Pink Green Blue

Bridge by Hourglass nomineeModPermanent AccountHourglass winnerafterthree

Rating: PG. Created: August 2nd, 2007. Updated: August 2nd, 2007. Read Reviews (7)
Disclaimer: Characters, the magical world, etc, is property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros, not the owner of this fic.

Title: Bridge

Author: afterthree

Summary: Remus and Sirius discover that forgiveness is never as easy as it sounds.

A/N: This piece is a "Missing Moment" from the very beginning of Ink and Parchment, the fiction in letters I'm currently working on. Someone was curious about what transpired that required apologies in the first few letters, and then I was curious, too; and so this became the plot bunny that wouldn't go away. First it sat there, staring at me, and then it started jumping up and down waving its arms, and then it started knawing at my leg so that I couldn't actually think or concentrate on anything else.

I have tried my best to make this piece stand alone so that having read Ink and Parchment is not a requirement, but this has been written to fit as seemlessly as possible in and around the first three letters of that fiction, so people who haven't read Ink and Parchment might be wondering what's with the third entirely comatose presence in this story. If by the end I have sufficently peaked your curiousity on that point, I might garner a few extra readers for Ink and Parchment, and I'm okay with that. If not, that's fine too.

However, the story here is entirely Remus and Sirius', and is more or less resolved by the end.

Dedication: For Kali, who was curious.

 

 

 

Bridge: A connecting, transitional, or intermediate route or phase between two adjacent elements, activities, or conditions; a transitional passage connecting two subjects or movements; the contrasting section of music which prepares for the return of the original melody.

:: :: ::

Stumbling out of Apparation, Remus staggered forward and managed to catch himself from falling completely. The first thing he noticed was the familiar smell of the place; a dry, tilled scent of abandoned farmland drifting lazily by with the wind. It was coloured thickly with nostalgia, and Remus reminded himself he was no longer the carefree boy of nineteen that had once known this area of Cambridgeshire very well indeed.

The reminder was punctuated by the dull throb of muscles still complaining at having been rearranged twice in twelve hours, and Remus winced as his back spasmed in punishment for daring to Apparate so soon after a full moon. Remus tried to recall when his recovery time had started to edge in on two days, longing for the fifteen-year-old's constitution that once had him back to normal in a mere twelve hours. He shuddered to think how long these monthly recoveries would take in another fifteen years, or twenty.

Best not to dwell on that too long: thinking on it only made the pain more pronounced.

Pausing to allow his aches to ease a little, he cast a look around, squinting into the high contrast shadow and sharp light of dawn as it peaked over the hills, not too surprised to see that almost nothing had changed here. The little hamlet of Abbotsley appeared to have spurned any attempt at Muggle expansion, and the wood along the south side of the field had -- if anything -- encroached on it even further.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter he'd received from Sirius the day before.

Moony:

I need your help as soon as you recover from tonight's moon. Sooner, if you can manage it. I don't want to say much here in case this letter goes astray, but someone's been injured and I can't take them anywhere for help due to my picture being posted on every blasted fence post and in every bloody newspaper. I am doing what I can, but my healing spells aren't exactly what they used to be.

Come quickly. I'm at the place we used to go every month after we graduated.

Padfoot

The sudden contact had shocked him so soon after Sirius' close escape from Hogwarts barely a month ago, and Remus had spent the last twenty-four hours trying to will his stubbornly stiff and sore body out of bed. He had repeatedly lost the battle until just a few hours ago when he'd finally managed to make it shakily to his feet for longer than a few seconds. After a quick meal to appease his starving stomach, he had dressed and Apparated immediately, a little surprised that he still remembered clearly where the farmhouse was.

Moving slowly to appease his cantankerous body, Remus began to kick aside the overgrown brush, searching, fairly certain it would still be where they'd left it. Sure enough, a few moments later his foot scraped flat rock. Whether by magic or luck, the Marauder's marker had withstood the years far better than the Marauders themselves.

Best not dwell on that, either.

Turning away from the rising sun, Remus carefully picked his way northward, his strides deliberately long and even. At eight paces he slowed, reaching out in front of him with open palms. Another pace, and he could feel the residue of the wards like a drop in temperature at his fingertips, and was impressed at how well the Disillusionment Charm had faced the test of time without regular maintenance.

Remus smiled to himself, thinking he really shouldn't be so surprised; they had all been nothing if not proficient in the fine art of being sneaky. Of course the ward had held.

He edged forward, and soon his fingers raked against invisible wood and peeling paint. He pushed and a door gave way with a heavy creak, a sliver of dark interior appearing against the brightening outdoor landscape. Casting a cautious look over his shoulder, he slipped inside, careful to pull the door closed behind him.

Here again, very little had changed save for the addition of fifteen years of extra dust. Still empty of furnishings, the peeling wallpaper had faded a little more and the water damage in the ceiling seemed to have overcome the reinforcing structural charms in a few places. Here and there were marks that betrayed the derelict farmhouse's past purpose, and a time before the Wolfsbane: the walls were scattered with clawed marks in varying depths, and a portion of the banister at the base of the stairs against the back wall was ripped away.

Remus had never been able to decide if it was better he couldn't remember those moons, or if the not knowing only made it that much worse.

