This fic is part of the 'Mortal Moon' Harry/Remus Fuh-Q-Fest, challenge 91: Harry and Remus discuss scars, emotional and physical, and how they've shaped their lives.
Later, he'd felt guilty for not noticing it sooner. For not noticing that the letters from Sirius came less and less frequently, for not reading between the lines, even for not feeling the tension Sirius had radiated during the short, formal hearing which cleared his record and his name. But Harry had been busy with school first, and then the war, and now his career. So the letter from Remus came as an unwelcome surprise.
He strode to the fireplace, tossed a handful of powder in. "Coach McFarlan."
The grizzled head of his coach appeared. "Potter."
"Look, sir, I've got some family problems. Would it be a difficulty for me to take a few days?"
McFarlan scowled. "Season's almost over. Can't it wait?"
"I'll be back for the match. It's not like you're going to play me anyway unless something happens to Lydia."
"Watch your cheek, boy." But his tone was affectionate, and Harry couldn't stifle a grin.
"I'll be back for the match," he promised again.
"See that you are."
After McFarlan vanished, Harry quickly gathered a few things. It would only be a quick visit. There had been that hopeful note in the otherwise bleak letter, that perhaps Harry's appearance would be all it would take...well, if not, he'd return when the season was over, and he'd stay all summer. Whatever Sirius needed.
He Apparated to Hogsmeade, then walked the rest of the way to Wolf's Run cottage. It wasn't far, and it was a pleasant walk, through fields lush with early summer green. The cottage had originally belonged to a friend of Albus Dumbledore's; Remus and Sirius had used it while they were working with the Order, and stayed on after Voldemort's defeat. Harry had only been in it once before, but it had struck him as a cozy place. The sort of place one could start a new life.
As he walked around the final bend in the path and saw the cottage, a flash of movement in the tall grasses caught his eye. "Sirius?"
The black dog bounded out, nudged against his leg. "Surprise!" Harry laughed as he reached down to rub the dog's head. "Come on, be a proper host. I'm just staying a day or two."
The dog looked up at him, and Harry could see Sirius in the intelligent eyes. He held his breath for a moment, unconsciously; would just this be enough? Then the dog turned and bounded for the cottage door, barking, and Harry sighed as he followed.
"Harry!" Remus stood in the doorway, looking more tired than he had the last time Harry had seen him -- had it only been eight months? His hair was almost entirely grey, now, curling to his shoulders in a loose mane. Paradoxically, the contrast made him look more youthful, thought Harry, despite the lined, weary face. It was Remus's eyes that did it, he decided. They were light brown, almost amber, and shone with undisguised joy as the two men greeted each other with clasped arms.
"I didn't expect to see you so soon -- I'm happy you're here, of course, but the season's not over yet, is it?"
"Another three weeks," replied Harry. "But I took a few days off." He looked down at Sirius, still in dog form and nosing playfully against his shins, then looked back at Remus with an uncertain expression on his face. "Your, er, letter. I was worried." He looked at the dog again.
"Come in," said Remus. "And don't worry about embarrassing him." He ran a hand through his hair, shook his head ruefully. "If only that would work. Do you hear that, Sirius?" he said to the dog. "We're going to talk about you. I'm going to tell your godson about what a stupid arse you're being. Any objections?"
The dog rubbed against Harry again, looking at him almost plaintively.
Harry frowned. "Remus?"
The dog whined.
"Well, Sirius?" said Remus. The dog whined again, butted up against Remus, and loped out of the house.
Remus sighed. "I guess that settles it. Sit down. I'll make us some tea."
When Remus returned carrying a steaming teapot and two mugs, he slumped down in the armchair opposite Harry. "I'm so sorry. I don't know where to begin."
"He was in human form for the hearing," said Harry. "And when we all went out to celebrate afterward."
Remus shook his head. "He went back to being Snuffles as soon as we came back home. Said that after all that time spent as a dog, he preferred it to being a man." He took a sip of tea. "In the next two months he went human perhaps three times. Since then, not at all."
"But he's been cleared! Everybody knows he didn't murder my parents. He doesn't have to be a dog any more."
"I know that. He knows that. But he won't change back."
A horrible thought struck Harry. "Do you suppose he's stuck? Maybe he can't change back."
"No, I checked with Minerva. And she should know, being an Animagus herself. She taught me a spell which checks for binding or suppressing magics. There's none of that here."
"But he can't stay a dog forever!"
Remus shrugged. "Peter was a rat for twelve years."
"Yeah. And when he became human, he was still a rat." Harry scowled, then bit his lip. "Maybe all that time as a dog did something to him. When he was hiding out, and scouting for the Order? Do you suppose that could have turned him into a dog? I mean, a real dog?"
"Minerva says no." He paused, and Harry could see the pain written on his face. "I was hoping that when he saw you, he'd want to be your godfather. To be human again." He looked over at Harry. "He's a great dog, but he's a better friend. I miss him."
The look on his face sent a pang through Harry's heart. It suddenly seemed just too awful to bear; Sirius had turned his back on Remus, on him -- on the whole of humanity.
"I've been combing the Hogwarts library for ideas, but I haven't found many precedents. You know I've been spending a lot of time there, for my work?"
Harry tried to remember what Sirius had said in one of those long-ago letters. "Something to do with Dark Arts artifacts, right?"
"Right. I'm researching some of the things recovered after the war. Over the past few months, I've also been looking for information about Animagi who chose to live permanently in animal form, but I've only found two cases, and neither sounds particularly promising."
"Have you tried St. Mungo's?"
A snort. "Sirius would rip out my throat if I sent him there."
"But they could give you advice, couldn't they?"
"Maybe." Remus sighed. "I'm a little afraid of letting them know, actually. They might try to commit him forcibly. I couldn't let that happen."
Harry leaned forward, eyes suddenly bright. "Look, Remus. Hermione's in residency there. I'll owl her and see what she suggests."
"It's too much of a risk," said Remus, shaking his head. "He might change, now that you're here."
"But what if he doesn't? Hermione's one of my best friends, and she's a mediwitch, and the smartest person I know. If anyone would know what to do, it would be her."
"You trust her." It wasn't a question. "All right. If he's still being stubborn by the time you leave, you can see what she has to say."
Dinner that night was a strange affair; Harry and Remus ate pork chops, potatoes and salad at the table, while Sirius ate the same from a dish on the floor. It was clear, though, that Sirius was listening to the conversation, even if he wasn't participating in it. When Remus asked him if the Daily Prophet story about his latest break-up was true, Harry was sure he saw Sirius's ears prick up.
"I'm afraid they were right," he said. "Except that it was a Mai-tai and not a daiquiri that Devin threw in my face."
Remus laughed, and Sirius let out a suspicious-sounding whine. Harry looked pleadingly at Remus. "Don't tell me he reads the newspaper."
"No, I just swat him with it when he's bad." That elicited a full-on bark, and Remus laughed again. "I read the interesting parts to him. That includes the gossip about you and your personal life."
"You two know more than I do, then. I gave up my subscription last year when they printed that thing about me and Geri Halliwell. Absolutely false," he added, when Remus raised an eyebrow. "The only reason I know about the daiquiris is that Devin rung me up the next day and told me." He shook his head. "We had a great laugh about it. Then he told me I was still a bloody wanker and that he hoped I got hit by a Bludger in the next match so it would knock some sense into me."
"Was this one serious, then?"
