A/N: This was written for the lupinbigbang over at LiveJournal, celebrating what would have been Remus' 50th birthday. Thanks to the marvellous remuslives23 for her continued support and friendship, and to the amazing epithalamium002 for the incredible artwork for this story. If you'd like to see artwork that was done for this (five, count 'em, FIVE beautiful watercolours), you'll have to turn to my LiveJournal (dogsunderfoot) or check out the lupinbigbang. (There are some other incredible fics over at that site!)
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the creation of J.'s incredible imagination, and I'd never dream of trying to make money from them.
Human grief was a terrible, terrible thing.
It was all-consuming, swallowing every other emotion and thought in Remus' body. It left a vast, bare, greyness through which only idle chitchat seemed to pass—
We thought maybe a memorial service after the next Order meeting?"
"Dumbledore will send over a couple of house-elves to help with the dinner..."
"Is there anything in particular you want served?"
"He was a good man, no doubt about it."
He ate when food was placed before him, but it tasted of grief: bland, dry, and empty. He followed where he was led, heard the words he was supposed to hear, said the things he was supposed to say—
"That would be nice."
"That will be a great help."
"Choose whatever you'd like."
"Yes, he was..."
Life had become a series of courteous—but awkward—conversations, hesitant hugs, and pathetic platitudes. There was nothing else. No sudden urges to run down the street for chips because he'd just been shagged into starvation. No sudden interruptions in making dinner because a pair of lips had found that sensitive spot on the back of his neck. No sudden mad dashes for the bedroom because of the brush of a hand against denim stretched taut across a perfectly rounded arse...
There had been no goodbye kiss, no last chance to run his fingers through thick dark hair, no last look at laughing grey eyes, and no last lingering touch of fingertips...
Voldemort had taken Sirius away from him completely. There had been no body to bury, though an all too familiar leather jacket, bloodied and slashed to tatters, had been dumped at the front door of the flat Remus had shared with Sirius. A broken wand had been stuffed in the pocket.
Remus wished there had been more than inanimate objects left behind; he just couldn't seem to get his brain and his heart to understand that Sirius wasn't coming back. His ears kept listening for Sirius' voice, his body kept expecting to feel Sirius' next to him in their kitchen and in their bed. His heart beat more rapidly every time he spotted someone who vaguely resembled Sirius in any way.
Lily—One third of the reason he's gone—came over and perched herself on the couch next to him. "Remus, can I get you a plate?"
Get me a plate so I can chuck it against the wall and hear it shatter like my heart when I heard...
"No, Lily, I'm fine. Thank you."
She fidgeted with the lace handkerchief in her hands. She'd cried more tears than he had and he wondered if she were crying because of the guilt that the most passionate, loyal man in the world had died for her sake, or if she were crying because of what that loss had done to Remus. She hadn't been able to look at him for too long before bursting into tears, though she seemed to be doing better today. After all, she'd been staring at him with pity for the past minute and hadn't started crying yet.
He was beginning to find the whole thing tiresome.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" she asked, her voice shaking slightly.
"No, I've had enough."
What he really wanted was Firewhiskey. It didn't need to dull the edges, because there weren't any. His grief was flat and blank and endless...
He needed the Firewhiskey to subdue the creature he could feel stalking just below the surface of his humanity.
Hunt. Hunt them down. Kill them.
But he didn't know who was responsible for the loss of his lover and the wolf's mate. Yes, Voldemort had killed Sirius, there was no doubt of that. But, who had given Sirius to Voldemort? Who would have hated James and Lily and Harry that much that he (or she) would have sold/led/pushed their Secret Keeper to such a fate? Who would have hated Sirius that much that he (or she) would have sentenced him to death in such a manner?
Who hated Remus so much that they'd deprive him of love and security and friendship and laughter?
There was a spy. They knew that.
And it's someone in this room.
The realisation made him frown at the flowers on the wallpaper—the flowers that Sirius had said looked like monkey faces. His eyes swept over the crowd that had gathered at the Order headquarters to pay their final respects to 'an amazingly noble and brave individual', as someone had called Sirius.
"Remus?" Lily asked, noticing his searching gaze.
