Title: Just Waiting

Author: Mousapelli

Rating: NC-17

Summary: Now that Sirius is gone, Remus isn't doing much of anything, really. No warnings really, just some buttsex and a whole lot of apathy.

AN: Thanks to Musesfool and Sociofemme for the betaing, and for sitting through endless rounds of Remus debate.

 

            The wolf scented the air as he ran, ignoring the shadowy shape trailing him through the fog, barking in agitation, too far behind to be of concern and losing ground. The scent was stronger now, the smell of fur thicker because of the water in the air, and the wolf barely registered the ground beneath his paws changing from packed dirt to sand, the scent filling his nose and a dark form starting to take shape ahead through the haze…

            Shreds of the dream clung to Remus as he pushed back from the desk and stood up, ignoring creaking knees and limbs prickling from sleep. A glance out the window showed that it was far too late, or perhaps too early, to get a real night's sleep, not that he'd had any intention of trying.

            He shuffled out of the study where the others thought he did research, past the bedroom where the others thought he slept, and down to the kitchen where occasionally he ate something just to shut Molly up.

 

            Once there, Remus thought briefly about making tea just to have something to do with his hands for a few minutes, but in the end didn't because he didn't want to have to drink the tea and people would notice if he had a full teacup.  Instead, he picked up an unwashed teacup from the night before off the sideboard and sat down with it, pushing it just far enough to the side that it looked like he'd had tea earlier but hadn't gotten up yet.

 

            He watched the light in the room grow gradually less dim, the shadows around the chairs and cupboards fading from inky black to a washed out grayish, the true color of the pale wood indeterminate in the weak light. Remus slipped into a sort of half-dream without actually falling asleep, still seeing the creeping kitchen shadows, but catching whispers of conversation, like people talking in the next room.

 

…okay, no, it is, just stop…

…not okay, and I won't…promised you…be there…

…not about that…have to don't you?…

…be there, I will…just wait if you can, Re…Remus? Remus?

 

"Remus?" Molly was shaking his shoulder, looking down at him with eyebrows drawn together. The kitchen was lit by what passed for morning light in Grimmauld Place as Remus blinked a few times and things came into focus. "Had me worried for a moment. I was going to ask if you wanted tea, but I see you've already had some."

 

            Remus had a moment where he considered confessing the entire teacup subterfuge to Molly, but just thinking about saying that many words in a row made him weary, so he nodded and let Molly chatter while she was starting coffee. Mercifully, the Prophet arrived after another few minutes so Remus didn't have to either move or actually choke down some coffee rather than explain why he was sitting at the table staring at nothing.

 

            Tuning out Molly's prattle, Remus folded the paper over to the crossword and quietly Accio'd a quill from the holder on the counter. He wasn't any good at the things, Sirius had been much cleverer with all the wordplays and the leaps of logic, but Remus was quite good enough at filling random words into various spaces and looking as though he was lingering over a tough clue. He could go on peering at the paper in a thoughtful manner almost indefinitely unless someone else requested a look at it.

 

            Fixing his eyes resolutely on the crossword to discourage conversation, Remus tapped a quill next to 19 Down (1988 Puddlemere Seeker) while Order members and a few of Molly's children filtered in. When Shacklebolt helpfully told him that the answer was "Wikerstaff", Remus murmured a thank you and moved on to staring at 46 Across (Invisibiling Salve). Shacklebolt had apparently not noticed that Remus actually already had 19 Down filled in as "Animaguses".

 

            He only looked up when he heard someone pouring liquid into his teacup, setting a frown in place to ward off whoever was trying to force sustenance on him. He met the eyes of Ginny Weasley, who frowned at him with equal intensity and deliberately finished filling his cup with coffee. Setting the coffeepot on the table, Ginny stared Remus down until he picked up his cup and actually took a sip. Ginny gave a small nod and moved on with a final significant look.

 

            Staring back down at the crossword, Remus contemplated Ginny's clear message of "I see you, you aren't fooling me." Too perceptive by half, that witch, and a little creepy to boot.

 

            Remus shrugged it off as he unfolded the newspaper and got up from the table, leaving the cheerful chatter and Ginny's prying gaze behind. Didn't matter anyways, it was only two more days until the full moon.

 

            He would have seen the same look in Snape's eyes that night when the Potions Master brought him the Wolfsbane, if he had bothered to look up.

 

            "Just leave it," Remus said from the desk, not lifting his head from the parchment he had been pretending to take notes on for days. "I'll take it in a minute, I'm finishing something."

 

            "You are supposed to drink it while hot," Snape replied coldly, not moving any further away from the desk.

 

            "I will in a moment," Remus answered. "You don't have to stay, I know you're busy."

 

            "Lupin, you're a very convincing liar," Snape said crisply and Remus' quill stilled, "but I can see from over here that you are taking notes out the same book that you had open the last three nights running. If you really intend for anybody with brains to believe you, you'll need to change your props. I am not leaving until I personally witness you drinking that potion."

