the maddest house

The Maddest House
by busaikko
illustrations by almost_clara
beta'd by Snegurochka Lee and Shadowfyre8537
Rated NC17

There was a mad man and he had a mad wife
And they lived in Ding Dong Dell.
They had three children, all at one birth,
And they were mad as well.The father was mad, the mother was mad,
and the children were mad beside;
and they all got on a mad white horse,
and madly they did ride.They rode by night, they rode by day,
Yet nary a one of them fell;
And they rode madly all the way
Till they came to the Gates of Hell.

The Devil was glad to see them all mad
And gladly let them in.
But he soon grew sorry to see them so merry
And let them out again.

Then God came down and said to them all,
“Now come along with Me,
For My House is the maddest House
That you will ever see.

“It's so full of madness there’s no room for sadness,
It's lasted for endless years.
It's built of gladness, and Grace, and joy.
There's no room in it for tears.”
(Mary Ellen Chase, The Lovely Ambition.)

Table of ContentsChapter 1: Fidelius (Autumn 1981)
Chapter 2: In the Caldera (Winter 1981)
Chapter 3: Strange Company (Spring 1982)
Chapter 4: The Mapmakers (Summer 1983)
Chapter 5: The Map (Summer 1983)
Chapter 6: Some Letters (Autumn 1983)
Chapter 7: Laid Off (Winter 1983)
Chapter 8: Love, All (Winter 1983)
Chapter 9: Christmas (Winter 1983)
Chapter 10: Sick (Autumn 1984)
Chapter 11: Darkness Falling (Autumn 1985)
Chapter 12: Dark Mark (Spring 1986)
Chapter 13: Hide and Go Seek (Spring 1987)
Chapter 14: Fidelius Redux (June 1987)
Chapter 15: Out from Azkaban (June 1987 to April 1991)
Chapter 16: The Potters' Second Son (April 1991)
Chapter 17: Soup (April 1991)

Chapter 1: Fidelius (Autumn 1981)

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change? And did you exchange
a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
(Wish You Were Here ? Pink Floyd)

It had all been so very confusing, in those first few wild hours and days after James and Lily died.Sirius Black found himself with a bundle of baby boy, whisked through a country celebrating the end of the terror and given the keys to an ugly modern house in South Yorkshire. And standing at Dumbledore's side was–not the traitor, no–not the traitor after all, the Aurors were still tracking down the rat-traitor Peter.

Remus, he wanted to say, how did we come to this; and he wanted to say, forgive me; he wanted his friend. But Remus' face, still dirty with soot, was blank and unreadable. As if he had ever read Remus right. The spell came down to the last word, and Remus met his eyes as he spoke it.


Remus' and Dumbledore's outlines blurred, as the charm sealed the secret of Sirius, Harry, and their house inside Remus and made them unknowable to wizards and to magic. This would be no short-term hideaway, unless things went drastically right for a change. Harry might need hiding for years. Sirius would raise him in this house, in the Muggle world, hidden from the Wizarding world's searchers. Even Dumbledore himself would have to find Remus in order to be allowed back here.

Finding Remus was not easy these days.

Dumbledore raised one hand in vague farewell; Remus merely nodded and turned his back, walking with the Headmaster to where the Portkey waited, down by the gate. Sirius watched them leave with a feeling of rising panic, and would have called out to them to turn back. But he knew that the only one of them who could see him in the doorway owed him no sympathy, and his arms trembled around the sleepy weight in his arms.

And then he went inside.

The front room was sparsely furnished with things that looked as if they'd come directly from someone's attic without the benefit of a good dusting. Sagging sofa in a cabbage-rose print, scarred table by the door, covered in boxes. Two metal chairs with faded red vinyl seats had been pushed up against the wall.

A bin-bag next to the sofa had a paper pinned to it reading Harry in Remus' spiky handwriting. Sirius set Harry down and tipped out a battered collection of toys, threadbare plush animals and mini-cars, a skipping rope and a carton marked Lego, which he looked into and then set up on the mantelpiece. Harry dropped down heavily onto his well-padded bum and began exploring his new possessions (a process that involved alternate mouthing and pummelling, as far as Sirius could see). Sirius' parents had not believed in toys (or in childhood, really), but he could see the appeal. Anything that kept Harry occupied for more than five minutes was brilliant.

He turned to the boxes on the table.

Someone, and Sirius really suspected Remus' hand here as well, had filled a box with mementoes, the kind of clutter without which things were hard to explain. Copies of death certificates for Harry's parents, dated not days before but months, and official adoption papers. Sirius winced as he realized that he now had to answer to Christopher Black, and Harry was the highly improbable Harley James Black. Remus had always had a ready hand for forging notes and permissions in school, Sirius reflected, but he'd like to have words with him about the damn names.

He'd probably not see Remus again for, oh, ten years or so. He shut his mind and kept his eyes on the open box.

There were framed pictures to go on the mantelpiece, and Sirius knew they were Remus'. He had taken them with his ridiculously heavy Muggle camera because Lily couldn't send moving photos to her friends and family. Here were James and Lily at the wedding. Here the christening, with little Harry in an impossibly frilly white gown and bawling his head off about it. Here one creased and discoloured snap of Sirius, James, and Lily (and a ragged edge where Peter had been removed).

There was not one picture of Remus, but everywhere Sirius looked he felt his presence.

He opened the next box. Finally, something store-bought and new, he thought and nearly laughed as he unpacked tins of baby milk, soft thick packages of nappies, and a bright pink paper-bound book with the title "Baby Magic: Spells for the New Mum! And Dad!"

He thought that crying would be an inauspicious start to his new life; so he settled onto the sofa in a puff of dust, sneezed for a few minutes, and started reading at the chapter on "Nutritious Meals, Charmed I'm Sure!"

Sirius had thought that he wouldn't have time to brood, and for the most part he was right. There were nappies to change and vegetables to mash and Harry to keep away from such household perils as sharp knives and motor oil. All the things he meant to do when Harry took a nap got postponed when he himself fell asleep on the bed next to the boy. And it was worse when Harry started really walking (and running and climbing the stairs). There wasn't a spare minute to sit down and consult Penelope Leach about developmental stages.The house was one of three identical houses built down the back of his landlord's tottering farmhouse, and his neighbours were older women, relations of some kind to the farmer, with fondnesses for china figurines and large carpet bags that bristled with knitting needles, respectively. Each house had a small, neat yard in front (Sirius' was the only one without masses of perfect flowers; he had a begonia, but it didn't try very hard), with gates opening onto the road past the farmhouse. In back, each house had a fenced garden plot and a few trees. Beyond the trees there was a gully with a cool, dark stream, and a forest that led away on the other side. It seemed like the perfect place to raise a boy, but delicate questioning of Sirius' neighbours indicated they'd expected the house to be let to a bearded gentleman in knickerbockers and pockets rattling with sweets. Not that they minded little Harry, they assured him, such a quiet little boy.

There were no restrictions on the use of magic within the house; Sirius had applied several silencing charms from Baby Magic and was glad that they were effective.

The one disturbing aspect of the Fidelius which he had discovered, accidentally, while trying to sneak out during a nap to buy milk, was that he experienced nausea, panic, and dizziness if he went too far from Harry. The magical equivalent of a choke chain. Dumbledore's little joke, he supposed.

On the whole, though, not having to go out to work and being able to roam around the countryside introducing Harry to the wonders of caterpillars and dirt and things you don't want to step in and things that you can put in your mouth–well, it was brilliant. And the kid was a natural mimic and talking up a storm, even if every other word out of his mouth was "bugger" at the moment. Harry was a natural charmer. Whenever Sirius took him into town people queued up to coo at him and laugh at how he called his father "Pads". It made him proud the first time Harry said "no" to his mushy carrots and they flew across the room. Just like magic.

As part of his self-inflicted self-rehabilitation program, Sirius had decided that Harry didn't need lying to. He set up an offering dish and kept it in the kitchen, visible from the table. He remembered the prayers for intercession with the dead (as a child he hadn't been allowed to eat without making a formal offering first, but once he had learned who his ancestors were sheer terror made him honour them so they wouldn't reappear and torture him in the night), but usually he just included Lily and James in the evening conversation.

He wasn't sure, of course, how much a child with a vocabulary of fewer than one hundred words understood, but he knew the power of things left to ferment in secrecy.

Sometimes when Harry played Sirius caught the words "mum" or "da". It filled him with a great terrible longing. Harry had stopped crying for Lily after a week, had amicably entrusted all his needs and desires to his Uncle Padfoot. Sirius thought that Lily and James' love must have formed some crucial and fundamental base of love (and perhaps a lasting fondness for breasts) but Harry would not remember his parents. So he'd have to do it for him.

Sirius used some of their rapidly dwindling petty cash (a problem he resolutely did not think about) to buy blank notebooks and started writing down some of the stories he told, filling in the blank spaces and margins with pictures. Harry liked the pictures, and soon the words barely fit on the pages for the riot of images that flooded through Sirius.

He would read a bit, and hug Harry and tell him he loved him. It was, he found, a different kind of love from when he'd been a godfather, bringer of inappropriate gifts and occasional baby-sitter. He felt, well, parental.

It was like one of those good-bad-good-bad jokes that never ended: The good news is, you'll have a son. The bad news is, your best friend and his wife will die to give him to you. The good news is, you'll have that house in the country and beloved by your side, just like you always dreamed. The bad news is, the house is a refuge from a war that the man you love (and whose feelings you'd ruthlessly killed) is still fighting, and the beloved, unfortunately, isn't out of nappies yet. He poured all the emotion his heart could hold into Harry, who was all he had, all he would ever have, and shut his eyes to the future.

Chapter 2: In the Caldera (Winter 1981)
People said to the father, "You get out of here, too.
Take your magic wand and your son!"
The boy and his father were ostracized.
That means they made them live on the edge of town.
(Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger)

The owl that pecked on the window was a surprise, and Sirius let it in automatically before he realized that he had no owl treats. He gave the owl, which looked like an ill-used feather duster, a crust of bread and set it in front of Harry while he fished the message out of the tube.Sirius: I've things to give you, the first being this owl. She's called Strix. Let me know if there's anything you need, or if you have any messages to pass on. When's a good time to come? L.

"'L'?" he asked the bird, but it was more interested in pecking away bits of Harry's held-out biscuit. Something in his chest twisted tightly, but he didn't know what it was so he ignored it. He summoned a quill and scrawled on the bottom of the parchment,

Come anytime except naptime if you want to see Harry. Have Dumbledore shake out his niffler-bank for us, if you would, not to complain but we are eating potatoes and dried beans and Harry needs winter clothes, I can't keep on transfiguring mine for him and walking around naked, the neighbours talk. No messages, you couldn't pass them on anyway, the point of being a Secret Keeper is that you keep it Secret. Actually, there is one, tell your parents thanks for the furniture and all. We'd be living in cartons if not for them. You'd better leave my name out, though, because your parents don't like me, and you know as well as I do why.

Sirius looked at the quill in consternation. Either it had been the victim of a Babbling Hex or he was losing his mind. He left the note as it was. Making corrections would have made it worse, and he thought at least this way there might be some amusement factor in it for Remus.

Of course, Remus already knew Sirius was mad.

Two days later, Remus Apparated in after supper. Sirius had put up a basic security petrificus charm, and he was glad to see that it worked, even though Remus' eyes looked seriously angry as he stood, frozen, in the front hall, waiting for Sirius to complete the mandated checks for curses like Imperius and made sure he wasn't an Inferius or a polyjuiced Death Eater, or attached to any tracing or eavesdropping spells. Dumbledore had given him a copy of the most up-to-date Aurors' spell book; Sirius knew all the cutting-edge spells. When he was satisfied, he made a dismissive sweep with his wand.

"Finite incantatum."

Remus stalked past him into the living room. He found Harry sitting under the table, cheerfully putting a plush rabbit into a pot, shutting the lid, and cackling madly as he opened it up to find–surprise!–the same rabbit. Sirius had seen a hundred variations of this game and the excitement had worn off, but Remus seemed genuinely amused, insofar as one could be when doubled up under a table.

Deciding to let them have their playtime, Sirius scrubbed the pumpkin from the table and started on the washing up.

"Do you want anything for dinner, Moony?"

"If you've food to spare."

Sirius tried to make a dish of boiled pumpkin, navy beans, and tinned sardines look appetizing and failed. He set it on the table anyway. "Let Uncle Moony up, Harry, if he gets stuck down there we'll have to take the table to bits. Bikkie," he added, and Harry emerged with a predatory gleam in his eyes.

Remus pulled himself up and out from under the table with enviable grace. He sat down on what was usually Sirius' chair and took a bite of pumpkin. Then he looked up and choked.

"What is that?" he asked one glass of water later, eyeing Sirius' altar as if afraid it would bite him. Sirius studied it himself, wondering what it did look like to Remus' eyes. There was still pumpkin on the offering plate, and one of Harry's plush animals keeping James and Lily company.

"It keeps me sane," he said finally. "To believe that I am not alone. To believe that I have to try."

"To believe that the dead are keeping you in line?"

Sirius hunched his shoulders. "Let's agree not to argue religion unless we're in an academic setting."

Remus took alternate bites of fish, beans, and pumpkin, clearing his plate in remarkably little time. "I have to be back at work soon anyway." He looked at Sirius. "It's just. James. And it's the last thing I'd think of you doing."

Yes, well, who am I to you now, Sirius thought, and the images he saw dancing like ghosts around Remus filled him with horror.

It was like walking around a sleeping dragon that they'd both agreed not to notice.

It was like living in a caldera, it was like having the volcano in your heart.

It had been Snape who'd first sown doubt in the cruel certainty of Sirius' heart after Remus had disappeared (after you'd finished trying to kill Remus, his mind whispered), pinning Sirius up against the wall and whispering only, "you were wrong" with silken menace.

And he thought he'd seen something similar in Dumbledore's eyes, thought that the old bastard chose Remus particularly because of the fierceness of Sirius' rage against him.

But here he was across the table from the only person in the world who knew, the only person whose forgiveness could possibly matter to him, and he found he didn't have the words to begin to describe the enormity of his crime or sin or damnable madness.

No wonder the first thing Remus looked for was the baby's well being. Hell, look what my parents did to theirs.

Remus fished a number of small parcels out of his coat pockets: a letter from Dumbledore, a bundle of books tied together with string and what looked like Sirius' mail from his flat; the slight charring was from unopened Howlers, he supposed.

"Dumbledore has some translations he wants you to do," Remus said, pushing the books over. "We don't know where Peter took Voldemort, but there's nothing you can do about that anyway. So Dumbledore wants you to try and find out whatever you can about the dark magic Voldemort uses. He said you'd know what that meant. And that you ought to be careful of the books, they're cursed."

Sirius looked at them. "Just what I wanted for Christmas."

"Dumbledore got them from a turned Death Eater who was killed before he could explain their significance."

"Fine. I'll send my work on to you, shall I?"

"Fine." Remus shifted. "My mum…. I've only told her it's a friend who's in hiding, but she's got some things for you. Sheets, quilts, some of my old clothes that she put away for grandchildren. It's all out of the attic, but."

"I'm grateful," Sirius said quietly. "Harry loves the toys, that was good of you. I wouldn't have thought of that."

"Well. Children." Remus looked sharply at Sirius. "No problems?"

"No. We're fine."

"I'll try and get you a bed. All your things, at your flat, it was all under surveillance. Most people… it's generally thought that you've gone over. To Voldemort."

"It makes sense. What else is a Black to do?"

"Your mum cleared the lot out. She's opened her house to the Death Eaters who stayed loyal to Malfoy. A lot of people don't mind their ideas, you know, even though they didn't like Voldemort. Malfoy appeals to the Purebloods. Your mum's made his wife her heir," Remus said, sounding genuinely regretful. "So you've no bed, and I don't know–"

"Never mind," Sirius said, "I sleep at the foot of Harry's bed, anyway." He bit his lip and swallowed his pride. "We're a bit short of money."

Remus took out an envelope that was thinner than Sirius thought it ought to be. "There's not that much money that can be spared. Dumbledore will pay for the translations."

"Imagine my joy." Sirius removed a large piece of oatcake from where it had adhered to Harry's cheek.

"Hagrid still has your motorbike."

"Tell him to keep it for me–I'm not selling my bike, Moony."

Remus stood and shoved his hands in the pockets of his threadbare coat. "Well. I have to go."

"Right, then."

"I'll bring the stuff by Saturday?"

"We'll be here." Sirius swung Harry up in his arms. "About the petrificus–"

"Obnoxious, but brilliant. Just like your hair, Pads, lovely disguise. Billy Idol on a bad hair day."

Sirius didn't know what to say to that, so he held Harry out. "Give Uncle Moony a kiss goodbye, Harry."

For the rest of the day, Sirius wondered whether Remus brushed off the sticky residue of Harry's embrace, or whether he'd kept it as a remembrance.

Chapter 3: Strange Company (Spring 1982)

you can't take back the things you said, man
Cause you can't unring a bell, Junior
hurts don't it
take it like a man
get it thru your head
(Can't Unring a Bell by Tom Waits)

"Who's a grubby boy, then?" Sirius demanded, grinning.Harry looked up from the hole he was making in the tomato patch. "Wa," he said, tugging at the longest earthworm Sirius had ever seen.

"It's a lovely wa, Harry, but I think you'd best leave it alone." Sirius had discovered that distraction worked wonders. "Look–how'd you like this rock instead? It's pointy."

Harry let go of the worm and grabbed the rock tightly in one chubby fist. He had been helping Sirius in the garden since morning. Sirius supposed that if he just let the mud dry, he could peel it off the boy. Didn't girls do that, for fashion?

Sirius looked at the garden plot with pride and trepidation. Considering that one of them was born and raised in London (and waited on by servants until he was sixteen) and the other had just mastered the ability to manipulate the trowel (as evidenced by the yard, which looked as if it had been attacked by optimistic nifflers), Sirius thought they'd be lucky if any of the vegetables he was planting grew.

art by almost-clara
"Gardening Sirius" by almost_clara (comment on art here)
He'd not had bad marks in herbology, but he'd never grown plants without magic to fall back on. But now, with the Fidelius charm hiding them from the wizarding world, he only dared use magic sparingly outside the house, barring an emergency. Maybe he'd ask Remus to come and perform a fertility spell. It would be in Remus' stomach's best interest. After all, if the garden worked, they would not be as hungry this summer as they were the past winter, scraping by on the trickle of money from Dumbledore.Harry gave up banging the rock against the trowel and lurched off to bang it against other things. He poked a hole in the bag of potting soil, chipped some paint off the door, and made an impressive noise with the aluminium dust can. Sirius put a bit of string around the garden plot to keep Harry out, and Harry walked through it. Sirius grabbed Harry up and sat him on his head for a bit, until a suspicious wetness began to seep down. Sirius held Harry out in front of him, nose to nose.

"We need a bath, don't we?" he said. "You just wee'd in my hair. It's a damn good thing you're such a cute little bugger."

"Damn!" said Harry and stuck his dirty fingers up Sirius' nose.

There was a ring of mud around the bathtub that clung stubbornly. But at least Harry looked presentable, Sirius thought. The unruly hair was combed down, his face was pink and scrubbed, and he looked angelic in a green jumper and matching checked pants, courtesy the high street charity shop.Sirius himself, of course, was still wet, naked, and cold half an hour after the bath. Children consumed time. He chased after Harry to get the towel back, but stepped hard on a Lego truck, and swore.

"Aren't you supposed to be a good influence on the child?"

Sirius jumped and spun around. Remus held out the towel solemnly, with the air of one who was laughing very hard on the inside. Sirius took it and limped off to his room to grab his wand. He limped back, holding the towel around his hips with one hand, and Remus stood obligingly still for the usual safety checks: Inferius, Imperius curse, polyjuice, tracing and tracking spells. Nothing turned up, which was good. Sirius really didn't feel like battling evil in a wet towel. He retreated to the bedroom.

"I'm actually not a complete lunatic," he said loudly, buttoning his second-best pair of jeans and pulling on a red shirt over his vest. "You just scared the pants off me is all."

"You deserved it," Remus said comfortingly, above the sound of tidying-up in Harry's room. "I did announce myself, but you couldn't hear me. What with all the loud singing."

Sirius looked in at his adorable godson, cheerfully chucking the toys that lived on the floor into the toy box. "How do you do it?" he asked plaintively.

Remus shrugged. "He just has to be shown how it's done."

"Right–several hundred times."

Harry tossed in the last toy, a rabbit that squeaked, and then tipped the contents of the toy box out on the floor. Sirius burst out laughing, and Remus scooped Harry up.

"You staying for dinner, Moony?"

Remus half-turned, looking over Harry's head. "I've come to borrow your cellar, actually. Unless you'd rather I went away."

"Don't go." Sirius shrugged. "It's not a very nice cellar. Dampish."

Remus smiled. "I'm sure I've seen worse, believe me."

"Where have you been going, Moony?" Sirius asked, not because it was prudent–it made Remus' face shut like a door, bang!–but because up until six months ago he wouldn't have thought he could not know. On the full moons, Remus was with him. That was how it had been.

"Ministry," Remus said shortly. "But they lost me another job last month with their damned 72-hour observation period. I can't afford that. I have a shift tomorrow night."

Sirius wished he'd asked before. It made him angry: did Remus really think he had so little right to ask for help? "It may be a cellar, but it's better than a damned cage. You don't need to ask, just come. I–" He paused, then continued, "There's a door at the top and bottom of the cellar steps."

Remus' expression softened slightly. "I'll put up protections, of course."

"You do that." Sirius headed downstairs. "Bring Harry down, he needs to eat something repulsive and nutritious."

Sirius couldn't leave the baby. It was a simple fact. But he didn't sleep well either, not even as Padfoot curled under Harry's feet. Remus insisted that he had outgrown the need for companionship during the change; Sirius suspected that he had just become resigned. Certainly the elaborate protections and silencing spells that Remus put up seemed… excessive, if the change were easier.He wondered if the wolf knew Padfoot was here, and if it were angry when he ignored its call.

Harry was taking all the pots and pans off the shelf again, and Sirius had just filled one with water for him to splash about in when Remus came upstairs. Remus was pale and still shivering as he sank down onto a kitchen chair."You locked me out," Sirius said, setting the plate of eggs and bacon that he'd just tidied away back on the table. "Don't do that again." He gave Harry some spoons to wash.

Remus blinked slowly. "Safer that way."

"I worry. If you were hurt, I couldn't help you." He looked at Remus. "Are you hurt?"

"It'll heal."

"Show me. I have an excellent potions cupboard, stocked by Poppy Pomfrey herself."

Remus paused and then tugged his shirt up, pulling his left arm and head out before easing it down his right arm.

"Merlin, that looks painful." Remus' shoulder was swollen and mottled with green and black bruises. It was enough to distract Sirius from the still-unhealed marks from previous changes. "Tried to break down my door, did you?" He brushed his fingers over the bruises tentatively, and Remus flinched, breath hissing between his teeth. "Shoulder dislocated?"

"I don't think so." Remus reached up across his chest, his face tight with pain, and touched his left shoulder. "No."

"Right." Sirius kept his potions in the larder where it was cool and dark and, most importantly, easy to access. He brought out a pot of Good for What Ails You and coated the bruised skin thickly. The relief on Remus' face made him smile.

"That's much better."

Sirius covered the salve with gauze, wrapping it tightly around Remus' shoulder. "It was a bad change, wasn't it?"

"Well, you know. Cellars." Remus tried raising his arm. "Thanks."

"Eat your breakfast."

Remus looked down at his plate. "I'd love a fag right now."

"I'm glad you stopped. Filthy habit. Especially around Harry."

Remus snorted. "Expensive habit." He took a bite of egg, awkward with the fork in his left hand.

"I hated the way you–" and Sirius stopped his mouth, literally, with his hand, to keep the word 'tasted' in. Remus flushed, but kept his eyes on his plate and kept eating. A feeling like vertigo washed over Sirius, sweeping away the carefully maintained illusion that he and Remus were good friends really and not whatever-the-fuck they had been: lovers, enemies, betrayer, betrayed.

Sirius put his potions away, pausing a moment out of Remus' line of sight, thinking of the last time he saw Remus badly hurt, and it wasn't his hands with healing potions then, it was his hands red with blood. Breathe in, breathe out, be a polite but distant stranger because that's all you have the right to be.

He came out to find a very damp and mostly naked Harry sitting on an increasingly damp and halfway naked werewolf, eating bacon, and playing some game involving toes and a lot of wiggling and squealing.

"Go put on some music, Pads. I brought Harry some new records." Remus wasn't looking at him, being a bit more concerned with Harry's attempt to dive off his lap.

The stereo Remus had brought was the same one that he had smuggled into the dormitory first year. Many of the records were the same as well, like old familiar friends, the foreign sounds of American blues and salsa and rock. To this eclectic mix were now added Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Lead Belly (who sang very good children's songs, Sirius admitted, for a murderer. What did he know? Remus said he needed to broaden his horizons).

"You spoil him, you know."

Remus tugged his shirt on again and stood, putting his dish in the sink. "Cruel twist of fate, isn't it? You thought you could be the indulgent godfather, teaching him how to get up to no good, and you wound up being the enforcer of bedtime and baths."

"Don't forget swede and mushy peas."

"Unnatural for a child to eat that stuff. D'you feel like you've come down in the world, from eligible bachelor to child-minder?" Remus fished a stack of albums out of a box and handed them to Sirius. Sirius tried to place his words: sympathetic? bitter? He looked at Remus, folding himself painfully onto the floor to play with Harry, and thought: longing.

"You know why Jamie asked me to be godfather, don't you?" he asked abruptly, and from the surprise that flashed across Remus' face he knew that he did not.

"I wasn't meaning to sound jealous, Pads." Remus looked embarrassed now. "I know how close you two were."

"Jamie said, it's got to be Sirius because he's practically my brother. Legally, a godfather is the same as a blood relative, and there was no way Lily or James would've wanted Harry to go to Lily's social-climber sister. It was all a bit of a lark, until I was digging down through the rubble to find Harry." He looked down at Harry, at the scar on Harry's forehead. "If I could have chosen my family, I would have chosen his. James'."