With some effort he chose to look instead at the floor, where recent footprints had disturbed years of dust and dirt. There were two sets -- one cleanly shaped, rounded set belonging to a man and a second more complicated set Remus recognized as Hippogriff tracks lead left toward the kitchen. The third set -- paw prints of considerable size -- trailed back and forth from the kitchen to the brick fireplace that had collapsed just enough to allow a medium-sized animal to squeeze through.

Not entirely trusting the creaking floor that bowed slightly under his weight, Remus made his way to the kitchen hugging the walls. Light streamed through the cracks of the boarded up window over the sink, and Remus spotted what appeared to be a bird nest perched atop the old, yellowing refrigerator -- another new addition.

The floorboards in the pantry showed signs of abuse, as if someone had recently had some difficulty pulling the hidden cellar door open against old, unused hinges. One corner was warped where it had been pried up for leverage, and along the other side one of the outer boards had a sizeable crack in it where it seemed a temper had been lost and effort had been made to force it open the wrong way, perhaps with the well-placed heel of a boot. It lifted well enough now after its beating, though the hinges protested loudly, and Remus pulled it open.

The storm cellar was dark, but to Remus' nose smelled of more than just mildew and dry rot. It was difficult to place all of the scents, but one at least was familiar enough -- or had been, once upon a time -- and he started carefully down the rickety stairs, reaching into his pocket for his wand and some light.

"You look like hell warmed over, Remus."

Remus jumped, startled, and Sirius melted out of the shadows at the bottom of the stairwell, a wand freshly lit in his hand.

"Good God, Sirius," Remus protested, exhaling and leaning a hand against the wall.

"Sorry to startle you," Sirius replied with the hint of a smirk. "I heard someone upstairs-- "

"That was me."

"Obviously," Sirius said dryly. "You certainly weren't trying very hard to be stealthy."

"Why would I? We're in an invisible, sound-proofed, fallen-down farmhouse in the middle of an overgrown potato field. Who did you think it was?"

"I'm on the run, here, if you hadn't noticed," Sirius shot back. "I think it's better not make assumptions when the price for the wrong one is serving my soul up for elevenses."

Remus rolled his eyes. "And being that the tell-tale sign of an approaching Dementor is the noise they make walking across squeaky floorboards-- "

But Remus left off, seeing the tightness on Sirius' face at the mention of Dementors, and felt instantly like an ass.

"Sorry," Remus offered with a sigh.

"Don't worry about it," Sirius said, shrugging off the moment with feigned ease, but wouldn't catch Remus' eye to accept the apology completely. He gestured with his wand hand, pointing. "She's over there."

"She?" Remus raised an eyebrow, following Sirius further into the cellar.

"That's why you're here, isn't it? I assume you actually received my owl and didn't just pop over for tea," Sirius said blandly, and with a flick of his wand a rusted paraffin lamp hooked to the ceiling lit up the room.

Back when they'd first found it, the underground cellar had been much smaller. Between the four of them and some carefully placed supporting charms to reinforce the floor above, they'd transfigured and expanded it so now it was nearly as large as the farmhouse itself. Remus reckoned there was more magic than material holding any of it together these days.

Buckbeak sat in the farthest corner of the room and greeted the sudden light with an irritable squawk, then turned his head to eye Remus, clicking his beak suspiciously. The feathers on his left wither were bent at odd angles, and in the dim light Remus thought he saw dried blood matted into them.

"Don't mind him," Sirius said, absently glancing at the Hippogriff. "He's fine -- just cranky because he's already eaten all the rats down here and now he's hungry again. It's her I'm worried about."

Sirius directed his attention instead to a cot along the side wall, one Remus knew quite well from the hours he'd once spent recovering on it after the full moon. It was therefore a little strange to see someone else laying limply upon it, pale-faced and unresponsive to the change of light, covered with a moth eaten-blanket.

Remus knelt next to the cot, igniting the tip of his wand for more light. Up close he could tell she was not doing well: her skin was visibly clammy, her breathing was far too shallow, and a quick check revealed a weak pulse. Something had left thick, deep scratches down the left side of her face, and though they appeared to be on the mend, Remus' stomach lurched at the familiar shape and cut of the wounds.

"I've used every healing spell I remember, but I'm afraid this stolen wand isn't cooperating as well as I'd like," Sirius went on as he twitched aside the blanket. "I've managed to deal with most of the scratches, but the bites aren't responding to anything and I've had to resort to alternative methods."

She was a mess.

Her left bicep had been repeatedly clawed, and while the lacerations had been healed enough that the wounds had closed, the entire arm was purple and swollen. The bruise disappeared under a thick wrap of bandages at her shoulder that were stiff on the edges with dried blood, and murky in the centre where she'd started to bleed fresh through the layers of cotton. Her right forearm was also wrapped in makeshift bandages and appeared to be splinted, but like her shoulder the dressing had bled through at the centre.

The rest of her was in marginally better shape, but wherever her clothes were torn there were bloodstains and more angry red claw marks, some deeper than others. Sirius had torn away the right leg of her trousers up to the knee to get at a particularly vicious one, and Remus recognized the scavenged material used as bandages on her arm.