"It's someone here," he whispered. "Someone here did this to him."
Lily's eyes widened, alarmed now. "Remus, listen, love..."
"Someone here killed him," Remus said, feeling his body tighten with pre-battle tension.
"Remus, you can't do this! Not now!" she hissed, grabbing his arm with both hands. "We'll talk about it later. James and I have been talking and—"
"I'm going to kill him," Remus heard his voice say. He blinked rapidly several times, because he hadn't meant to say that out loud, hadn't meant to say what the wolf was thinking. But now that it was out, he knew he was right. He was going to kill the one who had killed Sirius.
There was a gasp from Lily. "No, Remus!" Her fingernails dug into his arm. "Please, please, wait to talk to James! He's angry and upset, too, but –"
She went on, but Remus was no longer listening.
Diggle? No. He was too flighty to be anything but honest, open, and good. He wouldn't be able to hide being a traitor. Doge? There was a possibility. He was a quiet, intelligent man...
Legs suddenly appeared in front of his eyes, blocking his view of the room. He looked up to see Frank Longbottom.
"Lupin, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for your loss."
Remus just stared at him. Frank had been uncomfortable with his and Sirius' relationship, outwardly fidgeting when he was partnered with either Remus or Sirius alone, and he had the gall, the audacity, the balls to offer his condolences?
Lily slid her hands down to cover the long fingers that had curled themselves into fists involuntarily. "He appreciates that, Frank, really he does. He's just not ready to talk right now."
The man was more than happy to walk away and Lily's grip tightened on Remus' hands. "Remus, you're hurting and sad—"
"Sad?" Remus chuckled bitterly. "Gods, Lily, you have no idea. Sad." He repeated the word almost mockingly.
"Sirius wouldn't like to see you like this."
"He's not here to see me, though, is he?" Remus shot back harshly.
Lily gamely went on. "I know you want someone to hurt for what—"
"Oh, no, Lily," Remus corrected her gently. "I want them to die for what they've done."
"Sirius wouldn't want—"
Remus shot to his feet. "Stop throwing that back at me! No one knows what Sirius would want because Sirius wouldn't even want to be dead right now!"
Lily sat wordlessly staring at him, her green eyes full of tears.
And then Remus realised that everyone else in the room was staring at him as well. Fear and satisfaction combined to stifle all conversation and bring their attention pointedly at him. All evening, he'd seen them looking at him with varying degrees of pity and curiosity, probably wondering, "When is Lupin going to snap?" Well, now he had.
"Remus, mate, come on." James—Another part of the reason Sirius is gone— was suddenly beside him, tugging gently on his jacket sleeve. "Let's get some air."
He didn't want to go with James, didn't want James to be understanding about why he'd just yelled at Lily. James should have yelled at him, told him that Lily was just trying to help, and why was Remus being such a prat about this? But, no. James was half-pulling, half-pushing him out through the kitchen and to the back garden, his smile full of sadness and his eyes full of pity, telling him not to worry, everything would be fine. He hadn't known James was capable of such cruel lies.
The back garden was really nothing more than a small concrete slab around which weak strands of grass struggled for life. There was a small round table and an odd assortment of six or seven chairs clustered on the concrete. Remus, the Potters, Peter, and Sirius had sat around the table several times over the past three years, drinking remembrances of those killed in Order missions.
James pushed Remus into a chair and reached into his jacket for a small flask. "Here."
The Firewhiskey burned going down his throat, but Remus was glad for it. At last he was feeling something. James' hands rested firmly on his shoulders, thumbs gently rubbing at the rock-hard muscles that lay beneath the material and scarred skin.
"Can you hang on just a while longer, Moony?" James asked. "You can come home with us and –"
"No. I want to go home."
"I don't know if that's such a good idea."
"It's home. And I have to start being by myself sometime."
The fingers stopped moving for the briefest of seconds and then resumed. The sound of the rough skin on cloth almost covered James' sigh. "Moony, you're not planning on doing anything stupid, are you?"
"I'm not planning on killing myself tonight, if that's what you mean. I'm not doing that until I get the bastard who killed Sirius."
The fingers tightened for a moment and then James slid into the chair next to Remus. "Don't you dare talk like that!"
