Disclaimer: Not mine. The lyrics to "Hand Me Downs" belong to the Indigo Girls, and are reprinted here without permission.
A big thank you to Emily Saliers, whose song "Come On Home" helped me start this story -- and an even bigger thank you to Amy Ray, whose song "Hand Me Downs" helped me finish it. And most of all: love and schnookies to Pandora Culpa, the world's best (and most patient) beta. May there always be sexy werewolves in your life.
"Echoes" was originally published on FictionAlley on 4 June, 2004.
Something was bothering him again. Remus had begun to sense it as soon as the children had left for school. In those last few weeks before September, the presence of volatile teenage emotions had overwhelmed the headquarters on Grimmauld Place. But now that Harry, Hermione, and the younger Weasleys were gone, the house had managed to regain some of the feeling of spaciousness that it had had earlier that summer, when Remus had first moved in. And more space meant that those who still inhabited the house could give more room to their own emotions, without the constant concern of worrying the children.
Although in truth, there were only two people who really inhabited the house in the true sense of the word. And of the two, only one seemed to feel free enough to give voice without restraint to whatever he was thinking at the moment. But Sirius had always been like that – so long as a place had enough room to contain him, he filled its very air with his presence. And Remus, as always, kept his own thoughts in a neat little bundle and secured them safely in the back of his mind while he quietly studied and absorbed all the fragments of existence that Sirius left behind.
And despite the house's agreeable physical temperature, Remus couldn't help sensing a slight chill in the air.
With no small measure of guilt, he came to realize that he had no idea how long something had been wrong with Sirius – and that it might have gone unnoticed by even himself for many weeks, what with the regrouping of the Order and the presence of the children. So as the house emptied out and the chill grew stronger, Remus became increasingly worried about his friend.
It wasn't Sirius' foul mood in itself that worried Remus; after all, a certain moodiness was probably to be expected of someone who had spent twelve years wasting away in prison and another two on the run in canine form, only to find himself trapped once more inside a house that, for him, had never been a home. No, what worried Remus was the way that Sirius had begun trying to hide his moods. He seemed to suffocate any unhappiness that he might have been feeling, which Remus knew was dangerous; Sirius had never been able to stifle his true thoughts indefinitely.
So Remus watched and waited, and Sirius went about his business as usual. He whistled in the mornings as he prepared breakfast. He scoured the cupboards clean of their dust, grime, and very often heirloom knickknacks with a certain amount of malevolent glee. He smiled as he asked Remus about the missions he'd been on for the Order, and he smiled again as Remus told him what he wanted to know. And yet there was something behind those smiles that Remus couldn't quite put his finger on – something that silently fed the chill in the house while outwardly denying its own existence.
Remus never mentioned it, of course. For one thing, nobody could tell a person like Sirius Black what they thought he was feeling; had Remus presumed to do so, Sirius would only have scoffed at him for assuming, denied any credibility that his statements might have held, and then tried even harder to hide his thoughts. And for another thing, how could Remus bring it up if he couldn't even identify it?
So instead, Remus pretended that he didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. For Sirius was still Sirius, and no matter how good he might have become at hiding his thoughts, they were bound to reveal themselves eventually. And reveal themselves they did, on an ordinary Thursday evening at the beginning of October.
Alastor Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Remus Lupin all dropped in at the Order headquarters that evening, after a full morning and afternoon of work that had turned out spectacularly unsuccessful. A clue had led to a dead end, the suspect in question was still at large, "and really," Moody declared as he sipped at a cup of tea, "that's all there is to that."
"A morning wasted," agreed the usually good-natured Shacklebolt in an uncharacteristically sour tone.
"We could have slept past seven and got just as much done," Remus put in with a chuckle, and with a shared roll of their eyes the little group dispersed, leaving Remus to clean up the tea.
He collected all of the cups, carried them carefully into the kitchen, and was about to bewitch them to clean themselves when Sirius' cheerful voice reached him: "Leave the cups – I'll do them."
Remus turned and smiled at his friend. "You missed a big day today, Sirius," he said wryly. "Woke up at six-thirty, sent my letters off at seven, got to the Ministry by eight, did a great deal of scheming and plotting and investigating and such for a good solid nine hours, and got absolutely nothing accomplished."
Sirius blinked. "Sounds brilliant," he said without a trace of irony in his voice.
