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Map of the Problematique (D.M.L.E. Evidentiary File 142-3b.)

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Rules 1 & 2 | Rules 3 & 4 | Rules 5 & 6 | Rules 7 & 8 | Rules 9 & 10 | Rules 11, 12 & 13 | Rules 14 & 15 | Rules 16, 17 & 18 | Full Graphic



Map of the Problematique (D.M.L.E. Evidentiary File 142-3b.)


"You're gonna tear someone apart.
I wanna know how it all works out.
I had a feeling we were fading out.
I didn't know that people faded out,
that people faded out so fast.
I wanna show you what I got inside.
But you know those parts of me died.
Just like that, they faded out, they faded out so fast.
And there was love enough left to fix it,
but there it is."
-- Ryan Adams, "The Sun Also Sets"

1. The Rules Appeared That Afternoon.
"The stove's over there, and the fridge is muggle, but there's no electric so it's charmed cold, but it works," Sirius explained, pulling it open to reveal shelves bare of almost everything save a half-finished box of biscuits, two bottles of firewhiskey, and some mustard.

Remus, however, failed to notice the contents – or lack thereof. "Sirius-"

"I have a telly, but it only works on Wednesdays at two in the ruddy morning, and then it only plays in Spanish," Sirius continued, swinging around to the other counter.

Remus looked fixedly at the ceiling. "You-"

"I've got an obscuring charm on the window, so the neighbors won't notice Owls, and I get the Prophet every day. And there's a library like two blocks away," Sirius finished, pulling down a can of some sort of dubious corn product from the cabinet behind him. "And Longbottom has a sofa he's bringing by. And Potter has that extra mattress. . ."

"It's fine, Sirius." Remus paused, deliberately, eyes still on the ceiling. "Do you know you don't have any pants on?"

Sirius grinned, wide and smug. Remus could see it reflected on the shiny metal hood above the stove. "The second best bit about not sharing a dorm is walking about starkers, Moony."

Remus opened his mouth to ask what the first best thing was, but then he heard the distinctive pop of apparition. He looked back toward the doorway in time to see James, sopping wet with fogged glasses burst through the door. "I got take- COR! WHERE ARE YOUR BLOODY TROUSERS AT?"

Remus winced at the volume of his voice. "That's what I asked," he observed mildly. He turned, picking up his meager belongings and heading for the back bedroom that was to be his, listening as James railed against nudity in his presence, and how Lily could be by soon and subjected to it. Remus rather thought Lily would likely be less put out about it than James was. After years as Gryffindor Prefect, she took Sirius-nudity in stride.

The flat was dingy and gray, scantily furnished and smelling vaguely of old cheese. There was nothing to recommend it, really. Peter lingered in the hallway, eyes narrowed as he stared toward the kitchen. "I don't want to go in there, do I?" he asked, wise from years of exposure to Sirius and James.

"Oh MERLIN. STOP WRIGGLING OR I'LL HEX YOU! This is a rule. There is a KNICKERS RULE!" James' dulcet tones carried the entire length of the flat, the sound of crinkling parchment following a moment later. Peter winced and Remus laughed, leaving that as answer enough as he ducked into the small room that was to be his. He couldn't afford the rent he should pay for a room here, he knew. And Sirius hadn't had to get a flat for the four of them. Soon enough James would be with Lily, and Peter would find a place of his own. But for now. . . it was nice, having them nearby and not going back to stay in the quiet gray of his home with his mother.

Remus tucked away his socks to the sound of Sirius laughing, and smiled to himself.

It sounded like home.
************

2. Written Upon Finding it Still There.
"What is that?" Sirius poked a finger at a box in the back of the refrigerator. It jiggled ominously, green and viscous. The edges had long since gone from green to black. "It looks like Snape's hair," Sirius observed, eyeing the edges thoughtfully. "We ought to have turned it green."

"You did. Second year." Remus peered over his shoulder, and Sirius felt a flush rise in his neck at the way Moony breathed across his skin. "I think it was Thai."

"I think it was liquid plague," Sirius countered.

"The plague was viral, actually, and-" Remus began.

Sirius snorted, cutting him off. "Shut up. I was being clever. Just laugh when I'm clever."

Remus paused and then smiled, rare and impish. It wasn't the first time Sirius noticed the shape of Moony's lips, and the way his smile changed his face into something warm and welcoming. "You'll have to tell me then – so I know when you are."

"Wanker."

"Git."

"Werewolf."

"Blood traitor."

The barbs could have stung, and would have from some, but Remus just smiled at him. "Throw that out."

"You know you want it." Sirius waved the box toward Remus, half turning toward him. The sludge wiggled threateningly. "Take a bite, Moooooony." Remus backed away, but a speck managed to escape its cardboard confines, landing against his shirt.

Remus grimaced, turning to walk out of the kitchen. "Toss it, Padfoot," he called over his shoulder, pulling his shirt off. Scars laced across the pale skin of his back, reaching beneath the hem of his trousers, blades and bones of his shoulders sharp and protruding.

Sirius had seen him shirtless a thousand times. He wondered when he'd started to want to lick every scar.

The carton in his hand gave a precarious wobble, and Sirius flushed, shoving it back into the fridge and slamming it shut.
*************

3. He Feels Pretty, oh so Pretty.
"Even you are not THIS bent. You can't possibly be. You shag too many birds." James was staring forlornly at his cereal, the milk in it gone chunky and unappealing. But it was a much better sight than the one currently prancing about the living room. "Why are you in Lily's skirt? Where did you GET Lily's skirt?"

"She left it here?" Remus hazarded, looking up from the paper in time to see Sirius swing Peter into some sort of modified, shuffling boxstep. It was difficult to tell who was leading.

James scowled. "She did not, she didn't have it off. He NICKED it from her flat when we stopped by."

"Hah! I knew you hadn't gotten into her knickers yet. Your bits are going to fall off from you pawing at them while you pine for Evans-love, you know," Sirius informed him.

James' scowl darkened and Peter piped up, interceding, "I'm more worried about where he got the shoes."

"Our neighbor three doors down," Sirius explained.

"The pouf who wears the wig?" Peter asked, wriggling out of Sirius' reach. "WHY did you borrow his shoes?"

"Because the boots didn't go with the skirt," Sirius explained, mincing daintily over to plop into a seat beside James.

"Why did you PUT the skirt on?" James demanded. Sirius leaned in to bat his eyes, and James snagged Remus' paper, swatting him firmly on the head. "Bad dog!"

Remus hid a smile behind his tea cup and then set it down. "That is the question at hand."

"Because Moony didn't wash my trousers, and Potter said I wouldn't be a pretty woman," Sirius answered, managing to sound petulant and smug at the same time. "Or maybe because now I can say I've been under Evans' skirt when he hasn't."

"I hate you." James' tone was the sort of glum that only came from too much cross-dressing and not enough food. Or so Remus assumed, since he'd never seen the cross-dressing bit before. "You ate the last of that stew, too, didn't you? You're a rotten friend."

Sirius rolled his eyes and got up, attempting to sashay on his way to the fridge, but managing to look more like a dog on stilts. He returned a moment later with a slice of leftover pie.

James' face lit up, and he grabbed greedily at it. "I take it all back. I love you like a brother, even if you are an ugly bloody woman and a bigger ponce than Lockhart."

"No one is a bigger ponce than Lockhart," Peter observed, and Sirius looked at him, throwing his head back and laughing, flashing a wide, amused grin – surprised, as he always was, when Peter got a good one in.

Remus' breath caught and he was very glad, for that moment, that the smile wasn't directed at him, and that he didn't have to respond in any way. Sirius' beauty had nothing to do with the ridiculous skirt, and lately when Sirius smiled like that, he couldn't breathe.
**********

4. Ground Zero was Forever Scarred.
"Now see, if you put this like that-"

"But what about the fuse? Won't you?"

"No. I mean if you use a long one, and stick it just so in the center of the pudding . . ."

"Right, but won't it go out, once the pudding goes? And then the second won't ignite-"

"What about two? You know. Dual fuses?" Peter's contributions were fewer, but the wide grin he received for the suggestion made him smile.

"Dual fuses! Brilliant. Link them, set them off with the same charm. Right. There. I think it's set," James stuck his tongue out as he perfected his arrangement.

"Right! Ready? . . . Go!" Sirius set the charm off, and then dove behind the couch next to James, Peter scurrying behind the easy chair as the pudding made a soft, strange sound, shuddered, turned a rainbow of colors - and abruptly exploded, flinging itself everywhere - on floors, furniture, ceilings. EVERYWHERE.

Including one werewolf, who surveyed the damage stoically, lifting a finger to his mouth to suck pudding off as Sirius flushed and looked away. "Well. I think you killed our only bowl," he lamented, looking at the scattered pieces that now littered the coffee table.

James stuck his head over the back of the sofa. "It was Sirius' idea." He started to laugh as Sirius flung a couch cushion at his face.

The pop of apparition heralded Lily's near-daily visit. And a long moment later, she was sighing. "I'm not cleaning this up."

Sirius watched as she and Remus decided to go and have lunch, leaving him, Peter, and James - well Peter, to clean up.

The purple bit next to the light fixture refused to come off. Peter named it Edward.
***********

5. Before the Rule, There was the Theft.
"She looks like a bloody doily." Sirius wrinkled his nose, watching his cousin standing in a corner of the vast reception room, a house elf hovering nearby, occasionally adjusting the creamy white train of Narcissa's wedding robes. She looked exquisitely, coldly, untouchably beautiful, actually. But Sirius didn't want to admit that.

