November 30, 2001 - January 25, 2002 (March 2002)

Disclaimer: I always feel more guilty when I write litbased fanfic, but it doesn't seem to stop me. JK Rowling created these characters, yay her. I'm just playing with them and waiting for her to Joss me. Title from the first article of the declaration of human rights. Thanks to LP for Latin stuff, C for Britreading, and elynross for editing (with a cameo by Shoshanna). All errors are mine. Do not archive without permission. I am extremely fond of feedback:

A spirit of brotherhood

Severus Snape Apparated by the dilapidated shed at the bottom of the garden just as the rain washed loose some moss and earth from the roof and sent it splashing over him. The winter sky had been starless over Hogwarts, but he hadn't expected a downpour. Or wet, slimy moss in his ear. He shook his head, sending raindrops and moss flying, and began to trudge up through the muddy garden. The house looked deserted. No light showed in any of the windows. He didn't know if he was the first to arrive or if it was just the effect of the concealment spells.

His feet slipped in the muddy grass as he walked up to the back door. There were empty flowerbeds on both sides of the path. Someone had dug them recently, turning the earth. Rain fell in his eyes and plastered his hair to his face.

At the back door, Snape got out his wand. He tapped the door lightly and said, "Amicus amici."

The door swung open.

He stepped inside and felt a tingle run over his skin. The wards on the house weren't subtle. It was warm and dry, and the lights were on. Snape said a quick drying spell and felt the water steam out of his hair and clothes. He heard kitchen sounds from the right, and went that way.

The kitchen was large and looked lived-in. Drying herbs and copper pans hung on racks from the ceiling; the air smelled of sage and chandelwort and boot polish and tea. Candlelight glinted off the copper pans, and there was a fire in the fireplace. A wizard in dark robes stood by the kitchen counter, pouring tea into a chipped mug. He had shaggy, light brown hair streaked with silver. Snape closed his eyes for a moment, opened them again. "Lupin."

Remus Lupin turned. His smile was fleeting, a little surprised. "You're very quiet. I didn't expect you to be so early, Severus."

"I didn't expect you to be here at all," Snape said, controlling his voice with an effort. "I suppose this is another example of Dumbledore's pathetic sense of humor. I'm surprised you could afford to take time off from your job. That is, if you have one."

"Not at the moment," Lupin said mildly. In the dim light, it was difficult to make out every detail of Lupin's appearance, but Snape concentrated on what he knew had to be there: the threadbare, washed-out robes, the badly cut hair, the cracked boot-leather. Even Lupin's eyes were the color of cheap, second-rate sherry. When he smiled, they looked translucently, deceptively sweet. "Would you like some tea? There's no Butterbeer, but I saw pumpkin juice in the fridge."

"I don't want anything," Snape said, although a mug of tea would have warmed his chilled fingers. He walked over to the fireplace instead. "We might as well get started."

"We need to wait for the last person." Lupin added a spoonful of honey to his tea.

Snape pressed his lips together. He detested oversweetened tea. "What last person?"

"Dumbledore's planned for three of us to perform the spell." When Lupin bent his head to sip the tea, his hair fell forward over his face and hid his eyes. His robes were carelessly fastened, and Snape thought he could glimpse Muggle clothing underneath. Scrounged from a dustbin, no doubt.

"I hope whoever it is will hurry up." Snape moved closer to the fire rather than stretch his hands towards it. "I have no desire to spend more time with a werewolf than I have to."

Lupin just nodded, and his voice was still light and unconcerned as he said, "Thanks for the potion, by the way. I appreciate it."

Snape didn't answer. If he'd had a mug of tea, he would have turned it in his hands and perhaps drunk from it. He was used to being still without fidgeting, used to seeing his own hands move only when he told them to move. Used to being watched. Used to playing a part. The fire was ruddy gold, and the shadows around it billowed and snapped like dark sheets hung out to dry.

The back door opened and someone walked inside. Snape turned his back to the fire and listened as footsteps followed the same way he had come towards the kitchen. A lean, dark shape appeared in the doorway, and Lupin lifted his head and smiled brilliantly. "Sirius!"

Snape closed his hand around his wand even as Dumbledore's voice repeated in his head, No aggressive spells or charms will work inside the house. He drew in a long breath through his nose as Lupin set his tea mug aside and moved forward. Lupin and Black clasped each other by the arm and shoulder, not quite an embrace.

Black broke away first, shaking his head, drops of water flying from his hair. "It's raining Ice Mice outside. The spell doesn't require a clear night, does it?"

"No." Lupin looked amused. Black muttered a few familiar words, and a small cloud of steam rose around him. "How are you?"

"Fine," Black said, the word muffled as he pulled off a thick knitted sweater and threw it casually onto a kitchen chair. Underneath, he wore a deep blue shirt from Gladrags' ivory-button line. It appeared to have suffered a great deal of maltreatment, as most of the buttons were chipped or missing. "Damp, but fine. And you?"

"Oh, same as always."

Black frowned, eyeing Lupin. "Remus, I want to hear what you've been up to lately, but I think we ought to get started on the spell before I grow too tired. I haven't slept for the past two nights. I could do with some tea, if there's more."

"Of course." Lupin turned back towards the kitchen counter. "I'm ready to begin. How about you, Severus?"

"The sooner we get done, the sooner I can leave," Snape said curtly.

Black stiffened and took a step towards Snape and the fire. "You," he said, loathing in his voice. "What are you doing here?"

"He's here for the spell. Here." Lupin held out another mug, but Black ignored it.

"I believe I am capable of speaking for myself," Snape said. "Dumbledore has apparently decided that it amuses him to see us work together." The fire crackled and spat as a log rolled over. "As I said, the sooner we get done here—"

"I'm not here for the pleasure of your company, either," Black snapped.

"I'm already aware that you don't like my company." Snape tucked his wand more securely into his belt, making sure Black noticed. "Not that I'm sure what difference it would make if you did like me — though you only seem to get your friends killed by accident, rather than trying to do it on purpose."

"You despicable bastard!" Black started for Snape with his hands outstretched. His fingers curved as though they were already around Snape's neck. Lupin stepped between them, putting a hand on Black's chest. Black tried to walk through him. "Get out of the way, Remus. I'm not going to kill him. I'm just going to break that big, ugly nose of his."

"I see." Lupin didn't move. "And then I'll have to tell Dumbledore that his plans failed because two men he trusted to behave as rational adults decided to have a playground fight instead."

Black tried once more to push past Lupin, who didn't budge. "He tried to give me to the Dementors!"

Snape stood his ground and watched. He knew that Black couldn't get past Lupin, whose strength and resiliency were something other than purely human, and didn't give himself any points for heroism. "At the time, I had every reason to believe that you were a justly convicted murderer who had allied himself with Voldemort. Would you have preferred that I patted you on the head and gave you sweets as a reward? Or dog biscuits, I suppose."

Black snarled. "James never should have gone after you. You weren't worth it."

Snape felt the back of his neck begin to heat with anger, and the tips of his ears burn with something like hurt. He clenched one hand, but not to strike out. "Of course not. I'm sure Lupin here would have been only too happy to rip me to pieces and wake up the next morning covered in my blood and guts. He would have been put down or locked away for life, you would have been expelled at best or sent to Azkaban at worst — or perhaps that should be the other way around. I would have been dead, of course, and in no state to appreciate it."

"What kind of wizard are you, that you can't even handle yourself against a teenage werewolf? But you were always a scrawny, puling, weak—"

"Sirius, be quiet." Between them, Lupin stood with his head bent slightly forward. His hair fell over his eyes again, and his mouth was a thin line. Lupin's free hand flexed, and Snape wondered if Lupin was strong enough to rip people apart while in this body, too, not just as the wolf.

"What's wrong?" Snape asked coldly. "Don't you find it a delightful joke that your dear friend Sirius Black planned to use you as a murder weapon? Wouldn't you have laughed like anything the next morning on finding my dismembered body?"

The next moment he reeled back from a hard push against his sternum, Lupin's strength turned against him instead of Black. He fell against the mantlepiece and felt its edge dig bruisingly into his shoulder.

"Don't be ridiculous," Black said. "I only wanted you to see for yourself, since you were so damn curious, always trying to poke in where you didn't belong, and—"

Lupin rounded on Black. When Snape blinked the pain out of his eyes, he could read danger in every line of Lupin's body. Aggressive magic would not work inside the house, but evidently there were no checks against physical violence. "Sirius. I told you then, and I've told you again. Don't make light of it. You're not the one who would have woken with blood in his mouth."

"Remus," Black said, sounding a little strained.

"I would have torn him to pieces, or I would have infected him. I'd rather die than do either of those things to anyone, and you know that."

"Remus. Move your hand."

Snape pushed himself upright and stepped forward to see Lupin's hand still resting against Black's chest, fingers curved like claws, digging in. Blood was beginning to well up and stain Black's thin shirt. Lupin stiffened. He lifted his hand away and looked at it. There was blood under his nails. His face went blank, and he turned from them both and walked out of the kitchen. Black stared after him, but didn't move.

Unbuttoning the top of his robe, Snape felt his shoulder and found it only bruised, not bleeding. He whispered a healing cantrip and looked at Black, who made no attempt to do anything about the scratches on his chest. "It would seem that the two of you aren't quite such good friends as you'd like to think," Snape said. "What a terrible shame."

The dazed look in Black's eyes sharpened into rage. "You were always trying to interfere. You would have liked nothing better than to drive us all apart back then, and you're still playing the same immature schoolboy games. Is it because you don't have any friends of your own?"

"Of course, you were always a model of maturity, Sirius Black. You held the record for highest amount of detention given to a single student, didn't you? And you don't appear to have changed much. You don't think before you act. You don't think before you speak. In fact, I'd say that you don't think, period."

"You're an ugly, stupid, malicious git, Snape," Black said, each word separate and clear. He turned to the kitchen counter, picked up a mug, and drank. It was Lupin's mug, not the one he'd tried to hand to Black. "Ugh. I'm going to talk to Remus, and then we'll do the spell, and then you can leave."

"Yes, indeed. And I assure you it will be the high point of my evening."

Black took another sip of tea and made a face. "Tell me, Snape, in your entire life of being obnoxious, conniving, and mean, has anyone ever actually liked you?" He turned around. "You were always the tagalong, running behind Avery and Malfoy, never quite catching up. You ran behind them all the way to Voldemort, didn't you? He probably wasn't too impressed with you, either. Was that why you turned your back on the Death Eaters? To get some attention, to finally get Dumbledore to look on you with approval? For betraying your friends?"

Snape took the mug out of Black's hand and dropped it on the floor. It broke in three pieces, and tea soaked the toes of Black's boots. "Stop drinking the werewolf's brew. Go find him. I don't want to spend more time with either of you than I have to."

"You look sourer than a barrel full of lemons. Did I hit a nerve?"

"Taking out your anger on me because you were blind when it came to Pettigrew isn't going to do you any good, Black." Snape folded his arms and tilted his head back and looked at Black as though he were a particularly dull child in a Potions class. "I'm not him. My reasons for what I did are my own."

"Aren't you special." Black sneered, kicking at one of the fragments of the mug. "The redeemed Death Eater. Dumbledore may trust a turncoat like you, but I never will."

"And I'm sure you can imagine just how much your opinion means to me." All the same, he could feel rage building up to a white-hot pressure at the back of his mind, and struggled not to let it loose. He wanted to break Black's head open, force him to understand. No. He wanted Black to understand without a word, without a breath of explanation, or not at all. Justification was for other people.

