Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain . . .

-- Oscar Wilde, De Profundis


It was very lucky indeed that neither of them were even a pound heavier than they were. There was hardly enough room to breathe as it was. But Sirius had his hands under Remus' robes, and was working them into his pants to grope his behind. Remus' own arms were wrapped tightly around Sirius' neck, hands tangled in his soft hair, pulling him close.

Night had only just fallen outside the castle, but their tiny, cramped niche was darker than midnight. A tapestry of Maureen the Morbid blocked out the light from the hallway and just to Remus' right, a crumbling portion stone wall blocked the entrance to a hidden room. He and Sirius were not remotely interested in the secret room this evening.

Sirius' left elbow kept banging into the wall as he squeezed Remus' ass. The concealed door was a little loose, and so every time Sirius knocked into it, it made a clunking noise as it jumped on its hinges. Remus whispered, breaking away for a moment. He didn't have enough breath in his lungs for anything louder than a whisper, and his heart was hammering. Somebody will hear if you keep doing that.

Shut up, you prat, Sirius replied with a breathy laugh. Nobody'll hear. They're all still down at dinner. He squeezed Remus' right buttock, and Remus drew in a sharp breath.

There was no doubt in his mind that somebody would, eventually, hear them, but, with the pad of Sirius' index finger rubbing against his anus, he was at the point where throwing caution to the wind seemed like a very good idea.

He ground his hips hard against Sirius' and fixed him with another bruising kiss. He pulled Sirius' head back so that it rested on the stone and kissed his' throat, hard and high on the pretty column of skin. He would leave marks, he thought as he rubbed breathlessly against his companion, and the very idea sent shivers up his thighs.

Nobody told Remus what happened to Lily and James Potter. Nobody showed up at his door to tell him that Peter Pettigrew was dead. Nobody had ever sent him letters warning him that Sirius Black was a traitor.

He found out all of these things on his own, like the rest of the world, in the morning edition of The Daily Prophet. The headlines caused him to drop his teacup on the linoleum floor, and he stood there amidst shards of cheap china and scalding hot tea, reading about the effective end of his life.

It was five-thirty in the afternoon before the knock at the door came. The tea had evaporated amidst the pieces of china, leaving a dark brown stain on the blue and white patterned linoleum. Remus was sitting in a chair at the square card table that served as a dining table. The sun had long since passed over the apartment building, and so the little kitchen was cast in some shadow. He did not hear the knock the first time, but when it came again, hard and quick, he got awkwardly to his feet and answered the door.

said the short, harsh wizard he was faced with. Had a bit of a time finding you, you know.

That had been the idea, hadn't it? That was why they'd sold off the majority of their possessions, wasn't it? That was why they'd moved five times in the past fifteen months, why they'd been eating off a glorified card table, why their whole life fit in a creased leather portmanteau, a duffel bag and a battered trunk. Yes, he knew.

We've come to collect Sirius Black's personal effects, the man continued. If you don't comply--

said another voice. He became aware that a tall, slouch-shouldered witch was standing beside the man. She dwarfed him, but he was broad and sure of himself, whereas she seemed ready to fold up on herself and disappear. Her voice, however, was kind and unquestionable. Go gently on him.

Who are you? Remus asked hoarsely. He had not been crying, nor, in fact, making any sound at all, but the words came to him with great difficulty. It was clear enough that they both worked for the Ministry of Magic, but he wanted to hear it from them before anything else happened.

I'm Elsie Grey, and this is Boris Borgins. We're with the Ministry, Mr. Lupin, and we've come to collect Mr. Black's things, I'm afraid.

You'll have heard, I assume, Boris said crisply. He had a handlebar mustache and dark, heavy eyebrows that curled up at the ends.

I saw, Remus said. In the Prophet.

You'll understand, then, why we have to take his things, Elsie said.

There was a pause, and Remus became aware of how tightly he was gripping the door handle. I'm -- he began, but could find no words.

Ministry orders, Lupin, said Boris. You had best let us in.

Elsie said again.

Remus drew in a slow breath and stepped back to let them in. Boris stepped forward and he seemed to fill the tiny apartment. He looked around at the Muggle lighting disdainfully. Elsie followed him.

Where's Mr. Black's room, if you don't mind, Mr. Lupin? Elsie asked.

He pointed in the direction of their room. His things -- His things are in the top two drawers. Boris swept into the bedroom, and began taking things indiscriminately and throwing them into into a large, black duffel bag.

Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Lupin, Elsie said.

I don't want any of his things, Remus said dully.

