Disclaimer: All rights reserved to J.K. Rowling and her publishers. Copyright infringement abounds, but as I'm not making a dime I don't think anybody is going to mind very much.
Note: This story is brought to you by www.hobbiesodd.us/fqf.htm . A Remus/Sirius (slash, savvy?) Fuh-Q-Fest. The site appears to have shut down, however, which is a shame. It was shaping up to be good.
Challenge: Sirius returns but nobody can feel, see, or hear him.
Dedication: To my husband, who rolls his eyes but still offers advice…and to my twin, my sounding board in all fictional matters.
Something This True
Sirius Black spent most of the day that he died alone, frustrated and a little afraid.
He had never given dying a second thought; he'd always expected that it would happen and so regarded time spent thinking about it as time wasted. He was beginning to re-think matters, however. "Remus?" He poked his friend sharply in the side. "Really, this joke isn't funny anymore."
"Sirius…" Tonks said softly, looking away out the window to the quiet London streets.
"I know. I'm sorry." Remus sat down and wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders. "If it helps at all, he died doing almost exactly what he'd wanted. I'm sure that, given time, he'd have found a suitable crowd of crying, beautiful women to send him off."
As he watched, his cousin laughed shakily, wiped her eyes on her sleeve, and stood. "I'm sure. I should be saying that sort of thing to you. You were closer to him."
"Remus! Tonks! I'm standing right here!" Sirius threw his hands up. "What's the matter with you?" But he was fairly well certain that the problem was not with Remus or Tonks. He was pretty sure it was a joke, however. A cosmic one.
Kingsley leaned round the door. "Dumbledore's done up at the school, Tonks. I'm going back to the Ministry for his meeting with Fudge, if you need anything."
"No. I'm coming. I've got to be doing something."
"Remus? Will you be all right?"
Sirius watched as Remus rose from the sofa and headed toward the kitchen. "I'll be fine. It's not the first time for me, you know." The werewolf's smile was sad and aged but real. "Go."
Sirius followed the Aurors to the door and watched them leave, heard Remus rummaging about in the kitchen, and was quite alone in the foyer. He glared at the drapes surrounding his mother and thought hard. After a moment he pulled the curtains back and glared at the women herself. "If you weren't dead, I'd say you'd done something," he told her.
She looked around in suspicious confusion but didn't start with her usual screaming. That clinched matters. Sirius could count on the fingers of two hands the number of memories he had of his mother that didn't involved raised voices. He twitched the drapes closed again and went after Remus.
"All right, what the bloody hell is going on? Why don't you notice me? And why does everybody keep acting like you're my widow?"
"It's because you're dead, stupid." Sirius whirled about, one hand held to his thumping heart. A man, tall and lanky and very dear, stood grinning in the doorway to the pantry.
"Well, I'm certainly not Lily, am I? Hello, Sirius." He held open his arms and Sirius walked into his embrace without question. He was warm and solid and smelled ever-so faintly of Lily's perfume.
Sirius shivered. "I'm not dead, you clod; you are. I'm something else."
"I've never argued that." James grinned again. "But even you've got to know by now that you're dead."
"No, I'm not. I went straight to my mother for proof." He stepped back and eyed James, askance. "It probably means that I have a death wish, but it still doesn't explain you. You're not a ghost."
"Well, no. I came to see why you've not come along like a good dead man." James sat on the edge of the table. "It's been hours, you know."
Sirius frowned at him. "So you've been sent? What, as some sort of living/dead liaison or something?"
James's smile went a little smug. "Or something. I'm not at liberty to discuss what comes after death with those who haven't come over. Consider it a privileged secret, like the password to the prefects' bathroom."
"Remus gave us the password all the time and so did you, once you got yourself picked as Head Boy."
"Ah, a fine and decent friend was Remus," James said reminiscently. "That bathroom convinced me that being Head Boy was worth my while."
Sirius shook his head, amused as he always was by James's ability to be flippant. Then shook it again, harder, to bring himself back around to the topic at hand. "Damn it, James, don't distract me. I'm not dead. I walked back out of the Gate. I touched things. I hate to say, but the door did literally hit me on the arse on the way out. I opened the drapes over my mother. Watch this." Scouting around he came up with a peanut which he held up for James to see and then flung it squarely at the back of Remus's head…with excellent results; James and Remus both yelped and turned to stare.
Remus rubbed at the back of his head absently, scanning the kitchen warily. He found the nut on the floor behind him and looked at it closely. After a moment he sighed and threw it toward the dustbin, then returned to the stew pot he'd been filling.
James rubbed the back of his head, rumpling his hair. "Well."
"That's not all either, mate," Sirius told him, going to Remus's side. He jabbed hard the place the makeshift projectile had hit. If it hadn't been so weird it would have pleased him immensely to see that Remus didn't so much as flinch.