Looking at her he convulsively touched his own shoulder, wincing at the phantom pain that sprung fresh from his memory as he rubbed at the thick and jagged scar still left there under his shirt. He'd been too young when it had happened, and most of the night was gone from his memory, but he remembered enough to stoke the occasional nightmare and to know what he was seeing.

"What happened?" Remus asked, the question sticking in the back of his throat unpleasantly because he already knew the answer. The lingering aches in his body flared at the thought that this might very well have been his doing, in a different time and place not so long ago.

"We were flying over Abbotsley and I heard a howl and a scream right below us," Sirius said dully. "By the time we'd circled round it'd caught up to her. It bit her here and brought her down-- " Sirius pointed at the bandages on her shoulder, " --but she kept fighting it once it was on top of her. These-- " he pointed at her arms " --are mostly defensive, but when she tried to fight it off and protect herself, it bit her right arm and shook her pretty hard -- I think it's broken -- and that's when Buckbeak and I made it to the ground. The wolf tried to take a chunk out of him," Sirius gestured over his shoulder at the Hippogriff, "but Buckbeak hooked it pretty hard with his talons. She passed out, and I couldn't just leave her there."

"What happened to the werewolf?" Remus pressed through thin lips.

Sirius shrugged. "Ran off into the brush after tangling with Buckbeak. I didn't even have a chance to transform before it was gone." There was a long silence, Remus' eyes fixed on the damaged woman and Sirius' eyes lowered to the floor. "I couldn't risk stunning it from long-range in the air with this unpredictable wand, not with it on top of her like that. The only thing keeping her alive at that point was that she was fighting back, and what if I'd stunned her by accident? She'd already be dead."

Sirius turned his head and caught Remus' eye. "Can you help her?" he asked.

"I…" Remus was at a loss. "I don't know." Remus wasn't sure what he'd expected when he'd read Sirius' owl requesting emergency help, but this hadn't been it.

Sirius frowned, and for a moment could have been mistaken for his sixteen-year-old self, indignant at not getting his way; and then the dull-eyed, thin-faced man was back, a harsher tone in his voice.

"Why not?"

"Well just look at her, Sirius! She's -- I mean, I don't even know where to start. Werewolf bites are tricky at the best of times, but this…" Remus shook his head. "She needs real help. Professional help."

"Then take her to St. Mungo's."

Remus closed his eyes, turning away as he tasted guilt, humiliated by his own helplessness. "I can't."

Sirius hardened. "You mean you won't."

Remus turned back sharply. "No, I mean can't. Think of what it would look like Sirius, a known and registered werewolf bringing this-- " he gestured " --into St. Mungo's. I was alone on Saturday night, and the only person who could step forward and corroborate that I'm not the one responsible for this is an escaped felon."

The words visibly stung Sirius, but for some reason Remus didn't regret them; instead, he found them oddly satisfying, and added: "I have no interest in occupying your vacant cell."

"So we're to be her gallant heroes then, the two of us," Sirius said, and forced a laugh. "A mad convict with a useless piece of wood-- " he threw the wand in his hand away from him, hard, and it clattered against the wall and to the floor " --and a poor cursed animal no one will believe. How brilliantly, uselessly Gryffindor of us."

Sirius sank to the floor, burying his face in his hands, and Remus said nothing. The distance between their lives and the last twelve years was unexpectedly overwhelming, and for the first time after seeing his name on the map Remus had the opportunity to really see what was left of his friend.

This ineffectual rescue attempt seemed to have cracked something in Sirius like one disaster too many. Slumped, his gauntness was more predominate now than it had been even in the Shrieking Shack that night a month ago when Sirius had looked very much the picture of a deranged killer. But where Sirius had been a frenzy of irrational emotion that night, here now he seemed drained and almost numb.

The Sirius Black Remus remembered had never deigned to look this utterly defeated by the mere reality of a thing, and it twisted Remus' stomach to think that the haughty, easily humoured man of his memory might really be gone forever after all.

Remus realized he was the stronger of the two of them at that moment, and it was a strange, awkward feeling to be sitting in a room with Sirius and have to be the one to take control of the situation. He'd had this same sense of displacement in the shack when he'd held Sirius off of Peter long enough to spin the three children the tale, but things had been too rushed there, too distracting to spare it much thought.

"Well," Remus said finally, perhaps a little too business-like. "I'm not entirely useless you know. My healing spells have gotten quite a bit better since-- "

--since you left me alone…

Remus stopped abruptly before he finished that thought out-loud, but it hung in the air just as obviously as if he had.

"Since… I've been taking care of myself, that is," Remus finished lamely. Sirius didn't speak.

Soldiering on over their mutual discomfort, Remus studied the woman on the cot anew, forcing himself to swallow any emotional distress that threatened at the disturbing familiarity of her condition, whole-heartedly embracing a more clinical frame of mind.

"I can certainly mend the deeper gashes and scratches you were having trouble with, and probably the broken arm too." He carefully pulled back the bandages on her shoulder to get a better look, and grimaced at the mess of skin and torn tissue. Taking away the bandage had broken some of the clots, and fresh blood beaded to the surface. He realized Sirius had used severed strips of the bottom of his own Azkaban robes to stem her bleeding, and Remus found himself unusually relieved by this small sign of selflessness: perhaps there was something of Sirius left after all.