Remus looked up. "I'm sorry, Pads."

"What I want you to understand is that I'm still choosing my family. Harry's family. I want you to be part of this family. And this house–this is your home, too. I mean–it must feel like home anyway, full of your parents' furniture and things."

Remus sighed and raised one knee to make a tunnel for a train of brightly coloured cars. "You do know I'm not supposed to be here, don't you? Aside from being Dumbledore's messenger."

Sirius sank down on the sofa, legs out straight. "Any word from the old man? Seeing as you're here." Sirius wondered how much of the truth Remus knew. "Dumbledore thinks Voldemort made a Horcrux. Several Horcruxes."

"Several what?" Ah.

"That's what those books were about. Very dark magic. And incidentally stolen from my grandmother's library, I'm sure Dumbledore found the irony amusing." Sirius picked up a tiny Lego car and rolled it carefully down his leg. "A Horcrux is an object that contains a piece of a soul. There's a fairly simple ritual involved in making one, but the act that seals the spell is murder. That's what fragments the soul."

Remus bit his lip, thinking. "If Voldemort's soul is… divided, each piece would have to be killed for him to die?"

"Basically." Harry had both fists full of little cars. He staggered upright and wobbled over to line them up carefully on Sirius' crotch, and then pushed them down, one by one.

"Even if his body is killed, his soul survives?"

"Immortality at any price."

Remus handed the cars back to Harry. "So we're on a scavenger hunt, trying to track down all the pieces of Voldemort's soul? Bloody impossible. For every piece we destroy, he can just replace it with two. Or three."

"In all that I've read, no one's ever dared make more than one. A soul isn't infinitely divisible. It's a trauma. Too much and you risk losing your humanity. A Horcrux has to be guarded carefully."

"So we assume that Voldemort has made only a handful of Horcruxes. We assume that he made them since discovering he was a wizard–his school days–and we assume that the Horcruxes are kept in safe locations. Places Voldemort has been." Remus shook his head. "Good luck to Dumbledore, then. It's not like Voldemort's drawn a map, X-marks-the-spot, that we have to follow. It's worse than a needle in a haystack."

Sirius pulled his knees up to his chin, dislodging several little cars and men. "Remus," he said, ambushed by a brilliant idea that made perfect and glorious sense, "we could make a map." The idea floated fully formed in front of Sirius' eyes. He could almost taste how it was done, the kinds of spells that would form it, although where that knowledge came from he had no idea. Sometimes he suspected that there was a genius trapped somewhere in his head, signalling with flags.

Harry protested at the interruption of his game, and Remus was busy for a few minutes getting him resettled by making a racetrack inside the Lego box. Harry fell to it with encouragement in making racecar noises, and Remus looked up. His eyebrows were drawn down slightly, an unconscious sign that he was thinking hard. "A Marauder's Map?"

"Yes. Well, no, but yes, we've done it before, it'd be almost the same. Only instead of showing everyone's names, that would get too crowded, all we need is Voldemort. We get the map to show Voldemort's soul. All of it. Wherever it may be." Sirius drummed his fingers on his knees.

"X-marks-Voldemort? It would be difficult. It might be dangerous. If we had something of Voldemort's it would be easier, I can ask Dumbledore. But not impossible." Remus narrowed his eyes further.

Sirius leapt up and paced the room, the Padfoot-like rhythm of it both soothing and stimulating. "We have one Horcrux, what more do we need?"

"You're ahead of yourself, we don't have a Horcrux yet, and that's the problem."

Sirius felt the blood drain from his face, collecting in his legs he supposed, because they suddenly grew heavy and slow. "I forgot you don't know. And I shouldn't tell you, Dumbledore made me…." He looked at Remus' face and cursed Dumbledore silently. He squatted down and faced Remus, who was looking alarmed. "Voldemort made a Horcrux when he killed James and Lily. Sort of… an accidental one."

"The house was destroyed. I sifted through the ashes myself. If he made a Horcrux, it burned."

"Don't be dense. It doesn't suit you." Sirius put out his hands. "Come here, Harry, sit on my knee." He pulled Harry up and wrapped his arms around him, lowering his face to take in the little-boy smell of sun and dirt and grass and sweat. He looked up through the hair that fell over his eyes and saw Remus' look of sheer horror. "This changes nothing. You didn't know. Now you know. But he's the same kid as he was five minutes ago."

"Is he–is it even Harry in there?"

"Dumbledore says so. The Horcrux is just a piece of Tom, along for the ride." Sirius raised his head and gave Remus a dangerous look. "Deal with it. Werewolf."

Remus flinched. "I need to go," he said slowly. "Not because of–of this, but I have work, and… and I'm not saying the right things. I'll be back. When I can. The map. We can do the map. And the spell, I'm sure, with enough time…. We'll need to undo the spell. Reverse it. Otherwise."

Sirius smiled without amusement. "I've had the lecture from Dumbledore on how to destroy a Horcrux. I could… I could if I had to. I would like another option." In the company I keep, he thought, why do I feel like the most monstrous one? He looked at Remus Lupin, werewolf, and hugged Harry, Voldemort's stolen Horcrux. Unfortunately, he couldn't blame the evil within himself on any kind of possession. And that meant that he himself, was….

"Gods, yes," Remus breathed. "We can do it. You'll work on it, we'll get it done." He smiled. "Shall I put Harry down for his nap? He looks half asleep."

Sirius carried Harry upstairs but left the details, books and songs and back-patting and all that, up to Remus. Remus was good with Harry.

He hoped Tom Riddle appreciated it.

Chapter 4: The Mapmakers (Summer 1983)
And I'm giving you a longing look
Everyday, everyday, everyday I write the book

(Everyday I Write the Book by Elvis Costello)

Remus frowned wearily at Sirius over the large pile of grimoires on the kitchen table. Sirius transfigured the last of the peanuts into fireflies and watched them zing around the room. "Sirius," he said finally, in a way that implied his grasp on the spoken language had grown far too tenuous, and the words had to be dredged up from the depths like coelacanths. "Grow. Up.""You're no fun anymore, Moony. Time was you'd have jumped at a chance to bunk off this boring job and raise some hell." Sirius ignored the frantic voice at the back of his mind that warned of Old and Bad Habits Not to Be Fallen Into Again and yanked one of the books towards him, flipping it open at random. "Here's a spell for enchanting knickers–cor, that's really perverse–and another for summoning socks. What idiot thinks up these things?"

"I'm sure I don't know," Remus snapped. "Dumbledore said he thought these books would help. There's got to be something in here somewhere dealing with Horcruxes. Or map-making. Or the time problem. Pads! What are you doing?"

Sirius dropped flat on the floor, sticking a grimoire under his head with his eyes squeezed tightly shut and his fingers in his ears. His boots beat arhythmically on the floor, and occasionally his lips moved, forming tantalisingly insignificant words like 'beans' and 'pundit.' Remus had worked his way grimly through two more volumes, one of which made him sneeze continually as he flipped its pages, before Sirius sat up and crawled over to where Remus sat.

"We're not supposed to find a specific spell," he said hoarsely, his eyes glowing with a wicked fire. He felt ready for a million pranks. "Dumbledore wants us to discover how to form the spells. Look!" He poked his finger at the cracking spines of the books. "Margery Butterworth's Grimoire of Fun, 1001 Clever Summonings I Have Used by Blatheus Parsnip, and this is the big tip-off, Sex Spells for Libidinous Lovers: A Memoir. There's nothing about Horcruxes or maps in any of these. I'm that sure of it. But there's a technique behind all this–that's what we're looking for."

Remus had grown still, the irritation frozen on his face melting. "That's even worse," he murmured. "No-one writes about how they came up with a good spell. Takes the mystery away."

"We made up all kinds of hexes in school."

"But we were never taught a method. We tried a hundred, a thousand variations before we figured even simple things out. My granddad used to complain about the new Ministry educational reforms, that they cut the balls off magic." Remus shrugged at Sirius' wince. "We were taught what we needed to pass the tests."

Sirius patted Stuart Atram's Just Like Magic! where it lay on the floor. "Have a lie-down on this–it really cleans out your brain." He pulled himself up on the table. "I'm going to make a few notes."

Sirius woke to Harry's attempts to climb in his lap, which was already occupied by several heavy volumes that wobbled precariously. Sunlight streamed through the kitchen windows; a glance at the clock showed that it was half past seven. Sirius dropped the books on the floor and pulled Harry up onto his knee.

"Morning, Harry. You hungry?" Sirius' own stomach was growling, and he told it firmly to stop.

Harry pointed to the cupboard. "Wee-bis and milk, Pads."

Sirius deftly slid Harry onto the chair and himself out from under. He nearly fell on top of Remus, who was curled up half under the table, with his head on the book of cleaning spells. Sirius wondered if Madam Pince checked to see if books had been drooled on.

Sirius filled the teakettle, crumbled a Weetabix into a bowl of milk for Harry, and checked the icebox for other edibles. There was a bit of cracking cheese, three slices of bread, and half a dozen eggs. Sirius wantonly broke all the eggs into a bowl with the cheese and told himself that Remus needed the protein. That he'd go shopping later. That after a hard night he deserved a good omelette. Remus stirred, stretching and nearly bringing a chair down on his head.

"Uncle Moony!" Harry sang out, "Morning, Uncle Moony! Onna floor!"

Remus smiled, looking terribly tired, and stood up in stiff increments. "Morning, Harry, Pads." He grabbed a pen and some paper from the table and started to write.

Remus wrote and slept, alternately, all day, oblivious to anything except the thoughts building up in his head. Sirius remembered James teasing Remus about being possessed by an idea–and the bizarre rituals of exorcism that they had devised. But great things had come of Remus' fits. The Marauder's Map. The Great Hogwarts Panty Raid of 1977.

Remus even took a pen and paper down into the cellar with him before moonrise–for what? Sirius wondered, hoping that he wouldn't have to extract the pen from any part of Remus' anatomy the next morning.

He waited at the top of the stairs for the click of the locks opening, and then he was down opening the door, and half-carrying Remus up out of the darkness. It was easier, he found, to simply ignore Remus' protests and drag him up to the bedroom and the bed (well, mattress, really, but it was softer than the floor). Stretched out, a pillow under his head and tucked into the warmth, Remus generally surrendered without protest, even sleeping through Sirius' care of his various injuries.

This time, however, Remus forced his eyes open. "Paper," he whispered. Sirius winced. Remus must have been howling all night. Or screaming particularly hard. Lycanthropy was hell on the voice. He fished a roll of parchment and a pen out of the clobber on top of his chest of drawers and handed it to Remus without comment. He checked Remus for injuries, tending those he found, and watched with amused horror as Remus attempted to control the parchment and pen with hands as useless as a newborn's.

"I could take notes for you," he suggested, trying to sound as if he didn't care one way or another.

Remus lay back and shut his eyes, letting Sirius settle into a good note-taking position. Sirius wished he were better at Legilimency. Anything so as not to have to listen to Remus speak.

"Spell or natural process? Priori incantatum check on Voldemort? Muggle-raised, magical influences easily charted–Hogwarts. What would a Horcrux spell look like? Dark magic, blood magic, incantation? Murder ritual or any? What does a soul look like? If you destroy a Horcrux, is that part of the soul gone forever, or does it boomerang back to the owner? Do Horcruxes need to be renewed or are they static?"

Remus continued rambling disjointedly until he fell into sleep. Sirius tucked him in tightly and allowed himself to stroke Remus' hair, telling himself that it was to keep the tangled curls off his face. Poverty did not agree with Remus. He was too thin, too hungry, too tired all the time. He recovered from the change much more slowly than he had at school.

Sirius wished that he had learnt more from Pomfrey and Slughorn about their arts. He had never considered his education to be a practical thing, more of a necessary hurdle to be completed before walking into the kind of future guaranteed to a Black (even a black-sheep kind of Black). But what good were four NEWTs if you still couldn't out-think Voldemort, or even keep someone you loved safe and well?

Sirius liked simple solutions that involved satisfying physical activity. He strapped Harry into the Harry-seat on the rattling three-speed that Remus had brought back to life for him and pedalled the four mostly-uphill kilometres into town.

He'd swapped his labour for any useful junk that turned up when he cleared out the landlord's back shed and helped convert it into a greenhouse. Most of the clobber just needed a little magic touch to turn it into something saleable. So Sirius' first stop was the antiques-cum-junk shop, hoping he'd come into a little money. Well. Actually he hoped against hope that he'd come into a lot of money.

He had fantasies about letting Borgin and Burkes auction off his parents' house and all their horrible artefacts. About filling a vault with gold and rolling in it. About tables that resembled the Hogwarts Halloween feast, and eating until his stomach protested. About pumpkin soup, and meat pasties, and roast beef, and the rice pilaf with the nuts and green onions, and about crisp steamed broccoli and carrots in cream sauce.

Coming out of the antiques shop, he lowered his sights slightly but there was still a bit of bounce in his step as he entered the grocery.

He paid off his credit, thanks to the sale of a few old iron farm implements that had restored nicely if Sirius did say so himself, and quickly amassed enough food to fill two carrier bags. At the counter he picked up a Chupa Chups for Harry, whose eyes went big and mouth opened automatically, not satisfied until the wrapper was off and the lolly in.

He wheeled for home with the warm glow of self-satisfaction, one bag hanging off each end of the handlebars. Harry, behind him, left sticky handprints down the back of his shirt.

In the kitchen, he chopped his stew ingredients and set the pot on the gas ring, while Harry busied himself constructing little houses for his Lego men on the floor.

The stew was cooked and the table erratically set when Remus stumbled downstairs, hair wildly askew and dressed in Sirius' jeans and t-shirt, which hung off him. He had a lean and hungry look, Sirius thought, and ladled out the stew, putting the best bits of meat in Remus'.

Remus ate three bowlfuls in the time it took Harry to finish his bit of meat and potato. He leaned back in his chair, aiming a sharp look at Sirius. "I thought your cupboard was bare, Mother Hubbard."

"I went to town while you were sleeping." Sirius sensed the Evils of Credit lecture coming and continued, "I sold off some antiques. More or less."

Remus frowned. "It's not an ethical use of magic, Pads."

"Hang ethics," Sirius said violently. His eyes flashed, and he set his spoon down deliberately.

"There is right," Remus said, speaking slowly with his eyes on Sirius, "and there is wrong. The ends never justify the means. Never, Pads. Or else you're no different than Voldemort."

"So I should sit back and watch you starve yourself?"

Remus looked shocked. "I'm not going hungry, Pads."

"Then you must be slimming, ever the slave to fashion, you are." Sirius shoved away from the table, swept the dishes into the sink, wiped Harry off with a damp tea towel and set him on the floor with a bit of buttered toast, and started the washing-up, forcing his hands to be gentle. He'd sold off all but two place settings and couldn't afford to smash dishes.

One thing about having a child around, it allowed Sirius to weasel out of arguments. He hated arguing.

His parents had not so much argued as waged magical war on each other, angry words and hexes and furniture and curses flying. They had never managed to kill each other (he felt certain his mother regretted that his father had succumbed to something as common as his heart and deprived her of her final victory over him), but the poisonous residue (literally, in many cases) of their disagreements permeated the air and walls of the Black townhouse. Regulus had thrived on the challenge of it all, at least after he stopped hiding behind Sirius and the thin protection of the wand Sirius had gotten from Uncle Alphard. Sirius… well, the best he could say was that he had survived.

The relief he felt when he was Sorted into Gryffindor had been like the dawn. He hadn't known what to do in the light, of course–still didn't, really. In school he had covered his ignorance and terror with feigned indifference and a certain amount of bullying.

He had been so intent on escaping his parents' shadow that he never noticed that he himself had grown some of their worst qualities.

The capacity for murderous rage for one.

A certain blindness to matters of right and wrong, for another.

He set aside his loathing of conflict, looked over his shoulder, and asked Remus with a casualness he did not feel, "Why didn't you ever try to stop me in school? Where were your ethics then?"

Remus looked surprised; not as if taken by surprise, but as if he had been thinking the exact same thing. "My ethics were not fine-tuned back then," he said dryly.

"But you were the best of our bad lot. Prefect."

"I was crap at that and you know it. I was afraid," he said, before Sirius could interrupt. "I was afraid that I would lose the best friends I'd ever known. If I'd been the equal of any of you, I might have been braver, but I wasn't good at sports, or popular, or good-looking, or particularly clever. I still wonder whether we'd have become friends if not for the accident of geography that put us in the same room of the same House."

"We knew when you thought something was wrong," Sirius said, concentrating on getting the dishes rinsed and dried. "At least, I always did. You were our moral compass. Peter had that twisted creativity to be tamed, James needed to be taken down a peg or two. I needed–everything, really, a complete overhaul. But you reeled us in with just a word, or a look. You could," he amended. "When you tried, you could."

"I had fun," Remus said softly.

"Well," Sirius said, stacking the dishes and moving them to the shelf, "you're a parent now. It's time you learned. It's all good fun until somebody gets an eye put out."

Chapter 5: The Map (Summer 1983)The fox
there's one of me til suddenly there's two of me
when two is what you see of me, gadzooks! three of me!
That's a proper score of me, three of us is a corps of me
and we can tell you?whoops!– four of me
There's one of me, two of me, three of me, four of me, five six seven
sorry, no more of me.

("Outfox the Fox" by Danny Kaye)

Remus and Dumbledore apparated into the living room, and Sirius grinned, letting his old surety flood back. Just for a little while, he bargained with himself. This was a test. He was excellent at tests.

He had carried the kitchen table into the centre of the front room, which had been spit-cleaned from floor to ceiling. Dumbledore would see him taking damned good care of Harry as well as being a brilliant wizard. Never mind that Dumbledore's blue eyes took it all in and then came to rest on him in that terribly amused knowing way. He would twist himself into a mental pretzel trying to ever figure out Dumbledore's motivations for anything; so he didn't even bother trying.

Instead, he brought Harry forward (there was no helping the hair, but Sirius thought he looked decent in his tiny blue jeans and green shirt, and there was no way anyone could tell that only ten minutes before Harry had actually been wearing his very best outfit, before the mud incident). Harry clung to Sirius' leg as Sirius explained to Dumbledore what they were going to do. Remus hung back, feigning interest in the map on the table.

The map covered the entire tabletop, the parchment curling down over the sides. Sirius had drawn the world more-or-less: Britain was disproportionately large, larger than India, but the map's crudeness was sufficient. All that remained was to breathe life into it. So to speak.

He and Remus had modified the spells that had gone into the Marauders' Map, and the process of attuning the map to Voldemort's soul Sirius had performed that morning with Harry, using a clever modification of one of Stuart Atram's spells for enchanting tablecloths to match the seasons and holidays (Remus had figured that one out; that was the reason all the curtains were a subtle, summery shade of blue today). All they needed now were some hints, some pieces of Tom Riddle's history.

Dumbledore took a cloth drawstring bag from the folds of his robes and pressed it into Sirius' hand. Inside was a vial containing a single hair, a Charms textbook, and a crumbling yellowed parchment. The regular copperplate script on the parchment read, "I will not tell lies," one hundred times.

Dumbledore smiled and handed Harry a paper Honeyduke's sack from the same hidden pocket. "I discovered that Mr Riddle only served detention once, Sirius. Exemplary."

Sirius set the bag in the centre of the map, somewhere off the coast of Normandy. "Once he figured out what he needed to do to get what he wanted from Hogwarts, I'm sure he didn't make any more missteps."

"A pity you never discovered what you wanted from Hogwarts," Dumbledore murmured, grasping the end of an Animal Cracker. Harry pulled it sharply, and a flock of miniature flamingos soared out and fluttered around the room, trailing pink smoke as they dissolved. "They go quite well with your hair," Dumbledore smiled, and Remus coughed back a snort of laughter. "Yes, Harry? Ah, I know this one. 'How do you know there's a Crumple-horned Snorkack in your laundry basket?'"

Sirius loftily ignored them all. He took out his wand, and Remus drifted over without a word between them, standing shoulder to shoulder with him as they began constructing the spell. Sirius couldn't forget that, despite appearances, Dumbledore was watching keenly, but the spell-casting was an intoxicant and a joy. Sirius found himself swept up in the matrix of magic as it was caught, tamed, and forged into a tool.

art by almost-clara
"Mapmakers" by almost_clara (comment on the art here)

Remus shook out the hair. It glowed red on the parchment for a moment before sinking in. The book was next. Its pages flapped wildly in distress, the name on the flyleaf twisting as if to crawl away. Remus poked it with his wand and repeated the spell, and it too dissolved, sullenly, into the map. Remus let out a sharp breath and stepped back.

Sirius unrolled the parchment. They had Voldemort's body and his mind represented. Now they were adding his voice–giving a voice, Sirius thought, to what should lay dormant and undisturbed. He held his wand to the words and felt his hair rise (even further, if possible) as a swirl of malice filled the air.

The neat script rearranged itself. Hello, boy, it read, I know all about you.

"So do I," Sirius said shortly. He started incorporating the parchment from the upper left-hand corner.

You're really quite good at what you do. Very thorough. Do you ever feel as if you're on the wrong side, boy? Images assailed Sirius' mind. He saw himself, face distorted with fury, saw his mouth move in a string of spells to disarm, to bind, to hurt. Sirius gritted his teeth and concentrated on the parchment. The words forming there were the colour of dried blood, in a new and spiky hand.

God, you're making a mistake, talk to me, Sirius, ow fuck, you're scaring me, let me up and we'll talk, you're going to kill me–

Sirius narrowed his eyes. Only a tiny sliver of parchment remained. The copperplate script floated up greyly. Black as you were born, boy. Sirius saw the blood fly up, saw himself wiping it from his eyes, saw himself raising his wand once again. Once you've fallen that far, how can you hope to rise?

A lightness began to spread in Sirius' heart. "I'll teach you, you bastard," he said, and felt his mouth stretch in a mad smile. "In you go." The parchment twisted and fought, but he forced the last bit of it in. Blue flames danced across the map, traced the rough outlines of the world. There was a white flash.

Then the hand on the clock he'd drawn at the top began to move.

Sirius was shaking and breathing as if he'd been running for his life. Remus spoke smoothly, taking over now.

He pointed with his wand at the tiny tag labelled "Tom Riddle" that floated vaguely Scotland-ish. "We'll start at Hogwarts. First year." The clock hand turned; the tag travelled back and forth each school break. On one trip away from the school, the tag shimmered and turned red. Remus raised his wand to stop the clock and glanced at Dumbledore.

Dumbledore waved absently with one hand. "Tom's first murders," he said, his mouth thinning. "He stole his grandfather's ring, let us see what happens." Remus restarted the clock. The tag moved around restlessly, and then flared green. A second, smaller tag, red and marked "Tom Riddle" in miniscule letters, appeared. When the larger tag returned to Hogwarts, the smaller stayed behind. A second or two later, another small red tag appeared at Hogwarts.

"Two," Sirius breathed. "He made two Horcruxes, when he was sixteen?"

"Tom was an exceptional student," Dumbledore murmured. "He'd have made three if he hadn't had the foreknowledge to keep the power from his father's death for later. I wonder where the second Horcrux went."

Sirius looked up. "You know where the first is, then?"

Dumbledore patted his pockets. "Dear. I'd meant to bring it along, but I must have left it lying about somewhere." He raised an eyebrow at Remus and Sirius' expressions. "It is no longer a Horcrux," he said in a voice that brooked no questions. Remus frowned, but returned to the map.

"Ah. He's leaving school here, and moving down to London."

"Borgin and Burkes," Dumbledore agreed. "I believe he travelled a good deal on his job."

They watched the next thirty-five years in near silence. After the first four Horcruxes were made the original Tom Riddle tag was a pale, wispy thing, blood red and barely legible. "Ha!" Dumbledore said, and sounded almost triumphant. "I thought Tom did not look well. He's very nearly lost his soul entirely. Now he is forced to recruit others to help him eat his own death."

"How many did he make?" Remus asked.

"Our esteemed Professor Slughorn is convinced that Tom wanted a seven-part soul. We shall see…."

The tag began pulling itself back together. It was a slow process, and the letters remained watery and weak. One more Horcrux appeared, the smallest so far, and yet it diminished Tom's tag more than any other had. The clock spun to 1980, and at Dumbledore's curt order, Remus slowed it down.

"We learned that Voldemort was making Horcruxes from a Death Eater who wanted to turn to our side. He planned on bringing me one. Ah, there it goes." They watched as one of the Horcruxes moved slowly to London. "Foolish, foolish boy. Voldemort was warned–ah, there he entrusts one to Lucius Malfoy. He tried to move that one back to England–it didn't work, apparently, he seems to have left it in… would that be Albania, Sirius?"

Sirius flushed a trifle guiltily. "Might be."

"I blame myself for never including geomancy in the curriculum." He leaned forward. "Now he is armed with a prophecy of a wizard-child born with powers that rival his and threaten him. He goes to Godric's Hollow that night and–there!" Dumbledore's nose nearly scraped the parchment. Tom Riddle's tag was nothing more than a shadow fleeing. And a sixth Horcrux appeared for a few seconds before floating to the air above the map, where it hovered like a distressed Snitch.

Dumbledore glanced down at Harry, sitting in a ring of rejected Every Flavour Beans. As Dumbledore watched, he popped another in his mouth, sucked briefly, and then spat, wiping his mouth on his shirt. "I do hope Tom does not endeavour to hide his Horcruxes under Fidelius. That would make things… difficult."

Sirius kept his eyes to the map and not Harry's appalling manners (I never taught him to spit, he thought resentfully, why does he have to learn now?). As the clock crawled to the present day, one Horcrux winked out of existence. The one entrusted to Malfoy moved to London. Dumbledore leaned back with a sigh of satisfaction.

"Brilliant work, if I say so myself. The Order will be very interested to see this. Very." He tapped the tiny ragged ghost of Tom Riddle's tag. "You do realize that this shows Voldemort's present position. Dreadful lack of imagination–he seems to be in his grandfather's house." He rolled up the map. "I'll take this with me, if I may."