The tall witch looked at him appraisingly. Remus looked away, watched Boris tossing things from the bottom of the dresser into the bag. Finally, he felt Elsie look away from him. Which of these books and papers are Mr. Black's? she asked.

Remus sighed. He did not look away from Boris' wide back. He was sweeping the things off the dresser top and into his bottomless bag. The letters on the kitchen counter . . . all that's his. And as for the books, I don't know. They had shared their possessions for so long that most things were not his or Sirius' but theirs.

Perhaps you could help me, then? she asked delicately.

Boris was pulling the sheets off the bed and opening the pillows with his wand. After a time, Remus said, All right, and Elsie handed him another black duffel bag. The Ministry insignia was printed on it in white, followed by the words SENSITIVE: To Be Kept Under Lock And Key, Or Else.

Silently, he began to put books he knew to be Sirius' in the bag. A copy of Quidditch Through the Ages went in, followed by The Picture of Dorian Gray and an envelope of sheet music for a piano he'd left behind at Grimmauld Place five years ago. Pictures and precious mementos -- those that Boris had not already claimed -- went in, too. He tossed in a string of bottle caps, a favorite quill, sheafs of blank parchment, a pocket watch that spat every hour on the hour. He had no idea what use the Ministry could possibly have for any of these things, for this junk, but he nevertheless dumped it all into the bag, feeling almost as unflinching as Boris.

Will these things be returned to me? he asked quietly. Elsie was bent over the stacks of mail on the counter, sorting out those addressed to Sirius.

I don't know, she said, looking up. Her thin, hunched shoulders and narrow neck made her look rather like a bird of prey.

Seems unlikely, Boris called from the bedroom, where he was apparently still rummaging through their bedding. Black's too dangerous for all that. And he's got no relatives that'd want it, anyway.

I'll put in a good word, Elsie promised softly, looking at Remus' face.

Don't bother, he said. He swallowed against something traitorous in his throat. I don't want any of it. They can burn it, for all I care.

Elsie looked almost hurt, but said nothing. She continued to sort through the mail, then, along with Remus, searched through the kitchen cabinets. Finally, she took Remus' bag from him and put it inside hers. I think I have all of it, Boris, she called. Her voice sounded light, as if she were calling a child in to tea.

Boris said, Nearly done! and there was silence again.

After another few minutes, Remus looked away from the darkening window. The sky outside was the same twilight blue as Elsie's robes. Would you like a cup of tea? he asked, solemn.

Oh -- No, dear, she said. It occurred to Remus that she was probably old enough to call him at least forty, if not older.

Just then, Boris emerged from the small bathroom, the duffel bag clutched in his powerful fist. Ready to go? he asked.

Elsie nodded, and Boris opened the door and walked out as if it were his own home. Elsie said, Thank you, Mr. Lupin. Best of luck, and followed him out. Remus said nothing, and shut the door only when they had Disapparated.

Boris had not only torn open the pillows, but also the mattress in his righteous determination. Feathers were strewn on the floor and stuck to Remus' bare feet when he walked around the room, trying to determine what had been left in the wake of this intrusion.

The answer was: Not much. All of his own clothes were gone in addition to Sirius'. Boris had cleared out the bath, too, and even the bottle of shampoo had been plucked off the rim of the tub. The apartment was basically empty. Everything of importance was gone. He made the decision as he stood there, looking at the empty cabinet above the sink, that he would throw out everything he could spare and leave the apartment in the morning.

He worked through the night, throwing all but his most precious possessions into heavy plastic garbage bags. He felt gripped by intense reckless abandon as he emptied the flat of the things that meant the most to him. There was an odd rush to it, rather like being overjoyed and nauseated at the same time.

He carried the plastic bags downstairs around dawn. The stairs were steep, and he had to pause at each of the three landings to catch his breath. The bags should not have felt so heavy, he thought. They were almost unbearable, but Remus lifted them up each time and made his way out to the large dumpster behind the building, where he threw them away.

He went back to the flat and wrote a note for the landlady before falling asleep on the sofa. They had transfigured it from a lawn chair, and its cushions had a tendency to turn into plastic webbing occasionally. Remus awoke later that morning with lines impressed deeply into his cheek and hand.

He packed up the things he had determined to keep into the portmanteau, left the note for the landlady taped to her office door, and left.

He spent most of the day in a Muggle cinema in London, watching a James Bond film again and again. He modified the usher's memory every time he came in to sweep up. The theater was dark and cool and mostly empty, and that mattered much more than what was on the tall screen. By the time it began to fill up with the evening crowd, he was hungry enough to go out on the street again.

