Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Warning: Teenagers at age of consent have sex and adults have sex. There is lots of swearing and some violence in this story. In addition, PLEASE NOTE: There is suicide ideation in this fic (although actual suicide does not happen).

Betas: I had a number of superb betas for this fic: regan_v, schemingreader, bethbethbeth, midnitemaraud_r, and evalangui. I thank them for catching my canon mistakes, my grammar mistakes, and all around problems with this story. I did not have this Brit-picked, so any cultural mistakes are mine and mine alone. My fellow Brits: if you see something that bugs you, holler. I'll fix it. Any other mistakes are mine and mine alone.

Author's Notes: This story has been written for myheartinhiding. Thank you for the opportunity to write this fic. It's been burning as a plot bunny for a couple of years. As is usual with these longer fics, I try to "fill" whatever holes remain unanswered in the series. Here, I attempt to deal with Peter Pettigrew's betrayal and Remus' seemingly uncharacteristic anger when he announces to Harry that Tonks is pregnant.

July 1997

Lupin was late.

I told myself that this was nothing more than a typical Gryffindor-esque approach to time, treating time as something casual and nothing more exact than that. I rearranged the flowers on the altar, replaced all the hymnals scattered in the pews, gave the stained glass windows a blast with a cleaning charm, and transfigured a leaf into a broom and swept the entire nave. Still no Lupin. None of us will survive this. None of us. Perhaps Potter. If I am lucky and he is lucky, yes, he might survive. There truly is something of the angel about him. His life was equally bereft of love and yet his path was so much different than mine. Why are some men good no matter what life throws at them, and some are not?

Lupin, where are you?

April 1976

Pairing off two here and two there, Professor Houndstooth had worked her way through the student roster until they were down to the last six in the class: James, Snape, Lily, Morwena Flint, himself, and some Hufflepuff whose name he had trouble remembering. Sarah? No. Susan? Susannah. That was it. Remus wouldn't mind working with her. She was benign enough. The pronounced scowl of disappointment when James was paired with Susannah was nothing compared to the glares of mutual antipathy when Lily and Morwena realized that they were doomed to be partners. Which meant he and Snape were paired up. Dumbledore was a total sadist. He must have planned this. Remus would have to endure snide comments from Snape the entire time.

Snape realized it at the same moment he did and uttered under his breath, "Oh, for God's sake, Lupin?"

"Five points from Slytherin, Mr Snape," murmured Professor Houndstooth, who never talked above a whisper.

Sirius claimed it was because the woman had a fantastic sex life, her constant laryngitis a sign that she screamed every night while in the throes of orgasm. James pointed out that with the exception of Hagrid—a visual no one wanted to entertain—and Dumbledore—another visual to be avoided at all costs—Sirius thought all the teachers were sex maniacs, which was as clear case of transference imaginable and more a commentary on Sirius' rampaging hormones than anything else.

The previous summer James had devoured a Muggle textbook on elementary psychology and for the last six months they'd had to suffer through James' labeling even the most trivial behavior as evidence of some sort of pathology. Apparently, Remus was a depressive (given that Remus turned into a werewolf every month it wasn't like anyone could blame him), Sirius a sociopath (as James pointed out this was a sign that Sirius was actually somewhat mentally healthy as all of them considered his parents to be psychopaths), Peter had a persecution complex (why else would he hang around them being the butt of the majority of their jokes; plus he whined incessantly when they got detention), and James was a narcissist (which seemed self-evident). As irritating as it was having James play Freud, none of them could actually argue with his spot analyses.

Remus thought that Professor Houndstooth used her whisper as a way to control the class. Everyone had to lean forward to hear her.

"Now that you all have your partners, here's your assignment. Out of twenty possible choices, you may choose any three. Write a joint report comparing and contrasting wizarding and Muggle cultural practices. Make up a bunch of drivel and I will know. I grew up a Muggle, so don't bother trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Understood? It is due by the end of April. I need not remind you that an essay on Muggle society will be on your N.E.W.T.s."

"Stupid bloody Houndy," grumbled James even as he continued to scratch away on his parchment that night.

Sirius was sprawled out on Remus' bed, trying to teach himself how to juggle with a bunch of his dirty socks wadded up into make-shift balls. Biting his lip to keep from yelling at James to just shut up so he could sleep, Remus was curled up in a tiny ball in a corner of his bed not occupied by Sirius, with his knees practically in his mouth. Ever since they'd mastered being Animagi, Sirius had made a point of appropriating the lion's share of everyone's bed but his own. James' theory was that Sirius was marking their covers with his scent, the dog in him coming to the fore. By this point they'd all become used to Sirius being a terrible bed hog or, rather, hound. Lately, however, he spent all his time on Remus' bed. Since he and Remus had patched things up since the night of the Whomping Willow/Snape fiasco, Sirius had been transforming into Padfoot much more than he ever had in the past and licking Remus' ankles an awful lot.

Peter sat hunched in a corner of his bed also laboring with his essay; Sirius had finished his an hour ago. Over the summer, Sirius' knowledge of magic had increased exponentially, and to everyone's shock he had become a seemingly never-ending font of magical arcana; more than once James had accused him of using some sort of Dark Arts spell to write his essays. Tonight, for example, James had demanded how in Circe's hell Sirius could possibly know that much about pigs' hooves. To which Sirius replied, "Spend a summer at my house and you'll become a fucking magical genius, too. I don't think I left my room more than twice in three months. All I could do was read and beat off. Wanted to kill myself right about August, but then I realized that would probably make my dear mother's year so I left off."

The day had been a total cock-up. Not only had the three of them had to listen to James complain non-stop about his Muggle Studies assignment—Sirius' helpful comment was that James got what he deserved because he only took the class to chat up Evans—but a prank gone awry had resulted in yet another detention. Quick on the mark, McGonagall had done a Priori Incantatum on Peter's wand, revealing that, yes, indeed, the three of them had been responsible for the Slytherins sprouting pigs' ears while eating magicked bacon that morning. A four-foot essay on the uses of pigs' ears in magical elixirs was due the next day.

"Wizard much, Pete? Next time cast a fucking spell so McGonagall can't do a reverse—"

"Lay off, Prongs," snapped Sirius. Peter looked up in gratitude so profound it made Remus' stomach lurch a little in disgust. Sirius didn't often stand up for Peter—that was more James' role—so whenever Sirius did, Peter practically did cartwheels. "Was worth it. Did you see that Avery? Think it suits him to a tee. Next time we need to add a snout to that spell. Besides you're only grumbling because Houndy paired you with that Hufflepuff—the one with the zit on the end of her nose that never goes away. Had you been paired with Evans, Peter could announce that he'd decided to marry Snivelus and you would have clapped him on the back and wished him well."

All of which being true, only served to fuel James' temper.

"And you." James paused for a moment to glare at Remus. "If you'd been there, like you should have been, you would have reminded Peter to cast a few quick spells so that the Priori would be clean. But no. Having a lie in, weren't we?"

The full moon was tomorrow night. Remus was never sure if it was his body gearing up for the change or whether it was his mind exhausted by the thought of the inevitable, but two days before the full moon he just couldn't sleep enough. Normally quite sympathetic to the problems Remus faced as a result of his lycanthropy, tonight James was lashing out, his foul mood only deepening with every sentence.

"Fuck off, James," growled Sirius.

"Right, I'm finishing this in the library. Come on, Peter."

As usual when James huffed off in a temper—which he was doing an awful lot of these days as his nearly fanatical wooing of Lily Evans was obviously doomed to abysmal failure—Peter didn't know what to do. Sirius often marveled to Remus privately—out of Peter's earshot of course—that Peter's Transfigured state should have been a dog, because by all rights, Peter was nothing more than James' lapdog. Although Sirius was the acknowledged moody bastard of the four, James, normally obnoxiously good-natured, was a right arse when he was in a temper, which threw Peter off of his usual sycophantic game.

"Pete, you coming?"

Peter's eyes traveled to Remus to Sirius and then back to James. He paused for one second and then gathered up his quill and parchment to trot off after James.

At least Sirius waited until Peter had left the room before making exaggerated kissing sounds.

"Thanks, you know, for sticking up—"

"Shut it. Any more of these fucking tantrums and I'm going to pull Evans aside and pay her to shag him."

"You wouldn't," begged Remus and tried to conceal a yawn. "I mean, pull her aside or any of the above. Because that would most definitely not go over well." Remus really didn't want to listen to another lecture from Lily on how his friends were nothing more than hooligans with wands and what did he see in them?

"All right," Sirius conceded with a grumble, although that didn't mean a thing. Sirius basically put the "i" in impulsive, and it was exactly the sort of thing he would do. "But I've thought about it because, Christ, James is being total pillock these days. Stupid cow. Honestly, I don't know what he sees in her. And do not give me the usual endless list of her stunning qualities. I could give a fucking fuck."

Remus sighed. Sirius was always obsessed with something. Well, sex was a given, but he always had side obsessions.

  • Last September it had been Muggle rock bands.
  • October had been devoted to designing elaborate tattoos that he would have done when they left school.
  • In November he had become a vegetarian
  • By December he was eating meat for three of his meals.
  • The New Year had him mapping out all the piercings he had planned to get until he got one ear pierced and it hurt like holy hell, which put an end to that (plus the plan for the tattoos).
  • In February he had decided to become a Buddhist.
  • Now, March, if he didn't utter the word "fuck" in every third sentence it was some of a miracle.

Not that Remus was averse to swearing every now and then. Swearing up a storm was something of a rite of passage at boarding school, a ritualistic way of pretending to flout the rules, but it was something of a revelation that, yes, one could swear too much. Yesterday, after an entire day when Sirius' half of the conversation was nothing more than, "Word, fuck. Word word, fucking hell. Word fuck word. Shite! Word word fucking word fucking word," Remus had pointed out that it didn't seem very Buddhist of him, and Sirius had replied, "What the fuck do you know about Buddhism, Moony?"

Like most of the school (with the exception of the Slytherins), Remus found himself in the dubious position of adoring both Lily and James. Sirius was the only person Remus knew who couldn't stand her, and Lily couldn't stand either Sirius or James. With James' occasional fits of jealousy and Sirius' loathing, being Lily's friend was often exhausting. Remus was never sure if Peter liked her for herself or it was nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction because James was gaga over her.

Remus had hoped that James' passion for her would burn out over the summer, but the separation only seemed to have fanned the flames. In a fit of supreme irritation—as James began in September where he'd left off in June, mooning over her in the most annoying ways imaginable—Sirius accused James of spending every waking moment of his entire summer wanking off to the thought of her. A rare blush told all of them that Sirius was right—as he always was regarding James—and the three of them resigned themselves to another year of James careening back and forth between the depths of despair and the frenzy of hope, which had nothing to do with how Lily treated him, because she regarded him with unvarying scorn.

He and Peter had a tacit understanding that despite the public sense of them as the "four," in reality the two of them orbited around the nucleus of James and Sirius—who were so close as to be one. Remus didn't need to consult James' Muggle psychology textbook to know this was the genesis of Sirius' hatred of Lily. Remus, convinced that his orbit was tighter, closer than Peter's, wondered if Peter knew that and resented it, but he never let on if he did. Sometimes it seemed that Sirius and James were friends with Peter just because they should be. Sometimes Remus believed that he was in a similar position, but he was so grateful for friends that his psyche—thank you, James—ignored the condescension. And then Sirius would say "fuck you" to James for him, or James would master a number of extremely complicated healing charms to heal the worst of Remus' werewolf-induced wounds, and Remus' insecurities were allayed.

James' passion for Lily Evans was mostly just irksome. The truly amazing gesture of friendship in learning to become Animagi so that he would have both playmates and wardens on the nights he turned into a werewolf had cemented the foursome so much that James could behave like a lovesick moron for the next ten years and they would all just accept it. It was James. Just like they put up with Peter's tendency to be boring, and Sirius' to be a total arse, and Remus' to be a martyr. Remus also had a propensity to be the voice of reason (the only voice of reason, when he could manage it), and the others forgave him for that, too.

"It wouldn't work anyway. If he shagged her, he'd be more violently in love than ever before," Remus pointed out.

Sirius gave Remus a dirty look. He hated it when Remus confronted him with the facts.

"Maybe not. It might cure him."

That woke Remus up.

"No, it wouldn't, Sirius." The expression on Sirius' face turned from sullen to mulish because by this point Remus couldn't help but snap at him. Mulish was always dangerous because it usually meant that Sirius now felt he had something to prove. Remus needed to head this off at the pass. Swallowing his irritation and gentling his voice, he said, "I know you think this is just some silly crush," Sirius didn't acknowledge this fact but he didn't contradict it either, "and, yes, James is being an irritating git about all this, but really, he's very loyal and, well, true. If he says he's mad about her, he's mad about her. Sleeping with her or not sleeping with her won't make a difference. At least in the way you think…" Remus paused, "or hope it will."

Remus couldn't see Sirius face as he seemed to be studying the pile of sock balls on the counterpane, but his shoulders gave an uncomfortable shrug. Which for Sirius was basically a capitulation. God, he was so tired. He gave Sirius a wee shove with his feet.

"I'm absolutely knackered. Going to sleep."

"Mind if I stay here? James is being a total fucking bastard and Peter an arse-kissing idiot and—"

"No, I don't mind." Remus yawned. "Close the curtain though. The light."

Right before he nodded off, a dog tongue laved the back of his neck and snuggled a cold snout over Remus' shoulder. Remus couldn't help but grin before drifting off.

Remus and Sirius were only now easing into back into something resembling their former closeness. He had to hand it to James, who was maddeningly immature ninety percent of the time, but that crucial ten percent? Well, something of a Godsend, frankly. Because Sirius was immature one hundred percent of the time. Impulsive, determined, and myopic, Sirius was the best of friends. He'd do anything for you, loving people unconditionally with a ferocity that Remus couldn't help but admire. Unfortunately, those very qualities made him a first-class hater, as witness his antipathy toward Snape. The business in March at the Whomping Willow hadn't abated that antipathy one iota. Sirius was just more careful about the pranks he pulled, making sure that Remus was usually blameless. The only one who could keep him in line—not even Dumbledore had much power over him—was James. Although James' hatred of Snape was nearly as violent as Sirius', James had that ounce of common sense that Sirius lacked.

In response to Sirius's colossal stupidity in deliberately luring Snape to the Whomping Willow during the full moon, Dumbledore had marched Snape, James, Sirius, and Peter to the Shrieking Shack to "sort out" the truth.

The change wasn't predictable. It was never pleasant, but some months the moonset found him all too human, physically battered and his ligaments on fire, with fresh wounds and gashes that needed medical attention. Last night had been such a night. So beaten-up by the change, Remus could barely give more than a brief wonder at the absence of his friends when he'd changed back. Assuming that they'd gone back to the castle early, little did he know that they were actually in Dumbledore's office waiting for the moonset.

Remus really hated Sirius that morning. Just fucking well hated him. How selfish. How stupid. What in the hell had he been thinking? That some corner of Remus' human brain that wasn't wolf would recognize Snape? That Snape would be able to outrun Remus? That— Who the fuck knew? When Sirius entered the room he tried to catch Remus' eye but Remus wasn't having any; he turned his head. Remus couldn't bear to look at him. Only some freak of maturity on James' part had stopped Remus from biting Snape, maybe even mauling him to death and then perhaps eating bits of him… Remus put a hand on his stomach to quell the retching and shook his head "no" at Madam Pomfrey's inquiry whether he was ill.

He was up first on the chopping block. Mostly because Dumbledore probably thought he was on the verge of passing out from all the anti-pain spells Madam Pomfrey had been casting on him. No, he had no knowledge that Sirius had intended to lure Snape to the Whomping Willow. No, he never would have intentionally hurt Snape. Yes, he thought it was a bloody insane idea, sorry, sir, it was grossly irresponsible and he never would have countenanced such a prank. He was heartily sorry. At that he turned over, unable to answer any more questions because he was so tired and sick with grief. Because surely now he would be expelled. What a fool he was. To think that he could be a normal boy for a bit.

After Remus had answered Dumbledore's questions, then Peter got a brief going-over. No one accounted Peter much attention, not even Dumbledore. Then James, his habitual smirk in abeyance for once, gave a brief account of how he had raced to save Snape before he encountered Remus.

"The werewolf, you mean," snarled Snape, at which point there was a gigantic scuffle and it sounded like fists were being thrown and connecting with body parts and then the room crackled with magic and then all was calm. Remus couldn't be arsed to turn over to see what had happened. What did it matter?

Snape gave his side of events, which boiled down to being sick and tired of being bullied unmercifully, and suspecting that Remus was a werewolf, he'd gone to the Whomping Willow in the hopes of finding something that would finally stop them.

"Blackmail, Mr Snape?" Dumbledore's voice was non-committal but the atmosphere in the room suddenly turned ominous.

"Insurance, sir," was the answer.

At which point Sirius tried to defend himself with the ludicrous argument that Snape was always snooping around Remus and nosing into things that weren't his business and it was just to put a little scare in him, that Remus wouldn't have hurt Snape, and if Snape wasn't such a sniveling little snitch… The tone of his voice left no question that in his mind all of this was Snape's fault.

At that James said, "Shut up, Sirius," and simultaneously Dumbledore said, "Mr Black, there is no excuse for your actions."

"Mr Lupin, are you all right?"

Remus sighed out a "Yes."

"Very good. Now, Mr Black, should Mr Lupin in his altered state have hurt or, in the worst case scenario, killed Mr Snape," Dumbledore paused to let that sink in, "then I would have been forced to alert the authorities." Dumbledore rarely expressed his anger. Sometimes you could see it in his eyes, but only on a few occasions had Remus actually heard it in his voice. "Upon which time, I would have had to hand Mr Lupin over to the authorities, who, despite his age, would now be in Azkaban waiting to be Kissed by the Dementors or possibly even put down. Yes, you should be horrified. But for Mr Potter, it is conceivable that you would have two lives on your conscience. Mr Black, you will see me after breakfast regarding your detention. Mr Potter, a job well done. I thank you. Mr Snape, I wish to walk you back to the Slytherin Common Room. Outside of the seven people in this room, there will be no mention of this episode. Do not make me Obliviate any of you because if I have to, I shall be very cross. Now, Misters Black, Potter, and Pettigrew, please return to the castle. Mr Snape, wait for me downstairs. Madam Pomfrey, please do me the honor of waiting with Mr Snape. I wish to have a word with Mr Lupin."

Remus listened to them file out the door and when he was sure that they had all left, he turned over and opened his eyes. Remus doubted that it had sunk in, the enormity of Sirius' stupidity. For all his brilliance, Sirius had these great hulking blind spots and the largest one was that involving Snape. James he could understand, because Lily's friendship with Snape was guaranteed to prick James' jealousy even if he hadn't considered Snape a first-class wanker. But Sirius? Remus used to think it was a race with James. For all their friendship, there was a healthy—and sometimes not so healthy—rivalry between them. It might have been that in the beginning, but now? Sirius' loathing was so over-the-top that it had rendered him insensible. Anyone with half a brain would have known what would have happened had Remus met Snape in that tunnel. At the very best, Remus would have bitten Snape, making Snape a werewolf like himself—an abhorrent thought—and at the worst, Remus might have killed him. Remus felt sick again at the thought. And yet Sirius just couldn't seem to connect the dots. What in Circe's hell—

Dumbledore made his way over to the bed to sit on the edge. There wasn't a chair that hadn't been smashed into bits by this point. Remus tried to sit up until Dumbledore ordered in what was for him a curt and angry tone, "Remus, lie down. You had no knowledge of this affair?"

Remus shook his head.

"Do you know what possessed Sirius to do such an utterly mad thing?"

Remus shook his head again.

"I do not need to tell you that the consequences would have been very grave."

Remus braced himself. Because this was where Dumbledore was going to told him to pack his trunk and leave the school as soon as he was physically able. That his Hogwarts days were done. Over.

"I will impress upon Mr Snape the necessity of keeping this a secret. I am loathe to compound this unfortunate situation with magic," at this Dumbledore pushed his glasses down his nose to make sure that Remus understood that Snape's compliance was not a negotiable issue, "but if forced to I will.

Buck-up, thought Remus. Beat him to the punch.. Somehow the humiliation of being asked to leave wouldn't be as great if he suggested it first.

"I'll be gone by the weekend, sir."

"Gone? Gone wh— Remus, my boy, no, no, no. I have no intention of asking you to leave. I imagine it would be too much to ask that you refrain from any pranks at all, but when you are a werewolf they must not take advantage of you."

Dumbledore was the only person besides his friends who spoke of his lycanthropy in simple terms. Not even his parents could bring themselves to call him a werewolf. They couched it in terms like, "when that happens to you" or "at the full moon." He longed to scream at them, "You mean when I am a werewolf!" but it would hurt them dreadfully so he didn't. But this was yet another instance of why, even now, they were his friends. They were not afraid to name him, and by naming him they still cared for him.

"I thought, I mean…"

"This is not your fault. All I ask is that you speak to your friends. They cannot use your lycanthropy in any further schemes. Your very life depends on it. Speak to them. Please. Can you do that?"

Remus nodded, rendered mute by overwhelming gratitude.

Remus had spent most of the day in a drugged haze, as Madam Pomfrey tried to heal the worst of his wounds. In his rare moments of lucidity he struggled to organize what he was going to say to them. Well, say to Sirius, because James had known exactly what the consequences would have been had Snape actually encountered Remus, and Peter would always follow James' lead. No, although he'd talk to the room, it would be Sirius to whom he would (a) rip that irresponsible bastard a new arsehole; and (b) rip him yet a third one.

Madam Pomfrey had helped him walk back to the castle, clucking over him the entire way and marveling at how grim this time had been. When they had reached the portrait to the Gryffindor Common Room, she had handed him a bunch of potions to take for pain and two chocolate bars for the hell of it, and then reached up to give his cheek a gentle pat.

Every stair up to their room was a trial, and when he reached the top he was panting from the exertion. Tearing strips off of Sirius could wait. He'd fall into bed, close his curtains, drink up all this lot, and sleep for…

No, he wouldn't. As was his wont, James had stepped in and assumed responsibility for setting Sirius straight. How decent of James.

They were waiting for him, all of them in their respective four posters for once, Sirius hunched in a corner of his bed, his knees up to his chin, and his arms wrapped around his shins. He had an enormous black eye. Remus wasn't sure whether that was the Snape's or James' handiwork. He'd never seen James so angry at Sirius before, an anger certainly black-eye worthy. James and Peter were poised on the edges of their beds. When Remus came into the room, James leapt up and came to his side.

"Here," he said in a quiet voice, "put your arm around my shoulders. You look like shite."

I feel like shite he wanted to say but didn't have the energy or the will. They lurched toward Remus' bed. Someone, Sirius, no doubt based on the extravagance of the gesture, had placed handfuls of candy on his pillow. Maybe it was all three of them. He didn't care. He brushed them onto the floor with a tired hand and lay down.

"This colossal arse," James pointed at Sirius, "now understands the magnitude of his stupidity." Remus doubted that. Sirius didn't look contrite in the least. "Don't you, Sirius?" James didn't wait for an answer. "In future, nobody, and that means you and you," again, James with the vigorous finger-pointing this time at both Sirius and Peter, "does anything to jeopardize Remus' stay here at Hogwarts." At this Sirius looked slightly guilty. "No matter what happens. No matter how irritating Snape is, or what those disgusting toe rags Mulciber and Avery are up to, or just because their very existence as Slytherins means they are boils on the backside of society. Because if you do, then you will have to answer to me, and I swear, Sirius, if you do anything as stupid as that ever again, I will beat you to a bloody pulp. Understand? Apologize, Sirius, apologize to Remus," James demanded.

Sirius gave James the vee sign, and then James blackened Sirius' other eye for him. Remus turned over and fell asleep clutching one of Madam Pomfrey's chocolate bars.

There had never been this kind of rift between James and Sirius before. Oh, they'd had the odd tiff on occasion, which wasn't surprising because both of them had egos the size of Wales, but nothing of this magnitude. Oddly enough it robbed Remus of his own justifiable anger toward Sirius because the whole episode had now degenerated into a tug of war between James and Sirius, and the genesis of this rift—Sirius leading Snape to the Whomping Willow—slowly but surely became inconsequential.

Despite only being fifth years, James and Sirius were the leaders of the Gryffindor Common Room, thus this fight divided the Gryffindors in half, even though no one knew what the fight was about. The members of the Quidditch team and their friends naturally sided with James, and everyone else sided with Sirius. Peter ran himself ragged trying to please both of them, and Lily and Remus tried to ignore the situation with little success. Sirius had yet to apologize and before he apologized, James wouldn't budge.

"You can't tell me what this is about?" Lily asked one day as they were watching the Gryffindor Quidditch team practice on the pitch. Sirius was lurking under the bleachers watching as well. "Does it have anything to do with that Whomping Willow business, because Snape won't talk about it either, although it's obvious that something happened."

Remus didn't reply. He briefly considered lying, bluffing that he didn't know, but they were all too close for that to hold any water.

"It's becoming ridiculous," she continued. Remus couldn't argue. Sirius had taken to sleeping on one of the couches in the Common Room, effectively appropriating one half of the room while James' camp staked out the other. Fortunately, no one tried to monopolize the fireplace, which tacitly had become a neutral zone. "McGonagall asked me this morning what was going on. She'll have you four in her office if you don't resolve it soon."

"Why should I resolve it? I haven't done anything." Lily gave him a look. "This time. Oh, nice one, James. Did you see that?"

Lily ignored him and then said in a tone of extreme forbearance, "It's rarely you, Remus. But—"

"Look, Sirius did something extremely stupid and wankerish—"

"What else is new?"

"More wankerish. Like wanker squared, maybe even quadrupled, and, well, James is…" What was James doing? It seems that it had all spiraled way out of control. What was at first him demanding an apology on Remus' behalf had mushroomed into, God, Remus didn't know what it had mushroomed into, just that it was awful and he couldn't help but feel that it was entirely his fault. "James doesn't want to see it happen again."

"Amazing. James Potter actually having some common sense? I don't believe it."

Maybe because James was being so stand up about this, maybe because it was so awful having Sirius and James at each other's throats, and maybe he was so sick of being different. Being with James, Peter, and Sirius was the only time he didn't feel different. This fight between the two of them made him feel like he'd always felt before Hogwarts. An alien. A freak. And so alone that not even sitting here with Lily helped. Remus spent ninety-five percent of his time trying to justify James' behavior but not this time. This time, his own rage over this stupid, fucked-up situation made him righteously angry on James' behalf.

"You don't really even know him. He's immature and arrogant and sometimes a total pillock, but he's always there for me. Don't you understand? He's always there for me." Lily stiffened and reared back as if Remus had moved to slap her. "Always, and that's enough for me. In the future it will have to be enough for you."

Ignoring the hurt and mounting anger on her face, he scrambled down the bleachers to where Sirius was hiding. Because this had to stop, and it was obvious that he was the only one who could stop it.

So engrossed in the Quidditch players, Sirius didn't even hear Remus walk up.

"Sirius." Remus said it quietly, but even so it startled Sirius so badly that he drew his wand.

The uncertainty in Sirius' posture was instantly replaced by belligerence. If Remus hadn't thought it was so bloody silly, he would have sworn that Sirius practiced these poses in front of a mirror. Remus didn't know how he did it, but even Sirius' slouch was insolent. His black eyes had reached that pukey stage of yellow that always look far worse than the purpling, but felt a thousand times better. It made Sirius' contemptuous glare all that more effective.


"Stop it, Sirius. I don't care if you apologize. We all know you were an absolute daft bastard to do that to Snape, and you're too bloody brilliant not to acknowledge that James is right. And if James isn't right, then Dumbledore is. I don't care by this point. I'm going to tell James that you've apologized because if you two don't stop this, then McGonagall is going to become involved, and although I'm pretty sure she knows, if she doesn't, then I'd like to keep it that way. Will you do that for me? Just keep your fucking mouth shut when I tell James that you've finally apologized." Although the longer he kept talking the angrier he got, all of a sudden he was done. Maybe this was what he needed to do. Tell Sirius off. He closed his eyes. If he was going to beg, he didn't want to see Sirius' all smug and self-satisfied. "Please, Sirius. I can't stand this fighting anymore. Please, Pads."

When Sirius didn't respond, Remus opened his eyes and for a split second he saw a vulnerability, a yearning, and a confusion, all wrapped up in a depth of emotion he didn't think Sirius was even capable of feeling, and then it was gone. He must have imagined it because a gigantic dog was now up on its hind legs, its great paws on Remus' shoulders, slobbering over his cheeks with a fantastically wet tongue.

"Enough with the bath, Pads," Remus protested and laughed even as he buried his head in a bunch of fur.

He wouldn't have to lie to James at all.

May 1976

"Lupin, don't be tiresome. Is this a by-product of your lycanthropy?" As always when Snape baited him, he kept his voice low so that no one else would be privy to his remarks. Remus supposed he should be grateful that this was as far as it went.

It had been a month since the business between Snape and Sirius. Remus just gone through the change again, although this time it wasn't as bad. It seemed to alternate. One month was hell, with every molecule shouting out in protest, and the next it was like having a case of the flu; he was achy but not battered. Dumbledore was exacting a detention from Sirius the likes they had never seen. But for meals and bedtime, they rarely saw him. For a month Dumbledore had had him doing menial chores like pruning the zillion rose bushes in the garden with actual gardening tools, or peeling the mountains of potatoes every day with a Muggle-style potato peeler. He wasn't allowed to use magic period. When he studied, it was under Dumbledore's watchful eye.