 

            Remus set down his quill and closed the book before meeting Snape's eyes.

 

            "Then you will be standing there for quite some time, Severus," he said.

 

            "You fool," Snape sneered, planting hands on the edge of the desk and leaning over Remus menacingly, "just what do hope to accomplish by this stunning display of stupidity? Something you want to prove to yourself? To the Order? Or do you simply desire to get yourself killed?"

 

            "I assure you that I lived through a good number of transformations before you and your potion," Remus leaned back in his chair, away from Snape, "and I will no doubt pull through this one as well."

 

            "He wasn't worth it," Snape snarled, looking as though he would like to put his foot through the desk but only turning to go. He paused in the doorway. "Not even when he was alive."

 

            Snape leapt back when the goblet of Wolfsbane crashed into the wall beside his head, putting up an arm to keep the steaming liquid from spattering his face. He looked back at Remus, face twisted in a sneer that Remus would have been very familiar with if he hadn't already been staring back down at his parchment as though nothing had happened.

 

            Snape swept out the door, leaving the goblet and the mess on the floor. Remus made no move to clean it up. He remained sitting in his chair, not even bothering to open his book again.

 

            "…completely unreasonable," Sirius grumbled for the tenth time, and Remus rolled his eyes as he shifted to get more comfortable on the pillows.

            "You've had a million detentions from McGonagall," he said, rubbing lazily at an aching shoulder, "why is this one any different?"

            "You know why," Sirius glowered at him, and Remus sighed as he glanced over Sirius' bare shoulder at the moon, one day shy of full. He ran fingertips over Sirius' ribs, hoping to distract him with tickling, but Sirius grabbed his hand. "She'll hold me late, you know she will, when I should be out with you."

            "James and Peter will be there," Remus reminded, laying his head on Sirius chest, the heartbeat thudding against his cheek. "It'll be okay. It's okay…no, it is," he insisted when Sirius snorted, "just stop worrying, I'll be fine for one moon."

            "It is not okay," Sirius replied, wrapping arms around Remus' back as though he were the one who needed comforting, "and I will not stop worrying! I remember how you used to come back, torn up, so sore you could barely move…"

            "The plentiful sex beforehand is actually what stops the soreness," Remus pointed out with a wry smile, but Sirius refused to be joked out of his mood.

            "Dammit, Moony, we promised you!" he snapped. "We swore you'd never spend a moon alone, that we'd always be there, and I won't break another promise to you, not after…"

            "Stop it!" Remus cut him off sharply, pulling out of Sirius' arms to sit up and glare at him. "This isn't about that! It's over, just over, and I don't want to hear about it any more!" Sirius bit his lip and dropped his eyes, and Remus felt a twinge of guilt for snapping. He lowered his voice. "Besides, it doesn't matter, you have detention so if you have to miss the once, then you have to, don't you? Nothing to be done."

            Sirius looked up when Remus started rubbing his shoulder again.

            "Still bothering you?" he asked, and Remus nodded. Sirius sat up and tugged on Remus until he was sitting with his back to Sirius. A sigh escaped Remus' lips as warm palms rubbed some of the stiffness from his back, broom calluses pleasantly rough on his skin.

            "I'll be there," Sirius said after a little while. Remus, head hanging loosely, made a  noise of protest and Sirius squeezed his shoulders. "I will, I'll shake McGonagall as soon as I can and sneak out. I know you can't really do anything about it, but just wait if you can and I'll be there, Remus…"

 

            Remus jerked awake and glanced up to see Harry standing in the doorway, staring at him. Harry was wearing a shirt of Sirius' that he'd dug up someplace, the sleeves rolled up several times and still falling past the wrists of the slight teenager.

 

            "You aren't researching," Harry said, voice flat. "You aren't eating and you aren't doing the crossword and you aren't sleeping." He looked down at the congealed puddle on the floor. "And you aren't taking your Wolfsbane. What are you doing?"

 

            "Nothing," Remus answered, and it felt good to be telling the truth to somebody.

 

            "Me either," Harry said.

 

            Remus made an appearance at dinner that night, and if he didn't contribute anything meaningful to the conversation, he did manage to swallow a few mouthfuls of roast potato, satisfying even Molly that he might one day soon feel up to rejoining polite society for good. Ginny looked unconvinced, but appeased. Harry was missing entirely.

 

            Getting up before anyone else was finished, Remus was unsurprised when he found Harry in his bedroom upstairs, apparently clever enough to realize that traces of Sirius were most likely to be found among Remus' pillows. Or perhaps Hermione had told him. At any rate, he was curled up on the bed with his back to the door, his breathing snuffly but even. Remus pulled the door shut.