Both of James's eyebrows had flown up to hide beneath his fringe. "Stay here. I'll see what I can find out. And don't throw anything else at Remus. The last thing he needs is for you to put his eye out."
"It's not like he can see me now, is it?" Sirius said to the empty air where James had been. He gave the table a considering look but there weren't anymore peanuts to be had.
That night Sirius followed Remus up the stairs, past the stuffed House Elf heads, and into the bedroom that Remus had been using. He didn't bother to turn around as Remus changed his clothes for pajamas. Seven years of rooming with the man and nearly a year sharing a roof had taken their toll on concepts of privacy. He'd probably heard Remus 'in the throes', as a one-time friend had delicately termed it, more times than any woman could say. And probably Remus could (not that he would) make the same claim in reverse.
"Remus?" he tried again to get so much as a glance sent his way as Remus went to the bedside and stopped, staring at the coverlet. "Remus, I…" he said, and then went quiet as his friend sank to his knees beside the bed, hands folded. "Oh." It had been many long years since he'd seen Remus at prayer. Sirius knew that Remus had never lost the religious core he'd come to Hogwarts with, but prayer had been more private than sex.
Silence reigned for some time but it didn't bother Sirius at all; he had long since become used to the quiet. He sat on the bed and waited for Remus to finish and idly wondered if he were praying inside his own head or merely trying to think what to say; he'd never thought to ask about it before, had never been curious enough to wonder.
"Oh, Sirius," It was little more than a sigh, said as Remus tipped his head down to rest against his folded hands. "I hope you're happy now."
His throat tightened and Sirius felt a prickle behind his eyes. A prayer for him. How long had it been, he wondered, since anybody had cared enough? Two years, his brain supplied. For the last two years Remus had probably cared enough, a matter which should have been entirely obvious if Sirius had ever stopped to consider it. It touched him and made Remus's obvious sorrow just that much harder to bear.
"Happy?" he cuffed his friend's shoulder lightly. "Well, I should think so! Think of all the mischief I could manage like this, Moony. Frog spawn in Snape's coffee and…" he couldn't really think of anything else. "Well, other things. It's been a while since I've had time to get into childish pranks. Besides, you and James were always the men behind the best ideas."
Almost in answer, in the place an answer would have been if Remus could have heard the conversation that Sirius was having, Remus released a shuddering breath. And another that caused his shoulders to shake.
"Don't, Remus, really don't," Sirius said desperately. "There's no need. James and I will have me back to normal soon. When have he and I ever failed?" Except the once, the one time when he'd failed James. "This is going to be like a holiday, I swear. Not only can I put spawn in Snape's beverages, but I can leave this tomb whenever I please. I won't have to worry about somebody calling the Ministry down upon my head. I can stare at every broomstick in Quality Quidditch for as long as I like without having the saleswizard get short with me."
A third hard breath wracked Remus's body and Sirius passed a hand over his eyes. "Tea," he said suddenly and slid off the bed. "It's what James's mum always used to do. Come on, come on and I'll make you a cup of tea with milk."
Remus lifted his head and Sirius could see that his friend's face was screwed up but his eyes remained dry. He fled to the kitchen, feeling even worse about dying than he had been before.
The tea was cooling by the time Remus entered, eyes reddened but face dry. He startled briefly at the sight of the kettle and the cup waiting for him on the sideboard, but only laughed humorlessly. "Cheers," he lifted the cup in salute.
"Cheers, Remus," Sirius finished his own drink and set it in the sink. He waited while Remus drank and followed him back up the stairs, wishing that tea really where the cure-all it had always been purported to be. But Remus slept easily while Sirius sat watch and, he thought, that was good enough.
"You know, Remus," Sirius said conversationally, "I don't believe anybody has ever accused you of being a poor listener before. But you are. Haven't I shouted myself hoarse at you this past week? And for what result, I ask you, hmm?"
Remus scratched his chin with the end of his pen and resumed his writing.
"Exactly!" Sirius said triumphantly. "Nothing! And I want a biscuit. They've got lovely double chocolate ones here."
"What are you whinging about?" James asked, plopping into the empty seat on Sirius's left side. "And why are you hanging about a Muggle café? I thought I told you to stay put."
Sirius pointed at Remus. "And so I did. You popped off for a week without specifying if you meant that as 'stay here' at the house of if it was 'stay here' with Remus. And you know how I feel about that place.
"'s all right. Besides, this is the place Remus's dad used to take us before the start of term, remember?"
"The one with the double chocolate biscuits?"
"Absolutely." Sirius rubbed his hands together briskly, "So, what have you found out? Because all I know is that nobody knows I'm around and that I can touch all manner of interesting things."
James grinned. "I won't ask," he said primly.
"Wanker." Sirius pulled a face as James's grin widened. "Honestly, Potter, you've a sick, sad mind. What have you found?"
