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At The Close by Sam I Am
Chapter 1 : At The Close
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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At The Close


‘You pull me through time...’ ~ The Fountain (2006)



i.





Remus had only been a few steps below his friend before he even noticed he was there. He had been jogging up the stairs, hurrying to fetch his wand, berating himself for having left it on the bedside table; too busy worrying, fearing the worst, to truly hear the footsteps thundering down the stairs ahead of him. He guessed Sirius had been the same, guessed that was why their gazes had snagged against each others’ almost accidentally, like a thread catching on a splinter, as they passed on the narrow darkened staircase.





Other clouded eyes peered down at them from the House-elf heads mounted on the wall. Elbow passed elbow with only the brushing of robes. Shadows shifted over the sharp angles in his face, darkening his troubled eyes; he held his wand out before him in a fist as if he half-expected Malfoy to suddenly appear on the next step.





It hadn’t lasted long. A few moments of something so close to physical pain it could hardly just be a feeling and then nothing. Remus stared at him and, in those few quiet seconds wedged in amongst the shouts of the Order members hastily preparing to head into an unexpected battle, he ached.





They were not seconds that were weighed down by meaning or lifted by contented nothingness. Just seconds of pause, seconds that filled a gap in the frantic pace, a breath. Seconds that ticked by methodically even when those who witnessed them were midway between actions.





He’d fallen in love with him then in a single sudden glance when nothing could have triggered it and nothing could justify it. And he had ached.





Then that handful of seconds had passed and the brief discomfort was numbed. Those grey eyes had passed over him with only the flicker of a suspension and he had hesitated in shock, foot half raised to the next step. His eyes followed after the black shaggy head as Sirius, bearing the panic he surely felt with some incredible strength, stalked down the remaining steps and into the kitchen, towards the fireplace, towards the bastards at the Ministry who had his godson.





As Remus shook himself and continued upwards at a stumbling run, it occurred to him that there could be only one reason for the sudden revelation and the cold and bitter dread which pooled in his stomach…