"This is beyond me," Remus admitted, inspecting the wound closely. "But you've done well controlling the bleeding."

"Healer's Pressure Charm on the bandages," Sirius offered, and Remus saw the briefest trace of a smile flicker across his thin face. "Remembered it after all these years. It took a few tries to get that wand to cooperate, and I had to recast a couple of times when they started to weaken, but it worked well enough in the end." Sirius pointed at her splinted arm, purhaps spurred by Remus' willingness to try. "The bite on her shoulder is larger, but I think her arm's worse off. It shook her pretty hard, and the teeth got right down to the muscle in a few places."

"Hmm… I'm not sure how to approach that at all," Remus muttered, frowning. "Werewolf bites are notoriously resistant to healing spells, which is probably why you had so much trouble. They've got their own sort of curse that lingers in the flesh, and it takes a considerably focused healer to break through it. Even then there'll be no getting rid of the scars. Still… the bites are meant to heal so that the lycanthropy can spread to her instead of kill her, so perhaps if we just keep them clean and free of infection…? Poppy taught me a few new spells last year which might be-- "

Remus suddenly broke off, a peculiar look on his face as his thoughts slid into focus.

"What?" said Sirius anxiously.

"Poppy!" Remus said at once, standing abruptly. "Of course! How could I be so dim?"

Sirius stood too, obviously confused. "Remus, what are you-- "

"Madame Pomfrey," Remus interrupted. "Pomfrey, Sirius! At Hogwarts! Dumbledore knows, he knows everything and he's the only one who'll take my word and yours that it wasn't me who-- " Remus shook his head in disbelief that he hadn't thought of it before now. "And whether or not Poppy can handle something like this, Dumbledore can take her to St. Mungo's if he has to; no one will question where the attack came from if Dumbledore's the one to bring her in."

Sirius glanced down at her, thinking. "Should we bring her to Hogwarts then?"

"I'm not even sure he's there during the summer," Remus admitted, starting to pace. "And there are too many variables. We'd have to side-along-Apparate near Hogsmeade then stretcher her the rest of the way to the castle, and there's no telling who we might meet first. I don't even want to consider the possibility of running into Snape." He shook his head. "No, I think Dumbledore has to come to us."

Remus checked his watch. "Nearly six. None of the post offices will be open yet, but I could borrow Doge's owl, he's up at the crack of dawn anyway."

"Doge?" Sirius asked, frowning as if trying to decide whether or not he knew the name.

"You remember Elphias Doge, he's that school-friend of Dumbledore's who lives not too far from me. The chap who used to wear that ridiculous hat."

"Right," said Sirius. "Doge. Of course." But something about the way he said it left Remus largely unconvinced that Sirius had any better idea of who he was talking about.

Deciding it was better not to press the issue, Remus continued, his attention drawn back to the woman on the cot. "I don't know how long an owl will take to get to him, but I don't think we should move her until we have to; it could just make things worse, and certainly risks both our necks unnecessarily." Carefully, he re-covered the wound on her shoulder with the stained compress. "I'll bring back some supplies, and some food. We could be here for a few days."

There was an odd look on Sirius' face at this, and he said: "You don't have to stay. I can manage her fine on my own."

Remus' brow furrowed. "Don't be a twat, Sirius. I'm here. I'm involved now, and I'll stay until better help comes."

"Suit yourself," Sirius said flatly.

Remus watched Sirius cross the room to pick up the discarded wand, troubled. Sirius' behavior was bothering Remus in some abstract way he couldn't quite put his finger on; he seemed detached and uncharacteristically taciturn, as if being in the same room with Remus this long was an exercise in great exertion.

He filed that observation away under things to sort out later, and pocketed his wand; there were more pressing matters to attend to now, and Sirius' offishness could wait.

"I'll be back," Remus said firmly, and headed for the stairs.

He was halfway up them when Sirius said in an odd voice: "Are you sure he'll come?"

"Dumbledore?" said Remus, and didn't understand the look Sirius gave him in reply. "Why wouldn't he?"

Sirius said nothing, and turned his face away.

:: :: ::

It was nearly noon before Remus got back bearing a rucksack so full it hardly fit over his shoulders properly. He found Sirius sitting with his back against the wall next to the cot, muttering to himself as he transformed a small dusty crate into a series of incompletely transfigured items: a shoe with woodgrain; a sparrow with a lace down its back; a teacup with wings. Sirius was clearly irritable; the combination of a foreign wand and twelve years without practice had put Sirius on this side of Azkaban with considerably weaker skills then what he'd had going in.

"Took you a while," Sirius noted, scowling at the teacup as it flew up between them, and he vanished it with a wave.

Remus unshouldered the rucksack and set it heavily on the floor. "The contents of my cupboards left something to be desired, so I had to make a stop at the grocery," he explained. He knelt down to dig through the sack a moment until he found what he was looking for and withdrew a jar of green ointment. "I also picked this up at the Apothecary: it's a salve with a high percentage of dittany extract. It should help clean the wounds at least, and keep away infection."