Sirius looked up and not even the pleasant warmth of praise stopped the words. "You have to destroy that. Sir. You can't keep that map around. Hang it on the wall or anything."

"No," Dumbledore said regretfully, "that wouldn't do at all. It's a bit like a portrait, after all. Who knows when Tom might look back at us? I'll have Moody take care of it," he added. "He needs experience with Voldemort's work. I needn't tell you where we will be striking next."

Where? Sirius thought resentfully, as Remus nodded and handed Dumbledore a bit of parcel twine to tie the map up. He picked Harry up. Multi-coloured sugary trails ran down Harry's face and across the front of his shirt. His hands–Sirius sighed as small sticky fingers began playing with his hair. Harry found the new colour fascinating. He doubted Harry could do any worse to it, but still.

Dumbledore was making packing-up-and-going motions, and Remus was waffling. Sirius directed a charming smile at the Headmaster. "You're not staying for dinner with us, then?" He hadn't a clue what was for dinner, or whether he even had any food.

Dumbledore matched Sirius' charm and raised him a wide dotty grin, which probably meant that he read all of Sirius' subtexts down to sexual frustration. "Regretfully, no. Staff meeting. I'll be sending you some books shortly. I want you to figure out how to make a Horcrux. Ah!" Dumbledore set down the map and pulled a Marks and Spencer carrier bag from one sleeve. "I would have been quite upset with myself for forgetting. You boys deserve a bit of a celebration."

He took out a dusty bottle of wine, a cheese log, and a tin of crackers. He looked at Sirius steadily, his hands twisting the bag. "How are you managing, Sirius, with Harry?" The bag suddenly became a Viking hat with horns. Harry took it delightedly, set it on his head, and gored Sirius in the ear.

"We're fine. Really." Sirius smiled. "Tom will affect him no matter what I do or do not do. He needs proper magical education, and soon. He won't misuse it. He'll know right from wrong. He'll know love, and family." Sirius floundered under Dumbledore's gaze.

"And compassion, and hope, and faith," Remus added, a trifle defiantly. Sirius wondered if it was a quote from a song: it sounded like it.

"Remus needs to be able to teach him Occlumency," Sirius said, and Remus looked as if he'd bitten into a wasabi Bean.

Dumbledore regarded him for a moment. "I've been wrong about many things," he said finally. "I'm sure it comes of being a Cannons fan. I trust your judgment. Remus is getting the standard training for Order members. I can recommend a few books that might be useful to you as well."

"It was never my forte." Harry was kicking to get down. Sirius released him, and Remus lured him into the kitchen with the promise of milk. The water ran for a good while. Sirius suspected much soap was being employed. "Professor Vespa kicked me out of the seventh-year seminar for, ah, projection. She felt the less I knew, the better."

"We don't know," Dumbledore said, examining a Lego block as if he'd never seen the like, "how to remove a Horcrux without damaging the object that it's in."

"Well," Sirius said, keeping his voice low, "did you think that Remus and I would be able to do that so soon?" He pointed to the map.

Dumbledore looked abashed. "I was not sure it was even possible."

"Then let us work on the Horcrux problem. We have a vested interest in resolution. And if, at the end, we still don't know how to do it–" He shrugged, trying to look calm and nonchalant. "I'll take care of it myself. I owe that much to James and Lily."

"What about James and Lily?" Remus looked decidedly wet as he emerged from the kitchen, but Harry shone with cleanliness. He walked up to Dumbledore and grabbed his Lego back.

"They'd be proud of what you are doing," Dumbledore said. He set his hat on his head (Sirius blinked: it seemed to have sprouted horns that matched Harry's Viking hat) and took up the map. "I'll be going then. Have a pleasant evening." He Apparated out with a soft pop of air.

Sirius summoned two cups from the kitchen and opened the wine with a basic decorking spell. "The best of the Hogwarts cellars is very good indeed. Wine, Mr Moony?"

"Why, thank you, Mr Padfoot. And may I congratulate you on surviving the Headmaster?"

"You may, but just you wait until this bottle of excellent wine is out of my hands."

Remus brought Harry's milk carefully from the kitchen. "Now, Harry, you have to say, 'Cheers'. Can you say that, and hold your glass up?"

Harry stood up precariously on Remus' knees. "Tees," he said, straight faced, but grinned as Sirius and Remus tapped their glasses against his cup. "Tees," he said again, revelling in his power. "Tees!"

"Now we drink it, Harry," Sirius said earnestly. "Watch Uncle Moony." Remus raised his glass and took a long sip. Sirius followed suit, and Harry copied him.

Sirius then decided that it was time to teach Harry how to propose a toast, and they toasted Remus, Dumbledore, Padfoot, the Lego car, the Lego driver, Hogwarts, Harry's hair, Harry's toes, Harry's moustache (with much giggling), Sirius' hair, and finally Harry's hat, at which point the milk ran out.

Sirius pulled the table back into the kitchen, set Harry on his chair, and arranged the cheese and crackers on a tray. Harry fell to with the glee of discovering novel food. Remus sat down next to him, smiling in a slightly unfocussed way. Sirius was starting to feel that dangerous delusion of invulnerability, of being at the top of the world. At least, the world did seem to be spinning beneath him. Remus reached over Harry to snag a few crackers.

"Relax and enjoy yourself," Remus said, "you're looking Petrified."

Which, of course, reminded Sirius of all the lewd comments he'd ever heard about mandrakes and their overactive libidos. To distract himself in the worst way possible, Sirius sipped at his wine.

"We're bloody geniuses, aren't we?"

Remus swallowed. "We showed Dumbledore. Didn't think we could do it. He has a low opinion of you," he added, around another cracker, and shook his head a little too hard. "I don't know why."

"By which you mean, of all my transgressions, which was it that pushed me out of his favour?"

Remus refilled his glass. "If you can say transgressions, you're not drunk enough." Sirius took the bottle from him and returned the favour. "He wants more control over Harry."

"He doesn't love Harry. You love Harry. I love Harry."

Harry looked up. "Love Pads. Love Uncle Moony. Love Harry."

"Love Tom?"

Harry experimented with a cracker as a flying disc. "Love Tom."

"Good boy." Sirius retrieved the cracker and ate it absently. "Would have liked to know there was a damned prophecy."

"Would you have turned down the godfather role, then?"

"Gods, no." Sirius shook his head and stopped as he realized that was a very bad thing to do.

"James must have known." Sirius raised his eyebrows in challenge, and Remus shrugged. "Dumbledore wouldn't have kept that from him. James must have known why Voldemort went after him.

The thought that James knew and kept that knowledge from him was like a loose tooth that Sirius couldn't help niggling.

Remus refilled their glasses. Sirius sipped slowly.

"You're trying to get me drunk, aren't you?"

Remus leaned his chair back on two legs, rocking slightly, but whether on purpose or because he couldn't balance, Sirius wasn't sure. "Isn't it nice? Remember the first time we all got drunk together? You raided your dad's wine cellar and we went off you your uncle's summerhouse for a weekend of debauchery? We must have drunk hundreds of galleons worth." Remus shook his head, smiling at the memory.

"Oh, yes," Sirius said. "Summer of 1975. I was still fourteen. It was Peter's fifteenth birthday and he said, 'All I want is to get drunk.' So Sirius Black, having to do everything in the way that aggravates the most number of people, steals the family wine, the family portkeys, and blackens the family honour."

"I'm very glad my parents never found out. I remember I threw up on the train all the way from Cornwall. It was rotten of you to only give Pete the hangover potion."

Sirius grinned. "It was his birthday. Tell me you were impressed, though. I was very concerned, at the time, with impressing my friends. And acting like, oh, it was nothing at all, of course."

Remus saluted him with his half-empty glass. "It was very impressive. The Japanese lanterns were a lovely touch."

"Thank you." Sirius drained his glass and looked at it, considering. "For that stunt, my father hexed me black and blue and locked me in the cellar for the rest of summer vac."

The legs of Remus' chair hit the floor. "Truly?"

"Spending your birthday in a pitch-black cellar does tend to stick in the mind. Reg thought it was funny." Sirius spun a cracker like a top. "Dumbledore probably wondered why detention never cured me. It just wasn't up to the standard I was used to. It was never enough."

"No one could ever do enough to justify that."

Sirius had reached the point where, even without drinking, his drunkenness grew exponentially. "It was me, I fucked up. It didn't mean anything, except for Reg trying to get Slytherins to shut me in closets for the next year. Then Uncle Alphard broke his fool neck, I got my majority and my own place, Regulus was killed, and my father dropped dead. Snitch in the hand, game over."

"You make it easy to forget," Remus said slowly, "how hard the war has been on you. But the war has been harder on you than on anyone else I know. The Lupins have been lucky."

"Except for the small matter of having a Death Eater werewolf curse you," Sirius muttered, and then looked up in apology as he snapped his mouth shut.

Fortunately, they had perfected the technique of being able to overlook such slips, as one might overlook a momentary lapse of manners. "No one's died, I meant."

"My family's dying for the wrong side of this bloody war. No love lost."

"It was Regulus," Remus said abruptly. "Who stole the Horcrux from Voldemort. He wanted Dumbledore's protection."

Sirius took Remus' glass and drained it. He set it carefully on the table and picked up the bottle to refill it. "Merlin, I think we've nearly drunk it all." He carefully divided the wine between the two glasses. "And I'm not drunk at all. Are you, Moony?"

"Liar," Remus said, concentrating on a tower he was building, one cracker, one slice of cheese, another cracker, another slice of cheese. It wobbled ferociously with each new story, and he seemed to be holding it up with the force of his glare.

"I can't lie when I'm drunk, you're right," Sirius agreed, somewhat mournfully. He sighed, and Remus put a protective hand around his tower.

"You can't lie drunk or sober. You are transparent as, as glass. You are a crap liar."

"Right enough," Sirius agreed. "You're a very good liar."

Remus snorted. "Is that a compliment or an insult?"

"It's a fact. I do facts just fine when I'm drunk. The sky is blue. Harry's asleep. We make a good team. We're bloody amazing."

"We are, aren't we?"

"Dumbledore thinks we're geniuses."

"And not fat-headed or anything."

"It's a fact. We work well together. I'm sorry as hell for what I did to you and all the terrible things I said and for not trusting you," Sirius said in a rush. "I am so very, very sorry."

"I still have nightmares. While we're stating the facts."

Sirius bowed his head. "I would do anything to undo the past," he said, with an intensity that drove his fingernails into the palms of his hands. "I'd go on my hands and knees and beg you for forgiveness. I'd do anything you wanted."

"I saw the pictures that Peter showed you, you know. After. They were very… realistic, but did the thought polyjuice never once cross your mind? Why trust fucking Peter over me? I'm dying to know."

Sirius flinched as if from a blow. "Because most of what he said was the truth, seen in a different light. Don't tell me he didn't try the same thing on you."

There was a long, drawn-out pause. "He did," Remus said finally.

"Except probably the pictures you saw weren't fakes, were they? I was up to my ears in Death Eaters then. Anything short of the mark, Dumbledore said. He was testing me–they were testing me–my own brother was killed. And you were the one true thing, my heart outside myself, my refuge, my honour, the calm in the eye of the storm. When I believed that was gone…."

Remus shoved all the crackers back onto the plate. "I don't want to feel sorry for you."

"I don't want you to. Damn it. I want you back and I know I've no right to ask it. We work well together. We still can. I'll do whatever I have to."

"You know," Remus said, still picking at the food and not looking up, "Dumbledore thought you wouldn't be able to stand it here. He put a compulsion on you, so you couldn't run off."

"I noticed." Sirius was working to increase the distance he was able to separate from Harry so that nursery would be possible in the autumn.

Remus made a small open-handed gesture. "I think you are more like yourself here, like the person I always thought you were, than you ever have been since I've known you."

"I don't have to be anything for anyone here. Well, Harry, but he's easy. Love him and feed him. I don't have to lie, or hide, or pretend."

"Even when we were together, you were never this easy."

Sirius laughed, short and hard. "I was terrified of losing you. I was terrified of loving you as much as I did."

"Would I have used that against you?"

"Why not? Dumbledore and Peter did. Dumbledore thought it was amusing, the thought of Sirius Black in love. 'Do you even have any idea what love is?' he said–well, considering I'd nearly killed you and Snape, maybe he had a point–but why couldn't he consider I wasn't using you? 'Stay away from Remus Lupin, he doesn't need you ruining his life, you'll get over it,' he said, and here we are six years later and I still love you. And I'm still ruining your life. You really don't need to know what Peter said about you. Well. You saw the pictures. I'm an idiot, Remus, I really am. But I'd give anything to be your idiot again."

"I'm sure even James made a better proposal than that."

"I'm sure he did. Lily said yes." Sirius sniffed, carefully, because he was not crying. "I still think we make a good team."

"You stopped saying that you loved me, at the end."

"Well. I did. I do. You never said it, either." He tried hard not to sniff again. "Merlin. I'm not saying any of this right. It makes everything worse if I say I love you, doesn't it, because then how could I have done what I did?"

Remus slid his chair over to sit next to Sirius, and an arm settled lightly over his shoulders.

"I'm not crying," Sirius said, pulling his knees up and resting his forehead on them. "Okay? Not. It'd be obscene for you to feel sorry for me."

"Somebody should feel sorry for you." Remus' hand was rubbing small circles in the centre of his back.

"Not you, all right."

"I still love you," Remus said. "I'm just recently starting to stop hating you, but I always loved you. I'm trying to trust you. I have to let it go. If I'm to forgive you."

Sirius shifted slightly, turned, his face still hidden but now pressed against Remus' shoulder as his arms wrapped tightly around Remus' waist. Remus stroked his hair idly.

"Can we just say, yes, we're trying? There's a war still on. I have to go. There's no time for this, this–"

"Idiocy?" Sirius suggested to Remus' shirt.

"Hush. We couldn't ever put ourselves first, is what I'm saying."

"I know. Harry comes first." Sirius straightened, his arms still around Remus. They were nose to nose, and then he turned his head just enough so that his mouth was against Remus'. "I love you."

Remus' hand on the back of his neck pulled him closer.

The first time they kissed he had been laughing, and the sweetness of it had given his heart wings.

He had further to rise this time, having fallen hard and far from joy and innocence. This kiss was a prayer and a promise and tasted like tears. He made his desperation gentle; sensing warmth, he wanted the sun. It was a release from prison, it was a homecoming. It was everything familiar, beloved, and sacred, jagged edges limned in gold. It was brown curls running through his fingers, hazel eyes on his own.

Remus pulled back, just slightly, framing his face in his hands. "I love you, too," he said, softly. "What do you suppose Dumbledore put in the wine?"

Sirius felt a ridiculous grin spread over his face. "You're the liaison. You ask him." He stretched. "I have to put Harry to bed."

"You do."

"Join me on the sofa after? Just kissing. Probably. Because kissing you is addictive." He kissed Remus on the cheek to prove the point. "Will you wait for me?"

"I will."

Sirius kissed him once again, and then picked Harry up off the floor and mounted the stairs, something like fireworks going off in his heart.

Chapter 6: Some Letters (Autumn 1983)
When you left me this mornin',
you taken my heart away,
When you left me this mornin',
you taken my heart away,
That's alright baby,
you will come back home someday

(Baby How Long by Howlin' Wolf)

There was nothing like hope to inspire action.September found Harry attending nursery. Sirius rode him down to the red brick building every morning. He took a vacuum flask of barley tea, a sandwich, and fruit if there was any to be had. There had been tearful goodbyes at first, and Sirius might have caved in to the feeling of being a dreadful person had it not been for a few stern words from Mrs Pauley, who was plump and middle-aged and wore pink track suits.

"He's just fine, Mr Black," she insisted, sweeping him out the door to stand on the steps with the other vacillating parents. They stood there day after day, trying to feel needed, as the sounds of piano music and happy children's voices came through the windows, or as laughing children spilled out into the yard to ride tricycles or dig holes or swing.

Sirius took out one of his notebooks and wrote it up as a story. He called it "On the Steps" and presented it to Mrs Pauley the next Monday, with his compliments.

Then he set about finding a job.

Dear Remus:Well, Harry learnt a lesson about eggs today. We think we've got every bit out of the cooker, but there is a dreadful sulphur smell that lingers. Harry is at nursery, they believe in children doing things for themselves. Hence the eggs. He still curses like a sailor, and the teacher keeps threatening Little Talks. Harry made a picture for you. I'm sure you can guess who it is. He says that he'd like to see his Uncle Moony someday soon, and also thanks again for the records. I tell him all kinds of stories about you. We're making more books. Harry wants to know what you did when you were little, ages and ages ago.

If you see Dumbledore, would you mind asking again about having the compulsion taken off the Fidelius. I've got a job, actually two from next week, but the one is far enough from the nursery that I am compelled to throw up every half an hour (it's not as fun as it sounds), and I do get funny looks, thank you very much. Also I am losing an unhealthy amount of weight, and it's not from pining. So tell Albus enough is enough, I won't do a runner. Cross my heart. What are you doing? Will we see you at the moon?

Take care, Pads and Sprog

Dear Remus: Just tossing another piece of parchment into the Black Hole that is the Muggle Post (tell me again why your mail goes to a box in Chicago? It's not as if you're in Chicago. Are you? Are you singing the blues in seedy bars?). Hope you made it through the moon all right, not like we worry or anything. Sincerely, a Nameless Commercial Conglomerate (with your best interests at heart)

Dear Remus: Glad to hear you're OK. The fundamental misunderstanding here, I think, is that you're assuming No News=No Worry. But no matter how bad things are, my imagination is always worse. Speaking of which, when you say 'Snape has a grant' and 'observing transformations' in the same sentence, do you mean


That's all I can say. If this were Owl Post you'd get a Howler, I have to make do with red ink but it lacks a certain outrage factor.

Thank you for your confidence in my ability to get by in the Muggle world, no I'm not sweeping up cinema floors or what was your other suggestion, frying chips? The one job is putting together parcels for a mail order Chinese grocery. I never knew people got so passionate about rice. Or dried squid (it goes nicely with beer). There's a telephone, so you can call me there if you get bored, if a man answers that's me. See? I'm not completely hopeless. The other job is temporary, I'm putting in windows in a new housing estate, you should see what it's done to my hands (well, no you shouldn't) but it pays well and in cash. It is a sad thing to be 23 years old and have no JOB SKILLS, most people would sooner hire a spotty 16 year old than me but am I complaining? NO! I make enough to buy beer, you see. And Dried Squid.

Love always, The Usual Suspects

You're not involved in looking for those damned Horcruxes, are you? Please get Dumbledore to give you easy jobs, in the library, maybe, or translating Portuguese curses, or something. You oughtn't to take risks, and he oughtn't to risk you. Are you staying with Snape again? Give him great hugs and snogs from me, only remember to tell him they're from me, please. Sorry this isn't a cheerful letter, I can't write very well, I squashed my hand under a window casing, it was bloody and horrible but everything's fine now, wouldn't mind if you wrote me sometime, you know.
Love, Padfoot and Harry says Hi and I've new shoes (they're adorable really, red with little lorries on. He's size eleven and a bloody half already, where does the time go?)

Something's up, you've gone all cagey on me. Glad you're all right. What is Snape doing to you, anyway? S.M.B. and illustrated by H.J.P.-B.

Dear Remus: I guess it was naive of me to think I could keep a secret from you in a bookstore. Thanks for the Howler?good to hear your voice. That's actually not the first story I've had published, but the other was not suitable for your delicate eyes and anyway it didn't have pictures (thank god) and I used a very good pseudonym, so HA! Considering you left us with 20 pounds and half a baguette, I think we're surviving very well.

Harry wants to know what you want for Christmas. Besides World Peace, Harmony, and an end to Poverty. It's another damn moon again and I'm feeling very well inclined towards Snape if even half what you say is true, you're in good hands, even if (damn it) they're not mine. Sorry. Anyway.

Love, A Famous Author and pictures by His Disciple

(really, he's very advanced for his age, it can't be genetic, unless Lily could draw?)

art by almost-clara
"Artist Harry" by almost_clara (comment on the art here)

Chapter 7: Laid Off (Winter 1983)
I got a gal that lives up on a hill
Says she'll let me roll her
But I don't believe she will
She won't shake her moneymaker

(Shake Your Moneymaker by Fleetwood Mac)

Sirius collapsed back onto the sofa and let the wave of pure sound wash over him. He was sorry now that he'd thought it so cute when Harry learned to say no. The boy was positively possessed. Any little thing set him off. Washing his favourite shirt. Cutting his toast into triangles. Not being able to do any number of things right now, including playing in the blow-up pool Harry had dug out of the understairs closet. It was November. What kind of parent would go along with that?There was a crunch of tyres on the drive outside, and Sirius forced himself up. He opened the door to falling snow and someone unloading an orange Skoda.

"Who are you and what have you done with the real Remus Lupin?"

Remus straightened, snow in his hair and no coat on despite the cold. Sirius felt his breath catching painfully: Remus and snow always reminded him of their first kiss. "Hello yourself, child abuser. What set the sprog off this time?"

"Wants to go swimming," Sirius said, performing the security check reflexively and fast, already through the gate by the time he'd done, damn the neighbours, full speed ahead. He grabbed a couple of carrier bags and a suitcase held together with tape. "What's the difference between a Skoda and a sheep?"

"I'm sure you'll tell me eventually."

"You're not embarrassed to be seen getting out of a sheep. Couldn't you have bought a real car?"

art by almost-clara
"Remus and his Skoda" by almost_clara (comment on the art here)

Remus balanced two boxes in his arms and kicked the door shut. It needed another kick before it shut entirely. Up close, some of the orange could be seen to be honest rust. "That's disgusting, you do know that, don't you?" He shifted the boxes so he could see around them and made for the front door. "I'm moving in, by the way. Being between jobs again. Full moon tomorrow."

They somehow made it through the door without dropping anything, a minor miracle. Sirius banged the door shut behind them and shook the snow off. Remus was already tracking Harry down, and there was a sudden cessation of noise. A minute or so later, Remus emerged from the kitchen, a blotchy, snotty kid on his hip clutching a lolly in one tight fist.

"It's nearly suppertime, you know," Sirius said, and immediately felt like a traitor to the person he wanted to be.

Remus settled into the sofa, still tangled up in Harry. "Good, I'm starved." He caught Sirius' appraising look and frowned. "It's a figure of speech."

"With you it's hard to tell," Sirius retorted. "Never mind me. It's been a long day." He fell onto the other end of the sofa, his legs straight out in front of him. He'd be damned if he'd complain to Remus about being on his feet since five or about unloading an entire bloody truck of rice (but not all the same kind of rice, oh no, different quality grades and different grain lengths and at least ten different price codes. He knew more about rice than was healthy).

They sat there in peaceful silence until the lolly was gone. Remus managed to gain another five minutes' reprieve by letting Harry dig his presents out of the boxes. But then Harry started clamouring for someone to make things out of the Lego with him. After a quick glance at Sirius, Remus slid off the sofa and began building to order.

"So, how long are you staying?"

Remus set a man on a horse on the roof of a house. "Might stay through Christmas. Up to you. Promised my parents I'd be there for Christmas dinner. If you're as flush as you say you are, I'll just sponge off you for a few weeks."

Sirius was absolutely betrayed by a mind that sent him pictures of being sponged off by Remus in a very non-platonic way. "Until Christmas would be good. We could have a party. A small one." He looked at Remus hard. He was too thin, and his face had lines of exhaustion. His hair was streaked with silver, which was ridiculous because they were the same age (although, Sirius thought, who knew whether his hair was still black or if it had gone all white under the dye. Dreadful thought). Sirius began plotting menus and diversions to put some life back into Remus.

Dinner was a frantic meal with nothing much going right, and of course there was no easy out, no chucking the wet spaghetti and burned sauce in the bin and getting take-out. Sirius and Harry always joked that for them it was fish or chips (usually chips, with lots of salt and vinegar). So if there were a dinner on the table, it would be eaten. Sirius looked up at James and Lily and offered silent apologies.

"I'll do the washing up," Remus said, finishing off the last bits of everything. "You cooked." He took out a flask of something viscous and heated it up carefully on the gas ring. The vapour that came off the liquid was absolutely foul.

"What the hell is that?" Sirius asked, wrinkling his nose. Harry tugged at his trouser leg, saying something that sounded like "I am not a tomato." Sirius looked down. "You're not a tomato?"

"No, I'm not a tomato," Harry agreed, at the same time as Remus muttered something about Snape and potions and five nights prior to the full moon.

"Lovely," Sirius said. He didn't stay to watch Remus pour the stuff into a cup, but grabbed The Boy Who Wasn't a Tomato and headed towards the bath to remove the crusty layer of tomato sauce that had even affixed to Harry's ears. He could see where Harry might feel the need to assert his identity.

Harry had a fleet of small wooden boats in the bath now. This added a good twenty minutes to bath time. Sirius usually lay down on the floor and read, or drew, but tonight he gave himself a good hard look in the mirror.

He didn't look like Sirius Black, he decided, but he wasn't sure whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. Sirius Black had been an obnoxious bastard, thoughtlessly cruel, arrogantly handsome. Well, he'd put a stake through handsome, he thought with morbid satisfaction: getting rid of the Black hair really made him look like a stranger. He grabbed his wand and got rid of the Black stubble as well. He didn't have the fair skin his mother had always prized anymore either. Working outdoors had turned his skin nearly as dark as Remus'. He grinned at himself, winced, and spent the next five minutes brushing his teeth.

Then he gave up pretending he didn't know what he was doing, stripped, and gave himself a quick once-over with Harry's bath water and a flannel.

He dressed again, but felt ever so much more attractive.

He just hoped Remus felt so, too.

Harry was all pruny, so Sirius overrode his protests and plucked him out of the tub. Harry's teeth were done, he had a final big-boy stand-up piss, and then Sirius bundled him into pyjamas and tucked him into bed. He read two books, brought one glass of water, sang two Irish drinking songs, and patted Harry's stomach until Harry wiggled away, sighed, and fell asleep.

Sirius wondered how people ever found the time to make second children.

He padded barefoot downstairs.

