Chapter 1: A useless man with dead friends and scars for a face
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.
Chapter 2: Molly Weasley’s Best Casserole Dish
More suicidal ideation and child abuse. Sirius Black had a sad start.
When Remus woke up, there were bags everywhere.
He shook his head to clear it, but the vision remained. He was sitting on a rug. His front room had only dark wood for floor, but the rug was plush and creamy, and his fingers sank into it gratefully. The rug was piled with bags, some glittering, some humming, some squirming with life. He recognized the marks on many but not all. Someone had been shopping.
“Master wishes me to tell you there is food,” Kreacher said sullenly, and Remus jumped. The Black’s house elf was in his living room. He was wearing a very small set of wizards robes. He looked so ridiculous Remus wanted to cry.
Instead he mumbled a thank you and stood. His whole house had changed. The floors were all covered with thick rugs. The walls had been cleaned. It smelled like lemons. And in the kitchen, a regal dining room had somehow appeared with a table stacked with food. His dead friends sat at it with their son and his lover’s brother.
They were wearing robes now, even Harry, who was sitting on James’ knee and carefully accepting pieces of muffin from his hand. He kept waiting for no one to watch before he snuck the food into his mouth. Lily and Regulus were politely pretending not to look so that Harry could eat in peace.
“You woke up,” Lily said, and her face broke open in the same smile she had given Remus since first year. “Come eat. Kreacher is an amazing cook.”
Kreacher looked exceptionally displeased at being complimented. Remus moved forward automatically. “You’re still here,” he said. The food smelled real.
“I think he’s in shock,” James said. “Moony, when’s the last time you ate?”
Remus laughed. James always asked him that. James always fussed him, brought him plates of food before the Full, charmed the elves to make Remus’ favorites so he could choke something down when his appetite left him.
“Sit, Remus,” Lily said kindly, and he did, sinking into a chair and automatically filling his plate. There had not been so much food in his house since they died. He had not deserved it, and Sirius had not been there to buy it.
Harry stared at him. He tried to smile back. “That’s your uncle Moony,” James said, brushing Harry’s hair back from his head. “You remember how to say Moony?” Harry shook his head.
“That’s alright, little love,” Lily said, smiling at him. “You’ll get it all down soon. You’re doing just fine.”
“I didn’t know,” Remus said. “Dumbledore said he was safe, and I—“
“We don’t blame you,” James said. “Eat something.”
“I should have—“
“ Eat ,” James ordered, and Remus did, picking up a blueberry scone with shaking hands. “You’ve done your best. Don’t think we didn’t see. All those moons alone...” James drifted off, frowning at the floor like it had offended him.
Lily touched his shoulder, and smiled at him. “It’s all alright, Remus. We’re going to make it alright again.”
Remus nodded, looking down at his plate. “There are rugs in my house,” he said.
“Kreacher brought them,” Regulus said, almost apologetically. His cheeks weren’t so pink now. Every time Remus saw him, he saw Sirius, and it hurt his throat. “He’s trying to help.”
“I don’t mind,” Remus said.
“Kreacher needs time,” James said. Remus almost laughed at how ridiculous it was for James Potter to be defending the Black’s house elf. James hated everything about the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black except their disowned heir.
“I set him free,” Regulus said, his voice soft. He looked too much like Sirius. Not Sirius at his best, not when he was laughing and beautiful and joyous on Remus’ arm, but Sirius when he was sad, when he curled in on himself and didn’t speak. Regulus looked so sad Remus swallowed his laughter. “I think it will take him a while to understand. His whole life has been at Grimmauld Place.”
“You did right,” Lily said, and she offered him the same gentle smile she had given Remus.
Kreacher cleared the breakfast dishes. He looked extraordinarily proud of the robes he wore, although he glanced nervously at Regulus frequently, smoothing his long fingers down the fabric while he moved. Remus remembered Sirius nuzzling his face against Remus’ belly and promising he’d stay with him forever if they never got a house elf.
“How would I afford a house elf?” Remus had asked, carding his fingers through Sirius’ hair. Their bed was warm and the light was soft, and for a few hours they had read together in peaceful silence. Everyone knew Remus read, but no one would suspect how willing Sirius was to sprawl at his side and stay still, to lose himself in a book. He loved muggle science books. Remus bought them discount at the thrift store and brought them home by the armfull, loved the pleasure of hearing Sirius’ magical posh voice stumbling over physics.
Sirius had looked up at him, smiling the way he did when he forgot the war and remembered Remus loved him. “I don’t know,” he said, his body warm against Remus’ legs. “With your modeling money.”
“Modeling!” Remus had scoffed. “Who am I to model for? Ogre’s United?”
Sirius had scowled, and bit the skin by Remus’ navel sharply. “Don’t talk about yourself like that,” he said reprovingly. “As if I would let the ogres ogle you.”
“Remus,” Lily said for the third time, and this time he looked at her. “Did you hear me?”
Remus shook his head, but she just patted his arm. “I asked you to call for McGonagall. It’s time we got back to work.”
It was hard to conjure a patronus with so few good memories left in his brain, but Remus managed. He thought of his mother. He watched the Patronus leave. He knew Minerva would get his request to bring James and Lily’s wands, and she would do so, and then something dangerous would happen.
Either she would find Remus alone, and take him to St Mungos for treatment. Or…
But he couldn’t let himself hope that yet. He couldn’t bear to think that Lily’s voice was real, that James holding Harry to his chest wasn’t an illusion. It was too much.
He sat in a daze while they moved around him. They were talking about a plan, about Peter, about Sirius, but Remus was watching the movement of their mouths, wondering how he had imagined it so precisely. His head felt fuzzy. He might, he admitted, be in shock.
There was a knock, and then were was Minerva, and when she saw James and Lily she let out a cry, and Remus knew he wasn’t imagining it all, it was real and his friends had returned to him. He sunk to the floor and cried against his knees until the salt stung the wounds on his face.
“I can’t explain it fully,” James said, sitting at the dining room table Kreacher had conjured. Harry sat on his lap, watching the proceedings with interest and too much self control for a two year old.
Remus listened to James speak, but it felt like the world was moving in slow motion. “We needed Regulus’ help,” James said. “He had to be the base. I pulled on the Map, and Lily pushed on the sky, and we came through.”
“What map?” McGonagall asked. She kept wiping at her eyes. Remus tried to remember seeing her cry before. It was the day she came to tell him that James and Lily were gone, that Sirius had been arrested.
It had taken him days to understand that Sirius was gone. He kept sleepwalking, waking up around the house, holding Sirius’ leather coat, his books. He dreamed memories: kissing Sirius for the first time on the Astronomy Tower, holding Sirius while he whispered the truth about the night he was disowned, the lengths his family would go to punish him for being gay, waking up in bed with Sirius’ hair in his face and warmth in his belly. He took dreamless sleep potions until he ran out of money to buy them. He couldn’t bear the pain of waking up, of accepting over and over that Sirius was gone, of fighting with himself—because what if it was true and Sirius did betray them? What kind of man loved a traitor?
