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Chapter 3 : Part III
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...left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason
- W. B. Yeats
Sirius stretches out the length of the couch as James fiddles with the phonograph. Lily looks up from the newest puzzle she’s doing and smiles; this is her favourite part of the day, the quietest part despite the fact that everything about this life seems silent, muted. She picks herself up off the floor with an ease and grace that Sirius envies. When she catches his eye, Sirius’s breath catches in his throat, and for a fleeting moment, he feels slightly resentful of Snape, for getting the opportunity to spend an eternity with this funny, intelligent, beautiful young woman who has become his closest friend.
He loves her, but he’s not in love with her. Sometimes it’s hard for him to understand the difference. But when he looks at James, he knows there’s no comparison to the ache in his heart, the fluttering in his stomach, the way James’s feather-light touches leave in its wake an electric current that makes him feel alive in this land of the dead.
Sirius is still holding her knowing gaze when James pulls her down to sit on his lap as he rests in the chair by the window and he leans his head on her shoulder. She sighs and turns her head, glancing longingly out the window. Sirius thinks that if she could, she’d feel guilty for leaving James. But at the same time, she knows that he’ll take care of James, that things will work themselves out eventually in a manner that makes everyone happy.
He offers her an encouraging smile when she catches him looking at her. She clasps James’s arms tightly, presses a kiss to his forehead and leans back to rest against his chest, closing her eyes to enjoy the music slowly filling the room.
Sirius throws an arm over his eyes, listens carefully to the way the notes seem to echo loudly in the silence of the room, makes him feel like he’s drowning in the steady thrum of the bass line, and thinks maybe he could live like this forever.
“Sirius,” Lily croons in his ear. “Wake up, sleepyhead.”
Sirius’s eyelids flutter open to see Lily leaning over him, a lazy grin plastered on her face.
“Why’d you wake me up?” he mumbles, closing his eyes again and turning over to burrow back under the covers.
He yelps when the blankets are suddenly gone and he’s sprawled on the couch wearing just boxers and a thin t-shirt. Lily’s laughing and James is standing behind her looking amused.
“Guess what today is,” Lily says in a particularly annoying sing-song voice.
“The day I kill you for waking me up?” Sirius mutters.
Lily snorts. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m already dead. There really isn’t much damage you could do.”
“I’m sure I could think of something,” Sirius teases, forcing himself to sit up, swinging his legs so they were now planted firmly on the floor.
“It’s been a year,” James interjects and Lily frowns a bit, obviously wanting to extend the light bantering with Sirius.
Sirius looks at them with a blank expression on his face. “A year since what?”
Lily looks between James and Sirius with a bemused expression. But she says exasperatedly, “Since you died,” as if it was obvious.
“You woke me up at the crack of dawn so we could celebrate my death day?” Sirius replies incredulously, though it shocks him that a year has already passed. He needs to remind himself that time passes differently here and is so easily lost; hours tick by like minutes and weeks seem like days.
“It’s nearly eleven o’clock…definitely not the crack of dawn. The afterlife has just made you lazy,” Lily laughs.
No, not lazy, just immune to the effects of time. But instead of saying so, he replies, “Neither of you find this morbid? And you never celebrated your death day.”
James shrugs. “It’s your first year here. After a while, it kind of loses significance. Or else you just want to forget about it completely. Just let Lily have her fun.”
Sirius groans but allows Lily to pull him up. She’s already walking back to the kitchen when she calls back, “Get dressed. We’re going to go to the park to enjoy the beautiful sunshine!”
In July they get the news that Mad Eye Moody has been killed.
The second war against Voldemort has become very real and Sirius begins to worry that soon, they’ll start receiving news that more and more of their friends, loved ones have been murdered. Voldemort has already taken so much from him that Sirius isn’t certain he could handle any more loss.
Sirius is not a religious man but he thinks that living in this afterlife, being given a second chance - that deserves some sort of faith. He prays before bed, begs and bargains to whatever higher entity there is that those closer ones are kept safe and protected.
“What do you think about the most?” James asks. He’s laying on the sidewalk right beside Sirius, cloud watching, legs bent at the knees and arms folded behind his head.
It has been a few months since the three had celebrated Sirius’s death day and in that short amount of time, Sirius has found that he’s quite content to spend the rest of eternity right where he is.
He understands that deep down, Lily doesn’t belong to them but thinking of the day that she will eventually leave them makes his heart feel heavy. The old Sirius, the one who was bitter because Lily stole James from him, no longer exists. He’s learned to love Lily, maybe not the same as James or Snape, but it’s enough to make him realise that her absence will hurt him just the same.
He works things out with James enough that they’re comfortable around one another and if he pretends hard enough, he can imagine that things are exactly as they were before their feelings got complicated. They don’t talk about what happened before.
James begins to accompany him on his daily walks and it becomes routine for them to stay out for hours, randomly asking questions; a chance for them to relearn one another.
“I’m thinking about how much I’ve learned to accept my fate here. How time goes by so fast. I feel like one day I’m going to fall asleep and wake up to find that Remus has died or something.”
“I’m holding on to the hope that Remus lives to a ripe old age,” James replies. “He deserves it. War shouldn’t take him away like it’s taken us.”
Sirius hums his assent. He misses Remus - misses curling up as Padfoot as Remus reads him poetry and staying up late to drink tea. He misses the rush of adrenaline when he’s out with the werewolf and the way Remus smells of musty old books and ink.
“I miss him,” he says aloud.
“Me too. You think you’ll be the one to collect him when the time comes?”
“Yes,” Sirius replies honestly, hopefully.
“But he won’t stay with us.”
“Maybe for a little while. He could, couldn’t he?”
James shrugs. “I think he should. We deserve that, at least – to be able to spend some time with him.”
