Remus, only half awake in his bed, let loose a long, drawn-out exhalation of breath. He turned over on his side, letting his legs draw up close, curling his body into a loose 's' curve. The mental journey back through memory to a time some fourteen years past had comforted him in a way, but it had answered none of his questions, and, in fact, had re-raised old questions, just as it always did on those rare occasions when he permitted himself to recall it.
He pulled his pillow close to himself, holding it against his breast just as he might with a much-loved companion, and sighed as he let his eyes fall shut. And in the darkness behind his closed eyelids, he saw again the solitary halls of Grimmauld Place and the conclusion of his recurring dream, where it had been patiently waiting for him all along, just beyond the edge of sleep.
Remus walked on. Down the dark halls and up the gloomy corridors of a terrible old house that, over the course of the year just past, he had come to know far too well. Remus was walking the halls again, walking past and away from the seated form of Fenrir Greyback, walking out of the formal dining room that housed him, walking until the muted sounds of Greyback's soft muttering were muffled and then swallowed whole in the heavy, storm-laden air.
Remus walked on, and then, almost as if he had planned it, he came to the door of a solarium room, one floor above the basement kitchen. This room, Remus knew, had a flagstone floor, a glass ceiling, and a bank of tall, mullioned windows that looked out on the narrow courtyard at the back of the house. It had been a cold and cheerless place when Remus had known it in waking life, and it would be just as cold and cheerless here in dream, he was certain. But it was a room that had been meant, once, for sunshine and the nurturing of plants and all manner of living things, and Sirius had once told him that when he had been a small boy in this house, he and his brother Regulus had liked to play there.
Remus' heavy steps took him through the solarium door and into its interior, and he had to blink his eyes against the sudden contrast of light: the dark hall he had come from against the weak, greenish daylight flooding in through the glass roof and the tall windows. Few living plants or herbs or specimen trees remained in the solarium; that era in the history of the Black family was long past. Only a few of the older, larger urns and pots had never been moved, some still filled with old, used-up soil, one with the skeletal remains of a pomegranate tree. The last, tenacious creepers of an aged holly vine still clung about the eaves, a few drifts of dead leaves still littered the stone floors, and a single surviving pot of hyacinth bloomed with a kind of fragile, desperate beauty at the foot of one of the windows.
A creaky set of wicker chairs and tables, once painted a fresh white, still recalled a time when it might have been pleasant to sit in this room, to look out on the courtyard. Near the doors that led outside, a wicker swing-loveseat still hung on rusty chains, suspended from an a-frame.
The swing, Remus knew, had been Sirius' and Regulus' favorite. They had especially loved to sit in the swing together during rainy days, quietly playing gobstones or Serpents-and-Ladders or Exploding Snap, warm and dry while they watched the rain fall outside.
Remus gazed toward the swing, and saw that Sirius was sitting in it now, gazing out at the oppressive day beyond the windows, with all its leaden promise of a rain to come.
But this Sirius was no boy. Remus had not seen Sirius as a child since he himself had been a child, many years ago. But he had known and loved and stood beside this man, in this very house, through all the months of the last year, and he could more clearly recall these worn features and this marked face than he could the untouched bloom of Sirius' youth. Sirius, at the end of his life, had seemed more beautiful to Remus than he ever had at any time in their long combined past, and Remus had always seen him as beautiful. Beautiful like the fading, blooming hyacinth at the window, like all things too precious to last.
Sirius had fallen just last year. Yet here he was now, sitting in the swing and waiting for the storm to break.
"It can't be," Remus breathed into the stillness of the room.
"Hullo, Moony," Sirius said, looking away from the window. "Haven't seen you here for a while. I'd hoped I might not see you again."
Remus nodded, and blinked a bit because his eyes were burning. "But you're not really alive, are you? You couldn't be. It's just this blasted dream. It keeps coming back."
"Well, I think you may be the one who keeps coming back," Sirius answered. "But I expect one of these days you won't need to anymore. Come on over here and have a seat anyway. I've missed you."
Remus drifted across the cold stone of the floor and then sat down in the swing beside Sirius. The seat swung a bit as he settled his weight into it and the chains that suspended the swing creaked in protest.
"Ugh!" Sirius said. "What an awful sound. You must tell Harry to burn this horrible old mausoleum down, when he gets around to it. Better sow the razed earth with salt too, just to be on the safe side. How has he been?"
Remus smiled, a bit grimly. "Busy. He's had to pack a lot of growing up into a rather limited space. You … you do know about Dumbledore?"
Sirius nodded. "I know everything you know. I'm always around. As you know perfectly well, you sly thing."
"Ah. Well. The ones who love us…" Remus said.
"Never truly leave us. Since they've built their houses in our hearts, I suppose. Maybe it's more a case of us never truly leaving them."
"Sirius? Are you solid? Real?" Remus asked.
Remus reached across the small space between them and took one of Sirius' hands into his own. It both baffled him and thrilled him beyond all measure to feel the warm weight of that hand in his again, as real to the touch as he had ever known it.
"Perfectly solid," Remus pronounced, smiling a little.