"Not really." Harry sighed. "I'm still looking."
"The Daily Prophet is laying odds as to whether your next one will be male or female. There's even a contest. 'Guess the age, gender, and nationality of Harry Potter's next lover, and win a trip to Greece!'"
Harry groaned. "Please tell me you're joking."
Sirius barked once. It almost sounded like a laugh.
"Can you blame them?" asked Remus. "You're the most eligible bachelor in Great Britain. Wizard or Muggle, I expect." And no wonder, he thought privately. Harry had certainly grown up to be a handsome man, neither tall nor broad but still well-built. His dark hair was still a messy mop, but it gave him an appealing, rakish look. Add that to the whole "Boy Who Lived" mystique, not to mention the "Boy Who Defeated Voldemort Again" and the "Boy Who Played Professional Quidditch", and you had quite the winning combination.
It was really too bad that Harry seemed to be throwing himself away on one short-lived affair after another. Oh, part of it was envy; werewolves weren't nearly as desirable as professional Quidditch players, and it had been a long time since he'd had any affair at all. But this was James Potter's son, Sirius's godson, and he deserved something better. Remus just hoped that Harry would recognize it when he saw it. Whether "it" was male or female.
Harry lay awake in Sirius's bed for several hours, stroking Sirius's fur and talking to him quietly. "Don't you want to talk with me? Wouldn't it be better to be a person, so you wouldn't have to just listen to my voice droning on?"
The dog made a small noise and pushed his muzzle into Harry's hand.
"Nobody's after you any more. You don't have to be Snuffles. You can be Sirius."
The liquid brown eyes turned up to his face.
"I want you to be Sirius. My godfather." He thought about it a moment, then giggled. "You're supposed to be my godfather, not my dogfather." He scratched the top of the dog's head absently. "How are you going to give me all sorts of godfatherly advice if all you can do is bark?"
Harry stretched back against the pillows. "How are you going to console me about Devin? And you ought to tell me that I'm wasting my life as second-string Seeker for the Arrows, and that I should go to work for the Ministry or something. God knows Ron and Hermione give me that all the time," he added. "Oh, and do you think I should get my ear pierced?"
He looked at the dog, trying to imagine Sirius's human features in the place of that black fur, those floppy ears. The dog licked him once, then rolled toward the foot of the bed and curled up across Harry's feet. Harry sighed and extinguished the light.
In the morning, he went downstairs, Sirius rushing past him to whine at the door until he opened it for him. He continued into the kitchen, where Remus was making coffee and toast. "No luck."
"That's too bad. I was hoping that seeing you would affect him. Make him want to be human again." Remus shook his head sadly. "I can't imagine what's going through his mind, to make him want to stay in dog form."
Harry poured a mug of coffee and took a few quick gulps. "I don't think there's any point in my staying. Coach McFarlan will be happier if I don't miss practice. But I'll write to Hermione, and I'll come back as soon as the season's over." He looked up quickly at Remus. "If that's all right with you."
"Certainly, Harry. This is still Sirius's home, and that makes it yours as well. You're welcome to stay all summer."
"Thanks. I just might." Whatever it took, thought Harry, to have my godfather back again. And Remus was good company. He hadn't seen him since Sirius's hearing, and he'd forgotten how easy the older man was to talk to. He was a thoughtful listener and an interesting conversationalist; they'd covered a wide range of topics over dinner the previous night, and Harry had to admit that it was nice talking with somebody whose interests encompassed more than just Quidditch.
Sirius was lucky to have Remus as a friend, he thought, as he Apparated back to Appleby.
Didn't I tell you that Hermione would know what to do? She says she has a colleague at St. Mungo's, Adele Morris, who's just returned from three years of study in Canada at a special institute for a new type of mediwizardry called Empathology. It's a kind of combination of Divination and the Muggle science of psychology.
She set up an appointment for us at 10 a.m. on June 24th. I told her you didn't want to take Sirius to St. Mungo's, and she said that's fine -- it will be just you and me. We'll talk to this Madam Morris and get her opinion. So I thought you could meet me there, and afterward I'll take you out for lunch, and then I'll come back with you to Wolf's Run. I've decided to take you up on your offer of staying the summer, provided you let me help in your work.
We lost our match against the Wasps but we'll probably beat the Cannons next Saturday. Not too shabby a record for the season overall! See you in ten days.
Remus found Harry talking with Hermione in the small visitor's lounge on the main floor of St. Mungo's. She looked quite elegant in the white robes of a mediwitch, he thought.
"Remus!" called Harry, catching sight of him.
"Hello, Professor Lupin," said Hermione.
"Please call me Remus. I'm no longer your teacher."
"Remus, then. I'm terribly sorry to hear about Sirius. I hope Adele can help."
"I suppose it's worth a try," he said, following the two of them down the hall to an office.
Hermione knocked once, then opened the door and poked her head in. "Adele, they're here." She turned to Harry. "I've got to get back to work. Lovely seeing you, Harry, and you too, Remus. Let me know how everything works out."
"Please, come in." Adele Morris had a warm, pleasant voice with the rich, broad tones of the north. Her smile was welcoming, and her looks reassuringly professional; light brown hair rolled in a chignon, and simple, no-nonsense robes.
They introduced themselves and shook hands all around, then took seats in front of the desk. "Hermione gave me an outline of Mr. Black's problems, but I'd like to get your impressions."
Remus frowned. "I thought we were going to leave his identity out of this, Harry."
"Hermione didn't tell me his name," Adele interposed gently, "but surely you can see that it was an obvious conclusion to draw. Mr. Potter, here, is well-known, as is the fact that his godfather is an Animagus. He spent twelve years in Azkaban and five years on the run -"
"He was innocent!" said Harry, a bit angrily.
"Yes. He was cleared by the Ministry. But these experiences have shaped him, and they are the key to understanding why he's reacting the way he is."
"Can you understand twelve years in Azkaban?" His voice came out harsher than he intended.
"I don't believe anyone can, Mr. Lupin. But we can understand their effects by considering our own scars, and how they have shaped our own lives."
At her words, Harry raised a hand unconsciously to the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. She caught the movement and smiled.
"Some scars are not physical, Mr. Potter."
"And do you have scars, Madam Morris?"
A shadow passed over her face. "We all have scars." Then her expression shifted, and she became the professional again. "Now, then. When did Mr. Black cease returning to human form?"
"He spent much of his time in Azkaban as a dog," began Remus. "Then, after he escaped, he hid in dog form as well. He did a great deal of scouting work for the Order of the Phoenix as a dog, of course, but he usually returned to human form when he came back home. After Voldemort's defeat, he reverted to human shape less and less frequently. And since the Ministry cleared him, he's hardly been in human shape at all."
"What happened at the hearing?"
Remus shrugged. "The usual bureaucratic blathering. Harry, Hermione, Ron Weasley and I all testified about our discovery that Peter Pettigrew, not Sirius, had been the Potters' secret-keeper and betrayer. Minerva McGonagall gave a speech about Sirius's contributions in the fight against Voldemort."
"Contributions that he made while in dog form?" When Remus nodded, Madam Morris leaned forward, looking thoughtful. "He was imprisoned as a human, and redeemed as a dog. Perhaps he feels that people value him more as a dog."
"That's absurd!" Harry burst out. "I told him I needed him to be human." He paused. "Of course, when I said it he was being a dog."
"What did you say?"
