"So then the play has to be like this." - Gertrude Stein
If there's one thing that Harry doesn't want to do is relive one moment of the heartache and pain and sorrow that's taken him to this point, his N.E.W.T.s, and the man he's become. This is who he is, Harry thinks to himself, and pushes his glasses up. Someone has to die thirty years ago; this is who he is. This is the job.
Harry still has doubt. He's only been to the Department of Mysteries once before, and it didn't turn out well that time, either. Hermione holds the door open, not in a panic this time. "You ready, Harry? You know what you have to do?"
"Nope," he says. Beyond the door is a room full of clocks that don't work. Harry doesn't wear a watch anymore.
She grins, wry. "Just--" she says, and then stops.
Harry looks through the door. He asks, "what?"
Hermione reaches a hand out suddenly, stops; she finally grabs his shoulder, and pulls him into a fierce hug. "Just don't forget us too quickly," she whispers. "If you can try."
Harry wraps an arm around her shoulders, and says, "I'll try." He puts his fingers on the delicate time-turner mechanism - the result of years of Ministry's experimentation - and then spins it rapidly, again and again; he feels dizzy, for one moment, and then it's gone, everything he knows of the universe and everyone in it, it's all gone. Forever.
So the ending goes like this:
Sirius does not, in fact, trust Peter, and follows him down the street for two thousand, eight hundred fifty three seconds before he sees Peter consorting with an enemy. Not the enemy, because there isn't just one anymore, but this particular person is good enough, and Sirius doesn't hesitate.
He puts Peter under a spell. He nearly kills him; would, except that would cause too much Ministry interference for Sirius to get to Godric's Hollow in time, tell Dumbledore, and do the hundred other things he needs to in case. In case, in case, in case. That's what he's been living on for two and a half years, but that's about to end, too. They get to Godric's Hollow in time.
Sirius's world hiccups, quietly, and then that's that - the battle's won. The war is never quite over.
Later on in life, he hears the phrase, "sometimes I wonder if we saved the present to sacrifice the future," a lot. He can't quite explain the trauma of survival well enough to tell whoever's said it that it isn't funny. Remus says a variation on the theme a lot; each time Sirius stays out too late, often when they fight. Sirius wonders, if they'd truly won, if they'd killed all of the Death Eaters instead of the rest, would his life be any better. He thinks it would. He hopes it would. He fears it probably wouldn't.
He took two breaths too many, and then Gideon was down the alley, following in furious pursuit. Fabian’ll kill Sirius if he let him get away; Sirius did pause to pick up their brooms and slip on his cloak.
Sirius caught up with him at the beginning of Knockturn Alley, and he needn't have worried, because Gideon had the magical ropes they started using around him already - they tightened once someone started to speak, slowly cutting off air supply. Someone last week had their windpipe crushed. "You might," he said, striding up, "have waited."
Gideon snorted, and kicked the guy, none too gently either. He extinguished his wand, and yet again the street was in darkness. Sirius could already see shadows moving, farther down the alley, and pointed his wand at the wizard. Law enforcement. Sirius never could understand how, even after all this time, Voldemort could still get to law enforcement. Gideon said, "don't tell Fabian."
"Not likely," Sirius replied. The wizard started shuffling, twitching, coming out of whatever it was Gideon had done. "Your twin is incredibly over-protective sometimes."
Gideon was already pulling the tin can out of his pocket, and muttering the spell for a portkey. Where this time, Sirius didn't even know, as he was a last minute replacement and since you don't send anyone out without a partner, not even Gideon Prewett - "he resents staying at home, that's for sure," Gideon said, and then, "shall we?"
Sirius stepped closer, eyes on the wizard still. The blank look suggested Imperius; a shame. It hardly even mattered anymore. Sirius commented, "Who wouldn't rather be outside?" and then grabbed the tin can. He could just see, through the sickening lurch of his stomach before they took off, the shadows down Knockturn Alley getting closer.
The three and a half Apparitions before they got back to Dumbledore’s estate hardly took thirty seconds, but it ended up being a long thirty-eight seconds. If you counted the fifteen seconds up to the front gate, the longest fifty three seconds. Each time Sirius came back to this home, he felt aged a year and a day, maybe two. Maybe five. Maybe twenty. Each time was different, and yet always the same.
Fabian had the front door open as they trudged up the drive. Sirius fought the impulse to turn around and watch the gate swing closed behind them; fought it, and won. Barely.
“You two took your jolly time, didn’t you?” Fabian asked as Gideon fell through the front door. He held his brother up, shaking his head. “Pathetic sight, the both of you,” Fabian said, and hauled Gideon upright.
Gideon grasped the umbrella stand, which was the closest thing to him likely to actually support his weight, and sagged against Fabian. He replied, “Those no-sleep potions are amazing – timed to the minute. I’m only now tired.”
Fabian grinned, still holding Gideon upright by the shoulders. “Full points to Lily," Fabian replied, and then said, "Come on, you, I’m putting you both into cots for the night. Dumbledore is gone until mid-morning, and even if you could eat, there’s nothing in the larder.”
As he began to guide Gideon up the stairs, Sirius started after them. He focused on his feet, on the carpet beneath them, and not on the arm that wasn’t here to support him. Sirius said to Fabian, “cut us some slack. You weren’t up for twenty seven hours just waiting for someone to show his ugly face, were you.”
Fabian didn’t turn around. He said, “yeah, I was.”
In the morning, Sirius didn’t even need to open his eyes. He said into darkness, “where were you?”
A sleepy voice answered, “out in the wild blue yonder,” and then, “actually, I was at the market with Caradoc. Needed supplies.”
“All bloody night?” Sirius asked.
“In Marrakech,” Remus answered, "for Lily again." Sirius fought against the impulse to open his eyes, and eventually felt Remus settle, half on top of him, onto the cot. One arm fell onto Sirius’s chest, and he grabbed Remus’s hand. Sirius kept his eyes closed, felt the arm on top of his chest rise and fall as he inhaled.
James crossed his arms. "No."
Lily sighed. Outside the café, a steady stream of French witches and wizards were headed to do their daily shopping, to meet each other for petit cafés, un peu de bierre; none of them seemed to have a care in the world. Lily watched two small girls, both blond with pigtails, follow their mother down the street, skipping hand-in-hand. "Look at that," she said quietly, and pointed.
Dorca and James both followed her gaze, and Dorca smiled. "Aren't they sweet," and then, "James, please. We're just not--"
There was a sharp crack and all three of them were up instantly, wands at the ready. In the street, a wizard dressed all in black stunned the mother, scooped up one of the girls and Apparated away instantly. The other little girl stood, silent and without crying, on the sidewalk, looking at the place where her sister was just standing. The street cleared instantly, until it was only the little girl standing there. Apparently things were the same here as much as England. So much for a honeymoon.
James was halfway out the door; Dorca grabbed his arm. "We can't."
