Monstrous, the instructions warned in a footnote. Sure and swift damnation is upon the wizard who attempts it. A selfish act of abomination will rise. You, who steals back what does not belong to this world, can only cause immortal anguish.
Remus flicked these heavy words off his conscience, wand poised to practice. With his forehead and fingers slick with sweat, he knew that he was not in his right mind. He was feverish; and in his delirium, he nursed a higher awareness that others were watching him. He would have to be very careful if he wanted to protect his treasured privacy.
“Our friend has been on his own for far too long, I’m afraid,” Albus Dumbledore’s reasonable voice echoed. “To know friendship and betrayal and then the rekindling of that friendship, only to lose it again, is tragic to the psyche. What with recent events, I have reason to believe that his grief is much worse than he lets on in front of his friends. His compensatory behavior has begun to concern me. I would ask for you to keep a close eye on him, and learn what he’s doing with his idle time when he so frequently disappears.”
“I can keep an eye on him,” replied an eager female voice. Too eager. Remus had shrunk away from it, a hidden shadow in the alcove. No one even noticed he was there.
“Then the responsibility lies with you to ensure that he does not hurt himself further than I suspect he already has.”
Remus was never one to ask for too many opinions when his own was quite decided. All he needed was the blessing of the only other person relevant to the scheme… This tug on his thoughts was the only blemish in his resolve. Of course he could secure that blessing. Was anyone more entitled to make decisions on this person’s behalf than Remus himself? Had he not earned the right to be his mouthpiece, his eyes, ears, and actions?
He paced the length of the room he often escaped to nowadays, growing anxious that his covert ducking back and forth around Britain was not going unnoticed.
He didn’t have time to care. Time was not something he had abundant quantities of at his disposal.
After a trial of patience and the forfeit of trust from many friends, Remus was triumphant. The mass before him stirred, only half-alive. His swirling, silvery form was less gaseous than it should have been. A shimmering liquid stained him, shining in the moonlight. Unicorn’s blood.
“What have you done?”
Those were the first words out of Sirius Black’s mouth, followed by, “You shouldn’t have done it.”
But Remus would not allow for this moment to be spoiled. Suddenly recovering his anger that had been lying dormant for months, he exploded, “You should never have left!”
“I was dead.”
“Death should not have kept you.”
The ghost of Sirius gazed upon him knowingly, understanding at last that Remus had wished him to stay behind after his death. But Sirius had never feared death. Adventure was one of his greatest delights, and a voyage into the unknown, the unwritten, the untold – it appealed to him more than any other adventure preceding it. In that moment, falling into the veil, he had felt rather like he was jumping into it.
“Remus,” he said softly, features blooming with incandescence as he took a step forward. The milky rays of starlight thrown across the room through a filthy window made him frighteningly beautiful – a reflection of his pre-Azkaban splendor.
While Remus knew that his friend’s tone was one of reproach, he thought he had never heard a sound more phenomenal.
Ecstasy was fleeting.
Remus felt the many eyes of the Order pressing down on him, conversing behind his back. He felt the suffocating attentions of a young woman who was barely more than a child, and endeavored to leave her in the dust. She would not listen. She was utterly convinced that he loved her, just as she was convinced that she loved him, and Remus had long given up trying to change her mind when it pleased her so much to be in love with someone, anyone.
He had more important things that needed dealt with. Things that could not be easily quieted with a kiss on the cheek, as kisses were something this unsatisfied soul could not feel and had no use for.
A jangle of chains grew steadily more audible as Remus crawled through the tunnel, long before he reached the Shrieking Shack’s interior. He’d worked tirelessly to provide the Shack with all the comforts of home – giving up his own belongings to pad its walls and floors. His flat was barren now, but it didn’t faze him since he disliked spending time there, anyway. The Shack overflowed with his scant possessions, including whatever he’d been able to steal or borrow. Several blankets believed to have been filched by Mundungus Fletcher now made a cozy nest on a wrought-iron bed.
