Author's Notes: Written for Brighty18 for the bonus round of 2011's rs_small_gifts fest. Many thanks to the awesome whymzycal for the beta. Title is from New Order's "True Faith."
"Easy does it, Moony." Sirius spoke softly as he helped Remus through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room.
Remus stifled a yawn, swaying and nearly losing his balance, but Sirius grabbed him by his shoulders and steadied him. He looked at Remus—faint streaks of dirt on his face, a scratch below his ear, red-rimmed eyes and a deeply furrowed brow—and shook his head; he was clearly dead on his feet.
A feeling of great tenderness swept over Sirius, and its acuteness made him pause. They'd kissed for the first time—along with other pleasurable pursuits—only a week before, and it surprised him. He'd never been much for soppy, over-indulgent emotional entanglements. Even the few birds—and one bloke in secret—he'd pulled had been more for entertainment and physical gratification than due to any pressing need for emotional fulfilment. That's what his mates were for.
Perhaps that was the glitch in his otherwise formidable plan.
He'd always been ridiculously protective towards Remus, ever since they discovered his secret back in first year. Once they'd actually started the Animagus transformations after more than three years of research, revising, and fervent preparation, that sentiment had only intensified. He'd been delighted with the result—being Padfoot always brought him great joy—but not very surprised when he realized the extent of what he considered his 'dogged nature.' It wasn't just determination, or 'hard-headed stubbornness' as James persisted in calling it despite the fact they both meant the same damn thing. James merely claimed that in Sirius' case, the repetition was the entire point. Perhaps it was true, he reflected. He had a rather fierce loyalty towards all of his friends, after all.
James didn't need protecting, and Peter … ah, well, Peter was Peter. He knew when to cut his losses and run, and being able to turn a corner, duck into an alcove and seemingly disappear before the eyes of erstwhile pursuers was a skill he took full advantage of. Besides, if Peter ever required any kind of backup, it was James that he turned to first, which suited Sirius just fine. It was more than appropriate. As de facto leaders of their merry bunch, James looked after Peter, and Sirius looked after …
It wasn't that he thought Remus unable to protect himself, and certainly he could wield his wand like a pro, but there was a vulnerability to him that made Sirius want to safeguard him from any threat, real or imagined. Of course, that had led to a few incidents through poor judgment, but he refused to feel guilty for such indiscretions. Estrangement from his family had only drawn him closer to his friends, intensifying his personal mantra of "You fuck with me and mine, and I'll show you just how vindictive a bastard I can be." It was the only way he knew how to survive in a world where even the protective walls of Hogwarts couldn't keep out the coming storm.
He thanked the Fat Lady—who was mercifully sober today—as she closed behind them and slid his left arm down around Remus' back, bent down, sliding his right hand beneath Remus' knees, and lifted him up.
"Sirius," Remus protested weakly, but Sirius merely shushed him. Remus was no burden at all despite his own exhaustion. He was skin and bone, and if he weighed more than eleven stone at the moment, Sirius would eat his hat. If he'd had one to hand.
Remus closed his eyes and sighed, draping his gangly arms around Sirius' neck.
It was Boxing Day, and the Gryffindor common room was empty. There were a few students who'd stayed, but the weather, though bitterly cold, was bright and sunny. Madam Hooch had organized her annual inter-house snowball fight on broomsticks for the students who'd stayed. James and Peter were there after a mere three hours of sleep—Head Boy notwithstanding, James would always be a twelve-year-old boy when it came to flying, and besides, it would look a bit odd if he skived off from that one. Sirius had stayed with Remus, kipping on a cot in the hospital wing while Madame Pomfrey had tended his wounds.
The common room was warm, the fire blazing behind the low screen of the giant-sized fireplace, and Sirius was tempted to sit before it and soak up its warmth before braving the chilly stairwell. He glanced down at Remus and smiled. Remus' brows were still creased, but less severely than only a few seconds earlier. Sirius pressed a soft kiss between them and felt Remus' arms tighten ever so slightly around his neck in response.
"Almost home," Sirius said, looking at Remus as he headed for the stairwell, "and then you can sleep."
"Mmmm," Remus replied.
Sirius stopped short and Remus jerked in his arms. Lily Evans stood in the doorway between the common room and stairs, broom in hand.
"Evans," he said, his voice wary.
"Oh, Lily. When did you get back? I—" Remus said hoarsely, struggling to get down from Sirius' arms, but Sirius squeezed him tightly and pressed him up against his chest. He wasn't having any of it. Not now.
"Relax, Moony," he said softly but with an edge to his voice. He stared at Lily with narrowed eyes. "Something you wanted, Evans?"
