in the closet.

Two plates for lunch, whoever was sending their meals were spot on, no doubt about that. Sirius was washing the dishes by hand, since he couldn't be trusted with a knife but they had no trouble leaving him with apple-scented detergent.

Something whacked him on the back of the head, hard enough that he saw spots for a moment and splashed soapy water all down his front. Rubbing his head, he turned to see Remus was standing behind him, looking furious and holding a rolled up newspaper.

"If you're going to act like a mongrel, I have no trouble treating you like one!" Remus said savagely. Ah, seemed that he'd finally checked the closet, after all.

"I suppose my doggy nature simply got away with me," Sirius said airily. He rinsed another plate and set it in the draining rack, all but certain he could hear the sound of grinding teeth behind him. Well worth brushing the taste of rubber soles off his tongue for hours.

The newspaper was crumpled and tossed on the counter without even another slap to Sirius's head. A shame, that.

He heard a chair pulled out, the old wood creaking a protest as Remus flung himself into it. "I don't suppose it occurred to you that I can't afford to buy a half dozen pairs of new shoes."

Sirius shrugged. "Add them to the Order's accounts, they're the reason I'm here. Or take it out of my Gringotts account if you'll feel better."

"Dead men don't have Gringotts accounts," Scathingly from behind him. "Your godson inherited all your funds."

He didn't mean to drop the plate, barely heard it shatter on the old tile at his feet and his hands were wet and growing cold, soup bubbles trailing down his wrists.

He had really been dead. Not that he had doubted what the others had told him, certainly not Dumbledore except, well, hadn't he? Denial was in every glance in the mirror but this hit harder than a mere newspaper, something that was true but couldn't be true, drawing a harsh breath into lungs that weren't supposed to be breathing.

Blinked and found he was sitting, Remus crouched in front of him, anger forgotten in his concern.

"Sirius," Hesitantly, his thumbs stroking the insides of Sirius's wrists, "They'll put it all to rights once they figure this out."

"I was really dead," he whispered.


"I suppose I knew that. Ha...he would have inherited all of my things, wouldn't he? That's why I couldn't go in. I couldn't expect someone to fool the charms on Grimmauld place or...or Kreacher, and... the goblins, they--they couldn't be." Hushed voice. "I was really dead."

"You're not dead now."

"No," Softly, distantly. It was clear in his head; cobwebbed insanity might lurk in the corners of his mind but Sirius was no fool. "You don't believe that. None of you do or else I'd have a Gringotts account and someone would be trying to pull this charm off me. You think -- I don't know what you think but I know what you don't think."

He was on his feet faster than his thoughts could catch up, lurching for the old brown wood of the front door, his fists beating on it, bloody by the second blow.

"Let me out! Please, you have to let me out now!"

A hand on his arm yanked him away and Sirius fought it, gagging out desperate words, begging for them to please please please let him out and Remus was shaking him, hard enough to snap his head back against the wall, a duller, thicker pain than the newspaper.

"Stop it!" Remus shouted.

"Remus," he moaned. "I have to get out. I have to."

The door was beyond his reach so he dragged his nails down his face instead, had to get out of at least one prison.

"Stop, god, Sirius! Just--" they struggled, sprawled out on the ratty old rug in the entranceway until Remus had him pinned to the floor by his wrists, using what little extra weight he had to hold Sirius down, even though he bucked desperately, had to get out of here, he had to...

"I can't stay here, Moony," Panting, oh, couldn't breathe, couldn't pull in the air. "I can't, you should just kill me."

"Sirius, don't--"

"I'm already dying here," his voice sounded like a shriek and he closed his eyes against it, against Remus's shocked face. "It's killing me piece by piece, I can't stay here anymore, please, plea--"

The mouth against his own shocked him to silence, warm, hard lips pressing his shut. Only for a moment, forcing silence, and then it was gone.

Sirius stared up at Remus through the tangle of his hair, stuttering out, "Why--I..."

Mild eyes, his hands gentling their grip on Sirius's wrists. "It calmed you down, didn't it."

True, but...

"You should just kill me," Sirius told him again, hysteria replaced with the dullness of truth. It would be better for all of them, safer for his godson, easier for Remus.

He didn't expect the slap, hard enough that he tasted coppery blood.

"Do not say that again, Sirius, I mean it." Deceptively calm. "You already died once as far as your godson is concerned and you have no idea what it did to him."

Flash of Harry in his mind and he was already growling under his breath, not even a dog, and Remus slapped him again, blood from his nose spattering the floor. "You weren't here, you didn't see what it did to him," Low and cold. "So shut your mouth and find a way to make do."

Make do. He just had to make do, that was Remus's brilliant advice. Instead, Sirius leaned up and kissed Remus again, sharing the slick flavour of his own blood. Remus made a soft noise, surprised, he thought. Licked the blood-taste from Sirius mouth, shifting and there was the faint rasp of his tongue against Sirius's unshaven face.

It dwindled away, shifting to warm breathing against his neck before Remus finally pulled away and stood, offering Sirius a hand up. He took it, followed Remus into the sitting room where they read in silence until the clock turned to an hour late enough to justify sleeping

The nightmares didn't come that night.

Remus left again the next morning. This time, he had the grace to come into Sirius's room, shake him gently awake and actually tell him he was going, rather than leaving a note. Even managed to sound apologetic about it, the git. Sirius just grunted and rolled back over into his blankets, burying himself into the warmth.

A useless effort. He heard Remus floo out and by then he was well and truly awake, too tired to consider having a wank, and he stumbled out of bed to see what offerings the plates had brought this morning.

Remus hadn't eaten before he left and Sirius ate his portion along with his own, scraping both plates clean far too soon and leaving them stacked in the sink.

Then there was nothing left to do but wander into the sitting room for a read and a nap, and nothing fucking else to do until Remus came back.


The sound of the floo jerked him awake late in the afternoon, nearly sending him tumbling off the sofa in his mad scramble to his knees, words of greeting dying on his lips as he saw who was standing on the hearth.

Tonks was brushing off her robes, clearing them of the worst of the ash. She looked as she had in Dumbledore's office, which meant she looked like shite, her hair a short, nondescript brown. Her cheeks and ears were flushed pink, like she'd had to walk through the cold to get to the floo network. Not all that peculiar, he supposed, it was April. Or was it May? What the bloody hell did it matter, anyway, it wasn't like he was carving notches into his door to mark the days. That was an idea to consider, though.

A few stray sparks leapt from Tonks's robes and back into the fireplace and as he watched, she stomped her boots clean. He did notice she never let go of her wand.

She saw him staring at her and straightened up, her fingers clenched to white around her wand.

"Remus asked me to stop by," she said stiffly. "He was concerned about leaving you alone for so long." Well, that was just lovely, wasn't it? Hadn't taken Remus long to clue in the rest of the Order that Sirius was one spaghetti noodle short of mental, had it.

He realized he was still staring at her and managed a feeble smile. "Come in, then. I'd offer you some tea but I'm not allowed to use the stove."

She frowned at him. "Remus has a magic-heat kettle; all you need to do it put water in it."

Oh. Well, that was information he could have done with weeks ago. He brightened his smile until he was sure he looked like just the sort of mad killer they were all thinking he was and sent a promise of retribution in the direction of Remus's underclothes.

"Besides, I wasn't sure what kind of nosh Remus was keeping for you, so I brought some with me."

She held a sack out at arms-length and when Sirius opened it, he promptly forgave Remus for all his sins today, and a few from last week. Pumpkin pasties, cauldron cakes, and even a few bottles of butterbeer.

He felt his smile relax into something a bit more genuine. "That was a kindness, ta."

She shrugged, "I was in Hogsmeade, just thought that--" She trailed off, pursing her lips like she'd been saying something she shouldn't. "Anyway, have one while they're still warm."

That seemed to mark an end to any conversation. Sirius went back to his book, nibbling on a pasty and Tonks spent her time prowling the room, tripping twice on the rug behind the sofa. She acted a few times like she wanted to speak, to ask something about one of the odd little baubles Remus kept in his sitting room. Every time she held it back, poking with vague interest at the books and doing little more than breathe in the musty air that had taken on a hint of sweet spiciness from the pasties.

The light behind the shades had taken on a reddish glow when Sirius realized he'd been reading the same page over and over for ten minutes. This was intolerable. Worse even than their first meeting after Azkaban. She'd been curious then, brilliant pink hair, and bubbling with questions that she tried not to pester him with. He rather wished she would pester him now, wide-eyed questions about the other prisoners and whispers about dementors that he'd barely been able to answer.

It was bloody well worse than being alone and he slammed his book down on the coffee table in frustration. "Look, you--"

Pain, diamond-hard and brutal, a hard punch of it that sent him flying off the sofa, a cry caught in his throat as the world dimmed behind his eyes.

He woke to her crouching over him anxiously, paler than ever and dripping a wet cloth over Sirius's face. He snatched it away, scrubbing his face himself so he didn't have to see her concern. He rather doubted it was because she'd hexed him; she was probably more worried about pissing off Remus, if he'd caught her right. She read more like Dr. Seuss than Shakespeare and she knew that Remus had an enchanted kettle but Remus's sheets had still smelled more like his socks than anything else.

Really, a little warning before they cursed him sideways wouldn't be untoward. He hadn't even growled at Tonks, although he'd be setting his books down lightly from now on, that was certain.

"Just go," he mumbled, brushing off her feeble attempts at apologizing, her words as clumsy as she often was.

She did.

So much for that visitor. He wondered who Remus would try next. Probably Snape with his luck, and he wouldn't even be able to kill him and plead insanity, not if he ever wanted outside again.

He wondered sourly if it was possible for a man to slit his wrists with an electric razor.

"How did your visit with Tonks go?" Remus asked him the next morning. He looked tired and let Sirius filch the uneaten sausages off his plate without complaint.

"Fine, fine," Sirius mumbled through a mouthful of sausage and eggs. "She brought food."

"Always the best way to endear you." He propped up his head on his chin, considering. "I suppose the Attonitus hex didn't do quite as well."

"Now see?" Sirius waggled a finger at him. "These young people have no concept of proper honour these days. Probably thought she'd better confess before I told on her, eh? As if I would."

"I'm afraid that Aurors aren't trained in the ways of honour as taught by Sirius Black, no," Remus's tone was as dry as the toast.

"Corrupted youth," Sirius muttered. He leaned back in his chair and propped his bare feet on the edge of the table, curling his toes over the edge and ignoring Remus's glare. "Well, since you were out and about yesterday, maybe you can give me an update on what is going on with the world these days? Since I seem to be months out of the loop, I daresay I could use a review."

"You know I can't tell you," Remus said mildly. He sipped at his tea, eyes never leaving Sirius's.

"No, you can't tell me anything, can you. Nothing about the war, no, nothing about my godson, but I'll excuse you that one since you probably like your throat where it is." Sirius laughed and it sounded ugly to his ears. This morning he'd woken up cold, his blanket kicked to the foot of his bed, and the ache of it seemed bone-deep, lingering even after a scalding shower. He'd wandered around the flat restlessly, just needing to move and he hadn't sat down until Remus had stepped from the fireplace with tired eyes and flushed cheeks, smelling like the wind.

"What can you tell me, Remus," he asked, idly. "Can you tell me the latest Quidditch scores, is that available? What team looks likely this year, eh?" He slanted Remus a look, catching his tongue lightly between his teeth before he added, "Can you tell me what colour knickers Tonks prefers?"

Another slow sip of tea, Remus's throat working as he swallowed. "No, I can't," he said, clearly.

Remus didn't flinch when the teacup hit the wall next to his head. A thin, perfect line of red showed on his cheek from a flying piece of pottery, a droplet of blood creeping downward. His wand stayed wherever it was that Remus was keeping it these days, the shattered cup remained shattered. Remus never did magic around him but whether it was because he couldn't through the wards, didn't want to taunt Sirius with spells he couldn't do, or he was afraid Sirius might try to wrest it away from him, he wasn't sure.

Remus just sat there calm as can be, sipping his tea and for just a moment, Sirius hated him more than anything ever before in his life, could taste it acidly on the back of his tongue where it couldn't be swallowed away. The plate was next; Sirius picked it up with two fingers and dropped it on the floor, his eyes never leaving Remus's steady ones as it shattered. The sugar bowl, just brushed off the table with the back of his hand and scattering glittering whiteness.

"Sirius, stop." Still mild, but there was a hint of warning now. These were old dishes; perhaps they'd belonged to his mother. A saucer this time, a harsh punctuation of noise on the floor.

"Or what?" Sirius asked, idly fingering another saucer. "You'll lock me up in a bad place?" He stood up and violently swept all the dishes to the floor. Only the cup in Remus's hands was spared, pale, floral china against his skin.

"Sirius, that's enough!" Sharper now.

"Really?" he asked softly, hating the mostly calm of Remus's eyes, hating this place with its groaning pipes and faded wallpaper. There were cupboards of dishes left, crockery and china itching for his fingers. "What will you do if I don't stop?"

The table hitting his back knocked the breath from him, his worn shirt twisted in Remus's fists. No calm in him now, dark eyes flaring with something else entirely, so close he could see his own reflection in them. His hair was getting too long, greying brown just brushing Sirius's cheeks as Remus loomed over him.

"Do you think it makes me happy to see you trapped here?" he gritted out, shaking Sirius like a terrier would shake a rat, letting his head thud softly against the table. Between the hexes and this, Sirius thought he might be able to add brain damage to his insanity quite soon. "Do you? Do you think I want this?"

Sirius laughed, tipped his head back and exposed the line of his throat to the man above him. Felt the sharp tremor that went through Remus, the heavy press of his body over Sirius's not quite enough, not this time.

"I think it's perfectly obvious what you want, old friend," he taunted, pushing his knee up between Remus's legs. Hard, yes, Sirius could feel it through both their trousers, rubbing his knee against it. There was a part of him left that was sane enough, and it was prattling in the back of his head, asking him what the bloody hell he was doing with Remus of all people.

Relatively easy to ignore it, tuck it into a little place where he could barely even hear it. It was Remus, he knew that, but he was also touching him, long press of his body against Sirius and he was hard, and he smelled so lovely. Hot and alive and they hadn't been schoolboy chums in a long, long time.

Remus hadn't moved. His hands still knotted into Sirius's shirt. With some difficulty, Sirius lifted his head enough to let his lips brush the line of Remus's jaw, two days worth of stubble rough against his lips but it let him breathe it in, warm skin that hadn't touched water since he'd left the day before.

So still above him, frozen, his eyes too-wide and shocked. Pushed him too far, Sirius supposed, and now he'd pull away and vanish again for days, or perhaps he wouldn't, perhaps there would be another awkward afternoon in the sitting room with Remus not looking at him instead of Tonks. Merlin, he couldn't take that, he really couldn't, barely realized he was starting to struggle beneath Remus's weight because he had to get out of here, now, right now, he had to be somewhere, anywhere else.

It was his turn to be shocked when Remus slipped his hand into Sirius's hair and yanked, forcing his head back against the table. His mouth was hot against Sirius's ear, sharp edge of teeth marking him lightly before Remus whispered harshly, "You're right, I do want it."

