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Chapter 34 : When Memories Come Calling
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Chapter Thirty-Four: When Memories Come Calling
Sirius dropped a piece of ice into his glass, a soft tinkling sound echoing through the Grimmauld kitchen as he stirred it absently. The eerie silence of the house made him guess it was near midnight but in his current mindset, he really couldn’t tell. Hermione had made the kitchen livable – almost welcoming even – but Sirius still could not bear to look at the dismal surroundings. So he sat alone in the darkness, resembling more a ghost than a real man.
Tipping the chilled glass to his lips, he grimaced as the pale liquid slid down his throat. He had never been one to like Muggle whiskey, even in his younger days, but it did have the affect he was looking for. Memories haunted his daily existence but at night his heart physically ached with guilt over the responsibilities he had been unable to fulfill. It had been days since he’d slept and since Juliette’s revelry, Sirius knew he had to get rest before he began lashing out at everyone in firing range. He had settled into the kitchen long after everyone else was asleep, determined to drink himself into oblivion if that’s what it took to stop hurting the people he cared about most. Sirius forced himself to take another drink then leaned back to prop his legs on the table. He smirked to himself, thinking of what his mother might say if she witnessed his filthy scuffed boots resting on her hand carved table. Out of pure spite, he shook his foot violently causing dried mud to scatter across the wood.
He cursed aloud for letting the memories carry him away again and, angrily, he took a swig of the whiskey straight from the bottle. It was always like this when he drank. The first few drinks made him melancholy and reflective but after a few more, he knew the whiskey would begin to drown all thought. The idea of having nothing streaming through his mind made Sirius reach for the bottle again.
“Drowning your memories, Sirius?” a hand held tight to the bottle preventing Sirius from taking a drink.
How Remus always seemed to know that he was in need drove Sirius nuts and made him feel loved at the same time. Unfortunately, being loved by anyone was the last thing he wanted tonight.
“Tonks letting you out past your bedtime again?” he countered, not bothering to glance up.
“She went over to Fleur’s while Bill’s out of town.” Remus refilled Sirius’ glass for him then moved to sink down opposite him. He hesitated briefly, “you disapprove?”
Sirius eyed Remus curiously. Although their friendship had continued as if no time had elapsed, Remus often seemed edgy, fearful even, when talking to him and it was beginning to unnerve him.
He topped off the whiskey in his glass and then slid it to Remus, keeping the bottle for himself. “No, but you do.”
“I disapprove of myself?” Remus laughed tightly but Sirius didn’t miss how he avoided his gaze.
Ignoring the question, he sat in silence, waiting for the feeling of euphoric respite to come. When it didn’t arrive, his eyes shifted lazily and he noticed the tension in Remus’ body – the taut muscles in his face; the white knuckles that were gripping the fragile glass; the downcast eyes that refused to hold Sirius’ gaze for even a moment. He hated seeing him so uncomfortable and wondered if Tonks was really the only thing on his mind.
“If you’re here for advice, I should warn you I’m only half sober,” he replied quietly.
“That’s the best time to get the truth out of you anyway,” Remus returned with a small smile. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, causing a pained look to cross Sirius’ face. When Remus finally spoke, his voice was low and contemplative, which grabbed Sirius’ full attention. “I see it in her eyes, you know. When she looks at me. I don’t think she even realizes it yet. She’s young, innocent…”
“Tonks, innocent?” he chuckled.
“You know what I mean, Sirius.” His voice dropped a notch. “You, if anyone, know what I mean.”
Sirius remained silent, determined to let Remus continue. It was the first real conversation, the first true admission of emotions, he had witnessed from Remus since his return from the veil, perhaps even before that. Even when he had returned from Azkaban, their conversations had been limited to daily banter or discussions regarding Harry. It was almost as if concentrating on Harry’s problems had allowed them to ignore the fact that, before that tragic night of Lily and James’ death, they had once been the best of friends.
“I see her watching me and I see…” Remus trailed off and, after a moment, he took a drink rather than continue.
Sirius studied him carefully, wondering why he hesitated. He knew what was on Remus’ mind...it had passed through Sirius’ own the first time he saw Tonks gaze at Remus when his back was turned. But Remus had never been one to like having his feelings exposed and although once upon a time Sirius would never have hesitated in confronting him, things were different between them now. He focused his gaze on the bottle in his hands, picking at the label uneasily until he finally realized what he was doing. “Lily,” he murmured finally, “You see Lily.”
He could see the relief wash over Remus and he braced himself with a long swig of whiskey, his emotions beginning to tumble out of control. Why did everything have to be so complicated? He could feel Remus watching him and knew Remus was trying to gauge his emotional state before speaking. If he was the reckless one, Remus was undoubtedly the cautious Marauder and Sirius took comfort in the notion that even after all this time some things had still not changed.
