It was more than a month after Dumbledore's funeral when Remus first wandered the Forbidden Forest again. Forbidden to students perhaps, but Remus hadn't been a student in a long time, and even when he had been that was one rule he paid little mind. These woods were comforting, in their way. Things became less frightening when you realised you were the predator many people feared.
To one side of him sprawled a meadow he remembered from days long past, to the other a dark and overgrown trail he'd once raced down, Padfoot at his side. A trail that still seemed to be in infrequent use, from the look of the recently disturbed leaves and broken branches. Not the centaurs, it wasn't nearly wide nor high enough, but perhaps one of the smaller creatures.
Though none of the creatures he remembered from this forest wore robes of fine black cloth.
He knew these woods, better than anyone who didn't live in them, and that scrap of cloth should not have been there, clinging tenaciously to a lowhanging branch. No sign of anything human should have been found anywhere inside the very edges of the forest.
Remus's good sense told him to contact the school, or better still the Order. Let them handle the situation, whether it be a lost child or a Death Eater enclave. But his instincts told him instead to head down this path, one he still knew as though it were in his own back garden. If it was nothing, then it was nothing, and he would report his find and think no more of it. But if it were not nothing, then it was likely something that could not wait on a bureaucracy.
It didn't take him long to find the body, bound to a tree and unmoving.
No one else was around, Remus made sure of that immediately with a broad sweep of his wand and a revealing charm. And so with a resigned sigh he prepared to unbind the body and levitate it with him out of the forest, where he could clear away the mud and grime and blood and perhaps figure out who this had been.
That is, until the slightest twitch of a blood-smeared arm alerted him that he had a living victim, taking shallow breaths that Remus could not see, could only hear when he blocked out all other sounds.
Moments later he was racing along the uneven ground where once he would have strolled, after quickly finding where blood was still leaking from the victim's arm and stanching the flow. He wouldn't even venture a guess as to what had happened yet, though a myriad possibilities raced through his mind.
To Hogwarts, then. To clean sheets and healing potions and answers.
"When are you going to turn him over to the Ministry?"
Nymphadora Tonks looked least like an authority figure of anyone Remus knew, but she did in fact have the authority to enforce that demand, particularly because of who, or rather, what, Remus was. He just wasn't sure yet if she would.
"He's unconscious, Dora," he said reasonably, gesturing for her to take a seat near the hospital bed. "Look at him, he's gravely injured, he's no threat to anyone in this condition, if he ever was."
"No threat? He let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts, Remus. He injured students! He held a wand on Albus Dumbledore!"
"And right to the end, Albus believed in his ability to change. We've all heard Harry's account of that night. This boy may have held a wand to him, but he never cast the curse to kill him."
That alone should have ended it, for the Ministry demanded custody of anyone identified as a Death Eater, but Remus would stand his ground on this one, to whatever end it took him. He was the one who found the child, who brought him back to Hogwarts, who identified him, and the one who now suspected just what had been done to him in the forest.
"He's a victim," he insisted, "and those wounds are something our side would never inflict, not for any reason. Not even should things come to the worst."
"That means only that he might have been the victim of vigilante justice," Tonks said, gently but firmly. Her eyes were harder than Remus remembered them, and though she looked as she always had before her difficulties the previous year, something had nonetheless changed. "This could very well have been done to him by a Weasley; he's the one who let Fenrir Greyback into Hogwarts, after all."
"You don't believe that any more than I do," said Remus. "At least while he's unconscious, Dora. How can we in good conscience turn him over when we don't know what's happened?"
She looked sceptical, but she did finally nod. "I'll stay, then," she said, looking almost as though she intended to stay right there in that seat for the duration. "He's got to have a guard on him, victim or no. He is a Death Eater, Remus; there'll be no denying that."
"He's a child, no older than Harry. We've been making Harry's decisions for him for years; we've no reason to think that someone hasn't been making this boy's decisions."
Remus remembered the first time he'd laid eyes on Draco Malfoy, an arrogant, insolent boy of thirteen, lovely in a way only boys of such a tender age could be but hard at the same time. He'd pegged him immediately for a Black, long before he recognised him as a Malfoy as well.
"Especially knowing his family," he added.
Tonks, of anyone in the Order since Sirius, did know that family.
"We'll wait until he's conscious," she agreed with him. "But he is in my custody, Remus. And I won't let you get around that."
"Tell me again," said Remus. "Tell me exactly how it happened."
Harry's returns to number twelve Grimmauld Place were infrequent, once a week at best. Remus had to be on the spot to catch him, reluctantly abandoning his charge at Hogwarts for just over two days while he waited in the grand library of Sirius's old home, doing what research he could while he waited.
"You know how it happened," said Harry dully, a little of the light going out of his eyes every time Remus talked to him about Dumbledore's death. Remus thought perhaps it was like that for all of them these days, their mentor dying not all at once that night but in pieces as they came to realise just what had been lost. "Draco had Dumbledore cornered, the rest of the castle was in chaos, and I was under my dad's invisibility cloak, frozen."
"So you saw everything."
"Yes, I had to watch every second of it." Despite a faint wish to have known Dumbledore to the end, Remus didn't envy him that. Harry's anger over the event still leaked out in his every word and gesture when he spoke of it. "I had to watch that bastard Snape kill the only man who ever defended him."
Remus still flinched when he heard that, so much had he believed in Dumbledore's judgement on the subject. He may never have liked Snape, but he always believed that he was on their side.
"But Draco," he directed him, "do you think Draco would have killed him if Snape hadn't?"
Harry hesitated, and his expression grew pained and conflicted, but he shook his head. "He had his chance," he said. "He couldn't do it. And Dumbledore knew it. Draco had his chance but he just stood there. A few more moments and...."
Harry shook his head fiercely and wouldn't go on, but Remus could guess what he meant to say. A few more moments and Dumbledore might have had Draco convinced, that the path he was on was the wrong one. It wasn't a comfortable thought for any of them, nor for Draco either he was sure, but every time he heard this story it was how he saw things playing out.