“We made a map of Hogwarts,” James said. “And somehow it was enough of an anchor.”
“And you said Lily pushed the sky? How could she possibly—“ McGonagall began, but Regulus interrupted.
“Please. We can spend the rest of our lives explaining it. The plan,” he said desperately.
“We need your help, Minerva,” Lily said. “We have to go get Peter.”
McGonagall’s face fell, and she smoothed her dark robes against her legs. “My dear, Peter Pettigrew is, I’m sorry to say, dead. After you… well, Mister Black—“
“Don’t,” James spat, in a tone he had never taken with his Head of House. “Don’t repeat that lie. You don’t believe it.”
She looked at him, startled. “Twelve muggles—“
“ Peter killed twelve muggles using dark magic You-Know-Who taught him, because he’s a lying weasel and ought to have his wand broken alongside his spine,” James said furiously. “Sirius Black is innocent.”
Remus felt a wild rush of relief, followed by a wave of guilt. He was relieved because he loved Sirius, loved him in his bones; because his best efforts to stop loving Sirius had done nothing but destroy his face; because if he was innocent, there was hope that someday Remus would see his stupid beautiful grin again.
He was guilty because Sirius’ innocence didn’t really matter: he would’ve loved him if he was the biggest Death Eater of them all, if he was You-Know-Who himself. He would have fought himself every day until he died, but he would still die hopelessly adoring every inch of Sirius Black.
“But he was your Secret-Keeper,” McGonagall began again.
That was the thing Remus could never puzzle out. James trusted Sirius implicitly. Sirius would die to protect James. Remus could accept that he exploded and killed twelve muggles; his magic was wild, nearly feral when he was scared or stressed. But he couldn’t believe Sirius would betray James. He had spent endless nights walking down this loop in his head. Sirius wouldn’t. But he had. He had tried to imagine some scenario where Sirius betrayed James, but over and over again he came back to Sirius’ dog heart. Sirius was Remus’ person, but he was James’ dog. Padfoot didn’t love anybody the way he loved James. Remus couldn’t fathom what You-Know-Who could offer to overwhelm that. There wasn’t anything. And suddenly it clicked, the truth a fragment of a finger had hidden from him for months: there was nothing that could induce Sirius to betray James. But Peter...
“You switched,” Remus said softly, realization dawning on his face, pink and raw from crying. “You switched to Peter.”
James looked like he could knock Remus in the head and hug him at once. “Yes,” he said. “We did. We thought we were clever. We thought Peter was loyal. Sirius was convinced his family was coming for him, and he thought Peter would be safer.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Remus asked, his voice cracking in a new kind of pain. Had they not trusted him? Had Sirius not trusted him? And what were they, if they didn’t have trust? Then, he hadn’t trusted Sirius either, had hidden the details of his assignments. Sirius would ask about the bites on Remus’ neck, his wrists, and Remus would respond with silence, and the silence grew into something deadly between them. How could you love someone so much and not trust them? How could someone hold your heart but not your shame?
“It wasn’t like that, Moony,” James insisted. “You were in a hard spot with the werewolves, even if you wouldn’t say. And he thought his family might come for you, too.”
“They would have, if they knew,” Regulus murmured. “Mother and Bellatrix were always trying to find out who ‘Moony’ was. They thought you, James, but they were never certain.”
“Well there you have it, Sirius was right again and he’ll be smug as hell once we tell him,” James said.
“Tell him? He’s in Azkaban.” McGonagall said. “And if Pettigrew is alive, where is he hiding?”
Remus closed his eyes and tried to imagine Peter alive, Peter a Death Eater. Peter, who had cried for three weeks straight from homesickness his first year. Peter, who had ridden so many days in Remus’ cardigan pocket.
Remus had loved Peter, had spent a hundred nights under the Invisibility Cloak with him. Peter had been the one to tell him to get over it and snog Sirius before they all died of anticipation. James and Sirius forgot Peter, but Remus never did. Remus always waited for him when he lagged behind, helped him with the coursework the others zipped through. How many nights had Remus and Peter spent studying, falling asleep on the same library tables until James came to fetch them?
He had spent months mourning Peter, and Peter was the one who had destroyed them. Remus opened his eyes as a new and furious rage blossomed in his stomach.
“Bill Weasley’s pocket,” James said. “He’s at the Burrow.”
Remus followed James through the Floo with twin rivers of rage and numbness in his veins. Part of him wanted to collapse, wanted to sleep for years. But another part of him was wrapping itself around Sirius’ innocence, no longer a wild hope but an unshakeable truth, and Peter’s betrayal.
It was part of his pulse now, a repeating beat with every breath: Peter knew Remus loved Sirius so much he would die without him, and Peter took him away.
“Easy, Moons,” James murmured, and Remus realized he was shaking. “We can’t spook him.”
They were in a warm kitchen that Remus vaguely recognized as the Weasley’s. But there were no children here. McGonagall had gone ahead of them and must have sent them off somewhere safe, in case—in case this went sour. She was waiting outside in case Pettigrew made it out. Remus took a calming breath. He saw, again and again, Sirius’ picture on the front page of the newspaper. Black goes black , they had said. Sirius was innocent and Peter took him. He killed James and Lily. He destroyed Remus’ life. He knew what it would cost and he did it anyway, to all the people Remus loved best.
“Where is he?” Remus whispered.
“Upstairs,” James said softly. “No talking from here on, alright? You know how his ears are.”
Remus let James lead because he didn’t trust himself not to sprint, not to wring Peter’s neck. He tried to force his breath to even out. James was better at this. Of all the Marauders, he was best at controlling his temper. He barely had one. Remus had seen him properly angry a handful of times. Sirius was worst, but Remus knew he was a close second, and took his fingers off his wand to be safe.
The stairs seemed to wind up forever, but eventually James stopped in front of a door. Over his shoulder, Remus saw a familiar shape stretched out on the windowsill, napping in the afternoon sun.
They stepped into the child’s bedroom. They closed the door. Scabbers turned his head to see if treats were coming.
“Hello Peter,” James said.
The rat screamed.
He made to run, but Remus was fueled by the moon and the ache and Sirius’ face on the papers and the last words they spoke I love you, Moony, be safe and he lunged, grabbing the naked tail and yanking before Peter could make it off the sill. There was magic in the air and the rat was disappearing, was becoming a man, a boy, a traitor, and Remus snarled, grabbed his throat to squeeze payment for those empty moons and his empty house and the funerals, funerals—
“Remus! We need him alive! We need him to save Sirius!” James was shouting, pushing at his shoulders, but Remus could hear nothing but IloveyouMoonybesafeIloveyouMoonybesafeIloveyouIloveyouIloveyou until there was a flash of light and all the world went black.