It had been easier when they were children, throwing clumsy punches and small, stupid hexes. He had resolved not to lose his temper again, yet all he wanted to do was shout and break things.

"Are you two ready?" Lupin stood in the doorway, leaning one shoulder against the doorjamb. Snape wondered how long he'd been there.

Black turned, his face changing from cold to warm. "Are you all right?"

"I only went to wash my hands. We should begin with the spell as soon as we can. It will take some time." Lupin had his arms crossed over his chest, but Snape felt certain that he'd scrubbed under his nails until there was no trace of red left.

"Remus. Are you, I mean..." Black threw a sideways glance at Snape. "You shouldn't let that bastard get to you."

"I don't think we should talk about this now." Lupin's expression didn't change. "I've set things up in a room down the hall."

"All right. But Remus—"

"Don't make me angry again," Lupin said, in a voice that crackled like lightning. Black's head came up,and there was a glint of something in his eyes.

Snape stepped forward. "I'll be in the room down the hall. Do let me know when you two have made up your differences."

He went out past Lupin and heard Black say, "I said I was sorry! And it's not as if the stupid git was even hurt!"

The house looked as if wizards lived there. The only unusual thing was that there were no paintings on the walls. Snape thought that Dumbledore had probably furnished the place himself. The ornamental woodwork and the rugs with their sliding stained-glass patterns reminded him of the headmaster's private quarters. The door handle, shaped like a grimacing goblin head, tried to bite his fingers. Snape pulled his hand back and kicked the door open instead.

In this room, all furniture had been cleared away, and the floorboards lay bare. A fire burned in the brick fireplace. Four large sash windows opened onto the garden. Snape walked over and looked out, knowing that no one passing the house could see in. The rain was still pouring down, and from the occasional hard clatter against the windowsill, there was some hail mixed in with it.

This house looked like a home, not a temporary hiding place for tired wizards and witches trying to prepare for a coming war. Despite the double glazing, it was colder by the window. Snape rubbed his arms. His left forearm ached. He curved his hand around it for a moment, but his hands were the coldest part of him.

The fire popped. He could walk over there and warm himself. He kept looking out the window at the wet grass and the mud until a voice said, "Severus."

Turning around, he saw Albus Dumbledore's head in the fireplace. He walked over, slowly, and sat on the floor. Snape pressed his lips together. The floor was hard, and the sudden heat after the chill by the window paradoxically made him shiver. "You could have informed me that I would be meeting Lupin and Black."

"If I'd told you that, you wouldn't have agreed." Dumbledore smiled. He crossed his arms, propping them on the nearest merrily burning logs. "Severus, I know that this will be difficult for you. I believe it to be necessary for our success."

"One evening with them isn't likely to kill me." Snape looked towards the door. He couldn't hear Black or Lupin. "Although they may have killed each other. I still feel that the werewolf is unreliable."

"Ah." Dumbledore coughed. "I take it that Remus hasn't told you about the spell yet." He leaned forward, and one of the logs shifted under his elbow, sending up a starburst of sparks. Snape jerked back. "I have given considerable thought to this. It will improve our odds a great deal. I would never ask you to do it otherwise, but—"

The log shifted again and tumbled out of the fireplace. Dumbledore fell forward, and the tip of his hat poked out of the fire like a unicorn horn before he vanished. Snape jerked his legs away from the burning log. He grasped his wand and spoke an extinguishing spell, and the whole fire went out.

There were candles and lamps in the room, but it still seemed much darker and colder. Snape poked at the log, pushing it back into the fireplace. He added some more wood and started the fire again. Dumbledore didn't return.

Snape got to his feet and shook out his robes. There were ashes on the hem, but no scorch marks. He tucked his wand back in his belt. This had seemed like a straightforward enough mission when he had accepted it: to go to a safehouse and participate in a spell that could only be performed conjointly, drawing on each contributor's essence. Not standard stuff by any means, but nothing too terribly advanced, either. He had assumed that he would be back at Hogwarts in time for his evening tisane.

He went to the door and listened. Raised voices came from the kitchen, but he couldn't make out any words. Perhaps he should have brought a book.

It was tempting to step outside to hear better, but they could see him from the kitchen door, and he wouldn't give Black the satisfaction of showing that he cared a whit about anything they said. Snape turned his back to the half-open door and surveyed the room again, looking for clues. There were careless chalk marks scrawled on the floorboards that looked more like reminders of where to put the furniture back than spell runes of any kind. He had a passing familiarity with the miscibilis spell, but Dumbledore's words hinted that he had modified it somehow.

A crash of broken pottery echoed down the hall.

Moments later, Snape heard light footsteps, and Remus Lupin walked in. "It's time we began," he said, brushing his hands together. He muttered a word under his breath, and the chalk marks grew clearer. "Severus, I need you to stand over there, by the triangle with the snake."

The snake looked more like a question mark, but Snape decided not to comment on Lupin's artistic abilities. He went over there. "I thought there had to be three of us," he said with just the thinnest edge of malice.

Black came through the door, his big boots clunking on the floorboards. The blood on his shirt had dried. "This is a crazy idea," he said, and glared at Snape. "He won't do it."

"You should stand over there, Sirius, on the square by the window." Lupin had taken up a position not too far from the fireplace. His right foot covered part of an uneven circle. Snape saw a curve drawn next to it, a lopsided waning moon.

"This won't work." Black went to the window, but his shoulders were stubbornly set. He was uncombed, and looked as though he were trying to grow out a bad haircut. As scruffy as Lupin, in his own way.

Snape checked his tightly buttoned cuffs, where not a single thread was fraying. "Not up to the challenge, Black?"

Black made a curious sound, as though he'd tried to laugh and snort at the same time and ended up almost choking himself. "Tell him, Remus."

"The spell we will be performing tonight is a modified version of the classic miscibilis spell," Lupin said, sounding as though he stood in front of a class of students who had done something to displease him. Snape would have recognized that tone of voice anywhere. "In the miscibilis spell, two or more wizards infuse an object with aspects of their power, mingling them together. It was—"

"Invented by Helga Hufflepuff and refined in later centuries by Nicholas Flamel," Snape interrupted. "I did take the same classes as you, you know. Get to the point." He looked at the bare floor. "The object we're working with should be in the center of the circle, not in your pocket."

"There is no object." Lupin shifted his shoulders under his robe, which now hung open. The Muggle clothing underneath was pale grey and faded brown. "The spell has been modified to let us combine our powers. We will be connected, so that any one of us can draw on the strength and abilities of the—"

"Absolutely not!" Snape said, horrified.

"Albus said you would say that," Lupin said with a small smile.

Snape looked involuntarily at the fireplace, half expecting Dumbledore to be there again, leaning forward and smiling in that thoroughly infuriating way of his. Severus, I know that this will be difficult for you. I believe it to be necessary for our success.

"I have no wish to be connected to either of you," he said coldly.

"I told you so," Black said. "This won't work."

"Please think about it, Severus." Lupin didn't fidget, he just stood where he was, calmly still, his posture a few degrees away from a relaxed slouch. "It would make us stronger. Between the two of us, we have the greatest working knowledge of the Dark Arts and their countermeasures of any wizards currently committed to our side."

Black fidgeted. He pushed his hair back behind his ear, and it immediately flopped forward again. Scowling, he put his hands in his pockets and tapped his heel on the floor. Snape stiffened his spine even more. "And what is he going to contribute?" he asked, nodding towards Black. "Fashion tips? The occasional bark?"

"If you're trying to weasel out of this, don't blame it on me." Black swiped angrily at his hair once again. "I knew you'd be too much of a coward to go through with it."

"I don't see why Dumbledore believed that you would be useful," Snape said. He looked with disdain at the way Black kept moving even when standing in one place. "You've been in prison most of your adult life, unable to perform any magic, and I don't suppose the Dementors allowed you to keep up with recent developments in wizardry."

"Do you think that Albus Dumbledore chooses so carelessly?" Lupin sounded close to amused. "Sirius spent twelve years in Azkaban, and his spirit remains unbroken. He is stronger than either of us." Definitely amused, now. "And I don't think I need to remind you, Severus, that his marks at school were higher than yours. I'm sure he'll catch up with recent developments in no time."

Snape kept his opinion on the likelihood of that to himself, and went on to his next objection. "Nor do I relish the thought of being bound to a werewolf," he said. "Your power is unstable. The full moon weakens you."

"Yes, it does." Lupin shrugged. He didn't mention the fact that during the rest of the moon cycle, his strength was greater, nor had Snape expected him to do so. "We will be stronger together than we are separately. Or so Dumbledore believes, and I trust his judgment. Do you?"

It will improve our odds a great deal. I would never ask you to do it otherwise, but—

On his arm, the Dark Mark gave another faint twinge. Sometimes that pain seemed to reach right down into his bones. Feeling it now made him come to a decision. He had bound himself once before, wrongly. "Very well," he said. "I will do it."

Across the room, Sirius Black stilled. "You will?"

"Yes." He looked down his nose, as best he could at someone of equal height. "Were you hoping I'd say no, so you wouldn't have to go through with it?"

"I'm not the one who just spent an hour whining and asking stupid questions."

"No, I wouldn't expect you to take the time to think things through now, when you never have before."

"If you two are quite finished," Lupin said, "it's time to begin."

Snape frowned. The chalked snake mark under his foot had not smudged when he moved, and under Black's shifting feet, the crudely drawn square was still as fresh. "We should familiarize ourselves with the spell first," he said. "If I have to go through with this, I would prefer that it doesn't go wrong."

"You don't have to go through with it." Lupin dug his wand out of a pocket in his robe. "You can always say no, but you were Dumbledore's first and best choice for this spell."

"Stop flattering him," Black said. "He'll keep on dithering just to make you do it again. Stupid git likes to feel important."

Lupin smiled, one of those small, sweet smiles that made him look, Snape thought, more than a little feeble-minded. "Don't we all?"

"The spell," Snape reminded him harshly. At the moment, he felt as though he couldn't stand to spend another moment in the same room with Sirius Black, much less voluntarily link himself to the man. He bit the inside of his lip hard enough to draw blood, then regretted it when Lupin looked at him with a new, searching sharpness.

"The modifications are quite simple," Lupin said. "Illa is replaced by nobis, and the last two lines, following fiat, are left out."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Not eis?"

"No. Each participant also has to include himself. Aim your wands at the center of the room, where the Celtic knot is."

Snape looked at the floor, and so did Black, who shook his head. "Remus, that looks like a ball of yarn that the cat's been at. Give me the chalk." He went to the center of the room, and Lupin tossed a piece of chalk to him with a small, huffy snort. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, you know you can't draw. Remember that time in Ancient Runes, with the mice?" He wiped out the lopsided knot with his sleeve and drew a new one without lifting the chalk from the floor; when the line finally met itself, a soft glow ran through it. "There, that should do it."

"Thank you, Mr. Black, you may go to the head of the class," Lupin said, and Black made a rude gesture and went back to his place. "Now. We each recite the spell in turn, leaving out the final word, and the actual binding will take place when our spells meet and we all say commiscete. Clear?"

"Yeah, you ought to be a teacher," Black muttered.

Lupin's lips tightened for a fraction at a second. He didn't look at Snape. "I'll begin, Sirius will be next, and Severus will be last." A tinge of sarcasm crept into his voice. "Any questions?"

"Yes." Snape weighed his wand in his hand. "The miscibilis spell is quite short, and the modifications haven't added anything to it. Why are you in such a hurry to begin? It shouldn't take long."

"Not the actual spell in itself, no," Lupin said. "But we will need to remain relatively close for some time afterwards, and I assume you want to be able to return to Hogwarts for your classes tomorrow."