"But it's ridiculous, it's just a little girl--"
Dorca put some local currency on the table, and didn't let James go. Lily put a hand on her stomach, and said, "fine, we'll cut the honeymoon short. We'll come back."
James whirled around; "but--"
"James, it's -- it's no use." Lily sank down, suddenly, into the chair she'd just been enjoying her lunch in, into the chair she just saw a child abducted from and didn't lift a finger to help because it might blow their cover. She told James, "are you going to enjoy the rest of the week here anyway?"
One of the things that Lily loved most about James was his tendency to be stubborn to a fault; it should have been frustrating, should have been infuriating, but instead it was just endearing. He was ridiculously predictable because of it. Even now, he wanted to remain because someone was telling him otherwise. He looked at Dorca, holding out the portkey, and looked back at Lily, and Lily was certain – certain – that he was still debating arguing some more.
Lily said, "that poor child, James," and he finally hung his head, nodded acquiescence. It was the child that did it. The portkey turned her stomach more than normal, but Lily wasn't sure whether that was because of the pregnancy or just a sick heart.
"I'm glad you came back," Dumbledore told them both when they arrived. "I must confess, even with your incredible talents and resources, the two of you out there on your own worried me."
James strode past him without breaking stride, stopping in archway only to tell Dumbledore, "you're just worried that Sibyl Trelawny might be right."
"For your sake, James, I hope she is not," Dumbledore said gravely, "I really do." But James was already halfway up the stairs.
Lily sat at the kitchen table. Dumbledore's estate was far from opulent, in fact it was more like a run-down little cottage outside the city than an estate. A few animals in the back gave the place an authentic cottage feel. Out the kitchen window, Lily could see the chicken coop, which only last week had Dung's nifflers in it for a hair-raising six hours. She finally said to Dumbledore, "you don't have to pretend," and then, "it isn't fooling either of us anymore."
Dumbledore looked as if he were going to argue, and then nodded, once, and left the kitchen. Lily was almost hoping for him to lie about it, to pretend that the concern really was for her and James, but growing up with a precocious boyfriend and a crew of friends who challenged authority at the best of times made her naturally skeptical. Even if Dumbledore had told her he was worried about the two of them, Lily wouldn't have believed it.
Once Harry recovers from the nausea and vertigo, he wakes up in 1980. Nothing is the same, except in this particular spot, this last refuge of the magical world, this haven in the Forest, a dark quiet corner of the universe that not even Voldemort has disturbed-- except, in this place, where he can just barely see the Quidditch hoops in the far distance, in this place, thirty years to the day earlier, everything is the same.
Harry has no idea what the Ministry wizards, what the Unspeakables, what the universe had wanted him to change. He's here now, and all he knows is everything is different, everything is the same. Hogwarts, dear old Hogwarts.
He's sick in the bushes, and then silently cleans it up, wand out, and puts on the Invisibility Cloak, wraps it tightly around himself, charming it to stick to his skin so it won't blow around as he's on the invisible broom. Something about his first year of life and his parents' last, in the experts' minds, needs to change. Needs to be made--
Harry almost thinks 'better', but as he walks quietly around to the gates, a last glance at the castle and he's reminded: better. That's mostly a fairy tale now. Something needs to change, but in what direction, with what velocity, he doesn't know.
"James, I don't know what you mean by--"
Sirius put a hand up, jaw clenched. He didn't yell, but it was clear to Remus that he wanted to. James answered, "I know you don't know, I'm just-- I'm talking out loud." James sighed. "I'm just talking out loud."
"Bad habit," Sirius told him angrily. Remus had never seen these two fight, not this way, not this badly. And it was just James asking where Remus had been. Frightening, especially thinking that either of them could get past his mental defenses anyway. Who'd taught him to guard his thoughts in the first place?
To stop the two of them blaming each other for mistrusting him, Remus stepped in between them. "Stop," Remus told them, a palm on Sirius's chest. "for one, you're not getting anywhere, and for another, you're talking about me as if I'm not even here."
Sirius looked down at the hand on his chest, only now becoming aware of it. He covered it with his own, absently, and nodded. "Of course."
Remus turned to James. "I was following Greyback," Remus said. "All last week. That's where I was."
James dropped his eyes. "I didn't mean you had to tell--" and then, "it doesn't matter."
Remus felt sick to his stomach. These were basically the only people he had in the entire world, and right now he'd have given his entire savings to just avoid them for the next month. It didn't matter how much his heart ached to never let Sirius out of his sight, things would just be so much goddamned simpler if he didn't have to--
"--just give it a rest," Remus finally said quietly, and sat down again. If he didn't have to; and yet, he did. He said, "It's not doing any good, and you'll wake Lily."
"There's only so much of this I can handle, Sirius," Remus stated flatly. He knew how his voice sounded distant, even amused, as if he was taking all this lightly. He knew how effortlessly he could pull anything serious out of his vocal tone, could hear it. And even if he couldn't hear it, he could tell in the way Sirius's face fell instantly, the way his eyes got flat too, and sad, and he stared off at the wall behind Remus's shoulder. There was a stain on the wall, right where Sirius was looking, that looked a bit like a map of somewhere, but nowhere Remus had ever been.
Sirius's voice sounded flat and sad like his eyes. "I'm not giving you up that easily."
Remus wished he could believe him, wished that he could go on how his stomach felt and that he could take the fact that Sirius waiting for him, just to see him, meant something. He was giddy that Sirius had been waiting for him. But it wasn't enough.
Sirius was looking out the window at the grey sky, grey in the summer, grey in the winter. They should leave London. They should just leave. It wasn't raining, because it was May, but it was still gloomy and full of fear and danger and sadness. Remus stood, transfixed and frozen in place, unable to reign in the terror that Sirius would leave and the terror that he wouldn't.
Finally, Sirius stood up, moved away from the window and towards where Remus was standing, and Remus let out his breath, and they were another moment closer to the end, and they both knew it.
"I don't want to - it's not that--" and Remus just stopped talking.
Lily took his hand gently. She said, "the things that're between you right now, they've been put there by circumstances, Remus. You and Sirius are not the war."
He wanted to believe it.
Remus took the mission because it would get him out of the country for weeks at a time. He wanted the physical distance that he wouldn't get in his mind; but following the coven of hags to the ghoulish outcast village in a dank continental village high in the mountains reminded him what he was, and not who. He managed to find a room for two weeks for the equivalent of three Sickles, in an inn run by three brothers. The room was damp, the floors were damp, the mist from the November clime managed to sink into everything. Each morning the sheets felt cold and damp. His feet were freezing.
In the dingy kitchen, the middle brother served lukewarm tea with bread and cheese each morning to the four wizards staying in the place. Remus wasn't sure whether the middle brother ever spoke, since he never raised his eyes from the floor. The older brother didn't smile, waited in the front hall counting coins carefully or dusting aimlessly, pretending to clean. Remus was fairly sure the older brother was snooping. As he didn't have anything to steal, he didn't care; the older brother, he could see.