“You are a stain on this House and a failure in every way,” his mother hissed. He was six years old. Or maybe sixteen. He had spilled his soup, or maybe she had found Moony’s letter, and she knew he was gay now, and his back was wet with blood.
No, but his back hurt. Peter had said something strange and there was rubble, it hit his back. It hit him because Peter had betrayed them, because James was dead. James was dead at his feet. His eyes were hollow. He was screaming.
Sirius shivered and ground his finger between his teeth. The pain was sharp and his mouth tasted of blood, but it brought him back. He was in a cell. He was in Azkaban. The dementors were close to him, and so reality shifted and blurred in a mosaic of agony, but he was here. Fuck them. He was here, and they could eat Bellatrix’s sadness if they were peckish.
He could hear Bellatrix down the hall, laughing hysterically. Sometimes there were wet thumps as she beat her skull against the wall. She spoke to Walburga often. Sirius tried not to listen.
He tried to count the stains on the wall. So far he had gotten up to four hundred before losing his place. He would argue with himself about what, precisely, constituted a stain. On his worse days he would argue with the stains. He was trying to resist the urge to do so. The stains always wanted to know about Remus, and it ached to say Remus. It ached in a way he knew would never heal, and he often considered bashing his own skull into the wall to stop the ache.
But Peter. Peter was out there. He had to get Peter.
Sirius heard footsteps coming down the hall and groaned. Questions, maybe. Sometimes they came to gloat. He pressed his face to the floor of the cell. Too hard , he thought, a muggy thought in a swirling head, and blood started to pool beneath his nose. It might be broken. He might be broken.
“Black,” a voice said sharply. He knew that voice, knew it from before. Mad Eye Moody. He wanted to laugh. Remember how I was an Auror? he nearly said. Remember how you trained me to put people here?
He didn’t move. He didn’t want to, and moving made his body real, and if his body was real he was real and he didn’t want to be real anymore.
“Black!” Moody said, and there were other voices too, low and urgent. He almost laughed. That was nice. Let them talk to the stains, if they needed someone to chat with so bad.
“Don’t move, Black,” Moody said, and there was the noise of his cell opening. A flicker of distaste ran through him. He didn’t like the cell opening. He didn’t like them coming in. The stains would disapprove.
There were warm hands on his back, and he sighed. The warmth was delicious. He didn’t deserve it. “He’s half dead, Moody. Put your wand away,” a voice said, and the voice sounded like James, but Sirius knew that trick. The dementors played it. Bastards.
“Could be a trick. You know better than anyone how deceptive—“
“Fuck off.” Not-James snapped, and pushed on Sirius’ shoulder to roll him over. Sirius let himself be moved. He blinked up at the ceiling. He blinked up at James.
Sirius had dreamed James a hundred times, but this was not a dream. He knew it immediately, because he always recognized James, could pick him blindfolded out of a crowd. They were connected. They were brothers. “James?” He said carefully. His throat rasped. He hadn’t spoken in weeks.
James looked at him for a long moment, the muscles in his jaw twitching. “Sirius,” he exhaled. “What have they done to you?”
“Alright, Potter, you see he’s alive, come on out now,” Moody said from outside the cell.
Sirius watched James move. He moved so fast, had always been quick, quick to learn and quick to act and quick to love. “ Colloportus ,” James shouted, and the cell door slammed shut.
“What are you doing?” Moody demanded.
“I’m not leaving without him, Alastor.” James lay down next to Sirius, and with a wave of his wand their arms were bound together by golden rope. It was soft, but Sirius knew it wouldn’t break, not for anything, not until James said the counterspell. James’ magic was steady like that. “You talk to whoever you need to talk to. But in thirty minutes, Lily Potter is going on the Wizarding Wireless Network to talk about how her husband is in Azkaban for capturing Peter Pettigrew, Death Eater. After that she’ll explain, in detail, how to cheat death. Good luck keeping a lid on that Veil.”
“Potter!” Moody roared. Sirius was shaking, and he realized with a start he was laughing. He had forgotten what it felt like, real laughter, how it bubbled in his chest. He was crying, too, his face warm. James was back for ten minutes and everything was warm again.
Moody was swearing, shouting at him to get the hell out of the cell or he’d turn the dementors on him. “Unlike every other poor sod in here, I can conjure a patronus. And when your guards go running off this island to feast on the muggles on the coast instead, on your head be it.” James shouted. “You have a half hour, Moody!”
Moody let out a stream of curses, but none of them did any good, and eventually he stormed away. Sirius could feel the dementors draw close, in his absence, aggravated at James’ presence, at the invasion. James sat up and tugged at Sirius, wandlight illuminating his cell. “Come here, Pads. Let me have a look at you. You’re bleeding.”
Sirius sat up, blinking into the light. It felt harsh. He hadn’t seen real light in months. James let out a displeased noise and touched his wand to Sirius’ nose, which straightened with a small crunch and stopped bleeding. “We’ll get you home and get you a bath, yeah? And something to eat. You hungry?”
Sirius tried to think about if he was hungry or not. Was the gnawing in his stomach hunger? “The food here isn’t good,” he said, a little breathlessly.
James laughed, pressed his forehead against Sirius’. His eyes were bright hazel. He was alive and real and Sirius felt flattened by that, by James back, James doing what James always did, rescuing him from dark places and healing his wounds.
“Where are your glasses?” Sirius asked.
“You’re the first one to notice,” James snorted. “They didn’t come back with me. Doing all this blind as a bat. Good thing Moony spotted Peter or I’d have stepped on him.”
Sirius gasped like he had been punched. He hadn’t heard those words aloud in so long. “Moony,” he whispered.
James’ face softened, and he grabbed Sirius’ shoulder. “Hey. We’ll be out in a jiff. Promise. You’ll see him.”
“He thinks I…” Sirius closed his eyes. He could feel the dementors coming closer. The screams from the hallway were getting louder. Remus hates me , he tried to say. Remus thinks I killed you. Remus is never going to love me again, and I will be alone like Walburga said.
“Expecto patronum, you cocks!” James shouted. There was a hiss from the cell door that turned into a shriek as a jet of light flew from James’ wand. The deer was tall as Prongs, and it ran a circle around the cell and then stood between Sirius and the shrieking dementors, tossing its antlers wildly.
“Impossible to cast a patronus in here,” Sirius mumbled.
“Yeah,” James said, and grabbed the back of Sirius’ neck, pushing their foreheads together again. “But I am
happy to see you.”