The evening got dark quickly, the autumn air cool and slow. It occurred to him as he stood in line at a McDonald's that his only real friends were dead. Later, in a public lavatory, as he vomited up his dinner, he realized that Voldemort was gone.

He slept in a public park that night, the portmanteau under his bench and spelled to start screaming if it was stolen. Quite early the next morning, a policeman woke him and told him to move off. He apologized wearily, let himself into one of the portable park toilets, squashing his luggage with in him, and Apparated back to his mother's family home.

May had seen the house empty. He had not been able, then, to dispose of his mother's things. Most of his father's things were lying around, too, since his mother, like her son, had been unwilling to discard a loved one's possessions. But spring had seeped away into summer and now it was November. This time, he didn't have any problem gathering up his mother's robes and his father's suits and packing them away.

He could not bear to pack up his own things, but he was equally unwilling to sleep in his childhood room. Instead, he moved those things he would actually use into the master bedroom. He had lost all of his clothes to the Ministry. The clothes he'd left at home, although ungainly and occasionally too short in the leg, would have to do until he felt up to shopping. It seemed a ludicrously simple task, but even the thought of it made him slightly ill. So he picked out his clothes, and some of his books, and sundry other little things, and made his parents' bedroom his own. Once he was settled, he locked the door to his old bedroom both with key and with a spell, hoping he would never have to go in there again.

He put the boxes containing his parents' things in the low-ceilinged, slant-floored, little attic. Everything was coated in dust and haughty sunlight shone down in thick blocks from the scummy skylights. He shoved the boxes away in a corned and decided to forget about him.

Summer in France was unbearably hot, and he decided to move north. He went to the wizarding bank in Cherbourg and had some of his money sent from his account at Gringott's. He exchanged the majority of it for Francs, and he left with just enough money in his pocket to buy a train ticket and a night or two at a hotel wherever he wound up.

At the train station, he stared up at the ticket board, considering the Franc-to-Galleon and Franc-to-Pound exchange rates. He really know where most of the places on the chart were. He could pick out some of them, like and He struggled silently with these words, feeling claustrophobic, panicked, caught up in the desperate need to leave this sweltering country. He finally found which was both northern and easily comprehensible.

He bought the cheapest ticket available on a four o'clock train to Hamburg and slipped out of the station, looking for something to do for the next few hours. He spotted a small bookshop and dragged his portmanteau across the street and into the store.

The store's interior reminded him vaguely of the library in his family's home. The shelves were tall, with rolling ladders that had seen better days. Everything was dim and there was the occasional plush arm chair shoved into a nook or corner. The air smelled hot and much like rotting newsprint. He checked his watch, and noted that he had two and a half hours before he should be back at the station to catch his train. He knew very well that he could fill that time easily in a shop such as this, and was glad, as always, for the distraction.

He was seated next to a sallow man with white hair who had already fallen asleep when Remus boarded. He had the longest nose Remus had ever seen, and he imagined that the man must be incredibly old.

As the train started to move with a soothing, rolling motion, Remus removed his book from its paper bag and opened it. He skipped the preface and any other opening remarks the editors had cared to include in favor of the real meat of the piece.

By the time he had reached Hamburg, he was quite ready to throw the book away. It was very late, and the lights on the train had been on since sundown. Reading in the half-dark had strained his eyes, and his head hurt, which only added to his indignation.

When he got off the train, he lugged his bag over to the nearest dust bin and threw the book forcefully into it. Suffering is one very long moment,' indeed, he muttered, and headed heavily towards the door.

Did you . . . ? Sirius' hands slid slowly over his bare back, moving over his vertebrae.

Did I what? he asked. His face was pressed into a pillow, making his voice sound muffles. His breath was hot and damp and close.

After I'd-- His narrow hand did not stop stroking Remus' skin. The world was dark and peaceful behind Remus' lowered eyelids. After they'd taken me away . . . How was it for you?

Remus turned his head and breathed in air that was not fresh, but at least cool. He craned his neck to look up at Sirius. He sat there, his lap barely covered by blankets, his ribs visible like scars, the hair on his chest thinner than Remus remembered. He seemed more tired than Remus could even imagine.

It had taken Sirius a long time to work up to asking this question. Six months, at least. He had expected Sirius to ask when he first showed up at the Lupin family home. Apparently, Azkaban had -- Remus could not know what Azkaban had done to Sirius. If anyone could know, it was Sirius, but even he did not seem to fully grasp the chanes it had wrought.

It was . . . long, he said finally.

He continued to look at Sirius, at his sad, blue eyes, and Sirius looked back at him, and he felt that, inexplicably, they had come to an understanding.