Snape had kept his word to Dumbledore. Not a word about that night had reached the ears of the other students, especially not the Slytherins, who would have used every tool at their disposal to stick it to James and Sirius; the certain expulsion of Remus would have been a heavy blow indeed. Snape had begun to hang around some pretty questionable people. Even among the Slytherins, Mulciber and Avery were a cut below. The word "evil" came to mind. Remus knew if they knew about him, that everyone in the school would have heard about it within ten minutes, and then Dumbledore would have been forced to escort him to the gates of Hogwarts within no more than thirty minutes. In light of the possibilities, it wasn't that onerous to put up with Snape's snarky remarks, but it had grown old fast as Snape never let up.

They were sitting in the back of the Muggle Studies classroom, ostensibly mapping out their field trip. In reality, Snape was ignoring Remus and studying his Potions textbook in anticipation of their O.W.L.s., while Remus was trying not to grab the book out of Snape's hand and clonk him over the head with it.

"Can you possibly utter an entire paragraph without referring to me that way? Just one paragraph that's all I ask. I'm not being tiresome. For Christ's sake, pick three and let's be done with it." Remus shook the piece of parchment with the numbered list of Muggle activities on it. Snape didn't even bother looking up but continued reading.

"All right, I'll pick three." He tapped the sheet of parchment with this wand. "Five, eight, and twelve." The parchment shimmied, crackled, and most of the writing disappeared. At that Snape looked up and glared at him with such venom that Remus gripped his wand at the ready.

So much for Dumbledore's impassioned speech at the Leaving Feast of their fourth year castigating the students for increasingly hostile relations between the Houses. Unless there was some secret war going on between the Ravenclaws and the Hufflepuffs that he didn't know about, everyone knew Dumbledore was referring to the escalating hostility between the Gryffindors and Slytherins. In their fourth year a decades-old rivalry normally confined to the Quidditch pitch had migrated from the field into the classroom, and this year saw it spilling over into every single centimeter of Hogwarts. Into the dining hall, in the hallways, on the grounds: nowhere was off limits any more. The halls thrummed with the antagonism. Although still confined to pranks, minor hexes, and jinxes, it was only a matter of time before someone was seriously injured. Remus assumed that Dumbledore, in a pointless attempt to foster better relations, had instructed Houndy to pair Gryffindors with Slytherins if possible.

"You have only yourself to blame," Remus pointed out. He wanted to add "you irritating git" but didn't. Such epithets between students were common, but given that he'd nearly eaten Snape, Remus thought he'd save himself from a hex right between the eyes.

Snape was an arse, but then all the Slytherins were arses.

Remus had tried to curb the worst of the excesses, but it was a hopeless cause. If Remus were being honest with himself, it was obvious that the majority of the Gryffindor/Slytherin house warfare—at least in their year—had its roots in James' and Sirius' relentless baiting of Snape, with the rest of the Slytherins caught in the cross fire, until it had escalated into a general all-purpose house-versus-house antipathy. Even after all that had happened, Remus still didn't understand the unrelenting contempt with which Sirius treated Snape, so much so that Sirius had deliberately let slip the business about the tree knot so that Snape could follow Remus. It was unlikely that Remus would ever know why. Sirius' wet apology, even as a dog, had been accompanied by the tacit understanding that that night would not be mentioned again.

On James' part, it was obvious that its origins began with Snape's odd friendship with Lily Evans. Although they did their level best to hide it—because it wasn't in the interest of either one of them to admit that they were friends, such was the level of animosity between the two houses— to those who looked carefully (like James), Lily and Snape's strange friendship continued regardless, which only cemented James' fury and delighted Sirius.

Snape's eyes narrowed and his mouth pursed into a determined twist, as if he were debating exactly which spell to exact on Remus when Houndy's back was turned, when both of them were distracted by Morwena Flint screaming at Lily that she was a Muggle bitch. Houndy marched them both off to Dumbledore's office with the admonition to the rest of the class that if there were any disturbances while she was gone, all of them would be on kitchen detail for the next month helping the house-elves. Based on the glare Snape leveled at Morwena Flint as she exited the classroom, Remus didn't envy her reception in the Slytherin Common Room. Snape would never jeopardize his standing with the Slytherins by openly championing a Gryffindor, but he would extract some sort of retribution. Remus almost felt sorry for her.

"Look, we have three Saturdays to—"

Snape returned to reading his Potions textbook and spoke without even having the courtesy of glancing in Remus' direction.

"I spoke with Professor Houndstooth, and she's given us dispensation to make it a long day. I'm not wasting three precious Saturdays that I could be devoting to studying for my O.W.L.s. Besides, have you forgotten? I certainly haven't. I have no intention of being in your presence after dark, full moon or no. We'll do it in one day."

Remus debated putting up a fuss. Later he wondered if Snape's refusal to even look at Remus was so that he could control the situation. Most students who had signed up for this class had done so to take advantage of the opportunity to spend three Saturdays away from Hogwarts. That they had to study Muggle culture while doing it wasn't a top priority for anyone. Plus, Remus' mother was Muggle so he had more than a leg up. Not that he had any intention of telling Snape. Given the pure-blood tripe that Slytherins paid homage to on an hourly basis, it was in his best interest to keep it quiet. Snape already had centuries of material with which to verbally torture Remus. Being half Muggle didn't need to be added to the mix. Remus was a little curious why Morwena Flint was in this class; she seemed to swallow whole all the anti-Muggle tripe that punctuated most Slytherin conversations. Of course the alternative was Divination, which probably explained Snape's presence and most definitely Lily's, who'd had been brought up Muggle.

"It's not debatable, Lupin."

"Any other instructions I should know about?"

Snape finally looked up. "Yes, please refrain from attempting to be droll; it doesn't suit you. Unlike fangs and claws. Not this Saturday but next. It's in the middle of the month, for reasons that are obvious. I'll arrange for a Portkey to take us to Leeds where we can catch the train to Cokeworth, a nasty little mill town in Yorkshire where seventy percent of the population is on the dole. What did you choose?" Snape ran an eye over the parchment. "A playground. Lovely. I hate children. A Muggle pub. Equally fantastic. We should have no trouble finding surly layabouts drinking away their dole money. And a church. Glorious. I'll meet you at the gates to Hogwarts at seven on Saturday morning next. If I don't hang myself before then."

Remus opened his mouth to protest but before he could say anything, Snape was up and gone. Snape was astonishingly graceful.

It was to be expected, but that didn't make Sirius' unmerciful teasing about his upcoming day with Snape any easier. In deference to Dumbledore's express orders, Sirius had suspended, mostly, bullying Snape in the classroom. Outside of the classroom, however, Sirius was as venomous as ever. Although Remus would have preferred to have been paired with Lily, James' jealousy would have been incandescent, so it was just as well. Plus, Remus was convinced that Dumbledore had orchestrated the whole thing, trying to foster some sort of rapprochement between Remus and Snape. This didn't make Sirius' nattering at him incessantly any easier, asking him if they were visiting the anti-git doctor or the charm school or the dentist for a decent teeth cleaning or the hairdresser or the tailor for some decent clothes—at James' stagey cough and a pointed look at Remus' frayed shirt cuffs, Sirius didn't mention that again—but he went on and on with Peter chiming in every now and then. He kept it up until Remus snapped at him, "This is your fault, Pads. If you hadn't been so bloody stupid, then Dumbledore wouldn't have paired the two of us, to, you know, fix things." At the mention of that night, Sirius went silent and then turned into a dog to nuzzle Remus' hand. Of course, the next day he was still as much of a wanker about it as he had been the day before.

Mercifully, James was mostly silent except for the odd complaint that Susannah was one of those girls who giggled in lieu of speaking. James was scheduled to visit a bakery, a confectioner's shop, and a restaurant. Sirius basically ignored James' whining because he didn't care two straws about a no-name Hufflepuff who had something of a sweet tooth, while he cared gobs about Remus spending the day with his arch enemy.

Normally the Gryffindor Common Room was a riot of students hanging off bits of furniture and jostling for spots closer to the fire. Saturday afternoons were often quiet even under the pressure of looming N.E.W.T.s and O.W.L.s; Remus and Lily could usually count on having the room to themselves for a couple of hours. Half of the Gryffindors went to the pitch to watch the team practice and the other half snuck off to find remote places in the castle to snog.

Why he wasn't madly in love with Lily Evans was a total mystery. Smart but not obnoxious about it—Sirius and James could learn by example here—kind to those who needed her kindness, brusque with those who didn't—which bespoke of an integrity and strength of character usually found in those twice her age—beautiful—even Sirius had to concede on that score—she was the sort of girl one did fall in love with. But while Remus was enormously fond of her, he had no interest in her girly bits, which both puzzled and relieved him because James never would have forgiven him.

"Are you all right, Remus? You look tired." Lily peered at him and lay down her quill to brush a lock of hair away from his forehead.

That was another thing, this physical ease about her. She often put her hand on his arm or punched his shoulder playfully. As if she knew he wouldn't misinterpret such gestures and, in a truly inspired bit of insight, that he might appreciate them. He supposed he should be insulted because although he didn't fancy her, his ego should have been miffed that she didn't fancy him. But it wasn't, because aside from the usual crushing insecurities every sixteen-year-old boy grapples with—spots, skinny calves, the absence of hair where there should be hair—the werewolf in him had negated any expectation that anyone would or could ever find him physically attractive. For years Remus had viewed his body with disgust; the only embraces he welcomed were from his mother and the affectionate nuzzling of Padfoot. Yet, he found himself helpless to avoid Lily's little pats of affection, leaning into her hand with an internal sigh of satisfaction.

He had dark days, mostly in the summer when alone and lonely, when he was convinced he would be nothing more than a sidekick forever. That his friends, even Peter, would eventually marry, have children, and fight every night over who is supposed to do the washing up—the usual trajectory. That he would become godfather to their children, always on the sidelines, alone once again when he changed. Perhaps this was one of those wonderful gifts best not received because now he couldn't imagine not having Sirius, James, and Peter at his side for those nights.

"Tired. You know." He shrugged and tried to smile.

Besides James, Sirius, and Peter only Dumbledore, Madam Pomfrey, and now Snape knew about Remus. Given that she was Head of his house, it is inconceivable that McGonagall didn't know, but she never confronted him about it. Naturally, it had been Sirius who noticed that Remus' chronic illnesses fell on the full moon every month. Naturally, Sirius being Sirius, he had thought it was cool beyond belief. Remus suspected James, being James, had been the prime force behind their secret pact to be "Animagi in arms" with Remus. James really did have a deep-seated practical streak. Even his pranks were practical, never requiring a tremendous amount of clean-up. The ones that made big noises and created a ton of mess were generally Sirius'. Peter, as always, had taken his cues from Sirius and James. To everyone else Remus had fobbed off his exceptionally poor health with vague hints that he suffered from a chronic family disease, which people accepted, no questions asked. Lily merely expressed sympathy when Remus was looking especially peaked, although maybe she knew and just ignored it. She was awfully bright.

"You set for your field trips?"

Lily rolled her eyes.

"Have I told you what an utter cow Morwena Flint is?"

Remus grinned. "You might have mentioned it once or twice."

"We finally negotiated a deal. I insisted that we go to the National Gallery in London. She insisted that we go shopping at some stupid French designer's store on Sloane Street where even a pair of socks costs something like four hundred pounds. Since we couldn't or wouldn't agree on the third field trip"—she grimaced—"Dumbledore chose for us. We're to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I think the man has a uniform kink. He nearly had a stroke describing how beautiful it is." Her face softened. "I love London. We go there as often as we can. You?"

Remus shook his head. There wasn't even money for decent clothes in his house, never mind pleasure excursions to London.

"Maybe we could meet there this summer. You know. Floo in. Have a day."

Christ, did Remus wear his loneliness like some hair shirt? He swallowed his irritation because she was only being nice. "Sounds grand," he managed to say out without sounding like an arse.

"Have you and Snape come to terms?" she asked with a sly grin.

In private Remus knew that she called him Severus. Generally clueless about that sort of thing, he never would have guessed they were friends if he hadn't shared that first train ride to Hogwarts with them; they obviously knew each other from before. Although he and Lily had a somewhat clandestine friendship (if only to assuage James), her friendship with Snape was nearly invisible. Remus suspected they met in the library. Its maze-like stacks would be private from even the most prying eyes. Lily's constant defense of Snape at the hands of his friends could have been interpreted as one student looking out for another's welfare, but with an insight that frankly shocked Remus, James seemed to immediately have sussed out that Snape was more than just a nobody that Lily would have defended on principle.

Remus had a startling thought. Maybe Lily was one of those people who collected friends with metaphorical broken wings, which explained why she wasn't interested in James, whose only pathology was a passion for a girl who wasn't remotely interested in him. Remus was certainly battered and scarred, and now he wondered if Snape was equally if not more battered.

"Didn't have any say in the matter. Conversation doesn't quite cover it. More like I received my marching orders. Snape is insisting on buggering off the wonderful three days we've been allotted and wants to do it in one. Apparently we're spending next Saturday in some nasty town called Cokeworth."

She stared at him, and in a voice that couldn't have sounded any more shocked than if he'd said Mars, demanded, "You're sure?"

"Of course I'm sure. It's in Lancashire, isn't it?" Remus had been brought up just east of Manchester so he knew exactly how ugly mill towns could be. Scanning his Potions notes from that Friday, he noticed a big question mark. "What did Slughorn say about the shelf life of asphodel? I missed that bit."

"Yorkshire. Former mill town, of course. That you need to replenish it every four months. And the reason that you missed it was because that bloody pervert Black was on his knees on the floor pretending to have lost something when in reality he was trying to look up Elvira Quince's skirts and you were trying to stop him."

Remus smiled a "what can you do" smile. After he'd blown up at her that day while they were sitting on the bleachers, she'd pulled back somewhat on the criticisms of his friends, but she hadn't stopped entirely.

"I know I'm not supposed to… But hear me out. Aren't you tired of the same old, Remus? Always being their conscience?"

"I can't explain it. They're my mates." He must have sounded churlish because Lily pursed her mouth in response and then went back to writing her essay with a little bit too much force. Her quill scratched across the parchment in an angry scrape. "Is it nasty? Cokeworth?" he asked in an attempt to steer the conversation away from his inappropriate friendship with three very appropriate people, or maybe it was an appropriate friendship with three very inappropriate people. Some days it was hard to tell.

She looked up.

"You have other friends. Or at least you could," she insisted.

He couldn't say, I don't want other friends. They accept me. They'd spent God knows how long learning how to become Animagi so that I wouldn't be alone when I change, to watch over me and protect others. No, he couldn't say any of that, so what he did say was, "Lily, don't."

She didn't reply, but turned away—but not before he saw the pity with which she regarded him—and conjured up a map of Cokeworth.

"Yes. Or at least parts of it are. I grew up there." She pointed to the end of the city limits. "On the edges of Rombald's Moor. The countryside has a terrible beauty about it." The map disappeared and in its place was a shimmering rendition of the moors. Remus had also grown up in such a place—when one has a werewolf for a son, isolation is something of a necessity—where it rained constantly, spring lasted three days, summer two months, fall a day, and winter never ended. "The city is merely terrible. They razed the nice bits in the sixties, so my mother says, and put up a bunch of awful modern eyesores. But they didn't raze these." The rough green hills vanished and a bleak picture appeared of row after row of tiny stone houses configured in an unforgiving crosshatch with nary a tree, shrub, or a single flower in sight. It looked like a rat's maze, which he imagined how all those overworked mill workers felt like: human rats. With a quick flourish, the picture disappeared. She said in a low, urgent voice, "I imagine that Snape would be an expert on exactly how nasty it is."

If Remus didn't know any better, he'd have said there was a plea in there somewhere. It also made him stupidly glad that he wasn't the only person that Lily felt sorry for.

Remus supposed that it was wishful thinking that since it was pissing out of the heavens in Hogsmeade that the storm would have moved sufficiently northward and Cokeworth would be dry. Cold, but dry. No such luck. A Portkey whisked them away to a wizarding pub in Leeds, where he could hear the rain pounding against the windows. A sleepy barman, still wearing his pajamas, was waiting for them. He handed them two return tickets and told them that the train station was a bit of a ways down on the left. Train was leaving in forty-five minutes, and next train didn't leave for another three hours so they'd better shake a leg and eat their breakfast. If they weren't back by eight that night, he was instructed to send an owl to Hogwarts, and he didn't fancy sending an owl to Hogwarts, so they'd better not play at being silly buggers and find themselves in trouble. He had a room upstairs if they wanted to spend the night and Portkey back to Hogsmeade in the morning, but if they were going to do that, they needed to Firecall Dumbledore, and, Merlin, he was knackered and going back to bed. Covering his mouth with one hand to hide a yawn, with the other he pointed to a table with two bowls of oatmeal, two mugs, and a pot of tea. As he shuffled across the room, obviously on his way back to bed, he stopped, yawned again, and bade them give Dumbledore his regards.

"So where are we going first?" Remus mumbled around spoonfuls of oatmeal. Short of burning the hell out of it, you really can't fuck up oatmeal—oatmeal is oatmeal—but the tea was hot and very strong, just the way he liked it.

"Lupin, shut up."

"Of course, you don't have to answer my questions. But I will point out that since we're underage you can't hex me. I'm guessing the church first, then the pub. Unless this rain eases up, the park's out, so I hope you have a back-up plan. I'll just keep nattering on and on in the most annoying manner until you treat me with a modicum of civility. Since you hate receiving anything less than full marks on your assignments, I know that you won't tell me to fuck off. Because, well, if that happened, I'd have to complain to Houndy and we'll both fail. I don't like receiving poor marks either, but it probably would be worth it because you're being a total git about all this. Sad, really. Probably would ruin your chances of—"

"St. Anne's. Catholic church. Mass is at 9:00. The church will be mostly empty; however, there will be a
few misguided souls who foolishly believe that their lot in this life is so appalling that it must be better in the next. I imagine it will be the first time that a werewolf has crossed its threshold. After mass we'll go to the park. Which, if it isn't pouring, will be filled with children and mothers trying to escape their sad, horrible little lives for one brief hour. Too bad you can't change at will and then terrify them mute to silence their incessant whinging. And then on to the pub, which will be filled with your usual assortment of sots drinking their breakfast. I imagine we'll be finished by noon. I'd like to be back at Hogwarts by three. Where did you grow up, Lupin? Not far from here I wager. My accent was beaten out of me, but you still have yours."

"East of Manchester. In the countryside." His mother couldn't believe how little he knew about his friends, but then where you grew up didn't seem important. He knew that Sirius had been brought up in London. That aristocratic drawl couldn't be from anywhere else. James was from somewhere in Sussex—that term he was determined to lose his accent and spoke in some bastardized rhyming Cockney patois nearly drove all of them spare, and Peter? Wiltshire somewhere based on his accent, but Remus didn't know for sure. "Near Bolton."

Snape narrowed his eyes. "Near the Pretoria Pit?"

Remus nodded. "Lost two great-great-uncles."

Sixty year later, the mining disaster at the turn of the century in that part of the country was still talked about in the pubs. Among the three hundred and forty-four killed included a number of young wizards who had worked in the mine, waiting for their chance to come of age and once and for all use their wands to Scourgify the coal dust from their faces. The division between wizard and Muggle wasn't as pronounced in the north of England as it was in the south, where the two communities flourished equally but completely separately. With life so bleak and unforgiving, survival meant the rigid lines between these two societies were fuzzy at best. Although the secrecy laws still held sway, and wizarding children were subject to spells that forbid them to talk about being wizards, impoverished wizards sent their sons to work in the pits. His parents were teachers at the same grimy, fourth-rate Muggle school in Manchester. It was the only teaching job his father could find, positions at wizarding primary schools few and far between.

"You know then. What it does to you, living in a place like this. We could have a debate, Lupin. What was worst? Growing up in a northern English mining town or a northern English mill town."

Snape didn't bother to wait for a response, but finished his tea, daubed his mouth with his napkin, and with a delicate precision folded it into fourths. Then he shoved back his chair, threaded his arms into his ratty coat, and said in a quiet voice, for once devoid of sarcasm, "We should be in time for the aves. The organist isn't bad." At that point the rain began a vicious rat-tat-tat against the glass. "Assuming we aren't washed away," he added with his usual venom.

Sirius had shoved an umbrella in his great coat pocket as Remus had walked out of their room that morning. When Remus made to throw it back at him, Sirius growled in a sleepy voice, "If you don't take it, I'm going to torture Peter the whole time you're gone." Remus didn't believe that for one bleeding minute, except at the sound of Sirius' voice, Peter woke up.

"What? Remus? What's going on?"

Rather than make a fuss, he just decided to accept the use of Sirius's much nicer umbrella (as opposed to his own, whose spokes were mostly bent out of shape). "Go back to sleep, Pete. See you all tonight."

Now he was grateful for Sirius' generosity as the rain whipped around them but didn't soak them. Snape apparently didn't even own an umbrella. Had the two of them been squished under his sad misshapen umbrella, they would have been wet through by the time they'd reached the train station.

Remus was a little surprised that Sirius actually owned a functioning umbrella to lend. Careless with his clothes, his books, and often his words, Sirius was insanely fervent about a few things and maddeningly complacent about everything else. Having grown up with, being without didn't bother him. James wasn't much different. They had no idea what it was like to calculate whether your jumper would last you another year, damn your arms for growing so long. Of course, Sirius now wore clothes that were too small for him, but that was a matter of pride. His cuffs rode up his arms because he was going to be damned if he was going to ask his parents for new clothes. In fact, Sirius probably had drawers full of clothes at home that fit him, and yet just to stick it to his parents he wore jumpers that were too small and socks with holes in them.

Remus rarely lost his temper, but the day he found Sirius using his cauldron as a make-shift drum and cheerfully banging a bunch of dents in it, he went mad and actually hexed Sirius. Remus couldn't help but remember how painful it had been to watch his mother count out the Galleons, one by one, as if doing it very slowly would cause others to the place in the bottom of her purse. And then Sirius got angry back because Remus was being a total nutter—it was only a fucking cauldron—and then James stepped in and called Sirius a selfish git, and Peter, for once, sided with Sirius, and no one spoke to each other for two days.

At some point James must have collared Sirius and really given him the what for, because ten days later a brand new cauldron just appeared in middle of his counterpane, with two gigantic bars of Honeydukes' Milk stuffed inside of it and a note with an apology scrawled in Sirius' blowsy, untidy script: "Was a wanker. Sorry." It was a much nicer cauldron than the one Sirius had ruined. After he had calmed down, Remus realized that being the thoughtless bugger he was, Sirius had probably just reached for the first cauldron that came to hand.

Come to think of it, this was probably James' umbrella.

Well, James was very generous. He probably wouldn't mind.

Remus tried not to shiver and nestled as close to Snape as he could without touching him. God, it was cold. Not like Scotland wasn't fecking freezing all the time, but here the nearby moors meant the rain was accompanied by an icy damp that ate at your bones. Fortunately the train station wasn't far off and the train was already there, its engines humming. Snape had obviously done this before because he didn't hesitate. He made for the station door from the sidewalk, marching up the proper staircase and onto the platform without even a glance to left or right.

Spying them immediately and giving their somewhat worn coats the once over, an officious conductor shouted, "Can I help you, boys?" He probably assumed they were trying to sneak onto the train for a free ride.

Snape pulled the tickets from his pocket and shoved them in the conductor's face, whose eyebrows raised in surprise, confirming Remus' suspicions.

"Oh. Off you go then. First two cars."

Snape shoved them back in his pocket and began striding down the platform, but not before giving the conductor a withering glower. Remus gave the conductor a deprecating smile and then followed Snape to a first-class compartment.

"This is lovely," Remus purred. Dumbledore must have bought these tickets. There was heat, the seats were bloody marvelous, and the car didn't stink of cheap wet wool. Remus bent over to warm his hands against the hot air coming out the vent at his feet. "That was nice of him."

Snape nodded and didn't say anything, but it wasn't a surly silence. Hunched up in the seat, his arms wrapped around him despite the relative warmth, Snape was staring out the window with a pensive crunch to his brow. If Remus didn't know any better he'd swear Snape seemed, well, afraid. Remus was dying to ask him why they were here when Snape was obviously miserable, but there were some questions you just didn't ask, and it wasn't like Remus didn't understand about having secrets.

The train ride was uneventful if silent, as was the walk from the station to the church. Lily had been right. Vestiges of Victorian architecture remained, but based on what he could see through the rain-spattered windows of the train, the city was now largely ugly concrete structures. Only a few buildings had survived the onslaught of modernization, their turrets incongruous next to the boxy brutality of 1960s architecture. Fortunately the church wasn't too far, and the rain had eased up a bit. Maybe they could visit a park after all. Despite the Tudors' efforts to stamp it out, northern England had always been a bastion of Catholicism. The influx of the Irish to work in the mills meant that English recusants finally had legitimate places to worship. If you are working people to death in factories, it probably had seemed churlish to deny them the right to pray for their salvation. As he had at the train station, Snape knew exactly where he was going, grabbing the front door and walking in like he'd only done it yesterday.

Remus followed Snape to a seat in the very back on one side. There couldn't have been more than twenty people in the entire church, all of them on their knees. Located in a sketchy area, the church was built of that unrelentingly grim stone, typical of buildings built before the turn of the century, which made the interior all the more shocking. Stained glass with colors so vibrant and beautiful, cast colored shadows across the great room. An elaborate altar at the far end spoke of earlier times when parish money must have been plentiful. Based on the surrounding neighborhood, current times couldn't support such an ornate homage to God. A heavy-footed organist was wrapping up some Bach piece, and even with Remus' limited musical knowledge, whoever was playing it was out of their ken.

As the last note rang out, Snape gave a disgusted glance in direction of the organ, and Remus assumed that this was not the organist Snape was expecting. The priest emerged from wherever and everyone stood up. Having absolutely no idea what in the hell was going on, Remus took his cues from Snape, sitting, standing, kneeling, and then sitting again at appropriate moments. He'd have to rely on Snape's background to write this part of the essay, because it was obvious that Snape knew the service backwards and forwards. Although he didn't respond like everyone else, he stood up, kneeled, and sat down when it was appropriate, right along with the rest of the congregation. He wasn't two beats late like Remus was.

The service was maybe forty minutes. When the rest of the parishioners began to file out the door, Remus made to stand up. A hand stayed him and he sat back down. A lone woman remained, her shoulders curved inward kneeling in prayer, her head bent. Snape kept watching her, never moving his eyes away, not even a millimeter. After several minutes she pulled herself up, slowly, as if in pain, and then turned around. In a flash, Snape dove down so that she wouldn't see him, stuffing himself between the pew and Remus.

He needn't have gone to those lengths. The woman never even looked their way, but made her way out of the church slowly, eyes forward, her hand gently touching the top of every pew as she walked by. Her dark eyes were clear, her strong face worn, and her generous mouth pursed in what he assumed was now a habitual frown of forbearance. Her son was her spitting image. Except for her hair, which was white.

Christ, Snape was a moody bugger, Remus kept telling himself as they walked through an even dodgier part of town. These northern towns had a depressing sameness about them, the building fronts smudged with decades-old black from coal fires. Some been scrubbed free of the dark, but most had not. There were a few empty lots where houses had once stood, and several where the windows had been boarded up in a pointless attempt to keep out squatters; most of them had smoke coming out of the chimneys. There didn't seem to be any purpose to this walking, but from the fast pace and the way he kept his head down, Snape wasn't in the mood to offer any explanations. It was all Remus could do to keep up.

As they had sat in the church, Remus had waited for Snape to leave the bench. Stand up. Follow his mother outside. Cough loudly even. But there was nothing. Although Remus would have sworn that Snape didn't move a muscle, it seemed that he shrank so completely into the shadow cast by Remus' own slender shoulders that if anyone had happened to look down the aisle, they would have only seen one boy.

His own relationship with his parents was mundane, all of them hostage to his lycanthropy. There really wasn't any room for other drama. The werewolf in him owned all of them, a silent presence but for three days a month. Although they seemed glad to see him at holidays, by the end of the long summer break his parents were visibly relieved he was going, gratefully letting Dumbledore bear the burden of dealing with his change for nine months. He didn't want to think about it too closely, because who wants to acknowledge that his parents sighed with relief at the sight of his back boarding a train. The tacit acknowledgment that they welcomed the departure of the werewolf was somewhat belied by the weekly owls that clearly showed they missed the boy. Discounting the werewolf business, except for Remus' tendency to wear his socks for days on end and his refusal to eat vegetables, they got along fairly well. But Sirius' near-epic hatred of his own parents, especially his mother, had shown Remus that, no, not everyone loved their parents, and that, yes, on occasion one's parents could actually be flaming arses. It was certainly strange that they would come to Snape's home town and attend a church service Snape must have known his mother would attend, and yet there hadn't been any mention of visiting Snape's home for even a cup of tea.

They sat there for God knows how long, Remus knowing that if he so much as moved a centimeter that Snape would curse him, magical restrictions be damned. Then Snape elbowed Remus in the ribs as a sign they were done. After having sat for so long, Remus' right knee creaked a bit when he got up. Snape glared at him and set up a pace down the aisle that was little short of a run. He hadn't eased up his pace since, which was possibly a good thing as it was bitter out, the rain having eased up only to be replaced by an arctic wind. Right about the point Remus could give a damn about being hexed for impertinence because it was preferable to freezing to death did Snape nip into a cafi, jerk his head in the direction of the counter, and snarl, "Coffee. Black." He then made a beeline for a table in the back near the radiator.

Nearly frozen and his stomach rumbling in protest that he was hungry, yet again, Remus ignored his first instinct, which was to tell Snape to fuck off, and went with his second, which was to tease Snape a wee bit—"How black?"—which earned him another glare. If the spots on her face were any indication, the surly girl behind the counter wasn't any older than they were, and based on the way she slammed their coffee cups down on the counter she wasn't exactly thrilled to be there. But with some easy joking on Remus' part and a few smiles, he eventually won her around. Her shy smile as she piled a plate high with scones and muffins broadened into a grin when he put a few coins of Dumbledore's money in the tip jar. She didn't even wait for him to walk away before emptying it into her palm and shoving it all in her pocket.