It took fifteen minutes for Moody to return, and he did so with Millicent Bagnold, Minister for Magic, in tow. “Mister Potter,” she said evenly. Sirius thought she might curse them both. He was reminded sharply of McGonagall catching them stealing four whole apple pies from the kitchens in second year, a memory so happy he had not thought of it since he entered Azkaban. “Not being an inmate of Azkaban, I believe you are trespassing. And threatening Auror Moody does not endear me to you. However, I have just had the strangest visit from Minerva McGonagall with a rat in Molly Weasley’s best casserole dish. It would seem, Mister Black, that you are free to go.”
Chapter 3: Berks in love
The Potters are the only ones qualified to give relationship advice.
Minor references to self harm.
Remus awoke to two very green eyes staring into his.
Harry scooted back when he saw Remus’ eyes open, one little hand covering his mouth. Remus groaned with the effort of coming back to his body. “Hello Harry,” he said. His head throbbed. He was in his own bedroom, but someone had opened the windows and let in fresh air. The blankets beneath him had lost their sour smell. The whole room smelled much better, and the thick layer of dust he had been cultivating over his life was gone.
“Is uncle Moony awake?” Lily’s voice called, and Harry nodded. She filled Remus’ vision suddenly, her red hair falling in his face. “Good morning.”
“Peter,” Remus said, suddenly remembering—he had tackled him, and then everything went black, and James was there, oh Merlin James —
“Got you with a good stun. Don’t worry; Minerva forced him back into his true, ratty form and jammed him in some crockery. She’s taken him off to meet the Minister. Drink this,” she held out a vial to him, something golden and glowing.
“If I was only stunned—“
“It’s not for the stun. It’s for your total lack of self care since we died.” Lily looked at him with one arched eyebrow and he drank the contents of the vial almost guiltily. Somehow he had convinced himself that the Potters would’ve agreed with the self hatred, with ignoring Pomfrey’s advice for his wounds and only eating twice a week. Now that he was back in Lily’s presence, he was distinctly aware of how wrong he had been.
She turned her back and he set the empty vial down on the bedside table, where his collection of empty beer bottles and joints had vanished. Harry was sitting quietly on the side of the bed, watching Remus curiously. “Ouch?” He asked, reaching his little fingers for the bandages on Remus’ face.
“Oh, err, yes, ouch,” Remus agreed.
Harry nodded, and raised his fingers to his own black eye. “Ouch.” Then: “Dudee?”
“Dudee?” Remus asked.
“He means Dudley,” Lily said, turning back to them with a tray in her arms. She sat on the side of the bed and rested the tray on Remus’ lap. It had fresh bandages on it, and a variety of potions and balms Remus suspected he would soon be ingesting. “His cousin.”
“Oh. No, not Dudley. Is your ouch from Dudley?”
Harry nodded again. “Him hit me with car.”
“That’s not very nice,” Remus said.
“We don’t hit, do we, Harry?” Lily asked. Harry shook his head and Lily smiled at him. He smiled shyly back, unused to praise, to approval. Lily turned to Remus. “And we don’t let wounds go untreated when we are magical beings who could have healed them ages ago. Do we, Moony?”
Remus opened his mouth to argue but realized all at once that it was pointless. He looked down at his hands while Lily took the bandages from his face. It stung, and he let out a small hiss. “It’ll feel better soon,” she said, dipping a cotton pad in one of the jars on her tray and dabbing it lightly along the edges of his cuts.
“What you doing?” Harry asked, scooting a little closer.
“I’m putting some dittany balm on uncle Moony’s face,” Lily said. “He got a bit ouch, so we’re helping him feel better.”
“Oh,” Harry said, scooting right against Remus’ ribs to watch Lily’s hands at work.
“Regulus and Kreacher went to air out Potter Manor. And James is fetching Sirius,” Lily said lightly, and pretended not to notice when Remus’ breath stuttered. “With Peter alive, we’re hopeful we can get him home.”
“They won’t let him go,” Remus said, because the hope was too painful.
“James is rather stubborn, if you don’t remember. And he has some tricks up his sleeve.”
Remus let himself think of Sirius. Sirius hadn’t trusted him to know who the Secret Keeper was. Sirius thought he was a spy. Sirius had sat in Azkaban for months. The thought hurt his stomach. He had believed Sirius betrayed the Potters, or tried to make himself believe it. He had left him. He should have known better. He should have broken him out of Azkaban months ago, or died trying.
“Stop that,” Lily said, and when he looked at her, she said “Moping. You’re thinking of how it all went wrong with you and Sirius. How you two were berks and tossed a good thing away. Well, you’re right, you did. But it was a hard time, and the two of you don’t take well to trust.”
Remus laughed mirthlessly. “That’s an understatement.”
“Yes, I know, very sad childhoods.” She waved her hand dismissively. Remus didn’t quite think that was fair, but then, Lily and James had been under the same sorts of pressure as he and Sirius and had always trusted each other, right until the end…
“Oh Moony,” Lily sighed, and cupped one cheek, mindful of where the skin was raw and jagged. “Don’t you see? The war beat us last time. It got us, in the end. But we have a second chance. And we can be miserable over that initial loss, just let it consume us, or we can try again.”
“I don’t know if there’s enough of me left for that,” Remus said softly.
She kissed the tip of his nose. “Werewolves have an incredible capacity to heal, I hear.”
Sirius stepped into the rowboat that would take him away from Azkaban, James’ hand fisted in the back of his robes to keep him stable. He was shivering from the sea spray, from the way the dementors hissed at him as he passed, the memory of their icy breath on his face and all around him. He wanted desperately to be warm, for his skin not to burn and his limbs not to shake.
“Budge over,” James ordered, and he did, making room so that James could sit next to him in the narrow boat. “You’re freezing. I should have brought you clothes,” James said, slipping his own robes off his shoulders and wrapping them around Sirius’. Sirius touched them tentatively; his prison garb was thin and tattered and dirty, and James’ robe was soft, deep red and plush inside. They offered more protection than he had had in months. James cast a warming charm and Sirius let his eyes flutter close; it wasn’t strong enough to resist the freezing temperatures, but it was warm, a slip of warmth to hold on to.
“You’ll get cold,” Sirius mumbled, his long fingers clutching the robes like they were a life raft. James only wore trousers and a T-shirt now, and they were already wet from the sea spray.
“You know me. My ego keeps me warm,” James said, nudging Sirius with his shoulder. “Besides, there’s a safe spot to apparate on the other side, and we’ll be home soon.”
Sirius tried to taste the word home but couldn’t quite get his mouth around him. Home meant Remus. He had given up hope of ever seeing Remus again after the third week in Azkaban. At first, he believed that Remus would come for him, like a dog at the pound still believing that its owner has made a mistake and will be back any moment to take them back. But it had sunk in. Remus must’ve believed he was the traitor. Remus must’ve believed he was capable of that. And Remus was a good man, a man who believed in what was right, in being courageous and true, so if Remus believed it, he couldn’t possibly love Sirius. He would never love a traitor.