"I told him about my life. And that I needed him around to give me the advice a father would give me. Since he's my godfather."
She smiled. "So, you tell him about your life, but he's spared the responsibility of having to give you advice about it. Sounds like the dog's life wins."
Harry thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "I see what you mean."
Remus had to agree. Expectations were different for dogs than for people. "What do you propose we do, Madam Morris?"
"Please, call me Adele. I'd like to come for a visit. See him, speak to him, get an empathic feel for him."
"You're not going to drag him here, are you?" asked Harry.
"Of course not. I want to see him in a setting he feels comfortable in."
Remus snorted softly. "It won't matter. Having a mediwitch come to see him will make him uncomfortable regardless."
"Then don't tell him I'm a mediwitch. Say that I'm just a friend." She paused. "I'd like to be a friend. I think you're good to be concerned about him, and I'd like to help."
Harry grinned. "We'll tell him you're Remus's new girlfriend."
Remus bit his lip, trying to phrase what he needed to say, but Adele quickly stepped in. "I don't think I'm his type. And I imagine Mr. Black knows that." She looked at Remus with eyes that pierced right through him. The eyes, he supposed, of an Empathologist. What did she see? And what would she see when she looked at Sirius?
He nodded, slowly. "If you're going to be our friend, you might as well call us Remus, and Harry. And Sirius, of course. But may I ask why you want to help?"
"I could tell you that it's my job," said Adele. "I could tell you that you, and Sirius, and Harry are all well-known wizards, and that it would reflect well on me and help me in my career." She looked intently first at one man and then at the other. "Or I could tell you that Voldemort caused my late husband to go insane. He lost his mind, and then he killed himself."
Her voice remained controlled, but Remus could hear the emotion behind the words. "I couldn't help him. But maybe I can help you."
Over lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, they talked about many things; about Adele Morris, and London, and the Ministry. But Harry couldn't keep from thinking about one thing that Remus had said -- or rather, not said. Finally, he shifted uncomfortably in his seat and looked over at Remus. "Can I ask you something sort of personal?"
"I might not answer. But you can ask."
"What Adele said, about not being your type. Does that mean what I think it does?"
Remus smiled. "If you mean do I prefer men, the answer is yes. But considering your own predilections, I can't believe you would be bothered by that."
"That's not exactly what's bothering me." Harry looked at his food, unable to meet Remus's eyes. "I don't know how to say this."
"Let me guess. You want to know if Sirius and I are lovers." His tone was mild and Harry looked up with relief.
"That's it exactly. Er, are you? I mean, were you? I mean, well, you know."
"We aren't, and we weren't. Sirius is as straight as they come. And even if he weren't, he's like a brother to me. It wouldn't seem right."
"Huh." Harry wasn't sure why the idea of Remus and Sirius together made him feel uncomfortable, but he was happy to hear that they weren't involved. Maybe it was just that it seemed so depressing; to have a lover who would rather be a dog than a human. "So, er, are you involved with someone else?"
Remus shook his head. "Haven't been for a long time. Not since Severus, and that was six years ago. The year I taught at Hogwarts."
Harry's jaw dropped. "Severus? Snape? That greasy git? You're joking."
A nostalgic smile played across Remus's face, and Harry could see that he was not joking in the least. "But -- but he told the whole school about you being a werewolf! I thought he hated you!"
"Consider it the Snape equivalent of throwing a daiquiri in my face."
Harry thought about the kinds of potions that Snape could throw in an ex-lover's face, and shuddered.
"Anyway," continued Remus, "we patched up our differences. We're friends now; well, not exactly friends, but we get along. He brews the Wolfsbane potion for me, so I see him each month. But I suspect that if we got physically involved again, we'd probably kill each other."
"Ugh. I'm sorry, I just find it hard to believe. You and Snape. Well, Snape and any human being, actually."
There was a pause. When Remus spoke, his voice held a note of bitterness that Harry had never heard before. "Well, I'm not a human being. Actually."
They finished their meal in silence.
The days quickly fell into a pattern. After breakfast, Remus would go to the Hogwarts library while Harry visited Hogsmeade, or worked on correspondence, or practiced flying. Sirius was always nearby, running around the cottage or sitting quietly at his feet, and at first Harry made an effort to talk to him as though he were a person, not a dog. But after a few days, he just felt silly, talking to this big black dog that never answered back other than with a nuzzle or a whine.
In the afternoons, Remus came back to Wolf's Run and he and Harry would go over the notes he'd taken at the library, or look together in the various books he'd brought back, or simply discuss ideas about the Dark Arts artifacts Remus was researching. Some of the items that had been recovered from the Malfoy estate, in particular, had very long and bloody histories. Harry shuddered as he read an account of a thirteenth-century diadem that enhanced the wearer's ability to control others through the use of the Imperius curse. It had been found on Lucius Malfoy's body, after the battle in which he fell; no wonder Draco had turned out the way he did.
On Saturday Adele and Hermione came, bringing a picnic basket from which all sorts of wonderful smells issued. Sirius's dog senses must have taken over, because he barked and ran around in circles as the two women laughingly lifted the basket high to keep it away from him.
"Great to see you again, Hermione," said Harry. "You too, Adele. Er, Hermione, you remember Snuffles?"
She bent to stroke the black dog on his head. "Hi, Sirius." The dog butted up against her shins, nearly knocking her over. "Gosh, it's been a long time. Sirius, this is my colleague Adele."
Sirius cocked his head, and Harry couldn't help but think the gesture looked uncannily human. It all seemed so ridiculous. Adele, to her credit, simply nodded and said, "Sirius." It looked to Harry that it was obvious that Sirius wanted to say something -- what kind of an Empathologist was she, if she couldn't sense it? -- but then she shot him a warning look, and he refrained from saying anything.
They headed up, on the path that led up one of the gentle hills which ringed Hogsmeade, passing not far from the cave in which Sirius had spent so much time. He wondered if Sirius wished he lived there again, far from Remus and himself and from...obligations. Not that he had many obligations, living with Remus. Perhaps Adele was right; the dog's life was the easy one.
They spread their picnic on a sun-warmed rock with a fine view into the valley below. The women had brought all sorts of delicious treats from London, cold sandwiches and hot vegetables and even ice cream from Fortescue's in a charmed container, and as they ate they talked comfortably among themselves. Hermione and Adele talked about some of the difficult cases they'd encountered at St. Mungo's, and Remus gave details on several of the Dark Arts artifacts he'd researched. Not for the first time, Harry wondered if Hermione and Ron were right, that he should find a more meaningful job than second-string Seeker. Quidditch seemed so banal next to cures for Tentacula poisoning.
Adele hardly seemed to pay Sirius much attention, but every so often he noticed her watching him closely. For his part, Sirius seemed just as happy to have his head rubbed by her as by any of the others, and he licked her fingers clean of the last drips of ice cream with an expression of sheer doggy bliss. Whatever it was that Empathologists did, it seemed to be subtler than he could catch just by looking.
On the way back down to the cottage, he found himself walking close by Hermione. "So, has Ron popped the question yet?"
She laughed. "About once a week. But I'm not yet ready to get married, and he knows it."
"Not to him, or not at all?"
"Oh, I'm going to marry him. He knows that, too. But right now I'm too busy at St. Mungo's, and he's hoping to do a year exchange in Australia to work with their Ministry, so we've got way too much going on right now.
"A year in Australia? He never said anything to me."