"Dumbledore probably would not have survived anyway," Remus tried to console him. "He'd been gravely injured, he knew his time was limited."
"We don't know that!" Harry shot back. "We won't ever know that."
"But the fact remains that Draco Malfoy had his chance and did not carry out Voldemort's orders," Remus said diplomatically. There were some things, in the end, that could not help everyone.
"He was a coward," said Harry. "He didn't care for Dumbledore, he just wasn't able to kill."
"Are you absolutely positive about that, Harry?" Remus asked, knowing full well that he could not be. But Harry was the only witness they had.
"Well, I suppose we won't ever know that either," said Harry bitterly. "Why are you asking, Remus? You know all this. It doesn't matter now."
"This sort of thing always matters, Harry," he said, but he did not, in the end, tell him why.
Remus was back by his bedside when the boy's eyes finally opened again, staring blankly at his surroundings before turning his head to stare just as blankly at the man next to him.
"You're at Hogwarts," Remus told him immediately, expecting this disorientation. "You're safe."
Draco's expression didn't change. He wasn't able to leave his bed, Tonks had seen to that, but he was allowed sit up. If he was able, that is; the wounds had been vicious and Madame Pomfrey, for all her efforts, had not been able to heal all of them yet. For reasons they both thought they knew, though they could not yet be certain.
"You're safe," Remus said again. "I'm Re-- Professor Lupin. Do you remember me?"
Draco's eyes widened and he made his first real movement. "The werewolf," he said, cringing.
Remus gave him a solemn nod; that, he could not and would not deny. "Only during the full moon," he said, "and we are a few days past that now. What happened?"
Draco looked away, though at least he was no longer cringing. As much. There was no one close by to them, but that didn't mean that they weren't being listened in on. In fact, Remus quite suspected that they were, but at least it gave the illusion of privacy. Of intimacy.
"Draco," he said, leaning in closer. "I need you to tell me. I need you to tell me. It's only your injuries and obvious attack that are keeping you out of Azkaban right now. If you don't talk to me, I can't keep you out any longer."
Draco at least looked at him again, though it took him a long time to say another word. "I failed," he said finally, which was the one thing Remus already knew. "I failed, and he got me."
Remus nodded slowly. "Fenrir, you mean?"
Draco flinched, but nodded.
"Fenrir likes children," said Remus, as kindly as one could say that sort of thing. "I'm only surprised that he chose to ravage you; he usually doesn't do that to the children." Though perhaps he hadn't done only that.
"Perhaps because I am not a child," spat Draco, struggling a little to change his position but finally giving up on the idea. Remus took care that his wounds didn't open up again, but offered no other help.
Draco was a child, in the ways that should have mattered. Still a student -- or should have been -- though Remus could not be sure he was still underage. All Remus knew of Draco Malfoy he'd learned from Harry, and learned from teaching him at an age even more tender than the one he was now.
But in other ways, he was no more a child than Harry, anymore.
"Did you know what would happen if you didn't kill Dumbledore?"
Draco hesitated, then nodded again.
He'd known what would happen to him if he didn't carry out his task, and still he hadn't been able to go through with it. Had, perhaps, chosen not to go through with it. To Remus's way of measuring, after seeing so many people in his life fail in such spectacular ways, that meant something.
"Thank you," he said, quietly. "I'll do what I can for you."
He dared to reach out to smooth Draco's hair back. Draco didn't pull away.
"Try not to move your arm," said Remus. "It's still--"
"Mauled?" snapped Draco. "Thanks, I noticed that." And he did favour the arm as he sat up in the bed, though probably more from the pain than from Remus's suggestion. "Am I to be transported to Azkaban today, is that why you've come back?"
At least he was a little more talkative now than he'd been the previous day. Though maybe it had been better when he'd talked less and listened more. Easier, certainly.
"You'll not be going to Azkaban on my watch," said Remus. "Not if you haven't done anything to deserve it."
"I've got this," said Draco, thrusting his arm at him, but the Dark Mark was hardly visible under the mess of gashes and bites. "Isn't that enough? I won't fight you. I can't."
"Which is why I won't be doing it," said Remus. "Children before you have made the same mistake. There are other ways to atone for it."
"I've no wish to atone," said Draco fiercely, "And I am not a child." But there was fear in his expression. After all his years as a werewolf, Remus knew fear when he saw it. "I did what I had to do. It just wasn't enough."
Remus didn't say he was glad for Draco's lack of resolve in killing Albus Dumbledore. He didn't think it needed to be said. "Wasn't enough for what, exactly? To get into his Inner Circle?"
"Inner circle?" scoffed Draco. "You must be joking, there's no such thing. The Dark Lord doesn't trust anyone."
"Obviously he does," said Remus, "or having followers would be a useless exercise. Wasn't enough for what?"
Draco scowled at him but did say, "My family," and only that.
It matched what Remus knew of Dumbledore's last stand, not that he'd expected it wouldn't. But Remus knew entirely too much about deceit and betrayal during wartime, and trust wasn't an automatic thing, not with anyone.
"I've got to ask you more questions," he said, making himself comfortable in the seat by the bed.
"Why?" said Draco. "Why have you got to ask me more questions? Don't you know enough already?"
"I'm sorry," said Remus. "I must, there are things I must know. About Fenrir."
"He's a monster," said Draco, shuddering slightly. "He's uncontrollable."
"I know," said Remus. "He made me what I am, when I was a child much younger than you are now." Draco fell silent. "Do you remember the attack?"
"You say that as though there was just one," said Draco, making Remus flinch for the first time. "I was in that forest for a long time."
"I'm sorry," he said again, though he couldn't have known and had nothing to do with it. "But I need to know. When Fenrir... when he did this to you, was he a wolf or a man?"
Draco's eyes widened, but he showed no other expression. "A man," he said. "He was a man, with claws and teeth. But I don't--"
"What? What is it?"
"I don't remember all of it. When was the full moon?"
