Whither Thou Goest
Archiving: All FQF will be archived solely at this site until September 30th, 2004. At that point, the author may post the fic elsewhere or may be contacted to have this fic archived at different sites if they so choose.
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: NewMoon 29: Sirius is forced to flee the British Isles in order to escape recapture. He hasn't covered his trail as well as he thinks he has....
Author Notes: Thank you to Rynne and Gehayi for the beta comments.
Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge... Ruth 1:16
There were stars all around him. Lashed and buffeted by the fierce northern wind, Sirius could only note their presence and marvel at them in the vague, dreamy way he had come to marvel at all the things Azkaban had denied him. Below, the mountains jutted like teeth into the sky. He kept to the mountains because they were sparsely populated, and the high wind hid his passage from any who might still be following. He travelled by night, and spent the shortening daylight hours asleep, in dog-form, while the hippogriff hunted for goats and other prey.
He dreamed very seldom, but when he did, his dreams were full of sightless eyes the colour of melted wax, and grey, grasping fingers, and breath that rattled like dry bones. He always woke screaming, but unable to hear his screams for the wind racing through the peaks. Then, he wanted someone. Desperately. Anyone. Remus would have been his first choice, but if, one evening, after such a dream, he had woken to the sight of Snape, he would have thrown himself at the man and been grateful only for another human body, warm and solid, and standing between him and what he fled.
Sometimes he wished that Remus had never touched him.
After twelve years in Azkaban, he had forgotten what it was like to be held, that bodies fit together so well, chin to shoulder, hip to hip. The Dementors had taken the memory from him quite early, and he had not missed it because no matter how much he had wanted Remus, he could not bring himself to want him there. Not while he huddled in his lonely cell, clinging to his innocence and trying to block out the insane mutterings of the other prisoners. Not during those frantic months in the wilderness following his escape, with the Dementors and the Ministry of Magic nipping at his heels. Not again until that night in the Shrieking Shack when Remus had seen him, and understood, and yanked him to his feet and into a sheltering embrace.
Oh, this, he’d had time to think. Oh, I forgot there was this--
And then the girl had screamed, shattering the moment.
Now his body stung with the memory of contact, and now he wanted it more than anything, and that made everything worse.
On such evenings, after waking from such dreams, once he had finished screaming he would wrap his arms around his knees and clench his body tightly against memory, against desire, against everything but hope. Then he would wait for Buckbeak to return.
He began to spend more time aloft. At first he’d worried about the strain on the hippogriff, but Buckbeak’s energy seemed boundless. His own, unfortunately, was beginning to flag. He knew he ought not to push himself beyond his limits, that he ought to risk going down into one of the mountain villages if only for a day or two, but he stubbornly pushed on. If he stopped now he might not be able to start again. If he saw people, heard their voices, he might not be able to leave them.
Sometimes he made no effort to direct the hippogriff, but let him go where he would, trusting his instincts to keep them both alive. He simply clung to his neck, his cheek pressed against the sleek feathers, and watched, half-interestedly, as the night roiled around him like dark waves, and the stars wheeled and tossed like foam.
One such night in late June, as the moon was waning and they were passing over a mountain range in what Sirius supposed was the middle of Russia, it began to rain fiercely. Buckbeak squawked indignantly. Sirius only laughed as the freezing wind tore through his hair and robes.
He had to laugh because there was nothing else he could do. This wind was as cold as a Dementor’s breath. It would slash through his skin, pick away his bones, find his soul and throw it against the mountains, to be ripped apart. And he didn’t care. It only made him a little sad to think of Harry, who believed in him, and whom he was failing yet again.
They were circling downward. Sirius was only vaguely aware of this. By the time they alighted on a ledge somewhat out of the wind, he was so far gone it scarcely registered in his mind that they were no longer flying. Then Buckbeak was kneeling, and Sirius was sliding off his back to land in a heap of rags and matted hair, on the cold stones.
