A Season in Hell
Remus looked up from his book. "Yes, Mr. Hobb?"
"On question three, it says to describe the unique properties of an Unspeakable curse, but a lot of those properties are shared with Unforgivable curses."
"Ah." Remus hid a smile. "I believe that if you think back to the chart detailing the differences between Unspeakable and Unforgivable curses in Chapter 14 of your textbook, the answer should become clearer."
"Yes, sir," Hobb said miserably, and he returned to his seat with the doomed air of one who hadn't cracked his book since the first week of classes.
There was a practical exam scheduled for the next day that would more than allow him to make up any points lost to theory--assuming that he'd paid attention to the class at all, and hadn't neglected more than his reading assignments--so Remus felt no guilt over his hidden amusement. Students never seemed to learn that they couldn't simply trick the answers out of their professors on test day.
He turned another glossy page: his Quidditch Weekly was charmed to look like a copy of Faith and Treason: Merlin's Later Years from the back...another indulgence he felt no shame over, especially given his certain knowledge that McGonagall did the same exact thing with her LeFaie romances.
Suddenly, a great, mawing sound rent the air. Remus dropped his book on the desk and looked up to see a flash of light explode where a student's seat--Draco Malfoy's--had been a moment before. Draco's exam paper fluttered in the air for a breath of time before it was sucked into the pinprick heart of the seething morass that was left by the portal's opening.
"Bloody hell!" Goyle shouted, scrambling away from the swirling mass of dark smoke. Half a second later, all of the other students followed suit, tumbling over each other in their alarm.
"Harry, Hermione," Remus said, his voice pitched to calmness, even as he tugged his wand out from an inner pocket of his robes and strode down the aisle to where Draco's chair used to be, "please run inform the headmaster that Mr. Malfoy and I are trapped in another dimension."
There was a confused murmuring from most of the class. "Er, yes, sir," Harry said hesitantly.
The smoky tendrils spinning outwards from the mass were beginning to dissipate, and its center flickered ominously. Remus stepped forward into the heart of it, there was another brief flash of light, and the portal winked out of existence.
Sunlight smashed into Draco like a weapon. His stomach roiled with nausea, caused by some combination of heat and glare and the whirlwind journey he'd taken to...wherever he was. He blinked and held a hand up to shield his eyes. Cracked earth the color of dried blood stretched as far as he could see in every direction. A hot yellow sun beat down from overhead, while a swollen red sun hovered at the horizon.
There was no sign of the dark tunnel that had swallowed him in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and then spat him out here. Draco stood up carefully, and the Hogwarts chair he'd been sitting on tilted on the uneven ground, but remained upright. He began walking.
Perhaps ten minutes later, he stopped. This was ridiculous. He had no idea where he was and even less idea of where he was going. Draco turned around again.
The chair was still visible in the distance; evidently he hadn't walked very far at all. As he began to retrace his steps, a sudden rushing noise filled the sky, something like a Muggle airioplane. Draco's chair fell over.
The sound of a throat clearing behind him tore Draco's attention away from the blasted piece of furniture, and Draco whirled around to find Professor Lupin regarding him calmly.
"You got pulled in, too, Sir?" Draco asked, beginning belatedly to wonder where Crabbe and Goyle and the rest of the Slytherins were. Hopefully the vortex hadn't been large enough to swallow the Gryffindor half of the classroom, as well. He really didn't think he could bear Granger's inane questions or Potter's sheer, bloody infuriating presence, at this point. Or, no, maybe it would be better if they had been captured by it, and Potter somehow got left behind...
Lupin's next words dispelled that encouraging thought, though. "Not exactly," he said. "I'm afraid the portal was designed only to capture you, Mr. Malfoy. I managed to follow you just before it closed."
And all this time he'd been assuming that it was a cheating charm gone wrong. Once Goyle had exploded an ink bottle and quill during a Transfigurations exam, and Crabbe had accidentally summoned a band of Cornish pixies during last week's Potions practical. Whisking Draco away to the desert would just have been on a larger scale of annoyance. He looked around again. "Where are we, then?"
"We're in hell."
Draco sneered. "I was hoping for something a little more specific."
"Unfortunately, I was being specific," Lupin said dryly. "Or, at least, I wasn't being metaphorical. We're in one of numerous dimensions that is populated by demons and that touches--but does not intersect with--our own world. Not being a demonologist, I'm afraid I have no way of determining which of these dimensions we've fallen into."
"Then...what are you going to do?" Draco asked.
"We will do our level best to stay alive until Dumbledore or someone else rescues us. Though our environment may look forbidding, even demon worlds aren't impervious to logic. If the air's breathable, then somewhere there must be water, as well. And where there's water, there's also likely to be food."
"And what about the demons?" Draco demanded. "What good will it do us to find food if at any moment they could find us?"
Lupin opened his mouth to answer, then shut it again, shaking his head. He sat down on the ground and motioned Draco to do the same.
After a moment's hesitation, Draco sat as well, hugging his knees to his chest.
"Mr. Malfoy..." Lupin was silent for a long moment before he continued, "You know that I'm a werewolf."