"Well, I guess I shouldn't have said that," said Hermione, sounding a bit embarrassed. "There's quite a competition for these cooperative programs, and I expect he didn't want to mention it until he got officially chosen."
Harry made a noncommittal noise. A small part of him was hurt that Ron hadn't confided in him; they had stayed close friends. But, he supposed, a girlfriend was something even closer.
"Tell me, Hermione. How did you know?" He hesitated a moment, but she caught his meaning immediately.
"That Ron was the one for me?" She laughed. "I just knew. He was my friend first, of course -- such a good friend. Like you." She shot him a sidelong glance, a wicked look in her eyes. "But I prefer redheads. Sorry."
"I could get it colored, you know."
"Oh, you. No, what I meant was -- he was my friend. He helped me when I needed help, and he wasn't afraid to tell me when I was being a right idiot. He's good at things I'm not good at, and he's impressed by what I *am* good at. We can have long conversations about anything. And, of course, I think he's dead sexy."
"Oh, you." She laughed again. But as they walked down the path together, he thought about his past lovers. They had all been 'dead sexy', one way or another. But none of them had really been his friend.
While Harry and Hermione were talking, Remus questioned Adele closely. "Now that you've met him in person -- so to speak -- what do you think?"
"There's a lot of pain there. A lot of uncertainty. He doesn't want to expose himself any more than he has to, so he hides behind the fur." Her eyes went to the black dog running ahead of them, darting off the trail at intervals to sniff at trees or investigate rabbit holes. "He's changed a great deal since his school days. Was he so guarded in the years after Azkaban, or is this recent?"
Remus thought for a moment. "He seemed much more self-contained, I guess, after Azkaban. He withdrew within himself to avoid the Dementors, and I suppose that stayed with him. But in those years just after his escape he remained mostly in dog form out of necessity, not out of choice." He paused. "Or so I thought at the time."
"I suspect it laid the groundwork for his present situation. He may have thought it a choice at the time."
"Maybe." They walked in silence for a few moments. "You said that he'd changed since his school days. Did you know him then?"
"I didn't know him, but I knew of him. And of you, for that matter. My boyfriend was Matthias Morris."
It took only a moment to place the name. "I remember him. He was one of our prefects the year we started." No wonder she remembered Sirius, then; he had gotten in trouble an awful lot. Morris had had a lot of amusing stories to tell his girlfriend, no doubt. "Were you at Hogwarts then as well?"
"I think I had already finished by then. I was a few years older than Matt." Her voice grew somber.
"What, for making me think of Matt? Don't be." She gave him a smile, and he could see it was genuine. "Not a day goes by that I don't think of him."
"I wish I could tell you a good story, but to be honest I only remember him as being the bossy chap who was always dressing us down when we did something wrong."
"He was just like that. Take-charge, responsible. A strong sense of right and wrong."
"'Gryffindor to the core'," Remus quoted. That had been their byword, in school, the source of their House pride.
"That was Matt," Adele agreed. "We made a good team. He'd get incensed over something, and I'd figure out what to do about it."
She laughed. "Hufflepuff. I'm not studious, I'm tenacious. When I've got a problem to solve, I just keep at it until it has no choice but to give way."
He looked down the trail at where Sirius was pawing at a bush. "I hope so, Adele. God, I hope so."
Over the next two weeks, Adele came three more times. After exchanging a few pleasant remarks with Remus and Harry, she'd "take Sirius for a walk." Harry longed to know what exactly happened on these walks, but after his first questions were politely deflected he realized that it was a private matter between Adele and Sirius. At least his godfather seemed to enjoy his time with her, dashing to the door and barking happily when she arrived each time and whining and nuzzling at her ankles when she left.
Harry and Remus continued working on Remus's research. After one afternoon spent poring over diagrams and photographs of a rather complicated cage made from human bones, Harry found his head pounding from the effort.
"You know, Remus, this would be a lot easier if we could work with the artifacts themselves. There's only so much we can do from these pictures."
"The Ministry won't let them be taken out of the vaults."
Harry shrugged. "So, we can go to the vaults, can't we?"
"Don't you want to?" He looked at Remus, who was studying a description with elaborate care. "Remus, what's wrong?"
"You can." This time he stressed the word 'you'. "As a Dark Creature, I'm not allowed."
"That's ludicrous!" said Harry. "How can they possibly hire you to do this kind of work if they don't trust you enough to handle the damn things?"
"They only hired me because of Minerva's intervention. All this --" he gestured at the photographs and depositions "-- is to circumvent the rules. But they won't allow me to even look at the actual items, let alone handle them."
"But they're hamstringing your research."
"Their rules. Their problem."
"Our problem," corrected Harry. "I want you to write a letter explaining that I'm assisting you with this research. I'll go in to London and get into the vaults, see what I can learn." And, he added to himself, see if I can get these rules changed. He knew quite a few people in the Ministry, and he wasn't above pulling strings if that's what it took. Remus didn't deserve to be treated like this. Nobody did.
"Speaking of problems," said Remus, "the full moon's in two days."
"That's not a problem. You get the Wolfsbane from Snape, right?"
"Right. I just want you to be aware of it. Since you'll be sharing the house with two animals, instead of just one."
"That's fine with me."
"It doesn't bother me, Remus. Honestly."
"I know, Harry." Remus smiled at him, a smile of approval and trust, and Harry felt himself basking in it. Then his face turned grave again. "But it bothers me."
"It does?" asked Harry. "You've never seemed angry or depressed about it. I've always been impressed at how matter-of-fact you are about being a werewolf. Like it's no big deal."
"Remember the boggart, Harry? The moon's still my biggest fear. Oh, I've come to terms with the wolf -- especially now that I can retain my human mind through the Wolfsbane. But I'd give anything to be entirely, always, completely human." His eyes were shadowed with remembered pain. "I'd give anything to be human rather than animal."
Understanding dawned. "Yet Sirius..."
The next day, good as his word, Harry Apparated to London. At the Ministry he asked for the person in charge of Dark Artifacts, and was eventually shown into a small office, deep in the bowels of the building.
"Why, it's Harry Potter!" exclaimed the witch at the desk. As usual, she was no one he knew. For a while after the Final Battle he had enjoyed being recognized, as for a change he was famous for what he had actually done rather than for something that had just happened while he had been a baby, but he'd gotten heartily sick of all his would-be best friends. It was funny how everyone's attitude toward him changed as soon as they saw the scar on his forehead and recognized who he was. But he'd take advantage of his fame if it would help Remus.
When he told her he was interested in seeing the collection of Dark Artifacts, she frowned. "I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Potter. But access is restricted to our official researchers."
"Like Remus Lupin?"
"Is he here? Let me check our list." She pulled out a long scroll and ran her finger down the names. "His name is on our list, but there's a mark next to it. I need to call Mr. Waverly."
Harry watched as she went to the fireplace. After a brief, hushed conversation, she turned back to him. "Mr. Waverly will be with you shortly."
A few minutes later, the door opened and a large, officious-looking man came into the room.
"Mr. Potter, a pleasure," he said, pumping Harry's hand vigorously. "Henry Waverly, Chief of the Dark Artifacts section, at your service."
Harry pulled a letter from his pocket. "Mr. Waverly. I'm working with Remus Lupin on the research he's doing for your..."
"Yes, yes, quite an intelligence -- for a werewolf," said Mr. Waverly. "We are pleased to have him working on our side."
"Then why isn't he allowed access to..."
