. . .

Remus visited him just the once, when he felt brave enough to travel alone again. It was mid-summer and even in northern Scotland the air was unbearably hot. During the trip from the mainland, across the North Sea to the rugged island on which Azkaban stood, Remus trailed his fingers in the choppy water, enjoying the sensation of icy coldness tingling up his arm. He hadn't left his own street for many months. A job had cropped up at a shop along the road, and he had found no need or desire to break the monotonous cycle of wake-work-home-bed except for when he remembered to eat or took a few hours to lie flat-out on the grass of the flat's communal garden. He had tried very hard not to think, but eventually he had to clear out Sirius' old room and his mind took liberties, presenting the harsh facts to him for the first time. Tears had been shed for Lily, James and Peter, and things had been smashed in the name of Sirius Black. Many times since he had staggered to the end of the garden, dropped to his knees and let out a frustrated, heart-broken howl at the crisp night air. And then he would go back inside and make a cup of tea like nothing had ever happened.

Azkaban could never have looked worse than it actually was, but it made an admirable effort. Its high towers disappeared into the clouds, and the thick wall around it was layered with magical and non-magical protection. Charmed barbed wire was a big feature. There were three doors to pass through into the main prison; the first, a stout draw-bridge and portcullis combination which opened onto a small stone courtyard. All visitors were searched here, and themselves wrapped in protective charms. Next was a heavy iron doorway into a bare building lined with Dementors. The human guards seldom went beyond here, except when escorting visitors and delivering food. This was where a final search was conducted, and also where shifts changed and meetings took place.

The final door led to the prison proper, and beyond there it was always dark. Daylight did penetrate offering some illumination, but there was nothing but deep shadows. Remus followed his guard through the courtyard, passing half a dozen low-security prisoners who watched them with dull eyes. A group of Dementors followed Remus at a distance, and the prisoners shrunk back as they passed, moaning fearfully. A flight of steps led deeper into the fortress, and up towards one of the towers, but then suddenly they were going down. Remus knew they were heading for the dungeons, where the highest-security prisoners were kept, away from daylight and fresh air. A terrible fear suddenly gripped him as he realised that the fortress, in sharp contrast to the outside world, was bitterly cold. His breath crystallised in front of him, and he felt himself break into a cold sweat. Strange sounds which made Remus think of sick animals filtered out of the darkness occasionally, and the stone beneath his feet was slick with various moulds. When he reached out to touch the wall, some of the stone crumbled under his fingers, but on closer inspection the walls were reinforced with shimmering enchanted iron posts which were occasionally visible where the stone had eroded most.

It sickened him to think that this was where Sirius was now. The man he had fallen for so quickly and completely now had this dank hell to call home. But of course, the Sirius Black he had known was not the same man they kept here. His Sirius was a loyal, devoted friend, a beautiful man physically and with a heart so pure and innocent that it took a child to understand him. Remus had formed this ideal of Sirius in his head, and separated it firmly from that of the man who betrayed James and murdered Peter. That was a stranger, someone he had never met. No man like that could have tasted so wonderful, felt so smooth and soft and thrilling at his touch. His Sirius was dead, like James and Peter. This new man had killed him too.

He shut his eyes, trying to remember the last time he had seen Sirius alive and himself. It had involved a set of instructions, but he could not – did not wish to – remember them now. All that remained was the memory of the kiss before Sirius walked out of the door. Something in him new it had been a simple kiss, brief, hardly a peck before Sirius ran off to – do what? Respond to James' cry of help? Yes, he must have left with that intention, and on the way had died when this traitor took over. But in Remus' head it was a deep, passionate kiss filled with longing as teeth clashed and tongues entwined and maybe even tears were shed. After that, there was no more left of the man he had loved.

"Not far now," said the guard, when Remus estimated they had been walking for about fifteen solid minutes. He was an older man, but burly and well- muscled, much bigger than Remus and built exactly for this environment. Remus was glad of his company, but not of that of the Dementors, who drifted a passage or two behind them. "Don't mind the smell," the guard added, as they paused at yet another heavy door. He fumbled with the keys on his belt. "That's just some of our more long-term inmates."

The door swung open with an unsatisfying quiet squeak. Remus wanted it to creak loudly and clang rustily against the wall, but someone wanted it to be easy to open in emergencies. And then the guard led him along several more corridors, each lined with black doors. They had little hatches in, and some had bars so Remus could see right in to the cell. From each of these, terrified yet curious faces peered back at him. One or two he recognised as well-known criminals or Death Eaters, and he shuddered, concentrating instead on the back of the guard. He realised suddenly how terrified he was of the prospect of the man leaving him here.

"Black," said the guard suddenly, stopping again. "Sirius." And he pointed at a barred cell on the left hand side of the dank passage.

There was definitely a figure in the cell, but it was hunched in the corner, staring at the wall. When it heard the guard speak, a dull voice croaked out of the dark.

"Go. Away."

"Someone to see you, Mr Black."

