A note from the author: Although they both can and do stand alone, this story is technically a follow-up of one of my other one-shots, entitled, Forever and a Day. So if you have not read that story, no worries. If you have, the letter mentioned in this story is indeed the one that Sirius received from Remus in that narrative. Thank you for reading and enjoy the story. Riku-Rocks.
Warning: Possible spoilers for PoA, GoF, and OotP.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter books, etc.
A large, black, bear-like dog padded down an old dirt trail. In truth, he was not a dog at all, but a wizard. He just so happened to be an Animagus, although precious few people were privy to that information.
The wizard had considered returning to his human form, as he had spent most of the past two years posing as a stray, but thought better of it. He knew that no one would be out here, especially this late in the day, but the overgrown trail was easier to master as a dog. In addition, it was a long trail and he could cover more ground in his Animagus form.
When Sirius started his journey from Hogwarts, he was thrilled that he would be able to see and speak to Moony freely again. There had not been time to talk the last time they saw each other face to face (other then to uncover a secret, which had been buried for twelve years). And there was a strong limit to what you write in a letter; especially when one correspondent was a wanted criminal and the other a werewolf -both just trying to survive in a world that would gladly watch them perish.
Partway through the long journey however, he had grown nervous, and would have welcomed a slower pace in order to think. What if he was not as welcome as he expected to be?
It's been twelve, no thirteen now, years. He said he would wait for answers, and that he would believe me, and he has held true to that so far, but… What if he would rather forget or leave the past behind him. The last thirteen years must have been terrible for him; it would be understandable for him to try and just move on…
Then, he realised who he was thinking about; Sirius knew Remus. Knew him better then anyone else in fact, even after all the years apart. Remus would never turn his back on someone he cared about, and Sirius (along with the other Marauders) had always meant the world to Remus.
Moony will always welcome me… and accept me. Besides, Dumbledore said to lie low at Lupin's, and Dumbledore would not offer someone else's home unless he was sure they wouldn't have any strong objections to it.
Therefore, it was with a newfound resolve, a large amount of excitement, and a small amount of trepidation, that Sirius Black arrived at the small cottage owned by Remus Lupin.
Sirius finally returned to his true form, glad that at least this time he was a much better sight then the last time they had seen each other.
I must have smelled awful back then too… and he has those bloody acute senses. Even still, he didn't hesitate to embrace me; that's my Moony.
Sirius ran his fingers through his hair, straightened his clothes, and cleared his throat before raising a fist to knock on the worn wooden door. However, said door opened before he ever made contact, and he met face to face with Remus for the first time in a year.
Remus had always been a little too thin and bit pale, and both were still true of him. Sirius could also see a few scars that had not previously graced his face and neck, and Sirius suspected there were many scars that he would not recognise on the rest of Remus' body. It upset him that the wolf had obviously returned to its self-mutilating ways while he was gone, but he realised that he should not have expected any better. He also noticed that the other man's hair was already greying and at thirty-four years old, he looked too worn.
Sirius was pulled from his musings when he heard a soft but hoarse voice, that was familiar and yet different from his memories of it. "Padfoot, why don't you come in?"
Sirius could not help but smile at the old name as he entered the cottage.
I should have known better then to ever doubt him.
The room he entered was worn, modest, and clean, much like its owner. It was small, but not crowded, and had a warm, comfortable feel to it. Sirius already knew that the rest of the house would be much the same, for that was always how Remus kept his spaces. Sirius also remembered the layout of the small cottage, as he had been there when it still belonged to Remus' parents.
"I was wondering when you would come around," Said that familiar voice behind him. Sirius turned to face Remus. There was so much he wanted to say, but he been sent here with another purpose, and he needed to handle that first.
He swallowed hard, knowing that the news he brought was going to hurt to hear just as much as it would to say. Remus waited quietly, seeming to sense the grave mood of the other man.
He always was good at that.
"I'm afraid I didn't just decide to stop by, Remus." Sirius said, meeting the others eyes. He used to swear that he and Remus could communicate with each other using only their eyes. When he was first on the run, he had vaguely wondered if it would still be that way, should they ever be together again.
..And then he entered that shack and looked into my eyes, and it was the same. He practically solved the whole damn thing on his own, by just looking into my eyes and reading a name on the map.
Then that voice pulled him back to reality, as it had done countless times in the past. "The last trial of the Tri-Wizard Tournament… Something happened." It was not a question.
Some things never change.
Sirius nodded, still holding the other man's eyes with his own.
The eyes Sirius was looking into were suddenly frightened, and then Remus spoke again, his voice tight now. "Tell me Harry is alright."
"Harry is alright," said Sirius, managing to make sure it did not sound like he was mocking or simply pacifying the other. Although he doubted the other would misunderstand him while their gazes were locked like this.
Sirius could see the relief settle into Remus, although he still looked concerned, nervous, and a little afraid. Sirius wondered if anyone besides himself would be able to tell. He doubted it.
"Who then?" Remus asked quietly.