"Define 'relatively close,'" Snape said stiffly.

"In the same house should be sufficient, though in the same room is better." Lupin looked at them each in turn. "Any other questions?"

"I need my head examined," Black said. "All right, let's do it." He straightened out of his slouch, and his mobile face smoothed into a calm, serious expression. This way, he seemed at least halfway capable, and Snape gave a curt nod and turned to face the Celtic knot.

"Ex me nobis," Lupin said. His voice was quiet and husky, but the words were clear. "Miscendum fiat." A clear beam of light shot out of the end of his wand towards the center of the room, stopping just above the pattern drawn on the floorboards. The light was bone white, like the moon in winter.

Black repeated the spell. He spoke it in a slightly different rhythm, faster and with other stresses on the words, and Snape felt a moment's worry that he'd slur a syllable, but he didn't. The light that shot out of Black's wand was warmer, with a faint orange tinge to it. It met up with Lupin's in the center of the room, and the two beams shot tiny sparks off one another.

Holding his wand in an easy grip, Snape looked towards the place where the two beams of light met, and recited the words of the spell. He could almost see them take shape in the air. His wand hummed in his hand, and then the light came, clear white with the softest shade of blue.

The third beam met the other two and locked into them with the painful rightness of a dislocated joint popping back in its socket. Sparks poured up, a small fountain of light, before leveling out. His arm trembled with the strain of holding his wand steady. He glimpsed the others, pale and serious. They all spoke at the same time. "Commiscete!"

A column of light rose from the point where the beams met. At first it was made of the three beams, separate, twined around each other like roses on a trellis. Then they shimmered and merged into one. Light flowed backwards, travelling into the wands, and Snape felt as though it went straight through his hand, into his bones. The column sank away. The beams of light faded, and Snape blinked as his eyes tried to adjust. His legs were shaking, and he locked his knees to remain standing.

Lowering his wand, he took a deep breath and looked at the other two. Perhaps it was an aftereffect of the bright spell-lights, but they seemed to have two shadows, one light, one dark. Lupin was smiling, Black frowning. One man who hated him, one who was a monster, and he had bound himself to them, for good or ill. Their presence itched along his skin. The obvious question he should have asked only now occurred to him. "Can this be undone?"

Lupin looked apologetic. "I don't know."

"What!" Black was the first to move, striding up to Lupin and grabbing him by the shoulder. His dark brows drew together, and his eyes looked almost colorless. "You mean I might be stuck sharing my magic with that greasy-haired bugger for the rest of my life?"

"Some work has been done on a dissolution spell, but it isn't anyone's first priority right now." Lupin's eyes were grave under his unevenly cut hair. "We should rather concentrate on learning as much as we can about our current bond and how to use it." He held his wand upright and looked thoughtfully at it. "Best to start with something simple. Lumos!"

Snape felt a tickle behind his eyes and across his shoulders. The light that blossomed at the tip of Lupin's wand lit up the room like sunshine, warm and bright. Black put up a hand to shade his eyes. "I felt that," he said. "Can you turn it down?"

"Diminutio," Lupin said, and the light dimmed. "That went quite well. Perhaps we should try something more advanced."

"All right," Black said. Snape felt a stronger jerk behind his eyes and behind his breastbone. Black's form blurred and was replaced by that of a large black dog. The dog butted its head against Lupin's hip, and he smiled and began to scratch it behind the ears.

Snape thinned his lips at the sight. The tickling sensation faded, but he was still aware of Black. When he closed his eyes, he could feel an echo of the Animagus magic, and it was clear enough that he wondered if he would be able to perform the transformation himself by using Black's knowledge of it. He wasn't tempted to try anything so foolhardy, though. Instead, he cleared his throat and looked pointedly at the two of them.

Lupin didn't react, but the dog paced away and transformed back into a tall, lanky man with hostile eyes.

"That was very interesting," Lupin said, running his hand through his already messy hair and getting black dog hairs on his collar. "I could almost tell how you did it — did you notice that, too, Severus?" Snape nodded. "It feels as though I could do it myself."

"No," Black said harshly. "Don't even think about it. It takes a lot of preparation to perform the Animagus spell the first time, even if it seems easy later on. And do you really want to try to transform into an animal?"

Lupin's eyes darkened to the color of burnt sugar. "No. I don't suppose that would be such a good idea."

Snape let his breath out.

It was completely dark outside the windows now, and rain still beat against the windowpanes. The fire had sunk into embers and the candles burned low; the room was still lit by the light from Lupin's wand. "Has Dumbledore said anything about what he wants us to do with this?" Black asked.

Lupin shook his head. "Nothing specific, no."

"Right, then." Black brushed his hands off against his legs, as though he had dog hairs on himself, too. "I'm going to get some tea, and then I need to sleep. It's enough to stay in the house overnight?"

"It is." Lupin looked troubled. "I know you said you were tired, Sirius, but I think we should take more time to explore this connection while we're all still here."

Snape sniffed and folded his arms. "Clearly, it works. Now, if you don't mind, I would prefer to retire."

Lupin sighed. "Very well. It seems I am outvoted. Nox." The room turned quite dark. Most of the candles were guttering, and the fire was little more than ashes. Black all but vanished, but the silver in Lupin's hair caught what light there was. "I think I'd better clean up in the kitchen," Lupin said. Snape wondered exactly what had broken, and how. "Would anyone like another cup of tea?"

"No." Snape put his wand away. He closed his eyes for a moment, and found that he could still tell exactly where Black and Lupin were. "Good night," he said, through stiff lips, and went to the door.

Behind him, Black said, "I'll give you a hand with the kitchen. Don't put any honey in my tea."

"You can make your own tea, Sirius, you lazy..."

The goblin head snapped at his fingertips. Snape went towards the stairs, which were carpeted in stripes of mouse-grey and chocolate brown. The banisters were carved in the shape of tall, thin chessmen holding up a long strip of chess-checked rail. He ran his hand over the black and white squares as he walked up.

At the top of the stairs was another hallway, and he chose a door at random, finding himself in a small bedroom with faded gold wallpaper. Snape lit a fire in the grate and drew the heavy velvet curtains against the wet night. The wrought-iron bed was narrow, with a high pointed canopy that looked like the Eiffel Tower covered in iron roses, but at least it wasn't too short. It would do. There was a door at the foot of the bed, leading into a small, warm bathroom.

He began to run a bath and took off his robes, folding them carefully. The tub was deep, and he eyed its clawed feet for a moment, determining that Dumbledore had not enchanted it to give unsuspecting bathers a tour of the house while they washed. Snape unfastened his cuffs and began to unbutton the front of his shirt, taking care with each small, polished jet button. He hung his shirt over the back of the chair, stepped out of his shoes, and bent to undo the trouser cuffs.

Steam rose from the filled tub when he straightened again. He took off his trousers, shook them out, and laid them over the chair seat. Stepping into the tub, he lowered himself slowly, feeling the heat move almost painfully over his skin. He leaned back, and the tips of his hair dipped into the water.

He sat like that for a long time, breathing steam, while his muscles softened and his fingertips wrinkled. Magic tingled behind his eyes: a mending charm, a heating spell. It was easy enough to recognize them, though he could sense nothing beyond the casting itself.

There was a row of bottles next to the bath, and Snape looked at the labels. He recognized Professor Sprout's spidery handwriting on several of them, his own on two. Every bottle offered to soothe or energize, and he ignored them, taking a bar of plain soap and a large sponge.

The itch on his skin didn't go away no matter how vigorously he scrubbed. If anything, it seemed to get worse. He could still tell where Lupin and Black were — not so much location as direction, down and to the left.

Snape rinsed off and got out of the tub. The pipes began to clank as he pulled the plug and the water swirled out. He picked up his clothes and walked back into the bedroom. The bed had been folded down while he was bathing, and a nightshirt lay across the pillow. It was plain white, with long, cuffed sleeves and a high neck, and when he pulled it over his head, it fell to his ankles.

He turned the lights off and got into bed. The sheets were warm. Lupin and Black had moved, perhaps from one end of the kitchen to the other. Snape closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep.

* * *

"I'm sorry about your shirt." Remus picked ceramic shards off the kitchen flagstones. One of the mugs was shattered beyond repair, half of it nothing but fragments and dust, but the other had broken in three clean pieces. He set them on the kitchen counter and tried a mending charm. The wand hummed in his hand.

"Doesn't matter." Sirius came up next to him. "I'm sorry about, you know."

"I know." Remus glanced sideways at the dried blood and the rents in the blue shirt. Something clenched inside him, and he looked away again as Sirius bent closer to look at the mug.

"Did it really have that gold stripe round the top?"

"No." Remus lifted the mug and ran his finger over the surface. The cracks were gone, not even hairlines remaining in the glaze. The mug looked as though it had never been broken. "We need to work more on control, and find out how to dampen our spells down to normal levels for everyday use. We should ask Severus to come down again." Sirius growled. Remus shook his head. "You have to learn to work with him, you know."

"I don't know why I agreed to this." Sirius scrubbed both hands through his hair. "Snape."

Remus brushed ceramic dust off his fingers. "I think it's a good idea." He scooped tea leaves into the kettle, poured in water, and tapped it very carefully with his wand. Steam jetted from the spout, barely missing his hand. "The two of you ought to work well together if you can get past this animosity. You have complementary abilities."

Sirius snorted. He didn't seem to consider this a compliment. "And what are you, the token pretty face? I don't want to work with Snape. Well or otherwise. I never thought he'd go along with it once you explained."


"What d'you mean, ah?" Sirius said, sounding aggrieved. He picked up a mug from the draining board and turned it in his hands.

Remus hid his smile behind a cupboard door, digging out a packet of Witchy Kitchen's finest oatmeal biscuits, the ones in the yellow wrapper, from its hiding place behind the tins of flour and raisins. "I thought you agreed a little too easily."

"Well, it's Snape." Sirius took the packet out of his hands and ripped it open, sending oatmeal crumbs all over the counter top. Biscuits spilled into his hand. "I thought he'd be much too prissy to want that kind of contact with the likes of us."

"You're too harsh on him." Grabbing the biscuits back, he took two before Sirius could eat them all. The pretty witch in the picture on the torn yellow wrapper winked up at him from between his fingers. "There's half a shepherd's pie in the fridge if you're hungry," he said pointedly.

Sirius waved his hand dismissively and swallowed half a biscuit in one gulp. "Remus, he calls you a monster."

"I am a monster. Not all the time, but that doesn't change the fact that it's true." He looked down at his nails. They were perfectly clean. "And Sirius, I suspect that this spell is meant to make us Severus' backup. What he does is dangerous, pretending to be a Death Eater, and he could probably use some help and support."

"You're not serious!" Sirius clenched his hand on a biscuit, and crumbs littered the front of his shirt. Remus refrained from the obvious answer. "I never thought I'd hear you defend that smarmy bugger. And I'm not going to be his backup!" He poured himself some tea in the mended mug, though it hadn't steeped nearly long enough for Remus's taste; it was pale and watery, and smelled weak.

"He'll be yours," Remus pointed out. He scratched at the back of his neck. "You can't say no now, or be half-hearted about it. If this is to work, we must be committed to each other."

"I should have myself committed," Sirius muttered through a mouthful of oatmeal biscuit. He rubbed at his jaw; it looked rough with the beginnings of stubble.