He laughed again because he wasn’t dead, though, really, by now he ought to be--and also because Buckbeak was now bending over him, and his feathers tickled.
He owed his life to Buckbeak, who protected him as a mother hen would her chick, spreading his great wings over him, sheltering him from the wind and rain. As it was, he was feverish long before dawn, his body alternately freezing and burning, his limbs trembling. At first he thought it would pass with the storm and the night, but then he began to hallucinate.
He knew he was hallucinating because the eyes gazing down into his were brown like Remus’, not gold like the hippogriff’s. Remus could not be here because he was high in the mountains, thousands of kilometres from everything, and he had ordered Remus not to follow him.
But real or not, it was pleasant to look up into those dark, caring eyes, soothing to hear that soft, deep voice assure him that everything would be all right.
He did not protest when an arm wrapped itself around his shoulders and he felt himself being lifted. This was infinitely better than reality, and if he died this way, he thought, even if none of it was real, well, that would not be so terrible.
He felt the hippogriff’s broad back beneath him again, and Remus’ slender arms still held him close. He sagged in the embrace, his head on the other man’s chest, and drifted to sleep, hoping that if he woke again it would be to this delirium.
He opened his eyes to find himself lying on something soft. Snow? But it wasn’t cold. Perhaps his body had become so numb that he no longer felt cold. Everything ached. Even his ears throbbed with pain. But there were still arms around him, and those arms were attached to a warm, thin body curled against Sirius’ own. Warm breath brushed the back of his neck, stirred his hair.
Sirius wanted to turn over, wanted to see Remus, even if it was only his fevered imagination, but it hurt even to think about moving and he was so tired.
So instead he let his mind wander back over the years. He thought about Remus, and he also thought, If I die right now, or very soon, his face will be the last thing I see, even if it’s only in my mind, and that won’t be such a terrible thing.
If you passed him on the street you would not accord him a second glance. Unless, of course, your gaze met his, and you saw how dark his eyes were -- so dark against that pale skin -- and you saw the mischief in them, and the intelligence, and the passion. Or you caught a flash of his smile. Or a flick of his long, beautiful hands. Or you happened to notice that he moved with a wolf’s quick, smooth grace. Then you’d look again. Then you’d never want to look away and you’d wonder how any sane human being could ever dismiss him as plain.
And then to have him, to win him, to talk with him, make love to him -- That was grace of another sort.
Sirius had known it. Despite all his idiotic blundering, his blindness, his arrogance, despite Remus’ justifiable wariness, they had both known that other, rarer kind of grace. For two years Sirius had basked in it. For two years they had loved each other equally. It had been like a fire burning through both of them, scorching everything inconsequential. For two brief years.
Too brief, thought Sirius. But that time had existed.
In Azkaban he’d only been able to remember the bad things: the doubts, the betrayals, the casual cruelties they had dealt each other. The quarrels, the drunken nights alone, the fucking, the hurting. But the other things were there, too, folded away in a corner of his heart he had not dared explore or even acknowledge in prison. Here were the sunlit mornings that sprawled into sunlit afternoons. Here were the crisp autumn nights spent bundled together by the fireplace. Here was the good sex, the truly awful poetry, the love letters scribbled in the margins of books, the casual touches, the scritches behind the ears. They were all there, hazy with time, but real, and Sirius would have sobbed with relief, had he the strength.
How long did it take a man to freeze to death? An ill, exhausted, rake-thin man, with only his torn robes and a hippogriff’s wing between him and the elements? Not very long, surely. But long enough for one good memory, perhaps? Or two?
But, how to choose? They lay like long-buried treasure, glistening as he sifted through them. There were so many of them, and they were all precious. How could he choose?
It hurt to move. It felt like he was being kicked by thousands of small, metal-toed boots, but he bent his arms under his body and pushed himself over onto his back. He turned his head and opened his eyes and looked at the face of the man lying beside him.