It was the younger brother Remus was concerned about. An owl, sent from an equally dank inn in the middle of East London – a four-storey house on the south side of the Thames, with river water instead of mountain mist sinking into the sheets – arrived in the town addressed to the younger brother. Remus had spent several hours in that East London inn, surreptitiously watching sneering, snapping men converse in low tones. Their faces had the same scars Remus' did; their bodies the same wounds.
Why a collection of werewolves in England trying to recruit was meeting in East London, no one was sure – only that they were. Typically, werewolves – even ones that embraced the feral, violent aspect of their natures joyfully – tended to stay in the open woods, rural areas. It couldn't be a good sign.
The younger brother was in the foyer, dressed in new robes. There was a jagged scar running from his left eye to the corner of his mouth, making an otherwise-young face look brutish. His eyes were cold. Remus studied his plate carefully, playing up the dejected, rejected, part of his nature. He wished he were pretending a little more.
The younger brother was leaving. Remus needed to follow him, at least through town for a few minutes. He carefully wiped his lips with the napkin, and drank the dregs of his tea. It was too sweet, it was only lukewarm. He drank it out of habit, and nearly turned it upside-down to read the leaves as Sirius always did.
Sirius hadn't wanted him to go. It wasn't that Sirius didn't want him to leave, it was that Sirius wanted him within range, under observation. Sirius didn't want him in temptation's reach.
The distance Remus was craving was working, more's the pity. He stood up, and only briefly, sharply, regretted leaving his teacup upright. Then he went out to the cold, grey, uninviting little medieval town and kept the younger brother within his sights. As expected, he went to the post office to pick up another owl, which seemed to please him well enough. No, not a good sign.
He was trailing the younger brother, shuffling along as the wind bit into his ankles, and then the younger brother turned around, suddenly, to stare at him. This is why Remus was given the mission: instead of trying to hide the fact that he was following the brother, Remus glanced up, in acknowledgement, and then looked away. It would pique the brother's interest, hopefully, if he were Death Eater material.
Curiousity killed all manner of animals, Remus knew. He allowed the brother to see vague interest, veiled interest. Remus stared into the window of a closed clockmaker's shop. He took the mission because he wasn't curious at all, wasn't even remotely interested in finding out any more about what he was. He didn't know who he was, anymore, so what he was, what he became, held little appeal. But the younger brother didn't know that.
Neither, apparently, did Sirius. The distance was working, because Remus didn't think about him at all, crossing the street to go back to the inn. He didn't think about him at all while he composed a brief note to Dorca. He didn't think about Sirius at all even when he ate his paltry dinner, alone in the small, dark room. He took the mission because he wanted to be away from England and everything in it; he didn't miss it. What he did miss, when he did think of Sirius at all, was when he got into a cold, damp bed with cold, damp sheets, unable to get warm.
Harry watches his parents' friends, their enemies, and fights bitterly against killing Peter Pettigrew the first time he sees him. It works, but barely. He knows who the traitor is; he knows, now, who they thought the traitor was. There has to be some way to make those two things in alignment. Something must be done, but little changes, teeny pebbles just starting the avalanche. Harry hoped.
Sirius made a trip of his own out to the Leaky Cauldron, and even at that he had to wait nearly an hour for Mundungus to show. “Took you long enough,” he said when Dung finally showed his face.
“Couldn’t be too hasty, one o’ them new law enforcement blokes was out and about, with a lie detector. Barely made it past ‘im. Only managed when a group of Muggle teenagers got off a bus. Bloody thing went off like crazy, an’ I nipped past and into the alley.”
Dung sat down at the table, and immediately the bartender brought him a pint. Sirius put another Sickle down to cover it, and rested his chin on his hand. Dung looked like he’d been sleeping in the gutter, this week – it might have very well been the case, too. “You got it all?” Sirius asked him.
Under the table, Dung passed him a parcel, then downed most of his drink right then and there. Sirius put it in his backpack without even looking down. It would be wrapped in brown, slightly greasy paper, and it would have what he needed. Dirty, and unreliable as Dung was when it came to showing up at the right time, when money changed hands he took things deadly serious. That was often the trouble; when it came to money, and the original objective, Dung tended to favour the former a little too often. Nevermind.
Dung muttered, “’course I got it all, who d’you take me fer?” and then, “thought I don’ want to even know what you’re gonna do. Mighty powerful--“
and Sirius said, “it’s okay, you don’t have to know,” and Dung nodded, and stood up. Sirius watched him shuffle out of the pub, a little stooped and slow. Clearly he was planning to go out a beggar, and fade into the brickwork beyond. Sirius himself didn’t have much longer, he had to hunt out yet another clerk in the Department of Magical Creatures that had gone astray -- astray, and he snorted aloud; like someone had just misplaced the poor bastard. At least Dumbledore had made sure the wizard's family was safe. Small mercies. Very small.
Sirius put his pint down, and another Sickle on the table, and stood up himself. His backpack seemed impossibly heavy, even if it only had a few hundred grams more in it. The contents of that brown parcel weighed enough, even if it was just imaginary, that Sirius felt stooped himself as he went out into the Muggle street.
Lily was the only one home; Sirius had timed it that way on purpose. She pulled the door open slightly, and peered out behind a very Muggle chain-lock. “What?” she asked, “did I forget a meeting?”
“No,” Sirius replied, “this isn’t official.”
“Oh,” and she paused. Sirius waited impatiently for her to let him in. After a moment, she unlatched the door all the way and he stepped into her and James’s flat. Lily crossed her arms. “I don’t want to be rude, but this is a bit of a surprise.”
A knot had already formed in Sirius’s stomach – had, in fact, the moment he’d considered doing this. It tightened as he unzipped his backpack and pulled out the contents of the brown parcel Dung had procured for him. “Here,” he blurted. “Ingredients. The long work's already been done; only the last weeks of brewing left.”
Lily eyed him. “For what?” she asked, though from her narrowed eyes, the finger tapping on the table, she already knew.
It was hard, Sirius knew, to fall in love with someone; harder still to trust them after that was the case. He’d never considered Remus capable of forgiving him once Sirius had betrayed him in school, and yet he had. He’d never considered testing Remus again, because it was one thing to be a stupid boy, but completely different to be a foolish man. Love was supposed to break that cycle of ridiculous, wasteful behaviour in a person, or so he’d heard.
Sirius said, “Veritaserum,” and swallowed.
Sirius picked up the copy of 1001 Magical Herbs and Fungi, put it down again; picked up Lily's Moste Potente Potions, much worn. He fiddled with a set of spy glasses that looked like they came out of a cereal box - he would never quite understand Muggle children; what would you want with a toy that only pretended to spy on people? - and then abruptly sat down.
Lily held her teacup, hand tight.
"How are you feeling?" Sirius asked her. The pattern on the tablecloth was garish, absolutely hideous - the pink was nearly blinding, almost as blinding as the green. Apparently James' great aunt didn't have any taste. Of course, for a last-minute bolt-hole, one couldn't be too picky. They'd killed Thomas just yesterday outside James's flat, on someone's information.
