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It was past noon when he awoke. Every muscle in his body tingled with the memory of the previous night's transformation - not in a painful way, but in a manner that suggested that his body wasn't entirely sure whether it would prefer to walk on two legs or four. It was a sensation he'd found peculiarly pleasant ever since his first transformation, and he savored it as he lay under the sheets for a few more lazy minutes. He knew the feeling would vanish as soon as he stood up on his human feet (his body had become too used to transforming to remain confused for long), but he didn't have to think about that just yet. For now, he could simply think back on last night, the first night in a very long time that he'd become Padfoot for reasons other than running away or hiding.
There had been running involved... howling... wrestling... an unfortunate tumble down the stairs... and - his nose twitched as he recalled a unique scent - an old friend. Sirius sat up in bed, a smile creeping across his face as he remembered exactly why last night had been so enjoyable.
Moony had been there.
For the first time since they'd encountered each other in the Shrieking Shack a little over a year beforehand, they'd faced the full moon together. And it had been... well, different. Very different.
Sirius climbed out of bed, stretching his limbs to remind them that it was time to be human again, and donned the first shirt and pair of trousers that he came across. He'd left Moony on the couch in the sitting room last night; his friend had promptly fallen asleep upon reassuming his human form, curled up in a position amusingly reminiscent of a sleeping wolf. Not wanting to disturb him right after the transformation, Sirius had covered him with a blanket and let him sleep.
Then of course, he'd had to pull shut the curtains over his mother's portrait, as Mrs. Black had worked herself into hysteria at the sight of two canine "half-breeds" running wild throughout the house and scratching up the floors.
Realizing after this that he was much more tired than his canine counterpart, he'd then transformed again. Padfoot had climbed the stairs and settled himself into Sirius' bed - he'd only become Sirius again after curling up beneath the sheets, just in time to fall asleep.
Upon arriving downstairs, Sirius saw that Remus was right where he'd left him, though he'd uncurled during the night and was now lying on his side with his head pillowed on one arm. His mouth was slightly open and he snored softly. Sirius grimaced.
"Moony," he said, then repeated the call a little more loudly when his friend did not awaken. Deciding for the moment that it was quite hopeless, he padded silently into the kitchen - and a smile slowly formed on his face as a new thought entered his mind. He remembered very clearly all the times at school when he, James, and Wormtail had prepared breakfast-in-bed for Remus on the mornings (or afternoons) that followed the full moon. Well, "prepared" in the sense of having sneaked down to the kitchens and asked the house-elves to whip up a little something. But it was the thought that had counted, of course, because it had been a rare occasion indeed when Remus was feeling strong enough to get breakfast for himself - or for that matter, to get out of bed at all.
Now, though, Sirius would be damned if he asked that wretched Kreacher to prepare a meal for his friend. Humming tunelessly to himself, he set to work as his mind happily filled itself with memories of before. Twelve-year-old Remus, lying in his infirmary bed the day after a full moon and looking for all the world like a limp rag doll. Fifteen-year-old Remus, trying politely to stay awake long enough to devour the breakfast cakes that his friends had brought him. Twenty-year-old Remus, sleeping soundly on the couch in Sirius' flat because he'd had nowhere else to stay, while Sirius sneaked out to buy all of his friend's favourite kinds of chocolate....
Four eggs, two slices of toast, and a glass of pumpkin juice later, Sirius was holding a very full tray in his hands. The counters were an utter disaster, but that was entirely beside the point. Sirius strutted into the sitting room, bearing the tray as if it held a golden crown rather than a couple of eggs.
Remus was still sleeping.
A bit disappointed that Remus hadn't awoken as soon as the scent of toast had reached his nose, Sirius set the tray down on the nearest chair. He spotted some of Remus' clothes draped over the mantel, and he smiled. He balled up the bundle of clothes and threw them at Remus.
"Meeehhh...." Remus groaned and shifted a bit, and his blanket slipped down toward the floor, almost to the point of indecency. Sirius rolled his eyes.
"Moony!" He prodded Remus' shoulder with an insistent finger, till his friend finally gave up and opened his eyes.
"What is it?" grumbled Remus as he swatted Sirius' hand away. Hazy blue eyes looked up out of his tired face, and Sirius gave him a sunny smile.
"Brought you breakfast!"
Remus blinked, looking very confused for a moment. "You what?" He sat up carefully, tucking the blanket around his waist.
"Might want to put those on," said Sirius, pointing to the pile of clothes that had rolled off the couch and landed at Remus' feet. "I made you breakfast." In a flash, he grabbed the tray and placed it on the coffee table in front of Remus' couch.
