No one came back from death.
Death was soft and clear and simple, and the blue of the sky remained the same, a calming presence, although the sun and moon were gone. In death things came untwisted and then they twined; Marlene and Dorcas, twirled together like a baton, never worrying over their shoulders at what hate might come. Hate never came in death. Things were stasis.
When the Potters arrived, it was Regulus waiting for them. He didn’t like it and neither did they. He didn’t speak, just watched them with hollow eyes. But he did know how to see Sirius, and James watched quiet with him, balled his fists and raged against the silence of the blue sky. James knew Sirius was innocent and James knew Sirius hated to be confined and James knew Sirius was seeing his worst memories play over and over, a lifetime of things James had tried to chase out of his mind. Regulus said nothing and James tried every spell he knew.
It took them a few days to understand how to reach Harry, but Regulus helped, showed them how to dig, although he did not say why and he did not smile when he did it. By then it was enough: Harry sitting ignored in a sopping diaper, Harry hungry and learning not to cry for a bottle because of the angry marks on his arms, Harry transforming from the burbling joy who lived on Lily’s hip and did not understand fear to someone quiet and scared and shut down.
No one ever came back from death. Death was stasis. But Lily was not in stasis. She paced and she pulled at her hair and she watched Petunia slap Harry’s little cheek and watched Harry not bother to cry; he wasn’t even two and he didn’t cry because no one was coming, and Lily felt herself coming apart, and James could offer her no comfort because he knew this was it, it would not improve, Petunia would not come to love their son and Sirius would not escape.
“We gave everything to protect him from Voldemort,” Lily said, desperate.
“Voldemort isn’t gone,” Regulus said, his first words since they arrived.
No one ever came back from death. But no one had ever been Lily Evans. No one had ever trusted Dumbledore so much and watched her son be set in a cupboard and sit in the darkness. No one had loved so much with so much magic in their veins. No one had felt such rage.
Remus lay still on his bed, staring at the ceiling, his fingers idle on his stomach. The new marks across his face were raw and burning. He wondered if they would get infected and he would die. He didn’t mind. He was looking forward to it.
He heard a scuffle from the front room and closed his eyes. He didn’t want visitors. McGonagall again, most likely. Coming to see how he was. She had been checking in more and more since the appeal failed. The Ministry wasn’t keen to take the word of a werewolf on a convict’s innocence, and the Sirius I know would not hurt innocent people was not enough proof. Especially given how Remus couldn’t come out and say I’ve been shagging him blind since my seventh year, he hasn’t got secrets from me . Sirius did have secrets, of course. But he couldn’t—he wouldn’t— Remus ground his teeth together. The argument cycled through his brain for months. The way Sirius got dark after Regulus died. The dark magic he hurled at Snape after the funeral. But the way he loved Lily and James and Harry; the way he held Harry like he was made of gold. It didn’t make sense. No one cared. Sirius was in Azkaban and Lily was dead and James had died protecting her and Harry was gone, gone, Dumbledore said hidden for protection but Remus knew that meant he’d never hold his friend’s son again, and he was useless, he was a useless man with dead friends and scars for a face.
The noises in the front room were getting louder.
He wondered if Greyback had come to finish him. He wondered if Dumbledore had come to feed him lies. He wondered if Pomfrey had gotten fed up with his refusal to have medical care. He wondered if it mattered.
“Remus!” A voice called, and Remus sighed. Pretend you are still alive, he told himself. Pretend there is anything left in you . He pushed himself up off the bed and walked from the bedroom, feeling the burn of his wounds as the air touched them.
“Hello,” he said, and then he stopped, and then he choked.
“Food,” James said, haggard on the couch, one arm draped around Lily. Sirius—no. Regulus. He was bent over, dry heaving on the floor. They were all naked. Lily was shivering.
“Food, Moons.” James said again. “And water.”