It wasn't a choice to let himself be moved, only that he was, face-down on the table and he barely had time to brace himself on his hands before Remus was over him again, his hands brutal as they yanked on his trousers, scrabbling for buttons and zipper.

Sirius threw back his head and laughed, closer to a howl than anything else, squirming and fighting. Not that he wanted Remus to stop, oh, no, but the bastard was going to have to work for it, wasn't he? Yes, that was the way of it, knocking Remus's hands away as he struggled to get out from beneath his punishing weight, his own cock trapped uncomfortably against the table edge.

A hand caught the back of his shirt and the old fabric never stood a chance, tearing up to the back of his neck. Callused fingers swept over his bare skin, touching scars and Sirius wondered at how he looked. Bent over a table, pallid and too-thin with his hair over his eyes and a laugh strangling in his throat; close to it now, and he knew it.

He managed one good hit, ramming his elbow back and catching Remus in the face. The muffled curse and warm patter of blood on his bare back made him laugh again, twisting away from Remus's loosened grip and almost off the table, almost away. His scrabbling hands almost caught the back of one of the chairs before it skittered back on two legs, clattering loudly to the floor.

A blurred word hissed out behind him, and his wrists suddenly fastened themselves to the table, his fingers clenching uselessly.

"You cheating bastard!" Sirius gasped, struggling furiously. His wrists refused to move, the table rocking dangerously beneath them.

Remus didn't respond with words, only yanked Sirius's trousers down to his thighs, a booted foot between his own bare feet kicking them apart. There was a slick touch on his arse, a single finger sliding into him, testing. He wondered if Remus thought he was a virgin to this or if it had just been a terribly long time. It had been, so terribly long. He felt like he was a virgin to any touch at all, skin raw with sensations it hadn't felt in a decade. Longer.

He squirmed desperately, flexing around the finger twisting into him and Remus's free hand slipped between his legs, squeezing his bollocks in an entirely wonderful way that was perverse mixture of warning and pleasure. Wetness between his shoulder blades, the flat of a tongue licking at his skin, surely tasting sweat and blood, and Remus was breathing like he might die right there, hot blurts of breath nearly a whine.

The finger was gone in an instant and he only had a moment to feel Remus's cock snugging in between his arse cheeks before he shoved in, brutally, the barest amount of slickness smoothing the way.

"Fucking, ow, bastard!" Sirius snarled, clawing at the air with hands that refused to move.

"I'll have you know," Panted in his ear, "That my parents were quite happily married when they had me."

The second thrust lifted him onto his toes; he always forgot somehow that Remus was taller than him, hard hands on his hips yanking him back down and into the next thrust. It forced something like a scream from his throat, unyielding pressure inside him, burning him with sensation that was almost too good to take.

A hand tangled again in his hair, jerking his head back and there were teeth at his throat, hard and symbolic and he laughed again, gaspy and wet and leaned into them, mark me, yes, bite me. The hard kiss of Remus's cock inside him, again, again, nails biting crescent-shaped bruises into his hips, and Sirius was shaking with it, needing it so much more. The burn shifting inside him to something so much deeper, hotter, the ragged edge of his sanity screaming for more, please. Yes.

"You have no idea what this is like for me," Mouth slipping wetly from his throat and moving to a slick tongue against his ear, "I watched you die you pathetic," Brutally hard thrust and the garbled sound that escaped Sirius's throat could be only be called a wail, "Stupid, selfish bastard!"

"Ah!" Nothing short of a scream, the table jumping and shuddering beneath them as Sirius came, hot sparks of white strobing behind his eyes and he could dimly taste the sweat sheeting down his face, heard Remus groan behind him and thrust in hard, again. Again.

Better than reading a fucking book.

It seemed to take a terribly long time for Remus to gather himself, shuffling movements and the sounds of clothing being straightened before he murmured the spell that let Sirius move his hands.

He rubbed his wrists a little and didn't bother moving, all his limbs deciding that they much preferred remaining sprawled across the table for the time being, on the premise that if he tried to move, they would deposit him on the floor. And the floor was cold.

It was too quiet for too long, which meant Remus was thinking. Probably wasn't a good thing but since his own brain had been long since scrambled, Sirius couldn't come up with a way to stop him.

"Sirius," Remus started, clearing his throat a little, "You really need to stop breaking things. I do understand that you're going barmy but I simply can't afford to keep replacing them."

That wasn't quite the conversation he'd expected to have while he was still sprawled across the table with his pants down. Was all right, he decided, he didn't mind improvising. He rolled just enough that he could see Remus, still flushed, his clothes done up properly but robbed of all primness as anyone with eyes could see they were clinging to him in all the wrong places, sweat-dampened patches standing out in relief along with flecks of blood. His nose was still faintly swollen.

"And what will you do to me if I don't?" Sirius said again, this time letting in a little of the bitterness he was drowning in.

A flash of anger in Remus's eyes and he snapped, "Perhaps I'll tell Dumbledore that you're too much for me to handle and that he'll have to lock you in the dungeon after all!"

Sirius didn't move. Wetness was starting to drip down his thighs in chilly streaks that were nothing like the sudden chill that went through his gut.

Remus swore softly and pushed a hand through his mussed hair. "Sirius, I didn't mean that."

"Yes, you did," Sirius said calmly. He winced as he managed to get to his feet, pulling up his trousers. "You always did know the best way to bluff someone, Moony. Don't bluff at all."

He heard Remus sit down at the table as he walked out, probably to have a stupid little crisis of conscious. That was fine, just fine; he could do it on his own. The hot water should have recovered from his morning shower by now.

He didn't bother closing the bathroom door, just stripped away his torn clothes and stepped under the hot spray, letting it wash everything away in a swirl of soap down the drain.

The rest of the day was typical, books and tea in the sitting room, Remus's eyes fastened firmly to whatever book he'd thought appropriate after a mid-morning shag over the kitchen table.

Not that he was quite ignoring Sirius, oh, no. When Sirius had finally wandered in after his shower, dressed from ankle to neck and still in bare feet, he'd flung himself down on the sofa across from Remus's chair, rather forgetting that there had been a serious lack in the lubrication department not an hour before. His startled yelp of pain hadn't made Remus look away from his textual hiding place but his lips had thinned to a white line, his cheeks faintly red.

He also didn't volunteer any healing spells, not so much as a tube of ointment but that was all right. Remus did have at least one spare pair of shoes left and Sirius had already decided he was sacrificing them to the Gods of Poor After-Shagging Manners.

Sirius woke the next morning to voices, muffled through the walls with only the tone of urgency making a path through. Since this was sort of his home too, as he was living here, and no one had seen fit to lock him into his room, he decided to join the debate. He slipped from his bed and wandered into the sitting room to find Dumbledore sitting there with Remus, the battered tea service on the table set for three.

He hovered in the doorway, every muscle within him clenched with fear, remembering what Remus told him the day before. He wouldn't, he wouldn't, please, he really couldn't do it, couldn't.

Dumbledore only offered him a cheery smile, the gravity of their last meeting like a clouded memory. "Hello, Sirius, you're looking well today."

In comparison to what, Sirius couldn't say. His hair was hanging uncombed and his robe falling open over his pyjamas, exposing his unbuttoned shirt. Easier not to reply to that, sitting gingerly in the only spare seat left. Remus pushed a teacup in his direction, steam pouring off it. Sirius didn't touch it.

"I suppose you've got some news then," Sirius said abruptly, his voice still raspy with sleep. He supposed it was rude of him but niceties seemed useless here with his arse still aching and shelves of books pushing in behind him to absorb every word.

"It is possible that I merely stopped by to visit with old friends," Dumbledore said.

His voice wasn't even mildly chiding yet Sirius flushed anyway, roughly picking up his cup and sloshing scalding tea over his fingers. He sucked his burning fingers clean, abruptly aware that Remus and Dumbledore were both dressed and tidily groomed, and for the first time in it seemed ages, he felt the urge to be a dog, nestled safely in a form where eating out of a dish was the best manners that could be expected. If he hadn't been more than a little afraid the others would seriously misconstrue the action, he might have done it.

Then Dumbledore lifted his cup to sip at it and all thought of manners winged out of his head. Sirius stared at the blackened flesh in horror. "Good god, what happened to your arm?"

"I'm afraid I can't tell you that," Dumbledore said mildly, a gentle smile easing it further.

"Right, right," Sirius mumbled, tossing back the rest of his tea. It was still too hot, the burn made his eyes water but Remus didn't say a word, only refilled the cup. There was only silence and the faint clink of china against saucers, Dumbledore visibly enjoying his tea without a hint of awkwardness. That was the way of the man, though, Sirius thought, with a hint of something like fondness. Unfazed and unruffled by even the strangest of circumstances.

Whatever manners still remained in him allowed Sirius to wait until the second cup of tea had gone the way of the first before he finally spoke again. "Look I know you lot can't tell me what's going on with the war, I do understand that," He ignored the faint snort from Remus. "But I was sort of wondering, whatever happened to Kreacher? He had just as much information about the Order as I did, and--"

He broke off at Dumbledore's faintly apologetic expression, "I'm sorry--"

"No, no, that's fine." He frowned a little, snagging a lemon biscuit from the plate and prying the pieces apart so he could eat the cream-filling first. He slanted a glance at Remus as he licked it away, which was summarily ignored. "Only, I'm not sure what we can talk about then."

Dumbledore smiled. "I suppose that in lieu of an awkward silence, I could offer you the present that I brought."

It was a paper sack with a small stack of the latest Quidditch magazines. The Wasps were on the cover of the topmost one, wizards that he didn't recognize waving their broomsticks and arms energetically.

"Thank you," he said, and meant it, his fingers already itching to page through something that wasn't older than his grandfather.

"You're quite welcome," Dumbledore said, getting to his feet. "I do wish I could stay longer, but I'm afraid a great many things have my attention at the moment,"

"Thank you for stopping in," Remus said quietly, the first words he'd spoken since Sirius had stepped into the room.

Dumbledore nodded, his eyes serious. "At your discretion, Remus," he said briskly, no hint of gentleness to those words. He gave Sirius a nod before he stepped into the fireplace, vanishing up the chimney in a whirl of robes.

Sirius spent the day with sprawled on the floor with slick magazine pages, shining golden pictures of sunlight and snitches and young, eager faces of players he'd never heard about. Savoured each page like it was a pensieve that he could step into and live himself. He went through every one greedily like a child rifling through his presents on Christmas day until each one had been read, again and again, and only then did he finally looked at Remus, watching him with a quilt on his lap and cold tea at his side.

Bone-deep exhaustion lined his face, older than Remus had any right to be and Sirius was not a patient man, certainly not here with anxiety an ever-present itch under his skin and shadow-memories haunting his sleep.

"You going to talk to me at all today, or should I just call myself a bad dog and go stand in the corner?" Sirius rolled over to ask it of the ceiling, staring at the lamp until dark orbs glowed in his vision.

There was a soft creak, Remus shifting in his chair before he spoke. "They aren't looking for a counterspell, Sirius."

His voice was barely audible. Sirius raised his head to look at him, disbelieving, betrayed, they couldn't just leave him here to rot away with the wallpaper. Remus didn't look at him, his eyes focused resolutely on the braided rug at the hearth.

"Why?" Sirius whispered. He wanted to shout it, scream it, he'd done his penance, every sin he'd ever committed had been paid for in spades, payment taken with the rotting hands and breath of dementors.

Remus flinched as if he had shouted, blinking rapidly and staring at the rug as if reading his words from it. "Because they don't believe there is one."

"But--but that's ridiculous!" Sirius sputtered, "There has to be a counterspell." Horror was swelling in the pit of his stomach, a blackened ball of pain. The magazine in his hands tore in half, muffled complaints from the 'special interview section!' unheeded. "They--they think I've joined him, is that it? They think I wanted to--"

"No, they don't." Again, barely able to be heard. Remus was so pale as to be sickly and for the first time since he'd arrived here, Sirius noticed Remus's wand, tucked loosely into his sleeve. "I know it feels like you've been forgotten here but I assure you that isn't true. We've considered every hex and jinx in existence, looked at every possibility and everything has pointed at the same conclusion."

"And that is?"

Remus still wouldn't look at him, the pages of the book in his lap fanned out, wavering under the soft brush of air from his breath. "All of it leads to you being a shade."

It shouldn't be possible to hear words like that and remain upright, Sirius thought dimly, crumpled shreds of glossy paper falling from his clenched fingers into his lap like so much confetti, a mockery of celebration.

"That's not possible," Sirius whispered. "That--that isn't--"

He stared at his own hands, long, too-thin fingers roped with thin scars. Watched them tremble. His hands, not a shade's, it couldn't be.

"Sirius died," Remus continued flatly. "I watched him die."

"Yes, yes, I died," he babbled, scrambling to his feet, only there was nowhere to go, just standing there with his hands hanging uselessly. "And it takes a fragment of a soul to make a shade, how the bloody hell could Voldemort get a hold of that, eh? You don't fucking well leave one of those in your pocket at the laundry!"

"We don't know."

"See there, you don't even know! I can't be a shade!" His hoarse whisper was a shadow of the screams clawing at his throat. "I'm real, Remus, I'm right here."

"Yes, you are. We don't know for certain--"

"But you think it." Remus kept his eyes on the floor and didn't answer. "You really believe it." Weakly. "If I'm a shade then...I'm not real. Not really Sirius."

"Yes." Softly, brutal honesty.

"And you think think he..." Sirius swallowed hard and managed to say, gruffly. "You think he"

"Summoning a shade is nasty business and difficult, the histories on it tell us that," Remus tipped his head back, resting it on the back of the chair. "I doubt there's another wizard who could do it, aside from Dumbledore and he--"

"He would never do something as evil as that," Sirius agreed numbly. He started laughing, shrill to his own ears. "Then why am I even here? Why didn't you just kill me when I asked you to? My god, I'm...I'm..."

"A dark creature?" Remus said harshly. Sirius flinched as Remus met his eyes, not wanting to see what would be in them. Not wanting to see his own eyes reflected in them.

"I'm a lie!" he choked out, gasping with bitter laughter. "I'm a defilement of nature!" He thought he tasted blood, his throat raw with hilarity that scraped its way out of him and exploded into the air, as much a travesty of humour as he was of living. "I'm standing here, raping every memory of...of Sirius that you ever had and all you can call me is a dark creature?"

Hands grabbed him by the shirt and shook him roughly, Remus's face pressed close to his own. "It's still speculation, Sirius, that's all!"

"No," he yanked away, staggering and falling to the floor. "Don't call me that. I'm not Sirius, I'm a plaything of Vold-"

"Stop it!" Remus shouted, raising his voice for the first time. "We don't know, even Dumbledore doesn't know. Doesn't the fact that you're still here tell you something?" Remus pleaded.

"It tells me that sentiment is keeping me breathing when I should be feeding maggots by now," Raggedly. "Just kill me, Remus. I'm unnatural and foul, just the thought of what I might be-- " It was too hideous to bear, not human, not living, just a thing that breathed, an Inferius with stolen memories.

