Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters.
His dark eyes stared blankly up at the ceiling, his arms sprawled slack on either side of his bed. He watched a speck of dust travel through the air, floating lazily before his eyes. Inside Sirius was stirring in restlessness, but there was nothing he could do about it. He already paced around every nook and cranny of the house countless times over until he could literally walk through the whole place with his eyes closed. Destroying "precious: family relics gave him a thrill but after a while that too lost its luster. Sirius badly wanted to get out and go somewhere, but he knew how dangerous that would be. He was stuck here, a prisoner in his own house.
The companions provided weren't exactly the best sort. Sure he enjoyed having Buckbeak around, but he couldn't exactly carry on a decent conversation with a hippogriff. Less pleasant was the old family house-elf, Kreacher. The little pest hated him, and Sirius hated the house-elf right back. He lashed out at the house-elf a few times but knew better than to take it very far. More often than not Sirius only encountered the house-elf when he wanted something done, or trying to pry away some heirloom the house-elf was protecting. It all became very dull very quickly.
He got a few letters now and then, mostly from Dumbledore. After getting about the twentieth reminder to not leave the house, Sirius just scanned who the letter was from and then burned it if he decided not to read the contents. Letters from Harry cheered him up; at least he wasn't the only one being restricted. Still, for the most part he spent his days alone, trying everything he could to keep himself sane. Each day Sirius woke with the fervent hope that someone might visit him in his prison, but it was in vain. So here he was, lying in his musty bed, watching specks of dust float above his head. This, he thought, is only slightly better than Azkaban.
Hours could tick by into days. The more Sirius stayed in the house, the more he grew to loathe every inch of it. And he had the most horrible feeling that it loathed him just as much, and longed to be rid of him. All around were walls, walls, walls, and not a window in sight. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but the house seemed to be getting smaller around him with each passing day. It gave him a creepy, chilling feeling to be locked inside this cold place with no way out. Were the walls closing in on him?
His breathing became more rapid. The ceiling, the walls on either side- it was all slowly creeping towards him, threatening to box him in forever. Sirius gasped desperately for breath, shocks of fear shooting through his body as he was reminded of his enclosed cell back in Azkaban. He never wanted to experience that again, yet here he was in a similar situation. The brief freedom he enjoyed hardly felt real. His heart raced to keep up with his quick breaths. His chest rise and fell with each shallow gasp, the only thing piercing through the silence that loomed over him, smothering him just as the walls and ceiling were planning to do.
The clang of the doorbell startled him; Sirius gave a little jump and toppled off the bed. Right on cue, his mother's portrait began screaming away at the intruder. For a moment he stayed on the ground, slightly dizzy from his panic attack. He coughed and slowly got to his feet, taking his time going down to answer the door. After such a long time being alone, even his mother's shrieking was welcome. That's a depressing thought. What he really wanted to do was to rush to the door and grab whoever it was behind it into a vice-like hug, but no. He waited and waited for someone, anyone to show up. Now that they were here, it was their turn to wait.
"Hello, mother, dear," he greeted pleasantly.
"Foul, despicable offspring! Shame of my blood!"she howled. "Unworthy wretch!"
"Lovely to see you too, mother. Shall we see who's come to visit us?"
"How dare you defile the house of Black with filth of half-blood?! You are unworthy to be of my kin, worm! You disgrace, you blood-traitor!"
"Do be quiet." He pulled the curtains over her ranting figure and she instantly fell silent. It gave him a strange sort of satisfaction to hear those words from his mother: even from beyond the grave he could irritate her. Sirius quietly opened the door, turning the knob slowly and pulling the heavy door open so to make as little noise as possible.
Standing on the other side with his robes hanging in tatters around his wiry frame was Remus Lupin.
It took everything Sirius had to suppress the urge to scream out his friend's name in delight and nearly crush his ribs in a hug. He made a sign for his friend to be quiet, motioning Remus to follow. Remus quickly understood and stepped inside, sliding the door noiselessly closed behind him. Sirius led him to the kitchen, nearly bouncing on his heels he was so excited. With the kitchen door shut, Sirius was free to show the full extent of his joy in finally receiving company.
"REMUS! You have no idea how happy I am to see a new face!" Sirius crushed the smaller man to him. "I've been so lonely in here; I was this close to going mad! What took you so long? Why hasn't anyone dropped by earlier?"
"S-sirius? I c-c-can't breathe!" coughed the helpless Remus.