Draco nodded, his throat suddenly tight. "Is that...what will we do when you change? It's nearly impossible that we might find wolfsbane here, and it's not as though we have a cage for you, or anything." He felt almost sick at the thought of watching Lupin transform, knowing that at any moment the werewolf would be at his throat. There was no way to put enough distance between them that they could prevent such an attack; werewolves had been know to run well over a hundred miles in a single night. And even if there were...that would mean being alone in hell.
Lupin's hand settled gingerly but comfortingly on his shoulder. "That's not what I was about to say, Draco. There's little danger of my turning into a werewolf the entire time we're here--most worlds don't have any moons worth speaking of."
Tension bled out of Draco in a rush, leaving him weak and shaky. "All right," he said when he could trust his voice not to waver. "Why bring it up, then?"
"Well, as I said, I'm not going to turn into a werewolf while we're here. But being a werewolf gives me some measure of magical protection from the demons of this world. I think," he looked apologetically at Draco, "that sending you here was a deliberate punishment for not taking the Dark Mark. A small part of Voldemort's essence is placed into the Mark, and since he's very nearly a demon himself, it affords his followers some measure of protection from other demons."
"I'll protect you as much as I can," Lupin assured him. "But if the demons of this world find us, we're likely to be vastly outnumbered. And demons are very, very strong, both physically and magically."
"I'm sure no one will blame you when you get back to Hogwarts," Draco said, the reproachful edge clear in his voice.
"Let us both hope that it never comes to that," Lupin said quietly, his eyes very serious as they watched Draco. "But even if the worst happens, and we're up against an army of demons, I want you to promise that you'll stay close to me. No one can outrun a demon."
"I promise," Draco choked, and Lupin nodded his approval.
"Our only real chance is to avoid their notice for as long as possible," he continued. "Most species of demon are quite sensitive to magic. We mustn't cast any but the weakest spells, and those only when necessary."
"But how will we survive?" Draco burst out.
"By using all our wit and ingenuity, and by refusing to give up," Lupin said, rising briskly and brushing the dust off his robes. Draco scrambled to his feet, as well. "Our first order of business is to find water. Which way would you suggest we go?"
Draco looked at him skeptically, but Lupin only looked back with a bland expression that would have put Snape's to shame. "Don't you know the best way?" he asked.
Lupin shook his head. "I'm as much a stranger here as you, remember. Your guess is as good as mine."
"How very reassuring," Draco sneered.
"If we mean to trust each other, we can't mislead each other with false promises," Lupin said. "Will you choose a direction, or should I?"
"East," Draco said. Lupin cocked an eyebrow at him, just as he did in class, and Draco added, "That way we won't be squinting into the setting sun."
"Good thinking," Lupin said, and set off at an easy pace that Draco copied. It was a simple matter to understand why they were so unhurried; as urgent as their need for water was in that heat, it was even more vital that they not sweat away their bodies' reserves first.
Draco stumbled slightly on an uneven bit of ground and opened his mouth to complain, but then he noticed that Lupin's eyes had flicked to him in concern and then away when he'd determined that Draco was all right. Anyway, talking would only make him thirsty more quickly. Draco shut his mouth and kept walking.
They'd been walking for perhaps two hours when Remus noticed a smudge on the horizon that might be an oasis. He didn't draw Draco's attention to it in any case; it would only disappoint the boy if it ended up being a mirage. But the sight of it gave an added lightness to his steps.
They'd been silent the entire time, conserving moisture and strength, but now Draco stopped suddenly. Remus turned to look at him questioningly.
Draco shifted from one foot to the next, a blush blooming on skin, obvious even beneath his deepening sunburn. "Um," he said, and shifted again. "I have to..."
Remus stared at him in incomprehension for a minute before the reason for Draco's embarrassed flush became suddenly clear. "Oh! Go right ahead."
"Where?" Draco demanded.
"Well...here. Where else?"
"You really expect me to shit in the dirt?"
Remus stifled his annoyance as best he could. "Do you see any other options?"
"No," Draco said, sounding frustrated and on the verge of tears, "but--"
Seventeen, Remus reminded himself. He's only seventeen. "It's all right, Draco," he said aloud. "Listen to me. You'll go a small distance from me--enough to make you comfortable, but not so far that I'm unavailable should there be trouble. I'll turn my back. You'll scoop out a bit of hole in the ground, do your business, cast a cleansing charm on yourself, and bury the mess. And then you'll come back here and we'll keep on our way. All right?"
Draco's head jerked down in a nod. "All right." He walked away stiffly, his back held over-straight, and Remus watched him until he hesitated and looked back over his shoulder.
Remus nodded acknowledgement and turned his back as he'd promised.
The silence behind him was oppressive and all-encompassing. His mind kept him supplied with images of a sudden menace rising from beneath the earth or dropping from the sky and attacking Draco while he stood there unconscious of the threat. The urge to turn around and reassure himself that Draco was unharmed rose up in him strongly, but he fought it back. Draco needed his privacy more than Remus needed to assuage his paranoia. He stared hard at the horizon, imprinting its jagged line into his mind's eye in an effort to shake off the other, more disturbing mental images.