"Uh huh – have you tried these pastry things? They're fantastic!" James had a smear of custard across his chin. Sirius would have pointed it out, but it was funny.

"You know this is Malfoy's place – those could be poisoned," Sirius pointed out.

James paused, pastry mid-way to his mouth. "Do I look like I'm dying?"

"No more than usual."

"All right then. If I start to, take me to Mungo's." Another pastry joined its friends in death as James stuffed it into his cheek, making his face bulge like a chipmunk with ill-gotten gains. "How come we got in again?" he asked, speaking around the mouthful in a way that made a nearby distant relative grimace.

"Because I nicked an invitation from Rosier," Sirius answered.

"And we're here because?" James prompted, swallowing finally.

Sirius shrugged, and in truth he didn't know. Except that he hadn't been invited, and he hadn't been wanted. The days were rapidly approaching when, if he saw any of these people in the street, he'd have to hex them. But mostly, he'd wanted to be here just because he shouldn't be.

"Not that I'm complaining mate – but has anyone even noticed we're here?" James reached up to straighten his spectacles, managing to rub part of the custard onto his sleeve in the process.

Sirius started to answer when Narcissa's gaze fell on him. Her winter blue eyes stayed on his for a long moment, and then she looked away, chin lifting.

He'd been dismissed.

"They know." No scenes at her wedding, she'd decreed, Sirius guessed. Narcissa was softer than Bellatrix, but she knew how to get her way. So their invasion was ignored.

Sirius was oddly disappointed.

"Come on," he ordered, catching James by the elbow and turning to lead him back toward the table.

James was only too happy to go – food being a somewhat haphazard presence in a flat currently occupied by four males, none of whom had any skill with cooking charms. Sirius didn't miss the look James gave him though. Potter hadn't wanted to come, and he'd thought Sirius was daft for suggesting it. But he hadn't been about to let him come alone, either. Sirius thought that might be what being a real brother was all about, but it was hard to dwell on that. After all - his actual brother was probably around here, somewhere, being a dark-arts loving git, like the rest of them. (He hadn't always been like that, but the days when Sirius could try to make excuses for his brother were long since gone, and Regulus had chosen his place, and his allegiance. It wasn't to Sirius, and Sirius' wasn't with him. It was easier to think of him in simple terms than to remember the boy he'd been.)

Beside the buffet table, a young house elf was carefully stacking plates. Sirius watched as one slipped its fingers, shattering on the floor. The elf made a short, wailing sound and bashed his head hard against the table before casting a Reparo. Beside them, a crone Sirius vaguely recognized sniffed, murmuring to the man beside her. "Wretched elves – no sense of worth. Have they any idea what those place settings cost?"

Sirius blinked, and a slow grin spread across his face. "Prongs . . . didn't Remus say something about needing dishes?"

James blinked, and for a moment his expression wavered toward what Sirius had come, since their 7th year, to recognize as James' Responsible Face. But then it broke over, and a grin spread across his lips instead. "I think he did. Some nonsense about how civilized people don't eat out of cans."

"Right. Have a drink. Eat up. It's all on Malfoy's bill, mate." Sirius reached for a plate and a glass, filling both to brimming.

James clinked a glass with him. "Cheers."

A moment and a whispered Unbreakable charm later, it was under his suddenly much more roomy jacket.

Sirius wondered if he could get away with getting their coats back, loads of storage. "Prongs?"

"Padfoot?"

"Did you bring the-"

"In my pocket."

Sirius' eyes gleamed. "There's a very fancy pudding at the end of the table. I think they're saving it for later."

James considered. "Well. Their fault for letting it sit unattended." He grinned. "DUAL FUSES."

++++++++++++++

"Shhhh!" James wobbled uncertainly, and there was a disturbing clatter to it. "You'll wake REMUS."

"It's the night after a moon. We could burn the flat down and roast Wormtail on a spit and he wouldn't wake up," Sirius countered. James was disturbingly drunk and considering what he was carrying, Sirius thought it his duty to make sure that his best mate stayed entirely upright. It would have been a lot easier if he hadn't had a half a bottle of champagne to go with James' ENTIRE bottle.

"Spit." James giggled like a girl; Sirius didn't care how much he insisted otherwise. James teetered and Sirius stuck an arm out to catch him. "Ratatouille!" he added, giggle tuning to a cackle.

"You're brilliant when you're soused," Sirius told him. James fixed a baleful gaze on someone who was, it seemed, standing just to Sirius' left. "Right, come on then old son, to the kitchen we go."

"They were BRASSED," James informed him, toddling obediently toward the kitchen, coat clattering with every step.

Sirius followed, his robes making more of a metallic clang. "They weren't, actually. Too busy crying over their ruined robes. They will be later."

"Moony should have come. He would have wagged a finger. And then licked pudding off of it." James seemed sorrowful about that. Sirius was frankly surprised that he remembered that Remus hadn't been there. He'd spent five minutes talking to a plant and calling it Moony, or maybe Moody. It had been a baleful looking plant.

"Right, he would have." Which was probably why it was for the best that Moony hadn't been there.

In the kitchen, there was a divesting of garments and the booty they hid. Sirius, feeling highly accomplished, stacked it all out on the counters. A stack of plates, a half-dozen bowls, a shiteload of expensive silverware, and some glasses gleamed expensively when he was finished.

There was a thumping sound of footsteps and James hushed Sirius, loudly. Which was funny, since James was the only one making noise, having begun warbling the chorus of Jingle Bells for no reason that Sirius was aware of.

Peter stood in the doorway, blinking and squinting against the light, looking between the two of them. "Wha?"

"Go back to bed, Wormtail," Sirius told him.

Peter peered at the dishes on the counter. "Where'd those come from?"

"Lucius Malfoy sends his love."

James started to giggle at that, and Peter just looked deeply confused as Sirius grinned and started finding room for it all.
************

6. Lily Later Realized Things Were More Complicated Than She'd Thought, and That Boys Were Stupid.
"You hungry? We could go get takeaway, or make Wormtail fetch pizza?"

"Fetch your own," Peter called, from where he was sprawled across the floor, his nose buried in a new Mad Muggle comic.

Sirius seemed to ignore the interruption. "Or we could go to the market. Get those sausages you like."

"I'm fine," Remus answered, sounding wooden even to his own ears. He didn't look up from his book, but he could sense Sirius hovering. When no answer came, he started counting seconds in the back of his mind. When he got to ten, he couldn't help it. He looked up. And met gray eyes that were unmistakably confused, somewhat angry, and perhaps a little hurt.

"What the hell is WRONG with you?" Sirius demanded, frustrated. "You haven't spoken to me for a WEEK."

Peter, who'd developed a highly evolved sense of self-preservation over the years, chose that moment to get up. He was fidgeting as he reached for his comic and then slunk away to his room, muttering something about nutters and Blacks.

Sirius' eyes narrowed, gaze following the shorter boy as he fled. Remus could almost SEE the second he decided on some form of retaliation he'd follow through on later.

All too soon he was looking back at Remus though, and Remus ducked his head. "Nothing," he answered. Because it was easier than the truth.

"Nothing," Sirius echoed mockingly. "Because you usually go without talking to me for days on end. That happens all the time."

"Only when you've almost made me murder someone." Sirius stumbled a step backward, flinching visibly, and Remus wanted to bite down on his own tongue. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean that."

Sirius shook his head, short and frustrated. "You always mean it, Moony. You just don't mean to say it." He looked away, and Remus thought, not for the first time, that it was wrong, them being friends - him staying here. They were too good at this - cutting each other into ribbons when reasons, no matter how thin, presented themselves. They knew just how to make each other bleed. Sirius struck when he was thoughtless and angry. Remus. . . well he was fairly sure that he was the crueler of them. His barbs were deliberate, after all, in some way, at least. "Haven't tried to make you kill anyone lately, Moony."

Give it time. The words rose up in the back of his throat, but Remus bit them back, shaking his head. "No. I know."

"So what then? What did I DO?"

"It doesn't matter."

Sirius growled, and flung himself across the sofa, but he didn't stay there - annoyance always lent him energy, and he just got right back up again. Started to pace. Remus was part beast. By rights, he should have some kind of primal grace, a hint of beauty to compensate for the pain and terror once a month. But he didn't. When he moved, it was just to get from place to place. When Sirius moved it was like a hurricane trapped inside of skin, all frantic power and whirling winds of energy waiting to slip free and blow down everything in his path.

Remus hated, sometimes, that just watching Sirius could make him want so fiercely that he ached with it.

Sirius didn't say anything, but he paced, and he waited, and Remus gave in. As he always did. "You went to the Malfoy's wedding."

Sirius stopped, blinking, surprise registering across his features. "That's it? You're brassed why? Because I didn't take you? It was after the moon - you were exhausted."

Sirius didn't get it, and Remus found himself standing, hands fisted at his sides. "You went to MALFOY MANOR, with James! You knew who would be there, what could have happened. . ."

Sirius snorted dismissively. "No one was going to try to kill us at 'Cissa's bloody wedding. She'd have their eyeballs."

"You don't know that. You didn't know that. You NEVER know that, but you ran in. For what - to steal bloody PLACESETTINGS?" Remus had thought he was over being angry at this. But he was vibrating with it now, thinking about it. About Sirius and James, deep in the lion's den, no one even knowing they were there.