Neither those seconds nor Sirius Black would ever return.





~~~ * ~~~





ii.





The day had been manic as it always promised to be. But it hadn’t been as truly explosive as usual and that meant that everyone finally began to notice the rift.





The Marauders had not participated in April Fools; after the Incident, Remus had not had full time to recover before the full of March and so when that second moon came, even though this time he was supported by his animagus companions, he’d ended up undoing a fair amount of his healing. He’d come out of the Hospital wing just that morning (mainly due to the fact the Slytherins had set off some kind of dungbomb Catherine wheel and Madame Pomfrey, flustered and spattered, had wearily suggested he go back to the safety of his dormitory, although, knowing his roommates, even she winced at the word ‘safety’).





Of course, Remus hadn’t truly realised that his friends weren’t participating in the day’s events until he passed some of the Fourth Years, muttering in disappointment that there hadn’t been the trademark prank at Breakfast and that in fact one of them, Henry Gibbons, a Gryffindor, had seen James and Sirius sat doing homework (of all the sickeningly conformist things!) in the Common Room, neither going down to breakfast at all.





He snorted softly at himself as he began hobbling up a flight of stairs slowly, knowing by now not to touch the banisters as there would no doubt be some slipping or sticking charm he’d rather avoid and tapping each step with a foot before putting his weight on it. It was stupid, but somehow he felt guilty for depriving his friends of their favourite holiday; after all, it wasn’t as if they would ever see an April Fools’ Day on a Saturday at Hogwarts again.





He reached the top of the stairs, rib cage aching slightly, but he wasn’t far from the Fat Lady now and he only paused for a moment, deciding the safest place to be would be partially obscured by one of the larger suits of armour. He leant against the wall in its shadow and closed his eyes. His head was aching as was the troublesome break he’d made in his left wrist. He rotated the joint, wincing at the snick of ligaments and bone.





He waited until a small group of First Year girls appeared, drenched to the bone and shivering as they made their way to the Gryffindor common room and followed after them. He scratched at the scab forming beneath a bandage on his stomach, pausing at the open portrait hole the girls had just clambered through. He glanced inside and, of course, they were still there at the table they often commandeered near the best sofa and a good sized table. He shivered and drew in a breath that filled his lungs, pushing against his tender ribs.





He stepped into the Common Room and wondered if he could get to the dormitories before being spotted, but it turned out he couldn’t even get three feet inside the door before James glanced up, smiling with clearly forced brightness, lifting two fingers from their grip on his quill in a small wave. Remus smiled too, a twist of the lips even more forced than James’, certain that it looked all wrong and squirmy. He walked slowly over, trying to keep the slight limp hidden, especially when the other occupant of the table glanced up.





The grey eyes immediately flickered down to the still noticeably unfavoured leg and then to the miniscule gap between his t-shirt and jeans where off-white bandages were visible and then up to Remus’ face. Remus’ smile struggled to stay in place, suddenly desperate to stay calm, forgiving, although he wasn’t sure why it was so important to him. They haven’t spoken all month. It wasn’t intentional; Remus couldn’t successful carry off cold, furious silent treatment if he tried. No, the silence had just settled suddenly like thick choking ash after a volcano, as if neither of them knew what to say to one another anymore.





He finally reached the table, hands resting on the back of the chair between his two friends although his eyes strayed and stuck on Sirius’ face. Sirius stared back, slowly lowering his quill down onto his half-written essay. The lump of Adam’s apple in his throat jiggled slightly before his lips parted...





“Potter!” Lily approached hurriedly and then her eyes fell to the desk, the Potions textbook and the slowly filling roll of parchment under James’ quill and stopped dead, “Oh. Potter, you... sorry... McGonagall just wanted to check you were...” Her cheeks were that memorable shade of pink they went when she was furious, growling out her dislike for him and turning down his advances (which she’d told Remus had stopped pretty abruptly since Remus ‘got sick’ at the end of February). Remus frowned in surprise because she seemed much smaller than usual, her usual mane of hair pulled back into a long plait as she smiled a little, “Well, that you weren’t lying dead somewhere, but you’re... you’re clearly... clearly fine, Pott- James.”





The fact she had corrected herself caused a mildly-catatonic looking James to blink himself back into consciousness. Looking at him, Remus noticed he looked a little pale and remembered that last month he’d seemed unusually subdued after the Incident. James turned slightly in his chair towards her, smile shyly, “Uh, yeah. Just...” He shrugged, “Have potions to finish for Slughorn for tomorrow so I was jus-”





“What happened to the Breakfast prank?” Lily blurted out, interrupting him, a truly bemused look on her face, “I mean, there’s always been a prank, five years in a row. Um... You do know what today is, right?”





James chuckled and at the sound, Lily let out a soft giggle as well; he glanced at Remus stood there still and the pleasantly-surprised smile faded ever so slightly before he turned back to the red-headed prefect, “We just weren’t in the mood for breakfast this morning.”





Lily glanced at Remus too, still flushed, a slight look of relief filling her face, “How are you feeling, Remus?”





“Better,” he replied, hoarsely, suddenly uncertain what else to say to the girl, who he’d always found so easy to talk to, at least when Sirius Black’s eyes weren’t fixed on his face.





Lily soon turned back to James though, “Well, now I know you’re not incapacitated I should...” Words failed her and she motioned with her thumb towards the portrait hole, “Get my own Potions essay done.” She paused, green eyes focussed on James and didn’t move from where she stood, “In the library.”





Her fingers, practical round nails painted pale pink for the weekend, tapped against the Potions textbook she held in front of her as she shuffled from one foot to the other, cheeks darkening by the second. It seemed painfully clear to Remus that a lot had changed in a month and that Lily, who’d been used to propositions being thrown at her at least twice a day, had perhaps begun to miss them.





He thought for a moment that James would still be too surprised Lily had called him by his first name to notice the bashful offer, but eyes not leaving her, he slowly rolled up his essay and lifted up his book, “Mind if I join you, Ev- Lily?”





He smiled pleased when she became even more flustered and looked to Sirius, “Are you two coming?”





Sirius shook his head silently and before Remus could even confirm whether he would be going to the library or not, James and Lily were moving towards the portrait hole, oblivious to much else than each other.





Remus watched after them for a little longer than was necessary because he knew Sirius’ eyes were still on him and he didn’t know why it made his skin itch so much. Eventually, he drew out the chair next to Sirius and glanced at his friend before taking it.





Just to avoid the stare, he dug into his satchel, even though he had no work to do, enough time since the Incident spent healing in the Hospital Wing to get the majority of it finished and to not be set a lot more. He chose the novel he’d already finished as his prop, glancing up at Sirius as he slipped it onto the desk.  The essay was utterly forgotten and Sirius seemed determined to say something, his eyes dark, the circles beneath them darker. He gulped again and Remus tried to stop staring himself, but found his eyes strangely magnetised to the fierce shame and sadness in Sirius’ face.





“Remus...” His hand hovered above Remus’ left wrist, the one still bandaged. It had been ages since he’d been called Remus by another Marauder; the nicknames had stuck and he’d had his longer than the others, at least three years now.





Whatever regret Sirius had been about to verbalise, it died in his vocal chords turning instead into a shaky chuckle, “Looks like Evans has finally embraced the spirit of April Fools’. She pranked Prongs pretty convincingly with the blushing and the stammering; he might even believe she wants to speak to him now and, you know, sit with him for prolonged periods of time.”





A slightly truer smile slipped onto Remus’ face and Sirius’ hand trembled where it floated above his own. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius was still watching him, although it no longer made Remus’ skin itch. A shiver blossomed under his skin as he stared down at the printed text, unable to focus on the words, or even register where he was in the plot he’d already finished.





Sirius’ whisper was so quiet, Remus wondered if he’d imagined it as it somehow wound through the sound waves buffeting the werewolf from all the other Gryffindors laughing and plotting noisily around them, “Are you cold?”





The fire was roaring at the other end of the room and here, near the window, was where the early Spring chill seemed to find its way into the tower. Before he could nod, Sirius grabbed his leather jacket from the back of his chair and offered it hesitantly towards him.





Their fingers brushed as he took it and Sirius smiled properly for the first time in a month, “I’m almost done. Fancy getting a butterbeer in Hogsmeade?”





“Alright,” Remus replied quietly and as he spoke, a missing spark snapped into the silver irises of Sirius’ eyes.





Something in Remus’ unconscious mind quashed the question ‘Should we ask Prongs?’ that almost bubbled out of his throat and instead he pulled the jacket over his shoulders. Occasionally he caught Sirius’ eye over the homework and novel, although most of the times he felt eyes on him and glanced over in that half hour, Sirius appeared to be scratching out line after line of neat, accurate answers, although a strange relieved quirk trembled at the corner of his mouth.





For some reason, when the essay was returned to the accomplished animagus in Transfiguration with only an A scratched at the bottom, the muscles around Remus’ stomach thrummed for a moment and then stilled again.