Remus looked from the clothes to the food, from the food to Sirius. He smiled and wordlessly got dressed, not letting the blanket slide to the floor until he had covered all the necessary areas with trousers. Sirius grinned; apparently his friend's overwhelming modesty hadn't lessened at all. Remus meticulously buttoned his shirt and sat back down on the couch, drawing the tray to the edge of the table.
He took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. "Burnt toast," he mused. "Runny eggs." He grinned at Sirius. "Your cooking has improved quite a bit." With that, he proceeded to devour said cooking.
Sirius watched proudly until every last morsel was gone. "You look good," he commented. "Last time I saw you the morning after the full moon, you looked like hell."
Remus shrugged and took a sip of pumpkin juice. "The potion helps with the transformations - numbs the pain a little bit."
"I thought it just helped you keep your own mind...?"
"Of course," said Remus. "That's what it's for. But it also makes the transformations easier. Something about how the wolfsbane interacts with the mugwort when it's strained instead of pressed. I'm not entirely sure, but-" Remus looked up suddenly, as something new occurred to him. "Last night was the first time you saw me transform with the potion, wasn't it?"
Sirius shook his head. "No. Though I daresay Padfoot enjoyed not having half his fur ripped out, for a change," he added half-jokingly.
Remus looked a bit sheepish. "It's different, isn't it." He looked down at his hands, which were folded in his lap.
Sirius didn't reply right away. It certainly had been different. He'd spent so many full moons running rampant with the wolf, exhilarated by the proud, fierce wildness that he'd always seen in his friend's amber eyes. Even in Azkaban, Padfoot had been able to remember the thrill of fear that had coursed through him whenever he'd been face to face with the wolf. Of course it had been a combination of fear, respect, and excitement, but the dementors had ripped away everything else and left only the fear, which was ironically comforting if only for its familiarity.
He'd been looking forward to this full moon. He knew there was something else that those eyes inspired besides fear, something that he hadn't had time to see on that night at Hogwarts. But he remembered that it was there, and he wanted to feel it again - to feel the wildness that he alone, as Padfoot, could tame.
He didn't get the chance.
Remus had found a potions mistress in London who was very skilled at brewing the Wolfsbane Potion, and he was more than willing to sacrifice what little money he had to secure her services. Sirius had thought this wonderful, but he hadn't realized the full effect of the potion until last night.
The wildness had disappeared. The wolf's eyes were still their usual dark amber color, but their expression would have looked much more at home in Remus' light blue eyes. Padfoot was slightly put off by this at first, but his confusion had lasted only a moment; after a few cursory sniffs, he'd decided that Moony was still Moony. But the exhilaration was definitely gone. Moony was no longer a wild, uncontrollable beast but an animal version of Remus himself: cautious, alert, quietly playful, and a bit wry. Padfoot had of course been very glad to see him, and he'd still persuaded the wolf to join him in wreaking a bit of havoc on the vast house at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, but the human being inside of him had felt utterly lost.
He was no longer the caretaker, no longer the only one in control. He was no longer the only thing standing between Moony and madness. He'd been deprived of the reason he'd become Padfoot in the first place.
"Yes," said Sirius slowly. "It's different."
Remus smiled thoughtfully. "You know, I never saw you as the wolf before. I mean, I never saw you as Padfoot through the wolf's eyes and remembered it after. This is the first time I can remember it all."
"You really don't remember anything from - you know - before?"
Remus studied his friend, who had started looking oddly morose. "Sirius, you know I didn't have a human enough mind to remember details," he said carefully. "I remembered feelings, smells, noises...." He trailed off; Sirius was staring sullenly at the tray on the table. Suddenly Remus knew what this was about. "I remembered being happy," he added pointedly. "I was always happy after the full moons that I spent with you and James and... well."
"But you always hurt afterward." Sirius still wouldn't look at him.
"That came with the territory," said Remus with a halfhearted chuckle. "It didn't matter. I was happy."
Sirius forced a wan smile. "Good," he said. He knew that look that Remus had on his face. That was the look that meant he was trying to figure something out. And Sirius, at the moment, did not want to be figured out. He took the tray and started to stand up, but Remus stopped him with a hand on his own.
"Here, let me," he said quietly, moving to take the tray.
"Just rest, Moony - I'll take care of it." He stood up with the tray, but Remus stopped him again.
"You needn't do everything," he said in a mild voice. "I can-"
"No." Sirius jerked the tray away from Remus' reach, and in the process the empty juice glass slid onto the floor and broke. Remus froze.
"Reparo," said Sirius, pulling out his wand and pointing it at the shattered cup. The pieces repaired themselves, but before Sirius could levitate the shattered cup back onto the tray, Remus picked it up and replaced it.
