Rated R for frank sexuality, slash content, adult themes. RL/SB, post OotP/Marauders Era, OotP spoilers.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters, events, or plotlines. No profit is being made.
Foreword: Well, um, I'm not quite sure what to say. I've never tried any slash before, not unless I was joking. Nor have I ever tried any Harry Potter fic. I'm presuming there must be a connection between the two things, but I'm really not entirely clear on what it might be myself, and I have no idea how this piece has turned out. The only thing I do know for certain is I'm blushing right this minute. Ah, well. Won't be the first time.
Please, please do NOT read any further if you don't care for slash. There is sex in this story, and it's quite frank. I have no wish to give offense.
Life, as anyone will tell you, goes on. We all have things to do, tasks to complete, obligations we dare not fail in. War is still coming. I'm busy. We all are.
This is the way grief works. It seems as though everything ought to come to a screeching halt in the wake of a brutal bereavement – as if that were the only decent course of action any sane universe could possibly take. Snuff out the sun, extinguish the moon, cancel the fall of days. Clearly, the world is over. Thank God, I'm exhausted. Let's get out of here.
But, of course, we don't. We can't. The deadly blandishments of grief, while tempting, are, ultimately, bollocks. We're all bound to the relentless spinning of the world while we're in it, and life goes on in our despite. People sometimes say – after a death – how did you ever go on living? How did you find the strength to go on? It's absurd. As though going on was something any of us ever do on purpose, as though it took strength and will, as though we had a choice. It's not that way. Life just happens to us, and keeps on happening, and in the end, we only escape it once.
I can't help wishing I'd beaten James and now Sirius to it. That's selfish of me, but there it is. They were both gone too soon. If I ever see either one of them again, we'll have words. I guarantee it.
They call those who are left behind "the survivors" in obituaries – and that's an accurate, if hellish, way of putting it. We survivors continue to gather in 12 Grimmauld Place, the ever-shrinking Order of the Phoenix, once again reduced in numbers by one. We're all doing this and that, everyone seems to have a mission these days. I think we're all a bit mad for missions lately, we all collect various individual undertakings obsessively. Life goes on willy-nilly, as I've been saying, and it helps if you've got an extra-long "to-do" list to make it more tolerable while it does.
But we don't still gather in this dreadful old house for that reason. The most important mission is the one we all work on together; no matter what happens, no matter how few of us are left. The one element that remains constant in our story – the one thing that reaches furthest into the past and stretches most distantly out into the uncertain future – is the idea of families. All kinds of families. Biological families related by blood, and ad hoc families related only by love. Vigorous young families at the height of their strength, like the Weasleys; declining families at the point of extinction, like the Blacks; lost families that exist in memory only, like the Potters.
In the conflict to come, families will be the key – I'm certain of it. The Order of the Phoenix still gathers in this haunted place to invoke a family if we can – another ad hoc family, the last. We're building a sort of family around young Harry, who's lost the one he was born with; we are steadily and slowly re-forging old links and building new ones around him. Harry's the foundation; of course, the link between past and present, the center of the fragile web of connections we're all working to build, whether we know it or not. We'll stand or fall with him, I believe. We're all engaged in a most difficult mass magic: trying to conjure a new family out of thin air.
We'd better. It will be our last and best weapon against Voldemort in the end, the only thing we can still do better than he.
I believe we do it here because we started it here; this is where, without quite knowing it, we'd first begun to work this most complex and delicate of charms. I remember one meal in particular here in the dreary kitchen downstairs, all the children of various ages together with their elders, everyone eating and bickering and laughing and pets underfoot, many disparate people gathered round a table, individual and even at odds here and there, yet united. Like a family.
I'd rather not remember this evening now. Some of the simplest memories, I find, have suddenly become poignant enough to cut. Some have recently acquired a peculiar ability to pierce the heart.
Still, this is the way grief works. Everything is more or less normal, other than the shadow that's recently staked its claim on the newly emptied places inside me, taking up residence for the duration. A most tenacious tenant who is mostly quiet, but who is always there. Who sometimes, without warning, wakes up and . . . screams. Certain memories set it off, this shadow. I never know which ones until it's too late.
Ah, well, I can take it – after all, what choice do I have? No use whining about it, not even like this, in the private reaches of my own thoughts. I came to know how utterly pointless whining could be when I was very small, and whatever my failings in all the years that have gone to make up my life to date, I can honestly say I've rarely, if ever, crippled myself with self-pity since. So. I can remember, and I do.