Sirius didn't move. "I want. To be left. Alone." His voice fell like slabs of stone. He couldn't seem to muster the energy for a full sentence in one go.

"I'll leave then," said Remus, half turning.

The change in the atmosphere was incredible; Sirius seemed to stop breathing, but he still did not move. After a moment he croaked, "Remus?"

"It's me."

Sirius was on his feet and flinging himself at the bars in one movement. Remus stepped back sharply, and the guard reached for his wand, but Sirius grabbed the bars and stopped, gazing wondrously at Remus.

"You came! I knew you would. Get me out of here Remus. Get me out. Tell them I didn't do it-"

"But you did."

"No!" Sirius suddenly became confused. "You don't know who you're talking to – it's me, Remus. Your Sirius. Me, who loves you. You – they've – something's happened. They've done something to you. Made you forget. You don't believe it all Remus, all the things they're saying . . . I love you . . ." His voice trailed away when he realised Remus wasn't buying any of it. There werewolf stared steadily at him, eyes narrowed slightly, arms folded across his chest.

"Don't lie to me," he growled. "If you can't even admit to what you did, there's no point me being here." He made to turn again, but Sirius let out a desperate howl of agony and tried to lunge through the bars. Remus was a good judge of distance and didn't flinch. Sirius' hand snatched at the air five inches in front of him.

"Don't go! You can't leave me here."

Remus' expression was one of barely hidden disgust. "It's what you deserve. It's better than what you deserve."


"Yes! Men like you – You make me ill. You've always been obsessed with your self and your own desires. Couldn't stand that James was better than you, could you? Couldn't handle the fact that he was smarter than you, funnier than you. Couldn't bare to watch him playing happy families while you were stuck with me." Remus was sneering with repulsion, his usually calm face a picture of pure horror and abhorrence.

"James!" Sirius' voice was a whimper now, and he clung to the bars, gazing imploringly at Remus.

"Conscience catching up with you, is it?" snapped Remus. "A bit late for that now. You killed them, you . . ." There wasn't a foul enough word to express his loathing, and his voice trailed into a low growl. Sirius didn't bother holding back his tears and began to sob pathetically, reaching out towards Remus once more. The werewolf let his arms drop to his sides, the disgust draining from his face to be replaced with a weary sadness.

"I loved you," he admitted, his voice heavy now. "I couldn't say it but I felt it. You made me think you felt exactly the same, you . . . You made me leave Lucius. He was cleared of all charges, by the way. Acting under a curse, but then you'd know that. He's donated money to good causes, made every effort to clean up his name. I can't believe I left him for you." He watched Sirius for a moment. The convict was shaking his head, a hopelessly desperate expression on his face. Remus stepped closer and lowered his voice to a whisper, so the guard could not hear him. "All those things you told me. How you lay awake listening to my breathing. . .was that true?"

Sirius gazed up at him as he murmured the words that he had spoken last year: "I love you with a passion so intense that it continues to scare me every single day." For the first time Remus released a sob, a small strangled sound in his throat as tears rolled freely down his cheeks. He strode away from the barred door, burying his face in his hands and trying to wipe his eyes dry. It was like trying to mop up Niagara Falls with a handkerchief.

"Why, Sirius?" His voice cracked as he begged for answers. "We could have been together. Properly, I mean! It was a shambles, I know, but it would have been okay. Why did you ruin everything? Was I not enough for you? Did you have to destroy James' happiness to be happy yourself?"

Sirius said nothing. He could not find the words to sooth and knew proclaiming his innocence would serve no purpose here. The evidence was against him; he could tell Remus that Peter was still alive, but what for? The rat would never be found and Sirius would be a liar in Remus' eyes. All he could do was apologise over and over again as Remus sobbed openly. The guard had long since lost interest, taking himself off to the other end of the corridor to talk to another prisoner, and did not notice when Remus dried his eyes as he walked right up to the bars and, gripping them, pushed his face through as far as it would fit.

"I need to know," he murmured, reaching for Sirius' chin and bringing him nearer. And then he kissed him, hesitantly at first, knowing how stupid and dangerous this was. But as he had said, he had to know if this was what remained of his lover, or whether Sirius really had died and been replaced as his mind's eye insisted.

Sirius smelled and tasted of all the things he ever had, of ash and leather and honey. But now there was something bitter and horrible to him, as if Remus was tasting the fungus on the wall rather than a man's lips and tongue. He wanted to draw away in horror, but Sirius was kissing him desperately back as if Remus were the only real thing left in a world made from smoke and shadows and people's last breaths. It was so familiar, so disturbingly disgustingly horrifyingly the same as the first frantic kiss Sirius had given him, that Remus shoved him away, stepping swiftly back from the bars, and the tears began to flow again.

"Moony," Sirius whimpered weakly, and that was the last, deciding piece of evidence. This was the man Remus had loved. This was what Sirius Black was; this thin, weak, pathetic specimen, this traitor, this murderer, this liar and this destroyer. And Remus could stand to look at him no longer.

"Goodbye, Sirius."