It was Remus, as he’d appeared that night in the Shrieking Shack: older, haggard, greying. His eyes were closed, his brows drawn together, the corners of his mouth down-turned.
Sirius wondered what he was dreaming.
Wake up, he wanted to say, but his throat was too dry; he could only mouth the words soundlessly. Open your eyes. Please, Remus.
Panic gripped him, then, and shook him. Remus, he tried to communicate silently. Remus, please. I’m dying. Look at me. Even if none of this is real, please look at me and tell me who I am to you, before I die. Please…
Remus dreamed. He and Sirius were in the Forbidden Forest and the trees had become Dementors. There were hundreds of them, closing in on them. Their hooded forms rose tall, choking the sky and choking the breath from Remus’ lungs.
Sirius lay in his arms, either sleeping or dead. Remus did not know. He was pale as bone, and cold. Remus shook him, urged him to wake, but he remained limp.
The Dementors drew closer.
Remus’ wand was in his pocket, but to reach it he would have to let go of Sirius with one hand. He clutched the other man and faced the Dementors unaided.
“You can’t have him,” he snarled. “Get away from him!”
He heard the rattling breath, saw the wasted, withered hands rise to push back their hoods…
“No!” he screamed. “You can’t have him! I was wrong, before. He’s innocent. Do you understand me? Get away! You don’t need him! I need him--I do.”
Sirius was slipping from him. Remus grabbed at him desperately and knew what was going to happen. The Dementors would administer the fatal Kiss, would suck Sirius’ soul from his body and in so doing as good as rip Remus’ heart from his chest.
Where was help? Where was his Patronus?
“You can’t have him,” he muttered, choking on the chilled, foul air, doubling over Sirius, shielding him. “Get away from him. I need him, you can’t have him.” He felt the swirl of cloaks above him. Wandless, he rasped, “Expecto… Expecto Patronum, Expecto…”
He woke with a gasp, and it was a moment before he knew where he was. The air was bitterly cold, and the darkness still seemed to churn with the Dementors’ shrouds.
But he was not lying in the Forbidden Forest. He was lying in the bed he’d transfigured, in the cave he’d carved in the mountain to shelter himself, Sirius, and the hippogriff. Sirius still lay limp in his arms, but he wasn’t cold. He was hot and his eyes were wide open, staring into Remus’ face as though searching for something there.
It wasn’t Dementors circling them, coursing over them. It was years. Heavy and cruel, they pushed between the two men, striving to separate them, striving to render them unrecognisable to each other. Sirius looked as though he were drowning.
So, Remus called to him.
First he said, “Sirius,” because that was who he had always been. Sirius. The Dog Star. The brightest star. The scorching one.
Then, when the black lashes twitched and the blue eyes only stared imploringly, Remus called him, “Padfoot,” because that was who he had become. Padfoot. Pack-mate. Friend.
That word too seemed to sink into Sirius as uselessly as a stone dropped into the sea. So Remus drew a shaky breath, lifted a hand to comb the tangled hair back from Sirius’ face, and called him, “Beloved,” because that was who he would always be, even if worse things than twelve empty years came between them.
A spell seemed to break. Sirius’ lips parted and tried to form a word, but he couldn’t quite get it out. He rasped, so Remus leaned over his side of the bed and rummaged in his rucksack, quickly, for his water flask. Finding it, he turned back to Sirius and, wrapping an arm supportively around the other man’s thin shoulders, helped him drink. He noted, as he did, that Sirius’ skin was cooler than it had been when Remus had found him in the snow, hours ago. That was a great relief. So was the easy rise and fall of his chest, and the fact that he had the strength to push the flask away after he’d had enough.
Remus put the flask aside and took Sirius in both of his arms. He was still very weak, but there was recognition in his eyes, and when he opened his mouth this time, he was able to speak.
“Really you?” he whispered.