"Oh. Sorry about that." Sirius chuckled in embarrassment and released his friend. "But you see, that's just how lonely it's been in this damn house. I'm so glad you've come." He clapped Remus on the shoulder.
"Yes, I'm sorry I couldn't come sooner, but I had some things of my own to sort out, you know. Couldn't be avoided. It's not like I didn't want to come see you; I just simply couldn't at the time." He was rambling but he was genuinely pleased to be here, which was more than Sirius could say. The pleasant smile on Remus's face dropped when his eyes took in the other man's appearance. "God, Sirius. You look awful."
"I've been trapped in this house with no one to talk to but a bunch of dead relatives and a deranged house-elf," Sirius reminded him dryly. "It hasn't exactly been a ball." He let that information sink in before moving on. "Remus, do you suppose I could go outside for a bit? I'll of course be Padfoot for the occasion. I need to get out and get some fresh air before I knock out a wall."
"Well…" Remus looked uncertain. "I really don't think that's such a good idea. Dumbledore said-"
"Remus, I honestly don't care what Dumlbedore said right now. I have to get out of here! I barely stayed sane in Azkaban, and I sure as hell won't go through anything like it again." Remus stared at his friend with wide eyes. Sirius neglected to groom himself lately: his hair was back to being mangled and wild as it was when he escaped the wizard prison, and he possessed that same half-wild, half-fearful look in his eyes. Remus could feel himself giving in.
"All right, but it can only be for a while." Sirius let out a whoop of joy and tore out of the house before Remus could change his mind. "Sirius! Sirius, wait for me!" Remus scurried after his friend before the wizard could get himself into too much trouble.
Sirius already transformed into Padfoot and was scampering around, barking loudly as he stretched his legs. Obediently, if a bit reluctantly, he didn't stray too far from his home and didn't even care. He was finally out with no walls to restrict him. Remus watched his friend enjoy this momentary freedom with a sinking feeling in his heart. He knew how much Sirius hated being inside after his experience in Azkaban, yet it was necessary for him to remain safe. Some of the neighbors came by to shout at him for all the noise the dog was making. Remus acknowledged them but didn't call Sirius indoors; he just didn't have the heart.
But he could only allow this freedom for so long before his responsibility kicked in.
"All right, Sirius. Inside." The dog gave a pathetic little whimper and nudged the man's knee pleadingly. Remus refused to let himself to cave in again. "Now, don't give me that. We're going back inside before we bother these nice people any further." Remus opened the door and pointed Sirius inside. "Go on, now. You've had long enough." He knew he was being harsh, but they couldn't risk the hideout being exposed. Sirius slumped his shoulders, his ears pressed down to his skull in a sad droop, and slowly padded back into the dreaded house.
Once inside again with the door closed, Sirius changed back to himself, whispering his thanks to Remus before making his way past his mother's portrait. Already he could sense the house moving in on him again. Just those few moments outside renewed his spirit, but it was as if the house sought to crush that renewal right out of him. Sirius dragged his feet over to the staircase but did not ascend. He rested his hand on the banister, gazing up at the second floor with a chill of foreboding. Remus came up and rested a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"I know you don't like this, Sirius, but there's really no other choice." Sirius didn't even bother to grunt in reply. He simply stood there, staring blankly in front of him. His insides were squirming in dread. Remus was right: he didn't like this, but he had no other choice. He definitely didn't want to risk being in there again. "Sirius?" Remus spoke his friend's name gently, questioningly, trying to illicit some type of response. He could see the fear swirling in the taller man's eyes. Remus never saw Sirius afraid before he broke out of Azkaban. Now it seemed a constant presence, amplified by being back in his old house.
At last Sirius stirred from his reverie and slowly made his way up the stairs, setting down his feet hard so that each step echoed in the quiet hall. Little clouds of dust were shaken to existence, hovering in the air for a moment before settling back down again. Remus shivered, the sound making him feel the unease of the house. He followed Sirius, knowing his friend was only stalling because he didn't really want to go back. As if drawn by an unknown force, Sirius found himself headed back to his bed. He sank down on the musty seats with his eyes once again fixed to the ceiling. A long, uneasy pause followed. He could see Remus standing in the doorway but did not invite him to sit down.
The walls and ceiling came rushing to meet him. How long was he going to be in this damned house? Would he ever be allowed out again? He took a breath to try and calm himself, but flashes from his time in Azkaban blazed in his mind's eye, and the breathing turned more shallow and rapid. Once the walls found their stopping point from before Sirius went outside, they started their persistent crawl to him. It seemed like they were going faster than before. He could hardly breathe; each gasp grew more rapid than the one before but he still didn't draw in enough air. From across the room, he saw Remus's face grow drawn in worry.