Remus was stretched out on the sofa, reading one of the books Sirius had made for Harry. He looked up lazily and smiled.

"Harry asleep?"

"Thank the gods." Sirius pulled over one of the uncomfortable chairs and sat on it.

"You write good stories. I think I've read all of them. Except for the one you think I wouldn't approve of?"

"Don't keep that kind of thing in the house, anyway," Sirius said, wondering if a blush would be visible through his tan.

"Are you turning into a pornographer in your old age?"

"Admit that when I'm the black sheep, I play the role well."

"Speaking of which," Remus began, and sat up, shuffling the notebooks into a pile and setting them on the end table. "Dung Fletcher, Emma Vance, and I paid a visit to the Grimmauld Place house last week. We think we've got the Horcrux Regulus found. We also–" he smiled tightly– "got Lucius Malfoy's." He pointed at a carton labelled organic spinach. "I borrowed a few books from your mother's library as well. I suspect they're cursed, but I thought you might know how to get around that."

It is much easier to become very, very angry when seated on an uncomfortable chair than on, say, a plump armchair or a beanbag. Sirius decided that even the floor would be easier on his temper, if he sat on the rug. He sank onto the rug, crossed his legs, and took a deep breath.

"Dumbledore knew that you were doing this?" There, that wasn't so bad, blaming Dumbledore.

Remus shrugged. "I had the opportunity, and I took it. The house was empty. There was some kind of entertainment going on at the Malfoys' cottage in Strumpet-on-Thames. Even your mum's cracked house-elf went, some kind of pastry that gets served at all the Black family functions that he's a dab hand at."

Sirius grimaced. "Meat pasties, I won't tell you what kind, and blood pudding. Always made me ill. But not quite as ill as thinking of you walking into that death-trap."

"It was fine."

"Then you're damned lucky," Sirius shot back. "You're a werewolf and a half-blood. I'm sure you noticed the obvious things like all the doorknobs being silver-plated. But there are all kinds of traps. I know at least three cupboards in that house that cure half-bloodedness the old fashioned way, by draining off half your blood. I'm glad you didn't decide to open one of them." He gave Remus a half-smile, just the left half. "Did you think I was rude, to never invite you home? You should have talked to me," he said, looking up right into Remus' eyes. "I would have been just as appalled, and you'd have had to listen to the same boring rant, but I'd have given you good information."

Remus' face was closed; then his shoulders relaxed and he nodded. "I do know how to take care of myself. However," he continued, talking over Sirius' objection, "that usually involves thorough research. I didn't know about the blood-sucking cabinets. In retrospect, I may have been extremely stupid."

Sirius let out a long breath. "So what about the Horcruxes?"

"Malfoy had a diary. Dumbledore is quite interested in it. It was probably Voldemort's original Horcrux. We're hoping he was a bit sloppy in making it. The Horcrux that Regulus stole and hid was a locket. He left a note as well. Dumbledore is holding onto it, though."

"He should have come to me. Regulus." Sirius shook his head, his mouth twisting. "Well. Too late now by years and years."

"I think…" Remus shifted on the sofa, leaning forward with his clasped hands between his knees. "I think he must have been like Lucius Malfoy. Wanting to keep up the old, pure-blooded ways. And feeling betrayed by Voldemort, who usurped his cause to advance his solely personal cause. The Death Eater cult is the worst thing to happen to purebloods since, since the invention of the wireless. Since Muggle culture became popular and cool."

"Voldemort is still alive. Malfoy has a nightmare coming to him. I doubt he'll be forgiven for taking over Voldemort's minions."

"He wants to be Minister of Magic someday. He could be, you know, if he played his cards right."


"Now that is simply not true."

"Wanker, then." Sirius chewed his lip. "Do they know that the Horcruxes are gone? Or have any idea who was in the house?"

"Not that we know."

Sirius gave him a dark look. "All they need is one hair, and my mother's house elf would be more than happy to comb the rugs to find one. One hair, and they can polyjuice themselves a copy of the burglar. And I can't swear to you that there were no scanning spells that picked up your registry number as soon as you crossed the doorstep. Don't look at me like that, what do you think they marked you for in the first place?"

Remus' hand had gone absently to rub at his hip, where the registry tattoo was, just above the jut of bone. "Bugger. I hadn't thought of that."

"I'm not saying you were caught. But you might have been. I'll write to Dumbledore myself and tell him he's not to risk you. For Harry's sake."

"Moody thinks I should go and talk to the werewolves."

"You know they'd want you over the full moon. Run with their pack. And you know the whole of Hampshire is in a panic over the so-called wild dog attacks. Three schoolchildren killed so far. People are setting traps. There are police everywhere. Greyback must have someone powerful backing him to have avoided being caught so far. So." Sirius leaned close to Remus, looking up at him with glittering eyes, a look he hoped carried the right air of menace. "Alastor Moody can go run with the wolves himself, because there is no fucking way I will let you get within howling distance of Fenrir Greyback. Nothing personal, mind you. Just that you're Harry's Secret-Keeper. Imagine what Fenrir would do with that information."

Remus shivered. "I was only a few years older than Harry when I was turned."

"When Greyback mauled you and left you for dead." Sirius pushed himself up onto the sofa and wrapped his arms around Remus. "No unnecessary risks, please," he whispered into Remus' hair. "Weren't you voted Most Likely to Become a Librarian in school? What happened?"

"I doubt anyone back then would have believed me if I said that Sirius Black at age 23 would be supporting a child by writing pornography."

"Funny thing, life. The porn doesn't pay that well, though. Barely enough to buy your Christmas present." In his arms Remus began to shake with laughter. "What's wrong with that?"

"Whatever my Christmas present is, I'll never be able to use it without wondering what sick fantasies made it possible."

Sirius put one hand under Remus' chin, raising it enough that he could kiss him, lightly, a kiss that was one step removed from a smirk. "I'd be more than willing to demonstrate the fantasies that made it possible."

"You frighten me."

"I love you." Sirius shivered as Remus' hands found his hips, tracing lazy patterns there. "We aren't teenagers anymore, we are mature adults?" Remus snorted?"and god help me, Moony, I want you so badly it hurts. Can we please try to make things right between us?"

Remus' mouth found the pulse in Sirius' throat, and his teeth met there lightly. "Too close to the full moon, Pads, I wouldn't want to hurt you."

"I don't want to wait. It doesn't bother me. I like you when you're wild."

"Here on the sofa?"


Chapter 8: Love, All (Winter 1983)
And you, you can be mean
And I, I'll drink all the time
'Cause we're lovers
And that is a fact
Yes we're lovers
And that is that
Though nothing will keep us together
We could steal time just for one day
We can be Heroes
For ever and ever
What d'you say

(Heroes by David Bowie)

Sirius pushed Remus back onto the bed, the wrists of the shirt catching and holding Remus' hands. It took less than a second for the laughter to disappear from Remus' face."Aconite," he bit out, and Sirius threw himself back to sit at the end of the bed, watching Remus with worried eyes. He bit his lip to keep his own worry in.

Remus pulled the shirt up and deliberately undid the cuffs. He slipped it off and looked at Sirius, his eyes not rising above Sirius' chin.

"I don't like being pinned down," he said finally. Sirius nodded, and Remus added, "Speak." Apologies and explanations were not allowed.

Sirius looked at Remus warily. "I think you'd best stay on top."

Remus snorted. "This is silly."

"If it works you can't complain."

Remus studied Sirius a moment longer, then shrugged. "Come."

"Gladly." Sirius stood and walked to where Remus sat. He bent and kissed Remus hard, taking Remus' hands in his own. "I love you."

"Enough to let me top for the rest of your life?"

"Only be mine for the rest of my life." Sirius lay back on the bed, tugging Remus down and kissing him again. His hands circled Remus' waist. Remus leant his weight forward on one hand and used the other to trace patterns on Sirius' face, neck, chest. He shifted and let his hand trail downwards to undo Sirius' jeans.

"What kind of an idiot," he asked, his mouth moving against Sirius', "buys button-down trousers?"

"They were on sale," Sirius said, raising his hips as the offending trousers were pushed down. "I bought three pairs, but this is my favourite now that you've insulted it."

Remus stopped him with a kiss and a stern look, which really oughtn't to go together, Sirius thought, they ought to cancel each other out, but on Remus the combination was full of such perverse promise that Sirius lost his breath for a moment. "You're babbling, Pads."

"My mouth just keeps on moving while my brain conjugates, I can't help it."

Remus snorted, his eyes crinkling in amusement. "You'll have to teach me French, someday."

Sirius liked the idea of someday, of lots of somedays. "It's criminal for you to be so linguistically chal–" Sirius broke off with a muffled cry, his body arching up into Remus' wandering hand.

"There are better uses for your nervous energy, you know."

"Ah! Mn. Gods. I feel like I'm about to lose my virginity again." Sirius' hands were doing a terrible job off on their own. He'd already caught two different fingers in the zip of Remus' trousers, but he had it now, sliding his hands around to shove them off and grope Remus' arse while he was at it.

"That bad, is it?"

"Gods no. I'll lose my virginity to you as many times as I can." They had reached the point where a certain amount of pleasant wiggling was necessary in order to ensure that all clothing ended up where it properly belonged, on the floor in a sad abandoned heap. Sirius won the race for speed and ogled Remus, who'd been wearing a vest, not to mention socks. Remus lay back down, and Sirius was on him, lapping at his jaw line while he traced circles around one nipple with a rough thumb. Remus shifted uneasily, and Sirius froze.

"No, it's OK." Remus moved Sirius' hand to his side. "I just–it doesn't feel right." Well, Sirius had had the job of healing the injury that had left the nearly perfect half-moon scar circling that particular nipple, and he imagined, with the probable nerve damage, it felt nothing at all.

No apologies. No explanations. He moved his hand.

"Does this one still work?–ha. That looked like a yes." Sirius slid downward, moving his mouth down the hollow of Remus' neck, across the taut muscle to the spot his fingers had occupied, and suckled like a baby.

He knew the tastes and smells of Remus indelibly, they were wired into his brain, directly connecting to the feelings of comfort and love and home and arousal. He didn't, of course, know if he had gained this sensitivity to smell and taste after becoming an Animagus, but Padfoot recognised Remus as his master, and Moony as his leader. Deep down he wanted to roll in Remus' smell; not today, he told his brain severely.

Remus pushed him back suddenly, his teeth closing on Sirius' neck with bruising strength. Black sparks went off in front of Sirius' eyes, but he turned his head into the bite, offering more. This was full moon sex; this was the reason he and Remus had safe words. Padfoot and his simpler desires were content to be passengers in Sirius' lovemaking. Moony could not–would not, with the ripe moon shining through the window. It was perhaps the only time Remus worked synchronously with the wolf, neither forcing it down nor being torn apart by it. Moony, they had discovered years ago, loved fucking. Well, who was Sirius to argue with that?

Remus tightened his jaw and then let go, licking his mark proprietarily. His tongue traced a path down to Sirius' shoulder and he bit again. Sirius pulled Remus' hips down and rubbed his cock against Remus'. Remus shuddered, and a sharp electric shock snaked through Sirius' arm as teeth met with bone. He thrust up and Remus pushed him down, and he was full of wild joy. He wanted love and bruises. He was in heaven.

He touched all that he could, licking Remus' sweat from his fingers, not caring that Remus was amused. He rolled Remus' cock over his own, catching the wetness there with his thumb and sucking it clean in a way that made Remus stare.

Remus' eyes had lost their pale rays of brown and turned a deep bottle green. Only sex made his eyes turn that colour. Sirius owned that colour, could have been born in it, wanted to die in it.

Sirius green.

Remus slid down, and Sirius bit down on his arm to muffle a cry. He had been surprised, after becoming well acquainted with Remus' version of the blowjob, to discover that the garden variety did not involve teeth. He supposed Remus had trained him to suit his own tastes (good dog!), but that edge between torment and ecstasy was incredible, and Remus spun him there like a top, wiping his mind clear. He forgot the need to conjugate French verbs, lost his grasp on English, howled like a dog as he came in Remus' mouth.

Remus spat, and Sirius smelled come, felt his way-down-there body react as impatient fingers worked it into him. He was still flying, still feeling shocky echoes of orgasm from a long way off. Remus folded him up, and he knew Remus was strong, stronger than he was. He felt a surge of anticipation but hadn't any speed at all for reaction. Remus thrust into him hard. Sirius felt all the far-scattered pieces of himself shoot home with the blinding, burning pain, heard his own voice cry out, felt his body fight.

But Remus held him down, Remus was strong, and he felt safe, he wanted to say, he felt loved. The noises he heard himself making were nothing like words, thank the gods Remus knew him, knew when he submitted, and began moving in him in earnest. Sirius couldn't keep his hands away from Remus' skin or his eyes away from the brilliant green gaze that fixed on him. Inside him Remus kept hitting that spot which drove Sirius out of his mind. The thought of coming again so soon was painful but he begged for it anyway, his hands digging into Remus' arse and his legs wrapping around Remus' waist and his hips rising to meet each thrust. Sirius panted, waiting, waiting for the moment of release. Remus thrust hard and Sirius practically levitated off the bed, he was shouting and convulsing, and the words tore out of him, a chant of his love spinning out and away like a ribbon.

Above him Remus' back arched and his face gentled, eyes sliding shut, expression rapturous. "Oh," he whispered, "oh."

Sirius pulled him down. He kissed each eye, each cheek, along Remus' jaw until Remus turned blindly and devoured his mouth. They caught each other's breath, twisted their bodies together as tightly as they could and still remain in separate skins.

Remus rested his head on Sirius' shoulder and rubbed one hand absently over the mark on his shoulder. "So, do werewolves really mate for life?"

Sirius looked down in half-protest. "You're never going to let me forget, are you? I was sixteen, what did I know?"

"You're supposed to find out that sort of thing before you let the werewolf in question deflower you."

"I wouldn't have minded if it were true."

Sirius could feel Remus smiling against his chest. "I love you, too."

Sirius rolled over and propped himself up in one smooth motion. He looked down into Remus' face and smiled with unadulterated joy. Thick brown hair fell in waves across Remus' forehead, nearly to his eyebrows, giving him a rakish look. His eyes were hazel again, the brown having reappeared from wherever it went when they had sex. His sleepy smile was crooked and wide, his expression open. No one ever called Remus handsome: his face was a map of colliding gene pools, and none of his features harmonized with the others. But the animation of his expression made his a face that lingered in the memory; just as his careful schooling of his features made him fade anonymously into the background.

"What are you staring at, Pads?"

"I'm memorizing your face," Sirius said truthfully, and smirked as Remus blushed.

"Hopelessly plain is the general verdict," Remus said, raising a hand to Sirius' cheek. "Why can't you be vain like other handsome men and go stare at your own face? Leave mine alone."

Sirius crossed his eyes and nuzzled Remus' hand. "Go on, tell me how gorgeous I am. It's the hair, isn't it?"

"The yellow was a bit of a shock at first. I adjusted, but the red bits, I can't reconcile to them at all."

"Seasonal, I thought. I was thinking about adding green as well."

"Good lord, no. At least you're not growing a beard."

"I thought about a moustache. Do you think that would suit? Or I could get tattoos."

"Stop." Remus' face was still laughing, but his eyes were serious. "Why do you dislike your looks so much?"

"Because you can get away with murder if you have a pretty face."

"Ah. Quem ve cara nao ve coracao, my mother used to say."

"'He who would lick the elephant, must first disrobe in the presence of the leopard.'"

Remus snorted with laughter. "It's more like, people see your face but not your heart. In my case, she meant I was a decent kid despite it all. In your case?who knows?"

"Speak in tongues at me again." Remus pulled Sirius close and kissed him, an interpretation of his request that Sirius really couldn't argue with, not the least because his mouth was totally and completely occupied (in the invaded sense) by Remus Lupin. Finally, reluctantly, Remus pulled back, somewhat breathless, and then sat up in a fluid motion and fumbled for his jeans.

"Where are you going?"

"To sleep on the couch?don't look like that. You know I can't sleep in your bed, Harry'll be telling everyone at nursery Monday morning. Stop pouting. It's what happens when you're a responsible adult."

"I'll change and go sleep with Harry. You can have the bed."

Remus smiled, faintly. "Harry will still say that I slept in your bed. And I know you, you'll blush when called on it. Have you a spare blanket?"

Sirius handed over the quilt, trying very hard to school the petulance out of his expression. "Where do you usually sleep?" he asked suddenly. "When you're not here."

This time Remus' look was guarded. "Lately I've been staying in the Hogwarts dungeons. Safely away from students and staff. But usually, well. I have my dad's old car."

"You sleep in the Skoda?"

"Did you think I paid rent?"

Sirius paused, his mental forces regrouping, and considered the prickly hedgehog that was Remus' pride. "D'you know how to double the value of a Skoda?"


"Toss a knut in the window." Remus smiled, relaxing just a bit. "What do you call a Skoda at the top of a hill?"

"I've heard this one…."

"A miracle! How do you make a Skoda disappear?"

"You can stop now."

"Rust remover!" Sirius lunged and caught Remus around the waist, rolling so his head was in Remus' lap. Remus patted his hair absently.

"I made a few modifications. It's actually very comfortable. I'll take you for a drive."

"I'd hate to be seen by anyone I know."

"I'll do your hair to match–" Sirius opened his mouth in indignation, but Remus continued, "if you don't shut up now. You're a fine one to talk. You ride the bike I bought when I was thirteen."

"It's blue." Remus coughed, mildly threatening. "And you gave it to me, and I love it."

Remus combed his fingers through Sirius' hair, a bit too thoughtfully, Sirius thought. He looked over at the clock and groaned.

"I have to be up in four hours." He sat up and kissed Remus thoroughly. "Take the pillow, too." Before he could do anything that would result in total sleeplessness, he changed, blinking as the colour washed out of Remus.

"Good dog," Remus said, rolling the quilt up around the pillow and heading to the stairs. "See you in the morning."

Sirius stared at Remus' bare shoulder where it peeked out from under the quilt. The couch didn't look comfortable at all?Remus hadn't transfigured it, stupid git?and Remus was curled up like a cat around the pillow. Sirius grinned fondly as he padded into the kitchen. His thoughts came in effervescent bubbles: Remus! I slept with Remus! He loves me!Remus had once said that he pitied anyone who had to practice Legilimency on Sirius, whose thoughts could flicker from scattershot to laser-focused in the blink of an eye, and who very rarely seemed to know what he himself was thinking until the words fell from his mouth. The thought which exploded now was three-fold and bright as a searchlight: I love Remus – I want to be with him for the rest of my life – therefore I must never hurt him again.

Remus stretched and unwound under the quilt, ending up with his legs sprawling out indecently.

"Morning already?"

"Go back to sleep. It's your day off." In a manner of speaking. Sirius walked over to kiss Remus because he couldn't help it. "Harry has to be at nursery by eight, but we'll be back mid-afternoon. I'll leave your lunch in the icebox."

Remus yawned. "I feel decadent."

"Good. Maybe I'll buy you some choccies."

"Take the car?"

"I prefer to ride. I have a reputation." The teakettle hissed with steam and he set about breakfast. He had the toast done and eggs cooked and was just about to tell Remus to come to the table when he realized that Remus was asleep again. He put a silencing spell around the sofa and went to wake Harry up.

Harry was quite excited to see that his hair was now the exact same blue as the bicycle.

He was almost glad that the excuse of Harry kept him from having to watch Remus torn apart by the wolf that night, and he wondered what injuries he'd find himself repairing the next morning. Ah, love, he thought. Love is no protection from pain. And the only protection from pain.

And he changed into a dog (a great big blue one) and went to warm the feet of Harry and Tom.

Chapter 9: Christmas (Winter 1983)
Walking the dog
I'm just a walking the dog
If you don't know how to do it
I'll show you how to walk the dog

(Walking the Dog by the Rolling Stones)

"You're looking a bit worn, Pads," Remus said casually, rolling onto his stomach to get better access to little people and their cars. "I'll be glad to take over with His Highness while I'm staying here. Give you a rest."Sirius grinned. Remus would eat those words.

Or maybe not, he conceded a month later, watching Harry walk hand in hand with Remus down the high street, stopping every metre or so to look at the fairy lights and the displays in the windows. Harry was a different boy with Remus, a well-behaved, pleasant child with good manners. Perhaps it was that Remus' bribes had the appeal of novelty. Sirius wouldn't have thought of taking the boy to town on a snowy Christmas Eve, but it had certainly diverted Harry's boundless energy. The booksellers had a Christmas tree whose tip scraped the ceiling, and Remus took Harry in to look. It was decorated with tiny books, which Harry gazed at with delight.Sirius stayed outside on the pavement. Next year, he thought, they might have a tree of their own. If they were going to have family Christmases they might as well do them right.

Harry emerged from the shop clutching a red bag. Sirius fell into step with them.

"Couldn't resist, could you?" he whispered to Remus, smiling to show that he wasn't criticizing.

"I told him you'd read it to him every night at bedtime." Remus shrugged. "It is Christmas, after all."

"Did you get me a present?"

Remus punched him in the arm. "Don't I always get you presents?"

It was true. Remus was one of those people who got as much glee out of giving presents as getting them. "Let's go home, then." Remus handed Sirius the keys to the Skoda solemnly, but Sirius knew that he still thought it funny that driving was another thing that he had mastered before Sirius. Still, Sirius got them home just fine, and it didn't matter if he parked in the middle of the lane, the road ended just in front of their gate anyway. Remus unlocked the door, and Harry ran in, shedding outer clothes like a snake.

The table at least was festive, with a green cloth over it (Remus' flirtation with the spells of Stuart Atram having turned into an obsession) and fat red candles. Proper wizarding crackers were at each place, and their presents were piled on the empty fourth side. Sirius brought out the ham (tinned, he thought mournfully) and the mashed potatoes and the peas and onions. Remus took Harry into the bathroom and brought him out clean and toileted yet still in a good temper?Sirius was going to miss having someone to do the unpleasant jobs, definitely.

Dinner passed in a state of high excitement. Harry's cracker had a real gold crown in, and they all had Skoda jokes, which Remus found suspicious. Sirius had a halo which kept slipping down to hang off one ear, but he thought it made him seem more innocent when Remus glared at him for perpetuating mischief with peas. Remus had a nurse's cap which he kept trying to hide under his dish, but Harry, as king, ordered him to put it back on.

"Hat," Harry would say, and Remus, sighing, would replace it.

Sirius thought it was funny as hell, but it could have been the wine.

After dinner they opened their presents. Remus' coat was from the charity shop, but the muffler (picked out by Harry) was new and very nearly Gryffindor red. Remus gave Sirius a book of snaps he'd taken of Sirius and Harry together, and a picture frame that Harry had painted himself. Harry had the most loot, of course, and after a game with the new Lego and a read of the new book (which was just as irritating as Sirius had feared, and which Harry loved with a passion), Harry fell into bed in his new red pyjamas and was asleep in a minute, presents and crown arrayed across the top of his chest of drawers. Sirius pulled the blankets up to Harry's chin and kissed him good night, and went downstairs to express delighted dismay that Remus had already finished tidying up.

Sirius hugged Remus from behind. "Let's go sit on the sofa," he said, nudging Remus out of the kitchen. Remus was amenable to the nudge: a good thing, Sirius thought. Hopeful. He sat down with a sigh next to Remus.

"Happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas," Remus repeated, smiling in a very comfortable way.

"James and Lily?d'you think they'd approve of what we've done with their boy?" Sirius blinked, not sure where the question had sprung from.

"I think so," Remus said after a contemplative pause. "I mean, he curses like a hag and is usually grubby, and we can't afford sweets or holiday trips or television, but he's happy. He's mad for you, Pads."

"He loves you, too." Sirius looked down into his glass. "He's still too little to understand that when you go away, you'll be coming back."

Remus' shoulders hunched. "I know. I know it's not fair to you, either."

"I like having you around," Sirius said. "You couldn't get a job close by and come home nights?"

"I'm not sure that would be safe. Tempting–" and he leant his head on Sirius' shoulder?"but not safe."

"What are you going to do?"

"I've got a few leads for jobs. I might head south. I'll be home at that time of the month. You know." Sirius did know. The December change had been a hard one; not violent, thanks to Snape's potion, but draining. Remus was still without energy over a week later. Sirius thought of the number of times that Remus had transformed, drunk coffee, and Apparated directly to work. Dead on his feet. Remus said nothing, but Sirius knew he was afraid. He did not want to trade Snape's potion for the more familiar pain, but he might have to if it drained him dry.

"You don't need to do everything all by yourself. Now that I've proved to you that I can get by in the Muggle world."

Remus half-turned his head to look at him, and Sirius leant across and kissed him.

He meant it to be a chaste kiss, but Remus' eyes widened and his mouth opened to speak, and before he knew it Sirius was inside Remus' mouth, and Remus was kissing back. Sirius tangled his hands in Remus' hair, nearly the colour of tea in the lantern light, and felt the lightest tentative touch against his cheek.

He lay back on the sofa, pulling Remus with him, grinning and kissing at the same time as he refused to let Remus go.

Remus pushed himself up, one hand on either side of Sirius' head. "What's the plan for the evening, Pads?"

"I'll tell you that I love you, you great idiot, and then you can either tell me the same back or you can kiss me, either way, I'm easy." He reached up, circling Remus' waist with his arms. "I do love you."

Remus' eyes drifted shut and he shifted to the side, resting his head on Sirius' shoulder. "It's a rotten thing to say, but I really am tired."

"And you've got to drive down to your parents' house tomorrow. I know." Sirius pushed up Remus' shirt so that he could rest his hand on the hollow of Remus' stomach. "Shall I put you to sleep properly?"

Remus smiled faintly. "Is this where I ask for a cup of water and a book?"

"Don't need a book, I can tell you a story I know by heart." Sirius shifted the arm Remus was lying on so that his hand came to rest on Remus' waist. "Once upon a time, there lived an old lady who was both very lonely and very hungry. So she made up some dough and baked herself a Gingerbread Man." Sirius moved his other hand up lazily across Remus' chest and brushed the pad of his thumb across the upper nipple. Remus shivered.

"You're distracting me from the story."

