When It Alteration Finds
"Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds" ~sonnet 116, William Shakespeare
Remus sat on the little stool, thinking, 'Safe, I just want everyone to be safe. I don't want to hurt anyone, don't want anyone to notice me.'
"HUFFLEPUFF!" the Sorting Hat announced, and Remus scurried over to the Hufflepuff table, hoping he could make friends there while still keeping his secret.
He'd always been a hard worker, and he fit right in with the cheery Hufflepuffs. For the first time in his life, he had friends. He hated lying to them, hated how concerned they were over his disappearances and monthly 'trips home' to visit his ill mother, but he knew it was necessary. They would never accept him if they knew what he was.
Five years passed. He was happy. He had friends. He did well in classes, well enough that some of his housemates laughed and said he should have been in Ravenclaw, he spent so much time in the library. They didn't know he had to work twice as hard, that he feared falling behind because of his condition.
Fifth year, he was assigned to tutor Peter Pettigrew from Gryffindor in Defense Against the Dark Arts, the one class at which no one could best him. He knew the boy in passing -- everyone knew James Potter, and Peter was Potter's little shadow. Pettigrew was neither as clever nor as handsome as his mates Potter and Black, but he was popular nonetheless. He had an easygoing manner and an almost preternatural ability to make others comfortable.
Remus found they had a lot in common, and he began spending more time with Peter than with his other friends. By Easter, he had opened up more to Peter than to anyone else he'd ever met, and he was starting to wonder if he could tell him his secret. He'd kept it for so long and he was so tired of lying to everyone, of keeping even his best friends an arm's length away.
By the morning of the May full moon, Remus had made his decision. That afternoon while he and Peter played a game of Exploding Snap before they got down to studying, he took a deep breath and spilled his guts.
"Peter, I'm a werewolf." It came out in a jumbled rush of breath, barely audible, but Peter heard him. Peter was at first disbelieving, then wary. After a few seconds, though, a huge smile broke out on his face.
"Remus, that's -- You're-- That's really kind of cool. And no one else knows?"
"The professors and Madam Pomfrey, of course, and my parents," Remus said, "but no, no one else. Only you. You can't tell, either. Promise me."
"Cool," Peter said. "I promise. I won't tell anyone. I swear." Remus couldn't believe how lucky he was, to have a friend who was so... normal about it. Peter was still talking. "So that's where you go every month."
"The Shrieking Shack. Dumbledore set it up for me, so I could come to school."
Peter kept up a steady barrage of questions, and it felt so good to just talk about it, like a huge weight had been lifted off his chest. When nothing bad came of it, Remus knew he'd made the right decision, trusted the right friend with his secret. The rest of the term flew by, and he was convinced that things could only get better.
That summer, Peter invited him over for a week. James and Sirius would be there too, he said, and it would be great if Remus could come, so all his friends could get to know each other.
He'd had to work hard to convince his mother to let him go -- she loved him but she was so afraid that he'd be found out and killed. He reminded her it was the week of the new moon, nobody would be in any danger. Mrs. Pettigrew convinced Mrs. Lupin that it was okay. From what she'd heard, Remus might just be a good influence over those harum-scarum friends of Peter's.
Remus was nervous. It wasn't that he didn't like James and Sirius. He did. Everyone did (well, everyone except the Slytherins, but they didn't like anybody, so they didn't count). They were handsome, popular, brilliant, and funny. He remembered his wish the day he was Sorted -- he'd just wanted to fit in, to fade into the furniture, and for five years he'd done so. Bringing himself to the notice of the school's most notorious pranksters was not, perhaps, the wisest thing he could have done, but he was feeling good, feeling lucky, feeling normal and he didn't ever want that to stop.
The three Gryffindors were already having lunch when Remus arrived by Floo, and Peter fell on him like a long-lost brother. After a few awkward moments that first afternoon, while James and Sirius adjusted to his quieter, dryer sense of humor and he to their boisterousness, they seemed to accept him. They teased and tested, but Remus was up for everything they planned, and even contributed an idea or two when they let him.
The week passed in a haze of golden sunshine and laughter. Remus eased into the other boys' lives as if he'd always been there, though he found himself especially drawn to Sirius.
Sirius was loud where Remus was quiet, reckless where he was cautious and open where he was necessarily secretive.