Lily sipped her tea. "Tired," she admitted. "I guess that's common about now," and she paused, and Sirius couldn't look up at her, and then he said,
"This tablecloth is awful, you know," and attempted to smile.
He saw Lily grin, wry, out of the corner of his eye, but she didn't answer. Sirius stood just as abruptly as he sat down. "I probably shouldn't stay," he told her, already moving to the door. "I have to meet -- I have to be in London at noon."
"Forgive me if I don't stand," she said, and grinned again. "My ankles."
"Of course," he answered, and risked glancing at her, sideways, over his shoulder. His hand was on the doorknob, he was ready to leave. Sirius nodded at Lily, and left, potion in his bag. He couldn't bear to sit at their kitchen table, not talking about Remus, and avoiding Lily's grin that didn't reach her eyes.
There were defenses against the potion, and Remus had practiced them, had the antidote; being the one that went out daily and tried to consort with Dark creatures, wizards of questionable repute, and shady characters of all types, he'd tried to protect his mind and his secrets. He had, when all was said and done, managed to iron-clad his mind and knowledge nearly as tightly as he'd wrapped up everything else in his life. His mental control mirrored the chains and cage in his flat. Dumbledore himself had commented on his ability to shake off all manner of spells to break into one's mind.
Veritaserum was tasteless, odorless, and weightless; like adding a few drops of water to one's tea in the morning. He could still taste the bitterness the moment he took a drink.
Sirius stared at him, and Remus looked at the table. Sirius felt Remus's mind tighten, harden, resisting – Occlumancy at its best – and then he looked at Sirius. For years and years, Remus had been the quiet one, the one in control, the one people relied on for reason. The only reckless or careless or insane thing Remus had really ever been accused of doing was taking Sirius back again and again, against all logic, against any reason whatsoever. There was no reason for it, none Remus would ever be able to articulate.
Remus's thoughts were messy and confused now, and, consciousness slipping, he crooked a smile at Sirius, still sitting gravely across the table. Sirius's hair, long enough to hang in front of his face now, hid his eyes. Remus said, "there isn't a reason, I don't know what it is, so I hope that's not what you want to know," and let his mental resistance go.
After, when he woke up in the bedroom, Remus was alone. That stung more than the original betrayal, stung like the first time he woke up in the Shack alone in sixth year, no Sirius, no James or Peter, just himself and the howling wind outside. In primary school, they'd always spoke of original sin as the worst. Remus never understood -- it was never the first thing that hurt the most, but the follow-ups, the aftershocks, the inevitable, grinding, painful things that followed. The first earthquake, at least you could claim ignorance; the rest were constant reminders that you let yourself be hurt, you allowed this pain, you were the fool on the hill.
A note in the kitchen said, 'had to go out. Really had to. Wouldn't have otherwise.' Remus read it, crumpled it up, and binned it. He tried to be angry that Sirius had drugged him. He tried to be angry, and hurt, and full of rage. Instead, he was just resigned to the inevitable fight, and debrief, that were sure to come. Everything was sure to come. That was the worst of it. It would happen again, it was inevitable, like seasons.
He put the kettle on, and sorted the mail.
Somewhere in amid his investigations – as if the heartstrings he's trying to pull, the raw emotions he's trying to harness are dry pieces of clay – Harry realizes that the muddy memories of his childhood could be worse. The war they fought, it tore everyone from him, it rent his friends asunder, but there was always someone left standing behind and beside him at the end. He found a way to have that faith, to try again with people, and all the hurt inflicted was balanced by love. He spends a lot of time watching Remus, waiting for someone to call, spends a lot of time trying to figure out how to bolster the levees on these raw emotions, so the wrong sandbags aren't removed.
Harry can still remember these two men and their reconciliation, thirteen years after the initial betrayal. he has to believe that there's a way to make sure it's not necessary, that such a selfless, generous forgiveness in the future is redundant because such a tearing apart in the past isn't there in the first place. He has to believe it because this world has so little else to believe in.
they had such precious little to celebrate; everyone came to the baby shower. Sirius wanted to scream. Remus hadn't forgiven him, maybe would never properly forgive him, but there was nothing in the universe left to do about it, and there was always the job. Dumbledore was across the room, conversing with Dedalus. He could just read the lips, something about a locket. Sirius really didn't want to know, tonight, because Peter had suggested that Sirius take a break, take on another job instead of living in the flat they shared. He couldn't trust himself to speak, couldn't trust himself to breathe, especially not when James agreed.
"James, he's not."
"But, we really don't--"
Sirius stood, as if to leave the table, then turned and nearly shouted, "He's not."
A few of the other guests looked up, including Lily and Peter. James smiled reassuringly around at the interested crowd, and stared at Sirius until he sat down. James sighed, and said to Sirius, low, "how do you know?"
The words tumbled out all together, falling over each other as Sirius spoke. "I put the Veritaserum Lily brewed me in his tea. Satisfied?"
James stole a glance at Lily; her robes were loose enough that being seven months pregnant didn't really show, except in the smile on her face. Sirius followed James' gaze, and saw Peter talking to her. Sirius glanced at James; James glanced at Sirius, and Sirius rubbed his forehead.
Finally, James sighed again, and looked at Sirius. "How'd he take it when he found out?"
"Remus?" Sirius asked. He snorted, smile bitter. "He wouldn't talk to me for a week," Sirius told James.
James nodded, slow. He replied, "I would imagine."
"I keep waiting for him to dose me," Sirius confessed, leaning on the table; even the new lines under his eyes betrayed guilt. "But so far?"
James stood, once again looking at Lily and Peter. Lily was laughing at some anecdote Peter was telling her; James said, "he's too good a Legilimens to bother, my friend. I'm sure he knows all your secrets."
Remus chose that moment to come back inside. He took one look at James, smile forced, and Sirius's angry expression, and halted in the doorway. James knew Remus didn't need to be skilled with Legilimens to know the conversation -- lately, the lines and suspicions everyone harboured were written in their very faces, they were mapped out in every forced conversation, every fake smile. For just a moment, Remus looked angry, upset, both and more -- then he smiled pleasantly at the Prewett brothers, and it was gone.
Remus threw his hands up. "Sirius," he started, and then sighed. "Sirius, nothing is unconditional. Nothing."
"Don't say that," Sirius replied dully. "I mean, it -- just don't say it. Not right now."
There was nothing, absolutely nothing, Remus wouldn't try to do for this man. "I thought I'd proven that I wasn't giving away Order secrets already," he said slowly. "You're still--"
"it's not about that," Sirius replied. He stood up. "It's not -- I don't understand how you can just sit there and talk rationally. Everything is rational. I'm not like that. I can't lose you."
Remus didn't want to be the one to tell Sirius these things, didn't want to have to constantly and always be the one to break Sirius's heart with nothing but the truth. Damn Dumbledore, today; damn him, and damn Lily and James and their unborn baby they had already died for. "You could, Sirius," Remus said. "I'm sorry."