"About a week ago," admitted Remus. "Do you think he--? We can't tell, from the injuries. There were too many."
"I don't know," said Draco, in a whisper.
"We've got to keep him, Dora, at least till the full moon. It would be unimaginable, enduring his first transformation locked up in Azkaban. He would go mad, or be killed by the Ministry on the spot. We can't do that to him."
"Do you know what you're asking of me, Remus?"
Despite her challenge, she did rest her hand on his arm as they sat together outside the hospital wing.
"No more than you do for me," he said. "You once said that you didn't care that I was a werewolf, that you would care for me anyhow. Could you say that about me and then knowingly send another to his death?"
"You aren't the same," she insisted. "He's a Death Eater. He's what we're fighting against."
"To his death, Dora. That's what you would be doing, if you turned him in now. And he's a child, who has been punished quite enough from what I can see. Fenrir turned on him, for failing to do Voldemort's bidding. Turned on him viciously and inhumanely. Can you be so sure he's one of them?"
"Can you be so sure that he's not?"
"No," Remus admitted. "I cannot. Which is why I need more time, Dora."
"Perhaps you'd best call me Tonks."
"I won't see an innocent man sentenced."
"Whatever you might think of him, I don't think 'innocent' is the word you want," she said. "The fact remains that he did what he did at Hogwarts, and there will be consequences for that. He's my cousin, Remus; I have reason to want to show him mercy as well. But he is not a nice man."
"All I ask is time," he said. "Time, Tonks, to be sure of what we're doing."
She sighed and slipped her hand off his arm. "You knew all along I couldn't refuse you that," she said. "You have your time. I'll remain here."
"I knew you couldn't refuse me because you are reasonable and compassionate," said Remus carefully, "not because you have feelings for me."
"No, you would never take advantage of that, would you," she said, sounding, if not looking, sad. "It's been weeks, Remus, and you've never taken advantage of that, in any way."
"It wasn't the werewolf thing, was it?" she said. "You used that to spare my feelings."
"I do care for you, but...."
"Not like that."
"Not like that," he confessed. "Please don't think I meant to hurt you. I was surprised by your feelings, and I thought perhaps that if anyone could, we could... but I couldn't make it work. I'm sorry."
"Was it Sirius?"
That, Remus hadn't seen coming. Though perhaps he should have; Tonks, for all her clumsiness, was more clever than most by half, and fully trained to be observant.
"Yes, it was Sirius," he told her, finally, long after he probably should have. "For a very long time."
She nodded at him and pressed her lips together, and looked more sad than angry. But she didn't fade into a shadow of herself, her hair became no less vibrant, her body no less strong.
"All right," she said. "I'll not tell anyone, if that's what you'd like."
"Thank you," he said quietly. "And thank you, for understanding about Draco. He needs my help right now far more than he needs Ministry intervention. And there's no one else who can do what I can do for him."
"After the full moon we'll reassess," she told him, more suspicious than he'd like, but at least as agreeable as he needed. "And after the full moon I'm telling Kingsley, no matter what the outcome."
That was fair enough, and more than she was obliged to give him. Tonks really was a sensible girl, and if things had been different, if he were different... but he wasn't, and they had to go from there.
"Thank you," he said again, and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek that she did not turn away from. "I'll keep you informed."
"You won't have to," she said.
It was two days more before Draco was both trusted to and able to be of bed, taking careful steps alongside Remus as they ventured outside the castle. "What were you doing in the forest?" Draco asked him, as they carefully did not go into it.
"Walking," said Remus. "Just walking."
"Looking for people like me? Looking for pretty young boys to ravage?"
"I am no Fenrir Greyback," said Remus, and felt a flush of guilt anyhow. "He is the way he is because he is a madman, not because we share a curse."
"Nobody walks in the forest for fun," said Draco, stumbling over a protruding stone. Remus took his arm to steady him, his good arm. Draco's legs were stronger than they had been, but probably not quite up to the walk he'd insisted upon taking. "Why were you really there? Did you know about me?"
"I grew up in that forest, or very near to," Remus told him. "I have little to fear from it. And I did not know you were there, Draco, I swear it; had I known, I would have come sooner. I did not hear so much as a whisper of it."
"I find it difficult to believe that monster wasn't boasting of it, in the times he was away from me and left me bound there."
"If he was boasting of it, it was not to me, nor to any of the others that I associate with."
"So you do associate with him."
"Only by necessity," Remus told him, even understanding he was confessing too much, and to someone he could trust too little. "However I came to be the way I am, they are my kind. I don't want to see them all destroyed. I don't want to see them throw their lot in with that madman."
"With Voldemort," said Remus succinctly. "Fenrir sides with Voldemort, because Voldemort offers him freedom. And the pretty children he likes so much." It is not without a certain calculation that he said this; Dumbledore believed that Draco was not beyond saving, and so Remus believed so as well. "I wonder what the world would be like, if all the monsters were free."
"I want him dead," said Draco coldly. "And I could do it this time."
Remus believed that he could. And believed that he himself could as well.
"What happened that night?"
"I've told you--"
"The night Dumbledore died."
He could actually watch Draco's expression -- never completely open -- close up again. "Don't ask me that today," he said. But what he did not say was 'don't ask me'.
Remus would sit on that question for the moment, and instead asked him another, one which had been forming in his brain since Draco had told him how Fenrir had come to have him in captivity.
"Did Voldemort give you to Fenrir?"
Draco looked up, startled, then nodded his head, just once. "I don't think he expected me to survive," he said. "And Severus couldn't stop him."
Remus wondered if Severus had even tried, but it would serve no purpose to say so. Not now. "You're stronger than he thinks you are," he told him, "and Fenrir more self-serving than he knows."
"I won't be like him!" said Draco.
He could have been talking about Voldemort, but Remus knew, the way he would have known if he'd been the one saying it, that he was talking about Fenrir.
"You don't have to be," Remus said. "Let me help you."
"I want to go in."