Which was the thought that the dementors loved best, the one that echoed in his head over and over: Remus didn’t love him. Remus never really had.
Even now the pain of it was dull and aching in his stomach. He leaned into James to survive it, to remind himself that someone did love him. James Potter was the first person who ever loved Sirius unconditionally, who set no parameters on what Sirius need be in order to be valuable. It had been the most shocking feeling of his life, realizing he didn’t have to earn what James offered. James had been the first to wake him up from nightmares, to babble Quidditch facts at him at 3am until the soothing tone of his voice lulled him back to sleep. He had first tasted safety creeping around Hogwarts under the Invisibility Cloak with James, and it had changed him forever.
None of this lessened the ache of knowing Remus didn’t love him.
Because if James was the stability beneath him, Remus was the sky he reached towards, the moon whose light he basked in. Remus, with his small smiles and his honey eyes, the way his voice changed and turned warm when he smiled. Sirius would always be addicted to that intoxicating feeling when Remus picked him out of everyone else. Many people were attracted to Sirius Black. He caught more eyes than he liked, and he never returned them. All of his kissing pre-Remus had been to prove a point, to hide the oddness in him that didn’t care about romance or marriage or sex. None of that seemed to matter until one day in the library as he watched Remus Lupin absently pull a quill into his mouth. Then it sparked on inside of him, and suddenly he wanted to kiss someone.
The further the boat got from Azkaban, the more memories popped like soda bubbles against his skull. They all hurt. He hunched over, holding his stomach with one hand and pushing the index finger of his free hand between his molars. Before he could grind down and feel the taste of blood to center him, James’ fingers wrapped around his wrist, gently tugging his hand away.
“You’re going to need these fingers,” James said. “And Moony will be distraught if you arrive bloody.”
Sirius licked his lips, looked out over the sea. “Remus thinks I’m the traitor,” he said eventually, his throat achey with the words.
James sighed next to him. He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “idiots” but didn’t release Sirius’ wrist.
The rowboat rowed itself up to the dock, and neatly tied itself up. James stepped out first, holding Sirius’ bicep as he followed. His muscles were gone. James ground his molars together, vowed silently to burn Azkaban to the ground. He and Sirius would do it together, and they would play Quidditch over the ashes. “We’ll just go down the road to the lighthouse,” he said. He looked at Sirius, who was staring at the world around him with fear and exhaustion and sadness etched on his face. And suddenly there wasn’t Sirius, but Padfoot, who bumped his nose to James’ hand instinctively, pressed his skinny black body against James’ legs.
“Hey boy,” James said softly, dropping to his knees to scratch behind Padfoot’s ears. The damage was even more clear here: Padfoot’s skin hung off his bones, and his fur was matted. “We’ll go home and take a real warm bath, yeah? And eat. I’ll get all your favorite foods. Everything you like. Go all the way to Hogwarts to get that sweet cheese danish you like so much, remember?” Padfoot wuffed, sniffing at James’ hands, his neck, confirming that he was real. James smiled, and tugged at his ears gently. “Come on.”
They walked down the road, Padfoot close to James’ side, and Sirius’ thoughts were pleasantly narrowed. Padfoot couldn’t think with the same depth; he knew how to be sad or happy or angry, but not the odd combinations, not sorrow and joy and hate all mixed up. If Sirius had been in his own mind, he’d of thought of Remus, of how long it had been since he walked with James. But Padfoot only knew the scent of his very favorite person, and followed James willingly, even though his body hurt. Padfoot only knew to be happy they were no longer in the cage.
Padfoot followed James, and stayed close to his side when they apparated. Sirius hated sidealong, but Padfoot didn’t mind the sneeze of magic, because he landed in the same place as James, and James was talking, soothing words about a map and the sky and a brother. He trotted after James’ heels, ignored the sharp pain when he breathed, the way his stomach burned. Sure, James kept glancing down at him with a mixture of sadness and worry, but that was easy to ignore, and he did.
He made it as Padfoot all the way to the front door of the cottage. He sniffed, and it smelled like Remus, and like other things too—too many smells for him to understand, magical and musty and familiar in a part of his brain that screamed danger. If Sirius had been more alert, he would’ve backed away, would’ve demanded to know why there were traces of Grimmauld Place there, but Padfoot always trusted James, and followed him over the threshold.
He looked around the small cottage and saw Remus, and before he could think he was transforming back, his bones popping as he stood. Remus was sitting on the sofa, talking to Lily, but he had stopped when the door opened. Remus had bandages over most of his face and was too thin. Remus was there and even after all of it, Sirius felt warm at the sight of him. Remus didn’t love him, it didn’t matter. Remus didn’t love him but he loved Remus, and he couldn’t stop, not if his life depended on it.
“We’re back,” James said, closing the door behind them.
Sirius looked at Remus and then looked away, drawing in a sharp, pained breath. He didn’t have the resources to do this anymore. He had never been stellar at hiding his emotions from Remus, but now he had so little to hide behind. He was all raw and exposed: how desperately he loved Remus, how hopeful he had been that Remus would come, how that hope had died but the love hadn’t, and how pathetic that was, how pathetic he was, to love someone who thought he was exactly what his family said he was. He should have been angry, and wasn’t. He closed his eyes, because that was better than seeing Remus see all of it, see it and pity him for his weakness.
Someone made a soft noise that sounded like his name. He opened his eyes again and there was Remus in front of him, his mouth open and his fingers lifted to Sirius’ face. He looked like he was fighting himself. He looked like he was seeing a ghost.
“Hello Remus,” he said quietly, fingers spasming with how desperately he wanted to touch him, to know he was there.
Neither of them saw James roll his eyes and jerk his wand, but both of them felt it when Remus fell into Sirius. Sirius instinctively moved to catch him, and then they were touching and then Remus was surging forward to kiss him, one hand fisted in Sirius’ hair. Sirius wanted to warn Remus that he was filthy from months of Azkaban and Remus wanted to warn Sirius that he was marred by his own hands but neither of them had the strength to stop kissing each other. It had been too long, too long, and Sirius sighed against Remus’ mouth, and Remus pushed his palm flat against Sirius’ chest to feel his heartbeat.
It took Sirius several tries to understand that Remus was mumbling “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over, kissing Sirius’ mouth, his jaw.
“Don’t, I—“ Sirius tried.
“I didn’t believe it,” Remus breathed. “But sometimes I did.”
“I didn’t tell you.”
“I didn’t tell you either.”
“I thought—you were always gone, and if they pitted me against you I would’ve broken. I would’ve picked you. I would always pick you. And I couldn’t.”