The sound of a footfall close by broke his determined concentration. "I'm done," Draco said from behind him.
Remus turned and smiled at the boy, whose cheeks were still pinked with embarrassment. "Good. Let's be on our way, then."
"Okay," Draco said. "Um. Do you see something over there?"
He pointed at the horizon, and Remus made a show of peering at it. "Do you know, I think I do," Remus said. "Good eye, Mr. Malfoy."
Draco smiled smugly. "Of course, it may just be a mirage," he said in a superior tone.
"Certainly," Remus said. "But let's not let that stop us from being...shall we say, cautiously optimistic."
They resumed their trek, and Remus was pleased to note that Draco's step seemed a bit lighter, as well.
"It doesn't look like a mirage," Draco said close to an hour later, squinting into the increasingly deep purple sky.
"No, it doesn't," Remus agreed.
"Can you smell the water yet?"
Remus shot a look at him--among his students, only Harry and his friends had made even glancing mention of his lycanthropy during the course of the school year--but Draco was staring straight ahead. "Not so long as we're upwind of it," he answered finally, and pretended not to notice Draco's cheeks turn red in response.
It wasn't a mirage. A stream cut through the hard-packed dirt, edged by scrubby bushes, and wended up a small incline. There were mountains in the near distance.
"Slowly," Remus cautioned, when Draco dropped to his knees at the water's edge. "Or you'll give yourself a cramp."
Draco glared at him, but he brought the water to his mouth in cupped hands rather than thrusting his entire head into the stream, as he'd appeared on the verge of doing for a moment.
Remus quickly followed his example. The cool water soothed the dry, cracked surfaces of his throat and mouth, and he drank his fill. He lay on his back afterwards, staring up at the plum-colored sky. The second sun had nearly set, and then they'd have only the stars and their unusable wands for light. "I think we should make camp in that thicket," he said, waving towards a cluster of scrubby trees on the other side of the stream.
"Will there be wild animals?" Draco asked suspiciously.
"I don't know. Keep your wand close to hand, in any case."
Despite their meager height, the trees still managed to cast a deeper shadow that cut into the twilight; it was noticeably cooler in their shade. None of the trees or bushes bore any fruit. Remus had expected as much, but it was a disappointment nevertheless. He began to unbutton his robes.
"Um..." Draco said, and Remus looked up to find the boy staring uncomfortably at a spot somewhere above his shoulder.
"Nights get chilly in the desert," he said before Draco's adolescent embarrassment could become more acute. "Keep your own robes on, and we'll use mine as a blanket."
"You are wearing something underneath that, right?" Draco asked.
Remus hid a smile. "I'm quite decent. See for yourself."
Draco stopped staring into the middle distance and glanced at Remus's white button-down and black trousers. His chin dipped in a short nod. "All right," he said, and lay down stiffly on the ground.
Remus spread his cloak over the boy. "I'll just doublecheck the perimeter," he said. "Be right back." Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, though he dared to cast a small Avius charm to alert them should trouble find them in the night. Draco was breathing too regularly when he returned. Remus lifted up a corner of his robes and crawled under them, turned onto his side with his back to Draco, and fell asleep.
Dawn was breaking when Remus awoke, the oversized red sun just beginning to clear the horizon, and he untangled himself from their shared blanket and went to the stream. After drinking several handfuls of water, he took off his shirt and washed up as best as he could. Bubbles rose up from the rocks on the streambed--either it had been too dark or he'd been too self-absorbed to notice them yesterday--and he turned over the nearest large stone cautiously.
A small cloud of brackish water billowed upwards, and a skittering movement to the left caught his eye. Remus darted his hand after it and emerged from the water grasping a long, black insect rather like a cross between a beetle and a crayfish. Remus smiled and gathered his shirt into a loose pocket, dropping the water bug inside.
When he returned to thicket, Draco was still lying in the same position, a frown creasing his forehead.
"Mr. Malfoy," Remus said, and then repeated it, more loudly, when all Draco did was roll over onto his back.
"Mmm?" Draco asked.
"I've found breakfast."
Draco's eyes blinked open. "What? Where?"
"The stream," Remus answered succinctly, and laid his shirt on the ground, revealing his squirming bounty.
"Those are bugs!" Draco said, his face twisting with disgust.
"They're food," Remus corrected. He looked at the three-inch long insects with their hard exoskeletons and oversized pincers. "Just think of them as miniature lobsters."
"Of course you can. Here, you cook them, and I'll do the screams."
Draco looked at him as though he'd gone mad, and Remus reflected once again how much simpler it had been to be a kindergarten teacher. Just then, however, Draco raised his wand and pointed it at the writhing pile. "Ready?" he asked.
The insects immediately stopped squirming and released a collective puff of steam. Draco looked at Remus expectantly, and Remus answered with a tiny, high-pitched wail.
Draco laughed. "Lobsters don't sound like that when they die."
"Well, I'm certain you'll be shocked at how very little lobster I've eaten over the course of my life," Remus said dryly.
"So one of us, at least, won't know what he's missing," Draco said. His tone was more mocking than bantering, but Remus let it slide.