"You're not dead." James shrugged, "And really, that's about it. The Gate was only meant for people deserving of the death penalty. As you didn't actually manage to do anything to Peter, it couldn't accept you."
"Bully for me. Why can't anybody see me? Or hear me? And how do we fix it?"
"Dunno. You shouldn't even have fallen in. You should have gone straight through and landed smack on your bum in front of everybody."
Pressing his knuckles against his eyes Sirius cursed softly. "That's no help at all, James." He looked up and spread his hands helplessly. "Without being big-headed, this is tearing people up. Tonks is a real mess and she's been working like a fiend; I think she's trying to avoid being at Grimmauld, not that I can blame her. Dumbledore won't say a word about the state Harry's in. And," he paused, sighed, "Remus wouldn't cry." He looked at James.
"Well, I expected better of him."
"Wouldn't cry like the time we told him we were going-to-break-about-a-thousand-laws-and-several-school-rules-to-become-Animagi wouldn't cry."
James winced. "Damn. I'm still trying to find you a way back to normal, Sirius. I only thought you'd want to know what we had so far."
"I know. I'm going to keep at it from my end." He reached out to clasp James's shoulder and smiled, because he knew it was what James wanted. "You're a mate, James Potter. Thanks."
James shook his head. "Stay with Remus, Sirius. I'll be back in a week, with or without anything helpful to add. Sooner, if I find anything."
"Right." They knocked fists, as they had when they were boys, and James disappeared when Sirius blinked. Right. Waiting, he wanted to remind the universe, had never been a strong point with him. He folded his arms on the table and rested his chin on them. "Remus, I want a biscuit."
Sirius threw himself down on Remus's bed that night, as had become his custom. He folded his hands behind his head and listened to the familiar, rustling noises of his friend changing for bed. "Moony, do you think…" he began before a whip-crack of sound made him roll off the bed and onto his feet. "Did you hear that?"
"Who's out there?" Sirius stared at Remus as he approached the door.
"Remus! You can't Apparate into, or out of, this place! You know that! Don't give them a clue as to where you are! Get out!"
A second crack, louder than the first, made him reach for a wand he didn't have as he spun toward the bed. A House Elf was bouncing complacently on the mattress. "Hello, Professor, sir!" It squeaked. "Professor Dumbledore is wanting to know how you is doing and if there is anything you are needing."
"Dobby?" Remus sounded as though he, too, had had ten years scared off of him. "You are aware that the fireplaces work here, aren't you?"
"Oh, yes sir! Indeed, Dobby would have called, sir, if the Headmaster hadn't sent Dobby for your report as well."
Remus chuckled. "Call next time, please, Dobby. Grimmauld is protected by several immensely powerful spells aimed at keeping people from arriving unexpectedly. So, when somebody arrives unexpectedly…"
The elf looked chagrined. "Of course, sir." He accepted the roll of parchment and tucked it away beneath a pile of knobbly hats. "What should I be telling…?" he trailed off.
"Tell him that I'm doing well, Dobby, and that I thank him for his concern."
Dobby nodded and shocked Sirius by looking right at him. "Sir, you should not be doing such strong spells without somebody to helps you if you needs it."
"Can you see me?" Sirius demanded.
"Ah, I'm afraid that it's probably just the house you're sensing, Dobby. I haven't done much of anything wand-wise these days. The residual magic had time to…permeate…during the years it stood empty." Remus bowed slightly to the elf and smiled. "And goodness knows what Sirius might have done to the place since, but thank you for your concern."
Blinking, still looking at where Sirius was staring back at him, Dobby nodded. "You're welcome, sir." And he left in another burst of sound.
"Damn." Sirius muttered.
"Damn," Remus sighed, turning out the lights and climbing beneath the coverlet.
Sirius resumed his sprawl. "Problem?"
Almost in answer, Remus rolled over, facing away. When Sirius reached out to touch his shoulder he found him rigid and curled around himself.
"Oh." He said into the darkness. He thought for a long moment before saying lightly, "I didn't do anything to the house you know. Molly and the kids can all vouch for my help in cleaning it." Although… "You might not want to move the wardrobe in here. My aunt and uncle used to use this room. I wasn't very fond of them." He said it to make Remus laugh, far more than because it was true, but Remus didn't hear him and it was a long, painful while until the body beside his relaxed into sleep.
"I think he can smell me," Sirius said without preamble when James arrived for their weekly review of his 'condition'.
"Spiffing. Sirius, I can smell you. Good lord. When's the last time you bathed?"
Sirius waved him off. "Earlier." He gestured to Remus, reading the paper by the light pouring through the parlor window. "Watch him now and tell me the he doesn't smell me." He stood and steered James into the seat he'd been sitting in before crossing the room to stand at Remus's elbow. He looked down at Remus. "Begin!" he said heartily.