As they tore through their second breakfast—Remus noted with a private satisfaction that Snape was as famished as he was—Remus wondered what he could say. Talking about the church service was obviously verboten. Although at a certain point they'd have to talk about it to do their assignment for Houndy, clearly, now was not the time. Remus certainly wasn't going to talk about his family, because that would open the door to questions or nasty comments about his lycanthropy, and obviously questions about Snape's family were off-limits. Quidditch was also off limits given James' domination on the pitch, although Remus suspected that Snape was as keen on Quidditch as he was. He might not play, but Snape cheered on the Slytherins at every single game and even watched them practice when the Slytherins had the pitch. Remus knew this because he, James, Sirius, and Peter were also at every single practice of the Slytherin Quidditch team, hunkered under the bleachers spying on them to best their strategies. Quidditch was definitely out.

This left little to talk about as Remus pretty much disliked all the Slytherins, and he imagined that Snape fairly hated all the Gryffindors, especially his roommates. The only topics left were classes, teachers, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs. After nodding a few times to some casual, harmless observations—didn't he think it bizarre that considering this was a school where you'd think they'd have the welfare of the students as their number-one priority, but what about those moving staircases moved? Didn't he think Professor Sprout had a face like a pansy; and wasn't their new Defence teacher a flaming moron?—Snape grudgingly began to actually respond to his comments.

No, Binns was not the most boring teacher on the face of this earth; Shameworth, the Divination teacher was worse than Binns. Divination was not a crock of shite; it was two crocks of shite.

Yes, Flitwick was more wide than he was tall, After some surreptitious wand waving, Snape had actually measured him and he was two inches wider than he was tall.

Did Snape think that when the Hufflepuffs wrapped their scarves around their necks that they looked like they were being strangled by a hive bees? Snape agreed and noted that he would have got down on his knees and begged the Sorting Hat to place him anywhere but Hufflepuff based solely on the atrocious house colors.

At Remus' saucy smile—because he really didn't need to ask him how he'd have felt being sorted into Gryffindor—Snape raised one eyebrow—Remus couldn't fathom how he did that—waited three beats, and replied, "I would have hung myself." Remus laughed because Snape really did have a wicked delivery, and Remus probably would have felt the same had he been sorted into Slytherin.

It turned out that their assessment of various classes and teachers was pretty similar, although where Remus tended to praise certain teachers, in Snape's case it was the absence of scorn that indicated approval. When Remus got brave enough to mention Lily, Snape didn't reply but swept up all the cups and dirty napkins, piled them on the plate, and walked out the front door. Another verboten subject. Apparently.

Having conceded that this was Snape's show—roughly around the time Snape shoved the first-class train tickets into the face of the suspicious conductor—Remus again found himself trotting behind Snape as they made their way through the town. This time though, Snape walked with a purpose, and within twenty minutes they were at the entrance to a small park. Half of the swings were missing seats, and the rest of the playground equipment was tired and rusty. All decayed to a similar degree, Remus figured that this park had been put in when the city had seen better times. Now that the city was obviously in a continuous downward spiral of economic despair, Remus doubted that the seats would be replaced or the roundabout repainted anytime soon.

Even though his face was expressionless, Snape stood there, as if afraid to touch the gate. Despite the cold, a couple of women sat on a bench smoking down cigarettes and chatting with each other, only pausing to yell at their kids.

"Simon, do that one more time and I'll smack your arse for you."

"Becca, let go of Tina or we're going home."

"Don't make me come over there."

The children kept on beating up on each other and throwing sand, and the mothers kept on issuing pointless threats, the cigarettes and gossip more compelling than keeping their children from hurting one another.

Remus was about to push open the gate, although he privately thought that Muggle children threw sand just as vigorously as wizarding children, and they might as well go back to the cafi and have another coffee until the pubs opened up, when he felt something sharp shove into the small of his back; a real shove that nipped one of his kidneys.

He turned to Snape, about to demand what for, when he saw a bobbie standing behind him, his hand rubbing lovingly up and down a nightstick.

"What can I do for you boys?" he asked in a menacing tone. His hands the size of a dinner plate, he had that pudgy but brawny build of an athlete gone to seed. Rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, as if to gain some additional momentum before he swung his club, Remus bet that one crack on the head from that bloke and he'd probably end up with permanent brain damage. He opened his mouth to explain they were on a school assignment, because the last thing they needed was for Snape to snarl out a response, earning them only cracked skulls if they were lucky or a night in jail if they weren't.

"Live over on High Street, sir. Showing me mate where I used to play as a kid. No offense. Sir." Snape said in such a broad northern drawl that even Remus had trouble understanding him. "We'll just be off then, will we?"

The police officer narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to the side.

Snape grabbed Remus' arm and pulled him down the sidewalk.

A shout of, "Don't want to see you back here again, you hear?" followed them.

"As if we couldn't hear that fat lout yelling his piggy little ears off," Snape murmured under his breath in his normal accent. Then he broke into a run and it was all Remus could do to keep up with him.

By the time they'd put a good half mile between themselves and the park, Remus stopped running and Snape followed suit without a protest.

They leaned against the side of a building, catching their breath.

"That was brilliant back there. That guy looked like his Sunday morning wouldn't be complete without laying into a few people. Didn't like the way he was fondling that nightstick. Bloody creepy," Remus noted in between pants.

"Yes," Snape huffed out, even more winded than Remus. "My summers are devoted to avoiding those psychopaths." Of course that begged the question what was Snape doing outside all summer? "I can't wait until I'm of age and I can hex them." At Remus' raised eyebrows, Snape amended, "Nothing too dire," although his expression said differently.

"We've got an hour until the pubs open. Do you want to wait in the train station? At least it's warm there. When the pubs open at noon, we'll have a look around while we order lunch, spend the last of Dumbledore's money, and then catch the afternoon train back to Leeds. There's a pub near the train station that doesn't look too sketchy. The Cricketers Arms, is it? That a go?"

Snape gave Remus a once over. Not a hostile glance but calculating one, and then he nodded. Something thawed right there and then, as if Remus had passed some test.

"Come on, Lupin. You may have the blood of a vicious animal but I'm currently freezing to death, so move your arse," I grumbled.

God, Dumbledore was a sneaky bastard. Obviously Houndy had been instructed to pair the two of us together in a completely misguided effort to smooth over that werewolf business. I still couldn't quite believe that Dumbledore had allowed Lupin to remain at Hogwarts.

When Dumbledore had walked me back to the school after that night, he was sympathetic to a point, but then when I pressed that Black should be expelled, he turned to me and said, "You must trust me, Severus. I understand completely the gravity of the situation, but I have no intention of expelling Mr Black, not the least because if I do so, it will expose Mr Lupin to unspeakable derision and prejudice. I'm sorry, but you really must trust me. Mr Black will receive a detention that is most appropriate in response to what I acknowledge was a most severe lack of judgment. I must ask you, I place my trust in you, do not speak of last night to anyone. Not a single person must know."

I agreed because what choice did I have, but I seethed with the injustice of it all. Clearly not even attempted murder was enough to earn those hooligans the expulsion they so richly deserved. Dumbledore must have said something to those cretins Potter and Black because in the classroom they restrained themselves. It was an effort, obviously, but they managed. But on the grounds and in the halls of the castle I was once again fair game.

And here I was spending the day with Lupin.

Although Lupin hadn't bombarded me with questions in the cafi, I braced myself for a nosy interfering harangue as we waited in the train station, whiling away the next hour or so waiting for the pubs to open. Even I would have been curious at the turn of events. What in the hell had I been thinking?

I should have just opted for going to London for the day and yet…

He must have known that was my mother. Lupin wasn't stupid. Although those thugs for roommates of his excelled in Charms and Transfiguration—disciplines that I thought were pedestrian at best—Lupin was something of a prodigy in Defence despite the parade of hopeless idiots pretending to be teachers that we had to suffer through. Even I was impressed with his abilities and little impressed me. Of course, now it made sense. He understood the Dark because he was Dark. In Potions he was mediocre. But for Lily, there wasn't a student within arm's reach of my competence in that subject. Slughorn was an adequate teacher for adequate students, but being miles above adequate, I chaffed under his limited knowledge. Plus I thought him something of a fool—that Slug Club nonsense. As if the animosity between houses wasn't already at a fever pitch. Cultivating favorites by admitting certain students to his special clique only fanned the already scorching flames of house warfare as we jostled for dominance over each other. Sometimes I wondered about Dumbledore, why he turned a blind eye to Slughorn's exclusive soirees. But then I was finding out exactly what an expert Dumbledore was in turning a blind eye, wasn't I?

As much as I thought most of the curriculum was wizarding kindergarten, Defence and Potions held my interest, and until recently, Lupin's natural ability had surprised me. As with Potions, Defence walked the ethical fine line that the other disciplines only gave lip service to. With Potions you had to learn to poison so that you can devise an antidote. Similarly with Defence spells, you had to learn the Dark Arts to defend yourself against the Dark Arts. Of course that also meant you needed to truly understand the dark, just as you needed to know how to effectively poison someone.

Even at fifteen this seemed obvious to me. On a quiet afternoon on a winter's day just after Christmas, Dumbledore and I were having tea. With the exception of me and a few teachers, the castle was deserted. I shudder at how bitter I was as a child, but at that point I was still relatively naïve.

Soaking up the heat from a robust fire, we were seated in his chambers, a room that I will always think of as the most beautiful room I've ever seen. I said in between rapid bites of scone, "The heart of both Potions and Defence is to understand the forbidden. Isn't that right, sir?"

I will never forget his response.

"Severus," he chided me gently, looking at me from above his glasses in a concerned manner that became habitual as the years went on. "You are too young for such knowledge."

Of course when you face evil every day at the breakfast table for eleven years, that sort of knowledge becomes your only way of surviving.

I didn't respond. I waited for one of his cheery little observations about life, the sort of claptrap that he issued from the head table with a predictable regularity.

He stared off into the distance, his gaze fixed on the blizzard outside his window. "I say this to you, Severus, because I think of all the students currently here at Hogwarts, you will understand me." He turned to me and I don't think his eyes have even been that blue, that fierce. "The hardest lesson for a wizard to learn is that magic's beauty and power is a doorway to corruption and evil."

It took me twenty years to fully understand what he was referring to. At fifteen, I thought he was being melodramatic. I replied with a puzzled, "Sir?"

His eyes returned to the window, as if to watch the falling snow. In retrospect, I think it was shame that made him break eye contact. "Some days I believe I am possibly the most unfit person for this job, and yet who understands how magic corrupts better than I?"

Voldemort had just begun recruiting Death Eaters, and it was incomprehensible that Dumbledore didn't know that at the time, but he wasn't referring to Tom Riddle. Not one month later Voldemort began recruiting from Hogwarts itself, culling off the most promising of the Slytherins, using Lucius' money, charm, and house as a base from which to build his army. When Dumbledore turned his back on me, ignoring Black's attempts to murder me at the hands of this gentle boy sitting next to me in the Cokeworth train station, he sealed my fate.

War corrupts as well.

Dumbledore had already purchased their return tickets, so they had nothing to do in the train station other than warm up and wait. Even if they hadn't exhausted all relatively neutral topics, the public nature of a train station wasn't the place to discuss Quidditch and the merits of a Firebolt versus a Comet. Remus had resigned himself to doing bugger all for an hour when Snape pulled a battered paperback out of a concealed pocket in his coat. Reaching into the other side, he pulled out an equally scruffy paperback, the cover nearly torn off, and handed it to Remus: Jane Eyre. The one thing about having an English teacher for a father was that by the time he was twelve, Remus was conversant with the best that English literature had to offer. Charlotte Bronte wasn't one of his favorite writers, and not that he wanted to read about decent people living impoverished, horrible lives in northern England—all he had to do was look at the window of the train station if he wanted a bird's eye view of that plot—but it was better than cooling his heels for another hour. Snape already had his nose in his book, and Remus followed suit. Soon he found himself metaphorically ensconced at Lowood School, railing against the abuse heaped on Jane, marveling at the stoicism and faith of Helen, and sympathetic to a pretty pathetic degree at Jane's "otherness."

A sharp jab to his ankle brought him back to reality.

"Lupin, I've been calling your name for five minutes. It's past noon."

Remus tried to hide his embarrassment by bringing up his sleeve and pretending to cough. When he felt that his cheeks weren't that red, he brought down his arm and held out the book to Snape.

"Keep it until you're done," he snapped, although Remus didn't think Snape was truly snapping at him. More like he didn't know how not to snap at someone. Snape seemed to have only three settings: irritation, scorn, and impatience. Remus stood up and as gently as possible wriggled the book into his back pocket. Snape's poverty was as manifest as his own, and he appreciated the magnanimity of the offer, even if it were said in a snarl. Snape had probably offered Remus the book so that they wouldn't have to talk to each other for the rest of the trip.

Although the doors to The Cricketers Arm hadn't been open more than ten minutes, the bar was already two people deep, and a darts game was in full swing. At Remus', "Shall I buy us a couple of shandies?" Snape didn't respond and made a beeline for a table in the back. Remus took this as a "yes." Remus was only just sixteen, but there wasn't too much attention paid to underage drinking in this part of the world. Remus was tall for his age, as was Snape. That would be good enough for the barman. Spending the last of Dumbledore's largess, Remus also picked up a couple of roast beef butties and two bags of crisps. Since he was starving again, then he bet Snape was as well.

Snape sat facing the bar, a strange expression on his face.

"Are you all right?" asked Remus as he handed Snape his drink and lunch.

"Pubs I have known, Lupin. This is pointless. I could write an entire monograph on the behavior of Muggles in pubs. You can crib from my notes. Finish up and let's go. There's a train at one."

Snape narrowed his eyes, as if daring Remus to challenge him. Removing the paperback from his back pocket to put it on the table, he pulled out his chair. They ate in silence, washing down stale sandwiches with weak shandies (more lemonade than beer). Ten minutes later Snape got up, even before he'd finished chewing, and shoved in his chair. Grabbing the novel, Remus made to follow.

Halfway across the room, he was jerked back by someone hauling back on his collar and spinning him around.

"Nancy boy's got a book in his hand. Whatcha' reading?" said a short man with a thick neck. Not much older than Remus, he reminded Remus of Crabbe: fat, dumb, short, and mean. The smell of gin off of his breath nearly curled Remus' eyebrows. Before Remus could answer, he grabbed the book out of Remus' hand and held it up away from himself with his thumb and his forefinger, like it was contaminated with some foul disease.

"Johnny, lad, leave it," said a voice from somewhere behind Remus.

"Please return my book. We're leaving," Remus said in a calm voice, not above laying on the accent in the hopes it would say to this thug that he was one of them. Maybe this would deprive this prick of his audience, which in Remus' opinion was what these violence-seeking buggers thrived on. He'd forgotten what it was like here. He'd been away too long. How insular it was. How you didn't just walk into a pub. That it was territory. That strangers weren't welcome. That they were fair game.

"Not bloody likely. Someone with a pair needs to show these nancy boys here with their nancy books and their nancy clothes that they aren't welcome here."

Remus' clothes weren't any different than this lout's, so he was obviously spoiling for a fight.

"Let it go, Lupin," Snape said in his ear, pulling on his arm.

Remus made to turn around when he saw out of the corner of his eye the man rip in half Snape's book and then throw it on the ground. Remus went mad, absolutely mad. Sometimes the wolf took him like this, reared up out of nowhere and owned him. He didn't even remember shaking off Snape's hand. All he knew was this terrible rage, and then his hands were balled up into the tightest of fists and then one arm pulled back and let go and then the other and then it was punch after punch after punch. Until it was his turn to be punched and his cheek hit the ground and shoes and boots relentlessly pummeled his torso and back and legs and his face and the pain was so great he thought he would literally die from it. Then, miraculously, the kicking stopped. He was being carried or dragged or some combination of the two out the door.

"Lupin, hold on. Around my neck. Damn you to hell, Lupin, put your arm around my… Keep walking, damn you!"

Remus didn't know how long Snape half carried him, half dragged him. For what seemed like forever Snape was yelling at him to keep moving his legs, hold on to Snape's shoulder, ordering him not to faint, ordering him to wake up, keep fucking moving, Lupin! Finally they stopped. Remus thought that Snape was now spent, too, couldn't walk another inch. He felt himself falling to the ground and was secretly grateful because by this point Remus wanted to curl up and die. The old stone bricks were cold and wet on his cheek and actually felt somewhat pleasant as every inch of his face was throbbing in agony.

He heard a woman's voice say, "Severus, what in the name… Oh, dear God."

Someone picked him up from underneath his arms, then someone else raised his ankles and as they began to carry him inside, blinding, horrible pain wracked his entire body and he passed out from the pain. When Remus woke up again he was in a bed. Although his eyes were nearly swollen shut, he could just see two forms hovering over him.

"Where is he?"

There wasn't any response and then Snape said, "The pub." It wasn't a question. ""How badly is he hurt?"

"I don't know. Oh, his poor hands. Fetch me my scissors. I'm going to have to cut his clothes off of him."

"No!" Remus tried to say through busted lips, but only an "Ugh" came out.

"He's in such pain. Can you do anything for the pain?"

"I don't have a wand, Severus, remember?" The voice was calm and low, with that sonorous quality that Snape's voice had when it wasn't bitter and contemptuous. His mother?

"Use mine."

And then blessedly the pain began to lift in rapid increments. First his hands, then his mouth, his chest, and finally his groin went numb. He tried to raise his body up, to greet whatever magic was being cast but he didn't have the strength.

"There. That should help." He could hear the soft sound of scissors cutting through fabric and then felt the chill as his chest was exposed to the air. "I need to see—"

They both gasped in horror. There was no hiding the cross-hatch of scars—old and new—marking his torso, a constant physical reminder of the Dark Creature he was. Remus turned his head aside in shame.

"Severus, there is a small flask of dittany at the bottom of the sugar. Also, behind Great Expectations there is a cup with some Floo powder in it. Bring me the dittany and lots of ice wrapped up in a wet flannel. Then you must Floo back to Hogsmeade—"

"He'll know! And then—"

"He won't know if you move like the wind. Now, listen to me. We don't have any time to waste. Floo back to Hogsmeade, run to the castle, and bring back Professor Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey. Hurry, Severus. As fast as you can."

Remus heard the thump of feet as they tore down the staircase and then a short time later the answering thud of feet running up the staircase. A wet cloth filled with ice was placed over both eyes. The cold stung like hell at first and then it numbed. He was so grateful he began crying. As she applied daubs of dittany to heal the worse of his wounds, Mrs Snape murmured prayers to the Virgin Mary, imploring the Virgin to keep him alive. The ice was replenished again and again, and then the flannel was removed entirely. The swelling had abated enough that he could open one of his eyes.

Mrs Snape was leaning over him, brushing the hair from his forehead, an anxious look on her face. An older, much wearier version of her son, she had one of those strong faces that is too overwhelming for youth, but considered handsome in old age. What a thought. Snape handsome. Running her thumb over an ice cube, she then swiped the length of his forehead and the width and then murmured, "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit." She brought her hands together as if in prayer. Remus wondered if all that magic done to stop the pain just meant that he couldn't feel that he was dying, which didn't mean he wasn't dying. She opened her eyes and again gave his forehead another affectionate caress. "I've done all I can do."

"Am I dying?" he mumbled.

"I don't know. Are you in much pain?"

He shook his head.

"Madam Pomfrey should be here soon. You can't stay here. Does he know? Dumbledore?" She looked at his chest, at his scars.

He nodded.

"My son?"

"Yes," he croaked. "Please…" He tried to sit up and fell back.

"Foolish boy. Lie down," she ordered with more than just a touch of her son's acerbic tone.

"Don't tell," he begged.

Before she could answer the rumble of Dumbledore's voice saying, "Lead the way, Mr Snape," came up the stairs, as if this miniscule house had more than one staircase. "Ah, Eileen, how lovely to see you. Thank you for taking care of our Mr Lupin." Dumbledore's then voice lost all of its usual polite bonhomie. "Madam Pomfrey, stabilize Mr Lupin. We shall Apparate to the Three Broomsticks. Madam Rosmerta will find us a bed. Mr Snape, take my arm. Eileen. Thank you."

Remus felt a Warming Charm overlay him, and the world went black again.

He stayed at the Three Broomsticks for three days, at which point he was transferred to the hospital wing. Being a werewolf had its pluses (he healed very quickly), nevertheless, he was under Madam Pomfrey's stern eye for nearly two weeks. He had to drink copious amounts of Skele-gro because his hands had been shattered as he tried to shield his face, plus endure hours of spells because apparently he had a host of internal injuries, in addition to nearly losing a kidney, plus be subjected a number of all-purpose Healing Charms because he had a plethora of painful but not life-threatening bruises and cuts. While still at The Three Broomsticks, Dumbledore had informed his parents about the pub brawl, and of course they'd come to visit him. His mother had cried the entire time. After asserting that Remus was well enough considering the circumstances and just needed to heal, his father had little to say other than, "You were in Cokeworth and didn't let us know?"

Once he was back in Hogwarts, James used his cloak and managed to sneak in every night to say hello. Peter transformed and rode on James' shoulder until some rather enthusiastic squeaking on his part nearly busted them, and henceforth he was banished. Sirius would come in shortly after midnight and leave before it was light. Pushing an empty bed right up next to Remus, ostensibly so he could lie close to Remus, he'd actually shove right up against Remus in the same bed, as if to protect him from the cold.

Remus assumed that Madam Pomfrey came to check on him in the night, but she never mentioned Sirius. Like most of the staff, Madam Pomfrey had a soft spot for Sirius Black, and Remus presumed that she willfully ignored his sharing the bed with Remus. On dawn after his second night in the hospital wing, when the bruises were in full "bloom," advertizing the fact that he'd been beaten within an inch of his life, he woke up to Sirius nuzzling against his collarbone, as if he'd forgotten that he was a boy and not a dog. It was a very canine sort of nuzzling, and sometime Remus wondered if the line between boy and dog was sometimes as nebulous as the line between boy and wolf, as his battered body would attest.

"Sirius, I'm okay," Remus whispered.

"Christ, Moony," Sirius mumbled against his neck. "Can't trust you to even take a silly train trip without mucking it all up. Stupid bloody Snape."

Even though talking was still currently very painful, he had to say something because Remus knew exactly where this was heading.

"Sirius, I think he might have saved my life." Oh, it still hurt to talk but this had to be said. "Those bastards would have killed me."

Sirius didn't reply, and Remus had nearly fallen back asleep when Sirius said in a whisper. "Moony, don't do anything like that again. Please, Remus. I couldn't stand it." All of a sudden Sirius transformed into Padfoot and big pink tongue laved his ear.

"Stop, Sirius. Tickles. But also hurts."

Sirius yawned and nestled his head on Remus' shoulder. He gently patted Sirius' head—his hands didn't hurt that much anymore—and kissed a silken ear.

With bowlers in one hand and their wands in the other, it wasn't until a parade of Ministry types trooped past his bed as they eyed his bruises with unrestrained horror that Remus realized that this had become much bigger than just a pub brawl on a school-sanctioned field trip. Dumbledore's wink was such that Remus was sure that only he saw it, which was followed by a hearty, "Well, I think that puts an end to this business, don't you? Tea in the Great Hall?"

The morning of the day he was to be discharged Dumbledore visited him bearing a tray with mountains of scrambled eggs, what looked like an entire pot of oatmeal, and a large pot of tea flanked by two cups.

"I've heard from Madam Pomfrey that you're being let loose this morning. I hate stating the obvious, but you're a smart boy, and you will know that that gaggle of bureaucrats staring at your black eyes were here for a purpose. Now, in between bites, I would appreciate you telling me what happened. I have spoken with Mr Snape. I doubt there will be any discrepancies, but should you be called upon to verify his testimony…"

Dumbledore left it at that.


"There was a great deal of extemporaneous magic as you can imagine, requiring a great deal of Obliviating."

"Sir?" Remus was totally confused. "Magic? We didn't use any magic. This stupid wanker, sorry, sir, as we were walking out of the pub, this man grabbed my collar and spun me around, then snatched a paperback out of my hand and said a few choice words. If anything, Snape tried to stop the fight. He grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear that we should leave." Fuck, this was turning into a right cock-up if Ministry officials were investigating and having to Oblivate people. Remus would have detention until he was ninety-nine.

Dumbledore tried to hide a satisfied little smile with a fake cough. "And?"

"As I turned around, I saw this nasty bit of toerag, um, the gentleman in question rip my book in half and then throw it on the floor. Well, sir, I'm sorry, I just saw red. It was my fault. I laid into him. Sir, please don't punish Snape."

Dumbledore stopped in mid-pour. "Mr Snape didn't initiate the fight?"

Remus gave a slight shake of his head. Dumbledore finished pouring, added six lumps of sugar to one cup following by a generous helping of milk. "You take yours with one sugar, a splash of milk, yes?"

It was a sad commentary that he'd been called to the Headmaster's office so often that the man knew how he took his tea. In a flash Remus' tea was properly sweetened and "whitened," and then handed to him.

Dumbledore tasted his and added yet another lump of sugar. Smiling at Remus' obvious stare of amazement, Dumbledore motioned with his wand and a tiny teaspoon did a vigorous backstroke through his tea. "Some days you need seven lumps. I really don't know why. Where were we? Oh yes. The pub. Mr Snape confirms that he did not instigate the fight, but he also says that you did not as well. I have to admit I'm rather surprised. You are not the fight-initiating type."

For once Remus wasn't trying to cover up for anyone or leave out incriminating bits or out and out lie. How strange to actually be called on the carpet and have nothing to tell but the truth.

"Well, I did and I didn't, but Snape didn't. That's for sure. He was all for high-tailing it out of there. But you see, he lent me the book, and books, you know, they're expensive, and throwing it on the ground like that…"

While this was very different from Remus' role in the standard interrogation, Dumbledore's role wasn't any different at all. At a certain point—and this was now that point—Dumbledore's congenial self vanished, to be replaced by another Dumbledore. One that was actually quite terrifying. A Dumbledore that was merciless.

"What did this gentleman say to you?"

Remus blushed. "Just rubbish. Not worth repeating, sir."

Dumbledore's now-empty teacup hit the saucer with a ping. "Sadly, Remus, I need to judge what is and what is not rubbish." Dumbledore was a master at waiting. He poured himself a cup of tea, poured Remus another one as well, fussed with the milk and sugar for both of them, drank his straight down, and then poured himself another, doctoring it up with nine lumps this time. "Well?"

Closing his eyes so that he didn't have to face Dumbledore's scrutiny, he said, "Nancy boys. He called us nancy boys with our nancy books and how they didn't want our kind in there. Then he destroyed the book, and I went berserk."

At Dumbledore's silence Remus turned his face into his pillow.

"Mr Lupin. Remus." At the undeniable summons, Remus turned his head back in Dumbledore's direction and opened his eyes. Dumbledore was staring out the window. "I do believe it's going to be a splendid morning." Still not looking at Remus, Dumbledore went on. "Mr Snape left that part out. Said something about completely unprovoked hostility. Which I suppose it was, in a way." As if Dumbledore knew that the worst of his humiliation was over, he turned back to face Remus. "What happened after that?"

"I hit him," Remus confessed. "It wasn't the, well, the comment. It was the fact the git destroyed Snape's book," Remus insisted. At that Dumbledore's shoulders dropped just the tiniest bit as if he were exhausted although it was only just past eight. "I went mad, to be honest. And then a bunch of people began hitting me. When I hit the floor, they began kicking me." He scrunched his eyes closed and thought of the shelves of Honeydukes. It was bad enough that his dreams were filled with surrealistic replays of those few moments as all those anonymous feet smashed into his body. "Then, all of a sudden, Snape was carrying me out of the pub and down some street to his house, I guess. I couldn't tell you where it is. I think I fainted about four times."

Dumbledore finished his tea once again and his shoulders had somehow straightened up again. "None of us know how you two got there. Mr Snape has reserves of strength unbeknownst to all, even him, I suspect." Dumbledore handed Remus a napkin, which had a hard center, exactly the shape of a chocolate frog. "It appears that although Mr Snape did not use his wand, he did have an episode of wild magic whereby everyone in the pub with the exception of you and Mr Snape were hurled backward and then attached to the walls. It did make Obliviating them much easier, I will give Mr Snape that. He picked you up and, Merlin knows how, hauled you to his mother's house. How are you feeling?"

Remus flexed his hands and opened his mouth wide. "Still a bit sore, but all right. I imagine after I turn this month, I'll be as right as rain again. So to speak."

Dumbledore smiled. "You are truly an inspiration, Mr Lupin. I ask that you do not discuss your sojourn at the Snapes' house." At this he pulled down his glasses to emphasize his point. "With anyone. Do I make myself clear? Not even Lily Evans." Without waiting for a reply, he continued. "I suggest that you tell your friends that Mr Snape saved you by an episode of wild magic, which immediately alerted the authorities, who Apparated to Cokeworth, and who then contacted me. I have told Mr Snape to say the same should anyone ask him. Are we clear?"

Remus nodded.

"Mr Lupin, I do not care what manner of nagging ensues on the parts of Mr Black or Mr Potter. You will have to endure. You will not divulge that you have been to Mr Snape's house. Please do not abuse my trust on this issue. Mr Snape has been instructed to say the same thing." This was said in Dumbledore's usual light, happy-go-lucky tone but Remus wasn't fooled. Dumbledore cast a Warming Charm on the eggs and oatmeal. "Now eat up. I have told Professor Flitwick that you will be present in his Charms class this afternoon. Do not make me a liar."