It was the last thing that Remus had been expecting him to say, and in fact had been preparing to discreetly begin to lead them in the other direction, away from the edge of the forest.
"Are you certain?" Remus asked. "Fenrir knows by now that you have escaped him." He did not believe there was a danger -- if Fenrir believed Draco to have escaped then he would also believe that Draco would tell of where he'd been held -- but Draco should have been thinking of these things, for his own survival.
"Or he thinks me dead and carried off," Draco countered. "He wouldn't dare return again once he found me gone."
Perhaps Draco had been thinking of such things. Perhaps he'd been thinking about them more than Remus could possibly have himself. But he would have expected more fear from this boy, who was not known for his steady nerves and bravery.
"In fact," Draco went on, "the forest may well be the safest place for me, right now. I want to go in."
Remus hesitated, but he did oblige. So long as Draco was by his side, he was as safe as Remus could make him. And maybe he really had become braver than anyone yet suspected. Maybe he'd had to.
"Where was I found?" he asked, as they passed from the grassy grounds and into the trees, no further yet than a student would have ventured. "Do you remember? Do you know the way?"
"I know the forest," said Remus, though he was reluctant to bring Draco back there. "Perhaps we shouldn't go so deep today, though. It's not near where the centaurs patrol, but that doesn't mean...."
"I might remember more, if we go back," said Draco, looking up at him with grey eyes that looked wider and more innocent now than they ever had before. "I'd like to remember."
Remus would like him to remember as well, but he was fairly sure that Draco would not be so eager to remember things once he did. A werewolf attack was a terrifying thing in itself. A series of attacks, when one was helpless to resist them, was another thing again.
Draco had no wand; perhaps Remus ought to do something about that.
"All right," he said finally. "Stay close."
Draco showed no signs of moving so much as an arm's length away from him, except when he stopped by one of the larger trees and pulled off a sprig of berries. "How do you know the way?" he asked, fingering them for a moment before slipping them into the pocket of his robe with red-stained fingers.
"When I was a student at Hogwarts," Remus started, only once they'd begun moving along the path again, "I... when I was an older student, when the curse took me, I roamed these woods rather than stay confined." For many years it had just been the Shrieking Shack, then once his friends had become Animagi for him he'd ventured out onto the Hogwarts grounds, then the village, then finally into the forest as well. "And then I began to roam them during the other days of the month as well."
"They're your home," said Draco.
"I considered them that, once," agreed Remus. "Much as I considered Hogwarts my home. But in the end they are just woods, familiar as they are. The things that endeared them to me are no longer with us."
Draco didn't question that, which was a relief because Remus had no idea how he might answer. There were things he was willing to give away, and things he just could not. Not yet, and perhaps not ever.
When they reached the place where Draco had remained bound for an untold number of days, Draco remembered nothing and spat on the ground, where his blood still showed on the roots and leaves.
"I'll kill him," he said, and took the lead on their way back.
One day Remus went to the hospital wing to take Draco on their now-daily walk and really realised that Draco was a Black. He'd dressed in fine robes, soft against the skin and flowing about the ankles, and had black-lined eyes, red lips. He reminded Remus so much of Sirius that he ached.
"What?" Draco challenged him immediately. "Is there a problem?"
"--like you're feeling better," said Remus. "And how is the arm?"
"How do you think the arm is?" Draco said darkly. "I'm scarcely going to tell you it's fine, am I?"
"Honesty would suffice," said Remus. "I don't expect you to be fine, not after Fenrir--"
"Savaged me?" said Draco with a scowl that was more fear than anger. "No, bit me, isn't that what you want to say? Isn't that why you've been my minder since I arrived here? You and that daft Auror that peeks in here and glares at me."
"That Auror is your cousin."
"She might as well not be, for all the contact we've had. And she doesn't like me."
"A lot of people don't like you, Draco," said Remus. "I suspect it has something to do with the fact that you're responsible for the Death Eater attack on Hogwarts."
"Then why do you?"
Remus looked at him levelly for a moment, searching for the right answer, the right balance between what he thought he knew, and what this boy -- no, not a boy, not the boy he'd once been -- would stand to listen to.
"I don't know you well enough to like you yet," he said finally. "But you... remind me of someone I once knew. And for all his bad choices, he was good at heart."
"I'm not a good person," said Draco, pressing crimson lips together tightly, smearing and blurring them around the edges. But there were things about him that spoke otherwise. "Don't deceive yourself."
"You could be," Remus told him. "And if... if Fenrir did bite you as a wolf--" Draco paled again. "--the transformation is something you cannot escape, but you can be your own man the rest of the month."
"I am my own man," said Draco. "I make my own decisions."
"For better or for worse."
"I did what I did for my family," said Draco, after a moment's pause. "I didn't know that it was doomed to fail. I thought I could save them."
He had the confidence, the arrogance, the bearing of his family, even if he didn't know it. And he really did believe that he was doing it all for family; Remus wondered what they had done, to inspire such loyalty in their son.
"You can," said Remus. "Just not like that."
Sirius Black liked to do things to shock people, starting long before his shocking Sorting into Gryffindor and lasting long after, from trading uniforms with Gladys Burnett for a week to kissing James full on the lips following a Quidditch victory. Remus loved that about him, loved best when Sirius was nothing more than himself, lounging around the dormitory in his pants and raving about their future together.
But it wasn't Sirius that Remus was thinking about when he pressed his forearm against the wall of his quarters and shoved a hand into his trousers.
"Ah, fuck," he mumbled, closing his eyes against any stray reflection. But that only made clearer the canvas of his mind, and the portrait of a seventeen-year-old boy -- yes boy -- damaged and cruel, and brave as he had never been when Remus has known him last. More like Sirius than not, though both would hex him to say so.
His cock throbbed against its tight constraints, against the fingers that curled round it, struggling for a quick rhythm. He wouldn't allow himself more than this, a quick and forgettable wank to get it over with, and get past this ridiculous infatuation.