Remus looked at the way the biscuits were disappearing, and walked over to the Muggle-style refrigerator. He got out the shepherd's pie, and the jug of pumpkin juice, and a plate of small pork pies, and a few slices of ham, and the mustard. There was a loaf of bread waiting in the breadbox, dark brown and nutty, with a rich, fresh smell. Remus sniffed appreciatively. "This looks good. I wonder who made it."

Sirius looked surprised. "House elf?"

Remus shook his head. "There can't be a house elf here." He glanced around the kitchen. It was neat and clean, but not the kind of obsessive spick-and-span neatness he associated with house elves. "No one picked up the broken mugs."

"Well, whoever it is, they make good bread," Sirius said approvingly. He picked a slice of ham off the plate and dipped one end in the open mustard jar. "Hungry, Remus?"

"And you're not?" He reached up into the open cupboard for a plate, then looked at Sirius and took out a second one. "I forgot the cheese," he said, and Sirius turned towards the fridge, chewing on his ham slice. "We should call Severus down. He probably hasn't had dinner."

"Is there any chance that you could let five minutes go by without talking about Snape?" Sirius brought out the cheddar, a chunk of Stilton wrapped in greaseproof paper, a jar of pickled cherry tomatoes, and a bottle of homemade raspberry cordial, the cork still sealed with a thin layer of wax. "He puts me right off my food."

"Nothing puts you off your food." Remus put most of the pie on his plate and started cutting thick slices of bread. "Ham and cheddar?"

"Yeah." Sirius began to cut the cheese, and they filled their plates. The kitchen started to smell of ripe Stilton and the vinegary-sweet tang of pickles.

They took seats opposite each other at the kitchen table, and Remus handed over a fork. He took a deep breath, savoring the smells, and dug in. It was almost like being back at Hogwarts, where the food was always both plentiful and good, and here, he didn't have to worry about people looking sideways at him and wondering about his appetite. Not with Sirius across the table.

Sirius ate to make up for years of near-starvation, and probably, Remus thought, as insurance against the long stretches of lean living that came with being a fugitive in days when safe places were few and far between. Remus ate to fuel his speedy metabolism; it was like eating for two, himself and the wolf, and no matter how often he wished that he could simply starve that unwanted other out of his body, he knew he could not.

The cherry tomatoes burst on his tongue, salty-sweet. Remus wondered if Severus, somewhere in the house, could tell that they were eating. He bit into bread and cheese and tried to sense what Severus was doing, but could only feel his presence. That was probably for the best. Too close a connection would have driven both Sirius and Severus insane in short order, and he didn't like the thought of having his privacy invaded quite that much.

The pie was excellent. He got grease all over his fingers and wiped them on a linen napkin, wondering if the same person who baked the bread also did the laundry. Across the table, Sirius bit into a pickled tomato and it exploded between his teeth and dripped down his chin. Remus chortled. "Very fetching. Rather like the time you put the Bursting Ball in Severus' Morello Potion."

Sirius muttered something inaudible and groped for a napkin. He wiped his chin and said, "Maybe we should call him down. Feed him a few of these." He glanced speculatively towards the ceiling. "He's not any older than we are, but I swear he's been a stuffed shirt all his life. He looks old. He acts old."

"He's a serious person," Remus said mildly, thinking of Severus' grave eyes and pained mouth. "And I think we are all a little marked by our experiences, don't you?"

Spearing another pickled tomato on his fork, Sirius huffed a little, a sound familiar enough to bring back memories of endless schoolday discussions. "Someone should have told him that growing up doesn't mean you have to get boring. No, wait, he was boring when he was a child, too."

Remus propped his elbow on the table and his chin on his fist and took a long, slow look at Sirius, the way his hair fell and the collar of his blue shirt sat a little askew, the way his eyes sparked and his too-thin cheeks flushed with the hot tea and the argument. "Mmhm."

"What?" Sirius looked suspiciously at him.

"I'm just trying to remember when it was that you took so badly against Severus."

Sirius blinked. "He was always picking on us! He sneered. Smug, self-righteous, smarmy, greasy—"

"I think it was when Dorinda Appleby said she thought he was cute." Remus picked up a pork pie and bit into it. His tea was only lukewarm now, but he took the mug in his free hand all the same and looked at Sirius over the rim, trying to keep his mouth straight.

"Don't be ridiculous! I hated him long before that!" Sirius broke into a grin. His left front tooth was still crooked. "And Dorinda Appleby had no taste. She had a crush on Binns, for heaven's sake. Followed him around the school, wrote him badly scanned poetry, even offered to tidy his classroom for him."

"He died just afterwards, didn't he?" Remus murmured, and Sirius dropped his fork with laughter, more warming than the fire.

The pork pies were good, and he went to the counter for another one, and ended up bringing the plate to the table, along with the jar of pickled cherry tomatoes and the teapot, which he carefully reheated. Sirius had switched to pumpkin juice, finding a thick-bottomed, sturdy glass in another cupboard. They ended up finishing most of the food, and Remus spared a brief, guilty thought for Severus, but really, the man was perfectly capable of making his own decisions.

Sirius sat back and scratched thoughtfully at his shoulder. The deep blue of his shirt was the same color as the lapis inlay on a ring Remus's grandmother had always worn. "You must know a number of spells I'm not familiar with," Sirius said abruptly.

"I suppose so." The tea had gone cold again. Remus borrowed Sirius's glass and drank pumpkin juice from it. "Is there something you want to learn?"

"No— I mean, yes, but I wonder about the effects of the modified miscibilis spell." Sirius got to his feet and paced across the kitchen floor. His heavy boots clunked against the stone floor. "In the original spell, the object is infused with certain aspects of the participants' power. The aspects are defined in the confinium of the spell."

Sirius sounded almost as though he were lecturing. "Yes," Remus agreed, a little amused. He leaned back in the chair, cradling the glass in his hands, and watched Sirius. He's thinking on his feet again, James' voice said in his memory, and he smiled a little.

"Now, we've directed this infusion of power at each other, instead, and it looks as though I would be able to pick up those spells through you, or at the very least through sensing when you perform them."

"Yes." Remus forbore to mention that they already knew this. "Do you want to try that now? We should call down—"

Sirius glared. "Remus, don't talk about Snape when I'm trying to think. Wait."

"All right." He drank his pumpkin juice and waited.

"This version of the spell lacked specifications concerning which aspects of our abilities and powers were used. The non-specific binding has created a connection, because we tied it back to ourselves as well as to each other." Sirius ran both hands through his hair, but it was too soft to stand on end, and flopped back down over his eyes. "Right?"

"Right. The idea being that the connection will give an amplifying effect, which will give our spells more force, whether we perform them together or separately." Remus finished the pumpkin juice and put the glass down.

Sirius nodded. "And for the connection to work, the confinium part of the spell had to be dropped. So we've bound all our magic to each other, without limitation." He came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the kitchen, staring blankly at the refrigerator door. "Without limitation," he repeated.

"And that's why I think I could perform the Animagus transformation," Remus said, leaning forward, "though I suppose I'd better not. Severus could probably do it, though, if the shared knowledge is as extensive as it seems. He isn't likely to accidentally turn into a werewolf."

"Never mind the transformation," Sirius said tensely, still staring at the fridge door as though it would open onto the great revelations of the ages, rather than a few old leeks and a bottle of Worcestershire sauce. "When Dumbledore told you about the spell, what reasons did he give for it? For choosing us?"

Remus quirked an eyebrow and tried to bring the exact words to mind. "He said that he thought we each had what the others would need."

Sirius finally turned around and looked at him, straight brows drawn low over pale, restless eyes. "I have to think more about this," he said. "Before we all leave the house. I need to—" He broke off, picked a last slice of ham from the plate, and bit into it. "I'll talk to you later," he said indistinctly, and wandered out of the kitchen.

There were two pickled cherry tomatoes left in the jar. Remus ate one of them. He put away the cheese and the remaining Cornish pasties, poured himself another glass of pumpkin juice, and did the dishes. It was quite late, and a yawn tugged at his jaw and prickled behind his eyes. He scratched his chin on his shoulder and rinsed off the plates. The kitchen fire was down to a steady smoulder, nearly all the crackle and spark of the resinous pine wood burned out, though the smell still hung in the air. He banked it carefully and checked on its confining spell.

The rain was loud against the kitchen windows. He poured some more pumpkin juice and took the glass with him as he left the kitchen and walked upstairs, slowly, listening for Sirius and Severus. Their presences prickled against him like nettle stings. Upstairs, he turned into the bedroom he'd used the night before and found that the bed had changed. It was still a four-poster hung with dusty black velvet drapes, elaborately carved with animal heads and looping vines, but the covers and sheets had changed from plain white to grey and smoky cinnabar, and it was easily twice as large as it had been.

Remus shook his head, bemused. His nightshirt lay on the nearest pillow. He looked around the room, but the rest of it was just the same. The wallpaper and the rug were in shades of rust and unpolished gold, comfortably muted colors. The curtains hadn't changed, and the armchair was still the same overstuffed monstrosity, with a fat, round, black velvet cushion sitting right in the middle.

Wandering to the window, he looked out over the wet garden as he drank his pumpkin juice. From this angle, he could see that the roof of the garden shed was almost entirely covered with moss. The moon was waning, wasting away to a thin, distant sliver. He could feel Sirius pacing in a room below, wall to wall. Somewhere across the hallway, Severus was a still, silent presence.

The pumpkin juice tasted too much like school memories. He put the glass down and went into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

The bathroom was stark, clean, and utilitarian. All the white tiles made him feel cold, and disinclined to do much, despite the temptation of the large bathtub. Remus promised himself a hot bath in the morning and eyed the tangle of his hair in the mirror for a moment before deciding it would keep. He wanted to wrap himself up in something warm. The pipes clanked as he spat and rinsed.

Back in the bedroom, Remus took a last look at the moon, then drew the curtains. He left a single beeswax candle burning on the nightstand, stripped off his clothes, and pulled the flannel nightshirt over his head. He blinked, and peered more closely at it in the wavering candlelight. The thin stripes had been brown last night, and now they were grey, matching the sheets. It felt just the same, though, loose and warm and comfortable. He sat on the edge of the bed and breathed in the warm beeswax scent for a little while, then rolled in under the covers. The sheets were warm, and he stretched out, flexing his toes, before curling up with two of the down-filled pillows.

The back of his neck itched again.

The house was quiet around him. He could hear the rain. Perhaps he should have brought a book from the downstairs library. There were some interesting volumes about the history of vampirism during the fall of the Roman empire, the autobiography of Drusius the Troll-Slayer, and a whole shelf of Bobby Barclay, Muggle Detective. He remembered reading those under the covers, in the dim glow from his first wand. Then he'd lent them to James, who had lent them to Sirius, who had lent them to Peter, and by the time he got them back, they were full of chocolate frogprints, and little scorch marks where Peter had fallen asleep with his wand still lit.

Remus tucked the covers more securely around his shoulders. The new sheets, like the old ones, smelled faintly of lavender and dried roses. His toes felt quite toasty. The bed was soft and enveloping, the most comfortable bed he'd slept in in a long time, and he was tired. He stared across the room, then deliberately closed his eyes. The tip of his nose itched. Remus rolled over and curled deeper under the covers, squeezing his eyes shut, then rolled back again and found that there was, in fact, a book on the nightstand. It was Gilderoy Lockhart's Frolicking with Fiends. Perhaps it had been left behind by another wizard or witch who had trouble sleeping. He sighed, and picked it up.

While he read, the rain grew heavier, and he heard the wind pick up. There were images of Lockhart on nearly every page. Most of them smiled broadly up at him, though one had its back turned and seemed to be flossing its teeth. Remus piled up pillows so he could lean comfortably against the headboard, and propped the book against his drawn-up knees. Lockhart's exploits were at least as outrageous as Bobby Barclay's.