Peter attached himself to James like a limpet, his hero worship rising to the surface now that there was no one but his best friends around to make fun, so it was only natural that Remus and Sirius partnered up during their fishing and hiking expeditions, their raids on the neighbor's orchard, and trips to the village. And since neither Remus nor Peter was much good at Quidditch, they felt it was only fair that they split up the talented Black-Potter tandem for their late afternoon scrimmages.
Remus discovered that Sirius effortlessly commanded all his attention. He looked forward to their comfortable silences as much as their lively conversations, and whenever Sirius flung a careless arm around his shoulders, his heart raced and his skin tingled. Sirius's voice whispering Quidditch strategy in his ear, warm breath sliding over sensitive flesh like silk, made Remus's palms sweat and his cock hard.
On his second-to-last night at the Pettigrews', he forced himself to think through what he was feeling, and decided that in comparison to being a werewolf, liking boys -- liking Sirius -- was no big deal. It was just one more secret he'd have to keep, if he wanted Sirius to stay friends with him. And he really, really did.
He was sorry to see the week end, but happy that Sirius made him promise they'd hang out together on the Hogwarts Express, and meet up at Zonko's on the first Hogsmeade weekend.
The rest of the summer passed quickly, as it usually did, but he and Peter wrote each other almost weekly. Toward the end of August, he even received an owl from Sirius, reminding him of their plans for September first. As if Remus could have forgotten. He looked forward more than ever to returning to school, to spending time not only with Peter, but with Sirius and James, as well. If he were honest with himself, and he tried to be, it was mostly Sirius's company he longed for, though he'd have died rather than admit it to anyone else. He was still afraid they'd abandon him, that Sirius's face would twist in disgust if he discovered Remus's feelings, or his condition.
Once school began, Remus settled back into his usual routine. He and Peter still spent a great deal of time together, but now Sirius and James sometimes invited him along on their pranks and kitchen raids. He was surprised that, instead of dying away with prolonged exposure, as his few previous infatuations had done, his feelings for Sirius deepened and grew.
In November, he and Sirius were partnered on a project in Ancient Runes, a subject for which Sirius had no patience, but which appealed to Remus. Runes were both elegant and useful. He tried to explain that to Sirius one afternoon while they were sequestered in a carrel in the quietest section of the library. He found himself flushing under Sirius's intense regard. He stopped speaking, mouth dry, breath stolen by the odd, hungry gleam in Sirius's eyes.
"No, no, keep going," Sirius said when it became clear that Remus wasn't going to say any more. "It's cool when you get excited about things and start explaining them." Remus felt his blush deepen as Sirius continued, "You should be a teacher or something. I mean it. You're so much better than Professor Rosetta at explaining all this," he gestured toward the scattered rolls of parchment, covered with runes and notes.
Remus shrugged, unable to find his voice to respond. Sirius grabbed his shoulders and pulled him close, and he found himself only inches away from the boy he'd been dreaming about for the past four months. Sirius's breath slid over his lips, warm and sweet, and if he shifted forward, he'd be kissing him. He'd be kissing Sirius, fulfilling the fantasy that had haunted him since their week together at Peter's.
His body tensed and he prepared to cross that infinitesimal space between his mouth and Sirius's. Sirius held his gaze, eyes dark with some unfathomable emotion, fingers tightening on Remus's shoulders. And Remus realized that if he did this now, if he kissed this boy, everything he'd worked so hard to achieve -- the easy friendships, the semblance of normality he wore like a mask -- would come crashing down around him, beginning with the horror he imagined he'd see reflected in Sirius's eyes.
He jerked away. "I, I can't--" He didn't know what else to say, and didn't have a chance to think of something. A bookbag thumped onto the table between them.
"There you are, Remus," Peter said cheerfully, oblivious to the tension vibrating between Remus and Sirius. "I'm having a problem with my Arithmancy homework--"
"What? Oh, of course." Remus stood; the sound of his chair scraping across the floor was loud in the hush of the library. He quickly gathered up the scattered scrolls of parchment and followed Peter into the main section of the room. Sirius was uncharacteristically silent. Remus turned once, absently biting his lower lip, to see Sirius staring after them, eyes narrowed.
He knew that look and sighed. Sirius was curious now, and Remus knew that once his curiosity was roused, he would be determined to satisfy it. 'I'm going to be found out,' he thought. 'I should have kissed him while I had the chance. It would have been worth it.'
Peter's voice interrupted his reverie, and he spent the next hour redoing Peter's homework and explaining the basic principles of trigonometry to him.
As they were leaving, Peter stumbled and Remus reached out to steady him. Peter smiled gratefully and Remus kept a hand on his arm as they walked.