Draco wasn't Sirius, he never would be, but Remus's gut desire carried on nonetheless. Maybe it wasn't the similarity, maybe it was something else about Draco that Remus was drawn to, maybe it was their now-mutual curse that fostered this affection. Maybe his body was confusing a protective instinct with lust.
He tried, and failed, to convince himself that maybe he just had a thing for grey eyes.
His knuckles scraped raw against his trousers as he stroked himself, one side of his hand dry and sore, the other wet and hot and tingling. He gasped and pressed his forehead against the wall as he came, spilling over his fingers and soaking into his pants, visions of blond hair and red lips and soft robes flashing behind his eyelids.
It grew cold and damp and awkward quickly, but the wank was anything but forgettable.
"When is it?" Draco asked him, tilting his head up as they walked along a narrow path in the forest, out of sight of the castle. "How long have I got?"
"Eight days," Remus told him. Draco nodded and looked down again. "I'll do what I can to make you comfortable. The transformation isn't pleasant, but it passes and you will survive. I have, for much longer than you've been alive."
Draco snatched up something from the path and slipped it into his pocket before Remus could see what it was. "Eight days to the end of the world," he said, standing upright again and continuing on beside him, so close by his side that their arms brushed.
"What will you do, after?"
"Well that depends entirely on you, doesn't it," Draco said matter-of-factly. "My cousin told me, of course. That my reprieve from the Ministry lasts only so long."
Remus had to nod, inwardly cursing Tonks for so carelessly handing out that piece of information. It was needlessly cruel, needlessly stressful on a boy who was under more than enough already. But then, she was an Auror, and she'd made many concessions for him already. And she didn't understand, couldn't understand, what Draco was going through, just as Remus couldn't understand what he'd been through prior to his assault.
"If you've been infected," said Remus, "I'll do everything I can to keep you out of Azkaban."
"I doubt you can do much," said Draco. "I know what I've done as well as anyone else does."
"And also what you didn't do," Remus added; it was the most important fact, after all. It was his only bargaining chip, when it came to the Ministry. They wouldn't care if Draco was a werewolf; the more monster him for it. "Will you run?"
Draco stared at him for a long moment before saying, "Yes," and waiting.
Remus nodded again. "Don't run back to where you came from," he advised him. "There's no future for you there."
"I know who you've got holed up in the Hospital Wing," Harry told him, before Remus even had a chance to invite him inside.
"Harry," he said, an utterly ineffective stall. "I thought you were in Albania."
"Remus, what are you doing?"
Remus sighed. "Let's have a drink," he said, opening the door wider for Harry to pass. "I suppose we've got things to talk about."
"I'm going to need more than a drink to understand this," Harry said, but he did come inside, and he looked more frustrated than angry. That, Remus thought, he could deal with. "I won't believe that you've betrayed us, so I've got to believe that you've gone mad."
"He was given over to Fenrir," Remus told him, bluntly and up front. "Voldemort has discarded him."
"The better for everyone," said Harry. "Including Draco. Now if he'd just fuck off to China for a few years, everyone would be happy."
"They kill werewolves in China, too."
Harry stared at him. "Bloody hell," he murmured after a moment. "All right. How are we planning to control him, then? The Shrieking Shack?"
"Draco very much wants to control himself," said Remus. "As would you, in his position, I would hope."
"We haven't got any Wolfsbane Potion," said Harry. "Even you can't control the wolf without it and Draco is... Draco. He'll go running back to his father the first chance you give him."
"Harry, think," said Remus. "He's got more of a shot with us now than with Voldemort, and he knows it. He knows that if he goes back, he's dead. That he's meant to be dead already, and only Fenrir's sadism saved him."
"He's really got you believing that, doesn't he?"
"No, I've got him believing that," said Remus. "And it is the truth. If he leaves, he's dead. If I turn him over the to Ministry, he's dead. If I don't help him, he's dead... or others will be."
"Would it be so terrible if he were?" said Harry, but there was a comforting doubt in his eyes as he said it.
"You were there that night," Remus reminded him. "Dumbledore believed he could be saved. We're continuing Dumbledore's work, Harry. We're doing what he believed in."
"He believed he could trust Snape, too," snapped Harry, "and look where that got him."
Remus winced. "There are many unanswered questions about that night," he admitted. "We may... it's a longshot, I know, but we may find out yet that he was right."
"You don't really believe that."
"I want to believe that," said Remus, "and I do believe in Draco. He is capable of change, Harry. He was tortured and mauled and very nearly died. His family has been hurt and disgraced. He knows what Voldemort offers now, and it's not something that he wants."
"I want to see him," said Harry.
"Potter's still a prat," said Draco, pocketing something he peeled off the tree he reclined against. "And the way Madame Pomfrey fawned over him... it was sickening. I don't stay in hospital nights to be sickened."
"Harry spent a great number of nights in the Hospital Wing as a student," Remus told him. No few of those thanks to Draco himself. "Madame Pomfrey looks on him fondly."
"And I'm sure he'll spend more again," said Draco. "Preferably once I've gone."
"He's not returning to Hogwarts in September," said Remus. "No one is. Hogwarts has been closed, Draco, for the duration of the war."
"But..." said Draco. "Hogwarts? Closed? It's never happened."
"I'm sure that it has," Remus assured him. "Though I was never strong in History of Magic and couldn't tell you precisely when. We could ask Hermione--"
"I'm not talking to that Mudblood."
"You might want to reconsider that," Remus told him mildly. "Werewolf ranks far under Muggleborn in the wizarding hierarchy." Perhaps, for the time being, it was best to be blunt.
"It's not certain I've been bitten," said Draco, lifting his chin stubbornly. "Time will tell. And even if she weren't a... Muggleborn... she's still Granger."
Remus had to laugh. "Perhaps a message via owl, then, to spare us the lecture. We needn't know the whole history of the school, after all."
"Closed," Draco said again, and shook his head. "Not that I'd have been able to return myself, regardless. My parents would be horrified if they knew. Not finishing my education? Unthinkable."