"Who's going to stop me, James? You? You're going back to hiding after this. You have a family to worry about—"
"You are as much my family as Lily and Harry are," James protested. "I've lost Sirius. I can't lose you, too."
Remus took another drink. "It's war, James. You knew we could all die."
"But not like that, Remus. Not by your own hand."
"If I kill the one who killed Sirius, I'll probably go to Azkaban." Another quick drink made him realise something. "Or get a silver bullet. Then it won't be my own hand. Would that be better?"
While James struggled for an answer, Remus handed back the flask and then reached into his inner jacket pocket for a cigarette and a lighter. He tried not to let James see how badly his hands were shaking as he lit up and inhaled the noxious nicotine-tainted fumes. He leaned over, letting his arms rest on his legs, concentrating on the red embers at the tip of the cigarette between his fingers so he wouldn't have to look at James.
James cleared his throat. "Remember when he started the fire in the—"
"Moony," the voice was gently chiding, "there's nothing wrong with remembering the good times that we had." James chuckled lightly. "Or even the ones that weren't so good. It might help if you think about what we had—"
"If I remember what I had, I'll remember what I lost," Remus snapped.
"But it might help if—"
"It might help what, James? It might help me? It might help you? It might help them?" The hand with the cigarette made a motion toward the door.
"I just think if—"
"If I start thinking about him, then I'll have to start thinking about how I'll never see him smile again. I'll have to think about how I'll never hear him laugh or tease me about how I worry too much or work too hard." The cigarette was tossed down and Remus ground it viciously into the concrete with a leather-encased toe. "I'll have to remember how he always would threaten to go hex every person who's fired me because I'm a werewolf. I'll have to think about how I no longer have to worry about having his favourite kind of crisps in the pantry, and that I don't have to buy that bloody stupid shampoo again that made me sneeze. I'll have to face the fact that I won't ever again get the best good night kisses I've ever got, and that I won't be able to see him in the morning, with his hair falling into his eyes and his bloody awful morning breath."
He'd rambled through those sentences with barely a breath. But the deep inhalation he took now brought a sharp pain in his chest and tears to his eyes, and he couldn't hide the trembling of his body from James if he'd wanted to. "If I start thinking, James, I might bloody well go mad knowing I no longer have Padfoot. And I'll have to remember the last time we fought and the last time we fucked and I'll have to start facing the fact that I don't have him, and I can't, I just... can't..."
James was there to grab him around the shoulders as he fell, sobbing, to his knees on the cold concrete. The muscular arms were strong and comforting, and he heard the softly whispered comments: "I know, I'll miss him, too... miss how he tried to teach Harry how to swear... miss his bloody stupid jokes..."
James' hands never stopped rubbing Remus' back in a calming, circular motion, even after their knees had started to ache, and the cold from the concrete had started seeping through the material and into their skin.
Remus heard the back door open, and he started to pull away, raising a hand to wipe at his eyes. James firmed his grip on Remus and said to whomever it was, "Give us a minute."
The door closed softly.
"It was just Lily."
"I've been beastly to her," Remus muttered.
"You've been beastly to all of us."
"It's all right, Moony. It's okay. I'm only teasing you a bit. Actually, it's perfectly all right if you march in there and toss every piece of glass you can put your paws on at the walls. You're entitled."
Remus drew a deep, shuddering breath. "I miss him, James."
"I do, too."
"How am I supposed to do this without him?"
"We'll see each other through this."
His friend's words finally penetrated through some of his misery. "Gods, I've been so—" Remus drew back and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "You—he—and you've lost him, too—"
"It's all right." James pushed the flask back into Remus' hand. "I've been crying on Lily's shoulder for a week now."
They found their chairs again, and though tears were still slipping down Remus' cheeks and grief was still heavy in his chest, he no longer felt like he was going to explode from his tightly-controlled emotions. Still there was something that still needed to be said. "I want the bastard that killed him, James."
"Moony, if I could get you close enough to Voldemort—"
"No. Not Voldemort. Though I want his head on a pike, too. No, I mean the one who gave Sirius up to Voldemort."
James nodded slowly but firmly.