The smell of eggs was intoxicating, but he had one more question.

"Professor, did Snape save my life, sir?"

"Yes, I believe he did. A life debt, Mr Lupin. I have no doubt that in the upcoming years there will be a time when you will be called upon to repay it. Such are these times. Ah, Poppy, I've brought your charge enough breakfast for three boys. Make sure he eats every scrap of it. Now it's off to darn some socks. I'm very hard on them for some reason. I think I must have deformed feet."

Remus wasn't sure he was joking.

The Gryffindor common room exploded into a riot when Remus stepped in through the portrait after dinner. Magicked confetti fell from the ceiling, a spell that Sirius had mastered his first year, although then slugs had rained down on the Slytherins during dinnertime. Someone had emptied out Honeydukes because there was all manner of candy on every possible surface. That looked like Lily's handiwork. She often would slip a chocolate frog into his hand when the others weren't looking. Lily was the first to hug him, but not the last. No other house could boast that one of their students had taken on an entire Muggle pub and lived to tell the tale. It was a dubious distinction to be sure—Remus still wasn't sure that Gryffindor wasn't going to be docked points as he had thrown the first punch—but Remus played along.

Snape's role in the entire affair was soundly ignored. On the one hand, it would have been onerous beyond belief to keep up the lie in front of all these people, on the other hand he thought it a little unfair that he was being made out to be the hero. Snape was the hero, but Remus knew that wouldn't be acknowledged here, what with James and Sirius obviously in charge of the party. He let it go. Overjoyed to finally be out of hospital, at some point soon he could fade into the background, and James and Sirius would begin fighting for the limelight, as usual.

Remus had a tremendous amount of homework to catch up on, so once all the hoopla had died down sufficiently, he snuck up to their bedchamber to start winnowing away at the backlog. All of his teachers had pushed back their deadlines for his assignments, but he figured he should do Houndy's assignment while his impressions were still relatively fresh. O.W.L.s. were also looming; the next few weeks were going to be punishing. Sirius followed up a very short time later, transformed into a dog, and leapt up on Remus' bed.

"Sirius, I can't play, I have a shiteload of homework to catch up on, never mind my O.W.L.s." Remus knew he sounded peevish, but it only hit him now that he'd begun to map out a strategy, exactly how much work he had to do between now and the end of term. Sirius wrinkled his nose and whined a little, but then lay next to Remus, rested his great head on Remus' knee, and went to sleep, leaving Remus to knock off his essay to Houndy in peace.

Catholic rites: these seemed to be largely based on what he perceived as a belief in miracle, which was very close to believing in magic, using ritual to transform objects from one state to another; although magic didn't promise eternal salvation.

Playgrounds: like wizarding children, Muggle children liked rides that went fast and/or high.

Pubs: he thought it inappropriate to base his experience in a Muggle pub as an all-purpose indication of the Muggle pub culture. Aside from nearly being killed, the Three Broomsticks didn't seem that much different than The Cricketers Arms. It was a place for locals to develop a sense of camaraderie, fortified by alcoholic beverages. He ended his essay by asking the question how welcome a Muggle would be if they happened to accidentally enter a wizarding pub, and would he/she be hexed or subjected to the same ill treatment as he had? Remus suspected that Houndy would like that sort of general all-purpose cosmic ending that hinted that Muggle and wizarding culture weren't that different. Remus wondered what Snape had written.

Not that he would ever know, because Snape was ignoring him.

I waited for the jokes to start. On the meanness of my family's existence. On our poverty. True, it was obvious from the state of my school robes that my parents didn't have two Galleons to rub together; it was all my mother could do to put food on the table. All my textbooks and supplies, even my wand, were put on "account." I suspected that this was Dumbledore's doing, trying to spare me the humiliation being the recipient of his charity. Dumbledore had assured me that Lupin wouldn't reveal anything about my family, but I counted that for nothing. Potter and Black only needed to say "Jump" and Lupin would respond, "How high?" Dumbledore himself was as charmed by those two hooligans as everyone else. I doubted anyone but the students quite knew the depth of Potter and Black's cruel streak. It wasn't just directed at me, although I certainly received the worst of it. Everyone was subject to their contempt. The only person who was more arrogant and thoughtless than Black was that Potter, parading around like he was Merlin's gift to Quidditch. I watched with extreme satisfaction his ever-growing and doomed-to-failure infatuation with Lily, internally crowing every time she took him down a few pegs. Black was Potter's evil twin, while the other two? Pettigrew was nothing more than their boot-licking toady, while Lupin did double duty—playing the role of boot-licking toady and conscience. Not that they paid him any mind.

I could imagine the scorn those two would heap on me if Lupin even said two words about that ill-fated day. His house? The Shrieking Shack was grander. Although Black roamed about in tattered jumpers and his robes had patches on the cuffs, it was nothing more than an affectation. The wealth of the Black family was renowned, and the Potter family nearly as wealthy. Pettigrew was obviously the child of some nondescript middle-class bureaucratic family. What did those three know of want, of true poverty? Black disgusted me. With a mere snap of his fingers lovely new robes would appear should he desire. I could snap my fingers bloody and I still wouldn't have new robes.

Lupin's robes weren't any better than mine, and he treated his books and possessions with a reverence that told me he knew exactly what they were worth and the sacrifices made to purchase them. Even so, he wasn't above copious arse-kissing as far as those two were concerned, and what better way to keep in their good graces than hand them ammunition on what a niggardly little existence was our Snivelous'.

Even worse would be any commentary on my mother. Was she a Catholic? A Muggle? Any rumors that either one of my parents were Muggles would have undermined my standing in Slytherin House to an untenable degree. I wasn't liked, but I was respected. Lately, Mulciber and Avery had begun to make overtures, and I was to have tea with them at Lucius Malfoy's house in a couple of weeks. My wizarding strengths were now becoming evident, which served to mitigate my obvious poverty. However, given Slytherins' insane homage to pure-blood credentials, if they had known about my lineage, they would essentially banished me to a no-man's land where I was of no house. Which I imagine would have tickled Potter and Black to the nth degree. Nothing would have delighted them more than to spread rumors about my parents and snigger about my home.

Our house wasn't merely small—four rooms, two up and two down—my bedroom carved out of a space in the attic so meager that I couldn't even stand up in it—it was barren on every level. Yes, the furniture was shabby beyond belief but it was more than that. It was barren in soul. I suppose one could call it a flight of fancy or paranoia—I've discovered there isn't much difference between the two—but it felt to me that that house exuded ugliness and anger and misery. Small wonder that my mother went to church every day. We all need some form of beauty in our lives. She found hers in religion. I found mine in magic. I suppose my father would say he found his in drink. Would that he drowned in it.

Hater of all things magical, it was still something of a miracle to me that he didn't kill me when faced with the reality that I was going to Hogwarts to become that very thing that he'd been beating out of me for the last eight years. I suppose that would have been the straw that broke the camel's back as far as my mother was concerned. Killing her only child might have been the one thing that would have propelled her to leave him. At first he ignored all the letters flooding our lounge and beat with a broom the owls perched on every window and ledge. But then the neighbors began to talk, and finally he gave in. He stopped speaking to me entirely and forbade my mother to mention my name. I was, essentially, dead to him. Not that I cared one whit. Of course she paid for that tiny victory. Paid and paid and paid with endless beatings and verbal abuse. My summers were spent in my room or outdoors. If the weather was fine, I slept outside near Lily's house. She would bring me table scraps. When her parents were out, I'd use the shower.

My exile from that house was self-imposed. I thought that if he didn't see me, then I might save her from his fists. Small wonder that I felt that that the house itself was evil, having witnessed evil on a daily basis for years. And yet, where else could I have taken Lupin? Even with my limited knowledge of such things, I could tell he was badly hurt. It was a given that my father wasn't home. He would have been spending his Saturday afternoon pounding back pints at his favorite pub, exactly like those drunken sots at The Cricketers Arms. I had no place to go but that house.

Well, if Lupin exposed me, then I would expose him. Dumbledore be damned.

Little did I know that in some respects Lupin had much more integrity than I gave him credit for, and, sadly, in others, much less. Anyway, they didn't need any more ammunition. Their own astonishing cruelty and Potter's constant need to show off was "ammunition" enough to humiliate me to such a degree that I've never experienced such mortification since. And I lost my only friend in the bargain. But that was of my own making. In those days I was often my worst enemy, a fact that Dumbledore ignored.

At his peril.

June 1976

Shame. Had he ever felt such shame? Had he ever really known the power of this word? How it made you doubt who you were and who were your friends, and made you wonder how you could possibly face people ever again.

He'd never known that the shame of doing something reprehensible was equal to the shame of not stopping the reprehensible.

In an effort to drown out the snickers and laughter as James and Sirius began baiting Snape, Remus had tried to keep reading, had tried to focus first on every single word, and then, as the taunting of Snape escalated, on a single letter. He had brought the book up closer and closer to his face, so close that eventually he couldn't even see the letter he was so desperately trying to fixate on. The book might have saved him from personally witnessing James and Sirius' cruelty, but his ears couldn't drown out the turn of events: Snape's justifiable outrage, Lily's oh-so-to-the-point dressing down, James' pathetic attempts to placate her, and then—because Remus knew even if Lily was woefully unaware that being saved by a girl and, even worse, a Gryffindor, only heaped additional flames on the heat of Snape's humiliation—Snape's ugly rejection of Lily's help by his calling her that unforgiveable name. Finally, Remus had heard enough, although not before he heard James yell out to the crowd, "Who wants to see me take off Snivelly's pants?"

He ran back to the castle, not stopping until he'd reached the painting to the Gryffindor Common Room, barked out the password, ignored the remonstrations of the Fat Lady for his rudeness, crawled into bed, and yanked the curtains closed. There was no point in hiding in some discrete corner in the castle. The map was in Sirius' back pocket. They would come to find him in order to crow about their latest success. Remus didn't think he could stand it.

In a pointless effort to ward off the inevitable, Remus curled up into the tiniest of balls, with his knees up against his chin, all the while waiting for the sound of their voices. In what seemed like seconds, he soon heard laughing (James), jeers directed at Snape (Sirius), and sycophantic tee-hees (Peter) as they walked up the staircase. Knowing that the curtains being drawn around his four-poster would be like waving a red flag at a bull, he braced himself. Sure enough, Sirius raked back the curtains as soon as he entered the room.

"Remus? What's up, Moony? You ran away like a boggart was chasing you. Do you need to go to Madam Pomfrey?"

As a rule, Sirius was such a selfish prat that whenever he expressed even the most nominal concern for others it was notable. Normally, Remus would have been emotionally chuffed that he was the object of Sirius' rare gesture of compassion. But for the first time in five years, Sirius' concern for Remus' welfare was overshadowed by his abject cruelty to Snape. Writhing in metaphorical disgust, how often had he eagerly ignored his own sense of what was right in order to cultivate Sirius' and James' approval. Even in the affair with the Whomping Willow, in the end he had chosen his friends over his sense of decency.

This was what Lily and Remus never verbally acknowledged between them, although in all of her chidings regarding James and Sirius it lurked around the edges. How Remus was willing to put up with anything to be part of this foursome. He'd always told himself that Lily didn't understand. Even though in some ways he was closer to Lily than he was to either James or Sirius, he had not told her about his lycanthropy, nor did he intend to. He'd deflected her criticisms of them for years through a series of patented maneuvers—ignoring her, making jokes, or pretending to be angry at her nagging—because she couldn't and didn't know the extent of their friendship.

She couldn't know what great mates they were, and he wasn't about to tell her why. Because although he often was left without any defense to justify the more childish of their pranks, their determination to become Animagi was done in support of him and him only. When Remus weighed the arrogance and cruelty fueling most of James and Sirius' worst pranks, it always fell short of their truly selfless act of becoming Animagi to ease the monthly horror of his turning into a wolf. Until now it had mitigated the worst of their sins, even the near murder of a fellow student.

This afternoon he found that this act of love didn't forgive them of all their sins.

To only reconfirm what a horrible goddamn coward he was, Remus ignored Sirius, pretending to be asleep, hoping that after Sirius had yanked the curtains back he'd leave Remus alone to finish his pretend nap. Fat chance. Sirius poked Remus in the back with his wand. "Moony, you okay?"

Remus still didn't respond, silently muttering to himself, Go away, Sirius. Go the fuck away.

Although Sirius and James were never quite as happy with their exploits if a chorus wasn't there to cheer them on, admiring their magical brilliance at the expense of others, apparently the guffaws of approval from the crowd wasn't quite enough. They needed his seal of approval as well; Peter's was a given.

"Did you see, Remus?" demanded James. "Did you see Snivellus hung upside down like some—"

Hating to give up the limelight, even to James, Sirius broke in. "Moony! Wake-up, you idiot. It was brilliant. God, if Snivellus' knickers had been any—"

It was just like in the pub. The wolf overwhelmed him. He flipped over and jumped out from the comfort of his bed into the middle of the room, a leap that was much more animal than boy. Bringing up both hands, he shoved Sirius on his shoulder blades, hard. If a bed hadn't been in Sirius' path to cushion his fall, hitting the stone wall of the castle at that velocity might have seriously hurt him.

"What in the name of all that is decent is the matter with you? And you!" Remus pointed a finger at James. "Snape saved my life, you stupid, stupid wankers. I would have been beaten to death if he hadn't stopped them. I owe him a life debt, and you go and—"

"Moo—" Sirius began in a half-confused, half-angry tone of voice.

"Don't talk to me. In fact, don't talk to me ever again. None of you!" he shouted and then ran down the steps to the common room, ignoring James' pleas to come back. A faint but still audible, "Fuck you, Remus," from Sirius was the last thing he heard as he climbed out the portrait hole.

Although it was petty of him to include Peter in his interdict, Remus hadn't been able to filter out Peter's high-pitched giggle from the rest of the laughter, all the louder and more high-pitched as the determined humiliation of Snape continued and escalated. He hated all of them. Just hated them. Remus was self-aware enough that he knew his hate was in direct proportion to his self-disgust for not stopping the prank, for not standing up for Snape. Instead, he'd literally turned a blind eye, yet again.

Wandering through the castle in a futile attempt to escape his own profound cowardice and his revulsion at the cruelty of his friends, Remus found himself at the door to Dumbledore's office. The door opened without a command of any sort, as if it were a summons. He obeyed and trudged up the staircase. Dumbledore was waiting for him, sitting at his desk, his arms resting on his elbows, hands steepled in front of him, his chin resting in the vee between his thumbs and forefingers. Remus expected to see anger; all he saw was profound sadness.

"Mr Lupin, you wish to see me?"

"Sir, I… I… I need some advice." Now that he was here, he found he couldn't expose his friends to Dumbledore's censure. His role remained the same, even as his disgust at that role was profound.


Dumbledore wasn't going to make this easy.

"I hurt someone, or should I say, I let someone be hurt and didn't stop it. Someone who at the very least I owe a profound degree of gratitude and at the very most a life debt."

Putting his moral failure into actual words and stating it bluntly like that… Dumbledore raised a stern eyebrow.

"I assume this debt does not pertain to Misters Potter, Black, and/or Pettigrew, rather someone else who might actually have suffered from an ill-conceived joke at the hands of Misters Potter, Black, and/or Pettigrew?" Remus said nothing, only marveling at how he thought his own conscience had done a pretty bang-up job of self-recrimination, but it was nothing compared to facing Dumbledore and hearing the extreme disappointment his voice. "An apology seems in order, Mr Lupin."

"I… Um, don't think that will be enough, sir," Remus admitted.

"It often isn't. A word of advice." Dumbledore lowered his spectacles, a gesture that was the precursor to his saying something important; the blue of Dumbledore's eyes pinned him to his seat so firmly that Remus could not look away even though he was absolutely mortified at gentle remonstration he saw there. "Based on the pallor of your face, you have discovered that having choice is often more onerous than being fate's victim. Of all my students, I think only you and Mr Snape"—at the mention of Snape's name Remus blushed—"have a true understanding of what it means to be fate's victim."

Here Dumbledore paused to look out the window. "The roses have begun to bloom. Wonderful. The metaphor of spring and rebirth should suffice. We make mistakes, Mr Lupin. It is hoped that we don't make the same mistakes. Sadly, I have not found this to be true, but what else can we do but to keep trying our best." He turned back to Remus. "To love others and receive the love of others should not require a sacrifice of self. Indeed, that way lies true tragedy, Remus. I speak from personal experience."

Remus nodded because he didn't know what else to do. They sat there for a bit, Dumbledore uncharacteristically lost in personal thought, Remus wondering how in the hell he could atone to Snape for his cowardice.

"Remus," Dumbledore said in a tired, dear Merlin, old voice, "I think it safe to say that in the near future all of our integrities will be challenged to a profound degree. Alas, our very souls will be in jeopardy. Storm clouds are brewing even as I speak. As I consider you one of the most principled young men of my acquaintance, I trust that you will not disappoint me. Now. Tea?" A teapot, two cups, and a plate of biscuits instantly appeared—half of them lemon, half of them chocolate—hovering slightly before landing on Dumbledore's desk with nary a sound. With a hum of approval, Dumbledore handed him the plate and began to pour Remus a cup of tea. "I'll leave the chocolate ones to you. I'm partial to lemon. How did your O.W.L.s. go?"

Feeling both numb and raw at the same time, Remus went into temporary exile. With not much of the term left, it wasn't that onerous. He'd catch the train back north soon enough, and then he'd use the summer to sort all this out. Remus didn't sit with them at meals, didn't occupy his usual seat in class, and had stopped sleeping in their dorm room, preferring to kip on the couch in some dusty forgotten parlor near the Hufflepuff dorm. Avoiding everyone, he spent his free time in the library. As O.W.L.s were over and done with, it was virtually empty except for Madam Pince. Save for packing his trunk, which he planned to do during dinner on Thursday night, he was ready to leave for the year. If he didn't say good-bye to his best mates, that was fine by him.

Fortunately Sirius was so furious with him that he didn't stalk Remus by using the map. It seemed only fair that if Remus was ignoring Sirius, Peter, and James, he had to ignore Lily, too, otherwise it might seem that he was being friends with Lily to spite James, which wasn't the case at all. James tried a minimum of six times a day to heal the rift by sending owls that Remus ignored. Peter followed James' lead (as always), and fairly soon the entire situation devolved into an epic fight between Sirius and Remus, despite the fact that James had been the primary instigator of the whole episode with Snape. Remus gave serious thought to not returning for his sixth year, and then realized he was being a melodramatic wanker. At some point it was inevitable that he and Sirius would mend their fences, but not before Remus had apologized to Snape. Remus owed him that at the very least.

This was becoming very much like the aftermath of the Whomping Willow. He had no hopes whatsoever that James and Sirius would ever apologize to Snape, but Remus must.

Which was proving problematic as Snape was hell bent on ignoring him and everyone else it seemed, just like Remus. Snape had never had much of a physical presence, but now it was as if he were trying to meld into the very walls. He was the last one in and the first one out of class, as he was the last one in and the first one to leave the Great Hall after his meals, a roll in each hand as he scuttled out the door.

After three days of constant rumination, Remus came up with a solution. It took every single knut he possessed, but then he had had to cover many bases: to apologize for his cowardice, replace what had been destroyed, and thank Snape for saving his life. After several owls back and forth between the school and Flourish and Botts, a hardcover (used but in good condition), illustrated copy of Jane Eyre arrived. Wrapped in plain brown paper, a panting and obviously grateful owl let go of her heavy package so that it fell in Snape's lap during dinner on Wednesday night. Remus had instructed Flourish and Botts to include a simple note he'd written that said:

I never thanked you properly for saving my life in that pub. I'm sorry about your book, and I'm sorry about not coming to your defense the other day.


He left it at that. Anything more would be stupid. As a postscript he left his phone number. As his family had one foot in the Muggle world, they actually had a telephone. He didn't know if Snape had one, but maybe he did. They didn't live that far from each other. Maybe they could see each other over the summer.

Or maybe not. Remus wasn't too arsed one way or the other. But maybe Snape was as lonely as he was every summer, not having money to go on holiday to France like Lily's family did, or go to the Spain or the Greek islands like James' family did. Sirius had more or less been adopted by the Potters ever since last summer—what had caused him to leave home for the last time was never discussed, although it was something so horrific that he boasted that he'd been removed from the family tree. The Potters had offered to take Remus on holiday over the years, but he'd always had to decline because of that full moon business. Which wasn't an issue with Snape, obviously, as he already knew about Remus.

Snape acted like the package was hexed, letting out a small screech when it plopped into his lap. Eyeing it with suspicion, he turned it over and over, inspecting every millimeter. His scrutiny relaxed at the return address from Flourish and Botts. After gobbling down his dinner, he walked out of the Great Hall with the book tucked under one arm.

Remus looked toward the head table to see Dumbledore's nod of approval. Catching Sirius' eye, who always kept close watch on Snape if only to never miss an opportunity to hex him, Remus didn't gloat or smirk. He just looked at him, as if to say, "Sirius, it's not always about you." Remus was unprepared for the shock and hurt on Sirius' face. He got up. He wasn't hungry anymore. He might as well pack his trunk.

I never boarded that train home for the summer without acute dread. Every puff of steam, every rotation of the wheels was speeding me toward weeks and weeks of enduring squalor, violence, and whiskey-fueled rage. And that was on a good day. The stupidity of insisting that all students must enter and exit Hogwarts via King's Cross meant that those of us who lived in northern England had to travel nearly the length of England only to travel back up again. As I was now of age, I could take the Muggle train north by myself and my mother would meet me in Leeds; together we would take the final leg to Cokeworth. At some point a first-class ticket appeared in my hand—Dumbledore's largesse again—so I was spared the indignity of trying to find a third-class cabin that did not contain Lupin.

Lily's parents of course were insistent on meeting their daughter at Kings Cross every June so that they could spend a long weekend in London pretending to be one big happy family, studiously ignoring the perpetual sulks of that Petunia. I'd never publicly acknowledged my friendship with Lily. Not that it would have mattered, because the unbelievable fuss that her parents made every time she exited the train drowned out the possibility of even making haphazard plans of when to meet up again over the summer. Of course, after that episode with Potter and Black last week, those previous summers—warm and easy days where the two of us relished our uniqueness in a Muggle world—were over. Her shoving her oar in where it didn't belong only deepened my humiliation—not that I thought that was possible. Oh, to be proven wrong.

Little did I know that this rift would not only be permanent, but that I would bring about her murder, as surely as if I actually performed the Avada Kedavra myself. Had I known, I might have actually killed myself that summer.

Instead, I spent most of it sucking Remus Lupin's cock.

As the train pulled into Leeds, I searched for my mother on the platform. There she was, wearing that shabby gray cardigan of hers, the sleeves pushed way up her arms. Not in response to the mild summer day, I wagered, but probably to hide holes in the elbows. Noting her surprise when I emerged from a first-class carriage, I gave her a brief smile and ignored her attempt to hug me. I knew I was being churlish, but I had reached the point where I just didn't give a damn. Over the years, the joy of seeing my mother had begun to pale in the harsh reflection of my father's brutality and her continued, inexplicable purgatory as his wife. I loved her and I hated her. I'd orchestrated that trip to Cokeworth in the hopes of seeing her, even as I shoved myself under the seat to escape her notice.

Because I had reached the age where I began to question. My father's brutality was now a given. Only by the dint of Dumbledore's tenacity and sense of justice did he fail in his determination to exile me as well. But my mother, why did she stay with him? How could she possibly give up magic for him? The question that every abused child asks haunted me: why didn't she rescue me? Why didn't she leave him for my sake? At a certain point the abused a child realizes that they won't be saved and then loves turns to hatred.

Although not yet the formidable wizard that I came to be, by the end of our fifth year the die was cast. I suppose that is the point of O.W.L.s: a separating of the wheat from the chaff, indeed. After that test I walked out of the Great Hall flush with the certainty that I would be an amazing wizard, one who would be feared and respected. We could have been wizards together. She wouldn't have to hide the Floo powder or keep the remnants of her broken wand as only a memory of who she had been. My anger at her tacit culpability in my father's violence began to grow into hatred the more I learned of magic and its beauty and power. Because she'd exiled herself from this wonderful world to that of a drunken, cruel brute who could barely afford to feed his family.

Which is why my response to her attempt to hug me was nothing more than a wintery smile in return.

Except for her query regarding Lupin, "Is your friend recovered?" and my curt, "Yes," the train ride was silent and mercifully short. Carrying the trunk between us, we managed the walk from the train station to our house without much problem. It wasn't far. Victorian factory owners wanted their workers to have easy access to the trains so they could work themselves to death in the mills. After I'd dragged the trunk up the stairs to my attic room, I found that I'd grown so tall that I could no longer stand up straight without banging my head on the rafters.

"Severus, would you like your tea?" my mother called up the stairs. I grunted out a reply that vaguely sounded like a "Yes." "Ten minutes," she shouted back.

It took no time to unpack my trunk. I had few clothes. It was mostly books, my cauldron, school notes, and that package from Flourish and Botts. I hadn't bother to unwrap it, just threw it in my trunk assuming that my summer would be now spent memorizing the entire curriculum for the upcoming year. After my initial shock (you can imagine that I had received few packages while at Hogwarts—as in none), I'd assumed that it was my sixth-year Potions textbook, courtesy of Dumbledore's anonymous slush fund.

Later I would discover that he'd paid for my school expenses out of his own pocket, a thoughtful gesture that I'd never truly thanked him for. Of course, now it's too late, which is the story of my life. Nor did I ever really appreciate the position that my mother was in vis ` vis Hogwarts. My father would sooner join a temperance society than further one pence toward my magical education, forcing her to depend on other people's charity to outfit me with robes, books, and my wand. In those years I had had to swallow a number of bitter pills and every single one stuck in my throat on the way down. Being aware that I was Dumbledore's charity case would have been another galling reality in how I was different from everyone else. In hindsight she must have jumped at his offer; being matriculated into Hogwarts provided her son with his only escape route.

My meager collection of clothes was soon put away in a rickety, battered dresser that would have been better suited as firewood. With a gentleness and respect that I never accorded my clothes, I arranged all my books and school supplies in an organized row. I went to unwrap that I thought was a textbook and hello? What a surprise. It was a leather-bound copy of Jane Eyre. I read Lupin's note of apology and didn't bother to contain a snort of disgust. Wanker. I crumpled it up and threw it on the floor.

My impression of him as Potter and Black's boot-licking toady number one (that pedestrian lump Pettigrew was always last in everything; he wasn't even first as a sycophant) had been severely challenged by that disastrous school excursion to Cokeworth. He had gone from being nothing more than a lackey for those two to potentially a decent fellow. Once out from the very large shadow his cretinous roommates cast, it turned out that he had an understated wit that I appreciated. The flashes of real brilliance displayed in Defence class weren't a fluke; Lupin was quite intelligent. It was obvious that he understood what it was like to be poor. He'd treated me with a respect and dignity that was so unexpected that I'd actually wondered whether we could be friends. Once back at Hogwarts, he reverted to the spineless minion he'd always been, shoving his nose in a book when those two hooligans once again sought to aggrandize themselves with others at my expense.

I was tempted to consign the book to the fireplace and then thought better of it. It might be a nice olive branch to Lily to atone for that horrible name I had called her. Lupin must have paid good money for this, used or no. As I flipped through it I couldn't helped but notice that the illustrations were very fine (I was partial to inked illustration). Would it be too horrible if I kept it? Maybe I could bring Lily some wildflowers. I turned to the frontispiece and on the opposite page was an inscription. The handwriting was terrible, like it had been written in a great hurry. The esse of my initial looked like a very sloppy eff, but there was no mistaking what had been written. "To S, Be my Rochester. R."

I was so shocked at the bald display of, well, want, that I dropped the book.

"Severus, are you all right?" came a worried voice up the stairs.

After a deep breath, I was able to say, "Fine. Be down in a minute."

I picked the book up off the floor, as I did his note. Smoothing out the note, I memorized the phone number and shoved the note into my pocket. I'd burn it later. I secreted the book under my pillow and went down to the kitchen. I noticed that in celebration of my homecoming, my mother had splurged and bought the fairy cakes I loved. Sadly, I was very much past the point where the sweet cream of the fairy cakes could overwhelm the bitter taste of bile of being home for the next three months. I sat down.

"It's so nice to have you— Are you all right? You're very flushed." My mother handed me a cup of tea with one hand and leaned over the table to press the back of her hand to my forehead.

I jerked away. "I'm fine," I insisted.

Although I did not feel fine at all.

For the trip down to London, Remus found a seat in a carriage filled with a bunch of first years. Resigning himself to enduring nothing but fart jokes for the next five hours, no sooner had his arse hit the seat than James pulled back the door.

"Stop this silly business and come sit with us."

Remus couldn't trust himself to speak, so he just shook his head.

"You're being a real wanker here, Remus," said James at his most imperious.

"Takes one to know one, James," said Remus in a quiet voice.

James gave a quick look around the carriage. Although only a rising sixth year, James already had that aura of being "Head Boy" at some point. All eyes were as big as dinner plates. "Look, it's Sirius. He's—" and then mindful that they really couldn't continue this argument in front of a bunch of twelve year olds, James threw up his hands.

Oh, this was one of those instances where Remus just felt raw. His scars actually ached. "I know, James. I know. But I can't. I'll owl over the summer. Okay?"

James gave him a calculating once over, as if to ask, what's on with our Moony? Then James gave him a small smile and threw him a butty wrapped in a napkin for the journey.