 

            Down the hall in the bedroom that Harry was sharing with Ron, Remus opened Harry's school trunk and rifled through it briefly before coming up with James' Invisibility Cloak, tugging its silvery folds free from a tangle of Quidditch robes and pajamas. He closed the trunk and hesitated a moment before pulling his key to the front door out of his pocket, weighing the twist of metal in his hand for a moment before laying it on top of Harry's trunk.

 

            Remus went back down the stairs and out the front door, hardly needing the Cloak to be invisible after weeks of practice.

 

            The Underground station saw a seedier clientele after dark, but Remus was hardly out of place with his shabby robes and his air of weariness. He fished an assortment of Muggle coins out of his pocket and fed them slowly into the automatic ticket machine as the trickle of people shuffled back and forth behind him. By the time he boarded his train, all of the honest commuters were long gone and several individuals were prowling through the cars looking for trouble. Remus slid his hand into the pocket where his wand was and murmured a "Noli's Conspecere", then spent the rest of the ride quietly avoiding eye contact.

 

            He didn't pause when he emerged from the Underground, the route to the Ministry's visitor entrance burned into his memory from the several trips to the Department of Beasts a werewolf who had just come of age was required to make. Remus merely hoped the hole-in-the-wall where Sirius, James, and Peter used to buy him Firewhiskey afterwards was still in business.

 

            The Soused Horklump was as dingy and murky as Remus remembered, and the booth in the back corner still tipped if you leaned backwards too far, but Remus was grateful for the familiarity. The hours dragged by, Remus nursing one Dirty Demiguise after another ("You just don't see it coming!" James had slurred from the floor once) and running his fingers over things previous patrons had carved into the table. The drinks were terrible, but they dulled the aches in Remus' joints and made it nearly possible for Remus to forget the letters he was tracing spelled "Snivellus eats it".

 

            Remus loitered in his booth long after last call, his Concealment Charm still in effect, and he watched with detachment as a haggard barmaid wiped down tables. He was just downing the last of his drink when she finally shuffled over to his table. Remus caught her eye on purpose, breaking the charm, and ignored the small backlash of magic reminiscent of being snapped with an elastic.

 

            "Ooh!" the barmaid gasped, clutching at her heart. "Gave me a fright, lovey, didn't see you there!" She took another look at his shabby condition and his collection of Demiguise mugs, and her face grew sterner. "You'd best be on your way, and no trouble, hear? An' with last call an hour gone!"

 

            Digging into his pocket as he rose, Remus fumbled out a half-handful of knuts and dropped them as a tip before shuffling out of the pub, Invisibility Cloak tucked under his arm. He blinked at the haze of the streetlamps for a few moments to regain his landlegs, then trundled around the corner where an all-night diner served burnt coffee to many of the same people that frequented the Horklump. Settling himself in a booth, Remus let the obligatory cup of coffee congeal in front of him while he stared out the window.

 

            "…such a brave lad."

            Madam Pomfrey gave Remus a smile and patted his shoulder before turning to go, shutting the door behind her. Remus listened to her sensible shoes click down every one of the fourteen stairs and then the latching of  the trapdoor. As soon as there was silence, a grey rat slipped out of the shadows gathered in the corner of the room. The rat pattered towards the bed and hopped up to sink his claws into the blanket dangling off the side. Tail lashing, he clawed his way up to sit beside Remus, reaching up with a hind paw to scratch his ear in a self-satisfied manner before suddenly being Peter.

            "Sirius went to detention," he reported, "James made sure."

            "Good," Remus answered, feeling anything but. "You and James ought to give this one a pass. It's too dangerous with just the two of you. It's only one moon after all."

            "Don't you even start," Peter said, narrowing his eyes. "Sirius has already informed us that he will tie us to a Quidditch hoop by our stones if we aren't right here. Repeatedly."

            "He told you repeatedly?" Remus asked, "or he'll tie you to a hoop by your stones repeatedly?"

            "I think we both know the answer to that."

            "Right." The aches in Remus' joints were almost making the sudden ache in his chest unnoticeable. "You'd better go, it won't be long."

            Peter left, human so he could open the door and passage for Moony, and Remus let out a soft sigh. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, distracting himself from his body by remembering the way Sirius' skin had smelled when he was curled around Remus earlier that afternoon…

 

            "Coffee?"

 

            The waitress 'tsk'ed and moved on when Remus shook his head, and Remus turned back to the window.

 

            When the earliest commuters began passing the diner, Remus got to his feet and slipped on the Cloak, no one else in the diner even noticing when he disappeared, or when the door opened and shut on its own, bell tinkling tiredly.

 

            The phone booth at the Ministry didn't seem to mind that Remus was invisible, and it asked what Remus' business was. He reported truthfully that he had no official business with the Ministry. The phone thought for quite a bit before producing a badge that read "Remus Lupin: Just Waiting". Taking the badge from the tray, Remus slipped it into a pocket and waited for the booth to sink below the pavement.

 

            In the main lobby, a few very enthusiastic employees were straggling in early, and Remus slipped into their midst. The wand counter attendant was giving some poor clerk a hard time as Remus passed by.