Remus kissed him again, a soft thing, his lashes brushing Sirius’ cheek. Sirius closed his eyes. He was shaking, but he didn’t mind. He could’ve been on fire and he wouldn’t have minded, couldn’t mind anything when Remus was kissing him. “It doesn’t matter. Just stay,” Remus murmured. “Just stay with me.”
Sirius laughed or sobbed or something in between. “Where else am I going to go?”
Remus’ fingers tightened on him and he shook his head. He pulled back far enough to look Sirius over, and Sirius wanted to look away, because he knew he didn’t look good, but he was distracted by the bandages on Remus’ face. He raised his fingers to touch them. Remus closed his eyes involuntarily. “The full, after,” he said by way of explanation.
“I’m sorry,” Sirius whispered. “Merlin, Remus, I’m sorry.”
“ No,” Sirius said sharply. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
“You didn’t have a choice.”
“Neither did you.”
Sirius would’ve gone on forever like that, feeling Remus in his arms again, breathing in that soft scent of books and wolf and life, learning his new scars and new hurts and promising there’d never be any more, but Kreacher chose that moment to appear in the front room and fix Sirius with a rather nasty look.
By the time Sirius’ mouth fell open, Regulus had tumbled out of the fireplace. Sirius saw his dead brother, and he made a noise in the back of his throat. James darted to him, catching Sirius just as his knees gave way. Sirius hung against James, feeling his stomach threaten to return its minimal contents, and through the blur of Remus and James hauling him up and the cloud of Remus’ worried voice, for the first time in several years, he locked eyes with his little brother.
Chapter 4: A Chance to be Happy
Regulus and Sirius reunite. Remus and Sirius have talks. James does some low key fretting. Lily and Regulus are friends.
Thank you all for the wonderful feedback. I started writing this because I always felt like it should be written, and the fact that other people enjoy it makes me very happy. Thanks for forgiving me for flipping canon the bird and wandering off to create my own universe. It’s a lot of fun and I’m glad you all are tagging along.
The first time Sirius ever saw Regulus, he clapped. He was nearly two. He was delighted to see another small face in Grimmauld Place.
The last time Sirius saw Regulus, he barely ducked in time to miss the killing curse Regulus threw his way. He had been trying to convince his little brother to listen , but Regulus practically frothed at the mouth when he saw his brother. Sirius had shouted “ Fine , be a little bitch about it then!” and apparated away and kicked four holes in the walls of the flat he shared with Remus. Three weeks later Regulus was dead.
He hadn’t been able to breathe after the funeral. He didn’t go, of course, wasn’t invited. Walburga didn’t announce how her youngest had died, just that he had, that the magical bonds she had cast around him when he was an infant in her arms had let her know that the heir was gone. Sirius lay on the floor with a hole in his chest and Remus tried to talk to him but he couldn’t speak, could do nothing but hurt.
Regulus was the first person Sirius ever loved.
In Remus’ small cottage, Regulus’ eyes were wide with shock. He was so young. He opened his mouth and then looked somewhere over Sirius’ shoulder, as if looking for help. Regulus never asked for help. Sirius had been trying to help him since he was born, but everything, everything , Regulus accomplished, he accomplished alone.
“Surprise,” James said, steering Sirius towards the couch. Sirius let himself be parted from Remus, and he wanted to protest, but his brain had been replaced with a low buzz. He had no wand to draw, but James and Lily both seemed at ease, like there wasn’t a Death Eater in their midst. He wanted to punch Regulus in his stupid mouth and hug him so hard neither of them could breathe, something he hadn’t been able to accomplish since Regulus’ third year at Hogwarts. Regulus had moved to stand against the wall with his usual quiet, hands clasped behind his back. He looked like their father. He was alive.
“He helped us, Sirius,” Lily said, coming closer. Sirius bit back a Padfoot-esque whine in the back of his throat, because he hadn’t even said hello to Lily yet, and everything was happening very fast, and once he had loved fast but now it was all very much. She was holding Harry against her hip, and Sirius hadn’t had time to think of Harry yet, and why did he have a black eye?
Focus , he told himself, and looked again at Regulus. But no words came: everything he had to say to Regulus had been swallowed by grief.
“Well isnt it obvious? I missed you,” Regulus said lightly. “So I returned.”
“You missed me?” Sirius asked, his voice cracking. “You tried to kill me.”
“That’s practically courting in our family,” Regulus said.
It took Sirius a long beat to realize his brother was making some kind of joke. He laughed hoarsely, disbelievingly. Regulus’ mouth quirked up in the suggestion of a smile.
“Regulus showed us how to find Harry, how to find you,” Lily said.
“He was the base,” James said, an echo of what he had told Padfoot earlier. “Without him we would’ve slipped into the dark.”
“You helped my friends?” Sirius asked. “You hate my friends.”
Regulus shrugged, and glanced down at his shoes. “Love is very clear in death,” he said, in a strange voice Sirius recognized as the truth, as Regulus dropping his act. “Either you love someone or you don’t.”
“And you love someone.” Sirius said, but it was more of a question. He had never known Regulus to have a significant other, or even a real friend. There were girls he danced with to please their mother, and people he spent time with to make connections and earn advantages. But Sirius had never seen him love, had never seen him do much but survive.
Regulus looked up at him, unguarded for just a heartbeat. “Very much.” And then the mask was back, and he straightened up, his mouth going flat.
“Sirius, I know this is so much,” Lily said. Sirius wanted to transform into Padfoot and lick her face. “But you’ll feel so much better when you’ve had a moment to rest, and some food.”
Sirius looked down at himself. He was still wearing his prison garb, James’ robe tucked around his shoulders. “A bath would be nice,” he admitted.
“Moony will take you,” James said, and Sirius missed the near-panicked look on Remus’ face as he stood. “We’ll have fresh clothes for when you get out. And more to talk about.”
Remus led Sirius back to the bathroom with his heart in his throat. It was a small bathroom with a smaller tub, but Kreacher’s magic extended here, and the tub had been enlarged, deep enough to sink in to. Remus was sure there was an incantation that would fill it instantly, but he let it fill the muggle way to give himself time to think.
“You moved here,” Sirius said, breaking Remus’ concentration. “After.”
Remus winced. “Couldn’t afford the rent on our flat. Plus the Daily Prophet kept stopping by.”
Sirius nodded but didn’t respond. Remus stuck his hand in the water. “Too hot,” he murmured, and moved to adjust it, but Sirius stopped him, placed long fingers on his wrist.
“I’ve been cold a long while. The heat would be welcome.”
Remus had always been the cold one. His body temperature fluctuated with the moon. When it was full and bright he couldn’t get cool enough, and his skin would burn. Sirius would kick off the covers during the night and stay warm just pressed against his side. When it waned he shivered through classes, wore thick jumpers and drank tea endlessly just to have something warm in his hands. It always seemed that he was colder longer than he was warmer. Sirius had kept him warm, bought him thick sweaters and cast endless warming charms on his socks, his chairs. There had been no one to warm him up after Lily and James died. He understood what it meant to be cold.