“I got to spend more time with him than you,” Sirius points out.
“Not much,” James snorts, “considering you spent twelve years in Azkaban. He just got you back and then to have you die on him? That must have been quite the blow.”
“It’s not like I asked to die,” Sirius retorts.
“I didn’t say you did. I’m just saying…Remus is probably going to arrive with a heavier burden of guilt than you did. He’ll probably feel like there was so much more he could have done for you, to protect you. It’ll take some time for him to be able to let that go. It’s going to be tough.”
“I don’t blame him for anything.”
“You don’t have to. I mean, look at how guilty you felt for things that no one blamed you for.”
“We’ll help him,” Sirius asserts.
James smiles and looks up at Sirius through shadowed lashes and Sirius has to remember to breathe. “We’ll help him,” James agrees.
Each day James reads the obituaries, Sirius has to release a sigh of relief when he doesn’t hear any familiar names. He thinks that maybe someone’s listening to his prayers after all and can only continue to beg, hoping Remus, Harry…that they’re healthy and safe.
Faith is the only thing he has to hold onto now.
March brings with it overcast days and a lot of rain.
“I thought the saying was April showers brings May flowers,” Lily muses one day, sitting by the window and watching the drops pitter-patter against the glass.
“Honestly, why is there even a need for rain in the afterlife? It’s not like there’s anything here that requires watering,” Sirius says.
Lily giggles and turns to look at him. “You have a point. But you of all people should know that the afterlife has never really been normal, at least not in the sense that most people believe.”
“You and I could design one hell of an afterlife,” Sirius states as he flops down on the couch and stares at the cracks in the ceiling. His arm hangs lazily over the edge and he feels tired; the constant rain makes him feel drowsy since he’s cooped up inside the apartment all day.
“Hah, yes, let’s go around and take a poll: ‘before you arrived here, what did you believe the afterlife to be like?’ And then we could go and design it, taking everyone’s answers into consideration and making it just like they imagined it. Brilliant.”
“Oh, please. We never got any say in how we’ve been forced to live the rest of our life as the dead. Why should anyone else? Let’s me and you take over this whole joint,” Sirius replies with an easy grin.
Lily sighs dramatically. “Those poor people. Together we’d probably be worse than Gabriel, from what I’ve heard.”
Sirius snorts and he opens his mouth to respond but James interrupts him when he says, “Peter is dead.”
Sirius sits upright as Lily’s face sobers up immediately and her fingers seek out James’s, twining them together.
“Finally got what he deserves, that traitor,” James growls.
“He should’ve died seventeen years ago,” Sirius snarls. “At my hands.”
“We couldn’t have known,” Lily argues. “James, you’re so steadfast in your beliefs, in your honour, that you wouldn’t have believed any of your friends could betray you. Would you have wanted Sirius to have died as a murderer?” Lily asks, a frown marring her otherwise expressionless face.
“I still spent twelve years imprisoned for a crime I never had the chance to commit,” Sirius replies.
“A fate much more deserving of that rat than you,” James assures him.
Sirius shrugs. “Still doesn’t change what happened.”
“We can’t change what did happen,” Lily reminds them. “No matter how many times we go over what could have been, if we had stayed with Sirius, or used Remus instead. If the afterlife had allowed us, we would probably spend the rest of our lives guilty thinking of all the alternatives. And, if I’m allowed to be honest here, I’m sick of talking about it. I’m dead. I’ve accepted it and what’s done is done.”
“Well said, Lily,” Sirius murmurs, and despite the anger that makes him tremble, the frustration that makes him clench his fists, he knows that there isn’t anything they can do, nothing to erase the missteps and betrayals of their past.
Sirius sighs and bangs his forehead gently against the windowpane in a rhythmic fashion. Thump, thump, thump. He stares out at the gloomy London street below as the dark storm clouds blanket the sky and rain slashes angrily down the glass.
“I’m so bored,” he moans. “It’s been raining for days.”
Lily barely looks up from the book she has her nose stuck in and tosses a pillow at his head. “Some of us have better things to do than listen to you whine, Sirius. Go find something to do, or go outside in the rain!”
Sirius throws the pillow back at her and she fumbles with the book but quickly catches her place, glaring at him. “But I’ll get wet.”
“Yeah, that’s probably not the best idea,” James points out. “The apartment would smell like wet dog.”
Lily hides a smirk behind her book but James isn’t as careful to conceal the amusement on his face and Sirius throws himself from the chair beside the window to tackle James to the ground. Sirius has got James in a headlock but James manoeuvres himself so that he can knock Sirius to the ground, loosening his grip around James’s neck.
“That’s it, boys. Get all that pent-up aggression out,” Lily comments from the sidelines, laughing.
Sirius pins James to the floor and he struggles to maintain his position above him, but James still has more youth on his side and they soon end up in a tangle of limbs.
“Ow,” James hisses at he gets elbowed in the face.
“Sorry,” Sirius grunts, pulling his left leg from where it’s stuck behind James’s knee.
Lily is positively gleeful as she looks at their predicament. Sirius growls and winces as he feels a slight tug on his hair. “My hair is stuck on something. Ow, ow, ow. Lily, help us!”
“You should’ve thought of that before you got into a tussle,” she replies from her perch on the arm of the sofa, peering down at them with a taunting smile.
James sits up and Sirius whimpers, his hair caught in the zipper of James’s sweatshirt. “Hold still, Sirius,” James mumbles as he carefully pulls Sirius’s hair free from the teeth of the zipper. Sirius can feel James thread his fingers through his hair and he releases a sigh when he no longer feels the sharp tug of caught hair. James smiles down at him and ruffles his hair slightly.
Sirius rubs his head slightly, trying to ease the ache. He can’t help the slight pout that slips its way onto his face. Lily can’t contain her laughter anymore and tumbles backwards onto the couch, clutching her stomach as she laughs.