Instead, he picked up the nearest insect between thumb and forefinger. Draco watched with a revolted expression on his face as Remus cracked the exoskeleton and scooped out the meat with the forefinger of his other hand. He kept his face purposefully blank as he swallowed the scant mouthful of food. It tasted sweet and salty in equal measure, and Remus fought the desire to gag.
He picked up another insect, cracked it open, and pressed it into Draco's unwilling hand. "It's not that bad. Give it a try," he invited.
Still looking faintly green, Draco imitated Remus's actions, using his finger as a spoon. His throat worked as he swallowed. Remus sincerely hoped that the food wouldn't be making a reappearance anytime soon. "It would be better dipped in melted butter," Draco said finally.
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind for the next time we see a milk cow," Remus said.
Draco scowled at him around a mouthful of steamed water bug, and Remus smiled, cracking another one open for himself.
"We've another decision ahead of us," Remus said several unpleasant minutes later.
"Stay or go?"
"That's right. Neither option is failsafe. If we leave, we may stumble across a band of demons. If we don't, we'll shortly exhaust our food supply, not to mention that there's no guarantee that one or more demons might not stumble across us."
"We can follow the stream up that mountain," Draco said.
"We might find something to eat other than bugs."
"One would sincerely hope."
"All right, then. We should go."
Remus slipped his robe back on, buttoning only the top two buttons, and they went.
Their days soon took on a routine: Remus woke shortly after sunrise and washed in the stream, then woke Draco for breakfast. Afterwards Remus would instruct Draco in his schoolwork as they walked, quizzing him especially closely on technique since Draco couldn't practice his wandwork or brewing skills. They'd stop for lunch when the smaller sun was directly overhead. Their afternoon discussions were more social than academic, though the division between the two wasn't absolute.
If they found fresh fruits or nuts, they stopped to gather as much as they could comfortably carry. If their foraging was less productive, they could always eat water bugs, which appeared to be ubiquitous for that particular stream.
Draco would bathe at night after they'd chosen their resting place de la nuit. Then they'd eat supper and curl up to sleep beneath Remus's robe.
If it weren't for the fact that he'd been trained since early childhood to pay a desperate attention to the passing of each day, Remus might not have realized how many weeks they'd spent on this alien planet. Sometimes he wondered if Draco knew how much time had passed.
"I'm going to get a drink," Draco said, and Remus nodded absently. A few minutes later, there was a strangled shout from the direction of the stream. Heart pounding in his throat, Remus dashed after Draco, pushing through the underbrush with frantic haste.
Draco was standing by the water's edge, wand drawn. An animal the size of a boar and the approximate shape of a dog lay motionless in the shallows.
"Draco?" Remus said quietly, and Draco whirled around. He was shockingly pale, and there was blood on the front of his robes. Remus hurried forwards.
"I killed it," Draco said shakily.
"I can see that. Where are you hurt?"
"I used--I killed it."
"Never mind that. You're bleeding. Where are you hurt?" Remus's hands shook as he reached for the buttons of Draco's robe, and he forced them to stop.
"Oh. It bit my leg, I think. Remus, I--"
He'd got Draco's robe off by then. There was a long rent in the thigh of his trousers, and Remus undid the buttons at the fly, tugging them down. The gash in Draco's pale thigh was long, but not deep. "Sliced you open with one of his fangs, it looks like," Remus said in an almost steady voice, and dropped to his knees to untie Draco's shoes. "Come on, we have to get this leg cleaned."
Draco didn't seem up to more than grabbing Remus's shoulder in an almost painfully tight grasp, so Remus pulled off the shoes and socks and coaxed Draco's legs out of his trousers by himself. "Right here," he said, helping Draco lower himself to the bank of the stream, so that his legs lay immersed in the water.
"It's cold," Draco said.
"I know. Just sit there a minute." Remus rubbed a gentle palm over the edges of Draco's cut, watching the spiraling cloud of red dissipate as the cold water constricted the blood vessels. "All right. That's good enough." Draco lifted his legs out of the water, and Remus cast a healing charm, so that the open cut sealed and faded to a long white scar.
"Remus," Draco said. "I killed it. I've never...I didn't even know if I could," and Remus realized suddenly what Draco had been trying to tell him when all his world had narrowed to a pale face and blood-soaked fabric.
He took Draco's hand in his and looked into his wide, pale eyes. "You did well," he said. "You survived," and Draco nodded as though he understood.
Two nights later, Remus lit a fire. It might attract demons, but it would also repel predacious animals; at the same time, the nights had started to get bitterly cold, and the magic required to sustain a warming spell on their clothing would attract more notice than a small campfire.
He built their first fire in the lee of a small hill and cast a small, hopefully unobtrusive charm on it to burn clear and smokeless. Draco watched in silence.
"I don't know that charm," he said when Remus stopped crouching over the flames and settled himself crosslegged within the fire's circle of warmth.
"Do you remember the words I used?" Remus asked. His hands were chilled, and he spread his fingers before the fire.
Draco nodded hesitantly. "Ignis...lentulus?"
"That's right. Tomorrow night you'll watch me cast the charm again, and then the next night you can give it a go."