Sirius took a step forward and placed a hand on Remus' shoulder. "Harry and a boy named Cedric Diggory both reached the Tri-Wizard Cup at the same time, they tried to tie." A ghost of a smile touched Sirius lips, and then vanished as both he and Remus knew what was coming. "Cedric was killed, Remus, I'm sorry. I know he must have been one of your students."
Remus closed his eyes for a moment as he bowed his head and nodded. Then he raised his face to Sirius' and opened his eyes. His face looked resolved; Sirius knew he suspected what would come next.
Sirius took a deep breath. "Lord Voldemort has returned. We had better sit down. I'm going to tell you everything I know."
A few hours later found them sitting on the couch in the drawing room, with mugs of tea sitting forgotten on the table in front of them. Indeed, Sirius did tell Remus all he knew of the year's events, even the ones he was sure he already knew, whether from the Prophet or Sirius' epistles. Starting from the moment he learned Harry's name had come out of the Goblet of Fire, and ending with Dumbledore's instructions to contact the old crowd and lie low at Lupin's. He included every detail he could think of, whether small or large, and whether they seemed important or not.
For the most part, Remus just listened quietly, only interrupting (and rather politely so) every now and again to ask a question. Sirius became mildly annoyed halfway through the telling, when he realised that Remus had already figured out who the culprit was and had even discerned his motive. He was not sure whether it was just because the werewolf already knew the gist of the ending, or if he would have done the same had anyone bothered to fill him in as the events were unfolding.
From now on, I am running everything by Moony. I should have asked him to come out before it became too late. I knew he would if I asked. Well, it is too late to worry about that now.
"Has Dumbledore informed any of the others who were in the Order of your innocence?" Remus asked after a moment of silence following the end of the tale.
Sirius shrugged casually. "Just Snape and McGonagall, as far as I know, why?"
"Well…" Remus seemed to be thinking of a gentle way to voice his concern. He had always been the most sensitive and diplomatic of the Marauders. "Forgive me, but won't they possibly react poorly to receiving a letter from you, claiming that Lord Voldemort had returned?"
Sirius blinked, and then released a bitter laugh. "You're right. I hadn't thought about that, I guess Dumbledore didn't either. He was in a bit of a hurry to get things started."
Remus nodded again, as if to say 'that's understandable' and then Sirius got an idea. "Maybe that's why he mentioned you first. He had to have known that would distract me, and naturally I'd find you before anyone else."
"Good thinking. I'll write the letters and send them off." Remus stood and crossed the room, to where an old writing desk sat in the corner. He pulled out some parchment, ink, and a quill and began writing the letters.
"Why don't you mention that I'm innocent while you've got their attention?" Sirius said as he moved to stand behind the small wooden chair in which Remus was seated.
"I tried that thirteen years ago. They didn't believe me then, and I can't say that they will now." Remus said mildly. "Perhaps it would be wiser to tell them later, just to make sure they don't assume I've finally lost my mind and disregard the entire message."
Sirius pondered this for a moment while Remus quickly wrote out several copies of the same letter in his small neat script. He recalled a letter, written in that same script, which he had received while in Azkaban. One that Remus had written and somehow managed to smuggle into the prison, via the help of another werewolf, a couple months after Sirius had been sent there. The letter, which Sirius had kept hidden (and incidentally still had -carefully folded in his pocket), had brought him a small amount of hope and comfort, and had helped him quite a lot over the years that he remained in that awful place.
In the letter, Remus had mention the Order had scattered to the winds and that, before then, they had told him that he needed to accept the truth about Sirius.
Exactly when did he 'accept' that I was guilty? How long did he try to convince them that I might not have been? How did they react, that he would think they might dismiss this important message if he dared to bring up the subject of my innocence again?
Sirius thought that he would have had better odds of going insane if he had been in Remus' position all those years. To know that something was not right, but to be unable to do anything about it, to have people dismiss you when you tried to do what was right. To be completely alone, having lost all of the people who were closest to you, to not know the truth… He was not sure which one of their lives had been worse.
He was a prisoner too… And neither of us deserved it. If I ever get my hands on Peter…
"Padfoot? Sirius, are you alright?" Remus had finished writing and was looking at Sirius with a rather concerned expression.
"What? Oh, yes… I'm fine. I was just thinking." Sirius said with a small wave of his hand, as if to brush away Remus' concern.
"Alright," Remus said, obviously not completely convinced, but deciding to leave it alone for now. "If I leave now, I should be able to make the post office before it closes."
"I'll go with you." Sirius said, and then noticing the apprehensive edge in Remus' eyes, he added with a grin, "What? Doesn't anyone bring their dog to the post office with them anymore? It's dark out, he'll protect you."
"Alright, but please don't draw any attention to us." Remus stated with the smallest of smiles as he grabbed his coat and headed to the fireplace. Sirius transformed into the bear-like dog again, and followed.
They returned nearly an hour later, after Remus had sent the letters with the fastest owls he could afford. Sirius suspected that Remus had spent a good deal more money then he would have if he were writing the old crowd for his own purposes. Then again, Sirius also suspected that Remus never wrote the old crowd for his own purposes.