He was halfway through an account of a pixie infestation on the Cornish coast, chuckling to himself, when there was a light tap on the door. "Come in, Sirius," he said.

The door pushed open slowly, and Sirius stood leaning against the jamb. "Are you sure? Did I wake you?"

"No." Remus put the book down. A diffident Sirius was something of an oxymoron, and said oxymoron was still hovering in the doorway, wearing a pair of red and gold brocaded flannel pajama bottoms and apparently nothing else. "Aren't your feet cold?"

Sirius shrugged and came inside at last, closing the door. He walked across the room and sat in the armchair, dropping the cushion on the floor. "I couldn't sleep," he said, leaning back and staring at the ceiling.

"The rain is very loud." Remus moved Frolicking with Fiends to the nightstand. The cover photograph pouted, and he turned the book over, only to find that the photograph on the back pouted, too. "It usually makes me sleepy, but not tonight. I was trying to read myself to sleep."

"I'll leave," Sirius offered at once. He sat back in the chair, pulled his feet up on the seat, and wrapped his arms around his knees. Remus smiled.

"I thought you said, when you first came, that you were tired." Even in this poor light, even from this angle, he could count Sirius's ribs. They'd left enough bread and cheese for a good breakfast, and there were eggs in the fridge, too, big brown ones. Remus felt a little sleepier, and some of the muscles in his back began to relax. He thought back to what Sirius had said. "Two sleepless nights? Thought you'd be out like a light."

Sirius shook his head. There was a remote look on his face; he seemed to be much farther away than just the other side of the room. Half the time, Sirius's face showed everything he was thinking. The other half, it showed nothing at all. After a while he said, "I have trouble sleeping. I keep thinking—" His mouth twisted.

"What?" Remus asked softly.

There was a long silence. "That they'll touch me when I sleep. Take my memories. And then, when I do sleep, I dream." He sat very still, with his chin on his knee, staring into the darkest corner of the room. Outside, the wind rushed past, gusting the rain against the windowpanes.

Remus shifted against the pillows, which were suddenly lumpy and uncomfortable behind his back. He looked at the candle, trying to remember how tall it had been, and rubbed at his collarbone with the back of his hand. "Get over here," he said. Sirius's head jerked up. "This bed is the size of a Quidditch field, and I can't possibly sleep with you perched there like a gargoyle."

Sirius snorted. He uncoiled himself from the armchair. In the dim light, he looked strangely like the adolescent he had been, all arms and legs, especially when he kicked the fat black cushion out of his way. He walked around the bed and sat down on the far side, away from the light. "Now I'm perched here like a gargoyle. Go on with your reading."

"Maybe in a little while." Remus pushed a couple of pillows at Sirius and adjusted the covers so they lay over Sirius's bare feet. "Make yourself comfortable. Remember how we all used to get into James' bed in the winters, because it was farthest from the windows? I think I did all my homework there, fourth year."

"You got ink all over his sheets." Sirius nodded and wrapped his arms around the bigger of the pillows. "The house elves couldn't keep up with the laundry. James had ink spots all down his back and they gave him a rash, and that Pomfrey girl thought he had some kind of plague at first—"

"She thought the Black Death had come again, didn't she?"

"—and then she gave him a wintergreen ointment that made him sneeze his head off. And you just thought it was funny."

"It was funny. I wish I could have taken a picture. He was black and red and green all over, like a Syldavian Spotjaw. Though you kept insisting that he looked more like McGonagall's tartan slippers." Remus smiled, though he could almost taste pumpkin juice again.

"Well, he did." Sirius grinned reminiscently back at him. "At least, if her tartan slippers had worn glasses and complained about missing out on Quidditch practice. Too bad he hexed us every time we came near him with a camera. Tried to ban us from the bed, too, and it was all your fault."

"Oh, no, it wasn't. I admit I turned James into a technicolor illustration, but I'm not the one who accidentally Transfigured his pillow into a dodo." Remus wiggled the corner of the nearest pillow up and down, just the way the dodo's head had moved. "I don't think you ever would have turned it back, either, if he hadn't threatened to steal yours."

"Of course not." Sirius looked affronted. "There are a lot of pillows in the world, but why waste a perfectly good dodo?"

"Especially one that's wearing a pillowcase," Remus agreed. It had been very entertaining to watch the dodo waddle around the dormitory. He'd been tempted to keep it, too. "And poor Peter tried to help, and managed to give himself dodo legs somehow."

Sirius's eyes hardened in an instant. "And you and I turned him back. We should've left him like that," he said.


"Or killed him in the shack, when we had the chance."

The room turned colder. Sirius's eyes were like ice. Remus took a deep breath and smoothed his fingers over the edge of the pillowcase, trying to feel individual threads against his fingertips. He remembered Peter with his legs back to normal again, a small, pale-haired, pink-cheeked boy, wiggling his feet and laughing with relief. "Harry was right, though. James wouldn't have wanted us to do it like that."

"James is dead." Sirius ran his nails angrily down his chest, scratching in white lines that quickly blushed red. "Of course, if you think that poor Peter—"

"Sirius." Remus sat up and leaned forward. "I spent twelve years thinking that Peter was a dear friend who died bravely. I mourned him and I missed him. For twelve years, I cherished the good memories I had of James, and of Lily, and of Peter." He ran a hand through his hair. "Those memories are still a part of me, even now that I know the truth. I can't just cut Peter out of them."

Sirius stared at him. His hands flexed, knuckles coming up white under the skin. The ice shattered. "You cut me out, didn't you," he said. "All those years." He tipped his head forward, hiding his star-bright eyes. "You hated me the way I hate Peter."

The air blurred, and Remus felt a soft punch behind his ribs as a huge black dog loomed over him, then lay down at his side. He stared across the room, not quite managing to focus on the thick folds of the curtains, and listened to the rain. The candle wavered, its light blurring before his eyes. After a while, he stretched out his hand and touched fur, and when he didn't get his fingers bitten off, he began to scratch Padfoot behind the ears. He'd always liked that.

"I never hated you," he said through the scratchiness in his throat. "Myself, sometimes, for — for missing you as much as them." He closed his eyes. "All those years."

Padfoot whuffed softly. He moved under Remus's stroking hand, and a moment later, Remus felt a warm weight on his leg. That made him relax, and he leaned back against the headboard again, fingers moving slowly and surely. He wondered how long it would take for his leg to fall asleep under the weight of Padfoot's head and paw. There was no change in how he perceived the presence with him, Sirius or Padfoot, man or dog. The new connection that had been forged between them apparently did not differentiate between body shapes.

He opened his eyes and reached out for the book, drawing up his free leg and propping Frolicking with Fiends against his knee. It fell obligingly open at the page where he'd last been reading. Remus went through the rest of the chapter about pixies sentence by sentence and word by word, sometimes staring for minutes at a time at question marks and full stops. He looked up when he reached the end, aware that he had no idea what he had just been reading. With a sigh, he rubbed his thumb down over the edge of Padfoot's jaw.

"It was worse," he said. "I missed them and grieved for them because they were gone. With you, though — I told myself that I was mourning for someone who had never existed, someone whose words had all been lies, and yet, I couldn't believe that, either."

The next chapter was about a pooka whose exploits entirely failed to hold Remus's attention, no matter how eagerly the illustrations waved at him. He didn't want to think about the years that had passed. The rain still fell, and Padfoot's fur was very fine, soft as silk for all that it looked so shaggy. The beeswax candle must have been very thinly rolled; it burned low already, with little hisses and sputters where the wax was impure. Its sweet scent hung heavy on the air.

Remus scratched at his shoulder, then unbuttoned the top of his nightshirt, slid his hand under the cloth, and scratched again. The book tumbled from his leg, falling shut, and he gave up on it and looked down at Padfoot. "When I found out the truth, I was glad." He shifted, and the book slipped from the covers and fell to the floor. "Sorry about so many things, and angry, but—" The words didn't wrap all the way around the feelings. He tried again. "But I was glad that it wasn't you, and that everything else I remembered about you was true."

Padfoot pushed his cold, wet nose into Remus's palm. Remus slipped down in the bed and curled sideways, wrapping his free arm around Padfoot's warm back and pressing his face into the fur. "I missed you terribly," he said.

Closing his eyes, he relaxed into the closeness. Under the thick fur, Padfoot was thin, but not as thin as Sirius. Remus rubbed his itching nose against Padfoot's side. This scent was deeply familiar and infinitely comforting. Outside, the rain had slowed, and heavy drops from the edge of the roof beat an irregular tattoo against the windowsill. It was a good night to be indoors, to be warm and safe in bed, to know that your friend was warm and safe, too.

He scratched the back of his neck.

"Perhaps," he suggested, "if you sleep like this, you won't dream." He didn't know what animal dreams might be like. The wolf never slept. Padfoot snuffled a little and pressed closer. The candle was guttering now, sending flares of light and shadow dancing over them. It would burn out in a minute.

Remus shifted, pushing the pillow under his head into a more comfortable shape with his shoulder. He pulled the covers up a bit. The sheets tickled his ear. Padfoot scratched vigorously on his free side, then attempted to scratch himself on the side where Remus lay.

"Oof." Being kicked by a very large paw was not conducive to slumber. Remus levered himself up on one elbow. "You know, this isn't going to work."

He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, scratching absently at his chest. When he opened the nightstand drawer, he found several more beeswax candles. He took one and lit it on the remains of the first one, which had burned down into the metal candlestick, then jammed the new candle in on top. Hearing a rustle of paws against sheets, Remus looked back over his shoulder and said, "Stay there."

Padfoot whined.

The floor felt colder now that his feet were warm. It was a pity that the house had not seen fit to provide slippers and a dressing gown. He crossed the room, opened the door, and went out into the hallway. Several of the sconces were still lit, though the lights on the stairs had been extinguished.

Remus turned his head to the left, then to the right, and followed the certainty inside that matched the incessant itch on his skin. When he came to the third door at the left from the stairs, he paused. All the doors along the hallway were different. The one nearest the stairs to the right was paneled oak with grimacing little faces carved all around it. The door into the room he had chosen to sleep in was painted dark green, with a brass doorknob, and a deadbolt on the inside that looked painted shut.

This one was white, with black iron fittings and a gracefully curved handle. Remus pushed the handle down, and the door swung open soundlessly. "Severus," he said into the darkness.

There was a pause. "What do you want?"

Remus took a few steps into the room. He stepped onto a sisal carpet, rough under his feet, but not as cold as the floor. Light trailed him from the hallway. He could make out the wrought iron of the bed, and the white sheets, and Severus' pale face. "I need you to come with me," he said. "We're never going to get any sleep this way."

Severus sat up in bed as Remus walked closer, black hair spilling down like poured ink over the shoulders of his nightshirt. He folded his hands on top of the covers. "And what gave you the idea," he said, in that flat, oddly warm voice of his, "that I am likely to get more sleep if I get out of bed?"

"You haven't slept so far, have you?" Remus sat down on the edge of the bed. These sheets had been stored with sachets of lavender and roses, too, and Severus himself smelled of soap. Remus felt another yawn creep through him. He looked intently at Severus, and after a few moments, saw him lift a hand as if to scratch at his neck, just where his hair curled up at the ends, then catch himself. "I thought so. It's worse than having fleas."

"Not a condition with which I am particularly familiar," Severus said frostily. He moved his hand away from his neck and held it very still, lacing his fingers together.