~~~ * ~~~





iii.





He saw him everywhere that first day. With his parents on the platform, battered suitcase almost as big as he was; quietly reading in the corner of a compartment, seemingly oblivious to the students sharing it with him; amidst the crowd at Hogsmeade station as a giant bearded man had called them together; in the boat next to the one he was in as they were propelled towards the castle; calmly waiting with all the other first years to enter the hall.





He wondered later if it had been something about seeing the scrawny pale boy with baggy patched robes, strange claw-shaped scars across his face and mousey brown hair, already dulled by faint grey streaks at his temples, which had clinched it for him.





After all, it wasn’t everyday that the heir to the Black fortune was sorted into Gryffindor.





~~~ * ~~~





iv.





He measures time these days in seconds because they never seem to drag on and on in slow motion. Hours feel like days now, which in turn seem like weeks; he tries not to consider how he will feel once a year has passed.





Most of the time he carries on like those lost seconds, a constant in a world forever changing, a measure of time that is not affected by emotions. It is easier that way.





But there are some times that he does not get out of bed; some times that he imagines boot prints in the worn library carpet, a dog hair on his trousers which disappears with a second glance. There are times when the thought of grief briefly enters his head, when he thinks without feeling ‘I miss him’, blank, numb, and then returns to whatever conversation or task that idea had interrupted.





He continues like the steady seconds and detachedly only identifies the flesh from around his bones and much-needed sleep as the things he has lost. He accepts there is no cure and does not search for one.





He never enters Sirius’ room, but does not lock the door.





His fingertips stray over the handle only once; the slight hitch in his heartbeat lingers although his fingers do not.





He remains.