He’d forgotten that Sirius had no need for a bed or blankets. Remus’s best memories of him, after all, took place in beds and blankets, the orange burn of firelight on Sirius’s cheek fading to pale lavender daybreak as he watched him for hours. In all seasons, at all times of day, this was where Remus loved to remember him best. In his slipping mind, he’d thought cold, moth-eaten linens essential to the portrait. He thought them vibrant and whole, like Sirius used to be.
“You keep me in chains,” Sirius began to accuse, his coloring the cast of a storm as his body hovered at a grimy window. He’d asked Remus to clean the window so that he could see out of it, since his own fingers could not find purchase on anything, but Remus delicately refused. People passing by in Hogsmeade might see you. They might come looking.
“I thought you liked chains,” was all he said.
Sirius was in no mood for jokes. “I’m not a bird, Remus,” he snapped. “You can’t cage me.”
Remus’s face contorted with fury, then flattened. He bit his lip, hands clenched tight. “Fine. If you’re going to behave like a child, then I’ve got better things to do with my time.” As he turned on his heel and left the Shack, Sirius shouted after him. He screamed things that haunted Remus’s fitful dreams, vowing to hate him forever, that he should be damned to hell. And at the very last, before his voice drifted out of earshot, there would be softer pleas: “Come back. Remus, please. Come back.” But he always changed his mind and became wrathful again whenever Remus did come back.
So Remus stopped turning around.
When he dragged himself back to his flat, he sat in miserable silence because he had absolutely nothing better to do than dwell on his loneliness.
Word of a fight with Death Eaters rode in on black wings. It was not long before the powerful Albus Dumbledore had fallen, taking with him the shock of such an impossible tragedy, and a blazing source of hope in the wizarding world. Where Dumbledore’s bright flame once burned in the darkness, there was now smoke. Confusion. Haziness and disorder.
As a child of the moon, Remus had learned how to flourish in times of chaos.
With a pang of guilt, he curved his back over a table spread with plans, lunar charts, and phials, spattered with old blood, and allowed a small smile to form. Waves of relief trembled all over his body. Those two shrewd blue eyes would never follow him home again, would never discover his secret. There were others, of course, who would inherit Albus’s suspicions, but they were inept in comparison. Easily fooled.
Easily fooled with a smile and a kiss, a lingering gaze masked as affection instead of distraction. His thoughts were always elsewhere as he touched her skin, dreaming of someone else’s lips. It would all be worth it, if it meant he got to keep Sirius forever.
For the first time in a great many years, he felt freed.
He was happier than he could remember feeling since his Hogwarts days. He was so happy that he decided to get married, caught in a whirlwind of personal success he couldn’t even share with his bride. She knew how cold his kisses were, how when she looked at him he stared back with only the remnants of curiosity and interest, escaping accidentally through a carefully-controlled sieve. He couldn’t keep everything from her, though, not in moments when he felt so vulnerably blissful and wanted to share it with the nearest person. He was too impulsive in this way, letting good moments get the better of his good sense. It made him feel guilty later when he had to look Sirius in the eyes.
His wife was satisfied with the cold kisses, cold arms, distant gazes. I’m warm enough to keep us burning, she thought. He’ll learn to miss my fire when I’m gone and then he’ll miss me, too. It didn’t matter. Her hopes that he would eventually let his guard down were in vain.
His beloved was dead, but Remus knew of a way out.
Sirius was desperate.
“Unshackle me,” he begged. “Take off these magical bindings and I promise I won’t leave. I promise.”
Remus sighed, sitting down on the bed. The springs creaked as he sank into them. He pulled off his shoes and let them drop to the floor, stretching his legs. With a half-smile, he patted the empty space next to him in a silent invitation for Sirius to come over. “You know I can’t do that. I still haven’t forgiven you for trying to attract the attention of that man walking in Hogsmeade. I caught you shouting down to him, asking for help.” He shook his head in disappointment. “Why you would think you needed his help, I’ve no idea. I give you everything you need, right here.”