Molly and Sirius had been fighting during that dinner. I remember how I'd marveled at them, even back then before I'd fully realized what we were all doing here at Grimmauld Place together, before I'd come to understand what we were really building. The two of them had been sniping back and forth all evening, getting under each other's skins, and they'd seemed so much like siblings to me I was amazed. No one can make your nerves sizzle and pop quite the way your loved ones can – not like the members of your immediate family do. It had seemed such an intimate, familial sort of conflict to me, and that was strange, because they had never really been that close before.
Molly didn't understand Sirius, anyway, never really had. She'd always mistaken the innate quickness of his thought processes for thoughtlessness, and she's not the only one who'd ever harbored that misconception, not by any means. People rarely saw him thinking, and so they often just assumed he didn't. That was never true; he just thought so quickly it was almost impossible to catch him doing it.
Some people – me, for instance – arrive at conclusions through reason. We follow a progressive train of logic to a destination; our judgment is analytical. But Sirius was intuitive. He never followed a mental path to make a judgment – he just dropped on conclusions out of the ether – and almost always found them fully formed. A qualitative difference, not a quantitative one. I, for one, often valued his intuition over my own rather labored analyses – he always saw every question whole, never in parts. And when he told me something was true because he could feel it, I always listened right up. He was so rarely wrong.
And Molly didn't really understand just how wretched he'd actually been, trapped for months here in his boyhood home. That part wasn't her fault; I doubt anyone understood it completely. People knew it was difficult for him, certainly, it was obvious to anyone with eyes in their heads that the place was almost uninhabitable, a nightmare. But I doubt anyone really knew what this house meant to Sirius – for him, this ghastly, decrepit insane asylum at Grimmauld Place was everything he hated about himself. It represented the ineradicable taint he'd spent a lifetime fearing might be lurking in his blood.
His worst fear. In twenty years, I'd rarely known him to be afraid of anything else.
How he hated it here . . .
It's ironic, really. He's gone, and here I remain now, trapped in the very same nexus of webs that he, quite literally, died to escape. Webs of human connections, webs of memory. Certainly he'd never deliberately set out to give us all the slip – he'd never have been so faint-hearted. But I remember that intuition of his so clearly, so sharp and telling it was sometimes frightening, and I wonder if some part of him might have guessed that once he left here, he might never have to return again. In a way, I hope it was so. Someone ought to be able to get some benefit out of this, however unsought.
Now me - I don't know when I'll ever get out. I can't stop doing my part in building the family we'll eventually set against Voldemort if we can, nor would I ever wish to. I cannot withdraw my own personal complement of connections from the web we're constructing. And I cannot escape the web of memory that runs parallel to it – this house is simply riddled with memories, the air itself is thick with them. I've never known a worse infestation.
I cannot rest. I cannot get out. I'm trapped. Sirius was the escape artist, not I.
Perhaps it doesn't help that I've taken over the room he used to use here, the one he'd grown up in. That's where I sleep, or, to be a bit more accurate, that's where I lie down when I get too tired to stand up anymore, where I stare up at the ceiling and wait for whatever run of memory is currently underway to take its course. I suppose it doesn't help, but, of course, in another way, it does help a great deal. All our choices are tinged with some element of bitterness now. No solutions work quite right.
Tonight, I remember a moonset over the Forbidden Forest and a small bowl-shaped dell at its edge that we once knew. So many of my most significant memories are moonlit, I've noticed. So many of the events that have most shaped my life have taken place by the light of the moon. This moonset I remember now once silvered a night when the sweetest of dooms fell on me; though I made no move to get out of the way. It's the night when I was first bound, full willing, into an ancient and labyrinthine enchantment that I have yet to come to the end of. A night that never ended, a night that unfolds still.
That night, in its way, was the author of this night. Time is self-referential; it doesn't take a genius to see that. Would I go back and undo it if I could? Love can be as terrible as it is wonderful, it can both devastate and exalt the soul. Should I have been more cautious? Would it have been better never to have loved at all?
Of course not. What utter nonsense. I'd never give up one moment of whatever love I've found in this world so far. It can be a tough old world, and the good stuff, the really precious stuff, is hard to find. You need to hold on to it, whatever it costs. You need to hang on if it kills you.
Sirius himself told me that caution was not our best course that night, because he could feel it. Because he just knew. Even back then, even nineteen years ago when I was much younger and a great deal more stiff-necked than I am now, I already had learned enough about Sirius to trust in his intuition where he expressed it. I may have had my doubts, but in the end I followed his lead. I'm following it still, but I don't think he was wrong, even now. In matters of the human heart, he always knew more than I did.