 

            "But you see me every morning!" the desperate man begged, rifling futilely through his pockets as a half-dozen of his compatriots sailed by with no more than a casual wave of a badge.

 

            "I've told you over and over, Harris, no badge, no entry, no-one gets by me without proper identification! Not the Minister himself!"

 

            Sirius would've had a good laugh at the clerk's misfortune, he'd been a connoisseur of irony, and Remus didn't stop the thought from filtering through his mind as he stepped into the lift with the other workers. If anyone felt an invisible werewolf nudging his way to the side, they chalked it up to the jostle of other, more visible, passengers.

 

            The lift didn't go immediately to the floor Remus needed, but Remus let his eyes drift over the Ministry employees as they got off and on at levels 6, 3, 8, and 5. When he grew bored of that, he watched the paper airplanes above circle and dive until it made him dizzy.

 

            Finally someone did need level 9, and Remus fell into step right behind an attractive witch whose pinched expression said she might have an unpleasant session with the Wizengamot ahead. He wasn't surprised when she made an abrupt left turn and went down the stairs, heels echoing sharply in the bare corridor.

 

            It was a bit longer before somebody else came down who was actually entering the Department of Mysteries, but Remus had been settled in for a much longer wait and was barely halfway through counting the flagstones in the floor and. The fellow seemed rather in a hurry, but Remus had no trouble getting his foot in the door as the wizard zipped through it, or trailing him the whole way to the revolving room that liked to give new employees such a hard time.

 

            For the employee to be going through the same door as Remus wanted was one coincidence too many; he stepped back as soon as he saw an unfamiliar room with screaming pink wallpaper over the other man's shoulder. As soon as he was through the doorway, the door slammed shut and the room reset itself. Remus had no idea whether or not the Ministry had some way of tracking when the room was activated, but he didn't care much either way.

 

            "The Veil, please," he announced loudly and clearly, using the voice that had worked so well on upstart Ravenclaw Fourth Years, "and no nonsense, either."

 

            The room twirled itself a bit longer than necessary, apparently irritated that bullying the passenger was out of the question, but when it finally ground to a halt, the doorway directly in front of Remus was the one he wanted.

 

            The room was the same as every other time Remus had seen it, except for a few scorch marks on the floor left from the last visit Order members had made. Sooner or later janitorial staff would be forced to come down here and scrub the evidence of misaimed curses away, but Remus couldn't blame them for avoiding the place for as long as possible. He looked up at the arch with its fluttering curtain for a short while, wondering where he was going to dredge up the energy for even one more step.

 

            He trudged to the stone steps in the middle of the room, and as he climbed the last few stairs of the dais, Remus considered how appropriate it would be if he tripped on the uneven stone and went tumbling into the thing after all. He reached the top step without incident, however, and sat down heavily on it. The ache in his joints was sharpening, reminding Remus that moonrise was only hours away. He leaned against the side of the arch, letting the chill of the stone seep into his legs and back, numbing them.

 

            Beside him, the Veil rose and fell with a gentle, nonexistent breeze and whispered.

 

            There was a thick fog when Moony stepped out of the tunnel, thick enough to obscure the shape of the stag with the rat until he was only a few steps away. Moony gave the stag and the rat precursory snuffles before glancing around. When no other animal was evident, the wolf stared at the pair expectantly. The stag tossed his head in the negative, nearly sending the rat flying. Growling softly, the wolf turned away from them, and sat down to wait.

            The stag stepped forward to nudge Moony, get him up, get him moving towards the forest, but Moony snapped a warning at him. He froze with his muzzle in the air, snout wrinkling, drawing in a deep breath. When the stag stepped forward and tried to shoulder him, the wolf didn't move, just sat there, the only motion the rise of his chest as he sucked in air.

            There was something…almost…Moony's nose twitched as he struggled to catch the whiff of scent again, eyes closed and ears perked for any sound other than the shufflings of the stag and the rat.

            Finally he caught it again, the tiniest scent, but enough, in the opposite direction from the Forest, and Moony was on his feet and trotting towards it before the stag and the rat knew what was happening. Behind him, he heard the stag bark in alarm and scrabble forward on the grass, but the scent was getting stronger as Moony moved, urging him  into a loping run. Other smells littered the ground, owl and rabbit and even faint traces of people, but Moony's nose was searching only for wet fur and pack.

            Moony continued scenting the air as he ran, ignoring the shadowy shape trailing him through the fog, barking in agitation, too far behind to be of concern and losing ground. The scent was stronger now, the smell of fur thicker because of the water in the air, and the wolf barely registered the ground beneath his paws changing from packed dirt to sand, the scent filling his nose and a dark form starting to take shape ahead through the haze…

            And then Moony barreled right into the shape, a yip of surprise ringing in his ears, sending both of them tumbling to the ground, and when they skidded to a stop, Moony felt a rough tongue brush his nose. He opened his eyes to find a familiar pair of pale, husky-blue eyes staring right back.