“I see you and Lily,” Remus corrected softly.
Sirius sighed heavily, knowing even the whiskey couldn’t dim where this conversation was heading. “She was young and naïve.”
“As is Tonks.”
“And I was careless and callous which, of course, we know you’d never be.” Sirius’ voice held a note of bitterness and regret that he couldn’t conceal from Remus.
For the first time, Remus locked a gaze with him. “You walked away. It was perhaps the most noble thing I’ve ever seen you do, Sirius.” Although he still held the gaze, his voice wavered. “I guess it’s my mistake for not telling you that years ago.”
A pained look crossed Sirius’ face and he knew Remus was reaching out to him. But what he was wanting, Sirius wasn’t yet strong enough to discuss. “You’ve watched me make a lot of mistakes in my lifetime, Remus.”
“I’ve seen you do a lot of things right, too,” he defended and Sirius gave a faint smile.
“I’ve watched you be a passive observer to your own life since you were eleven. When do you think its time to actually enjoy what little this pathetic world has to offer?” Sirius couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice. “So Tonks is younger than you, do you really give a damn?”
He didn’t realize he was shaking until he reached for his drink. He wished he could make Remus understand. His years in Azkaban had given him plenty of time to reflect on missed chances and lost opportunities. If anything, his return from the veil had only re-enforced the ideal. And yet here Remus sat, years of freedom wasted away by some self-imposed exile. Sirius knew Remus was afraid – afraid of being rejected; afraid of being the sole Marauder again; afraid of a hundred things Sirius had never understood during their school years. James had. James had always understood Remus even when no one else could.
It took a moment for Sirius to realize how harsh his words might have sounded and he frowned. “I still have a habit of talking without thinking, Remus. I apologize.”
But Remus didn’t seem angry or upset. Rather, a look of deep concern had caused his brow to furrow. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. I don’t think I even want to,” he whispered. “But I know that living in Azkaban is something I am not strong enough to do. Much less this, this fiasco of a return from death for a second time around.”
Sirius tried to wave his seriousness off. “You don’t live in Azkaban, you are fortunate just to survive. And you isolate yourself once a month. It probably would have been a breeze for you.”
“It’s not the same. I know it wasn’t the same,” Remus prompted. “You can’t hide from the memories forever, Sirius.”
“I’m not hiding,” he growled but Remus pushed a fresh bottle his direction and Sirius couldn’t resist. He tipped the bottle to his lips, a vague memory touching the edges of his mind. “Do you remember the last time we did this, alone together, I mean?”
“You’re changing the subject.” He grinned as he pulled the bottle away to re-fill his own glass.
“Yes, but only temporarily,” Sirius admitted. “I’m waiting for the liquor to kick in before I talk about that place.”
Remus smiled, accepting his answer because he knew Sirius needed him to. “Then I won’t tell you that you’re already slurring and instead tell you, yes, of course I remember. It couldn’t have been too long before the charm was invoked.”
Sirius refused to look at Remus. “Yes, that’s correct.”
His formality caught Remus off guard and he reached for him. “Sirius-”
He pulled away from Remus’ grasp and moved to look out the window over the sink. He swayed slightly, the liquor finally having the effect he was hoping for. His eyes tried to focus in the black nothingness out the window but it couldn’t hold his attention. He gripped the edge of the sink, dropping his head to try and quell the guilt rising within him.
“I don’t blame you for not telling me,” Remus said quietly, causing Sirius to turn. “Had it been me, I wouldn’t have told you either. It’s the world we were living in, Sirius. As much as we hoped it would never come between all of us, we knew it eventually would. It’s been so long ago.” He gave a melancholy shake of his head. “You have to let it go.”
“Were it not for me, Harry would have had his parents. James and Lily would still be here with us. Harry would not have been forced to live some cursed life and Peter would damn sure not have been on the loose to aid in Voldemort’s return.”
“Dammit, Remus, stop being so consoling!” Sirius slammed his fist into the cabinets. “Don’t you get it? One choice. One choice and everything fell apart. I’ve made a dozen wrong choices in my life and the only one that ever had to pay for it was me. But this, I made a choice by convincing them to use Peter and it destroyed everyone.”
Remus jerked toward him, grabbing Sirius by the arm. “Sirius, we were all young and you had reasons to believe you wouldn’t be the best choice as secret keeper. There was no way any of us could’ve known Peter would turn to Voldemort. You can’t blame yourself for what’s going on now.”
“Don’t you?” he managed, his words hoarse with years of pent up emotions. “Don’t you blame me, Remus?”
“No,” Remus answered without hesitation. “You’re a Black. You’ve carried that label around your entire life and it’s terrified you. I can’t imagine what you went through when you made that choice. I’ve tried. You loved James with everything you had and that you had to trust someone else with his life is a burden I wouldn’t wish on anyone.” Remus quieted. “Sirius, I know it was there. Deep down you were afraid that your Black family values would somehow reveal themselves and get James and Lily killed. You did what you thought you had to do.”