"You listen to me," Remus's face was white and pinched with anger. He fell to his knees next to Sirius and held him up by his shoulders, shaking him so that his head wobbled painfully on his neck. "They didn't want me to tell you, but I thought you deserved the truth. We think, we wonder, we speculate. It's nothing but bollocks, Sirius, we don't have any certainty just yet."

"And when you have it?" Sirius asked softly, tipping his head to the side. The laughter was still there, dancing inside him, tearing at the fraying edges of his sanity. "What will you do then, Remus? Hide me away from them? Keep me hidden in broom cupboards or beneath your bed so you can take me out and fuck me whenever you feel the urge."

The first slap hurt, jerking his head to the side. The second was worse, Remus's mouth on his and he tasted his own blood in Remus's mouth, let him push him back on the hard floor, barely warmed by the fire. When Remus stripped him, slowly, with hands that trembled, Sirius moved in whatever way helped him, languid as if through water. Spreading his legs and arching into every touch of tongue and teeth, biting his lip to catch any sound as Remus licked him everywhere he could reach. Too-hot mouth around his cock, sucking him in until all he could do was close his eyes, sifting his fingers through greying hair as he came.

He was still panting when Remus slipped over him, swollen lips against his own and the taste of himself against his tongue. His lashes were still quivering against his cheeks, and Sirius would have let him do anything, anything just then so long as he didn't leave. At the first thrust inside him, his soft cry was caught in Remus's mouth, breathing into his friend like something real.

It was something different to sleep in Remus's bed with him still in it, lying next to Sirius and stroking an idle hand down his bare back. Sirius buried his face in the pillow, muffling the contentment of his sigh. It was no surprise to him that his inner animal was one that loved being petted.

Though it was a wonder that every person Remus had ever slept with hadn't know from the moment his clothes came off that he was a werewolf. Scars and boggarts were nothing of a clue in comparison to the ungodly heat he put off; it was rather like cuddling with a boiling cauldron, only without the nasty burns and Remus smelled a good deal better than most potions.

Hm. Even if he wasn't a shade, there was still a good chance of insanity.

Long fingertips traced patterns over his skin, tenderly circling every bump of his spine. Sirius didn't bother to hide his sigh this time, only arched a little into the gentle touch before asking sleepily, "So how long have you wanted to sleep with me?"

"Oh, I don't know." Remus sounded far too awake for this conversation. "From the first moment I saw you, I suppose."

With great effort, Sirius managed to open the eye that wasn't currently buried in the mattress. The fire was nothing more than glowing coals and Remus was mostly obscured in the darkness, his head resting on the headboard and his hand...Sirius groaned and tipped his head up so that those fingertips could continue down the line of his throat. It took him a moment to remember to speak. "Remus, you were eleven."

"I didn't want to sleep with you then," he agreed. "But I wanted you, just some part of you. You were so..." He pulled his hands away and raised them in a helpless gesture, open as if to grasp some invisible, tangible thing. "I just wanted that."

Sirius made a sound that could indicate agreement or could be a protest at the lack of touch. Either way, Remus complied, shifting to use both hands now, sweeping them lightly over his back. "Why didn't you say something before?"

"Don't suppose I noticed it. I was quite happy being friends with you, you know." He yawned, his voice softer, "I don't think I ever really considered it. Not until you died. By then, it didn't matter. You were gone, wasn't much point in dwelling on it."

"I'm here now," Sirius told him, wondered vaguely if it was true. If belief and doubt could be cousins, then both were shacking up these days in an incestuous little romp in his brain.

"Yes, you are here." His fingertips drifted lower, dipping ticklishly into the hollow at the base of his spine.

"I was gone before, after...after James and Lily."

"Yes. But I hated you too much then to even consider loving you."

Hm, that was something new. "So now you love me."

"Yes," Another yawn. "Never got into the habit of casual sex." Just like that, like he admitted to loving people every other day and twice on Sundays. And people thought he was barmy.

"You love me," Sirius repeated, tasting the word, considering it. He rolled over, Remus's hands following the path of his body as it moved and ended up resting on his stomach. "But are you telling me this now because you don't want to miss another chance? Or because you don't think I'm real?"

Remus didn't answer, only leaned down to kiss him softly. Pushed Sirius onto his back even as Remus moved to kneel between his legs, and he was still slick inside from before, Remus easing in, so slowly that they both sighed, mouths barely touching and breath mingling.

Yeah. Sirius didn't care which it was, either.

Breakfast was waffles, hot and crisp with surprisingly fresh strawberries layered over them. Remus tucked into his with the enthusiasm expected from someone who'd been shagging for most of the night. On his part, Sirius was a little more subdued, stirring the strawberries into the cream until it was a pinkish smear across the blocky surface.

At least he could sit in his chair; he'd woken during the healing spells easing most of the ache away, just before Remus had started in again, taking advantage of early morning wood. He was still a tad sore and a little grumpy about it. Over a decade of abstinence didn't make a fellow very resilient and Remus certainly hadn't offered to play keeper to his beater.

And he had wanted an awful lot of sex, even considering it had probably been some time since he'd had any. Not that Sirius had been the gigolo of Azkaban or anything but they hadn't even been...what? Fuckbuddies, his mind supplied but that seemed a little crude, what with Remus confessing to loving him and all.

Lovers, he decided grudgingly. Not even lovers for twenty-four hours and Remus was trying to break the land record on his arse. Maybe it was another werewolf thing. He couldn't remember it from Defence against the Dark Arts but then, he couldn't remember a great deal these days. He did rather like the shagging better than the whole rip and tear human flesh aspect, even if it did make him grumpy in the morning.

Though it was difficult to sulk when a person had fresh waffles.

All the food had been surprisingly good, truth be told. He couldn't imagine most meals-on-brooms programmes would offer more than tinned fruit cocktail with their frozen waffles. And it wasn't like Remus was giving him a snog every morning before heading off to the office.

"Remus, are you on a dole?" Sirius asked, stealing a strawberry from his plate while Remus was distracted by the newspaper Sirius wasn't allowed to read. One of these days, he would have to find out who'd charmed the papers so to him they all read like those rubbishy sex novels that women liked and thank them. It was a fair change from Shakespeare.

He earned a hand slap when he tried for another berry, Remus appearing from behind the paper long enough to say, "No, I'm not."

Instead of vanishing again, he made a little noise of disgust and reached across the wipe a streak of cream from Sirius's hair where it had trailed into his plate, fingertips brushing Sirius's cheek as he tucked the hair behind his ears like a child, where it wouldn't fall again.

It made him grumpier than ever, slouching down over his waffles. "I don't expect you to chat me up at breakfast but you could pretend I'm slightly more interesting than...the Daily Prophet?" He didn't know, actually, to him the title was The Cowboy and the Vixen.

"I'm not on a dole," Remus repeated, giving him a look. "I suppose I might have been, but for you. It was insisted that I use your funds to support you, for which I am grateful because I doubt I could have afforded to feed you. And keep your hands on your own plate, you! The rest of us could use a decent meal, too."

His funds? But he thought Ha...his godson had inherited all his-- "Does he know I'm here, then?" Sirius asked, more than a little surprised. He'd have thought that was the last person they'd give his whereabouts.

"Of course he...he doesn't know you're here but he knows you're with me. He saw you on the lake, we couldn't exactly tell him you'd vanished into the ether...I shouldn't be telling you this," Remus said abruptly, his good humour shuttering itself behind distant eyes.

"Probably not," Sirius agreed softly. He took another bite of his waffle. It still tasted as wonderful but some of his hunger had slipped away.

Remus didn't look at him, pushed his chair back and tossed the paper in the rubbish bin. He'd have to rescue it later if he wanted to find out why the cowboy was leaving his woman behind. Bracing one hand on the counter, Remus twitched the curtains away from the small window and stared outside at the world Sirius wasn't allowed to know a thing about.

"He asks about you," Remus murmured, so low Sirius had to strain to hear. "Often."

It was terribly difficult to think about his godson without...thinking about him, difficult to feel a pained rush of affection and fear. He didn't want to set off anything that would get him hexed at this hour of the day but it didn't stop him from closing his eyes in relief, that his godson didn't hate him after what had happened. In this small moment, Sirius didn't care about shades or Voldemort or any other damned thing in the world except that his godson still cared about him.

"And you tell him?" Sirius asked hoarsely. It was easier with his eyes closed, not seeing Remus's hunched shoulders and white knuckled hands.

"That you're about two steps shy of a tango." Remus said promptly. It startled Sirius into looking at him, leaning against the counter now with his arms crossed over his chest. "What do you think I tell him? You're doing all right, we've got plenty of wards and protective spells on us. I'd tell him anything he wants to know except where you are. "

"Going to mention we're shagging, are you?"

One side of his mouth quirked up in a smile. "Only if he asks"


"Me?" Remus raised an eyebrow at him. "Was I the one on his knees, arse in the air while he was begging for more, please, please, please?" He raised his voice in a fair imitation of the night before, Sirius admitted grudgingly.

"Slut," he muttered, pathetic as a comeback and Remus's smirk said he knew it. He turned his attention back to his waffles as though they were worthy of every speck of interest he had to offer and wondered again why the cowboy had to leave when he'd spent all of page six shagging the poor girl.

It was the most normal morning he'd had since he'd been dragged off to Azkaban, still screaming laughter because it had been Peter who tricked them all and wasn't that bloody fucking hilarious? The best prank in the universe by that pudgy little piece of filth and he'd laughed about it for days, years, bitter humour that was no meal for a dementor. Even now he could feel it, just under the surface, waiting to explode out with a hot burst of insanity but years on the outside had trained him how to will it away. Tucked underneath whatever tatters of sense he had left to stare out of him with yellowed eyes, waiting for its moment to escape, to rend and tear.

His closest friend, his only friend, sat back down to his own plate and they ate in companionable silence, and no one looking in that dingy kitchen would have thought that either of them carried a monster inside.

In the days that passed, there was a familiar sense of time slipping away, like it had been in Azkaban. Days melting into each other like ice cream drippings in a sleepy sort of trance, time disappearing in between naps and mouldering book pages and steaming plates of food left by invisible hands.

Only when Remus was there did he feel alive. As alive as he could be, anyway, when it was highly possible that he was anything but. It was difficult to think of it that way. He felt alive, felt human, could feel the heavy thud of his heartbeat beneath his hands at night when he woke from screaming dreams and needed to check, needed to feel some assurance of life, even one that might be false. It was easier to forget that he might be something made from diseased hands when Remus was with him in the dark, whispering things that would make even saner men blush stupidly and bury their faces in the pillows to hide their heated cheeks.

Falling into sex-induced forgetfulness was perfectly easy and Remus seemed to have no objections. Somewhere along the line, Sirius had handed Remus the reins to his sanity and trusted him to lead, and he'd done it with deft touches and a slick, hot mouth. If he'd wanted Sirius from the first moment he'd seen him, then he seemed determined now to make up for lost time. Or perhaps he simply wanted to glut himself on it, to take as much as he could before the morning he woke up with Sirius's hands wrapped around his throat.

Lovely thought, that one, Sirius decided sourly, flipping idly through one of the well-thumbed magazines Dumbledore had brought him. He could recite all of them word for word by now but that didn't matter so much as he was barely looking at it, still fuck-stupid with his head resting in Remus's naked lap while the other man stroked his hair.

It was these moments that made forgetting difficult, introspection between orgasms was not a friend of his. He flipped another page that he didn't really look at before pushing the lot off the bed with a sigh. "Not even sure why Dumbledore wanted to talk to me, brought me these. What with the whole 'might be evil' bit."

If there was one good thing about Remus, it was he never shied away from a topic of conversation, so long as it wasn't about the war. If Sirius wanted to speculate on his status as the walking undead or, once, whether Dumbledore had ever had his beard fall in the toilet when he leaned too far forward, Remus was there with calm deliberation, pointing out that Dumbledore was probably quite used to the beard by now and if not, he was an adept enough wizard that he probably knew several dozen good cleaning spells.

At this moment, he brushed his thumb tenderly under Sirius's chin, long, dark hair slipping between his fingers. "Why shouldn't he?" Remus murmured, "If it's not true, then he was doing it for a friend. If it still have his memories, his feelings. It's hardly your fault if you're a shade."

Sirius sighed a little, tipping his head back into Remus's hand. Obediently, he slipped his fingers through the long hair again, fingertips rubbing gently against his scalp. "You're quite upfront about all this, you know."

"I suppose I am." His hand never stilled and Sirius luxuriated in the unaccustomed pleasure of it, half-hard and not nearly motivated enough to do anything about it. Softly, almost a confession, "Sometimes I hate you as much as I love you, for always leaving me the way you do."

"I never meant to," Sirius told him, sleepily.

"No. But you were still gone. And you'll leave again."

"Your positive attitude overwhelms me."

He could hear the tired smile in Remus's voice. "I can't help it. I think--" he hesitated. It was like he was forcing the words out, spitting them in poisoned bursts. "If I let myself believe, just a little, that I could really have this...I don't think I can handle it when it slipped away from me. Again."

Sirius didn't say anything, understood what Remus was saying entirely too well. In a moment like this the world was stable and good, and he could relax, let things seem almost normal and remember sitting in Gryffindor common room with his friends, holding his godson when he was born, flying through the velvety night sky on his motorcycle, the only memories of happiness left to him.

And then it would tilt and he would remember, the ground cracking beneath him and he knew there was a chance if he thought about it too much, let it shattered away and litter sharp-edged pieces of reason around him, that he would climb inside that shoe-lined closet and never come out again.

"I think I'm going insane," he told Remus suddenly, because it was one of those important things a person should share with the one buggering him. Fingertips on his cheek, scraping softly against the stubble that Sirius hadn't bothered to shave away today.

"I think you've been insane," Remus said, soft agreement in his voice. His touch never changed. "I don't mind very much."

"Kind of you."

It was all right if Remus knew, he decided, probably had know for a long time and still wanted to sleep with him, so that was fine. And sometimes Remus would tell him he loved him. Not often and always in bed, but he did say it.

He wondered what he would have done if Remus had told him back then. B.A., Before Azkaban. He didn't know; he'd been a bit of an arsehole back in the old days. Could be that he still was.

"Remus, am I an arsehole?"

His fingers went still. Sirius shifted in his lap so he could look up at him. Remus was looking at him quite strangely. Probably thought it was part of the whole insanity thing.

"Am I?" Sirius persisted.

"In comparison to whom?" Remus asked warily.

"Oh, never mind." He snuggled back into his lap. After a moment, Remus resumed stroking

In a few minutes, he wouldn't be able to resist it anymore, would turn his head until he could feel the damp heat of Remus's cock against his cheek. Warm salt against his tongue and long fingers sifting through his hair, urging him wordlessly on and it wasn't difficult at all to part his lips and take him inside, sucking and licking until his mouth was spit-wet and swollen.

Tomorrow, Remus would leave again and time would melt like clocks and he'd eat and nap and wait.