"Well, Mr. Potter. That's strictly out of my domain, out of my domain. You'll have to consult with Werewolf Support Services, upstairs."
"I see. In the meantime, could I..."
"Oh, absolutely, Mr. Potter. Absolutely. Imogene, if you'll get the forms for Mr. Potter to fill out?"
The witch who had greeted him already had them in her hands, along with a quill, and Harry spent the next half hour ensconced in the tedious paperwork the Ministry seemed to require for just about everything. But the barrier of legal forms was really no barrier at all; in fact, Mr. Waverly barely glanced at the seven-page form before signing his name with a flourish at the bottom. And he hadn't even looked at Remus's letter. No, the only thing Mr. Waverly had looked at was Harry's lightning-bolt scar.
The Dark Artifacts were fascinating. The bone cage, he determined, was probably intended to act as a sort of Fidelius charm, hiding whatever it held inside from magical scrying or prying. Then there was the amulet which absorbed curses for later use; the sword which might have belonged to Salazar Slytherin but was more probably a more modern fake; and a set of five tiny mirrors, the use of which had still not been identified. After three hours in the vault, his fingers were cramped from taking notes and his head was spinning with the information. Remus would be pleased.
Remus! Harry signed out of the vault and asked Imogene for directions to Werewolf Support Services.
The young man at the desk fairly glowed when Harry entered the room. "Harry! How brilliant to see you again!" After a moment, he placed him; it was Colin Creevey's younger brother. Harry had always been uncomfortable by the hero-worshipping Creevey brothers, but perhaps, he thought, he could turn it to his advantage.
"Dennis," he said. "I'd like to speak with someone about the prohibition on werewolves being admitted to the Dark Artifacts vault. I'm working with Remus Lupin, who's studying them for the Ministry, and it would make things easier if he could come himself and examine them."
"Well, then," said Dennis cheerfully, "That would be Mr. Diggory. Hold on a moment and I'll see if he's got a free moment."
Diggory. Cedric's father. He'd forgotten that the man worked in the Magical Creatures department; just his luck that he'd be in Werewolf Support. Harry wondered if he still blamed him for his son's death during the Tri-Wizard tournament.
"Potter." Amos Diggory stood in the doorway, arms crossed. "I understand you have some sort of werewolf problem?"
"It's the werewolf that has the problem. Sir," he added, as an afterthought. He explained the situation carefully.
"You say you're working with him?"
"And you've got access to the vaults?"
Harry nodded. "I spent the morning there. It's tremendously valuable to be able to actually see the artifacts."
"Well, then. I don't see the problem. You can do the hands-on research here, and your werewolf friend can use the library archives for the associated documentation." He smiled, showing white teeth through the scrubby beard. "A perfect partnership."
"But it's the principle, Mr. Diggory. We're working on the same project. We should have the same privileges."
"It seems to me, Harry, that you're after extra privileges," Mr. Diggory said, sharply. "These are Ministry regulations. Centuries of tradition behind them. We can't just break them on the whim of some celebrity, can we?"
"But it's not fair to Remus --"
"Don't speak to me of fair," said Mr. Diggory. He didn't continue, but Harry knew what he was thinking: in a fair world, Cedric would still be alive. No, the world was not fair. And never would be.
Before leaving the Ministry building, Harry stopped by Ron's cubicle in the Auror division, only to find that he was, unsurprisingly, out on some mission or the other. Harry scribbled a brief note and left it on his desk, then headed for St. Mungo's, catching Hermione just as she was setting out on her rounds.
"Harry! What brings you here?"
"I was hoping to change your mind about Monday." He'd owled her and Ron about coming over for his birthday; it had come to be a tradition, a birthday dinner together with whoever his latest flame was, and he had been a bit put out when they'd declined.
She looked a bit guilty. "Honestly, Harry, we'd love to come. But we've got a prior -- oh, hell, you deserve to know. Petronius Dobbs and his wife have invited us to dinner, and he's on the selection committee for this exchange program with the Australian Ministry, and if it means what we think it does --"
"Oh, Hermione! That's wonderful," said Harry, warmly. "I mean, not wonderful because Ron will be off in the outback, or wherever. But I know you said he wanted to go."
"Very much so. He's terribly excited over it."
"Well, then." She looked down. "We'll come see you another time, then. And you'll just have to celebrate with Remus and Sirius."
That gave him an idea. Saying goodbye to Hermione, he made his way to Adele's office.
"Why, Harry. What a pleasant surprise."
"I was in the neighborhood," he said, grinning. "And I came by to see if you'd like to come over Monday evening and celebrate my birthday."
"Having a party?"
"That was the original intent, but Hermione and Ron can't make it. It'll just be you and me and Remus and Sirius."
Adele looked thoughtful. "You know, I have an idea. A few of them, actually, and this might be a good time..." She trailed off. "How old will you be?"
"Twenty," she repeated. "That's a significant birthday, and it deserves a significant celebration. I believe I'll take you and Remus out to dinner in Hogsmeade."
"What about Sirius?"
She pursed her lips, but there was a twinkle in her eye. "Dogs don't go out to dinner, now, do they?"
Remus had not been surprised by Harry's report from London. "The Ministry officials are singularly narrow-minded. I hadn't expected anything else."
"Funny how this --" he brushed his hair back from his forehead -- "got me instant assistance from some people, and instant obstruction from others."
"Narrow minds are prejudiced. They can't look past your scar. Nor mine."
Harry was quiet for a moment. "Is it a large one?"
"I wasn't talking of the physical."
"I know. But I'm curious. You don't have to answer if you don't want to."
Remus looked at him for a moment with an unreadable expression, then unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged it off. The scar was indeed a large one, covering most of his left side and upper arm in silver tracery.
On impulse, Harry reached out a finger and followed a line of silver. "Did it hurt?"
"I don't remember. I was eight years old." He broke away from Harry suddenly and moved to look out the window. The slanting late-afternoon sun turned his skin golden, picked out the glimmer of silver in the curly hairs on his chest, in his grey mane. Silver and gold, thought Harry. "Full moon's tomorrow night."
Watching Remus at the window, Harry had a sudden urge to wrap his arms around him from behind. To protect him from the moon and the Ministry. He stepped closer, ran a tentative hand down Remus's bare shoulder.
"Harry." Remus's eyes glinted gold as he whirled around. Harry could see a bit of wolf in those eyes. And then suddenly Remus's strong hand was on his waist, pulling him closer, and Remus's lips met his and it was good, so good.
But in the next moment the arms that had been tightening around him pushed him away; the amber eyes blinked. Remus looked apologetic, and entirely human. "Full moon's tomorrow night."
And the next afternoon Remus was uncharacteristically quiet; he slipped upstairs after supper, leaving the door very slightly ajar, and the black dog that was Sirius followed. Harry went into Sirius's room, which he now thought of as his own, and watched the moonrise through his window. From Remus's room came moaning, crackling noises, unpleasant sounds he tried to ignore. Eventually he heard the soft footfall of the wolf and dog padding downstairs and outside.
From the window he watched Remus and Sirius gambol in the moonlight, two large furry shapes streaking across the fields. Perhaps, he thought, being a dog -- or a wolf, for that matter -- would not be so bad. No registration, no regulations, no petty Ministry bureaucrats telling you what you could or could not do. No complicated emotions getting in the way of doing what you wanted to do, whether it was frolic or sniff or fuck. It was only when you tried to combine being an animal with being a human that things got difficult.
