By The Atomic Café
Disclaimer: Harry Potter fan fiction is based on the series by JK Rowling. All characters and situations other than my own are the property of the original author.
Padfoot dripped onto the bare floor, his fur matted with the grime and dust of many days of travel. He looked worse for the wear, but Remus couldn't get over the smell. His head already pounded as the moon began pulling at him, and he didn't think he could handle it anymore. In school, his friends had always believed that his increased sensitivity to smells and noise were from some sort of sharpening of the senses that the full moon brought on as it got closer, but it was only the effect of a heavy migraine beginning as his skin would feel tighter and his bones creaked a little more.
Only when he shut the door and locked it again did the dog morph into a human shape, its features quickly changing and replaced by the familiar face. He looked grim, and Remus knew that seeing Sirius – no matter how much he had wanted to – was not a happy occasion. It was long past the time when a visit was just a visit for pleasure; there would be no reason for him to visit unless he was sent or had a mission. Just the sight of Sirius had his heart beating faster in fear, and he felt more nervous than before.
"How's Harry?" he asked before Sirius could even open his mouth. It had been a while since he had last checked the Daily Prophet. In the last thirteen years, he would only read it when pages were left around nearby tables or somewhere else where he could pick them up and discard them quickly. Not subscribing both saved him some extra sickles and shielded him from having to read joyous articles about that Halloween. He had only seen the first articles about the Triwizard Cup, and he stopped himself from reading more, unable to handle more descriptions of the peril Harry had gotten himself into. He relied solely on Dumbledore's accounts now, though he had heard little lately.
Sirius shook his head slowly, and Remus felt his heart freeze. He reached out his left arm blindly, gripping the edge of the kitchen table.
"Harry – Harry's okay," Sirius finally said, his voice hoarse. Remus let out a soft breath, closing his eyes. "It's Voldemort."
Now Remus sat down, using his hand to cover his eyes as he thought. He had been expecting this day for years. Of course Voldemort would become a threat again. It would mean contacting all of the members of the Order of the Phoenix, finding old contacts and reaching out to new ones to replace those who had died in the last war. It would mean more casualties, more suffering, more battles, more preparation. It would be a return to his old days of spying in places where regular wizards wouldn't be welcome. Remus' shoulders tensed.
He missed the old days when Sirius' appearance meant good news.
"Remus…" He heard the scraping of a chair as Sirius sat down beside him. The sound made him wince. The migraine wasn't helping at all.
"You want some tea?" Remus quickly stood up, ignoring the dark spots that appeared in front of his eyes as he quickly tried to maintain his balance. Without looking at Sirius, he moved towards the stove, his hands shaking as he grabbed the tea kettle.
Sirius' hand covered his, and he nearly dropped the kettle out of surprise. He was cornered by the stove and Sirius' body, tight behind him as his arms pulled Remus into a tight embrace. Remus didn't let go of the kettle, allowing Sirius to hold him there as he stared straight ahead at the stove.
"I'm sorry," Sirius whispered in his ear. The hot, moist air felt good on his skin. It was cold out, and the stove wasn't giving off much heat.
"Do you want to take a bath?" Remus asked, quickly turning so he broke out of Sirius' embrace. "I can get it drawn up in a moment, but I need to be gone as soon as I've done that."
Sirius looked confused. Remus avoided his eyes and turned to heat the water with his wand. He didn't care much to wait for it to boil naturally. "I made sure to be here before the moon."
He felt his breath catch in his throat. Sirius had remembered when the full moon was for him. "I'm glad you're here, but you should get cleaned up and get some rest. I imagine you'll be staying for a while, at least until we can contact –"
"I'm staying with you."
"You can take my bed tonight. I won't be needing –"
"I'm staying with you." Sirius brushed Remus' hair away from his eyes, and Remus glanced up to meet his eyes. They were the same grey eyes he had last seen a year ago, and they made him feel safer. "Padfoot misses Moony."
"Well, Moony needs to go transform soon," Remus answered dryly. "You're welcome to whatever is in the cabinets. If you need another set of robes –"
"What was the potion?" At Remus' confused look, Sirius added, "At Hogwarts. Last time we saw each other. What was the potion that Hermione said you didn't take?"
"Wolfsbane." Remus didn't bother to explain. He could feel the tightness of his skin increase, and he knew that he had less than an hour to get ready. If he wanted time to calm down, he'd need to leave soon. "Get some rest. I need to go."
"What did it do?"