How did it start? What night led to that night, just as it, in its turn, led to this night? I find it a touch disturbing how readily I can answer. I can pinpoint it exactly.
I was angry with him, that much I remember so well I can't stop smiling now, looking up at the ceiling in my dark, borrowed bedroom, a lagoon of memories deep enough for me to drown in. I was furious.
In our fifth year at Hogwarts, James and Sirius finally worked out the astounding project they'd undertaken to be friends to me. To this day, I'm still astonished. When my friends found out the truth about my monthly disappearances, just as I had known they eventually would, I'd dreaded rejection, certainly, but I'd also come to hope that there could be acceptance. I'd hoped the three of them might be good enough to simply overlook my – moonlit alter-ego – in favor of who I was the rest of the time. I'd thought there were only two possible outcomes, accept or reject. Never in a thousand years would I have dreamed that they'd neither reject nor accept, but opt, instead, to take a third path. To join me.
I clearly had no idea who I was dealing with. I can't help laughing about it now.
So, thanks to the brilliance and kindness of James and Sirius, once a month, when the moon was full, we all ran together under her wicked, fatally beautiful glowing eye. For the first six months, I was in a more or less continuous fog of happiness and amazement. The world I'd known became altered. A great deal of pain that I'd come to regard as routine simply vanished. I'd never loved any three people more.
But I still did not allow them to be present during the actual moments of transformation. I couldn't stand the idea. Those transformations were ugly. At least, so far as I knew; I knew they felt ugly. I insisted that James and Sirius and Peter must always join me after I'd disappeared and the Wolf had taken my place; and that they must leave me on my own before I changed back. And they'd each agreed, with varying degrees of good grace. James had looked at me with a certain amount of disappointment, as though he suspected that I still did not quite trust him, and I suppose he was right. Peter was the easiest; he'd just shrugged and said "However you want it, Moony." Sirius had tried to argue with me, because he was profoundly curious about how it all worked and wanted to see, but he'd agreed to abide by my wishes when I insisted.
So, until the end of the fifth year, although I'd become closer to my three companions than I can ever hope to explain, I still crashed and crunched and twisted my way through the fleshy barriers of physical form completely alone.
During these months, though I doubt either of us knew it at the time, Sirius and I were becoming more and more closely linked in ways that were closed to the other two. His animal form was so close to mine. His other set of senses, his animal mode of experiencing the world, was so closely matched to mine. Our perceptions had begun to align to one another on the most abstruse levels, at those deep, deep places where flesh and blood and bone connect. We'd worked one of the most complex magics known to the wizarding world, after all, or James and Sirius had, naturally brilliant young wizards that they were. But they were still very young, however talented, and neither of them had guessed at the endless ramifications such delicate and dangerous spells would entail. In time, it happened that when Sirius was hungry or irritated or bored, I could smell it. When I was amused or worried or unable to sleep, he could taste it in the air. Our other life as beasts had started to bleed into our primary life as boys.
How vividly I remember running with the moon, the good feel of earth under my paws, the intoxicating scents of field and forest and night sky blazing like fire in my brain. It's good to be the Wolf, have I admitted that honestly yet tonight? It is very, very good. I'm stronger and quicker and infinitely braver; my heart is never divided and my thoughts are stunningly simple. The Wolf doesn't remember the man at all when he runs, not like I remember him.
It was good to be the Wolf then, too. How I used to love to play with Padfoot, even more than any of the others, because Padfoot understood all the right doggy games. I stole his chewy boot, once, I confess. He'd found it by the side of a deserted road one night, and carried it proudly in his jaws for hours, tail raised and waving like a flag, trotting with his paws high in the air as though he thought he was the King of Hounds. Hmmph. I stole it when he wasn't looking and chewed it up myself. It was an especially tasty boot.
Often, towards the end of a full moon night, Peter and James would become tired and render themselves back into human forms long before Padfoot and I were quite finished playing games or trotting off endless miles of field. It was hard for Peter especially to cover the amount of ground the rest of us did; he was so much smaller. James could always run further and faster than any of us, but the myriad and exacting intricacies of canine social interaction sometimes made his head hurt, and he'd give it up early. Occasionally, Sirius and I would be left alone at the end, often crouched down on our haunches, bellies to the ground and muzzles resting on our folded paws, face to face and communing quietly over our assorted canine concerns. Sometimes we'd have tired ourselves out by the end of an evening and one or both of us would fall asleep.