The change had been tiring as usual, despite the Wolfsbane. And when he had been playing with Sirius, all the while he was thinking: Harry. I kissed Harry. I want Harry. Sirius is going to kill me. Then he'd gone back inside, and curled up in the nest of blankets he'd taken care to leave at the foot of his bed. The pain of the change back to his human body had woken him up. As he tried to fall asleep again, he thought for the first time: and what does Harry want?
Remus watched Harry as he ate breakfast, as he shuffled through his notes, as he played with Sirius in the meadow in front of the house. What does Harry want? He'd been so helpful over the past month, cooking, doing house chores. Working on the Dark Artifact research. Carrying his banner at the Ministry.
And then Harry had run his hand down Remus's shoulder, a soft trail down the hardened scar, and the animal below the surface had broken through, and he had kissed Harry. And Harry had kissed him back.
Harry's birthday would be Monday. Remus owled Minerva, and Waverly at the Ministry, and then went to Hogsmeade with Sirius.
"You like this one?" Finian's Fantastic Furniture didn't have the best selection, but there were plenty of desks to choose from. The one Sirius stood by, wagging his tail and rubbing his head against a carved leg, was small but elegant; it wouldn't overpower their modest cottage, and would fit nicely either in Harry's room -- no, Sirius's room, he reminded himself -- or downstairs in the study. Like all wizarding desks, the drawers were magically enhanced to have far more capacity on the inside than their outsides suggested.
Remus paid for the desk -- "Yes, from your account," he told the dog -- then shrunk it and had it gift-wrapped to carry back to Wolf's Run. He'd thought about buying Harry something as well, but decided against it. Whatever he did would be interpreted wrongly, no doubt, by Sirius if not by Harry. If all went well, he'd have a present for Harry anyway, and it wasn't something that one bought at Hogsmeade.
As it turned out, all did go well, and when the presents arrived by owl and were laid in a pile in the living room, Remus added his own as well as Sirius's. Harry looked so terribly boyish, he thought, lounging in an armchair with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pile of wrapping paper in his lap. Sirius curled at his feet, idly mouthing a discarded ribbon.
"Did you see what Ron sent me?" He tossed over a book; it was Mad-Eye Moody's autobiography, which had been published to general acclaim four months before. "He's trying to make me an Auror, I think. And here I thought he liked having a Quidditch star for a friend."
"Do you want to be an Auror?"
"Not particularly. Actually," said Harry, "I'd just as soon stay here and work with you."
Remus smiled, dug into the pile and found the scroll he'd put there. "What a coincidence," he said, handing it to Harry. "Happy birthday."
"Thanks," said Harry, pulling off the ribbon. Remus watched his face as he read the scroll. "Wow." He looked up. "Is this for real?"
Remus nodded, and Harry laughed. "I've never heard of getting a job as a birthday present before."
"You've been doing the work for nearly a month. I thought you deserved to be paid as well, and Minerva agreed."
"This is wonderful, Remus. Thanks so much."
"Of course, we don't expect you to stay on after the Quidditch season begins."
"What if I want to?"
Remus raised an eyebrow. "And give up your international fame as a Quidditch star?"
"Second-string Seeker, you mean. And yes." Harry looked as though he wanted to add something more, but turned instead to the next package. The dog at his feet gave a happy little yelp and nudged his ankles.
"That one's from Sirius. Now that you're officially on Ministry payroll, you'll need a proper place to work."
He eyed the shrunken desk thoughtfully. "Where do you want me to set it up?"
"In your room, if you like. Or in the study by mine."
"In the study would be best, I think. Since we're working together."
"Very well," said Remus, approving.
Harry balled up the wrapping paper and tossed it across the room. Sirius bounded up and caught it in his mouth as it bounced over the floor, then trotted back and dropped it at Harry's feet. Gods, thought Remus, it's a happy domestic scene. Two men and their dog.
Something must have shown in his face. "It's all right that I'm staying here?" said Harry, sounding a bit anxious. "I can get a room in Hogsmeade."
"You can stay here as long as you like," said Remus. Sirius barked his agreement.
In the evening Adele Apparated in, carrying a large shopping bag from which she produced a bottle of red wine. "Happy twentieth, Harry. And for Sirius," she said, rummaging again in the bag, "let's see. Harry, have you a bowl for him?"
He looked blankly at Remus. They'd just been putting a plate on the floor for Sirius, filled with whatever they themselves were eating.
"I'll get one," Remus said, and went to the kitchen.
"Here we go," she said, pulling out a large tin. Harry took one look and started laughing.
"What is it?" said Remus, returning with a soup bowl and, incongruously, a spoon.
"Muggle dog food," said Harry, still laughing. Sirius, who had been pacing about and wagging his tail, stopped and growled.
Remus frowned. "He eats the same things we do, Adele. Not dog food."
Adele crossed her arms. "We are going to a restaurant for dinner. Restaurants only serve people. Sirius is a dog. Therefore," she said, tapping the can with her wand, "I brought him dog food." She tapped the tin with her wand again, saying, "Rescisso" to open it, and poured the contents into the bowl. "You should get him a proper doggie bowl, you know."
At this, Sirius growled again. He sniffed at the contents of the bowl and then butted up against Adele's leg, whining.
She reached down and patted his black head. "Have a nice evening, Sirius." Sirius barked, then slunk over to the corner, where he settled, watching the three others with wary eyes.
Her eyes flashed a warning, and Remus held his tongue. "Ready, gentlemen?"
They were well on the path to Hogsmeade when he finally spoke. "Is there a reason you humiliated him with that dog food?
"There is. He's too accustomed to being treated as human by you two, even when he's in dog form. Why should he bother changing?"
"Treated as human?" said Harry, astonished. "I was just thinking today that we treat him like a dog. We play fetch together, he sleeps at the foot of my bed. You know, like a dog."
"Do you talk to him?"
"Sometimes," Harry admitted.
Remus snorted. "All the time. I still think of him as Sirius. It's strange to think of him as a dog."
"Well, you've been living with him for several years, right? Harry hasn't the same history as you do."
"But I still think of him as my godfather," said Harry. "And I wish he would talk back to me when I talk to him."
"Perhaps," said Adele, "you need to stop talking to him."
They talked of everything other than Sirius over a pleasant dinner, but when Harry excused himself to the loo, Remus leaned forward.
"Treating Sirius like a dog. Well. And you think this will work?"
"No. But at this point, it's the best I can suggest."
He sighed. "It just seems so...so rude. He's not a dog, he's an Animagus. A wizard. A person." He took a sip of wine. "A friend."
"The best way to show your friendship is to show him that you miss his presence as a person. To show him the limitations of being a dog."
"And here I thought that we'd been doing that all along."
She gave him a piercing look. "You've been smoothing things over. Pretending he's not in dog form. Not doing things he might object to, because he'd have to transform to tell you of his objections. Not doing things that might remind him of what he's missing."
"I imagine you and Harry can think of something."
There was something in the way she said it ..."Are you reading my mind, then?" He frowned, wondering if there was some ethical line being crossed.
"It doesn't take mind-reading. Just eyes." Hers flicked toward Harry, who had stopped on his way back to speak with someone at another table. "You're both interested. And both holding back."
"What is between us has nothing to do with Sirius."
"Then why not let yourselves explore it?" She reached a hand over, touched his arm. "Perhaps seeing what two people can share will make him yearn for it himself."