“It’s not funny,” he argues. “That really hurt.” But Lily doesn’t stop to listen to him, even James chuckles.
The apartment atmosphere, despite the weather outside, is bright and cheerful. Sirius is leaning his weight slightly on top of James, the both of them still sprawled on the floor, and James doesn’t move an inch to push him off or adjust their position. Lily catches his eye from behind James’s head and quirks an eyebrow. Sirius wishes he had that pillow he threw earlier within easy reach.
There’s a sudden knock on the front door and the three occupants look at each other in confusion. Lily shrugs but unfolds herself from the couch and looks through the peephole. Sirius’s eyes are solely concentrated on her back so he notices the slight shift as she stiffens. James nudges Sirius slightly: a silent request for Sirius to get off him so he can get up. Sirius pulls himself up and sits on the arm of the sofa.
“Lily?” James asks as he makes his way over to the door. “Are you going to answer it?”
Lily turns back to look at James, her face a mixed range of emotions. “It’s Peter,” she replies.
Sirius watches as James’s left fingers curl into a fist at his side and his right hand thrusts the deadbolt into the unlocked position, yanking open the door. Sirius stands up to place a comforting hand on Lily’s shoulder, both of them positioned behind James.
“What are you doing here?” James practically snarls.
Peter flinches backwards and Sirius can catch a glimpse of the rat over James’s shoulder. He looks old and beaten down; Sirius is certain the war has taken its toll on him, but he can’t even muster an ounce of pity. Wrinkles line his eyes and there are still years of filth and grime marking his mousy face. Sirius recognises the silver metal on Pettigrew’s right hand and curiously, he sees similar finger marks wrapped around his neck. Sirius raises an eyebrow.
“You were strangled to death?”
Peter squeaks and looks flustered at the sight of Sirius, who looks regal and composed now that he’s regained his youth. Pettigrew’s beady eyes anxiously peer down at the silver hand and back up again.
Sirius has to bite back a harsh laugh. “You were strangled by your own hand?”
“Got what you deserved,” James mutters under his breath, though Sirius is so close to his shoulder that he can hear every word. Sirius can’t say he doesn’t agree, though he finds it slightly ironic how the traitor’s own hand acted as his personal noose.
“What are you doing here?” James demands again. He’s getting impatient and he looks livid that Pettigrew has shown up on their doorstep.
Peter is trembling and he looks at James with pleading, watery eyes. “I – I came to ask for your forgiveness, James…and Lily,” he says, peering around James to look at the equally angry red-head. “You must understand,” he begs, “the power, the glory I was offered. I didn’t…I’ve always been your friend. I didn’t have a choice.”
“You always had the choice,” Sirius growls.
“That glory got you real far,” James taunts. “You killed your friends to live a life of servitude, of fear. Look at you,” he spits, “look at what you’ve become.”
“Pl…please, James.” He gets down on his knees in the doorframe and his whole frame is shaking.
Sirius knows that Pettigrew needs this absolution and he understands how much his body craves that release, how the muscles will feel taut with tension until everything finally snaps free. But he also knows how hot-headed James is, how rash and bitter he can be. James isn’t one to hold grudges, but Sirius can think of everything James was forced to lose because of his premature death and knows that forgiveness will not come.
But it’s not James who lays down the verdict. “You won’t get what you came for,” Lily says, her voice quiet but firm.
Peter looks up at her as she moves to stand beside James, who clasps her hand tightly in his own. “Lily, sweet Lily…you wouldn’t deny my peace, would you?” he whimpers, trying to claw at the hem of her robes.
She steps out of his reach and looks down at him with pity. “I’m sorry. But forgiveness is not given to those who don’t deserve it. You performed the ultimate act of betrayal by sacrificing the lives of your friends for your own personal benefit. You should be forced to live with that guilt forever.”
“I did live with that guilt. Every second that I walked on that earth, every breath of air I took that was no longer yours to take was another reminder of what I did. Believe me!” Peter cries, desperate now to ease the burning ache of shame.
“Believe you?” James asks in disbelief. “Why should we believe the person who was supposed to keep us hidden, keep us safe, but decided to betray us instead? Can you maybe see where I might have a problem trusting your word?”
“I saved your son’s life,” Peter hisses. “I could’ve killed him just before I died, but I didn’t. You owe me this peace.”
“They don’t owe you anything,” Sirius snaps. “You owed Harry your life. There’s nothing selfless about your death, nothing but binding magic, a debt paid. Don’t act like a martyr, Peter. You got what you deserved.”
“We won’t grant you our forgiveness,” James says, a sense of finality in the tone of his voice and Peter looks up at him, eyes wide with fear and pain.
“James – ” he starts, but James has had enough. The door slams shut, echoes loudly in the still, silent room and he slides the deadbolt back into place.
It makes it a little easier to be at peace with our demons if we’re not constantly feeling chained by them. Sirius is reminded of what Regulus has told him about the need to be forgiven, and he can’t imagine what Peter must feel like after being denied that absolution.
“What happens to him now?” he asks, breaking the tense silence.
James looks up at Sirius almost startled, as if he forgot that he was in the room, and he sighs. “Peter will spend an eternity battling with the weight of his guilt. He won’t get that freedom you felt after you spoke with Regulus. There is no peace for him in this afterlife.”
If Sirius wasn’t so angry that he spent twelve years imprisoned for a crime this man framed him for, he might have felt sorry. Neither James nor Lily look at all pleased for having to deny him of that happiness, but they don’t look particularly sorry either. Sirius isn’t sure what to do at this point, but he quickly gathers Lily in his arms, hugging her slight form as she trembles with anger.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I just…he took away my chance to watch Harry grow up. I never got to see him play Quidditch or fall in love. He doesn’t deserve my pity and he didn’t deserve my forgiveness.”