"I can't do this without you," Sirius said, and sat down on the bed, heavy. He put his head in both hands, sagging, gone, already finished. "I can't. I know I can't."
Remus didn't answer. He didn't want to lie, even if he could.
Sirius heard about the baby while hiding in someone's dirty back garden that happened to be right next to a known meeting place. He was laying in wait, hadn't moved for hours and hadn't slept in almost days, when James's brilliant bright stag came racing at him from the heavens. Not really from the heavens, but that was how it felt.
The stag said just that the baby'd been born, Lily was sleeping, and Remus was already there. Sirius stood up, stretched, and got ready to portkey away, because his cover was already blown and there was no way no one across the lane didn't see. already, there were shadows moving, he could feel the tingle, that sixth sense of magic being ready to be born, shot at him from all sides.
Sometimes, it felt like he was still in school, playing hide and seek in first year with his cousin and her new friends, secretly communicating with James, wishing Remus could produce a proper Patronus. His Patronus still wouldn't come. The Portkey sloshed his insides around as he left. He couldn't head to James's home, but Dumbledore's instead: headquarters for the Order. Must check in first, and tell Dumbledore that James screwed up and contacted him. But when he got inside, no one was about, just Fabian asleep upstairs. There was no fire in the grate, and Sirius's hands were cold and dirty and never going to hold a child.
Harry hates being at the school, avoids it now he's on the ground and following his parents around like a silent ghost, a scarred spectre waiting and watching and recording their movements in the sand, ready to be washed away by the rising tide.
The night of his birth, he sits outside the house in Godric's Hollow for an hour, staring up at the lighted windows, and tries to remember his childhood at Privet Drive. Some of it's disappeared already, a lot of it's faded and torn like an over-exposed photograph. Harry knows that eventually he'll lose all memory of the existence he knew, all the people, all the victories, all the losses. He'll lose them just as surely as he lost his parents the first time around, and for a moment he wonders what would happen to him now if he let things progress without interference, if he let his parents die.
James walks past the open window, and Harry, through his enhanced glasses, can see him, so impossibly young. Younger than Harry is now, he realizes, and a lump forms in his throat.
Sirius went to Godric's Hollow, Apparating though he should have been more careful, because there were always people watching Apparations. The end of the lane where Lily and James were staying was his usual place, and he stared up and down the street carefully before moving. Something wasn't quite right, and he knew the feeling of being watched, knew something was out there.
Nothing stirred. He could see the lights in the windows of the houses, families and lovers and friends and enemies wrapped up tight for the night, ready to come out into the world tomorrow. Sirius had nowhere to go where he didn't feel watched, nowhere to sit at night and feel at home. The house of his family probably wouldn't let him in even if he did show up. His family itself was the enemy. He and Remus rented by the week, ready to leave at any moment, abandon the furniture and pathetic attempts at homeliness they'd tried to give the flat they shared.
The door to James' parents' house was always open to him, and now was no exception. Dumbledore opened it, of course, when he knocked, but stepped aside and let him in. "She's still sleeping," Dumbledore said, "so you may have a wait."
Sirius went upstairs, and into the room the Potters' used to let him stay in. Remus was already asleep on the bed. James came up, leaned against the wall as Sirius stood in the doorway and stared at the bed. "He's been up for days," James said, "Or so Dumbledore says. Won't tell us where; Remus barely made it. Think he Apparated asleep. Can't believe he didn't splinch himself."
Finally, Sirius asked, "you call him, too?"
James didn't answer. Sirius knew he was seconds away from giving into exhaustion himself, and the familiar sights of the Potters' house, now long dead, were anything but comforting. Better to just close your eyes. Nothing would give any comfort or easement, but sleep – real sleep, when you knew you weren't being hunted and you were safe to properly dream – was a precious commodity these days, and Sirius fell onto the bed. Remus gave way, and put his arm over Sirius in his sleep.
At the breakfast table, it was the four of them again; the four of them each staring around for the first time at strangers. James cleared his throat, Peter got the cups and saucers, Remus poured the tea. Sirius vowed to never suspect Remus of anything ever again, staring at his best friends – vowed to never, ever do it. Last night Dorca's house had been attacked, and she'd barely got away; they'd slept through it, soundly. Sirius knew Remus hadn't taken part, because in the morning he woke to Remus wrapped around him in exactly the same position they'd been in when he fell asleep.
No one had told Lily yet. Dumbledore stood by the wood stove. "Perhaps," he said, "it would be best if we continued our work," and then, "and allow our new parents to settle in."
James looked up at that, eyes hard. "We've decided," he said, "actually, to go back to London tomorrow. My parents' house is too far away for us to be any use."
"James," Dumbledore began, "you know that the paramount importance is--"
and James said, "no," and sat with his back straight. "No, we've made our decision. We aren't hiding here while other people are dying."
Remus stood from the table, tea untouched, and went upstairs. The attack was a warning, a warning and frightening one, because someone had to know that she was home and injured already. Someone had to know, and had to have passed that information on. Sirius didn't hesitate as he followed Remus up the stairs, and no matter James' eyes, or Peter's, or Dumbledore's watching him, he went up the stairs anyway.
The Order, once they started losing for real, managed to seal the Department of Mysteries from Voldemort's armies. That was Hermione's idea, and Harry still doesn't know what they'd have done if she hadn't. Voldemort as Minister of Magic, rebels and Aurors the hunted, not the hunters, Muggles dead by the hundreds, then thousands, the Order all but crumbled, hiding out in caves and cottages and basements. Everyone was cowering, waiting for the last fall.
The Department of Mysteries, however, was still on their side, and a group of Unspeakables knew that this was the future's only shot. Nothing like this had ever been tried before, people kept telling him; it was a fool's errand, it was completely impossible. There was no way to judge the consequences. But no one said 'no', because they didn't have any other choice. So they sent Harry back to change the past just enough, sent him back to try and change the universe, and at the same time rid the world of Horcruxes thirty years ago.
It was, indeed, a fool's errand, it was as mad as targeting a newborn because of a prophesy that said the baby would one day destroy you, thus setting up your own demise. Harry didn't care. He had to hold onto something, and his world had nothing left. Staring up at his parents' window, he knew that the bad in his life outweighed the good, and always had.
When they'd discussed the plan, him and Hermione, they'd always assumed that protecting his parents would be the key, would somehow allow him to destroy the horcruxes, or tell people about them. The Unspeakables running the operation wouldn't tell him, just saying over and over that what little they could calculate of the consequences would only skew things. The seers he talked to just told him that he'd know what to do when he did it.
"Don't worry," the old gypsy witch – his last hope for guidance – had said. "You've got a naturally generous soul, and love is all you need." Hermione had threatened, but she'd given them no more. And so Harry – surrounded by seeds of distrust, fear, anger, and betrayal – tried to knit things together again, one potion in Sirius's drink at a time, their spectre, their silent ghost, their only hope of salvation.