"No, I'm sure you're not." Remus folded his legs up under himself, because his feet were still cold, carpet or no carpet. He brushed his hair out of his face. "Just take my word for it."

Severus did not look amused. "If I do, will you get off my bed and let me have some peace and quiet?"

"No." Remus shook his head. "I'm sorry, Severus, but I'm too sleepy to have much patience at the moment." He closed his hand firmly around Severus' left wrist, over the snug cuff of the nightshirt. It was softer than it looked, a fine cotton weave. His thumb lay right over the buttons, which were oval and cloth-covered. "Come, now. It's late."

Severus stared at Remus's hand around his wrist. His mouth was thin with disapproval. "If I had known what the effects would be, I would never have come to this house, let alone participated in the spell."

"I was very glad to hear you say yes." The iron edge of the bed dug into Remus's shin, and he shifted a little. His hip was resting against Severus' knee. The back of his neck still itched quite urgently. "I thought either you or Sirius might have refused."

"If you had seen fit to tell us before the spell that it could not be undone, perhaps I would have." Severus turned his head, looking at the wall. His hair caught on the collar of his nightshirt, pulling back to leave the line of his jaw exposed. "Or if I had known that it would be so uncomfortable. As I said before, I do not relish the thought of being bound to the two of you."

"You may come to need us," Remus said seriously, "though I hope it won't come to that. But Severus, I also hope you can learn to rely on us." He looked at the tense lines of Severus' neck and shoulder.

Severus made a dismissive sound. He looked back at Remus, but it was a very cold and distant look. "Sirius Black has not exactly given me any reason to think that I can rely on him."

"I know." Remus looked at his own fingers. They seemed dark against the pristine white of the nightshirt cuff, and he couldn't see his nails. "Nor have you given him any reason to think that he can rely on you, but you have to trust each other now, or this spell will be worthless."

It was too dark to tell for certain, but he thought a muscle jumped in Severus' cheek. "And what about you?"

"Oh, I trust you." He smiled. "Both of you."

Severus looked down at his hands quite abruptly, and at Remus's hand on his wrist. A strand of hair fell free, drawing a line across his cheek and curving up by his chin. "That is not what I meant. You expect me to trust you, knowing what you are."

"Not what I am, but who I am," Remus said steadily. "I'm not asking you to like me, Severus. Only to believe that I mean what I say. But as for what I am, you could at least trust your own potion. I'm very grateful that you agreed to continue to make it for me."

"Having seen what you're like without it, I would hardly leave you to your own devices in this matter. I'm not entirely without a sense of civic duty."

"No. You aren't, are you." Remus shifted his grip a little. He was pressing the button into Severus' hard, narrow wrist. "I think you're doing something very brave, and I want to help you."

"Don't be such a hopeless Gryffindor, Lupin. It's a matter of simple deceit."

"Not all that simple." It occurred to Remus that this bedroom was colder than the one he had left. Chill air slipped under the neck of his nightshirt. He shivered a little and looked at Severus' arm, just above the grip of his hand. He knew the mark was there, under the white cloth. "But if respect and admiration make you uncomfortable—"

"What do you think you'll accomplish with this senseless flattery? Are you trying to make me believe that you've forgiven me for making you lose your teaching position?" Severus' eyes flashed darkly, and he lifted his free hand and scratched at his shoulder, just once.

Remus felt the same itch trailing over his own skin. He was tense with fatigue. "No. But I rather think there'll be time enough for that discussion in the morning." He uncurled his legs and got to his feet. Severus looked unhappy, but he pushed the covers aside and got out of bed. The nightshirt hung on him in a straight fall of cloth, as though he didn't have a body. "I'm sorry we didn't call you down for supper before," Remus added.

Severus moved one shoulder in what might have been a shrug, shaking off Remus's hand at the same time. He tugged at the cuff Remus had held, and then the other one. "I assume you didn't get me out of bed at this hour so we could stand here and talk about food."

"No." Remus went back to the door and swung it fully open, and Severus followed him. He glanced down, as they went into the hallway, just to see Severus' bare feet and long, narrow toes. The beginning of a smile turned into a yawn. He looked at the sconces as he walked, and reflected that they seemed to burn less brightly. It seemed that even the house wanted them to go to bed.

Opening the door to the bedroom he had chosen once more, Remus took a deep breath of beeswax and fur. He went inside to find Padfoot still on the bed, sprawled on top of the rumpled covers, taking up a great deal of room even on this bigger bed. As soon as they walked in, Padfoot lifted his head, looked at Severus, and growled.

"Well," Severus said, coming up next to Remus and raising an eyebrow. His eyes glittered. The air blurred, there was that inner tug, and Sirius sat up on the bed and glared. "Don't let me—"

"Shut up," Sirius said. He leaned forward tensely. There were dark shadows under his eyes that Remus hadn't noticed before. "Remus, are you crazy?"

"I'm tired," he said, because he was. Remus went to the bed and spread the pillows out more evenly. "Get under the covers, Sirius. Severus, get over here." There was deep silence on both sides. He didn't look at them. "Or if you prefer, you can sit on the cold floor all night. I don't care, as long as you don't leave the room. I need to get some sleep."

He got back in the bed. It was still nice and warm, and the pillows felt much more comfortable now. The back of his neck had stopped prickling with absence. Remus made himself comfortable. After a while, Sirius lay down a bit stiffly, winding himself into the sheets and blankets and propping a couple of pillows under his head. He didn't close his eyes. Remus shifted deeper under the covers, and closed his.

After a much longer while, the bed dipped on the other side, as Severus sat down. Remus shifted over to make room, bumping his elbow into Sirius's ribs, and Sirius grumbled something into his pillows. Yawning, Remus lifted his face out of the pillow enough to say, "Severus, would you please put the candle out?"

The darkness behind his eyelids deepened, and there was the sharp smell of a blown-out candle wick. The covers lifted, letting in some cooler air, and then Severus was lying down, settling against the pillows on his side. Remus thought about putting his cold feet on Sirius's presumably warm ones, but sleep was dragging him down, faster and faster. All the tension had gone out of his back, and he stretched once, started to yawn, and fell asleep somewhere in the middle.

* * *

A feather was working itself out of the pillow, through the pillowcase, and into his cheek. Sirius lifted his head and fumbled over the linen, finding the hard little quill and pulling the feather all the way out. He dropped it behind his back over the edge of the bed and settled back down again.

The room was very dark now that Snape had blown out the candle. He could barely make out Remus's head and shoulders, though they were so close, and he didn't know if he'd be able to see anything of Snape if he lifted himself up to look, not that he wanted to. Resolutely not looking, he tried to curl up into his favorite sleeping position, and bumped his knees into Remus. "Sorry," he whispered, and got a sleepy wordless murmur in return.

Sirius took a deep breath. The back of his neck had stopped itching, but he didn't feel comfortable. He pushed his hand under the pillow and unfolded his fingers against cooler, untouched linen. If he closed his eyes, he would probably fall asleep. He stared at Remus, who was making a soft sound that wasn't quite a snore. He wondered if Snape slept, or lay awake and stared into the darkness.

He thought about turning over, but although the bed was big, if he tossed and turned too much, he might wake Remus again. The edge of a blanket had wadded itself up uncomfortably under his side. The pajama bottoms were riding up a little too high. His hair tickled the tip of his nose.

He needed to use the bathroom.

With a sigh, Sirius pushed the covers down and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He felt the mattress dip as his weight shifted, but the other two didn't move. Getting to his feet, he walked carefully around the bed and towards the bathroom door. He fumbled for the doorknob, resolutely not looking back over his shoulder.

The light in the bathroom bounced brightly off the white tiles, and he had to shield his eyes at first. When he flushed the toilet, the sound seemed very loud. He stood for a while at the sink, water and soap on his hands, and stared at the face he was still getting accustomed to seeing as his own. Twelve years without mirrors hadn't prepared him for the changes. Sometimes he thought of that man in the mirror as a stranger, trying to pick up the pieces of Sirius Black's interrupted life.

He hitched up his pajama bottoms as they began to slip down over his hipbones, and dried his hands on a crisp linen towel. Rubbing at the back of his neck, he realized that he felt something that might be the beginning of an itch already. Sirius turned out the light and fumbled his way back into the bedroom. He paused for a moment to get his bearings and let his eyes adjust. A strip of faint light came in through a crack in the curtains, showing him the armchair and a corner of the bed.

Going around the bed again, he stumbled on the black velvet pillow he'd thrown aside earlier. He grabbed at the nearest bedpost, recovered his balance, and kicked the pillow aside with a hushed mutter at his own stupidity. When he glanced to the side, he saw a pale face and a pair of black eyes, watching him. Sirius met Snape's look for a moment, and then he went on, around the bed, to the side he had left. He slipped under the covers again.

It was a very large bed, to allow three grown men to sleep side by side without being crowded. When he lay still and quiet, he could hear the others breathe. He wondered if Snape, suspicious bastard that he was, would lie awake all night. Sirius closed his eyes and relaxed his hands. One leg of his pajamas was riding up around his calf, but he ignored it. It had been some time since he'd tried to fall asleep to the sound of those almost-snores of Remus's, but the distant familiarity was comforting.

He was halfway into sleep when Snape moved, the bed creaked, and all the muscles in his back tightened with painful abruptness. Sirius clenched his hand on the pillow. His heart hammered, and he could feel it in his throat when he swallowed. A few slow breaths soothed it down again.

The itch was gone. He wasn't sure but what he'd rather have had it, and been alone, except that while he didn't care particularly about Snape's comfort, he knew how testy Remus became when he didn't get enough sleep. Sirius pushed at the pillow until it lay just right. He was wide awake. The bed drifted on a sea of darkness. The black velvet drapes rose high around the bedposts, swirling like cloaks, tall and faceless and coming closer and closer and—

Sirius sat up and put both hands over his mouth. He knew he wouldn't scream. He felt a drop of cold sweat trickle down his back and soak into the waistband. Staring at the crack in the curtains, he counted his breaths and fought against the urge to shift his form. Perhaps Remus was correct, and Padfoot's dreams would be easier, but here, he didn't have to change into a dog to protect his self and his sanity. He needed to grow accustomed to his own face.

After seventy-three slow breaths, he let his hands drop. The room was warm, especially with two other people so close, and he wasn't shivering. Sirius looked at Remus and Snape. Snape lay on his side, facing the edge of the bed, so close to it that he seemed about to fall off. His hair lay in lank stripes over the collar of his nightshirt. Sirius tried to remember if he had ever seen Snape wear anything that didn't have a high neck. Perhaps he was trying to hide a goiter.

Remus sprawled in the middle of the bed, face buried in a pillow. He looked utterly relaxed, as though the proximity of Sirius and Snape had solved all his problems. Sirius wondered how long that particular side effect would last. Once again, he began to review the confinium of the miscibilis spell in his head. The confinium was very specific, tailored to each version of the spell, creating strict limitations for which aspects of a wizard's power were used, and how, in the creation of an enspelled object.

Its absence carried a number of implications that Sirius wasn't particularly happy with. He lay back down and tugged the covers up. The bedposts with their thick drapes of black velvet were only bedposts and nothing more. Sirius hesitated for a moment, eyes still open. Perhaps he would rather have been alone, but he wasn't. He moved his pillow and shifted a bit, slowly and carefully, until he was lying close enough to rest his forehead against Remus's shoulder. Then he slept.

He woke twice more during the night, but only because Remus had such sharp elbows. The third time he blinked awake, daylight was falling in a pale line through the crack in the curtains, raising a narrow wall of dancing dustmotes. He couldn't hear any rain, but to judge by the light, the sky outside was gray. Remus's hair was tickling his chin. He brushed it away halfheartedly and thought about more sleep. Then he gave up, rolled onto his back, and stretched.