"Is there anything you don't do for Pettigrew?" Severus Snape's oily, insinuating voice came from behind them. "Your boyfriend's an awful lot of work, Lupin, and I doubt he's really worth it."
Remus froze. He knew the slimy Slytherin was just being himself, that Snape had no clue, was just fishing for information, but still, the words paralyzed him.
Peter drew himself up to his full height -- though he was still a full head shorter than either Remus or Snape -- and said, "Shut up, Snape. He's not my boyfriend."
"You're just good friends?" Snape asked, one eyebrow raised skeptically.
"Exactly. Really good friends. Nothing poofy about it. Just hanging out together, doing homework..." Peter was babbling and Remus was powerless to stop him.
"Indeed." Snape's gaze shifted to Remus, who shrugged and said nothing. It was best to say nothing, he thought. Denial would only make people believe it. He dragged the still muttering Peter away, but the damage was done.
As the rumors circulated through the school that afternoon and over the next few days, Remus continued to say nothing. It was too bad he'd frozen, that Peter had even mentioned the word "poof" at all, but he refused to give anyone the satisfaction of embarrassing or scaring him. His friends in Hufflepuff didn't seem to care, which made it a little easier to keep his head up and ignore the whispers and stares in the corridors and at meals.
Until Sirius cornered him and hauled him into an empty classroom. Peter had so far avoided him -- trying to put the lie to the rumors and furious that Remus was not protesting as loudly as he, or at all, even. Sirius and James hadn't been around much, caught up in detention and Quidditch practice. But Sirius wasn't scarce anymore. He was standing -- in living, breathing color -- right in front of Remus. Who was pressed up against the stone wall, Sirius's body between him and the door.
"Is it true?" Sirius asked with strange urgency. Remus froze again. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, a small voice in the back of his head noted dryly. Not the best way to go through life. When he didn't answer, Sirius said, "Are you Peter's boyfriend?" He opened his mouth to speak, but Sirius wasn't done. "And are you really a werewolf?"
Remus's stomach felt like it was going to force its way out through his mouth, his heart felt like it had stopped beating, and his lungs burned. 'Oh yes,' he thought. 'Breathe. I need to breathe. I'm going to kill Peter.'
"What?" he managed.
"Peter said, well, Peter said a lot of things, and I don't believe half of them, but he insisted it was true."
"It's not. It is. It's ... complicated."
Sirius shook his head. He was like a dog with a bone when he got an idea in his head. He wouldn't let go. "Are you Peter's boyfriend? And are you a werewolf?" He sounded determined and curious, but not angry. In fact, he sounded -- hurt.
Remus took a deep breath. "I am not Peter's boyfriend," he said, after a long silence. Sirius seemed to relax slightly. "But I am a werewolf." He closed his eyes, waiting for the horror, the disgust, the shouting. Maybe Sirius would beat him up.
"It must be really hard for you." Remus's eyes flew open at the concern in Sirius's voice.
"No, listen." He put his hands on Remus's shoulders. "Peter only told us -- me and James -- when he was telling us you two weren't dating. It kind of slipped out, I think, after 'I'm not gay' and before 'I like Teresa Ratliff.' We won't tell anyone."
Oh. "Oh. That's, that's really -- kind, Sirius."
Sirius took a deep breath. "I was more upset about the, the other thing."
"What?" He really wasn't doing too well in the thinking department at the moment. 'No wonder I'm not in Ravenclaw.'
"I was more upset that you were maybe going out with Peter. I mean, he's cool and all, but I was hoping, I mean, if you're interested--"
Remus had never seen the notoriously glib and clever Sirius Black at a loss for words before. There was something endearing about it. 'In for a penny,' he thought. He leaned forward and stopped Sirius's babbling with a kiss.
Remus pushed his way through the back door of the cottage, looking around carefully to make sure no one was about before he slipped into the garden.
At the far side of the hedge, he found it -- the fancy new broom his uncle had hidden from him just before he'd been called into supper that night.
The moon was full, and he wondered why his parents made him go to bed so early, when there was so much light, it was like daytime. A laugh burbled up and he forgot he was supposed to be quiet, that he couldn't wake anyone up or he'd be in a lot of trouble.
He swung a leg over the broom and kicked off the ground. He was surprised when it rose over the hedge and took him out into the street -- this was so much better than the toy his parents had given him when he turned six last month.