"Well, the only instructions I have left are to lie low here… Is that alright?" Sirius asked in a conversational tone after he returned to his usual form.
Remus looked slightly affronted for a fleeting moment, and then his usual mild manner returned. "Of course that's alright. You can take the master bedroom, I'll set it up for you."
Sirius chuckled warmly. Always the considerate host. "You don't have give me the master bedroom Remus, even your tiny old bedroom will be better then the caves I've been sleeping in."
Remus shrugged, "The master bedroom is the one that's unoccupied anyway." Then he continued down the small hallway and disappeared into the undersized master bedroom at the end.
Sirius wore a puzzled frown for a moment. Of course… After that Halloween any small comfort, like the familiarity of his old room, would be welcomed… maybe even clung to. Just like I clung to my memories and innocence… And that letter.
Sirius had only seen the master bedroom once. He recalled that it was about the size of the bathroom that connected to the master bedroom in the houses that he and James had grown up in. He would be willing to bet that the same aged bed, nightstand, and wardrobe were in it, with a threadbare quilt on the creaky old bed. Sirius could not think of anywhere else he would rather be tonight.
Remus re-entered the sitting room with a small smile, which Sirius returned. "It's good to be back." He commented.
"It's good to have you back." Remus replied.
Just then, Sirius' stomach decided to join the conversation with a rather loud grumble. "I'll start work on dinner." Remus said and both men sauntered into the kitchenette.
Remus' mother had been a Muggle, and she had taught her only child how to do things her way. Sirius had always found it amusing and oddly fascinating to watch Remus cook, clean, or repair his clothes and books without magic. Even before Hogwarts, Sirius had never had to do chores like cooking or cleaning, the Blacks had house elves for those sorts of things.
Without a thought, Sirius settled into this old habit once again. He was now sitting at the table, watching Remus prepare their dinner.
"So, what have you done with Buckbeak?" Remus asked as he glanced over his shoulder to look at the other man.
"I left him in a cave a few miles into the woods." Sirius answered. "I wasn't sure if the Muggles had migrated closer to the cottage over the past decade and I didn't want to risk him being spotted and bringing the Ministry upon us both."
Remus, who had returned his attention to the vegetables he was preparing, nodded. "We should probably get him after dinner. There still isn't anyone within many miles of this place."
"I noticed on the way over." Sirius commented as he observed the werewolf. Remus was still and quiet, the type of person whose presence other people generally fail to notice. He had always been this way; Sirius continually supposed that the lycanthrope purposefully made himself fade into the background. After all, no one can figure him out and hurt him if they do not notice him, or even think about him, to begin with.
Still watching, Sirius noted that Remus did not appear to have the timid, introverted tendencies that he had when they first met, nor did he have inner peace he seemed to possess during their prime years at Hogwarts. The everyday trials of being a werewolf, the previous war, months of being the suspected traitor, the loss of everyone dear to him, the years of isolation, and now all the added weight of being ousted as a werewolf had clearly taken a rather large toll on Remus.
"It has been a long time since someone observed me like you're doing now… the way you used to," Remus commented lightly. "I had almost forgotten what it feels like to have a pair of eyes following my every move."
"I've just never understood how someone could always be so careful with their actions," Sirius replied easily. "It's so… different… from the way I function. You know me, I rarely consider the long term, and I certainly would not have the patience to do all this the Muggle way."
"Well, when someone like me doesn't think about the possible long term affects of their actions, it can produce some rather serious consequences…" Remus responded mildly, and then added, "As you experienced last year", so quietly that Sirius was not sure if he was supposed to hear it.
However, he did hear it, and Sirius decided they might as well lay it all on the table now; as experience had taught him there may or may not be another time to, and for once, he was not going to take any chances. That was another thing he had learned from past mistakes.
"Remus," Sirius started gently, as he stood and moved toward the werewolf. "What happened that night… it wasn't your fault. There were so many ways that it could have turned out, and I never expected to be proven innocent. At least now, you know the truth, and Harry and Dumbledore do as well. Soon all of the Order will, that's more then I ever could have hoped for."
"But that doesn't make it right…" Remus said in a voice that sounded too defeated for Sirius' liking. "If I had just remembered to get that potion from Snape before I-"
"If you had, then it would have taken you that much longer to reach the Shack." Sirius cut in, "Harry very well may have killed me if you hadn't arrived when you did. Besides, we both know I would never have had the patience or courtesy to explain everything to the children; without you there, no one would have understood what was happening. Hell, Remus, I don't even know how you figured all of that out so quickly."
Remus appeared to be thinking for a moment, and Sirius knew that particular distance which appeared in his friend's eyes. Remus was deciding how much of himself he was willing to expose on this matter. That bothered the grey-eyed man for a moment; in the past, Remus would have bared everything to him without giving it a second thought.
It's my own fault. If I had handled things differently back then, the way he would have, then he wouldn't be concerned about any vulnerability around me now. He has suffered too much over the past thirteen years to simply drop his defences… And arriving at someone's door to tell him that Voldemort has returned doesn't encourage anyone to do that anyway. Not when they have lived through the last war.