"All right," Draco said. A month ago, when they were still at Hogwarts, he would have insisted on being taught the spell immediately. Remus would have banked the fire himself and insisted upon the same thing. Fear had made them learn discretion--Draco for perhaps the first time in his life, and Remus as a seemingly limitless recurring lesson. The only problem was balancing all of the threats with which they were confronted.
Draco took more pleasure from building a fire than Remus could have imagined. Possibly he liked feeling useful, though more likely he just enjoyed using his wand for something other than hygiene or life-and-death situations. In any case, his control was improving rapidly. Remus spared a wish that Draco had devoted himself half as much to his Defense Against the Dark Arts assignments as he was now to creating the perfect small, white-hot flame.
They'd found apples--more or less--earlier that day and collected a few dozen of them, now weighting down Remus's robe, which they ate for supper. "I'm going to..." Draco said afterwards and tipped his head towards a scrub of trees several yards down the hill.
Remus nodded, ignoring the tightening of his stomach. "Collect a few handfuls of twigs when you're done, all right?" The charm would help the fire to burn hotter for longer, but it would still need to be fed at several points during the night.
Draco waved his hand behind himself in acknowledgement, already halfway to the thicket. Remus collected a pile of rocks and began to set them in a circle about the fire. Their instinct at night was to get ever closer to the warmth, and he could all too easily imagine one or the other of them rolling into the ashes.
A sudden rush of footsteps broke his concentration, but it was Draco's hand on his arm that brought him to full alert. "What is it?" he asked quietly, one hand covering Draco's in reassurance even as the other drew his wand from his pocket.
"There's something out there." Draco choked on the words, and Remus struggled against his own rising apprehension.
"Did you see anything, or just hear it?"
"I saw something, but I don't know what. It was hiding in the trees. I know it saw me."
"All right. Don't panic, it might be something as harmless as a deer, or whatever this world's equivalent is."
Even as he said the words, though, a two-legged figure emerged from the deeper shadows of the woods. Remus's mind rifled through his mental library of spells, noting ones that might be effective without drawing too much attention upon themselves.
The figure approached them hesitantly, and Remus wondered what sort of demon would be wary of a small campfire, when suddenly the light caught its face.
Remus froze. The light eyes that met his from beneath a tangle of dark hair were achingly familiar. "Oh, my God," he said.
"That's Sirius Black," Draco hissed beside him, his face paling beneath his tan. "He's a murderer." His hand remained steady on his wand the whole time, and Remus felt a rush of pride even as he hastened to defuse the situation.
"It's all right, Draco. I swear it," he whispered as Sirius approached. "He's not a murderer. Trust me that far, and I'll explain all the rest later."
Draco gave a jerky nod, though he melted back several steps when Sirius finally reached them.
"You look good for a dead man," Remus said, as lightly as he could considering that his eyes were blurring and his voice threatened to crack at any moment.
"Not half as good as you look as a rescuer," Sirius answered.
There was an awkward pause. "Er," Remus said. He glanced at Draco, who looked back at him expressionlessly. "I'm afraid we're not a rescue party, Padfoot. Draco was pulled into an interdimensional portal in the middle of one of my classes, and I managed to follow him. None of us had any idea you were still alive, let alone knew where you were."
Sirius's elated expression faltered, the light in his eyes dimming, and Remus's heart clenched at what his friend must be feeling at that moment. Almost immediately, however, Sirius blinked away his disappointment and a grin split his face, though it was less blinding than the one he'd worn before. "All the luckier for me, then, that you happened to end up on my world. What are the odds, eh, Moony?"
In fact, the odds were astronomical, and the ache in Remus's heart was drowned out by the sudden pounding in his ears at that realization. Sirius peered at him, suddenly anxious. "Are you all right there, Remus?"
And the only thing Remus could do was to pull him into a tight hug and not--despite great provocation--cry all over him. "I've missed you, is all," he managed, and Sirius returned the hug with interest.
"Not half as much as I've missed you," he said, and Remus choked on a laugh because it was true, and it wasn't, and either way it was more painful than he could bear.
They held each other for a long time, and it would have lasted even longer had Remus not had a growing awareness of Draco standing a few paces from them, no doubt bewildered by this new turn of affairs. He released Sirius reluctantly, and after another moment Sirius let go of him, as well.
"Sirius, I don't believe you've met Draco," Remus said, holding a hand to the boy.
There was the briefest of hesitations before he joined the two of them. "Cousin Black," Draco said formally, nodding his head in an abbreviated bow.
Sirius's eyes sharpened on him. "You're Narcissa and Lucius's br--boy?"
"I remember you when you were still in skirts." Remus bit his lip at the expression on Draco's face.
"Yes, well, I remember you when you were on the front page of the Daily Prophet," Draco said snidely.
Sirius went still, and Remus braced himself for an explosion. "As long as we're acquainted with each other," Sirius said in a surprisingly mild tone. "I found a cave," he continued. "I've been living there these past...months?" His voice lifted in inquiry.
Remus shook his head regretfully. "Years. Two years, Padfoot."