“Suppose there’s no central heating in Azkaban,” he said, and wanted to kick himself for saying it.
But Sirius snorted and didn’t take offense. “Not unless you count the Dementors offers to cuddle, no.” He moved to pull the prison robe over his head.
Remus knew he should look away, knew that a kiss didn’t mean he had the right to Sirius’ whole body. He glanced at his feet, tried to hush what sounded like a whine in the back of his head, a voice chanting mine . He could see, from the corner of his eye, one of Sirius’ long legs as it was lifted over the edge of the tub. He closed his eyes.
When he opened them, Sirius was entirely under the water, openly watching him. “Gone squeamish about nudity?” He asked, one eyebrow arched, and Remus wanted to shout because Sirius was thin and bruised from Azkaban, and he hadn’t had a happy thought in nearly a year, and he was still beautiful.
“Just… privacy,” Remus said, and reached for one of the many bottles Kreacher had left on the rim of the tub. One of them, he hoped, would be shampoo.
“That’s right, that’s what you’ve always said when I took off my kit: give him some privacy.” Sirius looked up at the ceiling and Remus watched his neck, the soft spot at the juncture of his shoulder where he had left hundreds of love marks.
Remus found a bottle marked For Outstanding Cleanliness and dumped it in the water. Sirius hissed and jerked, and Remus looked up in surprise. “Is it painful?”
“It’s that old shite Kreacher makes. Cleans your skin near raw.” Sirius lifted one arm from the water, which was no longer tinged with dirt but was instead almost pink like it had been scoured. “I bet Regulus had him whip up some. He always used it. Uses it? I don’t know the grammar when your brother comes back from the dead.”
“I thought I was hallucinating it,” Remus said, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. “And I was only really concerned because Regulus was there, and how had I cracked enough to add him to the picture?”
Sirius looked down at the water, which was turning grey from dirt. “When James came… I had dreamed that before. But it was real this time.”
Remus wanted to ask Sirius what else he had dreamed, but the answer seemed too painful to speak or to hear. They had never communicated well with words; both of them lapsed into silence too often, swallowed what they should say. They did better with touch, with looks. They had stopped touching, before, hadn’t seen each other enough to be certain of each other. It had destroyed them.
He remembered what Lily said and summoned all his bravery, letting his hand settle against Sirius’ wrist where it broke the surface of the water. But the touch wasn’t enough this time: it wasn’t enough to just imply it anymore. He had a second chance. He had to take it. “I’m still not sure all of this is real. But even if it’s not, if my brain has invented all of this just to give me some way to love you without hating myself for it, I’m glad. I’m glad to be here with you.”
Sirius’ stared at him in open shock, his mouth open. Remus wanted to kiss him. Sirius leaned forward in the bath, his fingers coming up to press soft against Remus’ jaw. “You still love me?” Sirius asked, wonderingly.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Remus said.
“You thought I was—“
“And I loved you.”
Sirius held his breath. The joy was sharp and hurt his chest. It was impossible to be so happy, so complete. He had never had this; even in his best years at Hogwarts there was his family to worry about, and then after he was disowned, the war. He had never sat in a house with everyone he loved and knew they were safe. He had never dared believe it would be this good, that James and Lily and Harry would live and Remus would love him and Regulus, even Regulus would come home.
“Don’t pass out,” Remus said, and when Sirius opened his eyes Remus looked uneasy, embarrassed. He dropped his gaze and began rifling through bottles again. “It’s alright, though,” he said, the pain in his voice cutting through Sirius’ peace. “It’s been… it’s been a long while. And you haven’t got to… well, I never expected…”
“Remus, what are you getting at?”
Remus looked at him miserably, hands clenched on his knees. “You don’t have to love me back, of course.”
Sirius had always thought Remus was sharp, but occasionally given to complete and utter idiocy. He launched himself forward, sending water sloshing out of the tub and soaking Remus and the floor in the process. He clenched his fingers in the front of Remus’ shirt and kissed him, swallowing the surprised noise Remus made. Slowly Remus’ hands came up to his hair, his shoulder. “You’re the dumbest man I ever met,” Sirius muttered against his mouth. “And that includes James.”
“I thought—you didn’t say anything—“
“I was taking a minute to be happy, you fucking sod.”
“Oh,” Remus said, and then he laughed sheepishly, kissing Sirius again. “Oh. I suppose I am a sod.”
“I love you. I love you more than—“ Sirius choked, because the answer was everything and myself and magic and the moon and stars and sun . “I love you. I will always love you.”
Remus flushed a shade of pink that Sirius felt had been drained from his life over the last year and was returned, beautifically, all at once. “Well that’s a relief,” he said breathlessly.
Sirius laughed at him, a bark of a laugh, a laugh older than Azkaban. He sat back in the tub and pulled his knees up. “Help me wash my hair, you git.”
Lily listened to Sirius’ laughter drifting from the bathroom and smiled down at Harry. “Your uncles are sorting themselves out, little love. And that is just the best news. Do you know why?”
“Why?” Harry asked. She had learned over the last day that Harry responded well to speech. She guessed because he could gauge her mood more reliably when he heard her talk. She thought of Petunia’s moody silences and kept up a near constant dialogue with her son, talking to him about whatever ridiculous topic she could find, just so his little shoulders didn’t bunch up in fear.
“Uncles Padfoot and Moony are the most ridiculous men to walk the face of the earth,” Lily said. “They’re terribly dramatic. You won’t be taking any relationship advice from them, hear?”
Harry smiled at her shyly, his little hands curled around the stuffed kneazle Kreacher had brought back from Diagon Alley. He sat obediently on the sofa, or anywhere Lily set him down. He could tentatively walk, but he seemed not to move unless commanded. He ate when no one was looking, and he hadn’t understood that the kneazle was for him until James put it into his hands and folded his fingers around it.
Lily knew it would take time. The early years are important for development, and Harry had spent a good chunk of his stuffed in a closet. She thought again of killing Petunia. It wasn’t kindness that stopped her; murdering her sister would land her in prison, magical or muggle, and she had promised not to leave her son.
She could hear James in the bedroom, bundling up Remus’ few belongings. They hadn’t told Remus the next part of the plan. He had seemed so confused since they returned, so easily shaken, and Lily was more concerned that he get medical care than he know the details. The dear idiot.
“Kreacher has gone back to prepare the rooms,” Regulus said, returning from the garden. He shuffled uncomfortably in a gesture Lily had come to recognize meant he wanted to make conversation but didn’t know how.