"Good." He traced lazy circles with his fingers. "When the Gingerbread Man was done, she took him out of the oven to cool, and they had a marvellous time chatting about this and that until she let it slip that as soon as he was cool she'd gobble him all up. 'Sod that!' said the Gingerbread Man, and took off, singing, 'Run, run, just as fast as you can, you can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man.'"


Sirius pinched him in a delicate place and swallowed (well, licked and swallowed) Remus' objections. "No interruptions. So the old woman yells out, 'Stop him!' and a woodcutter hears, and he chases the Gingerbread Man." Sirius had finally gotten the hang of Remus' zips (a simple matter of a well-applied lubrication charm) and caught no fingers as he loosened Remus' trousers and slipped his hand inside.

"'Run, run, just as fast as you can, you can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man,' the Gingerbread Man says, and leaves the woodcutter behind." Remus bit back a moan as Sirius' hand matched the rhythmic cadence of the story. "But just then who should come skipping by but Little Red Riding Hood, and she was intent on getting that Gingerbread Man in her basket. So she chases him up hills and down?" (the accompanying 'up and down' gesture was received with gratifying loudness, so Sirius repeated it several times; Little Red needed the exercise, anyway)?"but he just shouts, 'Run, run, just as fast as you can, you can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man' and leaves her far behind."

Sirius pulled Remus down and under, his mouth working along the underside of Remus' jaw as he moved Remus' trousers and boxers decisively south. One of his knees pressed down between Remus' legs; his hand resumed the storytelling. "So the Gingerbread Man runs and runs, as fast as he can, feeling very chuffed with himself. And then he meets–do you know who it is, Moony?" Sirius paused, and Remus groaned, grabbing at his arm.

"Don't stop!" he said. "It's a fox, or a bear, or a squid, or a crocodile–"

Sirius shook his head against Remus' shoulder mournfully. He stroked Remus again, slowly, and caught the long, shuddering indraw of breath as he did. "It is a Padfoot, Moony, and the Gingerbread Man says, 'I've run away from an old woman, and a woodcutter, and Little Red Riding Hood, and I can run away from you, too.' And the Padfoot says, 'I can't hear you.'"

Sirius shifted downwards, pausing to lick the nipple that worked. "So the Gingerbread Man steps closer and says, 'I've run away from an old woman, and a woodcutter, and Little Red Riding Hood, and I can run away from you, too.' And the Padfoot says, 'What? I still can't hear you.'"

Sirius' tongue traced circles around Remus' navel. "So the Gingerbread Man steps even closer, right up to the Padfoot's teeth, Moony, and yells, 'I've run away from an old woman, and a woodcutter, and Little Red Riding Hood, and I can run away from you, too.' And the Padfoot?" Remus tensed and made a desperate noise, knowing what was coming–"eats him."

Sirius suited his actions to his story with judicious use of his tongue and the hot pressure of his mouth. Remus arched up into his mouth, crying out with the force of his release. Sirius lapped at him and then looked up, grinning.

"Now shall I get you that glass of water?"

Remus pulled him up for a breathless kiss. "You are an evil, evil person. I'll never be able to read Harry that story again."

"Good night, love." Sirius shifted so that he wasn't lying on top of Remus, but kept his arms around him.


They woke tangled together on the sofa. For that blurry moment between waking and being awake Sirius felt as if all the bad things had been washed away and he was back in his youth with Moony again. But it wasn't so.

Remus wore his Christmas coat when he packed the car, kissed Harry goodbye, and drove away. Sirius had given Remus the box of biscuits that he and Harry had packed up for Remus' mum. Well, he hadn't told Remus that they were biscuits, and he certainly wouldn't have told him that they were gingerbread people. But he wished he could see Remus' face when his mother opened the box.

art by almost-clara
"Remus Gone" by almost_clara (comment on the art here)

Sirius was restless. It was Christmas, but it was as if Christmas were already finished. Sirius bundled Harry up in boots and coat and took him outside for a ramble. The snow was deep?over Harry's knees in some places. They went down to the woods and spent the afternoon making massive things out of snow, castles and slides and monsters and tunnels.

When the sun dipped low enough to provide no more warmth they went into the house, stripping naked in the kitchen and running for the bath. They had cocoa for tea, with toast cut into soldiers, and Harry fell asleep the very instant his head touched the pillow.

Chapter 10: Sick (Autumn 1984)
You remind me of the baby
What baby? baby with the power
What power? power of voodoo
Who do? you do
Do what? remind me of the baby

("Magic Dance" David Bowie)

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…
Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…
and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…
and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives

Sirius enjoyed telling Remus that he took a Montessori approach to teaching Harry magic.He wasn't quite sure what he meant, but it sounded very educational. Where most parents found themselves restrained by the Oath of Adherence to the Restriction on Underage Magic, he had been left with the admonition to do as he felt necessary. He had Remus buy Harry his first wand for his fourth birthday, although of course Harry had been working simple magic with Sirius' wand long before that. Baby magic, of course, intuitive and uncontrolled, but Sirius nurtured it.

Over the summer Harry had objected strongly to having his hair cropped short and had re-grown it in his sleep. Sirius had taught him a little control, and for several weeks Harry had delighted in making his hair go long and short, curly and straight. (The fun had come to an end after that unfortunate incident with Remus in the bath; shortly after, Harry's copy of Rapunzel went missing. Although, as Sirius pointed out with a painfully straight face, Harry had left the hair on Remus' head alone. Remus was not appeased.)

Small children couldn't be bothered to learn spells: the magic they did best involved the ability to expect results. Sirius taught Harry summoning of small objects, and how to chop vegetables, and how to fold the clean laundry and put it away in the drawers. He taught him how to get the duster to the tops of the shelves and to polish the windows to a diamond-bright shine. He made these part of Harry's regular jobs around the house, reasoning that Harry was young enough to enjoy having jobs to do.

Remus, against his better judgment but with Dumbledore's blessing, was in charge of Occlumency and Legilimency. His lessons were more like games. He'd started with card tricks, asking Harry to tell him the order in which he'd placed cards on the table. When Harry told him it was impossible, Remus grinned. Leaning forward, he said, "Bet you could do it if you knew how." It took Harry less than a day to be able to pick the answers from Remus' head.

Once the card-reading became easy, Remus moved on to more ambitious projects. He'd picked up a titchy bicycle at work and was teaching Harry to ride. The important thing, Remus said as he swallowed the headache remedy that was habitual after one of his lessons, was that Harry be able to distinguish between what was his and what was someone else's. Memory was never the same as experience: Harry could steal Remus' memories of learning to ride his mother's cherry-red bike with the wicker basket, but that didn't mean he knew how to balance. If Voldemort ever came after Harry, if Harry was ever drawn into Voldemort's mind, he'd be exposed to terrors Sirius didn't want to even contemplate.

So. Bicycle riding and roller-skating. And dancing. It's like a vaccination, Remus said. Building up an immunity of sorts. (And he also suggested that Harry could do with learning more about privacy, especially where baths and the toilet were concerned, and maybe about not running through the house naked all the time, dreadful habit, wherever did he pick that up.)

It was a bit of bad luck that Remus was not at home when the attack came, or so Sirius thought afterwards.

Harry had been grumpy all morning. But, Sirius thought, with the familiar sensation of being torn in two as the thermometer registered a perfect 36.5 degrees and Harry slumped listlessly, what you do when you have a job to get to is put on a bright face and deliver the child to nursery anyway.

It was half past ten when the phone rang, and Sirius grabbed it absently.


It was quarter to eleven when he left work, with a large tupper of chicken soup (heavy on the chilli pepper), and nearly noon when he carried Harry through the front door and straight up to bed. Harry was pale and shaking, his skin hot to the touch, and he cried out when Sirius' fingers brushed the scar on his forehead.

It's that stomach flu that's going around, Mrs Pauley had said, half the class was home sick. Sirius set a bucket by the bedside just in case.

"Pads," Harry said, sounding all washed-out and spiritless.

"It's okay, Harry," Sirius said, running his fingers through Harry's hair and smiling down at him.

He tried to ignore the fact that every time Harry looked at him the feeling of pain, fear, and nausea built.

The fever was rising; the wet flannel that Sirius was using warmed after just a few passes over Harry's face. Sirius stripped him and carried him into the bathroom. Harry ignored his boats as he lay in lukewarm water, his eyes closed, his breathing too loud.

Then Harry sighed and opened his eyes, looking straight at Sirius and smiling as if he knew a good secret.

"You can't kill me."

Sirius breathed in through his nose, deeply. "I don't want to. You know that."

"Dumbledore wants to kill me. Kill all of us. He's trying now."

"He wants Voldemort to stop harming people."

"I could harm you." Harry's green eyes bore into him, and Sirius was paralysed with pain, breathed in agony, felt stabbed and flayed and set on fire. His mind was overturned like a rock; look what crawled out. Tom smiled, turning the worst of the memories over and over again in his grasp. "Does Harry know about you?"

"Does he know about you?" Sirius countered, willing his hands still as he ran the wet flannel over Harry's fevered skin.

"Harry likes me," Tom said after a long pause, and Sirius started, having almost forgotten that he was there.

"That's the bitch of it, isn't it? Because you feel… irredeemable. Unforgivable. But I tell you," and Sirius let his voice drop to a whisper, "you're wrong. You don't have to go back to him. You're free."

Tom started to say something, but he was convulsed by a wave of pain that spilled over onto Sirius, who had just enough presence of mind to let the water out of the bathtub. Sirius could see nothing but Harry's scar, which had turned a deep red, bruised colour. Harry looked up at Sirius, crying in his misery.

"It hurts, it hurts." The pain came again, and again, and when it finally receded Harry was trembling and blue and Sirius had a hard lump just above his ear from banging his head on something. He pushed himself up, threw up, wrapped Harry in the towel and carried him back to bed. He dressed Harry in the football pyjamas and rocked him in his arms, humming a little, and stroking his hair. He got up every now and then to go throw up.

The next several hours were hellish. He couldn't leave Harry alone, he could barely leave the bathroom, he was so weak he could hardly stand, and the pounding in his head drove out all rational thought. Only when he woke up on the floor of the bedroom in a dampness of vomit and blood from a crack on the head did he admit to himself that this was Not Good, and that he might need help. He reached for his wand.

He remembered speaking the spell?"Expecto patronum"?and nothing further.

Memory came and went in flashes that made no sense.

He was vaguely aware of sitting on the bathroom floor with his head against the coolness of the toilet tank, of someone washing his face with cold water and making him drink something with a bitter, burnt taste that rightfully should have come straight back up again, but instead spread blessed relief through organs he cared not to think about.

He had a dreamlike memory of being half-carried back to bed, and he did wonder how the house-elves managed that trick, but he knew they had powerful magic. Powerful enough to draw the fire from his body and the aches from his joints, powerful enough to ease the shaking of his body with deft, strong hands.

He heard music, and his head pounded.

He tasted betrayal like ashes, the ashes that had been pictures, the pictures that had been the poison that flowed through his veins, the veins cut open and bled dry, blood replaced by fire.

The room was too bright, but he could hear. He could hear begging, and bones breaking, and he couldn't stop it, put that genie back in the bottle.

You had better be careful what you wish for, then.

He couldn't open his eyes, the air was dry like a furnace, but he could feel himself talking and talking even as he fell in and out of sleep. The windows were open or they were shut, the curtains drawn then tied back, and he heard music again, far away like an army coming over the hill. He tried to sit up, finally, and was disturbed that he only managed to roll himself over on his side feebly.

It felt like much, much later that his eyes snapped open, and he thought: Sirius Black. That's who I am. Someone had been asking, and he couldn't for the life of him remember. But I know now, he thought with satisfaction, and revelled in the coolness of his skin against the sheets. Bring on the difficult questions.

He could hear life in the house: Harry's squeals and pounding feet, a lower voice advising caution. There were good smells, too, and his stomach made it clear that its last meal was far too long ago.

"Moony?" His voice cracked; he coughed and tried again. The ruckus down the hall abated, and then he heard heavy footsteps.

The door pushed open, and two faces peered in, Harry seated on Remus' hip. There was an official-looking piece of gauze taped over Harry's scar.

"You're looking better, Pads," Remus said, crossing to the bed, where he deposited Harry. He put his hand to Sirius' forehead. "I think you're going to be fine." Harry bounced his way up over Sirius' stomach to grin in his face.

"Good morning, monkey," he said, ruffling the boy's unruly black hair (exactly Harry's preferred length), and then wondered if it was morning. "Uncle Moony treating you well??and get off my neck," he added, rolling Harry to the side. Something about the child's brain made any lying-down-and-resting person a target for mischief. Sirius could relate.

Remus summoned food while mad tickling took place on the bed. Harry was content to work on a pile of cheese cubes while Sirius let himself be propped up and fed dry toast with water.

"Can't I have eggs, Moony, or sausage, or bananas?"

"We haven't any." Remus held out a glassful of an oily-looking green potion. "Good for what ails you, Padfoot, bottoms up."

"You wish," Sirius said, and quickly drowned the words in nasty potion. "You didn't brew that yourself, did you?"

"Bit late to ask, isn't it?" Remus grinned, and then looked pensive. "I had to bring Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey over. You were really rather sick, both of you. She left a range of potions for you, and you're to take them religiously until you are better. Dumbledore destroyed the Horcruxes yesterday. It seems to have triggered a reaction in Harry. Dumbledore thinks Voldemort came through to him."

"Voldemort or Tom?" Sirius paused, remembering as hard as he could. "I spoke to Tom." On the bed, Harry stiffened. Sirius reached up with one hand and rubbed Harry's shoulders. "We get on like houses on fire."

Remus picked apart a piece of toast. "Whoever it was used Harry to attack you with Legilimency and the Cruciatus Curse."

"He cursed Harry?"

"No. He cursed you." The unspoken you idiot hung in the air between them.

"Oh. Good." Remus gave him a rather odd look. "Well, that it wasn't Harry."

"Dumbledore left a Pensieve downstairs. Sometime tomorrow?not today, Pomfrey says?you'll have to look through your memories and see what Voldemort found."

Sirius felt the colour leach out of his face and the air in the room thicken like a pudding. He looked at Harry, then back at Remus, and shut his eyes. He felt Remus' hand cool on his forehead.

"I'll talk to him, Pads," he heard Remus say. "Come on, kiddo, he needs his sleep."

"I could sleep with him," Harry said, but his weight slid off the bed. "Will you play me checkers again? I'll let you win." Remus' fingers rested gently on Sirius' cheek, the promise of a kiss, and then the door clicked shut.

Fuck, Sirius thought. He kept his eyes shut, and remembered nothing more.

The rumbling of his stomach woke him, and he was shocked to see that it was dark outside the windows. There was a heavy weight of Harry across Sirius' chest, but the ominous stomach gurgle seemed to have bothered him as well, because he raised his head and looked up into Sirius' face. Sirius bore his scrutiny?there was no point in avoiding his eyes now, was there??and then Harry grinned and sat up, crushing the air out of Sirius' lungs.

"I came to get you for supper," he said, and tugged Sirius upright. Sirius sat until the room stopped spinning and then pulled on his clothes carefully. He put a hand on Harry's shoulder and tried very hard not to lean as they went downstairs.

Remus was in the kitchen, sitting at the table and reading a magazine, and tea was on the table.

"You'd make somebody a wonderful wife," Sirius said, sitting down near a stack of drop scones. Harry pulled himself up on the chair next to Sirius and grabbed one with his hands.

Remus frowned. "Highly doubtful." He set a glass of water in front of Sirius and a chipped red mug of milk in front of Harry.

"This is rather a lot of food. You planning on eating it all?"

"Poppy brought it from Hogwarts. She seemed to think that feeding Harry tinned peaches and peas for tea was highly disreputable."

Sirius gave Remus a searching look. Remus looked… exhausted. There were dark shadows under his eyes and sharp lines around his mouth. Tinned peaches and peas were no kind of a meal for a grown man, either. "You look worn to the bone, Moony. And I notice your sense of humour's hibernating." Sirius sipped his water and grimaced. "I was really off my head, wasn't I? I'm sorry."

"Not your fault, Pads. It's nice to see you lucid again."

"You staying the night, Moony?"

"I took a few days off work for a family emergency."

Sirius smiled and said a silent prayer of thanks for Remus' new boss. When he'd got the job, Sirius had had to bite his tongue on the words, "But a bike shop, Moony?" But of all the lousy menial jobs Remus had taken so far, this was the only one that treated Remus like family.

"I love you, you know," Sirius said, and Remus blushed and looked significantly at Harry. "Harry knows I love you. Harry knows I love him."

Harry looked at Sirius and away. "I hurt you."

Sirius took a long sip of his tea. "It was more Tom than you, because he was scared. He came from a bad man, you remember, Harry. And the bad man wants him back. Tom never had a mum or a dad or even an uncle. He doesn't understand that we can love him just for being him. It's… easy for him to hurt someone. Harder for him to love."

Harry kicked the table leg, sloshing everything liquid. "You hurt Uncle Moony. But he says he still likes you."

"Well," Sirius said, wishing someone had thought to give him the Parents' Guide for Having Difficult Conversations, "that's just life. Sometimes you hurt people. Sometimes you're wrong. The real trick is to be sorry for what you've done and to try and make things right. So if I hurt Uncle Moony, I tell him I'm sorry, right? And I tell him I love him."

"He did, too," Remus said from somewhere behind him. "And then it was okay."

"Right," said Sirius, with the kind of manic enthusiasm that comes of measuring rope for your own noose. "So if you feel badly about hurting me, that's good. That tells you what you have to put right. So what do you do?"

"I say I'm sorry?"

"Well, thank you, Harry, I accept your apology." Sirius shook Harry's hand gravely.

"And I promise never to curse you again?" Remus made a noise like a cat slammed in a door and left the kitchen.

"I'd appreciate that."

"Is Uncle Moony crying?"

Sirius looked. "I think he's laughing, Harry. I think now would be a good time to tickle him."

He sat and sipped his tea. There were several explosive noises and a loud thump from the front room that might have been a werewolf brutally tackled by a four-year-old. Harry cackled. Remus begged for mercy.

I live in a madhouse, Sirius thought. And I wouldn't live anywhere else.

Chapter 11: Darkness Falling (Autumn 1985)
London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls

("London Calling" The Clash)

Sirius loved routines: they were the rhythm to set the melody of the day to. No wonder he had hated leaving Hogwarts, all that lovely structure to stick to on good days or subvert on bad.Harry had started school, an event marked by the taking of many photographs and the purchase of a rucksack that made Harry look impossibly small. Sirius had worried that he had perhaps stunted Harry's growth permanently, until he saw the other children from nursery. Weighted rucksacks dwarfed every one of them. He supposed that at some distant point in the future, Harry might open an album and laugh at how titchy he'd been. The future Harry that Sirius envisioned always looked something like James, only without glasses and sporting a cool haircut.

In the hours Harry was gone Sirius juggled his odd jobs: inventory for the mail-order Chinese grocery (he knew the names for five different kinds of seaweed in Chinese, and how many people did you know who could say that?) or installing windows (the countryside was being consumed by housing estates at an alarming rate). His bicycle was held together with tape and magic, but he refused to get another, blaming it on the habits of frugality but really because it had been Remus who had given it to him.

He was always home before Harry, usually doing something garden-related as he had finally decided that being indoors was just not his thing. Tending the cabbages and onions and broccoli and beans: well, that was another routine, the mirror of the eating routine. Take care of your food, and it will take care of you.

He always pretended not to notice Harry until he heard the voice calling him from the gate. He always walked slowly, as if his heart didn't pound with pleasure to see his boy staggering home under that damned rucksack. There would be milk (how many litres he bought in a week, it wasn't worth counting) and sandwiches, or pasta with cheese, or soup, and fruit, fresh and juicy and tart and never again please the gods from a tin. Harry was growing too old to enjoy the rambles in the woods the way he used to: he preferred to prowl the neighbourhood on his bicycle with his friends until it grew dark. It twinged, a little (a lot), but Harry was normal.

Except for after supper, when Sirius and Harry practiced magic. There were very good reasons for delaying a magical education until puberty. The mind was more logical, less intuitive; students were less likely to find themselves able to do impossible things. Magic taught too young came too easily, as natural as breathing.

This was not what Sirius considered a disadvantage. And despite the horror and worry that Remus felt, Sirius knew that Harry was not too young to start, law or no law.

Sirius had had his first wand at five and had been expected to defend himself and his brother from his cousins and their friends. Not to mention his parents. Only Snape had known more hexes in their year, but he had had nothing on Sirius for sheer evil creativity. Ah, the joys of a traditional Pureblood childhood.

So magic was a part of their routine. One subject a day: transfiguration, astronomy, history, potions, and charms. For divination, he and Harry had painted the prophecy of Harry's birth on a large piece of paper and tacked it to the wall. That about covered it, Sirius thought, and had no qualms about dropping divination from his curriculum.

Harry was in bed by eight, after a bath (he still liked playing with his tiny boats, but he didn't like Sirius to watch anymore) and a book. Harry was the only one in his class not reading yet. It didn't bother Sirius. He'd be content to read to Harry even when Harry was that grown-up stranger with the cool haircut.

So long as Harry lived long enough to grow up.

When Harry was asleep, Sirius did all the things that he ought to have done during the day but didn't. Clothes were folded and put away, floors were swept, throw pillows were retrieved from the tops of bookshelves, tools and grease and pieces of bicycle and skateboard and roller skates were banished to the front hall.

Three nights a week, nine o'clock found Sirius unable to put off sitting down any longer. He'd take out the old typewriter (courtesy the church jumble sale) and write, or he'd indulge himself and draw. He enjoyed writing and thought it rather mad that he could get paid for having this much fun. Remus had persuaded him to send off a few of his story-notebooks to publishers, both Muggle and wizarding, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that. He very much liked thinking of himself as an author, but all his stories were pieces of himself, his private history. But it was pleasant to be in the in-between state of waiting for the post.

Nine o'clock on the other four nights found him wandering around the kitchen remembering all the things he'd meant to buy but somehow hadn't. (He didn't find this forgetfulness so irritating once it became part of the Routine.) The meals he made often had the look of something flung together after all the shops had closed: peach crumble and a garden salad, or something unidentifiable but definitely Chinese served with a side of Cheddar on water crackers. Only on truly desperate days did he have nothing better to go on than a bag of split dried peas and half a loaf of bread. And if he did, well, Remus hadn't complained yet.

Remus coming–Remus coming home–was one of Sirius' favourite parts of his routine. He thanked all his employers (even the pornographers), he thanked Remus' boss for giving him a three-day weekend, and he thanked Remus for being susceptible to a prolonged campaign of shameless begging. If he had his way Remus would never leave at all, but he wouldn't ever complain about four nights of dinner-table conversation, of sleeping together, of waking up with Remus' head on the same pillow.

Sirius talked with Harry about what was private, family information and not to be shared at school or with friends. He mostly spoke about magic, and Harry was well drilled in what he was and was not allowed to do, or speak of, outside their house. Sirius managed a not-so-graceful segue from magic to sex, with the result that Harry understood that Sirius and Remus loved each other and did something to show that love in private, and that if Harry talked about it at school it would cause trouble. He also expanded his lecture to include the definitions of many of the new swearwords and curses that Harry had absorbed, sponge-like, from the older kids at school. And asked, politely, that he not use them at home. For the obvious reasons.

Remus had been appalled to hear that Harry had had The Talk ("And how old were you?" Sirius asked, and grinned when Remus admitted ten), and even Sirius found it inhibiting when a loud knock on the bedroom door was followed by a louder, "Stop having sex, I'm coming in." He explained to Harry that they weren't always fucking behind the closed door, that mostly it was just sleeping. After that, he often woke to find Harry insinuated into the bed somewhere. Draped across his feet, perhaps, or spread-eagled in the middle and pushing Remus onto the floor.

Sirius loved his routine and held onto it tightly as the world around them went to hell, in a very literal sense.

Remus was late. Not just "a chain slipped, had to put it back on before I left" kind of late, but dinner-had-congealed hours ago kind of late. Sirius sometimes wished he'd rented a television set when Harry had asked. He heard that it deadened the brain and that sounded like a very good thing indeed. He paced, and then he drew, and then he checked the protections on the house minutely. The Fidelius held. As long as the Fidelius held he had hope.

He was repainting the kitchen table a cheerful green when he finally heard the sound of tyres in front of the house and the squeak of the gate. Sirius wiped his hands on a rag and fought the urge to change into Padfoot, run Remus down, and stand on his chest licking his face. He started his security check even before Remus had his key in the lock, and by the time Remus was in the hall Sirius was as certain as he ever was that Remus wasn't followed, under the Imperius Curse, or a reanimated corpse.

He looked zombie-like, however, and Sirius grabbed him and held him tight. He knew by the stiffness that wouldn't disappear that something had happened. He somehow managed to hug Remus over to the sofa and pulled him onto his lap as he sat. Remus sighed, but it was almost a smile. Sirius could hear his heart where his ear was pressed to Remus' chest. It can't be that bad, he thought.

"Voldemort's taken over Azkaban," Remus said abruptly. "With his Death Eaters. All of them now living."

Sirius shivered. All right, it was that bad. "The Dementors didn't stop him?"

Remus laughed, a trifle hysterically. "Stop him? He's set them on all of Europe. They're his hunting dogs. Anyone in the Order, anyone opposing him, anyone hiding from him will be pursued. And he's more than doubled his ranks in addition to securing himself a fortress." Remus was shaking as if half-frozen. "People are heading there. To Azkaban. In boats, to join him. They think… it will go easier on them to give in now. I don't know… look what happened to Malfoy." He leant his head against Sirius'. "I was there. The port across from Azkaban. Dumbledore sent me, called me at work. The goddamned werewolves, they're being marshalled as his border guards. He's creating his own country, his own army."

"He doesn't even have his own body anymore. Only mad Peter to run him through the walls."

"Peter's dead." Remus ran an agitated hand through his hair. "He was found dead outside of Bath. It was in the Muggle newspapers. Voldemort?according to rumours he's using Barty Crouch's body."