Sirius stared at him out of the corner of his eyes, overcome with mourning. “I just want to write to Harry. That’s all I want.”
“You want to write to Harry?” Remus snapped sarcastically. “Is that all?”
“Is it so unreasonable? You owe me at least that favor, don’t you, for pulling me back to Earth and locking me up in this goddamned shack all by myself, unable to eat or drink or touch anything.”
“I owe you?” Remus burst, unconsciously pitching forward towards him. “You? I owe you?” He laughed humorlessly, threading his fingers across his barren scalp where peppery chunks of hair were falling out, and turned in a circle. His eyes were deranged when he laid them on Sirius’s again. “I suppose you want me to write letters to all your other old mates, too, and deliver them like I’m your owl. Ungrateful – selfish – you certainly don’t ask for much! Here, I’ll take a knife and cut my arm off and give that to you, too.”
“I don’t need your arm. You’ve already got both your hands squeezing around my throat every hour of the day.”
Remus’s face was beet red, pulsating like a bruise. “After everything I’ve done for you, to bring you back –”
“I know what you did to bring me back, and I certainly never asked for it!”
There was a ringing silence after this, with both men glaring murderously at each other. Remus inhaled sharp, shallow breaths; Sirius’s chest was forever still. “Fine,” Remus growled, sitting down at an ancient writing desk. Sirius hated that desk. Its only use to him was potential tinder if he ever succeeded in burning the place down. Which he wouldn’t be able to do until he practiced moving things telepathically with more dedication. More strength.
Remus, of course, was unaware that Sirius entertained thoughts of this nature.
“Your letter to Harry,” he began edgily, conjuring a quill, inkwell, and a sheet of parchment. He gestured at Sirius to get on with it, snapping his fingers. “What do you want me to say to the boy who thinks you’re dead, and who would go absolutely mad to hear from his dead godfather?”
Sirius ignored his tone, readily relaying the contents he had long ago memorized on the doubtful occasion that Remus finally let him correspond with someone else in the world. It was every answer to his dreams, this desire being granted. He yearned to be listened to. Harry would listen to him. Remus had stopped listening a long time ago.
Through Remus’s lovely penmanship – he’d forgotten how Remus wrote everything with a sideways slant, taking special care whenever he wrote Sirius’s name – his thoughts were conceived in the physical world. His smile was brilliant. While he himself was no more than mist, his feelings were now tangible, still drying on the page.
He exhaled a sigh of relief when Remus folded the parchment into three equal parts and slid it inside an envelope.
“There,” Remus concluded bitterly, stuffing it into his pocket. “Never accuse me of doing nothing for you ever again.”
“I won’t,” Sirius promised, following him only as far as his chains allowed. “I won’t, I promise. Thank you. Thank you, my friend. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
“Have you heard from Harry?”
Remus looked away, uncomfortable. “Not yet.”
Sirius’s forehead creased with worry. He seemed more wan than usual, his hues of blue, gray, and white washing away to a thin vapor. He was fading.
“That’s strange. You gave him the letter over a week ago. Surely he would have replied to it by now?”
Remus shrugged. “Maybe. He’s busy. I’ve told you before that I can’t even be sure my letter found him. I’d imagine that he and his friends have put up plenty of defensive charms and spells. For all I know, he’s traveling abroad at the moment and my owl can’t trace his whereabouts.”
“I hope he’s all right.”
“I’m sure he’s fine.” Remus absently flicked his wand over the lamps, draining them of oily residue. If they were to be accidentally lit somehow, the illuminated window would have been visible from Hogsmeade. Couldn’t have anyone come investigating, now. “If you’d like, I can bring you the new biography about Dumbledore so that you can have something new to –”
“Moony?” Sirius interrupted.
“What?” His reply came out more irritated than he intended. “We’re grown men, Sirius. Don’t you think we’re a bit old to be using childhood nicknames?”
Sirius was watching him closely, head tilted to the side. His colorless hair brushed his cheekbones, his jaw, his shoulder. Remus wished for a second that he could feel it in his hands again. “Don’t deflect on the subject. Did you give Harry my letter?”