It had to happen eventually, considering just how careless we'd been. I might have seen it coming. One night the Wolf went to sleep in the setting rays of the moon and I woke up screaming some time later. The transformations really were terrible – human bones and muscles and sinews were never made to stretch and twist themselves into something else. At fifteen, I blush to confess, I still used to scream. It's one of the most important reasons why I did not want my friends to ever see me change. I was a teenage boy, and the humiliation of having my closest friends watch me sweat and scream and shed desperate tears of pain was more than I could imagine bearing. I may have to be a werewolf, I'd often think to myself, but I don't have to be a girl, thank you very much.
So. I was screaming, and my spine was doing the polka as it shifted back into its original configuration, and my hands and feet were clenching and unclenching like bewitched things. I looked ahead of me through eyes that nuances of color were just beginning to wash back into like an acid bath, and saw, through a haze of tears, Sirius' white and shocked face staring back at me. Not Padfoot, no, but Sirius in his human form, sitting on the ground watching an ugly spectacle and clearly horrified by it.
I could have kicked his arse. I was that infuriated. Hadn't he promised me he'd never intrude on this private torment of mine? I promised myself I was going to rearrange his face, just as soon as I finished screaming. I couldn't get to it just then, of course, I was busy. My shoulder blades were in the process of forcing themselves back into their proper sockets.
"Moony . . . oh God . . . I'm sorry. I just fell asleep and never woke up until you . . ."
Until you heard me shrieking my lungs out, you stupid git? Just you wait. I'll be done any minute now . . .
The creaking and crackling noises my bones always make when I shift are positively gruesome, and of course I still couldn't stop screaming, however much I wanted to. I was mortified. I saw Sirius covering his ears with his hands for a moment, it was so awful. But he never got up to run away, and I knew better than anyone else how much reason I'd given him. He just hunkered down towards the ground and dug his fingers into the earth as though he thought it might fly away from him, and never once turned away.
Eventually, the process was complete, and by then I was much too weak and far too intent on forcing oxygen back into my chest to undertake the revenge I'd sworn to visit upon my overly nosy goddamned mate. I just lay in the dirt on my side and gulped air as though it was water and I was dying of thirst.
Besides, I found that I was less angry with him than I had been. He'd just fallen asleep as Padfoot and had awakened as Sirius too late to give me the solitude I'd insisted on; I could see he hadn't done it on purpose. Hadn't we both dozed off as animals dozens of times?
But what really cooled my temper most was the genuine concern I could see in his face, still white and pinched with worry as he gazed at me. He was frightened for me. He hadn't known how bad the transformations could be, and I'd never warned him.
Eventually, he worked up the nerve to speak to me.
"How on earth can you stand to go through this once a month, Remus?" he asked, voice slightly shaky. "I'd have killed myself years ago if I had to do it."
Ahhh. How had I ever doubted him? Had I ever really thought he or James would have considered me a sissy just because I sometimes screamed a little when my skeleton was busy twisting itself into new and exciting shapes? Had I ever really imagined they wouldn't understand? I always was a little thick about human relationships.
I still wasn't quite able to talk coherently yet, and my teeth were chattering too hard anyway. I was freezing. Shifting between shapes is very, very hard on clothing, and I'd learned early on that it's best to do it naked. It was a chilly night. When I didn't say anything to Sirius, he took his cloak off his own back and gave it to me.
"Right," he remarked, tucking in the cloak and trying to be practical. "How long does it usually take before you can talk?"
An unanswerable question just then, considering the circumstances. I couldn't answer, but I could smile weakly, and I did.
"Well, Moony," he said, catching my smile. "It's just as I've always said. First you scare me to death, and then you laugh at me. You really are one vicious character. Don't know why I like you. Can you show me where it hurts most?"
This time I actually laughed aloud. Obviously, I was recovering nicely.
"All right, then, what I mean to say – how can I help? Will it hurt if I touch you?"
I didn't know. No one ever had before. It seemed an utterly bizarre proposal to me.
As it turned out, it didn't hurt for him to touch me at all. It felt good. I felt his long, strong fingers pressing gently into the knots in the back of my neck and then into the aches in my back, and it felt marvelously good. There was a very small voice whispering quietly somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember that now, a voice that asked if it was truly wise to let him touch me like that – that asked me if I knew that the threads of emotion that reside in the flesh ultimately terminate in the heart. But I never listened; perhaps I was too young to understand the message. All I knew was that it felt so good to be touched that way; he could ease my pain back with his hands so readily it seemed like a revelation.
How could I have guessed he'd stolen my heart in that very moment? I could barely breathe and I was so cold and my face hurt and my head was splitting. I wasn't thinking clearly. Really.
