Title: Will the Circle Be Unbroken
For rufus, who wanted a remix (er) and carolling (though this is not MWPP, it's post-Hogwarts…).
Summary: A bookend story to Rufus' "Let Them Go". Solstice, Godric's Hollow, December, 1979.
(v.1) There are loved ones in the glory,
Whose dear forms you often miss;
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?
(r.) Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by?
In a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?
(v.4) You can picture happy gath’rings
’Round the fireside long ago,
And you think of tearful partings,
When they left you here below.
(v.5) One by one their seats were emptied,
One by one they went away;
Here the circle has been broken –
Will it be complete one day?
– Will the Circle Be Unbroken (by Ada Habershon)
"Don't know how you do it," James said, and Sirius gave him a look that was all eyebrows and amusement.
"Same as last year, and the year before," Sirius said, breaking off a length of cinnamon stick and tucking it in the corner of his mouth. "Just keep it simmering, it's no good if it boils."
"Ass." James dropped into a crouch and played with the charms on the Self-Heating Cauldron (always brews true!). They'd dug out the firepit in the front garden, near where James' grandparents' henhouse had stood before the memorable summer holiday with the unfortunate pyrotechnic experiments. The pit had been thick with fireweed and infested with gnomes, and even though Sirius was tempted to just let the little buggers roast, apparently Lily had a soft spot for the pests. Hours it had taken. "I taught you how to mull cider, you know."
"You never," Sirius said, grinning. "I was born knowing."
"Not worry, is what I mean. Not that it's the same — "
"It bloody is the same," Sirius said, fiercely.
"You've got Remus up the junction, then, have you?" James wiped his grubby hands down his trousers, directing his glower slightly to Sirius' left, so he didn't have to meet his eyes. "Don't want to know about that, really."
Sirius dropped down to sit on the ground next to James. He reached over, grabbed a handful of James' good winter cloak, and shook, playfully. "You're going to be a dad? Congratulations, mate. That's really — really good."
James snorted and pulled the cloak out so that he could settle on it. He crossed his legs tailor-fashion and stared into the fire. "Well. Most people would say we're stupid."
"You getting married now?"
"And that's the second thing they'd say. You're predictable."
"I'm a romantic," Sirius corrected. "And don't you roll your eyes at me, it's damned hard being a romantic these days. Everyone's so cynical and everything's so awful, romance is the daring and rebellious choice."
"Dumbledore'd agree," James said morosely. "After he gave us the lecture about responsible sex, he offered to officiate for us. Before the year's out, he said."
"Make him wear the sky blue robes," Sirius begged. "With the sparkly little moons and stars and things. And the matching hat." His voice broke with the effort of not laughing when he said hat. The Daily Prophet had once suggested that the Pucket-on-Thames pixie riots had been caused by Dumbledore's sky-blue hat; they'd been forced to publish a retraction when it was proved that Dumbledore and his hat had been attending a wand exhibition in Dorking at the time.
"I'll put you in sky blue robes," James said. "You'll wear them or I won't let you be best man. Oi, isn't that them coming now?"
Sirius squinted into the brilliance of the setting sun. "Good heavens. How many people are we expecting tonight, anyway?"
"Everyone," James said flatly. "They'd better come, that's all I can say."
"I worry all the time," Sirius said, practically whispering and speaking far too fast as he watched the tiny far-away figures silhouetted against brilliant clouds. "It's not just that I want to lock him away in a box, I know that would be insane and he'd hate me for it, but he doesn't know how to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. He never says no — Go talk to the werewolves," he said in an angry mockery of Moody's voice. "And he doesn't come home for a week, or so I hear from his mother, and you know how upset she'd have to be to write to me. But he just walks through the door one day, says everything's fine, sorry to worry you." Sirius looked at James, looked away, looked back and away again. "He has trouble sleeping. Nightmares."
"He wouldn't be the same person you love if he were a coward, you know," James said. "It terrifies me that Lily — well. You know."
"They're coming down," Sirius said. "Come on — let's get them landed right." He'd been sitting for a shorter time and bounced to his feet with ease, and then grabbed James' wrist firmly to haul him up. James kicked the stiffness out of his knees and rubbed his arse with both hands. "The thing about being generals is that they send the people they like the best off to die. Upon reflection, I don't think I want to take over for Moody or Dumbledore, not ever."