            Moony leapt to his feet and shook himself, sand flying out of his fur in all directions, then rounded on Padfoot to snuffle him thoroughly before the other dog had even managed to get himself properly back on his feet. Tail thumping, Padfoot was whining with impatience by the time Moony had circled him for the third time and was finally satisfied. Moony gave him an affectionate nip on the shoulder before taking off in the direction he had come, Padfoot at his heels. They blew past the stag, who snorted in surprise and skidded to an ungraceful halt on the packed sand, and there was nothing in front of them but sky and grass…

 

               The room had no windows, but after three decades of playing call and response with the moon, Remus knew when it was time. He made his way back down the steps with a minimum of stumbling, so that there wouldn't be an unfortunate head-cracking incident, and sat back down on the floor to wait the last few minutes.

 

               It should start on the inside, Remus had always thought, all your bones and organs moving around, but it never did, it always started with his skin, pulling tight like it was going to split along its seams, and it itched, like the time Lily had talked him into shaving his legs just to see what it felt like, and Remus wished desperately that either werewolves were bald or people were hairier.

 

               But there the inside went too, organs squishing about, and that awful moment when Remus' knees popped themselves backwards, feeling just like it sounded the time a Bludger had cracked James knee during a pickup Quidditch game in his backyard and his kneecap was just a lump on the side of his leg and James was sick because knees shouldn't go that way…

 

               Already exhausted, Remus slipped under a lot earlier than usual and Moony emerged, snarling from the ache of his body twisting itself into shape and because this place was not familiar and he couldn't catch his breath.

 

               When it was all over, Moony lay on his side panting for another moment before struggling unsteadily to his feet, claws scrabbling for purchase on the slick stone. The sloping head swung back and forth a few times, taking in the room, and he sniffed the air experimentally. The room smelled stale and notgood in a way Moony didn't fully understand, like things that were dead so long they couldn't even smell bad any more. A sniff at a charred streak along the ground made Moony's lips pulled back in a snarl; the smell of hurtmagic was familiar enough.

 

               Another scent caught his attention as he was about to lift his head, the first good thing in the room. It was very faint, old, like snuffling in a rabbit warren when all the rabbitpups were gone. Padding a few steps across the room, Moony caught traces of the same scent in a few other places, in some places alone, in others tangled up with the hurtmagic.

 

               Faded memories bubbled up in the wolf's mind as he followed the traces around the room and back to the stone steps, of dark fur and woods and pack, dim but still sharper than the fuzzy half-consciousness he remembered from a long string of moons before this. The pack-scent led him up the stone steps, and Moony shook off a reluctance to follow and placed his large paws carefully on each of the steps. The click of his claws echoed in the bare room.

 

               Lowering his nose to sniff thoroughly, Moony determined that the scent disappeared into a barrier of notness that made his skin crawl underneath his fur. Something brushed his face, making him sneeze, and Moony snapped at it viciously, tearing away a mouthful of rotting cloth. He spat it on the ground with distaste and batted it off the dais with a paw.

 

               Pack was definitely inside the notness. As loathe as Moony was to go any closer, if that's where pack was, then that's where he was going, especially if it meant escaping the place of deadtoolong. Snorting a deep breath, Moony plunged into the notness.

 

               It was like being swallowed by water, only not wet and not cold and not moving, just not, it clogged up Moony's ears and made him want to take only shallow breaths and if there had been anything to see it would have been fuzzy and grey. Forcing himself to draw a deep breath through his nose, Moony had a moment of panic when he couldn't smell anything except the not, but then finally caught the tiniest bit of pack. Moony tried to move forward, only he couldn't tell if he was moving forward or if his paws were even touching anything.

 

               After a bit of the movingbutnot, Moony began to grow frustrated and tried to move faster, and when that didn't seem to help, the fear crept back, making him want to turn around and go back, but which way was back, better to just curl up in a ball with your paws over your eyes and give up…

 

               Realizing suddenly that there was a sort of whispering in his ears suggesting just that, Moony shook his head violently and snapped at the notair, and the whispering quieted, enough that Moony remembered what he was there for. He sniffed deeply, disgusted by the feel of the notair filling his nose and lungs, but there was the scent, it was stronger finally, and the last of the panic drained from Moony's chest.

 

               It was impossible to tell how much time passed as Moony kept moving. Several times the whispers had come back, louder each time, making Moony think that he was lost and going the wrong way and could never find the trail again, but they couldn't hide the scent completely, and Moony knew better than to trust his mind over his instincts. Each time he snapped and slashed with his foreclaws, and the whispers retreated.