“Thank you for sending him. He’s been indispensable.” Lily didn’t much care for house elves, felt the practice to be a bit immoral, but she had to admit that Kreacher’s shopping—motivated by his apparently undying love for Regulus—had gotten them all clothed.
Regulus looked pleased. “He’s taking to freedom very well.”
“The elves at the Manor positively rioted when James tried to set them free. Wouldn’t touch anything for a week in case there was a bit of cloth hidden in it.”
“I suspect I caught him off guard. And the little robes were too tempting to refuse.” Regulus’ voice was soft and smooth and posh, and he looked the same pureblood boy who had called Lily a mudblood on numerous occasions, but as he spoke he crouched by Harry on the couch and gently stroked his index finger over the head of the stuffed kneazle. “Is this your little pet?”
Harry clutched the kneazle to his chest. “Mine,” he said carefully, like he wasn’t sure if Regulus was going take it.
“Would she like to see a magic trick?” Regulus asked. Harry eyed him for a moment, but eventually he nodded.
Regulus snapped his fingers and a shower of lights and sparks erupted from his palm. Harry gasped in delight. Regulus wiggled his fingers and the sparks coalesced into one wiggling thing which, as Harry watched, shaped itself into a smaller golden kneazle. He held his hand out to Harry, who carefully reached out and took the golden thing from Regulus’ palm.
“A kneazle for your kneazle. It can be her kitten,” Regulus said.
Harry beamed at the small cat, bumping it against his stuffed one. “Kitties,” he said happily, pressing their noses together.
“That’s a nice bit of wandless magic,” Lily said, and Regulus flushed like he had just remembered she was there.
“Ah, Sirius taught me,” he said, rising to his feet, his cheeks pink. “When we were young. I had a pet kneazle for a while.”
“I didn’t know you liked animals,” Lily said.
Regulus looked away from her with a look she had first learned on Sirius. It meant something to the effect of I am a Black and therefore can’t tell you that I’m desperately unhappy.
“Well, Father didn’t approve,” he said finally.
Lily had encountered Orion Black a handful of times in life, and once in death. As a girl she had seen him on Platform 9 ¾, an imposing presence who seemed to go out of his way to let everyone around him know that he was superior to them. She had heard about him, first from James and then, as they became friends, from Sirius himself. All the stories were bad. And all of them were confirmed by meeting him in death.
It wasn’t like meeting a human. He was more a black cloud than a soul, more anger than human. Maybe because it was clear that in death he was no greater than any other sod, magical or muggle, and was in fact much worse. Maybe it was because all the dead know that a reckoning is coming, an accounting for actions, and it did not look good for Orion. Maybe he had always been that way inside, wretched and wasting. But when Lily saw him, she saw hope drained away, saw an empty life. Mostly, she saw Regulus cower.
“You could get one now,” Lily said. She combed her fingers through Harry’s hair. “The Manor is big enough.”
“Get one what?” James asked, coming out of Remus’ room with a suitcase under one arm.
“A kneazle,” Lily said. “Regulus used to have one.”
James’ face darkened. “Sirius told me about that,” he said. He clapped Regulus on the shoulder with his free hand. “Get a whole group of them, if you like. You’re free now, mate.”
Regulus looked hopeful and alarmed at the same time. Lily was certain he didn’t know what to do with freedom. Sirius always demanded freedom, shed school uniforms, defied rules, broke himself letting Orion and Walburga know he couldn’t be controlled. But it seemed the more restriction placed on Regulus, the more he accepted. And now, with no one left to demand his obedience…
“Maybe start with one,” Lily said helpfully. “If you like.” She gathered Harry up in her arms, bouncing him a little. “Little love, are you ready to go home?”
“Technically it’s your grandparent’s home,” James said, leaning in to brush Harry’s hair back and kiss his forehead.
“You didn’t stay there before?” Regulus asked. He watched Lily hold Harry with confusion, although he tried to hide it. Lily wondered if Walburga ever held either of her sons.
“It’s ridiculously large,” Lily said. “James grew up in a palace. And it made him a bit of an arrogant git. We wanted something different for Harry. And we had to go into hiding, of course.”
Regulus laughed, a real laugh, not the jeer they had all heard at Hogwarts. “Is that what happened to Sirius and I? Grimmauld Place was more like a villain’s palace, but there were suits of armor.”
“I suspect it was the house elf heads on the walls,” James said.
They lapsed into silence, and silence between the three of them should have felt uncomfortable, felt awkward. But something had changed, coming back; somewhere halfway through the Veil they had melded, just a little bit, enough that Lily knew James was anxious to leave and Regulus was anxious about leaving, and that both of them could likely feel her wondering whether Harry would adjust to two new houses so quickly. It wasn’t like they were the same people, but their edges had bled over on each other. The silence felt like breathing. It felt calm. They moved around the cottage in separate tasks, Lily changing Harry’s diaper, James fussing in the kitchen, Regulus fidgeting with an extra toy Kreacher had brought for Harry, but it felt like they were all doing it as one.
It was broken when Sirius and Remus returned from the bathroom. Remus was soaked, but he was beaming, smiling down at his feet like he couldn’t take how happy he was. Sirius was still gaunt and tired, but his skin was less grey and his eyes were brighter, and he kept his fingers wound through Remus’.
“Feeling better?” James asked, holding out a plate of toast and eggs. Lily knew he had made them instead of asking Kreacher to do it because he knew precisely how Sirius liked his eggs and needed them to be just right, needed to feel like he was making things right. Lily knew it would be a long time before James stopped being afraid of losing Sirius again.
“Much,” Sirius said, accepting the plate and looking around the room in wonder that it was all real, that he had gone and come back and they were still waiting for him. “It’s been a while since I had a hot bath.”
“And it used to be so hard to get Padfoot to accept bath time,” Lily mused. She set Harry down on his feet, holding his hands so that he took hesitant steps. He was unsure on his feet. No one had been helping him to walk. She reminded herself why she couldn’t murder Petunia.
Sirius saw Harry and his face lit up the way it always had. He set the eggs down and crouched down in front of his godson. “Hey there Prongslet,” he said. “Do you remember me?”
“Pa’foot?” Harry asked, releasing Lily’s hand to steady himself against Sirius’ knee. Sirius’ face broke open in sheer delight.
“You remember!” Sirius cried, and scooped Harry up, tossing him in the air and catching him before James or Lily could gasp careful! “How’s that, Moony? My godson remembers me!”
Remus smiled at him. Even Regulus found himself smiling down at his hands. Lily reached for James’ hand and squeezed it hard. This is what they had fought for. There was more to be done, and the next part of the plan nagged at Lily, to make more than just a happy moment but a happy future. But this moment was the one she had thought of when her soul was nearly torn in two as she pushed against the sky. This is what she had demanded from death. To return home to all her best loves and know that they were okay again. To know that they had a chance to be happy.