He gave them water first, and then sheets to wrap themselves in, all ill fitting but better than nudity. He did not ask questions. He was dreaming, he knew, and he marveled that his face could hurt in his dreams, but he still scavenged through the pantry to find something to feed them. There wasn’t much. He hadn’t been eating. He gave them toast and trembled when Lily’s cool fingers touched his.
“We need to go,” Regulus said when he finished his toast. Remus had forgotten the sound of his voice, the elegance of it, although it sounded different now. It was not so angry as it had been in Hogwarts.
“The plan.” Lily said.
“First Remus,” Regulus replied automatically, like it was burned into him, like he was dazed by it.
“We didn’t account for new bodies,” James said to Remus, as if he was in on the conversation and not staring at them, waiting to break.
“I’m sorry.” Remus said again. He couldn’t stop saying it. He meant I failed you died I am the last Marauder and I saved none of us. I’m sorry Harry is gone I’m sorry Sirius is good as dead I’m sorry you are all illusions I dreamed because I am so sorry.
“I thought we would be ghosts,” Lily said, almost to herself. She looked up at Remus and her eyes were too green to believe. “I know,” Lily said, “that it must be confusing to see us again. I know we’re supposed to be gone.”
“You died,” Remus said, his voice hitching. “I was the only one of us at your funeral.”
“I know,” she continued, soft. “I know Sirius is in Azkaban. I know my son—“ she stopped suddenly. She hadn’t been able to cry in months. There was no crying in death. But here her throat seized and she sobbed, almost by surprise. “I know what Petunia is doing to my son. I know this is confusing. But listen to me. What I need to know is, do you have a car?”
Remus found himself at the neighbor’s, dear old Miss Brunsworth, 80 and sweet as the tea she made, asking if he could borrow her van to pop off to Bristol.
“Are you sure you’re alright? You look ill,” Miss Brunsworth said, lifting her keys off a white crocheted doiley.
“Oh just fine,” Remus lied, feeling short of breath. “Errands to run and the train schedule is a nuisance so I… I thought I’d…” drive my dead best mates around.
Driving the car two doors down to his own cottage, Remus decided he was going mad. If anyone looked in on him they’d see a man with a mauled face driving no one about, and when he got to the Dursley’s it would all fall apart, and the police would be called, and he’d go to jail. And that would be fine. The Ministry would come get him from muggle jail, and maybe kill him, and it would all be fine.
But then Lily stepped out of his front door with a sheet wrapped around her chest and he felt the same warmth he always felt in her presence, the kindness and the bravery and the fearlessness in her eyes. James was noble and brave and headstrong about it, but Lily was brave like a Slytherin; she would get her way no matter what it took. She would never stop. Remus missed being near her, missed talking to someone who always leaned in to understand what he was saying. And he felt it again, and it felt real, so although he knew it could not be real, he sat in the drivers seat as Regulus, James, and Lily climbed in to his neighbor’s van.
“I forgot how it was when you talked,” James said slowly. “How you could hear your voice inside and outside your body.”
“I forgot about the colors behind your eyes,” Lily said, her eyes closed and head leaned back against the headrest in the passenger’s seat. “They sparkle.”
“I forgot breathing,” Regulus said, quiet and low so that even Remus had to strain to hear him. “How your whole body shifts with it.”
Even Remus had to admit that, as far as fantasies went, Regulus’ appearance was an oddity. They had never got on. For a long time Remus privately thought Regulus hated him the least of the Marauders; he hated Sirius because it was easier, he hated James because Sirius called him brother, and he hated Peter for sucking up to the two of them. For many years he seemed to hate Remus only by proxy, and not with the personal vengeance that earned James several hexes in the hallways. But then came sixth year, and the Blacks found out Sirius was queer, and in love, and it didn’t take too long for Regulus to connect the dots. After that he seemed almost wrathful, waiting for Remus to go on his Prefect rounds to curse him into oblivion, like Sirius being disowned and the new scars on his body were Remus’ personal doing.