 

               Moony howled in surprise when he bumped into something, his nose and then his paws touching something, feeling as though there was a wall of the notness keep him from feeling it completely, but still touching! His howl was swallowed by the notair as soon as it left his throat, barely going the short distance to his own ears, and Moony realized that the scent wasn't faint faraway, it was faint coveredup by the notness, like his howl, and the thing he was almost feeling was what he'd been tracking. Pack!

 

               Moony snuffled and poked at the thing before him, circling it, and he could almost feeling the notair trying to suck the scent away of his nose, but Moony was too close to be fooled. He howled again, louder, and louder still when the sound still wasn't enough, over and over, until he heard the smallest, faintest bark in reply.

 

               As soon as the sound reached his ears, Moony knew he had to leave the notness as fast as possible, and he had to bring the other with him. He pressed his flank against the other and snuffled again, this time searching for his own scent, marking the way he had come. The notair was already starting to swallow it, hiding the path. When he was sure of the way, he stepped behind the other and nudged it in the right direction.

 

               The trip back seemed to last much longer than the trip in, the other affected by the whispers far more than Moony was, and Moony constantly was snapping at whispers and nudging the other back onto the right path.

 

               And then abruptly the other vanished. Moony froze mid-step, scenting the notair furiously and taking hesitant steps to either side to find where the other had slipped off the path, panic rising in his chest and the whispers growing so loud that Moony couldn't think.

 

               So he stopped thinking and just sniffed, finding the other's smell right next to his own and the faint traces, almost gone, of his first trip by, followed them until they just stopped, all three scents at once, and then Moony understood and tensed his haunches for the last leap forward.

 

               He broke free of the notness, real air rushing into his nose and lungs, and he welcomed it even with its reek of toolongdead, and welcomed the slick stones under his feet, even though his claws found no purchase on the stones and his lunge forward slid him across the dais and he took a painful tumble down the steps.

 

            He lay at the bottom of the steps, panting and eyes closed as the pain from his fall sorted itself into various specific hurts, and then a rough tongue was licking his nose. He opened his eyes to find a familiar pair of pale, husky-blue eyes staring right back.

 

            Moony leapt to his feet, ignoring the sharp pain in his side and the limp in his back left leg, and snuffled Padfoot mercilessly, burying his snout in the thick black fur and circling him until he was sure, and even then not stopping, feeling Padfoot's wet nose doing the same to him.

 

            "…awake!" Sirius beamed down at him. Remus tried to stretch, then stopped when all his muscles at once told him what a bad idea that was. He was still in the bed in the Shack, he could see early sunlight filtering through a dusty window over Sirius' shoulder, but Pomfrey must have been and gone already because he had several plasters on his chest and arms. The events of the night filtered into his brain in a jumbled mess of half-memories, but he certainly remembered splashing through mud puddles with a large, black companion…

            "You snuck out," Remus rasped. Sirius shushed him and handed him a glass of water, Remus choking a little as the first few gulps stung his throat, but then finishing it quickly.

            "And you found me," Sirius grinned. "What's a few extra weeks' detention between a Head of House and her favorite student? Now lay down and go back to sleep, Pomfrey won't be back for another couple hours."

            Remus sighed, but was too weary to argue, so he saved the speech for later and sank back into his pillows. He felt Sirius slide in beside him and wrap himself around Remus' back, finding spots somehow for all his gangling limbs. The heat of the other boy soothed Remus' tortured muscles, making his eyes flutter closed…

 

            "You've been starving yourself again haven’t you?"

 

            Head pounding and body whimpering in surrender, Remus peeled open his eyelids (also sore) to find Sirius glaring down at him. Remus moved to sit up, but pain shot up his spine, making his eyes tear up and his breath catch.

 

            "Wha…" Remus swallowed, wincing as his throat stung, "what's wrong with my back?"

 

            "Took quite the tumble down the stairs," Sirius informed him. "And you've been laying on a cold stone floor, and you've just stopped being a werewolf. And did I mention starving yourself? What's the matter, Moony, you think you'll get love handles if I'm not there to exercise you properly for a few days?"

 

            A hysterical giggle threatened to spill out of Remus, but he swallowed it, lacking the energy to explain to Sirius right now about the last moon, or about anything that had happened during his month-and-some-change-long vacation.

 

            "The real problem," Sirius was saying as he climbed to his feet, "is how we're going to get you out of here. Can you stand?"

 

            Even with Sirius supporting most of his weight, fire was arcing up Remus' leg and back every time he breathed, much less moved, and there was no question of him walking out of the Ministry under his own power. Through a haze of pain, Remus heard Sirius mutter, "Have to carry you, I suppose, " and then a noise of surprise when Sirius actually managed it. Sirius' expression turned thunderous at this new evidence of Remus' self-neglect, then he went a bit pale and asked, "I've been gone longer than just till the moon, haven't I?"

 

Remus nodded, using the last of his energy to lock arms around Sirius' neck. Sirius kept talking, the buzz of his throat soothing against Remus' forehead, and Remus was only catching a few scattered phrases as he faded in and out of awareness, but he did hear when Sirius wondered out loud how an Azkaban escapee was going to carry an injured werewolf out of the Ministry without being seen. Remus stirred to deliver the good news.