"Dunno if we've got a choice," James said, and then laughed. "We're going to have an even bigger fire this year than last — look at them!"
Peter and Remus had the great ashen faggot suspended with ropes and hover charms between their brooms, while Lily pulled the lead to guide them down. The magical market in Godric's Hollow had shut down four years previously: the owners had supposedly retired to Majorca, though no one had a forwarding address for them. Lily'd spoken to Antje Diggory, a Ravenclaw who'd left Hogwarts three years earlier, about making the faggot for solstice night, and she in turn had asked her cousin, who was a Squib who made her living doing woodwork in Ottery St Catchpole.
As faggots went, it was magnificent: the bundle of ash sticks was wrapped around with the nine traditional bands, and it looked green enough to keep burning well past dawn. It was thick and fat and obviously hugely heavy, and please Godric Sirius did not need to be thinking those kinds of thoughts as he sat here and tried to convince James that he could keep his wife and baby safe.
Once the three of them were safely landed and the faggot had been hovered into position in the firepit, Lily went into the house to freshen up (or possibly to throw up: Sirius wasn't quite sure how the whole pregnancy thing worked). When she came out, she had the brand from last year's fire, still wrapped up in tissue and newspaper, and she set it carefully on top of the faggot. The sun was already skimming the horizon, and Remus was going on again about how solstice this far south was nothing, they should visit his hometown, where the night stretched from afternoon through to mid-morning.
Peter, helping James set up the tables on the lawn, said something sly about fertility rites and paying for the fun nine months later. Sirius had to talk fast to keep James from hexing Peter on the spot. Everything was ten different kinds of awkward. Lily emerged from the house followed by trailing pies, the ham, fruitcakes, ginger biscuits, sacks of potatoes for roasting, and bowls of fresh apples, gauged the tension, and managed to interrogate James entirely with quirks of her eyebrows. James went red; Lily sighed, put Remus in charge of fetching the dishes from the house (and mind you don't break one, they were my parents'), and went to kiss James on the cheek.
"So we're getting married," James blurted out, holding Lily's hand as if he were terrified, and Remus dropped the dishes. "We're having a baby."
Peter proved his worth as a friend ten times over when he grinned ear to ear, clapped James on the back and gave him congratulations, and kissed Lily on the cheek, spinning her around, delicately. He was so honestly, simply, thoroughly delighted for the both of them that all the awkwardness and the fears faded into the background. Sirius took over the reparo work so that Remus could go and say something which would hopefully redeem him in case the cruet was never the same again.
Sunlight lingered only as faint traces reflected on dark clouds when the first songs could be heard from the village.
"Oi," James called, "prepare for wassault and battery," and he summoned the candles from the house while Lily began sending the mulled cider into mugs she'd charmed to keep warm.
The wassailers made their way up the lane, dark figures with torches and a slightly drunken grasp of the melody to Wassail Away With Me, accompanied by the percussion of spoons on pots.
"Potter!" someone yelled — possibly one of the Bagshot cousins, Sirius thought, or perhaps an Abbott or a Chubb.
"About time you got here," James shouted back.
The wassailers were highly traditional, and tradition called for stodgy robes and pointy hats and the accompaniment by as many cats, owls, bats, snakes, and toads as possible. Whole families turned out, braving the cold for the promise of peace, health, and happiness in the new year — or at least of a hot meal and a bottomless cauldron full of hot mulled cider. The procession marched straight through the house, banging in the back door with a shout of no, get those torches away from the curtains and emerging a trifle sooty and with a vaguely guilty air. The children herded around Lily, who handed out snacks for the animals, while the adults all grabbed glasses and gathered in a circle around the faggot.
When some kind of order had been established, a tiny girl was pulled away from the cats and presented to James.
"Hullo," she said. She was wearing an enormous shining crown — made entirely of leprachaun gold, Sirius supposed, but pretty enough in the torchlight. "Guess what! I'm the Queen."
James shook hands with her solemnly, and then ruined the mood by calling her titch and making her stomp her boots, which were also charmed gold. He made it up to her by letting her light the brand with a Muggle match and then holding her up to light the faggot.
