A/N: This is a bit of a different style for me. It's also a bit weird. The title comes from the Pink Floyd song Wish You Were Here. Neither that song nor Harry Potter belongs to me.
Heroes for Ghosts
Two days after Halloween, Remus comes home from the safe house where he's been transforming for the past year and finds a Patronus waiting for him – Dumbledore's, powerful enough to wait for its recipient's arrival before delivering its message, an apparently generic one for all the Order members.
"James and Lily Potter are dead. Lord Voldemort is gone. Sirius Black has been arrested and charged with the murders of the Potters and Peter Pettigrew. Report to headquarters 11:00 o'clock Saturday morning."
Remus watches the Patronus dissolve and looks around for James's stag to come tell him this is all some horrible sort of joke. But then he remembers the shooting stars he recognized as magical sparks coming home this morning, and he knows the stag isn't coming.
His mind goes blank.
He gets out the bottle of firewhisky he bought when he was in a morbid mood a few months ago and stashed away in the event that this actually happened. He'd expected Sirius to show up wanting to get well and truly drunk with him, and he'd wanted to be prepared. When he thinks that, he throws the bottle in the fire and watches the flames blaze up and almost considers not raising his wand to get them back under control.
Around the world, people raise glasses and set off fireworks and sing songs and shout cheers.
In the flat Sirius picked out for him, Remus curls up on his couch and listens to the distant sounds of people celebrating the destruction of his world.
James shows up three days later.
Remus is lying on his couch after the Order meeting, nursing a cup of tea because somehow the thought of Sirius has put him off the otherwise very appealing idea of drowning himself in alcohol.
James looks like he always has, confident and exhilarated and slightly windswept from either a broomstick or Sirius's motorbike.
You look terrible, he tells Remus bluntly.
"You're dead," says Remus flatly, and James's expression softens almost imperceptibly.
Doesn't give you an excuse to stop bathing, he quips, and then adds in a gentler tone, I'm here for you, Moony.
"You're not real," Remus says firmly, and fights the instinctual impulse to owl Sirius and tell him he thinks he's going mad, because Sirius, the Sirius Remus knew, isn't any more real than James.
James just grins and musses up his hair, a somehow both nervous and arrogant gesture Remus recognizes from their school days.
Why do you think that would stop me? James asks, winking.
I know you blame me for what happened, James says, a few weeks after showing up.
"I don't blame you," says Remus immediately, because he does, but he knows it's irrational, he knows, and that means it doesn't count.
You can't lie to me, Moony, says James. I know you.
"You didn't have to pick Sirius," Remus says.
Yes I did, says James.
Of course he did.
"I know," Remus admits, then adds quietly, "I miss you."
James's smile disappears, and he doesn't speak again the rest of the evening, just watches Remus from his usual chair in the corner with a serious expression Remus hasn't seen him wear since he was sixteen.
You've been moping too long, James tells him about a month later. You need a proper job.
"The market isn't too keen on werewolves at the moment," Remus reminds him dryly. James doesn't look impressed.
You need a hobby, then, he says.
"I have a hobby," says Remus, with just the barest hint of petulance.
Turning into a wolf once a month isn't a hobby, says James. And neither is pining for the good old days.
"What good old days?" says Remus.
James doesn't dignify that with a response.
I mean it, Moony, he says. You need to start living again.
"I don't have to listen to you," Remus tells him. "You're dead."
Doesn't stop you talking to me, James points out, and Remus nearly laughs.
Then he nearly cries.
If you don't get out of this flat and do something with your life, so help me I will come back as a ghost and haunt your ass! James snarls at Remus a week later, when Remus still hasn't done anything but read and mope and survive on tea and toast.
"Aren't you doing that already?" Remus quips, but James doesn't give his usual grin.
Remus sets down his book with a sigh and rubs one hand wearily across his face.
"I'm just tired, James," he says. "I'm tired of being the one who always ends up alone."
James looks very serious.