"It was a SOCIETY WEDDING. There are rules-" Sirius began.

"And how often does BELLATRIX obey rules? The Lestranges? You're all the same! You all do whatever you want and think you can get away with it because it's your right!"

Remus wasn't even really aware of what he'd said until Sirius took a step toward him, eyes stormy and jaw tensed. He never did that, never spoke without thinking. Sirius was the only exception; he'd never understood why. "I'm not." Sirius answered, fierce and childlike.

"You are." Remus' throat was dry, and he didn't want to, but he said it anyway. Because it would hurt. Because it was honest. Because maybe if he SAID it, Sirius would realize, and Remus could spend less time wondering how deep Black blood went, and whether Sirius would push too far, one day. "You could have gotten killed. You could have gotten JAMES killed, just because you're a bloody reckless BERK who-" a hard fist to Remus' jaw cut him off.

Sirius had never hit him. James and Sirius were forever getting into small scuffles that ended with one or another taking a punch. Black eyes and bruises were a way of life as a boy, or so Remus had been assured. But it'd never been him. But there was some line in the sand that Remus had crossed. He'd claim he didn't know what it was, if he could, but it was too apparent. James. Sirius he could accuse of being reckless and he wouldn't care. But he'd accused him of almost hurting James - and Sirius would never do that - at least never knowingly.

The punch sent a shock of pain through his jaw, vibrating up through his teeth and along the side of his face. Sirius froze, staring at him, and Remus saw the second when the anger almost slipped away and turned into apologies and sorrow. And he and Sirius had been there before. Once. Twice. A dozen times.

Remus suddenly wanted something different. Instead of being the rational mind, he flung himself forward, throwing a wild punch that landed on Sirius' jaw, rocking him back. Sirius reacted on instinct - as Remus had known he would, following with a hard uppercut, and Remus punched him in the stomach, causing a huffed expulsion of air, shoving him backward at the same moment.

Sirius went down, but he twisted - years of brawling overcoming the surge of werewolf strength that always came with Remus' anger, twisting him so he was on top, landing another punch to Remus' eye.

Remus rewarded him with a blow to the mouth, watching full lips split, blood trickling from the corner of Sirius' mouth. He could feel his eye starting to swell, his jaw aching. And he could feel Sirius, half straddling him, weight heavy on top of him.

Remus wasn't sure which of them froze first. He wasn't even sure how long they were there, staring at each other. Neither heard the crack of Apparation, or the stunning spell that sent Sirius flying back off of him - a weak spell, designed to break them apart, not hurt him, some dazed part of Remus' mind noted.

Remus scrambled to his feet, wand out, and came face to face with an angry - and protective looking - Lily Evans, her face almost the same color as her hair. Her green eyes narrowed in fury as she glared at a still-disoriented Sirius. "What the SODDING FUCKING HELL are you thinking, Black?"

Remus opened his mouth to say he'd started it, but no one really wanted to bring the wrath of Lily Evans down on their head. (Excepting James, who used to delight in it.) The words froze in his mouth and he watched Sirius climb slowly to his feet, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. He threw a slow, confused look toward Remus and then looked back at Lily. "Where did YOU come from?" he asked, more belligerent than angry.

Lily still had her wand pointed at him, which might have something to do with his lack of fury. "FIRST you drag James off to some. . . bloody near-suicide, going to a MALFOY wedding, and now you pick a fight with Remus? Honestly, I KNOW you're upset about your brother, but that doesn't give you the right to act like-"

Lily was a wonderful girl. She was smart and kind and caring, and a brilliant witch besides. But she, like Sirius, sometimes didn't know when to shut up. There were things you didn't bring up with Sirius, unless you were James. And even then they tended to have a secret language - a way of speaking around things without really talking about them. Remus winced inwardly as Sirius' expression darkened again. It was only because it was Lily, whom James loved, that Sirius didn't lash out at her, bring up things Lily wouldn't want to hear. Instead he grabbed his coat off the back of the sofa, and then he vanished in a crack of apparition that, somehow, sounded angry.

Lily stood, dazed and belatedly apologetic. She looked back at Remus and then offered quietly. "Let me Heal your eye?"

Remus sank down onto a chair. He didn't bother to argue.
**********

7. Upon Realization, the Rule was Revised.
Sirius' mouth still stung, and his stomach ached, and he wore new bruises that were probably worse, but he didn't feel them as much, because he didn't care about the man they'd come from. He'd gone to a pub, had two pints and picked a fight with someone big and unpleasant looking, just to make the strange heat of anger and want in his veins have somewhere to go. He hadn't exactly won, but he hadn't lost, either, and that was good enough. It had served its purpose.

Afterward a pretty girl with cow-wide brown eyes and long brown hair that smelled of oranges had looked at him. Her lips had smiled an invitation Sirius usually wouldn't have passed up. She was there, and she was pretty, and Sirius liked sex when it was easy. But he'd come back.

Remus' back was to him as he entered, shoulders slouched as he sat on the sofa. The flat was silent with the strange, empty fullness that Sirius usually found a lull of comfort - there but asleep, his friends all where he could find them. Now it almost irritated him, because they were never alone, and he could never tell if it was because they wanted it that way, or because that was the way it was.

Sirius' room was down the hall. He could just go in. Ignore the slumped shoulders and the gleam of a half-empty bottle on the table in front of him. But he didn't. He walked in, slow and deliberate. He could tell the second that Remus knew he was there, read it in the tightened shoulders. Moony thought he was oblivious, most of the time - selfish and self-aware. He was wrong. Not about the selfishness - but Sirius could read him better than anyone, most of the time. He wasn't deluded enough to think that meant he knew everything. Remus lied better than any of them, and he hid even better.

"I didn't mean it," Remus said, soft and hollow.

"You did." They'd had this conversation. Sirius was tired of crossing the same roads over and over to see the same signs and pause at the same places before moving on again. He was tired of waiting. Sirius never waited for anything. But there were things he couldn't take. He'd made too many mistakes in the past. It couldn't be him, and he didn't know if Moony got that.

Remus stood, and it was a little too fast, the faintest sway as he turned. Not drunk, but close, and it took a lot to get him there. Lily had laughed herself into a fit the first time she'd seen firsthand that she could drink Sirius, Peter, and James under the table - and that Remus could send her down to join them without batting an eye.

"I did. And I didn't." Remus' eyes lingered on the new bruises, the dried blood beside his lip. Sirius watched him catalogue injuries; add up which were his to claim and which weren't. "I never say things like that to anyone but you."

Sirius smiled, could feel the wry tug of it stretching his split lip. "No one else gives you reason, Moony. It's okay. Relax. If Prongs went wooly every time he punched me, he'd be mental by now."

"I'm not James."

He wasn't. And that was and wasn't the problem. Because if James had wanted Sirius, and Sirius had wanted him, it would have been easy. Simple. Like minds. Remus and he were all sharp angles and things that went unsaid, or mouths that said too much. They clashed and bled and nothing made Sirius FEEL more like his cousins, his mother, his father than when he hurt Moony. And somehow, Moony was always the first he hurt. "You're not supposed to be."

"Who am I supposed to be?"

Sirius didn't understand what ifs. They were a waste of time and energy. He didn't live in the past and the future. Everything he was, he was right now. Maybe that's why this didn't work. Because every time he fucked up, Remus looked at him, and he had past mistakes written across his face. Sirius didn't know how to be sorry enough, and Remus didn't know how to forgive enough to forget, or how to forget enough to forgive. Sirius wasn't sure which. "Moony . . ."

"I hurt you." Remus stepped up, and Sirius went quiet. Watched him. Long, thin fingers touched the corner of Sirius' mouth, came away with a faint spot of dried blood against the tip of an index finger. "I didn't want to." Remus paused, and then amended. "I wanted to. I didn't mean to."

"I know." Sirius didn't know what to say. He could smell liquor and chocolate - so bloody predictable - and Remus, right bloody there, and his skin felt too small and too hot. "I wanted to too." It wasn't unusual for Sirius. Sirius lashed out at everyone, eventually. Remus thought it was the monster in him rising to the surface whenever he got angry. Sirius knew his own anger was just part of what he was.

"It's just. You could have gotten hurt. You could have gotten . . . You could have not come back. You don't take anything seriously - shut up, I know it's your name. It's not really you know. But you just do whatever you please, and you don't get it. People are dying. People are dying and you could have NOT COME HOME." Remus looked at him, and there was something urgent and fierce in his voice.

You could have not come home. Remus meant that he could have been left alone. And sometimes Sirius wondered if the only reason Remus was still here, after Snape and the Shack, was because he was a monster, once a month, and didn't believe he'd ever have anyone else to go to. "We'll always come home."

Remus looked at him, and the fierceness in his voice bled over into his voice, in the hand that curled too-tight at Sirius' neck. "You don't know that. You git." Sirius opened his mouth to answer, but then his mouth was busy - because Remus' was against it.

He'd thought about kissing Remus. Thought about shy, fumbling kisses and Moony leaning across a book because there was ALWAYS a bloody book in his lap. Sirius had thought about Moony - dry lipped and careful, afraid of biting or doing something wrong or a million other things, because Remus worried and Sirius didn't and that was who they were.