“He doesn’t,” James reassures her, wrapping an arm around the both of them, pressing them close for comfort. “He made his choices and now he must spend forever dealing with the consequences.”
“You made the right decision,” Sirius replies fiercely. “Your forgiveness was not his to take.”
“Even if you hadn’t said anything first, I never would have forgiven him,” James murmurs into her hair, pressing a light kiss there.
Lily slips out of Sirius’s embrace easily and seemingly melts right into James, burying her face into his chest. He’s giving her the security she needs and Sirius is all too familiar with the strength of the comfort found in James, how he acts as an anchor for those he loves. It’s for the briefest of moments that Sirius wonders how she can give this up for the arms of another man.
The first day of May brings clear skies and a dazzling sun – almost a stranger these days following the past two months of clouds and rain. Lily is positively ecstatic when she glances out the window to see a full bloom of flowers in varying colours that are bright and vivid against the grey backdrop of London. She’s practically bouncing on her feet as Sirius and James get ready for their walk.
“Do you want anything in particular?” Sirius asks as he ties his shoelaces.
The brilliant grin on Lily’s face momentarily outshines the sun and Sirius is taken back by the intensity. He smiles back at her. “Surprise me,” she says as she ushers them out the door.
Sirius inhales deeply when they take the first step out of the foyer and the air seems fresher, cleaner after the rain. It’s warm and Sirius chances a glance over at James, who seems just as excited about the weather as he is.
“I feel…invigorated,” James says as they meander down the road, a skip in his step.
“It’s so nice out,” Sirius sighs.
“We’ll probably find more of a variety if we went to the park.”
They walk in companionable silence, following the familiar roads towards the park.
“You think this war will be over soon?” Sirius asks, eyes flickering from grey building to grey building, trying to push away the feelings that gnaw at him, making this place seem like nothing more than a prison. “I think I’m going to get an ulcer from worrying so much.”
“Aside from the fact that it’s physically impossible for you to get an ulcer here, I hope the war is over soon.”
“I pray every night,” Sirius admits, “that Remus and Harry will make it out alive. Seems to be working so far.”
“You never were a man of faith,” James muses. “Has the afterlife changed you in that aspect?”
Sirius shrugs. “You could say so.”
Sirius sees the familiar wrought-iron gates marking the entrance of the park and quickens his pace. His senses are assaulted; the fresh, floral scent is strong and tickles his nose and the park itself is a rainbow of colours.
“It’s so beautiful this time of year,” James comments, his eyes roaming the park, taking in the sights greedily.
“Lily would enjoy this. She should have come with us.”
“She probably needs some alone time,” James snickers. “Being stuck with us for a couple of months, day in and day out with no break must wear on her nerves.”
“Well, we should pick her a beautiful bouquet to make it up to her.”
James murmurs in agreement and they scour the park for the brightest and prettiest flowers they can find. Afterwards, they walk together slowly through the park, enjoying each other’s presence.
“You know,” James says after a short pause, “I’m glad that we’re not bickering anymore. I like this.”
Sirius sighs and yes, he does like this companionship and being able to talk, but he doesn’t like the fact that there still seems to be a huge barricade between them – a bright red STOP sign that tells him they can’t take this friendship any further. He knows that eventually it will just be the two of them, just JamesandSirius, like it always had been, and that over time he’ll be able to chip away at the concrete that’s keeping them apart. But for now, he has to pretend he’s happy with the current arrangement, has to ignore the part of him that hates lying to James about their future with Lily. Another part of him wonders how stupid James really is and he tries to understand if James really does believe that they can live as a threesome for the rest of eternity. Or maybe he does understand and is living happily in denial, just like always.
“Sirius?” James interrupts Sirius’s internal musings.
“Hm?” Sirius replies half-heartedly, his head still not completely in the conversation.
“I asked if you were ready to head back home,” James says with an exasperated sigh. “You’ve got your head in the clouds today?”
“It’s a nice day out,” Sirius argues. “Perfect day to just…let your mind wander.”
If James is curious about what he had been thinking of, he doesn’t let it show. They leisurely walk back, enjoying as much of the sunshine as possible.
Lily greets them enthusiastically upon their return and gushes about the flowers. “The best yet,” she declares as she sets the bouquet on the windowsill. She curls up on the chair and rests her chin on her fist, sniffing the sweet, delicate fragrance slowly filling the room.
Lily deserves beautiful flowers every day for the rest of eternity and as Sirius watches her with fondness, he can’t stop the sense of loss that overwhelms him, knowing she’ll be ripped out of this perfect three-person life they’ve created.
He wonders if maybe Lily will no longer find the need for flowers once she’s left; if perhaps Snape will one day be enough, filling her world with light.
On the second day of May, Sirius wakes sometime in the early afternoon to the sound of hushed but urgent voices in the kitchen. He groans as he sits up and stretches before padding barefoot down the narrow hall, pushing past the swinging door. James and Lily are sitting side by side at the table, faces void of colour. Sirius feels his stomach twisting in knots at the sight and he’s already panicking.
“What?” he croaks. “What’s happened?”
James won’t look him in the eye when he tells him that the day they hoped would never come has indeed arrived. Sirius is on his knees before James even finishes the sentence. Lily comes to kneel beside him on the hard linoleum floor, small hands rubbing soothing circles on his back as she buries her face in the crook of his neck.
“Nymphadora was also killed. And Severus,” she murmurs, her lips brushing against his skin.
There goes his faith.
James and Sirius forego their daily walk and the three of them spend the day curled up on the couch together, entwined, needing the comfort only found in the familiarity of skin and soft, reassuring touches.
They spend most of the day in silence until Sirius asks, “If…if I’m the one to pick him up, when will I know?”