“Really me,” Remus assured him. Then, because he was able to guess Sirius’ next question, “Yes, I got your owl. I know you said not to try to follow you, but I had to. I accepted your apology back at Hogwarts. I realised as I was leaving that I can’t accept your forgiveness. Not yet. I doubted you for twelve years,” he continued, stroking Sirius’ brow and marvelling at the fact that it did not feel strange, even after so much time. “There was so much evidence against you. There was no trial, and part of me -- Merlin, part of me was glad.” He shuddered as he said the words. They sickened him; he could hardly bear to admit them to Sirius. But the other man deserved to know.
“I was glad,” he said again, softly. “Part of me, at least. I was such a coward. I thought -- I tried to tell myself -- that you belonged to a chapter of my life that was over. I didn’t want to look back, even on the parts that had seemed wonderful. And a trial would have required that. I’d have had to testify, and--”
He broke off, wretchedly. Sirius continued to watch him.
Buckbeak, roused by their voices, lifted his head and blinked his large yellow eyes at them, slowly.
Sirius looked away from Remus. “Beaky,” he said quietly.
Remus inclined his head, respectfully, toward the hippogriff. When he straightened again, a few minutes later, the beast had closed his eyes again and lowered his head.
“He was reluctant to let me look at you, when I finally found the two of you,” Remus said. “I’d have found you sooner, but I was tired. The last full moon -- It took me a while to convince him that I wanted to help you. I wasn’t very patient and I think he took that a bit amiss.”
Sirius did not turn back to him.
“Padfoot, I’m so sorry.”
“How do you think I feel?” Sirius said softly. “The Dementors are still after me. I don’t want them after you, too. Merlin, they almost got Harry. They don’t know…they don’t care…whether you’re guilty or not…”
“I don’t care,” Remus said stubbornly. “Our sins are the same. We distrusted each other. We didn’t listen to our hearts. We put our faith in the wrong person. I deserve everything you deserve.”
“Remus, that is not true.”
“Yes, it is.” He sank back down beside Sirius and began to stroke his hair again. “I’m coming with you. Wherever you go, I’m coming, too.” He tried to sound reasonable as he said, “Don’t tell me you don’t want me to see you like this, because I already have. And you’ve seen me like this. Don’t say it’s your duty to find Peter. It’s mine, too. I loved James and Lily, too. Don’t say it’s not a game. I know that already. And don’t say you’re going to send me back because…Merlin, we’re in the middle of the mountains. Where else am I going to go except with you?”
The light, half-cajoling tone came to him easily, and it reached Sirius, who turned his head and looked back at him.
“I couldn’t even fantasise about you in Azkaban,” he murmured. “All I could think about was how I’d failed you. Those were some of my worst memories: failing you and failing you. Now I remember loving you, but it’s been so long I don’t--”
“Shh. That’s not important right now. Don’t worry about it,” Remus said soothingly, and tried to make himself believe it. “I’m here. We’re together. We’ll take care of each other. I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you again…”
He was running out of arguments and strength. He wasn’t leaving, but he wanted Sirius’ acceptance of his presence. “Please,” he whispered. It was like coaxing a wild animal. Sirius continued to gaze at him warily.
Beyond the cave, wind howled through the peaks. Seconds went by, then minutes. Then, slowly, Sirius’ expression changed to one of wonder -- and tenderness.
“Moony…you’re completely mental.”
Relief nearly broke Remus. He struggled to hide it, struggled to smile and to keep his tone light as he said, “Thank you.”
They did not kiss that night, though when they fell asleep again they were holding each other, and they dreamed together: one about warm brown eyes and a protective embrace, the love burning through him now filling the wide gaps in his memory, the other about a future that for the first time in years looked as though it need not be a solitary undertaking.
Weeks later, after they’d reached the sea and found their small hut in a cove far from even the remotest village, there came a morning when they woke together with the dawn light warm on their faces and the sound of the tide crashing up the beach loud in their ears. They blinked at each other across the pillow they shared, the dusty sunlight catching in their lashes. They smiled and touched hands unhesitatingly.
Then they kissed.