"I received you're letter." Sirius stated, and then (realizing that they had corresponded through letters for a year) quickly added, "The one you sent into Azkaban."
Remus, who had been standing facing the counter he was working on, turned to look Sirius in the eyes again. "I'm glad… I've always wondered about that."
"I believe you've wondered about quite a lot over the years we've been apart." Sirius gently laid a hand on Remus shoulder as he spoke. Remus simply nodded slowly, obviously still thinking.
He's thinking of what he said in that letter. I bet he can remember nearly every word he wrote.
"Why don't I fetch Buckbeak while you finish making dinner? It won't take me long, and it'll keep me out of your way." Sirius offered.
"You're not in the way." Remus responded with a slight smile and a slow shake of his head.
"I'll be fine Remus," Sirius said lightly. "I'll come back, I promise." Sirius gave the thin shoulder under his hand a light squeeze before turning to leave. "I expect dinner when I get back, and then I'm commandeering your bathroom," he called over shoulder as he left the cosy little cottage.
When Sirius returned, he tethered Buckbeak in Remus' backyard, cast a concealment charm, and entered the house without knocking.
Remus had clearly been washing some pans and cooking utensils in the kitchen sink, but had stopped as soon as he heard Sirius. He was drying his hands when the dark-haired man re-entered the Kitchen.
"Dinner's ready," he said with a small smile.
"It smells great," answered Sirius as he took a seat at the table, and was slightly surprised at how easily it seemed for him to fit into his lycanthropic friend's home and company.
"It's just stew and biscuits," Remus said as he laid a bowl in front of Sirius, and placed a small basket of biscuits in the middle of the table.
They talked about some of the more mundane recent events, Harry, Buckbeak, and Remus' garden throughout dinner. Sirius noticed that he ate more then twice as much as Remus, and made sure to point the observation out with a teasing smirk. Overall, it was startlingly similar to the meals that the two men had shared as boys. Sirius was not sure whether he felt more elated that they could fit back together like this, or dishearten at all the years they could have shared, but instead spent in solitude. He decided not to focus on that for the time being and was just content to enjoy the moment.
After dinner, Remus insisted on cleaning up while Sirius helped himself to the bathroom. "I put some of your things in there, and there are towels in the cabinet over the loo." Remus commented offhandedly. "Help yourself to anything else you need and let me know if you have trouble finding anything."
Sirius smiled; he knew he would be welcomed, but the way Remus just embraced his presence was very uplifting. "Thank you, Moony, I- Wait… some of my things? What…? You still have all of my things?"
"Of course; what would I have done with them?" Remus answered lightly.
Sirius was tempted to ask a question that had been on his mind for far too long, but he knew he could not walk away from that discussion once he started it, so he decided to go clean up first.
We might as well get comfortable first.
Sirius sauntered into the short hall and straight into the small bathroom. Balanced on the limited amount of counter space beside the sink was a box labelled 'Sirius- bathroom'. The dark-haired man smiled as he ran a finger over the delicate script.
Remus must have sealed the box (or possibly the entire shed) with magic, Sirius realised, because when he opened the box, its contents looked just the same as they did when they were packed. Folded neatly on the top was Sirius' favourite bathrobe. Sirius spared a second to ponder if he could still call it his favourite, considering he had not worn it in thirteen years. Underneath was the shiny stainless steel grooming set (as the marauders started lovingly referring to it once they managed to become Animagi and saw what Sirius turned into) that Sirius bought to replace his old silver one after he learned that Remus was a werewolf and became concerned that his friend might hurt himself if he accidentally touched it.
I thought I broke this mirror a few days before I left… Remus must have repaired it for me.
There was also a bottle of Sirius' favourite cologne, and a candle that Remus bought Sirius sometime after the lycanthrope moved in with him. The grey-eyed man recalled something about the scent supposedly being soothing. On the bottom of the box were a few motorcycle magazines that Sirius used to keep in the bathroom.
Sirius put the folded letter in the pocket of his robe before undressing. He took a long shower, longer then he had taken in thirteen years. He noticed that Remus must still like the scent of sandalwood, as the soap was that particular scent. When he stepped out of the shower, he dried off with one of Remus' towels, slipped into his old robe, and used his old comb, brush, and toothbrush (which he could not believe Remus had saved).
Feeling more relaxed then he had in nearly two decades, Sirius retuned to the living room to find a fire in the hearth, and Remus sitting on the sofa, flipping through an old book.
"I could get used to this kind of life again." Sirius said as he sat down next to Remus. "Of course, I would discover that right before things are about to go all pear shaped again."
"Hopefully things will end better this time," Remus responded mildly.
Sirius nodded, "About last time, though…" He removed the letter, unfolded it, and held it out to Remus. "How did you get this to me?"