"I owe you an apology, Moony," he said sometime later, thoughtfully. "I've acted like a naïve little fool. We all have. For me and Peter and James, all this has just been . . . a sort of a lark. James and I, we just wanted to see if we could do it, I think. But for you . . . well, I see now why they call lycanthropy a curse. For you, none of this is a . . .a game at all, and it never has been. I'm sorry I've been so stupid."
He was always so sweet, Sirius. I'll tell the world. He always was.
"That's all right, Padfoot," I managed to croak. "You can't help it if you're an idiot. I understand perfectly."
He barked then, I remember. Laughing. When Sirius laughed, the whole world seemed to make a little more sense. Perhaps that's why everything seems so miserably confusing now.
From that evening, our way of relating to one another changed in a million subtle ways. Neither of us ever noticed them all, either, if one could have asked us about it at the time, I don't doubt we'd both have been genuinely baffled by the question. Nothing seemed especially different to us, not at fifteen. But from that time, Sirius never again let me transform alone. I believe we must have quarreled about it, although I don't remember that part as clearly as the rest. I doubt I'd have abandoned my pig-headed teenage pride without at least a little resistance. But I might as well have attempted to resist a hurricane. He was determined. And I was, admittedly, far too ambivalent to make a very good case for myself. In truth, I'd come to want him with me. It helped so much.
One night leads to another. We never foresee all the later events we'll cause when we do this or that, make this or that choice. We're all rushed along in the currents of time without any means of bucking the tide. Who would want to swim through time backward, anyway? It's a horrible idea. Everything leads to everything else.
Towards the end of our sixth and next to last year at school, the four of us had weathered a storm that easily could have split us apart for good. Severus Snape and a hateful indiscretion on Sirius' part. Snape always was a walking lightning rod for everything miserable and divisive in the world, cleverly disguised as a boy, I think.
What made Sirius do it? I've never really known. He always claimed he'd just gotten tired of Snape's constant sneaking and spying and burning ambition to cause the four of us as much trouble as he possibly could. Well, it was hard to put up with Severus' never-ending malice, there's no denying that. No doubt he had some cause, Severus, but he was always so appallingly vindictive about it that even I couldn't quite forgive him. And it didn't even out my temper any that he mostly focused his efforts on me; he'd been quite sharp enough to sense that I was the most vulnerable of the four without the slightest effort. He just seemed to guess that I was the one with the most secrets to keep.
Still, what Sirius did was a great deal more than a school-boy prank, even a truly nasty one. He'd obviously come to hate Severus enough to want to do him as much harm as possible, and to kill him if he could. Why? Over the years since, I've often thought there must have been a great deal more to it than Sirius ever told me. I wonder if he ever told anyone else?
As it was, if we'd been any older when it happened, I don't think we ever could have found any way to salvage our friendships. As one grows older, everything becomes more and more complicated and it becomes harder and harder to act directly and decisively in the face of emotional disasters. It becomes more and more difficult to decide what to do; to know what the right thing is.
Back then, however, I had no problems of that sort at all. When I found out what had happened to Severus Snape, and who had been flapping his great idiot jaw just as though he hadn't a brain in his head, I didn't have to think much to decide what to do about it. Think much? The truth is, that's a bit deceptive. I didn't actually think in any way, shape or form; I simply went berserk.
I don't actually remember staggering out of the hospital wing, although I was told later that I had. God knows how I got past Madame Pomfrey, I certainly don't. Nor do I remember lurching around the school looking for my mates – one in particular - although I must have. I just remember finding all three of them outdoors, grouped on the shores of the lake, and I remember how angry James looked when I saw him; I could see he was reading Sirius the riot act as Peter looked on uneasily. I think there was a fair crowd of students present actually; it had been such a pleasant summer. Snape himself was there too, I wonder if anyone who knows this story ever remembers that? I know from what I was told later that Albus Dumbledore had stepped in and extracted Snape's promise that he'd keep quiet about what he'd learned and he must have agreed. But I suppose old Snivellus couldn't resist the opportunity to taunt James and Sirius and Peter in person about it when he could; that would have been too much even for Dumbledore to ask.
Snape saw everything that happened next, and years later he was still clinging to the notion that all four of us had been in on the . . . conspiracy. I think that fact reveals a great deal about Severus Snape.