Although he had insisted that his parents meet him in Manchester, that he was perfectly capable of taking the Muggle train back up north without a bloody escort, there they were on the platform of King's Cross. He gave them an anemic hug in greeting and tried to swallow his anger. His short responses to their questions—how did his O.W.L.s go; was he all healed; was there any fallout from that pub fight; had the Ministry asked anymore questions; and was he feeling "normal?"—the majority of which explained why they were essentially escorting him back to Manchester.

They didn't trust him not to go berserk over some imaginary slight and start attacking the other passengers. Two violent incidents in less than the space of a couple of months would have certainly raised eyebrows, and no doubt prompt a more thorough investigation of exactly who is this Remus Lupin. Well, he's a werewolf, don't you know. The brawl in the pub could be put down to him reacting to being called a queer, and he bet that Dumbledore in his communications with the Ministry would have focused on that. Because being an immature schoolboy is par for the course. A Dark creature on a bender, not so much. He knew this was they were trying to protect him, trying to keep both the Muggle world and the magical world at bay, but… Christ, he was so tired.

He leant his head against the glass and pretended to go to sleep to forestall any more questions. The noise of the train's engine drowned out the clicking of his mother's knitting needles and his father's snores. Why had he gone berserk in that pub? It couldn't have been just over that book. It was only a cheap paperback that even he could have replaced without much of a dent in his meager savings. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy he repeated over and over until he did fall asleep, nodding off to a brief image of Sirius as he walked away from the platform with the Potters, James at his side, his hair now down below his shoulders, the lush black of it stark and beautiful against the white of his shirt.

Lupin queer? I wasn't one to jump to conclusions, but I couldn't imagine a more definite invitation. Did the cretins know? Did Lupin know about me? How in the bloody hell would he know about me? I'd been so careful.

It was yet another manifestation of my otherness, another monumental difference that separated me from my peers. As an adult I could earn a wage, leave that grinding poverty behind me, walk down the street, the jangle of Galleons in my pocket. This, this was like a persistent cough that never went away, and like a cough that had you choking at the most inopportune times, this blossomed and overwhelmed me when I least expected it. The sight of a hand gripping a broom handle. The arse of a boy in full Quidditch regalia. The scent of seventh year: the smell of a man.

After my tea I'd washed up, only half listening to my mother's gentle prattle about the neighborhood—as if I cared about who had had another brat, who had died, who'd lost their job—it never changed, only the names were different but the stories were all the same. As my soapy hands glided over the cups and plates searching for crumbs, my mind was very much elsewhere. Thirty minutes ago I had no intention of calling Lupin, and now that telephone number was roiling round and round in my head until I thought I'd go mad.

The truth was that I wasn't even sure I wanted Lupin exactly. What I did want was someone else's hand on me. Whose hand was nearly immaterial at this point. I just wanted.

And then I thought of those hooligans shouting loud and clear, their voices transcendent with glee, "Snivellus sucks dick! Snivellus sucks dick!"

Of course, it was some gigantic prank. Given that Black's plot to kill me failed, they would be just as happy if I wished I were dead. I would not call him.

I waited and waited at the oak, every day, all day for an entire week. There was no owl, no note in the tree. Well, they were probably still on holiday. They usually spent a few days in London after the school holidays, even though it couldn't have been much fun with that nasty Petunia sulking the whole time because the summer hols meant she had to share her parents with Lily.

Surely, she couldn't still be angry at me. Every time I thought of that afternoon I had to blink away tears of rage at everyone else and at myself. I didn't mean it. It was a stupid thing to say. Just… God, I can't remember ever being so humiliated, and then she made it a thousand times worse by standing up for me, like I was helpless in front of those goons and…

Lily was bright, brilliant even, but she knew nothing of the pack dynamics of the teenager male hive mind. She stood up for me because she was a decent person who hated to see anyone treated unfairly. In someone else it would be called bravery, considering Potter's standing in the school due as the Gryffindor Seeker. Lily didn't think in those terms. First of all she thought that Potter was the most arrogant boy in the school, even more so than his cohort in crime, Black. Second, she loathed bullies, and Potter was a first-class bully. She was not to know that by sticking up for me, she made it a million times worse. Had she whipped out a knife and cut off my balls I couldn't have been more emasculated in the eyes of my peers. If I'd tried to explain it to her, she would no doubt say something like, "Oh Severus, what a load of shite." But it wasn't. There is nothing more fragile than the masculinity of a sixteen-year-old boy. Her put down of Potter on my behalf essentially shattered what little I had.

She was not to know that, and I couldn't explain it to her. How do you articulate such dynamics when you don't even understand them yourself? You just knew.

Well, she wasn't one to hold grudges, although she did have a bit of a temper. We'd been friends for a very long time. Plus, there weren't that many students like us at the school, wizards raised as Muggles. Of course, my mother was a witch, but magic was forbidden in our house. I had been as ignorant as she was, and as fascinated, and as overjoyed. We both shared an intellectual hunger, although my appetite was whetted by the knowledge that it was magic that would save me. Free me from the hell that was home.

Those of us who are abused become adept at searching for lifelines. It's a survival technique. Lily had become my lifeline. In her presence I did not feel unwanted or terrified or odd or wrong. If she was a mirror of all that was normal and magical, I basked in her reflection and became that, too, even if only for an afternoon. Lily might have received her letter from Hogwarts, but she had the confidence of being beloved in the Muggle world with every expectation of being similarly feted in the wizarding one. I had no friends, and my teachers avoided me. I wasn't the only child in the school whose father was a layabout drunken sot who beat his wife on Saturday nights. Nevertheless, I was acknowledged as a strange little boy, an angry child. A lonely child with no friends.

When I got my letter, I assumed that once at Hogwarts I would be with people who would understand me. Within a week I realized it was to be no different. Well, a little different. The teachers ignored my strangeness and appreciated my intelligence. But like our Muggle selves, my friendship with Lily at Hogwarts was the only time I felt remotely like I imagine other people felt all the time. To be with her was to be normal. To shed that otherness that dogged me like a shadow, like a curse. Easy, happy, without anger or fear. It was like being on parole every now and then. But then I would commit some infraction, because the rules of the abused child are different than other people's rules, and it would be back to the prison again. Looking back, I can't even express in words how much I loved her for that. For accepting me.

And then, like everyone else she began to pull away. To reject me. If I were being honest with myself, my lashing out was, yes, in response to my humiliation at the hands of Potter and Black, but it also had a genesis in our endless arguments lately about my growing friendships with some of the more objectionable Slytherins. People like Lily, those who are liked and popular and who walk into a room and are greeted with smiles and not bat bogey hexes, they have no idea what life is like for the rest of us. Did I like these boys? No. Neither can I say with any honesty that they liked me. But my magical gifts were finally becoming recognized. Heretofore ignored—I was too insignificant to even bully—poverty was easily ignored if one were gifted magically, which was seen as a sign of being a pure-blood. Although this was nothing more than bollocks because some of the biggest idiots in Hogwarts were pure-bloods, I certainly wasn't going to quibble about suddenly being treated with respect. Why couldn't she understand that? That my calling her that filthy name was stupid and I didn't mean it. It was just that I was so embarrassed and so angry.

I nicked a stamp from my mother's precious stash, and wrote her a letter.

I assume you've been on holiday. Tuesday at you know where?


As soon as I heard my father slam the door on his way to work—to punish the rest of us having a lie in when he had to work—I rolled out of bed and grabbed a couple of slices of bread for my breakfast, not even bothering to smear them with butter. I headed out across the fields, munching on the bread and gathering wild lupines for a belated peace offering.

Despite the early hour, she was there. Not up in the boughs where we usually waited for each other, but she stood at the base of the tree, no longer angry at me. It was even worse. Cold and flat, even the green of her eyes was icy.

"Did you have a nice time in London?" I asked and thrust out the flowers.

"Yes. Is that all you have to say to me?" She batted the flowers away with a hand.

"I'm sorry." Although I was sincere, even to my ears my voice sounded sulky, petulant. Begrudging.

"You don't sound sorry," she snapped.

"Well, I am," I snapped back. I threw the flowers on the ground.

"Well, I am," she mimicked. "Don't bother coming back here because I'm not. Have a care, Severus. There are some nasty rumors about your new friends." This was said with a heavy does of scorn.

"At least they don't' get their knickers in a twist over something stupid and silly and…"

She slapped my face, the flat of her hand hard against the plane of my cheek. I rocked sideways from the force of it. My father backhanded me every couple of weeks, but I swear nothing in my lifetime has hurt as much as that blow. By the time I righted myself and opened my eyes she was gone, the back of her running through the tall grass as if possessed.

"Mudblood bitch," I screamed.

She didn't stop. I watched her until she disappeared over the horizon. I kicked and stomped on the lupines until the purple petals were crushed into the dirt.

Five days later I called Lupin. I would be careful. I would be very careful.

Remus sulked non-stop the first week he was home. First of all, he was still narked at his parents for assuming that he wasn't above attacking random people on the train. For Christ's sake, after all, Dumbledore trusted him not to rip other students to shreds, couldn't they? Second, despite the fact he was still narked at them as well, he missed James, Sirius, and Peter dreadfully. So much so that he began to wonder if he had been unreasonable. Until he recalled every single jeer and callous remark emanating from both of them that awful afternoon. James got more than his fair share of Remus' censure because he more than deserved it. James' behavior at the Whomping Willow had led Remus to believe that James was now going to curb the worst that Sirius' imagination could conjure up. Which was absolute bollocks, obviously.

James was still as immature and cruel and vicious as Sirius. God knows what Peter would do to earn him Remus' contempt, because all three seemed fated to fail him in some epic way. Feeling thoroughly betrayed and alone and pissed as hell at everybody, he holed himself up in his room claiming he had stomach flu. Which didn't fool his mother one bit. She would bring him full plates of food and luckily not comment when the plates would be returned licked clean, but still couldn't refrain from giving him an exasperated frown when she cleared away his dirty dishes.

The full moon was nearly here, and feeling guilty that he'd been such an uncommunicative arse for the last seven days, he crept down the stairs with all intention of pretending to act as if his entire emotional and social network wasn't in tatters. With the wolf just beginning to seep into his bones, he now moved with a stealth he was barely aware of. Having reached the bottom of the stairs without making a sound, he was just about to enter the lounge when he heard his mother say, "Reg, how long should we put up with this nonsense?"

Remus pulled back into the hallway to make certain they couldn't see his shadow yet close enough that he could still hear them.

"It's probably girl trouble. Wouldn't be surprised if he kept it up all summer, frankly. I know at that age I was an insufferable arse most of the time."

"That may be, but still." Her knitting needles clicked against each other in a fury of motion. "We don't see him that often and that is going to happen within the next couple of days, which means he'll be horribly knackered afterwards and…" She didn't finish the sentence but the knitting stopped and there was a heavy sigh.

"We have all summer," his father reminded his mother.

"Yes, we do. I just hope. Christ, I wish we'd had another child. It was a mistake to stop at one. Not that I want a normal child, just that with it being just Remus, I obsess about him and his future and how he's going to get on. And, well, you know. I worry so much. If there were another…"

The springs of his father's beat up chair wheezed as he heaved himself up, no doubt going to sit next to his mother on the couch to comfort her.

What a burden he was. What a fucking burden. He crept back up the stairs with as silent a foot as before and lay down on his bed hating the world, hating himself.

The phone call came three days post moon. This change had been one of those epic transformations where every cell seemed to hate being a wolf and every cell seemed to equally hate being a boy. His sulk had been eliminated with the temporary elimination of that wolf. His mother had gone back to her mussing up his hair when she passed by him. Still beaten and very bruised, he was sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of tea and listening to his mother tell funny anecdotes about her current crop of students when the phone rang.

"It's for you, Remus." She handed him the phone with a questioning eyebrow.

Bloody Sirius or James. They were probably calling from a phone box somewhere as the Potters didn't own a phone. Sure enough there was the hum of voices in the background, suggesting that they were in a cafi or a pub.

"Yes," Remus snapped. His pout may be over but his anger at them was fresh enough.

"Post-feral or should I say post-fang?"

How extraordinary. It was Snape and with all the usual snark and bite in his voice. Remus couldn't help it. He laughed, both from incongruity of receiving a phone call from Snape and the undeniably funny but slightly cruel wit.

"Yes, my teeth are back to normal, thanks for asking." Remus ignored the disapproving scowl on his mother's face. She loathed wolf jokes on principle. She'd lecture him later tonight on how this was the deepest darkest secret and no one should know. Well, it's not like he was shouting it from the rooftops, but when you're living with three wizards and every month at the full moon you disappear with some mysterious illness, then, well, at some point you'd have to wonder if they weren't a bit thick.

There was a silence and then Remus remembered his manners. "I never got a chance to, you know, thank your mother," he added in a whisper. Because Remus' parents also didn't know about Snape carrying Remus to his mother's house. They'd been fed the same lie as everyone else. "If you would. Please."

Snape ignored him. "Meet me at the church in Cokeworth. Monday at eleven." Then Snape hung up.

He'd spent all his savings on replacing Snape's book and was forced to ask his mother for bus fare, saying that he was meeting a school friend for the day and could he have some money; he'd wash the car and do the laundry this weekend. Pointedly he didn't mention the name of his school friend. Before handing over a fiver, she bit her lip, like she was going to say something and then thought the better of it. He didn't know why, but he was convinced that if he'd mentioned that he was meeting the same boy that he'd gone to the pub with, she'd have refused to let him go. So he let her believe whatever she believed, most likely that he was meeting some girl. He wasn't exactly lying. But he wasn't telling the truth either. He told that her that he'd be home for dinner. "Be careful, Remus," her voice trailed after him as he was walking out the door. He didn't know why, but he felt incredibly guilty and found himself crushing the five-pound note in one hand as he checked that his wand was secreted in his boot with the other.

The church was empty when he got there, no penitents on their knees. The remnants of stale incense hung in the air. He stood for several minutes, admired the stained glass windows, peeked into the confessional boxes, and flipped through a hymnal, until finally he decided that Snape was having him on and made for the exit. As he moved toward the door, Snape stepped out of the shadows of an alcove filled with candles. He'd been there the whole time, watching Remus.

"Hey," Remus whispered in an irritated voice. "What are you on about—" A glare silenced him. Snape walked to the entrance, expecting Remus to follow him, and when Remus stood there fuming, Snape turned the glare up to scorching and motioned with a brusque curl of his index finger to follow. They didn't leave the church. To Remus' surprise, Snape had the key to the choir loft. Remus followed him up a dark stair past the organ to a small office with a desk in one corner, a bookshelf stacked with hymnals and music, and a small electric kettle and a tin of tea.

"Tea? There's no milk. Sugar?"

Remus fought back a sneeze. It was very dusty in here.

"Lovely. Two lumps if there's no milk." Inexplicably he wondered if Dumbledore would have thought this was a seven-lump meeting or a nine-lump meeting. He was not just a little curious what Snape wanted.

Snape reached for two very chipped mugs among a cluster of similarly battered mugs clustered next to the tea kettle. The choir must have a wee cuppa after church or practice. There wasn't proper tea, only tea bags, but it would be hot and sweet, and even though summer, the room was damp and chilly. It must be fecking perishing in the winter. Remus sniffed. Moldy, too.

"Where did the key come from? To this room, I mean."

"My mother sings in the choir. I nicked it." This was said very matter-of-fact, a complete lack of apology in his voice. "There a pound note on the shelf behind you. For the bus fare. What time do you have to leave?"

"Told my mother I'd be home for dinner. There's a bus that leaves at four. I need to be on it. No need about the bus fare. My mother gave me some money. But thanks."

The click of the kettle signaled that the water had boiled. Snape filled the cups with the hot water and then crossed the room and reached around Remus to snatch up the pound note and stuff it into his pocket. Maybe Snape would buy him lunch, although he doubted it. In fact, while the tea brewed, Snape handed him a sandwich wrapped in a napkin. Snape didn't look at Remus as he unwrapped his own, and he ate it in approximately thirty seconds. Nothing more than bread and butter sprinkled with sugar, the bread was fresh enough and Snape had been generous with the sugar. While Remus finished his sandwich, Snape began readying the tea, stirring the sugar with the end of a pencil.

Remus noticed that Snape took his tea black, which seemed pretty heroic. "You take it black?"

Snape looked at him as if Remus couldn't possibly have uttered such a pedestrian sentence, but apparently he had and, Merlin, save him from the world's idiots. Remus didn't have an effing clue what Snape wanted with him, but one thing was certain. He now had an opportunity to say what he should have said. The book was an okay gesture, but he'd had many hours alone in his room to think about the entire chain of events of the last four months, and common decency told him that he needed to say these things to Snape's face. Because it might be humiliating, but it was nothing compared to being strung up into the air and exposed to all your classmates.

"Thanks for the sandwich." The sneer became more pronounced. "Look, I'm really grateful that you saved me in that pub. I probably would have died if you hadn't dragged me out of there." Snape didn't contradict him, just gave him a minute nod of the head. Snape was now only sort of sneering. "Dumbledore thinks I owe you a life debt, and I think he's right."

"He usually is," Snape noted.

"Which means that I should have stood up for you when James and Sirius…" God, it even hurt to say their names. "When they did that to you. It was horrible and cruel, and I'm the biggest fucking coward for not standing up to them and stopping it. I'm sorry."

There, he said it.

Snape didn't move but there was a softening of sorts. The grim, hardened cast of his young face eased just slightly. Instead of the apology making Remus feel better, it only made him feel worse. Because that easing, that rare relaxing of Snape's mouth only heightened the ever-constant "bleak" that constituted Snape's life. Remus' passivity in the face of his friends' constant bullying seemed even more heinous. God, he was a wanker. Worse than they were. Because he knew how wrong it was, and he was willing to bargain away his own integrity for their approbation.

Remus turned his head away and down, his shame was that great, and mumbled, "The book. It won't… It's not enough… but. Yeah. I'm sorry."

"You're sorry. That's it. Sorry."

Snape's voice was flat with no forgiveness in it, but also no anger.

Remus looked up, confused. "I… I know it's not new, but I used all the money I had, and… Yeah, I'm sorry." Snape's face snapped back into its usual mask of hauteur and disdain. "What did you want? I mean, today?"

"Let's go before the mold kills us. Nothing, I want nothing."

As I walked in the direction of the church, cursing myself for making that phone call, not even certain that it was Lupin that I wanted, I didn't waver, and, in fact, broke into a run for the last quarter mile. Standing there in the shadows as Lupin fidgeted while waiting for me, I wondered how to play this. As I watched him thumb through the hymnal, peer into the confessional boxes, and study the stained glass, I still didn't have any more of an inkling of what I was going to do between when I'd made the phone call and now. Maybe I should just let it go. Assume it was a prank… Then he began to tire of waiting for me and made for the doors, and before I could stop myself I stepped out of the alcove where I'd been hiding.

Even in the two weeks since I'd seen him board the train for home, Lupin had changed. Like all of us, he was teetering on that physical knife edge between boy and man with a roundness in his jaw line that conflicted with the size of his hands and the length of his waist. And yet his gait was different, It was firmer and purposeful. He was finally moving into his height, limb and joint finally beginning to work in concert. I could feel it in myself. That pending adulthood. Yet those few fleeting remnants of boy that attracted me as well. Mostly because I think I felt less threatened.

Was Lupin playing with me? The apology seemed genuine, but when I thought of his friends… Maybe they put him up to this. Wouldn't that be the ultimate humiliation? That Snape was not only greasy, poor, and ugly with a nose the size of Wales, but he was also queer. Now that he wasn't physically under their thumb, had Lupin regretted signing that book, and now was backpedaling with fury? It seemed he had some conscience. The book might be a ploy, but the apology was most definitely genuine. Or he was a psychopath. Or an excellent actor. Neither description seemed to apply.

To be exposed. The thought was incomprehensible. That would effectively kill the growing acknowledgment of the Rosier and Avery that I was someone to know and even court. Lily had been wrong. I wasn't friends with these people; I was an asset. Which is a hell of a lot better than being an obstacle. I was quickly coming to realize that there was not any grey in this world. You were either one of us or you were not, whatever side you were on. There was no middle. Should those two expose me, I would most definitely be in the middle, a constant target for everyone. Hell on earth.

Lupin followed in my wake as I made for the outskirts, the only safe place in this city as far as I was concerned. People like me are cursed in more ways than one. Marked ironically enough. Bullies have an internal radar for people like me—witness that prick Potter. Lupin might have thought that he brought on that brawl in the pub, but I'd been fending off comments like that for years. He was an unfortunate casualty. Of course, not all these bullies feasted on me because they thought I was a shirtlifter, but there was always reason enough. I was too skinny. I was ugly. I was poor. I was whatever. Lupin's face during that fight might have had a feral edge to it—so different from his normal placid demeanor that I assume that the "wolf" was rising in him—but his face was no different than the violent bugger who had started the fight.

As an adult I would have an epiphany that my father's animus toward me was fed by both a hatred for all things magical and the suspicion that his son was, indeed, a nancy boy. Magic was a forbidden topic in my household, but homophobic slurs were certainly a daily occurrence. Given that I went to school nine months out of the year and my summers were spent in the fields around Cokeworth, as a small child I didn't realize that the majority of his ugly comments were directed at me. Although it is hard to imagine that even I was actually innocent at some point. Well, I wasn't innocent any longer, and the only place I did feel safe these days was in the library or behind the curtains of my four poster or, as my magical knowledge increased, standing over a cauldron. Or hidden by tall grass or secreted up in the boughs of a tree.

They walked for a good three miles, Snape being his usual mute wanker self, at a pace that was only a little less than a run. Maybe they were going to meet Lily. That would be nice.

"Are we meeting Lily?" They were walking awfully fast.

"No," Snape bit out with enough venom to tell Remus that subject was closed.

When they finally came to the banks of a smallish river with a giant oak nearby, Snape climbed up into the boughs of the tree, right up near the top and sat on a branch clearly waiting for Remus to get a move on and hoist his arse up the tree as well.

Okay. Remus climbed up and found a branch nearby that he thought would hold his weight and steadied himself. Reaching into the crevasse of a branch, Snape pulled out two more sandwiches and waved one front of his face.

"There's no water or anything."

Remus took the sandwich. All that walking had made him hungry.

"Thanks. Are you always narked or do you just sound that way?"

Snape didn't bother to turn toward Remus to answer, but did say in a clear, pissy voice, "Yes and yes."

Remus couldn't help it. He laughed. It was so Snape.

"You find me amusing, Lupin?" Okay, there was cranky and there was furious and Snape's voice was distinctly furious.

"Not in the way I think you're taking it. I try not to judge people. You know, being a werewolf and glass houses. You always seem to have a wand up your arse. Just wondering if I should take this personally or not. I'm thinking not. Yeah?"

Of course Snape didn't say anything in reply but just kept eating his sandwich. By this point, Remus took Snape's silences as a mute yes. Of course sometimes Snape's silences were more in the vein of, "I can't believe how tiresome and stupid you are being." With a jolt Remus realized that he was now at a point where he could actually tell what level of silence Snape was (or wasn't) dishing out; this felt like they were okay. Remus brushed an ant off of the crust of his sandwich and finished it up. The bread had been stale, like it had been in that crevasse for a few days.

Growing up in the country tends to polarize one into either being a person who isn't happy unless surrounded by fields or one who relishes the pavement under their feet. Remus realized with a start that he was becoming someone who craved the latter. His parents had chosen rural exile out of necessity. Short of breeding an army of wolfhounds or mastiffs, trying to explain the howls emanating from the house once a month would have been impossible. Even the ugliness of a town like Cokeworth somehow felt more inviting than these endless fields. It represented loneliness to him. Ironically, the only time he didn't feel the claustrophobia of crushing isolation were the nights as a wolf where the fields and valleys were about prey and hunting and power.

Remus squashed down an impatience and the grumble on his lips of what in the hell were they doing here. Because, maybe if he'd grown up in this town like Snape had, he'd have had the opposite response and gone searching for something like this. Where there weren't any walls or low ceilings or the heavy, thick smell of coal. He couldn't remember anything about Snape's house—his only memory after being beaten within an inch of his life was of Snape's mother, leaning over him, pressing a wet thumb to his forehead—but the town itself was like all former mill towns, the desperation and poverty so overwhelming you could feel it through your clothes like an ill wind.

Remus snuck a glance over at Snape, who'd finished his sandwich and was staring off in the distance at something. Maybe it was because Remus had met his mother and now had a good idea of what Snape would look like in twenty years, and maybe it was because Remus also had a face that that was all angles and a biggish nose that would take a few years to grow into. Contrary to James' and Sirius' constant and most favorite insults regarding him, Snape wasn't ugly. Like Remus, his face was caught in that awkward gap between childhood and manhood, where some features are too big and some too small and none of it fits together quite right. But in a few years, when it all got sorted out, it would work. Snape would never be handsome. No, not like Sirius, who probably had been a beautiful child and was a shockingly attractive teenager and would no doubt become an extremely handsome man. Lucky Sirius. His face and body seemed to be gliding effortlessly into manhood without so much as a hiccup. Snape would probably be like Remus. A man with a strong face that only improved with age, but now looked like a patchwork of mismatched features that didn't have any relationship to each other.

Snape's face, even with his brow crunched up in study, and his mouth pursed in a concerned pucker, had, for once, nothing of that haunted, hunted look on it. Another flush of shame crept up Remus' neck, because it was clear that Snape felt safe here, unlike in town, unlike at Hogwarts. In fact, maybe Snape didn't feel safe anywhere but here. In this tree. Up high and hidden.

Snape's hand reached out and grabbed Remus' shoulder for one brief second to catch his attention and then held up a single finger to his lips. Then Remus heard them. Laughter and the admonition of someone saying, "You stupid wanker, keep it down. Someone will hear us." And then the answer back, "Right, the nettles are going to bust us any second now."

There they were, two young men, coming up on the tree to sit on the riverbank. They looked like the rock stars on Sirius' posters, with greasy and unkempt hair down to their shoulders, and wearing shirts splattered with loud prints tucked into jeans that rested on slim hip bones.

"Is this good shit, Dev?" said the red-haired bloke, in a dismissive tone that said he had no hope whatsoever that it would be good, whatever it was. "The last time you scored. Man, that stuff was cut with something nasty. Probably all chopped up nettles."

The brunet, who had a big nose somewhat dwarfed by a massive beard that ate up the lower half of his face, scowled. "Berk. Not going to share if you're not nice to me."

"Oh, I'll be nice to you all right," said the redhead.

Remus blushed because that sounded, well, downright dirty the way he said it. Close up they were older than him and Snape. Remus was pants at guessing ages, but they certainly looked older than seventh years, but not that much older. Maybe twenty? Maybe a little older? Without even looking at Snape, Remus knew that he mustn't make a sound. This had the potential to go pear-shaped, much like the visit to the pub. Neither of them were a match for two men in their twenties, and another episode of wild magic would probably find them expelled from school. If he could have stopped breathing, he would have.

The bright sound of a match striking meant they were here to have a smoke. Maybe they weren't that much older because why would they have to sneak way out here to have a fag? Smoke rose, a sweet, odd aroma that didn't smell like any cigarette he'd ever smelled, not even those nasty American cigarettes that Sirius smoked. Last summer he'd started smoking cigarettes called Camels last because he said this was what his favorite American rock star smoked. Fortunately, Peter began to have asthma attacks so Sirius had to stop smoking in the room, and then the weather turned so Sirius couldn't sneak smokes under the bleachers because he'd freeze his balls off. All of them were privately relieved when spring came around and there wasn't any sign of him smoking again; it turned out to be nothing more than one of Sirius' phases. None of them dared say anything to him about it because the minute you asked Sirius to stop something, he'd become dedicated to it, full stop. He'd have lighted one off the other for months just to prove a point.

Remus was too afraid to even look at Snape. He just kept his eyes trained on these two, willing them to not look up.

They passed this home-rolled cigarette back and forth until it was smoked down to the nub, and then they stood up and tossed the end of it into the stream. Thank god, the smell of it was nauseating, and it was all Remus could do not to start coughing. Expecting them to either leave or sit down again, Remus bit back a gasp or surprise when one of them nuzzled up against the other, wrapping his arms around the other man, and nipping at his ear in an affectionate gesture that couldn't be construed as anything other than sexual.

"Said I was going to be nice," the ginger-haired bloke muttered.

"How nice?" the other purred as he angled his head so that the other man could mouth his neck.

And then all the talking stopped.

Remus kept snapping his eyes shut and yet opening them a half second later. He couldn't not watch as the redhead fell to his knees without any preamble and then yanked the brunet's jeans down to his knees, grabbed his dick like he'd been doing it for yonks (which Remus realized later was probably the case), and began laving and sucking on it like it was some sort of lolly. The other man began groaning his appreciation, murmuring a name Remus couldn't quite catch, and fondling the other man's hair. As if it couldn't be any stranger and more tantalizing, at some point the man on his knees pulled out his dick and with one hand began pulling on himself while holding the other man's dick in his hands. The man being sucked on came first—Remus didn't know how in the hell he remained standing—and then the second man came, and then they tumbled down to the ground together and began kissing slowly. People did this to each other? Men did this to each other? Put their mouth on someone's else's dick and suck like that?

Nancy boys, nancy boys, played over and over in Remus' head as he watched these two kiss each other and run their hands over each other. And then it turned into, "You are a nancy boy, you are a nancy boy," because as embarrassed, as shocked, and as self-conscious as he was, it was so "right," and so "true" and it explained so much. Why Lily, one of the prettiest girls in the school, could touch his arm and give him kisses on the cheek and how they were nothing more than gestures of almost anonymous affection. Why those dirty magazines Miles Handerly kept in the bottom of his trunk as a sort of smut lending library had sort of bored him. Or just hadn't done that much. Had he got erections from those pictures? Well, yeah, because pretty much anything gave him erections. But he didn't want to thumb through them excessively like James had, of course, lingering on the pictures of redheads. Which Remus found a little off-putting to be honest.

