The angel on the curled page burns Remus' eyes with its holiness: it, a creature of heaven, and him, a creature from the darkest corners of the world. A thin finger traces along the outline of glorious white wings, which have a golden sheen when the light catches the page at the right angle. Remus knows all about angels, and how the Muggles immortalized them in the glass of sanctuary windows, where the winged creatures overlook the alter with caring, luminous eyes.
Angels are the guardians of all that is good, and someone like Remus doesn't deserve to touch one like this, the pads of his fingers running over the still illustration in a loving gesture. Some of the golden hue of the wings has become ingrained on his finger, and when he begins to outline the full blond tresses on the angel's head, the hair glitters in his wake.
With a small sigh, Remus lays the book to one side, trying to ignore how his dark crimson sheets devour the creamy pages. Pushing aside his burgundy curtains with a whoosh, he allows bare feet to hit the cool stone of the dormitory floor. Steady hands pull on rough grey gloves that cause his palms to itch, and then a gold and burgundy scarf of the same material is wrapped around a pale neck. Remus brushes a hand through his shaggy brown hair before pulling on his winter cloak and heading down the stairs. The castle is silent around him, with only the echo of laughter left in the long corridors. Briskly, he makes his way past the Great Hall and to the entrance, taking in a sharp breath as he pushes open the castle doors.
The world outside is breathtakingly white, gleaming like the angel's wings in the late December sun. The snow has stopped falling, and now only flakes drifting off the trees dot the air around Remus, like confetti after a celebration.
It's December 25th, 1974.
Remus takes a step out of the castle, closing the large iron door behind him with a soft clang. His footsteps begin to weave through the snowy blanket, down the steps and past the fountain, under the archway then past the Whomping Willow. The wind whistles in the mountains around him, and Remus tugs his cloak a little closer before finding a boulder to sit on.
Hands tremble slightly in the cold; Remus reaches under his cloak and draws out one sheet of yellowed parchment, nimble fingers unfolding the thick paper. The inside of the page is adorned with a messy scrawl of black ink, the work of three different hands mingled together in one act of friendship.
Remus doesn't deserve his friends anymore than he deserves to gaze upon the angel in his Muggle book. He confided that thought in Sirius once, when he had lay broken on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, and Sirius knelt beside him, brushing the bloody strands of chestnut and bronze hair away from Remus' mouth. Sirius had stared at him silently -intently- then turned and grabbed a blanket off the bed to wrap Remus' naked body in.
There had been no argument, but no agreement, either.
Someone has sketched a shape in the bottom left corner of the parchment. Sirius isn't an artist, but Remus can make out the shape of a slender body in flowing robes, wings sprouting from the back and long hair cascading down to the waistline. It seems out of place amidst the cheerful greetings of James and Peter, and Sirius himself hasn't mentioned it, instead going on about the snowball fights they'll have once classes start again. But the angel is there, staring at him with lopsided eyes that radiate kindness.
Remus clutches the letter tighter as a gust tries to rip it from his hands.
When the wind subsides, Sirius' angel is still there.
"Bloody hell," Sirius groans as he falls across Remus' bed, rolling toward the other's warmth and staring up at him with inquisitive grey eyes. "Do you honestly think I'll just vanish some day? Up and leave without a goodbye, desert you to brave life on your own?"
Remus, who has been gazing at the Muggle angel again, tears his eyes from the page. Sirius is coiled around his body now, head resting on the scarlet pillow and tendrils of ebony hair spilling over the red surface. A thin line appears between Remus' brows as he frowns, cocking his head to get a better look at his friend.
"You don't want to hear the answer."
Sirius lets out a rush of air, his hot breath mingling with the air and enveloping Remus. Amber eyes wander back to the book, fingers tentatively reaching out to stroke the page. The weight of Sirius' body nestled beside him isn't new, but frightening nonetheless.
"I wouldn't do that," Sirius says in an offhand manner, fiddling with the taut sheets beneath his body. When Remus doesn't reply, Sirius pulls himself up and grabs the other wizard's hands. "I wouldn't," he insists, softer this time and the sincerity in his eyes makes Remus' skin grow warm.
The burning sensation Remus gets when he looks at Sirius is different than when he looks at the angel. The angel scorches him in holy spite, while Sirius is like a bonfire; the closer one gets, the hotter he burns.
Their palms are sweaty as they clasp hands, Sirius staring at the canopy and Remus at the angel.
Sometimes Remus wonders why he lets himself get burned. The more he's around Sirius, the more heat he takes until he draws away and retreats, harboring the burn marks in private. Sirius leaves him alone now, and it hurts even though it was Remus' decision. He wants to have the flames of Sirius' fire lick at him, burning away his surface and revealing his core. Sirius, however, only sends him empty gazes from across the common room. Sirius gave his apology, and Remus wants to forgive him, but isn't ready yet.