~~~ * ~~~





v.





It had been a mistake; he tried to make it sound plausible, if only in his head. It had been a mistake. As convincing as he knew he could be when he was trying to get out of trouble, he couldn’t even accept his own excuse.





He felt sick.





The dormitory was empty and he sat on the edge of his bed, hands pressed into the mattress as if he was about to push himself into standing, but he didn’t. He seemed to have pins and needles all over him, especially in his motionless arms, prickling sharp and hot in his palms. He just sat.





James would be with him now, maybe Peter too, if his cracked skull had been healed yet. They would be telling him what had happened, what Sirius had done.





He felt sick.





He could hear Snape’s voice in his head, could see his beak-like nose, his black spiteful eyes. He hated him, he loathed him and the feeling was entirely mutual. But Sirius knew that couldn’t be an excuse either.





There was a soft sound from the door and Sirius didn’t look up from the small black blood stains on the carpet, almost perfectly spherical. The blood must’ve been James’ from before; he’d lost two teeth, fractured his cheekbone, broken his nose…





“You should know  that I am so angry with you right now, I cannot be held responsible for my actions.”




Sirius closed his eyes as he heard his best friend pull the door to behind him quietly before suddenly storming in front of him, hissing fiercely, “You idiot, Pads. You stupid fucking idiot!”





He looked up at James; his glasses still looking disjointed even though he knew they had been in a much worse condition and his nose and cheek were red and swollen from the healing charms. Sirius knew how much they must sting, much worse than his pins and needles.





“Do you have any idea what you could’ve done, what would’ve happened?!”





Sirius couldn’t look at James anymore because he did know how bad things might’ve been, but he didn’t want to think about it anymore.





“They could’ve sent him to Azkaban, Sirius! Even though it wasn’t his fault! Azkaban! At sixteen! His whole bloody life ruined!” The animagus paced frenetically in front of him, so full of rage and terror-induced adrenaline from what had happened a few hours ago that he didn’t seem able to stand still, “For fuck’s sake, didn’t you even think about Moony at all?!”





And that was just it. He had thought of Moony constantly. Not just during those stupid few minutes, but always. He couldn’t stop thinking about him. And it was stupid, but somehow he got the feeling that maybe that was why he had done it…





He felt very sick.





~~~ * ~~~





vi.





Sirius watched his friend, stiffened and heavily bandaged hands enveloping a mug of tea. The silence was comfortable. Remus was no doubt too exhausted for words and so many years of conversations had already passed between them that he had obviously disregarded his manners for once; despite the fact they hadn’t seen each other since the previous full moon he didn’t strike up the usual ‘how are you’s and ‘sorry I haven’t been around much’s.





Sirius wanted to say something, uncomfortable with the comfortable silence, but found that briefly language had left him and, as always in noiselessness, his mind wandered, his eyes strayed…





He wondered if Remus ever noticed.





Although time had worn at his bones, dulled him, destroyed so many things he had once been unable to comprehend living without, some things hadn’t changed.





In the silence, Sirius always thought of Remus, considered what should be known and what was best to be ignored. When he was alone in the house, the questions and uncertainties, like the silence, were constant, maddening. He talked to Buckbeak just to avoid what whispered in the empty rooms as he kept his lonely vigil over them. It was easier that way.





He cleared his throat slightly and muttered with the gruffness of concealed worry and deeper concealed turmoil, “Go up, Moony. Don’t feel obliged to keep me company.”





His friend smiled wanly with a weak snort, acknowledging that Sirius knew him too well, as he gingerly rose from the chair, wood creaking slightly as cold stiff joints flexed. Sirius didn’t offer help as the werewolf wobbled precariously for a moment because he knew Remus would hate him if he did; his arm made a flinch towards Remus anyway because he would always try to catch him when he stumbled and his hesitance to touch Remus must’ve made everything he’d been hiding painfully clear.





For a moment, Remus paused with the smallest of frowns balanced in between his eyebrows, eyes drawn down towards the hand hovering above the tabletop, fingers stretched towards the werewolf’s forearm.





Remus looked back up at him and smiled slightly, “Night Sirius.”





‘No...,’ Sirius thought as Remus limped past him and up the short flight of steps into the hallway and then further up into the towering townhouse, ‘No, he doesn’t notice.’





Quashing the strange mixture of relief and resentment curling in his blood and retracting his hand from where his shivering fingertips had still been brushing the ghost of a worn robe sleeve, he pretended that Remus truly left him when they were no longer in the same room.