Evans looked at Remus, then back up to Sirius, and then away, and bit her lip. "I, no, I mean—I just got back this morning. My sister ... I couldn't stay at home any longer ..." She turned back to them, her face pale, and bit her lip again. "It's true, isn't it," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "Severus was right, wasn't he? I never thought, I mean, I didn't expect ..."
He felt Remus tense in his arms, and he stroked Remus' shoulder with his thumb as he glared daggers at Evans, but didn't deny it. Only six months before they left school, and this had to happen. He didn't even try to hide the anger in his voice. "If you so much as breathe a word—"
Evans' eyes went wide. "Just what do you take me for, Sirius Black?" she said, the strength coming back in her voice.
"Well, I don't know, do I?"
"Padfoot, please," Remus said, his voice barely a croak.
"Oh, Remus, I'm sorry," Lily said, "I really am. I—It just took me ... You look dreadful," she said, reaching out a hand towards him.
Sirius growled low in his throat and Lily stopped, dropping her hand.
"Of course," she said. "I'll just ... I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she said, then turned on her heel and ran back up the stairs to the girls' dormitory.
"Shit," Sirius said under his breath, following after her a moment later but taking the stairs on the left to the boys' dormitories. He'd wondered if he'd have the strength to climb all the way to the top, but adrenaline was surging through him. If he hadn't feared tripping over his feet in his haste, he would have run.
"It'll be okay," Remus said softly. "She won't. At least, I don't think she'll tell anyone."
"I'll make sure she doesn't," Sirius said, his voice laced with both anger and fear.
"Sirius," Remus said, and he glanced down sharply, because Remus hardly ever called him by his proper name anymore; only when he was cross with him or when he was saying something particularly serious. "Go talk to her."
Sirius pushed open the door to their dormitory and kicked the door shut behind him, walking over to Remus' bed and gently laying him down. He tugged at the bedclothes, pulling them from underneath Remus' body, then turned to Remus' wardrobe, taking out a pair of soft pyjamas. Without a word, he undressed Remus and helped him into his pyjamas, careful of the salves and bandages Madam Pomfrey had applied, and tucked him in, fussing with the blankets and making sure his pillow was properly fluffed. The room was warm enough as James would have seen to the fire before he and Peter left.
He walked around his bed to his own wardrobe, feeling Remus' eyes on him. Talk to her? What would he say? Right now the only thing he wanted to say to Lily Evans was, "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you myself," but he didn't think Remus would appreciate that much. He pulled out a pair of flannel drawstring bottoms and a top, and yanked his robes over his head, throwing them on the floor.
"Pads," Remus said, and he paused in tying the strings at his waist to look up, hearing the pain in Remus' voice. He hated that sound, and it annoyed him that he felt so ... so helpless.
"Please talk to her. I know you two haven't always got on, but she's my friend, and I really don't have very many of those where I have the luxury of taking that for granted." He tried for a lopsided smile, but it did little to ease the exhaustion on his face.
"I belong here. With you."
This time the smile reached Remus' eyes and transformed his face before a yawn made him close his eyes. Damn him.
"What do you want me to say to her?" he asked, annoyance creeping into his voice.
"You'll think of something that doesn't involve threats."
"You seem to have more faith in me than is prudent," he said lightly, but he found himself reaching for his dressing gown. He walked over to Remus and sat next to him, taking his hand.
Remus smiled and closed his eyes. "I know it's a lot to ask. I know you're knackered, but ..."
Sirius leant down and kissed him gently on the lips. "It's all right. You hardly ever ask for anything, much less favours."
"I never have to," Remus said, his voice slurring a bit, and Sirius could see he was drifting off.
"I'll be here when you wake up. I promise."
"I know," Remus whispered, and his head lolled to the side, his breathing even and deep.
Sirius walked down to the common room and paused in the doorway. There was a tea tray on one of the low tables, and Lily was sat curled up on the window seat, wrapped in a blanket, a steaming cup of tea untouched by her foot as she stared out the window.
He cleared his throat, poured himself a cuppa and walked over to where she sat. The tea was strong and hot, and surprisingly calming. "Mind if I have a seat?"
Lily turned away from the window, and he could see that she'd been crying. Her eyes were red, and her nose was pink and a bit puffy. She shook her head and reached for her tea, but he picked it up and handed it to her. She drew her legs up and smiled wanly at him, accepting his peace offering.
"Cold as a witch's tit out there," he said, gesturing out the window as he sat across from her.
"You've had a lot of experience with that part of a witch's anatomy, have you?"