Remus looked at the envelope, with a date some thirteen years prior written on the front in his own handwriting, but he did not take it. Instead, he moved his eyes to meet the grey ones that had him in their steely gaze. "Do you remember how I used to disappear from time to time, and I told you that Dumbledore had something he needed me to do, but that I couldn't talk about it?"
"Yes," Sirius knew he sounded as guilty as he felt. "It was one of the reasons why…"
"I thought we already forgave each other for those mistakes." Remus cut in quietly before Sirius could finish, and the dark-haired man was grateful for that. "Anyway, I was an representative of sorts, I suppose you could say. I would speak to other dark creatures on behalf of the Order."
"You're not a dark creature," Sirius snapped before he could compose himself.
"Yes I am, which was useful to Dumbledore at that time, and might be again." A slightly bitter edge marred Remus' usually mild tone.
"That's why you wouldn't talk about it," Sirius said with a far bitterer note to his voice, "You were more sensitive of the subject back then, and I wouldn't have stayed quiet if I knew Dumbledore was asking you to do something that dangerous on your own."
"There was no one else to do it, most of the beings I dealt with weren't very tolerant of humans, and they never would have spoken to one." Remus sighed, "Anyway, we're digressing. I met with a pack of werewolves on a few occasions during this time. With a little convincing, they decided not to join either side in the war, which was better then joining Lord Voldemort's forces I suppose."
"Of course it was." Sirius interrupted, "That was quite a feat Remus, you should be proud of yourself. I cannot believe we never guessed what you were doing. No offence, but you were made for that sort of thing. Diplomacy and such, I mean."
"Thank you, Padfoot," Remus assured the other man. "One of the members of that pack seemed to take a liking to me. Several days before you received that letter, I heard that this werewolf was going to be investigated by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. We both knew that regardless of the findings, those kinds of investigations do not bode well for our kind. I had already written that letter, so I found him and we made a deal. He wrote similar letter to someone he cared about and we traded. If he was sent to Azkaban, we would each deliver each other's letter."
"I doubt it was as simple as you make it sound." Sirius commented, "What really happened, and what if he didn't go to Azkaban? What if he was executed or let go?"
"I had to earn to right to go into the pack's territory." Remus said carefully. "I supposed I could have tried to sneak in, but it would have been worse if I was caught, and anyway, I didn't believe that Voldemort was dead, so I couldn't have them deciding our side was trouble."
"Ever the considerate one, aren't you Moony?" Sirius attempted to sound teasing, but he knew he did not pull it off. "You weren't hurt badly, were you?"
"No, I don't think they really considered me a threat or a challenge, so it was only enough to warn me off." Remus replied gently, "As for what would happen if he was not sent to Azkaban, well if he was let go, we would trade back and if he was executed then I would deliver his and write a new one I suppose."
"Did you have much trouble delivering his letter?" The grey-eyed man asked. "Who was it for?"
"His mate," Remus answered sympathetically. "I had to enter the territory again, but under the circumstances, they went lightly on me."
"Moony…" Sirius just stared at the other man for a moment.
Then Remus broke the silence, and it sounded like he had been dwelling on the question he asked for much longer then Sirius wanted to think about. "Was it wrong to send you that letter, Sirius? I had hoped that it might bring you some peace of mind, but I…"
"It wasn't wrong, Moony, it was the best thing you could have done for me." Sirius placed a hand on Remus' shoulder. "It did bring me peace of mind… and hope. I don't know if I could have lasted without having read it."
"There wasn't anything I could do," Remus whispered sadly. "At first I tried to convince some of the other members of the Order that it was -or might be- a mistake, that you at least deserved a fair trial. The Ministry would never care if a werewolf complained, but if the others had… only they wouldn't listen to me. I'm sorry."
"You have nothing to apologise for," Sirius said thickly. "There are so many things I could have done… no, should have done, that would have prevented everything."
"It's not your fault Padfoot," Remus placed a hand over the one still holding his shoulder. "You did what you thought was right at the time. You just wanted to protect Harry, James, and Lily. We all did."
There was sound that disappeared before it could form any syllables. In fact, it was gone so quickly that Sirius would have thought he had imagined it, or blamed it on the wind, fire, or the settling of a worn house if he had not heard it many times years ago.
"What is it Moony?" Sirius asked softly. Remus simply shook his head, but Sirius would not have it. "You can ask anything you want. It won't upset me; I know you don't hold any of it against me. I don't know why, other then the fact that you're you, I guess." there was a brief pause before Sirius added, "I want you to know the truth anyway."
...Because you deserve to know.
Sirius left the last part unsaid, because Moony would argue it instead of asking about whatever was bothering him.
"Why did you go after Peter on your own?" Remus asked so softly that Sirius almost did not hear him. "You know you didn't have to."
"I know, but now that I know how it turned out, I'm glad I didn't think to find you first. Werewolves don't fair well in Azkaban you know." Sirius sighed, "I really didn't think after I realised what had happened… that James and Lily were dead, that you weren't the spy, that I had failed everyone who loved me, and that Peter had betrayed us all. I knew from what Hagrid said that Dumbledore was going to fight me on my right to take Harry. I was angry, I wasn't thinking clearly, and I had nothing left to lose."