Then there were some days that he didn't read at all. Today he'd spent hours staring at the cracks in the ceiling like a child would stare at clouds. Finding ragged edges of fraying drywall that looked like flowers or lions or his great Uncle Harold.

A water stain in the far corner of the room added to the game. If he lay on his back and tipped his head so that it was upside down, it looked quite a bit like a griffin eating a lolly. Or a teddy bear giving a blow job. Come to think of it, it could be a teddy bear giving a blowjob to a grif--

The crash at the fireplace behind him startled him into falling off the sofa, nearly knocking himself cold on the coffee table. Warily, he crawled around the sofa on his knees, peering around the edge to see Remus on the floor, dousing the fire with a clumsy wave of his wand as he staggered away from it and fell.

"Remus!" Sirius moved without thinking, already trying to help the man to his knees.

"Don't!" He almost fell as Remus pushed at him violently, lurching backwards in an awkward crab crawl until he hit the wall and finally lifted his head enough that Sirius could look him full in the face.

"Fuck!" Sirius whispered. Both of his eyes were blackened and swollen, thin rusty trails of drying blood at each nostril. His already well-worn clothes were spattered with blood, torn open to show stark welts beneath that were already scabbing over.

"No, I'm all right," Remus mumbled, holding up one shaking hand to keep Sirius back. "Just a little tattered at the edges, eh?" He laughed a little, choked on it with a cough and Sirius stood with his hands empty and helpless. Stupid, stupid, Sirius fucking Black, the useless ornament of the Order, maybe not even him at all and all he could do was stand like the worthless lump he was while Remus painfully cast a few healing charms on himself, his breathing easing after the third one.

"Bloody hell, Moony, where have they been sending you?" Sirius asked, swallowing back other words that wanted very much to be spoken, like fucking bastards can't even heal you before sending you back to me and a few other things that began with the word fuck. Wanted to swear the air blue if he couldn't whisper spells of his own.

"Doesn't matter," Faintly slurred, his pupils swallowing his eyes. Remus wet his lips, licking away the faint smears of crimson. "Come here?"

Sirius didn't even consider saying no, crouching down next to him and he yelped in surprise when Remus tackled him, pinning him down on the rug in front of the cold hearth.

One of these days when Moony held him down and had at it, he was going to find Sirius's arse gone and a set of canine teeth at his bollocks. But not this time, not with his already bitten and bloody fingers pulling at him pleadingly, fumbling at his belt so long that Sirius finally pushed them away and undid it himself, kicking his pants off and tilting his hips up when Remus crawled artlessly between his legs, almost falling on top of him.

A mumbled spell that he felt go through him, slick and hot, and trust Remus to know a dirty little charm like that, perverted soul that he was showing himself to be. He didn't say anything, couldn't, not with Remus's bruised face over him and his mouth wet, cock already nudging its way inside. Sirius arched up into it, hissing at the abrupt entrance. Mouth against his mouth, too-hot and coppery-warm, Remus's breath was a low whine at the back of his throat and Sirius thought he could taste the need in him in the slippery curl of his tongue.

Surprisingly gentle for all that, more tender than Sirius could really take. He didn't know where Remus had been or what he'd been doing, but he could fairly well fucking guess who'd been involved, the same you-know-bloody-who that was responsible for him being here in this flat getting faint friction burns on his back. It should hurt, he thought, it should hurt for Remus to want him like this. For him to need whatever pathetic comfort Sirius could offer.

"Should hate me, you rotten fucking bastard," Sirius gasped, kept his eyes open, focused on the ceiling and the stain that wasn't a griffin. "Should...ah!...should hate me, oh, fucking god, that' should..."

"I can't," Breathed against him, into him. Remus fucked him slowly, slid bloody fingers over him that left crimson trails on his skin but it was cleaner than he felt inside.

Bruised and battered, the both of them, Remus's swollen eyes closed above him, his face tight and pained and, God, lovely. He'd never imagined any of this, never had a daydream and midmorning wank with this face in mind, and that was fine, he didn't giving a damn about any of that, echoes of this were better than anything he could have dreamed anyway.

Sirius clung to him, wrapped the cobwebs of sanity around him and begged him for more.

A shower could only help Remus's appearance so much but at least he was clean, plasters taped neatly around his wounded fingers and over the various other scratches no longer hidden with ragged clothes. He'd let Sirius help, sitting quietly on the bed while each cut was gently cleaned and bandaged. They were bites, Sirius noted with narrowed eyes, peeling the paper from the Medi-Witch Inc. bandages and carefully ringing his fingers with them.

There wasn't a thing he could do about Remus's black eyes without a wand. He did bite the end of his nose though, just to hear him yelp in pain and pay him back with a smack on the back of the head.

And it was entirely Remus to insist on getting dressed afterwards. The bastard was even wearing shoes.

Insanity wasn't contagious, was it?

"You are aware that today is your birthday?" Remus asked lightly, interrupting his speculations on whether daftness could be transferred with a handshake or if it was more of a sexually transmitted sort of thing.

It made Sirius blink, frowning as he tried to remember if Remus was right. "Is it? I'm not sure if it counts, I was gone for most of the last year."

Remus gave him a faint smile, wincing a little as it pulled on his cut lip. "You don't get to shave off time that easily."

"That's friendly," he snorted. "You'd think I'd get some sort of bonus on it, aside from this lovely rent-controlled holiday home."

"I don't have much in the way of a gift for you," Remus said, "But I can do this one thing. Come on."

Sirius followed him warily out to the sitting room, taking the time to wrap a towel around his waist because even he wasn't nutters enough to get dressed when the possibilities of more sex were right in front of a person. At Remus's gesture, he settled himself on the window ledge and Sirius watched mutely as Remus flicked the curtains back and raised the pane.

The sun was only just setting, crimson and gold spilling over the horizon. It was cold outside, colder than he'd expected and his breath clouded around him, smoky air and the smells of London like an embrace from an old friend, like that day in the shrieking shack when he'd been in someone's, Remus's, arms for the first time in twelve years.

Sirius leaned out as far as he could without even a warning hand on his shoulder, sunlight falling on his face and he laughed, breathing in the bitingly cold air. He watched the sun sink away and bury itself behind the neighbouring buildings, leaving him in shadow and only then did he slowly slip back inside.

The click of the window lock made him wince and he wished suddenly that he'd waited, taken a moment to feel the crisp night air while he'd had the chance.

His face felt damp, far too cold to be sweat and he realized with some embarrassment he was crying. He swiped at his cheeks roughly with the back of his hand, muttering hoarsely. "Moody would have your arse made into a rug."

"Dumbledore is slightly more understanding. I'm sure I'll only get the 'terribly disappointed' speech."

"Yeah," His chuckle sounded suspiciously watery and Sirius took a moment to breathe, willing it back to normal. "That was..." He meant to make a joke, let it die on his tongue. "Thank you," he said finally, softly.

"Please, don't thank me for that," Remus told him roughly. "Just...don't." He took a deep breath and seemed to collect himself. "Well, shall we see what they left us for dinner?" he said with shaky brightness. "I know for a fact that dessert--"

He broke off as Sirius came up behind him and pressed against him. "If you're worried about poor gifts," Sirius whispered, letting his lips brush the delicate edge of Remus's ear until the man shivered against him. "I can think of another one you could give."

His hands moved from their resting place on Remus's hips to his arse, squeezing suggestively.

Remus cleared his throat and stepped away, his eyes low. "I can't."

"You can't," Sirius repeated flatly.

"No, I--" Remus tore his hand nervously through his hair, damp tufts standing in awkward angles. "It's not about wanting, I's just that I'd never be able to get the scent off of me. They'd know."

"They?" Sirius repeated slowly, dawning awareness rising in him along with his voice, "They?" He looked at Remus through narrowed eyes as the man muttered a particularly foul curse under his breath. "Who the bloody hell is 'they'? Tell me that Dumbledore doesn't have you--"

"In any case," Remus interrupted him loudly. "I do have one more gift for you. From," he smiled crookedly. "Well, I'm sure you can guess who it's from." His robe was still crumpled into the corner where they'd tossed it earlier and Remus picked it up, pulling something from the inner pocket. It was a small box wrapped clumsily with bright paper and ribbons.

He offered it to Sirius, who didn't even look at it, glaring at Remus. Tired apology was in his dark eyes, pleading with him to let it go. Yeah, let it go. As the saying went whenever anyone spoke to Sirius, I can't tell you.

With a sigh, he took the package, peeling the paper back to reveal a box. Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, one side blared, the other proclaiming it to be a daydream charm, guaranteed!

Remus smiled at his questioning look. "They were afraid you might be bored and thought you might like some entertainment. I gather that it was Ron who convinced them not to get you a book."

"I always did like that boy," Sirius murmured.

"There are three charges on that one, and you shouldn't have a problem using it through the wards."

He was admittedly impressed. "Tell them I said thanks, would you?"

Later, when he had Remus sprawled across the bed on his belly while Sirius knelt behind him, licking at the base of his spine and then lower, he listened to the increasingly desperate sounds that Remus was making with a certain resentful satisfaction.

"Don't--don't--" Remus's voice faltered and he was sweat-damp and shuddering, pushing back against Sirius's tongue.

"They can't smell this on you," Sirius lifted his head enough to say. "You should know that."

He worked a hand beneath Remus, wrapped it around his cock while he flicked his tongue against the puckered opening, laving at it until Remus whimpered and clawed at the sheets. Couldn't fuck him, maybe, but Sirius knew exactly what this little slippery touch felt like, used his tongue like he couldn't use his cock until Remus came over his hand in a rush of glossy wet heat.

Two days later Remus left, still faintly bruised at the eyes and that afternoon Sirius used the first of his daydream charms.

His first vision was of a lovely woman with shining blond hair and a simpering little smile, her old-style dress cut so that he could see the bare suggestion of the colour of her nipples. She melted away when he didn't seem properly appreciative and was replaced by a man in a pirate outfit who looked rather suspiciously like a werewolf of his acquaintance.

He woke up sweating and hard, jerking himself off with quick, rough strokes. He didn't bother with the rest of the daydreams. Why spend your time shagging a ghost when reality was worth waiting for?

But he did make sure not to change the sheets.

Sirius woke up from a dream about being trapped in a pool of darkness, struggling against it as sticky black pulled him in, suffocating him. The sheets were clammy with sweat and the wavering light of the fire had dimmed to bare embers, still too early in the morning for any light to be creeping around the curtain edges. He sat up in the bed and rubbed a damp hand over his face, couldn't even be embarrassed to feel it shaking. He knew something about bad dreams; Azkaban had been a brilliant teacher in that regard.

"If you're going to sleep in here when I'm gone, we should just get rid of the other bed. It would free up some space."

He managed to react with as much dignity as a person could when a disembodied voice spoke to them out of a dark room. He screamed, scrambling away from it and fell off the other side of the bed, landing heavily and somewhat painfully on the hardwood floor.

A head appeared over the side, too difficult to see in this gloom but now that his heart had slowed its brutal hammering in his ears, Sirius recognized the voice from before and the words came into focus in his head.

"Merlin, you scared the holy blue fuck out of me, Remus!" he exhaled, shifting up to lean on one elbow. The floor seemed like a good place to stay for the moment, until the bones in his back finished their howling complaint. The bed squeaked faintly as Remus slipped off of it and crouched on the floor next to him.

"I noticed." He was close enough now that Sirius noticed something else in the faint rush of his breath.

"You smell like you've been to the pub," Sirius raised an eyebrow, nearly tasting the alcohol in the air. "Or took a bath in a vat of beer. Are you drunk?"

"Maybe a little bit of," Remus said agreeably. He offered Sirius a hand up and he took it, pulling himself gingerly back onto the bed.

"And does he bring me a pint?" Sirius asked of no one at all, sprawling back on the pillows. "No, he does not. He comes back here rotten with drink and expects me just to inhale his fumes."

"No. I brought you something."

Sirius squinted, barely able to see him moving. He seemed to reach into his robes and pulled out a slender object, faint greenish light coming from it. A vial, he decided, some sort of potion that was certainly not beer or firewhiskey.

"It's a bit glowy for hemlock, isn't it?"

"It's not--" Remus took a breath, his voice trailing away. The small vial shifted, weaving in a graceful little movement between his fingers like another person might spin a knut, in and out through his knuckles. "It won't hurt you," he said finally. "It's a test of sorts."

"A test," Sirius repeated, slowly.

"Intrinsecus Manes. Almost sounds pretty doesn't it?" So softly, flick, flick, flick of the vial between his fingers. "It shows a person's soul. We would've used it sooner but it takes a decent amount of time to brew it not to mention that it's quite difficult to make--"

"Which means Snape made it for you," Sirius said flatly. "You're sure it won't kill me?"

Remus sighed irritably. "I'm well aware that you don't like the man; I daresay the feeling is mutual. Personal feelings on both your parts aside, Dumbledore trusts him and so does the rest of the Order. That said, if you do take the potion and drop dead, I'm sure that I'll notice and I'll extend your complaints to the creator!"

He was really shaking quite badly, Sirius saw with some concern. He reached out to lay his hand over Remus's and he flinched away, his hand tightening convulsively around the vial.

"You're supposed to give it to me, Remus," he said quietly. The only light in the room was from the faint embers on the hearth and the slender glass. He could see Remus's hand tighten around it and thought for a moment it might shatter in his grasp, leak glass and brilliant light and dark blood on the sheets. Then he relaxed and his hand fell open, the stoppered bottle in the middle of his palm.

"So I am."

It was warm to the touch, heat and light captured and forced into such a fragile prison. Sirius held it in his hand and studied it, watched tiny bubbles filter through luminous green. Fear was sour in the back of his mouth, refusing to be swallowed away.

"It's all right, Sirius," Soothing him, always, centring him but it wasn't Sirius who stank of drink and smoke, marks of false courage carrying him into the bed they'd been sharing. It seemed to him that Remus was the wraith, a shadowy face watching him palely through the gloomy darkness.

"What if I am a shade?" he asked abruptly.

"What if you are?"

"What if they're trying to...there's worse things than dying, you know. What if they use me to..." he couldn't say the word he wanted, half-gagging on it before settling on a weak substitute. " destroy you?"

The bed shifted as Remus moved, kneeling next to him. A hand slipped lazily into his hair, twining the long strands around slim fingers and he laughed, the sound of prickling up Sirius's spine as he was far more accustomed to hearing that sort of sound from his own throat. A wet mouth pressed against his ear in a mockery of a kiss as Remus whispered, "You always do."

It was enough to go on. The cork made a soft popping sound as he pulled it out, a mist of green steam rising from vial and it was courage as much as terror that made him choke down the ghastly thing, thick, foul taste like damp soil, like lakewater, worms, like the corpse dirt over a grave. It burned through him, raking fire-hot fingernails through his veins and he fell back on the bed, harsh convulsions tearing through him for a brief eternity.

He'd almost begun to believe Snape had poisoned him after all out of spite, and then the pain faded as quickly as it had come. Sirius pushed himself up on shaking arms, felt unearthly warmth with in him. Not so terrible then, almost pleasant, as warm as he'd been since he'd first set foot in Azkaban.