The broom vibrated beneath him, and for a few minutes he zoomed through the streets of the village, laughing gleefully at his secret adventure. No one would ever believe it. He couldn't wait to tell.
He was heading back toward home when he heard it -- a howl that made the hair on his neck stand up and the skin on his arms break out in goosebumps. He sped up, scared now, remembering that it wasn't daytime, that there were dark things out at night and even if there weren't, his parents wouldn't be too happy about him sneaking around.
Fear overwhelmed him and he lost control of the broom, crashing to the ground headfirst. Dazed, he looked up to see a sleek, gray wolf loping up the high street toward him. He scrabbled back, unable to get up, sharp, shooting pains in his left shoulder and leg making him whimper.
The wolf lunged and a shot rang out, then another. It fell in a bloody, slavering heap on top of Remus, who cried like the six-year-old he was.
His father and uncle sped to his side, shotguns in hand, kicking the beast off him, all warm hands and concerned voices.
He blacked out, and woke to his mother's gentle hands upon his brow, her eyes shining brightly as she told him he was very lucky and if he loved her at all, he must never ever have adventures again.
"Lupin, Remus," McGonagall called, and eleven-year-old Remus walked to the dais and settled the Sorting Hat upon his head.
~Hmm,~ the Hat said, and he flinched. ~Loyal, yes, and brave, but what's this? No desire for adventures? You certainly have the brains for--~ "RAVENCLAW!" the Hat called out, and he made his way over to the Ravenclaw table to the cheers of his new housemates.
Remus fit in well with the Ravenclaws. He spent most of his time in the library, working on projects that would have baffled most wizards his age. He was top of his class in Defense and second only to Snape in Potions. His only other competition came from two Gryffindors, James Potter and Sirius Black.
He watched them in envy sometimes, the playful banter and wrestling in which they engaged, the way excitement followed them, but his mother's words always stuck with him -- "No more adventures, my dear, sweet boy. Not if you love your mother."
And he did love his mother, and so heeded her words until the day he died.
The Death Eaters attempted to recruit him, both during his last year at Hogwarts, when a third of his fellow Ravenclaws joined the Dark Lord, and then later on, but Remus knew evil when he saw it, remembered it in the mad yellow eyes of the wolf, and everything in him rebelled against it.
He explored ever more esoteric avenues of magic for Professor Dumbledore after leaving school, contributing in his own quiet way to the Order of the Phoenix. It was through his painstaking research that the Potters were protected, obscure wards and charms of his devising the last line of defense should their Secret-Keeper fail.
No one ever expected one of their closest friends to betray them to their deaths, to provide not only their location, but the key to all of Remus's well-designed protection spells as well.
Reading of that betrayal in 'The Daily Prophet,' Remus was glad he had never become as close to anyone as James Potter had to Sirius Black.
He was evil. He was a Dark creature. His parents had told him so often enough. There was a reason the Sorting Hat placed him in Slytherin, and he hated that part of himself over which he had no control.
Remus didn't want to be dark or evil, but that choice had apparently been taken away from him at the age of five when, in the dark streets of Truro, he was bitten by a werewolf, cursed to become one himself every full moon for the rest of his life.
He felt distanced from the rest of his housemates, different. If they knew what he was, he was sure they would turn on him. He knew Slytherin had a noble history, that being ambitious and clever didn't necessarily make one cunning and evil, but when he looked around, all he saw was Death Eaters in training.
He found himself drawn more and more toward Severus Snape. The boy had a sharp, dry wit Remus appreciated. He didn't seem to care much that Remus was poor, didn't push to learn his secrets or his weaknesses. It was obvious Snape had secrets of his own.
When the nightmares woke him as the moon waxed, it was Severus who sat up with him, talking softly in the curtained enclosure of his bed. It was Severus who stood up for him when the Gryffindors attacked, because his paleness and seeming frailty made him a favorite target of bullies. And it was Severus who nearly died to protect his secret in sixth year, when Sirius Black finally figured it out and showed up at the Shrieking Shack moments after moonrise on the day of the full moon.
Potter got credit for saving them both, but Remus knew it was only Severus's quick thinking and general distrust of the Gryffindors that allowed all four boys to survive that night.
Remus woke the next morning, body wrecked and sore from the wolf's anger at being denied human flesh, with Severus at his side, holding his hand.
When Black came to apologize, forced, no doubt, by threats of expulsion from Dumbledore, he did so under Severus's dark stare, fumbling for words in a way Remus had never seen before from the glib Gryffindor.