They set to work, Sirius pulling off the old dressing and replacing them with clean ones from Remus' bag after spreading a generous amount of salve over the bites, while Remus set and mended her broken arm and busied himself with the other minor injuries Sirius had managed to partly heal. Neither of them spoke much, but went about their tasks with single-minded diligence until there was nothing more they could do for the time-being.

Remus suggested lunch, and Sirius' spirits lifted temporarily as he efficiently devoured three roast beef sandwiches. Sirius mentioned the Firebolt he'd bought Harry, and they chatted easily for a while about Quidditch and the coming World Cup being hosted in England, but eventually the subject wore thin and they both fell silent again. Once they would have been able to talk for hours, but now every topic Remus came up with seemed one-sided or insensitive and he finally gave up, unable to draw Sirius back into conversation. For his part, Sirius took up his wand again and continued the transfiguration drill on the mustard jar, determined, it seemed, to reclaim his lost talent.

Remus inspected Buckbeak's wound, which turned out to be fairly superficial. The Hippogriff seemed to dislike the itching of healing spells, however, and every time Remus attempted to mend it the animal pulled away and snapped his beak angrily, so eventually he gave that up too and left Buckbeak alone to heal in his own time. After a while, the two men methodically checked the patient and re-applied the salve, Remus embarassingly relieved to have something to do to to distract him from the growing uneasy silence.

And so the day wore on like that, their interaction overly courteous and ambiguously distant. As reunions went, it was pretty excruciating.

Everything Remus said seemed to somehow be the wrong thing or the callous thing, and he chastised himself for foolishly thinking they'd get on like the last twelve years had never happened. They had briefly reconnected in the Shack, but without the distraction of Peter to unite them Remus was at a loss at how to deal with this sullen stranger. He'd spent years mourning Peter and hating Sirius, and now found himself trying to deal directly with the opposite and having difficulty with the translation. Out of the corner of his eye Remus would catch a look or a gesture that reminded him of wanted posters, and for a moment the old story would come back and his insides would twist in anger, for surely that cackling villain was more real than this broken ghost of a man.

When he couldn't stand it anymore, Remus mumbled something about a nap and laid down on the floor, closing his eyes. The silence seemed more bearable, somehow, if they both pretended it was only because he was asleep, and eventually neither of them had to pretend it anymore.

:: :: ::

Remus woke at the sound of the cellar's hinges cracking, and his immediate thought was how stupid he'd been to fall asleep on the floor when he'd already been quite sore enough from his recent transformations. He sat up with a laborious groan to see Sirius coming down the stairs bearing four dead rabbits, two in each hand.

Remus rubbed his neck, wincing at the sharp complaint in his lower back. "How long have I been asleep?"

"A few hours," Sirius replied, tossing three of the dead rabbits to Buckbeak who chirped appreciatively and immediately tore into one. The fourth he set on the floor well away from the Hippogriff and lit a fire in the small, open stove that had once kept the Marauders warm during the winter.

"Dinner?" Remus said wryly, quirking a brow.

Sirius shrugged, nodding at Buckbeak. "I was out getting his dinner anyway, so I thought I might as well bring something back for us." He paused, glancing at Remus. "I'm assuming you still have an appetite for wild meat."

Remus had always enjoyed fresh game -- whether or not the wolf in him had anything to do with that he wasn't sure -- and while the sight of Buckbeak ripping the raw flesh of his dinner was distasteful, Remus couldn't deny that something in the smell of it made his stomach growl in anticipation.

"Well, since you've volunteered to cook," Remus said with a grin, observing as Sirius started to skin the rabbit with a few well placed, non-verbal severing charms. "The wand seems to be working better for you now."

Sirius nodded. "It was stubborn," he said, then flashed a steely smile. "But I was more so."

"As I suspected you would be," agreed Remus, and grunted his way to his feet.

Sirius cast a scrutinizing look up at him. "You really do look like hell, you know. I've seen you look worse, but not this long after the moon."

Remus sighed. "The hazards of age, I'm afraid," he replied. "Though I admit a kip on the floor was not the greatest way to expedite my recovery." With both hands he pressed at a spot on his back, stretching until it cracked loudly and relieved some of the uncomfortable pressure.

He returned Sirius' appraising look, taking in the rawboned features and baggy robes that had once probably fit him perfectly. "You're one to talk," Remus pointed out lightly. "A far cry from the Hogwarts Heartbreaker these days, I think."

There it was -- that very faint glimmer of a younger Sirius Back in a smirk and a gleam of the eye at the mention of the nickname some of the Gryffindor girls had given him -- and then it was gone again, replaced by something darker.

"The… hazards of Azkaban, I suppose," he parroted, and Remus sighed as the tension slid back into the room like an tiresome but unavoidable guest.

Keen for a change of subject, Remus landed on the only neutral territory that seemed available, nodding toward the unconscious woman on the cot. "How's she doing?"

Sirius shrugged. "Better, I guess. Maybe. It's difficult to say."

Remus wandered over to her and laid a couple of fingers against her neck. "Her pulse is a little stronger anyway," he noted with some satisfaction, and busied himself checking her injuries and swapping the old bandages for fresh ones.