Remus could feel the start of anger, but he fought it back. It was just the migraine, he reminded himself, taking a long breath to steady himself. He was beginning to feel sick. "It's relatively new. It helped me to keep my mind during transformations so that I could just sleep through them instead of…" He drifted off, inserting a tea bag into each mug and allowing them to sit for a few minutes.
"Are you still taking it?"
"No." Remus turned to give him a small, tight smile. "It's one of the perks I lost along with my job." A wave of nausea overcame him and passed quickly, and he cursed himself for waiting so long to get outside. He hoped he'd still be able to ward the shed effectively. "You'll have to excuse me, Sirius, but I need to leave. Tea should be ready in a minute if you still want it."
As he turned to leave, he noticed Sirius following him closely towards the door. With the air of one reprimanding a disobedient dog, he gave a sharp, "No."
"We've always transformed together." Sirius looked determined, and Remus knew he would have to fight harder. "It's no different now than when we were in school –"
"We were children back then!"
"Children know how to stick together."
"Children are reckless." Remus picked up the mug, ignoring the fact that it hadn't completely steeped. The sip tasted of boiling water and weak tea. He swallowed, trying to use it as a distraction to calm himself down. He hated the way he felt just before a transformation, and it didn't help that now he had to argue with Sirius. It wasn't that he did not want Sirius around; it was the fact that his attempts to arrive before the full moon gave him more to feel stressed about. His hands were still shaking, and he struggled to steady them so that the water would not splash.
"Reckless children become Animagi to help their friends." Sirius took the mug out of Remus' hands, and though he was annoyed at Sirius taking away the one thing he had to steady himself, he was grateful not to have to hold anything. The transformation would be coming soon, and he felt his throat tighten as he realized he needed to be outside now to begin preparing.
"I'm staying with you for it," Sirius whispered as he took Remus' wrist with his free hand.
"Let me be." The grip only tightened as Remus tried to pull away, and he gave Sirius a desperate look, silently pleading with his eyes.
"I know how this works." Sirius set down the mug and stroked back a lock of Remus' hair. "Don't think that I can't remember your transformation after your mother died or after your first mission or even before the OWL exams."
"What does that have to do with –"
"I didn't mean to mention…" Sirius hesitated. "I meant to tell you tomorrow. But when you asked about Harry, I didn't want you to worry. Telling you that Voldemort has risen again is probably worse, and I'm sorry for stressing you right before –"
"I would have been more stressed if I thought Harry had been hurt." Remus knew he meant it truthfully, and he gently touched Sirius' hand, making him release his grip. "I know my limits. I'll be safe, but I need to go now. You need to get cleaned up, get something to eat, and sleep. I can't imagine walking here from Hogwarts."
"I had Buckbeak." Sirius gave him a small smile. "Speaking of which, I hope you like having a hypogriff as a pet."
Remus laughed until he felt his breath catch. Not much longer at all. "Then make sure Buckbeak is alright while I go."
"He can wait, Remus." Sirius was staring him down, his eyes tender. Remus hated how eager he looked to help, and he knew there was no way he could make it out there in time and be prepared if Sirius kept fighting with him.
As Remus opened his mouth to argue, he felt a small spasm pass over him, signaling that he had little time. Sirius put out an arm, gripping his shoulder tightly, and Remus knew that he must have betrayed how he felt for a moment.
"I need to get out to the shed. I don't care if you follow now. I just need you to ward it shut. Silencing charms and locks. I don't want there to be any way for me to get you."
"I'll be there to distract you anyway."
Remus winced. He didn't want Sirius with him for this transformation, but he gave up trying to stop him. "Alright. But there's no way that door is opening."
Sirius nodded and had already begun walking Remus outside, his hand still on his shoulder. It reminded him of their years in school, and he felt a pang of guilt at remembering them. He tried to never think back to those days, but it was eerie how comfortable and calm Sirius made him feel. Those transformations had been the easiest of his life, at least until he had Wolfsbane. Slowly and cautiously, he put his arm around Sirius' waist as they walked together towards the shed.
Once they got to the door, he stopped and began pulling off his robe. Sirius did not look at him or stop to ask any questions; instead, he simply took Remus' wand from him and began protecting the shed, beginning with a silencing charm and working his way through some basic charms. Remus listened to the quiet incantations, trying to make sure he did not miss any. By the time he peeled off his trousers, Sirius had finished and opened the door for him.
"Thank you," Remus whispered, taking his wand back as they entered. Though there was still some light outside, the shed was nearly pitch black. Remus struggled to see Sirius, just barely making out the faint outline that slipping in after him. Sirius sidled up to him, putting an arm around Remus to pull him into an embrace. There was not enough room for two full-grown men to spread out, and their closeness made Remus wonder how the wolf and dog would fit in there.