Except Sirius had been dancing in circles, fretting over words gone wrong and arguments turned cutting for the last two years, and Remus kissed like he was going to swallow him whole, so Sirius had had everything wrong. Sirius hadn't realized how far his world could teeter until Remus' mouth sent it tumbling down.

It was all lips and teeth, a press of a lean, too-thin body against him and a hard thigh between his legs. Sirius had methods - ways he did this. How he'd kiss and touch and move and speak to move whoever he was with toward what he wanted, but Remus kissed him, and he tasted like Moony, and it felt like home and danger at the same time. Sirius just sank back into the wall and let Remus take him over. It was Remus who kept them both upright - Remus' strong hands sliding under his shirt, fingertips finding a nipple, pinching almost too hard. Sirius heard himself gasp, felt himself scrabbling for purchase against the wall, reaching to cling to Remus' shoulders.

Remus led, and Sirius just followed, mindless and willing, letting Remus pull him forward, back him toward his room, push him down onto the bed. Sirius wasn't even aware of Moony undressing him until he felt cool air on his skin, and Remus moved out of reach. He looked down at Sirius, eyes dark with want and skin flushed, his pants open but still on, and Sirius felt bloody DEPRIVED because Remus wasn't naked too. "Moony. . ." Sirius winced inwardly at the whine that escaped his throat along with the word. They both sounded like a plea.

Remus stood there, trembling slightly, and Sirius knew him. Sirius knew how he thought. Knew how Remus talked himself out of what he wanted because he thought he shouldn't have it. "Don't think," Sirius murmured, pushing himself up to reach for Remus - pull him down. He nerved himself, shut his eyes and managed to pull Remus' mouth to his, murmuring against Moony's lips. "Please."

Blacks didn't beg. They didn't ask - they were entitled. And Moony was right, because Sirius never had learned to really ask for anything. He didn't beg. He didn't apologize, except to Remus. Neither of them knew why. "Please." Sirius asked anyway, louder and more emphatic, and Remus shuddered hard. And then he was kissing again, and everything melted away but that.

Sirius' world narrowed to Remus. Remus' hands and mouth and body on his, against his - inside his. And he hadn't been ready for the fingers that finally breached him, slick with something Sirius had the wild urge to demand where it came from because he'd never seen Remus have a bloke over. Except that was a lie, because somehow his legs were open and inviting it, and it felt like he'd been begging for that, too, so he had to have been ready. He couldn't remember and he couldn't care. Just gritted his teeth through the discomfort until it faded into something else, and fingers became something else - Remus inside him, moving with him, hands brusingly strong on his hips, and mouth almost violent against his, before it faded, violence shifting and softening without losing intensity. And Sirius had no idea what that meant, but he couldn't think. Couldn't do anything except buck and twist and writhe, and when he came, it was sudden and crushing, body bowing up and toes curling into the mattress beneath him, Remus still moving - taking him. Sirius was shuddery and strange in aftershock, feeling him and whimpering, moving with him until Remus finally slumped, still and heavy and panting atop him.

This hadn't been how Sirius had planned it. It hadn't even been what he wanted, when he'd let himself dwell on wanting it.

It was better.

When Remus rolled off of him, Sirius heard that same, soft whimper. It was hard to believe that was him making that naked, needy sound. Remus' hand curled at his hip - comforting - and Sirius shut his eyes, drowning in all the words floating through his head that he couldn't say. "Why didn't we do that instead of pounding the shit out of each other?" He paused and then clarified. "With fists."

Remus paused, and then he started to laugh, light and breathless. Something that had still been tense and waiting in Sirius' stomach loosened. He twisted onto his side, throwing an arm across Remus and kissing his neck, watching the way Remus' lashes trembled against his cheek as he shut his eyes. "Next time, we'll do this instead." It was teasing, but Sirius heard the question lurking behind the softness in Remus' voice.

"Yeah. And in between. And . . . on days that end in Y. . ." Remus laughed again and then he was kissing Sirius. It was the soft sort of kiss he'd expected to begin with, and Sirius shut his eyes too, kissing back. Falling into it, world narrowing again -

A loud pounding on the wall brought him back to earth, and Prongs' voice, sleep thick and annoyed. "Oi! Moony! Good show on pulling. Now whoever you've got in there, shut up, or put up a bloody charm!"

Sirius opened his eyes, meeting Remus'. The way Moony's mouth curved up into a smile made him want to snog him breathless. Again. "He's going to make it a RULE," Remus whispered.

Sirius just grinned.
**************

8. In the End, it Stayed Empty.
Sirius sat on one side of the sofa, James on the other, Remus sitting on the coffee table between them, Lily on a chair. Peter sat on the floor on James' other side, confusion lurking somewhere in his expression.

James and Sirius had matching postures, arms crossed tight and angry across their chests, matching scowls making their very different faces seem similar, somehow. Remus traded a hapless gaze with Lily, who looked a good deal less used to the mediator position than Remus was, and not terribly happy about being put in it with him.

He cleared his throat, still blushing faintly. "Ermm. James. We hadn't meant-"

"On my BED. I don't CARE if you're poufs. I don't care if you play FOOTSIE under the table at breakfast and think we don't notice-"

"We do NOT PLAY FOOTSIE YOU GIGANTIC USELESS BERK-" Sirius roared, interrupting.

James ignored him, going doggedly on. "But I haven't even moved out all the way yet, and you're already shagging on my bed!"

"We weren't, Prongs, honest," Remus tried, but honesty was apparently not going to work, because James just gave him a squint-eyed look of irritation. "We wouldn't have," he amended. "Sirius just went in . . . looking for something, and I found him, and we got carried away."

He shot a look at Sirius, who avoided his eyes. It was true, in a way. Sirius had gone in, seen half-packed boxes and solid evidence that James was leaving, and Remus had seen something in the set of his shoulders, and the frozen stoicism of his face that made him go in, wrap arms around Sirius and kiss him. Sirius was always just a little too willing to distract himself instead of facing the reality of what he didn't want to see. And Remus was bad at telling him no.

"James, it's not that big of a deal, honestly," Lily answered, and her voice was soft, but clipped in a way that Remus recognized as running out of patience. "It's not as if we haven't-"

"That's beside the point!" James interrupted.

"Because we're queer?" Sirius asked, rough-voiced and angry.

"No! And you're not, anyway. You're just a bloody slag, since you shag everything. But it's MY BED!"

Remus felt like he was watching two things, what they were saying, and what they weren't. James, angry because he felt like them invading his room was pushing him out the door. Sirius, angry and hurt because James was leaving at all. Both of them afraid that everything was changing in ways that would never let them go back to the way they had been. Because yesterday Sirius came home pale and shaken from his first in-training brush with Crucio, and Lily was memorizing healing charms while a small ring sparkled on her pale finger; and when no one was watching, James' voice said things like "love" and "us" and "we'll be okay" into Lily's ear.

Remus recognized it. The same things made him want to crawl into bed beside Sirius and never come out.

"They won't do it again, James. And Sirius, you know James loves you and doesn't care who you shag. And of course he's happy if two of his best friends are happy together. I know it's hard for you to leave, James, and that you think I'm taking him away Si-"

"It's not. I want to live with you. Can't wait," James interrupted, and Remus couldn't tell if it was an angry, stubborn reaction from the boy James had been, or the man he'd become trying to save Sirius' pride by staying angry before Lily went on.

Sirius scowled, not catching the difference, if there was one. "Get bent, Potter."

He got up, stalking out the door, and James stood, giving Lily a quick, obligatory peck, and then heading into his room, throwing things around in the guise of packing. A moment later the sheets from his bed were dumped unceremoniously outside the door.

Lily and Remus sat in silence, listening to the receding sound of Sirius' footsteps, and to the hurling of objects in James' room. "We could always leave them to each other and run off together," Lily offered lightly, trying to sound teasing.

Remus smiled. "Maybe."

Lily was quiet, and then her slim hand found his, winding their fingers together. "It's all changing too fast, for them, isn't it?" she asked, soft and young-sounding.

Remus didn't know why she thought he could be grown up. He didn't understand why she thought the way their world was changing didn't leave him shaking and frantic that tomorrow the people he cared about would melt away like spring-thawed snow, leaving him frozen and alone. But he tried. He squeezed her hand. "It's changing too fast for all of us. But change can be a good thing. He's just afraid of being left. And James is afraid of growing up." He smiled softly. "I'm afraid you're marring Peter Pan, Wendy."

"No. I think you have Pan. James is already grown up. He just forgets. And they'll always have each other. They'll realize that. It's just the leaving that scares them." And just that quickly, Lily was the adult, and Remus was the child, hanging on her words for shreds of hope. "And Pan will always have his Lost Boy, won't he?" Remus had always been too old to be a boy, he thought. But he was lost, too, so maybe that was enough.

"Does that make me Tinker Bell?" Peter's presence had been all but forgotten, and Remus looked at him, blinking and starting to apologize when Peter went on, a rare note of bitterness in his tone. "I'm staying too, you know, that might count for something."

"Of course it does," Lily and Remus said, almost in unison. Remus quieted but Lily gestured, letting go of Remus' hand. "You know how they are, Peter. Sirius will be glad to have you here though."

"I know how you are," Peter agreed, that strange note still in his voice, and he looked down for a moment before sighing, pushing himself to his feet and flashing a quick smile. "I'll go help James." He disappeared into a room where the thudding was gradually easing. Sirius would come back. James would calm down. They'd make up and be right as rain soon enough. It was how they worked. It was what they'd always done. Everything came that easily to them - even anger.