In the daylight, the black bedcurtains looked to be more dust than velvet. Sirius wiggled his toes idly, then sat up. Snape had turned over during the night and slept curled in towards the center of the bed, one arm stretched out, with the hand palm up and empty. Remus had flung an arm out, too, and laid it over Snape's, wrist to wrist, pulse to pulse, except that Snape's nightshirt was in the way. Remus's hand looked very tan and battered next to Snape's; Snape had fingers like a saint in a Byzantine mosaic.

Sirius flexed his own fingers. If he was careless in getting out of bed, and jostled the mattress too much, they would probably wake up. He looked at the silver threads in Remus's hair, wondering how long it would take for them to entirely overtake the brown. Settling the covers around Remus's shoulders, he rolled soundlessly out of bed and onto his feet. He felt wide awake, with energy running up and down his spine. The door made only the faintest creak as he went out and closed it.

Going down the hallway to the last door on the right, Sirius waited to see if the back of his neck would begin to itch again, but it didn't. The door to the room he had chosen was really two doors, one opening outwards and the other inwards, both of them with twelve small colored glass panels set into the top third, pale yellow and pale blue and pale green. Sirius went inside, walked past the bed he hadn't slept in, and stood by the window for a while. As he had thought, it was a grey day, of the kind where the sky and the light have no color. Still, it wasn't raining.

He went into the bathroom and frowned. The night before, it had been rather small and cramped, with a deep sink and a gold-framed mirror. Most of the room had been taken up by a black-enameled tub, and the toilet seat had been covered in red plush and little gold beads. This morning he stood in a large room with a row of ordinary white sinks, a blue-tiled shower area with five showerheads, and three toilet cubicles. The blue cubicle doors were covered in plant names and spell fragments written in ornate calligraphy with silver paint.

Sirius took off his pajama pants and hung them over an empty towel rack. He turned on the nearest shower and was drenched in cold water. Neither swearing nor turning the tap produced any noticeable results, so he tried the second one, which scalded him. The third one was all right, and there was soap in the soapdish, so he scrubbed briskly and thought dark thoughts about a certain whimsical headmaster. He stood for a while with his head tilted back, water pouring down over his face.

The blue towels were thin and a little scratchy. Sirius rubbed most of the water out of his hair and went back into the bedroom to find his clothes. When he picked his shirt up, he saw that the blood had been cleaned off, the rents were mended, and some of the buttons that had been hanging by a thread were firmly attached once more. There was a house elf here, then, no matter what Remus thought. Sirius pulled on the shirt and belted the over-large Muggle trousers. He put on socks and boots and looked around for his knitted sweater before remembering that he had left it downstairs.

Remus and Severus were still in the same place. Sirius went past the door without looking inside and continued down the stairs, taking no care to muffle the sound of his footsteps. Several of the steps creaked. He went to the kitchen and looked around. His sweater lay on a chair. Someone had washed the dishes, but not put them away.

The fire was still safely banked. Sirius went over and coaxed it into a warmer blaze. He still felt awkward doing magic with his old school wand; it was like trying to fit into a pair of shoes he'd long since outgrown. The one he'd bought after leaving Hogwarts had been broken before his face when he'd been sentenced.

"Do I have to cook breakfast myself, then?" he asked, and when only silence answered, he went to the fridge and looked inside. Eggs, ham, rashers of bacon, tomatoes, cheese, butter. Milk. He thought for a moment about making porridge, then decided that if anyone wanted that disgusting glop, they were on their own.

He started by making tea. While it steeped, he got out a huge cast-iron frying pan and hunted around for a spatula. Flipping eggs with magic was more difficult than he had believed the first time he tried it, and with the additional power from last night's spell, he'd probably be mopping egg yolk from the ceiling. Upstairs, Remus and Snape began to move, both of them leaving the bed and going into different rooms.

Sirius poured himself a mug of tea well before it turned into the dark, tongue-coating, revolting brew that Remus fancied, and sipped at it while the kitchen filled with the smell of cooking bacon. He found plates in one cupboard, glasses in another, and went back to the fridge for pumpkin juice and orange juice. There was a fresh loaf of bread in the breadbox, alongside the remains of the one from the day before.

The tomatoes were making popping sounds in the frying pan when Sirius turned his head just in time to see Snape enter the kitchen. He turned his attention back to slicing bread. The bread knife was quite sharp.

"Good morning," Snape said. He sounded subdued. Sirius nodded, keeping an eye on the tomatoes. Snape came over to the kitchen counter and poured himself some tea. He put a lot of milk in it. When Sirius glanced sideways, he saw that Snape wasn't wearing his robe, just his high-collared shirt and trousers. All the buttons were done up.

Snape got his wand out, and Sirius tensed, eggs in hand. He recognized the spell, though, and the bread slices flew off to toast before the fire. Sirius cracked the eggs on the edge of the frying pan and looked for salt in the cupboards. By the time Remus came downstairs, breakfast was ready.

"Good morning, Severus. Good morning, Sirius." He sounded even-voiced, almost cheerful. His hair was wet, and he'd forgone his robes, too, for just brown trousers and a patched grey shirt. Unlike Snape, he'd left the top button undone. His feet were bare.

Sirius bit his lip and turned his attention back to the frying pan. He divided the eggs up and slid them onto three plates. The three of them walked around each other at the kitchen counter, picking and choosing, and then sat down at the kitchen table to eat. Sirius concentrated on his ham, his toast, and his cheese for a while. The bread was good toasted, too, with plenty of butter. Then he looked sideways at Remus, only to find that Remus had his eyes focused on Snape.

"Aren't you supposed to be teaching classes now?" Remus asked.

"Yes." Snape was crumbling a piece of toast between his fingers. He'd barely touched his eggs. Sirius frowned. He ate a piece of tomato and burned his tongue. Tomato seeds stuck between his teeth.

Remus had already cleaned his plate. Now he lifted his fork and took a piece of bacon from Snape. "I thought you couldn't wait to be out of our company." Next, half a slice of ham, and his voice was still mild and even. "Is anyone taking over lessons for you?"

"I don't see that it is any concern of yours." Snape sounded cold. He pushed his plate over and allowed Remus to take the piece of toast from his hand. "It's not as though you still work at Hogwarts."

"No." Remus ate the eggs in small, quick bites. Sirius wondered if he should have cooked more. "No, you saw to that. Did it make you feel better?"

Snape put his tea mug down and steepled his hands, staring blackly at Remus over his fingertips. "I thought the children deserved to know the truth about who was teaching them."

"I see." Remus made short work of the toast and bacon. His fork scraped against the plate, and he put it down with a clatter. "I assume you've told them all, then, about the mark on your left arm."

Snape pressed his hands together so hard his fingertips turned white. "That is an entirely different matter!"

"Of course it is," Sirius said with a snort. "Having been a Death Eater, having chosen to be a Death Eater, is so much more confidence-inspiring than having accidentally been bitten by a werewolf. And Remus took the potion you brewed for him. You should have known better than anyone it made him harmless."

"When he remembered to take it," Snape said, turning his cold, black stare on Sirius instead. "You should know, by the scar on your back, that he can't be trusted."

Sirius opened his mouth to say that he was by no means certain that Snape could be trusted, no matter how Dumbledore, or for that matter Remus, felt about it. Before he could get the words out, Remus twisted in his seat, and his eyes were full of horror. "I gave you a scar that night? Sirius—"

"It's not important," Sirius said, as firmly as he could. He put his hand on Remus's shoulder and stroked his thumb just once right underneath the collarbone. "I just didn't have time for a healing charm. Consider it payback for all the times I bit you in the old days to get you to behave."

"How touching." Everything that wasn't in Snape's words was in his voice. Sirius glared, knowing he couldn't say anything about it. He left his hand where it was. Snape tightened his mouth. "Lupin, were you trying to make a point? If you're upset about the fact that I told the truth about you at Hogwarts, I'm afraid I don't really care very much."

Remus was still looking at Sirius, and he did look upset. He put his hand over Sirius's hand on his shoulder and pressed it gently, then turned back to Snape with an entirely different expression on his face. "My point, Severus, was that while you have exposed my secret, I still have yours in my keeping. I could blackmail or ruin you, and we could either of us destroy Sirius, even though we both know the accusations against him are false."

Sirius sat back, feeling some unexpected empathy with Snape, who looked surprised. "What are you trying to say?"

Remus's mouth curved in a faint smile. "That it's a waste of time for us to threaten or taunt each other. While we're bound together by this spell, we should try to make each other stronger, not weaker."

"That would probably be a good idea," Sirius said. He picked up his knife and played with it, testing the edge against his thumb; it was rather dull. "This spell entails a few things that I don't think either of you has considered yet."

Snape narrowed his eyes. "Oh, you've had the time to become an expert?"

"I've given it some thought." Sirius got up and wandered over to the kitchen counter. He lifted the bread knife, which he knew was considerably sharper than the table knife he'd cut his eggs with, and turned back towards the kitchen table, making sure that the other two were looking at him. Taking a short breath, Sirius raised the knife and slashed it down towards his palm.

"Accio!" Snape shouted. The knife jerked out of Sirius's hand, and at the same time his wrist was seized in a hard grip and forced back. Remus stood to one side of him, fingers locked around his wrist, and Snape to the other. Their chairs lay overturned to either side of the kitchen table. The bread knife stood point down in the smooth wood of the tabletop, vibrating.

Sirius wiggled his hand until Remus let go. Then he tried to punch Remus in the face. This time it was Snape who grasped his wrist and jerked it down long before his fist could have made contact. Remus just stared at him, wide-eyed. Sirius smiled. "See?" He wrenched himself free of Snape's grip and turned back to the kitchen counter. "Anyone want more eggs?"

"Yes," Remus said.

"No," Snape said.

Sirius wasn't surprised. He put the frying pan back on the stove and cracked a few more eggs into it, adding the rest of the ham while he was at it. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Remus yank the breadknife out of the table. It left an ugly scar in the wood. "Make some more toast," he suggested. "I think there's strawberry jam in the fridge, too."

"Strawberry jam?" Snape made an impatient sound, close to a snort. "Aren't there more important things to be dealt with here than strawberry jam?"

Sirius flipped the eggs over. No wonder Snape was so bad-tempered, if he never ate a decent meal. "Aren't you worried about being in the same kitchen with a violent escaped criminal and a hungry werewolf?" He caught the tail end of a pained look as Remus took the bread slices to be toasted. "Sorry. And there's another thing, too." He picked up the bread knife again, folded his hand around the blade, muttered a spell to get the wrinkles out of his shirt, and pressed a little at the same time. "Ow!"

Snape and Remus both jumped. Snape clutched his hand to his chest, and Remus held his out and stared incredulously at the palm for a moment, and then he turned to Sirius. "What did you do?" He took hold of Sirius's hand and tilted it towards the light. Blood welled up in a thin, straight line. "Sirius, what—"

"Black, have you lost your mind?" Snape unclenched his hand and stared at it, and then at Sirius.

"No. Wait." Sirius tipped the knife blade down against his palm again, trying to look as though he were doing nothing of the kind, and made another shallow cut. "Ow."

"Sirius! Don't do that!" Remus took the knife away from him and gripped his wrist so hard he thought he felt his bones grate together. From the corner of his eye, Sirius saw Snape raise his hand and drop it again.