“Of course I gave Harry the letter!”
He’d responded too quickly. Sirius knew everything about Remus, especially any tells indicating that the latter might be lying, and his eyes narrowed furiously, darkening with little black clouds. It was like ink staining thin air. “I knew it.”
Remus stomped over to the door, footsteps thudding along the tunnel. Sirius was already screaming at him again, calling him a liar and a coward and many words that were much, much worse – that made him wince and squeeze his eyes shut – but Remus would not respond to him.
It was Sirius’s own fault for being foolish. He’d let his dreams rule his good sense, and forgotten that Conjured objects always disappeared in due time. The parchment had been Conjured, and so it must have ceased to exist somewhere high in the wind over England.
He had a body composed of breath, quivering under the dying sunlight. His shackles were gone, but enchantments had been painted all over the walls and doorways, effectively preventing his escape. “Why do you keep me here, Remus?” he clanged, voice spilling out of him in a gust of gray fog. “Why won’t you let me leave?”
“It won’t be that much longer,” Remus assured him. “Surely it cannot be that much longer.”
“Until what?” Sirius’s ghost dissolved in a plume of smoke, materializing four steps closer. Remus staggered back, gut twisting to see that tortured expression on Sirius’s face, how sunken and unseeing his pale eyes were. They were twice as pale in death, showing no pupils. “Why can’t I go now?” His hands pressed together, pleading. “Release me.”
Remus shook his head sorrowfully. “I cannot.”
Sirius only stared for a moment, disbelieving; Remus turned so that his back was to him. “Why?” Sirius demanded. “Why can’t you let me go?” Remus could feel him disappear again, and then reappear with his face just inches from his own. He could feel mist hanging thick in the air, Sirius’s body floating all around him in miserable cobwebs. A thousand memories flashed through his mind, with Sirius consuming him like this. It wasn’t at all the same. There was nothing to kiss now but air. Air and memories, and his own fingers on either side of Sirius’s blurred face.
“Because I still love you.”
Sirius scoffed. “You might as well put me back in my chains, for all the good your love is doing me. There’s no use being half-free. I have to stare at these same four walls every day and night. I can count each crack in the ceiling from memory.”
“It’s better than death!”
“I was with James.” Sirius's mouth distorted, eyes shimmering around the edges with pewter jewels. “I was with James and Lily again until you ripped me away.”
Remus couldn’t stand listening to him complain anymore. “But you have me. You have me here; you don’t need James or Lily or anyone else. We finally have each other all to ourselves. It should be good enough.”
“I don’t have you because the Remus I knew is gone!” Sirius yelled. “He’s broken! You don’t have me, either, because I’m dead. Your beloved is dead and you don’t know how to go on, and it’s sad, Remus. It’s just sad.”
Remus Lupin had never been a gambler. He was dealt more agony than he was prepared to deal with, and took on additional agonies with resentful reluctance. Sirius and James’s propensity for getting themselves into trouble, and their encouragements that they all join the Order and throw themselves in harm’s way as often as possible, was not something Remus enjoyed. He would have preferred for Sirius and himself to exit the country altogether – he’d heard that Belgium was notoriously tolerant of werewolves and reminded Sirius of this on more than one occasion – but these urges fell on deaf ears.
Sirius would have his glory. He was indomitable.
Remus became the biggest risk-taker of them all, there towards the end. He tried to go out in a stylish way worthy of Sirius’s admiration. Harry Potter thwarted one of his suggestions, when he offered to accompany them while they carried out Dumbledore’s orders. He wished Harry the very best of luck, but knew that unfathomable perils lay ahead of them. Remus hoped to meet one such peril with wide-open arms.
The baby slowed his resolve, but only for a little while. It didn’t take long to convince himself that any child would be better off without him. Better no father at all than a werewolf to destroy all of his prospects of a happy future. The baby was an obstacle. His ever-eager new wife was an obstacle. But like all the obstacles in Remus’s life, he learned to ignore them, suppress them.