Remus just wondered if it would stay that way.
*********

Chapter Text


Detail
Rules 1 & 2 | Rules 3 & 4 | Rules 5 & 6 | Rules 7 & 8 | Rules 9 & 10 | Rules 11, 12 & 13 | Rules 14 & 15 | Rules 16, 17 & 18 | Full Graphic



Map of the Problematique (D.M.L.E. Evidentiary File 142-3b.)


"You're gonna tear someone apart.
I wanna know how it all works out.
I had a feeling we were fading out.
I didn't know that people faded out,
that people faded out so fast.
I wanna show you what I got inside.
But you know those parts of me died.
Just like that, they faded out, they faded out so fast.
And there was love enough left to fix it,
but there it is."
-- Ryan Adams, "The Sun Also Sets"

9. Peter's Attempts at Swing Were Less Successful.
"Should I ask what you're doing, or just pretend I didn't see and practice saying 'I don't know officer, I've never seen him before?'" Remus asked mildly, not looking up from the copy of the Prophet he was currently reading his way through.

"Prongs always apparates in at the same place. It's bad form. They teach that in training, you're supposed to vary it up, so no one can predict your actions," Sirius answered absently, making a slow circle against the somewhat lopsided Runes he'd had Wormtail draw on the floor.

"So you're teaching him a lesson. For his own good?"

"Right." Sirius paused, throwing Remus a wide smile. "Move the chairs back, would you?"

"Why?"

"He'll need a stage," Peter answered, finishing the last rune with a flourish and standing, stepping back.

Sirius cast two quick spells, and the runes lit up, shimmery and alive, and then faded again. Sirius grinned, walking over and shoving obnoxiously at the sofa until it slid backward, Remus still in it. When it was far enough to suit him, he dropped down next to Remus, leaning in and pressing a kiss to his neck that made Remus shiver, automatic and easy. "When's he coming by?"

"After he and Lily go and see her mum - to tell her the date," Remus answered, leaning against Sirius.

Sirius reached to snake the paper away. When Remus looked up, he caught Peter looking at them, a strange expression of embarrassed envy on his face. He looked away as soon as Remus saw him, and busied himself playing with the pint of butterbeer beside him.

Remus thought maybe he should talk to Peter, whom he thought might feel left out with him and Sirius. . . well, him and Sirius. Just what they were was never discussed, and whenever one tried, it inevitably turned into an argument. And these days, arguments just ended with one or another on their back. Or their knees. Or. . . well, it was just different now. Remus didn't want to tie Sirius down. He didn't want to be someone that hemmed Sirius in, because he thought that was the easiest way to lose him. And he thought that if it ever came out, being known to shag a werewolf was infintely worse than just being friends with one.

Sirius. . . Remus wasn't sure what Sirius wanted, but sometimes it seemed like he was waiting. And sometimes he would look toward James' empty room, or stare at the spot he'd apparated home - home to the flat Lily and him had found - from, and something raw and sharp vibrated off of him. Remus wondered if what he was to Sirius would ever come close to mattering as much as what James was to him. In his darkest moments, he wondered if he was just what Sirius took because James didn't want him.

It wasn't true though. Remus knew that. But Peter's odd look, and the way these days he spent more and more time at work, or visiting his mum - Remus thought maybe he understood. It was hard being on the outside.

Sirius' sharp intake of breath distracted him, and he turned quickly, seeing what Sirius had seen. "I know," he said softly. He'd read that section half an hour ago.

"Those bloody . . . useless . . . fucking . . . whole LOT should be bloody Avada'd - they've their heads so far up their own arses that they-"

"It's fine. We knew this was coming." It wasn't fine. It would never be fine that more and more laws were being proposed to protect the pureblooded, to limit the muggleborns - and to limit werewolves. The newest said he couldn't work. That any infraction of the law was an automatic sentence to Azkaban. And Remus broke the law now every day he went to work. Not that he'd be going much longer. It was a week to the moon, and he'd been told if he missed one more day, he was fired.

"It's not bloody fine. This shouldn't HAPPEN, Moony. And we're not DOING anything. Dumbledore has his Order - but what are we doing? Sitting on our arses is what."

"He has a plan-"

"Fat lot of good it's doing," Sirius snarled, and Remus reached to smooth fingers through his hair, pet the rage from him.

Peter picked up the paper Sirius had hurled mid-bellow, reading quietly. "It's bollocks, Moony," he offered quietly.

Remus smiled at him, and Sirius shook his head - calming, if only a little. "It's MALFOY. And the Lestrange brothers. They're at the Ministry every fucking day, talking in people's ear. You know he's campaigning for a seat on the Wizengamot?"

"I know," Remus answered quietly.

Sirius was too angry to stop. "Rodolphus and his twit of a brother are only there because the bitch and her master tell them to. They do every bloody thing she says."

"They're not always wrong."

Peter's voice stopped Sirius mid-tirade, and Remus looked at him, blinking in surprise. For a moment, he was too worried to be hurt by what Peter said - saying something like that to Sirius in the middle of a fit was a bit like waving a red flag at an irate bull.

Peter colored under the twin stares and shook his head. "I mean, not about-about killing people. Or werewolves. Or loads of other stuff - but I mean, they want to limit exposure to muggles, which is good. Some of the people at the ministry want to make more of an alliance, and it would be . . . I mean it would be dangerous for us."

"They don't know anything," Sirius answered darkly.

Peter hesitated, and then shook his head. "I bet that's what they say about YOU." He lifted a hand. "Wait - I mean. They're wrong, but we're supposed to be . . . I don't know. Better? Right? So shouldn't we be able to look and see what little things they say that are right? And not just . . . I don't know. Hate them, the way they hate us?"

"If you knew them, you would hate them, and you'd have REASON," Sirius answered, voice flat.

Peter deflated, eyes flicking toward the window, like he was searching for an escape. Remus didn't understand. He didn't know what Peter meant, either, but he wanted to. He opened his mouth to answer, again, when the pop of apparition interrupted.

James' feet had only just touched the floor when they transfigured themselves into bright, ruby-red shoes that bore a disturbing resemblance to Dorothy's slippers. (The four of them had watched an hour of that movie on Sirius' seldom-working telly, laughing at how it sounded in Spanish.) Remus winced a little, since the shoes looked several sizes too small.

James' face went comically red, and a moment later, he began wheeling about in something that Remus supposed was meant to be a dance, but looked more like a spastic, reluctant hopping.

Sirius, mercurial as ever, went from angry to hysterical in one breath, dissolving into laughter and leaping lithely from the sofa. He rushed over, turning on Remus' record player with all of the careful reverence Remus had taught him to use when handling it.

Tinny music filled the flat, and Sirius began clapping in time as Peter got up, moving to stand with him, laughing too. James made an incredibly rude gesture in their direction, and then seemed to give up, fighting the shoes less fervently and just letting himself be danced about the flat.

The conversation slipped away, and Remus cast a last glance at Peter before letting himself forget, lifting his hands to clap in time, too.
********************

10. It was Claimed That he Tore the Lace, Though Grudges Were not Held.
"Black."

"Evans."

"If my ability to wear white is in doubt, YOU should burst into flame as soon as you put that on." Lily made a grab for the veil, and Sirius twirled merrily out of reach. "Sirius! Give over!"

"Say it first."

"Say WHAT?" Lily stood, hands on her hips and pale cheeks flushed, red hair wildly disarrayed and a scowl curving the corners of her lips down .

For a moment, Sirius almost understood why James had latched on to her so hard that he could never let her go. She really was fantastic when she was angry. It was a good thing he brassed her off so often. "Say that I can give him a stag night without you going wooly." Sirius paused and then added. "And that I look better in it than you do."

Lily blinked, and then her scowl faded, and she laughed. "Is that all? Fine. You have my blessing. Bring on the firewhiskey and naked witches." For a moment, Sirius was stunned enough that he didn't move, and Lily stood on tiptoe, carefully snatching the veil from his head. She smiled sweetly at him. "You know, Black. One of these days, you'll realize that you're not losing James - you're gaining a friend. Who looks LOADS better in this veil than you EVER will."

Sirius smiled, thin and small, but he reached, setting the veil carefully on her head, and then running fingers soft and slow through the long length of her flaming hair. He stepped back, tilting his head and looking at her. "You do look better," he admitted quietly.

He turned to go, meeting Remus' eyes as the other man stepped out of his room, lingering in the doorway. Sirius took in the tired eyes and the slight smile that seemed, somehow, almost proud of him. "I'm off to plan a party," he announced.

"I'll tell Mungo's to be on stand-by for fires and alcohol poisoning," Remus answered wryly, and Sirius laughed, stepping into him, arm around his waist and mouth soft and lingering against his. Just kissing him. Remus' arms were too slow to wrap around him, thinking too much to react, and Sirius was gone again before the circle of them closed to hold him.

He felt two sets of eyes watching him as he left, but didn't answer the questions written there. It was just a good day to let go.
***********

11. In the end it was Decided That Gideon Cheated, and That James Threw off the Game With Noise Pollution.
James was warbling one of the Hobgoblins' worst tunes with a good deal more enthusiasm than skill, a plastic colander on his head as a party hat and lipstick smears all over his collar and neck. His eyes were glassy and he was staring up besottedly at the ceiling. In between verses, he had just finished telling the ceiling how cute Lily's toes were.