Remus folded his arms across his chest. "You don't want me to even see Lily and James."
Sirius put a hand out, placating; Remus didn't move away, but it was only because of his monumental self-control, mastered in a small dingy flat in central London where shackles and metal siding adorned one room. "I don't--" Sirius started, then stopped, then closed his eyes. "I'll tell them you're asking after them."
Remus sagged against the wall. "Dumbledore wants the entire Order together," he said softly. "Tomorrow."
"I didn't hear."
"A meeting," Remus replied, but they both knew that wasn't true. "I'll make sure to sit somewhere else when he takes the picture. I won't say anything."
Sirius put his hand out again, and this time, Remus leaned closer, just enough for Sirius to wrap his fingers around Remus's shoulder and pull him close. Remus's forehead wound up on Sirius's chest; they stayed like that for a moment, and then Remus told Sirius, "don't worry. I can keep my mind from letting go. No one will know."
Last week, intelligence suggested that whoever knew about the MacMillans was a studied Legilimens. Remus was the logical choice for a counter, of course; Sirius knew that the merest whisper of the idea that someone he loved was in danger, or betraying them, and the other side wouldn't even have to read his mind, they'd see it written all over his face.
Sirius brought his other arm up to encircle Remus, and squeezed, then dropped his arms slowly. "I have to," he said, and then swallowed. "Yeah," he said.
"Yeah," Remus replied.
it was madness to meet in the pub, but Sirius did it anyway. He held Remus' hand across the table, and they drank a beer for Gideon and Fabian, only twenty-one and in the ground. They'd forfeited the funeral because it was too conspicuous, and the wake too, so now they had to mourn quietly and without a fuss because tomorrow it would be someone else.
"They had a pool going, you know," Sirius said, "about who'd be the next one to kick it."
Remus snorted, a tear dripping down his nose. "They would."
"I think they bet on Dedalus," Sirius added. He raised a hand, wiped the tear from Remus' nose with his thumb. "Listen--" Sirius started, and raised his hand palm up this time when Remus looked like he was going to argue. "Someone's turned on us, Remus, but it wasn't you." Sirius halted, paused, couldn't swallow for the lump in his throat. The Prewetts. They were goddamned invincible. "It wasn't you."
"yeah," Remus answered. He shrugged, and added, "tell James."
It wasn't said with anger, even, just factual, as if Remus had already accepted everyone suspecting him; as if he'd allowed the suspicion to seep into his marrow and made him guilty anyway. But Sirius knew it wasn't him. Sirius said, "you believe I trust you, yeah?" A long pause, in which, unbidden, the image of Remus trying to conjure a Patronus and failing, came into Sirius' mind; and then Remus nodded. Sirius continued, "so we know it wasn't us. But no one else does."
The bartender brought them another round – allowed the table service because it was empty and Sirius tipped double. Remus said, "I miss the twins already," and, "they were only a year ahead, you know?"
"God," Sirius said around the larger lump in his throat, "school. I haven't thought about that in--" and he stopped, and kept looking at the wooden table, and tried not to let everything break his heart. He watched Remus's thumb rub his hand, slowly, gently, on the table, as if their hands belonged to other people, or rather, as if they were stone, statues in time, and their hands were the only part still alive.
Finally Remus said, "people don't believe me anyway. I can do it." His voice didn't break, and his face was wooden, controlled, grief put away and that calculating stare that Sirius remembered from school pranks back on. Remus added, "how do we figure out who it is?"
The next week it was Dorca. It might not have been the same spy. That fact was painful enough that Sirius didn't even drink to her name. He couldn't afford to take the time.
Harry's generous soul doesn't understand why the height of Voldemort's power is the point in time that the Unspeakables want him to change. The Order are being picked off one by one; he remembers Moody telling him that, still. He has Moody's copy of that photograph in his invisible pocket. He watches Aurors, killed in the dark in alleys. He watches Death Eaters torture people for fun. He can't figure out why they didn't send him back farther, to a point where people have a fighting chance.
The gypsy seer wouldn't say. Harry wishes Dumbledore had thought things through better, formulated a more structured plan before dying. Of course, Harry's cynicism makes him think that Dumbledore would have probably just said something like, "in every universe of darkness, there's always a light."
His is the universe of darkness; his parents are the light. How to do it is easy; how to do it is impossible. Voldemort will come after him – that seems inevitable. The planets have aligned, said the centaurs; they see history changing in small waves, not large realignments. So he's going to die, one way or another. If the horcruxes are gone, then so is Voldemort. How to do it is easy. How to do it is impossible. Little waves won't be enough, but little waves have to be enough. He can start with the diary, and save an unborn Ginny that horror.
Dumbledore wanted to meet with James and Sirius. "I have a task for you," he told them, gravely. They shared a look. "I have interest in gaining access to an item currently in the possession of the occupants of Malfoy Manor--"
and there was no way for them to get it, no way to break into Malfoy Manor without someone's help that Sirius wouldn't get, or more luck than either of these beaten men would ever conjure.
They said they'd look for Lucius, under the radar for nearly a month after that massacre in the countryside. But he had to be somewhere. Lucius was dangerous enough that Dumbledore offered them more help, but James shook his head. They were safer on their own.
At the gates of Dumbledore's cottage, the property's edge, the dividing line between their current safe haven and the rest of England, Sirius paused. His boots were dragon-hide. He had a tent in his pack. He and James were leaving Lily, Remus and Harry behind in London to brew potions, and try not to watch Remus's mantle for bad news. Last week Harry had sat up all by himself; James might miss his whole life.
"It's-- you know I'm--" and James halted, seeing Sirius staring at the unseen enemy beyond the gates. James didn't say it and Sirius didn't need James to say it to hear it plain as day.
Sirius missed school sometimes with a fierceness that almost burned. He missed sitting in classes, feeling confident, proud, on top of the world. He missed feeling in the centre of something that was a good thing, instead of bad. He missed it and it burned, but sometimes he suspected that what he missed had never really existed except in his current memories, and that his experiences of school as they were happening were just months strung together where he tried not to strangle his cousins and avoided his last name.
"I'll tell him to get out of the flat," Sirius said hollowly, to James. James, for his part, tried not to look too relieved, because neither of them could come out and say it. "I'll ask him," Sirius said, and then he added, "he never could say 'no' to me."
James didn't thank him for removing Remus from Lily and Harry's vicinity, but it was in the air, all the same. It made Sirius sick to his stomach, that suspicion of Remus, and he stared at his boots, inches away from the magical border between Dumbledore's property and the rest of the world. He was desperately afraid, suddenly, that Remus had always said 'no' to him, that their relationship, that their entire lives, were and always would be just a series of conversations that ended with 'no'.
"I suppose we're back in the field, then," James said casually, and opened the gate. Sirius didn't hesitate to step out after him, but he felt, acutely, what got left behind.
"I have something for you," Lily said, and pulled a hastily-wrapped parcel out from her bag. She handed it to Remus with a smile. "Sorry about the wrapping, I only just got it."