"Nothing left to lose?" Remus repeated tenderly. "What about Harry? What about Dumbledore and the Order? What about…?" The lycanthrope's voice trailed off when he could no longer mask the raw pain it held. Even if his voice had not betrayed his emotions, Sirius knew that Remus would not have finished that statement… at least, not as he should have. It was too difficult for him to accept his own worth or think even remotely selfishly.
Sirius on the other hand, could, and he knew how Remus should have finished that sentence. What about me? A fresh wave of the old guilt washed over the Animagus.
I have betrayed him far more then I realised.
"I'm so sorry, Remus. I wasn't thinking clearly." Sirius shook his head slowly. Those two sentences were true for many of his past actions. "I know it's a poor excuse, but I thought I had already lost… everything."
For a moment, Sirius just held the other's gaze and pleaded with his eyes for Remus to understand. The eyes he found himself staring into however, held no blame, or even anger. There was understanding, compassion, and the residue of the grief he must have felt all those years ago along with the pain of being alone for so long afterwards.
That was the problem Sirius had discovered the first time he had greatly wronged the lycanthrope: Remus would forgive Sirius anything, but he could never forget. Anger Sirius could burn out, or Remus could reason away, but sorrow? It just seemed to settle in the other, and Sirius could never figure out how to take it away.
Maybe we'll have the time to figure it out now.
Remus gave Sirius' hand a little squeeze. "It's alright, Padfoot, I understand."
"I know you do," Sirius said with a small smile. "I can't figure out how you always manage to understand everything, but you do."
Remus gave a reserved smile and shook his head modestly. "I don't understand everything. I've just become rather talented at putting the pieces together on my own, and I think I have a fair understanding of you, which helps considerably."
The smile slipped from Sirius' lips. He was unsure of how to ask the question that brought up. Remus seemed to notice the change in the other man's thoughts, and he looked at Sirius with a patient expression.
Sirius looked into the scarred man's eyes, "W- …at the Shack, you said you hadn't been my friend…" Sirius realised it was not a proper question, but Remus must have understood because his warm eyes suddenly looked even more sorrowful and a little ashamed.
"I think, after all that time, it just became easier to resent you then to miss you," Remus said contemplatively, "especially with Harry's welfare to consider."
Sirius blinked and said nothing while he thought over that statement.
That explains last year, but… Wait, he couldn't have…
"When did you believe that I was guilty?" Sirius asked after a moment.
Remus eyes shifted as if he were going to look away, the way he used to when he was ashamed or embarrassed, but ultimately remained locked with the grey eyes boring into them. "Well, I had my moments of doubts over the years, naturally, but I never completely believed until after you escaped from Azkaban." Remus moistened his lips and swallowed, but held Sirius' gaze. For a moment, Sirius could not understand why Remus was so apprehensive about the statement.
Of course… If he said anything like this over the past thirteen years, his words would have been ill received.
Sirius' train of thoughts altered, however, when he thought over the words Remus had just spoken again. This time, he decided to voice his thoughts. "What? Why did that convince you of my guilt after holding out for nearly twelve years?"
Remus seemed to have relaxed considerably now that the conversation was underway.
It probably feels like a relief to finally be able to say all this, now that he knows he was not clinging to false hope, or simply mental, as anyone else would claim.
"Because you never contacted Dumbledore or me," Remus answered with a dismal smile. "I know you Sirius, you could never be happy with being free unless you were truly free to act as you will. For that, you need to have your name cleared. You knew, or I had hoped that you did, that I would listen to your explanation, and believe you. Of course, no one would pay heed to me anymore then they would to you. Dumbledore would keep an open mind, and he is in a position to at least earn you a fair trial."
Sirius nodded, he understood now, "but instead of trying to contact either of you, I snuck across country, broke into Hogwarts, assaulted a portrait, and frightened one of Harry's friends to death."
Boy was I stupid…
Sirius looked thoughtfully at the other man, "I thought it was rather… convenient that you, Harry, and Dumbledore all happened to be at Hogwarts."
"I figured, whether for good or ill, you would have to face each of us if you attempted to approach Harry." Remus made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sigh. "I actually left a rather cryptic message here, in case you came looking for me first."
"I should have come to you first," Sirius said earnestly. "Everything would have turned out differently… better."
"Nothing that Peter has ever done is your fault Sirius." Remus said levelly.
"I should have known… or at least suspected something," Sirius said dejectedly.
"It wasn't just you, Sirius," Remus moved his hand from Sirius' in order to rub the other man's arm condolingly. "No one suspected Peter."
"…because we were too distracted in being sure that you were the spy," Sirius voice sounded bitter.
Remus made a sound somewhere between a scoff and a snort. "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but you and Voldemort essentially came up with the same perfect plan... and each were brilliant. Who would ever suspect weak, talent-less Peter when there was a much more obvious and fitting choice of suspect."
"Your right," Sirius gave a brief mirthless laugh. "I never thought of it like that… but still, was it so obvious that I would betray you so easily?"