After a moment Remus's hand twitched up, rubbing idly at his nose. Sirius ticked up a finger to forestall anything James might say. Another minute passed, with more nose-rubbing, before Remus looked up. "Good lord," he muttered, his nose wrinkling. Leaning back in the chair, he reached behind himself and levered the open window sash up another few inches.
James extended his hand. "Congratulations, Sirius, you officially smell bad."
"Don't you see?" Sirius pushed the window back down. "If he can smell me then he knows I'm here, doesn't he?"
The door crashed open before James could answer and a flushed, flustered Hermione rushed into the room, stopping short when it became apparent that she wasn't alone. "Oh. Professor Lupin." She winced. "I'm so sorry about the smell! I was just going to open the window so that it wouldn't bother you. The full moon was last week and the course book you set us did say that werewolves have heightened senses both before and after the full moon and…oh, I know that you said Ginny should wait for Fred and George, really, because they were both taking N.E.W.T level potions, but she had everything set up and ready…and…well, you didn't see them experimenting on last year's first year students…"
Remus smiled at her, laying the paper aside. "Melted it right through, didn't she? I thought it smelled like scorched pewter in here." He frowned at the window and slid it open another few inches.
"Yes," Hermione said ruefully. "I'm really, really sorry about that."
"Not a problem. I wasn't ever any good at potions, either. I did get to be quite an expert at mopping up, however."
Sirius gripped the edge of the small occasional table that Remus had laid his paper on and watched as Remus began to follow Hermione to the kitchen. With a quiet oath he shoved it away, tipping it over with a clatter. Hermione jumped, looking over her shoulder.
"It's nothing," Remus assured her and the door swung closed behind them, "just the house phantoms. I'll deal with it later."
"Damn it! Damn it all to hell and back." Sirius kicked the chair by the window. "I was sure it was me. That he could smell me." He slumped, drained, and leaned against the wall. "Buckbeak keeps following me around," he said quietly.
James frowned. "What's a 'buckbeak' and why would it follow you if it could smell you? It's stomach-turning, really."
"It's a stolen hippogriff on the lam from the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. We went into hiding together."
"Oh. Interesting company you keep these days, Padfoot."
Sirius buried his face in his hands for a moment. "Let's watch Remus clean up a disintegrated cauldron for old time's sake," he said when he looked up again. "You can fill me in on any new developments."
"Certainly," James grinned and led the way to the kitchen. Inside, Remus was pouring tea for himself, Hermione, and a clearly disappointed Ginny. Instead of stepping through, James held the door open and gestured grandly, "After you, Mister Black; as you were always much more accepting of Mister Lupin's proclivity for setting fire to, poisoning, or blowing up the first person he clapped eyes on."
Besides which there was also the recently added bonus, Sirius thought sourly, of being nominally insubstantial to Remus and all his works these days. But he didn't say it. "Gracious of you, Mister Potter," he said instead, as he swept past James and seated himself at the table.
As usual, James boosted himself up to sit on the table rather than at it. "Judging by his expertise," he said, angling for a better view, "the intervening years have not been kind enough to see to an improvement of his potion-making skills."
Considering the speed and efficiency in which the mess was disappearing, no. Sirius appropriated Remus's tea with a shrug, "True, but his knack for housekeeping is beyond compare."
"Potions is such a pain," Ginny complained, looking on with interest as Remus cleaned. "It's not as useful as Charms or Defense. At least in the others you can guess where you went wrong. But this…I'm not entirely sure that I did anything right, Professor. It's just horrid."
"Whatever you do, Ginny, don't say that to Professor Snape."
"Ah," Remus chuckled. "Why don't you girls set up again while I let George or Fred know that we'll need more horned slugs. Sirius, could you…"
Sirius froze mid-motion; the tea cup suspended a hairsbreadth from his lips. His heart made a valiant effort to batter its way out of his chest.
One of the girls gasped and Remus froze mid-sentence, one hand reaching to the pot of Floo powder, head halfway to looking over his shoulder at the table. He lowered his hand carefully, touching the counter very lightly, as though reining in a very great strength. Then he turned.
Ginny and Hermione looked at him sadly.
Remus smiled at them. "My turn to apologize, I'm afraid. The smell of burnt cauldrons brings Sirius to mind; he was my unofficial Potions tutor and, very often, my unintended victim."
Pity was thick in the room, Sirius thought blindly. Even James was pressing his hand, and the raised cup, to the table. There was sympathy shining from behind his glasses.
"It's all right." Remus said softly, seriously. "They're good memories. Come now," he said cheerfully after a moment. "You two go back to the potions and I'll refrain from making the macabre comment that you should stop looking as if somebody has died."
