Please read this note first: This is a sequel to "You Never Know" – I'm not saying it's impossible to read on it's own but it will make more sense if you read "You Never Know" first. Also, though I am in the process of posting old stories that never made it online when I first wrote them, there is a story that I won't be publishing on ff.n. It's called "Glimpses" and includes Remus' POV of "Snape's Worst Memory." As such, it contains dialogue taken directly from OotP and I'm afraid that it would be removed if I put it here. If you are interested, it can be found on my website (which is linked to in my profile). Thanks!

Title: I Can't Help

Author: Erika

Rating: PG

Summary: Sometimes, there's nothing you can do. Sometimes, you can't help. Sometimes, trying to help only makes things worse.

Warnings: (1) Post character-death, but no one who doesn't die in canon. Requires knowledge of both PoA and OotP as there are things I take for granted that people know. (2) This is a sequel to "You Never Know" and will (I think) only be understood fully if you've read that.

Timeframe: Takes place after OotP, somewhere in the middle of HBP.

Spoilers: For PoA, OotP, and my own story, "You Never Know."

Category: Angst, POV, not a happy story

Disclaimers: Hogwarts and all of its characters belong to JK Rowling, I'm only borrowing them to have a little fun and I promise to return them unharmed (well, at least mostly unharmed =0). I'm making no money from this and this is written for entertainment purposes only.

Feedback: Both positive feedback and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated and will be cherished!

Archive: Please ask first. =)

Author's Note: (1) In case you missed it above, this is a sequel to "You Never Know." Please read that first! (yes, I know, I'm hitting you over the head with it). =) (2) I wrote this story before reading the HBP so things might not line up with the latest two books.

I Can't Help

They say that when you die there's no sorrow. They say there's no pain or regret. They're wrong. Even the vast chasm between life and death cannot make you forget a life left unfinished, deeds left undone, words left unspoken, or friends left behind.

There are so many things I can't let go of, so many things I can't help but remember. The screams of Azkaban. The Dementors. The walls of my parents' house. The restlessness. The anger. The despair. The green eyes of an orphaned boy who now has only one link to his parents left. The bitterness of not having been declared innocent, of having made the unforgivable mistake that led James and Lily to their doom. The sorrow of knowing that I've left Remus alone to suffer through the worst years of his curse. The years that will rend the strength from his body little by little until he dies of the strain, exhausted and in terrible pain. And, above all, the cold certainty of knowing he carries a guilt that will make him miserable until the end of his days.

It is that, more than anything else, that makes it so hard for me to let go. Remus unnecessarily blames himself for many things. He's always been one to let guilt tear him apart. Now he feels the pain of a rift I caused just prior to my death. Angry, trapped, and suffocated, I accused him of being the reason I was still a wanted man, told him that his ill-timed transformation was what allowed Peter to escape. It wasn't true - I never believed him responsible. He faults himself and confessed it to me. I betrayed his confidence by using the knowledge to hurt him terribly.

Now he hates himself for our having passed the days prior to my death in stony silence – me wanting his forgiveness and him refusing to give it. He believes I died not knowing how much he loves me, not knowing that he believes our friendship was worth every carelessly caustic word I ever spoke, every time I ever hurt him. He hates himself for how he wasted the last of our time together being angry over words he never thought I meant. He's letting the guilt and grief bleed the life from him.

I can't stand it. I can't stand how miserable he is.

Damn it! Why does he have to be this way? It was my fault! I was the one that hurt him on purpose! He was right to be angry! He had no way of knowing what would happen at the Department of Mysteries! It wasn't as if he knew I was going to get myself killed!

Why does he have to make things so difficult for himself? He's shut himself down to everything. No one can tell but I know. I watch him and I know. He's doing what he has to, doing what Dumbledore tells him to, but not because he's moved on. He's doing it so that no one realizes that inside he's got nothing left but grief, guilt, sorrow, and pain.

I can't stand it. I can't let him do this to himself. I have to do something. I have to help him. He's alone but he doesn't have to let himself die inside. He doesn't have to spend the rest of his life feeling shredded by guilt. I can change it.

James and Lily tell me I shouldn't. They tell me there's a reason why the living cannot see the dead unless the dead choose to become ghosts. They say it's hard to watch the people we love suffer but that we have to. I have to. I have to let things play out and wait for him to join us.

I won't do that. I can't.

I'll tell him it's all right, that I know he loves and forgives me, that he doesn't have to hold onto this guilt. I'll talk to him. There is a way. The divide between life and death is wide but not impossible to breech. In sleep the mind is approachable, penetrable. In sleep I can reach him. And I will.

Slipping away from James and Lily, I wait until Remus retires for the night. Wait until he enters the mysterious realm of dreams and then carefully touch his thoughts. Easing into the world of his mind, I create a place for us to share. Our dormitory at Hogwarts, exactly as it was during the final weeks of our seventh year, right down to his perfectly made bed and my messy, tangled pile of sheets, pillows, and blankets. I leave us as we are, though. Grayed and aged beyond our years.

When Remus enters the room he doesn't question my presence. He is perfectly calm and willing to trust the sense of normalcy that accompanies even the oddest dreams.

"Hello, Remus," I greet him quietly.

He smiles and for a few moments looks younger and happier than I know him to be. "Sirius," he returns easily, letting his gaze sweep over the dormitory. "I think I like them better this way," he offers, slowly coming to stand next to me in the space between our beds.

I frown, not knowing to what he refers.

"The rooms," he elaborates, gesturing vaguely. "Four beds instead of five. They're more crowded now."

"You always did appreciate space," I comment.