But here was Regulus, the Death Eater, the boy whose death had left Sirius crumpled on the floor of their flat for weeks, drinking too much and not eating enough. He spoke almost in tandem with James and Lily, like they had become a set of three.
“The colors are brighter,” James said.
“Everything is so loud,” Lily murmured.
“There’s wind again,” Regulus said.
“I’m sorry,” Remus said again.
James sighed from the back seat, rubbing at his face. “Moony, it isn’t like all of that. You were only doing your best.”
“We’ve always known you loved us,” Lily said. Her shoulders were bare and the freckles there hadn’t changed since sixth year.
“You died,” Remus said, and found his eyes were filling with tears. “I was the only one of us at your funeral.”
“We did die,” James agreed. “But that’s all over now.”
“I don’t understand,” Remus said.
“You should probably explain about the Veil,” Regulus said.
No one could pass back through the Veil, of course. It was a one way ticket. Death being final, and all.
But James itched when he saw it, and it tugged at him. It felt like a drafty window.
It took them all a while to figure out, but Lily was full of rage and Regulus was finally willing to help someone and James—James had left something of himself on the other side of the Veil. The Map, where his handwriting uncurled like a spider.
Remus found that he was shaking, because it seemed less like he was mad, and the prospect of that made him dizzy. He decided not to think about it. He decided to live with the warmth for as long as he had it.
They stopped on Privet Drive.
“Should we call the police?” Remus asked, but Lily and James were already out of the car.
“This is the plan,” Regulus said. He watched the two of them, wrapped in light blue sheets that Lily had bought him no more than a year ago, walk towards the door.
“RemusHarryPeterSirius.” Regulus said. “We’re here for Harry.”
Lily felt like her skin was made of electricity. It was all new again, and she thought this was why babies slept so much, to cope with all the new sensations, but she didn’t have time for sleep. Her pulse was pounding Harry’s name, and she saw in her minds eye the sliver of light diminishing on his face as Petunia closed the cupboard door, and she reached out to James to steady herself, to not rip a hole in the earth with her rage.
James looked back at her, and although there would be so much joy later, now there was only the desperation in both of them. Harry in trouble. Harry hurt. Harry, who they had given everything to protect, bruised and crying and hungry. Harry was the most important little thing on the planet, the pulse between them, the life they had made, and they had been gone from him too long.
James pounded on the front door. Lily counted her breaths. The sheet was tucked under her armpits, and wouldn’t stay put, but she would’ve streaked through Diagon Alley if it meant gathering her son in her arms. For a moment she thought of Lady Godiva. Petunia opened the door, and then her mouth fell open, and then she tried to slam it, but James was quick, forced his shoulder in and pushed until Petunia stumbled back, letting out little screams like a teapot on boil.
Lily tried to say where is he and it came out “God, Petunia,” ragged and aching.
“You’re dead!” Petunia said, a wooden spoon in one hand and a bowl full of bread dough tucked under her arm, her eyes frantic.
“Go, Lily.” James said. Lily looked at her sister for the last time and then went past her. She ignored the sound of her nephew playing in the front room, laughing as he pushed over a tower of blocks. She crouched at the cupboard under the stairs, and she opened the door.
Petunia was screaming for Vernon and James was shouting something, but Lily was looking at her son. His diaper was full and his cheek was fresh blue, less full than it had been before. He was almost two. He was sitting in the dim of the cupboard, gnawing on a rag. His teeth were coming in.
“Hello, Harry,” Lily said gently.
“Hi,” Harry said. He looked past Lily, towards the shouting, and he frowned. “Bad?” He asked.
“Oh no, darling,” Lily said. “You are a very good boy.”
He smiled a little at this and resumed chewing the gummy rag. Lily ached, ached that she had no clothes to wrap her son in, ached that his arms should’ve been plump and were instead thin, ached at the angry marks on him. “I’m going to pick you up, alright Harry?” She asked.