Watching the ginger-haired bloke stretch his lips around the other man's dick, a trickle of saliva running down the corner of his mouth, Remus was unable to stop pressing a palm to his own dick because if he didn't feel some pressure right there he'd die. Oh yes, it was true; he was a nancy boy. What those two were doing to each other was so dirty and so lovely and he wanted to do exactly those things with another boy. He pressed harder as he strained against the fabric of his pants.

In some ways the languid kissing was even more of a turn-on although he couldn't say why. His lips twitched and ached because he'd never kissed anyone and, God, yes, that looked like it would feel bloody marvelous, too. He pressed harder, desperate for some relief, but if he pressed too hard, he'd come in his pants in this stupid fucking tree— Then his hand was batted away. Oh, God, Snape had seen him palming himself through his trousers and he would hate him and tease him and make his life—

Then the blessed pressure was back, rubbing back and forth, and Remus' mouth was covered by Snape, not so much kissing him but a swallowing of Remus' lips. Crooking his arm around a big limb and gripping the closest branch to anchor himself, with the other hand Remus fumbled around in the direction of Snape's lap until he found Snape's erection and also pressed and rubbed. What fucking bliss. To not control the pace, the push, to be, literally, in someone's else's hand. Snape dick was so hot through his trousers, throbbing and as desperate as his was. They were both so close it didn't take more than minute of this pressing and rubbing. Snape came first, without making a single sound, and Remus followed shortly thereafter, also silent. One didn't live in a dormitory with three other boys without mastering the art of the silent orgasm. Even as he relished the aftermath, he couldn't help squelch a solid sureness—this is what he was. Most definitely. A nancy boy. This went hand in hand with an enormous sense of horror this is what he was: a nancy boy.

They sat there panting into each other's mouths, riding out the high. As the glow faded and their mouths slackened against each other, Remus could feel little grains of sugar on Snape's lips from the sandwiches. He couldn't help but pull back just a little to lick away those little grains of sugar from Snape's bottom lip. So sweet. Snape jerked and Remus could feel him stiffen. Might as well be hung for a sheep as well as for a lamb. He licked Snape's upper lip. Again, he tasted more sugar and it was a little slick from the butter. His dick twitched. Snape relaxed and began kissing him back. It was awkward and neither of them knew what they were doing, but eventually they established a half-assed rhythm that might not have been won any prizes for technique, but it felt damn fine. So this is what it's like kissing another boy. His dick twitched again.

He pulled away to whisper in Snape's ear, "We need to go." He glanced over at the men on the riverbank. Based on their soft snores, they'd fallen asleep. Snape nodded. Easing their way down the tree limbs, they didn't make hardly any sound until their feet hit the ground, then they tore out of there and across the fields, for once Remus ahead of Snape by a length.

They didn't stop running until they'd reached a farm, where Snape nipped into the barn as if he owned the place. Scaling a ladder to the hay loft, Snape went to the very back of the barn and essentially collapsed in the hay, panting like mad, Remus followed, sinking into the hay a few feet away.

When their breathing had more or less returned to normal, Remus said, "Won't the farmer find us?"

"Market day."

"Do you think it's safe to leave? If we don't head back now, I'll miss my bus."

Snape didn't respond, just got up and led the way down the ladder and out across the fields. It was like his private fiefdom. He seemed to know every hill and dale for miles.

They didn't speak the entire way back. Remus supposed that he should have felt ashamed, but he didn't. It had felt so, well, organic that he reasoned that this just was the way he was, and if Snape had issues with what had happened he could just fuck off. Remus wasn't going to apologize. It wasn't like he had fun all by himself. Having spent the majority of the hike back to town convinced that any second Snape was going to go off on some homophobic tirade about washing off the queer, by the time they reached the bus stop, Remus had worked himself up into a right old lather.

Even in the barn they really hadn't looked at each other, their eyes more or less in the right direction but not actually making eye contact. By this point, Remus was furious and feeling not a little self-righteous. He rounded on Snape, faced him full on, and said in a belligerent voice, "I'm not apologizing. It felt good and if you want to be a perfect arse about it, I don't want to hear it."

Before Remus could continue his tirade, which he'd been rehearsing for the last mile or so, Snape said, "Wednesday?"

Remus bit back a sigh of relief. Maybe it would be okay. Did he want to do that again? Because Snape might have been talking to Remus but it was Remus' mouth he was staring at. A lick of desire curled up the back of Remus' thighs. Yes, he did.

"Bus fare might be an issue." He could hit his mother up for money on occasion but he couldn't make a habit of it. She didn't have it.

"Floo in. Spinner's End. My father actually has a job this summer. He'll be out of the house by 5:30 am. My mother attends morning mass and then works at the church. Come around 9:15. You can Floo home before she returns home."

Before Remus even say, "Ta," the bus arrived and Snape walked off.

Despite the rather stellar events of the afternoon, I couldn't wait to get to my room to beat off. Telling my mother I didn't want tea, I raced up the stairs, shoved my dresser against the door, and tore at the zipper on my trousers. God, that had been bloody marvelous. I relived every single second of that blow job, from the moment he yanked down the other boy's trousers until the other boy bucked out his orgasm. I wanted to make this last until as long as the fantasy, so I barely touched myself, just a hint of my palm, and when my mind relived that final physical stuttering of pleasure, I cupped myself, hard, and came into my hand. The reality of actually seeing one boy pleasuring another was so much better than my previous incomplete fantasies.

And Lupin. That had been lucky. Because as marvelous as it was watching them, seeing the naked want on Lupin's face was equally enthralling. A want that I understood and shared—had Lupin looked at me he would have seen the exact same hunger—gave me the courage to touch him. The kissing surprised me. I had covered his mouth with my own to keep him quiet. But as he nudged at my mouth with his and then licked me, it was all I could do not to scream out my pleasure. I was kissing another boy. Like I had obsessed about and, God, tried to imagine what it was like, and it was nothing like I thought it would be and yet as wonderful as I knew it would be.

Lying across my bed, sticky and sated, my trousers and pants down around my ankles, my mind filled with all those brilliant dirty images, I laughed out loud. I had sex in a tree with Remus Lupin.

I couldn't wait until Wednesday.

Fortunately, both of his parents were teaching summer school. The second the front door slammed signaling that they'd left for work, he raced around the house trying to finish his chores before he Flooed to Snape's house. He wasn't sure how long he'd be there, and if they came home and found that he hadn't done his chores, he'd be in for it. If he was only of age, he could have used magic and be done in ten minutes. As it was, he didn't Floo to Snape's until around 9:30.

There was a sense of misplaced energy about Snape's body, as if he had been pacing and only stopped when Remus had arrived. Remus could have imagined it, but he thought he saw a smoothing of Snape's brow, as if relieved that he'd come, afraid that Remus wouldn't show up.

Now that he was here, he didn't know what to say. Snape apparently didn't either. They stood there facing each other, both of them blushing like mad. Remus had been fantasizing non-stop at what they would do this morning, and now that he was here, he was couldn't even move his feet. His fantasy was nothing like this—paralyzing awkwardness and embarrassment—no, there was lots of violent kissing and shoving of bodies against other. And hands everywhere.

After a minute or so, Snape said, "Do you want some tea?"

Remus shook his head.

"Do you want to go upstairs?"

Remus nodded but felt it incumbent to confess his basic ignorance. Not that he thought Snape was any less ignorant, but if the bar was pretty low, then, he reasoned, it could only become higher. "I've never… You know. With anyone."

"Me either. You do want to, don't you?"

No wonder Snape didn't have any friends except Lily. God, he was such a belligerent wanker. Did he even know how he sounded?

"Yeah. Okay?" When Snape didn't respond, Remus said, "Look, I'll just Floo home and—"

"Don't." Even that was as testy as all get out. Remus was half-tempted to just forget this whole idea. And then he saw Snape swallow, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down. A great big hunking swallow, as if Snape were nervous.

"Okay, then. Before your mother comes home."

Snape turned heel and said out of the side of his mouth as he headed for the stairs up to his room. "She won't be home until noon."

Remus tried not to snoop, but he couldn't help but notice that there while his parents were certainly scraping by and their house shabby and worn, it wasn't like Snape's house. Even though the rooms were tiny, literally not big enough to swing a cat, it had the feel of a house that was missing half its furniture. Remus got the sense that there was only enough and that was it. Three chairs. Three forks, three knives, three spoons. And sometimes not enough to eat. That sort of poverty. And even though it was summer, the house was cold, as if all that stone was still hugging the cold from the winter. In the winter it must be frigging perishing.

As soon as Remus crossed the threshold into Snape's room, Snape shoved the dresser in front of the door. Although Remus could see that Snape's forehead was as sweaty as his own and that he kept licking his lips, too, Remus didn't know what to do, how to start. But if they didn't do something soon, Remus would have an aneurism.

He sat on the bed, just far enough to one side so that if Snape wanted to he could sit next to Remus. The mattress shifted and Snape's thigh was next to his thigh. God, he wished it were dark. If they couldn't actually see each other, it might have been a whole lot easier.

Then Snape put his hand on Remus' knee and squeezed. Like Remus, Snape had the height of a man and the body of a boy, but his wrists were that of a man: defined and strong. How odd Remus had never noticed them before, but Snape had such beautiful hands, long, graceful fingers that were in perfect proportion to his slim palms. Not that Remus knew what the hands of a musician were like because he really was pants at music of any kind, couldn't even carry a decent tune, but Remus thought, "These hands should play the piano." Remus had the squat, utilitarian hands of a laborer; his ancestors had clearly been farmers. Remus covered Snape's hand with his own and then brought it up to his mouth and kissed Snape's wrist.

Snape wrenched his wrist away and grabbed Remus' face with both hands to bring their mouths together. Better, so much better. Oh, they clashed noses, as both of them were quite prominent there was a lot of necessary angling involved, and it took a few minutes to realize just how inventive tongues could be. Remus kept his eyes shut because although he had no intention of stopping, and Snape seemed to be onboard with this as much as he was, but he wasn't sure he wanted to see Snape's face. Contempt and scorn were pretty much Snape's default, and Remus didn't think he could handle Snape sneering at his kissing technique.

Hands eventually found laps, which found zippers, which found erections, and then found bliss. Because, fuck Merlin twice, it was debatable what was better: the pleasure of having your dick stripped or stripping someone else's. Win flipping win. Somehow Remus had never thought that sex would be so wet. He and Snape flopped back onto Snape's mattress, their knees still canted over the edge.

After a while Snape said is a sleepy low voice, "Loo's on the second floor."

So this is what Snape sounds like when he wasn't in wanker mode: sexy. Remus forced himself not to smile.

"Yeah, I'll, in a minute."

Snape got up, and Remus heard the shush of clothes being righted and a zipper being zipped, and then sound of a dresser being shoved across a floor and a door opening. Snape didn't make a sound when he walked, and it wasn't until Remus sat up and realized the room was empty did he realize that Snape had already left. Remus took this opportunity to check out Snape's bedroom. The floor was covered in stacks of books. Scanning the titles, it was a mismatched odd collection, some history, lots of English literature, and a few books on gardening. His school books were neatly lined up on the only shelf, the copy of Jane Eyre shoved in between his fifth-year potions textbook and a cauldron.

A shadow crossed the corner of his left eye and there was Snape, watching him scoping out his room.

"You like to read? I do, too. You sure have a lot of books."

"I stole them. Ready for another go?"

They fell into a routine. Initially they Flooed back and forth for marathon sex sessions, the mornings Snape's mother worked at the church Remus Flooed to Cokeworth, and on the days she didn't, Snape spent the day at Remus' house. But the lure of the books at Remus' house soon had Snape spending nearly all of his time at Remus', only Flooing home when the sound of car doors slamming announced the return of his parents from work.

Remus thought Snape would actually have a bleeding stroke from sheer joy while browsing through all the books on the Dark Arts in Remus' bedroom. As a result of Remus' lycanthropy, the Dark Arts had become a hobby of his father's, but since they had Muggle colleagues and friends, these books couldn't sit on the shelves in the lounge with all the others. They had to be secreted up here in Remus' room away from Muggle eyes.

"Yeah, it's my mother who actually acts like my being a werewolf is horrible, but I think it's my father that it bothers the most. He's just better at hiding it. I think it's because he's a wizard and she's not."

"She's Muggle?" Snape said absentmindedly, while leafing through a book titled, The Werewolf in All of Us.

They were both starkers, lying on Remus' bed, their ankles intertwined. Nicely sated after a rousing bout of 69ing, Remus was watching the clouds puff across the sky; Snape was reading.

For a second he wondered if he should admit it, but then it was so obvious there wasn't any point. "Yeah. Like your father is," he added for insurance. Because while his Muggle roots wouldn't be an issue for Gryffindors, for Slytherins it could be socially fatal. "I won't tell anyone."

Snape looked up. "See that you don't. There aren't any potions to stop the change?"

God, the money his parents had spent looking for a "cure." Hundreds and hundreds of Galleons for naught.

"No. There aren't even decent potions for the change. You know, to make it better. Just fucking torture. Every single time."

At that Snape stopped reading. "I bet I could concoct a potion that will make it easier."

"Be my guest. You hungry?"

Stupid question, because Remus had discovered that nothing stoked his appetite like sex, and given the way Snape packed away food, he guessed Snape felt the same. But then Remus often wondered if Snape just didn't get enough to eat at home. He would Floo in with his pockets bulging from apples, apricots, whatever was in season, obviously pinched from some orchard. One time he had a bunch of green beans in one pocket and new potatoes in the other. Which helped because Remus' mother had mentioned several times over the course of the summer how much his appetite seemed to have exploded. Like he was eating for two.

If hand jobs were nirvana, blow jobs were nirvana squared. They had devised a sort of short hand. One of them would say, "Brunet or redhead?" which would determine who was giving and who was receiving that day's blow job. But often there were at least a couple of blow jobs on any given day, so it wasn't like the other was deprived.

The first few times were pretty weird. For one thing, semen had an odd tang to it, and the first time he actually tasted it, Remus pulled away too fast, got jizz all over his face, and it dried in his eyebrows; he had a hell of a time scrubbing it out. That stuff was like cement.

Snape's dick was huge, so Remus had a steeper learning curve. Teeth were an issue. But since he was sucking Snape off an average of about five times a week, he got pretty good at it. One night at dinner his mother said something about "practice makes perfect," and Remus spit his pumpkin juice across the table.

His parents obviously suspected that he was seeing someone. Of course, they didn't know it was a boy and certainly not that boy from the pub brawl. Even as they appreciated the about face in his moods, his father took him on a walk one night to talk "man to man." Remus actually got Snape to laugh when describing his father's two-hour ramble on the "birds and the bees," which was mostly hemming and hawing in an awkward attempt to discuss sex and birth control. His mother, thinking rightly that his father had completely botched the job, was waiting for him in his room one night after he'd washed up, shoved a bunch of condoms in his hand, and said, "Don't even think about pulling out your you-know-what unless you put on one of these. You need more, let me know. Got it?"

It was a couple of weeks before they actually saw each other naked, which was just plain silly when Remus thought about it because they both lived in a dormitory nine months out of the year. Unlike the James, Peter, and Sirius (who seemed to eschew clothes on principle), Remus had affected a near-insane modesty. His body was a roadmap of scars, no matter how much dittany his mother and Madam Pomfrey lathered on every month. Some wounds seemed impervious to magic and had to heal by themselves. Of course once his secret was out, he didn't need to be quite as reserved, but as a rule he still tended to shower when the others weren't around.

Although Snape knew about the werewolf business, so that wasn't a factor, Remus would have been perfectly happy to keep their sexual escapades limited to the unzipping of zippers and hands remaining over shirts. As much as Remus was dying to feel skin on skin, bare leg against bare leg, and the concept of humping each other was guaranteed to produce an erection just thinking about it, Remus was convinced that one look at his scars and Snape wouldn't come back.

And then one day Snape shoved his hands under Remus shirt to finger his nipples. This drove Remus mad in one way—how could this feel so good?—and mad in another, as in, oh no, he can't help but feel the scars on Remus' torso. Snape did and pulled his hands away. Remus turned his head, so ashamed he wished he could just dissolve into the bedclothes. God, he hated being a werewolf, hate, hate, hated it. "Don't," he whispered, as Snape began to undo the buttons on his shirt. "Please, don't."

When the final button was undone and Remus' chest barred to the air, he heard Snape hiss at the extent of the scarring. It wasn't a pretty sight, as he well knew. He tried to avoid mirrors but sometimes it was inevitable, and there were always more scars than the last time he'd caught himself in the glass.

Remus kept his head averted, waiting for Snape to say something. To say he had to go, that they'd see each other tomorrow, and then never turn up again. Remus was so ugly, how could Snape even stand…

A soft mouth kissed the worst of the scars, with gentle presses that went up the length and back again. Then another and then another, until all the scars were slightly wet and tingling from the push of Snape's mouth. A hand brought Remus' face forward. Remus opened his eyes. Snape looked at him, turned around, and then pulled up his shirt. His back was lacerated with old scars. Someone had beaten the holy shit out of Snape with what looked like had been a belt. Not that Remus was an expert on child abuse, but this looked like it had taken place over a number of years. Being something of an expert on scars, these looked old. Only when Snape had finally grown too big to beat had it ended.

That summer was full of epiphanies, but perhaps the most poignant was learning that comfort can be expressed as sex.

They never talked about life after this summer. One hot, muggy day in early August after that morning's obligatory blow jobs, they were reading books out in the garden, looking forward to a particularly nice lunch. Snape had pinched some baby lettuces and ripe tomatoes. Remus looked up from his book and said in a loud voice, "I'll miss this. Not just the sex, I mean."

Snape didn't look up from his book, he just nodded.

Remus took this as a tacit acknowledgment that what had happened in Manchester pretty much stayed in Manchester and that Snape was on board with this. That this was extremely convenient on Remus' part only occurred to him years later.

Remus would miss it but it would also be a huge relief. Because as much as Remus had come to very much like Snape—he had a sly, understated sense of humor, he was thoughtful in surprising ways (making sure to return the books he borrowed), compassionate (with a hand even more gentle than his mother's as he dressed Remus' post-wolf wounds with dittany), and passionate (sexually, he gave as good as he got)—increasingly the sex was problematic.

Not that any of this was Snape's fault. In fact, Remus wondered if Snape hadn't filched some books on sex because he was always the one pushing them to experiment and taking things another step farther. No, Snape was actually a generous, wonderful lover. The problem was Sirius.

Remus realized that the problem usually was Sirius, and it was so irritating that even when the selfish git wasn't in his life, he was in Remus' life whether he liked it or not. Sex gradually moved out of the blindingly fantastic novelty stage into something where he realized that pleasure could be manipulated. That in fact, boom, out of the gate, get off as fast as possible was not the best sex. And once sex entered the realm of the cerebral on some level, then he couldn't turn his mind off.

Maybe it was because he hadn't heard from either James or Sirius in weeks, not since that lame attempt on the train to fashion some last-minute reconciliation, in fact. But in late July, the hair that he was clutching ceased to be Snape's black hair and, in his mind, became Sirius' black hair. It startled him to the point that he just stopped moving, stopped kissing, and just lay there poised, horrified and shocked, and harder than he ever had in his entire life. He let go of Snape's hair.

"What? Something wrong?" demanded Snape.

"No, nothing," Remus lied and went back to kissing and rutting against Snape, his hands on either side of the pillow.

From that point on, although Sirius was the only boy he knew who actually looked like a man at this point, having completely by-passed those hellish years where boy and man collide, Remus couldn't help but pretend that the feel of Snape's bony shoulders under his fingertips were Sirius' shoulders. That the warmth of his breath on Remus' neck was Sirius breathing on him. Even worse, now when he and Snape kissed, it was Sirius kissing him, biting his lips, tonguing him, and moaning into his mouth.

Remus knew this wasn't fair, but he couldn't stop it. Couldn't stop replacing Snape with Sirius, but couldn't stop seeing Snape. For one thing he didn't want to, and for another Snape/Sirius sex was so gratifying, even more gratifying than Snape sex. Which had been pretty mind-blowing even of itself. After a weekend of some righteous soul searching, Remus convinced himself that fantasizing that Snape was Sirius was okay because Remus actually liked Snape. He wasn't using him just for sex with Sirius by proxy. So he told himself over and over.

The last day of the summer that they could see each other before all the hoopla of the pending school year began, Snape went back to his near-mute state of only responding in a snarl. Remus had begged his mother to buy the fairy cakes Snape loved so that they could have a send-off lunch, but Snape had seen the fairy cakes on the kitchen table and ignored them.

"Let's go upstairs," was all he said.

The entire day was spent in bed, in silence. Not that it wasn't pleasurable, because by this point Snape knew what he liked and Remus knew what Snape liked. Ten minutes before his parents were due home, Snape got up, got dressed, and pulled a couple of Galleons out of his pocket and threw them on the bed.

"For the Floo powder," was all he said and walked out of the room.

Remus heard the whoosh of the Floo and then his parents drive up. He went to throw his clothes on before his mother wondered why he wasn't dressed and then thought better of it. He went to take a shower, the water very hot.

"Remus, is your trunk packed?" his mother yelled up the stairs.

"Yeah!" Remus yelled back. "Sort of," he amended. As he knew she would, she appeared in his doorway not a minute later to determine his progress. He'd put his cauldron in. That was as far as he'd got. She looked at the trunk, looked at all his clothes, books, and school paraphernalia scattered hither and yon all over the floor, and then back at his trunk again. He cast all of his new books for the year, a set of scales, and his school robes (which were too small, a fact they both ignored—books for this year's term had been very expensive) into the mouth of the trunk.

"You leave for school in two days. We don't want to be—"

"Packing at the last minute. I know, Mom." Remus tried not to sound like he was whining, but based on his mother's irritated frown he hadn't succeeded.

"Don't forget the rest of your clothes and your sweater and—"

"Your tie," he finished for her.

"And your tie." She walked over to muss his hair.

They heard the rush of someone arriving in the fireplace, no two someones. That was definitely the sound of two pairs of feet hitting the floor.

"Hello?" his mother called out.

"Hullo, Mrs Lupin, it's me, James Potter, and Sirius Black," James said in his most polite tone, the one reserved for parents.

If Remus hadn't had Snape as a playmate that entire summer, he might have initiated a reconciliation with them out of sheer desperation, but he did have Snape, which allowed him to indulge in an uncharacteristic fit of pride and, also, put off dealing with his personal epiphany regarding his sexuality. His fantasies regarding Sirius were titillating beyond belief and yet also embarrassed the hell out of him. He told himself—repeatedly—that it was merely because Sirius was so handsome. Even when making these arguments to himself, he knew they were nonsense. There were other boys just as handsome and they never entered his fantasies. It was like some sort of sexual Pandora's box. Although the sex he and Snape were doing was fairly rudimentary, as in limited to hand jobs, blow jobs, and an inordinate amount of kissing, he now knew what it felt like, and he couldn't help but spend all of his free time wondering what Sirius tasted like, what he felt like, what he smelled like. What it would like to curl his hand around Sirius' bicep. Run his tongue along Sirius' collarbone. He couldn't stop his brain, which seemed to be controlled by his dick these days, but he could keep his hands to himself and establish some sort of personal space. Discouraging Sirius from using his stomach as his personal pillow was a start.

No matter how he felt about Sirius, there were new rules regarding Snape, and none of it was open to negotiation. He had hoped that they could have thrashed out the issue of Snape on the train, but perhaps it was better this way.

After having the obligatory cup of tea with his mother, followed by the inevitable chit-chat—" Yes, Mrs Lupin, my parents are doing fine. No, Mrs Lupin, I don't know how my parents are doing. I assume fine. I spent the summer with the Potters. Oh, yes, we went on holiday to France. Yes, Sirius came with us. We stayed in Paris for a couple of days and then went down to the coast for a week on the beach. Yes, we are rather brown. Lovely weather. Yes, I'll say hello to my parents for you the next time I write them."—the three of them tromped up the stairs to Remus' room. Sirius hadn't looked at him once. Although animated enough when speaking to his mother, he hadn't even acknowledged Remus, not even a sulky nod in Remus' direction. Wearing a tatty tee shirt that he had cut the arms off of and a pair of jeans with the knees so blown out Remus could see exactly how tan his knees were, Remus was surprised to see that they were now nearly the same height. Sirius had grown about three inches that summer.

As soon as the door was closed, Remus sat on the floor next to his trunk and began filling it with the rest of his clothes just so he'd have something to do with his hands. Sirius strolled over to the window, affecting that bored slouch of his, while James sat on Remus' unmade bed and adopted his, "I'm so much more mature than you lot and it looks like I'm going to have to save the day, yet again" mien of forbearance.

"Look, Remus, this is just so fucking stupid and—"

"Shut-up, James," Remus ordered. "You look. We're roommates and we will have to be roommates for the next two years, but we don't have to be friends. First of all, I want you both to lay off Snape. I owe him a life debt, and when you pull pranks on him or humiliate him, it puts me in an awful position. Until I can pay off this life debt, I owe it to him to protect him. If I find myself in a situation where I have to choose you two or him, I will choose him. So don't put me in the middle, you wankers. Understand?"

As much as Remus hated to admit it, in clutch moments like this James was gobs more mature than the rest of them. James didn't give him any of his usual shit about what an annoying wanker Snape was and how ugly he was and how he deserved whatever was coming to him. He merely nodded and for a fleeting second actually looked much older than his sixteen years. Sirius pretended to pick at his cuticles.

Before James could stop him, Remus was up off the ground and lunged for Sirius. Grabbing him by the shoulders Remus began to shake him because he was so bloody arrogant and annoying and such a piece of goddamn work and…oh…oh. Sirius didn't fight him or punch him like Remus expected. No, he sort of melted into his hands. Sirius' bottom lip began to tremble and his eyes were fixed on Remus' bottom lip. Oh. Jesus Christ and Merlin on a stick while riding a bicycle. All the licks and the naps on Remus' bed and canine nuzzling, all now jelled into a wonderful focus and made sense.

Two months ago Remus wouldn't have known what desire looked like and how it smelled and how it felt, but he knew now. Him? Why him? But there was no mistaking that quickening of breath and the flush of want rushing up Sirius' neck. Sirius wanted him so badly that Remus could feel him shaking under his palms. Taking care that James couldn't see—although later it would be obvious that James had known how Sirius had felt even if Remus had been clueless—Remus kept a hold of Sirius shoulders to spin him away so that Remus' back was facing James and Sirius was mostly hidden.

"Leave, James. Now. I don't care what you tell my mother. But leave this room right now." Remus didn't wait to see if James obeyed him. He drew Sirius close, and as he whispered, "Pads," he brought his knee up and pressed. Sirius was hard, beautifully hard. Remus pressed again. At Sirius' grateful sigh of pleasure, Remus brought up a thumb to trace that gorgeous mouth. Normally not that fussed about his hygiene, Remus noted with a rush of affection that Sirius had shaved that morning. Just for him.

"You are such a stupid git, Sirius Black."

"Missed you so much, Moony. So much." Sirius mumbled around Remus' thumb. And he then wrapped his lips around it and sucked.

Now it was Remus' turn to let out a grateful oomph of pleasure.

I could see them from my window. The four of them were standing on the platform, Potter receiving some last minute instructions from his parents. Black and Lupin were talking, with their heads nodding toward each other with such intimacy that I imagine they could smell the toothpaste on each other's breath. Lupin was still taller, but Black had grown over the summer. He leaned over to whisper something in Lupin's ear, and his hand clasped Lupin's shoulder in a proprietary gesture. Like Lupin belonged to him.

February 1997

"Rumors have reached Voldemort that you are fucking Tonks. Keep that dick of yours in your trousers if you don't want this entire mission to go pear-shaped. Undoubtedly Voldemort will bring this up and you'd better have a response that doesn't earn you an Avada Kedavra."

Remus didn't know how he did it. Snape's lips weren't moving but Remus could hear him as clearly as if he had been shouting. Some sort of Dark Arts spell where he could hear Snape but no one else could? In a voice not even loud enough to be called a whisper, Remus ran through a series of diagnostic spells in an attempt to reveal exactly what spell Snape was using, only to be interrupted by a particularly sharp, "Don't be so tiresome, Lupin."

As per the usual, Snape was moving at a clip just short of a run and Remus had a job keeping up. The wards at Malfoy Manor had been lifted for three seconds, just allowing them enough time to cross the threshold of the gate. The second they had appeared, the ghostly peacocks Lucius had spelled to act as sentries had stopped their back and forth along the top of the stone wall. Based on the venom with which the two of them were regarded, Remus was convinced that had they tried to cross the wards, the peacocks would have ripped their throats out.

"Fitting don't you think? Lucius thinks that these birds represent his aristocratic trappings. Everyone else thinks they are evidence of his colossal vanity. Keep up, Lupin. You do not want to keep the Dark Lord waiting."

Initially, Snape had ignored Remus' return to Hogwarts, although his disapproval was evident enough. If Snape rolled his eyes pretty much every time Remus opened his mouth, at least he didn't openly undermine him with the other teachers and his secret remained intact. The class on boggarts with Neville's apparition of Snape wearing the most ridiculous hat ever and the subtle undermining of Snape's authority at another teacher's hands—which Remus had to admit was inexcusable, but then Snape's treatment of both Neville and Harry was inexcusable—had tipped their interaction from studied avoidance to open warfare.