"I missed you." Sirius' voice was quiet and hoarse, but it sounded gentle in Remus' ear.
"I've missed you," he answered, moving his arm just enough to place the last charm on the door to make sure that it did not open again until he would place another spell on it in the morning. Once he finished, he pulled himself away from Sirius and blindly reached for his hand, giving him his wand. Sirius' fingers wrapped around the wand and his hand, holding him for a moment.
"I'm glad you're here," Remus whispered. For some reason, standing so close to Sirius in the dark room made him keep his voice low. He rested his cheek on Sirius' shoulder, his nose against his neck. The position made him feel comfortable, safer than he had felt in a long time. He had known since last year that his friend was still his friend, that he had not betrayed Lily and James, but it hadn't seemed as true as it did now. Resting against his warm body reminded him of the transformations that the two of them shared shortly after they graduated from Hogwarts, back when Lily and James were on their honeymoon or taking care of baby Harry while Peter visited family for holidays. When they were alone, the transformations felt safer in a way; Sirius would temporarily lose his joking nature and simply exist to help Remus feel comfortable. Those were the rare months when he woke up the next morning feeling safe rather than bruised and fueled by adrenaline from a night-long game.
The transformation began quickly, and Remus felt his knees buckle. Sirius held him closer, grabbing his waist to stop him from falling. Already, Remus was thankful for something to hold onto as his skin began itching and his muscles immediately began tight. Sirius rubbed his back with his thumbs, making small circles over the tight muscle beneath.
"Transform," Remus whispered, feeling his voice begin to catch in his throat. "Now." He didn't want Sirius to remain human as it began; ever since he quit working at Hogwarts and lost access to the Wolfsbane potion, his transformations had gotten more and more violent. He didn't know whether it was due to the transformation itself or how the wolf acted, but it was taking longer to heal in the morning, and the cuts and bruises were worse than they had been in nearly a decade.
Sirius remained human, and Remus tried to warn him again. His breath caught again, and he felt the first bones break. His arms began to snap, and he let out a whimper of pain as his hands were crushed as though by an invisible hammer. When his femurs broke, he collapsed into Sirius and let out a scream of pain. It made his lungs burn as they surrendered under the cracking of his ribs. Once his feet had begun remolding themselves, the bones shattering and shifting through a network of veins before they reformed, he fell to the ground. Sirius kneeled beside him, holding his shoulder as his spine began to lengthen, vertebrate cracking to extend themselves into a tail.
"I'm here," Sirius whispered, and Remus tried to nod. "Padfoot is here."
When Remus reached up to grab for Sirius' arm, he felt soft fur against his broken hands. The sensation lasted only a few seconds as the skin on the palms dissolved into the pads of his paws. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to concentrate as his brain became foggy through the pain of his skull shattering.
He didn't wake until something touched a raw spot on his hip, making him jump into consciousness as the pain increased. Remus tried to paw at the source of the paw, but his arms were too weak to lift.
"Hey, hey," came a fuzzy voice from somewhere above him. Remus opened his eyes, focusing on an upside down Sirius just in his line of vision. Why was Sirius with him? Wasn't he in Azkaban? He tensed up, his muscles protesting as his fear increased. It took him a moment to remember everything, and he slowly calmed down.
"I'm here," Sirius said, and it began to comfort Remus. He let the lids of his eyes droop as he watched Sirius move. A hand moved to touch Remus' hip, and he winced again. So that's what the pain was from.
"Does it hurt?" Sirius asked, and Remus nodded. He had learned that lying to Sirius after a transformation was pointless; it had taken years, but he had reached a point where he allowed the others to see his very weakest moments just before and after a transformation without lying about them. Sirius had seen him at his worst; he rarely told James about how he felt since he never wanted Lily to find out and worry about him, and he didn't tell Peter because he had never quite missed the looks of horror Peter had when seeing the extent of his injuries or the way he coddled Remus the day after a transformation. Sirius had been a gentle balance between them; he was caring without being overbearing, and his skills with keeping secrets was to be commended.
"Let's get you inside." Sirius smoothed back Remus' hair, a gesture that began to calm him. This time, by the way Sirius' fingers pulled, he knew his hair was matted with blood and sweat. "You warded the door funny, and I couldn't get it off to get you back inside when you were sleeping."
"Password." Remus cleared his throat, trying to make his voice come out stronger. He gestured for his wand, and Sirius handed it to him. Pointing it at the door, he whispered hoarsely, "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs."