"Oh, it was, it was," Remus sighed. "I don't know how I managed to withstand the excitement of it all."
Sirius grinned a wily sort of grin and began to wash the teapot. Remus sat down at the kitchen table and watched him.
"I've had rather an exciting day myself," said Sirius after a moment.
"Is that so?"
"Well, nobody was around… so I thought I'd let Buckbeak out for a little fresh air."
Remus sat up straight in alarm. "You mean outside?"
"No, no," said Sirius quickly. "Not outside. Just around the house – I let him poke through the furniture for a bit, and he really had quite the time of it. Does the poor sod some good to have a change of scenery, you know. But my old mum had a right fit about it, didn't she? It must have taken me the better part of an hour to shut the old hag up."
Remus grinned. He'd certainly experienced the wrath of Mrs. Black often enough to be able to imagine what she might have said about the presence of a hippogriff in her house. Something about halfbreeds… filthy animals… really, the woman's vocabulary for insults was quite astounding. Remus had often considered asking her if she was hiding a dictionary under the frame of her portrait.
But no sooner had Remus opened his mouth to inquire about the nature of Mrs. Black's rampage of the day, than he saw Sirius' shoulders slump as he stood at the sink. So he stored the question in the back of his mind, and he waited.
It was only a moment before Sirius said softly, "I do wish I could have taken him outside. He's been cooped up in here for so long – his wings are weakening, you know. From not using them."
Sirius abandoned the cup he was washing, passing his hand over his forehead in a familiar gesture of frustration. Still facing away from Remus, he began to chuckle softly to himself. After a moment he shook his head, picked up the cup again, and washed it clean.
"I know," said Remus cautiously. "It must be hard for him to stay in here with so much to do out there." Sirius whirled around and glared, evidently aware that Remus was talking about more than just Buckbeak, but Remus pressed on. "I know how it feels. I've been there too."
"Have you?" said Sirius in a dangerously quiet voice. "I find that hard to believe somehow. If you recall, you're the one who's been out all day, doing work for the Order of the Phoenix."
Remus winced at the sneer in his friend's voice, but he refused to acknowledge it. "I have been there, Sirius," he replied, keeping his voice deliberately mild. "I don't suppose you've forgot that I'm a werewolf?"
Though he was momentarily taken aback by the admittedly odd question, Sirius regained his aggressive stance in the blink of an eye. "So what?" he challenged.
"Sirius, how do you think it felt to be a wolf – before the Potion?" said Remus evenly. "For just one night a month, you want to run free, howl at the moon, chase things—"
"Feel the wind in your fur?" suggested Sirius in mocking tones.
"Yes," said Remus, and the scorn died on Sirius' lips. "But you can't, because you're locked in an abandoned house, or in your parents' basement, or in an iron cage, or wherever, because if you go outside someone might die. So you can't feel the wind. You can't see the moon. You can't run. And when you wake up, you're human again. You remember what it's like to want to run and jump and chase and be completely wild – but your human body is too tired, and you just give up…."
As Remus trailed off, he was increasingly aware that his words had filled the room, pulsating in the air around them and making Sirius shrink into himself. "Sirius?" said Remus gently, but though he desperately wanted to, he didn't get up and go to his friend. He'd left Sirius with too little space already.
Sirius shook his head slowly as if trying to decide something, but Remus did not know what he was deciding, and he didn't ask. He waited, watching as Sirius passed a hand over his brow again… as Sirius sighed with a nearly imperceptible shake of his head… as Sirius turned away from him again… and as Sirius picked up a second cup and scrubbed it with a vicious concentration.
"Sirius?" he tried again. But Sirius' energy was focused entirely on the teacup in his hands.
Remus rose quietly from his chair. "Sirius, is that what's wrong?"
He heard the cup break. Sirius swore under his breath; Remus dashed to his side, repairing the cup and the minor cut on Sirius' palm with a few hasty spells before Sirius could swat him away. "Did you just ask me if that's what's wrong?" said the other man, his gray eyes cold with fury as he pressed two protective fingers against his palm.
Remus instinctively backed away.
"Sure!" said Sirius a little too brightly. "That's what's wrong. That's the only – no. I'm not going to play games with you. You want to know what's wrong? I'll tell you. You are what's wrong, Remus. You and your stupid concern. That worried look you always have when you're around me! The way you only tell me what I want to hear – and the way you won't ask me what's wrong because you're afraid I'll break."