Remus stood up and reached for another cigarette. He paced restlessly for a few moments, but James let him do it, recognising it as a way that Remus had of gathering his thoughts.
"Two nights before the Fidelius, we had a fight," Remus abruptly said.
"What was it about?" James asked.
Remus sighed and rubbed his temple with his fingers. "Gods, it seems bloody ridiculous now."
"What did he do? Leave a wet towel on the floor? Bend a page in one of your books?"
"No, nothing like that." Remus eyed his friend carefully. "He accused me of being the spy in the Order."
James sat up straight. "What? He told you that?"
"I've been—" Remus glanced behind him at the door. Satisfied that it was closed and no one was near the window that overlooked the garden, he lowered his voice and went on: "—visiting the werewolf packs, trying to gain some support for the Order. Or at the very least, sow a little discontent at Voldemort's offers to bring us equal rights and liberties."
"Bloody hell, Remus!" James whispered, his eyes wide. He ran a hand over the back of his head then chuckled curtly. "Moony, we've heard the stories. You can get killed—"
Remus cut him off almost rudely. "I know. But it's something only I can do."
"Sirius was pissed off that I'd hidden this from him."
"You had us all wondering! Gods, Remus, why didn't you just bloody tell us?"
"Dumbledore told me not to tell anyone. My position in the werewolf community is shaky at best..." He broke off, sucking deeply on the cigarette. "There have been times it's been all I can do to go back. It's not... pleasant, and... I think Dumbledore was worried that if Sirius tried to talk me out of going back, I might listen."
James pinched the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses up as he did. "He told me he thought you either were a Death Eater or were fucking around," he admitted finally. "Just for the record, he was hoping for the second..."
"Two nights before the Fidelius, he finally told me of his suspicions." Remus closed his eyes briefly. "I thank every god there is that we got it straightened out. If he'd died thinking I was the spy..." He shuddered.
"Oh, hell, Remus..."
"For the past three or four months, we've been having problems, James, and I had no idea why. I thought it was just because I was spending so much time away. I didn't think it was because he didn't trust me." The brown-haired man sat down in his chair and clasped his hands together. "I wouldn't have known what had gone wrong. And he wouldn't have known the truth because he was planning on leaving me."
"Yes. He was going to suggest you take on another Secret Keeper, but then he'd leave so that people would think it was him. He was going to leave England and go to the continent without telling me."
"Another Secret Keeper?" James repeated, obviously trying to follow the conversation, but sounding more than a little confused.
"He was afraid that everyone would know he was the Secret Keeper —No. That's wrong. He was afraid I would know he was the Secret Keeper and I'd somehow be able to get your location out of him." Remus took another drag of nicotine. "He said he wouldn't have been able to resist me," he said with a curt and bitter laugh. "So, he thought it'd be better if you chose another Secret Keeper and not tell me. Then I'd still think he was the Secret Keeper when he disappeared. He said he thought Voldemort would send me after him, and the Secret Keeper could stay here and stay safe."
"Damn. That's almost too complicated for me to follow. How was he going to convince me to go along with that, then?"
Remus shrugged. "I don't know. It's—it was Sirius." The change in verb tense made both Remus and James wince. "We talked for hours that night—"
"Wait. That morning you came over for breakfast and nearly fell asleep in the eggs?"
The left side of Remus' lips rose slightly. "Yes."
"He said you two had shagged all night, you know."
"Well, we weren't ready to go over it all over again with you and Lily. Not at that point. We needed to work everything else out first."
"And did you?" James' question was soft and hesitant, unsure if he should ask.
Long fingers flicked ash from the end of the cigarette and then scratched at a jaw that could now be considered to be bearded, not just stubbled. "Yes, but I know there were other issues we were going to have to address. Trust has always been an issue for us, James, from the time we were at Hogwarts. He was willing to —" The sound of the door opening again interrupted Remus, and he turned quickly to see who it was, bringing the cigarette to his lips as he did.
"Hey, Pete," James said with an attempt at a smile.
"How are you, Moony?" Peter asked, dropping onto one of the chairs.
"How do you think I am?" Remus retorted, exhaling a thick cloud of smoke. "Gods, if I hear that bloody question one more time, I'll howl."