As the locking spell on the door broke, Sirius shifted to push it open slightly. The sunlight was blinding in Remus' face, and it made him wonder how long he had been unconscious.
"May be time to change your password," Sirius said, and when Remus opened his eyes to look at him, he saw the twisted smile. "There are only three Marauders."
"There were four." Remus pressed his cheek against Sirius' chest, slowly curling his legs up to his chest despite the protests from his muscles and bones. "I didn't cut you out of it for twelve years because all three of you were there for me."
Sirius didn't comment. He moved to lift Remus into a standing position, but Remus let out a small gasp of pain at the sudden movement. "Too fast," he blurted out, his words tripping over themselves as he tried to blink the blackness away from his eyes. A small part of him wondered if Sirius' roughness was in return for his keeping Peter in his password, but he knew that Sirius wouldn't do that to him. Not unless Azkaban had truly changed him that much.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said shortly. He tried again, gently rolling Remus into a sitting position before helping him to stand. It took a few tender attempts before Remus allowed him to lean on his own legs, taking slow steps with Sirius. Once outside, he leaned against the doorframe as Sirius bent down to pick up his clothes from just outside the door. He silently unfolded the robe and draped it around Remus' shoulders, pulling it tight around his shoulders before they began walking across the yard. It wasn't far to the door of his house, but the walk felt incredibly painful. When he didn't have someone there with him for his transformation - and it had been thirteen years since he had - he would usually leave this walk until hours later. Judging by the sun, he assumed it was just before noon.
"Do you want to sleep?"
Remus shook his head. "I will soon. If I'm awake, I might as well get cleaned off first."
They continued to walk towards the door. Remus struggled to move his legs as his muscles fought with him. It took all of his energy to remember which order to move his feet in, and each step made his knees and hips scream in agony. Sirius kept an arm around his waist, watching him carefully as they moved. Remus tried to estimate how many more steps until they were inside, and when he realized that it was more than ten, he stopped.
"Are you alright?" Sirius asked quickly, turning to hold him with both arms.
Seeing remnants of the old Sirius made Remus smile, and he nodded. "Just - just weak. Is it alright if I sit here for a minute?"
Sirius glanced around as if looking for something before he bent and scooped Remus into his arms. The sudden movement surprised him, and the change in elevation made his head spin. "Relax. You're hurting yourself," Sirius whispered to him, and Remus tried to focus on making his muscles relax. He gripped Sirius' shoulders tightly as he carried him back to the house. They made their way through the kitchen and into the bathroom, where Sirius sat Remus on the toilet lid, helping him to shrug out of his robe again.
"I can do it," Remus said, leaning over to turn the water on. It made him dizzy, but he continued to turn the handle, putting his hand under the stream of water to test the temperature. He appreciated what Sirius was doing for him, but years of independence made him wary to allowing his weakness to show. He needed to keep himself in the habit of waking up quickly after a transformation to make sure he was fine, and he didn't want to allow himself to become dependent on letting someone else care for him.
How long would he be given these luxuries anyway?
Sirius sat back and watched him carefully. Remus felt naked, physically and emotionally. It had been years since someone saw him so soon after a full moon, and it made him all too aware of his split lip and the blood that covered most of his skin. He could feel a painful welt on his hip and gashes that were screaming across his stomach and legs. The bath would get rid of the worst of the blood, and then he'd take a little while to examine the injuries before getting some rest.
As Remus suddenly slipped forward, landing hard on his knees with his arm protecting himself from the edge of the tub, he became aware of the dizziness that hadn't gone away. Sirius grabbed him quickly, manipulating his legs to get him into his lap.
"I'm fine." Remus tried to pull away, shutting his eyes against the black spots forming in his vision.
Sirius didn't respond, instead forcing Remus' head against his chest and running a hand through his matted, bloody hair. Taking a deep breath, he tried to find something to say that would make Sirius let him go.
"It's too early. I shouldn't have taken you out of there so soon."
"I'm usually up this early," Remus lied, closing his eyes. "Just a bad transformation."
As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted it. Sirius let out a long sigh, rubbing Remus' back with one hand and cradling his head with the other. "I should have waited," he whispered.
"I'm glad you told me now." Remus tilted his head against Sirius' grasp to look him in the eyes. "I really am. I'm glad to know that Harry is safe for now, and this gives me some time while I recover to figure out what to do."
"You're just sleeping." Sirius gave him a stern look. "I want you resting, and I'll start figuring out what we do."
