Chapter 1 : glory days, lifetimes, friendships past
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They had wandered here as third years; James had heard a rumor that giants frequented the caves and so, the four of them had trekked here, only to be welcomed by piles of highly unadventurous rocks. James had been swearing, Sirius had been laughing. The climb had been nearly too much for Peter, so Remus had walked slower to keep him company.
It was strange now, returning decades later. He could almost hear Sirius’s ribbing and James’s laughter waft through time and into the air.
At the end of the dirt path, he stopped and entered the third cave he saw.
His stomach clenched at the sight of dead rats by the entrance, but he kept walking. The cave was a mountainous womb, pregnant with darkness.
Before he traversed far, a gaunt black dog came wandering out.
And as it always had, it transformed into his last and best friend. Remus watched as it grew and its fur receded until before him, stood Sirius. He looked withered and feeble, on a frail frame that didn’t suit him; he was a mere exhalation of the man Remus had known. When he spoke, his voice came out hoarse. “Did Dumbledore send you?”
“Did you bring food?”
Remus held up the small sack he had brought with him. “It’s not much.”
“It’s enough. I want to eat outside. It smells like filth here.”
Sirius rummaged through the sack and pulled out a leg of meat, which he started on immediately. Remus joined him outside, sitting on a rock opposite his.
Remus quietly watched Sirius eat. This was the first time they had been together since the night of Peter’s escape. This was certainly the first time they had been alone in twelve years.
After Sirius finished the food, he tossed aside the sack. “Thanks for the food. I haven’t had a good meal in days.”
“I should’ve come by earlier.”
There was a long silence. Sirius’s eyes were resolutely glued on the dirt. He didn’t seem to disagree.
“How was your time abroad?”
“Fine,” grunted Sirius.
“And now you’re back for Harry’s sake?”
“Yeah, for the Triwizard Tournament.” Sirius leaned back on the rock, considering the sky. “James would’ve liked it. If we’d had a Tournament when we were there.”
“Probably. Though we managed to get in enough trouble even without one.”
They both stared at the night sky.
Remus swallowed. “Sirius, I – “
“It’s -- ”
“Don’t say it’s okay. It isn’t,” said Remus firmly.
Sirius gave his signature bark-like laugh. The sound hit Remus like a slap. “Look, you didn’t know any better.”
“I should have. For God’s sake, you were my best friend. I trusted you with my life.”
“Just not James and Lily’s.”
Remus struggled for an answer. “I’m sorry – I’m sorry – I know I should've - .”
“I would’ve died for James. I still would.”
“I know. I know. I’m sorry. Twelve years I slandered you in my mind.” Remus’s voice broke. “I’m sorry. I was never – I never attempted – since that night, I haven’t slept properly. I feel -- ”
“Guilty? You don’t think I feel guilty?” roared Sirius. The sound clanged as if he’d thrown something. “I told them to change their Secret Keeper! I thought it seemed too obvious that it was me! I told them! I told them not to tell you because I thought it was you! I’ve replayed that conversation with James for twelve years in my mind, with nothing but Dementors for company!”
Tears sprung to Remus’s eyes as he watched his own friend swallow the urge to sob.
“Padfoot,” he croaked. “I’m – “
“You have no reason to apologize to me. Not when I thought the same of you.” Sirius’s voice was watery, quavering with self-control.
“For twelve years, I’ve lived as a coward,” Remus choked out. “I didn’t try to contact you. I didn’t try to contact Harry. I wasted it all, trying to pretend that if I could eke out an existence for long enough, I could forget everything. As if I could forget James or Lily or you.”
Sirius leaned forward. “So you still miss them?”
“I know I’ve earned your mistrust, but how can you ask me that?”
“Still as sensitive as ever,” said Sirius. “Do you? After thirteen years?”
“I thought it would stop someday. It didn’t.” Sirius sighed. “I’ve never resented you for thinking I betrayed them. We never told you we changed Secret Keepers.”
“I don’t blame you.” After a moment, Remus said, “So whose idea was it not to tell me?”
“Mine. James hated it. He hated the idea that it could be one of us. Refused to believe me. We argued. We shouted at each other. Lily came downstairs because we’d woken up the baby.”
“What did she think?”
“She told me to do whatever I thought best.”
“Why did you think...?”
“You’re asking me why I suspected you?” asked Sirius. “Why did you think it was me, Moony?”
“I thought you’d woken up one day and realized there was no reason for you to fight with us. You were on top of the world.”
“You thought my family got to me,” he snorted. “Even after listening to seven years of me complaining, you still thought I ran off to make mummy and daddy proud?”
“I don’t know what I believed. You?”
“Voldemort had promised the werewolves things if they’d joined him.”
“I see,” said Remus quietly.
Seven years they’d spent swearing to each other that they were more than the sum of their parts. Sirius had gone to any length to prove he was different from his family. Remus had spent every month in pain, trying desperately to remind himself that he was more than an animal. In the end, they had caved to the beliefs they had so strongly sworn against.
Sirius also seemed lost in thought. When he finally spoke again, he murmured, “What was their funeral like?”
“What did you say?”
“I talked about how you two met on the train. How we played our first pranks together in the beginning of second year on – “
“ – McGonagall, I remember. Nearly put us out of the business for good.”
“Nearly put us out of life for good too,” said Remus.
“How James started fancying Lily in third year. Our prank on the Bloody Baron in fourth. James’s first ‘O’ in fifth. His mum was so proud.”
“You left most of the good stuff out, then,” said Sirius. “Nothing on how we nearly lost our arms jinxing that parchment to make the Marauder’s Map? Absolutely nothing on James sprouting antlers four different times before he became an Animagus? The real miracle was how we were able to explain it away each time.”
After another pause, Sirius said, “When I saw his body, I wished I had died instead. Sometimes, I still…”
The silence that came after seemed vast. It was strange how even in death, everybody was in James's debt. Sirius. Remus. Even Snape.
For a brief moment, Remus could remember it all: their first train ride in Hogwarts, their first Transfiguration lesson together, their first Quidditch game. Sirius and James had always been the brightest, the noisiest, the most boisterous, at the height of their lives and their brilliance.
Remus had been content to watch them, happy at all to be included. Peter had been the glue that had kept him sane, reminded him that not every friend had to outshine him. He could remember consoling Peter when his father passed, reminding James not to curse Snape if he wanted a chance with Lily, reprimanding Sirius about asking to copy his essay, but leaving it on Sirius’s desk before he went to sleep.
He could remember the first time they’d successfully transformed into Animagi, the first time Lily had said yes to James, their wedding...everybody had been together, young and happy and hopeful. They had joined the war at twenty, full of the same hope, thinking if they hoped enough and fought enough, everything would be okay.
At twenty-one, Remus lost all of them. But the decade they had spent together had been the happiest of Remus’s life. Within that decade, a lifetime of laughter had passed by.
It was Remus who broke the silence. “I have the memory of the funeral stored away in a vial. Come watch it with me someday.”
“I’d like that,” said Sirius.
Remus left soon after, with a vague hand wave as a goodbye. Sirius was still sitting on the rock, his face turned towards the stars. As he began walking down the path, Remus too turned towards the night sky, where the stars were softly glimmering. He made a note about the vial.
After all, memories couldn't die. Even if James and Lily had.
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Until the End