Snape had claimed the ultimate victory, revealing him to the wizarding world as a werewolf. How Snape must have lain in bed at night, flush with knowledge that he had relegated Remus to a life of total exile and poverty. He was as close to being a criminal as possible without actually being incarcerated, although with the new laws being ushered in, his continuing freedom was nebulous. After James and Lily's death and with Sirius clapped in Azkaban, he had always lived as much underground as possible. Once his parents died, it was catch as catch can for years and years. But at least he could enter a pub and not have most of the patrons stalk out, which is what happened to him at the Leaky last week.

His status within the rest of the Order wasn't affected, thank Merlin; the invitations to Molly and Arthur's were as plentiful as before. The invitation to New Year's Day party at the Burrow had been especially welcome. What a grim Christmas it had been. Shortly after Remus arrived, Albus pulled him into a corner to ostensibly ask him how he was doing—vis a vis Sirius' death—but in reality handed Remus his marching orders. With a chilling sense of purpose, Albus ordered him to infiltrate Fenrir Greyback's gang of wolfs. Now that most of wizarding society was shunning him, it gave him excellent cover to go underground. Albus hadn't been that blunt, of course. There were lots of comments about Greyback's rising prominence in Voldemort's inner circle and the rumors surrounding Voldemort's intention of using werewolves, giants, and trolls as part of his army. Which was then followed up by comments referring to people's stupidity regarding werewolves and Remus' current status as pariah in the wizarding world. At Remus' terse, "Quite," Albus stopped sipping his Firewhiskey and had the effrontery to actually look hurt. Which made Remus feel ashamed. Which made him agree that, yes, he would infiltrate Greyback's group. Then Albus said, "Severus will make the appropriate overtures to Voldemort, and hopefully Voldemort will admit you into their ranks. Whatever happens, Remus, you must trust Severus."

Marvelous. He was to have têtes à têtes with the very agent of his forced exile. It is one thing to self-exile, to withdraw as means of self preservation and in the interest of society; it is quite another to be reviled and shunned by one's peers. Remus wasn't conscious of making any sort of protest, but Dumbledore repeated in a forceful voice, underscoring his point by grabbing Remus' arm. "You must trust him, Remus. Whatever happens."

Remus had wrenched his arm free and walked away, because he was this close to throwing his drink in Albus' face.

If he hadn't been so angry, he wouldn't have proceeded to become thoroughly trolleyed and he wouldn't have found himself under the mistletoe kissing Tonks with a searching desperation that was part rage, part loneliness, and part horniness. He woke up the next morning in her bed, naked, with his hand on her breast and his nose buried in her hair. She smelled like lilacs. Snuggling up against her, he began thumbing her nipple, and sighed with joy as his growing erection began caressing the crack of her arse. He'd been trying to ignore her obvious crush on him, and now maybe he didn't have to. For the first time since Sirius' death the nausea that had been roiling his stomach day and night was gone. Marveling at the sudden absence of that nasty queasiness, he edged even closer, hoping that they could make this work. Maybe he was bisexual after all. She was so easy going and funny and pretty and just nice to be around. Maybe it would be okay.

His euphoria was short-lived. He of all people should have known that you can't ignore your past. Already there were hints that this had been a mistake. Remus never mentioned Sirius, in fact, went out of his way not to speak of him, however, it didn't matter. Sirius was metaphorically in the room all the time, even in their bed. One night she announced that she knew about the two of them and it didn't bother her. That that was then and this was now, she had insisted.

He had believed her until last week when she had transformed herself into a boy with glistening dark hair and a taut body. Remus had used her and then yelled at her never to do that again. Not even repeated Cruciatus curses would force him to confess that he'd physically enjoyed her as a man in a way that he never had when she was a woman.

The next day they avoided each other, dinner a silent meal where their eyes never left their plates. After dinner he mumbled something about an Order meeting and Apparated to Snape's house in Cokeworth. Angry, sad, and confused, he had half considered cancelling his meeting with Snape. As if to add to his misery, it was a day before the full moon and he was as cranky as a bag of weasels. Perpetually narked at Snape because of his sacking from Hogwarts, it wasn't a wise idea to meet Snape with the wolf rising in his veins, but then a meeting with Voldemort had been set up for two days post moon and there wasn't any more time. They were meeting at Snape's house in Cokeworth because Remus' lycanthropy was now common knowledge and having him stroll through the halls of Hogwarts was deemed unwise.

Remus hadn't been here since that ancient summer and while he didn't remember the walls of the lounge being lined with books, they could have been. His mind had mostly been on his dick; or rather on Snape's dick. Snape pointed to a chair next to a robust fire and held up a bottle of Firewhiskey. Remus nodded and sat down. A glass with a very generous amount of alcohol was shoved in his hand and without so much as a "Good evening," Snape began filling him in.

"Bellatrix is completely insane but brilliant. Her husband, Rodolphus, is absolutely worthless. It's obvious that all brains and ability went to his brother, Rabastan, so watch him. Yaxley is nothing more than a thug, but do not underestimate him. He's an intelligent thug. Were I to rank him on the evil scale, Dolohov is around a seven. Goyle and Crabbe Senior are morons and nothing more than cannon fodder. Ignore them. Ignore the Carrows, brother and sister, at your peril. On the evil scale, they are a nine. They have—"

"This house is yours now? Are your parents dead?" Snape glared at him, but the days when Snape could intimidate him with a glance were long gone. "I don't remember hearing anything," he added.

"Why would you? Not that it's any of your business, but yes, they died in our seventh year. In a drunken rage, my father beat my mother to death and upon waking up to see his handiwork, his proceeded to pour about twenty liters of booze down his gullet and died from alcohol poisoning. Had I known, I would have cheered him on. Now, the Carrows. They have the ear of the Dark Lord so watch them. Casting Cruciatus curses on Muggles is how they spend their Saturday afternoons. Pollux Parkinson is also an idiot. Ignore him as well. Lucius has yet to be forgiven for his failures in the Department of Mysteries, which makes him extremely dangerous because he will do anything to restore himself in the good graces of the Dark Lord. Narcissa will do anything to save her son, which also makes her unpredictable and dangerous. I think that's about it. Magically, the two strongest wizards, if we don't count Voldemort and we shouldn't because he is in a class all by himself, are Bellatrix and Rabastan. Lucius was quite formidable at one time, but now he's the resident house elf. His confidence has been shattered and it's doubtful he could master a credible Alohamora at this point. As you know, magic is half confidence, half ability. Any questions?" said Snape in a tone that brooked no questions.

"Is the meeting still set up two days post moon?" Remus replied in an equally terse tone. As if he weren't testy enough, that very morning he'd pulled on his last pair of socks that didn't have bloody great holes in them, only to discover that the big toes had gone out in that pair as well.

"Yes, Thursday night, two days post-fang. Meet me at the entrance to Malfoy Manor at seven sharp. Here are the coordinates. The wards will be timed. Don't be late."

"I won't," Remus snapped. Although miniscule, Snape's lounge was actually quite pleasant. A comfortable chair in front of a roaring fire, a warming charm kept the worse of the bitter wind and rain at bay, his hand cradling a glass of the very fine whiskey, all this would normally have gentled Remus into a mellower frame of mind. As it was, he felt like rearing back and punching Snape in the nose.

Snape narrowed his eyes and his lips thinned out. Not a good sign.

"A bit sulky are we? This wasn't my idea, it was Albus'. Take it up with him. Personally, I think it stupid beyond belief." Snape sloshed another healthy dollop of whiskey into Remus' glass, and the smell of charcoal was intoxicating. His senses were as primed as his temper.

"And whose idea was it to announce that I was a werewolf to the world at large? So that I would lose the only job I'm truly qualified for. So that I would be sacked, yet again. I walked into the Leaky two nights ago for a drink. Do you know that but for Tom the entire place got up and walked out? And Tom wanted to, but I think he was afraid I'd walk off with a couple bottles of his best liquor."

Snape paused before refilling his own glass and then filled it up to just below the rim.

"I knew that at some point you'd bring this up. I am sorry. If it's any comfort, I can say that I know exactly how you feel. I haven't been in there for years for that very reason."

The last thing Remus had been expecting was sympathy and for some reason this enraged him even further.

"Because you were a goddamn Death Eater! Because of that bastard Greyback, who I'm supposed to collaborate with, through no fault of my own—"

Trust Snape to give as good as he got.

"And you are a goddam werewolf." Snape's voice held not even a hint of mercy. "You nearly killed me twenty years ago and in a wonderful repeat performance you nearly killed Potter, Weasley, and Granger!" Snape shouted back. "If I hadn't forced his hand, Albus would have gone on willy-nilly renewing your teaching contract, refusing to admit that you are too dangerous to be around children."

"I'm an excellent teacher," Remus protested, because that wasn't deniable. "You are just royally pissed off because of that business with the boggart and Neville—"

"Oh yes, that charming little incident. Do you know exactly how long it took me to hear about that? Approximately ten minutes after your class had been dismissed. You took up where your little pals left off, humiliating me in front of a group of students. The very students who are supposed to respect me—"

"You want lessons in humiliation? Your potions class is—"

"I didn't know you were such an expert on potions. As I recall you barely got passing marks—"

In a rage Remus leaped out of his chair and raised his wand. Just as quickly, Snape leaped out of his chair and had raised his, and they were a millisecond away from cursing each other. Then, his common sense asserted itself and beat back the wolf. Dropping his arm and shoved his wand into his coat pocket, he mumbled an apology.

"Sorry." Flopping back down into his seat, he wiped his forehead, surprised to feel it damp with sweat. "Sorry. I don't know what came over me."

Snape then eased himself back into his chair but didn't put his wand away. The fire was dying down and Snape zapped it again and it roared back to life.

"I didn't have a choice. I wasn't retaliating, Lupin. For anything. You proved once again that your lycanthropy is dangerous, especially in these times. Albus always had a blind spot regarding you and your friends. How would you have felt had you actually killed Harry Potter? The son of your best friend. It's something for others to manipulate, whether you like it or not. There is talk of storming Hogwarts during a full moon and Greyback letting loose his band to feast on the children. What if you were captured and then let loose in the Great Hall? During dinner."

Remus didn't answer, because how do you answer such questions. He finished the rest of his drink in one gulp and had held out his glass for another.

As Snape poured him another snort, he said quietly, "My parents died when I was twenty-three. One right after the other. They weren't old. My mother went first. Some horrible Muggle cancer. My father?" Remus rolled the glass against his cheek, inhaling the smoky scent of the whiskey, "I just don't think he wanted to live without her. I sold their house and lived on that for years. I was down to my last sixpence when Albus offered me that teaching job."

Snape didn't respond other than to say, "Two days post-fang, Lupin. Seven o'clock."

He returned from that meeting disgusted with himself, still angry at Snape, and even more furious at Albus. Then the change had happened, one of the worst in recent memory because he refused to use Wolfsbane that month as a gigantic up yours to Snape. As someone who would never have described himself as an angry man, he was now angry all the time.

Would he have been so reckless and welcomed Tonks' kisses with such abandon had he not been so angry with Albus and Snape? He was about to enter the inner sanctum of the Death Eaters with Severus Snape, the one man who he cheerfully wanted to beat to a bloody pulp. He was also the one man to whom he owed a life debt. In three seconds they would be at the front door; Remus braced himself because Snape always had to have the last word.

"You Gryffindors have such odd mourning practices. Bedding the cousin of your lover barely six months after his death. And they say that Slytherins are morally bankrupt."

The front door swung open and Snape marched up the steps and into the house.

Even I, who considered myself something of the consummate spy, was always gob-smacked at the extent of the Dark Lord's network. I suppose if one has no compunction of using torture, then the information flows freely. This information about Tonks and Lupin had come from Narcissa, however, which must have come from Andromeda.

I had begun to watch Narcissa. She wasn't interested in furthering the glory of the Dark Lord, nor was she like Lucius, desperate to lap up whatever crumbs of power Voldemort was willing to bestow on his hapless Death Eaters. Of course if you are in the position to grant power, then you are in the position to take it away. Voldemort had more or less appropriated Malfoy Manor by this point, and only someone as insanely egotistical as Lucius would have seen this as a plus. Not even given the opportunity to scour off the stench of Azkaban, he was welcomed home by a full contingent of the most prominent Death Eaters. For a glorious four minutes Voldemort had led Lucius to believe that his newly found freedom from Azkaban meant that he would be restored to his former glory as the Dark Lord's chief henchman. Voldemort bade him sit by him at the head of Lucius' own dinner table. Raised a glass of wine to welcome him home. Second by second Lucius was lulled into thinking that his monumental failure in the Department of Mysteries was forgiven. That all was forgotten. That his exile was finally over. But Narcissa wasn't fooled. Lucius' weakness is and always will be his deep-seated vanity, but Narcissa has no such blinders. As Lucius' demeanor eased, the prison pallor broken by the flushes pride as the Dark Lord praised his loyal Death Eater and welcomed him home, I watched her gripping her wand, waiting, knowing that at some point the other shoe would drop. Four minutes, I timed it. The Dark Lord does not appreciate failure and Lucius had failed him.

Then the bonhomie disappeared in a millisecond and Voldemort's rage was incandescent. Lucius wasn't so much humbled as thoroughly broken. From that moment on Malfoy Manor was nothing more than a hotel and Lucius the reluctant proprietor. The Carrows began raiding his library, walking off with precious Dark Arts artifacts tucked under their arms, not even bothering to hide whatever they were stealing. Yaxley began ordering Lucius to bring him cups of tea when he fancied them, and the Lestrange brothers would have emptied out Lucius' cellars had Voldemort not been partial to fine cognac. As it was, they treated Lucius as nothing more than a butler. Which indeed he was. Even Bellatrix had taken to ordering him around like he was some house-elf. He had exchanged one prison for another.

Narcissa watched the daily, ritualistic humiliation of her husband with a detachment I found interesting. The only time I'd ever seen her lose her composure was that miserable day when she bound me to Draco. My agreeing to save her son had forged a silent bond between us. In a way I even trusted her. Clearly she would do anything to keep Draco safe. When I made overtures to the Dark Lord concerning Lupin's desire to switch sides, Narcissa was quick off the mark, noting that Lupin and Tonks had been an item since the New Year. A megalomaniac's greatest weakness is his or her megalomania. Voldemort took this as evidence of Narcissa's loyalty. I took it in the completely opposite way. I could now warn Lupin that this was common knowledge. Whether or not she shared her sister's suspicions about my loyalties or she was using me for her own purposes did not matter one jot. Obviously she would use every opportunity to undermine Voldemort because it was one step forward in freeing her and her son from his megalomaniac schemes.

Voldemort had chosen this rendezvous for two days post-moon because both men would be weakened from the change. You learn an enormous amount about a man in a state of physical vulnerability. I didn't think there was anything to learn about Greyback other than he was an evil, twisted bastard whom I would gladly kill given half a chance. Evil, twisted bastards were held at a premium these days in the Death Eaters ranks, although like everyone else, Voldemort would sacrifice any and all of us if it suited his purpose. Narcissa and I seemed to be the only two who understood that. Lupin was an unknown to him and this meeting a chance to "test his mettle." As Albus well knew, torture was possible. Voldemort would sooner cast a Cruciatus curse as not. Did Voldemort trust this about face on Lupin's part? Not bloody likely, although he certainly wouldn't be the first Gryffindor to turncoat. It was, in the parlance of the vulgar, "show time."

A house-elf with that lugubrious expression of the continuously abused and downtrodden led us to the dining room. They had the advantage. All the seats at the table were filled, requiring that the two of us stand like errant schoolboys.

"Severus, I see you've brought us the werewolf. How does he explain himself?"

Narcissa's once elegant dining room had been reduced to a war room. The house-elves kept the food and drink coming, but I noticed that the Malfoy monogrammed silver and china were nowhere to be seen. Either the Carrows had walked off with it, or these thugs sitting at her table didn't know that a year ago such nondescript plates and crude cutlery never would have appeared within five miles of this table.

"Fucking spy," growled out Greyback in between tearing off chunks of meat from a gigantic turkey leg. He wasn't even using a plate, and there were bits of meat in his beard and grease stains on the front of his shirt.

"Greyback, you're being too hasty. Perhaps this Remus Lupin could be an asset. I understand his skill at Defence is nearly unparalleled. Wouldn't you agree, Lucius?" This was said with a smile, but all of us knew this had less to do with trumpeting Lupin's magical ability and everything to do with Lucius' failure at the Department of Mysteries.

I waited for Voldemort to turn. Aside from his ability as a wizard—and only Albus could boast at being his magical equal—his psychosis was equally powerful because he was sane enough to know how to manipulate it to his advantage. First there would be the genial greeting, and then the knife would come out, swift and sure. Narcissa met my eye and I knew that she was also steeling herself for the inevitable explosion.

"Fucking pig," drawled Lupin and with a flick of his wrist a napkin suddenly appeared and tied itself around Greyback's neck.

"Oh ho ho," chortled Voldemort with unabashed amusement. He always enjoyed it when we went for each other. "A plate might be nice as well. Now, Mr Lupin, care to tell us why you've decided to—"

Greyback's rage made him unwise. You do not interrupt the Dark Lord. With a terrifying roar, Greyback leapt up from the table and began circling the two of us. Stalking us. The circle began tightening, and Greyback began growling, the throaty rumbles increasingly more menacing the closer he got. I edged nearer to Lupin. Rationally, it would not go over well if Greyback attacked me as well—I had some standing—however, I might be seen as a victim of friendly fire. I doubt my passing would be mourned by anyone, frankly. There was always the undercurrent of theatre at these meetings; grisly theatre to be sure. That Lupin and I might be the night's entertainment had crossed my mind.

I glanced over at Lupin, and he didn't look concerned in the least, in fact, rather bored. I must confess that in that moment I nearly loved him.

He raised his wand a fraction of an inch and Greyback's vicious snarls were reduced to the plaintive mewls of a kitten.

The room shook with everyone's laughter. Not bothering to hide his own guffaws, Voldemort raised his wand, and Greyback was thrown against a wall with such force I'm amazed it didn't break his back. A couple of portraits fell to the ground, cracking their frames.

"Bravo, Remus Lupin. Bravo. Lucius, give Mr Lupin your chair. We have some business to conduct. I understand from Severus that you are offering your services to me. Naturally, I am curious given your stellar efforts in the Department of Mysteries. Lucius, wouldn't you say that Mr Lupin was rather heroic?"

One really didn't know whether to reply to these queries. Sometimes they were rhetorical and an actual answer elicited a curse, but sometimes one's silence was seen as a mark of disrespect. Ever the fence sitter, Lucius nodded and scrambled up from his seat.

"Yes, you would know, wouldn't you? Mr Lupin, what has changed in these seven months?"

The one clue that the "turn" was about to occur was an emphasis on the "esses" in Voldemort's speech. The "esse" in "seven" became elongated and the "months" degenerated into nothing more than a hiss.

I stood there waiting for the curse, the explosion, certain that whatever answer Lupin gave it wouldn't be enough. First he would be tortured, then killed, and then I would be killed for presuming to bring a spy before the Dark Lord.

Remus didn't take Lucius' now-empty chair, but remained standing there next to me. This could be interpreted as an affront or a continued mark of respect to stand in the Dark Lord's presence. Lupin was doing a little fence sitting of his own.

"I have nowhere to go. I am a pariah in the general wizarding community. It's only a matter of time before the Ministry claps me into Azkaban, and no matter how much Dumbledore protests, the Wizengamot will ignore him in the interest of 'public safety.'"

There was a hint of contempt at the mention of Dumbledore, and nothing stoked Voldemort's loathing of Albus than to hear tales of his impotence. The Potter child was merely seen as a nuisance and once out from under Albus' protection, easy pickings. Albus was his true foe, the only one who matched him power for power. Lupin then went in for the kill.

"Even if the Order is victorious, there are no guarantees that I won't find myself in Azkaban at some point, and if you win, I trust I won't. There is a chance under your…"—here Lupin paused, searching for the right word for what would you call Voldemort's notion of totalitarian rule so that you didn't insult him, and yet also stroke Voldemort's vanity—"overlordship that I will be able to live a somewhat normal life. Save once a month."

All of it was true, accompanied by that nice little bit of humor at the end. Lupin might have been standing at the Burrow having a pointless chat with Arthur. Nothing in his body language betrayed the deadly seriousness of this exchange. If I could have, I would have clapped wildly, because what a brilliant performance. Theatre, indeed!

"And Nymphadora Tonks?"

The "esse" degenerated into a hiss again. We were still on dangerous ground.

"I have Dumbledore's ear. My relationship with Tonks now provides an ear into the Auror's office. I thought it prudent to come with as many avenues for information as possible."

I couldn't have said exactly how, because his voice was non-committal and the words themselves were innocuous enough, but there was something obscene about the way he said her name and the word 'ear' in the same breath.

"Severus, your thoughts?"

It was my turn on stage.

"What he says is true. He walked into the Leaky last week and there was a veritable stampede out the door. His position as one of Dumbledore's favorites has not helped him in the community one whit. As far as Tonks is concerned, the woman has been throwing herself at him for months. If I didn't know any better, I'd say she was under the influence of a love potion," I added, with a marked note of scorn in my voice, hoping that I conveyed my disgust at the very idea of anyone in their right mind considering a sexual relationship with Lupin. A ghost of a smile crossed Lupin's face since I was exactly such a person myself. I imagine the Death Eaters thought his amusement was due to vanity. "Given how obsessed she is with him, she might become useful as well."

Voldemort caressed his cheek with the tip of his wand, mulling over Lupin and my arguments. We stood waiting, as still as statues; even those at the table didn't dare so much as put a napkin to their mouths.

Voldemort lifted his glass. "Mr Lupin, you will confer largely with our Severus, but I expect you to work with Greyback in organizing the werewolves. He shall be the brawn, you shall be the brain. How does that sound, Greyback?"

Propped up against the wainscoting, holding one wrist—it must be been broken when he hit the wall—Greyback knew when he was beaten. He replied with a meek, "Yes, my Lord." His defeat was only temporary. None of us were fooled, and, I assume, least of all Lupin. Greyback would use every opportunity to either expose him or undermine him.

"Now that that tiresome business is done, let's enjoy our dessert. Lucius, Rodolphus, up, up. Severus and Mr Lupin need chairs. Narcissa, is it too early for strawberries from your greenhouses?"

There was Tonks, propped up in bed; she'd fallen asleep while waiting for him. He hadn't told her that he was going to Malfoy Manor, just that he was doing an errand for Dumbledore. It was better that she not know. Violently opposed to his going underground, she might have hexed him to stop him from going.

Even the meager light of the waning moon couldn't hide how young she was. He imagined it was true for him as well, that his age, his scars would also still be visible in the weak light. Shutting the bathroom door so he wouldn't wake her, he ran his hands under the water, spelling it to make it even hotter, as hot as he could stand it. Finally the shaking stopped. Remus turned off the water and brought his hands to his face, the heat from his palms warming his cold cheeks. Merlin's knickers that had been a million times worse than he thought it would be.

Had he ever been this tired? God, every footfall was such an effort. It was amazing he hadn't Splinched himself, bits of his body flying all over Wiltshire. Four hours of mental jousting with Voldemort had completely done him in. It would take him a week to recover, and Snape did this on a regular basis? Whatever you could say about Snape, he had brass balls. This would be as much a mental war on Voldemort's part as it was a magical war; that was obvious. Voldemort hadn't bothered to hide his relish in Remus' humiliating Greyback. Harry would not only have to best Voldemort magically, but he would have to out think him.

A part of him had complete faith in Harry. Spared the shades in his parents' characters (Lily's short temper and James' arrogance), Harry was gifted with only their best traits: his mother's innate sense of decency and his father's determination and magical strengths. Harry's magic was effortless and intuitive, exactly like James'. He just knew how spells worked. And powerful, Merlin, was he powerful. His magic was a thing of beauty. Clean, purposeful, and exact, it was exactly like James' magic had been. If Remus had still harbored any ancient misgivings about James' behavior they would have been exorcized by his son, a boy who used his father's magical gifts the way James should have used them.

Peter had been sitting at the right-hand side of Voldemort, part and parcel of whatever grand scheme there was to kill James' son, the boy who looked just like him. Remus had to purposefully not look at him as Voldemort regaled the table for hours and hours with tales of his exploits torturing Muggles. If they locked eyes, Remus didn't know if he could have restrained himself from casting an Unforgivable for the first time in his life. Harry had spared Peter and look where it had led.

"Remus?" Tonks called out. Even though the thickness of the door Remus could hear her voice rough with sleep.

He opened the bathroom door, clutching the doorjamb. His hands had started to shake again. "Here, luv. Did I wake you?"

"How did it go?" Her hair was dull black with streaks of red, indicated a sleep punctuated by violent nightmares. On the nights when Remus couldn't' sleep, he'd spell a weak Lumos and watch Tonks' hair change colors all night in response to her dreams. He wondered what color he evoked.

"Fine, just had to drop something off, but it took forever. I'm so knackered I might fall asleep standing up."

"Come to bed then," she said around a great yawn.

"Just a minute. Need to brush my teeth."

With the sight of her in his bed, the curve of her plump breast against the cheap cotton of her nightgown, he couldn't help but think of Snape's ugly comment. So Snape knew about him and Sirius. Remus had always assumed it was a secret between him, James, and Sirius. After that summer Snape ignored him. Those strange but shockingly tender series of encounters should have demanded at least a token of acknowledgment, but even the tiniest attempts by Remus to engage with Snape were met with not even standard "Snape," which was scorn and biting wit. No, it was as if he were literally not there. Remus supposed in a way he wasn't. He certainly couldn't be that boy who'd lain in his bed with Snape, his long limbs next to Snape's, their bare feet entangled. Of course they couldn't have continued any sort of relationship because of Sirius, but a friendship of sorts would have been nice. Had they remained friends, Snape might have thought twice about outing him last spring.

Maybe Snape had used him merely for the sex. No. There had been that ease between them, the knowledge of that Snape who had been Lily's friend, a person he could easily have been friends with as well. No, had been friends with. Even lovers. Yes, they had been lovers. That unexpected frisson of affection between them might have grown into something more than that had James and Sirius not appeared in his kitchen that one morning. But James and Sirius had and that was that.

Maybe he had used Snape for sex and companionship and nothing more. Well, perhaps to atone for his cowardice and to get back at Sirius. Maybe the bastard in that scenario hadn't been Snape.



Lily probably knew. Peter? Dense that way. If Padfoot the dog had taken to sleeping with Remus every night their sixth and seventh year because "Remus' mattress is more squishy than mine," Peter never let on that it was Remus and not the mattress that was "squishier." Maybe that was the problem. All those secrets. No one was to tell about his lycanthropy. Snape wasn't to tell anyone about Sirius trying to kill him. He never told Sirius and James about Snape, James and Sirius never told Peter about him and Sirius, just as he had never told Peter or Lily about him and Sirius. All those secrets. And now Peter, one of Voldemort's—

He reached for his toothbrush. God. They were all so stupid, so very stupid. Of course Peter had known.

Time and fate had battered them beyond all recognition, but how could Remus have forgotten how beautiful Sirius had been? So handsome, so brilliant, and in so many ways so untouchable. Hadn't that been part of Sirius' charm? The idea that someday the untouchable person would beg to be touched? Which was certainly part of his attraction for Remus. Sirius, who could have snapped his fingers and had anyone, had chosen Remus. James had Lily.

Which left Peter Pettigrew the lone man out, on so many levels.

Remus' brilliance in Defence, Sirius being a god at charms, and James' astonishing ability in Transfiguration and reigning genius on a broom overshadowed whatever competence Peter might have had. How can competence ever compete with genius? They had never gave Peter his due, but being in a circle of friends who were acknowledged as extraordinary in something meant that no one, ever gave him his due. Although he had mastered becoming an Animagi with as much hard work and grit as either Sirius or James, he was still treated as nothing more than the devoted sidekick, a role that he was, apparently, reprising with Voldemort.

Remus didn't even have the strength to stand anymore. He slid down the wall and covered his face.

It was all so clear. Peter's sycophantic courting of James was only because of James' proximity to Sirius. The best of friends. The other half of each other. If it had only gone that far, then maybe his betrayal of them all never would have happened.

But at some point Peter discovered that he and Sirius were lovers. Remus didn't think it had been in school, but then after leaving Hogwarts the two of them had moved into that miniscule bedsit on Knockturn Alley. And James and Lily announced their engagement. And then there was Pete, alone. Yes, it must have been then. The realization that even a werewolf was preferable to him must have been galling. In one fell swoop, Peter had destroyed all of them. Oh, fuck. Oh fuck. Peter must have laughed himself sick with the irony of it all.

Of course Peter had known.

Tonks came running into the bathroom at the sound of his sobbing.

June 1997

After beating back Potter, I spirited Draco to Spinner's End. I ignored his shock at the meanness of the rooms. Since my parents' death the house had come to be mine. I had filled it with books and decent furniture, but all the leather chairs in the world could not hide that it was essentially a hovel with books. I led him to my former bedroom, not caring one whit that he was so tall he couldn't stand up in it.

"Go to sleep," I ordered and pulled the door shut. Before I could even turn around I heard his sobs. What did he have to cry about? I'd just murdered my mentor, the only person in the whole world who actually trusted me. A man who would say to me, "My boy," with the affection I had never heard from my own father.This man, a "father" who had gloried in my magical gifts, had asked me to murder him with magic, the gift that had saved me and damned me. That it was at his request didn't matter one iota. All so that that sniveling, arrogant twit could be spared the burden of a murder on his conscience. Never mind that I now shouldered that burden.

Although walking through this neighborhood at night was courting violence with a vengeance, I had to move, to breathe fresh air, to leave that house. If I were lucky, someone would kill me. I slammed the front door shut and then warded the house so that Draco would be safe. My vow to Narcissa demanded that. I began walking aimlessly, condemning myself with every footfall. Perhaps my rambling had more purpose than I knew, because I found myself in front of the church, the very place where my mother prayed daily for salvation from the violence that defined her life only to finally fulfill her destiny as a victim of violence. Like mother, like son.