"The Ministry bastard?" Sirius said, startled. What a bloody disaster that would be for all their safety and security.

"No, no, the son, the Death Eater?the one who tortured the Longbottoms." Remus bit his lip, tactfully not mentioning Cousin Bellatrix and her husband. Gods, they would be pissing themselves to have the Dark Lord himself letting them out of the cage.

"Some kind of Inferius?" Sirius asked. "He's been dead and buried in Azkaban these past three years."

"Well, he's flesh and bone now," Remus said shortly, "although his mind's not his."


"Fuck," Remus agreed.

"Does Fidelius hold against Dementors?"

Remus shuddered. "We can hope. Dementors… they're just as good as Legilimens for prying secrets out of people."

"You saw them–Voldemort's Dementors?"

"Yes." Sirius tightened his arms and started composing a Howler to Dumbledore in the back of his head. It was damn foolish to use Remus in such a way. "Greyback is there. I didn't see him, but he's been… put in charge. It's a quiet Muggle town," he burst out, "they won't know what the bloody hell hit them."

"Tell Moody to have the Ministry use that plutonium-leak thing again," Sirius said absently. "Look, you're not to go back there. It's too dangerous. Get your parents out of the country," he added, his brain working so intently on the Howler that he barely noticed that he was thinking of other things.

Remus stiffened. "I need to call them."

Sirius tapped his knuckles against Remus' head. "You're a wizard, send Strix." He summoned a roll of parchment and a pen, catching them deftly one-handed. "Then go to bed, you're done in."

Remus nodded. He looked numb and drawn. "Have I been sitting in your lap all this time?" he asked in surprise as Sirius shifted, trying to stand up without dropping him on the floor.

"Appalling manners." Sirius got free and stood up stiffly. He handed Remus the writing materials and then leant down and kissed him bruisingly hard. It wasn't desperation, it was a prayer: breath being forced into the weary body of hope.

Later, after he'd pulled a blanket over Remus on the sofa and sent Strix on her way, Sirius took a chair from the kitchen and went to sit in the garden to watch the sun rise. It didn't look like the Apocalypse, just another mild spring day with dew shining along his rows of daffodils.

That was the problem: the end of the world didn't come about like a film, all wrapped up in an hour and a half.

The real end of the world happened when horrors became routine.

Chapter 12: Dark Mark (Spring 1986)
Early one mornin', death walked into my room.
(Death Room Blues by Blind Willie McTell)

Sirius didn't know what to say, and he had too much time on his hands to think about how not to say it.Words were inadequate. He needed something stronger. He wanted to turn back time. He wanted to erase the mockery of the Dark Mark. Too many lives he knew ended under Voldemort's sign.

James and Lily.

Mr and Mrs Potter.

Remus' parents.

After–after, when Remus was in the safe house used by the Order of the Phoenix, McGonagall wrote a letter to Sirius that Remus had sent on unopened. He is in shock, but he didn't want you to worry, she wrote, and Sirius wondered what she knew. He'd always suspected she knew that they had been lovers at school. Did she know about them now? She knew that Remus was the Secret-Keeper, obviously.

It probably wasn't that much of a secret anymore.

Remus' mother was a Muggle with no protection from the Death Eaters when they came, and his father had been a romantic to the end, McGonagall wrote. He had known what was coming and quietly used the Killing Curse on his wife of 37 years rather than have her laughter and music stripped from her. He wasn't naive: hadn't his own son told him to run, to hide? Little Remus, the change-of-life baby, the only one born alive, was risking himself in the great secret plot against Voldemort. The Lupins were used to adversity. They would stand their ground.

Sirius thought with a shock that of course McGonagall knew Remus' parents far better than he himself did. They had visited Hogwarts often during Remus' first two years, and the Lupin owl brought regular post for Remus' House Head. They had ragged him about it mercilessly. At least until they had discovered his secret.

The Death Eaters, McGonagall wrote, would have gained no useful information from Remus' father. Remus' recent memories of his family had been tipped into a Pensieve and minutely examined (and didn't that sound a horror, Sirius thought). They would have discovered that he was a werewolf?but Peter must have told them that years before. They would know that Remus worked in a bike shop, that he drove his father's old car, that his mother had accused him of living in sin with a girl who obviously wanted more, she'd sent his mother Christmas cookies, and when was Remus bringing her home? (Sirius did not even want to think about Dumbledore seeing those memories from Remus' head.)

Remus was doing as well as could be expected, she concluded. The funeral was on Friday. Sirius was on no account to try to attend. She didn't even say where it was being held.

When Sirius' mother had died the previous summer, Remus had brought the news personally. He had been regretful and tender. He had listened to Sirius' protests that it didn't matter to him and said nothing. That night, they had made love, and Sirius had felt loved and possessed and wanted. He was saddest because he couldn't associate any of these pleasant feelings with his mother. Now that she was dead, it was too late. Not that it hadn't been too late for years.

Now, when Remus needed him, Sirius might as well have been in a foreign country. He could do nothing. He owled, once a day, but there was only so much that could be said and saying it too much was just annoying. In his reply he'd entrusted McGonagall with Remus' care and well-being.

Sirius cleaned manically and mindlessly. He patched up the holes he'd punched in the kitchen wall when he got the first, terse note from Remus. He fixed the door he'd kicked off its hinges when McGonagall's letter arrived. He scrubbed every inch of the ceilings, walls, and floors until not a spot of dust remained. He thought about putting new fabric on the sofa, but decided that it would be best to leave anything belonging to the Lupins alone, and settled for polishing all the metal, porcelain, and glass to mirror-brightness. He and Harry dragged all the rugs and mattresses out into the garden and beat them soundly. (When his neighbours came out to watch, he volunteered to do their rugs as well, thus both grinding his temper into exhaustion and earning Good Neighbour points at the same time.)

Sirius lit all the lamps as he worked, trying to explain to Harry what it felt like to lose someone you loved. Because Harry didn't know, for all that he was a child of loss.

"So Uncle Moony's an orphan like me now?" he asked, obligingly replacing all the pieces of his Lego in their tattered box.

Sirius scrubbed at dust ingrained in the floorboards. "You could say that. He really… he loved his mum and dad. A lot. They had a lot of hopes and dreams for him. He wanted to make them proud of him." Sirius hugged Harry to him with the hand that didn't have the rag. "I know you love your parents, but… you don't know them. It's a different kind of sadness, perhaps."

"Were they nice, Uncle Moony's mum and dad?"

Sirius leaned back on his heels. "Well, they didn't like me much, but we only met a couple of times. They had a dance party for New Year's, when Remus turned sixteen. His mother?she could dance the socks off anyone, and she was sharp as a pin. She only had to look at you once and all your secrets were revealed. Like Remus, only scarier, because she was a mother. Mothers have this power," Sirius said helplessly, "they can make you feel and do things simply because they are mothers."

Harry shoved his box under the sofa with his foot. "I know a bit about mothers," he said, "most everyone's got one."

"It just makes you feel sad," Sirius said, "that you're never going to see someone again or talk to them again. I still miss your dad. And your mum. And your grandparents."

"What about Uncle Moony's dad?" Harry said, clearly intent on getting this right in his head. Sirius sighed and shoved himself up off the floor.

"Look, clear your clobber off the table and we'll put together a book, okay?"

Harry nodded, satisfied. "It can be Uncle Moony's story." He took out the watercolours because that was what he was learning. "I'll tell you the words and you write them, okay?"

Sirius found that he had no trouble recalling how Remus' parents looked. He drew them happy and dancing and smiling with pride on Remus-at-sixteen.

Remus drove up Saturday afternoon.

Sirius and Harry met him at the gate. He held up one hand.

"Don't say anything, Pads. Just… don't. I want a cup of tea and I want to go to bed."

He looked at the blinding cleanliness of the house but said nothing. He sat in the kitchen and drank his tea as Harry chatted on about school, showing off pictures he'd made and demonstrating his football technique. Remus excused himself politely and went upstairs.

Sirius didn't know if Remus slept or not. When he slipped into the bedroom after putting Harry to bed, Remus was sitting on the edge of the bed, still dressed.

Sirius felt his heart clench with the old and horribly familiar feeling of grief and sickening practicality, the desire to let go and the knowledge that to do so would be fatally stupid.

Gods, let this war end so that we can have some way to mourn in peace, he thought, and wrapped his arms around Remus because really there was nothing to say and nothing he could do.

"Did you want something to eat?" It was an inadequate question, but he couldn't say, Do you want to cry on me, because it's all right if you do.

Remus shook his head. "I'm not hungry. Everyone kept giving me tea and sandwiches. I don't know why."

"I am so sorry that this happened." Sirius pressed his face into Remus' hair.

"Minerva says there's no reason to assume that they were attacked because of my work with the Order, or because of the Fidelius."

Sirius would sooner have played riddles with a sphinx. "Well, she had to say that, it's meant to be comforting. But if someone wanted you, if they thought you were Harry's Secret-Keeper or had nicked Horcruxes from my mother's house, kidnapping would have been more effective." He sighed. Honesty was as comforting as nakedness was natural: fine in good weather, but a terror in a storm. "Are you sure your father didn't annoy the wrong people again? Look what happened last time?oh, fuck." He sat down and pulled Remus, rigid with tears, against him, whispering I'm sorry, I'm sorry like a mantra into Remus' hair. Remus shook under his hands, small dry sobs escaping. They sat there like that long enough for Sirius to get a stitch in his side. Finally, Remus scrubbed at his face with shaking fingers.

"I hadn't thought of that," he said, his voice low the way it was after the change. "No one we love is safe these days."

"Thank the gods that love survives."

"Does it?"

"Of course it does." Sirius kissed Remus on one salty cheek. "Love is indelible. I believe that. What James and Lily felt for Harry, that survives. What your parents felt for you?you still have their love. You always will."

"I was not," Remus said with careful elucidation, "quite what they hoped for."

"But they loved who you were. Trust me. Your parents doted on you. They were mad about you. I don't think," he said thoughtfully, "any parent gets what they hope for. And if they do, I'll bet they're disappointed."

Remus nodded, sagging with exhaustion. "I'm going to bed now, Pads." He stood up, shakily, and took something out of his pocket. "Here." He held something out, and Sirius reached for it automatically. What he caught was heavy and gleamed gold. "My mum's," Remus said by way of explanation, holding up his own hand, which now wore an identical ring.

Sirius closed his hand reflexively. "Remus," he said, ignoring the fragile hope that stirred, "are you giving me this as a remembrance of your mum, or are you asking me to be with you what your parents were?"

Remus frowned. "Both, I suppose."

"You'd have me?"

"I already do have you," Remus said. "I wouldn't mind keeping you"

Sirius slipped the ring onto his ring finger. It adjusted itself as wizarding rings do and he regarded it a moment, then stood and kissed Remus, gently, and helped him get ready for bed.

He tucked Remus in and walked around the bed. "Do you want me or Padfoot tonight?"

Remus reached out a hand. "You. I want you."

Sirius slipped between the sheets and wrapped himself around Remus. Remus pressed closer, sighed, and was asleep.

Sometime in the night Harry joined them. Sirius woke with an expanse of sideways boy between himself and Remus, with feet pressed into his stomach. My family, he thought, lying there waiting for the morning to begin. My family, my love, my heart outside my body, and I would do anything to keep them safe.

Remus was quiet when he was home, and Harry and Sirius were quiet around him. The record player sat forgotten in the corner of the room. The quiet stretched out. Finally, the pressure of the uncomfortable silences got to be too much, and Sirius cracked–in a calm and rational way, he thought, as he tacked the picture he'd drawn of Remus' parents to the wall behind his altar, next to the senior Potters.Remus didn't notice until dinner, when Sirius set the empty offering plate in front of him. He looked from the dish, to the wall, and back to Sirius with narrowing eyes."My parents were lapsed Catholics, you can't put them up on a pagan altar."

Sirius shrugged. "Lily was C of E, and I don't hear her complaining. Look," he said, cutting off any interruptions, "it's not for the dead, or about the dead, it's for us. Because I believe… I believe that love does not die. That the best part of someone does not fade away, that it's just somewhere over there." He waved one hand. "And I'll help you, as you don't know what to say."

Remus studied the pictures on the wall. "I didn't know… I didn't know how it felt, all right, I didn't know how you felt. I can understand, now, how very angry you were. How it's like having the ground ripped out from under you."

"What you do first is you make an offering." Sirius handed Remus a spoon and watched as he moved a potato and some broccoli onto the dish. "Then you set it right there, that's right."

"I don't believe in this, you know," Remus said, but he did it anyway, just as he repeated the prayer for the dead after Sirius and Harry (who'd known it since he could talk). That was enough, Sirius thought. It was a start. And later there would be time for dancing and for writing stories and for remembering. And someday, perhaps, the good memories would come easier than the bad.


Chapter 13: Hide and Go Seek (Spring 1987)
Up, down, turn around, please don't let me hit the ground
Tonight I think I'll walk alone, I'll find my soul as I go home
. . .
Bolts from above hit the people down below
People in this world, we have no place to go

(Temptation by New Order)

Remus said he hardly noticed the Dementors patrolling anymore. After that one bad incident, he now avoided the alley from the car park to the bike shop. He said it was good exercise to walk all the way around the block. His pockets these days were always full of tubes of Smarties or Galaxy and Bounty bars, much to Harry's delight.Sirius would have felt the need to yell at Remus if things hadn't been bad all over. Taking the London Underground was like descending into Hell: it was quite a political problem, apparently, with various minorities and socio-economic groups singled out as the root cause. But even the local high street was infected by fear. Graffiti covered shop fronts, windows were boarded over, and people walked with wary closed faces and never looked others in the eye. Sirius had turned his hair brown and started wearing button-down shirts: he didn't mind being taken for Aimless Youth, but he disliked it when people crossed the street to avoid him.

The roads sparkled with broken glass, and Sirius had to constantly transfigure it into sugar. If he missed a piece it inevitably slashed his tyres to ribbons.

On a bitterly cold day in March, Maurice Yaxley walked into Gary's Cycle Shop in Birmingham and looked through the rack of biking attire as carefully as if he were selecting a gift. He asked Remus for the key to the changing room and tried on three t-shirts. Each time he came out to examine himself in the mirror the serpent crawling from the skull on his arm flicked its forked tongue at Remus.

He finally chose a bright green shirt with white stripes under the arms.

At the till Remus politely refused his Galleons. Yaxley took out a green snakeskin wallet and counted out the Muggle money carefully.

"Does Dumbledore know what his pet does when he's not stealing from old ladies?" he asked, his tone light and pleasant but the words themselves not carrying to the back of the shop, where Gary was assembling a new collapsible bicycle. "I'd think it was pathetic if I didn't know what you've been up to these past years. Clever werewolf."

Remus gave him his change and receipt, and folded the shirt into a bag.

"Well, ta then," Yaxley said cheerfully, taking the bag. "Don't suppose I'll see you here again, but I'm sure we'll run into each other. Give my regards to your mum and dad." He paused and gave Remus a bright smile over his shoulder. "Oh, wait, I already did."

Sirius had the whole story three times through from Remus, each time accompanied by increasing outrage. Remus had called him at work, so Sirius hadn't been able to say any of the things he needed to say.

"When can we expect your… delivery?" he said, meaning I want you here with me, now.

"Next week, maybe," Remus said. "I quit my job. Walked out. You should… you should maybe be ready. To go. We talked about passports. I'll bring them. I have to go, go north, you know, talk to the old man."

"Shall I send you your money there, then?" Sirius asked, aware of his boss sorting through mountains of noodles behind him and humming a little tune, which meant she was listening in.

"I'm fine." The telephone made an odd rhythmic thumping on the other end. "Don't worry." The thrumming nearly swallowed Remus' voice. "I'll be in touch."

"Duo xie," Sirius said automatically as Remus rang off, and when Mrs Chin asked him who it was on the phone, he shrugged. "Wo bu hui shuo zhongwen."

Remus and Sirius had escape plans, of course, and practiced them as often as they could. Multiple international apparition jumps, clever ways of picking Harry up at school, shoes filled with money and false IDs, code words and spell-checks: it was all very James Bond, or so they presented it to Harry, just a rather eccentric game that his elders played. Harry, of course, knew better, and they knew that he knew, but the pretence stood because it was so much better than acknowledging the reality.Maurice fucking Yaxley, Sirius thought to himself. He didn't even have a face to put to the name until he got home and flipped open the Prophet to the "Have you seen this wizard?" feature. Tall man. Long, shaggy hair, pointy nose, too many white teeth. Remus had loved his job at the bike shop. Sirius hoped no one would blow it up. Maurice fucking Yaxley.Sirius wondered if he'd really been involved in the murder of the Lupins, or if he just said so hoping that Remus would do something stupid.

The waiting was the worst torture Sirius could imagine. His need for distraction was such that he found himself unable to sit down and eat, instead cooking and washing and cleaning and eating all at the same time. He played games with Harry and took him bike riding. They went into town and bought all the ingredients for a birthday cake so that they could make Remus one when he came. His birthday came and went, but Sirius insisted it didn't matter so long as they celebrated.

Remus arrived late at night, driving down the lane with his lights out. Sirius was not waiting up, exactly. It was more a general disinclination to sleep. Sirius walked out to meet him at the car, spell-checking as he went, and then they walked into the house together, Remus shedding his coat and muffler and hat in the front hall and stamping the snow from his boots.

Remus grabbed him and kissed him hard, twisting his fingers in Sirius' hair. There was no time for words like, where have you been? or how are you? or even have you eaten? There were no words at all, just Remus kissing him and pushing him slowly up the stairs, and the soft sounds of clothing (belts, jumper, shirts) hitting the floor.

Outside, it was snowing and still; inside, the smell and silence of the snow seeped in around doors and through window frames (they were cheap window frames, Sirius knew). Sirius never saw falling snow without thinking of Remus, and now, pushed back on the bed in the dark room, he turned his head and saw the white swirling beyond the window while Remus finished stripping him and stretched up against him, his warm mouth on his neck.

art by almost-clara
"Moment" by almost_clara (comment on the art here)

Sirius wrapped his arms around Remus and rolled over him. Remus was susceptible to the cold, so Sirius covered him with his own warmth as he pushed off Remus' trousers and vest. His back was cold, his chest was warm, and where his cock rubbed against Remus' it was the start of a fire.

In the darkness Remus' face was a flash of teeth, a glint of stray light caught in his eyes. Sirius framed Remus' face with his hands and kissed him as he began moving his hips against Remus. Remus thrust up hard against him, and then tangled his legs with Sirius' so that he pulled Sirius beneath him. His breathing was rough and warm where his head rested on Sirius' shoulder. Sirius slid his hands down Remus' back, rocking his hips slowly, feeling the echoes of his movements in the stutter of Remus' breathing. Remus arched his back and bit along Sirius' neck until he reached the spot in back of Sirius' ear that always made him groan.

Remus licked; Sirius broke the silence; and then they were moving against each other with frantic speed. Sirius' hands touched Remus everywhere, painting him like a canvas. Remus' mouth traced a map of Sirius in sweat. There were no words still, but they spoke in cries and gasps and breaths that came out like flames now, and in the language of fingers against bare, sweat-slicked, sensitive skin. Friction did unspeakable things to Sirius that narrowed his focus the way heat and pressure form diamonds and stars collapse beyond the ability to collapse, forming black holes. Which was where Sirius found himself, hurtling through snow like fields of stars and out into a brilliance beyond that was the brightest black imaginable.

He cried out and forgot how to breathe, his body jack-knifing under Remus. His forehead connected loudly with Remus' face, but Remus was caught up in his own release, panting and straining before collapsing heavily onto Sirius' chest.

"Love you," he said, and Sirius' arms came up and around him, holding him tightly even if it meant crushing the air out of his own lungs.

"Love you too," Sirius said into Remus' tangled hair. "Love you forever. Love you always." He reached out with one hand and found the quilt. He slid it awkwardly over Remus, who was already breathing as if he were asleep.

There would be dreadful things to deal with tomorrow, like contingency plans and escape routes, and new names to memorize, perhaps, or stories to corroborate. Sirius would have to be apprised of and pretend not to be appalled by whatever plans Remus had set into action.

But tonight they were safe in the snow, in the quiet and cold. Sirius closed his eyes and breathed in peace, and calm, and love until he fell asleep.

This was their new routine:Remus, making up for years of opening shifts at horrible low-paying jobs, twitched goodbye from somewhere inside a nest of pillows and bedding as Harry and Sirius left. On the weekends he made an effort to be awake by eight, eight-thirty at the latest. Weekdays Sirius suspected him of lazing about until lunchtime.

Remus had a rather naive view of housekeeping and a fondness for Stuart Atram's household hints that was frankly appalling. Things kept getting tidied away into wicker baskets, and bowls of fruit in season appeared (which was rather nice, or would have been, if Sirius'd been allowed to eat the fruit). Sirius made a chart of the things Remus Was and Was Not allowed to do around the house; for the most part, Remus managed to get the laundry done and the bedrooms tidied. For someone whose usual spring cleaning was a boot sale, this had to be considered progress, Sirius thought.

When Sirius came home, he usually found Remus sitting at the kitchen table like the eye of a book-and-paper cyclone. There would be several cups of tea scattered around, each drunk halfway, and letters ready to be sent off to Dumbledore and various Aurors. Sirius always asked if he'd eaten or been outdoors yet, and the answers were always no, which led to eating sandwiches out in the garden. Remus grumbled and always dressed too warmly, so that when they tramped through the woods in search of Strix he was forced to carry a large bundle of woollen things.

They were back at the house when Harry arrived home, and after a minor distraction with crisps or fresh fruit (Remus never complained if it was for Harry), their lessons in magic would commence. Remus and Sirius alternated days, one teaching and the other cooking, which was a fair and democratic way to do it but was hard on the stomach.

After Harry was in bed, Remus would tuck up his legs and test his latest ideas on Sirius. It was nice to see Remus engaged in his work for Dumbledore and it was interesting; really it was, Sirius would protest, swallowing a yawn badly and getting hiccups. Remus would pull him up from the sofa and put him to bed, staying sometimes, sometimes returning to his books and papers. They had even developed a routine for making love, early in the morning as Sirius was just thinking about waking up.

It was delightful, really. Idyllic.

What Sirius did not like were the meetings Remus was called away for, two or three a month. They took place in safe houses for the Order of the Phoenix, each in a different location. "Perfectly safe," Remus always said, filling the back of his car with boxes of books and papers. Remus would be gone for a few days, and when he returned he would have new books and new assignments. Sirius sometimes wondered if Dumbledore were making him read the entire Hogwarts library. Perhaps a bit of light revenge for some of the things they'd done in the Hogwarts library in their less-than-discreet youth.

From Dumbledore they got presents of fictitious passports and identifications and reports on Death Eater movements.

Being Old People now and not Spontaneous Youth, they even had a routine for arguing about the meetings.

"Dumbledore doesn't love you," Sirius would say, reaching out to touch Remus. He'd take Remus' hand and trace the lines on his palm, or stretch his legs out until they met Remus' ankles.

Remus would smile and scoot his chair just a little bit closer. "You're sweet when you're possessive."

It was a ritual that always ended in furtive kitchen kissing, because there were no real answers. It reminded Sirius of the illustration he'd seen of a snake biting its own tail and rolling like a hoop.

Remus would stop the kissing reluctantly and stand up. "The sooner I go, the sooner I come back."

"Don't take the Underground."

"Yes, mother."

"Call me?"

Remus would slap Sirius on the head, lightly. "If I get you fired we'll really be in trouble."

Sirius and Harry would stand at the gate and wave goodbye to the Skoda, and then they would get on their bikes and head off to work and school.

Sirius was not deceived into thinking that their new routine could keep the horrors of the world at bay, but he loved it anyway with a fierce passion. And he loathed the thought of any change: change, in his experience, was rarely for the better.

Chapter 14: Fidelius Redux (June 1987)
What makes most people feel happy
Leads us headlong into harm

(Paint a Vulgar Picture by The Smiths)

Sirius woke as if doused with cold water, rolling and grabbing his wand and already beside Harry's bed before he was really awake. Before he realized what had woken him.The house's protections were down, the bloody Fidelius was down.

They had practiced for this so often that Sirius could go through the moves in his sleep?he was going through the moves in his sleep. Blanket around Harry, charmed to keep him warm, shoes on, the clock in his head ticking madly. The living room exploded into green light and Sirius had his wand out to cast a violent "Incendio" before wrenching them away.

art by almost-clara
"Hand in Hand" by almost_clara (comment on the art here)

The Apparation jumps were gruelling, but Sirius didn't notice. He didn't even know where he was going half of the time: dark and snow, walk ten metres, then?light and trees covered in thick hairy moss, another ten metres, then?an island, perhaps, the sound of the ocean breaking far below and the tang of salt in the air as he walked the cliff, then?stumbling in a roaring wind that drove sand into his eyes and made Harry whimper. He fought to get away from that fury as fast as possible, finally finding himself in?well, it wasn't much of a house, but it was safe. Sirius could feel Dumbledore's touch in the charms and protections of what appeared to be a stone-walled potato storehouse. There was a rickety table with two sacks of potatoes for chairs. Sirius perched on one, not letting go of Harry.


"I'm sorry we had to run, Harry," Sirius said, his mind working too hard and his arms beginning to shake.

"I want to go home." There was a tremble in the voice of threatening tears.

"We have to stay safe right now, but if it is safe to go home we will."

"This is a scary place."

"It's just bags of potatoes. At least we won't be hungry. We can have chips for breakfast and mashed potatoes for lunch and potatoes au gratin for dinner."

Harry sniffled. Sirius rocked him slowly. "Go back to sleep."

"Uncle Moony won't be able to find us. And I'll bet there's rats here."

The Fidelius had gone down, the protection secured by a single living soul. By Remus Lupin's living soul. Sirius was very much afraid?he refused to finish the thought, and settled for being terrified.

It took what felt like hours for the message to arrive, delivered by Dumbledore's phoenix. Harry missed seeing the brilliantly glowing bird, having cried himself to sleep on Sirius' shoulder. Sirius couldn't bring himself to take much pleasure in the sight, simply unstrapped the message container with numb fingers. The lump wrapped in silk would be a Portkey, one of Dumbledore's homemade illegal ones, probably. Sirius unrolled the letter.

