Lily doesn’t talk about it for some time.
They’re in the kitchen, washing dishes. Cleaning charms have never been one of Sirius’s strengths, and Lily prefers to do it the Muggle way, so it’s a routine they’ve fallen into most nights. Something about the repetition and the lemon-scented soap calms her, even though Sirius has never seen what’s so calming about scraping bits of other people’s food off plates. He’s never been the squeamish type, but this, he finds unbearably disgusting.
She fills the basin with hot water and bubbles, plunges her hands in and methodically scrubs while he stands by with a towel, waiting to dry. The sun is setting in a bruise-colored smear out the window, and frost is starting to creep over the pane. It’s well into December and there’ll be snow, soon. In the other room, Harry’s banging a wooden spoon against a pot and giggling. Sirius supposes that, along with her eyes, the ability to entertain oneself with cookware must be something Lily passed down.
“I was in the backyard,” Lily says.
“Lily?” he asks, carefully. She’s become absentminded in the last month. She puts toothpaste in the icebox and eggs in the bathroom cabinet, and she’s prone to starting conversations from the middle. The first time Sirius asked what the hell she was on about, she burst into tears.
Since then, he makes an effort to go along and catch up as best he can. Patience has never come easy to Sirius, but he tries. He’s trying.
“I’m not going crazy, Padfoot, don’t say my name like that.” Lily keeps her eyes on the sink. She’s stopped washing up by now, her hands dangling limply in the warm water, hidden by the suds. “I was in the backyard. It was very warm, that morning, so we’d taken Harry out to play in the leaves. I’d left some things out - the blanket, toys. A few books. But it started getting cold again at night and I wanted to get them inside. In case of frost.”
Her voice is steady and calm and Sirius realizes, suddenly, what’s happening.
In all the time he’d spent wondering when she’d bring it up, he never stopped to consider that when she was ready to tell it, he might not be ready to hear it.
“James said he’d put Harry to bed, so I kissed them both and went out the back door. I don’t think it was very long. I suppose Harry’s window must have been open, because I heard James - ”
Her voice hitches, but when she turns to meet Sirius’s stare, her eyes are clear.
“‘You keep the hell away from my son,’” she tells him, not without a trace of pride. “That’s what he said.”
“Sounds like Prongs,” Sirius says. His own voice sounds hoarse in his ears. “Sounds just like him.”
Lily smiles, just for a moment. “I looked up, then. I don’t think I understood what was happening until I saw the green light. Stupid of me, really, didn’t even have my wand on me. I didn’t start running until - I didn’t believe it til then. But by the time I got upstairs - it was all over, by the time I got upstairs.”
The dishes are still at the bottom of the sink when Lily takes her hands out of the water. Her skin is fishbelly white and very wrinkled. Sirius reaches for her hands, pressing them between his. He can feel her wedding ring wedged against his thumb.
“I didn’t even know Harry was still alive until you came,” she whispers. “Half the roof blown off, and he was wailing in his crib, Sirius, but I couldn’t hear him.”
James, he thinks, and something surges hot and painful in his chest. James would know what to say to her.
Except he’s not James and he has no idea, so he gives Lily a pull and she tumbles into his arms. He holds her, and she nestles against him, and there’s no comfort to be found in it. It’s a sorry excuse for a hug.
But neither of them cry, and these days, that counts for something. These days, they’ll take what they can get.
But Lily can’t stand the way the world behaves as though her son somehow belongs to them. So it means she stays in, draws the shades, and sets wards and charms and hexes over every inch of the building. Obsessively, Sirius thinks, but some nights it’ll be three in the morning and he’ll find himself going over all her spellwork, strengthening it, needing to be useful.
She stays in, and so it falls to him to do the shopping and run the errands.
He sometimes wonders what’s happened to him in the last few months, when he catches his reflection in the window of Flourish and Blotts and can’t recognize himself for a full fifteen seconds. Same haircut, same chiseled features, same battered black motorbike jacket, but without so much as a swagger in his walk. For a moment, he’s convinced it’s someone else.