"Ah." The wounded look in his eyes deepened. "Well, why don't you bank that fire, and I'll lead you there."
Draco lifted his eyebrows at Remus, and Remus nodded to him unobtrusively. Against all expectation, they appeared to have found a home.
Black's cave was less hideous than Draco had been expecting, though he supposed his standards had lowered after several weeks living in the wilderness. It was clean, at any rate. At least, it looked clean in the flickering light of the burning branch Black had retrieved from Remus and Draco's fire.
There was a pallet of thick blankets flush against one wall, two earthenware bowls and a stone mortar and pestle lined up along the opposite wall, and a single book in the farthest and most protected corner of the cave.
Remus honed in on the book immediately, of course; it seemed as though half of his and Draco's conversations had been on books they--or, more often, Remus--had read. Black waved an indulgent hand at him. "Go ahead. I've already read it at least fifty times."
Remus picked the book up, stroking its cover reverently. "How did you get it?"
"Had it in my pocket when I fell through the Veil," Black said.
"And what about all the rest of this?" Remus asked, looking around at the other items in the cave.
"They're all transfigurations, as I'm sure you've guessed. I have been careful, though. I do them out in the desert, several hours walk from here, and I've done only a handful of objects in the past two years."
Draco yawned widely, only half on purpose, prompting Remus to apologize for them both, and soon they were settled beneath Black's thick, soft blankets. The dishes had been shifted to a corner to allow room to make up a bed for each of them along the three walls of the cave. Draco could hear Remus breathing, only a couple feet away from him; the obnoxious snuffling noises Black made in his sleep couldn't drown out the sound entirely. He felt cold, though he was accustomed to sleeping outside with only a thin robe and Remus's body heat to warm him.
He pulled the covers around him more tightly. Obviously Black was incompetent at Transfigurations. He'd have to ask Remus to mend the blanket tomorrow.
Draco came awake with a start. Something had touched him on the arm, and as he stared--heart pounding--into the darkness, he saw a shadow separate from the cave's wall and loom over him.
"Come on," Black said. "We're going fishing."
"We're what? It's the middle of the night."
"No, it isn't."
"It's still dark."
"We're in a cave," Black said in the tone of voice typically reserved for unusually stupid, small children. "A cave, moreover, whose entrance faces west. Now hurry up, before we wake Remus."
Draco half-wished that Remus would wake up, so that Black would be distracted from his insanity and Draco could go back to sleep. But Remus had been looking unusually peakish lately--unusual for a world where he didn't undergo transformation into a werewolf once a month, at least--and he needed his rest. "Turn around," he muttered at last, and waited until Black complied before pulling his robes on beneath his blankets and getting out of bed and stumbling into the gray morning.
It wasn't until they were halfway to the stream that Draco realized he was going willingly to a remote location with an accused murderer, but by then it was too late. He had his wand, and hopefully Remus would avenge his death if Black managed to kill him despite that.
Black seemed preoccupied, though; Draco might as well not have been there for all the attention he received. They were all the way to the stream before he realized that they weren't going to be able to use magic to fish.
Black leaned over the water, bracing himself on one arm and letting the other dangle into the water, as Draco watched bemusedly. "How are you going to catch the fish, then?" he asked.
"Just watch," Black said tersely.
Draco watched. When nothing happened for several minutes, he sat down and watched some more. He'd just begun to consider if he dared risk a nap when there was an explosion of movement and a fish arced up from the water and landed beside him on the grass, flopping about frantically.
"Catch it!" Black said, and Draco tried to grab for it, but it slipped out of his hands repeatedly, until a robe dropped over the fish and Black twisted it, still squirming, into its folds. "Now you try," he said.
"Try what? I haven't the faintest idea how you did that."
"Maybe if you'd been watching me you would."
Draco's lip curled. "I was watching. You put your arm in the water, and a fish jumped ashore."
Black rolled his eyes. "Perhaps I should have been clearer. Come here, where you can actually see what I'm doing, and then watch me."
He slid his arm underwater again, and Draco watched from a less cautious distance as Black let his hand drift with the stream's slight current. In thankfully less time than it had taken before, a silver-gray shape slipped down the stream and over Black's hand. His hand tightened and scooped in a single movement, and another fish found itself propelled onto dry land.
"Do you honestly expect me to be able to do that?" Draco asked, once Black had netted it as well. "I haven't been playing Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle for the past two years, you know. I don't think I'm quite as comfortable with menial labor as you are."
"I could have guessed as much," Black said, looking with actual disdain at Draco's hands. "But, no, I don't expect you to do it straight off. We've enough fish for breakfast, now, so it doesn't matter if you do fail. But you can't learn how without some practice."
"I still don't see why we need fish this badly," Draco grumbled as he rolled up his right sleeve. No matter that he could almost taste it, hot and oily and delectable; he was about to make a fool of himself in front of his least sane cousin, and even Draco could admit that was saying a lot.
"We don't need fish this badly," Black said. "Remus does. Or haven't you noticed how pale and tired he is."
"Of course I've noticed. What does any of that have to do with fish?"
"Werewolves require more protein than ordinary humans, and I imagine he hasn't been getting much. He's become anemic."
