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Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to.
Challenge & Summary: Challenge FM #11: Things certainly are different between them once Sirius. The war is over, but Sirius' return doesn't equate to a happy ending.
Author Notes: None
While Sirius breathes evenly in the slow rhythms of sleep, Remus takes hold of his arm and gently turns it up, pushing back the sleeve of his robe to reveal what he knows must be there. The sight of it makes him gasp all the same, burning black and seeming almost to pulse menacingly in time with the throb of Sirius' heart.
He reaches out with trembling fingers to touch it (strange how it only feels like skin beneath his hand) and Sirius startles awake, the whites of his wide eyes fairly glowing. They stare at each other for a heartbeat, and then Remus says Sirius, and Sirius says I can explain. No - I can't. I don't know. I. Moony -
Remus turns Sirius' arm back over, hiding the Mark, and lays it back in his lap. They're silent for a moment, and then he says, Tell me.
The second war ended a week before Remus' fortieth birthday.
Three months to the day after Harry's lavish state funeral, Rufus Scrimgeour sent Percy Weasley as an emissary to Voldemort, requesting a truce.
Six months after Ron and Hermione staggered up to Hogwarts' gates, bloodied and exhausted, carrying their best friend's body between them, the Ministry of Magic surrendered unconditionally to the Death Eaters. On the front page of the Prophet, a newly-freed Lucius Malfoy smiled as Scrimgeour formally handed over control of the protective charms on the Ministry offices. The wizarding public was assured in the accompanying article that the "transfer of power" would be entirely peaceful and present no disruption to their lives.
Scrimgeour was allowed to go free, spared from the brief but brutal spate of executions that followed. Arthur Weasley was one of the first to die.
A long moment passes before Sirius begins to speak, his voice low and haunted. I don't know the beginning, he says. I don't know how they brought me - he stops, and takes a deep breath. All I know is that one day, I woke up.
The Death Eaters took over the Ministry offices immediately. All of the employees who had worked there were dismissed, except for one department.
The Unspeakables simply vanished, the day that Voldemort took over.
From time to time there were whispers - rumours - of happenings in the Ministry offices. Tales spread of strange lights flickering late at night, of terrible researches taking place in the bowels of the building - but daily life was no different for the wizard on the street, and the rumours died down, eventually.
Sirius' voice falters. Remus lays a hand on his arm. What was it like? he asks. Sirius blinks at him, and then responds, I was in a bedroom. I think. There was a bed there, anyway, and I was lying on it. They were all around me, and I could feel - he gestures, at his arm, at the air, and laughs bitterly. It was already there. They'd already -
Remus interrupts him. No, he says quietly. What was it like - being -
Sirius tilts his head back and closes his eyes. I don't remember. Cold.
Not long after the Armistice (as the Prophet called it), Remus found Kingsley Shacklebolt on his doorstep. It took two cups of tea and an astonishing number of privacy charms (Remus had already become unused to the feel of a wand in his hand) before he would speak of more than the weather.
The remnants of the Order had formed a group to resist the "new regime", he said. Their initial goal was to get as many Muggleborns out of the country as they could, but they had grander aims for the long term.
After a suitable period of dancing around the subject, he asked Remus to join them. Remus nodded in all the right places and said he'd consider it, but a wave of exhaustion swept over him at the thought of yet another war. The last two had worn him nearly transparent, had lost him everything he'd ever wanted, and he didn't know if he dared to find out what the next one would cost. He sat, staring into the distance, for a long time after Kingsley left, thinking about right and wrong and the lengths he'd gone to disappear into the Muggle world.
One week later, Kingsley's body turned up, hanging from a lamppost in Diagon Alley.
They are silent for a long time after that. Remus' mind is spinning with questions - things he must know, things he doesn't want to know, and things he suspects he will never know. Eventually Sirius clears his throat. I didn't see James, he says. I thought I would - I think I looked for him, but - he wasn't there.
Remus slides the hand on Sirius' arm down to cover his hand, and gives it a squeeze. Sirius' hand turns upward, and his fingers curl around Remus'. I still don't know why they did this, he whispers. I don't know what he wants.
Hogwarts closed at the end of the war, seemingly for good. The castle became increasingly eccentric after Dumbledore's death, and on the day of the Armistice it simply…shut down. It permitted no one very far past the gates, now.
Shortly after the Armistice, Remus resumed using the Shack for his transformations, since his Muggle flat couldn't possibly contain a werewolf in full fury. There is no Wolfsbane anymore - only Voldemort's pack of bloodthirsty sycophants is allowed such a luxury. A bounty has been declared on all other werewolves.
Sometimes, on the mornings after the full moon, he sits and looks out the window at Hogwarts. Crows circle the towers ceaselessly, and probably nested in them as well. Once, he thought he saw a different sort of bird flying among them - one with such brightly colored plumage that it was noticeable even at that distance. He shut his eyes tightly and told himself it was only the glare of the sun.
