He pushed himself up to a sitting position and scanned the room. The other wizard was slumped in a chair near the black rectangle of the window. Sirius had grown even more depressed than ever after Harry had contacted them about his glimpse into Snape's memory and the alarming repercussions. Being reminded of their adventurous Hogwarts days and then slammed with the reality of not even being able to risk speaking with Snape about continuing the Occlumency lessons had brought his gloom back in full force.
"Stop brooding and come to bed," Lupin called quietly. "Harry will be fine. I'll talk to Severus in the morning. In the meantime, you need to sleep."
"For what?" came the bitter reply. "A strenuous day of cleaning, feeding Buckbeak, and--oh, yes, how could I forget?--hiding out like a coward."
Lupin wished there were some way for him to change the frustrating situation. His free-spirited friend was not made to be penned up, yet had experienced far too much of exactly that in his life. "If not for yourself," he said, not knowing how else to reach through the other's dark emotional barrier, "then do it for me. Without you at my side, I'm afraid I simply can't have a restful night." The next full moon was more than a week away, so he wasn't at his worst, but he was far from the image of health, particularly with the candlelight accentuating the ghostly pallor of his skin.
A pained expression flitted across Sirius' face before he locked it behind a stony mask. "You seem able to manage on your own."
"Do you honestly expect me to be satisfied with just 'managing' when I finally have you back? You should know better than I what life is like when stripped of joy. Wringing the most out of every moment together is the best revenge we can have on those who want to see us suffer."
The other wizard did not appear convinced. "You're a fine one to talk. You're the one who leaves."
Lupin's lips curved into a smile. "So that's why you're sulking," he observed, amused.
"I am *not* sulking!"
Ignoring the unconvincing denial, Lupin forged ahead. "Since you're not in the mood to come to sleep peacefully, would you fancy taking a stab at fending off the loneliness? I'll do my best to make it memorable enough to last until I return."
Sirius lowered his gaze, his long hair falling to shadow his features. "That just..." He balled his hand into a fist where it rested on his knee. "That just makes it worse."
"Makes what worse?" Lupin probed softly, hoping to get to the heart of the problem. He had not been making an idle threat earlier; he really couldn't sleep well alone. His sudden bout of wakefulness was proof of that.
"That place, right there," Sirius gestured to indicate the empty side of the bed. "Filling it can get to be habit-forming. One taste of you, of what being with you can do to me, and I don't want to give it up again. I don't want to let you go."
"It isn't forever. I'll be back shortly."
"I *know* that," Sirius growled. "But it wasn't supposed to be forever with James, either."
A pensive silence descended at those words. They were both acutely aware of the stakes. Yet the risks were not in and of themselves daunting to either of them; they were no strangers to daring ventures, and the cause for which they fought was worth the sacrifices that would no doubt be made. What gnawed at their resolve this time was that they could not brave the dangers they faced together.
Sirius leaned back and ran his fingers through his hair. "This is killing me, as surely as if Voldemort himself had targeted me with a curse--except I suspect even he couldn't have invented a curse this painful. I have to sit here, useless, all the while knowing that you could be the next one struck down."
"You were always strong." Lupin's voice was touched with honest admiration. "You have endured more than I can imagine. Knowing that you're here, safe, is the one thing that enables me to do what I must for the Order. Even so, it's like cutting off a part of me every time I go, as if..." The sheets rustled as he shifted position. "I wonder..."
Catching the thoughtful tone, Sirius peered at him keenly. "Remus?" he prodded.
"After what happened to James, after you were sent to Azkaban, I drifted a great deal. No one wanted to hire a werewolf, and anyway, I was not exactly in the best frame of mind. I had just lost my three best friends. It took me a long while to recover."
"Remus..." the other man repeated, either out of sympathy or an attempt at comfort.
"I eventually wound up halfway around the world, in East Asia. There I found shelter, of a sort, under the protection of a shapeshifting Japanese fox who considered werewolves to be distant cousins. That was where I learned much of what I know about magical creatures. Quite a large number of demons and goblins are native to that region. Kappas, for example, originated there."
"Harry told me you were the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher he had. But what does this have to do with--?"
"Asian magic is very different from ours. It is based on a philosophy that seems incredibly foreign, even contradictory, to what we take for granted. Yet for those skilled in its application, it can produce astounding results."
"What are you suggesting?"
Lupin pushed the covers aside and went to kneel beside the chair. "What if you could remain here, perfectly safe, and still accompany me on my missions?"
"Be in two places at once? But that's impossible!"
Lupin took his hand, squeezing it to add force to his words. "Not to an Asian wizard. There is a skill called bunshin that allows the wizard to make an exact copy of himself--like a clone--that is all but indistinguishable from the original."
"And you can teach me this spell?" His eyes brightened with expectation.
"I never learned it myself--it's difficult enough to be one werewolf, much less two. But I can contact someone who would be able to teach you. It would take a great deal of concentration and practice, but for someone who taught himself to be an Animagus..."