Lily presses a kiss to his brow, running her fingers through his hair as her other hand rests in the curve where James’s neck meets his shoulder. “You’ll get a letter tomorrow,” she reassures him, and Sirius finds hope in the tone of her voice, the way she’s so certain he’ll get to meet Remus at the gates to the afterlife.
“How will I know where to go?” He knows that he won’t be making his way back the way he came from his holding cell with Gabriel.
Lily smiles in that god-awful knowing manner and says, “You’ll just know.”
Sirius’s feet seem to know the direction in which he’s supposed to be heading and for that, he’s thankful. All he knows is that after a restless night, he felt extremely relieved when a thin white envelope addressed to him slipped under the door. He tries to forget the look on Lily’s face when she realised she wasn’t going to get a similarly marked letter. Though he knows that just because she didn’t receive a letter doesn’t mean she still won’t leave them. Her love for another doesn’t need written words to convey the sincerity and depth of her devotion, the look in her eyes is all Sirius needs to know that his time left with her is limited.
He stops when he’s suddenly face to face with a door. It’s funny how he didn’t notice the door at first as he was walking down this dead-end street, but then again, he’s learned that it’s best to not question the oddities of this life. He waits patiently at the door for a few moments before he realises that, oh hey, maybe he should knock.
He can hear the echo of his sharp knock through the panelled door and he taps his foot anxiously as he waits. He wonders if Remus is going through that same slightly panicked frenzy he went through when he thought James was on the other side of the door, but his thoughts don’t linger for too long on those days following his death as the door creaks open slightly.
The room on the other side is dark and Remus is shielding his eyes for a moment before he drops his arm. The two friends stare at each other for a long time, simply drinking in the sight of the other.
Sirius can definitely see how Remus has aged, how the war has worn him down. He looks weary and ragged but there’s a light in his eyes that was never there before. It makes him look almost younger despite the obvious signs of grief and tragedy lining his body.
“Remus,” Sirius breathes and he’s the first to move as he grips Remus roughly by the shoulders and pulls him into a tight hug. “I can’t believe you died on me.”
Remus chuckles darkly before pulling back to look Sirius up and down. “You look good, Sirius,” he comments. “Death suits you.”
Sirius grins cheekily. “Don’t worry, I’m sure in time you’ll look just as dashing as me.”
Remus steps out of the room and the door shuts behind them, leaving them standing in the middle of the street. “So…is this, is this heaven?” Remus asks, looking around. “I thought it’d be…er, a little bit whiter or…I don’t know, rolling green hills. Definitely not this.”
Sirius wraps his fingers around Remus’s wrist and tugs him back towards the main road and with a sweeping motion of his hand, declares, “This…is the afterlife.”
“This is London,” Remus responds as he recognises familiar buildings.
“It is. Though it’s not exactly the London of our youth. It’s more…isolated and weird things happen here. It’s difficult to explain, but as you can imagine, walking around the streets of London with little to no interactions outside of those you’re meant to spend the rest of eternity with can get pretty lonesome.”
Remus obviously looks confused and Sirius will have to do some explaining as he drops Remus off at his residence. When he received the letter, he was slightly disappointed that Remus was not to stay with them, but he knows that Remus has his own life to go home to and that it won’t be long until Remus winds up on their doorstep anyway, seeking their forgiveness.
Remus suddenly laughs and Sirius furrows his brow. “What’s so funny?”
Remus shakes his head. “I suppose it isn’t really funny. More ironic, I suppose. I was just reminded of something William Butler Yeats once wrote. He said, ‘This melancholy London – I sometimes imagine that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually.’ Fits, doesn’t it?” he chuckles again.
Of course Remus would find it appropriate to quote Yeats. Sirius wraps an arm around Remus’s shoulder and sighs. “Our resident poetry expert…what would we do without you?”
“Well, one of us had to be well-read,” Remus retorts. “We needed someone with a brain.”
“Ha, ha, funny,” Sirius mutters, as he drags Remus along.
He’s never been down this way before but he trusts that his body subconsciously knows where to go and he follows his instinct. He explains the basics about the afterlife to Remus the same way Lily sat down and told him everything she knew. Soon they’re standing in front of a brownstone building and Sirius knows this is their stop. The door is black, matching the trimming around the white-framed windows and the building itself looks old, but there’s an air to it that reminds Sirius of families and home. The door swings open and Nymphadora is waiting there with her father. Remus sighs in relief and throws himself into her arms.
Sirius looks at the two of them, his eyes widening in shock. Remus and Nymphadora? He opens his mouth to question them but he feels a tug behind his navel, similar to the way one is pulled into a Portkey, and his body is being thrown backwards, away from the emotional homecoming in front of him. He lands on his back with a grunt and he looks up to find himself right in front of his own building. He frowns because he has so many questions now to ask of Remus, but he knows he’ll get his answers eventually.
“What’s the matter?” Lily asks, immediately noticing the puzzled expression on his face as he enters the apartment.
“Remus and Nymphadora are together,” he says. “I just dropped him off and she was there waiting for him. I just…wow.” He has to sit down to wrap his mind around it.
Lily smiles. “Shouldn’t you be glad that he found someone to love him? He had been alone too long.”
“I am glad, believe me. It’s just…my cousin’s daughter.”
James laughs at the shock apparent in his tone. “How did he look? Was he okay with his death?”
“He looked…old, but young at the same time. It was weird. And there was never any questioning on his part about his death. I mean, we all have that transitory period where we have to learn to accept our death so, I guess it makes the whole entrance into this afterlife a bit more easier.” Sirius shrugs. “He was even joking about it a little. Plus, I explained the basic concepts of our world as I led him to Nymphadora so he understands most of it.”