He chuckled. "I've got to hand it to you, Evans. You always have a clever comeback for everything. No wonder James is so enamoured."
"Nice to know he desires me for my brain and not my tits."
"Well, I wouldn't go that far," he said, and they both laughed. She sipped her tea and he did likewise, and they sat there for a few moments in the first comfortable silence he thought they'd ever had.
"I wouldn't tell," she said suddenly, and he looked at her. She wore a worried expression but her eyes were defiant. "I wanted you to know that straight off."
He nodded. "It doesn't bother you?" he asked.
"Well, of course it bothers me," she said, her voice a bit testy, and he tensed, his fingers so tight on the handle of the cup that he was surprised it didn't break off. "Doesn't it bother you that he has to go through ... through that every month?"
His fingers relaxed, and he looked at her with a new respect. She wasn't bothered because Remus was a werewolf, she was bothered because he suffered so for it, and his estimation of her rose several notches. "Yes," he said simply, because it was the truth. He looked out the window again. "He's a true Gryffindor, more than you or me or anyone else here. I don't think I've ever known anyone with more courage in my life." He took a sip of his tea and turned to face her again.
Evans nodded and sipped her own tea. "How long—?" She broke off, but he tilted his head and she continued, "I don't mean to pry," she said.
"I know. It was his idea that I come down here in the first place, so I reckon that means he doesn't mind you asking."
She shook her head and pressed her lips together. "Of course."
"How long?" Sirius said. "How long have we known? Since about February of first year. How long since he was bitten? He was five years old."
Evans gasped and pressed her hand to her lips. "Five? That's—that's horrible!"
"It's horrible at any age," Sirius said, Summoning the teapot with a casual flick of his wand. He poured another cup for himself and gestured at Evans with the teapot, who held out her cup.
"Of course, but I mean. My God. Five? That poor—"
"He doesn't need your pity," Sirius said sharply, sending the teapot back to the tray. It crashed down, rattling the teacups and saucers beside it.
"I wasn't— All right, maybe I was, a bit. I didn't mean it that way. It's just, he was so young. I can't even imagine." She shivered and wrapped her hands around her cup.
"No, I don't think you can," he said.
She looked up at him, her eyes flashing, but relaxed when she realised he hadn't said it as an insult.
"None of us can," he said softly. "We see what it does to him every month, and we do what we can, help him as best we can, but it's not the same."
"You care for him very much, don't you?"
"We all do."
"Yes, I can see that. Even more clearly now, but I mean you in particular." The colour rose in her cheeks and she turned her face away from his narrowed eyes. "I, well, I saw you. Just before you saw me. You kissed him. I—" She swallowed and turned back, looking directly into his eyes. "I'd never seen you look like that before, and I just thought ..." She shrugged her shoulders. "You looked happy. So did he. I was glad to see it, whatever you may think of me."
"To be honest, Evans, I'm not sure what I think of you right now."
She raised her eyebrows. "That makes two of us."
He grinned. "Touché."
"Is he okay now? Remus?"
"He's sleeping. He'll be fine when he wakes up. It was a long night, but he didn't hurt himself too badly."
She nodded. "Good. I'm glad to hear that." She took another sip of her tea and leant her head against the window, looking outside. She furrowed her eyebrows. "It's the Shrieking Shack, isn't it? The tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow, I mean. That's where it, where he goes?"
Sirius nodded. "Stay away from it."
"Of course I will. I'm not stupid, you know." She bit her lip. "So Severus was right. And that time Potter went after him ..." Her eyes widened. "He could have been killed. Both of them could have! Merlin, what was Severus thinking?"
Sirius snorted. "Personally, I try not to think about what that git thinks about anything. Nosy bastard. Would have served him right, except ..."
"Except Remus would have been charged and sentenced to death!"
"Don't you think I know that?" Sirius spat. Now? He shuddered to think of how fucking stupid he'd been. He'd been so angry—No. Not just angry; livid. Snape always had that effect on him. And so pleased with himself afterward. It wasn't that he felt guilty about it, then or now, because he didn't. Not really. Snape certainly did deserve that and worse, but Remus didn't. If things had gone differently, however ... He shook his head in disgust. They hadn't, and everything was fine now. Whatever arrangement Dumbledore had made with Snape, it was done, and there was nothing more to be said about it.
"He had no business sticking his abnormally large nose into our affairs. End of story."
She nodded. "I didn't believe him. He told me his suspicions before that. After as well, but I didn't believe him."
"Why would you? Nobody in their right mind would allow a werewolf to attend school as though they were a regular student. Not in our world, the ignorant bastards."
"Dumbledore did," Lily said.
"And I repeat: nobody in their right mind."