~~~ * ~~~





vii.





Sirius was sat by the back door smoking when Remus apparated into the wild overgrown garden. Despite the casual way he was lounged against the brickwork, arm resting on a raised knee before he drew the fag to his mouth, Remus could tell he was on edge.





It was just something about the blankness on his face.





He glanced up and the moment their eyes connected, he looked away briefly. The slightest glitch in contact and Remus could also tell that Sirius didn’t trust him. Sirius had never easily concealed his emotions, at least not from someone he trusted, and yet even after their eyes met the bare mask remained. He guessed no one trusted anyone much these days, but he’d clung to the thought that a werewolf could find loyalty somewhere in this world with a stubborn naivety that was not normal for him, always the pessimist.





He sighed and stepped up to door, wand unzipping the charms Sirius could not get through, although for him to have been sat where he was he’d hacked through the rest a little too well for Remus’ liking considering that Sirius breaking in was the least of his worries.





He stepped into the pocket-sized kitchen and heard Sirius rise and follow him; he could feel the sharp buzz of silent magic as Sirius no doubt replaced the security of the rickety shed that served as Remus’ house. Privately, he almost smiled at the simple reminder of just how Sirius could manipulate magic so delicately despite his usual brash behaviour.





He perched on the edge of the garden furniture table, flicked his wand at the kettle hanging in the hearth and said as calmly as he could, “Sirius.”





The auror only stood silent though as if waiting for Remus to expand on some unmentioned point; his arms folded across his chest in a universal sign of defence. Remus sighed again, too tired and exhausted for the fighting. It seemed like they’d always been fighting when really it hadn’t been all that long ago they’d been pulling pranks on Slytherins, perfectly peaceful.





The silence ached on and he knew Sirius was staring at him although he kept his eyes on the spider web labyrinth that was establishing itself in the corner. When the kettle began to hiss, he didn’t rise to get it and instead said quietly, “Tea?”





Sirius growled and it was beginning again, the same old arguments, the same heavy feeling in Remus’ chest. It was clear that Sirius wanted to pace angrily, but there was barely room to breathe, “I don’t want any bloody tea, Remus! Where the fuck have you been?”





Same old arguments, same old distance, same old secrets.





He pressed fingers to his head, replying quietly, “Sirius...”





“Don’t even fucking bother!” Sirius grunted, moving over to the hearth, fists clenching as he looked about ready to punch the thin sliver of wall before him. Instead, he turned to Remus again, eyes nowhere close to being as impassive as his face, filled with glittering silver anger and something so much more vulnerable than that, “You know how long I’ve been sat on your bloody porch? Do you have any fucking idea how...?” He stopped speaking as the anger flared and he snorted like a frustrated animal, voice deep and dangerously quiet as he asked, “Where were you, Remus? Where’ve you been for four whole days?”





He winced because he hadn’t known it had been four days, time seeming to have lost meaning as he’d silently followed that band of Death Eaters. It had all been fruitless. He’d gotten no closer to finding where Voldemort was, further away from finding out who the spy among them was as this lot knew less about it than the last group had and he hadn’t been able to assassinate enough of them when they’d massacred the children in that primary school...





The kettle screamed, but it couldn’t block out the similar sounds in his head.





Shakily, he lifted his wand, still clutched in his hand from when he’d unlocked the door, and levitated the kettle away from the flames. Water sloshed over the lip and onto the hot coals, sizzling, before it ended its short but wobbly flight to the table.





“You know I can’t...”





“You were there,” Sirius hissed, “I know you were there. Why don’t you just fucking tell me it was you?”





Remus looked at him steadily, although his heart seemed to be shaking as much as his hands had been, “I can’t.”