The ceiling was unimpressed. Remus, however, thought it was sweet - nauseating, but sweet.

Peter was passed out on James' old bed, somehow, and in the corner Longbottom, Shacklebolt, and Fenwick were losing a game of cards to the Prewett brothers by truly heroic amounts. Probably because, while the three of them were decidedly tipsy, the Prewetts were stone sober - which no one but Remus was coherent enough to tell. He didn't point it out though. He might not be drunk; but he wasn't that sober, either.

He was stretched out on the sofa, Sirius half beside him, and half on top of him, face against his shoulder and head turned just enough to see James on the floor. It was warm and comfortable and Remus knew there was a reason they shouldn't be like this, a dozen reasons, each making less sense than the last.

The Order was small enough that everyone seemed to know everyone else's business, so Remus justified it by saying it didn't matter. Everyone knew he and Sirius were shagging. If they cared, they wouldn't have come - and there were a few that hadn't.

Remus vaguely heard the sound of someone who had to be either Peter or Mundungus retching in the other room, and habit made him start to sit up to go and check on them, but a long arm curled around him. "Don't go." Sirius pressed his face into Remus' neck, and just that quickly, Remus stopped moving. Laid back down and listened to the way Sirius breathed.

Stubble scraped rough against his cheek when Sirius moved to peer at James again, a soft laugh drifting past his lips. "We ought to bloody Silence him."

"He's happy."

Sirius dropped his head again, and Remus could feel the soft thickness of Sirius' eyelash brush against his cheek. "Two days and he's Mrs. Evans."

"I think she's taking his name, actually, but yes."

Sirius smelled like whiskey and cake, and when Remus opened his eyes to see the blurry, too-close features, the new leanness of Sirius' face couldn't be seen. He had smelled the same seventh year, when the four of them were passed out in the common room on their last night before school ended. He could almost pretend no time had passed, and the scarlet and gold of Gryffindor surrounded them, and nothing had changed, and never would. "You won't leave me." Sirius' voice was quiet, still.

Remus opened his mouth to make promises, but he shut it again, and curled in closer, ignoring Gideon's whooping in the background. "You're drunk."

"Prongs can't sing."

"I know."

"It's vile when he tries."

"You can tell him tomorrow."

Sirius smiled, and Remus felt it more than he saw it. "I like your tux."

Remus didn't know how to answer, and a moment later it became moot, since Sirius started to snore softly as James hit a particularly offensive note, making Remus wince.

Someone should make sure that the others went home; that no one threw up on the floor; that Peter didn't suffocate himself with a pillow, since he tended to gnaw when he was drunk.

Remus left it for someone else, or no one else, closing his eyes and staying where he was, pretending two days lasted forever, and nothing changed expect the things he wanted to be different.
*************

12. She Only Remembered how to Make a Pig Snout, not why she Learned.
"So what do you say to daddy next time you see him?"

"Bloody fecking hell," Nymphadora answered promptly, grinning widely at Sirius with lips that had, for some reason, turned orange a few moments before.

Remus groaned. "Andromeda is going to kill you," he offered.

"She will not. What do you say if Mummy gets brassed off at Cousin Sirius?" Sirius directed the question to Dora, who beamed at the notice, even if she'd had Sirius' attention from the moment her mother dropped her off.

The little girl bounced up onto her toes. "Mommy, don't yell, pleeeeeaaaaase! Cousin Sirius is the only family I have who LOVES ME!" she recited.

Remus covered his face with one hand and sighed. When he lowered his hand, Dora was grinning, sly and impish. If she'd turned her hair black and changed the shape of her face just a bit - and the orange lips - it might have been a miniature Sirius giving him that wicked look.

Poor Andromeda wasn't going to have an easy time of it.

Sirius caught the little girl up and set her next to him on the sofa. Nymphadora wrapped her tiny hands around his arm, making him wince. Beneath the long sleeves of Sirius' shirt, heavy bandages Remus himself had put on were wrapped tight around his skin. They covered a long slice that Sirius never told him the origin of, but glowered at whenever he looked down. "What do you want to do for Andie when she picks you up?"

"Mummy," she corrected, scooting in closer to him.

"Mummy," Sirius agreed, smiling at her fondly. "Purple hair?"

"We did that last time."

"Cat's eyes?"

"She's seen those."

Sirius pondered. "Pig's nose?"

Nymphadora brightened. "That's new! Okay!" She stopped then, frowning. "Whast'sa piggy nose look like?" she asked, the s's slurring just a little. In between words Remus saw her tongue push against her teeth a little, wiggling a loose front tooth.

"Moony will show you. Moony, transfigure something into a pig," Sirius ordered, turning that wide grin on him.

"No."

"Why?"

"Because then we'll have a pig in the flat."

Sirius made a frustrated noise and then looked around, finally making a triumphant sort of noise and hopping up, hefting Dora and balancing her against his hip with his good arm. She laid her tiny head against his shoulder, short hair going neon-green as he reached into the cabinet, pulling out a tin of canned ham, a portly pig portrayed on the front. "There. See how it looks?"

"Oh." Dora screwed up her face, studying the picture intently, and then lifted her head, her face changing, odd angles protruding until her nose had taken on the rough shape of a pig snout. "How's that?" she asked, voice odd filtered through the snout.

"Little flatter," Sirius instructed, laughing and pushing at the top of it until it sank in. She obeyed, and then he grinned. "Perfect." He smacked a noisy, showy kiss to her forehead and set her down, digging in the refrigerator until he came up with one of the juice bottles Andromeda had put there. He handed it over to the little girl, not bothering with a glass.

She'd be wearing the grape all down her front, Remus thought, but he didn't point that out as Sirius plopped back down beside him. Sirius' arm lay loose around the back of the couch, not quite across Remus' shoulders.

The boom of apparition had Sirius half out of his seat, moving toward Nymphadora, and Remus' wand already in hand before both relaxed again, seeing James' pale, wan face, Peter arriving a moment later, looking over at Dora immediately, nose scrunching up just a little. Peter never had been much good with kids. "Hullo," he greeted.

Sirius didn't pay him much attention, gray eyes narrowed on James' face. "What happened?" he demanded.

James shook his head, waving indistinctly. "Lily. . ."

Remus' stomach twisted and the blood drained from his face. "What? James, where? Is she okay? What do we-"

"She's fine . . . why does she have a pig's nose?" James asked distantly, staring at Nymphadora.

"Oink," Dora said, and then beamed a wide grin.

"She's pregnant," James offered dimly.

"I am NOT. You have to be grown up to have babies. Daddy told me about it because of the puppies. I just have a pig nose," Nymphadora answered indignantly, hands going to her hips. Her face was, as Remus had expected, stained purple from the nose down, along with the front of her clothes. With her current nose, it made her look a bit like she'd been rooting about in a pile of blueberries.

"What? No. Lily. Lily's pregnant," James answered her as if he wasn't entirely following the conversation enough to realize he was addressing a child.

"Oh." Dora paused and then shrugged. "Bloody fecking hell!"

Sirius was staring at James, something in his expression Remus couldn't come close to defining. And then it broke, and he grinned, shrugging. "I think that sums it up."

James dropped heavily down to sit in the chair. "I don't know how this happened."

"Do you want a DIAGRAM? I bet Dora could tell you. Dora, where do babies come from?" Sirius asked her, proving himself astonishingly unhelpful when it came to comforting fathers-to-be.

"Sometimes, when a daddy loves a mommy very, very much, or when a bitch - that means a girl dog - when a bitch wants to have puppies and there's a boy dog about who can smell her, they-" Nymphadora began instantly, while Sirius barely restrained from cackling over the bit about dogs.

"No. That's okay. Thanks. Peter, why don't you ermm . . .take Dora downstairs and show her Sirius' motorbike?" James' interruption sounded a bit desperate.

"Don't take her out of the wards," Sirius said sharply, a second before Remus said the same thing.

Peter looked unhappy with the order, but didn't protest. "I've got comics if you want to read?" he offered the little girl.

She wrinkled her nose a bit, but skipped obligingly toward his room, Peter shuffling after, resentment in his expression. Remus looked at James and smiled a little. "Congratulations, Prongs."

"You're going to be a DAD," Sirius told him, and it was hard to tell if he sounded excited or appalled.

James blinked, eyes huge behind his spectacles. "I know. . ." He looked panicked suddenly. "What if I muck it up? What if I'm BOLLOCKS at it and the kid HATES me?"

"It won't. You won't. We'll help," Sirius answered. "We won't let you muck it up."

Remus was quiet, watching the exchange. James looked afraid, and worried, and Remus understood why. It wasn't a good world for a child. It wasn't a good world for anyone. But then James smiled, small and pleased.

"You're all grown up now, Prongs," Moony offered quietly.

Beside him Peter Pan laughed. "We'll never grow up. We'll just get old and wrinkled." But from the corner of his eye, Sirius watched for Peter and Dora. James didn't run off with him into danger at the drop of a hat just for the thrill of it anymore, and Wormtail went to work everyday and came home at the same time and went to bed early to beat the rush.

Remus thought this was what growing up looked like. He was afraid that when they were all done, they'd end up grown up and apart, four separate spaces in the world, paths only rarely crossing.