There’s nothing wild and rough in that boy’s face. It’s been stripped of all the arrogance he used to wear like a second skin.
And the anger, that’s gone, too. That simmering undercurrent of rage that’s been there ever since he recognized his family for the miserable lot they were, the rage that boiled over so easily and threaded its way down his arms, along his fingertips and expelled itself through his wand on anyone foolish enough to provoke it.
The Sirius Black of old would not have tolerated James’s death. Never. He would have taken it all in - Prongs, Wormtail’s betrayal, his own moronically complicit share in it, and he would have ripped the world apart until, everything, everything bore the weight of his fury. He’d have been reckless, blind with mad, seething hatred, he’d have torn down the sky and drowned it in the ocean. He’d have ripped himself apart and he wouldn’t have cared so long as he could make something or someone pay.
There’d been a moment, when he’d reached Godric’s Hollow on his motorbike, when the rage roared so loudly through his ears that he couldn’t see or hear or breathe and all he could think of was everything he’d do to Wormtail when he found him. He’d make it slow, he’d make it last, he’d make Wormtail feel every second of it. He was ready give over and let that rage devour him whole.
Then Lily had grabbed his wrist.
She’d whispered “Don’t leave, don’t leave,” in a cracked, broken voice that sounded nothing like the Lily Potter who used to threaten to transfigure his eyelashes into tentacles if he didn’t behave himself.
So he didn’t. He stayed as something deep down inside of him whispered it’s what Prongs would need you to do, stay with them. Stay, hold on.
And now he doesn’t have room left inside him. Wormtail’s rotting in Azkaban. James is rotting in the ground. They’ve buried their dead, the world has moved forward, and now there’s Lily to think of, Lily and Harry both. There’s groceries to be bought, clothes to be washed, lives to be lived. They both need looking after, and James has gone where he can’t do it himself.
Padfoot, house-broken at last, he thinks with a smile, only it’s not very amusing. He’ll never get used to that, the way the world’s moved on, when for himself and Lily, it’s at a standstill.
He’s been staring in the window for so long that it takes him a moment to realize that someone’s staring back from the other side.
Remus’s face is familiar as it ever was. Sirius knows every expression, every quirk of the lips and furrowing of the eyebrows. And beneath the shabby, patched coat, Sirius knows his body just the same, every freckle and mark and scar. Well-loved and well-learned over the years, and for a wild second, Sirius thinks if he could just reach out and put his arms around him, everything else would be forgiven. Forgotten. How could it not be, when he knows every inch of him? How could Remus ever be a stranger when Sirius knows the taste of his skin?
When Remus emerges from the bookshop, though, he stands a few feet away. There’s a noticeable chasm of space between them, space that never would have been there before - before, and Sirius remembers that this is only now.
“Sirius,” Remus says, stiffly. “Hello.”
“Remus,” he returns, and the silence stretches on.
There’s things that can’t be forgotten, and one of those is the person you loved thinking you were a spy for the other side. Believing you were plotting to bring down everyone you cared for to save your own neck.
And it doesn’t make it better that it was both of them, both quietly suspecting it of each other. Just means there was something fundamentally wrong there in the first place. Something had to have been broken long before Voldemort slipped in.
“How’s Lily bearing up?” Remus asks, after a moment.
Sirius shrugs. “Well enough,” he says, because it’s easier than the truth, which is that the only reason she’s hanging on is because Lily’s always had that remarkable well of courage and tenacity. Anyone else would have shattered ages ago.
Remus clears his throat. “I’d like to see her,” he says, quietly. “Her and Harry both. I’d like that very much.”
A sudden, sick wave of regret and sorrow crashes through Sirius’s stomach. They were Moony’s friends, too. Moony lost Prongs just as much as they all did, he’s grieving just as deeply. But he hasn’t been round to see Lily and Harry because they’re living with Sirius.
As petty as it is in times like these, that is a remarkably clear indication of who got to keep the friends in the split. Even if it was only by default.