"Oh." Draco plunged his hand into the stream. It was frigid, this early in the morning, and he clenched his teeth to keep them from chattering.
"It's nothing to worry about at this point," Black said in a tone that made Draco wonder which of them he was trying to convince. "He got like this at school once, too, and again during the War. As long as he starts eating right again, he'll be back to normal in no time."
Draco's hand was numb by now. He hoped that he could move it if and when a fish chanced to swim by. To distract himself, he said, "You knew Remus in school?"
"He was one of my best friends," Black said. A terrible chill ran down Draco's spine that had nothing to do with the temperature of the water, because everyone knew what happened to the people Black was "best friends" with. And then a fish swam over Draco's hand, close enough to brush his fingers with its belly, and startled him enough that he jerked his hand out of the water entirely.
Black watched the fish dart away with a resigned expression. "We'll try again tomorrow," he said bracingly. "Come along, now. You still have to learn how to cook these."
The smell of frying fish drew Remus out of the cave, and--as Black had predicted while they had been gutting and preparing the fish--he ate an entire fish by himself. Draco managed nearly half of the one he was sharing with Black before he was stuffed.
"Thank you," Remus said, smiling indiscriminately at them both. "This was unbelievably good."
Black preened at the compliment. "You're welcome."
It occurred to Draco suddenly that Remus knew as well as anyone what had happened to the Potters, and that if he still trusted Black then maybe there was a reasonable explanation for why Black had been left to rot in Azkaban for a decade--an explanation that had nothing to do with him being a murderer. But that didn't mean he had to like him.
"I assume you've been keeping up with the---Draco's lessons," Black said abruptly.
Remus nodded. "As much as we can when we don't dare use magic. Snape's likely to be displeased with his progress when we return, but he should be all right in his other classes."
"I could help with that, if you like," Black said, looking directly at Draco now, though he was still talking to Remus. "I'd take over Potions, Transfigurations, and Charms, and you could handle Defense, Arithmancy, History of Magic, and Magical Creatures."
"Sounds good to me," Remus said. "Draco?" He looked at Draco, and the morning light traced the dark hollows beneath his eyes.
Draco cleared his throat. "Yes, all right."
"Excellent. We even have a textbook." Black disappeared into the cave and returned with his book, which turned out to be a history of Transfigurations. "You'll have to fight Remus for it, of course, but I'm certain it'll still be useful when he's finished memorizing it cover to cover and only sleeps with it on alternate nights."
"Don't be ridiculous, Padfoot," Remus said. He turned to Draco. "You can have the book as soon as I've finished reading it. Tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after."
Black shook his head emphatically at Draco from behind Remus. "Two weeks," he mouthed.
Two weeks later, Remus handed the book to Draco without a hint of self-consciousness, and Sirius grinned at him. Draco hid his own smile. "Thank you," he said.
"Of course," Remus said, and smacked Sirius affectionately on the back of the head on his way to his customary seat on the other side of the fire.
"Be right back," Sirius said, rising to his feet and arching his back in a luxurious stretch. He nodded at Remus before ambling to the grove of trees that functioned as their privy.
A few minutes later, Remus laid aside the nuts he'd been grinding into meal and followed him.
Draco fed another handful of twigs to the fire.
He knew why they did it this way, of course; it was less dangerous to leave him unattended when he was awake and alert. Somehow, that made it worse. They cared enough about him to protect him, but not enough to concern themselves with how he felt every time they snuck off into the forest together.
He didn't look up again until Sirius dropped to the ground next to him. "Care to tell me what ingredients are used in both Vanishing Creams and the Elixir of Living Death?" Sirius asked casually.
He had a dried leaf caught in his hair. Draco pretended to ignore it.
Sirius found a tea-plant on one of the solitary walks he went on every few weeks. If books were Remus Lupin's favorite topic of conversation, tea was likely the second, and his face lit up at the scent of the leaves--too spicy to be real tea, but almost--when Sirius carried it carefully back with him and planted it beside the entrance to the cave.
"It's the only one I could find, so don't use all the leaves within the month," Sirius cautioned. "But, on the other hand, we know there have to be more out there somewhere."
"Seeds can be carried for thousands of miles," Draco said, not looking up from his book. Silence fell, and he peeked over the top to see both Remus and Sirius staring at him with horrified faces. "Well, they can."
"Don't listen to him," Sirius said decisively. "You got an 'O' in Herbology, didn't you? We can take cuttings and transplant...roots and things, and soon we'll have a hundred tea-plants. We can grow our own little forest of tea-plants."
"It wouldn't hurt to try, at least," Remus agreed.
So the two of them began their experiment, which seemed mostly to entail Remus instructing Sirius where to dig holes and Sirius turning into Padfoot for the dirty work, with breaks twice a day for a cup of tea.
For his part, Draco began to scour the forest more carefully for lemon verbena or anything that might approximate its flavor. The day after the first successful seedling began to put out leaves--aided by magic, he suspected, and hoped that Remus was forcing Sirius to be cautious--he discovered a leafy, purple vine that gave off a whiff of citrus when he crushed a bit of it. He dug it up, making sure to get as much of the root system as possible, and replanted it at the entrance to the cave, opposite of the tea-plant.