"Was it so easy?" asked Remus softly.
"No," Sirius' voice was strong as he stared into the werewolf's eyes. "It was the hardest thing I've ever gone through." Sirius scoffed, "and to think I did it to myself."
Remus' voice was just as clear when he answered, "I've never despised myself as much as I did the day I decided I was no longer so certain of your innocence."
That is really saying something.
"There was a lot of evidence against me," Sirius said in a comforting tone.
"It probably appeared the same for me," Remus took a deep breath. "Why don't we agree to be more open with each other this time around? I know I'll never mistrust you again… well, on anything more then simple pranks."
Sirius grinned and cocked an eyebrow, "When were any of our pranks simple?" The grin grew into a smile as he squeezed Remus' shoulder again. "I'll never doubt you again; I don't care what the circumstances are."
If Sirius had known just how much those words would affect the other man, he would have said them as soon as he walked through the door. Remus did not say anything, but a gentle smile graced his features. Not one of the vague smiles he usually wore that did not quite reach his warm eyes. No, this was a true smile, which seemed to lift the wear his face had obtained during the past thirteen years.
Sirius returned the smile with a wide beaming one of his own. His eyes, which had appeared dark and empty before, sparked to life with a familiar flame that used to burn there before Azkaban. Without thinking about past mistakes or future consequences…
When did I ever think about the consequences, anyway?
…Sirius pulled Remus into a tight embrace.
Had he been thinking, Sirius would have expected Remus to tense or just go very still, as was a usual reaction for the lycanthrope when he was touched unexpectedly. He had stopped reacting this way toward Sirius during their time at Hogwarts, but that was before… everything. A small level of surprise still registered somewhere in the back of Sirius' consciousness when Remus returned the embrace without a hint of hesitation or trepidation.
For a moment, it was as if the past thirteen years had not happened. For the first time, Sirius could not prevent himself from thinking about what might have been, if he had not been so foolhardy all those year ago. As a response to the bittersweet images running through his head, Sirius tightened his hold on Remus, as though he were trying to completely envelop the other man. Remus' only response was to adjust his own hold accordingly and tuck his face into the joint where Sirius' neck and shoulder met.
Sirius rested his head atop of Remus', and after what might have been minutes or hours, he began to feel the pull of sleep.
As if sensing this, Remus begun to ease away from the Animagus, although they remained in a loose embrace. "I'm sorry; you must be exhausted after all that travelling."
Sirius chuckled lightly, "Ever the courteous one, eh Moony?"
"Forgive me for having manners," Remus replied wryly. "Come on, Padfoot, it's high time you got a descent night's sleep in a proper bed."
Sirius nodded, he had not slept in a real bed for thirteen years. "That sounds wonderful… There is a proper bed here, right?" He added the last with a grin.
"Well, I should hope you find it more accommodating then the places you have been sleeping." Remus gave Sirius a pointed look, "Of course, if you had just accepted the money I sent you after I left Hogwarts…"
"You earned that money and you needed it," Sirius answered as he stood from the couch, pulling Remus up with him. "How have you survived all these years anyway? From a financial standpoint, I mean."
"Oh, a little of this, a little of that," Remus began to steer a sleepy Sirius towards the master bedroom. "Mainly locating and capturing assorted 'dark creatures', usually that had taken residence in someone's home or grounds. I also did a little archiving, translating, and worked in some bookshops and the like. Just, whatever I could find, really."
"Whatever you can find is getting more difficult to find, I imagine," Sirius was too tired to hide the anger in his voice, and he was not certain that he would have anyway now. "I read in the papers something about a woman at the Ministry drafting some serious anti-werewolf legislation."
"Her name is Umbridge; she has a rather strong distaste for dangerous half-breeds," Remus put up his hands defensively when Sirius turned to retort that title, "her words, not mine. Anyway, it is nearly impossible for, well, beings like me, to get a job now. Of course, that's not going to help when Voldemort starts putting another army together."
Sirius groaned, "I hadn't even thought of that yet. Between Umbridge, Greyback, and Voldemort, werewolves are going to be hard to keep neutral this time."
Although… how easy could it possibly have been last time? Oh, Moony… at least you won't be alone this time around.
Remus sighed dejectedly, and Sirius knew he must have been thinking of what was to come. However, Remus began speaking before Sirius could attempt to say anything consoling. "There will be time for all of that tomorrow. We should sleep well while we can."
You mean, 'now that we can', don't you?
"Your old pyjamas and some of your old clothes are in the wardrobe," Remus looked as though he was not sure whether he should feel self-conscious or not. "If there's anything else you need, you're welcome to anything I have. You know where to find me if you need me."
Sirius was touched yet again by the faith and loyalty of his friend. "Thank you, Moony. I don't… You've been… Thank you for just…being you." The Animagus cursed himself inwardly for being unable to form complete sentences all of a sudden.
Remus is supposed to be the vulnerable one, I was always the self-assured one of the pair.
Sirius threw on the best cocky smile he could muster, "Sorry, I'm just tired. Goodnight Moony."