They should have all pulled together, afterwards. The survivors huddling close and clinging to each other. But in the past few years, Sirius has learned that they way things should happen is never the way they end up. Not in real life. These splintered little factions are where they’ve landed.
They don’t know each other anymore. Maybe they never did.
Remus looks even more pale and peaky than he used to, he thinks. The last time Sirius saw him, Remus was making a last sweep of the flat they’d shared, ensuring he’d left nothing behind with his face impassive, and Sirius had wanted to rage and swear and curse him and snog him and in the end, he’d just stood there, shaking with impotent rage at the whole bloody fuck of a situation. Not even a smart parting remark to go out on, because what was there to say? What could there ever be to say?
Several full moons have passed since then and he’d once promised that Remus would never have to be alone for them again.
“Well, you ought to, then,” Sirius says shortly. “‘Spect she’d be glad of some company. We don’t get out much.”
“I’ll owl first,” Remus offers.
Sirius nods. “Do that,” he says, and Disapparates for home. He can’t stand this feigned politeness any longer.
The first time Sirius sees Snape at an Order meeting, he hears Mad-Eye bellow “Stupefy!” and for a split second, wonders where that was directed.
Then he’s thrown off his feet and smashed unceremoniously against the wall.
When he comes to, his head is in Lily’s lap. Remus is hovering near anxiously, but as soon as Sirius locks eyes with him, he retreats back to a corner.
His entire body feels like one enormous bruise. He’s taken Stunners before, but Mad-Eye’s always come with some extra vigor. “Not on, mate,” he groans. “Not fucking on.”
“Killing Curse was halfway out of your mouth, lad,” Mad-Eye growls, although he sounds faintly approving. “You and your rage blackouts, they’ll get you killed one of these days.”
Sirius looks at Lily, dumbfounded. He doesn’t even remember drawing his wand. But Lily just sighs and cards her fingers through his hair, in a surprisingly motherly fashion. Sometimes he forgets that they’re both just barely into their twenties.
When he finally sits up, Snape is glaring at him from across the room. Sirius feels his upper lip curl back in a doglike snarl, scrambling for his wand. He suddenly knows exactly why an Unforgivable flew from his lips on instinct, that bastard is the reason James is dead, he’s the reason Voldemort marked the Potters in the first place, it’s his fault, his fault, his -
But his wand isn’t there, and when he looks around the room, he can see Frank Longbottom’s got ahold of it, looking at him with an expression so much like pity that Sirius starts quivering with fury.
“What in the good fucking fuck are you on about, Dumbledore? What’s Snivellus doing in with the Order?” he shouts, staggering to his feet. Lily tucks herself under his arm to support him, which he appreciates, as he’s having some trouble staying upright.
“I was getting to that, Sirius, before your somewhat overly dramatic entrance,” Dumbledore says patiently, and for a second, Sirius hates him. Not that he counts Dumbledore much among his friends these days anyway, as Remus wasn’t the only one who suspected Sirius of betrayal.
But when Lily squeezes his hand, he sits down. He behaves himself like a good boy, like a dog on a leash, even when he’s thrumming with so much hatred that he can barely hear Dumbledore’s explanations and plans.
It’s almost pleasant, the outrage. He recognizes this version of himself more than he does the one who spends his days changing nappies and soothing tears and reading That’s Not My Hippogriff! aloud so many times that he can recite the bloody thing from memory.
It settles him, a bit, that Lily won’t acknowledge Snape’s existence. He’s clearly desperate for a chance to wheedle and snivel his way back into her good graces, constantly trying to catch her eyes, and it’s only fanning the hatred inside Sirius, flaring hotter and hotter in his belly as the meeting drags on.
Snape is glad James is dead, Sirius knows it, he can tell. He’s downright gleeful. If Snape could have managed to off little Harry as well, Sirius is sure he would have, and if Lily gives him so much as an inch, he’ll turn her out of the flat, he swears he will, if she forgives that murderous greasy bastard, he’ll never speak a word to her again. He’s lost enough friends, he’s lost James, he’s lost Moony, he’s aces at losing people by now.