As a child I had mouthed all the prayers, had even made my first holy communion, and then prayed and prayed and prayed my little heart out that my father would stop hurting my mother. My prayers were never answered. The beatings continued, and as I grew up and my magical heritage became obvious even to a dense lout like my father, the violence escalated. The sin of the mother was visited on her son.

By the age of ten I saw faith as nothing more than a weakness. It allowed her to excuse his vicious behavior because she prayed for him. It allowed her to endure a beating every Saturday night because she prayed for his soul on Sunday morning. If my mother hadn't had faith, she would have left him. It was that simple. My mother's addiction was God. My father's addiction was Bushmills. It wasn't long before I hated my mother more than I hated my father because I viewed him as nothing more than a violent idiot. I inherited my intelligence from someone and it wasn't him. She knew.

I Apparated into the nave. Albus' death was proof positive to me that I had been dancing with evil for so long that I had finally become evil. I marched up the stairs resolute and determined. I wasn't even afraid. It is one thing to be a naove, arrogant boy of twenty who is a murderer by proxy. It is another to actually raise your wand and utter those truly horrible words. Magic is pure. To utter those words and blink at the glare of that green light is to understand what it means to hate. It is a sign of the utter corruption of the soul.

Albus might have comforted himself that all this was necessary, all for the good, but at what point does it all become the same? If one can actually utter a successful Avada Kedavra, the most Unforgivable spell of all, then what had I become? I had reached that point in the argument. In the name of good, I had committed unspeakable evil. As a final act of reckoning for my revolting, hateful life, I would to hang myself in the choir loft, the final "fuck you" to a God I didn't believe in, and a "fuck you" to my mother who did.

My final magical act was to transform a hymnal into a noose. I swung it over a rafter climbed up on the desk and jumped. I welcomed the dark, the obliteration of self. I wouldn't label it suicide. It was a mercy killing. My second of the night.

I let my wand fall from my hand. The last sound I heard was the thud as it hit the floor.

Peace, I so longed for peace that I didn't even fight for the tiniest pocket of air. A blessed black began to overwhelm me until there was only a tiny flutter of life left in me, I sobbed with relief. And then the dark receded. There was light and the cooing of doves and, dear God, was that the sound of water rushing over stones? I opened my eyes.

I was sitting in our tree, Lily across from me. I could not see the fields. It was if someone had taken a gigantic eraser and with a heavy hand had blurred great swaths of color. There was me, the hard, rough texture of the tree limbs, a canopy of leaves, the blue of a summer sky peeping through, and then her. That was all. It smelled like high summer, and I could hear the gurgle of the stream and the shush of the pussy willows as they waved in the summer breeze, but we were cocooned as if frozen in time. I suppose we were.

Lily was the age she'd been when killed by Voldemort, with the fullness of a young woman's cheek, her auburn hair pulled back from her face and the green of her eyes magnified a hundred fold by the halo of leaves around her. I did not know what magic was this, but I was not dead, nor was I alive, a teetering on the brink between life and death. Was this what happened? We face those who we wronged? Our last breath tastes of dishonor and humiliation?

"I'm sorry," I cried with all the anguish and shame that I'd shouldered for nearly twenty years. "Truly, I am sorry. I was young and angry and so bitter. I didn't mean for any of it to happen," I insisted. "I never would have sacrificed you, not even for Voldemort."

"We see, Severus." She'd always had a lovely voice, deep for a woman, with a little bit of a rasp to it, a voice that was always much older than the girl. A voice she would never grow into. Isn't that the true tragedy of a young life cut short? That you don't age in anyone else's eyes. I suppose if I'd given it any thought she would probably be much like Molly was now, somewhat matronly and loving, and a bit of a tartar as a mother. "We watch time and wait for those we love and we see their disappointments and failures and successes and dashed hopes. We see it all. The past. The present. The future is murky but it's there."

"If you see the present, then you know exactly what I've just done, I killed you, I killed your husband, I orphaned your son, and now I've killed the only father I've ever had." I needed someone to bear witness and who better? "My role in your death is no less heinous but it wasn't consciously done. It was the act of a stupid—"

"Severus," she grabbed my arm but I felt nothing.

"No, you must listen. This murder? I did with full knowledge. I uttered an Unforgivable for the first and thank God the last time in my life. No, it was worst than that. I cast a successful Unforgivable. I have no idea what lies ahead but regardless, I deserve whatever horrific fate awaits me."

I braced myself for what surely would be a scathing condemnation of the man I had become.

"We see," she said with a bit of her snap in her voice. "We see the violence and the misery. We see the betrayals and the wrongs committed and the wrongs exacted. Dumbledore's forgiveness isn't even a question, as you know. You might not be able to forgive yourself, but that is a cross you bear unfairly. He does not condemn you. Nor do I."

"You're a fool," I snapped.

She laughed. "You haven't changed. Perhaps I am. But it is my right to forgive, now isn't it? You can go if you want," her hand waved toward the stream and for a second I could see a boat nudging against the bank in response to the push of the water, "or you can stay and go back."

"If we have choice, why didn't you choose to live?" I shouted at her. "You had your child. You had your love. You had everything!"

She shook her head.

"I can't explain why. I don't know myself. You are here in between time because you can save him. Perhaps it's because my love for him saved him and that very love also gives me the power to send you back as well. You can return and at least make his defeat of Voldemort possible. It's not certain, but it's possible. Without you, he will most certainly be killed."

Another wave of her hand and the boat appeared again. "Or you can leave on your final journey. I wouldn't blame you, Severus, or begrudge you. I know how tired you are." She reached up to touch my cheek, but again I felt nothing. "I ask you as my friend to save him or at least give him a fighting chance. He needs you."

"If you can see, then you know that he loathes me."

"Yes," she said mildly. "With good reason. Had Harry looked like me and not like James, would you have abused him as much?"

There was no point in lying or pretending not to understand her question.

"Yes. I can count on one hand the people I have loved in my life. You were one of them. He could have been your spitting image and I would have hated him just as much. You died trying to save him."

I began to climb down the tree, a feat I could have done blindfolded. Because whatever fate awaited me, now she would hate me as much as I deserved. I made it to the boat and stood on the bank. There was only the boat and the water. The stream went into nothing. I looked back and the tree was now gone, just a blur of green, brown, and patches of blue. She stood next to me.

"You weren't the only boy who was mistreated because he was a wizard. Who was reviled and hated by his Muggle relatives because he was different."

I expected her voice to be sharp with condemnation but it was only sad. What did it matter now?

"That is history," I said flatly. "The past."

"I don't ask you as a form of penance, Severus." She began to shimmer and blur like all that around her. "Whether you go back or stay, your journey will be the same, only delayed. I understand all too well what I ask. If Dumbledore was ruthless, I am twice as ruthless. But I'm giving you a choice." With every word it became harder and harder to see her and then even her voice became faint. I wasn't even sure it was her voice. It could have been the wind, skipping on the surface of the water. "I ask because I need your help. Because we were great friends once. There was a time when we would do anything for each other. In the name of love, I ask that you help my son. You must choose now. There's no time left. No time. No time."

Then all I could see was the boat, a simple skiff. The water had stopped, and even the boat was still against the bank.

For the first time in my life, I was truly choosing. Before it was about surviving. A constant dogpaddle in the shark pool. But this. I could choose.

I had never felt that I had had any choice at any important cusp in my life. Even my joining Voldemort's ranks was not a decision so much as a reaction to how I had been treated at Hogwarts.

But now I could consider, and choose for myself. Plain and simple. Good over evil. Not doing good to fight evil or doing evil in the name of good. Or even doing evil and in one's ignorance not realizing exactly how evil it truly was. Choosing in the name of love. For some odd reason I thought of Remus Lupin.

I turned my head and found myself back in the church.

The pain, the burning around my neck as the rope cut into my flesh, I screeched out my agony and then croaked, "Accio, wand." With the last of my energy I cut the rope. I tumbled to the floor, smashing my knees against the worn oak planks as if in prayer.

July 1997

The neighborhood around the church had deteriorated even further in the twenty years since he'd been there. What had initially been a lower-middleclass neighborhood that seemed safe during the day even if a little sketchy at night had morphed into an area where regardless of the time of day, you clutched your wand and waited for something bad to happen. It had become that kind of neighborhood. The church was now surrounded by a cast-iron fence with spikes on the top, and the stained glass had been covered with protective plastic to save it from those hurling rocks. For all the height and pointed threat, the fence had done bugger all in minimizing the vandalism. The bottom six feet of the church had been repeatedly painted over in gray to cover-up graffiti. There were at least seven different versions of "the pope likes to suck dick" in several different handwritings, as well as a really top-notch spray-painted sketch of the pope sucking off a child. The gate was locked, and the church appeared dark. Was this a trap? Was Snape even there?

Still shaking from the fight he and Tonks had just had, he was slightly surprised that he actually made it here and hadn't end up somewhere like Romania given how upset he was. Had Tonks lost her mind? With Remus' body still wincing from the aches and pains of the change, she had announced at dinner that she was pregnant. Ecstatic, her hair and eye color were a kaleidoscope of changing colors.

"I really don't care if it's a boy or a girl. Whatever. I do hope that regardless it will have your color eyes because you have—" He was afraid to speak he was so angry. As if she were taking a picture, her eyes moved from his face to the tense set of his shoulders to his clenched fists. "Aren't you happy?" When he didn't respond, her hair lost all of its color and bled into a dull gray. "Remus, it will be all right. Really. It will be fine," she insisted.

At that he went berserk.

"In what world will everything be fine? Hmmm? Outside of the few members of the Order, I am a pariah in the wizarding community. Any children we may have might be werewolves. Do you really want to burden a child with that? You see me go through the change. Imagine that happening to an infant! As if that weren't enough, we are on the brink of war, Tonks! I've told you the sort of world Voldemort envisions should he be victorious. Have you gone mad?"

"It takes two," she snapped. "You know I love children. You know I've always wanted children. I told you that before we got married. Why is this such a surprise?"

What a question!

"Because I honestly didn't think that anyone in their right mind—"

"You shut up, Remus Lupin. How dare you—"

Then it got really ugly. For hours they went round and round, basically the two of them reiterating his bleak assessment of their future versus her conviction that Harry would eventually triumph. She had no intention of stopping her life because of Voldemort. He reminded her that Voldemort had every intention of stopping both their lives. When he screamed at her how selfish it was of her to bring a child into this world when it was debatable whether they would even be alive to see it grow up, she screamed back that if he was so convinced that they were all going to die, why didn't he just kill himself? At which point he Apparated to Cokeworth.

Even though he still owed Snape a life debt, he hadn't initially intended to meet Snape. The note had appeared in the pocket of his bathrobe just before the change and he'd incinerated it immediately. Albus' death, his marriage to Tonks, and Greyback actively plotting to attack Muggle children all conspired together, forcing Remus to stop spying. Greyback had never trusted him, and neither had Voldemort as it turned out. Sometimes he thought that Voldemort had accepted him into the Death Eater camp just for the amusement factor. How far would he go to keep his cover?

Their marriage was less a choice on his part than acquiescence to inevitable events. He loved her, but he was still convinced that it might have been the most foolish thing he'd ever done. Tonight he discovered that she was even more a fool than he had been, choosing to willfully ignore that he was a werewolf and the fact they were on the brink of what promised to be a brutal war. For him, Tonks' pregnancy only made the war come closer; for her it seemed to push it away. Albeit ridiculous, his sense of honor demanded that the life debt be paid. Somehow the piper was now due. The signature could just be Snape luring him into a trap, counting on Remus' sense of honor and obligation, or it could be that Snape, of all people, also knew that there was no more time. Remembering that Dumbledore, the man who knew Snape best, who knew all of them best, had trusted him, and the weight of the life debt settled it.

As a dose of Dutch courage, Remus repeated Dumbledore's words to himself—"No matter, whatever happens, you must trust Severus," —and then ducked behind telephone pole and Apparated in. A few lit candles and a meager spotlight over the altar cast a heavy lighted gloom over the interior of the church that hadn't changed in decades. It was as if these twenty years had skipped merrily by with none of its attending tragedies and loss. Remus scanned the alcoves and the darker shadows, and didn't see any evidence of lurking Death Eaters. Of course at some signal they could all Apparate in so that Voldemort could have the honor of killing him, but he didn't think so. He Apparated to the choir loft.

Snape sat in the lone chair, his hands steepled in front of him. So intent was he on his thoughts that he didn't even look up at the pop of Remus' apparition.

"Severus," Remus said in a quiet voice.

Given this was Snape, there was no jerk of surprise; he looked up, not even bothering to lower his hands.

"You're late."

Remus didn't have the energy to lie.

"Tonks and I just had a rather horrible fight. I'm sorry."

"Shouldn't you still be basking in marital bliss? Tea?"

Snape was dead on confident he'd turn up because the ancient electric kettle had little wisps of steam trailing out of its spout and a tiny jug of milk sat next to it. With a flick of his wand, Snape set the kettle to boil again.

"Thank you. What I need is four fingers of Firewhiskey, but I'll take the tea. I take mine black these days." Snape smiled. "What?"

"And I take mine with milk and sugar. Rather emblematic, don't you think? You look like utter shite. You're not taking the Wolfsbane are you?"

"No, it seemed a trifle obscene after you killed Albus. I'm managing."

"Yes, obviously," Snape mocked, his eyes lingering on a fresh scar on Remus' forehead.

"I am managing," he repeated with emphasis. "Both of us are thirty-seven going on ninety. What's your excuse?" Remus asked with a bitterness that was becoming more and more characteristic. The room hadn't changed. It was also still the same. The smell of mold. The chipped mugs. The battered tin full of tea bags. However, for all his perpetual physical grace, Snape had the lined, worn face of a fifty-year-old man. As did he.

"Yes, we are. Occupational hazard. Here," Snape handed him a mug, the lavender of the Earl Grey strong and sensual. At least quality of the tea had improved. "Did you tell Tonks you were meeting me?"

"God, no. She would have body-binded me and then sat on me for good measure." There it was. That minute slacking of Snape's formidable armor. Even in the dim light of the Lumos, Remus could see a softening of his mouth. "I owe you a life debt, Severus. If I don't pay you back at some point soon, then I will never have the chance. We won't survive this. The war, I mean."

"No." Snape took a sip of his tea and nodded with an ease more to apropos to the lovely spate of spring weather they were having and not their pending demise. "You could have arrived with a contingent of the Order and you didn't. Thank you. Consider your debt paid."

Remus felt a weight lift, as if he'd been physically carrying it in the pockets of his trousers, his jacket, and on his shoulders all these years. How literal magic was. Even a debt had a physical component to it.

"And you could have arrived with a contingent of Death Eaters. Thank you."

Snape rolled his eyes in a familiar gesture of contempt. "No, thank you," he sneered. "We mustn't dawdle. One doesn't absent one's self too long from the Dark Lord's presence. It calls one's allegiances into question. As I—"

"She's pregnant. With all this," Remus threw his hands up in the air, "she thought that becoming pregnant was a marvelous idea."

Snape set his cup down with a thud.

"That was rather foolish, but then she's a rather foolish woman. An idiot, in fact." Snape's timing was always perfect. Just when Remus was about to rush to defend Tonks, Snape added, "As if we needed anymore proof, she married a werewolf."

Remus began to laugh, great hulking laughs that shook him all over and he was surprised to find Snape joining in. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd heard Snape laugh. And then it all turned pear-shaped because the laughter became tears and then sobs. He had lost so much and the future was so bleak and what could he possibly offer a child other than a life of poverty and social exile.

A hand clasped his shoulder. Remus put his over Snape's and wove his fingers between Snape's. Without thinking, he brought their hands up to his mouth and kissed a knuckle. Snape pulled away.

"No, it's far too late for that. And, besides, your wife." What had happened to Snape's bite? A younger Snape would have snarled that out. This older, much sadder Snape couldn't seem to muster even a half-arsed sneer to his voice.

"I didn't mean…" Which was a lie, because of course he had. Stupid. He was stupid. Once again he was unfairly using Snape to escape when he of all people knew that one can't go home again. Not even he and Sirius had been able to rekindle what had been truly a great love affair. His belief that Sirius had betrayed James and Lily ended any chance of reconciliation. Albus' insistence that Remus trust Snape might have been partly why he had come here tonight even though it was foolish in the extreme. Because he had lost faith in Sirius and for that Sirius could never forgive him.

What a history he and Snape had had. Remus knew, as if he'd been drinking from Sybil Trelawney's cup, that this would be the last time he and Snape would meet as friend to friend. Despite the abuse at the hands of his friends, his tacit rejection of Snape that fall he and Sirius had become lovers, Snape's broadcasting his lycanthropy to the wizarding world, and Snape killing a man who'd been his mentor and savior, they were friends.

Was it because they were the only two left? Like that other day in the choir loft, so long ago, he needed to say things, because he knew with certainty that even if Harry prevailed, that he would not, that Snape would not.

Snape's eyebrows had always talked volumes, and this lone raised eyebrow said, "Oh, yes, you bloody well did."

"Yes," Remus confessed. "I suppose I did, and I shouldn't have. I apologize. Why am I always apologizing to you, Severus? That summer—"

"We are not having this conver—"

Ah, the snarl wasn't gone; all it took was a good poke.

"No, I need to say this." Remus focused on a stack of hymnals on a shelf next to Snape's head. "That summer. I don't know what happened. I do know that something could have happened. That I wasn't in love with you, but I wasn't not in love with you. That had things been different, that if… Anyway, you were very dear to me." God, he sounded like a cheesy romance novel capable of only expressing himself in trite clichis. "And I think I would have fallen… Just that… You weren't…"

How do you tell someone that they were second best? Snape did it for him.

"I wasn't Sirius Black."

Remus forced himself to face Snape: to look into that fiercely proud face and tell him the truth about that summer. How easy it had been to assume that Snape had only wanted some fast and dirty sex for a few weeks. Something to stave off the summer doldrums.

"No. You weren't. At the end of that school year, we'd had a huge falling out over that business with you, him, and James. Otherwise, I never would have…"

"Responded to my invitation to come to Cokeworth," Snape finished his sentence yet again.

"No. He came to me just before school started that fall. We were lovers from that point on right until he was thrown into Azkaban. After that, there wasn't anyone else. Ever." He stopped talking before he gave into his impulse to tack on another "I'm sorry." Remus made a silent plea to Tonks to forgive him as he uttered, "Even now."

The bargains they had made over the years, with Tonks bargaining as hard as the rest of them. The horrible thing was he did love her. She was a wonderful person. But just as with Snape, he didn't love her as much as he had loved Sirius. He'd been a coward at sixteen and he was a coward at thirty-seven, capitulating to her entreaties because he so wanted to believe, he so wanted to be loved again, he so wanted to love.

Snape strode over to him and grabbed him by the shoulders so hard that Remus would have to spell away the bruises later.

"You idiot. She's a gift, Lupin, as is the child." Snape's voice was sharp with warning. "You will make a wonderful father. I've spent my lifetime purposefully shoving away life's gifts, use whatever time you have left to appreciate what you've been given." Then he let Remus go and then reached for a hymnal on the top of the stack and handed it to Remus. "Don't be the fool I was. Here."

It wasn't a hymnal. It was Snape's copy of Jane Eyre, the one that Remus had given him twenty years earlier.

"As it turns out, Wuthering Heights would have been far more appropriate. Read this to your son or daughter some day to remind you of a more innocent time."

Remus savored a brief memory of them lying in the fields, flicking the ants off of their hands, eating bread and butter sandwiches, and reading books. And since this was his only chance, he asked the one question that had been eating at him for the last three weeks.

"I need to know, Severus. I have to assume that since we're not surrounded by Death Eaters that there was a reason and it wasn't in the service of Voldemort. Why did you kill Albus?"

Snape sunk into the one lone chair, as if his legs couldn't support him anymore. Snape had always been much braver than he had been. There was no staring off into space or fixating on hymnals. Snape met his gaze full on.

"He'd been cursed and had only a few months to live. Albus never lost an opportunity to capitalize on fate's vagaries. In order to make his death count, he told me that when the time came, he would ask me to kill him, and he expected me to do so. In fact, he demanded it of me."

Stunned, Remus could only stare at Snape.

"Yes, you might well stare. He was the most ruthless man I've ever met. And considering the company I currently keep, that's saying something."

"How… How could he ask that of you? My God!" Remus couldn't imagine the burden of carrying that on your shoulders, day in and day out. "But… It made you a target. An object of utter hatred. No one would trust you ever again. If I had come in here and killed you, I'd be a national hero. Your protestations of innocence would be ignored! How could he ask you to sacrifice yourself like that?"

Snape raised his hands again, steepling them together and peered at Remus over the tips of his fingers. His face easing from its usual restrained scorn into a rare calm.

"But for Black, we might have suited, Lupin. You are a weak man with a tremendous amount of integrity. I am a strong man with little integrity. Together we might have fashioned a rather nice life. Sadly, I couldn't compete with Black's charm or looks."

"You saw the worst of him, never the best," Remus insisted.

"Murderers I have known and loved? I would have done anything to atone for my culpability in Lily's death, as Albus well knew. At his request, I did the most despicable thing another human can exact on another human; I killed him. Like Albus planned, it has had untold benefits. It cemented my position among the Death Eaters. With one wave of my wand," he swished his wand in an indolent, purposeless arc, "it rendered pointless all of Bellatrix's whisperings about my allegiances, dislodged her permanently as Voldemort's right hand, and saved Draco Malfoy's soul. Not that I think Draco deserved saving—such an annoying git of a child—but Albus thought so," he added with a grimace.

"Draco?" Despite having the ice-blond hair and blue eyes of his father, sometimes when the light hit Draco the right way Remus could see the Black in him. While Draco had more than his fair share of the famous Black charm, he also had far too much of the Malfoy arrogance. He was one of those people who could go either way, although it seemed that the Malfoy in him was definitely in ascendance. "How did Draco Malfoy figure into this?"

"The Dark Lord tasked him with killing Albus."

Now it was Remus' turn for his legs to fail. He slumped against a bookcase.

"Surely Voldemort knew that a boy of seventeen couldn't possibly succeed against one of the most powerful wizards of this century? How could he ask a child—"

"And yet we expect Harry Potter to defeat Voldemort." Snape's left eyebrow hit his hairline. "A boy of seventeen. Against one of the most powerful wizards of this century."

"Stop it, Severus." Unexpectedly, his anger revived him and he stood up straight. "I'm not engaging in some abstract discussion of how good and evil are eventually the same coin. If you feel like that, you should hang yourself right now. I'll tie the noose."

To his shock, Snape started laughing. A real, deep laugh that had him wiping at the corners of his eyes.

"You have not lost your ability to surprise me, Lupin. Frankly, it's a bloody miracle I don't look seventy. I spent the last year trying to stop him from killing Albus, only to discover that that was my job."

Remus gave him a look. "Gallows humor?"

"Appropriate don't you think?" Snape sniffed. "Draco's clumsy attempts at murdering Albus nearly killed Katie Bell and Ronald Weasley. No doubt desperation made him reckless. If he failed, Voldemort would have killed one of his parents. Unfortunately, it probably would have been Narcissa and not Lucius. It was one of the few times in my life when I actually felt sorry for the arrogant sod. Draco, not Lucius," he added.

Snape stood up and reached for his wand. For a split second Remus thought he was wrong, that Snape was going to kill him, but no. With a few mutterings Remus couldn't quite hear and a broad sweep of his wand, the room suddenly stopped smelling like mold and was replaced by the hint of roses.

"I've wanted to do that for years. In the future, as long I am alive, every month a day before the full moon, you will find a vial of Wolfsbane with your name on it at the apothecary three doors down from Borgin and Burkes. You know the place?"

Remus nodded. He'd spent far too much time in Knockturn Alley that winter he was sent to spy on Fenrir's faction.

"The wizard who runs it, Foulmoth, owes me a debt." Snape paused. "A rather large debt. Request a vial of 'Mr Rochester's Love Potion.' Should you actually read that copy of Jane Eyre, you will find the inscription as amusing as I do. You never inscribed it, did you?"

Remus shook his head. Although he was convinced he would be repulsed and possibly hexed, Remus walked up to Snape to hold him. To embrace him. Maybe even to pretend for thirty seconds that they were still sixteen and so starved for physical contact that a malcontented, abused young man would actually accept the touches and gestures of affection from a dark creature who had nearly killed him.

They were still of a height, and Snape was no different physically, still all sharp angles and bones, much like himself. Wedding ring or no, he needed to let Snape know how much he had cared. They had been cheating their own deaths for years. But he knew that the odds would catch up with them both.

To his surprise, Snape hugged him back, nearly crushing him. Then Snape pulled just away enough to give him a harsh kiss on the mouth. More a meeting of lips than anything else, Snape then pushed him away so violently that Remus stumbled a little bit.

Holding himself in that perfect posture that was his hallmark, Snape stepped back from Remus and clasped his hands behind his back. In his usual curt tone, he said, "I understand that there are plans to move Potter to the Burrow at some point very soon so that he can attend the Weasley wedding."

At Remus' gasp of surprise, because this was true but only known to a select few, Snape snorted in response.

"Your naiveti is touching and stupid beyond all reckoning. There are spies everywhere, Lupin. There are some spies who don't even know they are spies. Victims of the most subtle of Imperius curses. In fact, the only person you can trust is me." Snape smiled and Remus couldn't help but follow suit.

"I knew you'd appreciate the irony. Naturally, no one must know my role in alerting you to these plans—not even your wife. I'm bound to divulge the night you are planning to move him because if I don't, then I will become suspect and nothing must jeopardize my current role as Voldemort's chief lackey. It is vital to Potter's safety. Bellatrix still doesn't trust me. She might be insane, but her madness only contributes to her brilliance. Given that Mad Eye has a brain, he will come up with a plan that I trust will be adequate. I suggest using Polyjuice potion. A supremely annoying but competent person, that Granger will be able to brew it properly. She has, I suspect, plenty of experience.

"I will do all I can to protect Potter, but my hands will be somewhat tied. I am counting on you. Stay close to him. You will need all your Defence expertise to defend him. I trust you will do so. Now go," Snape demanded.

Remus began to speak, to say something, and then realized he had nothing more to say. Shrinking the book so that it fit in his pocket, he Apparated to the church steps, spelled away all the graffiti, and then cast a charm that would clean the walls every dawn. He was rather good at Charms. One didn't have Sirius Black as a roommate and not pick up a few pointers on casting infallible Charms. With any luck it would hold for a good long while. He then went home, the sounds of Tonks sobbing loud enough to drown out the pop of his apparition.

God, what a fool I was. What made me kiss Lupin like that? Grasping at straws that were not mine to have and never would be.

Lupin was right. Had it not been for Black, he would have become my lover, not my summer fuck. Had I loved him? Although desire and love are not the same thing, I was so immature, so stunted that I'm not sure I didn't confuse the two. Regardless, he might have saved me from the worst of my impulses. As he brought out the best in me, it is not inconceivable that he brought out the best in Black. Not that he didn't have to mine very deep for both of us. As if I needed to be told. As if I didn't have a pair of eyes, seeing them on the platform that September, standing far too close to each other, the hint of secrets coloring all their gestures. And later back at school. As if I couldn't smell the passion between them. They were so obvious.

Even now, over twenty years later, Lupin's tacit rejection in favor of one of my arch enemies still stung. But then my life has been nothing more than a series of "could haves," the nascent relationship with Lupin yet one of several. I was always to be second best, even with Albus. Ah well. I shuddered as if to physically shake off all the unpleasant memories. As if it were that simple. I did appreciate Lupin's outrage on my behalf. Sometimes in a quiet moment I couldn't help but rail against Albus for putting me in the most untenable position imaginable because this put me in the best position possible to oversee Potter's survival, which had a certain logic, I must admit.

Clearly, I was going mad. I needed my wits about me and silly lapses like that ridiculous kiss could be fatal to all. Well, it was unlikely that I would see him again, unless it was in battle; I trusted that whatever spells Lupin cast would be wide of their mark. His would be the only one. I hoped against hope it wasn't Minerva who felled me. There were limits to what I would do, and killing Minerva, even to save myself so that I could be of use to Potter, was one of them.

How miserable Lupin looked. Although a superb spy, with those whom he loved he was never very good at hiding his emotions. Witness his happiness with me that stupid summer, which was only to be eclipsed at his incandescent joy at being with Black the following fall.

Assuming Lupin survived this, although I had no hopes that he would, Tonks would prevail. The Blacks were a tenacious lot. She would win his enduring affection eventually: their child would be a powerful bond between them, as well, even though Lupin was occasionally weak and often a coward. At sixteen, I scorned that in him. At thirty-seven, with my own egregious failures eating at my conscience day and night, I appreciated and was sympathetic to his struggles. And forgave him his failures. As he seemed to forgive mine.

Knowing that I wouldn't be back, I scoured the room again with a cleaning charm, put the mugs on their shelf, and spelled away the milk. I made my way down the stairs to the nave and was nearly out the door before I was stopped by the overwhelming scent of lilies. No, I did not believe in God, but if I did, I would appreciate his sense of humor. In a vase on the altar was a gigantic bouquet of lilies and lupines.

I wondered if at the time of our true death that we are greeted by those who loved us best. If so, then it would be Albus greeting me. My true father. Who had loved me despite all the horrible things I had done in my life—his true son—and whom I loved in spite of the burdens he had imposed on me. I did not doubt that, just as I didn't doubt that it would be Black greeting Lupin, the one person he had truly loved. Maybe that's our final journey. We are reunited with those who loved us best.