Eventually Remus summons up the courage to ask, Did you see Harry? Sirius' breath catches in his throat. You mean - Harry's - ? he says hoarsely, and Remus can only nod. A couple of years ago, he says. How else do you think that they -
Sirius is completely still for a minute, and then he says, Oh, god. I didn't know. I didn't know. A deep, shuddering breath, and then - Who else? Remus squares his shoulders and begins recounting the litany of the lost and the fled.
Sirius is rigid throughout his recitation. When he finishes, trailing off into silence, he feels the body next to him shudder almost imperceptibly. So Hermione made it to America, Sirius says finally. She always was a smart one - the brightest witch of her - and then he crumples, curling in on himself, into Remus' side. God, Moony, what's happened to us all?
Remus pulls him closer, cradles the dark head against his shoulder, and stares determinedly at the wall, blinking against the stinging of his eyes. He's grieved too much already, he won't do it again.
I wasn't there, Sirius says brokenly against his shoulder. I should have been there.
Ssh, Remus says, stroking his hair, still staring at a fixed point in the distance. You're here now. You're here now.
When he woke up on the morning of his twenty-first transformation under Voldemort's reign, Sirius was there, wrapped around him and murmuring old, familiar words into his neck. The first time that he swam into consciousness, he was sure it was a dream; the same one that had tormented him for years now. It wasn't until his eyelids fluttered open for the second time, taking in the tousled weight still resting on his shoulder, that he began to believe that Sirius was real. In the aftermath of the change, however, sleep rose up and claimed him before he could connect all the pieces of the puzzle.
Awake for the third time and feeling likely to stay that way, he struggled into a semi-sitting position and stared down at Sirius' face, relaxed in sleep, looking almost as though he'd never been to Azkaban. Of its own volition, one of his hands came up to trace along a pale cheek, brush back a bit of dark hair. Sirius stirred under his caress, but didn't awaken.
They want me for something, Moony, Sirius whispers after a long period of silence. They've curled around each other in the old, familiar position, and if it weren't for - everything - they could be sixteen again. He - they didn't bring me back for a lark. They want me do something, only I don't know what it is. His voice breaks. I don't want to put you in danger - you know they'd love to find you -
Remus goes on stroking his hair and tries to hide the tremor in his hands. Kingsley's swollen-strangled face flashes before his eyes, and he squeezes them shut, saying, They won't. I'm good at hiding, Padfoot, you know that.
Sirius lurches up at that, pushing him back into the threadbare pillows, kissing him desperately. But what if they did? he asks, voice shaking. I couldn't - if you were -
Remus kisses him again to keep him from finishing his sentence.
For long minutes, Remus watched Sirius' chest rise and fall in the slow rhythm of sleep, and wondered what they were going to do next. From time to time, Sirius would shift slightly, pressing closer under Remus' cradling arm, muttering nonsense into his chest. Remus stared down at him, unblinking, seeing the careful plans he'd made for the rest of his life unravel. But somehow it seemed as if the resulting tangle was easier to navigate than the ruler-straight lines he'd laid out before. His lips quirked slightly, acknowledging the irony.
Then Sirius shifted again, and Remus caught a flash of something dark at the corner of his eye. For a long moment he simply froze; but then the old rumours and speculation spilled through his mind, and he reached for Sirius' arm. He had to know, even if he didn't really want to.
I have to go, Sirius whispers as the sky begins to lighten outside the tiny, dirty window. They'll be calling me soon - I have to go.
Remus flinches at the reminder of the brand that lies between them, stretched quiescent but malicious against Sirius' leg. Then go, he says, a little more harshly than he intends.
Not yet, Sirius says softly. First you have to - they can't find you, Moony, I won't let them. You have to help me keep you safe.
Remus shuts his eyes tightly. So this is goodbye, then? he says, as lightly as he can. You go your way and I go mine, and never the twain shall meet?
Sirius chuckles, and it's a choked, stifled sound. No - I hope not, he says, but you have to do something. He fumbles on the ground, coming up with Remus' wand. Untwining himself from their embrace, he presses it into Remus' hands. You know what you need to do with this. I never learned Occlumency. You have to - so they won't be able to -
Remus stares at him, reaching out to touch his cheek gently. Then how -
Sirius doesn't laugh this time, but his lips quirk ironically. I tracked you down this time, didn't I? His expression turns to one of pleading. Please, Moony. You know you have to do it, or they'll find you, as soon as I go back.
Remus looks out the window, watching the last of the stars fade into the glow of the coming dawn. At last, he heaves a sigh, and turns back to Sirius, raising his wand. I'll remember, he promises, uselessly.
Don't use the Shack again, Sirius cautions. It's too obvious. I can't believe - I'll find you, Moony.
Until then, Remus replies. A bitter smile twists his lips as he raises his wand.
As he Apparates away, his own voice echoes in his ears, over and over.
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