Remus let out a long-held breath, and Sirius smiled a mirthless sort of smile. The kind of smile that one learns in a place like Azkaban.
"I'll tell you what, Remus," said Sirius, his voice going quiet again. "I've already been broken. And I've been put back together and broken again, and again, and again. And it's never going to stop, because every minute of every day that I spend in this wretched house, I have nothing to do but think and think and think about why I'm here. It's like Azkaban all over again, except this is worse because there's nobody here to take my memories away from me. So I'm stuck here all day, thinking about how things might have turned out if I hadn't betrayed you."
Remus' first instinct was to recoil at the accusation that he heard in Sirius' voice, but he quickly reminded himself that when Sirius was angry, nearly everything he said tended to sound like an accusation. It had been happening for as long as Remus had known him, but even after all these years it was still disconcerting, especially since Remus tended to have something of a guilty conscience to begin with.
Guilty conscience, he reminded himself firmly, and thought no more of the likely-imagined accusation, instead turning his attention back to his friend. Sirius' hands had begun to shake, and he curled them into fists to try and stop them doing so. Remus reached out to touch his shoulder, but Sirius backed away with a hunted look in his eyes.
"You didn't betray me," said Remus as gently as he could. "Peter did."
But the words shriveled into the air as soon as they left his mouth, and Remus knew right away that that had been the wrong thing to say. The name itself, never uttered beneath Sirius' roof if either of them could help it, caused a visible shudder to course through Sirius' body – and Remus watched in horror as his friend's hands seemed to move of their own accord, placing themselves firmly on Remus' shoulders. For a split second, Remus was certain that Sirius had gone completely out of his mind and was set on strangling him… but instead, Sirius' hands used their firm grip to steer Remus toward the kitchen table and push him back into his seat.
"I did," said Sirius in a voice that was measured so precisely, Remus feared it would break at any moment. Sirius towered over him in the dim light of the kitchen, and all Remus could do was look up at him and be silent. "I did," he repeated again. "I betrayed you… and when I did, I betrayed James. And Lily. And Harry."
There his voice did break, but Remus did not dare say anything. "I didn't trust you, Remus," he said as he sank into a chair on the opposite side of the table. "I thought it was you…."
Remus shut his eyes, squeezing the lids together as if that would help him arrange his thoughts properly. The subject had come up before, of course, but even that had been over a year ago. Remus had dismissed his friend's lingering guilt as needless, and once the subject had been dropped he'd just assumed that it had been buried for good. After all, it had been well over a decade since it happened, and Sirius had more than paid his dues, so there'd been no point in pressing the matter.
But now, evidently, Sirius wanted to be pressed. You won't ask me because you're afraid I'll break, he'd said – and now Remus knew what the words meant. They were a plea not to allow him to forget, but to force them both to remember. Remus met his friend's eyes, and he knew that he was right. Make me tell you what I did, Sirius said without saying a word. Make me relive it all. Make me tell you. Make me hurt, and then give me what I deserve. And then you can see if I'll break.
With a deep breath, Remus quelled every instinct he had to comfort the other man, sat back in his chair, and said, "Why?"
Sirius responded levelly. "He – Peter – he said it was you. I believed him."
Remus had heard this answer before; he nodded, but this time he didn't let it go at that. "I know that. But why did you believe him? What did he… what did he tell you that could make you believe him?"
And it was at that moment, as the last words of the question left his mouth and hung impatiently in the air between them, that he realized why he hadn't asked the question before. It wasn't because he didn't care, or because its importance had diminished in any way. It was because he was afraid of the answer.
Remus held Sirius' gaze for a long moment before the latter broke his eyes away with a sigh, running a nervous hand through his unruly hair. "You remember that night, right? The night we all decided that I should be the Secret-Keeper."
"Right," said Remus, though he couldn't help but smile inwardly at his friend's choice of words. "We all decided" was stretching the truth just a bit, since Remus recalled all too well that Sirius and James had obviously settled the matter between them before letting anyone else, even Albus Dumbledore, in on the final plan.
Sirius swallowed and took a breath, neither waiting for nor seeing Remus' reaction. "Peter found me the next day. James and Lily and I were going to perform the Fidelius Charm, and you know I was planning on going into hiding too… but Peter found me before I left to do it. And Moony" – here, he looked intently at Remus – "you know that none of us suspected each other then, right?"