Remus moved to say something, but Sirius' stiff expression kept him from speaking. His pale blue eyes fixed on Sirius' dark ones, and they both held the stare until Sirius spoke again. "Sit down," he said in a gruff, halting voice.
Sirius stalked away into the kitchen and set the tray down on the counter, where it crushed several eggshells. Sirius didn't even notice. He just leaned heavily on the counter, feeling... blank.
He didn't know why he was surprised. Remus had always been the strong one. Not strong in the sense of openly defying evil, as James had done, or surviving day by day for twelve years in hell, as Sirius had done - but strong in a way that was more selfless, more supportive of others, and ultimately less noticeable. It should only seem natural that he would have grown accustomed to fending for himself in the absence of his friends.
How stupid of me, thought Sirius. Why did I ever imagine he'd still need me around after all this time?
The creak of a floorboard made him look up with a start. Remus was standing in the doorway, his pale eyes fixed intently on Sirius. Only the thin set of his lips betrayed his otherwise calm state. "Sirius," he said quietly, "are you alright?"
"Am I...?" Sirius stared at his friend, searching frantically for a way to put into words how wrong this question was. But in the face of Remus' calm concern, even Sirius himself couldn't quite understand the logic behind the uncanny feeling that their roles should be reversed. Finally he gave up, and all he said was, "Yeah. I'm fine."
Remus smiled tightly, though the concern never left his eyes. He hesitated for a moment, then continued: "I wanted to tell you. I'll be gone until tomorrow evening."
"Gone?" repeated Sirius. "But it's the day after the full moon. Why would you... where do you have to go?"
Another tight smile. "That doesn't matter. It's for Dumbledore - business for the Order. Safety measures that have to be taken care of before the Order's first meeting next week. I have a cover appointment at the Registry, and then an 'accidental' meeting with Shacklebolt in-"
"Shacklebolt?" said Sirius, dumbfounded. "As in Kingsley Shacklebolt? As in the guy who's leading the Ministry's search-and-destroy mission against me?"
Remus looked alarmed. "Didn't Dumbledore tell you?"
"Tell me what?" Sirius seethed, though he was quite sure that whatever response Remus gave him, the answer would be "no."
"Kingsley's been feeding them false information about where you are," he said. "He's working for the Order...." He blinked in confusion when Sirius suddenly seemed to grow even more crestfallen. "Isn't that... good?" he said cautiously.
"Of course it is," said Sirius quickly, then faltered. "But I... well, I thought I put them on the false trail. You know, that time I let myself be seen down in Dover."
Remus' brows knitted, as if he were trying to piece something together. "Yes, that helped, of course." He paused. "Anyway, I shall very likely be staying the night at the Burrow. Dumbledore is growing increasingly concerned for the safety of Arthur's family, and I imagine it will be much easier to speak frankly about the situation outside of Ministry walls."
Sirius nodded soberly. "That makes sense."
Silence reigned for a moment as Sirius leaned against the counter and Remus lingered in the doorframe. "Well then," said the latter, clearing his throat. "Er, thanks very much for breakfast. You really didn't have to go to all the trouble."
Despite Remus' smile, which had obviously been intended as kind, Sirius felt a second urge of unreasonable anger rising within him. "No trouble," he said shortly.
Remus sighed. "Then I'll just be off. Is there anything you need while I'm out?"
This was the last straw. Without another word, Sirius pushed past Remus and left the kitchen, despite his friend's protests. He dashed blindly through the front hall and up the stairs, not stopping until he was back in his own room with the door shut behind him. He heard Remus' faint voice calling his name from below: once, twice, thrice, and then once again. But he remained as still as a statue, sitting on his bed with his knees drawn up to his chest.
Only when he heard the muted sound of the front door closing did he get up. He walked unsteadily to the window, his head filled with a thousand poisonous, hate-filled thoughts. Thoughts directed at Peter Pettigrew. Directed at Voldemort. Directed at every dementor that darkened the halls of Azkaban. At Cornelius Fudge. At Bartemius Crouch. At Kingsley Shacklebolt. At every wizard and Muggle who still believed him guilty. At whatever damnable idiot had invented the Wolfsbane Potion....
"It's not fair," said Sirius softly as his eyes fixed on the small figure of Remus on the street below, crossing Grimmauld Place and heading toward the heart of London. He pounded a fist against a windowpane, but the thick glass did not yield. He tried again, hoping to break it, but still nothing happened.
Pressing both his palms against the window, he howled in frustration.
"I hate you!" he shouted at the retreating figure of his friend. Deep breath. Louder voice. "I HATE YOU!"
Remus, turning the corner off of Grimmauld Place, did not hear him.