Remus gave a small nod and wore a formless smile that meant do not worry about it. Sirius was pleased that he was still able to translate Moony into English.
"Goodnight Padfoot," The werewolf's smile turned into something softer, "I'll see you tomorrow."
With that uplifting thought, Remus departed for his room, and Sirius opened the wardrobe and pulled on his own pyjamas, which, like his robe, had also been preserved by some spell or recently laundered. The pyjamas did not fit the same way they had before, but Sirius supposed he should be pleased that they still fit at all.
Much like something else…
Sirius settled under the covers and released a contented sigh; he had not been so comfortable in years. He was in a real bed, in a cosy cottage -Remus' cottage. No one was screaming, crying, or muttering in the background; there was no unnatural chill in the air.
…James was dead, Dumbledore wanted Harry to stay with his aunt, Remus had been scorned and neglected, Peter had escaped… and it was entirely his fault. He threw his head back and laughed mirthlessly at his own failure and foolishness, not realising that he was hurting Moony and Harry by doing this, by not acting innocent and rational, by making it so easy for the Ministry to separate them and leave them all alone…
Sirius awoke with a start, but his nerves were quickly soothed when he took in his surroundings and remembered where he was.
I suppose it was too much to expect to forget about that after reliving it so many times in Azkaban…
Sirius had completely relaxed by the time he noticed a faint sound drifting into the room. Years of hearing all the various sounds of distress that a human could make had left Sirius able to identify them quickly. His mind snapped fully awake when he realised there was only one other person here whom the upsetting sound could be coming from.
Sirius was out of bed and into the hall with only a few steps. He paused for a moment at Remus' door, which he had left open just as Sirius' had done with the door to his room. Remus lay curled into himself on the small bed, he was still and quiet for the most part, only tensing and releasing a faint sound like the whine of a distressed animal every so often.
Sirius had crossed the room, knelt on Remus' bed, and placed a hand on the other's back before he realised his actions. That small gesture it seemed, was all that he needed to do, because Remus relaxed his muscles and ceased making the distressing sound once Sirius's hand made contact. Then the werewolf stirred and turned slowly to settle his hazy gaze on Sirius.
"Padfoot…? Are you alright?"
"Yes," Sirius only had to wait a few seconds for Remus to clear his mind of sleep. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Remus propped himself up on one arm. "I'm sorry, did I wake you?"
"I don't think so," Sirius said honestly, "I woke up and only noticed afterwards that you seemed… distraught."
"Sorry, I really am fine," Remus looked caught between concern and shame. "Why did you wake, then?"
"My dreams seem to have forgotten that there aren't any dementors around to pull up bad memories," answered Sirius flatly.
Remus wore a sympathetic expression, "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Sirius shook his head, "You already have, just waking up here and knowing your still there for me is enough. I'll be alright Remus, really."
Sirius looked around the tiny bedroom, it appeared much the same as it had the last time Sirius had been here, only the books were obviously more suited for a professor then a student, and the clothes draped over the small wooden chair by the bookshelf were more dignified then the jeans and sneakers that would have been there before.
"You always were well organised," Sirius said lightly, "…came in handy when we needed to pull of something that required good timing." He turned to look at Remus again; the lycanthrope was still watching him. "Do you remember that time I woke you up from some horrible nightmare during our sixth year?"
Remus nodded and smiled warmly. "You stayed with me all night afterwards…"
"…and James' jaw nearly hit the floor when he found us the next morning." Sirius finished with a smile of his own.
"Well, this bed seems a little smaller now, but you're welcome to stay if you want to." Remus said, and Sirius was glad that he too had retained the ability to translate Padfoot into Moony.
Sirius decided to forget the time apart for a little longer as he and Remus adjusted under the covers to allow them both to fit comfortably on the bed, which did seem smaller then Sirius recalled.
I wonder if Dumbledore knew what he was doing when he sent me here. I would have come sooner if it weren't for the trouble I could cause Moony. About that…
Sirius shifted his head so that he could down at Remus, who always slept lower into the blankets, the Animagus had often wondered if he did that before he received his bite. "So Moony, tell me honestly, how long can I stay?"
"Well Padfoot, normally one stays in bed until sometime in the morning," said Remus pleasantly into Sirius' torso. "I was thinking we would stick to that concept."
"I meant more then just tonight," Sirius answered drily, "So… how long?"
"Stay as long as you like, Padfoot," was the simple reply.
"Well then, let me know if or when I reach the cut-off point." Sirius responded as he pulled up an arm to rest under the pillow.
There was silence for a moment, before the Animagus barely heard Remus' soft reply. "Forever and a day…"
Sirius' face broke into another broad smile, "Forever and a day sounds too long; I wouldn't want to wear out my welcome."
"Hmm, good point." Remus answered after a pause, which led Sirius to the conclusion that he had not been expected to hear the werewolf's previous statement. "How about just until the day after forever, then?"
"That sounds nice," answered Sirius, and his smile grew when he felt the other exhale against him. "Until the day after forever, then."