Remus made a soft sound behind him, pained and deep in his throat and he finally opened his eyes. Glittering light poured off him and hope was thick in his throat. His legs held him only with the greatest reluctance, Sirius staggering off the bed and towards the full-length mirror in the far corner of the room. He had to see, had to know and he looked in the mirror and saw...blackness. Fairy lights scattered over him with continents of blackness in between like holes were punched through it.

He didn't remember falling, only that Remus caught him, murmuring words into his hair that Sirius didn't hear.

Not real, not real, not, not, gibbering in his head, a high squeal of hysteria that looped around and around, oblivious to anything else. He could feel Remus shaking him, hands turned brutal and he couldn't speak, could barely breathe. He let Remus hold him, hands cold against his flushed face as he stared blindly at his own reflection, the lights fading as the warmth slowly bled out of him.

It must have been hours later when he finally managed to move. Sunlight was edging the windows, long lines of it cutting across the floor.

"Will you still call me Sirius?" he whispered, his voice hoarse. He reached out blindly and a hand caught his strongly, squeezed it with warm fingers.

"Always." Softly, against his throat.

The day drifted by like any other, paying little mind to his shattered wanderings through the tiny flat.

Once, he went to the loo and caught sight of his reflection in the mirror, pale face surrounded by straggling hair. He stared at himself, his hands barely felt like his own as they picked up the razor that Remus shaved with, left trustingly at the back of the sink. With slow, careful strokes, he cut all his hair, clogging the razor and methodically picking it clean again until his scalp was showing pink and shiny through a thin scum of stubble. He left the hair where it was, as if a particularly hairy beast had spontaneously shed its winter coat in the middle of Remus's bathroom.

Remus didn't say a word when he came back out and the next morning, Sirius awoke to shaggy strands over his forehead and in his eyes again, Remus's hand wound through the tangled mass as he kissed him.

The razor was gone but he didn't mind. He didn't feel like cutting it again.

For all that he had been a professor once, Remus was often more of a slugabed than even Sirius was, dragging out of bed in the late noon hours with dark circles still under his eyes. Much as he appreciated having a lie-in, hunger was often a great motivator in driving Sirius from the bedroom and more than once he'd eaten Remus's breakfast plate along with his own before the afternoon ones took their place.

It was something new to him, Sirius supposed, wincing at the cold floor under his bare feet. Didn't recall Remus being a lazy sod in school, but he probably had his reasons for being tired. For one, he wasn't having a wank and a nap every afternoon on the sitting room sofa.

He yawned loudly and scratched at his chest, thinking longing thoughts towards breakfast only to find a person he was not expecting sitting precisely on the selfsame sofa of his masturbatory activities.

"Oh." Sirius said dumbly, blinking. He was abruptly aware that he was only wearing a pair of Remus's shorts and socks with large holes at the toes. Dumbledore only nodded at him politely, sipping tea from a cup that wasn't taken from Remus's cupboards.

"Did you want--I can wake up Remus," Sirius said, continuing on his theme of early morning stupidity. Or rather, nearly noontime stupidity, they'd both had rather a long lie-in today. Worry was knotting itself tightly into his stomach; they all had to know the truth by now. He wondered how much his continuing existence was riding on seeming as innocuous as possible through the next few moments.

"That won't be necessary," Dumbledore said, smiling warmly. "I only came to bring you more magazines. I do believe I missed your birthday." It made him relax a fraction; surely Dumbledore wouldn't have wasted money on a gift if he was only coming to kill him. He tried very hard not to think of condemned men and last meals. For all that he was well aware that he probably should die, he didn't want to do it right this moment, certainly not before breakfast.

"Ta, the other ones were wonderful." He stepped into the room hesitantly, standing behind the large armchair. "I didn't expect you to come visiting again."

A raised eyebrow. "Is there a reason I shouldn't?"

"You'd know better than I would," he countered, trying not to fidget like a first year. No that memory isn't real, none of them are real. "I took the potion already, I know the truth."

"I know. You seem to have accepted it rather quickly."

"Is there a point in not accepting it?" Sirius frowned.

"Yes," Another slow sip of tea, Dumbledore studying him over the half-moon rims of his glasses. "There is always the fact that it might not be true."

"Please, spare me that," Sirius said tiredly. "I get it enough from Remus. I drank the potion, I saw the damage. Can you possibly think I'm not a shade?"

"Tell me, is it easier to believe you aren't Sirius?" Dumbledore asked instead. "How much more difficult would it be to accept that you really are Sirius Black who spent a great portion of his life in Azkaban, with his soul constantly being torn at by dementors than it is to simply be a tool waiting to be used? Does it make your determination to kill Harry easier to accept?"

Red flashed in his vision and he fought at the urge to change, catching himself on the arm of the chair before he could fall. Rivulets of sweat were tickling down his back and sides, damp against his face, by the time he managed to stand upright again. Dumbledore merely poured another cup of tea for himself and into a fresh cup, nudging it across the table in Sirius's direction.

He ignored it. "Remus said he saw me die," he whispered.

"As did I. As did many other members of the Order. That is exactly what we believed. And yet, some months later, here you are and none of us can determine why. To murder Harry?" he shook his head, seemingly oblivious to the low growl that Sirius was fighting away. "No, that doesn't make sense to me. Voldemort has shown us time and again that he is determined to kill Harry himself."

Sirius was on his knees now fighting the change and the curl of nausea in his stomach. It was unnatural for an Animagus to reject their animal form, more so for it to be forced on him like this and resisting made every muscle in his body clench and spasm wretchedly.

"That's true," he finally manage to pant out. "But then it doesn't make sense! Why would he send me to attack H--him if he didn't want me to kill him?"

"A fair question. One might consider the possibility that it wasn't Voldemort at all who sent you to Hogwarts."

"It had to have been!" Sirius said impatiently. "No one else could possibly..."

"Make a shade," Dumbledore finished. "So you see, I believe it would be wise for us to continue researching every possibility."

"Remus said that you weren't looking for a counterspell."

Dumbledore gave him a surprisingly grim look. "It's true that there is no counterspell for shading aside from killing the shade itself, but we are still pursuing other avenues." Some measure of humour returned to his eyes. "It's possible that Remus has his own reasons for keeping that from you?"

"You mean because he's fucking me?" Blandly.

Dumbledore didn't so much as blink. "Because I can't help but believe you would pester him continually for information and if he lacked it, his wardrobe would take the brunt of your displeasure. He did mention something once about shoes...?" He let the sentence dangle and Sirius was annoyed to feel himself blush.

"There is another problem I wanted to mention." Dumbledore sighed heavily. "While I hardly want to encourage this line of thinking, it has come to my attention in the past months that concealing information from our friends has caused damage in the past. If," he stressed the word, "If you are a shade and Voldemort created you, if he dies then it would also destroy the spell that possibly binds him to you."

It effectively doused the warm glow he'd gotten from being called friend. "Meaning?"

"Meaning that if he dies, you would as well."

Well, yes, that would be a problem, though it would certainly answer the question of what he was.

"I have been endeavouring to be as honest with Harry as possible concerning the prophecies," Dumbledore continued, ignoring the hitch in Sirius's breathing. "But I believe that it would be far too cruel to ask him to make that choice. He blamed himself enough for your previous encounter with death. I can't ask him to take on this burden as well, and I won't.

"So why are you telling me this?" Surely it would be easier to just let him die or crumple to dust or whatever shades did when their master's died. There wasn't really a need to warn him. He wondered if Remus knew and that did hurt, thinking of Remus left alone once again. He'd said Sirius would leave him again with tired certainty and standing here in this chilly room with Dumbledore's eyes on him, Sirius gave a little wish to whomever might listened to damned wizards that he might prove that certainty wrong.

"Because I want to make sure you're going to be here for us if we need you, and I don't mean here in this flat." Baldly. "Suicide can't be an option, Sirius."

It almost made him laugh. Was the entire Order convinced that he was spending the days having razors snatched from his wrists? "No worries, there. I couldn't do it." Sirius said easily. "Remus bitches enough about the messes I make."

With a wave of his wand, the tea set, including Sirius's untouched cup, vanished and Dumbledore stood. He looked very much his age at that moment, several scores of years hanging heavy on him. He stepped closer, reaching out to touch Sirius's cheek like he was still a boy. "I don't think I ever fully appreciated the damage the dementors did to you," Dumbledore told him quietly. "In some ways, I believe Harry is older than you are."

Sirius flinched, his eyes watering from the effort not to change, "What's that suppose to--"

Dumbledore continued like he hadn't said a word. "I also never properly apologized for failing you like that."

"You didn't mean to," Sirius looked away. Wasn't fair to blame Dumbledore for Azkaban, not when the entire wizarding world had failed him as well.

"And yet, even the best of intentions can have the most horrible of consequences," Dumbledore said heavily, letting his hand fall away.

It made him feel colder and Sirius crossed his arms over his bare chest. "Do you tell Remus these things?"

He smiled in a way that Sirius had never seen in him, almost bitter amusement. "I tell Remus a great deal where you are concerned. I doubt he hears a word of it."

"Yeah, well," Sirius didn't doubt that he was right, and also didn't bloody well care. "Thanks for stopping in. And for the magazines," he added, nodding at the paper sack on the table.

"Not at all. You should know that Harry misses you," Dumbledore said simply.

Unexpected as it was, Sirius swallowed a scream and fell again to his knees, breathing through the worst of the pain. "Why do you keep saying his name!" he choked out.

A gentle hand on his arm helped him back to his feet, the strength in it belying its frailer appearance. "As I told you, some time ago now. We should always use the true name of the things we fear."

He waited until Sirius had steadied himself against the back of the chair before nodding at him and stepping into the fireplace. By the time Sirius made his way to the kitchen, the breakfast plates had already been jostled aside by the ones for the afternoon. He scraped the morning ones into the rubbish bin and washed the dishes, leaving the others untouched until he heard Remus stirring down the hall.

Remus couldn't tell him where he was going or rather, wouldn't tell him, but he could speculate as to how long he'd be gone. It wasn't always accurate, mind, and Sirius hadn't taken to carving the days in his bedroom door yet. In between whatever other way he chose to push time along, it did give him something to think about. Two days and Moony would be back, one day, would he be back for breakfast or would he creep in late at night and wake Sirius with cold hands smoothing down his back?

Which was why he didn't expect Remus to step out of the fireplace that evening with his robes filthy and torn, long scratches down one side of his face. His book was tossed aside in an instant and he was standing next to Remus, hands gripping his shoulders when the other man staggered a little.

"Fuck, what happened?" Sirius asked, sliding one of Remus's arms around his shoulder so he could help him to a chair.

His pale face was all greying hair and eyes, the livid scratches marring it standing out starkly. There was a half-full cup of tea on the table and Sirius thrust it into his hands, urging him silently to drink. Remus blinked at the cup then back up at him, dark eyes so distant and lost, and everything in Sirius ached for him even as he boiled with impatience to know because something was terribly wrong. It couldn't be his godson, please, it couldn't. He was safe at Hogwarts still.

He barely had a chance to see the cup fall from Remus's fingers, spattering the floor with shattered glass and tea, when he was already on top of him. The force of his weight pushed Sirius until his back was against the sofa and Remus was crawling over him, straddling him with clumsily determination.

"I want you to fuck me," Remus said wildly, jerking up his shirt. His hands were icy, skimming over Sirius's bare chest. "I want you to do it right now."

"Wait, I--" Sirius tried, hissing in a sudden breath as strong fingers pinched one of his nipples, replaced too quickly by teeth that bit down sharply. He shouted at the ceiling, his hips jerking up to grind against Remus. He was already hard, trousers rubbing him raw even as he grabbed Remus's hips and pulled him down harder, wanting more. The heat of him was palpable even through his clothes

"Please, I need it now, please, please." A deliberate seduction that Sirius had little will resist, wet tongue ghosting up the line of his jaw to his ear, teeth closing sharply over the lobe and Remus pleaded softly to him, every word like a blue flame to his cock.

"God," Sirius moaned, tipped Remus off his lap so he could roll on top of him, between his legs, fuck him, yes, that he could manage.

His mouth was all wetness and sharp teeth, bruising Sirius's lips as he kissed him. Clothes were barely a barrier, his fingers catching in tears and pulled them until they shredded, leaving Remus more naked than not, tattered clothes and moans catching in his throat, so, so lovely.

It took a minute to fumble his belt open, longer to shove his trousers down until the caught on his shoes and refusing to go further. Sirius swore against Remus's throat and manhandled him to his knees, no patience left, nothing but the desperate need to fuck him right this second, fuck those pretty sounds out of his throat until he begged him in that pained voice to let him come.

Years it had been, two handfuls and more since he'd been on this side of the equation. He smoothed shaking hands down the curve of Remus's arse, the cheeks pale, so-soft skin and Sirius sucked on two of his fingers before he parted them, circled a wet fingertip over the little pucker before pressing it deep inside.

He heard Remus draw in a sharp, pained breath and whisper something, a rush of sudden, perfect slickness around his finger. Sirius bared his teeth in a mockery of a smile that he wasn't prepared to take the same ruthless fucking that he'd given Sirius that first time. Added a second finger and he could nearly feel Remus wince from the inside, spreading his legs wider as he struggled to take it.

"That's it," Sirius crooned, rubbing his mouth against soft, pale skin. Pulled his fingers out, slowly, and rammed them back in just to hear Remus's choked moan. Again. "That's it, you can do this."

"Sirius," pleading, the arch of his hips begging for more, now.

Sirius yanked his trousers open, pushing them down to his thighs. Wrapped his slick hand around his cock and stroked it, already pushing the head into the cleft of Remus's arse, eager for the feel of hot, damp skin.

"Now," he murmured, the first blunt push barely enough to get him inside, fuck, too-tight and he dimly wondered when the last time Remus had done this was. Had he ever done this? Braced on his knees for another man while he clawed at the rug beneath them, dignity lost in a sweaty rush of need, had he begged anyone else, choking out little gasps and words.

The picture of it, even only in his mind's eye, was enough to make him push in hard, prying his way through the blissful clench of muscle while Remus whined and squirmed beneath him. It felt like he could slide in forever, steaming heat around his cock, squeezing him like a fist.

"Ohhh," Sirius threw back his head and moaned, sweat stinging in his eyes, "Oh, tight, god, you're..." He jerked his hips forward again, skin slapping against skin and felt Remus gasp.

"Oh, that's...Sirius..." he trailed off into a garbled scream as Sirius shoved in, fingers biting into the skin at Remus's hips, did it again, again. Bent down and licked the sweat pooling between Remus's shoulder blades and didn't stop. Lust and anger were tangled in him, driving him on, because he'd tasted insanity but he wasn't a fool, Remus was begging him to fuck him like the world was ending. And that meant it might just be.