"He should do," Sirius said lightly, shaking off the hand James still had laid over his wrist and taking a sip of tea. It was warm, which surprised him though he realized that it shouldn't have. It had been poured not more than a minute before. "A line like that one? It's an instant classic."
James scowled. "It's all right to be sad, Sirius. For both of you."
"Good to know you care, Prongs old man."
"Stop that." He scowled harder. "I meant it. You and he, acting like this is nothing but a prank that hasn't reached its end yet." The frown smoothed away and James folded his arms, considering. "I don't have any news for you. Yet. I have something needs following up on. While I'm off you, Sirius Black, are going to hash this out with yourself. Talk to Remus or yourself or your dear old Mum, but you are going to come to grips with what you've got so far, do you understand me?"
He seemed to be waiting, looking earnestly, absurdly like the Head Boy he'd once been, making Sirius fight the temptation to fold his hands and look angelic. He hid a smile behind his tea. "Understood, mate."
It hadn't helped, not that he really had thought it would. "And take a shower or I'll take house points." James had always been able to read him best.
"Later," Sirius said, "I have to wait until Remus decides on taking one. We've been sharing," he explained. "Every time I turn the shower on, he starts thinking he's got a poltergeist."
James looked pointedly at the half-empty cup of tea Sirius was drinking from. "Gee, I wonder why."
Sirius shook his head, swallowing, "Mm, no. This just makes him think he's gone mental while he wasn't looking."
"And that's better?"
"Yes. If only because whenever I try to shower alone he starts working out how best to banish me."
Contrary to many popular beliefs, Sirius always took James's advice. Whether or not he'd got into trouble before he'd followed it was another matter altogether. So it was that he found himself hesitantly entering Remus's rooms that evening. "Remus?" he called as he nudged the door open. The lights were on though the night had worn thin.
Remus was sitting on the floor beside his wardrobe, his old school trunk (which stored, Sirius noted, a great variety of items both school related and not) spilled open next to him and a closed book in his lap. He was tapping the latter with his wand, muttering spells.
"Is it still locked?" he asked incredulously when he examined the cover. It was a very tatty edition of Magical Drafts and Potions. "James charmed it shut right before the O.W.L.s!"
With closed eyes Remus flicked his wand at the cover again. He cracked one eye open and snorted. "One of these days…" he muttered and laid the book aside.
"And here was I, thinking you were sharing mine just to spite his cleverness! You couldn't open it at all, could you? And you still can't. That's grand, Remus!" Sirius watched as Remus traced the faded gold 'm' and felt his smile die away. "Not that it means anything now, eh mate? Who would care? Who is left but you?" He walked to the window, back to the wardrobe, and back to the window again, tugging uselessly on the cuffs of his robes.
"All right, listen…James said to talk to somebody about everything. Ordered me, really, if you want to go into it. I tried to talk to my Mum." He spread his hands helplessly, even though he knew Remus hadn't heard that guilty, bleak confession, "It doesn't matter to whom I went because nobody can hear a word I'm saying. It seemed wrong to pour it all out on you. You're already miserable." He still felt vaguely uncomfortable about not consulting Remus first. "Spent half the night ranting about what a wretched bastard I am and what a poor family I came out of and so forth," he muttered by way of apology. "Not really helpful. So, good or bad, you're it."
"The funny thing is, I know why you're miserable. You've lost…well…me. And everything I ever was; a link to your past, the last of your best friends, the last person who ever took you just exactly as you were, right from the word 'go'. The tail to your dog, so to speak, Remus."
Sirius quit pacing and sat down next to the other man. "And, maybe, maybe I'm the only person who really…needed…you. Depended upon you for everything. Must have been a nice change of pace." He offered Remus a lopsided grin.
"But I can't figure why I'm so miserable. Because I am miserable, you know," he confided. "I didn't really know it until I said it, but I am. But why? That's the thing I don't understand. And I'm supposed to be so bloody smart. Even though I don't know what's wrong with me yet it's isn't as though I won't find out eventually. And fix it, as well. In the meanwhile I don't have to deal with Snape on a near-constant basis. I don't have everybody treating me like their poor, delicate, widowed old auntie. I don't have to be stuck in this dreadful house and I don't have to have eyes in the back of my head when I leave. I even have James back, in a limited capacity. It should be a lark, Remus, only what is wrong with me?"
He leaned his head against Remus's shoulder as Remus began to toy with his old Potions text again. "Want to know the truth? I spent twelve years with barely another living soul having a word with me, then I went on the run for a year and I never really missed having other people around. But you've always been good company and it's not that I'm lonely now… it's that I'm lonely for you. I spend the days tagging along after you but you don't see me. And I want you to. I want you to be with me. Half the fun of anything is having you in on it, whatever it is. Always has been."
"Sirius Black is nothing but a great, nancing girl." Remus said with an air of great conviction.