But her green eyes are frosted glass, impenetrable and stormy.
As soon as the meeting is over, she turns her back on Snape. She takes Sirius’s hand very deliberately, and he doesn’t miss the way Snape’s whole body flinches at the gesture.
For all Sirius is relieved, there’s something chilling about that look on her face. Sweet-natured Lily, who has always been so full of love and laughter, is as hard and cold and remote as an ice sculpture. With startling clarity, he realizes that if Mad-Eye hadn’t hit him with that Stunner, the girl who always dueled to capture instead of kill would have been extremely pleased with the end result.
“It’s not healthy,” Emmeline Vance mutters to McGonagall, who doesn’t comment, but purses her lips in a way that meant she agrees. “Closing themselves off - circle of two - ”
He thinks about trying to explain. Then he thinks: the hell with it. Sirius has seen what happens when the circle is allowed to be any bigger than that. Bully for them if they haven’t.
Sirius is sleeping in front of the hearth, warming himself in Padfoot’s body. He sleeps easier as a dog than as a human lately, and anyway, it delights Harry to no end, watching him transform back and forth.
There’s no audible noise, not anything specific he can point to. But his senses are different as a dog, fine-tuned to intrusions, and his hackles raise on their own accord before he’s even fully awake.
They’ve done the best they can when it comes to protective enchantments, but there’s always a way to pick through, if you’ve the time and you’re determined enough. And he’s aware of it on a cellular level, the careful, measured chipping at his own spellwork.
There’s not enough time to call the rest of the Order. He transforms back, snatches his wand and rushes to his bedroom, where Lily’s sleeping sprawled across the entire bed, limbs splayed like a starfish. Harry’s tucked up against her side, sucking his thumb. He looks so peaceful and content that for a second, Sirius hesitates to wake them. Funny, after all this time, how his heart can still ache when he looks at Harry’s small, trusting face.
When his senses come back to him, he roughly shakes Lily’s arm, jerking her more harshly than he means to. Her green eyes blink at him uncomprehendingly until he growls “Death Eaters. Here.”
And then she’s all action, throwing back the covers in one burst, nightgown fluttering around her legs as she leaps to her feet. “How long?” she snaps.
“A minute, maybe less.” Sirius’s blood is fairly singing at the prospect of a battle, but it’s getting Harry out that’s the problem. The flat’s not connected to the Floo network and they’ve warded it impossible to Apparate in or out, for obvious reasons. He can’t believe they’ve been so foolish as to not make a plan in case this happened. “Better to stand and fight. They’ll only follow.”
Harry yawns, one chubby little fist coming up to rub the sleep from his eyes. “Mama?” he mumbles as Lily bends to scoop him into her arms.
“Hush, my darling,” Lily says as she reaches for her wand. “Drop the wards, Padfoot.”
“Lily - ”
“Can you hold them off?” she asks sharply.
“Do thestrals take invisible shits?” he scoffs, and despite the situation, she grins, a fierce, joyful grin.
“I’ll come back, I’ll - ” Lily starts to say, but she’s interrupted by a thunderous crash from the main door of the flat.
“You’ll keep our Harry safe,” Sirius says, “that’s what you’ll bloody do, now go!” He slashes his wand through the air, and the pair of them are gone from his sight.
The world caves in the moment he lets the last of the wards fall.
Jets of light are shooting everywhere, ripping holes in the furniture, scorching marks along the wallpaper, and Sirius gives a wild, glorious yell before hurling himself headlong into the fray. It’s one against four, but Sirius thinks he’s worth at least two and a half on his best day, and they’d clearly been counting on the element of surprise. Odds are as fair as he could hope for, he thinks, even as dust rains down from the ceiling and glass explodes off to his left.
“Brave of you to show your face, Bellatrix,” he sneers as he faces his cousin. She’s flanked by her husband, his brother, and a blonde, weedy bloke he can’t quite place. They’re not even wearing masks.