"What's this?" Remus asked, looking down at it, when he came out of the cave to begin cooking lunch.
"Smell it," Draco said.
Remus leaned down to sniff the plant, and his face lit up with pleased surprise. Draco's heart jumped at the expression on Remus's face, but he somehow managed to return the smile.
Remus had nearly drifted to sleep when he felt something moving alongside him, burrowing between his and Sirius's bodies. He slipped his wand into his hand surreptitiously and opened his eyes a slit. Sirius's eyes glittered back at him in the dark. Remus glanced down and was unsurprised to see Draco's fair hair pillowed against Sirius's arm; his chest pressed warmly against Remus's side.
Draco tensed as Sirius shuffled a bit, then relaxed again as Sirius's other arm settled around Draco's middle. Sirius's hand opened upwards in invitation. Feeling an almost comforting sense of inevitability, Remus placed his hand in Sirius's and laced their fingers together.
The rise and fall of Draco's stomach lifted their clasped hands slightly with his every breath. Remus took a deep breath himself and held it, then let it out. Draco was hard, his erection pressing against Remus's hip, and that was something else they'd have to worry about, but later. For now, the only thing that mattered was the deep sense of satisfaction and contentment welling up inside of him, as though a missing puzzle piece had turned up at last and locked into place.
They were lingering over their third cups of tea one morning when a flash of lightning struck out of the clear sky. When they'd blinked the tears out of their eyes, Dumbledore was standing in front of them, his mouth open in an "O" of astonishment for a moment before his face broke into a wide smile. "Oh, my," he said, his eyes twinkling at them aggressively. "This is nice. Rather like those three for the price of two sales they have at Honeydukes every month. I never could resist those."
Draco blinked; Remus could sympathize. For their parts, he and Sirius chose action over any attempt at conversation. It was the work of a few moments to collect cuttings from their two plants and the blankets Sirius had made and their single, precious book, and then they were once again ringed about Dumbledore, who held out a somewhat moth-eaten slipper. "On the count of three," he said cheerfully, and they each grabbed a corner.
The wrench of the portkey activating was stronger than Remus could have imagined, and he barely managed to keep upright as they appeared in Dumbledore's office. He reached out to steady Draco with a hand on his arm, and noticed Sirius doing the same on Draco's other side.
"Well," Dumbledore said, settling into his chair with a self-satisfied look. "I'm sure you have a great deal to share concerning your adventures, but I imagine you'll want to rest and eat first. In the meantime, my fireplace is at your disposal. You all seem to be quite well to me, but if you have any injuries or illnesses I'm certain Madam Pomfrey would be happy to help. Welcome back, gentlemen."
"Er, thank you," Remus said. He grabbed a handful of Floo powder from the jar and turned to Sirius and Draco. Sirius was staring at him with a quiet intensity most often seen in sociopaths, and Draco wouldn't meet Remus's eyes. "My rooms?" he asked.
Sirius nodded. A moment later, so did Draco. Tossing the powder into the fireplace, Remus stepped in and said, "Remus Lupin's quarters," and stumbled onto his hearth rug. Sirius and Draco followed close behind.
"So," Sirius repeated bleakly.
"So," Draco whispered.
"So, am I missing something? Because I can't help but notice that I'm the only one of us who isn't acting as though he's been lobotomized."
"Been what?" Draco asked, looking a trifle more like himself.
"Had the top of his head cut off," Sirius translated with great imprecision, and Remus rolled his eyes but didn't bother to correct him. "And I don't know about Draco--"
"Yes, you do," Draco interrupted.
"All right," Sirius said agreeably. "Though I was willing to pretend for the sake of a confidence that I didn't know how Draco felt, in fact I can state definitively that we're both waiting to see what your decision is."
"Decision?" Remus asked. "What am I deciding about?"
"We're in the real world again, Remus," Sirius said in what Remus considered an almost offensively gentle tone, especially considering what he was saying. "You can't expect us to just go on as we have been."
Remus felt suddenly queasy. "Whyever not? I don't know what bee you have in your bonnet, but I'm not making any fucking decision. Unless the two of you are serious about this, and you don't want to try to make a go of it together. In which case, I suppose the decision is the two of you, because I'm not bloody deciding." His hands were shaking, Remus noted. He did hope he wouldn't cry until after they'd left him.
"Oh, Jesus," Sirius said, and wrapped his arms around Remus, who turned his head into Sirius's shoulder, though not before he'd seen the stricken look on Draco's face. "We didn't mean... What the fuck do we care what other people think--an ex-convict and a Death Eater's son? You're the one with something to lose. We thought you'd be the one insisting that we change our...arrangement."
The realization that they weren't trying to get rid of him paradoxically made the lump in Remus's throat bigger than it had been at the thought that they were. He swallowed painfully. "Well, you were wrong," he said hoarsely.
"We noticed," Draco said, still hovering behind them, and Remus half-turned around to pull him into their embrace. There was a real bed in the next room, and a bathtub with hot, running water in the room beyond, but for now all he wanted was to remain just like this.