A Step Behind

They came back near midnight. It'd been raining where they were, and their boots squelched as they walked through the door, crowding in all together in the hall. No one was speaking, and they wouldn't even meet each other's eyes.

He wasn't supposed to know about this. He wasn't supposed to be standing there, lowering an Extendable Ear over the railing to the hall three floors down. None of them had told him they were going, fearing the worst. Unfortunately for them, he wasn't as thick as they thought. They didn't all just go missing like that for no reason.

Mrs. Weasley came running out of the kitchen, exclaiming when she saw them all dripping on the ancient carpet runner. He would have told her not to worry, it was already moldy from many a water-logged Quidditch match over summers long since gone by, but he couldn't let them know he was there. They'd lie. They liked lying to him.

"What in heaven happened?" Mrs. Weasley said worriedly, pulling her husband's coat from his shoulders. She looked around wildly at the group. "Where is he? You found him, right?"

No one spoke. Tonks sniffed, pulling off her boots with a grunt.

"Arthur," Mrs. Weasley said stubbornly, rounding on her husband, "you said you wouldn't come back until you found him. Where is he?" Her tone was icy now.

Mr. Weasley caught her eye for the first time since his return, but he said nothing. His coat, hanging loosely in his wife's hands, dripped on her house shoes, but she didn't seem to notice.

"We found him." Everyone seemed startled when Remus spoke, and he pushed his way through the small crowd to stand by Mrs. Weasley.

In that moment, he almost turned back, plucked up the Extendable Ear and went on about his life. As long as they would keep him in the dark, he'd stay there. He wasn't sure he could do this.

"Well? Why'd you leave him behind, then? Where is he?" A sob ripped from Tonks' throat, and she covered her mouth hastily, as if hoping Mrs. Weasley wouldn't have heard. She did though, and she was livid. "Where is he? WHERE IS HARRY?"

No one spoke. Mr. Weasley pulled his coat from his wife's hands and let it fall to the floor. He grabbed her, pulling her close. "No," she snarled through barred teeth, "you tell me where he is! You tell me right now!"

"Molly," Remus started, his voice heavy, each word sounding like a chore, "we don't really know what happened. He was three miles from his house."

His hand was gripping the Ear, but he couldn't find it in him to take it out. It was coming, right now. There would be no stopping it, unless he did something.

"He was --" Remus paused, sucking in a gust of air. When he continued, his voice was laced with tears, "--he was hurt. We don't know how, or why, but...he died. He was in a ditch, just laying there all broken, and...he was gone before we got there."

He took a step away from the railing, horror stricken. The end of the Extendable Ear fell from his own, but he didn't need it to hear Molly's screams. She didn't believe it, and he couldn't blame her.

He couldn't process it. The message had stalled just inside his ear, and it wouldn't go to his brain. Suddenly, he heard footsteps on the stairs and hurried away, into his own room.

He paced the length of his bedroom three times, hands tangling themselves in his hair. It was as if someone had socked him in the stomach. There was no air in the room. Everything was blurry, nothing fit, and he felt hot.

There were no thoughts left to think. It was all over now. Suddenly, it didn't matter to Sirius who he was, what his name was, where he lived, or even what he had ever done in his life. Everything was gone. Everything was over. Living had become only an idea, something that happened for other people but was altogether over for him.

For four hours, he existed in a world where there was nothing. He didn't know what he did. He couldn't even have told where he was. He was everywhere and nowhere at once. He didn't allow himself to think of anything concrete. Those thoughts were for later.

Four hours, and then he opened the door.

It was entirely silent in the house. He crept downstairs, cautious at every turn that someone might be there. It seemed everyone had gone to bed, though, too depressed to exist in the state of consciousness. He reached the door in no time at all, and ran outside before he could stop himself.

He ran from the house. It must have rained here, too, as he feet splashed in puddles as he ran. He wasn't going to go far, but he wanted to be certain he'd bypassed all the wards. The last thing he needed was to be Splinched by them.

Once he was certain he was safe, he ducked down a dark alley and, taking a deep breath, Apparated.

When he hit ground again, he realized with a pang how familiar it was. He had been here before, near this area. A block over was the park where he'd kipped under a swing set for three days. Down the road the other way was the flowerbed he'd trampled and nearly found himself throttled by an old grandmother with four cats.

And just behind him, down the other street, was the way to Harry's house. Just a little ways and he could have been standing right where he was the day he first saw Harry again.

It didn't take him long to find the spot he'd been looking for. The wet grass all around the ditch was matted and footprints covered the mud around the area. It wasn't even heard to discern precisely how Harry had been laying there. The mud was a good four centimeters deeper, pressed down in the shape of a boy. He'd been there quite some time, it seemed. He was so much smaller that way, outlined like a homicide victim, only in dirt and regret instead of chalk.

Now, Sirius allowed himself to think.

All at once, Sirius felt quite heavy. He was overcome with an exhaustion that penetrated his bones. This was it. This was the last sight Harry ever saw. How utterly depressing. There weren't even any flowers here.

He slid down into the ditch, careful not to disturb the outline at the bottom. It was like a snow angel in winter, beautiful in its execution but near impossible to preserve. Very carefully, Sirius stepped over the outer edge of what would have been Harry's leg and laid down inside his outline, curling up to make himself fit.

And he waited. Screwing his eyes shut tight, Sirius breathed in the air. Had Harry smelled it? How had he felt when he reached this spot? The air still smelled of blood and sweat. Did Harry know it? How long had he been there, too weak to go on, knowing only that he was going to die?