“We’ll see him in a few days, I’m sure,” James says, knowing that it will be their words that will heal the wounds inflicted by remorse.
They’re expecting it, so when there is a knock on their door, there’s no hesitation when James flings the door open and practically drags Remus inside. Lily throws her arms around Remus and hugs him tightly, kissing his cheek. James looks exuberant when he wraps Remus into his own embrace. Remus’s own greetings are just as enthusiastic, though Sirius can see the way his guilt has already weighed him down, the wrinkles around his eyes evidence of anxiety and restlessness.
“Nymphadora, Remus? Really?” Sirius says, trying to take a lighter approach before they delve into the reason Remus is really here.
Remus grins sheepishly and he looks down at his feet. “It was her idea,” he says. “I just learned to love her along the way.”
“You got married?” Lily exclaims when she sees the wedding band on his finger, pulling his hand closer to her eye level for a thorough examination.
“Uh…yeah,” Remus admits. “We just had a son too.” At this, he looks saddened and Sirius feels that familiar ache of grief in his chest.
“I’m sorry, Remus,” Sirius says sympathetically. Lily and James both give Remus understanding looks and it’s not until this exact moment that Sirius realises how similar the three of them really are – sacrificing their lives in hopes of a better, happier future for their orphaned children.
“What’s his name?” Lily asks gently.
The smile on Remus’s face is nothing but proud when he replies, “Teddy Remus Lupin. Oh, he’s precious. Looks just like Dora, I swear.”
“When he grows up, he’ll be so proud of his parents,” Lily says, hugging Remus again and Remus nods in agreement.
“What about you two?” he says, obviously trying to push the attention away from him. “Look at you, you are as young and beautiful as ever.”
“You certainly know how to charm a lady,” Lily replies teasingly at the same time James jokes, “You like the young ones, eh, Remus?”
Remus shakes his head, laughing slightly, but Sirius can see that he’s anxious despite the amused exterior. Lily and James are both acutely aware of the tension as well and lead Remus over to the couch, sitting down on either side of him as Sirius plops down at his feet, resting his head against his knee.
“So,” Lily starts off and she’s no longer teasing, “how are you dealing with everything?”
Sirius admires the way she can get straight and to the point of things.
Remus looks as though he’s fumbling for words to speak and he shrugs. “I…fine, I guess? It’s easier with Dora here with me, but…” He pulls his lip between his teeth, thinking things through. “I mean, I’m surprisingly accepting of my death. I understand that there’s nothing I can do about it now but at the same time, I feel as though I’m being dragged under the surface of a body of water and I’m not allowed to breathe. It’s suffocating.”
“It’s the guilt,” Sirius tells him.
“Guilt?” Remus questions and then he sits back and looks thoughtful for a moment. “Yes,” he says, nodding, “I suppose I do feel guilty.” He looks anxiously around the room, like he’s unsure of where to start or how to release the tension that makes him feel like a rubber band about to snap.
“We’re here for you to talk to,” Lily reminds him. “Get it off your chest. It will help.”
Remus takes a deep breath and he’s suddenly spilling his guts, confessions falling from his lips like bile; ugly, acrid tasting words that are laced with regret and years of grief, betrayal. He starts apologising to Lily and James for his secrecy during the First War, making excuses for why they thought they couldn’t trust him with their secret, their lives. There are things Sirius had already forgiven Remus for that he brings up again, desperate now to try and erase the shame he’s feeling for not doing enough, never being enough.
Lily shuts him up when she growls angrily at him and smacks him upside the head. “Never say you aren’t good enough, Remus John Lupin. We don’t blame you for anything that happened, you must know that. Our deaths are not to be blamed on anyone else, except perhaps Peter, of course. Neither you nor Sirius can take any fault for what happened. James and I would never blame you for what happened.”
Sirius can see the tension slowly begin to loosen as Lily’s words offer Remus the reprieve he’s begging for. Sirius knows that there are three words that have the most powerful significance to anyone who’s experiencing the heavy burden of guilt. Those three words will be the salve on the gaping wounds left by suspicion and loss, the oxygen that Remus so desperately craves as the remorse continues to suffocate him.
In the background, Sirius can hear James intake a sharp breath and in the same instant, they both murmur, “I forgive you.”
Remus gasps, greedy for the air that is now untainted and only tastes of redemption, and his body slumps slightly as their forgiveness has freed him from the chains that had kept him tied down. He lets out a whoosh of breath and looks at the three of them amazed.
“What the hell was that?” he asks in bewilderment.
James, who has barely said anything outside of his absolution of Remus explains, “We all come to this afterlife burdened by our guilt. In order to live peacefully we must seek the forgiveness of those we wronged, or believed we wronged. We forgave you and now we’re offering you a life where you can breathe freely without feeling like you’re being held back by whatever sins you committed while you were alive.”
“All it takes is a simple declaration of forgiveness and everything just…disappears?” Remus asks in disbelief.
“You’ll find that this world will never cease to amaze you,” Lily admits. “It’s as simple as that. It’s too bad apologies don’t work that way in real life. Imagine how free we would feel. Our souls would be as light as a feather.”
“You really do forgive me, don’t you?” Remus asks worriedly. “You weren’t just you saying you forgive me so that I wouldn’t feel so miserable, was it?”
Lily laughs and shakes her head. “It doesn’t work that way. The people offering the forgiveness have to actually mean it and truly feel like they don’t blame that person for what they did or else it won’t work. If we didn’t mean it, you’d still feel like you were drowning.”
Remus sighs in relief and Sirius catches a glimpse of that twinkle in his eye again. Sirius can see how youthful Remus appears now, perhaps not in actual appearance yet, but in spirit. It’s that light that makes him glow with happiness and pride. Sirius smiles and for the first time since he stepped through his own doorway into the deserted streets of London, Sirius feels like he belongs somewhere, like he deserves a place reserved in the hearts of these three people surrounding him. It isn’t home quite yet, but he’s getting there; he’s almost whole.