Sirius began to grin, but his expression soon clouded over. "That doesn't solve the original problem. I'm not cowering here out of a desire to remain safe. I'm a hunted man. If Lucius Malfoy can recognize me even when I'm a dog, a clone would be no improvement."
Lupin nodded in agreement. "So we use our enemies' strategy against them."
"You have a plan." He drew closer until their foreheads touched. "Tell me."
It took several weeks of surreptitious practice for Sirius to master the foreign spell. Creating the bunshin itself was no trickier than devising a detailed illusion. Ensuring that it would sound and act just like the original, however, was a challenge. Finally Sirius became skilled enough that the bunshin could cast spells itself to the point that he trusted it to go into battle.
When Buckbeak was injured one day in June, Sirius demonstrated the technique to gain both Lupin's approval and another set of hands to help care for the hippogriff. The werewolf was amazed at the other wizard's rapid progress. He readily agreed that it was time to put the plan into action.
Mere moments later, Snape contacted them, setting in motion a cascade of events that led to the two of them--Lupin and Sirius' clone--rushing to the Department of Mysteries along with Moody, Tonks, and Kingsley to protect Harry Potter from a small army of Death Eaters. A fierce exchange of magic followed, with curses and counter-spells hurtling through the air like deadly fireworks. Bellatrix was especially determined, quickly putting Tonks out of commission and moving on to duel her cousin. She refused to cease her vicious assault even when Dumbledore arrived to lend his support to the defenders.
Lupin watched as Bellatrix cast one particularly well-aimed spell, catching Sirius in the chest and knocking him backward through the black curtain that formed the centerpiece of the room. Despite the work that had gone into planning this confrontation, the sight of the undisguised fear on the face Lupin knew so well wrenched his heart. He forced himself out of his momentary paralysis to capture Harry, who seemed set on following his godfather as if rescue were possible.
"There's nothing you can do, Harry--" He bent all his strength toward restraining the desperate boy and patiently repeated his unwelcome message. Sirius could not be saved. He was gone.
The words were raw and salty in his mouth like the blood from a fresh wound. Though he knew the truth, the pain of seeing Sirius vanish right in front of him cut deeply. What if something had gone wrong? What if Sirius had ignored the plan and come in person? Lupin had been positive that he could tell the real wizard apart from the clone, but in all the frantic confusion, what if he had been mistaken? His unrelenting grip on Harry also served to anchor and calm his own fears. Either way, there was no longer anything he could do.
He was caught unprepared when Harry jerked out of his grasp to pursue Bellatrix, who had evaded both Kingsley and Dumbledore. He tried to chase after the boy, but since he was the only uninjured wizard left, Dumbledore ordered him to remain behind to guard the prisoners. The long wait until the wizards of the Ministry arrived strained his self-control nearly to the breaking point.
The instant he was assured the Death Eaters, Harry's friends, and his fellow members of the Order were in good hands, he raced back to the Black house. The fierce pounding of his heart refused to still even after he threw open the door to Buckbeak's room and found Sirius inside. Not daring to speak, he took the other wizard into his arms and held him tightly, struggling to convince himself that the plan had worked and the real Sirius had never left him.
At last his embrace relaxed as he soaked up the warmth from the other's solid body. If anything had happened to the wizard, the bunshin would not be able to exist. That meant this must be the original. He sighed with relief and stepped back, raising his eyes to meet the other's questioning gaze.
"I take it the clone did its job?" Sirius asked.
Lupin nodded. "With a vengeance. You died in front of a room full of witnesses. Many of the Death Eaters were captured, but Bellatrix escaped to inform her master. They will no longer be looking for you. You're free to leave this house."
Sirius considered the news quietly for a moment. "And Harry?"
"Harry is safe--he's with Dumbledore. He..." Lupin recalled the fiery rage and desire for revenge that had consumed the boy at the loss of his godfather. "He saw it happen."
Sirius clenched his jaw. The one part of the plan that hurt him the most was deceiving Harry, but if the boy knew the secret, the entire charade would fail to convince the enemy. His "death" had to be real enough to provide him the leeway to act in secret. It would still be dangerous, but this gave them the advantage of surprise.
Both turned as the voice of Phineas Nigellus began echoing through the halls and empty rooms, calling for Sirius. Lupin swallowed, realizing they had very little time before the other wizards in the Order of the Phoenix converged on the house. "Take Buckbeak and go to the place I told you in Japan. I'll send word to the fox, and you can start gathering allies there. Things are likely to be rather hectic here for a while, but I'll meet up with you the first chance I find."
"Remus." Sirius rested a hand on his shoulder. "Don't make me wait too long. I didn't go through all of this just to be half a world away from you."
Lupin covered the hand with his own. He wouldn't rest until they were together again, until he was whole once more. "Wild dragons couldn't hold me back."