Remus was braced on one arm, his forehead pressed to the floor and the warm flush rising over his skin made Sirius fumbled one hand beneath them, cupping it over Remus's where he was jerking himself, hands moving slickly against each other. Deep, rhythmic little grunts and muffled whimpers came from under him and it made Sirius shove in harder, bracing his feet against the sofa and fucked his way in, and he felt it when Remus clenched tight around him, painful and wonderful as the rush of hot pleasure up his spine.

"God," Sirius choked out, could barely hear himself through the sound of his own heart pounding in his ears. Suddenly slicker inside, surrounded by the wet heat of his own orgasm and his shaking knees gave out, sprawling him over Remus's back.

A faint sound of protest floated to him through his post-coital bliss and Sirius promptly ignored it, moving only just enough to press a kiss against the sweaty shoulder beneath his cheek. Vaguely, he felt movement, the bend in his knees easing further as the floor came closer, Remus lowering them to both to the floor.

It was Sirius's turn to protest when Remus squirmed away, both of them hissing out a breath as Sirius slipped out of him. He only moved enough to turn over, wrapping his arms around Sirius and resting his chin on his head.

"Going to tell me what that was about?" Sirius mumbled against Remus's chest, soft hair brushing against his lips as he spoke.

He only just had time to feel Remus's arms tighten, holding him firmly before he whispered, softly, "Harry Potter."

Blood-red dropped over his vision and Sirius could hear himself scream, tearing at the flesh beneath his hands with his nails as he tried to struggle free, there needed to be blood, blood, he could taste it, sleek-salty and, no, no...he took a breath, fighting it back down.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Over and over against his ear, Remus was still holding him tightly even with fresh scratches scattered over his bare skin. "I had to check, I'm sorry."

"What is wrong?" Sirius asked again, hoarsely, shivering beneath a fresh layer of cold sweat.

"Dumbledore is dead."

For the first second, he couldn't understand what Remus had said. It was as if the words had switched to a foreign language sometime between leaving Remus's mouth and reaching his ears. "What?"

"He's dead," Remus repeated, dully. "He was murdered last night by Snape."

"Snape? But...but you said...the Order..." Trusted him. The order trusted him, Dumbledore trusted him, he was walking out in the sunlight and Sirius was here behind heavy brown doors and rotting curtains, and they trusted Snape like they had never trusted Sirius, fucking bastard Snape who already had blood dripping from his hands.

His skin felt like it was on fire, raking over him, broken only where Remus's hands touched him, soothing and cool.

"Easy, that's the wards doing that. They're made to suppress any magic you try to do."

"You said you trusted him," Sirius said slowly, squeezing his eyes closed against the burn and he heard something shatter, liquid pattering to the ground. The teapot, he realized dimly, and he couldn't recall doing involuntary magic since he'd hit puberty, his lack of control washing over him like liquid flames.

"Sirius, please--"

"I'm not Sirius," he shouted, terribly aware of being half-naked and his throat was raw like he'd been screaming for hours. Like he wished he could.

"I know," Remus had a hand over his eyes, his bare legs curled underneath him. "But you feel like him, to me. You have his memories, a sliver of his soul. You're a piece of him. And I've never been picky about taking the crumbs that are offered to me."

A laugh burst out of him, a short, ugly sound. "And what about me? I'm just around to be a fucktoy for you while that filthy fucking son of a cunting whore manages to do what Voldemort couldn't manage?" Trusted him, trusted a fucking Death Eater while Sirius was set aside here with books and daydreams.

His hand dropped and the helplessness in Remus's eyes made something like hate rise up in Sirius's gut, roiling, bitter darkness and he could do something about it, he could. Remus's wand was probably in his robe and that was a shredded mess tossed to the other side of the room. Werewolf strong but only human right now and his throat could tear open beneath sharp teeth like any other, warm burst of blood and--

Sirius turned on heel and walked away, quickly, to the other bedroom that he hadn't used since the second time he'd let Remus bugger him. He shut the door and leaned against it, sliding down to the floor to rest his forehead on his knees.

Trusted that bastard, all of them, and they called him the evil one.

He wasn't quite awake the next morning, huddled stiff and cold in front of the door, when a knock forced him to open his eyes. For a moment, he couldn't figure out why he was even on the floor, not when there was a semi-comfortable bed in this room and a very comfortable one in the next, one that might have a nice, warm Remus in it.

Just thinking his name made memory surged to the front and Sirius jerked up, leaning hard against the door, his heart pounding. A tremor went through the wood as the knock repeated itself, gently.

"Sirius?" Softly, muffled through the door. Remus didn't try to open the door and for that much, Sirius was grateful. A battle of wills over a doorknob was not something he wanted to try today but that didn't mean he wouldn't do it.

"Sirius?" Still gently, barely louder as if Remus didn't really want to wake him, only that he should.

It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Remus not to call him that, to let it go. Underneath the narrow bed, he could see the crumpled edge of a magazine peeking out and he tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling with dry eyes. Dumbledore was dead, no matter who his murderer was, and dead was dead. Unless it was something worse, Sirius couldn't help but think and whether Remus called him Sirius or not, he could never think of himself as what he was supposed to be.

In the end he didn't say anything, only leaned harder against the door in case Remus tried to come in.

He didn't. "Sirius, I'm leaving. I need to help with...with the funeral."

"So go," Sirius told him, wearily. Anything to get him to leave. For all that he'd spent the past few weeks waiting for the very minute Remus stepped through the fireplace, today all he wanted was for him to be gone. "I doubt I'm invited. I'm sure they prefer that the Boy Who Lived remains that way during the eulogy."

"I'll be back tonight."


He listened to the soft huff of air from the fireplace to tell him that Remus had flooed out before uncurling his limbs and staggering to his feet. The quiet gloom of hallway was like a shroud around him, following him into the tiny kitchen where two plates waited, untouched.

Beneath the lid was bangers and mash, just as he'd had the first morning he'd awoken here. He stared at them a long moment, waves of steam wavering in the air above them like ghostly fingers. In the end, he set the cover back over them with all the gentleness of a person setting down a child and went instead to the sitting room. There was a wooden chair in one corner, always eschewed by those who came to the sitting room to actually sit yet today, it beckoned him. There were ghosts sitting in all the other chairs, memory ghosts with little substance that haunted him nonetheless.

Remus sitting on the sofa with a book in his lap, his legs tucked under him in an almost unconscious gesture of trying to keep warm in this chilly room. Dumbledore next to him, with his glasses sliding down his nose and a warm smile on his face, sipping tea and nibbling biscuits and his words of wisdom were valued like pearls yet dug beneath the skin like nettles.

Sirius closed his stinging eyes and let his head rest on the hard wooden chair back. A thousand memories that had faded from him over the years to eerie phantoms and he was left with so little.

The sound of the floo startled him and he sat up so quickly his spine crackled. It was far, far too early for Remus to be back unless he'd forgotten something. Or unless he'd lied, hoping to pull Sirius from his room without a struggle between slats of wood.

Harsh words already blistering on his tongue and he could believe it of Remus, words that he would almost certainly regret begging to be spoken.

And died away when the cloaked figure that stepped from the fireplace was not Remus. Ash sloughed away from fine material as they stepped out onto the rug in front of the hearth, shaking back the hood and allowing a swath of fine black hair to fall free.

Once, she had been beautiful, as lovely as she was coldly poisonous. Sirius remembered it in the way he remembered his own handsomeness, each bled away by dementors over so many years. There was a shadow of it left to her, dark eyes regarding him coolly and Sirius knew he should move; the part of him deep within where Padfoot lay was more than willing to leap to the fore, to take the blood it had been forced to crave from this throat.

Yet somehow he couldn't, his limbs as wooden as his chair. Barely, he could whisper, a single word escaping.


She smiled, "My dear cousin, it's been so long. We never did see each other in Azkaban, did we? And your cell was so very close to mine. I used to delight in listening to you scream. I trust you did the same?"

"Bella," he whispered again, trying to force more words free. ""

"How did I get here for this little visit?" She waved one elegant hand in a lazy gesture. "Oh, Severus was kind enough to inform us of your whereabouts some time ago. Unfortunately there was little I could do with the information until that old fool was finally out of the way." She stepped closer, set one hand on the back of the chair on either side of his head and leaned in to whisper. "I've been waiting so long to have you again. It's terribly cruel to separate a pet and his owner, don't you think?"

"'t...have..." he gritted out,

Bellatrix trailed a sharp fingernail down his face, freeing a single drop of blood. "But he could. And my dark lord is generous with those loyal to him."

Flash of memory, pain, God, never pain like this, never in the world. High-pitched laughter, a curtain, swirling blackness, and pain, searing across him, a brutal lava flow of agony raking over his nerves, stop please, stop so much stop

He gagged with the force of it, bile rising in his throat and only fear that he would choke on it kept him from spitting it in her face. Red lips so close to his own curved in a smile as though she knew exactly what he was thinking.

"So you do remember," Bella said thoughtfully. She sprawled herself in his lap as though he were merely another piece of furniture, tapping a long, lacquered nail against her teeth. "I thought you might. A memory charm is only as useful as the strength of the charm against the memory. We couldn't risk using a stronger charm or you might not have known where to go at all!" She tipped her head back in a soft laugh, leaning in to whisper. "And we couldn't have that."

Sirius closed his eyes, longing for the ability to wrap his hands around her skinny throat.

"I must admit, it was a very clever way of concealing you. A one-connection floo; it must have been insanely difficult to set this up, all just for you. Well, it's a two connection floo now, I could hardly go to Dumbledore's office to see you, now could I?"

A sharp slap jerked his head to one side, and then another, another until he finally opened his eyes to glare mutely at her. There was a light in her eyes, cruel delight as she stroked her cheeks over his reddened cheeks.

"I only need you to do one small thing for me," she breathed, her lips brushing the bruised heat of his face. "Just this one little thing and then you can return to us. I'm sure that Severus will be delighted to see you, on your knees..."

No. He struggled inwardly against his stillness, fingers flexing into claws that he couldn't manage to use.

"I'm sure you'd protest how much you'd despise it," she went on sweetly. "If you could, but we both know that's not true. If you can stand to be fucked by a werewolf, I'd imagine there's little you wouldn't allow. I'd say it was a flaw in the spell, but then, we both know that Sirius was flawed from birth."

The glitter in her eyes reflected the truth in her nature. "Sirius was a fool. They locked him away like they locked you away for things that you have never done." Her laughter was sweet as oleander, delicate venom. "It wasn't until he was dead that they even considered clearing his name."

His shock must have shown on his face because she laughed again. "Didn't they tell you? How very precious. I suppose they didn't want you to know. If you could walk out of here, you could go straight to their little Ministry and have them begging your pardon. They'd probably give you a medal, perhaps a small stipend, do you think? For your pain and suffering?"

"So very little reward for so much suffered," Bella said, her voice filled with syrupy pity. "I shouldn't worry. Our Lord is a generous one and his rewards can be beyond measuring."

"Don't...don'" Pained bursts of language sputtered out of Sirius, evil little bitch...

Bella laughed again and the force of her hand against his cheek was dizzying. "Do be quiet. As I was saying, rewards. Dumbledore believed that my Dark Lord didn't understand love. Such a fool. He understands it, very well. He knows exactly how easy it is to break someone when you've killed those they love the most."

Her expression shifted and she slipped back to her feet, shaking out her robes briskly. "Now, to the task I'm setting for you. Remus Lupin, isn't it? A traitor to his kind, both werewolf and wizarding. I want him to die," she told him, gleefully. "And I want it to hurt. I want that filthy halfblood's skin crackling on my fire."

"Won't this hurt the boy?" She clasped her hands together like a delighted child. "Won't he weep? Of course, this is a favour to Greyback as well. Werewolves will not kill each other but if another were to do it..."

"Whore," he breathed. Pain exploded along the side of his face, a burst of blood in his mouth from a split lip. For just that moment he glimpsed the truth that was Bellatrix, eyes wild and if his sanity was questionable then hers had been long since lost. She caught his hair in a fist, yanking his head up until his pained eyes met hers.

"That's not really why I want it done," Her voice was low and cold. "If I had my way, I'd use Cruciatus on you until you bled from the eyes," and Sirius flinched as her tongue slipped along his lips, licking away the soft trickles of blood. "But this will do."

She stepped back again, tilting her head to the side as she regarded him. "But how rude of me. I have a present for you, darling."

With two fingers she drew a wand from the folds of her cloak, laying it precisely across his knees. "Remember, I want it to hurt. I do so look forward to seeing it later in the pensieve."

She blew him a kiss as she stepped into the fireplace, vanishing in the rising flames and the moment she was gone he collapsed to the floor, wetness stinging his already too-hot cheeks.

He hid the wand, burying it on the top shelves in Remus's closet behind old boxes and well-worn rain hats.

It was all he could think to do, fear of the burning compulsion shivering over him as he paced the room. Back tonight, Remus had said. He would be back tonight and the light behind the curtains was already rose-kissed and dimming to violet.

It was ironic, perhaps, that he'd told Dumbledore he wouldn't commit suicide. At the time, he hadn't been able to imagine it. Oh, he'd die fighting for the Order,

(and had, hadn't he, a memory, faded somehow behind pain and light)

and if they had chosen to kill him, Sirius liked to think he would have accepted his execution with grace so long as they kept his torment to death alone. Nothing could be worse than the dementors, he'd supposed. Separation from his godson...from Harry, he thought savagely, fighting down his urge to change, well, that he'd done before, twelve years of it. He'd withstood it all and hadn't felt the urge to die.

Today he would have killed himself a dozen times over, if he could have. If his will had been his own, as it obviously wasn't. Every time he thought of a way to manage it, and the Order had kept him from the knives but there were always more creative means, the urge drained from him.

It was all he could do to leave the wand where it was. The urge to get it, to use it itched over him like the sting of a thousand fire ants. He paced the small room, ten steps by ten steps, wearing one of Remus's shirts that smelled like him. And waited.

The sound of the floo made his heart seize in his chest, a familiar wash of red lapping into his vision. He turned to see Remus step out, shaking the ash from his robes. His tired eyes were faintly swollen, dropping slightly to meet Sirius's. Everything was tinted crimson, compulsion forcing his feet to carry him towards the hearth.

But there was no anger, no furious thirst for blood and when strong arms wrapped around him, he managed to stop, let them hold him. Remus's face was damp against his neck, faint ticklish breath. Sirius raised his eyes to the ceiling and watched as the crimson faded, the dull ivory of the wall plaster reasserting itself. Slowly, he managed to move, sliding his arms around Remus in a firm hold, barely keeping from digging his nails in to cling like a child.

"I'm sorry," Remus murmured, lips moving against Sirius's skin. "I'm so sorry." Sort words mingled with tender little kisses. He couldn't remember what Remus was apologizing for; the tears in his own eyes were ones of relief, cool wash of it carrying away any lingering compulsion.

He didn't resist when Remus walked him backwards until the sofa caught him at the back of the knees, forcing him to sit and he didn't want to resist as Remus moved to kneel in front of him, pressed his face into Sirius's clothed lap and inhaled deeply.

Remus raised his head enough to ask, "Is this all right?"