He couldn't really tell if the dittany ointment was helping at all -- the bites still looked fresh and open -- but it at least didn't appear to be hindering. Most of the hemorrhaging had stopped at her shoulder, but her arm was more disconcerting: it had swollen even more and the inflammation seemed to be spreading past her elbow. It still bled sluggishly, and in a few places the blood was accompanied by a lighter, cloudy liquid that concerned him; before he re-bandaged it he cast a couple of extra sterilizing charms and spread on another thick layer of salve.

By that time the smell of grilling meat was filling the cellar and Remus' stomach grumbled with hunger, the roast beef at lunch seeming a distant memory. Sirius wordlessly handed him a plate with a generous portion accompanied with thickly buttered bread, and Remus sat with his back against the wall near the stove and tucked in.

The rabbit was deliciously tender, and the taste of it reminded Remus of eating dinner at Hogwarts over the last year. It had been a welcome change: three square and first-class meals every day, never needing to spare a worry that a double portion on Monday might lead to a missed meal on Friday when money was tight. He had savoured every one, hardly ever turning down seconds and never missing a pudding or cake – regular dessert, especially, had been a daily delight. It had been a disappointing and unsatisfying thing, returning to his own economical rations and bland cooking.

Recalling the earlier easiness of their lunch dialogue and heartened by a full stomach, Remus gave conversation another try.

"Nice job with the rabbit," he noted mildly, sopping up the last of the juices with his bread.

Sirius hardly glanced up from his own plate. "The catching or the cooking?"

Remus considered. "Both, I suppose." He grinned to himself as he thought of the last time Sirius had cooked him a meal. "At least you didn't burn it into charcoal this time."

Sirius paused, chewing slowly, his brow furrowed in concentration as if trying to recall the event in question.

"That night we went camping on the ridge," Remus supplied, but Sirius' only reply was a dubious look. "The summer after graduation? Lily told us how Muggles cooked over an open fire when they camped and you and James decided to give it a try, then overcooked the chicken so badly we ended up eating canned pears and tinned ham for dinner." Remus arched a brow at the other man's blank stare. "The night we told Lily about me and about you lot being Animagi. Surely you remember that?"

Sirius only frowned. "Did we have a good time?"

"What?'

"Were we happy?" Sirius said roughly – almost viciously – and his tone caught Remus off-guard.

"Were we -- yes, of course we-- "

"That's why then," Sirius said bitterly, tossing his empty plate to the floor.

Remus blinked. "I don't understa-- "

"Don't be thick, Remus," Sirius snapped, staring moodily at the fire in the stove. "It was a happy memory, and the Dementors took it. Stole it away and had it for tea like they did all the others, leaving me picked clean." He laughed, and it was a hollow, empty sound. "James and Lily... Was there even a wedding, Remus? I know they were married and I think there must have been, but I can't recall it… I wonder if that means it never happened at all."

"There was," Remus said firmly. "It did happen, and I was there and so were you. We watched them dance the first dance together, and you turned to me and said it hadn't been loosing a brother like you'd feared, but like gaining a sister, then you cut in and the three of us took turns twirling Lily round the dance floor and didn't let James have her back for hours."

It was distressing to see Sirius' vacant expression, and Remus didn't know what to do or say, except: "Give it time, it'll come back."

"Will it?" Sirius snorted. "How easy it must be for you to say that, sitting there with an academic understanding of Dementors, your own wand in your pocket, and a hoard of pleasant memories to comfort you. Forgive me for not being as sure."

"That's not fair," Remus said, stiffening at the subtext. He sensed they were edging in on dangerous territory, but he was quickly loosing patience with Sirius' contempt. "I may not have been in Azkaban, but my life has been anything but easy since that day."

"Spare me, Remus. Your melodramatic little lycanthrope tragedy wore thin a long time ago."

It was like Sirius had slapped him, and for a long time Remus could only sit there in numb shock.

"How dare you," Remus said slowly, his eyes narrowing as something hot and angry rushed through him and drove him to his feet. "How dare you talk to me like you're the only one that suffered anything these twelve years, like you're the only one who lost anything. I lost everyone and everything that mattered to me that night, Sirius. James and Lily dead, Harry spirited away to who knows where, Peter blown away in the street and you'd done it all and forgotten me and left me alone and alive like you couldn't be bothered to finish the job--"

"I didn't do it, Remus," Sirius spat, on his feet now too, his eyes cold as ice. "It wasn't me who killed them!"

"I know that now, but back then-- "

"You should have known it then!" Sirius said loudly, white and raged and breathing hard. "You should have known I would never do that, not to James, not to Lily, not to any of you!"

"What was I supposed to think?" Remus shot back. "In the face of all that evidence, what was I supposed to believe?"

"Anything but that!" Sirius yelled. "I waited for you to figure it out, Remus. For years I waited and clung to the knowledge that you were smart enough and knew me well enough to realize there had to be some other explanation. But you never came -- not you, not Dumbledore -- you were satisfied with the easy, obvious answer and let me rot innocent in Azkaban while that treacherous leech ran free! You should have trusted me!"