Remus dips his quill into his ink jar, then draws it out again. Large droplets splatter across the page of his book, until the image of the angel is distorted by black stains. Even then, the angel smiles up at Remus with kind, trusting eyes.
"I didn't mean for it to happen like that," Sirius says as he stares into the depths of his Butterbeer, foot inching across the expanse beneath the table to meet Remus' own. When Remus doesn't flinch at the contact, Sirius takes it as a good sign and lifts his eyes.
"I know." Remus' voice is soft and even, his gold-tinged eyes conveying his apology before the words leave his mouth. Sirius reaches out and takes his hand, squeezing it as Remus breathes, "I'm sorry."
It suddenly feels stifling in their corner of the Leaky Cauldron, the firelight dancing with shadows on the wall and making Remus' hair glow auburn. Sirius takes a deep drink from his mug, feeling the warm Butterbeer burn his insides as it goes down. He scoots his chair closer to Remus and leans forward, cupping the other's cheek.
"I was a horrible prat."
"You were," Remus agrees, but the smallest hint of a smile crosses his face.
Sirius draws him near and kisses him, tasting Remus' breath and traces of Butterbeer on soft lips. "I missed you." Remus makes a noise in agreement, melting under the gaze of honest grey eyes.
Remus' world spins out of control November 1st, 1981. He returns home after a week on Order business in France, only to find his snowy white owl -a gift from Sirius- sitting on his bed. She hoots and squawks something terrible until Remus unrolls the newspaper in her claws, his eyes jumping from 'The Daily Prophet' to 'Sirius Black: Mass Murderer Sent to Azkaban'.
The owl rustles her wings, sending pure white feathers fluttering through the room. Remus stares at the article, then takes a seat on the bed, one hand reaching out to pet the owl's head in thanks.
Remus keeps the old stained image of the angel on his wall, where it can watch his daily routine. Sirius took a quill to it years earlier, writing soppy nonsense about how he'll always watch over Remus. The day after James, Lily, and Peter's deaths, Remus takes the page off the wall and tosses it into his Hogwarts trunk with other forgotten memories.
Sirius eyes are cold and empty as he sits in the chair by the fire, the house of his ancestors looming around him. Remus hands him a cup of tea, silently hoping the warm beverage can cut the chill that's taken over their lives.
"I'm sorry." Sirius' voice is a croak, deeper in tone than Remus remembers, but conveying his emotions only too well. "I didn't mean-"
The fire crackles in the hearth, flames leaping within the confinements of the brick fireplace. The glow it creates is harsh on Remus' eyes, but he can see it hurts Sirius more. The other man is curled around his teacup like it's the last source of warmth in the world, grey eyes hidden behind pale lids.
"I left you," Sirius continues in a haunting voice, a harsh laugh mingling with his words. "I left you, I betray James, and I'm useless to Harry." The teacup clatters in the silence of the house, and Remus watches as shaking hands lift the cup to Sirius' lips.
Remus wants to point out that Peter framed him, but knows it won't matter to Sirius. He's lived with these thoughts for fifteen years, now.
Sirius sits back in the stiff armchair, his black hair flowing over his shoulders and down his back. "I don't deserve you."
The china clinks as Remus sets down his cup and saucer, rising to his feet and walking over to Sirius' chair. He blocks the fire and Sirius shivers, folding in on himself to keep warm. Remus slides a hand through Sirius' ebony hair, then touches Sirius' ivory cheek, wiping at silent tears. He makes no argument, but no agreement, either.
Echoes of voices float around Remus, everything from the thunderous voice of the priest, to the ringing notes of the soloist and the murmur of prayers from the worshipers. He sits calmly in the empty sanctuary dressed in a plain tweed suit, his briefcase resting beside him on the wooden pew. Stone pillars rise on either side of him, framing glorious stained windows that sparkle in the sunlight and cast rainbows of color over the stone alter. One of the windows depicts an angel, and Remus wonders vaguely if it's a falling angel, because it certainly reminds him of Sirius as he fell through the veil. The angel's arms are spread wide in acceptance, hair billowing around it's body, eyes shut and a serene smile on it's pale face.
It's suddenly hard for Remus to breathe.
Reaching into his briefcase, Remus withdraws two pieces of worn paper. One page holds the angel from the Muggle book, with Sirius' promise still scrawled over a tattered corner and black ink staining golden hair. The other page is a piece of parchment, and it's with trembling hands that Remus unfolds it, staring at the three greetings of his friends from that lonely Christmas. All of them are lost to him now, and that hurts more than anything.
Remus fingers the sketch of the angel on the parchment, then lifts his eyes to the angel in the window. Loneliness is something Remus is all too familiar with, but time has proven that he'll never be alone forever. While James and Peter are gone, Sirius has a knack for showing up when he's least expected, and Remus doubts even death can stop the cycle.
The world outside the church is cold and white, but Remus' takes it in like a breath of fresh air. Everyone is bustling down the street, except for the children who throw snowballs at each other, their laughter peppering the air.