“Okay,” Harry said. She lifted him up off the cot and held him against her chest. His legs dangled. Children must be taught to hitch themselves against their mothers, and in their months away he had forgotten. She shifted, sliding a hand under him, showing him how to be held.
“Do you know who I am?” She asked, and Harry shook his head. His eyes were so green. She wanted to kiss him healthy again. “I’m your mummy. I know you haven’t seen me in a while, but I—“ her voice broke, and she smiled at him, but her face was wet. “I’m back now, Harry. I won’t ever leave again.”
“Okay,” Harry said, looking past her again to where Vernon’s voice was raging. His shoulders hunched. “Mad,” he said, and then began to squirm. “Back in?” He said, pointing at the cupboard.
Lily shook her head vehemently. “No, Harry. Never back in. You’re coming with me.”
But when she stepped towards the door he squirmed faster, his eyes widening. “Back in,” he insisted, and Lily hated Vernon and Petunia, hated them for making her son afraid. He had never been afraid when he was with Lily. He had climbed fearlessly over Padfoot and on the backs of chairs, and jammed his hands into pots and jars and the earth. Once he had emptied an entire bottle of baby powder, and when Lily found the mess he had clapped and squealed for ages, until she laughed with him, and James found the two of them white with powder. He had never flinched from her voice, but now he quavered in her arms, and he was too small to know such fear. “Back in, back in!” Harry insisted, pushing at Lily as she walked towards the shouting.
“Well you abandoned him here on our doorstep and we gave him—we gave him what we saw fit!” Vernon bellowed. Lily could feel magic sparking off of James, and if he had a wand she knew the house would be a crater. She wouldn’t look at her sister, and locked eyes with James, holding a writhing Harry against her chest.
“I’ve got him,” she told James.
“He hasn’t even got any clothes?” He asked, outrage and fury in his voice.
“He just messes them!” Petunia cried.
“He will take nothing from this house,” Lily said, to James instead of Petunia. “Let’s go.”
“You can’t just—“ Petunia began, but Lily stopped, facing forward, her shoulders rigid and straight.
“Petunia,” she said, so quiet that both the Dursley’s went silent to hear her, and Harry ceased squirming. “When your son is grown, if he is any kind of human, he will hate you for what you’ve done, and you will be alone in the misery you’ve chosen. You will die like that and you will deserve it.” She tightened her grip on Harry, who was crying silently now, confused and afraid of the voices, of what he knew came when they yelled. She marched away from number 4 Privet Drive.
Remus watched Lily climb into the car, her son in her arms. He was too thin. Remus knew nothing about children but he knew it.
“No one is mad at you, darling. You’ve been very good,” Lily said, and wiped the back of Harry’s cheeks with her hand. “You’re just the absolute best boy, Harry. And no one is ever going to hurt you again, not ever. You’re safe now, alright?”
“Do you want me to kill them?” Regulus asked.
“Yes,” James said, slamming the car door behind him.
“No,” Lily said, wiping Harry’s cheeks with her thumbs, mindful of his dark eye. “No. Get us out of here, Moony.”
James watched Lily holding Harry, and he tried to breathe. Harry had cried until he slumped against Lily, exhausted and maybe grateful to be held again, and now he slept shallowly against her chest. James knew this was coming, knew the rage of seeing his son hurt would undo him, knew he would see Lily change the moment she found him again. He knew this rage would never leave either of them, and they would have to fight to believe in kindness again. He knew it was only going to get worse.
But there were things he hadn’t accounted for, like clothes, or diapers, or how their new stomachs rumbled angrily. He wanted to keep on with the plan, to march straight to Azkaban and bring Sirius home right away. But Harry was soggy and naked, and Lily was starting to shake again.
“We need to get to Gringotts,” James said.
“After we get Sirius,” Regulus said.
“We need clothes, Regulus. And food.” Months ago, Regulus would have sneered at him, or scowled, or argued, but coming back from death together changes people. He frowned instead.