 

            "Pardoned," he mumbled, letting his head tip back so he could see Sirius' face, "free."

 

            He carried the image of Sirius' shocked expression with him into unconsciousness.

 

            Remus woke to the feel of lips on his, and opened his eyes to see nobody in front of him.

            "Take off the Cloak, Sirius," he whispered, mindful of waking anyone else in the Infirmary, or worse, making enough noise to bring Madam Pomfrey running. That was usually a hazard of a late night visit from Sirius.

            Emerging from the Cloak, Sirius tossed it quickly to the floor.

            "James said he'd rip off my ears if it came back with anything on it that wasn't there before," he explained, and Remus was just well enough to laugh quietly without wanting to die. He lifted the edge of the blanket for Sirius to wriggle under it and settle against Remus' chest, reaching a hand up to pull Remus' head down for another kiss. When Remus was good and distracted, Sirius removed his hand from Remus hair and trailed it down Remus' chest, lower and lower until he could slip fingers under Remus' waistband.

            "Sirius!" Remus yelped. Sirius snickered and Remus lowered his voice. "Haven't you been caught doing illicit things for me by enough Hogwarts' staff this week?"

            "Not by half," Sirius laughed, taking a firm grip on Remus' hardening cock, "at least, not if this is any indication."

            Managing a soft protest around his groan, Remus started to say that he was hardly up to any action, but Sirius shushed him.

            "Just relax," he whispered, nuzzling Remus' ear, and Remus gave in with a sigh to Sirius' leisurely stroking. Warmth stole through his body, making him drowsy, and all the nonsense that Sirius was murmuring into his ear seemed to seep right into Remus' brain without any of the words actually making sense.

            And suddenly Remus was spilling over Sirius' hand, his orgasm having snuck up on him quietly and making all his muscles unclench. He turned his head to kiss Sirius lazily and asked what he wanted in return.

            "For you to sleep," Sirius answered, pressing his sticky hand against Remus' hip to pull him closer. "That way you'll be up to more fun tomorrow."

            Burying his face in Sirius' hair, Remus let his eyes fall closed, breathing in Sirius until he fell asleep.

 

            When Remus woke again, he was alone in his bed. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, Remus saw Harry curled angrily in an armchair beside his bed, and glimpsed the shuttered windows of Grimmauld Place behind him.

 

            For one horrific moment, Remus was sure that everything had been a dream and he'd be right back to faking crossword puzzles as soon as he could crawl out of bed, but then he tried to move and his back felt like his spine was being ripped out.

 

            "You told me he was gone," Harry snarled at him, and Remus felt faint with relief. "You said he was gone and there was nothing I could do!"

 

            "I apologize," Remus said, gritting his teeth against the pain so his voice came out steady, "that you are not a dark creature and that the Ministry has never done extensive testing involving werewolves and the Veil and that my suicide mission actually succeeded. I'll try harder to die next time."

 

            "Fuck you," was Harry's witty retort. Moving very slowly, Remus reached up with one hand to rub his face, glad at least one limb was working properly. Voices echoed from the floor below in the silence, at least two people shouting so loud it sounded painful, or at least it wasn't helping Remus' head any.

 

            "Who's that?" Remus asked, pulling himself to a sitting position with excruciating slowness. "What's going on?"

 

            "Dumbledore's here," Harry answered, making no move to help Remus sit up. "He's trying to tell Sirius that he can't take me."

 

            "What do you mean ta—" but Remus' sentence was interrupted by a sudden thundering up the stairs and Sirius throwing open the bedroom door with a bang that made Remus clutch his head.

 

            Sirius stood in the doorway a moment, panting a little from his run up the stairs, brushing hair out of his eyes impatiently, and with a huge silly grin lighting up his face.

 

            "Harry," he said, still grinning, "I've just called your Headmaster a creepy manipulative coot, and half a dozen other things besides!"

 

            "Did you say fuckwit?" Harry wanted to know. Remus wanted to know too, but he couldn't make his body do anything besides stare at Sirius, who looked happy, really happy, and whose smile was reaching his eyes and whose Muggle jeans were clinging to all the places Remus wanted to touch most.

 

            "Knew I'd forgot one!" Sirius leaned back out the doorway and screamed down the hall, "FUCKWIT!" He pulled his head back and grinned at them some more, and Remus wasn't sure if he could deal with this without a few years' more sleep. "You really ought to go down and see Dumbledore's face, Harry, it's not to be missed, in fact have a good long look because as much as I want to shag Remus right now, I doubt you want to see it."

 

            Untucking himself from the chair, Harry tossed Remus another glare before stalking out of the room, Sirius ruffling his hair as he went by. Sirius crossed the room in a few strides and hopped onto the bed, landing on his knees and bouncing the mattress a little like a First Year testing out his bed.