"That's an insulting thing to say while I'm pouring my heart out to you, Remus," Sirius told him. The book, back at the business end of Remus's wand, remained stubbornly closed. "I wonder why it didn't work; it's certainly the sort of password James would have used. Have you tried being the girl?"
Remus shook his head and moved to put the book into place inside the trunk. He set it back down on the floor with an audible thump. "And I miss him, the impatient bastard."
Sirius scrambled to his feet as Remus stood and doused the lights without repacking his things. In the dark Sirius could hear Remus crawl into bed without bothering to change to pajamas or even remove his trousers. Indecision hounded him for a moment and then he picked up Magical Drafts and Potions and placed it on top of the bureau before climbing under the sheets next to Remus. He listened to the rough breathing that came from beside him and wondered what they would do if he had to stay as he was.
"I miss you too, you Queen-buggering prat."
James showed up three days ahead of schedule. At night. Which meant that he'd found something; by the look on his face it wasn't something good.
"All right then, James?" Sirius asked genially. "I've found that I can leave very wooly messages around the house," he continued, even as James opened his mouth to speak. "Things like 'we're out of milk, Remus' and 'would it kill you to do the laundry, you twat'. Anything about me, you, or my condition gets overlooked. If you want to sit on your report for a bit we'll see if Remus can read the circumspect editions."
"It's bad, Sirius," James said forebodingly.
"As though I hadn't guessed," Sirius replied. Remus walked out of the shower and began to brush his teeth, completely ignoring the message written on the fogged-over mirror. "Wonderful. I guess he can't."
"Things are bad enough," Sirius told James, flinging open the bathroom door to Remus's yelp of surprise. He claimed his usual spot in the bed and folded his hands behind his head, staring up at the canopy as James seated himself on the furniture. "We've been going though Remus's old school things, things from his first flat and the like. I think he's going to fall apart. He's breaking, James."
"I'd ask what you'd done to him, but I don't think the answer would be very funny," James replied. "Remus is tough, Sirius. He's built to last, that one. It's you I'm worried about."
"My current semi-corporeality is wearing thin but continues to serve me better than death would do."
"Not for much longer."
"I imagine things are going to get worse."
"There a time-limit on your condition, Sirius. Currently you're like a ghost, only reversed." James made a topsy-turvy gesture with his hands. "Ghosts chose to stay, you didn't. They're disembodied but can be seen, heard and felt and you…well, you've got the body but not the rest of it. But it's a transitory state. You've either got to get clear of the matter that stranded you or you've got to follow the laws of the Gate."
Sirius thought about sitting up, but he felt as though his limbs had frozen where he'd laid them so he didn't. "Something tells me that you can't tell me whatever it is that I have to do in order to get back to normal."
James shook his head grimly. "Statute of secrecy. I don't know what it is. If I knew what it was, you would as well."
"The Prefects' bathroom, all over again."
Despite the all-over ache, Sirius shared a smile with James.
Remus wandered into the bedroom, scrubbing a towel over his hair. Sirius turned his head to watch Remus dress. "How long?" he asked quietly.
"I don't know. I managed to buy you some time, but…" James blew out a breath that ruffled his fringe before shrugging. "Maybe a day, probably less. I think it'll be less."
Sirius focused on Remus's choice in sleepwear. It was the over-long pajamas, the ones that hung on him so that only the tips of his fingers and toes were visible at the ends of the cuffs. The weather was too warm for them but everything else was in the wash. 'He's going to trip over those, one of these days,' he thought to himself. It flooded him with warmth until he remembered that he wouldn't be around to see it. "Can I become a ghost?"
"No." He felt James's hand land on his shoulder, "Sirius?"
"Just a thought," he muttered. His eyes followed Remus as he padded over to open the window, stepping on the hems of his pajamas without a stumble. From the wry twist to James's mouth, he guessed his friend understood. Sirius smiled wanly and went to open the other window for Remus.
The suddenly open window made Remus stop abruptly halfway around the bed. "Well," one hand was rubbing his forehead, the other thrown up in resignation. "Jesus."
There was something to Remus's posture, something about the set of his mouth, something which hit Sirius like a well-aimed knock-back jinx. "Go," he told James.
And James, bless him, just nodded as though he'd expected to be snapped at. "When it's time, I'll come back for you," he said and left without waiting for another word.
Remus knelt at the side of the bed, hands folded and eyes closed. Sirius knelt beside him, his eyes closed as well. He wasn't praying. He simply lacked the strength to stand. The world had narrowed and overwhelmed him.
"Damn," he whispered. "Oh sod it all, Remus." He pushed his fingers though his hair and looked at the man beside him. "Only I…Remus." He didn't know what to say. Or how.
Beside him, Remus made some indistinct sound. "Jesus, God," he muttered. He pressed his forehead to his hands, rubbing hard as though trying to scuff away an uninvited memory.