"This isn't your choice. There are some things that - that you've never seen. That you never will see. Some missions are left to me alone for a reason."
"I know what werewolves are like."
"No, you don't." Despite the dizziness and throbbing in his limbs, Remus could feel the adrenaline of anger rush through his veins. "They're monsters. They're going to be some of the earliest recruits, just like last time, and I'm the only one who knows how to negotiate with them."
Sirius didn't answer, and Remus simply rested his head against his chest again. He felt incredibly light-headed, and he assumed it was the result of speaking so much. Closing his mouth, he wrapped an arm around Sirius' waist, letting himself sink deeper into the warm body.
"I'm not surprised."
"No, Remus. You're really bleeding."
Remus lifted his head just enough to look around. The floor beneath them was turning scarlet, and it took him another moment to see the deep gash across his stomach that caused the amount of blood. His mind briefly jumped to 'Fuck,' then to 'Shit.'
Sirius had already taken Remus' wand again, quietly whispering an incantation to close the wound. Magic had never worked on the wounds caused while he was transformed, and Remus simply pressed a hand over his stomach, wincing as his raw flesh stung at the touch.
"Get me a towel." As Sirius handed him the one that hung closest to them, Remus pressed it hard against himself to stop the blood. "It'll be fine."
"Do you have any blood replenishing potion around?"
He shook his head. "It'll be alright," he repeated, leaning into Sirius' chest again. "I clot well."
"Not with something that big -"
"You haven't seen my transformations in years." Remus gave him a tight smile. "I know my body well. It'll clot soon enough."
Sirius grudgingly fell silent, refusing to speak until Remus finally pulled away the blanket to show that the bleeding had stopped, leaving behind only a large rip through his skin and dried blood. He wrestled himself out of Sirius' arms to get into the tub, welcoming the warm water on his aching muscles as he closed his eyes. With a silently-cast spell, Sirius cleaned the blood and sat himself down on the toilet lid, staring intently at Remus.
"I just feel guilty." Sirius shook his head. "I shouldn't have said it. I knew it would make your transformation worse."
"How bad do you really think this transformation was?" Remus smiled, reaching out a hand to touch Sirius'. "Just a little more bloody than usual, but I feel fine. Do you remember me ever being up and running by noon the day after? And that was when I was a kid and healed faster."
"It's the first time in a long time that I've woken up to have someone help me." Remus held Sirius' hand tighter, still giving him a small smile. "And it's much appreciated. I'm glad you're here, bad news or not."
Sirius remained silent for a moment, a strange look on his face. Remus had a hard time reading it, and he contented himself with allowing Sirius to have his own private thoughts. Finally, Sirius said, "I still need a bath."
Remus nodded and began shifting to get out, but Sirius pushed him back into the water. He quickly stripped himself down, tossing his torn and muddy robes to the corner of the bathroom before slipping into the tub behind Remus, careful to move him as little as possible. Remus simply moved himself forward, leaning forward to allow Sirius some extra room. Once they were situated, Remus leaned backwards, his back resting on Sirius' chest.
"I'm afraid you're going to need a bath in water that isn't bloody," Remus said with a smile.
"You've always been good at cleaning me up, though."
"Not quite." Remus grinned and rested his head on Sirius' shoulder, closing his eyes. "It was just a matter of you getting me into messes that made me look clean in comparison."
"Such a good prefect."
"I can't argue."
Sirius began massaging Remus' back underwater, working out the tight knots of muscles as Remus gave soft sighs of approval. Though it had been so long, Sirius remembered how much Remus seemed to need physical touch shortly after his transformation. He couldn't understand it from a man who always shied away from any sort of touch as much as possible, but he enjoyed providing it when he did want it. Whether it was massaging out the cramps or holding a washcloth on his forehead during the fevers that usually broke out just before and after the transformation, he wanted to provide it. It was something he and Remus shared during school; no matter how close James and Peter were to Remus, they knew that this was Sirius' job, not to be attempted even if he missed a full moon - something he made sure to never do.
"Thank you," Sirius whispered into Remus' ear, unsure if he was still awake.
"For what?" Remus asked without opening his eyes.
"Giving my hipogryff a place to stay." Sirius smiled. "For still being around. Forgiving me. Letting me get close again."
"I wouldn't have anyone else," Remus murmured, shifting so that he could curl up in Sirius' lap as best he could with the limited space of the tub.
"You'll always have people who love you," Sirius answered, but he could tell that Remus had fallen asleep. He smiled, bringing up a wet hand to work through the tangles in his hair. "I'm just the one who loves you the best."