"Harry is not safe–come to me immediately. A.D."

Sirius shook the Portkey out onto his hand. It was an old spoon, bent nearly half. As his hand closed around it, he felt himself jerked away. Goodbye potatoes, hello dreadful Victorian parlour, he thought. He knew the place, and it still haunted his nightmares. Snape's house?well, Snape's parents' house, although his mother was in an asylum and his father dead, he'd heard.

He stood in front of the bookshelves, waiting for Dumbledore. He felt as if he were about to be reprimanded. How many times had he sat in front of Dumbledore's desk? The first time, his feet hadn't even touched the ground. And the last… The last time was when his own impetuous arrogance and casual adolescent cruelty had nearly gotten Remus killed. He had gotten the "one more step out of line" speech, and terror at his own innate evil had kept him in line until he left school.

When had that cruel arrogance slipped back into place? He thought now that he could see Peter's hand in it, encouraging him to revert to old habits, but he refused to place the blame anywhere outside himself. He had allowed himself to devolve into a caricature, and had embraced brutality instead of rationality. He wondered if Snape had ever gotten the stains out of the floorboards.

Third time's the charm, he thought miserably. I've finally gotten Remus killed, and for no reason beyond loving me too well when I didn't deserve it.

"You can sit down, Sirius, the chairs don't bite. Well, except for that wobbly red one, but it's uncomfortable as well." Dumbledore spoke from behind him, and Sirius half-turned. "I made up a bed on the sofa for young Mr Potter," he added quietly, indicating a pile of faded quilts.

Sirius settled Harry onto the sofa and covered him with a quilt made entirely out of what appeared to be Honeyduke's candy wrappers transfigured to cotton.

"One of my favourites," Dumbledore said, and touched Harry's hair lightly. "A bad night for him."

"What's happening?" Sirius burst out, and Dumbledore eased him away from the sleeping boy. "The charm failed."

Dumbledore sat down on the squashy mustard-coloured sofa. "I've been keeping a close eye on you myself, these days. Remus told me about the threats made against him, of course."

Sirius sank into an over-sized wing chair and pulled his knees up, hugging them to his chest.

Dumbledore shot him a sharp look. "I must admit, when I asked him to be Secret-Keeper, I had not thought he'd become over-ruled by his emotions concerning you. I rather thought that after you'd denounced him as a Death Eater and a traitor, he'd be the last person suspected of being your Secret-Keeper. I thought the level of animosity between you would be an excellent protection."

"Are you saying that the reason he was–was discovered is because we stopped hating each other? Trust me, I feel guilty enough." Sirius found himself on the edge of tears, and he rubbed his eyes hard against his knees.

Dumbledore laced his fingers together and looked intently at Sirius. "He didn't need to become… involved. I can understand occasional visits to check on the boy. I was reassured by his reports on how well-cared for Harry is. But there's something else, isn't there?"

"Remus loves Harry–the boy's as good as our son. He hates having to leave." The tears were falling freely now, and Sirius ignored them. "And he loves me. The gods know I don't deserve it."

"You know that Voldemort still lives–still exists might be a better way to describe it. That even as we have been searching desperately for him, his Death Eaters are hunting for their master and for Harry Potter. They believe that Harry must die for Voldemort to rise again in his own body. Perhaps to rise again in Harry's body, where a piece of Voldemort's soul already resides." Dumbledore stared intently at Sirius. "Harry will be sent to live with his aunt."

"You can't?you can't destroy his family, just like that."

"You'll find I can, Mr Black. I intend for the boy to live. I want him able to withstand the Darkest wizard of our time, to use his unique potential if necessary?if possible?to bring Voldemort down."

Sirius felt an odd, dizzying dislocation spread like a sickness though his body. It was familiar but yet not so, like a gentle caress from an alien hand.

Dumbledore turned, and a comic expression of disbelief, horror, and amusement worked its way over his face as he turned in nearly a full circle, scanning the room. "Sirius Black." He went to the sofa where Harry slept and yanked off the quilt; his gaze seemed to slide sideways and around Harry; his outstretched hand reached and reached but could not quite touch the boy, whimpering now with the cold. Dumbledore brought his wand up. "Finite incantatem." He frowned. "Bring Harry back now, Sirius. This is not a joking matter."

The fire flared green, and Severus Snape strode out, flicking ash off with his wand. Dumbledore stared at him with glittering eyes.

"Professor Snape. What have you done?"

Snape raised an eyebrow. "I did as instructed, by yourself, I might add. I performed the Fidelius, as soon as I deemed it necessary."

In the long years of his life, Albus Dumbledore had learned how to swear very creatively and at length. "Black's disappeared, Severus, from this very room and taken the boy with him. You were supposed to keep the boy away from Black."

"The Dark Mark has gone up in Little Whinging, over the Dursleys'. And over the Evans' in Brighton. And over Harry's safe house in Yorkshire, although Black had the foresight to blow it up before he left. The Dark Lord is on the move. He knows you found another Horcrux." Snape moved from the shadows, and Sirius could see the lines of exhaustion deep on his face. His eyes were sunken and devoid of light. "If I hadn't performed the Fidelius, at great expense to myself I might add, he would have Harry within hours. There was not," he added, his lip curling, "time to make modifications to the spell. It's identical to the one Lupin used."

Dumbledore sat heavily. "You can tell me where they are." It was one step away from an order.

"Black, if he has the sense the gods gave peanuts, is already on his way out of the country. It would not be… prudent… for me to reveal his location now, surely you agree. We'll establish contact when he's safe." Snape paced, turned. "You promised me sanctuary when the Dark Lord was coming. I've played my role out. Will you send me back?"

"What about Remus Lupin?"

Snape shrugged, an eloquent gesture that looked both respectful and disinterested. "Lupin took three silver bullets in the chest, on the M25, I believe. He's gone."

Sirius froze where he stood, halfway across the carpet. He didn't even dare shut his eyes?he was trying to keep his movements out of Snape's line of sight?but he felt the burn of tears. Later. He slipped behind Snape's back and knelt by the sofa. Harry was frowning in his sleep. Sirius gathered him up, resting Harry's head on his shoulder and locking his hands under Harry's hips. Dangling trainers hit him in the knees.

Dumbledore looked up sharply. "You ought to have?"

"Nine hells, Albus, I'm tired." Snape ran his wand down his hair, stretching it back to its normal length. He paused, and then transfigured the white jacket he wore into his customary black robes. "I've been up all night modifying memories and avoiding Death Eaters. The Fidelius isn't the easiest charm to cast, either." He summoned a bottle and a glass and poured himself a generous amount of whiskey. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to steal a body from a Muggle hospital?"

"You needn't have."

"They do experiment on unclaimed bodies, you know." Snape sipped, grimaced, sipped again.

"I assume that's also your intent."

"For fuck's sake, Albus, the man was a friend. I'm not entirely inhuman, you know." Snape turned away and for a moment Sirius had a very good look at his face as Snape fought for control. He held his breath and backed away slowly. "Very few of us are."

Dumbledore digested this in silence, the flickers of possible responses flashing across his face; but in the end he held his tongue. Snape's mouth twisted. Under different circumstances, Sirius thought, Snape would not give up this advantage. But he seemed to be genuinely?something. Sirius refused to accept the idea that Snape was mourning, or in shock, or even shaken out of his habitual animosity. He let it go: let Dumbledore and Snape occupy each other. He had a different agenda.

Sirius bowed his head and forced out all thoughts besides the Plan, because of course there had to be a plan. He ignored Dumbledore and Snape, each circling the other warily, each trying to gain an advantage. He would pack a suitcase–buy a suitcase?and take the first flight out of Heathrow bound for America. Travel to Chicago, where Remus' secrets and bank accounts were kept, and then find someplace to live.

There would be no need for Snape to contact him for the next several years. And he couldn't imagine having any need or desire to contact Snape.

Sirius had Harry, that was the important thing. He walked out into the narrow corridor and down to the kitchen. The kitchen door opened onto an overgrown garden with a rusted gate at the end. He had parked the bike here, before. Harry was heavy in his arms as he walked out the gate, turned left and kept on walking. The sun was just starting to stain the sky, and the buildings all around him were dingy and black.

Sirius felt like a ghost.

He walked holding Harry even after he woke, even though it was silly to carry such a big boy. He found the town centre and the place where tickets for the motor coach were sold. They ate horrible soggy sandwiches while waiting for their departure time, and Harry cried when Sirius told him about Remus.

Sirius held him tightly, his throat closing on all the comforting lies he knew he ought to be telling: he didn't suffer or it was quick or he's in a better place. All he could say was He loved you and he said that again and again, until Harry took the handkerchief from him and scrubbed his face red and raw.

In the dirty toilet, Sirius took out their passports and emergency money, as well as the credit cards that drew on Remus' hidden funds. He washed his face and wet-combed his hair back. He nearly took Remus' mother's ring off, but then decided to leave it on. He forced himself to look his own reflection in the eyes, and forced his emotions down, down into a black place at the bottom of his soul, where he locked them tight.

Then he went out into the blinding daylight to take Harry's small hand in his own and get them away from the consuming nightmare. As far away as possible. If he could.

If you could read my mind now
all you'd find is you.
Moving pictures of the small
and everyday things we do.
You've been so good and faithful.
Hoping for a happy ending.
But what's the use in faith
when there's nothing you can do?
To die might be alright with me.
I'm gonna fly with splendid wings.
("Splendid Wings" David Brown 1996)

Chapter 15: Out from Azkaban (June 1987 to April 1991)
Broken Bicycles,
Don't tell my folks;
There's all those playing cards
Pinned to the spokes,
Laid down like skeletons
out on the lawn.
The wheels won't turn
When the other has gone.

(Broken Bicycles by Tom Waits 1982)

Sirius was a bit disturbed to find that many of the assumptions he'd had about America turned out to be right. He'd rather thought he'd be wrong about so many things, and that putting his errors right would give him something to do. Fill up some time. Engage him.But he found himself unengaged, unfilled, undone.

And nothing to do but get on with his bloody life and try not to fuck up Harry's any more than necessary.

Mountains or ocean, he'd asked, after watching a bright glittery jet-lagged dawn over the skyscrapers of Chicago, which while it had the blues and decent pizza had neither mountains nor ocean. Ocean, Harry had replied, and as he found himself unwilling to go further west, they headed south and east.

Remus' vault (what was the Muggle word for it?) had yielded new documents, names, nationalities, and bankbooks. Enough to get them settled anywhere they pleased.

The apartment they chose was on a barrier island, three blocks from the beach, and the building curled in a U around a swimming pool. How much more American could you get, Sirius thought. They bought clothes, pots, bicycles, houseplants, and everything else at the K-Mart. They shopped at the Piggly-Wiggly (even Harry found this perverse). They put all the pieces of their new life in their used ("pre-owned" was the American expression) Toyota.

Sirius enrolled Harry in a decent school where the teachers didn't mind him being seven years old and unable to read or write, and not much inclined to sit still, either. They agreed not to mind his funny accent if he agreed not to mind theirs. Fair, both Sirius and Harry said. Harry learnt Spanish and soccer and interpersonal skills.

Sirius found that the Americans replaced their windows even more than the British (perhaps it was the sea air) and spent his first year mostly up ladders and associating with power tools. He prided himself that no-one working with him ever lost a finger or broke a bone (well, for longer than a few minutes, at any rate).

Most days he and Harry took the offering dish down to the beach before supper. They set it in the sand and said their prayers as the sun slid down beyond the farthest pier. It had hurt like bloody hell the first time, and not much better the second and third times.

art by almost-clara
"Beach" by almost_clara (comment on the art here)

Harry had twisted in on himself, and for the first time Sirius felt that they were keeping secrets from each other. Harry refused to meet his eyes; he barely spoke at home unless spoken to. Sirius started lying down with Harry at bedtime. They were beyond picture books, so one night he started telling Harry about his first ride on the Hogwarts Express, about the Sorting, about the dormitory.

It was a shock to realise that for all he thought of himself as young, Harry had trouble believing that he'd ever been a child. Harry wanted to hear about James and Lily and devoured any stories about Remus as if he were starving. The stories became a kind of ritual, a way of bridging the gap left by things that couldn't be said. When Sirius got to third year and the unusual incident concerning Remus and McGonagall's knickers, he heard Harry laugh for the first time in months. Three days later, Harry looked up at Sirius during dinner and said, "Uncle Moony never liked noodles much, did he?"

"Not much," Sirius said, "but he ate them anyway." Harry nodded and pushed his pasta around on his plate. Finally, he managed to look up at Sirius again.

"Tom says he didn't kill Uncle Moony. But I think he might have." There was that peculiar twist to Harry's chin that suggested impending tears, and Sirius decided that no, this was not a good time for hugging. He shrugged and raised an eyebrow.

"Your Tom's just a piece, you know that," he said lightly, feeling sick. "And he hasn't any power but what he gets from you, even though he came from, from the other Tom Riddle. And you're a good kid, Harry. I think you've made Tom a lot like yourself. Made him want to be like you." He took a deep breath and moved his chair enough that he could put an arm around Harry's shoulders. "I don't know who killed Uncle Moony. It might have been the other one, I don't know. But probably it was just someone working for him." Harry was stiff and still. "Uncle Moony loved Tom as much as we do, Harry, and Tom-?is Tom sad, that he's gone?"

"He's scared that I'm angry at him."

"Well," Sirius said. "It's not really fair, you know. I'd hate to be responsible for the things my parents did."

"Can I-?" Harry's shoulders tightened. "Can I talk about Uncle Moony? With you," he added in a rush. "Not with?-not to-?just with you."

"Of course you can. Don't ever think you can't," Sirius said, and Harry collapsed against him, breathing heavily into his shirt.

"I don't want you to be sad," Harry said, muffled, and Sirius rocked him slowly.

"And I don't want you to be sad, but here we are. Sometimes bad things happen. But you have to go on. And the sadness becomes a part of you. I am happy to have you, you know." He ruffled Harry's untidy hair. "You can talk to me. About anything." Harry, in his arms, nodded, and then the painful conversation faded away into nagging about vegetables and finding matching socks and negotiating about whether a video could be watched before homework was done. Sirius didn't allow himself to get drunk these days, but he had a beer after Harry was in bed and hoped that he'd done right.

Once the dam was breached, Sirius found himself constantly fielding questions and offering reassurances. He got so good at pretending that it didn't tear his heart out each time that one day he found that it didn't actually hurt to pause with Harry and consider what Uncle Moony might have thought about a particularly tropical swimming costume.

"He'd probably have worn it," he decided, "if you gave it to him."

"But I can't," Harry said. His hand slipped into Sirius'. "You could wear it."

"If you ever give me something that godsawful–" Sirius started, and Harry laughed at him until he developed hiccups and had to be revived with ice cream.

The first anniversary of Remus' death coincided with an overnight camping trip with his classmates that Harry had looked forward to for weeks. Sirius took the offering dish down to the beach and talked until the tide rose high enough in the darkness to lap at his feet. The next morning, Sirius removed Remus' mother's wedding ring and put it on a chain around his neck. That, he thought, was enough.

Over the summer Harry asked him when he'd start drawing stories again, and Sirius realized that he wanted to, that the words and the pictures had been waiting for him. The apartment began to accumulate a lived-in look of papers and colours and books piled about.

He encouraged Harry to make his own books, and Harry worked painstakingly over the illustrations, although the effort it took to concentrate on them meant that for an hour or so afterwards he was full of restless physical energy that translated into long runs on the beach with Padfoot or bodysurfing in the waves. Harry was a very physical child. Sirius suspected that he would be brilliant at Quidditch (due to both nature and nurture, of course).

He wrote to Snape twice, once to let him know to contact him via the post box in Chicago, and once to ask for teaching materials for Harry. He had received back the Hogwarts textbooks for first through third year (no letter enclosed, but he hadn't expected one) and a wand for Harry. That made him smile. Heart-warming, that Snape trusted him.

Harry had a knack for Charms that came from Lily, obviously, but Sirius concentrated on magical theory and defence. They read from the textbook on magical creatures each night and took road trips on the weekends to try and spot American beasts in their native habitats. The local woods were full of fascinating carnivorous plants as well. They had no apothecary to go to for Potions ingredients, so while they were hiking Sirius always kept an eye out for useful toadstools, insects, and minerals. Potions study was very hit-or-miss. Harry discovered several interesting uses for bicarbonate of soda and artificial bacon chips mixed with pixie dust one day while Sirius was occupied with the laundry. As punishment, Sirius made him write his discoveries up like a proper research paper and send it to Snape.

Snape sent back a package containing A Boies Owne Potions Laboratorie. Well-worn flasks and vials sat in the case alongside newly filled Potions stores, and in the guidebook ("Guydebooke") under the childishly scrawled "Severus S. Snape" were two neat lines of adult script: "Presented to Mr Harry Potter, October 1989. Use well, and note that in Potions spelling doesn't count." Long-distance hero-worship commenced, and Sirius wondered what James would think if Harry were sorted into Slytherin.

Provided Harry got into Hogwarts at all.

News from home was grim. It didn't take much reading between the lines to interpret the wave of crime, terrorist acts, and despair: its epicentre was Azkaban. The Dementors now controlled not only the Underground but also much of British Rail. Several major roads were now nearly impassable. The Muggle government was hard put to explain what was going wrong. One major political faction blamed the foreigners. Fire bombings and murders ensued. Even sports ceased to be a refuge: any game of football attracted Dementors, and they were rapidly learning how to make humans produce the kinds of emotions they enjoyed devouring–both savage joy and raging despair.

And it spread; out from Azkaban bleeding into Europe, crossing the oceans and skies and moving via satellite until the world began catching its breath, wondering, what is happening?

Life wasn't much better even when you knew what was happening.

Harry settled at school and progressed well in his home studies (well enough that he now bested Sirius in duelling two times out of five). Somewhere along the way Harry had developed a social conscience, and his free time was spent protecting marshland wildlife (it did wonders for his Latin) and raising money for development projects in West Africa. He had persuaded Sirius to take him to march on Washington twice; Sirius was trying to persuade him away from the more militant forms of vegetarianism. "He thinks he can save the world," his fifth year teacher said, folding his hands over a horrible knitted waistcoat. "Well," Sirius had replied, "I certainly hope he can."

Some time at the beginning of the third year, Sirius let go of his final resentment and anger. He realised he didn't need the money from replacing windows anymore: he had four picture books published or being published. He had also signed a contract for a series of stories for junior high school aged children loosely based on a telenovela script he'd written (he made the characters younger and left out the sex, but he thought the angst survived fairly well).

He found himself nurturing a brief fascination with Gabriel Uyemura, the telenovela actor playing the corrupt boyfriend in his story who had the change of heart right before he was diagnosed with an incurable disease. Millions cried at the last episode, when Gabriel made his last passionate speech and died. Harry and Sirius had instead been breathless with laughter at the closing party as Gabriel re-enacted all his favourite death scenes. "Rosa, te quiero!" he cried out and collapsed back into Sirius' arms ("Pardon Mis Pescados", episode 23, the fateful poisoning of gangster Esteban by his mistress' illegitimate daughter). Gabriel apologized nicely for knocking him down and winked. When the war is over, Sirius thought. Maybe.

Sirius wrote to Dumbledore, asking for all the news he'd not wanted to hear. Who was still alive. What was happening. How the hunt for the Horcruxes was going. (Dumbledore had destroyed a third and a fourth during their first year in exile. It hadn't been any easier.) He signed and sealed the letter. He held it in his hand, tentatively, and then opened it again.

I don't hold anything that's happened against you, he wrote. I did a lot of things wrong. I hope that I can prove that I have changed, because I have. Harry and I are ready for whatever may happen, and I want you to know, you and I may not have gotten along, but if things had been different I think we might have. I don't have many regrets. What more could I have wanted? He enclosed it with another letter from Harry to Snape, who wanted to know if the Potions master had ever been surfing, he had and it was brilliant ("drilyant").

They got three letters in reply. It was December 1990.

art by almost-clara
"Surfing Snape" by almost_clara (comment on the art here)

Severus Snape replied that he had never been surfing but that some Hogwarts students had got together a ramblers club and he had taken them spelunking ("and it's just as dirty as it sounds"). He also sent a terse note to Sirius saying that he didn't want to know any more details of their life, especially not where they were.

Dumbledore sent the death list, nothing but names and dates and arrests (or warrants issued); he included the list of captured and killed Death Eaters as well. His note simply stated that the fifth Horcrux was being carefully guarded but that if all went well it would be destroyed come spring, and Sirius should be prepared. I made the right choice for Harry's guardian, read his wildly loopy scrawl. I'm proud of you. Whatever happens, know that you have done the best that could have been done.

The pain in Harry's head woke him when the Horcrux was destroyed. The letter from Snape came the next day, delivered by Dumbledore's phoenix.

Dumbledore is dead. Voldemort will be coming.

Chapter 16: The Potters' Second Son (April 1991)
Going out in a blaze of glory
My heart is open wide
You can take anything that you want from me
there is nothing left to hide

(Blaze of Glory by the Alarm)

Even though they knew the storm was coming, it was a shock when it hit.Sirius felt it first, that horrible stripped-bare feeling of the Fidelius charm giving way, like glass crushed under a tyre. He felt nauseous. He wondered briefly if Voldemort had killed Snape, and discovered that he wished not. That in his mind Snape had become a kind of friend, abrasive and judgmental but still protective. Snape had been good to Remus, to Harry.

But then he had no time for distractions, because Harry was crying out. Sirius dropped the laundry basket where he stood in the hall and ran. Harry was on the floor, his hands clapped over the scar on his forehead. His bare feet kicked at the carpet, and his breath came in shallow gasps.

Sirius cradled Harry's convulsing body and whispered like a chant the words he'd been prepared to say for years now:

"Don't fight him, let him come, let him come, Harry, don't fight."

A shape was taking form in the room, pulling shadows from the corners to weave substance. Not a ghost–not even properly dead–but not alive either. Sirius watched it rise in revulsion. Its arms and legs streamed trails of darkness as they moved, but the face flickered like a guttering candle flame, a human face struggling to overpower a monster's visage with slitted serpentine eyes.

Harry moaned and stilled; the form of Voldemort solidified. Voldemort, Sirius thought in resigned hysteria, Voldemort is standing next to my pool table on a Tuesday afternoon. This isn't how the world is supposed to end….

The dark form straightened, and the human face settled with a conscious effort. As he looked down at Sirius, the face changed in little ways, subtle alterations that resulted in breathtaking beauty. The darkness about the head became wavy hair, barely touched with silver. He smiled as he looked down, and with the smile came a subtle outrush of power that tasted like Imperio. Sirius would have risen and stood by his side without questioning why if it hadn't been for the weight of Harry across his knees and a terrible consuming weakness that drained him still.

The smile twisted slightly, and Sirius felt as if he were losing the best thing he had ever had. It was like giving up a drug, losing the sun, mourning a lover; and his own doubts and inadequacies were torn from him and returned as nightmares. He nearly cried with the effort of keeping his mind inviolate and intact.

Then he surrendered, dropped his poor Occlumencive defences, and let Voldemort in.

Memories spun out from Sirius: he was dancing with Remus, they were making love, he was spinning Harry, he was bandaging wounds, his hands were bloody and Remus was gasping with pain beneath him, they were standing in the brilliant sunset and Remus smiled and forgave him. He gasped with the shock as his mind was looted and his secrets were forcibly ripped away. He fought down with every assault on his memory the natural instinct to protect himself.

There was no protection anymore.

He was naked and raw and it hurt more than anything he could have possibly imagined; and he forced himself to open even wider.

And the children came in.

Tom Riddle's memories of abandonment and rage, of hating the bare institutional walls and the people within washed over him like a tidal wave, and he was confronting his father again, his mother was letting him be hexed again. Then the tide of rage pulled back, and he was a child held safe and secure in loving arms.

He had enough presence of mind left to feel that it was odd to recognize those arms as his own.

Odder still to realize that the memory was not Harry's but Tom's.

The room spun around him in laughter, light, and music.

The fear of death became a small sickly thing banished by the sun; the need for power a restlessness that called for ease.

Memories of torture and murder spidered out from the fear. Memories of seeing his own face so distorted by magic that it was no longer human.

I don't want to be human. (I don't want to die ? I don't want to be weak ? I don't want to need others ? I need)

Love is indelible.

Sirius felt the horcrux resist merging with Voldemort, refuse him entry to Harry's abandoned body.

The words of his own stories, long ago read ragged and committed to memory, filled the room.

Once there was a boy named Tom Riddle….

Your mother's name was Lily Evans Potter and your father's name was James Aurelius Potter….

We make this offering now….

He saw James die, and then Lily. He felt only a deep great sadness and a wild kind of hope to leave behind all pain and to see them again.

To see Remus again.

His yearning was the fulcrum on which the fury of the storm turned, Voldemort's fear chased by Tom's joy in life. Sirius was not sure where Harry was. He thought Harry might be the force holding it all together, divergent memories spinning faster and faster as they converged.

As they became one.

The unloved orphan held in loving arms.

The grasping student free of fear.

The murderer and the grieving family.

The desperation to never be not and the calm faith that the soul survives.

As they became one and began to die.

Sirius felt Harry's mind, wherever it was, protest, and he heard himself crying out, "Let it go, let it all go, let him go, no regrets, Harry, we did our best, Harry, I love you, I love you, let it all go."

He didn't mind dying. He would no longer be the one left behind. He felt deep sorrow for letting Harry die. You should have seen your own children, Harry, he thought as the room suffocated him with darkness. You at least should have survived.

Let it go.

There was a light so brilliant that it had no colour. And then there was nothing.

Sirius woke with a headache and a reflexive clench of fear. The Fidelius was gone. The reflexive terror he felt as he groped for his wand faded as memories returned, leaving him with a simple dull dread. He sat up as best he could, considering all his muscles had turned to jelly, and bashed his head on the pool table. Again, he supposed, feeling the identical bump on the back of his head.Late afternoon sunlight shone through the garden doors. It made the polyester fibres of the carpet sparkle, it made the dust on the bookshelves appear like magic. And it draped itself over the still form of Harry, crumpled half-off the end of the sofa. Sirius made his way painfully to him, not thinking about anything (perhaps only dusting), certainly not despairing, just… checking.