Sirius felt a smile tug at him. The last time he'd seen Remus make that gesture had involved the test flight of his old motorbike. The words came easily then. "I love you."
"Why did it have to be Sirius?" Remus's eyes were cloudy and his voice was barbed with so many emotions that Sirius felt flayed. "Why did it have to be now? Why did he have to be such a reckless prick?"
He reached out, placing one hand tentatively on the back of Remus's neck. "Well, why not?" he answered humorlessly. His world went wet around the edges. When he'd been fifteen he'd found out what it took, exactly, to make Remus cry. "I always figured that if God gave out answers, you were bound for one. Maybe you could ask." Under his hand, Remus shuddered but didn't make a sound as tears smudged his lashes without falling.
"Why couldn't he just stay put?" he burst out. "Why couldn't he have stayed?"
"Because I didn't know I wanted to," Sirius answered unhappily. "I didn't know how much I wanted to, Remus."
"Why couldn't I have realized that I loved him before he reached for the door handle? Why didn't I tell him? I could have told him right then. He wouldn't have left the house." Remus chuckled, the tears brimming, "He'd have been in shock."
The first tear rolled.
And Sirius sobbed like a child.
"Nobody told me," Sirius broke the silence of the room.
James was sitting on the bedside table again, watching Sirius and Remus in quiet contemplation; Remus lay curled on his side, Sirius sitting peacefully in the curve of his body, watching him in the shadows cast by the pre-dawn light. "Told you what?"
"That he's lovely," Sirius answered with a very small, self-conscious smile. He traced the faint lines that framed Remus's eyes. "Not much to look at, but he's lovely."
After a moment of thought James left the table for the bed, moving to sit at Sirius's side. He took in the gray hairs shining at the temples, the fine lines that no longer faded into invisibility, the shadow of beard growth bluing his jaw. "Nobody told me, either," he said fondly.
Sirius gave him a sharp-ish look.
"Evans," he explained, the past suddenly caught up in him. "Nobody ever said that sleep deprived, shower deprived, covered in returned milk, and completely frazzled was when she'd look the most inconceivably beautiful."
"Couple of saps, us."
"That's what happens."
Remus twitched restlessly in his sleep and Sirius looked away from James. He looked to the window, where the sky was going from indigo to gray. "I want to stay."
"Because you're mad for him?" James wrapped an arm around his shoulders and Sirius leaned into the embrace.
"Yeah. Completely." Sirius slanted a look at his best friend. "You're not going to start on about how 'it's about time I realized' or how you 'always knew', are you?"
James squeezed him. "I solemnly swear that I have never before known you to be in love with Remus."
"Good. Because I wasn't before. I am now."
"Then tell him that, Sirius."
Oh, it hurt. "I can't."
"You could have done hours ago, if I hadn't cocked it up," James said dryly.
He rumpled his hair, looking a bit shamefaced, when Sirius turned to him uncomprehendingly. "What are you on about now, Potter?"
"Managing things over here is a bit dodgy," James told him. "It's like really difficult Arithmancy, with really weird variables."
Sirius felt his frown deepen. "Okay."
"My point," James said hastily, "is that I overlooked a few things. Chiefly, Tonks and Kingsley. You said, ages ago, that Tonks was a wreck and throwing herself into her work. And she has. She's thrown Shacklebolt into it also. They've been working on overturning your conviction. Which they have, as soon as they dot their 'i's and cross their 't's."
"Okay," Sirius said slowly, trying to puzzle out how it affected his condition. "Wait...wait just a moment. Is that…?"
James grinned and nodded. "That's it. That's what held you here, that's what you had to fix. You were innocent, so the Gate couldn't take you. However, being Kissed is a death sentence, just like a walk through the Gate, so it couldn't very well reject you, either. Resolving the one resolves the other, you see."
"And so this entire time…"
"We've been completely unnecessary," James confirmed. "Because every time something changed about your condition—Dobby seeing you, Buckbeak smelling you—was the direct result of Tonks and Kingsley clearing another hurdle in clearing your name, not anything we were doing. Tonks would have stormed Fudge's home at midnight for his signature on the last form, if I hadn't been so stupid and stopped her."
Emotions rushed chaotically through his blood, chasing each other across his thoughts, making him helpless. "I'm staying?" Sirius finally got out.
"I'm going to be able to be seen and heard again?"
James checked is watch. "In a few minutes, as a matter of fact, yes."
The emotions that were running rampant through Sirius found an unexpected home in his throat. "Okay."
He felt James press a kiss into his hair. "Take care of yourselves, gentlemen," he admonished as he got up from the bed. His eyes were dancing, even if his smile was a bit regretful. "You won't remember me for very long, Sirius, the Statute of Secrecy being as it is, but you had best remember to take care of yourself and Remus or Lily will have my head."
"James? Thank you."