He saw Peter's furtive, anxious look at James. Irritation nudged at Remus, but it didn't flare as hotly and fiercely as it might have earlier.
"Some of the others are getting ready to leave," Peter said to Remus. "I thought I'd let you know in case you wanted to talk to them before they left."
"I have nothing to say to anyone right now," Remus replied, dropping the cigarette to the ground.
"It is getting late," James said, glancing at his watch. "Lily needs to get Harry in the bath... Remus, why don't you come with us?"
Remus shook his head. "No. I'm going home. I need to be by myself for a bit."
"You're not going to do anything mad and ridiculously idiotic?"
"No. I'll save that for whenever I catch the one who was responsible for telling Voldemort that Sirius was the Secret Keeper."
"Honestly, Remus, I don't think it would have taken much for people to put two and two together," Peter said in gentle protest. "Everyone knows Sirius was the one that James is closest to. It's almost a foregone conclusion."
"But someone in the Order had to have told Voldemort that the Fidelius was cast in the first place, and then told him where to find Sirius. There is no other reasonable explanation for the fact that Voldemort knew where Sirius was—and why it was so important for the Death Eaters to get him. No, someone in the Order is responsible for Sirius' death, and I'm going to find out who it is and wring his neck with my bare hands."
"Sounds painful," Peter said, putting his hands protectively around his neck.
"The bastard deserves to die," Remus muttered.
James stood up. "Moony will make certain it's painful, so you'd best be glad you're not the spy, Wormtail."
It still won't be as painful as living without Sirius. Grief welled up again, and Remus put his hand on his chest, expecting to feel the burn through his skin and clothing.
James was watching him closely and saw the gesture. He wrapped one arm around Remus' shoulders, squeezed lightly, and then stepped away. "I'd best go get Lily." He shot Peter a look and a tilt of his head that Remus tried to overlook because he knew what it meant.
They'd known each other too long for Peter to ignore James' tacit order, however. "Remus, how about if I stop at yours for a bit?" Peter asked. "We can drink a toast or two to Padfoot and maybe play a game of chess or something."
"I appreciate the thought, Peter, really. But I just want to—"
"Moony, please let him," James said, with a slight pleading note in his words. "Just for a bit."
Remus started to protest again, but James spoke again, more firmly this time. "If you don't let Peter take you home, I'll show up, leaving Lily and Harry alone at home, just so I can make sure you're all right—"
"Fine!" Remus snapped. He drew a deep breath and tried to smile at Peter. "It's not that I don't appreciate the thought, you know..."
"I know." Peter thumped him on the back a couple of times. "Let's go, Moony."
They were able to get away with little trouble and soon were standing in the kitchen of the flat that Sirius had bought with his Uncle Alphard's bequest.
"Will you stay here?" Peter asked as Remus handed him a butterbeer.
Remus glanced around. "I don't know." But as he said that, he saw Sirius' favourite coffee mug which he'd not been able to put away. Tears sprang, not unexpectedly, to his eyes and he sighed.
The place on the counter where Sirius liked to perch himself while Remus cooked their meals; the spot on the couch that was defined early on as Sirius'; the wall in the hallway against which Remus had pinned Sirius two nights before the Fidelius, when he'd demanded that Sirius talk to him... Was there any thing or any place that Remus could look upon without remembering something about Sirius?
"I'll set up the chessboard," Peter volunteered, heading for the living room.
Remus nodded and went into the bedroom to change out of his suit. Every move was laborious and reluctant, his limbs feeling leaden now that he was back in what Sirius had often called their den.
"Black or white?" Peter called.
What does it matter, now that Sirius is gone?
"It doesn't matter. You choose," he replied.
"Your queen is already insulting my bishop!"
Remus smiled slightly. "If yours is the black bishop, he told her she needed to be exorcised. She didn't take it well."
He stepped back into the living room and, seeing Peter on the couch, dropped onto the floor on the other side of the coffee table.
The other young man grinned. "Your queen just told my bishop what he could do to the other bishop. She's got some vocabulary."
"Thanks to Sirius," Remus said, swallowing hard to get rid of the lump in his throat. "King's pawn up two."