Severus took him back to his room and held him as he fought not to cry, not to show any sign of weakness. Weaknesses were to be exploited, and good Slytherins learned to burn theirs away as the years passed. But Remus could never rid himself of the wolf. He was amazed at Severus's loyalty to him, but understood it two nights later when, after one of his worst nightmares, Severus climbed into bed with him, holding his shaking body in thin arms and whispering words of comfort that no one else could hear.
Remus was never certain when the comforting turned into something else, but when Severus kissed him that night, tasting of peppermint and something distinctly himself, Remus gave in to the sensation.
Those first fumbling kisses and touches grew into something deeper, and Remus found himself daydreaming about Severus's hands and lips on his body, and often had to be called to attention in class.
He was no longer a target of Gryffindor pranks -- he had scared Black and Potter off -- though he often felt eyes upon him, in class, in the library, in the Great Hall during meals, and he'd turn to see Black looking away, flushed.
They might leave him alone -- he was a werewolf after all, and more dangerous than they could ever hope to be -- but things got worse for Severus, who had taken Remus's place as the Gryffindors' favorite victim. Until the day Remus found himself facing Black in a deserted corridor just below the Divination classroom, wand to wand.
"Leave Severus alone," he said, amazed at his own bravery in taking on the golden boy of the Gryffindors, glad his voice and his wand hand remained steady. He stood calmly and held Black's gaze.
"What's the matter, your boyfriend can't fight his own battles?" Black taunted.
"Maybe you should stop picking on him and try taking me on. He's worth ten of you, Black, on your best day."
"Maybe you should see that you're worth ten of him, on any day," Black responded, shocking both of them. Black flushed, and Remus dropped his wand, shaking his head. He couldn't have heard that right. "Don't you get it?" Black continued, "he's just a greasy git who'll end up one of Malfoy's flunkies, if he's lucky. You -- you're so much more than that, Lupin. I've been... watching you, and I want--"
But Remus never did find out what Black wanted, because a group of third year Hufflepuffs came hurrying down the hall, late for class.
They circled each other warily for the rest of sixth year; his warning had served its purpose, and Black and Potter turned their attention to pranking Nott and Rosier.
At the beginning of Christmas break in seventh year, Severus took him to a party at Malfoy Manor. It was there he got his first real taste of what life as an alumnus of Slytherin could mean. They wanted him to be in awe of the power and wealth Voldemort granted them, but he only saw the pain and humiliation of being forced to kneel when he preferred to stand.
If they'd known what he was, they'd have considered him a Dark creature, a natural for their cause; the wolf inside might cry out for blood and mayhem, but he was a man, not a wolf. He recalled Black's words. He was worth ten of Malfoy at least.
When he recovered from the pain of the Cruciatus -- pain that made his transformations seem like mild discomfort -- he fled before they could catch him, back to Hogwarts, back to Dumbledore as fast as the nearest fireplace could take him.
Severus was waiting for him in their dorm room when he returned from the Headmaster's office, dark eyes flashing like lightning in a face gone even paler than usual.
"Remus, how could you?" he began, his voice a mixture of anger and something that might have been fear.
Remus stopped him cold. "I'm not what you think I am, Severus."
"You're a Slytherin, Remus, a Dark creature--"
"I'm more than that," he said, keeping his voice pitched low, though they were alone in the room. He bit back the hurt. Severus was his friend, his lover, his everything, and yet Severus saw nothing but the wolf. "I'm better than that. If you can't see that, you're not worth my time."
They stared at each other for a moment, then, "When did Black get to you?"
"Did you really think you could throw me over for the pretty boy Gryffindor? Did you really think he'd have anything to do with you?" His tone was harsh, full of a cold fury he'd never before directed at Remus.
Remus froze in shock. He'd never mentioned the conversation he'd had with Black to Severus, never even thought of what Severus accused him of. "What?" he repeated.
Snape advanced on him, grasping his shoulders tightly. "You're a beast, Remus, a Dark creature. He may want to fuck you, but that's so he can say he shagged a werewolf."
The room seemed to recede; it was as if he were watching the conversation from somewhere outside his body. Severus couldn't be saying these things to him. It had to be a mistake, a nightmare or a boggart. He fumbled for his wand, vaguely noticing how Severus's fingers trembled, but didn't let go of Remus's shoulders.
"Ridikkulus," he said forcefully, imagining Severus dressed as a clown, pointing the wand at him.
Severus didn't disappear.