“And they got killed for it anyway,” he murmured with finality and broke free from Remus. Fighting back the tears he could feel coming on, Sirius grasped the wall for support as he moved in the sitting room. He hesitated a moment at the doorway, partly to make sure Remus intended to follow and partly to let his eyes adjust to the dim candle-lit room.
He dropped heavily onto the sofa, cradling his bottle to make sure none spilled out as he moved. He closed his eyes for a moment to block out the vivid flickering of multi-colored lights coming from the Christmas tree Juliette refused to let them take down. They flickered in some random pattern that irritated his senses but, Hermione had insisted that was normal for the Muggle creation. He waved his hand gently toward them, causing them to flicker momentarily and then soften to a warm steady glow of muted rainbow colors. It was a much more subtle glimmer and Sirius smiled at the effect. “Much more civilized,” he murmured.
“Tell me something, will you?” Remus sank into a chair across from him, his voice still tinged with anxiety. “James did die either way, but which would have been worse for him? To die at the hands of Voldemort knowing Peter had betrayed him or, in those brief moments before death, having had to face a world in which Sirius Black, his best friend in the world, had chosen to abandon him?”
Sirius gave a withered look and poured half the bottle of whiskey down his throat without a breath. “I did abandon him.”
Remus sank back into his chair, unable to come up with a response Sirius might believe. He sat silently, thinking of the years he’d spent growing up with Sirius but still couldn’t think of anything that might break through the wall Sirius had created or pull him from the deep hole he’d fallen in to. Only Hermione could have driven him back to these horrific memories and, in as much as he wanted to warn him off, Remus wanted to see him happy even more. Happiness was so rare in Sirius’ life that, no matter how he knew it would end, Remus wanted to allow him whatever breath of joy he possibly could.
Leaning forward, he jerked the bottle out of Sirius’ hand, ignoring his friend’s grimace at having it snatched away. He drank it slowly, the liquid sliding down his throat but burning into his soul.
“What about you?” Sirius asked, pulling out his wand and waving it lazily to conjure his own bottle of alcohol. “What did you do with yourself all those years I paced from one moldy rat infested wall to another in Azkaban?”
Remus struggled to hide the look of hurt his words caused but too many drinks had softened his reactions and he couldn’t conceal his emotions. He had abandoned Sirius when they needed each other most. He’d chosen to believe Sirius was the traitor and, in so doing, had cost them both the only companionship they had left. He tilted the bottle to read its label…a fine brand that only Sirius would’ve conjured. He twisted it in his hands, letting the cold sweat from the bottle chill his hands.
“This,” he said motioning to the bottle then leaning back and offering Sirius a sad smile. “I don’t recall every being sober. Of course, it wasn’t on such a finely crafted ale, I must admit.” He laughed but sobered immediately. “I was passed out cold the day Dumbledore showed up and told me that Harry was going to be attending Hogwarts.
Sirius jerked involuntarily and glanced away quickly but, like Remus, his reflexes had been dimmed by the whiskey and memories that had come calling.
“Sirius,” Remus frowned.
“You didn’t check on Harry?” he asked softly. “Not even once?”
Remus dropped his eyes, unwilling to let him see the anguish he felt. “No.”
Sirius was quiet, unsure of quite what to say. Not a day went by in Azkaban when he hadn’t thought of Harry. He imagined him growing with each year, wondered if he had a knack for trouble like James; dreamed of what he looked like and what traits he had inherited from his parents. His sleep was punctuating with horrific nightmares wondering if Peter had perhaps already gotten to Harry first or that Dumbledore wouldn’t watch over him as well as Sirius himself would have. His desire to escape and claim Harry for his own had almost driven him mad.
He had long wondered why Remus had never gone to Harry. He had blamed it on Remus’ grief for awhile then later he blamed Dumbledore for hiding Harry away with the Dursleys. But, in truth, he couldn’t imagine anything that would’ve kept him from seeing Harry and found it unfathomable that Remus didn’t feel the same way.
“Will you let me explain?” Remus’ voice was near pleading.
“It’s not necessary, Remus," he offered him a half smile. “You said it yourself, we all did the best we could.”
“Don’t let me off so easily, Sirius. I know you, don’t I?” he asked, shaking his head as he spoke. “If you don’t let me explain now you’ll just keep stewing about it for another ten years until you decide beating the snot out of me is the only way to deal with the issue.”
“No,” he shook his head morosely, “we have more pressing things to deal with than a past we can’t change.”
“Such as?” Remus could feel himself sobering and hated the idea. He tipped the brandy but, this time, Sirius blocked his path.
“Harry and Ginny,” he whispered quietly, his eyes boring into Remus’. “It’s time for the truth.”
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