"Sometimes we must make difficult decisions in order to survive. If things... are for the worst, I can tutor you for your NEWTs. If you like. I did passably well in school."
"I should hope so," retorted Draco. "Dumbledore did bring you back to teach."
Remus vividly remembered that conversation with Dumbledore, the reasoning for his appointment and the pros and cons of what had always been destined to be a turbulent year at Hogwarts. He wished he could see Dumbledore one more time, even if only to have that difficult conversation once again.
"I couldn't have done it," Draco said finally, pushing himself away from the tree and not meeting Remus's eyes as he brushed the debris from his robes. "No matter how long I stood there. I couldn't have done it. I was too weak."
The boy next to him looked anything but weak. Remus could hardly keep his eyes off him anymore, as he grew more into himself each day. More his own man than he'd probably ever been, free from the influence of family and the threat of a cruel master. A still-arrogant, still-selfish young man, who'd nonetheless learned courage and morals and perhaps some compassion as well.
"That's not weakness, Draco," he told him, as Draco's eyes once again met his. "That's strength."
Remus took himself in bed this time, fisting his cock and biting his pillow to keep from saying a name he didn't dare yet say. He had to look the boy in the eye for another few days, after all: at least until the full moon and perhaps much, much longer than that.
He remembered smearing Sirius's eyeliner as they shagged in the Quidditch showers and though about the way Draco's hair blew across his lips as they sat together on the Hogwarts grounds. Remembered the tight muscles of Sirius's bare shoulders and thought of the way Draco's robes clung to his arse.
Two men, alike and different at once, and Remus knew them apart in his head, could no longer blame misplaced affection for his desires. One his past and one his present, for better or for worse.
And perhaps neither his future, so he would grab what he could while he could, the way he had his entire life.
Draco stopped them before the left the castle for their customary fresh air. For their customary privacy, which Remus had really come to enjoy over the past couple of weeks. But he didn't plead exhaustion or even boredom, as Remus had been anticipating, and instead pushed them both back through the doors into Remus's temporary lodgings.
"Will you really help me?" Draco asked him, with a kind of fire Remus hadn't seen in him since he'd found him in the forest, not even when he spoke of killing Fenrir. "If I'm infected, if I'm a werewolf, will you really help me?"
Remus had known all along he would help him, even before he knew the kind of young man Draco had grown up to be. What he hadn't known until Draco asked was that it would be difficult to tear himself from Draco's side regardless of what happened when the full moon rose.
"I will," he vowed to him. "I will do whatever it takes."
"Will you defy the Ministry for me?" Draco asked him.
"I am already defying the Ministry for you, Draco."
"Will you defy your friends for me?"
That question took a moment longer. "It would not come to that," Remus said finally. "Any friends of mine would not have me make that choice."
Draco nodded, then pressed his lips against Remus's, leaving a crooked red smear. It was both difficult to stop him and difficult to let him, Remus's mind and conscience being pulled in two opposing directions at once. The memory of Draco as a child, as forbidden fruit, lingered at the forefront of his brain; the memory of him just moments before, breathtaking and intense, challenged it for attention.
The image of Draco as a Death Eater, as a minion of Voldemort, was all but gone.
"We can't," said Remus, even as he let Draco coax him further into the room, towards his bedchambers. Draco silenced him with a look, grey eyes flashing in a way that Remus remembered from when he was much younger, from a time before Draco had been born. "You don't know what you're doing."
That, of course, was a blatant lie, for Draco knew perfectly well what he was doing, in all ways, both what he was doing and who he was doing it with.
"You are Remus Lupin, werewolf, my former teacher, and one of Dumbledore's men," said Draco, catching him off balance and pushing him into the bed. "And we are going to shag like beasts, right now, right here. Unless you prefer to do everything in the forest...."
Remus swallowed and let Draco tumble down next to him. He hadn't imagined this happening quite like this, but he could not deny how often he'd imagined it happening, and he'd be a bigger fool than he was already being to try to end things now. They'd been spiralling towards this, in his mind, for some time; the only thing that had changed was that he now knew the same thing had been happening in Draco's.
"Does it carry over?" Draco asked him, pulling Remus's robes open and licking his shoulder. "Do you feel the beast in you before the full moon? Because I feel awfully primal right now."
"No," said Remus, relaxing into the touch, letting things happen that he feared he would never feel again. "You don't feel the beast until you become it. If you're feeling... primal... then it's all you, Draco."
Draco lifted his head to give him a grin, not devious, not calculating, just joyful. A look that was both surprising and painfully natural at once. "That's the first bit of good news I've got in ages," he said, before bending his head down again to run his tongue along Remus's collarbone.
"You may," Remus added after a moment, while Draco divested the both of them of their robes, "find you now have a propensity to... to use your mouth now, though."
"Always did," said Draco, doing a very good job of proving it. "Does that mean, then, that you do as well?"
Remus didn't answer him, and in fact decided that holding a conversation while he had such an eager and ravishing boy in his bed was unnecessary. Draco was clear-eyed and clear-headed, and as healed as he was ever going to be from Fenrir's attack. And even after his time with the werewolves, even after an entire life enduring his condition, Draco was the person who understood most who Remus was, and why.
As he rolled them over, Draco's back against the bed now, his mouth roamed all over, from his lips to his throat to his belly, to the crease between his legs and his torso. To places Remus had once known on another body. Draco fell limp and boneless for him, his legs falling open to let Remus burrow deeper between them.
He grabbed at Draco's legs with blunt fingers and pulled them wider still, licking at his cock, his balls, deep into the crevice behind them. He poked his tongue against Draco's hole and felt it twitch and flutter against him, then allow him just barely inside. He tasted nothing, so focused on the texture, the tight folds of thin, hot skin gripping him as Draco made incoherent sounds from what felt like a very long distance away.