The next few days pass by in a blur and much to Sirius’s surprise, Lily is still with them. He’s never really asked before how situations such as this occur so he feels uninformed, doesn’t know what to look for that will clue him in as to when she’s leaving. Or maybe she won’t leave at all, he wonders, maybe the confidence that she had, knowing that she wouldn’t spend forever with James was nothing but a false hope, a prayer.
But maybe Sirius held on tightly to that prayer too because it meant she was leaving James to him – another sacrifice that puts Lily on Sirius’s list of saints. He knows he’ll hate to see her go but at the same time, he’s ready to move on, to start the rest of forever.
It’s during one afternoon when they’re sprawled out on the floor listening to one of Sirius’s favourite records that he first notices it. It’s just a flicker in his peripheral vision, where he knows Lily is, but when he turns fully to look at her, there’s nothing there. Lily glances up from where her head is resting on her folded arms and her gaze conveys obvious confusion. What are you staring at? it asks. Sirius shakes his head, thinking perhaps that he’s imagining things, and loses himself to the music once more.
Sirius knows it’s not his imagination when it happens again and continues to occur sporadically over the course of three days. Whenever he tries to corner Lily to ask her about it, it’s like she simply fades away and he’s staring at an empty space, except when he turns around to look for her, she’s right there again as if nothing had happened.
James begins to notice too. Sirius watches when James tries to talk to Lily, to demand what’s going on, and he sees her flicker and fade and then reappear.
One night James has enough and he stalks off to the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
“You know what’s happening,” Lily whispers before creeping silently towards the door and slipping in.
Sirius knows now that their time with Lily is nearing its end. He didn’t expect that this was how she would go; her body blurring around the edges, flickering in and out of their sight, like a phantom. But he shouldn’t be surprised, not considering where they are.
He hears James blow up at Lily and so he assumes that Lily has told him the truth, that she will be leaving him soon because her heart was never his to own. Sirius thinks James shouldn’t be this angry because it’s not like he ever gave up his heart to Lily either. Their argument is muted but he can tell by the inflection of the words that anger fuels at least James’s side of the conversation. He hears Lily’s soft voice, pleading, hopeful. James storms out of the bedroom then, his face red with fury and he doesn’t stop to say anything to Sirius as he flies out of the apartment in a fit of rage.
Sirius stands between the door and the bedroom and is at a loss for what to do. He knows he should go after James, try and quell his anger with useless words, but he can hear Lily sobbing, choking on too-late apologies.
It’s the first time in Sirius’s life that he ever chose a girl over James.
He sits down on the bed and pulls her into his lap, murmuring softly as he tries to console her, arms wrapped tightly around her hazy body. She still feels solid and that thought comforts Sirius slightly. Sirius loses track of the time and he doesn’t know how long they sit like this, the silence only interrupted by Lily’s hiccupping breaths and Sirius’s hushed attempts at calming her.
“I thought he’d understand,” she suddenly cries. “It’s not like he ever loved me fully, not with you around. But marrying me was the ‘proper’ thing to do. The right thing.” She says this almost bitterly and Sirius feels pity creeping up the base of his spine, making him clutch her tighter.
“But James does love you,” Sirius tells her reassuringly.
“Not like Severus,” she argues.
Sirius tries to stifle his own sob and presses a kiss to her temple. “No, maybe not. But it has always been enough to keep him by your side. To make him stay with you instead of being with me. And you love him too, so deeply that you would remain with him, that you would marry him though you loved another.”
Lily is silent, but she knows Sirius is right. He can’t deny that they had been happy once, but their love had never been whole, had never been singularly the other’s to hold. He can understand James’s anger, but he thinks that James should have seen this coming.
“I still think he’s acting irrational. He should know how happy he will be once I’m gone and then you’ll be free to live your life the way you should have been able to, together,” Lily sniffs, her hand brushing away stray tears.
“You should have known James would have reacted this way. He’s a stubborn fool. Let me go talk to him. You shouldn’t leave this way, with so many things left unsaid.”
Sheer panic is evident on Lily’s face when he says that. “James went outside?” she hisses.
Oh, oh. “Shit,” Sirius mutters. But then he shrugs. “Maybe he’ll cool down once he forgets about what happened.”
Lily glares at him. “That’s not funny, Sirius.”
“It’s not like he’ll permanently forget about what happened, but maybe he’ll be more reasonable about things.”
“Maybe,” Lily replies hopefully.
Sirius disentangles himself from her gently, smoothing her limp hair away from her flushed, wet cheeks. She reaches her hands and clasps them with his.
“Thank you,” she says earnestly. “You may not have realised it, but I have changed since you’ve arrived. You’ve helped me come to terms with my future. I’m scared to imagine what would happen to James had I left and he was left alone.”
He unfolds her hand and kisses her palm. Her fingers curve to cup his face and she smiles softly. This is her goodbye.
“You deserve this happiness.” This is his forgiveness.
The final threads holding her to this life begin to unravel and the tears spill forth freely again. She flickers more frequently now, like a light bulb that’s nearing its end, and though she’s always burned so bright, she’s fading now, eager to regain the missing pieces of her heart.
“Go, get James,” she urges him. “I want to be able to say goodbye.”
Sirius stumbles backwards and rushes out the door, hoping to find James before it’s too late.
It doesn’t take him long and for that he’s thankful. James must have been making his way back because Sirius bumps into him just around the corner.
“Sirius!” James exclaims relieved.
“Are you okay, James?” Sirius can’t remember how long it’s been, he can’t be sure how many minutes or hours of James’s memory have been momentarily erased.