Sirius nodded dumbly, wordlessly helping Remus tug his pants down and out of the way. The urge to watch was strong and he resisted it because he could, closing his eyes and tipping his head back against the sofa.

Sweet, wet suction around him and the flicker of a tongue against the head of his cock, it felt like it went directly to his knees, sprawling them open even wider. He didn't watch, kept his eyes closed and learned it instead by touch; the softness of Remus's hair, the way his cheeks hollowed and filled as he sucked.

"Oh, please," Sirius moaned, not watching that prim mouth redden while it was wrapped around his cock. He arched up into blissful heat and came, felt Remus startle even as he accepted it, swallowing around him in a way that was entirely wonderful.

He pulled off and wrapped his arms around Sirius's waist, burying his too-hot face against Sirius's belly as their breathing slowed, easing to normalcy. Probably the only normal part of them in the room, Sirius thought tiredly, resting one hand on Remus's head to sift through his hair.

Words were ricocheting frantically in his brain, trapped there unspoken.

Please you need to leave, I can't hurt you, I can't, you need to go, get the Aurors get anyone, please, Remus

Not even his breathing betrayed him. He could sit here and touch him, hold him but it couldn't say words that might save his life.

We're both going to die, he realized. Bella would kill Remus herself if Sirius didn't, of that he was sure, and then she would turn her wand on him. He knew it with the same certainty that he knew the sun would rise tomorrow. And there was nothing he could do to stop it.

When Remus lifted his head, there was a gleam of pearl at the corner of his mouth that Sirius couldn't help but lick away, tasting bitterness and himself.

That night was the full moon and for the first time Remus offered to let him stay. He sat on the rug in front of the fire and watched as Remus methodically locked every lock on his door, some by hand, some with a charm.

He waited until Remus joined him before changing, the easy fluid transformation to Padfoot nothing at all like the change Remus would go through later. He wondered if Remus was jealous of it, wondered if werewolves would hate their lot so much if the transformation was as easy and painless as an Animagus one.

Without waiting for an invitation, he rested his head in Remus's lap, letting out a satisfied huff of contentment when his head was obediently scratched. It was the safest he'd felt in this form since arriving in this flat, inhaling their lingering sex smell with canine senses, the electric green of cut grass.

The change came to Remus too quickly, cries of pain that faded and left the wolf. Together, they curled up next to hearth and basked in each other's scent and warmth, and Sirius let himself only think of this moment, pushing the darkness far back into his mind where he couldn't hear it howling.

"Are you all right?" Remus asked him the next afternoon, frowning over the tea and sandwiches.

It was almost humorous that he asked, sitting across from him as pale and drawn as anyone would be after the agonizing transformations of the past night.

"I'm fine," Sirius told him quietly. That morning he'd woken still in his dog form, Remus lying bare next to him and the urge to tear at him, to bite through the frail, unprotected flesh at his throat had overwhelmed him. His nose had already brushed coolly against the smooth skin by the time he'd gagged it back, convulsing into human form and laying there on the floor covered in cold sweat.

Remus had slept on, oblivious, and Sirius had staggered from the room and into the loo, shutting himself in as he turned both the taps on. He curled up on the floor of the shower and sat beneath the spray for nearly an hour, until his skin was fish-white and wrinkled.

"All right," Remus accepted it mildly. "I'll be gone for a few hours this afternoon, but I'll be back by tonight," he smiled, a little, "Please don't eat my dinner."

"I'll do my best." He said it solemnly, teasing that little smile a little wider. He'd considered it this morning with cold water sheeting down him. Tried to find another option and there didn't seem to be one. It had been tempting to search again for a way to kill himself, to try to push past the compulsion stopping him the same way he'd done to keep from killing Remus. He would have, if he'd had to bite off his own tongue. Anything to keep Remus safe. What use was there in fearing death, he'd obviously been there before.

But it wouldn't help them. That would only leave Remus at Bella's tender mercies and her words the day before haunted him. Make it hurt. Make him suffer. He couldn't allow that either.

I'll do it if I must, he promised silently, watching his friend sip his tea. Three cubes of sugar, always, no mustard on the sandwiches, the same as he had been some twenty years before. Sirius watched him eat, watched every shift of muscle from the faint crinkle at the corner of his eyes to the flex of his fingertips. He'd do it; he would kill Remus with his own hands to save him from Bellatrix.

I love him.

"I love you," he blurted it out before the thought had even finished taking form, amazed that he'd only just realized it now. They'd been shagging for weeks, Remus breathing those same words into his ears, against his skin for all that time and yet, he'd never realized.

He wondered if the real Sirius,

god I'm not, I'm not real

would have loved him, if this was something unique to him.

Remus was frozen, staring at him from over the rim of his cup. A glass shard of jealousy jabbed at his heart at the man he'd believed he was. Remus had said he loved him, over and over, but he'd been whispering it to a ghost. He'd known that, he'd always known that but it had never mattered before, not until this very second...

A warm hand slid over his own, the thumb tracing faint circles over his wrist. Remus had set his cup aside and was smiling at him, faint colour lighting his pale cheeks. "Thank God. I'd hate to think I was in this alone."

It startled a laugh out of him. He squeezed Remus's hand back and thought an apology to wherever the real Sirius was. He was as close to being Sirius as was possible; perhaps he would have loved Remus if he'd had a chance. It didn't matter, he was the one sitting in this tatty little kitchen and the real Sirius, really Sirius, was gone. He was the one who'd protect Remus in any way he could, perhaps in the only way he could.

When Remus left that afternoon, Sirius kissed him with every bit of his newly discovered love, pressing against him as long as he could, until finally they'd parted, Remus's lips still faintly swollen as he'd stepped into the fire.

Sirius settled himself on the sofa with a fresh cup of tea to wait for her, knowing she would come. It was only a matter of time.

There was always a sound before a person arrived by floo, a warning of sorts. It was a faintly scratchy and gurgling sound that reminded Sirius a little of the merfolk language. It wasn't something he'd paid much attention to before, just a footnote in the back of his mind that he took out and glanced at from time to time.

These past few months it had come to mean something else entirely, a great deal of importance riding on one little sound. It meant coming home and it meant Remus and that meant...well. That had come to mean something quite different these past few weeks as well, hadn't it. He'd never before associated a floo with such affection as he did this fireplace. This was where Remus came back to him.

Only not today. Today he sat on the lumpy old sofa where he often took naps and didn't let that gurgly little sound interrupt his musings on the scent of the back of Remus's neck. He always smelled wonderful, Sirius decided, concentrating on that rather than the rising green of the fire, he smelled like buttery toast except when he smelled like sex and both were the loveliest things he could remember.

Long nails scrape lightly at the nape of his neck, shivering through his memory of Remus on his back, Remus with his face faintly damp with sweat and his mouth open, deep, hot moans escaping him.

"I am so terribly displeased with you," a cool, feminine voice cut through his remembrance like a blade. "Let me show you how our Lord expresses his displeasure."

A thin, fiery line of pain burned down his cheek, drawing water to his eyes that he blinked away, suddenly focusing on Bellatrix's cold face. There was glee in it, her delight in causing pain in others rushing to the fore as she prodded the cut on his cheek hard enough to make him wince.

"The Cruciatus curse is very effective, but sometimes the old methods are so much more satisfying." She licked a droplet of his blood off her finger. "You didn't do as I asked," she scolded, reminding him unpleasantly of his mother. Rotten, evil bitches the both of them and perhaps she could make him kill Remus, perhaps, but she couldn't make him hurt him.

"Kill him," she whispered in his ear, echoing his thoughts. "Make him pay."

"I'm sure he'd rather not, Bella."

They both startled, turned as one to stare at the fireplace where Remus was standing, his wand levelled at Bellatrix. The fire behind him shivered silently into ash, closing off the floo.

"How did you..." Sirius whispered, forcing words past his constricted throat. Please, be careful, she's mad, Remus, you have no idea how mad...

"I never left," Remus said calmly. His eyes never left Bellatrix. "I suspected she'd be coming so I cast an illusion on the fireplace so that you would see me leaving. It was kind of Snape to tell you how to get here;" he added, to Bella. "Strange that he didn't warn you that the wards would inform me if anyone came in. Perhaps he didn't know. The chance of the Death Eaters finding it was the reason we never cast the Fidelius on it to begin with."

"Indeed?" Bella said idly. "And yet, there's no fleet of Aurors protecting you."

"All in good time," Remus said mildly.

"Well, then, what are you going to do Remus?" she asked coolly. "Are you going to kill me? Oh, but then, what will become of your lover?" She laughed shrilly. "We are connected, he and I. Would you like to watch him die, right here at your feet? Would you keep his ashes on your mantel? Next to you on your bed? Rub them into your skin?"

"No one is dying here." His eyes never left Bella, even as he extended his free hand to Sirius. "You don't need to listen to her. Take my hand."

"Kill him!" Bella hissed.

Immediately his hands rose, curved into claws and yes, kill him, strangle the life from him. Pain wavered through him as he resisted, his blood burning hotly through his veins.

"Sirius, don't listen to her. You don't have to obey her." Remus repeated. His hand was steady, reaching towards Sirius. "Come here?"

"Oh, how terribly sweet," Bellatrix sounded bored, rubbing one long-nailed finger lightly over her lips. Only her eyes betrayed her, glittering black hatred at Remus. "My heart bleeds for you, truly it does. It won't work, fool. He's mine."

"He doesn't belong to anyone." For just a moment, Remus's eyes wavered, flicking towards Sirius. Dimly, he saw Bella snatch up her wand, aiming it towards Remus. Red light exploded from the tip, barely deflected by a gleam of blue from Remus's. "Please, Sirius. Take my hand." Another flick of his eyes, dark and desperate. "I need you."

Some overstressed part of his mind let go with an almost audible snap, wet and agonizing and Sirius choked on a scream even as he reached out blindly and caught that warm hand in his own.

"Bastard!" He heard her scream like something from a dream, watched the spray of spittle from her lips as she began to cast another curse. Sirius lurched forward on rubbery legs, had to get in front of it, not Remus, not now...

The expected wash of green light never emerged. Instead, Bella was jerked upward into the air, dangling like a marionette on invisible wires. She screamed again as she was brutally shaken, her body stiffening as if bound before she dropped heavily to the floor.

Remus let out a shaky breath. "I wasn't sure that spell would work, Moody said it's still being tested."

"What...I...I stopped, Remus, I stopped. She almost had me, but I stopped." He was still clinging to Remus's hand, bones grinding lightly under his frantic grasp.

Remus didn't look at him, only nudged Bellatrix with his wand testingly.

"Remus," Desperately. "I stopped, I couldn't let her make me kill you. I stopped. Remus, please!" He fell silent as Remus held up his free hand and there was a visible tremor now, quivering through long fingers.

"Shhh, I know." Remus said quietly. "It's all right. I need you to go open the door."

Sirius blinked at him, bewildered. "But I can't--"

"Just listen to me!" Sharply. "Go now and unlock the front door. Please," he added, softening the words.

It took him a moment to convince his fingers to let go of Remus's hand. He backed towards to door, needing to keep Remus and Bellatrix both in his line of sight for entirely different reasons. The lock was cool beneath his fumbling hands; it took him two tries to wrench it open. Warily, he cracked it open and peered out...and recoiled as a madly rolling eyeball met his own.

"About time," Moody grunted, pushing the door open and brushing past Sirius. A number of others brushed past him, Auror insignia on their robes. One of them was Tonks and she glance at him, met his eyes briefly before she walked determinedly forward. He shut the door after the last of them, following them back to the sitting room.

All of them were around Bellatrix, their wands at the ready while Moody inspected her. Remus was leaning against the wall behind them, his wand dangling loosely from his fingers.

"It worked perfectly," Moody said in a satisfied tone. "Knew that any Death Eaters coming here would always try one of the Unforgivables.

"You used me as bait," Sirius said in a low voice and all eyes were abruptly on him. Remus met his eyes evenly, no glimmer of emotion within them.

"Yes, we did," he agreed softly. "I couldn't tell you, there was a chance you would have to tell whoever came. It wasn't as dangerous as you think. You saw what happened when she tried an Unforgivable curses."

"Oh, yes. I do see that," Sirius told him. He heard the anger in his own voice, was practically shaking with it. "And what about me? What if I'd hurt you? You stupid, rotten bastard how dare you put yourself at risk when you knew how I--"

Remus broke in, his quiet voice cutting through Sirius's rising shout. "I've never been afraid of you." So softly, echoing the same words he'd said when they'd first come here.

It drained his anger away and left him feeling weak, his knees gelling. Shock, probably, he decided dimly, all but falling in the closest armchair. He felt fingertips gingerly inspecting the forgotten cut on his cheek and tilted his head up into it for Remus to heal.

"All right then, we need to get her to the Ministry." Moody said. The Aurors all burst into motion, discussing the proper means to get her there without interference and only halted when Remus spoke again.

"No," Remus said, steadily. He murmured a small curing charm and the stinging in Sirius's cheek eased.. "We need information from her first."

"Here now, we can't chance it," a man Sirius didn't recognize spoke up. "For all we know there are twenty Death Eaters on their way here right now."

"We need answers," Remus repeated. His voice had cooled considerable. "He deserves them. You were willing to sacrifice him if it was necessary to get at her and I went along with it. But he needs to know the truth. If you get her into the Ministry, he'll never have another chance to hear this and you know it."

Loud squabbling broke out, the Aurors jabbing accusing fingers at Remus and Sirius, as well as Bellatrix who was still lying unconscious on the floor. Remus never said a word, only looked at them with determined eyes the belied every protest levelled at them.

"Five minutes," Moody growled, startling them all. "Not a second more. Veritaserum."

One of the younger Aurors stepped forward and gave him a small glass bottle. Moody knelt down awkwardly and poured a few drops into Bella's slack mouth, waving away Kingsley with an irritated grunt when he stepped forward to help him to his feet.

"May as well get this over with," Moody said darkly. He cleared his throat loudly. "Bellatrix, we have some questions for you!"

Behind her closed lids, Bella's eyes twitched, her lashes slowly rising to reveal clouded eyes.

"Good stuff," Moody grunted in approval. His magical eye was whirling madly, shifting from wall to wall. "Now, you. Is Sirius Black a shade?"

Her mouth opened slackly. "We did shade Sirius Black."

Even though he knew it, Sirius still flinched. He felt suddenly cold, surrounded by Aurors that he didn't know who were all eyeing him warily.

"And how did that come about," demanded Moody. "All the details, if you will."

"We found him as a dog on the streets of London," her voice was a soft drone. "I couldn't remember the exact location of my Aunt's house. We suspected a Fidelius charm. It didn't erase my knowledge of the general location and so, we set Death Eaters to capture every dog in the area. We knew from Snape that he occasionally left the house in his dog form. Eventually, we found the one that was Sirius."

Bella drew in a snorting gasp of air before she continued. "Sirius knew where the house was and once we shaded him, his shade did as well because it had his memories. It wasn't a perfect copy but it didn't need to be, all he had to do was attend meetings. If he drank the rest of the time and spent his days with the hippogriff no one would suspect. The shade was unaware of his own state and only knew for the set time that he reported information on the Order to us, and then he would forget again."