“We’ve come for the boy,” she snarls.
“And you’ll take him over my dead body.”
“That can be arranged,” Rodolphus says, but Sirius is faster, and even as Rodolphus opens his mouth for a curse, his spine breaks with a horrible crack, his body pretzeling into a direction it was never meant to go. He whimpers out a wretched yowling noise, rather like a dying cat and shudders through terrible, involuntary twitches as he drops to the floor.
Rabastan lets out an unearthly wail and falls to his brother‘s side. Sirius barely escapes the jet of light that erupts from the end of Bellatrix’s wand.
“Not my fault your husband was always shit at nonverbals!” he yells. His blood is the same as hers, after all - cold, ruthless, Black blood, and he knows that she underestimated his capacity for cruelty. Himself, he prefers to think of it as pragmatism.
Their duel is swift and ferocious, the weedy bloke barely getting a chance to jump in. Bellatrix hates Sirius as much as he hates her. She mourns for her precious Dark Lord the way he mourns for James.
But he’s holding his own, he’ll be fine until Lily sends reinforcements.
Until Bellatrix taunts “Ever seen a toddler hit with Cruciatus, dear cousin?” and in that moment, his rage renders him blind, renders him careless enough for her to get the drop on him. She turns her wand on him and shrieks “Crucio!”, fiercely triumphant as he falls to his knees.
He doesn’t want to give her the satisfaction of screaming.
But it’s the Cruciatus and he has no choice. She starts and stops and starts again, giggling madly every time he howls, she’s stringing it along. She won’t try to wheedle any information out of him until she’s finished punishing him, this blood traitor cousin of hers, and knowing Bella, that could take days.
And somehow beneath it all is a grim satisfaction, even as the flesh is flayed from his body in strips, nerve endings doused in flame, razors burrowing through his insides.
Through the haze, he can hear Rabastan wheezing with laughter. He deserves this, if not for the reasons Bella’s doing it but he still deserves this and worse, he got his best friend killed and he’s finally being punished, it’s his fault, more than Snape, more than Wormtail, it’s all down to him, it was him, it’s -
“Oh, Sirius,” she says, her round, pleasant face creased with concern. Her black hair is pulled into a no-nonsense plait that hangs down her back. He used to think she was far too kindly to be any use as an Auror, but over the years, she’s proven him dead wrong ten times over. She’s one of the best they’ve got. “Thank heavens you’re all right.”
“Lily,” he says, and tries to launch himself from the bed. His limbs are curiously heavy. “Lily - Harry - ”
“They’re fine, Sirius, both of them, they’re just fine,” Alice promises, settling a hand on his chest to keep him firmly on the bed. “I promise you, they’re all right.”
There’s something in her tone he doesn’t like, but struggling to sit up appears to have sapped all his energy. He settles for glaring at her accusingly.
“I’m not meant to tell you anything until you’ve rested,” she says sternly, interpreting his look. “Dumbledore made me swear.”
“Sod….Dumbledore,” he croaks. “They’re my family.”
Alice sighs and reaches out to smooth down his hair, the same way he’s seen her do to her little boy - Melvin? Melville? He wonders if that’s something they teach you in Mum Training. Lessons he’s certain his own she-devil of a mother must have skivved.
“They’re fine,” she repeats. “They’ve been staying with us. Harry and Neville get on so sweetly, it’s no trouble. Dumbledore is - he’s worried for Lily, a bit, but that’s all. You ought to relax, get your strength up.”
Alice looks around for a moment, then presses her lips together. She draws her wand to flick an Impeturbable about the bed curtains, ensuring privacy, then leans in closer. “It was the Lestranges what attacked you,” she says. “And Barty Crouch’s boy. Best we can figure, they came for Harry and information on Voldemort’s whereabouts. Lily brought Harry to Remus Lupin’s flat - and she had a devil of a time convincing him to stay put when he heard you were in trouble, Sirius, I’ll never understand why the two of you won't - ”
“Yes, yes, sorry.” Alice draws a deep, steadying breath. “Lily went back to you fast as she could, left it to Lupin to sound the alarm, and when she got there…”
A hundred scenarios, each worst than the last, all tumble through his head. Panic swells in his chest and every question he has sticks in his throat.