 

            "Moony," he said, sounding a little breathless and bouncing some more, "Moony, Moony, you'll never guess what!"

 

            "Harry hates me?" Remus suggested, wincing as Sirius jostled him. This was more like school every minute. "And while we're asking questions, where are you taking Harry and why is Dumbledore here and why do I feel like my spine's been amputated?"

 

            "I told  you," Sirius blew hair out of his eyes impatiently, "you fell down the stairs, in the Veil room, and Dumbledore is here to tell me that we can't take Harry anywhere but we are damn well doing it because I am his goddamned godfather and I can!"

 

            "Yes," Remus answered, meaning yes you can and yes you are and yes you look good and yes I love you and yes please kiss me right now because my lips are the only things that don't hurt.

 

            "And Harry's fifteen, he hates everything, that was blissful euphoria for Harry, but that's not what!" Sirius crawled up and threw a leg over Remus, leaning close and putting his forehead against Remus'. "Guess!"

 

            "Don't make me guess," Remus groaned, expending the energy to lift his hands and touch Sirius' white, button-down shirt only because it looked so soft. "Even my brain hurts, Sirius."

 

            "I went shopping," Sirius informed him, eyes begging Remus to say how brilliant that was, how it was the best thing ever, "I went out and bought robes and books and jeans, you like the jeans right? And a wand, I've got a wand again that's mine, Remus, and nobody could stop me doing it!"

 

            "Sir—" Remus started to say before Sirius' lips cut him off, and he fisted his hands in Sirius' shirt because it was as soft as it looked and because his hands were shaking too badly to undo the buttons.

 

            It would have been inaccurate to say that Sirius was gentle, but Remus would have put up with much graver injuries to have Sirius' hands jostle him about as he pushed his clothes and Remus' blankets all out of the way, and even if every muscles in his back screamed when Remus arched his back, it was a dim sensation compared to the heat of Sirius' lips around his cock.

 

            "Pads," Remus hissed, tugging on Sirius' hair to get his attention, "I want you." Sirius lifted his head, one eyebrow a question mark. "I want you inside me. Now." Letting Remus slide out of his mouth so he could speak, Sirius shook his hair out of his eyes, making it easy for Remus to see how wide and dark they were.

 

            "You're hurt though," he said, flicking his tongue against Remus' head teasingly. Remus swore, arched, then swore louder.

 

            "Can't hurt much more than I do now," he grunted, giving Sirius' hair a harder tug that said he meant business. Never one to disobey a direct order, Sirius shifted up to kiss Remus fiercely while he rooted around in the drawer of the bedside table with a blind hand.

 

            When Sirius pulled back, Remus saw him holding up a small tube victoriously.

 

            "More shopping?" he asked, and Sirius laughed as he twisted off the cap and tossed it out of the way, paying no heed to where it rolled off to. And then Sirius was slipping fingers inside Remus while he was stroking Sirius' cock slick, the twisting making his shoulders pull, but Remus ignored it in favor of the pulse of Sirius in his hand.

 

            "Remus," Sirius murmured, batting his hands away and making him lie back against the bed, then "Remus!" again when he was pushing inside. He paused when he was balls-deep in Remus, chest heaving and asking if Remus was all right.

 

            "You're here." Remus' voice wavered because he hadn't really been sure until just then, because Sirius was buried inside him, and also because Remus never hurt this much in dreams, not ever.

 

            Sirius kissed Remus gently as he drew back out, swallowing Remus' moan when he thrust back in the whole way, then he slipped a hand in between them and closed it around Remus' cock. Remus forgot about his back and all the rest of his aches and felt only Sirius' rough, sweaty palm fisting him, the pain being absorbed by the good and the yesSirius until the space behind Remus' eyelids went grey and he barely heard Sirius gasping his name over the roaring of blood in his ears.

 

            Remus opened his eyes again when hands were moving him about, and found Sirius tugging him up to a sitting position and pulling him forward. A yawn cut off Remus' question, but he got his answer anyway when Sirius slid behind him and ran warm hands down Remus' back before beginning to knead his shoulders in earnest. Leaning into the soothing touch and letting his head hang, Remus harbored hope that someday he might be able to crawl out of bed.

 

            "You know," Sirius said after a moment, "Molly said the queerest thing to me this morning. She said I should take you tea and the Prophet crossword!"

 

            "Oh?" Remus murmured.

 

            "I told her she was a daft cow, you hate tea in the morning and you've never done the crossword a day in your life! And she tried to tell me that you…what are you giggling like that for?"

 

            "Because I hate the crossword!" Remus answered, helpless to stop laughing even though it made everything ache all over again, "And I hate tea! And Ginny Weasley is creepy! And Dumbledore is a fuckwit!" Remus leaned back against Sirius' chest, gasping for air around snickers.

 

            "And people think I'm barking…" Sirius grumbled before Remus kissed him.