"Yes, for now. But not for long, I'm afraid. It's just a dream."
"All smoke and mirrors," Remus agreed softly. "I was thinking about that weird spell you cast that one time, tonight, do you remember that? All those years ago?"
Sirius laughed. "Of course I remember. I used to be the Wizard Who Walks Into Walls. What a disaster!"
"But it worked, all the same. It foxed the Death Eaters, anyway, just like you thought it would. Or the effigy you made foxed 'em."
"And now, it appears I'm the effigy you made. He kept trying to tell us that it was a good life, remember that? But we couldn't quite believe him."
"I'm trying to believe, Sirius. I really am still trying."
Sirius smiled gently and stroked Remus' cheek. "I know you are. And you can do it, too, Moony. You'll be all right."
"Born survivor, that's me," Remus said.
"Don't be bitter. It's not good for you. I'll tell you just like my effigy told you, it really was a good life. You know that's true, or you'd never be able to bring me here, not like this."
"Seize the day?"
"Why not? What other clever strategy do you propose?"
Remus laughed aloud. "Ah, Paddy, how I've missed you. Will you still be here – if I need to – see you again?"
Sirius put his hand on Remus chest, directly over his heart. "I'm always here, even when you don't need to see me. You will come to believe that, in time."
"It's just … it's just so hard, Sirius. It's just … such a struggle."
"The human condition. Nothing is ever enough. We tried to make the effigy understand that, didn't we? But he couldn't quite believe us. I'm sorry it has to be so hard for you, Remus."
"But I'll catch up with you one day. You may have had a head start, but I'll catch up."
"But that's the one thing that doesn't have to be a struggle at all. Your time will come too, and you'll never have to seek to find it. It'll just happen in the natural order of things. You'll catch up because I won't be running when you come, Moony. I'll be waiting. We'll all be waiting."
Remus pressed his own hand over Sirius' where it rested on his heart. "Do you promise me that? Do promise? You'll wait for me and you'll never go on to whatever there is without me? No matter how long it takes? No matter how much I may live on without you? Will you still remember, even after this dream stops recurring and I don't keep popping by to remind you? Will you remember me, even when I forget?"
"Are you so afraid you will, then? Is that what's bothering you?"
"I'm so afraid that I'm forgetting, Sirius. Forgetting everything. Sometimes I close my eyes and I can't see your face anymore, not like I used to."
Sirius grinned. "Oh, Moony, you thick pillock. You're not forgetting. It's just getting so it doesn't hurt so much to remember. What was my owl's name, when we were thirteen?"
"Bob," Remus answered automatically. "You loathed him."
"What was I wearing, the first time you ever saw me?"
"Stiff midnight blue robes with a velvet collar. You looked like a right little potentate, too, all dressed up like an organ grinder's monkey – the only first year on the platform in full dress robes. And you were covered in mud."
Sirius barked, laughing. "Well, I had to do something about that ridiculous outfit my mum made me wear! Honestly, you can't imagine how hard it was to summon an entire mud-puddle just so I could 'fall' into it."
"I do remember!" Remus exclaimed, relieved and delighted. "I remember everything."
"Of course you do," Sirius answered. He turned his hand on Remus' breast and closed it around Remus' hand, then pressed them both together back over Remus' heart. "It's all right here, Moony. I'm always right here. You're never really alone."
Remus smiled as he listened, for a moment, to the sound of his own heart beating.
"So you do promise then," he said to Sirius. "You will be waiting for me when I come?"
"I solemnly swear," Sirius answered, smiling.
"Ah. Well then. I suppose that's settled."
"You worry too much. Care for a game of gobstones? Reggie and I used to play in here for hours. Especially when there was a storm like this one coming."
"Yes, I remember you telling me that. But I think I'll pass on the gobstones. I always thought that game was deadly boring, to be quite honest."
"Maybe it helps to be under ten years old. Serpents-and-Ladders?"
Remus grinned. "I don't think so."
"Shall we just wait for the storm, then?"
"That sounds just about right," Remus said, and moved close enough to Sirius to lean against him, a little. They both looked out the windows to the grey day beyond, and after a while, Sirius slipped his arm around Remus' shoulders.
Remus' recurring dream went on, and as he sat with his dream-Sirius in their dream-swing and waited for the dream-storm to break at last, it occurred to Remus that it might be a long while before he would visit this particular dream again. As Sirius had said, perhaps it really was just getting so it didn't hurt so much to remember.
The storm finally broke, just as it had been threatening to do all through this dream and all through all the other, like dreams that it had loomed in. The skies opened and rain poured down in sheets over the glass ceiling and tall windows of the solarium that Remus had never, in waking life, actually been in with Sirius, not once in the whole time they had lived at Grimmauld Place together.
But he was with Sirius now, now and forever. Remus was suddenly struck by the idea that some themes in life had an odd way of recurring, in just the same way dreams could.
The two of them sat beside one another and watched the rain fall until the dream faded into the black, the way all dreams do, and Remus finally slept the rest of the night away in a deep, dark, and ultimately dreamless sleep.