He pulled away before Draco kicked him away and hardly even had to touch his own cock before coating it with a slick potion and sliding right inside. Draco sighed -- sighed -- when Remus was balls-deep inside him, legs still pliable under Remus's hands and lips begging to be kissed or fucked or bitten or whatever Remus could reach to do to them, which turned out to be a long and flickering lick.
Remus envied the flexibility of youth even as he took advantage of it, pressing forward as hard as he would have, once, thrusting into him and tugging on his cock at once, one long sensation. Draco shouted, abandoning any pretence of restraint, and hooked a leg around him, drawing him in again, and again, and again, until Remus reached the edge of even his long fuse and was desperate to make Draco come before he did himself.
He thrust in, thrust up, ran a thumb over the head of Draco's cock before each downstroke, and leaned in further, further, stopping just shy of Draco's lips and breathing on him, short hot pants as he fucked him like he hadn't fucked anyone in years.
Draco cried out again as he shot off, arching his back and saying something that might have been a spell or a name or a curse, Remus couldn't tell and didn't care. He could finally let go, his orgasm wrenching out of him right from his back, as hard as it had ever been.
This boy, this beautiful boy, giving him what he thought he might never have again. Remus would have thanked him if it wouldn't have been inappropriate, and instead lay there with him for a long while before cleaning them up so discomfort wouldn't set in.
It was mid-afternoon, so they did not sleep, but Remus enjoyed the calm silence between them afterward, a moment of contentment that eluded him entirely too often. He could not help but hope that now he might be able to find more of them.
"You once told me that you were not good enough for me," said Tonks, as they once again sat together outside the hospital wing while Madame Pomfrey performed a series of tests on the boy. "Was it really that I wasn't good enough for you?"
Remus closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the wall. "Dora," he said, to her impatient huff. "Tonks. You are beautiful and strong and an amazing person, and any man would be lucky to have you. There are few who would be your equal, but even if I thought myself to be one of them...."
"You might have just told me from the start," she said. "I'm very cross with you."
"I never wished that," he said. "When I knew you were sure of me, I wanted to try. I did try."
"It's very embarrassing, you know," she told him. "Molly asks me to tea every other day and tells me how you're a fool not to want what's right in front of you. And then she fusses and it's all quite awkward."
"Do you want me to talk to her? I could tell her--"
"If you haven't told her already," said Tonks, "I'd imagine it's not something you particularly want to do. Though you'll have to endure the whole Order insisting that you've done me wrong."
"Perhaps I should have told them all long ago," Remus admitted.
"Yes, perhaps you should have," she snipped, but then sighed and gave his shoulder a friendly nudge. "She'll understand better if you say something. And perhaps she'll stop giving me those terrible pitying looks. But don't do it on my account."
"There are soon things that will need to be said regardless."
She lifted her head and raised a knowing eyebrow at him, and looked as though she'd purposefully shaped her eyebrows to be able to do just that to greatest effect. "You and Draco," she said.
"How did you--?"
"I may have been a fool about some things," she said, "but not about this. You don't seem to fear the same things with him that you said to me."
It might have been mildly challenging, but not aggressively so. "He's like me," said Remus. "I don't need to fear those same things. And perhaps... perhaps I've learned some things, lately."
"He may not be like you, Remus," she warned him. "And he's still done the things he's done." But the vehemence in that statement was gone now; she'd seen almost as much of Draco these weeks as Remus had.
"Even if he's not," said Remus, though for Draco's sake he wouldn't get his hopes up, "he's endured this month believing he might be. He understands better than almost anyone."
"And I never could," sighed Tonks.
"Nor would I have wished you to," Remus assured her. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone. The fact that he's had to endure this is as devastating as it is enlightening. Tonks... Dora... I want you in my life, still. Even if I can't give you what you want."
"I'm not pining," she said, giving him another friendly shove that was just slightly off the mark, causing her to wobble just slightly. "I understand, Remus. Though I'm still cross that you couldn't have said something to me months ago. It would have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble, you know."
"I won't make that same mistake again," he promised her. "And I hope you find someone who can make you as happy as I wished I could, Tonks."
"Oh, hush," she laughed quietly. "There's no need to get melodramatic about it. I know that I will; I'll not go moping after anyone like that again. There are larger concerns, and I'm better than that."
"You are," Remus agreed with her, and sat comfortably close to her as he waited for Draco to finish.
It was only through Harry's kindness and fortune that Remus was able to enjoy Wolfsbane Potion once more, to ease this transformation and allow him to safely spend the night in Draco's company. Draco, who could not take the potion himself until they were sure, lest he be poisoned or worse.
"What's it like?" asked Draco, shivering as he huddled in the corner of the room. "What will it feel like, when it happens?"
"It's best not to anticipate it," said Remus, rather than tell him about growing and stretching and cracking bones. It would do him no service to know that. "The fur itches a little, till you're used to it. Or at least, that's how I remember it."
"That doesn't sound so bad...." said Draco slowly. "But it hurts, right? It hurts."
"Yes," said Remus, for while he might avoid the details, he would not lie about it. "It does hurt, but it ends. It doesn't hurt all night." Except if Draco turned on himself, snarling and scratching and biting, and Remus was willing to sacrifice his own body so that Draco would be spared that.
"Come here," said Draco, beckoning him closer to where he sat, and Remus could not refuse. He'd huddled in this same corner more than once, especially during his first few visits to the Shrieking Shack as a child, when he was old enough to understand what was happening but too young to understand why.
Draco'd dressed in his best again, against all advice, insisting that he would be comfortable for as long as he could. And so Remus could enjoy the feel of those soft robes rubbing against his skin, that even softer blond hair, grown longer now than he'd ever seen it, brushing against his cheek.
"Is that Auror here?" Draco asked him, after a few minutes of tense silence. "Is she watching us?"
"I don't know," said Remus, but he hoped that she was clever enough to stay away. She may not have been in danger from him, but she was in danger from Draco, and Remus had made that as clear as he could to her. "She's probably tucked away inside the castle, enjoying her night off."
"No one asked her to watch over me," said Draco. "I didn't need a minder."