He should be crying. Sirius knew he should have been sobbing, cursing the heavens and chasing down whoever had done this. But he couldn't move anymore. There was nothing to prove, no one to look out for, no one to hear him and be there. Tears would be wasted now. Emotion would be wasted. Who was there to care?

For quite some time, he just let himself lay there. He felt the wet mud along his side, and he closed his eyes, soaking in the way it felt. He imagined Harry beside him, the two of them together again. His fingers dug into the dirt, and he willed himself to imagine it as Harry, his skin and his clothes and his everything.

But it was only dirt, wasn't it? Harry wasn't there and he wouldn't ever be.

Time was inconstant in that space. Maybe he'd been there for minutes, maybe hours, maybe days, and then there was a voice. "Sirius."

In all the twenty or so years he'd known Remus Lupin, never had his voice sounded so disheartened. Sirius couldn't bring himself to look up. He focused on the dirt and grass in front of him. He focused, because he needed to be alert for this conversation. "You found me."

"It wasn't hard once I realized you knew. You left the Extendable Ear dangling from the railing. I'm sorry you had to find out that way."

Sirius sighed, the sigh resonating from somewhere deep in the pit of his stomach. "I'm sorry I had to find out at all."

Remus was silent, but Sirius could hear his foot scraping back and forth over the rocks at the edge of the road.

"Did his relatives do it?" Sirius asked. He wanted to sound angry, to even try to express the war inside of himself, but he couldn't muster the strength to give his voice any emotion at all.

"I – I don't know, Sirius, I don't know what --"

"Yes, you do. Please don't lie to me like you did Molly."

There was another pause. "Yes."

Sirius closed his eyes. So that made this his own doing. If hadn't given Harry up that night when Lily and James died, this wouldn't have happened. I'm so sorry, Harry. Please forgive me. Opening his eyes again, Sirius continued, "Where is he, then?"

"We buried him with Lily and James, in Godric's Hollow."

"Will I be going there too?"

"Of course," Remus said automatically, "We all are, eventually. That was the plan – You, me, Lily, James...Harry."

He knew why Remus paused. Harry was supposed to be the last one there. He wasn't supposed to be there yet. Not when he was only just fifteen. Not yet.

No one spoke for several minutes. Sirius had to remind himself to breathe. His body was tired of breathing, and it didn't want to do it on its own anymore. Finally, Remus muttered, "What are you doing, Sirius?" He sounded all at once defeated, annoyed, weather beaten and old.

Sirius had thought what he was doing was obvious. But he felt he owed Remus, of all people, a straightforward answer. With whatever strength he could muster, he rolled himself onto his back, being careful to stay within Harry's frame, and looked up at Remus. The sun had just started to rise, and the air was gray the way it was when the black of night had just started to leave. It was hard to make out Remus exactly, silhouetted against that barely risen sun. "I'm dying, Moony," Sirius replied simply.

"Come off it, Sirius. Look, just get out of the ditch and you can come with me and we'll go see him."

"I'm going to see him, though, very soon."

"So that's it, then? Just throwing away the rest of your life?"

Sirius, in spite of himself, laughed. It was bitter and it stung his throat, but he laughed. "'The rest of my life'? As if there's so much left to it. Face it, Remus, we're all fucked now. There aren't any lives left for any of us. Voldemort won tonight, and he probably doesn't even know it yet. Those fat Muggles handed him every wizard's head on a silver platter, and he probably has no idea."

Remus didn't know what to say back. Really, what could anyone have said? They all knew Harry was the only one who could've stopped Voldemort, and a fat load of good that would do them now.

"What am I supposed to do, though?" Remus finally asked, lamely and childishly. "Where am I supposed to go?"

"Wherever. This is your time now. Go see mountains, or beaches, or whatever it is interests you. There's nothing and no one who can hold you back. You're living on borrowed time now, so you should make it count." In any other way, at any other time, those words would have sounded harsh and vindictive, but no one could deny that truth. No one wanted to, not after what had happened. Arguing was a waste.

After what seemed like forever, Remus straightened, pushing his shoulders back. "The Muggles will find you in the morning, you know. There are houses all over here and they'll see you in this ditch, Padfoot."

"Then be a dear and Disillusion me, will you, Moony?"

There were no words spoken after that. Sirius had made his choice and Remus couldn't argue with it. After all, there wasn't much difference in dying now or dying three weeks from now when Voldemort caught up with them all.

Sirius closed his eyes again, rolling back onto his side. After a moment, he felt a wet sensation, like a cool stream of water, spread over his entire body and he knew Remus had done as he asked. He didn't ask or look to see if Remus was still there because he knew he wasn't. He was off to find his own way to die. They would die as they chose to, and hopefully, so would the rest of the Order. Sirius imagined for a moment the way Voldemort's face would look when he realized there was no one important left to kill, because they'd all done it themselves. Maybe that would vindicate Harry, somehow start to mend this terrible tragedy.

With one final sigh, Sirius snuggled close to ground, breathing in the scent of his godson's blood. He hadn't been there for Harry when he died, they hadn't been together like they should have been, but they would die in the same place. It was as together as it ever seemed they'd get to be.

Author's Note: Okay, I cried writing this. It's actually been an idea I've tossed around in my head for awhile. (If anyone thinks maybe Sirius wasn't emotional enough, I was trying to play it as he was so emotional he couldn't really feel anything at all, and I hope that came through.) Anyway, I hope you all appreciated it and you'll review. Thanks for reading!