"YOU SHOULD HAVE TRUSTED ME!" Remus roared, and something deep within him finally snapped. Everything that had been stewing boiled over, the things that had happened then and the things he knew now colliding together into stunning, crystal clarity. "You thought I was the traitor! You looked at me and saw nothing -- nothing -- but the werewolf and decided it was me who betrayed you! You set me up, Sirius -- told only me and Dumbledore you were the Secret Keeper and where you were hiding so that when they found you, you'd have your proof! Peter was just a ruse to get me to show myself, and your reckless gambit cost James and Lily their LIVES!"

Sirius paled at the accusation and Remus took a satisfaction in it that would have alarmed him had he been in his right mind, but he wasn't finished yet -- the surface tension had broken, and there was no stopping the flood.

"And after it was done and you knew it was Peter, you still didn't come to me," Remus went on, bearing down on Sirius. "I would have believed you then, Sirius, I swear to God I would have, and we could have tracked Peter down together. But you didn't, did you? You cocked it up again and wound up decaying in Azkaban, all because you still didn't trust me so don't bloody well blame me for what happened to you!"

"You pulled away after Harry was born, Remus," Sirius retorted, his voice shaking. "Practically fucking disappeared. And when you did show up you still weren't really there. You were distracted and moody and smelled like Firewhiskey all the time. No one could get ahold of you for days on end, and you wouldn't tell us where you'd been or what you were doing, and in the meantime every move we made the Death Eaters were always right behind us, so naturally I came to some fairly obvious conclusions. What the hell was going on?"

"Excuse me for being a little preoccupied with my own life at the time, Sirius. The three of you had bright, shiny lives ahead of you -- good jobs and families and futures -- then there I was being spat on and shunned and bloody regulated as if I was a beast a full thirty days out of the month instead of one. What did I have to look forward to, besides waking up after the moon waned and being relieved that I hadn't killed anybody yet? What? Forgive me if I didn't despair a little at the notion of that kind of life which, by the way, is pretty much exactly the sort of life I've been living, and pardon me if I found it a little difficult to be around all of you living examples of things I could never have."

Sirius sneered. "That's bullshit, Remus. We would have helped-- "

"I didn't want any more of your pity," Remus interrupted acidly. "Or your charity."

He was tired now, exhausted and empty and weak from the energy it had taken to erupt, heavy with bleak thoughts and stinging from Sirius' attack. Remus leaned back heavily against the wall and stared at the ceiling.

"You came and you told me you were their Secret Keeper but you didn't tell me where they were," Remus said quietly, "and I didn't even get to say goodbye. Now I find out why and it turns out they died believing I was a traitor."

"I think," came a voice, "that both James and Lily were well aware when they died who had truly betrayed them."

Both Remus and Sirius turned to see Albus Dumbledore come out of the darkness of the stairwell.

"Professor-- " Remus said awkwardly, he and Sirius sharing an uncomfortable glance. "We were just-- "

" --talking," finished Sirius darkly.

Dumbledore fixed them both with a steady, penetrating look.

"So I gathered," he said dryly. "But I believe both of you have had enough talk for one night, and I was made to understand there was a young lady in need of our help." He turned his head very deliberately to the cot against the wall, and Remus was startled and ashamed to discover he had completely forgot about her. "Best not to keep her waiting any longer."

Remus and Sirius watched from several paces behind like reprimanded school-children as Dumbledore knelt at the cot to examine her. The tension that had been explosively released now lingered in the air anew; where once it had been a shapeless, vague sort of disquiet, it was now clearly defined and ruthlessly precise. Remus could remember only one other time in his life when he'd spoken so savagely and wielded words like weapons; curiously -- disconcertingly -- they had been aimed at Sirius that time, too. After the prank, however, there had been James and Peter to help them set things to rights again, but without them Remus wasn't sure it could be done, and he felt their loss more keenly than he had in years.

"You've done as well as you could have, given the circumstances," Dumbledore said finally, and for a moment Remus wasn't entirely sure what he was referring to. "Her shoulder is healing, but there is an infection spreading through her arm."

"Will she be all right?" Sirius asked, and Remus had never heard him sound so small.

Drawing from some store of hidden strength reserved for all old and wise men, Dumbledore lifted her off the cot, cradling her gently in his arms. "She is not beyond repair," he supplied, turning back to the pair of them, "but she does need immediate attention. I have already owled Poppy; she should be ready and waiting for us at the school when we arrive."

Dumbledore headed for the stairs and Remus and Sirius made to follow, but Dumbledore paused and said: "just Remus I think," and Sirius halted abruptly, throwing Dumbledore a dirty, hurt look.

"Forgive me Sirius, but your presence at Hogwarts, even in your animal form-- " Dumbledore clarified, expertly heading Sirius off almost before he could open his mouth, " --would be an unwise and unnecessary risk. You have Buckbeak to care for and a notorious escape of Britain to execute, after all. Besides, I think you and Remus have had, at present, quite enough of each other's company to be going on with."

It was impossible to say whether the look Remus and Sirius exchanged was guilty or bitter, only that it was very brief. Without a word, Remus followed Dumbledore out of the cellar.

:: :: ::

The slow, eventless passing of the next few days was sobering. With nothing to do and few people to talk to at an empty Hogwarts, Remus had little to occupy the time and boredom but his own restless thoughts and the accursedly clear memory of his fight with Sirius.