Sirius’ eyes locked with his for what felt like forever and it seemed to Remus like there was some other secret that his best friend wasn’t telling him, something that wasn’t to do with where Sirius had been last month, when Remus had spent the few hours he was allotted to sleep, putting himself in danger, listening in the shadows for any mention of Sirius, just to make certain he was safe and alive.





The anger drained and left something in his eyes that was reminiscent of Remus’ father, that look that spoke of fighting a losing battle, but fighting it anyway because there was no other choice, “You know, I can’t tell any more if that means you can’t tell me because of Dumbledore or if you…” The words faded and Sirius looked at him angrily and ashamed because he knew Remus had been at that school, so the ‘if’ would mean that it hadn’t been in his capacity as a member of the Order. The thought sickened him to his stomach, the thought of being one of those men after seeing what they’d done, the tiny broken bodies strewn amongst the desks like the paintbrushes some still held, broken easels and spattered paints.





“I’d never lie to you, Padfoot.”





For the briefest of moments, there was pain in the auror’s inky black pupils and Remus didn’t know why his heart was racing or why Sirius’ pain was so deep that it made Remus want to confess, despite Dumbledore’s constant warnings about the importance of secrets. Why, just looking at his friend’s tired and beautiful face, he would suddenly do anything Sirius asked, everything he asked.





“Exactly,” Sirius said sadly.





His friend was brushing past him to leave as Remus’ hand caught his forearm, the dull black leather of Sirius’ jacket warm from its proximity to the fire, “Sirius.” Sirius’ face didn’t turn to him, eyes squeezing shut suddenly and Remus felt a strange shiver coarse through the tall thin figure.





Puzzled, he stared at the left arm he grasped and, with a strange slow horror, his hand recoiled sharply as if he’d been burnt, shaking his head in shock.





Sirius looked at him again and the ache in his face was so fierce, Remus knew that his still throbbing heart was breaking. It couldn’t be that. Not that. Surely not Sirius...





His own anger rose in him, the sort of anger that was really fear and worry and hurt masquerading behind a stronger façade. The suspicion he’d known would be driving their argument suddenly turned on its head and Remus was overwhelmed to suddenly feel it coursing through his body as his jaw dropped slightly, staring at his best friend aghast. His chest rose and fell shakily as he felt himself asking fiercely, “And why did you flinch, Sirius? Why did it hurt you when I grabbed your forearm?”





The usual concern was utterly gone in that moment and had been replaced by a dread he’d avoided loyally for so long. The constant worry he’d felt over the past few months that something bad might happen to Sirius flipped and reversed into a dark despair that perhaps Sirius had been immune to all the atrocities, had escaped mainly unscathed from one too many duels for it to be purely down to skill and luck...





The snarl of a question that left his mouth had to manoeuvre itself past his sore vocal chords and temporary lack of lung capacity, “Why did you shudder when I touched you, Sirius?”





Sirius was quiet, stuck in the very narrow space between the wall and where Remus now stood, staring him straight in the face. The sharp silver in his eyes was dulled like a worn sickle, glancing at where Remus’ hand still hung in shocked suspension between them before trailing slowly up to Remus’ eyes again. The gaze was filled with some old blunt emotion Remus should’ve perhaps noticed before now, although he couldn’t translate the hitch in Sirius’ breath and whatever feeling was causing it remained nameless.





A strange soft smile curved Sirius’ mouth as the space seemed to shrink further, noses overlapping in the space. A breath that smelt of dehydration as much as Remus’ probably did skimmed over his chapped lips as Sirius whispered, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”





Then Sirius was gone and, despite the hazard of leaving the wards down for too long, Remus couldn’t move from where he stood for a few minutes, staring but not focussing on a crack in the wall behind where his best friend had been standing.