When Sirius saw me coming, he blanched. I remember that clearly. He looked as though he was going to faint. All four of them sort of stumbled back a pace or two when they saw me, as if they'd just caught sight of a Norwegian Ridgeback headed their way. But I couldn't have looked all that frightening, really; I'd only just transformed that morning. I could barely walk. I recall how difficult it was to roll my sleeves up as I came lurching on – my hands were shaking so much.
A minor inconvenience, really. I pushed Severus aside when he sought to get in my path as though he was a sack of feathers, and I have yet to remember what nasty bit of verbal fuckery he must have voiced to greet me. Peter made as if to get in my way and I remember clearly the expression on James' face as he pulled the smaller boy back. James, more than any of the four of us, always knew what the right thing was. He always knew what was going on a little sooner than the rest of us did.
Well, I just leapt on that idiot Sirius once the way was clear. I remember the odd sensation of my feet leaving the ground quite clearly. In two seconds, I had three of his teeth out. In four, I'd broken his nose and fractured two of his ribs. In seven, I'd broken his left arm and pretty much beaten him senseless. In ten seconds, I was gasping so hard and swaying so violently myself that James had to grab my arm to keep me from falling over.
I remember Snape's face very well. The sick, sour triumph in it. He was so certain he'd finally seen the destruction of everything the four of us had been together that day, he could hardly stand it. We'd never torment him in concert again. The prat.
When he opened his mouth to comment, he had no idea how much real danger he was in. He was oblivious to his peril. He never has understood how deep emotions can really run.
"Can't say it doesn't serve him right," he started to sneer, glancing down as Sirius at our feet stirred weakly while he regained consciousness. "But I am a bit surprised that –"
I had my fists twisted in the folds of his robes before he could say another word and before I knew what I was doing, and our noses could not have been more than an inch apart.
"Shut your ugly face, Snivellus, or so help me I'll finish you myself," I hissed, shaking him just as hard as I could, considering how badly I myself was shaking. "You don't know anything. You're bloody lucky to still be taking air, you dense berk. And if you ever say another word to me – even one more word - I solemnly promise you your luck will - immediately - run OUT."
I dropped him like the pointless pain in the arse he was and turned to James. "You'd better get Sirius up to the hospital wing, Prongs. He's bleeding out of his ears. Me too, all right? I'm about to pass out."
Sirius, who was still trying to remember how one should go about standing up, laughed.
"God, Moony, couldn't you have waited for a bigger crowd?" he croaked, and a small but alarming gout of blood coated his chin as he laughed again. "I'm not sure I'm as completely humiliated as you'd like. Maybe you'd like to beat me to a pulp in the dining hall tomorrow? I'm certain I could look even stupider than I do right now if I really tried."
"Thanks, no," I answered. "I'm satisfied. But if you ever do anything this brainless again, I'll just kill you next time, all right?"
"Check. I'll certainly keep it in mind, Moony. Er – James, Peter? Do you see any of my teeth around here? I'll want to give them to Madame Pomfrey for the reattachment charms."
And that was it. We somehow managed to drag ourselves into the hospital wing and into Madame Pomfrey's care without further dissension. Sometimes, when you're just the right age, it can be so easy to sort even the most difficult things out.
But everything leads to everything else, doesn't it? We dodged a bullet that day, and none of us ever thought a more destructive weapon would eventually be focused on us, and that, both collectively and individually, we'd fall when it was. Fear and betrayal and mistrust – You-Know-Who's stock in trade. If only we'd been sixteen then, too. James might still be alive. Sirius might still be alive. Peter might not be so utterly lost to us.
Once Sirius and I survived the pressures of the Snape incident without becoming mortal enemies, yet another layer of closeness laid itself upon our interaction. I believe I may have mentioned how everything leads to everything else? So it was in that arena, just as in every other. One of the fundamental principles of magic is the theory of correspondences; as above, so below. Another is the principle of contagion. The two of us had already spent too many years of our lives running through the night in our fur together to be separated by simple fits of human pique and bad behavior. We'd already bound ourselves into a very old magic; the constant wearing of fur had seeped its way into our skins. Our mindsets were not what they had been when we'd first set out.
Every memory leads into the next. There are times when I wish it didn't work that way. On the night I remember now, the moonlit night in the dell by the skirts of the forest, we were seventeen. It was our last year at Hogwarts, and all year we'd been seeing every detail about the school with a heightened attentiveness. A lover's eye, one might say. How odd.
Our monthly excursions as Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs were drawing to a close, of course, and we knew it. There were very few nights indeed, during this time, that any one of the four of us decided to beg off early and go steal a few hours sleep in a human's body and bed before sunrise. Of the four, I think now that Peter was the only one of us to do that much in seventh year. Not that I ever attached any significance to it at the time. Not the way I do now, alas. We wouldn't be boys much longer, and the adult world we expected to enter shortly did not look very promising. That's all we knew then.