Evans giggled, and Sirius smiled. She raised her teacup. "To Dumbledore."
Sirius raised his. "And his brilliant, daft mind, the bugger."
They sat in a companionable silence, drinking their tea, and for the first time, Sirius saw exactly why James was so taken with Lily Evans. It wasn't just that she was intelligent, or attractive, or even kind. Merlin knew that being a Muggle-born, she'd had to face plenty of prejudice herself, but he hadn't expected her easy acceptance or her compassionate understanding, not just for Remus' condition, but for his relationship with Remus as well.
She hadn't mocked or seemed shocked, or even disgusted. She'd been pleased for the both of them and hadn't said anything more on the subject. Classy, Evans. Maybe I've been wrong about you after all.
"That's why you call him Moony."
"Nothing gets past you, Evans." He stifled a yawn and hung his head, stretching his neck.
She snorted. "You look completely knackered."
He looked up at her, his empty cup dangling between his drawn-up knees. "I am."
She turned and jumped down from the window seat, folding the blanket over her arm. "Then go get some sleep, you daft idiot."
"I wanted to earlier, but I had a message to deliver first." He swung his legs over the sill and slid down, yawning and stretching.
She smiled warmly at him. "You've done your duty."
He nodded and tilted his head, then turned to go.
"Sirius," she said, and he stopped, surprised. She'd never called him by his given name alone, not once since the day he'd first met her on the Hogwarts Express. She came up beside him, stood on her toes and kissed his cheek.
He gaped at her. "What was that for?"
She took the empty teacup that had been dangling precariously from his finger, and the warm smile was back. "For being a good friend. Don't tell Potter."
"Oh, come on, Evans. You'd deprive me of the opportunity to torment him like that?"
She laughed. "Well, when you put it that way ..." She kissed him gently but swiftly on the lips. "That one's for Remus. You'll deliver it for me, won't you?"
He shook his head, smiling. "You're an evil woman, Evans. I like that."
He left her then, trudging his way up the stairs, pausing to stretch his back, which cracked with a loud pop. Merlin's balls, he really was knackered. He hadn't slept in more than twenty-four hours. Since the full moon hadn't set until well after the sun was up, they'd had to herd Moony back to the shack early, just in case Hagrid or Kettleburn decided they could do with an early morning Boxing Day stroll through the forest, thinking Remus sequestered safely in the shack. There were always rumours about werewolves living in the forest, and he thought Dumbledore rather encouraged the idea on principle, but Hagrid, at any rate, knew better.
Moony hadn't been exactly willing to return to his dilapidated wooden cage—he never was—but they'd managed to herd him back without incident. It was always easier to let Remus change outside and then carry him back to the shack beneath transfigured blankets, but when the sun overlapped with the moon, they'd had to work out a way to get him back inside before any denizens of Hogsmeade might be out and about. They couldn't leave the door to the shack unlocked, much less open. There were always idiots who got pissed and tried to break in for a lark, though most witches and wizards were smart enough to stay indoors on the night of the full moon.
Padfoot and Prongs had kept the feral Moony occupied well out of range while Wormtail scampered off ahead to unlock the door. Peter was very good at self-preservation, so he had the locking and unlocking spells they'd designed perfected. He could change, unlock and open the hidden door, and change back in less than fifteen seconds. Good ol' Wormy. He'd come a long way under their tutelage.
He stopped in the loo; all that tea had gone right though him, and he stared at his reflection in the mirror as he splashed cold water on his face. Red-rimmed eyes, dark circles beneath, a few inconsequential scratches on neck and his hair a tangled mess, though it still looked rather fetching. Not as untidy as Prongs' hair, but then again, nobody's hair approached that level of chaos; like he'd been dragged through a hedge backwards.
He smiled to himself. Prongs would go ballistic when he heard Lily had kissed him twice, and with a little hyperbole and embellishment on his part ... He would have a lot of fun with this.
But that could wait. He wiped the water from his face and dried his hands on his pyjama trousers, then shuffled into their room, yawning. He was about to change into Padfoot when he suddenly realised he didn't have to. Instead, he lifted the edge of the blankets on Remus' bed and slid in beside him, re-tucked the blankets around them and turned onto his side, gathering the sleeping Remus into his arms. Padfoot might be warmer, and his arm would probably fall asleep in no time flat beneath Remus' weight, but this was definitely nicer.
He kissed Remus on the top of his head and closed his eyes, reflecting with some astonishment that he now had one more person tucked beneath his aegis. He smiled and decided he'd pass on Lily's kiss later—and take much pleasure in recounting to her exactly where and how he'd placed it.