"Fuck," he muttered. This was really happening. Severus knew all his fears, knew just where to stick the knife.
"Don't be foolish, Remus," Severus said urgently. "This day was inevitable from the moment you were bitten."
He shook his head, wrenched himself from Snape's grip. "No," he said. "No." He had to get out, get away--
"Remus," Severus's voice was hoarse, and Remus stopped at the door but didn't turn around. He knew if he looked back, he'd be lost. "If you refuse them, I can't protect you."
"So that's it."
He walked out, leaving Snape standing in the dark.
Everyone said it was a great tragedy, the way the Lupin boy hanged himself on Christmas Eve. An hour after he discovered the body in the seventh year boys' dormitory, Snape was in Dumbledore's office, choking on tears he refused to shed.
"I warned him," Snape said, hiding his face in his hands, his voice as cold and dead as Remus now was. When he looked up, his jaw was set. "I want to hurt them. I want to make them pay."
Remus woke with a start. He took silent inventory, surprised at just how well he felt, all things considered. Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs hadn't joined him the night before, he knew that much, but the wolf hadn't taken its confinement out on him, as it usually did.
He sat up slowly, feeling his stomach roil in response to the movement. The shack reeked of blood, and for the first time in memory, it wasn't his.
His stomach rebelled at the thought, and he vomited, body wracked with spasms. Half-digested chunks of bloody meat and bone puddled on the floor in front of him. He was sick again when he saw what his heaving had brought up. He threw up until he thought his body would turn inside out from the force of the paroxysms shaking him.
He had killed last night, for the first time ever, and he hadn't even left the shack. Was it James? Peter? He couldn't make himself contemplate the third option. He couldn't imagine having killed his best friend, the boy he cared about more than anything else in the world.
"Oh, God," he whispered, "not Sirius. Please not Sirius."
He was still lying in the pool of blood and bile when he heard a voice call his name. "Remus. Remus, you have to get up."
Remus opened his eyes, but he was still alone. "Sirius?"
"Yeah. Come on. Get dressed."
"Sirius? Where are you? Did I-- did I kill you?"
Sirius's disembodied head appeared. "I'm here, Moony. But we have to hurry."
"What-- what happened?" He slowly pulled on his trousers and robes, flashes of the night returning now that he was more awake. He remembered the urge to hunt, the smell of human prey, blood gushing warm over his jaws, down his throat.
He dropped to his knees and was sick again. Sirius doffed the invisibility cloak and knelt beside him, gently pushing sweaty, sticky hair out of his eyes. Under the careful hands, though, Remus could feel tension, the suppressed quiver of nervous excitement. Something was very, very wrong.
"James?" he managed. "Is James all right? And Peter?"
"James is fine," Sirius said, pressing cool, dry lips to his forehead. "Peter, too. We have to get out of here, though. I'll tell you on the way."
They stumbled down the tunnel, Sirius half-carrying Remus whenever he faltered. The reek of blood, urine and fear was stronger in the tunnel. Remus raised his wand, but Sirius stopped him from lighting it.
"Better you don't," was all he said, though, when Remus questioned him.
At the exit under the Willow, Sirius said, "Okay, we have to get under the cloak now."
"Does James know you have it?" It was easier to ask stupid, everyday questions than to press Sirius for details he didn't really want to know. His mind was clearing but his body was still sluggish, as if he'd eaten way too much and--
He stopped, shying away from the truth of that thought.
"He gave it to me." Sirius grabbed his hand and pulled him along past the Willow and into the woods. Remus shivered, and he knew the chill in his bones was not just from the cold morning air. Sirius was muttering to himself, "Now where did I-- Oh, yeah. Okay." He bent and pulled his broomstick from beneath a pile of leaves. He threw a leg over it and said, "Get on."
"What? Where-- Madam Pomfrey--"
"No, Remus. You-- We have to get away from here. Before--" Sirius stopped; his pale face had a sickly greenish cast to it.
"Before they find out what happened," Remus finished, unable to do more than whisper. "Oh, God." He pressed a hand to his mouth, willing the contents of his stomach to remain in place. He climbed onto the broom behind Sirius, and began taking in great gulps of air.
"Don't fall apart on me now, Moony," Sirius said, launching them into the air. On instinct, Remus leaned forward and rested his head against Sirius's back, wrapping his arms around his chest. They'd flown like this before, but usually Sirius was laughing, showing off, taking the broom into spiraling dives that made Remus queasy.