"Why did you do this?" Remus asked quietly. He ignored Moody's glare, focusing on Bella.

"I didn't trust Severus Snape," Even through the drone of her voice, her anger came through. "I convinced my Lord that we could use another spy close to Dumbledore. He trusted the task to me."

"Then tell us what happened at the Department of Mysteries." Remus said. Moody said nothing, only cast a surly glance at Remus but stepped back to allow him to continue the questioning.

"Our Lord showed the boy the truth when he saw that we had captured Sirius. It was a small matter to add details, minute changes to fool his mind. We drew the boy there to get the prophecy. The shade came there with the rest of the Order and joined us."

"But Sirius fought on our side at the Ministry!" Tonks broke in angrily.

A blissful smile spread over her face. "That was his purpose. As he was not a perfect copy, he was not a perfect wizard. It was my hope he would be a hindrance." Her smile faded, her voice lowering as she said, "I didn't intend to kill him. The Dark Lord was angry with me, and I paid for the mistake, though he did allow me to save the memory in a pensieve so that it could be enjoyed by all."

"He was less pleased when we realized we couldn't shade him again," Bellatrix said. "Sirius reacted badly when the shade died. He felt its death and there was already a great deal of damage from the dementors. It might have repaired itself with time, but I had no time to waste. We tried numerous times to shade him again with little effect."

"Couldn't shade him..." Kingsley said, his deep voice thoughtful. "If you couldn't shade him again, then this is--"

"That is Sirius Black," she agreed dully.

The room was silent but for the faint sound of breathing and Sirius's choked little sound nearly echoed through it. Shock was erupting through him, mingled memories that he'd taken for falsehood or insanity, memories of agony and laughter, memories of falling into darkness.

"Then why is he here instead of still imprisoned by you?" Moody asked, suspiciously.

"I wanted to kill him but my Dark Lord had a better idea. An Imperious Curse might have been detected, but his sanity was so damaged that it wasn't necessary. Instead, we implanted a single compulsion. To kill Harry Potter. My lord knew he couldn't possibly succeed."

"But it would definitely hurt Harry in other ways," Moody growled.

"Yes," she agreed flatly. "Lord Voldemort wished for the boy to hurt, so we gave him back to you. We knew what you would think when he supposedly returned from the dead. The potion Snape made would only confirm it."

"If the compulsion worked, then why did you come here at all?"

"I knew the spell would weaken over time," Bellatrix said. "It was our hope that he would be executed as a shade, but we underestimated your weakness when it came to even a shaded memory. I came to recast the spell and I added another compulsion, I wanted Sirius to take the half-breed's life."

"But it didn't work," Kingsley said, gesturing to where Remus was standing, very much alive. "Why didn't it work?"

A silver trail of saliva was leaking from Bella's mouth. "I don't know."

"I was getting better," Sirius said, slowly. The Auror next to him startled, his wand twitching upward, as Sirius got to his feet and stepped determinedly forward, "She'd mentioned before that they had cast a memory charm but I'd had no idea how deeply it ran." Now it was flaking away like paint chips, revealing lost time, barely remembered moments that were fading into view as if through a fog.

"I didn't have her picking at me every day," Sirius continued softly. "Tearing at me. I was here and...and Remus grounded me." He smiled bitterly, nudging at Bella with a toe. "Quite the vicious one, you are, but you still weren't as bad as the dementors. Sorry, Bella."

"You cast the compulsion again and then left. Why return today and risk being captured?"

"He resisted it. He and the half-breed still lived," she spat it, her hatred pushing past the Veritaserum to make itself known. "He was a blood traitor to wizards and to his own family. If he had resisted the compulsion again I would have killed the both of them myself. Blood traitors deserve nothing but death. "

"Enough, you can shut your mouth again," Moody snapped. "All right, we've gotten our answers, now we all need to be getting out of here." No one moved, a dozen pairs of eyes shifting from Bellatrix to Sirius, flickering back and forth.

Suddenly, Tonks flung herself into Sirius's shocked arms, clinging to him. "I'm so sorry," she said tearfully.

He looked up at the faces suddenly surrounding him and tried to step back, trapped by Tonks's arms.

"As delayed as this is, Sirius, I believe we need to welcome you home," Kingsley said in his deep voice, clapping a hand on Sirius's shoulder. The other Aurors crowded around, each patting his shoulder or arm.

"Don't touch me," he whispered, unheeded, his eyes panicked eyes meeting Remus's. "Please...don't."

He understood in an instant, stepping forward and detangling her arms from around Sirius gently. It was easier to breath when he stepped back from them and around to the back of the sofa, putting it between them.

"Nothing has changed," Sirius told them in a low voice. He kept his eyes on the sofa, tracing the flowered pattern with a fingertip. "I'm no different than I was five minutes ago."

"Sirius, you aren't--" Tonks began.

"I'm no different. Don't expect me to do a dance and play Pinocchio for you just because what you believe has changed." He shook his head. "Get out, all of you. And take that," he gestured at Bellatrix, "With you"

"Sirius," From Tonks, eyes pleading.

"Get out!" he roared. "Get OUT!"

They went, all but Remus who was standing quietly to the side, waiting until the door clicked shut behind them.

"It's not their fault, Sirius," he said, softly.

He didn't look at Remus. "I know."

"You'll forgive them eventually."

"I already do." He smiled sourly. "Doesn't mean I don't want them to suffer a bit for it, though." Soft laughter, edged with bitterness. "My friends have done me as much damage as my enemies ever did, Remus."

"Yes, we have," Remus agreed. He didn't move to step forward, no agitation showing in him at all even though they surely needed to be leaving, just to be on the safe side. Moody had been muttering as much as he walked out the door with Bellatrix in tow.

The door.

"I opened the door." Sirius murmured. "I unlocked it. It's almost silly, a farce, really," he said conversationally. "I never did try the locks. Dumbledore told me I couldn't, and you...and I believed it. I could have left at any time, couldn't I."


"And they cleared my name. She wasn't lying about that, I'm a free man, aren't I."

"Yes. Sirius--"

Sirius cut him off. "I want to see Harry. Now."

There was a certain paleness to Remus's face, his voice.. "All right. Let's go."

He walked out the door and Sirius followed him, waiting in a hallway lined with other brown wooden doors while Remus locked his and led him out into the sunlight.

It took a matter of moments to get to the Weasley's to see Harry. Sirius was half-afraid he'd splinch himself trying to apparate, it had been so terrible long but it came to him with comforting ease, like slipping a hand into a glove.

He let Remus walk in front of him at his urging and let his mind remain blank, his only thought was to follow Remus's shoes as he led the way up the path to the Burrow.

Molly Weasley answered their knock, her shock and unsurprising wariness at seeing Sirius Black on her front stoop was no revelation to Sirius. Her honest pleasure at seeing him alive was and Remus was forced to defend him once again from eager, womanly arms.

"I'm terribly sorry, Molly, but he's quite eager to see Harry," Remus told her smoothly. Sirius didn't miss the wary glance Remus sent him when he said the name, and didn't blame him one bit for it. But there was no rush of crimson, no thirst for blood. Only the faint, throbbing pain deep in his head that he'd had since he managed to take Remus's hand at the flat.

"Of course, of course," Molly babbled cheerfully. "They're all out in the back, getting ready for dinner, come along, it's this way. We have a houseful here, of course, everyone's here for the wedding. We wanted to get started quickly, what with the funeral..." She trailed off for a moment but then went on determinedly, rambled on lightly about the wedding as she led them through the faintly cluttered kitchen, warmth and hominess obvious in every corner of the house, and through a back door.

Sirius froze on the steps, staring out into their backyard. Dimly, he felt Remus bump into him, startled by his abrupt stop. So many people, chattering happily away. Red hair dotted the landscape, Weasley after Weasley and Molly had stopped to chat with an older man with his own thinning red hair, so many people but only one that he...there.

Across the lawn, sitting in a ramshackle wooden chair that leaned drunkenly to one side, was Harry Potter. His friends were nearby, all in their own chairs and the three of them were chatting animatedly about something. If Harry looked tired and a little worn, Sirius barely noticed. He was standing here in the sunlight and Harry was here and safe enough for the moment, from Voldemort and from him.

It was enough, he decided. It was more than enough.

There was a loud clatter as someone dropped a stack of plates to the ground and Sirius startled, all but jumping backwards into Remus but he saw it when Harry glancing his way and stopped, falling silent as he stared. Wary green eyes on his and Sirius clenched his hands into fists but there was nothing but a rising surge of affection for him.

It took an eternity for Harry to climb to his feet, walking slowly towards him. Others were falling silent, perhaps sensing an incident of some importance and they watched as Harry came up to him and stood in front of him.

"You're so tall," Sirius blurted, words breaking free without his permission.

A wide grin broke across Harry's face and for the third time today Sirius found himself swept up in an embrace. Only this one he had craved for such a long, long time. He held on fiercely, burying his face into Harry's unexpectedly tall shoulder and soaked in every bit of it.

Harry was rambling before he'd even let go, reminiscent of Molly as he went on, "We've been cleaning Grimmauld place, finally got rid of most of those awful portraits, you wouldn't believe what we had to do to get them off the wall! And we've been settling your accounts at Gringott's, you'll have to go to the Ministry, of course, and verify that you aren't dead."

"I've missed you," Sirius broke in, simply, and Harry's grin lit up his world. He might have listened to Harry the entire day and well into the night if he hadn't glanced on the other side of the garden and saw pink hair.

Tonks must have known they were coming here and she was standing on the edge of the garden, talking with Remus. Whatever her affliction the last few times Sirius had seen her, she seemed to have recovered from it. Her hair was brilliantly pink again and Remus seemed to be soothing her, probably over all that had happened at the flat. It reminded Sirius of magic heat kettles and things that Tonks had known about Remus that he hadn't, the way she acted, the way she smelled...

"Excuse me for a moment, won't you?" he asked Harry, already walking away.

Neither of them noticed him walking towards them until he wrapped an arm around Remus's waist. "Ta for bringing me, love," Sirius said cheerily and kissed him full on the lips, his other hand firmly on the back of Remus's head to keep him from pulling away. His lips were parted in shock and Sirius took advantage of it, sweeping his tongue over the dark softness of his mouth and stepping quickly back.

How very interesting, Remus at a loss for words. Colour was high in his cheeks by the time Remus manage to sputter out furiously. "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?"

"Should be obvious. I'm staking my claim. Thought you'd like this better than pissing on your shoes." he whispered back.

"" His eyes flicked behind them and back at Tonks, who looked more than a little amused before he turned around and stormed away through the garden.

It gave Sirius a chance to glance back at the assorted people who were all finding everything but the two of them greatly interesting. All but Harry, his shocked expression fading into bemusement, and he made a vague shooing gesture in the direction Remus had vanished.

Dumbledore was right, he was clever boy.

Sirius gave him a grin and a salute, and then went after his damned lover.

"Hold up a moment, will you?" he called to Remus's retreating back. He saw his shoulders stiffen, but he did, slowing to a walk to let Sirius jog up beside him.

"I should think you'd still be angry with me," Remus told him, eyes to the front.

Sirius caught his arm and pulled him to a stop. "I was never angry with you, Remus. Oh, perhaps a bit of, but I doubt that you took the news of Dumbledore's death with grace and dignity either."

"You the flat, you said--"

"Said a lot of things, didn't I?" Sirius sighed. "Remus, if I chose to walk away from you now, tell you that it was all just a shag and that I was going mental and it meant nothing, would you blame me? Would you let me walk away?"


Well, of course he would. "Too noble, you are. Always the Gryffindor," he said, exasperated. "School's out, Remus. You always believed in me, at great personal expense to your wardrobe, I might add."

"I believed you were a shade just like all the others." Remus said, his voice low.

"But you loved me anyway. Didn't you?" Silence and Sirius frowned. "What's the matter with you? Going to tell me now that it was all a horrid mistake and that you don't actually love me or want me?" He kept it light even as pain bloomed in his chest, fear that perhaps he was the mistaken one.

"Of course I do!" Remus snapped. He whirled around his face Sirius, glaring furiously at his stunned face. "But you don't understand! You came back and...and it wasn't you, it couldn't be you but it was just this piece of you and it wasn't everything but it was what I could have," he was babbling almost incoherently, gesturing wildly. "I could have just a little bit of you, and that would be fine, I was completely prepared to just have that one little piece!" Remus yelled at him.

Sirius stared at him and then started laughing, threw his head back and howled with it. After a moment, Remus joined him, the both of them cackling madly at the cloudless sky like a pair of hyenas, sinking down to the grass. Tall, purplish flowers surrounded them, long grasses and the sun was warm and wonderful.

"You must be the only person in the world." Sirius choked out, still laughing weakly and wiping tears from his eyes, "Who's disappointed to get what he wants."

Still chuckling, Remus managed, "Not disappointed just...I think I'm in shock. I nearly needed a crutch to keep standing just knowing it."

"Always take the crumbs offered to you, right?" Sirius rolled over on him, settling his weight on his unresisting body. "Aren't you tired of settling for crumbs?"

Remus glanced away. "Sometimes."

"You can have me, you know?" Sirius told him hoarsely, capturing one of his hands and pushing it down to cup it over his crotch. "You can have every piece of me. Every piece that's left, anyway."

Lashes dipped slowly, resting on his cheeks. "Can I?"

"Every bit," Sirius repeated, and he laughed again. "Bloody hell, Remus, who else would want it? I'm probably mad as a hatter and a March hare mixed as a daiquiri! I say the two of us go with Harry, help him finish Voldemort off, and in all the leisure time we're bound to have, we shag like rabbits. Preferably where Harry and company can't see us, but I'm not fussy. "

"I am, thank you," Remus said dryly. "So get over your hopes of shagging in Molly Weasley's garden."

A thought occurred to him, sobering him, a memory from the morning that seemed so very distant now. "I was going to kill you, you know."

His lips twitched. "Yes, I know, she was quite vocal about that."

"No, I mean...I was going to kill you. To keep her from hurting you."

Remus blinked twice, considering. "I'd like to say that was sort of romantic, but I'm afraid I'm just not Shakespearean enough for that."

"You should be, you have enough of his fucking books."

"Be that as it may, I think I'll settle for a moment of pure terror."

"Gonna scream like a girl?"

"Think I can't make you do it first?"

"Probably," Sirius said agreeably. "But first, we really need to do some shopping, do you know how long it's been since I was in Diagon Alley? The both of us could use some new robes, probably a whole new wardrobe."

"I don't need you to--"

"Oh, shut it. I've been wearing your shorts for the last few months, you do so need new clothes. If you want to keep buggering me, you'll let me tart you up however I like."

Remus shook his head and laughed again. It sounded lovely. "You really are mad."

"I am," Sirius had never felt so light about it. He was really himself, he really was. "I know exactly what I am, Remus, and so do you."

"Yes, I do." With a surge, Remus pushed them over and rolled so that he was on top. "You're mine."