It would be nicer to believe they could stay in Neverland. At least for a while.
******************

13. It was, Actually, Lily who Brought it up First.
The flat was silent, and Sirius was wrapped around Remus, still inside him, body heavy and warm and sweat-slick, mouth tracing kisses along Remus' throat. It wasn't like this much, lately. Training and Order missions left Sirius on edge, too bottled up and edgy to lie still next to Remus. Or so Sirius told himself. He didn't like to think that maybe he didn't want to be near Remus longer than it took to get off because it was too confusing, most of the time. He liked to think even less about the fact that, sometimes, he thought Moony didn't want to be near him longer than that either. They complicated each other, and everyday the stacked tower of things they couldn't say grew higher and higher, threatening to come crashing down.

But tonight they were there, both of them, and all the things they didn't say, Sirius wrote onto Remus' skin, and felt Remus's fingers mapping onto his.

It would be so easy, sometimes, to slip. To say too much. To ask for too much. To forget that the more he asked for something, the more likely Moony was to pull away and drown himself in all the reasons that they didn't work until he convinced himself that this should never happen anymore.

But for now it worked. Sirius breathed him in, stroked a hand down a long thigh before twisting onto his side beside Remus, a sad noise of loss bubbling out of his throat when he slipped free of Remus' body.

Sirius wound their legs together and lay his head against Remus' shoulder, eyes fixed on the wall beside them as Remus' fingers threaded through his hair. He didn't want to talk. Didn't want to take the chance of stepping over one of the lines they'd had to draw up to mark the places the other couldn't go. But he heard himself speak anyway. "Do you think he meant it?"

"He did," Remus answered quietly, thumb tracing the shell of Sirius' ear.

Sirius didn't question how Moony just knew what he meant. "It's bloody stupid, making me responsible for a kid."

"I don't know. Dora loves you."

Sirius snorted. "She's not old enough to know when I fuck up. And Lily'll bloody take his head off if he makes me the kid's godfather."

"Andromeda is old enough to know, and she lets you watch her. And I doubt James would have said anything if Lily didn't approve." It was true, Andie did let him, sometimes. Sirius thought that she was trying to show her daughter that not all of her family were monsters, so that when she was old enough to know where she came from, she would know that they weren't all Death Eaters who would rather she be dead than have a muggleborn father.

And Remus was right. James wouldn't say anything without asking Lily. Not anymore.

"Do you think I'll fuck it up?" He sounded weak and unsure, and Sirius was Black enough to hate it, stiffening against Remus and trying to kiss him to distract him from what he'd said.

Slim fingers moved, petting him into relaxing again. Sirius hated, sometimes, that Remus knew all the ways to soothe him and all the tiny lies Sirius told himself to keep from really looking at things. Sirius didn't know all of Remus' lies. He'd lie beside him, and he would still be so far away from feeling like he knew what Moony wanted. Remus was the best liar of all of them - Sirius wished he could forget that more often. "No. I think you'll be brilliant," Remus' voice assured him, and Sirius wanted to believe he meant it. But he couldn't be sure.

"Won't matter anyway," Sirius answered, rough-voiced.

"Of course not," Remus agreed. It wouldn't matter because godparents only mattered when parents were dead, and Lily and James weren't going to die. If anyone died, it would be Remus, whose meetings with Dumbledore ended more and more often in a night or two spent away, and coming home drained-looking and silent. Or Sirius, who was sent to hunt for people he'd played with when he was very small and didn't know anything about right and wrong or that his parents could be wrong.

Sirius pressed a kiss to Remus' shoulder, tracing the line of an old scar with his tongue, ignoring the new one beside it. The old scars he would touch, trace with tongue or fingers. The new ones he avoided. Because they were part of the secrets he couldn't tell, and Sirius felt that whatever bits of Moony he had claim to, those new, secret scars weren't among them. "I can teach him to fly, with James. We can teach him together."

"It might be a her," Remus reminded him gently, stretching his neck away at the kiss, long line of his neck offered up to Sirius' mouth.

"Teach her, then. Take her up on the bike."

"Brilliant. And then I can sweep up the little pieces of you Lily leaves behind when she's done hexing you," Remus answered dryly.

Sirius laughed, sudden and loud. "I-" It was right there. So easy to say, and then he'd have said it, and all the reasons not to wouldn't matter, because it would be done.

He nipped, sharp and playful, at Remus' throat instead, fingers sliding to his hip, finding the spot that always made Remus shudder.

Remus' head turned back, and his eyes - dark again, already, and Sirius remembered how full the moon loomed. He shuddered, cock twitching, hardening slowly again already - caught by the way Remus looked at him. Remus' hand slid down, wrapping around him and stroking slowly. "Already?" he asked, amusement obvious.

Sirius shut his eyes, groaning softly. "Your fault."

"I don't mind taking credit." Remus moved then, fast and sudden, weight on top of Sirius, and Sirius reached for him instinctively, legs parting and hands pulling him in closer. "I think it is my turn," he murmured, mouth catching Sirius'.

"Fuck me," Sirius agreed, and it came out as a mumble breathed into Remus' mouth. It didn't matter. Moony got it. Tomorrow he would talk to James. Tomorrow Dumbledore might call. Tomorrow they could go back to separate sides of the bed and nights spent away.

But not tonight.
***************

14. The Rule was Added the Next Morning.
The moon had etched new scars onto his skin, and Remus felt every bloody one of them, but he didn't care. He felt like they should be there. It was what every other wolf went through, after all. They didn't all have animagi friends. And if he was going to get through to them, for Dumbledore, for the Order, he had to look like them, but a little better. Enough for them to trust and know he understood, but just better enough that he could give them hope. Sway them to believe things could change.

It hadn't gone well. It never went well. But he had to try.

He was in his own bed, flat on his back, skin barely-healed and when he looked down at himself, he saw a patchwork quilt of skin and scars. He looked stitched together, like Frankenstein's monster. Sometimes, he looked at himself and he didn't understand why Sirius ever wanted to touch him.

But Sirius had been here, hands light as he bandaged, still shite at healing charms, even with all the practice they were getting. Remus had been too tired to say anything. Too tired for what he knew he was coming, because if his missions were making him frail and broken, Sirius' were making him sharp, brittle and lethal. His body thrummed and his eyes crackled like a livewire. Remus had been too tired to deny to himself how much Sirius looked like his cousin, these days. Bellatrix hummed with the same fervent, near-manic energy and power.

The silence had stretched too thin for Sirius, and he'd broken it, ranting about Dumbledore, about secret missions and bollocks rules and Remus had just let him. When a response was finally required, he'd just shrugged, trying for a light tone. "It's just what we have to do. Maybe next mission will be to make sure the Death Eaters aren't poisoning the butterbeer in Hogsmeade."

He remembered how Sirius had jumped up, and the taut line of his jaw. "What the fuck does it matter who's right and who's wrong. Look what our side is doing? Fuck them all. Let them bloody kill each other."

"You don't mean that. You don't want to let anything happen." Except maybe he did, and maybe Sirius heard that uncertainty in his voice, because he scowled.

"You don't know what I want." He'd thrown Remus' wand onto the bed, within easy reach, and then left. Remus was tired and sore and he couldn't remember when he'd last felt so alone, and he wanted to call him back. Tell him that he trusted him. Tell him everything else he was so careful never to say, but it stuck in his throat, and all he could do was listen to the sound of boots treading heavy across the floor and then apparition cracking like distant thunder.

And then he was alone.

Waiting.

Maybe he didn't know what he was waiting for. Maybe he was afraid that he did.

It was the middle of the night when Sirius came home. Remus - still close to the moon and the wolf, senses too sharp - could smell heavy perfume wafting off him as he stood in the doorway, whiskey wrapped inside it - story and excuse all in one scent. He wondered if she was pretty. He wondered if she'd been soft and easy and if Sirius had promised to call her.

He didn't ask. "I'm sorry," he offered instead.

"Yeah," Sirius answered, and it was as close as he would come to saying he was too. "Drinks tonight, after the meeting. You'll be there, right?"

"Yeah." Awkward silence and then a rush of sound. "You can-"

"Do you want me to-"

"Stay." It was Remus who finished, and Sirius who nodded, reaching to pull off his shirt. Remus pretended to not see the purple kiss-bruise his mouth hadn't made on Sirius' throat.

No promises. They'd never done that. He'd never asked, Sirius never offered. He couldn't blame Sirius for something Remus had never asked he not do. It was what Sirius had always been. He'd known that. He'd always known that.

Remus just didn't know why it still hurt. "Take a shower first," he said, and it sounded nonchalant. Indifferent. He was proud of that, because some part of him wanted to be angry. To hurt. To cut and blame and attack, just so there was SOMETHING other than masks of indifference that might only be a mask for him, and a reality for Sirius.

Sirius paused, and Remus couldn't read his face, the shadows turning it into just pale space and blank eyes, but a moment later he was gone, water running.

Remus thought perhaps he'd looked hurt.

He wished he wasn't petty enough to be glad.
*************

15. He Never Asked in Person.
Remus was so thin that when Sirius touched him, he could trace the path of the bones under his skin. Darkness circled his eyes and Sirius could find the pulse of bruise-blue veins under his skin whenever he looked too hard. Every time he left he was gone a little longer and looked a little further away when he returned - a little more worn down. He looked years older than the boy who'd left Hogwarts, not so long ago.

Sirius' sessions with Dumbledore inevitably turned to shouting. He was angry over the losses. Over what wasn't being done. Over the secrets Dumbledore wedged into their lives and into his friendships. He would demand answers and Dumbledore would smile, sad and resigned, and say that he didn't have all the answers, and he wasn't God.