Remus nodded. They had all known that someone close to James and Lily had turned spy, but among their tight little group of four, none of them had suspected anyone else within the group. For his part, Remus had thought that it must have been someone else within the Order, or else one of Lily's girlfriends.
"I'd always thought it was Snape, myself," said Sirius, running a hand through his hair again. "I know Dumbledore vouched for him when he decided to play the double agent for the Order… but I thought that he'd pretended to turn against Voldemort just so he could spy on James." He threw a halfhearted chuckle in Remus' direction. "Doesn't make much sense in retrospect, but there you have it."
He paused again, folding his hands carefully on the tabletop. "But when Peter came to my flat before I left," he continued in a sober voice, "he accused you of being the spy. He was shaking all over when he told me… he told me… that he'd overheard a conversation between you and…."
Sirius shook his head, and Remus furrowed his brow. "Between me and whom?" he prompted after a moment.
"Another werewolf," spat Sirius, suddenly furious again. "That little traitor invented an entire plot that you two were planning to carry out at the next full moon. Where you would transform and then He-Who-Must-Not-Bloody-Well-Be-Named would turn you loose on whoever he was planning to kill next."
Remus felt the color drain from his face.
Without a warning, his entire system of belief had come silently crashing down around his ears. Ever since his friends had found out about his secret, he had depended so much upon their trust and acceptance of him – only to realize now how fragile that trust had been. Realizing that his hands had clenched themselves into fists, he flexed his fingers and pressed them hard against the wood of the tabletop. "And you just believed that?" said Remus flatly. "You were that quick to believe that because I am a werewolf—"
"No!" cried Sirius, leaping out of his seat and slamming his palms down on the table so hard that Remus flinched. "I thought the little bastard was lying – and I should have gone on thinking that, shouldn't I? But no, I didn't! I tried to be rational about it, and I thought, 'Well! This means that one of my best friends is lying. Either Remus really is a Death Eater and Wormtail is telling the truth, or Remus is innocent and Wormtail is a Death Eater' – because why else would he suddenly make up a story like that, if not to save his own bloody tail?"
By this time Remus could barely let himself breathe, let alone move, lest he should explode and risk reducing the entire confrontation to a meaningless screaming match. So he waited a moment, chanced a shaky breath and, keeping his voice as mild as possible, asked the only question that was left to ask: "And how did you decide it was me?"
"The Dark Mark," said Sirius simply, though his voice still seethed with white-hot anger. "My brother had one before they killed him. I knew what it looked like. I asked Wormtail to roll up his sleeves – and there was nothing there. I don't know if he charmed it invisible or if he just hadn't got it yet… but there was nothing there."
"That was it?" said Remus, and to his horror he heard his own voice begin to shake. "That was all it took? You never even thought to ask me?"
"No," said Sirius harshly, his eyes narrowing in what Remus knew right away was a new challenge. "I never asked you."
Remus did not take the challenge, for he had already taken too many that night. Instead he lowered his eyes, staring at the tabletop as he attempted to wrap his mind around how easy it had been for Sirius to suspect him. Silence lay cold and heavy all around him, and after a few moments he became aware that Sirius was watching him closely, just waiting for Remus to look up and meet his eyes.
Let him wait, thought Remus savagely, running his finger over a knot in the wooden surface.
But Sirius was not a patient man. "Remus," he said. It was not a question, nor was it a plea; it was merely a hollow sound meant to cut through the silence.
It didn't work; the silence enveloped the word, forcing Sirius to repeat it once, and then once again. Finally Remus looked up. "What?"
Sirius, still looming over him and looking down at him through cold eyes, let out a sigh of pointed exasperation. "Say something."
Remus pressed his hands down on the table as hard as he could, willing all of his excess energy to drain out through his fingers and into the indifferent wood. "What do you want me to say?" he replied in flat tones.
"Well I don't know, Remus," said Sirius with a sneer that made Remus' blood boil. "I was hoping you could come up with something all by yourself."
No sooner had the taunt left Sirius' lips than Remus snapped, letting his chair clatter noisily to the floor as he leaped to his feet. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" The words exploded out of his mouth before he even knew they were there. He was dimly aware that he'd begun shouting, but he didn't care. "All right, do you want me to tell you that you were an idiot for believing him? That I can't comprehend how you could believe so easily that I would use my disease to murder people? Do you want me to tell you that you deserved those twelve years in Azkaban? Do you want me to tell you that I could never forgive you?"