He was queasy all right, but it had nothing to do with flying.
They flew for what felt like hours, nothing but water beneath them and blue sky above. Remus tried hard to keep his mind blank, but every time he closed his eyes, sensations assaulted him. The scent of fear, bitter and ammoniac. The salt taste of sweat and the copper tang of blood. The discordant shrieks of pain mingled with the rapid, then slowing, beat of a heart. The feel of a body struggling beneath him as his jaws sank into flesh.
He almost overturned them as he swallowed the bile that rose in his throat, his body shaking in fear.
"We need to land," he choked out. "I'm going to be sick again."
"We need to find land," Sirius replied, crouching even lower over the broom. Remus tightened his grip around Sirius and whispered prayers to deities he didn't believe in that the water beneath them would come to an end soon, because he didn't know how much longer he could hang on.
Finally, a coastline came into view. Sirius flew them past a small town and landed in a small meadow surrounded by trees. Remus hadn't paid close enough attention to know where they were exactly, though he knew they'd crossed the North Sea. He staggered off the broom, limbs stiff from the long, cold ride, and fell to his knees, puking what was left of his guts out. Sirius hovered over him, a concerned mother hen, clucking and brushing Remus's fringe out of his eyes.
When Remus was slumped on the ground, stomach once again quiet, Sirius said, "I thought I saw a stream over there." He jerked his chin toward the trees. "I'll get you some water."
Remus nodded, unable to speak.
While Sirius was gone, Remus tried to piece together what had happened the night before. He and Madam Pomfrey had gone to the shack as usual. Prongs had had a date and hadn't planned on joining them, and without James, it was likely Peter wouldn't have shown, either. Which was fine. He and Padfoot had as much fun on their own as they did when all of them were together.
But Padfoot hadn't come. He was sure of it. Someone else had discovered the entrance -- but no one knew the secret, did they? Unless someone had figured it out? Or someone had told? But who?
He tried to corral his thoughts, which were spinning off in all directions like sparks from a Catherine wheel.
"Here, Moony." He jumped. He'd been so lost in his own head that he hadn't heard Sirius return. Sirius handed him a small flask. "I was right. There's a stream not far away."
"Thanks." He drank, swished the water around and spat, washing the taste of bile from his mouth, then drained the flask. He closed his eyes as Sirius went to get more water.
It was unlike Sirius to be so tentative, so unsure. Of course, considering the fact that he was sitting with a werewolf who'd just killed and eaten someone, Remus found his hesitation reasonable and not at all offensive.
"How are you feeling?" Remus snorted but said nothing. "Okay. Stupid question." Sirius was nervous; he wasn't meeting Remus's eyes as he spoke. "We can probably rest here for a while. I don't think anyone followed us."
"Okay." It was easier just to sink down onto the ground in Sirius's arms than to think about what had happened -- what he had done. He was so tired, he couldn't think anymore. He wanted to float off into the oblivion of sleep, but every time he closed his eyes, he remembered. Not clearly enough to actually figure out what had happened, and more importantly, who it had happened to -- it was more like muscle memory. He could feel what he'd done, feel it in his skin and his bones, but he couldn't see it.
He could tell from Sirius's breathing and heartbeat that he wasn't asleep either, so he asked, finally, "Who was it?" Sirius said nothing, just squeezed Remus tighter within the circle of his arms. "Sirius?" Remus asked again, his tone a warning.
"Snape. It was Snape." Sirius's voice was so soft Remus could almost believe he was imagining it, but he knew he wasn't.
"Oh, God." Someone he knew. Of course it was someone he knew, but hearing the name, putting it together with the images--
Remus broke free of Sirius's hug, managed to crawl a foot or two away from where they'd lain down, and vomited again. When he was done, Sirius hauled him back to their bed of leaves and handed him the flask. He drank and spat and drank again.
He sat with his knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them. He could feel Sirius settle in behind him.
"How?" he said, after a long silence in which he contemplated his secret belief that he was superior to James and Sirius for not joining in with their constant bullying of Snape (though he'd never, he had to admit, done much to stop them), and realized that neither of them had killed him. Humiliated him galore, yes, but he'd always survived to throw curses at them in return. No, James and Sirius might have been arrogant berks, but he, Remus, was a killer.