Remus took it, and with only a little bit of trepidation, pulled off the paper. It was a clock; a little mantelpiece clock with four hands and runes instead of numbers. "I don't--" he started, and then realized that there was a hoof, two rodent tracks, and two pawprints on the hands. He wanted to cry.
"Because," she said. "I don't believe it's you. I don't think I ever will. And the Runes, you know--" but of course Remus knew, because Ancient Runes was one of his favourite classes in school, despite its lack of use, and he'd given it up with a heavy heart because you shouldn't have to give up everything you want even though it felt like Remus always did. Runes was just another thing in the long list of things he'd needed to cull because it didn't serve the cause of the greater good.
Remus put a hand to his mouth, pressed it there tight, pressed his lips together, and didn't cry. Lily looked concerned, pulled Harry back into her lap as he tried to crawl out of the booth. "If you don't like it, I can always get you a magazine or something, I just wanted to find a birthday present that was--"
and he interrupted her with, "no. I love it. It's perfect. I just." Remus stowed it in his bag carefully, touching the hands once before zipping his bag closed. He hadn't even remembered it was his birthday; thought Lily just wanted to meet for a drink somewhere and pretend they were safe. In reality they were facing both entrances and had a Portkey ready. He had no idea he was another year older. No one else had come.
"Lily doesn't believe me," Remus told Sirius, and sank into their couch. It really could hardly be called a couch, simply two sagging armchairs pushed close enough together that they could touch each other while sleeping. Northern Ireland didn't have a lot of options for accommodations these days.
Sirius was pacing the eight-foot room, as if by wearing the threadbare carpet down further he could make the bare wood leach answers like it did mold. "Why not?" he asked, and whirled around to face Remus.
Remus bit his lip; blushed. It felt somehow like a betrayal to say that she couldn't believe he would betray her and James, ridiculous -- and Remus was well aware of how ridiculous -- as it was.
"She said I have too good a heart," Remus told Sirius, and ducked his head. He didn't lift it, even when a palm came to rest gently on his cheek.
Sirius grabbed Remus's arm desperately; clung, like seaweed on your ankles during low tide. Remus wanted to wrench himself away, but leaned in, his body lax and wanting. Sirius said, "can't you, I don't know, stop looking so affectionate or something?"
Remus pictured the party James was giving next week at the safe house, fighting through the entire night without the ability to rely on Sirius for that elusive jewel, support. He imagined the quiet argument they'd pretend to get into; Sirius, scowling effectively through his disgust at this pretend betrayal -- the emotion was wholly real even if Remus wasn't really the cause -- and then Remus's own resignation. He imagined leaving the party alone, coming home alone, everything planned to perfection to make people think they were being tugged apart by mistrust. And all Remus had to do was stop looking in love.
"I don't--" Remus started to say, and his face scrunched up, painfully. He began again, "I can't just turn it off. I don't know how."
Sirius let his arm go, and instead wrapped a finger around Remus's wrist. Sirius leaned forward until his forehead was resting against Remus's shoulder. Against his shoulder, Sirius mumbled, "can you try?"
Through school, the two of them had had their share of people wishing they'd pretend to be a little less in love. One of the intense benefits about finally getting a flat in London was being able to live in an area of town that didn't even notice them holding hands, that was blind to their very existence, magical or otherwise. It almost made up for being chained up like an animal every month. Every fibre of Remus's being fought against yet another thing taken away, even this easy peace, in the name of the greater good.
He nodded, though Sirius couldn't see him. "Okay," Remus replied, "I'll try."
Harry doesn't know how to find Regulus, doesn't know how to find Regulus or make sure Regulus does what he's supposed to. He doesn't even know how to destroy the ring Dumbledore did without killing himself in the process. Perhaps Regulus can kill two birds with one stone, rather than two Blacks.
Sirius is the only way to get to him. Harry wishes, sometimes, that he were a better Dark wizard, that he was better at putting people under his control. It would make things so much *easier*. But he's not, so he can only hope Sirius's hatred of his parents and Kreacher is less than his curiousity, and that Regulus actually knows where the locket is he died to destroy.
James paced, this way and that; each footstep echoed on his grandparents' old tile floor, his boots still muddy and leaving little clods of dirt on the pale pink tile. "I can't believe him," he finally said, when he trusted himself not to say anything more than 'bloody' or worse.
The letter sat, discarded, on his grandparents' table; and there was something else, another itch, that everything was someone else's, James leaving such a faint trail through life that now they even wanted--
Lily's arms were folded tight against her breasts as she sat in the chair, looking smaller than typical against the wood. "What do we do?" she asked, and even her voice seemed smaller than normal, as if it too had shrunk against the immense size of the table and the news sitting on it.
James glanced up from the path he imagined he'd carved out in the tiles, and saw her crying. Immediately he came to kneel in front of her. "I'm sorry," he said, and took her hand. She relinquished it, but slowly, and he added another few silent invectives against the letter for making her so distant.
Lily looked at Harry, asleep in the playpen that he'd been very actively trying to climb out of earlier in the day, and sniffed. "If it means he'll be safer -- I don't know," she said.
James closed his eyes, against the inevitable, so he couldn't see the tiles or the kitchen or even Lily's face, scared and heartbreaking. James held her hand, tight, and fought the urge to burn the letter suggesting they give the baby to Dumbledore to keep. To keep safe. There had to be something else, some way to slow time enough so that this decision wasn't necessary; James knew there were things he'd like to give up to keep Lily and the baby safe, and couldn't even do that, because there was too much at stake. Everywhere James looked, there was another brick wall, and the only answers seemed to come from outside time. He'd give anything to save Lily this.
"We could," he whispered, and then stopped, because they couldn't anything. That was the problem. Out in the hall, the ancient grandfather clock that belonged to his grandparents chimed faintly the passage of time.
James looked out their windows, through the charmed blinds, and saw the street was on fire.
"That's new," he said, softly, and turned back to Lily. She had one hand on Harry's back as he tried bravely to walk across the room, and was directing a pair of knitting needles with the other. The frown wrinkling her forehead seemed permanent. It broke his heart.
"What is?" she asked.
The knitting needles paused, briefly, in their incessant clicking. The noise had started out driving James crazy; then as the green and yellow - "to be non-sexist!" and he decided not to say anything - baby blanket took shape, he'd started to like it. It was his child's blanket, being made, pulls and runs and uneven lines and all. Lily never was wholly domestic.
The pause stretched out; James glanced through the blinds again. They were guaranteed to repel all manner of spy device and seeing-eyes. He'd modified them all the same. Just in case. Harry fell, let out an indignant cry, and immediately got up again. "Nothing," he finally told Lily, and came away from the window.
The next morning, the Dark Mark hovered, across the street and two houses down. Lily didn't say a word as they packed their things, her knuckles white and bloodless. James bit his lip, and mentally chanted, 'no'. They hadn't known the family. They hadn't known them well, anyway.