Remus drew in a quick breath as he realized what he'd said – realized that he was now leaning across the table and into Sirius' stunned face as he shouted his hypothetical accusations. Choking down his remaining anger, he stumbled away from the table and headed for the counter, leaning over the sink as he took several deep breaths and willed his uncooperative hands to stop shaking.
When he looked back at Sirius, all of the ugly sarcasm had disappeared from the other man's face. "You could tell me that," said Sirius slowly, his voice surprisingly even although Remus doubted that he was anywhere near as collected as he seemed. "But what I want to know is, do you mean it?"
"No," said Remus automatically, but then caught himself. This, he realized, was exactly what Sirius had been talking about: the habit that he'd developed of protecting Sirius with his own words. Of telling Sirius what he wanted to hear.
Or at least, what Remus had always thought that Sirius wanted to hear.
"Yes," Remus corrected himself – but that felt wrong too. "I don't know, Sirius. I just don't know. It's just… it was so easy for you…."
"I told you," said Sirius gently, his footsteps quiet on the floor as he approached Remus. "I betrayed you."
Remus turned away from him and stared at the one unwashed cup that remained in the sink, but he did not reply. His thoughts kept swirling around two treacherous words, "You did, you did, you did," but he could not bring himself to say them. Because he knew that they weren't true. Not really.
After a moment, Remus finally let himself look at Sirius again. The latter was standing not four feet away, watching him with a guarded yet expectant expression.
"Sirius, you already know that that was the single stupidest thing you've ever done. You've known that for fourteen years now. Why do you need me to tell you again?"
Sirius didn't reply, but his eyes shone with fury and frustration. And at that moment, Remus saw it: it was that nameless something that had been lingering just below the surface of every word that Sirius had said since they moved in… and it was about to explode.
Bracing himself, Remus pressed. "Don't you think you've already been through enough because of it? Don't you—"
"No, I don't!" shouted Sirius. "James and Lily died because of my mistake. I spent twelve years in Azkaban, but I'll still never be able to tell them that I'm sorry – that I didn't mean to – I didn't…."
His voice cut off abruptly, and Remus froze as he noticed the unnaturally shallow breaths that his friend was drawing. "Sirius," he said quietly. "Padfoot."
But at the sound of the nickname, Sirius turned away from him with a sound somewhere between a growl and a cry. His shoulders were shaking almost convulsively, but Remus remained rooted to the spot. "Never mind," said Sirius, and though he was evidently trying his best to control it, his voice quavered wildly. "Just go, Remus. Leave me alone."
As if of their own volition, Remus' feet carried him toward the kitchen door. His mind was filled with fragments of everything that Sirius had just said, with pictures of what he imagined the conversation between Sirius and Wormtail must have looked like… with memories of James and Lily.
Remus stopped walking, and his hand froze on the verge of turning the doorknob. James and Lily, Sirius had said. I'll never be able to tell them that I'm sorry.
"Padfoot," said Remus slowly, turning around toward Sirius again, "you know they'd have forgiven you, if they knew… James and Lily, I mean."
He could only see Sirius' back, but he could tell by the other man's posture that he was listening. And so he went on: "I mean, there's no way to know for sure… but I knew James just as well as you did, and he would have understood that it was – that there was no way for you to know."
The sound of a choked sob reached Remus' ears, and he felt a sudden sting at the backs of his eyes.
"And for what it's worth," he added quietly, "I forgive you too. I forgave you a long time ago."
The ensuing silence drowned out the echoes of Remus' words, and he was suddenly afraid that they hadn't been strong enough to reach Sirius at all. But after a moment Sirius turned slowly around, his eyes solemn as they met Remus'.
"Thank you," he said hoarsely.
And before the silence could drown those words as well, Remus covered the distance between them and embraced his friend with a strength that Sirius returned in full force. "Thank you," said Sirius again, and though the words were muffled against the shoulder of Remus' cloak, they reverberated through the room with a force that nearly eclipsed the chill of silence.
Everything that I believe, crawls from underneath the streets
Everything I truly love, comes from somewhere far above
Everything that I believe is wrong with you, is wrong with me
Everything I truly love, I love in you, and I love in me
So give me hope
Give me hope that emptiness brings fullness
And loss of love brings wholeness to us all
--Amy Ray, "Hand Me Downs"