"Sorry." Sirius tried to mop the blood off his palm with a paper towel, but Remus swatted his hand away and began to murmur a healing spell. It tickled. "But you didn't actually feel that, did you?"

Remus shook his head. "Not the second time, no."

"Good. I'd hate to jump around on one leg every time you stub your ugly toes, Snape." Remus opened his mouth, then closed it again. He looked amused. Sirius cocked an eyebrow at him. "What?"

"Never mind." Remus wadded up the blood-stained paper towel and tossed it into the sink. He ran a fingertip over the cuts, now only thin pink lines, and Sirius felt his breath catch. "Do you have to make your points quite so vigorously?"

"Well, I thought — oh, bugger!" Sirius turned back to the stove, taking his hand with him, and yanked the frying pan off the burner. The eggs were a little crisper around the edges than he liked, and the yolks had probably fried solid. "Bring your plate over here, will you?"

A few minutes later, they sat down at the kitchen table again. Snape had poured himself another mug of tea that was nearly half milk and sat with his hands locked around it, watching as Sirius and Remus ate. "It was because you used magic the first time, wasn't it," he said.

"Yes." Sirius swallowed a mouthful of egg, toast, and strawberry jam. "So try not to stub your toes when you're lighting the fire in the morning."

Remus finished his eggs and put his fork down. His hair was starting to dry, lightening into its usual milk-chocolate brown. "Tell us now, Sirius," he said in a soft voice. "No more demonstrations. Just talk."

Putting the glass down, Sirius settled back in his chair and looked at Snape, who was quiet and narrow-eyed, watching him expectantly. He cleared his throat. "Not much to tell. Usually, a miscibilis spell is defined by its confinium. The confinium details exactly what is infused into the chosen object, and how that power is channeled. A miscibilis spell is limited and finite."

"And this one wasn't." Remus nodded. "Since its purpose was to bind us to each other, it couldn't be."

"It could have been," Sirius disagreed. He'd given it some thought the night before. "It could have been made limited, if not finite, in several different ways. But it's not, and so we have full access to each other's knowledge and power, and constant knowledge of each other's whereabouts."

Remus tipped his head to one side. "But there's more," he said. "That thing you did with the knife — what was that?"

Sirius looked at Snape and Remus. He would have bound himself to Remus in this way or by any other suggested spell without a second thought, but Severus Snape was another matter entirely. "We're compelled to protect and defend each other," he said slowly. "In a sense, the spell has made us part of each other. We can identify each other — I think probably through any transformative spell, or polyjuice potion — and we can sense injury."

They looked at each other, all three, across the kitchen table with its dirty plates and the gouge from the breadknife. Remus nodded, but it was Snape who put it into words. "This was done now because it's needed now. The war has already started."

Sirius nodded.

Outside the kitchen window, the day was still blankly grey. Sirius stared into his glass of pumpkin juice for a while, then finished it. He put his plate on top of Remus's and took them over to the sink, stacking them on Snape's. The butter had gone so soft that it almost squished out over his hand when he picked it up, and he wrapped it carefully and put it back in the fridge along with the cheese and the jam and the two remaining eggs. He put the bread back in the breadbox and swept the crumbs off the countertop. The fading pink lines on the palm of his hand kept catching his eye.

When he looked back at the kitchen table, Remus and Snape were sitting just as he had left them — still life with wizards. "We knew it was coming," he said.

Remus nodded. The two tiny grooves between his eyebrows were showing. He unbuttoned his sleeves and began to roll them up. "Then I think we should try to learn a little more about what we can do together," he said. "Whether the two of you want to, or not." There was a scar all the way up the outside of his right forearm.

The look on Snape's face wasn't encouraging, but he got up and walked over to the sink, pouring the remains of his tea down the drain. The sleeves of his black shirt were so narrow that Sirius wondered how he could move his arms. Sirius looked at the congealed bacon fat in the frying pan and decided it could wait. He took an apple from a bowl on the counter and followed Remus out of the kitchen, tensely aware of Snape behind him.

They went back to the empty room at the end of the hallway. The chalk marks were still on the floor, with Sirius's Celtic knot at the center. He got his wand out and erased it, and then went around the room and smudged the signifiers Remus had drawn. His own was a lopsided, five-pointed star. He smiled a little and crouched down to wipe off one of the points with his thumb. "You start," he tossed at Snape over his shoulder. "Teach us something."

"This house doesn't allow the kind of spell I'd like to teach you, Black." Snape crossed his arms.

Sirius got to his feet as fast as he could. "I'm sure we can find a better location," he said. "If you'll—"

"There's no time for this," Remus broke in. He eyed them both with exasperated disappointment. "When the war is over and this spell is dissolved, the two of you can duel to your heart's content. But not now."

Sirius looked at Snape, and at Remus, and down at his hands. He hadn't even noticed that he had dropped the apple and was gripping his wand. He didn't want to fight with Remus again, particularly not about Snape. It just irked him that Remus could speak so fondly of and look so forgivingly at someone who sneered at him with cold eyes and disparaged him at every opportunity. He wanted to glare at Snape, but he glared at his hands instead, until he could look up and say, "Sorry."

The look of surprise on Snape's face was almost worth it.

Remus whispered a brief spell, and a riot of mismatched flowers appeared in the center of the room. Convolvulus tangled with black bryony, and the snowdrops were nearly hidden from view. Sirius thought he could make out some kind of roses, too, before Remus whispered again and they were gone.

"You're planning to throw flowers at the forces of evil?" Snape sniffed. "I'm sure that will make them flee in terror."

"No aggressive spells inside the house," Sirius reminded him, already regretting his apology. The moral high ground was no fun. "It's the process we need to work on." The spell waited for him. "Efflorete." Flowers once again sprang into existence, as easily as though he'd known how to do this for years. This time, it was vast quantities of honeysuckle and gillyflowers, surrounded by the flat green of tansies. He almost thought he could smell the honeysuckle. It vanished with a pop as he said, "Finite incantatem. Remus, do you usually get half a garden's worth of greenery with that spell?"

"No. I wonder if proximity has anything to do with the effect. Perhaps if we were farther apart—"

"Efflorete," Snape said, and Sirius felt only a faint tug. A tiny bouquet appeared: bright yellow acacia, coriander, which he smelled more than saw, and crab blossom. He could feel just how Snape had kept the spell damped down, and nodded grudgingly.

After ten more flower spells, two tickling charms, and putting out and relighting the fire in the fireplace seven times, they had all achieved better control. Snape had produced huge yellow carnations, Remus called up fennel, and Sirius was getting chamomile mixed in with his tansies. Sirius wanted the others to teach him spells he didn't know, but he wasn't certain what to ask for. "We'll have to meet up somewhere else," he said. "Work on attack spells, and how to coordinate them."

Snape waved his carnations out of existence. A single petal fluttered to the floor. "There will be more to this war than straightforward combat," he said. "Or have you forgotten what it was like?"

"I haven't forgotten anything," Sirius said. He stared at his own toes until the temptation to set fire to Snape's shoes had passed. Dark times were coming again, and Remus was right, they needed to be able to trust each other. He didn't feel particularly trusting.

Remus stretched and rolled his shoulders. He'd pushed his sleeves up above his elbows and undone another button at the throat of his shirt. "We could go into the Forbidden Forest at night," he suggested with a half-smile. "That would give us plenty of practice."

"Probably," Sirius said. He shoved his hands in his pockets, felt the belt give a little, and hurriedly took his hands out and tugged on the trousers. He really needed to find some clothes that fit better.

"It's time for me to return to Hogwarts." Snape put his wand away. He hadn't unfastened so much as a button, but his hair looked a little mussed. "I suppose we will need to remain in contact."

"That would probably be a good idea," Remus agreed, just a little too gravely. Sirius smiled. "I think Sirius and I will be traveling quite a lot in the near future," he cocked his head in Sirius's direction, inviting agreement, "but we should be able to keep in touch by owl."

Snape looked at Remus, and then at Sirius. "Do you know where you'll be?" he asked.

"Only for the next day or two." Remus began to roll his sleeves down again. "I should get going, too. I'm going down to stay with Arabella Figg for a little while, and she'll let me know where I'm going next. I think I may be back home in a couple of weeks."

"I'll be staying here overnight," Sirius said. His mouth felt dry. He wanted tea without sugar or milk. "After that, I don't know."

"I see." Snape closed his eyes. He suddenly looked very tired, and his skin was more like cracked porcelain than marble. The smell of coriander still hung in the air. "You know where to find me." He opened his eyes again. "You know what I'll be doing if you can't find me there."

Sirius nodded. He scuffed his toe over the last chalk lines, thinking that he would have to clean those up when the others had left. He stared at the last lines of the star as Remus said, "Be careful, Severus."

Rain beat softly against the windows, and he wondered when it had started to fall. When he looked outside, he saw that everything had grown hazy and indistinct. Sirius shifted his weight and tried not to rub at the back of his neck, and then he had to do it anyway. "It won't bother us now?" he said without turning around. "If we — when you leave the house."

"It shouldn't," Remus said. "If it does, I suppose we'll have to come back."

He walked out of the room, and so did Snape. Sirius stayed by the window and felt them go up the stairs. He watched rain trail down the glass, small drops that barely seemed to have enough weight for gravity to force them down. He was hungry again. There was still some bread and cheese left.

Sirius went to the kitchen, which was as far away from the presences of Remus and Snape as he could get. Nothing itched, but he felt restless all over his skin, and a little cold. He went over to the fire and tried to warm his hands for a while, then back to the chair where his knitted sweater lay folded across the seat. It was grey, with a blue leaf pattern edging the throat and sleeves, shapeless with age, and very comfortable. He picked it up but didn't put it on.

Snape was the first to come back down the stairs. Sirius went out into the hallway to meet him. Snape had put his robes on. He wasn't wearing a cloak. There were umbrellas in a carved wooden stand in the hall, but Snape didn't look at them. He didn't quite look at Sirius, either. Sirius ran a hand through his hair and considered Snape's crossed arms and firmly closed mouth. He couldn't think of anything to say that wasn't either provocative or untrue.

When Remus came down, taking the steps two at a time, they both turned around. Remus's robes were on, but unbuttoned, and he carried a dark grey cloak over one arm. "I should hurry," he said. "Arabella dislikes tardiness."

"Let me know where you will be at the next full moon," Snape said.

"Yes. Of course. Thank you, Severus." Remus smiled and turned to Sirius. "We will see each other soon," he said, and touched his hand briefly to Sirius's arm, just above the elbow. Sirius wanted to shift shape again, and feel Remus's fingers stroke through his fur, and lick the inside of Remus's wrist. He just nodded.

Then Remus turned and walked towards the back door, shaking his cloak out and putting it on. Snape followed him. Sirius trailed behind. When Remus opened the door, cold, wet air gusted in. Remus and Snape went outside, and Sirius stood in the open door and watched them hurry down the muddy garden path. Halfway to the garden shed, Snape slipped, and Remus steadied him.

Once they reached the garden shed, Remus let go of Snape's arm and they both vanished, blowing out like candle flames. Sirius had never liked watching people Disapparate. Rain was dripping from the edge of the roof onto his shoulder. He closed the door and went back to the kitchen. It felt warmer now, after the chilly outside air.

Sirius looked at his wrist, where finger bruises began to come up in two overlapping sets. He got the cheese out of the fridge and cut a few thick slices of bread, being a bit more careful than usual with the breadknife. The pink lines on his palm had almost vanished. By dinnertime, it would be impossible to tell where they had been. When he rubbed his hand over his chest, the scratches made by Remus's nails were still tender.

He sat down at the table and ate his sandwich.

* * *

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