The ache in her voice startled him. "You? And Sirius?"
"He has a beautiful soul, Remus. He deserves to be happy. And so do you."
"He's not likely to be very happy about an old man slobbering over his godson."
"I'm not saying you should deliberately antagonize him. But if he doesn't approve, it may be that he'll want to do more than growl at you. It's more likely to help him than to hurt him." She looked up and smiled as Harry slid back into his chair. "And don't be so sure he'll be angry. You're his friend. I think he'd like to see you both happy, as well."
"What did I miss?" asked Harry.
"Remus needs to talk with you," said Adele, blithely. She ignored the look Remus shot her. "Perhaps when you get home."
Sirius wasn't in the house when they returned, and the dog food sat untouched in the bowl. Harry wasn't surprised; the stuff smelled dreadful, even to his human nose.
"He's probably sulking in the forest," said Remus.
"Quite possibly," agreed Adele. "Send me an owl if anything changes."
After she'd Disapparated, Harry turned to Remus. "What was that about needing to talk to me?"
"Adele is a nosy do-gooder who thinks she can solve everybody's problems."
Harry felt himself flush. Is that what Remus thought of him as well, for trying to get around those ridiculous restrictions at the Ministry? "Look, Remus. It only seemed reasonable that you be able to do your job. And I just got so furious at the way they treat you, like you're some kind of --"
Remus grabbed him by the shoulders and wrenched him forward until their faces were inches apart. "This is not about you." They stared at each other for a long moment; Harry watched, dazed, as the amber eyes darkened, the expression softened. "Well," Remus said, in a very different voice, "maybe it is, at that."
"Yes," said Harry, breathlessly. His hands went to Remus's hips and he pulled Remus toward him, across the tiny bit of space still separating them, until their bodies were touching from thigh to chest and their lips had no choice but to meet. He felt Remus's lips open and the beginnings of his name form in Remus's mouth, and he forestalled it with his tongue. The hands on his shoulders tightened and held him close.
Harry broke the kiss gently, trailing his lips across the other man's cheek before stepping back. "An even better birthday present."
Remus's face was serious. "Is it what you want?"
"How can you ask?" He reached out to take Remus in his arms again. "I'm tired of lovers who aren't friends. Shallow people who never look past my scar."
"Well." Their lips met again, and this time it was Remus who deepened the kiss first, wrapping strong arms around him, hands sliding down his back to cup his arse and pull their bodies closer. Harry moaned into the hot mouth that covered his own.
"Yours or mine?"
Just then the door-flap banged, and Remus and Harry sprang apart simultaneously as Sirius padded in. "Shit," said Harry, very quietly. Those liquid doggie eyes seemed to fix him with resentment. He wondered if he looked as kissed as he felt.
Sirius butted his head against Remus's legs, then against Harry's, and whined. Exhaling a long breath, Harry bent to ruffle the fur on his head. "We missed you at dinner. Hope you had a good time," he said, feeling faintly idiotic.
The dog whined again, then bounded up the stairs, stopping halfway up to look back at the two men before continuing.
There was a long silence. Finally Remus spoke. "Maybe this is not such a good idea."
"It's none of his business."
"No. But maybe not tonight."
Harry looked up the stairs. Sirius was no doubt curled up at the foot of his bed, as usual. "Not tonight, then."
Late that night, Harry woke at a noise and sat up in bed. Light from the waning moon streamed in through the window, illuminating the figure of a man standing in the shadows. Harry squinted and reached for his glasses. "Remus?"
"Harry." It was a hoarse croak, from a throat long unused to speaking.
"Sirius!" Harry couldn't conceal his excitement -- or his worry. Sirius's skin was ghostly pale in the moonlight, his hair lank and long, his eyes hooded. He looked much the same as he did when he'd first escaped Azkaban.
Sirius took one tentative step toward him, then shook his head and transformed back into the big black dog. He laid his head on the edge of the bed and looked up with guileless eyes.
Harry rubbed the dog's head. "I miss you. Please come back."
The dog licked his hand, then jumped up onto the foot of the bed where he curled up and closed his eyes. Sighing, Harry took off his glasses and did the same.
Remus was cracking eggs for breakfast when Harry came into the kitchen. "He transformed last night!"
Was it the insult of the dog food, or the shock of seeing them kissing, Remus wondered. "Where is he?"
"He ran outside when we came downstairs. He's a dog again. But he transformed last night, at least for a little while. As soon as I noticed him he went back."
"Hmm. Will you owl Adele, or shall I?"
"I'll do it. I need an excuse to try out my new desk." Even without looking, Remus could sense the smile on Harry's face. This was a positive development, he supposed, Sirius transforming if even for a moment. It seemed odd to him that it didn't seem so urgent to him any more.
He had to admit that Sirius had always seemed happy, as a dog. As a human he'd have to deal with the things he'd been avoiding. Part of Remus's distress had been simply over the loss of a friend. But then Harry had moved in with them, and in a way he had fulfilled the role that Sirius had played in his life. Now everything was going to need to be rearranged to accommodate three. Assuming Harry would still stay with them. Assuming Harry -- well, they'd talk about it later, he supposed.
But they didn't. They had breakfast and read the Daily Prophet -- Sirius came back in the house and noisily demanded his portion of eggs and rashers -- and then set up Harry's desk next to Remus's, and went to work. But Remus found it difficult to keep his mind on his papers; he kept glancing at Harry, who was filing things away in the desk drawers and compartments, and at Sirius, curled up lazily in an armchair and giving no sign of being anything other than a dog. He couldn't quite bring himself to say anything to Harry about their -- relationship. Not while Sirius was watching. Despite what Adele had said.
And after a few days had passed, it seemed as though the opportunity to speak of it at all had vanished. Harry still treated him with his usual friendly openness; Sirius still remained resolutely canine, although occasionally Remus thought he was watching him more closely than usual. Adele's reply was encouraging, but even though she had written they should "stay with the plan," according to Harry, he felt too awkward to take the next step. She'd be visiting again on the weekend, and they'd talk then.
"You look tense," said Harry, breaking into his thoughts.
"I've got a lot on my mind."
Harry gave him a long look, as though he were calculating something, then stood. "I know how to fix that. Come on upstairs."
"Sorry?" As he answered Harry, his eyes automatically went to Sirius, whose head was up, alert.
"Our squad trainer gives the most amazing massages. He showed me a few things you won't believe. It will make you a new man, let me tell you."
Well. This was interesting. He followed Harry up the stairs, Sirius bounding behind. At the door to Remus's room, Harry bent to ruffle Sirius's head gently. "Sorry, old man, but I think you'd be a bit of a distraction." He closed the door firmly behind them and murmured a locking spell, ignoring Sirius's whine.
"All right. Take your robe, shirt, and shoes off, and lie face down on the bed."
Remus complied, after one quick glance toward the door. Harry took his robe and shoes off as well, folding them and placing them on a chair. "I don't suppose you have something like hand lotion?"
"By the toilet."
"Oh. Well, hang on." Harry left the room; Remus could hear a brief, one-sided conversation out in the hallway before the door opened again. This time, when he closed and locked it, there was a loud, angry bark.
Harry held the bottle aloft. "He didn't seem very pleased to see me with this," he said, grinning.
"Oh, Christ." Remus couldn't stifle his laugh. "So you have ulterior motives, do you?" Not that this would be a bad thing.