Peter watched the piece move then said, "I really am sorry about Sirius."
Shocked at the sudden apology, Remus looked up, his brow furrowed.
Peter was continuing, though he seemed very uncomfortable. "I know this will sound stupid, but even though I knew you two were... together, I didn't really know how much you, well, you know."
"You didn't know how much I loved him?"
Peter bit at his bottom lip and then nodded. "You were always just Moony and Padfoot, Sirius and Remus. I never thought of you two like, oh, I don't know. Like I think of James and Lily, I guess."
"That's all right," Remus said, looking back down at the chessboard. "Not many people did. Two blokes aren't supposed to feel that way toward each other."
Peter sighed. "But you were good together. You were good for him." He sent a pawn of his own into play.
"You think so?" Remus was surprised to see his hands were steady as he reached for his pack of cigarettes and his lighter.
"Yeah." Peter didn't explain further, but Remus didn't ask for clarification. Instead, he ordered his king's bishop up three squares and watched as Peter attacked with a knight.
"I'm surprised he didn't tell you where James and Lily were," the Animagus did say.
"He took his responsibility seriously," Remus murmured, moving his queen forward.
"Oh, I'm not falling for that again," Peter said with a laugh, recognising the strategy that Remus had once used to win a game in four moves. "So, now he's gone and the secret still holds... James and Lily are the safest they'll ever be, aren't they?"
Remus rubbed his chin with his thumb, keeping the burning end of the cigarette carefully away from his face. "Unless Sirius did something stupid and wrote the address down somewhere."
"Why would he do that?" Peter asked in surprise, glancing up quickly.
"He did joke once that if something happened to him, no one would know where James and Lily were, so he should write it down and put it under the same kinds of spells we used on the Map."
Peter's eyes widened. "He wouldn't!"
Remus shrugged. "I don't think he would. He worried too much about keeping them safe. It is your move, you know."
They fell silent for a few minutes as the game progressed.
As they watched Remus' queen take one of Peter's pawns, Peter suddenly asked, "Do you ever feel like we're pawns, Moony?"
"Pawns? How so?"
"Like we're just moving in the directions other people are telling us we're supposed to go, following rules and orders that we don't entirely understand..."
"I suppose I do to some extent," Remus admitted, thinking about the werewolf pack and wondering how long mourning would excuse him from returning.
Peter was silent for a moment, contemplating the board and then asked quietly, without looking up, "Do you ever get tired of it?"
"I'm tired of it right now," Remus confessed just as quietly, fiercely crushing the stub of his cigarette into the ashtray.
"Tired enough to walk away from it?" This time, Peter's eyes rose to meet Remus'.
"It's not a good time to ask me these things," Remus said.
"Gods, Peter," Remus sighed and leaned back on his hands, tilting his head back and closing his eyes so he couldn't see his friend's face.
"I just wondered if you might leave the Order now that Sirius was... gone."
Peter's words made Remus frown. "Did you think my decision to fight for the Order is so out of character that I wouldn't do it unless Sirius had dragged me into it?" He still didn't open his eyes, afraid to see the look of guilt he could imagine crossing Peter's face.
"No, that's not what I meant, really." Peter said, sounding surprisingly thoughtful. "I keep thinking of those who have already been killed: Benjy, the Prewetts... and now Sirius... Sirius wasn't supposed to die, Remus. I didn't think any of us would die."
Remus pushed himself back up until he was leaning over the chessboard again. He didn't meet Peter's eyes as he said, "The odds were against us, Peter. I reckoned that one of us would die. I had prayed it wouldn't happen. I had hoped it wouldn't, but..." He shrugged and waited for Peter's response.
What came next was not what Remus had expected.
"Do you think there's a chance he's still alive?"
Remus stiffened. "Sirius?"
"Yes." Peter fidgeted with the pieces he'd captured, not looking at Remus directly.
"No. He can't be," Remus said, thinking of the jacket and the wand that were secreted in a box in the closet by the front door. "He just... couldn't be."
"We never found him," Peter pressed gently. "How do you know?"
"Oh, fuck, Peter!" Remus lurched to his feet and stumbled a few feet away, pressing his fingers to his temples.