He had thought, once, that he would have given anything to have one of them -- even just one of them -- back, but now he wondered if this latest twist of fate wasn't that much crueler than the one that had taken them away from him in the first place. It had been so much simpler a month ago when he'd believed Peter a dead hero and Sirius an evil madman; it had taken years, but he had made some kind of peace with that. Now, the more complicated truth of that night had turned everything upside-down, and Remus had been forced to re-evaluate the entire train of events.

Somewhere along the way in the intervening years Remus had conveniently forgotten some of the reality of the time before James and Lily had died. He had plucked and pruned away all the uncomfortable, shadowed moments until there had been nothing left but a bright and glorious golden age he could take solace in, just as the Dementors had cut and twisted Sirius' memories into dark, half-formed demons. Now, forced to look at the whole, he realized some of what Sirius had said in anger was true.

He had been so wrapped up in his own petty misery at the time that he hadn't noticed the growing suspicion around him. Looking back on it now, Remus couldn't help but wonder if he might have saved them all this misfortune if he'd only been more perceptive, more aware of things going on around him. More willing to abandon his pride and let his friends help him.

Mostly, he wondered if it was too late to salvage their broken friendship -- if it had already been too late that night a week ago in the cellar -- and if he'd ever get the chance to apologize. They had spent half their lives hating each other, Sirius because Remus had abandoned him to Azkaban and Remus because Sirius had left him alive, and Remus wondered if the damage was too deep to repair.

Dumbledore made no effort to disguise his footsteps as he came up behind him, and Remus was drawn out of his thoughts and back to the courtyard. The sun was starting to get hot as it approached mid-day, and as Dumbledore set himself down on the stone bench next to him, Remus wondered how he stood the summer months in his long, heavy robes.

"How is she?" Remus asked, falling back on their standard of the last few days.

"Doing well. The infection is retreating, and Poppy seems more at ease with her condition."

Remus nodded, the phantom pain twinging his shoulder. "I've never seen one this bad before."

"The injuries were serious, but I fear her lengthy recovery time has just as much to do with her being a Muggle as anything," supplied Dumbledore.

"A Muggle?" Remus repeated, then nodded. "I suppose I knew that already, somehow. I just didn't really think about it until now."

"Her body isn't meant to know how to deal with the curse working its way through her, and it's slowing her body's natural healing process quite significantly."

Remus sighed. "Muggle werewolves are unusual, but not unheard of. The wounds are cursed, but meant to heal; how else could such a vicious thing spread."

"Will it be worse for her, do you think?"

It was a candid question, one that few people would dare to ask him, but coming from Dumbledore it did not strike Remus as insensitive. "I don't know," Remus answered truthfully. "I don't see how it could be, honestly. It will… complicate things rather more than usual, though."

Dumbledore was quiet for a long moment, then seemed to decide something. "She will have to be told, when she wakes up. About our world, and what has happened to her." He looked at Remus steadily, and Remus already knew what he was going to ask, but let him ask it anyway. "Will you stay, and help me explain? You will be able to answer her questions far, far better than I will, and I think it would be some comfort to see first hand that the condition is manageable."

Remus sighed again, heavier than before. "I'm not the best example to set. My methods of managing my condition don't seem to be much to write home about, when you consider the trouble it's caused." He shook his head remorsefully. "We were so foolish."

"Oh, I don't know about that," mused Dumbledore. "It's true you and your friends were somewhat foolhardy, but I have never been more impressed by the bonds of friendship than I was when Sirius told me about becoming Animagi in your fifth year. I remembered noticing a peculiar absence in self-inflicted injuries about your person around that same time, and it turns out while I could only keep the people around you safe, three boys discovered a way to keep you safe as well."

They sat there in silence for a while, and all the things Remus had been thinking about since leaving Sirius at the farmhouse came back in a swirl of doubt and confusion.

"Did you know?" Remus asked finally, unable to stop himself. "Did you know they suspected me?"

"I did," Dumbledore answered simply, and while Remus expected that would be the answer, it didn't make it any easier to hear. "I had no idea he intended to use a bluff to draw you out, but he did come to me with his suspicions. It was not easy for Sirius to allow for the possibility that you might have betrayed them, Remus, just as I'm sure it wasn't easy for you to hear that the traitor had been Sirius. But he was afraid for his friends and afraid for his godson, and so he did what he felt he had to do to protect them."

Dumbledore stood, and rested a hand on Remus' shoulder a brief moment before reaching into a pocket and pulling out a piece of parchment. "This came for you this morning, care of the school. I think Sirius thought there was more a chance you'd read it if it came from someone else."

He held out the letter and Remus stared at, trying to decide what he wanted and what he was willing to do.

"I can tell you," Dumbledore said evenly as he watched Remus try and make up his mind, "that, even in those moments Sirius was most certain it had to be you, he still very much hoped he was wrong."

Remus thought of those long years of hating Sirius and nodded. "So did I," he said, and felt better having admitted there had always been a part of him that prayed Sirius might have been innocent. With a resigned half-smile, Remus realized there had only ever been one real choice, and took the letter.

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