As he waited for Sirius to answer -- and Sirius seemed in no rush to explain -- he found his mind running along familiar paths. It was too dangerous to get involved, to have friends, to be in love. He was going to have to leave Sirius as soon as he was well enough to get by on his own, because he couldn't bear the idea of killing again, or passing the curse on to someone else. Especially not to someone he loved. He'd been so careful for so long, but in the end, it didn't matter. Everyone else had been right. He was a Dark creature and ought to be put down like a rabid dog.
Sirius rubbed his shoulders, and Remus tried to take comfort, to enjoy what little time they had left together, but he couldn't.
"Relax, Remus," Sirius whispered, and he knew his tension had communicated itself to Sirius. "It's not like anyone's going to miss him."
"Sirius!" He jerked away from Sirius's hold, but Sirius just reached out and started kneading his shoulders again.
"What? It's true."
"Sirius, I killed him. Me. I, Remus J. Lupin, killed Severus Snape." His voice cracked and he tried to shrug off Sirius's hands, which had tightened painfully at these last words. "It's not exactly a jelly-legs jinx, you know."
"He was a greasy git--" Sirius's voice lacked its usual conviction when uttering these words, but Remus was unable to let it pass.
"He was still a person. A person whose life I ended." He gulped air, feeling tears burn behind his eyes. "You don't seem to be getting that." He swiped a hand across his eyes. "Someone is dead because of me, Sirius. It doesn't matter that he was a pillock. That doesn't make him any less dead, or me any less a monster for killing him." He choked on a sob and buried his face in his hands.
"You are not a monster, Remus!"
"Tell that to Snape." Even he was surprised at the bitterness in his voice. He didn't like Snape, it was true, but he'd never wanted him dead. And certainly hadn't wanted to be the one to-- His gorge rose again and he had to push that thought away.
His nose was running, his eyes stung and he thought if he vomited any more, he'd bring up some internal organs.
"You still haven't told me how he figured it out," he said finally.
"Figured it out?"
"How to get into the shack. I mean, he isn't -- wasn't -- stupid, so I reckon he didn't have trouble putting the pieces together about me. I'm surprised he didn't do it sooner, honestly. But the shack -- how did he get into the tunnel?" Something else struck him. "And how did you know what happened?"
Sirius turned away. "Look, Remus, why don't we get some sleep. It's been a rough night--"
"Sirius." His voice was hoarse but there was no denying the command in it; he barely recognized it as his own.
Sirius licked his lips, brushed his fringe out of his eyes. He was anxious. Remus knew the signs. He stiffened, closed his eyes, braced for whatever Sirius had to tell him. How much worse could it be?
The silence stretched between them, almost tangible in its intensity. The hair on the back of his neck stood up.
"It's my fault. It's all my fault," Sirius confessed. He didn't sound like himself, and it took Remus a moment to figure out why. His voice quavered, unusual in a boy so confident, so self-assured. Sirius was afraid. And Remus couldn't blame him. "I sent Snape to the shack. He was always nosing around after us, trying to get us expelled."
"Well, he bloody well succeeded, didn't he?" Remus interrupted, but his voice petered out as the first part of what Sirius said sunk in. Hurt lanced through him, sharp as razors, and whatever concern he might have had for Sirius's feelings was gone.
"He was always picking at you, trying to find out where you went each month. He thought he'd have something to hold over you. I didn't like it. I wanted to teach him a lesson--"
Remus stared at him, aghast. "You wanted-- A lesson--"
"I thought if he saw the wolf, he'd realize you weren't to be trifled with. He deserved--" Sirius was doing what he always did when he felt attacked -- he dug in his heels and got defensive.
But Remus was beyond listening to excuses. He stood up so quickly the ground seemed to spin. "He deserved it, Sirius? You honestly believe anyone deserves --" he broke off, trying to catch his breath, willing himself not to be sick again. Sirius wore a mulish expression, eyes dark with defiance. "And even if--" Remus shook his head. "Even if he did, did I?"
Sirius dropped his gaze. Remus pulled his robe tight around his shivering body and turned away.
"Moony, I'm -- I didn't think--"
He hunched his shoulders. "Obviously."
He could hear Sirius rise, felt his warmth pressed against his back, but he couldn't relax into him. Not now, maybe not ever again.
"I'm so, so sorry," Sirius whispered, his lips against Remus's ear.
"I know," Remus said. But he didn't understand, couldn't forgive. Sirius's hands tightened on Remus's shoulders again, though he kept silent. "I need to sleep," Remus said finally.
Sirius nodded and they both lay down on the soft pile of leaves he'd gathered, but it was a long time before either of them slept.
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to victoria p.
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