He would not even let himself consider for one second that Harry had died and left him here all alone.

Or that in those last drawn-out desperate moments Harry's will had given out and he had been sundered from his body. He would not wonder how you know whose soul possesses a body.

He would not.

Instead, he put one hand to Harry's neck and fumbled under his jaw line, feeling for a pulse, while his other hand rested lightly on Harry's chest. His own heart was pounding so hard he could hear nothing over the sound save for his harsh breathing. There. He forced his hands to still, held his breath. There again. And again.

He wondered whether he had failed once again by not killing Harry himself when he ought to have. He thought he had time now to kill Harry. He knew he wouldn't.

He wrapped his arms tightly around his godson, his son, his student, the son of his best friend, The Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One; around Harry; and pulled him up gently, stretching his legs out on the sofa, stroking back his wild, unkempt hair.

The light was nearly gone when Harry stirred and twisted.


"I'm here, Harry."

Harry's hand fell on his arm. "I'm hungry."

"There's still soup," Sirius said. Gods, gods, he thought in desperate amusement, this isn't the end of the world, but the beginning. Harry has school tomorrow and I have work (but we may both call in sick), the rubbish goes out on Thursday, the moon will be full Tuesday next, Harry will be twelve on his next birthday, life goes on.

The enormity of it all made him breathless.

He thought firmly about soup, and pushed himself up.

"What happened, Harry?" he asked, setting the pot on the gas ring.

Harry curled up on his side, looking intently at the nap of the sofa. "Tom?Tom died, Pads. He wouldn't let him in, he took him instead, and he died." Harry was crying. Sirius turned the flame down and went to sit down next to Harry.

"Did you see all the memories, Harry?" Harry nodded, picking at the threads of the fabric. "Then you know Tom was happy. And that he chose to die by doing a good thing, by not letting the monster that he'd become win. I'll miss him, too."

"It's sad, Pads. He should have been?he could have been?"

Sirius hugged Harry tightly. "He did the best thing he could possibly have done. That's all anyone can do. I'm proud of him. I'm proud of you."

The soup boiled, the rising bubbles hissing against the sides of the pot. Harry set the table as he always did, and Sirius ladled the soup into three bowls. Harry set Tom's on the offering dish. When they said the prayers for the dead, his fingers, long and strong but still a child's, dug hard into the back of Sirius' hand.

They ate their dinner with the television on. Sirius had buggered the cable box so it received all the American Wizarding cable channels. Sirius decided that neither of them needed to watch Wizarding World Tonight, but there was a televised Quodpot meet between two Malaysian girls' high schools on the Wizarding Sports Network, and he cheered arbitrarily for the yellow tunics but was gracious when Harry's pink team won.

Harry had been yawning since the third quarter, so after the game Sirius saw Harry bathed and dressed for bed. He hovered as he hadn't since Harry was a titchy little thing, and as he sat on the edge of the bed he realized that they had at some point already entered the awkward years when things that had been simple and easy between them were now not. It also came to him that Harry was free?that he was free?and he said so absently. Harry's eyes went wide.

"Are you going to leave me?" he asked, his chin wobbling.

At which Sirius had to lie down and hug Harry tightly, awkwardness be damned, and swear that he'd never, ever stop loving Harry or abandon him. That he was proud of Harry, that Harry was a wonderful son, the best ever.

He wondered how much Harry retained of his memories and Voldemort's. Someday he'd have to sit Harry down and explain them: there had definitely been things dredged up that no eleven-year-old child should even know about. The stuff of nightmares. He wondered what it felt like to have Tom's awareness snuffed out, whether it was like losing a twin or losing part of your mind. Something no parent wanted to know about, but they would have to talk. Not tonight.

Harry's eyes were drifting shut. "Pads," he said sleepily.

"What is it, Harry?"

"Can I get my ear pierced now?"

Sirius kissed Harry on the forehead (and was relieved when Harry didn't rub it away). "We'll talk about it in the morning."

"Okay," Harry said, and was asleep the instant his eyes shut. Sirius waited a while, then gently pulled his arm out from under Harry's head, dimmed the light, and shut the door on his way out.

He grabbed a beer, chilled it, and turned on Quidditch Now.

"Well, Cotton, this is a day that will be long remembered in Wizarding history."

"You couldn't be more right, Rebecca. Not only did British Dark wizard Voldemort meet a second decisive defeat at the hands of young Harry Potter, but the Maco Lanterns finally concluded their week-long match against the Chicago Blues in this spectacular play by seeker Dignity Blather."

"Imagine the power in those legs, Cotton, that is truly flying at its finest."

"Indeed it is, Rebecca."

Sirius must have fallen asleep: the last thing he remembered was another replay of what was already being referred to as the Blather Mouth Technique, and when he opened his eyes it was to an infomercial for some kitchen appliance that sliced, diced, chopped, and cooked with "just a swish and a flick, Bob!"

There had been some reason he woke, he thought, switching the television off. Damned if he knew what it was.

There was another quiet knock at the door.

Chapter 17: Soup (April 1991)
I'll be damned, here comes your ghost again,
but that's not unusual, it's just that the moon is full
and you happened to call
("Diamonds and Rust" by Joan Baez)

Sirius opened the door with his wand in his hand. If it was the media, transfiguration into pelicans could only be an improvement. If it was the Aurors, well, he could afford a lawyer now.It was neither. He could only gape rather inanely for a few seconds; it took a while for his mouth to remember words.

"You're dead." Ah, that wasn't what he wanted to say, even though it was the truth he had lived with for four years.

The wide, familiar lips quirked in a faintly amused smile. "Muggles are better at raising the dead than we are." Remus shrugged slightly. "I was only technically dead for a minute, two at the most. Just long enough to break the charm."

Sirius wanted to believe so hard that it was a physical pain on top of all his other physical pains. "One moment," he said, and force of habit got him through the spell-check. No Inferius, thank the gods, no Imperius, no trick with polyjuice, nothing but Remus Lupin. He lowered his wand, glad that he didn't need to defend himself. His hands were shaking.

"I was going to wait until morning," Remus was saying, his gaze trapped on Sirius' face. "I wasn't going to do this, but. Your lights were on. Have been on, all night."

"I fell asleep in front of the TV," Sirius said. "We mourned you."

Remus winced. His hands were deep in his pockets. "Another reason I'm here now. I wanted to give you a chance to yell at me now, instead of in front of Harry. Or," he said, and now his eyes fell, "if you think I shouldn't see Harry, then I'll go. Or if you think I shouldn't see you." He sighed. "It was cruel, and I knew it, and still I did it. I was your Secret-Keeper. Severus was mine. I just?I had led Voldemort to your door, because I wasn't strong enough to stay away. And look at the disaster that came of that. The second time," he said fiercely, "I did it right."

"Yes, you did."

"So." Remus took his hands out of his pockets and shrugged. "I didn't mean to wake you up. I'll come by tomorrow. If you want."

"Come in." Sirius stepped back from the door. "I'm awake now."

He waited while Remus had second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts. It took that long for Remus to move, to take the few steps necessary to be over the doorstep and in the living room. Sirius shut and locked the door firmly.

The wall behind the sofa was plastered with photos. Four years of Harry and Sirius: on boats, up mountains, in the water, eating picnics, at book signings. Sirius' hair brown and black, long, longer, short, short with facial hair; Harry inheriting this need for change with several idiosyncratic hairstyles of his own. Harry in his new glasses. The professional picture of Sirius for book jackets. Harry's school pictures. Two blurry pictures of Harry and Padfoot.

Remus looked greedily, not asking questions, simply staring at each picture in turn as if he were trying to absorb the story behind it by proximity. Sirius took refuge in the familiar.

"Are you hungry? Do you want some soup?"

Remus turned to stare at him, and then he burst out laughing so hard that he needed to brace himself on the pool table. Sirius smiled the way one does when confronted with sudden irrational hilarity and went to heat up the soup. He poured it into two mugs and set them on the table. Remus wiped away tears with the sleeve of his t-shirt and moved to sit down, hesitating only slightly.

"My soup amuses you?"

"It's so very… Zen of you," Remus said, blowing on the soup cursorily and drinking it down. "Sirius Black averts the end of the world and wants to know if I want soup. It's very good soup," he added. "It's something I love about you." He kept his eyes on Sirius with a curiously guarded expression. Pinioned hope, Sirius thought, or painful honesty.

"My soup?"

Remus drained his mug and wiped his mouth carefully. "That you found your centre. That you've made it through everything without losing what is essential. By becoming what is essential. I kept tabs on you," he said offhandedly. "I actually inveigled myself into a position where I do most of your translations into Portuguese. The telenovela about werewolves was… interesting."

"Are you my biggest fan?"

Remus grinned. "Might just be."

"Are you going to stay now? Now that Voldemort is gone?"

Remus looked into his cup as if onions and basil could be read like tealeaves. "I'm free," he said, echoing Sirius' earlier epiphany. "I can go anywhere. I came here." The onion-reading didn't seem to be helping much. He frowned, slightly. "I know it's been a long time, and a bad time, and I don't want to disturb your domestic arrangements in any way."

Sirius barked a laugh and waved grandly. "Domestically, the dishes are unwashed, the laundry is in a pile, and there are three entire bicycles in pieces on the floor of Harry's room. I doubt we can be any more disturbed."

Remus' head stayed still, but his eyes flicked up to settle restlessly on Sirius' face. "I meant a lover. Or a relationship. Something like that."

Sirius felt his face grow red and was glad for the dim light. "Oh. No. Nothing like that. The war, and… Harry, and all." He returned Remus' look. "You?"

Remus shook his head, keeping his eyes on Sirius. "No. I knew you were alive, after all. And I hoped, if you could ever find yourself able to forgive me, and if you were free?well." He moved his shoulders in a shrug so slight it might have been a sigh.

"What would you do then?" Sirius asked.

"Grovelling on my hands and knees was always a major part of what I envisioned."

Sirius reached out and touched Remus' hair, shorter and wavier and sun-bleached to nearly the same colour as his skin. "You don't need to grovel," he said, knowing that it was urgent Remus understood. "I forgive you. It's the dance we do most often, after all, we ought to be good at it." He moved his hand down to the curve of Remus' jaw. "Gods, have I missed you. I thought you were dead, you know."

"I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"But we survived because you sacrificed everything you had to keep us alive." Somehow Remus' arms were around him, but he was definitely Not Crying all over Remus' shirt.

"There might have been a better way, Pads, there must have been, but I wasn't clever enough at the time to think of it."

"You were shot, and you died."


"I‘m not crying," Sirius muttered, "but your shirt is rather soggy and disgusting."

"Loan me one of yours, then."

Sirius pulled back, just a bit. "My clothes are all in the bedroom."

"Oh," Remus said, with what sounded like a smile. "Then I suppose we ought to go there, then."

They didn't quite make it to the bedroom before Sirius had to kiss Remus properly. Gods, but he'd missed kissing almost more than anything. Kissing was a language of its own: a greeting, an apology, a promise, a tantalising hint of things to come, a thank you, a blessing. This kiss was all of these together, and Sirius burned with it, squirmed under it, found himself touching Remus with both hands and kissing him madly and overwhelmed by the joy of it. He broke the kiss off in reluctant stages and looked into Remus' eyes. He smiled.

"They've gone Sirius green, your eyes."

"They're always a bit green."

"They only turn this colour for me. Perfect clear green."

Remus suddenly looked far too self-conscious, so Sirius pulled him the last few steps into the bedroom, shut the door, and took off his shirt, which was a good enough distraction.

"Come here."

Remus took off his shoes and socks and went to sit on the bed next to Sirius, slipping in a kiss as he did so.

"I'm a bit of a wreck, Pads. I don't want to shock or disappoint you."

Sirius thought about forty-odd lunations, about bullets and hearts stopping. "I'm not a critic, you know. I'm your biggest fan. You had better show me now if you want any sympathy. In the heat of passion I'm likely to not even notice."

Remus shrugged and unbuttoned his shirt slowly. Slowly enough that Sirius had already pushed it off his shoulders and down his arms by the time he got to the last button, and while Remus was extracting his hands Sirius was pushing up his vest, so that it all came off in a terrible tangle. The scars from the bullets were hard under Sirius' fingers. Remus glanced down.

"It's not so bad from the front," he said, and touched two of the scars in succession. "These went out my back." Sirius looked and winced. "I hear it looks bad. I've never felt inclined to check."

"It looks bad enough." Sirius pushed Remus back, kissing each of the scars.

"It's like having a built-in rosary. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa."

"None of that, now. All right? You should think of them as Mintaka, Alnitak, and Alnilam, which would mean that Sirius goes roughly here…. Still ticklish, I see."

"Ow! Roughly Sirius, indeed." Remus tugged him up by his hair and melted him with kisses.

It was slow and sweet and awkward between them, because memories turned over and over in the mind become polished of their sharp edges; and their human flesh was eager and unable and yearning and hungry, so much that in the middle of it all Remus started laughing again.

"You're not going to be able to get under my skin any more than you already are, love," he said, the wrinkles that cornered his eyes crinkling.

"I would if I could. I would stay with you like this forever."

"That would be… very awkward."

"What a dirty mind you have."

It was good to laugh and to make love, to tangle so closely with that gorgeous expanse of skin to lick clean, to smell the smell that was both of them together. It was good and better than good to hear Remus cry out with every move until his eyes widened and rolled back, his body fighting to loose itself from the mattress but only succeeding in driving him up into Sirius, which made him cry out again. It went on and on until Remus could only make small uncontrollable noises with every movement of Sirius', and only then did Sirius allow his own release. He watched Remus as he came, the hard force of it driving all the tension from him, and then collapsed bonelessly.

"I don't think I've ever made you so completely senseless before," he said, licking Remus' shoulder idly and chuckling as Remus' whole body jerked.

Remus looked at him, his mouth moving soundlessly around the words ‘kiss me'. Sirius did, and felt warm arms and legs entangle him. It was the comfort he had dreamed of, in the vague way he had imagined when the war was over, and he said so, omitting the fact that in his imaginings he was always dead.

"It's not the end," Remus said sleepily. "There's so much that still needs to be done."

"And we have years and years to do it."

"Mmm. Missed you so much."

"Missed you more," Sirius said, and pinched Remus, who was falling asleep. Green eyes blinked at him, and Remus moved his arm over Sirius' chest and his head so close that Sirius could feel the flutter of his eyelashes on his cheek.

"Go to sleep, love, I'll protect you."

Sirius yawned and thought Remus looked as protective as Harry's old plush rabbit.

But he had kept them safe. All those lost years.

His own personal guardian angel.

He must have said something of the sort out loud. He felt the brush of Remus' eyelashes.

"Which reminds me, this tattoo of yours…."


"Tomorrow," Remus agreed, and that was the last thing Sirius remembered.

He woke with his heart racing and a terrible sense of something being wrong and was at the bedroom door before he remembered the previous day's events. Remus was not in the bed; the house smelt of coffee; ergo…. Sirius pulled on a discarded pair of jeans and went out to the kitchen."You're up early," he said, squinting at the clock. Remus looked up from the mug he'd been staring into and smiled. He was immaculately dressed and his hair was still shower-damp.

"It's the time difference," Remus said, pushing himself up. "Coffee?"

"Why not?" said Sirius, who always and only drank tea. Remus filled a mug for him, set it on the table, and wrapped his arms around him, breathing softly into Sirius' hair.

"Love you," he said, muffled, and Sirius hugged him tightly. Remus took a deep breath, held it, and then stepped back. "I don't know where to start," he said apologetically. "I want to know everything that's happened. I want to know what's going to happen." He smiled, wryly. "Don't ask for much, do I?"

"There's time." Sirius sat and took a swallow of the coffee, which was, surprisingly, very good. "There is, isn't there?"

Remus leaned back against the counter. "There's lost time," he said, "and I want it back." He ran one hand through his hair, tugging through wet tangles, and then straightened abruptly, his eyes snapping to the doorway. "Harry," he said hoarsely, frozen where he stood. "My God, Harry."

Harry's jaw was slack as he stared, and then he was met halfway across the kitchen floor by Remus, who enfolded him in his arms and who was crying; Remus whom Sirius had seen cry perhaps twice in all the years they'd known each other. Harry's head was nearly to Remus' shoulder now, and Remus pressed his face into Harry's hair. He spoke quietly and urgently, falling in and out of Portuguese. Harry replied in a tangle of Spanish, and then the kitchen was overwhelmed by a flurry of language.

Harry was never one to avoid difficult questions, and in the space of time it took to make breakfast he had buffeted Remus from all sides. Sirius leaned back and listened, fully resolved not to feel guilty for letting Harry be in charge of the interrogation. Where had Remus been (Brazil, mostly). What he had been doing (teaching). Who had known he was alive ("Only my Secret-Keeper, Severus Snape"), at which Harry became wide-eyed.

"Is Severus all right?" he asked, forgetting to stir the vegetables in the pan. Remus reached for the spatula and took over deftly.

"Professor Snape, Harry. If you're going to Hogwarts, that's what you'll call him." Remus added the tofu. "He was fine when I saw him yesterday. Tired–everyone's tired–but he was alive and apoplectic about Dumbledore's decision to destroy the fifth Horcrux. Do you have turmeric?"

Harry added it himself, along with salt and pepper and chilli pepper. "Why?" he asked, taking the spatula back and pushing the vegetables around fiercely. He looked up at Remus. "Why did you come back?"

Sirius winced at that, but Remus merely looked pensive as he leant back against the counter. "I came here because I love you and Sirius more than anyone else in the world. I had to tell you how sorry I am that I hurt you. And I'm selfish, you know, I wanted to see you. I still think of you as my family."

Harry turned off the heat and carefully transferred the tofu scramble to three dishes. "You lied."

Remus set the dishes on the table, one in front of Sirius, and rummaged for flatware. He found the right drawer and laid out forks and knives.

"I did not," he said carefully, as they sat down, "plan to lie to you. I cast the Fidelius again, that was my goal, to keep you safe. For… quite a while after that, keeping the charm up and breathing were about all I could do.  By the time I was recovered and was able to walk away, I realised that I had been officially dead for nearly a year. My carelessness as your Secret-Keeper contributed to the murders of your grandparents and your aunt's family, Harry, and for that I am most dreadfully sorry. Voldemort was that close to catching you. Should I have repaid Severus' bravery in saving me by risking your lives again?" He took up his chilled coffee and held the mug in his two hands like an anchor as he looked across the table at Harry. "I can't imagine how you must have felt. I would undo it if I could. I can't, so." He lifted his shoulders slightly. "I'll do as you wish, Harry. If you want me to go, I will."

Sirius looked at Remus in sharp panic–He's only eleven, don't let him make important decisions, damn it–and irrationally wished he were wearing a shirt. He could have put up a fight in a shirt.

Harry set his fork down and pointed at Sirius. "He's my dad, all right? You have to be nice to him. And I'm not going to call you dad."

"That," Remus agreed blandly, "would be confusing. Uncle Moony is fine by me. Or Remus. Just not Uncle Remus."

Harry smiled slightly. "Do you want to stay with us?"

"I would like that very much."

Harry moved a floret of broccoli in figure-eights on his plate. "I used to like it when you lived with us," he said, watching his fork intensely. "I don't want you to go away. I wouldn't know… if you would come back, or disappear. You said–you said you'd be home in two days. You said you'd bring me a lolly."

"Well," Remus said, "you're a bit old for lollies now. And I don't think anything I could bribe you with would earn your trust, anyway. I'll just have to prove myself to you. If you give me the chance."

Harry looked up and then nodded. "We could try." He turned to look at Sirius. "Do you mind?"

Sirius blinked. "Not at all."

"He's always sleepy in the morning," Harry said to Remus. "You're just lucky he's not naked. He had to charm the windows, you know?one of the neighbours caught an eyeful and complained."

"Good to know," Remus said soberly.

"Well, you should, if we're going to be a family. What else does he need to know, Pads?"

Sirius gave up trying to fight down his blush. "That you take apart absolutely everything and can never get all the pieces in again. He dismantled my car, Moony, when I turned my back on him for a few hours."

"He still eats meat."

Remus blinked, wholly failing to look innocent of the sin of meat-eating. "Shocking."

Sirius recognised the line on Harry's forehead as the one impending a lecture. "Later, Vegan Crusader. Today I think we should just lie around and think familial thoughts." Harry opened his mouth to protest, and Sirius popped a chunk of tofu in. "Why don't you show Uncle Moony the photo album?"

"I'd like that," Remus said. "But first." He stood and crossed the kitchen to face the altar. "I don't know what the etiquette here is, Pads."

Sirius shoved back his chair and went to stand by Remus' side. "Neither do I." He looked at the sketches he'd drawn, the faces of the dead. The Potters. James and Lily. The Evans'. Tom Riddle. The Lupins. Regulus and the Blacks. Poor mad Peter. The Dursleys And Remus. He reached up one hand and carefully removed the drawing pins, taking the picture down. He held it for a moment and then handed it to Remus.

Remus ran a finger over the fading pencilled lines of his hair. "I'm so sorry," he said, his voice hoarse.

Sirius paused, and then thought the hell with it. He put his arms around Remus and held him tightly. Harry watched them, his eyes bright, and Sirius raised an inviting eyebrow. Harry launched himself at them, the force of his affection knocking them all backwards into the kitchen counter. Sirius' arm crossed Remus' around Harry's back and he held on tightly.

All the wealth in the world, right here, he thought, as Harry looked up thoughtfully.

"I don't mind if you kiss him, you know, Pads," he said, all innocence–ha! "I expect you'll be doing that a lot."

Remus met his eyes over Harry's head, and Sirius could see he was thinking the same thing. Sirius swept Harry up, his feet kicking helplessly in the air, and over his laughing protests of "Gerroff me! Gerroff me!" Sirius planted a very wet kiss on one cheek as Remus did the same on the other. Harry's arms went around their necks, and he braced his feet against the counter as he squirmed.

"He wasn't so heavy before," Remus said thoughtfully.

"Nor so cheeky."

"And who taught him that, I wonder."

"It's genetic," Sirius said, and used the momentum from Harry's wriggling to spin him around in a somersault and set him gently back on the floor again.

Outside, the sun was burning through the early morning mist; the sky was a brilliant blue. Inside, there was laughter and warmth and loving arms around him. Sirius smiled.

"Welcome home."

::: the end :::

I would like to speculate that god himself did make us into
corresponding shapes like puzzle pieces from the clay
and true, it may seem like a stretch, but it's thoughts like this that
catch my troubled head when you're away and I am missing you to death
when you are out there on the road for several weeks of shows and when
you scan the radio, I hope this song will guide you home
they will see us waving from such great heights, "come down now,"
they'll say but everything looks perfect from far away,
"come down now," but we'll stay…

(The Postal Service "Such Great Heights")

13 thoughts on “the maddest house”

  1. I don't think I can even begin to tell you how much I love this. It's the most perfect thing imaginable, it's adorable, amazing. You're so, so great.

    admin reply on February 10th, 2009:

    Thank you so much for your kind words! My readers are the amazing ones–comments like this keep me going!

  2. Just read this- it's gorgeous! Thanks for posting.

    admin reply on February 10th, 2009:

    Thank you for reading!

  3. I have had this story bookmarked for a long time, I've started to read it more than once but always had to leave it for one reason or another. Last night, I sat down and decided to read it from start to finish. I cannot believe I waited so long. This was quite brilliant. You killed me a few times, and you managed to do what only two other fics managed but never quite so much – I cried. I actually had a proper bawl, complete with runny nose and all that lovely stuff. This is one of those stories that makes me love the fandom all the more (and I didn't believe that was possible), and makes me wish that this was the cannon – it's so much more satisfying. I could go on and on about beautiful language, the characterization that was just so perfect and how Harry was adorable and such a real little boy and how the love shone through in your words, and how the sex was the most beautiful (not tawdry) sex I've ever read – and that includes proper published works. I could go on, but I'll just say, I loved this beyond words (which is ironic, with how much I've rambled on) and this has now become my favourite Remus/Sirius AU fic. Ever. Thanks for writing it!

    admin reply on February 10th, 2009:

    Thank you so much for your comment! I'm so very glad that you enjoyed the story (even though it made you cry *dries your tears with the handkerchief of love*). Characterisation is always difficult, especially in an AU, so I'm very glad that that worked!

  4. This was absolutely amazing.
    I have no words.
    The perfection, wow, just wow.

    admin reply on February 10th, 2009:

    Thank you so much!

  5. This story is so incredibly amazing. The emotions are captivating, the plot is moving, and the characters are spot-on. I love the hairstyles through the years, the various occupations, the basics of life that highlight the supernatural that much more. Me encanta que Harry habla español y Remus habla portugués. Most importantly, though, your style of writing is some of the best I have ever read.

  6. I've been more or less out of fandom for a year, but when I decided to return I went straight to your stories. I read some of them last year and absolutely loved them, and I loved this one just as much, even though I don't normally read AU. You are, no exaggeration, the best fanfic author I have come across and I absolutely adore your style and characterisation. Brilliant. Purely, unadulteratedly, brilliant. I applaud you.

  7. This fic is so beautiful. I don't know the words to describe how much I loved it. My favorite part of wolfstar is when one of them forgives the other, and this fic is full of moments of forgiveness. I cried so much. And Remus knows portuguese and lived in Brazil for a while :DDDD Congratulations for writting something so beautiful.

  8. This is just… amazing. I was up till 5 this morning and just finished it. At so many points I wanted to cry, or abandon the angst. But the beauty, creativety, and pure soul in this kept me going. This will be one of my favoritest fics of all time. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    –Britt (My Daddy is Snape)
    P.S. Is this posted on any other sites??

    admin reply on April 10th, 2014:

    Thank you so much! (though I'm sorry I caused you a sleepless night!) Most of my fic is also posted to Archiveofourown, under the same name.

Leave a Reply