We don't do it on purpose, he says. It just turns out that way.
"I know," says Remus, because he does, has for a while now. "It doesn't make it easier."
They sit in silence for several minutes, Remus staring at the slowly dying fire, James alternately running a hand through his hair and picking at the sleeve of his robes.
"Is it awful being dead?" Remus asks finally, voicing the question that's been eating away at the corners of his mind (his sanity) for weeks.
James looks up, his face softening into a gentler expression than it ever wore in life.
Living was better, he whispers.
Life goes on because it has to. Remus starts doing odd jobs as a sort of magical creatures exterminator on the weeks furthest from the full moon. James moves out of the flat and just drops by in the evenings instead, his visits becoming less and less frequent as Remus becomes busier. (Remus doesn't ask himself what it means that he mentally refers to it as James moving out rather than as Remus slowly regaining his sanity.)
He still doesn't have many friends, but he's used to that. He researches when he's not working. Sometimes when he has to go down to London for supplies, he drops by The Leaky Cauldron for a pint, but after he gets recognized as "one of the Potters' friends" twice in a row, he abandons that practice. He politely but swiftly shuts down any conversation about What Happened that people try to start when he's working.
He tells himself he's healing because it sounds healthy and well-adjusted and like him, and James has stopped showing up to contradict him.
Hardening, he thinks, is something Sirius would have done.
Going back to Hogwarts is easy. Easy because it's a steady job. Easy because he's moved on, and so it doesn't matter that every time he looks at Harry he flashes back to his own school days and James and everything he's lost. Easy because it doesn't matter that Sirius's haunted face is staring at him from Wanted posters everywhere he looks, his sunken eyes following Remus like he recognizes him, like he knows, which is ridiculous, of course, because they're just photographs. It's easy.
Then James shows up again, just after Harry's first dementor lesson.
This seems healthy, is the first thing he says after he strolls into Remus's office like he belongs there, and Remus can't tell if he's being sarcastic or not.
"You wanted me to get a job," he replies.
Not one where you had to listen to my son talk about hearing my final moments, says James.
"The dementors aren't my fault," says Remus in the steely tone he still uses to shut down the nosy people wanting him to tell them what the legendary Potters were like.
James's expression crumples into something desolate and helpless and heartbroken.
He doesn't deserve it, you know, he says quietly. Any of it.
"Maybe," says Remus, though privately he thinks Sirius deserves all of it. "But it's still his fault. It is his fault," he insists, when James gives him a look.
He must have had his reasons, says James slowly, because even after everything, Remus can't conceive of a James who wouldn't defend Sirius with every breath (even though it's because of Sirius that he doesn't have any more breaths).
"I have work to do," says Remus coolly.
James doesn't say anything else, but he doesn't go away either, just sits in the chair across from Remus and stares up the ceiling, feet propped on the desk, and every time Remus spots him out of the corner of his eye as he composes next week's lesson plan, he has the mad desire to go rip down every single Wanted poster in Hogsmeade and incinerate it.
He's young. He doesn't understand, says James the moment Harry leaves the History of Magic classroom.
"I already know your opinion," says Remus coldly.
Well you don't have to defend him if you think I'm wrong, James replies, just as coldly.
Remus doesn't answer because he doesn't know what he thinks anymore.
He deserves it, he recalls Harry growling, and it was so strange to watch such hatred for Sirius passing through James's lips. But though he looked like James, he'd sounded like Sirius – Sirius defending himself for telling Snape about the knot on the Whomping Willow while James raged at him.
He hates Sirius for escaping from Azkaban, because it was so much easier to bury this, to resign himself and forget, when there weren't posters with Sirius's haunted face confronting him from every newspaper and shop window, when he wasn't teaching James's son (Sirius with Lily's eyes staring out of James's body) how to block out Lily's final screams.
Life isn't black and white, Moony, says James quietly, and Remus actually laughs, because he's known that for ages.
