Shadows and Flesh

Author: Zeldadestry
Rating: PG
Archiving: All FQF will be archived solely at this site until August 31st, 2007. After that, it's yours to do with as you will.
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: FM11: A ghost--either a literal ghost or a metaphorical one--has to be exorcised by one or both of them. Sirius is haunted by the lure of what was and what might have been. Remus offers a reminder that he doesn't want to miss what's in front of him. Set during "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix".

"You need a shower, my friend."

Sirius smiled and looked up at Remus with bleary eyes. "Do I smell so bad? Should I be worried you're going to kick me out of my own bed?"

Remus tucked in at one of his armpits for a sniff. "You smell delicious, actually," he mumbled against Sirius's side. "Like yourself, only a little more so than usual. Concentrated Sirius." He pulled his head up, regarded Sirius again, narrowing his eyes in faux criticism. "I'm worried about your hair, frankly. You've let it get rather greasy. I don't fancy waking up in the middle of the night and thinking I've got Snape in bed with me."

"No worries there. You'd realize right away that my nose, while manly and strong, is lovely and perfectly proportioned to my face. Therefore I couldn't possibly be Snivellus."

Remus, who usually chastened Sirius for his indiscriminate use of the mean-spirited nickname, chose to let it pass without comment for once. He could hardly say anything without betraying himself a hypocrite, since he was the one who'd introduced the topic of Snape in the first place. "Who says your nose is lovely?" he teased.

"You did, once."

"That's hardly proof. I've told you that all of your bits are lovely, and certainly more than once."

"Besotted with me, are you?"

"I can't help it. It's a common affliction."

Sirius lowered his eyes. "Maybe it was."

A curious suspicion was beginning to bloom in Remus's mind. "Why were you so rude to Kingsley today?" he asked, being careful to speak evenly, without accusation. He had no wish to put Sirius on the spot; he suffered through enough well-intentioned harassment from Molly.

"Did he tattle on me? That git."

"But you'd always got on quite well. What changed?"

Sirius shied away from Remus, towards the corner where the bed met the wall, so that his face was hidden by the dark. The fire was dying down, and he had made no attempt to stoke it or light candles. "He stands too close to you," he muttered.

"Worried he's planning to fondle me once I'm distracted?"

"Don't play. He's interested in you."

"Doubt it. You're the one he's got pictures of all over his office. I rather envy him, actually. Gets to spend all day meditating on your stunning face."


"Can't help it. You're being ridiculous. I'm not interested in Kingsley Shacklebolt, I swear to you." Remus knew it was foolish, an indulgence scarcely worthy of a love-sick adolescent, but he was touched by Sirius's jealousy. He nuzzled closer, and Sirius had no space to retreat.

"It's not only him. There's Tonks..." he drifted off.

"Sirius. There's no one who compares to you, don't you know that? What's brought all this on?"

Sirius did not answer at first. Remus did not press him, simply stayed close until he spoke again, quietly, as though he were ashamed. "I'm not what I was."

"Who is? We've all changed."

"I'm less than I was."

"Don't say that." Words spitting into the dark, he sounded angry. He was angry. None of this. None of this. "I don't want you to say it. I don't want you to think it," he insisted. "Even if you were less, Sirius, you're not, do you hear me? But even if you were, you're who I want. You could be fading away, but as long as it was still you, as long as I could recognize you, I'd want you, I'd be yours, here with you."

"I don't know how you stand it here."

"It doesn't have bad memories for me. I didn't grow up here. I can't be hurt by it, not the way you can." Sirius hunched, made his body smaller, as though perhaps he felt safer when Remus seemed larger by comparison. They had always shared, Remus reflected, a strange and perfect balance. Sirius helped to take care of him in the days of the full moon, and he helped to take care of Sirius throughout all the remainder. In that way they would surely be able to get through all the months to come, together.

"I wish Harry could have stayed with us."

"You know he belongs at Hogwart's."

"Maybe it would have been better if we'd all been born Muggles?"

"Would you really want that?"

"Why not? Hell, if it would change things, if it would mean that we'd never even heard of Voldemort, that Lily and James could still be alive, hell, I'd wish it. I'd wish it more than anything."

He tried to picture the other world, the one Sirius was spinning. "But what if it was all the same? What if I weren't a werewolf, but I had some other affliction that made me ill, that made people spurn and distrust me? What if you had still been sent to prison for a crime you didn't commit? All of that could still have happened in the Muggle world. What if James and Lily really had died in a car accident, like those wretched Dursleys always told Harry?"

"Someday I hope I get the chance to wrap my hands around their despicable necks. If only we could have raised Harry together."

"He'd have preferred that as well, but we both know why Dumbledore placed him there."

"We could have been a family. Three brothers, James here again."

"Harry's his own man, Sirius. He's not James reincarnate."

"I know, Moony. I know. Can't I use metaphor, just for a lark? Can't I mean it as an idea, a notion, and not as fact? I know it's not fact."

Remus did not know what to say. He had hoped for so long, and it had never made the wolf go away. It had never made any difference. And yet he did understand how sweet these other lives might have been, he did. But he also recognized the danger in dwelling on them. "There's absolutely no guarantee that it would have been any better."

"Is that how you comfort yourself? Rather fatalistic, you realize."

"I call it realistic. Is this how you would rather live? Haunted always by the ghosts of what might have been, what could have been? Hell, Sirius, you didn't need the Dementors, did you? Could have kept you away from them, and you'd have still made yourself miserable, blaming yourself, imagining that if only you'd done something differently…if only. There's no one here tonight. Greyback changed my life. I won't say he ruined it. He's not here, in this room, is he? Voldemort, for all his power and all the misery he's wrought, he's not here, either. No one's in this room but me and you. That's all I want, right now. It's all I've got and it's all I want and I'm not going to deny it, I'm not going to deny you, you as you are, right now. How can you think I wouldn't want you because you're not as you were? What do I care how we were once? Are they here, in this room, Sirius, the younger you and the younger me, the days when we were happy and carefree? We were never happy and carefree, not like we imagine in retrospect. Nostalgia is so dangerous, Sirius. It'll strip us of everything that's in front of us, it'll leave our future in ruins before we ever even have a chance to approach it, destroy what we have now before we recognize it, appreciate it. There are no ghosts here. There are only the shadows. Shadows of what we were, yes, shadows of what we might have been. But of what use is a shadow? It can't touch or be touched. It's just a reflection, less than a reflection, an outline, showing none of the details that make life worth living, that make love worth the reach, the chance we take in daring for it. Imagine yourself, a you who never knew Azkaban. Imagine me without the wolf's bite. Imagine anything you want. But imagine it for too long and you'll lose this. Me as I am, you as you are. Is this why you're so afraid I can't love you as you are now, convinced that I dream of the old you, of your god damn shadow, and somehow find that preferable? Are you afraid because that's actually how you feel about me? That I would be easier to love, more worth loving, if I weren't sick and poor and beaten down by the struggle of being an outcast and harboring a monster underneath my very breast? Do you wish I were other than I am?"

"No. Remus, no! Of course not. I love you." He clutched Remus's hands tightly in his own.

"I'm glad you love me, but it means nothing unless you believe that I love you."

Remus's hands journey so slowly down Sirius's chest, and he will never mourn over all the hollows his fingertips find, all the places where the flesh of youth and health have melted away so that only bone remains underneath this soft skin. There is nothing to regret. There is nothing for which he longs. He has all he could ever need.

Sirius is with him.

"I believe you," Sirius whispers.

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