But on that night, Sirius and I were the die-hards. Peter had left us not long after one or two in the morning, I remember, and James – well, he had a late date in the astronomy tower. I think he and Lily meant to observe Venus rising – but it could have been Mercury. He'd been a little vague on the details.
So after yet another night of running and playing and starting rabbits and tracking scents and double checking the various sites in which we'd buried bones, my favorite playmate and I had begun to run down. The Wolf, of course, has a very fuzzy concept of time. Padfoot, on the other hand, was much clearer on it. He often steered us both toward some secluded spot toward the end of a night, sensing, I think, the transformations to come. This night was no different. I'd followed him into the small bowl-shaped dell at a walk, our paws finally tired of running, and we had both lapped the clearest water out of the small brook that bordered the dell on its north end. I'd laid down under a tree beside the brook, and as I watched the moon begin to sink toward the horizon, I'd fallen asleep.
The familiar racking waves of pain awakened me I don't know how long after, and I set myself to wait them out. I remained quiet and relaxed while I waited. No more screaming. I'd discovered that I could borrow some of the fortitude I needed to do this waiting from Sirius. In fact, I could absorb it right through his skin. Somewhere along the line, he'd taken to holding me through the worst of it. Somewhere else along the line, I'd taken to permitting him to do this. It was a form of generosity I could hardly refuse. To be honest, I'd come to crave it.
On this occasion, I'd awakened with my head on his shoulder. I don't remember how I'd come to be clasping him round the waist as well, but to be truthful, I wasn't especially surprised. It felt so good to be touched; he'd proven that to metwo years back. And it had started to feel good to touch back in my turn too. I'd begun to be aware of that just in the past few months.
"All right, Remus?" he asked easily. He must have felt me shaking; perhaps he'd been asleep himself. "How bad?"
I tried to answer, but it was a bit too soon, my jaw was still not quite the right shape for forming words. I just shook my head. I could feel the way his arms tightened around me in sympathy, and perhaps a bit of chagrin at having asked me to talk when I still couldn't.
"No, no, I'm sorry, don't try to answer. No need to prattle on all night. We'll just wait. Hold on, it'll be finished soon."
His hands on me. Resting on my head and on my arm. Sirius always had the most beautiful hands. Long and well formed and slender, unusually delicate for a boy. His knuckles were almost always scabbed from Quidditch; they'd never been designed to withstand such an unpredictable sport without injury. I could focus on the feel of his hands during those confusing times when the Wolf would wane and I, Remus, would wax, and when I did, I never lost my place.
He was watching me, keeping his gaze trained on my eyes while he rolled slightly with my diminishing tremors. He claimed that was the best way to gauge how the process was progressing - from the look in my eyes. Perhaps he was right; of course I've never seen it for myself.
It took a while, it always has, but in time I was finished reshuffling my shape and the worst of the pain had abated. I was solidly myself once more, and I was much too tired to consider moving from my comfortable place in the arms of the best friend I've ever had. Perhaps I should have made some effort to leave that place; no doubt things would have been very different if I had.
And yet, I wonder if they really would have been. I've come to believe since that we had bound ourselves together long before this night ever came round. The earliest wizards in the world dressed themselves in skins and wore horns and danced round their watch fires in the night for a reason, after all. I believe those ancient mages knew things that the rest of us have since forgotten. I believe they knew the way to extract the oldest magic of all right out of the roots of the earth, and I think Sirius and I unwittingly did it too.
Sirius especially was always in touch with the earth; the magic that resides in the ground we walk has always loved him. If anyone could have tapped into those ancient veins of power, it was him.
He'd been watching my eyes and seemed satisfied with whatever he saw in them; he just knew when the transformations were complete, every bit as well as I did. He'd been watching my eyes, and when he kissed me, it was without the slightest hesitation or shyness or awkwardness whatsoever. It seemed so perfectly natural for him to kiss me that it took me several minutes to realize he'd done it. It took me several minutes to understand that I'd opened my own lips to him almost immediately that he touched them, that I'd had to shut my eyes against the keenness of his touch, that his breath on my face was both soothingly cool and burning hot, that one kiss would be the seal of a bewitchment that I would never again escape.