Sirius is out of his life as quickly as he re-entered it. One tiny lapse of memory and everything's lost. No vengeance, no closure, no friends.
It's been nearly thirteen years. Remus has learned to live with that.
You always knew it wasn't him, says James, as Remus packs his office.
"No I didn't," says Remus honestly.
I always knew it wasn't him, says James.
"You would," Remus points out. He says goodbye to Harry and Dumbledore and makes his way to the carriage, James in tow.
You know he'll write the moment he gets a chance, says James. He's not going to blame you for the werewolf thing, not after everything.
Remus just makes a noncommittal noise, and James falls silent.
James leaves him at the train station, and so he isn't there when Sirius's letter arrives as predicted. It doesn't say much, just that he's safe and hidden and will write when he can.
It doesn't say that he's sorry or that he's missed Remus or that he'll make sure they see each other again, but it doesn't have to because Remus already knows that.
Sirius shows up on his doorstep a year later, pale and thin and falling apart, but very much alive and very much Sirius.
It rapidly becomes difficult, however, to figure out where the damage of everything that's happened ends and Sirius really begins, and Remus finds himself wishing James would come back and help him sift through all the pieces Sirius has become, because he can't do it on his own.
He feels like they're both drowning, but he only has the strength to keep one of their heads above water.
James doesn't appear after Sirius dies, though Remus waits for him for a week, slumped over the kitchen table at Grimmauld Place nursing a bottle of firewhisky.
Eventually Tonks comes by, and after Remus tells her kindly but firmly that no, he isn't looking for that sort of thing right now, or ever, thanks, he gets up and goes to Dumbledore to get more orders, because he's been through this once before, and so he already knows that life doesn't stop just because your best friend is dead.
James drops by a few times that year to tell him he's being stupid about "the Tonks Situation" as he calls it. Remus tells him just where he can shove his relationship advice, and wonders loudly why Sirius hasn't shown up yet.
If you hate being alone so much, why is it so terrible that someone actually wants to be with you? James snaps finally.
Remus looks at James and doesn't answer, because he thinks James probably already knows that Remus is thinking that you have to have people before you can lose them, and it's the losing Remus is tired of. He's used to being alone.
James doesn't show up after Remus runs out on Tonks, but of course he doesn't need to, because Harry says everything he would have said anyway, and a few things he probably wouldn't.
Remus still doesn't return to Tonks right away, though, and after he's spent three days shacked up in a somewhat questionable Muggle motel, James finally comes to him.
Harry was right, you know, he says without preamble, looking down at Remus, who's lying on the bed staring at the ceiling.
Remus throws an arm over his face and gives a weary groan.
"I know," he admits.
There's a war going on, Moony, says James. Fear isn't a valid excuse anymore.
"I'm responsible for bringing a child into this world," says Remus miserably.
Leaving Tonks won't take that back, James points out.
Remus looks at James for a long time, and somehow isn't surprised when James doesn't follow him home.
The next time Remus sees James, they're sitting in an empty train station.
"You look terrible," James teases.
"I'm dead," says Remus.
"So am I," says James. "I still look better than you."
"You've had time to get used to it."
James nods. "True. And I'm better at everything."
Remus snorts. "If you say so. Where are Sirius and Lily?" he adds, before James can protest.
"Around." James shrugs. "Sirius was never good at just sitting around waiting, and I think Lily's gone to the toilet."
"Do you need to use the toilet when you're dead?" asks Remus, surprised.
James shrugs again. "Lily does."
"So, I heard you finally came to your senses," James continues. "Had a kid and everything."
"I did," Remus confirms, and wonders if being dead is the reason he doesn't feel a pang at knowing he's left a wife and son alone in the world.
"Never pegged you for the settling down type," James tells him. "Thought you were too self-loathing for that." His eyes are gentle, tone teasing, but Remus can tell he's serious.
"I was," he admits.
"So what changed?" James asks.
Remus gives James a small smile.
"Living was better."