Sirius wondered why he got to play with their lives like one, then.

It was the first time Remus went missing for a week - an entire week - that Sirius broke down and went looking for him, finding the places it wasn't safe to go alone, and going anyway. He didn't expect to find anything. He just needed to do something, and it was the only thing that he could think of that might keep him from coming apart.

He found his cousin, white-blonde and sharp-featured, beautiful in robes of sky blue, her new baby in her arms - waist already showing no signs of having had him. Narcissa wasn't Bella, and he hadn't been sure if he was glad for that or not. Bellatrix would have been straightforward.

Narcissa was a new mother with measured, even words. She knew too much and spoke too carefully. It wasn't her wand that cut people down, and that made it harder to hate her the way he wanted to. She spoke of Regulus, and the new ache of a loss Sirius didn't want to feel had burned in his chest. His brother had been a Death Eater git, and Sirius spent a lot of time learning how to kill those, when he needed to. But he'd been a child afraid of the dark and crawling into his brother's bed to be safe from it, once. Sirius had never told their mother that. He'd never told anyone that. But he remembered too well the smaller body warm beside him, and the way he'd promised to keep him safe, even though he'd rolled his eyes then, because there wasn't anything to be afraid of in the dark. Or so he'd believed, then. He knew better now. Some nights, to some people he was the thing in the dark they feared. Sirius didn't know if being a killer for a cause made you less of a monster, or just a more purposeful one.

Then she'd spoken of names and families. Of how even when he turned against them, he was still a Black, and his friends and their Order knew that. And Narcissa had smiled, sly and sharp, and asked him if he could really knew where his loyalties lie, when he shared his bed with a Dark Creature - and those all belonged to the Dark Lord.

Sirius had left, angry and aching with what he couldn't quite call a lie and believe himself saying it. When he went back to the flat that felt less and less like a home, Remus was there, in his own bed, deep asleep and exhausted looking.

Sirius didn't wake him.

In the morning he was gone before Remus woke. It was his turn to see Dumbledore. His turn to be given something he couldn't speak of. His turn to demand answers and never get them.

He wondered if he might have been granted those answers, if his name hadn't been Black.
***************

16. The Meeting Went Badly, There Wasn't Time for More.
Remus held Harry in his arms, Lily half asleep tucked against James' side. Peter sat beside him, Sirius on the floor next to the sofa, an untouched glass of whiskey next to him.

Harry drooled in his sleep, and Remus wiped his mouth gently with the blanket. He was so small - tiny and breakable. Every few seconds Remus felt James' eyes flickering toward him, watching the baby he held. Or maybe watching him. He wasn't sure.

They hadn't all been together in a month that felt like a year - save at meetings - and it felt wrong, now. Too many silences that weighed too heavy. Everything they said had some other meaning hidden behind it. "It won't be for long," he finally said - just because someone had to.

Lily roused a little, smiling wanly. "Of course not."

"Fucker's coming out on his own now - someone will take him down," Sirius answered, and then smiled sheepishly as Lily glared at him for the curse. He only came out for Meadowes. Meadowes who'd spent the last meeting with her head bent next to Dumbledore. Who'd looked at the five of them just a little too long.

Remus found his eyes drawn back to the baby, the Prophecy Dumbledore claimed to know drifting through the back of his mind. Harry was so small. How could he ever be at the center of something so massive?

"Right. Soon!" Peter agreed, quick and nervous, not managing well under the weight of the tension. He sounded like he had when he was a second year again - all echo and nerves, no real sense of who he was beneath it, though they all knew, by now.

"It will be like a vacation. Only we don't have to buy you sods anything to bring back," James agreed with a weak, tired smile. It grated on him, the running and hiding. Without Lily and Harry, he would have been like Sirius - fierce and furious - Remus thought. But they tempered him, and however it chafed, he would keep them safe above everything else. He wondered how long it would be before Alice and Frank went into hiding too, with little Neville.

James stood, taking Harry back. "After the meeting tomorrow, then. We'll-"

"Say our goodbyes then," Lily finished, then winced, amending, "Goodbyes for now."

Sirius stood too, hand fisting and unfisting once, eyes drifting toward the oversized parchment they'd all gotten used to seeing spread across the wall near the kitchen. "Yeah. . ."

Sirius and James looked at one another for a long moment, and then James' eyes turned helplessly to Lily, whose face tightened, head shaking slightly. Sirius shrugged as if she'd answered something, and reached to run his fingers through wispy dark hair on Harry's head. "See you later, Prongs." He threw an arm around James, careful of the baby, and then hugged Lily too. All of them pretended not to see the tears in her eyes that she refused to shed.

Remus and Peter stood. Peter hugged too, quick and nervous, eyes meeting Remus' for a moment, and then flicking toward Sirius and away again.

Remus understood. Peter had talked to him. Spoken of the last encounter with the Lestranges, and how they hadn't sent a curse toward Sirius, not really. He'd spoken of Sirius' frequent absences, too - of what it all added up to, now that Meadowes, the Prewetts, Fenwick and a dozen other names were crossed off the list of suspects and added to the list of casualties. Sirius' eyes turned to him, sometimes, thoughtful and veiled, and Remus thought maybe Sirius understood all too well, too.

Remus hadn't listened. He didn't need to. He'd seen it all for himself already. It was the latest in a series of things they never talked about.

James gripped Remus' arm goodbye, and didn't hug him. Lily clung seconds too long, murmuring "be safe" into his ear, and Remus had to bite his own tongue to keep from flinching.

Moments later they were gone, and whatever they'd said, this had been goodbye, and they all knew it. Wormtail ducked his head and then shrugged. "I should go too - I have to be in early." His goodbye was quick and forced. Remus had never seen his new flat. He doubted he ever would.

Sirius stood silent beside him, and he felt miles away. Remus wanted to touch him. Words in the back of his throat battled to escape. He wanted to say he was sorry. To tell Sirius that he was still here.

To tell him that it wasn't him.

He wanted to ask if it was Sirius. If in the end, birth and Black won out after all.

"I'm leaving tomorrow again," was all he said. "After the meeting."

"I figured." Sirius looked at him finally, and Remus couldn't read anything but indifference in his expression. "Do you want to fuck?"

Remus wanted to touch him and kiss him and go back to two years ago, when he was still happy. He hated the casual question - the disinterest, the crudeness of it. He knew Sirius well enough to see it as the dismissal it was. "Yes," he answered anyway.

Gray eyes flickered, and Sirius smiled, humorless and brittle, like something in him might shatter soon. He nodded, reached to kiss Remus a little too hard and violent to be as indifferent as he wanted to seem, and Remus answered in kind. Branding Sirius with his mouth, painting their history onto his lips and skin.

It wasn't enough, the fragile truce of not-speaking, not-accusing and not-asking. But it was all Remus had. He couldn't let go of it yet.
*********

17. She Believed it was Neither.
Lily's face, helpless and fierce at once, faded from the fireplace Sirius had transfigured onto one wall. It's not him, Sirius. You KNOW it can't be. You of all people should know. She'd said, and he wanted to believe. But the list was getting shorter, and there were only so many who could have sold out the Prewetts; could have given away where Fenwick was. Every dead man meant one less suspect, one less buffer between pointing fingers and his Moony. He'd almost put Peter through a wall for saying it, but he still remembered his pale, frightened face. Who else can it be, Padfoot? he'd asked, nervous to even suggest it, but brave enough to do it anyway. Sirius kept asking himself the same question.

"That's it, then," Remus' voice was soft behind him, but Sirius had known he was there. Had known the moment he walked out of his room.

Sirius ducked his head, and held back a shudder.

"Guess so."

He turned to face Remus, and Remus faced him, and somewhere in the middle there hovered a line that wasn't there once, but couldn't be crossed now.

Sirius couldn't help it. He grabbed Moony's face between his hands and kissed him again, hard and raw and unyielding. Anger in it, because he couldn't help it. Because he was angry and it wouldn't go away - it never went away. And he wanted things to be different so badly sometimes that he shook with it.

Sirius smiled when he pulled away, and it felt like a caricature, and it felt like a caricature - a lie. "This is all bollocks you know. We'll all be dead in a month." He half believed it. The same half of him thought it would be easier if he was right.

"Don't say that."

"I'll see you at the meeting."

His things shrunk down into one bag over his shoulder. The bike thrummed between his legs as he left, revving the engine's roar loud enough to drown anything else out as he drove away, leaving everything behind.
************

18. They Were Filed Away as Evidence.
"What do we do with this?" Kingsley Shacklebolt nodded toward the wall where worn parchment, words and drawings scattered all over it, hung on the wall.

Moody clumped heavily over, eye narrowing as he read. "Pull it down. Put it in as evidence. We'll check it for hidden runes."

Kingsley rolled his eyes, but agreed. The flat was empty, but they had to check anyway, and clean it of any trace before some muggle lived there. He had to check for anything Black might have left behind that could giveaway where the Death Eaters might have gone into hiding, even if he knew Black was too clever to have left something so obvious. "If it's clean, Lupin might-"

"Box it up," Moody said again, brusque and flat. No room for argument.

Kingsley considered, never one to bow easily, and then nodded, carefully undoing the sticking charm that held the rules in place.

He didn't think Lupin would want the reminder anyway.

~~~