"Sirius? Sirius, are you all right? Sirius?" But Sirius could not answer. It was all he could do to keep himself breathing. Faster and faster; he was getting light-headed, and the walls were still closing in. Remus watched, tingling in fear, as his friend hyperventilated. He quickly rushed over to the bed and gazed desperately into the other man's eyes. "Sirius! Sirius, look at me!"
But Sirius did not turn his eyes. All he could see was the shrinking distance between him and the walls, his cramped cell in Azkaban. His vision blurred and threatened to pull him into darkness. There was no way out. Trapped- no escape. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, faster and faster.
"SIRIUS!" Remus shook his friend's shoulders desperately. "Sirius, snap out of it!" He could feel his whole body shaking with fear for his friend. His insides swirled uneasily like a storm. There was a wild fear flashing in Sirius's eyes, and Remus worried he was helpless to do anything about it. "Sirius, please, look at me! Stay with me, understand?" He grabbed the man's head and forced it to turn, locking eyes.
But it was as if Sirius was looking right past him, to the ceiling that was closing in. Now his breath was more like a dog panting and he shook slightly in Remus's grasp.
"Don't you dare black out on me, you hear?" Out of options, Remus pulled back his hand and slapped Sirius as hard as he could across the cheek. His hand stung horribly, but he at least slowed down Sirius's breathing to a normal level. Remus watched apprehensively, shaking out his fingers. A few tense minutes passed by before Sirius's rapid breathing started to build up again. Remus was bewildered; Sirius, one of the strongest people he knew, was thrown into a panic over being in a room, and there seemed nothing Remus could do to pull him out of it.
"Get me out! Let me out! Don't keep me in here!" Sirius shouted desperately. "The walls are closing in!" His breathing accelerated to an alarming rate. Remus felt a tear glide down his cheek. What more could he do? Holding to the panicking man's head, Remus brought his closer to the frightened visage.
"Sirius, listen to me. It'll be all right. Do you understand that?" But Sirius was putting all his energy into each breath, and could not answer. Out of options, Remus held his friend's head still and brought his lips down to caress the other man's. Almost instantly he could sense Sirius relax. The lips twitched under his, softening, welcoming him. A strange, almost happy feeling surged through Remus, but he had to ignore that for the moment and concentrate on his friend. He drew his lips away and observed Sirius. The wizard stared back at him, stunned.
"Are you all right, Sirius?" Remus asked kindly. He tried to ignore how close his face still was to Sirius's. The dark-haired man couldn't find his voice for a long time. Remus's face filled his gaze, and he no longer felt fear. It was as if Remus's kiss pushed it all away.
"I'm not sure," was his honest response.
"Are you hungry?" Remus wondered. "I could get you something." He was about to turn away, but Sirius grabbed him and pulled him back. He shook, fearing that if he didn't have Remus to focus on, the walls would start to move in on him again.
"Don't go. You made it stop. Remus, the walls were closing in on me, and you stopped it."
"Well," Remus said, smiling slowly. "I'm glad to hear that." There was a short pause, which they filled by gazing into each other's eyes. Sirius kept hold of Remus's arm, aching for that kiss to come again and take his troubles away.
"Remus?" His voice was husky, but he didn't notice. "How long are you staying?"
"There's no way I'm leaving you in this condition." Sirius breathed a sigh of relief, managing to smile. He didn't take any notice of time until Remus tried to move away from him again. His grip tightened demandingly.
"Don't! Don't leave!"
"I wasn't leaving, Sirius," Remus assured him. "It's just, I'm getting very uncomfortable standing like this."
"But the walls... they'll come in on me again."
"No, they won't." Remus felt the need to- but would Sirius let him? There was only one way to find out. "I won't let them." To Sirius's surprise, the smaller man climbed up on the bed, pressing his body down on Sirius. His eyes went wide and his breath caught in his throat, he was so caught off-guard by this sudden gesture.
"I'll stay here as long as you need me," Remus promised.
"Okay, Remus. Thank you." Remus smiled, and Sirius felt his lips touched again by the other man's. Sirius relaxed with a sigh, hand lifting to wind gently in his friend's hair. He knew Remus couldn't stay with him like this forever, but he chose not to focus on that. At the moment, there was only one thing that mattered.
He felt completely at ease for the first time since coming back to this house.