When he traveled to the Shrieking Shack to show Sirius his new form, he expected joy.
Sirius was staring morosely at the wall, his face hidden while he listened to the drips of rain coming down through holes in the ceiling to form puddles. He’d been concentrating on trying to make the water move, to make it ripple.
Remus spoke his name with a laugh waiting to fall away from his lips, anticipating celebration. He’d never felt more alive.
“I didn’t hear your footsteps come in, Moony.” Sirius stared harder at the puddle of water under his insubstantial feet. Maybe he could lift it into the air if he focused more, and force it to drown Remus. It would be such a lovely relief to finally kill him.
“That’s because I didn’t make any footsteps, Padfoot.”
Sirius turned around, freezing to stone the second he saw what Remus had become. The stone shattered then, his spirit bending double as it forced out dry sobs laced with words almost too tangled to understand. “What have you done? Oh, Remus! What have you done?”
Remus’s smile faltered, puzzled. This wasn’t at all the reaction he’d fantasized. “I did it for you.”
“Don’t say that. Don’t say that it was for me. If you ever say that again, I’ll never forgive you. It’s horrible enough that I had to hide here while Voldemort and Snape – while they –” He stopped. “As nightmarish as all those years in Azkaban were, it was a hell of a lot better than what I have now. I wouldn’t wish this fate upon my worst enemy. You have no idea what you’ve just damned yourself to.”
He’d wanted Remus dead. Oh, yes, he had very much wanted him dead.
But he had not wanted him to become a ghost.
The world wavered, growing dark as Remus closed his eyes so that he couldn’t see the sting in Sirius’s pale, pupil-less ones.
“You shouldn’t have done it.”
His beloved was dead, and so was he.
“Now we can leave this world together, like we always said we would.”
“Is that what this was? You made me wait for you? You made me sit here and suffer while you lived for a few more years – got yourself a wife and kid? Jesus. Stop looking at me like that. I don’t want you looking at me like that ever again.”
“I couldn’t face the afterlife without you,” Remus implored, hands knotting nervously under his chin. “I didn’t want you to have to face it without me.”
“That’s the most selfish thing I’ve ever heard. You are a selfish bastard, Remus Lupin.”
“But don’t you see?” Remus reached out one hand to touch Sirius’s, their fogged fingers blurring together. Sirius felt cold and wet, like a raincloud. “The Battle’s over. Harry’s won. There’s no reason for me to be here anymore, and now I can finally go with you and see what’s waiting on the other side.”
“I already know what’s on the other side.”
He’d only blinked for the space of a heartbeat, but a heartbeat was all it took for Sirius to dissolve into the peeling strips of wallpaper.
“Sirius?” Remus croaked. “Sirius!”
He felt panic rising in the place where his heart used to be, the invisible blood pumping with such strength that his arms blushed pure ivory. No matter where his eyes landed, or how hard he strained his ears, he saw and heard nothing. He felt a significant void, confirming his worst fears.
He’d let his dreams rule his good sense, and forgotten that Conjured objects always disappeared in due time.
Remus tried to run out of the Shrieking Shack, screaming and beating his fists but not making a difference on anything he touched – and that’s when he remembered the spells he’d personally put in place. The charms he’d painted on the walls to keep ghosts from leaving the room. In a corner, curled up in a pile, was a rusty length of iron shackles. He might as well have been tethered to them.
He floated to a window, but there was no view through caked layers of dust. He shouted at some passer-by below he could only partially see, but whoever it was didn’t look up. This place was called the ‘Shrieking Shack’, after all, and some spirit calling from it would seem quite normal. No one would want to approach it. No one would think to check to see if a non-malevolent ghost was trapped within. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, Remus Lupin was resting in peace.
His beloved was dead, and Remus would never join him.
Anything you recognize is the property of JK Rowling. This was my first stab at writing slash, so I hope it wasn’t too far off the mark. Merry Christmas, Missy!!!