He disappeared as Remus woke from the feeling of the bed dipping under a sudden and unexpected weight.
Sirius had never anticipated coming back from the dead or how it would affect those who were (physically as well as emotionally) closest to him. Remus yelped and scrabbled into a half-sitting position before his eyes focused.
"Hi, Remus," Sirius grinned because he couldn't not.
Remus, his weight resting on his elbows frowned, and then smiled. "Hi, Sirius." He dropped back against his pillows and yawned.
It seemed a bit of an odd reaction, to be so accepting when confronted with a dead friend turning up in your bed in the middle of the night. Even for Remus it was a bit much Sirius thought, and said as much.
"Whyzitodd?" Remus mumbled around another yawn. "I'm only dreaming."
Dreaming? Sirius lay down next to Remus, stole one of his pillows, and contemplated the canopy over the bed; then he pinched Remus's arm. Hard.
"Ouch!" Remus stared.
"I love you," Sirius said, leaning over him and staring back. "I threw a peanut at you and hit you square in the nut. I drank your tea, nicked your pillow, and I've been sharing your showers. James runs the afterlife."
"James runs the afterlife?"
"Uh-huh. He's crap at it." Sirius thought about that a moment. "Well," he said, "not really. But he wasn't very good at Arithmancy. Did he manage an O.W.L. in that?"
"Just barely. And he was horrible in Care of Magical Creatures as well." Remus smiled widely and touched his cheek, "You're the best dream-Sirius I've ever come up with."
Sirius returned both the smile and the touch. "You're hopeless, Moony," he said, and he rolled over on to his back.
"Umph!" Remus said from underneath him. It was somewhere between a gasp of escaping air and a groan. "Sirius, I can't breathe."
Wriggling, Sirius rolled to his stomach. He pressed the tip of his nose to Remus's, going slightly cross-eyed but uncaring. "If I were a dream I wouldn't be cutting off your oxygen, would I?"
Remus crossed his eyes on purpose. "I'm probably smothering myself in my pillow."
"I love you," Sirius laughed. "Roll over, then."
"I can't." Remus closed his eyes, his smile becoming quiet with sweetness. "You're on top of me."
Sirius kissed him with sound exuberance, "Wake up Remus, you're not dreaming."
Without opening his eyes, Remus drew him down and kissed him softly. "You're here," he whispered against his mouth. "I am."
"I am," Sirius whispered back, his lips tracing the words against Remus's. "But you're not." He felt Remus smile again and dropped an almost absentminded kiss on that slight upturned curve. He nuzzled his cheek against Remus's. "Remus, I'm crushing you, you can't breathe, I kissed you and then you kissed me while I kissed you back." He paused to return another kiss. "We're both going to have beard-burn later. You are not dreaming."
Remus sighed at him crossly.
"Yes I am. You said that you
"You said you loved me first," Sirius said reasonably. "Earlier," he explained at Remus's confused look.
"I can't believe I'm arguing with a dream," Remus muttered to himself. To Sirius he added, "And you're annoying with it."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Remus, I'm only going to say this once," he said warningly and then cupped the other man's face and kissed him long and deeply. "I didn't die," he said when he broke away, "I've been about the whole time but nobody knew thanks to some bureaucratic nightmare."
Sirius kissed him again, hard. "Yes, now shut up," he scolded. "Tonks and Kingsley fixed it by restoring my good name."
"Good name? Sirius?" Remus was grinning again.
"You're just fishing, aren't you?" he said after Remus had leaned up to kiss him. "I reckon one or both of them will come 'round to tell you about it in the morning. I've missed you fierce, Remus, but I'm terribly tired. I've been up all night watching you sleep," Sirius finished, rolling off and plumping his pillow.
Remus rolled over, brow furrowed. "You were watching me sleep?" he asked. Sirius nodded and tried to get comfortable. "Because you love me?"
"James said that was the way these things are." He gave up on his pillow and tugged Remus's other pillow over to share. "And I thought I was dying." Sirius shook his head as the lines on Remus's forehead deepened, "In the morning. Molly would probably let you have a lie-in because you're the grieving widow but Tonks is probably going to wake you despite it." He poked and prodded and shifted and tucked Remus into the curve of his body. "Go back to sleep."
"Sirius?" Remus twisted in his arms.
He buried his face in the nape of Remus's neck and made a muffled noise that he hoped passed for 'what'.
"I love you."
"So you said."
"And you said that you love me."
Sirius sighed. "Yes. So?"
"I think I can now say that I'm fairly certain that neither one of us is dreaming."
"Good. Finally," Sirius snuggled in a little closer. "You know what to do about it?"
"Yes," Remus melted back against him, "I know: go to sleep."
"I knew there was a reason I loved you."
Sirius Black spent the morning that he came back to life falling asleep, in love, with Remus Lupin.