Three weeks later, when everything went to hell, Remus still couldn’t work out what Sirius’ other secret had been.





~~~ * ~~~





viii.





“Professor?”





The fire was low and the Weasley children were being herded to bed, still buzzing with laughter that should’ve warmed the entire house; Remus felt cold.





“Professor?”





It seemed a struggle but his eyes briefly lifted to the dark-haired boy who stood next to him, looking awkward in his growing body. He knew he should be desperate to listen to Harry’s thoughts, to relieve the strange ache in his eyes, should be fiercely determined to help him, to make things better. He really just wanted to be alone and immediately felt guilty for such selfish solitude.





“Harry,” he said softly, calmly.





Harry shuffled forward a pace, harbouring some tentative wish to ask something he hadn’t dared to before. Resignedly, Remus knew that he wanted nothing more than to interrupt Harry as he opened his mouth, to leave suddenly. But he was too weary to run any longer, too sick of it all, too sick of his own wallowing.





“I just… I just wondered… I wanted to know what you think death is like…”





Remus’ eyes which had been straying back to the pale grey ash in the grate froze on their way, caught somewhere between the poker hanging beside the mantelpiece and the blackened wall of the chimney.





“Death?” he whispered, finally looking up at his surrogate godson. Harry’s face was pale, eyes slightly shinier than usually, expression anxious and yet relieved as if he’d been carrying a burden for a long time. “Death,” he repeated slowly.





It seemed like some terrible irony that he was the one answering this question, when so many of the people Harry loved knew the answer and yet could not tell him now. He had to look away from the boy, noticing the ticking of the clock on the wall with far more clarity than before.





“I don’t know…” Pausing, Remus could see Harry droop slightly in the corner of his eye. Suddenly, he was struck with a barrage of images of the dark-haired boy through the day; suddenly, he realised that Harry reminded him a lot of himself these days. Drawn, faded, quiet…





The thought that Harry was half his age and wearied already made his heart hurt.





“I don’t know… but I think that maybe… maybe you realise what everything you did meant; what it meant to other people… how much you meant to other people.” Something hot seemed to travel up the tissue at the back of his throat, prickling as he breathed, “Perhaps Heaven and Hell are just the same stretch of time; it’s whether you suffer in the knowledge that no one loved you or realise you were loved by many which defines that eternity. I think that… I hope that death is like that...”





Harry nodded, eyes lowered, flickering over the floor as if it carried a message only he could read. After a few moments of silence, he mumbled, “Professor?”





“Yes, Harry?”





Green eyes dry, Harry stared at him, glasses frames glinting in the pale yellow light, “I think you’re right.”





For some reason, a flicker of warmth shivered through his chest briefly although the strange ache remained, causing his lips to curve into a soft smile, “Thank you, Harry.”





Harry nodded and smiled wanly, “Night Professor.” He awkwardly shifted backwards a step before turning and walking upstairs towards the jumble of laughs echoing around the Burrow, calling back, “Happy Christmas.”





When Harry had left, he glanced at the dying flames and whispered, “Happy Christmas.”





~~~ * ~~~





ix.





They pass each other on the stair; Remus’ eyes are very blue, face very pale in the half-light. Sirius is already a foot into the kitchen before the thought enters his head.





He imagines charging back up the stairs and saying it, just telling him of all the years of want and loss, the reason he had endured, the one reason why he was still here fighting that slipped through his fingers every time he reached out to touch it, touch him. He wants to turn back now and tell him, he wants to rage and shout and if Remus isn’t listening, if he’s still ignoring what Sirius has been trying to tell him with every chosen word he’s spoken to him in almost thirty years, he…





He takes a step backwards because he’s sick of not knowing, not knowing what Remus would do or say, not knowing what it will feel like to be free of doubt, one way or the other.





He shakes away any selfish thought that stands between him and his godson, even though his footsteps slow, just for a moment, just for one moment of weakness. One moment when he can pretend he fully intends to tell Remus, at least one day, and can find comfort in that thought.





He imagines charging back up the stairs and not saying it. After all, talking had never done much good before, all the words that never meant what they were supposed to. Instead, he imagines pressing a shocked Remus snug against the wall; they would fit as he has always known they would, perfect alignment from head to toe, and he imagines Remus would notice too and he’d have that slow-dawning expression on his face like when he had overlooked some possible hitch in a prank and then Sirius would be kissing him before he could run away again, holding him, showing him.





The same image flickers across his mind as he falls, bathed in blinding red light.





In the splinter of a second before he drops into space, Remus is kissing him back…





~~~ * ~~~





A/N: Feedback would be really useful! Please let me know what you think.





Sam x





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