Chapter Sixteen: And Here Again He Lies

"Adieu, O soldier;
You of the rude campaigning, (which we shared,)
The rapid march, the life of the camp,
The hot contention of opposing fronts, the long manoeuvre,
Red battles with their slaughter -- the stimulus -- the strong, terrific game,
Spell of all brave and manly hearts, the trains of time through you and like of you all fill'd
With war and war's expression.

Adieu, dear comrade.
Your mission is fuffil'd -- but I, more warlike,
Myself and this contentious soul of mine,
Still on our own campaigning bound,
Through untried roads with ambushes, opponents lined,

Through many a sharp defeat and many a crisis, often baffled,
Here marching, ever marching on, a war fight out -- aye here,
To fiercer, weightier battles give expression."
-Walt Whitman, Adieu to a Soldier

The room that Dumbledore told them to use is similar enough to their old room in Gryffindor Tower to tighten Sirius' chest with renewed grief. He only realises that he's stopped in the doorway when Remus puts a hand on his arm.

"Sirius? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he says, and is appalled by the roughness of his own voice. "It's just -- this place looks like our room, doesn't it?"

"I think that most of the rooms look the same," Remus says, closing the door behind them. He's doing a better job of pretending calm than Sirius is, but the catch in his voice is unmistakable.

"I wish James were here," Sirius says. "I miss him already." Ten years of friendship with Remus have left him more able to express his feelings than he once was, but he still can't meet Remus' eyes when he says it.

"I do, too," Remus says. His hand tightens a little, warm on Sirius' arm. "I miss them both so much."

All Sirius can do is nod in agreement. He misses James like he would miss his magic if he lost it, and the gaping hole left behind by Lily's death is almost as bad. He'd begun by tolerating her for James' sake, but by the end they'd become family, in the way that only someone you occasionally want to strangle can be. She'd made fun of him when he was stupid; let him cry on her shoulder when he found out about Regulus without breathing so much as a word of his grief to James or Remus; forced him to eat even when he was too caught up in work or the war to be remotely interested in food. If she sometimes hit him in the back of the head, that had been her privilege. He'd called her the sister he never wanted, but she'd actually been the sibling he'd never dared to want, and her loss cuts almost as deeply as James'.

Sirius realizes that he's blinking back tears and brushes them away impatiently, but the look in Remus' eyes almost stops his heart. The pain there is too much to bear, and he's reaching out for Remus before he can think, wanting only to wipe away the anguish they're both drowning in. His hands find Remus' shoulders; then Remus is reaching blindly for him as well, and he's kissing Remus with all of the pent-up grief and love and despair that's been tearing at his chest since Hallowe'en.

Remus makes a noise that sounds almost like a sob. Sirius pulls him closer; kisses him again, and this time Remus kisses him back with the same desperate fury that's burning through Sirius. They cling to each other like drowning men seeking air. Sirius can feel the world spinning around him, with Remus the only stable thing left, solid and real, his mouth sweet and hard and yielding all at once. He slides his hands beneath Remus' sweater and over his back, breathless all over again from the feel of Remus' skin under his palms; from the curve of Remus' spine and the shift of muscles beneath his skin. He lets one hand drift lower, fingertips light on the small of Remus' back, and Remus shivers against him.

"Sirius," Remus says, and slides one hand into Sirius' hair before kissing him again, biting Sirius' lower lip in a way that sends an almost electric thrill running through his veins. Despair is quickly giving way to desperation of another kind. Sirius has spent years wanting this, and the feel of Remus against him is overwhelming: a brilliant white heat that chases away even the cold darkness of grief.

"I want you," he says, cursing his own lack of eloquence. "I've wanted you for so long, Moony."

"You should have said," Remus murmurs, his mouth moving against Sirius' neck, breath warm and sending shivers chasing themselves along Sirius' skin. He kisses his way along the line of Sirius' throat, biting gently at the side of his neck as Sirius lets out a half-stifled curse of startled pleasure. Remus licks gently at the spot he's just bitten while his fingers tug expertly at the buttons of Sirius' shirt. Sirius is trembling beneath his hands, head thrown back, eyes closed, lashes standing out dark against his pale skin. Remus buries his face in the curve of Sirius' neck while he finishes with the buttons, and after he's done Sirius shrugs the garment off, lets it fall free and float to the floor like white wings in the near-darkness.

"Your turn," he murmurs, and steps forward to help Remus tug his sweater and his shirt off over his head. For a moment he stands perfectly still, his eyes moving over Remus' body, and Remus is instinctively moving to cover his scars when he sees the look in Sirius' eyes. They are wide and black with need, and shining with something that Remus is almost afraid to recognize because it looks so very much like love.

"You're fucking amazing," Sirius breathes, and for the first time since Hallowe'en Remus wants to laugh, because that remark is so very Sirius. Instead, he steps forward to close the distance between them. The first slide of skin on skin is shocking in its intensity, and Remus gasps his surprise into the kiss that Sirius pulls him into. Remus can feel the sharp, jagged edges of their grief hovering just out of reach, but for the moment, the circle of Sirius' arms holds peace enough for them both.

"I want Dumbledore's backing for Minister of Magic," Malfoy says flatly. For a moment, Alastor is struck speechless by the sheer gall of the man.

"You're kidding," he finally manages.

"Do I look as though I'm kidding?" Malfoy asks impatiently. "I am not interested in wasting my time on frivolities. Both of us are in equally precarious positions at the moment."

"True enough," Alastor says, unwilling to concede anything else until Malfoy shows his hand. Malfoy sighs.

"It's quite simple. This is the first move in the forming of a coalition government. You don't really imagine that either Crouch or Bagnold will survive the revelation of Sirius Black's innocence?" Malfoy's expression is deadly serious. The elegant, snobbish mask that he presents to the world has been let fall, and the man that Alastor is looking at now is the one he's always known existed, but has never seen before.

"No," he allows. He can't help feeling that this meeting is getting away from him. He'd intended to enlist Malfoy for testimony, perhaps -- and now the man is talking coalition governments and an end to the current administration as if it were understood that this would be the topic of conversation.

"You can't really think that Dumbledore will back you for Minister," he protests. "What's to stop you from turning it all over to your master if he comes back?"

"Obviously the details would need to be hammered into place over a negotiating table," Malfoy says dismissively. "However, I will swear any oath you like that I have no intention of turning anything over to the Dark Lord, now or in the future."

Author's Notes: As always, a huge thank you to my beta-readers: marauderswolf, molsymo, and shellseeker. You guys rock. Thanks also to everyone who has taken the time to read and/or review. My apologies for the long delay between chapters.