“They’re all dead,” Alice says, very quietly. “All but Crouch, who ran. Didn’t get far, he’s awaiting trial, but the Lestranges…she caught all three of them with a single curse. And she didn’t just - she annihilated them, Sirius. The biggest bit we found of Bellatrix was her thumb.”
From the look in Alice’s eyes, Sirius can tell that he is supposed to be deeply troubled by this news.
Apparently ‘Well done, Lily!’ is not the appropriate response.
“And Dumbledore’s quite concerned,” she goes on. “The old Lily would never have - you know as well as I do…”
She keeps talking, but Sirius tunes her out and lets his gaze drift toward the window. The old Lily, he thinks, had never cradled the lifeless, broken body of her husband in her arms. The old Lily thought she was safe inside the love and loyalty of a friend. The old Lily didn’t witness several attempts to torture and murder her toddler. The old Lily knew what it meant to be in a war, but she had never known what it meant to be completely helpless.
He misses the old Lily, too.
But she’s still his Lily, and he doesn’t begrudge her bloody, messy revenge on however many Death Eaters she chooses. She’s entitled. Whatever she takes from them, as far as Sirius is concerned, it’ll never be enough.
Let Dumbledore have his lofty ideals, he thinks. Let him give his pretty speeches about honor. And let the rest of us be. Just let us be.
The silence isn’t uncomfortable, just extremely heavy, and Sirius is the first to break it.
“I do love you, you know,” he tells him.
Remus smiles, a little. “Likewise, Padfoot.”
“Be nice if that made a difference, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, it would,” Remus says, and reaches out to lace his fingers through Sirius’s.
They stay like that for a long time.
Moony’s gone by the morning, and when the Healers come through to make their early inspection, Sirius bellows at them until they retreat from his room.
“No charge for injuries in the line of bravery. You’re a right hero, you are, sir,” a young Healer chirps, beaming at him with her eyes shining brightly. Once upon a time, Sirius would have eaten up the attention. He’d have framed every fan letter and devoted a whole room in the flat to them. He would have winked at this girl and given her something to blush about.
Once upon a time.
He supposes they ought to think about getting a real house, soon. Harry’s getting bigger and he ought to have a backyard to play in, some pets to run around with. Perhaps a village with some children close by. He thinks the Weasleys have a son about Harry’s age, and there’s always the Longbottom boy.
Strange to think about it, buying a house with Lily, as though he’s woken from a long sleep to find himself married with no recollection of how he got there. Strange to be so personally involved with Harry’s playdate prospects, rather than offering sarcastic commentary before hurrying home to shag his boyfriend.
But the alternative - a future where Lily and Harry live somewhere else, somewhere that’s not with him, it seems inconceivable and awful.
When he lets himself in the door, Lily’s frying sausages and Harry’s playing with his Baby’s First Snitch, so worn out that the wings barely ruffle the fringe of his messy black hair.
“Pa-foo!” Harry sings excitedly, holding out his arms to be picked up. Sirius smiles and obliges, balancing the boy on his hip. Harry’s already heavier than he was just a month ago. He can’t get over how fast babies grow.
Lily turns around from the stove, wiping her hands on her robes. She arches her chin at him, a little proudly, defiantly. Daring him to comment on her bout with the Lestranges. She’s been on the receiving end of more than a few well-meaning conversations with other Order members since he’s been away, he knows.
Perhaps it’s time they stopped attending Order meetings altogether, he thinks.
“Well?” she says crisply.
Sirius walks over and gives her a very chaste kiss on the cheek. “Smells good,” is all he says. “You’re doing fine, Potter. You’re absolutely fine.”
“I am,” Lily agrees, reaching out to rumple up Harry’s already messy hair. “I am indeed.”