"I mean, you never did tell us what evidence there was, only that it was nearly irrefutable."
"Oh, gods, Peter, I can't even think of it!"
"But if there's a chance..."
"No. No." Remus' mind was awhirl with the horrible possibilities that were suddenly presenting themselves. "Fuck. No! Peter—" He didn't dare voice what he was thinking, but the other young man very gently persisted:
"If he's alive, though—"
The words practically tumbled over themselves. "If he's alive, then the Death Eaters have him and I can't bear to think of what he's going through and the fact that I'm not trying to save him..."
"Stop, Moony! Stop!" Peter sprang forward and grabbed the werewolf's arm. "Shite, mate, I didn't mean to upset you like this! I was just wondering..."
Remus dropped onto the couch and buried his face in his trembling hands. "Oh, gods, Peter, what if I was wrong?"
"Well, Dumbledore did verify it, didn't he? I mean, somehow he found out, right?"
Peter patted his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Moony. I shouldn't have said anything. Wait here. I'll be back."
Remus heard the smaller man go over to the small cabinet on the far side of the room in which their liquor was kept. A clinking of glass and a minute later, he was back, pressing a glass into Remus' hand.
"Bottoms up, Moony."
The Firewhiskey pooled in his belly, helping to distract him from the sharp needles in his heart and lungs. Surely, Sirius couldn't still be alive. Could he? If there was a chance he was still alive, then Dumbledore would have organised a rescue, right? He wouldn't have left Sirius in the hands of the Death Eaters...
"That's not even a possibility," Peter said, suddenly making Remus aware that he'd been muttering those things aloud. "Dumbledore wouldn't leave him there with no hope of rescue."
"I don't know what hurts worse," Remus whispered. "That he is truly gone or the thought that he might be in their hands."
"I was wrong for bringing it up," Peter said, motioning for Remus to take another drink. "Oh, hell, Remus." He took a deep breath. "I suppose I don't want it to be true, either, that he's dead. I suppose that's why I asked. I want to come up with another alternative, another way that it's all... different."
Remus ran his thumb along the side of the glass. "I'd do anything to make it different, Peter. Anything."
Peter left not long after that and Remus wandered through the rooms of the flat, nursing yet another glass of Firewhiskey and another cigarette, unable to sleep.
The flat was filled with memories and he hadn't been able to stay here for any extended period of time since he'd found that leather jacket on the doorstep. He'd spent many hours walking around London, deliberately trying to stay away from the flat so he wouldn't be reminded of Sirius.
However, he'd also stood next to their wardrobe with his face buried in Sirius' clothes, trying to absorb the scent of his lover and wanting desperately to feel the man's warmth in the threads of the shirts and robes. He'd sat for several minutes staring at the chair that Sirius usually sat in at the kitchen table, futilely waiting for it to be filled by the body that he was so intimately acquainted with.
Regardless of what he'd said to Peter, he already knew he wouldn't be able to keep this flat. He'd stay until Lily—ever the pragmatist—would begin to suggest, very subtly, that he replace something of Sirius' with something new. She herself would probably bring the first piece. His eyes lit on the autographed poster in the corner of the room. He could imagine Lily standing by the wall, holding up a framed poster of the French countryside or maybe even Water Lilies by Monet. And she'd say, "I found this in a charity shop on the corner and thought of you... What about here? You don't really like The Clash, do you?"
After that, it would be a matter of time until she and James would convince him, albeit reluctantly, to pack up a few of Sirius' things and put them in a box to be kept in a closet. A few days later, James would show up at the flat with a bottle of liquor, offering to help him pack Sirius' clothes away. They'd discuss the more interesting stories behind how and why Sirius chose the clothing he did and they'd laugh and cry while they slowly stripped the hangers bare at the same time that they stripped Remus' heart even more naked.
Then, when there was nothing visible of Sirius left, it would mean that Sirius was truly gone.
Remus couldn't stay here then.
He couldn't stay here now. He had to go. He had to walk.
He grabbed his jacket from near the door and then disappeared into the cold, foggy London streets to ramble aimlessly until he had nowhere else to go but home.