“I’m fine,” James says hesitantly. “But I don’t know why I’m out here?”
“I think I should prepare you for what you’re going to remember once we step back into the light,” Sirius cautiously replies. “Up to what point do you remember?”
“I just remember that Lily’s been acting strange recently. It’s like…she’s disappearing or something.”
“Yes,” Sirius confirms, “Lily’s leaving.”
“But why?” And the tone reminds Sirius of a petulant child.
By now they’ve reached the flat and James quickens his pace to re-enter the light. Sirius puts a restraining hand on his shoulder. “You’re not going to like what you remember,” he says. “Try to rethink things with an open mind.”
James looks at him curiously, but shakes his hand off and rushes up the steps. He’s on his knees before Sirius even reaches the doorway, hands tugging angrily at his already tousled hair. The floor creaks beneath Sirius’s weight as he steps inside and closes the door behind him. James moves so fast that Sirius barely has time to blink and the next thing he knows, James is in his face, pushing him up against the wall.
“You did this,” he roars. “You made her leave me so you could have me to yourself, you selfish asshole. This is your fault! Why can’t you just accept the fact that I don’t want you?”
It’s those words that tear open the scabs on his heart and he almost collapses; the grief a crippling reminder that James still isn’t his. But he’s hopeful that it’s the anger talking because he can still tell when James is lying and he sees no truth in these accusations.
“James, stop it,” Sirius grits out between his clenched teeth, trying to push James away. “You’re being unreasonable.”
“I’m being unreasonable? You try learning that your wife is leaving you for someone else and then tell me how I should act.”
“James!” Lily shrieks as she worms her way in between James and Sirius until James finally has to let him go. Sirius slumps against the wall and looks at James balefully. But James still has reflexes reminiscent of a star Quidditch player and Sirius feels the punch before he actually sees James’s fist as it makes contact with his cheek.
Lily looks horrified and James is panting, rage still boiling in his veins as he dares Sirius to retaliate. “That was for last time,” he growls. But then his gaze falls on Lily, whose light is fading fast now, and the anger fizzles quickly. “Lily,” he sobs and he reaches for her, only to find his fingers capturing nothing but air.
Lily looks down in surprise and she knows now that it’s time to go. “James,” she says soothingly, and if she focuses hard enough she can still touch James. But it’s barely more than a whisper, a lover’s caress. “I’m sorry. We’ll both be happier this way, I promise you. You’ve never doubted me so believe me when I say that I still love you. But we both know that your heart doesn’t belong to me, not truly, just as mine is not yours. Please…James.”
There is a dull ache in Sirius’s chest and it begins to throb painfully at the sight of James, broken and quivering beneath his wife’s fingers. He looks defeated and his voice cracks when he says, “Just go, Lily.”
The final thread snaps. She smiles sadly and she says, “I love you, James,” before she disappears completely.
“James…” Sirius starts.
But James shakes his head. “Don’t,” he says and he staggers towards the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
Sirius recognises the slide of fabric against the wood and he can almost picture James sitting with his back against the door, head buried his hands. He wishes he had the words to make this okay, to make Lily’s departure less of a betrayal and more of an opportunity for them to get their happy ending just as Lily had predicted. But there’s nothing he can say, so instead, he walks over to the bedroom and sits just outside the door, his body an almost mirror-image of James’s.
Sirius is jolted awake when he finds himself falling backwards. He’s staring up at the darkened ceiling when James’s face comes into his view as he steps over Sirius’s body and collapses onto the couch wearily.
“At least one of us got some sleep,” James says bitterly.
Sirius scrambles to get up and he stands in front of James, unsure of what to do next. His mind plays out different scenarios but he’s pretty sure throwing himself on James right now is the least likely one of the bunch. He sighs and fidgets before James shoots him a glare and pats the seat next to him. Sirius sits immediately like an obedient dog. James cracks a slight smile at Sirius’s eagerness to please.
“James,” Sirius whispers and he looks into James’s hazel eyes, searching. Beneath the despair and grief, there is a faint glimmer of hope and Sirius is triumphant that time will grant them what they’ve been desperately seeking all these years.
James winds his fingers around Sirius’s forearm and pulls him closer, drawing him into a fierce embrace. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs, clinging hard enough to bruise.
Sirius isn’t exactly sure what he’s apologising for – the vicious words, the angry punch, or maybe for everything – but he holds onto James like he’s the only anchor he has to this world.
He brushes his lips against James’s cheek and he mumbles “I forgive you” to try and ease James’s distress.
James clutches him tighter, pressing a wet kiss to the pulse thrumming anxiously against the skin of his neck, and suddenly, it’s like the pieces fall together. Sirius feels a sense of utter completion here in this moment, a heightened awareness to the way James’s muscles strain to keep him close, the steady rhythm of James’s heartbeat.
His words of absolution finally offer James the freedom he had been struggling to grasp all along. James looks up at Sirius again and he doesn’t overlook the loss that’s evident in James’s expression.
“I’m going to miss her too,” he admits and he knows that Lily has become so ingrained in both of their lives that it will be impossible to ignore the subtle signs that she had been here all along, leading them up to this very moment.
“I don’t know if I can love you the way I love her,” James confesses, ashamed to look at Sirius though he still has his fingers twisted in Sirius’s shirt.
“You don’t have to,” Sirius reassures him.
He’s not asking for vows and a wedding ring; superficial declarations of love that mean nothing in this life (nothing more than a reminder of a broken marriage). All they need is time to relearn everything they had forgotten, rebuild what once was lost.
Here, where feelings such as guilt are non-existent, forgiveness is the ultimate act of faith and love is given time to blossom and flourish. Here, all they need is time to seek the highest path to happiness.
James smiles at him then, a beautiful careless grin, and Sirius thinks, yes, we have an eternity.
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