"Do you think Dumbledore knows we're here?" he asks, looking a little worried. "Maybe we should go to his office?"

Dumbledore? I have no idea what he's talking about. Why is–? Oh. He doesn't realize what is going on. His mind has concocted its own reason for this exchange.

Well that complicates things a bit. I suppose I'll just have to explain. "Er…don't worry about Dumbledore. We can stay as long as we want. Why don't we sit down?"

"Are you sure that he–?"

"Remus, please," I interrupt. "I really need to talk to you." I gesture toward his bed.

Hesitating momentarily, he does as I ask. As soon as I take my place next to him he turns slightly so we can look at each other. "What is it, Sirius?" he prompts, all genuine concern and caring.

I smile sadly. "You're dreaming, old friend."

Remus takes this in stride. "Oh. All right."

He doesn't understand. He's still stuck in that place where he's simply accepting everything. I remember it well. Even bizarrely unrealistic dreams rarely seem so until analyzed by the conscious mind upon waking. "You're dreaming," I repeat, "but I'm real." I place my hand on his shoulder and squeeze gently. "It's the only way I can talk to you. Since I'm not a ghost you can't see or hear me when you're awake. In your dreams we have as much time as we want."

Remus doesn't say anything. I can tell he hasn't quite taken all of that in.

"Remus…do you remember what happened to me?" I ask very gently.

A touch of distress enters his eyes. All at once he looks old and weary. Our surroundings darken in response, as if the sun has abruptly been obscured by clouds. Even though it is a world I have crafted it is one that only exists in his mind and ultimately it is linked to his thoughts and emotions. I'm beginning to reach him. "Yes," he responds very softly. "You feel through the veil, you died." His tone is even but I can hear the raw pain lurking just below the surface.

I nod. "That's right. I'm not supposed to be doing this but I had to talk to you. I had to tell you that it's all right. I know."

"You–"

"I know how you feel. It's all right that you never said it, that you didn't tell me you forgive me for what I said. You don't have to feel guilty for how things were between us when I died. It was my fault." I smile ruefully. "It was always my fault. I was so thoughtless and careless. I hurt you so often by being impulsive. But despite all of that, you always forgave me. Right until the end. Even if time ran out on us and you never said the words. I don't deserve to but…I know." I release his shoulder and instead touch his hand lightly. "I know that you love me." Somehow, in death I feel none of the embarrassment I would have felt by uttering those words while living.

Remus doesn't say anything but his hand trembles beneath mine.

I tighten my grip. "Remus," I say earnestly. "Please. You don't have to do this to yourself. It's awful to see you in such pain. Please believe that–"

I stop because he's wearing a look of intense anguish and shaking his head. He doesn't speak but the room darkens even further and quivers as if gripped by an earthquake. Things begin to fall to the floor – books and clothes – while other objects – James' trunk and my pillows – fly into the air and start to convulse.

A ripple sweeps the room, causing the stones in the very walls to crack and the glass windows to shatter. Everything starts to fall apart around us and the expression in his eyes tells me why. Sadness, grief, disbelief, and terrible, terrible pain.

He doesn't believe me, doesn't believe that it is me. He doesn't believe that this is real. He thinks it's a hallucination of his own making, something conjured by his mind to make himself feel better.

The room has completely dissolved. We're spiraling in a storm of angry color – red and black – while the little that's left of my illusion is torn away. The only reason he hasn't woken is because of me. I'm holding him here, trapping him here.

I consider trying to convince him but the utter hopeless despair in his gaze is like a flood of ice cold water. Releasing his hand, I shake my head helplessly and say only three words. "I'm sorry, Remus." I was only trying to help. I never meant to hurt him. I never meant to make things worse.

Swiftly, I pull out of his mind. As soon as I do, he's awake and gasping hoarsely for breath. I'm aghast at his condition. Extraordinarily pale, he's shaking almost violently and is completely soaked through with sweat. Hair is plastered to his face, as are his tangled blankets. Jerkingly, he frees himself from their grasp and moves back so that his knees are drawn to his chest and he's leaning against the headboard.

His breathing calms but he can't seem to stop shuddering and I can see the ghost of unshed tears in his eyes. "Oh, God," he whispers very quietly, sounding strangled. "Sirius."

Wearily, he lowers his head so that it's hidden by his knees and arms. When the tremors wracking his body intensify, I feel sick. Oh. Oh please, no. I didn't mean to. I didn't mean to. I wanted to help. I only wanted to give him peace, ease his suffering. Instead I've brought the pain of losing me right back to the surface and doubtlessly made him feel even guiltier about how things were when I died.

Oh, Remus. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Remus…

I understand now. The warnings James and Lily gave me… I understand. I can't do anything. I can't help him. He's alive and I'm not and we lost our chance of a relatively painless parting when my cruel words drove him to avoid me until it was too late. Now he feels guilty for words left unsaid and forgiveness denied and I feel horrible for having brought him to this place.

I thought I could just tell him… How stupid of me. How stupid of me to think he would believe it was anything more than a dream. How foolish.

There's nothing I can do. There's nothing I can do.

No. No. Please…

The weight of the realization is painful to bear. All I can do is watch. Watch him go through the rest of his life alone, accompanied only by sorrows and regrets that I gave him. All I can do is watch him die one piece at a time until his transformations finally rip the life from him and give us the opportunity to set things right.

Oh Remus. I know you can't feel it but I'm here. You're not really alone. I'll always be close by, watching and waiting.

Remus, of course, doesn't respond. He continues to shake in silence, trying to forget the dream I gave him, trying to bottle his desolation so that when he faces the outside world in the morning, no one knows he's dying inside. No one, except for me.

THE END