“We can’t go to Diagon Alley. They’ll recognize us,” Regulus murmured, as if to himself. Then he smiled, just a hint of it, and James thought he looked like Sirius when he did that, but more shy, less brave, less able to be openly happy. “Kreacher,” Regulus said. “Kreacher, come here.”
There was a pop, and then there was an elf in the car.
They went back to Remus’ cottage. Remus found a shirt to wrap Harry in, and Lily curled around him on Remus’ small bed, and mother and son slept in mutual exhaustion, having spent too long apart and suffered for the distance. James sat on the edge of the bed, watching Lily sleep, watching Harry suck on his thumb as he dreamed, willing himself stronger to keep them together, to keep them safe. By the time Remus walked back to check on them, to see if they were still real, James was asleep too.
Regulus swore Kreacher to secrecy, and Kreacher cried hysterical until Regulus commanded him quiet. None of them had their Gringotts key anymore, but Kreacher had access to the Black vault, and he was only gone a while before he was back with more money than Remus had seen since he graduated.
Remus watched Regulus Arcturus Black sit on the tan sofa he used to sit on with Sirius and tried to find room in his head for the events of the day. He had returned the van to Mrs. Brunsworth with his last fifteen pounds for petrol. When he came back, the Potters were asleep, and how long had it been since he used that phrase, the Potters ? Regulus was speaking to Kreacher, but his cheeks were high pink. In another life, Remus has learned that Sirius’ cheeks burned like that when he was deeply exhausted.
“You need to rest,” Remus said without thinking. It was what he would’ve said to Sirius. The realization hurt somewhere in his ribs.
Regulus looked at him for a moment, his long lashes blinking, before he slumped back against the couch. Remus had never seen him slump. “I’m tired,” Regulus admitted quietly.
“Halfbreed should not speak to Master,” Kreacher hissed, but Regulus raised one hand to silence him.
“None of that, Kreacher.” Regulus said. “None of that now. We aren’t who we used to be.”
“It’s fine,” Remus said, a practiced thing.
Regulus shook his head, but his eyes were foggy. Remus remembered Sirius looking like that during auror training, so tired he could hardly talk, his cheek pressed against Remus’ shoulder as they took the Underground home. Flooing was faster, but Sirius loved the trains, loved the feeling of movement. He said it felt like flying. Remus shook himself hard to dislodge the memory. Sirius was gone. They were all dead. This was a hallucination. His wounds had probably got septic. These were his final wishes, his desperate desire to have hope that things might change.
“I need to sleep,” Regulus said, and it looked like the words tasted foreign to him. “We need to… but our bodies.” He sighed, rubbing his fingers against his eyes. The Dark Mark was still on his arm. “What must you think of me, Lupin?”
Remus laughed, a little hysterical bubble of noise. “Exactly what you think of me, I suppose.”
Regulus stared at the floor for a long moment, and Remus thought he must’ve fallen asleep. “Sirius loves you,” Regulus said eventually.
The idea stung, burned in Remus’ throat. Sirius was gone. Sirius might’ve murdered James and Lily. Sirius blew up a city block in his rage. Sirius…
But Regulus was swaying on the couch, and he eventually laid down. Kreacher let out a gasp, likely horrified that his master was asleep on such a fraying, muggle piece of furniture. The house elf disappeared with a pop , and Remus sunk down to the ground. His face hurt, but it was more than that now. He missed Lily and James all over again, missed the way Lily fought for what was right, missed how James loved him, like nothing Remus could ever do would be enough to diminish that fire. He thought of the last time he had seen them, how James had shook his head and said “You’ll be the one to teach Harry his Runes, Remus; you know I could never be arsed,” and Lily had pinched James’ arse and they had both laughed; in hiding, worried and afraid and the war between them, they had laughed. Remus missed them so much he could die, and he would wake up to an empty house, and he would never have Sirius in his arms again. He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes and waited for the dream to end.