A/N: Here it is, the seprequel to Before the Dawn. If you haven't read that it's vital that you do before you even set eyes on the first word of this. For those unfamiliar with the term seprequel, it means it's set both after and before the original story. First couple of chapters are really quite short but you know. That's how it goes sometimes. Ah, I have first chapter nerves! Anyway, have a read and let me know what you think. =]
One by One.
Every time he sees those brightly shining brown eyes, he dies a little more.
Every time she walks past him and the scent of her perfume hangs in the air long after she's gone, he has to grip the wall to steady himself, and push all thoughts of her from his mind.
Every time he uses the shower, and finds one of her long wavy hairs clinging to the tiles for dear life, he can't bear to wash it away with a quick burst of water from the shower head. He can't send any bit of her spiralling down the drain. That would feel like an insult to her memory.
She closes her hand around his arm from time to time, on days when he's feeling particularly empty. Her thumb moves back and forth over the material of his shirt, slowly, soothingly. Just like she used to do when things were at their worst during the war. Just like she will do. She always has been, and always will be, incredibly good at comforting him, even though these days it's torture. Completely unintentional on her part, of course.
Sometimes, on very rare occasions, when he's had perhaps one glass too many of Firewhiskey, when he's laying on the sofa at Grimmauld Place, his empty tumbler resting on chest, in constant danger of rolling to the floor with each breath he takes, she comes and joins him, sitting in the chair by the fireplace. A rustle of newspaper will alert him to an imminent crossword clue and sure enough, it comes in her soft voice.
"Another name for Asphodel. Five letters and five letters."
Both of them know full well that she is very much aware of the answer, but he appreciates the attempt at taking his mind off of 'things' all the same.
"Royal Staff," he croaks. He closes his eyes and listens to her ink in the letters with her quill. He can almost pretend they're back at her house, that he's still a convict and she's still alive, that the fire's burning and that Buckbeak is curled up in the shed, surrounded by little jars of fire to keep him warm.
And then she asks another clue aloud, and the hoarse, bitter edge that she never quite managed to eliminate completely is absent from her tone. He comes crashing back to earth, back to the teenager who has no idea that just by sitting in the same room as him she is forcing him to think about all the things he tries so hard to push from his mind.
"Author of The Dream Oracle. Five and five again."
"Did you take Divination when you were at school?" she asks, setting the newspaper to one side after she's filled in the little crossword squares.
"In third year," he says, still staring at the ceiling. "But I dropped it at the end and switched to Arithmancy."
"But how did you get through your OWL? You'd have had a whole year's worth of work to catch up on!" she says, aghast at the prospect.
"I did it over the summer," he replies, counting the cracks in the coving. He can't meet her eye. She's going to die for him and she's just a kid.
He wonders how long she has left, but is then marginally distracted by her babbling about how it's one of the hardest subjects and how he must have worked really hard to have caught up and that she had no idea he'd studied it.
He wishes he was seventeen again, because this would have made him smile.
Molly has a habit of speaking to him in a gentle tone, her brow ever fixed in a frown of concern. Arthur pats him on the back in the way that men do, to show they care, while Fred and George avoid his gaze whenever they cross his path, which they make sure isn't too often.
Remus doesn't even try to make him snap out of it. He alone appreciates what Sirius is going through, and he alone can make Sirius feel better, simply by laying on the opposite sofa in the drawing room, staring at the ceiling that Sirius and he now both know like the backs of their hands.
"It will get easier, I promise you."
"She made things easy."
"She wasn't supposed to die, you know."
Sirius hears Remus shift on the sofa so he can look at him, but continues to stare at the ceiling. He will not meet his eye.
"I was supposed to die."
But Remus has nothing to say. And so Sirius blunders on, feeling the guilty knot in his chest loosen with each secret he reveals.
"She said to me, the night before, 'I'm sorry I'm such a coward'. She cried. I don't think I've ever seen her cry so much. She'd been thinking about it all those years, ever since we first met. She knew what was going to happen to me all along."
Remus sighs. He can do nothing else.
"I'm going to kill Bella," he says, after a pause. "Brutally."
"Don't go looking for her, for Merlin's sake, Sirius."
"Why shouldn't I?"
"Because she'd stop at nothing to destroy you. If you go looking for her, you won't come back."
"Maybe I don't want to come back."
"Don't say that." Remus' tone is uncharacteristically sharp, and Sirius falls silent, wondering what the young Hermione is doing. He glances at the grandfather clock in the corner.
Half past two.