Remus did not reply to that, not directly, for Draco had, in fact, needed a minder, more now than he probably had since he was a small child. "Her name is Tonks," he said instead. "She's the daughter of your mother's sister."
"The whole family are blood traitors. She married a Muggleborn."
"There are worse things," Remus said mildly. Draco might have still looked faintly disgusted, but he did not argue. And Remus did not press the issue; it was more valuable as a distraction than an object lesson right now.
He could feel it start right at the back of his neck, as the moon rose into the evening sky, a faint prickling that started to spread over his shoulders and down his back. He glanced over at Draco, who was still staring away, shivering. Pushing himself to his feet he moved away again, giving himself room for the transformation.
Draco looked as terrified as Remus had ever seen anyone, shrinking as far from him as he could, pulling a three-legged table in front of him as though it could offer some protection from what was coming. A few moments later and Remus could not spare a thought for Draco any longer, as he endured his own agonising transformation.
When it was over, leaving him prone and panting and docile on the floor of the shack, it was a few long and silent minutes before Remus felt a tentative touch on his shoulder, fingers carding lightly through his fur.
They waited out the whole night together, but they both knew from the first moment the moon rose and Remus took on his hated form, that Draco was not going to transform.
"I would have thought you'd look happier."
Draco looked anything but happy as he sat on his bed in the Hospital Wing, looking out of place now that he was long since healed. Or as healed as he was going to be; the scars on his arm remained, obscuring the Dark Mark almost as much as they had when they were fresh.
"I am," said Draco dully. "I'm thrilled that I've just earned a one-way ticket to Azkaban. Can't you hear the celebration?"
Draco's ticket had been earned quite some time ago; the lingering question had been only whether or not he would be delivered. A question that still lingered, truth be told, unless Draco knew something that Remus himself did not.
"I... had assumed that you would be leaving us now," he said, soft and low, as Tonks remained just the other side of the doors. "As soon as you could."
"That's it, then," said Draco. "I run back to him, or I go to Azkaban. That's all that's left for me."
"You don't have to run back to him," Remus reminded him. "Fenrir has probably long since reported your death, rather than confess his sins. What do you want, Draco? You've already got your freedom from the curse."
"What I want is what you promised me," said Draco. "You were gone, this morning, while I slept."
"Draco," said Remus slowly, staring as the boy fussed with his bedsheets. "I'm... I am still a werewolf. And you aren't. You have no obligation to stay with me, no need to do so."
"Obligation?" said Draco. "Need? I wanted to stay with you. You made me a promise. Or was that only if I really was like you?"
"But how could you possibly want to--?"
"I won't go back to him," said Draco, "and I don't want to go to Azkaban. You promised me something else, Remus. You promised me another option. And I want it, I want to stay with you."
Draco could have just been wanting someone to save him, he could have been wanting the option of freedom and no more. When the war was over he might disappear from Remus's life as quickly as Remus had disappeared from the Shrieking Shack that very morning.
And he might not.
Remus leaned down and kissed him and said nothing else until Draco's eyelids fluttered closed and he looked relaxed again.
"You're still protected here," he told him. "No one knows what happened last night besides us. I will do everything I can for you. For us."
"All right," said Draco, and asking nothing more of him.
"I told the Ministry an hour ago," said Tonks, as soon as Remus opened his door to her. "I had to do it, I couldn't stall any longer."
"You what?" said Remus, flinging the door open further, so hard it hit the wall with a sharp crack. "Tonks, why?"
"And then I went to tell Draco," she said, as though he hadn't interrupted her. "And he was gone, Remus."
"Gone?" He'd left Draco less than two hours ago, when Draco had said he needed to get some rest, that the scars were aching. Remus had even watched him down a potion for it, that had been left at his bedside for him. "Was he taken already? Does the Ministry have him?"
She shook her had. "He'd taken all of his things, Remus," she told him gently, "except this, lying on top of his bed." What she handed Remus looked like a rudimentary necklace, a strange series of objects strung together with a bit of thread. "Do you know what it means?"
Remus recognised a few of the things: the berries from their first walk in the forest, now shrivelled and dark; a bit of bark, shredded till it was almost unidentifiable; a smoothed stone from the bank of the widest stream. Little things from the time they spent together.
"A memento, I would suppose," he said sadly, moments before he realised the string of objects was not a memento but a map.
Berries from the path into the forest; a shred of parchment with the same markings on it as a tree at the crossroads; leaves from a shrub that grew only near where Draco had been found: a series of objects that led deeper and deeper into the forest.
A map, to where Draco had run.
"We went walking together often," he said, proud of how his voice didn't so much as quaver. "I... suppose this is a thank you, for the time we spent together. He could have been saved, Tonks, if only he'd been given a chance."
"I know," she said, watching as Remus slipped the string of objects into his pockets and not making any move to stop him. "But nobody wants to hear that now. Perhaps when the war is over, if he does not show up in Voldemort's ranks again, then he can be free."
"I do not believe Draco will rejoin him," said Remus, without quite meeting her eyes. "He just wants to survive; he's only doing what he has to, to do that."
"I hope I don't find him," she said, so plainly Remus had to wonder if she suspected, if she knew. "I would hate to have to bring him before the Ministry, before things are sorted out."
"I suppose," said Remus carefully, "now that my work here is done, I ought to proceed with my primary mission. My contact with the remains of Fenrir's pack has been scarce, since--"
"You do that," Tonks interrupted him. "I have things to get back to as well. Auror Headquarters is expecting a report; I've got to figure out what to tell them."
"Be kind," said Remus, though he believed now that Tonks didn't need to be told that. She would do what she could, for him and for their cause if not for Draco. And maybe for Draco as well.
He kissed her cheek before she left, then quickly packed up his things, leaving only the few possessions that he always left in his quarters at Hogwarts, the one place he could always return to.
And with the string safely in his cloak pocket, he set out for the forest, for the berry tree and the thornbushes and for Draco.
He knew a place where they could go.