Lily said, "maybe we should try farther outside London; maybe it would be--" and then stopped. The unfinished sentence hung, both of them wondering whether anywhere could possibly be safer. Besides, neither of them could leave yet. There were still potions that needed to be brewed, and she was the only one in the neighborhood that could do it.
They couldn't risk the Floo network, the portkeys were all being watched. James waited for the silvery phoenix to show up, one hand on their trunk, the other holding Lily's. She pulled the yellow yarn out, and the clicking started up.
The Grey Lady's diadam is easy, because he brought the Sword of Griffindor back with him in time. It's a risk, trying to speed up the process of the horcrux destructions, but it's already the last days of summer and soon enough – too soon – it will be fall. It's so easy for him to lose track of time, allow another week to go by, another month, days slipping by while the traitor feeds information through and his parents' friends fall like leaves. He's running out of time, and he knows it, but he only has two horcruxes left, Nagini being the future's problem, not the past. He knows that Voldemort is aware of the destructions, is aware that his soul is being blown out like candles. He can all but taste Voldemort's fury, and it's a strange sensation, to be on the subversive end of that connection. The piece of Voldemort inside him is still there, still breathing, still waiting for its death. He utilizes it to the fullest.
Harry destroys the cup himself.
He could have probably got Sirius to get access to the Lestrange vault in Gringott's, especially since now he knows who it was that Bellatrix and Rodolphus kill, together, to deserve the honour of it. He could have probably pointed someone else to the vault, he could have probably left breadcrumbs to give Sirius the way.
Watching his godfather, he chooses to go in himself.
Remus stared out the window, waiting. It was difficult, telling himself that Sirius could have easily charmed himself warm and dry under the Invisibility Cloak, because growing up only half-wizard meant he wasn't one hundred percent used to being able to alter the environment and situation to suit oneself so easily. Rain still meant damp, in Remus's mind; it was part of the reason he let the roof leak in his flat, rather than take some charmed insta-putty and smear it over the hole.
He couldn't use magic, not here, either, which made the ridiculous need for the leak less ridiculous. Rain was dripping into a pot in the corner, but Remus could tell himself it was necessary. The neighbors couldn't see bright gray putty on the roof even if he wanted to put it there.
Remus stood, finally, glancing at the small cuckoo clock on the mantelpiece. It had four hands ticking merrily around, and a number of runes around the outside. The hand with the paw on it was currently swinging to 3:00. Remus opened the door of the flat, stuck his head out, and managed to get a large drip down the back of his collar. Standing back, he closed the door, and went back to the armchair in the corner.
"You're early," he said, and mentally cursed the no magic rule that meant he had to start the kindling by hand, with wooden matches. After a moment a fire flared to life, and he hunkered down, wishing the week over.
Sirius's voice replied, "Had to rush it a little."
The evening was still dismally cold, cold and raining. Remus glanced over at the pot. "I hate this flat," he said, and then, "It'll be dark soon."
"Thank god," Sirius's voice said, suddenly much closer. Remus sat in front of the fire, cross-legged. He felt a dry hand on his knee. Sirius continued, "I'm so bloody sick of this Cloak, you've no idea."
"As sick as I am of this flat, I'm sure," Remus replied, low. The idea was simple; they weren't to be seen together, not even by the spies watching Remus's flat. Sirius's Invisibility Cloak was modified for hard travel, and well-used. Remus resisted the urge to put his hand on Sirius's. "Being the bait is less glamorous than one might think, you know," Remus added.
Sirius said, "I know."
Remus wanted nothing more than to go to bed. With Dumbledore subsiding this trip to the wilds – Greyback was back to howling on the Scottish moors – it meant that while Remus was in a one-room flat, he was paying for a bed with enough room for two. Between Sirius and the fire in the grate, it would be warm enough to sleep. Remus stood, and the brush against his side meant Sirius did as well. Remus said, "how was the party?"
Covers down, carefully, casually, and finally Remus extinguished all light in the room save the fire; pulled the blinds down to hide all eyes and finally, finally, concealed the flat. Sirius emerged, and fell immediately onto the bed. Remus got in with him. Sirius answered, "James wouldn't smile." Sirius smiled then, brilliantly. "Harry liked his presents though."
"Children have the luxury," Remus said softly. The fire flickered, keeping them warm, keeping complete darkness at bay. His feet were cold, and the sound of dripping water was the backdrop of their night. Remus closed his eyes, pulled the blankets tight. He asked, "what do we do now?"
Sirius rolled over, an arm over Remus's side. "we go where the evidence leads, my friend," and curled up, breathing against Remus's ribs. "we go where the evidence leads, and find out who's going down."
"Sirius," and Peter laughed. "Sirius doesn't even know how to form the words 'I was wrong'. You expect him to apologize to you?"
Remus watched the condensation on his glass of beer drip slowly down the glass and on to the shined bar. It was some kind of fancy black stone, not proper wood, and Peter's face was a white shadow in it, a blurred outline of a human being. Remus didn't think about how right now Sirius was rummaging through Peter's flat. He didn't think about how Sirius had touched his hand softly at breakfast, before he'd said goodbye. He didn't think about any of those things; he kept that controlled rage at Sirius, fabricated, at the forefront, focused on the charade.
"Listen," and Peter put a hand on Remus's forearm, "he's-- you two were," Peter said awkwardly.
"Indeed," Remus replied. He was so far into the charade that no one would have been able to root out the tenderness from the resentment. Remus was perfect to pit against a Legilimens. He added, "well, it's okay. I haven't seen him in almost a month."
Peter frowned. "Where has he been?"
Remus hesitated just a moment, and something flashed in Peter's eyes. Remus watched the bar top, but he could sense the stiffening of Peter's body language, the withdrawal. he said to Peter, "I don't actually know," and looked away, feigning upset. Remus said, "he didn't tell me."
Peter started telling him he was sure it would be all right. In the dark window, Remus studied Peter's expression, and saw him relax again, once more off his guard.
One of the things Harry and Hermione didn't know - and wouldn't ever know, now - is how he'd tell if the future had changed enough. There was no measure of success for Harry; no way to sense it, no way to properly tell if the spell would really rebound like before, if the protection Lily gave him in his previous life will save her in this one. No way to judge the ripples and see the outcomes.
Harry's never been grateful for how much he looked like his father, not until now, standing in his parents' front hall in Godric's Hollow. It's the first time he'd been out from under the Cloak in months, and all Harry knows for sure is he's succeeded in making his mortal enemy mistake him for James.
As the door flies open, he shouts the right thing to Lily upstairs, and hopes that the Order will get there in time. This is an experiment, but Harry knows someone has to die thirty years ago, and he's just trying to stop it from being his parents and Sirius and Remus and Dumbledore himself, everyone that died, everyone that will die. He's just trying to make it sure it's him.
The beginning goes like this: Sirius catches Peter with enough time. Things don't go as planned, because they never do - but they do go, and on Harry Potter's eleventh birthday, his Hogwarts letters are sent to Godric's Hollow, instead.