"A massage. I swear it." There was another bark from the hallway, and a scratching at the door.
"Well, then. Shall we get on with it?" He rolled back onto his stomach; after a moment he felt Harry's weight settle over him, straddling his hips. As strong hands, slick with lotion, rubbed circles on his shoulders, he felt Harry lean over his body and put his lips close to his ear.
"To start with, that is."
Remus started to reply, but the lips suddenly closed on the rim of his ear, and he let out an involuntary moan. "But if you like," whispered Harry, teeth grazing Remus's ear, "we can skip that part." The contrast of gentle lips and hard teeth sent a jolt straight to his groin.
"Harry," he groaned, shifting and turning so he lay on his back. His motion brought their erections into contact through the thin fabric of their trousers, and he moaned again with the sweetness of it. Harry looked down at him with bright, candid eyes.
"I owled Adele. She told me I should act upon my feelings." He bent down, pressing their bare chests together. "This is what I feel, Remus." His lips brushed the line of Remus's jaw.
"What I feel," said Remus, "is that we are wearing altogether too many clothes."
"Oh, yes." In a smooth, sinuous motion Harry slid off of him and pulled off first his own trousers, then Remus's, trailing his hand down each bit of revealed skin. Remus arched into the touch which was almost too gentle, too soft. It had been such a very long time since he'd been touched this way by anyone at all.
He pulled Harry back to him and reveled in the silky whisper of bare bodies touching, skin against skin, the soft brush of hair and the hard angle of hipbones. So many sensations. Harry's cock jutted hard against his stomach, and he moved against it, feeling the faint stickiness of precome, delighting in the small noises Harry made. When he reached a hand blindly to his side, groping for the bottle of lotion, Harry's mouth closed on his nipple and he groaned again. Oh, yes.
He managed to tilt the bottle enough to squeeze some lotion into his palm, then brought his hand between their bodies to where their erections rubbed together, twigs trying to start a fire with delicious friction. His hand slid the length of first Harry's shaft, then his own, spreading the slickness.
"Oh, fuck yes, Remus, like that," gasped Harry, and one of his hands joined Remus's against their straining, aching bodies, thrusting and stroking together, hands and cocks and bellies all contributing to the glow that was building inside his balls, and it was good, oh so good. And then Harry cried out and gushed across their hands, and it was even better.
Remus felt the slow surge of his own climax overtake him, and he gave himself over to it, the wetness and warmth cascading across them both. He knew he was babbling something in Harry's ear, words like yes and god and oh, Harry, but it wasn't until his heartrate had slowed again, both of them no longer panting but still breathing hard, that he heard, that both of them heard, fists hammering on the door.
"So much for afterglow," muttered Harry as he pulled on his trousers. They had cleaned up as best they could but he could still smell the sex clinging to their skin. He wondered whether Sirius retained his dog-sensitive nose when in human form.
They opened the door together. Sirius stood there, hair wild, silent and glaring.
"Welcome back," said Remus.
Sirius turned and started walking down the stairs, heavily, awkwardly. Halfway down, he transformed into dog-form, and loped the rest of the way, leading them toward the study. When they stepped in, the black dog was sitting in his usual armchair.
Remus moved to his own chair; Harry swung up to sit on Remus's desk, wanting to stay as close as possible. A united front.
"Well, Sirius?" said Remus, gently.
Neither man nor dog moved for a moment, and Harry held his breath, watching the two of them. Then there was a noise, like an exhalation of breath, and Sirius transformed.
"I failed you." The rusty voice was barely a whisper.
"No, Sirius," protested Harry, then stopped. "Yes. You did. Both of us."
"I didn't -- you wouldn't have --" The burning eyes moved from one to the other and back, searching, accusing. "If I had been here."
"We still would have, Sirius," interposed Remus, his voice steady. Harry nodded, rested a hand on Remus's shoulder.
"Yes. I -- I see. You don't need me, then."
"Don't be daft," said Harry. "So I've got a lover. I still want my godfather."
"And I would like my friend back," said Remus.
"And Hogwarts could use your talents," added Harry. "Ever since Minerva took over as Headmistress, they've had an absolute ass teaching Transfiguration."
A flash of panic, or something like it, went through Sirius's eyes. "No -- I can't -- I --" Of a sudden he was a dog again. Jumping off the armchair, he gave Harry's foot a quick lick, then was out the door. They heard the slam of the door-flap as he bolted out into the forest.
"I guess I bollixed that one up," said Harry. He felt deflated, as though he'd opened a package only to have the contents fly away before he could reach for them.
Remus shrugged. "We'll see. I imagine it will take him some time to get used to the idea of being human again."
"And to us."
Remus looked at him, raised an eyebrow. "Us?"
"Us," said Harry, firmly. "Sirius will probably need his bed back, don't you think?"
"Rather sure of yourself, aren't you," said Remus, smiling. He laced his fingers through Harry's.
"Just thinking of Sirius."
"I suppose I'd better buy a larger bed, then."
Ron's going-away party was held in the back garden of the Burrow, as nobody wanted to stay inside on such a lovely September day. The Weasleys had put up a huge striped tent over the tables groaning with sandwiches, cakes, and butterbeer; some of the younger children were playing kick-the-gnome in one corner, while the more sober adults gathered in small knots to talk about politics, and sport, and of course the unusually fine weather.
Harry and Remus pushed their way through the crowd to where Ron and Neville stood talking and drinking butterbeer.
"Congratulations on the Australia thing," said Harry. "We're all envious. We'll be sitting here in the wind and snow and you'll be on the beach."
"If I get a chance to sit on the beach it will be a miracle. I've got a full schedule from the time I step off the plane."
"Keep you out of trouble," said Neville.
"I'm a paragon."
"That's not what Hermione says."
"Oh, her." Ron rolled his eyes and sipped from his glass. "If it wasn't too far to Apparate I'd expect she'd be down every weekend checking up on me. Not that I would mind."
"Ah, romance," said Harry, lightly.
"Speaking of which," said Ron. "We're in awe of you, Remus. Taking on the -- what was it that Skeeter woman wrote? 'The fabulously fickle famous flyer that is Harry Potter'?"
Remus smiled and put an arm around Harry. "There are fringe benefits."
Neville laughed, then pursed his lips. "Though you're not a flyer any more, are you. You'd think that after you quit the Arrows, the Prophet would be less interested in your personal life." He sounded a bit envious, thought Harry.
"I wish," he said, making an exaggerated pout, and they all laughed. Neville shook his hand, and Remus's, and headed off to get another drink.
"So," said Ron. "Sirius stopped by earlier and wished me luck. It was great to see him again."
"Good. We were afraid he might not be up to it."
"He did change back pretty much as soon as we finished talking. I think he's still here, though."
"He's spending about a quarter of the time as a human now," said Remus. "Adele thinks he's making progress."
Harry looked around, finally spotted Adele sitting in the shade, talking to Molly Weasley. Sirius sat curled at her feet, his head in her lap, and Adele was running her fingers through the black fur as she talked.
Adele was good for Sirius, he thought. She pushed him hard, but she also knew when to back off, when to allow him the freedom of the dog and not force him to confront the problems and perplexities of humans. She encouraged him to look past his own scars, but never did him the disservice of pretending they didn't exist.
Perhaps, thought Harry, sliding his hand into Remus's, that was all that mattered.
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http://hieroglyfics.net/hp/scars.htm |written May 2003 by Isis