Someone started another round of singing as the flames took gradually, and Sirius mumbled impatiently through Solstice Merry Solstice and Wassail, Wassail, Wassail. After the fourth song and the fourth mug of cider and his first long wait in the queue to James' toilet (Be civilised, Lily had said when he'd tried to sneak off to the woods: I'm not above hexing you into lingerie); finally Dumbledore made his appearance and his annual speech about the Magi, and it was okay to eat.
Sirius filled a plate and slunk off round the other side of the faggot with it, staying in the shadowy cold place where the flames wouldn't reach until dawn. The food was hot, and he was ravenous, and he hoped that his dreadful manners would keep everyone from approaching him. At least until he finished his pie.
It was a very good pie, heavy with fruit and nuts. He thought it was one of the ones Mrs Lupin had sent down with Remus. He'd only visited Remus' home once, but he understood the appeal of good hot food, and clean rooms, and the comfortable familiarity of old books. (He'd asked Remus' mum if she'd like to move in with him, in London; she'd snapped him with a tea towel, and Remus had fallen on the floor laughing.)
Sirius was so caught up in his thoughts that he completely missed Remus himself approaching, until there was a sudden "Congratulations" in his ear. Remus was leaning rather drunkenly himself He tugged on Sirius' stodgy robes (they were good ones, too, found under the eaves of James' attic) and grinned. "Best man, eh?"
"Well," Sirius said, trying to look modest. "But you knew that anyway."
"Mm," Remus said, sliding a cold hand up Sirius' sleeve and laughing when he tried to worm away. "So, I don't think I've had a minute alone with you since breakfast."
"Stop propositioning me right where Dumbledore can see." Sirius hissed as a very cold hand found his side. "And the groping, stop that, too."
"Hmph," Remus said — really, literally, clear enough that Sirius can hear the distinctive ph at the end, slurring ever so slightly. "Dumbledore doesn't mind."
Sirius scowled, because it was true: Dumbledore didn't mind sending them off to do strange and possibly deadly things, with no explanations offered. He didn't mind exploiting their connections — by blood, or lycanthropy, or career. He'd sent Sirius off one day with nothing but a cryptic owl-delivered letter to go steal a salt cellar from a Muggle restaurant in Cork, and to this day Sirius had no idea why. It was the war, and they all knew that Dumbledore was their best chance at bringing Voldemort down, but still. Still.
"I've got the bike back in the broomshed," Sirius said, leaning forward until he felt Remus' hair against his cheek. "Want to go for a ride?"
He expected Remus to say something dampening about drunken flying, but Remus just smiled in a way that made Sirius ache, a little, for innocence lost. He still thought Remus needed protection from the world. He didn't think of him as a daring spy, or a provocateur, or a cunning saboteur. (If that was what he was. Remus didn't say what he did for Dumbledore, and Sirius didn't ask.)
But Remus took Sirius' plate and cup and levitated them off to the kitchen, tugged Sirius' feet into motion, and said, "Sounds perfect." Remus walked away from the circle of laughter about the fire casually, as if he didn't care who watched him leave — he waved at Peter, who was trying to seduce Marlene, and nodded to Lily, who was holding someone's ratsnake, and James, who had the constipated look that came of not knowing if a reptile were poisonous.
Sirius caught up with Remus and made him detour through the house so they could exchange their robes for coats and jeans. He touched Remus' skin, in the icy unlit spare room where James let them keep their clobber for when they stayed over — though likely it would be a nursery in a few months time. Remus let him touch, even though his hands were cold; let him tuck his fingers in the waistband of his trousers while they kissed, hard and desperate and aching to burst with unspoken things, too much fear and too little hope.
"Better go if we're going," Remus said, laughing, and Sirius very nearly amended that to better come if we're coming. But they didn't do that in James' house. Even being drunk would be no excuse. So he shoved Remus, who shoved back, and they kept it up all the way downstairs and out the back, somehow managing to shove each other both into the rhododendron bush by the garden path.
Sirius rolled the bike out and made Remus take the spare helmet, because love was never enough to keep bad things from happening. But he did slap Remus on the arse and tell him that he was driving tonight, only to keep the speed down please, God and to mind for the conifers this time.
Remus' wide grin told him he'd got it right. He climbed on the back, wrapped his arms tightly around Remus' waist, and trusted in the roar of the engine as the world fell away.