He bewitched me, that night when we were seventeen. He didn't mean to, I'm sure. I suspect he was bewitched himself. I'd curled my arms tighter around him and pulled him closer still before I had the slightest idea what I was doing. I'd kissed him back, again and again, and I knew he could feel the explosion of hunger that had just ignited inside me with every touch of my lips. He must have felt it, my skin was on fire and he was looking right into my face all the time. I've always been slow to understand the ways of human passion, but Sirius never was. He was intuitive. He knew about such things in his bones.
Was he offended or repulsed or even slightly frightened by what had happened to me, to us? What was still happening at top speed, in fact, and what would never stop happening if we didn't do something to stop it now? Did he ever have any second thoughts at all? I know I was terrified. Was Sirius ever afraid, even for a moment?
No. Not in the least. Sirius laughed.
God, what I wouldn't give, what I wouldn't dare, even now, to hear that sound again, even if it could only be one more time. He was so delighted. He had his hands around my face and half my body into his lap before I'd had time to draw breath, he'd kissed my ears and my eyes and my cheeks and my throat in less time than it takes me to remember it now, twenty years later. He was laughing the whole time, so full of wonder at me that he just couldn't stop.
"Ahhh, Moony, Moony, anything you want, anything you tell me," he laughed in a whisper into my ear. "Anything you ask, anything at all, I'll do. I'll please you any way you'd like – I'll never stop if you don't want me to. Open your eyes, please, Moony? Open them up and let me see . . ."
I did it, of course. I opened my eyes because he asked me to; I wasn't too shy for that. I could see his face - so close in what was left of the moonlight - his long black hair tumbled all around us both like inky skeins of silk. He was so beautiful in that silvery light that I thought it might strike me blind to look at him. And I'd never noticed it before. Or, perhaps I had. I think this night had been a-building for a very long time.
Bewitching. I could feel that doom I've mentioned before, falling directly onto both our heads as I listened to him, as I stared at him, as he kissed me again. I could feel it like a weight. I should have begged him to stop, but I didn't. My tongue was plunged into the warm flesh of his mouth and he was still laughing and my hands were plunged into his hair, like plunging into shadow. I should have begged him to stop but of course, I never did. I didn't want him to stop.
I still don't. I think of these things now after so many years have passed and my heart is stilled with amazement. My Sirius. How he laughed.
Ah, we made sparks fly that night. Literally. When Sirius first touched me in those private places he had never touched me before, he was so excited, so thrilled, that I could actually see small black sparks bursting out of his fingertips. We'd tapped into the oldest veins of magic there are, hadn't we? If either of us had tried to focus that raw power through a wand, I think we could have blown up the castle. We focused it through our bodies instead, an infinitely more dangerous proposition. The first time I came, I happened to notice that we'd both spontaneously levitated by a good three feet.
When Sirius came, he laughed, he was so amazed and delighted that there could be so much pleasure and joy in the world. I think the Earth herself must have heard him laughing and been charmed; we shot up another foot or so and all the air around us started to crackle and every blade of grass in the dell ignited with witch-light and a million tiny black sparks spilled out of our hands and fell to the loam beneath us like a shower of shooting stars.
Sirius always laughed when he came. Every single time. It seems hard to imagine something so amazingly sweet now, but it's true. He always laughed.
That capacity for wonder never changed in him, no matter how far away from all the good things in the world he eventually got. His laughter sprang out of an inexhaustible well.
So. Time has passed, and now I'm alone again. And, oh, how tightly the obligations I now have to those who live on sometimes bind me. How they bind, how they crush. I'll see it through, of course, because, for better or worse, that's who I am. I can't allow young Harry to meet his fate without whatever back-up I can provide. I cannot desert my new family, one that I myself have had a hand in fashioning. I'll be here to fight in the war that is almost upon us all.
But when it's over, if I've survived . . .
There'll be only one thing left that I'll still want when that day comes, I think.
And there won't be anything I wouldn't do to get it. Nothing I wouldn't do, and no place I wouldn't go. No risk I'd fear to take, and no journey that would be too far. I doubt he'd have been afraid to come after me, after all, had things been different. And I saw the place where the search begins; at least I'll know where to start.
I'll be willing to spend the world for one single time, if that's what it takes. But I don't think it will. In the end, when the time comes, I think it might turn out to be easy. People have been journeying beyond the veil since the beginning of time; apparently any fool can do it. And I've discovered, of late, that I have a great deal more faith than I'd ever imagined I had.
So. As it turns out, oddly enough, I believe. I move through the days and ways of my life as it stands now and I find that I can keep on moving, perhaps because I believe. In spite of everything, I believe.
I believe that there'll come a time, once more, when I'll hear Sirius laugh.